Railway art, crocodile tears and Hamlet.

2014 June garden train hattons wood 084

You never regret a railway journey, no matter how crowded or hot the train may be or how glum your fellow passengers are. There is always that childish air of promise, some surprise to intrigue or divert  your mind. Your companions may be caught in a moment of suspended animation or indeed in animated conversation. The train presents opportunities for concentrated people-watching, probably the oldest entertainment in the world. You must keep an impassive poker face. Or you can look out the window. A vast cyclorama unfolds as you go along: sheep grazing, a man ploughing with a tractor, birds descending on the furrows, golfers deliberating, boats on the dry, back gardens with the bric a brac of family life strewn about the lawn, projected suburban developments long abandoned and overgrown with weeds. Three jet planes there, racing westwards. The passengers are too high to see the ducks in Rogerstown estuary or the reflections of the trees where once there were orchards and strawberry beds.

2014 June garden train hattons wood 089

The young lady beside me was applying her mascara, preparing a face to meet the faces that she meets. It’s a delicate process. It took her all the way to Malahide to get it to her satisfaction.  I thought she looked okay before she started. Strange stuff, mascara. I looked it up. It was used in ancient Egypt by priests and pharaohs and notably by Elizabeth Taylor. It was compounded from wax, kohl, soot, the juices of berries and crocodile stool. I looked that up too. You don’t want to know. Victorian ladies were very fond of mascara and spent hours every day, applying their cosmetics. There was no shortage of soot, what with children climbing up chimneys all the time. Gentlemen used mascara to darken their moustaches. The children in the chimneys had no need of makeup. It would have been wasted on them. Kohl to Newcastle. Just a thought.

Eye liner? Young girls emphasise their eyes with black stuff. It makes the eyes small and sneaky looking. A pity. The windows of the soul.  Eyebrow pencil is a hoot. The eyebrows are painfully plucked away and then replaced further up the forehead, with black paint. It makes for an expression of perpetual surprise. I bet the crocodiles would have been surprised too, if they had known what was being done with their stools. God has given you one face and you paint yourselves another. Hamlet. W Shakespeare. The illusion of beauty might be better if it were not accomplished in public, under the eyes of strangers. Magicians guard their secrets jealously.

2014 June garden train hattons wood 068

The Victorians had many other accomplishments worth noting. They made cast iron a thing of beauty and utility. They built railways to link countries in meshes of steel. They strung wires and cables to create a world-wide-web. Their municipal and railway building were works of elegance. They invented new colours that a pharaoh might envy. They developed industrial war. They developed photography to record their achievements for better or for worse.  They grew great beards and Dundreary whiskers—the men mostly. They did not invent that ugly perspex, or the aerosol spray can. No wonder Turner and The Impressionists loved the iron, the light and smoke of the railway age.

2014 June garden train hattons wood 085

That shed had an elegance of its own. It was built by craftsmen in time gone by and defaced by modern vandals. It is difficult to admire graffiti artists. Their slogans are illegible. They appear in the most unlikely places, no doubt at great danger to the artist in question. Perhaps it is akin to the Victorian desire to place a flag on inaccessible peaks. There is an air of revolt and anger about graffiti.  I saw one once, Sod the Ozone Layer. Enough said.  And yet, in certain circumstances, they might have a point. That oil tank is more interesting, even though I can’t read what the artists have written. A lot of work went into it. Maybe like WWI dazzle paint, you don’t see an ugly tank at all.  A spot of crocodile stool might complete the effect.

2014 June garden train hattons wood 086

The building behind is still ‘a blank canvas’. We shall see.


Swastikas and Acts of God

It looks a bit alarming at first glance, a Len Deighton, or Jack Higgins scenario, where the bad guys have won the war. No need for alarm. Those were not armoured personnel carriers trundling through College Green, or a Panzer division cunningly disguised as a fleet of laundry vans, taking part in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. The uniformed detachments marching with military precision were American high school marching bands,  shivering on O Connell Bridge as the rasping east wind came up the river. It looks like traditional Patrick’s Day weather. The Archbishop and members of the government attended Mass at the Pro-Cathedral. The train of the Archbishop’s cope was carried by a glum looking cleric, an uplifting sight to the glum onlookers


The young ladies and gentlemen of the marching bands were not really dressed for the Irish weather, yet they remained cheerful and enthusiastic throughout.  Much of the display was a glum procession of industrial and trade vehicles, with a few balloons attached. Not too much frivolity. The pubs were shut. The only place to get a drink was at the dog show in the Royal Dublin Society, also, like the Swastika Laundry, based in Ballsbridge. …I wonder..The weather undoubtedly improved when the Powers-That-Be decided to inaugurate a Saint Patrick’s Festival. Colour and extravagant displays were permitted. The 1930’s and 1940’s glumness was no longer mandatory.

