Sunday 31 January 2021

End Jan 021 Fun


Saturday 30 January 2021

AAA Battery


For blushing shame and, like, what are we like? I share yesterday's RTE top left headline story on The Blob's top-left headline position. I won't link to those pieces any more than I'd point you, delicate reader, at the killing of adult race-horses or the slaughter of greyhound pups which don't make the genetic cut. As my mentor taught me, your rights end where my nose begins, so I'm not advocating that Katie Taylor should be forbidden from biffing another willing participant in the privacy of her own back garden. Indeed the title of this post is a bit dishonest because common law defines battery as any unlawful and or unwanted touching of the person of another by the aggressor . . . which allows the Police to restrain perps and allows consenting adults to whack each other in saunas.
My objection is the objectification of two people beating each other with their fists for the amusement of a crowd. Anyone who promotes such an event should be shunned by society and made to attend anger management classes. Michael D. I'm looking at you!

tl;dr Boxing as a money making enterprise: 👎👎👎

Friday 29 January 2021

Nitrogen? No gas!

Late enough last night, the BBC picked up a distant death story emanating from Gainesville, Georgia. DD stories are only interesting to the BBC if a) more than 50 people are dead OR b) if one of the dead is British [or Irish if RTE is reporting] OR c) the mode of death is "quirky". Six dead in an Interstate pile-up won't make the cut. Even six dead in a shooting-spree in any part of the US probably won't raise an editorial eye-brow. But asphyxiation? Well that's a story, even if no Brits involved.

The last death by gas story I covered (30 years after the fact) was the leak of methyl isocyanate MIC in Bhopal, India in 1984 which killed more than 2,000 people and disabled at least 10x as many. The insecticide factory where the fatal leak occurred was full of vats containing volatile and toxic chemicals. So it's a bit peculiar that it should have been located in the centre of a densely populated town.

Gainesville is a major centre for the production of USDA approved chicken to service the almost boundless appetite of Americans for meat. And the fatal accident occurred in a Prime Pak plant for processing broiler chickens for the market. Americans are not insensitive people but they are thrifty and don't want to spend more on food than they have to, so they are not, shall we say, encouraged to dwell on how the adorable day old chick became part of their chicken salad sandwich 42 days later. Even the timescale is scarcely credible: from 40g to 900g in six weeks. Economies of scale apply when the product is price-sensitive: Prime Pak employees have to kill and process thousands birds in a batch for the low wholesale-cost business model to work. There has, accordingly, been a lot of research to determine efficient ways of mass killing which a) don't affect the quality of the meat b) don't unduly distress the chickens [in that order of priority].

This is what the HSA Humane Slaughter Association of the UK has to say: "Although the majority of birds slaughtered in UK processing plants are stunned using electrical waterbath systems, an increasing number of plants are killing poultry using gas". You really really don't want to know about electrical waterbath systems whether of not you eat chicken. I can tell you a bit about gas though, because it's The Future. The gas isn't MIC, or zyklon B because those are toxic to both mammals and birds and we are talking about a food product. Gases in the humane slaughter world are those which displace oxygen: either carbon dioxide [remember Lake Nyos], nitrogen or argon usually in a combination dictated by cost and/or legislation. Nitrogen and Argon are inert gases: highly unreactive and so very unlikely to affect the liver and lights of the chicken. We [and chooks] are otoh extremely sensitive to carbon dioxide concentration and our breathing is regulated by that gas far more than by oxygen. High levels of carbon dioxide are extremely distressing and, well, inhumane; as I have witnessed in mice and almost witnessed in humans [I was 40 minutes too late for that event].

Legislation and or best practice guidelines require anoxic gas combinations to be neither more than 30% carbon dioxide nor more than 2% oxygen. Too much oxygen makes the process too drawn out; too much carbon dioxide is offensively cruel. 2% oxygen can be a achieved with a mix of 10% [free] air and 90% argon or nitrogen. Nitrogen is cheaper but argon is denser and better accumulates where the chickens are. And you need all sorts of safety protocols to keep human workers off the killing floor until the gases have been vented /diluted. I'm sorry if this is distressing, I don't eat chicken any more; it's really hard to justify eating meat.

The BBC story signs off with two wholly disingenuous final sentences:  Nitrogen is often used in refrigeration systems. Breathing the gas can be deadly, as it displaces oxygen in the lungs. You may bet your sweet bippy that the nitrogen at Prime Pak was not primarily used for refrigeration. The press officers for Prime Pak and the wider industry will be working really hard to stop the minds of any consumers drifting off towards Oświęcim.

Thursday 28 January 2021


I mentioned [see footnote] Catherine Connolly floating the idea that the leaking of the Report on the Mother and Baby Homes was deliberate government policy to keep the lid on the scandal until . . . another government is in power . . . or, the media can gee us up about a bus crash in Dehli where an Irish citizen dies. We thus know cui bono if Connolly's thesis is correct but not cui leako. It certainly wasn't Roderic O'Gorman who looks to be totally out of his depth in the role of Minister of Children and presumably got the portfolio to big up the Green Party in the government with a ministry. The Greens being too naive to realise that this plum was toxic.

Who has a track record as a sieve? Leko Varadkar the Once and [he hopes] Future Taoiseach. When he was elected leader of Fine Gael and so became Taoiseach, I said to Radical Dau.I that it was a Good Thing that Ireland was ready for a gay man to rise to the top of the political establishment. I was put back in my box sharpish. I paraphrase "Well Daaad, there's more to being a person than their sexuality; and it does not bode well to have a complacent, conservative, capitalist cardboard cut-out conning the ship of state". Did you see what I did there, me pirate p☠️ls? Conn = navigate; con = hoodwink. This leaking thing though; does money change hands when a newspaper gets a scoop?

And the other hit palpable hit from twitterPutting Arriving Visitors In Hotels Unrealistic” Claims Man In Country With Direct Provision. [DP prev - cw: depressing] Double standards don't butter the nation's parsnips.
Q. What is the Irish for shame?
A. Náire 

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Naming of nautical parts

I was [am?] a navy brat. My father [was] retired at age 50 when I was 13. You can take the man out of the navy but you can't take the navy out of the man child. On the 20th anniversary of his death, it being a beautiful crispy winter's day, I was out chopping and stacking fire-wood. At some point, I felt a small intestinal growl and drifted up to the house. I glanced at the kitchen wall clock to see it was 13:02hrs and said ruefully to The Beloved "The Da is not dead, but sleepeth" [Luke 8:52]. Because in his retirement days, he too would drift into the kitchen at 1 o'clock ± 2 minutes asking what's for lunch? 

