“Clouds of Witness”, a mystery by Dorothy Sayers

I was introduced to the works of Dorothy Sayers by my mother when I was in my teens and have been enamored by Lord Peter Wimsey ever since.  In fact, I named three of my cats Lord Peter (now gone to cat heaven), Harriet Vane, and Mr. Bunter.  Harriet and Bunter are now in their late teens, but still active.

After the recent election, a friend remarked that we needed to escape for the duration or, at least, periodically to help us ignore the horrors of the new administration.  For some reason I thought of reading Sayers.  Looking at my bookshelf, “Clouds of Witness” jumped out at me.  “Clouds of Witness”, set in 1926, is the second of the thirteen Wimsey novels and contains most of the important continuing figures:  Scotland Yard Inspector Charles Parker, Freddy Arbuthnot, Peter’s mother, sister, brother, and sister-in-law. He has yet to meet Harriet Vane. (That happens in “Strong Poison.)

“Clouds of Witness” is an English Country House mystery – with a twist.  The house is not isolated and the occupants are not snowed in, trapped by a flood, or other natural disaster.  The action takes place at a country shooting party hosted by Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver. Of course, one of the guests is murdered under mysterious circumstances.  There are too many witnesses with conflicting stories and at cross-purposes.  It takes Parker and Lord Peter, with the help of Bunter, several trips to France, an Atlantic crossing to New York by boat and back in a small plane in bad weather to exonerate the Duke.

I hadn’t read the book for a number of years, but it remains my favorite of Sayers early works.  She is still developing Wimsey, but you can see glimpses of the character he becomes.  His “man”, Bunter, is already competent beyond competent at almost everything to which he puts his hand.  You can see the beginning of the relationship between Parker and Wimsey – and between Parker and Wimsey’s sister, Mary.

Having enjoyed my re-reading, I decided to watch the 1972 production that had been on the BBC and on Masterpiece Mystery.  I found it pretty faithful to the book until the ending.  Why does television always  have to pretty up the ending?  I have to say that one of the wonderful parts of the book is the trial of the Duke in front of the House of Lords, the jury of his peers.  Sayers’  history of such trials along with her descriptions of the preparation and of the trial itself are a wonderful piece of writing and the video does manage to capture much of it visually.

If you are looking for some enjoyable distraction from reality you could do much worse that reading Dorothy Sayers.  In fact, I think I’ll pick another to read next.

Mr. Bunter grooming Harriet.

Mr. Bunter grooming Harriet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph by Robert Wyckoff.

Main Stream Media

I confess that I am a news junky.  I will watch disaster coverage until it gets repetitious because there is nothing new to report.  I signed Bernie Sanders’ petition to get the MSM to cover him more (maybe after Iowa and New Hampshire?).  I have news alerts from the New York Times as one of my apps and I get email from at least 3 news organizations.  And I have even been known to watch the Brattleboro Selectboard meeting on local cable.

Part of what I watch on cable news is how breaking news stories are handled.  That is why I loved the Mutts series that ran last week.  I have long been a Patrick McDonnell fan following the adventures of Mooch and Earl (I get the new strip emailed to me every morning) closely.  They don’t often make what I would consider political comments unless about the environment but this was such as gentle poke at news coverage, I have to share it.  Here they are:  Monday through Saturday.

 

mutts1

 

 

 

 

 

Day two:

Mutts2

 

Day three features Mooch as the reporter:

Mutts3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day four:  The family interview

Mutts4

Day five:

Mutts5

 

 

 

 

 

And the happy ending:

Mutts6

 

Drawings by Patrick McDonnell.

Writer’s block

I’ve been quiet for a few days.  Have lots of things I’m thinking about and have started some posts, but not finished any of them.  Is it because I am depressed and anxious about the upcoming election?  (I keep reading about the evils of a Republican takeover of the Senate and fear that voter turnout will be low.)  Or is it because there is no fall excitement with the Red Sox in the World Series?  (Although I have to say the games have been exciting with the Royals and Giants.)  Maybe I’m suffering from sleep deprivation since I have a cat who has decided she needs attention at 10:30, 11:30 and between 12 and 1 am.  I think she may be having delayed moving anxiety.  Whatever.  I still don’t sleep.

Then I came upon this humor piece from the New Yorker by James Thomas  

Well, here you are, looking at this, trying, hoping, floundering, scrabbling, wishing, dying to find out the mystery of “how to” write a sentence. Or possibly you have tried write sentence and failed utterly.

Ideally, you’ll aim to begin on the left (in this case, with the word “ideally”), head right (through the middle of the sentence), and stop at the far end of the sentence (in this case, right here).

