Friday, 22 September 2023

Moths on the pillow

Two years ago, we walked a troubled league near Thin Places with  Kerri ní Dochairtaigh picking up feathers and stones because they were there so fucking perfect: exemplars of their kind. You canna keep a poet in a box, they have to walk about  this dark world and wide  looking sideways at feathers and stones and the beating heart. The rest of us don't even notice the feathers, let alone reflect on how form and function collide. The rest of us shear away from Thin Places where real life steps through those rents in the fabric of the universe to confront the other

But on this All Soul’s Night there is
no respite from the keening of the wind.
I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
from the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
a cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
and release from being the conscience of the town.

More? Canongate have brought out a continuation of This Observer's life Cacophony of Bone which starts between Solstice and Christmas 2019 when Kerri and her feller M, bunk off from Derry to hunker down in a micro-cottage on a now barely visible defunct railway in Co Westmeath. Their rough haven in a sea of troubles is about halfway between Lough Derravarragh and Granard Co Longford. The book is dedicated to Ann Lovett of Granard [and see Paula Meehan stanza above] and Kerri often swims in wild Derravarragh with the Children of Lír and in-real-life wild things: feathered and finned. With hindsight it was an awkward time to start a year of living together up a laneway surrounded by bogs. Even as their van pulled into the yard, SARS-CoV2 was scything through Wuhan and was about to change what everybody could and couldn't do. In another life (same planet) my mother died, in the fullness of her 99 years, three weeks after Kerri and M had their first breakfast in their new home. At her memorial service in February 2020, rumours of Covid were drubbing louder and that was the last time I was in England until the end of August this year.

 The title Cacophony of Bone is an acknowledgment of the litter of skeletal remains that are scattered about the fields and ditches . . . if you pay attention and care to look. Kerri has a collection of these skulls and pelvises which rub scapulae with the feathers and perfick stones that can be found on beaches - when we're permitted to travel from bogland to shoreline. As well as wild-swimming and bogland walks, Kerri records the process of final revisions and proofing her first book aka, in the book's Victorian convention of reference by initials, "TP". In one sense this choice is legitimate - it's a journal! -  in another it's exclusionary to the reader. JH is John "Derry's Own" Hume who died, and is here fondly memorialized, in August of the year of marking time - that's okay. M is Kerri's life-partner, unless it's referring to M's business partner M. Other writers, incl Manchán Magan [prev] are mostly credited in full, while personal pals and supporters are reduced to a letter grade. I guess they know who they are, and it's none of my biz.

I had a swipe at the word unimaginable in my review of TP. CoB's over-used word is surreal. It can almost always be replaced with surprising, unusual, peculiar and is rarely used in its dictionary sense of the intersection of dreams and the unconscious with reality. Now, authors and especially poets can adopt a Humpty-Dumpty (When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less) attitude to language but loose massaging of meaning make the writing flabby.

Two particular and personal celebrations twine through this journey-in-place: i) getting on the waggon after years of crabby hung-over mornings and ii) getting with child, which brings its own crabby mornings. I used the f-word in the first sentence of this Blob, which is not something I do a lot. But in this piece it's not out of place? That's how babies are made and, after surreal, it's the most over-used adjective in Cacophony of Bones. 

But leave aside the carp! Read this book for its lyrical ruminations on nature and our place there. Kerri ní D is mind-open to whatever the world throws at her; she pays attention and is grateful for small-small things. Growing lettuce in her own garden becomes a source of wonder and accomplishment; waking to find a moth on her pillow is a message from the old gods; just by being there, by bearing witness, she soothes the troubled breast. Hers, but ours too by proxy. 

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm
. src
sing it

And the child? Reader, she delivered him!

Wednesday, 20 September 2023


We had 24 hours of drizz 14-15 September last week. That's rather extreme for Ireland because the fronts tend to move in from the Atlantic and move smartly across the country for their destination in Cymru across the water. But Met Eireann issued a yellow [orange for The Déise and The People's Republic of Cork] rainfall (spot flooding possible) warning as a gert big slobby wet blanket settled down over the island. This may [wtf do I know?] have been an out-rider of Hurricane Margot whc was building 1,000 km due West of the Azores [mappe see end]. It is amazing and wonderful to be able to see these satellite / radar pictures so appropriately annotated: it really does help in predicting when to bring the laundry in off the line.

It is The End of Days: the driest June and the wettest July since records began and the hay still uncut. In June towards the end of the May/June drought we depleted all our rainwater storage and were reduced to using the standpipe and groundwater. Prev on drainage rates. Clearly we need more than 3 tonnes of stored water to be self-sufficient in the poly-tunnel. Our 1 tonne back-up storage was depleted over the rest of the Summer but there was sufficient "current" water to keep the tomatoes from going thirsty. The 24hrs of drizz was steady enough to fill every receptacle but not so heavy as to fill the drain and drive me out in the dark will tarpaulin jacket and a shovel.

Nevertheless, I was up and down to the polytunnel between dinner and midnight tricking about with the pipes, pumps and buckets. When the in-tunnel 1 tonne IBC is full, I've been in the habit of guttering the water into my new in-tunnel lawn. But that night I inserted our industrial wheel-barrow into the flow and held on to 200 lt there as well as filling its smaller cousin. At the tail end of Summer, this is surely overkill because we are past peak bean and approaching peak tomato. So even if we have further EndOfDays anomaly drought in the Fall, it won't be critical.

Last year we had an extended dry spell was 2018. Metachat pointed me at a report on Hungersteine = hladové kameny which mark the low-low watermark at certain places on the Elbe and other central European rivers. These are normally invisible except to snorklers but, in the past, local folks have memorialized drought-disasters in {1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892 &1893}by carving the date and a warning to those who come after "We cried, we cry and you will cry."


Monday, 18 September 2023

torc torc

Found art is a thing. It's 100 years since Marcel Duchamp presented a signed urinal as an object suitable for an art exhibition. That's clever-clogs enough, but it gets tired when, say, Carl Andre tried [successfully] a similar thing 50 years later. I'll leave the art know-alls to counter Ruskin's crit of another work of art: “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”

The Blob was a couple of tales about someone being a) in the right place b) at the right time c) with their eyes truly open d) appropriately educated to see meaning in an object out of place [and time]. Tetradrachm and our own Ringstone. Because good things always - eventually - come in 3s, another found object [wonderfully R] coursed over my horizon last week. Sergio Narciandi is, in order of importance, i) the brother of my pal El Asturiano [polybloboprev] ii) a massive history buff iii) working for the municipal water company.

At the end of August, Sergio was working along a remote part of his infrastructural territory when he saw something glinting in the dirt. Strict anglophones can get the gist here. He wiggled out a fabulous golden torc from the Bronze Age. Because he knows and cares about the common heritage of Asturias, he immediately grassed himself up the the appropriate authorities who gave a little whoop, vacated their desks, piled into a car and drove asap to the spot. Between them, they soon turned up another torc (broken into six parts) and they returned with trowels, sieves and tooth-brushes to stake out and deep clean the area. Nothing beside remains.

There has been a lot of forehead slapping amazement that the discovery and its investigation was a text-book example of how things should proceed: according to law, according to good practice but not, woefully, according to precedent. Far too many people think that found heritage becomes their personal property but such people are usually too ignorant, too selfish, too avaricious to benefit. According to Spanish law treasure trove is the property of the state but the finder gets 25% of it's value. By doing the right thing, Sergio looks to be in line for a windfall of maybe €50,000. The Museo Arqueológico de Asturias is going to do all the leg work and they'll deliver a much better return than the local fence in Covadonga.

Sunday, 17 September 2023

Bit of this

. . . and a bit of that

Friday, 15 September 2023

Comms connex

Did I mention that we had sold our souls and all our secrets to Vodafone, our intermediary for connecting to rural fibre optic bband? I did! The Vodafone sales-rep and his apprentice and their company car had pulled into the yard to reel us in a month previous and thereafter we had been dealing with Circet the subcontractor for the National Broadband Ireland. The NBI only, like, employs €100,000+ executives, all the effectives are subbies. The actual wire-puller and pole-climber loads up their truck each day with four 500m reels of fibre-optic cable and is given a list of tasks to complete. Each home or office on their round will have been seduced by the blandishments of one of 29 [twenty-nine!] ISPs. The cable is generic but the router is branded NBI but the modem at the end point will carry one of 29 different logos and each company will have its own characteristic factory-set of passwords.

The point of the password is to make it hard for your neighbours to free-load on your contract, so it shouldn't really require anything more than a PIN code of 4 or 5 digits. Our previous ISP went for 8 characters first fjfa0gyb then 11 chars A37AF7897FD. The first is stupid because 0 is ambiguous [zero or oh] and absurdly long for brute force guessing [(26+10)^8 >> 3,000,000,000,000!] the second is still longer [(26+10)^11 =~ 1.3 x 10^17]. At least they have the virtue of using only either digits and l.c. letters OR digits and CAPS. Why is that a virtue? Because you will probably have to explain that password to your printer on a very primitive hunt-and-peck "keyboard" changing case requires an extra bunch of keystrokes. This is Vodafone's idea of a convenient but secure password:


that's sixteen characters!! in a mix of cases. That's 4.7 x 10^28 possible permutations. That's a hella big number for security and required me to press cursor-buttons at least 160 times - 20% of them because of internal case changes. Why, user-experience experts at Vodafone, is that a good / necessary use of my time? Answers on a postcard or in the comments below. 

If you, dear reader, want to hang out behind the woodshed coat-tailing on our superfibre broadband, you now have the wherewithall.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

Killing it, getting there

Report from The Department of Seen To Be Doing Something about road deaths on RTE last week. [Non-cabinet] Minister of State at the Department of Transport Jack Chambers is suggesting that speed limits drop 

  • Big Roads 100km/h to 80 km/h
  • Rural roads  80km/h to 60 km/h
  • Urban roads 50km/h to 30 km/h
The driver seems to be that "126 people have been killed on the roads so far this year, which is an increase of 24 on the same period last year. One fifth of all those deaths occurred in August". This is not [sufficient] evidence to make a change to the status quo w.r.t. speed limits. Road deaths have been bumbling along in the grass for the last five years 135 -140 - 146 - 136 - 155.
It's not obvious to all thinking people me that the changes are anything more than a statistical blip. We are certain-sure doing far better at this in this century than in the last. 25 years ago, there were 3 times more road-deaths annually [in a much smaller population] than we experience nowadays. One thing that alerts the crap-detector is to compare the narrative from September 2016 when the (young) drivers of Donegal seemed to be peculiarly dangerous on the roads. Not least because of the articulate soundbytes of Dr Gerry Lane the A&E consultant in Letterkenny, Co Donegal who had to pick up the pieces and sew them back on. The RSA produced an executive summary of the 2023 Year to end-August. I abstract those data county-by-county:

The RSA narrative is that 37% of the Jan-Aug 2023 deaths are due to mayhem in 4 counties Cork - Galway - Mayo - Tipp. But that's a terrible reading of their own data because they fail to adjust for population. In the graphic [L] I have done this to exonerate Co Cork which, at 17 deaths per million, is actually pro rata pop in the bottom quartile of the table. And Galway's rate is exceeded by 7 other counties: Looking at you Offaly and Monaghan! Donegal is now only a few spots above Galway and defo in the bottom half of this grim league table. Tipperary is up this August partly because 4 youngsters were killed in a single vehicle going to a party crash outside Clonmel.

I only hope that Jun.Minister Chambers can mobilise better data-wonks than the RSA before he embarks on an expensive scheme to replace all the speed-limit signs in the country. TDs are going to lose their seats at the next election if they start shouting about lowering the speed limits. Don't bother me none, I get up early and never needed to hurry to clock in at work. But lots of other folk are juggling the school run with sleep-deficit and a second income because they are mortgaged to the hilt and have kids. They won't feel able to dawdle to day-care and then to work each day.

And the known unknown unintended consequences? Our Dau.II has L plates on the car; takes her time driving carefully and is obsessive about speed limits. This seems to act as an insanity magnet for other drivers to overtake her in sketchy situations with or without horn.

The most shoulder-slumping consequence of this political theatre is that in one of the two years after the change to lower speed-limits it is entirely probable that road deaths will blip down again . . . and the pols will claim credit for their sagacious prophylactic actions. But it will just be an example of regression to the mean [explanaprev] after the extremes of 2023. Don't get me wrong: I'm as anti-car as the most obsessive cycle-nut of your acquaintance; we spend far too much time and money tooling about in them to the detriment of 1) our heart-health; 2) the lung-health of the people we chuff past; 3) every living thing on the planet.

Monday, 11 September 2023

Stormy Jocelyn

As promised in August 1st September is when the UK NL IE Met Offices reveal >!shazzam!< the official storm names for the 2023-2024 season. and <drum> they <roll> are: Agnes, Babet, Ciarán, Debi, Elin, Fergus, Gerrit, Henk, Isha, Jocelyn, Kathleen, Lilian, Minnie, Nicholas, Olga, Piet, Regina, Stuart, Tamiko, Vincent and Walid. Oddly, Ciarán, diacritic fada and all, was not party of Team Met Eireann. Less Oddly, at least the Irish names are chosen for pioneering Irish scientists, which is a shade less silly than sticking a pin in the relevant page of Name Your Erse Babe.

Jocelyn Bell-Burnell [whom we've blobbed before] captured the conceit rather well: "I am delighted to feature in this distinguished list celebrating science and hope that if a potential “Storm Jocelyn” happens, it may be a useful stirring-up rather than a destructive event! Science advancements increase our knowledge and understanding of the world around us, and I think this is wonderful example of science-based services communications.” But she may rest easy: it is vanishingly unlikely that we will get as far down the list as Storm J. Last storm year we crapped out at Betty. The only other overlap between my list of notable Irish [female] scientists and Met Eireann's is the chemist Kathleen "Benzene" Lonsdale.

Maybe, having ticked the science [✓] box with this year's naming of winds, we can finally honour Teresa Manion [above L] reporting on Storm Desmond in 2015 and horizontal rain. Sing it: Don't make unnecessary journeys - Don't take risks on treacherous roads - And never ever go to Crossmolina.

Sunday, 10 September 2023



Friday, 8 September 2023

CRAAC propagation

I failed my Physics "O" Level, not least because I live in my head rather than in the real world of materials and how they interact together. I can hammer a nail; but not with 100% reliability; I just confessed to be unable to drive 3 screws out of 12; I have installed sheep-wire upside-down because I haven't a clue. I like bodging (chairs from tea-chests;wooden-tops) but wouldn't trust me to make something structural

It's not that I don't try. A few years ago The Beloved sent me on a dry-stone walling course up in Westmeath. It was a piece of pee! we had a shed full of limestone slabs which are sedimentary rocks so flat on parallel sides. The one rule of thumb was to ensure never to have two joints between rocks one above the other. If you do, it makes that part of the wall intrinsically less stable. Overlapping the joints - like in regular brick-work - prevents cracks propagating through the structure. Building with granite is much harder [ho ho! granite is 6-7 on the Mohs scale; limestone only 3-4] because parallel faces are a matter of luck [or trimming] rather than due to the inherent molecular structure. See [R] how a crack has propagated down about 1m from the wall-plate of one of our shed until blocked by a sufficiently long & hefty stone [under the ] in the course below.

The same principal plays out on a smaller scale in concrete which is a mix of sand, cement and aggregate. The chunks in the aggregate serve the same purpose in concrete as stones in walls. In amorphous solids like glass or aluminum sheet, small cracks will propagate across the whole sheet over time. One emergency way to halt this is to drill a hole at the end of the crack which dissipates the energy which is sundering the material.

All that is back-story for a lamentable fiasco across the water in England. After 13 years of Tory misrule, it has come to the attention of the government right at the start of the school year that many of the country's school are unsafe for children. The reason is the widespread use of RAAC reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete slabs in the construction of schools in the 50s-80s of the last century. RAAC is cheap-and-cheerful and aggregate-free and so is more likely to fail. It has/had a design shelf-life of 30 years anyway, and it is 30 years since RAAC was deprecated by engineers and replaced by regular concrete in the 1990s. So any school, any building, which still has RAAC is out of warranty.

Failure could be catastrophic cracks through the whole beam or it could 'only' involve spalling [prev] where chunks of concrete shear off the ceiling and rain down on the desks. The reality of this problem was highlighted by an actual collapse at Singlewell School in Kent 5 years ago. It goes against Tory ideology to properly resource state schools because only proles go there. Resourcing includes regular inspections to determine whether the buildings are fit for purpose. The Irish government is stoutly maintaining that RAAC is not present in any schools in the Republic. 

Much gleeful RAAC schadenfreude rained down on Education Secretary Gillian Keegan who wanted a medal for closing school before she had to explain away a repeat of Aberfan 1966. She didn't actually want a medal because that's only for soldiers. Her rhetorical question was: 'Does anyone ever say: you know what, you've done a fucking good job because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing?'. imo, Keegan is by no means the worst cabinet minister in London.

