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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ever have a book which you genuinely dislike, yet you still feel compelled not only to read it but to reread it?  My personal gremlin is Jeff Shaara’s The Last Full Measure.  It continues to bother the hell out of me (whatever the arrangements might have been) that he lifted the entire concept – story, style, language, and all – straight off his father; the book’s way too long-winded; and if I had a quarter for every time he mentions “the screams of the wounded”, I’d be a very rich man.

And yet, even though I’ve already read it four or five times, I tossed the damned thing into my bags when I went away on my recent trip, I’m now to the point where Grant is just investing Petersburg, and I know for a certainty that I’m going to feel compelled to finish it yet again.

I believe psychiatry has a term for this kind of behavior.

At least I’ve reached the point of familiarity where I can skim over great chunks without any sense of guilt or loss, but still……

Anyhoo, the good news is that I will be seeing my brother on my upcoming hols and he is promising to bring along a fist-full of Ian Fleming’s 007 novels.  I’ve never read any of them (although I heard a portion of Dr. No on tape years and years ago), and am quite looking forward to trying them out.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo is currently making his way for the umpteenth time through the Flashman Papers (yes, I know I should be expanding my horizons elsewhere) and it suddenly occurred to him that he had never heard Flash Harry’s favorite song, “Drink Puppy Drink” by George Whyte-Melville.

Whelp, through the magic of YooToob, to look it up (at least in its regimental version) was the work of an instant.  Probably not much like the single-finger-on-the-keyboard version Flashy performed while enduring the tender embraces of Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, but I pass it on just in case you’re interested.  Enjoy!

And here, in case you’re further interested, are what this site says are the lyrics to the song:

Now here’s to the fox with his ass beneath the rocks,
Here’s to the line that we follow.
And here’s to every hound with his nose upon the ground,
And a-merrily we whoop and we holloa!

Chorus (after each verse):
So drink, puppy, drink, let ev’ry puppy drink
That’s old enough to lap and to swallow;
For he’ll grow into an hound,
And we’ll pass the bottle ’round,
And merrily we’ll whoop and we’ll holloa.

Now here’s to the horse and the rider too, of course,
Here’s to the rally to the hunt, boys;
And here’s to every friend that can struggle to the end,
And here’s to the tally-ho in front, boys.

Now here’s to the gap and the timber that we rap,
Here’s to the white thorn, and the black, too;
And here’s to the pace that puts life into the chase,
And the fence that gives a moment for the pack, too.

Now the pack is staunch and true, now they come from scent to view,
And it’s worth the risk to life, limb and neck, boys;
To see them drive and stoop until they finish with ‘Whoop’,
Forty minutes on the grass without a check, boys.

A glass of wine, indeed.

Said nobody.  Ever.

(Those of you who have experienced first-hand the joys of I-70 dying a couple hundred yards short of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will know of what Ol’ Robbo types.)

Greetings, my fellow Port Swillers!

As mentioned in the post below, Ol’ Robbo spent the bulk of his Sunday running the two younger gels out to their annual summah camp.  It’s about three hours each way between Port Swiller Manor and the camp’s location in southwestern Pennsylvania, and, as I’ve mentioned over the years, there are many attractions to the drive, historickal, geographical, and geological.

One of the lesser attractions is the gang of idjits and lunatics who seem to enjoy tooling up and down this route.  One sportsman this morning decided that, from a cruising speed of near 80 mph, he was going to come to a near dead stop in the left lane of the Turnpike.  Ol’ Robbo, who was about fifteen cars behind, became interested to see cars suddenly flying off in all directions and laying rubber as they jammed on their brakes.  His own language, as he undertook similar defensive maneuvers, was not of an improving kind.

(I didn’t get to see whether the fellah had Murrland plates, but I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised.  Remember, all Murrland drivers are bat-shite crazy.  Every. Single. One.)

Another lesser attraction is the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel.  I admire it as an engineering achievement, and I love its position as the gateway into the Laurel Highlands, but there’s something about the lighting inside that has a strobe-like effect on Ol’ Robbo’s braims.  All I can do is take a deep breath, focus on the pavement immediately behind the car in front of me, and hope for the best.  One of these days, I’m going to have a seizure going through it.

Anyhoo, the gels are deposited, Mrs. R and I are back home, and all is well.

By the bye: For many, many years, I’ve been referring to the gels’ annual retreat as “Bible-thumper camp”.  I do this because it is, in fact, specifically and aggressively Christian-themed (“God first.  Others second.  I’m third.”), and because it is run by Evangelicals.  So there’s a lot of, well, enthusiasm.  But, really, I’m only teasing, not mocking.  (Obviously, we would not have been sending the gels there for a decade if we thought there was something actually wrong with it.)  All of us Christians are under attack by the Shadow these days, and while I might kid one of the Out Companies* about its funny ways, I mean no disrespect to its devotion to the Cause.

