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celebratory portLadies and Gentlemen, believe it or not but TPSAYE turns a year old today.

If I may say so, happy birthday to me!

If WordPress is to be believed, over the past year your humble host has racked up 614 posts, 1971 comments and 118,968 views.   Granted, most of the views seem to be aimed at a pic of Sophia Loren that I put up last year, but hey – eyeballs are eyeballs.

So what can I say?  Not much, perhaps.  The whole genesis of TPSAYE is complicated and, because it’s late, I don’t have the energy to go into it.  Suffice to say that I have enjoyed blogging here in what Steve-O the Llama Butcher calls “Robbo’s Back Room” tremendously since I set things up.  Hopefully, the figgahs cited above demonstrate that some of you have enjoyed it to.

So thank you for all of your support!  And to mark the occassion, pray charge your glasses and let me fall back on TPSAYE’s signature line:  Bumpers all round and no heel taps!

I posted a week or two back that I was greedily devouring George MacDonald Fraser’s The Complete McAuslan, aMcAuslan collection of short stories nominally centered around what MacDonald refers to as “the Dirtiest Soldier in the World (alias the Tartan Caliban, or the Highland Division’s answer to the Pekin Man)” but is really a very thinly disguised account of MacDonald’s experience in North Africa and Scotland just after WWII as a young subaltern in the Gordan Highlanders.

Well, I’ve done now, and let me just say that seldom have I been so taken with such a set of stories.  For one thing, they’re filled with fascinating historickal detail.   For example, one story is devoted to the question of which tune Piper George Findlater actually played when, on October 20, 1897, having been shot through both legs, he nonetheless propped himself up against a rock and piped on to encourage the Gordons in their storming of a tough Afridi position on the Dargai Heights on India’s Northwest Frontier, thereby winning a Victoria Cross for himself.   Another story has to do with the narrator’s command of a train running from Cairo to Jerusalem in 1946 and the danger of sabotage by the Lehi, or Stern Gang, a group of Zionists so radical that in the early 40’s they offered to wage war against the British forces stationed in Palestine in exchange for Hitler sending thither all the Jews the Nazis rounded up in Europe.  (The Germans ignored the offer.)

For another, these stories are chock-a-block with trivia of the sort in which I positively delight.  For instance, in one story Fraser notes the popular tradition that the word “cabal” originated as an acronym of an influential group of Charles II’s ministers:  Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley and Lord Lauderdale.

For yet another, the stories are just so bloody well written.  One of them, “McCauslin in the Rough”, is a golf story as good as anything I’ve read in Wodehouse.  Another involves a battle of wits between a clan of Scots poachers and the Local Authorities, and reminds me a great deal of Somerville & Ross’s The Irish R.M

And finally, they’re just so obviously written out of love and respect, pride and nostalgia, that one cannot help being moved.

Quartered SafeNaturally, I had to move on from the McCauslin stories to Fraser’s autobiographical account of his time as an infantryman in Burma in WWII, Quartered Safe Out Here.  And as I read the introductory paragraphs to that work, I came across a paragraph that, at least to me, speaks volumes not only toward Fraser’s treatment of that great dirty Scot, Private McCauslin, but also toward his portrayal of Sir Harry Flashman, that Victorian rogue extraordinaire, in the Flashman Chronicles:

We were Fourteenth Army, the final echo of Kipling’s world, the very last British soldiers in the old imperial tradition.  I don’t say we were happy to be in Burma, because we weren’t, but we knew that [General] Slim was right when he said: “Some day, you’ll be proud to say, ‘I was there.'”

Mind you….we had to get out of the bloody place first. 

Pride.  Fraser was, first and foremost, proud of his service, and of his unit’s, and, more broadly, of that of the British Army in general and, if this quote is anything to go on, its Imperial record.  This confirms my long-held opinion that Fraser created Flashy – that paragon of cowardice, faithlessness and cynicism, as a sort of duck blind behind whom Fraser could express his admiration for the extraordinary men (and women) at the forefront of Empire during the Victorian Age in what he himself might have called a “slantendicular” way.  You will note in the series that Flashy always gives credit where it is due, and occasionally can’t help recognizing What Is Right himself, and even acting on it. 

