Friday 29 December 2023

Грілка Зеленського

Julian Barnes, English littérateur with an affinity for La Belle France, was short-listed for the 1984 Booker Prize with Flaubert's Parrot. I might have read it at the time, because it's a bit off-kilter and "post-modern". But I can't really remember the story of one man's obsession with the stuffed parrot(s) which may have sat on Gustav Flaubert's desk. Something set me to thinking about other left-field object-person associations: like Captain Danjou's artificial hand.

Грілка Зеленського [Hrilka Zelensʹkoho] = Zelenskyy's hot-water bottle might be a contemporary example. €4 hot-water bottles were on special in LIDL at the beginning of December. Dang! that was effectively two weeks too late because I'd already made my annual November pilgrimage to McCauley's pharmacy to buy a tuthree of their fleece-covered bed-warmers. For several years they were €5: less a 15% Black Friday discount if you're there on the right day. In 2022 they'd gone up to €6! and this year they're asking €7. I bought some anyway because they don't last forever: as a family we've had a few injuries sustained from water bottle failures.

We were passing through Waterford to put Dau.II on the train back to Dublin after a couple of days of driving lessons. She asked to stop in LIDL to see if they had more of their €4 hot-water bottles, they were sold out in Smithfield. And that's how I was persuaded to buy an olive drab hot-water bottle - not my first choice; my only choice. My McCauley hotties tend to shocking pink or polka dot

You can maybe see where this is going? We all know that 

  • it's Winter in Kyiv and even more Baltic than, like, the Baltic
  • there's disruption in the fuel supply
  • President Zelenskyy eschews suits and power-ties, preferring olive drab T-shirts which don't show the dirt

I may be over-empathizing but I can imagine him sitting in the Pres Palace when the central heating is fritzed again. If only I had a Грілка he might muse. Although he has a sense of humour, hugging a pink polka dot hot-water bottle might be a bridge too far in the propaganda war. A LIDL olive drab number might supply some discrete core-body warmth.

You are at liberty to imagine Julian Barnes' grand-daughter writing a post-apocalypse memoir about her search for the authentic hot-water bottle with which Zelenskyy saw Ukraine to victory. Lionel Messi's world cup soccer shirts sell for $1 million each.

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Slip sliding away

One of the potent metaphors in Colm Tóibín's The Heather Blazing [prev] is that the the family's holiday home place is on the Irish Sea facing coast of Wexford. They've been going down there every year since the foundation of the state and every year another section of cliff has been undercut by the waves and the sea is a few inches or a few feet closer to the back door. It's like Lal and Willie Pierce's place in Ballyhealy.

Hemsby in Norfolk has been in the news at the end of November because a 30m section of a concrete road, servicing a couple of dozen wooden homes, collapsed into the sea during a storm so unspectacular that it didn't even warrant a name. This came a couple of months after a palpably sad tale of compulsory eviction and preemptive demolition of a widow-woman's home. It was one of five homes grubbed up and taken away under the same order. No compo, no counselling, no option, little notice. I suppose, it's better thus that allowing all that timber & paint & nails & copper-wire to float out to sea like a fleet of Fukushima shipping hazards. On Saturday 9th Dec, the 5 houses isolated by the collapsed road were demolished.

There is a long history of lost villages all along the East coast from Ipswich to Scarborough. From the top: Clare, Shipden, Foulness, Whimpwell, Keswick, Eccles, Waxham Parva, Ness, Newton Cross.  It's not all about global warming and sea-level rise; because geologists reckon that the East side of England is pitching down as the West side of the tectonic platelet rebounds from its load after the last ice age.

I was so taken with the story that I pitched it to Metafilter on the 7th Dec where the response was quotidian. Florida is a bigger story on disappearing beach-front property, especially if you value dollars over "heritage".

There is a utilitarian argument to be made. Nederland is throwing a lot more treasure, steel, groynes, pumps and dyke at the rising tides than Little Hans plugging a hole with his fist; although it has sometimes been een dubbeltje op zijn kant. The Brits can't or won't protect the whole of their exposed coast, so someone must decide who/what shall be saved. Even a few kilometers of rip-rap rock berm costs out at £15million - rising to £20m adjusted for grift inflation. That's about 2x the value of the 60 homes which have been lost to the waves over the last 30 years. It cost £80m to beef-up the sea wall in Dawlish [bloboprev] with, like, a proper engineered solution. But Dawlish is a town and its railway is a vital infrastructural bottleneck. It's easy for the mandarins in London to write off and Other the alternative types who live in wooden chalets among the eroding dunes of Hemsby.

Something can be done . . . if Shell Oil picks up the tab to keep its North Sea gas terminal.

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Chinese boggle

In the run up to Dau.II's driving test, I was, several times, unceremoniously shoved out of The Grape in various bleak settings in SW Waterford City. My place being taken by Damian the driving instructor or Darren the driving tester. What to do? Driving School Centraal in Woodie's Car Park is a brisk 15 minute walk from, say, the City Library; but the RSA driving test centre is way off on the Ring Road. I had ~45 minutes to kill there, the drizzle was light, so I headed off towards a Stuff Shop called The Range which we'd passed on the way into the industrial estate. So much to tempt the unwary:

  • Arthritis Glass Jar Opener Lid Remover - White
  • Counter Top Ice Maker Machine - Copper
  • Peppa Pig Acoustic Guitar - Blue
  • Industrial Iron Bar Chair - Dark Brown
  • Cat Cave - Navy

But I got caught in the craft section and bought one "Pack of 100 Art Studio Wooden Alphabet Beads" for what-could-possibly-go-wrong? €1.30. I thought they'd make a novelty stocking filler for Gdau.II [8] at Christmas. Returning home, I spilled the 1cm x 1cm cubes into a shallow bowl, resolved to thread the beads on a bit of string so that it spelled something nice. My nice is not Gdau.II's nice, though . . . I don't believe in unicorns for starters. The letter-bracelet -necklace was just an idea. 

I scrabbled about looking for an S - the 8th most common letter in English and the normal way of making the plural. There was only one S! - and that a mis-shape. If you count this hirpled S, there was at least one bead representing each of our 26 letters, rarities like Q Z and J included. So the composition of the bag-of-100 cannot be random.  The beads are made in - surprise! - the PRC = People's Republic of China. Perhaps the foreman or marketing manager chose them so that patriotic messages could be easily written with this tool. "LOLS" is difficult but Xian, Qi and Zhu are much easier. Bloboprev on letter freq.

Here's the scatterplot of the 26 letter freqs in the OxEngDict compared to PplRepChina as represented in the archives of Art Studio and The Range. The letters appear chosen to be completely unrelated to their frequency in English. So The Range, a British firm headquartered in Plymouth, are not serving anglophone literacy with this particular toy.

Sunday 24 December 2023

Kurisumasu Ibu

= クリスマス  イブ. Our Dublin Outpost were given leave to return to base on Thursday 21Dec. We are now Dunnes, Dunne [Matt R] DONE! with the [modest] Christmas shopping.

  • Tomorrow is Christmas. If you're here in Blobland rather than in the bosom of your family, you'll probably need a play list. There's a nice one compiled by randommers on MetaFilter: Bittersweet it be. 
  • If you want to keep your mind limber, and won't do Sudoku, you may enjoy supporting the UK security establishment
  • Timeguessr wants you to infer time and place of 5 glossy photos; again via MeFi

And here's Santa Nollaig:

More later in the week. Not tomo though, I'll be concentrating on rissoles and roasters tomorrow.

Friday 22 December 2023

N [S P E etc.] plates

Since 1st Aug 2014, drivers are required to display N for novice plates on the car for two years after passing the test. There are other restrictions. RSA's "research tells us that novice drivers are most likely to be killed on our roads in the first two years after passing their test due to their inexperience". But I doubt if they have separated out young [male] drivers from drivers immediately after their test; because the overlap between these constituencies is very high.

I know that Dau.II is a more careful driver than me  . . . and for sure (for the next couple of months!) she knows the highway code and the meaning of the dozens of signs, some quite peculiar, that grace our roads.

Quiz. Please describe and define the difference between each pair of similar-looking signs! If you can't get 100% on this, I advise that you make and display on your car an S to indicate sign-ignorance.

Got any penalty points? That is evidence that you have displayed [reckless] disregard of the roads signs - I'm guessing that most penalty points are from speeding - all 6 of mine have been. Note I have long since "purged my contempt". I suggest that the public needs to know the deficiencies of such drivers' skill. Perhaps one P sign for every point? Points are never awarded as singletons, maybe as a concession the RSA will allow them to be displayed at half the size of L and N plates. You can bet there will be a lot more push-back from Jo Public on that one. It's much easier to Other and stigmatize absolute beginners.

And what about the dithery Olds?? [prev] Several years ago, my mother shared some news about one of her 80-something neighbours. This old dear had just deposited a car load of garden clippings at the recycling and compost centre. On leaving, she reversed at speed across the car-park and whannnnged into two other cars. The police were called. With commendable compassion and pragmatism, it was agreed that IF the neighbour turned in her driving licence THEN she would be spared an appearance in court. I felt a rush of empathy because the first time I, aged ?16?, was put behind the wheel of a car by my father, I contrived to reverse at speed across the car-park and whannnnged into a pile of roof-tiles breaking a few and the brake-light cover.

My current 10 year licence expires [5 months early] next June when I turn 70. Other road users need to know that someone with slow reactions, defective hearing and / or compromised sight is behind the wheel . . . to give us old buffers a bit more time, space and courtesy. I suggest E for Elder. Actually, maybe we can make it like pre-emptively declaring your pronouns on e-mail footers. If everyone displays a red letter on white sign according to their driving deficiencies, then the poor N for novices won't feel so stigmatized.