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

I know why the caged bulb shines

Light bulbs are a miracle but we sure treat them peculiar. We spend money to buy them (and more money to run them) but then decide that they are toooo bright and need to be dulled down with some sort of covering. It's like having pink polka-dotted knickers under your grey office trousers. Years ago, in one of my gap years, I made a number of cubical Mondrian lamp-shades by gluing A3 paper to 5x5mm balsa wood battens and collaging on primary-colour paper rectangles and lines of black cartridge paper. They cost me nothing but time and were effective at muting the incandescent light within. Not many people would do that because they believe that their time is money and they'd rather have their lampshades assembled by an unfortunate $2-a-day grunt in Bangladesh. And believe me, that shade will cost more than $2 - think Nike trainers.

Did I mention that I was in England last week assembling flat-pack furniture? I did. You can usually expect sparkies to put up the lamp-shade if a) it is available b) they are installing a new light fitting. The lamp between the stairs and the front door [see L] had limited space above the door and so the châtelaine ordered a classy bamboo open-work shade on line. The Sparkie opened the box in good faith and dumped a clatter of 36 bamboo micro-battens on the floor.  The electrics were duly installed but clearly making a 3-D wooden jigsaw was a bridge too far and/or infringed the bailliwick of the United Brotherhood of Puzzlers - the relevant trade union.

It therefore fell to Bob the Blackleg to out-sweatshop the Bengalis by emptying the packing box [again], ponder the wordless instructions a while and then set-to connecting two wooden discs with the 36 bendy bamboo struts. It was a nice example of a Javi Problem: a daunting task that yields in surprisingly short order if you just make a start. Full disclosure: there was another, similar, puzzle-shade to be assembled and installed at the top of the stairs. The second task was much easier because I was in the zone.

Monday, 4 September 2023

Flat-pack rabbit

At the very birth of Xerox when photocopying was still black&white I liked to save paper by printing [short] docs back-to-back. Protocol: 

  1. Copy one side
  2. insert that page back into the paper tray
  3. copy the other side
  4. presto!

Easy, except that the first time you do this, the 2nd side will overprint the first OR the 2nd side will be upside down w.r.t. the first OR, indeed, both There are only four possible ways to insert the printed side back into the paper tray but it would always take me 5! attempts to get it to work. Hint: it helps to put a tiny red dot on one corner of the top sheet of the paper tray before printing the first side. That should help to orient the page for the second go through.

Q. How many different ways can you screw together two pieces of flat-pack jig-saw??
A. Enough to strip the thread from the pre-drilled holes and require a match-stick as a shim.

Was in England last month for the last week of the Gdau school holidays, so that both parents could slave away keeping the economy ticking over. Their family home has undergone an infra-structural make-over. Problem is that the building is part of a Grade II Listed "row of seven cottages. Early C19 with C20 alterations. Limestone ashlar; painted ashlar and slate roofs to some; others have pantile roofs to the front, concrete tile to the rear; moulded stacks to party walls and gable ends. Two cottages have wrought iron S shapes to the ends of tie-bars. Included for group value". The real problem is that the electrics had developed a tendency to short out and we were all worried that there would a house-fire or something similar. 

If you've going to rip up floors and ceilings for re-wiring, it might be time for a wider make-over: replacing the kitchen plumbing, swap the bedrooms around etc. When we arrived, the family had just returned home after renting another place down the street while the tradesmen broke things down and built them up again. There was still a stack of flat-pack 'furniture' that required assembly; a stack which was altogether in the berluddy way for a small house. No set of assembly instructions comes with an English narrative; but some are much worse than others: like a xerox of a xerox where the illustrations were kinda crappy to begin with. The Boy and I mistakenly believed that two nearly identical baulks of timber [each a smudged 40cm long in the instructions] were indeed identical. That required dismantling almost all our work to swap them round.

The penultimate task was to hang two glass-fronted doors. The hinges were attached to the doors with two 10mm microscrews. All I had to do was line the hinges up with 12 pre-drilled holes and drive in M4 x 20mm screws. Maybe I should have plunged the screws into a bar of soap before trying to turn them in tight guide holes but I contrived to break the heads off 3 screws leaving the shank obstructing the berluddy 'oles. Each hinge has three holes, but you can get a life-times use if you only employ 2 of them. So I only had to move one hinge down a piece and drill more holes. I also took a trip into Ye Olde Village Hardware Store to buy a dozen robust M4 x 20mm [or 6 x ¾ in as they call them yokes in Britland]. The doors initially manifest a disconcerting tendency to swing open like a poltergeist was present but a stern talking-to solved that.

Ever bought something from Ikea? How many 4mm ⌀ hex Allen keys do you have??? When will FlatPak Inc feel justified in not including an Allen key in every box on the assumption that there are more 4mm Allen keys on the planet than people . . . than chickens . . . than cockroaches? 

With one Gdau to hold the other end, I put together the ladder-shelf unit shown at the top of the post. The longer vertical strut is actually two bits of bamboo laminate held together by a scarf joint. The shelves are bolted to the uprights by counter-sunk threaded screws. My first attempt mismatched the scarf joints so that only half the counter-sunk dents could be on the outside to receive the shelf. screws: dismantle and try again. Second attempt contrived to install the bottom shelf upside down. It's meant to be idiot-proof! But that's clearly a bridge too far for me.

Friday, 1 September 2023

Wrath Corner

I haven't been to Land's End or John O'Groats, which are the two normal ne plus ultra* points on the big island next door. But I have been to Cape Wrath [see R] which is a) the top left corner of the Scottish mainland b) a deal more remote than either of those two places. In 1989, during one of my gap years, The Boy and I drove from Newcastle/Tyne, where I was resting and he was in school, to Cape Wrath by way of St Andrew's, Braemar, Grantown, Inverness and Durness. That's as near as you can get by car. The last inlet of this fissured coast, The Kyle of Durness, is a bridge too far for bridges but there is a passenger ferry to the quay at Achiemore and a minibus will take you the last 16km to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. You can walk back, if you're fit. We had a glorious day for it 34 years ago: it was not raining rain . . . and the M.O.D. was not raining ordnance on the moorland through which the single track road passes. I make no apology for assertively sitting in the two front seats on the drive back, so that the youngster could see and remember the experience. The most notable and disturbing part of having an hour in 1989 to explore at CapeWrath was that one of the gullies had been used as the light-house keepers' dump for the previous 160 years: white-goods, trailer-axles, cans and old rope had just been heaved over the edge until the winter storms carried the shite away. The cape was named hvarf = 'turning-point' by the Vikings; nothing to do with angry weather gods.

