An Underrated Accessory

It was observed by someone about a year and a quarter ago that I was in need of a penlight, a small flashlight about the size of a pen. And so I was presented with a penlight. It takes one triple A battery, and fits neatly into the top of a trouser pocket (if one wears trousers with reasonable, functional pockets.) It is good for glancing into cylinders (Yep, really are that gunky. Hoppes #9 here we come), for finding small objects in dim light, for reading menus in dim light. You know, flashlight things.

It is also spectacular for use in museums and castles. Those dimly-lit, irregular stairs? Are now decently lit for someone who has mild mobility problems. You can peer into dark chambers to see if there is anything of interest. You can get a better look at artifacts in display cases if you angle the flashlight properly, and are discreet. (If the information talks about how light-sensitive the colors are, well, don’t spotlight the item.) It brings out amazing detail in Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Saxon jewelry and brooches. And in the Lewis Chessmen.

Granted, here I didn’t need it. But if you go around two corners to the Church and Society section of the museum, there is an additional bishop, dimly lit. That benefits greatly from the beam of a penlight.

And then there’s the fascinating baptismal font, commissioned by a MacDonald clan chief. In the 1500s. OK, remember, 1500s. Renaissance.

That’s St. Michael. See the knotwork off to the sides? It looks more 1000s than 1500s. You can’t see that detail without a little extra light. The other corners have the Virgin and Child, the Crucifixion, and a bishop, probably St. Maelrubha (patron of the church on Skye where the baptismal font once stood.)

So, why not use the light on your cell-phone, if you carry one? Well, some places are still no-phone zones, like Rosslyn Chapel and other churches. Some museums are no-camera zones as well. A pen-light doesn’t attract the ire of docents. A pen-light doesn’t drain batteries, and it can give far more focused light than the phone flashlight does. It can also be discreetly concealed in the palm of even a small hand. And if you drop the penlight on stone steps, and it bounces a meter or so down hill, it’s not as big of a loss as the phone would be. (The penlight survived. The phone, based on the unhappy noises behind me, did not. Not my phone, not my problem.) As you can see from the photo above, I had both.

So, I highly recommend carrying a small flashlight as part of your travel kit. Get one you can palm, with a narrow beam, and that takes common batteries.


So, the Last Three Weeks . . .

I was in a cool, damp place. Well, cooler than 104 F. And rather farther away from the war in Ukraine than I was in 2019. I started at Eboricum, Jorvik, then the Vallum Adrium, Vallum Antonini, Dun Add, Dun Edin, Dun Ollie, and Traprian Law. And a few other places.

The sky was a lot darker. And the wind was in my face at 35 MPH, with drizzle.
Like that. The first picture was from near the top of the Sill, shooting down. It’s a good place for a wall.

The trip began with Romans and Vikings. And discovering that walking on the treadmill at the gym, and lifting weights, are not a lot of help when scrambling up near-vertical steps and slopes in sideways misty rain, or carrying luggage up and down several flights of narrow stairs. Yes, once again I was well off the usual tourist map, in places where Americans rarely venture, at least for the first two weeks. Edinburgh was full of Americans, St. Andrews almost as packed (graduation weekend, plus two weeks until The British Open.) However, I had Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, and Arran to myself. Mostly.

One of only two walls still standing in England that have the archer-sheds and ports intact. This was at York, to protect St. Mary’s Abbey from unhappy townsfolk. Something about taxes . . .
How do you hide the crane needed to lift things for construction and repairs . . . Opposite St. George, of course.
An author walks into a bar 1700 years after closing time . . . That’s the taberna in Vindolanda, with cold rain still blowing sideways. That did NOT deter Rome buffs in the least. Speaking of bar-related things, later in the trip I discovered the non-alcoholic gin Seedlip. I like Seedlip. It is at least $30 US per bottle, of course.
The first time I was in Great Britain, it was the 10th anniversary of the Falklands War. This was the 40th. Time has flown, far too swiftly.
The view from Dun Add, ancient capital of Dal Riata, the Irish-founded kingdom in far western Scotland. Kenneth MacAlpine was the first named king of Dalriada. The fields had been the Great Moss, a marshy mess. The sea is off to the right. To the left is a bit of Galloway with hundreds of Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and later standing stones, graves, and the like. And it was windy, and rained a bit on us.
Low tide in Oban at 6:00 AM. Sunrise was at 0430, sunset at 2200.

Oh, and as well as seeing the Irish Sea and the North Sea, I also went to New Lanark, Glencoe, the Old Course at St. Andrews, Arran Island, the Great Glen (and Loch Ness), Sterling, Bannockburn battlefield, Scone, Rosslyn Chapel (which is smaller and stranger than I thought it would be, from reading about it . . .) and a few other places. Ben Nevis was covered in clouds, to no one’s surprise.

Morning after the storm, Sterling.

Conservation of Energy?

Or just a cat?

Athena T. Cat at rest.

A cat at rest will stay at rest, no matter what her staff wants, until acted upon by an internal impulse. A cat in motion will stay in mo—

No, she’ll flop into a snooze whenever she wants to.

East and West and Strong Men

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West” is one of my favorites, and I can declaim large chunks from memory. The Australian poet A.B. “Banjo” Patterson observed that Kipling had a gift for describing horses, and that shines through in the mid-section of the poem. But I want to focus on Kamal and the Colonel’s son.

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!”

For two, or three, strong men, a chase after a stolen horse becomes an occasion for a feat of daring, a display of honor, and a moment of brotherhood.

Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet.
“No talk shall be of dogs,” said he, “when wolf and gray wolf meet.
May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath;
What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?”
Lightly answered the Colonel’s son: “I hold by the blood of my clan:
Take up the mare for my father’s gift — by God, she has carried a man!”
The red mare ran to the Colonel’s son, and nuzzled against his breast;
“We be two strong men,” said Kamal then, “but she loveth the younger best.
So she shall go with a lifter’s dower, my turquoise-studded rein,
My broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrups twain.”
The Colonel’s son a pistol drew and held it muzzle-end,
“Ye have taken the one from a foe,” said he; “will ye take the mate from a friend?”
“A gift for a gift,” said Kamal straight; “a limb for the risk of a limb.
Thy father has sent his son to me, I’ll send my son to him!”
With that he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain-crest —
He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest. . .

They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.”

The Ballad of East and West.” Rudyard Kipling

Two strong men, one older, one younger, both brave, both determined, and both seeing honor and respect in the other, even though they are sworn enemies (more or less). And it doesn’t matter, not in that moment.

I grew up understanding what Kipling meant, and what veterans and others meant, when they showed respect (if at times grudging) for opponents and foes. The loss of that sense is something I feel keenly. “The honorable opponent” seems to be fading from popular culture. I try to explain it to younger people, that you can respect people you disagree with, and even feel sorrow at their passing even as you know that they’d have killed you first if given the chance. “For true comrades and true foemen, Madonna, intercede!” Kipling wrote in a different place.

There’s an academic I vehemently disagree with. She sets my teeth on edge. Her work broke major ground in our field, and has opened up useful new lines of questioning and uses of archaeological and archival material. So when I had the chance, I told her how much I admired her work and how valuable it has been to me. She was glad that a younger generation still read and engaged with her ideas. I still don’t care for her, and she probably would not care for me, were we to meet in other than an academic setting. It didn’t—and doesn’t—matter.

“But there is neither east nor west, border, nor breed, nor birth

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”

Remember, You’re a _______________: Roots and Identity

Growing up, on occasion Sib and I would hear, “You’re from the South. Act like it.” The implication was always that we had failed to meet a certain standard of behavior, usually courtesy or treating people certain ways. Now, keep in mind, we were not living in the area generally considered the US South. The part of Texas where we lived is far more western than southern, or even midwestern. But Mom and Dad Red grew up in the older Southern culture, especially Dad Red, and certain things were hammered into us.

I was reminded of this a little while ago, while musing on the chaotic swirlings of memory, identity, manners, and European nationalism. What does it mean to be a _____________? A sense of place and history, of shared values and faith, shared traditional foes (Russia, the English, Auburn or LSU . . . ), an understanding of how things are to be done and people are to be treated? What if you never had that, and you must form a sense of place-ful-ness over and over?

Younger people today in many cases in the US don’t have the same “rootedness” that their grandparents might have had. Common cultural values have changed, or been rejected, or were never established in the first place. Some will say that this is good, because some old cultural practices needed to go. I can’t argue with that, because they are right. However, love it or hate it, being from a place or culture gives a foundation and touchstone for behavior and belief, even if those are rejected later. Deep down, you always have something to fall back on. “What would MeMaw do?” “What would Mr. Jackson up the road have done?” Family traditions, ways of relating to people and the world, they give a platform and stepping off point.

I suspect a lot of the desperate flailing for acceptance, and for some culture and standards of some kind, comes from the lack of that foundation. What does it mean to be a young person in a world where everything is filtered, influencers do not exist save on a screen, and standards of proper conduct, appearance, and belief change monthly if not faster? I think we all know, and are seeing that playing out far too clearly. Without a foundation, people drift and get caught up in things that do not always lead to good ends. Without roots and a sense of time and place, everything is now, and all changes are signs of doom and the End. No wonder things like end-times environmental beliefs have appeared and become so visible in western culture.

For a while, to be a “person from nowhere,” a true cosmopolitan without a set home or culture was lauded as the grand ideal. The person “from Europe,” or “from the cities [London and New York]” could be happy and contribute to society in any big city of the world. No difference existed between Tokyo and Mumbai and London and LA. Early on these were the “jet set,” then “the cosmopolitan class” as I heard a geographer refer to them. That might work for a few, but not for most of humanity. Roots are needed. Humans are not creatures of the air, literally or metaphorically. Without a foundation of behavior and culture, we have nothing when the storms come.

“You’re from [place/culture]. Act like it.” “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” “Was sagen die Nachbaren?” “Don’t outgrow your raisin’.” There’s a foundation in all of those ideas. Roots.

Midsummer Poetry

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
   Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
   Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
   (All of a Midsummer morn!)
Surely we sing no little thing,
   In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
   Or ever AEneas began.
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
   When Brut was an outlaw man.
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
   (From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
    Of Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard-mould,
   He breedeth a mighty bow.
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
   And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
   And your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
   To Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
   Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
   That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
   Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He will take no wrong when he lieth along
   'Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
   Or he would call it a sin;
But - we have been out in the woods all night,
   A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth-
   Good news for cattle and corn-
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
   With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs
   (All of a Midsummer morn):
England shall bide till Judgment Tide,
   By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

Rudyard Kipling, "A Tree Song."

Having been around "self pruning" elms, I agree with his reservations concerning that tree. 

Book Review: Clanlands

Heughan, Sam and Graham McTavish. Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure like no Other. (London: Hodder and Stoughton LTD, 2020)

Short version: A readable walk through the Highlands of Scotland and their history with two of the actors from the TV series Outlander.

Sam (plays Jamie Frazier) and the older Graham (Dougal MacKenzie), a camera team, and a rather sturdy camper van make their way to the sites of events described in the best-selling Outlander series. It starts with a morning whisky tasting, and Sam admitting that he has not driven a stick in several years, and never driven something that large with a stick shift. Graham begins to doubt his sanity (both his Sam’s and his Graham’s). They survive, although not without one very, very close run for Graham. That wasn’t Sam’s fault for once.

