P.G. Wodehouse: Lyricist

Monday, August 21, 2017


Whenever I hear the name P.G. Wodehouse (pronounced Woodhouse), I think of Bertie Wooster and his butler Jeeves, the protagonists of many Wodehouse novels. Or I think of his other equally humorous books. But I never thought of him as a Broadway lyricist.

Then I started reading P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, edited by Sophie Ratcliffe, and I learned several things that surprised me. One is that Wodehouse wrote book and lyrics for numerous Broadway shows. His most successful musicals were collaborations with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton during the late 19-teens and the early 1920s and include Miss Springtime; Leave It to Jane; O, Boy; and Oh, Lady! Lady! Although his association with Jerome Kern ended in the 1920s, his working relationship with Guy Bolton lasted into the 1950s and their friendship lasted until Wodehouse’s death in 1974.

Wodehouse also worked with the Gershwin brothers (and Guy Bolton) on the successful musical, Rosalie, which was first produced in 1928.

During his Broadway days, Wodehouse continued writing short stories and humorous novels and often had three or four projects going at once. And yet he also found time to exercise daily, to socialize with friends, and to write letter after letter after letter. That’s my kind of work ethic.

Most of the shows Wodehouse worked on are little-known today, and his lyrics have followed them into near-obscurity. His best-known is the song “Bill,” which he wrote for Oh, Lady! Lady! but was cut before the show opened. As was often the case in those days, a song that was cut from one musical might later show up in another, and “Bill” ended up in Show Boat. Oscar Hammerstein II revised the lyrics somewhat, but Hammerstein made sure Wodehouse received credit during the 1946 revival, which occurred while many considered him a traitor.

That’s the subject of next week’s post.

Conventionality or Creativity?

Monday, August 14, 2017


This year I moved up to the advanced photography category at the Lake County Fair and faced much tougher competition than in the past. So I wouldn’t have been surprised to walk away without any ribbons and was gratified to win second place in the Domestic Animals Color class.  But I was surprised at which photo won. That’s because it was my most conventional, and therefore least favorite, entry.

I take photos because I enjoy it, not to win competitions or even for the sake of art. But I do think that creativity should play a role in photography competitions. My biggest disappointment with the judging at the Lake County Fair was that—with some exceptions such as the insect category—the judging seemed to emphasize conventionality over creativity.

The floral category is a good example. The winners were all beautiful pictures, but they were also similar—conventional rather than creative. I don’t have any of those photos, but this one I took years ago is typical of the conventional style.

My entries were more unusual. I’m not saying they should have won. There were other equally distinct entries that were probably worthier of a ribbon than mine. Still, it would have been nice to see creativity win out over conventionality. And just so you can see what I mean by creativity, I have included my entries (color and black & white) below.


Art is in the eye of the beholder, so I can’t really fault the judges.

But I wish they had given more weight to creativity.

Art is in the Eye of the Artist

Monday, August 7, 2017


We’ve all heart the saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s also true of art. But I also believe that beauty and art are in the eye of the artist. I look at an alligator and think it’s ugly, but its Creator sees something beautiful.

Not everyone has the same taste, and that’s okay. If you are writing or taking photographs for public consumption, then you should keep your specific audience in mind and try to please it. But the person you have to please the most is yourself.

For the last three years, I’ve entered photographs at the Lake County Fair. The first two years I competed in the beginners’ section. In 2015 I entered four photos, and “Water Under the Bridge” (the photo above), won second place for Scenic Nature B&W. In 2016 I entered seven photos and won third place in the Architecture B&W category for “Boarding School Escape” (the photo below).

This year I entered twelve photos in the advanced section. More about that next week.

As I wander around and look at the other entries, I often wonder, “Why did that one win when I like that one better?” But that’s the wrong question. Part of it is the science—there are breakable “rules” designed to add interest to photographs and draw your eyes to the main focal point. But most of it should be the art, and art—like beauty—is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s interesting that my 2015 and 2016 winners were both black and white, but maybe it’s just that there were fewer entries in those categories. Still, it does take some skill (or art) to know what looks good in black and white and what doesn’t.

