Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yesterday or the day before, the Moron Horde over at Ace’s place were grumbling about teh various “holiday” concerts their publick skewls were putting on this week and said concerts’ near total lack of anything approach, you know, Christmas pieces.

Oddly, enough, Middle Gel’s concert happened to be this week.  And even more oddly, it was very much chock-a-block with genuine seasonal musick – both religious and secular carols, and a great big Vivaldi setting of the “Gloria” which, thanks to YooToob, I can actually post here:

Middle Gel is second from the left on the top riser.  (Go ahead and tell me why a girl no taller than 5’3” gets put back there.)  And – starting at around the 8:00 mark – she’s the one on the right for the “Laudamus Te” duet.  (The sound quality isn’t the greatest, but I know the Mothe will like to see this.)

Looking over the programme, I also noticed a curious little disclaimer:

The County Public Schools Music Program of Studies requires the performance of literature that is both sacred and secular.  A balance of music selected and performed from among historical and contemporary composers, genres, and periods is achieved through the course of a year’s instruction and not within any individual concert.

I believe that’s the system’s polite way of telling potential lawsuit-happy trouble-makers to go pound sand.  Good on them, says I!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo’s office “holiday” party was held today.  Ol’ Robbo  cut it completely dead.

Honestly, I can think of very few things more boring, yet at the same time more dangerous, than one of these office shindigs.  Boring because, in my misanthropic opinion, all parties are boring.  (Karaoke? Seriously? How old are you?) Dangerous because, well…., let’s just say that Ol’ Robbo’s general world-view is not exactly aligned with the majority sentiment in his place of employment.  And one would not want the odd casual observation to cry Hater! and let slip the dogs of politickal correctness against oneself, now, would one?

So I quietly stuck to my desk.  Call it a Bartleby-style revolt against the Modern Age and all it stands for.

Of course, this was hardly spontaneous.  Not that anyone asked yet, but I was completely teed up with both the “I had some kind of stomach thing the other day and I don’t want to infect anyone” and the “Gosh, I’d love to come, but I’ve got to read through this depo transcript” excuses.  (Both true, as a matter of fact.)  Then there’s the “quiet, keeps to himself” persona I’ve been nurturing for many years.  They want to roll their eyes and shake their heads?  Let ’em!

At any event,  I think I’m covered.

Bah, humbug indeed.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

piratesOn my way home last week, I stopped into a shop in the Denver airport to pick up a bottle of water.  I didn’t have any cash left and I couldn’t bring myself to put just two bucks on my credit card, so I also snapped up a paperback copy of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger.  I had dimly recalled reading some good reviews of a book they did a few years back about George Washington’s spy ring, so I thought well, why not?

Well, I suppose that the sub-heading on the cover (“The Forgotten War That Changed American History”) should have given me some clue.  “Forgotten” war?  The Aroostook County War is a “forgotten” war.  The Battle of Picacho Pass is a “forgotten” skirmish.   Any reasonably-educated American ought to at least have heard of the Barbary Wars, if not remembering their details.

(Of course, my definition of “reasonably-educated” may vary somewhat from other folks’ these days.)

At any rate, it turns out to be a very superficial account.  Not a bad way to waste a rainy afternoon if you actually don’t know anything about the period, but I can’t say that I got anything out of it at all.  (I was encouraged by the book’s suggestion that Capt. William Bainbridge probably could and should have stayed with the U.S.S. Philadelphia after she grounded in Tripoli Harbor instead of immediately abandoning her to the enemy.)  I also thought that its conclusion that the experience picked up by the young American Navy in its few brushes with the Pirate Fleets stood them in good stead for taking on the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 was probably an overstatement.  And I was disappointed that the book only hinted at, rayther than exploring deeper, the obvious historic parallels between that period and the dealings we have with modern potentates in exactly the same region (motivated by exactly the same worldview).

Eh.  Maybe I’ll give it to one of the kids.

