Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Flashman novels of George Macdonald Fraser

With the recent dry weather the fishing has been a bit quiet so I thought I’d put pen to paper and give you the good oil on a writer that a bloke wouldn’t mind spending a bit of time with, and while book reviews are all well and good, I can’t help feeling that a bloke needs to get hold of a decent author that he can follow up on and get to know, because once you’ve enjoyed one book, if they’re any good, you’ll be wanting more in the same vein.

I see George MacDonald Fraser has recently passed on at the age of 82. A traditionalist, he was an outspoken patron of the British Weights and Measures Association which opposes compulsory conversion to the metric system, now there’s a man after me own heart.

George worked as a newspaperman after serving in a Border regiment under General Slim in Burma in 1945 (see Quartered Safe Out Here, below), and came to fame with the Flashman novels about the adventures of the villain of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, name of Harry Flashman.

Now Flashman is a real lad with the ladies and gets into plenty of scrapes, he writes in the first person so you feel like you’re right there with him whether it’s bedding Lola Montez, riding with Custer at Little Big Horn or at the charge of the Light Brigade. You can’t beat the clarity of writing, the historical accuracy and the way in which human weakness is portrayed in such familiar terms. George’s view of history as the escapades of cads and villains, is in my book a lot more plausible than the official accounts.

Flashman’s adventures as a soldier of the Queen, old Queen Vicky that is, are absolutely gripping, and you might learn a bit of history along the way. I don’t mind telling you if my old history teacher had brought the past to life with half the flair and skill that Flashman does, I might have ended up making a living from it, that’s how good he is, and if a bloke can do that well he’s all right in my book.

The one to start with is Flashman, then read the next eleven in any order you like; they’re all so good you won’t mind coming back and reading some again to fill in the gaps. And once you’ve read all the Flashman books, get your hands on anything else GMF wrote, like the MacAuslan stories about life in a Scottish regiment after the War.

But before we go I'll just add a note about Quartered Safe Out Here: a recollection of the War in Burma (1992); this is GMF's highly personal account of the Burma war, an unusual and possibly unique view of war in close-up: fearsome, sometimes appalling, often funny, and always a disturbing reminder of how the world and its attitudes to soldiers and soldiering have changed in 50 years. And this is how it starts, with a few words from one of our great British poets and writers from an earlier age, talk about bring back some memories! It's enough to make the hairs on the back of a bloke's neck stand up!
You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out here,
An' you're sent to penny fights an' Aldershot it,
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Rudyard Kipling, Gunga Din
So take my advice on this because I wouldn’t steer you wrong and give George and Flashy a go, you won’t regret it, class this as sae 5w40, easy driving, starts well any time but can handle some hard going as well.

Until next time it’s cheers from your mate Jacko and good reading.

see link for George_MacDonald_Fraser

The Flashman series constitute Fraser's major works. There are 12 books in the series, namely:
• Flashman (1969)
• Royal Flash (1970)
• Flash for Freedom! (1971)
• Flashman at the Charge (1973)
• Flashman in the Great Game (1975)
• Flashman's Lady (1977)
• Flashman and the Redskins (1982)
• Flashman and the Dragon (1985)
• Flashman and the Mountain of Light (1990)
• Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (1994)
• Flashman and the Tiger (1999)
• Flashman on the March (2005)

Friday, 15 August 2008

Up and Running

Well how time flies, week two already, and the Shed is up and running like a March hare when me old greyhound Lurch, bless her soul, would take off after it in the 40 acre paddock. I had a go at that Wordpress site and tried out a blog there, but I think I'll stick with the one I know so here we are. Meanwhile I added some of me mates' blogs in the sidebar, that went alright and makes them easier to find, I hope you've checked them out.

Me mate Merryjack said by all means put a badge in from his Flickr site and show people some nice photos from his part of the world so that's there too, and I think that might just about cover week three at the same time.

Then there's a shot of the Shed for all to see, most of the time I'm in me office on the right hand side, I'm there right now. That's where I keep the merino stud books, any stray magazines with interesting articles that the Missus won't have in the house, as well as all the farm records back to Grand-dad Russell's time, more about that later.

There's a daily quote as well, that can cheer a bloke up when it hasn't rained for a while and the crops and stock aren't looking too good or when it's rained too much and they still aren't looking any better.

I got the visitors map of the world up and running so tell your mates about it and before long we'll have so many red dots, it will look just like the one on the school wall used to - with the British Empire all in red.

Then I found this moon phase widget which I'm pretty pleased with because it's useful for planting crops, going fishing and explaining why the dogs are restless and the dingoes and foxes are on the prowl; and why the black dog can creep up on a bloke if he's not careful, more about that later.

Then there was a bit about blogging etiquette I quite enjoyed, because if there's one thing I learned from Mother it was always keep your manners handy, especially around the ladies, because you won't get far if you don't, and I'm sure that still applies.

Although in my experience manners are just as important in the company of blokes because you won't just get a refusal, more like a knuckle sandwich and have your height measured on the floor. Of course on the Internet you can't give a bloke a wink when you make a personal remark to let him know you're just kidding, no offence intended, present company excepted and so on; and I don't hold with making cute faces from punctuation marks as a substitute for expressing yourself properly, alright?