I don't think about that trip every day but I do remember it. It came up last weekend because Dau.II came back from a week in Ullapool with the aforementioned Boy and his family. And the allllmost made a day-trip of it. It's 50 miles drive from Ullapool to Durness, so you'd return to your digs at the end of the day utterly clapped out without ever having to walk more than a few steps. When we were there, the lighthouse was still crewed by the Northern Lighthouse Board but the system was automated in 1998.  Currently, some of the buildings have been leased to Angie & John Ure who run the Ozone Café and Bunkhouse. Everybody has a positive word to say about the Ozone!

If you are ever in Durness, you have to go to Smoo Cove next door which is like Stradbally, down The Déise, on steroids. It is a long [maybe 300m] thin [maybe 30m across] deep-water inlet which penetrates the landscape as Smoo Cave under the 'main' road. Smoo apparently means 'hidden' in Old Norse and it is easy to imagine a longship nipping in there to avoid pursuit by Ivar Iron-nipples

(*) ne plus ultra?: Parnell's monument apparently has a spelinge errur. Who knew?

Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Humus - houmous

Q. Was I a bit smug about reseeding our poly-tunnel desert?
A. I was. see thin fuzz of green five weeks ago.

A week ago, I gave the new micro-meadow its first haircut because some of the tillers were a foot tall [see R]. Apart from a liberal few handfuls of saved grass-seed, all it took was regular water. Of course, because this ground was grassland+forbs 15 years ago, just adding water would have been enough to get the area greened over . . . eventually. But I really wanted mainly grass because it is year round and the roots will stabilize the dirt and retain water.

Nevertheless there were / are a few baldie patches [within O R]. Not sure why; it may have been due to some builder's lime spread about to kill the coliforms from the last time we had resident indoor sheep. Or it could have just been missed patches when I was broadcasting the seed; or high patches where the seed was washed off by the hose-pipe. Whatevs. What I did was dig out a few scoops of really wormy humus from the compost heaps and spread that into the bald patches. We shall see if it makes any difference; can't do any harm anyway, worms are A Good Thing.

In the weekend shop on Friday a small tub of reduced at sell-by houmous bi tahini was thrown into the basket and we dug in at Saturday lunchtime. It was 'okay': too much lemon, not enough garlic, or salt. It comes out of a factory called The Galway Kitchen. Our pot was "organic": Cooked Chickpeas (56%), Water, Organic Tahini Paste (11%) (Crushed Sesame Seeds), Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Lemon Concentrate (3.3%), Organic Garlic (1.6%), Salt. Which is essentially the same as The Original except that they couldn't source organic rapeseed oil, so used ?Ukrainian? sunflowers instead. As with a lot of commercial products, there's a lot of [b/c free] water in there but everyone uses some water in the mix of this tasty paste.

The Beloved's grandfather was a Lebanese Maronite and one of the simple pleasures of the last 50 years has been witnessing his daughters having robust discussion about the ratios of garlic, lemon and salt in the houmous. They would all have been shocked, shocked I say, that sunflower oil was considered a valid substitute for olive oil. Whatever about the details, we could be sure that, for any family gathering someone would contribute a bowl, big enough for bathing a toddler, full of houmous.

Monday, 28 August 2023

Mind's 👁 aphantasia

Ever since I heard about Thomas Bowdler's expurgated "Family" Shakespeare (1807), I've been triggered by "abridged" books. Reader's Digest didn't help, either. If I want a digest, I'd read The Blob or a review in one of the broadsheet newspapers. Too long? - someone will have written a haiku summary to give you enough story for party-chatter: two Verona teens / nix star-crossed to make love once / but kill selves later. I was accordingly a bit leery about [Adam] Rutherford and [Hannah] Fry's Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything* . . . *abridged (2021) but I checked it out of the library anyway. It's rare that I have space and time to hang out in a library browsing for something to read. It took Dau.II to explain that the *abridged part of the title was an ironic British comment implying that of course chirpy science-explainers Adam and Hannah weren't claiming to cover everything.

Dau.II was better tuned to their sense of humour because she's been bingeing on The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry BBC podcast. I've only recently tapped into this source of edutainment, so was merely mildly narked by the "*foot-note". The book is like the podcast in that it is composed of essentially unrelated chapters which present an issue "probability, permutations, inter-stellar communications" or "does my dog love me", riff on it for a while, and come up with some sort of resolution of the original question. As you might expect from the title, they use a lot of footnotes but they are flagged with a microscopically small * which makes it hard to tie note back to text.

The book is okay. I learned some stuff: 1) the details of James "Primate of all Ireland" Ussher's calculations for deciding that the origin of the world happened in the evening before 23rd October 4004 BCE [bloboprev]; 2) that Darwin's certainties about reading the expression of emotions on the faces or humans and other animals are not really reproducible. I got lost and/or alienated on "Does my dog love me?" chapter but ackn that I'm in the minority on the household pet "who cares?" front.

Dau.I the Librarian has been down home on two weeks study leave wrapping up her MLIS thesis. It's a bit easier to do proof-reading and discuss statistics if everyone is in the same building. I believe I get a mention in the acknowledgements. When she was ready to go back, I took her to the train-station on a Sunday afternoon. The train was 15 minutes late and in the desultory chat, she revealed that she had reckoned she had prosopagnosia [prev] - inability to recognise / remember / visualize faces. It's a little less traumatic than my mother's (late-onset) Charles Bonnet Syndrome which filled her mind's eye with fantastical images of pirates and flower-garlands. 