Being a sea captain, he was often at sea for months at a time, and was quite distant even when present leaving the day-to-day to his XO my mother. But occasionally he'd put away the newspaper and make an effort to educate us. These learning opportunities were sprung on us at short notice and were [therefore?] hard to refuse. When I was about 15, I was out shopping with him. At the last stop before home [and lunch] he decided that he was going to teach me to drive the car. I sat into the driver's seat, he rushed through the theory, told me to select reverse gear and engage clutch. Which I did . . . the little car rocketted across the car-park and into a stack of bricks, breaking the nearside rear-lights. In fairness, he didn't get shouty; but we were late for lunch because we had to detour to buy a new set of light covers.

When we were growing up, we had a piano and on the piano was a truly wonderful model ship "The Princess" one of three [Duchess, Marchioness] which had been made for the daughters of my Great Grandfather John Craig, a Scots shipping agent. The Princess, a scale model gaff-rigged schooner about 800mm from jib-boom to counter, was made in the 1880s in wood and canvas with tiny brass nails for the planking. Occasionally, the Old man would gather his brood into his study and put us through a catechism of parts: so that we knew the words counter and boom and realised that each part had named sub-parts. For professionals, a certain amount of extra detail is required. For you and me, shin-bone will do, for an anatomist or medical student each knob and nodule and divot for muscle attachment has a name - and a function. For triangular sails, which have no gaff to support the head of the sail, the names of the edges and corners are slightly different. Square-rigged sails have two leeches [port and starbord] and no luff. It is of course vital that the parts of a working ship are minutely defined and the names internalised by everyone aboard. If a sail carries away in a storm at night, the captain and crew must communicate with each other precisely, speedily and possibly blindly if total disaster is to be averted. It's more complicated on real full-rigged ships:
We did go sailing when we were kids; I learned how to conn a small boat reliably across the water and knew the difference between tacking [safe] and gybing [emergencies only]. But my heart wasn't in it. If the wind was light, sailing was boring and when the wind got up, terrifying. But from the comfort of the sofa, the salty green is in my blood and I love reading about those who go down to the sea in ships. Or you can play it for larfs.

Tuesday 26 January 2021


Samuel Smiles, social commentator of the Victorian era wrote books called Thrift and Self-Help which claimed to show that anyone could pull themselves up by their bootstraps . . . why look at this rags-to-rich anecdote. I'd be more skeptical now about anyone could than I was when I was 15 and studying the history of Victorian England at school.  Nevertheless, I get smug a detectable feeling of satisfaction when I can make something from somebody else's discards. Being able to make soup out of potato peelings is going to deprive the worms in our compost heap; but heck, them's the privs of patriarchy.

I'm not quite halfway through a 12 day lock-in up the mountain having lent my Yaris to a repatriatee in quarantine. With bunkering for Brexit [6kg of fusilli pasta = sell-by 2022; lots of tinned tuna = sell-by 2025], I'm not going to starve. But I'm eking out the remaining bits of Christmas cheese and salami to act as a Jeffersonian condiment to go with winter brassica, carrots, potatoes and . . . fusilli. I'm a dab hand at cooking up something from behind the fridge, to get a few more days of shelf life. Talking of food on the edge-by, I noticed that the litre of milk, which I only use to dribble into tea, was due to turn tomorrow and still half full. I decided that I'd make custard or rather, as you see [L] custard à la beige; (it's the brown sugar innit?) that can pretend it is cream when I add a blut of it to the stewed fruit, of which I have a surplus. You can see [Above] that I am also working through the 2021 season marmalade. The green cards behind which the marmalade is demurely lurking are courtesy of An Post: I can now greet six anyones on the island for free. Like last year.

Last Summer, as part of the BFF Repurpose The Uplands project, we decided that removing the alien invasive gorse / whin / furze / bushes Ulex europeaus from the hill would give a boost to the heather and grass which feed the sheep. It was a grand meitheal all together: but left that section of the hillside littered with upended gorse bushes. 

My experience of clearing gorse from field edges and wall tops is that it makes better habitat for small creatures, and rots down quicker, if you I trim the spiny brash off and leave the 'logs' in a separate pile. Gorse burns hot and quick and so makes an important contribution to the fuel for a wood-burning stove. It has been on my mind to lope up the hill and bring down anything that could, after trimming, pass for firewood next winter. Yesterday Monday 25 Jan was the perfick day: high blue skies, bright sun driving off the remaining patches of snow, everyone else supposed to be working from home. I set off with a light heart, extra socks and my hedge-loppers after postie had delivered my free postcards. Glorious! If I can't access my pensioner's free travel, at least I can get free fresh air. This benefit of living remote sure compensates for not having shops, cinemas and pubs within walking distance like you city folk. I spent an hour lopping, chopping and dragging. After lunch I pushed my wheel barrow up and brought a handy load down - gathering winter fuuuuuel, indeed.

Postscript. In the evening, I decided to try some of the beige custard with a slice of very old Christmas pudding [it lasts forever]. I popped the escalope de pudding de Noël à la crème anglais in a moderate oven but was immediately distracted by 2 consecutive phone calls. By the time I got to my dessert of choice, it looked crusty: like the nightmare institutional cooking unwell people are presented with at St Ghastly's Indigent Infirmary. After my day of outdoor work, it would take more than looks to dent my appetite; and I scarfed it all down quicker than a Jack Russell eating the cook's own sausages. 
PPS. That was yesterday, this morning 'tis raining hard, a sou'wester day, not a day to be out on the hill at all, carpe diem me hearties.

Monday 25 January 2021


There's been a good deal of vaporing about free-speech after The Don of Casa Blanca was finally de-listed from multiple platforms of social media. Free speech is about allow people with whom you disagree to have their say.  "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" (not Voltaire). Echo chamber echoes are always welcome, of course: so comforting.

