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Well, my fellow port swillers, time for ol’ Robbo to quit loafing about and start getting Port Swiller Manor ready for some light routs and revels to usher in the new year this evening.  (Per ancient custom, we will be entertaining the Former Llama Military Correspondent and his lovely and talented family.  Also per ancient custom, Mrs. R is being extremely vague about how many other people she asked “just to stop by” so I have no idea how much food and drink to get in.)  I will see you on the other side.

In the meantime, pray charge your glasses.  Bumpers all round and no heel taps!  Here’s a happy and prosperous new year to all of you with three times three!  Cheers!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy – where are we? – Seventh Day of Christmas!

I tell you truly that I was genuinely surprised to wake up this morning and realize that it was the last day of 2012.  How on earth did that happen?

Do I do end of the year reflections here?  I don’t remember, but I at least know it’s not a consistent practice of mine.

Anyhoo, as far as the denizens of Port Swiller Manor go, it’s been a good year overall.  No major catastrophes have visited us;  all the minor ones have been well within the standard deviation you would expect in an average family; we’ve had our share of joys and accomplishments, too.   Stability, which I crave more than anything else, has reigned.

Rant /on/

I say “average” family, but on thinking further about it, I feel that this may not be the right choice of adjectives.  Have you seen the divorce and illegitimacy figgahs lately?   Mrs. R and I will have been married twenty years come this June, and we’re raising the gels more or less the way I always assumed would happen.  But when I look about me among our friends and relations, I see example after example of families breaking up.  And not because of legitimate, earth-shattering circumstances, but because of simple, stupid, trivial selfishness.   There are maybe three fellahs in the world at whom I would gladly take a swing if given the opportunity.  All of them  have abandoned or are abandoning wives and children on the grounds that they needed to find themselves, that they weren’t getting the fulfillment (whatever that is) that was their due, that it all somehow wasn’t faaaaaaiiiiir…..(I just found out about the latest one yesterday – the ex of a college chum of Mrs. R’s who took a powder because their third child wasn’t a boy.)

Goddam sons o’ bitches.

Of all the things that worry me about the godforsaken state of our so-called “culture”, the trivialization of marriage and the destruction of what Jimmah Carter would call the “noocular” family worries me the most.  Aside from the Biblical considerations and the  individual pain and anguish it causes (and I don’t mean to under-rate these aspects, but the former is obvious and the latter is too personal), as a matter of history healthy societies have recognized that healthy families are the best – and only long-term –  source of new generations of healthy little law-abiding tax payers.   Blow these away and you’re left with nothing but legions of semi-ferrel wards of the state.   That’s a mighty attractive idea to progressivists (and I’m not altogether sure it isn’t the deliberate ploy of our current crop of “elites”), but it’s also damned short-sighted and, well, evil.

Rant /off/

Sorry about that.  Just seeing red (ha, ha).  Ol’ Robbo’s circle of influence being exceedingly small, there’s really not much I can do about it all except to make sure the sandbags in my own redoubt are secure and to keep the flag flying.

Oh, and on a completely different note, please be advised that next year will be known round here as “twenty-thirteen” and NOT as “two thousand-thirteen”.  Thank you.

nutsGreetings, my fellow port swillers and happy sixth day of Christmas!

Upon review and consideration, ol’ Robbo has come to the conclusion that when he becomes Emperor of the World, he’s going to go ahead and ban holiday nutcrackers.  He doesn’t like them.  They don’t have anything directly to do with Christmas.  And, of course, their design is open to all manner of abuse.

Further, the one that perennially haunts the library at Port Swiller Manor despite my best efforts to get rid of it has been giving me some pretty sinister looks of late.  I can smell mutiny in the ranks a mile off, and the best defense is a good offense.

Please adjust your decorating schedules accordingly.

Thank you.

Irish RMT’other day I picked up for the umpteenth time on The Irish R.M  by E.E. Somerville and Martin Ross.  Very briefly, they tell (from the first person point of view) the story of Major Sinclair Yeats, a Brit Army officer of Irish extraction, who takes up a Resident Magistracy in the west of Ireland, thereby voluntarily retiring from late-Victorian Britain to life in the Dark Ages.

