Saturday, October 27, 2018

Baseball and Nothingness

I’ve been watching a lot of the baseball playoffs, because if I pay too much attention to the intensifying slide of the United States into full-blown Fascism it will make me crazy.  All I’m going to say right now about that slide is that if Americans look at what is going on around them and reward the party responsible for it with continued control of the government next month then the country probably deserves to burn and I have no doubt that it will.  I’m a historian.  I’ve seen this movie before.  It doesn’t end well.

Baseball is a nice break from that, really, even if the World Series is being contested by two teams I actively dislike.

It’s the most zen-like of our major sports, in that not much actually happens.  You can let your mind wander and focus on deeper things or on nothing at all without fear of missing anything important, and there is a virtue in that I suppose.  This is especially true for this post-season, where pitchers are being put in and pulled out like toddlers in a wading pool and balls that the fielders actually have to deal with are at something of a premium.  The games are slow and long – last night’s 18-inning marathon was actually longer in hours and minutes than the entire 1939 World Series combined – and they could probably just get rid of everything outside of the space between the pitcher’s mound and the catcher’s mitt without anyone ever noticing.

It gives you time to chat with whoever’s watching with you.

Lauren has gotten interested in the games, so all three of us will sometimes sit and watch.  She had never seen the Green Monster at Fenway before and the whole idea that baseball fields aren’t uniform across the league still comes as a bit of a surprise to her.  And it is a strange thing, when you think about it.  There’s a part of the wall in deep center field at Miller Park in Milwaukee where because of the way that wall bends back on itself a ball can be a home run if it’s hit a certain distance, a catchable out it it’s hit five feet further, and a home run again if it’s hit five feet further than that.

I’m not sure that’s what Abner Doubleday had in mind.

My team didn’t make the playoffs, as they are in year eight of a multi-generational rebuilding process.  I checked in on them now and then this summer, just to see where they were in the standings – they actually did pretty well and were in contention for the playoffs as late as September, which as a Phillies fan was a pleasant surprise.  I’m not much of a baseball person in general anymore, but I do cheer for the Phillies whenever they bob up to the surface of my mind.

Here in Wisconsin, the Brewers finally achieved relevance by making it to the NL Championship Series.  The Brewers are the third team in a two-team state – once you get past the Packers and the Badgers the drop-off in interest and attention paid to sports by Wisconsinites gets dizzyingly steep (and don’t even get started on the Bucks, which I am told is an actual professional sports franchise here in the state).  We watched them play their post-season games for as long as they were alive, and it was fun.  They’re an interesting team to watch.

But mostly I watch it because it isn’t the news.  Because in the end it doesn’t actually matter who wins or loses, or even how they play the game – the sun will rise on the morrow regardless, and the republic will soldier on unchanged by the results.

And that in itself is a valuable thing, in these parlous times.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Family Weekend

It was Family Weekend down at Small Liberal Arts College.

They used to call that Parent Weekend, back in the Paleolithic when I was in college.  Eventually I suppose they figured out that this was unnecessarily limiting.  That a lot of students either didn’t particularly get along with their parents or had other people – siblings, grandparents, friends who might as well be family, and/or yes actual parents of the step, biological, or metaphorical varieties – whom they might want to have come visit and see their new lives.  “Family Weekend” means there is less explaining to do.

You family?  You in.

My parents used to come to these things every year.  I never really understood why, since I was all of six miles from their front door, but it was good to see them and I enjoyed having them visit.  We’d walk through whatever classes I had that day (my mom still remembers my History of the Third Reich class, taught by Thomas Childers – a minor deity in that particular historical subfield – and my dad fondly recalled my Italian TA for years afterward), maybe go to one or another of the various events that the university put together to welcome the parents who were, after all, footing the bill for their child’s education, and then head out to dinner at some place that was probably nicer than what a college student would pay for on their own.  It was always a good time.

I understand things better, now that I’m on the other side of that divide.

You want to see that everything is okay.  You want to see that your child is doing well, that they are making a place for themselves there in this new environment that you are an outsider to.  You want to see them again, after not having them home for weeks for the first time in their lives.

