Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas BEYOND Wales

Earlier, partially in response to a friend's request to comment on 'The Meaning of Christmas', I wrote 'THIS Child's Christmas in Wales' and promised him that I'd follow it up with Christmas 'meaning' for me outside of Wales. This is it:

Our first Christmas on the ‘US side of the pond’ was in 1970. We were in the country barely 8 ½ months and our family at that time had only just begun. Our oldest son was just 5 weeks old. We had no relatives here to share the Christmas joy with, though I’m sure we probably got on the phone to call back to my parents in Wales and to my wife’s parents and siblings in Ireland. The latter was quite a task, for at that time, direct dialing was not possible; you had to give the operator the number you wanted to call and she would make the connection for you. It often took several attempts due to there being so few lines and so many calls being placed. Now of course, we hit speed dial on the cell phone and are ‘through’ in 2 seconds.

As our family grew, to 6 kids, we got to do some of the ‘Christmas things’ that we recalled from our own childhood days. My wife’s family’s traditions were a lot different from mine. Rural Ireland of the ‘50s was a far cry from the materialistic world we know in the US and even from my world in the ‘40s in urban Wales. But I’ll get back to the ‘Irish Christmas Scene’ later. But first, back to our kids.

We’d make sure to refer to the red-suited benefactor as ‘Santa’ – he was ‘Father Christmas’ across the pond – and we would get the kids to help put out a plate of cookies and glass of milk for his reindeer. Our kids had large, red ‘for Christmas use only’ stockings rather than the ‘everyday wear’ grey socks I had to be satisfied with. Unlike many of our US neighbors, who open all their gifts on Christmas Eve, our family holds to the tradition of opening presents in the morning of Christmas Day. But first, we would have attended Mass – either at midnight, or one of the afternoon (aimed to accommodate kids) Christmas Eve vigils that most parishes had, or an early morning Mass. In those years (most of them!) when we had nobody to baby-sit for us, or when it was too cold, we’d have to ‘split’ the duties. One of us would go to church at one time while the other watched the kids; then the roles would be reversed a few hours later. For some reason, it always seemed – and still seems - to be freezing cold on the trek to and from the church.

Any stockings that had been left on the bed were ‘fair game’ to be opened before trip to church – time permitting. On Christmas morning we’d gather around the tree and open whatever gifts had arrived at our home, whether via the chimney or in the mailman’s sack! The rest of the day was spent making those phone calls, watching ‘Christmas shows’ on TV, playing with the new toys, listening to Christmas music on the radio or on cassette tapes, and enjoying simple meals – nothing elaborate.  I only once saw anyone coming around to the houses or the neighborhood to sing Christmas carols. Our priest had arranged for a group of carolers to bring joy to the neighborhood.  Sure, some (few) communities hold carol singing events at small shopping areas – to attract customers; a few churches or social organizations even had ‘live’ nativity scenes – well, a tethered donkey made it so!  A few years ago, we went to a local church's Christmas pageant in which the actors were accompanied by a couple of real sheep, a cow, a camel and a two-week old baby - who slept through the hour-long event.       

Now, of course, we get to see Christmas in yet again a different light – through the eyes of our 12 grandchildren. I saw on TV recently, one couple in Ohio said they had ‘solved the Christmas dilemma’ by telling their kids that Santa was just helping to do Jesus’ work! The sequence of events in our house is still pretty much the same: church first then the presents – but of course the introduction of a few sets of ‘in-laws’ has resulted in some variations. Our youngest son and his kids go to his in-laws house on Christmas Eve and after church get to open presents there. But, the next morning, they wait until my wife and I arrive at their house to watch the wrapping paper fly in all directions as shrieks of excitement and joy fill the air. Then, we’ll eat a breakfast casserole of eggs, bread and sausage that the host has made. With our eldest daughter having children of her own, we now have two houses to rush to in the morning – if possible. However, each year we all (except for the Michigan branch of the family) gather at our house in the evening on Christmas Day for dinner. That usually consists of turkey and stuffing, sliced ham, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and other vegetables. Various side dishes or desserts are brought by our children from their homes. The presents that Santa (and family members) left under our tree for those eager grandchildren are distributed, by an appointed ‘family Santa’ - before dinner, of course! Afterward the adults and older kids sit around and play a game or two of Pictionary, Scrabble, Yahtzee or some such thing whilst the younger kids would generally run around and create as much noise, havoc and mess as they could manage. Clean up is quite a task after the last one leaves for the own homes.

Most years that we have been in the US, we would have a fire in the fireplace. I t was always a log fire – oak or ash mainly, but 12 years or so ago, we converted to a gas fireplace; and a few years ago converted it to a vent-free system to conserve far more of the heat. Fireplaces are notorious places for a net heat-loss when a home has forced-air heat too. I miss the smell and crackle from the log fires, but not the work entailed hauling the logs in and the ashes out. Many years ago I occasionally put a few lumps of coal on the log fire - to boost the Btu output. No, they were not lumps that Santa may have brought, but lumps that I brought from the mines that I visited during my work. The West Virginia and Kentucky coal was better than the Illinois coal that tended to be more fissile, shaly and prone to ‘spit’.

Some of the memories of our earlier years in the US still persist and we partake in them with the grandchildren. One such event two or three years ago was an elaborate ‘Nativity Story’ in a large (several thousand congregation) ‘non-denominational’ church that went ‘whole hog’ and included live sheep, ‘Mary’s donkey’ and even a real camel or two parading around the pews! Some communities or municipalities have ‘light shows’ where for $8 or so, you can drive your car through the ‘winter wonderland’ of millions of twinkling lights. Of course, many individual home owners, whether in the ‘inner city’ or in the ‘suburbs’ (estates as they say in the UK) decorate the outside of their own homes with lights and ornaments. There are lots of families like the Griswalds here! We choose to limit our ‘ornaments’ to those of a religious nature – manger scenes with plastic (and internally illuminated) holy family members. My kids, when they were small used to call it ‘The Jesus Set’. Two years ago I made a virtually two-dimensional wooden manger scene – painted white and illuminated with a bright spotlight!  Many people elect the secular option – with illuminated (and sometimes inflated and motor-activated) reindeer, snowmen and Santas.

