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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Just to follow up on my post immediately below, Ol’ Robbo did watch the 1982 made-for-teevee version of “Ivanhoe” last evening and found it perfectly enjoyable in a blandish way.

I can’t remember the last time I saw it, but I had forgotten that it had a pretty heavy-hitting cast which included James Mason, Michael Hordern (an old favorite of mine), Julian Glover, Rebecca Hussey (who was a thing at the time), John Rhys-Davies, and Sam Neill (and what hasn’t he been in?).

As for Anthony Andrews in the title role, well, if Colin Firth can play a battle-hardened Roman general in a movie I absolutely deny tossing into my queue every now and again (and deny even further that it has anything to do with the presence of a shmokin’ hot Indian actress), I suppose Andrews can be a silly English kniggit, too.

I say it’s blandish because although the jousts and the climactic storming of the castle are pretty cool, the rest of it just sort of putters along without a whole lot of drama or chemistry.  (I recall that the 1952 movie with Robert Taylor, Liz Taylor, and Joan Fontaine had a lot more fireworks to it.)

And as I only read the book once about eleventy-billion years ago, I have no idea how faithful this version is to Sir Walter’s original.

I’ll only say also that sob stories about how mean the Normans were to the Saxons amuse me to a certain extent, since the Saxons had been doing the same damned thing (and worse) to the Britons for hundreds of years prior.  The biter bit, as it were.

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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo can’t seem to tape out a fully-formed post on any single subject this evening, so how about a this-n-that fondue?

♦  Start with the fact that I can’t spell “fondue” without looking it up.  And I dislike the whole concept because of some childhood incident, the specifics of which I can no longer recall.

♦  The Local Classickal Station is doing their annual fall pledge drive and I have finally become so sick of hearing the same pitches over and over and over again that I’ve actually turned off my radio until it’s done, a practice I usually reserve for Lent.  (Yes, I do contribute.)

♦  I recently read Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That again for the nth-time.  With each reading, I find I become even more fascinated by his experiences in the trenches in WWI, but also more repelled by his character.

♦  And on the subject of books, I have a very real feeling that it’s time for me to revisit Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, which I reread every couple years.  I remember a meme some blog-friend posted years ago:  Pamela Flitton or Brenda Last?

♦  Today was the first day of the season that I was able to do my lunchtime walkies without breaking a sweat, something I’m sure my office mates appreciated.  I also was able to keep up a spanking pace – my habit is to leave my building at the same time each day and to wind up near the Grant Memorial at about 12:45 pm.  There’s a nearby bell tower that strikes quarterly, and where I am when it goes off tells me how good my pace is.

♦  Obsessive-compulsive? Moi? Say rather that my mind is quite scattershot, so I need to build as many routines as possible – walking the same route at the same time, parking in the same space every day, keeping my keys, wallet, etc., in the same spot.  Otherwise, I would become disoriented very quickly.

♦  Speaking of the season, the annual Flu Shot Wars have flared up at Port Swiller Manor.  Mrs. R has begun badgering me about getting one and I have already stuck in my heals and balked.  Ol’ Robbo has a deep aversion to needles.  It’s as simple as that.

Whelp, enough for now.  Ol’ Robbo is off to revisit the early-80’s tee-vee version of “Ivanhoe” with Anthony Andrews, who was at his peak star power in those days.  I can’t help thinking that Andrews didn’t really have the brawn to play a medieval knight, not like Robert Taylor. But ne’er mind.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter will recall how a couple months back Ol’ Robbo was praising Washington & Lee University for holding fast in the face of pressure to disappear its history?

Yeah, not so much.

Renaming a couple buildings and replacing military portraits of the school’s namesakes with civilian ones may seem pretty innocuous, but that’s only if you think this is all that will happen.

And if you think that, Ol’ Robbo’s got some beachfront property at Cemetery Ridge you may be interested in purchasing.

Not that I give them a lot of alumni coin to begin with, but I think I’ll stop now.

(Short post this evening.  The Family Robbo spent a good chunk of last night at the vets with the dog after she had a case of bloody diarrhea.  Ol’ Robbo was positively cringing, especially after what happened last week:  An elderly cat who was nobody’s favorite was one thing, but the Port Swiller Puppeh is the apple of everyone’s eye here and Mrs. Robbo’s baby, and if something happened to her, I’d be scraping the family off the floor with a spatula.  Fortunately, after many hours and many (expensive) tests, they found she doesn’t have cancer (as I feared) or other major issues but probably just a bacterial infection.  She’s better today and eating boiled chicken and rice, but I’m still a bit zombied.)