So we went.

SLAC is pretty low key about the whole thing, it has to be said.  They’re happy to have you there, but they don’t really plan much for you to do.  They didn’t even have classes scheduled.  SLAC runs on its own calendar.

And that’s okay.  All those things weren’t really the point.

We got to hang out with Tabitha for a bit and see how she was settling in down at SLAC.  We took her to dinner at a place she’s probably not going to get to very often, mostly because it was a bit out of town.  We did a bit of shopping for stuff that she discovered that she needed – you never really know what to pack for dorm living until you’ve lived in the dorm for a while.  We got caught up, which is something that is easier to do in person than by pixels.  It was a nice visit that way.

Be well and do well, Tabitha.  I’m proud of you.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

News and Updates

1. I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  I will not engage with right-wingers on social media.  Repeat until lesson is learned.

All I ever get out of that experience is older.

2. The GOP has shoved its predator onto the nation’s highest court, as predicted in this space.  The fact that the guy is manifestly unqualified to be a judge at any level, even without taking into account the multiple credible accusations of sexual assault, is just extra.  He’s a right-wing partisan hack who can be relied upon to protect a criminal president and advance a Gilded Age political and social agenda and that’s all that ever mattered to a GOP which has redefined corruption into an art form.  The fact that there are people who are perfectly okay with this – and, more, the fact that 54% of Republicans thought he should be confirmed even if every single accusation levied against him by Doctor Ford were true – is a damning indictment of American political culture and morals.

3. Lauren and I were supposed to be in Michigan this past weekend at the annual Halloween Bash in the Swamp Wetland.  Unfortunately the wetlands were supposed to be exceedingly wet, with thunderstorms forecast for the entire drive down there, the entire time we would have been there, and the entire drive back.  So perhaps next year.  Bummer.

4. It was Homecoming Weekend here in Our Little Town a while back, and it went quite well.  They had their Spirit Week down at Local Businessman High – the highlight of which, apparently, was Meme Day, where you could dress up as your favorite meme.  The possibilities were endless, really, only a few of which would probably pass muster with the administration (high school administrators are not paid to have a sense of humor and in my experience generally respond by not having one).  There was the annual parade, featuring Lauren on quad drums in the band, which for this one occasion was actually a marching band.  There was the football game that night as well.  Kim and I went to that, and it was a surprisingly close game despite the fact that the other team brought barely enough guys to fill out the roster.  LBHS lost of course, but so it goes.  We were there to see the band play, and they did a nice job.  And the next day was the dance, an event that calls for much preparation and even more photographs.  They looked good and had a grand time of it, according to reports.  Win all around, I say.

5. I always try to buy some cookies when I go grocery shopping, because these are parlous times and you just can’t read the news these days with only celery as your refuge.  Lauren insists on variety, so it’s kind of random what I bring back.  Last weekend I came home with Fig Newtons.  Did you know that Fig Newtons are “old people food”?  There.  Now that’s a thing you know.

6. Hasn’t stopped them from disappearing, however.

7. Needing 30 hours of parent supervised driving time before your driving test is all the excuse you need to drive an hour each way for a donut.  It was a very good donut.

8. It’s finally October for real here, or at least it had been until yesterday.  Grey skies, falling leaves, rainy days and crisp temperatures.  It’s perfect.  It should stay like this all year round.  This temporary return to June can disappear now, thanks.

9. We watched the premiere of the new Doctor Who, at last – it took us a bit because Sunday night we were inundated with teenagers having a grand time in our dining room and really that seemed like a higher priority than a television show anyway.  But we recorded it and watched last night.  And it was a lot of fun.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.  And to the butthurt fanbois who complained so loudly that the new Doctor is a woman?  Yeah, no.  She's good at it.  Grow up and find something else to do.

