You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Literary Musings’ category.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo recently purchased himself a (slightly used) box set of “Danger UXB“, the series, like so many other great classics, having vanished from the Netflix DVD library. I ran off the first episode last evening. 40 years on and fresh as ever.

Do you know, I have no stomach for movie suspense. I squeem and squirm and look the other way and mutter “na, na, na, I’m not listening” when the poor fellah starts banging at the bomb fuse with a hammer and chisel. And the ridiculous thing is that I feel this way even when I know perfectly well what’s going to happen next because I’ve seen it before.

Funny enough, I’m the same way with books. I can read, say, The Fellowship of the Ring a hundred times and each time get the creeps when Frodo is hiding behind the tree while the Nazgul sniffs for him on the path nearby.

In each case, there’s always something in the back of my mind that whispers what if it happens differently this time?

You may call this willful suspension of disbelief. You may also call it insanity. Your choice.

(By the bye, a glass of wine in honor of John Hawkesworth, who produced the series. Now there was a fellah who knew how to put together quality teevee.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, autumn proceeds apace here in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor. As I look about me, the trees are increasingly dappled with patches of yellow, orange, and brown, and it’s cool enough to lounge comfortably in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.

All the Gels are home now for the long weekend, although I’ve only seen them briefly and not all together at the same time. When the younger two aren’t sleeping, they’ve been visiting with Mrs. R’s parents, who happen to have stopped in this weekend on their migration back to Flardah. (Ol’ Robbo currently is banned from their presence because I’m not fully jabbed yet.) But I get ’em all together for dinner this evening. I b’lieve this is the first time it actually feels out of the ordinary to have a full house again.

I never thought to see an article in praise of Breezewood, PA, but here it is. I get what it says about the place being an important waypoint and praising the folks who have stuck it out there (unlike somebody like Kevin Williamson, I’m really not a snob), but that doesn’t change the fact that the stretch between the traffic light at the end of I-70 and the ramps for the Turnpike is one of the ugliest places I know, both in terms of extended truck-stop architecture and bottleneck traffic. (Is there even a downtown? A community somewhere off the strip? I’ve never looked.) And there is such a sense of relief headed southbound once one gets through it that I’m always overcome by the urge to floor it even though the speed limit is only 55 mph. Many, many other folks feel the same way. (The Pennsylvania State Police have been feasting on them for years and years now.)

Speaking of such, I heard a good one recently: In order to pass the Murrland driver’s license test, you have to cross over into Virginia and cause an accident. (It’s funny because it’s true! And actually, Youngest told it to me. She has learned well.)

On a completely different note, Ol’ Robbo recently got the urge to read Moby Dick. (Technically I should say “reread” because I think I had to do so in high school but don’t remember much.) Specifically, I want to understand why it’s considered a classic of American lit. So far, I’m pleasantly surprised by Melville’s occasional outbursts of very playful language, which make me chuckle, and being such an old paper sea-dog from my many years of reading Patrick O’Brian puts me in good stead to follow the maritime workings easily and enjoyably. But my overarching feeling is that what the fellah really needed was an editor armed with a baseball bat. Jumping about outrageously from first to third-person narrative; inserting almost play-like interludes; impossibly intricate run-on sentences; careering wildly off on tangents; and occasional bouts of existential navel-gazing which I have to admit at least aren’t as bad as Thoreau. As Eldest put it, just tell the damned story! I’ve got the Norton Critical Series edition (hand-annotated at some points by the Mothe for some reason), which is jammed with analyses, criticisms, and commentary (plus some droll footnotes pointing out places where Melville cheated on his research), so I’ll probably plow through all that stuff, too.

And now that I reread that paragraph, I see I’m doing it, too. He tasks me!

Whelp, I suppose that’s enough for now. This is a random, not a rant, so I won’t get into a “Wither History In The Reign Of The Neo-Jacobins” discussion of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea this year.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that what actually put Moby Dick into my tiny little brain was re-watching “Major League” the other evening as a sort of wake for the now-disappeared Cleveland Indians. Those of you familiar with the fillum will recall that Tom Berringer reads a comic-book form of the story in order to try and convince Renee Russo that he’s matured. It was his line, referring to the comic, that “this happen to be a classic of American literature” that got Ol’ Robbo wondering why, exactly, the original is so considered.

I have learned over time to simply run with these free associations when they crop up. Seldom am I disappointed.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Eldest Gel has decided to revisit her Tolkien. (I can’t remember the last time I saw her or her sisters reading for the pure pleasure of it, so this pleases me greatly.)

