The Last Muscadel

In South Africa there is a very sweet wine, a dessert varietal really, called “muscadel”.  It is cheap, delicious and quite intoxicating.  Because it’s cheap, muscadel is a firm favorite among the Tramp ‘N Hobo Set (we call them “street people” nowadays), and because of that, muscadel (pronounced muska-dell) is rather looked down upon by the upper- and middle classes, much as Everclear is regarded in the U.S.

I have spoken of my schooldays at a boys’ boarding school, and mentioned a couple of my friends in passing, but I need to go into some detail here.  In our “house” and in my year/grade level, there were four boys who joined together in a quartet of utter deplorables for pretty much most of our last five years at St. John’s.

Tony Fanshawe was a Cockney from London and, despite his father’s exalted position as president of a major bank, “Fansh” was a person for whom the term “wide boy” was coined:  if there was mischief, devilment and sometimes outright criminality involved, Fansh was inevitably in the center of it.  He smoked cigarettes and weed, drank like a fish, and (illegally, because of age), rode British motorcycles (Triumph and BSA, called “Beezers”) which were sometimes borrowed or just stolen from his older brother Nigel.  Because they were British bikes, they were constantly breaking down which meant that Fansh always had black oil and grease on his hands or under his fingernails.  (This was cause for great concern when we went out to eat over weekends and school holidays, because Fansh loved eating fries with his unwashed fingers — I think you get the picture.)  He was also the funniest human being on the planet, whether telling stories or jokes, or simply displaying a razor-sharp and irreverent wit.  One of his comments caused our class photograph to be ruined because while most of the seventy-odd boys in the picture had solemn looks on their faces, the boys standing above, around and behind Fansh were howling with laughter at one of his little sotto voce  remarks.  (He got caned for that, and incidentally, he was the only boy who ever came close to my record of beatings.)  He was, surprisingly, a brilliant middle-distance runner and outstanding (field-)hockey goalkeeper, but also a miserable student, which meant that his time at St. John’s was lamentably curtailed when it was suggested to his parents that his only chance of passing twelfth-grade final exams (“Matric”) would be through a cram school, so Fansh never graduated from St. John’s College (doubtless to the immense relief of the teaching faculty).

Ross Arrington Murchison was, as his name suggests, a Southern boy from Rocky Mount, NC whose presence at St. John’s was a result of his father’s position as Minerals Attache at the U.S. Embassy.  (In most countries, that would be a nothing job;  in mineral-rich South Africa… you get the picture.)  The third of four sons, “Zonk” was, like all the Murchison men, immensely tall, some 6’5″, but a terrible sportsman because he was almost as wide as he was tall.  He was, however, an absolute killer at table tennis, and in all the countless matches he and I played against each other, I only managed to beat him once.  Zonk was a taciturn boy, but a Rebel through and through, and it was from him that I learned all about the War Of Northern Aggression [eyecross].  Like Fansh, Zonk was a serious smoker and drinker — “Damn, if I’d known about the quality of y’all’s weed, I’d have gotten here years ago” — and on more than one occasion the four of us emptied his long-suffering father’s liquor cabinet, simply because their townhouse was a stone’s throw from school grounds. (Because he had four teenage sons, Old Man Murchison could never figure out who had drunk all his Scotch, brandy and vodka.)  Zonc never really got into serious trouble at school, although had he ever been caught stoned or drunk — how we all escaped being busted for that is a mystery for the ages — the penalties would have been severe.  For his Matric, Zonk got a “gentleman’s C” (actually, a C for each of the six courses, including Afrikaans, which he’d only become familiar with upon arriving in South Africa.  He was also, by the way, completely fluent in French and Thai because of his father’s earlier postings to S.E. Asia.)