 

Derwent Water, Lake District – Image lifted from Wiki

**No, this post has absolutely nothing to do with “Star Wars”

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I can’t find it now, but regular friends of the decanter may recall my posting some time back that I had long been curious about the fact that John Cleese’s Cheese Shop customer character from Monty Python had been skimming Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole while seated in the public library in Thurmond Street before suddenly becoming peckish.  Esurient.  Y’e were ‘ungry-like!  To this end, I wrote that I was going to buy and read the book myself.

Well, my friends, I’m happy to report that although it lay around neglected for months after I ordered it from the devil’s website, I finally sat down and read this 700+ page opus this past week.

When the book was first published in the 1920’s, John Buchan called it “the finest English novel since Jude the Obscure“.  To me? It’s trash. Glorious, entertaining trash, but trash nonetheless.

Rogue Herries is the first of four novels chronicling the fortunes of the Herries family, stout English gentry from Cumberland, from the 18th through the 20th Centuries.  The “Rogue” involved is Francis, youngest son of his generation, and the book picks up his story in about 1730 when, disgusted with the imperfections of the world around him, he removes himself and his young family back to the ramshackle Herries manor house in the Lake District.  He’s called “Rogue” by the locals because he is willful to the point of violence, eccentric, and notorious for such things as humiliating his wife, selling his mistress at a fair, and harboring a suspected witch in his household.  The story covers the next thirty-odd years of his and his family’s life.

I call the book trash because the plot is complete soap-opera. (Without looking it up, I wonder if it has been dramatized? Should be if it hasn’t.)  Some of it, for instance Francis’s interactions with his boy-wonder son David, is quite moving at times.  On the other hand, most of the story about his relationship with his second wife, the Gypsy-girl Mirabell Starr, had me groaning and occasionally muttering “Oh, come on!”

Not that trash is a bad thing, mind you.  I’m reminded of the passage from Evelyn Waugh’s Unconditional Surrender in which the literary critic Edvard Spruce is discussing a new novel, The Death Wish, by a rising (but insane) WWII British Army officer:

“You’ve read The Death Wish?” Spruce asked.

“Bits.  It’s pure novelette.”

Novelette? It’s twice the length of Ulysses.  Not many publishers have enough paper to print it nowadays.  I read a lot of it last night.  I can’t sleep with those damned bombs.  Ludovic’s Death Wish has got something, you know.”

“Something very bad.”

“Oh, yes, bad; egregiously bad.  I shouldn’t be surprised to see it have a great success.”

“Hardly what we expected from the author of the aphorisms.”

“It is an interesting thing,” said Spruce, “but very few of the great masters of trash aimed low to start with.  Most of them wrote sonnet sequences in their youth.  Look at Hall Caine – the protégé of Rossetti – and the young Hugh Walpole emulating Henry James.  Dorothy Sayers wrote religious verse.  Practically no one ever sets out to write trash.  Those that do don’t get very far.”

(I hope that Miss Sayers hunted down Mr. Wu and clocked him one for that, by the bye.)

Anyhoo, there it is.

Two other things about the novel, both of which are plusses to Ol’ Robbo.

First, as I say, the story picks up about 1730, and while it’s largely at a distance, the history of the period does make occasional appearances.  There are mutterings here and there of Jacobite and Hanoverian politicks, and Francis in fact meets Bonnie Prince Cherlie in Carlisle during the ’45.  The troubles with the American Colonies also are mentioned.  And there are also hints of the changes beginning to sweep 18th Century Britain with the onset of the Industrial Revolution (which I strongly suspect will have a more prominent part in the next novel in the sequence).

Finally, Walpole’s descriptions of the English Lake District – its geography, its changing seasons, its people – is straight out of a Tourist Board’s dream:  One’s overwhelming feeling upon reading them is the desire to go see the place oneself.  Walpole doesn’t attempt to distort or camouflage anything, either. He’s no Thomas Hardy inventing a region of Wessex or E.F. Benson setting a Mapp & Lucia story in the town of Rye but calling it Tilling.  Instead, he lays out a precise geography – Keswick, Grange, Rosthwaite, Barrowdale, and the River Derwent.  If you dial up Gurgle-Maps, you can pinpoint exactly where each bit of his action takes place.  Ol’ Robbo used to own a book of Lake District photography.  Maddeningly, I can’t seem to find it anymore.  Too bad, because I’d bet a considerable sum that it covered many of the locations described by Walpole.

