Saturday, May 20, 2006

Badger of courage

On this day of bright air, bluster and rain I'm sitting in my office with the windows thrown open, reading The Island of Sheep, by John Buchan, jotting down notes in my MoleskineTM notebook. I've not made reading notes like this since I was an undergraduate. What is the occasion? What on earth has possessed Pluvialis? Well, she's gripped by delight, because this afternoon, a small group of secret Buchan fans are gathering in a secret location for a secret reading group. Yes: tweed! (perhaps not as fine as the stuff worn by JB in this photograph) smoked woodcock! fine claret! hampers! And yes, we may move on to a first (or third) class carriage on a sleeper up to the Highlands, a high-running steam-train packed with ruffians and evil criminal masterminds. And shepherds, and so on. Crooks.

In truth, there is Chinese food, not smoked woodcock. And a friend's house, not the West Coast Line. But these are just as perfect, and we are to discuss Buchan, really truly we are, which is excellent. One of the characters in Island of Sheep is Richard Hannay's son, Peter John, a winningly transparent a portrait of Buchan's own son. Even their goshawks share a name. So I took down my copy of Buchan's son's autobiography for some highly unfashionable groundtruthing of Island of Sheep, and started reading. I'd forgotten how splendid a work it was. Here is a highly characteristic sample:
My tame badger, to whom I was greatly devoted, and had brought up since it was a tiny cub, was now very large and amiable. I used to take him to Oxford, and he often accompanied me to other people's houses. I once took him to a luncheon party in Oxford, when he was still but half grown. He had a plate of bread and milk on the floor beside my chair and behaved himself with great decorum. In those days at Oxford we used to wear rather wide flannel trousers. A burst of merriment startled the badger and, having no burrow to which he could not run, he darted straight up my trouser leg. Let no man who has not had a badger run up their trouser leg at a luncheon party, where ladies are present, imagine that it is a happening that can be carried off with composure.
That last sentence! It makes me want to stand and cheer! (You've seen this, of course)

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