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1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

 2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

 6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

 8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2

Well, my fellow port swillers, here we are at Christmas, A.D. 2011.  I know it’s been a good year for some of you, a so-so year for others and an absolute annus horribilis for a few.   Whatever the circumstances in which the holiday finds you, my love, prayers and best wishes – based on the Hope born with our Lord which is what Christmas is all about – go out to you.

So pray pass the port (to the left, of course) and charge your glasses.  Bumpers all round, ladies and gentlemen, and no heel taps!  A very Merry Christmas to you and God bless!

(N.B. – Ol’ Robbo will be taking a bit of a vacation, finishing up with a New Year’s Eve road trip to the vast, but secure, holdings of the (former) Llama Military Correspondent and family.  Posting may be a bit spotty until after the turn of the year.)

The local classickal station has gone to wall-to-wall Christmas musick this week.  The playlist is a continual procession of choirs and soloists singing appropriate carols.  The problem is that they seem to be singing the same half dozen carols in near constant rotation.  Despite its loveliness, there are only so many permutations of “Once In Royal David’s City” that one can withstand on any given day before one starts looking about for a brick with which to smash the radio.

And as for “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?  Aaaugh!!

Note to Self:  Bring in some CD’s tomorrow.

A historical campaign group has launched a £50,000 bid to have the world famous Uffington White Horse made into a unicorn.

Giving prehistoric landmarks the hope and change treatment:

The plan by the ‘Save the Unicorn at Uffington’ has more than 1,000 members and is being lead by Bronze Age enthusiasts.

They claim the 3,000-year-old horse made from crushed white chalk in Uffington, Oxfordshire, was originally meant to be a depiction of the mythical horned beast.

The amateur historians have now received financial backing from ‘well-wishers’ including a £50,000 anonymous donation towards adding a 75-foot long horn to the horse.

The Uffington White Horse – which measures 374 feet – or 110 metres – is owned and managed by The National Trust – who have now received a proposal about the horn from the campaigners.

Leading the group is children’s author Paula Broderick who claims to have uncovered the truth behind the giant carvings identity.

And what is the truth, you ask?

She said: “The Uffington White Horse has been a great British landmark for centuries, however its true form has always been shrouded in mystery.

“You only have to look at its head to see that it is not, strictly, a horse.

“We believe that the Uffington carving is actually one of a unicorn, a mythical creature known to have fascinated our ancient cultures and folklore.”

So, you’re asking, what happened?  I’ll explain in three words: Bastard Christian Conspirators!

It has been referred to as a ‘horse’ since the 11th-Century, primarily because ancient scripts from nearby Abingdon Abbey refer to ‘mons albi equi’ at Uffington – or the White Horse Hill.

According to Paula the figure is “most likely” a unicorn – a mythical beast resembling a white horse with a large horn projecting from its forehead.

Its original horn, she argues, would have been removed by over-zealous Christian scholars in the 13th or 14th centuries.

She said: “While researching material for my new book The Rowan Tree I discovered the amazing story of Dragon Hill, which is next to the Uffington Horse and is said to be the spot where Saint George slew the dragon.

“The whole area is wrapped in legend and mystery and there is little doubt in my mind that the Church and its scholars would have done everything possible to prevent the continuing rise of regional folklore.

“It’s plausible that they would have removed the horn in secret. Noah never led a unicorn into the ark, after all.”

Paula added that work on the site will continue “the moment” they receive the backing of The National Trust.

Somebody call Tom Hanks and tell him to wear old clothes for the next movie, ‘cos he’s going to get them rayther dirty digging about for that “missing horn” and all.

Fortunately, it appears that the National Trust has politely told Mizz Broderick to go pound sand.






Time for some festive musick.

I don’t know about my fellow port-swillers, but in all my years I have never, ever, got tired of this song (or, indeed, of the entire album).  But then again, I’ve always adored “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.  Sure, the animation is cheap and the story line is so-so.  But, as I say, the musick is great,  and Linus’ recitation of the Gospel of Luke is, well, transcendent.  (Indeed, I’m surprised it hasn’t been suppressed yet.)

