Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Sepia Saturday 253: Three Men in a Boat

The prompt this week reminded me of the famous book, "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome. Talk about standing the test of time, it has never been out of print since it was first published in 1889! I first read it 50 years ago and have read it at least 10 times since then and it never ceases to delight me. It was originally intended as a travelogue describing the trip from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford actually traveled by Jerome, his two friends and a dog. 
Fans of Jerome have used "Three Men in a Boat" to recreate the trip, since the route remains virtually unchanged and many of the pubs and inns named in the book are still open. 

Following is the famous "Plaster of Paris Trout" story from chapter 17. The entire book can be read for free at the Gutenburg project which is at Three Men in a Boat - Gutenberg. You can read it online, download it as a PDF or put in on your Kindle. 

George and I—I don’t know what had become of Harris; he had gone out and had a shave, early in the afternoon, and had then come back and spent full forty minutes in pipeclaying his shoes, we had not seen him since—George and I, therefore, and the dog, left to ourselves, went for a walk to Wallingford on the second evening, and, coming home, we called in at a little river-side inn, for a rest, and other things.
We went into the parlour and sat down.  There was an old fellow there, smoking a long clay pipe, and we naturally began chatting.
He told us that it had been a fine day to-day, and we told him that it had been a fine day yesterday, and then we all told each other that we thought it would be a fine day to-morrow; and George said the crops seemed to be coming up nicely.
After that it came out, somehow or other, that we were strangers in the neighbourhood, and that we were going away the next morning.
The troutThen a pause ensued in the conversation, during which our eyes wandered round the room.  They finally rested upon a dusty old glass-case, fixed very high up above the chimney-piece, and containing a trout.  It rather fascinated me, that trout; it was such a monstrous fish.  In fact, at first glance, I thought it was a cod.
“Ah!” said the old gentleman, following the direction of my gaze, “fine fellow that, ain’t he?”
“Quite uncommon,” I murmured; and George asked the old man how much he thought it weighed.
“Eighteen pounds six ounces,” said our friend, rising and taking down his coat.  “Yes,” he continued, “it wur sixteen year ago, come the third o’ next month, that I landed him.  I caught him just below the bridge with a minnow.  They told me he wur in the river, and I said I’d have him, and so I did.  You don’t see many fish that size about here now, I’m thinking.  Good-night, gentlemen, good-night.”
And out he went, and left us alone.
We could not take our eyes off the fish after that.  It really was a remarkably fine fish.  We were still looking at it, when the local carrier, who had just stopped at the inn, came to the door of the room with a pot of beer in his hand, and he also looked at the fish.
“Good-sized trout, that,” said George, turning round to him.
“Ah! you may well say that, sir,” replied the man; and then, after a pull at his beer, he added, “Maybe you wasn’t here, sir, when that fish was caught?”
“No,” we told him.  We were strangers in the neighbourhood.
“Ah!” said the carrier, “then, of course, how should you?  It was nearly five years ago that I caught that trout.”
“Oh! was it you who caught it, then?” said I.
“Yes, sir,” replied the genial old fellow.  “I caught him just below the lock—leastways, what was the lock then—one Friday afternoon; and the remarkable thing about it is that I caught him with a fly.  I’d gone out pike fishing, bless you, never thinking of a trout, and when I saw that whopper on the end of my line, blest if it didn’t quite take me aback.  Well, you see, he weighed twenty-six pound.  Good-night, gentlemen, good-night.”
Five minutes afterwards, a third man came in, and described how he had caught it early one morning, with bleak; and then he left, and a stolid, solemn-looking, middle-aged individual came in, and sat down over by the window.
None of us spoke for a while; but, at length, George turned to the new comer, and said:
“I beg your pardon, I hope you will forgive the liberty that we—perfect strangers in the neighbourhood—are taking, but my friend here and myself would be so much obliged if you would tell us how you caught that trout up there.”
“Why, who told you I caught that trout!” was the surprised query.
We said that nobody had told us so, but somehow or other we felt instinctively that it was he who had done it.
“Well, it’s a most remarkable thing—most remarkable,” answered the stolid stranger, laughing; “because, as a matter of fact, you are quite right.  I did catch it.  But fancy your guessing it like that.  Dear me, it’s really a most remarkable thing.”
And then he went on, and told us how it had taken him half an hour to land it, and how it had broken his rod.  He said he had weighed it carefully when he reached home, and it had turned the scale at thirty-four pounds.
He went in his turn, and when he was gone, the landlord came in to us.  We told him the various histories we had heard about his trout, and he was immensely amused, and we all laughed very heartily.
“Fancy Jim Bates and Joe Muggles and Mr. Jones and old Billy Maunders all telling you that they had caught it.  Ha! ha! ha!  Well, that is good,” said the honest old fellow, laughing heartily.  “Yes, they are the sort to give it me, to put up in my parlour, if they had caught it, they are!  Ha! ha! ha!”
And then he told us the real history of the fish.  It seemed that he had caught it himself, years ago, when he was quite a lad; not by any art or skill, but by that unaccountable luck that appears to always wait upon a boy when he plays the wag from school, and goes out fishing on a sunny afternoon, with a bit of string tied on to the end of a tree.
He said that bringing home that trout had saved him from a whacking, and that even his school-master had said it was worth the rule-of-three and practice put together.
He was called out of the room at this point, and George and I again turned our gaze upon the fish.
It really was a most astonishing trout.  The more we looked at it, the more we marvelled at it.
It excited George so much that he climbed up on the back of a chair to get a better view of it.
And then the chair slipped, and George clutched wildly at the trout-case to save himself, and down it came with a crash, George and the chair on top of it.
“You haven’t injured the fish, have you?” I cried in alarm, rushing up.
“I hope not,” said George, rising cautiously and looking about.
But he had.  That trout lay shattered into a thousand fragments—I say a thousand, but they may have only been nine hundred.  I did not count them.
We thought it strange and unaccountable that a stuffed trout should break up into little pieces like that.
And so it would have been strange and unaccountable, if it had been a stuffed trout, but it was not.
That trout was plaster-of-Paris.