Consider Jehovah's Witnesses JWs; they are a perennial edge case forcing us to reconsider our cosy certainties. They are obedient biblical literalists, who make it slightly more difficult for outsiders by having their own translation of the bible which duffers in some detail from the KJV on which I cut my scriptural teeth. They are good with vaccines but don't hold with transfusions and there have been a number of high profile cases when doctors and parents differ about what's best for sick children. The most recent Irish example was a 2006 post-partum haemorrhage case which would have orphaned the child but for a paternalistic intervention by the High Court and the Coombe Maternity Hospital.

JWs make up the majority of conscientious objectors: holding that Jesus turned the other cheek rather than took up cudgels for his beliefs and advised his disciples to follow him in that position. "Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." Matt26v52. For JWs, the only battle worth fighting is Armageddon . . . on the side of the righteous, naturally. The extent to which The Man can accommodate conscience is a measure of the civilisation of a nation - South Korea gets a 20/Oct/20 tick.

I've written about The Pledge of Allegiance before. It is really repellent to have children reciting anything in unison: that goes for prayer as much as a government mandated pledge. Children are savage enough to turn on each other without being groomed to conformity by church or state. We have innate, hormonal, neurotransmitter mediated, capacity to Other people who look or behave differently from the pack. In my teens, I hitch-hiked from Essex to Inverness via Aberdeen [read that for Other the Gays] to pick raspberries for money. After I'd accumulated enough cash, I took the bus into Inverness to spend it on scotch pies and chups. It must have been school's out because the bus was jammed with kids going home. A group of older girls at the back of the bus took exception to a cheeky comment made by a dark-haired gurrier and started a chant "If you hate Black Bandit, clap your hands" and soon everyone under the age of 12 piled in with hands and stamping feet. It didn't turn ugly, and the chap didn't seem too put out, but it was notable how quickly the Us v Them lines were established.

In 1935, a chap called Billy Gobitas [L with his Dad and Lillian] from Minersville Pennsylvania, a Jehovah's Witness, and his older sister Lillian, refused to engage with The Pledge which their church considered an example of idolatry. Those were the days when the Pledge was recited with right arm outstretched like a Hitlerjugend rally across the water. In Germany also, JWs had refused to salute the Führer and 10,000 of them were bundled up into concentration camps by the State. The local school board got all officious and banned the kids from public school. The case worked its way up to the US Supreme Court where, in 1940, the case was decided 8-1 in favour of Das Reich the State of Pennsylvania. Justice Frankfurter wrote the majority opinion holding "national unity is the basis of national security . . . The flag is the symbol of our national unity" & dissent was a threat to that security. The minority report was written by Harlan Stone "History teaches us that there have been but few infringements of personal liberty by the state which have not been justified, as they are here, in the name of righteousness and the public good, and few which have not been directed, as they are now, at politically helpless minorities." In other words it is all too easy for The State to bully the dispossessed into a facade of conformity to allow their continued exploitation by the powerful. 

The consequence of this decision was to unleash a pogrom against JWs across the nation from Texas to Maine. Reading between the lines, Lillian seems to have been a bit of a pest: an A student who persistently knocked on the doors of her Catholic neighbours trying to convert them. But making her drink castor oil [Richwood, WV we're looking at you] or burning down the local JW Meeting house [we see you, Kennebunk ME] is a disproportionate response. 

You won't find Minersville v Gobitas in the annals of SCOTUS decisions because a SC clerk typoed the family name to Gobitis [possibly a Freudian slip because dissenters seemed like a disease]. At least some of the SCJs had second thoughts when they read about the violent consequences of their decision. Recusing children from Pledging conformity to the Flag was allowed after West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). If you ask me, the only thing Pledge [R] is good for is to get a good shine on your dining room table and bees-wax is a better eco-solution to that problem.

Sunday 24 January 2021

New Day aRisin'


Saturday 23 January 2021

A man of principle

William Price [R in full dress cosplay], arch-druid, cremator, vegetarian, nudist, Welshman died this day 23rd Jan 1893 in the fullness of his years, having been born in 1800. His mortal remains went wooomph in a plume of carbon footprint stoked by 2 tonnes of best Welsh steam coal from the Rhondda. It's easy to label him nutty as a fruitcake because we still haven't got round to adopting all his peculiar obsessions: most of us wear socks, for example, and doctors generally treat patients even if they smoke tobacco. Indeed, doctors are even at this moment treating pandemic-deniers in ICUs across the world rather than inviting them to lay in the bed that they have made.

[One of the teeth-grinding outfalls of the Report on the Mother and Baby Homes [yest], which was released on 12th Jan 2021, was the refusal of pethidine by midwifes attending young unmarried women . . . because sin requires retribution]. 

Price's father was, by contemporary accounts, unhinged: talking to trees, collecting snakes and raging at his neighbours. But in those distant pre-medication days, there was more tolerance of peculiar behaviour, so long as everyone knew where your people were buried. I'm sure they were just as good as we are at scapegoating strangers, jews, blacks and other Others. The younger Price trained as a doctor and was inducted into the Royal College of Surgeons of England after rubbing shoulders with the great and the good for several years in London.

Returning to general practice in Wales he secured a few sinecures posts as Works Medical Officer in several industrial enterprises in and around Caerphilly. He was also active in the Welsh Nationalist movement and embraced Chartism - one of the early universal [male] suffrage movements in Britain. While in self-exile in Paris - Chartism having been violently suppressed - he decided that he was appointed to be leader of his people and returned to Wales as arch-druid of the Old Religion. This did not dance particularly well with The Man's ideas of an Established Christian Religion which called the shots for everyone.

Things came to a head when, very late in life, William Price married a local girl Gwenllian Llewelyn 60 years his junior with whom he had a son named Jesu Grist pour épater les bourgeoises, like. Instead of growing up to lead his people to the promised land, young Iesu died in infancy. Price's religion didn't hold with burial and so he cremated his son and heir on a hill outside Llantrisant. The neighbours were appalled! Accusing him of infanticide and blasphemy they geed each other up to throw the first stone until the grieving father was rescued by the police. In court it transpired that, although it was not customary to cremate bodies in the United Kingdom, nobody could turn up the statute which forbade the practice; and Price was exonerated. The events were super newsworthy and opened debate and started acceptance of the practice across the country. When he himself died almost exactly 9 years later, his cremation became a huge raree show attracting 20,000 people. Si monumentum requiris circumtecte

His wife Gwenllian lived on for another half century, only dying in 1948.