10. Home Campus is on its third mascot since I started working there (fourth overall, which is impressive for an institution younger than I am).  We actually had costumes for the last two – big furry things that some poor soul would have to get inside of and be Cheerful and full of School Spirit for a while.  Retired now, alas.  There’s a trophy case just outside the cafeteria, and for some reason they put the heads of the costumes inside – to commemorate their service, I suppose.  Except that every time I walk by all I can picture in my mind is an elderly British man with a walrus mustache and a pith helmet pointing at them with an elephant gun and explaining how he bagged them on safari in the Punjab and then offering me tea.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Come Home

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with our trip to Europe.  It was tempting to stay there, for any number of reasons, but the cats would miss us and besides, that kind of thing requires more planning than we’d given it.  So it was time to go home.

There was a bit of uncomfortable math about that, though.

We looked at our departure time.  Through some alchemy of internet wizarding skills Kim had managed to get us all on the same flight back to the US, but it left Heathrow in the morning.  Not excessively early, but early enough that it didn’t qualify as mid-morning, let alone late-morning.  Back home we’re usually heading toward Local Businessman High at that hour.

We looked at the recommended check-in time, which was some hours prior to our departure time.

We looked at the rental car, which would have to be returned, inspected, and approved before we could be shuttled over to the terminal to begin the check-in process.

We looked at the time it would take to get from Point A (defined as “Richard’s house”) to Point B (defined as “Heathrow Airport”) through a host of Point C’s (defined as “places where any random idiot could have an accident or otherwise keep us from arriving on time”).

And when we added all that up, we got a number describing the hours we would have from the time we returned to Richard’s house after the circus to the time that we would have to leave it again, a number that was disturbingly small.

We rechecked our math.

It came out the same.

Well, we figured, we could sleep on the plane.  Or, at the very least, we could sleep at home.

We got back from the circus a bit after 11pm, British time.  We were on the road to the airport at 4am.  We said our goodbyes – Richard and Ginny saw us off in the morning, Magnus said goodbye as we went to sleep – and headed out the door.  It’s still dark at that hour, but on the plus side there’s not much traffic.

We arrived at the rental car return without much issue, though there are a few turns at the actual airport that really could have been better marked.  Kim was very sorry to see the car go, to be honest.  She’d grown fond of it.

We took the shuttle to our terminal and discovered that we hadn’t actually qualified for any checked bags.  Fortunately there are problems that can be solved by throwing money at them – really, that’s what money is for, after all – and after an appropriate donation to the Airline Baggage Support Fund we were on our way.  We still had a few British pounds to spend down and we figured we’d get through security first, then find our gate and engage in some commerce aimed at procuring breakfast because seriously nobody wants to eat at 3:30am when you’re getting ready to drive.

In almost any other airport, this would have been a perfectly plausible plan.  Heathrow, like all of the European airports we visited on this trip, funnels you through a giant mall full of places eager to provide such services, so we figured it would be plausible here too.

Thus we were dismayed to discover that Heathrow has an entire second security process at the gate.  You think you’re done after the first time, but no!  You’re not!  You have to stand in a line that moves at a surprisingly glacial pace for something that only has to handle one flight’s worth of passengers, go through the entire security procedure again, and then go into a walled-off gate area that has exactly two vending machines in it, one of which sells Coke and the other sells potato chips (“crisps,” I suppose, but not really breakfast food either way).  If you leave you either have to go through the entire process again or check in with one of the gate workers as you walk out and let them handle it when you return.  So breakfast got a bit short-circuited, though not entirely.  Some of us did make use of the gate worker trick. I have a fair number of British pounds still, however.  I can’t say I’m sad about that – they’re interesting coins – but you know.  I could have parted with a few of them without grief, anyway.

The flight left on time and we settled in – Tabitha, Lauren and I together on the right side of the plane, Kim a few rows back in the middle.  It was a long and uneventful flight, which is what you want.  Certain things should be boring.  Healthcare, politics, and international travel are high up on that list.  Our plane had the same techno-features that the one from Chicago to London did and we made good use of them.  I watched a movie (Isle of Dogs – an animated movie but not a children’s movie, so be forewarned, though interesting enough to keep my attention all the way through).  I played innumerable games of computerized hangman.  Lauren and I played Battleship.  It passed the time.

