Sunday 31 March 2024

Who knew? - Pointless edition

Miscellany, round-up, pot-pourri

Friday 29 March 2024

You'll never take me alive, Eircode

Eircodes are like Brexit, if you can't turn back the clock you might as well lean in to the New Order. When Eircode was created, at vast expense, An Post def'n'y had its thumb on the scale. I've expressed a lot of interest in the roll-out and its implementation 2015 - 2017 - 2018+WhatThreeWords - 2019 - 2020+UPS.

The rule for us is that our local post-sorting HQ is in another county. IF we pretend it's still 2014 and have Co Carlow as the last line of our postal address THEN regardless of the Eircode, mail-sorters send the post to, like, Carlow. Someone there will scratch out Co Carlow and add ↑KILKENNY↑ with real scraggy hand-writing and it will get to us a day late. Happens on the reg'lar. And usually it don't matter a damn because any comms which are time sensitive will come to us by email or txt. And like everyone else almost all of our post is bills and circulars with a blip of phatic cards for bdays and Christmas.

Recipients certainly, and senders possibly, have no control of which, of many competing, outfit makes the final mile delivery. AnPost for example takes up the slack (at less than market rates b/c bulk discount) p.p. Amazon for deliveries to the Irish boondocks. But many carriers have gone on-line to some extent, so that you can track your parcel as it whooshes past en route to the wrong depot. I used a tuthree weeks ago to send reading matter to the Gdaus in England. I received three (3) emails [L] over 48 hours counting down the km/hrs to successful delivery.  For birthday flowers and chocolate at the end of last year "Successful delivery" for us was feck 'em in that shed: they're sure to find it. I was ragin' that the chocolate was weeping condensation when we finally found it four days later - but the web-florist did refund the cost.

We were expecting a parcel of bingly-bongly bells from Plum Village.They were in the UPS system on-line but were clearly not reaching the destination (we checked all the sheds, including those without roofs). One issue is that, having invested m€ga$ in an on-line tracking system, many carriers dispense with all but two of their customer service agents. Their names are Krishna and Samira and they live in Bengaluru. If something goes wrong outside of the FAQ, the unhappy unrecipient has to hear A Lot of cycles of Greensleeves before Samira picks up.

 finally I met a new UPS deliveroo, who wasn't having any of my, or Eircode's, guff. For their parallel delivaverse Co Carlow is, and always has been, Co Carlow; and it's served by the regional UPS depot in Finglas Co Dublin. Kilkenny addresses are served from their Waterford depot. Deliveries to the scut end of Carlow are almost guaranteed to be 1-2 days later than they should, because Eircodes are not consonant with the historical counties.

Anyway, back to Eircodes: here's a defintive map of how AnPost wants their counties to be. Monochrome GoogleMap version. Zoom in to SunnySE (so sorry, Samira: this pic is a bandwidth-sucking 200kb). It looks like a 19thC map of Germany with a rash of independent margravates, kingdoms, bishoprics and duchies all with their own domains. A piddling back-water like Bagenalstown gets parity of esteem with the cities of Kilkenny R95 and Waterford X91 - must be the railway station gives B'town R21 hub-status.

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Pratchett Remembered

TERRY PRATCHETT a life with Footnotes* by Rob Wilkins

*The Official Biography appeared [Go Libraries!], all 400 pages of it, in our living room a few days ago. Reader, I read it. I didn't need to do this, I didn't even really want to do this but I started and so ploughed on to the end. Which is more that I can say for at least two of Pratchett's Discworld books. The picture [L] shows Jocelyn Bell-Burnell [bloboprev], David Attenborough and Terry Pratchett in medieval kit receiving honorary degrees from my alma mater TCD.

Rob Wilkins, the biographer, was the long-term PA / secretary / amanuensis of the prolific and commercially successful author Terry Pratchett. He dead, so fans are not going to get anything more out of him. But Narrativia aka Terry Pratchett Inc is still in business with spin-offs. Merch here. This biography is another spin-off, I guess. It is very much the hagiography, because Wilkins is still working for the Pratchetts at Narrativia and I think still using the Pratchett Estate as his office. A biographer could lean hard into the disagreeable, anger-management=poor, controlling aspects of Pratchett's character; could be more critical out the make-weight elements of the Canon; could be bothered to include an index.

But then few of the people who are going to read, let alone buy, the book are going to want those details. I'm ambivalent about the works of Pratchett. I am close enough in birthplace [180km] and birthdate [8 years] to recognise the allusions in the Discworld satires but that's not enough to retain my interest. If I had wanted to be in the English Media Gang, I coulda been a contender: but I didn't and I left the country before Terry Pratchett started writing novels. And I still get most of the in-jokes. You can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy, I guess.

The most interesting bit of the book is when Pratchett was at the height of his commercial success and before he got his adverse mental health diagnosis in 2007. That's when the author stopped being a knowing, driven, sole-trader with a gift for words; writing because he can do no other. The commercial publishing world has agents, editors, translators, cover-designers, type-setters, printers, and booksellers. This memoir documents how most of the people in this trade (as in science, teaching or probably any other 'industry') are teetering at the edge of their competence and incapable of thinking outside a paper-bag let alone Outside The Box. A number of laughable errors of taste, failures of empathy or business sense are documented by Wilkins. Like expecting Pratchett the golden goose to work a 5 hours book-signing session without providing a decent chair, a table with four legs the same length or even a curling sandwich.

Nevertheless, a minority of workers in this corner of the book trade are really really good at their jobs. Wilkins, and some of the book-dedicatees in the Canon, acknowledge that good editors make a great book. Good publicists have to do more than lay the latest book before the eyes of people who count (money). And never forget that luck and timing still play their part.