Michael Bentley resembled nothing as much as the Beetle Bailey cartoon character, so his nickname was
“Beedle” (which he hated, so to us he was simply “Mygall”):  lazy, idle, a shirker of immense creativity, Mike was most often found on his back, and was so skinny that, as Zonk once put it, when lying down his hips appeared higher than his head.  Despite that, Mike was a good sportsman, a good cricketer, an outstanding soccer player (he was nearly invited to join Manchester United’s youth squad as a young boy, but was beaten out by classmate Martin Cohen, who eventually made it to the club’s senior side) and a keen swimmer.  Like the other two above, Mike was a smoker and probably, the most heroic drinker of us all.  His most common transgression was breaking school bounds (AWOL, as we know it) and, it should be said, generally with me as his accomplice.  I’d known Mike since grade school before we both made the move to St. John’s, and we’d been friends pretty much as long as either of us could remember.  Mike actually failed his Matric, but it didn’t hurt him, as you will see later.

And then the fourth of this group of bad boys:  Your Humble Narrator’s nickname was “Poke” (go ahead, guess the reason), and I think you know all about me.  Alone among the group, I never smoked cigs or weed, but made up for it in beer consumption, rebellion against school rules, and insolence bordering on aggression towards most of the teachers and indeed any form of authority figure at the school.  I was caned more than the other three combined, and whether suffering in detention, “hard labor” or similar, my time at St. John’s could best be described as “career criminal”.  I was nearly expelled for having my girlfriend visit me in my study (I’ve told that story before), but only the expectation of a First Class Matric result spared me on that, and several other occasions.

So that was us. We were inveterate pranksters, jokers, ruffians and, it must be said, excellent card players, even if we somehow managed to turn the game of bridge into a contact sport.  Zonk was an absolute mechanic —  he’d shuffle the deck a few times and cut the four aces out as though by magic — to the point where he wasn’t ever allowed to shuffle the deck unless he was playing against someone outside the group and there was money involved.  But whether at cards, table tennis, swimming, sinning or carousing, we were as close as brothers while we were together at boarding school.

I’d christened us the “Four Musketeers”, but when the head of our boarding house heard that, he sniffed and said, “Four Musketeers?  More like the Four Muscadels.”  Needless to say, we jumped on that appellation with pride, and thereafter we were forever referred to by that name — even by the teachers.

After we graduated high school, we more or less went our separate ways, as so often happens:  the military draft, university, jobs, wives and careers pulled us all in separate directions;  but even then, if there was any chance we could get together at a party, a dinner or (OMG) a wedding reception, we would.  When we did, we soon discovered that nothing had changed:  we were exactly the same juvenile delinquents as we’d been at school, only with higher alcohol tolerances.

Fansh decided soon after high school that he wanted to go back to London, and sold both his bikes.  On his way to drop off the second, he was killed instantly when some asshole ran a red light and slammed into him.  His funeral was the largest I’d ever seen for someone of that age, both then and since.  He was twenty years old when he died.

Zonk stayed in South Africa and went into business with his brothers after failing miserably at his engineering studies at university.  Their company was in software design (started, it should be said, during the 1970s) and his financial fortunes rose and fell as so often happens to entrepreneurs.  He married a girl of outstanding beauty, a professional stage dancer, but they divorced after a few years.  Zonk died in his late forties from a massive and completely unexpected heart attack, although I have no doubt that his horrendous booze consumption had a hand in his demise.

Mygall was, as I’ve said, very lazy.  As my Dad always said, though, “If you want something done efficiently, give the job to a lazy man”, and as Mike was always being told by his parents to watch his kid sisters swimming, he came up with a way whereby he could get out of that task so he could play snooker with the rest of us at his parents’ house.  Here in the U.S., you may know it as the “Swim Sweater” (it’s a polyester vest sewn over a thick rubber tube which cannot be removed by the child) but all over the rest of the world it’s simply called the Bentley Belt.  That gave him a comfortable living for many years, during which time Mike got married (to one of my ex-girlfriends — I told you he was lazy), and his life took the usual twists and turns and ups and downs as he made his way in the world.  (There was some tragedy — actually, a considerable amount — but that’s not relevant to this post.)

