Wednesday, January 31, 2007


#1 Son assured me that, even though this was a bad movie, Torque was a fun action movie. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the racism, sexism, dreadful dialog and horrible acting to be able to appreciate any "fun action". I just gave up. I found this movie irredeemable.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

As a follow-up to last night's film, tonight we watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the 2nd in the series. This one was true to the book, as the 1st one was.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In celebration of The Daughter's birthday she chose Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as the movie for the night. This is such a fun movie. I particularly like how true it is to the book. Hagrid is my favorite, and I love how Robbie Coltrane portrays him.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Battlestar Galactica, Season 1

#2 Son and I have been watching the episodes of the first season of Battlestar Galactica as we've been able. These have made a big hit with both of us. I particularly enjoy the religious sub-text. I'm anxious to see season 2, as the last episode we saw ended with the shooting of a major character and several other cliff-hangers, but at $50 per half-season we'll be waiting a while.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Orleans Mourning

New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith won the 1991 Edgar Award for best mystery novel. It was the first book in the Skip Langdon series.

from the book jacket:

Because of her connections at the highest social level of socially obsessed New Orleans, Policewoman Skip Langdon is assigned by her chief to investigate the murder of Chauncey St. Amant, who, in all his golden splendor as Rex, King of Carnival, has been shot to death during the Mardi Gras parade.

Skip approaches the assignment with very mixed feelings. She does know the Amants; Chauncey's daughter Marcelle was her schoolmate. She certainly has surer entree into the Boston Club society world than her fellow cops. But Skip knows that her colleagues resent her for that very reason, and she knows, too, that to the St. Amants and their kind, she is an outsider.

Early in the novel I felt like I was getting told too much about New Orleans through Skip explaining things to people not as familiar with the culture. There are also a huge number of named characters who are incidental to the plot. The language is colorful and the descriptions vivid, and I liked that, but this is not a character I like well enough to seek out other books in this series.

Elementary Penguins

Elementary penguins singing hare krishna

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Revelation Space

I don't know why I can't get into this book. It seems like the kind of book I'd enjoy, but I've started Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds 4 different times over the past several years and can't get past the first 100 pages or so. I'm putting it back on the shelf to wait 'til some other time.

update 10/13/2015. I tried it again. I like the writing style, and I like the individual stories. What I don't like is how the story is woven together. In the beginning they are totally separate tales, without anything (not even time period) in common. I have time to get involved in a story about the time the author switches back to one of the others. I'm donating this book to a worthy cause where it'll find a more appreciative home.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I Am Legend

I had never read I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, though I have always heard how I should. I read it today in a single sitting. It's the tragic and compelling story of the last man surviving a horrible plague that turns people into vampires. As I read I kept wondering if the Vincent Price movie The Last Man on Earth was based on this novel, and now that I'm looking up information on the book I see that it was. I was unable to sit through that movie -too traumatic for me. I got the kids to tell me how it ended.

Calamity Town

Calamity Town is my first introduction to Ellery Queen's mysteries. Ellery Queen is the pseudonym of the author and the name of the main character. Mr. Smith, the detective's assumed name in this book, is in a small town writing a new novel when he becomes involved in a murder case. In fact, he becomes a witness for the prosecution.

Uriah Heep is mentioned late in the book.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Feast of Saint Agnes

Today is the feast day of St. Agnes, the patron saint of The Daughter. There's a short biography here.

Epiphany 3

Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The image above is from this site.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Penguin Awareness Day

Today is Penguin Awareness Day. There are some penguin facts, penguin jokes and associated links here. Check out the Penguin Dance. Here are 10 suggestions for things to do to celebrate the day.

Everybody seems to love penguins, so much so that it looks like penguins are the current "in" marketing tool.

Strong As Death

Strong as Death is the 4th of the Catherine LeVendeur mysteries by Sharon Newman. From the back of the book:
A former noviate in the Order of the Paraclete, Catherine LeVendeur has had more than her share of adventures. In fact, intrigue -and murder- seem to dog her path. When Catherine chooses love over churchly devotion by falling in love with her Saxon nobleman, Edgar, her family had the earnest hope that married life would settle this most headstrong and unusual woman. But fate has a way of playing with mortals, and after suffering several miscarriages and the birth of a stillborn child, Catherine is driven by a prophetic dream. She and Edgar will embark on a pilgrimage to the fabled monastery of Compostela, to petition St. James for a child, to take the holy waters, and to pray.

