RogerBW's Blog

Good Enough for Nelson, John Winton 11 April 2015

1977; ninth of Winton's novels. The Artful Bodger (Commander R. B. Badger, RN) is now in charge of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth.

I've been reading Winton's novels rather out of order as I get hold of them, and after the mild disappointment of Never Go to Sea I found this something of a return to form. There are no great events or desperate plans against terrible odds; there's simply the sequence of small incidents through the year.

Winton of course dealt with the cadet's side of life in We Joined the Navy, so this book is rather more focused on the staff of the College. There's a great deal of speculation about the future of the Navy and the College, some heavy-handed attacks on Labour politicians reminiscent of Nevil Shute's in In the Wet, and several love stories which drift gently towards their predictable conclusions. But the best stuff here is in the character studies, the quick sketches that manage to convey an impression of real people whom one might well recognise if one met them.

One retired colonel of Royal Marines lived by himself in a small brick bungalow called "Zeebrugge". After forty years in the Corps, the Colonel had a taste for early morning ceremonial and no day, in his view, was properly started without the hoisting of flags on the flagstaff in his front garden. Unfortunately he had been prevented by what he called blasted officialdom from hoisting the White Ensign, the Trinity House flag, the pennant of the Commandant of the Royal Marines or any of the flags he liked, except the Union Jack, because he was not entitled. At last, one morning, the colonel ceremonially hoisted two new flags to his yard-arm. One was plain red, the other was plain green, like port and starboard flags, but both had the letters MOBF emblazoned across them. When The Bodger saw them he asked, like everybody else, what the letters stood for. "My Own Bloody Flag," growled the Colonel.

"And what's the other one, then?"

"My Other Bloody Flag."

There are memorable moments here: the Roughex (Rough Country Exercise) in poor weather cut short by a civilian's injury, the captain of the training ship Rowbotham who's winkled himself into a position in which he can do exactly as he likes, a rescue of the crew of a burning yacht, the deliberately dreadful dinner to persuade said Labour politician that the College is starved of funding, and so on. For the most part this is a well-mannered book, which goes along with a fairly even pace and temperament, amuses, and doesn't outstay its welcome; but neither does it leave any particularly notable impression. Even so, there's not much fiction about the Royal Navy, and I'd recommend this if you have enjoyed earlier volumes.

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