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Ol’ Robbo mentioned that he has gone back to taking the Metro to work, and therefore that he has about half an hour of time on his hands each way to read.

This past week or so I have been revisiting an old, old favorite of mine, The Irish R.M. by E.Œ. Somerville and Martin Ross.  I found that each story was just about of sufficient length to cover one day’s round trip.  (How’s that for commuter nerdism?)

I’ve been reading these stories for well over thirty years, in fact ever since they were republished in connection with the Mawsterpiece Thee-aye-ter dramatization that came out in ’83.  (I link to that republication, which now seems to be out of print, because so far as I know it’s the only complete set of the stories, which were originally published in three volumes.)  And in all that time, they’ve never, ever got old or stale.  (Friends of the decanter are probably already familiar with the general plot, but to steal the recap from the back cover, “Set in 1895, The Irish R.M. comically depicts the curious affection and mutual misunderstandings that develop between a transported Englishman and his Irish neighbors.”)

I’ve got in the habit in recent years of pulling up Google Maps in association with whatever book I happen to be reading and taking a dekko at places or areas described therein.  This is most handy with histories and the like, but is also perfectly applicable to fiction, and can even present something of a challenge when an author is using fictionalized places.  TIRM is a perfect example.  The stories are set in County Cork in the far-southwest of Ireland.  The town closest to the residence of Major Sinclair Yeats, the hero of the stories, is called Skebawn.  Based on descriptions given here and there of distances, geographies, and history, plus the name similarity, I’m reasonably certain that Skebawn is based on the real town of Skibbereen.  I also believe this to be the case because Somerville and Ross resided in the village of Castletownshend, about five miles away from Skibbereen, so they would have known it well.  (Interestingly, the house they occupied was called Drishane.  Major Yeats’ house in the stories is called Shreelane.  I doubt this is a coincidence.  Shreelane, by the bye, is implied in one story to be five miles inland from the sea.  As it is also within bicycling distance of Skebawn, the geographical range for its probable, if mythical, location can be narrowed considerably.)

I also have my suspicions that with a little more work I can probably track down and identify some of the original sources for rivers, mountains, castles, mines, and other towns mentioned in the stories, but that’s a level of forensic scholarship probably best reserved for retirement, and not for the odd half an hour here or there that I currently enjoy.  UPDATE: I should make clear that I’m not necessarily looking for one-to-one correspondences, like E.F. Benson’s fictional town of “Tilling” closely based on Rye in Sussex in his “Mapp & Lucia” stories.  My working premise is that there are plenty of embroideries, cross-placements, and the like.  But I do firmly believe that they have discoverable roots underneath them.

Anyhoo, there it is.  The stories are terrific even on the umpteenth read, and the backstory becomes increasingly interesting to me.  (As Basil Fawlty said, “Just trying to enjoy myself.”)

Oh, and just because I know it will come up, no, I didn’t much care for the teevee series, even if I did think Peter Boyle was perfectly cast as Major Yeats.  First-person narrative (which is what these stories are) never, ever translates satisfactorily to the screen, simply because their merit lies not just in what’s being told but how it’s being told.  Plus, the screenwriters took some liberties inventing non-canonical plots, which I never care for.  I did rather like the title musick, however, because it captures something of the Anglo-Irish cross-culture which is at the base of the book’s humor:






Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No landscaping work for Ol’ Robbo this week.  I contrived to catch the flu the other day and am still feeling its effects, so am taking it easy today.  (It was a funny thing.  I cannot recall before such a definitive onslaught.  I was literally standing on the Metro Tuesday morning when all of a sudden I felt myself getting sick.  An hour later, I was coughing and sneezing to beat the band and my eyes were practically swollen shut.)

With fall O-ficially starting Monday, I suppose it’s time to plant chrysanthemums in the half-barrels in front of Port Swiller Manor.  Why, exactly, is there such an association between mums and fall?  In fact, I don’t even like the things very much. They don’t smell very nice and I’m no fan of that kind of heavy, multi-petalled flower.

But it’s fall, so it’s mums.  That’s just the way things are, I suppose.

UPDATE:  Okay, that was a stupid question, I admit, but as I say, I’m still getting over being sick and I also posed it before getting outside my second cup of covfefe, so I hope you’ll just let it pass without throwing derisive walnuts at me.  I maintain my point about not being fond of mums, however.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Is it, or is it not, ironic that the Babylon Bee hits far closer to the Truth with its satire than does the MSM (yeah, I’m looking at you, Gray Lady and WaPo) with its alleged “reporting”.

I was going to save comment on the story about seminary students confessing their “climate sins” to houseplants until Sunday, but this from the Bee had me spraying coffee all over my monitor this morning.


UPDATE:  The original Union Seminary confession-to-houseplants story.  Who was it said something to the effect that every nature-worship cult eventually winds up with human sacrifice?  These people can go first.