I enjoyed this book for its look into the relations between people of various faiths at the time and especially for its picture of the pilgrimage to Compostela, a pilgrimage still actively sought today.

I've read the first in this series and am picking up the others as I find them used.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Capricorn One

The Younger Son gave me Capricorn One for Christmas, and we watched it tonight. It is a treasure trove of 70's tv personalities and a fun suspense movie. I now believe all those conspiracy theories about the space program.

You can watch it online here:

5/3/2009: SFSignal features this film in today's Sunday Cinema.

R.I.P. Denny Doherty

Denny Doherty, of Mamas and Papas fame has died. That leaves Michelle Phillips as the only living member of that great 60's group.

Entertainment Weekly has an obituary with links to the band at youtube here. The Reuters obit is here. has coverage here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I never accepted the death of Elvis

and now I have proof he lives:

The Telegraph says
It might sound a little crazy, but our standard theories of cosmology and physics suggest that an infinite number of Presleys still exist, says Marcus Chown. And if that's not scary enough, it also means that you, and these words, are repeated ad infinitum across the universe

Elvis is alive. No, really! He didn't die of a cardiac arrest in his bathroom at Graceland on August 16, 1977. Instead, he slipped out of the back door under cover of darkness dressed as a nun, had a sex change and worked for several years in a gas station in Ohio. She/he has now retired, is living on the Gulf Coast and is in tip-top health. After all, she's still only 71.

Sealand again

National Geographic is carrying the Sealand story. Their report is not what could be called complimentary:

The "Principality of Sealand" is a rusting 5,920-square-foot (500-square-meter) platform perched on two concrete pillars in the North Sea off eastern England. It's one of many so-called micro-nations—curious places where, if they actually exist, the chief export seems to be hyperbole.

Update: Another report on this story says Sealand won't sell to Pirate Bay.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

CrookedTimber reminded me of her. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was cited by Elvis as having influenced his music. Here she is singing "Didn't it Rain":

R.I.P. Art Buchwald

Art Buchwald died at his home yesterday at the age of 81.

Update: WorldHum's notice.

Update 2: NYTimes has an obituary which includes a video. The International Herald Tribune has an obit here.

Update 3: A Hero A Day calls the death of Art Buchwald "the end of an era".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Terrorists of Irustan

I don't like agenda-driven preachy novels, and that's what The Terrorists of Irustan by Louise Marley seemed to be. She's a good writer, and I like the characters. It just felt heavy-handed to me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Night Ferry to Death

Last night I finished Night Ferry to Death, by Patricia Moyes. This features her Scotland Yard detective Inspector Henry Tibbett. From the back of the book:

As passengers board the overnight ferry from the Netherlands to England, a desperate little man frantically pleads for a cabin as if his life depended on it. But the ship is overbooked, and his only choice is to sleep in a lounge with everyone else, including Chief Superintendent of Scotland Yard Henry Tibbett and his wife, Emmy, who are returning from a holiday in Amsterdam.

The next morning, the man is found dead -the victim of a killer who had to be one of the Tibbetts' sleeping companions in the lounge. Furthermore, the dead man turns out to have been carrying a fortune in stolen diamonds, which have disappeared.

This was a fun read, and I'll probably look up more by this author.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Death and Mr. Prettyman

Death and Mr. Prettyman, by Kenneth Giles, is a British mystery featuring Inspector Harry James and Sergeant Honeybody. There's a serial killer in the London fog and a strangely set up trust. This was ok, I guess, but after I'd finished it I thought I'd been lied to in the first few pages by the 3rd person narrator. I won't read another one by this author.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean 2

I hadn't seen this movie yet, and both sons assure me it was much better on the big screen, but I don't think this sequel can hold a candle to the original. Talk about slooow moving.... I've liked several of Depp's films, but still, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest isn't nearly as good as the first Pirates movie.

