Chicken, Bacon and Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan sings: Lay, Lady , lay. Lay across my big brass bed. There is nobody as laid-back as Bob Dylan, but the image puzzled me. I saw him as a poultry farmer addressing a good laying hen. The misapprehension is understandable, as big brass bedsteads were often pressed into service by farmers in times gone by, to fill a gap in a hedge. Bedsteads worked for sheep and cattle but hens could overcome them.  In the evolutionary scheme of things, hens have almost achieved flight. Like farmyard geese, they see their more fortunate cousins flitting or gliding overhead but they are powerless to join them. They can launch themselves off the hen-house, flapping furiously but in vain. They lose altitude. They fall to earth and hobble ignominiously about the hen run. It must be heartbreaking. They can however make it to the top of a brass bed rail and escape, to lay in the bushes, to the frustration of the farmer, or more often, the farmer’s wife. ‘Laying out’ it’s called and who can blame them? They see their progeny ruthlessly gathered and taken away to become protein for humans. ‘Add two eggs; beat the eggs; fry the eggs; glaze with the white of an egg; scramble the eggs; separate the white from the yolk…..The litany is endless. Hens have never learned to lie (not ‘lay’) low. They cackle in triumph, giving the game away. The rooster struts and crows about his farmyard conquests. When his powers begin to flag he will be overthrown. He will become a figure of ridicule in the farmyard. He will be shunted down the pecking order.

I showed the children a shed full of day-old chicks. There is nothing as cute as a day-old chick. The children were entranced. There was a woman ‘sexing’ the chicks, thrusting the males into boxes and closing the lids. I don’t know how she knew.  They all looked the same to me. The females got a temporary reprieve, being put aside to fatten up or lay more eggs. “What happens to the males?” I asked gormlessly. “Oh,” she replied in a matter of fact way, “they go to the mink farm down the road.” I ushered the children out before they could think of too many questions. It is kind of Bob to provide a big brass bed for his hen. It must have been sexed of course, at some stage, as he addresses the bird as “Lady”.

My little daughter was chatting to her friends at the garden wall when she saw the cat running in the door. “Oh”, she said in alarm, “He’ll get the chicken.”  “Have you got a chicken?” asked one of her friends. “Yes, but I’d better go and stop the cat getting at it. ” “Would he kill the chicken?” her friend asked in alarm. “The poor little chicken.”  “It’s already dead,” explained my daughter. “Aw!”  “It’s in a plastic bag.”  “Ahh”  I’m not the only one to get the wrong end of the stick when it comes to poultry. Fortunately the chicken was still frozen solid and the cat’s evil designs were thwarted.


Sir Francis Bacon.

Not surprisingly, all this came to mind the other morning when I was scraping ice off the car. I should have worn gloves and a warm hat. It was the only morning this winter that ice was a problem. It took longer than I had expected. My fingers pained. The ice reformed almost as quickly as I removed it. We have had no snow to give old guys heart attacks from shoveling.  Old guys should wear warm hats. My son and a friend went to Antarctica. The friend got a phone call in Ushuaia as they were preparing to set off across the Drake Passage. “That was my Ma,” he announced. “She says  to be sure to wear a hat.”  By the way, it’s also very slippy out there.


Penguins carry their eggs on their feet. It’s a good thing they don’t fly. Mink would do well in Antarctica. They dress for the weather.

Sir Francis Bacon was possibly the most impressive mind of his generation, (No, he didn’t write the Works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote the Works of Shakespeare. Logical deduction.) He probably knew Drake and all the other eminent Elizabethans. He is remembered as an essayist, jurist and the ‘father’ of empirical science. He promoted colonisation in the New World, making a better fist of the colony of Virginia than Raleigh. He fell from grace on a charge of taking bribes. He admitted the charge. ‘Of course I take bribes but I have never given anything in return.’ Very few people of influence have been so frank. (I also am open to the receipt of bribes, if anyone is interested but like Bacon, I will give nothing in return. I have principles.)  In retirement, Bacon devoted himself to writing and observing natural phenomena.  He caught a chill when he got out of his coach to retrieve a chicken that he had buried in a snowdrift. He forgot to put on his hat. The experiment worked. The chicken was still fresh but Bacon developed pneumonia and died. If he had thought to wear his ermine robes and a mink hat with ear flaps on it, he might have gone on to make a new fortune from refrigerated foods. If he had tried cryogenics, he would be a rich man today, now that pneumonia is treatable. I note that Bob Dylan almost always wears a hat, even indoors.  He’s still going strong.

