Wednesday 31 August 2022


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


  • 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.

Friday 26 August 2022

Thank you letter

Continuing my vicarious insights into the pattern and process of doctoring, courtesy of Borrowbox, I've just finished 👂reading The Secret GP: What Really Goes On Inside Your Doctor's Surgery by Max Skittle [micro-taster]. There's a lot of these memoirs around at the moment; possibly riding on a wave of clapping workers in the health service . . . rather than, like, paying enough to stop these Effectives emigrating to Oz.

Max Skittle is the pseudonym of a thirty-something GP working in a 14,000 patient, multi-doctor, inner-city practice . . . somewhere in England. The Secret GP is written as the diary of a year's work at the coal-face of sick Britain. The patients who appear in this roll of anecdotes are all anonymized, as is his loving and supportive wife and their child who joins the fray three months into the saga. An infant mewling and puking in his father's arms adds new-parent anxiety and sleep-deficit to the handicaps under which Dr Max struggles.

One diagnostic triumph concerns Keith - a 13 y.o. chap who is mad for the rugger but seems embarrassingly weedy for someone aspiring to be a flanker in a full-contact sport. On top of this he has presented, with his mum, because he is unaccountably tired all the time. Turns out that he also reports peeing more than usual and, on being questioned, thirsty. At least the first symptom makes it easy to produce a urine sample . . . which provides the confirmatory red stripe on the pee-stick: diabetes mellitus, type I. Diagnosis of an incurable metabolic disease may not seem like the best news for a teenager. But it's much better than some of the other illnesses which are flagged by chronic fatigue: leukaemia, rheumatoid arthritis, Epstein-Barr Virus.

Although Dr Max is, on one level, playing it for larfs - often laughing at his own gaffes and pretensions - there is a message which will be familiar to anyone who's been kept waiting for a GP appointment. The Man runs The National Health Service and can't just let primary care physicians get on with what they have been trained to do. No: The Man needs metrics so that value can be measured. Metrics soon become targets and relentlessly there is more paperwork to be done as well as helping sick people. There are no extra doctors, let alone extra money, so doctors work a lot of unpaid overtime, because they care; because they can do none other. Relaxation, lunch, sleep, family-time all all get on short time and doctors get crabbier, less empathic, less able to cure by placebo and more prone to make mistakes. We trust doctors with the lives of our mossst precioussss but don't trust them to optimise their time or make correct decisions.

Several months after his diagnosis Keith writes Dr Max a thank-you card, saying how the diagnosis led to appropriate treatment and the boy no longer feels shagged out all the time. Indeed he is back on track to become England's next fly-half but three replacing Henry "Type-I" Slade [shown R with tat and patch on his six-pack]. To the nearest whole number, in any week, any month, zero people send a card to their GP expressing gratitude for getting sorted, or listened to, or referred to experts. It's just not done. But that applies to pretty much all the people-facing employees we encounter on our daily rounds. B'god we'll light into The Help if we don't get the service to which we feel entitled. But how often do we stop and just say thanks you've made my life better than it was before we spoke.

Wednesday 24 August 2022


I've been audiobooking a collection of old BBC Radio 4 broadcasts from the 80s. For In the Psychiatrist's Chair Dr Anthony Clare [R eeee don't 'e look Irish?] interviewed celebs in a tell me about your mother sort of way. As the link shows, some of the episodes are still available as BBC podcasts.  Thirty years on most of those interviewees are dead and I daresay many people born this century will not have heard of {Spike Milligan, Maya Angelou, Peter Nichols, Bruce Kent, Wendy Savage, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Ken Russell, Edwina Currie, Peter Hall, Quintin Hogg, Barbara Cartland, Jean Rook} let alone know the nature of their celebrity {comedian, writer, playwright, CND activist, ob&gynist, pianist, film director, politician, theatre director, politician, writer, journalist}. So on the face of it Frankly Scarlett is a valid response to the suggestion that you listen to these interviews.

Then again, they are interesting as a snap-shot of how the certainties of even that recent past seem quaint and/or offensive now. It was normal to think of women as weak, wily and winsome by turns who would really be happier raising the children in the kitchen while the blokes swapped road directions and complaints about The Ref while watching soccer in the pub. And heck there are no gays in Co Clare! Not even Maya Angelou who has been owned a lesbian icon.