Graham is the older, calmer and more history minded head of the pair. I admit, I’d skim Sam’s adventure tales for the most part, and focus on Graham’s discussion of history, landscape, and the people around them. And how the TV series fits into the history of Scotland in the early 1700s, the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden. Although I’m not a fan of buddy-stories or of reading narrative, the two actors do a good job with their respective stories. They also give a good sense of the society of the Highlands before Culloden and the Clearances that depopulated the region. There’s heroism, treachery enough to make Judas blush, cruelty, honor, and amazing scenery. And whisky. And wine, and whisky. And adventures in kilts, and the “joys” of shooting night scenes in cold rain for the third night in a row on a rather steep grassy slope with weapons that, while not all that sharp, can still hurt you pretty badly.

I have not seen the Outlander show or read the books. Time-travel romance aside, they are pretty smelly, gritty depictions of the harsh world of the Highland clans, and I have a low tolerance for rapine and sadism. I read to escape history. However, the still images I’ve seen from the series are pretty impressive. It’s not glamourous or romantic Scotland, but the hard-scrabble world I’ve read about.

As I was saying . . . . Press release PR image from Clanlands Book, used for review purposes under Fair Use.

The book climaxes with the Battle of Culloden. I’ve been told that the battlefield is haunted, especially at night, and what Sam and Graham describe explains part of why. It was cousin-against-cousin, with clans having people on both sides in order to ensure survival of the larger group. Sometimes it didn’t work. They visit on a chilly, misty day, and Sam is especially moved.

The sense you get from the book is that 1) the Highland clans were hard, determined, and sometimes cruel people who were not the Romantic heroes Sir Walter Scott and others portrayed. 2) But they weren’t demons, either (OK, one or two people aside. That one laird . . .) 3) Do not let Sam drive large stick-shift vehicles.

I’d recommend the book as a light read for people interested in Highland history, in Outlander, and in how guys behave in front of cameras. Sam and Graham are professionals, for all their grousing about each other, and are good friends. It’s an easy read, and if you want the history, you can skim the whisky and vehicles bits.

FTC Notice: This book was borrowed from a family member who purchased it for his own use and the author of this review received no remuneration or promotional consideration for this review.

Cool and Warm voices together

It’s hard to find a good recording of a warm, rich voice and a cool, pure voice together. Here’s one, with the soprano Anna Netrebko and a boy soprano Andrew Swait. His is the second voice, and he has more vibrato than I usually hear in a boy’s tone.

Here’s a cool voice doing “Once in Royal David’s City.”

In total contrast:

I’ve heard a true cold pure boy soprano with a warm soprano doing “Pie Jesu,” but it was not recorded as far as I can find.

Poetic Humor

Most of us are familiar with doggrel, attributed or otherwise. Kipling and other “serious” poets wrote funny poems, some aimed at laughter, some just pointing to the foibles of life.

Then there are the “nonsense” poets, like Edward Lear and Ogden Nash, who gave us such words of wisdom as:

“God in His Wisdom made the fly/ And then forgot to tell us why.” (Nash)


“There was an Old Man with a Beard/ Who said, “It is just as I feared.”

Two owls and a hen, four larks and a wren,

Have all built their nests/ In my beard.” (Lear)

Poul Anderson’s scientific riff on the invisible man:

“My theorems require, when mesons pair

A particle that isn’t there.

It isn’t there again today –

Please, Fermi, make it go away!”

And another Nash favorite of mine. I learned the first four lines from an LP of Carnival of the Animals.

“Come crown my brows with leaves of myrtle,

I know the tortoise is a turtle.

Come carve my name in stone immortal;

I know a turtoise is a tortle;

I know to my profound despair;

I bet on one to beat a hare.

I also know I’m not a pauper

Because of its tortley turtley torpor. “

And apropos of that, “Fossils.”

Fossils by Ogden Nash

At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no drums or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones,
A rolling, rattling, carefree circus
Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.
Pterodactyls and brontosauruses
Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.
Amid the mastodontic wassail
I caught the eye of one small fossil.
“Cheer up, sad world,” he said, and winked-
“It’s kind of fun to be extinct.”

(And if you hear a bit of the Danse Macabre, you’re right . . . “Fossils” also includes snips from older compositions as well.)