Also, I didn’t know about it till this morning, but evidently there’s supposed to be some global kid school walkout today to protest, you guessed it, Glowball Enwarmening.  Because concerns.  A pro tip for these mush-minded young innocents:  History teaches that Childrens’ Crusades don’t turn out very well for the kids.

UPDATE DEUX:  And on this theme, Environment apocalypse predictions have failed for half a century.  I’m actually old enough to remember all of these.  I’m also old enough to remember that the proposed solution to diverting such apocalypses always somehow involves more tax, more gub’mint control, and less personal freedom (at least for us Little People).  As I’ve said many times, this whole biznay has nothing to do with science and everything to do with power.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Youngest Gel was telling me this evening about a classmate of hers in government who was having a hissy-fit today because some Congress-Critter referred to our “God-given rights”.

“They can’t say that!” the kid purportedly sputtered.  “That violates separation of Church and State! REEEEEEE!!!!

The Gel basically told her not to be a fool, but I gathered she did so more instinctually than rationally.

So I explained a little bit about the Founders’ understanding of individual rights being inherent to our nature as human beings, based on the Divine spark within us, and their further understanding that government is supposed to serve us, not the other way round.   I explained that the whole purpose of the Constitution is to set up a system of government that is functional in that purpose without undermining those rights.  I explained that once one gives up the idea that rights are both individual and inherent and concedes to a system wherein they are collective and doled out or taken away by the State, one has basically surrendered to tyranny, however dolled up in “The Public Good” rhetoric it might be.

Oh, and I also explained what the Establishment Clause actually means, that there is no “Separation” Clause, and why her friend is, in fact, a fool.

She got all this, and was also able to tie it in to her studies (she showed a real knowledge of the Amendment process, for example, and had intelligent things to say about Federalism), but I could see that I’m going to need to do some more ‘splainin’.  Being able to retail the history and mechanics of the system is all well and good.  But without understanding the underlying “why” of it, even a bright kid like the Gel is always in danger of skidding off into the pit.

On the other hand, being able to articulate a rational, historickally-informed position on these matters these days may be of little practical use to the Gel, since from what I can see the debate on this as well as on just about every other issue seems to be almost exclusively centered on “muh feels”.

Further, according to the New York Times and its “1619 And All That” Project, all of my points are completely illegitimate, the American system is morally null and void, and I am committing wrong think here.  So there is that.


** Spot the quote.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Rumors have started circulating that Gary Larson may be about to bring “The Far Side” cartoons out of retirement.

Ol’ Robbo was a great fan of TFS back in the day, but I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about this.  Way back when, Larson was an absurdist, plain and simple.  But that was before the culture turned into the wretched, polarized, hyper-politicized, Jacobin hate-fest that it is these days.  Can Larson return with a wit enjoyable to a vast and variegated audience?  (So far as Ol’ Robbo recalls, he rarely, if ever, got mixed up in politicks.)  Would he even want to?  Or will he swallow the virtue-signaling Kool-Aid?  (And if you think the latter can’t happen, I’ve got two words for you:  Berke. Breathed.)

We shall see, I guess.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was saddened to see the news of the death of “Cars” frontman Ric Ocasek  yesterday.

Not that I was a yuge fan of The Cars, but even Ol’ Robbo had their first album, as did practically every other teenager in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and it’s always a bit of a jolt to see a piece of one’s misspent yoot pass through the veil.

I also post about this because one of the strangest things I ever beheld – it might have been when I was dragged to Disney World in 2005 – was a video of Ocasek singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay” accompanied by cartoon birds.   I remember thinking at the time that the guy must really have needed the money.

Nonetheless, rest in peace.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo spent about half an hour walking around in circles at the grocery store on the way home from Mass today looking for the “Uncrustables” Youngest Gel requested for her school lunches this week.  I’m here to tell you that, as much as I like my store as a rule, they have no notion of where to put these things.  One might expect them to be in the frozen breakfast food section.  Or perhaps with the frozen desserts.  Or maybe even in the freezer directly across the aisle from the peanut butter and associated jellies.

But in between the frozen burritos and mini-pizzas?  Where the heck is the logic or reason to that?  Even after I finally broke down and asked somebody which aisle they were in (much to my personal pain), I still didn’t notice them until I went back to the staffer and he personally walked me over and pointed them out.


Oh, and the punchline?  I noticed an unopened box of the things in the freezer when I got home and put the grocs away.  D’OH!

(Ol’ Robbo is being crankypants about this because the delay means it was too late for me to have a snack when I got home as I usually do (I don’t eat beforehand), and now I have to tough it out until dinner.  And get in a work-out.)


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Youngest Gel is taking the ACT this morning.  Dawdling over her breakfast (and her phone), she suddenly realized that the thing started at 8:00 AM, not 8:10 AM, and dashed out the door precipitously.  It’s now an hour later.  As she hasn’t yet returned in disgrace, I can only assume she made it to the test on time.

Ol’ Robbo has a neurosis about punctuality that amounts to the nearly fanatical.  My rule has always been that if you’re early, you’re on time.  If you’re on time, you’re late.  If you’re late, just go home.

