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Because I have such a hopelessly scattershot mind, many, many plans that I hatch or ideas that I get wind up being lost in the ol’ lumber room, sometimes turning up long afterwards, sometimes never to be seen again.

Among these was my intent to read Roald Dahl’s Going Solo, the autobiography of his early manhood in the late ’30’s and the first years of WWII.  It had been among the books the eldest gel read over the summah for school, and at the time I thought it looked like it would be quite interesting.  However, after I had filed away that particular resolution,  it seems to have got buried among many others, and I forgot all about it.

This morning the eldest gel suddenly brought it back to my attention when she shoved her copy of the book into my hands and said, “Remember this?”  I greedily delved into it and finished it off in a couple hours.  My goodness, what a treat! 

The book falls into two essential parts.  The first cover’s Dahl’s pre-War experiences.  His first job as a very young man was with Shell Oil in East Africa, to which he set out alone from London.  This was in the last days of the true British Empire Builders, and his descriptions of some of the characters he met both on the ship out and on post are quite entertaining.  I kept waiting for some high-handed colonial post-mortem tsk-tsking, but Dahl stays right off of that.  Instead, he concentrates on personalities and idiosyncracies.  It was his opinion (correct, from all I’ve read) that practically all the Brits out East eventually went quite barmy.  Nonetheless, he seems to have held some admiration for them and for what they did. 

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of this part of the book is his stories of several encounters with East Africa’s nastiest snake, the Mamba (Black and Green).  Apparently, not only are they fearless and inclined to attack humans on sight, one simply cannot outrun them.  Dahl’s eye-witness accounts of how the local residents dealt with them are, shall we say, hair-raising. 

I am never going to East Africa.  Ever.

The second part of the book concerns Dahl’s war service.  When news reached his station in 1939, Dahl first helped to round up the local German civilian population (nearly getting himself shot in the chest point-blank).  Then he set out for the Med to volunteer as a fighter pilot with the RAF.  He describes learning to fly, which he did well enough, although nobody ever instructed him how to fight.  Eventually, without any prior combat experience, he found himself along with a handfull of other Hurricane pilots vainly trying to cover the disastrous Brit evacuation of Greece against swarms of German bombers and fighters.  His descriptions of combat and the insanities of organized war are among the best I have read.  Crisp, clear, exciting.  After the fall of Greece, Dahl found himself in Syria flying against the Viche French.  The high point of that service was an encounter he had with a group of early Zionists, although he does nothing more than relate a conversation he had with one of them on the topic of  homelands.  I’d have been interested to see what he thought about it all, but again he keeps pretty mum.

Dahl only flew a few weeks in the Levant before he was grounded by headaches caused by a concussion he had suffered as the result of a crash landing in the Egyptian desert prior to his move to Greece (and for which he had to spend many weeks in hospital).  The book ends with his invaliding out and returning to England, where he was reunited after three years with his mother and sisters.  (The book is puncuated throughout with excerpts from correspondence between them.)  And that’s pretty much it.  Dahl simply stops at the point where he gets off the bus and meets his waiting family.

As I say, I polished this book off in a couple hours.  While it certainly is not one of his children’s books and doesn’t flinch away from descriptions of death and mayhem, on the other hand, it is neither deep nor complicated, but is instead simply an account of what Dahl saw and heard with his own eyes and ears in the late 30’s and early 40’s.   Well worth it if you are interested in this sort of thing.

From the coast of Maine comes the deep-sea version of Manbearpig, the Porbeagle!

Also, divers taking pictures of salmon poop.

We are doomed.

I see where today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1903, of Evelyn Waugh, perhaps Ol’ Robbo’s very favorite writer of fiction these days.

At the moment, I happen to be rounding (again) into the third book of his Sword of Honour trilogy, The End of the Battle.  I find myself musing idly this time around on the plausibility of Guy Crouchback ever having been married to Virginia Troy in the first place, and wondering whether this is another reference to Mr. Wu’s own failed first marriage to the She-Evelyn (the other one I know of being Tony and Brenda Last in A Handful of Dust).  After TEOTB, I’ve still got Put Out More Flags, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold and Brideshead to tackle in order to complete the canon.

As I mentioned over at Jordana’s place, I have also ordered up Waugh’s biography of Edmund Campion, which will be a new book for me.  I’d also like to get his biography of Ronald Knox.  On the other hand, I have yet to summon up the energy to tackle his Helena, of which I have heard some not very flattering reviews.


I saw a gal handing out “free eco-masks” at the metro this morning, cardboard blobs covered with green leaf designs.

