Great Britain at War – A Review

11150498[1]If you have been reading this blog for some time you know I am a real sucker for history. I really get into it, when I start learning about a time period I find myself sucking up as much knowledge from as many sources as I can. So when I finished Dan Carlin’s latest episode on World War I I was itching to get more.

I found my self at podiobooks.com and stumbled on Great Britain at War. This is a straight read of this book, which in itself is a collection of articles written by Jeffery Farnol. The narrator did a great job getting into the feeling of the articles, and the articles themselves are incredibly powerful and eye opening as the cover the time leading up to the war to nearly at the end. This would be a great resource for first hand material for teaching about this very difficult time in history.

I recommend this book, which you can get here for free on kindle or the podacast version of it which you can get here for free from podiobooks.com

I never really thought of podiobooks as a place to look for history, books and they don’t have a huge selection, but what they do have, I will certainly be checking out in the future.

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Gnome with newspaper and tobacco pipe under a toadstool, with a snail above him and a tree frog in the glass. Heinrich Schlitt (1849-1923) [public Domain]

The Gnome – A Short Story

Gnome with newspaper and tobacco pipe under a toadstool, with a snail above him and a tree frog in the glass. Heinrich Schlitt (1849-1923) [public Domain]A number of months ago I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast, which by the way if you are a writer, and want-to-be writer, or even just want to know more about the craft of writing, you really should be listening to. on top of everything else you can learn from the advice they give, at the end of each podcast they give a writing prompt. Sometimes they are real story prompts, sometimes they are more like writing exercise, but you get one at the end of every show.

Now if you know me at all, you know I love writing prompts. I have folders and folders and probably ten different notebooks full of stories that I have written based on writing prompts. Most of them are not really good enough to share, at least no in their current from but maybe someday.

Back to the point. I was listening to Writing Excuses and they gave the prompt of “Neon Sniper Gnome.” That was it. No explanation, no writing exercise, just three words Neon Sniper Gnome. I knew I had to tell this story.

So without Further delay I give you,

The Gnome

“Come on John you gotta see this.”

“I can’t George I got all this paperwork to do.”

“Trust me the paperwork can wait.  You have to see this.”

“Oh all right.”  I said letting George practically pull me down to the holding cells.

We could hear him long before we got to the cell, though the reverberation from the hall way may it impossible to understand what it was that he was saying until we were right in front of him.

When we got there we had to push past at least a dozen patrolmen and at least as many plain clothes detectives just so we could see.  There standing in the cell was, well what could I say.

“What is wrong with you people. I am a Gnome for crying out loud.  I mean look at me,” he was shouting in want was the oddest mixture of BBC English and Southwestern twang that I had ever heard.  And he appeared to be shouting at not any one of the officers in particular but everyone who joined the group.

“You people think we just stand in your gardens all day long, but those aren’t gnomes. Those are wee people.  They got nothing in common with us.” He said stroking his long bright green beard.”

“I mean look at me.”  He smiled a devilish grin “You can’t take your eyes off me now can ya.  That is the way it should be, you should be staring.  I mean for goodness sakes I am a GNOME.  You all don’t even know what you got here.  I bet half ya don’t even know why I am here. Do ya?”

It was a question but no one dared to answer.  We didn’t want the show to stop.  Here was a bright neon creature standing less than three feet tall, in the middle of one of our holding cells. shouting at us.

“Well I’l tell ya what I am in here for.  I’m a sniper.” He whispered. Then he shouted waving his arms wide as if the throw the words out at us. “I am a damn sniper.  You all don’t even understand me, even when I am telling you right to your faces.  You are doing the same thing everyone else does when they see me. At first you think, hey there is a gnome. And then you think no gnomes aren’t real.  Then you realize that I practically glow in the dark with all this color.”

“You can see me from a thousand miles away.  Well maybe not a thousand, I was never that good at geography.  But I bet you could see me as you were coming down the hall here.  And for all that is good and holy, I am a gnome.  I stand out.”  He shook is head in disgust.

“I can see by the slack jawed looks on your faces, you still don’t believe me.  You still think that maybe I am some freak, some trick of your imagination, or maybe that this is some sort of a dream. Well let me help you with that.  I am real.  I am standing right here.  You can smell me I’m sure.  I know I can smell all of you.  But let me show you something else.”  His voice had dropped a little so that he was no longer shouting, but there was something in the look on his face that told us he was not done.

