Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The English Tourists ... By O. Reader


            Cornwall is always an attractive part of Britain for vacations, because traditionally it has a milder climate than most places, dubbed the Cornish Riviera in the brochures. So here we are, dodging the rain showers and acting like traditional tourists for a week.
            Our daughter and son-in-law love Cornwall because as a county it is very dog friendly. The beaches are dog friendly. The bars and some restaurants are dog friendly. And the folk clubs are dog friendly. Because of this, you tend to just get responsible dog owners, who pick up after them, if you know what I mean. The Abba Song Super Trouper is generally sung as Pooper Scooper here.
            Taking dogs with you has its humorous side. At one place we visited I saw an extremely large black dog of indeterminate breed bound up to a man who was standing there with his family and head-butt him in the groin. As he went “ooof” and partly doubled over, a small voice trilled “Daddy, he’s slobbered all over you...” There was a slight pause and then “It looks like you’ve wet yourself...” At that point we tiptoed carefully away...
            Our main touristy day out so far has been to visit The Lost Gardens of Heligan. If any readers are ever in Cornwall it is well worth a visit. It was originally an estate of well over 200 acres belonged to just one family for about 400 years - a regularly repeated story in British history. But the First World War decimated the staff and the whole place fell into disrepair and over decades was literally lost. A visitor, who was not a gardener but an archaeologist, stumbled upon it through brambles around 1990, and the project of re-birth commenced. A series of documentaries on British TV really put it on the map in the late 1990s. We were last there about 15 years ago when it was very much a work in progress - now it is almost finished and maintained in beautiful condition. There are walled gardens originally designed to make the estate self-sufficient, and numerous exotic plants in wild valleys, now reached by modern broad-walks. Quite nearby, which the energetic can do in the same day is the Eden Project, which has huge domes and tropical forests. It was the brainchild of the same person who started the Heligan restoration. Unlike Heligan, the Eden domes are not dog friendly, so we gave them a miss this time.
            So what was the highlight for me? The Thunderbox. What on earth is that? It is a name given to the latrine/privy/loo/lavatory/toilet/WC/rest room used by the gardeners. As to why it might be called the Thunderbox we can perhaps gloss over that. But this was discovered under rampant foliage when they came to excavate. Now I had better explain that I am not actually a collector of toilets... (There has to be a name for that - perhaps not Crapologist - although the main promoter of water closets, i.e. WCs, in Britain’s Victorian era was actually one Thomas Crapper. You see my purpose with these posts is always to educate...)
            But Heligan’s Thunderbox has a poignant story. When they removed the collapsed roof and all the brambles that filled it, they made a discovery. On the flaking white-washed walls, in pencil, with the date August 1914, the gardeners had written their names. What is poignant is that most of those names can now be found on local war memorials in the surrounding villages. Out of 22 main gardeners, 16 died in the conflict.
            Many other staff never returned after the war, and the new economic conditions meant that the whole estate fell apart. To be rediscovered and restored over 70 years later.
            The Thunderbox actually has a sort of heritage status. The Imperial War Museum granted it “Living Memorial” status in 2013.
            And while we are on the subject of museums and visits, if ever readers are in London they should consider actually visiting the Imperial War Museum. It has touristy things like the air-raid experience, and weapons and airplanes and equipment captured from spies. But amid the entertainment factor, much is very sobering, because to its credit it does not glorify war.
            I last went there shortly after the Holocaust exhibition opened. I know I have written up this account before, but can’t remember now if it was here or somewhere else. Anyhow, I had a special interest in that exhibition, because while it rightly focussed on the Jews and other races systematically targeted by the Nazi regime, it also covered members of a religious group in which I have an interest. They were there because they were conscientious objectors, and being a conscientious objector in Nazi Germany was often fatal.
            They may have changed the layout now, I don’t know, but it was a sort of one-way system, which aptly went downhill. You started off with the increasing of anti-Semitism and sidelining of other minorities, racial, religious and political, and then as you descended, it just got worse and worse. Stories of heroism and courage of ordinary citizens who lost their lives trying to make a difference occurred along the way. There were visual interviews with survivors and witnesses. You ended up with displays of materials, shoes, glasses, pathetic minutia of ordinary lives destroyed, confiscated at the gates of the extermination and concentration camps.
            When I went down there, I was inadvertently accompanied by quite a large crowd of teenagers, who were also visiting the museum. They were typical teenagers, mainly boys, noisy, boisterous, some pushing and shoving and playing about. I guess there should have been some supervision or at least some museum staff on hand to keep them in hand, but I didn’t see it. But as we descended into the bowels of the story, the noise tailed off. They became quieter. And quieter. As we reached the bottom and the literal end of the line - there was complete silence.
            I think that’s an example of an exhibition really doing its job.

Some of these have ...

made a nest in my African Violets. They bite if they are displeased. Feed them marshmallows and they'll do anything you ask.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Queen of the Small

Millennialist Music

We forget or ignore or simply do not know that many classic hymns and other works are Millennialist in outlook

Often presented as Christmas music, but not written with that in mind, this I. Watts hymn is about the return of Christ and its blessings:

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Red Feathers!

