Early Morning Ninja

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Tom Hoare made a balcony railing for us thirty eight years ago. Wrought iron, shot blasted and rust proofed. It’s almost as good as the day he installed it. I have given it a dab of paint once or twice over the years to fight off the effects of sea air, salt and rain. I like it. It chimes when you strike it in a certain way. It used to be possible to play the opening bars of Blueberry Hill on it, but  the few coats of paint put a damper on that. When we slept in a different room, the railing gave notice of night-roistering offspring climbing over it to avoid detection….boooom..ah… boooom…ah… a soft reverberation that travelled to where we lay. Heh heh. A spider lurks in hiding, his palps gauging every tiny vibration of the web. Gotcha! I’ll talk to him in the morning. He’s home safe. Go back to sleep.

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Insomnia gives opportunities to review old and current concerns. I asked Tom to put a bit of a flourish on it. The good people of Verona added a balcony to Juliet’s house. You couldn’t have Juliet’s house with no balcony. The tourists would be up in arms. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east and Juliet is the sun….  ‘We paid good money to see Juliet’s balcony. Didn’t we Ethel? Have to have a bloody balcony…’ I worried about small children climbing over the railing. ‘They can’t,’ said Tom. ‘They’ve nothing to put their feet on.’  It was true. A few curlycues at the top for the spiders, but it has been infant proof for two generations. In the pre-dawn gloom I reviewed a host of worries. I’m good at that. Health, failures, opportunities not taken, finances, jobs to be attempted, offence given, offence taken, political upheavals, wars, the death of the Universe. Then the eastern sky lightened. It was like balm to a bruised consciousness. It happens on most mornings, the greatest show on earth. Roll up! Roll up! I could see the earth rolling towards the light. I could almost feel the vertiginous movement.

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Then I saw the Ninja at work. back and forth like a shuttle in a loom. He set stays and braces to steady his web. He tested the tension. Palpable tension, as the cliché merchants say. Round and round he went, in a dizzying spiral, paying out the sticky silk. Why does he not get stuck in his own glue, hoist with his own petard? Amazing footwork. Two feet at the back give forward propulsion; two at the front grab on; two on either side are for ordinary walking. Why then does he not move like a crab? A moth blundered into the structure. It flapped around, threatening to destroy the entire net. The spider leapt out and cut it free. It is very difficult, as you know, to catch a moth. You can buy camphor balls and make your clothes smell like an old teacher in September, trapped in his suit, timetable and syllabuses ( syllabi ?) You can buy cedar balls and hurl them at the moth, but he will munch on happily through worsted, serge and even Donegal tweed. The Ninja repaired his web and waited like a true fisherman.

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I thought of friend remembered not and benefit forgot…I thought about the countless millions of creatures even then, stalking their prey, in undergrowth, at water holes, from the air, on the world wide web, in early morning meetings in boardrooms, the hunters  and the prey. The Ninja took a wandering fly, a creature almost helpless in the light breeze.He sprang upon it, delivered the coup de grace and immediately began to wrap it in silk, to be enjoyed later. He rolled it with his forelegs and palps, tucking it into a neat parcel. There was a pretty girl in Bewleys of Westmoreland Street, a lifetime ago, who wrapped bags of coffee in little brown paper parcels and tied them with string. I watched her fingers. I was entranced by her dexterity. I really wanted to say something charming, something to ensnare her in a web of eloquent compliments. ‘ I really admire your dexterity.’ Maybe not. ‘ I love the way you loop the string and snap it with a flick of the wrist.‘ I have never been able to do that. Butchers were able to do it, even though they had knives enough. Grocers could do it. I said nothing. Flick! ‘There you go, sir,’ she said, smiling. ‘Three shillings, please.’ I was cut adrift. I blundered away like the moth. Why did I remember her at that hour of the morning? Tom Hoare told me that he trained as a blacksmith down in Westport. ‘I came up here in 1941, the year of the foot-and-mouth.’  That was the year of my birth, a few hundred yards up the street from where he worked amid the clangour of steel and the blaze of welding torches. I am possibly the last survivor of the variant disease of foot-in-mouth. Probably better that I didn’t release my eloquence on the pretty girl in Bewleys. I went away with my coffee, Kenya Coarse Ground and a vague feeling of inadequacy.

