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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I see from my archives that today [UPDATED: Yesterday} marks the twelfth anniversary of Ol’ Robbo’s initial invitation to gather round the decanter.  Ever since I started (back in the Llama Daze), I’ve mouthed the small blogger line about doing it “just because I enjoy writing”, and ever since I started I’ve known that was mostly nonsense: Yes, I do enjoy writing, of course.  However, each and every comment I get, much less each and every non-spammer view, is a delight to me and I’d be a complete liar if I claimed otherwise.  So thankee to all of you who drop by from time to time.  Bumpers all round, ladies and gentlemen, and here’s three times three and no heel-taps!

Huzzay! Huzzay! Huzzay!

In the meanwhile, some of you this past week may have been asking, “Donde esta Robbo?

Whelp, the fact is that I have been away on summah hols.  Alas, not in my much-beloved Mid-Coast Maine this year, but perhaps it’s just as well since some poor woman swimming right near my family’s old stomping ground there got killed this week by a shark. No, instead Ol’ Robbo found himself up in a 9th floor ocean-front hotel room on the Virginia Beach boardwalk.

I pretty much stayed there most of the time, avoiding the blazing sun, but enjoyed myself nonetheless.  Ol’ Robbo’s idea of a good vacation is a stack of reading material**, a decent view, a bottomless cup of kawfee in teh morning, and then a long, slow, adult beverage after the sun clears the yardarm.  While others may choose to frolic on the sand or in the pool, or to wander about the boardwalk, or go shopping, I am quite content to put my feet up out on the balcony and let the world roll by.  And it did.  Granted, it wasn’t my beloved Casco Bay, but there was plenty to look at: the modest crowds below, the boat and ship traffic out on the water, the seemingly continual stream of fighter jets on final approach to Oceana Naval Air Station literally coming in right over the hotel.  And we had spectacular thunderstorms roll overhead and out to sea most afternoons.

Not that Ol’ Robbo was a complete stick in the mud.  We were within visiting distance of the former Llama Military Correspondent and family (which is why we went where we went – Mrs. R and Mrs. LMC, who were college classmates, wanted to celebrate turning the big 5-0 this year together), so we met Mr. and Mrs. LMC for dins each evening while teh kidz, who are all good friends, spent the days cavorting (and apparently joy-riding across half the Tidewater from what I hear).  And in fact I did stick my toes in the sand once when we went for an after-dinner stroll along the beach.

So, there.

I should note, by the bye, another aspect of things, namely how nice it was to Get Away From It All in these turbulent times.  A constant diet of nooz headlines and social media suggests that Western Civilization is on the point of final collapse and if the plague doesn’t get us all, the Commies will.  I’m not necessarily saying it isn’t so, but it was refreshing to ignore all that for a few days.  (In fact, I took my laptop with me but never got around to opening it.)  Aside from the mask nonsense and a few reduced services, things seemed perfectly normal and folks mixed with ease and friendliness.  Indeed, the only sign of the Current Unpleasantness I saw the entire trip was a panhandler standing at the intersection of Southpoint Parkway and Route 1 in Fredericksburg (which is the most insane intersection in all of Spotsylvania County at which to stop for food or kawfee, but that’s a rant for another time).  He had a cardboard sign that read “F— Trump!”  Whatever you think of the sentiment, my reaction was to remember Michael Jordan’s criticism of injecting politicks into the NBA to the effect of why would you want to alienate half your fan base (and revenue stream)?  But I suppose if this fellah’d had the capacity to reason that out, he wouldn’t have been panhandling.

All in all, a good time.

*** For those of you curious, I chose H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain.  You can’t do better for mindless adventure beach-reading than that.  (And as an aside re Mr. Quatermain’s adventures, last week Ol’ Robbo obtained the 1985 Richard Chamberlain movie version of King Solomon’s Mines.  I have found the old 1950 Stewart Grainger version  dull (Deborah Kerr, even in ripped bodice, does nothing for me) and incomplete (how the hell can you delete Gagool the Witch from the story?), and hoped this one might be a better take on the novel.  I didn’t even make it through the opening credits before I realized it was nothing more than an Indiana Jones rip-off, and turned it off in disgust. Feh!)





Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has been doing a good bit of historickal reading lately, with an emphasis on the American frontier in its various stages.  Some short reviews:

The Pioneers:  The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought The American Ideal West by David McCullough.  The story of the settlement of the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc.) in the late 18th Century.  Long-memoried friends of the decanter will recall that Ol’ Robbo wrote about this book some months ago after a heavily-annotated copy was presented to him by his genealogy-obsessed cousin, our family having been amongst the first ‘Muricans to populate Ohio back in the day.

