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Last evening, in searching the port-swiller library for a new book to read for school, the youngest gel’s hand fell on the collected works of Lewis Carroll, whereupon she immediately set off down the rabbit hole.   We shall see what results this may produce.  With that one, the mind boggles.

In the meantime, noodling on the matter made me remember this poem.  Somehow, many elements of it seem to fit:

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

Today is John Cleese’s birthday.  Given my continual references to one of his most famous screen characters, what more fitting way to celebrate than a little retrospective:

It is truly remarkable how many of Basil Fawlty’s lines have made it into the domestic lexicon over the years….

Cripes, you could be talking balderdash and a growing number of people won’t know what you are talking about.

Story of my life.

Such words are dying out because of the popularity of shortened text message-style terms, a survey suggests.

Researchers found a significant decrease in the use of words which our parents and grandparents would have uttered on an almost daily basis.

Bally, laggard, rambunctious, verily, felicitations and spiffing were among other words they claimed would confuse the text generation.

I understand perfectly well that language evolves over time.  The problem here is that text-message speak actually causes it to devolve into shorter, cruder forms.  Pity.

I use all of these words, by the way, together with many other similar examples.  Some of my synonyms for balderdash, usually employed in response to less than satisfactory answers from the gels, include applesauce, tommy-rot and flim-flam.

Recently Ol’ Robbo made mention of his discovery of a new book by Peej O’Rourke entitled Holidays in Heck.

Well, since that post I have received said book from the devil’s website and read it.  And now, as threatened promised, I’m going to tell you what I think of it.

First, I am delighted to say that the book is not awful, as I had feared it might be, given the quality of the last couple to come down the pike.  I still don’t think that Peej has found his Curmudgeon Emeritus voice yet, that he’s found the secret formula to being a really first class Cranky Conservative Geezer, but there are definite flashes here.

Unfortunately, this also illustrates the weakness of HIH, namely its unevenness.  The book consists of fifteen or twenty essays originally appearing in other formats the past couple years (I recognized a few of them).  They are all, more or less, concerned with vacation travel, but beyond that there’s little cohesion, at least in my opinion, among them.  It seems to me that O’Rourke could have put more work into developing a unified narrative, an arc binding the episodes together.  (I cite his superb All The Trouble In The World as an example of the benefit of such legwork.)  As it is, the thing reads more like an anthology scrapped together in rayther a hurry.

There is also, perhaps more importantly, a great breadth in terms of quality.  For example, after reading O’Rourke’s very thoughtful meditations on spirituality and mortality that arose during his battle skirmish with cancer (it was a malignant hemorrhoid, of all crazy things),  I dozed off and had a series of the most incredibly vivid and bizarre dreams on the subject myself (alas, all lost when I awoke).  Then again, his reporting on the political situation in Afghanistan is about the best and most lucid appraisal I’ve seen, and reminded me vividly of Peej at his best back in his war correspondent days.   On the other hand,  most of the stories about holiday travel with his wife and children are, well, rayther flat, with too much emphasis on chronicling What Muffin Said Next, and not enough, how does one put it, thematic meat.  (The stay-at-home vacation one is pretty clever, however.)   This, by the way, is also the flaw in a very long essay on travel in China.  Peej tells us all about the people with whom he dealt, but not enough about the People.  For example, what does he, based on his observations, think the future holds for China and for its relations with the United States?  I’d like to have seen more of that sort of thing.

Nonetheless, I’d say the book is worth adding to your collection.  Call it three glasses out of five.

Speaking of books worth adding to your collection,  I also read Charles Portis’ True Grit.  Now ol’ Robbo doesn’t pretend to any kind of expertise on westerns.  In fact, so far as I can recollect, the last only one I ever read was a Louis L’Amour that somebody had left at a fishing camp back in the early 80’s and which I picked up because there was nothing else to read.  (All I recollect is that the Hero managed to put the kybosh on a baddie by getting him to draw in front of witnesses when the Hero was unarmed.)  Nonetheless, Robbo has never let ignorance of his subject matter get in the way of fearless judgement, so here is my opinion:   Just read it, please.  It’s that good.  Five out of five glasses and one more for luck.

And now, my fellow port swillers, prepare to be amazed, because I am going to confess here that one of the biggest things that reading this book brought home to me, aside from the urge to immediately reread it, was an appreciation of just how good a job the Coen brothers did in remaking the movie.  In fact, I can’t believe I’m typing this but here goes: I’m going to go ahead and say here and now that I think Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Rooster Cogburn is better than that of the Dook, insofar as I think he got what Portis had in mind bang on.   Don’t get me wrong.  My rule that screen dramatizations are typically awful is in no way undermined by the fact that exceptions exist.  This is one of them.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

The three gels’ annual skool pictures arrived home this week, prompting a little ritual I have developed over the years.

You see, I keep a 5X7 copy of each gel’s photo down to the shop.  All of the previous years’ pictures stay in the frame behind the current one.  When I go to add the latest, I take them all out and line them up chronologically.

Contemplation of this, as it were, static time-lapse photography of each child awakens all kinds of emotions.  There is awe at the miracle of their development, as well as delight.  There is also a certain sense of achievement.

Probably the strongest current, however, is the heightened awareness of the complexities of time.  Any parent knows that there are moments, hours, days that seem like they will never, ever end however much we want to get them over with.  But this exercise, especially as the gels are starting to get older, reminds me of just how lightning fast the years go by.

It is a sometimes frightening correction of perspective, but I think it is also a healthy one.


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October 2011