Mighty Stonehenge

Notes from a day’s drive in southern England. My friend Rich and I were young and doing what people — tourists — do in that part of the world, seeing very old places.
Wish we’d known about Glastonbury Tor (about 50 miles to the west of Stonehenge; nothing is really very far away in England, not to a Texan). Even so, I’m not sure we could have seen Stonehenge and Bath and Glastonbury Tor in the same day, but we could have given it the old post-college try.

August 11, 1983

Mrs. Dow drove us to Gatwick Airport, and we paid our pounds [wish I’d recorded how much] and rented a blue Ford Fiesta. The plan is to drive various places until we need to return the car at the airport on the 14th, to catch our flight home.

Driving on the left side, with the steering wheel on the right, took some getting used to. Soon we were lost on the small roads south of Gatwick, very narrow ones with a surprising amount of traffic, and confusing roundabouts (traffic circles) appearing suddenly and often.

So we were edgy for a while. Fortunately, you get used to the roads. We even got unlost. Rich drove and I navigated, and we each took to those roles before long. We listened to BBC1 as miles of English countryside rolled by. Entertaining, no commercials.

At about 1, we arrived at Stonehenge. [Ah, mighty Stonehenge.] We saw it from some distance at first, driving along the A303. Looked almost luminous from a distance. The road runs remarkably close to the ruins. Maybe an ancient road did likewise.

We parked (no charge!) and visited the ruins. You can’t get too close to the stones. Close enough, though. Impressive, and puzzling, that ancient people dragged these some distance across England, long before it was ever called that, for the purpose of building a stone circle. I won’t speculate on their motives. The center uprights and lintels were especially impressive: big and white and somber. [Not quite this crowded that day, I’m glad to remember.]

Drove on to Bath. No problems until we got snarled in traffic in Bath, a town not built for cars. We eventually parked in a garage that featured the following emphatic signs: Thieves are active in this car park. Remove your valuables or they will be stolen.

We went to the tourist-i, booked a room, and drove there: a place called Toad Hall. Very nice, £7 each. We walked into the center of town from there, visited a number of bookstores there, then the Roman baths. [No detail about that, but I remember such scenes such as this.] Ate. Wandered back to Toad Hall. Just after sunset, a beautiful scene just outside our window: a church steeple with a nearby crescent moon.

I used to have a business card I picked up at Toad Hall, but I can’t find it. I remember it featured a gentleman Toad, whom I guess would be Toad of Toad Hall. Though a children’s book, I never got around to reading The Wind in the Willows as a child, so the name didn’t resonate with me when I stayed there. Only later I appreciated the whimsy of naming a B&B that.

I checked, and it’s still there. I also checked the rates: a double in August is (gasp) £95. (We paid the current equivalent of £42 between the two of us.)

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel Cemetery

An obscure monument to obscure men fighting for a now-obscure cause. That’s what I found at Mount Carmel Cemetery last week when I spied the Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument. What a find.

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel CemeteryObscure isn’t meant as a pejorative. People besotted with fame might think it’s one, but obscurity is the common fate of almost everyone and everything. Life’s still worth living. In future millennia, we’ll all be as distinctive as grains of sand on a beach. It won’t even take that long. That’s probably as it should be.

Yet we memorialize. In stone sometimes, no doubt since mankind learned to carve. I’m no expert on the psychology of memorials, but I’d guess they’re mostly for those who already remember: family, friends, colleagues, comrades-at-arms, or a public who read the newspaper stories, saw the newsreels, recalled the special bulletin interrupting a radio or TV show. Memorializing for posterity might be given lip service, but that’s all it is.

The front of the Clan-Na-Gael Monument says (in all caps, but that screams):

Erected by the
Clan-Na-Gael Guards
To the memory of their
Departed comrades

The Clan-Na-Gael was, of course, dedicated to Irish independence. Any enemy of the British was a friend of theirs, such as Imperial Germany 100 years ago, though this memorial goes back a little further. I shouldn’t have been surprised to read the side of the memorial, yet I was:

Dedicated to the memory of
Lieut. Michael O’Hara Co. A
Lieut. Thos. Naughton Co. B
Who died in South Africa
While serving in the
Irish Brigade
Of the Boer Army 1900

Irishmen in the Boer War? Yes, indeed. Not just any Irishmen — though I’ve read there were a fair number in South Africa at the time, working in the mines — but Irishmen from Chicago who headed out to Africa for a chance to stick it to the British.

Soon, I came across a digitized version of an anti-British polemic, Boer Fight for Freedom, written in 1902 by Michael Davitt (an associate of Charles Stuart Parnell, and interesting in his own right). In the book, there’s a passage about the Chicago Irish who fought for the Boers:


This small contingent of volunteers was spoken of in Pretoria as the “finest-looking” body of men that had yet reached the Transvaal capital from abroad. They numbered about forty, excluding the medicos and non-combatants, and were all young men of splendid physique and of the best soldierly qualities.

They were under the command of Captain O’Connor, of the Clan-na-Gael Guards, and joined Blake’s Irish Brigade. President Kruger extended a special reception to the company, and addressed them in complimentary terms before they started for the front.
Lord Roberts was on the point of advancing from Bloemfontein when the Chicago men arrived, and they were hurried forward to Brandfort along with other reenforcements for De la Rey, who was in command until the arrival of Botha.

O’Connor and his men acquitted themselves most creditably in all the rear-guard actions fought from Brandfort to Pretoria; Viljoen’s Band Brigade, Blake’s and O’Connor’s men, with Hassell’s scouts, doing their share of fighting in all the engagements during events and occurrences which were well calculated to damp the enthusiasm of the allies of the Boer cause.

It is, however, under trying circumstances, offering little or no compensation for services or sacrifice, save what comes from the consciousness of a duty well performed, that men are best tested in mind and metal, and the work done during that most disheartening time was worth many a more successful campaign fought under brighter hopes for the cause of liberty.

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel CemeteryBut what of the memorial itself? I found digitized information about that, too, in The Reporter, a Chicago-based national trade publication “devoted to the granite and marble monumental trade,” the masthead says (man, Google wants to digitize everything).

The October 1914 edition of the magazine tells us that, “Sunday, September 27th, there was unveiled with due ceremony, in Mt. Carmel cemetery at Hillside (a suburb), a Barre granite monument to the memory of Lieutenants Michael O’Hara and Thomas Naughton, who lost their lives while serving with the Boers against the British in South Africa. They were the only ones killed out about 40 Clan-na-Gael guards who went to the war from Chicago.

“The monument is a shaft with conventional bases, die, plinth and shaft, and was furnished by the Moore Monument Co., the price being about $1,800.”

That was fairly serious money, about $43,800 in 2017 dollars. I don’t doubt that the surviving members of the Clan-na-Gael Guards’ foray to Africa got their money’s worth.

Afternoon Music Selections

Ann and I were in the living room yesterday, and I called up YouTube on the TV. It’s one of the things you can do with a modern TV and wifi. She wasn’t really paying attention, since she had her smaller electronic gizmo handy, so I decided to play “Telstar.” The video shows mostly unrelated space images, but never mind. I thought it might get her attention.

I was right. “What is that?” she asked. Or maybe it was, “What is that?” But I don’t think she really wanted an answer.

After it was over, naturally I had to play the Tornados’ “Robot,” whose Scopitone doesn’t look very good on a bigger screen. But the YouTube poster’s (in 2006!) description is apt: “Tornados rock the twang in a back-woods sci-fi robotic dance party! And then kiss girls!”

She wasn’t impressed by that, either.

If it had occurred to me, I would have dialed up “Trans-Europe Express” (English or German). It’s been 40 years this month since the album of that name was released. Of course I didn’t hear about it at the time, but in the early ’80s, and even then I had no idea that it had been received so well by critics, for what that’s worth. All I know is I’ve always liked it.

When I looked it up recently, I was surprised to learn that the Trans-Europe Express, as in the train system TEE, doesn’t exist any more. Probably because I confused it with the TGV, which is very much still around.

Or maybe I could have played Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France,” another fun tune from some other zone, or “Beatbox” by Art of Noise. If your children don’t think you’re just a little strange, you aren’t trying very hard.

Thursday’s This & That & Maybe the Other

Last night was clear and below freezing. I was out at about 10 and noticed Orion out for his evening stroll, way off to the southwest. He’ll be gone for the warm months soon.
I suspect I might not ever see him standing on his head again. That was a marvel to those of us used to the northern array of stars.

Years ago, my friend Stephen Humble told me that Turkish, which he studied to entertain himself, had distinct words for “this” and “that” but also “the other.” I’ve never verified that. I don’t think I will. Absolute certainty about small things is overrated. I overrate it myself.

Here’s one way, among so very many, to realize how little you really know: watch a few episodes of Only Connect. Then again, some of the clues are like those given in crossword puzzles sometimes, so vague as to be worthless. At least that’s why I believe I’ve never had much use for crosswords.

For something completely different, listen to a few songs by the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies. I like that name. Apparently they had their moment in Athens, Ga., in the early ’90s. Their sound reminds me of some of the live music in Nashville in the mid-80s, which inspires a touch of nostalgia.

Today I read that there aren’t any Goodyear Blimps any more. Not really. Goodyear now markets itself with semirigid dirigibles, which will be called blimps anyway. I would ride in a semirigid dirigible, certainly, but that isn’t quite the same as a blimp, is it?


Snow last night, first time it’s stuck in quite a while. But only a few inches, not like the East Coast.

This year the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Co., a nonprofit based in Hyde Park that does performances one weekend of the year at the University of Chicago’s handsome Mandell Hall, produced Iolanthe. I have fond memories of the company’s Yeomen of the Guard, which Lilly and I saw two years ago, so we all went on Friday (except Lilly, whose spring break hasn’t started yet).

img462Like last time, we ate at Salonica’s first. The face on the telephone pole is still down the street, on the way to the theater.

The show was just as much fun as Yeomen. More, since I knew some of the songs better, including everyone’s favorite lord-marching-trumpets-braying number, which saw a mellifluous chorus of lords spill out from the stage and into the aisles and back, and the renowned patter song about insomnia and the weird dreams of shallow and disturbed sleep.

According to The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian C. Bradley, parts of which are online, “[Gilbert] had, in fact, experimented with the metre later used for the nightmare song in a poem entitled ‘Sixty-Three and Sixty-Four,’ which appeared in Fun in 1864 and which began:

Oh, you who complain that the drawing’s insane, or too much for your noodles have found it.
But listen a minute, I’ll tell you what’s in it — completely explain and expound it.

An earlier poem by Gilbert, ‘The Return from My Berth,’ which appeared in Punch in October 1864, gives a more lurid account of a Channel crossing:

The big Channel steamer is rolling,
Frenchmen around me are bilious and fat
And prone on the floor are behaving unheedingly,
It’s a ‘sick transit,’ but never mind that!

Matthan Ring Black was in fine form with the patter, and the rest of his Lord Chancellor part. Everyone else did very well, but I was especially taken with Claire DiVizio, who did the Fairy Queen, and David Govertsen, who not only amused everyone with Private Willis’ single song, but stood perfectly still in the lobby in his bright red guard uniform as the audience filed in. Perhaps that’s a G&S tradition I don’t know about, but in any case he was there.

Private Willis also got the biggest laugh of the evening:

That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!

Of course, there’s Victorian context to that, but a modern one as well.

Yuriko liked it, and Ann, who’s developing a taste for musical theater, said she enjoyed the show a lot. I never had such a taste as a teenager, though I did (mostly) enjoy the successive senior plays put on at my high school toward the end of each school year, all of which happened to be musicals: Bye Bye Birdie, The Mikado, Fiddler on the Roof, and West Side Story.

One more thing, which if I knew, I’d forgotten: Iolanthe apparently inspired Chief Justice William Rehnquist to add gold stripes to his robe in 1995. Guess he decided that a powdered wig as well would be a bit much.

RBS One Pound Note

What to do here in the pit of winter, with its cold — though not quite as cold this year as usual — and daylight that passes so quickly? Take a close look at your collection of colorful but essentially worthless banknotes from far-flung nations. Or in one case, a subnational banknote. This one, dated 1978:
Royal Bank of Scotland One Pound Note 1978Not too many subnational territories get their own banknotes, but Scotland does. I might have gotten this in change during my ’83 visit to the UK, which took me close to Scotland compared to where I am most of the time, but not really that close. Or maybe I picked it up in ’88. I suspect that by ’94, most cashiers in England weren’t bothering with £1 notes of any kind.

Royal Bank of Scotland One Pound Note 1983

Scottish notes circulate in the rest of the UK, and will until that day when the Scots, peeved about Brexit, pull the trigger on independence. At which point they might go ahead and use the euro, and wind up like Greece. But that’s all mere conjecture.

For now, three Scottish banks are authorized to issue banknotes: the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Clydesdale Bank. According to the RBS, it’s been issuing banknotes since 1727 and has an average of £1.5 billion worth of notes in circulation on any given day. It’s also the only one of the three to keep issuing £1 notes.

In October, the RBS issued its first polymer banknote, which was a £5 note. Next will be a £10 note. The one pound probably isn’t worth the trouble.

Speakers’ Corner

There was a speaker at Speakers’ Corner in December 1994, but I don’t remember what he was speaking about. He’d drawn a crowd, though.speakers-corner 1994

Considering that a pre-1991 Iraqi flag seems to be flying in the background, and probably a Palestinian flag behind that, Middle Eastern politics seems the likely subject. Lots of grist for impassioned public speaking there, at least in places, mostly outside the Middle East, where there’s little risk of official punishment.

I also remember an anti-Ba’athist, or at least anti-Saddam Hussein, parade in London, but that was in 1988 on one of the streets near Harrod’s. It was a thin line of people marching along, and a thin line of people watching, and (I think) some argument between some of the participants, but no fighting. There were some police around, probably wishing they could be anywhere else.

As for Speakers’ Corner, I’d made a point of going to see it one day we were in Hyde Park. Not sure how I’d heard of it, but heard of it I had. Maybe it was the lyrics in the peppy yet pessimistic song “Industrial Disease” (1982).

I go down to Speakers’ Corner, I’m thunderstruck

They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks

Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong

There’s a protest singer, he’s singing a protest song…

The Royal Parks web site says that “the origins of Speakers’ Corner as it is known today stem from 1866, when a meeting of the Reform League demanding the extension of the franchise, was suppressed by the Government. Marches and protests had long convened or terminated their routes in Hyde Park, often at Speakers’ Corner itself. Finding the park locked, demonstrators tore up hundreds of yards of railings to gain access, and three days of rioting followed.

“The next year, when a crowd of 150,000 defied another government ban and marched to Hyde Park, police and troops did not intervene. Spencer Walpole, the Home Secretary, resigned the next day. In the 1872 Parks Regulation Act, the right to meet and speak freely in Hyde Park was established through a series of regulations governing the conduct of meetings.”

Queen Elizabeth Cake, NW Suburban Style

A recent birthday cake in our house.

Queen Elizabeth Cake, Deerfield BakeryOne candle because no one could be bothered to come up with some other combination. “It’s for your first half-century,” I told Yuriko.

It’s called a Queen Elizabeth Cake, a creation of the always-talented Deerfield Bakery here in the northwest suburbs. The bakery’s web site tells me that it’s “yellow cake filled with strawberries, Bavarian cream and sliced bananas.” That jibes with my experience of eating some of it.

Also, “a single strawberry crowns this dessert, created by Henry Schmitt in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Chicago in 1959.” That would be part of the Queen’s tour along the spanking-new St. Lawrence Seaway that year. (A bit of major infrastructure that should be better known; I’d bet that only a small number of kids in Lilly’s dorm, just to pick one sample of people that age, know what it is.)

Henry Schmitt, coming from a line of bakers from Germany, founded Deerfield Bakery in metro Chicago in the 20th century. Apparently his QE Cake was an idiosyncratic take, since elsewhere (such as allreipes.com), I’ve read that the term refers to “a date nut cake… crowned with a broiled coconut topping.”

That sounds good too, but it isn’t anything like the Deerfield Bakery creation.

Queen Elizabeth Cake, Deerfield BakeryWhich is very, very good.

First Folio Exhibit, Lake County Discovery Museum

ShakesBirthI’ve done a little Shakespeare tourism in my time, such as visiting his birthplace in Stratford. When I scanned the ticket from that visit, I noted that I paid £1 for admission in 1983. The Bank of England has a handy UK inflation calculator that tells me that’s the equivalent of just over £3 now.

I checked the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust web site today and found that a “Birthplace Pass” now costs £16.50 for an adult. For that, you get into “Hall’s Croft, Harvard House, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s Grave,” so that’s not as outrageous as £16.50 for just the birthplace, but it still doesn’t quite sit right. Can you just buy a single ticket for the birthplace, or is the pass the minimum? Also, there are other, more expensive options that include other houses and a garden.

Shakespeare’s grave is at the Church of the Holy Trinity, and I don’t recall being charged admission. These days, the church asks for a £2 or £3 donation if you want to take a look at the playwright’s grave, and spare those stones and not move his bones. A good idea, since moving those bones wouldn’t just get you cursed, it would probably be a fairly serious criminal offense in the UK.

FirstFolioAll this comes to mind because last week we — all of us going the same place, an increasingly rare thing — went to the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Ill., to see a First Folio. It was my idea. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare being laid to rest in that church near the Avon, the Folger Shakespeare Library has sent out some of its First Folios in traveling displays. Each state has one display in one location over the course of 2016, and Illinois’ is this small museum in the far northwest suburbs.

