It will not have escaped your notice that things have been quiet on Recycled Words for a little while. Perhaps too quiet. My typing fingers have not been idle, but they have been mostly concerned with trotting out articles over at Recycled Word’s elder sibling Running Buffet: my food and running blog. Plus, there is also the day job to fit in somewhere.
But the recent celebrations to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo have sparked a memory that only really belongs on this website. For it is a memory about books and about my favourite war.
People of a certain age will well remember Sharpe. A gruff, good looking Sean Bean, exotic locations (the sun was always shining; the very definition of exotic when I was growing up), fighting, battles and a surging electric guitar over the closing credits. I do not remember the exact moment where we sat down to watch Sharpe’s Rifles on ITV (it was in 1993, according to Wikipedia), but I very clearly remember standing in a bookshop shortly afterwards (it was a W H Smiths, in case that’s important to you) searching for the Sharpe novels. I had a very clear aim in mind. I was going to buy myself a copy of Sharpe’s Rifles.
(Well, I remember that I was going to buy it. In all honesty, there may well have been some parental financial assistance provided; I was only eleven after all.)
If you own any of the Sharpe novels from that era then you will know the sight that faced me that day in the bookshop. A row of spines of many different colours. Blue, orange, red, brown, green, black. I had gone in search of one book and had found a rainbow instead. One television programme had opened up an entire series of novels to me.
But I was strangely resolute; I had to come to buy Sharpe’s Rifles and so that is what I would do. My parents had somewhat wiser heads, not to mention plenty of practice at outmaneuvering an eleven year old, and a few carefully placed suggestions soon nudged me in a new direction. I had seen Sharpe’s Rifles, they counselled, but Sharpe’s Gold had not even been filmed yet. Why read a book that you have already seen? Would it not be better to read a book where the images could be conjured up in your own mind?
So we left, presumably after someone had paid, with a copy of Sharpe’s Gold in my hands (£4.50, in case you’re wondering). It is sitting right behind me now, as I type these words, still a reasonably bold royal blue despite the twenty years of dappled sunlight it has been subjected to.
And while my wife still swoons over Sean, my own personal Sharpe is less Bean and more Gino D’Achille, the artist responsible for the paintings on the covers of the Sharpe novels. Paintings that are sadly missing from the current versions in the shops.
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain
One book led to another, led to another; the thumbnail pictures of the remaining books in the series (on the inside cover of each book) were like catnip to a young tween reader (as we weren’t called in those days). I always found the historical notes at the end of each novel fascinating. They reminded me that, despite the fiction that made up the main bulk of the story, there was also a solid historical story underpinning each adventure. Plus they had maps. And there are not many things I like more than a good map. Seriously. I once bought my brother a huge coffee table book all about maps; he loved it.
I bought scale models of Napoleonic-era soldiers and painted them in the shocking livery of early nineteenth century warfare. Green for the riflemen, of course, the cunning buggers. Soon I had more tiny soldiers than I knew what to do with, so I carefully constructed a scale model of a battlefield out of a piece of wood, some papier mâché and a lot of baize.
Amazingly, I also had friends. Real ones, that I hadn’t imagined. I know, it seems incredible, but it really was true. I’m not that shabby at sports either. No one is more surprised than me.
I haven’t read any of the Sharpe novels for several years now. Even if I add them to the to-read pile now, they are going to be several months away from the top spot. But they are still here, and I still thank them for inspiring a young me to be creative and to read more and to enjoy history.
(When I say I thank them, I do mean that figuratively. I don’t talk to my books, that would be weird.)
Perhaps there will be time to re-read a few of them in before the 250th anniversary. You never know.