The Shamrock Fest Schedule

Shamrock Fest is on Saturday in Washington, DC, on the grounds of RFK Stadium.

I bought my ticket back in November, and today I saw the schedule.

I already knew the line-up was a little on the thin side, with Shaggy and Sum 41 as the headliners. Looking at the schedule, I looks like I’m going to leave by 5:30 and the line-up of bands I want to see:

12:45 — Kilmaine Saints
1:30 — Barleyjuice
2:15 — Scythian
3:00 — Street Dogs
4:30 — Carbon Leaf

And then I’m done. Depending on Metro, I could be back home in Pennsyltucky by 8 o’clock.

No, I won’t leave quite that early; I’ll have to pick up the live recording of the Carbon Leaf set on a USB stick about twenty minutes after they finish. So, I’ll leave the grounds of RFK by 5:45. :)

Then, on Sunday, I’m having the traditional Corned Beef & Cabbage dinner. My first in six years.


Ultima Thule

On New Year’s Day, the New Horizons probe, the first space probe to visit Pluto, will zip past the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 which will become the furthest object in our solar system visited by a space probe. Unfortunately, 2014 MU69 isn’t an easy designation to remember, nor does it roll off the tongue, and so the New Horizons team has come up with a much more poetic name for the object — Ultima Thule.

“Thule was a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography. Ultima Thule means ‘beyond Thule’ — beyond the borders of the known world — symbolizing the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done.”

Ultima Thule is not an official International Astronomical Union name, just as Mars’ Mount Sharp is officially Aeolis Mons, and IAU officials will likely be just as annoyed by NASA scientists talking about “Ultima Thule” as they were about “Mount Sharp,” but it’s a good name, one chosen by the explorers who are going there.

Ultima Thule!

I Have Always Thought in the Back of My Mind…

Sunday marked George Harrison’s 75th birthday, and in honor of his birthday I watched The Concert for George and, later in the day, Eric Idle’s The Rutles: All You Need As Cash, a satirical film based on the Beatles’ career that features Harrison in a small role as a journalist.

I also shared the wonderfully goofy video made for Harrison’s 1970 song, “What Is Life,” a few years ago, with dancers Emma Rubinowitz and Esteban Hernandez of the San Francisco Ballet doing a performative dance that doesn’t appear to have much to do with the song but strikes me as the kind of weird and silly thing that Harrison would have loved.

Back to The Rutles.

One of the most memorable sequences in The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash is the animated sequence, inspired by The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, that goes with the song, “Cheese and Onions.”

In all the years that I’ve watched the film and listened to the song, I’d never once thought, “So, is a cheese and onions sandwich a thing?”

As it turns out, it is! Basically, it’s shredded cheddar and diced onions, mixed with mayo, and slapped on bread.

“That seems simple,” I thought. It wasn’t what I expected, I thought there would be cheese slices and tomatos and lettuce, but I was curious so I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work Tuesday and picked up some cheddar. (I had a bag of frozen diced onions in the freezer. You never know when you’ll need them.)

I mixed my ingredients, I stirred them up, stirred and stirred and stirred, and…

I felt a slight sense of disappointment.

“That looks like pimento cheese,” I said to myself.

Not knowing off-hand what went into pimento cheese I looked it up. Shredded cheddar cheese, pimentos (a type of chili pepper, in case you didn’t know), and mayo.

The only difference from “cheese and onions”? Swap out the onions from a cheese and onions sandwich with diced pimentos and you have a pimento cheese sandwich.

And so it turned out that, after years of not knowing what a cheese and onions sandwich was, I basically did, albeit under a different name and with one different ingredient.

Projects In Progress

Lately, I’ve been working on a couple of projects.

In the fall, I colorized a photograph of Swampoodle Grounds, Washington, DC’s baseball park of the 1880s. I liked working on that, and now I’m working on colorizing another old baseball photograph, this time of Babe Ruth and (future president) George H.W. Bush. The photograph was taken when Bush was a student at Yale (and captain of the baseball team) and, like the photograph of Swampoodle Ground with the Capitol dome looming beyond the outfield wall, I like the intersection of baseball and politics in a single image. I’ve been working on this off-and-on for about a week, in half-an-hour chunks at a time.

I’ve also been thinking about my website. I’ve wanted — and have worked on — on a magazine-style front-end, but I was stymied by a responsive slider that I just couldn’t make work. It’s been in a holding pattern for about nine months, and last weekend I decided to take another look at the code and the problem. I still haven’t solved it, but I’m thinking about it, the gears are turning, and I should have it worked out soon.

