Monday, 3 October 2022

Tik Mak Shu

Imagine living in a country where all the signage was new: ვცხოვრობ პურ-ყველის გამო. Where do you even start to make sense of the built environment? I guess you'd start by looking for similar glyphs on shop-fronts ცხოვრბ პურ-ყელის გამ I've colored the O and V letters in the Georgian phrase in the first sentence. I remember sitting in a harborside cafe in Greece and sounding out φαρμακείο:  Ph - a - r - m - a - k - é - i - o . . . oh! Pharmacy, that's where I need to go for more sunscreen. We are blessed to live in a multicultural society, and we should cut the New Irish some slack in navigating their new home. Waterford would be a poor place without pierogi, pizza and paratha. 

A few years ago, a young Georgian friend [prev] of the family sent The Beloved a txt announcing that she'd bought something nice in Tik Mak Shu. It took a while to twig that the mystery shop was a wayward transliteration of TK-Maxx (shop?) which operates on the slogan Get big brand wins at small prices

Some members of my family have bought into that pitch and in their company I have been inside several of Mr Maxx's emporiums. I wonder / wander around the homewares looking for even one win at a small price. What I see are ranks of tasteless tat which an enthusiast from Marketing has persuaded Product Development will be an End of Year Bonus winner.

Sadly not. If that EYBW had been a success, containers of unsellable product wouldn't have been shipped to TKM for ignominious disposal. It's hard to compare, because TKM stock leans to peculiar [as L - does any of that look remotely useful?], but none of it looks cheap. But in most cases, you could get something with more functionality, less bling/blurgh, for the same money in a regular department store.

William Morris is the chap to guide us here "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful"

Sunday, 2 October 2022

Sunday gallimaufry

It's a one stop not stop shop [R]

Friday, 30 September 2022

Customer satisfaction

'Tis the End of Days, lads. After a Summer of no rain at all, we got a Summer's worth of wet in 48 hours.  A couple of weeks after that, we had a deluge in daylight. Naturally, I stripped down to shorts and a tee-shirt to save the surface of the lane from being swept to buggery. There's no point in putting on Cape Horn foul-weather gear [even if I had it] because everything would be soaked anyway and it's easier to dry a single tee than a shirt and sweater and "rain" coat. Got a few tsk tsks from my roomies about silly old men courting a trip to the hospital; but the risk to me was minimal and the risk to my wallet considerable if I sat out the storm on my sofa.

But when the second waterbutt-filler happened at the beginning of September, I could not find my Javi = azada = fartanya = mattock [as R]. I have two, of different sizes with replacement handles and I had to use a long-handled shovel which is not the tool of choice for scraping crap out of a drain. Shag this, I said the following day, I R retire, I have four pensions dribbling in from two countries, I should really be giving back to the economy. Forthwith I ventured onto the broad reaches of the interwebs, to see who would sell me a new azada. Lenehans of Capel Street had a heavy-duty digging hoe in stock for €30 . . . free delivery for orders over €50. Having, like Mr Worthing, just lost both parents digging tools, I ordered two of them at €60 to qualify for free deliv.

Lenehans used to be an old fashioned city centre hardware store but they have embraced the internet: claiming to be what3words, as well as eircode, enabled andn taking my e-money with the least possible fuss. My brace of azadas came bundles up in cardboard and sticky tape less than 48 hours after I placed my order. Several e-mails came in parallel, tracking the delivery from warehouse to clearing to depot to van. And when the order was fulfilled, another e-mail directed me to Trustpilot to share the experience:

Lenehans had what I needed 14/Sep/2022
Lenehans had what I needed, at a competitive price, and shipped it quickly and reliably.
Q. What more could you want?
A. A ham and cheese toastie!
Date of experience: 08 September 2022

Reply from Lenehans.ie 20/Sep/2022

Thank you for your review. We appreciate you taking the time to respond and look forward to providing excellent service to you again in the future.
We can't help with the ham and cheese but we do stock sandwich toasters ;)
https://www.lenehans.ie/searchanise/result?q=sandwich%20toaster
Kind regards,
Lenehans.ie

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Pilgrim to Pontiff

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?"

Did I tell you about my Camino? I'm not boring you?  Did I mention how pilgrimage can be transformative? If I'm sure of anything on that subject, it is that nobody was ever transformed by reading about someone else's pilgrimage . . . or thinking about going . . . or putting mink oil on yer boots.

Nevertheless, books about pilgrimage can be interesting if the author has been changed by their journey and/or uses the story as a hook on which to hang their thoughts about life, the Universe and everything. It even works if the trudge takes the author to different places and they go deep or quirky on the local history. There is little value in the mundane description of beers and blisters and inconsequential chatter with other randos on the way. And I think we the reader should hold back the accolades when an established literate and literary person is making the journey cossetted by their publisher's advance. Like Bill Buford's Heat.

I'm finished audiobooking A Pilgrimage to Eternity: from Canterbury to Rome in search of a faith by Timothy Egan.[R at the Col du Grand St-Bernard where Switzerland cedes to Italy]. I live a sheltered life, so I've never 'eard of this Pulitzer Prize winning NYT columnist who has written 9 nine! full-length books and gets regularly reviewed in newspapers of record WaPo, NYT (of course), Guardian.

