London: Empires and Ashes

September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Flogging Molly – Tobacco Island


It was unusual, how silly I was after three glasses of beer. I even looked up the elevation to see if that was the issue. It was 36′ above sea level. In retrospect, I recognize it as attributable to malnutrition; I was down to a meal a day and, tragically, today’s had been fish and chips. And I skipped the chips.

Off I went, into the gloomy and actively darkening city of London to see what there was to see.

There was this sick monument to the Great Fire of London. Nowhere in the plaque did they specify if they were for or against it.

I crossed the Thames and it turned out that I was outside of Parliament. See, Parliament meets in Westminister.

I didn’t take a picture of the palace itself because who wants to see another boring palace? I was still a little irritated by the — (get ready I’m about to use a real British word) — hullabaloo over the Crown Jewels back at the Tower of London. Yeah, real fancy, got it.

Although, Black Rod’s secret trapdoor should have given me a hint, but who can decode this daffy (that’s another one) political system? Lords and Commons? Get outta here.

The pig hid his face in shame as I took the picture, as pigs should. I turned the corner and encountered an Imperial shitton of scaffolding around a statue of King Richard the Lionheart.

If that’s what you’re into, go to town, I guess. Richie was a big crusader and conqueror, which tends not to reflect well in the totality of time, but crusading was in vogue back then. What, you’re gonna tell the Pope “no?”

There was also that prickly little matter of him declaring the Purge on all of London’s Jews, then saying “oops jk” after the murderous riots got a little too expensive, but that’s no reason to take down a statue! Those were the times! Jefferson was a slaveowner. Skeletons abound, I’m sure.

Yeah, I was doing some mental gymnastics trying to give the benefit of the doubt until I turned the corner and saw the statue celebrating Cromwell.

If you’re an American who went to public school, you don’t know who this dude was, unless you listened to Flogging Molly, or had a brassy Irish grandma.

Cromwell was the Puritan son-of-a-bitch who masterminded what amounted to an Irish ethnic cleansing in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Penal Laws passed after the Reformation turned Catholics into bags of expendable meat. They weren’t even criminals, since all the rights were revoked. You could do whatever you wanted to them. This led to a lot of instantaneous robbery and murder, though you couldn’t call it robbery since they weren’t people anymore.

Now you might have heard of a guy called Saint Patrick. In America, he has a day. You drink green beer and perpetuate fun racial stereotypes. Patrick catholicized Ireland about a millennium earlier, so the majority of the country was Catholic (read: disposable). As of 2016, the whole country is still 82% Catholic. Old habits die hard.

But not for Ollie’s lack of trying! Cromwell had quite a Roundhead for business, and decided to monetize this genocide. Like Colombus!

Thus came transportation, or “Barbadosing”. If you were found guilty of Catholicism, or Irishness, you were packed up and shipped to Barbados to work the tobacco and sugarcane plantations. Or maybe to Australia. Or maybe to some other English colony! Christ (the Puritan one) knows there was no shortage.

The final fun little twist was all the opportunities available for indentured servitude. If you committed a different, non-Catholic crime, you could also get shipped off for seven years. The Irish took this with good humor, and wrote a number of tasteful folk songs about how much it sucked.

Finally, you opt into seven years transportation in exchange for freedom and wages, paid on completion of indentured service, unless you had an accident the day before and, say, died in a mine shaft.

I goggled at the statue of this highly celebrated genocidal slaver for a few seconds. The Irish are still mad about this. They live like, next door.

There was cold comfort in the fact that all this imperial detritus seemed so desperate. Remembrance of times when England was great, by the standards of the time, dragged screaming into a future that absolutely does not recognize those standards.

Like Propagandhi said: Today’s empires, tomorrow’s ashes.

I’m not linking that one, though. There are already two punk songs in this post, and I never got into Propagandhi.

You ever read that poem, Ozymandias?

Love,

B.

London: Fish and Chips

Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Primus – Fish On

I just finished re-reading a masterpiece of anti-agricultural thought called Against the Grain, and the sordid history of the potato? Absolutely bonkers.

Nothing is more British than fish and chips, except maybe atavistic royalty and losing control of colonies. The question is, why is fish and chips so British?

Potatoes are and always have been poor person food. That sounds classist, but it’s a fact. You can grow potatoes on a 5-foot square plot, they’re calorically dense, and you don’t even need an oven to cook them. You just throw them into a fire and then eat them after. Bone apple teeth.

England hated potatoes and loved bread. Their devotion to tradition ensured it was the mainstay of their meals for most of their history.

So Ireland would make the wheat, and the British would take the wheat, and kick Ireland in the ribs for good measure. Trendsetters as they were back in the 19th century, most of Europe considered the potato food fit only for livestock and the Irish. The French thought it was poisonous.

It got so bad that this zany reverse-correlation developed where it was popularly believed that eating potatoes made you poor, sick, and dirty. The people eating the potato were the ones who couldn’t afford anything else, so of course they were poor, sick, and dirty.

Another reason Ireland leaned so heavy on potatoes was England clear-cut all of Ireland’s forests, and they had no fuel left. To make bread, in addition to wheat, you need a place to mill it and a place to bake it. The Irish poor had neither. They didn’t even have coal; they were burning peat. That narrowed it down.

Here’s how narrow. The Irish had a saying: “The sauce of a poor man is a little potato eating with a big one.”

In the beginning of the 19th century, populations were booming everywhere and England had more poor to contend with than they ever had before. Not even just in Ireland, either! Domestic poor. There wasn’t enough bread to go around, so they gradually began adopting potatoes, though nobody was happy about it.

And now enters the colorful little edict of “enclosure”. In the early 1800s, subsistence farmers in Ireland and England were booted off of farmlands taken for the aristocracy. It bankrupted Ireland, inasmuch as Ireland could be more bankrupted, and almost certainly played a role in the potato famine.

So these peasants aren’t peasants any more, because they lost all their fields. They had become wage workers for the nobles who scooped up their farms. No place to grow your food, and not enough money to buy it… what’s a boy to do, Jean Valjean?

The English poor started growing potatoes in what was left of their backyards. The “lazy root” was back on the table.

In industrial English tenements, there were no cooking facilities whatsoever. Industrialization sucked up all the land, and a package of calories that could be speed-cooked on the literal street became very attractive.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

Factories in England didn’t have anything resembling a concept of “worker’s rights”, and so paid their expendable machine fodder underclass in one lump sum. “Split it amongst yourselves. Shoo.”

The workers would take the wages down to the public house to split it up. The pubs did a decent business with drinks as it stood, and now everybody was coming in at least once a week with all of their money.

Well, all the people had was potatoes and occasional fish. So that’s what they cooked up and sold, on the spot, every payday and throughout the week.

And thus, fast food was born.

Appetizing, isn’t it?

I’m going to level with you; the fish was so greasy I barely made it through, and I am an insatiable human vortex. I didn’t eat any of the potatoes. They make you poor and dirty.

Another proud, closely held tradition.

Love,

B.

 

The Perfect Chimera

September 19, 2018. Bastard HQ.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution that apparently reaches up the academic ladder to professional anatomists using research grants to stitch together ideal Frankensteins in their own image out of discarded Australian animal parts.

Evolution, beautiful readers, is not what Pokemon promised. It’s not an upward process culminating in an intelligently-designed paragon amalgam. It’s gradual adaptation to the present environment.

Here are the improvements presented by this stupid video, and brief yet tasteful rebuttals about why they’re wrong and I hate them.

1) Chimp Back

It was not a “flawed transition to standing upright”. We’re the best existing species for standing upright. Pursuit predation is how we became apex predators, and why we conquered the world despite our myriad physical failings.

“Pursuit predation”, for those who don’t follow the stuffy animal behavior jargon, is our ability to walk down any other animal due to the efficient design of our lungs. Most are faster than us, sure, but human beings were the Michael Meyers of the prehistoric savanna. A quadrupedal construction is clutch for bursts of speed, as in the majority of predators, and grazing animals benefit from always being about a foot from their food source, but a horse’s lungs will fill with blood if they try to outpace us for more than a couple hours.

Google it. Even the crazy horse girls say companion horses can’t go more than about 35 miles a day. An optimistic estimate would double that for unencumbered ancient horses, 70 miles, which is about how far the average Roman legionnaire would jog every day with a third of his body weight in supplies on his back.

That’s how we won.

A chimp was not designed for pursuit predation. Giving us a thick lower back would increase lower back pain. That’s it.

2) Emu legs

Emu legs are designed to move giant, heavy, stupid birds long distances quickly. Why would we need that? We don’t go quickly! We’re almost uniformly overweight and the fastest man on earth runs at about a quarter the speed of the average cheetah.

That’s evolutionary perfection, folks. We made it.

3) Thigh pumps

We already have that, it’s called the femural artery. They’re huge, man. They’re the main source of blood to the legs, and since we’ve already discussed that we have been shaped by circumstance to walk 50 miles a day waiting for a larger, more effectively defensible animal to doze off, our circulation is just fine.

4) Breastless chest

Breast size is probably a false indicator of fertility, sexually selected, sort of like a peacock’s tail. Breastlessness would require modification of the human mating that led to the runaway Fisherian miracle of prominent breasts. I wouldn’t presume to guess what that would do to us sexually, but it certainly wouldn’t maintain our present status quo. Maybe harems? Maybe serial polygyny? Any way you roll the dice, it’s hard to see how the shift would qualify as “perfect”.

5) Reliable heart of a dog

What? Why?

They’re the same hearts, aside from dog hearts beating faster (due to the size differential). Humans are more prone to heart disease because we won’t stop shoving Big Macs down our moist, fleshy gullets. Dogs are more prone to heartworms because they’re stupid and eat poop.

6) Graceful lungs of a swan

What

possible

reason

7) Marsupial pouch

Okay. All right. Our giant skulls, powerhouse brains, and rampant neotony did cause a big spike in death rate during childbirth, as compared to other species. A pouch might reduce that, and make the child more manageable during its lengthy and helpless childhood.

Except for the massive size and growth rate of human infants as compared to kangaroo joeys. Not to mention how utterly and thoroughly the construction clashes with the rest of the Greek myth monstrosity we’re building here.

8) Sensory transformation

Better hearing and vision could have helped us in prehistory, although light sensitivity would suggest that we’d be more nocturnal and there is absolutely no reason for that. We’re still small and weak. What rankles me is “this could be a human fit for the future”.

How? Justify your statement. We’re surrounded by light stimuli and noise pollution at all times, we spend our days looking at glowing screens, and we’re dying off at incredible rates from lack of exercise and inundation with calorically dense food-substitutes like sugared corn syrup that wreak absolute havoc on our suitably efficient organ systems.

How would increased  light sensitivity help a species that actively suffers from visual impairment and chronic migraines thrive in our burgeoning neon cyberpunk dystopia?

How would more efficient lungs and bony, shock-absorbing knees increase the survivability of animals that are rotting away from inactivity and overnutrition?

You funneled a bunch of grant money into designing a clickbait homunculus. It’s the academic equivalent of a selfie with one of those SnapChat dog filters that makes your eyes all freaky and big. The vanity of pushing your Catelyn Stark elf-fursona as though it were legitimate evolutionary science is misinforming the populace and cheapening the field.

And considering the present political climate, evolutionary biology can’t survive too much more cheapening. Although, it can be argued this, itself, is a form of evolution.

But I wouldn’t argue that because it’s a self-congratulatory intellectual exercise. Sort of like slapping your own face on a CGI BuzzFeed list of “Top 10 Animal Parts That Are Kind of Cool!”

Love,

The Bastard

 

 

 

The Shadow Over Portsmouth

August 11, 2018. Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In the deepest hidden recesses of the internet, on a vague Wikipedia page about “brewing in New Hampshire“, I learned that there is one beer that stands above all others. It is a Russian imperial stout lovingly handcrafted by an unusually tall hill dwarf, undoubtedly from an ancient recipe that his clan brought from under the mountain untold ages ago.

Wikipedia claims it is “the best beer in America” and also “the most sought-after beer in America”. It’s called Kate the Great, and legend has it that it can only be obtained by locating this master brewer on his home turf, the Portsmouth Brewery, and praying to whatever gods you keep that the stars have aligned and it’s in season.

It was drizzling on Mystery Hill, but it hadn’t quite started to monsoon in Portsmouth yet. Thunderclouds loomed in the sky like hanged men, shrouding the little downtown in portentous darkness. Everyone we encountered hated us. This isn’t altogether foreign to me, I’ve chosen the Bastard moniker for a reason, but the Girl tends toward amicability and we hadn’t done anything yet.

In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, an archaeologist crossing New England in search of genealogical information finds a foggy, derelict port town. He thinks it might be interesting to check out, so he books a room and pokes around. The locals seem to share a common deformity, a scaling skin disease, puffing around the face and eyes, and unusual hydrocephaly. They spurn him outright. We’re talking like, Amish shunning. The inhabitants call him an outsider and refuse to sell him anything. They bar most public places against him, and retreat into their homes if they see him on the street. As the novella goes on, he discovers that the inhabitants of Innsmouth have been interbreeding with a race of cannibal fish-people, the Deep Ones, who conduct grisly rites in worship of a bloodthirsty aquatic god called Dagon.

I thought the parallels were cute at first, but as our time in Portsmouth wore on, they got more distressing. We’d driven across New Hampshire into an HD remaster of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

katethegreat

The Portsmouth Brewery was wall-to-wall with people, easily the most active building in the town. The hostess sneered that the wait for a table would be 20 minutes. The Girl said that would be fine, and asked if we could get a drink while we wait.

“Yeah, I guess.”

We dodged around the teeming masses of people and, for some reason, all their infant children, to get to the bar. When did the bringing babies into bars phenomenon start? And why? Babies don’t go in bars. Babies go in, I don’t know, parks. McDonald’s Playplace.

Eventually, the girl tending came over to us.

“Hey, we’re here treasure hunting,” I said, trying for charming. “Legend has it this is our best shot at getting Kate the Great. Do you have that right now?”

She scoffed. “We’ll never serve THAT beer again.”

I exchanged a glance with the Girl.

“Is this like, a sensitive subject?”

“No,” she said, providing the exposition she really should have led with, “It’s just, the brewer just quit working here, it was this whole big thing, so we don’t have Kate the Great anymore.”

“Do you know where he went?”

“He opened his own brewery, Tributary. It’s in Maine. But here, you can see our draft list.”

This was technically true. It was in Maine, across a bridge, an 8 minute drive from our present location. It was also technically true that we could see the draft list. It consisted entirely of IPAs, which would have been clutch if I’d ever liked one.

“Can we have a minute to think about it?” the Girl asked. The bartender nodded and drifted off. We escaped to the place next door, which had a similar draft list, substituting one of the IPAs with Budweiser which it listed as a “light lager”.

“I can’t Yelp,” the Girl said. “This is impossible. Two for two. You do it. I’m losing hope.”

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dolphins have had it good for TOO LONG

A few blocks away was a brewery called Earth Eagle, which specialized in a hopless proto-beer called “gruit”. It’s a Danish word, and should be pronounced “gryoo-IT”, but I pronounce it groot and will continue to do so until dead.

