Dum dum diddley, dum dum dum…Good eefnink…

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“Who do you think you are kidding, Mister Hitchcock…? I’m not a bit scared. I know the scenario of old: shambling, inbred rustics in some town in the sticks; corn dollies and a harvest festival; human sacrifice; a fat, perspiring sheriff; benighted travellers; a cockroach motel; (I don’t like cockroaches.) thunder and flickering lightning; electrical failure etc. etc. My Auntie Peg brought my sister to see Richard Todd and Glynis Johns in Rob Roy, as a special treat. (Bit scared of Glynis Johns. Definitely scared of Auntie Peg when she put on her disapproving frown.) Anyway, Rob was on the run. The baddies were waiting for him in a dark doorway.The tension was unbearable. My sister bit her knuckles. She screamed: “DON’T GO IN THERE, YOU EEJIT!” Sound advice. He should have known, from the scary music. We could all use some incidental music to warn us of impending danger.

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“If you think we’re on the run…”  Mister Hitchcock had some duds. Rear Window, for instance. Suspension of disbelief. The first rule of murdering your wife is not to do it in a lighted room with the curtains open and a fellow with binoculars gazing at you from another lighted room, with open curtains, just across the courtyard. He’s been watching you for weeks…very bad manners. Where’s your peripheral vision? Keep the noise down. Watch out for a portly gentleman, seen only in profile for a fleeting moment…a dead give-away. Pull the drapes or it will be ‘curtains’ for you. (Sorry about that. A bit obvious.) Crop-duster plane…he’s going to crash and burn. (Not a bit scared. I knew he would.)

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We are the boys who will stop your little game….Spooky old motel in the middle of nowhere and a twitchy proprietor with ‘wierdo’ written on his forehead. DON’T GO IN THERE, YOU EEJIT. Definitely don’t take a shower. Ask to meet his mother. Another dead give-away. Trust your instincts. Run like hell.

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We are the boys who will make you think again… He hit the nail on the head  with The Birds. I was scared last Tuesday evening, just after sunset. There is something about crows. They have history, the scavengers of ancient battlefields; the plunderers of the slain; the cunning protagonists of fables.  Light thickens and the crow / makes wing to the rooky wood./ Good things of day begin to droop and drowse/ And night’s black agents to their preys do rouse. Birds of ill omen, with their crowbar beaks. They were everywhere, last Tuesday evening, an encrustation of crows.  Silent. Watchful. Waiting. They got home before us. Stop worrying about seagulls. Full marks, Mister Hitchcock.

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Skerries Mills will hold a harvest festival on August 23rd. It will include the burning of a Wicker Man. GO THERE…..if you dare.

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In the meantime, I shall be brushing up on my leering and shambling.

Dum dum diddley dum dum dum…..

or should that be Digge ding ding, ding ding 

ding ding, dinngggg

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Eminent Professors, Old News and A Wizard Wheeze.

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The Robinsons lived in a pink cottage at Milverton. There were trellised roses wreathed around the cottage door. The garden was filled with herbs and flowers.  They had an orchard behind the house. It was a picture from Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain. I remember a pretty girl in a check summer dress, standing amid the flowers and herbs. They abandoned their home shortly after the war and emigrated to England. The cottage fell into dereliction.

‘Near yonder copse where once the garden smiled/ and still where many a garden flower grows wild…’ She still stands there in my memory. As boys, we went in to investigate the orchard. The cottage door was hanging off. We found that the clay walls had been covered with newspapers, overpainted with distemper. The damp had loosened them. We could read the ancient news still preserved on the back of the paper. There is still no news of the girl in the check summer dress.

