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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

N.C. Wyeth, Illustration from “The Last of the Mohicans”

Regular friends of the decanter will recall my mentioning a few posts ago how long-time swiller Old Dominion Tory had very kindly sent along to Ol’ Robbo a set of novels by historian Allan W. Eckert about Robbo’s beloved historickal theme of the struggles between France and Britain in Colonial North America?  For some reason, I had got it into my tiny little braims that these books constituted essays in historickal fiction.

Whelp, since then I have read Wilderness Empire, and I see that I was mistaken in that notion.  These books are meant to be actual history, not fictional history, albeit they are written in what the author calls “narrative” form.  Indeed, they are peppered throughout (most effectively) with quotations from various letters, journals, and despatches, and in his preface the author insists that every one of his characterizations of, for example, an emotion or a mannerism or a physical appearance, is absolutely based on contemporary documentation.

Wilderness Empire covers the period roughly from the rival efforts by the French and British to militarize the Ohio Valley in the early 1750’s up  to the fall of Montreal in 1760, although because the author chooses to go with a character-based narrative, roots are sent out further back than this (for example, covering the births and early yoots of characters such as Sir William Johnson and Chief Pontiac).

As I say, this is a character-based story.  Eckert dances around between points of view, telling the story through the eyes of multiple characters, from Johnson and Pontiac mentioned above, all the way to that of the pregnant wife of one of the members of the Virginia Militia attached to Braddock’s Army who follows her husband on the mission to take Fort Duquesne.

It’s an interesting approach, and it seems to me that it has both advantages and disadvantages.  The main advantage, assuming (as I do) that Eckert is sincere in his authenticity, is that one gets a real on-the-ground feel for both the given situations and how the people involved react to them.  Also, it’s useful to get a fresh perspective on the big actions.  (I thought his description of the Battle of Lake George was very good.)  The main disadvantage is that this same on-the-ground approach seems, in my opinion, to distort the overall historickal balance somewhat.  As I mention, Eckert focuses heavily on Sir William Johnson.   This is well and good so far as Johnson goes, and in some sense is quite justified, but I think it gives short-shrift to other important characters and events outside his immediate ken.  For example, Wolfe’s capture of Louisburg in 1758 only gets a couple paragraphs, and his capture of Quebec the next year only rates a few pages.  Furthermore, the fact that by the mid-18th Century New France is being destroyed from within by ruinous greed on the part of its rulers never gets mention until way late in the narrative.  In this sense, especially as the author devotes a great deal of ink to detailing Johnson’s various counsel meetings with his Iroquois allies, I think a more general approach like that of Francis Parkman (whom Eckert follows in general interpretation and cites frequently) is maybe the better one.

Which is not to say that I dislike the Eckert book, as I am perfectly willing to embrace the power of “and”.  Indeed, I’ve already scampered off to The Conquerors, the next novel in the series which basically covers Pontiac’s Rebellion.

Two other things I would mention with respect to what you’ll find in Eckert’s Wilderness Empire which you won’t find in Parkman’s Montcalm and Wolfe, that section of his massive history which roughly covers the same time frame:  First, Eckert seems to be quite taken with Sir William Johnson’s, er, carnal appetites.  (Basically, he liked anything in a skirt – or preferably out of it.)  Second, Eckert provides extremely graphic and detailed descriptions of Indian tortures and cannibalism (including the fate of that pregnant soldier’s wife I mention above).  I would not recommend reading his books either during or just after a meal.  I suppose that’s the difference between a professor writing in the late 1960’s and a Boston Brahmin writing a hundred-odd years earlier.

All in all, though, a valuable addition to Ol’ Robbo’s library and I thank ODT once again for sending them along.  A glass of wine with you, Sir!


Buy This Book Within The Next 24 Hours And You’ll Also Receive A Complimentary Thing That Goes Up!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo assumes that many, if not most, friends of the decanter also like to frequent Ace of Spades H.Q., so this post may very well be a case of getting coals to Newcastle, but I nonetheless wish to bring your attention to a book that just issued today, The Deplorable Gourmet.

