Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Sylvester Stallone creaks back to the screen with a facelift that's halfway between a department store mannikin and David Guest.  Stallone plays Barney Ross (really? taking the name of an old boxing champion?), the leader of a six-man group of mercenaries called The Expendables.  The opening scenes have the mercenaries turning Somali pirates into body parts, while one member (Gunner, played by Dolph Lundgren) is about to hang one of the pirates.  While blowing people up seems kosher, hanging them does not; Gunner, high on drugs, can't appreciate the concept.  So there's a fight, and Gunner gets kicked off the squad.  And then there were five.

Back home, Barney is approach by sleazy I'm-CIA-but-I'm not-going-to-admit-it Bruce Willis, who wants the squad to take out a Latin dictator in the island country of Vilena.  Vilena is a major producer of  Vilenaschnitzel    cocaine and Eric Roberts and Eric Robert's facelift play an evil rogue CIA agent controls both the dictator and the cocaine traffic.  Bruce Willis wants the cocaine traffic back at the CIA, where it belongs.

Their contract on the island is Sandra, the dictator's daughter who wants him dead because he's done bad things to his people.   Band, band, bang.  Betrayal, betrayal, betrayal.  Explosion, explosion, explosion.  Wisecracks, witticisms, and deadpan acting.  Torture, torture, torture.   No sex to speak of.  Body parts, body parts, body parts.  The five-man squad takes on an army.  The end.

Not quite.  We need to have Barney leave the girl in fine Casablanca style.  And we need to welcome back a clean Gunner to the squad.  Let's not forget a final bit of humor among this noble band of killers.

This is not a great film, but for a mysogenic, morally bankrupt flick, it's a pretty good one.  Stallone has gathered a large set of a he-man actors (including Jason Stathham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture,  and the Gubernator) and uses them to their best advantage.  Add eye candy from Gisele Itie and Charisma Carpenter and you have a mindless, enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I woke up to the first big frost of the season this morning.   It glistened on leaves currently decorating our lawn, and layered itself over our car.  Yep, 'tis the season of going out ten minutes earlier in the morning to warm the car.

     For me, the first frost also marks the beginning of a joyous season.  (I'm not one for Black Fridays or Cyber Mondays or whatever marketing tool is supposed to mark the beginning of the holiday season. I realize that, in these economic times, stores have to do everything they can to push holiday sales, thus the Christmas displays began to appear in the stores this year before Halloween, but I prefer to opt out of considering spending the raison d'etre of Christmas.)

     It's time to start the traditions that we instituted when we moved to Southern Maryland a few years ago.  This weekend, we'll be taking our two youngest grandchildren to  the Christmas Walk on Solomons Island, visiting churches and stores along the boardwalk, sampling goodies while sipping on mulled cider or cocoa.  Everybody and their dogs (naturally the dogs take part) greeting you and smiling, just grateful to be at this beautiful place on a cool December night.  There's music and lights.  Early on, there's a parade, which we may (or may not) watch, but we will be there for Saturday evening's boat parade -- a flotilla of decorated boats sailing around Solomons Island from Deep Creek and up the Patuxent River and back, the boats being manned by people filled of  holiday spirit, with some filled by the holiday spirits.  We may include a visit to the always interesting Calvert Marine Museum.

     Later in December, We'll be at Flat Iron Farm in St. Mary's County for the light displays and the animals.
(Erin, the youngest, likes the watusi, the horses, and the pigs; her brother likes the pigs and the goats; I just enjoy walking through a working farm.)

     Annmarie Garden, a public arts garden arm of the Smithsonsian, will be having its holiday lights display, nestled among the trees in its delightful statue garden.  We'll be there.

     On December 17th, it's a Tuba Christmas!   The Tuba Christmas began at Rockfeller Center in 1974 as a tribute to music teacher Willam J. Bell, who was born on Christmas Day in 1902.  It has since spread to more than 120 cities throughout the world, with the Calvert County Tuba Christmas is entering its ninth year.  As the name implies, this a Christmas concert played on the tuba (and related instruments: the sousaphone, the euphonium, etc.).   Anyone, any age, who can play a tuba is invited to play; in past years the ages ranged from pre-teen to I'm-not-going-to-tell-you.  There were nearly forty players last year, coming from Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and Ohio (I think; it was one of the "vowel" states).  The music is sweet and moving; you will be surprised at the beauty of the music when you attend your first Tuba Christmas.  And kids love it; they get a chance to jingle and clang bells during several numbers.  If there is a Tuba Christmas scheduled where you live, don't pass it up.