We made our way past the cute little technicolor New England cottages to Earth Eagle. Random assignment from day two of any outdoor music festival would give you the clientele. It was also crowded, but not as bad as the Portsmouth Brewery.

“Could we sit outside?” the Girl asked. The waitress glared at us balefully.

“You can if you want,” she said. “But it’s gonna rain.”

“If it starts to get bad, we’ll move back in,” the Girl said.

“You should probably just sit inside.”

The Girl was ready to fight her on this. She was hangry. I’m always hangry, and so I’ve developed a tolerance. I steered her aside.

“Not worth it,” I said. “If we sit outside, no one’s going to come take our order.”

It looked like no one was going to anyway. After a while, one of the Deep Ones waddled over, and we ordered gruit. It tasted like beer-flavored juice. They also played the entirety of Rancid’s “And Out Come the Wolves”. I found that suspicious. Like they were humoring me, and when I left they’d return to their backward recordings of whale song and those high-pitched meditation bowls.

The scene was about to turn. I could hear them sharpening their knives. During the next ponderous waitress’ circuit, we waylaid, paid, and am-scrayed.

“I’m so hungry,” the Girl said. “This is where we die.”

“Very possible. I’ll bet they have a sacrificial table here, too.”

“Bastard, we need to find something,” she said. “I’ll go back in there and eat tofu puffs if I have to.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I said. “Listen. We’ll go back to the pizza place. We don’t need to drink there. We’ll just get a pizza. It’s impossible to ruin pizza.”

She was hesitant, but I kept saying, “Huh? Piiizza?”, and that eventually won her over. That’s a pro strat for you, fellas. No charge. Just remember where you learned it.

They were kinder at the pizza place, probably because it was in a basement full of aquariums, and being below sea level and surrounded by their brethren soothed the agitated merfolk. They had a giant neon sign for RED HOOK, which I presumed to be of “The Horror At” fame, and would have won me a prize had I remembered my Mythos bingo card.

We asked the first pleasant waitress in New Hampshire for garlic and it baffled her.

“Garlic? Like, whole garlic?”

“No, like, powder,” the Girl said. “Or salt, if that’s all you have.”

“We… might have some in the kitchen.”

“That’s only a thing where we’re from,” I told her. “When I went west, none of the pizza places had garlic. A lot of ’em didn’t even have oregano.”

The Girl looked as though she might cry. “But… but why?”

“Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

We were given this.

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garçon! a ration of garlic powder, s’il vous plait, and your finest sprinkling fork

We walked back out into the building tempest. The fishfolk were growing stronger as it became soggier. It was like you could hear the Jaws theme playing in the distance.

“We gotta look at the whale wall,” I said. “That’s like the only other attraction. Then we get the hell out of here.”

We looked at the whale wall. It was both.

Then, we scurried back to the car.

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mood

Unfortunately, the Deep Ones were lying in wait for us. A supply truck was sitting in the middle of the street, right next to my car, parking us and only us in. I couldn’t get around it, and there wasn’t enough sidewalk for any real desperate escape maneuvers. I waited, crouched in the driver’s seat with a fileting knife clutched to my chest. The Girl sat shotgun, slowly pumping up a super soaker full of tartar sauce.

Some other lost tourist/genealogist had parked in front of us, and finally returned to her car. She got the hell out of my way and we made our daring escape.

We crossed the bridge into Maine. It immediately stopped raining. Whatever ancient cult magic held sway in Portsmouth didn’t extend beyond its borders.

Tributary Brewing Company even had a parking lot for free! It was busy, as one would expect for the chosen brewery of the creator of America’s alleged best beer. We sat on the bench along the wall and had a flight and took in the ambiance, most of which consisted of impressionist paintings of this dude’s face.