Christmas, for many households in the US starts and ends in that 30-hour period encompassing the 25th. For many others, including ourselves (though at a ‘low-piety’ level), it begins on the first day of Advent and lasts until January 6th – n the end of the period more widely known for the whimsical song, ‘ The Twelve Days of Christmas’. Such is the more ‘Meaning of Christmas’ in much of the US – and I dare say, in much of the modern Christian world. I sense a segue coming on!

Ireland – “Finally’ you say! There, in ‘Holy Ireland’, as it is (well, ‘used to be’) often called, Christmastime in my wife’s childhood days had an almost exclusively religious meaning. Not just out of a lack of wealth, but more out of a better understanding of the true meaning, people in rural Ireland would express themselves less with gifts and showy garlands, but more with reverence, humility and grace. I was there once, at Christmastime, but that was in the early ‘70s and much of the tradition had seemingly already gone – though my lasting recollection was that the pubs were still all closed on Christmas Day. The following descriptions of Christmastime in Ireland – especially rural Ireland – are based on my wife’s recollections and from music and stories I have come to know. My wife hails from a small town – the first on the River Shannon – that had a population of 80 souls and 8 pubs!  But that is another story for another time. Suffice it to say – it was rural.

She recalls that every house – she knew almost them all, as her parents operated the local Post Office, and she often pedaled her bicycle miles into the countryside to deliver telegrams to the scattered homes in the town-land. Every house had lots of holly sprigs at Christmas – I’m sure all with bright red berries. She tells of the old huge fireplace – with hobs on either side, each decorated with a large (3 foot tall) wide red candle that would be lit a few days before Christmas and let burn until a few days afterwards. Each house – and from her front window, you see many across the river and on the mountainside, had a tall white candle placed in the window on Christmas Eve. Its purpose was . . . well, you’ll hear of that, and the message of 'The Meaning of Christmas' in this song, 'The Kerry Christmas Carol', by Tim Dennehy:

I asked about presents. She, the eldest of the 5, said that she had none in her pre-teen years but recalls collecting a ‘few coppers’ and going with her brother across the bridge to the local ‘merchant-of-all-goods’ shop and buying a few small toys for her younger siblings. They had no Christmas tree in the house – until, at the age of 13, she went out by herself and sawed one down from the hill above the house. Of course, everybody attended Mass on Christmas – as they did every Sunday and Holy Day - and there surely were more rosaries said in the home than there were carols sung. The huge fireplace, stacked with turf (peat) was the lifeline of the home. It provided not only heat to warm the bare, stoned-floored house, but without its constant companions, large black kettles and posts, no hot water for cleansing dishes, clothes – or bodies!  The fire was also the place over which large cast-iron pots hung and in which the daily food was cooked. Large pots!  She tells me their Christmas turkey was often a 27-pounder! Perhaps a better understanding of Christmas in rural Ireland , back in our childhood days can be 'experienced' by immersing yourselves in this story, 'Us Small Boys', told by Eamon Kelly: 

In Wales, the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day – you can ‘Google’ that to discover its origin and meaning. In the US, it has no official name, but is traditionally the day upon which ungrateful and misjudged people, along with the greedy and frugal, flock to the stores to return gifts they didn’t want, that do not fit or to find bargains on items on sale – such as all the left over trees and decorations that they’ll use next year. Such is the commercialism associated with the season. In Ireland, the 26th of December is known as St Stephen’s Day – but basically the tradition of receiving visitors on that day is the same as the UK’s ‘Boxing Day’. The practice of receiving visitors also persisted throughout the 12 days of Christmas and on January 6th – known in Ireland as ‘Little Christmas’, it was customary to have a big feast (no doubt another gloomy day for 27 pound turkeys) – in honor of the celebration of the Epiphany, the day marking the visitation of the magi to the Christ-child.       

 I don’t mean to appear disparaging of the US celebrations of Christmas, it is after all a country with a population having a higher percentage of ‘professing Christians’ than the UK and many European countries. It also has organizations actively promoting the ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ cause. That is the true meaning of Christmas, and we would do well to be mindful of that – and if not subscribing to the Christian theology, we should at least try to emulate the message of ‘love thy neighbor’, etc.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

THIS Child's Christmas in Wales

My childhood was spent in Swansea, less than a ¼ mile from Dylan Thomas’ house on Cwmdonkin Drive and to some extent, my memories of my Christmases are not as far from the romanticism of his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” as I am spatially and temporally removed my childhood in Wales.
If you are not familiar with Thomas’ famous story, shame on you!  Here’s your chance at redemption: You may search your library or bookstore to read it:

or listen here, as the author reads it himself, in New York.
On reflection, I have to admit that in our house, as in Thomas’ story, we seem to have celebrated Christmas more as a secular holiday that for its real meaning. Though my mother was ‘Church in Wales’, we all went to church on Christmas Day and enjoyed hearing the church bells pealing out from Sketty at midnight on Christmas Eve, I can’t think of much else that took place ‘ecclesiastically’. I have no recollection of having a ‘creche’ in the house.

We had a ‘real’ Christmas tree, adorned with candles (which I don’t think were ever lit, for fear of burning the house down) and we had colored paper (and tin-foil) chains that we kids made ourselves – along with store-bought rolls of crepe-paper that we festooned around the walls and ceiling. [That was long before my OCD days, for I have no recollection of fussing whether the catenary curves were of equal spacing and amplitude!]  There were fold-out paper bells hung in various places too. I’m not sure, but I believe we had tiny sprigs of mistletoe and holly (with berries of course) placed here and there. The mistletoe of course was over the kitchen door.

I remember, before I discovered the ‘truth about Santa’ – by the way, he is called ‘Father Christmas’ in Wales – the anticipation of waking to find the stocking filled on the foot of the bed when I awoke on Christmas morning. The stocking was almost knee-length, woolen, grey and was one of those that we wore to school – not one of these fancy oversized red (with white trim) things we see these days. The stocking always had a small orange (maybe a tangerine?) planted in the toe and a box of some kind of chocolates in the place where my calf normally rested. Of course, larger items – one year I got a football – were placed alongside the stocking – or on the floor. 