Sentences have been around since the dawn of paragraphs, and indeed since before that, for sentences are essentially the building blobs of a paragraph. Right here, if you’re looking closely enough, you may notice that what you are now reading in fact is a sentence. But also—some will have noticed even more well—what you are reading is a paragraph. And I could go further than that, even, to declare that you are also reading words, letters, and indeed this entire page. Nobody thought you could do it, but here we are now and aren’t you having a good time?

All I need to do according to Mr. Thomas is write a bunch of sentences and blob them into paragraphs and before you know it I will have a post!

Even furthermore, you’re reading everything that has ever been wrote, but you’re starting with just this bit, because reading everything at once would be too much for anyone to attempt. Too much words in one go is unacceptable, and your writing should reflect that. Keep it concise and don’t stuff your sentence with unnecessary, superfluous, gratuitous content that smothers your prose, muddies your intentions, confuses the reader, clogs up the page with excess text, pads out the work with inelegant drivels, irritates the eye, examines giraffes, and renders your point unclear.

Also, keep your paragraphs short.

How importan is spelling? Well, very important. I don’t know why anyone would even ask that. If you have any sef-respect, you ought to be diligent about and with regard to spelling. If words are the bulding blocks of a sentence—and I would argue that yes, they are—then spelling is the stuff that holds them togteher.

Maybe tomorrow, after absorbing all this advice, I will finish one of my draft posts.  After I finish planting my bulbs for the spring.

Lady writer

Illustration from Mindy’s Muses @ mindysmuses.blogspot.com

 

New laptop, new location

First post from FortLeft’s new home.  I am still trying to figure out all the ins and outs of this new laptop.  Ok, I’m a bit of a luddite and finally got a laptop, probably the last person to do s0.

Our furniture and boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff arrived two weeks ago tomorrow.  Progress has been made in unpacking, but when you have 6000+ books and the new house is configured differently, it is hard to place bookshelves and unbox.  Lots of stuff is ending up in the attic for now. But things are beginning to feel like home.  New routines – like curbside composting – are being established.

Don’t know when you last moved to a new state, but trying to change everything has taken a lot of energy and time.  I’m sure we will be discovering things we’ve missed for a while, but I think all the important stuff has been changed.  Moving to a different country would be even more difficult, I imagine.

The cats are adjusting and all the fish also survived the move.  The cats have explored their new digs and have found their sleeping spots.  I think they will miss the stacks of boxes when they are gone as places to jump to and sit on.

A fellow outside of the post office tried to get me to sign a petition about something the Board of Selectmen did, or maybe didn’t, do.  Had to tell him I didn’t know enough to have an opinion.  Not having an opinion is a bit strange for me, but I will keep reading the local paper and will figure things out.  For now, just enjoying a rainy day in Vermont.

Haven’t quite gotten the hang of inserting links and pictures yet so am re-using one.  But I wanted to do this first post before too much more time passed.

Books

FortLeft is moving

No, not the blog, just physically.  We are moving off the hill in Roxbury (Boston) to a hill in Brattleboro, VT.  As one of my Vermont friends said, “Welcome to Bernieland!”

You may – or may not- have noticed that I haven’t posted anything new in quite a while but things have been a little crazy what with house hunting, getting loans, etc.  And now that we have a target closing date there are all the details to deal with.  Home inspection, insurance, changing everything to another state and finding contractors when you are not on the scene is a challenge.  My advice is to have a good broker.  And then there is packing.

Packing up 20 years of stuff spread out in a 14 room house is quite an experience.  At least we are moving to another large house with attic and a basement that is dry and are sorting and culling rather than downsizing.  The trick is to imagine where things will go in the new house.  That’s what I do at 3 am when I can’t sleep – along with worrying about what kinds of quirks the new house will have.  My grandson said the other night that he thinks it will take at least a year to know all about the new house.  He’s 10.

I’ve been sorting though papers and have found a lot of treasures in piles and boxes. For example, I found some old letters and emails from two of my best friends.  One of them died of a rare form of cancer, the other now has a form of dementia.  We were all so happy and cheerful 12 and 15 years ago.  And then there are all the loose photographs from back when there was actual film. Remember, people would take pictures and then send prints of the best ones so a lot of them are still in envelopes which assists in identification.  And then there are all the ones my husband and I have taken.  At one time I did try to put them in albums, but that fell of the radar early on.  Now they are just loose or in the envelopes they came back from the developer in.  They will mean something some day.  My husband and I are our respective family historians so we have many of the old family albums.  It was a wonderful moment to find the picture I had thought was lost: My grandfather, the Reverend Kyogoku, with his friend, D.T. Suzuki.  (A subject for a future post.)  That photograph is now digitized and saved in several places.

