Sunday 30 June 2024

End Jun Mixum

The Feast of St Martial of Aquitaine: just so y'know.

Friday 28 June 2024

Norwegian cheese

 For a while now, I've been a total TRIP groupie: The Rest is Politics is a podcast where Alastair Campbell (Lab.) and Rory Stewart (Con.) agree to disagree agreeably. We spent the Bloomsday weekend in Dublin, jest hangin', with Dau.I and Dau.II who are bunking together in D7. On Monday we went on a site-visit to the branch where Dau.I is currently Senior Assistant Librarian. We were there to bust her out of work for lunch, but I went browsing the This Just In shelves and came away with three (3) books. 

Having galloped through Rory Stewart's recentbio in May, it seemed only parity-of-esteem fair to read But What Can I Do? Why Politics Has Gone So Wrong, and How You Can Help Fix It by Alastair Campbell. Campbell is a prolific writer (and reader) of books, mostly about politics but he has interesting things to say about mental health [full metal mental breakdown 1986], sport [did I tell you I played soccer with Maradona] and leadership. This book can be read as a primer for (young) people who want to Do Something about the evil which stalks the land. Pick your evil, whatever riles your goat: bees, fitness, Gaza, housing, Маріуполь, mental health, period poverty, school dinners, sleep hygiene. Don't spread yourself too thin; keep focus; pick your battles

The first third of the book sets the stage for the post-truth world in which we now endure. In 1994, after another rotten in the state scandal in British politics, John "PM" Major set up a committee to set standards in public office. Thereafter everyone would know what was not okay chaps. The first chair was an eminent son-of-Kerry top judge Michael Nolan and the Nolan Principles set out the requirements for those who wished to serve: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It is worth three minutes of your time to go through the executive summary, even if you only run an after-school ping-pong club.

eee but Cambell loves his lists and his acronyms. GGOOB getting good out of bad is his watchword for thinking positive in adversity. He cites a number of highly successful people HSP? who reckon that they were made by their set-backs. Operationally, he suggests that problems / campaigns can be more effectively approached by separating Objective and Strategy from Tactics. He was recently invited to inspire a group of Norwegian business leaders: that's when he learned that OST is the Norwegian for cheese. Each chapter in the second (how you can help fix it) and third (taking the next step) part of the book ends with summary bullet points of advice for wannabees.

You can't keep a successful author from churning them out: agents, publishers, and publicists require it. Campbell's latest ventures are a brace of kids' books: Little Experts: Why Politics Matters for primary school children, and Alastair Campbell Talks Politics for teens. Available in August.

Big shout-out to/for Fiona Millar, Campbell's power behind the throne and a person in her own right. She stuck by her man when he was being insufferably ambitious, when his life imploded and when he gave up The Dhrink. Here they are [50m] talking about their journey.

Wednesday 26 June 2024

Self medication

My bestie from Grad School dropped by for a visit on her way back to Boston from Germany.  She has not been to visit for 25 years, and our last facetime was in Summer 2014. One of the hazards of international travel is that, mask or nomask, you have to sit for several hours in an aluminium incubator tube with several hundred randomers. You need a pretty robust immune system to fight off the air-borne assault of millions of spittle-drops harboring billions of viruses and we are neither of us as young and fit as we were in the the 1980s.  

Upshot is that, over the weekend, a <cof> snot and sniffle situation developed. She was flying out on Tuesday and we agreed on Bank Holiday Monday that, if they could be obtained, some anti-histamines and a cough-suppressing elixir [as R] might make the difference between getting back to Boston as scheduled and . . . not doing so. Now pharmacists, and especially pharmacy technicians [who work damned hard facing a tetchy and demanding public six days a week, but don't get paid as much as The Boss] deserve a day off. If I ruled the country, I would go back sixty years when pretty much all shops and premises were closed of a Sunday. Call me judgemental but there's something amiss if the best that people can do at the weekend is to mooch down to the Mall and buy shoddy gim-crack which nobody needs and won't bring happiness or utility once acquired. But folks do get sick over the weekend. Not mortal call-the-doctor sick, let alone opt to spend many hours in the <cof> <cof> miasma of emergency care at the nearest hospital. 

It is a known thing that in any sufficiently large community, one of the pharmacies in rotation will be open for a couple hours before lunch on Sunday. Accordingly, I fired up the Interweb to discover a) whether Enniscorthy was a sufficiently large community b) which was the designated pharmacy on that Bank Holiday Monday. Well damme if I could discover that information.  I phoned McCauleys which has been gobbling up independent pharmacies across the Sunny South East but their phone robot tellingly offered: for the pharmacy press 1; for beauty products press 2; for photography press 3; . . . for hot water bottles press 9. Drugs and band-aids may still be the core business in Irish pharmacies but the wage-bill is paid by sunscreen, mascara and deodorant. I spent a l o n g time on hold after press 1

I then called CareDoc on the assumption that they could / should be a clearing house for out-of-hours medical care. They offered a menu and the advice that, if it was URGENT then call 999. It wasn't urgent and I would have sat on hold for a l o n g time IF I'd been confident that CareDoc would be the key. I wasn't that confident, so after 5 minutes I hung up and called the Gardai. If I was running the show, the pharmacists would sort out who was on call and then inform the Gardai. The Guards picked up quick enough, and the answerer agreed that it would be handy to have that information available on her desk but it wasn't.

