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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.


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!

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.


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.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This week Youngest Gel started evening swim practices in anticipation of her high school team getting under way in about a month or so.  (This will be her third year on the varsity, he mentioned gratuitously.)

As we drove home after I picked her up, she began talking about how lovely the moon was up in the sky in front of us.  This led to a discussion about sunlight and starlight, and eventually about how light travels.  (What was it Douglas Adams said? It travels so fast that it takes most civilizations thousands of years to realize that it travels at all?)

Eventually, I got round to reeling off what I remember of the speed of light: 12 million miles a minute; it takes about six minutes or so to travel from the Sun to Earth; measuring distances in space by light-years; etc.

“What is a light-year, anyway?” the Gel asked.

“Well,” I said, “It’s the distance light travels in one year.  Remember how I said 12 million miles a minute?  So multiply that by sixty to get miles per hour, then multiply that by twenty-four to get miles per day, and multiply that by three hundred sixty-five to get an approximation of the distance of a light year.  I don’t know the exact number, but I do know it’s awfully big.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her lips moving as she did a quick and dirty calculation in her head, her eyes steadily widening.

“Well, okay.  How far away are the stars, then?” she asked.

“That varies, of course, ” I replied.  “Alpha Centauri is our nearest neighbor at about two light-years’ distance.  On the other hand, Betelgeuse, the left shoulder of the constellation of Orion, is 500 light years off.  Others are at different distances, some very much farther than that.”

“Five hundred!” she exclaimed.  “Are you telling me that the light I see on Orion’s shoulder left it 500 years ago? Like when Columbus had just arrived in the Americas?”

“Yippers,” I said. “And for all we know, it could have gone supernova or even disappeared altogether any time between then and now and we wouldn’t even know it until the effects got here.”

The Gel huddled herself together, an awe-struck look on her face.

“This is seriously freaking me out,” she said.

Ol’ Robbo, for one, is glad that the Gel had this reaction.  Not only am I pleased at her grasp of the physical concepts (and math) involved, I also believe it demonstrates a proper sense of humility.

It’s also one that I happen to share.  When looking about God’s Creation, I can’t think of anything more humbling than contemplating interstellar distances (unless it’s geological time, another of my favorite things to noodle).

Oh, and obligatory (not because I like the movie – I don’t much – but because I often sing it in the shower and it’s also my chief reference for quick and dirty facts of this sort):


“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!


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!

Ol’ Robbo has found himself in a protracted grudge match with a colony of ants that keeps getting into the hummingbird feeder. I’ve killed hundreds of the little bastards over the past month or two (and probably shortened my own life by a few years with all the RAID fumes I’ve inhaled) but they always seem to come back.

Earlier this week I thought I had put an end to things when I finally discovered their nest and brought the equivalent of SMOD down on it, but nope, they were back this morning.  (It’s two stories from the ground where they nest up to the feeder.  Interestingly, they were using a new trail this time from the one on which I had repeatedly hammered them previously.  How do they manage to remember and navigate? I haven’t figured out yet where the new nest is.)

They’re an extremely small variety of ant, so you don’t even notice them until you’re right up close.  I only realized the problem had returned because the hummer herself was acting skittish and wouldn’t come in for a proper drink.  Only when I heaved myself up and went to look close did I see that the feeder was crawling with the things again.

It’s better than having to deal with yellowjackets, of which I have seen absolutely none this year, but still……

UPDATE:  I cleaned out the feeder, refilled it and hung it back out before sitting down to write this.  Just as I was hitting *post*, the hummer came back in for a proper drink.  I wonder if she knows I’m her fixer?  The other birds certainly know that it’s chow time when I refill their feeders.

UPDATE DEUX:  And speaking of ants, may I just point out here that “Michael Ellis” is one of my absolute very favorite Python episodes? S’truth!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo cannot now recall whether some friend of the decanter recommended them to him or not, but I’ve been trying out the Beeb’s recent “Father Brown Mysteries” with Mark Williams in the title role.

I have to confess that after watching the first three episodes, I’m not really all that impressed.  I don’t hate the show, mind you, but I don’t feel much desire to whistle up the next DVD from Netflix, either.

For one thing, there is of course the total impossibility of translating GKC’s extremely lush writing style into a screenplay.  (The way he describes a scene is every bit as important as the substance of the scene itself.  Want a perfect example? Read his description of the arrival of Innocent Smith at Beacon House in Manalive.  It’s overwhelming.)  There’s also GKC’s overriding theme that Faith and Reason are not antithetical, but in fact are allies because God Himself is the ultimate Reason.  It’s not that the shows seem disrespectful, exactly, but that they seem to scootch past this as quickly as possible to get on with the sleuthing.  (Perhaps this was just an early hook to pull in viewers and these deeper issues get more treatment in later episodes.  I just don’t know.)

Discounting that, however, I have some other nits as well.  For instance, the show seems to not include M. Hercule Flambeau, a reformed French mastermind of thievery and Father Brown’s usual companion, at all.  In the books, Brown often delivers his piercing observations on human nature and the eternal battle between Good and Evil in his discussions with Flambeau, but here he obviously can’t.   Instead, to the extent he says anything at all, Brown’s conversation seems to be directed toward a regular cast of side characters, including a nosey church secretary, an outrageous village flirt, some kind of Eastern European maid, and a snarky chauffer, none of whom I recall from the original stories.  Then there’s the local inspector, who I’d swear had the same lines in all three episodes I watched: “I’ve got motive and opportunity, and that’s enough,” and, “I’m placing you under arrest for suspicion of the murder of [X]”.