So overall, a satisfying exercise, I think, although I’m not sure I’ve gained any illumination as to why Cleese mentions it in the Python sketch, except maybe to emphasize the character’s eccentric half-intellectualism.  At some point, I probably will re-read it, too.  A quick glance at the devil’s website shows that the other three volumes of the Herries Chronicles are also available.  Put it this way: I’ll probably eventually buy them because I now know they exist and, frankly, I want to see what happens next, but I doubt I’ll read them (or this one again)  until I’m flopped on a beach somewhere or sitting on a porch in Maine overlooking Casco Bay.  This is pure vacation-reading, so it is.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Columbus Day!  Did you know that ol’ Robbo didn’t even realize this was a holiday weekend until last Friday?  The relief I felt when I found I had an extra day after all the silly running about behavior I had to do Saturday and Sunday was immense.

So on to this and that:

♦  In the spirit of the day, I recommend to you once again a trilogy of books by Hugh Thomas, sent to me by long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory.  They are Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan, The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America, and World Without End: Spain, Phillip II, and the First Global Empire.  What I really like about these books is the way Thomas sets Spain’s American ventures in the context of its home politicks and culture – the Reconquista, the Inquisition, the relations of Castile and Aragon, and the larger Hapsburg connections between Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.  It all wouldn’t make much sense otherwise.

♦  Speaking of which, Eldest is taking a course this semester on pre-Columbian American empires, specifically the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas.  She’s really enjoying it, in part because her prof refuses to paint them as Rousseauian utopias and is careful to include the uglier aspects as well.  (She recently watched “Apocalypto” in connection with the course.  Her review? “It was weird.”)

♦  And speaking of ugly, is Melania Trump really getting flak for wearing a “colonial” pith helmet on her tour of Africa?  Do these fookin’ people honestly have nothing better to do with themselves?  Or is this just aggression-transfer resulting from last week’s Pickett’s Charge effort to sink Justice Kavanaugh?

♦ On a completely different note, our trip to CNU to visit Middle Gel this weekend was very nice.  We saw her perform in a pan-musick department concert Saturday afternoon, and then went to a BBQ picnic out on the lawn.  While we were eating, the marching band came, well, marching by on their way to the football stadium for the evening’s game.  I understand they are the second largest Division III marching band in the country.  They were really strutting their stuff, too.  I dunno why, but Ol’ Robbo has always been a sucker for school marching bands.  I like both the sound and the razzmatazz.  (And no, I was never a Band Geek myself.)

“Ah, Ha, Ha, Haaa…”

♦  Pulling out of the parking garage at the hotel yesterday morning, Ol’ Robbo was able to make a turn in our Honda Juggernaut that missed a neighboring car’s fender by inches but saved me having to back up again.  As I did so, I laughed in the voice of Snake from “The Simpsons”.  Mrs. R looked at me and said, “You are so strange.”  But I was happy.  Is this just a guy thing?

♦  And speaking of happy and driving, friend of the decanter Tubbs remarks in a comment below on the slog that is I-95 and the Dee Cee Beltway.  In fact, we didn’t do too badly coming up I-64 from the Tidewater and then I-95 from Richmond yesterday.  And I have to confess that ever since they’ve completed the EZ-Pass express lanes on the Beltway and dropped them down to around Stafford on I-95, the last 45 minutes or so of my trips home from south of The Swamp have become downright pleasant.

Whelp, that’s about it.  Ol’ Robbo needs to go mow the lawn now and feel appropriately guilty about historickal European destruction of Indigenous Peoples, but mostly go mow the lawn.

UPDATE: Yardwork status? Done.  I forgot to mention earlier that we took Youngest with us on our visit this weekend.  She got very mad at Ol’ Robbo because I point-blank refused to let her practice driving on the interstates.  I did, in fact, let her drive when we were in Newport News, but even then she almost ran a red light because she got distracted by something.  No way is she ready for bumper-to-bumper at 80 MPH.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Long-time Friend of the Decanter, the lovely and talented Groovy Vic, mentioned Tom Hanks in a comment below.  By a singular coincidence, I see today that he’s set to play Fred “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” Rogers in an upcoming movie.