It’s an okay book, I suppose. The explanation of why the settlement of Ohio and the other eventual states was orderly and slavery-free as opposed to the catch-as-catch-can movement into western Virginia and Kentucky was illuminating.  (Long story short, the Northwest Territory land-grant was negotiated and implemented by New England Puritans.)  Later, Aaron Burr’s movement around the area trying to stir up possible secession, about which I either had never heard or completely forgot, was surprising.  And the perils, both mundane and signal, of taming the frontier are amply illustrated. (St. Clair’s Defeat, anybody?)

In the end, though, the book seemed…..rather flat. And I’m not sure I can explain why.  Perhaps it just got too bogged down in some of the day-to-day of the individual pioneers.  (Then Rufus Putnam went to Pittsburgh.  Then Ephraim Cutler left Marietta to visit Athens.  Then….etc.) Perhaps it was the air of gosh-darn righteousness (drink bad, taxpayer-funded public education good) probably inevitable given the people involved.  Whatever it was, I found myself drumming my fingers from time to time.

All in all, though, I’m glad I read it.  (And I’m prepared to be cross-examined by my cousin next time we meet.  I discovered from her notes, among other things, that I have an ancestor who was a drummer in the War of 1812 who seems to have died of battle wounds.)

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma by Camilla Townsend.  This was one of Eldest Gel’s college texts to which I glommed on when she came home.  I found myself both surprised and pleased by it because despite some occasional slides into strawman-creation and pop-psychology, the author is generally quite clear-headed in her treatment of the realpolitick interaction between Powhatan and the incoming English.  His “dilemma” referred to in the title is this:  The Virginia tribes were semi-nomadic, economically near subsistence level, and technologically primitive.  The Brits had an eleven-thousand year sedentary agrarian history stretching back to the Fertile Crescent and all the population expansion, cultural organization, and technological advancement that went with it.  How was he, Powhatan, going to master their inevitable invasion.  (Short answer:  He wasn’t.  Hence the dilemma.)  As for Pocahontas herself, the author is quite honest about the fact that there’s only so much we can piece together about her based on contemporary English accounts and what we know more generally about her people, and for the most part refrains from imposing any kind of “image” on her.  (I’d forgotten, by the bye, that she and John Rolphe had a son who not only survived but fathered a blood line which is still (I think) in existence.)

Well worth the read.

Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis.  I can’t remember when I picked up this book or even if I’ve read it before.  Something of a  disappointment.  Unlike Townsend, who presents early 17th Century Virginny relatively neutrally, the author here uses his subject to bash what he clearly believes to be an awful corner of ‘Murican history (which, to be fair, was certainly a brutal one) from his contemporary perch.  He rails about “gun culture”.  He takes an apparently uninformed swipe at the founding of the NRA.  He looks down his nose at “stand your ground” doctrine.  He sneers at disgruntled ex-Confederates.  And he lays about him over evil, greedy, racist, capitalist pigs.  Yada, yada, yada.

He also spends a lot of time on the mythology of William Bonney, which I find to be a fascinating subject out of the Old West akin to that which surrounds Wyatt Earp.  When it comes down to it, again we know very little about the Kid’s background and life, including where and when he was born and even who his father was, and practically nothing about what went on inside his head.  Indeed, he was Nobody until the last year or so of his life when he suddenly rocketed to fame as a result of the Lincoln County War.  Since then, the man has been portrayed variously as an innocent saint, a Robin Hood, a lunatic, and a blood-thirsty savage in popular culture.  You have your choice as to how you want to see him.  Unfortunately, after the author denounces others for molding Billy as they see fit, he seems to fall into that trap himself, painting the Kid as a kind, caring, culturally-sympathetic (he spoke Spanish!) young man who simply got caught in the toils of the above-referenced eeeeevil world.  (True, he relies a good bit on interviews given in later life by sympathetic witnesses, but how are these people any less biased than anyone else?  They’re simply part of the same game.  Townsend recognized and acknowledged that about her sources on Pocahontas.  Wallis doesn’t seem to.)  Again, I found myself drumming my fingers.

I think this one is a one-and-done for me.

So there you have it.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Because why not?

♦  Port Swiller Manor has a new mouse!  I saw it scurrying about yesterday.  We have only the one decanter cat now instead of the three we had during the last outbreak, but she’s on the case.