Mike and I had drifted a long way apart as we’d had a serious falling-out — no details, they’re unimportant now after so long a time — and we’d lost complete touch with each other.  Then, at the urging of New Wife (who had known him as part of our group when she and I were dating in high school), we got in touch with each other again and found, to our immense joy, that Time had definitely healed all old wounds.  Mike had had a heart attack, survived and, to my absolute astonishment, had dropped his sixty-a-day smoking habit as well as his bottle-a-day drinking one — only to take up motorcycling (FFS) as a hobby.  As I am unlikely ever to go back to South Africa, we made plans for him to come out to Dallas next year so he could go on a motorcycle trip through the Rockies with Doc Russia and Mr. Free Market (who have been planning just such a trip), with me driving the Support Vehicle.

I should have known better.

Yesterday morning I was woken up at 3am by a phone call from another of my friends in South Africa, who told me that Mike had just died of a pulmonary embolism.  He was sixty-seven.

I can truthfully say that between the ages of 13 and 19, the best times of my life were spent in the company of this man, Michael Bentley, my closest friend.

R.I.P.  Mike.

So here I am, The Last Muscadel.  As a heartless youth, I’d always kidded the other three about their bad habits.  Gawd knows I had enough of my own, but they shared those with me and added booze, cigarettes, weed and motorcycles.  And yes, all my taunts have, dreadfully, come to pass.

But I feel neither satisfaction nor vindication.   Just tears and sadness.


Yup, this is going to end well:

The NYPD’s elite anti-crime units — plainclothes teams that focus on gun arrests and stopping violent crimes that’ve been dogged by accusations of using heavy-handed tactics in brown and black communities — are officially a thing of the past.
The high-risk units — one for each of the city’s 77 police precincts and nine Police Service Areas that cover public housing — will be disbanded and all 600 cops reassigned, the city’s top cop announced Monday.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said he personally made the decision to banish the units, which have been responsible for a “disproportionate” number of shootings and misconduct complaints made against the NYPD in their decades-long history.

Ummm the reason that the unit is responsible for a “disproportionate” number of shootings is because they’re actually fighting crime, and not that part of the force writing fucking parking tickets.  It’s like complaining that SEAL teams use a disproportionate number of rounds in combat, when they are actually out killing fuzzies instead of pushing guard duty on Stateside bases.

And the reason these cops are also responsible for a “disproportionate” number misconduct complaints is because a) they often have to make life-or-death decisions in milliseconds and b) because the Dindus they come up against on a daily basis have relatives who think their choirboy sons are innocent lil’ chilluns, and the cops are the bad guys.

To coin a phrase:  let New York City sink.

I can’t remember how many of my Readers actually live in that shithole, but if there are any… guys, you need to get real and GTFO, before it gets real on you.  Remember this?

With the disbanding of the anti-crime units, it’s gonna get worse — much worse.

Fiddling Time?

As NYFC seems to be about to crash and burn, and given that the situation seems to be echoing in other large, similarly-Democrat-governed cities and states around the country, it raises rather an interesting discussion point.

Should the federal government even get involved?  (That explains the hidden Nero reference in the title, by the way.)

In the first instance, we all know that as a federal republic, the states have a great deal of autonomy when it comes to various policy initiatives and experiments — the famed laboratories of democracy of which USSC Judge Louis Brandeis once spoke.  Logically speaking (I know, I know), should a state like New York have no problem with abolishing the NYPD, should it not be regarded as such an experiment?  Ditto Seattle, where Pantifa seems to have created an enclave within the city and declared it a Soviet collective or something.  In both cases, the attitude of these states’ respective governors is best characterized by a “boys will be boys” laissez-faire response.

My question is:  in the absence of any state action, is there a compelling reason for the federal government to step in and end such experiments?

I’m not sure there is.  And yes, there’s a certain degree of Schadenfreude  involved, in that I know that this foolishness will end in tears;  but at the same time, I also have a kind of Let Africa Sink attitude towards the whole thing — as long as when the cities implode, the federal government is not expected to be part of either the deconstruction of said stupidity, nor the mini-Marshall Plan that will be required to rebuild the fools’ paradises.

The question arising from the above, therefore, is:  as the nation’s economy has greatly decentralized away from the large urban centers, are cities still that important to our country?  Strip away the romantic public relations veneer, and I think we can find that they aren’t.

