Saturday, 11 June 2005

Books, is it??

Apparently, I have been "tagged" and I have to write about books what I like.

I was tagged by Tom who knows very well that I don't read books. When was the last time you saw me with one, eh?? I am a competitive chap sure enough and am not one to run away from a challenge but silly questions about books are really beyond the pale! Still if is humiliation that you want, Tom, here goes, but don't expect anything profound or cultured:

Number of books you own:

Haven't a clue. Probably 500. Predominantly reference. These are my favourite as they all look impressive but you only open them when you need some information. That's my idea of reading.

Last book I bought:

Sorry. That's a blank. I did buy my previous boss, Peter Farr, a book as a leaving present. It was a military compendium or something. Can't recall the name. I wanted to give him something to remember me by! Maybe he will leave a comment and tell you all. I really wanted to get him the Daily Telegraph's book of military obituaries, which is just the most fantastic collection of heroics, valour and humour on sale, but it was sold out the day I went.
Lara is very good at buying me books. I have a fifteen by my bed but I just don't seem to have time to read them (even less now I have a blog to care for). She bought me the latest Flashman and Steel Bonnets for this last birthday, both by George MacDonald Fraser.

On the subject of military obituaries - a brief story if I may (just to pad this post out a bit!). I grew up in a small Scottish village and was dragged to church most Sundays to sit beside a group of predominantly old and deaf people (that's how it seemed to a child at least!) called Brigadier this and Colonel that. Anyway, ten years or so later, I was leafing through Grandma's copy of the Times and saw a picture of a familiar man. It was the deaf brigadier I had so pointedly ignored as a child. I started reading and couldn't stop. He had won two Military Crosses in combat and had escaped from prisoner of war camps three times, on each occasion returning straight to the battle front. On one escape he had dressed as a frenchman and acquired a bicycle only for the chain to fall off just as a German tank regiment passed him on the side of the road and he still got away. How cool is that?? I almost fell off my chair. The moral of the story is - Never, ever ignore old, deaf people called Brigadier. They were young once and probably brilliant.

Last book I read:

Give me a moment............oh yes, I think it was Boris Johnson's book about political campaigning. I wanted some inspiration and amusement. But I have been dipping in and out of Andrew Rawnsley's Servants of the People, which is fun. I also read the Spectator cover to cover each week. I don't want fiction. I want opinion and politics.

Five books that mean a lot to me:

Well if you are still reading, then this bit won't let you down. My low-brow countdown is:

1. Charlotte's Web. Can't remember who wrote this, but I recall this as the very first book I read and loved at prep school. It just captured me.

2. A Perfect Spy, John Le Carre. I was travelling in Indonesia in 1990 and stayed a few days with a friend of my father's in Semarang, Java. It was just there on the shelf and I picked it up and only put it down to sleep. Two days later I finished it and was very annoyed that it was not longer. Again, it simply absorbed me and carried me off. I can happily say that I always wanted (and still do!) to be a spy.

3. Serve to Lead. This is the first book you have to read at Sandhurst. It explains and demonstrates the true meaning of Service and is profound.

4. Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser. I can hardly summon the words to do justice to these books. Captivating, brilliant, exhausting, hysterical, informative. To tell history through the eyes of a fictional character you have nicked from another book and conspire to place at the forefront of all the great events of the past is just inspired. Boy's own stuff. Sex, soldiers, adventure, escape and ruin and salvation. He is a cad and a bounder and always lands butter side up.

Most importantly though, I read the first one in Macedonia in the weeks prior to crossing the border into Kosovo in 1999. They were nervy weeks and really the first time I had faced true military uncertainty (much more than South Armagh or Londonderry). But I can genuinely say that Flashman's expeditions and escapades inspired me and gave me a strange confidence that I would come through. I used to listen to Fat Boy Slim (Right here, right now) while I read. The first story is set in Kabul and the music just fits like a glove. I am playing it now and it all comes flooding back.

Two years later, I actually queued up in Edinburgh to have the latest Flashman (and the Tiger) signed by the author. I told him we were brother officers and where I first read his books. The inscription reads, "to a fellow Gordon Highlander. Ninety-twa', nae deid yet!"

5. The Rise of Political Lying, by Peter Oborne.

Bit of a fib this one actually. This is the book my good friend Tom researched and it is the book I would most like to read. Tom, who as I said at the beginning "tagged" me into this humiliation, promised to give me a copy for my birthday. I was so looking forward to it but it would be rude to raise it or remind him. I just couldn't. What on earth would I say? I just really want to read it.

Revenge is sweet!


Tommy G said...

It's on its way!

Peter Farr said...

As I have been named and shamed, I can give you the titles of the last book Richard bought - Essential Militaria - I'm not sure why Richard thought of me: perhaps he saw my management style reflected in some of the book's headings - "Ten of the bloodiest battles". He did buy me another book too - "Grumpy old men". This was a particularly poignant gift as when I read bits, it is like having Richard ranting at me again about meetings, beggars and pickets.

As for the next book Richard will read, well that has to be Allan Mallinson's "A call to arms" which I lent him many moons ago. He did warn me that his book consumption was on a par with David Beckham's (albeit with fewer pictures), but really.