Eh.

Ol’ Robbo thinks Hanks is a pretty decent actor, especially when he’s playing a Middle-American Everyman kind of character, so I suppose he’d do okay.

As for his subject? Well, we watched “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on a pretty regular basis in my misspent yoot, but we did so mostly to jeer it, egged on in this by the Mothe.  We’d speculate, for instance, about what was being done to Ol’ Fred behind the scenes to give him his King Friday voice.  We’d wonder what else Mr. McFeely, the Speedy Delivery guy, was carting about the neighborhood.  (And his name wrote its own jokes, of course.)  And Lady Aberlin was known as “Crunchy-Girl” to us because of her Lefty-looking face.

Although it happened long after we stopped watching, I recall the rumor that Rogers was dabbling in sex-education.  We therefore produced a little ditty that we imagined he might sing: “Everybody’s fancy/ Everybody’s fine/ You’ve got your thing/ and I’ve got mine!”

Good times.  Good times.

I believe the Mothe encouraged us in our mockery because she detested Rogers’ treacly pablum and feared any young lad who took it seriously would turn into a sniveling, easily-manipulated, gender-conflicted soy-boy.

Wise woman, my mother.

 

 

“Walking the Plank” by Howard Pyle

Avast, ye grog-swilling lubbers! And will ye be raising a glass to International Talk Like A Pirate Day, now? N’yar, indeed!

*Cough*

Sorry, I can’t keep up the accent very long.

In any event, it is quite fitting that, today of all days, Ol’ Robbo finished reading for the first time Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood. (The Penguin Classics edition features this Pyle painting on its cover.)

What fun! Nobody would ever mistake it for “literature”, but it’s a damned well-written adventure story, crisp, quick, and to the point.  And it is perfectly evident that Sabatini did his homework on nautical lore in general, and on the doings of the Dons, the Brethren of the Coast, and the other powers at play in the Caribbean Basin in the 1680’s in particular.  (The introduction to the Penguin edition by Gary Hoppenstand, once you get past all the P.C. virtue-signaling about Sabatini writing for a sexist, racist, homophobic, blah, blah, blah, market, has a fascinating discussion of how much historickal material the author pinched from the exploits of Henry Morgan.)  What one would call a “ripping good yarn” and well worth inclusion in my collection of similar historickal fiction by authors such as P.C. Wren, Rider Haggard, Conon-Doyle, Kipling, and George Macdonald Fraser.  (I don’t include Patrick O’Brian in this list, because in his case I would argue his writing does rise up to the level of “literature”.)

And because I knew it before I read the book, I can’t help referring here to the Errol Flynn movie of the same name.  Here, I was pleasantly surprised.  The movie simplifies the story considerably, but whoever wrote the screenplay was evidently a fan of the novel because they got the characters – appearance, mode of speech, and all – bang right.  Flynn is Blood.  Basil Rathbone is Levasseur. Even Lionel Atwill is Col. Bishop.  (I’d say the lovely and talented Olivia DeHavilland is Arabella Bishop, but as far as Ol’ Robbo is concerned, she can be whatever she wants, wherever she wants, and she’ll still get my stamp of approval.)

Anyhoo, in my recent book-buying outburst I also picked up Sabatini’s The Sea HawkI’ll tackle that one soon and am eager to also compare it to the corresponding Flynn movie, which features the unlovely but strangely attractive Flora Robson as Elizabeth I.  Should I be equally pleased, I will push on to other Sabatini works as well.

Oh, and because ITLAP Day is as good a time as any, may I just say here that Ol’ Robbo has never, ever, been able to make it all the way through any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies without dozing off?  S’true.

At any rate, Yo-Ho, ye scurvy dogs!

 

The Death of Stalin (2017)

Greatings, fellow port swillers!

I had wanted to see this film since the promos first came out last year, but had been unable until Netflx delivered it this weekend.

A solid, solid dark comedy about the ghastliness of the Soviet Union and the in-fighting at the top of the regime that occurred upon the death of “Uncle Joe” Stalin.  Steve Buscemi as Krushchev with Michael Palin as Molotov and Timothy Dalton as Zhukov.  Simon Russell Beale was especially sinister as Beria.