I doubt seriously if any young English PhD candidate groping about for a dissertation topic has though of this but, oh mayun, if I were in that position I would jump on it with both feet.   And I wouldn’t give a single, solitary damn about what anyone thought of my research.  I’ve any idea that the pleasure of studying Fraser and his writing would be reward enough in and of itself.

Filming of the next installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has kicked off:

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the third in the epic series of films based on the bestselling books by C.S. Lewis, will begin principal photography on location in Queensland, Australia, today – July 27, 2009. The production, a joint venture between Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Walden Media, continues the franchise which commenced with the spectacular, Oscar®-winning 2005 release, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and its 2008 follow-up, “Prince Caspian,” whose combined global boxoffice gross tops $1.2 billion.

This time around – Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their pesky cousin Eustace Scrubb – find themselves swallowed into a painting and on to a fantastic Narnian ship headed for the very edges of the world.

Joining forces once again with their royal friend Prince Caspian and the warrior mouse Reepicheep, they are whisked away on a mysterious mission to the Lone Islands, and beyond. On this bewitching voyage that will test their hearts and spirits, the trio will face magical Dufflepuds, sinister slave traders, roaring dragons and enchanted merfolk. Only an entirely uncharted journey to Aslan’s Country – a voyage of destiny and transformation for each of those aboard the Dawn Treader – can save Narnia, and all the astonishing creatures in it, from an unfathomable fate.

Emphasis mine.  Dawn Treader is one of my favorite books of the entire Narnia series, but I can tell you right here and now that I want nothing to do with the movie.  It seems quite apparent to me that the Narnia series is sliding steadily down the same slippery slope as did the Lord of the Rings franchise:  It’s not enough that the journey of the Treader toward the utmost East should be a thing of wonder for her crew and a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress for the toad Eustace.  No, instead the makers apparently feel compelled to punch it up by somehow tying the doom of Narnia itself to the voyage.  Perhaps Eustace will be required to throw Reepicheep into the Crack of Doom.  Or perhaps – a la George Lucas – there will be a heart-wrenching scene in which Caspian must confront his own Dark Side. 

Whatever the liberties taken, you can bet they’ll involve an awful lot of absolutely needless CGI…..

Feh.

A cautionary tale for you green thumbs out there.  Here is what happens when you say to yourself, “Oh, what could happen if I put one leetle butterfly bush in my garden?” -

IMG_3362 Behold the awesome might of Buddleia Kong!

I still remember the morning four years ago when I gently planted a little two-inch seedling, the only survivor of a tray of them that I had started under the lights in the basement some weeks before.  So frail, so delicate, so unlikely to last outside the miniature hot house that had been its only home.

Ha.

You got that?

 Ha, HA!

But Kong was not content to rule in solitude.  Oh, no.  Last year it started to produce Konglings in profusion.  How it managed this I still don’t know, given that it was the only butterfly bush anywhere in the area, so far as I could see.  Nonetheless, there it is.  And here is what happens if you say, “Oh, what could happen if I just let one or two of the offspring grow up as well?” -IMG_3364

There are at least five of these Titan children firmly anchored about the garden now.  Fool that I was, as they started shooting up earlier this year I thought that by a rigid schedule of pruning I could keep them in control.  Well, so much for that.  Rigid schedules of pruning do not comport well with my general schedule of spring and summah activities, and certainly not well enough to keep up with this gang, who, Kruschev-like, have been busy burying every other plant since.

Sure, I could go and hog them back to the quicks now, but a fat lot of good that would do.

However, if nothing else, the jungle-like state of things has convinced me to do what I had been mulling for some time already, namely, digging the whole thing up and starting over again.   Not only am I going to root everything up, I’m also going to put in raised beds, complete with two feet of fresh, new, rich soil, embedded drip hoses and a stapled anti-rabbit fence all the way round that will stop the little bastards in their tracks.   Yes, it’s going to be a back-breaking project, but I feel it is worth it.  Think of it as the Green Thumb’s Burden.