In the afternoon, we’d gather in the parlor - the front room - from which the ‘Nosey-Parkers’ of the street would peer from behind curtains or blinds to see who was going up and down the street. Of course, we never looked out! Beneath the tree there would be boxes of dates – no idea why, and we never saw them except at Christmas. Maybe it was some kind of mental-nexus to the Middle East. We would have bowls of nuts – cobs, walnuts, almonds – and a cracker to split the shells. Crackers! Yes, we had those things called Christmas Crackers – a 12” or so cylinder covered with colored crepe paper, that had a small ‘explosive device’ (must have been from the Free Wales Army, I suppose) and went ‘crack!’ when two people pulled on each end of the cracker.  Out of the cylinder would tumble folded thin paper hats and maybe a kazoo-like thing that unfurled like a giraffe’s tongue when you blew into it and made a most peculiar noise – almost like a donkey braying, or what I imagined was a lamb being slaughtered! 

Christmastime in Wales usually meant a trip into town – to the Grand Theater – to watch a pantomime. Funny word, that. No miming at all – quite clear diction from all the actors, none of whom looked a bit like Marcel Marceaux. The show was often ‘Dick Whittington’ – some kind of frisky feline if I remember correctly – or some other performance with lots of ‘slapstick’ comedy. Good old fashioned humor, with no sexual or violent overtones. Well, the odd ‘villain bashing’ I guess and who knows, there may have been a few fish-net legs for the Dads to ogle – but I was innocent in those days and would have had no inkling of such things.

Christmas dinner, at least when I was a teenager, contained roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, mashed swede and roast potatoes. It was served up about 2 pm – allowing my brothers and I (my father came sometimes) to ‘get a pint or two in’ at the local after 11:00 church service and to whet our appetites. Dad almost never went to the pub, except on such occasions, or drank alcohol at all, though at Christmas he’d treat himself to a flagon of brown ale bought from the Off License down the hill. That bottle (must be about 2-liters I suppose) would sit on the pantry floor – for days! We always had home made Christmas pudding – with a ‘silver 6-penny bit’ concealed in its black innards. There was also always a Christmas cake – laden with fruit and nuts, topped with 1/8” of marzipan and hard-icing over that. ‘Mam’ always let me lick the dough out of the bowl as she made these tasty things on Christmas Eve. May you rest in peace; ‘Dad’, you too.

Yes, my father was a disciplinarian but a hard working and honest man. When I was 8-years old or so, I went out ‘caroling’. Every kid in Swansea probably did that. Whether our motivation was to bring joy to the neighbors, who sometimes anxiously awaited us – and sometime deliberately ignored us – as we hammered on their doors, or whether it was purely the fiscal attraction, I cannot recall. However, the result was that after an hour or so, we’d return home – just around the corner or up the street – with a pocketful of coppers and tanners. Some people, in effect, had simply ‘paid us to leave’, but others had invited us into their kitchen or parlor to actually listen whilst we emitting soprano-screeches that we intended to sound like angelic pacifications. Anyway, one night, I was just 100 yards way from home, when a teenage boy ‘fed me a line’. It went like this: ‘Let me hold your money while you sing, and I’ll fetch an angel’ (maybe a fairy, who knows? I was an 8-year old twerp), ‘and when I return, your money will be doubled!’  A carol or two, and 5 minutes later, I wised up and ran to tell my ‘Dad’, who would have gone to jail if he could have found the bastard that stole my money and my innocence!  

Later, as a teenager, my friends and I would seek out Christmas parties. We’d go to ‘Boots’ on Princess Way (a blydi McDonalds now) and invite the female counter-clerks to ‘a party tonight’. There never was a party already planned, that would only materialize if one was ever dumb enough to say ‘Yes’. Never happened! However, I went to a share of parties. They were mostly ‘fun’, a bit of light petting, no booze - and inspired by the Holy Family, everyone remained virgins - for that night anyway!  

As they used to say in Swansea: ‘Happy Christmas’ (note: ‘Happy’, not ‘Merry’) or if you knew someone who spoke Welsh, it was ‘Nadolig Llawen.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve at a Welsh Rugby Football Clubhouse

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the Club
The boys were all saying – “Let’s go to the pub”.
And I as the ‘Club Sec’ said “Wait up; hold on there!
What’s wrong with our own bar? Let’s not leave it bare

So I battened the doors to keep them all in
And bribed the outside halves with whisky and gin.
Then from the back room came a piercing scream
As in through its window crashed a neighboring team.

Right now,” said their captain, “let’s ‘ave a scrum
 As he slipped on spilled beer and went down on his bum.
Our hooker lunged forward, ready to grapple
But stopped short as their flanker threw at him – an Apple.

It spiraled seven yards - like an overlap pass
Missing out Dai as he fell on his ar$e
But ‘twas not from the fruit bowl that the thrown object came
I yelled, “No! That’s my laptop!” – whilst admiring his aim!

Let’s see who is the better” screamed their big burly right flanker -
On the pitch, a tough bugger; but off, Dai says he’s a ‘wanker’! 
Dammo, mun” said my fly-half - as he leapt onto the table
I’ve only ‘ad 5 pints, but by God I am able”. 

The challenge was tossed; the match on – though no ball
On we hacked (as in a ruck) then bound tight for a maul.
We wheeled round the room turning tables into fractions,
With n’ere ref nor touch judges to penalize our actions.

And so it went on, hammering this way and that
Until out of the closet came a man in a hat
‘Twas Rupert (of Newport), though some call him ‘Santa’
Saying “Chwarae teg; have a beer and end all this banter!”

I surveyed the hall, which with holly was once decked;
And saw our RFC clubhouse was near totally wrecked.
Next year, at our club”, said their skipper with a grunt,
As they boarded their bus - with its red light in front.

And I heard them cry out, as I peered out the door,

“MERRY CHRISTMAS to all; oh, just what WAS the score?”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice

Yes, today is not only December 21st, but it the Winter Solstice of 2013.

My calendar says that today is the First Day of Winter - but my sensibilities and memory tell me that is hog-wash! As I look out my front window, I can still see a small mound of white stuff - the remnants of a 3-foot high pile of snow that the city's snow plows shoved onto my lawn 2 days after the 7" snowfall that made heralded winter's arrival on - Friday the 13th!

At least the temperatures rose into the mid 50s (F) - that's about 13C for you folks who use that system - and caused such a rapid melting that several neighbor's yards were strewn with carrots, twigs and bowler hats - ghostly remnants of three-day old snowpeople. [It's not PC to just say 'snowmen' is it?]

"Who ever saw a blydi snow-woman?", you say. "I'll tell you who", says I, "the geezer wot took this blydi photo did, that's who!"

