Tuesday 31 December 2019

Ne temere

My pal Speedo, who held my hand in the transition to becoming a computer SYS$OP, grew up in Tuam, Co Galway a member of the minuscule Church of Ireland community. He reflected ruefully that, for lack of choice, he'd surely marry a Catholicker girl and because of Papal bully-boy tactics in Ne Temere, his kids would be brought up believing in transubstantiation and that would be the end of his line of Protestants. This anecdote welled up from the forgotten reaches of my mind because I'm reading a political history book by Liam Kennedy called Unhappy the Land; the most oppressed people ever, the Irish?  MOPE: it's an acronym innit? I may have more to say about this pervasive trope in political discourse if I'm feeling particularly fighty in the future. For now, I'll look at Chapter 2 The Planter and the Gael. It's personal because, as "Planter Scum", I've been invited to go back where I came from: poke a lot of Irish people (maybe it helps if they are a bit boozed up) and they'll blurt out their base-line knee-jerk belief that Protestants are not really Irish.

Kennedy (and co-authors) tries to put some numbers on the integration of 17thC and 18thC protestant incomers (Planters) into mainstream Irish society. A key evidential strand is to carry out a surname analysis from the recently digitised 1911 census of Ireland. Hey, I've done that.  40ish years ago, as a PhD student, I was tasked to look at the genetic consequences of successive trans-Atlantic migrations: British, French, Dutch, Spanish. It was science, Jim, but not as many scientists understood it. One thread that ran through my data was the frequency of tailless cats in my various samples. My boss was an expert on the genetics of Manx cats and encouraged me to ask if the places with lots of Manx cats had lots of people with Manx surnames. The most common last-name on the Isle of Man, both now and 100 years ago is Kelly which is also really common in Ireland. Corlett, Quayle, Moore & Clague are more diagnostic. I took myself to the library with a note-book and counted these names in telephone directories for Augusta, Maine and Fredericton, New Brunswick and found . . . nothing. But negative results also count for something if they are carried out carefully and with sufficient sample size. The New England Manx cats didn't come directly from Douglas or Peel, IoM in the hand-baggage of emigrants.

I don't know what it is about The Arts Block but they sometimes seem to prefer things vague rather than getting a definitive answer. And would rather trot out an anecdote than get some quantitative data. This in a era when obtaining wodges of data is just a few clicks away and a wonk to write a script to tally the numbers is readily to be found mumbling in any internet café. In my day, y' had to be well 'ard counting things on pages and writing them down with a pencil.

Kennedy et al. picked three quintessentially incomer names Bell, Anderson and Robinson and looked for them in the 1911 census data but hedged their analysis with "A systematic analysis, using a large sample of new British surnames, is not attempted here. But the findings from a small sample of such names is certainly suggestive".  Arrrgh is not attempted here if not now, when? They were on a roll, they had the data to hand; they could have answered the question for all time; but just did a pilot study.
Nevertheless: the Ne Temere data are compelling. The religious affiliation is recorded for everyone in the 1911 census as well as their surname and location. Kennedy et al. found that while the Bells of Ulster are still mostly [94%] Church of Ireland, in the other provinces they are about half Catholic
Catholic [%]: Leinster [46%], Connacht [51%], Munster [51%] Ulster [6%]
This effect is even more striking for Anderson and Robinson. The Andersons of Cork have married a catholicker girls in one of the generations between plantation and 1911 and that's switched the allegiance for all subsequent generations.

And then Kennedy et al. were careless in their write up <tsk>; errors in books seem somehow more culpable than errors in papers because an extra tranche of copy-editors shd/cd have looked over the manuscript. Here's Table 2.2 a tally of occupations in Co Dublin for the tribe of Bell:
Church o I
Cath %
CoI %
Civil serv
I'm a number-wonk, so when I see the solid blocks of history-professor text leavened with a table, with data, my heart pitter-patters a little faster . . . and then stops because the numbers don't add up. One each for landowners but 0.4% for Catholics and 0.6% for Protestants? Because there are more Catholic Bells than Protestants Bells but those totals are embedded in the text rather than appended to the table as I have it above.
Q. And then if there is one [1] CoI Landowner and one [1] CoI Merchant, how come the numbers are different in the % column??
A. Because the 1.1 should be 0.6 ! But I'm the only person who cared about contents of that table to notice. On one level it doesn't matter, it only took me 5 minutes to work out what was wrong. But if people can't get internal consistency in the final report then how confident can we be that the actual numbers have been correctly tallied.

And what is the occupation of the 283 Catholic Bells who are not enumerated in Table 2.2? That's potentially interesting if the missing are all dependent on the 55 tallied bread-winners.
Catholics: 283 - 55 = 228 dependants with average family size 228/55 = 4.1
Protestants: 176 - 27 = 149 dependants with average family size 149/27 = 5.5
Hey, that's interesting because unexpected. Protestants had bigger families than Catholics.
Dara O'Briain on mixed marriage.

Monday 30 December 2019


I just finished The Black Sea by Neil Acherson which has been a journey taking loops a long long way from the littoral of the Euxine Sea. Euxine? = hospitable is an alternative name more commonly used in English when writers were familiar with ancient Greek. We'll get to Tamga [L] in due course.

Euxine reminds me of the Εὐμενίδες, Eumenídes =The Kindly Ones as the 'nice' name of the Erinyes Ἐρινύες = Furies the vengeful chthonic relentless divine instruments of justice in ancinet greek mythology. The intrusive power of Alecto Megaera Tisiphone was so frightening that folks referred to them as Eumenides as a soft answer to turn away wrath. Same with the sea whose standard name in olde Greek Πόντος Ἄξεινος Póntos Áxeinos the inhospitable sea. Áxeinos being a corruption of an old Persian root *axšaina = dark coloured. The sea-bed is littered with wrecks so the transliterated name made some sort of sense.

I've learned a lot of random shite from reading Acherson's book, but that's okay: I'll forget 95% of it within the week. One of the biggest demographic players in the history of the Northern hinterland of the Black Sea were the Sarmatians (no; not Samaritans those lads lived in The Levant and the Good Ones were kind to strangers). Never 'eard of 'em? Me neither.  They were one of a rolling cast of interlopers from beyond the frontiers of civilisation. which included at different times Goths, Vandals, Huns, Mongols. Archaeologists are able to have a stab at whether these lads spoke an Indo-European language or Turkic based or something yet more exotic. But I think everyone is agreed that there was lot of miscegenation, and also a lot of language assimilation. 23andMe will have a field day with telling people that they aren't really whom they think they are. Unfortunately, knowing who you are (and where your people are buried) is invested with a lot more certainty than the evidence justifies. Far too often, the definition of Self requires The Other as a sort of definitional ante-mirror. The difference between civilised and barbarous might hinge on whether folk can rub along with The Other rather than polishing up the hatchet for the next pogrom.