On the other hand, flipping through the bibliography, I came across two books I also own:  Ian Toll’s Six Frigates:  The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy and Richard Zacks’ The Pirate Coast:  Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805.  Go read those, instead.

redcoatSpeaking of books, every now and again regular Friend of the Decanter Old Dominion Tory sends ol’ Robbo a parcel of books on various topics of military history.  At the moment, I am about a quarter way through one of ODT’s most recent offerings, Redcoat:  The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket by Richard Holmes.

I hadn’t heard of Holmes before.  However, when I mentioned him on a FaceBuke page dedicated to the writings of George MacDonald Fraser, I received an overwhelming burst of enthusiastic praise from other GMF sharks.

I can see why.  Holmes is all over his subject (i.e., the British Army of the Georgian and Victorian Eras):  Organization, weapons and uniform, tactics, support staff, individual personalities – in short, everything that shaped Tommy Atkins – you name it and it’s there.  He covers these matters through a combination of numerous citations to source letters (and records) and a kind of rambling series of linked anecdotes.  I’d love to go to dinner with this guy and then spend the evening over a bottle of good single malt.

 

600full-richard-iii-screenshotGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Eldest Gel arrived home this morning from college for winter break toting a draft of a 20 page paper* she needs to hand in by the end of the week for her history class.

The subject? Richard III in fact and legend.

Her conclusion?  I’m sorry to have to say this in front of our Maximum Leader, but the Gel came to the conclusion that Richard probably was about as rotten as history made him out to be, and it wasn’t all just pro-Tudor propaganda pushed by Shakespeare and St. Thomas More.  She seems especially keyed up about the deaths of the Young Princes.

“Ask yourself,” she said.  “Who else had the motive to kill them? Who else had the means? What other logical possibility is there?”

I asked her if she’d checked out the Richard III Society and their efforts to rehabilitate the man.

“Are you kidding me?” she responded, “Go over there are read their arguments! They’re all conjecture! When you have facts and sources, come back and talk to me!  In the meantime, shut up!”

Yikes.

I haven’t actually read the paper yet (she’s asked me to proof the next-to-last draft), and frankly, I don’t really even know enough myself to offer an opinion on her conclusions, but I will say that I’ve never known her to put this much effort into research and organization.

(And regardless of your opinion of this controversy, you will note, I hope, that the Gel is expending her energies on it rayther than on femynist underwater basket-weaving.  I call that a win.)

 

* The assignment only called for 10 to 12 pages.  The Gel’s opus blossomed because she found herself so engrossed in the subject.

UPDATE:  Heh. Read the draft.  Her rhetorical style needs some work (she tends to get the bit between her teeth and become rayther….overheated) and I found some silly grammar mistakes, but her organization is pretty solid, and I actually learned a thing or two about the Yorks and Lancasters that I hadn’t known before.  Oh, and Maxy, you actually get a passing mention (as “a friend of my father’s”) as an example of someone keenly interested on the pro-Richard side.

Speaking of Shakespeare and posting Larry’s picture above also reminds me that I watched the 1980 Beeb production of “Hamlet” the other day, with Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart (with hair!), Claire Bloom, and Lalla “Romana” Ward as Ophelia.  That was the Golden Age of Beeb TeeVee:  Simple sets, cheesy effects, throw-away musick, but rock-solid RSC acting.  I highly recommend it.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sorry for the lack of heads up before hand, but Ol’ Robbo has been away from Port Swiller Manor on biznay since last Sunday afternoon.  I’m writing out a draft of this post in longhand as I wing my way home Thursday morning, and (God willing) will have got back safe and sound and able to read my own scrawlings by the time it appears in pixel form here. (UPDATE:  I did, as you probably have figured out already.)

A beastly-rotten flight to Denver last Sunday – very late, over-booked, and horrid headwinds and cross-currents the entire way as that Arctic storm came sweeping into the west.  My two colleagues – seasoned fliers and not white-knuckled cowards like Ol’ Robbo – both said it was the worst flight they’d ever been on.  I came through surprisingly well, however, in part because I had reached a point of nervous exhaustion where I simply didn’t give a damn anymore, in part because I was highly amused by the early-middle-aged gal in the seat in front of me who got quite flown in drink and spent most of the flight hitting on the hunky young guy next to her.  (I noticed other people around us also rolling their eyes at each other and smiling.)

