Friday 25 May 2018

"He Gave Joy": Visiting PG Wodehouse's Grave on Long Island, New York

When Narrelle Harris and I visited New York in September 2014, we spent our last full day out of the city.

Catching a train along the Long Island Railroad on a sunny Sunday morning, we alighted at Speonk station, which serves the locality of Remsenburg.

It was in Remsenburg that our favourite author, PG Wodehouse, had spent his final years, and we wanted to pay tribute to him with a little pilgrimage while we were in the vicinity.

Visiting Wodehouse-related sites as I travel had become something of a hobby. In 2011 I visited the prison in Poland where he had been interned in World War Two; and earlier in 2014 I'd had a drink at the Berlin hotel where he was subsequently quartered. In 2012 I had joined a group of PG Wodehouse Society members on a memorable weekend excursion to Norfolk, UK, visiting places connected with his life and work.

I didn't know what to expect when we arrived at Remsenburg, and was pleasantly surprised to find a cafe in operation next to the train station:

When we stepped inside for coffee, we realised it actually was the station. Or more correctly, had once been the station until replaced by the windswept concrete platform a slight distance west.

The interior was decked out with reminders of its railway past:

When we mentioned our quest to our waitress, she pointed to a section of wall - and we were delighted to discover a framed photograph of Wodehouse (top right), strolling to the local post office to send a manuscript to his publisher:

It was heartening to see that PGW's local fame had not entirely subsided, some four decades after his death.

We walked to the Remsenburg Community Presbyterian Church, an attractive white wooden structure with a modest spire. It was a pleasant 20 minute stroll on a sunny day, along Phillips Avenue to its intersection with Country Road.

Though it was a residential area, there were plenty of trees along the walk, giving the area a serene, semi-rural feel. I could see why Wodehouse had chosen this place as a retreat late in life, after the scarring experience of his imprisonment and manipulation by the German military in World War Two.

As we crossed to the church a pair of cyclists paused courteously to let us pass, then we stopped at the front of the building to examine a large commemorative sign:

Detailing his life and work, it ended with the words "His gentle humour and superb mastery of the English language continue to bring joy to readers all over the world."

In the graveyard behind the church, we found his final resting place:

And on top, to one side, a small figure placed there by a fan, suggesting the Infant Samuel at Prayer. Plaster figures of Samuel are mentioned several times in Wodehouse's short stories and novels, often in an amusing light at odds with their apparent piety.

In my favourite Jeeves and Wooster novel, The Code of the Woosters, Bertie Wooster's Aunt Dahlia uses a figure of Samuel to relieve her anxiety about the possible loss of her superb chef, Anatole:
She rose, and moved restlessly to the mantelpiece. I could see that she was looking for something to break as a relief to her surging emotions – what Jeeves would have called a palliative – and courteously drew her attention to a terra cotta figure of the Infant Samuel at Prayer. She thanked me briefly, and hurled it against the opposite wall.
So it was good to see an approximation of Samuel here, unsmashed and working away at the old stand (as Wodehouse would have put it):

At an initial loss of how to mark the occasion, Narrelle and I decided to read aloud a few of our favourite Wodehousean extracts (thank heaven for the Kindle app on our phones!).

So I read out part of the short story in which Bertie first hires Jeeves, then Narrelle read the funny poem A Pastoral; I continued with part of a Jeeves short story set in New York City; and Narrelle concluded with the amusing poem Good Gnu.

It was fun, and moving, and made us shed a few tears as well.

After a while we started walking back to the station, and met one of the cyclists who'd let us cross earlier. It turned out he was originally from Perth, which surprised me not at all - you find random Australians everywhere around the world, in the seemingly most unlikely places.

Living in the area, he was curious about our mission, and why so many people made the trek out to Long Island to visit Wodehouse's grave. I could tell he was unfamiliar with PGW's work, so I mumbled a few words about enjoying his books and we pushed on.

Looking back, however, I wished I'd expressed myself more fully. All I needed to do was to borrow three words inscribed at the base of his gravestone: "He gave joy."