Well, back to the matter at hand: Winter Solstice (pay attention now, I said 'Winter Solstice' - not 'Winston Sausage')  [Translation for the uninitiated: 'Bangers' is UK-speak for 'Sausages']

- that is a fine product obtainable from their store in Tinsley Park, Chicago. [Honest, I'm not getting any kick-back for this unsolicited (unsolsticed?) advertisement.]

Oh - there I go again; if you've read my stuff before, you know I tend to digress sometimes.

Winter Solstice - what is it?  Well, if you subscribe to 'Mashable' (must be an Idaho potato grower's magazine!) it's what it said - right there, under its name. If the 'Washington Journal' is more to your liking, then pull back the wrap to see what it said.

Did you notice the URL for the latter had at its tail, the phrase 'sunset already creeping later'?

That is not exactly what my mother (and probably her mother before her - and many other Welsh women too - whether they were snow-women or not) used to say. Of the Winter Solstice, she would say:

Mae bob dydd yn ymestyn cam ceiliog

Just in case ew didn't lurn to speek propully, like wot we does in Wales, it means this, mun:

Every day is lengthening by a cockerel's stride. 

- and if you never saw a blydi cockerel stepping, go watch a video of Hitler or Kim Sum Un's troops marching - feet lifted high but advancing only a very short distance forward.

Time for egg-nog is approaching, too - Happy Solstice!  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Twelve Days of Christmas

Traditionally, this period begins on Christmas Day and . . .  well, I'm not here to preach or educate, so you can read about that on your own time: Twelve Day of Christmas.

"Then why ARE you here?", the more curious among you may ask. The impatient will say, "Get on with it!" and so . . .  "Merry Christmas and to all . . . " - oh no, THAT is a different Christmas story altogether - one I shall 'gift' to you in another posting. So,  back the subject at hand:

Christmas cutbacks . . .

The partridge will be retained, but the pear tree, which never produced the anticipated cash crop, will be replaced by a plastic hanging plant, providing considerable savings in maintenance;

Two turtle doves represent a redundancy that is simply not cost effective. In addition, their romance during working hours could not be condoned. The positions are, therefore, eliminated;

The three French hens will remain intact. After all, everyone loves the French – "N’est pas?";

The four calling birds will be replaced by an automated voice mail system, with a call waiting option. An analysis is underway to determine who the birds have been calling, how often and how long they talked. Exactly where this call-center is to be located is under study by our staff of gurus; 

The five golden rings have been put on hold by the Board of Directors. Maintaining a portfolio based on one commodity could have negative implications for institutional investors. Diversification into other precious metals, as well as a mix of T-Bills and high technology stocks, appear to be in order;

The six geese-a-laying constitutes a luxury which can no longer be afforded. It has long been felt that the production rate of one egg per goose per day was an example of the general decline in productivity. Three geese will be let go, and an upgrading in the selection procedure by personnel will assure management that, from now on, every goose it gets will be a good one;

The seven swans-a-swimming, aside from being chosen to satisfy an alliterative, artistic and aquatic activity, is primarily decorative. Mechanical swans are on order. The current swans will be retrained to learn some new strokes, thereby enhancing their outplacement;

The eight maids-a-milking concept has long been under heavy scrutiny by the EEOC. A male/female balance in the workforce is being sought. The more militant maids consider this a dead-end job with no upward mobility – especially in a society in which lactose-intolerance is on the rise. Automation of the process may permit the maids to try a-mending, a-mentoring or a-mulching;

Nine ladies dancing has always been an odd number. This function will be phased out as these individuals grow older and can no longer do the steps;

Ten Lords-a-leaping is overkill. The high cost of Lords, plus the expense of international air travel, prompted the Compensation Committee to suggest replacing this group with ten out-of-work congressmen. While 'leaping ability' may be somewhat sacrificed, the savings are significant as we expect an oversupply of unemployed congressmen this year;

Eleven pipers piping and Twelve drummers drumming is a simple case of the band getting too big. A substitution with a string quartet, a cutback on new music, and no uniforms, will produce savings which will drop right to the bottom line;

Overall we can expect a substantial reduction in assorted people, fowl, animals and related expenses. Though incomplete, studies indicate that stretching deliveries over twelve days is inefficient. If we can drop shipping by one day, service levels will be improved.

Regarding the lawsuit filed by the attorney's association seeking expansion to include the legal profession ("Thirteen lawyers-a-suing"), a decision is pending.

Original version and source unknown - complete attribution therefore not possible, but I made a few alterations to the version I obtained from Iain Sewell (a friend in Llanelli, Wales) who had made some of his own modifications.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

‘Tis the season to be jolly

“‘Tis the season to be jolly!”

I have heard those words said many times – even without the seemingly obligatory ‘tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. Also, Peace and Goodwill to all men’ - not sure where ‘women’ fit in to that; maybe the PC-Police will take that cause to task soon. Anyway, on both counts, I’m becoming a skeptic.

I believe it is customary now to ‘be in the Christmas Season’ as soon as the near-cleaned plate of Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing has been pushed away from one’s place at the dinner table. Well, maybe it takes a little while longer – when the Black Friday shopping begins. Apparently, that began about 6:00 p.m. (on Thursday) at many big-box stores this year!  Actually, Christmas ‘stuff’ started to appear in the stores the day they tossed out the unsold pumpkins, witches’ costumes and anything orange-colored or bearing (and baring) bloodied fangs - skipping right past that bit of Americana that involved Pilgrims having a ‘kumbaya-moment’ with the indigenous folk. The indigenous; the same folk many of the descendants of those peaceable, previously persecuted, protein-pleasured Pilgrims (sorry, I hate corn, but love alliterations) would one day treat no better than the turkey carcasses we disdainfully toss aside and try to push out of sight.     

Meanwhile, bring your drifted minds back, centuries later, and into a ‘marginally increased civilization’ (debate that statement if you wish) to today. I believe the ‘Peace and Goodwill’ banner self-destructed (like a Mission Impossible tape) as soon as the 6th bargain-hunter reached the ‘Entertainment’ department  of the store only to find that the “55-inch Flat-Screen TV – with sound-surround - for only $299.95” offer was available only to the first 5 customers!  Well, that may be a fictitious incident, but these Black Friday incidents were real:   Black Friday violence.  

OMG!  Sacagawea!  WWJD? 

