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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, Ol’ Robbo doesn’t have that much to say. Again. It’s getting to be that time of year. [Ed. – When has that ever stopped you before?] Quiet, you.

I gather Major League Baseball’s All-Star game is to be played this evening. Ol’ Robbo hasn’t watched a game since the Nats won the Series back in 2019. Last year I was disgusted with the COVID response and “experimental” rules changes. This year I’m disgusted with MBL’s decision to get fully involved in politicks. I haven’t gone so far as to chuck all my Nats’ team gear, but I look on it all now as a memento of the Before Times instead of active boosterism.

Sometimes our cable actually pays for itself. Last evening I caught “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932) on TCM. It’s a short, tight thriller about a crazed Russian nobleman (who for Flashman fans could easily have been Count Ignatieff’s grandson) who hunts shipwrecked castaways on his South Pacific island for sport. In this case, it’s Joel McRae and Fay Wray whom he pursues through the jungle, the latter in an ever-increasingly tattered and damp gown. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Is there nothing it can’t do? Coffee consumption linked to lower risk of COVID-19 infection. Ol’ Robbo otter be downright bulletproof.

Oh, and utterly random observation: I’d never owned a long-haired cat until we got Decanter Kitten last year. I’m amazed at how much fur she sheds in this hot weather. Her tail is about a third the thickness it was over the winter. (And somehow, we’re managing to vacuum up more fur than ever could possibly have been on her in the first place.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was pleased to spot this recent article on George MacDonald Fraser’s delightfully outrageous historickal character, Sir Harry Flashman. It’s nice to see him get some recognition, particularly in these times.

Fraser’s Flashman Chronicles is one of my very favorite light fiction series (I just so happen to be in the middle of it again) both for GMF’s clever portrayal of the licentious, unscrupulous, fraudulent Flashy, and for the overflow of historickal information jammed into each novel. (My library has substantially expanded over the years due to the original sources cited in GMF’s many footnotes.). Indeed, I’ve long suspected that Flashy himself is what Ace calls the “McGuffin”, if I’m using that term correctly: GMF uses his bawdy, outrageous behavior both as the hook to get you to read the books and to hold the plot together, but his real reason for writing them was to indulge himself in Victorian military history.

Nice work if you can get it.

My only regret is that GMF didn’t live long enough to finish the novel about Flashy’s adventures in the American Civil War which he plainly had in mind and about which hints are dropped throughout the rest of the series. (At one time or another Flashy served both the Union and the Confederate sides, and in one stark line from another book concedes that if it hadn’t been for his own incompetence, Lee probably would have won at Gettysburg.) Tantalizing stuff. I’ve sometimes thought of combing through the canon and seeing if I couldn’t piece together such a story myself based on the material already there. OTOH, this idea has been mentioned from time to time in a Flashy FacePlant group to which I belong, and I gather the estate is dead set against any such adventurism. Of course, even if I did put together some such work, I’d never think to try and get it published.

Anyhoo, as I say, I’m glad to see others share my appreciation.

A glass of wine with the Puppy-Blender.

**Not to be confused with Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole, which I read because it was what John Cleese’s character in teh Cheese Shop sketch had been skimming in the public library in Thurmon Street when he suddenly came all over peckish. (…..Esuriant…..E’ were all ‘ungry-like!) It’s long been a habit of Ol’ Robbo to sometimes just roll with these things and see where they go.

UPDATE: A little further digging and I think I’m mostly correct.

According to Wiki, “in fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself.”

Just so.

If GMF’s true desire was to indulge in recounting the Retreat from Kabul, the First Anglo-Sikh War, Balaclava, Little Big Horn, the Sepoy Mutiny, the Abyssinian Campaign, and other 19th Century Anglo-American military events, and I believe it was, then Flashy’s goings-on would seem to fit into this definition. Plus, of course, they sell the books.

As I say, nice work if you can get it.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A cool and damp morning gave Ol’ Robbo the opportunity to get out in the garden and do some badly-needed deadheading and weeding. You may be quite certain sure that he had his head on a swivel and both eyes wide open for any sign of the snake he encountered last weekend. Fortunately, I didn’t spot it. Perhaps it went home. I certainly hope so.

Happy Strong Vincent Day! Yes, today is the anniversary of the Battle of Little Round Top, the second day of Gettysburg. When Dan Sickles decided to go walkabouts with his Third Corp, leaving the hill wide open on the Union left flank, it was Vincent who spotted the danger and, off his own bat, pulled his brigade out of line to occupy it. Chamberlain and the 20th Maine get all the glory these days, but they wouldn’t have been there in the first place without Vincent’s foresight.