What’s really frightening about the movie is that although there are a number of historickal anomalies, mostly viz who held what position when (although Stalin really did lie comatose in a puddle of his own piss for many hours because everyone was too afraid to touch him – and served the bastard right), very few of its tonal qualities are made up:  Life under Stalin wasn’t worth a ruble; if you got on the wrong side of the regime, even for the most trivial of reasons, you were gone; and, everyone knew it and went about their lives in complete terror.  Indeed, the interactions up and down the chain of command, as well as those between the regime and the poor slaves it ruled, remind me very much of C.S. Lewis’s descriptions of the workings of hell in the Screwtape Letters.

Well worth a look.

But then I made the mistake of looking at the extra features.  In them, one of the actors went with the Trump = Stalin line in order to pitch the movie’s relevance. You know what, buddy? Fook you and the horse you rode in on. 

Do these people have even the remotest sense of actual history? The Soviets under Stalin murdered somewhere between 20 and 40 million of their own people, all in the name of secular utopianism.  Look, I’m as aware of the Donald’s flaws as much as anyone else, and can respect an honest disagreement with his personality and policies, but this kind of hyperbolic comparison is simply grotesque.  Furthermore, it’s an insult to all those who suffered and died under the Real Thing.

And on that note, I read a poll in the last week in which a majority of millennials report they would rather live under a Socialist, Communist, or Fascist state than a free-market one.  Given that collectivist totalitarianism in its various manifestations was responsible for the deaths of north of 100 million people during the 20th Century, plus the enslavement and impoverishment of countless millions more, I have to assume that these numbers are based on pure pig-ignorance of history and a misbegotten belief that the State, if properly worshipped, will hand out to everyone all the rainbows, unicorns, free pot, and free sex they could want, while making somebody else pay for it.  (Said ignorance and beliefs are not accidental, of course, but are the deliberate outcome of a generation of brainwashing at the hands of the education establishment.)

Thank Heaven none of my gels has fallen for it.  (Just the other day, Eldest was carrying on about what an idiot Marx was and how Engels’ whole worldview was dominated by his daddy-issues.)  But what are three against a mob of cultural-Marxist zombies?

Oh, and going back to “Uncle Joe”, I’d give the movie four and a half glasses out of five.  Also, if you’re interested in a much more sober look at the life and death of Stalin, I cannot recommend highly enough Simon Montefiore’s Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A few days ago Ol’ Robbo received a package from Sistah consisting of a great many photographs she culled from the Mothe’s albums, which she thought I would like to have.  They seem to cover every part of my misspent yoot from infancy up to my graduation from law school, and include the famous shots of me, four years old with flaming ginger hair, buck naked and drinking out of the garden hose.  Most of them were quite familiar, although it’s been years since I’d seen them, and it was genuinely pleasant to go through them again.

Naturally, because such things attract them like catnip, the Gels immediately descended on the photos, and have pretty much been rolling about on the floor, laughing their heads off since then.

Okay, maybe I was an über-dweeb for much of my yoot and adolescence.  Okay, maybe my college girlfriend did have crazy eyes. Okay, maybe that law school Halloween costume was….poorly chosen.  But I’m still Dad, dammit, and entitled to some respect.

Furthermore, I know where all the photos of their misspent yoots are kept, too, and if they don’t knock it off, it’ll be a dark day for them indeed when they bring their young gentleman friends home to meet us.

These things work both ways, you know.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

More specifically, a stormy night here in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor.  The miserable 90+ degree blazing weather of the past ten days or so is over, the high tomorrow will be in the mid 80’s and in the 70’s over the weekend, and we’re slated for lots of rain on into next week.

Woo Hoo! Autumn is coming, baybee!

Meanwhile, by this time next week we may be dealing with Hurricane Florence, which apparently some models are now predicting will bull’s-eye the Virginny Tidewater, right where Middle Gel is in school.  The parent board over at FacePlant is already starting to freak out a bit, but as far as I’m concerned there’s really nothing to worry about even if the storm hits there.  The kids will be fine.

Back in the day, Hurricane Gloria came right up the Connecticut River valley and over the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown.  They actually advised us to tape up our windows in advance, which we all did with gusto and glee. The thing hit early in the morning, and when it got bad, we all moved out into the hall and had an impromptu hurricane party.  I’ve never been that shnockered that early in the day either before or since (and pray now I never will be).

In the mean time, I’m going to go enjoy the show.

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