Thursday, January 31, 2013

International Magicians' Day

Apparently, that is today, if this discussion site can be relied upon.. I have  no idea how long it has been celebrated, but the date was selected because it is also the feast day of St. John Bosco, who happens to be the patron saint of magicians. As a young man, John Bosco was something along the lines of a street performer. He could perform as an acrobat and a juggler, as well as doing sleight of hand and card tricks. You can find out a bit more about him here.

There are Christian and Catholic Magicians' guilds who follow in the footsteps of Don Bosco, and use magic and card tricks as a way of spreading the Faith. Here is a rather neat little video along those lines:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Happy Burns Day

Today is the birthday of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, which is celebrated around the world by 'piping in' and then consuming a Haggis, the drinking of whisky, the recitation of Burns' poetry - usually the Address To A Haggis, and, of course more piping, and sometimes Scottish dancing.

If I were an ordinary person, celebrating Burns Day in the ordinary way, I would post one of his poems here, for your enjoyment. I am not an ordinary person, however, so you are getting instead, a poem by Robert Service, depicting a Burns Day celebration amid dire circumstances. It is a wee bit long, but stick to it. There is a funny punchline that makes it worth the effort!

The Haggis of Private McPhee

"Hae ye heard whit ma auld mither's postit tae me?
It fair maks me hamesick," says Private McPhee.
"And whit did she send ye?" says Private McPhun,
As he cockit his rifle and bleezed at a Hun.
"A haggis! A HAGGIS!" says Private McPhee;
"The brawest big haggis I ever did see.
And think! it's the morn when fond memory turns
Tae haggis and whuskey -- the Birthday o' Burns.
We maun find a dram; then we'll ca' in the rest
O' the lads, and we'll hae a Burns' Nicht wi' the best."

"Be ready at sundoon," snapped Sergeant McCole;
"I want you two men for the List'nin' Patrol."
Then Private McPhee looked at Private McPhun:
"I'm thinkin', ma lad, we're confoundedly done."
Then Private McPhun looked at Private McPhee:
"I'm thinkin' auld chap, it's a' aff wi' oor spree."
But up spoke their crony, wee Wullie McNair:
"Jist lea' yer braw haggis for me tae prepare;
And as for the dram, if I search the camp roun',
We maun hae a drappie tae jist haud it doon.
Sae rin, lads, and think, though the nicht it be black,
O' the haggis that's waitin' ye when ye get back."

My! but it wis waesome on Naebuddy's Land,
And the deid they were rottin' on every hand.
And the rockets like corpse candles hauntit the sky,
And the winds o' destruction went shudderin' by.
There wis skelpin' o' bullets and skirlin' o' shells,
And breengin' o' bombs and a thoosand death-knells;
But cooryin' doon in a Jack Johnson hole
Little fashed the twa men o' the List'nin' Patrol.
For sweeter than honey and bricht as a gem
Wis the thocht o' the haggis that waitit for them.

Yet alas! in oor moments o' sunniest cheer
Calamity's aften maist cruelly near.
And while the twa talked o' their puddin' divine
The Boches below them were howkin' a mine.
And while the twa cracked o' the feast they would hae,
The fuse it wis burnin' and burnin' away.
Then sudden a roar like the thunner o' doom,
A hell-leap o' flame . . . then the wheesht o' the tomb.

"Haw, Jock! Are ye hurtit?" says Private McPhun.
"Ay, Geordie, they've got me; I'm fearin' I'm done.
It's ma leg; I'm jist thinkin' it's aff at the knee;
Ye'd best gang and leave me," says Private McPhee.
"Oh leave ye I wunna," says Private McPhun;
"And leave ye I canna, for though I micht run,
It's no faur I wud gang, it's no muckle I'd see:
I'm blindit, and that's whit's the maitter wi' me."
Then Private McPhee sadly shakit his heid:
"If we bide here for lang, we'll be bidin' for deid.
And yet, Geordie lad, I could gang weel content
If I'd tasted that haggis ma auld mither sent."
"That's droll," says McPhun; "ye've jist speakit ma mind.
Oh I ken it's a terrible thing tae be blind;
And yet it's no that that embitters ma lot --
It's missin' that braw muckle haggis ye've got."
For a while they were silent; then up once again
Spoke Private McPhee, though he whussilt wi' pain:
"And why should we miss it? Between you and me
We've legs for tae run, and we've eyes for tae see.
You lend me your shanks and I'll lend you ma sicht,
And we'll baith hae a kyte-fu' o' haggis the nicht."

