Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Dirty Book Club

It seems that Cole and the Chinatown Kittens have taken up reading (among their other interests). When the Tall Lady and I got home this afternoon, we found a number of our tattered, dog-eared paperbacks on the floor of the second bedroom cum office cum library. Here are some of our little scholars' recommendations (or rejections).

Under the Eagle - Simon Scarrow (2000)            AD 42: Claudius has been emperor of Rome for about a year. To celebrate his ascension, or perhaps his survival, he has freed a number of his loyal slaves, one of whom is seventeen year-old Quintus Licinius Cato. Thinking that the army is the just the life for a smart, healthy lad, Claudius ships Cato off to Germany to join the Second Legion under the command of Titus Vespasian. He also sends a letter of reference, suggesting the the clever boy should be commissioned as a centurion. 

Cato is placed in the century (a unit of eighty men) commanded by Lucius Cornelius Macro, a good-natured, fearless, foul-mouthed little soldier who has been in the army for about twenty years (since he was Cato's age), and has just earned the rank of centurion himself. Because no one is willing to trust the new boy with his own command, he is made Macro's optio or second in command, in preference over men who feel they are more deserving of the honour. 

 Macro has a embarassing secret - he can't read - and when Vespasian finds out, it will be back to the ranks for him! Cato, on the other hand, hasn't learned to do much else. So the two come to an arrangement - Cato will teach his centurion how to read, and Macro will teach the boy how to stay alive.

No Smoke - Hugh Collins (2001)   AD 1976: Barney Boone is known to the police. Barney is a sixty-seven year-old, small-time Glasgow confidence man who takes great pride that in all his years in crime and all his years in prison, he's never committed a violent act. Certainly, violence has been done to Barney, often at the hands (and boots) of his local constabulary.  So Barney is also proud of the fact that he's never grassed (informed to the police). He's feeling his age, though, and he's looking for one big score before he retires.
His latest enterprise involves selling a van full of children's plastic raincoats to a pair of young Pakistani entrepreneurs with ridiculously heavy accents.  Now, Barney doesn't own the van, and the van contains no raincoats. To be fair, though, his customers haven't been entirely honest with him either - they've lived in Glasgow most of their lives, and they've just paid him in counterfeit money! Easy-going Barney is arrested later that night passing the bogus loot in his local pub. His young, violent partners escape after slashing the barmaid with a razor, and Barney is incarcerated in the same holding cell as Rashid, one of his victims. When Rashid dies mysteriously in police custody, Barney is released because he could prove to be an inconvenient witness. 

Of course, for Barney's associates, Jake and Skud, there's another obvious conclusion: "the auld yin must hae grassed"

Guernica - Dave Boling (2008)                                 AD 1893 - 1940: When widowed Basque farmer, Pascual Ansotegui, abandons his family basseri, Errotabarri, his thirteen year old son, Justo and his younger brothers, Josepe and Xabier, are left to raise themselves. They manage, like most families, to succeed more or less. By the time they've grown, Josepe has discovered that he doesn't like farming, and he leaves for the coastal town of Lekeitio to learn to be a fisherman. Justo decides that young Xabier is too bright to be a farmer, and convinces him to study for the priesthood.

Years pass, and powerful, ugly Justo meets and falls in love with beautiful, graceful Mariangeles Onati, who, to everyone's surprise but Justo's, accepts his marriage proposal. Josepe is also married, having gone through a not entirely involuntary shotgun ceremony with his patroia's daughter, Felicia Barinaga. Baby brother Xabier has become the admired and respected priest of a nearby town, and is a man who always seems to have the right answers to his parishioner's hardest questions, probably because he has developed his conscience as well as his theology.

In Lekeitio, Josepe's friend and business partner, Jose Maria Navarro, has two boys, Eduardo and Miguel. Dodo is the capable big brother and family firecracker. Miguel will never be a good fisherman, because he spends the greater part of his workday throwing up over the side of the family boat. When Dodo gets involved in a tavern brawl that ends badly for two members of the Guardia Civil, both he and Miguel are forced to leave home. Dodo goes to France, and Miguel Navarro leaves for Josepe Ansotegui's village in the Pays Basque where he will meet Justo and Mariangeles' daughter, Miren. It is 1931, and the village is called Guernica.

 So, what are your cats reading today?


Monday, September 27, 2010

I May Be Getting Older But...

Sometimes, the Tall Lady stands behind me and reads over my shoulder. Usually this isn't an issue, but lately I can hear her snickering. My latest internet diversions are sites that sell "toy soldiers".

When I was a little guy, there was a store in a two-storey building on West Hastings called Millar and Coe. My mom would take me there so she could look at the fine china and silverware on the first floor...but up on the second floor...oh, my friends, the SECOND floor!

That was the toy floor and it was a wonderful place. Sure, there were dolls...yes, there were educational toys...they may also have sold books, but, guys, remember the toy soldiers? They had Roman legionaries, Yankees and Rebels, there were cowboys and indians, English lancers, Scottish highlanders, French artillery units,  Coldstream Guards and US Marines. You could purchase and deploy entire armies for your pitiful allowance and promises to your parents of future exemplary behavior. Did I mention the knights?

