Monday, January 29, 2018

South Seas

The year was 1711. Britain was meddling in several wars. The War of Spanish Succession. And there was a big quarrel between the Czar of Russia and Sweden which in those days had a king, ambitions for world domination and a colony in Delaware. And, for the Brits, there were the never ending traditional disputes with the French about pretty much everything. Meanwhile, George I of England was anxious to participate more fully in continental family maneuvering, a victory here, a victory there, but he was informed that his treasury was nine million pounds in debt. A truly ridiculous amount of money back then. A couple of bright sparks from Treadneedle Street, which was, and maybe still is, the financial district in the City of London came up with a scheme to solve the problem. A public private partnership. The private sector would sell shares in what they called the South Sea Company and raise money to help fill the national treasury. And the thing about the War of Spanish Succession was what might happen to the South Seas, a part of the world we now days call South America and which many years previously the Pope had given to Spain.

In 1711 a person who had resources to spare could buy shares in the South Seas Company. And many who did so kind of reckoned that in due course the British Government and the South Seas Company would pull itself together and do to South America what the British Government and the East India Company monopoly had done to the far east. There'd be fortunes to be made, dreams of Country Houses staffed by butlers, downstairs maids and probably Fox Hunting. All a person had to do was risk everything, sit back and wait, and if necessary borrow more money to invest in this new South Seas Company. Well, as Daniel Defoe, the trader, writer, pamphleteer and English Speaking spy pointed out, because Spaniards were quarrelling about who was the rightful heir to the Spanish Peninsular and what with everything else going on in the world, including north American English Speaking colonists fighting the indigenous peoples of the Carolinas, Spain had it's own financial interests and they weren't going to just give up on their monopoly of South America. Either way, 1711 is one of those few dates a person finds easier and easier to remember.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

God and Stuff

For years and years I labored under the Episcopalian illusion that a Mulligan was an Irish last orders cocktail of such a combination that when downed it granted an oblivion beyond the eight pint minimum. The professional would stagger homeward and probably awake in a ditch to the chorus of birds, look up at the sky and smile, then curse his throbbing head as he searched in vain for a familiar landmark that might tell him where he was. Hear the bells of the Sunday Church and know there'd be hell to pay at home. Happy days, they were, and for those interested it's the Wrens of island hedgerows that first raise the morning spirits to outrage, turn the Nightingale's poppycock songs into Owl Pellets, good enough only for lovers and the mawkish prose of the saccharine sweet. Yes indeed, Keats wanted escape from the real by becoming one with the earth, he was from Hampstead, so what do you expect. He died when he was twenty five.

More recently I have discovered that a Mulligan is a term used by Old Testament Christianity and is an indulgence that modernist Luther himself would have riled against as a total, complete and utter misunderstanding of the New Testament message. Luther had his charms of course, a tad extreme and probably would have died hungry had his marriage vows to an ex-nun not produced a partnership the better half of which had the acumen to put food on his table. At the same time a person can leap to ready conclusions which is why the gift of diligence remains a stalwart to any understanding. Mulligan Stew derives from the hobo camps, the homeless looking for food will eat anything, and if it's cooked even more delicious. And then there's golf, the rules to which are incomprehensible and probably pointless, but if I was an Old Testament God I would cast down bolts of lightening at any one found in possession of a golf stick and earthquakes would devour all golf carts and golf caddies. Sadly we more Episcopalian minded rely on The Beatitudes to keep the hereafter demon free. Can anyone still say Reformation without turning into a Pillar of Salt. Damn right there's a war on Christmas.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


Rabbit Fencing Season forces the reluctant into the outdoors. They'll be having their puppies soon enough, adorable little, soft eared creatures, bumbling around in that innocent way, but absolutely ruthless when it comes to nibbling and soon enough they'll be scattered amongst the undergrowth looking for gaps in fences. It must be a game they play, Find the Gap and Win an Egg.