This book is longer than my 800,008 steps along the Camino an analysis of the process of pilgrimage and the Via Francigena from the tomb of Thomas à Becket to St. Peter's in Rome is 2x more steps. It's more discursive, too: Justin Welby, Martin Luther, Jean d'Arc, Victor Hugo, Savonarola, St Lucia Filippini, Dom Pérignon all lived or died close to the route of the V.F.

Egan grew up Catholic in Spokane and his pilgrimage seeks to reconcile some of the disconcerting aspects of belief. For followers of an all loving Christ, Catholics have a track record of killing a lot of people who couldn't squeeze through a rather narrow gate of faith. His community, including his youngest brother, was exposed to one of the many pedophile priests who were rotated through different parishes rather than sanctioned. His brother's bestie later killed himself from the shame of his abuse. How do you become a fan of Pope Francis with all that hurt in your bindle?

Despite being a best selling author and journalist; and despite having access to Jesuit back-channels to the [Jesuit] Pontiff, Mr Egan does not secure a personal interview with the head of his church and has to make do with a glimpse of Francis as he whizzes by on a golf-cart outside St.Peter's. I had a similar fleeing encounter in the drizzle with Pope JP II when he visited Boston in 1980: and bought the t-shirt! He's happy enough with that, because pilgrimage is a process not a destination.

If you've been on The Path, then you should enjoy this book. tl;dr? 25 minute interview with transcript.

Monday, 26 September 2022

The Prostate of Marsh

My mother put me on to Henry Marsh [multibloboprevs], the literary neurosurgeon, when she gave me Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery nearly 10 years ago. Marsh is a little older than me and has lived through the transition from doctors being brusquely competent / confident [too often confused] to doctors being reined in by a stodgy sclerotic health service bureaucracy and the fear of litigation.

His latest and likely last book And Finally [2022] is available on Borrowbox audio read by himself. "Last" because he was diagnosed last year with late stage prostate cancer, was treated with hormones and radio therapy which got his PSA - prostate specific antigen - score down from 120 [!!] to 0.1 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). The 'normal range' is anything up to 4ng/mL and values higher that 10 will be a big red flag for your oncological urologist, or indeed your GP when your 'bloods' results come back. So Marsh is now officially in remission but having his PSA actively measured every six months. You might wonder at an actual brain surgeon being so stupid as to ignore the clear and present symptoms of problems down there for so long. But his reflections on denialism and his own feet of clay make for interesting and compassionate reading.

And being brought up all standing with a potentially fatal diagnosis induces some reflections on the rest of his life. How he neglected his family in the pursuit of surgical ambition; how he was betrayed by his friend and mentee in Ukraine; how he was cheese-paring of empathy and compassion for his patients and their families. Reflections are matched with projections - not good because his PSA was so high that resurgence is likely. But even if he dodges that bullet, it is likely given his age, he will be carried off by something else. And in any case, for a fit and active person, the multiple organ deficits of the aging body provide the opposite of solace.

And that provides a launch-pad for promoting and making more widely available the option of assisted dying. His gripe is that, so far, the British political establishment has conflated euthanasia [we fought against the Nazis in the war], which excludes consent and assisted death which embraces consent. For Marsh assisted suicide is an older, more direct and altogether better phrase. It is, of course, possible to off yourself without involving any part of medical palliative professional universe but the 'easy' options are violent or messy or uncertain. The arguments against legislation for assisted suicide are not evidence based; and in many cases righteously officious and paternalistic and often involve other people suffering.

Meanwhile, in remission, Marsh's most regular gig is inventing bedtime zoom-stories for his three grand-daughters and continuing to work on a monster dolls' house of his own construction.

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Pick n micks

 Wha's happenin' in the Interwebs?

Friday, 23 September 2022

Trees trees trees

The last Edge of the Plain [prev] investigated by James Crawford is The Great Green Wall of trees which is intended to snake across Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia delimiting the southward march of the Sahara. The edge biome between desert and forest is known locally as the Sahel. By some calculations this strip of savanna is the ideal Goldiloxian habitat for Homo sapiens. Not super-surprising because our best guess is that bipedal proto-humans came down from the trees in such an ecosystem in East Africa and evolved to fit the local conditions. Of course, human beings have spread to colonize every scrap of land on planet earth but to the nearest whole number nobody lives in Antarctica. Even in Yukon Territory 40,000 people have 474,391 km2 to roam across [too cold for comfort alert]. otoh 'nobody' want to live in Australia [too bloody hot, mate] where the density is about 3½ people per km2 or < 1 if you exclude the capital cities of each of the eight territories.


The Great Green Wall [propaganda] is not therefore a barrier against desertification for a bunch of bone poor black pastoralists and subsistence farmers. It is rather a recreation of Eden, even if it's a bit strung out. Crawford interviews Tabi Joda [L], the living force behind the project One Billion Trees for Africa. That's basically one for everyone in the audience, if the audience is Africans. There has been plenty of political grand-standing buy-in from the countries directly involved Senegal, Mauretania, Mali,  Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chap, Soudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and a lot of trees have been planted but the commitment to prevent those trees become an hors d'ouevre for the nearest goat is patchy. As with a lot of these grand projects, planting a whip takes 5 seconds, but someone has to commit to protecting, nurturing and watering that plant for 5 years before it starts to yield avocado. 