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Umami €25/kg

Last weekend we were resident in the Tramore Multi-species Care and Rest Home. The lines were quite blurry as to who was an inmate and who running this asylum. The Owner / Matron / CnC was away on a week's respite - absolutely deserved and not half long enough. The resident rescue dog has been in the wars these last couple of years: so many buffets of outrageous fortune. The poor cr'ature deserves a bit of coddling. But not coddle! "2 large onions, cut into slices" makes that streng verboden because dogs are lack the enzymes to process N-propyl disulphide, so that hangs around in the circulation to blat glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in red blood cells resulting in anaemia. Propyl disulphides are what give onions, garlic, shallots their honkin' quality and make yor eyes water when you slice them.

The science is all at NCBI: Some food toxic for pets Interdiscip Toxicol. 2009 Sep; 2(3): 169–176.

This dog vs allium war was completely new to me when Dau.II told me about on the way back to the Home from Tesco. Retail therapy was our small treat for having had an hour's successful driving practice with no strikes or dings. For both of us Retail therapy is more like Retail penance but we were in the car and we'd been tasked to do the messages. On the list was a "packet of stock-cubes that aren't cubes" for the ailing dog, to encourage her to eat and keep up her strength. The irony being that we'd just bought Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pot 8's 224G [at back L] which affirms (on the packet-back) "slowly simmered with onion and thyme" - ONION!!

Big red face! I volunteered to trot up the hill to [the nearer emporium] Supervalu to buy Knorr Beef Stock Pot 4's 112g [at front L] which is by contrast "slowly simmered with parsley and carrot". ONION!!

I cannot forebore to drill down into the ToC . . .

  • Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pot 8's 224G
    • Water, salt, BARLEY malt extract, flavourings (MILK), beef fat ((beef fat, antioxidant (extracts of rosemary)) (2.6%), beef stock powder (2.5%), yeast extract, caramel syrup, potassium chloride, maltodextrin, sugar, gelling agents (xanthan gum, locust bean gum), onion juice concentrate†, sunflower oil, beef powder (0.1%), lemon juice powder (lemon juice, maltodextrin), lovage roots†, thyme†. † Sustainably grown
  • Knorr Beef Stock Pot 4's 112g
    • Water, salt, flavourings, beef fat (beef fat, antioxidant (extracts of rosemary)) (5.2%), yeast extract, beef stock powder (2%), potassium chloride, gelling agents (xanthan gum, locust bean gum), caramel syrup, maltodextrin, sugar, carrots†, lovage root†, sunflower oil, beef powder (0.1%), leek†, parsley†. †Sustainably grown
Woot! Woot! leek† = allium alert. But if beef powder is (0.1%), sustainably grown leek must be less than 1 part in 1,000. And dig the lovage Levisticum officinale root! That's a real minority herb: in the same family (Umbelliferae aka Apiaceae) as celery, carrot and parsley but much more in your face. Celery-with-a-bludgeon!

Monday 18 December 2023

Buddha of the unwashed

<Groupie alert>One of the questions on a recent The Rest is Politics (Question Time) was "What are you reading now?" Alastair Campbell gave a plug for Jim Down's Life in the Balance; we're on the same page with that. Rory Stewart, in contrast went with In Love with the World by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. dus: not Aura Dione! Being a loyal TRIP foot-soldier, I immediately checked out the earbook on Borrowbox </Groupie alert>. The next day, I was cast loose car-less for an hour in Waterford so I walked into the Central Library and borrowed their dead-tree copy of the same book. Mingyur Rinpoche was born the same year as The Boy, but in Nepal rather than Dublin; and as the descendant of Tibetan kings rather than horse-riding protestants from King's County.

Following the tradition of Gautama Buddha [aka The Great Man], at the age of 36, Prince Yongey did a midnight flit from his privileged position as Abbot of a well-appointed monastery and went on retreat among the Great Unwashed of India. The book is

  • a narrative of the first part of that journey
  • a set of lessons on how to deal with suffering [snot, snores, stink and nowhere to sit on the train to Varanasi for starters] 
  • a wordbook of technical terms in Tibetan, Pali and Sanskrit: ahiṃsā bhikku chanda dana koan mondo namo roshi samsara tulku vipassana zazen. 
    • Google up the ones you don't know - there will be a test at 11:00.

Mingyur had intended to go on his [self-]discovery pilgrimage for 3 years and come back to his patrimony with more compassion and a few IRL stories to use as parables and liven up his teaching. Escaping from his minders at midnight having ordered a taxi for the train-station was in the nature of a schoolboy jape. Sitting in a jam-packed train bound for Varanasi being bumped by lousy neighbours; assaulted by the reek of the privy and startled awake by the train's whistle . . . not so much. He couldn't even honour his intentions to sleep in the station concourse the next night, paying a pittance for a dorm room instead. Baby steps, pilgrim! Reality is harder than the well-planned fantasy. 

In any case, this Rinpoche had a near-death experience [of the puka-puka, shit and go blind, dehydration, delirium and coma variety] just 3 weeks into his 3 year excursion. At some time during this ordeal, he realised that with one bound he could be free because he'd memorized the phone number of the nearest monastery of his sect. At the same time, he knew that bumming a call off the next tourist with a cell-phone would hardly be the correct behaviour for an enlightened no mind no matter tulku reborn into a his Buddha-nature. In any case, he passed out before really having choice in the matter . . .

. . . and woke up in a hospital bed, on a saline drip and having antibiotics coursing through his veins. This was courtesy of a foreign wannabe meditator to whom he'd earlier given some free advice / instruction. The bloke came round to say goodbye and found his Thai all in a heap. Mingyur recovered and set off on his retreat in earnest: staying away from his monastery for 4½ years (50% extra for good behaviour). But that journey is only sketched in at the very end of this book. It's a bit elliptical in the description but it might be that at his encounter with the very face of death he became enlightened = Bodhisattva. 

Good for him.

Up till now Matthieu Ricard has been my GoTo for GauTama. I have another line now. I got the book out of the library and ordered up an ear-book version through Borrowbox at the same time. The audio is read in standard American English by Feodor Chin, famous for doing voice-overs in video games. It grates a little: Mingyur's home is in Nubri, Nepal and Chin makes it sound like Newbury, the horse-racing town in Berkshire, England. One of my horse-riding protestant cousins lives there, so I experienced some cognitive dissonance. But that's just me. The Buddhist theory can get a bit heavy, which is okay IF you're chopping wood and carrying water about the farm with earphones - but a sleeper if reading it all on the page. Verdict: worth reading but not worth buying to read.

Sunday 17 December 2023

sun misc

Bish bosh bash

Friday 15 December 2023

Speed limits will be observed

I was wailing on about the final stages of gestation for Dau.II's to become a competent driver. On Monday last . . . just in time for tea, the key LN fledging happened after a leisurely cruise around the mean streets of SW Waterford City. She had clocked up the mandatory 12 hours of lessons from a licensed instructor while still living in Cork in 2021. That should be enough to cover a) indicator + mirrors + clutch + handbrake b) getting going on a hill without stalling c) L-hand reverse round suburban corner d) 3-point turn e) general line maintenance e) not dawdling f) not lurching, gear-grinding. Thereafter, as much practice as you can get with parents should be able to smooth the experience out; internalize some of the muscle memory; and learn by not doing what other drivers do. 

In different times and an adjacent country, I had 6 lessons in the Summer after I turned 17, + a final lesson from the same instructor immediately before I took the test in December. In that sense mandating 12 lessons is a bit overkill. I got my Massachusetts licence by showing my UK ditto and sitting a 10 question MCQ with a pass-mark of 7/10; it was easy to clock 100% and I was let out on the roads of North America.

Dau.II was insured to drive The Grape in February 2023 and immediately registered to take her test in Waterford asap. It took 40 weeks to get to the head of the line - hence the gestation metaphor. Having been assigned a date 4 weeks out, she contacted a highly recommended Tramore instructor and booked two hours with him to ascertain how far apart were her skill-set and the test's requirements. Not far, it turned out but only in The Grape! It was back to nappies in his car. But several times we managed the logistics of getting herself from Dublin; The Grape from the Home Place; and Damian in from Tramore . . . all to assemble in Woodie's car-park on the Cork Rd in Waterford. This is clearly The Place to change students in Waterford; there are always a handful of driving school vehicles.

We were all relieved (although not really surprised) that she passed. You cd take a fail on the chin if that didn't put you at the end of a 9 month wait-list. [WTF!]. When she came out smiling and waving her pass cert, I was very happy that taking the protocol seriously and not stinting the car-miles had paid off. We agreed that I'd drive home, while she txtd her news to a longish list of frends'n'relashuns. As we left town, she got her face out of the phone to say "You should be in 5th gear, no?" which she followed up with "I'm a peer now, innit?, I can tell you these things."

Gotta say, that when she was starting to drive, I was known to flinch as she skimmed the bushes coming round a country corner; and to wince when the gears crunched. But gotta say gotta say that I never worried about her going too fast: from the beginning she always notes and obeys the posted speed limits. It's restful and saves money. Other drivers please note.

Some old Compostella feet hands have been known to say When the road finishes, the Camino continues. Dau.II, smug in her pass, said something like 

"Once you've passed the test, the life-long learning begins".

Wednesday 13 December 2023

The Zombie Retirecalypse

I R retire! It's been 3 years and a couple of months, since I last drew a pay-check. That was in the middle of Year I Coronarama. The usual niceties were deferred sine die. My colleague who retired in October 2019, was invited back in December as one of that year's a handful of honoured guests at the Staff Christmas Lunch. Eulogies were given; each buffer replied, at more or less too much length, with more or less sentiment and nostalgia; The Pres gave each one an ungainly glass vase; and everyone went home. My now ex-colleague was scheduled to be wined and dined by his deptl work-mates in March 2o2o: but that was cancelled by lock-down.'