It is possible the the Irish Pharmacy Union and/or the Pharmaceutical Association of Ireland, has a policy or standard operating procedure for ensuring minimal access to pharmacy products over the weekend but I haven't been able to figure it out.  I turned instead to La Torbellina de Tenerife our highly effective, highly networked neighbour across the valley. Her response? "Enniscorthy is rubbish. I'm much better connected in New Ross. Indeed, I am even at this moment on my way to the next village over and I'll pick you what you need in Ross. Wait, I have antihistaminics here in the house, I'll drop them up before I go".  So we sorted our non-urgent but important care issues in a timely fashion. But only because we have an accomplished magician in our midst.

The IPU and PAI have a case to answer and a policy to roll out.

Monday 24 June 2024

Go back where you came from

A curious collision of two different feeds occurred the day after my birthday. Over the last few years, I have slumped into a ritual of checking the headlines from RTE every day before breakfast. You may imagine that, as a protestant with a very expensive education, a cold bath before breakfast would be more my (bracing) style. I did try a cold bath once or twice in my youth in the sense of try anything once except morris-dancing and incest [whc quote prev]. But as a habit, it never took. 

So the RTE headline which arrested my attention was Law to strip citizenship to be enacted before Dáil summer break. Helen McEntee the FG Minister of Justice, is presumably bringing this before cabinet for their appro as a way of garnering a headline now, followed by some extra votes from her Othering constituency come the next election. This lamentable thin-end of a wedge is presumably informed by the sorry case of Shamima Begum a Brit who left school and country at 15 to support the Islamic State in Syria. Shamima got married out there, had three children who died, and returned home chastened, not to say battered, by a series of unfortunate events / choices. The UK passed the Nationality and Borders Act in 2022, so facilitate the ejection of undesirables.  The Act allows the Home Secretary to revoke citizenship if the 'perp' is eligible for some other citizenship. According to a UK Tribunal, Bangladesh, whence Shamima's parents came, would allow Begum to apply for citizenship through them. According the Bangladesh, that is just not true (and they don't want her).

The other feed-floater which crashed up against The Minister's certainties was a quote from celebrity US film critic Roger Ebert (18Jun1942 - 04Apr2013) [bloboprev "The ability of so many people to live comfortably with the idea of capital punishment is perhaps a clue to how so many Europeans were able to live with the idea of the Holocaust: Once you accept the notion that the state has the right to kill someone and the right to define what is a capital crime, aren't you halfway there?

Ahem, quite so! Even without this new strip-citz legislation, I have been invited by a forty-shades-of-green-washing colleague to "Go back where you came from" when I shared that my ancestors were horse-riding protestants. One of the delights of my boring Anglo patriarchal existence is the ethnic diversity of my acquired family - adding French, Lebanese, Toubou, Punjabi spices to my Scots, Irish, Welsh stodge. Presumably The Minister, confident that her new law would only be applied in very limited circumstances cannot imagine circumstances where members of my family will be Nakba-ed out of their right to remain because they failed a freckle count.

A civilized society
works on / with / for its hard cases
it doesn't kill expel them

Don't forget Martin Niemöller: Zuerst kamen sie . . . When they came for the socialists etc. bloody etc.

Sunday 23 June 2024

Sankt Hans Afen

You're allowed to have a bonfire tonight [you'll never take me alive surveillance drones!] because it is the eve of the feast of St John the Baptist. Festa de São João do Porto or Fogueres de Sant Joan, Alicante It's the solstice counterpoise to Christmas.

Friday 21 June 2024

Traditional Hay Meadow

It's nice to be incentivized for something you'd be doing anyway. Like when I was sent on a chainsaw use and maintenance course as a brand-new member of the Irish Timber Growers' Association and came away with safety chaps, helmet, gloves and boots and a cheque for £178 from Social Welfare for taking a week off from "productive investments" on the farrrm. It is, so, a farm . . . with a herd number for the 15 sheep, and finely-coloured informative satellite maps of each field on-line at the Dept Ag in Dublin. We don't need to make money from the farm - which serves other purposes for us, like raising a brace of honest, can-do, effective humans to adulthood. 

The idea of incentives is based on a certainty that particular policy is good for the polity. As a tax-payer, as well as a recipient of some of the gumment's largesse, I'd like to think that Agricultural policy decisions are evidence based rather than an idea cooked up in an office in Dublin and not subject to peer-review. We used to know an Nth-generation sheep-raising family from County Wicklow. In the 1960s, they had been encouraged by a man from the ministry to knock down all the 19thC stone out-buildings and replace them with modern, space-efficient, galvanised steel hay-barns. They sort of knew where all cut-stone lintels and sills were buried but were not (yet) cash-strapped enough to dig them up and sell on to architectural salvage.

From about the same Big Ag in Ireland began its love-affair with Lolium perenne ; Seagalach buan ; perennial rye-grass. Careful research from back then established that cattle fed on rye-grass delivered more meat and/or more milk than any other diet in the study. I guess there were parallel experiments proving that a ryegrass monoculture yielded more tonnes per hectare than anything else available /imaginable. Especially in a world where unlimited cheap nitrogen was availble in pellets. In the Animal Farm mentality of the time, if ryegrass is good, everything else must be bad and herbicidal sprays were developed to kill all the 'weeds' or at least all the dicots: chekkitout 2,4-D aka 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid which was one of the components of Agent Orange. And we know how well that cunning plan worked out?