Which reminds Ol’ Robbo that he may well watch “Gettysburg” this weekend, as it’s been a while. Here’s the thing that always bothers me about that film: In his prologue to The Killer Angels, on which the film is based, Michael Shaara said very explicitly that the novel was not the story of Gettysburg, but instead of some of the men who fought there. But with its title, the movie seems to suggest it is about the entire battle, especially to audiences who wouldn’t know any better. So, for example, it depicts the fight at Little Round Top including the 20th’s bayonet charge, but virtually nothing about the desperate fighting that went on all along the line from Cemetery Ridge to Culp’s Hill all the rest of the day and on into the night. You’d think once Jeff Daniels goes hobbling back up the hill it was all over and done until Pickett’s Charge the next day. Irksome.

On the non-irksome front, La Wrangler started showing a check-engine light last Sunday, making Ol’ Robbo apprehensive that he might be about to be bit for some major repair. Fortunately, I know the trick for using the ignition to get the warning code to display on the speedometer: turns out it’s detecting a small leak in the EVAP system, which might be nothing more than a loose gas tank cap (and it does seem a little shaky). But the bottom line is that whatever the issue is, it’s small, I can still drive, and I don’t need to worry about it until inspection time, which isn’t until October.


What else? The first of Ol’ Robbo’s termaters are now nearly ripe. Time for me to start looking around for a home-made salsa recipe. (I can just hear it now: “Says here this salsa was made in Northern Virginia. Northern Virginia??!! Get a rope!)

Whelp, the afternoon is still young and those chores aren’t going to do themselves….P’raps some more nonsense later..

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has been suffering from a case of the woozles the past couple days after his lengthy Saturday lumberjacking efforts and has not felt much inspiration to post, but I’m feeling better now. (Mrs. R duly chided me about “over-doing it” but if I don’t take care of these things, who will?)

Eldest Gel has decided that because Ol’ Robbo is interested in early English history he needs to read the collected works of George R.R. Martin.*** This comes up every time we discuss said history, which is rayther a lot since we’re both, in fact, interested in it. (And let me say here how grateful I am to have a kid with such interest in this wretched day and age.)

The argument usually goes like this:

We start with some specific topic. Hadrian’s Wall, Hengist and Horsa, the Battle of Baden Mount, the Conquest, Richard II and Bolingbroke, Richard III, etc.

At some point, Eldest interjects, “Dad! You’ve just got to read George R.R. Martin!”

“But why?” I say.

“Because he draws so much of his ‘Game of Thrones’ material from this same stuff!”

“But it’s fantasy. I don’t like fantasy. I’d rather read the history itself or else reality-based historical fiction. If I want to read dramatic treatments of, say, the War of the Roses, I’m pretty sure Shakespeare did a better job. And have you read Rosemary Sutcliff?”

“Whaddaya mean you don’t like fantasy? You read Tolkien and Lewis, don’t you? You’re a Star Trek nerd, aren’t you?”

“Tolkien and Lewis are the exceptions to the rule – I don’t read anybody else. And no, dammit, I’m not a nerd!”

Mmmmm, hmmmm…...Anyway, you need to read George R.R. Martin.”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ol’ Robbo has no plans to read George R.R. Martin.

***Oddly enough, she agrees with me that the tee-vee series appears to be basically Dungeons & Dragons with bits of gratuitous porn thrown in and is not worth watching.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Those in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor earlier this morning got to see an interesting sight: Ol’ Robbo, in robe and jammies, helping Eldest Gel to haul a large, fallen branch to the side of the driveway so she could get to work. (I’ll have to haul it and the others that came down with it out back later on.)

I hope the scene was good for a chuckle or two for those passing by.

Ol’ Robbo has written numerous times before of the three large maples and the oak which line the ditch between the sidewalk and the street in front of his house., pointing out time and again that this is county property, not mine.

Of course, in the spirit of good neighborliness, we’ve always cared for the area ourselves. We clean up all the leaves each fall as well as sticks and branches whenever they come down. We’ve put in low retaining walls to channel rain run-off and beds of shade-loving plants because grass won’t grow in the space. We’ve done so out of pocket and knowing that these could all be dug up without question were the County to need to get at, say, a buried utility line.

But this is all fairly nickel and dime compared to what it would cost to prune or take out one or more of the trees. And after all these years, we’re now approaching the time when somebody is going to have to do something, as they (especially the one on the weather end of the line) are definitely showing their age. And, to be blunt, I’m not paying for it. I already get skinned to the bone for property taxes – let some of that come back my way.

I’ve tried from time to time to penetrate the bureaucracy (both County and State) to see exactly who is in charge. I assume this matter would come under the heading of “road maintenance”, but I’ve never yet found even a contact point. (Big surprise.) Even if I did, I’d bet each would only tell me that it’s the other one’s problem.

