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Over the past couple weeks, ol’ Robbo has been indulging himself in a little WWII military reading.

The first item, as I mentioned here a couple weeks ago, was W. Stanley Moss’ Ill Met By Moonlight, his essentially novelized diary of his exploit, along with Patrick Leigh Fermor and a band of local partisans, of kidnapping the German commander on the island of Crete and whisking him away to Brit HQ in Alexandria.   There’s really nothing much to say about the book:  If you like adventure stories that involve derring-do, cunning and various whiz-bang gadgets (such as exploding goat poop), you’ll like this one.

Moss was very close to a small band of agents and operatives doing the old cloak-and-dagger stuff out of Alexandria.  One of the names he mentioned frequently was that of Billy Maclean.   I wondered if this was the same Fitzroy Maclean who wrote Eastern Approaches, the story of his own adventures along the Road to Samarkand, among the sands of North Africa with the SAS, with that bastard Tito and his bastard Jug partisans and elsewhere.  Apparently not.  One has to wonder how many Macleans there actually were running about with the SOE.  Perhaps it was a clan predilection.  At any rate, I reread Maclean’s account just for the shear eye-popping astonishment at the Communist mindset that overran the East, and of which Maclean was a first-hand observer.

Pursuing the nascent 007 theme (Ian Fleming was a cloak-and-dagger man himself during the War), I also got round to a book the Mothe has been after me to read for some time, Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal.  It’s the story of one Eddie Chapman, a thief, swindler and all-around good time guy who happened to be in jail on the island of Jersey when the Krauts landed there.  Through a rayther crazy process, he was first thrown into a prison in France, then taken into the German Secret Service, then, as soon as he parachuted back into Britain, became one of HMG’s best double agents and thoroughly bamboozled the Germans after going back to both France and Nazi-occupied Norway.   The man did such a good job that he was actually awarded an Iron Cross by the Nazis for his “efforts” on their behalf (the only Brit ever to receive one).   Again, I won’t say much about the details, but if you like this kind of spy-versus-spy stuff, you’ll like this book.

All of this got Robbo muddling on the larger thematic point:  I had known that British Intelligence was superior to its German counterpart, but I’d had no idea just how completely and utterly outclassed the Nazis were by the Brits, both in terms of technical genius (the Brit cracking of the sooper-sekret Enigma Code without the Germans being aware), and in terms of how it was put to use (Chapman (and his friends) persuaded the Germans that he had blown up an important DeHavilland aircraft factory when he’d done no such thing.  Again, through stunts like the fake Allied landings at Calais and the Eastern Med, the Brits were able to completely wrong-foot the German defensive strategies until it was too late.)   All this got me wondering:  Why were the Brits so much better at this game?

My general conclusion, based on nothing except reading this sort of story, is that it was cultural.  To the Brits, it was a game, and one to be played with dash, panache and cunning.  And it would seem that most of the Brits attracted to this branch of warfare were, for lack of a better psychological description, mad as coots.   I have a very hard time seeing their German counterparts – regimented, disciplined and rigid in their outlooks – allowing the same sort of personal idiosyncrasy-driven sort of warfare.   They certainly never produced anything like the same results.

Alas, that culture is long gone now.  I believe it was based on a peculiar combination of Love of King and Country, Romanticism and a heavy yoot diet of Boys’ Own stories.   Almost all of that has been wiped out and is unlikely ever to appear again.  So I suppose we have no choice but to dip into books such as these to pick up the fain echos of what once was.  Very sad.  Very sad.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo finally dragged himself to the eye doctor this morning, the first visit in I forget how many years now.

This was a new fellah, one who has been working extensively with the eldest and youngest gel for the past few months.  He’s convenient to the port swiller residence, so I thought I’d give him a try as well.  He calls himself a “Developmental Optometrist” and seems to be all about what a legendary substitute teacher in my high school used to call the “en-VYE-ron-ment”.   We spent a lot of time discussing what can only be described as Robbo’s seeing habits – computer screen distances, day to day driving routine, book-wormish proclivities and the like.

He also had a look at the current pair of specs that sit athwart the Robbo nose.  After examining them in one of his whiz-bang gadgets, about the best thing he could pronounce was that I am not actually scraping my corneae every morning with a wire brush dipped in acid, but other than that, Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!   Ho for the new prescriptions!

I say prescriptions, plural, because that’s what he wants me to do:  One pair of bifocals for getting from point A to point B without wrapping the ol’ Jeep round a tree and for ordinary reading, a second pair of bifocals for computer time.   I suppose there’s a medicinal reason behind all this – he explained one, at any rate – but through all of it, all I could hear was the repeated phrase, “Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching!”

I did manage to spike the fellah once, though.  The discussion came round to contacts.  I said that I had worn them for many years but have reached the point where I no longer consider them worth the bother.  He said, “Well, contacts could still be important in certain social situations….”  I cheerily replied, “No thanks, Doc! That sort of thing doesn’t really interest me, y’know.”

And there was a brief but pregnant pause.

What could he have been thinking, d’you suppose?  Robbo being denied the job for looking too much like a …  Robbo cruising the singles’ bar?  Robbo trying to make a favorable impression on the Ambassador?  Robbo attempting to persuade the trapped and panicky fellow passengers that he could lead them to a maintenance hatch in the capsized ship’s engine room and therefore out through the bottom of the hull to freedom?  The world wonders.

Anyhoo, there we are.

Regular friends of the decanter may recall that I posted a couple weeks back on Mrs. R’s determination to shove her oar in re what kind of new frames I get.  I could have snuck off to Hour Eyes this morning and picked my own out, but I knew that whatever peace lay in that approach would have been temporary at best.  Thus, I am going to take the craven approach of waiting instead until she can go along with me before making my choice.


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May 2012