And it may be, as with my sister's tree-efforts in Scotland, that a stepped / staged protocol may be better in the long run. Plant islands of trees and ring-fence them . . . and use those established woodlet woodlots to anchor further adjacent growth. Hysterical urgency to get it all done Now before the planet conflagrates may result in nothing at all. Steady lads, it took decades before the trees of Ascension Island started to attract rain. But if it works, it works for us all. Creating an Eden in Africa will stop young men gambling all on a leaky Zodiak heading for Lampedusa. Some folk would prefer picking their own fruit at home, than picking fruit for Conglomerate Foods in Britain.

Same possibly true with Iceland re-foresting with mossy.earth.

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Borrrrders

Vlogging cartoonist General Knowledge [R] has a recent post asking What are the World's oldest borders? which is, as always visually appealing and also informative . . . if you like your info as soundbytes. I was cruisin' Borrowbox at the beginning of the month and thought I'd have a punt with The Edge of the Plain: how Borders Make and Break Our World 2022 written and read by James Crawford "acclaimed historian, publisher and broadcaster". Now that is a chunk of a book, coursing all over the world and time, focusing on borders between one polity and its neighbours.

The first chapter is about a Mesopotamian stele currently in the British Museum that was erected 45 centuries ago to delimit the boundary between Umma and Lagash over a disputed, agriculturally valuable, territory called Gu’edina aka The Edge of the Plain. The symbols were deciphered by Irvine "WedgeReader" Finkel [prev] and include the 1st use of the phrase No Man's Land as a buffer state between the warring polities. Much later Crawford investigates the virtual wall which attempts, rather successfully, to insulate the People's Republic of China from many destabilising aspects of Western economics and politics. It might give you pause to consider the grim norms of late stage capitalism, which form the invisible unconsidered background to our daily lives. Could someone protect me from that shite?

Two back-to-back chapters about modern border walls reflect on the desperate measures some governments will take to exclude The Other form their territories even if it means that fruit don't get picked, elders don't get cared and toilets don't get cleaned. One technique employed in Morocco is to gather hundreds of would-be residents of Europe to simultaneously assault the the razor-wire and concrete house-tall wall that surround the Spanish exclave of Melilla. It is like the assault on Badajoz [Ben Battle etc.] in the Peninsula War, banking that the border patrol doesn't have enough batons and hand-cuffs to secure all the immigrants. The scalers of the wall drop down on the Spanish side slippery with blood from the wire and many of them have healed scars from previous attempts. Unlike at Badajoz in 1812, the defenders don't use guns; the sanction is a duffing up and ejection through the gate back to Morocco at first light.

Bio-aside: [The strategy of prey to overwhelm predators by numbers is found widely in biology. Ecologists and evolutionists talk about r-selection vs K-selection. Humans are very much in the K-selection camp - we have one offspring at a time and invest our futures in that scion. Modern Western human youngsters are sucking at the parental teat well into their 20s. You have to go all Attenborough to find cases of r-selection: turtle-babies vs skua - periodical cicadas - Alaskan salmon]

In the Sonoran Desert, a super fragile ecosystem shared by Mexico and the USA, the human victims number in the hundreds. They have been forced to trek through a desert at night because the US border patrol acts performatively in El Paso to show that it will be impossible to cross the border there where you can almost spit across the Rio Grande. Walls across the desert and relentless roving Border Patrol ATVs, not to mention a USAF bombing range, have more or less driven the Sonora pronghorn antelope Antilocapra americana sonoriensis to extinction. And it's not just the glamorous large mammal that is affected by this illegal assault on a protected environment.

In Europe, there is a border between Norway and Russia [R, with added tourist stickers] far north of the Arctic circle where foot traffic is illegal but cyclists were, by Norwegian statute, allowed. There was a brisk trade in bicycles in Murmansk, which were then abandoned in Sør-Varange, NO where there is a heap of discarded bicycles. Many of them are children's bikes because they are cheaper even if unsuitably small. It is hard to shake the image of a Syrian dentist tottering across the border on trainer wheels. The heap matches a similar pile of discarded unsuitably small boats piled in a chain-fenced lot on Lampedusa, IT in the Mediterranean. 

I could go on, but I'll leave that to you. It's great. I've returned the audiobook to Borrowbox and recommend that you snag it before any more people read the review in the Guardian

Monday, 19 September 2022

Resource limitation.

Pat the Salt my venerable FiL, now has an electric all-angles recliner / ejector chair since the beginning of June. There is debate in the family, not always vocalized, about the trade-offs between having an easy life by lending Pat a helping hand vs encouraging him to do a little bit more work for himself. The argument is that work keeps things limber and stronger and will result in a longer, fitter, happier life. Sounds a bit Protestant, if you ask me, and so I'm inclined to buy into it. One potent metaphor from Pat's OT team was that getting out of a chair for a 90yo is equivalent to running 100m for a 20-something. I've moved a bit towards Team Cut-him-some-slack since hearing that. Everyone agrees that there is not a lot to be said for living as long as possible, without concomitant fitness, autonomy, and, well, joie de vivre. Then again, life (however compromised and diminished) is sweet if you don't believe in heaven.

