Saturday, June 27, 2015
I visited the Bluffs Regional Park this afternoon and took a pleasant hour's walk on a 2.7-mile trail that loops around several hills. I didn't see any bluffs. A bluff, according to National Geographic, is "a steep cliff or wall of rock or soil."
The geological object sticking up ahead is a hill or a hillock or a knoll or perhaps even an eminence. It is not a bluff.
Seeing a deer nibbling on a weed was the most exciting event of the afternoon.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The following comic article by Ashley Sterne was published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland) on December 29th 1938. The article is merely of middling interest. Still, I enjoyed seeing Sterne revisit comic devices he first employed decades earlier: e.g., the comic use of the word "bloater" and a jibe at a German composer, in this case Richard Wagner and his celebrated work Tannhauser.
Near the Bandstand
If, when setting out upon your summer holiday from one of the main stations, you are man enough to wrest yourself from the refreshment-room and stroll along the platform to the engine-end of your train, you are certain to see there two or three earnest-looking gentlemen of various ages examining the "Flying Slug" (or whatever other name the engine answers to), with a display of keenest interest.
Contrary, no doubt, to your supposition, they are not directors of the railway scrutinising the mechanism to assure themselves that no wheels are missing and that the cork hasn't popped out of the boiler. They are merely men who find an extraordinary fascination in studying locomotive machinery.
This (to me) queer diversion does not necessarily imply that these fellows are expert practical engineers. For all they know of mechanical forces, they may just as well be drysalters. bee-masters, lighthousekeepers, or ventriloquists. Indeed, the most zealous engine-fan I ever knew was a professor o£ Esperanto, who would spend hours engine-gazing and then go home and meet his Waterloo trying to set the mouse-trap.
Such men are simply magnetised by engines, following even so humble a specimen of the species as a steam-roller about with all the pertinacity of a drag-hound pursuing the irresistibly fascinating aroma of a semi-decomposed bloater.
Now I, who am not engine-minded, get my bit of fun in quite another way.
The present moment finds me at that enchanting seaside resort, Bilgehaven, where I am quartered in the newest luxury-caravanserai — the Hotel Magnifique, Splendide et Somptueux (11s. 9 1/2d. per diem, all in). Just before noon each day, I emerge from its imposing portals and wend my way along the sea-front to the lawns surrounding the bandstand — a gorgeous edifice reminiscent of one of the open-air lion-cages at the zoo with just a touch of the Taj Mahal about it. Here I plank down my tuppence like a gentleman for a deck chair, or scramble like a pauper for a seat on one of the Corporation's free benches. It all depends on what has happened at the dogs the previous evening. Anyway, you might quite reasonably infer that I have come hither to hear what the Band of the 1st Blackguards can do about the equine excursions of the Valkyries. But I haven't, any more than has the corpulent dame creaking in the canvas back next to mine, who, with a complete escalator of chinz, has buried her face in the lowest step of her staircase, and is already in a state of profoundest coma, snoring gently as though inspired in slumber to imitate the horns of Elfland faintly blowing.
Then what, you will possibly ask, have I come for? And I hope you will ask, because I am simply bursting to tell you that the band is to me what the railway engine is to my professor of Esperanto. I don't want to hear it; I want to watch it. And I don't care a hoot what they play so long as they are all kept busy. I willingly sit out such musical eccentricities as those picturesquely-named fantasias, which seem to be a peculiar feature of seaside bands ("Gala Night at a Lambeth Milk-Bar," "Christmas Eve on a Sewage-Farm," and so forth), so that I may study and admire, for example, the exquisite technique of the bass trombonist.
This musician's exacting duty is to keep on thrusting in and out of its sheath many yards of metal tubing, the extent of which is so long when fully pushed out that the sound of a note actually blown on the Palace Pier at Brighton eventually emerges from the tube somewhere in the neighbourhood of Black Rock. His is a thrilling performance, and I sit entranced with his dexterity in avoiding dealing the knock-out to the musician seated immediately in front of him.
