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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pride And Prejudice And H G Wells: Part 1

In his novel Love and Mr Lewisham, H. G. Wells introduces us to a young teacher at a boy's elementary school in rural England. Mr. Lewisham holds great academic aspirations, but he is poor, with no family or friends to support him. Although he earns forty pounds a year, he must pay thirty on room and board to his landlady. So every hour he is not at school, he sits in his tiny attic room, at a small desk made of boxes, and studies. 

Perhaps Mr Lewisham studies too hard. For one day he catches sight of Miss Henderson, a young woman who is visiting some relatives. Her beauty shines like the rays of the afternoon sun upon the coldness of his isolated existence. Suddenly he loses interest in studying. All he wants to do is be with her.

A chance meeting with Miss Henderson in the country lane only deepens his ardor. When the head of the school sees them together, he reprimands Mr. Lewisham. But the young man refuses to take his cues from the older school master. Although it is never stated, Mr. Lewisham knows he should never have spoken to Miss Henderson, or walked along beside her in the country lane, as they have yet to be properly introduced by her family or his academic superiors. 

Unable to control his passion, Mr Lewisham later refuses to take over a class for another teacher. This is because the headmaster wishes to take along another teacher, to a party being given by Miss Henderson's relatives. What if his colleague and Miss Henderson fell in love? Knowing her schedule, Mr Lewisham uses his free time that afternoon to meet with Miss Henderson again. When he realizes that she returns his affection, he convinces her to spend the rest of the afternoon together. Consequently, she doesn't return to the house by the time she promised, and misses the party. Likewise, he fails to oversee a scheduled class later that afternoon. Although they merely talk and walk through the surrounding farmland, and have tea in a nearby village, when they return that evening, Mr Lewisham and Miss Henderson find their reputations are in tatters. 

Taking tea with my wife,
in a cafe along the Serpentine in London,
while under the careful supervision of the Daleks.

Miss Henderson is looked down upon by all the other women in the village. They see her as a fast woman, someone of low morals. Her relatives confine her to their house after that, and never let her out of sight when they go out. Meanwhile, Mr. Lewisham finds the head of the school unwilling to forgive his absence that afternoon. Without his superior's recommendation, his applications to the universities, and the prestigious programs he hoped to enter, come back rejected.

In Jane Austen's novel Pride And Prejudice, self-important clergyman Mr Collins insists upon speaking to Mr Darcy at a ball. As Mr Collins holds close ties to Lady Catherine de Borough, Mr. Darcy's aunt, he feels sure of a warm welcome. Instead, Mr Darcy feels affronted, and rebuffs Mr Collins' attempts at conversation. While Mr Darcy might have spoken more kindly with Mr Collins, and even tolerated a little of the vicar's prattle, he is conscious that they have yet to be properly introduced. Under those circumstances, Mr Darcy feels it would be improper to speak with Mr Collins.

What do you think? Would society function more smoothly, and people get along more peacefully, if you and I refrained from speaking to people we had not yet been introduced to by our family and civic superiors? Or is that just a meaningless aspect of society that we have, quite rightly, dispensed with?

One thing's for sure. Had Jane Austen and H. G. Wells had access to the Internet, Facebook and Twitter would have functioned far differently than they do today.

Dragon Dave

Monday, January 25, 2016

Saying Good-Bye to Long John Silvers

In my teens, I discovered a restaurant called Long John Silvers. That first time I was attending a district meeting for my denomination, and my fellow representatives of my local church chose to dine at Long John Silvers. Although I never had a particular liking for fish, I discovered that I really loved the fried fish at Long John Silvers. After that, whenever I traveled, and had the opportunity to dine at Long John Silvers, I did so. I realized I liked all their offerings, including the shrimp, the clams, the hush puppies, and the fries. Every place does fries differently, and I really enjoyed how the LJS fries tasted. 

When my wife and I moved to our present house, one of the attractions was that there was a Long John Silver in the neighborhood. We enjoyed dining there for a year or so, and got to know most of the people who worked there. The chain did a children's meal tie-in with the big budget Hollywood movie "Lost In Space" during that time, and when the promotion finished, one of the workers gave me the LJS/Lost In Space T-shirt the staff had worn during that period. Unfortunately, after a year or so of operation, the chain went into bankruptcy, and one of the measures they used to save the company involved shutting down my local restaurant.

Still, I wore that black LJS/Lost In Space shirt for years, and dined at other Long John Silvers whenever circumstances allowed.