In the end, I suppose that nothing will be done until, on the squeaky-wheel principle, a large bough or maybe the whole shooting-match comes down on the street during a storm some night.

*** A lot of these old nursery rhymes have their origins in long-faded politickal disputes. I’ve sometimes wondered what this rayther lurid cradle-toppling scenario was about originally. Same with, say, “Humpty-Dumpty”. I’ve always believed that “Georgy-Porgy” was a dig at George IV during his Regency but couldn’t cite you the basis for my belief.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ah, Virginny!

Just two posts ago Ol’ Robbo was grumbling about failed storm promises. Now Port Swiller Manor is in the midst of a genuine soaker which started yesterday evening and is forecast to go through tomorrow afternoon.

(You just need to know the right people, I guess. Heh.)

It’s said of many places that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it’ll change. That’s certainly been my experience here.

Of course, it works the other way round, too. Our wedding anniversary is coming up in a week or two. Twenty-eight years ago at about this time, Ol’ Robbo recalls it being, like today, quite cool. (It was a late spring that year.) And I also recall very distinctly hoping that the run would hold out until the Big Day.


Even as the shackles were being applied, the temperature in Central Virginny was cranking up to near triple digits. Fortunately, we had scotched the idea of an outdoor reception way early in the planning. However, I still retain a grudge against the photographer for making us stand around outside far too long, boiling to death, for the formal group pics. (I still think he did so out of spite because I earlier point-blank refused to do some goofy posed shots that he wanted.)

But there it is. As P.G. Wodehouse’s French chef Anatole put it, I can take a few smooths with a rough.

In the meantime, I’ll just open the windows and enjoy this soggy Friday. (Better start thinking about an anniversary present, too.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Uh, oh! Looks like the summah doldrums might be setting in around Port Swiller Manor, once again causing Ol’ Robbo’s bloggy muse to take a powder and dry up.

Know what Ol’ Robbo hates? Seeing a forecast for a week of afternoon thunderstorms and then each day watching teh chance dwindle down to zero with nothing happening at all.

Cicada-palooza continues. About the only difference is that the stench of the piling up dead ones becomes more noticeable. How long have we got to go on this?

[Insert your own follow-on bugs = politicians joke here.]

Speaking of such things, I see where today is the anniversary of the Emperor Nero’s suicide in 68 A.D. My favorite story about him is still the one in which he had a boat designed to come apart, sink, and thereby drown his mother, Agrippina the Younger. The boat duly broke up with her on board (in the Bay of Naples, I believe) but the old girl simply swam ashore.

Speaking of history, those of you tracking Ol’ Robbo’s progress through the Memoirs of William T. Sherman will be interested to know I’ve just reached the point where he’s negotiating surrender terms with Joe Johnston, so I’m almost done. This go-round has confirmed my opinion that Cump wasn’t anywhere near as talented a writer as Grant (although he was better than Longstreet, who is an astonishingly crashing bore). On to Little Phil Sheridan next just to round out the trilogy and then I think I’ll give the Civil War a rest for a bit and move on to something else.

UPDATE: UPS guy pounded on the front door a bit ago, thereby sending Decanter Dog into a tizzy. The funny thing is that she’s now asleep but she’s still barking. My world and welcome to it.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here in the Mid-Atlantic we’ve suddenly hit full summah full-tilt.

Ol’ Robbo woke up yesterday morning feeling especially stiff and groggy. At first I couldn’t think why and it was only much later that it dawned on me that this might have had something to do with working out on the porch in the heat and humidity for six or seven hours straight the day before. (**Whaps self over back of the head.**) I guess I’m not 29 anymore.

It may be my addled imagination, but the heat seems to be having an effect on our local cicada plague as well in that they suddenly seem to have become more aggressive and strident. There is a passage in one of H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain novels in which the hero and his companions are drifting down a mysterious river in a deep and gloomy valley. Here they come across colonies of giant land crabs which, when agitated, start screaming at each other. The cicadas are now screaming at each other here. It’s weird.

But of course it wouldn’t be true summah without one or more of the Gels making plans to hit the amusement parks. Youngest was going to go down to King’s Dominion with a friend yesterday, but also woke up feeling groggy and ill so decided to cancel. I must say that I was not displeased. She’s nineteen and all and needs the experience but I’m not crazy about the idea of her jaunting up and down I-95. (I’m going to let her drive when I run her out to summah camp next month and also when I take her back to school in August. The run across the Alleghenies on I-70 will be plenty harrowing enough, but at least I’ll be in the car with her.)

Anyhoo, there’s not much to be done except drink gallons of iced kawfee and start thinking longingly of late September….