On one occasion I remember seeing a clumsy bass-trombonist smite an under-sized oboe player a terrific blow in the small of the back when executing a sudden fortissimo on a very low note. If it hadn't been that the lifeboat was out practicing starts in the harbour that morning, there would certainly be a whip-around for a widow with six — four girls and two hautboys.
Then again, I gaze with feelings akin to awe at the gymnastic activities of the versatile instrumentalist who, when he is not thumping a drum, is whacking a xylophone; and when not whacking a xylophone, is battering a tambourine, is tintinnabulating on a triangle, is clashing the cymbals; and, when doing none of these things, is restoring his exhausted vitality and shattered nerves with copious draughts of sal-volatile.
No less am I fascinated by the gentleman who sits placidly cuddling a very large brass instrument, whose appearance suggests a compromise between an anatomical chart of your innards and the Loch Ness monster. Next to him, in strange contrast, sits a bandsman playing upon what is apparently a lavishly silver mounted and somewhat fat fountain pen held sideways to the lips. I have no idea what the instrument may be, as I am told that toffee-apples are not used in military bands. But I do know that it has a lot of hard blowing to put up with in the "Police-raid" section of the "Lambeth Milk-bar" fantasia. If I call it the "this'll make you whistle," that term will at all events give an adequate description of one of its functions.
The sight of the bandmaster, too, always enthralls me. He offers me the illusion that I am looking at Mr. Jasper Maskelyne conjuring with his back to the audience. Up flashes his magic wand into the air, while the band plays the opening strains of Dick Wagner's overture to "Tan Trousers," I sit in delicious expectancy of seeing a tea-rose or a goldfish suddenly appear at the wand's tip.
Then comes another exciting moment when I see both the conjurer's arms gently undulating in the air, and when the long roll on the side-drum begins, I know that Mr. Maskelyne has successfully levitated the hypnotised maiden from the floor, and that she now remains suspended 'twixt heaven and Bilgehaven without visible means of support.
And that is precisely why I take a chair by the bandstand. Being a fair-minded man, however, I feel it is up to me one day to take a band by the chairstand, so to say, and really concentrate on hearing Corporal Bass-Trombone, V.C. (with two bars' rest) make the deep C breezes blow.
Saturday, June 13, 2015
This morning I decided to take the light rail downtown to the Denver Public Library used book sale. To save on transportation costs, I drove two miles to a light rail station in the next fare zone, thereby saving myself $4.50 off the round-trip fare. (The Regional Transportation District would probably look askance at my penny pinching.)
The city commissioned a mural for the station in a faux-Picasso style. The artist, a fellow named Gregory Gove, did a fine job, especially given the severe pressures of political correctness that he was undoubtedly under. (It is fortunate for Michelangelo that he was only constrained by the aesthetic standards of sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism.) My photo here of one of the mural sections is lousy, but it gives you the general idea.
For more of Gove's work go to http://www.goveart.com
I especially enjoyed the website pictures of Gove's five-part mural for the Whirlpool company. I recommend that my international blog readership -- that's right, all twelve of you! -- take a look.
One dazzling part of the mural, shown below, reminded me of the kind of technicolor nightmares I suffer when I eat spicy food too close to bedtime. Brilliant stuff! (I would consider asking Gove to sell me a poster of this work, except that I fear that the poster would make a rich widow feel ill at ease if she were to visit my townhouse. I have never met any rich widows, but I have a suspicion that they have little taste for the surreal.)
The light rail dropped me off at Union Station and I walked to the library. En route I saw this magnificent oak tree. It is far wider than it is tall.
Then I passed by an remarkably ugly building. Can you guess the function of the building below?
A headquarters for our new robot overlords? A prison along medieval lines? An easily defended fortress for a paranoid financier? A monastery for a sect of fanatical computer nerds? Make your guess.
The answer: an art museum. One grows weary with despair.
The library had pitched a giant tent to house countless tables of used books. How do you secure a giant tent on the lawn? With giant stakes? No, with massive concrete cylinders.