♦  Speaking of pets, decanter dog seems to get more nervous and high-strung as she gets older.  We’ve had three straight afternoons of storms this week and she is quite noticeably frightened of the thunder. I don’t recall this being the case before.  Also, as Mrs. R pointed out, she’s got so used to having us around all the time now, what’s going to happen if and when we suddenly start commuting again?

♦  Speaking of said storms, I have never seen the sky get quite so dark quite so fast as it did yesterday afternoon.  It was pretty amazing.

♦  Speaking of turmoil, what with the chaos the WuFlu is inflicting on the educational system, Mrs. R is discovering an enormous demand for tutoring this fall.  She’ll still have her gig at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method, but now she’s planning to make bank on the side.  I do not complain.

♦  And speaking of educational turmoil, with only a couple weeks to go it’s still a cat-and-mouse game with Youngest’s college start.  We’ve about reconciled ourselves to the idea of her taking mostly on-line courses if she can still stay on campus.  What we fear is that the kidz will get chucked out after only a couple weeks but we’ll still get socked for the full ride.  Same deal with Middle Gel.  I truly believe both their schools wish to open as fully as possible, but Governor DeWine is a swish and Kommissar Northam is a bastard, so I am not a-tall optimistic.

♦  On a completely pragmatic and perhaps appallingly shallow note, one of the reasons I want both the younger gels to go back to school is that I desperately need to clean out the garage and simply don’t have room on my driveway to move things out unless they go away.

Aaand on that note, endeavor to persevere!



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

By now I imagine most friends of the decanter have heard that Dr. Fauci his own self is going to throw out the first pitch at the Nationals’ home opener tomorrow.  (It’s good to be one of the Very Important People.)

You’ve probably also seen that MLB has decided to get mixed up in the current politicks.

As I believe I mentioned here when the news was announced originally, Ol’ Robbo was already of the opinion that this season simply doesn’t count.  It’s too short and the rules of play have been messed about too much.  Nonetheless, I thought I might at least watch a game or two now and again.  But now?  I think I’ll go find something else with which to amuse myself.

By the bye, I linked that second article primarily because the photo takes in a view of the stands.  The stands are fully of cardboard cut-outs of “fans”.  The cardboard cut-outs of the “fans” are “socially-distanced”.

Think about that for a second.

Socially-distanced cardboard fans.

What in God’s name have we come to?

Well, what else is there to say except, “See. You. Later.”


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo found himself grumbling this morning about the heat and humidity that has enveloped the area around Port Swiller Manor this week until he reminded himself that it is almost late July, after all, and what can one expect?

Then he found himself asking, “Self, how the heck did it get to be late July already?”

What a crazy, crazy year.

Anyhoo, it hasn’t rained in over a week and while the lawn could use a touch-up it doesn’t actually need it, so I said the hell with it.

Instead, I went and weeded Mrs. R’s pachysandra patch for her.  And even in the shade, I was dripping and dizzy by the time I was done.

I say “Mrs. R’s pachysandra” because she has really taken it over, along with all the other Port Swiller Manor street frontage, as her own personal project.  This has been mutually beneficial.  On the one hand, it’s one less thing I have to deal with.  On the other, in getting her knees brown, Mrs. R has learned quite a bit about gardening, particularly about the patience and perseverance necessary just to keep up with things.  Not only does she get teh satisfaction of personal achievement, she also has a much better appreciation of just how much I can and can’t do elsewhere.

Win, win.

We put the pachy patch in about two and a half years ago along the front between the sidewalk and the street, primarily because nothing else would grow in the deep shade of the maples that overshadow the area.  From a river-rock drainage bed just under the trees, the patch runs up a short, steep embankment to the road.  It doesn’t quite make it all the way up to the top, because winter street-salting seems to keep it in check, but is filling in nicely now with new growth all over the place, largely due to Mrs. R’s above-mentioned maintenance.

The weeds, however, do climb all the way up.  This is where Robbo steps in.  Spraying is impractical for the moment, a trimmer merely a temporary fix, and every now and again they simply need to be cleared out by hand.  But the road is pretty busy, and working right next to it somewhat akin to that scene in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” where  Eli Wallach has to de-manacle his wrist from the dead guard by putting the chain across the railroad track and letting a train run over it.  (I read somewhere just recently, by the bye, that Sergio Leone absolutely insisted that Wallach do that stunt in person, and that Wallach never forgave him for it.)

You may call me whatever post-modernist opprobrium you wish, but while Ol’ Robbo has no trouble at all with Mrs. R taking care of weeding the pachy patch itself, he does not consider the immediately roadside work to be a suitable risk for his bride and the mother of his children.