Pirate Bay Wants to Buy Sealand

The Pirate Bay has begun a promotion to raise funds with which to buy (or transfer management or whatever they're calling the transaction) the Principality of Sealand. Their internet site explains that if you donate money to the cause you will be a citizen of Sealand. Cool.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

R.I.P. Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson was a science fiction author perhaps best known for The Illuminatus! Trilogy. I read about it here at his blog by way of metafilter.

Battlestar Galactica

#2 Son and I have been watching the miniseries over lunch. I had never seen it before, not having been a fan of the original series, but I really liked this. I didn't come to it burdened with the need to have it conform to the original. I really care about the characters and look forward to watching season 1, which #2 Son got for Christmas.

Epiphany Books

The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke, is the story of the 4th Wise Man and how he did not arrive with the other 3.

Baboushka and the Three Kings, adapted from a Russian Folk Tale by Ruth Robbins and illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov, is the story of Baboushka, who refused an invitation to join the Wise Men's journey to see the Christ Child but changed her mind and still seeks him, leaving gifts for children as she travels. This book won the Caldecott Medal. The Russian tale on which this story is based can be read online here.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings
, by Tomie dePaola, retells the Bible story from Matthew.

Amahl and the Night Visitors, by Gian Carlo Menotti, illustrated by Michele Lemieux, is based on the 1951 opera by the same title and author/composer. The work has autobiographical elements as the author was miraculously cured of lameness at the age of 4 years.

The Rabbit and the Turnip, a Chinese fable illustrated by Roswitha Gruttner and translated from the German by Richard Sadler, is a beautiful story of self-sacrificing love among the animals of the farm and woodland.

The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader, is a Caldecott winner that tells of the hunger of winter and the gift of life.

Frederick, by Leo Lionni, is a Caldecott Honor book that shows the value of everyone's contributions. There are a variety of gifts.

A Prairie Boy's Winter, by William Kurelek
, is a winter story describing the author's memories of his childhood on a farm in the 1930's.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hot Tea

January is National Hot Tea Month. I'm drinking Chamomile Tea. I wonder if that counts.

photo from flickr

Castle Dracula for sale

While not an independent mini-state like Sealand, which is also on the market, at least you can drive a car up to the front door of this 14th Century Transylvanian castle. It is for sale by the New York City heir who only recently came into possession after communist takeover in 1948. The New York Sun reports that the current owner was 10 years old when his family was forced from the country by the communists. He has lived in America for the past 8 years. Reuters reports the local government is taking the owner up on an offer of first refusal and wants to buy the tourist attraction.

HT: Slashdot

Geostationary Banana Over Texas

The Geostationary Banana Over Texas project, where the picture above came from, is

an art intervention that involves placing a gigantic banana over the Texas sky. This object will float between the high atmosphere and Earth's low orbit, being visible only from the state of Texas and its surroundings. From the ground the banana will be clearly recognizable and visible day and night; it will stay up for approximately one month.

I can't imagine how this idea first came up. They seem to be on hold pending an increase in funds.

HT: Feminist SF

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sealand's Athlete

Darren Blackburn is Sealand's star athlete.

The Principality of Sealand

is for sale. Well, not really for sale, since sovereign nations cannot be sold. The Principality of Sealand is a former British WW2 fort that has since been declared a sovereign nation. Its sale is being reported in the news, including in this excerpt from the Telegraph:

A country is up for sale with an asking price of £65 million.

Complete with its own passports, currency and stamps, the Principality of Sealand is a self-proclaimed mini-state on a former Second World War fort, seven miles off Harwich, Essex.

and this from the TimesOnline:

For sale: the world’s smallest country, complete with its own passports, currency, stamps and national football team. Uninterrupted sea views and complete privacy assured. Oh, and more wind than you will ever want. Offers in the region of eight-digit sums considered.

After 40 years, the owners of the Principality of Sealand have put it on the market. They hope that investors will be lured by the island’s setting and its status as a tax haven.

Sealand has its own flag, coinage, royalty, and pride in its history, even though it was only founded in 1967.

Update: WorldHum reports on this story, including the fact that Sealand is mentioned in a new book on Micronations.