Nor was it just the outdoors in January that turned Rabbit fencing season ugly.  I wasn't able to approach the task in the certain knowledge that a little light exercise, checking the knees to see if they still worked, would all combine to produce that sense of purpose that enables a body and mind to prepare for Digging Season. My sole comfort, it wasn't a wall.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Absolutely I blame the Republicans. And I'll give you a hint. He cheats at golf.

 Alternatively, Democrats stopped dreaming of crumbs and found their inner McConnell. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Toddler Theory

Those who spend their professional hours delving into the mysteries of our species have observed that if you put a bunch of four year olds in a room you risk being on the receiving end of toddler outrage if everyone doesn't get the same number of stickers as a reward for tasks attempted.

 The argument is that our more basic understanding of equity is a part of our being. Then things change. Quite why they do can be understood by applying the reasoning part of our minds to justifications for the victims of inequity. As we grow we absorb these justifications or risk being ostracized, sent to the corners.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


In the more traditional sense the word "Reactionary" is used to quickly describe those who bend toward an opposition to progress. The assumption being that "Progress" is a steady improvement rather than the ceremonial journey that some one like Catherine the Great might have made through her realm so that she might judge for herself the condition of her subjects.

 And for those interested during Catherine's progress through her new territory of The Crimea there's a rumor that a Prince called Potemkin built mobile villages that could be moved overnight to new locations along Catherine's progress so that she could feel a little bit more confident about the condition of her subjects.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Thank goodness for the snow. Three degrees Fahrenheit tonight and No Dentist tomorrow. These are the sort of things that make Winter worth waiting for. Red rosy cheeks, touch of frostbite on the ears, and a good chance I might never feel my toes again, they've always been an unnecessary burden what with the nails needing cutting and the terrible damage they do to socks.

I just love it and so do the Domestic Pets, I'm quite certain they'll soon be out there in the outdoors prowling around like miniature Snow Leopards. Probably just gearing up at the moment for their great adventure. And I'll certainly be joining them, I'll pretend to be a giant Bunny Rabbit so they can chase me around. Uncharacteristic! Maybe, but we can all live in hope.

Monday, January 15, 2018


Anyone who didn't know has been living in a paper bag. But what's new?

Always been proud to claim Africa as my place of birth. Even more so now.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cup of Tea

Bronwyn the Seamstress' Carmelite Monastery is beginning to look less like a Victorian Military Barracks and more like one of those secretive places where sinister happenings and God knows what goes on. When I think back I worked one day a week in a garden near such a place, and while enthusiastically engaged in my responsibilities to my brand new employer, who was pretty good at keeping an eye on my progress and diligence by peering at me through net curtains with binoculars, I decided I'd Just go ahead ask, "What exactly goes on next door?" Her reply, "It's very hush-hush." Back then of course when old people used the expression 'hush-hush' they meant secret wartime type stuff, and as a rule after a brief glance at the bushes they'd tell you everything they knew in gory and minute detail. Not Mrs. Binoculars, and I sensed a deep suspicion in her, so I nodded wisely, pursed a lip and tried not to look like a ne'er do well hell bent on the destruction of Western Civilization. The following week, when Mrs. Binoculars brought out the midmorning cup of tea, which wasn't easy for her because she had a bad leg which required her to use a walking stick, she asked "Why do you want to know what's going on next door?"

I thanked her for the tea, probably shrugged in a straw chewing kind of way, might have said something about edging or Wisteria roots and all the while I knew from the expression on her face she expected something better than Potemkin answers from an hourly paid employee who'd arrived ten minutes late for his second day of work. Not certain what response I finally came up with but it produced from her a rather long explanation for why it was the world would be a much better place if people minded their own business. As she spoke I gained the possibly fanciful understanding that the next door property had nothing to do with "It's very hush-hush" and had a great deal more to do with some long drown out Hatfield and McCoy type thing. The "hush-hush" part was a peculiar and convoluted mantra my employer used in an attempt to maintain some sense of order and decency in her world whenever anyone brought up the subject of her neighbor. Several midmorning cups of tea later, I was beginning to suspect that my fanciful understanding of my employer's relationship with the neighbor was planted in firm ground. I thanked her for the tea. "Their getting a divorce!" She replied. Briefly I wondered whether my employer had hit the liquor bottle. By the November of that year, all the leaves raked, the midmorning cup of tea included two phrases. "It's why we never had an au pair" and "We'll not need you again until next year."

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fence Walking

Warm spells for us attic dwellers who share our accommodations with wintering Ladybirds are a mixed blessing. They are dear little creatures possessed of an inquisitiveness around the activities of those amongst us who may be attempting to construct N scale fencing, a scale where the height of a large adult human is approximately the length of small well manicured finger nail. And when temperatures soar the Ladybirds become active, they discover a strong desire to launch themselves into flight from the higher peaks of an indoor landscape. The N scale fence is far from an ideal launching pad, far too pointy for the exercise which appears to require all six legs to be firmly attached to a surface otherwise any attempt to open the wing cases results in frustration for both Ladybird and observer.

They are also very stubborn, which means a single minded attachment to the "try and try again" philosophy, and if that fails give it another name and "repeat."  I guess it's a live and let live world, and yet a soft hearted wishy-washy liberal does find himself spending a great deal of valuable time in Ladybird husbandry. They don't communicate well but they can be persuaded to stop wandering endlessly up and down on the top of an N scale fence if their progress is interrupted by a suitable block of wood. This gives them a chance to regain a little dignity and as if of their own free will discover an alternative to the fruitless exercise of fence walking. It's a Eureka moment for them and off they go into the bright blue yonder, take a turn or two before heading for the light bulb where there's a whole Icarus thing which often ends up in a coffee cup.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

High Office

Not sure the extent to which high office applies to gardeners. It doesn't take much to dig a hole, plant something or turn a Compost Pile. A little empathy, perhaps, but otherwise we're not talking years of training, even if we are talking many, many more years of practice, heartbreak, physical exhaustion, injury and disappointment, all of which may contribute.

But the idea of for example sitting in the emergency ward struggling with something like a burst appendix in the hope that someone who might have received something like a lifetime achievement Oscar for playing the role of a magical aunt on the television might relieve you of your appendix, shouldn't make any sense.

Monday, January 8, 2018


One of the early attempts at an English Language dictionary was the work of a man of spirit and opinion called Samuel Johnson. In his dictionary which was published in the 1750's he defined the word "Patron" this way. "A wretch who supports with indolence and is paid with flattery." His definition of "Refuse" (pronounced refyoos, or some call it trash) goes this way "That which remains disregarded when the rest is taken." Samuel Johnson's almost kittenish view of objectivity around words came to a screeching halt in the Victorian era with the introduction of what's called the Oxford English Dictionary, the first edition of which was at last completed in 1928, and which from 1879 until his death in 1915 was edited in part by a man called Sir James Augustus Henry Murray. During his time as editor he was responsible for words that began with A-D, H-K, O-P and T. James Murray was a Scotsman, he was a lexicographer and he was a philologist, all of which meant his understanding of language was guided by a more anthropological approach to the meaning of words, it was serious business and had nothing to do with humor or entertainment. Mind you there's not a great deal of distance between Johnson's "wind from behind"  and  "A slight explosion between the legs" which was the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "fart" when I was like a totally stable misunderstood nine year old.

One of Murray's techniques for researching the definition of words was to seek assistance from the general public. There were quite strict rules for those who wished to contribute, and many of those who made the effort erred upon the Johnsonian side and came up with all sorts of erroneous and puerile  examples of word usage, which is always a problem when dealing with the less dedicated masses, who do tend to wander in their understanding of logical conclusions. The great example from what now feels like 50 years ago was the General Public of the United Kingdom's decision in 2016 to name the National Environment Research Council's 200 million £ polar research ship, Boaty McBoatface.  A decision by poll which I'm sure would have sent Sir James Murray to turning in his grave, but which I rather like and which very adequately sums up what happens to empires. All the same one of the major contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary during Murray's tenure as editor, was a man called  Dr. William Chester Minor. An apparently upstanding contributor who'd  greatly impressed Murray with his detailed research into meaning of words as they were used in the literature of the day and in the past. The two men corresponded regularly and over the years a bromance developed. Time came for the two scholars to finally meet. Dr. Minor's postal address was the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, in Berkshire, England, where to Murray's surprise Dr. William Chester Minor was an inmate, not the Governor. Either way, I still prefer Johnson's definition of Patron and of Refuse.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Winter Sports

