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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The other evening, Ol’ Robbo was standing at the top of the back stairs waiting for Decanter Dog to finish up her biznay in the yard and idly scanning the sky overhead when I suddenly realized that one of the stars was moving, heading calmly and steadily in a southeasterly direction.

Whatever it was, it definitely was not a meteor, nor was it any kind of commercial aircraft. My guess is that it was an artificial satellite of some sort, and my further guess is that it was the International Space Station. (Is there anything else in orbit actually visible to the naked eye?)

I’ve been poking about on the innertoobs to try and verify this. Alas, the only tracking tools I’ve found tell me where the thing is right now, not 36 hours ago. On the other hand, they confirm that the general direction and speed of what I saw makes an ISS-sighting perfectly plausible. I hope so.

Speaking of which, I was watching a program on the Smithsonian Channel last evening about the history of the planet. (The show purports to rely a lot on “new satellite evidence”, which is the link here.) It was the first episode of a series (called something like “The Life of Earth”) and sought to squash the first 4.5 billion years of Earth history into 50 minutes of programming, a very daunting task. What came across when the timeline was so sped up was how often and violently the planet’s atmosphere changes, both in terms of temperature and even composition. I had to chuckle a bit: Among massive volcanic activity, periodic asteroid collisions, and the overspreading of single-celled photosynthetic-based organisms mucking it about, our own presence in the mix, even if you buy into the worst of teh climate-alarmist rhetoric, seems comparatively tiny and insignificant.

The show was also refreshingly neutral, with no apparent politickal axe to grind. However, as I say this was the first episode. The rest of the series evidently deals with the rise and spread of Mankind. I’m sure in the end all the Bad Things will turn out to be our own damn fault after all.

UPDATE: Which reminds me, I saw this article the other day: NASA turns to religious scholars to prepare humanity for alien contact. (The tone is surprisingly unlike Oolon Colluphid’s blockbuster trilogy, Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes, and Who Is This God Person Anyway?) I suppose if you’re like the kid who lived across the street from me in my yoot who routinely brought round pamphlets “proving” dinosaur bones are elaborate fakes, such contact would be difficult to comprehend. As an ardent admirer of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy, Ol’ Robbo says, “Moar, faster, please!”

“The Exhibition Stair Case” – Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1810)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It’s a niche taste these days to be sure, but Ol’ Robbo loves Georgian satirical cartoons and etchings. (One need look no farther than my masthead for proof of this.) Indeed, I have several Rowlandsons (no, not the naughty ones) hanging in the Port Swiller Manor front hall, and additionally love to peruse my volumes of William Hogarth and James Gillray.

I put up this one in particular, however, because a detail from it illustrates the cover of my Penguin Classicks edition of William Makepeace Thackery’s Vanity Fair, which I am currently reading for maybe the third or fourth time and enjoying hugely. The editor states boldly that this work can stake a claim to be the greatest novel ever written in the English language. I dunno how one goes about turning all those other oranges, bananas, strawberries, and kumquats into apples for comparison, and I’ve never yet made myself read his introduction to find out his math, but nonetheless I won’t argue against this assertion.

Nor will I attempt to explain in depth why, because this isn’t that kind of blog. Suffice to summarize: 1.) Regency England is one of my favorite historickal periods; 2.) Satire is my very favorite literary genre;*** 3.) Thackery is marvelously adept at spooling out a very long and intricate story that leaves one constantly eager for more; and 4.) Becky Sharpe is one of the most fascinating villainesses-you-can’t-help-liking, while Amelia Sedley easily wins the crown of heroines-one-wants-to-hit-over-the-back-of-the-head-with-a-sock-full-of-sand. It’s quite the juxtaposition.

A note or two about the title. First, Plum Wodehouse, in his preface to Summer Lightning (the very best of the Blandings Castle cycle, in my humble opinion) writes: “It is related of Thackery that, hitting upon Vanity Fair after retiring to rest one night, he leaped out of bed and ran seven times around the room, shouting at the top of his voice. Oddly enough, I behaved in exactly the same way when I thought of Summer Lightning.” Heh.

Second, by a process of obvious association, the name of Vanity Fair magazine comes to mind. A little innerwebz digging indicates there have been at least five magazines of this title, the first coming out in 1859, ten or a dozen years after Thackery’s novel and no doubt influenced by it. The current iteration surfaced in 1983. Ol’ Robbo is going to go out on a (not very long) limb and wager that nobody now on the staff there has ever heard of John Bunyan or Pilgrim’s Progress, or else otherwise has the slightest knowledge of the name’s Christian allegorical roots. They say it like it’s a good thing.