Very simply put, it’s a book of recipes donated, assembled, folded, spun, and mutilated entirely by members of the Moron Horde, a.k.a., Ace’s regular band of commenters.  So far as I know, this opus is absolutely unique in the annals of the blogsphere. “Deplorable”, of course, is a reference to the “Basket of Deplorables” sneer delivered during the last election cycle by She Who Must Not Be Named (who, by the bye, will never be President of the United States).

(Ol’ Robbo wishes he had that kind of following…..sniff…….But then again, that would require time, effort, and talent.  Ace and his co-bloggers have all those things.  I merely spend ten or fifteen minutes of an evening plonking down disparate nonsense.)

Anyhoo, apart from all the Moron Horde insider baseball stuff involved (to which Ol’ Robbo confesses that he pays way, waaaaay too much attention), from a practical point of view, this book has two things going for it:  First, the recipes are of the ordinary, work-a-day variety, so they should be of real use to us non-Julia Child shlubs (except the one that calls for carrots in chili).  Second, all profits go to charity.

So do yourself a solid and buy this book right now!  The Ewok may or may not thank you, but the Corgis definitely will! (Yes, that’s insider baseball stuff, as is the caption under the book image.  Trust me – it all makes sense.)

Aaaaaand on a totally different note:

Last evening Ol’ Robbo was treating himself to the John Ford/John Wayne movie “The Horse Soldiers“.  A highly fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid** during the Civil War, it’s one of my old stand-byes which I watch probably three or four times a year.

Anyhoo, this time around, I noticed in the credits that the movie was based on a novel of the same name by one Harold Sinclair.  Well, Ol’ Robbo is here to tell you that yes, this novel is available over at the devil’s website.

I’ll let you know what I think of it.

**Ol’ Robbo would like to point out that, with all the other flotsam and jetsam swirling around in my old, tired braims,  it took me about twelve hours – without any sneaky on-line peeking – to remember the name “Grierson”.  I think I deserve some kind of participation trophy for being able to dredge up that particular piece of arcana.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo finds himself with a nice, tall stack of new-to-me books with which to wile away his moments of leisure.  Let’s have a look at ’em:

First, I mentioned borrowing Monty Python Speaks from my brother in a post below.  However, he also pressed upon me another book about which he has been raving for some time:  Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.  It tells of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 through the lens of the story of one Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist with the Gubmint Weather Bureau, apparently by means of lots of original documentation and testimony.

Ol’ Robbo has had pretty good success with what might be called forensic natural history books.  (See, e.g., Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa.)  So I’m looking forward to this one.

Next, a large bumper of wine with Our Maximum Leader for his recent recommendation of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat!  The book, which relates a two-week jaunt upon the Thames by three boon companions plus the dog Montmorency, is an absolute hoot (apart from a few Gawd Help Us passages in which the author waxes lyrical about Truth, Beauty, and Nature), combining Edwardian middle-brow smart-assery with Shaggy Dog stories in a most delightful and jaunty style.

Jerome was a generation or two older than Plum Wodehouse, but I believe I see a definite gunnegshun between the two in terms of background, light presentation, and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities.  (Also, Jerome was pals with W.S. Gilbert, who Plum knew and admired as a young man, so there’s that, too.)

(By the bye, I picked up the Penguin Classics edition of this book which also contains its sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, in which the same trio of friends takes a bicycling tour in Germany.)

Also, another bumper of wine with long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, who recently sent Ol’ Robbo a package containing three historickal novels about Colonial America by Allan W. Eckert: The Conquerors, The Wilderness Wars, and Wilderness Empire.  Ol’ Robbo has no objections whatsoever to history set in novel form, so long as it is accurate and well done, of course, and greatly looks forward to trying these books out.  ODT also sent The Old Dominion At War:  Society, Politics, and Warfare in Late Colonial Virginia, by James Titus.  This is a straight academic study, but is of particular interest to Ol’ Robbo because of my own family connections to the Virginny Frontier in the 1750’s and ’60’s.