Don’t really know what the point was supposed to be.  Is Mother Gaia now co-opting Halloween, or was the idea maybe that we could all pretend we were dressed up as Birnham Wood?

I am His Majesty’s dog at Kew;

Pray, tell me, sir,

Whose dog are you? ¹

Regular port-swillers may recall some time back my mention of a little literary contest the Mothe was putting together to spike challenge her book club.  Well, wake the kids and phone the neighbors (and perhaps linky on your own blogs?), because…….I’ve got it!

The quiz is very simple.  Below is a list of the names of twenty-five dogs associated in one way or another with literature.  (The original list – which I helped in small part to put together – actually was twenty.  In my enthusiasm, I’ve tacked on an additional five.)  The challenge is to match them with their owners. ²  That’s all there is to it.

Here is the list:

1. Ponto

2. Krak

3. Pilot

4. The White Boys ³

5. Bartholomew

6.  Pug

7.  Man Ray, Fay Ray and Chundo

8.  Blondi

9.  Sandy

10.  Muggs

11.  Jack the Bulldog

12. Fala

13.  Blanche, Trey and Sweetheart

14.  Laska

15.  Keeper

16.  “…the nicest little black bitch of a pointer….”

17.  Grasper

18.  the pet [or little] dog (a Pomeranian)

19.  Checkers

20.  Moretto (a bulldog) and Lyon (a Newfoundland)

21.  Tricki Woo

22.  Freda

23.  Tigger

24.  Reilly

25.  McIntosh

Here’s what’s let’s do:  If you want to have a go at identifying the owners, shoot your submission(s) to me at  In the memo line, put “Fido’s Quest.”  While you should feel free to leave general comments or queries here, don’t give away answers, as it will spoil things for everyone else.  I will then tabulate all submissions received as of 12:00 PM Eastern Time on Friday, November 5 and announce the winners.  I also will post the answer key, of course.  Winners will receive…..oh, I don’t know.  We’ll think of something.

You are all on your honor not to do any sneaky googling to come up with the answers.  (Of course, I can’t enforce this rule, but I will remind you that God is watching and He will know if you violate it.)  Remember, this is emphatically not a general doggy knowledge quiz.  It is a highly arbitrary and eccentric one.  Some of the references ought to be quite easy, but some of them are quite idiosyncratic.  So feel free to take a plunge, even if you only know a few.  Anyone who presents anything close to a perfect score will be looked on with deep, deep suspicion.

Oh, one other thing:  We have specific animals in mind.  In the event you identify another dog with the same name belonging to someone else, I will award you partial credit for the answer.

In her covering note sending this along, the Mothe says, “Probably not suitable for publication – at least I wouldn’t want to meet anyone who could get 20 out of 20.  Too weird, by half.”

Well, all I can say is that despite my carefully-crafted veneer of stuffiness, most of you know by now that underneath there is no such thing as “too weird” when we’re sitting here over the port and Stilton.  So go to it and good luck!

¹  Supposedly engraved on a collar presented to King Charles II for one of his many pet spaniels.  Attributed to James Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, but I am unable to document it.  Extra points for authentication.

²    I can tell you that nine of the owners were real people.  Full credit will be awarded for simply identifying them.  For the remaining fictional characters, I will need the name of the character, the book or story and the identity of the author in order to award full credit.  Partial answers will receive partial credit.

³  Extra points for identifying the allusion.

(Scottie image lifted from Tricky Tykes.  I’ll take it down if they want, but if it makes any difference, I grew up with a Scottie named Fergus and the breed has always had sentimental associations for me.  He was a right bastard, but he was a good friend.)

Plodding to the sanglewich shop in the rain, I found myself again musing on the fact that I have never understood mini-umbrellas.  Apart from the single fact that they can be slipped into purse, backpack or briefcase, to me they seem to be utterly without redeeming qualities.   And yet, they seem the rule rayther than the exception round here.

In terms of their primary function, at best these baby brollies provide only partial coverage from the rain, having about enough surface area to protect the carrier’s head and choice of right or left shoulder and arm.   Any kind of wind at all renders them useless even for this moderate level of shelter.

Furthermore, mini-umbrellas lack the secondary utility of the full-sized or, dare I say, traditional model.  When not employing it to shield myself from the elements, I can always instead use my own as a walking stick.  Also, it makes an efficient prop on which to rest my hand while I am reading my book as I stand in the metro.   In addition, it serves as a dramatic pointer when giving directions to lost tourons.  Further, more than once I have used it to catch an elevator door or, in my more swashbuckling moments, even to press the buttons.  Finally, although I have never yet had to put it to the test, in the event of an encounter with a would-be assailant (human or animal) in the streets, it could also be deployed as a weapon.