Psychologists will correct me if I'm wrong but I think that prosopagnosia is a subset or manifestation of 'aphantasia' which applies to folks [about 3% of us] who do not have a "mind's-eye" except in a metaphorical sense. When asked to run the tape of their best-friend's face, or her home, or that time in the pub . . . they come up blank. At the other end of the spectrum, maybe 10% of us are hyper-phantastics who replay events in glorious technicolor. Who knew? The bold Rutherford & Fry have made a Curious Case about the phenomenon. Aphantasia only acquired a name and a description in 2015! Discussion on Metafilter at that time., with phantasiacs and aphantasiacs weighing in with their lived experience.

Curious? Tune into the Perception Census

Sunday, 27 August 2023

Stepping aside

Bit of this; bit of that

Friday, 25 August 2023

Loada bollix

In the course of my very expensive education, I learned how to play golf: aka a good walk, spoiled as The Enniscorthy Guardian had it in 1901. My father and I went to a local junk-shop and acquired (for buttons) a 'short set' of golf-clubs in a canvas bag all of probably Edwardian vintage. A short-set included a "driving iron" a "mashie-iron", a "mashie-niblick", a putter, and a couple of wooden "drivers". The bag had a side pocket for golf-balls and a bit of bandolier-webbing for the all important golf-tees.

You can look up what the modern names are for these antient projectile launchers - hint it's all in the angle of the [striking] face of the club w.r.t. the shaft. But I can tell you that "mashie" was wrong-wrong-almost-right [= machete] for tween chaps looking for missing balls in shrubberies and briar-patches beyond the target hole. It didn't take me long to crack the shaft of the mashie-iron pretending I was making progress with Colonel Fawcett in the Amazonian Jungle. I bound up the crack with glue and twine and it worked okay. We always always found more golf-balls that we'd lost.

The other amusement to be had with golf-balls which had been hacked about a bit was to remove the outer shell and unravel the yards and yards to rubber string which formed the magma of the sphere. In the centre was a little bag of white lead 2PbCO3·Pb(OH)2 which is toxic but about which we were not especially careful. This is all by way of introduction to a mildly amusing hoax perpetrated on the world of mycology by the 'discovery' that golf-balls which had endured a brush-fire bore passing resemblance to he fruiting bodies of certain fungi. The story was published by Kew Gardens in London on All Fools' Day this year.

The first example was sent to Kew from Lancashire in 1952 asking that the experts help identify what species it represented. One of the ID tests carried out is to leave the fungus (gills down if any) on a sheet of clean white paper. The spores, if any, are diagnostic for species when looked at under a microscope by a sufficiently expert mycologist. The waggish taxonomists decided to play their game straight and the specimen was given a name Golfballia ambusta [i.e. golf-ball which has passed through the furnace] and accession number. In the intervening 70 years, two more examples of the species have been duly recorded and added to the collection. All good fun, till someone gets in the way.

Wednesday, 23 August 2023

Exit strategy

eeeee when I were a nipper we had a TV (but not before 1960 - I guess the price came down and general adoption of The Box went up, so my folks caved to the new normal). It was pretty rough stuff: tiny screen, two channels, black-and-white; but it made a change from sniffing glue assembling Airfix models. One of the early game shows was Take Your Pick compered by Kiwi Talent Michael Miles. The deal involved contestants picking one from a number of unopened boxes each of which contained a prize [cash or stuff] - including 3/10  Booby Prizes. Having made the choice Mr Miles offered, as an alternative, increasing amounts of folding money.  The amusement was in the jeopardy of taking the [known quantity] of cash and so losing the chance at {picnic set | a cup of tea | mousetrap | washing-machine | Ford Anglia}. Nobody in the studio knew [so double-blind ✓✓] what was in any of the boxes but that didn't stop the studio audience roaring out "Take the Money" and/or "Open the Box".

I was reminded of this when I tried to wind up our existing wireless broadband with, having sold my soul to the Vodafone comp'ny store at the end of July. There are 29 separate companies all jockeying to get their snouts in this government pork-barrel and we only went with Vodafone because our abutting neighbour had. The fibre connexion was duly installed and it seemed to work at least as well as our wireless; so all we needed to do was terminate our agreement with Three . . .The easiest way seemed to be engaging with the Three Support Bot

  • Hi, we're having difficulties logging into our three account to manage the bill. Can you advise me on how to set up the online account? My account number is 30XXXXX70
    • Three Support at 17:53, Aug 8 Please choose one of the following . . .

    Eventually The Support Bot opened the gate to Agent Suraj D who got us part of the way. We marshalled the necessary data and logged in again. This time, after submitting all the data a second time. Agent Rakesh allowed us to establish our identity . . . until Conversation closed by you  at 18:27, Aug 8.