I’ve also been making plans for the spring and summer! Things I’m planning on doing:

  • March 17: Shamrock Fest, Washington, DC.
  • March 23: Carbon Leaf, Lynchburg, VA.
    It’s Carbon Leaf’s 25th-anniversary tour, I can take a vacation day, and I can visit my parents that weekend as well. It’s a win-win!
  • April 14: Cecil Con, North East, MD.
    I’ve been looking for an excuse to go to the North East/Elkton/Rising Sun area to do some cemetary explorations (my dad’s side of the family comes from that area), and a small convention in North East gives me an excuse.
  • June 2: Annapolis Irish Festival, Annapolis MD.
    I’m not certain of the date, as it hasn’t been announced yet, but this seems likely.
  • June 16: Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival.
    This has traditionally been earlier, in May, but it’s moving to June this year to see if they can avoid the annual deluges that seem to plague the festival. The 2014 deluge fried my mobile, and I was never able to wear the shoes I wore that day again.
  • June 23: Emmet Swimming, Washington, DC.
    They’re doing a 30th-anniversary show at the 9:30 Club in DC. The band was a favorite of a friend of mine who, sadly, passed away ten years ago, I’ve never seen them live, and it’s my birthday weekend, so why not?
  • July 6-8: Shore Leave 40, Hunt Valley, MD.

I still haven’t figured out baseball games as such, but when one builds a schedule, one has to start somewhere. :)

And I’ve been thinking about a book. A non-fiction book. I don’t want to say a lot about it — it was something I learned of about ten days ago, wanted to know more, and discovered that no one had written anything more than a magazine article on it — because it’s still percolating. I need to do more research to see if it’s something worth exploring further.

I was sure someone would have written a book about this. Someone. Anyone.

That’s what I’m working on right now.

Post header photo, Iona, by dtydontstop, licensed Creative Commons BY 2.0

The Things You Find in Your Photo Collection

As some people know, I like to visit cemeteries. And when I visit cemeteries, I tend to take pictures of headstones and the cemetery itself, even if I have no familial reason to. I’ve visited Dallastown’s cemeteries many times, I’ve taken many photos, and I’m related to absolutely no one.

I have a particular fondness for Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, which I last visited in September. I like the history there but, more importantly, one of my ancestors is buried there, and my great-grandfather’s aunt, siblings, and in-laws are likewise buried there. (The blog post on my September visit goes into some detail about who’s there and where.)

I had a folder on my Windows desktop called, unimaginatively, “New Folder.” I couldn’t remember what was in it, and it was pictures of my September visit to Congressional Cemetery that I hadn’t filed away where I wanted them. And I realized that I’d found something five years ago that I hadn’t realized that I’d found at the time.

This is a photo from my September visit:

This is the gravesite of Edward Hawk, Civil War veteran, and Ella Gardner, older half-sister of my great-grandfather Allyn. I went looking for it in September because, while I knew it was there, I’d never gone looking for it.

At least, that’s what I thought.

This is a photo from May 2013, nearly five years ago.

This picture was taken about five feet from where Edward and Ella are buried. The tall, black, angled monument is the same. There’s the same headstone that reads “King” at the top. Edward and Ella would have been about four feet to my left and about three feet behind me.

Here’s another photo from May 2013, taken about a minute earlier:

The broken headstone at the right? That’s the broken Lusby headstone in the picture at top. Samuel and Clara Lusby are buried there, into the picture. Ella is buried on the backside of that headstone, out of the picture.

In short, I had gone looking for Edward and Ella Hawk five years ago, and if I’d bothered to look down, at Edward’s small headstone, I’d have recognized that fact and undoubtedly remembered that I’d gone looking for them.

I was standing right fucking there, and I didn’t see them.

There’s another relation in the second picture in this piece, though at this resolution you probably can’t see it. There’s a red brick burial chamber near the center but toward the left. Below it, you can see two identical-ish black headstones standing next to each other. The one on the right is the headstone of Thomas Hardy, my great-grandfather Allyn’s half-brother, though I wouldn’t have known at the time. (I knew that Allyn Gardner had a half-brother named Thomas Hardy. I did not know where Thomas Hardy was buried.)

Here’s a photo of it from March 2017, showing the adjacent headstones and the burial chamber:

If there’s a lesson in this, it’s that I need to pause, look around more, and think about what I’m seeing.

