You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Literary Musings’ category.

While he was flipping through the local fish wrapper this afternoon, ol’ Robbo’s eye fell on this item from the public safety notes:

A resident living in the 600th block of Oak Street told Portville police on October 6 at 4:45 pm that he had received a telephone message from someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service.

The resident, knowing this to be a scam, returned the telephone call in an attempt to gain information from the caller.  However, he only was able to obtain the caller’s name and return telephone number.  The resident did not provide any money to the caller, police said.

Police remind local residents to be on the alert if they receive a call from someone who claims to be employed by the IRS and states that they have committed tax fraud or filed improper tax returns.  Such callers usually imply that the victims will be arrested unless they send a Western Union payment or provide money using a prepaid debit card, police said.

This type of call is a scam and residents never should send a payment unless they have verified the caller’s validity, police said. 

I pass this on because just this week we received such a message at Port Swiller Manor.  The caller, who had a vaguely Subcontinental accent but used a very vanilla American name, said he was calling regarding action against us by the U.S. Treasury.  He also said that if we ignored the message, we would be subject to a contempt ruling by a magistrate judge and possible grand jury indictment.  He finished with some line about us calling as soon as possible so he could help us to help ourselves.

We ignored the threat.

Curiously, a day or two later somebody reported a similar incident in a FB group to which I belong, so it seems to be trending.

Thinking about it, I found myself chuckling because the message reminded me of that passage in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe when the waiter at Milliways informs Zaphod Beeblebrox that he has a phone call:

“Maybe somebody here tipped off the Galactic Police,” said Trillian.  “Everyone saw you come in here.”

“You mean they want to arrest me over the phone?” said Zaphod.  “Could be.  I’m a pretty dangerous dude when I’m cornered.”

“Yeah,” said a voice from under the table, “you go to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel.”

“Hey, what is this, Judgement Day?” snapped Zaphod.

“Do we get to see that as well?” asked Arthur nervously. 

Heh.

Anyhoo, if you get a call like this, either ignore it or let the police know.  We’re not at the point where Uncle reaches out and touches someone over the phone like that.  Not yet, anyway.

*Verified by Chip “Remain calm! All is WELL!!” Diller.

 

IrishRM-picPg136-BGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Long time friends of the decanter may recall in the past ol’ Robbo going on from time to time about his fondness for the three volumes of short stories by E.O. Somerville and Martin Ross, Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. (1899), Further Experiences of an Irish R.M. (1908) and In Mr. Knox’s Country (1915), now known collectively as The Irish R.M.  They tell the story of Major Sinclair Yeats, ex-British Army, who takes up a position as a Resident Magistrate in the wilds of Southwestern Ireland around the turn of the 20th Century and finds himself dealing with the idiosyncrasies of the locals.  Much hilarity ensues.  Indeed, Somerville and Ross, members of the Anglo-Irish gentry themselves, delighted in noting the contrasts between their class and the native culture, often with much sympathy towards the latter.

I’ve read these stories dozens of times and never get tired of them.  In preparation for tackling the gloom and doom of Solzhenitsyn, I thought I would run through them again just by way of cleaning my palate.  This time around, though, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I find myself not only enjoying the stories but also doing a bit of what one might call geographical detective work, too, trying to figure out specifically where some of them might have taken place.

Well, okay, I’ve simply been messing around with Google Earth.  But I think I’ve figured out a thing or two.

For instance, I’m almost positive that the principle town in the stories, called Skebawn, is actually a place called Skibbereen, the farthest southwest town of any size in County Cork.  (I’m not the first to draw this conclusion, by the way.)

Major Yeats and his family live in Shreelane, a country house which we know is within bicycling distance of Skebawn.  We also know that the shimmer of the sea can be seen behind the hills when one stands on the roof of Shreelane.  We further know that one can hear the Fastnet gun away to the southwest warning off shipping during foggy weather.   So I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere to the south of Skebawn, perhaps in the Curravally district.  (There is a Curranhilty district which plays a part in some of the stories which may be a play on this name, by the bye.)  Another clue is that it is within walking distance of what is called Corran Lake in the stories and what I think is really Lough Hyne.  Not only is said lough connected with the sea like Corran Lake, it also holds a small island (two, in fact) that would account for said lake’s Holy Island in the story of that name.

Speaking of the story “Holy Island”, it tells of a shipwreck on what is called Yokahn Point and of the anarchy that breaks out as the result of barrels of rum being washed ashore on Tralalough Strand.  I believe these places are modeled on the real-life Gokane Point and Tragumna Strand.  They’re both immediately to the east of Lough Hyne and within carriage-driving distance of where Shreelane would stand.

Speaking of Shreelane, there actually is a Shreelane district to the east-northeast of Skibbereen, from which I’m sure Somerville and Ross borrowed the name for the house, but which is too far away from the sea to fit with the narrative description.  On the other hand, it might be the location of Temple Braney House, seat of the horrible McRory family.  I say this because there is a series of small, interconnected lakes associated with Temple Braney in one of the stories and this district sports just such an aquatic feature, the Shreelane Lakes.

I haven’t placed other important points so far.  Tory Lodge, home of Mr. Florence McCarthy “Flurry” Knox, is said to be an hour or two’s walk over teh hills from Shreelane and the sea is visible from its terrace.  Aussolas Castle, home of Flurry’s grandmother Mrs. Knox, is some little distance away, but it’s unclear which direction.  Castle Knox, home of Flurry’s distant cousins the Sir Valentine Knoxes, is near enough to Aussolas that a fox can be chased from one to the other in a morning’s hunt.   I also can’t place Drumcurran, a secondary town in the Curranhilty country in which some scenes are played.

Later, if I’m able to get a reliable map in my head, I may strike out further afield and try to track down the secluded lair of Lord and Lady Derryclare, the chicken-farm of Meg Longmuir and Dr. Cathy Fraser and the Lug-Na-Coppal copper-mines formerly presided over by the late Mr. Harrington.

Anyhoo, I know that Somerville and Ross were just liberally borrowing rayther than trying to give accurate if disguised portrayals.  Still, it’s lots of fun to try and figure out what they were thinking when they put together the geographical boundaries of Major Yeats’ stage.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Nats HatWell, on further reflection ol’ Robbo doesn’t have much to say about his beloved Nats’ elimination in teh first round of the playoffs.   He could point out that each of our three losses to the Giants was by a single run and that two of them arguably were the direct result of rookie manager pitching decision mistakes (the first one questionable, the second one insane).  He also could point out that the Nats had the best National League record during the regular season, and could argue that a team’s results over 162 games are far more demonstrative of its quality than said team’s results over any four games.   But nobody would listen.   All anybody cares about post-season (and, arguably, for any given season) is who advances and who goes home.   At this point?  I really don’t even care anymore, but am thinking ahead to what is likely to happen over the off-season and into next spring.  (My prediction?  Not much.  LaRoche is likely done at 1st so that we can bring Ryan Zimmerman back into the starting lineup, Soriano is gone, but most of the rest of the team stays, I think, pretty much as it is.  Oh, and I’m calling it Right Now:  We win next year.)

Regular friends of the decanter will tolerate ol’ Robbo going through the math here because they understand that this is only the second post-season venture in his nearly 50 years in which he’s had a genuine vested interest.  (I grew up in a non-baseball town and could never consider myself more than an interested sympathizer for any team until the Nats came to Dee Cee in ’05.  How lucky are the Gels, by the bye, that they get to experience all of this in their yoot.)   I must say that I find the experience…….bittersweet.

Anyhoo, it’s over and done and I now can turn my attention to other things, such as the fact that the Great Post-Flood Port Swiller Manor Basement Renovation of 2014 is almost complete! (A mere two months after the original disaster, but who’s counting?) Flooring (Pergo or its equivalent) went in yesterday, baseboards were tacked on today and now pretty much all that’s left is the bathroom fixtures and some wiring.   In fact, the Former Llama Military Correspondent and his lovely family are coming in this weekend for an overnight stay and I had been fretting the past week or so about where on earth we were going to put them all.  Thanks to this week’s work, the basement is now at least habitable.  This gives ol’ Robbo a happy.

If you’d like me to post pics of the finished product, let me know.   (I’ve never been able to decide whether that sort of thing is looked on favorably by readers or is considered showing away.)

Final observation:  Last evening I watched Enemy at the Gates, the 2001 dramatization of the duel between a Russian and a German sniper (based  somewhat, I believe, on “actual events”) during the Battle of Stalingrad, that I almost automatically think of as Saving Private Ivan.  I’ve seen this movie maybe three or four times and still cannot quite put my finger on what makes it an okay flick but not really a good one (even though it features the lovely and talented Rachel Weisz, which fact alone ought to carry it).

hoskins krushchevOne positive thing I forget each time and am delighted to rediscover is Bob Hoskins as Khrushchev.  I love how he continually refers to Stalin as “duh Boss”.  This is exactly right.  Uncle Joe was as much as or even more of a thug than was Hitler.  Appallingly, the typical Modern, to the extent they have even heard of WWII, thinks the Soviets and the Nazis were diametric opposites.  The truth, of course, is the reverse.  Fascism and Communism (and, I may add, Progressivism and, for that matter, the Mafia) are close cousins, all of which argue for the sacrifice of individual freedoms to the alter of collective, centralized authority and for the elimination of said individuals who either can’t or won’t comport with the Plan.

 

10420This reminds me that I’ve never read Solzhenitsyn but have been meaning to the past few years.  Any friends of the decanter have any suggestions on the best place to start?  Ol’ Robbo would appreciate such tips greatly.  From what I gather, it’s not so much of a stretch to call the man a Saint.   And yet, after all he’d been through under the Soviet regime and all the effort he had put forth to speak (if I may) Truth to Power, he is these days a hissing and a byword among those who claim to champion liberalism.   (This is just one of the million and one reasons, or perhaps more accurately one of the million and one pieces of evidence of the general reason, why ol’ Robbo detests Leftists.)

 

 

 

davebarry03Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sorry for the light posting this week.  The bug that has been wandering around Port Swiller Manor recently finally decided to pay me a personal call.  It’s an odd one this time.  One minute you say to yourself, “Self, I think I’m getting better!”  The next, your head suddenly feels ten pounds too heavy, your entire body aches, you break out in a sweat and your knees threaten to fold the wrong way.

Rinse and repeat.

Anyhoo, I’ve spent most of the past 56 hours, at least the ones in which I’ve been awake, rereading a stack of old Dave Barry books, of which I have 6 or 7.  (Today it was Dave Barry Turns 50 and Dave Barry in Cyberspace.) It’s been a while since I last clapped eyes on any of them and, while it might just be the ‘flu talking, I must say that while I’ve always liked his stuff, ol’ Dave is a hell of a lot funnier than I remember.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

By the way, Wandering Bug would be a pretty good name for a rock band.

UPDATE:  Long-time friend of the decanter Cap’n Ned brings up an important (and I suppose apropos, given the pic of Dave I chose) issue,  that of appropriate bathroom reading.

This is a subject to which ol’ Robbo has dedicated some study over the years.  What is it that makes a given book appropriate to the library of the loo, the bibliotheca of the bog, the repository of the depository, the athenaeum of the ass-can?  (I’m so very sorry about that last one but I needed a closer.  If you imagine Robin Leach saying it, it’s not so bad.)

Well, I’ll tell you.  Said book must be both granule and lightweight.  It must be something on which you can nibble at will, taking it and leaving it as suits your biznay.  At the same time, it must be something for which less than full concentration is required, IYKWIMAITYD.   So both War and Peace and Quotations of Chairman Mao are right out.

Of course, the downstairs W/C at Port Swiller Manor has its own basket of reading materials.

As a sort of substratum, said basket always contains the latest alumni magazines from our various schools, together with copies of the local fish-wrapper and of Modern Luxury: DC magazine, which continues to show up in our mailbox despite the fact that we’ve never subscribed, much less shown any interest in it.

The real meat, though, is in the books.

