Sorting Through My Father’s Hoard # 13: Damon Runyon, Part 2: Death Pays a Social Call

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First off, I’m so very thankful that this story is not in Runyonese, unlike Earthquake. I can retreat to my own writing style…which is less than nothing special, but at least it isn’t too much of a struggle to get it out into the world. Runyon was a genius and his style of writing is very hard for me to emulate.

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Second off, this story was always meant to be next in line after my previous post on Damon Runyon, as the Part 1 of last time would suggest. As you might have guessed from the title, this one touched a nervy nerve, and I lost that nerve for…

…over seven months. Yikes. I’m sure Dad would argue this only demonstrates that I was clearly getting on with my life and being busy and happy, rather than getting trapped in something that made me so unhappy.

Yeah. Regardless:

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Continue reading “Sorting Through My Father’s Hoard # 13: Damon Runyon, Part 2: Death Pays a Social Call”

Sorting Through My Father’s Hoard # 13: Damon Runyon, Part 1

Now it happens that I am considering what to do for my latest post on my old man’s hoard of books, since it is five years to the day since my old man hauls off to depart for other worlds and climes and leaves his ever-loving wife and daughters very lonesome, and I am naturally wanting my post to be a suitable tribute for the sad reminder. Although I know on this occasion the book I choose must not be too sad, because when I am writing the post for The Journal of A Disappointed Man I am crying in-between the typing and sometimes when I am writing the post for The Sword in the Stone I am sniffing so much I must stop typing for a long time, and even now writing this very opening paragraph I am getting teary, since even though it has already (or only) been five years, the pain does not get any less.

So I am determined that this time the subject must be a fun light-hearted book which I enjoy writing about, and what happens but I suddenly think of Damon Runyon.

Now you should know that this Damon Runyon is a very, very smart duck, who is writing for New York newspapers and covering sports and news stories over many years in the 20s and 30s and 40s. He apparently revolutionises the reporting of baseball and is heavy into boxing and gambling and shooting craps, and most importantly for my old man and for his daughters and for thousands more like us he writes plenty of poems about sports and short stories about guys and their dolls on Broadway. In fact he is writing so much about guys and their dolls that three other very smart ducks known as Frank Loesser and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows take some of his stories – in particular The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure – and make them into a musical called Guys and Dolls, which is a show I fancy some of you hear of, and if you do not then I shall merely say you are more than somewhat deprived.

Continue reading “Sorting Through My Father’s Hoard # 13: Damon Runyon, Part 1”

Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #12: The Sword in the Stone

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Once again memory is playing tricks on me. I’m fairly certain that the Disney film version came first.

Which I don’t think I will ever be able to watch in its entirety again.

This is fairly ridiculous. I don’t think it was a film that Dad watched with us an awful lot, and I’d never associated it with him until the last few years.One could make the argument that the wise, kindly old mentor who teaches the young boy, takes him on marvellous adventures and wants so much so badly for him, only for their relationship to be lost and ended (thankfully momentarily) in a moment of anger, hurt and misunderstanding, might just possibly be relevant…

…but I hold more to the fact that this is the shitty, cheating, sly, conniving bloody thing about grief. When does it ever make sense?

Also, there’s that bit with the little squirrel girl.

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If the utter heartbreak of the little squirrel girl doesn’t make you cry helplessly (or at least feel incredibly down and sick at the bitter cruelty of life) you are a barefaced liar, and you can meet me with guns at dawn.

Continue reading “Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #12: The Sword in the Stone”

Sorting through Dad’s hoard #11: Watership Down

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

I don’t remember a specific moment when Dad first introduced us to Watership Down by Richard Adams; there was just a time before we started reading it, and a time afterwards.We must have first read it at some point either before or round about 1999, because we semi-avidly watched the first season of the animated series which had started that year, and compared it with the plot of the book.

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The book was better, natch.

When first starting this story, I’m pretty sure I thought that it was going to be like The Animals of Farthing Wood (the cartoon; we never got around to reading the books – wait, there were books???) or possibly Beatrix Potter’s menagerie; fairly anthropomorphic animals who must band together and be wary of the terrible humans.

My expectations were both fulfilled and exceeded.

How to describe this book? Words really do fail me. Handily for me in this busy season, the 1974 Puffin edition provides this excellent and informative preface!

CUE THE STAR WARS THEME. Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard #11: Watership Down”

Sorting through Dad’s hoard #10: Cyrano de Bergerac

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It was one of Dad’s fondest hopes that we would one day be able to read great classics in their original languages.

It is one of my fondest hopes that, one day, I will fulfil his hope. Foreign languages were never one of my strong points.

*side-eyes Duo Linguo*

The 1990 version of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac – with Gérard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, and  Vincent Perez – is the first time I can remember experiencing a subtitled film. With the added complication that when Dad sat us down to watch it, he admitted he didn’t really like the translation used in the film’s subtitles.

“Why?”

“The script that this version’s using was written by Anthony Burgess. It’s not very faithful. The original play’s all in verse, so Burgess tries to stick to that format, and it’s not as good.There’s a much more accurate translation in the 1950 film with José Ferrer, but we’ll save that for another time.”

And so we experienced the sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always exciting story of the comic-tragic love triangle between the radiant and demanding Roxanne, the gallant but tongue-tied Christian and the brash, swashbuckling, intensely self-conscious Cyrano, he of the honeyed tongue and the huge schnoz. Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard #10: Cyrano de Bergerac”

Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #9: The Journal of a Disappointed Man.

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I believe, I like to believe, that Dad was telling us about one of the saddest books he’s ever read; a journal of a man who’s slowly dying.

