Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Sorry for your trouble

Ann Marie Hourihane is a Dublin journalist, she has written memorable obits on such celebs as Gay Byrne and Marian Finucane. Her father, Dermot Hourihane, a pathologist and social pioneer who took the fight to the Catholic church before it was fashionable to do so, died in the first summer of Covid [Obit BMJ].  Because she's a writer, she wrote about the messy, busy days surrounding that transition. Hindsight allowed the chagrin that her own demeanor and actions had been, hmmm, imperfect. Including some of those acknowledged insensitivities in the account shows a certain self-awareness and humility. Someone, quite possibly herself, must have suggested that others would benefit from hearing the story because it would surely resonate for anyone who was a) Irish b) recently bereaved. Too short for a book, too long for a column . . . why not make it a book chapter?

And so Sorry for Your Trouble; the Irish way of death was published the following year.  I was recently gifted a copy by a friend who is, like me, engaged with end of life issues. It is well written if, given the subject matter, not always an easy read. But it's like Hourihane has riffled through her back-catalogue looking for keyword "death" and decided to incorporate all the hits into the one book. One standout inappropriate inclusion is a superficial (1500 word) look at the horrors of the meat trade, including a visit to a working abattoir.  This section is tucked in between a chapter on cillíní - where unbaptized children are interred - and the Islamic burial practices for men of our Bosniac community. The funerary practice of Ireland's Muslim women is in yet another part of the book. That's great; Ireland is no longer a Catholic monoculture and we need to know - respeck! - how our neighbours do this stuff.

My beef? In predominantly meat-eating Ireland, giving parity of esteem to the slaughter of a surplus heifer and the death of children with fatal fetal abnormalities will be a juxtaposition too far. But maybe that's okay - a book that doesn't change the way we think is not worth reading.

There are other chapters - which all deserve a book on their own - 

  • about the terrible association been drink, invincibility and driving that runs through young Irish men
  • about the sad, brutal, high-life and mean death of drug-dealers in our inner city ghettos
  • ditto young republican foot-soldiers during the troubles
  • the brutal degradation, abuse and death-by-who-gives-a-fuck-here of kids by [members of] the Catholic Church . . . and the Church's institutional insolence and entitlement in response to whistle-blowers

The book still contains some examples of authorial entitlement and affect-blindness. The opening chapter and the penultimate chapter are about the passing of "Bernie" who seems to have come over the Hourihane horizon because a) she was dying b) it wouldn't be too long c) the family were willing to accept a crow on the wall to witness their comings and Bernie's going. A whole blanket of unconsidered conflict of interest permeates those bookend chapters. Likewise Hourihane manages to arrive late to country singer Big Tom's funeral in Monaghan but still manages to blag her way to a seat in the church - depriving that access to someone who actually knew or was related to the star of the media show. And pronoun-sensitive me winced when dead babies were by default referred to as 'it'; that's tone deaf.

If you're Irish, or live there, and you're going to die then there's much to be gleaned from reading this book.

Monday, 5 June 2023

Agar agar

Years ago The Boy came back from his year in New Zealand and stopped off in Bali because it was there: on the way, like. He even fell in with a French girl with whom he sustained a long distance relationship - London / Montpellier - for a while. But beyond "Indonesia", I might have been hard-put to locate Bali within the archipelago. It turns out that it's the island immediately to the East of Java and only a 4km ferry journey from the larger island. It takes 45 minutes from Ketapang in Java and Gilimanuk in Bali and costs 6,500 IDR one way which is about 50c US!

It's a wider passage to the next island, Lombok, and the intervening strait is much more significant because the Wallace Line [prev] funnels straight through it. The Wallace Line marks a major change in the flora and especially the fauna between Asia vs Wallacea, a transitional zone between Asia and Australia [lorra marsupials, Eucalyptus etc.]. If you look closely at the map [L] filched from Wikipedia, you'll see that the line [carelessly] cuts right across an island on the Bali side of the strait. That can't be correct, and it turns out that there are three islands- Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan - not just one; although they are all in the same administrative district . . . and on the Asian side of the Wallace Line.

I think it's probably fair to say that nobody who lives on Nusa Lembongan cares tuppence about how close they are to the biogeographical delimiter. They are much more interested in scrabbling together enough to send the kids to school in shoes and have a few beers on the weekend. The island is, literally, a tropical paradise IF you rock up with some hard currency which, as we see from the ferry price above, goes a long way. A few beers all week long, indeed. Someone has to serve those beers and rent out surf-boards and so there is a living to be made from tourism.