Maybe the more important point is that I consider myself best at landscape and architectural photography, and those are the categories for my winning entries from the past two years.

But as long as I’m happy with my art, winning or losing is secondary.

The Bonnie Prince and Flora MacDonald

Monday, July 31, 2017


We ended the sightseeing portion of our vacation at the Culloden Battlefield near Inverness. That’s where Bonnie Prince Charlie suffered his final defeat. Unfortunately, it was raining, so we spent most of our time inside at the exhibit. I stepped through the door long enough to take pictures of the battlefield but did not walk around and read the markers.

Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited Inverness twenty-seven years after Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat. The two men took in Inverness on their way to the islands, but they didn’t say anything about visiting the battlefield, so they probably didn’t. However, they met the heroine of the piece when they reached Skye. By then, Flora MacDonald was married, but her last name was still MacDonald. (It was a common name on Skye.) They found her to be a woman of middle stature, gentle manners, and much courage.


Flora MacDonald helped smuggle the fugitive Prince Charlie out of Scotland by dressing him as her maid and taking him “over the sea to Skye.” He remained hidden—although not in women’s clothing—until he caught a French boat and returned to exile in France. These events have been imortalized in “The Skye Boat Song,” written by Sir Harold Boulton in the late 19th century. It goes like this:

[Chorus:] Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.

[Chorus]

Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean's a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.

[Chorus]

Many's the lad fought on that day,
Well the claymore could wield,
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Culloden’s field.

[Chorus]

Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.

Charlie never did come again as far as we know, at least not to lead another rebellion. There were rumors that he secretly visited London years later, but nothing came of his return if it did happen.

As far as I’m concerned, our Scotland trip was a success.

And I even found some literary connections.

Hospitality on Skye

Monday, July 24, 2017


As noted in the last two blog posts, Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell often found poor food and accommodations on their travels around the Inner Hebrides. But they were pleased with their reception at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. The present castle, seen in the photo above, has surely been enlarged since then, but it still must have been impressive. More importantly for Dr. Johnson, it was a comfortable and elegant place to stay while waiting for the weather to become more favorable.

At Dunvegan, Johnson and Boswell were wined and dined and entertained. The host engaged them in intelligent discussion, the hostess was extremely gracious, and Dr. Johnson was reminded of the refinement he felt he had mostly left behind in London. As he put it:

At Dunvegan I had tasted lotus, and was in danger of forgetting that I was ever to depart, till Mr. Boswell sagely reproached me with my sluggishness and softness. I had no very forcible defence to make; and we agreed to pursue our journey.

Roland, Donald, and I also felt the hospitality on Skye. We had been received with equal hospitality on Mull, but it is always pleasant to be treated as an honored guest.

Fernlea Bed and Breakfast is on the main road, not too far from the Skye Bridge. It was a convenient base from which to explore the rest of the island. After our white-knuckle drive from the ferry, we tried to find a tourist information center and were unsuccessful. So even though it was way too early to check in, we headed to Fernlea to see if they would have any suggestions for spending the day.

At first Iris seemed a little flustered to have us arrive early, but she soon got into her helpful mode and made some suggestions. By the time we returned from Armadale Castle, the rooms were ready and we moved right in. Iris and John were always eager to give us information and advice and to make reservations at nearby restaurants. And the breakfasts were excellent. That’s Fernlea in the second photo.


But one of the most interesting things about Skye is the (true) legend of Flora MacDonald. Tune in next week to learn about her.

Over the Sea to Skye

Monday, July 17, 2017

 
Donald, Roland, and I shared another experience with Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell when we spent the night at Glenelg on the way to the Isle of Skye.

Glenelg is just down the road from the closest point between the mainland and Skye. That’s probably why Johnson and Boswell close it. I chose it because it because I wanted to take the historic turn-table ferry that crossed there.

