The lapse in posting this last week can be attributed to:
- Being down in London for the Borough Elections, and seeing Labour sweep Haringey. Nearly 7 a.m. on Friday before the last ward, Muswell Hill, was declared. Worth the wait.
- Coming back to a major effort by the plasterer, taking down a Victorian ceiling which some clown had stippled with masonry paint (I took it to be Artex).
- Cupboards being installed in the kitchen alcoves.
- Keeping the workers in a constant supply of tea and coffee.
- Foul wet weather, and general lethargy.
One of those Joycean epiphanies, when a near coincidence brought illumination.
First it involved catching up with a week-old Spectator.
The joy therein is all the political excreta are well out-of-date, and one can skip straight to the real meat in the reviews and articles. Page 45 was where I found:
Oh, c’mon now, guys! The Spectator? Flashman? They were made for each other. Probably most Speccie readers regard Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, KCB, KCIE as a trifle pinko, but at least he saw off Horningtoft’s best.
In the midst thereof a couple of sentences:
I was happy to discover that the research for The Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers was done with [Fraser’s wife] Kathy in libraries in Dublin. It too has a cover by Barbosa and the two revers are portraits of Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles — a homage typical of Fraser.
Sadly not on my shelf. Mine is the 1989 paperback reprint, not the 1971 original. So I’d have to hope what I’ve dug up (see right) is the original dust-cover.
In passing, the “libraries in Dublin” are acknowledged by Fraser as “the Librarians and library staff at Trinity College, Dublin“, though Glasgow, Carlisle and Douglas, IoM, also get in on the act.
As I recall posting here, the opening paragraph of The Border Reivers tells many a story:
At one moment when President Richard Nixon was taking part in his inauguration ceremony, he appeared flanked by Lyndon Johnson and Billy Graham. To anyone familiar with Border history it was one of those historical coincidences which send a little shudder through the mind: in that moment, thousands of miles and centuries in time away from the Debateable Land, the threads came together again; the descendants of three notable Anglo-Scottish Border tribes — families who lived and fought within a few miles of each other on the West Marches in Queen Elizabeth’s time — were standing side by side, and it took very little effort of the imagination to replace the custom-made suits with leather jacks or backs-and-breasts. Only a political commentator would be tactless enough to pursue the resemblance to Border reivers beyond the physical, but there the similarity is strong.
Next to the New York Times Sunday book reviews and an interview with Alan Furst.
I suppose my tastes are defined by tracing along the (alphabetic order, it’s an anal thing) fiction shelf beside me here. Fraser and Furst are almost cheek-by-jowl. It’s good to see, then, one nodding to the other:
Whom do you consider your literary heroes?
I was raised on John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. Something about this genre — hard-boiled-private-eye-with-heart-of-gold — never failed to take me away from whatever difficulties haunted my daily world to a wonderful land where I was no more than an enthralled spectator. The hero went through hell, but by the last paragraph the bad guy got what was coming to him. Well, good. As a kid I knew it wasn’t always so, but the justice fantasy was addictive.
Skipping ahead some years, my present-day favorite is Harry Flashman, a regimental officer involved in every campaign during the days of the 19th-century British Empire. These are historical novels, and their author, George MacDonald Fraser, with all the rogerings of royal ladies and chases through snow or desert, was a serious historian. I guess the link between Travis McGee and Harry Flashman is that like many readers, I am drawn to extravagant characters who live flamboyant lives — at least in novels.
Indeed. When the house is covered in a pelt of plaster dust, infused by the scent of fresh wood, and dinned by hammering and electric saws, there are a few remaining resorts. The obvious involves several pints of Yorkshire Terrier. Even that can be improved by simultaneous vicarious indulgence in fiction.
Now, what’s this one here …