The other all time universal in these interviews is the human capacity to write ourselves a bigger role with more agency than perhaps we deserve. Case in point: Tory politician Edwina Currie grew up in an orthodox Jewish home on Merseyside. When she chose to marry a gentile, her father cut her off and never spoke to her again. Currie convinced herself that a) this didn't hurt b) she had left her Dad behind rather than vice versa. Case in point: Peter Hall famously worked 30 hours a day and yet asserted that he loved his many children and had been there for them growing up. 

Whatevs! The book is available on borrowbox because, having raced through it, I returned it early.


Monday 22 August 2022

Rinky Dinky

Here's Marty Matchbox Makeovers using caustic soda and hot water to strip paint off a model Honda motorbike and trailer and restore it to its 1960s completeness. Marty is the epitome of Australian  laconic wit as he talks us through his endeavours: very restful, mostly harmless [PPE for NaOH!], time consuming. In another MMM video he admits to taking 10 hours on a restoration project. Yes I've watched a few, YMMV.

Part of the gig for acquiring my very expensive education was sleeping in a dormitory with a lot of other ten-year-olds. When we weren't asleep we were engaged in various noisy activities: soccer, dueling with sticks, conkers. A large hut was available for shouting and running amok if it was too miserable outside. Some of the chaps had brought treasured die-cast metal Dinky / Corgi cars to school - madness: they were bound to get trashed or used as missiles. One winter, the car-drivers found a long plank and a table and started a fad for seeing who could run their car furthest across the dusty wooden floor of the hut.

I was out of that because No Car. But I wrote to my mother explaining that because of the lack, I was losing street-cred and please pleeeease to send a car for racing. A tuthree days later [post worked back then], an Ice-cream van identical to this source, arrived in a parcel for home. On one level it was super cool <ice-cream!>: the tiny ice-cream vendor could be turned to present a microscopic Mister Whippy cornet at the end of his out-stretched arm:

But as a contender for the furthest-across-the-floor stakes, the van was a bust. The additional weight was clearly an asset but it was super-unstable and reliably finished on its side yards from the record line . . . presumably spilling quantities of emulsified white glop all over the interior.

Sunday 21 August 2022

Feast of Our Lady of Knock

Twas a dark and stormy night on 21st August 1879 when Mary Byrne saw a vision in Co Mayo. There's a basilica [R] and airport there now.

Friday 19 August 2022


2022 has not been as dry as 2018 but we've had the hottest day ever in Ireland - the day after we got the sheep shorn - and then the hottest day ever in our County in August which is a rather lower bar. For the garden, for those plants in the soil, I've been all survival of the fittest. I've cut plants in pots a bit of slack because it's cruel enough keeping them as pets, isolated from the wood wide web of mycelial sharing, without given them enough water. And, of course, I've had to water the tomatoes, basil, oregano, mint, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme which are in the poly-tunnel. Under a prolonged drought, I've twice come close to exhausting the "free water" which gets gathered from the [newly refurbished] poly-tunnel gutters. About half the gutter-water gets passively siphoned inside the tunnel; the other (down-hill) half has to be pumped up. I really don't want to pump drinking water from our well for plants - especially in these water-challenged end-of-days

For 24 hrs - 22:00 14th- 21:00 15th August - we were promised a couple of West-moving thunder storms [+ marks the crash points] with localized spot flooding. And, as I'd used the last dribble from my 1 tonne IBC back-up reservoir, I made a point of catching some more rain before it rushes off down into the underground. And that meant being up in the tunnel, after dark, tricking about with hoses and pumps. When the rain came on cue, it was far too noisy to listen to my audio-book: it was hard enough to hear my self think. K & R pulled the plastic roof drum-tight. We had three really spectacular Bollywood monsoon down-pours but none of them lasted more than 10-15 minutes. But each of them filled my 200 lt water-butt double-quick.

Thing is that, as the rain fell, I started pumping the water out of the water-butt and up-hill to the 1 tonne reservoir . . . which was full by the end of the third deluge. The tunnel is 17m long and 9m broad, I'll assume that only half the area 75m2 catches and delivers water, via the downhill gutter, into the 200 lt water-butt. (1 cu.m. / 75 sq.m) ~= 13mm or half an inch :: that's how much rain fell in three separate, noisy, deluges totalling half-an-hour at the beginning of the week. If the annual rainfall was spread out to a continuous drizzle we'd get 3mm a day; so 13mm in 30 minutes is a drubbing. But not ultimately destructive because the ground can soak up a lot of that water before it starts off down-hill and tearing things [like our lane] up.

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Ever Last Post

<note: Not Last Post Ever - that was 22 May 2021 and turned out to be a porkie-pie>

One of my first jobs as a teenager was to creosote the fence of the rather wonderfully named Walter Wheel, an elderly semi-retired farmer who lived within sight of our front door in rural Essex. Sadly no other kids lived anywhere near, so I couldn't, like Tom Sawyer, negotiate any help with the task. It took 2½ days and "ruined" 3 pairs of jeans; my mother thought it was the devil's bargain.

Several decades later, shortly after we embraced rural life with kids of our own, I went to the creamery/sawmill ans bought a dozen milled [⌀ = 75mm, L = 1.5m] fence-posts. I came away with a jug of creosote as well because "I couldn't in all conscience sell you those fence posts without giving you the means to protect them".  In due course, I slapped on some creosote, "ruined" another pair of trousers, and drove the posts into the top of a ditch to hold up a length of sheep-wire. Even with the creosote they didn't last very long. After a few years, and many fence-posts, that jug of creosote was all used up. But you could not buy creosote any more because it was deemed to be carcinogenic "But here, I can sell you this dark brown slightly viscous gloop for fence posts. It's called creocote and not the same thing at all". The evidence for whether creosote ("a category of carbonaceous preservatives formed by the distillation of various tars and pyrolysis of plant-derived material, such as wood or fossil fuel") is indeed carcinogenic is sketchy-to-weak but it surely does stain clothing - but then so does creocote.

Painting fence-posts is a messy drippy chore and for the last several years I've turned up my nose at milled softwood posts and ordered up square oak 50x50mm posts rough-sawn and hand-pointed from Jim Davis' sawmill at Graiguecullen. Jim also supplied the truly beautiful western red cedar Thuja plicata boards for Young Bolivar's woodshed. Oak posts are loaded with tannins and last pretty well without artificial preservatives. Downside is that an iron nail or staple, once hammered in, will not come out of oak. 

It has been in my mind for a few years to make a post-dunker from the heavy-duty cylindrical tube that centres rolls of silage wrap. They are 2ft6in = 750mm long and get discarded in our fields every haying season. Despite sleepless nights and several years of cogitating I couldn't workout how the ideal way to seal the bottom of the tube. This year I concluded that perfick is the enemy of good-enough and sealed the bottom by inserting a tapered plastic pot, previously used for glacé cherries, and a generous squirt of silicone gutter-sealant.  That seems to work, although you will see [R] that I have the apparatus a) tied to a stout immovable pole, against upset b) set in a back-up bucket, in case of failure. 40 5ft = 1.5m oak fence-posts cost me €100 plus, say, €1 for creocote.  That's about 2x the price of peat-briquettes, yes; but I can still burn them when their utility in supporting fences is exhausted.

In other news - I've been down in the thinned woodland with my Zomax chain-saw and blocked all the logs from the hardwood side of the forest. I've hauled these logs up to the haggard and split them with a maul. The heap shown above is about 2/3 of the final quantity of split logs ready for chimney 2024. I'm leaving t-buggers out in the breeze while we have a hot-and-dry spell. They can be stacked neatly under the roof of the woodshed nearer winter. I wasted a good bit of time thinking about the optimum labour-efficient way of hauling the wood up-hill to the yard. But in the end stopped piffling about and loaded the stuff into the wheel-barrow [several to many times!] and pushed. Progress.

Monday 15 August 2022

Joined up thinking

Carpe fortunam! You make your own luck if you have or can develop a sense of entitlement to succeed. My mother launched her career by earwigging on the Tube just after The war. In 1993, Kinari Webb blagged her way to Borneo to hang out with Orang-utans Pongo pygmaeus while still an undergraduate. Getting there was a journey: the last two days pushing the supply boat up-river over sand-banks getting ripped by razor-sharp lianas. The first week at the jungle research camp was the worst. After that sharing noodles and tinned cheese with cockroaches and perforce shitting in the jungle established itself as her new normal and she settled in to watch the intimate life of primates in the trees above her head. She met the tall dark and handsome love of her life out there, learned bahasa baku and heard the chain-saws in the middle distance. 

