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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

March 2015

The Ups and Downs of Cat Ownership

There was something of a kerfluffle yesterday when an old document emerged from the US Patent office showing a diagram of a "new idea" — putting perforations in a roll of toilet paper to make it easier to pull off a reasonable amount of paper. That’s so much the “way of things” today that no one thought anything of it. But what was shocking was the diagram that showed the paper unrolling from to top — or “over” the roll. Apparently many households still argue about this today — whether the proper form is “over” or “under”, and people are passionate about their preferences. Here was proof that the “over” crowd was right, and members of the “under” crowd were hopelessly misguided.

I first giggled at those who could get so upset over such a minor detail. (See a blog posting from a few days ago (Friday, March 13th)  when I asked where all the anger was coming from!) And then I checked my house. Yep, I’m vindicated; I’m an “over.” But why?

Then I began to look at the problem logically, and when I did so, I realized that all four of my OLD cats have had a part in this decision. I remembered their kittenhoods vividly. Every kitten I’ve ever owned (and I use that term advisedly!) has passed through a stage of playing with the toilet paper roll. Invariably we ended up with a pile of unwound paper on the floor. The only solution was to use the “under” routine until the kittens got the silliness out of their systems. Then we changed because the paper was easier for us to reach if it came "over."

How does a cat unwind the paper, and what makes it so much fun? The movement is always the same. The cat stands on its hind legs and uses its front paws to make the roll spin. And the paw movement is always downward, from top to bottom.  If the loose end comes over the top of the roll, the paper comes loose and falls to the floor. What would happen if  the loose end comes from underneath?

Nothing. To make it unwind, the cat would have to push up from bottom to top, a most unnatural motion.

Therefore I have to argue against the correctness of the diagram so widely distributed yesterday. It just may be that the decision is dependent upon whether the household does, or does not, have a normally curious and playful kitten.

A Primer for St. Patrick's Day

  Here's a look back at the first column I ever wrote about St. Patrick's Day

          What about St. Patrick's Day?  If you happen to be in New England, you may notice that small towns dye their rivers green for the day.  In Memphis, you can drop by Silky Sullivan's down on Beale  Street and have a green beer.  (They also do something with a goat, but I've never been brave enough to ask for details!) Everyone you meet will claim to come from Ireland.  And you'll need to be up-to-date on your knowledge of all things Irish, like blarney stones, leprechauns and shamrocks.
 
             St. Patrick was real enough, although he was a pagan, came from Wales rather than Ireland, and was named Maewyn.  His first trip to Ireland occurred when he was captured by Irish marauders and carried off as a slave at the age of 16.  After 6 years, he escaped and made his way to Auxerre in Gaul, where he studied at a monastery and adopted Christianity.  He returned to Ireland as a bishop and spent some 30 years fighting with the local Druids and converting the population to Christianity. 
 
            Legend has it that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.  True enough, there are no snakes there.  But, then,  there never have been.  The island broke away from the continent well before the last Ice Age, and snakes never managed to make the swim to re-establish themselves.  My guess is that when Patrick promised to drive the snakes out of Ireland, he was actually casting an ugly slur on the Druids, who were pagan priests – "the little snakes!"
 
            Leprechauns are also problematic.  We all know what they look like – about three feet tall, old and ugly, with pointed ears and a pointed cap to match.  They smoke long-stemmed pipes, make shoes, and hide pots of gold under rainbows. They are anti-social, tricksters, thieves, and creators of mayhem in the middle of the night.  They like to get drunk on a homebrew called poteen and as a result usually have pink-tipped noses.  There are no female leprechauns, but I'm not going to touch the problem of how they make new baby leprechauns!  They are associated with St. Patrick because they are elves and therefore join the group of folks Patrick wanted to run out of the island.  Patrick's connection with shamrocks is better-grounded in fact.  He used the native three-leafed plant to explain the nature of the Trinity and adopted the shamrock as his badge. Despite the pictures you'll see, leprechauns probably do not hide under shamrocks.


There is a real Blarney Stone, and Irish legend says that if you kiss it, you will be rewarded with the gift of eloquence.  The stone itself is located on the third story of Blarney Castle, just northwest of the village of Cork.  To kiss the stone, you must sit with your back to it, lean backwards (with someone holding your feet), and lower your head down a crack between two stone walls.  They tell me there are iron rails to hold onto, but I think I'd rather just remain green with envy for those who speak with honeyed tongues.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

Peeping Tom



Some of you have already seen this idyllic scene with Nutmeg asleep on my desk. But I want you to understand that it was an unusual occasion. Things are not usually so peaceful chez Schriber. Take this morning, for example.

There I was, still in robe and slippers, enjoying a second cup of coffee and checking out what friends were up to on Facebook. Then came a crash from the next room, followed by thundering paws. (Yes, cats can make a great deal of noise when they are in the mood). The little gray cat (Swizzle) flew straight across my desk, narrowly missing the coffee mug before crashing to the floor in a pile of books. The big orange dude (Dundee hissed at the black one (Miz-Miz) , telling her to get off the couch so he could have it.  Her answer does not bear repeating.

I turned around to look daggers at all of them and realized they were all staring at the ceiling. Now, cats do that frequently. I always suspect they are just trying to get me to look, so they can laugh behind my back. But not this time.  Let me set the scene. My small office has a cathedral ceiling, and its only window is one of those with a half-circle window above the one that opens. (There’s a fancy name for that, isn’t there?)