So there.

One other thing I can’t resist mentioning about this patch is the system I rigged up to water it in times (like this) of aridity.  I got the bright idea of simply running a soaker-hose along the slope uphill of the patch and letting gravity do its thing.  (After all, gravity’s not just a good idea, it’s the law.)  Couple hours and the whole area is nicely sodden.  I’ve always been rayther proud of my cleverness in thinking of this.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter may be curious as to the fate of Middle Gel’s ill-starred Volkswagen Tiguan, about which Ol’ Robbo so recently ranted here (again).

Well, I’ll tell you.

As I reported in my prior post, the thing’s latest attack of the vapours consisted of a sudden fit of stalling out on the gel at traffic lights.  She duly took it in to the local shop.  A couple days later she called to ask what progress had been made to isolate the problem and fix it.  The shop told her they were stymied:  The on-board computer had recorded no diagnostic codes, so they were going to have to take the thing apart bit-by-bit to figure out the problem.  Oh, and by the bye, while they were mucking about in its insides they had detected another $800 part that was about to go and needed replacing……

Rage duly ensued.  The Gel gave the shop steward a piece of her mind.  (I overheard her.)  To be fair, even he confessed he’d never seen anything quite like her car’s history and recommended that she chuck it.  And despite what I previously wrote here, I reluctantly had to agree.  However, one thing was plain in Ol’ Robbo’s tiny braims:  Never again would I have to do with Volkswagen.  Therefore, the Gel and I started pricing out alternate late-model, high-mileage SUV’s. (Or rather, she started pricing them out and I kept saying, “Hooom, hommm, we’ll see.”)  She even went to far as to make an appointment to go see one – a Ford Escape, I believe – at a CarMax somewhere in Murrland today.

Then Mrs. R stepped in. (She’d been away when all this came down.  More on that later.)

Two things about Mrs. R:  Her father owned a very successful car dealership back in the day, so she knows the biznay.  Also, she loves to haggle.  So she did the research, ran some numbers, surveyed some contacts, and came to the conclusion that in fact it made the most sense to go straight back to the VW people and cut a deal.

The result?  We’re leasing a brand-new 2020 Tiguan.**  Three years, fully covered, and the Gel can do with it what she wishes at the end.

From what I gather, Mrs. R, filled with righteous wrath, beat the VW people up one side of the street in getting maximum trade-in dollars for our prior lemon, then beat them back down the other side of the street on the new lease terms.  (Even her father was impressed.)  And the nicest thing was that it was all over and done before Ol’ Robbo even knew it was happening.  (She and Middle Gel went over yesterday while I was working.  I loathe car buying more than any other kind of biznay transaction and was dreading being dragged out to the lot today.)

That’s my Gels!

As for the new ride, despite my anti-Deutsch resolve here we are.  We shall see.  At this point Ol’ Robbo now is willing to allow that perhaps the last one was just a fluke.  This one causes us trouble, I’m going to visit the dealership toting a large garden gnome…..****


** Completely remodeled from the Gel’s prior ’14 (I think) 2012 (just saw the title) version.  I wouldn’t even have known what it was had I not been told.  And want to know how old I feel?  There’s no CD player in the thing.  When I mentioned this, Middle Gel said, “Who plays CD’s anymore?” My lawn.  Git!!

**** Spot the reference.





Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, Youngest Gel got her o-fficial freshman dorm room assignment and move-in date this morning, Mrs. R promptly booked a nearby hotel for a couple nights, and suddenly the Big Trip is taking on far sharper outline.  (Middle Gel is moving into her dorm the same day, but as a battle-hardened junior, she’ll be handling her move on her own.)

It’s a nine hour drive from Port Swiller Manor and Ol’ Robbo is still thinking of splitting the trip out over two days because he’s not sure Mrs. R and Youngest between them, even taking turns, can make it all in one fell swoop.  (Youngest did a three hour practice run a couple weeks ago and was pretty wiped by it.)

Since we’ll be taking two cars, it occurs to me that an investment in a couple CB radios might not be a bad idea at all, especially as my iThingy has terrible phone reception and there’s all the biznay of continuingly having to reenter passwords.

The Mothe and I did that when we convoyed from the parental household in far southern South Carolina to move me into law school in Virginny back in the day, and it worked out very well, indeed.  We amused ourselves by using a lot of WWII RAF pilot slang:  “Hullo Popcorn Leader, this is Mango.  Bandits at two o’clock, make angels twelve,” and the like.