The book sale advertised 80,000 books for sale, mostly the kind of paperbacks you might find in an airport newspaper and magazine store. However, I found only one promising book, a thick paperback called On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee (1984). I slapped my $2 on the table and bought it.
A blurb on the back cover says: "Generously spiced with historical and literary anecdotes, On Food and Cooking discusses all the major food categories, from meat to potatoes to sauce bearnaise and champagne. With more than 200 illustrations, including startling photographs of food taken through an electron microscope, On Food and Cooking will instruct and captivate all cooks and people who love food."
If you think that the major food categories are meat, potatoes, sauce bearnaise, and champagne, you are a strange cross-breed of Iowa farmer and French bon vivant. Anyway, I look forward to being startled by the electron microscope photography.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
The following marvelous story by Ashley Sterne recently appeared in Trove, the digitized newspaper website of the National Library of Australia. The story was originally published in The London Observer, Ashley Sterne's primary outlet in 1916, and was then republished in the Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, South Australia) on October 7th 1916.
The story has touches of the macabre. By the middle of the story I was hoping that Sterne would veer off into Sweeney Todd territory. (This is sad proof that my character has been tainted by the decadence of our modern times.) Honorably, Sterne stayed within bounds of Edwardian taste.
I was surprised to see that Sterne imported a series of South African Dutch terms (kopje, kloof, spruit, etc.) into the Australian narrative. He must have enjoyed the comic sound of these exotic words.
Drumroll, please! Let the story begin!
Enoch and Arden: A Short Story
Old Ephraim Knocker had had one foot in the grave for so many years that at length he pulled himself together and inserted the other foot too, the neighbours, upon hearing the news, cried "Never!" And his heirs, executors and assigns, after trying artificial respiration for nearly half a minute, likewise exclaimed "Never!" Yet in spite of this wholesale incredulity they ran and drew the insurance money; and thus, in the person of Ephraim Knocker, Australia's richest squatter passed away.
For the old man had been a successful rabbit-farmer, and had squatted so industriously that at his death he was worth no less than 170,516,829 rabbits — most of them with power to add to their number — an inheritance which caused his two nephews and heirs, Enoch and Arden (who also squatted industriously, albeit on the floor in Jake Juggins' saloon), to be the most sought-after young men in the district. But Enoch and Arden had other inclinations than those of match-making squattresses, and they both loved the same girl — Winnie Welterwayte, the maddest, merriest maid in all Moolloowoojoo.
But (as so often happens in stories of this character) Winnie could not make up her mind as to which brother she preferred, until one day she accidentally overheard, whilst listening at the keyhole, that Enoch, the elder, had inherited the odd rabbit, thus making him one up on Arden. Then the truth flashed upon her, and deep down in her simple affectionate heart she knew that it was Enoch she loved. Hence, at his next weekly proposal, she accepted him, and in due course they were made as one as a fully choral service, numerous and costly guests, and the contents of Jake Juggins' cellar could possibly make them.
Arden bore his disappointment manfully. He did not leave the old farm, as many men under similar circumstances would have done. He stayed on, contributed three-and-six a week to the housekeeping, and strove to forget his sorrows in work. Every morning he rose at five, and fed his own and his brother's rabbits; cleaned out the opossum's nest in the blue-gum tree, and gave it fresh seed and water; groomed the kangaroo and the wallaby, and milked the Swiss condensed cow.
Then one day came the news of the war with Germany, and both brothers hastened to offer their services with the Colonial forces. But Enoch was rejected for knock-knees, and Arden for bow-legs; and together they returned to the old squat house fired with determination to — since they could not deal a blow for the Old Country (thus establishing the longest split infinitive on record) — serve the Motherland in some other way. Accordingly they resolved to sacrifice at the longest profit attainable the whole of their rabbits, and to enter the market as War Office caterers. This they found no difficulty in doing, as their prices were far and away the highest tendered; and in a very short time the farm presented an unwonted appearance.
