Bird Time

Because Mr. Free Market is a Foul Evil BastardTM, he decided to send me a few scenic pics from his current sooper-seekrit location in Scottishland.  Here’s the general milieu (note the complete absence of freezing rain, for the first time ever in this event I’m told):

(Note that Mr. FM is not wearing a face condom, despite Scottish law.)

Then it’s off to the “boxes”:


Note the careful arranging of reloads in pairs, ready for the old Load & Slaughter routine in his Beretta O/U (gawd help us, but the man has such terrible taste in shotguns).

The group shot down several hundred grouse and partridge, but here’s a pic of one brace, taken by Mr. FM with a single barrel.

When I say “taken”, I mean “shot”, of course, not clubbed out of the sky with his shotgun (which would be poor form, of course).

I am so jealous I could spit.

Purple Patches

It’s taken me nearly three years to write this.

When Former Drummer Knob and I set up the band that would carry us all the way through our 20s, he brought along a rhythm guitarist named Don (“Donat”, with a silent T) and a chubby, red-haired buddy named Kevin (“Sharks”) who spoke with a strong Detroit/Midwestern accent despite having been born in suburban New York.  I was probably the worst musician of the four of us — but whereas they’d been poking around playing in garages, I’d already had two professional gigs (in trios playing “dinner-dance” music), and was only just starting to dip my toes into rock ‘n roll bass guitar.

Kevin was easily the best musician of us all at that point, but even though I could see him fitting well into our nascent band, there was a slight wrinkle in my plans in that he was already playing in another band, and had only agreed to come to our first jam session as a favor to Donat.

That all changed after about three hours of jamming:  we had so much fun, and fitted together so well that there was absolutely no chance that Kevin could stay with the other band — at least, that’s what I insisted — and after a couple days’ reflection, he finally agreed, and thus was born the Pussyfoot Show Band.  (It was the Seventies, shuddup, and we changed it later to “Atlantic” anyway.)

We were somewhat under the gun to build a repertoire because some other guys (twin brothers) had lent us amplifiers and other gear (Knob and I were the only ones who had all the gear we needed to perform).  The condition of the loan was that we had to play at the twins’ twenty-first birthday, an event taking place in only a month or so’s time from that first jam session.  So we sat down, and each band member had to contribute twenty songs — eighty being the number I estimated we’d need to play for five or six hours without repeating any — and oi vey!  you have no idea what poured out of that little exercise.  Fortunately, there were about thirty songs which everyone liked and wanted to play, so we set to it, practicing twice a week and hampered only by Donat being a filthy perfectionist and my poor playing, we managed to play the gig to fulfill the agreement with the twins.  We had a great deal of fun, and along the way, I discovered how much I enjoyed playing with Kevin’s lead guitar (a metallic blue ’64 Fender Strat, btw).  We took off, and stayed together pretty much for the whole of the next decade.

Here’s the thing.  Over the following years, I would play with quite a few lead guitarists, whether jamming, or filling in at gigs, or full-time with other bands when we were on hiatus (don’t ask;  think “Army draft” and you’ll get the picture).  And a few guitarists were better than Kevin;  but Kevin was my favorite guitarist.  At worst, his lead solos were note-perfect, which was most of the time, and he could copy any solo ever played, by people like Clapton, Hendrix and Jimmy Page, to name but some — but every so often Kevin would play like a man possessed, and his solos were the equal of any guitarist in the world, period.  At those times, I would stare across the stage at him in astonishment, and at the end of the song say, “Where the hell did that come from?” and he would just shrug, shuffle his feet and look embarrassed.  I called them his “purple patches” because his playing at those times was, quite simply, majestic.

But as much as I enjoyed Kevin’s playing, I enjoyed his company more.  We became the best of friends, and even though we were together several times a week (gigs, practices, club dates, whatever), most Sundays would find us at  my place, sitting in the living room, drinking red wine, eating French bread and European cheeses, reading the Sunday newspapers, talking about everything under the sun and (of course) listening to music.  When Sunday evening came round, we’d head off to an all-night bookstore together and buy a few books before going to our separate homes.

Kevin was, simply speaking, a nice guy, the nicest guy you could meet — and that, sadly, was often the cause of his downfall, because he was always at the mercy of others.  His inherent goodness made him an easy target for people who were only too keen to take advantage of him, and did.  Despite being permanently short of cash, he would lend money to anyone who asked — and then either Knob or I would have to bail him out, taking his share from the next gig’s income in repayment, when the original borrower(s) stiffed him.