I should also here mention ODT’s previous gift of David Preston’s Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution.  Immensely informative, particularly about the shear logistical problems faced by both the British and the French in trying to put forces into southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1750’s (and to get them out again).  I will admit, however, that there is something about Preston’s prose style that is very slightly off-putting to me.  (I confirmed this when I also bought and read his The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but as a chronicler of the great struggle between France and Britain for control of North America and the rise of the New American Republic, I don’t think he’s quite as clear as his modern contemporary Fred Anderson, nor is he anywhere near as dramatic as the great Francis Parkman.  But never mind.

Oh, and I don’t want to get in copyright trouble here, but I do encourage you all to go look up the painting Washington at the Battle of Monongahela by Emmanuel Leutze, which is used to illustrate the cover of Preston’s book.  It’s part of a series Leutze did on Washington which also includes the famous Crossing of the Delaware.  A thoroughly, thoroughly beautiful piece of art.  (I must go see the original some time, which I believe is in a local museum dedicated to the Battle.)

And finally, speaking of books and art and historickal matters, let me circle back round to something I mentioned here a few days ago, namely that I was planning to watch the 1954 Kirk Douglas movie, “Ulysses“.

Whelp, all I can say is that if any friend of the decanter was considering following my lead, I can strongly advise not to bother.  The film is pretty hum-drum, contains very cheesy special effects, and is mostly in Italian with badly-dubbed English superimposed.  (And I never liked Kirk Douglas, anyway.)  In fact, the movie even screwed up Ulysses’ famous encounter with the Sirens, in that it didn’t even show them! You only get Douglas being lashed to the mast (I’ll be he enjoyed it, too, IYKWIMAITYD), and then some ethereal voices cooing about Home and Penelope.  Yeesh!

You want Ulysses and the Sirens? This is how you Ulysses and the Sirens!

“Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper (1864-1920)


Anyhoo, what I really wanted to say relating back to historickal fiction was this:  Most people these days, if they’ve heard of Robert Graves at all, associate him only with either Goodbye To All That, his WWI autobiography, or his I, Claudius historickal novels.  The fact of the matter is that Graves wrote around ten such novels, some set in Classickal Times, some set in other eras.

Among the Classicks novels is one called Homer’s Daughter.

You see, there is a theory (generally accepted, I believe), that The Iliad and The Odyssey were not composed by the same author (and that there may not, in fact, have been a historickal “Homer” at all).  There is another theory (perhaps less accepted) that The Odyssey was actually composed by a woman (based largely on the fact that so much more attention is paid in it to domestic themes).  Graves took this idea and composed a novel in which a young princess named Nausicaa tells the story of how her father’s kingdom on a little island off Sicily came under peril from bumptious and ambitious noblemen who sought to loot her father’s house, marry her, and depose him, and how a mysterious royal castaway appeared and helped her, her mother, and her little brother defeat these nobles in the absence of her father, the King, and her elder brother.  At the end (and I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers here), Nausicaa allows one of the suitors, a member of the Poets’ Guild, to live in exchange for his promise to take her story, transpose it into verse, and insert it into the Homeric Cycle.

It’s nicely done, pays keen attention to the sensibilities of the period, and is a fun afternoon’s read.

So that’s that.

And for those of you who may be thinking, “But Robbo, you do know it’s Advent, don’t you?”  I say yes, yes, I am planning to put in time on that reading front, too.  I believe my author of choice this season is going to be Frank J. Sheed, who I find has a singular talent for clear, crisp theological discussion nicely calculated to penetrate the brains and souls of even such shallow, debauched, and ungrateful louts as Ol’ Robbo.

UPDATE: Middle Gel is reading “Hamlet” in school.  This evening, she approached me seeking advice on a question she has to answer about the play: What do the characters of Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia “symbolize” to Hamlet?