Although she decided to go back and start with The Hobbit, she seems to be trying to piece together what she remembers from the other books and tie them into the story as she goes along. Yesterday she asked me, “What exactly are Wizards, again?”

Well, she’s not a little girl anymore but a full-fledged adult, so it hardly seemed fitting to fob her off with “Oh, they’re very wise beings with magical powers.” So I told her briefly and off the top of my head about Tolkien’s Creation story. I mentioned Eru, the Valar, the Maiar, and the history of their battle against the dark forces of the fallen Melkor (including Sauron) for control of Arda, and how Gandalf and the other Wizards were a set of Maiar who took bodily form and went into the world to carry on this battle.

The look that crept over her face as I rattled this off was, well, incredulous.

“You are such a nerd!” she said.

What was it Billy Shakespeare said about serpent’s teeth and thankless childs?

Ol’ Robbo might agree that he deserves getting tarred with that epithet were he to bring up the subject on his own, but she asked! She asked!


UPDATE: Heh. Having finished The Hobbit, Eldest said, “Tolkien took two pages to describe the Battle of Five Armies. How the hell did Peter Jackson stretch that out to an entire feature-length movie?”

That’s my gel! Indeed, my very first substantive blog post from back in the very first days of the Llamas (coming up on 18 years ago, now) was a satirical damnation of Jackson and all his works.

And, by the bye, rereading that post just now, two things come to mind. First, Eldest, who I’m pretty certain has not read it, spotted the same flaw. Second, rereading it after all this time, like flipping through an old photo album, fills me with a sort of melancholic blend of fondness and regret over what it was like to be young and full of fresh ideas.

Good times, my fellow port swillers. Good times.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It occurs to Ol’ Robbo that it’s been a long while since he posted random bits from the Before Times here. Perhaps it’s a good idea to pick up the habit again before they’re disappeared forever.

Today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1754, of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, surely one of the most unjustly-maligned figures in popular culture. Even many of those who have never seen “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935) nor heard of Charles Laughton have the idea in their heads that Bligh was an unhinged tyrant. Well, he wasn’t. A disciplinarian, yes. A man with a temper, yes. Perhaps not endowed with what are now known as “communication skills”, yes. But an unhinged tyrant? No. And he was a damned good sailor, too.

Not too long ago, Ol’ Robbo re-watched “The Bounty” (1984), with Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian. It does a much better job of probing into the actual causes of the Mutiny. (And as an aside, Patrick O’Brian also deals very well with Bligh in the Aubrey/Maturin novel Desolation Island, discussing not only the Mutiny itself and Bligh’s remarkable voyage after being cast adrift, but also the reasons for the rebellion against him by the local cabal of grifters when he was Governor of Australia.)

Funny enough, though, I prefer the older movie as a movie: Laughton plays Bligh as a cartoon villain, but he’s so much fun to watch that I am able to swallow my outraged historickal sensibilities. On the other hand, the more recent film comes over as rayther flat to me, despite its attention to period detail and gorgeous cinematography. Go figure.

UPDATE: Oh, if you’re interested in a real historickal lunatic who had no biznay commanding a ship, read up on the mutiny of the crew of H.M.S. Hermione in 1797 against Captain Hugh Pigot. Dudley Pope’s The Black Ship is an excellent source for this.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The new washing machine was delivered to Port Swiller Manor this morning. When they said 7:00 A.M, by jigs, they meant 7:00 A.M. Lots of new electronic whistles and bells compared to its dead, 20+ year old predecessor. One of them is a “stain removal guide” setting. The choices include “tomato, wine, blood, grass, [and] dirt”, which immediately struck me as an outline for a fairly lurid thriller. (Perhaps I’ll write it.) Making its maiden run now. Definitely has a larger capacity than the old one.

In a change from the ordinary, Ol’ Robbo needs to refill his hummingbird feeder today not because the current content is getting old but because the little blighters have almost emptied it. I can’t recall a more active year here. There are at least three of them, and hummers being such aggressive and territorial types it’s like watching the Battle of Britain every day. (How any of them has time for sipping in between dogfights escapes me.)

I continue to scan the headlines with disgust and contempt, but also with a certain detachment because I have God. (This may sound trite or corny, but I’ve worked hard at it and finally begin to understand, however hazily, what it truly means.) How horrifying it must be for those who replace Him with worship of the State or themselves or nothing or whatever to lead such angry, empty, deceitful lives, only to discover in the end how wrong they were. (I think of the demise of Mabel Brand in Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World. One of the scariest things I’ve ever read. But I also think of Puddleglum in The Silver Chair when the witch tries and fails to hocus him into denying his faith in Aslan.)