He was not an attractive or handsome man:  he was plump, had the redhead’s fishbelly-white skin and freckles, and his eyes protruded rather alarmingly out from under bushy-ginger eyebrows.  Most women were especially cruel to him, as women tend to be, so when he found a girl who said she loved him, he fell like a ton of bricks, and of course I was the best man at his wedding (and he, much later, was best man at my first).

Unfortunately his new wife, a decade his junior, proved to be a pestilence.  She was pregnant when they got married, and used that excuse to stay at home and not go to work.  Keven’s meager income was barely enough to cover rent and food for his new family, but that didn’t stop her from buying new clothes, makeup and shoes every week.  We in the band watched aghast as he became this harried, perpetually-worried man, at times barely able to make gigs — oh, and by the way, New Wifey was intensely jealous of his relationship with the band, and with me especially, so my closest friend essentially disappeared from my life outside the band.

Well, I eventually emigrated to the U.S. and set about building my new life.  Kevin and I drifted apart, as people do when separated by such a wide gulf.  Email, when it arrived, proved to be a lifesaver and we picked up the threads a little, until I heard that he was coming back to the U.S. and bringing his family with him.  Unfortunately, I was living in Chicago at the time, and he was headed for downstate New York (where his job was), so we only ever got together once, when I was on a business trip to New York and we met up for dinner.

Nothing had changed for him, except that he and Wifey had had another child, a daughter who was now in her early teens.  His son was in high school, and then went to Brown to study to be an actuarian.  But Wifey was still fucking him over — he admitted that she’d had an online affair with some guy in Cleveland or something — and to make ends meet (she still refusing to work), he’d had to take a second job as a security guard at Giants Stadium.  (The only bonus to this was that he could attend rock concerts for free.)  Needless to say, he wasn’t playing in a band anymore — Wifey saw to that — so all he did was play guitar at home, composing songs that nobody would ever hear.

You have to understand that hearing about all this shit happening to my old friend was like a scourging of my soul, and talking about it with all the other ex-members of our band just caused us all to wince because there was nothing we could do about it.  In the game of life, one of the Nice Guys had become tagged with the Loser label.  All I could hope was that he would at some point have enough and ditch his family, horrible though that sounds.  (I should mention in passing that his daughter, a truly stunning beauty, had in her mid-teens joined the tattoo-‘n-piercing set, aided and abetted by her tramp of a mother.)

Anyway, the situation resolved itself.  Wifey left Kevin and went back to South Africa, taking both kids with her and leaving him with a boatload of credit-card debt that she’d thoughtfully accrued in the months while plotting her escape.  So once again, he had no money and now, no family.

Just to add to all this:  his son, the reason for Kevin’s getting married in the first place, wasn’t his.  I don’t know if he knew this, but I would be surprised if he didn’t, because the resemblance was totally to the other guy and not Kevin himself.  Kevin being Kevin, it made absolutely no difference to him and he loved the kid as his own;  but now that too was over.  He never saw his kids again.

Well, Kevin settled into life as a bachelor, moving in with his elderly mother in (I think) Pennsylvania.  He met a nice girl who lived in Wisconsin (online thing, of course), and was all set to start all over again when, at age 60, his kidneys failed.  This required weekly dialysis while he waited for a transplant donor, but while he was stricken, his mood never fell into the abyss (mine wouldn’t have), and he re-discovered Catholicism, his childhood religion.  He was living on disability by now, and even when his mother passed away, she left him with some money which made him, for the first time in his life, somewhat financially secure.  He was able, finally, to do what he’d always wanted to do:  compose and play music.

In October 2017, a little after his 64th birthday, my friend Kevin died of a massive and completely-unexpected heart attack.  There were no warning signs, no family history of heart trouble, and none of his many medical examinations had ever shown any heart issues.  Nevertheless, it gave out, and that was that.

And the world became a much darker, and far less kind and joyful a place with his essential goodness and wonderful talent snatched away from it.

I can’t write any more.  Sorry, Kev, that it took so long for me to do this for you.

Your dearest friend always,

Welcome Back To The Working Classes

I’m happy to announce that New Wife, having passed all the stupid bureaucratic bullshit  federal requirements that enable her to work, has recently starting doing so at one of the local (and very new) private schools here in Plano.  She’s not teaching, however — “twenty years of that is enough” — and instead is doing the admin stuff as the school starts to open.

After running a boarding house at her alma mater  high school for eight years before I dragged her kicking and screaming across the Atlantic to marry me, she’s well qualified.  (Think:  no-nonsense attitude, kinda like mine.)

Details to follow, but please join me in wishing her well.

Kettle Woes

New Wife is a tea drinker.  Actually, to call her a “tea drinker” is akin to saying that her husband rather enjoys shooting guns, except that she drinks tea more often than I shoot a gun.  Hell, she almost drinks more cups of tea than the number of bullets I send downrange in a typical session.