 

* Spot the gratuitous Tolkien reference

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I believe that after all these years (almost 14 by my count) of blogging, today marks an historick first, insofar as I am posting today for the very first time from the immense comfort of my hammock on the back porch of Port Swiller Manor.

I must say, I could seriously get used to this.   (Indeed, one of the Four Things which Ol’ Robbo hopes to do when and if he is ever able to retire is to turn his attention to more serious writing.  If I’m not mistaken, none other than William Makepeace Thackeray is said to have done his very best work while similarly lounging in his hammock, so you never know!)

And what are the Four Things, you ask? Well, as I say, one of them is serious writing.  Another is to reform my garden from a butterfly-bush wilderness into an orderly, civilized set of flower beds.  The third is to actually sit down and work up some piano musick to performance level, instead of forever sight-reading.  Finally, I want to take up golf again, which I haven’t seriously played in 25 years.

So there you are.

Anyhoo, a few odds and ends for you:

♦  We had a very cool and wet spring in the neighborhood this year, with a resultant lushness that I haven’t seen in quite some time.  Indeed, so much so that the hedge of hollies which we planted along the sidewalk out front some years ago have positively exploded.  T’other day, Ol’ Robbo came home to find a piece of paper taped to his mailbox.  Its gist was that the hollies were sticking branches out over the sidewalk and could we please cut them back.  It was signed, “Your friendly neighbors.”

I’ll give them that the trees needed pruning (which I did yesterday), but there is something about the passive-aggressive nature of this “friendly” notice that really irritates Ol’ Robbo.  Indeed, I was half-tempted to scrawl “Balls to you!” on the thing and just leave it there.

Ah, well, at least it was a tad better than the little snirp who, once or twice over the years, has actually hacked down some of my branches and simply left them lying all over the sidewalk.  I caught him at it once, and it was only the gray hairs on his head that kept me from taking a horsewhip to him.

♦  Speaking of horsewhips, Ol’ Robbo realizes more and more what a bye he got with the Eldest Gel not being at all interested in dating when she was in high school.  Suddenly it seems both of the younger Gels have romantic irons in the fire, and Ol’ Robbo’s stomach muscles are tightening accordingly.  (Actually, the Youngest’s is a very polite and sensible young man, who I think I like.  She’s so besotted with him that she’s actually going to try and take honors chemistry next year because he is.  Gawd!)

♦  And speaking of the Younger Gels, it’s off to Bible-Thumper Camp tomorrow morning.  This will be Middle Gel’s tenth year and Youngest’s eighth.  (Right now, all of Robbo’s wymminz are in the kitchen, squabbling over a trip to Tarzhay to pick up last-second supplies.  Why does everything have to be so complicated?  Ol’ Robbo is feigning deafness.)

♦  Oh, and have I said it lately?

LET’S GO, NATS!!!

Whelp, that’s about it for now.  Another advantage of hammock-blogging, now that the Gels have left on their equipment-run, is that I can simply hit the power button, close my laptop, and go nappy-byes.

As I say, I could get used to this.  Zzzzzzz………

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo had one of his patent weird dreams last night.

In this one, I was helping home an elephant who had gone one over the eight.

Not only was it drunk, it was up on its hind legs, stalking along slowly but shakily. I found myself leaning up against it on one side, steadying it as it swayed along.

Then I realized that this was no ordinary elephant, but that it was dressed up to the nines with spats, cravat, tail-coat, and top hat.  Also, that we were in a very fancy-shmancy urban neighborhood, something like Louisburg Square in Bahston.

Eventually, we reached a very well-to-do-looking townhouse, which I understood to be the elephant’s own.  For some reason, they wouldn’t let us in, so I steered the elephant to the next house over.  It proved to be equally sumptuous, and the door was opened by a very well turned out older lady.

As I maneuvered the elephant inside and helped him collapse on a convenient sofa, I apologized to the matron for our unseemly intrusion.

“Oh,” she said, “that’s quite all right.  We’re used to him.”

And then, as they say, I woke up.

I hadn’t the remotest idea what all this was supposed to mean.  Thinking it over, my best guess is that I have been rereading George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman Papers for the umpteenth time recently, and just finished Flashman and the Redskins.  In it, Fraser uses the Victorian slang about “seeing the elephant” at one point.  I can only suppose that this expression stuck with me for some reason.