Friday 22 January 2021

Gruel for breakfast

. . . guinea-pigs for tea. The Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes [available] is almost as long as the Brexit / EU trade agreement and cannot be approached lightly unless you have a severe case of blunted affect. The systemic issue is that the mothers and their babies were othered by those who were supposed to be caring for them: their families, the state, doctors, the church, the nuns who were running individual homes. The main-stream media won't have much stomach for reading and commenting on the details: it's much easier to get a soundbite from the redoubtable Catherine Corless and move on the the Covid numbers or the scores in the UK Premier Division. And the rest of us won't be dwelling too long on events that happened long ago and far away.

Chapter 34 deals with drug trials. The evocative care record shown L is clipped from an RTE report on the shenanigans that The State went through to service the requirements of their lords in the pharmaceutical industry. MMR didn't come on stream until 1971; W.C is whooping cough = pertussis: now usually given as DTP triple therapy.  On p.2 /58, there is a throw-away reference to the Ring College diphtheria immunization scandal. Seems that a local doctor, during a vaccination trial at a fancy fee-paying Irish College,  killed 1 girl and infected at least another 19 with TB and the blame was shifted onto The Brits in the form of Burroughs-Wellcome the supplier of the vaccine. The book which makes these allegations is Strangling Angel by Michael Dwyer [publ] but there's a convenient executive summary. The publicity, the stitch-up and issues of liability and indemnity put back the roll-out of vaccination in Ireland by at least a decade. Add that to state-sponsored nacrolepsy denialism and push back against HPV and the present government has a potential problem with vaccination up-take which they are treating with a "it will be alright on the night" optimism that I hope they will see vindicated. We've suggested an antidote.

It is cold cold comfort but the Ring-gate scandal shows that, in the past, The Man has been prepared to sacrifice comfortably middle-class children as well as the offspring of young women of sin. In mitigation, it is clear that the parents of the children in Ring were informed of the proposed vaccination and all gave their consent. I daresay that it was a long way from what we would call informed consent: where the benefits are balanced with an honest appraisal of potential adverse outcomes. And there needs to be an audit-trail "Written consent unaccompanied by other evidence that an explanation has been given, understood, and accepted, is of little value".

I hope that we are now more skeptical of Authority because The Man has been found so often with his pants down around his feet of clay. But nevertheless, mind-manipulators (advertisers, managers, bullies, cult-leaders, parents, SWM) are quite capable to framing a question [ne nonne num] in such a way as to draw out the required answer: often "Sir, Yes Sir, Sir". Ominously the three cited sources for informed consent guidance are Nuremberg Code (1947), Report of the Medical Research Council (UK) (1962) and the Declaration of Helsinki (1964). To find that first reference in the context of the current report is throwing Birkenau and Bessboro in the same circle of hell: let those responsible quibble about the details of the rankings. 

I tell ya, reading Chapter 34 made me sit up to appreciate that "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” . . . in spades. After a couple of pages usefully documenting who was capable of giving consent for a child to be enrolled in a drugs trial [basically the unmarried mother even if she'd been sent back "home"] the commission concluded "Precisely who was the guardian is, however, largely irrelevant as no attempt seems to have been made to seek the consent of parents or guardians". Even in the 1960s, indeed even since the 1937 constitution, it was clear that the mother was legally responsible for the welfare of her child . . . but the relevant Mother Superior floated over such details in a miasma of judgmental certainty in her own sense of right. 

The Past may be a foreign country but I was there, trying to vindicate The Boy's right to have two parents. For me, for us, it all worked out well; for others, less fortunate, less well-connected - not so much. Now ♩s the t♩me for your tear♪.

Catherine Connolly TD gets the report
and suggests that the leak of the report
was engineered to give The Man control
of the narrative.

Thursday 21 January 2021

Habemus poem


I didn't, couldn't, watch the inauguration of the Biden #46. By its very etymology - augur - it is going to be filled with mystical passes, crowd manipulation and woo-wah, The augurs in ancient Rome would predict the future [usually, as government officials, with optimism] by interpreting the flights of birds . . . hoping for 3 eagles flying [R] dexterously, because sinister was such bad news. They worked hand in bloody <eeeuw> glove with the haruspices who where riffling through chicken giblets looking for signs on the liver.

But Kottke flagged up a picture of Amanda Gorman, Poet Laureate Jr partly visible behind two [2] enormous microphones which could pick up her words - outside broadcasting with the least breeze is tricky - but were designed for taller folk. I then watched to her entire speech - a poem The Hill We Climb to celebrate a new Biden dawn. She's had to red-pencil and re-write large chunks to bring it [Capitol Coup 1/6/21] up to date.

When day comes we ask ourselves: 
where can we find light in this never-ending shade? 
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. 
We’ve braved the belly of the beast. 
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, 
and the norms and notions of what just is, 
. . . isn’t always justice.

It a bit rappy but maybe owes its alliteration to the kennings of Beowulf [Joe Biden is known to like a bit of Seamus Heaney . . . and hope and history rhyme] and its sprung rhythms to Pied Beauty. The kit owes something to 22ndC SciFi cosplay - mid-calf canary yellow coats are being run up by craft-handy kids ♀♂⚥ across the nation today. It's high theatre, and why not? We go to the theatre to add salt to our boring potatoey daily life. 

Grendel is banished.
We have been addressed.
I have been unmanned. 

