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I’m reduced to this

We’ve finally reached the advanced age and modest level of prosperity that we want for nothing. If we desire a thing during the year, we buy it. If something breaks, we replace it right away.

Which is fine and all, except…Christmas. We are both utterly stumped for gifts. We neither of us collect things or have hobbies. We don’t like to travel or eat out and we dress like hobos by choice.

I’m reduced to cruising Ebay for quirk. Quirk is bad, y’all. Uncle B hates whimsy. At this rate, it’ll be an antique French mustache cup and a box of chocolates under the tree.

Wait, I’m’a try a little ginspiration.

November 29, 2023 — 8:45 pm
Comments: 13

You shot the wrong train, Fritz

“On Friday 27th November 1942 a German fighter was brought down by a railway engine when a steam hauled train was attacked near Lydd in Kent. The exploding boiler brought down the Fw190 killing the pilot. Remarkably the crew of the loco survived and the engine was repaired.” From this xweet.

Huh. We drove through Lydd this afternoon. This part of the country got seriously torn up during the war because German planes going home just dumped any munitions they had left on their way back from whatever their mission was. I mean, machine guns down the high street kind of thing.

Changing the subject, I’m kinda bummed. I went to one of my favorite sites for local news and found a message at the top saying they were shutting down in three days.

“However, it is no secret that changes in the media landscape and decisions made by large tech platforms have made life much harder for all media businesses.”

I wonder what, specifically, that means?

November 27, 2023 — 7:55 pm
Comments: 5

The last voyage of the Gallant Maid

We drove through the town of Rye this afternoon as they were building their bonfire.

The boat is a tradition. It harks back to olden times, when Rye was a harbor and sometimes groups of miscreants would go down to the dock and set fires. There’s a story that one ship’s captain was drinking and whooping and enjoying the spectacle, until he realized it was his own ship on fire.

The harbor silted up hundreds of years ago and the sea is miles away now, but if they can find a derelict boat, they lay it on the bonfire.

It’s a sad tradition, I think. This one even looks reparable.

Good bye, Gallant Maid, and good weekend to you all!

p.s. it looks like Rich Rostrom has won the Dick with Frank Borman. I saw it too late for this week, so you know the drill.

November 10, 2023 — 7:31 pm
Comments: 11

How things can change

I have to go out tonight, so I will leave you with the historic tale of the Lewes avalanche.

England was a much, much colder place in them there days. During the ‘Little Ice Age’ (c. 16th to 19th C) the Thames would often freeze over in Winter, hard enough that they could hold Frost Fairs on its surface.

In 1836, it started snowing in October and the ground wasn’t clear until April. There were ten foot drifts in parts of Lewes, a town along the south coast in Sussex. A particularly strong snowstorm arrived on the 24th and blew right through Christmas.

Nobody in town noticed that on the chalk cliffs above the town, a giant cornice had formed – that’s like a curved wave made of snow. A few bits came down on Boxing Day and destroyed a shed. Some townies suggested the people right below should evacuate for a while, but they didn’t. Nobody appreciated how huge the cornice had grown.

There was a collection of ramshackle homemade cottages in the path of the avalanche. It came down on the 27th – not in a landslide, but as a huge chunk – and buried them alive. There were 15 people at home, mostly women and children, of which eight died. A hundred and fifty turned up to dig the bodies out.

Lewes is in my sort of latitude. In my 27 years coming here (lordy, has it been that long?), I’ve never seen a snowfall worthy of the name. The most I remember was about four inches (and, typical of places that don’t often get snow, it paralyzed everything).

Honest and truly, I’m more worried about the possibility of another ice age than I am warmening, which is most welcome.

November 9, 2023 — 5:24 pm
Comments: 3

I have promoted a falsehood

Kind of. Maxwell House coffee was named after the Maxwell House hotel in Nashville. The hotel was started just before the outbreak of the Civil War and was taken over and used, unfinished, as a barracks for the Union Army.

Finished, it was the biggest hotel in Nashville. Nathan Bedford Forrest was inducted into the KKK in Maxwell House, and the first national meeting was held there.

According to Wikipedia: “Its Christmas dinner featuring calf’s head, black bear, and opossum, and other unusual delicacies became famous.”

For the record, I have eaten black bear and it was gross. I have not eaten possum and I would nonetheless object on principle to calling possum a delicacy.

The hotel burned down Christmas 1961.

Maxwell House coffee was served there, but it was called that because the man who blended it, Joel Cheek, swore he’d name it after his first big sale and the hotel agreed. I doubt it tastes today very much like it tasted then.

The Cheeks were an interesting old Nashville family (I mean, as old as anything is in Nashville). Joel gave most of his money away and his cousins were the Cheeks who built Cheekwood, family mansion turned art museum.

Every year, Cheekwood hosts the Swan Ball, a giant showoffy charity fundraiser for Middle Tennessee’s rich bastards. There are some astonishingly rich bastards in Middle Tennessee, and it ain’t country music money. Old plantation money filtered down and the like. My folks went to the ball a couple of times, though sadly not quite of that ilk.

Anyway, back to the falsehood – but it wasn’t mine. Teddy Roosevelt did not declare Maxwell House coffee to be “good to the last drop” – but the company claimed he did for a long time. Which is why my sainted mother told me. They later confessed the trademark was invented by Clifford Spiller, the president of General Foods.

What Roosevelt actually said about the coffee was – and this is so much cooler than “good to the last drop” – “This is the kind of stuff I like to drink, by George, when I hunt bears.” (Forgive me, Durnedyankee, I thought you were kidding).

p.s. I don’t think I can accept Robert Card as a Deadpool win. We’ll never know when he actually died.

November 2, 2023 — 6:53 pm
Comments: 1


Welcome to the Big Book of Torcs – which is not a book at all, but an interactive website (meaning, they’d welcome feedback) about British Iron Age torcs.