Another update: Lonely Planet has an article that mentions that Sealand has its own chapel. I wonder what the denominational preference is and whether or not they have a resident full-time chaplain. Hmmm...

Penguin Web Cams and Penguin Blogging

The Central Park Zoo has a webcam for their penguins here.

There's an Antarctic webcam that updates every 15 minutes here.

The Maryland Zoo has a great penguin cam at the Warner Brothers site here.

The New England Aquarium has an underwater penguin cam here and a view from dry land here.

Penguin blogging with pictures from the Antarctic here and here

Sunday, January 07, 2007

On this day....

In 1715 François Fénelon, Catholic theologian and author, died. He wrote Spiritual Progress and Maxims of the Saints. He said, “All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.” More of his quotes are here.

In 1943 Nikola Tesla, the great inventor and eccentric, died. PBS has aired a program devoted to him. The Tesla Museum is in Serbia.

The Transporter

I had seen Transporter 2 and liked it, and I liked the first one just as much. They are both great action movies. The Transporter stars Jason Statham, who was in The Snatch and The One, both movies I liked.

Sunday Psalm

Psalm 72 (KJV)

1 Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son.
2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
7 In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
8 He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
9 They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.
10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
11 Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
12 For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
13 He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.
14 He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
15 And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
16 There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
17 His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
18 Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.
19 And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.
20 The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is the most blatantly propagandistic film I've seen in a while, but I loved every minute of it. Well, maybe not every minute -lots of gore in places. I loved seeing Stephen Fry again, as I haven't seen much from him since he was Jeeves in the TV mystery series. Hugo Weaving is another one that gets around, and I'd never have known he was behind that mask without seeing the credits. V for Vendetta is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, but the author of the book was not happy with the film. I'd like to read the novel. Both heavily reference Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Remember, Remember the 5th of December. But no one does, do they?

Where the Hell is Matt?

I don't remember when or where I first saw the first video of Matt dancing 'round the world in 2003:

but I was entranced.

Then there was the sequel:

What a trip! He has a web site at

Today as I was looking at my WorldHum feed I saw they posted video of Matt explaining the genesis and evolution of his experience.

part 1:

part 2:

At about 3:40 and through about 8:20 in part 2 there is video of some penguins in Antarctica.

part 3:

At about 1:50 in part 3 he talks some about the Tibetan government in exile in India. At about 12:42 he tells the story about how he got arrested for dancing in Greece.

The Feast of the Epiphany

The Journey of the Magi

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot

The picture at the top of this post is Fra Angelico's Adoration of the Magi (Tempera on wood panel Museo Diocesano, Cortona)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sociable Penguins

See how friendly penguins can be.

Twelfth Night

The last day of Christmas has a long and festive history in the Church. The School of the Seasons has some information on the history of Twelfth Night and how it has been celebrated in different countries.

The photo is Twelfth Night (The King Drinks) by Teniers the Younger from this page.


#2 Son got season 1 of SG1 for Christmas, and we've been watching them through the holidays. I've seen the Stargate movie twice but never watched the series. I am now a big fan of the series, which I've just heard will be canceled after this -its 10th- season. Sigh.... But I look forward to watching all the DVDs. The Nox are my favorite characters.

movie trailer: now has the 1st season online with more seasons to come.

The 12th Day of Christmas

A Christmas story by Kate Douglas Wiggin:

It was very early Christmas morning, and in the stillness of the dawn, with the soft snow falling on the housetops, a little child was born in the Bird household.

They had intended to name the baby Lucy, if it were a girl; but they hadn't expected her on Christmas morning, and a real Christmas baby was not to be lightly named -- the whole family agreed in that.

They were consulting about it in the nursery. Mr. Bird said that he had assisted in naming the three boys, and that he should leave this matter entirely to Mrs. Bird; Donald wanted the child called "Maud," after a pretty little curly-haired girl who sat next him in school; Paul chose "Luella," for Luella was the nurse who had been with him during his whole babyhood, up to the time of his first trousers, and the name suggested all sorts of comfortable things. Uncle Jack said that the first girl should always be named for her mother, no matter how hideous the name happened to be.