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

As promised below, last evening ol’ Robbo ran off the 1999 movie Topsy-Turvy.   I had not seen it before, and I must say that the Mothe’s recommendation was perfectly justified:  I’ve always liked movies about the Theatre (everything from The Dresser to Noises Off!);  The film manages to portray Victorian London with a bare minimum of post-modernist snark; the score is, of course, all G&S; and the star of the show is Jim Broadbent.  I mean, Jim Broadbent! Say no more!

And most importantly, the movie presents the works of Gilbert and Sullivan the way they ought to be presented, namely straight.  These days, one can never (well, hardly ever) find a production in which the director is able to resist the urge to camp it up.  (The last production of Pirates I saw featured rubber chickens.)  This kind of archness is preposterous, presumptuous and puerile and does absolutely nothing to bring out the true humor and beauty of the pieces.  Mr. Gilbert was far funnier than you, I or any community-theatre tyro will ever be.  Best leave things up to him.

As to historickal accuracy, I am not really in a position to offer any intelligent observation.  The basic plot of the story is that Sullivan, after years of success working with Gilbert, has become burned out on Doyle-Carte productions and wants to write more serious musick.  He therefore goes off, leaving the company in the lurch.  Eventually, he agrees to come back if Gilbert can come up with Something Fresh by way of story line.  Then one day Gilbert, poking about a Japanese Exhibition, suddenly gets an inspiration.  The result is The Mikado.  Sullivan is delighted, gets back into the swing of things and all’s well that ends well.   I know that Sullivan spent a good bit of his professional career fretting about not being taken seriously, but I simply don’t know the details, or even if it came to the crisis portrayed in the movie.  Sullivan eventually did write one serious opera, but I’ve never heard it and really have no interest in so doing.  (BTW, Did you know that Sullivan also wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Rock of Ages”?)

I suppose my only criticism of the movie, and this may just be my fault in viewing it after a fairly heavy din-dins, is that I thought there ought to have been more explanation as to why Gilbert’s Mikado proposal changed Sullivan’s mind.  Was it the mere exoticism of the subject matter?  Was it an opportunity to explore new musickal paths heretofore not open? Was it something particular about Gilbert’s treatment of plot and characters?  Was it a combination?  Was it something else?  I just didn’t quite get the sense that the motivations behind Sullivan’s creative renaissance, which was really the climax of the story, were as fully aired as they might have been.

Oh, and one other thing struck me as odd in the film.  The producers felt it necessary to insert a screen caption explaining the fate of “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum in 1885 just before a scene in which some of the theatre troupe are gossiping about it over oysters and stout.  (I thought this scene one of the few snarky bits in the film, only the snark was aimed not at Victorian “prudery” but instead at the British Imperial mindset.)  It’s a sad commentary on the state of modern “education” that such a footnote would be felt necessary.  On the other hand, as the disaster at Khartoum plays no direct bearing on the plot of the movie, it seems to me that the caption could have been skipped.  Inserting it gave an exaggerated weight to an otherwise throwaway line.

But never mind.  The singing and acting were wonderful across the board.  The stages and costumes were terrific.  And the story was funny, intelligent and sympathetic.  If you have even a passing interest in Gilbert & Sullivan, you’ll enjoy this movie.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  Well, here we are at the turn of the seasonal tide.  The storm is coming, as Gandalf said, but the tide has turned.

As for ol’ Robbo, today found him eating accrude leave in order to play host to a procession of repairmen, delivery guys and (much to my surprise) a cleaning crew, all of whom were scheduled at the behest of Mrs. Robbo to descend on the port swiller residence in order to fix, offload and clean before Christmas arrives.  And where is Mrs. R her own self, you ask?  Why, she and the gels have lit out for the Great Wolf Lodge for a night or two of watery holiday frolicking.   How conveeeeeenient.

Anyhoo, all is done now, with everything fixed, delivered and cleaned for the moment, and all those persons now gone and gone. (As I grow older, I abhore having strangers in the house more and more.)

♦  So I had a go at uploading the middle gel’s song directly from CD to WordPress, only to be informed that the file type was not authorized.  Anybody know of a way to transfer musick to a blogpost that doesn’t involve YouTube?

♦  I have a confession to make: Whenever I’m channel-surfing and stumble across The Postman, I almost invariably stop to watch it.  There’s just something compelling in its awfulness.