The Girl Cat appears to have recovered from the tumultuous events of 2017 and possibly exacerbated by frigid weather she's quit the whole ornamental approach to being upon earth and has rediscovered her hunter gathering roots. Quite why cold weather has produced this response in her I really have no clue. And yet those who might claim that the hunter gathering life style invariably produces appalling personal habits, such as eating cheeseburgers in bed, should think again. The Girl Cat, who's beginning to look like a small woolly Saber Toothed Tiger, politely deposits her many and various hapless victims on the back step, where there's always a chance one or other of the proud primary caregivers might step on it.

It's the Kitten who's observed what I reckon is the more progressive attitude to cold weather. She doesn't like it, remains indoors, and to avoid any chance of frostbite insists upon being carried across frozen ground from the domicile to the Artists place of work, otherwise she gets terribly bored and roams the house in a far from endearing manner. And there's a chance that deep in her dark soul the Kitten has a yearning to follow a path her ancestors would look dimly upon, and I say "dark soul" because in her there are clear and worrying signs of what has to be a zoomorphic plagiarism. Can't tell you the number of times those indoors have had their attempts to make peace with the elements badly distressed by the Kitten playing what I guess is sort of feline ice hockey. The puck is usually a partial dissected frozen Vole sourced from the back step. The stick is a paw. The rink is the kitchen floor and the goal is somewhere under the refrigerator. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Tourism Board

I know I've been here before, but Carmelite Monasteries or Convents should not look like Victorian Military Barracks. The fact that Bronwyn the Seamstress' Carmelites in Saint Barbara seem to have built a military barracks for themselves makes a total mockery of this winter's Winter Project. The answer is obvious, I'm going to have to clutter the grounds and environs of the convent with outbuildings and other grand schemes. After all the wise heads in Saint Barbara are keen to encourage tourism, they want people to visit, stay briefly, spend a great deal of money and then go back to wherever they came from, taking their litter and children with them. It's a good, healthy, xenophobic attitude ameliorated a little by the county's Tourism Board's "Have a Nice Day" project which attempts to advise citizens of the county on how to present a more pleasing and welcoming attitude toward outsiders, the weekly classes are free, snacks are provided, and residents are encouraged to attend.

One of the ideas floating around involves the Carmelite presence in the county, this means that turning Bronwyn's Monastery into a tourist attraction has met with stiff opposition from The Reverend Mother, as she's recently insisted upon being called. She's taken an almost violent objection to an idea from Major Bernice of Saint Barbara's Militia that a viewing stand should be erected on land adjoining the Monastery so that visitors to the county might see over the Monastery walls and get a sense of discalced lifestyle and habits for themsleves. A new railway station with canteen, tobacconist and ice cream stand would be constructed, and there'd be swings and slides for the younger crowd who might not be that interested in the comings and goings on Monastery grounds.  I like the idea myself, nothing wrong with railway stations, the more the merrier.  This one will have a curved platform, which does take planning.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Current Events

Were I a disgustingly wealthy person I'd have a special, windowless, padded room devoted entirely to Emotional Days Off. It would be well stocked with things like fruit cake, mash Potato and gravy, cans of sweetened condensed milk, there'd be hot and cold running water, a tooth brush, toilet facilities, an ennui recliner and shelves lined with books. But as a wishy-washy liberal such a space can only be imagined and so the options available to the set of emotions that sometimes just needs a good long break from current events is to issue a fatwa. Two days later a person wakes up cheerful, refreshed and then does something ridiculous, he decides to check the internet weather forecast for signs of hope.