For many of these migratory hordes, the Black Sea coast was a temporary posting before they swept off Westward on the tide of history. The Alans, for example, a subset of the Sarmatians, have claims to have named Alençon, Orléans, Valence in France and the Alentejo in Portugal.
One of the more tenuous claims to ancestry is when the szlachta of Poland and Lithuania believed they were direct descendants of Sarmatian horsemen. The Szlachta were the hereditary nobility who, regardless of their economic status or mental capacity, reckoned they were a cut above their proper common neighbours. As Acherson puts it "Its members ranged from princely damilies wealthier than many European kings to muddy-arsed squireens who dug and hoes their own patchhes of rye." Part of the illusion was vested in the peculiar armorial signifiers that, in some eyes, bore a striking resemblance to the Tamgas [a selection shown R] on artifacts that have been recovered from tombs more than 1000 years old.  Seems that you'd put the family tamga on a) your cattle and horses b) your spear, quiver and shield and whatever else was valued enough to finish up with you in your grave,
Shown L is a sample of Polish heraldic marks which have been used by particular families for as long as as anyone can remember. I guess its a bit like knights-in-armour in the more familiar to Westerner like me: medieval romances of Roland, The White Company, condottiere and the quattrocento and the Wars of the Roses. Each baron would have heraldic banners to identify the goodies and baddies. But those have been more a mix of geometric shapes and familiar objects and animals: lozenges, wolves, swords and cups rather than the opaque almost-writing symbols preferred by their counterparts in The East.

Sunday 29 December 2019

Last Sunday 2019

Wrapping up 2019
October round-up: Same-sex marriage legalised in The North! Next stop Turkey, Sudan, Russia?

Saturday 28 December 2019

Hozanna in the highest

For the last year, for about half of each week, I've had to cater for myself - imagine that: a grown man having to cook and wash dishes. Collapse of stout patriarchy. But now in the 2019 Festive Season we are giving houseroom to four [4] members of the next generation who are mad-about-the-cooking and will strive with and against each other to get full use out of the mighty 5-burner 2-oven Rangemaster stove. Dau.II was first to arrive [21/Dec] from Cork having sacked The English Market for cheese and other delicatessen. She and The Beloved her mother stopped in Waterford's ArdKeen Stores for more food including a couple of ready to cook pies from Zanna Cookhouse in South Wexford. Just in case they were too tired from their cross-country road-trip to start cooking [for meeee] on arrival.

Zanna are working very hard from their Carnsore kitchen to supply demand for their products which are commendably free from emulsifiers, colours, preservatives and anti-oxidants. I know, because I've had occasion to collect a few hampers-of-goodness, that they cater for events large and small and cook as happily for vegans as for carnans. The cooks  in my gaff on the 21st were not super-greedy and agreed that one veg and one carn pie would serve the three of us: if bulked out with roast potatoes and stir-fry kale.
  • Zanna Cookhouse Chicken & Mushroom Chardonnay Pie 340g Price: €5.99 Chicken 26% Mushroom 15% Onions Courgette Leek Cream (Milk) White wine Chicken stock (Celery) Garlic Butte (Milk) Flour (Wheat & Gluten)  Tarragon Salt Peper.
  • Zanna Cookhouse Forest Mushroom & Fresh Herb Pie 340g €5.99 Forest Mushrooms 37% Onions White Wine Cream (Milk) Parsley Salt Pepper Chive Thyme Butter (Milk) Flour (Wheat & Gluten)
That accords perfick with Eat Food - Not too much - Mostly Plants. The pies were real nice although other eaters whinged they were a tad high on salt. But I think that's true of a lot of catered food. And Dr Pedant would prefer if there were no spelinge errurs in the Ingredient List and also in some of their promotional / instructional material: "remove all packaging except foil tray and place on a bking try". From the context, I am not going to place the packaging on a bicycling try but in the recycling bin. And the Food Ingredient Quantification Agency FIQA is going to be skeptical that there is more salt than flour in the Forest Mushroom Pie.
Q: What's a Forest Mushroom?, I asked those who had eaten some.
A: A selection of different mushrooms and not, or not all, regular Agaricus bisporus mushrooms which are the only species which normal Irish people eat.
But I'll bet that Zanna are not out scouring the forests of South Wexford gathering random or even selected fungi - the quality control would be just too edgy for anyone in the food trade.

Verdict: very nice but I bet I can make something nutritionally equivalent for a quarter of the price.  Not least because I've now acquired two nifty little aluminium foil pie dishes to re-use.

Friday 27 December 2019

Something for nothing

My sainted mother in law died a week before Christmas four years ago and the family commissioned a memorial mass this year. Then someone in town died and his funeral mass got precedence; and that seems entirely appropriate: the grief, though continuing, does subside with time. We all turned up to church anyway at the appointed time and got an unexpected insight into the life and family of an old chap who'd died in the fullness of his years and much regretted by his children and grandchildren. Apart from loving his family and being generous to the G.kids, he devoted almost all his residual energy to reading the Racing Post and then placing bets on Da Nags [R Daidem by a neck!] for the rest of the day. Call me a Protestant with some residual work-ethic but that struck me as completely alien.

I guess I can find some residual respect for all the accumulated effort and knowledge. Much less so for people who buy Lotto tickets and then have a few hours fantasising about what they'll do with their millions until the draw inevitably dashes their hopes. Each week, on average, someone wins the Lotto: but to the nearest whole number it will never be you.  Ah what harm? you may say, it's only €4, twice a week. For my latte-buying readers, that's only a cup of coffee. For the dispossessed - who are demographically much more likely to Lotto up - €8 a week is €400 a year which is a lot of potatoes and/or school dinners for the kids. That math applied to me during my time-rich, cash-poor 2012. In the recession that year I was down to one day a week working. In 2011, we'd often knock off a couple of bottle of cheap plonk a week [it's only a glass with dinner each night] but in belt-tightening 2012 that was a month's pay-check. I stopped drinking and never really got back into the habit. Only recently has it been explained that giving up the gargle has almost certainly improved my sleep.

I'm reading The Black Sea by Neil Acherson [LRB review], which I looted from my mother's house when I was visiting in September. I started it there and brought it away to finish later, in the same week as I started back at work, so have only gotten back into it now. It's a deep history of the region, informed by Acherson's travels through post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s: very erudite - it's a racing certainty that Acherson doesn't read the racing post. But horses feature very strongly: mainly carrying Cossacks, Tatars, Scythians and Sarmatians about the broad steppes of south-central Asia. Horses also appear in many of the archaelogical digs which are the richest sourcce of information about these much travelled and unlettered people.
When a chieftain perished, so did many horses in ritual sacrifice or funeral feasts or both. Interestingly many of the most sumptuous burials, containing battle-axes, spears and archery kit as well as subtle pretty peices of gold and turquoise [L the Kubiatov Кубятов 10 diadem], turn out to be anatomically female. Which helps explain the ancient Greek myths about the Amazons an alien and frightening race of warrior-women.