I assume that most of you who still bother to drop in here for a glass of port also spend time over at the Ace of Spades Moron HQ. Yesterday on his GAAAINZZZ thread, Ace mentioned a “push-up challenge”, the goal of which is to try and do 100 push-ups over the course of a day. As a matter of fact, Ol’ Robbo hit on this very idea himself a couple of months ago. I’m now doing 125 a day, in sets of 25. It may sound idiotic, but I only actually stumbled across the principle of doing push-ups properly fairly recently. All those years I had been concentrating on trying to straighten out my arms instead of pressing with my pecs. What a difference.

My next challenge will be pull-ups, which I can’t do worth jack.

I’m probably a bad old man for it, but now that Mrs. R and Eldest are back at work at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method, I derive a certain satisfaction at watching them have to get up early in the morning to get ready. (Summahs have always been a bit irksome when Robbo has to put on the ol’ harness while everybody else sleeps in.)

On the gardening front, I will be cutting back the forsythia this weekend in order to see if I can get a more concentrated bloom next spring. They had plenty of flowers last year (thanks, I believe, to the lime treatment I started giving them) but they were overgrown and stringy. We’ll see what happens.

Also on said front, Ol’ Robbo is geeking out because his lawn service sent out order forms for fall aeration, over-seeding, and lime treatment, for which I am enthusiastically signing up. It’s my Christmas present to myself this year. (No kidding.) The Port Swiller Manor demesne hasn’t had such care since we first moved in and I’m determined to wrestle it back to good health.

And speaking of which, time for Ol’ Robbo to go haul out the mower…….

French-Fried UPDATE: Because Ol’ Robbo got the jump on his Saturday yardwork chores early, he was able to spend the afternoon lounging about. Following up on my comment about misbegotten Jackie Chan scripts the other day, I spent it reading Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days.

Well, I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly. Perhaps at least just one futuristic invention? But, no: Just a fun adventure story heavily dependent on railway and shipping time-tables. And while others might roll their eyes and skip a bit when Verne starts going into detail about the geography of various railroads in India and the United States, I got a geeky pleasure out of them. (When I told Eldest about it, we got into a discussion of whether Verne himself put in the travelling leg-work to gather together all his information and atmosphere. I should think he must have done.)

Anyhoo, it’s tightly told and nicely written, and the perfect thing for a lazy afternoon in the hammock. And I was amused to see a Frenchy’s pen-portrait of a stuffy, stiff-upper-lip Englishman. (Somewhere or other, right on the outskirts of memory, I recall reading recently a discussion of foreign attempts to portray the English, in which Phileas Fogg’s name naturally comes up. It’s going to drive me crazy trying to remember where I saw this.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

After a perfectly gergious day yesterday, the low dropped down into the mid-50’s last night for the first time in months. Ol’ Robbo would take that year round.

Sometimes you just can’t win.

Last evening, Eldest wandered in and said, “Watcha doing?”

“Reading an autobiography by Alec Guinness,” I answered, “then I’m going to watch a movie called ‘Operation Petticoat’. You’re welcome to join me.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. It’s a screwball comedy about a WW2 submarine.”

“Gawd,” she said. “You are such a nerd! Why can’t you be more hip?”

“But I thought you liked the fact that I’m a nerd. You’ve complimented me on it many times. Are you saying I should do a Steve Buscemi ‘Greetings, fellow kids’ thing?”

Gawd!” she said, “It’s ‘How do you do, fellow kids’! You can’t even get the meme right, you nerd!”

I shrugged. She flounced.

(But I’m guessing not seriously.)

Incidentally, I b’lieve this was my second viewing of “O.P.” I liked it a lot more than the first time I saw it, but I guess I’m simply never going to cotton on to Tony “Yonda lies da castle of muh faddah” Curtis.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

WordPress doesn’t time-stamp my posties, so I will tell you myself that it’s about four ack-emma as I type this. We had a wicked pissah of a lightning storm come through the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor about an hour ago, courtesy of what remains of Hurricane Ida, and I simply can’t get back to sleep. So, then…….

What I wrote below about perhaps finally finding the mystery crack in the garage causing my basement study to flood? Fuggedaboutit. Even now the study floor is covered in water and the automatic pump is churning industriously. Grrrrr…..