♦ Speaking of such things, we’ve had a Blue-ray player for better than a year now and I only discovered that the thing could play CD’s about an hour ago.  Good news for me, as I am starting up my exercise routine again, the elliptical is in the teevee room, and I can’t abide trying to watch teevee while working out.  Much rayther listen to musick.

♦  And speaking of corpore sano, I woke up with a very stiff left knee today.  Examination of same revealed a palm-sized bruise on the inside part, quite deep purple and red.  Certain smarty-pants family members can keep their Robbo’s-been-at-the-bottle-a-bit-too-much comments to themselves, as this thing is hardly in a location where I could or would have got it by stumbling into something.  On cross examination, Mrs. R confessed that she does sometimes kick me when I’m allegedly snoring (a false charge, btw), but she swears she never kicks that hard.  I can’t imagine where I picked up the thing.

♦  Since I’m batching it for a couple nights, I plan to run off TopsyTurvey, which Netflix sent me a good month or two ago but which I haven’t had the time to run off.  (The thing is over two and a half hours.)  The film is about a feud and reconciliation between W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan and comes highly recommended by the Mothe.  I’ll let you know what I think.

Regular friends of the decanter may recall that I recently noted the apparent descent of the port-swiller garage door opener into some kind of nervous breakdown.  Well, as of yesterday, I can report that the thing has gone utterly off the deep end and that it’s time to summon the men in the white coats.  While the engine hums along merrily enough, it no longer moves the chain one way or the other, suggesting that the little plastic cog-wheel in the bowels of the thing has finally stripped itself.

Oh, well.

I started noodling over whether it made sense to get the unit fixed or to replace it altogether.  (It’s at least twelve years old, but most of the bits are still in good working order.)  To this end, I wandered over to the LiftMaster website, where I stumbled across this little ditty:

Position on Garage Door Openers Manufactured Prior to 1993
We are committed to the highest standards of product safety. Over the years, the LiftMaster® brand has led the industry in introducing innovative product safety features. As a company, we have manufactured garage door openers for 50 years with a safety record that ranks as one of the best in the industry.In the early 1990s, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) enacted into law new rules ensuring that all garage door openers manufactured after 1992 had external entrapment protection devices, such as infrared sensors or sensing edges, in addition to the internal contact reverse mechanism. Garage door openers made prior to 1993 are safe and reliable if installed, tested, and maintained properly. However, the vast majority of these older units are not equipped with infrared sensors or other external entrapment protection devices, and thus do not meet today’s standards for garage door opener safety. To insure the highest degree of safety and customer satisfaction, we believe it is important that pre-1993 garage door openers are replaced, as opposed to being repaired.

Ah, this takes me back.  Indeed, I’m old enough to remember when garage door openers first hit the market, some time in the early to mid-70’s.  We moved to a new house in ’74.  I do not believe that the house from which we moved had an opener.  The new one certainly did at some point, but I don’t recall whether it was part of the original equipment.

And we certainly didn’t have infrared sensors, sensing edges or contact reverse mechanisms.  Instead, we developed the custom of the last kid out hitting the button by the workroom door and then running for it.  You could make it comfortably at about a half-height crouch.  A drop and roll would have been more dramatic, but with that concrete floor it would also have been more painful.

I believe we also went through a phase of experimental crushing of various objects (and no, this did not include my little sister, as much as I was sometimes tempted).

Good times.  Good times.

Of course, things have changed, and were I to let the gels do half the things that I did as a matter of routine in my own misspent yoot, CPS would swoop in and cart them off quicker than one could say “knife”.  I am not necessarily convinced that such change has been for the better.

Regular friends of the decanter will be aware of the on-going saga of the damaged chimney at the port swiller residence.  (No word yet as to whether the insurance people will pony up for the cost of the repairs.)

This weekend found the chimney people playing a return date after their initial inspection a few weeks ago.  The very first thing they said to me when they arrived was……that they couldn’t fix the chimney.  Yet.  You see (so they explained), now that the weather has got cold and there’s a nightly danger of frost, trying to set new mortar is not a really good idea.

This made sense to me, but I couldn’t help wondering why they didn’t say something like that a few weeks ago when it was still comparatively mild?