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The light intensified. It insisted. I began to count some blessings. One: the Ninja was outside the window. Two: no infants have fallen through the railing so far. Three: I had some stitches snipped yesterday by a doctor with nimble fingers, after a successful operation. Four: I actually feel pretty good. Five: the beloved occupants of the house are still sleeping peacefully. It might be time to put a dab or two of Hammerite on Tom Hoare’s handiwork and maybe get another thirty eight years out of it.

Ah found mah thriyell on Blueberry Hiyell

On Bluebery Hiyell, when Ah found you…

Good ol’ Fats Domino.

 

Sex, Lies and Gunpowder.

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In the run-up to the last Iraq war there was much talk of ‘sexing up’ a report on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix, the U.N. investigator, said that there weren’t any. What kind of sex did these people engage in? Patient and rigorous investigation isn’t ‘sexy’, especially if it undermines the case for war. Did you find George Bush, Tony Blair or Alastair Campbell, ‘sexy’? By this reckoning, smart bombs, helicopters, plutonium-tipped projectiles and all the paraphernalia of war, impart a perverted sexual thrill, at the thought of all the people who can be killed. Power, it is said, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. The reality takes place perhaps far away or far below. Arafat, (definitely not ‘sexy’,) spoke of his one hundred young girls selected to be suicide bombers, as his ‘army of roses.’ Maybe they had to hurry on ahead to Paradise to get ready for the martyrs. ‘Sexy’ or what?

There’s O Connell, the Liberator, still dominating the bridge. He relied on words and brains to achieve his ends. He lost his street cred in old age when he cancelled a ‘Monster meeting’ at Clontarf, largely because the guns of The Pigeon House fort across the water, had been trained on the crowd. Think of the martyrs he could have rallied to his cause with a good massacre. Hundreds slaughtered in famine-stricken Ireland!! If he had had a good press secretary, like Mr. Campbell, he would have been home and dried. The baton passed to the ‘physical force’ tradition. As that smiley man, Chairman Mao,asserted: ‘Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.’ Nelson, an ardent lover with what was left of him, would have agreed. He stood just around the corner from The Gunpowder Office on Bachelors’ Walk. Was that a phallic symbol he was standing on? Can’t have that in holy, Catholic Ireland. Draw your own conclusions and no sniggering, please.

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The Chinese, of course discovered gunpowder, a mixture of saltpetre, charcoal and brimstone in certain proportions, to bring about an explosion. They used it for fireworks and for war. The 13th century Franciscan, Berthold Schwarz gets the credit for introducing it to Europe and everything has been great ever since. You can use the stuff to move mountains, celebrate Hallowe’en or dominate your neighbours. You can become a hero, a great statesman, a rebel/anarchist/revolutionary, giving the two fingers to those you don’t agree with, if you have enough of it. You can become a bloody menace to society if you mishandle it, as the dreadful explosion in Tianjin shows. Pearse admitted that  some of the wrong people might be killed at first….Lenin went for mass slaughter. It takes practice to get the hang of it. Interestingly, Lenin listed the bourgeoisie, school teachers and other intellectuals as candidates for liquidation in this mass extermination. I don’t know, as a former school teacher, if I should feel flattered.

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It may well be apocryphal but the story is that, at Agincourt, the French High Command, directed that any English archers taken prisoner, should have the index and middle finger of the right hand chopped off. This was to avenge the scandal that a low-born man could strike a noble knight dead from afar. Comparable punishments were to be inflicted on gunners using the detestable material, gunpowder. The only respectable way to slay an enemy is in hand to hand combat, according to the customs of Chivalry. Ee I Addio….we won the war. It seems that these low-born varlets delighted in showing their two fingers to the defeated French. Considered to be very rude nowadays…rude peasants…rude forefathers. There are some families in Wales still drawing a pension for their forefathers’ service at Agincourt, but keep that under your hat… where the same ancestors kept their bowstrings in wet weather. Did Shakespeare ‘sex-up’ Agincourt 1415?  The Herald of France put it more succinctly…’, No, great king/ I come to thee for charitable licence/ That we may wander o’er this bloody field/ To book our dead and then to bury them/To sort our nobles from our common men…’ Agincourt 2015. Sounds like a festival, with gurning politicians speaking about heritage and tradition and soldiers rattling sabres and gesticulating with rifles. Guards of honour and artillery salutes….the works.

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God save the mark!

