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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Would those aficionados of older movies among you out there have ever guessed that Audrey Hepburn did a western? Well, she did. It’s a 1960 John Huston film called “The Unforgiven”, in which she plays a young woman settler on the frontier who suddenly learns that she really was a Kiowa baby snatched from her village during a punitive raid. Strife ensues. Burt Lancaster and Audie Murphy are her brothers who turn out not to be her brothers.

Alas, the movie’s not very good. The set-up was too long and dull, and the acting was uneven. I suppose the climactic siege and shoot-out is okay, but it’s nothing special.

Y’know, Burt Lancaster is one of those actors who Ol’ Robbo wants to like more than he can get himself to. “The Train” (1964) is one of my favorite movies, and Lancaster, a sort of diamond-in-the-rough version of Charleton Heston, really shines out in it. But I have to admit I’ve been disappointed with every other role I’ve seen him in.

As for Hepburn, Ol’ Robbo’s never been much of a fan but she holds up surprisingly well on the frontier, reminding me somewhat of Jean Simmons, another petite mouse, in “The Big Country” (1958) with Gregory Peck.

Now, Peck was an actor of whom I never saw the appeal, even where I like his movies, always playing the same stiff, stern, stand-offish fellah. The Mothe, on the other hand, was a yuge Peck fan. Whenever I asked her what the attraction was, she’d always reply, “You haven’t the genes, dear boy. You haven’t the genes.”

Ah, well.

And just to round off with a more contemporary entry, I watched “Fatman” (2020) the other evening, with Mel Gibson as Kris Kringle. Weeeellll….. It had one or two snort-worthy moments plus a couple intriguing ideas about Santa’s place between reality and myth that never went anywhere, but by the end it was just another “Lethel Weapon” installment. Glad I saw it once, I suppose, but I wouldn’t bother again.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The other evening – I suppose it was while I was watching the college championship game – I caught the Kentucky Fried Chicken teevee ad flogging its new plant-based fake chicken.

Not that I patronize KFC anyway, but if the Colonel believes I would ever eat that stuff, he’s vastly, vastly mistaken. I’m almost tempted to swing by and get an order of the real deal just to make the point.

Ol’ Robbo hopes this ersatz offering goes the same way as New Coke.

UPDATE: Know what puzzles Ol’ Robbo? I’ve been taking a lunchtime walk round the neighborhood most days since house arrest began, yet even now I still get the side-eye from time to time. Am I really all that seedy and scruffy looking? Does my perpetual squinting trigger them? What do they think I’m going to do, mug them on a quiet, suburban street in broad daylight? (Yes, my presence would be more explicable and perhaps acceptable if I had Decanter Dog along with me, but she’s starting to age a bit and is no longer enthusiastic about walkies the way she used to be.) Yeesh.

UPDATE DEUX: I just now remembered what I wanted to mention: Some weeks back the Heroes and Icons Network (H&I) bumped “Star Trek: TOS” from prime time to the middle of the night, replacing it with the third hour of “Walker: Texas Ranger”.

Their ratings must really have taken a hit or else they’ve received a lot of blowback, because last evening I saw an ad announcing Captain Kirk and Company are returning to their original slot. I laughed. It was a stupid move in the first place.

(No, Ol’ Robbo is not a “Trekkie” in the pejorative sense. But I like to have the option to flip on favorite episodes when they appear.)

“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!

Once again, Ol’ Robbo finds himself with a handful of ungerminated post idea beans which, like Jack, he will fling into the ether and see if any sprout into stalks.

First, happy Feast of the Epiphany! Ol’ Robbo means to get out and chalk the Port Swiller Manor front door a little later, but only when Mrs. R isn’t looking. To her, this sort of thing is a little too close to hocus pocus, and when she notices what I’ve done she always wipes it off. UPDATED: Mission accomplished. Alas, my handwriting is so bad these days that I could plausibly explain the chalking as owl scratches.

The post-Christmas diaspora begins today with Middle Gel heading back to kollij. Alas, in an attack of foolishness her school just announced that the first two weeks of classes are going to be on-line. We’ll see if it’s only two weeks. (Magic 8-Ball says “Don’t bet the farm on it.”) The Gel’s birthday is coming up shortly and she had arranged with some of her classmates to do one of those “Escape Room” outings. That, it seems, also has been scrubbed because some of her friends won’t be back in time now. UPDATED: Youngest doesn’t go back until toward the end of the month. Her school just put out an update that they are still anticipating regular operations. Magic 8-Ball is still giving me the same reply.