Wednesday 20 January 2021

You can't make an Omelas

. . . without breaking eggs. The USPS, which contrived to lose the package P sent me in July and offered no effective remedy, has redeemed itself in a tiny way by promising the world a 3oz Ursula Le Guin stamp. It will become available sometime this calendar year and cost 85c. Ya gotta love Le Guin, unless you are The Man or really smug in your cosy status quo. It seems appropriate to post [har har] about her and all her works on the day when US politics turns over a new leaf; and we a briefly hopeful that all will be well. In the fight for the fat demographic [I am talking about the bell curve not the waistband of America] of the middle ground, successful political parties get to look increasingly indistinguishable. Writers like Le Guin can imagine, and present, alternative versions of reality; which may make us think a) how we live with each other is utter crap b) could do better. "We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings." is a quote from her acceptance speech for a Literary Award in 2014. In those 5 minutes she ironically and adversely de-constructs the industry which brought her to prominence . . . and the podium from which she delivered her acerbic pfffff collapse of stout party remarks.
Two years ago, I wrote about her being kind and constructive to a much younger writer. And you're never too old to read Earthsea.

If you have 18 minutes, you could, with advantage and probable discomfort, listen to a reading of Those who walk away from Omelas

""With the clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city of Omelas, bright towered by the sea . . . 

They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us that the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going . . . those who walk away from Omelas.""

We don't have to accept injustice, inequality and cruelty just because they are hard to discard.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

40 focal don sneachta

When the barn went on fire in the night a few days after Dau.I was born, we had a chance to save a few things before our home was engulfed in the roaring consuming conflagration. In the moment, I made a foolish call and bundled my new computer into a binbag and carried it out to the garden. I should have saved the photos - which weren't digital in 1993. [spoiler: the fire brigade came in time and I got a second chance with the photos] It's a decision we could all prepare for as we sort our parents' papers, and our own, because our burden-of-stuff is not all equally valuable. But beware of saving big ticket items and dumping the quotidian. You might think that those who come after would like another copy of the Life magazine celebration of Neil Armstrong's small step for a man . . . but you'd be wrong. Twenty consecutive years of bank statements, because ephemeral, will provide 22ndC historians with a unique insight into daily life in the late 20thC.

Remember that 94% of the plays of Sophocles were consigned to the flames by the ignorant. There is no evidence therefore that the saved 7 is the cream or the froth or just a random selection of his insights into the human condition.

Manchán Magan, performer and recorder, has become gate-keeper for the Kerry dialect of Irish and made The Selection for what to save from the words he learned from his grandmother Sighle Humphries, who was a storm petrel for Pearse and Connolly 100+ years ago. Largely, it seems, through the force of her personality, Manchán was raised first language Irish in a leafy Dublin suburb besieged by Bearla, and distracted by Lego, Star Wars and Bazooka bubblegum. But every Summer, he'd be hangin' with Sighle's neighbours - hauling water, seaweed, milk and hay as a small helping hand on the micro farms of the West and consuming Miwadi & biscuits agus an teanga for/after his labours. He's written it down, in big print, because most of his informants are old, with sight and memory failing; if not already passed on to Tír na Neamhní - and published it as Thirty-two Words for Field.

Spoiler: Achadh; Áirleann; Bánóg; Biorach; Branar; Buadán; Buaile; Cabhán; Cathairín; Cluain; Cuibhreann; Cúilín; Domasach; Faicthe; Fásach; Garraí; Geamhar; Gort; Ingealtas; Lóiste; Losaid; Loscán; Mach; Machaire; Magh; Mainnear; Mín; Mothar; Páirc; Plás; Plásóg; Póicín; Raon; Réalóg; Réidh; Réidhleán; Tamhnach; Tuar. And, yes, there are more than 32 words in the list because who wants to spill all their biscuits out on the table with the first cup of tea of our acquaintance? There are, after all, not 40 Eskimo words for snow

So this is a book like Jorge Luis Borges' Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius: describing the language and culture of a land that is probably mythical and certainly ungraspable and only available to us in the partial, selective writings of a single surviving witness. "By extracting the wisdom and memories contained within a place name, through a mixture of analysis and intuition, we can cast light on the profound truths about people, gods, and nature". And why not? I'd prefer analysis and evidence but acknowledge that evidence is only what a group of people agree to be the truth . . . for the time being. So our scientific certainty is not always demonstrably better than the intuitions of someone who is deeply immersed in the data story.

I was so excited when our alphabetical top pals A & B gave us a copy of 32 Words, because I thought it might be 32 chapters long with maps charting out the geographic and cultural spread of each of the words like Zimmermann and O'Hara's agri-townland analysis or Eugene Costello's deep landscape; indeed The Blob's own Holistic Landscape. It is not that; it is both richer and more discursive, with lists of names pertaining to fairies and stones as well as fields. Like Simone Kotva's extensive ruminations on Faeroese bird-names.

One interesting assertion is that the Irish [people and language, both] tend to use cardinal points N E W S in their directions [like the Guugu Ymithirr] as opposed to the speaker-centric Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning used by most other European languages. But that's just not true, everyone knows that Irish people give directions by pubs "Turn left at Cahill's, along the road a-piece, then right at Mulligan's".

Monday 18 January 2021

Marcus puts the boot in

I've had a good pandemic - so far: touch wood, taps head - but that's because I was born lucky. Just being born in the 1950s gave me all sorts of advantages: 

  • student grants rather than student debt; 
  • returning to Europe in the 1980s after studenting in the USA at a time when the market was being flooded with give-away council homes; our 100 y.o red-brick mid-terrace in N England cost 1.25x my [derisory] salary
  • selling that home 4 years later in a rising 'market' for 2.5x what we paid for it
  • buying a farm[let] of land in Ireland with the proceeds  
Dau.I has the equivalent [derisory] salary at about the same age, and aspires to buy her own gaff in Dublin. Shoe-boxes Starter homes there and now are about 8x her professional salary = impossible to achieve unless she buys Lotto tickets. The society which we share has been set up so that some rich fuck who was lucky like me can gouge her for a rent far in excess of the mortgage repayments that the Bank says she couldn't afford. That's a key problem: many of the indignities, mental health issues and discomfort stem from this gross disparity between the haves and have-nots. We have voted for this!