Tessa Matchling is secretary of the Prehistoric Society and Roland Williamson is a craftsman of museum-quality replicas. They got talking about how these things were made, and this website grew out of it.

It’s an interesting topic. Torcs come in all shapes and methods of manufacture. They were a high status item, sometimes maybe a sign of office or rank. Men, women and (maybe children) wore them. Some were a simple twist of metal and some were amazingly elaborate.

After the Romans beat the Celts in one battle in 191 BC, they looted 1,500 torcs (officers?).

They were sometimes buried with the owner, sometimes deliberately broken and put into graves and sometimes buried together in groups. Sometimes when they are buried together, they are interlocked. Sometimes wear patterns show they were worn for a long time, by more than one person.

So, status symbol, portable wealth, mark of rank, personal branding and probably something…eh…spiritual? Archeologists are too quick to put spiritual significance on ancient objects, but it’s clear torcs were significant things.

October 4, 2023 — 7:51 pm
Comments: 10

The Flower of Kent

This “distinctly ugly” cooking apple is known as the Flower of Kent. Its parent tree lives at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire.

You know that about apples, do you? Apples are genetically diverse, so if you grow an apple tree from a seed, there’s no guarantee the resulting apple will taste like the parent – or even taste good! Hence apple trees are grown from cuttings grafted onto some other tree’s root stock.

All the varieties that have names have been grown from cuttings (or cuttings from cuttings) from an original tree somewhere. Every Granny Smith you’ve ever eaten came from a little slice of that one tree Maria Ann Smith bred in her orchard in Australia in 1868.

But I digress. This lumpy specimen is from the tree Newton sat under when “the notion of gravity came into his mind occasion’d by the fall of an apple.” And you can own one!

For a mere £30, you can buy a stick that was cut from a tree that was grown from a stick from Isaac Newton’s tree that can be grafted onto a root that will grow into a tree that will bear a fruit that is apparently very meh.

But if you smack someone upside the head with it, maybe they’ll get super smart.

September 21, 2023 — 6:51 pm
Comments: 3

Cousin Spotty!

My cousin sent me this picture. She took it in a museum in Barbados. We are, in fact, related to Alexander Spotswood, a thing we keenly remember because our grandfather – an amateur painter with more enthusiasm than talent – made a copy of this portrait.

It hung in our grandparents’ house. We called him Cousin Spotty.

Wikipedia do say:

Alexander Spotswood (12 December 1676 – 7 June 1740) was a British Army officer, explorer and lieutenant governor of Colonial Virginia; he is regarded as one of the most significant historical figures in British North American colonial history.

Oh, I see. The “most significant historical figures” part is a good indication Cousin Spotty was some kind of distant cousin. My grandfather, bless him, was a terrible clout chaser.

I’ll have to ask my cousin. Some years ago, her daughter did the deep dive necessary to join the DAR.

I’d join myself, but it’s not exactly a prestige organization in Jollye Olde.

June 29, 2023 — 6:49 pm
Comments: 9


Did you see this? A company called Magellan used remote-controlled submersibles to take 700,000 high resolution photos of the Titanic to stitch together a complete 3D model.

They don’t say what they intend to do with it. I suppose it’s too much to ask that they put it up on Sketchfab like archaeological digs sometimes do, so I can play with it. They’re making a making of documentary, anyway.

Watch the video at the top of the BBC article, at least. Though, as usual, the Daily Mail article is more fun, including trivia about the inventory:

There were also 800 elderdown quilts, 12,000 knives and 12,000 forks, 19,000 spoons, 400 sugar basins, 500 cream jugs, 1,000 finger bowls, 12,000 cups and saucers and 1,200 teapots.

As well as the champagne, the drinks on board included 1,000 bottles of wine, 850 bottles of spirits and 150,000 bottles of beer.

Food included 75,000lbs of red meat, 25,000lbs of poultry, 11,000lbs of fresh fish, 40,000 eggs, 250 barrels of flour, 40 tons of potatoes, 800 bundles of asparagus and 36,000 apples.

Also, I was once made fun of for my spelling of whoa. Or maybe woah. I can’t remember which one I used. Anyway, I asked the internet and it told me:

Whoa is the original spelling. The spelling woah emerged more recently. The earliest evidence of woah in writing is thought to come from online message boards in the early 1980s. Indeed, the increase in the use of the spelling woah is often associated with digital communications.

May 18, 2023 — 7:01 pm
Comments: 12

The barons are back, baby!

Annnnd it’s Friday. Lord help you people if someone died because I ain’t doing a Dead Pool until I’m back.

Zo! If they don’t sit at the monarch’s right hand at dinner and they don’t carry a canopy, is there any point inviting the Barons of the Cinque Ports to the coronation? Victoria didn’t think so, so she didn’t.

The Barons yelped like scalded hounds. When the old gal popped her clogs at last, the Mayor of Rye brought their grievance to the Court of Claims. Which is, believe it or not, a special court that decides who gets to do what at a coronation.

The court ruled somewhat in their favor – they had a right to attend but they don’t get to do anything. So, yes, the Barons of the Cinque Ports will be there tomorrow. The barons will all be the mayors, looks like. They’re pretty ordinary men and women nowadays – we’ve chatted with some of them at village fêtes – but they do have spiffy costumes for special occasions.

I doubt we’ll watch the coronation live, but we’ll probably watch the recap. Modern Brits are awfully good at pulling off this pageantry stuff (I say modern Brits – if you followed any of the links to coronations past, there were plenty of screwups).

p.s. Astonished to see someone has published a series of bodice-rippers feature the Barons of the Cinque Ports.

May 5, 2023 — 3:00 pm
Comments: 5