My wife and I approach the ‘gift-giving season’ in a most harmonious way. We have, for years, got each other perfectly matching gifts. I get her nothing and she gets me nothing! We need nothing – we have each other; 'tra-la-la-la . . . . .'

Enough of that now – you need mistletoe for such 'carryings-on'! Go buy some from this enterprising 11-year old kid in Oregon: Mistletoe  

Bah, Humbug. 

Now this is where this starts to get personal, and I get ticked off.

Santa’ (we called him ‘Father Christmas’ in the old country – you know, over there; in Wales and Ireland, where the nice people come from) is supposed to be adored by children – except those who only anticipate receiving ‘a lump of coal’ in their stocking. [On a personal side-note, I must STRONGLY object to the castigation of coal as being something unwanted!  My entire career was founded on those ‘carbon-rich fronds’ that laid their lives down for me (oh, and for all those who prospered during, and because of, the Industrial Revolution) - beginning 250,000,000 years ago! And, as a child, I would have frozen to death had it not been for all the lumps of coal my parents tossed into the fireplace every day to heat the house, to have hot water, to cook the food . . . No! Those lumps of coal were not acquired by my ‘bad behavior’, but were bought from Mr. Plum, the local coal-man who carried two 110-pound sacks of it through our kitchen and to the coal-shed out back.]  Sorry! I digressed again – a common occurrence for which there is no known cure – not to me, that is! 

Anyway, back to ‘Santa’.  I have no idea who anyone who has to move around so much, and so fast – to tend to all the well-behaved children – can be so blydi FAT!  [Sorry; ‘girth-challenged’!]  He must be blessed. Yesterday, I heard of some people who said they ‘resolved the Santa predicament’ for their child by saying ‘He works for Jesus’. Nice thought! The problem I have with 'Santa' is that he always seems, year in and year out, to bring out this kind of reaction in my grandchildren!

Damn! It’s not as if they haven’t seen 'a fat old bugger with a beard' before!  It’s just that MY favorite color is black, not red – and, I hate wearing a hat.

. . .  and to all, 'A Good Night’! 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Weather Man

There is an oft quoted saying around these parts – “If you don’t like the weather here in St Louis, wait a day or two – it will change!”

That may seem like a defensive plea by local weather forecasters, who seem to have a success rate in the lowest quartile. How wouldn’t mind having a job where you are wrong 75% of the time – and still get to keep that job?  I have no job to lose – happily retired – so I just look out the window to see what’s going on, ‘weather-wise’. Which ways is the blowing? Easy-peasy: - from the South-East today

Anyone living here knows that what they saw on Monday about Thursday’s weather may well be unrecognizable when they see the forecast a day or two later. In their defense, we are situated near the Mississippi / Ohio valleys confluence, a location about which many ‘fronts’ seem to form – often with moist Gulf air on the advance side and Arctic air on the rear. On this map, St Louis is located between the upper two ‘L’s on the front.

So, it is not uncommon for our weather to change radically as the fronts move from southwest to northeast, with their divergent weather patterns on either side. It can also make a BIG difference whether you live on the north or the south side of St Louis. It may be less than 30 miles from one to the other - as the crow flies - but that proverbial bird can morph from a parrot to penguin in that distance if a front lies between. 

To illustrate my point about changing and diverse weather, just look here. Remember, this was Monday, December 2nd:

Yes – 66F (19C) that day; bright, sunny and perfect to enjoy a cold beer on my deck as I read a book. But, did you notice what I foretold about weather later in the week? That is what the weather man said – and who am I to doubt him, even if he has a 25% success rate?

Roll on to Friday morning (today), December 6th. Whoa! I do the ‘look out the window’ thing when I got out of bed about 5:30 am – still dark of course (sunrise not for another hour yet) but not too dark to see something IS different. Yes, 1/2” of snow on my deck!  I check the local news on TV and learn that 20 miles south of St Louis, there has been as much as 8” to 10” of the stuff!  See, all that Gulf moisture south of the front – luckily it stayed south of my abode. Oh yes, cold too – “Cold as a witch’s ti . . .” well, you know. How cold?  It was 21F (minus 6C) at that moment – headed to the local coven if tonight’s forecast is to believed: a chilly 7F (minus 14C) – see here:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More work than a dozen elves could manage!

As if laboring over yards and yards of tangled bulb-laden green wires, placing spot-lights and marshaling ‘Holy people’ into their camping locations on the front law was not enough work for one weekend, ‘she who must be obeyed’ took to round two the next day – on the INSIDE of the house. I say ‘she’ took to it, because as noted in yesterday’s narration, I am not allowed to get involved in most of these activities. In her defense, I have to admit, it is a wise decision she has made; I’d probably bugger it all up if I was to lay hand to it.

The aforementioned ‘It’, is the task of retrieving boxes and boxes of ‘stuff’ from the basement and placing a hundred or more items in just the right places! These places include: the mantle-piece, the hearth, the little table in the dining room (that we never dine in), the larger table in the living room (which do not live in) and every one of the nine (9) windows at the front of the house. There are other places too, if you include this door, that bit of wall, and various and sundry corners. Do you have a sundry corner in your home? If so, let me know what is supposed to be in one of them!

So much for the ‘places’; what about the ‘stuff’, you may ask? Well that includes a small streetful of illuminated houses and churches that have been built on the mantle-piece – perhaps by those nut-cracker folk that stand guard there?

There is a wooden Rudolph whose electric nose will alternate between ‘on’ and ‘off’ 799,001 times between now and 12th Night!  He now (the photo above is from last year) stands next to the Grandfather clock, which upon its acquisition 2 years ago, usurped the long-standing ‘Christmas Tree place’ between the windows (in the unlived-in room) – it now has to stand beside the bookcases which also used to be festooned with ‘stuff’ – like this ‘NOEL’

– you’ll hear more of it  later this week, so tune in again in a few days time.  

The Christmas Tree – yes, that is what we call it, not a blydi ‘Holiday Tree’, mun; WWJD? [add your own lol, pmsl, roflmao, omg, or other whatever-those-abbreviations-are-called, here] – is another story.  It has its own box, which being so heavy and unwieldy, requires my sole involvement in this wintertime metamorphosis madness. It must be dragged up the stairs from the basement, unboxed and erected – such that each piece of (now color-coded) plastic electrical connection assumes the coitus position with its ‘color-mate’. The color-coding idea came to me 2 years ago after a frustrating 45 minutes of attempting to perform physically impossible match-making with each piece. Once that bit is done, I am banished to . . . well, she doesn’t care – as long as I don’t interfere. The 3 boxes of a hundred or so ornaments are placed on the tree’s branches with such perfection that no one could ever find the 3 or 4 little white lights that no longer work – but still permit the one blue light that I put there for the grandkids to seek can still be located – eventually!

The Family Room (where we do most of our ‘familying’) is where the fireplace is of course, and also is the place where we choose to place one (of three) Nativity ‘sets’. That way, as we sit in front of the fire and the TV, we can still keep in view, through those wooden, plastic or ceramic figurines, the ‘reason for the season’.

Though we do participate in the secular aspects of the ‘holiday season’,

we recognize that the gift-giving that all too often seems to take precedence these days, is merely an extension of that expression made by the Magi to the greatest gift we were ever given, the Christ-child so long ago, so far away – away in a manger.  

In Wales, the land of my birth, we say ‘Nadolig Llawen’ – Happy Christmas.

Here hoping that you, and everyone in your home, will have a blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ah! Christmas again

Each year, typically a on Thanksgiving weekend, if the weather is conducive. my wife and I * put up the outside Christmas lights. This year (2013), the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend brought us great (dry and 55F) weather - and it also happened to be the first day of Advent. So! Everything indicated it was time to set to work on the decorations.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I should note here that my part is minimal. I fact, I am usually told - "Bugger off and leave it me!"

So it was, yet again this year, that I dutifully complied and left ALL of the hanging and draping of lights on bushes, windows and door frames to 'she who must be obeyed'. My sole contribution is to ensure that every-darned string of lights is plugged directly - or relayed - to a timer. I do NOT wish to have to run out and plug in (and later, unplug) things from 5 or 6 grounded electrical outlets.

Above, I was speaking of the strands of multicolored and twinkling lights that have somehow become a part of Christmas that once (in my childhood days) did not exist. I cannot recall ANYBODY having any outside decorative lights - even those on the inside were simple white candles. I am certain my parents did not allow those on the tree to be lit. Good Lord - imagine the fire risk! But, I momentarily have digressed; back to the outside:

It IS my sole 'duty' (here, I reciprocate with the 'Bugger off' command) to erect the outside nativity scenes. We have, for 30 or more years, possessed a (approximately one-third scale) three piece - Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus - nativity set. Our kids, bless their little ignorant pre-teen hearts, being unable to say 'Nativity Scene', referred to it as 'The Jesus Set'! We have that very SAME set - 'Mary' has a acquired a few tiny cranial fractures, 'Joseph' seems to be weathering old age very well, but the holy infant's flimsy manger has completely fallen apart (Joseph's carpentry skills must have declined through the years) and has, for the past 3 years, been replaced with a metal milk crate. OK - a little 'hokey', but I did spray paint it and drape it with Douglas Fir branches.

Aside - and I mean 'on the other side of the driveway' is yet another 'Jesus Set'. It is one that I made 2 years ago out of plywood, cut with a fret saw, painted white and illuminated with a spotlight - on a timer, of course.

The "Jesus Set', I forgot to mention, has a small light bulb in the bowels of each figure - and this year has a large star above the 'invisible' stable. A few small Douglas Fir branches, zip-tied to metal posts, serve as the sole protection for the Holy Family from the cold winter air in St. Louis. [The 'original' action took place on a mild, Middle East night - in March!  There were lambs in the hillsides, remember?] This star, unlike the one followed by the Magi, 'goes off' at 11:45 pm - as do all the other light outside the house of 'Swansea Jack', for the electricity dials on the meter have accelerated almost to terminal velocity after the numerous timers came on at 4:45 pm.        

The collective stringing and plugging of lights was accomplished all in time for viewing on the first day of Advent - Sunday 1st December; but more work lay in store. That tale will be related tomorrow. For now, enjoy the spoken greeting (in Welsh) - 'Nadolig Llawen', Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Viva Mexico!

Today marks the last day of my 10-day antibiotic treatment for the bronchitis that hit me during my Mexican vacation. The fatigue that accompanied the ailment disappeared almost immediately, but the cough still persists a little. Enough of that; here are some more enjoyable notes about the vacation.

On November 4th, we arrived – as stated previously – 5 hours late, but soon after getting escorted to our Junior Ocean-view suite on the 9th floor, we headed for a much needed cerveza and sampling of the buffet restaurant which was open until 10:30 pm. If I read, on TripAdvisor, any negative reviews about the food, I’ll S-C-R-E-A-M!  There was such a variety of food types that even the most stalwart of carnivores, piscatorians and vegans would salivate at the sight of it all. Even a ‘meat and potatoes only’ curmudgeon would be satiated. This same restaurant served an equally diverse breakfast buffet from 7:00 am to 10:00 am. Huevos of many varieties (not solely ‘rancheros’!), juices, cold cuts, cereals, breads, etc., etc. There was sufficient variety that I was able to ignore the unattractive, pink and skinny ‘things’ that were labeled ‘sausages’ and fill myself on other cooked items. Lots of blue cheese was consumed – regardless of whether it was morning or evening!  Enough of the food-talk, already!

Yes, our suite had a great view of the hotel’s courtyard and the ocean beyond.

The ocean in question is the Pacific; we were on the west coast of Mexico – in Jalisco, just up the coast from Puerto Vallarta. Taken from a few yards into said ocean, with my better half waving at the camera, this is the Riu Vallarta hotel, our home for 10 days.

Perhaps this will give a better view of where our Ocean-view suite - room 9038 is the 5th from the left on the top floor - see red dot.

We had been to a sister hotel (Riu Jalisco) - a few hundred yards north - 5 or 6 years ago, in September. At that time it was very humid – being in the rainy season there (though it only rained once in that 7-day trip). This time, our choice early November weather was better – no sign of the humidity but the temperatures were still in the mid to upper 80s F (about 29C for you ‘metric’ folk.)

It was far from crowded, so we virtually had our pick of the scores of sun-loungers on the beach

The sea water was so much fun – waves usually about 2 to 3 feet high and with a tidal rise / fall of about 7 or 8 feet, receding only 25 feet or so – not the ¼ mile trek out from from HWM to LWM that I was accustomed to back home in Swansea, Wales – which incidentally has the greatest tidal rise / fall (close to 40 feet) in the world – after the Bay of Fundy!