Meeting Matt Frewer

Matt Frewer was the headlining guest this year at Farpoint, an annual science-fiction convention held near Baltimore, this weekend. While I know that most people wanted to meet him because of Max Headroom or roles in other shows like Eureka, Orphan Black, and recently Altered Carbon, I really wanted to meet him because of Doctor Doctor and his Sherlock Holmes television movies.

On Saturday, I brought a DVD of The Hound of the Baskervilles/The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire to the convention and asked him to sign the sleeve for me. I don’t normally get things like this signed. Scratch that. I never get things like this signed. In twenty years of going to conventions, this was the first time that I ever asked an actor for an autograph on anything. I won’t say that I got a “Whoa” from him, but it wasn’t the usual Max Headroom stuff he probably has to field from fans, and we were able to talk for a few minutes. I know that Frewer’s Holmes isn’t regarded fondly by many Holmesians, but I’ve always enjoyed his films, and I said to him that Whitechapel Vampire was, of the four films, my personal favorite and, honestly, the one I consider the best. He said that he really enjoyed making these.

He personalized the signature, which I didn’t ask him to do, and I geeked out a bit. I thanked him for coming, and we shook hands.

During the Q&A with Frewer that afternoon, Kathleen David asked Frewer what his inspiration for his take on Holmes was. Frewer began by saying that “many actors have ridden this horse,” and he said he didn’t want to recreate another actor’s performance. When he really thought about the role and how Sherlock Holmes is always the smartest man in the room, he decided to base his interpretation of Holmes on his father-in-law, a prominent, very skilled, and very brilliant eye surgeon. “He had the ability to make you feel dumb because you didn’t listen to him.”

I had intended to ask Frewer the same question, so I asked him instead about the Max Headroom television hijack — in 1987, somewhere wearing a Max Headroom mask hijacked two television signals in Chicago. As the actor behind Max Headroom, I wondered what he thought, and he said, “I thought it was great. It was very much in the spirit of Max Headroom. It was like the Occupy Wall Street of its time.” I also asked if he was questioned by law enforcement, and he said that he wasn’t.

Someone else asked him if he would reprise his movie role of Moloch in the Watchmen television series Damon Lindelof is developing is HBO. Frewer said that he absolutely would if he’s asked. He loved working on Watchmen, and he loved working with Zach Snyder. He hadn’t read the graphic novel so all he had to go on was the script, and when he asked why Moloch had those ears of his, he said that he and Snyder sat down and worked out a backstory for Moloch. “We decided that, when he was born, the doctor pulled on his ears during the delivery, stretching them out, and the pain from that is why he was pissed off with the world.”

It was great to meet and converse briefly with an actor I’ve admired for thirty years and one whose performance as Sherlock Holmes I really enjoyed. :)

Conversations I Have With Myself

This is a real conversation I had with myself recently:

Farpoint is this weekend! Maybe I’ll go to Andy Nelson’s and get some BBQ for dinner.”

“You freaking moron. You drive past Andy Nelson’s every single day when you go to work. You can stop anytime you want after work. You don’t.”

“Oh. Yes. You’re right. I don’t. But BBQ!”

“Goddammit. You. Are. Fucking. Hopeless.”

By the way, Farpoint is this weekend, and it begins tonight. Check out my schedule, and if you’re there perhaps we’ll cross paths!

The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard

In January I rewatched the Sharpe movies made in the mid-90s, based on the Bernard Cornwell novels about the Napoleonic Wars and starring Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, for the first time in years. The only ones I didn’t watch are the two post-Waterloo movies made about a decade ago that are set in India; I’ve seen them (and wrote about the first, Sharpe’s Challenge, here), but I don’t have them on DVD.

Sometimes I’ve imagined there’s a Napoleonic Era shared universe — Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey are on the high seas, Richard Sharpe is on the ground in Spain, Bezukhovs and Rostovs and Bolkonskys experience the war in their own way in Russia, Etienne Gerard leads Napoleon’s hussars into battle across Europe, and occasionally their paths cross in various ways.

Hornblower comes from the novels of C.S. Forester and Aubrey from the novels of Patrick O’Brian. Sharpe, as mentioned, comes from the work of Bernard Cornwell, and the Russians come from Warren Peace’s Leo’s Toy Store. The name that would be unfamiliar to most readers would be that of Etienne Gerard.

So who is he?