In contrast, this flight is shaping up to be fast, smooth, and uneventful.  So far, the only entertainment has been the big, snoring fellah next to me getting knee-capped by the hipster-doofus steward with the drinks cart.  The H-D didn’t even apologize.  (UPDATE:  Later on, the older woman sitting next to me invited me to look out the window at something or other on the ground as we came across the Appalachians.  I shamefully had to decline because of my fear of hights.  She seemed quite surprised.) Read the rest of this entry »

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has seen a great many tee-vee commercials recently for the 23 and Me DNA genetic testing outfit.  You know, the people who, if you send them some of your spit, can peg your historickal tribal roots.  I’ve also seen a running ad for Ancestry.Com in which people are invited to plug their names (and, presumedly, other personal info) into a data port sit up in some random public place, to be regaled by revelations of the existence and achievements of their immediate ancestors.

Ol’ Robbo doesn’t know about all this.  On the one hand, the history geek within me applauds such research.  On the other, the innertoobs Luddite in me warns that, as with things like GPS and EZ-Pass technology, if you know this data, somebody else does, too.  Big Brother, anyone?

And that, frankly, makes me jumpy.

Speaking of ancestral research (here, the old-fashioned kind), I mentioned in my post-Thanksgiving post below the fact that my indefatigable elder cousin had established Robbo Family gunnegshuns to what is now western Virginia during colonial times.  Whelp, the woman actually did a road trip detour on her way home from the turkey feast and sent me the following on-the-ground report [interpolations in brackets are mine]:

I found several family sites in Rockbridge Co., VA, on 11/25/16.

1) The Kerr’s Creek Massacres are commemorated by a State Highway Historical Marker (title: Kerr’s Creek) about five miles west of the Washington & Lee Law School on Route 60, where there is an entrance to I-64. [Ol Robbo went to Dubyanell for law school and first met Mrs. R in an apartment complex on Route 60 just west of town.]

Kerr’s Creek was the southern border of the 1748 Borden grants of John and James Gilmore. Rt. 60 runs parallel to Kerr’s Creek, on the north side of the creek.  I must have been traveling across 18th century Gilmore property. It is pretty creek bottom land.

Our direct ancestors, John and Agnes Gilmore, Sr., were killed there in the First Kerr’s Creek Massacre in 1759. Their son Thomas was killed in the Second Kerr’s Creek Massacre in 1763, with the family kidnapped. [According to another of my cousin’s emails, Thomas’s wife and son were eventually repatriated by the French, who had bought them from the Shawnees.  The two daughters of the family were never heard of again.  In 1818, surviving members of the family [led, I recall, by Thomas’s brother James] joined a migration to Ohio, in large part over the question of slavery.  Another branch of my family ran a station on the Underground Railroad in southwestern Ohio and, as I’ve mentioned before, my great-great-grandfather was an officer in the 10th Ohio Light Artillery Battery during the Civil War who saw action in the Atlanta Campaign.]

2) The site of the 1746 New Monmouth Presbyterian Church, where the Gilmores attended, is marked at Whistle Creek on Rt. 60. The newer building of New Monmouth, still operating, is three miles further west.  [As I have mentioned before, the Old Gentleman’s family were just about pure-bred Scots Presbyterians.  Ol’ Robbo’s great-grandfather was a minister, in fact.  I chuckle at the idea that they are all turning in their graves over the fact that Ol’ Robbo has gone back to the Old Religion.]

3) High Bridge Presbyterian Church, where our direct ancestors Thomas and Agnes (Leech) Lackey are buried, is still operating on High Bridge Road (county route 693, at an overpass of I-81) off Rt. 11, just south of Natural Bridge, VA.  [This is another family branch. Without the chart in front of me, I can’t recall where they fit in, but I think it’s the next generation after the Gilmores mentioned above.]