Oh the sky it wis dourlike and dreepin' a wee,
When Private McPhun gruppit Private McPhee.
Oh the glaur it wis fylin' and crieshin' the grun',
When Private McPhee guidit Private McPhun.
"Keep clear o' them corpses -- they're maybe no deid!
Haud on! There's a big muckle crater aheid.
Look oot! There's a sap; we'll be haein' a coup.
A staur-shell! For Godsake! Doun, lad, on yer daup.
Bear aff tae yer richt. . . . Aw yer jist daein' fine:
Before the nicht's feenished on haggis we'll dine."

There wis death and destruction on every hand;
There wis havoc and horror on Naebuddy's Land.
And the shells bickered doun wi' a crump and a glare,
And the hameless wee bullets were dingin' the air.
Yet on they went staggerin', cooryin' doun
When the stutter and cluck o' a Maxim crept roun'.
And the legs o' McPhun they were sturdy and stoot,
And McPhee on his back kept a bonnie look-oot.
"On, on, ma brave lad! We're no faur frae the goal;
I can hear the braw sweerin' o' Sergeant McCole."

But strength has its leemit, and Private McPhun,
Wi' a sab and a curse fell his length on the grun'.
Then Private McPhee shoutit doon in his ear:
"Jist think o' the haggis! I smell it from here.
It's gushin' wi' juice, it's embaumin' the air;
It's steamin' for us, and we're -- jist -- aboot -- there."
Then Private McPhun answers: "Dommit, auld chap!
For the sake o' that haggis I'll gang till I drap."
And he gets on his feet wi' a heave and a strain,
And onward he staggers in passion and pain.
And the flare and the glare and the fury increase,
Till you'd think they'd jist taken a' hell on a lease.
And on they go reelin' in peetifu' plight,
And someone is shoutin' away on their right;
And someone is runnin', and noo they can hear
A sound like a prayer and a sound like a cheer;
And swift through the crash and the flash and the din,
The lads o' the Hielands are bringin' them in.

"They're baith sairly woundit, but is it no droll
Hoo they rave aboot haggis?" says Sergeant McCole.
When hirplin alang comes wee Wullie McNair,
And they a' wonnert why he wis greetin' sae sair.
And he says: "I'd jist liftit it oot o' the pot,
And there it lay steamin' and savoury hot,
When sudden I dooked at the fleech o' a shell,

And oh but the lads were fair taken aback;
Then sudden the order wis passed tae attack,
And up from the trenches like lions they leapt,
And on through the nicht like a torrent they swept.
On, on, wi' their bayonets thirstin' before!
On, on tae the foe wi' a rush and a roar!
And wild to the welkin their battle-cry rang,
And doon on the Boches like tigers they sprang:
And there wisna a man but had death in his ee,
For he thocht o' the haggis o' Private McPhee.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Appreciate a Dragon Day

That is today. I had no idea such an observance was in existence, but since it has presented itself to my attention, I feel that it is only right commemorate it. Happy Appreciate a Dragon Day, all of you! I am going to mark the day by appreciating several dragons:

Smaug: Well, he is obvious, right? Smaug is sort of the archetypal dragon, the one we all think of when we think of dragons at all. He is everything a dragon should be - a wicked, wily, miserly beast, red as the gold he hoards and the flame he breathes, huge and terrible. He quite nearly steals the show. The Hobbit might be about the adventures of Bilbo and Gandalf and 13 dwarves, but Smaug is one of the first things one remembers about the book.

Chrysophylax Dives: Smaug's lesser known predecessor, he appears in Tolkien's short story Farmer Giles of Ham. He and Smaug share many characteristics, but Chrysophylax is less clever and more cowardly - a comic dragon to go with a comic hero. Everyone should read Farmer Giles of Ham. It is full of droll humour, wit and plays on words. People whose acquaintance with Tolkien is confined to The Lord of the Rings, will get a chance to see his under-appreciated sense of humour.

Beowulf & the Dragon
Beowolf's Dragon: Fans of The Hobbit will be on familiar ground with this dragon. Like Smaug, his is a great, savage wyrm, who has absolutely no use for his vast hoard, but knows each piece of it intimately. If Smaug is the archetypal dragon, Beowulf's dragon is his father, a terrible creature with all his wickedness, and none of the urbanity that makes Smaug amusing. He is evil, and though Beowulf defeats him, it costs him his life.