“At one point, he’s applying for the army, to fight in the First World War. He’s given a sealed letter by his family doctor, but he’s told not to look at what’s inside it. The army doctor says no, he’s not fit for the armed forces. He’s curious, so he opens up the letter on the train home, and finds that his doctor had written to tell whoever was examining him that he has multiple sclerosis. It’s a wasting disease that’ll kill him in only a few years. The rest of the diary is the rest of his life, as he slowly succumbs to it.”

I don’t remember if Dad ever read any of it to us, but he recommended it for when we were older; it was a terribly sad but beautifully written book.

I only got around to reading properly it this year.

Continue reading “Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #9: The Journal of a Disappointed Man.”

Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #8: M.R. James

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Dad would usually read us M.R. James’s ghost stories in the evenings, after dinner and homework and sundry other bits were done; he’d occasionally play recorded versions of several of the stories, read by Michael Horden. I always preferred Dad’s narration, the way he’d growl for the villains and gruffer types, or use a slightly higher pitch for the various professorial characters with nasty things in store for them.

Quite I’d end up cuddling on his lap during the scary bits, ear pressed against his heart as his voice rumbled through me, waiting eagerly for my favourite parts to arrive. The fear these stories create was always there, but it was the cosy kind that gets your blood pumping without bringing on the terror sweat, with the fire on and the lights dim but still there. I was secure in the knowledge that I was safe with Dad, and I was safe going up the stairs to bed afterwards.

Do I really need to explain about Montague Rhodes James? Medievalist, scholar, lecturer and writer, there was no way Dad wouldn’t have adored him. H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith paid tribute to him, Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell were inspired by him, heaps of British writers deliberately wrote in his style, forming the ‘James Gang’. (Now I have a vision of a bunch of writers and academics travelling around in a van getting traumatised by ghosts and ghoolies, and solving mysteries.) Without him, British ghost stories and stories about the supernatural in general would be very different.

Continue reading “Sorting Through Dad’s Hoard #8: M.R. James”

Sorting through Dad’s hoard #7: The Midwich Cuckoos

 

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Dad spoiled the ending of this book long before I ever got around to reading it. And I’m going to spoil it for you too, HA!!!

One day when we were intruding into his study, he got onto the subject of the film version (the 1960 version, The Village of the Damned – because apparently ‘cuckoos’ was far too subtle?) and what he personally thought to be one of the most tense scenes in cinema.

The stage: a school room. The plot: a climatic showdown. The players: a group of unnatural, all-blonde alien children who share a collective group mind and can read/control the minds of normal humans, and a desperate man who has decided he has no choice but to destroy them, for the sake of humanity’s future. The crux of the matter: he has smuggled a bomb into the classroom, hidden in a suitcase – but there’s still a few minutes before it goes off, and in that short space of time the children could read his mind and stop him. Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard #7: The Midwich Cuckoos”

Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 6: The Day of the Triffids

 

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Dad may not have been interested in vampires and monsters, but he loved more subtle types of horror. He recommended plots and stories that could feasibly happen, and were all the more creepy for it.

“There’s a book,” he told us once, “which starts with everyone on the planet staying up late to watch a meteor. Green. The brightest meteor shower anyone’s ever seen – and when all the people who saw it wake up the next morning, they’re blind.”

All of them?”

“All except the few people who didn’t see the lights; there’s one man who didn’t see them because he’s in hospital with his eyes bandaged up. His nurse is describing the meteors to him the night before, and he’s hearing about it on the radio until he has to turn it off. But when he wakes up at the start of the book, everyone in the hospital is blind. Almost everyone else in the whole world is blind. And to make matters worse-”

“Worse?!?!”

“-before the meteor happened, people had been growing and farming huge plants called triffids. They have three legs that help them to walk, and a poisonous sting that can kill you. At one point, the main character’s talking to a friend who claims that the triffids can can talk to each other; he believes they can actually think. And now that nearly everyone is blind, the triffids start to break loose.”

Scary stuff.

(I sometimes wondered about suggesting just how much The Day of the Triffids is a forerunner of the zombie apocalypse genre. I like to think Dad would be dubious, but also find it funny as hell, especially if I’d sat him down to watch the opening scenes of 28 Days Later before allowing him to escape to the study.)

Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 6: The Day of the Triffids”

Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 5: Saki

I couldn’t have been older than eight when Dad sat me down to read me a story. The story was called Sredni Vashtar.

The main (really only proper) character was a young, frail Edwardian boy named Conradin, living with a domineering female cousin, who seemed determined to joylessly coddle, thwart and repress him into the grave. His only consolation was a shed down at the bottom of the barren garden, which to him was a ‘playroom and a cathedral’, populated by his own imagination.

(Having read The Secret Garden, I thought I knew where this was going. Conradin even rather resembled Colin Craven.)

The shed also housed Conradin’s pet hen; and, in a hutch in the corner, a large polecat-ferret that he’d bought off a friendly butcher’s boy and hid fervently from his cousin, dubbed in his hostile mind ‘The Woman’.

(Having read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, I definitely thought I knew where this was going.)

Conradin, in his loneliness and mixed fear and awe of the polecat-ferret, named it – what else but Sredni Vashtar? And proceeded to worship the animal, giving it offerings of flowers and berries, and occasionally nutmeg, believing it to be responsible for the various ailments of The Woman.

(I still thought I knew where this was going.)

The Woman noticed Conradin’s trips down to the shed, ruled them contrary to her desires, and had the hen sold. Conradin’s hate grew ever fiercer, and he prayed to Sredni-Vashtar to ‘do one thing for me’. “The thing was not specified.

(I…was curious about where this was going.) Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 5: Saki”