I came across an old laundry list, stuck between the pages of a book. It itemised prices, terms and conditions. There was a disclaimer at the bottom..the laundry shall not be responsible for any loss or damage occasioned by War, Revolution, Civil Strife or Act of God. Blimey! I had never realised what a perilous business it was, entrusting garments to a laundry. The Luftwaffe had a good go at Dublin once. No doubt they had The White Swan, The Court and Mirror and The Bell laundries and others marked on their maps. But not the Swastika….very strange. Anyway, the laundries’ dirty linen has been well and truly washed in public. It might be wise to review the terms and conditions under which you purchased your washing machine. In many neighbourhoods it is not permitted to hang out your washing, especially not on the Siegfried Line. You may take your pick from the recurring wars and revolutions throughout the world. It’s what we humans do, despite the unending suffering and cruelty.The armaments industries influence policy and determine the fate of nations. We as a species, have the capacity to blow the whole bloody world up. Mr Putin, standing for election– another cliffhanger—states that he would destroy the world if Russia were attacked. “What use would the world be without Russia?”




But what about Acts of God? If cleanliness be next to godliness, why would laundries feel at risk, more than say greengrocers or tailors. Have you ever heard a hairdresser excuse his or her incompetence as an act of God, even on a windy day? A dinner may turn out to be a ‘disaster’, but hardly God’s fault. The Puritans, a god-fearing people, on the other hand, denounced starch. I recall as a child, being puzzled by the Volunteer uniforms in our National Museum. The inscription on the belt buckles read ‘Gott Mit Uns.’ It seems that the Kaiser, out of the goodness of his heart, had supplied uniforms and belts to the Irish Volunteers. (Clean underwear is a wise precaution to minimise the risk of wound infection when going into battle. Don’t get caught with your pants down. Belt and braces. Remember what your mother always said about clean underpants.’Suppose you were knocked down and had to go to hospital.’) Not a chance when God is mit uns. At other times God gets a bit impatient with us. He sends his chosen messengers to vent his wrath on his children..Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamburlane the Great, plagues, locusts, hideous diseases and natural disasters. That puts manners on us. ‘No atheists in foxholes’ etc. It’s all part of a plan. We grow up in the fear and love of God. Explain that to me. No, don’t. The people I fear most are those who speak with total certitude about God’s plan. Actually they shout and rant most of the time. Saint Francis of Assisi went to Egypt to convert the Muslims. Fair play to him. They recorded that he shouted and ranted so much that they concluded that he was a madman. Under their law at that time, madmen were not held responsible for their behaviour and should not be put to death. Moreover they complained that he was smelly and unhygienic. With high explosives nowadays there is no need to discriminate between innocent and guilty; young or old; male or female; black or white; believer or infidel, sane or insane. The shouting, ranting evangelists on television look very prosperous and well dressed. They shout with absolute certainty. They maintain that we are all made in the image of God. Is it not more likely that we have made God in our image?

I hope He turns out to be a bit better than that.

(Rant over.)

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. It looks a bit nippy out there.


Time and the hour run through the longest day


I looked up to this clock for most of my young life. It was on the top mantlepiece, the one most likely to wear a fine film of ash from the fire below. It was out of the reach of small children and is so again, hedged about with the same dire warnings. It punctuated our lives with its soft, harmonious chime… time to get up, time for school, time for the train, dinner time, Rosary time, time for ITMA, The Goons, homework, a story read aloud, O Henry, Joyce..( not James. His uncle. Old Celtic Romances,) The Wind in the Willows. THE PIPS..check the clock. ‘This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the News.’ Better get a move on. Look at the time! I imagined that Ratty had a clock like that in his snug little house on the riverbank. Time for bed…bong bong bong… you have insomnia. Time to get up.

It may have been a wedding present or maybe presentation. It was there before me and I treated it with respect as was fitting. My father might lift me up to see how he wound it.  It absorbed ash, tobacco smoke, piano music, yarns and jokes, arguments and discussions, French and Irish lessons, songs, some hideous skiffle crimes committed by my brother and his mates and all the little dramas of a large family. It is a ‘Witness Clock.’ The key miraculously survived to this day.This ceremony of winding has now become my responsibility. There is an element of tension involved…obviously. It was in intervention for a long time, in my mother’s house. Its mainspring was spavined by some enthusiastic winder. For many years it looked down impassively, taking no part in the proceedings.