We arrived at O’Hare in the late morning, Chicago time.  That’s what happens when you fly west – time seems to move very slowly, but it’s just the time zones.  We found our bag and made our way through Customs – a much more technological process than it was the last time we made this journey, six years ago, since it meant scanning our passports at a kiosk and then getting in line to present the resulting ticket to an agent who looked us over, asked a few perfunctory questions, took the tickets (No Passport Stamp For You!) and shooed us on our way.

Driving home was only vaguely strange, on the right-hand side of the highway.

And then we were back.

It was a great trip.  We saw a lot of really interesting things, did a few more, and – most importantly – were lucky enough to spend some time with far-flung friends. 

Again, to Fran, Roeland, Veerle, Lien, and Niels in Belgium; to Mats, Sara, Maria, David, and Helena in Sweden; and to Richard, Magnus, and Ginny in the UK, we say thank you.

It’s your turn to visit now, and we look forward to having you with us whenever you can make it out this way!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Go to the Circus

Our last full day in Europe involved a lot of driving.

We woke up fairly early so we could check out of the cottage, a process that entailed a nice breakfast designed to use up as much of the perishables as we could as well as a fair amount of tidying up after ourselves to leave the place in good condition.  The lady who ran the place seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing, but still.  Someday we might want to come back, after all.

After one last sweep of the place to check for lost items we headed out to the car and were nearly run over by a rampaging herd of sheep.

It has to be said that sheep rampage fairly politely and are easily turned aside by anyone who will stand there and shout at them a bit, so it’s not like this was a scene from The Lion King or anything.  I don’t think the World’s Grumpiest Cat even batted an ear at them.  Maybe this is just something the sheep do all the time just for exercise.  You can’t tell with sheep.

It was a long drive back to Richard’s house.  We were warned that there might be considerable traffic coming out of Cornwall, since Saturdays are when the holiday rentals change over, but we didn’t run into much of that.  Even the automotive slalom through Delabole went pretty smoothly.  It wasn’t until we hit the A30 that we ran into serious traffic, and even there the only place where it became much of an issue was at the roadside services where we stopped to have lunch – a relatively cheerful place with the unlikely name of Hog & Hedge, because when I think about lunch I naturally think about shrubbery.

The place was jammed, to the point where vehicles over a certain size were simply being turned away.  But we managed to squeeze past the guardians and into parking spaces and find something tasty to eat, and at that point all was right with the world and we could get on our way smartly.  All told with the stop for lunch, what would normally be a 3-hour drive took us a bit over four and a half, which isn’t too bad on a Saturday in August, really.

There followed a period of rest and relaxation.

Much of this period, it has to be admitted, we spent watching old episodes of The Goonies.  This is what happens when conversations are allowed to wander and you start with a simple observation that cream teas in Cornwall are lovely things and end up with “The Bunfight at the OK Tea Room,” which isn’t as big a stretch as you’d imagine but you’ll have to watch that skit yourself in order to see why.  Pay attention to the mule, mostly because I found it funny.  It’s kind of ancillary to the actual skit, but so it goes.

Fully rested and comedied, we headed out to the circus.

This took a bit of doing.

The Giffords Circus is an old-fashioned one-ring big-top circus that makes a circuit around the Cotswolds every summer.  It’s an astonishingly marvelous thing, full of acrobats and juggling and music and bits of comedy sprinkled throughout.  We saw it when we were visiting in 2012 and it was something we wanted very much to see again – at one point a few years ago I even wrote to them about the possibility of incorporating them into a Study Abroad course I was developing with the theater professor at Home Campus on the history of English theater (the circus being a form of theater, after all), though the class never quite happened for a number of bureaucratic reasons – and it worked out that they were having a show about an hour north of Richard’s house that evening.  It was mostly straight up the A46 – a two-lane highway wide enough to have an actual dividing line in the middle, which was something we hadn’t really encountered much in Cornwall.  We figured we’d head up to eat dinner at a place nearby and then go over to the circus.  Easy!

And then we got detoured.