In her memoir The Guardians of the Trees, Kinari shares two epiphanies. The first when she was invited to pray together for strength [to resist carnal temptation] and had a transcendent vision of her place in god's scheme of things on planet earth. Something like Ralph Hodgson's Song of Honour

I heard them both, and oh! I heard
The song of every singing bird
That sings beneath the sky,
And with the song of lark and wren
The song of mountains, moths and men
And seas and rainbows vie!

The upshot of that was that she married her bloke as soon as she graduated and determined to return to Indonesia with a medical degree and an effective NGO called Health in Harmony. Her vision for HiH is to save rain-forests, orang-utans and the other people of the forest by providing essential health care on site, rather than at the end of a three day trek through the jungle. Access of health-care is the major driver for embracing the cash economy; and there are so few sources of cash which don't despoil the environment by extracting logs or minerals. In my lifetime it was possible for orang-utans to swing across the island of Borneo from coast to coast without setting foot on the ground. They said the same thing about squirrels in the Irish forest of 400 years ago. Now the Indonesian rain-forest is reduced to scattered patches and is fast chasing Ireland to a tree-desert.

Kinari's second epiphany was infinitely more painful and damaging. Her autonomic nervous system was fritzed by a hugging encounter with a box jelly-fish while swimming in the sea on a rest day. In 2013, I wrote academically about these Chironex jelly-fish. It is frightening to hear the encounter told from a survivor. Let's emphasise, as with counting fatal car-crashes vs serious injuries, that not dying from a lashing by Chironex is not the same as being happy ever after. Dr Webb was 4 years in and out of the best US hospitals presenting a head-scratching never-seen-this-before conundrum to internists and physicians.

After the Sumatra tsunami of Stephen's Day, Kinari and her bloke flew out to Aceh, Sumatra. She was the only US doctor on the ground who was able to communicate with the natives in their native language but the ravens of disaster seemed to know better that her what was needed in the emergency. She asked the locals and found that their imperative was to clear the paddies and get the rice planted. And they could do with some help on restoring the fields. But you can't plant rice from the seat of a  4x4 and so none of the foreign aid-workers were available for the task. It's a telling take-down of NGOs and their paternalistic othering of the people whom they are supposed to be serving.

Saving Rainforests with Stethoscopes

A key insight for the success of Health in Harmony and its Indonesian owned sister-NGO ASRI is that punters have to pay for their health care. Free care is disdained. Care is linked to your address and cross-referenced to the amount of logging surrounding that village. Fewer chain-saws = bigger discount. If you can't pay the cash residual, ASRI accepts payment in seedlings, manure or labour for their re-forestation ventures. Labour is fungible: sick people aren't expected to work in the forest but everyone has a nibling in their extended family who will work for love or elder-respeck or empathy.

Good, thoughtful, intermittently exciting book (11 hours on Borrowbox and other audio sources) and I recommend. Maybe skip the last chapter where she goes a bit mad-shiny-eyed on the cosmic-woo front? I don't expect anyone to go to their local bookstore and order books which The Blob reviews so here's the 20 minute TEDxecutive Summary.

Sunday 14 August 2022

New Sun Day Aug

Random is as random does

Friday 12 August 2022

Arthur "who?" Griffith

Today 12 August 2022 is the centenary of the untimely, but natural causes, death of Arthur Griffith leader of the Irish plenipotentiary peace treaty delegation to London (late Sept 1921 - 5th Dec 1921). That treaty was ratified by the Dáil on 7th January 1922. The vote was close but that's what democracies are about: a muddling along, compromising some of your cherished beliefs to achieve the best for yourself everybody. After the ratification the sitting President, Eamonn de Valera, who had sent the delegation to do the best they could, formally resigned his post and sought re-election on the 9th January. The vote on this was closer but, nevertheless, a majority of the elected representatives of the plain people of Ireland did not want him back. So Arthur Griffith was first president-of-the-executive or leader of the first post-treaty Dáil: in a sense the founding leader of an Irish state independent of Westminster. Sure, it wasn't a Republic; sure it wasn't the 32 counties; sure, the treaty ports were still the property of the Royal Navy; but it was a compromise that, as enumerated above, was what the majority of Irish people could wear at that time. As Michael Collins put it: "not the freedom that all nations desire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it". The London delegation had been bullied but came away with a stepping stone to something more desirable.