Today is Midwinter. The sun rises far to the South. The ancients watched its progress in the great oscillation, bringing light and warmth back to the earth, new life, fertility and harvest and then Winter again. They constructed enormous stone circles to keep track of time by the stars, the Moon and by the rising and setting of the sun.  I’m fortunate enough to have a headland for Winter and islands for the Equinox and Midsummer. I also have a calendar, a watch and now again, the chiming clock of my childhood. No need to ring bells for Matins, Lauds at ungodly hours, Vespers and Compline for a good night’s sleep. Or is that Complan? No need to lug megaliths, menhirs or monoliths to the summits of mountains to catch the fleeting rays. I have been to Newgrange, beside the fabled Boyne, and have seen the amber light creep up the passageway to illuminate the burial chamber at the heart of the mound. It evoked thoughts of countless years and countless millennia, when people looked back at their lives and savoured memories good and bad and looked forward to the coming year with hope and trepidation.  Too long for my mind to grasp. It is as futile as trying to comprehend the immensity of the Universe and the ever expanding Multiverse. The moon will wobble away from us in fifty million or billion years time and we will all be doomed. Don’t worry about it. Even Stephen Hawking has admitted to the odd mistake. It mightn’t be so bad in the long run.  I came home and had my breakfast and went to work. I was probably a bit late.

We took the broken clock to Tom Black, the ingenious clock-mender, on the road from Monasterboice to Termonfeckin, not far from the Boyne.  He performed some heart surgery. He set it to rights again. On the way back we met a childhood friend having lunch with his family. We reminisced. I recalled the time my father told me to dig and rake his vegetable patch…’and get it done by the time I get home..’ He was an occasional gardener but it never lasted too long. The clock was ticking. My friend and his brother looked over the wall.  ‘are you comin’ for a dip in the Captains?’  ‘ I can’t. I have to have this dug before my Dad’s train gets in.’ (5 past 6 from Amiens Street…on the dot). They came over the high wall like a pair of Ninjas, grabbed spades and forks and set to work. We were finished with plenty of time for a dip. I may even have got a tanner for my diligence. I can’t remember but the kindness of the two lads has stayed with me ever since.

I brought the clock home and put it on a high shelf. I noticed that it was in the company of our youngest son, who arrived too late, by a year, to meet his grandfather but knew and loved his Nana for a good many good years. Beside it is  the Chronicle of the 20th Century. My father saw a few years of the 19th Century and four fifths of the 20th. He experienced the worst of it on The Somme but survived to live with those memories of barbarism. My mother saw all but six years of the century and devoted her life to education and to making things better. The clock chimed, prompting a flood of memories. Forget the ancients. I can comprehend the memory of people I have known and loved and those I know and love today. I have a new mainspring. I look forward to a great stretch in the day

You can watch the sun at Newgrange online right now but you may not see much.  Eight minutes to nine by the clock.It’s a bit overcast. I will leave it to the Druids, romantics, astronomers and archaeologists. When the clock chimes nine I shall make some tea and bestir my self and of course, the tea.


Shambling man-like creatures.


It seems that in Trump’s America, Evolution is a dirty word in many schools. That is a pity. Look at this little fellow. Does he remind you of anyone? Yes. It’s you. Look at his toes, all ten of them. He has developed a  clever adaptation of the fingers. It has taken millions of years to produce such perfection. He probably would make an indifferent pianist or keyboard operator. But the fingers work for him. Maybe Evolution intended to equip him with an umbrella during the aeons of precipitation  when oxygen and hydrogen came together to fill the cavities of this cooling planet with water. However he got a hang glider. Not even Leonardo da Vinci (clever chap) succeeded in doing that. It has taken humans unreckonable numbers of millennia to achieve flight. To give Leonardo his due, he did many other admirable things.  The definition of the Renaissance Man is that he did not specialise in one narrow field, as is the pattern nowadays. Would you go to a fresco painter to design a helicopter for you, or a military fortification? You would look askance at a portrait artist or a writer of sonnets (backwards) who spent his nights sneaking into morgues or tombs to dissect cadavers by candle light. Those are jobs for specialists. They have papers attesting to their qualifications. No room for gifted amateurs.

