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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, ol’ Robbo just got back from visiting the Eldest Gel for Parents’ Weekend at SBC.  All in all, quite the interesting experience.

The other day, the Gel requested and required, in her straightforward way, that Mrs. R and I try not to make conspicuous fools of ourselves while visiting.  Overall?  I’d say we were roughly 60% compliant with that request order.  (At least we didn’t bring baby photos to show the Gel’s friends.)  Our first fault – which I should have spotted and more forcefully deterred – was that Mrs. R kept forgetting that she was a visiting parent and not a visiting alumna, so she spent large amounts of time glad-handing faculty, administration, and other students, trying to set up networks, offer suggestions, and generally rallying to the flag.  All worthy endeavors, of course, but there’s a time and a place for everything.  When Mrs. R was going at Maximum Shmooze, I could see faint puffs of smoke coming out of the Gel’s ears.  (Not just because Mom Wouldn’t Stop Yakking, but also, I believe, because there’s a kind of territorial thing developing here:  The Gel has so quickly taken to the place that she now assumes it’s her turf and that Mrs. R is an intruder.)

Also, Mrs. R indulged in her favorite pastime of trying to jam Too Many Events into Too Little Time (something which has driven me absolutely batty the last quarter century).  This culminated in an ill-advised late movie date with the Gel after her theatre production was finished last evening, leaving the Gel an extremely irritable zombie this morning.   I’m not so sure it wouldn’t have been better for all involved if we hadn’t simply slipped off for home after the show instead of staying for brunch today.  (The production of “The Trojan Women” was, by the bye, quite well done for all my critique in the linked post.  Great leads, well-staged, and pretty gruesome all around.)

Ah, well.

A few other things:

The Gel may have been an irritable zombie this morning, but so was Ol’ Robbo.  This was because last night was the second night in a row in which I got virtually no rest.  Now, long-time friends of the decanter may recall that Ol’ Robbo does not do well sleeping in beds other than his own in the first place (e.g., on travel), but this was somewhat worse.  For one thing, there was something going on with the pipes at the inn where we stayed.  Do you remember that sound the sabotaged reactor plant made in “The Hunt For Red October” that forced the crew of the October to shut it  down? That metallic ka-clang! ka-clang! ka-clang!?  We got that, off and on, all night.  For another, this weekend happens to have been Homecoming at the Younger Gels’ high school.  We had allowed them to stay and go to the game and dance provided that  they stayed with approved friends and that we worked out security understandings and arrangements with said friends’ parents ahead of time.  So last evening, we couldn’t even think about going to bed until we had received confirmation from home that the Younger Gels were safe, sound, and not in requirement of bail money.

(The above paragraph is, by the bye, an apologetic explanation to long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory for why I didn’t appear at his church for Mass this morning.  I had thought to tool over the mountains, in part because ODT’s church was one of the nearer available options, in part because we’ve been blog-friends for years on end but had never met in person.   But I was so wiped out that I simply couldn’t get myself up in time.  Mea culpa!)

The Gel’s operating procedure during most of our visit was to deal with us until she’d had about enough and then dismiss us until she was ready to reengage.  This left some time on our hands, so yesterday Mrs. R and I decided to walk round the campus on the traditional loop known as “The Dairy”.  It’s a farm road that, starting behind the performing arts theater, passes over some fields, climbs up the backside of Monument Hill, passes through the stables, and then dips down into the dell where the graphic arts program is housed in the buildings and barn that used to hold the working dairy back in the day – hence the name – before climbing back up toward the main campus.  (The Dairy – which supplied fresh milk and ice cream to the dining hall when Mrs. R was there – was forced to close in the early 90’s because of the added costs associated with complying with strict new EPA regulations championed by AlGore.  Of course, Big Dairy – cosy with the gubmint – could afford to swallow such regs while all the little operations like SBC’s were run out of the market, so from the point of view of both the Bureaucracy and the Major Players, everybody won.  And that, boys and girls, is what we call Crony Capitalism or, to put it more succinctly, Fascism.)  The loop is something in the neighborhood of three miles all the way around.  (The Gel walks it at least twice a day.)

Anyhoo, as we tramped along outbound across the fields, I suddenly stopped.

“What is it?” said Mrs. Robbo.

“You’re going to think I’m completely mad,” I replied, “But I’d swear I heard the skirl of bagpipes coming down the wind.”

We continued walking.  A few moments later, I stopped again.

“Yes?” said Mrs. R.

“I heard it again!” I answered.  “Are the Campbells coming?”

A few more yards and there could be no doubt:  Somewhere up ahead, a piper was doing his thing.