Grandma said that she would prefer not to take any part in the discussion, and everybody suddenly remembered that Mrs. Bird had thought of naming the baby Lucy, for Grandma herself; and, while it would be indelicate for her to favor that name, it would be against human nature for her to suggest any other, under the circumstances.

Hugh, the "hitherto baby," if that is a possible term, sat in one corner and said nothing, but felt, in some mysterious way, that his nose was out of joint; for there was a newer baby now, a possibility he had never taken into consideration; and the "first girl," too, a still higher development of treason, which made him actually green with jealousy.

But it was too profound a subject to be settled then and there, on the spot; besides, Mama had not been asked, and everybody felt it rather absurd, after all, to forestall a decree that was certain to be absolutely wise, just and perfect.

The reason that the subject had been brought up at all so early in the day lay in the fact that Mrs. Bird never allowed her babies to go over night unnamed. She was a person of so great decision of character that she would have blushed at such a thing; she said that to let blessed babies go dangling and dawdling about without names, for months and months, was enough to ruin them for life. She also said that if one could not make up one's mind in twenty-four hours it was a sign that -- but I will not repeat the rest, as it might prejudice you against the most charming woman in the world.

So Donald took his new velocipede and went out to ride up and down the stone pavement and notch the shins of innocent people as they passed by, while Paul spun his musical top on the front steps.

But Hugh refused to leave the scene of action. He seated himself on the top stair in the hall, banged his head against the railing a few times, just by way of uncorking the vials of his wrath, and then subsided into gloomy silence, waiting to declare war if more "first girl babies" were thrust upon a family already surfeited with that unnecessary article.

Meanwhile dear Mrs. Bird lay in her room, weak, but safe and happy with her sweet girl baby by her side and the heaven of motherhood opening before her. Nurse was making gruel in the kitchen, and the room was dim and quiet. There was a cheerful open fire in the grate, but though the shutters were closed, the side windows that looked out on the Church of our Saviour, next door, were wide open.

Suddenly a sound of music poured out into the bright air and drifted into the chamber. It was the boy-choir singing Christmas anthems. Higher and higher rose the clear, fresh voices, full of hope and cheer, as children's voices always are. Fuller and fuller grew the burst of melody as one glad strain fell upon another in joyful harmony:

"Carol, brothers, carol,
Carol joyfully,
Carol the good tidings,
Carol merrily!
And pray a gladsome Christmas
For all your fellow-men;
Carol, brothers, carol,
Christmas Day again."

One verse followed another always with the same glad refrain:

"And pray a gladsome Christmas
For all your fellow-men:
Carol, brothers, carol,
Christmas Day again."

Mrs. Bird thought, as the music floated in upon her gentle sleep, that she had slipped into heaven with her new baby, and that the angels were bidding them welcome. But the tiny bundle by her side stirred a little, and though it was scarcely more than the ruffling of a feather, she awoke; for the mother-ear is so close to the heart that it can hear the faintest whisper of a child.

She opened her eyes and drew the baby closer. It looked like a rose dipped in milk, she thought, this pink and white blossom of girlhood, or like a pink cherub, with its halo of pale yellow hair, finer than floss silk.

"Carol, brothers, carol,
Carol joyfully,
Carol the good tidings,
Carol merrily!"

The voices were brimming over with joy.

"Why, my baby," whispered Mrs. Bird in soft sur-prise, "I had forgotten what day it was. You are a little Christmas child, and we will name you 'Carol' -- mother's little Christmas Carol!"

The rest of the story is here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The 11th Day of Christmas

A Christmas story by Kenneth Grahame:

The sheep ran huddling together against the hurdles, blowing out thin nostrils and stamping with delicate fore-feet, their heads thrown back and a light steam rising from the crowded sheep-pen into the frosty air, as the two animals hastened by in high spirits, with much chatter and laughter. They were returning across country after a long day's outing with Otter, hunting and exploring on the wide uplands where certain streams tributary to their own River had their first small beginnings; and the shades of the short winter day were closing in on them, and they had still some distance to go. Plodding at random across the plough, they had heard the sheep and had made for them; and now, leading from the sheep-pen, they found a beaten track that made walking a lighter business, and responded, moreover, to that small inquiring something which all animals carry inside them, saying unmistakably, `Yes, quite right; this leads home!'

