More reading - this week a couple of Canuck classics
#11 Vinyl Cafe Diaries by Stuart McLean
One of the things that has surprised and delighted me in moving back to Canada is the discovery that society at large has discovered and embraced an old favourite of mine.
I can remember Stuart McLean when he was a roving reporter for CBC radio's Morningside program back in the late 80s and early 90s (it is official, I am old), and have been a fan of the Vinyl Cafe from its earliest days. When CBC started to make their programs available via the intertoobs, I was an avid listener. I was such a Peter Gzowski fan that two different people sent me tapes of the last Morningside show.
I think the Vinyl Cafe has a similar positive, upbeat outlook without being annoyingly chirpy or Pollyanna-ish, and following McLean's perambulations and the chronicles of Dave and Morley and the World's Smallest Record Store via podcast over the last several year provided a wonderful touchstone and a weekly dose of Canadiana whilst living in Tokyo. But having spent so long outside of Canada, I had no idea the show had become as popular as it has or that McLean had become such a national institution. Good for him.
This collection of stories from the radio program is pretty much what I expected and I had heard some of them when they were originally broadcast. A light, entertaining and sentimental read that will give the warm fuzzes we all need from time to time. McLean may not be big, but he is small.
While I'd often seen this series on the shelf when browsing at the library and had a sort of vague idea of the premise - the uproarious misadventures of Bartholomew Bandy, the son of an Ottawa valley clergyman who goes off to fight in World War One determined to steer clear of the temptations of liquor, women and bad language. Needless to say he fails in three of these four ambitions while giving superior officers fits and becoming a flying ace.
The first book, published in 1962, was a hit and spawned a nine-volume series, three volumes of which won the Leacock humour prize. A wee bit dated in some ways, in the same way most things that are fifty year old might be expected to be. The first volume -I've not yet read any of the others, but I expect more of the same - reminds me very much of another favourite series of comedic historical novels - The Flashman Papers - which didn't come along for another three year. The difference being that Flashman is a rotten cad and bully who succeeds in spite of his craven cowardice, whilst Bandy is not a coward or a cad, but simply prone to ridiculous mishaps - In his first trench raid as an infantry officer. Lt. Bandy leads his squad out into no man's land, accidentally gets drunk and then loses his bearings and stages a heroic raid on his own trenches, capturing his own regimental commander.
Like Flashman's creator George MacDonald Fraser, Jack has a very unsentimental view of the horrors of war, likely gained during his service in the RAF in the latter half of the Second World War, and doesn't dodge the realities of trench warfare or aerial combat.
In all, the first book is a good light read, well written and researched, and very very funny. I can't believe these books haven't been made into a CBC miniseries yet.
Addendum: Given the date, I would be remiss in not commenting on the anniversary of the death of one of my favourite writers and personal heroes. Thankfully RossK has done this for me already. Mahalo.