I had a three day session, batching it up with Pat, at the end of August. I thought that I was to be there as emergency bail-out for the afternoon and only at the last minute packed a toothbrush and pyjamas, but half a week is the same as half a day once you're in the zone. I plenty of chances to test out the capabilities of the recliner chair both for myself <weeeeee!> and using pat as a proxy.

20-something Dau.II gave me another angle on the tough-love vs take-it-easy conundrum last week. If the elder expends all those calories on physical exercise, there will be less available [decision fatigue etc.] for cognitive work: leading to more confusion, which will adversely affect quality of life . . . for everybody. It is interesting that make-him-work arguments tend to come from physio- and occupational therapists: people whose care and expertise is in the body corporeal. The calculations are difficult but surely a more holistic view - including cognitive, sensory and spiritual - well being is appropriate.

Sunday, 18 September 2022

sun bop a loo bop

Embarrass de richesse

Friday, 16 September 2022

Striking two grapefruit

In July 1984, Mary Manning was just 21, still living at home, and working the tills at Dunne's Stores [better value, beats them all, every time] on Henry Street in Dublin. She joined the union [IDATU that became Mandate later]  The managers were almost all men, the actual workers were almost all [young] women . . . and the regime was heavy on pettifogging, patronizing regulations bordering on bullying. The bullying centred up when any of the "girls" seemed to be kicking over the traces.

So when IDATU issued a directive that members should sell nothing exported from the Republic of South Africa. The Irish education system, especially for working-class schools was a series of stories with far too much about the Bog of Allen and turf-fired power-stations and nothing at all about Africa except that Irish missionaries were saving souls out there. Mary Manning knew that Outspan grape-fruit came within the ambit of the union directive and explained to a customer that she couldn't run a pair of these forbidden fruit through the register. The customer was understanding but the line-manager, who was hovering there waiting for such a transgression of company diktat, was not. When Manning resisted the bluster, she was suspended and nine other shop-workers walked out in sympathy. It had to be an official strike, because the union had precipitated it with their dogoodnik anti-apartheid policies.

Dramatis personnae: Theresa Mooney, Catherine O'Reilly, Karen Gearon, Veronica Munroe, Alma Russell, Sandra Griffen, Mary Manning and Tommy Davis (not in photo - Dorothy Dooley, Michelle Gavin and Liz Deasy). Note to editors, writers, re-churners. There is a lot of errors / variation in the roll-call out on the interwebs. Sandra is probably Griffin. Catherine might be Cathryn. Veronica is known as Vonnie . . . and is not a Murphy. Alma is a 2-L Russell not Russel and she's defo not Alma Bonnie.

You might think that a brass plaque [R], which will be there after I R dead, would have the correct roll-call. Karen Gearon; Liz Deasy; Michelle Gavin, Mary Manning; Vonnie Munroe; Alma Russell; Tommy Davis; Sandra Griffin; Theresa Mooney; Cathryn O'Reilly; Brendan Barron. It includes Brendan Barron, who joined the strike the following year from the Crumlin branch. Next year? Weren't they hoping it would all be sorted out in a couple of weeks?? Mebbe, but the strike was still on their pickets in April 1987! 33 months after those grapefruit started the ball rolling. 

Last year Mary Manning was interviewed about her book Striking Back. One of the great insights is that she and and her strike-mates used their adverse circumstances to educate themselves about the correct pronunciation of apartheid The Rights of Man, product labelling and who were your real friends. And begod it made a difference. The Irish government eventually banned the import of South African produce: only took three years to get a complacent patriarchy to follow the righteous lead of two handfuls for working class people. Also note that Ben Dunne, the CEO of Dunne's Stores, was paying off the Taoiseach Charles Haughey synchronously with institutionally abusing his employees. So Fuck Him too.

Brendan Archbold their Union mentor came up with a graphic picket-line soundbyte for the politics involved: "you have to imagine South Africa as a pint of Guinness- the vast majority of it is black and a tiny minority is white and like a freshly poured pint, the white sits firmly on top of the black".

There is a Ewan McColl ballad!  And one by Sandra Kerr.

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Hare and the Young Dog

Talking to The Boy about a picture of his parents which sent me down the t'ilet rabbit 'ole of time . . .

In March 1975, we were having a coffee in a café in central Dublin and fell to talking with a USian back-packer who was sharing the long table. He 

was a photo-journalist who'd been covering The Troubles in Belfast and Derry and was having a few days respite in The South. His bed-plans for that night were vague, as they were in those days, and we said he could have floor space in our bed-sit if everything else fell through. At 9.30 PM on that drizzly Friday night, the door-bell rang and there in the street-light was a draggled Mike looking for shelter. Over breakfast the next morning we hatched a plan to do the StPs weekend in Galway: because a) the craic would be mighty and b) The Beloved's bestie from school said we could borrow her gaff.

We agreed that we'd set off forthwith and separately hitch-hike to Galway marking the road way with tramp's signs in chalk [here are three sticks of chalk] at any intermediate stops. By the time I got to Kinnegad, I knew "ⓧ" that at least Mike was ahead of me. The Bestie's gaff turned out to be a tiny house = 2½ room fuel store / garage / shed on the map [R] at the bottom of the landlord's garden on the far side of the railway tracks in Renmore. We finally all arrived [Bobby-no-pals coming in last] dropped our traps in the shed and headed into town across the railway bridge.