Between 1894 and 1903, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote nearly twenty short stories about Etienne Gerard, an officer in Napoleon’s cavalry. The Gerard stories fall neatly into the gap between the death of Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem” and his resurrection in “The Empty House” a decade later, with the Gerard stories interrupted by the writing of The Hound of the Baskervilles halfway in between. The Gerard stories were collected into two volumes, The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard and The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard. They span nearly twenty years of history: Gerard’s training (roughly during the Peace of Amiens in 1802-1803) to the Polish campaign of 1807, the Peninsular War in 1809, the invasion of Russia in 1812, the invasion of France in 1814, the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and finally Napoleon’s death in 1821.

After watching Sharpe, with my brain firmly planted in the 19th-century, I decided to revisit the Gerard stories. I’d read them over a decade ago; I’d bought a trade paperback of the complete stories at the Barnes & Noble on Broad Street in Richmond, near Willow Lawn, in November 2005. (I was on my way to Baltimore to my grandmother’s house, I’d stopped for dinner, and went in a bookstore. The mind remembers obscure and specific details like these.) The stories weren’t fresh in my mind at all, so I felt like I was coming to them fresh.

Gerard is an interesting character. The stories are narrated in the first person — Gerard, long since retired and now some thirty years since Waterloo, regales listeners at a tavern with tales of his derring doo long ago — and there’s a tall-tale quality to some of the stories. Gerard insists that he was the best horseman, best swordsman, best lover, and bravest soldier in all of Napoleon’s armies. At first, it seems that Gerard is simply an unreliable narrator. But it quickly becomes clear that Gerard is something else, something much more interesting. Gerard is an unaware narrator. Quite simply, Gerard doesn’t realize that he’s not particularly bright, not especially liked, and definitely not respected. He’s not a good leader, he makes terrible decisions, he’s assigned duties simply because he doesn’t ask questions and he’s completely expendable. He’s lucky more than he’s skilled, and opponents (particularly women) take advantage of his simple nature all the time. What successes he has are through dogged determination more than anything, and it’s always in spite of himself. What’s remarkable about Gerard, even though it’s obvious to the reader, from Gerard’s own words, that he’s all of these things, is that he himself is aware of none of it. He really and truly believes he was the best and smartest officer in Napoleon’s army.

For stories about a cavalry officer during the Napoleonic Wars, there’s remarkably little military action in the Gerard stories. A major battle only plays a part in the two linked stories about Waterloo. In true Gerard fashion, he misses all of Waterloo; assigned by Napoleon to pass a message to Grouchy, Gerard gets lost, finds himself behind Prussian lines, and holes up in an inn while the battle rages on around him, only returning to the French lines once the battle is over and Napoleon’s army is in retreat. Typically, though, Gerard is given a mission by a superior officer, sometimes even Napoleon himself, and he ends up failing in some way or another, while in Gerard’s mind it’s a rousing success. (Gerard’s failures pile up to the point where I legitimately wondered how it was that Gerard kept getting promotioned.)

As an historian (at heart and by schooling), there’s so much of the Napoleonic Era that Doyle missed in these stories, and I wish Doyle had continued to write Gerard tales, more than a one-off a few years later (“The Marriage of the Brigadier,” the earliest chronologically of the stories), after he’d resurrected Sherlock Holmes. Like in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle has his narrator mention unchronicled tales, like Gerard at Austerlitz or a duel with a dozen Italian swordsmen, and there’s ample history that could be covered. At the same time, I’m not sure there was anything else Doyle could have done with the character of Brigadier Gerard. There simply weren’t the facets of character there to explore. T here wasn’t anything else to say. And Doyle himself was aware of that. The final story chronologically, “The Last Adventure of the Brigadier,” about a scheme to liberate Napoleon from St. Helena, has Gerard admit as much, that there’s nothing left to say about himself and his adventures.

Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard stories are today little more than curiosities, read by only devoted fans or scholars which I think is unfair. These stories have their charms. There’s wit in them, and they star a memorable lead character. Even if there is no Napoleonic Wars Shared Universe, in my mind, Richard Sharpe and Etienne Gerard must have faced off across a battlefield at least once. Surely.

My Farpoint 2018 Schedule

This weekend is Farpoint, a science-fiction convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland that I’ve been attending since 2006. (I was supposed to be at the famous “Snowcon” Farpoint in 2003 — I’d registered for it and was looking forward to it — but when I saw what the weather forecast for Maryland was, I cancelled my hotel reservation and stayed put in North Carolina that weekend.) The headlining guests at Farpoint this year are Matt Frewer (Max Headroom, Doctor Doctor, and a metric ton of other things), Nana Visitor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Timothy Zahn (science-fiction novelist), and Nora McLellan (Killjoys).