In June this year all 6 Science pandemic retirees were invited to dinner by our department. Speeches were made; The HoD gave each one a robust glass tear-drop; and everyone went home. I had a mild attack of imposter syndrome because I'd only been working there a wet week eight years while the other 5 sixty-somethings had composite service of 150 years. But it was good to have a natter with my actual pals and cut dead the departmental misogynist bully and, it being June, there was still light in the sky when I went home. It all gave me a strong attack of closure.

Imagine my surprise when, last week, I got an actual letter from the current President of The Institute inviting me and my family to a retirement lunch today . . . at which I would like to make a presentation to mark your retirement. RSVP with the size of your family! I phoned in on Friday afternoon to explain my bemusement at being re-awakened from retirement slumber, believing my Exit to have been done and dusted.  I found out that 

  • thirty-seven (#37) people had been invited to the event
  • only a couple of current faculty from each department were invited to . . .
    • yield seats for these enormous family groups?
  • the staff Christmas dins had just been consumed a couple of hours previously
  • there would be no space-time for a speech from the dock
  • the presentations would be made by 'senior management'
None of my family wanted a free lunch ['tis a long way from Chateau Bob they were r'ared]. And I absolutely didn't want a cluttery glass vase. So my RSVP was "thank you so much for the invitation, I don't wish to be churlish in refusal, but it will streamline the logistics if the head (of family) count is (37-1)". I have a sneaking sinking feeling that the vase will be shipped to me anyway.

Monday 11 December 2023

Stuff your inner bear

New Ross is half way between Chateau Bob and Costa na Déise and we go through town in the regular. Less so since they completed the Fitzgerald Bridge on the N25 New Ross ByPass. I've billed Ross as being Ireland's most depressing town but own that they are making efforts to brighten the place up. otoh Claire Keegan's book Small Things Like These hasn't giving the town a tourist boost. I still stop often in Ross because there are a couple of Polskie Sklepy, the recycling centre and a choice of supermarkets. Last week I left the car in Lidl's carpark and walked [I know, hard to credit] to the excellent  Polski Sklep  for yeast and rye-flour.

On the way there, I noticed a shop front offering the opportunity to Build Your Bear. On the way back I stopped [I know, hard to credit] my rush and pushed open the door. There were only two people in the place mid-morning mid-week so asked them what gives? I'd never noticed the place coursing past at 50km/h and assumed it was new. And further assumed it was a sort of local government supported venture somewhat adjacent to a Men's Shed. Although it was hard to reconcile that specific detail [cue Billy Bragg] with, like, Teddy Bears. Brrrp! wrong on both counts. 

Craft Central is a commercial venture, it's been in Ross for more than a decade and it's more in the line of The Big Blue Barn - a primary colour softplay [ball-pit, slides, climbing frames] shed with a rudimentary café for Mums. Craft Central is a quieter option for, like, birthday parties. Although one available package is slime play and they also to host e.g. hen parties getting together for a bit of relaxed plate-painting or crochet.

The usual gig is to book the place (for 60-90 minutes) and rock up with up your pals. There looks to be about 20 seats. Once you've hung your coats and settled down, you can work your creative magic on mugs, plates, canvas bags, masks, T-shirts . . . clocks! All the matériel is supplied and hands can be held if your creative magic was b'aten out of you in National School. When you've finished, you get to take your piece home. Not sure on what the regime is for clean up. Me, I wouldn't allow the entitlement of paying for service exempt punters from leaving the place as they found it.

In my family growing up my, often absent, naval father was The Artist. On at least one day of the family hols, he'd absent himself again and take his satchel of water-colours to a lonely headland and paint how the sky met the sea. They were nice enough and there were eventually a lot of them. About halfway through their 50 year marriage, my mother was persuaded by a pal to take part in a 3-week Oil Painting class at the local Women's Institute. The first week, with a palette-knife, her thumb and most of a tube of gamboge she produced a respectable still life with orange. The next week, she brought from home and painted a life-sized crimson steel soda-siphon. It looked like the real thing. It was clear that, notwithstanding the labels she'd shouldered at school, she had a good eye and a sense of proportion. Sadly after the next and last session she got back in her box and left "Art" to the Old Man. Except for patch-work cushion-covers: at about the same time she started getting fat-quarters from Laura Ashley and sewing them together.

I was very much impressed by Dawn Morley and her team at Craft Central. That sort of service /business is good for community, good for creativity, good for self-esteem. The website on their brochure must have lapsed because is now all about the beer. You can find them on FaceBook, but I will not link the Zuckerverse here. Christmas?: C.C. stocks a range of hand-crafted stuff for purchase.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Sun Ten Dec Bit Bob

 Here we go:

Friday 8 December 2023


Context. Years ago, we were concerned about changes in the law about home-education and we were soliciting support for amending the Education Welfare Bill before it became the Education Welfare Act 2000. Our manifesto and politicking made neither dint nor jot of a difference to the final wording. But in the course of our campaign, I was tasked to make contact with the Shadow Minister of Education, Richard Bruton. I found the number in the telephone book [remember them], dialled and got "Hello, Richard Bruton". Ireland is a tiny country, everyone is two degrees of separation from Bono or The President. 