But don't ask me! I wasn't there, my people were protestant land-owners who didn't have anything obvious to gain in a Free State but who welcomed the end of the War of Independence which had been busily 🔥con🔥fla🔥grat🔥ing🔥 Big Houses similar to my family's home place. Actually, don't ask anybody for their opinion on Saorstát Éireann, the Irish Free State, because we all have baggage on the subject: 

  • from fiery republican nuns who taught history at secondary school;
  • from Great-uncle Tom who was on the run in the Comeragh Mountains;
  • from young-wans who had a bit of a pash for Michael "Swoon" Collins
  • from the Cultists of Eamonn "Cross-road dancer" deValera
  • from demonizers of Eamonn "sanctimonious prig" deValera

In mid-June we had a bit of a jaunt to Allihies in West Cork. On the way there, we made a 1.5km detour south from the R585 at Béal na Bláth. The Michael Collins memorial [pic] was in the midst of contraflow traffic-lights behind a high builder's fence. Nevertheless I parked the car and scrambled along the nettle-thick verge to have a look at this place of Fine Gael / Treatyist pilgrimage. One of the engineers came to chat through the fence. A modest refurb was in progress <parking! altar! signage! bunting!> at this remote bend on a minor road to nowhere because an Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF wearing his best Cork jersey) and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (FG wearing a blue shirt) will be shouting their patriotic credentials with speeches on Der Tag 22 August 2022: 100 years after Michael Collins was shot there. Actually on Sunday 21st August. You may bet your best shamrock that RTE cameras will be there to cover the event. Collins had the historical good-fortune to die at the top of his game in a super-romantic way.

But the equivalent anniversary for Arthur Griffith, today, will pass [almost*] without a murmur. He is an awkward fit for people who want their history packaged as white hats vs black. Founder of, and ardent propagandist for, Sinn Féin through his paper United Irishman (1899-1906). . . Gaoled by the Brits for 9 months 1918-1919. Gaoled by the Irish for 7 months 1920-1921. Died of a bloody cerebral haemorrhage on his way to work in the office. He was only 51.

[*] Matt Shanahan, independent TD for Waterford has spearheaded a last-minute wreath-laying at Leinster House. Presumably at the Cenotaph - Ireland's largest invisible monument. Independent (the newspaper, not the political Effective) wades in with too-little-too-late finger-wagging.

Wednesday 10 August 2022


When my Dad [dob 1917] was growing by inches in the 1920s, his career options were so limited that it was easy to map out its progression from leaving school to retirement . . . or death if that came first; as it tended to in the olde days - especially 1939-1945. A generation later, me and my sibs had much more choice but much less certainty about the outcome: jobs for life were by no means the norm at the end of the 20thC. All bets were off for the youngsters I taught at The Institute:  as smart but clueless school-leavers they might sign up for a [quasi-]vocational college course. But I assured them that, by the time they graduated, jobs would exist which hadn't been invented when they started the course in Food and Fermentation Microbiology or Sports Rehab. 

About 20 years ago, The Beloved sent me to a day-long workshop in the National Concert Hall by management guru Charles Handy. This sort of guffology. But I do remember his advice to prepare ourselves for "portfolio careers" in a post-jobs-for-life world. Everyone should expect to experience redundancy, retraining, re-shuffles, mergers, acquisitions and new direction and each new position would require scrutiny of the portfolio of previous achievements.

When my aged in-laws moved into town their lives became instantly more convenient: post-office, pharmacy, grocery, two pubs and a dry-cleaners all within 100m of the front gate. But they were shaken loose from the rural neighbourhood in which they had been embedded & cosseted for 25 years. It wasn't a disaster if they forgot to put the bins out; but it was an inconvenience especially <pooeee> in high Summer. The Beloved reflected on how cool it would be if the town could rustle up a Bin Teen who could remember the bin-days of a clientele of ditsy elders; and in exchange for €1 each week put their several bins out reliably.  A bit like a shabbes goy who switches on the lights for orthodox Jews for whom this is [forbidden!] work on the sabbath. That's a nice little earner at better than minimum wage and an example of a New Job.