     On Christmas Eve, my daughter usually hosts an open house.  I'm expected to bring my chili and wife is expected to bring her peppermint brownies.  This year my daughter is back in school to train for a new career and her classmates have demanded she hold a party to celebrate the end of classes.  (She and her husband live in a glass-sided octagonal house on a hill by the Chesapeake with two children, three dogs, a cat, a Burmese python, and two pet Nigerian dwarf goats; her classmates wanted an excuse to see the house and the goats.)  So the open house has been moved up this year, but the chili and the brownies are still expected.

     That leaves our Christmas Eve free.  We may find a church service, or we may opt out and go view the house lights in our neighborhood, or we may stay home and watch old movies.  Oh, the possibilities!

     So that's what the first frost brings to me.  And all those leaves on my lawn will probably wait until spring, when I'll try mulching them with my lawn mower.  We let our grounds lay fallow; we live by the Bay and grass lawns are harmful to the ecology.  My back is getting too old to rake, so we'll see how the mulching works out.  Next season.  After the last frost of this season.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Ever since Robert Fish created Schlock Homes I have loved Sherlockian parodies.  I know nothing about George F. Forrest except that he published the following in his slender collection MISFITS: a book of parodies (Oxford: Frank Harvey, 1905). 

                              THE ADVENTURE OF THE DIAMOND NECKLACE 

 As I pushed open the door, I was greeted by the strains of a ravishing melody.  Warlock Bones was playing dreamily on the accordian, and his keen, clear-cut face was almost hidden from view by the dense smoke-wreaths, which curled upward from an exceedingly filthy briar-wood pipe.  As soon as he saw me, he drew a final choking sob from the instrument, and rose to his feet with a smile of welcome.

     "Ah, good morning, Goswell," he said cheerily.  "But why do you press your trousers under the bed?"

     It was true -- quite true.  This extraordinary observer, the terror of every cowering criminal, the greatest thinker that the world has ever known, had ruthlessly laid bare the secret of my life.  Ah, it was true.

     "But how did you know?" I asked in a stupor of amazement. 

     He smiled at my discomfiture.

     "I have made a special study of trousers," he answered, "And of beds.  I am rarely deceived.  But, setting that knowledge, for the moment, on one side, have you forgotten the few days I spent with you three months ago?  I saw you do it then."

     He could never cease to astound me, this lynx-eyed sleuth of crime.  I could never master the marvellous simplicity of his methods.  I could only wonder and admire -- a privilege, for which I can never be sufficiently grateful.  I seated myself on the floor, and, embracing his left knee with both my arms in an ecstacy of passionate adoration, gazed up inquiringly into his intellectual countenance.

     He rolled up his sleeve, and, exposing his thin nervous arm, injected half a pint of prussic acid with incredible rapidity.  This operation finished, he glanced at the clock.

     "In twenty-three or twenty-four minutes'" he observed, "a man will probably call to see me.  He has a wife, two children, and three false teeth, one of which will very shortly have to be renewed.  He is a successful stockbroker of about forty-seven years, wears Jaegers, and is an enthusiastic patron of Missing Word Competitions."

     "How do you know all this?" I interrupted breathlessly, tapping his tibia with fond impatience.

     Bones smiled his inscutable smile.

     "He will come," he continued, "to ask my advice about some jewels which were stolen from his house in Richmond last Thursday week.  Among them was a diamond necklace of quite exceptional value."

     "Explain," I cried in rapturous admiration.  "Please explain."

     "My dear Gowell," he laughed, "you are really very dense.  Will you never learn my methods?  The man is a personal friend of mine.  I met him yesterday in the city, and he asked to come and talk over his loss to me this morning.  Voila tout.  Deduction, my dear good Goswell, mere deduction."

     "But the jewels?  Are the police on the track?"

     "Very much off it.  Really our police are the veriest bunglers.  They have already arrested twenty-seven perfectly harmless and unoffending persons, including a dowager duchess, who is still prostrate with the shock; and, unless I am very much mistaken, they will arrest my friend's wife this afternoon.  She was in Moscow at the time of the robbery, but that, of course, is of little consequence to these amiable dolts."

     "And have you any clues as to the whereabouts of the jewels?"

     "A fairly good one," he answered.  "So good, in fact, that I can at this present moment lay my hands upon them.  It is a very simple case, one of the simplest I have ever had to deal with, and yet in its way a strange one, presenting several difficulties to the average observer.  The motive of the robbery is a little puzzling.  The thief appears to have been actuated not by the ordinary greed of gain so much as by an intense love of self-advertisement." 