So this sort of last-second scrambling drives me batty.  (If I’d been taking the test, ten minutes one way or another wouldn’t have mattered.  I’d probably have been sitting in the parking lot an hour early, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for somebody to unlock the building.  But that’s me, Mr. Vegas.)


UPDATE:  All was well.  She admitted to me afterward that on the way over she was worried she might have blown it.  Fortunately, the administrators were running late organizing themselves, so no problem.   Still…..grrrrr…..



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Eldest Gel is home for the weekend after the conclusion of the opening three-week “mini-mester” at school.  She and Mrs. R are out having coffee at the moment.

Later, Mrs. R will be throwing herself in her car and heading down to Middle Gel’s school, where they’re having Parents Weekend.  Specifically, she’s going because the Gel’s sorority is having some kind of “parent pinning ceremony”.  She’s taking with her goody-bags for MG’s sorority big sister, her roommate, and a couple others.  Earlier this week, she also had cupcakes delivered to an initiation ceremony for the service club Eldest is in at her school.

Frankly, Ol’ Robbo thinks “parent-pinning” is silly.  I also think trying to relive college vicariously through one’s kids is a sure sign of the middle-aged crazies.

When I pointed these things out to Mrs. R, she hit me.

Can’t imagine why……..

UPDATE:  Eldest just sent me this announcement from her school –

God’s Holy Trousers.

Maybe this is just a setup:  List all these lefty talking points to draw attention, and then knock them out of the park one by one during the actual talk.  I certainly hope so.  Because otherwise, just damn.  (The Gel knows enough about Constitutional history to be able to knock them out herself, but there are an awful lot of jellyheads out there who don’t.)

UPDATE DEUX:  Eldest looked this fellah up and tells me he looks pretty conservative.  So it seems more likely that the “myths, misunderstandings, and mistakes” in the title refer to the idiot stuff in the body of the announcement, and that his talk will be an explanation of why.

Sorry to be so paranoid, but given what passes for “higher education” these days, it’s at least understandable.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

(No, Ol’ Robbo is not watching this evening’s edition of the Democratic Clown Car debate:  They all seem to want me dead, or at least silenced, defenseless, and impoverished, so I fail to see why I should vote for any of them.)

Ol’ Robbo just got finished re-reading a delightful set of stories, Dr. Dogbody’s Leg by James Norman Hall.

Dr. Dogbody is a one-legged, semi-retired Royal Navy surgeon of the Napoleonic Era.  In each of the ten stories, he holds forth among a group of regulars at the Cheerful Tortoise, a Portsmouth inn,  telling each time a completely different story of how he lost his leg.  The stories put him at various battles with the French, the Americans, and the Dutch, while one involves the slave trade, another an Australia-bound convict ship, and a third an encounter with Catherine the Great.  There’s no effort to try and reconcile any of them with each other.  Instead, it seems as if each one is true as the Doctor is telling it.

The stories are warm, intelligent, and quite historically accurate.  Hall’s style is not as rich as Patrick O’Brian’s (the Aubrey/Maturin novels), but he’s not as pop culture as C.S. Forester (the Hornblower series), either.  Really somewhere in the middle.  And perhaps more importantly, Hall doesn’t try to sensationalize late 18th/early 19th-Century conditions for the shock-value, as so many historickal novelists are wont to do.  Like O’Brian, he simply takes things as they were and tells his stories within that context.

James Norman Hall, by the way, was an American WWI fighter ace.  He was also co-author of the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy, which I now also very much want to read.

Anyhoo, if you have any interest in sea-stories, I heartily recommend this book.

(Incidentally, the Heart of Oak Sea Classics is an interesting publishing compilation.  In addition to Hall’s novel, there’s a lot of Dudley Pope, whom I like, and Frederick Marryat, whom I’ve not read but believe has a good reputation.  On the other hand, it also contains James Fenimore Cooper’s The Wing-And-Wing.  I can’t abide Cooper, who’s a pompous, pretentious, limousine-liberal wind-bag, and could never understand how on earth his novels attained the popularity that they did.  Sam Clemens’ literary evisceration of Cooper is a pure delight to me.)

UPDATE:  I originally considered mentioning that I re-read this book because I’ve recently gone back to commuting by Metro because my office changed locations and I need suitable light, episodic material for my travels.  I cut that out because it didn’t seem all that important.  But this nooz about the WaPo shutting down its Commuter Express paper caught my eye and prompted me to come back to this topic.

The Express was a free WaPo-light paper handed out by bums at Metro stops.

I never read it  myself, but back in the day numerous other hip denizens of Your Nation’s Capital did.

That was then.  Now?  All of them are buried in their iThingies.  (It’s pathetic when they’re stationary on the trains.  It’s infuriating when they’re walking through the stations, oblivious of people trying to get by around them.)

Because They Care.

As far as Pravda on the Potomac itself goes, I’d say LOLGF.  But what happens to the bum at my station who suddenly no longer is paid to hand out the Express?  The world wonders.



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