One thing leads to another and the next thing you know he's reading about someone bursting into to tears of anguish when she discovers that her husband won a presidential election. A sensible well balanced and properly refreshed person, despite being eager for more, quickly dismisses this as an obvious case of Fake News, and does the new age equivalent of turning the page. "Iguanas are falling out of trees in Florida because it's so cold. Please don't pick them up." "Moore's 'Jewish Attorney' is a practicing Christian." "Eric Trump claims Ellen DeGeneres is running a Shadow Government." In the old days of course you could find emotional release by taking the newspaper outside and jumping up and down on it.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


In feels like terms your wintering correspondent is probably wearing the equivalent to forty pounds of assorted clothing, socks and hats, this means that climbing the stairs is as useful an activity as maybe digging over ten square yards of ground in early March. Climb the stairs four or five times and my sense of saintliness is such that I'm too exhausted to even think about doing anything foolish like going outside. It's the case also that in the search for perfection we saints understand the value of humility to the great oneness, we don't just sit there feeling smug as we stare at the floor, waiting.

Instead we remember the words of the Alawite Poet: "How can a man, creator of meaning, draw his destiny into one utterance. How can his spirit be poured into a wall." The reference is to monotheists though I guess it could just as well apply to the other wall. Mind you, there is no such thing as suitable hand-wear when it's like this outside, which is why we saints risk losing fingers to frostbite when we present ourselves to the outdoors to selflessly remind the Mockingbird of our existence by cursing the Northern Hemisphere and having a smoke. Sadly with poets, failure to observe traditional meter draws criticism from the purists, and it's the same with the political process. No wonder Bronwyn's Convent looks like a Victorian Military Barracks.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year

At the peak of the Festive Season your correspondent had walked for miles through the parking area and he was inside the Grocery Store. The C-word was being tossed around like confetti by those who block the aisles with loaded shopping carts so they can engage in endless discussion around the complexities presented by long distance relatives who may or may not be visiting for the Day of Consumption. Nor can a polite shopper, who probably should have had a shave, just stand there clearing his throat, because it just doesn't work with those on the verge of a nervous breakdown at the prospect of the husband's aunt "dropping in again." Which means alternative routes around the logjam have to be mapped. And that was how I found myself in the Soft Drink aisle, remembering the two cans of Coca-Cola left over from one of the Artist's stranger projects that had something to do with pouring it over ancient wooden planks. Everyone knows that soft drinks of any kind are products of Satan and should only ever be purchased in pursuit of pure forms derived through creative exploration, and anything like a can or two of Coca-cola left over from such a worthy adventure are pretty much doomed to a life of purposelessness lost to the back of a shelf, unless a noble soul bravely puts them out of their misery by drinking them. It's a good cause, a charitable act, and doesn't taste too bad if you enjoy the sensation of sweet fizzy watery syrup bubbling through the dentures before quarreling with an amalgam of stomach acids that have certainly seen better days and take pleasure in letting you know it.

But there's a reason festive throngs are unable to forbid their more sickly offspring from running up and down Satan's Soft Drink Aisle shrieking at the top of their lungs and generally sniffling in a manner that can only be described as public health hazard. I had to pause to hold my breath beside the mountain of Coca-Cola. You could buy three 12 packs for ten dollars if you had the card. I had the card, but ten dollars is easily a sky scraper and several railway stations in N Scale and who in their right mind wants 36 cans of Coca-Cola. The other thing about genuine Coca-Cola is that it comes in a red can, and through the course of the year of 2017 some of us have developed a peculiar aphasic reaction to the color red that leaves us with the ability to hear but robs us of the ability to believe what's being said. Briefly I made the mistake of wondering why I hadn't used the sanitary tissues provided to wipe the handles of my obviously infectious shopping cart, and as I slowly convinced myself that I had every conceivable symptom of terminal flue, a young male labeled Duane wearing the award winning black shirt of an Associate of the Day asked me whether I needed help. I said, "No." To which he replied "Have a Happy Holidays!" "And a Very Merry New Year to you!" I fired back. A beam of light came down from the heavens and as glory shone all around, I almost damaged my elegant wrists lifting a 12 pack of Pepsi-Cola into my cart. It cost three dollars and fifty cents with card. And for those interested, Pepsi-Cola comes in a comprehensible blue can with a maybe three electoral votes sized bit of red on it.