It’s been a couple years since I last dipped into these short stories which I thought I knew so well, but I must say that the hiatus has convinced me all the more that their comic descriptions of life in the West of Ireland around the turn of the century, as seen through the eyes of the Anglo-Irish gentry, are pure masterpieces.  How about a little Major Yeats?

I look back to that first week of housekeeping at Shreelane as to a comedy excessively badly staged, and striped with lurid melodrama.  Towards its close I was positively home-sick for Mrs. Raverty’s [hotel], and I had not a single clean pair of boots.  I am not one of those who hold the convention that in Ireland the rain never ceases, day or night, but I must say that my first November at Shreelane was composed of weather of which my friend Flurry Knox remarked that you wouldn’t meet a Christian out of doors, unless it was a snipe or a dispensary doctor.  To this lamentable category  might be added a resident magistrate.  Daily, shrouded in mackintosh, I set forth for the Petty Sessions Courts of my wide district; daily, in the inevitable atmosphere of wet frieze and perjury, I listened to indictments of old women who plucked geese alive, of publicans whose hospitality to their friends broke forth uncontrollably on Sunday afternoons, of “parties” who, in the language of the police sergeant, were subtly defined as “not to say dhrunk, but in good fighting thrim.”

That, of course, is just an example of the narrator himself.   The nuggets from the various ranks of the Irish themselves, including Flurry Knox, Slipper, Mrs. Cagodan, Walkin’ Aisy and others, are pure gold, too.

And before you ask, yes, I have seen the tee vee dramatization and no, I did not like it (although I wanted to, since I’m a fan of Peter Bowles).  As I hope the above snippet demonstrates, the humor of these stories is not just in the actual events depicted therein, but also in the way they are retold, something that is almost always impossible to translate from the written word to the screen when dealing with first-person narration.  (I’ve long argued that this is why, or at least one of the main reasons why, the Jeeves & Wooster series leaves me so flat.)

Somerville and Ross originally wrote these stories in three batches, the latter two tacked on due to reader demand.  I’ve got a battered old paperback copy of the complete set that was released when Maastherpiece Thee-ya-ter ran the tee-vee series back in the early 80’s.  It seems to be out of print now.  You’ll have to do a fair bit of hunting among the newer editions of the stories (all of which seem to be partial only) in order to collect them all.  However, IMHO, it would be well worth the effort.

One other thing:  I was first introduced to Somerville & Ross by a college girlfriend.  (Yes, the same one who summoned me after a white-knuckle ride up I-95 in the pouring rain one Thanksgiving break because she was so upset by the fate of King Lear.)  Later, I came across a description of the same time and place from the other side, as it were, by the native Irish playwrite John Synge’s grittier works.  (In fact, I played a minor role in a stage production of Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, for which I was able to provide invaluable footnotes to the director regarding such obscure words and phrases as shebeen, potheen and “Sunday travellers”.  The short stories and the plays come at their subject from two widely variant angles and with considerably different purposes, and yet the affinity between them is quite interesting.  If I could hop in the Way-Back Machine and go back to write a senior English major thesis, this would be an interesting idea to work up.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy Fifth Day of Christmas!

One:  A snowy start to the day at Port Swiller Manor has now turned to a generally soggy meh.  I don’t know that I could prove it scientifically, but it always seems to me that bacon, eggs and coffee taste so much better on mornings such as these.  I know the gels think so, too.  Nearly pulled back a bloody stump when I tried to help myself to the hash browns.

Two:  It turns out that Mrs. R will be coming home today.  Indeed, she is already back in town and is out at lunch with an old college chum she hasn’t seen in years.  I am rapidly losing that sense of drifting uselessness that I get whenever she’s away.