All is vanity, indeed.

Completely Off-Topic UPDATE: Ol’ Robbo just wanted to raise a congratulatory glass of wine to the Georgia Bulldogs on their college football national championship victory last evening (which I stayed up way too late watching). It was a mighty close game, and I thought Alabama was going to put it away more than once. Well done, indeed. (I have a niece at Georgia this year, so had a personal interest in the game.)

***”He used……sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.  He was vicious!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I hope all of you friends of the decanter are having/have had a joyous Christmas. For those of you agog to learn how Ol’ Robbo’s planning panned out, a brief summary:

Contrary to my goal, I didn’t wind up making it to Midnight Mass this year. When you’re the only one in your household interested, it’s extra tough to keep focused and stay up, particularly when you know what a job you’re going to have on your hands the next day. Plus, I made the mistake of eating cheese pizza for dinner that evening, which always plays havoc with my tummy.

However, because I was so far out ahead of the game with my organization and prep, I realized that I’d be able to make the noon Mass on Christmas Day and get home just in time to start the hors d’oeuvres going in the oven. I understand that our dear Pope had some particularly barbed words for us Latin Mass traddies in his Christmas address. Bless his heart. By a singular coincidence, our Padre brought up in his homily the plight of Eomer of Rohan seeking to love and remain loyal to King Theoden even while Theoden was under the evil spells of Grima the Wormtongue.*** Singular. Coincidence. (Father counsels patience and clear-sightedness.)

As for dinner itself, with all due modesty I will say that I knocked it clear over the upper deck in left-center. The roast was absolutely, perfectly, pink inside, none of the popovers stuck to the tins, and for once I didn’t over-zap the asparagus. The only glitch came when, in my zeal to clean cooking utensils as soon as I was done using them, I inadvertently got dish detergent in the pan drippings, so couldn’t make gravy. However, I made lots of Hollandaise sauce by way of compensation.

And as for its reception by my family and guests? Suffice to say that there were very, very few leftovers.

The company all behaved themselves, too. My cousin refrained from trying to spike anybody with her “superior” expertise on anything, and our friends – who it was truly great to see again – didn’t come close to starting a politickal spat. Indeed, the only trouble we had was provided by Decanter Dog, who probably due to stress at all the stranger-danger, dropped a deuce in the dining room which was only discovered when Mrs. Friend inadvertently stepped in it. Fortunately, all of us are dog people, so while it was of course an unpleasant episode, it didn’t put a damper on the evening.

So there you have it, a joyous and festive day very much like in the Before Times, and an enormous weight off of Ol’ Robbo’s shoulders once it was over and done with. I am now lolly-gagging for a few days before revving up again for New Year’s. (At least I’m not hosting that one.)

*** I’m going to guess that just about anyone who spends any amount of time here over the port and Stilton will be enough of a Tolkien Geek to get the allusion without me needing to add footnotes.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

From time to time here Ol’ Robbo has mentioned his general rule that in the area of home repair and maintenance he steers clear of anything having to do with wiring and electricity. I’ve always had a healthy respect for the juice and a clear notion of what can happen to people who mess about with it without knowing what they’re doing. But I think I’m going to make an exception.

What with long use and ordinary wear and tear, three of the more important table lamps in Port Swiller Manor suddenly have ceased to function recently due to broken turn knobs. Although my first instinct was to start Binging “lamp repair services”, it occurs to me that it would be a lot cheaper simply to buy replacement socket assemblies and fix them myself. Surely this is a wiring job of such simplicity that even a neophyte like me could handle it, isn’t it? Am I missing something?

And speaking of light, Ol’ Robbo is getting increasingly agitated by those teevee ads by Generac flogging its roof-top solar panel battery power back-up system. What irritates me in particular are the pie-in-the-sky “testimonials” by happy (and smug) “customers” claiming their utility bills have gone to virtually nothing since installing their systems. As the “free energy” words come out of their mouths, very, very small print flits across the bottom of the screen explaining how this is all subject to qualification for federal and state tax credits and how the savings are calculated out on a twenty-year basis, and so on. In other words, it’s a lot of accounting-trick flim-flam. Folks who fall for it will get slammed good and hard on the front end, and by the time they realize down the road that they’ve been rooked, it won’t matter to Generac.*** Grrr.