“Whaddaya mean by ‘symbolize‘?” I asked.

I don’t know,” the Gel said, “That’s just the question.  My teacher said something about ‘Oedipal complexes’.”

Cor lumme, stone the crows. Freudian freakin’ analysis.  The Gel came to me because I was an English major back in the day, but unfortunately for her, I managed to get a degree that concentrated on things like the Bard’s linguistic beauty, his dramatic deftness, and his keen insights into all (emphasis, all) aspects of human nature, not just those associated with funny feelings in his characters’ pants or the dark sides of their brains.

God forgive me, but my advice to the Gel?  Make up some psycho-babble answer.  They can’t get her for that, after all….

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, here we are in December already, and with it, Advent.  The purple-bowed wreaths go up on the front door of Port Swiller Manor this afternoon.

In the meantime, some this and that:

♦  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Middle Gel’s madrigals group is doing their big Renaissance Feaste this weekend.  Earlier this week, Mrs. R said, in passing, “Oh, there’s a production managers’ meeting Thursday evening.”

“Oh,” I said.  “So?”

“So you need to go.”

I do? Why?”

“Because you’re a manager.”

“Uh, when did that happen?”

“I signed you up.  You said you wanted to volunteer this year.”

“What I said was meant only in the most general, speculative, and above-all non-binding sense.  I wasn’t anywhere near a firm commitment at that point.”

“Well, I signed you up anyway, so you’re going.”

So I went.  And last evening I managed the production, at least to the extent of standing in the wings and shooshing kids until it was their turn to go on.  (However, I did make the command decision to kybosh an artificial tree at the last second which was threatening to topple over on to the stage.)  Tonight, as Middle Gel is a senior, I get to be a guest instead, although I’m also committed to helping strike the set when they’re all done.

♦  Some interesting mail this week.  First, I got a cold-call letter from a real estate firm in Maine purporting to console me for the loss of my mother but also offering to take care of unloading any property fast.  (They had obviously spotted the estate notice printed in the local fishwrapper.)  I’ve worked in a small firm in my time and know what it’s like to try and drum up biznay, but I still find this sort of thing off-putting, and question it’s effectiveness.  Meanwhile, in the We’re The Feds And We Never Make Mistakes Dept., I keep getting letters to the Mothe from Medicare asking her to complete a customer-satisfaction survey.  I suppose it’s a sign that I’m coming out of my grief that a large number of malicious responses occur to me.  Probably get arrested for fraud if I gave in to them, tho’.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, somehow Mrs. R got a solicitation from Planned Parenthood yesterday.  It says, “Stand With Us”.  On that one, I’m tempted to scribble, “No, thanks.  We don’t want to go to Hell.”  I might give in to that temptation.

♦  As it’s December, once again the dreaded office “holiday” party looms on the horizon.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to go this year, as I can’t think of a reasonable excuse to duck it, and people noticed that I ducked last year.  I do draw the line at running the karioki machine, however, as somebody casually tried to get me to commit to this week.

And speaking of that, somebody had the idea of having an “office door decorations” contest this year.  I was discussing this with a colleague yesterday and she was actually astonished when I said I didn’t intend to participate.  “But…why not?” she said.

My first impulse was to reply, “Because I’m an adult” but I refrained, instead settling on the all-purpose, “It’s just not my speed.”

Ol’ Robbo is known as something of a diplomatist around the workplace, but really, they have no idea…..

♦  Finally, and now for something completely different, I borrowed a book from my brother over Thanksgiving called Monty Python Speaks.  It’s a series of interviews with the team in which they talk about the origins and development of the show and all its offshoots.  Interesting, with a few nice nuggets of trivia thrown in, but overall, although I will always love much of Python itself, I came away liking individual members of the team even less than before.  Especially Gilliam and Idle.