4) The ruins of our direct ancestor James Gilmore’s 18th century mill can be seen by following Gilmore’s Mill Road off Rt. 130, at Natural Bridge Station. Gilmore’s Mill Road (Rt. 708) descends to and parallels the west bank of the James River. The ruins are where Cedar Creek runs into the James at the intersection of county routes 708 and 608.

5) James Gilmore’s c. 1780 brick two- story house View Mont, now Sydney Vale, is across the James from the Mill but is on private property and inaccessible.

I’ll give her credit: It’s all cool stuff, all the more so because my cousin does these things the old-fashioned way – through pouring over archives and getting out into the field.

On the other hand, her level of energy curiously exhausts me, especially when she hunts me down at family gatherings (armed with maps, genealogy tables and local historickal pamphlets) and proceeds to drill me in her most recent finds.  I mean, Ol’ Robbo is a history geek, but not that much of one. (The Gels, by the bye, have learned to flee my cousin’s very presence for fear of getting quizzed on family history.)

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I don’t know why, since they do it every year, but ol’ Robbo was surprised and shocked this morning at hearing the first bits of Christmas musick being played on the local classickal station.

Indeed, my exact words were, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no!!”

As I say, it’s the same pattern: They start by doing a little “Christmas” fill-in at the top or bottom of the hour the Monday after Thanksgiving.  Gradually, they add more and more such musick to the playlist.  By the week of Christmas itself, the stuff is wall-to-wall and one is heartily, thoroughly, totally sick of it.

And on December 26?  Zilch. Nothing. Nada.  Back to regular programming as if nothing had ever happened.

Feh.

As I grow older and crankier, I resist this whole biznay more and more.  As of yesterday, it’s Advent, dammit, ADVENT!  (Happy Liturgical New Year, by the way!)  Christmas does not start until the evening of December 24th.  Furthermore, it doesn’t end until January 6 (or February 2, if you really want to kick it).

As a matter of fact, Advent is one of my favorite seasons of the year, combining as it does a certain Lent-like repentance with an excitement over the impending arrival on earth of our Lord.  Thus, yesterday ol’ Robbo duly put up wreaths on the front doors of Port Swiller Manor swathed in purple ribbon and also built an appropriate Advent table wreath.

Sigh.  I know, I know.  The whole modern “Christmas Season” is just a secular, commercial-driven co-opting of the Christian tradition (well, at least of its more surface-y traits).  And every year, it’s more about the co-opting and less about the tradition.  (See, for example, the gradual displacement of the greeting “Merry Christmas!” with the much more anodyne and meaningless “Happy Holidays!”  Try the former at work and you’ll find yourself hauled up in front of HR for hate speech.)

Need I point out that Scrooge did have at least something of a point?  Bah, humbug!

The good news is that the Gels get this as well.  Indeed, Eldest has taken to spending the period between Thanksgiving and the Real Christmas saying to everyone, “Merry Xmas!

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I hope you all had a joyful and stuff-a-licious Thanksgiving holiday! Certainly the Family Robbo did: As per usual, we went down to visit my brother’s family in North Carolina.  (He and his wife have a son and two daughters, all of whom are roughly of age with Robbo’s three gels.  The Boy, for example, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, while Brother’s gels are in high school.)  Much merriment was had by all.  The cousins get on very well among themselves, Bro and I found much reason to stand guard over the outdoor grill while the turkey was cooking (constant monitoring of the thermometer is crucial, you understand, and adult beverages only aid in concentration), the wimmynfolk confab’d to their hearts’ desires up in the kitchen,  and all in all, everything was hunky-dory.

Robbo’s older cousin was there as well.  As regular friends of the decanter may recall, said cousin has a passion for genealogy.  This time, she trapped ol’ Robbo in an extended monologue on our ancestors of seven or eight generations back – Scots-Irish Presbyterian stock with names such as Gilmore and Paxton – who had settled the upper Shenandoah Valley in the 1730’s.  Curiously, given that I went to law school at Dubyanell, several of my ancestors of those generations were killed, kidnapped and/or enslaved in Indian raids in 1759 and 1763 during the French and Indian War not more than a couple miles from where I lived and studied.  Small world, ain’t it?