Two generations of family farms have been told (resistance in useless) that monoculture Lolium perenne is the only way forward; the only way to be financially viable for the next two generations. In the last five years, there has been a complete volte face, and Joe and Josie Farmer can now get extra money for leaving their hay meadows uncut for an anxiety-inducing long time.  'tis a rare farmer who saves, like, actual, hay nowadays. Hay needs a whole family and the neighbours as well; not to mention a predictable week ahead of dry settled weather. Silage otoh needs a single effective to operate in sequence a mower, a baler and a polythene wrapper.

But for us, this is Our Scheme: leaving the meadows uncut between 15-Apr and 01-Jul generates €50/ha a spectacular vista of wild flowers; best viewed on your knees. Dactylorhiza maculata the heath spotted orchid [2023] is only the bonus cherry on the cake of colour. Last year, our Ag Advisor was delirah to find so many of the positive indicator species so abundant that he could tick enough of the boxes on the checklist to ensure that we got maximum payment . . . for that small part of the €quation. 

It seems that we have become Best In Valley for Trad Hay Meadow and on the 1st Thursday in June we were volunteered to host a KTG Knowledge Transfer Group meeting to show our neighbours how it  can be done. Fair enough, happy to help. It caused a mild frisson of anxiety when I gathered at short notice that, as well as a table for the paper-work and 20ish seats to listen to the technical introduction, I should also provide tea (and cake, or at least biscuits). The picture above shows 20 bemused farmers aged 30 to 80 standing in a field up to their knees in 'dirt' [technical term] and being told with a straight face and earnest delivery that hay-rattle Rhinanthus minor gliográn,  sheep sorrel Rumex acetosella Samhadh caorach, and stitchwort Stellaria graminea tursarraing bheag were highly desirable harbingers of healthy stock and deliverers of micro-nutrients.

Additional irony: in order to access this field everyone had walked past and ignored the TRADITIONAL HAY MEADOW PLEASE KEEP TO LEFT FIELD EDGE sign, the back of which can be seen in the top right corner of the picture. 

When the midges got insupportable, everyone trooped back to the yard for tea and cake. I believe this was the 1st of 10 KTG meetings, for which all regular participants can claim a PPD personal professional development payment. Bob's Famous Flapjacks and a rather nice brack with cherries, sultanas and marzipan cubes were much appreciated. Hopefully the exercise will induce some of these strong silent farmers to discover their inner chef, rather than buying two packets of Marietta biscuits for company as usual.

refs: The official guide to indicator species

Wednesday 19 June 2024

oof oeufs

 In the preface to his 1490 printing of the Aeniad, Wm Caxton set in motion the unification of the speech (or at least the writing) of anyone who lived in England. In my dayes happened that certayn marchautes were in a ship in Tamyse for to haue sayled ouer the see into Zelande  and for lacke of wynde thei taryed atte Forlond. And wente to lande for to refreshe them And one of theym named Sheffelde a mercer cam in to an hows and axed for mete, and specyally he axyed after eggys And the good wyf answerde, that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaut was angry, for he also coude speke no frenshe, but wolde haue hadde egges and she understode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren then the good wyf sayd that she understood hym wel. Loo what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte, egges or eyren, certainly it is harde to playse euery man, by cause of dyuersite & chauge of langage. Nope, we're not talking about these eggs:

They tooo small, they robin's eggs! making their start in life in a little-used letterbox in Waterford: the parents devoutly hoping that their reprodustive hopes didn't get sliced in a rain of unwanted election flyers. I'm sure robin's eggs are more or less the same as Ballyfree eggs but it requires a lot more to make an omelette. 

I am here rather to share some newly acquired knowledge about reading commercial eggshells. New to me; I daresay you've known all about these eggy life-skills for years. Since shortly after the Rose Fitz-Kennedy Bridge opened we have discovered a rural rat run through Rathgarogue, Co WX, which allows us to by-pass New Ross altogether and shave 10 minutes off the journey time from Chateau Blob to The Déise. Bonus is that there is an honesty-box supply of organic free-range eggs [€2.50 / six] just at the Northern edge of the village. Turns out that we've been missing a trick because organic eggs is a mere sideline to their core pork and bacon business

We had a cock-up on the commissariat front recently and had to buy eggs from, like, A Shop. There is a heckuva lot of reading on a modern shop-bot egg: almost as diverting as a corn-flake packet. Even apart from the sell-by date. One egg was stamped 0 IE R 178A and another from a different source had 1 IE R 150. This is clearly a Good Thing mandated by Brussels to promote food traceability and quality control. Because I can't see Big Egg offering to purchase an automatic egg-ID stamper seeing it rather as drain on share-holder value. This quite apart from any suggestion that Egg Capitalism would be interested in foisting peculiar-eggs sourced in . . . Britain on the unsuspecting EU consumer. I've no idea how egg-labelling goes down in Germany or Portugal but I am tickled that some EUrocrat noted that their are 26 counties in the Republic and matched each county, sorted alphabetically in English, to one letter of the Roman alphabet. On a very small 'sample' I deduce the Monaghan [R] is the epicentre of Peak Egg in this country. The rest of the ID 150 or 178A is a unique code for each producer. Rathgarogue gets a derogation on each-egg labelling presumably because, selling a few dozen eggs a day, it would take them 30 years to pay off the loan required to buy a modern egg stamper. Each box is stamped with their producer's ID. 