As Mattie Ross says in True Grit, nothing is free in this world except God’s Grace, and none of us deserve that.

***Full disclosure: We installed one of their big gas-powered generators four or five years ago and I may be slightly bitter over how much I paid for something that has seen so little actual service.

‘Tis the Season UPDATE: Speaking of wiring, the house on the corner up from Port Swiller Manor is going a bit bonkers with the outdoor ornamentation this year: lots of blow-up figures; lights everywhere; candy-canes. But what grabbed Ol’ Robbo’s attention on his walk today was not one, but two signs placed out by teh sidewalk which read, “ATTENTION – PLEASE LOOK BUT DO NOT TOUCH DECORATIONS!”

A new one on me. Is this a bit odd or do I just live a sheltered life?

Oh, and as to fiddling with the lamps? To quote Ox from “Stripes”, “YES! I’LL DO IT!!”

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

(You may thank Ol’ Robbo for the earworm later.)

Even if I hadn’t read about the big storm making its way across the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, it was perfectly obvious to me as I pottered about the yard this morning that Something is on its way in. The sky is coming in full sail from the southwest, it’s absurdly warm for this time of year (I’m in shorts), and there is that indefinable feel of dropping air pressure that one can develop if one pays attention.

While we’re not supposed to catch it half as badly as others have, the thing may prove problematic. It’s supposed to hit us early this evening, which just so happens to be the first time Ol’ Robbo has been set to go out and be social in I don’t know how long. (A fundraiser for one of Mrs. R’s ladies’ groups. I said I’d go only if I didn’t have to wear a mask.) Also, after all the trouble I went to last weekend getting the basement ready for Middle Gel’s young man to stay in tomorrow night, there’s now a substantial risk that the place will get flooded again, meaning we’d have to put the boy someplace else. Grrr.

Well, we shall see what happens.

Tis The Season UPDATE: The bang that jerked Ol’ Robbo out of his meditations over Peej O’Rourke’s*** Republican Party Animal this afternoon turned out to be Mrs. R trying to pull into the garage having forgotten she had a Christmas tree lashed to the roof of her Honda Juggernaut. D’oh!

Said tree is now duly enstanded and draped with lights, ready to be decorated tomorrow by the Young Persons.

Turns out we were lucky even to get it. Mrs. R had swung by my church first, but they were all out. She went over to Meadow Farms and just managed to grab the last 7 to 8-footer. The fellah told her they were 400 trees short this year. And what cost 80 bucks last year is now a cool 125. The fellah blamed the scarcity and price increase on chain-of-supply issues and inflation.

Lima Golf Bravo!

(Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)

***Yes, I know he’s gone completely off the deep end recently, but I still like to reread his old stuff.

UPDATE DEUX: Nowhere near enough rain to cause flooding and the basement remains dry as a bone. Also, Ol’ Robbo almost enjoyed himself at the party. So a good evening overall.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sorry about the lack of content today. I’ve been here rereading what would have been my victory speech had I won the 2016 Presidential race.

It’s good stuff. Maybe I should publish it. Or give a reading.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No doubt lynx-eyed friends of the decanter have already spotted this article: George Orwell’s estate approves retelling ‘1984’ from woman’s point of view.

Evidently, somebody is planning to write a new version from the point of view of Julia, Winston Smith’s lover. I suppose it will be chockablock with grrrrrl power: If only Big Brother were Big Sister, why, everything would be unicorns and rainbows!


Seems to me this is just another stunt propelled by a lack of original imagination. Rayther like the endless Hollywood remakes and that “Jane Austen and zombies” stuff that bubbled up about ten years ago. When you get done setting your hair on fire, you realize they just don’t have anything else.

By the bye, getting back to Orwell, remember the Obama Campaign ads that touted cradle-to-grave gub’mint care and coddling? They were all centered around a cartoon character named Julia. Ol’ Robbo always wondered if this was a coincidence or if somebody on the staff had a wry sense of humor. I’d almost respect them if the latter were the case. Almost.

UPDATE: Speaking of Orwell and futuristic dystopias, Evelyn Waugh didn’t think that much of ‘1984’ because God simply didn’t exist in Orwell’s worldview, so he wrote a little novella called “Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future” to, as it were, put Him back in. (I just happened to reread it yesterday.) But the grand-daddy of scary-because-it’s-oh-so-close-to-reality of the genre has to be Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World. That one immediately popped back into my mind when I saw this article about the Swiss approving the use of a portable assisted-suicide pod.