UPDATE: Oh, by the bye, we had an earthquake the other day.  4.1 and centered in Delaware, but Ol’ Robbo definitely felt a bit of a tremor at his desk.  Not nearly like the one we had a few years back that was positively sick-making, but noticeable nonetheless.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has, from time to time, spoken here of his fondness for the three sets of short stories of E.E. Somerville and Martin Ross known collectively as “The Irish RM”.  They are first-person accounts of the adventures of Anglo-Irish Major Sinclair Yates in his role as Resident Magistrate in the southwest of Ireland round about the turn of the 20th Century.  In Ol’ Robbo’s humble opinion, they are comic masterpieces.  (They are also said to have been some of Queen Victoria’s favorite travel reading.)

Ol’ Robbo first became acquainted with these stories back in the mid 80’s, when his then-girlfriend gave him a copy of a newly-printed paperback collected edition that came out in conjunction with a teevee dramatization of them by the Beeb, starring the great Peter Bowles as Major Yates.  (I will say nothing here about the teevee series except to reiterate my firmly-held belief that one cannot really successfully dramatize a first-person narrative because the value is not just in the story itself, but also in how the speaker tells it.  (See also Wooster, Bertie.)

Anyhoo, I picked up the book again this week.  The cover has long since fallen away, the spine is broken, and chunks of pages are now coming loose.  Nipping over to the devil’s website, I found that new copies of this same edition are now available where they had not been before.  The only trouble?  They cost fifty bucks a throw.

I gulped a bit, but eventually hit the “place order” button.  Yes, I’m that much of a fan.

Incidentally, I’ve also been doing a bit of detective work this week.  The fictional town closest to Shreelane, Major Yates’ house in the books, is called Skebawn.  I’m reasonably certain, based on various geographical clues let drop here and there, that it is modeled on the actual town of Skibbereen, County Cork.  One of Ol’ Robbo’s once-I-retire-and-have-the-time projects will be to try and further suss out other connections between Somerville and Ross’s fictional settings and actual ones.

Anyway, if you haven’t read these stories, I heartily recommend them.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Now that his beloved Nationals’ season has ended in another first round playoff humiliation, Ol’ Robbo has turned his attention back to his Netflix movie queue.   By happenstance, over the last few days I’ve seen a couple of new-to-me movies, my quick thoughts on which I offer for your consideration:

“Hell To Eternity” (1960):  Evidently based on the real-life story of Guy Gabaldon, it tells the tale of a young boy orphaned in East Los Angeles by the Depression who is adopted by an immigrant Japanese family.  When WWII breaks out, Guy joins the Marines, and because of his bilingualism, is instrumental in capturing numerous prisoners during the American invasion of Saipan.

The movie’s kind of uneven.  The early yoot set up is a bit hokey, and there’s a long Hawaiian shore-leave section that goes absolutely nowhere.  On the other hand, the emphasis on America as a melting pot instead of a (Balkanized, poisonous) fruit salad is very good (although the movie doesn’t duck the thorny issue of Japanese internment camps), and the scene in which Guy gets his adopted mother’s blessing to go fight Imperial Japanese troops is pretty moving.  Also, there are some good close-quarter ground combat scenes.

Jeffrey Hunter, who I suppose I ought to know but don’t, plays Guy.  Most of the rest of the cast is fairly unremarkable, but I chuckled over the fact that one of Guy’s brothers is played by a young George “Oh, My!” Takei. (UPDATE: As lynx-eyed commenters note, yes, I do know Hunter a bit, even if I didn’t realize it.  Shoulda checked IMDB first, I suppose.  Turns out he also had a bit part in “The Longest Day”, but then, who didn’t?)

The Bounty” (1984):  Another retelling of the mutiny by Fletcher Christian and a large part of the crew of HMAV Bounty against the harsh Captain Bligh.  A source I usually trust had dismissed this movie as historickally accurate, but not very entertaining.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to disagree strongly with the latter half of this assessment: Ol’ Robbo thought the movie very well done, indeed, with gorgeous camera work, intelligent period detail, and a plot that hummed along at a very good pace.