Acherson makes an attempt to tease apart the difference between looters and archaeologists which essentially comes down to the difference between
  • me, and people like me, who believe there is value in scraping at pot-sherds with a tooth-brush to discover something new about the human journey
  • people like the Man of the Racing Post and the lads sweeping the ground with a metal detector who believe that somewhere out there is a pot of gold which would remain hidden without that they set out on the weekend with the tools of their trade.
Those in the latter camp look at my pals from the Department of Archaeology & Antiquities with annoyance and hostility: Who gave you, with your university degree and your ill-fitting suit, the right to come between us and our heritage?.  In November, four lads were prosecuted and jailed in Worcester for failing to declare a hoard of uncovered Saxon coins which they unearthed after 1,000 years in the cold cold ground.

Thursday 26 December 2019

Market forces options

The Severn [354km] is the longest river in Great Britain and has much the same profile as the mighty Shannon [360km]. They both service a huge (for islands) catchment: 16,800sq.km for Shannon, 11,400sq.km for the Severn. But the flow-rate at the mouth of the Shannon ~200 cu.m/sec is nearly twice that of the Severn ~107cu.m/sec. Those rivers have been scouring their banks for thousands of years and once a section has caved in and been carried away in Winter floods it is gone forever. This has resulted in their widening estuaries which pose a formidable barrier to traffic. The cities of Limerick and Gloucester were founded and came to economic prominence as being the first point upstream from the raging ocean where the rivers could be crossed with reasonable safety. Initially there were fords but the local burghers, traders and travellers eventually got fed up with getting wet feet and built bridges.

But if you were heading for South Wales (or the Fishguard Ferry) it was a bit of a schlep to drive up river on pre-Motorway roads only to drive down-river again to continue your Westward journey. So, since antient tymes there was a ferry between Aust, Gloucs and Beachley, just in Gloucs but on the Welsh side of the river. For a long time the monks of Tintern Abbey were charged with maintaining the ferry service. Tintern Abbey, the inspiration of a poem by Wordsworth, was also the source of the Cistercian monks who populated Tintern Abbey in Wexford. The Aust ferry was famous for transporting Bob Dylan on his 1966 UK tour and I wrote about that last year. The economics of transport forced the Aust ferry out of business when the Severn Road Bridge was completed and competed on price from September 1966.

The economics of transport had also driven the creation of a marvel of 19thC railway engineering. In 1872, the Great Western Railway secured planning permission to construct the Severn Tunnel, designed by the GWR engineer John Hawkshaw to connect Bristol with Cardiff and England with Wales in a direct line. Work started in 1873 but the final brick was not laid and the tunnel opened for traffic until 1886. The main unexpected problem was the force of subterranean springs which burst through the tunnel-lining from below. Hawkshaw had a cunning plan for stopping salt water cascading in from the Bristol Channel above the tunnel but eventually brought the fresh-water springs under control with pumps.

The Severn Tunnel is like mine-workings in this sense. They require active maintenance to keep them from being inundated and once they are abandonned it is economically ruinous to recover them. In the 1950s and 1960s British Rail was entirely state-owned in the post-WWII socialist paradise that brought in the National Health, the National Coal Board, electricity, steel.
Although heavily subsidised by the tax-payer and susceptible to feather-bedding, these enterprises were encouraged to be enterprising and occasionally were enterprising. Someone had the bright idea of going head-to-head with the Aust ferry with MotorRail trains. These adapted flat-bed goods waggons to allow cars to drive on at Pilning and drive off on the other side of the river at Severn Junction. The passengers were required to leave their vehicles and travel in a carriage with the common people. It's different with the current Channel Tunnel between England and France where car-passengers sit in their cars forthe journey.

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Christmas 2019

I was up in The Smoke on the Friday before Christmas - assuming the traffic to be grid-rocked as 100,000 city-drones made their way to the Home Farrrrm down the country, I took Wexfordbus there and back again. I booked a seat and got to the pick-up stop quick to better fight my way aboard. That gave me much time to watch the rotating disco exposé on the Custom House [as above]. I've been catching buses from the Quays for nigh on 30 years . . . and they don't have bus huts yet!
I hope you have better things to do than read The Bob, but as you're here, I wish you the very best for the day, the morning after and the New Year. Nowwaig Shona Duit!

Cracker motto from The Works Do. [It's years since we had crackers at Christmas]: Bobby's mother has three kids. The First is named May; the second June; what is the name of the third infant?

King Wm IOM Christmas Quiz is out. One section is about cash-money which is not inappropriate for St.Mammon's:
What currency of which country is suggested by:
1 a nip?
2 6.76 metres for Au?
3 a Serbian amphitheatre?
4 a sweet-tasting carbohydrate?
5 a converted arab site of worship?
6 a competitive gathering of XY gamebirds?
7 the home of an optic Cetacean?
8 a many-hued trogon?
9 a shining proboscis?
10 punctuation?
Metapuzz: what's missing from the text above and here?

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Science for the People!

Now hear this, it is important. Pray silence for the science people. This is your last chance to participate in a crowd-sourced science experiment. Sign up before 31st December or you can't be a contender contributor. The People's Trial is a cunning plan from the Health Research Board-Trials Methodology Research Network (HRB-TMRN) based in NUI Galway. Like a lot of science education, it's not so much about the answer as The Process. My final year research project students at The Institute are disappointed if they don't get a [statistically significant] positive result. I have a big speech about how much they have learned, how much more extensive and effective is their toolkit, that it is okay if they haven't achieved enough for a Nobel Prize in 20 weeks at the frontiers of science.

Ireland Inc., especially its medical research wing, is really concerned to get The Plain People of Ireland to do sensible things so that they are happier, healthier and less of a drain on the public purse. It's not smart to be blocking an acute hospital bed because
  • binge drinking has precipitated cirrhosis of the liver: 
    • on the transplant list if you're lucky
  • a life-time of cream-cakes has made you pre-diabetic
  • all those rashers led to fatty degeneration of the heart 
    • and the waiting list for a triple by-pass
  • 20-fags-a-day? 
    • COPD, small-cell lung carcinoma, emphysema
  • lack of exercise has made ya too fat to walk
Someone up there in Galway believes that ordinary folk need to know what Evidence is, so that they can be better informed about their life-style choices. Listening to anecdotes, opinion and youtube might make them refuse vaccination for their children. The Evidence, and the numbers, currently indicates that HPV vaccines are A Good Thing for youngsters, especially young women, before they get sexually active. Cancer of the cervix is much less fun than romping with their feller and swapping herpes viruses. The Gold Standard for evidence-based research is the randomised control trial. Here researchers recruit A Lot of people (as many as they can afford to process) and assign them randomly as Cases or Controls. The former get the experimental treatment, the latter get nothing-at-all or a placebo. If your sample is two people, and one gets well but the other doesn't - that's an anecdote and useless for our understanding of how the world ticks. If you can find 2 thousand participants, you might be on to something. If the effect is really strong then 2 hundred people might be enough.