There must have been some kind of serious accident, because they shut down the entire highway and shunted us off into the secondary roads, of which there were two.  The American road system has a lot more redundancy built into it than the British road system.  Fortunately this was still in Richard’s neighborhood so we ducked down the nearby side road and then took a tour of Horton and Hawkesbury.  I will say now that they seemed like nice little towns – all brown stone in the way that Cotswold towns are, and with at least one grand old church that might as well have had a sign out front saying “these places used to be much more heavily trafficked than they are now.” 

This was also where I learned that the roads could, in fact, get smaller than the ones in Cornwall.  All of the roads through these places were all designated for two-way traffic, but not one of them was wider than my driveway at home, and on some of them I wasn’t entirely sure we’d fit even one car, let alone two abreast.

You really have to know exactly where your car ends, driving in Britain.

Fortunately we made it back to the A46 above the accident with only a few instances of oncoming traffic to dodge around, and we continued on our way until we found our dinner at a place with the singular name of The Jolly Nice.  I kid you not.

The Jolly Nice is an odd combination of farm stand, dairy outlet, and cafe.  You walk past a whole lot of produce, cheeses, flowers, breads, and meats on display until you get to a walk-up counter, order your food, and then take it out back and sit down inside the yurt.  This made sense at the time.

The thing to get there is the KFP sandwich, which stands for “Kentucky Fried Pheasant” – apparently they take the pheasants who don’t make it through hunting season and, well, make sandwiches out of them.  Fried, with breading.  Three breasts to a sandwich, because pheasants are not that big, after all.  Chew carefully, says the sign above the counter, as there may be buckshot.  They’re not bad, though very little in The Jolly Nice is safe for people with nut allergies.

It wasn’t a long drive from there to the field where the Giffords Circus was set up.  We’d actually driven past it to get to dinner, so we knew more or less where it was.  It was just past the town with the “Beware of the Cows” sign on the roadway.  We headed up the winding streets and into a vast field where people directed us to a parking spot, and then we got in line to get into the bigtop.  There aren’t assigned seats, after all, so you have to be quick about it.

If you have never experienced the Giffords Circus, you really ought to change that.  If you are anywhere in the UK during the summer months you should track down where they are performing that night and make your way there, and if you’re not in the UK then you should fix that and then go track them down.  It is as much fun as you can have in a tent with your clothes on.  They’re refreshingly low tech – as they say on their website, “Our costumes are handmade.  Our animals are trained by us.  Our sets are painted in the barns on our farm.”  They also play their own music and do their own stunts, and in an age of CGI and special effects it’s a lovely thing to be reminded of what human beings are capable of in themselves.

You go in and settle into your bleacher seat, and everything is right there in front of you.

They do a lot of comedy, for one thing.  The main clown is Tweedy, who is there to remind you that clowns are funny.  People forget that these days.  They would not do so if they could watch Tweedy more often, but then not everybody can fit into a big top tent in the Cotswolds, more’s the pity.

With him in that last picture was Miss Bunty Velour (not her real name, but wouldn’t it be marvelous if it were?), who provides both comedy and occasional animal acts, among other things.

Having raised turkeys myself, I have to say that the last one was something I never thought I’d see in a performing arts setting.  She’d sing a line from “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” pause, and then the turkey would gobble on cue, mostly.  Domestic turkeys are the stupidest things on God’s green earth.  More stupid than chickens.  More stupid than that guy in your third grade class who ate pencil shavings as a routine part of his lunch.  More stupid, in fact, than rocks.  There are empty spaces and echoes that are smarter than your average domestic turkey.  Having the patience to train a turkey to do, well, anything of any value whatsoever, is a sure sign that the trainer is both a deity walking the earth and clearly in need of a hobby.  Color me impressed, yes indeed.

There are also acrobats of varying kinds and numbers, all of whom make you sit up and take notice.

And the thing is, folks, these are real acrobats.  They get up there, not ten paces away from you, and really do these things.  And if they mess something up (which I don’t believe they did this time, though it did happen when we went in 2012) they start over and do it again.  I cannot tell you how much that last bit tickled me.  That’s what real performers do, folks.