I’ll be on six hours of programming across the weekend. Here’s where you’ll be able to find me.

Friday, February 9

Plotting Unconventionally
Salon C, 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Allyn Gibson, Heather Hutsell, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Russ Colchamiro
Sometimes writers need guidance or use unexpected tools when building a story. For example, Philip K. Dick famously wrote The Man in the High Castle with the aid of the Chinese oracle, I Ching. The panelists will discuss the pros and cons of plotting stories using aids such as story dice (like Rory’s Story Cubes), writing prompts, and books like Plotto.

Farpoint Book Fair
Hunt Valley Hallway, 10:00pm – 12:00am

Saturday, February 10

Another Regeneration, Another Show
Salon A, 10:00am – 11:00am
Jennifer R. Povey, Thomas Atkinson, Allyn Gibson, Colin Caccamise
With a new showrunner and our first female Doctor, we’ll discuss Doctor Who‘s current season.

Sunday, February 11

Superhero Film Overload?
Salon A, 10:00am – 11:00am
Allyn Gibson, Glenn Greenberg, J.L. Gribble
A decade ago, Marvel Studios looked like they were taking a risk with the first Iron Man movie. Now, Marvel produces three or four films a year, plus a slate of tv series. Meanwhile, DC Comics is building their own cinematic universe alongside several tv series. Fox and Sony are making their own Marvel movies, Valiant Entertainment has films in development, Dark Horse Comics is rebooting Hellboy, and Amazon has rebooted The Tick. Have we hit superhero saturation? Will audiences tune out?

Blade Runner: The Edge of Human
Salon A, 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Allyn Gibson, T. Eric Bakutis, Andrew Kelley
Thirty-five years after Ridley Scott took film audiences into Blade Runner, a dystopian future where the line between man and machine were blurred, audiences returned to that world in Blade Runner 2049. Our panelists will discuss the film, whether it is a worthy successor to the original, what the new film says about what makes us human, and whether or not Rick Deckard is a replicant.

Over the next few days I’ll pull together notes and whatnot for my panels. I try to be prepared. :)

And I’ll need to leave work a little early on Friday.

For more information on Plotto, a copy of which I’ll be bringing to the panel on Friday night, see:

There was a Farpoint Writing Contest, but I didn’t submit an entry. Ironically, it would have been perfect for the “Plotting Unconventionally” panel, as the writer guests were given a prompt to write from, but I struggled to come up with an idea that I liked or interested me.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing Matt Frewer, and I’d like to get the DVD sleeve for his version of The Hound of the Baskervilles autographed. I’m also looking forward to seeing Timothy Zahn again, and I’ll bring my copy of Thrawn to get it autographed as well. There’s a lot to do this weekend.

Perhaps I’ll see some of you at Farpoint!

My Grand Fenwickian Heritage

In the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau will be asking people to write in their ethnic background.

I have decided that I will report that my ancestors come from Grand Fenwick, an independent, English-speaking principality somewhere in central Europe. If I need to name a second country, I will name Ruritania.

Grand Fenwick, of course, is the fictional land in the books of Leonard Wibberley, beginning with The Mouse That Roared.

Ruritania comes from the works of Anthony Hope (such as The Prisoner of Zenda), and there’s a whole body of late-19-century and early-20th-century literature known as the “Ruritanian romance” set in exotic, fictional, central and eastern European countries. For two modern-day examples of Ruritanian lands in fiction, look at Latveria and Sokovia in Marvel Comics.

As a Doctor Who fan, I have an especial fascination with Grand Fenwick, as the movie adaptation of The Mouse That Roared features William Hartnell, the original Doctor, in a minor role. Even though it was filmed four years before Doctor Who, Hartnell looks very much like the Doctor, and in the back of my mind I wonder if he was, in fact, playing the Doctor, incognito and undercover in the royal court of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick to ensure that Tully Bascomb gets his hands on the American Q-Bomb as history records. And that leads me to wonder if the Doctor has always been involved in Fenwickian affairs; the small principality is exactly the kind of place the Doctor would like. Wibberley’s work seems like the sort of thing Big Finish Productions should license so they can adapt the original novels to audio and then tell tales of the Doctor’s lives-long love of Grand Fenwick.

Yes, when the 2020 Census rolls around, I will be a proud Fenwickian-American, and I will denote that fact while drinking a bottle of Pinot Grand Enwick, the cheap American knock-off. You don’t think I can afford a bottle of the real Pinot Grand Fenwick, do you? :)