After enjoying getting bowled over in the surf, the two swimming pools offered a more secure place to waddle around in - in navel to nipple-deep water – or to lay on the ‘ceramic loungers’ half submerged at the edge of the pool, sit in the Jacuzzi enclosures or wander through the hordes of Canadians to the ‘swim-up’ bar and sit there on tiled stools – or beat a hasty retreat to where the pool water would likely contain less of the recycled drink fluids – if you know what I mean! This photo is from alongside the ‘swim-up’ bar -  in the bottom left corner. 

Here's a look to the 'swim-up' bar - 

Though it was a ‘registered guests only’ beach, there were a handful of ‘licensed beach vendors’ permitted to seek their luck at getting the tourists to buy their blankets, jewelry or whatever they had to sell. Fortunately, unlike in the nearby towns, these vendors were not persistent and a simple ‘No, gracias’, ensured that they left you alone. However, I could not resist the temptation to take the desire to be left undisturbed up one notch!

There were lots of beach-side activities at hand for the more energetic – from para-gliding, wind-surfing to boogie-boarding or kayaking. One 20-minute ‘aqua-aerobic’ session in the pool left me exhausted so I opted for the more sedate bocce-ball, darts throwing, horse-shoe-pitching and rifle shooting activities taking place among the palm trees – even winning first place in those latter two! I was however also enticed into a ‘sexy-dance and belly-flop’ contest. That I did NOT win – though I have a large enough belly to win with.

We took a trip out across Banderos Bay, passing on the way the cove where the famous movie, ‘Night of the Iguana’ (starring Richard Burton) had been filmed decades ago. Our trip took us to a private beach, Las Caletas where we could snorkel, kayak or float in inner-tubes in the crystal clear water.

I did the snorkeling thing, seeing scores of beautiful fish seen and taking in the odd mouthful of salty water down the snorkel pipe!  We watched ‘a paella-for-80-people’ cooking demonstration. Into a 3-foot diameter bowl, the chef loaded fish, squid, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, octopus – along with onions, garlic, peppers, rice and tequila!  A 20-minute guided walk up through the jungle led us back to our beach-side lunch where I made sure to avoid the paella (cannot stand sea-food – except Long John Silver’s codfish) but washed the other plentiful dishes down with a dark beer. 

In the shade near the lunch area: 

On the 45-minute boat trip back to port at Nuevo Vallarta, as we drank more cerveza and pina-coladas, we were entertained by Gene Simmons’ Mexican cousins:

Back at the Riu, after a shower (that always had lots of hot water, plenty of pressure – we were on the 9th floor, remember) or a lounge in the room’s whirlpool tub, we sat on the balcony and watched the activity below – and the colorful evening sky.

Most evenings, we dined at the ‘buffet restaurant’ or at one of the three ‘by reservation’ specialty-dining restaurants, sampling steaks at one, Asian dishes at another and gourmet dining (I had lamb chops) at the third. After dinner we sipped on pina-coladas and/or cerveza as we watched the nightly entertainment shows on stage – one was a Michael Jackson ‘knock-off’, others featured modern and traditional Mexican dance troupes - and a Mariachi band.

We usually rounded off the night by stopping at the 24-hour Sports Bar to pick up a cappuccino before heading back to our air-conditioned suite and a welcomed sleep after a full day.

The sun rose about 6:45 am (shining directly on to our balcony from 11:00 am until sun-set) and sank into the sea about 6:15 pm – usually with a colorful exit.

Viva Mexico!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

‘Ssh – it happens!'

¿Cómo estás?   Buenos Dias, Buenos Tardes, or Buenos Noches – depending on what time it is where you are now.

As if to underscore the title of this piece, I was to have written it two days ago, but I have been ‘under the weather’ – and frankly still am, but not to digress. ‘What prompted that Spanish introduction?’ you may ask.
Well, we just returned from a 10-day all-inclusive vacation to Mexico and though I have rid myself of all pesos, the sand in my clothes, I still have a few words lodged in my glottis – aside from the tickling back there and the annoying coughing fit every 15 minutes. But, I should not complain; as I said ‘Ssh - it happens!’ Oh well, you be the judge of whether the following is a litany of complaints – or observations!

We arrived at the airport in Puerto Vallarta at 1:00 pm last Thursday for our 3:04 pm flight to Houston and connecting flight to St. Louis – scheduled to arrive at Lambert Field at 9:14 pm. Ssh – it happens!  At 1:06 we were told United Airlines flight 302 to Houston would be delayed two hours. Well, with a 1 hour and 40 minute scheduled connection lapse, the Einstein gene in me told me that my titular selection was not just a platitude, or a forebearer of some future event, but ‘it was already happening!’  About 45 minutes later, when the procession of unhappy wanderers (anyone old enough to recall the song of the ‘50s that had an almost identical title?) had shuffled on, my moment of truth arose. ‘There IS another (later) flight to Houston’, the friendly Latina on the other side of counter said, ‘But no connecting flight to St Louis tonight. We can put you up in a hotel in Houston and have you catch a 7:09 am flight – manana!’ At that point, envisaging all the hell that a ‘night-over’ entails, not to mention the prospect of a 4:00 am awakening to get that flight, the fair senorita may have expanded here knowledge of gutter-English.  After my protestations, and the request (with a ‘demand’-tone attached to it) that she find me two seats on some other airline that would get me to St Louis on the same day that I every expectation of arriving there. Bless her little (well, judging by the rest of her, it would have been more ‘grande’ than porquito’) heart, United’s friendly Latina (and maybe Our Lady of Guadalupe – my wife has many such connections) were able to come up with an alternative. ‘Ole! Ole! Muy bien!’, I spluttered in a hackling Welsh accent.  USAir had a flight to Phoenix (a bonus; I had never flown over the Gulf of Baja before) with a connection to arrive at Lambert Field at 11:44 pm – a close call to pick up my car (or would it be a pumpkin by then?) at SkyPark.  No matter about that, the car is likely to be replaced in a year or so anyway!  So, happily, we shuffle 20 feet to the right to the USAir counter to get our boarding passes and to check our baggage. Their friendly Latino agent was sailing along wonderfully – until he said, ‘There’ll be a $20 baggage fee for each (of two) bags; how would you like to pay for that, Senor?’ See, I told you – ‘Ssh – it happens!’ Recalling an advertisement I had seen on a recent flight (one of those on the way to Puerto Vallarta 10 days earlier – stand by for that tale!) I leapt into action. The ‘ad’ [ineffective as an ‘ad’ – I can’t recall what it was touting!] had said ‘You do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate’. That Einstein gene quickly forced the utterance: ‘I do NOT want to pay the fee. Let them (United) pay it – they are responsible for me being at your counter’.  I should note: United did NOT have a baggage fee – just aircraft that they were unable to get into their ‘friendly skies’ on time!  After initial reluctance and probably never having faced such compelling logic before, ‘mi amigo’ smiled and waived the $40 fee. I felt that I had succeeded in thwarting the day’s mounting efforts to underscore this blog’s title. I had ‘bested’ any stool-binder the pharmaceutical world could produce. I HAD put the tooth-paste back in the tube.  Ole!