Well the TMRN are recruiting people to be assigned to one of two groups and then direct 3½ hours of their time in bed over the following week to pushing the frontier of science . . . rather than pushing themselves on their partner. And <drum roll> the question is:
Does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep 
in comparison to not reading a book in bed?
Now that's not a Nobel Prize question, but it's something that Joe and Josie Normal can get their heads around and will generate an answer. Even if that answer is: it doesn't matter a row of sticks one way of the other. As I say you've got a week to throw your name into the hat. Should be fun. Dau.I, early adopter, has just finished her week. So far they only have 950 punters: if all the Blobbistas sign up then the TMRN can get it over N=1000 which will l👁👁k better.


Call me Calvin, but I do have a thing about waste; especially food waste. Not sure where it came from but it can be hard work while living with a family who are chronic over-caterers. My cooking relatives always include The Unexpected Guest in their portion control. We live so remote that unexpected guests are really rare even at Christmas time. In normal times, I am eating alone for about half the week because The Beloved is away minding her dear old dad in Waterford. Standards definitely drop when I'm looking after myself: why use a plate if you're going to have to wash it up later. My own dear old dead dad used to cite Dean Swift and the Boot-boy whenever we used to cut corners on standards. But, heck, the old man is dead so I <la la la> can't hear him.

Several months ago, we acquired three packets of "bread-crumbs" on the cusp of their sell-by date. I'm fairly sure that, if we still kept chickens, those food-like products would have been converted to eggs but absent chooks I popped the bread-crumbs into the deep-freeze imagining that I'd find a use for them. Eeee, I do like a treacle tart which is basically a flan-case filled with golden syrup and enough bread-crumbs to stop the molten golden slopping over into the bottom of the oven. And I was intending to use some crumbs in this sicky-sweet manner but in October the coconut granola muscled its way to head of the sell-by list and into Sweetie-pie Thrifty Pie. Needless to say, I got zero help in ploughing through this daunting dessert. And having done that, I sank back exhausted from the task of using up the effin' bread-crumbs.

I have talked about pink slime before: it is the central ingredient in Irish sausages and you don't want to enquire to closely about its origins. Two weeks ago, I was in the supermarket, buying my 'umble groceries - and a mighty slab of marzipan against the next Xmas cake. The lady behind me had a bright pink cylinder of sausage meat and I said I'll have some of that next time I'm in Tesco. She was probably intending to make rissoles even through she didn't live in Wexford. Me, I reckoned that if only I had some bread-crumbs I could do my bit for rissole nirvana. And the following Saturday The Beloved and I were on a rare road-trip together and rocked up the Tesco Superstore in Gorey where I was spoiled for choice for Irish Pork Sausage Meat:
  • Cheapo €2.00/lb: INGREDIENTS: Pork (70%), Water, Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Potato Starch, Salt, Flavouring, Dextrose, Stabiliser (Pentasodium Triphosphate), Yeast Extract, Preservative (Sodium Metabisulphite), Antioxidant (Sodium Ascorbate).
  • Or Finest* €2.50: INGREDIENTS: Pork (85%), Water, Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Potato Starch, Salt, Spices (White Pepper, Nutmeg), Stabiliser (Disodium Diphosphate), Flavouring, Yeast Extract, Dextrose, Preservative (Sodium Metabisulphite).
The expensive stuff[ing] might be 25% more expensive but it has 21% more pork {and accordingly less water) and added white pepper and nutmeg <ace!> but less vitamin C <boo!>. In the spirit of Christmas, I went for the more expensive option, not least because the contents looked like it had some structure . . . or at least flecks of different shades of pink. I tried a few recipes but found that equal(ish) weights of bread-crumbs and pink and a child's handful of finely diced onion worked nicely. Less bread-crumbs exuded a puddle of fat . . . oh yes, and an egg beaten in certainly help glue the rissoles together. Baked in the oven is good because we are no longer allowed to deep-fry them in lard like my mother did in the 1960s. <yum>The last rissole took a selfie [R] on an appropriately pink plinth just before it fulfilled its destiny as food. </yum>

Monday 23 December 2019

New plumber, new problem

In 1996, we were the first people in the county to install under-floor heating and the last people in the country to use red microbore ~8mm plastic piping. It was wonderful when the girls were small and a ton of kerosene could be had for £250. When the distribution manifold failed 19 years later, it turned out to be irreplaceable. For the last 4 years, accordingly, we've had oil-fired central heating upstairs and a number of options [sweaters, hot-water bottle, wood-burning stove, the oven, electric convection heaters] downstairs. When I came back from work in 2015 to find the hallway in flood, I called the nephew of the Family Plumber who came out immediately and sealed everything off. The Family Plumber was not available because he'd moved to Youghal which is 2 hours or 125km distant. I missed him, but his neffie was capable and efficient if a whole generation younger than us.

With family expected this Christmas, The Beloved asked the Neph-plumber if he could sort out a couple of not-emergencies: the water-pressure was a bit variable and the grit filter was a bit green. I don't think he replied, but he certainly didn't rock up to do the work. But our neighbours across the valley [highly] recommended a plumber /electrician / farmer from the next townland.
He, like all tradespeople, was super busy in the run up to the holiday but he offered to come out to scope our system. Like every plumber who's been on site, he marvelled at the complexity of the plumbing [Above: a tangle of gun-metal L-bends, two pressure cylinders, four pumps, 4 pressure gauges, 2 valves, seven stop-cocks] and and poor choice of materials [gun-metal, brass and copper that have a half-life in months when assaulted by our acid and corrosive water] for which the original plumber had billed us.A few years ago, the Family Plumber had actually disconnected two of the pumps as wholly redundant consumers of electricity. He'd also given me an imbecile's instruction-set for how to manage the system; but I know my limits and operate on a pretty strict if it ain't broke don't fix it policy.

New plumber's advice was that there were 70% grants available for replacing the apparatus that serviced private bore-holes [submersible pump; pressure cylinder (the big white lad on the right in the picture) and control-switches]. "You'll be at nothin' if you start to trick about with any of the things you want me to fix: you'll be looking a bill for parts of €200-€300 with labour on top. Go for the grant and you'll get a spanking new system for an extra €200". And that's what we agreed to do when things woken up again in County Hall in the New Year.

He hadn't been off the farm for an hour when I was told that the kitchen ceiling was weeping . . . just like it had when the copper pipes under the bathroom had failed one after the other and ultimately been all ripped out and replaced with Qualpex. The copper hot-water cylinder had failed first - I think the first one lasted 18 months; the second 15 months; and then we installed a stainless steel cylinder with a 30 year guarantee that cost twice as much but gave much less trouble. There was an ominous puddle on the boards under this super-cylinder which suggested that the cylinder had failed! Nooooo! Getting access to the cylinder required shifting about 100kg of towels, sheets and bathmats from the "airing cupboard". I phoned the plumber! And he talked me through isolating the hot-water cylinder to stop any more water getting into it and expressing skepticism that the stainless cylinder had been eaten through.