My grandmother Pulcherie Fortier fishing for real fish.

Show poster from Original Theatre

I learned from cruising the web that Original Theatre Productions has launched a show based on the book which will run through March 2015 at various theatres. For more information see Original Theatre 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sepia Saturday 251: Three Tasmanian Coppers

Last week, my grandfather's horses were speaking to me from their photos. This week it's the police.  But I can pin the blame for my silliness on Marilyn for her Facebook suggestion that the cops were looking at Alan. 

 " you see that woman looking this way?" said John gruffly through his thick beard and moustaches. John's hirsute appearance matched his abrasive personality and he was visibly agitated. "That old cow is on the lam. I recognize her."

"Really John?" Charles said indifferently, thinking to himself that John's imagination was working over time again; even for an imagination inside someone else's imagination.  He understood it completely; afternoon street patrol in Hobart could get very, very slow.  Sometimes he felt that time was standing still. He folded his hands and observed with a faint smile, "Looks like an ordinary old sheila to me." 

"I'm telling you," said John with growing excitment, "I saw an ancient sepia colored flyer just the other day." He lowered his head and glowered into the dim light.  "It came in the postie from Manitoba. The RCMP have been after her for more than 50 years! Something about an illegal bonfire, smokin' and drinkin' under age and trespassing too. Done some real damage up there tromping through a field. Now here she is - thinkin' it's clear sailing cause half a century's passed." 

Harry, standing calmly by, harumphed at the absurdity of his mate's Clouseau-like allegations; he didn't bother to turn around and continued to stay focused on the street scene. John ranted on," Those RCMP blokes have no cold cases - they never stop until they get their man. Look at her, peering away at us just like someone with nothing on her conscience.  Bit of a brazen hussy."