The first act flew by and suddenly it was intermission.  We all piled out into the field and hit up the various tents and trucks.  There is a candy tent, for those so inclined, and a souvenir truck where there are keychains for people who wish to use them as Christmas ornaments, which I appreciated.  They were also very understanding about my quest for novelty 50p coins and gave me a couple that I hadn’t seen before.  There was also a pizza truck, where we finally got Tabitha something she could actually eat.  They only serve them at intermission, but you have to order them before the show because otherwise they run out, so if you go make sure you do that.  We always feel a certain kinship with the pizza truck at the Giffords Circus since Richard was the attorney who wrote the patent application for the pizza ovens they use.  It’s good pizza too.

Intermission ended quickly and we went back into the tent for more comedy, acrobatics, and general mayhem, some of which has already appeared in the photos above, and a glorious night it was.

After the show we boiled out of the tent with the rest of the crowd and found our cars, and somehow we managed to stay together on the way out as the crowd filtered by.  It was about an hour’s ride back home though the first rain we’d encountered in our entire time in Britain, which is how you know that the climate is indeed changing.  Britain is not meant to be dry.  Whatever had happened on the A46 was cleaned up by then, so the drive went smoothly.

We fell into bed as quickly as we could, because the next day was going to happen much sooner than comfort would dictate.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Our Trip to Europe: We Get Puzzled

One of the things that you should do when you’re on vacation is do things you’ve already done if you enjoyed them.  There’s no need to find brand new things for every waking moment, really.  It’s supposed to be fun.

This is how we ended up back in Polzeath on the last Friday of our trip.  It’s a lovely place and we’d enjoyed it the first time, so it seemed a good place to return to.  Magnus chose to sleep in that morning, but the rest of us piled back into the cars and headed on over.

Lauren and Ginny returned to their surfboards.

Tabitha spent some time out on the beach with us, but eventually returned to the little cafe where the food and the wifi were.  That was pretty much the only place in Cornwall where we found wifi, so we made it a point to go there.  It’s not a bad lure, really.  That is one smart cafe.

Kim, Richard, and I stayed out on the beach a bit longer to watch Lauren and Ginny surf.  They looked like they were having a pretty good time.

Eventually Kim and I decided that they were fine on their own and we took a walk around downtown Polzeath.  This did not take long, as Polzeath is a fairly small place, but it’s a nice place to walk without any particular destination.  There were a few gift shops that looked interesting, and an art gallery up on the hill that featured much in the way of ocean-themed painting and drawing.  We also walked by a small wood-fired pizza shop, where we discovered that in Polzeath a “Chicago” pizza looks just like a regular pizza only it has double pepperoni.  We thought about letting them know that a real Chicago pizza looks more or less like a casserole, but that just seemed pointlessly rude and besides, double pepperoni is a good thing.  It smelled good walking by, too.

We also passed this sign, which was my favorite one in Polzeath, even more than the yellow van emblazoned with “Keep Calm and Kill Zombies.”

Brother, you don’t know the half of it.

By the time we got back to the little cafe the surfing had come to an end – even with a wetsuit that water is pretty cold – so we hung out there for a while.  There was pizza (not the Chicago variety, admittedly, either of them, but tasty enough) and drinks and Kim went out and brought back pasties and it was a fine lunch, it was.

Ginny and I also hit the little grocery store one more time, because groceries.  I love those places.  I’m sure this is just one more sign that I am out of kilter by several degrees, but so it goes.

Eventually we made our way back to the cottage where we all ended up watching The Great British Baking Show while we were actually in Britain

I know! 

If you’ve never seen this show, well, you should.  It’s a cooking contest show, where various contestants are given tasks to complete and are judged by a panel of people I feel I might recognize if I were actually British, so in that regard it’s like all the others of its genre.  Except that it’s kind of congenial and sweet, and you end up rooting for all of them in an odd sort of way.  Also, I’ve read that when contestants get overwhelmed and break down in tears on the show the hosts will go over and stand by them and swear so the footage can’t be aired, and I think that’s marvelous.

