Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2019 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

by Tony Ring

A Weekend with the Scones

Over the years, my wife Elaine and I have had some pretty unusual experiences while we have been with Wodehouseans in other countries. Some which spring to mind include joining in egg-and-spoon races (using raw eggs) along the towpath of a canal in the centre of Amsterdam, carefully avoiding the policemen on pedal-bikes riding through us in the other direction; bearding an Indian Cabinet Minister in his lair at the Government offices in Delhi; firing an air-rifle at a target representing a bending Baxter, on a private estate near Brussels; organising an indoor cricket competition in a hotel near Detroit because it was raining outside; and, with only Hal Cazalet for company, singing Happy Birthday to one of the Supreme Court Justices in Washington DC. The only other people in the room on that occasion were seven of the remaining eight members of the Supreme Court, and the chorus of Happy Birthday came immediately after they had all enjoyed hearing Hal singing two songs from his concert the night before: Anything Goes and We’re Crooks, accompanying himself on a Grand Piano.

So when I was invited by Lennart Weidenholm to join the Scones group of the Swedish Wodehouse Society for a presentation to a Literary Society in Malmö in May, I couldn’t help wondering if this was going be another experience we could add to the list. I needn’t have worried. There were several changes to this simple programme before we even travelled to Sweden which suggested that it would be a thoroughly memorable occasion!

The first inkling of something a little out of the ordinary came when Lennart reminded me that the Scones had sponsored a mascot (a pig known as the Princess of Ängavallen), and that they suggested we might like to visit the ecologically advanced farm, a short distance from Malmö, where she lived. “And,” he added sotto voce, “do you think you would be able to make a short speech on Wodehouse and pigs for 20 minutes or so while you are there? The owner, Rolf, is one of our members, and he would round up some customers for a little bit of a party?”

Shortly after that message came another. The Scones had realised that the planned weekend was the one directly before the Eurovision Song Contest was being staged in ... Malmö. As a result, hotel rooms were scarcer than a first-edition of The Pothunters in a jacket, and the suggestion was made that we should actually stay at the ecological hotel which was part of the Farm complex. In which case, the message continued, if I would be willing to make a full-length talk on Wodehouse and pigs, Rolf would hold a dinner as part of the event, advertise it in the local press and hope to get a sizeable audience.

Going with the flow, as one does when helping to spread sweetness and light in true Uncle Fred fashion, it was nevertheless a surprise when a further message came across the seas. One of the Scones was also a member of the Ljunghusen Golf Club just south of Malmö, and as a result of a series of discussions the suggestion had been made that if I were also willing to make a presentation on Wodehouse and Golf, Ljunghusen and two other local golf clubs (Flommen and Falsterbo) would like to stage a joint event for their members.

This all seemed fairly straightforward – so with the proviso that the Scones would be able to ensure that it would be possible to present a PowerPoint slideshow at Ängavallen; round up three members to help read quotations together with a female singer and a pianist to sing a couple of relevant songs at the meeting of the Malmö Literary and Cultural Society; and arrange for the facility to play a DVD at Ljunghusen, the programmes were established.

Unfortunately, circumstances prevented Lennart from playing an active role in the organisation of the programme, and Henrik Dieden stepped in to great effect, playing an advisory and coordination role that the somewhat ambitious programme required. Frank Orton, also, participated in the planning and made some valuable suggestions as to the detailed proposed content of the talk to the golf clubs.

Naturally there were further embellishments. Rolf Axel Nordström, the owner of the Farm at Ängavallen did indeed advertise his event which proved to be a very sociable affair involving some 29 people, including a number who joined the Swedish Society as a result. We had a lengthy discussion of the Blandings television series, which has not yet been seen on Swedish television, and then there was the ceremony of the Coronation of the Princess of Ängavallen. Now eighteen months old, it was felt to be an appropriate time for her to become a Queen, with the hope that it will not be too much longer before she is ready to become a Queen Mother. Rolf took the opportunity to explain his ecological philosophy for providing organic meat and dairy products from pigs (of which they presently have some 700-800), cows and sheep before we had an excellent dinner, followed by my presentation on Pigs in Wodehouse.