Tod_Mott_Pic_2_1_22_2016__94159.1454945975

Mott the Lesser is what he renamed Kate the Great, presumably in order to avoid legal disputes with Portsmouth Brewing. It wasn’t in season, but that was all right. Ask Tennyson. It was never about the Grail. The quest is all.

The man himself sat at a table, eating his lunch and grinning the grin of a man presently living his dreams. He was surrounded by a squadron of adoring Dads. I will admit the dude had an aura, and his biere de miel and porter were magnificent. The porter tasted like smoked joy.

We went next door to a tasteful mermaid-themed restaurant with walls colored in equally tasteful mermaid tiddy art. In retrospect, I should have photographed that, instead of whatever the hell it was we ate. (I know mine was scallops, and I know they were excellent).

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Our next stop, continuing with the supernatural theme along New England’s eldritch ley lines, would lead us to the most haunted restaurant in America.

But that’s a spooky campfire story for another day.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Hengin’ Out on Mystery Hill

 

August 11, 2018. Mystery Hill, New Hampshire.

The continental breakfast was your choice of limp Eggos, individual yogurt containers suspended in ice water, or off-brand chemical cake honey buns. I took a little of everything, variety being the spice of life, and topped it off with three cups of what the truly brazen might describe as coffee. Don’t mistake this for complaining. Continental breakfast is an integral part of the travel experience. If I’d wanted to work around it, I’d have booked a real B&B.

There’s a concept that always puzzled me. You leave home for a change of scenery, then get to a bed-and-breakfast, which is just someone else’s home where you hang out and a stranger takes care of you. I can take care for me. At my own home. The scenery has only technically changed.

First stop, America’s Stonehenge.

sunset

i’m sure you’ve heard this popular colloquialism before

America’s Stonehenge is an active archaeology site in the woods, doing its best to make archaeology an exciting, family-friendly event through the addition of indistinct New Age spirituality, snowshoeing, and an alpaca farm.

The site itself is of nebulous astronomical significance. Carbon dating indicates that the monoliths and cairns served as lines of demarcation for astronomical phenomena, and were probably used in rituals, possibly as far back as 4000 BC. Cosmic entropy has these configurations drifted out of alignment (sort of like how they tried to introduce Ophiuchus as a zodiac sign a few years back), so if these rocks were once for harnessing cosmic juju, they aren’t anymore. Still, pretty cool to see a living chunk of prehistory that may have dated back 6000 years. Some would argue that predates Creation.

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“this is a wigwam. it was probably constructed more recently than 4000 BC, and they usually have walls”

 

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ooo somebody up in that henge

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yall ever have cave anger

20180811_104005Girl: “what time is it?”
me: “time for you to get a sundial”

 

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Oracle Cave interior. i bet that’s what they called it in 4000 BC

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“an etching of an antelope running.” art has since evolved

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now we’re talkin

Nobody’s sure what belief structure dominated in New Hampshire millennia ago, but this table was constructed at the epicenter of this astronomically significant point with a discernible blood channel and a hidden “bed”, carved out way under the rock, so that sound would carry up from under the table while the source of the sound remained hidden.

Metal.

After that we went along the hiking trail and touched all the ominously named monoliths, like the “Eye Stone” and the “Solstice Stone” and for some reason the “Bert Stone”, assuming it would imbue us with stat bonuses like in Skyrim.

I have my suspicions that the last stone there, the thicc Venus of Haverhill, is a more recent addition.

We visited the alpacas on the way out.

It was starting to rain and we hadn’t eaten anything since the several honey buns which were, strictly speaking, not food. We bailed for the forgotten city of Portsmouth. It would be the most like a Lovecraft story I’ve ever lived in real life. The irony there is I didn’t feel particularly eldritch at Mystery Hill, and legend has it visiting the megalith site was big H.P.’s inspiration for The Dunwich Horror.

We didn’t get to stick around til dusk. A real bummer, since you know what they frequently and publicly say: there’s nothing like an America’s Stonehenge sunset.

Love,

The Bastard