On the one hand, the inner history geek in me loves this sort of thing.  On the other? Well, is Thanksgiving Dinner really the time to spread out reproductions of 1734 land-grant maps and superimpose current Rand-McNally counterparts in order to assess streambed shifts in the Maury River and Kerr’s Creek for purposes of locating precise boundary lines?

We Didn't Go There

We Didn’t Go There

And speaking of my cousin, it has become her custom to challenge us to bring Virginia wines to each of our regular meet-ups (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter), there to compare and contrast the many labels available (all of which are complete dreck, if you ask me).  This year, the Devil whispered into ol’ Robbo’s ear that Trump Wine might be appropriate, both since it is bottled at Monticello and also since said Cousin is a proud Lefty.

I showed my brother said bottle ahead of time and asked his advice.  His opinion? Nyet!

On reflection, I concluded he was right and hid the bottle until our cousin left.   (We drank it later.  Truth be told, it wasn’t awful, but I wouldn’t buy it again.)

The only other things to say about the holiday are travel-related:

Downbound, Ol’ Robbo found himself in the lee of the smoke of several forest fires blowing across Nelson and Amherst Counties.  It’s corny to say, but it really did feel like twilight at noon as we made our way through, thus seriously messing about with Ol’ Robbo’s internal clock.  Coming home, everything seemed to have cleared up to a great extent, thank goodness.

Upbound, just south of Altavista, Virginia on Highway 29, Ol’ Robbo suddenly spotted a dog on the median: It was a young bloodhound (or some sort of hound, anyway) lying curled up in the grass and looking around in a confused way.  There was no place to stop just there, the formulation of what I had seen took a couple minutes to congeal in my braims, and what the hell could we have done with another dog anyway?  Anyhoo, after a couple minutes, I told Mrs. R what I had seen.  Being the far more practical and hands-on of us, she immediately called teh local animal control dispatcher and related to them what I had spotted.

I dunno if there was any follow-up.

One thing Mrs. R and I agree on: People who dump dogs (or other animals) at the side of the road ought to be shot.

UPDATE:  Ol’ Robbo completely forgot to relate an aspect of this trip that is sure to add many, many demerits to his Man Card.  You see, barring unforeseen complications, it is no more than a 5 1/2 to 5 3/4 hours’ journey from Port Swiller Manor to my brother’s house.  Not exactly a short hop, but hardly an all day excursion either.

Nonetheless, Ol’ Robbo allowed himself to be cajoled into stopping on this trip no fewer than three times – in each direction!  The most infuriating stop was the last one: 45 minutes out from home, the Youngest – who had been sleeping most of the way – woke up and announced that she needed a pit stop.   And like the sap that I am, rayther than telling her to cross her legs and suck it up, I shamefully pulled over at the next convenience store/gas station.

What can I say?  Mea culpa.

Man Rules, of course, clearly dictate that stops on long drives are determined solely by fuel needs.  Everything else – water, snacks, meals, potty breaks – are supposed to key on that determination, and that determination alone.  You know you’re not stopping again for another three or four hours? Plan accordingly!

Deviate from this plan and you’ll be stopping every freakin’ 20 minutes for one reason or another.

The Family Robbo may need to take a very considerably longer ride some time in the next few months, and I have already made clear to Mrs. R (and directed that she inform our offspring) that I will not display such weakness again.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, here we are in Thanksgiving Week.  What with all the to-do coming over the next few days, Ol’ Robbo probably won’t get back to the blog much before Saturday.  I know this is hardly crushing nooz to the three or four of you who actually read this thing, but I thought I at least ought to let you know.

So, exit question:  Which was really the “First” Thanksgiving?

Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, Fall, 1621, which some argue was arbitrarily imposed on the Country because the Yankees won the Civil War and got to re-write the history books;

Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, December 4, 1619, which doesn’t look so good a) because of the above-referenced Yankee bias, and b) because the colony got wiped out three years later by the Powhatans;

St. Augustine, Florida, September 8, 1565, which..I mean….Spanish and Catholic?  Can’t have that as the standard; or

Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate and his expedition, Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, April 30, 1598.  (See immediately above.)

(And, of course, there may be other claimants.)

Have at it, if you like.  But I also will leave you with something on which I’m sure we all can agree:

Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Boys for Art.

Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Boys for Art.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends of the decanter, and I’ll see you on the other side!

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

My name is Robbo and I’m an eeedjit.

It is a custom at Port Swiller Manor that ol’ Robbo cooks the family dinners on weekends, in part because I enjoy doing it, in part because of the unspoken understanding that I am a better cook than Mrs. R.  This is not boasting or belittling, merely a product of circumstances:  Both of my parents cooked (the Mothe is a superb chef and the Old Gentleman could hold his own) while neither of Mrs. R’s does (heating up pre-made meals from Stew Leonard’s does not count).  As a result, I picked up a basic understanding of kitcheny things in my misspent yoot and she simply didn’t.  (And let me say here that I am somewhat Sam Gamgee-like in my knowledge: Within my own 20 mile geographical equivalent limited range, I am very competent, but I cheerfully acknowledge that I am ignorant of almost everything beyond it.)

Anyhoo, in honor of Eldest’s return from college, this evening I was cooking up a shrimp and prosciutto pasta dish to which she is much addicted, but which we rarely have, given that it comes out to about eleventy-billion calories per forkful and leaves one wreaking of garlic and shallots for about 48 hours.

Because Mrs. R has professed to vegetarianism since the last time we had this dish, I decided to sauté the prosciutto separately from the other ingredients in order that everyone could enjoy it one way or another.  To this end, I set out a separate pan of olive oil on one of the back burners to heat up.

What with my family’s infuriating habit of vanishing in the hour before din-dins, leaving me to deal with things by myself, ol’ Robbo once again gave his usual impression of Basil Fawlty, simultaneously trying to cook the main dish, prep the salad, set the table, set out appropriate condiments, and get drinks.  As I scrambled about, I lost track of the need to do up the proshute.

Suddenly remembering that the oil was more than hot and that the pasta and main sauce were about ready to go, I grabbed the bowl of cut up proshute and flung it into the pan.

That, as they say, tore it.

The proshute hit the pan, the pan splash hot oil onto the gas burner, and up she went with a most impressive shwoooosh!  

The pan was on one of the back burners, by the bye, which means it was directly in front of the splashboard and directly under the cabinet overhang.  They were rayther quickly engulfed in flame.

It’s an interesting thing:  Ol’ Robbo has never really stopped to think about whether he is brave or not.  The number of times I’ve had to face a real instantaneous crisis decision in my life, I’m happy to say, has been really rayther small.  Well, for what it’s worth, in this instance (without thinking but not without some pretty lurid language) I immediately reached into the fireball and bare-handedly snatched the pan away from the burner.

The fire quickly went down and out, the remaining oil in the pan sloshed about a bit over the range and adjoining counter.  I didn’t even get singed.

Crisis averted.  Laus Deo.

Of course, I had a mess on my hands: olive oil everywhere and a blackened backsplash and cabinet door.  Windex (that Wonder Product)  seems to have done the job for the vast majority of the discoloration.  To the extent that Mrs. R chooses to quibble about the remaining scorching, it is my intent to argue that such things give a kitchen real character (as opposed to those pristine ones featured in the snootier real-estate magazines in which you know to the very depth of your being that nobody, nobody, has ever really cooked anything).

Oh, for what it’s worth, everyone seemed to like the meal.

UPDATE:  “Reeking of garlic and shallots” of course, not “wreaking”.  You know, like the famous scene in “Casablanca” where Peter Lorre is nailed by Captain Renault’s men and screams at Bogart, “Reek! Help me! Reeeeeeeeeeek!!!

Yeesh.

 

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