Anthony Hopkins gets Bligh’s difficult personality down nicely.  And Mel Gibson plays Christian (accurately and very well) as something of a ne’er-do-well who simply goes native in Tahiti.  (As an aside, what is it with Mel’s need to indulge in on-screen masochism in every single one of his films?  In this one, we see a shot of him having a gasping conversation with Hopkins while having a very large tattoo pounded into his lower back.)  The film also features such heavy-weights as Olivier, Edward Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson.

One of Ol’ Robbo’s pet peeves is the unwarranted maligning of Captain Bligh in popular culture, largely due to Charles Laughton’s entertaining but damn near libelous caricature of him (“MIS-tuh CHRIS-tian!”) in the old 1935 version, with Clarke Gable playing Christian as the noble hero.  Bah!

Incidentally, one of Ol’ Robbo’s favorite authors, George MacDonald Fraser, wrote a book called The Hollywood History of the World:  From One Million Years B.C. to Apocalypse Now, in which he discusses Tinseltown’s treatment of various historickal epochs: The Ancient World: Knights and Barbarians: Tudors and Sea-Dogs: Romance and Royalty: Rule, Britannia; New World, Old West; and, The Violent [20th] Century.  Ol’ Robbo, rereading this book, recently had the brilliant idea to flip through the index and add every single reference available to his Netflix queue.  I’ve now got about eighty films marked down, many of which I haven’t seen before.  I’ll post my thoughts on them as I work my way through much the same way as I’ve done here.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Ol’ Robbo is off to watch an old favorite of an “historickal” film, that classic Errol Flynn swashbuckler, “The Sea Hawk” (1940).  Dashing English buccaneers and eeeevil Spanish Dons.  What more could one want?  Oh, and Flora Robson, as Good Queen Bess, is a perfect example of someone who nobody could honestly say is physically beautiful, but nonetheless carries herself with a spirit and a humor that she is  downright attractive.  (Yes, “she has a great personality” is an ugly-covering cliché, but there is a great deal of truth in it, as I’m sure most, if not all, friends of the decanter have discovered from personal experience.  If you don’t understand, you’re probably too young to be sipping port here anyway, so vamoose! )

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, Autumn has definitely arrived in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor, with mild days and cool, crisp evenings.  It is very much Ol’ Robbo’s favorite season, even when it gets colder and rainy.

For some reason I’ve never completely fathomed, it also puts me in mind to revisit my studies of North American colonialism in general, and the French and Indian War in particular.  Arcane knowledge, some might say, particularly in this day and age of goddam Cultural Marxism where history began fifteen minutes ago, but Ol’ Robbo continues to be of the opinion that one cannot understand America as a concept without understanding her Revolutionary beginnings, and one cannot understand the Revolution without also understanding the Colonial roots from which it sprang.  (And speaking of the Colonial Era, did I ever mention here that my geneology-obsessed cousin recently discovered that ancestors of ours were killed and captured during Shawnee raids on the Virginia frontier in 1759 and 1763?  Hard cheese for them, of course, but pretty durn cool in retrospect.)

Anyhoo, it is always around this time of year that I pull my Francis Parkman off the shelf and delve into his massive opus on the struggle between France and Britain in North America.  This year, I had also been considering revisiting the great Fred Anderson (I have his Crucible of War and A People’s Army), since I haven’t read him in a while.

So imagine my serendipitous delight when I unexpectedly received in the mail from long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory this week a copy of Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monogahela and the Road to Revolution by David Preston, a new-to-Robbo author, but I doubt ODT would recommend him if he was a wrong ‘un.

Poor old General Braddock – hopelessly out of his depth in the tactics of frontier fighting, bushwhacked, receiving a painful and fatal wound, then being buried ignominiously in the middle of the road the remainder of his army retreated over so as not to be dug up and scalped by the Indians.  And all for the sake of Pittsburgh.  I think about that a lot when I’m driving the Gels back and forth to summah camp out in southwestern Pennsylvania.