Three:  Because we are still in the midst of the Christmas Feast, I went out this morning to renew the wreath that adorns the Port Swiller dining room table during the holidays.  (I find that I have to replace the fixin’s about every two weeks or so.  That means twice in Advent and once during Christmas itself.)  I have a simple brass cage with a round mirror in the bottom of it.  I also have a large fir tree and a holly hedge.  Culling trimmings from the latter and then inserting them into the former produces a most gratifying result, especially in years such as this one when the hollies are producing a lot of berries.   Mrs. R is regularly astonished by the results and invariably airs a long-standing joke regarding her suspicions about why I should be so good at this sort of thing.  (My reply, while humorous and pertinent, probably would get me busted by the P.C. police and is probably best not reproduced here.)

Four:  I have not commented  much here about the ins and outs of the big issues filling the nooz headlines these days:  “Gun control”, the Fisgul Ycliffe, the HHS mandate, Gloooooobal Waaaaaaarminggggg,  etc.   I don’t take any of the maneuverings and posturings seriously because I don’t believe that the debates have anything to do with good faith resolution of genuine problems.  Instead, this is all power politics of the most vindictive and irresponsible kind.   What will happen, I couldn’t exactly say, but it strikes me that the arrogance that seems to be building exponentially on one side has been shown very often in the past to be the precursor to spectacular, ruinous downfall.  Overreach is a real bitch.  Just sayin’.

BensonFive:  (Non-Catholic friends of the decanter may want to skip this one.)  I happen to be part of a small Facebook group devoted to rad-trad Catholicism and bacon.  The other day, the subject of Msgr.  Robert Hugh Benson came up.   Msgr. Benson was a son of the Archbishop of Canterbury and himself an Anglican cleric before swimming the Tiber.  Spurred by the mention of his name,  I nipped over to the devil’s website and, while poking around, came across Benson’s Confessions of a Convert.

I am always interested in these stories, especially from people who, like me, came out of teh Anglican Communion.  What especially struck me in this book was Msrg. Benson’s reflections on looking back from where he had come.  May I quote a bit?

I turned and looked again at the Church of England and there was an extraordinary change.  It was not that she had become unloveable.  I love her even now as one may love an unsatisfactory human friend.  She had a hundred virtues, a delicate speech, a romantic mind;  a pleasant aroma hung about her; she was infinitely pathetic and appealing; she had the advantage of dwelling in the shadowed twilight of her own vagueness, in glorious houses, even though not of her building; she had certain gracious ways, pretty modes of expression; her music and her language still seem to me extraordinarily beautiful;  and above all, she is the nursing mother of many of my best friends, and for over thirty years educated and nursed me, too, with indulgent kindness.  Indeed, I was not ungrateful for all this, but it had become entirely impossible for me ever to reverence  her again as the divine mistress of my soul.

It is true that she had fed me with the best food she had, and that Our Lord had accompanied those gifts with better gifts of His own; she had, indeed, pointed me to Him rather than to herself.  But all this did not make her my queen or even my mother; and, in fact, even in other matters she had failed me, through no fault of her own, but rather because of the misfortune of her own birth and nature.  When I had asked her questions that really concerned the very life I was leading under her protection, she had given me no answer.  She had told me only to lie still and love her, and that was not enough.  A soul cannot be eternally satisfied with kindness and a soothing murmur and the singing of hymns, and there is a liberty which is a more intolerable slavery than the heaviest of chains.  I did not want to go this way and that  at my own will:  I wanted to know the way in which God wished me to walk.  I did not want to be free to change my grasp on truth:  I needed rather a truth that itself should make me free.  I did not want broad ways of pleasantness, but the narrow Way that is Truth and Life.  And for all these things she was helpless.

Benson wrote these words almost exactly 100 years ago, and yet they are completely applicable today, and indeed quite nicely capture the same regrets, frustrations and realizations that I went through myself.   I have plenty of family and friends in TEC who would love for me to abandon this ridiculous Papist fancy and come back to the fold, but, as fond as I am of them and as appreciative of their good will,  in my nearly five years I have become so keenly aware of the difference between Holy Mother Church and church, that this would be utterly impossible.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy fourth day of Christmas!

Mrs. Robbo has had to go up north to deal with some family biznay again.  The gels are spending the afternoon with their little friends at an indoor rock-climbing place.  So in theory, I’ve had pretty much all day to do pretty much whatever I cared to do.