The craic was indeed mighty in town but, even though pints were 26p in "new money", there was only so much that poor students could take in. We bought some food and wandered back to the shed to make dinner. The lights on the water were glittery. It was all rather lovely in a hazy-mazy sort of way. We had to step off the tracks at one point on the journey as the Dublin train had right of way. Later we put pennies on the track, hoping to get a nice flat medal. But the first wheels bounced the coins into the cinders and we only found half of our experiment in the dark. 

The next day, Sunday, we took the coal-shovel and a bit of plank and made sand-castles on the strand and at low tide walked out along the causeway to Hare Island [bottom left R]. The island has a sort of tidal gut, so at high water half of it is a lake. We were not so hung-over green that we got caught by the rising tide and forced to spend several hours waiting for the causeway to reappear. That's younger me [R with an old shovel handle and a hat madefrom the cuff of some jeans - Hare Is causeway in the background]. So that was Sunday. On Monday [Patrick's Day fell on the Monday that year]. we went into town again for the parade and afterwards hitched home to Dublin to be in time for class the following day.

All good fun . . . it later transpired that some members of our intrepid party had been having too much fun altogether because The Beloved fell pregnant, and [compares dates] that must have been started StPs weekend in Galway. We wrote a letter to Mike, long since returned to Washington DC, blaming him entirely for precipitating our change of status. He graciously wrote us a long illustrated letter about our adventures, and enclosed a couple of 8 x 10 glossy photographs, like in Alice's Restaurant. We framed the letter and it has followed us from kitchen to kitchen for the last 47 years. A few weeks later, a blue corduroy baby-carrier came in a parcel bearing A Lot of US stamps. Such kit was completely unknown in olde Ireland and we felt just the coolest kids on the block. Doubtless, normal folk looked at us pityingly as being unable to afford a pram. But in all our 38 years of child-rearing we never owned pram nor buggy nor stroller.

Monday, 12 September 2022

Knocking off the blocks

RTE tries to get more ad-clicks eyes on their site by trawling though the archives for quirky stories from long ago. In 2001, there was a road-traffic accident on the Dublin Quays and a section of the granite wall above the Liffey was damaged. The repairing contractor [Mick Wallace R] put up some fencing and brought all the damaged block out of the river and stored them on the side walk for reassembly. One night, some enterprising entrepreneurs came with lifting equipment and a truck and made off with 26 100kg dressed granite blocks. Luckily the Corpo had back-up from a matching section of the Liffey wall which had been removed for yet another bridge across the river. Yes, it's that Mick Wallace, the darlin' of radical Wexford, who was elected to the Dáil in 2011 despite everyone knowing that, as a building contractor, he'd accumulated a debt to The State of €2 million for failing to declare VAT on those contracts.

Of course, the Corpo could have commissioned some new dressed granite ashlars but that wasn't going to happen in these days when stone-masons work for €40/hr. Handiwork is expensive now that such skills are the domain of specialists.

My Son the Engineer has had a varied career in transport but his first job out of school was a FÁS community employment scheme to restore the parapet of a bridge over the River Tolka in Finglas. He rocked up to work in a high-viz jacket with a crew of disaffected youths under the supervision of two elderly stone masons who were teaching the lads a trade. The Boy learned standard work-practice 101: if it's raining, even a little, everyone piles into the tea-hut and plays cards.  The first task each morning was to scramble down the bank and fish out the stones they had laid on the bridge the previous day. The local unFÁS youths, far from appreciating the work to enhance the local environment, indulged in the simple pleasure of heaving big stones into the river from a great height . . . for the 💦splash💦, like.

It was both disheartening and futile work and after a few weeks, The Boy switched to work as a carer with the Centre for Independent Living. It was at least a decade, and 250,000 air-miles before he got back to Engineering.

Sunday, 11 September 2022

Sun bun dun fun

Very Miscellaneous

Friday, 9 September 2022

Driven mad

Last time I rented a car, I had all sorts of trouble because I was a technorube: not knowing the difference between pressing a button and press&holding a button and unable to drive the central console on the dash-board. The thing is that modern cars keep upping the inventory of fitted-as-standard features. I don't think that, when the Ford marketing department meets with the engineering development, they think deeply about unintended consequences. How many old buffers are distracted by lights and beeps from the dashboard only to disappear off the road and through a hedge? I haven't done that yet, but I am bemused.

My Yaris is living its best life with someone else now, and our remaining car has been a lemon . . . coloured like a grape. It's most annoying feature was a dash-board light which alerted us to a spongy tire but didn't reset itself when all the tire were pumped full. So we ignored the flat tyre icon which rather defeats its intended purpose. But that car seems to spend more time at the Citroën dealer waiting for parts than actually on the road conveying people and sacks of sheep feed. Supply chain issues are a pain in the neck.

