Friday 30 June 2023

Induction and recall

My Favorite Librarian MFL was working for The City all through Coronarama. With all the branches closed, a lot of her colleagues were on furlough: you can't re-shelve the returns if nobody has taken any books out this year. But someone still had to make out the pay-dockets each week and, for various reason of accident and happenstance, that someone was MFL. Which was all good experience [if she ever wants to be a protestant, that Work Ethic 101 will be handy, like] and being there built up a fund of goodwill through the service. Earlier this year, there was a much delayed round of promotions, and that commitment, competence and banked goodwill paid off as an extra letter MFSL (S for Senior) in her job title and a bit more wonga in the pocket. The next step in her rise, and Rise, is to complete her MLIS [Masters in Library and Information Studies] research thesis which will qualify her for the next promotional stage. My ambition genes were shot off in the war; so it's nice to see other people doing things differently.

If I actually know you, dear reader, I may pull on your coat later to complete the survey, the answers to which will be the bulk of the data analysed for the MLIS.

My current ear-book is A Life in Trauma by Chris Luke [blurb] a/the long-time consultant in Emergency Medicine at Cork University Hospital. Dude saved A Lot of lives while toiling at the bloody coal-face of critical care in Dublin, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Cork. I'll get round to reviewing the whole book later. One of the tips and tricks that he attempted implement on his watch was to take an extra 2 minutes at the end of each treatment to write down on a card: a) what the trouble had been b) what A&E had done about it and thrust that into the hand of the patient on discharge [to home, a ward-bed, ICU or the streets as appropriate (*)]. The reasoning is that normal folks are too stressed to hear what the doctor has to say, not least if it includes words never heard before: 

  • "scaphoid"? 
  • "pyrexia of unknown origin (PUO)"? 
  • "contusion of the zygomatic arch w/o fracture"?

Last w/e we were chatting à la zoom to The  Librarian MFL about working at the book-face in a branch library. A colleague was held up as exemplary because when a new customer registered for a library card, he was careful to elaborate all the wonders to which the card entitled them. Not just borrowing books and looking at the newspapers, you may be sure: libraries embrace a far wider range of services nowadays. Triggered by my recent book, I suggested that a word-tsunami of available services could well be a wash [wash-over; TMI!; wash-out; waste of time]. Why not, I said, make a little credit-card sized executive summary of Library Services in bullet-points and a readable font?

Why not, chimed in The Beloved, design a book-mark with the same information?!

High-fives all round!!

(*) It is never appropriate to discharge a sick or injured person back to the streets but it happens every day - because Capitalism.

Wednesday 28 June 2023


On the 12th June I wrote about drought-break as if less than 1mm of rain was an excuse for  🥳 🎉 💃 🍾. In Namibia, that might be fair enough . . . and maybe with sea temperature rise disrupting our wet westerlies we should adjust to a skeleton coast base-line for Ireland. The following weekend it was a) my bday & Father's "Hallmark" Day which was really an excuse for  at least 💃 🍾. Accordingly we decamped to TráMhór on the Waterford Coast for back-to-back movie nights and 🍰 with Pat the Salt. Clocked: Le Concert (2009) + Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) ; Youth (2015) + About Time (2013). Mostly good fun: no car-chases, no guns, no spaceships.

We also carpe diemed a stroll along Benvoy beach [multiprevs] at low tide and combed a big blue fish-box in serviceable condition - which event gave me a frisson of delight. Never enough crates! Like Darwin discovering marine fossils 3,000m up The Andes, archaeologists in 1,000 years are going to be puzzled by the local midden of beach-plastic so far from the sea. Even if the sea is lapping at the foot of the Blackstairs by then.

But that 16/17 June weekend it really rained: downtown Tralee was flooded. Back home, we'd previously cleaned out all our water-collection devices WCDs and they were ready to catch water again  . . . even if we were all off site whooping it up on the beach. Gravity and infrastructure does the work. There were some desultory showers the following week and started pumping water up hill to our 1 tonne IBC. On St John's Day we mowed all the grass - including the cow-slip Primula veris corner, so we're looking allll protestant again. The following morning, early, another belt of rain passed across the country from the SW and we were able to top up all our WCDs including our diverse clatter of buckets and watering cans. 