And yet, all I’ve actually managed to do has been to alternately doze off and stare out the window.

And not come up with anything worth posting.

Sorry about that…..

batman epiphany

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy third day of Christmas!

I thought I would pass along the above  just because it made me smile.  Share and enjoy!  (A glass of wine with Father M, who posted it on Facebook.)

As it happens, I had to run up to the store in the midst of yesterday’s storm – what was it the Weather Channel Behemoth “named” it? Eustace? Enid? something like that – and had the radio tuned to the local classickal station.  As I knew would be the case, the entire holiday play list had vanished.

On the one hand, I was irked by this perennial short-changing of the Christmas Feast.  On the other, I was relieved that the saturation – which had started the weekend after Thanksgiving – had finally come to an end.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy Boxing Day!  On the second day of Christmas, Ma Nature gave to me my first driveway shoveling of the season.  Wasn’t that thoughtful of her? She shouldn’t have!

The first day of Christmas proved quite pleasant round about Port Swiller Manor.  Cousin C came along to dinner and spent most of teh time telling anecdotes about Robbo Family history, of which her knowledge appears to be almost inexhaustible, and explaining the nomenclature of family trees to the gels with hobbit-like eagerness.   As for the rest, I wasn’t dragged out of bed in the pre-dawn blackness, so my post-Midnight Mass fatigue was kept to a minimum;  bickering among the gels was generally kept under control; and I managed to get all the china and silver cleaned up before collapsing into my post-feasting coma.  In other words, a good time was had by all.

Of course, what I’m sure friends of teh decanter are really asking at this point is, “Tom, how did it go?”

Well, I will tell you.

Let me preface things with this observation.  In all my researches and all the advice I got about roasting the beef on teh grill, there was one clearly dominant theme: temperature regulation.  “You’ve got to keep your temp steady,” said the collective kibitzers, “You’ve got to make sure you’ve got an even heat.  You want to check both the temperature of teh grill and the internal temperature of the roast.  You don’t do that, you’ve got problems, boy-chick.  Buh-leave me.”

Now it happens that the vast majority of my grilling experience is with steaks and burgers.  There’s no science involved .  Indeed, as “they” say, it’s so easy even a caveman could do it.  You bank up a big ol’ heap of coals on one side, you wait till they get white hot, you go for it.

Roasting, on the other hand, requires more skill.  And skill only comes with experience.  Which is why I feel it necessary to emphasize that heretofore (heretofore, mark you!), I really hadn’t had any.

This fact manifested itself from the outset.  After figuring out a precise schedule of When Things Needed To Be Started in order to have all of dinner ready at the same time,  I duly loaded up the charcoal baskets with briquets, placed them on the sides with the drip pan in the middle, lit them and waited patiently until they were white hot and ready to go.

At which time I discovered that I had used entirely too much charcoal and that I’d achieved a heat a good 175 degrees higher than what I wanted.  D’oh!

Cursing myself under my breath, I grabbed a bucket of water and started chucking burning coals into it with the tongs, a thing which under other circumstances would have been a lot of fun.  And of course, like a panicking rookie pilot fiddling with his throttle, I went too far the other direction, nearly stalling out completely (to continue the simile).  For the next half hour or so I rollercoastered back and forth, the needle swinging wildly between 250 and 475.

In the middle of all this, Cousin C showed up:  She stood on the deck for a few minutes watching me feverishly tonging coals back and forth and popping the lid on and off like a shell game sharper and then wandered back into the house, no doubt convinced that I am quite mad.  Meanwhile, the chill thought was slowly forming in the back of my mind: “Good Lord, I’m going to blow this completely, aren’t I.”

Finally, I got the temperature settled about where I wanted it and got the meat going.  But by that point I was so flustered that I daredn’t leave the grill for more than a minute or two.  Eventually, after scuttling in and out of the house half a dozen times, I gave up trying to play host, grabbed a bottle and a glass, explained the situation and went to camp out by the grill.  Fortunately, Cousin C and Mrs. R get on extremely well, so they were content to gossip between themselves in my absence.