Kazul: Normally, I do not much care for revisionary fairy tales and folklore. Dragons are supposed to be wicked, unless one is writing about Eastern dragons, which are good luck. Either way, they are definitely magical and should be treated as such. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede, is an exception to that. For all the tangled enchantment running through her stories, her world is delightfully ordinary (one short story features a Frying Pan of Doom) and her ordinary dragons are exactly the sort of dragon one would expect to find there. Kazul, who is an important character throughout the series, has all the typical dry draconian wittiness, but is utterly lacking in wickedness.

Fire Lizards: Although I never really got into Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern  series, I did read a the Dragon Singer books - three young adult books that are connected to it. I remember enjoying them very much at the time, though that was many years ago, and I have never had any great inclination to re-visit them since. However, the fire lizards - tiny, colourful dragons with a flair for music - were brilliant. I dearly wanted one of my own, and I still love them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Extreme Piping

When I first started playing the pipes years ago, my instructor - a former Marine and a history buff - drilled into me an important piece of piping etiquette. Once one has commenced a tune, one does not stop piping until said tune is completed. Period. No matter what. There is NO excuse for not finishing the tune, unless you are killed in action. But you have to be killed outright. If you are wounded, you had better pull yourself together and finish the tune. One of my sisters was privilege to hear the never stop piping speech, and for a while afterwards - thanks in no small part to encouragement from the instructor - it was a favourite past time of various family member to behave like lunatic whilst I was at practice, in an effort to make me laugh, and stop playing. The net result of this is that I am quite proficient at ignoring distractions during my practice, which is a good thing, as people can behave very oddly when they encounter a piper unexpectedly.

This picture, however, takes the idea of extreme piping to a whole new level:

That is a picture of Bulgarian men, celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany in the Tundzha River. CNN has a photo gallery of Epiphany celebrations from around the world, and this is only one of the many odd pictures to be featured there. According to the caption, the pipers (and the drummer too, for that matter) are participating in a dance. Why? I do not know, but I rather think striding into icy cold water and piping might be even more macho that the Polar Plunge.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

That, my dear readers, is the first line of the Happy Birthday Song, translated into one of Tolkien's elvish languages - Quenya, to be exact - and written in Tengwar. Today is J. R. R. Tolkien's birthday.

And that is a nifty card, which I just whipped out, containing all the lyrics to the Happy Birthday Song, as the High Elves would sing it, supposing, of course, that High Elves indulge in such things. (I didn't translate it myself, I am sorry to say. I have not worked at my Tolkien languages in a while. I got it from this site here.)

I have not quite decided what I shall do to celebrate such an auspicious occasion. Hopefully, it will involve mushrooms as part of dinner. Perhaps tomatoes, sausages and nice, crispy bacon too. If my memory has not utterly foresaken me (and, alas, that is always a strong possibility) I do believe there might be such a thing as a bottle of Irish lager lurking in the refridgerator. And, of course, I will have to read something by the good man. I am thinking one of his short stories. I have not indulged in Farmer Giles of Ham in quite a while, nor Smith of Wootton Major either, for that matter.

*Marqueture is the Elvish translation of the name, Ronald, which is the name by which the good Professor was most commanly known during is life time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

God Send Us a Merry New Year, Part 2

New Year's Eve was fun. I spent it with my family. My sisters elected to stay up to see the New Year in with me. We watched White Collar for most of the evening, and when the midnight hour approached, I got out my pipes, and went out into the cold, cold night to play a few tunes:

I played a few Christmas tunes, and then a few Scottish marches, and then, of course, Auld Lang Syne. There was a very odd, outdoor (in spite of nearly 3 feet of snow on the ground) electric music festival going on in town over the weekend, and apparently, they had fireworks, for no sooner had I played the first few notes of Auld Lang Syne then there was a great deal of cheering away off in the distance, and the western sky burst into a glorious display of fireworks. It wasn't quite Edinburgh Castle, but it was pretty exciting nonetheless.

My sister, Teresa, had printed out a large 2012 on a sheet of paper, so once I had piped as long as the cold weather, and consideration for the neighbors would permit, I burned it with great satisfaction. Good riddance to 2012, I say!

And there goes the last of it!

Then we all had a bit of whisky out of the good crystal, so that we could give each other toasts, and welcome 2013 in proper style:

We stayed up far too late enjoying ourselves immensely. It was really quite grand. Here's to the New Year!