Somehow I don’t seeing my wimmin-folk doing the same thing, but I still like the idea of having the channel.

Hand-Slap Against The Forehead UPDATE:  I knew there was another point to this fairly pointless post I wanted to make:  I believe the very first 45 record Young Robbo ever bought with his very own monies was C.W. McCall’s “Convoy”.  (The flip side was “Long Lonesome Road”.)


Normally, I’d invite anyone who doesn’t know what a 45 record is to get off my lawn, but I understand they’re a thing with the kidz these days, so never mind.




Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has no love for Jacobins, either historickal or present-day.

Vive Le Roi!

That is all.

UPDATE:  In the spirit of the day, I just tossed “The Scarlet Pimpernel” into my queue again.  Sink me!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo won’t bore you with his usual Saturday post about mowing the lawn (which I need to get to in a while after the dew dries up a bit).

Instead, I’ll tell you that I got around to watching “1917” last evening.  Perhaps Ol’ Robbo is getting overly cranky and cynical, but my reaction was much the same as the one I had to “Dunkirk“.  The film was okay, I suppose, but I simply don’t understand all the ballyhoo and hype surrounding it.

The plot, when you get down to it, is kind of small.  (Tommy crosses a couple miles of No-Man’s Land to bring the message to call off a doomed attack.)  Without getting too much into spoiler territory, I thought the encounter with the German pilot a bit dubious.  I also though the sequence where Tommy was getting chased about the German-occupied town in the dark somewhat weak.  And frankly, the climax wasn’t really very….climactic.

But what really bugged me was the camera biznay of having a single, continuous shot of the hero as he makes his way hither and yon  (which was a source of much of the hype).  Technically impressive, yes, but in the end it was simply a stunt and a distraction and, in my humble opinion, wound up taking away from the quality of the film rather than enhancing it.  (This is what I disliked about “Dunkirk”, too.  There, I found the chopping around to three wildly different but converging timelines most annoying.)

So overall, while I’m glad I saw the film once, I don’t think I’d go much out of my way to see it again.

By the way, I was left with a couple historickal questions, too.  Having read Robert Graves’ Goodbye To All That numerous times as well as other sources, I know a thing or two about British trenches in WWI, and so far as I could tell the film was pretty accurate at recreating them.  But when the Tommies get into the abandoned Jerry trenches, they find a world of poured concrete, underground passages, and even formal barracks, an altogether superior infrastructure.  Is this right?  I ask not out of skepticism but out of ignorance.  And what would be good source material about this?  A second question is about the abandoned tank the Tommies pass in No-Man’s Land.  I’m somewhat out of my depth here, but that looked like a British Mark IV to me.  A little research suggests April, 1917 is a leetle early to expect to see one.  No? Yes? Maybe?

So there you have it.

Whelp, yard ain’t going to mow itself…..

UPDATE:  Was chatting with Eldest Gel.  She hasn’t seen the film but she keeps up with Hollywood matters and tells me that it won a boat-load of awards, including a near-miss for Best Picture at the Oscars.  Ol’ Robbo is routinely instructed by his Betters these days to have unswerving faith in Institutional Expertise and to disbelieve his own lying eyes, but I yams what I yams.

As far as the technical stuff goes, by the bye, I’m not trying to be one of “those” people, I was just curious.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter will know that Ol’ Robbo has periodic cause to rant and rave about Middle Gel’s Volkswagen Tiguan, a car that has given us more grief (and expense) than the other dozen or so vehicles I’ve owned in my life combined.

Well, the furshlugginer thing is at it again.  This time, it’s suddenly stalling out on the gel at traffic lights.  So heigh ho for the dealership yesterday afternoon.  They practically know her on a first-name basis now.

No knowing what the problem is yet.  I did a little research and find a) that this is a not-uncommon issue with Tiguans, but b) that it could be the result of any number of causes.  (If you follow the linkie above, you’ll see that the blasted thing was in the shop just a month ago.  It got fully checked out then.  I’m hoping, hoping, that this may just be a sensor gone bad.)


Trading this headache in for something more reliable like a Honda really isn’t in the cards at the moment.  All I can do is grumble about it here, stiffen my checkbook’s sinews, and swear to myself never, ever to buy another Volkswagen.

Double Grrrrr……

UPDATE:  Oh, I meant to mention that when I shadowed the Gel over to the dealership in order to give her a ride home, I forgot to take a mask with me.  I’m surprised the Brute Squad didn’t swoop in and nab me.


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July 2020