Anyway, I finally realized that they were looking at that half-circle, and Dundee was making loud chattering sounds.

And looking into the office was a fairly large squirrel. He was hanging upside down from the window frame and wiggling his nose at all of us. A squirrel? Haven’t seen one around here since the contractors wiped out a woodland to build our condo community. They named the complex “The Oaks” but the only trees left were some twigs they stuck in the ground to replace all those lovely live oaks. However, it’s been 10 years now, and the twigs are higher than the rooftops, And for the first time, they have produced a bumper crop of acorns. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the squirrels discovered that all cats living here have to stay inside, and all dogs must be on leashes.

So welcome to the neighborhood, Mr. Peeping Tom Squirrel. I hope you enjoy your acorns, but if you must scamper across my roof and watch me through my window, I’d be grateful if you would wait until I’ve finished my coffee.





It’s Friday. Two chapters finished. Time for a rant.



There’s a story making the rounds on the Internet today  about an elderly couple and their cocker spaniel who were involved in a traffic stop for having tinted car windows that were darker than Georgia law allowed. The over-zealous cop had made them get out of the car and stand along the road for nearly half an hour while he tried to get them to admit they were drug dealers.


Internet outrage abounds. The “victims”  have lost all respect for law enforcement. People are screaming profiling, police brutality, “cops are criminals,” all the ugly stuff we hear every day. But for some reason, this really tipped the scales for me. Is Facebook teaching us to carry everything to its illogical conclusion? Have we forgotten how to laugh at the small absurdities?

I was reminded of the only time I was ever accused of drug smuggling. Yep, me. It was 1973, and we were in the process of moving from Key West, FL, to North Bay, Ontario, in the middle of winter.  In the car we had a two-year-old and four cats along with suitcases and supplies to last us for a couple of weeks while we waiting to find housing at my husband’s new military assignment. We left Florida in 85 degree weather. Reports said North Bay was at 40 below!  We had stopped in Ohio to visit parents and purchase some winter clothing, and my mother (bless her heart!) had stuck in a bag of premium home-grown catnip to keep the kitties mellow on the last leg of the journey.

We arrived at the US/Canada border on a very cold morning, only to be told by the authorities that they needed to search our car. So we unpacked the car and lined up the suitcases, the cat carriers, the boy’s car seat, the disposable litter boxes, the cooler full of snacks, and the carton of emergency household items (aspirin, toilet paper, alarm clock, etc.). And what did those authorities find? That bag of premium home-grown catnip, which they immediately assumed was marijuana. We were there a long time, even feeding the cats some of the catnip just to prove that’s what it was.

We giggled about it then, and still do. It never once occurred to us that we were being profiled or that we were victims of police brutality. We didn’t think to call the officers’ supervisor and demand that they be fired. It was an adventure in absurdity, and it still makes a good story. I’m afraid people are losing the sense of humor that allows them to take the little things in stride. Wouldn’t we all be happier if more people saved their indignity for the real injustices of this world? Surely there are enough of those to go around.

What Really Happened in Columbia, SC, at the End of the Civil War?















Thom Bassett, in his article from today's New York Times, argues, "While the Northern generals deserve some blame, the burning of the South Carolina capital was in reality a result of confusion, misjudgment and simple bad luck. It was, in sum, an accident of war."

He describes a scene in which hoarded cotton was first piled in the streets by the Confederates and then was blown around until it draped over everything like a strange sort of snowfall.  To that picture, he adds enormous quantities of whiskey and medicinal alcohol, which was not only flammable in itself but also inflamed the Northern soldiers who entered the city. Interestingly the comments elicited by this article could have been written in 1865, with Northern and Southern sympathizers lining up to take potshots and hurl firebrands at one another. 

Is the topic fuel and fodder (pun intended!)  for my upcoming Yankee Reconstructed?  I'm not sure how I can work the information into my own story, which occurs three years later, but obviously, sentiments about the fire would still have been running deep. And part of the story does take place in the burned out shell of the city of Columbia. But what I found most interesting was the number of characters from my books who played a part in this event.

Sherman's march through South Carolina, of course, marks a major turning point in Damned Yankee. The Union army was in Aiken just a couple of days before this fire, and Jonathan Grenville took that opportunity to stand against their threats. He almost literally sends them off to do their damage in Aiken and then in Columbia.

One of today's commenters points out that "Anthony Toomer Porter, an Episcopal priest and Confederate Army Chaplain, was present while Columbia burned and wrote about it in his autobiography, Led On Step By Step, first published in 1898. He confronted Sherman about the lack of control of his troops on a Columbia Street during the fire." Readers of this blog will recognize A. T. Porter, as the same Dr. Porter who founded a school for Confederate war orphans in Charleston and hired Jonathan to teach for him.

And the Confederate general who failed to keep his soldiers from setting fire to the cotton bales to keep them out of Northern hands was General Wade Hampton -- he of the massive statue on Meeting Street in Charleston.  He was commander of Hampton's Legion, in which Charlotte Grenville's first husband was blown to smithereens and in which Johnny Grenville lost a leg at Chickamauga. Wade Hampton also plays a major role in Yankee Reconstructed, as he creates a band of Red Shirts (much like the KKK),  and later gets himself elected Governor of South Carolina by suppressing black votes.

This is why writing historical fiction is so much fun. Some of the wild stories behind the dry events of history books are so far-fetched that readers will assume that the author is making them up. Not so, dear readers!