More: IE is obvs from context Ireland and the first digit is a code for chicken welfare:

  • 0: organic
  • 1: free range
  • 2: barn
  • 3: cage
You do you, not gonna judge you. but in reality things are not always implied by the legislation.  Free range differs from barn thus "must have continuous access to outdoors during daylight hours, to fresh water and to external areas which are mainly covered with vegetation. The birds are housed in hen houses, where part of the floor is covered in straw, which allows the birds to exhibit their natural behaviour." With a facility housing 100,000 birds, access to outdoors might be a door at the far end the shed. Do not imagine for a minute that one of the few employees of the business adopts the persona of an old-style army gym-instructor and hooshes all the birds out into the Fresh Air after breakfast and won't let them in again until dark. In Ireland, it's bloody freezing, probably raining, out there, 5 days out of 7.  Producing eggs is a metabolic process and at least partly dependent on the ambient temperature.  Our experience is that chickens definitely know enough to come out of the rain if they could. This is all stacked towards a consensus that free-range is less than open range or wide range. It's actually difficult / impossible in regular stores to purchase eggs that are both organic and free-range. But Rathgarogue Organic Farms [Eircode Y34 XN20] has that covered!

NowaEurope eggs = eieren = jajka = ovos = uibheacha = ägg = αυγά = vecja = huevos = munat

Monday 17 June 2024

Still chuntering along

Dau.I and Dau.II are now bracketing 30! Right now they're living city centre in a tiny flat where neither the bathroom, nor the kitchen has a window. It's okay, it's how millions live, but it's different from how / where they grew up. For reasons, and without consulting them, we chose to buy a remote farmlet, where the nearest inhabited home was 300m away; where the nearest shop was 3,000m distant and things like theatres 30,000m over the horizon. It might be short on amenities but it is long on wildlife, fresh air, . . . and chores. I was away working for much of those early years at the turn of the century, so it was on The Beloved to facilitate all the off-site stimulation that seemed desirable: the HomeEd meet-ups; the ballet classes; the tin-whistle, piano, saxophone lessons; the trips to the beach; the Speech & Drama sessions. So many car-miles, so much carbon foot-print but then again - so many audio-books, so many round-the-universe discussions, so many rice-cakes.

One of the regular tours was down to the Talbot Hotel in Wexford for afternoon sessions with Red Moon Children's Theatre. That was a 90km! round-trip which was tolerable for a twofer. But after one season of imagine you're in a balloon Dau.II dug in her heels, folded her arms, and announced that Drama was a drag and she was not going to do it. Figuring that the 90km might be part of the issue The Beloved spoke to Red Moon and asked if they'd consider bringing Moonhommed to the Mountain. The colonization of Co Carlow was agreed in principal, a date in September was fixed, Rathanna Community Hall was booked and The Beloved started a One Woman campaign to get small bums on seats for the first session. She knocked on every door in three townlands and thereby got to meet all the neighbours, some of whom had small children and some of whom offered money to the venture. It was hours and hours of work and A Lot of tea.

Michael and Eileen Red-Moon came on a scoping site-visit. Michael looked through the kitchen window at the back of the Hall at the truly spectacular view of the southern cwm of Mt Leinster rearing up from the flat fields and hedges to the craggy summit. Cripes, he said, I'd come and work here for free just to catch the changes in that view every week. Eileen told him to stop his romantic guff, this was work for, like, money.

On the day of registration, Dau.I (who was invested) and Dau.II (who was willing to help) were setting out chairs . . . so many chairs.
Michael: that will be enough chairs.
Dau.I: nope, we need 30 kids to break even, and the Mammies may want to sit.
And it was so! That first year 30+ kids from 2 different age groups committed to paying €5 each to imagine they're in a balloon. That was the same group size as the mighty metropolis of Wexford could muster. The creativity and energy of children is an enormous resource for the tapping.

Things moved on. After a tuthree years, there was a putsch and Red Moon were replaced by a younger theatre chap from Kilkenny. After a couple more years, Dau.I and Dau.II (who did participate) out-grew the after-school classes demographic. The Beloved performed her Exit Strategy: handing over the purse to one Mam, the bookings to another, registration to a third. 

A few years ago we were in the Post Office in Borris (12,000m distant and at the edge of the RathannaDrama catchment). One of the original Mammies from 2002 recognised The Beloved and saluted her for starting it all way back when. It seems the venture is still chuntering on. It is just possible that the first cohort, mammies in their turn, are enrolling their kids for September 2024.

The reason I'm remembering this now, and it's possible that I've told it already, is because of a similar story at the end of Hilary Cottam's book which I reviewed on Friday. When Participle set up their Circle experiments to empower and engage The Olds, the business model was a Club with each member paying a Sub. Some bystanders were knee-jerk outraged: these Circles delivered so many Good Things for the community that surely the local authority should be picking up the tab. It smacked of Co-pay which is an invidious idea allowing those responsible to weasel out of the full cost of service provision. Not so: neither for Cottam's Circles, no more for Rathanna Drama. It is an absolutely certainty that, if funded by the CoCo, The Drama would have been eliminated in the post-crash austerity [prev, last para]. By handing the reins of the cart to Mammies people invested in the success of the venture, it could not be obliterated by an anonymous bean-counter in County Hall.