Friday 18 May 2018

Signs of South Africa

I've just returned from South Africa with a sizeable dose of jetlag, so please excuse me if this week's post is short and sweet.

While being driven around urban South Africa, I took a photo of the occasional advertisement or other sign on the walls of buildings.

It struck me that the ads in South Africa resemble the country's cities - a melding of African and international. Have a look at these, and see if you agree...

Friday 11 May 2018

Saving the Rhino in South Africa

Last week our media tour, hosted by South African Tourism, spent two nights at the Madikwe Game Reserve in the far north of the country.

We saw an enthralling array of wild animals, many up close. On one occasion elephants walked right by our vehicle. I made a list of the creatures we saw over our three general nature drives, and it ran like this:

  • Buffalo
  • Lions (with a dead zebra)
  • Elephants
  • Rhinos
  • Giraffes
  • A jackal
  • Wild dogs
  • Impala
  • Kudu
  • Wildebeest
  • Zebra
  • Baboons
  • A crocodile
  • A hyena

But the most impressive drive was the one which focused on one animal only: the rhinoceros.

These big animals are in grave danger of poaching; every year they're illegally hunted in reserves across Africa. One of the ways to forestall this is to create a precise biological record of each rhino, which maximises the chances of a successful prosecution of smugglers and poachers, and thereby acts as a deterrent.

We were told there had recently been a prosecution in nearby Swaziland in which a poacher had received a 29 year prison sentence, his fate sealed by the irrefutable biological evidence trail back to a specific rhino.

In Madikwe this initiative is funded largely by visitors to the reserve's various lodges, who make donations which are dedicated entirely to that purpose.

We were lucky enough to see the program in action.

This is how it worked. First, a helicopter went up to locate an untagged rhino. Then the vet with the team sedated the animal with a tranquilliser dart, and we scrambled to reach it as it went under.

At this point we were allowed to approach the sleeping animal and hand the vet the necessary jars for the samples of horn and blood to be placed into. It was remarkable to stand next to such a large, exotic creature, it seeming something like a small dinosaur at rest.

Once the procedure was over, the vet injected the rhino with an agent to reverse the sedation and it awoke almost instantly, lumbering off through the bush to be reunited with its companions.

It was a special experience, and hopefully one which will help make rhino poaching ever more difficult in South Africa. And it enabled us to get an unusually close look at one of the country's many amazing animals.  

We stayed at Jaci's Lodge, see For general information about Madikwe Game Reserve, see

Friday 4 May 2018

Penguins & Vineyards: Attractions Outside Cape Town, South Africa

I'm currently in South Africa with a media group, courtesy of South African Tourism, and we've started our journey in Cape Town.

It's a great city, with a lively waterfront area and a lot of personality. It's also surrounded by interesting attractions, some of which we visited on our first day in the city.

The Atlantic coast is particularly impressive. We started the day at Maidens Cove, west of the city...

... then ascended to Chapman's Peak, with an equally stunning view. That's not my bike in the photo by the way, I'd never make it up that far! Though there were plenty of cyclists on the road, surprising in such hilly country.

At Boulders Beach we met a colony of African Penguins. They used to be known as jackass penguins due to their braying cry, and we heard plenty of that as they waddled around. They're big birds too, probably twice the size of the famous penguins at Phillip Island near Melbourne.

At Muizenberg we hopped out of the minibus briefly to take a look at the colourful bathing boxes on the beach:

Heading east, we entered wine country. We had an interesting wine tasting session at the Spier winery, matching chocolate with the varietals...

... then lunch at Le Petite Ferme came with this view:

We finished the day with a visit to Drakenstein prison, the final place at which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned before his release by the apartheid-era government after 27 years behind bars. A statue of the great man has been erected outside the facility's entrance, immortalising his triumphant stance upon walking to freedom:

It was an inspirational place at which to finish our day trip. The next day we visited Robben Island, where Mandela spent most of his imprisonment, for a grimmer look at the experience of freedom fighters against apartheid. But that's a story for another day...