Speaking of travel, it looks as if we’re gearing up for another possible Storm of the Century of the Week tonight in these parts. (The Gel will be well south of it before it hits.) Given the complete balls-up on I-95 due to the storm last Sunday (which my soon-to-be ex-governor is now saying was us rubes’ fault), you can expect the panic over this one to be that much sillier. UPDATE: I meant to mention that our last snowfall was really quite lovely; wet and heavy snow that stuck to all the trees. It’s all blotchy and uneven now, so a couple more inches would be a welcome restorative. UPDATE DEUX: HA! Ya got that? HA! HA!

Speaking of silly panics, yeah, I know what we’re all supposed to be mourning today. I still recall the breathless post an acquaintance put up on FacePlant that evening: “Just wanted to let everyone know that we’re home, 15 miles from downtown, and that we’re SAFE!” Gawd.

Bearded Spock Universe Alert: I found out this morning that Eldest Gel watched “Rebecca” (1940) last evening, the one with Olivier and Fontaine, and really enjoyed it. What was Ol’ Robbo watching at the same time? “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” (2004). Before you ask me to hand over my agonizer, I will say in my defense that I was tired. Also, it really is a funny movie.

Well, that ought to be enough for now.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Friends of the decanter may recall an old Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs is being hunted by Elmer Fudd when a truck full of hats loses its load high above them in the hills. Various hats (a bonnet, military headgear, etc.) successively land on their heads, causing a series of changes in their personalities.** (I’m sure the cartoon has long since been banned from teevee for whatever sins against modern sensibilities. Although I recall that Fudd winds up in a bridal veil, so you’d think the scolds would be all for it.)

Anyhoo, I mention it because I always feel something of this change when I get a haircut, and it just so happens that I did that very thing yesterday.

Yes, this doesn’t seem much meat to post about, but it is for me (else I wouldn’t be writing this) for a couple reasons.

First off, this was the first time I’d actually gone out and got a real, professional haircut in nearly two years. All this time during the plandemical house arrest I’ve been hacking at it myself with an occasional assist around back by Mrs. R. I just finally decided I was tired of looking like……I’d cut it myself.

Second, prior to the shutdown I’d been going to the same gal to clip the thatch for something close to twenty years. However, when it hit, her salon went under and I believe she moved away. At any rate, I don’t know where to reach her now, so decided just to try my luck with the hole-in-the-wall barber shop near my grocery store. This is more significant than friends of the decanter may think, because Ol’ Robbo is of such a habitual nature that it takes me an enormous amount of what the physicists call “energy of activation” to deviate from my normal routines.

Well, I’m happy to say that it worked out just fine.

When I sat down, the cute little barberess said, “How you want cut?”

“Oh,” I said, “Short in back and on the sides. But leave the top long because I have to cover my bald spot.”

She giggled.

The whole operation took ten, maybe fifteen minutes tops. And this was the first time I’ve ever had anyone use a straight-razor on the back of my neck. An interesting sensation, indeed.

When it came time to pay (a fraction of what I used to spend at the fru-fru salon), I discovered that we had a miscommunication when I first came in and that this was a cash-only establishment. Of course I didn’t have any. (I’ve a wife and three college-age daughters. How much cash do you suppose Ol’ Robbo ever actually sees?***) After I fumbled about for a minute or two, the gal said, “How about you just pay next time you come in?”

That is the sort of small-town hospitality (and clever client development) I would never, ever imagine receiving round here, and I was quite delightfully surprised.

You may be sure that, in fact, I dashed home, tracked down Mrs. R, wrestled the ATM card from her, hit the bank, and dashed back to the shop. You may also be sure that I tipped the gal heartily.

I think I now have a new routine. And I feel an awful lot less shabby than I did.

** Because Ol’ Robbo’s braim works the way it does, I still remember Bug’s line when the sergeant’s helmet lands on his head and he starts dressing down Fudd: “Awright, dog face! How come every other soldier in this man’s army has got a RIFLE, but YOU’VE got a GUN??!!”

*** I sometimes make this remark to the more professional panhandlers I encounter on the street. I’ve never not had one of them laugh.

Adoration of the Shepherds” – Caravaggio (1609)

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

  • Luke 2: 1-14 (KJV)

Ol’ Robbo may say that he never reads this passage without feeling a shudder up and down his spine, particularly at Verse 13. And by that, I mean a good shudder, one of both awe and joy. And this, as much as anything else, is why I know it is real.