The eighteenth-century scholars had a dangerous trip to Glenelg. According to Dr. Johnson:

We left Auknasheals and the Macreas in the afternoon, and in the evening came to Ratiken, a high hill on which a road is cut, but so steep and narrow, that it is very difficult. There is now a design of making another way round the bottom. Upon one of the precipices, my horse, weary with the sharpness of the rise, staggered a little, and I called in haste to the highlander to hold him. This was the only moment of my journey, in which I thought myself endangered.

I can’t remember whether we went “another way round the bottom,” but it wasn’t this part of the journey that concerned us most. I’ll get to the part that did in a minute.

Unfortunately, Glenelg is small, and there is only one inn. When Johnson and Boswell arrived, they found that the inn served whiskey but no food, and the beds were occupied. Eventually they found some hay and settled down for the night, but they were not happy.

There is still only one inn, although it is a more modern one. The Glenelg Inn served food, but I found it bland and wasn’t happy with either dinner or breakfast. The TV didn’t work, people gathered and talked on the patio outside our room after we wanted to go to bed, and there was no good place to set up my laptop. But our room did have a nice sitting area where Roland enjoyed reading.


My disappointment with the inn was a minor problem compared with what was to come. Getting from the inn to the ferry was bad enough, but after we left the ferry we had about five miles of the most harrowing mountainous driving you can imagine. Like Dr. Johnson, we felt ourselves endangered. I’m not sure if the photo at the head of this post is the landing we left from or the one we arrived at, but you can see what the terrain was like.

Still, we made it safely through. And we, like Johnson and Boswell, found hospitality on Skye. That’s the subject of the next post.


Dr. Samuel Johnson's Tour of the Hebrides

Monday, July 10, 2017


In 1773 Dr. Samuel Johnson decided to take a research tour of the Highlands and the Inner Hebrides. He was accompanied by James Boswell, and they both wrote journals. Although separated by many years, our paths crossed theirs at several points during our Scotland trip. We did not visit places in the same order, so these next few posts will follow our itinerary rather than theirs.

Those early travelers crossed the Isle of Mull on their way from the Isle of Coll to the Isle of Iona. We did not visit Coll (although the ferry stopped there on our way to and from Tiree), but we did spend four nights on Mull and took a day trip to Iona while we were there.

Johnson and Boswell landed at Tobermory. We landed at Craignure and drove to Tobermory, which you can see in the photo. I’m sure it was not as colorful in 1773, although Dr. Johnson described it as having a very commercial appearance because of all the boats in the harbor.

Travelling around Mull in the 1770s was hard going. As Dr. Johnson described the trip across Mull on their way to Iona:

Having not any experience of a journey in Mull, we had no doubt of reaching the sea by day-light, and therefore had not left Dr. Maclean’s very early. We travelled diligently enough, but found the country, for road there was none, very difficult to pass. We were always struggling with some obstruction or other, and our vexation was not balanced by any gratification of the eye or mind. We were now long enough acquainted with hills and heath to have lost the emotion that they once raised, whether pleasing or painful, and had our mind employed only on our own fatigue.

It’s still hard going. There are roads now, but they are mostly single tracks winding through the mountains, with passing places for oncoming vehicles. My brother Gordon was leaving a day earlier than the rest of us and wanted a cheaper room, so he booked a hotel in Tobermory. I booked rooms at a “nearby” castle for Donald, Roland, and me. It was only four miles from Tobermory, but the first time we drove it in the fog, and it took us 40 minutes. We got that below 30 minutes by the time we left.

Traversing the best roads on Mull (a combination of dual lane and single track), it took us about two hours to make the 58 miles from Tobermory to the Iona ferry.

Iona is known as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. Johnson and Boswell were disappointed with the state of the ruins at the site. By the time we got there, the nunnery was still in ruins but restoration work had been done on the abbey. Here is a picture as the abbey looked to us.


As mentioned above, Gordon left us after three nights on Mull. Donald travelled on with Roland and me, staying one more night on Mull before heading to Glenelg and from there to Skye.

I’ll pick up the saga next week as I talk about the experiences we shared with the two scholars at Glenelg on our way to Skye.