On every kopje, kloof, spruit, sjambok, stoep, and vlet, the finest boomerang-throwers in Australia might have been seen, all employed in the slaughter of rabbits. From the cowl of the wash-house issued a constant cloud of smoke and steam; while in the seething cauldron beneath, the raw rabbits were boiled for tinnings. In the parlour Winnie, Enoch and Arden worked without pause at writing labels — "turkey and tongue," "chicken and ham," "liver and bacon," "spiced beef," "Yarmouth bloater," and so forth; and Dingo the old rabbit dog sat on his haunches in the midst of them, with his dear, faithful tongue hanging out, against which each label was pressed as soon as completed, and thence transferred to the tin.
At length the time came when the last rabbit had been boomeranged, boiled, canned and labelled, and Enoch had completed his preparations to accompany the goods to England. On this day Moolloowoojoo was appropriately decorated with bunting and little rabbit skins; and the Town Band, which for some days previously had devoted much time to rehearsing "It's a long way to ship a rabbit," had paraded the streets from an early hour — a procedure which had twice necessitated the Mayor's delivering an impassioned and dramatic rendering of that popular recitation, the Riot Act. Within the farmstead Enoch took a long farewell of his wife, and then seized his brother's toil-scarred, rabbit-stained hand.
"Good-bye, old man," he said in a voice husky partly with emotion, and partly with four small Basses. "Look after Winnie while I'm gone. Feed her three times a day, and wash her head on Saturday nights. Keep the home-fire burning; keep the butter churning ; keep the milk from turning till I'm home again."
Then amid the blaring of the band, the weeping of his wife, the blessings of his brother, the "pip-pips" of the populace, and the rattling of the rabbits in their little old tin cans, Enoch started on his journey.
A fortnight later a black-edged telegram arrived at the farm. It was from the owners of the ship in which Enoch had sailed, and was to the effect that when in mid-ocean the vessel had shied at a shoal of flying sardines, taken the rudder between her teeth, run into the kerb and foundered with all hands.
On learning the sad news Winnie did not throw up her hands and give way to the ordinary, vulgar hysteria. Maintaining her self-control she put aside Arden's pants which she had been darning, lay down upon the hearthrug, and with great presence of mind calmly and deliberately fainted. Arden ran to her side, and kneeling down forced a little tomato chutney between her lips. As the potent stimulant coursed down her oesophagus she presently revived sufficiently to sit up; and Arden, with his arm supporting her, patted her, petted her, pitied her, and from sheer force of rabbit — I should say habit —very nearly potted her. But he remembered in time, and confined himself to the patting, petting and pitying stunts.
These little attentions continued for some days, and it was really not very surprising when one day Arden asked Winnie if she was doing anything next Tuesday, and receiving a reply in the negative asked if she would marry him, and received a reply in the affirmative. "Enoch must nearly be an ammonite by this time,' Arden said simply; "and anyhow I promised him to look after you. Your trousseau is practically unused. There is no reason why the marriage should be delayed." And Winnie, realising that Arden spoke with the authority of the richest squatter in Australia, agreed with him. Thus it was that on the day appointed the fully choral service was once more heard in Moolloowoojoo, the guests were numerous and costly for the second time in six months, and Jake Juggins' Waterloo port and Bannookburn usquebaugh were again requisitioned.
As Winnie emerged from the porch leaning on Arden's arm, a figure appeared from behind one of the exceedingly complimentary tombstones with which the churchyard was studded, and advanced towards her. His clothes were wringing wet. A barnacle hung from his left ear. A jelly-fish was firmly enmeshed in his matted hair, and numerous bivalves clung tenaciously to his long, unkempt beard. Winnie gave one glance and then with a shriek that drowned the organist's efforts with the Wedding March, flung her arms round Arden's neck.
"Enoch!" she cried. "Enoch has some back — he is not dead. And I — miserable, unhappy woman — I have committed trigonometry!'
That evening Enoch, Arden and Winnie were once again seated in the farmhouse parlour. Supper was on the table, and what was to have been the piece de resistance of Arden and Winnie's wedding feast — a tin of their own canned rabbit — lay open and inviting.