May all of you friends of the decanter have a most blessed and happy Christmas!

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!

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.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Eldest Gel was grumbling on her way out the door this morning about some Rube Goldberg scheduling scheme the “academic coordinator” is imposing on the teachers at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method today.

“Bureaucrats!” she said. “It’s like they invent problems just to make themselves look important!”

Ain’t it the truth.

UPDATE: Speaking of funnies, I see where William Hogarth’s satirical art is now being displayed with trigger warnings. It’s sad enough that modern society has become so infantile. It’s even worse when you realize it’s been made so deliberately.

By the bye, the article implies, at least, that the top print is “Beer Street” (in that it is contrasted with “Gin Lane” featured below). But it isn’t. Instead, it’s “The Enraged Musician”, one of my favorite prints. I’ve often wondered if Hogarth had any particular violinist in mind when he made it. (For some reason, I always had it in my mind that it might have been Francesco Geminiani.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening was Middle Gel’s fall choral concert. Because she’s a senior, because we’re not likely going to get many more chances to hear her perform, and because she had a small solo part; in a high, wide, and handsome moment a couple weeks ago Ol’ Robbo said of course we would come down to see it. This despite the fact that owing to Mrs. R’s and my work schedules, we wouldn’t be able to get away until latish in the afternoon, and we couldn’t stay over but had to get back to Port Swiller Manor after the concert was over.

The happy idiot in me stuck that little logistical issue into a back pocket of my braim, only to pull it out yesterday morning, whereupon I spent the shank of the day fretting.

I need not have worried.

We had planned to meet dear friends of ours for dinner prior to the concert. I calculated for a three hour drive down, which calculation promptly flew out the window when we had to crawl around three different accident scenes in NoVA, leaving me muttering to myself. However, once south of Fredericksburg, I managed to make up the time so that I hit the ETA bang on the nose and our friends and we literally met at the door of the restaurant. (A nice place in the City Center where we managed to bag outdoor seating over a firepit.)

We got to the concert in due time, there to be joined by the Gel’s Young Man and a couple of other friends who had turned out for it. (This is not the same Young Man who she brought home last Easter but a different one and, I’m happy to say from what I’ve seen and heard, a considerable upgrade.)

The concert itself was just fine, despite the choir director’s insistence on starting off with a little screed about the ongoing covid nonsense better suited to the Black Death. As for the musick, some of it was forgettable, but the main piece was an early Bach Cantata, BWV 131, “Aus der Tiefen rufe, ich, Herr, su dir.” The second chorus contains some small soprano solos and the Gel took one of these, singing quite divinely despite the fact that she had to wear a face diaper.

All in all, it was very much worth the effort to go see.

But of course, there’s always something.

Happy and relieved that things had worked out so well, I started the three hour drive back in complacent mood. However, we hadn’t been on the highway long before I began to fancy something was wrong: my headlights didn’t seem to be projecting very far in front of the car. At first I thought maybe my night-vision, already pretty poor, had got worse since the last time I drove after dark. Then I asked Mrs. R if she noticed it, too, which she did. Her first thought was that I hadn’t set the control knob correctly, but I went through the paces of flipping it to all positions and got no better results. I tried the high-beams, which worked just fine, but of course I could only use them when suitably spaced apart from other traffic.

Fortunately, it was a dry and relatively clear night. So by a combination of hanging close to other cars in order to see what they saw, and using the high-beams where possible, I got us home. It was only after we pulled into the Port Swiller Manor garage and I got out to have a dekko that I realized the truth: the headlights on Mrs. R’s Honda Juggernaut were both out. We’d run all the way up on her fog lamps. D’Oh!

We didn’t make it home until a bit past midnight, and then due to the unusual disruption in my normally clock-like evening routine I wasn’t able to sleep at all. Today is definitely going to be kawfee-intensive.

But as I say, well worth it.

UPDATE: Well, somehow Ol’ Robbo managed to keep his eyelids open today. Middle Gel called to express her gratitude that we had made the effort, and also to find out what I thought of her Young Man. (I told her my impressions, though preliminary, were certainly favorable.)

In the meanwhile, Mrs. R took the Juggernaut into the Honda dealership where, by a magic she has always possessed, she managed to get them to switch out the dead headlights at no charge. So now I don’t have to worry about her blundering around in the dark, driving by Braille.

All in all, a satisfactory day. Now, I’m going to bed…..


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January 2022