As I’ve mentioned before, she drinks Yorkshire Gold tea, which is my fault because I turned her onto it when we were together in Britishland all those years ago, and she prefers it over all others.  Fortunately, the teabags are fine — unlike my children, she’s not a teapot fetishist, thank goodness — so we just buy the bags in bulk and all goes well.

Except for the kettle.  We use a cheap ($25) electric kettle with an auto cutoff switch rather than a stovetop-with-whistle type simply because it’s more convenient, in that when we go on a car trip, we take both kettle and teabags with us (plus my small Keurig, but that’s a story for another time).

(Aside:  I should divulge, en passant, that I make the tea in our house simply because I’ve been making tea since I was seven years old — I used to make it for my mother every day because she too was a guzzler rather than a sipper, and I enjoyed spoiling my Mom, just as I enjoy spoiling New Wife — and I make tea better than anyone I know, including Daughter and New Wife, whether using bags in a cup, or loose tea in a pot.  I also make it when guests come over, even if they know little or nothing about tea.)

Recently, however, the kettle started to misbehave:  not switching on consistently, leaking a tiny bit, not switching off automatically at the boil, and so on.  So off I went to Amazon to order a new kettle, which is where the problems started.  Here’s the executive summary.

All kettles, whether electric or stovetop, are made in China nowadays.  All are crap (probably for the aforesaid reason) in that they are quick to rust, break early and often, don’t work as advertised, and so on. Even the so-called “Japanese” kettles are made in China, and suck.  Ditto Le Creuselt, the snobby Frog brand, which is now made in China, and for $75, I would expect them to last forever and never break — except that according to the consumer comments, they’re as bad as the rest of them.  When you consider that a kettle has only ONE JOB — boiling water — this is obviously a matter of concern.

Well, I wasn’t going to be put about like this, so I decided to buy a high-quality stovetop kettle, made somewhere other than China.  Of course, the first place I looked (Williams-Sonoma) did indeed have a quality kettle not made in China, except that it costs $400, no doubt because it’s made in England[pause to recover from the fainting spell]

Never mind kettle, what was needed was Ketel One.

However, a glass of gin and a moment’s reflection provided me with the solution.

I have had the current (faulty) kettle now for just on two years.  Given the number of cups of tea that New Wife imbibes on a daily basis, an approximate calculation revealed that this El Cheapo kettle has boiled water around four thousand times — and is only now starting to show signs of age/use?  I’ve had guns that didn’t last that long, and they’re made of stainless steel and everything.

So I went back to Amazon and bought another kettle just like it (down to the color even), noting that the price ($25) was about the same as the first one I bought back then.

Yeah, it’s made in China, but they’re all made in China so there you go.  I should point out that if there were a kettle of comparable standard made in the U.S., I probably would have spent double the amount — and if we in America cannot make a simple and reliable electric kettle carrying a retail price of $50 because of greedy unions, burdensome government regulations, high operating costs, etc., then we deserve to have the Commies make all our stuff.

Let’s just hope the fucking thing doesn’t break on Day 3.  New Wife will be severely pissed at having to do without her Yorkshire Gold while I go and find something else (not made in China, FFS) to replace it.

Memorial Day

Charles Loxton was a small man, no taller than 5’6”, and was born in 1899.  This means that when he fought in the muddy trenches of France during the First World War, he was no older than 17 years old — Delville Wood, where he was wounded, took place in July 1916.

Seventeen years old.  That means he would have been a little over sixteen when he enlisted. In other words, Charles must have lied about his age to join the army — many did, in those days, and recruiting officers winked at the lies.  After all, the meat grinder of the Western Front needed constant replenishment, and whether you died at 17, 18 or 19 made little difference.

Why did he do it?  At the time, propaganda told of how the evil Kaiser Wilhelm was trying to conquer the world, and how evil Huns had raped Belgian nurses after executing whole villages.  Where Charles lived as a young boy, however, the Kaiser was no danger to him, and no German Uhlans were going to set fire to his house, ever.

But Charles lied about his age and joined up because he felt that he was doing the right thing.  That if good men did nothing, evil would most certainly win.

It’s not as though he didn’t know what was coming:  every day, the newspapers would print whole pages of casualty lists, the black borders telling the world that France meant almost certain death.  The verification could be found in all the houses’ windows which had black-crepe-lined photos of young men, killed on the Somme, in Flanders, in Ypres, and at Mons.

He would have seen with his own eyes the men who returned from France, with their missing limbs, shattered faces and shaky voices.  He would have heard stories from other boys about their relatives coming back from France to other towns — either in spirit having died, or else with wounds so terrible that the imagination quailed at their description.