I can't read the artist's name, but I like this ...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Your emails

You Know who you Are:

I have your emails. I will put them into your wife's hands. Your life will change.

Monday, August 14, 2017

World War I

I'm sorting old family photos. I don't know who took these or the exact dates. Brief descriptions are on the back.

Inscribed "Stern Gun on Freighter" 

 Inscribed "Prisoners of War" By the uniform they're German Prisoners.

Inscribed "Aboard H. M. S. Saxonia in Halifax Harbor." The uniforms appear to be American.

Conspiring with the Baby Dragon

Under the table secrets [artist unknown]

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Because there's no better way to explain than to show

When your life breaks and there is no real cure ...

Making a seizure victim stand in place is cruel. Help them to a comfortable place, and, for God's sake, be quiet. Talking to a seizure victim does not help. Comfort does.

Quietly comforting a victim is good

Trying to talk to me in the middle of a seizure makes things worse. It's stupid. Don't do it.

One of several seizure types that afflict me. Now you know something of my life as it is every day.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

On being small and other nonsense

The other nonsense should be first, I suppose. People tend to assume way too much from what they read. Remember the post with Aunt S’s childhood photo and the comparison painting of a distant ancestor? Some who read that were surprised. At least two said they thought my “blood relation” was to Uncle B. [I removed one of those comments.]            
            In fact, both are related to me by blood. They’re cousins, though with enough ‘removes’ to make the relationship somewhat distant. Uncle B’s family connects to my German, Austrian and American bits. Aunt S connects to my Bavarian bits and to the Austrians. There is a Norwegian connection there too I think, but as those things go, the connection isn’t mine. This is not uncommon among my ancestors. I am my own first cousin six times removed. So, now, are you confused? Or is this all perfectly clear?

            Other stuff:

            Goat Boy regularly reminds me that I’m not the world’s mother. The world should be pleased I’m not. Whole populations would be grounded, spanked, frowned at and regularly sent to their rooms. Entire countries would have their privileges revoked. His last reminder was prompted by our new neighbors. They moved into the two-story Federal style house across the street and up one. [It’s painted a nauseating blue.] They have an eleven year old daughter. I see her riding her scooter up and down the street. She has no friends and doesn’t make eye contact with anyone. So, I worry. But beyond saying hello to her and her mother and being totally ignored, I have no plan. My husband says I shouldn’t have a plan. He says that we have enough worry with our five … and boys … and stuff.
            My medication causes deep body aches, so I have trouble sleeping. I wake up every two hours or so. Sometimes I just vegetate in my chair for a while so I don’t keep the pet man awake. Last night I turned on the little lamp next to my chair and read a book I’ve read before. It was written in the 1940s by a Presbyterian minister turned sociologist. In his case both professions were a joke. His source of authority is usually a literary quotation, and he attributed views and words to others they never spoke or wrote. But it is still useful, sometimes for the very nonsense it contains.  So I read it through again, taking some notes that I’ll revisit in a few days.
            My coffee mob has mostly scattered through the summer. We don’t fill up our usual coffee shop. We usually don’t get more than six or seven. Kinda sad, really. But as summer ends and people return from vacations, conferences and such, we should see more.
            I spend more time in bed than I should but don’t seem to have much choice. Everything is an effort. I managed to clean out the pantry. But my front garden needs attention. I’ll pin down one or more of my daughters and get them to pull the weeds. The gardens used to be fun, a distraction. But they aren’t now.
            Night before last I toddled off to the kitchen, heated up left over coffee and sat on the front porch watching bugs buzz the street lights. The moon is full or nearly so. As hot as it is during the day, the nights are cool. My mind wandered from place to place and time to time. Some memories make me smile.
            Most who read this blog know I’m a very small person. My husband [aka Goat Boy] is tallish, almost 15 inches taller than I am. That has its advantages, but we won’t go into that. Some of you would blush. After we were married his dad gifted us with an older but not antique Lincoln which was really nice because he was newly employed and I was pregnant and sick and mostly confined to bed. Consequently, I wasn’t working. We had little money, though things were improving financially. Goat Boy got his first raise and a bonus. Good. Even with insurance, medical bills were increasing. Not so good.
            I begged for him to get me out of the house, and, despite his better judgment, he took me to McDonalds for breakfast food. It was a nice change. We left eventually, and at the car he gave me a very nice, rather passionate kiss. Nice, right? Well I thought it was. But … An older woman, maybe in her mid sixties, confronted Goat Boy for kissing a little girl. My husband is not easily flustered, but he was then. How dare he kiss a child like that? And there was a meaningful look at my belly bump. …
            Goat Boy took a step back, then another, trying to explain. She didn’t let him - Cut him right off. I can enjoy discomfiture only so long. How old do you think I am? I asked. She looked me up and down with her steely gray eyes. Way too young to be pregnant, she said. I’m twenty, I said quietly. She was apologetic. She need not have been. It is rare for someone to confront what they see as a wrong especially in public. Oh, many make snide, stupid, trolling comments online, but few interject themselves into a real life situation. She though I was twelve or thirteen at the most.