They had a series of mounted and foot knights from William Britain and Co which were part of a collection called Swoppets.  Swoppets were cast in plastic in three main pieces - head, torso and legs, and were posable within limits that most of their owners chose to ignore. They had at least one ring hand which would hold their weapons, and many had a button on their left hand to attach their shields. They were sold (to the best of my recollection) as two different sets with two mounted knights and three foot soldiers, and sets with all six foot soldiers or all four mounted knights.

(I believe that Britain's was the company that made the toy soldiers that Seti I gave to Rameses and Moses for their birthdays. They also made the lead soldiers that my brother Don used to collect, and which may explain his affinity for stovepipe hats and for tea parties with doormice and white rabbits.)

The sets sold for about five dollars in the nineteen sixties, and all of mine have long since sailed to Avalon along with their comrades from Timpo and Marx. I've looked for their replacements on Ebay, where they appear sporadically, and on the webpages of Old Toy Soldiers' Homes. I haven't tried to buy them there, mainly because I don't want to take out a third mortgage.

The Tall Lady is snickering again!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don't click the "Comment" button, don't click the comment button, dontclickthecommentbutton - DAMMIT!

Like most of us, I've discovered the on-line distractions that we've come to call "social networks". Mine is called Facebook. I created my account about three years ago, intending to use it to stay in touch with a few friends and to post some pictures.

Since I joined, I've narrowly escaped  being conscripted into Farmville, Mafia Wars and Aquarium World. I've  fallen for the movie, entertainment and lifestyle quizzes, and I've been sucked into the Know-It-All Trivia vortex, where I was lost for a couple of months. 

Actually, those weren't too bad. Here is the problem. Frequently, my opinions don't dovetail with those of my Facebook friends as neatly as I might wish. I had no idea that so many of the people I love and care about were such stubborn opinionated buffoons!

Some of them have had the audacity to post views and beliefs diametrically opposed to the ones that I hold, and it seems that no amount of argument will persuade them to change. I'm learning to breathe deeply and slowly, and not to snap at the bait that they dangle under my nose...I'm sure they just do it to annoy me.

And I am getting better at just letting it go! I know that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, no matter how addle-brained or ill-conceived, and I'll argue that premise with my last breath, you poor saps.

Yes, I'm getting better. I'm practising Thumper's First Law - "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothin' at all". I'm pleased to say that it usually works.

Social sites like Facebook or Twitter are not the forum to debate politics, religion or ethics. They're too public. We all know what not to say, and why. 

Recently, one of my friends who has a houseful of kids, dogs and cats (who knows what other varmints) posted this perfectly innocent comment in her Facebook status box... "wishes she had more than six inches in bed!"

"Don't click the 'Comment' button", I told myself, "Don't click the 'Comment' button, don't click the comment button, dontclickthecommentbutton..."

Guess what I did?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

By Way of an Introduction

When our seventeen year-old Pepper didn't wake up that Sunday morning about three and a half years ago, the Tall Lady and I both swore that we wouldn't get another cat. We kept that promise for a bit less than a month.

We began visiting the website of an organization called the "Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association", or VOKRA for short. VOKRA has no paid workers and no central shelter. Most of their cats live in foster homes in the care of volunteers. Two of their cats were shy eight month old sisters who were named Xena and Gabrielle. We knew we were on a slippery slope as soon as we met them. The adoption was quick and painless. Xena is our big, perfect cat, and Brie (not Gabby, if you please) is the little, odd one.

Last year (almost exactly a year ago), we decided that our two bedroom apartment was too big for just the two of us and our two furry spinsters. It was turning autumn, and VOKRA was still overwhelmed with spring and summer kittens, as well as a lot of older cats. Hey, we thought, we could foster. We had room, we had time and Brie and Xena were so patient and good-natured.

Pretty little Taylor arrived about a week later with her brothers Tabor and Timber. They were eight weeks old, curious, playful, and full of energy. Auntie Troll and Aunt Grouchy were not amused!

They were the first of the eighteen kittens who've stayed with us. They were followed by Cricket and Kimball (the Little Lepers), then by Raja and his sister Darcy, and next by Charlie and her sister Lucy. Next came Lemon Lennon, the Amazing Aquacat, followed by the Russian Mob (Anastasia, Natalia, Rasputin and Vladimir for heaven's sake!), who in turn were followed by the Chinatown Kittens (Sidney, her brothers Blaze and Wee Geordie) and their stepbrother Cole.

Cole and the Chinatown Cats are with us now. Xena and Brie have learned how to roll their eyes and shake their heads in unison.

Rasputin (Check)
This has been a hard week. Our buddy Check (formerly Rasputin), died Thursday. He had feline infectious peritonitis. He is survived by his sisters, Anastasia and Natalia, and his brother Vladimir. He made a big impression for someone who couldn't stay very long.

Our friend Linda has been caring for a strong, brave little cat who was dropped off at a veterinary clinic a few weeks ago after being hit by a car. She had pretty severe facial injuries and wound up losing her right eye. Following a lot of treatment by two different vets, she seemed to be well on her way to getting better. Linda's just told us that Miracle (what else could you call her?) died of her latest infection. 

VOKRA's ace trapper, Maria caught a little fat one awhile ago, and we all had a book running on how many kittens she was carrying. It turned out that Caery was a sick little boy, and he's gone too.  

We have a friend named Norma whose husband died some time ago. When I told her about Ras, she said it was all right because Bill always liked cats, and he'd look after him. 

I have a feeling that Bill's lap is gonna be crowded tonight,