IMG_3361Oh, I should mention that I am still very fond of butterfly bush, but from now on it won’t get anywhere near my garden.  However, as you can see, the eco-crowd need not despair, as I have found that it does perfectly well in whiskey barrel seclusion as well.

This afternoon, so I am informed, Mrs. Robbo received her o-fficial certification from the Goddard Space Lab allowing her to borrow gen-u-ine Moon rocks to display in her classroom at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method.

Actually, the whole bisnay is very cool.  Not only does she get to show the rocks, there is an elaborate chain-of-possession  protocal for transporting said rocks to and from St. M of the BEM that actually involves the local police force.  Mrs. Robbo, always several steps ahead of Self, has already recognized what a great PR stunt all this might be for the Old School.  (Heck, I’m on the Board of Directors.  I ought to be extremely pleased with this.  And I am.)

Aaaaaaanyway, I was hoping to tie in some kind of “So I married a looney” link.  Unfortunately, all the Monty Python “Spot the Looney” YouTube clips are very second rate.  In the alternative, I fall back on the old stand-by:

(At least I can say that my Miss Yakamoto is pretty damn beautiful!)

McAuslanAs noted in the comments to my post about the new Aubrey/Maturin movie below, I fully intend to take on Kathy the Cake-Eater over the issue of whether Russell Crowe is the right actor to play Lucky Jack Aubrey.  Furthermore, I intend to go right through the series of novels,citing primary text to blow mon ami du gateau right out of the water.  (I shall smite her.  Oh, yes.  I shall.)

However, Madame’s chastisement is going to have to wait a bit, because I suddenly find myself deep into George MacDonald Fraser’s hy-larious WWII-Era collection of stories, The Complete McAuslan. Private McAuslan, J.,  is described as “the Dirtiest Soldier in the World (alias the Tartan Caliban, or the Highland Division’s answer to the Pekin Man).

I am only a few chapters into the first novel of this collection, The General Danced at Dawn, so I cannot yet give you any overall picture.  But I can assure you that I have already recieved many a glance on the Metro as a result of my uncontrollable giggling over Fraser’s workmanship.  How the hell could that man have really been a Scot?

(Yes, in case you’re wondering, I’ve also recently purchased a copy of Fraser’s own WWII memoir, Quartered Safe Out Here.  I gather that there is a considerable amount of biographical detail that makes its way from Fraser’s non-fiction to his fiction.  Indeed, it was in my hunt for this volume on the devil’s website that I stumbled across the McAuslan series.) 

Oh, one other thing: As in the Flashman series, Fraser here makes extensive use of the adjective “slantendicular” as in “a slantendicular glance”.  Although I know the word essentially means “side-long”, damme if it appears in my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary.  Where the hell did Fraser find it?  And why is he so partial to it?

Mrs. Robbo is away this week doing graduate work up at Johns Hopkins.  (Among other things, I understand that the certificate she earns in this course entitles her to borrow actual moon rocks from the Goddard Space Lab to use in her classroom.  How seriously cool is that?)

In order to cover the gels while I slave away for Uncle, we’re employing a young colleague of Mrs. R’s as a daytime babysitter.  I’ll call her Miss Mary.  She’s about 30 or so and single.

So this afternoon, the eldest gel called me at the office.  “Dad!” she said, “We really like Miss M!  Do you think that sometime this week – she could stay over at our house for a sleepover? You know – with us girls down in the basement?”

“Absolutely not,” I replied.

Later, the gel tagged me for an explanation.

“Well,” I said, “Miss Mary is not related to us, either by blood or by marriage.  It simply wouldn’t do to have her spend the night in our house if I were here without Mom, never mind whether she was staying downstairs with you kids.”

The gel more or less accepted this, although I could tell she was not totally convinced.

Now we have been fortunate enough never to have had to employ a nanny, au pair or other live-in help.   But this little incident got me thinking just how terrible a trap such an arrangement can be.  Indeed, from the anecdotal evidence I’ve picked up in my puff, the possibilities for mischief brought about by introducing an unattached young thing into a household are simply mind-boggling.  What I can never understand is why any sensible wife and mother would ever allow herself to be persuaded that such an arrangement is a good thing.