Last week I was raging about a student and her mum going to bed early because that was the warmest part of the house . . . send more duvets. Today, and across the water, systemic shame and outrage being exposed by another black kid . . . who pwned the ball of child food poverty and ran with it. Marcus Rashford, Man.Utd and International soccer star, and younger than my daughters, grew up in Manchester. Unlike our girls, there were no hens in the yard and so often no eggs for breakfast, nor lunch nor dinner neither. But Marcus was lucky in his Mum, a single mother who worked hard to put food on the table. Marcus was often hungry anyway because the rent and utilities also had to be paid, and her boys needed shoes. School dinners were vital to the calorie economy of the household. For The Boy growing up in the 1980s school lunches could be treated as a joke because there was a full fridge at home: another example of the good fortune of the time and place of my birth.

Marcus Rashford was also born with golden boots and was being hot-housed for soccer stardom before he turned teen. It's a trope that, if you take a working class kid and give him Lotto money [£10,400,000 in 2019] every year until his cruciate ligament requires surgery, then he'll blow it on sex, cars, tarot-readings and blow. Not Marcus: in late 2019 he teamed up with Selfridges to bring Christmas to the homeless. The following Spring he called the British Government for dropping the ball on school dinners during lockdown. In the mentality of the Tories, school dinners were something that was given out by Boris of The Generous Hand between History and PE.  It took a leap of empathy, hard to find in a Tory cabinet, to turn that round as school dinners feeding a hungry kid. The child is no less hungry because school is out. Far too many children in one of the richest nations of the Earth go to bed hungry and wake up hungry the following morning every day. Because ensuring that the children of the dispossessed enough calories to think straight would foment a revolution.

Prime Minister Johnson, every ready with specious waggery, confessed that Marcus was a more effective leader of the opposition than Sir Keith Starmer. In the New Year, The Man has given the young man a medal - because that's much cheaper than paying people a decent salary for doing the government's job for them. Don't worry Marcus none, he's a fundamentally decent, caring, modest and thoughtful person. And he's making a huge difference to literally millions of people who are struggling through the same slough of institutional oppression that Marcus' family experienced while he was growing up. Latest intel on how government contractors stiff the poor for £30 'lunch-boxes'. The tax payer gives contractor £30, they supply this [R].
Shame calls St Marcus of Old Trafford. 

Sunday 17 January 2021

Mid Jan Sun 021

St Anthony's Day. Patron of skin diseases, farmers, butchers, basket makers, brushmakers, gravediggers . . .

Saturday 16 January 2021

Bedsit in the Sky

Dang! Sorry to report that Katherine Whitehorn, columnist and talking head who oversaw my growing up, is dead. She was 92, in a Home, Alzheimered and Covid positive so it was time to cash in her chips. In her day, she was forthright, honest and funny and punctured many balloons about what women should be, while documenting how a spectrum of women were. She questioned the necessity to do housework, for example. A lick and a promise and reasonably clean clothes freed housekeepers [still overwhelmingly women for all her decades in journalism] to do more productive self-developing things; both inside and outside the home. "When it comes to housework the one thing no book of household management can ever tell you is how to begin. Or maybe I mean why."

She started as a fashion reporter for the Observer but her editor soon realised she was more trenchant, and funnier, than most of the blokes in the copy-room and so gave her a column to write about whatever was floating her boat that week. It ran for more than 30 years, and, along with the crossword, was the reason why we bought the Observer most Sundays in Dublin in the 70s even if it was shipped (foreign) without the colour supplements and cost more than across the water. 

I was in Dublin studenting and spent two years, usually with The Beloved,  living in bedsits, one of which was no more than 2.5m across in any dimension. There is no room for clutter if you want to see the flooring occasionally and her Cooking in a Bedsitter (1961) reduced the batterie de cuisine to a functional minimum [prev deets] and described how ingenuity and out-box thinking could save on the washing-up and still dish up a serviceable meal for two. That book also included a [short] list of essential supplies which could easily fit in one box from the off-licence. And don't forget to buy one bottle of wine when you pick up the box: life is so much easier for us nowadays with screw-tops to serviceable plonk. "Food is not necessarily essential just because your child hates it".

Although she was born into comfort and had a similar very expensive education to mine, she was not without empathy for the dispossessed "The easiest way for children to learn about money is for you not to have any." She wasn't, like Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London, living in bedsits as a journalistic exercise investigating how the other half lives. She was living thus because a very wide range of people lived in such minimal accommodation. I don't think we are better off, in all the dimensions that matter for a life well-lived, by having five (5) sorts of vinegar on the shelf next to the cooker.

Friday 15 January 2021

The Da 10/10/17-15/01/01

It's exactly 20 years, almost to the hour, that my father died after falling downstairs a few days earlier. This gives me the prefect excuse to reprise the most improper joke that my father shared with my twin sister and me over lunch when we were about 13.  For reasons lost in the mists of time, the three of us were in an Italian  restaurant in Whitstable.  The photo, proof that he was indeed a sea captain, is from a few years earlier. The Da must have had a couple of glasses of chianti to let his sense of propriety crumble to such an extent:

War-time, Rationing, Blackout. 

After much drink while on leave in London, two Naval Officers needing some solid sustenance find themselves in a cheap restaurant.  One of them winks at his pal, points to the ill-typed menu and says to the waitress:

I don’t know about my friend here, but I’ll have an order of these Pissoles”. 

His companion interjects: “No, No, Rodney, I think you’ll find that’s an ‘R’.”

In that case, I’ll have an order of Arsoles, miss

It was a strange and memorable experience to be laughing like a drain while simultaneously picking my jaw off the pink table-cloth.  The Da spent the next thirty years denying that anything remotely like that had ever happened.  Could well have been more than two glasses of chianti then; although I remember him finding the car and driving us away somewhere else after lunch - but you could do that in those distant days. 

Thursday 14 January 2021

At Swim Two Cultures

My father's cousin Posy lived on the shores of Lough Derg in a Georgian mansion 'hunting lodge' whose lawns swooped down to a little quay at the lakeside. It was impossibly romantic. We'd stay there for a few days most years and get up well before breakfast to row out on the mirrored lake before the breeze began to ruffle the surface. My sister was the best swimmer of us all and took little persuading to plunge in. She got out PDQ when her evil-stirring brothers suggested that there were pike Esox lucius "as long as yer leg" lurking in the reeds ready to savage little girls. Cousin Posy was well 'ard and used to swim off the end of the quay every day until she had to break the ice with her fists to make progress.

Wildwater swimming is a minority sport still. One of the books of their bible is Roger Deakin's Waterlog which tracks his adventures swimming across the inundated field systems of the Scilly Isles and thence across England. That is a great, evocative book, but I can't see it myself: Irish water is cold even at the height of Summer and brutal in Winter. When m'daus were small they regularly begged me to go swimming in the local pool and occasionally I'd reluctantly agree. The last time I went, I saved a large lady from drowning which impressed on me that swimming is not only cold and wet but also dangerous. Read Drownproofing everyone!

Well m'sister the selkie has taken to the water big time in recent years although the sea was often in her hair when she lived on Erraid in the last century. I sent her a parcel of links from RTE [podcast with text] about the swimming without really reading them too closely. Swimming certainly has the potential for inclusion: for the elderly with dodgy knees and hips, for folks with MS, for the dispossessed in direct provision. 

But these positive outcomes have run in parallel with a darker side to shared spaces when Coronarama drove a new cohort of people to established swimming holes. If Dundrum Shopping Centre was covid-closed, trendies would head for the 40 Foot in "dryrobes" [comely maidens in, R], a fashion-accessory that incensed the old stagers who were there for, like, the swimming. It didn't help that the in-blows were intent on documenting their experience for their Insta-pals.  It would piss me off too, if I thought that my saggy moobs would feature as part of the 'authentic' back-ground for a random young-wan's selfie. It's not so long ago that 40 Foot was men only because half the ould buffers went plunging in the buff. Well, I hope they resolve their differences; after all the water is wide, there should be room for everyone.

Wednesday 13 January 2021

Rotten in the State

 A few [Jaysus, it's six years] years ago, the central heating (of our rubble-in-courses granite farmhouse) blew a gasket and I came back from work in the dark to find a puddle under the stairs. Our tame (and always available) plumber isolated that circuit, so we now have rads upstairs, fan-heaters downstairs and hot water on demand. Up until pandemic, we were out and about for much of the day, and fixing the central heating was not completely straight-forward, so we've allowed this issue to mollock along without resolution. It's not without its protestant positives: a life of easy comfort isn't going to fast-track me to heaven. And the challenge of finding hot-water bottles creative solutions to the core body heat problem is a bit of a game. I find that I can type away for a couple of hours in the morning at 12°C but I know that's not sustainable for the whole day. My threshold for sedentary sweater comfort indoors is 15.4°C = 60°F: I can go  the whole day on that with sufficient hot tea. But let's be clear: for me it's a choice.

Tuesday, I went down to the kitchen to fix some lunch and caught the tail end of a Newstalk phone-in from Rachel a 21 yo student working from home in Co. Mayo. She's living at home with her Mum, working from home also, because Covid: and it's too cold for either of them to function properly. Essential toolkit for Rachel to do her studenting is a blanket, a scarf and . . . a candle (because it's hot enough to help unclaw her hand to write notes). That home qualifies for a fuel allowance but with lock-down that's not enough to heat her sub-standard accommodation: the windows don't close properly and so forth. Suggestions flooded in from well-meaning listeners: about the St Vincent de Paul and various grants for upgrading the housing stock. But those solutions require the dispossessed to have enough spare capacity, spare calories, to think straight and that's damn difficult with endemic fuel poverty. Several people, presumably living in Co Mayo, had solutions specific to Rachel. They weren't given airtime but you can imagine someone like me (with a full woodshed) offering to deliver a trailer-load of logs to Rachel's gaff. But what about Rebecca's gaff, and Robert's and Romero's? No woodshed is big enough to cover for a systemic failure to look after the have-nots of our society.  A more equable distribution of wealth is required.

Tuesday 12 January 2021

Furthest South

We had the best Christmas that could be reasonably expected at the end of a Plague Year: enough food, perfectly cooked; family present; but min presents; drink but no drunks. Beyond having Dau.I and Dau.II home we didn't get hammered and didn't go <cof> <cof> visiting. As a country, we seem to have Xmasocialised rather too closely and rather too widely and the Covid+ numbers have gone vertical. It was an unfortunate time for the Girl Who Invented Herself aka B to exercise her decision, arrived at last Summer, to repatriate herself from foreign. But back in the fall, she booked her flight home for 9th Jan 2021.

Common sense, Covid sense and The Man all advise that self-isolation for 14 days is required of all immigrants . . . we have enough virus circulating in the community without adding any foreign germs to the already frothy [and potentially fatal] mix. The Public [whoever that might be] don't do nuance [although they are grand with me-exceptionalism] so rules, regulations and requirements are necessarily blunt. Any rational risk assessment will conclude that B, inccommming from Covid-free Singapore is much more at risk from us than we are from her - even factoring in a two-leg Etihad flight. 

From commuting my Yaris 80 km every day; since Coronarama in March, its use been down 80km a month. It made sense, therefore, to add B to the insurance and let her drive herself to her quarantine lazar house on the Waterford Coast. Plan: I drive the Yaris & The Beloved drives her Grape to the Airport. B takes the Yaris while TB and I return home in the Grape. It was a plan not without its anxieties because a) the travel restrictions b) the previous night was the coldest since the Beast from the East three years ago. All fine and dandy until Bob the Duh starts the additional driver insurance 24 hours after B's arrival from foreign and only notices his error minutes before departure.

We decide that the best fall-back is for me to do Driving Miss Baisy and for TB to pick me up from outside the Quarantine Station after delivery. It should be okay on the Riskometer Scale if B sits in the back as far from the steering wheel as possible; we both mask up; and drive with the windows open. Did I say it was cold? Not really cold, not Sweden cold but it was -5°C when I crunched the ice to leave home. 

At the airport it was a [comparatively] balmy +1°C. Brilliant sunny day, though which helped. Gradually the temperature crawled up as with headed towards to tropics: +2°C in Kildare, +3°C crossing the Carlow border, +4°C in mid-Kilkenny and touching +5°C as we crested a Furthest South rise and saw the sea. This is how lots of people travelled 100 years ago: one of my elderly female rellies was still going about her rounds in a pony and trap in Wexford in the 1960s.