Oliver Goldsmith, possibly Ireland’s best loved writer, stated that he loved old things,old books, old friends, old houses, old wine. I don’t think he mentioned old newspapers. Do you recall how you would set out to light a fire with twists of newspaper? You were possibly kneeling down beside the hearth, beginning to bunch up an old paper. Your eye caught a news item that you had missed at the first, hurried reading. Maybe a cartoon. Emil Zatopec got into trouble for supporting The Prague Spring– one little stick man remarking to another: “I never thought that Emil Zatopec would move too fast for the Czechs.” A classic Tom Matthews cartoon—Two men sitting at a table, observing a bearded man in a pointy hat and a cloak decorated with stars and planets. The strange man is bent double, in a paroxysm of coughing. ‘Kaf, kaf!!’ One man says to the other: “Just listen to this wizard wheeze.” If you read Biggles or indeed The Wizard, you will understand the joke. features-goldsmith-full

Goldsmith died at the age of forty six. He is still remembered for the lost world of his deserted village. “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey; where wealth accumulates and men decay.” Bang up to date. I read that the NAMA boys are back in town, scattering their millions around like confetti. Goldsmith should have taken some Phyllosan tablets..’to protect the family after forty. Formulated by an eminent professor of medicine…’  No name or qualifications given. He is eminent. No list of ingredients. How dare you ask? Don’t you see that he is an eminent professor? Professors are always eminent. Judges are always learned. Doctors are always good. Explorers are intrepid. This advertisement is from the Irish Times of  November 2nd 1942.

Under the linoleum in Leo Flanagan’s former house, I found a treasure trove of newspapers from 1942. The Germans are doing well at Stalingrad. The Allied forces are massing at el Alamein. The newly reconstituted Medical Registration Council  held its first meeting, A recommendation for the reduced use of alcohol in drugs was adopted, as a wartime economy measure. Remember Gripe Water for babies. It was mostly alcohol with a subtle after-taste of elderflower. I doubt if Leo ever needed Gripe water or Phyllosan. He coped well with the wartime economy measures by owning a pub. The Council declined to strike off the name of Dr. Patrick Joseph Conlin for convictions ‘outside Eire’ on charges of being drunk and disorderly—fined 20/s and 10/s on two occasions. Presumably the good doctor was warned to observe the wartime economy measures while in Eire. I bought a bottle of green tonic from a friendly pharmacist—overwork and stress. (I was twenty one.) Two spoonfuls in the morning. Great stuff. The size of the spoons wasn’t specified. I took a few more during the day. It tasted great. My stress evaporated. Then I read the label. It had more alcohol than even Gripe Water. Shurely shome mishundershtanding.

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Goldsmith is deservedly commemorated by a Summer School in his native Pallas in County Longford. We probably know him better from the statue outside Trinity College, where he stands beside the great orator Edmund Burke. Summer schools have proliferated throughout the land. They fill the news pages, during the silly season. They come up with wizard wheezes. Here’s one from an eminent professor at the McGill summer school last week: Old people living in houses adjudged to be too big for them, should be punished by higher property taxes and made to move to smaller units of accommodation. This would ‘free up’ more units at a time of shortage. I hesitate to demur, because of the eminence of the professor. I might end up in front of a learned judge. So this is how it works: You struggle to buy, maintain and hold onto a house in which to raise your family. (‘You’ is usually plural, as in ‘the masculine embraces the feminine’.) You cope with fluctuating interest rates of up to twenty two and a half percent. (Thank you, Bertie.) You may welcome old friends or new grandchildren to your house. You may cultivate and enjoy a garden. You may sit in the sun or read a book. You count your blessings……… You are selfish bastards. That house should be confiscated.

One set of experts speaks of keeping old people in their homes, rather than in expensive nursing homes, where they are obliged to watch Scooby Doo all afternoon. I hate Scooby Doo. I hate not having any say over the use of the remote control. (Do you remember the bad old days, when you had to get up out of your chair to change the channel?) I would vote for euthanasia rather than have to spend my declining years watching Scooby Doo. Let me live in my garden shed. Put me out in the snow for the wolves, but please, no Scooby Doo. It’s the same story every time…some villainous entrepreneur, disguised as a ghost, trying to scare people out of their property.  Wait a minute…

Those greedy villains in the above photograph have been in the news lately. They are driving people mad early in the mornings by dancing on the roofs and smashing crabs on the tiles, for breakfast.  They never shut up. Eminent experts have advocated a cull. Other learned experts have called for greater protection of the gulls. What about a cull of the disgruntled householders? Cheaper.  Especially the elderly. They can’t even run.

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When Doctor Zhivago arrived home one evening, he found that his house had been confiscated  by the Communists to accommodate several families. This was the new order, explained the commissar. There was no argument. Zhivago shrugged. “Okay,” he said, or words to that effect. “That seems fair enough.” You don’t argue with commissars. He was in the paper a few weeks ago. He died at the age of eighty two. He must have been on the Phyllosan. Julie Christie is still looking all right. Would you turf her out of her home or leave her in the snow for the wolves? Nah!

Resist! Zimmer frames at the ready!

Ne Plus Ultra. ‘To boldly go..’

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Cape Canaveral.

To infinity and beyond!

“Yet all experience is an arch, wherethrough gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades forever and forever as we move.” That was a line we learned in school; Ulysses explaining his compulsion to voyage further and ever further.”Rolled to larboard. Rolled to starboard, when the surge was seething free, where the wallowing monster spouted his foam fountains in the sea.” One of Tennyson’s better efforts. It took the mind out of a dusty classroom on a hot afternoon, to feel the rise and fall of a deck, the crystalline blue water inviting the swimmer, the lotos land where the livin’ is easy.

Norman Mailer interviewed Neil Armstrong. He asked how Armstrong would have coped with a failure of the Moon lander. The replies were terse and practical. “I would work on the availability of the ascent engine.” Mailer probed further, exploring the astronaut’s response to the unthinkable, to being marooned on the Moon, within sight of home, with absolutely no hope of rescue and depleting supplies of oxygen. Armstrong’s responses were unfailingly technical and factual. In some frustration, Mailer looked for the emotional dimension, the reaction of a fallible human being. “Why go there at all? What is the point?” Suddenly Armstrong became lyrical. He departed from the technical manual. “Why does the salmon swim upstream?” He spoke of the human instinct to explore, to find out, to strive for new worlds and new knowledge. Mailer sat back, enthralled, like any schoolboy in the presence of his hero.

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Cape Saint Vincent.

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I was intrigued, as a child, by the inscriptions on Nelson’s Pillar in OConnell Street: THE NILE, COPENHAGEN, SAINT VINCENT and TRAFALGAR. I could locate three of them but who or what was Saint Vincent? At one time Nelson was everybody’s hero. Before the dynamiters decided to censor history with the zeal of the Taliban, Nelson stood up there, leaning on his sword, turning a blind eye to the traffic, the smog, the trams and cyclists, the scurrying commuters, the flower sellers, the religious fanatics ranting and chanting, the clip-clopping draught horses, the courting couples hurrying to a tryst at The Pillar. While Napoleon hoped for lucky generals, he had less success with his admirals. Nelson saw them all off. What was left of this remarkable little man, was brought home to The Royal Naval College at Greenwich in a barrel of brandy, to lie in state before his funeral in Saint Paul’s. I last saw the stones commemorating his victories, scattered in a yard in Kilkenny, like a giant game of Scrabble.

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When the world was smaller, Cape Saint Vincent was ‘The End of the World’, the extreme SW point of Europe. There was nothing beyond except the surging ocean, sea monsters and the fatal void at the edge of a flat world. It was here that Henry the Navigator gathered his cartographers and astronomers to ask the big questions, Where? Why? How? and What’s in it for Portugal?  Half of a New World, as it turned out and untold wealth from spices, gold, ivory, sugar and slaves. The scars from that lash have not yet healed. The caravels of his disciples, Da Gama, Diaz, Cabral, Vespucci and Magellan sailed into the Unknown.  The focus of trade shifted to the Atlantic and to a New World on the far side.

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Henry’s statue sits in a square flanked by churches and Europe’s first slave market. The Pope’s recent apology to the indigenous people of Bolivia and elsewhere, was apposite but five centuries too late.

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My brother spoke of sailing those glistening waters in Sceoling. He became lyrical, remembering days of  ‘pure sailing’. 

Last week ‘our’ vessel passed close enough to Pluto to take photographs of that mysterious world. It will sail on, exploring and documenting, until it falls off the edge or is devoured by dragons and sea monsters. Look up and wonder.

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