Try doing any of those things with the mini-model and see how far you get.

I suppose that this question should not bother me.  I suppose I should tell myself just to mind my own biznay and be on my way.  But when I see my fellow sidewalk denizens so often sodden and bedraggled under their “convenient” little scraps,  I feel that something ought to be said.

For those of my fellow port-swillers interested in the Boys of Summah, I would just note that I have put in a new category devoted specifically to baseball-related linkies over on the sidebar.  It seemed about the time to do it.

I know that “Stingos in the Pavillion” is actually allusive of cricket, not baseball, and that something like “Beer in the Bleachers” would be more thematically appropriate, but I decided to go with the former in order to maintain the overall air of insufferable Anglophilia that pervades these pages.

Speaking of baseball, what with the World Series starting tonight, my apologies in advance if I am more incoherent than usual over the next few days.   I cannot remember a Series that presented such a win-win situation in my mind.  I plan to back the Giants simply out of National League loyalty, but if the Rangers pull it off?  Well, I’ll be pretty pleased for them, too.

It’s Pledge Week at the local classickal musicke station and the playlist is positively chock-a-block with hackneyed crowd-pleasers; Pachelbel’s “Canon,” the “1812 Overture,” the “Ride of the Valkyries,” “Peter and the Wolf” and Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor,” to name but a few.  Over and over and over again.

I sometimes wonder about the poor deejays who have to both play this sort of stuff and also enthuse about it as they encourage their listeners to pony up.   At what point do they wish for nothing more than the pleasure of driving a screwdriver into their eardrums?


Ladies and Gentlemen, it isn’t often that I swipe culchah links from Ace’s HQ, but this one is too good to resist.  Thus, courtesy of the University of Kansas, I present you Shakespeare in the original pronunciation:

Toddle on over and read the whole thing.  I had known of the Great Vowel Shift, of course.  (I say “of course” because I was, after all, an English major, and not to brag, but I got an A+ on my pronunciation test in my Chaucer class.  “Whaaan thaaa Apriiiil…..”) but this is the first time I have heard/seen it applied to Shakespeare.  The theory here seems to be that the GVS occured at or after his time, whereas I had always assumed that it was a bit earlier.

I have often encountered the theory that the ‘Murican southern drawl is a by-product of the accents of the West Country folk who first settled in what are now the southern United States, as opposed to the more nasal East Anglian twang of their New England counterparts, and indeed, in my Chaucer class, in speaking pre-GVS Englich one half fancied a cross between Ireland and Alabama.

This link also warms ol’ Robbo’s heart because I once played Lysander in a college per-duction of AMND me own self.  (There are even photos of me in green tights out there somewhere, not that YOU lot will ever see them.)  How would that line go?  Fayer Helena! who more engilds the nyght/ than all yon fayery ohs and eyes of light!

Fetch the soft cushions!

— Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it’s not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn’t Catholic enough.

Enraged by dissent that they believe has gone unchecked for decades, and unafraid to say so in the starkest language, these activists are naming names and unsettling the church.

-In the Archdiocese of Boston, parishioners are dissecting the work of a top adviser to the cardinal for any hint of Marxist influence.

-Bloggers are combing through campaign finance records to expose staff of Catholic agencies who donate to politicians who support abortion rights., working from studios in suburban Detroit, is hunting for “traitorous” nuns, priests or bishops throughout the American church.

“We’re no more engaged in a witch hunt than a doctor excising a cancer is engaged in a witch hunt,” said Michael Voris of and St. Michael’s Media. “We’re just shining a spotlight on people who are Catholics who do not live the faith.”

John Allen, Vatican analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, has dubbed this trend “Taliban Catholicism.” But he says it’s not a strictly conservative phenomenon – liberals can fit the mindset, too, Allen says. Some left-leaning Catholics are outraged by any exercise of church authority.

“Taliban Catholicism.”  Right.  Because you know how they love to go around burning down shrines, whipping women in the streets and beheading dissenters.

And may I just say that anyone “outraged by any exercise of church authority” probably ought not to be calling themselves Catholic?

Interestingly, Father S was on about Catholics In Name Only just yesterday in his homily, by way of example making thinly-disguised references to a certain politician whose name rhymes with “Where Goes He?” and suggesting categorically stating that such an attitude is a major no-no.

(Via Headline Bistro.)


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October 2010