Wednesday 28 February 2024

What is family?

In 1936, Éamon de Valera sat down with his wife Jane O'Flanagan Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin of 26 years [together L] and conjured up a vision for Ireland as a New 1937 Constitution which would sever the final apron strings attaching the 26 counties to the United Kingdom. It's an interesting document because it sees certain 'truths' to be self-evident, which a majority of the citizenry today would give at least a bit of side-eye: "special position" of the Catholic Church Really?  But it was also pragmatic and did its best to be culturally inclusive. The reason Home Education was explicitly allowed in Article 42 was to not frighten the Protestant horses so much that they sent their middle-class chaps to boarding school in England . . . and they never came back to fill the ranks of the professions. In other ways Éamon and Sinéad endorsed frankly unhinged fantasies where what Ireland should be [comely maidens dancing at the cross-roads etc.] was at considerable odds with what Ireland actually be like [Angela's Ashes etc.]. 

In 1972, "special position" of the Catholic Church was put aside but we still have Article 44: "The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion". Only one god, though, and check the pronouns.

We're due to have another referendum on 8th March 2024 to unpack some more of Éamon and Sinéad's 1930s certainties and replace their words with something that acknowledges 2020s realities in the state we inhabit. This year its Article 41 and its ideas about the family.  The Family is Top Dog in É&S's Ireland: they decide on the children's education in Article 42, for example. The State just ponies up the resources for this to happen "provide other educational facilities or institutions with due regard, however, for the rights of parents". But the Family in the Ideal Ireland was 1 man married to 1 woman with innumerable children. Well we've dealt with part of that by freeing the Gays legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015. But there are so many edge cases yet. Families without children, families with only one parent, multi-generational households, co-habiting BFFs. 

So the First Q on the referendum is asking whether we want to add "The State recognises the Family, whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships, yada yada". WTF? The durable relationships are neither defined, nor designated. Senior lawyers are gleefully rubbing their wigs together contemplating years of litigation to bed this woolly aspiration into case law. But I guess at least it opens the door to other models of families than were dreamed of in 1937. Tá, so? Married families are still given Top Dog status, though "The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.” Some are more equal than others.

The second Q attempts to deal with one of the most egregious anachronisms left in the Constitution. Sinéad never had to go to work because, even when he was in gaol or fund-raising in the USA, there was enough money to allow her to deliver 7 children in 12 years, then feed them, clothe them, and teach them manners without having to take in someone else's laundry to make it possible. This part of the referendum seeks to delete

Article 41.2.1 “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”
Article 41.2.2 “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

Hey hey bring it On! Only dinosaurs (TyrannoPatriarchus rex etc.) want to keep women bacon-and-cabbaging in the kitchen or reddening the front doorstep or changing diapers when they could be out fuelling the economy or fulfilling their dreams or inspiring us all to Citius, Altius, Fortius. But, the government has decided to simplify the É&S vision of  bosom-in-the-floral-pinnie to "one who cares" and replace 41.2.1 & 41.2.2 with this ghastly kludge:

The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.

Much steam has been blown off about the retreat from endeavour to ensure to strive to support but that's moot, because, since 1937, to the nearest whole number, zero money has been allocated to offset the reality of mothers being obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour outside then home. Unless you count child benefit at €140 / month / child - that's just over €4.50 a day.  The average family roof-over-head payments [not incl heat, food, transport, clothing, insurance fripperies] are currently €1,000 /month. 

And nobody troubled to ask those in need of care [not all of whom are inarticulate blobs to be patronized] what they wanted out of the process. Indeed, The Beloved had to bug out of a referendum-explainer zoom-call convened by The Carers of Ireland. Too many people moaning on about the crappy, ambiguous language that finished up on the ballot paper rather than making peace with the artificial Nil / binary and deciding how to vote.

Farming Bund the ICMSA won't be buying a pig-in-a-poke but seek clarity on "Durable relationships" in the context of farm succession. Guest v Guest dragged the issue to the UK Supreme Court [prev].

Monday 26 February 2024

Stats Blip

I've no idea how many people read The Blob on the regular. To the nearest whole number per post, zero readers make a comment. Blogger/blogspot, the barely supported platform which hosts The Blob pretends to gather data on traffic and make these available to owners / clients but these stats are frankly, in two words, in credible. Take last year: I can believe that me and a couple of hundred yous are having 7½ mins of daily fun . . . but not that '000s of, like, people tuned in during Aug and Sep and then drifted off back to titktok. I figure it must be scraper bots:

Heck, I don't have many legs to stand on in complaining about Blogspot comms. The Blob pays €0 = nothing for the privilege of over-sharing.

Comment-bots are an intermittent thing. "Nadia Adams" and "Anna Greens" recently left a flurry of nine (9!) urgent comments on a Blob about Storm Jocelyn

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These intrusions appear in my Social Gmailbox, so I know they're there; but are rare enough that I can carefully delete them one-by-one. You're on your own if you want to follow Anna and Nadia to an emporium of cheap revels, soy sauce and wizz.