During the pandemic, however, tourists dried up and blew away and local entrepreneurs returned to their previous vocation of farming sea weed. In particular the red algae Eucheuma cottonii and E. spinosum. The islands of Lembongan and Ceningan are separated by a shallow tidal lagoon and currently drone-footage shows the sea-bottom is carved up into roughly rectangular patches of different colours depending on how recently the algae has been harvested. It's a bit precarious because the whole area could be tossed to buggery if/when a powerful tropical cyclone passes through. But depending on the global market place for carageenan seaweed can be part of the local economy as well as supplying sunscreen to beach-bums.

It wasn't ever thus! Before the sea was farmed it was fished and however the commons were distributed then, it surely wasn't dependent on a rectangular grid.

Carageenan is widely used as a stabilizer, thickener, gelling agent, emulsifier, and protective colloid which prevents crystallization when a paste is desired. The gloop is widely used in the food industry, medicine, microbiology [Petri dishes] cosmetics, textiles, paints, toothpaste . . . so many emulsions in tins and tubes across the developed world.

Sunday, 4 June 2023

Pat his day

It's June, it's Sunday, it's miscellany

Friday, 2 June 2023

Knuttel gone

Back in the early 90s, before we acquired two more children, we had a social life. Our pal D was visiting from London and we all went into town on Saturday morning to get coffee and buns and check out whaaat's happenin'? It was a teeny bit more focussed for D because he wanted to check out the New Apollo Gallery in Duke Street for contemporary art. D was a very successful corporate lawyer [with a heart of gold!] and was acquiring a modest collection of paintings. The Beloved and D dove right in, pulling paintings out of bins and appraising those which were good enough to deserve hanging. The Arts Block is quite outside my wheelhouse, so I chatted in a desultory manner in front-of-shop with The Proprietor, hereinafter "cloaky-bollix", who was high camp self-consciously artistic in demeanour. I was able to establish that I was The Money -  ready to whip out the cheque-book if T.B. saw something she liked. Eventually, they came from out back with a medium sized oil: Still-life with aubergines by Graham Knuttel:

I cut a cheque [remember them?] and we came away with another item of stuff. D preferred Knuttel's pictures of gangster's and cooks and, although he bought nothing that Saturday, he acquired a good few Knuttels in that style. A few years later, Sylvester "Rocky" Stallone was shooting a film in Ireland and discovered Knuttel on one of his rest-days. Back home in Hollywood, he shared his find with Robert de Niro, Frank Sinatra and other celebs. Prices went up! Institutions [banks, colleges, galleries] jumped on the latest fad. Prices went UP! Those aubergines became our successful flutter on the Grand National: without knowing much, through happenstance, we turned out lucky. Nobody could have predicted the cultural collision of eggplants with Der Penis in Emoji-speak, for example. Perhaps this makes our acquisition even more valuable than Knuttel's fascist chef vibe.

Knuttel's dead now. From one of his supporting galleries an Obit. I guess our aubergines will have another brief spike in 'value' as cognoscenti twig that there will be no more new Knuttels to hang or hoard.

Dau.II was born in 1995; more or less bald but blonde round the edges. This was in stark contrast to her dark curly-haired older sister. A month later was their mother's birthday and I took time off work [I was the Director and Sole Employee of Binfo Ireland so I could] to rustle up a giftie. Heading for Bewley's for chocolates or coffee, I passed Cloaky-bollix's store front and, on impulse went in. I don't piffle about. About 10 minutes later I came out with two Madonna-and-childs by Rachel Strong who had recently broken up with Knuttel. Some people have seen her as Frida Kahlo to Knuttel as Diego Rivera. They clearly shared a palette and way-of-seeing as well as breakfast:

I thought it was clever-hilarious that these two views of motherhood were such a good match for our own two childer.

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Mixed greens

Sumer is icumen in lhude sing cuccu . . . we did indeed welcome the 2023 cuckoo on 5th of May - the same day as the swallows returned from Africa. The other flag for Summer is fresh garden veggies. Last year was a bust as far as gardening went down. I started my saved beans ?too early? and they all died and I lacked the resilience to start all over later in the Spring. Dau.II has made all the running this year "not because I like gardening, but because I like a lot of salad". On Sunday 21st, she took a big bowl and the kitchen scissors and clipped what was readily available. The picture does not include a mountain of mixed lettuce and other salad leaves.

