Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Changing Views

This post should have been called “Changing the post because it’s already the 27th of December and I still haven’t replaced my Christmas-themed blog yet” but that was too long and, as luck would have it, the topic I pulled out of the “Blog Topics to Write About When You Can’t Think of Anything Else” jar happened to be the changes that have taken place in Ireland since my life-altering trip there ten years ago.
This is relevant because I needed to do something to get The Santa out of the first slot…, I mean, because I just recently completed another rewrite of Postcards From Ireland—the hilarious, must-read chronicle of a portentous trip to Ireland (that’s what I’m expecting my publisher to call it, anyway)—and as part of the writing, I spent a lot of time going over the photos I took on the trip as well as traveling to some of the locations via Google Maps ™ ©
I wasn’t able to travel to a lot of the location I had visited during that trip because, as you’ll see when you read the book (you are planning to buy the book, aren’t you?) I was lost—both physically and metaphorically—much of the time. However, I did manage to locate the Killarney Court Hotel and find my way into Killarney from there.

The Killarney Court Hotel
Killarney’s town center wasn’t drastically changed, and O’Connor’s pub was still where I remembered it to be, but the outskirts of Killarney have changed dramatically, and not for the better.
This is the view I had from my hotel window back in August 2001:

View in 2001
This is the same view (from the road) now:

View in 2011
I suppose I shouldn’t be disappointed, or surprised; progress happens whether we like it or not (mostly not) but to cover up that stunning view with a gas station and mini-mart is simply criminal. I suppose they could justify it by observing that stunning views are ten-a-penny in Ireland, but if you don’t start looking after them, you’ll soon find them all concreted over and sprouting Tesco Supermarkets, McDonald’s franchises and betting shops.

And that would be shame.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Santa

Okay, here’s my other Christmas poem; that should hold you until Boxing Day.
My favourite season and my two favourite poems welded into one; what more could I ask?
The Santa
By Edgar Allen Moore
Once upon a yuletide dreary, while my brain with sleep was weary
and sugar plum fairies danced in children's heads beyond the bedroom door.
Not a creature here was stirring; mamma in her kerchief was worrying,
I in my winter's cap was touring presents lying on the floor.
Train set, race cars, aircraft carrier and a purple dinosaur;
all in pieces on the floor.
Ah distinctly I remember it was in the chill December
and the moon its eerie light upon the fallen snow did pour.
Presently I heard a clatter, wondering what was the matter,
straight I spied an elf much fatter than any elf I'd seen before.
Drawn by reindeer in a sleigh this elf drew up outside my door.
Parked and sat, and nothing more.
Then this burgundy elf beguiling my wan spirit into smiling
By the jolly countenance and fir trimmed uniform he wore.
“Elf,” I said, “these reindeer brought you, but really don’t you think you ought to
let them go.  If PETA caught you, they’d firebomb your house for sure.
Are you immune from PC zealots?  Tell me why,” I did implore.
The fat elf smiled. “I’m Santa Claus.”
Then, me thought, the air grew colder, and my flagging spirit grew bolder,
cheered by memories of my pleasures drawn Christmases of yore.
“Santa,” I cried, “these memories hold you, like angels wings they do enfold you,
Sweet Virginia could have told you: doubters tried and failed before
to bend you to their narrow purpose and make you something to abhor.
Quote the Santa, “Never more.”
Be that word our sign of parting, elf or saint, I said, glad heartened.
Whether Coke created or sent by legends from the lusty days of yore,
you remain the true Yule Spirit, Scrooge himself was glad to hear it,
my soul is light, my mind is clear; it sadly was not so before.
But now this light will shine its tiding ever from my bosom’s core
I’ll keep the season evermore.

The Santa

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Night Before a Politically Correct Holiday

Christmas is coming, so it must be time to trot out my holiday poems again.  There must be someone out there who hasn’t read this yet:
A Politically Correct Night Before Christmas (um, I mean, A Holiday)
T'was the night before a Holiday, which one I can't say
or the politically correct will come take me away.
And I couldn't decide, for the life of me
if that thing in the corner was a bush or a tree,
when in front of my house a car horn did blare
so I put down my egg nog to see who was there.
A clean-shaven man in a gabardine suit
stepped out of a taxi cab near my front stoop.
"On Driver!" he said, and paid the cab fare
"Are you Santa?" I asked of the man standing there.
"I was once called Saint Nick," he said with a gleam,
"But lately that 'S' word has become almost obscene."
"I've been corrected for certain, though improved, I doubt it,
"Let's get out of this cold and I'll tell you about it."
I offered him cake, and bid him to try it.
"I can't," he replied, "You see, I'm on a diet.
"I'm not to have cookies or candy or sweets
"I must set an example for what children should eat.
"Overeaters Anonymous and dentists both feel
"that I need to stay slim and eat healthy meals.
"My clay pipe, of course, was the next thing to go
"The Cancer Society's lawyers said so.
"My fur suit and leather were found to offend
"militant vegans, so I had to change them
"for a synthetic blend in this neutral color.
"And I shaved off my beard to please one group or another.
"My reindeer all invoked their animal rights
"then the elves unionized and now they're on strike.
"But I no longer need toys, so they're free to go.
"Leaving presents in houses; that's illegal, you know.
"And my name has been changed, it's no longer St. Nick.
"It's now Shirley Abdul Jacob Dinosovitch."
I shook my head sadly, stunned by his speech,
was nothing beyond special interests groups' reach?
"But you aren't Shirley or Jacob or Abdul," I said,
"If you pretend that you are then you're out of your head.
"These groups want you to act as they think you should
"as if they are the ones who define what is good.
"I don't have a society, lawyer or cause
"but I do enjoy Christmas, and I want Santa Claus
"the way I remember, a jolly red elf.
"You're Santa, godamnit, get hold of yourself."
"You're right," he replied, "it's to myself I belong
"they've been holding me hostage to their values too long.
"I'm through taking cab rides, it's back to sleigh power
"and I'll offer the elves another dollar an hour.
"Let's cap this epiphany with a cup of good cheer,
"And for God's sake don't give me non-alcohol beer."
Coming soon: The Santa

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Season of The Long Nights

The end of December is rolling around again and that means it’s time to remind you how far north I am.
The answer is, quite far.
If you live in North America, unless you’re currently driving up the Trans-Labrador Highway on your way to Chimney Tickle, you’re not experiencing nights quite as long as we are these days.  And keep in mind, I’m in southern England; the people up in Inverness will have even more daylight shaved off of their 24-hour allotment.

For those of you who didn't pay attention in Earth Science
The good news—and the reason I’m reminding everyone of this—is that we’re just about over the hump.  The longest night is coming up and after that, it’s all sunshine and roses.
Well, after a few months, anyway.

This is what noon looks like right now; that’s as
high as the sun gets, and it sets quickly.
The Long Nights here in the north are what gave rise to a lot of our Christmas traditions, such as the Yule log, Wassailing (you have been out a-wassailing at least a couple of times this year, haven’t you?), holly wreaths, mistletoe, decorative lights, feasting and generally being as drunk as you can be at all times.
And it has also given rise to newer traditions, such as enduring a night of freezing cold for the off-chance of seeing a sunrise at Stonehenge (A clear day?  In Britain?  In the winter?  The odds are not good.).  This is becoming an increasingly popular activity among those who happen to own Druid robes and warm, woolen socks.  They claim to be re-enacting an ancient Druid tradition even though there is no real evidence that the ancient Druids did this or that the solstice at Stonehenge has any sort of significance.

Latter day muppets.
Still, it’s a great excuse to dress up, get drunk, party through the night and celebrate the dawn, which is, of course what it is all about; a sort of holding up of two fingers to the winter and welcoming in the spring.
And if, by some miracle, you actually get to see the sunrise, I expect it would be very pretty.

Sunrise at Stonehenge

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Baaah!  Not Humbug, Just Baaah!

A while back, The Council authorized a sculpture of some sheep to be erected in a busy roundabout on the A283 near the A27 bypass just outside of Shoreham to commemorate the founding, co-founding, current legal hold-up or latest petition in favor of The South Downs National Park.  Obviously, I haven’t been keeping up on The Park’s status as I should (I’m having a hard enough time keeping my eye on the EU) but suffice it to say the The South Downs National Park—according to Wikipedia—became fully operational on 1 April 2011 and covers an area of 628 sq miles in southern England.  There are a lot of people who are very happy about this and probably nearly as many who are not.
Settling the boundaries of The Park, of course, now allows B&Bs, Tea Shoppes and snobby Investment Bankers to advertize the fact that they are within the legitimate boundaries of an officially recognized area of outstanding natural beauty; these are the people who are in favor. It also means the lovely view of the downs the snooty banker enjoys can’t be flattened, paved over and adorned with several blocks of flats so unimaginatively ugly that they look like something out of the Borg School of Architecture.  Or, at least it’s not as easy as it used to be, which makes the developers—and people who hate snooty bankers—opposed to it.
(Aside:  It goes without saying that the development in question would have a sign hanging above it proudly proclaiming that 30% of the dark, cramped, shoddy flats would be “affordable.”  Now, I have addressed this before, but this is a different angle so don’t skip ahead—some of this material will be on the quiz.
If 30% of the flats are affordable, then by definition, 70% of them are beyond the fiscal range of the average buyer.  But, also by definition, there are more average people than above-average people, so who is buying 70% of the properties?  And where are the other 70% of the average people sleeping?  Under a bridge?
Okay, back to the sheep.)
It’s not unusual for councils to commission sculptures for roundabouts—there is a huge soccer ball in the roundabout just outside of Broadfield Stadium in Crawley, and in Dorking, on the intersection of the As 24 and 25, they have erected a giant cock.

The Dorking Cock - no, I am not making this up.
So the sheep should not have been a problem, except that some people thought they looked too real.  Apparently people were coming up to the roundabout and thinking, “Ohmigod!  There’s a flock of sheep loose on the A283.”  So the council, in their wisdom, attempted to ease people’s minds by painting the sheep green.  Then, of course (but you saw this coming, didn’t you) people drove up to the roundabout thinking, “Ohmigod!  There’s a flock of green sheep loose on the A283!”

The Green Sheep of Sussex
So instead of erecting a sign saying something like, “These sheep are NOT real!” they put yellow hazard barriers around them, so now people can’t see the sheep, but they can see the hazard barrier, which will make them think, “Ohmigod!  There’s an accident on the A283!  I’ll need to start rubbernecking and creating a traffic hazard!”
So now we have a sculpture, painted green and surrounded by hazard barriers for the safety of our commuters.
But that is not the reason I like Britain; the reason I like Britain is that, on the news, when they reported this story, the newscaster deadpanned:
“For those of you who live in an urban area, this is what a real sheep looks like.”

Actual Sheep
Really, you gotta love that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

We Need A Little Christmas

Boy, don’t people just piss you off?  Is there no end to the things they will do seemingly just to get your blood to boil?  And I’m not talking about David Cameron, Obama, Newt or the morons running the EU, I’m talking about the “special” people – you know, those people to whom The Rules do not apply – who do things like move the bollards so they can drive through a pedestrian area full of Christmas shoppers.
The problem is, once you get into a rant about people like that, you’ll be there all day if you don’t stop; it’s like eating potato chips.  And that’s what I said to the lady at the till in the shop where I was making a Christmas purchase (in the interest of keeping it a surprise for my wife, I won’t mention what shop it was).  The woman agreed (shop keepers are generally agreeable when you are handing money over to them) and we decided it was best to just leave the special people alone and just let them go on being special; no sense letting them ruin your day.
By the way, the woman in the shop started it; I may be turning into a grumpy old man, but I had been feeling quite chipper—peace on earth, good will toward men and all that—when I entered the store.  Once she began, however, it wasn’t long before I picked up the refrain and starting singing from the same hymn sheet.
After our agreed cease-fire I left the shop feeling as chipper as when I had gone in, which is a good thing because it was such a lovely, sunny day and I was out Christmas shopping in a town where Christmas shopping is a delight.

The Market Place
Unlike in a lot of places—US or UK—where shopping involves fighting traffic on the way to the mall, vying for a parking space once you get to the mall and then contending with crowds as you make your way through the vast labyrinth from store to store to store, all I need to do is walk five minutes into town and I’m in a Christmas wonderland.
Although we have a mall, it is well hidden behind traditional shops and, inside, its halls are festively decked and some of the employees are encouraged to get into the spirit by dressing up.  Outside, the shops are likewise decorated and the Saturday market—throughout December—is complimented by a Sunday Christmas market.   And every Saturday at noon a band plays in the Carfax bandstand.

What a 101 Dalmatians theme has to do with Christmas,
I don't know. And what a green dragon has to do with
either Christmas or 101 Dalmatians, I don't know either.

The Carfax Bandstand
On days like today, when the sun is shining and it is agreeably warm, it is an absolute pleasure to wander among the stalls and peruse the wares in the shops.  It almost makes the startlingly long queue at the Post Office worth the hassle.
So despite Cameron and his ilk, and the moron bollard-mover, peace, tranquility and good will reigned.  At least until I get home and turned on the news.

Monday, November 28, 2011

T-Day +2

We had Thanksgiving two days ago (I realize Thanksgiving was actually four days ago, but for me it happened on Saturday) and it was one of the most successful holiday dinners in a long time.
This was primarily due to my having finally discovered that the best way to keep the meal from being a disappointment is to lower my expectations.  Golden-brown turkey with all the trimmings?  Real giblet gravy?  Homemade rolls?  That weird but tasty concoction your aunt makes out of mini-marshmallows, Reddi-Wip, shredded coconut and canned fruit salad?  Ain’t gonna happen.  So each year I pull out the gravy granules, buy a turkey roll and some stuffing in a box and do the best I can.  Occasionally, I mange to import a few things from home to make the holiday just a bit more special, and this year I managed four.
Creamed Corn:
I never thought the idea of creamed corn was strange—it was just always there on the table at Thanksgiving—until I tired explaining it to people over here.  Why take perfectly good corn and cream it?  I can’t answer that; we just do.  I think we probably began creaming corn simply as an opportunity to add sugar to it.  Sweet corn might be sweet, but nature can always be improved upon by adding a cup or three of sugar.

Corn, water, sugar and a blender: creamed corn
It really is quite tasty, even if it does look as if someone already ate it.

It tastes better than it looks, honest.
Cranberry Sauce:
This is the first year since moving to Britain that I have had real cranberry sauce, the kind that squidges out of a can with a vaguely obscene sound and lands with a plop on the plate.  Oddly, the more up-scale the cranberry sauce, the harder it is for me to accept it at the Thanksgiving Day table.
The expensive jars of connoisseur-grade sauce in Marks and Spencer or Waitrose, and even the bargain jars found in Tesco cannot compare to the translucent purple cylinder, ribbed with the markings from the can and tasting like the inside of a drainpipe.

Notice the ribbed marking; they are the sign of true quality.
Nothing brings home the memories of long ago Thanksgiving meals like the taste of tin.
Pumpkin Pie:
The ingredients for this can be found in many local grocery stores, it’s just that, over here, they tend to make soup out of it.  God’s intent, however, was that you make pie.
Of the items listed so far, this is the most readily available, and I have one every year my wife feels like making one.

You can see how many pies we bake--this was made in a cake tin.
And the last, but certainly not least, item that made this Thanksgiving special:
Thanksgiving is all about leftovers: turkey dinners, turkey lunches, turkey soup, turkey salad sandwiches.  It generally lasts until Christmas rolls around and you cook up the next turkey so that, by the time New Year comes and goes, you are so sick of turkey you never want to see one again.  Or until next November, at least.

Ready for T-Day II
I had more leftovers this year than usual; enough for T-Day dinner II, a nice stuffing, mashed potato and biscuits with gravy lunch and—what I am looking most forward to—a turkey, bacon, stuffing and cranberry sandwich to take to lunch tomorrow.
Along with a piece of pumpkin pie, of course.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Droopy Drawers: the Sagging Continues

Yup, we’re back on the “pants below the buttocks” thing again.  I apologize: I ‘m not trying to turn into a grumpy old man (notice I didn’t say I wasn’t turning into one, just that I’m not trying to on purpose), and I really don’t go off my nut every time I see someone slouching around with their underwear showing (imagine how tiring that would be), but I was exposed to this on the high street the other day and it made me realize just how weary I am of this particular fashion statement and I thought you’d appreciate me sharing my frustration with you.

Fashion FAIL - Teenage Division
Now, I have said before that I have no problem with adolescent fashion fads because we all know that teenagers need to show their individuality by dressing the same way as all their friends do.  I did it, you did it, our parents did it.  No biggie.  But this is not a fad; it’s been around now for about twenty years.  Slinging your pants beneath your butt is no more a fad than Velcro; it’s now simply a part of the social landscape.
I think the problem is that the kids growing up in the 1990s were the first generation to be weaned on cable TV, so they, and all who came after them, lack the imagination necessary to come up with an original idea, so all they can do is ape the generation before.  That, alone, would be bad enough, but they also seem to lack the imagination to begin dressing like an adult when the time arrives.  I’ve seen grown men wearing their pants halfway down their crotch.  There is really no excuse for that.

Fashion FAIL - Adult Division
One time at a football match, a man and this two sons were sitting in front of us.  The boys were about 10 and 11 and the man was clearly in his 30s, yet he was dressed with his jeans slung low, just like the 12-year-olds on the high street.  His boys, I noticed, had their jeans cinched tight.
Perhaps this will be our salvation.  Children growing up with one or two droopy drawered parents may suffer enough embarrassment that they will find another way to dress.  Also, the need for individuality is matched only by the need to avoid doing anything your parents do, so this too may help steer future teenagers away from this fashion travesty.
I certainly hope so; I’m not looking forward to turning into a grumpy old man.

Please don't let this happen to me!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

Excerpt from my second book, More Postcards From Across the Pond
Sorry I couldn't come up with anything original, but it's a busy day for me...
I’m 13, and there’s no school, so I’m up early.  Not as early as my mom; no one ever gets up as early as my mom, but today she is up extra early, singing in the kitchen, rattling pots and pans.  She isn’t preparing a turkey—we have Thanksgiving dinner at my grandma’s house—but she is making pancakes for breakfast, pumpkin pies to bring to the dinner and sugar cookies for later.
Soon the whole family is up.  We have a big breakfast together, which is, in itself, unusual.  At ten o’clock, it’s time for the first tradition: gathering the ground pine for the Christmas wreath.
I take two brown paper bags and my little brother, Marc.  He’s nine now and old enough to be useful though still too young to be very interesting.  We walk down the dirt lane and then cut into the woods.  There is no snow yet, but the fields are frosty and the puddles in the marshy ground are thick with ice.  We amuse each other by smashing them; as much fun as breaking windows and with no undesirable side-effects.
I know where to hunt for the ground pine and sweep away the frosted leaves with a gloved hand to reveal the little tree-like evergreen shoots.  Together we pull up long strands, stuffing the bags full.
At home, my sister is on the phone with her boyfriend and the Macy’s Day parade is on the TV.  We watch it while wrapping the ground pine around a bent coat hanger, adding layer after layer while the big, balloons float by on the TV screen.  By the time the finale arrives—Santa in his sleigh heralding the official start of the Christmas season—the wreath is done.  My mother makes it more festive with some red ribbon and aerosol snow and hangs it on the front door.
Then we leave for grandma’s, the five of us kids stuffed into the backseat singing, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!”  After a while my mom joins in.  My dad stays silent.
Grandma’s kitchen is warm and redolent with the smell of turkey and fresh baked biscuits.  My uncles are there, with their wives and children and various boyfriends.  We horse around in the chicken coop and play hide and seek among the farm machinery until dinner is ready.
This is a special year, I’m promoted to the grown up table with my older sister, Melinda, while Marc, Matt and Michelle have to sit with their young cousins at the kiddie table.  Then the feast appears: stuffing, hot and moist, yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans with slivers of almond, creamed corn, boiled carrots, cranberry sauce out of a can, biscuits and, as the main event, turkey, golden brown and steaming as my grandfather cuts into it.
After we’ve eaten so much we think we can’t take another bite, out come the pumpkin pies, mincemeat pies, ice cream, whipped cream and that strange concoction made out of marshmallows, Cool Whip, Jell-o and slivers of tangerine that I never see at any other time of the year but always look forward to.
And after the feast there is a long, languid afternoon that turns into evening with an impromptu dinner of, what else, turkey and stuffing and gravy and…
Much later, on the verge of sleep, my aunts, uncles and grandparents draw a reluctant end to their jovial conversations and we all trundle into the car and back home.
It’s late, and I’m stuffed but there is still time, and just enough room, to sample one of my mom’s sugar cookies.

Happy T-Day
I’m (you do the math) and my cell phone, which doubles as a travel alarm clock, buzzes me awake.  I’m on yet another business trip and I wander around the tiny hotel room, checking my e-mails between showering and getting ready for the day.  I have toast for breakfast and head to the client’s offices.  It’s another long and grueling session; we don’t break for lunch.
Back at the hotel, I have the steak and kidney pie for dinner because there is nothing on the menu that remotely resembles turkey.  No one remarks that it is Thanksgiving; no one knows.
After dinner, I sit outside in the crisp night, watching the cars and the people go by, smoking a cigar and drinking a pint of ale.  It’s a lonely business, traveling for work.  But it’s not a bad sort of loneliness because I know it will soon be over and I will return home to my wife.
This isn’t where I thought I would be those many years ago, sitting by myself in a strange town thousands of miles from where I was born.  I miss the holiday, and I miss gathering with friends and family on this day that is special only to Americans.  But we go where life takes us, and even though I did not have a dinner of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, I’m still grateful.  When you take away the feast and the fellowship, that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about, counting your blessings, and remembering that you have much to be thankful for.
And so, here on my own, I count them; they are many, and I am thankful for each and every one.

Eat Beef.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

That Time of Year Again

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  With the Remembrance observances out of the way, we have a clear path to Christmas, and the market stalls, shops and mall decked their halls with such alacrity afterwards you would think they were being charged a penalty for each day their customers were bereft of holly wreaths, evergreen sprigs and winter landscapes etched on their display windows in aerosol snow.
Who knows; maybe they were.
But you see, without Thanksgiving to act as a speed bump (with Election Day and Pearl Harbor Day thrown in for good measure) there is nothing to stop Christmas from gaining terminal velocity right from the get-go.  I don’t mind so much; there are a lot of things to like about this time of year.
For one thing, it’s a lot cheerier, with festive lights and holiday tableaus all around, and Christmas carols are kind of a nice change from the standard piped in muzak (though eight to ten weeks of it does get to be a bit much).
My one regret lately has been the absence of Slade’s “Here it is, Merry Christmas,” which enjoyed such a popular run for a few years that everyone collectively agreed it should sit out a few games in the penalty box.  I think it’s done enough penance, however; it’s a trippy little song, very festive and something I think we could use at this point, but so far, nary a peep from Noddy and the boys.

Just in case you want to hear it. Again.
What continues to makes me very happy at this time of year is the appearance of turkey, bacon, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwiches in the supermarkets, delis and petrol station forecourt mini-marts.  I absolutely love them, but I am glad they are not available at any other time of the year because they make this season so special.
Sad, I know, but in this economic climate you take your joy where you find it.
But I’m not concerned with any of that at this time; I’m still looking forward to Thanksgiving.  It sort of snuck up on me this year.  We were grocery shopping last night at it occurred to me that it would be the last shopping excursion for us prior to The Day, so we, rather belatedly, began the search for Thanksgiving dinner construction materials.  We didn’t find any, unless we wanted to purchase a 20-lb frozen turkey.
This hardly mattered for two reasons: first, we’re both working on Thanksgiving Day, and, second, our freezer is full so we’d never fit a turkey of any size into it this week.  And I suppose you could add a third one, being that we weren’t looking for a turkey, anyway; I wanted one of those pre-prepared, turkey/stuffing/gravy combos that I could heat up without going through a lot of fuss.  Thanksgiving is nice and all but it’s hardly worth all that trouble to make a holiday dinner for two, especially when one of you doesn’t really “get” it.
But I did need something for the meal, so today my wife and I took a tour of some of the other shops.  In Marks and Spencer we found a range of boxed turkey meals, from ones that could serve a dozen down to a dinner for two (no sign of a single-serving holiday dinner; how sad would that be?).  So we marked out what to buy, and now it is my duty to return to the store on Friday and buy the meal preparation materials for Saturday.
Of course you know that, when I return, they will be sold out of what I need.
If that should happen, however, I ought to at least be able to find a nice turkey, bacon, stuffing and cranberry sandwich.

The Perfect Holiday Dinner

Friday, November 11, 2011

Denny's Diary -- One Soldier's Story

In honor of Remembrance Day, I am posting a transcript of my grandfather’s diary, kept while he was serving in the front lines during World War One with the 102nd Machine Gun Battalion of the Yankee Division.
While at the front, Private 1st Class Benjamin Franklin Denison (Denny) made brief (and sometimes nearly illegible) entries onto the 1918 Standard Diary and Daily Reminder diary booklet he carried with him.  The diary recently came to me from my Aunt Ann, Denny’s oldest daughter, who was entrusted with its keeping.  I made a few notes for clarity and spelled out some of the words he abbreviated but otherwise kept the words as he wrote them--including his best-guess spelling of place names.  The diary is not exciting, but it is a true account of a soldier’s life during The Great War.
NOTES: 1) The term "fatigue" refers to any work that does not involve going to the trenches.  2) The abbreviation G.L appears throughout and I cannot, with any certainty, claim to know what it means.  However, Denny does make a few references to “Got L.” and “Got Lit” so it is safe to assume those entries are a code meaning he got drunk, which is certainly in character.  He was, after all, my grandfather.

Diary and booklet about the Yankee Division on a photograph
of a commemoration of the 102nd Machine Gun Battalion
Tue 01-Jan-1918
Got L. Had day off
Wed 02-Jan-1918
Thu 03-Jan-1918
Fri 04-Jan-1918
Sat 05-Jan-1918
Sun 06-Jan-1918
Mon 07-Jan-1918
Tue 08-Jan-1918
Wed 09-Jan-1918
Thu 10-Jan-1918
Drilled at trenches, no dinner.  Skipped and came home.
Fri 11-Jan-1918
Trenches.  Cold.
Sat 12-Jan-1918
Drilled at trenches.  Had hot dinner there.  Inoculated.  Barracks
Sun 13-Jan-1918
Short AM inspection.  Bemis came down in PM.  G.L.
Mon 14-Jan-1918
Drilled in AM.  Got "busted."  On stable guard.
Tue 15-Jan-1918
Pay day.  Change of quarters.  Rained all day.
Wed 16-Jan-1918
Drilled on hill.  Had dinner there.  Went to town.  G.L.
Thu 17-Jan-1918
Drilled, same place.  Dinner.  Went to town.  G.L.
Fri 18-Jan-1918
Drilled and had dinner same place.  Sun and I went to town.  G.L.
Sat 19-Jan-1918
Drilled at trenches.  Went to town.  G.L.  Made Private 1st Class.
Sun 20-Jan-1918
Inspection.  Breiver came over.  Went to town.  Very warm.
Mon 21-Jan-1918
Shot on range.  Went to town and Emersons and I G.L.  Warm.
Tue 22-Jan-1918
Fatigue at corral and cook shack.  Late for reveille.  Raining.
Wed 23-Jan-1918
On range and field practice.  Warm.
Thu 24-Jan-1918
Fatigue at cook shack.  Pretty soft job.  Warm.

A WW1 Cookshack
Fri 25-Jan-1918
Drilled.  Warm.
Sat 26-Jan-1918
Fatigue.  Warm.
Sun 27-Jan-1918
Reveille at 5:15.  Shot on range with both 168 guns at once.  Warm.
Mon 28-Jan-1918
Reveille same time.  Shot on range again.  Saw all the old boys.  Warm.
Tue 29-Jan-1918
Went to range.  Went to town and got feed.  Not feeling well.  Warm.
Wed 30-Jan-1918
AM sick call.  Did nothing today.  Had bath.  Warm.
Thu 31-Jan-1918
Went out with mules in AM.  Gas house in PM.  Got rubber boots.  Warm.
Fri 01-Feb-1918
Drilled with bombs.  Went on guard at night.
Sat 02-Feb-1918
Stayed on guard (indistinct) on range.  Came off guard at 7:30.  Warm.
Sun 03-Feb-191
Reveille at 6:45.  Pease and Abbot passed in stripes.  Fine day.
Mon 04-Feb-1918
Filled ammunition strips.  Easy day.  Fine and warm.
Tue 05-Feb-1918
Fisk and I skipped drill and explored caves.  Fine weather.
Wed 06-Feb-1918
Made packs and had inspection.  Packed Bar. Bags.  Started to rain in PM.
Thu 07-Feb-1918
Hung around in day.  Left R'irlle at 8 PM for Chat. arrived at 11:30 and loaded cars.  Felt fine.
Fri 08-Feb-1918
Train left Chat. at 8:30 AM.  Slept all day.  Fine weather.
Sat 09-Feb-1918
Arrived at Brainsine at 4 AM and began to unload.  Hiked to Chaserny.  Got to (indistinct) at  10 AM.  Slept in dugouts.  Saw air battle.
Sun 10-Feb-1918
Company left for front at 2:30 PM.  I stayed back to guard supplies.  Band is playing.
Mon 11-Feb-1918
Left Chas. for Valley.  Town in ruins.  Went over battlefield.
Tue 12-Feb-1918
Fisk and I got lost on battlefield.  Saw Bosche plane bring down 3 French balloons.  Hell of a place to live in.  Had bath.

Diary entries
Wed 13-Feb-1918
Stable guard.
Thu 14-Feb-1918
Made 2 trips to trenches.  Got back at 4 AM.  Some mud.
Fri 15-Feb-1918
5 G. airplanes came over corral.  3 came down.  On guard again.
Sat 16-Feb-1918
Hung around kitchen.  Got new dugout.  Cool.
(Margin note at top of page beginning 17 Feb 1918)  One G. came down.
Sun 17-Feb-1918
Heavy firing going on.  Went to trenches on saddle.  Saw a fine air fight.
Mon 18-Feb-1918
Fred and I took Capt. Trunk to Base.  On stable guard.  Heavy bombardment at 12:30 AM.
Tue 19-Feb-1918
Hung around all day.  Cleaned harness.  Warm.
Wed 20-Feb-1918
Went after Co.  Got back at 12 AM.  Raining.
Thu 21-Feb-1918
Had bath.  Hung around.  Got letter from Glad. and Clyde.  Lots of mail.
Fri 22-Feb-1918
Hung around.
Sat 23-Feb-1918
Hung around.
Sun 24-Feb-1918
Walked to Chavonine with Fisk and Asgood.  Turkey for dinner.
Mon 25-Feb-1918
Company went to trenches.  2nd platoon stayed here.  Cold and Rainy.  Got mail from Ava. (his wife)
Tue 26-Feb-1918
We left for trenches.  Quiet.
Wed 27-Feb-1918
Quiet.  Went for chow in PM.
Thu 28-Feb-1918
Heavy barrage from 9 to 10:35 AM.  Many wounded and few killed.  Quiet.
Fri 01-Mar-1918
Heavy artillery fire at right of section.   Raining.
Sat 02-Mar-1918
Pretty quiet.  Some snow and cool.
Sun 03-Mar-1918
Quiet, cold and wet.
Mon 04-Mar-1918
Pretty quiet.  Cold.
Tue 05-Mar-1918
Quiet.  Cold.
Wed 06-Mar-1918
Quiet and cool.
Thu 07-Mar-1918
Some artillery and air fights.  French relieved us.  Glad to get back.
Fri 08-Mar-1918
Went to trenches for AM.  Got back at 2 AM.  Hell of a time.  Big air raid and lots of mud.  Pay day.
Sat 09-Mar-1918
Moved to Chaseniy. Fine place.  Airplanes.  Hung around at supply line.
Sun 10-Mar-1918
Cleaned up and went to trenches for carts in PM.  Saw plane come down.  Got some of it.  Fine and warm.

The Trenches
Mon 11-Mar-1918
Hung around.  Fine weather.  Got box from Borne.  Don't feel good.
Tue 12-Mar-1918
Got letter from F. Cole.  Fine and warm.  Stomach on the burn.
Wed 13-Mar-1918
Hung around.  Not feeling well.
Thu 14-Mar-1918
Great weather.  Nothing doing.
Fri 15-Mar-1918
John Harvey came back.  Not much doing.  Not feeling very good.  Cool.
Sat 16-Mar-1918
Laid around.  Had inspection of helmets and masks.  Wass came back.  Warm.
Sun 17-Mar-1918
Hung around.  Warm and nice.
Mon 18-Mar-1918
Left Chessemy at 7 AM for Braine.  Warm.
Tue 19-Mar-1918
Left B. at 7:30 AM.  Raining.  AM guard in car.
Wed 20-Mar-1918
Arrived at Brainsine (indistinct) chateau at 2 AM.  Unloaded and hiked to villa la Teire.  Raining.  19 Kilo
Thu 21-Mar-1918
Laid around.  Fine place here.  Warm.
Fri 22-Mar-1918
Went through church.  Parked wagons.  Had feed.  Fine day.  Got ready to move.
Sat 23-Mar-1918
Hiked to Dommatry St Piere and camped.  Fine place.  Warm.  14 Kilo
Sun 24-Mar-1918
Stopped at Nome court.  Fish and I had feed.  Warm and nice.  15 Kilo
Mon 25-Mar-1918
Hiked to Armonville.  Fine and warm.  19 Kilo
Tue 26-Mar-1918
Went to (blank).  Cold and snowy.  Carried packs.  14 Kilo

WW1 Barracks
Wed 27-Mar-1918
Reached camp.  Cool.  14 Kilo
Thu 28-Mar-1918
Hung around.  Went to St. Blin at night.  S.O.L. on B.  Cool.
Fri 29-Mar-1918
Raining.  Packed up stuff.  Ready to move.
Sat 30-Mar-1918
Raining.  Started trip.  Stayed in farm.
Sun 31-Mar-1918
Company went on in trucks.  We went to Maryey.  Cold and raining.  Only 1 meal.
Mon 01-Apr-1918
Had breakfast.  Left M. at 5 AM.  Got in (indistinct) at 8 PM.  Hung around.  Cold and rainy.  No grub.
Tue 02-Apr-1918
Got in bed at 4:30 AM.  Still raining.  Got up at 9 AM.  Breakfast.  Left at 9:30 AM.  Arrived at 12.  No grub.
Wed 03-Apr-1918
Hung around.  Some mud.  Raining.
Sun 07-Apr-1918
Hung around.  Peggy got hit and 4 of Eddy's mules killed.
Mon 08-Apr-1918
Went to trenches with Hanson.  Got by OK.  Raining.  Got back at 1 AM.
Tue 09-Apr-1918
Hung around.  Cool.  Worked for Barrows.
Wed 10-Apr-1918
Fish and I went to trenches.  No trouble.  Got back at 3 AM.
Thu 11-Apr-1918
Hung around and slept most of day.  Warm.
Fri 12-Apr-1918
Hung around.  Garfield came up.  Warm.
Sat 13-Apr-1918
Hung around.  Cloudy.  Went to Battalion headquarters to guard.  Peggy came back.
Sun 14-Apr-1918
Went back to own quarters.  Pretty quiet.
Sat 20-Apr-1918
Raid started at 3 AM.  We lost 6 killed, 9 wounded and 22 men and 1 officer are missing.  On Battalion guard at Ar'ville.

Mon 22-Apr-1918Company came out of trenches.
Mon 29-Apr-1918
Emmon and I went up on ration cart.  Quiet.
Tue 30-Apr-1918
Hung around.
Wed 01-May-1918
Hung around.
Thu 02-May-1918
Hung around.
Fri 03-May-1918
Went to town.  Saw Garfield.  Had feed in stable.  Got 10 francs from Jack.
Sun 09-Jun-1918
Fine and warm.
Wed 17-Jul-1918
Stared out with rations.  Got lost and hiked all day.
Thu 18-Jul-1918
Drive started.  Lost 5 men at Vearix.  I found the train near Chateau Thierry.
Fri 19-Jul-1918
Camped at Veiddlywith company.  Some shelling.  Friedman and Norton were killed.
Sat 20-Jul-1918
Hung around Veidilly
Sun 21-Jul-1918
Bosche shelled Verdilly.  Lost 10 mules.
Mon 22-Jul-1918
Moved from V. up to the company.  Stayed in woods.  Lots of shelling.
Tue 23-Jul-1918
Got relieved.  Saw a plane come down.  American.
Wed 24-Jul-1918
Camped in woods near Chateau Thierry.
Thu 25-Jul-1918
Still in woods.  Raining.
Thu 08-Aug-1918
Wrote home for $50.
Fri 30-Aug-1918
Rode on train load at night.  Wet and cold.
Sat 31-Aug-1918
Unloaded.  Had lots of beer.  Hiked all night to woods.  Cold and wet.
Sun 01-Sep-1918
Lost job of driving mules.  Put in 3rd (indistinct).  Hiked all night.
Mon 02-Sep-1918
Fine weather.
Fri 20-Sep-1918
Father died at1:3 AM.
Sat 19-Oct-1918
On guard.  2-6 AM.
Sun 20-Oct-1918
Got $50 from Muriel (his sister).  Raining.
Mon 21-Oct-1918
Good day.  Hung around.
Tue 22-Oct-1918
Good day.  Hung around.
Wed 23-Oct-1918
Fine and warm.  Sully came back from hospital.
Thu 24-Oct-1918
Jim Tahanan was killed.
Sun 03-Nov-1918
Kitchens moved back to Beville.  We moved back to barracks.  Slept in stable.
Fri 08-Nov-1918
Went to barracks with Wilkins.
Sat 09-Nov-1918
Got ready to move.  Went to trenches on ration detail.
Sun 10-Nov-1918
Shorty's birthday.
Mon 11-Nov-1918
I am 23 years old.  All hostilities stopped at 11 AM.  Went to Verdun in PM.

In Remembrance
Wed 13-Nov-1918
Went to barracks for stuff.  Left camp slept in small barn.
Thu 14-Nov-1918
Went to Wixeirlle for rations.  Left camp for new place.  Slept outdoors.  Had feed.
Fri 15-Nov-1918
Left for Nubecourt.  Slept in barn.  Cold.  Damp.
Sat 16-Nov-1918
Stayed in Nubecourt.  Saint Berry  G.
Sun 17-Nov-1918
Left Nubecourt for Belrain.  Slept in barn.  Fine place.
Mon 18-Nov-1918
Left Belrain for new place.  "Bon"  Slept in wagon.  On guard.  I did no G.

Barracks and Cookhouse
Tue 19-Nov-1918
Left for new place.  Fine weather.
Wed 20-Nov-1918
Left for Lymirth.  Had feed from woman.  G.L.
Thu 21-Nov-1918
Left for La F.  Went to dance.  Saw Tray.  G.L.
Fri 22-Nov-1918
Left La Frenche for Consighy.  Fine day.  Had feed.
Sat 23-Nov-1918
Left for Poylangny.  End of hike.  Fine place.
Sun 24-Nov-1918
Hung around stables.  Signed payroll.  Saw 101st boys.  Jack and I got lit.
Mon 25-Nov-1918
Hung around.  Went on guard at night.
Tue 26-Nov-1918
On guard.  Company washed carts.  S. was drunk and didn't do his guard.
Wed 27-Nov-1918
Went to Mense on horse detail.  Some ride.
Thu 28-Nov-1918
Came back from Mense on truck.  Swell feed.
Fri 29-Nov-1918
Finished cleaning up.  Hung around.
Sat 30-Nov-1918
Fine day.  Inspection.  Pay day.  G.L.
Sun 01-Dec-1918
Went out with carts in AM.  Fine day.
Mon 02-Dec-1918
Drilled with company in PM.
Tue 03-Dec-1918
Warm.  Drilled with company.  Fine day.
Wed 04-Dec-1918
Thu 05-Dec-1918
Drilled with company.  Missed retreat and fell asleep on guard.  May be shot.
Fri 06-Dec-1918
Sent 12 mules away.  Got letter from Ava.  Had fatigue in PM.  Washed carts (Co).
Sat 07-Dec-1918
Don and I went to next town.  G.L..
Sun 08-Dec-1918
Fatigue.  Went to next town.  G.L.  Fine day.
Mon 09-Dec-1918
Fatigue.  CafĂ© all closed.  G.L.
Tue 10-Dec-1918
Fatigue.  Saw 4 girls in PM.  On guard.  Raining.
Wed 11-Dec-1918
Thu 12-Dec-1918
Fri 13-Dec-1918
Sat 14-Dec-1918
Raining.  Inspection.  Fatigue.
Sun 15-Dec-1918
Fine day.  Walked fatigue.  Went to Fonlain.  Had feed.  Came back and had feed.
Mon 16-Dec-1918
Went on range.  Raining and cold.
Tue 17-Dec-1918
Shortarm inspeciton.  Fatigue all day.  Got Xniax boxes.
Wed 18-Dec-1918
Drilled.  Got off fatigue.
Thu 19-Dec-1918
Fri 20-Dec-1918
Went on guard.  Had feed at Laula.
Sat 21-Dec-1918
Inspection all day.  On guard.
Sun 22-Dec-1918
Some (indistinct) got pay.  Started to clean up town.  Don and I got lit.
Mon 23-Dec-1918
Hung around.
Tue 24-Dec-1918
Started on hike.  Got there at 3 PM.  21 kilo.  Abbott and I G.L.  On guard.
Wed 25-Dec-1918
Went to see President Wilson.  Came back.  Some hike.
Thu 26-Dec-1918
Had Xmas dinner.  Got paid.  Got (indistinct) from Clyde.
Fri 27-Dec-1918
Sat 28-Dec-1918
Kitchen police.
Sun 29-Dec-1918
Kitchen police.
Mon 30-Dec-1918
Kitchen police.
Tue 31-Dec-1918
Wed 01-Jan-1919
Got transferred to C Company.
Thu 02-Jan-1919
Drilled in AM.  Packed up in PM.
Fri 03-Jan-1919
Hiked from Ponlangy to Enoirisveaux.   Rotten place.
Fri 28-Mar-1919
Went to all our friends to say good-bye.
Sat 29-Mar-1919
Left Mansigne in AM.  Left Mayet in PM.
Sun 30-Mar-1919
Reached Brest in AM.  Hiked to camp.  Slept in beds in tents.  Some sleep.
Mon 31-Mar-1919
Had inspection and bath in AM.  On K.P. at night.
Tue 01-Apr-1919
Came off K.P. at 4:30 AM.  Some job.  Saw Laudeu and Peabody.
Wed 02-Apr-1919
Had inspection in AM and inspection at 2 PM and inspection at 7 PM.  First one in 5 minutes.  Some day.
Thu 03-Apr-1919
On detail at 15 kitchen.  Soft job.  Saw Tony M.  Fine day.
Fri 04-Apr-1919
A company left for the boat in AM.  Went to see Peb. in PM.  Hung around.
Sat 05-Apr-1919
B Company left for boat at 8 AM.  Got paid in PM.  Had some beer.
Sun 06-Apr-1919
Left camp in AM.  Got on Patricia in PM.  Left France at 6 PM.
Mon 07-Apr-1919
First day out.  Fine weather.
Tue 08-Apr-1919
Second day out.  Stormy.
Wed 09-Apr-1919
Third day.  On guard.
Thu 10-Apr-1919
Fourth day.  Off guard in AM.  Pretty stormy.
Fri 11-Apr-1919
Fifth day.  Emergency.  Stopped 2 hours in AM.  Good weather.

A WW1 Troopship
Sat 12-Apr-1919
Sixth day.  One-half way home.  Fine weather.
Sun 13-Apr-1919
Seventh day.  Fine and warm.
Mon 14-Apr-1919
Eighth day.  Fine sea.  Foggy.
Tue 15-Apr-1919
Ninth day.  Cold and foggy.
Wed 16-Apr-1919
Tenth day.  Foggy.
Thu 17-Apr-1919
Eleventh day.  Landed at 2 PM.  Some time.  Went today to land.  (Indistinct)  Had bath at 1 AM in camp.  Slept in tent.
Fri 18-Apr-1919
Finished bath at 5 AM.  Slept.  Moved to barracks in PM.
Sat 19-Apr-1919
Bill and I went home.  Ava came down in PM.
Sun 20-Apr-1919
Stayed at home with Ava.  Back to camp at night.
Mon 21-Apr-1919
Hung around camp.  Went to Fitchboro in PM.  Saw Clyde.
Tue 22-Apr-1919
Sick.  Got up at 2 PM.  Big (indistinct).  Saw Clyde.  Wrote letters.
Wed 23-Apr-1919
Hung around.  Fine weather.
Thu 24-Apr-1919
Hung around.  Raining.
Fri 25-Apr-1919
Went to Boston.  I went to hospital.  Fine place.  Cold.
Sat 26-Apr-1919
Ava and father came up in AM.  Cold.
Sun 27-Apr-1919
Fine day.  Saw Eustance.
Mon 28-Apr-1919
Transferred to 151 Brigade.  First lot got discharged.
Tue 29-Apr-1919
Rest of boys left.
Wed 30-Apr-1919
Hung around.
Thu 01-May-1919
Got pass to go home.
Fri 02-May-1919
Hung around.
Sat 03-May-1919
Hung around.
Sun 04-May-1919
Hung around home.
Mon 05-May-1919
Hung around home.
Tue 06-May-1919
Came back to hospital.  Saw Larry and Betty.
Wed 07-May-1919
Went to Dept. Brid.
Thu 08-May-1919
On K.P.
Fri 09-May-1919
Hung around.  Shaved.
Tue 13-May-1919
Day set to get out.

Private 1st Class Benjamin Franklin Denison