On the other hand Touchstone's Reproof Valiant or Retort Courteous (As You Like It, V,v) is probably going a bit too far! Here it is from old Brewer's dictionary -

Sir, allow me to tell you that is not the truth. To use Touchstone’s illustration: “If a courtier tells me my beard is not well cut, and I answer, ‘That is not true,’ I give him the reply valiant, which is the fourth remove from the lie direct, or rather, the lie direct in the fourth degree.”

The reproof valiant, the countercheck quarrel-some, the lie circumstantial, and the lie direct, are not clearly defined by Touchstone. The following, perhaps, will give the distinction required: That is not true; How dare you utter such a falsehood; If you said so, you are a liar; You are a liar, or you lie.
 You can check up on that one at the source if you like and to help you out I've put a link straight to the Bard, over there in me links; because a bloke wouldn't want to be caught short when he needs to verify a quote from the less well known plays or sonnets, the ones he doesn't know by heart that is.

Anyway hoo-roo for now and I'll be seeing you later, your old mate, Jacko

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

A Shed is Built


My name's Jack, some people call me Jacko and I don't mind.

Well I'm having a go at this new Library 2.0 so I can start me own blog about books for blokes, and I have to tell you it's not that bad. The first thing I had to do was get me old computer out of the shed where the chooks had been roosting on it and give it a good clean up and it must have worked because I'm writing this. Then I had the bloke from the PMG, or whatever they call it these days, come round and plug me into the internet, and that must have worked because here we all are and she's rosy!

Now week one was alright, I did that in me lunch break, me and Black Beauty, she's me dog; well we brought a mob of ewes and lambs in for drenching so we took a smoko, not real smokes you understand because I had to give them up, more about that later; anyway I have to tell you it's marvelous what they can do these days. The videos were pretty good, not Chips Rafferty you understand, more like some of the training films we had in the army about staying clear of social diseases, but pretty informative they were just the same.

So here's what we started with:

1. What do you write about?

Well I think it's time we had something about books worth reading for ordinary blokes, blokes of all ages and backgrounds so that's what this'll be and I'd appreciate all the help I can get; so I'll be calling on some of the younger folk in the district as well as codgers like meself to let us have the benefit of their experience, and what they've been reading lately and why you wouldn't be wasting your time getting along to the library, next time you're in town at the farmers' co-op or the mobile pulls up out the front.

2. What do you hope to learn from the program?

Learn! Cripes what isn't there to learn? It's like when I first started shearing and you had to get to grips with the machinery before the Boss'd let you near a sheep. Well as you can see by this here blog, I'd like to pass on some of me thoughts about books and reading to other blokes, and any sheilas too, that might be interested. And I wouldn't mind having some of those mini videos in it as well because they might make it interesting, especially for sheep shearing instruction and so on. And the way you can link to other blogs - well that's all to the good, especially if they're better ones than your humble effort.

3. What do you think about Lifelong Learning?

Well I'll tell you, when Grandad Russell first started shearing with the old hand shears, that was just before the big shearers' strike up in Barcaldine in 1891, he was there you know, and he shore with the great Jacky Howe in 1892, Jacky set the hand shearing record of 321 with the tongs then that still hasn't been broken, they reckon a blade shearer opens and closes his hand an average of 410 times while shearing one sheep; anyway he reckoned the old clippers were all he'd ever need to make a quid, but what happened - along came the mechanical blades, and then you got them wide combs and before you know it you're back to square one! A bloke can never stop learning, that's what I say, and if there's a bloke out there who thinks you can, well he needs a good boot up the rear, pardon my language, because things are never the same from one day to the next.

4. What other blogs have you discovered? What do you like about them?

Well one of the first blogs I found is by a bloke called Merryjack, there's plenty of stuff on fishing, which is always good, some nice photos, he covers the great writers - Shakespeare he's there, he's a thoughtful sort of cove and doesn't mind who knows it:

Now I've always been fascinated by the words we use, even Black Beauty can understand at least a dozen, and this isn't too bad:

I'll be keeping you posted on new blogs and so on as they come to light, so keep an eye peeled.

5. Can you see a use for blogs inside the Library?

Use them? How can a library live without them! I've always used the public library, in my day it was the Mechanic's Institute next to the billiard room, "No Loitering" the sign said. Anyway I'll be looking out for blogs by some of me mates to see what they've come up with; I'd like to get news about activities in the library for kids so me daughter can take the kids to town for an outing; I'd like to hear what some of the other blokes, and this includes some of the very fine lady farmers and graziers in the district, think about developments in the live sheep trade for instance and I reckon the library could be linking us to the latest livestock prices and market reports via their subscription services and we could find them in a one stop shop without having to wade through a whole lot of web pages like I've seen the kiddies do for their homework.

Some of the young folk in the more isolated properties could do with an informal point of contact with the library for their own interests and to hear about new books and services. And then you have the folk who can't get out for one reason or another, maybe they're in a wheel chair or have difficulty getting around - well they might like to be able to discuss things with each other and find out about new library books and services while requesting a book from the book mobile.

6. How about blogging for a client audience?

I'm careful how I used that word client because it takes me back to some of the army training films we use to see but I won't go into that here. Anyway I checked out the IBM guidelines, now they're a firm with a good reputation, the Missus learned to type on one of their typewriters so I've heard, and if a bloke was working for the Council and I don't mean leaning on a shovel, he'd be wise to follow their advice if he was setting himself up on a blog from the library.

Well that's about it from your mate Jacko this time around.

All the World

Jaques -
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts...