Thursday, April 23, 2015

From Harry

I have sent Rachael several posts recently that she has not put on the blog for whatever reason. Some were funny, at least to me. Some were personal. I am a proud grandfather of adorable twins. {Yes, I'm neglectful. I repent. - pixie.)
Anyhoo, I will try once more with a story of terror and unspeakable acts. I give you…


I walked down the hall with a sense of trepidation as well as a feeling of cold air flowing over my nether regions under the hospital gown I wore. They were waiting for me as I entered the room. 

“Here, sit on the table.”

“Lay down please.”

“Slide back a little please.”

“He’s pretty big. Is he going to fit?”

“Raise your arms up. Back more, please.” 

I feel the examination table rise and then move forward into the maul of the giant machine. Further and further I go. My chest is constricted as I breathe in the tightness of the tunnel. 

“It’s tight. Are you okay? Can you breathe?”

“It should work. Pull him out.”

Now things start in earnest. Unspeakable things. 
Friendly Technicians

“Roll over on your side. Relax, (pause) just a little lubricant. Deep breathes now. You’ll feel a little pressure.” 

GREAT JOHN PHILLIPS SOUSA! She calls that a little pressure! But wait… there’s more.

“Now we’ll just pump up the ball a little to hold it in place,” she says with a soothing voice, which is not helping as the pressure increases. 
The Wicked Coil!

MY AUNT SALLY’S KNICKERS! Somehow I believe there has been a miscommunication as to the actual size of the “small coil” to be inserted next to my prostate. I grimace as I roll over on my back again. The inquisitors… er, I mean technicians, position me again. 

“You’re going to feel a little prick…” (I’ve heard that before.) After several intense jabs in my left arm, she moves to the right and starts an IV. Headphones are put in place and I’m given a bulb to squeeze if I need to escape my prison. 

And now it begins… 

As I listen to the soaring strings of a Mozart concerto, the table moves relentlessly into the mouth of the great machine. It stops with my head just inside the opening. 

BARRAPP, BARRAPP, BARRAPP, BARRAPP, BARRAPP. The machine screams in my ears, only slightly muffled by the headphones which are now jammed hard against my head by the tight confines of my prison.

BARRIPP, BARRIPP, BARRIPP, BARRIPP, BARRIPP. The sound pulses rise in tone. The thought of listening to music as I while away the time is now a distant dream. 

I hear an indistinct voice. I push one headphone from my ear. “Is everything okay?” I hear the voice through a nearby speaker. I raise a thumb in assent. 

A technician is beside me to adjust the position of the headphones. I tell him to take them off. They replace them with foam earplugs. Back into the tunnel of torture again, deeper still, more loud sounds blaring in my head as I feel the table jerk and shudder.  

Oh no. I feel an itch around my left ear. I try to ignore it and, of course, it grows more intense. I try counting the number of times a pulse of sound is repeated before it changes tone. I can’t. The ear itch has now been replaced by one in my right foot. I realize I am grinding my teeth and will myself to relax. My right arm seems to be comfortably positioned, but the muscles in my left arm are aching. 

I had kept my eyes closed for the most part, but open them from time to time. I am close enough to the tube to see the lines and scratches in the plastic shell and wonder how they got there. My nose starts itching and I stare at the small microphone above me. I am curious how the paint has been peeled away in places on its surface. The noise shifts in pitch again and rises in intensity. A distant voice tells me that the ‘contrast’ has been added to the IV. Eleven minutes to go. 

How do you count the passage of time when you have no watch? Let’s see my normal respiratory rate is 22 breathes per minute. In. Out. One. Two. One. Two. Oh no, I am counting one breath as two and then repeating myself. I can’t count. 


“Okay, you’re done. Let’s pull you out.”


 “He’s stuck.”

“Push him back. (Pause) Alright, now pull.”

“There we go. The rail was stuck.”

“Okay, lift your knees up. I’m going to remove the coil.” 

GODFREY DANIELS! MOTHER OF PEARL! The (REDACTED) thing feels larger coming out than it did going in. 

The MRI technicians sit me up and help me off the table. They all tell me how well I did throughout my fifty-minute ordeal. As I leave the tunnel of terror I am just thinking of two things. I need my pants and I want a stiff drink!

Austria - Long-Service Soldiers - February 1918

Monday, April 20, 2015

Don't annoy one of these ...

"Pretty? Of course I'm pretty. Continue to annoy me and I'll feed your gizzard to the frogs."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Children Playing on the Beach - 1914

Note how they drew their skirts between their legs and tucked them in the front. You can find similar images as far back as the 1500s.
This image is from a French soldier's post card mailed in October 1914.

Pittsburgh PA - 1910-1915

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Little Rabbits

I haven’t written about my daughters in a while. At their age they need some privacy. But I’m going to tell you about Annie. Anastasia isn’t the child of my earlier posts. Oh, she’s not all grow up, but she’s a maturing young ‘lady.’ She’s in between, I guess. She can still find pleasure in playing dolls with my baby half-sister. But she has developing intellectual and personal tastes.

            She likes to dress nicely. Of all my daughters, she is the one who will spend an hour with me looking through clothes at the Goodwill store. With patience, we find nice things. She found a like-new pair of Italian-made shoes. They sell for nearly two hundred dollars at Macey’s. These do not seem to have been worn.

            Annie is still attached at the hip to me and her sisters. She’s very social, a chatter box sometimes. She has definite beliefs, often at odds with some of her sisters. And she’s discovered tea. I prefer coffee. But she likes tea. Her grandmother collected tea cups and saucers. Annie has adopted a Copland set as her own. She boils her water, pours it in her cup and brings the cup, water and a tea bag into my work room to chat or read.

            If any of my children will turn to writing, it is she. I sent off some of her writing to a friend who is also a literary agent. Friend agent said that Annie was “immensely talented.” I agree.

            There is still much left of the little-girl Annie. She likes to snuggle. She can still annoy Isabella and will do that on purpose. Isabella in turn has always been Annie’s ‘protector’ and nag. But there is less need for that now, and their relationship is changing. Annie is not as impulsive as she was. Isabella isn’t the scold she was.

            Annie coaxes me into a cup of tea some days. Once she got out her grandmother’s silver tea set and made ‘high tea’ for us all. It was fun. We don’t make blanket ‘forts’ under the table or behind the couch unless my baby sister is staying over. Then the expert tent maker in Annie takes over. I still find Annie wandering the house at night, looking for a non traditional place to sleep. She’s done that always – well, at least since she could walk. Today she does it because (she claims) Kat ‘snorts’ in her sleep. Oh dear LORD and little rabbits!

So .... I have this secret formula

So … I bought this ratty stamp. A nice example would cost about forty dollars. I paid about two dollars. No one else bid on it because, as you can see, it’s really ratty. But … its condition is curable.
Notice that it’s on a paper fragment. My best guess is that this is a fragment of an old album page and that the stamp was glued to the pages with mucilage. The glue accounts for the stain. Without the stain and the paper fragment, this is a nice stamp. So when it arrives I will soak it in warm water with a tiny amount of dish soap added. This will remove the paper and some of the stain. If it is a mucilage stain, I’ll add a drop of my secret, super-duper chemical and rinse it in clean cold water. The stamp will be stain free.
My secret is a bit of pre-wash stain remover. Don’t tell anyone. It is a secret.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Germany - Official Stamps from Inflation Era

This is a messy page, and eventually I'll reorganize it. Some of these are very scarce. Two of them may not be what they seem. I'm still working on that issue. The two billion mark stamp might have a faked overprint. I've compared it to others I know to be genuine, and I have unresolved questions. I'm watching an authenticated one at auction. I have similar questions about the ten billion mark stamp. The Dienstmark overprints seem to be too thick, the final 'e' misshaped and the cancellations seem to be washed out. The problem with these concerns is that I can find similar problems on authenticated examples. It'll give me something to do on days I must vegetate.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Televison as national personality

Two mostly contemporary television shows. I think they show national personalities. What do you think?

From O. Reader or the trials and tribulations of ...


Many years ago when I was young and sweet and innocent I spent some time in the Royal County of Berkshire working with a group of like-minded people and attended gatherings three times a week. The man who presided over the group used to have a special ritual each week – he would always conclude one particular meeting by relating what he called an “experience”. This was basically an anecdote about the work that had been done that past week with a good encouraging result. But this night the meeting ran late. It wasn’t my fault, but I had the misfortune to have started late and been on just before he rose to conclude. He scowled at me and the audience in general and in sonorous tones (and broad Berkshire accent) announced: “I was going to have an EXPERIENCE to-night – pause – but there isn’t time so I’ll have an EXPERIENCE on Sunday...”  I can still see people stuffing handkerchiefs into their faces to conceal their merriment.  

Which is nothing to do with this post really – it just came back to me through the mists of times – except that you could say that I had AN EXPERIENCE this week – involving my automobile – what we Brits always call a “car”. (So do we Americans – ed.) 

Finally Out of the Car.

I am rushing out to get to two patients and am already late. I quickly press the button to open the central locking on the vehicle and clamber inside. But somehow, in fumbling with the key in the steering lock I inadvertently press the same button again. The central locking system promptly goes CLUNK and locks up the car. DRAT I think, how on earth did I manage to do that? So I press the button again to unlock it, so I can drive away as planned. Total silence. Nothing happens. Huh? What? I press it again, and again. Zilch. I am now locked in my car. I can’t manually open it from the inside. The door won’t budge.  It could be opened with the key in my driver’s door of course, but – er- the key is with me – locked inside the car. We never got round to getting a spare. 

This cannot be happening I think. But it is. It has.  

How do I make my escape? A cellphone call to my local service garage yields, along with general hilarity, the thought that the rear doors can be opened by hand, as long as you can manually deal with the child safety lock inside. So I phone Mrs O who comes out to the car and we conduct a conversation by semaphore through the window. I then clamber from the front of the vehicle, headfirst with bottom in the air, to get onto the back seats. I tug the child lock handle and Mrs O tugs the outside handle – and eureka – I am free.

I am also about an hour late for two patients. Somehow in jiggling the vehicle around, things have started working again because the alarm now goes off big time and summons half the village to see what vehicle we are stealing. Fiddling around with the key finally stops the alarm and starts the car.

All seems well. I nervously visit my clients, do unspeakable things to their feet, and come back to the car. I press the button to unlock the car. Silence. Nothing happens. Aaaagh! I am now OUTSIDE the car. It starts to rain. I forget for a moment of extreme distressed dampness that I can at least get into the beast with the key in the door. I manage this, and give up – and call my rescue service which here in the UK is called the RAC (Royal Automobile Club). An hour later a nice man in a patrol car comes and makes an extreme effort to not sound like he is talking to a five year old.

And what was it dear reader? A clasp on the battery had come loose, and so power to work everything was intermittent. As in – working when you didn’t want it to, and not working at all when it was essential. One quick turn of a spanner – my no claims bonus for not calling them out this year is now shot to pieces – but I am mobile again.

 Cars, cars.

Still it used to be worse. It made me think of other vehicles our little family owned in the past – now all safely gone to that great scrap heap in the sky.  

But that’s perhaps another story.

Harry, Anthony ...

Coments would be nice. Go read 'stuff'.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Roberto's stamp question

Roberto asked how I bought my stamps on the cheap. Harry said I used a coupon from Stamps R us which made me giggle. But now for the serious answer …

            I buy most of my stamps online. There are many stamp dealers and auctions online. The largest and easiest to use is ebay. As with anything sold on ebay, it takes patience and persistence to find the good stuff at a good price. While I find some things by just browsing, I hunt for specific stamps. That more than any other search takes patience. Remember the official stamp I posted about earlier. Finding that was the result of a persistent search. I searched for it by Scott and Michel numbers, by date, by a combination of search terms. I found it by searching “Germany pages.” I see lots of junk that way, but I also see stamps the seller failed to check.

            Many dealers start their auctions at ninety-nine cents or some similar amount. If it’s something I need or want, I’ll put it on my watch list knowing that it will probably go for much more than I want to pay. But sometimes they receive no bid. I have the entire set of the ‘snake’ over print German officials. They are listed for hundreds of dollars each. The most I paid for any of them was five dollars, because I found them in mass lots that no one wanted or bought them from the dealers with low initial listing price when their items received no or few bids.

            If the item is really scarce, even rare, I will take a stamp with minor flaws, sometimes more than minor if it is still presentable. A flaw drastically reduces the value. But the stamp can still look nice on a page. Below is a page from my Germany collection. These are the Thurn and Taxis North District stamps. The princes of Thurn and Taxis had the mail contract with most of the German states. You see I still miss some. If you look closely you’ll notice that many of these are flawed in some way. Some are cut close on the margins, or even into the margins. One is heavily canceled to the point where the ink bled into the stamp. It would be hard for me to find nicer examples at a price I can afford.

Some of these are really good, some so so, a couple are badish. But its how I found them and I probably cant afford better. Sometimes I find something really supperior for nearly nothing. 

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Early Saxony ... Now mine

I've been looking for a copy I could afford for a long time. Found this one with minor faults for 4.00 including postage. Not bad, huh?

I have a headache but I wrote this anyway ....

I’m about to run off to teach my morning class. I don’t want to go. I want to stay in bed and sleep. Mostly all I want to do these days involves a pillow and closed eyes. But I forge on. The WA state Department of Education people are coming this month. They want to interview me and a few others about our program. They like us and use us as a model which is pleasing and intimidating.


My writing partner and I are reworking the outline for the chapter we’re writing. We had a major miscommunication. He thought I had material I did not. He was going to use it in chapter one. Nonsense! So a contributor to our history blog sent it along to me. Big surprise! I’ve griped, moaned, complained and now it will show up where it belongs.


Some days everything makes me unhappy. I know it comes from declining health and as a side-effect of my current medication. But knowing doesn’t make it better.


Oh … they’re doing major upgrades to our school over the summer. So we have to pack up everything. They’re basically building us a new building. Everything must move out in the interim. Fun huh? Not so much. Nice new stuff will be good. Packing stuff won’t be.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Can you solve it?

So I went 'treasure hunting' today. I found a book and this picture. It's on modern photopaper, and it's not a print from a digital camera. It's been in the frame long enough that most of the color has washed out. I don't know which castle this is, nor do I know the broad location. I suspect this is Scottish because of the bulky square tower. It could possibly be Irish. I do not know. Can you find it?

Okay, so I solved it myself ... It's Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Silly Poem - Written for a Child

I Wonder
By B. W. Schulz
Do little fishies have to bathe,
Or are they washed in the waves?
Do their mothers lick them clean?
Do they look into a mirror and preen?
Do they wash their hands before they eat?
Before at the table they take a seat?

At night, when everyone else is sleeping ....

Thursday, March 26, 2015



New to my Collection.

Wurttemberg Prepaid Stationary.
I haven't identified all of these.
Top Row: Offical overprints on prepaid letter and money order
Second Row: Envelope corners
The rest are unknown to me, but fun.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


From O. Reader


I blame it all on Welsh TV.

I remember for many years that Welsh TV was – well – Welsh. Like. You know. Sort of. As viewed by foreigners from England.  I also remember once there was a competition in a national newspaper as to what could make you punch the remote control quicker than anything else. There was one outright winner:

“And now for our classic movie - Singing in the Rain...   (pause)    ...Viewers in Wales have their own program...”

But it has changed a bit, and Welsh language programs have been fairly adventurous, especially since they gained their own dedicated channel. OK, so the programs for tiny tots can resemble Beatrix Potter on acid, but some of the others aren’t too bad, even if (like me) you need the subtitles.

British TV in recent years has shown a number of crime dramas originating in Scandinavia. They have invariably been dark, moody and miserable. Well, someone worked out that parts of Mid Wales can be dark, moody and miserable – especially when it rains. That’s 365 days of the year. So they decided to do a moody Welsh noir.

There were two versions – an English language one, lapsing into Welsh in home situations with subtitles (which is more the reality in Wales) and one totally in Welsh. They were filmed back to back. The English language one was called Hinterland and the Welsh, Y Gwyll.

So someone in our household of two (who shall remain nameless) suggested that we did Aberystwyth and did the film locations. In previous years we have done the same for British crime series Inspector Morse (Oxford) and Foyle’s War (Hastings). We have our stash of pics of Mr and Mrs O pulling faces (the local word is gurning) in front of well-known sites of the Ghost of TV Series Past.

We managed to get respite care for my mother for two weeks. The government’s idea is to give carers a break, so they don’t crack up and cost the State even more money. So off she went for her “holiday” and off we went for ours. And that is why we have been shivering in a caravan near Aberystwyth. Now we like caravans. I have lived in several in my murky past. The problem is the time of year and lack of insulation. We were promised verbally that the van would have central heating. They lied. They of course denied this, and we have just stuck it out – with hot water bottles, piles of bedclothes and eReaders, and a cold nose when waking up in the morning. Not being canine, and pushing elderly, it hasn’t really worked as it should we have done.

But Aberystwyth has been interesting. There is a series of books by Malcolm Pryce with pastiches on familiar titles – Don’t Cry for me Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Mon Amour, Last Tango in Aberystwyth etc. They are a sort of mixture of Raymond Chandler crossed with Terry Pratchett. Imagine hard boiled dialog but Druids replacing the Mafia. Aberystwyth houses a famous university and the National Library of Wales. We did the library, the tour, the exhibits, and some researching (Mrs O on Welsh folk songs, and me on Welsh Bibles) and as always when away, we looked up the local folk club, with a whole new unsuspecting audience for our limited repertoire. We also attended a one day meeting attended by over 300 where the whole program was in Welsh. I will be doing one of the talks in English in a few weeks time at a repeat event and thought I might have gained some points. And if I could have understood more than the odd word, perhaps I would have done. Mrs O is the linguist in our family. The language is certainly making a comeback from those former days of being suppressed and children using it in schools being punished by the authorities.

And of course, the locations for Y Gwyll. One key location was a place called Devil’s Bridge. I’d been there before, but a million years ago when our daughter was small, and we never did “the walk”. This time we did.  This time I wished we hadn’t.  It is a one-way trip down an extremely steep gorge, with high water-falls to your side and rainwater underfoot; then crossing a scary bridge, and up the other side. Once you have entered – using a primitive slot machine – you can’t get back. There’s a catch-phrase from a British quiz show – I’ve started so I’ll finish... No choice here. We reached the bottom, Mrs O was hyperventilating, and I had come to realise how badly I had done my leg in the day before (don’t ask). Never mind, says I, we are half way there. Except that the second half was going up; mountaineering with slippery rocks, dodgy handrails, and the real possibility of doing an impersonation of that famous Holmes-Moriarty scene from the Reichenbach Falls.

I think I am getting old. I once mentioned in an old post how my father walked 13 miles for charity (and more important for him, a story on the front page of his local newspaper) when he was 95 years old. He died shortly thereafter, but I hasten to add that there was no connection between the two events. However, I have decided after Devil’s Bridge that I am not going to emulate him.

And finally, we spent time in the caravan and shivered and caught up on DVDs. While writing this, we have been watching Paranoiac. It’s a British Hammer studio horror picture based loosely – very loosely – on a superior Josephine Tey novel, Brat Farrar. The old Hammer Company turned it into an over-the-top shock-fest – and it made me laugh out loud and spill my beer. It was the sort of film that as a teenager you would take a girl with you to see in the cinema. At a crucial scary moment you would clutch her hand – only to find it already contained an ice cream, resulting in an unpleasant experience for both of you.

Anyhow – I’m rambling again. As you do. As I do. So to-morrow it’s goodbye to Y Gwyll and Aberystwyth and cold feet – we head back to civilisation and work and responsibility and all that. And decent central heating. It reminded me of a newspaper filler that compared attitudes of people of a certain age with certain decades. Example – Year 1965: “I want to look like Elizabeth Taylor.” Year 2000: “I don’t want to look like Elizabeth Taylor.” And the warmth one?  1965: “I wanna to go to California, man, because it’s COOL...” 2000: “I want to go to California because it’s WARM!”

I’m with the latter all the way.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

So ... maybe it was stupid ...

I'm teaching a medieval history course next year. It's for grades 4-6, but many of them will function at a high school level. I've scouted dozens of curricula and found all of them wanting. I rashly agreed to write one specific to the course. If my mind had been turned on, I'd never have done that. Experience tells me it's inviting over work and stress.

I have until the fall to finish it. But I have to simplify material and present topics that might offend with some delicacy. Here's the start of an "extra" page (minus the illustrations) that is about a third of the way into the course:

Chivalry was not an ‘official institution.’ It was not decreed by a king or priest. So historians do not know when the idea of chivalry arose or where, and the definition of chivalry differed according to time and place, making it hard for us to define. Though it is strongly religious in thought, it was not a religious organization. “It would be useless to search for the place of its birth or for the name of its founder. It was born everywhere at once, and has been everywhere at the same time the natural effect of the same aspirations and the same needs.”

Chivalry arose from a German custom which was idealized by the Christian church; and it was an ideal than a practice. One writer called it “the Christian form of the military profession; the knight was the Christian soldier.” While knights believed this, this belief is contrary to early Christian practice.  

“They refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defense of the empire. . . . It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.”—Edward Gibbon: History of  Christianity.

“A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [Roman emperor from 161 to 180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”—E. W. Barnes: The Rise of Christianity (London, 1947), p. 333.

The various sects of the Church continued to speak against war, but by the time of St. Augustine its view of war had changed. Augustine wrote: “He who can think of war and can support it without great sorrow is truly dead to human feelings.” But “it is necessary to submit to war, but to wish for peace.” The Catholic Church believed war was God’s way of punishing nations and individuals. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, (1627-1704) a French bishop, said the Catholic Church believed war was earthly preparation for the Kingdom of God. He said that empires ‘fall upon one another to form a foundation where on to build the church.’  The code of Chivalry bound knights to the church.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

okay ... this is swell!

I have all the numeral issues from the Kingdom Bavaria except one. These are some of my favorite stamps. I didn't have the 12K Red. It isn't as pricy as some of the others, but people seem to want more than usual for it. The Scott Catalogue suggests 140.00 used. No one pays that unless it is top quality. Usually sellers ask about 40-60 dollars. I don't think it's worth that either and would never pay that much.

Uncle B. found one for cheap and bought it for me. So now I have the complete set 1849-1858. How very nice. Here it is:


             I continue to find comfort in my stamp collections. It’s a distracting hobby, and right now I need to be distracted. I tried a new medication that didn’t work. It didn’t do anything but make me feel icky and turn my pee a funny color. So when I can’t do much else, I sit with one of my stamp albums on my lap and turn pages.

            Which album I examine changes with my mood. I found an old packet of Austrian stamps in a box that Uncle B gave me. Some of the early issues have varnish bars across the front. Most American collectors see these as a minor variety, but I collect them. There was a complete set of the 1904 issue in the packet. So that was nice. I made a special page for them.

            But the nicest find this week is a pair of German Inflation Era stamps. The normal example is very inexpensive mint or used. There are several varieties. This example is listed in the Michel catalogue as 256d and valued at $250.00 each used, giving the pair a catalogue value (seldom realistic, but a guide to rarity) of $500.00. This example differs in color from the normal issue. I’ve found a number of the rarer varieties in large groups of otherwise common stamps. I’m always pleased to find something like this.

The heavy bars used to cancel these stamps indicates that they paid parcel post.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A poem by O. Reader

He only sent the first few verses.

A dragon’s life is very hard
When you think about it.
From most places it is barred
And heroes come and clout it!
Your worries never seem to cease.
No life are you enjoying.
You never get a moment’s peace
- It’s really most annoying.
Fire and sulphur you must blow
To scare the humble peasant.
If you hiccup blowing though,
It can be quite unpleasant!
And every time you come in view
All people flee in fright.
And no-one ever talks to you
- Unless they want a light.
You are cursed to have a face
All greenish as a rule;
A tail that is a right disgrace
- You don’t half feel a fool.
And every hero to a man
You have to go and fight.
And only “gorgeous dishes” can
Appease your appetite.
These last sins are quite correct.
(Such nasty things to do).
But alas, they all expect
That sort of thing from you.
Legend thus is most to blame;
For no-one has been told
That somewhere deep inside your frame
You have a heart of gold.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dragon in the Park and other Adventures

            I’m taking a break from lesson planning. I’m swamped and frustrated, and even the simplest tasks are difficult. But I’m forging ahead. I teach a kindergarten-first grade children’s literature class. I read a book to them, always a short book. We talk and explore words they might not know. Those who can read (many of them can) get to volunteer to read bits. Then we craft a book of our own. Each child gets two file folders. We fold them into book form and glue them together.

            We draw pictures, cut out and past in coloring pictures. Discuss what we like, review the story, add games. We just finished one of the Golden Book classics about a rabbit that seeks a home of his own. Results are always mixed. Following directions, cutting straight lines and similar things put dexterity to the test, and sometimes little hands can’t do those things well. I help, but it’s the student’s task to put the book together.

            I’m putting together a series of poems about dragons and dinosaurs and cats and dogs and birds. I’m using two of my own poems, maybe three. This is one of them:


By Rachael de Vienne


I saw a dragon in the park.
His eyes were green.
He puffed at me,
And I thought I saw a spark.

He hid in the dense trees,
But he looked at me as boldly as you please.
I thought I was a goner
Until I saw him kiss a lark.

So, bravely, I asked,
"Tell me Mr. Dragon, please …
Answer my question, will you?
But just don't sneeze.

Was that really smoke?
Or just something blowing on the breeze?"

He cocked his head and
Looked me up and down.
"My mommy doesn't let me smoke," he said.
And with that he lost his frown.

"You haven't seen her, have you?
I lost her somewhere near the zoo.
I've cried and cried all day.
Can I go home with you?"

I don't think I have any dragon feed.
Say, do you eat meat or
– I smiled hopefully –
Maybe a big bowl off bird seed?

"I'd like some tea and cookies
If you have those, please?"

Well, you have to promise and solemnly swear
You won't sit on mom's best chair.

So I fed him cookies by the dozen
And lots and lots of tea,
And we made posters to fix to every tree.
They said, "Have you seen my mommy?
She's missing me."

A week went by and then another;
We were near despair
And running low on tea.
When we found his mother.

Or, I mean she found me.

A huge salty drop
– It must have been a gallon –
Hit me right on top.

And I looked up and up … and up.
There was a dragon with huge toes,
One, two, three.
It was taller than a tree.

“Say,” she said, “have you seen my baby? Have you?
I lost him near the zoo.
I cry and cry every day.
Can I go home with you?”

            I’ve chosen some pictures to color that relate to the poems. I learned from earlier versions of this class that letting each child make his own name tag is a bad idea. I make one they can fill in complete with title and a large lined space for their name. I print these out at my own expense. Our district print shop can put out nice work but often there is some problem – currently all the printers are down but one. So that’s why I do this myself.


I enjoy this class. It’s very chatty, and sometimes it’s rowdy. I pull them back to their work. Managing a classroom full of kindergartners is like herding cats or pushing string up hill, but it is fun.

It's a painless way to improve dexterity, help them learn to follow directions and introduce them the age-appropriate children's classics. And this time I get to sneak in something of my own.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I haven’t ‘been around’ for a while. I fell face first onto pavement. It made a nasty squishy, thumpy, cracky noise. I was cut and bruised from eye to chin. And my knees are still scabbed up. I tell everyone that I tripped over a bit of cement. This is true but not all the story. I’m unstable as a result of increasing seizure problems, and it is these that have kept me away from this blog and barely functioning.

I have committed to teaching ten classes next year, but if my health continues to degrade I probably won’t be teaching anything.

While I’ve been in semi-hibernation I’ve watched more crime shows. Among those I watched were Murder Call, an Australian series, and Da Vinci’s Inquest, a Canadian show. These were a product of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Murder Call is interesting but not at all realistic. Parts of it were irritating. The opening credits are not well done. The play off a telephone dial tone grates on my nerves. You’d have to be Australian to know what VKG means. (Call sign of the police radio net.) The crimes are improbable, gothic even. The solution is reached by the female detective, but presented in disjointedly through rapid flashbacks to the key clues. This is fantasy, not crime fiction. But it’s good enough to watch them all.

Da Vinci’s Inquest is set in Vancouver, B.C. (I got seriously lost there once.) The main character is a coroner who’s come to the job after being an undercover policeman. He has an unnecessarily abrasive personality. Most of the shows have a political message that detracts from the stories. A few of them are improbable. Of the two, this is the superior show. It does not reach the level of the American show it copies, but it is a huge improvement over Quincy, an American show that featured a Medical Examiner. (MEs are a different kind of bird. They’re physicians. Coroners aren’t.)

I watched other crime shows too. These were made in the UK, Australia and the USA. None of them were worth more than one or two views. You can find the two I liked on youtube.

I’m suffering social-withdrawal pains. Other than work and sleep, I seldom do anything but vegetate and write a little. My doctor wants me to go off to the University Hospital. Been there, done that more than once. It’s a waste of time and money.

We’ve been looking into a Mr. Conley’s life. The research results are unsatisfactory thus far. But we have a fairly clear view of key events. If we don’t find things with more substance, we’ll change our outline and combine his misadventures with those of another related person. That will remove a chapter from the outline, but that’s okay. We’ve done that before.

Mr. Conley drifted into the faith cure community. Group interest extended back at least to 1878 when Mr. Russell, Conley’s associate, consorted with one of the earliest American advocates of faith cure (as expressed in Germany in the 1860s). Modern Pentecostals do not see Faith Cure as part of their heritage, but it is. We won’t trace the connections; they’re not relevant to our story. Conley, as do many believers, wanted what ‘should be,’ ignoring ‘what was.’ A driving force of sectarian divide has always been the desire to return to Christian roots. This isn’t an unworthy desire. But the New Testament suggests that Christianity is a tree that becomes a fully grown planting. So while Christian fundamentals are always important, some things are supposed to pass away with maturity.

We do not have a clear statement of Conley’s later belief, just hints of it. He cannot have been totally pleased with his final path. He sought healings such as Jesus performed. Within his final association he saw fraud, fornication, and imperfect, slow ‘cures.’ If he did not see the difference between Christ’s cures and this, we do not know why.

His final religious association was with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. This group has always been plagued by fornicating pastors, drunken adherents, and fakery. Today they are a marginalized sect. And they deserve to be.


Saturday, March 07, 2015

From O. Reader


What if the first Zeppelin bomb raid on London during the Great War, hadn’t blown a young office junior down a flight of stairs?

He wouldn’t have suffered from shell shock giving him exemption from conscription just in time to avoid the battle of the Somme.

What if penicillin had been discovered two years earlier than it was?

The man’s first wife (of several) would probably not have died when she did, leaving him a widower.

What if the man, now in his late 40s, hadn’t decided to take a working holiday as a host, compère and comedian?

What if one of the families on holiday at this location hadn’t included a girl who was desperate for a father figure?

Well – I wouldn’t have been born.

Yes – the world would have been spared Occasional Reader.

Let’s wind the clock back again.

What if a man who was desperate to be an RAF pilot in World War 2– even though the average life span was only a few weeks at that time – hadn’t been turned down on medical grounds?

He would never have become a RAF mechanic and been sent to Egypt after the war.

What if a Morse code operator at Bletchley hadn’t also been sent to Egypt after the war, where she met the mechanic?

There wouldn’t have been any future Mrs Occasional.

What if the future OR hadn’t volunteered for a kind of missionary work and been sent to the Wild West? Well, at least to Wales, where his first abiding memory was of free range sheep raiding trash cans – something not normally seen in the leafy suburbs of London...

What if the future Mrs O hadn’t come back from a foreign land to attend a wedding in Wales, which the future OR had promised to film?

What if the future OR, while dithering about the future Mrs O (dithering being a basic part of his makeup in that era) hadn’t bumped into her – literally – in a bookshop in the middle of a capital city? (At least a mutual interest in books boded well.)

Answers to all the above?

I wouldn’t be lounging here on a sofa trying to sort out a dead database of radio drama, with Mrs O sitting beside me sending emails to our daughter on her shiny Galaxy tablet. She on the Zinfandel and me on the Cabernet Sauvignon, with a creaky old crime thriller as moving wallpaper on the television.

Strange how things work out...
Perhaps I’ll just have another half glass.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

When Cartoons Dance

More from Harry

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

From Harry

Goldfish, Snow, and Christmas Trees

I spent the last two days sitting with the twins. My wife, GIC, (Grandma In Charge) had other things to do this week.

First I was just going to watch Maggie on Tuesday while Corbin was in his day program, but then he developed a fever and my daughter had to leave work and bring him home. So I got both of them. No problems except for the potty.

Grandpa – "Do you need to potty Maggie?"

Maggie doesn’t even look up from her iPad. "Oh no."

An hour later the diaper is visibly drooping. "I think you need to potty Maggie."

Maggie – "Nope. Don’t want to."

Finally – "Come on Maggie. Go sit on your potty."

Reluctantly Maggie sits on her potty while continuing to play on her tablet. She continues to sit for 30 minutes or more as I keep asking if she is done yet. Finally I pick her up and place her on the changing table and put on a dry diaper.

"You want to see Goldie now?"

Goldie is her new goldfish. Now the story goes that when my daughter goes shopping at the grocery store with Maggie they have been visiting the pet store next door. Maggie loves looking at the fish. The marriage started with two dogs and two cats in the family even before the twins arrived. My daughter had told her she would have to ask her father before another pet was added to the menagerie. A couple of weeks ago, as they were leaving the store, Maggie starts crying, "Mommy we’re leaving Goldie. We gotta go back and get Goldie." Before Mommy knew what happened, they were in the pet store and Maggie was pointing out Goldie to the lady who was trying to scoop the right fish out of the tank.

Back. Did you miss me? I was only gone three days. Life has been busy here.

Sunday night we tried something different. My son currently works at our favorite Irish pub. The pub is trying to bring in more business on Sundays so they started a cabaret program. The first offering was Secret Agent Galactica, a cross-dressing blues singer, who spices up ‘her’ act with stories of space and time travel. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Jayne had fish and chips and I had bangers and mash. We laughed and clapped, and drank good beer. Maybe too much beer. Galactica was starting to look good to me by the end of the night.

Yesterday we got ready for our big snowstorm. We brought our kerosene heater into the house along with a can of fuel. Firewood was loaded into the fireplace. All of this was just in case we lost electricity and had to keep the house warm. Of course, having done that, we never lost power. Snow started just after midday and fell throughout the evening. We got around 8 inches, which is a heavy snow for Richmond.

Back again. Another day has passed.

Because of the snow Jayne didn’t need to babysit the twins this morning so she gave up on trying to get me to take down the decorations on the Christmas tree. She let me know that I could now take off the lights and disassemble it and box it up.

I had planned to hang flags on it for the 4th of July, but I guess that’s not going to happen now.

So how was your week?