The other thing I've been freeloading on for many years (longer than Blogspot, that's for sure) is Anu Garg's AWAD feed. A-Word-A-Day has been delivering M-F what it says on the tin for 30 years! In addition, he sends out a digest of accumulated comments every weekend. The traffic is not entirely one way: occasionally I'll have something to say by return and very occasionally these comments finish up in the AWAD digest which gets send out to ~350,000 subscribers. In 2015, I won a prize for comment-of-the-week. Last week of Jan'24, the AWAD theme was eponyms; and readers were invited to submit their own favorites of that genre. The Blob has had rather a lot to say on the subject and I clipped some of my copy and sent that in. Thus

  • Chisholm, noun. A billion3 = 1027 = the number of “Prochlorococcus”, the world’s most abundant organism, in the ocean. Named for Penny Chisholm, their discoverer. Sometimes called a Chisillion to match billion, trillion ...”There are about seven chisillion cells in an adult human body.”
  • Hopkins Ratio, noun. The amount by which office space was/is diminished for female faculty members. Named for Nancy Hopkins who documented the discrepancy at MIT in the 1990s. “The Hopkins Ratio is just one example of pervasive, insidious, unconscious sexism”.
  • Finally, Gabriela, a heartwarming and inspiring story of a teenager who, despite coming from a “vocational school” and an immigrant background, discovered that she was as good as anyone else in the room ... indeed, on the planet.

2 out of those 3 links are Blob-cites and there was (at last, a pageview spike has a rational explanation) a blip in Blob-views:

It looks like the excess views were almost exclusively focused on my posts about Penny and Gabriela.  I hope that will have been edutaining for those who clicked through; but suspect that many will have felt blatted by TMI and gone back to TikTok.

Sunday 25 February 2024

Nus 25 Bef 2024

May I present . . .


Friday 23 February 2024

Bath Publishing

I've surprised myself by not actually getting Blobercised about the shameful gaslighting and ruination of local Post Office managers across the water. Not until January-too-late did I find a hook in the coincidence of ICL on the periphery of my own life. I guess the itch of my indignation was eased by posts across on Metafilter 2023 - 2020. Sometimes Metafilter comments are from people who actually know what they are talking about.  That something is rotten in the state of POmark has been known since at least 2009 when Private Eye started flagging it [7 page 9,000 word PDF] on the regular.  But corporate and politcal and main-stream journalistic inertia allowed each egregious case to get washed away without any song-and-dance.

One of the White Hats in this sorry tale is Nick Wallis, who (in 2010!) was a local radio talk-show host who started to talk to Sub-Postmanagers about the ruination of their lives and blog about it. He published a book about his, and their journey, for the Christmas market in . . . 2021. The title couldn't be more explicit: The Great Post Office Scandal: The fight to expose a multimillion pound IT disaster which put innocent people in jail. If you want a 1 hour exec summary Wallis was interviewed by James "LBC" O'Brien [whom bloboprev] on the latter's Full Disclosure channel. Hislop at Private Eye and Wallis are extremely magnanimous about someone else (ITV docudrama on the telly over Christmas 2023) removing the final chip from the dams of inertia and obfuscation and release a national tsunami of outrage.

For my money, the worst actors, the Blackest Hats are worn by any and all the high profile pols and journos who are talking large now having been too busy to care about injustice for . . . get this . . . 25 years: since the first prosecutions of PO employees started happening through perjury, gaslighting and the perverse incentives of corporate bonuses.

Anyway, I was googling around Nick Wallis after hearing his book getting a glowing rec from Rory Stewart on his TRIP podcast. And came across The people who published The Great Post Office Scandal who are Bath Publishing. They were a micro WFH company with a niche market in legal text-books: "Employment Tribunal Remedies Handbook" - "Contamination, Pollution & the Planning Process: A Practitioner's Guide" that sort of thing. Wallis was hawking his book about and had it rejected 9 times by risk-averse publishers. But Bath Publishing took an Entrepreneurial plunge on it. I hope they, and Wallis, make a lorra money. I also found a card, an envelope and a stamp and sent them a This is Just to Say [whc bloboprev] tribute:

You have published   for which          we wish you
the plum             you were probably  champagne delicious
going bad in         risking            not too sweet
the postbox          a court case       and so cold

Wednesday 21 February 2024


Because of a comment by Icelandophile Professor Batty, and subsequent to-fro, I've gone deep on Eliza Reid, who will cease being Forsetafrú = First Lady this summer after two terms. I've been reading her The Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World (1922). It's a deep dive into Europe's most equal society through the voices of not-men who have shaped and benefitted from that playing field - still bumpy but A Lot flatter than, say, Ireland's - let alone Iranland!  

Reid, who grew up in rural Ontario, apparently met her Icelandic husband Guðni Jóhannesson on a blind-date  . . . in Oxford, when they were both there as students. He came home and soon landed a faculty position in University of Iceland. He's a 20thC historian who had articulate and sensible things to say about The Cod Wars with UK and the Banking Collapse. When the long-term President finally retired in 2016 then fans-friends-and-relations urged Guðni to run for the office and he won the election quite convincingly. His bookish, entrepreneurial wife thus became First Lady and a reluctant fashion-icon - she didn't stop shopping in charity shops just because she had to attend state banquets around the World. She also famously penned an OpEd for the NYT basically saying "ég er ekki handtaska mannsins míns" = I am not my husband's handbag. In other words, the partner of the powerful [man] may be the power behind the throne and is, for sure, not a decorative cipher.

The book is Reid's homage to the women of her adopted country; and she carried out her research at farms, quaysides, C-suites and saunas. One of her informants shared an obscure word which appears six times in the eddas: Sprakki = an extraordinary woman; plural Sprakkar. It became a shoo-in to incorporate the word into the title of her book. Contrary to Reid's assertions in some of her many interviews and pieces-to-camera, Icelandic is not the only European language to have a respectful, slightly frightening, noun describing any class of woman. Irish has cailleach for starters. Jenni Nuttall has logged a long list of ♀-pejoratives in English. None of which I'll repeat here because there's quite enough slaggin' of women when they don't conform to door-mat.

