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The Day of Syn

Another one from Saturday: Doctor Syn, the Vicar of Dymchurch. The smuggler. Also pirate.

Dymchurch is a real village, but Doctor Syn was the fictional protagonist of a series of books by Russell Thorndike (lesser known brother to Shakespearean actress Sybil Thorndike).

There have been three film adaptations, and you may well have seen the third: Disney’s 1963 The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. Patrick McGoohan did a fine job with it. It was filmed on location all around the area, which makes it especially fun for us to watch.

It was unavailable in DVD for years and years except as a rough bootleg, then Disney came out with a commemorative boxed set. In one of life’s small weirdnesses, mine came in the mail the day I left the US for England, for good.

We sat down to watch it, and Uncle Walt’s monologue starts out something like “the Scarecrow was a real man and folks ’round Romney Marsh still tell stories…” and Uncle B shot me the look.

Some years ago, I got the books as audio books to listen to on my long commute. The seven books were written between 1915 and 1944. They were astonishingly bloodthirsty. Our grandparents had to be less uptight than we give them credit for, if they could stomach a hero who was a man of God by day and a sadistic murderer in his spare time.

Like the transmogrification of pirates into children’s literature.

June 30, 2021 — 7:11 pm
Comments: 7


No, not the beer. Pabst Blue Ribbon is the ultimate tiger piss (what my mother called cheap American beer). In time for the 4th, Pabst is putting out the 1776-pack – 1,766 cans of beer.

I asked the internet how much a can of beer weighs and got the answer .78 of a pound. So the 1776-pack weighs in at 1,385.28. You’d think the cans at the bottom would be crushed. Maybe they won’t really put them in a giant box in the back of a pickup truck with a dent in the door panel.

You won’t be surprised to learn they’re only making four of them to give away to select influencers (ew, I hate that term. Is there really such a thing as a cheap beer influencer?). But fear not – ordinary uninfluencers can still buy a 99-pack of tiger piss.

This ad really threw me when I saw it. I was waiting for the punchline. When was the last time you saw a company a) correctly identify who their customers are and b) attempt to appeal to them?

I’ve grown accustomed to being scolded by capitalism for my sins.

June 29, 2021 — 5:53 pm
Comments: 16

Taxes. It’s always taxes.

We went to the Summer fete on Saturday. They made us sanitize our hands and sign in – it’s part of the ‘track and trace’ thing in the UK. In theory, if one of the hundreds of people attending came down with covid, they’d phone all of us up and make us isolate. Ha!

We went in, and just like that, it was the old normal. Not a mask in sight. People hugging and laughing and standing inside the social distance to converse. Kids running around screaming and doing cartwheels in the grass. Petting other people’s dogs and buying junk.

The tents asked people to stay six feet apart in the queue, and they did when they remembered. They usually forgot.

If you were worried that we’d transmogrified into a world of neurotics, nah. The lower orders, at least, are going to be just fine.

Pictured, a smuggler brains a redcoat. This part of Sussex was alive with smuggling in the late 18th C. High taxes on luxury goods like tobacco, brandy and tea meant an ordinary man could get by very well rowing untaxed goods over from France (France, on the other hand, was desperate for leather, wool and other commodities, so it worked both ways).

There was a large contingent of colorful smugglers in attendance (and a much smaller group of redcoats). They put on a display of musketry, among other things.

Yes, that’s right. If I wanted to hassle with muzzle-loading, I could have my guns again. I’ve always fancied a blunderbuss.

June 28, 2021 — 8:41 pm
Comments: 13


Uncle B’s been entertaining his buddies. This is almost certainly a young bachelor. Year-old males are kicked out of the sett when they reach sexual maturity to fend for themselves.

These boys go off on their own and scavenge for food. Kind of sad, really.

Uncle B called the local badger group for advice, but there’s not much to do. Get rid of the outdoor chicken food. If he starts to claw at the chicken pens, electric fence. Badgers are a protected species.

Uncle B asked the badger lady whether it would be okay to feed the poor boy and she said sure, she did that 25 years ago and now she’s feeding a whole colony of his descendants and she’s head of the local badger group. So, no.

Good weekend, all!

June 25, 2021 — 7:53 pm
Comments: 14


I forgot how sticky the CCTV is for my eyeballs. Clockwise from the upper left:

1. The window over the kitchen sink, so I can see who’s coming in and stealing catfood in the middle of the night. No luck yet.

2. My white trash chicken empire. Yeah, it looks bad. Most of those ratty old enclosures will go when my flock is whittled down.

3. The front. Needs a strim. Kitty!

4. The Bin. The bin-raiding villain hasn’t been back for two days. I think I’m not leaving enough chicken food in for bait, but dammit I hate wasting the stuff. I left a bag out tonight.

And yes, I’ve seen Gigi, the wannabe mama. Saw her this morning. I leave food for her outside the ‘ole – which disappears, but our garden is mobbed with little birds (not to mention mice, etc.), so I can’t be sure it’s her eating it.

June 24, 2021 — 7:38 pm
Comments: 7

Then there’s this garden drama

In this hole, there lives a chicken. At least, I hope she’s still there – I haven’t seen her today.

She’s a jaunty little orange poland hen who vanished over the weekend, presumed devoured. But then she appeared briefly the next morning, nervous and starving hungry, before zooming out of reach and disappearing. Same again the following afternoon.

Broody! I knew they had a hidden place they were laying eggs (I get more eggs when they’re locked up), but I’ve looked all over and couldn’t find it. I finally managed to follow her back to this hole.