This was also when Kim and I decided to go visit the Bee Place. 

Our friend Lois was watching our chickens for us while we were away, and she also keeps bees.  On the way back and forth to Polzeath we’d noticed a little shop that sold beekeeping supplies and we thought that would be a great place to find a thank you gift for her, so we drove on down.  And it was a nice place – the sort of place that has kittens in the yard and will sell you a dozen eggs from their own chickens for a pound and sponsors beekeeping workshops for the local community and was full to the brim with bee-related things.  It really is its own subculture, beekeeping.

Our big excursion that day, however, was to go to the Puzzle Room – an escape room near Mount Hawke, which is itself way down toward the end of Cornwall.  It was about an hour’s drive, but then the roads were small so in miles it probably wasn’t that far at all.  There were more than a few roundabouts, because this is the UK after all, and a fair amount of holiday traffic but we managed to get there together so good for us.

For those of you who live under rocks and have not run into the escape room phenomenon, they’re a lot of fun.  You get locked into a room full of puzzles for you to solve – usually there’s an overarching story that requires you to work out a code here and then apply it there to get a key that you have to use to open something this other place, and eventually you work your way up to the last puzzle and unlock the door.  We’ve done these a couple of times, and enjoyed them immensely.  You usually get an hour before they come and unlock the place for you and send you on your way, so you have to work fast.  It’s a test of your communication and compatibility, so be sure to go with people you like.  Just saying.

We’d thought to do it as one big group, but Jason – the guy who runs the Puzzle Room, and a friendlier host you could not ask for – said he didn’t have any other party booked that afternoon so if we wanted to split up into two groups (say, parents vs. teenagers?) we could do that, and how could we say no to that?

The “Transatlantic Teenagers” went first.

The Puzzle room sits next to a local indoor skateboard park, so while they were solving all the puzzles Kim, Richard, and I found our way to the snack bar and hung out a bit.  At one point some piece of machinery in the kitchen died a flaming death, which added a bit of excitement to the wait, but no real harm done to anything other than the machine.

When it was our turn, Jason patiently explained what we had to do.  It was a nautical-themed mystery, and the “International Codgers” set about decoding the various codes and unlocking the various locks, and when it was over Jason gathered us all together.

“How fast did you think you solved it?” he asked, pointing out that the record time for that room was 48:39, held by a pair of guys named Jeff and Kev who apparently hold the record times for most of the escape rooms in Cornwall (about 15 of the 20, Jason thought).  He did tell us that both groups came in under the hour mark, so we felt good about that.

It turns out that the International Codgers emerged at 54:39, which was not a bad time at all.

The Transatlantic Teenagers, however, blew by the record with a time of 46:17, so go them.  We wrote our times up on the wall to celebrate.

Naturally there had to be pictures after this achievement.

By this point we were pretty hungry, so we went over to Mount Hawke proper and found a place called the Old School Restaurant, located – oddly enough – inside of an old school.  We were warned that there would be delays, but either we didn’t notice them or they weren’t that bad.  We’re on vacation – how much of a hurry are we in?  Plus it turned out that both our waitress and the chef had nut allergies, so they were very sympathetic toward our concerns.  We had a lovely meal.

It was another hour back to the cottage, where we spent the rest of the evening playing Tabitha’s paper telephone game, which is one of those games that get harder to play after a while because you find yourself laughing so hard – sometimes with each other as you’re reading the answers, and sometimes just to yourself as you’re writing stuff down and thinking, “Well, here goes nothing.”  That’s a good kind of game, really.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Dozen and a Half Memes of Topical Interest, Presented Largely Without Comment

The current unholy rush by the Party of Rape to seat President Pussy-Grabber's nominee to the Supreme Court is morally bankrupt and deeply disturbing to anyone who believes in the survival of the American republic.  That anyone supports this nominee after his disgraceful and juvenile display of partisan belligerence and evasive lying is a damning indictment of American culture and values.  This cannot stand.