Why I “saw the elephant” in that particular condition, however, remains a mystery.

** If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

UPDATE: Oh, all right.  Enjoy!

 

R.I.P. Adam West.

Although I only saw the old series as late afternoon reruns when I was in elementary school, I still like to say that West was the only “real” Batman, mostly to annoy the sort of people who take comic book (excuse me, “graphic novel”) characters seriously.

If nothing else, you have to admire the guy for being such a good sport about making his name over something that was so eminently silly, and respect him for cashing in on it as well.  Rayther like Bill Shatner in that, I suppose.

Speaking of the Caped Crusader, Eldest Gel made me watch the Lego-Batman movie a couple weeks ago.  Yeebus!  The pure inundation of light, sound, and movement nearly caused Ol’ Robbo to have a seizure.  Is this what it takes to keep our Ritalin-soaked kids’ attention these days?

UPDATE: Speaking of comic book moovies reminds me of a discussion I had with a work colleague of the feminist persuasion this week about the new Gal Gadot Wonder Woman movie.  She was of the opinion that it probably wouldn’t appeal to adolescent boys.

I thought back to my own misspent yoot and my droolings over the lovely and talented Lynda Carter in the same roll.

“Oh,” I said, “I think they’ll like it.”

Maybe not for the grrrlzz-power reasons my colleague would want, but…I think they’ll like it.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has seen an ad on teevee a couple times this week for a “senior” internet dating site. It features a woman round about my own age who says something like, “I was married over twenty years, the kids are all grown up, and I just wanted to get ‘out there’ again”

There’s nothing in the copy to suggest this person is a widow, or anything like that. The tone seems to be simply that she was tired of her old life and decided to chuck it.

Am I wrong to be completely appalled by this?

Rod Dreher has a new book out arguing that the Culture Wars have, in fact, been lost, and that we traditionalists no longer have much choice other than to retreat to a new Benedictine-ism and go hide in the hills. I sometimes think he’s just about right.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy St. Pat’s Day!

Ol’ Robbo doesn’t think very much of this “holiday”, given that in its modern, secular form, it seems to be not much more than an excuse for the young people to get thoroughly blotto. It also emphasizes the trivialization of many ancient and important cultural and religious symbols in much the same way that the modern Halloween does.

For all that, I completely forgot what day it was this morning and grabbed a green sweater quite at random.

I felt like an idiot all day.

So now for a bit of Irish random:

– Ol’ Robbo cannot abide either corned beef OR cabbage.

– Despite the title of this post, I know absolutely nothing about Irish whiskey. To the extent I touch the hard stuff anymore, I remain a single-malt scotch man (Laphroig by preference).

– On the other hand, I DO know a thing or two about stout. Mostly, that it should not be quaffed when the outside temperature is anything over about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

– “The Commitments”, the story of one man’s attempt to bring soul music to Dublin, remains one of my very favorite movies. Fookin’ deadly!

– Leprechauns. They’re not cute and cuddly, they won’t enhance your breakfast cereal experience, and God help you if you ever do somehow stumble across their horde of treasure. One of my favorite short stories encapsulating the actual terror associated with “Thim People” is “The Happy Despatch” by Patrick O’Brian. (Yes, THAT Patrick O’Brian. You’ll find it in his book “The Rendezvous and Other Stories”.)

– One of my favorite collections of short stories that really digs down into the “true” Irish character is, of course, “The Irish R.M.” by E. O. Somerville and Martin Ross, a pair of Anglo-Irish ladies writing in the early 20th Century. They are surprisingly sympathetic to the natives.

– One Irishman surprisingly NOT sympathetic to his countrymen was the playwrite John Synge. Writing about the same people at about the same time as Somerville and Ross, he was brutal in his depictions of their backwardness. Ol’ Robbo was in a college production of his “Playboy of the Western World” and actually took lessons to get the brogue right. As my eldest gel is discovering, ANY play is fun to do, but this one was pretty brutal in its depictions. (Small wonder the audience rioted when it debuted in Dublin in 1901, or whenever it was.)

– Whelp, that’s about it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ll go listen to a Chieftans CD. Just because.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The other day, Ol’ Robbo mentioned that he was working his way through the Beeb’s recent production of “The Hollow Crown“, Shakespeare’s quartet of historickal plays including Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, and Henry V.  At the time, having watched Richard II and Henry IV part 1, I said I thought I liked the series.  My opinion remained more or less the same after watching Henry IV part 2.  However, last evening I finally ran off Henry V and I’m afraid I must report that I’ve downgraded my overall impression.  Or rayther, that I think the last installment of the quartet just didn’t come up to scratch.