Which reminds me of a long-standing question: We’ve lived in this house for nearly twenty-one years now. To say that I know all if its quirks and, ah, weaknesses is to put it mildly. So when we come to sell eventually, assuming Ol’ Robbo is still above ground, morally speaking exactly how much of this knowledge am I obliged to disclose to potential buyers? I put this to Mrs. R the other day and she takes a strict caveat emptor approach, but I wonder……

Speaking of such things, I also noted recently the death of the Port Swiller Manor washing machine. The replacement arrives this Saturday. A friend has offered to let us run loads at her house if needed, but we’re trying to avoid this. When Mrs. R asked if my boxer drawer would hold out, I replied, “It’ll be a damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw”. I’m not sure the Iron Duke would appreciate my appropriation, but I got a chuckle out of it.

Somewhat at random, yesterday Ol’ Robbo plucked from his library shelf Alec Guinness’s memoir A Positively Final Appearance. (I have a small collection of books of reminiscence by such stage giants as Olivier, Gielgud, et al. Ol’ Robbo was bitten by the theatre bug a long time ago and never quite got over it.) I may or may not have read it before, I cannot recollect. In any event, as much as I like Guinness, I do wish he had not been so churlish about his Star Wars fandom. I understand his frustration that such silliness should have overshadowed his other far-more substantial achievements, but he was just an entertainer, after all, and Obi-Wan did put a substantial amount of coin in his pocket, so………

By the bye, I like to think that Alan Rickman’s character in “Galaxy Quest” is as much, or more, of a nod to Guinness as it is to Leonard Nimoy. Certainly there are better grounds for such bitterness. (I mean, Shakespeare versus “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. You be the judge.)

And incidentally, if I had to pick a favorite Guinness movie role, I’d probably have to go with Professor Marcus from “The Ladykillers”.

Well, I won’t bore you friends of the decanter with an obscure ** spot the quote riddle. I put up the title to mark the fact that this is September 1st and we can now begin to see that summah has done its worst and will do so no more. As I started out quoting Wellington, surely it’s fitting to finish up quoting Churchill: “This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.” (Well, it doesn’t work completely, but it’s now five ack emma, so forget it, I’m rolling.***)

***Okay, you can spot that reference.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, Ol’ Robbo’s vacation is about over and done and tomorrow I put back on the ol’ harness. On the whole, it was quite restful and I’m ready to get back to work. A few observations to wrap it up:

As promised earlier, I did clean out the garage yesterday, at least as far as I could. I duly emptied it out, swept, blowered and mopped, threw a bunch of junk away, and reorganized the remains. So it’s definitely cleaner. (I did not make any friends among the many spiders who live there.) However, a really thorough job would have involved a good power-washing of the floor (my washer is hors de combat) and repainting the walls (don’t tell Mrs. R I said that). Maybe next year.

Another result is that I may, at last, have finally found the crack whereby the water gets down into my basement study from the garage every time it floods. (It happened again last week and there’s mud all over my study floor. Another job for another day.) Fortunately, I had some quikrete left over from another of this week’s projects with which I won’t bore you, so I duly filled it in. I guess we’ll get to test it soon, as I understand what’s left of Hurricane Ida after it makes landfall is supposed to come through here mid-week, and I’m sure lots of water will get into the garage.

Eldest Gel and I watched “Around The World In 80 Days” (2004) last evening because we both like goofy Jackie Chan action movies, but really, this was ridiculous. (And Jim Broadbent ought to be ashamed of himself.) I’ve never actually read any Verne, but the knowledge of what violence this film must do to his novel has motivated both the Gel and me to pick it up in order to, so to speak, get the bad taste out of our mouths. One of the arguments made for film adaptations of liddashur is that they’re supposed to encourage viewers (especially the young people) to read the source material. Personally, I’ve never believed that happens very much. True, it’s happening here, but we’re both cranks and I doubt if many others would share our motivation.

On that note, I’ve also got “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” (1954) in my queue, this time on the Gel’s recommendation. Again, I don’t know how closely the film follows the book, but the Gel enthuses over it because it actually tells a story without relying on explosions every five seconds, and also because she’s discovered what a good actor James Mason was. (And now she gets a real kick out of my Peter Lorre impersonations, too.) I may have seen this film when I was a small boy but I remember nothing about it, except maybe a giant squid.

Oh, speaking of books, those of you who recall that Ol’ Robbo started his vacation binge-reading the works of George MacDonald Fraser may be interested to know that I made it through virtually his entire canon, fiction and non-fiction, except Black Ajax (which I don’t own), Mr. American (which is too long), and The Steel Bonnets (his history of the Anglo-Scots border reivers which, frankly, puts me to sleep.) That should hold me on GMF for a while.