Before sitting down to type out this update, I stepped into the downstairs W/C and rummaged around the reading basked in order to ascertain the current Port Swiller reading list and see if it complies with ol’ Robbo’s criteria.  It includes:

- Two compendia of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons;

- Two compendia of FoxTrot cartoons;

- Several volumes of Down East humor by noted Down East humorist John McDonald, including his Maine Trivia: A Storyteller’s Useful Guid To Useless Information; his A Moose and a Lobster Walk Into A Bar; and his Maine Dictionary (also the Boston Dictionary by John Powers, the success of which caused the publishers to hustle McDonald into producing the Maine version);

- The Devious Book for Cats, which styles itself as a parody but which is actually too close to the truth to be funny and is really rayther depressing;

- An evolution of the Darwin Awards; and

- James Lileks’ Mommy Knows Worst.  

I may admit that the last one is my current favorite, and it surprises me that no one has asked any questions about why Dad is locked in the loo, giggling, snerking and snorting.

Now certainly, as Ned suggests, Dave Barry would qualify for inclusion in a reading list of this sort based on substance.  The problem is that the guy is prolific, having something north of forty titles to his name.   Were I to introduce one or two of his books to the loo basket, pretty soon it would be three or four.  And then six or eight.  And then a round dozen.  At that point,  I’d start talking about a need for more space, perhaps a series of shelves, in which to deposit all of Dave’s words.  And in a bathroom?  That’s too weird for me.

No, at least at Port Swiller Manor, Barry gets confined to what I call the Bookcases of Misfit Authors.   These are the ones down the basement to which ol’ Robbo bans books that he deems not appropriate for his “library proper”.  At the moment they’re all sitting in stacks scattered about the house and awaiting the post-flood restoration of said basement which the contractor promises is less than two weeks out now, but once that’s done, they’re going back downstairs where they belong.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The passing this week of Debo, Dowager Dutchess of Devonshire and last of the Mitford sisters prompts this article in today’s UK Telegraph:  The Mitfords and the Kardashians: class vs trash.  

They dazzled, outraged and added immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation; only a churl could fail to shed a nostalgic tear for the passing of Debo Mitford. The death, aged 94, of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the glamorously posh, gloriously eccentric Mitford Girls, marks the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.

Times change, modern mores evolve, and if it is true that every generation gets the celebrity dynasty it deserves, then we must (however reluctantly) pass the baton on to another clan of strong women. Yes, Kardashians, it is your time to shine.

Most of the rest of the article really boils down to comparative trivia.

Apart from the headline (which she probably didn’t write) and the second paragraph quoted above, the author remains fairly ambiguous about whether this change is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.  Needless to say, ol’ Robbo thinks it a perfectly Horrid Thing, even while he believes the author to be spot on.   “Evolve” is misused here, however, because to the average person it implies to get better.  I’d have said metastasized.  Show me the evidence that things – politics, culture, morals, civility et al. – have got better.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Know what this reminds me of?  The evolution (there’s that word again!) of the Official Preppy Handbook.  The original was a (very gently snarky) compendium of rock-solid Old Guard New England Upper and Upper-Middle values and standards.    The new one is an abomination of post-modern nouveau chic (a lot of which, come to think of it, applying to the Kardashians).

I don’t really know what else to say about it other than Gawd help us.

UPDATE:  Apropos musickal riff, inspired by RBJ.  Enjoy!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter may recall that ol’ Robbo has developed a new interest in what one might call Ripping Yarns this year and, to this end, has started in on a series of authors he really should have read more when he was a kid – P.C. Wren, Robert Louis Stevenson and Conan-Doyle to name but three.

Well, pursuant to that design, I thought I would mention a couple of pairs of books here, offering a substantive observation about the first and a purchaser’s caution on the second.

kidnappedRecently, ol’ Robbo finished both R,L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped, together with its sequel Catriona.  The first is simply an outstanding adventure story, as the hero David Balfour and the hugely entertaining Alan Breck, after escaping kidnapping and shipwreck,  make their dangerous way across the Scottish Highlands of 1751, chased by rival clans and Redcoats.  The second, which RLS wrote many years later and which takes up the story immediately where Kidnapped left off, is not nearly as good, seemingly more plodding and taken up with legal intrigue and David’s mooing over women.  I will say, without giving away any spoilers, that when Alan Breck reappears toward the end, the book brightens right back up and comes near to Kidnapped quality.