Sunday 16 June 2024

Bloomsday 24

more and more for less and less

Friday 14 June 2024

Change Islands

Something is rotten in the State.

My Parapals Rory and Alastair, for all that they mad-busy, are great readers altogether. I've taken on board a few of their book-recs out of respect to their sense of what's worth spending time on. The latest rec to be eased out of the library has been  Radical Help: How we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the welfare state (2018) by "social engineer" Hilary Cottam. 

Cottam's thesis is that William "Charterhouse, Balliol" Beveridge's 1942 vision for a Welfare State is no long fit for purpose in a post-industrial society top heavy with extractive plutocrats and ranks of declining Olds. And always the ♇!⊗king market, as if competition was always obvs better than community and cooperation. Maybe Capitalism = Koyaanisqatsi = "a state of life that calls for another way of living": Caring for each other is not about efficiency or units of production. It is about human connection, our development, and at the end our comfort and dignity

In the UK, there are 100,000 neighbours-from-hell families, each of which is costing The State about £250,000 every year. One case study of a (single parent four offspring one preg) family in Swindon clocked 74 different professionals from 20 different agencies (tutors, counsellors, police, housing, health visitors, the social) involved in the family's care and attention. Cottam's people shadowed (with a time sheet) the eldest boy's social-worker and found that 74% of his time was spend on Admin (the forms, the forms); 12% on the phone haggling with other agencies; leaving 14% of the working week for actual work with the chap. But that social-worker's case load was much longer than one troubled teenager. 5½ hours a week spread across a dozen kids barely gives a social worker time to take off his coat, and in-fill another questionnaire before driving off to the next meeting. FFS don't use neighbours-from-hell and the like, it lacks compassion and smacks of hubris - the overweening complacency that it could never happen to me coupled with victim-blaming.

Cottam sets out the stall for the UK welfare state as it now stands. The Irish equivalent is not substantively different. When novel "obvious to all thinking people" good things are suggested, The State puts the kibosh on them double-quick:

  • See the same doctor? Too expensive
  • Help another person? Too risky
  • Provide solutions through a known community group? Against the rules of competition

Manage need vs develop capabilities

The middle section of the book looks at left-field "Experiments" or pilot-studies with which Cottam has been involved; professing, if not actually solve, to ease the burden of problems in 5 areas where The State is only rearranging the deck-chairs and not delivering a lot. Well 1 million people are employed to help make things better for their fellow citizens - 1 million adults not collecting the dole, so there is that. For ten years, Cottam's NGO Participle did the state some service and demonstrated how agile, focused orgs might deliver more QALYs for less money.

  1. Family. Their Life programme set in place mentors / listeners who had time to listen to the manifold problems of the dispossessed; develop a holistic view rather than silo-thinking; engender self-respect by respecting the troubled rather than joining the line of comfortable people who want to beat on them
  2. Youth. Their Loop programme swept up lost youth and found them work-placements in the community - a bit like the best examples of Irish Transition Year work experience. The pilot study was going gang-busters with obvious benefirs accruing to The Yoof, The Community, The Employers. But when they held an open day for government agencies, the scheme was immediately closed down . . . because teens were developing a relationship with an adults who was neither a family member, nor a teacher. In the eyes of The State, all adults are potentially if not probably predators on the young.
  3. Employment. The first thing in Backr was to call out the complete failure of Job Centres to place the unemployed in work. They then created a network of MeetUps where job-seekers could network, commiserate, and even crowdfund money to get small businesses over the threshold for creating a new position.
  4. Health. Another problem, another daft label. Wellogram applies similar holistic views to health and well-being. It's normal now to refer people with unlabelled malaise deeper into the maws of the NHS. Maybe it's better to take them out of that mill altogether and treat their loneliness, stress, and feeling crap with kindness and a cup of tea. The GP has no time to listen and for some people some of the time, tea and chat is at least as effective as [and FFS cheaper than!] anti-depressants, anti-biotics or anti-inflammatories. Health education is the unsexy, unfunded, unseen part of the health service: but it doesn't have to be like that..
  5. Aging. The End is Circle. This experiment facilitated Elders getting together and telling each other that they could so do more for themselves rather than relying on the State or it's agents. Call me the complacent patriarchy but I've found that fixing stuff, making stuff, myself is empowering. It also frees me from dependence on someone else's timetable, engagement and priorities. And it saves money. I know, I know it's a short step from victim-blaming but making people do for themselves can be done with kindness, with panache, with respect.

There you have it. Dozens of ideas, thrashed out round a conference table, and rolled out into the local community. Some of the schemes are still chuntering along years after the initial funding dried up.  Related to this is Samuel Smiles [prev] and his vision for the world in Self-Help (1859). But what do I know? I've returned Radical Help to the library. You can read it next. It might outrage you enough to do something different.

Change Islands? A decade ago The Blob wrote a neat 900 word essay about fishing on the North shore of Newfoundland, parcelled it up, tied it with a green white & pink ribbon and launched it into the blogosphere. The next day I butterflied off to write about Sellafield / Windscale about which I was marginally better qualified to express an opinion. That was then, this is now, and flitting about long ago and far away won't butter no parsnips. 


Wednesday 12 June 2024

99 is the sailor

In my culture "99" means an ice-cream cone supporting a stick of chocolate at a jaunty angle. But it can also refer to a [reasonably] venerable age. I qualify the age with [reasonably] because there are hella many centenarians about. 30 years ago my Scottish grannie turned 100 and got a telegram from Mrs ♛indsor. She also got A Lot of 100th Bday cards from neighbours and [not many left] relations. She got nothing from her pals because they were all dead. What struck me at the time was how few dupes there were among the cards: Hallmark et al. must have a market, so there must be a few customers out there. Obvs, they are expecting more sales for that particular bday than 98 or 103. We're not there yet, but last week Pat the Salt celebrated his 99th Bday:

It's 8+ years since Pat's wife died. And it's been "interesting" to observe the changes as the years tick past. Having run away to sea at the age of 14 and spent most of the rest of his teens churning around a world at war, he has enjoyed pretty robust good health. He could so easily have died by torpedo, storm or scalding cocoa as a youngster, that the gods seem to have cut him a fair hand healthwise for the rest of his life.  As Pat moved into "His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide for his shrunk shank . . ." territory, a lot of new people entered his life to compensate for some of the deficits of age. For some it's just work; but for others, including those on the payroll, it's clear that there are bonds of  affection and respect even if recently forged. 

One of the latter, Seamus the Ornithologist [above red R] who came out from Waterford every Tuesday as a conversational companion. The charity which brokered the deal covered Seamus' bus fare but couldn't manage minimum wage for his time. There are for sure ethical, social and economic questions to be asked of The Voluntariat. But since Seamus has retired in his turn, he's been dropping in on his old WWII Mentor because they are genuinely fond of each other. And he seems to have kept Pat's birthday in his diary; because he turned up with a couple of hours notice on Der Tag. I don't think it was the smell of cake! Supervalu do a line in these micro iced cakes and The Beloved went up and bought a few for the current team of HSE carers who are rostered to Pat . . .

But, there was an under-count and I was dispatched to Supervalu to purchase two [2] more cakes. Phew! luckily there were three still standing on the display table and I was able to snag The Best brace o' cake. Phew! because I would have had to make an iced-dainty decision in real time. Are 2 eclairs == 1 micro-cake? 3 eclairs?? 2 eclairs and a strawberry flan??? 1 eclair and a box of fence staples???? The permutations are effectively infinite and I was certain to be wrong-footed whatever I chose. 

Anyway, the important data is that Supervalu shareholders are assured of a Christmas dividend Pat got to have 🎂 on his 99th Bday and he was saluted by those who cherish him.

Monday 10 June 2024

Hail fellow

. . . well met. I must have met Dan Bradley in the Summer of 1990 when I came back to Ireland for a week long scoping exercise in Trinity College Dublin. I was then 'resting' in the NE of England having run out of steam as a population geneticist. I had secured an EU 'retraining fellowship' to convert whatever number-crunching skills I had from pop gen into a more useful area of science. That would be molecular evolution using bioinformatics. During that week, I hung out in the binfo lab which was hosting the fellowship, found I could do the work, found an old farmhouse to rent out near the airport, found my way down to coffee and probably had a few pints in the Summer evenings.

When I came back in October on salary, I defo met Dan because by a peculiar set of circumstances his boss was my boss. Dan had just finished a PhD looking for lesions in genes that resulted in retinitis pigmentosum which causes late onset hereditary blindness. Like me, he was also stepping sideways - into the genetics of tropical cattle. His boss Paddy Cunnngham had bigger fish smaller flies to fry running the screwworm eradication programme out of the FAO in Rome. Cunningham had recently landed a huge research grant, and hired a postdoc [Dan] and two post-graduate students Ronan Loftus and Dave MacHugh to prosecute the cattle project.  My boss, Paul Sharp, as tenured faculty could act in loco parentis for these three orphans. But they didn't need much hand-holding; being recklessly brave and technically competent in adverse circumstances in the Third World. And quite undaunted by the institutional bureaucracy of TCD. For the next tuthree years, the two labs would have a joint Christmas dinner which seemed to require G&Ts between each course, and telling cray-cray war stories from the bush.

Irish science had been absolutely in the doldrums through the 1980s, and the cattle project was one of the first big-money rumblings of what became the Celtic Tiger. in 1992, TCD scrabbled together the money to create a new lectureship in Genetics. It was exciting: we all sat through job presentations from the short-listed (Top Gun) candidates - before they went in to be formally grilled by the search committee. In the pub that evening, Paul Sharp confided [I got all the important information in the pub] that he'd been asked his opinion for the best candidate as "the person most like to bring in the largest grants". The most intellectually stimulating science or the best teacher of genetics came further down the list of desiderata. Paul's unequivocal answer was "Dan Bradley"; and it was so.  Turned out Dan had an even better nose for writing citable papers of which he's contributed more than 25 to [super-prestigious Nature | Science | PNAS]. That's about as many papers (crappy + marginal + okay + pretty good = all my papers) as I've been party to . . . six of which were actually coat-tailing on Effectives from the Bradley lab.

Pure science is fine; bringing in big grant money gets you Best Boy status with your employer; launching a successful Campus Company is pure gold. Dan was one of five founding directors of Identigen [multiBlob] which is still trading well into its third decade.

I should add that as well as being a great scientist who can tell it so that non-specialists can appreciate its importance, Dan is a good bloke and a loyal friend. He brought me to hospital when I was whacked off my bike in Westland Row in 1998 and was smart enough, and kind enough. to know that I'd be so long in A&E that I'd need a Mars Bar and an Irish Times.

In the middle of May, Professor Bradley was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. Short of a Nobel, that's about the biggest gong you can acquire as a research scientist in the English speaking world. No slouch the chap who escaped from a chicken farm in Maghera, Co Derry to go to Cambridge. Chapeau! and a sweeping respectful bow.

Sunday 9 June 2024

A fresh face in politics

It's about a month since I was canvassed to elect Daniel Pender to the local county council. Local elections are really local. Even county Carlow which is a micro civil polity [90,000 hectares; 62,000 ppl] is divvied up into 3 LEAs Local Election Areas. We are assigned to the southernmost LEA, comprised of the scut-end of the county: wedged between the Blackstairs and the River Barrow. Of course, my #1 went to Willie Quinn who lives between us and the nearest post office. But I did give Dan Pender a number. You're meant to continue your choices until you really have absolutely no preference among the remaining candidates.There were only 8 candidates for 5 seats at the county council table. Having excluded the patently deranged, the fixers and racists, it should be a shoo-in for any reasonably honest, reasonably personable, fairly photogenic, applicant for the job. Who takes the photos on the promotional literature? Who signs off on the choice??

Our LEA data: Electorate: 14,100; Total Poll: 7,231; Turnout: 51%; Spoiled votes: 138; Total Valid Poll: 7,093; Quota: 1,183.

Well, the votes are counted and the results are shown here [R]. And who gets elected on the first count? . . . with a chunky surplus, but The Fixer, who arranged-to-be-delivered 100 tonnes of roadstone back in Feb 2022. Call me peculiar, but I'm not going to vote for people who bend the system in the interests of patronage. That kind of grift inevitably preferences those who have connexions and excludes those who really need a leg up. Willie sailed in on the second count. The person who's ragin' this weekend is the monumental incumbent Arthur McDonald FF. The people have voted for a younger, fresher, fitter version of Fianna Fáil - Go Dan Pender!  The next Taoiseach but four.

Sun Msc 9th Jun 024


Friday 7 June 2024

Grace first, the rest nowhere

Big day for Democracy.

It's election day in Ireland. We're going to the polls for a) local candidates on County Councils b) supranational Members of the European Parliament. In neither of these constituencies are there bye-elections if the incumbent dies, retires, resigns or self-combusts: that democratic privilege is reserved for TDs departing the Dáil. For CoCo and MEP, when you vote for a candidate, you are also voting for their replacement. The full list of nominated replacements. Christopher Doyle's replacements, for example, are both Doyles and live in his Wexford home; so you're voting for a dynasty.

Obvs, my #1 is going to Grace O'Sullivan with whom I have traded poetry down Costa na Déise way.

Full list. UL has done some candidate polling to find out where they stand on issue that matter. Not everyone has responded to the request for info: some are too busy assaulting refugees, or denying women bodily autonomy. To help decisions down the lower end of the list, I have struck out populists, haters, nut-jobs, fascists, people-with-eyes-too-close-together . . .
 Billy Kelleher (Fianna Fáil)
 Grace O’Sullivan (Green Party)
 Seán Kelly (Fine Gael)
 Mick Wallace (Independents 4 Change)
 Kathleen Funchion (Sinn Féin)
 Paul Gavan (Sinn Féin)
 Niamh Hourigan (Labour)
 Susan Doyle (Social Democrats)
 Patrick Murphy (Aontú)
 John Mullins (Fine Gael)
 Cynthia Ní Mhurchú (Fianna Fáil)
 Cian Prendiville (People Before Profit-Solidarity)
 Eddie Punch (Independent) [fancies a bit of eutrophication]
 Derek Blighe (Ireland First)
 Ross Lahive (The Irish People)
 Una McGurk (Independent)
 Graham De Barra (Independent)
 Michael Leahy (Irish Freedom Party)
 Michael McNamara (Independent)
 Lorna Bogue (An Rabharta Glas)
 Christopher Doyle (Independent)
 Mary Fitzgibbon (Independent)
 Ciaran O'Riordan (Independent)

If I've failed to exclude known monsters, please help by flagging them in a comment. More down-in-the-grass local politics nerdling from RTE.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Red Herring

Colloquial Inglês: 
What's that got to do with the price of fish?
Used when someone says something completely irrelevant to the conversation.
red herring: something that misleads or distracts from the relevant question. The jury is Out on whether Shagsper had any interest in fish or angling. But it is clear that Shaxpere's contemporaries had an interest in eating fish. Clear? How? Wot am ur evidence?

Clear because of the existence of Familiar Dialogues 1586 by Huguenot emigré Jacques Bellot who had been baffled by the colloquial English of costardmongers and drapers and resolved to write a phrasebook of English, French and English-as-she-is-spoke. These dialogues are familiar because they revolve around the antics of a cliché family arguing in the kitchen and out and about trying to purchase food and clothing. You can get the whole text in three columns on Project Gutenberg. I am annoyed with myself that this was completely new to me when it was posted on MetaFilter in May: niche lists involving foreign languages - c'est ma confiture. As often with MeFi, there is some interesting comments. Thereby, fo one example, I learned that a sheep's gather is/was equivalent to a chicken's pluck: liver + heart + lungs = the basic ingredients, with oatmeal, of haggis.