I tell ya, it would be mighty if we could get our 1000mm of annual rain delivered like clockwork at 10mm every third night.  No floods, no droughts, just enough, on the regular - perfick!

Monday 26 June 2023

Going gone

Did I mention that I R Retire? Did I ever stop? Did I say that, nearly 1,000 days after my last day at work, The Institute formally said goodbye? I did. In contrast to The Blob, the Goodbye Do was not all about me. Lockdown had accumulated 8 of us silverbacks looking for their ice-flow. In the before times, the retirement celebration was bundled up into the Christmas party on the last Friday before the end of term. The President presented each person who had finished in the previous 12 months with a large glass vase etched with their name. The retiree said a few, or far too many many, words. There was a smattering of applause or a ragged cheer and everyone went home to their family for the holidays. On of the last things I did before leaving work for the last time was to urge my HoD to please please not etch-a-vase for me nor yet a clock. Rather give the equivalent money to the student emergency welfare fund.

But there was an admin shake-up after I left and my well-briefed HoD was no longer in that post
nobody read The Blob on the matter of vases
and it wasn't all about me
and there is a process / protocol / tradition
. . . so dear readers, I am now in possession of trophy [R] shaped like a tear-drop because the concept is so sad. Quite properly, they gave out these, identical except for name, ornaments ordered by length of service. Me first: a paltry 7.5 years. Everyone else had been in post [in the same place] for at least 30 years and one for 42 (!) years. It's little wonder that The Institute tended towards cliquey: these people had spent their entire adult lives together. I was just passing through.

The 1cm thick tear-drop is a lot more robust than a vase. Even if we had a mantel-piece, I wouldn't put my go-gift up there. It will be just the thing to bury in our 2122 Centennial Time-capsule: it's surely not going to degrade over that time and will be sufficiently enigmatic to those who dig it up later. There are no dates in the dedication, for example.

Sunday 25 June 2023

sun 23d jun 023

Important: Kate "Doughnut Economics" [prev] Raworth interviewed by The Rest Is Politics. Our Finite Planet in the Guardian.

Friday 23 June 2023

snails and puppy dog tails.

I was at a retirement party [mine!] a few days ago and I engineered it so that I didn't get sat at the boring table nor yet the misogynist yobs table [win!]. I rather got to sit between my old roomies, one from Greece and one from Portugal. For the wodge of money they had to lay out for the privilege, there was a rather limited menu - three starters, three mains, petits fours for afters. My dins, as one of several retirees, was on the house. We all opted for hake Merluccius merluccius - probably as a damage limitation exercise to avoid a big lump of overcooked beef or chicken à la something. Among the gadiformes hake is a little more interesting than cod Gadus morhua or whiting Merlangius merlangus but my druthers are defo with haddock Melanogrammus aeglefinus. But I'm not picky and polished off my grilled hake fillet, shkin-and-all plus an indifferent pile of unadventurous veg. My companions took the opportunity to snark at Irish failure to get the best out of the sea which surrounds us - the vast majority of us apparently preferring fish-fingers made from a paste of fins, skin and offcuts or a fillet of white-fish [species unspecified] overwhelmed with batter or breadcrumbs. I don't get into other folks' kitchens much, so I can't comment on this generalization.

There is a long tradition of culinary molluscs in Ireland - cue Molly Malone and her cockles and mussels. But I don't know many families who actually eat molluscs on the regular - and those eaten are almost exclusively bivalves like clams, oysters and indeed cockles and mussels. The other big group within mollusca are the gastropoda and occasionally I meet people on the beach who ate scavenging for whelks or [peri]winkles. I guess few people in Ireland would, from choice, eat slugs or even >!added crunch!< snails the other available land-based gastropods. 

There are, however, about 30 snail farms in Ireland: operating almost exclusively for the export trade to Johnny Foreigner in France. If you're diversity-thinking enough to escargrow alongside suckler cows with a side of brassica; then you're enterprising enough to offer courses to aspirants to the business. Learn all you need for €150 in person or €75 on-line! The Farmer's Journal gives the sector some side-eye: if it was really easy to make a fortune in Cornu aspersum previously known as Helix aspersa then you wouldn't be piffing about running a ponzi scheme courses. Snail-scaled electric fence? - who knew that was A thing?? Teagasc is alternatively gung-ho about snail-farming. It looks [deceptively?] simple: 

  • some old boards to give escape from the sun
  • sprinklers in case it all gets too droughty
  • some bird-netting to slow the predators
  • a dusting of crushed [hen] egg-shell for the calcium
  • let them eat nettles Urtica dioica or a pelleted ration

Teagasc optimistically touts yields of 10,000kg an acre = 25,000kg / hectare selling at €4/kg. 1kg is about 100 (8-15g wt) snails. Helix pomatia, the Burgundy or Roman snail, is slightly larger at 20-25g each but doesn't do well when intensively farmed. You're better off scavenging these from the long-acre or your garden. Cook 'em up with shallots, parsley, lemon juice and loadsa butter et voilà! Better get on it soon: you'll be surviving on these creatures when the apocalypse arrives.

Wednesday 21 June 2023


Does a bear exploit in the woods? 

Years ago, in grad school in Boston, my boss had two teenage daughters at home. They ate a lot of cold cereal. One day, I was passing through their kitchen and remarked on the purple milk in the bowl. The dye was leaching from the Grape 'n' Raspberry Froot Loops. It was a cue for a characteristically irascible rant at General Foods who would make an out-there new variety of product and budget $1million for advertising and still turn a profit by selling 2 million packets of Avocado Chili Cornflakes at $2 the pop. Even if no cereal packet ever got finished and nobody bought a second packet, because bleugh! And next month another wild option would be kited to consumers of America

The market is skewed because the end-consumers are either children who bully their parents into purchasing what the kids see on daytime TV or youngsters living at home who have a grunt job at a car-wash or McDonalds but no mortgage to pay. Adults tend towards, like, real food.

Dau.I was down for the bank.hol weekend and presented me with an apposite card [R]. She had lifted it, with permission, from a grown-assed chap at work who had been snacking on 'healthy' Bear Yoyos. Bear Snacks was founded in 2009 in the UK and you know that adults [except as commissariat and catering supplies] were not the target demographic; they encourage feedback fr'instance through the following media

  • Give us a growl
  • BEAR,  The Big Cave, Deepest Darkest Woods, PO Box 1311, St. Albans, UK

I guess you cannot fault them as a chemical factory of additives. There are very few packaged 'foods' which have fewer ingredients than my sourdough bread.

  • Apples (65.8%), Pears (32.9%), Strawberries (1%), Black Carrot Extract (0.3%)
  • Apples (40%), Pears (40%), Mangos (20%)
  • Apples (62.3%), Pears (31.1%), Blackcurrants(6.6%)
  • + each packet includes a 'collectible' card featuring something similar to Bob the Blob [see above]
Apart from the performative bonhomie equivalent to children's TV from the 1970s, my gripe is the cost. The standard aliquot is 5 Yoyos [one for each school lunch M - F] each weighing 20g for €3.29 . . . that's €32.90/kg! which surely puts them outside the budget of poor families actually feeling food inflation. I guess ordinary struggling folk by-pass the aisle packaged products promoting "health" and buy, like, actual apples at 10x for €1.60. That's about ¼ the price and includes actual apple pips that you can spit across the lunchroom at your pal Jimmy.

Monday 19 June 2023

Organic? It can be done

Michael Walker at [leftie] Novara Media took a cheap shot at the management of Riverford Organic Farms and had to apologise.

The Watson family were first against the wall when the revolution comes sugar farmers in the West Indies. As a young chap after WWII, the scion John Watson a) returned to England to read Ag at Cambridge b) in 1951, tendered for a degraded 120 acre farm in Devon owned by the Church Commissioners. Being an Establishment farmer, JW lurried on the nitrates and other chemicals [he was sponsored by ICI!] to maximize 'productivity' . . . and bugger the butterflies. The scion's scion Guy Singh-Watson took the reins about 40 years ago and drove the farm in a different - organic - direction; to the bemusement, not to say annoyance, of the neighbours. Organic farms tend to look scruffy especially if you regard hay-rattle Rhinanthus minor as a weed rather than desirable biodiversity. 