I was thinking about this after talking with a neurodivergent palomino. They were describing a bunch of tasks that habitually escaped their attention and therefore fell on their roomie's shoulders. Which didn't seem fair. Projects would get started, spread out on the living room coffee table, and pause uncompleted . . . so that neither of them could start working on a jig-saw, or put their feet up to watch the telly, for example. One issue was that over-catering was coupled with a capacious fridge and a new cook-project was always more exciting than making left-overs do for dins. <blink> <blink> and there was a strange miasma from the fridge corner [like R] and someone would have to shrug into a haz-mat suit and take stuff to the apartment complex dumpster. Same trustworthy teen who did the bins could be given keys and scan the fridge for almost gone food and shuffle it to the front of the fridge . . . or out to the bin. DINKie Californians have been doing similar for the last 20 years: their employee is called a dog-walker. Fridge-walker is another New Job: it just hasn't been invented yet.

Monday 8 August 2022

The money was good

I've just raced through Bomb Girls Britain's Secret Army: The Munitions Women of World War II [2021] by Jacky Hyams and read by Helen "no relation" Lloyd. It is a series of memoirs captured from elderly women who had been born about 100 years ago which put them in their late teens, early 20s in 1940 when WWII suddenly got real. In the 1930s and 40s most young women left school at 14 and immediately joined the work force; always handing up the bulk of their wages to their mother. In 1938, teenage women in rural England either became domestic servants or worked in one of the local shops. The wages were derisory - 5 shillings a week was typical - and the hours were long. From 1940 onwards, there was a recruiting drive [R] for work in Royal Ordnance Factories ROFs making explosives & casings & filling the latter with the former. 

Whatever about the propaganda, the word on the street was that that pay-packet was heavy [5x or even 10x what parlour maids had been getting before the war] and there doesn't seem to have been much difficulty getting willing labourers to manufacture gun-cotton, cordite, mercury fulminate Hg(CNO)2, TNT and pack them into bombs and cartridges. It was same-old same-old in the sense that there had been a similar drive in WWI 25 years earlier. The great majority of the shop-floor workers in ROFs were women: not all young, but those who where, say, 50 in 1940 weren't available for de-briefing in the 2010s. 

One of the consequences of working with nitrates like TNT, cordite and gun-cotton was that these chemical were a) readily absorbed by the skin b) bright yellow in colour. Women working in those factories accordingly were known as Canary Girls. Those working at the ROF in Co. Durham were complimented as Aycliffe Roses by Nazi propagandist William "Lord HawHaw" Joyce; who also reminded them that the Luftwaffe had them in its sights. 

My mother was visiting home in Dover on the first weekend in September 1939. When Chamberlain dropped his bombshell "This country is at war with Germany" at 11:15am my mother and grandmother promptly ducked under the heavy deal kitchen table . . . for a few minutes . . . before realising that Sunday dinner wasn't going to get cooked like that and they carried on doing what they'd been doing before. It was a bit like that with the bomb girls: propaganda-induced existential dread about Dorniers and Heinkels wasn't going to butter no parsnips. Indeed, they kept calm and carried on handling quantities of doubtfully stable explosive chemicals every day [or every night - the factories ran 24 hours a day on a three shift rota] and really living for the weekend when they could go dancing. Canny young-wans believed that there would be life after the war and started salting away a good proportion of their new found wealth. £1 a week for 5 years was a nest egg of £200-300 in 1945; when a new 3 bed semi-detached was about £1,500. A lot of the ROF factory workers came over from the Free State because the money was really good and prospects at home bore no comparison.

A couple of gripes. Helen Lloyd, the reader, gives her version of regional accents to match the location of each chapter but she doesn't ham it up too bad. Every chapter is, however, prefaced with each woman's name, when her husband died and how many children, grand-children and great-grand-children she had engendered. It's as if her primary purpose had been an incubator for peopling the planet: that's a rather retro framing for the 21st century.

Sunday 7 August 2022

Bā bā Day

爸爸 Bā Bā is Mandarin for "father" and Bā Bā is "8-8"