"Come," said Enoch, taking his place at the groaning board. "Let us eat. Perhaps some solution of the difficulty will occur to us between the hors d'oeuvres and the liqueure. I only wish to affirm that I absolutely refuse to go away again like the man in the poem."
"And I," said Arden, "as resolutely decline to give up Winnie whom I married in all good faith. Your rescue by the Fiji lifeboat has been a most unfortunate occurrence for us all."
"While I," observed Winnie, seating herself between her two husbands, "have a perfectly open mind on the whole matter. Enoch, cut the rabbit, darling. Arden, pass the salad, dearest."
Yet even as they ate and discussed the problem in all its bearings, Fate was working out the solution through a medium which none of them expected. Little did they know that the rabbit they were so innocently assimilating had for years before the lethal boomerang laid its head in the dust been suffering from that most insidious of rabbit diseases, ptomaine. Subtly and silently the fell toxin did its work. Winnie was the first to go. In the act of passing her plate for a third helping she collapsed upon the Charlotte Russe, and died with the name of "Arnoch" on her lips. In vain did the brothers dash the contents of the cruet in her face. She gave no response, and Enoch, realising what had happened, borrowed two pennies from his brother, placed them on her eyelids, and carried her to the sofa to dry.
Then returning to the supper table he asked Arden for two meringues.
"Did you say two meringues or boomerangs?" the latter inquired, striving to impart a note of gaiety into the gloom which the ill-timed death of Winnie had caused to settle over the proceedings. But before he could frame a suitable reply, Enoch fell with a sickening thud on to the College pudding; and with the Christian name of the stewardess on the vessel from which he was wrecked upon his lips, breathed his last.
Aghast at the tragedy neatly spread out in rows before him, Arden staggered to his feet, lurched across to the sofa, and removing the pennies from Winnie's now fast-closed eyes was about to place them upon Enoch's when he felt himself going. With commendable presence of mind he clapped them on his own, and falling gracefully backward, he was fortunate enough to select the spot where somnolent and recumbent, lay Dingo, the old rabbit dog. The force of his fall knocked the breath out of the somnolent and recumbent hound, and thus the four occupants of the old Moolloowoojoo farmhouse, even as they had lived, all died together happily ever after. — Ashley Sterne, in London Opinion.
Monday, June 8, 2015
Although these days I am little more than an overpaid (and grateful for it!) corporate clerk, tonight I decided to treat myself to an evening of refined delights befitting someone of a higher station in life. I began by listening to the excellent Palestrina requiem "Miss pro defunctis" and then, just as the sun was setting, I strolled to the nearby reservoir. In the remaining moments of sunlight, I saw a distant bronze-colored creature rising from the shore. The creature shone in the soft, oblique light like something out of a dream.
I set my digital camera on its greatest magnification and used it as a telescope. The creature was revealed to be a deer.
I decided to take its picture in the impressionistic style, by applying the precise amount of hand tremble to simulate a watercolor effect. (Anyone with skill can take a sharp picture. It takes an artist such as myself to transcend the fussy demands of competence.)
Behold the impressionistic deer with its shining rump! The little blob of white in the middle of fluffy blue water is a boat.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
There is a splendid evergreen tree in the alley behind my townhouse. It has been there for decades, and every day I view it from my kitchen window. However, last week as I was driving up to my garage, I glanced over at the tree and was surprised to see it. At that instant I was convinced that I had never seen it before. (A check of my blood pressure is probably in order.) Here is a picture of this tree that so surprised me.
Chastened by this unsettling mental lapse, I undertook to be more observant as I walked to the library today. I immediately noticed a crow that was cawing imperiously from the top of a nearby 40-foot spruce. He would caw and then strike a pose for the world to admire.
Later, as I was walking home from the library, I saw two bunnies grazing in front of an apartment. Here is the more photogenic of the two.
The bunny appeared to have no fear of me. This was foolhardiness on its part, because I am of imposing size and widely known to be carnivorous. While it is true that I seldom sample Leporidae, a bunny would do well not to presume on my forbearance.