As we tramped along up the hill and the musick got clearer, I couldn’t help feeling a certain chill, even a romantic urge.  (My father’s family is almost purebred Scots, you know.  It must be something in the blood.)

Eventually, we tramped up to the top of Monument Hill and there he was, a Lone Piper (albeit in t-shirt and jeans) solemnly striding back and forth and puffing away.  At first I had thought it was some kind of honorary tribute to the spirit of the school embodied in the Monument.  However, as the fellah kept starting and stopping and repeating certain phrases, I realized he was just practicing, and probably doing so at such a remote location because he couldna’ do it anywheer else fer yon dozy knippits who dinnah unnerstan teh pipes!

Made my day, however.

The other get-rid-of-parents activity in which Ol’ Robbo participated was the fly-casting clinic held by a couple of profs down by the boat house.  Now, the Old Gentleman taught me how to fly-fish when I was a kid, but I haven’t picked up a fly-rod in twenty years and wanted to see if I still have the touch.  Well, my friends, it seems that I do.  However, I also have something that I didn’t have back in the day:  A maximum pitch-count.

So there you have it.  Mrs. Robbo and I are home again after a reasonably entertaining weekend, the Younger Gels are safe and sound, and the Eldest can breath a sigh of relief and unclench.

UPDATE:  For your delectation:

 

Although I’m mighty-near purebred Scots on my father’s side, my family were not true Highlanders, having held lands primarily slightly south of the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so I dinna know where we stood re pacification and relations with the Brits.  But I know ye ne kin trust the bludy Campbells!

It’s stories like this that keep me from completely giving up on the Mother Country:  BBC Hawk Kills Pigeon As Staff Look On.

When the BBC spent tens of thousands of pounds on three Harris Hawks to protect staff from pigeons and gulls at its new £1billion headquarters in London, it promised that no birds would be harmed.  However, yesterday it emerged that earlier this year BBC staff watched as one of the birds of prey made a kill outside the entrance of Broadcasting House and refused to return to his keeper.

You see, the hawks had been specially trained only to give the pigeons a good talking to.  Bad hawk! Naughty hawk!

Ann Mann, a campaigner from the London pigeon group, said the BBC was wrong to kill pigeons. She said: “It is disingenuous and wrong, the hawks don’t care if the pigeon is killed. The pigeons only real crime is the speed at which they breed.”

I have no idea what the “London pigeon group” is.  Wouldn’t that be akin to the “New York City rat group”?

The BBC hired the hawks – Scout, Travis and Rio – last year to create a “no fly zone” around Broadcasting House. The corporation said that pigeons and seagulls posed a “health and hygeine risk” to both staff and the building.

Don’t these people know that getting hit by a bird bomb is supposed to bring good luck?

The birds of prey, which have a wing span of up to three metres, are released early in the morning three times a week to deter pigeons from perching or nesting. The BBC refused to disclose the cost, but hawks used to keep Trafalgar Square pigeon-free have cost up to £60,000 a year.

You know, you could probably arm a bunch of kids with sticks and squirt guns and get them to shoo the pigeons out of Trafalgar Square free.  Heck, they’d probably pay for the privilege.  Just saying.  Speaking of such things, the Mothe insists that Winston Churchill once suggested that gulls might be trained to land on German U-boat periscopes and poop on their lenses.

A spokeswoman for the British Falconers’ Club said: “They are birds of prey and they are designed to kill things. A spokesman for the Hawk Board said: “It would be killed very quickly. It’s quite likely that the one it went for was a bit weak or old and sick.”

So not only did the hawk commit murder, it also violated several anti-discrimination laws.  Hate crime!

The RSPCA warned last night that birds of prey should never be used to contain the soaring numbers of feral, urban pigeons. “They should not be used as a mechanism to reduce populations by killing,” said a spokesperson.

I thought the RSPCA was spending all of its time, energy and monies harassing country folk who want to hunt Mr. Fox.  And aren’t those people into eco-friendly technology?  What could be better than natural methods?

A spokeswoman for the BBC said that as far as the corporation was aware no pigeons had been harmed or killed.

Ah.  It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up!  Pigeon-gate!!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  Well, here we are on Christmas Eve.  I think, I think,  that aside from the actual cooking of tomorrow’s roast beef dins, our holiday preparations are complete.  It’s off to the “family service” at RFEC this afternoon, followed by Midnight Mass for Self later on, in between which I will no doubt be dropping suitable Christmas thoughts here as part of my effort to stay awake.