    "I can hardly imagine," I said with some surprise, "a burglar, qua burglar, wishing to advertise his exploits to the world."

     "True, Goswell.  You show your usual common sense.  But you have not the imagination, without which a detective can do nothing.  Your position is that of those energetic, if somewhat beef-witted enthusiasts, the police.  They are frankly puzzled by the whole affair.  To me, personally, the case is as clear as daylight."

     "That I can understand," I murmured with a reverent pat of his shin.

     "The actual thief," he continued, "for various reasons I am unwilling to produce.  But upon the jewels, as I just said now, I can lay my hand at any moment.  Look here!"

     He disentangled himself from my embrace, and walked to a patent safe in a corner of the room.  From this he extracted a large jewel case, and, opening it,  disclosed a set of the most superb diamonds.  In the midst a magnificent necklace winked and flashed in the wintry sunlight.  The sight took my breath away, and for a time I grovelled in speechless admiration before him.

     "But -- but how" -- I stammered at last, and stopped, for he was regarding my confusion with evident amusement.

     "I stole them," said Warlock Bones.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


It's the season for ghostly tales.  I am a sucker for stories and folklore of the supernatural.  The following was written by James Hogg, the "Ettrick Shepherd", and was taken from the 1873 edition of his WINTER EVENING TALES:  Collected Among the Cottages of the South of Scotland.  Picture yourself being told this story on a wild winter evening while sitting in front of a cozy fireplace.


I received yours of the 20th October, intreating me to furnish you with the tale, which you say you have heard me relate, concerning the miraculous death of Major Macpherson and his associates among the Grampian hills.  I think this story is worthy of being preserved, but I never heard it related but once; and thought it then made a considerable impression on my mind, being told by one who was well acquainted both with the scene and the sufferers, yet I fear my memory is not sufficiently accurate, with regard to particulars; and without these the interest of a story is always diminished, and its authencity rendered liable to be called in question.  I will however communicate it exactly as it remains impressed on my memory, without avouching for the particulars relating to it; and in these I shall submit to be corrected by such as are better informed.
     I have forgotten on what year it happened, but I think it was about the year 1805--6, that Major Macpherson and a few gentlemen of his acquaintance, with their attendants, went out to hunt in the middle of that tremendous range of mountains which rise between Athol and Badenoch.  Many are the scenes of wild grandeur and rugged deformity which amaze the wanderer in the Grampian deserts; but none of them surpasses this in wildness and still solemnity.  No sounds salutes the listening ear, but the rushing torrent, or the broken eldritch bleat of the mountain goat.  The glens are deep and narrow, and the hills steep and sombre, and so high, that their grizly summits appear to be wrapped in the blue veil that canopies the air.  But it is seldom that their tops can be seen; for dark clouds of mist often rest upon them for several weeks together in summer, or wander in detatched columns among their cliffs; and during the winter they are abandoned entirely to the storm.  Then the flooded torrents, and rushing wreaths of accumulated snows, spend their fury without doing harm to any living creature; and the howling tempest raves uncontrolled and unregarded.
     Into the midst of this sublime solitude did our jovial party wander in search of game.  They were highly successful.  The wood cock was interrupted in the middle of his exulting whirr, and dropped lifeless on his native waste; the meek ptarmigan fell fluttering among her gray crusted stones, and the wild roe foundered on the correi.  The noise of the guns, and the cheering cry of the sportsmen, awakened those echoes that had so long slept silent; the fox slid quietly over the hill, and the wild deer bounded away into the forests of Glendee, from before the noisy invaders.
     In the afternoon they stepped into a little bothy, or resting lodge, that stood by the side of a rough mountain stream, and having meat and drink, they abandoned themseleves to mirth and jollity.
     This Major Macpherson was said to have been guilty of some extreme creulty and injustice in raising recruits in that country, and was, on that account, held in detestation by the common people.  He was otherwise a respectable character, and of honourable connexions, as were also the gentlemen who accompanied him.
     When their hilarity was of the highest pitch, ere ever they were aware, a young man stood before them, of a sedate, mysterious appearance, looking sternly at the Major.  Their laughter was hushed in a moment, for they had not observed any human being in the glen, save those of their own party, nor did they so much as perceive when their guest entered.  Macpherson appeared particularly struck, and somewhat shocked at the sight of him; the stranger beckoned to the Major, who followed him instantly out of the bothy:  The curiousity of the party was aroused, and they watched their motions with great punctuality; they walked a short way down by the side of the river, and appeared in earnest conversation for a few minutes, and from some involuntary motions of their bodies, the stranger seemed to be threatening Macpherson, and the latter interceding; they parted, and though then not above twenty yards distant, before the Major got half way back to the bothy, the stranger guest was gone, and they saw no more of him.
               "I cannot tell how the truth may be,
               "I say the tale as 'twas said to me."
But what was certainly extraordinary, after the dreadful catastrophe, though the most strict and extended inquiry was made, neither this stranger nor his business could be discovered.  The countenance of the Major was so visibly altered on his return, and bore such evident marks of trepidation, that the mirth of the party was marred during the remainder of the excursion, and none of them dared to ask him any questions concerning his visitant, or the errand he came on.
     This was early in the week, and on the Friday immediately following, Macpherson proposed to his companions a second expedition to the mountains.  They all objected to it on account of the weather, which was broken and rough; but he persisted in his resolution, and finally told them, that he must and would go, and those who did not choose to accompany him might tarry at home.  The consequence was, that the same party, with the exception of one man, to hunt in the forest of Glenmore.
     Although none of them returned the first night after their departure, that was little regarded, it being customary for the sportsmen to lodge occasionally in the bothies of the forest; but when Saturday night arrived, and no word from them, their friends became dreadfully alarmed.  On Sunday, servants were dispatched to all the inns and gentlemen's houses in the bounds, but no accounts of them could be learned.   One solitary dog only returned, and he was wounded and maimed.  The alarm spread--a number of people rose, and in the utmost consternation went to search for their friends among the mountains.  When they reached the fatal bothy--dreadful to relate!  they found the dead bodies of the whole party lying scattered about the place!  Some of them were considerably mangled, and one nearly severed in two.  Others were not marked by any wound, of which number I think it was said the Major was one, who was lying flat on his face.  It was a scene of wo, lamentation, and awful astonishment, none being able to account for what had happened; but it was visible that it had not been effected by any human agency.  The bothy was torn from its foundations, and scarcely a vestige of it left--its very stones were all scattered in different directions; there was one huge cornerstone in particular, which twelve men could scarcely have raised, that was tossed to a considerable distance, yet no marks of either fire or water were visible.  Extraordinary as this story may appear, and an extraordinary story it is, I have not the slightest cause to doubt the certainty of the leading circumstances:  with regard to the rest, you have them as I had them.  In every mountainous district in Scotland, to this day, a belief in supernatural agency prevails, in a greater or less degree.  Such an awful dispensation as the above was likely to rekindle every lingering spark of it.