Charles observed with a faint smile, "I think she's trying to read that boot sign over your head Johnny. Or the sign in the Chemist's window." He felt his head throbbing and somehow his world seemed to get alternately larger and smaller; larger and smaller. 

John was chafing at Charlie's casual attitude. "No Charlie," he said, " You're dead wrong! She's squinting at Harry's arse - that's what she's doing - no manners at all!" He paused and in a rare moment of thoughtfulness sized up the scene before speaking again. "Harry - at least you could move over to the left a bit and get your arse out of her sight!" Harry shifted to the other foot ignoring John which he'd learned was the wisest choice of action.

Raising his voice in frustration John asked, "Do we have no privacy here; is there no respect for the law? Let's get a warrant, reach in there and search her hard drive. Teach her a lesson for being so bloody nosy." 

"Too late Johnny," said Charles barely smothering a chortle, "She's figured you're onto her. Not as much of a drongo as you thought. Argghh...she's beat us to it and reaching for the publish switch. Gone, gone, gone - she's back on the lam again. And look at what she's done to us; left us standing here for eternity, framed."

Make a quick getaway to Sepia Saturday for more stories: Sepia Saturday #251

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Magpie Tales #42: Eau de Mothball

Magpie Tales #42 prompt - photo by 
My mother wore fur coats - not for fashion, but purely for warmth. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, winters are fierce and in the 50's we did not have the wonderful light weight and warm fabrics we can choose today. You stayed warm by wearing heavy thick clothing and most of the adult women wore fur coats, typically sheared seal or muskrat. The more affluent women in our city owned mink or even exotic skins, like leopard, but my mother's coats were practical garments, not status symbols. They weighed a ton and draped down to the tops of her boots. I can recall the feel of the soft fur on my face when I buried into her lap or stood under her arm.
My mother in fur with me
During summer months the coats were packed away in a cupboard downstairs which was spread liberally with smelly mothballs and kept tightly shut so the fumes would kill moths and their larvae. When the temperature dropped in late autumn, the cupboard was opened and out came the coats. Mom left them hanging outside during the day to air, but the smell never completely vanished. Most of our winter clothing had the whiff and it seemed to permeate everything. 

And so the prompt this week reminded me of my mother first but right afterward "Eau de mothball" - the perfume of Canadian winters.

For less moth-eaten reading head over to Magpie Tales

Monday, October 20, 2014

Closing the trapeze act

Although requests for performances continue to flood in, the Flying McHargues regret that their act has been retired. The Flying McHargues Fly no more!

I had to tell someone today that I no longer ride a bike because of Acoustic Neuroma related balance problems. Just for fun, I told her we stopped our trapeze act as well. There was a moment's hesitation and so for clarification I thought I should make an official announcement. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

ABCWednesday: O is for Oysters

An article appeared in the New Yorker magazine some time ago about freezing corpses for thawing in the future. The famous baseball player Ted Williams opted to be frozen in this way and sparked a huge controversy. The primary research into this practice was done on oyster embryos. Freezing and thawing; freezing and thawing. A former cryogenic researcher states that he pays $100.00 a year to keep two oyster embryos frozen; he has been maintaining them for 25 years. Somehow he just can't pull the plug on them - or let them thaw out and swim away, which he claims they will do. It fascinated me that a person could bond to, of all things, a frozen oyster embryo. Whenever I see anything about eating oysters I'm reminded of this researcher and his empathy for the bivalves we shuck and gulp down without a second thought.
Cruelest of all the stories about oysters is my childhood favorite, the narrative poem , "The Walrus and The Carpenter" from "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll. My father knew this poem by heart and used to enjoy reciting it for me with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a handkerchief for mopping up my tears for the poor little oysters in the other one. To this day, I cannot read the poem without feeling sad.

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Hop through the frothy waves and scramble to the shore of ABCWednesday for more "O" contributions.