Young Guy started small, with himself and a wheelbarrow, delivering fresh dug unwashed veggies to 30 friends and neighbours. Right now Riverford distributes 50,000 weekly veg boxes from four hub farms in England generating a turn-over North of £100 million a year. In 2018, GSW shifted 76% of the firm's assets to a worker's co-op. As an exit strategy for a venture capitalist, this was a massive fail because the owner accepted as 'consideration' only ¼ of the market valuation. It was still a lorra money: maybe 5x more than I earned in 40 years at the academic coal-face. Guy is currently cashing in his final 23% holding - for £10million. Vid [3m]. He's well-known for his unshouty 'rants' exposing the false premises of Big Ag.

I think it's fair to claim, as Riverford does, that they are balancing the ethical and financial demands of its workers, its customers, its suppliers and its biota . . . and the planet, so that everyone wins. That's what a bargain should be: all parties walk away from the deal feeling like they are the winner.

Sunday 18 June 2023

Waterloo Day

Following encounters at Quatre-Bras and Ligny on 16th June 1815, Napoleon +72,000 suffered his final drubbing by Wellington + 68,000 and Blücher +50,000  near Waterloo on the 18th June. On that day 7,000 horses were killed.

Friday 16 June 2023

A finger on the scale

ICUs are only found in a minority of hospitals because they are heavy on equipment, energy and personnel. Economies of scale require this: an ICU with one active bed is inefficient and wasteful so the expertise should be consolidated into larger units spaced further apart. 

In 2020, Coronarama caught the Irish HSE with their pants down having one of the lowest rates of ICU beds per capita in Europe [R]. The end of the year saw a decision to increase ICU beds by 75% from 255 to 446. That will bring us into line with France and Czecho rather than lock-step with UK and Slovenia. Those number indicate that ICU beds is a political / policy decision rather than a GDP necessity. Having a low number of ICU beds is not necessarily a bad thing. It means that the finite resources of the health service is sliced differently: fewer dramatic interventions with oxygen, dialysis and intubation but maybe more boring old pelvic floor surgery, mental health services for youngsters and prophylactic lifestyle, diet and exercise education. 

It is almost certainly foolish to formulate ICU policy reactively during the biggest healthcare crisis for 100 years. It's very expensive if you have to mothball all that kit and re-allocate the trained staff when the pandemic ebbs away. Ireland has a poor record in allowing [local] political expediency over-rule utilitarian number crunching: closing of Roscommon A&E we're looking at you and your self-interested TDs.

Jim Down is an intensivist = ICU consultant at UCH in central London. Like many/most ICU mavens he trained as an anaesthetist. Those are the doctors who keep you alive while the surgeon hacks away on the other side of the table. Switching to ICU gives more autonomy and a wider experience - and maybe more I averted death. Surgeons do tend to suck all the I-am-god oxygen in the room. Dr Down has written a book! Life in the Balance: a doctor's stories of intensive care [2023] which is less anecdotal and more polemical than the title implies. After a few weeks waiting I got a copy from the Library. Having a page-turner is a welcome change of medium from all the ear-books.

It is clear from this book that Jim Down prefers to welcome sick people to his ICU - so long as there's a bed, he'll mobilise his team to give it a go. He does express surprise (and some misgiving) that he has that power to give it a go independent of the bean counters elsewhere in the hospital and the NHS. A medication costing £1,500 a day [like Brineura or Orkambi] would attract a lot of skeptical scrutiny from the accountants and the medics in charge would have to make a QALY argument for their patient. One problem is that having opened the bed, they are stuck with that patient until discharge - to step-down ward or the morgue. If a young father of three appears all banged up from a car crash an hour later then the bed is gone.

Making the metaphor literal at Mad magazine.

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Big bio bog

Property is theft. Or La propriété, c'est le vol! as Proudhon first coined it in Qu'est-ce que la propriété ? ou Recherche sur le principe du Droit et du Gouvernement (1840). I've been down a biodiversity rabbit hole since International Day of BioDiv on 22nd May 2023. I don't know anyone who'd like a simpler world inhabited solely by starlings, daisies, humans and house-mice. Darwin famously, only tolerated ichneumon flies through gritted teeth, and yellow fever is no fun; but in general more [species / diversity / difference] is A Good thing.

In my mind, property developers are in the same bin as ichneumonidae and yellow-fever virus: making a living as we're all entitled to do but causing a mort o' collateral damage as they tromp through the world turning sod into cash. I wish I could [easily] discover which property developer had been able to acquire nearly 2,000 hectares of the Dublin Hills by 2008 and where they are now. Because that PropDev went bust in 2008 and that holding was acquired by NAMA, the National Asset Management Agency. In 2016, they sold it, as per policy, to Jo Public for a bargain price to the National Parks and Wildlife Service NPWS. The leader of The Green Party Eamon Ryan would like to claim this decision was on foot of his on-line petition in 2016 to save the extensive site for sphagnum and recreation rather than 'development'.

I'm not going to diss him for his contribution. The facts are that 1,983 hectares in Glenasmole, known as The Featherbeds have been on the assets of NPWS since 2016 increasing their holding in the Wicklow Mountains National Park by 9%.

Ryan was up the Featherbeds and in the news at the end of May in his characteristic white-shirt-no-tie. "The catchment-based restoration plan launched today includes measures to re-wet blanket bog and plant native trees in deep gullies to support biodiversity, water quality and flood management in south Dublin."  Politicians love to be caught planting trees. If you find that Ryan looks suspiciously similar to Ethiopian P.M. Abiy Ahmed, it's because press release photographers have a want of imagination when it comes to snapping Big Feller handles Small Tree. Our own CW/KK TD & Minister Malcolm Noonan was present also. But it takes more than planting the tree to see it through to maturity long after Ryan and Noonan and I are all dead. For starters y'gotta plant it in a suitable place, then protect it from deer, drought and dingbat walkers. 

The case has been made to re-introduce beavers Castor fiber to such soggy uplands for flood control and The Eamon Ryan Memorial Tree will make a handy addition to any dam constructed by the nearest beaver. More to the point, the NPWS are going to need buy-in from farmers who graze sheep in the uplands. There is sound / solid precedent for this in the SUAS (Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme) project, whither we went on a works-outing in 2019.

Monday 12 June 2023


We don't run a weather station Chez Blob, although gathering & tricking about with scads of data might be a good fit for obsessive me. We are blessed with data from 30km to the north by sharing a county with Alan O'Reilly at CarlowWeather. It's not quite the same weather because Mt Leinster rises between us, but O'Reilly keeps meticulous records, makes them available, and they are usually good enough

We collect rain-water because the plastic of the polytunnel is, like, waterproof and there's a feast of salad underneath. The N and S edges of the plastic bottom out into gutters [neatly levelled by Kamil and Rene last Summer] and rain is diverted thence to a pair of herring barrels at the SE and NW corners and a 1 tonne IBC inside the NE corner. The N side of the tunnel is about 500mm higher than the S and this allows us to quietly siphon water from "on high" to plants and buckets that little bit lower. Like everyone else in the count[r]y we had a good spill of rain on Mon 15th May which recharged all our containers . . . then nothing: for days, then weeks. It was like 2018 all over again when I wrote about 22 days without rain and nationwide hose-pipe bans.

After a week without rain we had distributed all our reserves and had to start pumping water from our bore-hole to service the lettuce and peas. After two weeks, the grass on the thin soil of the front yard was turning beige and umber. Dau.II announced that now would be a good time to clean out all our water containers and that involved disconnecting our two 1-tonne IBCs and going at the inside with a yard-brush. I could get inside the herring barrels [R] to give them a robust scrub and a touch of bleach. After an afternoon of heaving and rolling, everything was sparkling and sweet-smelling . . . and ready for more rain. 

I wasn't until Sat 10 June that we got any! After the droughty weeks it seemed like a lot and we took off all our clothes and danced to give thanks to the Great God Pluvium. On Sunday morning, The Beloved asked How much rain did we get yesterday? To which I replied If you wait a bit, I've just plumbed the depths of the herring barrels and need to do the calcs. The total catchment of the tunnel is 17m x 9m = 150 sq.m. or 1,500,000 Volume of an cylinder = π.r^2.depth

NW barrel: ⌀ 40cm was 35cm full = caught vol 43lt = 43,000 cc ; area served 375,000
 so rainfall 1.1mm
SE barrel ⌀ 50cm was 30cm full = caught vol 58lt = 58,000 cc ; area served 750,000
so rainfall 0.8mm

That seems scarcely credible and it's at variance with what O'Reilly recorded 30km North. But I had checked Met Eireann's rainfall radar at about lunchtime and it showed that we were between two belts of feeble rain moving SE to NW. I also checked out two wheelbarrows which had been left out through the 24 hours - they had but a few tablespoons of water in their downhill corners. So my best guess is that we had 1mm of rain on Saturday after getting nary a drip for 25 days.

“The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.”[prev]

Sunday 11 June 2023

Elf Jun Bit

Sunday Misc

Friday 9 June 2023


Whereas I am a deeply religious chap of the Methodist persuasion because Founder John Wesley did, on Tuesday, 13th June 1749, preach in the entrance hall of the olde family pile in King's County and notwithstanding that Methodists world-over celebrate Aldersgate Day upon the 24th May each year to mark the occasion when Wesley was vouchsafed a Witness of the Spirit, nay even an assurance of everlasting life . . . I did on the self-same morning approach The Ringstone as the forenoon sun shone obliquely upon its decorated face.


I was down in the Field Over The River on 24th May working along the Southern margin before the grass was too high to conceal the blackthorn Prunus spinosa suckers which have been marching out steadily from the hedgerow we planted 15 years ago to make a stock-proof fence along the boundary with our neighbour. My task was to extirpate, grub-up, destroy and wreak havoc upon these suckers, lest they get included in the hay when it be cut in July. It was hot, there was no tearing hurry, I R an olde, so I limited my effort to an hour. On the way back to the kitchen for a well deserved cup of tea, I captured a spectacular view of The Ringstone:

Whichever of the two versions of Truth you believe, and notwithstanding the mangling of picture quality to achieve a sub 100kb file size [I have readers in The Third World with cruddy bandwidth] I do declare we have a rather wonderful artifact in our custody. I have occasional twinges of guilt that after 5000 years, most of which, we surmise it was buried, either beneath the peat or in the 19thC wall, we have exposed the Ringstone to the steady fall of acid rain . . . and the reverent strokes of Wiccan-folk at midnight. When looked at, face on, in normal overcast, drizzly weather it looks quite unremarkable. Perhaps it's the familiarity but clearly an acute slanting sun brings out every scratch ad maioram deorum gloriarum [I see you Loki, Pan and Set].

I thought it would be symmetrical and neat to take another picture with the sun in the West and the other side of the marks are in shadow, so I went down at ca. teatime the same day and found that the sun was still very much on face, when I went back an hour later I was still too early. And shortly thereafter a belt of rainless clouds [did I mention we were two weeks into a drought?] put an end of any direct sunlight of whatever angle. I'm a busy fellow, so I wasn't about to tramp through our traditional hay-meadow every 15 minutes to check if the angle was right. So (clever me) I whipped out my smart-phone to take a bearing on the face of the Ringstone to find that it was oriented at 112° or more-or-less ESE - or WNW if you dig with the other foot.

We only have one sun and its rays are parallel regardless of local position. Accordingly, I transferred the geomancy geometric / astronomical problem to the stone coffee table in the yard about 4m from our front door. A metre-stick stolen from the trash at The Institute 5 or 6 years ago [be friendly and polite to the cleaning staff!] was set to the correct angle [see R] and a fancy olive-oil bottle was co-opted as a gnomon. This showed that I'd have to wait until about 19:30hrs to get the right sort of sun . . . and pray for clear skies. Conjunction! - everything came together after supper in Friday 26th May.

And I therefore bring to the eternal record of religious artifacts and practices a picture taken of the Ringstone Left Ascension:

Which is different, yet the same, as the representation at the top of the post, no?

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Sorry for your trouble

Ann Marie Hourihane is a Dublin journalist, she has written memorable obits on such celebs as Gay Byrne and Marian Finucane. Her father, Dermot Hourihane, a pathologist and social pioneer who took the fight to the Catholic church before it was fashionable to do so, died in the first summer of Covid [Obit BMJ].  Because she's a writer, she wrote about the messy, busy days surrounding that transition. Hindsight allowed the chagrin that her own demeanor and actions had been, hmmm, imperfect. Including some of those acknowledged insensitivities in the account shows a certain self-awareness and humility. Someone, quite possibly herself, must have suggested that others would benefit from hearing the story because it would surely resonate for anyone who was a) Irish b) recently bereaved. Too short for a book, too long for a column . . . why not make it a book chapter?

And so Sorry for Your Trouble; the Irish way of death was published the following year.  I was recently gifted a copy by a friend who is, like me, engaged with end of life issues. It is well written if, given the subject matter, not always an easy read. But it's like Hourihane has riffled through her back-catalogue looking for keyword "death" and decided to incorporate all the hits into the one book. One standout inappropriate inclusion is a superficial (1500 word) look at the horrors of the meat trade, including a visit to a working abattoir.  This section is tucked in between a chapter on cillíní - where unbaptized children are interred - and the Islamic burial practices for men of our Bosniac community. The funerary practice of Ireland's Muslim women is in yet another part of the book. That's great; Ireland is no longer a Catholic monoculture and we need to know - respeck! - how our neighbours do this stuff.

My beef? In predominantly meat-eating Ireland, giving parity of esteem to the slaughter of a surplus heifer and the death of children with fatal fetal abnormalities will be a juxtaposition too far. But maybe that's okay - a book that doesn't change the way we think is not worth reading.

There are other chapters - which all deserve a book on their own - 

  • about the terrible association been drink, invincibility and driving that runs through young Irish men
  • about the sad, brutal, high-life and mean death of drug-dealers in our inner city ghettos
  • ditto young republican foot-soldiers during the troubles
  • the brutal degradation, abuse and death-by-who-gives-a-fuck-here of kids by [members of] the Catholic Church . . . and the Church's institutional insolence and entitlement in response to whistle-blowers

The book still contains some examples of authorial entitlement and affect-blindness. The opening chapter and the penultimate chapter are about the passing of "Bernie" who seems to have come over the Hourihane horizon because a) she was dying b) it wouldn't be too long c) the family were willing to accept a crow on the wall to witness their comings and Bernie's going. A whole blanket of unconsidered conflict of interest permeates those bookend chapters. Likewise Hourihane manages to arrive late to country singer Big Tom's funeral in Monaghan but still manages to blag her way to a seat in the church - depriving that access to someone who actually knew or was related to the star of the media show. And pronoun-sensitive me winced when dead babies were by default referred to as 'it'; that's tone deaf.

If you're Irish, or live there, and you're going to die then there's much to be gleaned from reading this book.

Monday 5 June 2023

Agar agar

Years ago The Boy came back from his year in New Zealand and stopped off in Bali because it was there: on the way, like. He even fell in with a French girl with whom he sustained a long distance relationship - London / Montpellier - for a while. But beyond "Indonesia", I might have been hard-put to locate Bali within the archipelago. It turns out that it's the island immediately to the East of Java and only a 4km ferry journey from the larger island. It takes 45 minutes from Ketapang in Java and Gilimanuk in Bali and costs 6,500 IDR one way which is about 50c US!

It's a wider passage to the next island, Lombok, and the intervening strait is much more significant because the Wallace Line [prev] funnels straight through it. The Wallace Line marks a major change in the flora and especially the fauna between Asia vs Wallacea, a transitional zone between Asia and Australia [lorra marsupials, Eucalyptus etc.]. If you look closely at the map [L] filched from Wikipedia, you'll see that the line [carelessly] cuts right across an island on the Bali side of the strait. That can't be correct, and it turns out that there are three islands- Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan - not just one; although they are all in the same administrative district . . . and on the Asian side of the Wallace Line.

I think it's probably fair to say that nobody who lives on Nusa Lembongan cares tuppence about how close they are to the biogeographical delimiter. They are much more interested in scrabbling together enough to send the kids to school in shoes and have a few beers on the weekend. The island is, literally, a tropical paradise IF you rock up with some hard currency which, as we see from the ferry price above, goes a long way. A few beers all week long, indeed. Someone has to serve those beers and rent out surf-boards and so there is a living to be made from tourism.

During the pandemic, however, tourists dried up and blew away and local entrepreneurs returned to their previous vocation of farming sea weed. In particular the red algae Eucheuma cottonii and E. spinosum. The islands of Lembongan and Ceningan are separated by a shallow tidal lagoon and currently drone-footage shows the sea-bottom is carved up into roughly rectangular patches of different colours depending on how recently the algae has been harvested. It's a bit precarious because the whole area could be tossed to buggery if/when a powerful tropical cyclone passes through. But depending on the global market place for carageenan seaweed can be part of the local economy as well as supplying sunscreen to beach-bums.

It wasn't ever thus! Before the sea was farmed it was fished and however the commons were distributed then, it surely wasn't dependent on a rectangular grid.

Carageenan is widely used as a stabilizer, thickener, gelling agent, emulsifier, and protective colloid which prevents crystallization when a paste is desired. The gloop is widely used in the food industry, medicine, microbiology [Petri dishes] cosmetics, textiles, paints, toothpaste . . . so many emulsions in tins and tubes across the developed world.

Sunday 4 June 2023

Pat his day

It's June, it's Sunday, it's miscellany

Friday 2 June 2023

Knuttel gone

Back in the early 90s, before we acquired two more children, we had a social life. Our pal D was visiting from London and we all went into town on Saturday morning to get coffee and buns and check out whaaat's happenin'? It was a teeny bit more focussed for D because he wanted to check out the New Apollo Gallery in Duke Street for contemporary art. D was a very successful corporate lawyer [with a heart of gold!] and was acquiring a modest collection of paintings. The Beloved and D dove right in, pulling paintings out of bins and appraising those which were good enough to deserve hanging. The Arts Block is quite outside my wheelhouse, so I chatted in a desultory manner in front-of-shop with The Proprietor, hereinafter "cloaky-bollix", who was high camp self-consciously artistic in demeanour. I was able to establish that I was The Money -  ready to whip out the cheque-book if T.B. saw something she liked. Eventually, they came from out back with a medium sized oil: Still-life with aubergines by Graham Knuttel:

I cut a cheque [remember them?] and we came away with another item of stuff. D preferred Knuttel's pictures of gangster's and cooks and, although he bought nothing that Saturday, he acquired a good few Knuttels in that style. A few years later, Sylvester "Rocky" Stallone was shooting a film in Ireland and discovered Knuttel on one of his rest-days. Back home in Hollywood, he shared his find with Robert de Niro, Frank Sinatra and other celebs. Prices went up! Institutions [banks, colleges, galleries] jumped on the latest fad. Prices went UP! Those aubergines became our successful flutter on the Grand National: without knowing much, through happenstance, we turned out lucky. Nobody could have predicted the cultural collision of eggplants with Der Penis in Emoji-speak, for example. Perhaps this makes our acquisition even more valuable than Knuttel's fascist chef vibe.

Knuttel's dead now. From one of his supporting galleries an Obit. I guess our aubergines will have another brief spike in 'value' as cognoscenti twig that there will be no more new Knuttels to hang or hoard.

Dau.II was born in 1995; more or less bald but blonde round the edges. This was in stark contrast to her dark curly-haired older sister. A month later was their mother's birthday and I took time off work [I was the Director and Sole Employee of Binfo Ireland so I could] to rustle up a giftie. Heading for Bewley's for chocolates or coffee, I passed Cloaky-bollix's store front and, on impulse went in. I don't piffle about. About 10 minutes later I came out with two Madonna-and-childs by Rachel Strong who had recently broken up with Knuttel. Some people have seen her as Frida Kahlo to Knuttel as Diego Rivera. They clearly shared a palette and way-of-seeing as well as breakfast:

I thought it was clever-hilarious that these two views of motherhood were such a good match for our own two childer.