He was, of course, correct. His experience could work out the probabilities of various possible leak sources without having to be in the same room. Between his deep knowledge and string-puppet me doing his bidding, we worked out that the electric immersion heater was completely corroded away so that water was dribbling out through the electrical connexions poking out through the top of the cylinder. We knew the electric immersion heater was long gone - they are essentially long copper kettle elements - when the acid water eats through the outer casing it shorts out and trips the switch on that circuit. "Why did you leave a dead copper immersion heater in place - everyone knows that makes a hostage to fortune and is an accident waiting to happen". Well not everyone knows . . . I didn't know that, although it seems rational with 20/20 hindsight. And if everyone knows means every plumber knows then why did none of the half dozen plumbers whom we've employed over the last 24 years share this handy piece of information with us? Feckers!

Sunday 22 December 2019

Sun pre xma lnx

Saturday 21 December 2019

Prize Fund

I guess it started in my mid-teens, the buying of books. That's when I got my first job, working at the nearest farmstead in the school holidays. I don't think I was a charity case but then again I wasn't the most useful hand on the farm. Riddling and bagging potatoes and sowing potato seed for the next round filled those Winter and Spring weeks and the money didn't fill my pockets. But at least it gave me some discretionary income. Later on I was paid substantially more for a lot less graft working as a hospital porter. I used to haunt a paperback bookshop near my school and if I had enough money would usually buy a [new] book  before I left. Later later on in America, I got the message that you didn't need to buy new books if any reading matter was grist to the intellectual mill. If you wanted the latest, you had to pay full whack but I knew at some level that there were more interesting books than I could possibly read in one lifetime . . . so it was fine to buy a yard-sale book at 50c or 25c rather than one untouched by human coliforms.

Indeed, once you get the bug, it is hard to go wrong if a book costs so little that it is cheaper than coal. In those Boston days, The boy was still a sub-teen and I started to pick up books that might be useful for his extra-curricular education: atlases, biographies, cookbooks, dictionaries, exploration, farming, geography . . . who knew what he would be interested when he grew up. We shipped hundreds and hundreds of books back to Europe in 1983. Once you get the bug, it's hard to stop and the acquisitions continued for the next 30 years.

But in the last couple of years, I've weaned myself off the need to own any [more] books. For a while the interweb made acquisition much easier but then
  • I baulked at the fact that every internet book-provider was owned by, or in thrall to, <sign of cross> Amazon. 
  • Over the same realisation-frame, Dau.I and then Dau.II left home and there was no justification for buying a book because it might be useful in the future
    • The Future, such as it was, was here
  • I couldn't find my phone or my car-keys or my spectacles among the clutter [largely but not exclusively papers and books]
  • With the internet, I knew that I could buy any book ever published if it became necessary; so there was no need to bank books 
  • With retirement a few months away, it was clear that I wouldn't get round to reading any fraction of the books I was likely to acquire.
I was visiting my mother's house [and m'mother!] at the end of November. After a medical crisis, hospital and a patch-up in early September, she is no longer At Home but rather In a Home. Indeed the house is for sale and needs to be cleared. The apple falleth not far from the tree, and my teenage and later book-buying did not make me a sport or a freak in the family. My folks had acquired a lot of books. Even ten years ago, I would have been tempted to box up and bring away books on art, botany, churches, design, Egypt, food, gardening, history, iconography. But not anymore. I have my own book-clutter issues.
Nevertheless, I had a look at the fly-leaves of some of the 'fancy-looking' volumes [as above] after wondering why the parents would have two copies of Tennyson's Works. They turned out to be identical except for the binding. One was awarded to my Grand-Father Wilfred the Harbourmaster for excellence in French while at Portora Royal School, the protestant crammer [Denis Burkitt, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde were pupils] in Enniskillen, the other was awarded 4 years later to Norah Craig, his future sister-in-law. The handsome three volume set of Shakespeare's Plays was awarded to Son of Harbourmaster me Da - again for excellence in French. La pomme tombe pas loin de l'arbre!

And lest you think tha academic success was only to be found in my paternal ancestors, the two flanking books Shakespeare's Works and Modern English Literature were won as form prizes by my mother's Limerick mother round about the time she was welcoming Louis Blériot after the first aerial crossing of La Manche. The only prize I won at school was The Junior Scripture Prize for knowing the Bible better than any of my peers.

Friday 20 December 2019


High Island, Co Galway - next stop Hy Brazil - [see above from above] is For Sale. A snip at €1,200,000! . . . if you don't mind bunking up with the Office of Public Works. Because ArdOileán is an antient monastic site and the OPW is often the vehicle by which our heritage and culture are protected from the ravages of commercial or personal convenience. 25 years ago, a farmer in Co Meath ploughed a little too deep and exposed the top of a subterranean passage tomb. Dismayed at the hassel of dealing with the Department of Antiquities, Heritage, Toothache and the Gaeltacht for the next decade, he borrowed a back-hoe from his neighbour and by tea-time had destroyed all traces of human hand except for a flat, ploughed and harrowed field. A loss to everyone . . . and to no-one and the whole incident disappeared from the press before the weekend - the All Ireland Final being much more newsworthy.

If you have a fantasy to own 35 ha. of defensible space against Brexit the Zombie Apocalypse, just be aware that the OPW knows where you live! - and won't allow you to practice lobbing mortar shells about; in case you disturb the layers of hidden heritage.You can see the inimitable, restorative hand of the OPW in the detail of the Gable end of Saint Féichín's chapel [see R] beside the lower of the two lakes. The also shows that, on at least one occasion since the beginning of colour photography, it wasn't raining on ArdOileán. The island is also a Special Protection Area under the EU Bird Directive because Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis, Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis [prev] and Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea are present and need their peace and quiet. And they'll grass you up to Birdwatch Ireland if you host an all night rave.

We're here getting damp in the windswept west because I was lent a copy of The Kick, the autobiography of  Richard "Battle of Augrim" Murphy [book reviewed as obituary]. He bought the island in 1969 (for a lot less than €1.2million!) because it was just down wind of Inishbofin where he was running a fishing, ferry and tourist business with a couple of Galway hookers. No, not those Galway Hookers, ye drunken galloot, the cargo boats after which the beer is named. Murphy was a romantic of the old style and lived quite self-consciously as A Poet, while friending a rattle-bag of other poets of whom the world has heard - Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Ted Roethke, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin. He bought a succession of wild, remote and lonely properties, often with someone else's money and usually made a good fist of bringing them back to use and life. Buying ArdOileán was a venture in that vein - he wanted to restore its place in the spiritual firmament. It was a wholly unsuitable place for people to live because it was really hard of access. Only 3km off the mainland coast, it is called High Island because it is surrounded by vertical cliffs with no quay, harbour or beach. You can only get a foot-hold at the base of the cliffs on flat-calm days which are as rare as Fulmar's teeth in Connemara.