            I continued to look like a child well into my twenties. An evangelist knocked on our door when I was twenty-seven. Many from that church know me, but he didn’t. I’d never seen him before. His first words were something like: “Hi. Is your mother home?” I told him I was the mother. Sometimes it’s fun to watch grown men blush. 
            I no longer look as if I’m twelve, but I don’t look my age either. [I turn 40 in November.] I still have it! Sick or not. I was ‘carded’ [asked for my ID] last week when buying a bottle of rum. [The good, dark sippin’ kind.]
            Our wedding was in my parent’s house, the house I grew up in. [Long ago sold so they could move here.] There were about 30 guests, but a large reception afterward. [A compromise with the mothers.] I had almost no sleep the night before and no chance to nap before the wedding. I fell asleep during the reception. And herewith is one of the advantages of being short and scrawny. When it was apparent I was really ‘out,’ he picked me up as if I were a small child and carried me off to our car and then into our apartment. Nice, huh?
            There are disadvantages too. I had trouble carrying my birth children to term. They were all premature, and that was related in part to my size and to difficulty with weight. I couldn’t maintain a ‘healthy weight.’ So Elizabeth was born at 34 weeks and weighed 3 lbs 14 oz. My biggest baby was Annie who weighed just under five pounds. And she, sweet and mild child that she is, perversely broke my tailbone and ruined my urethra coming out. My butt still hurts on occasion. …
            Then there’re kitchen cupboard issues. A folding ladder works best or simply calling for Goat Boy to reach things down. And clothes … and shoes … I wear very small sizes. Probably none of the men who read this blog ever wore a ‘training bra.’ But the women who read this blog know what that is. I can still wear one. I wear a girl’s size 2 shoe. Small sizes are easier to find now than when we were married, and I can find girls’ clothing that doesn’t make me look like a preteen. But not so much when we were first married or before that. Pants? Oh, yes, let’s not forget the adventures buying or simply looking for girls size 12 – 14 that I can wear and not look silly. Finding something that fits and doesn’t look little girlish isn’t as iffy now as it once was. My weight bounces between 86 and 88 lbs drippin’ wet. When I was teaching, most of my students were taller than I am.
            Another drawback is that some people think it’s alright to touch small people. It’s not, but some think it is. It was always worse when I was pregnant. And when I was in high school there was an incident. I threatened him with six kinds of death and loss of an eye. Okay maybe not that extreme but he never tried to lift me up again.
            I like my size, even with the drawbacks. Goat Boy can give me a piggyback ride without keeling over in pain. That’s nice. And I’ve gotten used to looking tall people right in the belly button and not flinching.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Music and Stuff from O. Reader

            It has been folk festival time again. For the third year running Mrs O and I, along with other family members, camped in tents and listened to a wide range of music that comes under the vague umbrella of folk. The Cambridge Folk Festival is still the largest folk festival event in Britain, and has been going for 52 years now.        
            We motored 240 miles from South Wales to Cambridge. That may not seem much of a distance to people in a huge country like America, but when the route includes the London orbital road (M25) - dubbed Britain’s largest car park - it was tiring.
            We reached our budget hotel and looked forward to a hot meal at the sole neighboring outlet. I won’t name it, but Brits may guess when I say it serves up convenience food and tends to be staffed by 16 year olds with pimples. Two glasses of red after unpacking, we ambled across to the diner, to be met with the sign “Closed due to technical problems.” And the nearest alternative eatery? Several miles away. Hmm. And after two glasses of red... Our main meal that day consisted of a warmed up pastie from the gas station and a cereal bar! I chirpily suggested that this might contribute to a pixie blog post. Mrs O was not amused!
            The family helped put up the tents. Correction, they did all the work putting up the tents, while we ferried a U-Haul Van’s equivalent of bits and pieces back and forth from the car park. Mrs O likes to be prepared. And then, it was two main stages, one main club tent and several smaller venues all vying for attention spread over the site.
            Life is normally so busy with real life, real hobbies, real family, real work, real home, real research, real phone calls from people with real problems - it was just nice to sit in a field, even in the rain, and let the music - good, bad and indifferent - wash over me. It was nice to be able to read every word of my newspaper, The Times. I enjoy my Times. I love the British humor, even if it doesn’t always translate for an American readership. I enjoy the letters page. A po-faced leading article from experts pontificated that drinking alcohol four days a week could help stave off diabetes. A letter commented - “I decided to err on the side of caution - and make that seven...” I don’t do politics, but I like my paper. Politically The Times is right of center but then has a brilliant cartoonist who is left of center. But they do give “the other side” the right of reply. It is not something you normally get in British tabloids like the Mirror (left wing) and Mail (right wing). Most folkies’ paper of choice is the Guardian, which has excellent music coverage, and used to have so many printing errors, we still affectionately call it the Graudian. In true festival style as I finished a section of newspaper it got passed along the row for total strangers to read.
            So what was the music like? The line-up compared with those of past years was a little disappointing overall. Several folk legends from both Britain and America should perhaps have stayed home. But I enjoyed Loudon Wainwright III at his laconic best. Getting the audience to join in a chorus, he said “You’ve all gotta join in on this. If you don’t our next song will be Kumbaya... Your fate is in your hands...” There was a very good all girl group called the She Shanties, which sort of tells you about their material. And I enjoyed an interview with British folk luminary Shirley Collins who appeared at the very first Cambridge Folk Festival 52 years ago. I actually disagree profoundly with her on two points about folk music, but that’s another subject. There was also an over-abundance of world music. World music explores the heritage of different ethnic groups, who are rightly proud of their culture. I have the greatest of respect for those who preserve their culture in this way. However, I don’t necessarily want to have to listen to them in one hour chunks. We probably enjoyed ourselves most of all in the various club tents. We saw Amy Goddard do two sets - featuring her song Remembering Aberfan which won the Fatea Music Magazine award as best song of 2016 and a new song about prisoners of conscience. Apart from a live stint on local radio, this was the premiere of the song.
            As always, the whole atmosphere was friendly and family oriented. Almost the same as some of the religious conventions I have attended in this respect, except that you don’t tend to see multi-colored top hats at the latter. There were esoteric foods, and weird clothes; kaftan tents for earth mothers of various shapes and sizes are still popular. There were musical instruments including one made entirely from a biscuit tin and broom handle, which I attempted to play - I kid you not. Mrs O put me playing it on Instagram, but fortunately her account has a very limited audience. There was even a tattoo parlor, although hopefully this was just the wash-off henna variety. I didn’t investigate, but just remember that a horse tattooed on your left breast when you are 20 will look like a giraffe when you are 50...
            It was interesting and sort of mildly therapeutic having no internet for several days. Mrs O had basic email access on her phone, but the tiny keyboard and my fat fingers would give an impersonation of Dyslexia Rules - K.O... So, virtuously, I resisted. I regressed to those far off days when I used to write in long hand, and could still decipher my stenography. But I caught up with a vengeance as soon as we got back to civilization.
            And of course, in true folk festival spirit, we attempted to sing folk music in its broadest sense ourselves. Singing is actually very therapeutic - for the singer if not the listener. Something akin in my life in times past was long distance cycling, and road training for marathon running. They gave you a feeling of peace and well-being, and if the thought of those activities fills you with horror, then the chemistry is obviously not going to work that way for you.
            I used to sing at parties a million years ago - generally rock’n’roll with P on the guitar, or more likely piano. We would attend sedate, earnest social gatherings and I would suddenly lurch into my Gene Vincent impersonation, using a broom handle as a stand mike. I cringe a bit at the thought now, but hey - I was young once. There is apparently a tape still around somewhere of me massacring Vincent’s Baby Blue (as featured in his 1958 B movie Hot Rod Gang aka Fury Unleashed) and I am still  waiting for an attempt at blackmail over it.
            Anyhow, back to “folk” singing. I was “vigorous encouraged” to attend a folk club a few years ago to hear someone sing, and they had this sing around session, where anybody could stand up, or sit down, or fall over, and do a turn. Although, wearing another hat, I have addressed large audiences without a problem this was fraught with nerves and a wobbly voice. It was only when I heard some of the others that it gave me confidence. In fact, I sort of became brazen. As the saying goes, I’ve suffered for my music. Now it’s your turn.
            At Cambridge I sang on four occasions, including in a club tent called The Den where I yodelled Wimoweh at around one o’clock in the morning. But as a fellow “performer” told the audience - “the more you drink, the better I sound...” And, seriously, I did the Roy Bailey social bit with Go to Work on Monday One More Time - all two chords of it - and everyone joined in the chorus. That really is the secret - people at these venues love joining in, because even if you are rubbish they remember that THEY were great...
            So, as we draw this post to a close, we have to revisit the one burning question - CAN OCCASIONAL SING? Here is where the vagaries of the English language rise to the occasion. Answer - of course he can. He’s allowed to sing. He’s not forbidden, even if the action is unwise. You try and stop him. But if your question meant can Occasional hold a note or does he have a voice like bath water escaping..? The jury may still be out on that one.
            So I guess I’d better end with an anecdote I know I’ve told before. But hey - old people repeat themselves, repeat themselves, themselves, selves...
     A few years ago I made an official visit as a minister to a sizeable city congregation for a special week of “activity.”  I strode purposefully into the meeting hall with smart suit, official briefcase, and orthodontist smile, to be greeted by someone I have known for rather a long time.
            In magna voce he pointed a finger - “I HEARD YOU ON YOUTUBE...”
            There was a sudden hush as all eyes turned and followed his finger.
            “THE PICTURES WERE GOOD...”

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tabitha Darkblood ... New start

            “Okay,” he said. “Let’s see what you’ve got. Attack!”

            It began innocently enough – well, as innocently as these things ever do – with a visit to Edward Teller’s School for Advanced Swordsmanship. Teller was gold medal winner twice over, once for fencing and once for saber fighting. Gold medals aren’t worth much if they don’t lead to fame and fortune. His didn’t. So he opened a school and eked out a living teaching wanabe Olympians.
            Well ... so he did better than mere eking. Well enough to hire two other teachers.
            But Tabitha and Charlotte came for Mr. Teller’s lessons not lessons from second raters. And so it was. ...

            “I don’t teach children,” Teller said. It was a firmly stated ‘no.’
            “She’s had lessons,” Charlotte said. “She just needs a brush up. Some practice.”
            Tabitha sat erect, quiet, her hands holding an plain wooden box. She said nothing.
            Teller had a finely developed sense of money. Charlotte hadn’t said so, but he thought ‘grandmother.’ Grandmother had a ruby and diamond tennis bracelet that probably cost more than he made in five years. Tabitha’s clothes were plain but obviously expensive.
            “Come, girl,” he said.
            They followed him down the hall, turned to the left and found themselves in the practice hall.
            “Pick one,” Teller said. He motioned toward a rack of swords and sabers.
            Tabitha went from sword to sword, touching one, then another.
            “Pick one, girl,” he repeated.

            “My name is Tabitha Darkblood,” she said. “And I have my own.”
            She opened the box and paused to look. The sword nestled within deserved a look. Its blade was polished, flawless and mirror-like. But black. Black as night.  The hilt was  black leather wrapped with spiraling silver wire.
            When she lifted it from its case, the sword sang as swords do.


Saturday, July 22, 2017


So ... we made our way through darkened streets, past our favorite all night dinner place without stopping [Damn it], then down a river road to 'the gate.' At the gate we entered our code [there's a scanner for a prox card, but guess who forgot to bring it.] The gate retracted, and goat boy drove his spiffy, newly-washed truck through, stopping just beyond to wait for the gate to cycle closed.

The river is seldom glassy smooth, but it has its moments. This morning it reflects the moon perfectly. We drive on. Gravel crunches under our tires. We cross a short narrow bridge. And we arrive. Goat boy opens our pasture gate. It locks with a chain and an Abloy lock.

I make breakfast. Oatmeal with an obscene amount of butter and maple. We eat it outside. This is our 'hot' time of year but at five a.m. it's on the cool side. There is coffee. I like coffee. I toe my shoes off, wiggling my feet. There is a contented sigh or two.

The birds wake. We hear their tweets and chirps. They come in waves: The sparrows first, then the killdear with their quick movements, quail dart through the shrubs and ferns, a seagull lands at my feet. I hate them; they're parasitical. I shoo it off. We are blessed with a flock of goldfinch. Lovely birds. And then they've all scattered, looking for food and sex elsewhere.

Another cup of coffee and an earnest conversation about daughter two's boyfriend and we're ready to work. Goat boy grabs some tools from his truck and, with the determination of an old soldier, marches out to the irrigation pump. I open the barn to quiet. Most of the goats are asleep. A few are not and they greet me with assorted baaaahs. My oldest female is awake. She follows me everywhere; loves a nice rub and pat.

Those awake wander out of the barn. The kids slowly wake, and a few of them mob me. I give them pats. One tries to climb into my lap. I pick her up and carry her for a while. I open a new bag of sweet corn feed. Make sure there's water in the tank. The sun is up, turning the river to a ribbon of silver and gold.

Goat boy yells something that sounded suspiciously like DAMN! He packs up his tools and trudges back to me. He's scraped his knuckles. I examine his hand, wash it with disinfectant soap. I talk sweet comfort, and then ask him why he didn't wear gloves. "Forgot them," he says.

The kids are running in mad circles as is there wont. We sip more coffee. Goat boy points to the gate pole. A huge blue heron is perched on top. I'm thinking thoughts not at all related to gorgeous birds. Goat boy is immersed in the wonders of nature.

Goat Boy Immersed in the Wonders of Nature

Don't get me wrong. I love creation with all its wonders. It's just that I'm more interested in Goat Boy at that very moment. He's part of nature too. I take the most direct path. Direct is usually good.

This Pixies Direct Path

A satisfying choice.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Guest post

Guest post by Megan is below. Blogger is being stupid. And I can't seem to fix it. The post should have appeared in this space ....

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Further Adventures of O. Reader


            A recent “day out” we’ve had here is to visit the St Fagans Folk Museum. (Official title - St Fagans National Museum of History). Stretching over two large sites on the outskirts of Cardiff it has restored buildings and artefacts from all over Wales. Some date back to the 12th century, and some like a post war prefab to as recent as the late 1940s. Rare breeds of sheep and cattle munch away in the fields, and there are numerous workshops demonstrating skills from a bygone era. Saddlery, clog making, hide tanning, that sort of thing. There used to be a pottery - my daughter made a pot here many years ago - but since the Welsh government made entry free of charge, the demographic of the visitors precluded most from wishing to shell out 40 GBP for a pot.
            We have been here many times over the decades. For a number of years an open air theater was held here, and we saw versions of Shakespeare and Goldsmith and Gilbert and Sullivan and others, often with a crowd of friends. It nearly always rained on these occasions, which is what you sort of expect from open air theater and particularly open air theater in Wales. But a massive rebuilding program of the original entrance and linked museum meant the event had to move into Cardiff, so we hadn’t been to St Fagans for a while.
            Apart from a reconstruction of a 2000 year old iron age roundhouse (fire in the middle but no chimney or even hole in the roof to let out the smoke), nearly everything else is original. It has all been taken apart from somewhere in Wales, the stones and bits and pieces carefully numbered, and then loving recreated. Farm houses, churches, corn mills (that’s wheat in Wales not maize as in the US), pig-sties, tanneries, shops, Workmen’s Halls, you name it - if it existed in Wales, they have it here. Each building has its own curator, who will speak Welsh if you wish. That was part of Mrs O’s interest this time.
     We mixed it with several school parties of earnest eight year olds clutching clipboards and pens, heretically jabbering away in English, while their harassed teachers bawled them out in Welsh. We couldn’t get into the village school because the kids were being given a lesson as it would have been 120 years ago, back in the days when speaking Welsh in class would get you punished.
            There were two places of worship - a church that has bits dating back to probably the 12th century, with what can only be described as comic strips all over the walls. The original Catholic congregation was illiterate and the wall art was used as a teaching aid. However, to quote D. H. Lawrence - “to the Puritan all things are impure” - so when the Puritans came along in Britain they immediately covered the walls with whitewash. Only when the old building was taken down for removal and reconstruction at St Fagans, did the original pictures come to light again after hundreds of years, and it has been restored to its pre-Reformation splendor.
            The other place of worship was a very spartan Unitarian chapel, and Wales had a tradition of non-conformity which allowed the Unitarians to flourish for many years.
            Coming into more recent times there was an example of the very large provision store that each village and town in the Welsh valleys used to have. This one was called Gwalia Stores, which was a very common name. I only recently discovered that Gwalia is an archaic name for Wales, not the name of a Mr Fred Gwalia who ran the place. It is disconcerting when you see historical items that you clearly remember! I worked part-time in an old fashioned grocers shop in London in the 1960s. Like the store at St Fagans nothing was pre-packed, but ladled out of jars and tubs and pots and not a glimpse of “health and safety” in sight. I remember in London how my love life was seriously blighted by my having to skin the cheeses each week. They were like huge cartwheels and weighed a ton. Peeling off the muslin skin in one piece was an art that should probably still be on my resume, but I remember all too well how the smell just lingered and lingered.
            And then there was the rebuilt Workman’s Hall. These were a staple of valleys life, with the library and cinema and classrooms, and free newspapers on stands. When I first came to Wales most still existed, and I soon learned that by waiting a week for the movie to shift from the main picture house in town to the workman’s hall two miles up the mountain, I could see all the movies I wanted for a fraction of the price.
            And something I always enjoy visiting are the Rhydycar cottages. This is a row of six iron worker’s cottages from around 1800 that were taken down and rebuilt - and each one takes you several decades forward in time, starting around 1800 and ending up in the 1980s when they were abandoned. Each is furnished as it would have been at the time, and the gardens and outbuildings likewise. You can trace when the family Bible disappeared, and also when toilet facilities moved from a hole in the ground at the bottom of the garden to pipe work indoors.
            There are other folk museums in Britain of course. Another one is at Blists Hill near Ironbridge Gorge in the Midlands, where the staff dress up in period costume and you buy plastic money and then spend it on candles and beer and the like. Much closer to home there is a Manor House (where the last owner was a patient of mine) where they talk to you in 17th century English (and Welsh) and dress the part. They don’t do that at St Fagans, but the staffing would probably make that impractical.
            Nearly everywhere we go we seem to meet people we know. That is probably a sign both of having been around for a long time in one area, and also wearing various hats that bring us into contact with different groups of people. This time we were haled outside the Gwalia stores by M. Thirty years or more ago M was a miner who lost his job when the whole industry collapsed after the miner’s strike. His father was yet another patient of mine. M went to one of Mrs O’s Spanish classes. He did well, very well, and got a qualification. An aptitude for learning that came to the surface counted in his favor when he applied to join the Welsh police force. After thirty years here was M again. He had recently retired after a good career with the police, but had needed to learn some Welsh for the job along the way. Now he was enjoying himself as a part-time guide at St Fagans. He tempted Mrs O with the prospect of applying for the same. But the part-timers mainly work weekends when the crowds come, which doesn’t fit our existing schedule. But I think she is tempted. The thought of practicing ones Welsh, while getting paid for it, does have a certain tempting ring about it.
            So it’s “Mae hynny'n ddigon am nawr.” 
            In my case that sort of means, “Thank goodness for Google Translate!”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Democrat Party Today

They must be prosecuted and the Democrat Party must be banned. Democrats today:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Aunt Shirley

I write about her sometimes. Herewith is the lady herself ... from way back when ...
 Family resemblance over time?

From a cross-country trip when I was very little

Badlands, South Dakota. Don't know who took the photo, but I remember this quite clearly. There should be more of these, but I don't know where they are. My scanner trims off the top of the photo. I don't know why.

Megan's new book

We originally considered Catilen’s closest friend (and fellow kook), Damian Cooke, the story’s main character. Until we realized the character most impacted by the book’s events, the character taking the greatest journey, was Catilen. That didn’t diminish Damian in our eyes. If anything, I think it enhanced him. It allowed him to be himself without needing to appear as some kind of hero. As Catilen is so fond of pointing out; her story doesn’t need any white knights!

Of all the characters in the Mystic Island Trilogy, Damian changed most from first draft to final, polished release. He started as a paranormal investigator with a distinctive disdain for the scientific approach. But the deeper we delved into Damian’s personality, the more we realized he was as far from spiritual as it gets. And it’s difficult to embrace a deductive approach if you poo-poo the scientific method. Yet neither my co-author nor I saw any reason why Damian couldn’t embrace both the supernatural and the scientific. And thus Damian’s philosophy of arcane science was born!

Damian starts in a unique position; he’s a fantasy character trapped in a modern, non-fantasy world. That left a lot of options for character development. How does one become a sorcerer in the modern world and still live a normal life? By keeping it a secret (of course). Much of Damian’s history was born out of his secret mastery of an ancient science, long since abandoned by humans. The key then became to make him as interesting and relevant when he suddenly stepped into a fantasy world that functioned on the principles he had so long embraced.

When Damian reaches the island, he transforms from a large fish in a small pond, to a tiny fish in a vast ocean. The thing he wants most is to catch the attention of a bigger fish, who understands the currents of that ocean, who might be willing to show him around. Far from all-powerful, Damian needs to use intelligence and cunning to turn a little into a lot. He’s an underdog with a heart of gold, which makes him far more interesting than the over-powered sorcerer trope.

Perhaps the most fun, and challenging, aspect of writing Damian was the fact that he introduced himself under an assumed name. After all, true names have power, and Damian is used to hiding his abilities from others. Though the alias is largely unnoticeable from Damian’s perspective, it threw Catilen for a loop. Whenever a third character was present in the scene, or a scene took place in a public location, she had to remind herself to use the unfamiliar name. It was often as tricky for the authors as it was for her. It took several passes to ensure that ‘David’ appeared in all the proper places.

Aside from Damian’s mastery of the arcane arts, his relationship with Catilen is central to the plot. One of the biggest problems posed by romantic subplots is how to develop a relationship in a short span of time without making it seem artificial. How many people spill their guts on their first date to someone they just met, outside of romance novels? The easiest solution was to begin with a pair of characters who are already friends. And who better to understand the plight of a secret sorcerer than a woman trying desperately to hide her own supernatural abilities?

While Damian tries his best to be a gentleman, he isn’t without his flaws (because a perfect gentleman just wouldn’t be any fun). He is the kind of person to leap before he looks. His tendency to act on whim kicks off the adventure for our heroes, but it also gets Damian into trouble on numerous occasions. It doesn’t help that he often compounds the trouble by speaking the first thing to come to mind!

Is the island paradise or does a nightmare lurk beneath the surface?

When a mysterious island appears off the coast of San Francisco, two intrepid academics risk everything to discover its secrets. Catilen Taylor has struggled all her life with the ability to sense others' emotions. Damian Cooke studies an ancient art he calls 'magic.'

The island boasts an idyllic retreat, ruled by the enigmatic Sentomoru, who invites them to share the wonders of his bathhouse. But as the travelers strive to unravel the island's secrets, Catilen senses danger stalking their steps.

Neither Catilen nor Damian know how long the island will remain on Earth. If they can't solve its riddles quickly, they may be trapped wherever it goes when it vanishes.

Megan grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania where books offered an easy escape from the mundane life of a rural highway town. In 2003 she married the love of her life and moved to Canada. Megan started writing full-time in 2011 and has since published four novels and several short stories, including the Mystical Island Trilogy. Her characters keep her up late and wake her up early, but she loves them anyway. Learn more at, or connect to Megan via Facebook and Twitter.

Coffee Cure #2

Or, when the brown fae live in your house ....

Budding Explorer and Photographer

            I’m sorta maybe answering two requests. Roberto asked for a story about my family. Amy wanted to see photos I took as a child. Let’s start with the photos.
            My dad’s mother was a saver of things. When she died that presented us with problems. Understand, she took pains to keep her house clean and organized, but there was an endless amount of stuff. Some of it was really nice ‘stuff.’ And some not. But that all happened later.
            When I was eight or nine she opened her cedar chest, a treasure chest of sorts, full of old photos and albums and her dad’s papers and her childhood dolls. I loved looking through its contents even though I’d seen it all before. In the bottom right corner was this strangish black box with a wheel to turn and lever to click and an amazing mechanism on the front: A Kodak Brownie box camera. I’m not certain how old it was. Probably it was from the 1930s. Some of the photos were taken with that camera. She gave it to me.
            Dad helped me find film for it. I’m fairly certain that finding K six-20 film is almost impossible today. But I no longer have the camera. Back in the day, it was easy to find and inexpensive. I took a bazillion photos with gram’s old camera. I have some of them still, but none of them are arty or very good at all. I was nine. Nine year olds are usually not great photographers.
            Dad took us to odd places, interesting places. I was his most faithful co-explorer, so sometimes it was just he and I. He bought a book about ghost towns. I turned the pages, fascinated by the abandoned buildings. I wanted to visit one. There aren’t many near where we lived. But there was Kiona, an unincorporated village that had nearly disappeared. We went there. There were two houses built in 1864, one lived in and one empty. I should back up and tell you that Kiona nearly disappeared in 1894 when a series of drought driven fires spread through Washington State. There were other empty houses out there too, almost all of them now gone.
            I found some of the photos I took that day. As I said, they aren’t very good. But here they are:

            The smaller house was open, and we went inside. A mound of trash and beer bottles littered the floor. There was a Playboy foldout. It was dated 1956, as I recall it. The woman displayed there on was pudgy and not at all attractive.
            Better photos of the 1864 house, the two story house, are on the internet. But this is the one I took. You cannot see it, but the foundation to the house is made from huge granite boulders. I haven’t been back in ages. I have no clue what’s there now other than vineyards.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Robin's art ...

visit her here:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

High Adventure by Guma

I don't know who this artist really is. There is a Brazilian artist with no talent who uses the same name. Obviously not the person who painted these pictures.

O. Reader on the Musical Life

             Roberto asked me to explain how my country, music, tradition and religion have influenced me.
             Those are big questions. To coin a phrase from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy - the answer is 42.
            My religion must have influenced me considerably since I’ve worked full-time for a certain group since 1961 in a bewildering variety of roles. In Rachael’s eyes that must make me VERY OLD. (In a “this is your life” convention interview I once cracked the joke that I started when I was three... Well, at least the audience laughed). And as well as “old” you could probably add “odd” since few who work full-time like this also raise a family, buy a home, run a business (with special dispensation) and do all the “normal” stuff. Many do it for a bit when they’re young and have fewer responsibilities, but then other things in life take over. I managed to balance the lot successfully, with only one mantra - if my choices made sacrifices necessary (as obviously they did at times) then if anyone went without, I did, not the family. So I look back and am pleased with the choices I made and how things worked out. And the family are pleased.
            But I can only speak for myself. One thing I learned as life trundled on is that we all have free will and I must respect the views of others. When younger, with the impertinence and impatience of youth, I maybe didn’t achieve that too well. But I learned that while I’ve a right to argue my point of view, so do they. I must be a good listener. Sadly some people don’t think things through and run away from discussion or debate, but again, I have to respect that’s their right. When writing about views that I disagree with, I still like to get the input on the other side and have often run the text past them before publishing. And when correspondents come back and say I have been “fair” then for me that becomes an important complement. But it is a balancing act, and depending on the context of the discussion, I still won’t water down beliefs that I hold dear.
             As to music? We have very eclectic tastes here. I grew up with classical music, and went through rock and roll and blues and skiffle and folk. (I may do a rambling post on the British phenomena of skiffle at some time. All those earnest young men playing three chords and trying none too successfully to whine a Leadbelly song while growing out a most unsuccessful straggling beard. The Beatnik movement sort of followed in Britain, where you didn’t even need the guitar and the dodgy singing voice... But I digress, that is maybe for another time...).
            I probably play folk music more than any other, but in my younger days concentrated on American folk rather than home-grown British. If nothing else, America has such a mixed culture in its vastness and mass immigration, there was so much variety there. However, in more recent times, I have come to appreciate the home grown variety more. But there are some songs that bring me - the original hardened cynic - to tears. There are some songs I learned to sing and then found - fortunately just in time - that I just couldn’t sing them in public. A grown man - a sort of elderly grown man - bursting into tears is a sure way to kill a folk club sing-around stone dead. Believe me - I’ve seen it happen. But so far, not to me. Not yet.
            Of course a lot of folk songs are very political. The greatest of over-simplification is that country music veers towards the right, and folk music towards the left - even when they sing the same songs. American Tom Lehrer parodied it rather well I seem to remember. But I don’t do politics so don’t have to agree with the sentiments on any side. However, I can still appreciate a neat lyric that expresses a point of view. And in folk music lyrics touch on things you just wouldn’t find in other styles of music.
            How has my country influenced me? - that’s British of course, but almost adopted Welsh now. Well, as noted above I don’t do politics, but Britain has an interesting history. As the empire shrank and disappeared, the country was forced to become multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-language - far more than my parents and grandparents generations could ever imagine. It may create problems in some areas, particularly in some parts of some cities where religion divides, but the general mix when compared with the country and the London of my youth is something I enjoy. I love having friends of many nationalities; most of whom were born here and in many cases had parents who were born here. A bit like America really if you go back far enough. And my own experiences abroad have convinced me that the British National Health Service, for all its faults and abuses of the system, is something to really be thankful for.
            And the influence of tradition? I love the British tradition for old-fashioned detective fiction. Even with characters of cardboard I love solving puzzles, but many modern authors have lifted the form into something more. I love humor in literature - and the same goes for movies. I love the British capacity for parody and self deprecation. This is not just a reaction to an empire going down the tubes, it goes back to Trollope and Austen and Dickens and the satire of Swift before. But modern British humor doesn’t always translate well. At least, mine doesn’t. So I’ve found...  But hey ho - “C’est la Vie.” Or words to that effect...
            And just to see if Rachael has read any of this with our slightly different linguistic traditions - LONG LIVE THE PASSIVE VOICE.  I’ll end on that. It’s what we call here - living dangerously...