This is Agatha,  an Aye Aye, a specialist. She has enormous ears for eavesdropping on termites. She has wonderful eyes for seeing in the dark and locating termites. Observe the remarkably long middle finger–for (you have probably guessed it)–locating termites inside trees and drawing them out, the perfect finger food.  There must be days or even nights when she sees the dark silhouettes of bats crossing the face of the moon  and wishes that just once, she could try something different. But no. She has to concentrate on the endless search for termites. High in protein, deliciously crunchy, inordinately nutritious, as the experts might say.

I’m not averse to a spot of evolution, especially when explained by someone like Attenborough. We have followed  his account of the development of life on earth and the many twists and turns of that story. He has opened our minds to marvel and wonder at the myriad complexities of this story. We like to think that human ingenuity has liberated us from the tyranny of a mere struggle for survival. We talk of Progress as if all new things are better and will make us happier. Trump has spoken about beautiful American weapons. Weapons make us feel secure. Nothing bad can happen to us if we have enough weapons. Arm the teachers to protect their schools. Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong film mogul had twelve Rolls Royce cars parked on his driveway. He had nowhere to drive them. The Plains Indians captured horses from the invading Spaniards. This increased their productivity when hunting buffalo, to the extent that they had to lug piles of buffalo hides (their index of wealth)  around, when they went on migration. This slowed them up. The Flathead Indians tied boards across the foreheads of newborn babies to make them more beautiful. This compressed the frontal lobes of their little brains, impairing their development. The tribe died out, a kind of reverse evolution. The wealth generated by The Industrial Revolution, was won at a hideous cost.  We should be able to do better—given our superior intelligence. Rupert Murdoch wants to acquire yet more media.

I watched  a shambling hunchbacked figure emerging from the mist. His head was lowered, oblivious to everything around him. His prehensile thumbs flickered across the screen of his phone, tablet, ipad, ipod or whatever, a Quasimodo of the digital age. In a generation or two his descendants will have developed  thumbs to rival the Aye Aye’s termite-catching finger, (specialised evolution). Their heads will grow out at right angles from the body, (specialised ditto) the better to see the screen. Perhaps, of course, Natural Selection will cull the most ardent screen watchers, by means of bigger, faster motor vehicles, particularly those who combine phone use with driving. Look around any restaurant. Families dining together, a vital bonding ritual since the days of the cavemen, sharing the wisdom of the elders with the young to give them a start in life. No they don’t. The wise old elders are texting and the young are left to their own devices. No mutual eye contact. The meals take place often without a word. They have the latest gadgets, so they must be happy. They are specialists. Nobody chipping arrow heads, painting the walls, stitching furs together, singing songs, sharing stories and jokes, tending the fire, looking out for sabre-tooth  tigers or demonstrating a rudimentary wheel (brilliant idea, might just catch on).

The Chinese used to crush the bones of little girls’ feet and bind them so that they grew into ‘beautiful lilies’. This was to make them more attractive (?) and unable to run away from their husbands (progress?). It was the fashion of the time. The mutilation was usually carried out by the older women of the family. I don’t understand modern shoe fashions. A  bevy of young ladies, fashionably dressed as for a wedding, scampered barefoot across a pedestrian crossing in front of me, carrying their fashionable, but unroadworthy,  shoes in their hands. But I thought shoes were for…..Nah!  They laughed as they ran and talked animatedly on their phones. I hope they weren’t late for the wedding. At least they were able to run. That’s progress I suppose. Grumble grumble. I guess I’m a Luddite at heart.

Not bad but still no cigar.


How low can you stoop? Health and Safety

via How low can you stoop? Health and Safety

Holmpatrick Cove, Skerries. 2nd Invitation to Walk the Land. Bank Holiday Monday, 30th October 2017 1p.m.

Walking the land has long been regarded as essential to an understanding of what happens on a farm and what must be done to ensure a positive outcome. The same can be said of the proposed development at Holmpatrick Cove, Skerries, granted full planning permission by Fingal County Council last January. The first public walk on the land was on October 8th, when several hundred people came along to see what is proposed. Many had never visited this area of Skerries before. They were astonished by the spectacular views that opened up before them. There was well-nigh unanimous support for the venture which offers much needed amenities to Skerries and the surrounding area: a ready-to-go coastal walk and training pitches for young people; a hotel; a swimming pool and gymnasium, all fully accessible to the public, plus an outstanding housing development by Baufritz, one of the leading builders of Eco housing in Europe. There was widespread dismay and disbelief at the fact that An Bord Pleanála had, after seven months of deliberation, denied permission for the scheme to proceed.