Take Wall Street, for example.  With the growth of the Internet and the ability to conduct stock trades remotely, i.e. away from the actual floor of the NYSE, I can think of no compelling reason why the stock exchange should occupy any real estate at all.  The importance of New York as a financial center is not what it was, say, in the 20th century, and if the Wuhan virus has taught us anything, it is the degree to which the Internet has taken away the need for such centralization.

I know, it sucks for those fools  wealthy people who plonked down $5 million for that 2BD 2BA condo on the Upper West Side, and who would have to pull up the drawbridges against hordes of rampaging looters every night;  but quite frankly, I don’t think there’s going to be a great deal of sympathy for these people in the population at large — even though The Donald is one of those same people.  (His hotels, for one thing, are going to go under in such a scenario, but the vagaries of fortune of overpriced urban real estate investments are not, as a rule, the concern of suburbanites and country folk in Ohio, Missouri or Utah.)

So, to quote a one-time quasi-revolutionary:  “You say you want a revolution?”  Go ahead, have fun.  Just don’t expect taxpayers from Texas, South Dakota or Arizona to bail you out when it all goes pear-shaped;  because while you’re screwing around with anarcho-socialist communes (which have always — always — failed in the past), we Deplorables in Flyover Country will be too busy making America great again to have the time or money to waste on helping you out.  And contrary to your expectations, American greatness does not depend solely on places like Seattle or NYFC anymore.


I see that National Geographic has released a new map of Australia.

Old Map:

Since then:

New Map:

On the positive side, I note the complete disappearance of man-eating koalas, mosquitoes and poisonous snakes, all fuel for the Greens’ barbie (see below).

Now all that’s left is for the Aussies to find a way to set fire to the ocean, and the shark problem will likewise disappear.

Cute Lil Animules

I read this story with interest few days ago, and it seems like a classic case of animals striking back at humans:

“A chimpanzee came in the garden as I was digging,” Ntegeka Semata said in an interview with the publication. She noted that her four young children were with her and as she turned her back to get water, the chimp took her child by the hand and ran off.
The child screamed, which caused the other villagers to pay attention and chase after him, but it was too late. “It broke off the arm, hurt him on the head, and opened the stomach and removed the kidneys,” Semata continued, adding that the child died on the way to the local hospital.

Here’s the thing.  The article points out that chimps share about 94% of their DNA with humans — i.e. they’re the closest thing to us in the animal kingdom.  That does not make us kinfolk, by the way (just in case the above story didn’t get the point across), and chimps are total assholes:  they exhibit all the bad traits of human behavior (murder, cannibalism, torture etc.), and there’s nothing at all cute about them.  A friend back in South Africa once described their look as “trying to decide which way to kill you”, and he’s not wrong about that.

I was driving through the Kruger National Park once, and I’d stopped to take some photos of a herd of buffalo, when a young male chimp jumped on the car’s bonnet and stood peering into the car through the windshield.  As it happened, I’d left a pack of potato chips on the dashboard, and when the chimp saw it, he started to gibber and jump around, trying to reach the packet through the glass.  Of course, I burst out laughing — and when the chimp heard my laughter, he stopped dead and stared at me with that  look.  Then he ripped off a windshield wiper as though snapping a pretzel, waved it at me, then scuttled off with it like it was a trophy.  It was the most human act I’d ever seen from an animal, any animal.

I should have just shot the little prick but they take a dim view of that kind of thing at the Kruger Park, so I just drove off, seething*.

So yeah, I can quite imagine that the chimp in the article above was pissed off at humans, and destroying their habitat sounds as good a reason as any.  They know  who’s responsible, you see, and some kind of retaliatory action is not at all surprising.

The next time you see some movie where chimps are freed from a medical research facility and set about causing mayhem and murder, I’m here to tell you that it’s not at all far-fetched.

Photo credit: iStock

*Update & Correction Dept.: A couple of Alert Readers contacted me and told me that what happened to me in the Kruger Park was doubleplus unpossible because chimps are tropical jungle-dwellers and not found in Seffrica, ergo it must have been a baboon.  In high dudgeon, I went to find the pictorial evidence (i.e. a photo) that I took of the little bastard… and it was indeed a baboon.

What the hell, they all look alike to me.