At any rate, perusing the public safety notes in the local fishwrapper, I came across the following item of interest:

A resident living in the 1400 block of C—— Street told Vienna police that on Dec. 7 he heard a loud noise near the front door to his residence.  When he went to investigate the noise, the resident discovered the front storm door glass had been shattered, police said.  The resident  told police he had found what appeared to be BB gun pellets mixed in with the broken glass.  Police responded and determined that several inflatable Christmas decorations in the house’s front yard also appear to have been struck with BB gun pellets, authorities said.

I wish to assure those friends of the decanter who may find themselves entertaining suspicions to the contrary that ol’ Robbo had absolutely nothing to do with this attack, despite his deeply-held opinion that inflatable lawn Christmas decorations are among the most abominable indicia of the season.  Robbo does not wantonly destroy other people’s property.

Which isn’t to say that this item didn’t cause ol’ Robbo to daydream of purchasing, say, half a dozen of these giant snow-globes, snowmen and the like himself, just for the pleasure of setting them up and shooting them.  I even got so far as to image rigging up a trebuchet so as to loft them in the air, wing shooting of course being far more sporting.

Do you suppose it’s too late to ask Santa to bring the doings?

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It seems that a case of teh blahs is working its way around the corner of the blogsphere which I am accustomed to haunt.  The lovely and talented Diane mentioned it the other day, and even Ace needs a break.  I confess that I’ve got a tetch of it myself.  I don’t know what the cause is – the approaching solstice, familial sickness (there’s a low-grade bug circulating at Port Swiller Manor), the seemingly endless stream of nooz stories suggesting that Western Civilization is flat-lining – but I certainly feel it.

So what to do? Well, on the larger scale I would simply say keep the faith.  What else is there to do?

On a much smaller scale, however, we should remember to appreciate the little pleasures that come our way from time to time.  This post is about one of those.

troutRegular friends of the decanter will recall a couple weeks ago that I said I had been put in the mood to read Lt. Zebulon Pike’s journals of his exploration of the southwestern part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1806?  Well, I started in on said journals last evening (after weighing through an awful lot of introductory material detailing a rayther nasty feud among historians over why Pike eventually wandered into Spanish territory).   Most of the entries concerning his gradual journey up the Missouri and Osage Rivers are fairly humdrum – distances traveled, weather conditions, game killed and the like.  But in his entry for August 11, 1806, after giving such details, Pike suddenly says this:

“This day, for the first time, I saw trout west of the Allegheny mountains.”

I burst out in a chuckle of delight when I read that line.  Perhaps it’s because I used to cast a pretty decent fly.  Perhaps it’s because of my fondness for geographical references of this sort.  Perhaps it was the sudden fellow-feeling I had for Pike in that he obviously felt the thing important enough to jot down.  Whatever the reason or reasons, the mental image that popped into my head was quite refreshing, almost as if I was splashing about in the waters of the Osage myself.

So there you are.  (I said it was a little pleasure.)

Brett at The Art of Manliness gives pointers on how to drive a stick shift.  Before getting to the actual nuts and bolts of coordinating the hands and feet, he gives some arguments for why one ought to at least know how to do it, some of them practical, some of them more aesthetic.  To me, his final reason eclipses all the others:

Driving stick is simply more fun! If you’ve only driven with an automatic transmission your entire life, you don’t know the fun you’ve been missing. Driving an automatic feels passive and artificial – like you’re merely pointing or steering the car instead of controlling it. With a manual, you actually feel like you’re part of the car, and you’re attuned to its vibrations and noises. Plus, manual transmissions are proactive instead of reactive – you get into the gear you need instead of waiting for the automatic tranny to hunt for the right one.

‘Zactly.

I don’t think I was any older than about twelve when I first learned how to drive a stick.  As I’ve mentioned here a time or two, we had a deer lease on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country.  In order to get around on the roads and trails, the Old Gentleman bought an old VW Bug.  He had the entire shell (including the windows) taken off and also removed the dash and back seat.  He then had installed a wooden platform behind the front seats and a wooden box around the engine (with a pair of handles on the top so we could sit up there if we wanted).  Cap it all off with a simple roll cage (with the spare tire on top), gun rack and over-sized tires and voilá, the “ranch buggy” was born.

The O.G. reasoned that if we were way back in the hills and something happened to him, somebody else had better be able to get us back to civilisation.  So as soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals, I started lessons.  (Just as an aside, this is why he taught me basic nautical skills and power-boat driving at an even younger age.)

My first try, I panicked while trying to downshift, forgot all about applying the brakes and rolled straight into a tree.   After that, it was smooth sailing, at least until my brother learned how to drive the buggy, too, at which point the inevitable bickering over “who’s turn it is” kicked in.  Sistah eventually got into the act as well, but since she didn’t go hunting all that often, the competition didn’t get that much worse.