For any who were unable to visit Holmpatrick Cove on October 8th, a second general invitation to walk the site, is extended for  the Bank Holiday, Monday, October 30th. The entrance is not far away: 22 metres from Shennick Green open space, 128 metres from the nearest house in Downside Estate and 24 metres from the bus stop at Shennick Estate, all integral parts of the urban  area of Skerries town. This leads you onto the Coastal Walk, an objective of Fingal’s Development Plan since the 1970s, which can be realised by the Holmpatrick Cove Plan, at no cost to the Council or to the taxpayer! You will see the site for the proposed hotel. There is no hotel in or close to Skerries, noted in the Tidy Town report as a major gap in the social fabric of Skerries.




You will pass the site of the proposed, ready-for-use training pitches, very much desired by the sports clubs of Skerries and offered at no cost to the Council or to the taxpayer. The houses nearest to these training pitches stand at an average distance of 120 metres from the site. None of the occupants of these houses made any objection to the development of Holmpatrick Cove. The houses of the principal objectors stand between 150 metres and 305 metres from the pitches. Nevertheless, the Bord Pleanála refusal maintained that children playing on these pitches during daylight hours, (as there will be no flood-lighting)could cause inconvenience and damage the enjoyment of their houses by the occupants. As for the coastal walk, the objectors’ houses  are at an average distance of 310 metres from the coastal walk. My apologies for burdening you with statistics but compare the three main sports clubs, G.A.A. Soccer and Rugby Clubs whose pitches (flood-lit) are surrounded by housing estates that stand as close as 20 metres to the main pitches. Does anyone demand that these clubs should be removed? On the contrary, most residents  regard these clubs as valuable assets and good neighbours, encouraging healthy activity among hundreds of young people and as major contributors to the social capital of Skerries.


Consider if you will, the enormous benefit of the coastal walk, projected by the Council to go to Loughshinny, Drumanagh and Rush and even further. This would undoubtedly become one of the great tourist attractions of Fingal.

As pointed out at the last walk on October 8th, there have been campaigns for a swimming pool in Skerries for at least 40 years. There is no swimming pool in North Fingal. Holmpatrick Cove offers a swimming pool to serve the schools and general public for this area–again at no cost to the Council or to the taxpayer. You might like to read that again…no cost, either financial or environmental. The rigorous Environmental Impact Statement, the Archaeological and Ornithological Surveys show conclusively that environmental and cultural considerations have been at the forefront of this development. Yet permission was refused on foot of objections  from  a few individuals living close to the site.

Judge for yourself. You may read these objections (public documents) on the website of Fingal Planning…search planning applications online. F16A/0085, as you may study the plans, the history of this application and other correspondence under Documents. You can click on the last entry on the panel  CLICK HERE for the some details of the appeals against the Council Grant of permission, the BordPleanála decision and inspector’s report. Fingal PLo6F.247928  (Public documents.) If you are wearied, frustrated, angry or curious from all this reading, come along to Holmpatrick Cove on Monday next, Bank Holiday Monday 30th of October, take in the views, breathe the fresh air and give your imagination free rein to picture what could be here and has as yet, been denied permission by An Bord Pleanála against the wishes of your elected Council and the many people who signed the petition, as you can still do, in support of Holmpatrick Cove. Assemble at Shennick Green to  start at 1p.m.


See also the splendid photographs in Skerries News and videos on the Holmpatrick Cove Skerries  facebook site.

Hooray for Hollywood. They don’t make movies or gags like those anymore

Source: Hooray for Hollywood. They don’t make movies or gags like those anymore

See For Yourself: Holmpatrick Cove Support Walk. Sunday October 8th at 1.00. p.m. to 3.00 p.mm. Rugby Club Steps, White Wall, Shennick Green

Click on all images to enlarge. Please share this post as widely as possible.



These are a few views from the proposed Holmpatrick Cove Coastal Path. It is probable that most people in Skerries and the wider Fingal area, have never seen this vista. Up to now this view has been available only to a privileged few—-who object to the lands being made accessible to the general public. Please come and see what could be achieved here by the Holmpatrick Cove Development—-already granted full planning permission by Fingal County Council, your democratically elected Council. Do not allow this amazing opportunity to be lost to you, to your children and to future generations. Bring your camera and be delighted.