With Thanksgiving just past, let me sing the praises of the lowly turnip (brassica rapa), the noblest member of the mustard family.

Peel a turnip root, slice it, boil it, mash it with some butter and milk, warm it, pepper it, then revel in its pungent flavor.  Now that's good eatin'.  Given a choice between a bowl of butternut squash and a bowl of mashed turnip, I'll go for the turnip everytime.  While others were giving thanks for family, friends and health this past Thursday, I was silently giving thanks for turnips.

Note that I am refering to the turnip root, not turnip greens.  Although my current residence teeters toward the South, I am Yankee born and bred; I have no knowledge of (or appreciation for) turnip greens.

A few turnips facts gleaned from a brief internet search:

The turnip root is high in Vitamin C.  So who needs orange juice?

The turnip is of Eurasian ancestry; it's origin have been lost in the mists of the past.  Personal opinion:  the lack of turnips led directly to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Pliny the Elder considered the turnip one of the most important vegetables.  Pliny was a wise man.

In Iran, the turnip is used to reduce fever.  Not so much today, I fear.  Perhaps the liberal use of turnips would reduce the Middle-East as one of the world's hot spots.

The turnip is a relative of the onion and the radish.  Strong family genes.

In Celtic societies, the turnip is often carved and used as lanterns, or placed in windows to scare off evil and harmful spirits.  Such versatility.

The turnip has been immortalized in idiom.  "He just fell off the turnip truck."  "You can't get blood from a turnip."  (Whoever came up with that one never saw me slice turnips.)  And, 'You're a turnip-brained fathead!"

Last Saturday, a Turnip Festival was held in Eastham, Massachusetts.  Turnip Festival, not a Cranberry Festival!  Cape Cod is slowing coming around to my way of thinking.

And sadly, it appears there are no turnip songs!   So there is a opening for anyone who is musically inclined.  Imagine the fame and riches that will come to the person who provides the world with a turnip anthem!

Friday, November 26, 2010


Scott Parker has introduced a "Forgotten Music" monthly feature on his blog.  Day-Late-and-a-Dollar-Short Jerry decided to start this blog the day after Scott's November posting.  Oh well.

If the name Tommy Makem is familiar, it is probably because The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem was a major folk music act in the Fifties and Sixties.  A little bit of background:  brothers Tom and Paddy Clancy emigrated from Ireland to America in the early Fifties in hopes of acting careers; younger brother Bobby soon crossed the pond to join them.  They became the original Clancy Brothers musical group, playing occasional gigs.  Bobby left and returned to Ireland in 1955.  In December of that year, Tommy Makem (whose mother was a well-known Irish folk singer) emigrated.  A month later, Liam Clancy (whom Tommy had known back in Ireland) came over.

Tommy Makem had landed a job working in a mill, but an accident crushed his hand and he found himself out of work.  He felt he could earn some money by making a record, and he knew that the Clancys were in New York and that Paddy Clancy had started a small recording company.  It was decided that the three Clancys and Makem (whose arm was still in a sling) would join forces on a one-shot album of tradition Irish songs.  Did I say traditional?  Many of the songs they recorded had been sung for centuries in a slow (dare I say it?  mournful) manner.  The Clancys and Makem livened the songs, making them boisterous and joyful while emphasizing their Irish pride.

The album was a local success and the group and its indivual members were often ask to perform the songs at parties.  By 1959, demand had grown enough for them to release a second abum; by this time, Tommy Makem's hand had healed enough to enable him to play the tin whistle.  This second album came to the attention of Ed Sullivan's people, which immediately lead to a lucrative five-year contract with Columbia Records.  By luck, this happened during a major folk music revival in America.

As their popularity grew in America, an Irish producer happened to hear them and began promoting their in Ireland, where their work was virtually unknown.  The four young men were on their way to international stardom. 

Tommy Maken left the group on good terms in 1969 to pursue a solo career.  The Clancys continued for several years in various combinations with other musicians, until the core group went their separate ways --  Tom to Hollywood (where he had a successful acting career), Paddy to the dairy farm he bought a few years earlier, and Liam to continjue his singing career.  Liam later had tax problems and was forced to declare bankruptcy; he rejoined with Tommy Makem to form an occasional musical partnership that took care of all his money problems.

Back to Tommy Makem.  As a performer and as a person, he had an infectious enthusiasm.  He bcame known as the "Bard of Armagh" and the "Godfather of Irish Music".  He was skilled on the banjo, guitar, tin whistle and bagpipes.  (He often explained that the bagpipes originated in Ireland and, when Irish gave them to the Scots, "the Scots didn't get the joke".)  He was a singer, songwriter, poet and storyteller extraordinaire.  He sang about Ireland and Irish pride, about The Troubles and about drinking; he sang about ordinary and extraordinary people, about feelings, and about love.  He did not sing such "Irish" songs as "Danny Boy", "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", "Toorah, Loorah, Loorah", and their ilk; such songs would never, never, NEVER be any part of his set.

The songs he wrote are powerful and deceptively simple:  "Four Green Fields", "Red Is the Rose", "The Winds Are Singing Freedom", "Gentle Annie", and so many more.   His version of Phil Coulter's "The Town I Used to Know" will stay with you forver.  His take on "Waltzing with Bears" is delightful. 

I have been lucky enough to see him a number of times in concert, including one of his final performances before his long, final fight with cancer (he died in 2007).  Tom and Paddy Clancy predeceased Makem; Liam Clancy passed away on Decmber 4th last year.  Three of Tommy Makem's sons, along with two friends, continue the tradition, performing as The Makem and Spain Brothers.

When Tommy Makem first entered this country back in 1955, the immigration officer welcomed him to America, saying, "Have a great life!"  "I took him at his word," Makem would tell his audience.  We are the luckier for that.

Here's just one of his great songs, "Gentle Annie" .  It's preceded by a short introduction.

Tommy Makem - Gentle Annie


Okay.  So now I have a blog.  Damned if I know what I'm going to do.

I'll probably chat about books, movies, music and whatnot.  But **be warned** I am a complete technological Luddite, so this blog isn't too pretty right now and whatever links I make will probably take you to Uzbekistan or some other place I did not intend.  And photos?  Hah!  Not today.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I hope to get my house in order.

Time will tell.