Recently, I've found it difficult to find a good Long John Silvers that I really enjoyed eating at. Sometimes the food is greasy. Sometimes the prices are too high. For the last two years, my wife and I have traveled out to the restaurant in El Cajon every month or so. Sure, there's a Wal-Mart out there, and a comic book store, and other places we can stop that make the trip worthwhile, but really, that long drive, out there and back, was all about the fish.

The fact is that the manager at that Long John Silvers always made sure the food was cooked well. The fish was rarely greasy or dried. But the meals grew increasingly expensive. For a fast food restaurant, you ought to be able to get a filling meal for six or seven dollars per person, maximum. But the chain has adopted a policy of pricing all the menu items far higher than they should be. They offer coupons on their website, which brings the price down. But then if you add something to your meal, up rockets the price again. The manager of the El Cajon store has also adopted a strange policy of refusing to give you a plate unless you order a meal with two side items. What? You dared order a combo, that only comes with one side item? Sorry! You're not entitled to a plate!

So, when we planned our trips out there, we brought our own plates with us. We typically used coupon deals, and bought less food than we would have liked, simply because they charged too much to go off-coupon. The portions of the side items were never generous, but they were usually adequate. This last time, however, our portions of fries looked particularly skimpy. The crumbs that come with the fish have always been free, but the manager had loaded up the container with crumbs. When I pulled out the crumbs, and took my container up to the desk, the manager insisted that she had weighed my side order, had given me a full two ounces of fries, and refused to give me a few more. This irritated my wife, who has no great love for Long John Silvers, has put up with the plate nonsense, and driven me the twenty miles or so each way for so long to get me the food I enjoy. And let's face it, two ounces really isn't a lot for a side item. Especially when you consider that the menu price for a side of fries is two dollars. So my wife complained about this all during the meal, which made it possible to forget how the manager had treated us. She also refused to let me eat any of my portion of fries, so that I could take it home, weigh it, photograph it, and share my experience online. As a result, I left the restaurant still hungry, and deeply disappointed.

Sadly, my suspicions were confirmed when I returned home. The fries in my basket only weighed one-and-a-half ounces, not the requisite two.

If you love a restaurant or a chain, you should frequent it, and support it, as often as you can. Not only have I done this, but I've also given them my feedback in numerous surveys. Unfortunately, the manager of this restaurant, by her actions, and the chain, by its failure to manage policies and people effectively, have made it clear that their last concern is guest satisfaction. So while I still love Long John Silvers, it seems that, going forward, I must choose different restaurants to frequent and support. Restaurants that care not just about serving good food at reasonable prices, but also about making my dining experience as pleasant as possible. 

Good-bye, Long John Silvers. I loved you once, but sadly, no more.

Dragon Dave

Monday, January 18, 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle & The Other Side of Dartmoor

In Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr John Watson describes Dartmoor Forest as a dark, dangerous, and wild place. This is largely the way we found it during our two days there last year. But there were a few exceptions to the rule, and one of those was in a Bed & Breakfast near Hay Tor.

Hay Tor is a cluster of boulders, strewn across the top of a fell in Dartmoor. The wind rushes up and over these small hills, or fells, battering your body and howling in your ears. But at our Bed & Breakfast near Hay Tor, the air was quiet and still. After continually getting inundated by the angry elements, I enjoyed wandering the grounds outside our room, and marvel at the beauty of the gardens.

I suppose part of the reason for this is that this little neighborhood was surrounded by trees, that form a natural windbreak, preventing the wind from rushing over this area and tearing their plants, bushes, and flowers to shreds. Had Baskerville Hall been surrounded by tall trees, Arthur Conan Doyle might have described the estate differently. Come to think of it, I believe Dr John Watson mentions a number of tall shrubs that formed barriers around the grounds, so perhaps these offered Baskerville Hall a little shelter from the wind. But then, Sir Henry only employed two servants, a butler and a cook. Had he employed a full-time gardener, perhaps Baskerville Hall could have enjoyed a more pleasant aspect.

I suspect Arthur Conan Doyle wished readers to see Baskerville Hall as dark and forbidding as the surrounding countryside. Of his four Sherlock Holmes novels, only one takes place in and around London. Half of the first novel, A Study in Scarlet, takes place in the wild western state of Utah, where cowboys drive cattle across the range, covered wagons bring settlers to untamed lands, and bandits pillage and murder those they encounter. Half of his final Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear, takes place in a mining town in the United States. There, the local branch of a men's club has become the headquarters for organized crime. The men in this group steal from nonmembers, extort businesses, and beat and kill other residents in their lust for riches and power. So it makes sense that for his third novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle sought to make a Dartmoor Forest seem wild and forbidding to English readers. 