Regular port-swiller CrisN sent along this nooz article spotted in the Atlanta papers:

Crowe considering new Master & Commander movie

By SIMON HAYDON
Associated Press Writer

LONDON — Russell Crowe is in the early stages of negotiations to reprise the role of Jack Aubrey as a British sea captain in a new movie version from the Master & Commander series of novels.

Crowe told The Associated Press on Friday that a script based mostly on the eleventh novel of Patrick O’Brian’s 20-novel series, The Reverse of the Medal, had been written, but that discussions were at a very early stage.

“There’s still a long way to go,” the New Zealand-born actor told AP at a cricket match between England and Australia in London.  He said talks had been taking place with the owner of the rights to the novels.

The 44-year-old Crowe, who won a best actor Oscar for his starring role in Gladiator, is a keen cricket fan. His two cousins, Jeff and Martin, are former captains of the New Zealand national team. Jeff is now a senior cricket official and is in charge of the team of officials at the England-Australia match.

The Aubrey/Maturin novels consists of 20 books and one partly written before his death in 2000 by O’Brian, all set during the Napoleonic Wars.

The 2003 movie Master and Commander took material from several of the novels.  The Reverse of the Medal, published in 1986, sees Aubrey in the Caribbean in his ship HMS Surprise, where he meets his illegitimate son Samuel Panda, a Catholic priest born from an illicit liaison.

Crowe gave no indication of when filming could start but said it was one of a number of projects he is considering.

Which I hope he drops such considerin’ right quick-like! 

I have said it many, many times but I’m going to say it again:  I’ve nothing in particular against Russell Crowe, but he is all wrong for the part of Jack Aubrey.  Period.  End of report.  Finis.

Incidentally, I would point out that Jack never takes the Surprise into the Carribbean.  The story opens in port at Bridgetown, Barbados at the far eastern end of the West Indies.  Geologically speaking, it is located in the Atlantic, not the Carribbean.  Further, when Jack meets Sam Panda, Sam is not a Catholic priest, but instead is in minor orders. 

Small details to some, perhaps, but not to me.

GrillFor a long time now I’ve been content with the ol’ Webber 22″ circular grill out on the patio to handle all of my cookout duties.  However, due to the fact that a) the thing is about fifteen years old and starting to rust through on the sides and b) I suddenly find myself living with a family of young boa-constrictors and need much more cooking space, I feel that it is time to step up to the next level.   

So the question is:  What is that next level?  Basically, I need, as I say, more space.  I also need variable cooking temperatures, as Mrs. Robbo has developed a fondness for kabobs while I continue to prefer the 60 seconds-per-side flash-cooked rib-eye, while the gels have all of a sudden developed a taste for having their hotdog and hamburger buns toasted.   Of course, all of these need different levels of heat.  Also, the ability to accomodate everyone’s tastes is a critical selling point for getting this project past Mrs. Robbo in her capacity as Family CBO, so of course I need to be able to make good on my promises.

Basically, I’m thinking something along the lines of the model pictured above: a barrel-shaped contrivance with adjustable surfaces and a hinged top.  But if you’ve got suggestions for a particular make or model, I’d love to hear about them.

Oh, one other thing:  I am only interested in charcoal grills, gas grills being the work of the devil in my opinion, so please, no suggestions of the latter, thanks.

IMG_2066

ON PICKING BERRIES

I spent some time a-berrying,

This pleasant July morn,

And found myself compary-ing

My run-ins with the thorn.

 

The blueberry ’tis a gentle bush,

Its branches smooth and spineless.

And if you need give them a push,

You’ll get your berries painless.

 

The raspberry, now, ’tis a bit more tough,

Its prickles middling bitchy.

Reach on in for fruit enough,

You’ll wind up tol’rable itchy.

 

The blackberry, tho’s, a vicious cuss,

All hooks and barbs right wicked.

And after all that bloody fuss,

You’ll wonder WHO got pickéd!

 

But snag or scrape or stinging scratch,

I really can’t complain-o.

For when I start to eat my catch,

B’Jove, it’s worth the pain-o!

 

Not Keats, perhaps, but it sums up my thoughts pretty nicely if I do say so myself.

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