The_White_CompanyHaving polished off those, I leapt immediately into Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The White Company, in which sturdy English yeomen of the reign of Edward III take their longbows off to the Continent to beat up on various enemies and load themselves down with plunder.  I’m in the early stages, in which the nucleus of the company is being formed, but I already enjoy it.  People forget that ACD was a writer of tremendous range (I believe he even dabbled in science-fiction) and a very solid story-teller to boot.

Anyhoo, when fooling about at the devil’s website, I found that the book comes in two volumes but that I couldn’t find any complete set put out by the same publisher.  So I simply picked two at random.  This, my friends, was where ol’ Robbo made something of a mistake.  Volume One does not even give a publisher name, simply stating that it was printed at Lexington, KY on August 19, 2014.  In other words, right around the date I ordered it.  I wouldn’t care about this in itself, but what I mind mightily is the fact that the whole thing is printed in about 8-point font, making it basically a 171 page footnote.  My poor old eyes simply can’t take much of it at any one time.  Stupid fly-by-night publishers!  But what are you going to do when you’re looking for rayther obscure works that the big houses simply don’t bother with?

On the other hand, the second volume that I picked up was put out by an outfit called Accessible Publishing Systems.  I didn’t notice, when I ordered it, that the thing is an “EasyRead Large Bold Edition” featuring 16-point font.  I don’t know if this was because I was inattentive or because the devil’s website didn’t choose to mention it.   I offer this as a cautionary tale.

(Oh, and yes, these are both illustrations by the greatly under-rated N.C. Wyeth.)

In a prefatory note to her husband’s novel Kidnapped, Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson copies out some samples of records from a murder trial used by him as background in constructing the story.  One of these passages says, in part,

“Duncan Campbell, change-keeper at Annat, aged thirty-five years, married, witness cited, sworn, purged and examined ut supra, depones, That in the month of April last, the deponent met with Alan Breck Stewart….”

I’ve been familiar with legal terms since I started studying them in 1988, but I have never in all that time come across the verb “to depone”.  But when you think about it, what else would a deponent be doing?

And is there a linguistic relationship between depone and depose?  A sort of yin and yang capturing the interrelation between witness and advocate as the latter seeks to draw evidence from the former?  Merriam-Webster on-line gives the history of depone thusly:  Middle English, from Medieval Latin deponere, from Latin, to put down, from de- + ponere to put.  It also says that “depose” comes from the same root, so this seems likely.

I must say that the word tickles my fancy.  Perhaps I’ll figure out a way to start working it into my vocabulary.  As it happens, I’m prepping for some depositions coming up in a couple weeks, so I ought to have some opportunities.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Over on teh Fazebukes, ol’ Robbo is a member of a group calling itself the Aubrey-Maturin Appreciation Society, a roving band of sea-dogs devoted to the A-B canon (or is it cannon?) itself, together with more general themes, nautical and otherwise, somehow related or referred to therein (debauched sloths being an example of the latter).

As is usual in these chat groups, the posts range from long discussions/arguments to quips, jokes, videos and pictures.  Among the last category was one I thought worthy of sharing here:

keep calm beat to quarters

 

I know the meme has got rayther old, but this made me chuckle.

A glass of wine with you!

peasant2

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

After sorting out the gels’ various traffic-control homework issues (which, I suspect, are going to be a major theme this school year), Ol’ Robbo found himself listening this evening to the Monty Python album “Matching Tie & Handkerchief“, into which I have not dipped for several years now.

One of the tracks on this album that, so far as I know, was never replicated on teevee or in the movies was the skit about the Background to History that featured the Open Field Farming songs, and its follow-on bit about the fellah at the record store who wishes to hear a track from “The Ronettes Sing Medieval Agrarian History“.