Given the way the elements had raged at us, my wife and I brought food with us, and planned on eating in our room that night. But the air was so still, the temperature so moderate, and our surroundings so beautiful, we enjoyed a pleasant, relaxing dinner at a picnic table outside our room. Which just goes to show that no matter how vividly an author describes a particular place, you really can't know what it's like until you actually visit. But then, isn't that a great reason to travel: to check out the places that inspired authors like Arthur Conan Doyle to use them as settings for their stories?

Dragon Dave

Monday, January 11, 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle: Punishment in Dartmoor

In his investigations, Sherlock Holmes sometimes allows a prisoner to escape capture. He regards it as his duty to solve the case, not catch the criminal. In Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, it is Dr. John Watson who allows a prisoner to go free. While staying at Baskerville Hall, Dr. Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville learn that the brother of a servant is hiding out on the moor. When they try to apprehend the fellow, the butler and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, intercede on the criminal's behalf. They beg the gentlemen to leave him alone for a few days, as they have secretly secured his passage aboard a ship traveling to South America.

While exploring the glories and dangers of Dartmoor, Arthur Conan Doyle stayed in the Duchy Hotel in Princetown, which now serves as the visitor center for Dartmoor National Park. 

There, Doyle doubtless heard shocking tales of the inhuman crimes for which inmates of the famous prison located on the outskirts of the town had been sentenced. Yet we mainly see Seldon, a dangerous escaped convict, through his sister's eyes. 

"Yes sir, my name was Selden, and he is my younger brother. We humored him too much when he was a lad, and gave him his way in everything until he came to think that the world was made for his pleasure, and that he could do what he liked in it. Then, as he grew older, he met wicked companions, and the devil entered into him until he broke his mother's heart and dragged our name in the dirt. From crime to crime he sank lower and lower, until it is only the mercy of God which has snatched him from the scaffold; but to me, sir, he was always the little curly-headed boy that I had nursed and played with, as an elder sister would."

The next day, rain covers the land, and Watson cannot help thinking of the convict out upon the bleak, cold, shelterless moor.

While visiting Dartmoor this summer, wearing long pants and a rain jacket proved mandatory. Winds howled across the barren landscape, and rainclouds sped across the land. The sheep and cattle grazing on the rocky ground seemed inured to their surroundings. But despite its rugged beauty, I couldn't imagine living in Dartmoor.

And that was during the summer, not during the hard autumn rains, or the bitter winter snowstorms.

Whatever Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes, or Arthur Conan Doyle thought of England's prison system in the early twentieth century, I can sympathize with Watson's thoughts on anyone forced to live rough on the moor.

Poor fellow! Whatever his crimes, he has suffered something to atone for them.

Dragon Dave

Monday, January 4, 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle: Fatal Attraction

"It's gone!" said he. "The Mire has him. Two in two days, and many more, perhaps, for they get in the way of going there in the dry weather, and never know the difference until the Mire has them it its clutch."
--The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Like Dr John Watson, we had our own encounter with the wild ponies of Dartmoor. Thankfully, it ended safely for all concerned. But it could have ended far more tragically.

As we drove along the narrow strips of tarmac that wound like ribbons through Dartmoor forest, we often saw ponies along the road. Usually, they ignored us as we slowed, steered around them, and continued on our way. But once they looked up, forsook their grass, and wandered over to meet us.

While one walked boldly toward us, another approached us from the side. The latter peered in through the window, as if he wished to converse with us.

When I shared our encounter with a local, she said that the greatest danger the ponies faced was human visitors. The wild ponies get used to the human visitors feeding them. Their visitors' kindness emboldens them with the expectation of more handouts. 

Unfortunately, sometimes the ponies wander onto the road before a passing car can stop. Some of the ponies we saw bore scars from their encounters with vehicles. Thankfully, we never saw results of this human/pony fatal attraction during our time there. 

I gather an initiative is underway to daub the ponies with reflective paint, after dozens of vehicle-related deaths this year. Hopefully, this will help the situation, particularly for visitors driving through Dartmoor at night. For, like Dr John Watson, no one wants to hear the mournful cry of a dying pony, echoing across the moors.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Dartmoor Ponies Daubed With Paint