I’ve driven five cars since first being let loose on the public thoroughfares, three of which were stick-shifts.  The first was a ’66 Mustang (a hand-me-down from the O.G.) that I drove all through high school.  It only had three forward speeds, the stick was a first-class beyotch and you practically had to kick the clutch pedal through the floorboards, but I used to love the jack-rabbit starts I could get in her.

I didn’t have a car in college, but when I went to law school the ‘rents gave me a Ford Tempo.  It was an automatic and was a real yawner.  (Actually, a stick shift probably wouldn’t have reduced the yawn-factor by much.)

Once I drove the Tempo into the ground I was already out and earning a living for myself.  So I leased my first Wrangler – a ’93, I think.  I was a tad apprehensive about driving a stick again, given that it had been ten years or so, but the old skills came right back as soon as I got on the road.

The lease on that Wrangler ran out just as the second gel was coming along.  Feeling that we were going to need two baby-friendly cars, I did the Responsible Thing and leased a Camry.  It was an automatic (I don’t think they even make one with stick) and while safe and dependable, drove me to tears of boredom, too.

Once that lease ran out and the gels were a bit older, I thought to myself, “Self, it’s time to go back to Jeep.”  Which I did, as regular friends of the decanter will know from my occasional postings about her.  (Of course she’s a stick-shift.  I know you can get a Wrangler with automatic drive, but somehow that just doesn’t seem right.)

I may at some point give up Jeeps, but I certainly won’t give up a stick-shift again.

On a related note, the eldest gel will be eligible to get a learner’s permit in about a year.  You may be wondering whether I will pass on my stick preference to her.  I tell you truly that I don’t know.  I’m so horrified of the idea of her driving at all that I haven’t given it any thought yet.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention this earlier, but one of the points in the article that struck me was where the author comes down on the proper technique for slowing down/stopping.  He states that it’s better to put the car in neutral and ride the brake to a stop than it is to downshift to reduce speed.  I’d always been told the opposite.   (Actually, I take a sort of hybrid approach – downshift first, coast just above stall-speed.)  Anybody have an opinion one way or the other?

The fishing metaphor in the post immediately below brought this front and center:

Because it was too damned stupid not to……

A plan to allow a group of Australia’s emus to safely cross busy highways via purpose-built tunnels has been rejected because the native birds have “little brains” and are incapable of learning to use the crossings.

I suppose I shouldn’t laugh, since this is An Important Environmental Issue, but somehow the idea of an emu wandering around making little Mortimer Snerd-like “yup, yup, yup” noises amuses me.

The state’s Roads and Maritime Service has proposed underground tunnels to help protect the emus – a measure which has been used to save koalas and reptiles. Elsewhere in Australia, authorities have built suspension rope bridges for others animals such as possums.

However, environmentalists believe underpasses will not save the emus, which lack the intelligence to use them. The population in the area is now numbered at around 120.

“Emus are big birds with little brains,” Mr Whale said.

“There is no evidence that emus have ever gone through an underpass … Farmers open their gate to try and encourage them to go out. Five meters away the emu is butting at a five-strand fence, but can’t work out that there is an opening there that it can get through.”

The Roads and Maritime Service denied the highway would split the emu population, saying officials would ensure the group was left entirely on one side of the new road.

“There’s a lot of effort we’ve put in with our own experts to try to get these emus to move under or over the new highway,” said a spokesman.

Maybe they should try reverse psychology, standing about and saying things like, “G’day, emu mate!  Don’t go in that tunnel, now, it’d be fair dinkum bad on ya’!”

Heh.

I’m reminded of a little throwaway bit by the late, great, Edgar Bergen:

Edger:  Mortimer, just how did you get to be so stupid?

Mortimer Snerd:  Shear determination, Mr. Bergen.   Shear determination.

This is what’s wrong with Western Civilization.  When real men can’t even be real men, then God help us all:

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Some Minnesota hunters are upgrading their deer stands, trading the traditional nailed-together hunks of wood for what one official calls “mansions” in trees on public property.

St. Louis County officials are seeing deer stands — platforms perched in trees to help hunters more easily spot deer — with stairways, decks, shingled roofs, commercial windows, insulation, propane heaters, carpeting, lounge chairs, tables and even the occasional generator, the Duluth News Tribune reported Sunday.

Some hunters have even planted crops near their stands in hopes of attracting deer, said St. Louis County Land Commissioner Bob Krepps. He said hunters have also cut down trees near their stand to improve sight lines.