Mrs. Robbo returns home today from playing in a regional USTA tournament, her first I believe. (She also got to visit with Middle Gel because the tourney was in her neighborhood.) I’m happy that she has her tennis even though I’ve never had any interest in the sport myself. While her team didn’t advance, I gather they nonetheless put up a respectable showing. (Mrs. R has played since she was a little girl and was captain of her college team. She’s never been a power hitter, but has always relied on control and finesse. Recently, so I understand, she has developed a wicked slice that has placed her much in demand as a doubles partner.)

To celebrate her return and as a send-off before we all – Mrs. R, Eldest, and I – go back to work tomorrow, I’m doing a bit of a slap up dins tonight. Mrs. R doesn’t eat meat, so I am doing her some fish. Fortunately, she recently discovered a taste for tilapia. I say fortunately because a) the thing is so mild that you can go to town with sauces and marinades, and b) no more salmon stinking up the kitchen. I’m trying a cilantro-lime marinade recipe this time. Eldest and I are quite content with steak on the bar-b. Add some popovers and artichoke and we’re all good to go.

Well, that’s that. Time, almost, to re-enter the (un)real world of madness that I have been trying to ignore mostly while on vacay. Ol’ Robbo avoids politickal commentary here as a rule, but God help us all.

UPDATE: What better way to wind up your vacation than to set your hair on fire! Ol’ Robbo has a small firepit near his grill in which he’s accustomed to burning empty charcoal bags. I must have got a bit cavalier about it this evening because tossing the screen on top I managed to create a fireball that wooshed past my head. A little later, I noticed that it had singed a goodish part of the hair above my left ear. Distinctive smell, too. Fortunately, I am approaching what Mrs. R calls the “Mountain-Man” look, so even though the ends withered, there was no permanent effect.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The mossification of Ol’ Robbo continues apace. So far this vacation, about all I’ve done is binge-read George MacDonald Fraser. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

To be fair, it was always my plan to spend the first few days simply loafing. The trick will be to see if I can transition into Phase Two later this week and start getting on with various house and garden projects. We shall see. (**Shakes Magic 8-Ball** Reply hazy, ask again later.)

In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to make a sammich, crack a beer, and go back to my GMF. Because I can.

Storm of the Century of the Week UPDATE: For those interested and per the comments today, we were forecasted to catch at least some of what remained of TS Fred as it moved north today. Well, the wind was up slightly and it got dark a few times, but in fact we got exactly zippity-doo-dah in terms of storm or rain. Not that we especially needed it, now that the last week or ten days has got wetter, but still, Ol’ Robbo lurves him some thunder-boomers.

What we did get is that particularly brilliant blue sky that comes out once the storm has passed. If I recall correctly, such brilliance is caused by the storm gathering up lower-level ozone and spitting it out the top into the upper atmosphere, causing some kind of change in the refraction. Always nice to see.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo stumbled across Kiss Me, Kate (1953) on TCM last evening. I’m kind of surprised they ran it (because muh sexism) but I came in a bit late, so perhaps missed any trigger-warning language at the beginning.

I’ve long liked this film, although I couldn’t really tell you why. The acting is generally clunky and over the top, and the whole thing has a brash, glaring 50’s feel that rubs me the wrong way. On the other hand, it’s Cole Porter for gosh sakes. Also, even though Ol’ Robbo knows exactly zilch about dancing, I find the choreography to be amazing.

Plus, I like shows about doing shows. Granted, the only other one I can think of off the top of the old bean is “Noises Off” (1992). That was a disappointing movie to me, despite its blockbuster cast. But then, I had been privileged to see an extremely clever stage production once that literally had people falling out of their seats laughing, so perhaps I am somewhat biased.

Oh, and since I’ve brought up the subject, allow me again to recommend here that you hunt down the old Beeb production of “The Taming of the Shrew” (1980) starring John Cleese as Petruchio. (Netflix still has the DVD, I think.)*** He’s really quite good and very well cast for the part. And even though he plays it pretty straight, he also manages to sneak in a Basil Fawlty mannerism or two, which I find hugely enjoyable.

***UPDATE: No, they don’t., not anymore. Sigh…. I realize that I’m probably one of only about half a dozen people left who still use Netflix’s DVD service, but really, their library has gone completely to the hot place in recent years, and I daily expect to hear that they’re planning to cancel the thing altogether. All part of the Great Leap Forward v.2, no doubt.


Recent Comments

Robbo on To Boldly Go
Joseph Moore on To Boldly Go
browndog Official Ma… on Saturday Garden And Sundry…
NOVA Curmudgeon on Saturday Garden And Sundry…
rbj1 on To Boldly Go

Blog Stats

  • 486,361 hits
October 2021