Of all the times I’ve been to DC, I’ve never managed to make it to the Folger. There’s a good chance I’ve seen a First Folio somewhere — maybe at the British Library or the New York Public Library — but I don’t remember. So I wanted to see this one.

I’d been the Discovery Center a few times before, mainly to see excellent exhibits drawn from the museum’s Curt Teich Postcard Archives. That includes over 400,000 postcards of more than 10,000 towns and cities nationwide and elsewhere, plus a lot of other subjects.

The First Folio exhibit was straightforward: a room with tall signs offering various facts about Shakespeare, his plays, the Quartos and the 1623 and later Folios, along with the King’s Men actors who saw fit to have them published: John Heminges and Henry Condell. A smaller, adjoining room includes the First Folio itself, behind glass and opened to the page that includes Hamlet’s soliloquy.

First FolioIt’s a handsome volume, not much worn or yellow. This was no pulp publishing. It’s also one of the 233 copies that are known to exist, and one of the 82 that the Folger owns as the largest collector of them. Remarkably, Meisei University in Tokyo has the second-largest collection, numbering 12. How did that happen?

A cop lurked in the shadows at the exhibit; a wise precaution, no doubt. At a Sotheby’s auction in 2006, a copy fetched £2.5 million, and thieves have been known to target the book, though the fellow in that article sounded like a bumbler.

I thought it was worth the 45-minute drive to Wauconda. My family might not have been persuaded, except we also had an enjoyable dinner in that town first. More about that tomorrow.

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton

I’m about halfway through Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (1990) by Edward Rice, subtitled in its Amazon entry, “The Secret Agent Who Made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, Discovered the Kama Sutra, and Brought the Arabian Nights to the West” (but that phrase isn’t on the cover of the book). At the halfway point, Burton’s already been an agent for Gen. Napier in Sind and other places, daringly visited Mecca, and done a lot more, and now — around the time he met Speke — he’s preparing to venture into Africa for a date with a spear through his cheeks.

Wiki (to borrow only one sentence) describes Burton as a “British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat.” Rice’s biography, I’m happy to say, does him justice.

“Burton was unique in any gathering except when he was deliberately working in disguise as an agent among peoples of the lands being absorbed by his country,” Rice writes. “An impressive six feet tall, broad chested and wiry, ‘gypsy-eyed,’ darkly handsome, he was fiercely imposing, his face scarred by a savage spear wound received in a battle with Somali marauders. He spoke twenty-nine languages and many dialects and when necessary, he could pass as a native of several eastern lands — as an Afghan when he made his famous pilgrimage to Mecca, as a Gypsy laborer among the work gangs on the canals of the Indus River, as a nondescript peddler of trinkets and as a dervish, a wandering holy man, when exploring the wilder parts of Sind, Baluchistan, and the Punjab for his general. He was the first European to enter Harar, a sacred city in East Africa, though some thirty whites had earlier been driven off or killed. He was also the first European to lead an expedition into Central Africa to search for the sources of the Nile…

“His opinions on various subjects — English ‘misrule’ of the new colonies, the low quality and stodginess of university education, the need for the sexual emancipation of the English woman, the failure on the part of the Government to see that the conquered peoples of the empire were perpetually on the edge of revolt — were not likely to make him popular at home. Nor did his condemnation of infanticide and the slave trade endear him to Orientals and Africans. His scholarly interests often infuriated the Victorians, for he wrote openly about sexual matters they thought better left unmentioned — aphrodisiacs, circumcision, infibulation, eunuchism, and homosexuality…

“Burton’s adult life was passed in a ceaseless quest for the kind of secret knowledge he labeled broadly ‘Gnosis’… This search led him to investigate the Kabbalah, alchemy, Roman Catholicism, a Hindu snake caste of the most archaic type, and the erotic Way called Tantra, after which he looked into Sikhism and passed through several forms of Islam before settling on Sufism, a mystical discipline that defies simple labels. He remained a more or less faithful practitioner of Sufi teachings for the rest of his life…

Wow. Previously I only knew about his career in the broadest terms, colored by reading Mountains of the Moon by William Harrison in Japan in the early ’90s (published as Burton and Speke in 1982), an exceptionally fine work of historical fiction, and seeing the movie Mountains of the Moon, which is a good adaptation.

Never mind the fellow who hawks Mexican beer. Even though he’s been dead for over 125 years, I’d say Richard Burton would still be a strong contender for status as The Most Interesting Man in the World.