Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dima Dmitriev

I discovered this artists web page today. Lovely!

Web page is here

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

From Harry

Two men were sitting next to each
other at a bar. After a while, one guy looks at the other and says, "I can't
help but think, from listening to you, that you're from Ireland."

The other
guy responds proudly, "Yes, that I am!"

The first guy says, "So am I! And
where abouts from Ireland might you be?"

The other guy answers, "I'm from
Dublin, I am." 

The first guy responds, "Sure and begora, and so am I! And
what street did you live on in Dublin?" 

The other guy says, "A lovely little
area it was, I lived on McCleary Street in the old central part of town."

The first guy says, "Faith & it's a small world, so did I! And to what
school would you have been going?"

The other guy answers, "Well now, I went
to St. Mary's of course." 

The first guy gets really excited, and says, "And
so did I. Tell me, what year did you graduate?" 

The other guy answers,
"Well, now, I graduated in 1964." 

The first guy exclaims, "The Good Lord
must be smiling down upon us! I can hardly believe our good luck at winding up
in the same bar tonight. Can you believe it, I graduated from St. Mary's in 1964
my own self." 

About this time, another guy walks into the bar, sits down,
and orders a beer. The bartender walks over shaking his head & mutters, "It's
going to be a long night tonight." 

The guy asks, "Why do you say

"The Murphy twins are drunk again."

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Dream

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Occasional’s Dream

Normally I take about six hours sleep. As an internet junkie, I have to search all my various email boxes (five and rising) before retiring, and when I wake, I tend to stagger out of bed just to see what America has been up to while I have been in dreamland. But this night, our second from last before leaving a folk festival in Scotland, I slept for eleven hours.  That is unheard of. Not for several decades. I must have been really relaxed, or really tired, or really sung out. But - I did have some weird dreams, and woke up with a start (courtesy of Mrs O) so the memory sort of lingered.
There’s a well-known song in the folk world called Bob Dylan’s Dream. Occasional’s Dream can’t compete with that, and is never going to morph into song.
So, to coin a phrase from Les Mis, I dreamed a dream. I know it is difficult to dream anything else, but if musicals can resort to tautology, so can my blog post. In my dream we were going to a wedding at 5 pm, which is a strange time for the UK. The timing was very precise as was the location, a place called Ebbw Vale. We were taking someone as a passenger - but I cannot remember who. On the way I decided to stop and share in some house to house visits - but why I don’t know. We parked the car and walked into unfamiliar territory which our passenger knew. Mrs O and I got snarled up talking to someone who had a point of view - which is always an improvement on no point of view in my estimation - even if I disagree with it. When we reappeared, our passenger had gone. We retraced our steps, so we thought, to find the car - but got lost. Where were we? No idea. Where was the car? Even more so, no idea. Real men of course never ask directions. After several hours, I remembered the name of a doctor I knew and finally reaching the police station asked where he lived. He greeted us as long-lost friends but didn’t know where our car was either. As it happens, in the cold light of day, the person isn’t a doctor at all; in fact, he is one of the last people I would trust to put on a band-aid. It then got hazy. I am not sure if we ever found the car, or ever made the wedding - in time for the couple to return from honeymoon - because Mrs O prodded me in the ribs and asked what on earth I was mumbling about..?
So it was all very strange.
The night before we had attended concerts, sung ourselves (but will draw a veil over that except that the main festival organiser popped his head around the door and had the temerity to laugh at my serious opus “I Wanna Be Elvis”). But nothing out of the ordinary.
But that night we HAD feasted on what we call over here, a ploughman’s lunch - taken as supper - washed down with a glass or two of red.
I think I blame the pickles.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Irish Bits

From O. Reader (ten points for adapting to American spelling and mostly succeeding.)


Mrs O and I went to the theater in Cardiff this week and sat in the dress circle. I surveyed a sea of shiny bald heads before me. Was I the only old codger who still had his own hair? We were at the matinee performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.
The average age of the audience was - well, shall we say a bit older than me. Struggling to get refreshments in the interval meant mixing it with assorted walking aids that may have served their owners well, but risked Occasional taking a header straight into the bosom of the girl selling ices on the stairs.
I have a soft spot for HMS Pinafore. The daft plot revolves around the old English attitude towards class, and double standards, and patriotism, and cronyism. The “ruler of the Queen’s Navy” (that is Queen Victoria) gets his position through never going to sea. And the plot device - babies switched at birth was sort of reused by W S Gilbert’s scripts rather a lot. If you liked old-fashioned British humor, irony and puns, and knew a bit about late 19th century British society, you would be in your element. And if you didn’t, but just liked silly songs and silly dances - well, you could still enjoy it.
My grandfather used to produce G and S operas at the Alhambra Theater, Bradford, in the 1920s. My grandmother, who was always short and rotund, played most of the comic middle-aged women for him in these operas. Gilbert had a very cruel streak to him when it came to writing about women of “a certain age” - and “Little” Buttercup in Pinafore was one of my grandmother’s favorites. After some bad experiences with people ripping off their stuff - generally featuring America - G and S tied down their domestic productions to the letter of the dialog and stage directions. It was only when the copyright expired 50 years after Gilbert’s death that things could be relaxed. The first “unauthorised” production by Sir Tyrone Guthrie in London was of HMS Pinafore. My grandmother was still short and rotund, but a little old lady by then, and took me as a young lad to see it. She spent the whole performance noting how they’d changed a lyric here, and changed the stage around there, and that bit of “business” - THAT wasn’t in the original.
Now of course G and S can be done every which way. We used to go regularly each year to the festival held in the Spa Town of Buxton, and various companies rang changes with modern dress, modern references in patter songs, and even audience participation. But last year we did America instead. This year we did rather a lot of folk festivals, so this theater trip was our only G and S experience for a while. But we knew the theater company and had seen a number of the cast before. They had ‘done’ the regular festival in the summer and were now taking out three operas in three days on tour.
The age of the audience probably reflected the time of day, as well as the age of the material. But at G and S festivals we have seen audiences full of teenagers laugh at fellow teenagers performing. And very good they were too. We have seen university drama clubs put on the operas - generally very badly. But probably the worst experience was a university production we saw - not at the festival, but at a theater linked to a university on the British South Coast. They put on The Yeoman of the Guard, which is a lot more serious than the rest of the canon. But there was one violin in the orchestra that was out of tune. Only slightly, but with a violin that is more than enough. Every time the orchestra struck up, there was this off-putting sound - off-putting to both the audience and increasingly to the players as they tried unsuccessfully to keep straight faces and stay in tune. A gentle murmur and titter sort of increased each time the offending instrument struck up and totally trashed the pathos of the piece. We thought that at half-time they would do something about it, but maybe the player was a professor’s wife or a director’s girl-friend or something. She stayed. We contemplated leaving. But there are some things in life you can still enjoy for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps my worst G and S experience was a version of The Pirates of Penzance we saw at an open air theater at the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans. The players were good, the weather was good (always a plus for open air) and we were all set to enjoy the afternoon, when the two seats next to me were finally occupied - about ten minutes after the start of the performance. A gentleman who could probably have made the record books for obesity, came and plonked himself down next to me, and on top of me - so great was the overlap. A very strange grey-haired old lady who may have been his mother, sat on the other side of him. As the singers were getting into their stride with “We Sail the Ocean Blue”, he suddenly started eating his packed lunch. I remember it was a strange kind of salad that would normally feed four, which required a plastic fork, which he promptly lost down the back of the seat in front. His mother downed a bottle of coke - from the bottle - which was incongruous to say the least, and then decided that she needed to go to what Americans quaintly call “the rest room”. I may have remarked before in a long-forgotten piece, but in Britain these are not rooms where you would choose to rest or even linger longer than necessary - certainly not when attached to an open air museum celebrating the joys of the past. Back and forth she came several times. At the interval we thought they had gone and breathed a sigh of relief, but five minutes into the second half, they were back - for more.
What made the experience memorable for all the wrong reasons is that I knew about thirty in the audience. We had very recently visited a congregation for a week’s visit, and they had all seen us in smart suit, smart bag, encouraging smile, that sort of thing. I think they’d obviously organised a sort of group outing, and just seeing us there in casual clothes was a novelty. But when they saw our plight, you could see it made their day. Forget G and S - watching Occasional (although they didn’t know him as such) be swamped and crushed and battered throughout the performance, sort of gave them a spring in their step - even though they were seated. I can still see them all trying to keep straight faces and shove handkerchiefs into mouths, while making continual covert backward glances throughout the performance. I know from later contact that many of them also gleefully remembered that day - and it wasn’t opera that made it.
But what is it they say about humor? It’s nearly always based on someone else’s misfortune.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Purloined Carts and Other Adventures - O. Reader


“Plastics” was one of the funniest lines said to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. But “plastics” is currently BIG news in the UK.
England has recent gone over to charging for plastic bags previously given away by supermarkets and other shops. It has created a furore. One paper, The Daily Mail, shrieked in a headline “PLASTIC BAGS CHAOS LOOMS!”
Previously the population had regularly been issued with several dozen plastic bags each time they went shopping, which were then bundled into cupboards and drawers back home, causing near tragedies as housewives and househusbands could be easily buried under them just opening a cupboard door.
Then adding them to landfill, with a 500 year degradable date on them (give or take a decimal point or two) the practice was obviously leading to the ice caps melting and polar bears coming south to roam in the streets in leafy suburbs and feasting on little old ladies.
But now - no more free bags. If you wanted a plastic bag, now you had to pay - at 5 GB pence a bag. Apparently, rather than spending out their small change, the worthy salt of England were now making off with the wire baskets and shopping trolleys normally left at the supermarket entrance. Whether it was leading to cupboards full of purloined shopping trolleys in place of the bags was not revealed by the anonymous researchers who shrieked that this was Plasticbagageddon - or the end of civilization as we know it.
As an Englishman, long resident in Wales, it has to be noted that this new law has already been operative in Wales for several years.
Amazingly enough, the world has continued to turn in Wales. For a start, every 5 pence spent on a bag was not kept by the store, but the law dictated that it had to be donated to charity. In just a year or so there was a report that around 90 thousand GBP had been donated to charity as a result. So even if you bought a plastic bag you still felt a bit virtuous about it.
But then it tailed off. Why? Because now when we go shopping we all take our own bags. We have learned the lesson that officialdom wished us to learn in the beginning - reuse, recycle, don’t keep on dishing out unfriendly plastic that doesn’t degrade and kills wildlife if left in the wrong place, and previously filled cupboards with detritus.
It may smack of what is sometimes called here the Nanny State, but this time, it’s an idea that really has worked in Wales - without revolution and social upheaval. England - over to you.


"zakat tax"
"zakat tax"

Monday, October 12, 2015

Harry has started a new story ...

A Son’s Inheritance

“I need to tell you something
important my son.” Father breathed heavily and shifted uncomfortably as he sat
up in his bed. I had just brought him a cup of strong broth and we were alone in
his chambers. I pull a chair close and leaned in to listen.

“I need to tell
you about the portal. High up in the mountains where the spring flows that
begins the stream that becomes the Great River.” He paused to sip the broth and
take several breaths before he continued. “There is a cave. Follow the right
wall until you reach the portal.”

“What is this portal, Father, and why tell
me, your youngest son?”

“Because it is your inheritance. I know, I know,” he
patted my hand. “I will give you land and a house, your rightful share, but I
know your brothers. I am sad to say that they won’t obey my wishes and allow you
to keep what is rightfully yours.”

“The portal is a doorway to another world.
It’s a world like ours, but inhabited by a different people. I can’t tell you
much about it. I was only there twice and I had a pixie for a guide.”

pixie? One of those foul, blue insects that spoil the milk, and scratch and bite
the babies?”

“No my son. These are larger, looking human like us, except for
the wings, and female.” He smiled… “Very female. Her name was Sha’leya and she
showed me the portal and how to use it.”

“And this portal leads to her

He shook his head and took another sip from his cup. “No. Their world
and many others are reached through different portals. This one leads to one
world where I was able to gain a small fortune and return here to build our
holding and grow it to what it is today. You may find another portal there. This
other world, Daventh, is something of a crossroads. Many travellers can be found
there wandering through its wonders.”

He was stopped by a racking cough that
left him weak and sweating as he fell back into his furs. I sat by his side
holding his frail hand. The room slowly darkened; the only light coming from the
flickering flames of the hearth. Finally he gripped my hand with only a small
measure of its once great strength. I moved closer and he finished his story,
whispering his secrets to me with his final breaths. He died that night and I

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Vancouver, Washington, then and now ...

Another of the Lewis Street Motels

A better conversion than most of them:

Note the painted out sign ...

The archaeology of roads

            Pasco, Washington, is a grubby little town in Eastern Washington. It’s plagued by a steady flow of illegal immigrants. The schools are poor quality. The police force is a mix of experienced officers who do their jobs well and self-entitled trolls who do not respect the laws they were hired to enforce. (I’m thinking of one officer named after a recreational area.) Still, it has its attractions. When we drive up to Uncle B’s, I always stop in Pasco, assuming I have time. For a store … with used books and junk. The store is as grubby as the rest of Pasco, but it does have books. So I stop.
            Probably someone familiar with Pasco is mentally protesting. There are ‘nice’ neighborhoods in Pasco. Yes, sort of, mostly low-cost but newer houses. I won’t discuss that with you. Pasco is a pit. A big smelly pit.
            But elsewhere on this blog I’ve mentioned my interest in road archaeology. I find abandoned and changed-use roads fascinating. I walk long disused trails, logging roads, dead streets and ghost towns. It’s relaxing and fun. Pasco has interesting ‘road bits.’ The main route through Pasco is Lewis Street. Back in the day US route 410 (long since abandoned or re-designated) ran through Pasco using Lewis as its route. On the east end one can find a series of motels and cabins from the 1940-1950 era modified into apartments. Rerouting traffic around the village killed the motels.

2015 E. Lewis

This motel was updated at some point. Many of them were given new siding and a coat of poor quality paint. This one is full of Mexican immigrants, families that stuff themselves into a single room.

The old gas stations are mostly gone. This one (at Cedar and E. Lewis) remains, though they no-longer pump gas. It was a salvage yard for a while, and some of that junk remains. Pasco tolerates the mess. They have other things more urgent to tend to, such as the mentally ill street people that are dumped into residence homes and left to wander the streets, steal beer, and throw rocks at cars.

This is all that remains of a gas station directly across the street from the one pictured above. It appears that the tanks have never been remediated.

This is another of the old motels, now apartments. Vacant lots testify to others now demolished. Every city has its blighted areas, I suppose. Pasco has more than its share.

 Lewis Street (Hwys 395/410) Looking East. Late 1940s

 Lewis Street - Hwy 410. East.
 Fourth Avenue near Lewis. About 1950

Saturday, September 19, 2015

From O. Reader

The Plot Thickens...
From a young age I have enjoyed detective stories. I probably started at kindergarten with Enid Blyton’s series about the Five Find-Outers, with the regular policeman called Mr Goon and portrayed as an idiot. Words like “politically incorrect” sort of come to mind today. Indeed, an internet search shows that contemporary reprints of the Blyton canon have censored them for the fragile sensibilities of modern readers.
But it was when I went up to the ‘big school’ that I discovered Agatha Christie. My obsessive nature had already kicked in, because I know that I read 36 of her books, probably straight off. How did I know? Because I made a list of everything she’d written up until then, and crossed them off as I read them. I know it totalled 36 because something snapped inside my head at that point, and I gave a scream, threw a book across a school corridor, and didn’t touch another Agatha Christie for many decades.
A contributory factor was no doubt discovering John Dickson Carr – the master of the macabre. For Carr, character was two dimensional, pure cardboard. All that mattered was the puzzle. He specialised in the principles of conjuring, and “magic” often featured in his plots. Impossible mysteries, particularly of the “locked room” variety, were his speciality. You could forget the cardboardity of character – all that mattered was not even whodunit, but HOWdunit?
I came to Carr via the radio. He’d lived in Britain for many years, and actually wrote many radio plays himself that were broadcast on the CBS network in the States. But Britain had a reputation for much longer plays than those normally heard on American radio – basically because the need for sponsors and advertisers never reared its head for the BBC. I remember being glued to my valve portable radio (the size of a large brick) under the bedclothes, listening to Carr’s The Hollow Man, hoping that a parent wouldn’t come upstairs and make me turn it off.
The Americans called The Hollow Man, The Three Coffins. This was a shame, because in a sense, it spoiled one of the plot twists. But there were two impossible murders in the same book.
A professor warns his friends that he may receive a strange visitor and be in danger. They are to watch the door of his study, but not intervene unless called to do so. A strange visitor does indeed come to the house, wearing a mask. Obediently they let him hammer on the professor’s door. The professor opens and there is a scuffle. The visitor forces his way into the room and the door is slammed shut. Concerned witnesses knock on the door but are told to go away. Then a little while later a gunshot is heard. Battering the door down, they find the professor dying on the floor from a gunshot wound. But – there is no gun. And no second person. He’s gone. He’s been the Hollow Man. There is no conceivable hiding place. OK, so the window is wide open, but there is snow on the ledge and it appears that only Spiderman could have exited that way.
Next chapter, a man is walking along the middle of a road in the snow. There are several witnesses to events including a policeman. A voice shouts “the second bullet is for you” and a gun is fired. They race to the man who has fallen down, shot in the back. The gun is lying in the snow a few feet from him – no fingerprints of course, and footprints in the ever-convenient snow show that no-body else had been near him.
Those were two of the three coffins in the American title.
Whodunit? More important, how was it done? WELL, I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU, AM I! You will just have to read the book, or cheat and Google it.
Another one was called The Reader is Warned - and the subsequent radio serial The Listener is Warned. It was all about a strange character called Pennick, who claimed he could think you dead. And if he did, you were! And - horror of horrors - THE NEXT VICTIM COULD BE YOU!
It was written at the start of the Second World War, and I guess the idea of thinking murderous thoughts and Hitler and Mussolini falling off their perch to order, sort of struck a popular chord in Britain.
It is probably safe to say that a modern CSI unit would make short work of the problem, but in Carr’s day it worked.
Carr, like all good detective fiction writers from the “Golden Age”, was a master of deception. It’s like the magician’s scantily-clad female assistant bouncing around on stage. She causes men in the audience to focus all eyes on her face (I said HER FACE, her face which is UP HERE) and their female companions in turn to glower at THEM – all to give the performer his edge in the art of misdirection. In like manner, Carr spun a convoluted web with added attractions that made you miss the “clues” that were staring you in the obvious. It meant that books were often read a second time, unless of course you cheated and read the end first!
Decades later I tried to return to Carr’s work, but apart from a couple of exceptions (the above two being examples) I now found much of the canon unreadable. So I sold off the collection to help pay for my daughter’s wedding. Did very well out of it too.
Nowadays, I still like puzzles, but character and wit of writing score much higher. So I read writers like Josephine Tey (Golden Age) and Ann Cleeves (modern) for character, and Simon Brett and Catherine Aird for wit – this is my favorite chewing gum for the eyes of the moment. The puzzles seem to do better as radio plays or as TV or film dramas.
As Sherlock Holmes never actually did say in the books – it’s elementary my dear Occasional...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Photo Album

New to America

Princess and the Cat

 Red Dress and Red Shoes

Cheeks and Knees

 Luisa Marie von Sachsen-Meiningen

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Friday, September 04, 2015

Pixie Life

When I was first interested in my Pet Scotsman, and really too young to be thinking about boys, we would sometimes find each other near a boat launch. There’s a park nearby and a bit of wooded area. We would sit on a park bench and watch the boats drift or speed by. And we talked endlessly.
This was a bit of disobedience. If our parents had known, there would have been a minor earthquake …. felt clear in China. But we behaved ourselves. This is an important part of our life. Our chatter led us into the other's heart and mind. He was and is one of the few people to actually listen to me. I’m full of nonsense. I know this. He knows this, but he loves me for it, not in spite of it.
Other things happened too, not related to him. I crashed by bicycle down a steep embankment. A police officer saw me pushing my nearly ruined bike up a steep hill toward home. He dumped me in his car and my bent bike in the trunk and drove me home. I still see him sometimes. He is long retired but lives near my aunt and uncle, and when we drive there, I make a point of at least calling him.
Knobby Knees and I volunteered for an archaeology project that summer, and both of us were accepted. We got to play in the dirt and had loads of fun.
I suppose our first really serious conversation took place in a bowling ally. My oldest sister was part of a bowling team, and I tagged along. Knobby knees showed up with some of his friends and treated me to a Coke and fries. He snuck in a kiss, my first ever by a boy other than my dad, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And yes, I was too young to be kissing anyone but my family. But, well, we did.
My grandma moved in with us that year. She was old, spoke with a thick accent, and loved me dearly. She was my confidant and put up with my nonsense. That summer I was into biology in my own way. I decided to find out what life was like back in the distant when and told everyone I wasn’t bathing for two weeks. I didn’t either, even though I felt crawly and smelly. I had a bit of spaghetti sauce I refused to wash off, and was probably pretty crusty. Near the end of my experiment, gramma politely said, “Liebchen, a bath might be in order now.” I agreed and soaked in a hot bath for maybe a half hour or more. It was paradise.
I miss gramma endlessly. More, I think than my mother, and I loved my mother.
When KK was accepted to Georgia Tech, I was depressed. I was accepted at the local branch campus of WSU. It let me live at home and still get a quality education. But KK was off to the nether regions of the USA to become a “hell of an engineer.” Most of our loose change went into phone time and we burned up AOL’s instant messenger service.

My last year at WSU I moved into an apartment not far from my parent’s house. I shared it with a classmate, older than I by five or six years, and wild and emotionally unstable and lacking in good judgment. I felt like I was her mom some days, and nursed her through boy friend drama and bad decisions. We’re still friends.
Eventually Knobby knees moved back, and we where married. I’ve told something about that earlier on this blog. We lived briefly in an apartment attached to my parents house. (They’d just bought it) And though we had our privacy, we soon found a place of our own. In not many weeks, my grandpa died. He left me a house he had built in 1940, just months before World War 2 came to America. So we moved. My parents and his eventually moved to the same place. And though my mom died some years ago, my dad and his newish wife and my in-laws live within walking distance of our house. Two of my sisters and their families live here too. It makes it more or less cozy as family goes.
Babies came along. I like my babies, though they’re long past babyhood. They don’t appreciate how parents worry about their children. One of them finds it a bit annoying, but it doesn’t stop me from checking on them at night. They hardly ever notice.
Various relatives have come and gone. I like my pet Scot’s family. His mom and my mom were close friends. I loved his one uncle who encouraged me to write and helped me to become at least a little tolerant of other’s behaviors. And then there is his uncle Andrew who is naturally funny. He has a very dry whit. And my children think he is a font of love and humor.
In many ways I like his extended family far better than my own. There are expectations. One of my cousins lived with us for about 18 mos years ago. We resembled each other so closely, people thought we were twins. We email daily, talk on the phone frequently. She married a Frenchman (gasp!), but they live in NYC. He works for the United Nations. So we see each other at least once a year for a week or two. She’ll always be one of my best buddies.
My oldest has a love interest, or I should say he likes her. My daughter looks at him with some interest but sees real drawbacks to that relationship. I do try to cultivate good sense in my daughters. It doesn’t always take, but often enough to please me.
So how is your life?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Elly Evans' Stunning Art

Visit Elle here and on Deviant Art

My thanks to Elly for permission to use her art work.

Why was the beach wet?

The sea weed.

USS Alabama BB8 [1898-1922]

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

From Harry


It’s so cliché. You are on a road trip on an interstate highway. Traffic slows to a crawl for no apparent reason and the child in the back seat pipes up…

“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

“No Maggie. No Maggie. No Maggie. No Maggie. No Maggie.”

One day Maggie will appreciate the irony of her question, but for now she just knows that Grandpa is laughing as the car inches forward and Grandma’s face is turning red.

Yesterday my wife and I took our grandchildren to the aquarium in Virginia Beach. Google Maps will tell you that it is a two-hours, eleven-minute trip from Richmond to the aquarium. Google has never driven I-64 through Hampton Rhodes with two four-year-olds. Maggie, who has recently (and finally) become potty-trained, announced that she has to potty. We had just past a rest area and by the time we got to the next exit with facilities she had an “accident.” We had spare clothes so it wasn’t a big problem.

Eventually we reached the cause of the highway backup, a major crash in the opposite lanes of the road. I count at least four cars that are totaled, plus several other drivable ones intermixed with police, fire, and rescue vehicles. There isn’t anything on our side of the road to hold up the traffic other than drivers who slowed down to view the carnage.

We told Maggie we would be going through a tunnel; the interstate travels over and under Hampton Rhodes (where the James River opens into the Chesapeake Bay) to Norfolk and Virginia Beach. That tunnel can be a horrible experience for drivers during rush hour, but at 2 o’clock in the afternoon it was a speedy part of our trip and Maggie loved it.  
 We finally reach the Aquarium. There is a sea lion pool just outside the entrance and that is our first stop to watch those graceful creatures. Inside we saw all kinds of fish, turtles, crabs, rays, sharks, and other creatures that can be found in Virginia’s coastal waters and the Chesapeake Bay. Spending time with our grandchildren is a wonderful adventure. One month ago I could not do all this. I was really out of shape, easily winded, but my dear wife and I have changed our eating habits, more green vegetables, less bread and potatoes, and lots of exercise. I was able to keep up with Maggie and Corbin nearly all day. 

There are two buildings that make up the aquarium. They are separated by a walkway over a smelly section of tidal marshland and down a path through the woods along a creek. Jayne asked one of the aquarium’s guides how far it was. “Just a short walk”, she was told. We walked out of building one into the bright sun of a 90+ degree day with high humidity. Okay I will admit I was already tired, but I was trying to suck it up and press on. A couple hundred yards later I was done, leaning on a railing, trying to catch my breath. 

I crossed another opening in the woods with the sun beating down and collapsed on a bench in the shade. Jayne and the children had pressed on, but I had decided to wait here for them (or die of heat stroke) to return from the “short walk.” My cellphone rang. Wife was mad that she had not reached the second building yet, although other people on the trail said it was “just a little further.” She suggested that I return to the car and drive over to the still unseen building two to pick them up. Looking at gathering storm clouds all too close overhead, I agreed that this was a good idea although the thought of walking in any direction was not appealing. I drank a little more bottled water and trudged back the way I came.

By the time I reached the deliciously cool air conditioning of the main aquarium building there was loud thunder and my phone’s weather app announced that “lightning has been detected near your current location.” Rather than linger and catch my breath, I hurried on through the building and across the parking lot to our car before raindrops started falling. Building two, it turned out, was ONLY a half-mile away. 

I would like to say that our drive home was uneventful, but it wasn’t. Some people will tell you that driving through Los Angeles on their highway system is pure terror. Others will tell tales of woe about traveling Interstate 95 through the gridlock of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. But these cities have nothing to brag about when compared to the Tidewater area (Hampton, Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake) when it comes to roads. The main interstate is I-64 which travels East from Richmond through Hampton, across to Norfolk (via tunnel) and somehow bends around and turns West before ending. Where does it end? I am not really sure. It splits at several points into other routes. There is I-264, I-364, I-464, and I-664. I guess they skipped 564.

Anyhow we (well really me) decided to travel a different route home that travels to the South of the James River back to Richmond. We left Virginia Beach using I-264, somewhere merged onto I-64, and then discovered we were driving into downtown Norfolk going the wrong direction on I-364 (I think). Turning around near another great museum (Norfolk’s Nauticus with the battleship Wisconsin docked beside it), we weaved through interchanges, and off-ramps until we reached the relative peacefulness of US Route 460 that took us most of the way home. We ran through heavy rain at times, and made several more potty breaks for Maggie and Corbin. It was well past sunset when we brought our grandchildren safely back to the waiting arms of Mommy and Daddy. The kids had a great time. Grandma and Grandpa went home to bed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

So ...

A certain religious organization that objects to anyone writing about them visits my blog regularly on an anonymizer. They think it can't be traced back to them. They're wrong. The purpose of their visits is two fold. They want to monitor what I write. In face to face dealings with them, I've even had them try to change my lesson plans for my school classes. I'm not a member of that organization, and I never have been. My mother was up to her death, and other relatives are. There are many worthwhile people associated with that religion. But their hierarchy is as obsessive and as abusive as Scientology.

They fear what I may write about them in volume 2 of Separate Identity. Yet, Mr. Schulz who is the series editor is one of their number, and exchanges emails with two of their "governing body helpers." That makes their behavior on my blog confusing, but not out of the ordinary. Their harassment changes nothing. I write solidly researched history. I don't gloss over anything, but I don't base what I write on controversialist, one-sided sources either. We draw our history from original sources.

Compared to their two principal, self-produced history books, ours is a paragon of historian's virtue. But because we do not buy into their myths, but seek the facts, we make them uncomfortable. They'll never quote from our work. They will pretend it does not exist. Even though we do not hurt them and have no anti-Watchtower agenda, they troll our web pages seeking some crumb of useful information to use against us, me in particular. This is wrong.

The Watchtower organization is plagued by a decades-long mythology. They support it in print by misstating events, attributing to their past leaders insights and conclusions borrowed from others, and by omitting facts that change the color of events. This is wrong.

I have great sympathy for many members of this organization. Some I know and love, and it is their faith that makes them lovable. But the behavior of a self-appointed hierarchy is not endearing. The immediate cause of their last visit - one that recorded from their organizational isp - was tweeting a snippet of a nice review of our profile of Nelson Barbour and his group. M. James Penton wrote it. Penton is a historian and former adherent. Because the review was by Penton, a Watchtower troll forgot to use his anonymizer and came to this blog through the Watchtower page, leaving behind a clear record of his visit.

Let me address myself directly to him. (It's always a him.) Your visits here are taken as harassment. You mean them to be such. And that's what they are. You've tried this before. It didn't work then, and it won't work now. Stop coming here; stop visiting any of my blogs. I've left out all sorts of details, but I'll gladly tell more of this story if you continue to come here.

Harassing me over a review simply because you do not like the reviewer is wrong. It's a sin, and you're a sinner.

For those who haven't seen Penton's comment, I've pasted it below, including the bit about publication formatting, something we agree with and repaired with Separate Identity:

Mystery Photo

I have no clue where this photo was taken, but I would like to know. Can you help me solve the puzzle?

We reached an agreement. You broke it.

A few years ago, you promised to stay off this blog and our history blog, Other than a foolish young man or two, you've done as you said. Until today. I told you then that if you returned, I'd put up the details and leave them up.

You simply can't refrain from harassment. Why is that? You come here  hoping for what? You broke your word to me.

Frankly, I'm not surprised. More to follow. ...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

From Amy Goddard!


Gladdie is the only song of mine that I had to really work at to be able to sing it without bursting into tears. I had visions of reviews that said: “being so moved by your own song is more than a little self indulgent and is not what the average audience wants to see”. Maybe I was just feeling a bit tearful and vulnerable at this precise point or maybe it's the background of the song. Not least the fact that if this young man hadn't died in such tragic circumstances then I, and much of my family would not be here.

Either way, I thought I'd write a little bit about the song to explain what inspired it.

Playing and singing in folk clubs during 2014 naturally meant I heard a lot of songs about World War 1. There was also a lot of media coverage of events to mark the centenary of the start of the 1914-1918 conflict. That got me thinking about my own family history. I knew of the existence of some letters from the trenches that had been received by my Great-Grandmother, Gladys. She had kept these until her death at 93 years old in 1985 so they obviously meant a great deal to her. I'd seen the letters before; I even took copies into school when we studied the subject of trench warfare in history. This time I re-read them specifically with the idea that they might just spark an idea for a song.

Album Cover

The thing that particularly struck me about letters sent by the young man, Leslie, from the front was that he told absolutely nothing about what was going on. This will of course been partly to do with the censorship of letters, but even the tone was quite bright although nostalgic. He said he wished that it would soon all be over and that they would walk in the park again and down City Road.

We also have a letter that was written by Gladys to him. This is most strange as I'm sure the letter would not have been returned to her after his death as they weren't yet married. The conclusion I came to was that it was likely written but that she heard the news before it could be posted. Somehow this thought made it all the more poignant. She did actually ask him why he didn't tell her what they were all doing out there. Gladys heard of Leslie's death in 1917 through a note sent to her by his sister.

It is, of course, a familiar story of lost love in a time of war. There must be countless similar tales. The difference for me is not just that Gladys was my Great-Grandmother but that I actually remember her. She lived with us for the last year of her life when I was 4 or 5. I remember she could peel an apple in one long continuous strip and she would have white bread toast with butter and Bovril, a real treat that I could have too. (Usually we had wholemeal [Whole Wheat for you Americans] bread with sunflower margerine.) I also remember that she would forget that she was completely deaf and turn the television up really loud. My parents had installed a bell so she could call them if she was ill in the night. The one time she used it was to tell us that my hamster had escaped. The enterprising creature had got out of his cage and traveled the length of the house to the kitchen where he gnawed through the middle of a carrot so he could carry it back to his cage. We found him outside the cage with his trophy, I seem to remember he was allowed to keep the carrot for effort. But I digress...

Gladys later married a Canadian officer named Jesse Lenicar Moss and they had one daughter before he died of pernicious anaemia as a result of an infection he picked up in the trenches. Gladys lived for another 60 years after he died.

It gives me such a funny feeling to think that had Leslie lived she would probably have married him and the family she went on to have would have been entirely different. I suppose it's the same with all aspects of life.

Chance meetings forge the identity of future generations.

So I have worked hard to sing the song with enough feeling to make it meaningful but without actually sobbing. The rest of my family are a different story. I've had emails from cousins who said it made them cry. I have accepted that making someone cry with a song is acceptable. The first time it happened I was mortified!

The digital single will be released through iTunes on 28th September. It features the beautiful violin playing of my old school teacher Naomi Hitchings. The video version is from a live performance and also includes a slideshow of relevant photographs and letters expertly put together by Brian Kutscher who is also producing my second album.

 Amy's Note Book.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bletchley Park and Mother as a Spy!

Bletchley Park

Mrs O’s mother died over 30 years ago - much younger than both of us are now. We looked after her in her final years, and also her mother, who died in her 90s.

A standard question talking to people of her generation was - what did you do in the war? Well, the mother-in-law worked at Bletchley Park. It has come back into the news as the world has learned more about the code breakers in World War 2, especially those who cracked the Enigma codes used by the Germans. So as part of a recent vacation we decided to visit Bletchley Park where the whole site has been turned into a working museum.

Having signed the official secrets act, Mrs O’s mother always remained reticent about her activities, but we are pretty sure that she was one of thousands who spent their days as Morse code experts, noting down the stream of apparent gibberish that came through the airwaves. Most were billeted in sub-stations outside Bletchley, and dispatch riders would take their paperwork to Bletchley itself where the code breakers would work on it. As well as claiming to shorten the war by about two years, the work done there provided the foundation for modern computers.

So the Bletchley Park site had exhibitions, films and artefacts, including original huts that have remarkably survived, although were only rescued just in time before they keeled over for good. Prize exhibits included scraps of coding work sheets that should have been destroyed. They only survived because the huts were so draughty that - disobeying orders - the girls used to screw them up and stuff them into holes in the walls and ceilings. When it came to the restoration, there they were.

Apparently around nine thousand people worked at Bletchley Park by the end of the war, and there were many more thousands who came and went over the war years.

There have been some good documentaries about the work that went on there, and two mainstream feature films. The most recent is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured soul of Alan Turing. Of course, as always, films simplify things. It would appear from The Imitation Game that four or five men did it all - a bit like Jerry Orbach and sidekick solve all the crimes in New York in Law and Order. But the real story would be hard to follow. And of course it is all put down to Bletchley in the UK - to the exclusion of other locations; also the pioneering work of the Poles in cracking codes is only presented in passing.

Perhaps the more entertaining film - although this time almost total fiction is Enigma. I really enjoyed that. It trundles along at a good pace, and keeps you guessing. And there are extra delights for those with quirky minds. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones was the producer - see if you can spot him as an extra. He’s there with a decidedly un-40s face. And then the main female lead, Kate Winslet, was expecting at the time, so you can have fun watching the careful camera angles and clothes to disguise the fact until the very end, when being pregnant was part of the story, and no padding was required.

It reminds me of a generally forgotten singer named Nancy Whiskey. She sang briefly with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group, and they recorded the Elizabeth Cotton folk song Freight Train - and copyrighted it in their own name until events and law suits caught up with them. It was a huge skiffle hit in 1957, and they did the Ed Sullivan Show in America on the back of it and sold a million. To cash in back home, Nancy was booked to sing in a dreadful 1958 British B picture called The Golden Disc, which was smuggled into America as The In-Between Age - a cringe-making title if ever there was one. (The lead actor was one of my favorites, Lee Patterson, a Canadian doomed to play Americans in nearly every British B picture of the fifties - motto - never turn down a part, no matter how bad it is...)

But there were several problems for Nancy. One was that the song was rubbish, a sort of poor man’s Freight Train mark 2. But the bigger problem - literally - was that by the time they came to shoot her sequence, Nancy was enormously pregnant; I would guess about eight months gone. The even bigger problem at the time was that she wasn’t married. The prospective father WAS married, but to someone else... In those 1950s days this was not the thing. So they stuck Nancy behind a mike and put a HUGE music stand in front of her - a bit like those old pictures of heavily pregnant brides resplendent in white at shot-gun weddings with the largest bouquet imaginable suitably positioned. In my own family history when I researched my grandfather I discovered he’d married my grandmother when she was “heavy with child,” and the certificate showed that the two witnesses at the wedding were her parents. I could never tell my ultra-“respectable” father this, although I confess I was sorely tempted at times. Anyway, back to Nancy - her career, from appearing on the Ed Sullivan show, then took a nosedive and she disappeared into domestic obscurity.

But it is scenes like Nancy and her music stand that really make my day in bad movies. I can sit on the sofa with my can of lager and laugh and laugh. Mrs O shakes her head sadly. She doesn’t understand.

But anyhow, what was I writing about? Oh yes, I remember - Bletchley Park. Yes, an interesting subject for an article, Bletchley Park. Someone might write a really instructive piece on Bletchley Park. I must have a try at it one of these days.