Murphy was the castellan of this deserted island for nearly 30 years before selling it on when he extricated himself from his West of Ireland phase and moved nearer to Dublin. Although Killiney is hardly the city centre. He died a couple of years ago in Sri Lanka where he was developing a solid connexion with that country as it tore itself apart in internecine pogroms.

His poetry, like all poetry should be recited aloud rather than read on a page. Tony Kirby reads Moonshine. Or try a 60 minute RTE documentary about himself put together shortly before he died.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Bean Harvest

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little!
It is easy to let inertia set in when you have a garden that is 7 hectares in extent and you drive past ALDI five times a week coming home from work.
Q. Why go to the hassle of watering food plants in the poly-tunnel when you can buy dew-picked snap-frozen green beans in the supermarket?
A. Because Dau.II came to visit at the beginning of May and ordered us off to the garden centre to purchase, at the very least, beans and tomato plants. "so she'd have fresh food when she came again in August". By mid-July they were bearing.

If you've done kitchen-garden at all, you know yourself that it is feast or famine. The beans come thick and fast for several weeks. Even if you eat beans three times a day you can't consume the abundance. Your neighbours are of little help  because they have their own glut to process. In August, I started to fill the freezer with rough chopped and blanched green beans. But I also noted pods which had grown to maturity hidden in the abundant foliage, these were marked for seed-corn for planting next year. It wasn't until the end of November that I did a final triage of the 6 or 8 surviving bean-stalks and sent the greenery to the compost. Some of the mature pods were starting to get furry, but many had dried out as nature intended. At the kitchen table we shucked a couple of small buckets full of pods [see above] Too too many for planting next year, but they are dry enough to store without freezing. The fact that they are a glossy black, I am treating as a bug not a feature.

I've been throwing a handful into my cocido invierno. They say that Cocido Madrileño and Cocido Gallego are simple; but they are real heavy on the meat. Me, I base a lot of my comfort food my version of Caldo Verde. Our neighbour's neighbour now has an unending supply of potatoes too big and/or lumpy to be sold in shops. Big spuds don't bother me none, if they are smaller than my head I'll wrastle them into submission and the pot . . . with a chopped onion, some shredded kale or green cabbage, and a handful of chopped salami you have a meal that sticks to the ribs. Garlic, olive oil, a couple of bay-leaves are welcome but not essential. And did someone mention beans? Of course you can some throw in - for protein, like. We don't need sides of beef here: for me, as for Thomas Jefferson, meat is a condiment. Same cocido principle [cured ham, peas and rice] applies in China.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Finding your level

Last Friday we had the annual Works Do in the canteen when the Management put up a slap up feed for the troops. It is officially to honour the previous year's crop of retirees with short trib from the relevant line-manager and the presentation of a clock to the ex-employee. Actually it's not useful like a clock but rather a monster glass vase engraved with the name of the perp. It was an opportunity to rehearse my accept-and-thanks speech for this time next year when the vase will have my name on it. I have 15 working weeks to go on The Institute gig.

I've spent a chunk of holiday time reading and giving feedback on the Literature Reviews of my [N = 8] final year project students. They are requested and required to get some background on their project topic by reading other men's flowers and summarising the state of play in 5,000 words. A cap of 5,000 words was put on the task a few years ago after some goon submitted a 50 page ramble. Clearly they hadn't heard If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter. This old saw has been laid at the pen of numerous wags including Blaise Pascal: Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte. One of the commonest failings in these essays is woolly, rambling sentences that need to have their lapels-seized to have the sense shook out of them. The base is either a) failure to limit each sentence to a single idea b) qualifying each statement with hedging and officialese to make it look more thoughtful c) a certain amount of phatic waltzing around the subject matter because direct speaking can seem abrupt and abrupt can seem rude.

Here's an example, not the worst: The mammalian orders have long been demonstrating successful evolution for over 250 million years. Which I replaced with Mammals have been evolving and diversifying for 250m years: more information with only 60% of the letters! One of the reasons I am still on the planet is to try to instill more confidence and assertiveness in young scientists, esp young women-in-science. You've done some good work, I say, nobody knows this thing you've found out but you (and now me), you should tell it like it is without skating about pretending that it's not important. Part of the reason that science is top heavy with Patriarchs is that women present themselves and their work with more humility and skepticism than Joe Blowe-your-trumpet.

Whoa! Evidence for that last statement flagged by MeFi comments by Clawson and Mrs.Potato: in the Science Stakes, Male leads are 21% more likely than women to call their contribution ground-breaking, excellent, unique, wonderful [BMJ paper]. What's perhaps worse is that the rest of science buys the packaging and cites those positively framed papers 13% more than equivalent fem-papers. [Exec Summary Harvard Gazette].

It has been really fortunate [but you make your own luck!] that I've landed this Twilight Years job because it suits my demeanour and my tool kit. I coulda been a contender but not so much in top flight cutting-edge science. What I do, I do okay: I make it seem like fun, and funny, without losing sight of the serious. We have to dig a bit to uncover the truth without getting a hernia with too much heavy lifting. I like to think that I encourage my students to fulfill their potential . . . and a little bit more. The world, and Ireland Inc., is not short of genius but genius needs a Good Pair of Hands to implement the creative sparks of genius. Technical Hands trained in an Institute of Technology.
PhotoCred: Joe Pugliese
I'm reflecting on that equilibrium because Simone Giertz [above] Queen of the Shitty Robots <no longer> [prev] has a long piece to camera in Wired where she discourses on her latest high-end engineering projects: making electric pick-ups because she couldn't wait for Elon Musk to make one. The other item on her agenda was to quit being QotSR because she thought, that The Man thought, that she was (just) playing it for larfs and so not to be taken seriously. I won't be alone in thinking that she's wrong to put her Shitty Robot past in the dustbin of history. She's done more, with her crazy [wake-up call] ideas [soup robot] and dopey, hilariter implementations, to inspire young scientists, esp young women-in-science to give science a go. Not least because her best videos emphasise that it is okay to be wrong and that wrong is the first step towards right.
Nobody achieved nothing by not trying.  

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Brother can you spare me a dime?

Beau Miles is my latest favorite youtuber: he mostly runs but here he be cashing in from the seats of the local public library: $5!! albeit Canadian $$.
This story gave me a frisson of empathy because, as a student in the 70s while The Beloved and Me paced back and round the streets of Dublin a-courting, I used to check the coin-return tray on all the public telephones we passes, frequently netting cash. Actually I probably didn't do anything like that while I was trying to impress herself but I was certainly doing that later on. When The Boy was small (but tall enough to reach!) I encouraged him to do the same when we lived in Boston. It often came up with payola for the kidder and incremented his meagre and irregular pocket-money. Around the same time, I implemented a more regular cash up and decided that we'd give him a dime = 10c per week for every year of his age. It started at 60c/wk in 1981 when a Hershey Bar [glarrk] was 25c.