“You see I told you a I was a sniper.  When I tell people that, they never believe me.  Even the folks that hire me don’t believe me. That is until I show them this.”

Impossibly from inside his coat he pulled a rifle that was nearly twice as long as he was tall.

“This is a vintage Gewehr 98 with the telescopic sites for snipers.  I picked it up right after World War II.  Bet you didn’t think I was that old.  Well I am a lot older than that I tell you. This things older than most of you.  Then that is not really saying much, lots of things here older than most of you.  Probably half of you never even seen something like this.  But not to worry, it is not loaded” He said pulling back the bolt to show us the empty chamber, and look lovingly at the weapon.

“Let me tell you this thing has a kick. It will tear your arm off if you are not careful.  Well maybe not one of your arms, but someone like me, I gotta be careful with something like this.”

“So the gnome has a gun, that doesn’t make him a sniper.  Anyone can have a gun you say.  That is true.  But this is not just any gun.  I had this one specially modified.  You see I was taking this shot back in ’63.”

“It was a long shot and really challenging.  I am most missed it  After that I decided It was not good enough to be a great shot and have a great gun to do it with.  So I found this wizard in Australia or Austria or something. I told you I was no good at geography, he said he could cast a spell on the gun so I would never miss again.  It cost me an arm and a leg.  I mean really and arm and a leg.  I had to sent the arm and leg of my latest victim with the gun to this nut case so that he would enchant it.”

“Do you know how hard it is to get an arm and a leg shipped.  Well it was not as hard as it would be today, but even back then it was not easy.” his wicked smile had returned and he was almost whispering again

“So now I got this gun, and I don’t even really have to aim it.  All I have to be able to do is see the victim and point it in the general direction.  See I had these glasses made special.” He stopped and slipped a pair of glasses out of his pocket and on to the end of his big nose.

“Like this if the target is near and like this,” he leaned his head back a little so he could look down the bridge of his nose at us. “if they are far away. it is like one of those video games you all play. And BANG!”

He had been talking so softly that we had all leaned in, the sudden shout caught us all by surprise.

Several of the patrolmen had drawn their weapons and were looking around for a target, but finding none looked around confused.

The incredible volume of it left my ears ringing and wondering if maybe his gun had gone off.  But the little gnome just stood in the middle of the cell holding his sides as he laughed.

Whatever it was, it broke his spell like hold on us. I looked around and noticed more than half the precinct was down in the area near the holding cells.  Most of them still slack jawed staring at the little creature who was now laughing hysterically.

I felt something press against the back of my legs.  A little creature, pushed past us. He was not as brightly colored looking more bent, maybe even older than the one in the cell. He walked up to the door of the cell.

“Come on Rufus.  I think you have caused enough commotion for one night.”

“Aw Max, I was just getting started.”

“I know, I know,”  The older gnome placed his hand over the lock on the door and it slid open.  “Come along now.”

Rufus, slid the rifle back inside his coat where it completely disappeared again.

“I am aneonsniper gnome you fools,” he yelled as he and Max walked down the hall. Leaving us all just standing there.

When I got back to my desk still feeling rather dazed, there was a post It on my monitor with one word in an odd looking script.  “Bang!”

If you enjoyed this story, please take a moment to check out my other stories

Defining Moments

Recently I was invited to attend a military retirement ceremony. As normally happens there was a lot of pomp and the ceremony. What impressed me more than the ceremony was the retiree’s speech. He had been a fighter jet pilot, and he talked about the flights that meant the most to him, the ones that defined his career. I won’t bore you with all the details, but he talked about super high flights, super low ones as well as some others that were in between. The last one he focused on was one of his first solo flights, and how at that moment even being so young, that moment changed his life forever, and some times how he wished he could have that moment back. Not so he could change it but so that he could relive it and savor the moment more.

The point of his talk was about valuing those moments. Stepping out of that moment (looking back) and looking at the time around those moments and realizing what they meant to you, to your family, and to the world around you. How they shaped your life, how they changed you.

