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:

Next Year…

To all my Tribe Readers:  have a safe and joyous Pesach, in whatever form you choose to have it in these troubled times.

And bedehr gesocht, once this insanity is over, we can meet next year in Jerusalem or (more likely) at Boomershoot.

Compensation

Being inhabitants of an island or two, the Brits have always been very much a nation of travelers, but even I have to admit some surprise at the extent of it:

Up to a million Britons are STILL stranded abroad scrambling to return home after countries closed their borders

Indeed, even my Longtime Friends the Sorensons were until recently stranded while out of the country, and only just made it onto the last flight back to Britishland.

Now of course, the country they were stranded in was the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, which admittedly does take some of the sting out of it (pics taken by Mrs. Sor):

(There were more pics, but they’re somewhat personal nay even indelicate, with half-naked Sorensons all over the place, so I’m not publishing them here…)

Here’s the beach near their hotel, lest anyone still needs proof of their dire predicament:

I suspect that Mr. Sor’s deepening panic came not from being unable to get back to Blighty but from the prospect of the hotel running out of gin — entirely understandable, of course, as the thought of being marooned Robinson Crusoe-like on an island with no gin… well, I don’t think I need say any more.

But they’re back home, self-isolating in their historic urban residence, and despite a ready supply of gin they’re not at all happy about being there, for some reason:

Note the “social distancing” of their neighbors…