    With our ducks in a row we dived in for the third time to meet Agent Priyanka

    • You at 18:44, Aug 8: We've done our 18 months since 5th July and wish to cancel the account
      • Priyanka at 18:57, Aug 8: May I know the reason you like to cancel the account?
    • You at 18:58, Aug 8: We got rural fibre-optic broadband installed last week and sold out to Vodafone
      • Priyanka at 18:59, Aug 8: Thanks for confirming
      • Priyanka at 19:00, Aug 8: I see that you are on 3 Unlimited Broadband-18 Month plan and I have something for you
      • Priyanka at 19:01, Aug 8: I can offer you the brand new broadband for Free on the 3 Broadband Unlimited plan with unlimited data
      • Priyanka at 19:01, Aug 8: This is completely Free.
      • Priyanka at 19:01, Aug 8: You can take it and can sell the current modem at a good price. Would you like to get it?
    • You at 19:02, Aug 8: No thank you, my life is too complicated already.
      • Priyanka at 19:06, Aug 8: I can offer you 2 months line rental for Free if you go on a 12 months contract for the same plan. Would you like to take it?
    • You at 19:07, Aug 8: No thanks, Priyanka
      • Priyanka at 19:08, Aug 8: I can offer you 1 months line rental for Free if you go on a 6 months contract for the same plan.
    • You at 19:08, Aug 8: Nope, thanks for trying.
      • Priyanka at 19:09, Aug 8: I can offer you €10 discount for 12 months if you take the plan for 12 months
    • You at 19:10, Aug 8: Nope.
      • Priyanka at 19:13, Aug 8: I can offer you SIMO deal which will be a rolling plan No contract
    • You at 19:14, Aug 8: Nope, It's not health insurance. It's got to be simpler than this
      • Priyanka at 19:15, Aug 8: I am checking cancellation details
      • Priyanka at 19:15, Aug 8: The contract end date is 05/07/2023 00:00 If you wish to cancel the account then you will need to serve 30 days notice and the account will be cancel on 7th Sept, 2023 And you will get the final bill 14 days after the disconnection date
      • Priyanka at 19:16, Aug 8: Shall I take the notice?
    • You at 19:17, Aug 8: yes
      • Priyanka at 19:18, Aug 8: We are very sorry to lose you as a customer right now, but we would love the opportunity to be able to welcome you back again sometime. Would you be happy for us to contact you in future with our latest deals, and fantastic offers? Rest assured any contact will be relevant to your account.
      • Priyanka at 19:18, Aug 8: Would you be happy for us to contact you in future with our latest deals, and fantastic offers?
    • You at 19:19, Aug 8: Please don't contact. But thank you personally for your help
      • Priyanka at 19:19, Aug 8: Sure
      • Priyanka at 19:19, Aug 8: Would you like to unlock your current modem?
    • You at 19:20, Aug 8: What would that do?
      • Priyanka at 19:20, Aug 8: You can use any SIM in the modem. Or can sell it
      • Priyanka at 19:21, Aug 8: I've taken the 30 days notice on the account and the account will be cancel on 7th Sept, 2023
    • You at 19:21, Aug 8: okay, then yes please
      • Priyanka at 19:21, Aug 8: Would you like to unlock your current modem?
      • Priyanka at 19:22, Aug 8: I've placed the unlocking for you and within next 2 working days you will get an update on the unlocking via email
      • Priyanka at 19:22, Aug 8: I appreciate your understanding and patience in this matter, Bob.😊
      • Priyanka at 19:22, Aug 8: Is that all for today?
    • You at 19:23, Aug 8: yes, thank you and good night . . . morning!
      • Priyanka at 19:23, Aug 8: You're most welcome. Bob. Have a great day ahead. 😊
    • Conversation closed by the agent  at 19:23, Aug 8: 
    Working on the assumption that my time is worth €51.40/hr [as it was when I was doing off-contract teaching]. It cost me €76.60 [=~ two months internet] just to close the account. With all the options and offers that become available if you just keep saying "No Thanks You Mr Miles, I'll open the box", it might be worth it to negotiate each contract. But to engage in a fully comprehensive research plan to get the Best Deal, you need a working week - 29 potential suppliers each with their Sales Bots x 1½ hours - to obtain all the Best Offer details.

    Monday, 21 August 2023

    Today, we have naming of storms

    We survived Storm Betty on Fri/Sat night last week. Only a few small branches blocking our exit strategy. The evidence of flashing clock-lights on the cooker indicated that we'd had a power outage sometime over night

    The 2021/22 season the stormabet [bloboprev] petered out early Arwen; Barra; Corrie; Dudley; Eunice; Franklin . . . with the last three barrelling in one after the other in a single week of February 2022. The current 01 Sep 2022 - 31 Aug 2023 season has been much less fizzy. For a bit of spice we borrowed Otto [16Feb23] from the Danes and Noa [12Apr23] from Météo-France. We didn't start ticking off our own list until the very last month of the season with Antoni [04 Aug]; Betty [18 Aug]; it looks like we won't have to use these boys and girls: Cillian; Daisy; Elliot; Fleur; Glen; Hendrika; Íde; Joanna; Khalid; Loes; Mark; Nelly; Owain; Priya; Ruadhán; Sam; Tobias; Val; Wouter. The Met-wonks are quite proud of themselves to shake up the boy girl boy girl convention with gender-neutral Glen, Sam and Val. Watch this space on 1st September 2023 when Met Offices of UK NL and IE release the names of the up-coming winter season.

    I'll share a change in our deliberate practice w.r.t. trees hereabouts. I've decided to girdle the big Ash Fraxinus excelsior trees, especially those which hang over the lane /buildings, in order to kill the ivy Hedera helix. Ivy is A Good Thing: it provides shelter for small birds and it flowers in the shoulder season for honey-bee production. But it is also ever-green and some provides significant windage in winter storms. We're going to bring Sean the Tree surgeon back this fall to take out the worst affected / most awkwardly situated ash trees on the property. Sean hates ivy because it prevents the free-fall of branches as he cuts them. If I kill the ivy now, it will be much easier to remove the entangling ivy upstairs when Sean turns up.

    It's rather satisfying: you just have to make sure that there is a clear ring of exposed ash-bark all around the tree at a convenient height. A handsaw will deal with the thick branches and a small hatchet, mostly as a scraper, can deal with the smaller stuff. Every ivy thing above the ring dries out and dies. Within a year, tiny ivy tendrils will start filling the gap. There's enough ivy [flowers] hereabouts growing up small trees to satisfy the bees.

    Sunday, 20 August 2023

    Bernard of Clairvaux

    St Bernard's Day [patron of 🐝🐝-keepers] unrelated links follow.