I started to think about maybe the top 5 (because he picked 5) times, the top 5 moments in my career to date that have shaped who I am. First, I realized that my career is boring. So I expanded on the idea to include the rest of my life.

I thought it might be a fun experiment to try to write those ideas down, talk about what they meant to me and then share them with the world. Then I thought it might be interesting to invite some other people to do the same thing.

Defining Moments

When I set out to write this post, I had some pretty specific ideas about what I wanted to write, but when I actually sat down to write, I found that they didn’t really meet with what I think I wanted to this series to be about. I mean I could talk about the day I got married, or the day I first become a father. Without a doubt, those were huge moments in my life. They shaped who I am. Both of those have completely changed who I am. Becoming a father, taught me that I love being a father, and getting married has taught me and will continue to teach me what it means to really love, and thank you for that my dear.

While these events were important, there are a few events that have changed me in other ways. The first of those was the day I got off the plane from JFK airport and walked into Frankfurt International Airport. What followed was almost 7 years of cultural shock. I spent from just before my ninth birthday until after my 16th birthday living in Germany. We traveled every chance we got. I learned to ski, I speak some German to this day, and I have respect for the culture of Europe that I don’t think I would have gotten had a not lived there.

The next event that defined who I am was only about 6 weeks later. When we moved to Germany there was no housing available right away. And we were stuck in a hotel. We didn’t speak the language, we didn’t really know our way around, and even though we had a great sponsor who showed us around, it was pretty easy to get depressed pretty fast. That was what was happening to my mother who was stuck in the hotel all day while my father went to work and my brother and I went to school. It was spilling over, so one day my father said pack some bags we are going on a trip. While there was some moaning and groaning, we all piled in our newly acquired car and headed south to Garmish. We spent the weekend in the General Paton hotel. My brother and I got our first experience of ordering fish by picking it out of the tank.
Understand that it rained and sleeted all the way down, as it had almost every day since we had arrived in Germany. We had seen nothing except the same grey skies that we had seen in Frankfurt. And even though we had a nice room and a good meal, I think even my father was beginning to question driving the 6 hours to just spend time in an even more cramped hotel room. That first night about midnight, my dad got up to get a drink of water on his way back to bed he took a moment to peek out the curtains. The next thing we knew the curtains were opened wide and all of us were awake. “You have got to see this,” he said.
The sky had cleared up, the moon was out and right out our window were the Alps bright as daylight in the moon light. It was that moment that I think turned our minds around, and we all decided that we wanted to be there. The beauty of what we were seeing was to this day indescribable. It also started my life long fascination with living in and around the mountains. So to my poor wife who probably had no idea why was so excited that whole drive out to Colorado just before we got married on seeing the mountains for the first time, it is my dad’s fault.

I met my wife the year before we left Germany, and I have always maintained that I knew she was the the one for me the day I first noticed her walking into our classroom. The fact that I didn’t notice her until the ned of the day and that she was in most of the rest of my classes that day, well we will just gloss over that part. While I still maintain that is the case, I was young and stubborn (read stupid.) It was not until I was sitting on a mountainside in France, that I realized it was not the girl I was dating that I missed, and that I was my wife-to-be that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

The birth of each of our kids has been something special. Our first son was taken away from us and put in the NICU only 24 hours after he was born, my wife had an emergency C-section and we were 200 miles from home with no money and no way of getting back. I remember holding him and thinking what the heck have we gotten ourselves into. And each kid after that had their own surprises. Our first daughter, and 5th child was born while I was away at school, I remember getting the call about 5:30 am that my wife was going to the hospital, and then failing the quiz that day, and the rushed trip home that weekend. The three children that we planned to have at home and because of one complication or another ended up in the hospital anyway, and then our current youngest being born at home when I ran out of the room to get a towel and the look on my wife’s face when I came back and she was holding that precious little one. My children have change my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

Each one of these moments has changed my life. They have defined who I am in ways that even before I started writing this I didn’t realize.

Later this week Scott Roche will take a stab at telling us about his defining moments.

Want to join in the fun? please use the contact form below to let me know.
Thanks,
Jeff

Diapers

What a wonderful invention. I Honestly can’t imaging a world before diapers, but it mus have been a lot dirtier and smellier. The more I look into history the more I realized that until the last century, much of the world was probably a much smellier place.