It goes way back and is too small for the fox (I hope). It’s covered in layers of brushwood. I think she’s okay in there.

It’s about six feet from the bin that It raids at night

But here’s my dilemma: I’m pretty sure she’s sitting on duds. They’ve been laying there (or somewhere hidden) for months. And, anyway, if they aren’t duds, the LAST thing I need are more chickens. Giving them away wouldn’t be easy, either – they’re mixed breed mongrels and chicken keepers are snooty about that.

I could try to catch her and snap her out of it, but it’s awfully distressing for the chicken. Not to mention the eggs, if they’ve started to germinate.

Pekins go broody at the drop of a hat – they’re famous for it – and I have plenty of experience shooing them off empty nesting boxes. But this girl is not a pekin. She is serious, is sitting on actual eggs, and has a shot at being a mama. I really hate to interfere.

One way or t’other, we’ll know on the 4th of July.

June 23, 2021 — 6:46 pm
Comments: 15

Werewolf, probably

This is the bin I keep my chicken food in. It’s large and has clips on either end. Something has been raiding it for a week. Something big.

I didn’t think much of it at first. I assumed whateveritis would sample chicken pellets, go “ew” and leave them alone, but the bastard has developed a taste for them. Three days ago, it tore the lid off and left the bin open to the rain all night. I woke up to a brand new 20 kilo bag of layer’s pellets soaked into a foot-thick layer of disgusting slush.

So yesterday I hauled my old CCTV cameras and set them up. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Let’s leave it at that.

Now we wait.

In Britain, it can really only be a fox or a badger. There just aren’t that many large mammals left here. It seems too strong for a fox, but not destructive enough for a badger. Suspense.

I remember now why I stopped using the CCTV: I feel compelled to stare at it all the time.

June 22, 2021 — 6:56 pm
Comments: 17

Happy Summer Solstice!

High Summer, y’all. Just *look* at those boiling temperatures.

I’m sour. I had an adventure today. Not only was it hammering down on the way in but the Highways Agency has allowed the bike path to overgrow completely. And by completely, I mean I couldn’t see the path at all most of the way and in places the weeds were shoulder height. I had a mile of this.

I have a complete yellow slicker wet suit which I capped off with wellies. First thing that happened, the wellies filled up with water.

The way back was worse. The chain kept slipping and at one point a thick rope of grass wrapped around my leg and jerked me off the bike. I had to walk from there, which wasn’t any easier. Either the bike could be on the path or I could, not both. I’m shattered.

I’m currently wrapped in an electric blanket and I refuse to budge until a gin and tonic is waved under my snout.

Another snippet from my Prehistory seminar last week: the DNA guy was interesting. They’ve analyzed around 400 skeletons so far. Iron Age women had their first babies around 20 (this is derived from deaths in childbirth). They married around that age (or whatever the Iron Age equivalent of marriage was) and moved to live with their husband’s family. They were monogamous: they have found no evidence of half-siblings. Which is interesting – you’d think there would at least be remarriages after a death.

So, that proves it. The hippies were wrong about everything.

June 21, 2021 — 6:47 pm
Comments: 14

Even your fingerprints are gendered

I’ve spent all day at a Zoom prehistory conference. Again. Last one on my schedule.

One of the most interesting talks was a woman who studies finger prints and marks on Iron Age clay pots.

She started by taking fingerprints from 350 modern people to make a baseline. Turns out, fingerprints are sexually dimorphic. I mean, yes, the taller you are the bigger your prints regardless of gender, but apparently you can tell the difference between the fingerprints of a large woman and a small man: the man’s ridges are thicker.

Then she had to calculate average height, which was 4% shorter in the Bronze Age and 6% shorter in the Iron Age. Agriculture shortened people (and lives) – less variety in the diet.

Finally, she had to take off another 6% for clay shrinkage during firing.

She studied two kinds of pots. The first were large cooking and storage pots that were decorated with finger-pokes. Some random, some in patterns. The second were roughly made, utilitarian troughs squished together and fired on the spot for the purposes of evaporating salt water into salt.

Turns out, the big pots were made and decorated entirely by women and children, some as young as five, and the salt troughs were slammed together entirely by men and teenage boys (the youngest was 12).

I love the mental image of Iron Age tots being encouraged to poke pots, randomly.

I hope the highly gendered roles stuck in some craws. Academics (I follow a lot of these same people on Twitter) are woke as hell these days.

June 18, 2021 — 6:12 pm
Comments: 8

Gammon pride

If you have spent any time at all on Limey social media, you will have heard a wokester call an Englishman a gammon. This is especially meant to invoke, I think, a white man of a certain age, pink and fatty. For reasons we can guess, gammons seem to be particularly found of calling other gammons gammons.

I say we own it. And why not? Gammon is a cut of pork they sell here – it’s simply uncooked ham. And who doesn’t love ham? Except, of course, strict adherents to certain pig-deprived religions.

The pig – the wild boar – was sacred to many ancient Germanic gods and goddesses. Tacitus, writing in the First Century, said the Germanic tribes wore boarskins into battle. Boars were a symbol of ferocity worn on the helmets of Anglo-Saxon warriors (Beowolf, for a famous example).

The spectacular Iron Age Garton Slack chariot burial, in East Yorkshire, featured a whole chariot, two horses and a warrior with the head of a pig split open, food side up, on his chest. A last meal in the afterlife.

The archaeological evidence tells us that for hundreds of years, people came from all corners of the island, driving pigs before them, to a giant pork feast at the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge. Among other sacred sites.

In short, pigs: a wonderful, magical animal.

June 17, 2021 — 8:54 pm
Comments: 12