Morph Suits Halloween

Hallowe'en again - time to think about a new morph suit. It's a fantasy of mine to attend an annual family event in a disguise that would render us totally unrecognizable. The hosts have no idea we'd show up. Mr. and Mrs. Checkerboard is kind of appealing. I think Richard could pull this off. 

 I could be Fat Man and the costume would cover some of my most recognizable features. I think I'd add a hat to this for complete coverage. And shoes.
But overall, my hands-down favorite is the Scary Clown suit which is so distracting it would make a perfect disguise for anyone of any body type. 

You can drink right through the suit, but you can also detach the head once the surprise is over
and you want to dig into the pumpkin cheesecake, the pumpkin creme brulee or the pumpkin ice cream.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sepia Saturday 250: Hector's Carvings

Hector Fortier - French Canadian Farm Art
I love the prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday - the colorized photo; the expression on the man's face; the tools; the clothing and in particular, the soles walking up the wall. The closest image I have is of my grandpa Hector seated with his carvings both in front and in back of him. 

My grandparents, Hector and Pulcherie moved from the farm to an average sized house and thence to a teeny tiny house on Alverstone Street in Winnipeg, the tiniest house they could find. I think they were just sick of taking care of things and this little house freed them from a lot of care. Like most couples, they'd never spent a lot of time in really close contact, both being busy people. When they found themselves in this little space, they got on each other's nerves. Grandpa had a little cellar below the house which became his carving room and his escape.  
The Fortier's tiny house
Hector was either a prodigious carver or my grandmother was really, really annoying because grandpa turned out hundreds of these funny little treasures, now considered Canadian folk art. He carved elephants, rhinos, horses and bears. He made quite a few mounties (RCMP), cowboys and many men with odd hats. One of my favorites was the bald, gold man - he had rhinestone eyes at one time; his lips were ruby red and he had a jumble of teeth. Grandpa probably thought it was a scary figure, but we kids never saw the gold man as menacing.

I regret that as a child growing up I didn't appreciate my grandfather's sense of humor. He didn't say much; he didn't hear well and my French was lousy, so communication wasn't great. Despite this fact, I felt his warmth; we smiled at each other a lot and I know he loved me and all his grandchildren. He was a kind and gentle man. 

Funny isn't it how life goes? Grandpa's motivation for carving wasn't to create art...he was escaping the company of my grandmother when he lodged himself in the basement working on these little figures. After all the things he accomplished in his life, it's ironic that these escape carvings remain as his legacy.  

For more thoughts on the prompt, visit Sepia Saturday and have a look around. 

Magpie Tales # 241: Reflecting on reflections.

Self-portrait, Vivian Maier 

“Well, I suppose nothing is meant to last forever. We have to make room for other people. It’s a wheel. You get on, you have to go to the end. And then somebody has the same opportunity to go to the end and so on.” – Vivian Maier

Dusty's Used Camera Shop
Somewhere, New York City

October 14th, 2014

Yo Vivian

Thanks for sending the self portrait - honestly, I can't believe anyone knew where I was!  I chuckled when I saw you chose to send me this one, out of all those we shot that day. There I am, front and center, hogging the spotlight as it were! And you were only partially in the picture! I have to admit I was so surprised to see my own reflection that I didn't pay close attention the rest of the shot.

Now that I look at it, I can see what genius was at work. The way you held the light; the reflection in the mirror of you and you and you and me and me and me; the way you can see both the front and back of you and me, but not completely. Only partial views - the way most of the rest of the world views us both. was such an honor to be held in your competent and talented hands for so long. What a team we made! Sitting here on the top shelf in the dust, my happiest moments are remembering our times together. It was a high point in my career that's for sure.

Again, thanks for the memories.....