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

While exercising, Ol’ Robbo recently has taken to wearing a bandana on his head pirate-fashion in order to help keep the sweat out of his eyes.

When she first saw me with the thing, Eldest Gel laughed heartily and said, “Hey, it’s Prison Mike!”

I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of either pretending to understand what she meant or else confessing not to, but instead maintained an imperturbable air and resolved to go look it up later when she wasn’t around. I just now remembered to do so:


I see now why she thinks my practice so durn funny. Smart-ass.

In defense of missing the meme, I will just say that I never really watched “The Office” because Carell’s character was way too close to a real-life guy I used to work with for me to be able to enjoy the show.

As to dealing with flippant daughters, well, there are days when I could shake King Lear’s hand and tell him I know exactly how he felt.

Shiver Me Timbers UPDATE: So thinking on it, I found myself asking myself, “Tom, who are your favorite more recent Entertainment Industry pirates?”

To which I answered, “Self, I’m going to go with Steve the Pirate and the Dread Pirate Roberts. Cap’n Jack Sparrow finishes exactly….nowhere.” (You may look up the references yourselves if you need to.)

That said, allow Ol’ Robbo to again put in a plug for the Charlton Heston teevee moovie adaptation of R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Regular friends of the decanter will know how generally dismissive Ol’ Robbo is about screen adaptations of favorite books, but really, this one is teh goods.

N’yar, Jim Lad!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Various and sundry activities and observations this early summah-like Saturday:

–I’ve not yet been out of the house since Kommissar Northam lifted the maskerade but Mrs. R and Eldest have and they both report a very real shift in public feeling. Many more people about. Folks seeming happier and more energetic, like they’re waking up from a long, evil dream. ‘Bout dam time, too. The question is whether they’ve actually learned anything or whether they’ll once more play the sheeple next time their Betters tell them to. (Guess which way I’m betting.)

–On that note, Ol’ Robbo is heading to the store later and if any residual maskhole gives me a hard time I plan to make devil’s horns on my head with my fingers and hiss at them.

–Speaking of which, perhaps because of the shift, perhaps because I just got tired of listening to Mrs. R gripe about it, this morning Ol’ Robbo did away with his plague beard. (Pity, cos I rayther liked it myself.) Now Mrs. R wants me to keep a stubbled look, but to me it needs to be either all or nothing: Calculated stubble, so I told her, is for soyboys.

–Now that the chin-musick is gone, however, I immediately see how very badly I need a haircut. (A real one, not the self-administered hackings with which I’ve been getting by all this time.)

–Speaking of trimming, those of you following along will be interested to know that Ol’ Robbo has been taking his weed n’ feed lawn guy’s advice and mowing at a higher blade setting. Correlation isn’t causation and all that, but I will say the lawn is looking better this year than for some time past, so I think I’ll stick with it. (Plus, it’s a real joy to be able to ignore several tree roots that used to give me much anxiety.

–Also speaking of trimming, I was out dealing with the holly hedge by the sidewalk today. Our neighborhood is pretty relaxed as far as HOA-type issues go and the only time anybody gives me any grief about landscaping is when some Karen decides I haven’t pruned back the hollies from the sidewalk quickly enough and starts leaving anonymous, snarky little “reminders” in my mailbox. She’ll have to go fuss somewhere else this year.

–Finally, Ol’ Robbo was pleased to see one of his long-time axioms confirmed this week. Waaaay back when we were first married, Mrs. R briefly got into drawing and illustrating. Being the attentive young husband that I was, I surprised her (on Mother’s Day or her birthday, I forget which) with a full-sized drafting table and chair. She was quite pleased at first, but the artistic urge didn’t last all that long and the table eventually went into storage. Every so often over the years, when Mrs. R has been on one of her purge jihads, she’s argued we should get rid of it. But each time I have persuaded her not to.

Mrs. R has been using Middle Gel’s bedroom as her teaching lab this year but the Gel has only a tiny little desk and Mrs. R has grown increasingly frustrated trying to set up all her materials on it. Finally, she re-remembered the drafting table this week and asked me to get it out for her. I nearly broke my back hauling the thing from the basement up to the second floor, but it did prove my point: Never, ever throw anything away if you can possible avoid doing so because you never know when you might need it again.

It’s almost as if Ol’ Robbo knows what he’s talking about sometimes!

UPDATED: Whelp, that didn’t last long. Mrs. R has now pronounced that she likes the beard after all and would I please grow it out again.

Of course, Ol’ Robbo has been around long enough to know what all this is really about. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath nailed it in one:

“My liege lady, generally,” quod he, “Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee/ As wel over hir housbond as hir love/ And for to been in maistrie hym above.”

Wommen” – Same as it ever was.


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July 2021