Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boxing Day

Boxing Day has come and gone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Battles of the Great War

The siege of Kut.

The Iraq War "ended" yesterday, they say. This is a story about another war in Iraq.

The siege of Kut occurred between 7 December 1915 and 29 April 1916. Nasty war things seem to have a habit of starting on December 7.

Historians will note that the battle of Gallipoli was still in progress at this time, a bit to the north. [Update: actually, the Allies were retreating from Gallipoli during December as well.]

The largest city in Syria is not Damascas; it is Aleppo. That's Italian for Alep, a different story.

In Iraq, retreating British Empire forces (mainly the Indian Army 6th Division under Major General Charles Townshend) stopped in Kut (south of Baghdad) instead of continuing on down the (Tigris) river to Basra. Basra is often where the British fight when they fight in Iraq. Why Townshend stopped at Kut, isn't quite clear. Something about a loop in the river made him think he could make a stand against the Turks.

Well, the Turks surrounded Kut and laid siege. Supplies from Basra were quite far away and not likely to be forthcoming anyway. So. What to do?

Townshend sent what cavalry he had out, so they could escape before the siege line was completely closed.

It wasn't long before General Townshend decided he would prefer to leave now, too, and asked his commander to send relief. However, Townshend's superior sees value in not doing that, liking the idea of having that many Turks tied up in a siege, so he tells Townshend that he should just hold on. History tells us that Townshend sent word to his commander that he wished he could do that, but he only had food and supplies enough to last one month. So, relief is sent.

Some say Townshend REALLY had enough food and supplies for four months (if he cut back on rations.) I was double-checking the dates on Wikipedia, and, at the end of the account, it says "It is not clear why Townshend reported he had only enough food for one month when he actually had food for more than four months..."

May I take a stab at answering this mystery? My theory is that Townshend decided he would rather live to see old age rather than be tortured to death over a lengthy period of time by the Turks.

Looking at pictures of the survivors of the siege, I would say Townshend was telling the truth about only having food to last one month.

Sadly, however, the relief effort was unsuccessful and the British Forces (including the relief forces) were forced to surrender.

They put up a courageous fight. They were starving by then.

The prisoners were marched to Aleppo.

Lawrence of Arabia was there, somewhere, they say.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remembering, of course, but...

...but also being thankful that it is possible for things to change for the better.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Creeping Cockney Crud Contaminates Antipatter, Scottie. Beam me up.

"Cockney Creep Puts Paid to the Patter" claimed a not-so-recent headline of The Herald which, I'm guessing, is a conservative Glaschu-upon-Clyde newspaper. At first blush, I assumed some caddish Eastender had wandered far off his turf and had simply brought his creepiness with him, but no, it is rather that The Herald is simply not as fond of using hyphens between combined words as Americans are wont to do, and thus their intended meaning is very different indeed from their actual headline. [Note to Americans who have stumbled across this post, while the words might bear a small resemblance to English, it really isn't.]

When you realize that "Cockney Creep" was really intended as "Cockney-Creep" it will be more apparent that The Herald means to speak here of language adulterations and not rhyming rapists from the Southland. [Note #2 to stumble-upon Americans: "Puts Paid" is something you should just let go of and not try to understand. You will never have occasion to use the term, so no sense learning it.]

What this ado is all about is similar to the ado (adieu?) the French always seem to be making about not letting English (and ESPECIALLY Americanisms, alors) creep into the purity of the French language. Only in Glasgow, the attempt is to keep out OTHER English from THEIR patter, see? You might say (and someone once did) that this is much ado over nothing, but these 'wegians are dead-serious about preserving the purity and primacy of their particular personalized patter. So don't laugh.

At the heart of the problem, it seems, is an old TV sitcom called "The EastEnders" and similar, says The Herald, itself quoting scholarly in-depth linguistic studies done by some university or other, naturally at your taxpaying expense. It seems that by simply watching this foul television product, the impressionistic youth-upon-Clyde have taken to saying things like "Hullawrerr, China" instead of saying the accepted "Wotcher, mite?"

I guess you had to be there.

Well, they claim these are both English, and that one of them is wrong. They claim the creeping slime of the East End is fouling the pure Scots accent of young people living in Glasgow. They do.

Incidentally, have you ever experienced the pleasure of hearing them speak that which they are trying to protect? The pure patter, I mean. Not Scots. Not English. Something from Star Trek's Rigel 7, Scottie.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How Gilbert Died

How Gilbert Died

There's never a stone at the sleeper's head,
There's never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
Unnoticed and undenied,
But the smallest child on the Watershed
Can tell you how Gilbert died.

For he rode at dusk, with his comrade Dunn
To the hut at the Stockman's Ford,
In the waning light of the sinking sun
They peered with a fierce accord.
They were outlaws both -- and on each man's head
Was a thousand pounds reward.

They had taken toll of the country round,
And the troopers came behind
With a black that tracked like a human hound
In the scrub and the ranges blind:
He could run the trail where a white man's eye
No sign of a track could find.

He had hunted them out of the One Tree Hill
And over the Old Man Plain,
But they wheeled their tracks with a wild beast's skill,
And they made for the range again.
Then away to the hut where their grandsire dwelt,
They rode with a loosened rein.

And their grandsire gave them a greeting bold:
`Come in and rest in peace,
No safer place does the country hold --
With the night pursuit must cease,
And we'll drink success to the roving boys,
And to hell with the black police.'

But they went to death when they entered there,
In the hut at the Stockman's Ford,
For their grandsire's words were as false as fair --
They were doomed to the hangman's cord.
He had sold them both to the black police
For the sake of the big reward.

In the depth of night there are forms that glide
As stealthy as serpents creep,
And around the hut where the outlaws hide
They plant in the shadows deep,
And they wait till the first faint flush of dawn
Shall waken their prey from sleep.

But Gilbert wakes while the night is dark --
A restless sleeper, aye,
He has heard the sound of a sheep-dog's bark,
And his horse's warning neigh,
And he says to his mate, `There are hawks abroad,
And it's time that we went away.'

Their rifles stood at the stretcher head,
Their bridles lay to hand,
They wakened the old man out of his bed,
When they heard the sharp command:
`In the name of the Queen lay down your arms,
Now, Dunn and Gilbert, stand!'

Then Gilbert reached for his rifle true
That close at his hand he kept,
He pointed it straight at the voice and drew,
But never a flash outleapt,
For the water ran from the rifle breech --
It was drenched while the outlaws slept.

Then he dropped the piece with a bitter oath,
And he turned to his comrade Dunn:
`We are sold,' he said, `we are dead men both,
But there may be a chance for one;
I'll stop and I'll fight with the pistol here,
You take to your heels and run.'

So Dunn crept out on his hands and knees
In the dim, half-dawning light,
And he made his way to a patch of trees,
And vanished among the night,
And the trackers hunted his tracks all day,
But they never could trace his flight.

But Gilbert walked from the open door
In a confident style and rash;
He heard at his side the rifles roar,
And he heard the bullets crash.
But he laughed as he lifted his pistol-hand,
And he fired at the rifle flash.

Then out of the shadows the troopers aimed
At his voice and the pistol sound,
With the rifle flashes the darkness flamed,
He staggered and spun around,
And they riddled his body with rifle balls
As it lay on the blood-soaked ground.

There's never a stone at the sleeper's head,
There's never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
Unnoticed and undenied,
But the smallest child on the Watershed
Can tell you how Gilbert died.

—Banjo Paterson [the picture is Banjo]


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