    Friday, 18 August 2023


    One of the wonderful things about Ireland is the every day a grand soft day ambience of the weather. Even in No vember, there are No hurricanes; No tornadoes; No ice-storms; No parching droughts. Until there are! 2018 had weeks without rain so that the grass turned beige, yellow and brown. The same thing in June this year; where Met Eireann reports that it was the warmest June ever and dry too with occasional thurnder-storms. But instead of settling down to 'normal', the weather pendulum swung the other way in July giving us the wettest July on record - 4x more than the equivalent period in 2022 and 2x the long-term monthly July average. These big departures from the average are change even if not Climate Change.

    It is certainly weird to find ourselves watering [pot] plants out in the garden. Although, obvs, if we choose to cover a 9m x 17m patch of the garden with a plastic poly-tunnel, then it is on us to funnel water to the plants inside. Even if we planted nothing and used the tunnel as an extension of the domestic laundry, we'd still have to water inside to lay the dust. No utility in letting the breeze whisk up a simoom of fine dust while the tea-towels are still damp.

    We had a visitor last week who asked whether we had slugs, because their attempts are growing fresh veg were habitually set at nought by molluscan depredation. I demurred: we used to have a lot of snails and slugs. So much so that we would periodically pick a bucketful by torchlight to save the chard. But not in recent years, I added. Something is eating the kale - but that's more likely on the caterpillars. But the very next day I was up betimes to see how much rain had fallen over-night and snapped the picture above. It was early enough that the accumulated humidity had condensed on the inner surface of the tunnel and since the condensation a Piccadilly Circus of molluscs had been cruisin' all over the surface scarfing up the algae. Despite first impressions, those dark meanders are not the reflection of over-hanging tree-branches because there are no trees.

    Wednesday, 16 August 2023

    This story shall the good man teach his son

    St Crispin’s Day is not until 25th October but here’s a somewhat rambling  reflection All things are ready, if our minds be so  by The Reluctant Carer on what it takes to care for an aged, frail, previously absent [merchant seaman] father.  "The point, for all the warlike connotations of that speech is that your brother can be anyone – and so is everyone your brother. “This did the good man teach his son”, and I never even realised it was happening. For all they cannot do, words somehow did all that, and then did all this too". Why not give the reading a heroic soundtrack? lifted from Branagh's Henry V.

    There is a good bit of overlap between the blog cited above and an anonymous book The Reluctant Carer (2022) [Review] which documents (with laconic hilarity, stoic grit and many comms fails) how a London media person returned to the provinces to look after his parents, and himself, and stayed for nearly two years. The R.C. had recently lost his job, his marriage and his home in Town and was a teensy bit shamefaced about moving back to the teenage bedroom which he'd vacated 30 years earlier with zero intention of returning. R.C.'s sister had stayed near the home place and was managing the parents and their several deficits - falls, shingles, deafness, thrombosis, COPD, diabetes. In 12 months, "The Dad" was hospitalized 5 times and each event saw him discharged home rather than to a step-down facility that was equipped to care for someone of his age and infirmity.

    A significant part of  this was that The Dad refused to be institutionalized despite this putting the entire burden of his care on his 80-something wife which her own medical troubles. Care-at-home is possible in the UK, and in Ireland, but it is no longer the purview of The District Nurse and GP clinic - the armies or elders have overwhelmed that model. Care has been largely privatized into a late capitalist model where the coal-face workers slave away on zero-hours minimum-wage contracts but the company charges 3x as much so that the share-holders secure their doles. Good care-home and care-agencies tend to get eaten up by larger conglomerates for whom the bottom line out-ranks compassion.

    The System is tottering, but carers are caring: some for money, some from duty and some for love. Agincourt was all over in a day but caring continues for years. Respite care is A Thing in Ireland. If you are caring for your folks at home, you can apply to have them installed in A Home for week so that you can re-charge your mental health. Except that there is zero availability under the HSE. But this is typical: we've just spent 4 person hours trying to get an emergency dental appointment sooner than next month. I spent two hours with last week;  just trying to cancel our contract having sold our souls to Vodafone. Try getting a pediatric speech and language therapist before the child is old enough to vote! 

    Eventually the R.C.'s father died Good Grief and the Carer’s life continued. The book is excellent if you're in the caring business or know someone who is. Available as an ear-book it takes just 6 hours at normal speed.

    Monday, 14 August 2023

    Uncertain taxonomy

    Down the rabbit-'oles it is. I sometimes do podcasts to lighten las obras exterior the outdoor works. Sometimes I do not do podcasts because it's better to Be in the outdoors that's in it rather than some other place with invisible people droning in the background. I have been through a good few Word of Mouths [woman- Osman] with Michael Rosen; one of which was about jail-jargon with Andy West . . . so I read his book . . . wherein he makes passing reference to Jorge Luis Borges' taxonomy of the living world.

    Ah taxonomy (the practice and science of categorization or classification), I've done a bit of that because I've spent 50 years trying to make sense of God's Grandeur and his inordinate fondness for beetles. Not to claim I know anything about beetles - I was always a crap field-biologist preferring to do my research in libraries and databases.  It's nearly 50 since we had a discussion about classification sous le pont d'Avignon. The key is to give weight to fundamental and immutable over the obvious and trivial. NB such damn fool notions as over-weighting skin colour in humans to determine who goes to U San Francisco rather than San Quentin.  And "Have wings" is kinda useless because it includes wasps, fruit-bats, mansions, buzzards, 747s, football teams, dragons and angels.

    I could go on . . . but I see that I've previously itemized the bins in colour (but not skin-colour!) into which Borges shoe-horned the animals which had entered his ken. Hint: wings don't count at all at all.  Borges' satirical look at natural classifications takes just about 50 palabras  - and has surely generated 55 MSc theses in the intervening years. Borges was almost always the smartest bloke in the room; so he might be worth such talmudic picking over the bones of his writings. The point is that we should all park our certainties about how the world ticks, listen to contrary, even contrarian, views and then re-make up our minds . . . tentatively with our crap-detectors tuned up to Max.

    Sunday, 13 August 2023

    Sun song