For a few years, I used to call the young shaver into m'study on or about his birthday to discuss his increments and emoluments, as well as presenting him with an extra dime, I took him through <whooooosh way over head alert> the calculations for a cost of living increase. It was an inflationary economic universe back then and I'd announce that inflation had devalued his chinking-money by 3.4% over the previous year and so he would be getting 60 x 0.034 + 70 = 72c! The following year is was maybe cost-of-living increment = 72 x 0.029 + seniority increment (72 * 8/7). I hope you, as a numerate adult can follow this. And you're probably with now-Me in thinking this was an absurd quasi-VictorianDad conceit to sic on the chap. When we moved to England in 1983 he turned 8, and I just changed US$c into GB$p: I couldn't be bothered with introducing an exchange-rate increment to the formula. I was damnable for the youngster because he could hardly withdraw his labour and go on strike or seek a more lucrative gig with the folks who libed across the road at #36 . . . although he did date their daughter for a few weeks later.
Which brings me up to date. We go back and forth between our mountainy home and the Waterford coast on a regular basis and one route-option is to by-pass Waterford City on the River Suir Toll Bridge. It costs an inconvenient €1.90 and I'm suir that many people throw €2 into the auto-toll bucket rather than waiting for 10c change from the tolleen. I am reluctant to lose 10c to a rapacious commercial operator so ask for change or, more usually engage forward-planning-drive and have exact change in my fist. But even if I lob a €2 into the robot toll basket, I can frequently get a discount by scooping out the returned-coin slot from when folk have failed to recover rejected coins. My correspondent M, another occasional user of the toll-bridge, are in a friendly competition to see who can make the most from a single pass. I think my €3.60 is currently top of the leader charts. It is defo not worth cruising back and forth through the toll-plaza for fun and profit but there is a 'found money' sense of jubilation quite out of proportion to the actual value.

The average American automobile is shredded with about $1.65 in change in it. My tiny Yaris, which barely has room for a sack of potatoes nevertheless ate a maritime coast book I was intending to pass on to my pal Russ. It slipped down and under the back seat and lurked there for several months earlier this year.

Monday 16 December 2019

Get Brexit Done and then

Well The Brits [not me] had their Brexit Elexit at the end of last week. I didn't pull an all-nighter waiting for the counts to dribble in from Bath, Wantage, Stroud and West Dorset where I have family with voting rights. But I did fire up the BBC before I checked my e-mails on Friday morning. That revealled that hundreds of people had been pulling all-nighters in count-stations across the UK and that the election was all over bar the shouting and recrimination. I haven't heard a whiff that the count was 'fixed' by Goldman-$achs. Indeed, although as a European I deplored the whole idea of Brexit and the sorry political in-fighting that led to the referendum, at least we now have closure on saga.
My pal P, from Boston, sent me the text of an article by Dan Geary, a 20thC historian from TCD - who he? I was a bit skeptical about bloke who likes a fuck-off big picture of himself looking serious on his website.  And I did not rate his title "10 Observations on the UK election" which is reducing the analysis to 10 tweets whereas a more nuanced, longer investigation would be valuable.

Jonathan Pie a leftist pro-EU commentator castigates complacency among his leftie-pals. George Monbiot attempts to rally the Guardianistas to the barricades as the BoJo bus leaves the curb to its uncertain future.

Geary accepts as true things that I find quite fuzzy. Like the tired and tendentious Brexit slogans about 'the will of the people' and "17.4 million can't be wrong" as if the 16.1 million remain voters were invisible. Call me old but it would be a good idea to adopt a bigger threshold [say 2/3] for mandating major political-economic apple-cart-upsetting change. Otherwise you'll get expensive flip-flops on things like [de]nationalising the railways and telecoms with each change of government. There is a 1960s short sci-fi story about a fellow in middle America who is picked as Mr Median who decides all the elections. They've seen that, in a deeply divided polarised US, with swing states which are in thrall to swing counties . . . and swing wards.

Dunno about anti-semitism in the Labour Party because I'm 30 years out of talking to my middle-class leftie pals in Newcastle. But I could well believe that it is a lazy-arsed characterisation of anti-zionism and concern for the Palestinians. I find it hard to accept that Labour has a corner of anti-semitism; are middle-class Tory heartlands really welcoming jews to their golf clubs? Regardless, now anti-semitic BoJo can now "Get Brexit Done" and they can move on to getting ethnic cleansing done or whatever.

The change may not be as appalling as we all imagined in Spring 2019 when we started stock-piling beans. I'm done with Britland having finally vindicated my right to an Irish passport, paradoxically through my casually anti-Irish mother's Scottish granny who was accidentally born in Limerick, rather than my father's father who was born in King's County. The process took a year.

The Boy has bought a boat which he has secreted in bull-rushes on the shores of the Bristol Channel and is taking sailing lessons against when the Triffids start walking. The Avon is navigable between Bath and Avonmouth - only six locks intervene and they don't require oil or electricity to function. You might think that it would be easier to keep the boat on the Kennet & Avon canal which is only a 20 minute walk from their gaff but with zombies abroad the journey would be through hostile territory. Kidding about the boat . . . it's a raft.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Sun Mid Dec 019

We done have survived Friday 13th

Saturday 14 December 2019


We are the sum of our experience. A little genetics is thrun in the mix, but our experiences colour our view point and give a particular, sometime peculiar, perspective. It would be a sad thing if Ruairi McKiernan could talk for an hour about the virtues of listening to people if there was no time for questions and comments from the floor. Luckily I came to the seminar on Men's Health and Mentoring without a watch because I knew there was a free lunch immediately after the session and would have been getting hangry if I'd known how close we were to running over time. But comments were asked for regardless of the whiff of cooling chipolata sausages.

Responding to the earlier sharing of positive mentoring experiences, one of my colleagues noted how many of them involved teachers who clearly had an important role to play in the business. Nonsense, I thought, because we had 20 years of home education under the family belt.The only teachers Dau.I or Dau.II encountered were those who'd decided against school for their own children and appeared on the Home Ed circuit. Certainly neither had been transformed or guided or particularly listened to by a teacher-teacher. My out loud comment was on the lines that the reason teachers figured so much in the lives of children was because of the hysteria of stranger-danger that permeates our society. It would be very difficult for a kid whose true self was grained by carpentry to hang out with an unrelated mentoring cabinet-maker. I neglected to add: Whereas the parents would be better focussing their warnings against Uncle Jim with his penchant for naked woodwork.