This time it's been three weeks since the clutch went futt and we had to get towed to Waterford. Luckily we have family nearby who can bail us out or at least provide a safe warm place to hang out for a day while the car is being serviced. . . but not for three weeks. The dealer offered us a courtesy car after a further week of delay and we've had a stealth grey Hyundai i30 for more than a week now. The Beloved was totes freaked because, she'd scarcely left the garage before a green light appeared on the dashboard couple with a little buzzy vibration. We assured her that as the light was green it couldn't be tooo bad; and in any case I was scheduled to driving the vehicle home. Well, it was quite aggravating until I'd worked out that this was a lane departure warning light functioning as designed. Which is mighty for motorways but less appropriate on country back-roads in Ireland. We worked out that the alert must work through some front-facing cameras and nifty software. It picks up both the median line and the dashed yellow lines which indicate the road-edge on minor roads in Ireland . . . and seems to be over-ridden if you indicate.

What the buzzy vibration is actually doing is forcing your hands to drive away from the transgressed road line. Because this movement is outside the driver's control it feels like the wheels have gotten caught in a rut or left the paved road or one of the tires is flat - sponge-bob, like.

Turns out that Hyundai have positively festooned the i30 with cameras because if you select reverse gear a post-card sized screen activates on the dashboard . . . to help you reverse. Because I haven't been successfully reversing cars and vans into constricted places for, like, 50 years. I took Dau.I to the railway station after a visit over last weekend. It had been raining stair-rods the night before, so when I reversed into a slot at the station, the console view was uselessly blurred with rural road muck. Find the camera challenge:

No probby, quoth I, I'll just go and clear the lens. Turned out there were two little black buttons on either side of the number plate. Ah ha, quoth I, the engineers have installed stereo distance sensing, very clever. But when I got back in the car the picture was still blurred. Dau.I, patiently [she's a librarian used to dealing daily with the tech-challenged] got out of the car and applied her thumb to a little button under the Hyundai company logo. Noisiv raelC! - instant gratification!  I've no idea what the licence plate bracket buttons so.

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Lobsters promoted

The Brits have passed new legislation The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 [Full text] to promote animal welfare. Or at least not animal welfare directly but the Act does require the establishment of a committee appointed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs DEFRA to review future government policy and legislation to determine whether animal welfare will be affected.  There are no teeth in cephalopods to this act, but it is surely A Good Thing, to force some reflection on the unintended consequences of making laws to benefit [some sections of] humanity.

  • Vertebrates: mammals, birds, crocs, snakes, turtles, fish, lampreys, hagfish.
  • Decapod crustaceans: crabs and lobsters
  • Cephalapod molluscs: squids and octopussies [R grilled with lemon]

It's clear that this act has been drafted by a committee of advocates who have been only distantly guided by evolutionary relationships. I have pedantically avoided using 'reptiles' in my list of vertebrate types because picture-book "reptiles" are descended from multiple evolutionary ancestors. Likewise, most "fish" are swept into the clade gnathostomes along with birds and mammals [and reptiles] while lampreys and hagfish are outside this family-by-descent and so shouldn't be binned with Dover sole  Solea solea or Lemon sole Microstomus kitt [both prev]. Cogitations about whether dogs and horses have souls are outside the scope of this essay. 

My pal Cédric was excessively phylogenetic in his determination of what was fit to eat. It was hard to tell if he was merely guying ovolacto"vegetarians" and/or piscatarians. Cédric's position was that is was ethical to eat Protostomes but not Deuterostomes. This distinction hinges on whether as early embryos, a single hole develops [Protostomata] into the anus and the mouth, if any, is ripped later on. OR if there are two holes [Deuterostomata] mouth and anus from the beginning. Protostomes are are effectively vertebrates and echinoderms and this peculiarity of development causes us to recognise that sea-urchins ad star-fish are a five-armed sister group to vertebrates. Cédric can eat crabs and polpo, therefore, but not eggs or halibut. He'll have to talk to his rabbi / phylogeneticist about whether cheese is kosher.

tl;dr: gives its soundbyte on the new Act, noting that the transcript of their vid is longer than the Act.

Monday, 5 September 2022

Mappa Hiberniae

I come from a jig-saw family. If I know the location and shape of all 50 US States, it's partly because I re-re-re-assembled a [wooden] jig-saw puzzle map of that part of the World as a sub-teen. Ditto English counties; although that's less useful because the UK administrative boundaries have been serially re-re-drawn since 1965. Irish county lines are more stable . . . for the GAA. But 32 or even 26 counties is history. Lookit: the Six Counties of NI have since 2015 been rejigged as 11. You task is to match their names to the numbers on the map [R]: Antrim and Newtownabbey ; Ards and North Down ; Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon ; Belfast ; Causeway Coast and Glens ; Derry and Strabane ; Fermanagh and Omagh ; Mid and East Antrim ; Mid Ulster ; Newry, Mourne and Down. What crappy uninspiring names! You can't imagine shouting Up Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon at a soccer match; maybe they call themselves the ABCs, I would. And The Man quartered Co Dublin into The City, Fingal, DunLaoghaire-Rathdown, & South Dublin in 1994.