An interesting suggestion was made in America, where people love their guns. Arm the teachers. That would put a stop to the random massacres in schools and colleges, perpetrated by people unbalanced with a sense of power or grievance. Fortunately I never carried firearms to school. There were days….There were days….youghal doneraile spenser's castle 049

I think I would have fancied one of these.

When Gulliver boasted to the King of the Giants, that he could show him how to compound gunpowder and make cannon to blast down the walls of the mightiest cities and tear apart the bodies of the wretches hiding therein, the King was enraged. He warned the ‘insect’ Gulliver never to mention it again, on pain of death. Seemed like a sexy idea to Gulliver.

No need for it now anyway, since Tony Blair became Peace Envoy to The Middle East. How did that go, have you heard? Probably count his successes on the two missing fingers of some Welsh archer.

 

 

 

 

Blow-ins and Little Green Men

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“Grandad,” said my four year old grandson, “what do Aliens call us?” Little boys delight in questions and jokes. Ideally a question can also be a joke. ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ That’s a cracker, as the late, great Frank Carson used to say. ‘Frank Carson, News at Ten, Balbriggan.’  Something to do with the way he told them. ‘They’re building new houses in Balbriggan. They’ve no chimneys on them. The people have to carry the smoke out in buckets. Ha,ha,ha!’ Strange goings-on in Balbriggan indeed. But I have digressed—by four miles. ‘Why did the chewing gum cross the road?’ Another cracker. ‘Because it was stuck to the chicken’s foot. Boom, boom!.’ “No, but Grandad, what do Aliens call us?” Pay attention. Stop rambling. “I don’t know. What do Aliens call us?”  “They call us Aliens! because they think we look funny and we are Aliens to them.” That’s a good point. Poor bare, forked creatures. We do look a bit weird, considered objectively. It is a well known fact that Aliens abduct people all the time and carry them away in flying saucers. They take them apart to see what makes them tick. Or is it ‘thick’?

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I have a lifetime’s experience of taking things apart to see what’s wrong with them; clocks, washing machines, bikes. I marvel at the ingenuity of the makers; the beauty of the finely machined parts; the intricacy of the mechanisms, but sadly, I have had very little success in reassembling them into working order…..probably just like the Aliens. People who have been dismantled and reassembled in flying saucers, always seem to have a screw loose here and there. Aliens are not as clever as they’re cracked up to be. Anyway, they’re just blow-ins. Came down with the last shower. Who do they think they are, coming down here and telling us what make us tick?  (Watch the spelling there.) Crowd of bloody know-alls. Probably came over the Hoar Rock Hill playin’ penny whistles.

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The news is that out there, beyond our solar system, there is a star, not unlike our Sun and a planet possibly similar to ours, with an atmosphere that could possibly sustain life. It’s 1400 light years away, in round figures. Next thing we’ll have bloody Aliens, who set out around the time of our Dark Ages, travelling at the speed of light to come here and tell us how to do things. Damned cheek! We’re doing fine, thank you very much. Bloody blow-ins! We are intelligent life-forms, as you have already ascertained from your numerous dissections and experiments. And by the way….I would like my frontal lobe and my liver back please…..if it’s not too inconvenient, of course.

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Intelligent life at work.

It is probably a shameful thing to admit, but my parents were blow-ins to Skerries, one in 1903 and the other in 1939. I was born here, which might make me a ‘local’. I might even be entitled to voice an opinion, tentatively, in an assembly of the people. In a few hundred years I may be able pass myself off as a native. If I live that long, my contemporaries will all be dead. I will be able to bang on about things that blow-ins and young whipper-snappers couldn’t possibly know about.  Nobody will be able to contradict me. Bred, born and buttered here, as a well known (native) Skerries man once said. While I’m at it, I must confess that my late and much loved mother-in-law was a Balbriggan woman, which means that I married, 51 years ago, a half-Balbriggan girl.  A desirable alien, perhaps. I’m grateful to my blow-in parents too.

I blame the Great Northern Railway. Since the 1830s railways have been stirring the gene pool, sending blow-ins all around the country to intermingle, putting it delicately, with the natives. This is supposed to be good for the health of the race. All sorts of hop-off-me thumb jackeens and culchies, intermingling with real Skerries people…..Don’t get me started. That lad, Saint Patrick, bloody Welshman; your men, the Vikings; bloody Normans! We were grand the way we were. Now we have AIB Bank encouraging decent, hard-working people with bright, engaging children, to put down roots here in our town. Where will it all end?