We use cloth diapers for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here. I take some level of pride that I have been changing diapers for the last 15 years. But that brings me to my point. If there is one part of parenting that I am pretty much over it is diapers.

It is really not that bad. I take the dirty ones off, but the clean ones on, the kids are happy, the parents don’t have to smell it anymore, and life pretty much goes back to normal. So I guess I really should not complain. But there are those days.

With our youngest two stil in diapers (the older of them is potty training now) and a new baby on the way, I guess I really should not complain. Life could be worse, I could live in a time before diapers and that would be worse.

A writing question – do you need a timeline?

Question for all you writers and readers out there:

I have a number of short stories that fit into the same universe, but…

A) The universe is very large and spread out (huge time line.)

B) The stories can really kind of stand on their own without the rest of the universe though there are common things in each story.

I was thinking of including a picture with a timeline of the universe in each story. Each story that came out would be marked on the timeline and the current story you were reading would be marked with a big red arrow.

Would something like this be helpful or useful? Or would it be distracting.

I would like to note that the fact that that I am asking this question means two things.
First, that I have more new stories coming out. Second, that I have actually thought about these stories enough that I have a whole universe with a timeline. That is completely unusual for me. Normally my writing is very much fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, but for once this seems to make some sense.

For those of you that care I am calling this my “Humanities Cradle” universe, because it has to do with well people leaving Earth and what happens after that. And yes, there will be a new story coming out in this universe hopefully in the next week.

History

I know in my warnings on the right over here, —> I say that I am a space science geek, but I left out that I am also a history geek. I really love history, especially The period starting with the rise of the Greeks to about the beginning and into the the “Dark ages” in Europe. No kidding I read history books for fun. I like learn as much as I can about one group of people, then work my way through all their neighbors. I am currently working my way around the Greek Peninsula (which means almost island in Latin, learned that one the other day. Gold star for me for remembering it)

While history books are great things, one of the greatest things about the rise of the internet has been the absolute explosion of resources available to amateur history lovers like me. I want to talk about three of those now.

Greek Hoplites. The warriors are shown in two attack positions, with both an overhand and underhand thrust.
Greek Hoplites. The warriors are shown in two attack positions, with both an overhand and underhand thrust.
First, I want to recommend a Greek history course offered though iTunes U. (It is an Open Yale Course so I am sure you can get it here) It is called Ancient Greek History by Professor Donald Kagan. This is a straight forward college level course that covers Greek History from the Bronze age until they are conquered by the Romans. The Audio is mostly good, though Dr. Kagan has kind of annoying throat clearing that he does about every 90 seconds. If you can get past that, this a wonderfully informative course.

wallNext, There is a great podcast called The History of Rome. This is an on going project that covers Rome from it’s Mythological beginnings right up to the final curtain. Or at least I think he will one day get to the final curtain, as I said it is a on going. There are nearly 200 episodes That have come out about once a week now for the last few years. The episodes are about 30 minutes long so easy to digest, and wonderfully in depth. They cover every leader great and small along the way, and how they influenced one of the greatest civilizations in the western world. (I think you will see the current pattern pattern here, Greece, Rome, Persia and Egypt are next but not in this review.) The audio quality is great, the historical facts as far as I have checked them are spot on, and when he does make a mistake he corrects it the following week. If you like Roman History at all, this is a podcast worth listening too. He has a great sense of humor that make the podacst that much more fun to listen to.

PS if you read my article “5 Reasons to Write an Essay for The Mad Scientist Anthology” my little tidbit about Caligula came from this podcast.

mainpic_hhLast, but certainly not least is Dan Carlin. He is a former news broadcaster from California. He now runs a history podcast call HardCore History He brings many things to the table. His style and his quality are second to none. He picks a time in history and with a laser’s focus tells you the most interesting details about that time in history. His series on the Eastern front of World War II and the one on the Punic Wars were just fabulous. The audio quality is great, (being that his is a former broadcaster that only makes sense.) His choices of topics are fascinating. Even if you don’t like history, I think you would like this podcast. The back issues (anything older than say 6 months) are I think $2 each, but well worth the price considering the quality of the material.

So there you have it. Three great sources for very interesting history.