TGWIH of the generous hand was out shopping a while back and characteristically bought gifts for everyone while doing the messages. Dau.II was home and she'n'me were given The Irish Map - a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of an old style political map of the island or Ireland. We had a fight measured discussion about whether the picture was a genuine old out-of-copyright map lazily printed and processed by a company in China OR a modern map cleverly aged with the place-names artificially written in an olde scrypte. What do you think?:

If it's a modern map artificially aged, then it's got to be at least 100 years old because Co.Offaly and Co.Laois are still sporting their plantation names.  There are several other interesting anachronisms: in the picture above, Birr is transitioning from Parsonstown; Maryborough hasn't yet become Port Laoise and Durrow is still Castle Durnow. Elsewhere the jig-map has Ballyborris for Borris, NewtownBarry for Bunclody, Newboro for Gorey, Macromp for Macroom, and Lough Deirgeart for Lough Derg. Too small back then [before the railways?] for Bagenalstown to merit an entry on this map, the village / townland was still Money Beg. There is significant push-back in the town today against adopting Muine Bheag as their toponym. The past tells us where we've come from. RTE on placenames.

Sunday, 4 September 2022

Bia bio boi

Mish mash here each Sund

Friday, 2 September 2022

Blood sacrifice

 How quickly they forget, eh?  My time-line for 2020 is wrong in my head. I had this memory of  standing in the dark outside the village hall in Chetnole after burying my mother's ashes and people talking about a novel Corona-virus which was killing people in Bergamo. I have the sense that it was the last time I was in England. I've rationalised that as happening in March, but The Blob and our [definitive] kitchen kalendar records that me mother dies on 9th Jan, was cremated on 20th, memorialized and interred on the 26th. Indeed, I made another estate-triage trip to England with Dau.I 22-24 Feb.  And it wasn't until the last week in Feb that lock-down started in Bergamo.

Dr Samar Ali [R with her devastated sibs], daughter of Dr Syed Waqqar Ali, gives tribs to her dad who worked in ICU in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, copped a 'Rona at work, spent 90 days on one of his own ventilators and died in July 2020. He became the taking one for the team poster-boy, in early media coverage of Coronorama. It's nice to note that someone, with half their genes in common, has graduated Med School and is now filling her father's shoes.

At some stage in 2021, I trawled through The Blob and abstracted all my essays related to the pandemic: it made a chunky A5 book almost as fat as my Women in Science pieces. But my hot-takes are patchy and of 'mixed' quality and nothing like a coherent record of what it was like on the ground. That deficit has been patched by A State of Emergency by Virgin News reporter Richard Chambers, who was there at all the briefings and who also had access to a lot of talkative pols and civil servants. One of Chambers' points is that the lines between politics, media and public health have been blurred over the last 2½ years. Our own Tony Holohan came to rival Tony Fauci in the USA for being in front of cameras a lot. The government were happy to shirk responsibility for taking intrusive decisions about lock-downs "our hands are tied, we are just following best medical advice / practice". And likewise have yet to apologize for making a disastrous miscalculation about giving everyone a Christmas to remember by opening the party-gates too early [source]:

There were more cases of SARS-CoV2 in January 2021 than in the whole previous year. As a competent journalist Richard Chambers has personalised the nation's woes by highlighting the tragic tales of a few, including the Ali family. Another story is about an elderly lady living in a nursing home who was lucid and pro-actively careful as care home took a bite in the neck. But she got sick and died anyway, just days before the vaccine roll-out reached her. Chambers also has turned his ear to a number of his high-ranking political contacts to get a personal hot-take on events.

We are, as you will have noticed, still under the dark clouds of Covid-19. But Chambers had to declare a wrap on his book sometime or we'd never get to read it. His end point, not without logic, is the very end of July 2021when vaccines were sufficiently abundant to be rolled out to all-comers in public vaxx centres across the country. Vaccine take-up rate in Ireland was among the highest in the World. It's still too early to have the final post-mortem on How Ireland Beat Rona but I think that we're in good shape to meet future epidemiological challenges because the response to this one has been a learning curve. It's a much better, less tendentious, book than Michael Lewis's The Premonition: A Pandemic Story which I reviewed recently.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Floaters

In Ireland if you pay your stamps, you're entitled to an eye-check every two years and the glasses to fit if the check indicates necessity. What with the pandemic and all, I haven't been to the optican for nearly 3 years. When I was last there in 2019, I secured a pair of distance/driving glasses and pair of readers the former with "anti-glare coating" whatever that might be . . . all for €32. I professed to all frankly Scarlett about the design of the frames . . . until I was presented with the pale pink plastic option and I realised I had some residual vanity.

Tuesday 16th August I was down in Waterford at The Eyes Have It getting a check up. My visit was mostly driven by FOMO Fear of Missing Glasses when I need them: a spare pair would allay some of that anxiety. I R a bit limited without them: man cannot live by {washing dishes | mowing lawns | watering the tomatoes} alone. Waiting for the gaffer, I was presented with a shoe-box full of frames by a slightly tetchy opto-tech. Techy maybe because I'd declined any upselling being quite unable to detect a difference between the free government-issue frames and the several hundred €€€ frames. In short order, I chose two slightly different dark steel frames [R ½ R] - functionally identical to the frames I already hold. I'll collect and pay for them later.