Monday 25 March 2024

Bigging up the Danes

For my sins, from 2013 to 2020 inclusive, I taught Human Physiology to 1st year Pharm tech students. My only qualifications for doing this were a) I have a body b) nobody else wanted to do it. I inherited a bunch of PPT slides, the Learning Outcomes and 30-something students almost all of whom were women. Don't know about the students, but I learned a lot. Human Phys is all about homeostasis - keeping the various systems of the body in trim to quite fine tolerances. You know this: over-heating by even 1 or 2 °C makes you feel like crap. If your blood pressure goes up a little, you're likely to blow an aneurism or have a stroke . . . goes down a little and the blood will rush from your head and you'll collapse to the floor. Your bod keeps to the set-points of tolerance with a complex system of checks & balances = belt & braces = redundancy. My fave hormone Vasopressin squeezes the smooth muscle AND reduces water-loss in the kidneys both effects geeing up the blood pressure.

I put it to you that 9/10 people stopped on the street will have heard of insulin and have some idea about what it does [regulates circulating blood sugar). otoh those same 9/10 will nope out when asked about glucagon. But you absolutely need them both and the receptors to which they bind to effect their magic on each cell of the body. I've shared my discoveries about glucagon several times in The Blob. TIL that, like a lot of proteins /peptides, the hormone glucagon is derived from a rather larger "pro"-peptide which is 180 amino acids in length. After translation this longer protein is enzymatically cleaved into three quite similar peptides, at least two of which are biochemically active: a) glucagon b) GLP-1 = glucagon-like peptide #1 and b) GLP-2. This shows that three copies of the active bit 'were created' in evolutionary time and have subsequently been free to mutate and acquire a wider range of specific functions.

*::*:*:.: .. *:. *::*: **:: 

These peptide hormones are at nothing unless and until they dock with a specific receptor sitting in the membrane of all the cells in the body. GLP1 binds to <surprise!> the GLP1 receptor which starts a cascade of internal reactions to do with glucose metabolism. These reactions may be wide-ranging in different tissues (as with vasopressin == ADH anti-diuretic hormone two paragraphs up). One known effect is the inhibition of glucagon. That will prevent free glucose circulating which means that insulin won't have to work so hard to keep glucose levels at their set point. and that would be good for diabetics. A few years ago boffins looked at the sequence of GLP1 and thought "target". They modified the sequence of GLP1 [see alignment of the amino acids in colour above] to create semaglutide which really binds the GLP1-receptor.

Novo Nordisk the Danish Megapharm which owns the IP on Semaglutide = Ozempic = Wegovy is now the biggest corporation in the EU with a market cap of $500 billion. Ozempic is the company's golden goose and is responsible for pretty much all of Denmark's economic growth during Coronarama. If you'd bought shares in Novo Nordisk  5 years ago you would have had a 5x return on your investment. Ozemic featured on RTE on 4th March b/c World Obesity Day.

Ozempic hopped through all the regulatory hoops as an effective treatment for type-II (late-onset) diabetes because of it's domino effect on the regulation of blood-sugar levels. Later on it was realised that Ozempic was effective in helping ppl with obesity shed a few kilos. It was therefore widely prescribed for that condition. In 2021, the FDA approved this use of semaglutide, under the trade-name Wegovy. 

It turns out that Novo Nordisk, even with outsourcing production to several other facilities, cannot produce enough Ozempic to satisfy the market in diabetes and obesity. Part of the problem is that this drug is being widely prescribed 'off-label' to reasonably healthy people who desire to trim their midriff to look good [and maybe pull their cousin's BFF]? at an up-coming family wedding. That's how markets work: well rich people can obtain a scarce resource - because money - and can insulate their conscience from the effect this choice has on really sick poor people on the other side of the tracks. And social media influencers? They can eat their own brittle!

Sunday 24 March 2024

Close encounters

Whaaaa's happenin'?

Friday 22 March 2024

Wexford Roadeo

Oy vey, my son the Engineer designs signalling systems for railways in England. Railways generally get a green pass. Their rights-of-way were acquired in the 19thC when Capital was king. In general railway stations are plunk in the centre of town, so it's still quicker to travel between major UK hubs by rail than by flying. Because the last 10km in from the airport is shared by too many cars, buses, traffic lights and potholes.

An Bord Pleanála ABP is a powerful quango, the last court of appeal in Irish planning. They can take a hella long time to come to their considered opinions about whether projects can go ahead. There is plenty of scope for corruption and their deputy chair just avoided getting banged up in chokey for losing count of how many cunning schemes in property development he had going on the side. otoh, someone has to ensure that major infra-structural projects are compliant with multi-faceted rules, regulations, guidelines, plans and laws. I wouldn't trust engineers, or politicians, or me, on their own [each with their own limits, bias, obsessions] to decide where new roads should go . . . even if "we" agree that new roads are really what people or planet need in the mid-21stC. There are so many more stake-holders than 19thC railway engineers encountered: 

  • Population and human health
  • Ecology & biodiversity
  • Soils & geology
  • Hydrogeology & water
  • Landscape & visual
  • Noise & vibration
  • Air quality and climate
  • Archaeology & heritage
  • Agricultural land
  • Other land assets
The rights of these stake-holders are vindicated by ever-shifting regulatory paperwork published by county, country and the EU.