Lest you Ukrainian folks complain that you don't know what I'm talking about: Basil Ocimum basilicum; Chives Allium schoenoprasum; Coriander Coriandrum sativum; Dill Anethum graveolens; Marjoram Origanum majorana; Mint Mentha spp.; Oregano Origanum vulgare; Parsley Petroselinum crispum; Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis; Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus; Thyme Thymus vulgaris

When I was growing up "salad" was sad lettuce and crisp 'transportable' tomatoes; with an optional vile off-white acidic faux-mayonnaise called salad cream. One of the transformative events of my very early 20s was setting out to make our own mayonnaise . . . with a whisk. It was bloody marvellous. And the same could be said for my first encounter with tarragon. Pretty much every day now we get fresh picked greens of many different species. A whole plate of, say, raw spearmint might be a challenge but a tuthree leaves give a lift >!surprise!< to any salad. And a good mix of anything does mighty things for the gut microbiome!

Monday, 29 May 2023

Her lovely horse

For a few months in 2016, we had "Young Bolivar" aka A Good Pair of Hands staying /WWOOFing with us learning English. His last project was building a mighty, and mighty handy, woodshed at the bottom of the yard. We measured up and decided that for the desired design we'd need N=130 lengths of western red cedar Thuja plicata to clad the walls. Jim Davis in Graigcullen didn't cut to length and threw in a few extra planks for luck, so we were left with a big stack of surplus planks not to mention many offcuts of different lengths from 150mm to 900mm in length. Heck'n'jiminy that's seven (7) years ago! The cedar planks have been stacked at the back of the woodshed all that time, quietly drying out some more.

This Spring Dau.II would have nothing but that we build a tree-house for her niblings down in our sustainable micro-forest. That's as well as the refurbed garden seat. And, because cedar is naturally pest-resistant and because it was already on site, we robbed the stack in the woodshed to fabricate the base of the tree house. 

The latest QALY adjustment here is planting salad and other veg for home consumption. But ppl can't live by bread alone and the democratic majority has voted for The Return of The Sweet-pea Lathyrus odoratus to grace the front of the house.In years past I have constructed functional outdoor beds for either side of the front door. But the pallet-wood aesthetic is sooo yesterday and when these planters stand directly on the ground they become a residential hotel for slugs, snails and ants; for which the democratic majority has little tolerance. Furthermore, pallet-wood definitely doesn't last forever when it is permanently butted up against wet soil. Accordingly, I pulled out all the longer [800-950mm] cedar off-cuts and paired them off to those of equal length and then started making jardinières / window-boxes / Blumenkastenpflanzer. I also sourced 4x ash logs from the wood-pile that were close enough to 30cm tall. 

Another option is to add legs to the boxes which make them a lot lighter and more convenient to move around. But the ash-logs are prolly better for the sweet-peas because that allows the planters to get up close to the wall all the better to string-up the peas. Yes, yes, I know it's possible to have two vertical legs at the back and stabilizing splayed legs in the front - speak to my carpenter. The problem with four legged furniture is that unless the floor is actually flat it is a royal PITA to get all four legs touching base and sharing the weight equally. You can see my third iteration in the foreground [L]. Notwithstanding George Orwell's “Four legs good, two legs better! All Animals Are Equal. But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.” In this case three legs is best of all. The top may not be spirit-level flat, but all three legs must be in contact with the ground and doing an equal amount of the work. That's why milking-stools have three legs.

Sharing is caring! It seems invidious to construct such lovely functional outside furniture and become all hoarder about it. The Girl Who Invented Herself [who prev] is WFH really hard while juggling her caring commitments. The [only?] good thing about WFH is that the inevitable 'unproductive' office time is not spent waiting for a meeting in your cubical or chatting at the water-cooler. TGWIH, by contrast, can nip out into her own garden for a bit of dead-heading or weeding as the sea-mist rolls in. The lawn is out to contract mowers but the rest is a mix of raised beds and jardinières containing a striking array of plants shewing off their reproductive parts. In her younger days, she was mad about the nags and spent a few years shovelling shit for a pittance and meagre board before she came to her senses. It turned out that, like Jack Woltz, we have had a spare horse's head about the place since Dau.I and Dau.II dragooned their HomEd pals [and associated parents] into a perf of Cinderella at the village hall. Said head and a plywood cut-out wheel painted silver had been screwed to a baulk of timber to conjure the arrival of cinders at The Ball with his glass slippers. All it took was a hank of straw stapled to the other end et voilà - cheval! My ♩ove♩y horse, indeed.