The meeting with the Literary and Cultural Society, part of the regular programme devised by Kaeth Gardestedt, was held at the Annebergsgården restaurang in Malmö, and was attended by about 80 of their members and guests. The programme was introduced by Sven Sahlin, the President of the Swedish Wodehouse Society, who spoke for around half an hour (in Swedish, of course) about the history of Wodehouse’s links with Sweden, and in particular the great Swedish translator Birgitta Hammar. I was then let loose with a broad presentation about the varied aspects of Wodehouse’s work, using quotations read by Britta and Sven Sahlin, Lennart Wärlje and Elaine Ring, and two songs with Wodehouse lyrics performed by Bob (on piano) and Ulla Stalin (in very good voice).

It seemed a logical step to extend the presentation by a reading of one of the best of Wodehouse’s stories, and we decided to reprise the abridged adaptation of “Uncle Fred Flits By” which had been well received at the UK Society’s 2010 dinner. The team of helpers turned up trumps again, with Bob and Ulla for this item taking the roles of Wilbur and Julia as well as offering two more songs. There was a little time for questions before the venue was reopened as a public restaurant!

For these first two days, we had been followed round by a photographer, Michel Teixeira, who has provided a number of images which I hope will be added to this report soon.

Sweden has had a formidable record of producing international-standard golfers in recent decades, and much of the credit must go to the three clubs, Ljunghusen, Flommen and Falsterbo, which lie close to each other on the country’s southern peninsula. Each has well over 1,000 members, about 40% being ladies and around 20% juniors in each case. The history of each of the clubs is very personal to that particular club, and each is rightly proud of its achievements. Our event was held in the clubhouse of Ljunghusen, whose meeting room was the most capacious, but the clubs had agreed that each club should initially be offered an equal number of tickets for its members. Remarkably, the event was reported to be a sell-out at each club after just a few days so, allowing for a few additional seats held back for members of the Swedish Wodehouse Society, I was told that the talk would be given to some 85 people. Elaine and I were particularly grateful to Stig Persson, long-standing manager of the Ljunghusen Club and Georg Kittel, from the Flommen Club, for guiding us round the area and making us feel at home.

It was only about two weeks before travelling that I first learned that the notice advertising the event to their members had been circulated with the enticing title of Why the Choice of a Putter is more Important than the Choice of a Wife – an interesting misquote from the story “Ordeal by Golf”. Since my text did not address that question, a hurried partial rewrite was required, essentially leaving the question open. Another quotation which arose during my researches, but which was again not authentic Wodehouse, was A Girl in the Bunker is Worth Two on the Tee, and that might be an alternative subject of interest for a future paper!

You will have observed that this description of the Swedish tour has not provided much detail of the content of the talks. Of course, that content, though hopefully accurate, did not contain major new findings; it did not offer exciting theories as to the reasons why a particular character acted as he or she did; and did not try to examine the perpetually mystifying question of how Wodehouse is popular in translation when his approach to the use of English is unique. That has all been discussed many times before and, no doubt, will be discussed many times in the future. What is of perhaps greater significance is that the enthusiasm of a small group of members of the Swedish Wodehouse Society, based in Skåne, the southern-most region of the country, supported by their Society President Sven Sahlin, successfully arranged a series of meetings about Wodehouse and his work which were attended in total by almost 200 people, perhaps 75% of whom are not current regular Wodehouse readers. Sven Sahlin and Henrik Dieden put in herculean efforts in the arrangement and organisation of the programmes and declared themselves happy with the public’s response, an outcome they deserved. Comments from those attending suggested that there may be a pleasing number of recruits to the Swedish Society’s lists as a result.

We are left, I think, with an ongoing question: Does the nature of this weekend indicate an opportunity for enthusiasts in other parts to try innovative programmes appropriate to their own locations?