March is when Engineer's Week happens. Wexford Science Café were induced to Ask An Engineer for their March meeting. I suggested an evening on new roads projects in the County. Our convenor ran an engineer to ground. On 19 Mar 24, Bratislav Dimitrijevic, unburdened himself about the many and varied tasks he had to do as Project Manager, N11/N25 Wexford by-pass. When he graduated in Serbia 20 years ago, he little imagined that in 2023 he'd be haggling with an Irish farmer about a cattle-pass under a proposed road in Wexford. Which proposed road? 75 different routes for the 33km between Oilgate (end of the M11) and Rosslare EuroPort have been considered over the last 5 years. Here are the main options:

In April 2023 the "final" route was chosen after optimizing all the variables. It's more-or-less Route C except that the final route is going to use the existing right-of-way along the Wexford Bypass and ?upgrade the roundabouts? The Green Agenda requires the project to include Park&Ride facilities and "active travel" options: we should be able to walk/cycle from Oilgate to Rosslare barrier-separated from cars and trucks. At the WexSciCaf meeting on 19/Mar we were shown The Map with a fat yellow line looooping across it. This 300m wide corridor has been "sterilized" for planning purposes. But the final road will be only 20m (on the level) to 50m (cuttings and embankments) wide. Apparently ~380 land-owners (great and small) have stake in the 300m x 33,000m strip.

The River Slaney at Ferrycarrig has foreshore and tidal slobs which make it a SAC Special Area of Conservation. 13,500 sq. km. of this our Republic (including 3 stream-fronting hectares at Chateau Blob) are so designated: that's 18% of the whole country. The new bridge will be parallel to and West of the existing 1980 bridge. Built before SACs were a twinkle in an ecologist's eye, this bridge is 125m long and supported on 7 concrete piers sunk in the tideway and damn the otters. Check out the Old Ferrycarrig bridge. The new bridge won't be allowed to drip diesel-contaminated rain-water into the holy Slaney valley, let alone sink concrete piles into the slobs. The engineers are accordingly looking at building another 800m bridge to facilitate trucks and tourists spreading out across the country having arrive at Europort Rosslare. The RoseFitzKenn bridge over the R. Barrow 40km to the West is 890m long with the longest span 230m.

My question was whether sterilized land-owners who were not finally CPOed (compulsory purchase order) would be compensated for spending ?5 years in legal and asset-management limbo. I didn't get an answer to that. But we were invited to reflect on the plight of land-owners abutting the corridor: they get nothing except noise, disruption and envy.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Trigon Empire

I do a lorra ear-books though Borrowbox. Sometimes I 🐸wish🐸 that a chunky book on my reading list was available in the audio medium but I don't go all into a rage about it; I just question why completely unsuitable books are rendered into .mp3 instead. Like who was thinking what when they published How to Draw a Map in audio . . . with no maps?

Rachel Riley [R] makes arithmetic look easy. Because, for her (and me), tricking about with numbers is easy. It's partly mind-set and aptitude but also partly training. Old style National School rote learning emphasized the training. Thus you get generational transfer of times-tables and arithmetical tools transmitted by national school teachers who were good enough at the tricks but really had not the bog's notion of the under-lying principles and no particular feeling for numbers. A bit like me being required to teach 2nd year college Physics when I'd failed my Physics "O" level at 15

I was in a pretty funny situation earlier in the month ear-booking through At Sixes and Sevens: How to Understand Numbers and Make Maths Easy by Rachel "Countdown" Riley. Obvs [hint: audiobook] without pictures. I hear Riley brightly uttering some bafflegab "a cubed plus b cubed all in brackets is not the same as a to the half plus two sin theta plus b raised to next tuesday" and adding confidently "it will all be clear if you refer to the triangle on page 14 of your PDF". Hint: there is no PDF b/c Borrowbox don't think it's important.

The ostensible reason for the book is for parents to help their kids with the math which the youngsters are being cold-bath-after-breakfasted at school. The first tuthree chapters are on-message and quite inspiring. Asserting that math anxiety is a state of mind and that we all (particularly grrls) should stop labelling ourselves (or anyone else!) as crap-at-math. But soon enough the Riley accepts the school math curriculum at face value and offers a number of different ways-of-seeing to help us crack the code. Which is fair enough given the Mission Statement for parents to help their kids with the math

But really? wtf are schools putting everyone through simultaneous equations? Puzzles which can be solved using SimEqs have been around for about 2,000 years and they currently get binned in the Algebra chapter of maths text-books. But that's it, they are puzzles. Riley professes to love fractions, cats and algebra and handles SimEqs by presenting a plainly out-of-reality but mildly amusing conundrum. The puzzle involves mix and matching school dinners where the menu offers rice, salad and tacos and various combos of kids who come back home with receipts for the cost of their dinner. In this fantasy land The Parent says "Let's work out what the cost of each item is". Because the price is bafflingly not on the menu? Ah ha, this is why the kids are comen como mexicanos it's because
R + S + T = alphabetical algebra.

1r + 1s + 2t = £10.00
3s + 2t      = £10.00
2s + 3t      = £14.50

There follows 5 minutes of ". . . we can now plug r = 2s into either the second or the third equation . . ." which may be clear as a blut of chili sauce IF you have the PDF but in audio-only it's just so much word salad. I like these sorts of puzzles; I'm okay at solving them; but it's a long way from a justification for requiring mastery of SimEqs for all teenagers in school because it will set them up for real life. Because in real life (if you-the-parent really needed to know the cost of a portion of salad at school) you'd send young Jimmy in with a note for the dinner ladies "Please tell my poor Dad how much the salad costs [£__.__]"

I had At Sixes and Sevens in my ears for 8 hours as I fossicked about doing outdoor chores. The last 2/3 of that time, absent the PDF, it was a warm bath of familiar nonsense - like overhearing two people talking Portuguese behind me on a bus. In 1984, my Portuguese was fluent enough to read a newspaper and get what I needed from people in shops and offices; now not so much - but hearing it again triggers happy saudades.

