D'ye remember my hymn to fulfilling potential and celebrating the ordinary back in May? I view with increasing loathing the winner-takes-all ethos which permeates too many aspects of our society. Gold medals, Nobel prizes, the Top Ten, Justin Bieber (bless!), the gross disparity in take-home between the board-room and the shop-floor, VHI money being spent on 1 transplant rather than 100 pelvic floor repairs. I could go on. Begob, I just have! An encouraging word or a positive comment in a lab-book for our median students may make a huge difference to them - they have spent a life-time being ignored by teachers who devote disproportionate time to their ad astras and disasters.
On Sunday I was listening on the wireless to Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin double-interviewing Tom and Dorothy Cross (again). I say 'again' because I remember a very similar interview maybe 7 or 8 years ago. It's great because they are brother and sister but he is Science (molecular evolution of fish) and she is Art (installations, identity, sexuality). In about 2001, they collaborated on a project about jellyfish which was one of the brief moments when the yawning gap between the Arts and Sciences was bridged. I guess that's why I remember it - I normally have two-week event-horizon - it was so rare and extraordinary. The yawning gap is a particularly apposite phrase because the second law of thermodynamics will put half of all university graduates to sleep and post-modern lit.crit. will dozzzzzze off the other half.
But Aoibhinn's programme is also not so great: we've seen&heard those sibs already, so it's not very adventurous to wheel them out again, is it?
My neighbour, who is more or less the same age as I am, lost his father at the age of 16 and found himself with a widowed mother and two or three younger sibs to look after. The following Monday he went out into the market place as a tractor-for-hire: ploughing, cutting and hauling silage, spreading dung - whatever would earn an honest penny for his family - as well as managing the family's own modest holding. While I was picking up my very expensive education, he was picking up bacon and spuds on the way home from a hard day's work. When we blew-in to the valley I often used to meet him in the lane or chew the fat leaning on a gate: we'd talk about farming and science, politics and the weather. I often thought that he'd have benefitted from the education I got, because he was interested and interesting, engaged and insightful. A few years later, my more famous brother Jack, was visiting the farrrrm and met the neighbour and talked round the houses for a while. He thought there was a great game show to be made with four Irish farmers pitted against four Norfolk firemen and four West Country cider-bottlers. A bit like "Eggheads" on the BBC now. We waste our human capital because there is insufficient flexibility in the system, the brightest of the dispossessed have no school or crap schooling while the well-to-do buy resources for their dim-bulb offspring.
So the next time RTE wants a pair of interesting friends-or-relations to interview, don't pick the Crosses, nor yet me and The Brother, that would be same-old same-old. Find a taxi-driver they can always talk and they've been around and they might have a different take on things. Or my farming neighbour - any of my farming neighbours - they've usually got something interesting to say.
I'll finish up back on the wireless to quote Aoibhinn "Looking back, they reflect on Fountainstown,
the scene of so many childhood memories, and how the rocks remain
unchanged since their childhood."
"the rocks remain" is a rather clever Arts/Science reference being a quote from an operetta by AP Herbert:
"Nothing is wasted, nothing is in vain: The seas roll over
but the rocks remain."
and also from a poem by Stevie Smith:
"Oh why do they leave me, the beautiful people, and only the rocks remain, To cry Love me, as I cry Love me, and Love me again"
But it is also the title of a book by naturalist Gavin Maxwell. The rocks at Fountainstown may be the same now as when Tom and Dorothy were kids and turning blue coming out from the sea, but the water is definitely different. Fountainstown was one of only four beaches in Ireland that failed the EU quality control regulations in 2012, the others being Ballyheigue, Rush and Clifden.