Today is St Valentine’s Day, or increasingly just Valentine’s Day, invented by modern marketing ostensibly to commemorate love. It is also the day in 1975 when Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse went to his reward after a lifetime spreading sweetness and light. Real love, not the greeting card variety.
I’ve been more than a bit flat lately, what with the pestilence, the totalitarian political response to it and the decline of civilisation in general. So it brightened at least this day when I opened my e-mail to find a notification from fellow Wodehousean Ashok Bhatia of his latest blog post – a poem to a grandchild, not his but one named John Jasper, a descendant of another Wodehousean. John Jasper is one year old today, for which Ashok began:
Allow us to welcome you belatedly to this wonderful world on a special day,
When you turn one and fans in different continents are celebrating Plum;
For this is the day he decided to hand in his dinner pail,
Leaving a rich legacy of joy, should we ever become glum.
In 2016 when one of my grandchildren happened to have been born on Wodehouse’s birthday – and his parents unknowingly named him Clarence, the same moniker carried by Lord Emsworth, seigneur of Blandings Castle – Ashok penned a poem not merely of welcome but also of inspiration. I hope I live long enough to present it to Clarence one day.
One wishes you a long and healthy life, full of laughter and love,
A sunny disposition to face the harsh slings and arrows of life;
A chin-up attitude, a song in the heart, a prayer on your lips,
Guardian Angels who fuss over you and protect you from many a strife.
Then, lo and behold, came a note from blogger Biff Sock Pow in normally sunny Texas wondering what happens when paradise freezes, as it is threatening to do. Apparently, winter in Dallas is not just cold at present but absolutely frightening its brass monkeys. Londoners to whom I have been speaking are fretting over inches of snow in the streets. Snow is late but metres deep in northern California. I love it when global warming kicks in.
I am unsurprised, though, at events in the northern hemisphere – because here in Melbourne, where February usually features a run on airconditioners, autumn leaves are appearing, weeks ahead of their time. I am sensitive to these seasonal changes because I am a northerner. Over more than half a century here I have never failed to be amazed by spring’s uplifting life and autumn’s brilliant decay. Where I come from there’s hot and less hot. You need a jumper for a few weeks in the middle of the year, that’s all. I once, only once, wore an overcoat in Brisbane and got looked at in a manner that suggested I was overdoing it a bit, mate. Young ladies in that part of the world refuse to consider a climatic imperative to dress in anything but the barest minimum. Trees are the opposite – they are always covered.
In Melbourne, summer has been cool this year, apart from one or two days – not weeks, days – and, after bountiful winter and spring rains, the vegetation has been exceedingly and enjoyably lush. My lemon and olive trees are hung heavy with fruit. Something is NQR, though. I inspect my produce every day for signs of ripening but skins remain frustratingly green and foliage is thinning. I suspect my little grove is joining the plane trees and the elms and the laurels around the suburb in seeking an early bed.
What can it all mean? Nothing, precisely nothing.
There’s a word we’ve been hearing over and over again during The Pestilence and it’s this: unprecedented. Don’t believe it, neither with the pestilence nor with that other alarmist joy, climate change. It’s all happened before and it – whatever “it” might be – will happen again.
Cheer yourself instead with sunny Ashok, and a plentiful portion of Plum wine.