Success is short lived – well, it is in this blog anyway. I told you we had left for Puerto Vallarta 10 days earlier – on November 4th.  Not a bad itinerary really – scheduled United Airlines flight from St Louis at 8:15:a.m, with an 80 minute lay-over in Houston to arrive In Puerto Vallarta about 2:00 pm. Through check-in with no problem – no baggage fees either - pass through TSA unharmed (not sure what that TARDIS-like   machine does to one’s gonads, though); seated in boarding area with 90 minutes or more to spare. Announcement:  United Airline flight to Houston will be delayed due to a problem in Cleveland. OMG – WC Fields never liked that city either!  Apparently they had to wait for a crew member – overslept? still inebriated from last night? – who knows? A little while later, the delay time is announced – an hour or more!  Follow the bouncing ball now folks, all sing along:  ‘Ssh – it happens!’  Then a glimmer of hope – the earlier flight to Houston is about to leave – and has one vacant seat on it.  Should I send my wife on ahead, or should I be ungentlemanly and let her wait while I board?  Of course, it was a Hobson choice!  So we sat awaiting our tardy plane from Cleveland. It finally arrived. How was I to know it had been filled with 100 giant sloths draped in cold molasses? I have never seen such a dismally slowed disembarkation of a plane. It must have taken 20 minutes – but, as we all know – ‘Ssh – it happens!’    OK – on board, now, come on, let’s get going Captain! I’ll be lucky to make my Houston connection – only 45 minutes breathing room now. God knows if the bags will get transferred though!  Nothing to fear on that front – I was told we’d arrive at 11:10 a.m. – I think that person was related to someone in the Whitehouse! We touched down on the runway at IAH at 11:36 am; our connecting flight was to depart at 11:37 am.  I think you know the refrain by now!  Some non-Einstein gene (and hope that a compensating delay may be in effect) told me to scamper for 10 minutes like a banshee from one end of Houston’s airport to the other; I succumbed to the challenge and arrived, panting, at the gate. The damned flight had left 25 minutes ago. All those bumper stickers can’t possibly be wrong can they?  What to do?  The United agent gave a ‘Hmm!’ and a looming feeling enveloped me that instead of spending the night sucking on a Pina Colada on my Junior Suite’s balcony in the Riu Vallarta hotel that night, I’d be anguishing over a cheap Texas beer in some hotel alongside Houston’s IAH airport. The agent – who was vey jovial, looked like Arnold in Happy Days, was a genius – clearly this guy was passed over for the ObamaCare website construction!  In two minutes, he produced the antidote to this blog’s title. He booked us on a United flight to Guadalajara, where I did NOT dance the mariachi but got see to see a huge poster of home-town and Manchester United hero – Chicharito. (Javier Hernandez). From there, we took a flight on Aero Mexico (Aye-roh Messy-coh) into Puerto Vallarta, getting to our hotel about 5 hours late – but better than being stuck in Houston with a bunch of Gringos.

Well, there you – the back end and the front of the trip. Most things in between went quite well – temperatures in the mid / upper ‘80s, humidity not bad, only two brief rain showers. There was a fantastic variety of food items – all inclusive – enough to stuff carnivore and vegan alike. The clientele seemed to comprise about 60% indigenous folk, 35% Canadians, 4% USA and 1% other. The influx of Canucks – it’s still OK to use that term, eh? – must have caused the North American continent’s mantle to rise beneath the evacuated areas of British Columbia - and sink in the region of the over-crowded swim-up bar - where they seemed to remain from 8 am until the pool staff hauled their bloated inebriated torsos from the pee-laden water at 8 pm. I’m not sure any of them even knew there was a beach, palm trees and 3-foot waves pounding on the sands just 30 yards away. Doug and Bob, the McKenzie brothers, must have schooled them well aboot it, eh?  We did enjoy talking to a few of the older ones who had emigrated to BC from Scotland half a century ago.

In the midst of all that coming and going, I developed a very sore throat on Saturday night after returning from a snorkeling trip. Clearly suffering from an alcohol deficiency, you say, Right?  I remained with a chestiness, hackly cough and weariness – right through the remaining four vacation days; even until today. I hope I didn’t affect too may people; to spoil their vacation would have them also believing that ‘Ssh –I happens!’ I’m off to see my doctor (if I have been able to keep him) tomorrow. I think I have bronchitis.

Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus, and my belief in the adage ‘Ssh – it happens!’ was bolstered on Tuesday when my wife limped from the sea to disclose that she had been stung by a sting-ray!  The first aid guys removed the barb and poison, applied antiseptic and took care of her comfort over the next couple of hours. She became a minor celebrity but had to share the limelight with 4 or 5 others who similar mishaps in that 24-hour period.   

To end on a positive note, we thoroughly enjoyed the warm salty waters of the Pacific Ocean, the pleasantly cool waters of the two pools, the hot and forceful soft waters of our suite’s shower and jucazzi tub, the plentiful supply of ‘safe’ drinking water in the in-room refrigerator beneath the well stocked mini-bar. I can honestly say, it was careful use of that bottled water – even for rinsing away tooth-paste – that prevented Montezuma from exacting his revenge upon us. Our ancestors did nothing to your people, ‘Monte’ – so it is only fitting that we left in one set of circumstances where ‘Ssh – it did NOT happen!’  

If you enjoyed this little accounting, look back in a few days – for photographs. .