I’m looking forward to reading this book bigly.

** Spot the reference.

UPDATE:  Poking around on the devil’s website, Ol’ Robbo also found a book authored by Preston entitled The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783 (The Iroquoians and Their World), which of course I immediately had to scoop up as well.   (Ol’ Robbo is the worst sort of impulse-buyer when it comes to books.  I suppose there are worse vices.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Somewhere a month or two back, Ol’ Robbo noted here his disappointment over the movie King Solomon’s Mines (in which Stewart Granger spent most of the film imitating Marlin Perkins while Deborah Kerr kept losing bits of her costume), but he also noted that said disappointment had decided him to read the original book by H. Rider Haggard.

Well, let’s just say that good can come of bad, because I just got done with the book and I’m here to tell you that it was a thoroughly enjoyable story: exciting, exotic, at times bordering on the absurd, and occasionally quite creepy and gory.  (I’m recalling a reference to Gagool the Witch that I had seen somewhere else.  I hadn’t known till now that this is where she came from.)  And our friend Allan Quatermain turns out to be the sort of phlegmatic, professional, ambivalent pukka sahib who seems to be at the center of nearly all the stories I’ve read by British Empire writers who have spent any real time on the frontiers (think Kipling, for example).

Incidentally, I’ve also been reading a book the Mothe sent on to me some time this past summah called The Zulu At War: The History, Rise, and Fall of the Tribe that Washed Its Spears by Adrian Greaves and Xolani Mkhize.  It’s a real trainwreck of a composition, but from the tangled prose, it’s still pretty clear that Haggard’s mythical tribe of Kukuanaland is based pretty faithfully on the Zulus, with whom he had extensive personal experience when he was Out East himself.

By the bye, I link specifically to the new edition of KSM put out by the Oxford University Press for two reasons.  First, it comes with very informative textual and explanatory notes, although I think you can probably skip the introduction which seems to be about the psychology behind romance writing.  (Who knew Freud and Jung were both HRH fans?) Second, the cover art by A.C. Michael reminds me very much of the work of the great N.C. Wyeth.

So Ol’ Robbo is definitely going to delve further into Haggard’s writing.  (I believe there are numerous Quatermain adventures as well as others.)  I’m also circling back round to Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but NOT Catriona since I learned my lesson about that one last time; some of the other historickal adventures).  I’ve dipped into Conan-Doyle (The White Company, Brigadier Gerard) but I know there’s lots more left unexplored.  I have all of P.C. Wren’s Foreign Legion stories but need to explore further there as well.  Kipling, of course.  Finally, yes, dammit, I need to get into John Buchan.  Any suggestions on where to start with him?

UPDATE: Well, I say I’m going to circle back round to RLS, but that’s only if I can find the #@*^&# fellah!  One of Mrs. R’s least endearing practices is her periodic “tidying up” of the Port Swiller Library, usually when she decides I’ve left too many books stacked up on tables or else when she wants to put a new framed photo or whatnot up somewhere.   The trouble is that, in so doing, she’s in the habit of putting books back on the shelves hugger-mugger and all ahoo, with no respect whatsoever for Ol’ Robbo’s careful organization.  (Mr. Dewey ain’t in it, and I don’t need no stinking decimals, neither!)  Result?  Well, at the moment Jim Hawkins and David Balfour have up and disappeared.

I suppose eventually, after much searching, I’ll find one or both of them wedged between Augustine’s Confessions, a Plum Wodehouse novel,  and Atlantic Salmon Fly-Tying Patterns, but I’d just as soon the Missus didn’t mess about with them in the first place.  Grrr…..


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Fortunately for Ol’ Robbo’s blood pressure, Game Four of the Nats/Cubs series (with the latter up 2-1) was postponed this evening due to rain.  I didn’t think I could stand to watch had the game gone forward.

