Call a Spade a Spade. The Joy of Gardening.

Sikorski 001

A Sikorsky

When Adam delved (and Eve span— on a spanning wheel) in the Garden of Eden, he made neat rows for the seeds— but there was a problem. The seeds didn’t come in brightly coloured packets from a reputable seed merchant like Rowans of 1-2 Westmoreland Street. My father always planted a fine crop of packets in Springtime. He impaled a packet on a stick at the end  each row and regarded his work in satisfied anticipation. Everything in the garden was perfect.(Old Japanese adage : If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk; for a week, get married; for a lifetime, become a gardener. Ah so!) The packets, fluttering in the wind, made a cheerful display, telling us children where to weed and hoe and not play chasing. There is nothing as annoying to a gardener(one who cultivates a garden) as hoers (one who uses a hoe) rooting up the wrong seedlings.

Adam’s problem was that he had to name everything in the garden, including the animals and insects and all the creatures that creep upon the earth,( Some of them are definitely a bit creepy)  before he could get down to work. He started  not surprisingly with A. Actually he began with Aardvark, just to make sure, He moved on to Ants, Apples, (spoiler alert) Artichokes. (He had tried to eat one raw.) Armadillos, also a bit prickly and so on. He wasn’t too worried about alphabetical order and eventually he hit on a scheme, whereby he devised names by observing what the creatures (Things that have been created out of nothing,) were doing at the time–The Bee-eater (bird), The Tree-creeper (bird, also know as the Xenops. He was in rather a hurry to put one under X.)  He checked back regularly with head-office, to let God know how he was getting on. “There’s a big hairy creature with a long nose, a bit like the aardvark. What would you recommend as a name, Lord?”  “Oh, I dunno. What’s it doing?”  “Eating the ants.” “Just call it an Ant-eater, then.”  “Ant-eater. I like that, Lord. Very succinct.” “Good. Good. Carry on then.” It was the seventh day and the Lord God of all the Universe, was trying to get a bit of rest. “What about all those little creatures with six legs, buzzing around the place?” “Use your loaf. What are they doing?” “Not much, Lord. Just flying around.” “Oh good Christ” muttered God under His breath. “Just call them flies then.” Being a Catholic and therefore Irish, God had already developed a slight tendency to swear. I had a feeling that I would have trouble with this Mankind idea, He mused. It had been a hard week. The Milky Way and the space-time continuum, had proved more taxing than He had expected. There were what d’ye’call’em, holes, in everything. Galaxies were slipping into other dimensions. He had decided to have another look at it on Monday. Be ready Wednesday.

Knock! knock! That bloody fellow again. God was beginning to sound a bit a bit like my father. He even wore soft white tennis shoes on his day off. “What is it now, for crying  out loud.?” Adam had a small wriggling, tubular, creature in the palm of his hand. It had no legs, arms or head. “I found this at the bottom of the garden. I was thinking of calling it a worm, because it worms its way in everywhere and makes holes in things. What do You think, Lord? I need a W.”   “I don’t give a damn what you call it,” growled God. “Call it Wiggly Woo if you want to.” “Brilliant!” exclaimed Adam. “Thank you Lord.” He went back to the bottom of the garden and drew a picture of the wiggly woo on a piece of bark, (not very difficult,) which he impaled on a stick. He was humming… and his name is Wiggly Woo... God put his feet up on a nice soft cloud. Worm holes? Worm holes! Of course. Just what He needed. He would write them into the laws of quantum physics—on Monday. There might be hope for that lad, Adam, after all.

Meanwhile Adam was grappling with the letter S…sneaky, slimy, sneery, snarly, slobbery, sloppy, snarky,sly, snooty,slippery, snotty, scornful, snakes and serpents. There was one already slithering around the garden, with a most unpleasant stench of sulphur. Adam tended to avoid it. There wasn’t much about S that he fancied.  Not much to write to write home about. He carried on with a spot of hoeing. He noticed that wherever there were wiggly woos, the soil was good. Even the lowly worms had a purpose. He took care not to hurt them as he worked. God watched him through the window (wind-eye. Nice one, Adam). Maybe I’ve been a bit hard on him, the poor little divil, He mused. I know what I’ll do. I’ll create a partner for him and then he’ll have someone to practice language on. It’s not easy to learn language on your Sweeney. I mean, the Cameleopard. He laughed at the memory. His laughter reverberated throughout the firmament. The heavenly bodies danced with joy, the harmony of the spheres. “You’re having a giraffe,” he had said. “Okay, it’s humpy and it has spots and a long neck. A Cameleopard. Come on. You can do better than that.”  Adam was a bit aggrieved. “I thought it was a good one.” He was finding language difficult enough without God playing around with slang. “You know,” he said tentatively, “I like that. A Giraffe. It sounds right.”  God smole a little smile. “You’ll get the hang of it. Language will never stop evolving, if I may use that word. It will give joy and grief, depending on how it is used. I will make you a companion to keep you company. You will increase and multiply and fill the earth. All your problems will be over.” Multiply, thought Adam. I’m only getting the hang of joined writing. A companion sounded interesting all the same.

The following Thursday, Adam stopped to lean on his hoe. He had a bit of a pain in his side. It felt as if there was a bit taken out and that someone had stitched him up again. He winced. He saw a creature approaching, more beautiful than all the creatures that he had named. “I am Eve,” she said softly, “the mother of all mankind. I am your partner and helper. Would you like something to eat?” She held out an apple. “That’s not from the Tree of Knowledge and that… is it?” “Don’t worry about that old nonsense.”  Adam was entranced. He took the gift and bit into it. He saw half of a wiggly woo in the white flesh. He spat it out in disgust.  He felt a chill wind and noticed goose bumps rising on Eve’s beautiful skin. The sky was darker and the trees bent in the wind. He shivered.  “Eh, It’s a bit nippy in here. Do you know how to span? We will have to make what d’ye’callem, clothes” He heard sniggering in the bushes. There was a definite stink of brimstone.

“Bloody Hell,” muttered God. “Another fine mess.”

Cabbages and Kings. The Elixir of Life. Smoke and Mirrors.


Experiment on a Bird in an Air-pump. Wright of Derby. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

A lad at the breakfast table posed a conundrum: : ‘What’s the difference between Prince Charles, a monkey’s father and a baldy man?’ He left the question hanging in the air and went off to work. I am grateful to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, for continuing to breathe for a further fifty five years, thereby keeping the conundrum alive and deeply relevant, not least to Prince Charles himself. Conundra at dawn. (I was a Latin teacher at the time,  a bit of a pedant or maybe a pendant, hanging around the school, drawing a vast salary for pondering weighty and abstruse  questions. We often aired our views on weighty and abstruse questions at the table, especially in the evening, until it was time for the television news, followed by The Three Stooges.

What ever happened to “digs”? At one time, most young people starting out in a new town or job, could get room and board for a modest fee. There were compromises to be made in digs, such as sharing a room and the table with relative strangers. There might be a common sitting room with a small black and white television and a paraffin heater adding to the fug of cigarette smoke. (plunk, plunk, plunk. Dum,dum,dum,dum. Hello. I’m the Esso blea duler.  If you don’t remember paraffin heaters you won’t remember the Esso blea duler. It was funny at the time. I can’t explain why.)  ‘ Open a window, would you? Let some air in.’  ‘Shut that bloody door. There’s a draught.’ One landlady had an arrangement of mirrors so that everyone could see the television. That was disconcerting, to say the least. Everyone on television was left-handed. Our Atlantic weather came from the South East. Britain was further West than Ireland. To make matters worse, there was a second screen placed over the first one to reduce the glare, but the new glamour of television made a flickering visit every evening.  Cassius Clay and some of the Rome Olympics.

There was a legendary landlady who boiled the week’s breakfast porridge on Sunday evening and poured it into a drawer lined with grease-proof paper from sliced pans, to be used throughout the week. Each morning she dug out a square of the stuff and rendered it down in hot water, like an Inuit woman rendering a lump of whale blubber. There were no ‘best before ‘ notices in those days. By Saturday it had acquired a distinct consistency and flavour, but there was always Monday (fry on Sunday) to look forward to. It would be unfair to the great majority of landladies to regard this practice as the norm.

You were expected to contribute to the conversation/slagging/gossip/scandal at the table. A great deal of hot air was expended on politics, women, about which most of us knew very little, drink of which we could afford very little, religion, like drink, to be taken in moderation, Vatican II  advocating moderation.  Archbishop McQuaid said: ‘it need not disturb the tranquility of your Christian lives’.  Phew! that was close. The Space Race..Sputnik, Telstar. Will Kennedy and Khrushchev start a nuclear war? Will we survive? What time are Confessions on  this evening? Better hurry. I didn’t fancy a couple of months under the stairs with those lads, surviving on tinned beans and the like. The atmosphere might have got a bit strained. Time for a pint…Beamish at 10d a pint, Guinness at 1s/1d. We had a poet philosopher in the digs. He addressed his pint: ‘Ah, the elixir of life.’ He would probably have said ‘apostrophised his pint.’ The pints were dispensed over trays with perforated boards on top. The spillage was gathered into jugs and used to top up the pints. It was insanitary and probably illegal but the pub had atmosphere. We argued about the elixir of life. I still maintain that it’s obvious. Air is the elixir of life. ‘The first time we smell the air, we waul and cry, that we are come to this great stage of fools.’ The poet was a Shakesperian. We take it for granted until the last rattle of air leaving the body. It’s just there. Fill your lungs with it. It’s free. There will never be a pub on the Moon….no atmosphere.(Sorry). No passing trade.


Chairman Mao and his cronies sent a delegation to Silesia, the industrial heartland of Poland to see how heavy industry worked. They saw the smog and the grey rivers and concluded that industry was dangerous to human life. They went home, glorying in the clean air of Communist China. Along with ten million others, I read his little red book. ‘Freedom of speech must be afforded to all…except hostile elements. Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.’  He ran the country into famine and poverty. As soon as he died, his cronies dumped his philosophy. There is more money in heavy industry, low wages and grime. Look at the smog in their cities today.

red island cliff 004

Some builders from Poland built a room for us. They made a beautiful job of it. They used an eight-foot long magic wand to get level floors and vertical walls. The crucial part is the little bubble of air. Marvellous stuff. It’s a light airy room with windows and no television. No smoking either. No accelerated-freeze-dried cabbage by Erin Foods. The landlady bought it by the sackful. She had a contact. Pssst! Do you want any accelerated-freeze-dried cabbage, dessicated and vacuum packed? Just add hot water.  It had no taste but the colour was good. It had the consistency of matchsticks. I don’t imagine it’s available today…unless, of course, you have a contact.

Our poet of the dinner table, was expatiating on poetry and on how he could analyse the component parts of any poem. He conducted his anatomical examination with the panache of the scientist in Wright’s painting, reducing some gem of English literature to a a pile of accelerated-freeze-dried verbiage…just breathe upon it to give it life. The conundrum man arrived, sat down and looked around. “Well, lads, have ye got the answer?” We shook our heads. He drew his dinner closer. He paused. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?” It wasn’t a bit obvious. It had distracted me all day. “Prince Charles is The Heir Apparent. A monkey’s father is a hairy parent and a baldy man has ne’er a hair apparent at all, at all. God I hate this  bloody cabbage.” He addressed himself to his food.

You may have heard that one before. As they used to say in the fit-ups, if you enjoyed it, tell your friends. If you didn’t, save your breath to cool your porridge.

Erebus and Terror. Death of the Banshee.


When embarking on polar exploration, it might be no harm to consult the omens. Would you name your vessels Confusion or Disaster? No you would not. That would be tempting Fate. What about Irrevocably Lost and Accident Prone? No. Think positive. The Greek myths explained natural phenomena through the medium of the tangled family relationships of vindictive and endlessly fornicating deities. I recall a protest from a correspondent in the Irish Times many years ago, at the American practice of naming the space rockets after mythological figures, Apollo, Saturn, Mercury. This was, according to the writer, demeaning to the concept of deity and all religion. He lost me there. What however, possessed Sir John Franklin to select ships named Erebus and Terror? Erebus, the child of Chaos, is the god of darkness, the epitome of blackness and oblivion. Terror needs no definition in our time. Almost two centuries later, some light has penetrated the story of this legendary disaster. The hag-like faces of  several of Franklin’s crewmen, with wild, staring eyes, have emerged from the permafrost, to tell a story of unimaginable suffering and horror.


During the storms of last week we fell to talking about survival and the fragility of the infrastructure on which our way of life depends. We had a thirty six hour electricity outage. The sea and sky were a uniform blue-black colour, relieved  only by the dim white of the breakers at the sea wall. We had no heat, light or cooking facilities. Mobile phones died. We had no access to Bear Grylls on television to show us how to source nutrients from grubs and rhizomes.  The situation looked desperate. We had to fall back on conversation, left-overs of turkey and ham and the dwindling stocks of wine, beer and Baileys. We avoided ghost stories. We survived. There were no mutinies or desertions. Occasional take-away meals kept body and soul together. We enjoyed the experience but a third day without power might have tried mens’ souls beyond endurance.

Christmas,sun room, ESB 024

Apparently 10 of those 38 KV went on the blink, excising parts of North County Dublin from the network. Huge credit is due to the ESB workers who worked tirelessly in dismal weather, to restore the supply. It is something we take for granted when it works. At the flick of a switch we command the awesome power of rivers, winds and billion year old fossil fuels, to do our bidding. It is no wonder that those who seek to disrupt our way of life, see the destruction of power sources as a quick and easy way to do so. We call them terrorists.

Christmas,sun room, ESB 025

A documentary about the origins of the ESB and its influence on our society,was called, The Death of the Banshee. It paid tribute to those who brought light to the darkness and dispelled our primitive fears. We are in their debt. The upshot of our meditation on survival was that after we had looted the supermarkets and petrol stations and eaten all the rhizomes from the garden pond, our way of life and civilization would be a push-over to any concerted attack. It’s a flimsy construction, needing constant maintenance or else we descend again into an age of darkness.

The terrorist, asserted Brendan Behan, is the fellow with the little bomb. He had a point.


One of Franklin’s ships on the cold seabed.