On the other hand, they were more than prepared to take down the top section of the chimney, lest Mother Nature step in and finish the job herself.  Duly inviting them to have at it, I went back inside and resumed my reading.  I happened to be sitting next to the fireplace, and after some initial bangs and thumps as they clamored up to the roof, I heard the guys set to their task.  Soon, a veritable shower of bricks, tiles and chunks of mortar came raining down into the side yard, accompanied by a pair of ghostly voices echoing down the chimney.  The fellahs were having an absolute ball, hurling the pieces overboard with humorous commentary and taking especial delight when a given piece burst on impact.  It was like listening to a couple of little boys and, indeed, I could feel the distinct urge within myself to go up and throw things off the roof, too.

Of course, then they had to pick up all the bits.  That part didn’t look nearly so enjoyable.

Anyhoo, the upshot is that we will be without a working fireplace this winter.  Here’s (probably foolishly) hoping that the weather will be relatively calm and that power outages will be few, far between and of minimal duration.

The whole thing reminds me a good bit of one of the Irish R.M. stories of Somerville and Ross, the one entitled “Major Apollo” I think, in which one of the chimneys at Shreelane House is brought down and “repaired” at the behest of an interfering R.E. cousin, forcing Major Yates and family to endure a very cold and uncomfortable winter.  The episode ends in predictable farcical tragedy when the new chimney, finally completed, chooses an inopportune moment to tumble over itself.  Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen to us.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

Do you know this man?  His name was Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych (1877-1921).  He was a Ukrainian composer, choral conductor and priest.  His best-known work today (at least in the West) is his “Carol of the Bells”, a piece which I have noticed tends to have a polarizing effect – people seem either to really like it or really hate it.  Personally, although I have family members who would  disagree violently, I happen to enjoy it.  I especially enjoyed the rendition put on last Thursday evening by the eldest gel’s 8th grade class at her school pageant, where I first heard of Leontovych.  (Up till then I hadn’t the faintest idea where “Carol of the Bells” originated.)

Here’s something else I learned:  The man is a martyr of the Eastern Orthodox Ukrainian Church, where he is remembered for, among other religious works, composing the first liturgy in the modern Ukrainian language.  Soviet goons murdered him in 1921.  Hearing these facts about him at the pageant added a certain something to the performance, at least in my mind, giving it a sense of defiance against the forces of darkness.  That’s probably how I’ll think of it from now on.

And speaking of performances, might I beg my fellow port-swillers to indulge me in just a bit of parental boasting?  I may? Thank you!  Regular friends of the decanter will know that I have often spoken of the middle gel’s angelic singing and her regular wowing of the congregations at RFEC.  Well, I am pleased (and still a bit gob-smacked) to announce that, following an audition a few weeks ago, she has been accepted into the Novice Choristers Program at the National Cathedral.  Mind you, this is only a first step – the Novice Program is a sort of choral boot-camp to see whether the little darlings “fit” into the overall scheme of things.  After that, she still has to be accepted at the Cathedral School for seventh grade, and, not being of the Beautiful People, we still have to figure out how on earth to pay for it.  And, if she does make it into the Cathedral Choir, that’s essentially her life (and ours) for the next few years.  However, seeing that she is both so talented and such a hard worker, we decided to swing for the fences on this one.  If we can somehow get over and around all the ifs and buts, the opportunity is simply too good to pass up.  And even if it doesn’t work out, I consider the fact that she’s been invited to participate to be a signal honor in and of itself.

Ol’ Robbo couldn’t be prouder.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

It seems to me that there are a great many more cars sporting reindeer antlers and red “noses” on their radiator grills this year than there have been previously.  I must say that each such car looks more ridiculous than the last.  One car had the “nose” stuck on its hatchback.  I’m not sure if this was a waggish commentary or confusion about basic anatomy.  Made the car look like it had a case of piles.

This weekend we received a holiday card and an extremely long family “news letter” addressed (I swear I’m not making this up) to “Mr. & Mrs. Robbo T. Portswiller, or Current Resident.”  The woman is a local real estate maven and I assume she was simply using her biznay labels.  Explains the gaffe, but I’m not sure it excuses it.


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December 2011