But 'ere: I did learn something which has been hidden from me in plain sight for all my mathy life. Trigonometry is all about the -metry of Trigons aka triangles in mathogreek . . . pentagon, hexagon etc. Trigan Empire in the title is a nostalgic reference to a 1960s childhood getting the glossy mag Look and Learn in the regular. Every issue had a two page spread following the dynastic antics of folks who dressed like Romans and carried swords but also had anti-grav space-ships and phasers. It was great!

Ans: rice £2.00; salad £1.00; taco £3.50

Monday 18 March 2024

Endo dont cogn disson

Years ago, when  we lived in England we were tickled listening to a commonplace report on the BBC. It was about the non-Pitman shorthand used by ?orthopedic surgeons? to record patient injuries and treatment. "lvd scr from kn to hp" [livid scar from knee to hip] was absorbed into family lore; along with scenes (of course he's the F*king Farmer) from Withnail and I and baguettes from Beineix's Diva. 

I was reminded of this because we have, perforce [retirement], enrolled with a new dentist. Word to the wise: choose a dentist at least 20 years younger than you are: having them die on you is extremely inconvenient. Dentistry has moved on tremendously in my 60+ years of tooth care. No anaesthetics in the early 60s; the drills turned by wire drive-trains. When you change dentist for a younger model, it's like skipping 30 years of technological improvement. The new dentist has a screen on the ceiling to entertain clients as he digs into their buccal cavity. There is a whole new set of acronyms and jargon to wash over the mind as he dictates his assessments to the dental tech. There is presumably enough detail that the status can be recorded and recalled in six months' time. Half a year being the standard time-counting unit in dentistry.

Initial visit in August 2023 allowed introductions to be made and there was time to do one bit of remedial work on lower left six: the front-most molar. There is a crack which extended an undetermined depth into the roots and which may burst asunder at any moment. New Dentist (N.D.) tidied up the long-existing, multiply-patched cavity with that new-fangled UV-setting ceramic filler but added some bondo glue into the mortar in a probably vain attempt to keep the two side of the crack in contact. "That will do for now, come back in 6 months and we'll see how/if anything has shifted". In Feb 2024, 183 days later, I was back in the chair having another X-ray to monitor progress. "that tooth probably needs a crown to hold the two sides together; it would be better to sort out the foundations first - because doing a root-canal job through a crown is no laughing matter; I'm going to refer you to the Endodontist down the street". 

According, a month later I had an early-day appt with the said Endodontist. Once upon a time, a dentist was a strong fellow with pliers; now the profession is fragmented into sub-specialties. "Dentists" do filling above the gum-line; "Endodonts" plumb the depths. Dental surgeons do extractions, bone and gum work. 

I got into a 'discussion' with the Endodental Tech about where to park. If I parked on the street, I was likely to run out of time and get a hefty ticket. whereas if I parked somewhere else then I'd get the full three hours of a typical Endo-session and save €2. I explained that 5 years ago, I'd really have engaged with that sort of tightwad penny-pinching but since retirement my business model was much more support the economy and can't take it with you

The cognitive dissonance came in when the Endoboss outlined the likely course-and-cost of treatment. 

  • a referrer's referral to an Endodontist in another town who owned a 3-D Xray machine [€180]
  • 3-D informed re-scrutiny of the path of the, rather occluded, root canals [€100]
    • these machines are the latest thing and only available in Ireland for the last tuthree years; the pictures are really informative
  • three hours drilling down the 3 roots of the one tooth [€900 if progress straight-forward, more if the procedure required two sessions]
    • cleaning, bleaching and filling the drilled cavity [€0 - fitted as standard]
  • returning to my above-gum dentist for the crown [€X indeterminate amount]

All this delivered with a grating, hand-wringing apology for how much it was all going to cost . . . with no certainty that the outcome would be a long term solution to the goddam crack in my aged molar. The cost sounded reasonable considering how we're in the market for a new sofa. But it was super-weird, while on the same dental couch, to be haggling over €2 with one member of the Endo-practice and €2,000 with another.

The alternative: hope that there are no stones in the lentils and keep using the existing kludge on lower left six until its rift rifts and then have it taken out [€180]. Apart from the money, getting a crown or a dental implant is a different matter for an ould chap in his 70th year compared to our 20-, 30- and 40-something offspring.

Sunday 17 March 2024

St Patrick's Day 2024

Lá Feile Padraig, I hope you have your feet up.

Friday 15 March 2024


Nemeton n. (pl. Nemata). An holy place, sacred in ancient Celtic religion - groves, standing stones, ringstones. Related toponyms are scattered across Europe

I fell into science by accident at the age of 17. IF a particular conversation hadn't happened, and I hadn't found my biology teacher's jokes funny, THEN I'd now be a retired media wonk living in London in a £million house which I bought for buttons in the 70s. I regret nothing! A lifetime in science cannot but infect practioners with sciencism: a belief that everything which matters is (exclusively) discovered through science. Jakers, just look at the top of the page: Science Matters! It's bollix, of course: Science is A way of knowing: and has nothing on offer to comfort the dying, the power of song, or the drive of snog. One aspect of privileging evidence, the rational, and data is that I read, almost exclusively, non-fiction. As if histories were less full of lies than stories.

After I romped through Charlie Stross's parallel universe adventure, I set myself to read The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson. It is a coming of age tale set in an Ireland peppered with Thin Places [bloboprev] where the spirit world leaks through into a recognisable post-Tiger island with taxis, ringtones and tattoos. Librarians tend to shelve it in the Young Adult section. Cripes, YA must have quite the tolerance for the hum of violence - I blame The Hunger Games. 

'twas a long way from Ireland that Mary Watson was r'ared, but like my dear dead MiL she escaped from Africa and now lives in an Irish-speaking household near Galway where NUIG / UCG is the intellectual heart of the Gaeltacht. You may be sure that the Irish equivalent of Icelandic Sprakkar - obscure words from the Canon which have specific powerful meaning - surface in coffee-break chatter in NUIG. Watson, as accomplished word-worker, owns these words and makes them drive the story. New to me: bláithín brídeog brithemain draoithe géineolaíocht nemeton quinquetra ré-órga triquetra tuanacul. 

The central thread in The Wren Hunt is the Othering of a community which is different from, and opposed to, the people by whom Wren, the protagonist, was raised. It is, like obvs, a known thing that these Others are the  black hats . Wren's people are a) oppressed b) not going down without a fight. The fights are both real - fists and blunt force trauma - and metaphysical - dolls, sacred groves, potions. The magic allows us to suspend our disbelief that a bunch of Wren's people can paraphernalia up and troop off the woods for sunset rituals without the plain people of the townland [neither black hats nor white] knowing their business. (My policy when we blew-in to a rural midlands community 25+ years ago, was to give curious neighbours rather more information than they could reasonably ask for: partly to inhibit them from making monsters of us down the pub). But that's okay - it's fiction.

Without being intrusively didactic, the message that comes through this book is that you can to your own self be true, and that is more important than tribal loyalty: as a young adult you can / may / shd invent yourself. Celtic are not always right; Rangers play the same game to the same rules; they can't be all wrong. And, not to put too fine a point on it, exogamy is okay: The Others bring different stuff to the table - often challenging, but mmmmm so tasty. No more spoilers! If you know any YA [girls?] leave this book on their bedside table. They'll get more out of it than the ineffably boring Inter.Cert. Biology textbook.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Family life

A recent RTE book club drive was pushing Séamas O'Reilly's memoir Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? to the front again - it was first published in 2021. NPR reviews. I was surprised to find that the ratio of copies : reserves was favorable (214 : 42) on the Irish Library system and so ordered up a dead tree copy for myself. The book was favorably reviewed by the Guardian when it came out - as it should: O'Reilly is a regular columnist for The Sunday Guardian Observer. I hope sales get a boost, but with so many copies in libraries across the country that may not happen. 

As young Séamas was not quite 6 y.o. when the event of the title unfolded, he recognises that his trauma was less legs-from-under-him than for his older siblings, let alone his widowed father. So it's okay to play it for larfs against the back-ground of grief. Then again, whatever the hierarchy of grief, there were several months as a pre-teen that he was reduced to a barely functioning wreck by anxiety and insomnia. That was (miraculously) driven into a corner by an impromptu session of lively lovely Mammy related anecdotes visited upon the tween child by three of her friends who heard he was in the same hospital as they were.

Siblings? Well, yes, there were eleven (11) all told: the youngest barely out of nappies, the oldest almost old enough to vote, when Mrs O'Reilly died from metastatic breast cancer in 1992. They behaved a herd but each had their own stand-out individuality. "This could also have been a contributor to the frequent, horrible bouts of car-sickness which beset several of us, most especially Fionnuala and Dearbhaile, both so inclined to vomiting on road-trips that travelling with them was as precarious as cycling through a mine-field carrying a large, open vat of parmesan soup in your lap". My original post title was Normal Family Life but this paragraph only includes 2/3 (Mammy died; N = 11) of the data dissing 'Normal'. The other abnormal aspect of O'Reilly life in the 80s and 90s is that a small length of The Border [between RoI and NI] was their garden fence a few miles South of Derry.

They lived a short distance down a bohereen from the 'main' road from Derry to Lifford and Ballybofey. One fine day the customs post next door was blown up and chunks of the debris rained down in their back garden. Normalizing The Troubles is only really addressed in the penultimate chapter of the book. This is how it goes: Chapter 12 Notable Explosions, 1988 - 2005. After Daddy had his leg cut off . . . 

That's an example of dark Nordie humour. A few pages later it is revealed that Daddy was a late-diagnosed diabetic who peripheral circulation was fritzed by the disease. Daddy's leg was amputated to get ahead of the gangrene rather than, as implied, to tidy things up after his foot had been blown off in a terrorist outrage. Much hilarity was generated for the O'Reilly children when well-meaning visitors put their foot in it with an unfortunate turn of phrase. This memoir is littered with authentic voice turns of phrase which may be clichés in Derry but had me laughing out loud. You may do likewise. If you can't get the book, then I guess that authentic voice can be found in his journalism.

A brief cw: Mammy and Daddy O'Reilly were committed Catholics, not only regular Mass-goers but also fulfilling several key roles in the Catholic community. Mr O'Reilly collects priests like my friend Viv collects lesbians. He knows more priests, in Derry, Ireland and Wolrdwide, than I know, like, scientists. Several of these men have walk on parts in this memoir always doing good; although one is outed as an O'Reilly house-breaker [in a predictably play-it-for-larfs way]. But of the scandals and cover-ups which shook the church to its foundations over the last 25 years - not a word. That's fine; plenty pages on that elsewhere. 

Like, fr'inst, A Guest at the Feast by Colm Tóibín review which I returned to Borrowbox a fortnight ago. This is a collection of his published essays including his splendiferous LRB exposé of Rome Among the Flutterers: A few years later, on Easter Sunday, as I wandered around the inside of St Peter’s in Rome after Mass, I noticed vast numbers of bishops and cardinals, all in their regalia. Since the sun was shining, some of them had the most beautiful seminarians or young priests standing behind them holding yellow umbrellas over their heads. It was a sight for sore eyes.

Monday 11 March 2024

Pot pies and fishcakes

IF I only food-shop in ALDIDL, which is more or less true, THEN I'm not going to develop craves for PopTarts or instant Boeuf Wellington. Although I have to report that LIDL's trim little frozen beef-and-stilton or mushroom&tarragon pies are wel lekker. They are also Deluxe and €3.00 the pair. That's €7.50/kg, which is not potato prices, not even block-cheddar prices, but cheaper than chips.

As I say, these things are tasty and make the centre piece of a supper with, say, green beans and boiled spuds. The reason they taste okay is because food engineers have been working into the night lurrying in the umami and mouth feel. Mainly ensuring that the pastry is crispy when the interior gloop is piping hot. Ingredients are hard to find on the interweb, so I'll here get them into the public domain.

30% mushrooms, wheat flour (WHEAT flour, calcium carbonate, iron, niacin, thiamine), water, vegetable oils (palm, rapeseed), water, salt, emulsifier, mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids, fried onions (onions, sunflower oil), whipping cream (Milk), white wine (sulphites), mushroom stock (concentrated vegetable juices (mushroom, onion), salt, rapeseed oil, water, mushroom powder, sugar, cornflour), modified maizer starch, garlic purée, yeast extract powder blend (yeast extract, salt), whey powder (Milk), chives, salt, 0.1% tarragon, thyme, dried glucose syrup, Milk proteins, colour: carotenes.

Antient YT foodie Graham Jenkinson agrees!

Fishcakes? To give parity of esteem to Aldi, a shout-out for their {cod | haddock | salmon} fishcakes on special (€2.49 €1.49 the pair = 270g) at the end of February. I couldn't find them in B'town but picked some up the following Monday in Carlow. Like the pot-pies, these are fine in a multiple ingredient sort of way; they look a lot better cooked than in their soggy breadcrumb chilled counter state.

Multiple ingredients? yup:

ATLANTIC SALMON (Salmo salar) (38%) (Fish), potato, wheat flour (Wheat flour, calcium carbonate, iron, niacin, thiamine), water, rapeseed oil, white sauce [double cream (Milk), water, salt, lemon juice concentrate, fish stock (water, potato flakes, concentrated fish extract (Fish extract, salt), salt, cod powder (Fish), lemon juice concentrate, onion powder, anchovy purée (anchovies (Fish), salt, sunflower oil)], cornflour, onion powder, ground white pepper], dill, extra virgin olive oil, maize starch, yeast, paprika, apple cider vinegar, salt, sugar, Wheat gluten, black pepper. 

DYED SMOKED HADDOCK (Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) (28%) (Fish), salt, colours: curcumin, paprika extract), potato, Wheat flour (Wheat flour, calcium carbonate, iron, niacin, thiamine), HADDOCK (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) (10%) (Fish), water, rapeseed oil, potato flake, double cream (Milk), Cheddar cheese (Milk), whole milk (Milk), chives, extra virgin olive oil, maize starch, salt, yeast, paprika, apple cider vinegar, sugar, Wheat gluten, fish stock (Fish stock, salt, maltodextrin, yeast extract, onion powder, celeriac (Celery), rapeseed oil, leek powder, carrot powder, white pepper, bay), Dijon mustard (water, ground Mustard seeds, spirit vinegar, salt), concentrated lemon juice, cornflour, onion powder, black pepper.

I like that the food engineers at Aldi have deferred to actual cooks in the experimental kitchen, the tasty bits in these two products are quite different: haddock calls for celery, salmon for dill - who knew? And of course I am impressed that they have Latin-named the species - except in the case of cod powder and anchovies. God know and who cares about what goes into "cod powder", presumably it's what's left after all the fillets have been taken away and has been rejected in the fish goujon factories. Anchovies otoh are interesting taxonomically because there are several species in the genus Engraulis. I reckon that nobody who eats cheap fish-cakes would notice if Aldi replaced E. encrasicolus [euro-anchovy] with E. anchoita [Argentine a.] or E. japonicus if those stocks are more robust this year.

Sunday 10 March 2024

Do not pass Go


Notnext day delivery with Amazon Prime (Donner Pass I-80 CA last weekend)

Friday 8 March 2024


One way I try to keep my life simple is by reducing choice.

In my Borrowbox universe, I'm overwhelmed by all the books that are there for my reading pleasure, so I only browse the non-fiction section - and obvs leaning to science in that bin. That limits things to reality, rather than some infinite universes model of space and time. I confess to feeling a little smug about this adhesion to Truth, if not beauty. But I recognise that science has very little useful to say about the human condition or inter-personal relationships. Nevertheless, someone needs to shake me to insist "Read This Novel!". On foot of such orders, I read with advantage Small Things Like These and Station Eleven. More recently, I took on board that one of my binfo pals is married to a successful YA author AND that one of my MeFi para-pals is Charlie Stross the prolific Britse SF writer.

Trouble with prolific is that it gives me choice-collywobbles. Stross is about 60 years old and sixty books published. In mid-Feb, feeling that I had to put my toe in Strosswater ,I found that only one earbook was immediately available. No choice? Obliged to plunge! Accordingly, I loaded up  Empire Games  which is the first book in the third trilogy of his 9 volume Merchant Princes series. It is rather good: not dissimilar, in its post-Apocalyptic vibe, to Station Eleven. There is also resonance with Iain M. Banks [obitribute from 10 years ago] insofar as they both write loosely connected stories embedded in a coherent Universe which is quite different from ours.