He would have seen the mothers of his friends weeping at the loss of a beloved husband.  Perhaps it had been this man and not his father who had taught him how to fish, or how to shoot, or how to cut (from the branches of a peach tree) a “mik” (the “Y”) for his catapult.

But Charles, a 16-year-old boy, walked out of his home one day and went down to the recruiting center of the small mining town, and joined the Army.

When years later I asked him why he’d done it, he would just shrug, get a faraway look in his blue eyes, and change the subject.  Words like duty, honor, country, I suspect, just embarrassed him. But that didn’t mean he was unaware of them.

So Charles joined the Army, was trained to fight, and went off to France.  He was there for only four months before he was wounded.  During the attack on the German trenches at Delville Wood, he was shot in the shoulder, and as he lay there in the mud, a German soldier speared him in the knee with his bayonet, before himself being shot and killed by another man in Charles’ squad.  At least, I think that’s what happened — I only managed to get the story in bits and pieces over several years.  But the scars on his body were eloquent witnesses to the horror: the ugly cicatrix on his leg, two actually (where the bayonet went in above the knee and out below it), and the star-shaped indentation in his shoulder.

The wounds were serious enough to require over a year’s worth of extensive rehabilitation, and they never really healed properly.  But Charles was eventually passed as fit enough to fight, and back to the trenches he went.  By now it was early 1918 — the Americans were in the war, and tiny, limping Private Charles Loxton was given the job as an officer’s batman: the man who polished the captain’s boots, cleaned his uniform, and heated up the water for his morning shave every day.  It was a menial, and in today’s terms, demeaning job, and Charles fought against it with all his might.  Eventually, the officer relented and released him for further line service, and back to the line he went.

Two months later came the Armistice, and Charles left France for home, by now a grizzled veteran of 19.  Because he had been cleared for trench duty, he was no longer considered to be disabled, and so he did not qualify for a disabled veteran’s pension.

When he got back home, there were no jobs except for one, so he took it.  Charles became, unbelievably, a miner.  His crippled knee still troubled him, but he went to work every day, because he had to earn money to support his mother, by now widowed, and his younger brother John.  The work was dangerous, and every month there’d be some disaster, some catastrophe which would claim the lives of miners.  But Charles and his friends shrugged off the danger, because after the slaughter of the trenches, where life expectancy was measured in days or even hours, a whole month between deaths was a relief.

But he had done his duty, for God, King and country, and he never regretted it.  Not once did he ever say things like “If I’d known what I was getting into, I’d never have done it.”  As far as he was concerned, he’d had no choice — and that instinct to do good, to do the right thing, governed his entire life.

At age 32, Charles married a local beauty half his age.  Elizabeth, or “Betty” as everyone called her, was his pride and joy, and he worshipped her his whole life.  They had five children.

Every morning before going to work, Charles would get up before dawn and make a cup of coffee for Betty and each of the children, putting the coffee on the tables next to their beds.  Then he’d kiss them, and leave for the rock face.  Betty would die from multiple sclerosis, at age 43.

As a young boy, I first remembered Charles as an elderly man, although he was then in his late fifties, by today’s standards only middle-aged.  His war wounds had made him old, and he had difficulty climbing stairs his whole life.  But he was always immaculately dressed, always wore a tie and a hat, and his shoes were polished with such a gloss that you could tell the time in them if you held your watch close.

Charles taught me how to fish, how to cut a good “mik” for my catapult, and watched approvingly as I showed him what a good shot I was with my pellet gun.  No matter how busy he was, he would drop whatever he was doing to help me — he was, without question, the kindest man I’ve ever known.

In 1964, Charles Loxton, my grandfather, died of phthisis, the “miner’s disease” caused by years of accumulated dust in the lungs.  Even on his deathbed in the hospital, I never heard him complain — in fact, I never once heard him complain about anything, ever.  From his hospital bed, all he wanted to hear about was what I had done that day, or how I was doing at school.

When he died, late one night, there was no fuss, no emergency, no noise; he just took one breath, and then no more.  He died as he had lived, quietly and without complaint.

From him, I developed the saying, “The mark of a decent man is not how much he thinks about himself, but how much time he spends thinking about others.”

Charles Loxton thought only about other people his entire life.

In Memoriam

Good Friday

And to all my Christian Readers:  have a Happy Easter, and may all your eggs be tasty (I think  that’s a traditional greeting).

It’s not often we get Easter and Pesach  on the same weekend because of that calendar thing, but here we are.

My best wishes to all of you.

Update:  from Former Bandmate Knob: