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


    Friday 11 August 2023

    Banged up in Chokey

    Michael Rosen read a book and invited the author Andy West in to chat on the Word of Mouth podcast. That book is The Life Inside: A Memoir of Prison, Family and Learning to Be Free (2022). It is not the same thing at all as A Bit of a Stretch by Chris Atkins [Guardian review] which I read in 2020. . Atkins actually did 9 months in Wandsworth for tax fraud whereas West is only in for regular three hour sojourns before going home for his tea; teaching Philosophy in a number of different parts of the English Prison service. To be fair, West's father, brother and uncle were all at different times detained by the English criminal justice system and talked [and talked] about their experiences: so he has that insight as well.

    Philosophy considers the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, existence, and how to behave. You might imagine those ideas would be on message for people who have lonnng hours each day to reflect on life, the universe and everything. West has been working for the prison service for 5 years now, and has accumulated hundreds of hours of interaction with people who have offended against one or many of the precepts of civil society as it is structured by The Man. Most inmates are not BAFTA nominated documentary film-makers like Chris Atkins. They are much more likely to have spent thirteen years in the army before becoming homeless and then ending up in prison. Around one in ten men inside are armed forces veterans, swapping one regime for another. Regiment > regime, geddit? It is ironic that the military-industrial complex depends on dehumanising squaddies in order to sell more land-mines and missile-guidance systems [my Dad's speciality] and then is surprised that the transgress the rules of civil society.

    The Life Inside has been shuffled and sorted into 20 chapters dealing with different aspects of the human condition and how named philosophers (Becket, Bentham, Berger, Boethius, Breton; and that's just the Bs) have thought or written about these weighty matters. What are your thoughts on . . . Identity - Freedom - Shame - Desire - Luck - Happiness - Time - Madness - Trust - Salvation - Forgetting - Trust - Looking - Laughter - Race - Inside - Change - Stories - Home - Kindness? You'll get more out the book if you've nodded in those directions before hearing a snippet of discussion from one of West's classrooms. 

    Then again, this book is not Philosophy 101 it is A Memoir of Prison, Family and Learning to Be Free . . . and eating a lot of custard creams while visiting his Nan. It also touches on the normalization of mental health issues in self, in family and in society. Of course prisoners are likely to be off the rails, if not all the time. But we don't all carry The Executioner around in our heads or cannot leave the house without believing we've left the cooker on. Still, ya got to hand it to folks who can give back to society by making things a little kinder for the dispossessed.

    Wednesday 9 August 2023

    Pilgrim's Progress

    . . . from this world to that which is to come. [that's Bunyan] I'm sorry to hear that John "Camino" Brierley, enthusiastic writer about, and facilitator of ,the process of pilgrimage, is dead. Cancer; at Dartmouth in the S.W of England.  He's a few years older than me but still had a lot to give. I gather that his daughter Gemma has been recently taking up the slack on the relentless process of churning out his useful and appealing guides to the several Caminos leading to Santiago de Compostella. Few indeed achieve satori from the exercise and many are disappointed that their pilgrimage hasn't worked. But lookit, one of the wise people I met on my Camino in Regresso in 2004 quipped: "When your camino ends, the journey begins". Because change is hard; but the most difficult task is to change ourselves.

    It's easy to give a tetchy harrumph to the idea of pilgrim guidebooks. That elusive satori may slip through your fingers if you treat the journey as paint-by-numbers. I remember space-time being disturbed by a turmoil of anxiety when I encountered a group of pilgrims at one of the rare forks in the road which were missing the    to show The Way as if that direction was the only option at any intersection. But heck, it's hard enough to walk 100km or 700km to Santiago without doing it on your knees . . . or without a Brierley booklet. No need to go all Joshua Slocum circumnavigating the globe with an old alarm clock for a chronometer - GPS is okay. And, for sure, the demand is there: 1 million copies have been sold in several languages.

     My sister met Johnny Brierley in the 1980s when they were both finding their way in Findhorn. Years later, we all went for a pint in Slad, Gloucs about 5 years after I returned from Fisterra. I was on the fifth draft of my own Analysis of the Process of Pilgrimage and realising that writing the goll-dang thing was enough and it didn't need to be published. As you do, we swapped yarns and ideas about Santiago, the Camino and life-the-universe-and-everything. I liked him and wasn't off-put by the inner light which made his gaze a bit intense. I sent him a message and he replied

    I, likewise, enjoyed our brief encounter and stories of El Camino. Thank you for sending me your treatise on the adventures through Portugal and Spain – I found it delightful and illuminating to read and I particularly endorse the tripartite nature of an extended walk and the need to 'allow the time it takes'. It is also my experience that the journey only really deepens to a spiritual dimension once sufficient time has been spent in the physical and psychological realms. Alas too often we allow time constraints to interfere with the alchemical process and to rob us of the potential of achieving altered states (whether body, mind or soul).
    Let the journey continue with joy and lightness of step. Johnny.

    Gemma Brierley has apparently been instrumental in getting the Camino Inglés to Santiago from Reading to Southampton into a state fit for pilgrimage - more yellow arrows are doubtless needed! Johnny's death created a bit a stir at the time [Obits - Guardian -- Camino Society wch was syndicated to The Reactograph] but not enough to ring my doorbell then. Here's Johnny talking quietly YT-4½min about empty mind. Ultreïa? Sing it!

    Monday 7 August 2023

    Fibre to the casa

    We live remote - "can't get further from a bus-stop and still be in Leinster" - but we're not luddites and comms have been a priority from the start of our adventure up the Red Hill. When we moved on-site in July 1996 there was no water, and defo no telephone. When we called the ESB to supply electricity they deemed our pitch-pine electric poles to be a) 1st generation Shannon Scheme b) due for replacement. So we acquired for free two poles which we cut to size for everlasting fence posts. Indeed our front-gate still swings on one.  If we'd needed a totally new line, the ESB would have charged us for each pole needed to connect from the nearest existing mains line. Telecoms otoh had a flat installation / connexion fee of £130 whether that was flipping a switch in the exchange or, as for us, putting up 5 new poles striding uphill across the fields. During the interim wait, The Beloved insisted on renting by the month one of the early brick-sized mobile phones - it had an aerial!

    In due course we got dial-up through Telecom Internet which morphed into Eircom all of which were expensive a woeful slow. The Boy was moaning on about our service to one of his techie city-pals but was stopped by the rebuttal "Your parents? they can see the sky?" because the Astra satellite operated by SES (Société Européenne des Satellites), launched in December 1988, would solve any connectivity problems in the EU.  Eventually we settled into a cozy relationship with whose mast on Knockmore at the end of the valley worked fine; so long as the receiver was hanging in a West-facing upstairs window frame. Once, I went to their shop to complain about a minor glitch in service and the spotty youth suggested that I there-and-then cancel our existing €60/mo contract and start a new one with twice the GB allowance for €31.50! It's been fine ever since. I think they announced unilaterally that they were giving us unlimited broadband access.

    Telephone has been a whole other world of pain.  A decade ago we switched from Eircom to Digiweb because a) they were offering a cheaper package b) Eircom had a terrible reputation for customer service: folks would schedule a whole lunch break to call the Eircom help-line aka listen to Greensleeves. We were the last house on the copper wire which looped along through the roadside hedges from the Enniscorthy exchange. Herons or over-loaded tractors would carry away a section of the 20 km line; we'd call Digiweb; they'd try to blame us . . . and then call Eir(com) who still owned all the lines; we were told to expect resumed service within 5 working days. It was never 2 working days and was often a bit over 5. Digiweb knew this was acceptable ineptitude because everyone had a mobile phone anyway. Then we took our lightning strike last Christmas and nothing was ever right again. We had the engineers out 4 times in 2023, they would announce that's fixed and depart. One dogged tech spent 2½ hours on site, including 45 minutes up the pole, trying to work out what was wrong. The phone was out for more days than it was in.

    Because our internet was good enough, we didn't pay any attention to the National Broadband Scheme; first announced Ta-RAAAA by Minister Pat Rabbitte in 2012. Broadband is a highly competitive, lucrative market in cities. Out along the byways and bogs of rural Ireland? not so much interest from commercial companies. The contract to delive the last mile of connectivity to every Eircode in the country is vested in the quango NBI which subcontracts the cable-pulling to other companies, like Circet. But I can't talk direct to Circet, I have to first choose an ISP, who orders Circet to deliver the signal to our home. There are 29 separate companies offering Bband in the country. That's enough options to ensure we did nothing because bogged by choice BBC. But our neighbour sold his soul to Vodafone one of the 29, professed himself delirah and told the Vodafone sales-rep to call up to us. It was like pushing at an open door because their deal would include landline phone as well as interwebroadband - for the same money as we were paying Three for just the wireless broadband.  We too drank the Vodafone kool-aid and a few weeks later Circet sent out a surveyor to count the poles between our gaff and the county road.

    Same surveyor came back exactly a month later because having input our data into the Circet computer, it was promptly corrupted and set to brrrrrrrrrr. More photos of the poles with a GPS coordinated iPad, more chat about how useless and feck-free were desk-jockeys in head office; another promise that a technical engineer would be out within two weeks. 

    But this time, the engineer pulled into our yard three working days later. He unloaded a 500m drum of fibre optic cable, a hammer, some staples&ties and a ladder and set to work. Wouldn't accept a cup of tea or an ice-cream. 3hr40m later he'd strung the cable, cleated it round the soffit, down the wall and through a new 10mm hole in the 500mm thick granite wall at the back of the house. Inside it was all connected to a modem and a wifi router and they were plugged into the electric and we were good to go. The broadband started as soon as I typed in the pswd and it took just 24 hours for the phone number to switch providers. So now we've joined the 21stC! Streeeeeeeming!

    Note: My Circet gossources claim that NBI bills you&me the taxpayer, through the government, €700 for every pole they place. more that 1.5 million will be required - heck we would have needed five just for our one house. So that's €1 billion give or take just for the poles. The Poles taking GPS pictures of poles and more Poles pulling the cable and making the connexions and all those desk-people losing input data they are estimated to drain another €4 billion. Bonkers fills in some detail including the super-sketchy 2017 tendering process.

    Policy choice: this centre-right government would rather fork over €5bn so that rural folk can watch Netflix like their town-dwelling pals and buy a lorra stuff without leaving the kitchen table. That's good for the economy. Using the same money to build 10,000 €500K social-housing homes? not so much. But I'm sure you could talk to Vodafone about getting broadband installed in your cardboard city favela out near the airport at Knock.

    Sunday 6 August 2023

    Rolling home

    Turning towards the Gordon Bok we're all at sea today

    Friday 4 August 2023


    KAPLA was was brought into the world in 1987 by Dutch antique-dealer and antiquary Tom van der Bruggen. He needed simple building blocks to help visualize his own Grand Designs project in S. France and Lego wouldn't do. Nor would any other commercially available product, so he invented and fabricated his own KAbouter PLAnkjes [en: gnome plankies]. It would have been my jam entirely, but even for The Boy [b. 1975] Kapla came a bit too late and we both had to make do with Lego. Each Kaplank has dimensions 11.7cm x 2.34cm x 0.78cm [ratio 5 : 3 : 1]. Using glue or Sugru, let alone nails, is considered cheating.

    You can buy as many as you want can afford  here.
    It occurred to me what the mark-up might be:

    Best price is bulk price, buying 1,000 plankies at €240 is 24c each or 1c per
    You can buy an 8 ft length of 2 x 4 carpenter's timber: dimensions 240cm x 10cm x 4.4cm for about €6. That has enough to make 500 little planks . . . at about 1/20th the price. That's an option if you have a chop-saw, a sander and a lot of time . . . and don't forget PPE because saw-dust is carcinogenic.

    Normal people hope for a rich and indulgent auntie to come through at Christmas.

     And the result is . . . building a huge 'dry-stone' tower and then causing its controlled demolition. So completely different from Jenga where the idea is controlled undemolition. Jengas are 7.5cm x 2.5cm x 1.5cm [ratio 5 : 5/3 : 1] and a standard N = 54 set can be had for €16-€20 from a toy store near you. The price for these slightly larger blocks is also about 1c per Pity the two systems are fabricated at different base dimensions.

    Wednesday 2 August 2023

    Pedigree etymologee

     I secured my first proper job in a British University in NE England. I spent a lot of time in the University library. Reading to work out what I wanted to teach in my course Evolution: from primeval soup to hominid nuts; at evening book-binding class / workshop; scouring the stacks in search of something for the weekend. I was six years = 300 weekends in post, so by the time I jacked it in to walk up the coast of Portugal, I had borrowed a lot of books. Butterfly me never thought to keep a record of my butterfly reading until I was so many books under the bridge that it seemed futile. Part of me wanted to ask for a download of the electronic records of my borrowings but I was too shy and that never happened. I do remember looking at the date-stamp fiche in the fly of each book and reflecting that I was either a) the first person ever to borrow that book or b) it was years and years since the last person. Reading off piste gave an airing to so many minority books. 

    I was reminded of those distant days when I ordered up a 50 year old book from Libraries Ireland towards the middle of July. It arrived (from Limerick) rather quickly because nobody else had wanted to read it since 1976! I was induced to read it by Brett Westwood talking to Michael Rosen in an episode of the latter's Word of Mouth podcast: Lords and Ladies: Folk Names for Plants and Flowers. And the book is Pedigree : The Origins of Words from Nature (1973) by Stephen Potter & Rev. Laurens C. Sargent, which is #56 in Collins New Naturalist series.

    There are no car-chases or explosions in this book which was compiled from a ragged collection of Potter's notes after he died. Potter is better is better known for his book Gamesmanship or The Art Of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating (1947). Indeed, notwithstanding the book-plate [L] it is not the book to borrow from the library and read over the next 20 days: it is too dense with Indo-European roots and 17thC citations to be a breezy read. There is a microfont index at the back with 2,000+ entries you need to absorb that much detail over several sessions. Dang but I thought from the context that "from Willughby" was a placename in England but it turned out to be the naturalist Francis Willughby FRS (1635 – 1672). Taking notes from Potter's book of notes could be a Korzybski's Errand because the map will be the territory.

    Still and all, I did learn a lot by judiciously plucking words, phrases and explanations from the data-deluge as it roared past my eyes. Potter notes that raven seems to be a long old way etymologically from corvus . . . unless you know that Anglo-Saxon hraefn shares a legitimate first syllable root with cor. That rang a bell because of a similar connexion between our and L. cor, cordis. Both derived from *ḱérd (“heart”):

    • either M.E. herte, from O.E. heorte  from Proto-West Germanic *hertā, from Proto-Germanic *hertô 
    • or L. cordis via Gk καρδιά

    With great good timing Aedin Ni Thiarnaigh, of Bláthanna Fiáine Walking Tours was talking up the naming of plants on RTE on Dia do Santiago last week.