The Merchant Princes new-normal is that the Earth hosts a large number of parallel universes which through accident and happenstance have gorn all two-roads diverged in a yellow wood on us. We/they only know about the para-historical timelines [tech term] because some people develop the ability to shift among them. We may be thankful that these spacetime travellers are able to bring their immediate baggage, including clothes, [Schwarznegger, we're looking-not-looking at you] with them as they jaunt [tech term] to the same place in a different universe. If that can be achieved, then ideas, tech and stuff can be transported in a way analagous to horizontal transfer of genes between species. As with horizontal transfer this can confer a benefit on the recipients - without causing a loss at the donor end. So it's not a zero-sum game - notwithstanding the possibility of unintended consequences and careful what you wish for

I liked Empire Games so much that I've put a Borrowbox lien on  Dark State , the next book in the series. I guess that's a recommendation, from me to you. PS sorry late launch today - made a PM/AM rookie error on the scheduler.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Le droit du sol

Le droit du sol, comme le droit du sang ou la naturalisation, constitue un moyen d'accéder à la nationalité française. Il permet à un enfant né en France de parents étrangers de se voir attribuer la nationalité française à ses 18 ans, de façon automatique.

Transl: Right by place of birth, like right by descent or naturalisation, is a means of acquiring French nationality. It allows children born in France to foreign parents to automatically acquire French nationality when they turn 18. 

This used to be the norm until recently: it was desirable to acquire citizens to a) replace the scourging losses of infant mortality b) be productive workers b) do their national service in the army c) pay taxes to support pensioners . . . and all the other drains on the exchequer. My pal Pepe did a two year post-doc in Edinburgh in the 1970s and one of his boys was born during that time so had dual UK and Spanish citizenship. In 1983, the Brits tightened up their citizenship regs, so that you could only claim your British passport if one of your parents was, in their turn British.

In Ireland the story has been dynamic since the foundation of the state. In 1999, as part of the pragmatics of the Good Friday Agreement, and the passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution [94% approval rating!], all people born on the 32 county island of Ireland were entitled to a Green passport. With the turn of the century certain pols started raising a boogey-man of heavily pregnant Nigerians delivering their baby in the National Maternity Hospital and so acquiring at least a right to remain. That loophole was closed in 2004 by 27th "racist" Amendment to the Constitution [79% approval rating!] limiting citizenship to infants born to already Irish parent(s) - like the post-1983 Brits.

Mayotte is in the news in France over le droit du sol, because, like St. Pierre et Miquelon [whc prev], and Réunion [prev] these archipelagos are départements et régions d'outre-mer with the same rights, privs and representation in Paris as metropolitan departments like Lot-et-Garrone, Seine-maritime, Marne etc. x95.

Through the 1960s France had been divesting itself of her African colonies starting with Algeria after the disastrous civil war which formed the back-drop in The Day of The Jackal. 1 million pied-noirs re-patriated themselves to metropolitan France after 1962.  The tiny Comoros islands halfway between Mozambique and Madagascar were comparatively late to the independence table but a plebicite was carried out in December 1974 which yielded a peculiar result. The 3 Northern islands of the archipelago voted overwhelmingly for independence asap while Mayotte voted au contraire:

Island For Against Turnout
Anjouan 100% 0.7‰ 96%
Gd Comore 100% 0.2‰ 94%
Mayotte 37% 63% 78%
Mohéli 100% 0.8‰ 95%

You can see how it would piss off the majority if Mayotte was allowed to self-determine itself into staying French. Where would such "balkanisation" [the term used by the Comoros government in waiting] end? What if M. Passable and Mme Hassani in Pangadjou want to embrace their inner French but their neighbours don't? Nobody wants to finish up like Baarle. Nevertheless, Mayotte was allowed to secede from the union. Subsequent referendums in 2001 (74% Yes)  and 2009 (95% Yes) firmed up the support for the belief that  Mayotte is French .

So here we are. Mayotte is performatively emphatically French like Normandie or Provence and le droit du sol applies. While the government elite of Comoros wants to be an independent nation, many of the plain people of Anjouan fancy a go at the bright lights and opportunities of Paris or Marseille. If they can make the 80km sea crossing to Mayotte they feel they are halfway to the promised land. What to do? The Left want to suck up the anomaly and allow Mayotte to maintain parity of esteem droits metropolitan France. The Right want to use this edge case to drive a wedge between old French whose people have always come from France and new French people, born in France but whose parents or grandparents were born abroad - whether previous colonies or not. Of course Old French are white and 'christian' even if they never go to mass; while New French are from Portugal [Paris is the city with the second largest population of ethnic Portuguese!], Papeete, or tend to pray five times a day.

What the actual french have to say.

Monday 4 March 2024

Aggie aggie update

Did I tell you about corralling the flock into one of the four 1 hectare fields to make them graze it down? I did . . . at length . . . with pictures. The poor sheep had to work their ticket for five weeks between 27Jan24 and 29Feb24. A couple of them had almost eaten their way to freedom through the Sleeping Beauty jungle of briars and furze along the unfenced ditch / dyke / wall / boundary. But I took a saw down and plugged the gap with fresh spiky bushes: "you will eat the grim looking thatch in the field". We are not yet ready to write it off to rutting deer and badgers.

After breakfast on Leap Day, we girded our loins, seized our crooks, and opened the temporary gate to the Field Over the River. The sheep were clearly delirah "man, the FOtR is so borrrring" and galloped through the gap, hoping for fresh pasture. We brought them over to the larger of the two Fields Over the Lane. On arrival, the younger members of the flock were quite spring frisky at the prospect of some nice fresh sprouting grass to eat. It took me about an hour of extra outdoor labour to re-patriate: the temp-gate hurdles; the mineral-lick bucket; the buckets for water (whc scrub clean); associated posts and cordage. 