`It looks as if we were coming to a village,' said the Mole somewhat dubiously, slackening his pace, as the track, that had in time become a path and then had developed into a lane, now handed them over to the charge of a well-metalled road. The animals did not hold with villages, and their own highways, thickly frequented as they were, took an independent course, regardless of church, post office, or public-house.

`Oh, never mind!' said the Rat. `At this season of the year they're all safe indoors by this time, sitting round the fire; men, women, and children, dogs and cats and all. We shall slip through all right, without any bother or unpleasantness, and we can have a look at them through their windows if you like, and see what they're doing.'

The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village as they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery snow. Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture -- the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation. Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed, or a tired man stretch and knock out his pipe on the end of a smouldering log.

But it was from one little window, with its blind drawn down, a mere blank transparency on the night, that the sense of home and the little curtained world within walls -- the larger stressful world of outside Nature shut out and forgotten -- most pulsated. Close against the white blind hung a bird-cage, clearly silhouetted, every wire, perch, and appurtenance distinct and recognisable, even to yesterday's dull-edged lump of sugar. On the middle perch the fluffy occupant, head tucked well into feathers, seemed so near to them as to be easily stroked, had they tried; even the delicate tips of his plumped-out plumage pencilled plainly on the illuminated screen. As they looked, the sleepy little fellow stirred uneasily, woke, shook himself, and raised his head. They could see the gape of his tiny beak as he yawned in a bored sort of way, looked round, and then settled his head into his back again, while the ruffled feathers gradually subsided into perfect stillness. Then a gust of bitter wind took them in the back of the neck, a small sting of frozen sleet on the skin woke them as from a dream, and they knew their toes to be cold and their legs tired, and their own home distant a weary way.

Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on either side of the road they could smell through the darkness the friendly fields again; and they braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time, in the rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight of familiar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far over-sea. They plodded along steadily and silently, each of them thinking his own thoughts. The Mole's ran a good deal on supper, as it was pitch-dark, and it was all a strange country for him as far as he knew, and he was following obediently in the wake of the Rat, leaving the guidance entirely to him. As for the Rat, he was walking a little way ahead, as his habit was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on the straight grey road in front of him; so he did not notice poor Mole when suddenly the summons reached him, and took him like an electric shock.

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal's inter-communications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word `smell,' for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning? inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. Since his escape on that bright morning he had hardly given it a thought, so absorbed had he been in his new life, in all its pleasures, its surprises, its fresh and captivating experiences. Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him, in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day's work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.

The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly, and go. `Ratty!' he called, full of joyful excitement, `hold on! Come back! I want you, quick!'

`Oh, come along, Mole, do!' replied the Rat cheerfully, still plodding along.

`Please stop, Ratty!' pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart. `You don't understand! It's my home, my old home! I've just come across the smell of it, and it's close by here, really quite close. And I must go to it, I must, I must! Oh, come back, Ratty! Please, please come back!'

The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what the Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful appeal in his voice. And he was much taken up with the weather, for he too could smell something -- something suspiciously like approaching snow.

`Mole, we mustn't stop now, really!' he called back. `We'll come for it to-morrow, whatever it is you've found. But I daren't stop now -- it's late, and the snow's coming on again, and I'm not sure of the way! And I want your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there's a good fellow!' And the Rat pressed forward on his way without waiting for an answer.

Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendship and his callous forgetfulness.

With an effort he caught up to the unsuspecting Rat, who began chattering cheerfully about what they would do when they got back, and how jolly a fire of logs in the parlour would be, and what a supper he meant to eat; never noticing his companion's silence and distressful state of mind. At last, however, when they had gone some considerable way further, and were passing some tree-stumps at the edge of a copse that bordered the road, he stopped and said kindly, `Look here, Mole old chap, you seem dead tired. No talk left in you, and your feet dragging like lead. We'll sit down here for a minute and rest. The snow has held off so far, and the best part of our journey is over.'

The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole at last gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found.

The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole's paroxysm of grief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very quietly and sympathetically, `What is it, old fellow? Whatever can be the matter? Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do.'

Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech and choked it as it came. `I know it's a -- shabby, dingy little place,' he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: `not like -- your cosy quarters -- or Toad's beautiful hall -- or Badger's great house -- but it was my own little home -- and I was fond of it -- and I went away and forgot all about it -- and then I smelt it suddenly -- on the road, when I called and you wouldn't listen, Rat -- and everything came back to me with a rush -- and I wanted it! -- O dear, O dear! -- and when you wouldn't turn back, Ratty -- and I had to leave it, though I was smelling it all the time -- I thought my heart would break. -- We might have just gone and had one look at it, Ratty -- only one look -- it was close by -- but you wouldn't turn back, Ratty, you wouldn't turn back! O dear, O dear!'

Recollection brought fresh waves of sorrow, and sobs again took full charge of him, preventing further speech.

The Rat stared straight in front of him, saying nothing, only patting Mole gently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, `I see it all now! What a pig I have been! A pig -- that's me! Just a pig -- a plain pig!'

He waited till Mole's sobs became gradually less stormy and more rhythmical; he waited till at last sniffs were frequent and sobs only intermittent. Then he rose from his seat, and, remarking carelessly, `Well, now we'd really better be getting on, old chap!' set off up the road again, over the toilsome way they had come.

`Wherever are you (hic) going to (hic), Ratty?' cried the tearful Mole, looking up in alarm.

`We're going to find that home of yours, old fellow,' replied the Rat pleasantly; `so you had better come along, for it will take some finding, and we shall want your nose.'

`Oh, come back, Ratty, do!' cried the Mole, getting up and hurrying after him. `It's no good, I tell you! It's too late, and too dark, and the place is too far off, and the snow's coming! And -- and I never meant to let you know I was feeling that way about it -- it was all an accident and a mistake! And think of River Bank, and your supper!'

`Hang River Bank, and supper too!' said the Rat heartily. `I tell you, I'm going to find this place now, if I stay out all night. So cheer up, old chap, and take my arm, and we'll very soon be back there again.'

The rest of the story is here.

David Copperfield

I finished David Copperfield, not having read it when I was young. It is the story of a boy who is left fatherless, then mistreated by his new step-father, then orphaned young. It's a sad tale that ends well, exploring issues of character and growth. This, Charles Dickens's eighth novel, was published in serial form in 1849 and 1850. It's often cited as his most autobiographical and best work. There's a website here that offers many resources. The book is available freely online, including here at online-literature, here at bibliomania and here at

VictorianWeb has extensive information. The University of California Dickens Project is here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The 10th Day of Christmas

A Christmas story by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

Miss Harmon was responsible for the whole thing. If it had not been for her foolish whim, Talbot would not have made a fool of himself, and--but I am getting ahead of my story.

It was Christmas Eve. Salvation Army Santa Clauses with highly colored noses proclaimed it as they beat upon rickety paper chimneys with tin spoons. Package laden old bachelors forgot to worry about how many slippers and dressing gowns they would have to thank people for next day, and joined in the general air of excitement that pervaded busy Manhattan.

In the parlor of a house situated on a dimly lighted residence street somewhere east of Broadway, sat the lady who, as I have said before, started the whole business. She was holding a conversation half frivolous, half sentimental, with a faultlessly dressed young man who sat with her on the sofa. All of this was quite right and proper, however, for they were engaged to be married in June.

"Harry Talbot," said Dorothy Harmon, as she rose and stood laughing at the merry young gentleman beside her, "if you aren't the most ridiculous boy I ever met, I'll eat that terrible box of candy you brought me last week!"

"Dorothy," reproved the young man, "you should receive gifts in the spirit in which they are given. That box of candy cost me much of my hard earned money."

"Your hard earned money, indeed!" scoffed Dorothy. "You know very well that you never earned a cent in your life. Golf and dancing--that is the sum total of your occupations. Why, you can't even spend money, much less earn it!"

"My dear Dorothy, I succeeded in running up some very choice bills last month, as you will find if you consult my father."

"That's not spending your money. That's wasting it. Why, I don't think you could give away twenty-five dollars in the right way to save your life."