Near the J3 turn-off for Moone and Timolin [what passes for a metropolis in the M9 Kildare corridor], we noted a motor-cyclist and I said we were better protected, in all senses, than them. B made a quip about Shackleton and Tom Crean [R <not!> photo courtesy George O'Mahony] and how well 'ard we were.  Somewhere along the way she also shared a Coronarama silver lining about how face-masks were just the thing for outdoors in Winter. To which Dau.I would add: especially if cycling

Now here's the thing: when we were making ableist, self-congratulatory, comparisons with real Hard Chaws like Crean and Shackleton we were cruisin' past, and not more than 5km from, Kilkea House, where Shackleton was born and reared . . . on the 112th anniversary of his Furthest South achievement struggling to within 100 nautical miles of the South Pole on 9th Jan 1909. Doing a 2 hour trip with the windows open doesn't really qualify. And to show that the real Tom Crean had a heart of gold, R is a picture of him with an armful of puppies.

Monday 11 January 2021

Not that Carl

We are all differently abled. Dullards may be kind; carpenters may know nothing about forestry; someone has to collect Matchbox cars. The top grade of scientists are expected to be able to manage the budget of a small business and act as HR for maybe a couple of dozen employees. No training is given in financial planning or empathy. This in sp♠des if/when the walking genius gathers sufficient intellectual property to float a campus company with themself as CEO. Mark my words, within a year, the company board will have a reshuffle and appoint a new CEO [strategy] and CFO [cashflow] and the boss will be sent back to the lab with a courtesy title - usually Chief Scientific Officer - and a hamper of stock options of course. All proper order: everyone [especially The Money] wins. Insofar as any talent, skill or native ability is genetic, this is a really good argument against incest. I look around my professorial friends to note how many of them have been saved from a mumbling, unkempt, off-balance existence by an exogamous marriage to someone who has complementary skills in {money-management; child-care; cooking; car maintenance; creative writing}. 

Because family, we all got a copy of the 2020 Christmas Book from the QI stable. QI has produced a steady stream of income for Faber; and I daresay a trickle of royalties for The Brother. This year's book is Funny You Should Ask: your questions asked by QI elves. [Buy] I wrote about 1339 [2013] 1441 [2014] but you'll have to hunt up books 1234, 1342, 1423, 2024 yourself.  The apple falleth not far from the tree and I've been working diligently for the last 8 years publishing random stuff which is interesting me at a given moment. My style is more off with the fairies discursive, running at about 700 words the Blob. Compared to take-it-or-leave-it QI Facts like:

  • In 1928, the US, the UK and Germany signed a treaty to end all war.
  • Finland has the highest density of metal bands in the world.
  • Smartphone users touch their phone 2,617 times a day.
  • The Pieza genus of fly has species called Pieza kake, Pieza pie, Pieza rhea and Pieza deresistans.

Which run to a microtweet of about 70 characters. The new book is a better read because each contribution is longer, and so more nuanced and, well, quite interesting. Matter of taste, really: on dit que the younger generation [where the QI fanbase resides if my students are any index] has a shorter attention span than silverbacks like me. A couple of times in the book, I have been brought up all standing [acceleration due to gravity on the sun's surface is only 20x Earth's] and had to go verify what I've just read. It's counter-intuitive but true which is a key theme in the QI experience.

I've got something more to say about their answer to this question "Who popularised the recorder, and where can I get my hands on them?" It tinkled a distant bell and I suggest that their answer Carl "Carmina Burana" Orff [because his Schulwerk, a system for encouraging music in kids, featured the recorder] is >!shock!< the wrong Carl. The Brother and I spent one year of our formative lives living in Haslemere, Surrey - England won the World Cup that year and I became a zen master at splitting logs. The most famous thing about Haslemere is that it was home to Arnold Dolmetsch and his son Carl [R for recorder] who founded the Haslemere Festival for early music in 1925 and ran it for the next 50 years. It was like the Wexford Opera Festival with lutes and recorders: not mainstream by any means but important for an exclusive section of the the elite and their hangers-on. Carl, through the Dolmetsch Foundation, commissioned a substantial number of works for recorder, by such noted composers as Lennox Berkeley, York Bowen, Herbert Murrill, Arnold Cooke, Cyril Scott, Francis Chagrin, Hans Gál, Gordon Jacob, Nicholas Maw, Stephen Dodgson, Jean Françaix, and especially Edmund Rubbra. If you can whistle any tune by any of this notables then you really need a season ticket for the Wexford Opera Festival . . . and welcome to it.

Did someone mention recorders? Dolmetsch Père cut his teeth on restoring and building early musical instruments: lutes, claviers, harpsichords and . . . recorders [after the young shaver lost one in Waterloo Station]. But immediately after WWII he scaled up and his factory started to churn out bakelite recorders in the tens of thousands. Getting an affordable recorder into every home that had the least interest in acquiring one did more, I suggest, to roll out the tootlers across the nation and indeed across the world.

The Dolmetsch story is quite racy [molto allegro or even vivace]. Carl was dreamy [he lost that antique recorder in Waterloo Station when he was a child] and conservative and not as good a player as he believed. But, like wine-tasting, musical appreciation is fuelled on assertion and pretension. If you act like a maestro, your audience will carry you along on a wave of applause because nobody wants to sit out a standing ovation. Carl was kind of hopeless when it came to stock-taking, marketing, supplier mollification, and balancing the books. He was thus fortunate to marry Mary Ferguson, a capable, business-like and effective Scot. He also had an intense relationship with his accompanist Joseph Saxby; the two travelled to recitals all over the world together for several decades. Mary and Carl divorced in the 1960s. 

Changing economic conditions led to a boardroom putsch in 1978: Carl's control of the company was wrested from his hands and Mary and a parachuted William Heaton settled the business back on the rails. Carl went off and founded a separate Dolmetsch company in the same town and both sides haemorrhaged money to their lawyers in disputes about IP, assets, & trademarks. The original company went under a few years later, much to Heaton's chagrin; and most of the assets were acquired by Carl's enterprise which was being managed largely by his son-in-law. Companies, like fashions, evolve and move on. It is rare that The Creative with the original inspiration has the capacity or interest to manage the consequences of their success.

Sunday 10 January 2021

sun ten jan

Wot a week. Albert "Chef" Roux died. US democracy was shaken.