Mais revenons nous a nos poissons. It's all very well for quasi-bilingual foreign johnnies in 1586 to be comparing notes about what was on the fishmonger's slab but what are we to make of the available chowder-fare 440 years later. It's the perennial problem of using common names with all their ambivalence of meaning and regional variation [see Flora previa]. For future googlers, I here share my Linnaean findings. 

English            French         Linnaean
Soles              Des soles      Solea solea
A good plaise      Vne bonne plis Pleuronectes platessa
Viuers             Des viures     ???
Rotches, Gornettes Des rouges     Chelidonichthys cuculus
Whittinges         Des merlenc    Merlangius merlangus
Waisters           Des huistres   Ostrea edulis
Thurnebacke        De la Raye     Raja clavata
Smeltes            De l'eperlenc  Osmerus eperlanus
Redde hering       Du hareng sor  Clupea harengus
Whitte hering      Du hareng blanc Clupea harengus (salt)
Shrimpes           De la creuette Palaemon serratus
A loupster         Vn hommar      Homarus gammarus
Crabbes            Des escreuices Cancer pagurus
A picke            Vn brochet     Esox lucius
A pickerell        Vn brocheton   Esox lucius (small)
A millers thumbe   Vn gouion      Cottus gobio
A saumond          Vn saumond     Salmo salar
A lamproye         Vne lamproye   Petromyzon marinus
Elles              Des anguilles  Anguilla anguilla
A dorey            Vne dorée      Zeus faber
A makerell         Vn maquereau   Scomber scombrus
A trouette         Vne trouite    Salmo trutta
Smal lamproyes     Des lamprions  Petromyzon marinus
Moskels            Des mousles    Mytilus edulis
Cockelles          Des coques     Cerastoderma edule
A tenche           Vne tenche     Tinca tinca
A carpe            Vne carpe      Cyprinus carpio
Kempes             Des pimperneaux Anguilla anguilla
A whale            Vne ballaine   Balaenoptera acutorostrata

I think I'm correct‽ Fight me in the comments. "Rotches" could be the fresh water roach Rutilis rutilis but I think it's more likely in the context to be gurnard. I was baffled by "Waisters" until I looked at the french huisters or, as she is wrote today: huîtres where the âccent is the trace of the lost "s". Still baffled by "viuers" or in modern orthography vivers. A viver is apparently a stew-pond but here seems to be the inhabitants, so it's likely some sort of carp. As for "A whale" I've taken a punt with Balaenoptera acutorostrata, the minke whale, the smallest of the baleen whales. Although at ~10m long, it would be a good old heft to get that up from the Thames to Billingsgate fish market. The mystery fish pictured at Top? Clue.

More? In my trawls I came across Fish-eating in ancient Greece. Edible fish categories beyond the Linnaean taxonomy at [behind sign-up wall]. Like me they have tracked down some ancient writing about the availability of fish in the market and tried to work out exactly what folks were eating 2000 years ago.

Monday 3 June 2024

Great God Mullein

Great Mullein | Coinnle Muire | Verbascum thapsus is [triffid alert] an arresting part of the Ireland's native flora. Up to 2m tall with pale greyn furry leaves as big as a Sasquatch boot-sole and distinctive upstanding reproductive parts. Sometime last year, one of our slightly-woo friends dug up a specimen up and gave it to The Beloved. It was deposited in a packing crate [because it came with a large ragged clot of top-soil] in a corner of the polytunnel and more or less forgotten. Occasionally over the last 12 months, I've dumped a bucket of water into the crate and most if it has run straight through to make a temporary downhill puddle.

But in mid-May, I discovered some poppies Cailleach dhearg Papaver rhoeas struggling in the same adverse xerophytic desert corner of the tunnel. Poppies are the best of weeds, growing in most unlikely places and producing culinary seed - I like poppies. I started clearing around the poppies until The Beloved stopped me with "Whoa, sunshine, that's my mullein you're messing with". So I stopped hacking at the leaves and we carried the crate outside. Later the great mullein (just beginning to show yellow flower) was re-installed with honour in our largest blue-glazed earthenware planter on the recently de-thatched patio in front of the house. Now that I can reach my log-table without getting wet socks, I am resolved to sit out beside the mighty mullein with my morning quart of tea.

Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland BSBI publishes distribution maps of most-all of the plants found on these islands: herrrre's Mullein [map L] the darker the square, the more recently that species has been observed in that 10x10 km location. The Sunny South East seems to be the epicentre of V. thapsus's plan to take over the island and reduce mere people to Those Who Serve Mullein. But that recent activity may be all down to the indefatigable Paul Green populating his Flora of County Wexford [bloboprev]. 

The medical take seems to be that mullein is mostly harmless. If you choose to extract the active principles [saponins, polyphenols] from the leaves by steeping them in hot or cold oil, then you're not going to kill anyone. But you're unlikely to cure asthma bronchitis congestion dropsy eczema frostbite gout . . . either. Part of the problem is that there are 250 species in the Genus Verbascum and folk-practitioners may be using them inter-changeably. Some known anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial compounds have been isolated from some of these species. Maybe it will be as effective for me to commune with the The Mullein (while having tea, like) to spare my life when they uproot and take over the world.

God? Verbascum blattaria moth mullein seems to be immortal. The Beal weed-seed longevity project 1879-2100 is still going.  2021 Seedlings upcommmming.

Sunday 2 June 2024

June Bank Hol w/e

World Rambles