After that comment had put a damper on the, somewhat self-congratulatory, enthusiasm of the meeting; I offered a more tangible anecdote about my aged father. He retired to a quintessentially English village: a stream, a mill, a pub, a church, a post-office shop and a cricket ground.  The parish council had sold off a strip of the recreation green for cash to a developer and my parents bought one of the row of exec-homes that backed on to the cricket pitch. With the loot the council installed a modest play-ground for the children of the young executives. The swings and see-saw were right behind my parent's home. But my father was completely inhibited from looking over the hedge at the children, let alone going through the gate to deal with a grazed knee. That's pretty sad, I suggested. [Note to self: I see I've told this story before but no harm in floating it again]

Friday 13 December 2019

Frog eater

[content warning: not fluffy and nothing to do with the french]
If you haven't read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek you really should. It is an extraordinary book about a woman who found an entire world and a lifetime's edutainment is a small stream that ran past the back of her suburban home. One of her arresting anecdotes reflects on the dog-eat-dog bug-eat-frog world that she carefully observes: "He was a very small frog with wide, dull eyes. And just as I looked at him, he slowly crumpled and began to sag. The spirit vanished from his eyes as if snuffed. His skin emptied and drooped; his very skull seemed to collapse and settle like a kicked tent. He was shrinking before my eyes like a deflating football. I watched the taut, glistening skin on his shoulders ruck, and rumple, and fall. Soon, part of his skin, formless as a pricked balloon, lay in floating folds like bright scum on top of the water: it was a monstrous and terrifying thing. I gaped bewildered, appalled. An oval shadow hung in the water behind the drained frog; then the shadow glided away". The giant water bug she is describing is probably Lethocerus americanus which preys upon small fish and ambibians. Dillard Prev-aside. I was reminded of that classic because other examples of insect triumph appeared over the blogorizon recently:
That arresting caption was added by the photographer and entomologist Gil Wizen in a an essay about The Biter Bit - the surprise, almost outrage, that we vertebrates feel when one of our number gets eaten by a beetle. It's more visceral (ho ho) than St Charles of Darwin's unease about bug-on-bug predation [bloboprev]. "I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice ".
Via MeFi: where the commenter painquail digs up more natural brutality: like cuckoo chick chucks chicks

Thursday 12 December 2019

Men men mentoring

On the last Friday of the teaching term I attended the launch of a EU scheme to help boys become men. Not Real Men, lads . . . the scheme will be deemed a success if we can just get boys through the dangerous adolescent years to adulthood without getting brain damaged from alcohol, drugs or <tonk!> too-fast cars; getting mind damaged from bullying, depression, anxiety, peer-pressure. I had a surprising encounter before the formal launch that put me in the right frame of mind for a transformative experience. The formal launch by the youngest member of the SSaMs creators was not without value, despite neither him nor The Gaffer being able to remember the 5Cs which are much bandied about in the field of Positive Youth Development PYD. Here they are lads:
 competence, confidence, connection, character and caring 
Nope: compassion is not on the list, although it might as well be. I cannot fathom why perfectly sound ideas need to be necklaced with slogans and soundbites and acronyms SSAs. It shows that some of the effectives have been distracted from the task at hand by window-dressing and trivialisation. HarrrUMPH!

The take homes THs are manifold:
  • Youngsters YAs do better if One Good Adult OGA, not a family member, shows interest.
  • The age difference between the two shouldn't be too big
    • I know: no matter that I put on my happy face every Monday morning, that I am not a realistic role-model for young women in science, nor even for young men. The kids look at me and part of their minds say Gramps and nobody wants to be old.
  • Gender is immaterial. Lads will hear positive things from a female coach and work as hard to please them. 
  • Hazing, bullying, shoutiness are not really effective at building the 5Cs
  • True mentoring is a two-way traffic
    • Ya gotta Listen!
  • There is no word for Masculinity in Czech
sportsmentors.eu has the full programme including work-books and protocols.

Launch over, we had an hour with invited keynote speaker, and national treasure, Ruairí McKiernan [R] [TED]. Ruairí doesn't need notes to speak, partly because he's not afraid to ramble off about whatever peels off the top of his head. He's still young but he's already retired early and retired often. He jacked it in with school because he just couldn't stand it for another day, let alone for his final year. With the connivance of that school [y'have to sit the dreaded Leaving Certificate somewhere] and the slightly bemused support or at least tolerance of his parents, he educated himself from, and at, home. In his mid-20s, he co-founded SpunOut [which I've mentioned before about the pox and also about marriage equality]. SpunOut is a youth information, advocacy and deep listening force for change in Ireland. Eight years later, having brought his baby to dizzying heights of success and with all the trappings of power, he was lost inside [and flaked out entirely from 24*365*8 hours of constant alertness] so walked away from his panoramic-view office to find his true self. Shortly thereafter, President Michael D Higgins appointed Ruairí to an Chomhairle Stáit the Council of State . . . because you just can't allow a force of nature to dribble away into obscurity.

Ruairí dropped out of school because he was a cut-up and a pain in the tits but not before at least one teacher cornered him at the back of the class and said "Go on, make something of yourself" GOMSOY [The Brother]. The young feller needed to be recognised in himself rather than as a face among 30 other lads. Actually all of us need to be so acknowledged and recognised, but not all of us get that respeck. Maybe the oddities, especially if quiet and compliant, get ignored and fail to develop that one talent which is death to hide so it becomes lodged with me useless [that would be Milton]: the carpenters, mechanics, archaeologists, bird-watchers, poets, dancers don't really blossom in school . . . and probably only thrive outside if they encounter an adult who shares and nurtures their passion. Mentors needed; apply within!

For Ruairí solving the problem youth / youth problem by dealing with the youth is a cop out and of only doubtful utility; because the problem is systemic. What are we like with putting 30 hormonal hot lads in a warm room with a single teacher referee, who by definition did well in school. We are just beginning to broaden gender norms and sexuality norms in school and society but we are still failing to address economic disparities because successive governments get elected by promising tax reductions to the Haves. We really really need to bring the dispossessed into the warm too: if you prick them, do they not bleed? of you tickle them, do they not laugh? [Shylock R].

Having shared his experience of three mentors in his own life, Ruairí paused . . . and enjoined us to turn to our neighbour and share (turn & turn about) our own experience of a transformative mentor. He was clearly confident that we all had such a person in our lives. Maybe we were a mentor-selected group - without a mentor somewhere we'd be in chokey, or swigging Thunderbird in a car park [L] rather than attending a workshop on men's health. Whoa! super embarrassing for most in the room, who didn't sign up to the launch to bear their breasts. By chance, I'd met my sharer an hour before, talking about raising up the chronic sick. It turned out that he, like Ruairí, had failed to thrive in school but one teacher and a couple of significant others had seen that he had much to offer and here he was in the midst of a second degree. Me, I told him about Wilkie my eccentric and not wholly lovable high school biology teacher without whom my trajectory would have been different - not worse, but not the same.

But then Ruairí doubled down on the Sharing by asking for a volunteer to tell, with permission of sensitive, the whole room the mentoring tale which they had just heard. That was bri'nt! You don't really understand something unless you can explain it to someone else. And if you weren't listening to the tale with care and attention you won't be up for the task. And then Ruairí asked for a woman, any woman, we're always hearing from men, to make a similar contribution. That delivered a sweet story about an older sister who had taught her sibling to tie her own shoe-laces; they are still besties!

Even excluding the chicken goujons and iced-dainties launch lunch, I give it 5Is:
Inspiring - Intelligent - Iguana - Interesting - Interactive - Inclusive