“We’re getting overbuilt,” Krepps said. “We’re seeing mansions out there — basically hunting shacks on stilts.”

The article is actually about whether constructing such hunting McMansions on public land constitutes an inappropriate, er, appropriation.  What concerns me more is the fact of such abominations, not where they’re put.

Ol’ Robbo spent many hours of his misspent yoot in various deer blinds, and he knows of what he speaks.

I remember two in particular, both located on a ranch in the far northwestern corner of Bexar County, Texas where we had a hunting lease.  One was called Flag Top Road.  (Flag Top was, and so far as I know still is, the tallest hill in the county.)  It was an open-topped tree house with sides high enough that I really couldn’t see over them when sitting down on the bench that ran along the back wall (the only seating, I might add).  I still remember the way it creaked when the wind blew, and how it always seemed to take forever for me to rise up and get my rifle onto the edge in preparation for taking a shot.

The other was known as Tower.  (All the blinds on the ranch had names.)  It was, as its name suggests, a box set up on four legs.  Memory is hazy, but it must have been a good 20-25 feet high.  Even though I personally helped to rebuild the thing one summah, it terrified me.  Tower stood near the edge of another hill a few miles away from Flag Top.  When you sat in the thing, you had an immense view of a canyon off to one side, with a lake in the far, far distance.   Even though it was a physical impossibility, I used to worry that the Tower would one day not only topple over, but somehow contrive to get all the way to the edge of the canyon before doing so, thereby spilling its hapless occupant (i.e., me) into the void.

Anyhoo, these and the other blinds of my experience were strictly plywood and two-by-four affairs and certainly not equipped with all these modern and, in my humble opinion, enervating conweniences.   It was sitting in them and in various duck blinds, usually freezing my extremities off, that I learned the wisdom of my Scots heritage that one isn’t really having fun unless one is miserable.

What’s funny is that what I recall mostly from those days is the smell:  When the Old Gentleman and I went hunting, we always took a thermos of coffee and another one of hot chocolate.  Further, the Old Boy was a confirmed chain-smoker in those days, so was constantly lighting up.  Even now, whenever I smell one of those odors, and especially when I smell some combination thereof, I’m instantly transported back to sitting in one of those blinds, waiting for the deer to come in.

Our Maximum Leader notes that he will shortly be off on a cruise.   Not that I think he won’t enjoy himself padding about the Lido deck, discoing the night away, sipping adult beverages with little umbrellas in them and hitting on Julie the Cruise Director, but I’ve got to say – this is a real cruise!

I was having an out-of-body experience. There I was, 100ft in the air, clinging like a rat to the rigging of a tall ship. “What are you doing?” I asked myself.

The rigging I was climbing – or, to use the proper term, the shrouds – was on the mast of the Stavros S Niarchos, a handsome tall ship docked in the port of Southampton. The Stavros is a brig, a type of double-masted vessel that was popular during the Age of Sail, the 16th century to mid 19th century, because of its manoeuvrability. She is one of just 200 functioning tall ships in the world, which are used for racing, education and pleasure, and are still operated almost exactly as they were 300 years ago. Which includes climbing the shrouds to release the sails.

From time to time Mrs. R and I discuss the possibility of a cruise ourselves.  I almost inevitably say that, were I to go out on the water, I’d much prefer to do so as a hand on a sailing ship than as a guest of one of those floating hotel-cum-casinos.   (Although how I’d get up the shrouds with my fear of heights is a problem I’ve not untangled yet.)  And if I could find a berth on a ship that carried, say, a row of 12 or 18 pounders?  So much the better!

Mrs. R thinks I’m daft.  (Well, she thinks that anyway, but this is one more prosecutor’s exhibit.)

Perhaps it is because he’s been mulling on the heyday of the British Empire compared to the state of things now.  Perhaps it’s because he’s been rereading the Flashman series.  No doubt it’s a combination.

At any rate, Robbo was suddenly seized with the desire to hear how Flashy’s favorite tune, “Drink, Puppy, Drink” goes.   Catchy tune, ain’t it?

The lyrics seem to be harder to find on these here Intertoobs.  Here’s one verse and the refrain:

Here’s to the fox In his earth below the rocks!

And here’s to the line that we follow,

And here’s to the hound With his nose upon the ground,

Though merrily we whoop and we hollow.

– – –

Then drink puppy drink, And let every puppy drink

That is old enough to lap and to swallow;

For he’ll grow into a hound,

So we’ll pass the bottle ’round,

And merrily we’ll whoop and we’ll hollow. (Repeat refrain)

From what Flashy lets fall, I gather there are many, many more verses associated with the song.

 

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