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Orson Welles scared the daylights out of people with his Martian invasion. That was only on the radio. We never even got to see them. There was panic and a rush to judgement. They do look a bit funny all the same. It’s rude to stare. If they had ears, now, like we have.  Like normal earthlings have….Ears would be good.

 There was this Skerries woman who was married to a Balbriggan man for fifty years. The poor, decent man died. Friends, sympathising with her at the funeral spoke of what a good man he had been. “He was,”she agreed, wistfully. “He was a good man…..for a stranger.” Maybe it’s time to give blow-ins and Aliens a break. It’s a very small, round world. We all get our turn.

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Skerries Water Festival, August 2015 and King Salman.

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When you have it, flaunt it, or at least celebrate it. Let everyone enjoy it. Skerries is blessed in having three beaches and all the water you could ask for. You can swim, paddle your own canoe or someone else’s, or just paddle in the shallows, sail, kite-surf, dive or just generally relax on the sand. Let the kids build the sandcastles. It’s an ancient skill, older than the ancient skill of jumping on them. This one has survived from the Iron Age, it seems, a village defended by ramparts and a ditch. It looks like a possible winner of the sandcastle competition of Saturday last. So do many others. Opinions may be divided. A lot of work goes into building sandcastles. All credit to the builders.

Water festival 1 st August 2015 008 A very fine fortress.

Water festival 1 st August 2015 007 A family relaxing on the beach.

f07-14b Some more sand.

All credit too and a huge vote of thanks to the volunteers who give their time to organising events like this. The entire community benefits from their generosity and dedication. They lift our spirits. They make us smile. There are few things to compare with a multi-generational day at the seaside. Sand between the toes, in the shoes, in your ice cream and in the hot dogs. You might even indulge in a sand fight if you are young enough.

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I was more than a little surprised to read that King Salman of Saudi Arabia has had part of ‘his exclusive beach’ in La Mirandole paved over, so that the royal feet will not have to walk on sand. (It’s not really his beach, as the locals have vigorously pointed out. Egalité and all that.) Repeat: The King of Saudi Arabia does not like walking on sand. May I advance a humble suggestion. B and Q  RED HOT SUMMER CLEARANCE. Economy flooring at unbeatable prices; samples for two Euro; special Diamond Club discount for over sixties. Diamond Club sounds suitably posh.  Saudi Arabia is a mere 2,149,690 square kilometres in area. Multiply by 10 Euro per square metre, economy click-together flooring; multiply by the number of square metres  in a square kilometre…multiply by 2,149,690… too early in the morning for me to be doing sums… and the whole place could be paved for approximately two days oil revenue. Rough estimate. FREE DELIVERY FOR ORDERS OVER FIFTY EURO!!

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The royal feet could walk the pilgrim route to Mecca in comfort. They could traverse the Empty Quarter and the terrible Nafud Desert, the Anvil of the Sun, without a blister or a grain of sand to cause the slightest irritation. Incidentally, that lonely figure on the beach is a French policewoman, risking her life to guard the King and his guests from harm. She was ordered to go away, because she was too close to where the men wanted to bathe. The latest news is that the King won the sandcastle competition, the powerboat race, the sailing, the kite-surfing , the tag rugby, gaelic football, soccer and swimming competitions. He devastated his opponent with his tennis service and out-canoed and out- stand-up- paddled all comers (There were very few.) He didn’t trouble the hot-dog stall at all and refused to sunbathe because there was sand on his towel.  He was also the lead singer in the band. Yeah!

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Meanwhile,in Skerries, we had a beautiful time. The weather was warm. There were no security alerts.  The fun continued until the tide ebbed away. The sandy children were rounded up. It became possible to stroll out to Shennick Island to look at the birds. King Salman is welcome to join us here next year. He can bring his own sand.

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Water Safety Week begins today. The People Who Dwell in Tents will arrive and settle on the beach with their children.

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On Saturday evening they will,  like the mysterious Bedouin, quietly fold their tents and steal away until this time next year. Blessings and peace be upon them  and all the volunteers….and a little sunshine.

Latest news: The King has jacked it in and flown to Morocco…where there is no sand at all, at all. I hope he has as good a time there as we have had over the Bank Holiday weekend.