Probably this is in part because I happen to know this play an awful lot better than the other three, but also, I think, it’s because the scope of this one is so much grander than the others and the production (and cast) simply didn’t have the means to match this change of scale.

First, I was amazed at some of the cuts made.  Off the top of my head:

  •  Canterbury’s somewhat twisted discourse on Salic Law and why “as clear as is the summer’s sun” it did not disbar Henry’s claim to the French throne.
  •  The entire scene at Southhampton wherein the plot by Lord Scroop and friends against Henry is uncovered.  This is a critical piece of continuity because rebellion against the lawful king is a theme that pervades the whole damn quartet.
  • Of the Four Captains (Gower, McMorris, Jamy, and Fluellen), only the Welshman Fluellen makes the film, and most of his lines are slashed away.
  • A lot of Ancient Pistol’s lines are cut, including much of his run-in with Harry and his determination to turn to a life of crime after learning of Mistress Quickly’s death.
  • The vast majority of the “Would it were day!” scene in which the French nobles sit about fidgeting on the eve of battle and wishing the Dauphin would shut the hell up is missing.
  • The entire biznay about the French killing “the poys and the luggage” also is gone.  This really surprised me because the film contained a lot of shots of the kid who hung around with Falstaff and his friends and eventually followed Bardolph and company to France.  If ever there was a Star Trek Redshirt in this film, I thought he’d be it.

Second, I’m sorry, but Tom Hiddleston was a disappointment.  I thought he’d done very well as Prince Hal in the previous movies, but his King Harry left me cold.  Yes, the tennis balls scene was not bad, but his big “Once more unto the breach” and “St. Crispin’s Day” speeches? Meh.  There was nothing really commanding or regal or inspirational in either speech.  And it didn’t help that all the soldiers around him at Harfleur in the former seemed….apathetic, while somebody got the idea that the latter should be made in conversational tone only to his inner circle of nobles.

I also thought Anton Lesser’s Exeter was pretty weak.  This was King Harry’s heavy?

Third, and I suppose this was a matter of Beeb budget, but the fight at Agincourt was distinctly lame:  the play speaks of 10,000 French casualties, but it never looks like there are more than about 100 extras on the set at any one time.   The English longbowmen look as if they hadn’t got a few dozen arrows among them all.  The Duke of York buys it by being stabbed in the back while he’s creeping around in the forest all by himself.  [Note: I know that the play itself calls for a few discreet tableaux to illustrate the fighting.  Fair enough.  But if you’re going to do a “realistic” production, then you need to either go big or go home.]

Finally, I’m really not sure about John Hurt’s “Chorus”.   Olivier and Branagh got around this innovation (the only one that I’m aware of in all of Shakespeare) by staging a “play within a play”, gradually pulling back from, respectively, an Elizabethan stage and a modern moovie production and gradually becoming immersed in the story.  Here, it’s a simple voice-over to what is supposed to be “real” action.  Frankly, I don’t think this works.  Would it be heretical to suggest that maybe the Chorus should have been taken out altogether in this format?

On the good side,  I thought the scenes with Pistol, Bardolph and Nym were very good, especially the one where they said goodbye to Mistress Quickly.  I also liked all the scenes with Princess Katherine, including her “English lesson” with her maid and her broken-tongue courtship by Harry.  I also liked Lambert Wilson’s King Charles, especially when he realized that his idiot son had been needlessly taunting Harry with his stupid tennis ball gift.

Now I’m going to have to go back and watch Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of the play.  Yes, it omits things, too.  Yes, much goes waaaaay over the top.  Yes, Branagh was an enfant terrible.  Indeed,  I wish there had been a strong director on the project with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!”  But I have to confess: the man knows how to play a King.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy MLK Day.  (Or, as a smart-assed friend of mine used to insist on calling it: SlainCivilRightsLeaderTheReverendDr.MartinLutherKingJunior Day.)

Thankee for your kind wishes viz Ol’ Robbo’s bout with the flu.  While I’m still feeling rayther weak and am coughing a bit, I am confident that I’m on the mend.   On the other hand, it seems just about everyone else in the family has now picked it up to one degree or another.  The knowledge that at least some of them got flu shots gives ol’ Robbo a certain amount of subversive pleasure.

So a few post-plague odds and ends for you:

♦  Ol’ Robbo finally took down the Christmas decorations today, including the tree.  As always and despite my vigorous plying of broom and vacuum, I expect to keep finding fir needles about the front room and hall well into July.  Eh.