Your pal,
Rollie Flex

Check out the other posts inspired by Mag #241

5 Sentence Fiction: Falling

After the cannon shot, as she was free falling through the air, dyslexic stunt woman Celia (Alice) C. Coyote chuckled to herself through her blackened teeth. She'd learned so much from cousin Wile E. and his desperate pursuit of Road Runner with implausible mail order gadgets like the Jet Propelled Unicycle and the infamous Spring Powered Shoes he ordered from the bastards at the ACME company. Hand on the parachute control, she gave it the final tap bracing herself for the engagement snap of the Never-Ever-Ever-Ever-Ever Fail Computerized Chute made by electronics giant, EMAC. As the ground came up to meet her she fell faster and faster finally smashing through the earth, leaving only her black silhouette behind, and realizing the slicksters at ACME had suckered themselves yet another Coyote.

Check out the rest of this week's stories at  Five Sentence Fiction!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

ABC Wednesday: N is for Nosy

New kitten - active nose
Although cats don't get as much information via the nose as dogs, my cats smell first with their little mouths open and ask questions later. Their mouths are open so they can expose air and aroma to their Jacobsen's Organ located behind the front teeth. Some people say cats are smiling when they have that odd look on their faces, but they aren't necessarily happy - just figuring things out.

We humans suffer mightily in the smell detection arena by comparison. Cats have between 80,000,000 and 100,000,000 odor sensing cells; dogs have over 200,000,000; we have a measly 6,000,000. My favorite canine sniffer is the blood hound. That lovable droopy face with all the saggy wrinkles serves an olfactory purpose. Aroma molecules dissolve in the sticky moisture that leaks from their eyes and gets trapped in the wrinkles, retaining more available smelly material  for the nose than dry-faced dogs have. The floppy ears provide an evolutionary advantage.  As it sniffs the ground the dog swings it's head from side to side and the dancing ears roil up odor molecules and waft them up to the nose.  An aroma we perceive as a whiff must be sensorily like a ten-ton truck to this animal's  nose.

In the end, the European Eel wins the smell detection contest, hands down. It has a sense of smell/perception so acute that it can detect the equivalent of a shot of vodka in Lake Erie. If you're looking for a bar on a rainy night you want an Eel wrapped around your GPS.

The average human can recognize up to 2000 odors. A trained person such as a "nose" in the perfume industry can learn to recognize up to 10,000.  I used to keep a vial of a flavor unfamiliar to me on my desk and "learn" it for a week, then change to another. I've retired this activity and now get my olfactory thrills from the garden and the perfume counter at Macy's where I spend too much time sniffing and not buying.

We never stop smelling - we can rest our other senses; put in ear plugs, close our eyes, shut our mouths. But we can never stop breathing. We smell each other and the world around us, breathing in 20,000 times per day and in every breath from 200,000 to 2,000,000 microscopic bits - stuff that's constantly floating around in the air: clay, ash from forest fires and volcanoes,  soil, fungus viruses, bacteria, rusts, molds, algae, spores to name only a few. Fortunately we "adapt" to aromas and once the brain has gotten the necessary information, it switches off and gives us a break. When you walk into a freshly painted room the impact of the smell is overwhelming but it soon eases off and disappears unless you focus on it. In the food business when our noses adapt, we sniff the inside of our arm (a part we keep unlotioned) which re-calibrates the sensory mechanism and gets the nose going again. There's nothing particularly magical about the's just handy (arggghh). In the perfume business, they sniff coffee beans. In fact, a couple of minutes of fresh air will do it, but you often can't do that when you're busy evaluating products and you're in an office building.

When we perceive aromas our limbic system is involved. Although it's a very complicated response, you could say that this area is the seat of memory and emotion. Aroma perception is very direct - we sniff and the limbic system gets the message directly - no complicated neural transfer like happens for instance with sight. This is why aroma is so evocative and can instantly arouse emotion....the aroma of something cooking, a perfume, the new car smell.  That wonderful whiff.

For more "N" stories, visit the site at:
ABC Wednesday