As has been said many times before, these are all supposed to be cautionary tales, not how-to manuals.

UPDATE DEUX: Don flags it in the comments: “Life of Julia.” A glass of wine with you!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Feast of St. Nicholas! (Have you punched a heretic yet today?) UPDATED: As I mentioned elsewhere this morning, there is no documentary evidence that St. Nicholas was heard to mutter “Yippee-kai-ay, pal” before landing one on Bishop Arius at the Council of Nicea, but I nonetheless choose to believe it happened.

Flipping through the headlines, Ol’ Robbo is reminded of the joke from around this time last year: If you thought 2020 was bad, just wait till it turns ’21 and starts drinking. In hindsight, that seems downright prophetic, don’t it? (I had thought that sooner or later common sense would reassert itself, but I believe I saw where it’s just been outlawed.)

Speaking of psychotic, we go from the upper-60’s today to mid-30’s and snow on Wednesday and then back to mid-60’s by Friday. Wheeeee!!! (I pat myself on the back, by the bye, because I actually went out and bought a new snow shovel this weekend.)

On the literary front, a couple weeks back I remarked that Brideshead Revisited was Evelyn Waugh’s only first-person narrative novel. This is incorrect, as I had forgotten about his Work Suspended until I came across it in his short stories. He only completed a couple chapters, though, before the War started and, as it were, broke things up. Just to set the record straight.

And as long as I’m on the arts, I happened to catch “The War Wagon” this weekend, so far as I know the only western John Wayne and Kirk Douglas made together. It’s not a good movie, in part because I sense no chemistry whatever between the Duke and Douglas. The only explanation that comes to mind is that when Douglas and his ego are on screen, there’s just not really any room for anyone else.

So there you are. (Wherever you go.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, what else would Ol’ Robbo be discussing this time of year on a yardwork post? I wound up spending about six hours today gathering up leaves out front. Along the sidewalk, Maples 1 & 2 are completely bare, Maple 3 is now 50% down, and the big oak made its first major drop. Plus, the other maple by the garage suddenly up and let go this week, too.

Last week I mentioned alternating between cheery and gloomy approaches to dealing with the mess, but today I found it was just a matter of putting my head down and getting it done. One way or another I’m making many, many trips out into the back woods with a 6X8 plastic tarp full of leaves over my shoulder, and that’s all there is to it.

The good news is that at least everything was dry. The better news is that I am now much more than half way done for the season and unlikely to have to put anywhere near this much work in on any given day going forward. (And I am more convinced that the season is running something between a week and ten days early this year. I’m usually not this far ahead prior to Thanksgiving.)

The best news is that I now have an enormous pile out in the woods that would make even a former advertising executive from the Golgafrinchan “B” Ark green with envy.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

70 degrees on the Port Swiller Manor back porch today, but after a bright start the clouds are rolling in and the temperature will plunge tonight. I’ve a feeling it’ll be a while before we get to enjoy this weather again.

The big oak out front is throwing its first batch of leaves at the moment, just in time for tonight’s rain. Guess who gets to pick them up tomorrow?

Ol’ Robbo finished Brideshead Revisited yesterday. It’s been some years since I read it last but I find my previous opinion that it lays on the melodrama too thick remains entirely valid. Maybe Waugh had no choice but to go this way to get out what he wanted to say, but I’m awfully glad he only did it with this one novel.

I have the BR teevee series with Anthony Andrews and Jeromy Irons in my Netflix queue somewhere. That, as far as I recollect, was an excellent screen adaptation and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

I also have the movie “Harriet” (2019) in the ol’ queue. This on the advice of Eldest, who tells me it’s quite a good film. Speaking of which, something I never understood: Among her other Civil War efforts, Tubman worked with Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts in their ill-fated assault on Battery Wagner outside Charleston, South Carolina in 1863. You would think, then, that she would have got at least a cameo in the movie “Glory” (1989), but such was not the case.

But what does Ol’ Robbo know of the workings of Hollywood.

Well, we’re a week out from Thanksgiving and the logistics of getting the entire Family Robbo to my brother’s house for the holiday are beginning to take on the complexity of the Berlin Airlift. Sigh. But I guess it just wouldn’t be my family if things were otherwise.

UPDATE: Well, now that’s odd. I’ve never noticed ads running here before. Has WordPress looked at my sitemeter lately? Waste of perfectly good pixels.


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January 2022