About an hour into grill time, I was aware that I needed to add more charcoal.  Once again, I found myself in the position of a rookie pilot, alternately fire-walling the engine and almost stalling it.  The problem here, or so I thought, was that if I added more briquets and immediately put the lid back on, they would go out and need to be relit.  On the other hand, if I left the lid off long enough for the new briquets to get established, I would lose roasting time.  My solution to this predicament was a series of manuevers shifting the lid open just far enough to allow for good air flow while at the same time not causing the thermometer to drop too much.  (In this way, by the bye, I also wound up thoroughly smoking myself.  I can still taste it.)

Eventually, after a total of a couple hours and change and (surprisingly) more or less about when I had planned for it, I decided that I was about done.  Conscientiously, because everyone had said I had to, I got my meat thermometer and shoved it into the roast to read its internal temp.  It was close to what the experts recommend, but not quite there.  “Damn that,” I said to myself, “Let’s take a real dekko.”  Whereupon I sliced deep into the middle of the roast and gently pulled back the sides of the cut.

And it was perfect.  Any landing you can walk away from and all that, but I mean it was perfect.  A glorious red,  juuuuust shading into pink, right the way through.   (I am of the school of thought that says if a piece of beef isn’t still actively fighting back, you’ve probably over-cooked it.)

And once we set it down at table (accompanied by pop-overs, asparagus and gravy the preparation of which was easy-peasy in comparison), it tasted every bit as good as it looked.  Much smokier than what I’m used to in a roast, but delicious.  For those interested, I did not seer, and I didn’t find that this unduly effected the juiciness. (The rub by the bye, was simply a mix of salt, pepper, assorted herbs and olive oil.  I put it on about an hour before cooking.)  When I tell you that everybody cleaned their plates, I think that says it all.  (Fortunately, however, there is enough left over to keep me in sammiches for a couple days.)

So that was Robbo’s Great Grill Roast Adventure, that was.  On the whole, although I probably would have preferred a trial run without the pressure of cooking for company,  I was well-pleased with things.  I still don’t feel that I have the whole heat-regulation biznay completely figured out, but at least I feel game for another go.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers and a continued Merry Christmas!

It’s the mid-day lull at the moment, with the gels in their post-excitement comas and still an hour or two until the dins cycle gets seriously started – as I look up, I behold my nice roast quietly soaking in its herbal rub and smelling divine.  Even if I foozle the roasting part, I consider this to be a win.

Would that I’d thought to get in some vodka, I’d probably be deep into another bloody mary by now.   Oh, well…..


And 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.)

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

4 And 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:)

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

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

7 And 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Luke 2: 1-14

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and a very merry Christmas to you all!

Have I ever mentioned before the fact that this passage affects me like no other in the Gospels?  There are those that comfort me.  There are those that terrify me.  There are those that puzzle me.  There are those that cause me anguish and sorrow.  This is the one that invariably gives me an overpowering frisson and reduces me to tears of, well, Joy.

Indeed, I have a very, very special mental image of the appearance of the heavenly host, as described by Luke.  It’s not much like Rembrandt’s rendering above, but that said, I couldn’t possibly describe it in words.  It’s just that potent.

At any rate,  I take this opportunity to wish each and every friend of the decanter, whether you stop in for only the odd sip or are a regular fellow swiller, my very best wishes for this season.   It’s no exaggeration to say that we live in terrible times and that the barbarism which always lurks just below the surface is bursting forth with ever-increasing frequency and viggah.   But rayther than rail against the onslaught of darkness, I am convinced that this is just that much more impetus to grasp at that Joy which is the good news of Christ’s birth which we celebrate.   And it is my resolution to try that much harder to spread that Joy, both here and in my daily dealings in the “real” world.

Not that there won’t be raillery here, of course; It’s too much fun.  And besides, Satan can’t stand to be laughed at.  It’s just that I have spent years internalizing the Good News, whereas I recognize increasingly that I should really be concentrating more on spreading it about.

And with that, I pray you charge your glasses.  Bumpers all round, ladies and gentlemen, and no heel taps!  Here’s to glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men, with three times three indeed!


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December 2012