"But why on earth," remonstrated Harry, "should I want to give away twenty-five dollars?"

"Because," explained Dorothy, "that would be real charity. It's nothing to charge a desk to your father and have it sent to me, but to give money to people you don't know is something."

"Why, any old fellow can give away money," protested Harry.

"Then," exclaimed Dorothy, "we'll see if you can. I don't believe that you could give twenty-five dollars in the course of an evening if you tried."

"Indeed, I could."

"Then try it!" And Dorothy, dashing into the hall, took down his coat and hat and placed them in his reluctant hands. "It is now half-past eight. You be here by ten o'clock."

"But, but," gasped Harry.

Dorothy was edging him towards the door.

"How much money have you?" she demanded.

Harry gloomily put his hand in his pocket and counted out a handful of bills.

"Exactly twenty-five dollars and five cents."

"Very well! Now listen! These are the conditions. You go out and give this money to anybody you care to whom you have never seen before. Don't give more than two dollars to any one person. And be back here by ten o'clock with no more than five cents in your pocket."

"But," declared Harry, still backing towards the door, "I want my twenty-five dollars."

"Harry," said Dorothy sweetly, "I am surprised!" and with that, she slammed the door in his face.

"I insist," muttered Harry, "that this is a most unusual pro- ceeding."

He walked down the steps and hesitated.

"Now," he thought, "Where shall I go?"

The rest of the story is here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The 9th Day of Christmas

A Christmas story by Leo Tolstoy:

IN a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdéiteh by name. He had a tiny room in a basement, the one window of which looked out on to the street. Through it one could only see the feet of those who passed by, but Martin recognized the people by their boots. He had lived long in the place and had many acquaintances. There was hardly a pair of boots in the neighbourhood that had not been once or twice through his hands, so he often saw his own handiwork through the window. Some he had re-soled, some patched, some stitched up, and to some he had even put fresh uppers. He had plenty to do, for he worked well, used good material, did not charge too much, and could be relied on. If he could do a job by the day required, he undertook it; if not, he told the truth and gave no false promises; so he was well known and never short of work.

Martin had always been a good man; but in his old age he began to think more about his soul and to draw nearer to God. While he still worked for a master, before he set up on his own account, his wife had died, leaving him with a three-year old son. None of his elder children had lived, they had all died in infancy. At first Martin thought of sending his little son to his sister's in the country, but then he felt sorry to part with the boy, thinking: 'It would be hard for my little Kapitón to have to grow up in a strange family; I will keep him with me.'

Martin left his master and went into lodgings with his little son. But he had no luck with his children. No sooner had the boy reached an age when he could help his father and be a support as well as a joy to him, than he fell ill and, after being laid up for a week with a burning fever, died. Martin buried his son, and gave way to despair so great and overwhelming that he murmured against God. In his sorrow he prayed again and again that he too might die, reproaching God for having taken the son he loved, his only son while he, old as he was, remained alive. After that Martin left off going to church.

One day an old man from Martin's native village who had been a pilgrim for the last eight years, called in on his way from Tróitsa Monastery. Martin opened his heart to him, and told him of his sorrow.

'I no longer even wish to live, holy man,' he said. 'All I ask of God is that I soon may die. I am now quite without hope in the world.'

The old man replied: 'You have no right to say such things, Martin. We cannot judge God's ways. Not our reasoning, but God's will, decides. If God willed that your son should die and you should live, it must be best so. As to your despair -- that comes because you wish to live for your own happiness.'

'What else should one live for?' asked Martin.

'For God, Martin,' said the old man. 'He gives you life, and you must live for Him. When you have learnt to live for Him, you will grieve no more, and all will seem easy to you.'

Martin was silent awhile, and then asked: 'But how is one to live for God?'

The old man answered: 'How one may live for God has been shown us by Christ. Can you read? Then buy the Gospels, and read them: there you will see how God would have you live. You have it all there.'

These words sank deep into Martin's heart, and that same day he went and bought himself a Testament in large print, and began to read.

The rest of the story is here.

Monday, January 01, 2007

On the 8th Day of Christmas

my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

photo from Flickr.

Happy New Year!

photo from Flickr