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Ol’ Robbo mentioned that he has gone back to taking the Metro to work, and therefore that he has about half an hour of time on his hands each way to read.

This past week or so I have been revisiting an old, old favorite of mine, The Irish R.M. by E.Œ. Somerville and Martin Ross.  I found that each story was just about of sufficient length to cover one day’s round trip.  (How’s that for commuter nerdism?)

I’ve been reading these stories for well over thirty years, in fact ever since they were republished in connection with the Mawsterpiece Thee-aye-ter dramatization that came out in ’83.  (I link to that republication, which now seems to be out of print, because so far as I know it’s the only complete set of the stories, which were originally published in three volumes.)  And in all that time, they’ve never, ever got old or stale.  (Friends of the decanter are probably already familiar with the general plot, but to steal the recap from the back cover, “Set in 1895, The Irish R.M. comically depicts the curious affection and mutual misunderstandings that develop between a transported Englishman and his Irish neighbors.”)

I’ve got in the habit in recent years of pulling up Google Maps in association with whatever book I happen to be reading and taking a dekko at places or areas described therein.  This is most handy with histories and the like, but is also perfectly applicable to fiction, and can even present something of a challenge when an author is using fictionalized places.  TIRM is a perfect example.  The stories are set in County Cork in the far-southwest of Ireland.  The town closest to the residence of Major Sinclair Yeats, the hero of the stories, is called Skebawn.  Based on descriptions given here and there of distances, geographies, and history, plus the name similarity, I’m reasonably certain that Skebawn is based on the real town of Skibbereen.  I also believe this to be the case because Somerville and Ross resided in the village of Castletownshend, about five miles away from Skibbereen, so they would have known it well.  (Interestingly, the house they occupied was called Drishane.  Major Yeats’ house in the stories is called Shreelane.  I doubt this is a coincidence.  Shreelane, by the bye, is implied in one story to be five miles inland from the sea.  As it is also within bicycling distance of Skebawn, the geographical range for its probable, if mythical, location can be narrowed considerably.)

I also have my suspicions that with a little more work I can probably track down and identify some of the original sources for rivers, mountains, castles, mines, and other towns mentioned in the stories, but that’s a level of forensic scholarship probably best reserved for retirement, and not for the odd half an hour here or there that I currently enjoy.  UPDATE: I should make clear that I’m not necessarily looking for one-to-one correspondences, like E.F. Benson’s fictional town of “Tilling” closely based on Rye in Sussex in his “Mapp & Lucia” stories.  My working premise is that there are plenty of embroideries, cross-placements, and the like.  But I do firmly believe that they have discoverable roots underneath them.

Anyhoo, there it is.  The stories are terrific even on the umpteenth read, and the backstory becomes increasingly interesting to me.  (As Basil Fawlty said, “Just trying to enjoy myself.”)

Oh, and just because I know it will come up, no, I didn’t much care for the teevee series, even if I did think Peter Boyle was perfectly cast as Major Yeats.  First-person narrative (which is what these stories are) never, ever translates satisfactorily to the screen, simply because their merit lies not just in what’s being told but how it’s being told.  Plus, the screenwriters took some liberties inventing non-canonical plots, which I never care for.  I did rather like the title musick, however, because it captures something of the Anglo-Irish cross-culture which is at the base of the book’s humor:





Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No landscaping work for Ol’ Robbo this week.  I contrived to catch the flu the other day and am still feeling its effects, so am taking it easy today.  (It was a funny thing.  I cannot recall before such a definitive onslaught.  I was literally standing on the Metro Tuesday morning when all of a sudden I felt myself getting sick.  An hour later, I was coughing and sneezing to beat the band and my eyes were practically swollen shut.)

With fall O-ficially starting Monday, I suppose it’s time to plant chrysanthemums in the half-barrels in front of Port Swiller Manor.  Why, exactly, is there such an association between mums and fall?  In fact, I don’t even like the things very much. They don’t smell very nice and I’m no fan of that kind of heavy, multi-petalled flower.

But it’s fall, so it’s mums.  That’s just the way things are, I suppose.

UPDATE:  Okay, that was a stupid question, I admit, but as I say, I’m still getting over being sick and I also posed it before getting outside my second cup of covfefe, so I hope you’ll just let it pass without throwing derisive walnuts at me.  I maintain my point about not being fond of mums, however.



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September 2019