We had a riot in Dublin a couple of weeks ago. There was a grievous random assault in the afternoon and a few hours later a mill of yahoos started whoopin' and hollerin' up and down O'Connell Street. One bus, one tram and one police-car went up in flames and the city-centre Foot-Locker was looted. What is it with trainers and the dispossessed? There were calls for the Minister of Justice Helen McEntee to resign! resign! but she wouldn't oblige. Underfunding the Gardai is a political cabinet-collective decision and the day to day management and deployment of the police is, I hope, a police, rather than a political, matter. We've seen what happened on Armistice Day in London when their Home Secretary tried to orchestrate the police response to competing gatherings and that precipitated a fascist scuffle at the Cenotaph.

It is the nature, perhaps the duty, of opposition politicians to disagree with the government and try to make political hay when things go awry. So, on Sinterklaas = Tuesday 5th Dec, Sinn Féin put a motion of no confidence in The Minister before the Dáil which it was dismissed 83 to 63 votes. In Ireland we have proportional representation in Elections which results in the opposite of a 2 party system like Democrats vs Republicans or Conservative vs Labour. The current Government is a coalition of Fianna Fáil (36), Fine Gael (33) and Greens (12) - Ceann Comhairle (1) giving a knife-edge majority of 80/160 which is 'whippable'. Who knows how the 'opposition', which has long tail of axe-grinders, micro-parties and crazies, will vote? The Government decided that Green Leader, Eamon Ryan would have to fly home from COP28 in order to vote for this absurd performative motion.  Great green gobs of irony for the Irish Minister of the Environment to be contrailing a mighty carbon footprint to deal with the political expediency back home. 

Jennifer Whitmore, a Social Democrat TD for Wicklow put a stop to that geopolitical error by offering to pair with Minister Ryan for the vote. Pairing is when Whips from opposing parties talk to each other to allow their party members to be absent from critical votes in pairs so that the outcome of the vote is the same but the real life of representatives can be accommodated. A Westminster MP can attend her daughter's wedding in Crieff, for example, or a Minister can fight the country's corner in Dubai. I sent Deputy Whitmore a message:
Hats off Ms Whitmore! Well thank you! Whether I support the government (I don't) or vote Green (I do), you've done a pragmatic action that saves the planet (a teeny bit) and promoted respectful discourse in Irish politics. I expect you to be a minister in due course (no pressure). Bob
. . . and got an even longer, thoughtful, reply. Cop-on and courtesy is not dead in Irish politics.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Shingaun shenanigans

Dau.II has been learning to drive. Waiting  for 9 months because of a shameful backlog in slots for getting tested. This is entirely on the RSA Road Safety Authority; the quango which hand-wrings and finger-wags about road fatalities but lacks a budget to, say, re-configure or re-surface known accident blacks-spots. For many years the RSA baulked at recruiting new driving-testers because the bean-counters revolted at being obliged to take on more employees and their pension entitlements; preferring rather to put hundreds of young people on the long-finger and effectively unable to apply for the numerous Irish jobs which require a car to get to work . . . public transport being woeful-to-absent. RSA was recruiting in April 2023 but that effort is now closed.

Finally, many weeks after leaving the sunny south east for Dublin, the RSA found her a test date in Waterford in mid-December. She has been peppering the intervening time with a number of paid lessons with a Waterford-based instructor and as much practice time with her old man as her knees can stand. You can drive for hours [although twee uur rijden, kwart uur rust is better] under normal circumstances but repeated left-hand reverse turns, hill-starts and 3-point turns require significantly more delicate muscle control and repetitive strain so 'er legs start to go all trembly after an hour. And because we live remote, we have to drive for at least 15km to find a quiet residential development to practice, practice, practice.

Last Tuesday she stepped off the train in B'town in the afternoon and we drove about town until we found an older-model housing estate which has, like, roads at right-angles and off-road parking to clear the public roadway. We only mounted the sidewalk s l o w l y twice, so that's a win and a learning experience.

The next day we headed off in the opposite direction to E'town having done some Google Streetview research to locate suitable quiet roadways with suitably configured intersections. We turned off into a 00s-era estate called Shingán [drone-view above L] and didn't mount the sidewalk at all at all. So that's progress. The trouble with learning a new task - like a left-hand reverse turn - is that A Lot is going on. Once you've mastered the skill, it is impossible to imagine why it was so berluddy complicated at the beginning - see prev Curse of Knowledge. Let fall any one of the numerous steps in this simple task and you fail the test and have to wait for yonks again.

My sister and brother both failed the test first time round. Sis quietly mounted the pavement on the left-hand reverse and the tester kept telling her to "continue round the corner, please" until she snapped back that she'd have to go forward or she'd take out a lamp-post. They never recovered the relationship. The Brother's examiner came out of the Test-Centre in a neck-brace having been whip-lashed by a learner-boy-racer the previous week and was understandably quite the cross-patch. 

A recent The Rest is Politics (Question Time) included a question from Sarah Jane Blakemore about limiting the number of passengers in cars driven by recently qualified drivers. It was in reaction to the case where 4 teenagers spun off a Welsh road and drowned. Ooof! We had a 4xdeath in Clonmel earlier this year. In Ireland, novices are required to swap L plates for N plates until they get their road-legs. Rory Stewart learned to drive and passed his test first time in Crieff - population 7000, no roundabouts or traffic lights. In celebration he drove his mother into Edinburgh and nearly lost her in several white-knuckle adventures in, like, traffic. Dr Blakemore is an expert on the adolescent (that's 14 to 24) brain.

Protocol. Stop by curb [30-60cm out?] - gears in neutral - hand-brake on - adjust mirror to see on-side rear wheel - take deep breath - check all round for moving objects - engage reverse gear - release handbrake while multitasking the clutch - when curb starts to veer away from rear-wheel start turning steering wheel (not too much) - quick check all round while moving backwards - ensure that rear-wheel maintains distance from curb - ignore what's happening to front-end of car: that will take care of itself - once round the corner continue in a straight line parallel to give the impression that the wild fish-tailing was all part of the protocol - re-adjust wing-mirror for normal driving - follow tester's instructions for next task. As I say, that's A Lot of processing.

Shingaun maybe from Siongán, a place abounding in ants or pismires. At least they named the estate after the Townland rather than giving it a bucolic English nonsense-name like Meadow Features or Valley View.

Monday 4 December 2023

Women are equal to everything.

Or, as I think she, and The Garter King of Arms, prefers it Omnia feminae aequissimae. That is the heraldic motto chosen by Brenda Hale, when she reached the top of the legal profession and was inducted as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary as Baroness Hale of Richmond [Yorks, near where she was born-and-raised]. On the Kermit theme: “It’s an inside joke between us. My husband was my frog prince. Now people give us frogs.”. She clearly has a sense of humour, as well as facility in Latin. The Blob has acknowledged her coded messaging before as part of The Arachnidati.

I've just read an emphatic denial that sporting a spider-brooch while putting a stop to Boris Johnson's proroguing gallop in September 2019 was entirely coincidental. That is from the Horse's Mouth, but the source is her 2021 autobiography . . . called Spider Woman: a life! I guess she comes from a class and background that you can put one over on whomever you're talking to in such a elliptical way that you can deny intending any sort of offense. She was at one time a barrister whose profession allows them to make outrageous suggestions about the integrity of opposing barristers and go off to lunch together as soon as the judge gets hungry.

Lady Hale is about ten years older than me and reached the Very Top of her profession by being appointed Chair of the UK Supreme Court in 2017. When she graduated 50 years earlier (literally top of the class) from Cambridge in 1966, The Law was almost exclusively the domain of comfortable white patriarchs and vacancies were filled by "a tap on the shoulder", it having been established that the appointee was the right sort of chap [right pedigree, right school, right club, right sports-and-pastimes, right wife]. This complacent, incestuous background led to groupthink and pretty shabby endemic treatment of poor people, black people, women, children, foreign-johnnies including the Irish.

As in so many parallel ♀AFAB♀ lives, Hale had to be twice as good to progress half as far as most of the young men who graduated below her in 1966. She had an interesting career, being an academic lecturer, writing definitive books on the law w.r.t. family, women and mental health, barrister, judge. She is convinced that the breadth of her experience secured her several promotions to, eventually, the Supreme Court. She had also managed to, if not exactly schmooze the patriarchy, assure the Effective Lawyers that she wouldn't frighten the horses with her feminism and care for the dispossessed.

Having someone with empathy and compassion, as well as lawlerly rigid attention to the text at the foundation of the Supreme Court ensured that this new independent institution started with a bright future. Slapping down the grifty pretensions of the actual Prime Minister, when the Court was still in diapers bodes well for the future.

  • of course the discourse at Court would be recorded and live-streamed
  • of course the location of the new Court building would give it parity of esteem with the House of Commons on the other side of Parliament Square
  • of course the public are welcome inside the building
  • of course gowns, wigs and maces have been left in the dustbin of history*
  • of course the offices are designed for efficiency and to be a pleasant place to work
  • of course there's a youtube channel
  • of course the judgements are delivered at three levels of detail
    • The official report / finding / verdict handed down in detail in lawyer-speak
    • The 2-page-max Press Release setting out the findings in a way that can be absorbed [lifted and pasted] by journalist. A bit like the Abstract of a scientific paper
    • A much shorter piece similar to the Lay Summary which science funders have recently required us to include in grant applications

I gotta say, though, that not all the legal cases included in Lady Hale's book are set out with absolute clarity for the audience of the book. I suspect some curse of knowledge here: Hale has lived and breathed these cases for so long and so intensely that it is impossible for her to imagine that we-the-reader weren't at her side along for the journey. It's like me learning about additive genetic variance in population genetic class as an undergraduate through agricultural examples like back-fat thickness in pigs. It was never explained whether thick or thin was the desirable quality!

I recommend this book. I think it is an inspiring tale of a smart girl who did well by hard work, collegiality, ambition, stubbornness and luck - and yes, like my mother, she made her own luck. But I don't expect y'all to, like, read all 250pp of it. So here are some links

* Business suits for normal biz. For some of the ceremonial - like swearing in of new Justices - gold trimmed robes are worn by all. In the old cheap labour days, the cost of these would be borne by each Justice as part of taxes of the high office. Nowadays, it is customary to pass down the robes on retirement, to minimize the conspicuous consumption of bling. My family scraped together the money to send my father to the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth for Hood Term in 1931. As well as fees, their boy had to equip himself with various items uniform, a knife, a hussiff etc. On graduation, he was given a midshipman's dirk so he could board the enemy and stab the crew look the full shilling on parade. That small sword followed him around for the next 50 years. When it became clear that neither of his sons was going to follow him into the Service he went back to Dartmouth and gave his dirk to a [more-or-less random] young chap whose folks had neither 3,000 hectares of latifundia nor a seat on the board of Megacorp nor an enormous recent win on the Lotto.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Travel unravel

Wot a miscellany!

Friday 1 December 2023

Holly by golly

Friends at the other end of the valley, both trained in science, are now quite cosy in The Arts Block. 25 years ago they came into a few acres of unmanaged woodland and had to decide a) where to build their home b) how to gain access from the county road. Case b) was decided by the meandering exploratory path their dog Holly took. They call their gaff Hollywood. 25 years ago we came into a few acres of under-managed pasture and ragged hedgerow. In one corner of our property a little grove of holly Ilex aquifolium had survived the assaults of live-stock long enough to start up, grow thick-as-me-leg, die standing up and be replaced by a dense stand of younger growth. Call me superstitious but I'm really reluctant to cut holly down - although I don't mind making Christmas wreaths.

When we planted our [1 acre = 0.4 ha.] wode at Crowe's, it was strictly 'native' trees and we must have included a few holly whips although I don't remember making a song and dance about including that species in the inventory. Nevertheless, in several places on the periphery of the wood, we now have (slow growing) holly trees getting on for being twice as tall as me. - tho' only half the height of nearby oak Quercus robur, Scot's Pinus sylvestris, and larch Larix europaeus. I guess I am still surprised by joy at witnessing the propagation of holly in places where no holly grew before. 

"witnessing the propagation" because I keep discovering micro holly, presumably deposited in birb-poop, whenever we start clearing back the undergrowth. I've taken to driving in a bamboo next-door [as L], so that galumphing me or trampling oblivious visitors don't crush the life out of these childer of the woods so that they e v e n t u a l l y grow into gods of the forest.

Last Winter Dau.II cleared out the first part of the mass-path aka The Glen Lane which defines the Northern boundary of Chateau Blob. There among the tangle of ground ivy, bramble and fern were a handful of fighty holly whips straggling through the top hamper like a drowning creature gasping for air. They are, of course, gasping for light rather than air and none of them - all hirpled and twisted - were ornaments to their species. I dug them all up - a feat in itself given the stoney root-matted nature of the surrounding soil - and popped them into plastic pots filled up with nourishing compost. Rough and ready that was, but they all survived.

Now that frosty nights are upon us, plants in pots are a royal pita because, if under shelter they need watering, and if not they risk root-freezing. Accordingly, last week, I planted them all out along the top of the ditch where our orchard abuts the access road - a feat in itself given the stoney root-matted nature of the surrounding soil! Believe it or not there are 8 holly plants between laurel Prunus laurocerasus on the left and the ash on the right:

I am confident that they will grow up to complement the hollies in the hedge on the other side of the road:

That's a[nother] crap photo for The Blob but the s mark the largest of the holly trees which self-seeded before our tenure. There is at least one female tree - holly is dioecious - as indicated by the, here invisible, berries in the . Fortunately, these berries do be out of reach of casual holly-rustlers - t'buggers will have to 'borrow' the ladder from our yard to reach.

I'm quite chuffed about this. This Winter, I'll make a few active passes to locate self seeded small holly and pot them out if they are in a really adverse position w.r.t. light and soil. In 12 months time, I'll give them a rough prune and plant them where a) they have a better chance and b) some utility for us. The | treelets | edging the orchard will serve us as a sight-screen from the many walkers who pass through our property on the way to recreate themselves in the uplands North of us.