Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Inimitable Bertie Wooster

Murdo and Emma Macleod are the couple with whom I am staying in Edinburgh, and let me tell you, a kinder and more generous pair of persons you will not find. In addition to their wealth of hospitality, Murdo and Emma offer the (nerdy) houseguest something almost as precious: books, and lots of them. Their house is lined with books -- lined I tell you. Naturally, this discovery was one of my first upon entering their cozy domicile late, last Wednesday night.

I was tired and, well, tired, but after shuffling into their den, I found myself quickly revived. To my right, neat shelving lined the wall entire. You couldn’t even see the wall color. And behold! (an irresistible insertion by an incipient Hebrew scholar) books. Rows and rows of books. Paperbacks. Hardbacks. Some thick and some thin. Some tall. Some short. But books all, whatever their size! I think I must have shot off a prayer-missive of praise to the Almighty, “Ah, glorious God, you have brought me across the ocean-wide to the right home, indeed! Thank you!”

Although there were people in the home I didn’t know (small group meets at the Macleod’s on Wednesday nights), my curiosity and, well, unvarnished biliophilic lust, seized the reins of my soul, and before I could tell myself, “stop it, you common brute!” there I was, straining over the heads of seated guests, peering right past them and onto the motherlode.

And these weren’t glossy covers either, mind you (in the main, anyway!). These were well chosen -- and well read -- indeed. Martin Gilbert sat in the history section, and the classics were there. And plenty I had never read but have wanted to get hold of for some time. And some I had never heard of (lots, in fact) but after quick perusal found myself hungry to devour. I told you: plain, unvarnished lust.

After the guest filed out one by one and Murdo had kindly cooked me what I now understand to be his “pasta special” (Murdo hosts a bi-monthly pasta club -- men only, please), we slumped into a couple comfy armchairs and began to talk. Well, to be fair (one of many Murdo phrases), we didn’t exactly talk. It was mainly Murdo here. The man is multi-talented, let me assure you, and one of his myriad talents is talking. The man can spin some yarn. The fact is, though (and I am not just saying this because I am still staying under his roof), I never mind. Because, amazingly, almost everything that has ever come out of his mouth and into my ears is interesting in the highest degree. His stories and anecdotes, colloquialisms and proverbial bits of wisdom seem to emerge from a never-ending repository of verbal goodness. Maybe this repository has its roots somewhere in the Highlands -- perhaps the Isle of Harris or Inverness (Murdo was born and raised here); I really don’t know.

But I do know that Murdo was talking, and I was listening. And somewhere near the end of the litany of books that he was asking me if I’d read, Murdo queried, “And what about Wodehouse (pronounced “Woodhouse” for the uninitiated: it’s a sort of Shibboleth for the literarily savvy, I suppose: I later referred to the author as “Woodberry,” and that in front of Murdo’s family . . . horrors!)?” My silence and half-cocked head stunned him, I think. My mouth was half-open. Something like “no” may have been ready to emerge; I am not sure. But I never will be sure, because before I had time to say anything, Murdo was on it. “Never read P.G. Wodehouse?” he exclaimed in wide-eyed astonishment. Right! (another Murdo-ism) Well, we shall have to change that before you leave, shan’t we then?”

I must say, a couple hundred pages into The Code of the Woosters, I can understand Murdo’s eagerness to stop me mid (attempted) sentence in order to issue my first assignment. I’ve not read anything else that even comes close to Wodehouse. He should be required reading for everyone who is keen to develop a sense of English wit, a sense of the old (and unreal, I might add) England, and a delightful yet firm hold of the English language.

Wodehouse might not be all things, but a wordsmith he is. The man has a gift for turn-of-phrase that I find to be thus far without parallel. He does what he wants with his language of choice, and is always sure to find his mot just, as the French would say. But this is as far as I’ll go mentioned French, because I’m sure that Wodehouse has been found an extremely effective form of French-repellant. He is so nauseatingly, intoxicatingly, gloriously English. And, he became an American citizen in 1955; so we can claim him, too! I knew I liked Wodehouse. And, apparently, Murdo knew I would like him, too. Thanks, Murdo, for expanding my literary horizons in such an entertaining and idiomatic way.

My favorite Edinburgh family


Murdo said...

Who says I talk a lot? I think a lot and occasionally I share my thoughts with the world, but since the world only gets the best of what I think, can you imagine what it's like inside my head without the benefit of that filter? Anyway I could tell you were a good listener, and we talkers fall upon a good listener like a drowning man on a passing raft.

I don't seriously challenge what you say. Mind you, P F Wodehouse? P G, old boy. Not as grievous an error as P G Woodberry, but not far off...

Love to you and yours!


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