I am an admitted pack rat and had saved old Christmas cards carefully bundled by year.  I ditched the cards, but saved the pictures.  One long Vermont winter I will pull them out to group chronologically by family.  I also had papers from a lot of the big projects I’ve worked on over the years in Boston.  I kept the final products but have recycled most of the work papers.  I have program books and announcements and copies of speeches from (to mane a few) the Jackson Square redevelopment (the early years); “Women on the Edge of Time”, the annual conference of the National Commissions for Women held in Boston in 1999; the creation of the Massachusetts Commission for Women; the first statue of women on Commonwealth Avenue; grants I helped write for domestic violence efforts; and booklets I put together for the Boston Housing Authority on civil rights issues. When I last  moved 20 years ago, I did the same thing with my stuff from Richmond which is still in neatly labeled boxes.  I also have political stuff from the various campaigns I’ve worked on – from George McGovern to Elizabeth Warren.  My lesson learned is to try to file things as you go along.  At least I’m starting with good intentions but I think I had them after Richmond.  Oh, well.

And then there are the books.  All 7,000 or so that are moving with us.  A small library.  I’ve been cataloging them on LibraryThing, for the last two years, but I’m only about half finished.  (LibraryThing is a great way to keep track of your books even if you just have a few.)

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

Mr. Bunter and piles to be sorted.

There is lots of excitement and anxiety on Fort Hill these days.  The cats are confused by all the piles of boxes and things that keep getting moved around as we pack. We talk to them and try to explain, but all they know is that things are different and they aren’t happy about it.  Mr. Bunter cries and Harriet eats Kleenex out of the boxes.  They are just as stressed out as their humans.

I will continue to write about life in a new place, living in a small town, and – always national politics.  My location will change but FortLeft will endure – perhaps a little irregularly for a while, but I hope not with as long a gap as just occurred.

 

 

 

How cats drink

This was supposed to be the only post (before I heard Dave Barry, that is) for today because with four cats anything and everything about them is fascinating.  We have one cat who plays with water and will drink from any place.  Mr. Bunter, like a dog, has been known to try to drink out of the toilet.  He also drinks out of the fish tank.  He used to drag the water bowl (a large heavy bowl glued to an old dinner plate) around the pantry.  Then we got a fancy waterfall drinking fountain and he tries to move that also.  The other three are more normal.

But now we have the physics of how cats drink.  Delicately without wetting the whiskers.  I went to get my glasses adjusted today at lunch and the optician, who also has cats, asked me if I had seen the story.  So cat lovers everywhere are talking about this discovery.  I always assumed it had something to do with the roughness of the tongue, but that would be wrong.

Cats, both big and little, are so much classier, according to new research by Pedro M. Reis and Roman Stocker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined by Sunghwan Jung of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Jeffrey M. Aristoff of Princeton.

Writing in the Thursday issue of Science, the four engineers report that the cat’s lapping method depends on its instinctive ability to calculate the point at which gravitational force would overcome inertia and cause the water to fall.

What happens is that the cat darts its tongue, curving the upper side downward so that the tip lightly touches the surface of the water.

The tongue is then pulled upward at high speed, drawing a column of water behind it.

Just at the moment that gravity finally overcomes the rush of the water and starts to pull the column down — snap! The cat’s jaws have closed over the jet of water and swallowed it.

The best part of the story is how they calculated the lapping speed based on cat size.  Who knew?  But then, who knew anything about how cats drink before this week?

Puppies, Cats and Filibusters

Last night Rachel Maddow did this weird segment launching her contest to come up with a word that is less boring that filibuster.  Her theory being that the process won’t change until people understand what it is and they won’t understand it until we come up with a word that doesn’t put everyone to sleep.

Rachel explained this while running unrelated video of a puppy who kept falling asleep in a large pan of water.

So I tried an experiment.  Peter, one of the cats, was asleep on the end of the sofa.  I called his name.  He woke up and looked at me.  I told him I wanted to have a conversation about filibusters.  He promptly closed his eyes and went back to sleep.  Coincidence?  Probably.  I didn’t say the magic word, “food”, for one thing.  But it was kinda cute.

I’ve written about the filibuster several times in the past and despite what Harry Reid seems to want to do (which is nothing) something has to happen.  Did everyone hear President Obama mention many things which have passed the House and not the Senate during his State of the Union Address?  And it is sad that the Senate has to be threatened with recess appointments before they begin to confirm nominees.

Of all the suggestions, I think the best is not changing the 60 vote rule itself, but instituting the old talk until you drop rule.  No more going on to other business.  No more going home.  If you call for a filibuster, be prepared to talk.

Come on, Senate Democrats.  Stop looking like sleepy cats and puppies.