 I always chuck the tree onto the brush pile out in the woods past the back gate.  In case you’re interested, I have observed that it takes two to three years for these trees to finally crumble into their primordial components:  Next year, this one will be a skeleton.  The year after, it will be a crumpled skeleton.  The year after that, dust.  (Thinking of the brush pile and the seventeen years I’ve been contributing to it, I just now remembered a book I read as a child.  It had something to do with a tornado hitting a Kansas farm and scooping out and dumping some incredibly fertile soil in such a way that all kinds of strange things began growing on the heap of dirt that the twister left behind.)

♦  Speaking of years, this past week saw the seventeenth and fifteenth birthdays of the two younger Gels.  Tempus bloody fugit, indeed.  They celebrated said B-days with back-to-back sleepover parties Friday and Saturday nights.   You may judge for yourselves what ol’ Robbo thought of having Port Swiller Manor loaded to the gunn’ls with teenaged girls for 48 hours straight.  (No, it isn’t anywhere near the thrill you might think.)

♦  Speaking of the Gels, Eldest heads back to school tomorrow.  Aside from French, she finished with a solid A-/B+ GPA her first semester, of which I am quite proud.  (Don’t tell her I said so, but she did a hell of a lot better her first semester in college than did ol’ Robbo.  Also, from what she let fall in conversation, I think she learned some valuable lessons in what college-level studying actually entails.)   As of now, the plan is that she’s going to major in history and minor in theatre, and also pick up an Arts Management certificate.   And speaking of theatrics, the Gel has been cast as the Wicked Witch in the school’s spring production of Shrek The Musical.  She says herself that this is one of the most idiotic and useless musickals ever produced, but that she is nonetheless looking forward to having a good time participating.  I know exactly what she means.

♦  Also speaking of theatrics, Ol’ Robbo is now half way through watching the 2012-ish Beeb production of The Hollow Crown (comprising Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.)  I think, I think that I like the series.  The acting is uniformly great and, at least for the most part, the production plays Will’s history straight down the middle.  I guess my main criticisms are that it seems some dialogue has been cut in favor of prolonged visuals (yes, I get that these are movies instead of plays on film), and also that the who thing is saturated with that sort of vaguely Celtish World Musick which I really dislike.

One thing that actually made me laugh:  In Richard II, Bolingbroke is well played by Rory Kinnear.  I’ve never seen him before, but his old dad, Roy Kinnear, is well-known to ol’ Robbo as a minor comedic actor with bit parts in films such as The Three Musketeers and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.  Ol’ Robbo loves these Thespian family links.  Anyhoo, imagine my surprise when I popped in H-IVp1 to discover that the role of Bolingbroke had been taken over by none other than Jeremy Irons!  The man, although talented, whistled his lines over a set of obviously false teeth.  Ol’ Robbo enjoyed that yugely.

♦  Finally, speaking of the Bard, Ol’ Robbo has decided that it is high time he reorganized the Port Swiller library.  (I’ve never done an actual count, but I reckon we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 volumes, all told.)  It’s been a mess for some years but I have been content with that because I at least knew where everything was, more or less.  Recently, however, I discovered that Mrs. R was taking things in her own hands.  I do not wish to disparage Mrs. R’s learning in any way, but her approach to organization is based on neatness rayther than content.  She can’t abide books stacked up on tables or in corners or on top of other books:  Those she can’t jam in somewhere on the shelves anyhoo, she simply squirrels away elsewhere in the house.  Indeed, I didn’t even realize the gravity of the situation until I discovered a book I had been looking for – along with multiple other missing volumes – packed into an old bookcase in the Eldest Gel’s bedroom closet.

I mean, I say!

mcbroom_UPDATE:  To satisfy my own curiosity and to prove to you lot that I’m not completely insane, I did a bit of digging to try and find that children’s book I referred to above:  It’s McBroom’s Zoo by Sid Fleischman.  (I didn’t realize until I did this research that this was one of a whole series of McBroom books, all of which seem to center on Tall Tales.)

Interestingly, another of my very favorite books as a kid was Fleischman’s By The Great Horn Spoon!, the story of a small boy who runs away from well-to-do Boston to the California Gold Rush, and who’s aunt’s butler goes along to keep an eye on him.  I probably read that book a hundred times in grade school.

I knew that Disney had made a moovie version of the book called “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin“, which I longed to see for what seemed like ages.  Eventually, they ran it one Sunday evening on tee vee.  I recall being very, very excited.  However, despite the very not bad presence of Suzanne Pleshette in it, the movie made such a pig’s breakfast of the novel that I was seriously traumatized.  And that is the origin of my life-long hatred of moovie treatments of favorite books.

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