Sprakkar has an essay about Cap'n Dóra Unnarsdóttir, [R - be very afraid] a fish-whisperer who conjures cod from the wild Atlantic. She sat her Ship Captain's exam in 2012 filling the sea-boots of her father and grandfather before her. She suffered through a period of ribbing by the other fishermen, but that was replaced by respeck when she reliably reached her quotas quicker than they did  . . . and slagged back when they teased her.

In the corridors of power, one force is the FKA Félag Kvenna í Atvinnulífinu (Association of Women Business Leaders). Which is still smaller than it should be. But one of Reid's informants shared that, a fortnight after the FKA had named her Business Woman of the Year, her company had finally made her EVP. Corporations can be shamed by irony?

As it happens The Blob has tribbed Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first elected female head of state. That Sprakki ᛋᛒᚱᛅᚴᚴᛁ was elected in 1980 and was re-elected as President 3 subsequent times. Setting a precedent for what women could do and what a whole country could do about gender equality. That election was the cake that had been baking for five years since the 1975 Women's Work Stoppage, which forced everyone to see that changing diapers, gutting fish, telling at banks, typing letters was a) not much fun b) essential. Men referred to that day later as L o n g Friday.

You may not have the dedication to read through Secrets of the Sprakkar but you can catch a flavour of Eliza Reid's voice in a 06 May 2022 talk at Seattle's National Nordic Museum or on 09 May 2023 at the Montclair Literary Festival. It is a significant meta-point that on these two different occasions she is thriftily wearing the same dress - HeadOfState WAGs please copy.  Natch she done a TEDx: in whc she TMIs the initial blind-date. And look out for Eliza Reid's new murder-mystery. And Iceland still means Grindavík in my sources of anxiety.

I mentioned at the top that The President of Iceland is stepping down this Summer and elections are set for the Spring. What next for the retiring head of state? Here is one possibility: hooking up with his twin brother separated at birth to do a two-hander called Some Geezer fed my Geyser: an investigation into the state of Icelandic gastronomy presented by Guðni Rosenthal and Phil Jóhannesson:

Monday 19 February 2024

Spirit of Place

Que vengan los peregrinos! Not everyone who walks to Canterbury, or Rome, or Jerusalem is a believer. But such pilgrims are likely to be changed by [getting off the sofa, leaving the daily and] going. It's a bit like people with an OU degree: it's often worth biding a while to talk with those who've been there, done that. My book about Santiago and the process of pilgrimage remains [ahem!] unpublished. As they say, though: "When the walking stops, the Camino continues".

Over the last tuthree years, I've been sitting on my sofa watching two men, once-and-future-pilgrims, getting physical with, and making their mark upon, the unforgiving terroir of a mountain in Piedmont. It turns out to be quite close to the Franco-Italian borrrder, where we were graciously - miraculously - sustained with Found Soup in 1978. 

  • Martijn Doolaard is a graphic designer and film-maker from Amsterdam with two Long-distance bike trips [A'dam-Singapore; Vancouver - Patagonia] behind him. [TMI about his prev life]
  • Fr. Johannes Schwarz is a diocesan Catholic priest from Austria. He walked from home to Santiago as a chap in 1998, then from home to Jerusalem - and back. Fr.J. also has a photographer's eye so, as well as chasuble and pyx, he toted a GoPro along The Way.

These two men washed up on different sides of an inaccessible mountain in the Italian Alps. Both chose to restore tumble-down stone buildings clinging to the side of the mountainside by their finger-nails. Both decided to document the process of transformation [internal, external] in the medium in their tool-kit. Both have established successful YouTube channels by doing stuff the hard way. Both were helped to YT-click-fame by the attention of Kirsten Dirksen who takes a film-crew to aspirant sustainability steaders and asks them to explain themselves: Johannes [05 Dec 2021] and Martijn [01 Nov 2021].

I have a couple of things to say about The Hard Way - informed by 25 years experience of chopping water and hauling wood. We spent the month of July 1996 camping out on our newly acquired property: with hand-tools, two wheel-barrows and a sack-truck. It was fine, we were putting manners on the place while finding trades-folks to do the skilled work. Doran-the-Well lived at the other end of the townland and he came to see how close he could get his drill-rig to the house. Which was not close enough: because the original farm-gate required too tight a turn for his mobile derrick to get in the yard. But, his BiL was Nolan-the-Digger [bloboprev] and he could surely open up that ditch . . . next Saturday, maybe? Not only could the digger move rocks impossible to shift with hand-tools; it also moved a lorra regular dirt and could scart off the bushes from the top of a ditch with a single comprehensive sweep. I didn't stop using a wheel-barrow but I did thereafter book a day from The Digger when heavy lifting was required.

Me and Johannes agree on the virtues {warms you thrice} of reducing firewood to billets and stacking them by hand. Chain saws are so bloody noisy you can't work away while listening to an ear-book. But, it's a good idea to leave felled timber at the cutting site [under rain-cover] for a few breezy months before moving the logs to the firewood processing place nearer the house. Wood gets lighter as the water blows off. Martijn does this, Johannes apparently not. Likewise no sane person will carry building stone up-hill if there's a choice but it's got to be possible to use gravity to help stones downhill that doesn't involve having gravity destroy your knees [as above R].

And further to the picture: building drystone walls is a doddle if the geochemistry generates parallel flat sides as above. If you have a choice don't settle in granite country, the stones are irregular, lumpy and too hard to shape with a hammer-tock or two. Ask me how I know!?