Ol’ Robbo is sometimes haunted by apprehensions that he isn’t really a very good father, but this postponement gave him some cause for reassurance in at least one respect:  Both of the Younger Gels independently came to him this evening to argue about the merits of sticking with the planned fourth arm in our rotation versus bringing back our ace.  Surely that counts for something, am I right?

Anyhoo, and violently switching subjects:

Ol’ Robbo, as regular friends of the decanter know, is an enormous fan of the author George Macdonald Fraser.  One of Fraser’s books, written in the late 80’s, is The Hollywood History of The World, in which he compares historickal costume dramas with the “reality” of the periods they purport to represent.  The book is split up into seven sections:  The Ancient World; Knights and Barbarians; Tudors and Sea Dogs; Romance and Royalty; Rule Britannia; New World, Old West; and The Violent [20th] Century.  Ol’ Robbo has been re-reading it this week.

I don’t think this is one of GMF’s best works, as it covers an awful lot of ground at what I think is a pretty superficial pace, but it does throw out a delightful lot of references.  So, given an evening’s reprieve from the tortures of October Ball, Ol’ Robbo was seized with the idea of opening up this book to its index and dialing up Netflix in order to toss as many of GMF’s references into his queue as possible.  I’m at 90+ films in reserve now, and am pretty sure this is a record.  (Whoever at the NSA has Ol’ Robbo’s file no doubt will have kittens tomorrow morning as a result.)

You know what? GMF’s movie list stretches back to the early 30’s, but a surprising number of his cites are still available, even if some of them are only in the “save” category, which means that the odds of my seeing them are pretty slim.

On the other hand, some of them, as you might imagine, Ol’ Robbo has seen already, some many times.  But others will be new to me and I will post about them here.

Curiously enough, when I got this idea, I was already working through a patch of WWII historickal films, all of which get a nod from GMF.  Here, then, are some very brief reviews:

Sahara” (1943) – I’ve seen it before, but it stands up very well as a nice, tight, film.  An American tank is cut off from the retreat from Tobruk in 1942 and has to make it’s way across the North African desert alone.  Humphrey Bogart is the tank commander, aided by a young Lloyd Bridges and Dan Duryea, the fellah who played Waco Johnny Dean in Winchester ’73 and who, once, you’ve seen him, you’ll never fail to recognize.  Along the way, they pick up an RAMC medico and a couple of tommies, a Sudanese scout and his Italian prisoner, and a Luftwaffe pilot.  Together, they have to navigate between water holes, and also fend off the German unit coming after them.   Good stuff.

A Walk In The Sun (1945) – I cannot recommend.  It tells the story of an American platoon going ashore in Italy.  Unlike in Sahara, I found the characters to be wooden and clichéd.  The pace may very well have matched actual combat conditions, but it didn’t translate well to the screen.  Oh, and there’s a ballad.  Ol’ Robbo hates ballads.

The Desert Fox” (1951) – I also can’t recommend.  Although James Mason is rightly cast as Erwin Rommel (whom I respect as a principled warrior, by the bye), I think the movie tries to do too much in too little time, short-changing Rommel’s skillfulness in fighting in North Africa, his frustration in trying to hold the Atlantic Wall, and his (questionable) complicity in the attempted assassination of Hitler.

Well, there we are.  Game Four? (Sigh.) Bring it on.

Merely as a palate-cleanser after the day’s insanities, Ol’ Robbo will note here that he spotted a new-to-me word on a bumper sticker this morning, “ferroequinology“.

I gathered it had to do with train-spotting, both from the context (an illustration of a locomotive and some text to do with wandering around tracks), but also because I remember enough Latin to know that “ferro” + “equus” = “iron” + “horse”.

I looked the word up on Wiki and evidently it’s a “non-standard” term invented by the people who go in for this particular hobby, but it still made me smile.  What better pseudo-scientific name could they have hit upon, after all?

Feel free to incorporate it into your next cocktail  party conversation.  And thank me later.

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