In the darkened cabinet of technological marvels with the optician, I learned a couple of useful things:

  • Floaters. The opto could see a snow-job of these loose tissue specks inside my orbit and asked if they disturbed me. I answered that my higher centres had been long able to discount such wandering occlusions - like I was able to blank out my tinnitus (without recourse to feverfew!). Although I acknowledged that floaters and tinnitus can be a serious to maddening distraction for at least some people. I must have taken a few too many tonks to the head, I quipped. Not so, the opto replied, and showed my some incipient floaters loosening from their picture of my retina.  The aquaeous humor which fills our eye-balls gradually dries out as we age and this shrinkage of the viscous liquid can start to pull tissue off the sides of the eye-ball's interior. You don't need to bump into doors for this to happen.
  • Readers. Opto asked if there were situations between distance and reading where I was having trouble seeing effectively. I admitted to two similar situations: reading labels on super-market shelves OR watch vids or skyping while sharing a screen with someone else. In each case, it's possible, but inconvenient, to pull whatever it is into focus at about 50cm from my face. But I've found that my +2.50 reading glasses €3.50 (at LIDL) helps with these middle distance cases. What the expert told me is that +2.50s are good for 120cm and +3.00 are for slightly closer. Didn't know that, and probably couldn't work it out from first principles.
Good news is that my prescription hasn't changed since 2019: I'm not as degenerate as my friends-and-relations think I am.

Monday, 29 August 2022

Tree Family Tree

Ash die-back Hymenoscyphus fraxineus is a terrible thing. Leafless branches against the sky-line, especially decorated with corvids, have the look of Mordor or King Lear's blasted heath. At the end of July we escaped from lockdown and went to visit our oldest pals - (both senses of old: being longest in our orbit and eligible for a bus pass). We hadn't had face-time for 3 years! Things have changed, the wind-break line of trees which I helped plant years ago are beginning to look like, well, trees. Like us, like everybody, they have the ash die-back on their acre and were really concerned about a small stand of mountain ash which framed their view across the bay. 

I re-assured them that mountain ash = rowan = caorthann = Sorbus aucuparia was completely unrelated to regular ash = fuinseog = Fraxinus excelsior, soon to be of blessed memory like elms. It's easy, at a glance, to be confused: both trees share the feature of pinnate leaves [rowan shown R with defining saw-tooth edges to each leaflet]. When Linnaeus was putting naming-of-parts order on the natural world he used differences and similarities in the sexual apparatus to decide who was more closely related to whom. That method seemed to have utility because Linnaean classification is largely consonant with the DNA evidence on which all life's wonderful diversity ultimately depends. Similarities in leaves are, literally, superficial.

I was annoyed at myself that I couldn't, off the top of my head, tell our mates just how far distant the two tree species were. But, trained researcher me can defo find out. The definitive way would be to think of gene(s) which were present in all the relevant species, pull the protein sequences out of UniProt, align them with Clustalω, and tally up the differences, drawing a phylogenetic tree of trees. But the good enough way is to trawl through Wikipedia and clip out the taxonomic hierarchy for each species:

Common Genus Family Order Clade
Holly Ilex Aquifoliaceae Aquifoliales Asterids
Elder Sambucus Adoxaceae Dipsacales Asterids
Ash Fraxinus Oleaceae Lamiales Asterids
Olive Olea Oleaceae Lamiales Asterids
Alder Alnus Betulaceae Fagales Rosids
Birch Betula Betulaceae Fagales Rosids
Hornbeam Carpinus Betulaceae Fagales Rosids
Hazel Corylus Betulaceae Fagales Rosids
Chestnut Castanea Fagaceae Fagales Rosids
Beech Fagus Fagaceae Fagales Rosids
Oak Quercus Fagaceae Fagales Rosids
Hickory Carya Juglandaceae Fagales Rosids
Pecan Carya Juglandaceae Fagales Rosids
Walnut Juglans Juglandaceae Fagales Rosids
Aspen Populus Salicaceae Malpighiales Rosids
Willow Salix Salicaceae Malpighiales Rosids
Hawthorn Crataegus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Apple Malus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Rowan Sorbus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Apricot Prunus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Blackthorn Prunus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Cherry Prunus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Damson Prunus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Plum Prunus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Pear Pyrus Rosaceae Rosales Rosids
Elm Ulmus Ulmaceae Rosales Rosids
Horse Chestnut Aesculus Sapindaceae Sapindales Rosids
Sycamore Acer Aceraceae Sapindales Rosids

Notes:

  • Most of the trees we know and love, including rowan are roses! But ash, olive, holly and elder are daisies. That's as different as you can be and still be dicots.
  • Rowan is [and a close look at the fruit will make obvious] closely related to apples and pears.
    • ditto hawthorn Crataegus
  • All the stone fruit cherries to plums are in the same genus Prunus
  • Horse chesnut Aesculus and sweet chestnut Castanea are not closely related.
    • Acer - maples and sycamore - is in the same Order as Aesculus.
  • Hickory, walnut and pecan are nutty cousins.
  • Aspen and poplar = Populus are straight and tall willows.
  • I've always believed that holly and oak were closely related. But I was misinformed. Quercus ilex - aka the holm, holly or evergreen oak - has a slightly pointy leaf margin [as R] like holly = Ilex but that is really the only point of similarity.
Homework / quiz. I've not mentioned Citrus because they don't grow hereabouts; but where do they fit in the scheme of things? Answer.