Vernacular architecture inhabits a known place and can build on [lit and fig] the lived experience of those who sojourn there. Johannes' gaff faces South and is tucked into the hill. So, like our place, the snow and frost burns away soon after the sun comes up. And he can see the prevailing wind thrashing the trees on the other side of the valley but not feel it. Martijn's place is, rather, exposed to the weather which can be darkly destructive [L tumbled solar panels] so high on the ridge. And, for him, the sun rises later and sets earlier so the snow lingers for days or weeks longer. Yet, these two steadings are only 1 km apart.

Like the underlying geology, the local micro-climate may make or break your rural dream homestead. Johannes is very conscious about microclimate for growing plants at the very edge of their ecological tolerance. Man, does he relish late season tomatoes and salad!

But I'm here to recommend Johannes' sub-channel One Year in the Life of a Part Time Hermit where he runs through 2023 with a 45m episode of every month. Usual fly-on-wall view of projects and general chopping wood, heaving rocks and weeding the veg-beds: gorgeous film of weather, sunsets, birbs and butterflies; minimal voice-over; informative on-screen notes [check the bot tight corner of screen for ID]. He had, or had at one point, left three holes [one shown R] in the render of the sunny side of his hermitage - so that the resident common wall lizards Podarcis muralis could bunk down at night. The Cave of St George for the teeny dragon!

But, as he warns in the short intro to the series, the last ten minutes of each video is a thoughtful under-stated ramble on religion, philosophy, history, science and the meaning of life. Here's part of what he has to say in May: So let me make this clear. I'm not a guru. I'm not a spiritual master. I'm not a person to aspire to meet or even talk to. You don't need me. You don't need to discern any secrets in my life or take me as an example. I am fundamentally like you – a man, a fallible man, a human. If you find any of the propositions in these videos helpful; if anything that is said rings true – or at least, if any of the questions do, it is not because I'm a source of wisdom. Jan - Feb - then you're on yer ownio. He's been putting them out at the rate of one episode a week since New Year.

Sunday 18 February 2024

18Feb24 - a great day

Some then and now; also misc sweepings

Friday 16 February 2024

The Field over The River

Not to be confused with Hemingway's Italian war stories in Across the River and Into the Trees. The FotR of the Post Title is the 1 ha. meadow which runs East from The Ringstone to a cliff surmounted by a stone wall which hangs over the Aughnabrisky River. The name came with the property. One of my loyal readers (I cherish you both!) expressed a liking for my Aggie posts. I daresay they were, like me, brought up on the BBC's soap The Archers - an everyday story of country folk. Walter Gabriel, the feckless wurzel was killed off in 1988, so I no longer had any interest. But read on - it's a coloour supplement with many pics . . .

Last year was a National Disaster for fodder. Th early Summer was bone dry for weeks and then rain set from July through to Christmas. We run the four biggest fields son a regime of traditional hay-meadow and get a few shillings by holding off cutting the grass until July - after the supposed time of flowering and seed-set among the plants which aren't Lolium perenne, perennial rye-grass. For years, rye-grass (as much as poss) has been Dept Ag policy; so the abrupt volte-face to encourage anything but is 'disconcerting' to regular farmers just trying to make an honest living from their 'umble patrimony. As a large part of their income comes from filling in forms and obeying The Man, being wrong-footed like this is a real [no shoes for the kids] cost.

We didn't get the grass 'knocked' until October in a brief 4-day window between the relentless rain storms. Knocked, baled and wrapped and plunked in rows at the top of three of the four fields. When all the tractor clanking stopped, I went down to count the bales and was infuriated bemused to find the grass in the FotR still standing. The tractor of our neighbour who has the cutting these last several years had blown a gasket and he'd subcontracted the cutting to the neighbour who never asks AITA. Between the two of them they agreed that, because deer had been rutting in that field it was not fit for sheep fodder and so they'd walked away from the cutting. I've never heard that excuse before but maybe it's about Pasteurellosis?? whc Prev. Whatevs, we had a field, partly chewed up by cavorting deer and partly a tufty tussocky mess of standing dead grass. The last of the hay bales went off site only the week before Christmas. But we'd already run our 60-legs + 15-heads of sheep unto that half of the farrrm.

The Beloved thought it might be a good idea to embrace the Pasteurellosis and/or ignore any nameless fears of two neighbours and corral the flock into the buckety un-mowed field and give the rest of the meadows . . . a rest. Our fully colleged farming consultant-and-mentor from up the Wicklow/Wexford borrrder concurred. Accordingly, at the very end of January, BobTheFarmhand schlepped down the fields; resurrected a six-bar gate from the brambles; druv in two new stakes and tied gate and stakes into the gap in the Northface of the FotR:

. . . said gate's hinge-post had rotted out several years ago and not put back because there had been no reason to prevent sheep wandering at will - until now. The other gap in the walls surrounding that field is at The Ringstone. That gap is (12 ft = 3.6 m) wide, so two of our super-handy and multi-purpose 2.0 m sheep-hurdles and two more new stakes sufficed to block it:

Sorted, so far. It's a bit of a PITA because FotR is the furthest from the house and beyond the reach of a hose. Accordingly I had to lug a couple of water buckets down there. But I don't resent the walk down to visit a tuthree times a day. If it's sunny it's life-affirming; and if it's pissing rain then I usually jog the downhill stretch which is a token touch of cardio - always good for old buffers. Usually, because Ireland, it is  neither of these extremes  but it's good anyway.

The main task is to count the sheep. This is why starting them all in the same field is a boon. It limits the number of thickets, grykes, fences and bushes which have to be investigated to find the last 1 or 2 members of the flock. Try it counting the white blobs. But sheep don't, in my experience, ignore gates. No sirree, they get up close-and-personal and scrunch up against them - it's The Itch; although we got them dosed for that in November. But 60kg of sheep and resonance can work knots and posts loose until the whole barrier collapses. Two days after installation, therefore, I went down with my saw, felled out a few branches of gorse / whin / furze / Ulex europeaus, and threaded them back through the gate to discourage scratching.

The sheep can barely see the gate now, let alone shove it. Although The Red Hill looks rather fine in the late afternoon sun, no?

Answer-time for sheep-tally. There should be (and are) N = 15. It helps if a) it's IRL and they are shifting about b) it's a better quality photo c) The Hand includes a helpful hint Blow Up of a central detail [R]. There are 3 sheep under the mountain ash - count the arses. Almost half the time I go to count the sheep, I come up with 14 the first time. I then walk slowly towards the leftmost sheep making encouraging sounds - in Latin because that's all that Ovis aries understands. The flock gathers together to face me off or all run away in the same direction. Inevitably the missing sheep will struggle out of whichever bush it was lurking in and gallop, all red-faced, to join her pals. 

It's always a relief when roll-call is complete. The FotR, as well as being furthest from the house, is also about 30m lower down. Loading a dead sheep into the wheel-barrow for the Fallen Animal Guy is hard enough. Whatever the joys of jogging downhill, I'm not sure if I have the puff anymore to push a dead weight of 60kg uphill for 250m. But what kills not fattens, and life is full of small delights, like finding a cluster of green ovals in a corner of a frosty field just after sunrise and thereby deducing where the ewes spent the previous night:

Wednesday 14 February 2024

A very grave man

"Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man."

Nice one, Mercutio: brave enough to make a joke while dying in the aftermath of a brawl in R&J. I finally got The Undertaking : life studies from the dismal trade (1997) by Thomas Lynch out of the library. It's been on the edge of my awareness for so many years that I was almost convinced that I have already read it. But every book is new when you get as old and vague as me. Lynch is a) a funeral director / mortician in Smallsville, Michigan b) a Bloodaxe poet c) an essayist in the same bin as Lewis "Lives of the Cell" Thomas [bloboprev]. Lewis Thomas, as a physician, ruminated on matters of interest to doctors in a regular column for the NEJM. Thomas Lynch deals rather with doctor's errors, as some playfully call the dead. It's important to note that undertakers are not defined by their profession anymore than The Blob is defined by "Science Matters" it's official title. Lynch's essays go some way beyond a discussion of embalming fluid and satin coffin linings; but the subtitle sets limits to his rambles. He's been to Kennys for a reading. One of the threads that stitched Lynch's life together is his relationship with his Lynch rellies back 'home' in Co. Clare: in particular his aunt Nora of Moveen Co Clare.

On his first ever trip to Clare, Nora obliged him to attend the wake of a neighbour. It was before embalming had reached Clare and ". . . there was a terrible odor of gastro-intestinal distress. Beneath the fine linens, Mrs Regan's belly seemed bulbous, almost pregnant, almost growing. Between decades of the rosary, neighbor women shot anxious glaces among one another. Later I heard, in the hushed din of gossip, that Mrs Regan, a light-hearted woman unopposed to parties, had made her dinner the day before on boiled cabbage and onions and ham and later followed with several half-pints of lager at Hickie's in Kilkee. And these forgivable excesses, while they may not have caused her death, were directly responsible for the heavy air inside the room she was waked in . . ." 

You may be sure that Tom Lynch looks and acts the part when he's hand-holding the bereft through the logistics of death. But Tom Lynch the poet is sensitive to irony and incongruity in life and it's impossible for him not to find the funny [both funny-hilarious and funny-peculiar] side: as in the excerpt above. Sometimes, for me, a funny off-hand phrase will jar -  YMMV. He's not immune to Nobelitis when he has a chapter conflating the ethics and practicality of abortion and assisted suicide. The penultimate chapter riffs on the fact that, though the 1990s Jack Kevorkian was operating his Thanatron to off ~130 folks for a fee in Pontiac, MI just 35km NE of Lynch & Sons Funeral Homes. While Undertakers are in the death trade, it doesn't give them any, let alone any particular, expertise in the termination trade. That whole chapter could really do with a copy editor to marshal Lynch's messy but strongly held ideas on a difficult topic.

The last chapter (there's an Epilogue also) he returns to useful avuncular advice from a life-time's experience in end of life issues. He cautions against pre-arranging your own funeral for example; arguing " . . . why should an arthritic septuagenarian with blurred vision and some hearing loss be sent to do battle with the undertaker instead of the forty-something heirs apparent with their power suits and web browsers and cellular phones?". And if you negotiate your funeral when you are still that forty-something, what's to guarantee that the bargain struck will still be valid 20 30 40 years later as local undertakers get merged and gobbled by Megacasket Inc.? He notes that heirs have skin in the game w.r.t. the spending of their inheritance.

The present moment opens like a gift:
The balding month, the grey week, the blue morning,
The hour's routine, the minute's passing glance—
All seem like godsends now.  And what to make of this?
At the end the word that comes to him is Thanks.

Thomas Lynch. Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets

Monday 12 February 2024

The Connibeg Fourteen

Yesterday, we linked (Dun Briste 1393) to a sudden, lumpy loss of coast. When the storm abated, the survivors abseiled down the cliff and abandonned their farm forever.  Usually it is more insidious: depends on the local geology. It seems worse when more recent, and more countable, people are involved (Guildford Four, Birmingham Six). It is worse when more people are involved. A couple of weeks ago there was [another] report from RTE about the steady diminution of Wexford as storms sweep away the long sandy beaches for which the county is justifiably famous. This is similar coast-scape, same issues as The Blob was uncovering in Norfolk in December. In each case, a sandy beach being the storm-fronting face of sand-dunes and slumping sand+lumps cliffs. The Connibeg Fourteen are two little crescents of houses [14 below] on the seaward side of, the engagingly named, Bastardstown, a village between Kilmore Quay and Rosslare Harbour:

You can track the sea's steady progress over the last 200 years by consulting the Geohive resource of Ordnance Survey Ireland recently rebranded as In 1995, OSI carried out the first re-survey of the whole state . . . by aeroplane.  The Connibeg cottages are present and correct then, so have given at least 30 years of service to their owners. Between 1829 and 1842, the UK Ordnance Survey carried out the world's first countrywide mapping project in Ireland. Geohive makes three chain + theodolite + triangulate databases available:

  • 1st survey at 6in to the mile = 1: 10,560 (1829-1842)
  • 2nd Survey at 25in to the mile = 1:2,534 (1863-1924)
  • Revised 6in to the mile = 1: 10,560 (1830s-1930s)

The geohive allows fairly easy flipping among the different surveys. Here's the state of playa at the time of the revised survey. It is, at least as far as the coast in concerned, very similar to the 25in:mile survey. It is possible to determine the survey dates for each sheet of the map but not from my sofa.  Let's call it 1880.

The sea is back a good bit and the land is forward. Note that the area of Bastardstown is 186 acres; 3 rods and 24 perches is extent. About 50 years earlier a) there's a hamlet of a half dozen dwellings down by the beach b) there's an addition 5 acres = 2 hectares of Bastardstown which is not yet allll wet. Like with our home place there have been some changes to the field boundaries when comparing these 3 maps but enough remains so that comparison is possible. I doubt if any of my readers will be bothered but, especially for those who live in Ireland, this is proof of research-tool principle which can be applied to a part of the country you know and love. The key point for the current analysis is that the orange line suggests that ~100m of this part of the South Wexford coast has been swept away over the last 200 years.

Correct me if I'm wrong but there is no national plan for addressing this problem. The road to the Connibeg Fourteen is on its 4th edition. And this iteration is really only possible because someone has armoured the cliff with ripp-rapp in front of the farm to the West of C.14 which allow the access road to jink Southwards on the very edge of the sea. The first cottage is now only 20m from the beach. Today in the 10th anniversary of the 2014 Darwinday Storm which caused damage.
Sleep through the next named Met Éireann storm? Don't do this at home, kids!

Sunday 11 February 2024


St. Gobnait's Day

Friday 9 February 2024

Los Supremos

I've been quite the fanboy for Brenda "Women are equal to everything" Hale since, as Pres of the UK Supreme Court in 2019, she put a stop to Boris Johnson's unconstitutional Brexit shenanigans . . . while wearing a  Woolworth's Spider-brooch. Note also that 10 years earlier, as one of the founding cohort of UKSC justices, she had been instrumental is establishing that body as approachable, inclusive, independent, and of the people.

One of those accessibility policies had been to create the UKSC YouTube channel and populate it with 6-10 minute summaries of recent decisions. You might think that watching an elderly white bloke in a suit reading from a script [R] would be as exciting as watching 3 guppies cruising in an aquarium. It is true that there are no car-chases [although occasionally an ambulance can be heard in the background]. But I have now watched A Lot of these performances and still find them interesting and informative and only about 1,000 words long.  The variety of cases which make it to the top court in the land is fabulously broad. The UKSC only agrees to deliberate on cases referred to them by the Court of Appeal IF they require an upset of established precedent or otherwise seems to have broader applicability than to the peculiar case in question.

Sometimes there is nobody in the court except the Judges, their functionaries and their cameras. Other times (Prorogation of parliament; Charlie Gard) it's standing room only.

This habit of public sharing of legal ruminations has a started a trend of lawyers, rich and poor, giving their own summaries and opinions. Some of these cases get a lot of traction; not only in legal circles but also among the chatterati and the press. Use judgment [ho ho] on approach: some of those lawyers, in contrast to the Supremos, really are boring droners. I needed to clear all of these UKSC links out of my pending tray and that means sharing with you-hoo:

Wednesday 7 February 2024


Years ago, I wrote about De Basement of the Library at Trinity College Dublin TCD, my ould alma. Anyone with an open mind (and a library card!) could go down 2 floors in the Berkeley Library and browse the latest accessions. That's all the books, acquired under copyright regs, which were too niche to be of use to any of the current students or faculty. Before being shipped to a warehouse out near the airport, these books served as the repository of my weekend random-reading. That's part of the reason my 'mind' was so filled with triv: great for a pub-quiz.

But today, we treat of Debasement: where tawdry meets glitzy and honoured guests are parted from €21.50. I hold up (with tongs) The Book of Kells Experience. Here's the Introduction, 20 secs of young comely diverse people, being baffled [as L] by swooping pages of digital uncial; followed by 15 seconds of leaden instruction &  Book Now . It hasn't gone YT viral yet - maybe try tik-tok? It doesn't always work out when universities try to diversify their income stream - as the cytogenetics testing service damp squib attests.

I know of the existence of this cunning plan because of a front page flag on pushing one of their audio-podcasts aka an advertisement for this commercial venture by TCD. In it "Kate Varley reports on a new digital exhibition showcasing the Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin" and gives a platform to the "Visitor Services Manager" and the "Head of Marketing" who are real people with real salaries. TCD hopes that enough €21.50s will come in to cover their salaries and the invoices from all the creatives who made the swoopy virtual world that keeps visitors at arms length from scholarship, a sense of history and quiet contemplation.

That worked nicely when I took my dear old dead dad to visit Clonmacnoise 25 years ago. After a 12½ min slide-show with voice-over [here come the vikings, head for the round tower Brother Fursa] and tonking the fibreglass replica-replacement of the High Cross, we were done! My Da was a restless cove: always moving on to the next box to [✓] and rarely pausing to Be in one place. Ragin', I would have been except that I'd been to Clonmacnoise before . . .

When we still lived in England in the late 80s, one Easter we had a vacation week on the Shannon in a rented cruiser. We left Portumna and headed North, and moored at the little wooden dock below the monastic settlement. We were all alone there, the river-tourist season being in its first chilly week. At day-break, I left my crew in their bunks and walked up from the river. There was nobody asking for [free] tickets and I could fossick about at my leisure. Standing on the wall looking South,I didn't have an epiphany, I didn't see god . . . but I could hear the plash of oars as a couple of drakkar hove round the last bend in the river with the helmsman calling cadence in Norse. Now that was magic.

Monday 5 February 2024

Dances with Hooves

I was down in the random and unexpected stacks of Borrowbox and picked John Connell's 2nd opus off the virt-shelves: The Running Book: A Journey through Memory, Landscape and History. That's quite weird because, being glued to the sofa, I can only run in emergency mode. Maybe I thought it was a sequel to The Running Sky: a bird-watching life by Tom Dee [wch prev].  Here's the story: young John grew up on a farrrm outside of Ballinalee - a blink-and-miss-it kind of place in Co. Longford. Even he, who cherishes his home place, agrees that Longford is a county which visitors pass through on the way to somewhere more photogenic. Respecting this, I've found a picture of an unspectacular crossroads [L] close to the Connell family farm which John has probably run through many times. If you pause, and breathe, and listen, on the way to your destination, you'll find something to celebrate in the ordinary. The ordinary bounty of everyday nature as Connell quotes Patrick Kavanagh.

As a kid, he won a few medals for athletics, not only running, but also had an aptitude for the written word and went to DCU for Journalism and thence to Australia where he dug into the life and times of the indigenous people. Five years later he was mind-broken and returned home to Longford to farm . . . with his Dad, who thought, and occasionally said, that his son had 'failed' out there with implications of 'wimp' and 'general uselessness'. In a sense running became Connell Jr.'s escape: something he could def'ny do (something his Dad couldn't [be arsed with]?). But after he'd clawed his way out of Journalism burn-out, he started to write again and that task eventually became his critically acclaimed 1st novel informed by lived experience The Cow Book. Reviewed I've not read it.

For The Running Book he is experimenting with form like Joyce did with Ulysses, and like Karí Tulinius did with Entropic Nature a month ago. As a Protestant, I'd hold that regularity & discipline gives a more robust product than free-form: writing a Blob-a-Day for eight years was much better for the craft than gearing up to write something (special?) once every while. Connell reckons that stopping in a long run - for water, or traffic-lights, or a toilet - can fatally scupper the whole endeavour: the energy of re-activation can be insuperable. Connell has constraint-structured his book into 42 chapters, each 1000 words long: that's a marathon converted from words to metres!  The conceit is that, at the beginning of the book he sets off on a 42km run and, after a Cooks' Tour of the county, walks the last bit in (rather than calling his Mam for a lift!). So similar to a villanelle or Petrachan sonnet . . . but longer‽

These ramblings while running include reflections on the Civil War; Strongbow; Longford literati; stretching; sundry Anglo-Irish families; Seneca; running shoes; Ann Lovett and Granard forty years on; Colm O'Connell coaching Kenyan athletes; bovine midwifery; Murakami; Sonia O'Sullivan; the Andaman Islands as a proxy for Irish colonization; Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan; The Wall;  The Navaho; The Titanic. As a scion of the Ascendancy, I think that Connell uncritically accepts the standard narrative of "300 years of Tory misrule" - it's an easy out to blame the colonial boogieman for all the ills of Irish history and therefore Ireland in the present. Like me, me!, being invited to go back where I came from because my grandfather rode a horse in King's County in the 1890s OTOH, he bookends his 42K musathon with quite compassionate assessments of some of the actual people who embodied colonial oppression. Quite so. It's hard to Other folk whose story, whose tragedy, whose loss have been recognised.
What the Longford Leader thinks about John Connell.

Sunday 4 February 2024

St Bríde's

Three days late for Imbolc, St.B's crosses still available →

Saturday 3 February 2024

Lá Fhéile Blaise

That would be today! It's very busy on the Festival circuit at the beginning of Feb (each year!). 

  1. Lá Fhéile Bríde - the feast of St Bridget of Kildare the Matron Saint of Ireland
  2. Candlemas - one of the four annual Term Days in the Scots legal calendar
  3. St Blaise's Day

I've wished both the Blaises I know (one M, one F) the best day evah. The Blob had a long piece about the protocol for the day ten years ago. tl;dr - a pair of crossed candles applied lightly to the throat will prevent diphtheria, CoViD19, intrusive fish-bones and other gullet ailments for an entire year.

Note the application of science and technology to the logistics of applying two crossed candles to many throats during Mass on the day that's in it. You could go super low tech with a candle in each hand . . . but the priest cannot then raise the right hand to invoke the blessing of the saint. The appropriate tech solution is to tie the two candles together with a red ribbon. If the Parish is rich, they can indent for the Acme-Veritas Double-Helix Candle-Handle (with red ribbon fitted as standard) $155 each!! For the nifty brass candlebra set with crossed-candle-handle and two drip-trays you only need €19.64 + €2.32 for a pair of suitable candles. 

Tomorrow: The Feast of Saint Gilbert of Sempringham

Friday 2 February 2024

Where's my protein at?

I have a remarkable and remarkably energetic neighbour who has been working in the catering trade for years. One wing of this service to the community is her activity on the Foodcloud front. She has recently landed a job teaching refugees how to cook . . . with what's available in Irish stores . . . and Foodcloud? If you grew up in Ethiopia, y'might like to know what can substitute for teff, like. That's started her on a rather more academic interest in food, diet and nutrition. A couple of weeks ago, I was plongeing the supper dishes and my phone rang (a rare event for Sudsy-no-pals me): "please help, I need a reputable source to make sense of the blizzard of claims about protein in food". On it, I replied, do you want it by your 9 o'clock tomorrow class?

Despite the answer being NO!, I sat down and started that night . . . and ran out of steam shortly after 0900 hrs the next morning. I surprised myself and that might be of interest.

Chef Bob on Protein

Well may you wail about truth, science, diet and marketing bullshit. There’s a reasonably entertaining BBC Podcast called Sliced Bread [whc prev] which takes a product (bike helmets, ecological diapers, sourdough bread), finds to experts and decides whether the Thing is:
SB the best thing since Sliced Bread or
BS marketing bullshit
case in  point the High Protein cheese I found in LIDL last week [L]. Biggest number on the packet is 54g. Implying that this cheese is 54% protein, but the small print explains it is 54g per 160g pack-o-cheese. Nevertheless that's 34% protein while normal cheese is only 25%, so it does be High in protein - although how that is achieved is a mystery story for another day.

In our first world you’d have to work quite hard and eat quite peculiar to be short on protein. It’s different in sub-Saharan Africa if you get all your calories from cassava or corn-meal and you can’t afford lentils, let alone chicken. There is an argument that not all protein is the same because each source will have a different mix of the amino acid components of protein. BUT in general, protein is protein is protein unless you have a very narrow range of diet.

Proteins are made up of strings of 20 different amino acids. These building blocks have different properties and so build different proteins. They are not all equally common (in us or in food) but broadly the rare ones are rare everywhere and we only need a little.

  • Serine, glycine, alanine are generally common. 
  • Cysteine, tryptophan and proline are rare.
  • Leucine and isoleucine are very similar; as are (+-charged) Lysine & Arginine
  • Glycine is tiny, tryptophan is large
  • Glycine and glutamate also act as neurotransmitters
  • Phenylalanine, methionine, leucine and isoleucine have a great affinity for fat
  • Lysine, arginine, {acidic - charged) glutamate, aspartate are, in contrast, water soluble

Essential Amino acids: 9/20 of the amino acids have to be obtained by eating: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. The others can be manufactured internally by mix n matching from what the diet provides. But in the real world, this doesn’t make much difference because all food contains some protein and almost all proteins include some of all the 20 AAs – some foods are deficient in some AAs [next para] but for most of us, most of the time this is not a worry. Call BS if marketeers tell you different!

Complementary amino acids and protein combining

We have a copy of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé from the 1970s. She was trying to get Americans to eat less meat but found that grains [rice, corn, wheat] are slightly deficient (for us) in lysine; while beans [+ lentils, garbanzos, peas] are slightly deficient (again for us) in methionine. She made a big story (and a lot of money) out of the idea that, by combining a diet of corn and beans together, Mexicans were able to complement the dietary deficiencies of each food group and make the combo a sort of super-food. She lived long enough to appreciate that this analysis was superficial, if not wrong, and realise that it was possible to get a diet adequate for usable protein fairly easily, so long as you lived in the country (and got to eat grasshoppers, salad-weeds, fruit). The urban poor, getting all their [starch heavy because cheap] food from the bodega on the corner were /are a different matter. 

Protein requirements

International Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g per kg of body weight (bw), regardless of age. For me that’s 60-70 g or dietary protein every day. But meat is mostly water!! 100g ground beef will have only 15g of protein and 20g of fat. That much meat supplies about 10% of the calories required per day. So one quarter pounder won’t cut it: I need 4 or 5 hamburgers to keep up. Source. Obvs, I can trade some of those burgers for chicken or chick-peas. 100g of dried lentils are mostly carbs 63%, with protein at 25%; water at 10%; fat at 1%.  More calories than meat because proportionately less water. Source. In contrast to what some are wont to say, old people with lower metabolic rate do NOT require less protein: rather ~50% more. Source.

PKU a special case

All babies are tested (with a heel-prick blood sample on a Guthrie Card) at birth for phenylketonuria PKU. Bloboprev If they test positive, it’s because they lack an enzyme which the rest of us use to metabolize excess phenylalanine, one of the 20 amino acids. Toxic by-products build up which prevent proper development of the brain. Solution: give the child a diet which is very low on  phenylalanine (which is one of the 9 essential AAs so we all need some). But actually the prescribed diet is just “low protein” avoiding meat, eggs and dairy ?while supplementing the other 19 AAs as a pill. Also NO aspartame sweetener – because it is converted into phenylalanine ! Source.

A balanced diet WWI edition

check out Elsie Widdowson, who with others in WWII worked out that IF, on average, everyone got

  • 125g fat
  • 150g sugar
  • 175g UK fruit [apples mainly]
  • 50g egg [that's one egg] 7g protein
  • 125g cheese 32g protein
  • 450g animal protein 68g protein
  • ad lib wholemeal bread, potatoes, cabbage
  • each week!
THEN they'd be fine. The dietary protein sources thus provide for only about 2 days worth of the protein RDA. The brown-bread and spuds are doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Nevertheless, this diet kept 40 million Brits walking, working, thinking and fighting for 6 years so it can't be too far off the minimum requirements. Source: bloboprev