Did I mention fresh sprouting grass? Grass is grand for sheep, but a mixed blessing for the areas of the farrrm which are No Go for sheep. NoGo because, like, roses, rhubarb and rocket. That grass is on me to mow. Consulting what3words says that this NoGo haggard is ~50m x ~80m or 40 ares in extent; about half of which is given over to buildings, shrubberies, roses, rhubarb and rocket. I can mow this, I have for 25 years mowed this, I will continue to mow this but the site is on a 1:10 slope, some parts steeper than others. My what3words attention drifted East and I found all 15 pixels sheep recorded on GoogleMaps datestamp 2024. Just that info narrows the time frame to 1st-27th Jan 2024, because that's when we moved the flock to the field next-door. The Man at DeptOfAg will know that we were up to quota for sheep for that month. What price privacy?

Meanwhile back in the haggard, Mon 26Feb24 was bright and breezy, so at tea-time I fuelled up the mower, fired that sucker up and thrashed the lawn flat bits in the yard and in front of the polytunnel. This time last year, at that stage, Dau.II (then resident) would have tag-teamed me and finished the job. It's a game of two 25 minute halves. Absent Dau the Mau, I stopped there. It would be toooo bougie if I pegged out pushing a goddam mower up hill at about the same age as my pal Paul Jaffe's heart blew out while pushing-starting a neighbour's car. I was ragin' the next day when all-day rain came back putting paid to any grass-mowing. Wot did I expect in Ireland in February?

The weather was similar on LeapDay, a bit crisper, but sunny enough; although Met Éireann was giving rain later. Having sank back exhausted after sheep shenanigans in the morning, a bowl of soup and a slice of toast at lunchtime revived me enough to finish the mowing. As you see above, you can now land your Cessna 172 on the hill up to the tunnel. There will be scones if we're given 60 minutes notice. As it happened, 10 minutes after I got the mower under shelter it started to rain - so that's a carpe mowem win. And the day after that, St David's Day, we had actual [soggy, unskiable] snow by lunchtime, along with half the country

Busy Bobby Barfly had a lot on that day, because he also planted 18 beans shucked out of withered brittle bean-pods saved from last year. They'd better take, because we've eaten the rest of our seed corn in that department; I'm not about to, like, buy beans to sow. For the now, I have them in the dark under the sofa, so they won't be short of methane. I'll give each ⌀ 6cm pot 2 tsp water every other day until they show.

Sunday 3 March 2024

World Wildlife Day

It is World Wildlife Day, but I have nothing to say about this. It is not Talk Like a Pirate Day but we'll start with a bit of Ahoy Shipmates:

Saturday 2 March 2024

Alice Park Stardate 0400-02-03-2024

I'm not one to keep you [from yest] on tenterhooks . . . "Well did it snow on the weans last night?"

Reader, it did. When you're 8 y.o. that counts as success; when you're the 48 y.o. adult i/c, the joy is by proxy. It's more about “O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature's soft nurse, how have I frightened thee. That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness?”  Apart from the snow and the winter-dead trees, this still from The Alice Park Sleepover [PG] includes a back-lit reformed axe-murderer [centre] who volunteered as security. All good, so.

Friday 1 March 2024

Remember the dispossessed

St David's Day! A day for Glamorgan sausages [cheese, leeks, breadcrumbs]; quiche [ricotta, leeks, eggs]; leek and potato soup. While leeks Allium porrum like so many Alliums (onions, garlic, ramsons, shallots) are a cornerstone for cooking as we know it they don't look particularly emblematic. They say that Owain Glyndŵr rode into battle against the English with a leek attached to his helmet - but you can take that with a pinch of salt and pepper. You can see why the herald Rouge Dragon Pursuivant might have moved to run daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus as substitute in the world of Welsh symbols. Don't eat the daffodils! Although they are in the same family Amaryllidaceae as leeks, daffs are rich in a toxic alkaloid called lycorine. Most of the chatter about lycorine poisoning is about dogs; because as we all know, some dogs will scarf down any ould shite in an eye-blink. You'd have to be determined to choke down a lethal dose (~50g?), though, because daffodil bulbs taste 'orrible.

But we're not here today to purge you with emetics. Some other things are going down as well. Tonight, not for the first time, some of our family in England are going to be rough-sleeping in Alice Park, at the Eastern end of the City of Bath. They are, as before, raisin' money to support Julian House a local charity helping the homeless. They say Charity begins at home, but for the youngest generation in our family, it begins at homeless. They set a modest target £10K for the whole Bath Sleep Out and £200 for Team Bring Your Mittens but TBYM surged through that within hours of launch [snapshot R]. No real surprise there, because their network is top-heavy with Richie Rich types. 

But it's not really about the money, is it? Families start early and (un)consciously transmitting their values and aspirations to the children. For a disconcerting number of families we know, one key thread is about performative manners:

  • "don't hold your knife like a pen", 
  • "say thank you to granny"
  • "share your stuff with your little brother"
  • "don't speak with your mouth full"
  • "leave the seat down

so many rules, so much baggage, not all of it good. But I think the Sleep Out is a good place to start. 

  • it's habit forming after 7 or 8 years of being there
  • it has been proselytised to sweep up young friends-and-relations
  • it's one device-free night
  • it's fairly uncomfortable
  • it's not really dangerous
  • soaking the rich rellies is no harm
  • the dispossessed are the ultimate beneficiaries.

I'm not usually in favour of performative charity events, although I participated in one years before they were commonplace. But there are no air-miles involved in schlepping a sleeping-bag and some card-board sheets down to Alice Park with a sack-truck for the 1km (mostly downhill) journey to the venue. 

Prior planning prevents poor performance! In among the hi-jinks and star-gazing, the kids involved will spare a thought for the poor bloody infantry who do this every night because Western democracies privilege capital over people. I believe there are plans for a hot breakfast al fresco with, or probably without, Glamorgan sausages.