And that’s another thing.  In the GKC stories, Father Brown (and M. Flambeau) find themselves in various locales around GB and the Continent.  All the action in the shows seems to take place in the same small village, which would lead one to think the place must be awash in blood and to wonder just how long it can last with all of its denizens being snuffed out one after another.

All that said, I don’t think Williams is especially bad in the role of Father B, although I think he’s too physically large for the part.  (Brown is supposed to be a little, unnoticeable man.)  No doubt he was cast because of his ability to bug his eyes out and purse his lips in distracted contemplation.

And on that note, I would still love to see Alec Guinness’s turn in the role.  I should think he would have been perfect.  And if I am not mistaken, I believe I read somewhere that the exposure to the Faith that Guinness received through his playing of Father Brown was a big factor in his decision to swim the Tiber himself.  (When I went to the devil’s website to find this film, I saw it was only a couple bucks.  So why not?  Guess I will see it.)

Anyhoo, I think I’d give this series two glasses of port (and maybe an extra sip) out of five.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As many of you are no doubt aware, this weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein.

In tribute, the local classickal station devoted a great deal of air time to Lennie’s, airing massive quantities of both his own compositions and recordings of his conducting of other composers’ works.


Ol’ Robbo is a great fan of classickal musick, but I have to admit I have absolutely no use whatever for Ol’ Lennie.

On a personal level, he was the very model of a Limousine Leftist, a particular type for whom I have nothing but contempt.

On a professional one, he was pretty typical of the mid-20th Century Wagnerian School, the sort of fellah who believed everyone should get the same heavy-handed Romantic treatment (and also that the artiste – that is, the composer and performer – are somehow more important to the “experience” than the art itself).**  Ol’ Robbo has been an acolyte of the historically informed performance movement since he came across it in the mid-80’s and has listened to very little else.  To spend the past couple days listening to Lennie butchering Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven has been, well, grueling.

Oh, and his own compositions? “Pretentious? Moi?” ***

Anyhoo, I refuse to participate in the adulation.

And on that front (sorry for the choppy YouTube – it was the best compilation I could find):


** This is why I am deeply suspicious of Romanticism, even more skeptical of post-Romanticism, and absolutely cynical about Abstractionism in all its manifestations.  You want to wank off and call it art? Fine, but get a room and leave me out of it.

*** Spot the quote.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, Ol’ Robbo happened to catch “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1952), with Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, and James Mason, on TCM.  It was, like every other Granger movie I’ve seen, okay, if not exactly overwhelming. (Further, Kerr has never done much for me, either.  Mason, on the other hand, is one of those actors you enjoy watching no matter how good or bad the film is.)

I mention this because it immediately brought to mind the novel Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser.**  Not that I dislike it, but this is probably one of my least favorite of the Flashman Papers largely because it is so derivative of the novel The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, on which the movie is based.  (GMF gets around this by claiming Flashy told Hope about his adventure, thus inspiring Hope to write his novel.  Clever, but still…...)

Anyhoo, this convergence prompted Ol’ Robbo to nip over to the devil’s website and buy a copy of Hope’s novel, which I have been meaning to read for some years now because of the GMF connection.  I’ll let you know what I think.

**Yes, there’s a movie version of this, too, with Malcolm McDowell.  GMF did the screenplay himself, but I can’t recommend the film.

UPDATE: The lovely and talented Sleepy Beth has a post up about an unexpectedly good experience with a screen version of one of her favorite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  Unfortunately, Blogsplat’s anti-bot comment guard is fritzing again so I couldn’t respond over at her place.  This is what I tried to say:

I’m happy for you [Beth] that you found a good crossover. (I’m unfamiliar with this particular book.) You’ve hung around my blog long enough to know my general opinion of that sort of thing! ; )

On that front, I still maintain that the single best screen adaptation of a novel I’m aware of is the Merchant/Ivory treatment of A Room With A View. (Granted, I only read Forster’s novel once or twice, so am not exactly a “fan”, but he has a pretty straight-forward descriptive style which seems to lend itself to screenplay adaptation.)

The Coen Brothers would have beat that in my estimation with their adaptation of Charles Portis’s True Grit (of which I AM a fan) IF they had stuck to the novel. They got the tone, the characters, the language, and the overall feel absolutely bang-right. But for reasons beyond me, they felt compelled to add some frivolous bits and pieces of their own (Mattie cutting down a hanged man; the weird fellah with the bear head hat), and to gratuitously re-do one of the show-down scenes. I can accept (grudgingly) that concessions must be made when changing media, but I don’t accept non-necessary ones.  Grrrrrr.

And circling back round to the initial topic of this post, the devil’s website promptly delivered a copy of The Prisoner of Zenda to Port Swiller Manor this afternoon.  Ol’ Robbo read the first chapter over his din-dins this evening (Mrs. R being absent) and I can definitely say that somebody like David Niven would have been far better than Granger in the movie adaptation: the hero is immediately established as a polished, blasé, smart-ass.

Oh, and as long as I’m on this subject, let me recommend to you (perhaps again) the Beeb’s 1978 teevee production of “Much Ado About Nothing” with Cherie Lunghi and Robert Lindsay as Beatrice and Benedict.  I’m not saying Thompson and Branagh ripped it off and then put it over the top to boost ticket sales but, well, yes I am…..

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