This little throwaway has long made Robbo laugh and laugh, not only because of its absurdity but also because of its erudition.  This is what I’ve always loved most about the Pythons, that they were able to come up with, for lack of a better description, educated crass humor.  (I believe Terry Jones is the medievalist amongst them, but I know that most of the others had particular fields of learning on which to draw.)

Did I ever mention the Chaucer class I took in college? Wonderful stuff taught wonderfully by a wonderful professor who was not the slightest bit interested in post-modern critical-theory deconstruction of the texts, but instead was passionately concerned to get us young idjits to appreciate them, in their style and content, for what they actually were.  (Yes, back in the day such profs could be found even at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown.  I also had this prof for several Tudor and Stuart lit courses.  His readings of Prospero from “The Tempest” were pure magic.  Betcher you couldn’t find his ilk there now.)

Conversely, my Real Property course in law school, which started with a very thorough examination of feudal Norman land rights regarding, among other things,  transfer and inheritance,  was taught by a card-carrying Marxist who evidently thought the whole system contemptible.

Somehow, when I revisit this particular Python sketch, both of those contrary memories come back to me.  And perhaps, in a weird way, they increase my appreciation of the humor of the thing.

 

 

 

HobbitonGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Earlier today ol’ Robbo found himself hobnobbing with the youngest gel (who starts middle school in a week) about seasonal preferences.  It turns out that we agree, ranking them from best to worst thusly:  Fall, Spring, Winter, Summer.

We seem to have arrived at several of our preferences based on very different criteria (for instance, questions of wardrobe possibilities heavily influence teh gel’s thinking while mine not so much), but we agree about summer.  It’s too darn hot.

Now long time friends of the decanter will recall that one of Robbo’s stock summah memes involves bitching about the iron fist of Heat Miser and all the misery it causes round here.  However, as I reminded the gel, you certainly couldn’t level such criticism at the Summah of 2014, at least as experienced in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor.  Indeed, it’s been almost ridiculously pleasant, with relatively few 90+ degree days and, so far as I can recollect, absolutely no triple-digit heat.   And at the moment, we are experiencing weather more typical of the second half of September than August.

Indeed, if summah were always so pleasant round here, I would have no cause to complain whatsoever.

Of course, I know that hasn’t been and isn’t going to be the case, and that my tradition of griping posts will resume at some point in the future.  Indeed, we are being told these days by  Top Men that all that Global Warming hasn’t gone away, but instead is just hiding at the moment – somewhere in the Marianas Trench or under Mt. Everest or in Birnam Wood or the Bermuda Triangle or Area 51 or something, I don’t quite recall – and is only waiting the psychological moment to burst forth again, shouting, “Boo! Ha, ha,ha!  Should have listened to Al Gore and Michael Mann, you selfish, ignorant wing-nuts!  You are so toast now!”

Eh, we’ll see.  Meanwhile, I’m just enjoying the moment.

Speaking of which, here’s a question for you Tolkien sharks out there.  There are several instances in the Lord of the Rings (I refer to the books, of course) in which it is suggested that Sauron at least influences, if not specifically directs, the weather.  The snow storm at the Red Horn Gate comes to mind, as does the big thunderstorm at the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  But I’ve always wondered about the extremely pleasant summer in the Shire in the first part of The Fellowship of the Ring that contributes to Frodo’s stalling around before he finally sets out on his initial journey.  Just coincidence?  Or is some malevolent force at work?  And if so, why?  Keep Frodo at home long enough for the Nazgul to get there?  Is the Ring doing it?  Can Sauron influence the weather that far away and does he have sufficient information (from Gollum’s torture) to make such specific arrangements?   And can he create conditions that seem fair without feeling foul?  There’s no hint of anything evil about that summer in the Shire.  Then again, perhaps nobody was looking for it.

I throw all this out just by way of musing.  And speaking of which, if you are both a Tolkien Geek and a Weather Nerd like ol’ Robbo, you’ll probably want to read this article.

 

 

Blog Stats

  • 399,928 hits
October 2014
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.