A man on the radio was praising the efforts of Irish egg producers in finding new markets in the Middle East.  He maintained that these eggs are hatched in Monaghan and Meath, packed and put on aeroplanes, and are on the shelves in Dubai a couple of days later.  That would make for an interesting and cheep flight.  Bit of a misapprehension there. Mrs “Pullet” Jones, the most laid-back motorist in Skerries, would never have approved of that. The man on the radio made no mention of Irish rashers.

The difference between involvement and commitment, they say, is like rashers and eggs. The hen is involved; the pig is committed.

Blow-ins Already on First Name Terms.

Waves January 2014 102

(Pole calibrated to register the strength of the wind by the height of the waves. It’s a thought))

For the moment, our rowdy transatlantic visitors have left us, Abigail, Big Bertha, Caligula, Desmond, Frank, Godzilla, Henry the Devastater, Imogen…. There have been so many that I get confused by the names. I vividly remember Hurricane Charlie, but that was a one-off and we all knew Charlie. Whose idea was it to name every Atlantic depression in alphabetical order, creating a sense of malevolent beings sweeping across the ocean to wreak havoc across the country. Previously the weather forecasters referred to ‘a storm’ or a ‘deep  depression bringing high winds  and heavy rain from the Atlantic.’ The Skerries fisherman  would refer to ‘a gale of wind’ to remove any doubt. Now we have a sense of shrieking Valkyries and shambling thugs lurching towards us to do us harm. They employed millibars, marked on barometers. Now it’s hectopascals and poor little Buoy M5. We used to make barometers out of jars of water and inverted bottles. I doubt if anything ever registered but that is how amazing discoveries begin…provided you don’t get bored. I can’t imagine a jar full of hectopascals. “Don’t bring those dirty things into the house.” or was that frog spawn?


Picture courtesy of R. O Shea.

Admiral Beaufort, from Navan, made it easier, by basing his wind scale on the  number of sails a man o’ war could safely carry. In this way, an officer coming on deck could gauge at a glance, the force of the wind. The landlubber’s version talks of smoke rising vertically, trees swaying, structural damage and hurricane force. The bottom line is  ‘take care out there.’ I suspect that forecasters give us the worst case scenario as they say, so that they can’t be accused of being caught on the hop. Poor Michael Fish will be forever blamed for overlooking a hurricane. It could happen to anyone. My sister-in-law slept through the whole thing, while in Bournemouth at a conference. She went for a walk in the morning and was dismayed by the untidiness of what is one of Britain’s leading seaside resorts. Meanwhile the good people of Sevenoaks, just up the road, were out looking for their eponymous trees. It blew Michael’s career away too. He briefly tried the music business but released only one song…said to be the worst recording since records began.


I recall floods and storms before there were names; before global warming and climate change were invoked to explain everything.  The picture shows an aspect of the North Strand flooding in Dublin in 1954. This was the time of the collapse of the railway bridge over the raging Tolka. You may remember how the sea came right up to the railway at Fairview.  The army built a temporary bailey bridge. All that land east of the railway, East Point,  Alfie Byrne Road etc. is the result of intensive reclamation during the Fifties, modeled on the building of Europoort. The sea was driven back and new land came into being. If you want to learn about water management, ask the Dutch.


Fairview Park on the left and the sea on the right.


Griffins’ big tree was even bigger by the time that I made money out of it. We used to sit at the top of the tree and watch Mr. Bailey passing on his tricycle. Secretary to the Dublin Port and Docks Board and the only First Class season ticket holder on the Great Northern Railway, he was a formidable personage.  He was also Hon. Sec. and Treasurer to the Golf Club, which he ruled with an iron fist. When he spoke, even the birds were silent. However…he rode a tricycle. An elderly man in plus-fours on a tricycle. Did we catcall from our eyrie in the tree? Did we try to water-pistol his tweed cap?  We did not. His reputation was noised abroad… but we nudged one another and giggled. Was he responsible for the bailey bridge? It wouldn’t surprise me. We kept schtum. In February 1953 much of Holland  was inundated by a great storm from the west, a spring tide and torrential rain. The disaster gave rise in time, to the wonderful Delta dams.  It’s an ill wind, as they say. Our school was shut, due to the weather. Griffins’ enormous tree fell, fortunately, onto the lawn. Mrs Griffin engaged a gang of idle boys to chop off as many branches as possible. The Tom Sawyer effect. We arrived with saws, hatchets and axes….Health and safety? Forget about it. We had a wonderful day. She paid us hard cash when the tree had been reduced to manageable proportions. Hard cash, transmuted into Honey Bee bars and  black Cough-no- more bars, in Annie Murray’s sweet shop. If there were calories in those days, we had already worked them off.

The preeminent storm of that era was Captain Carlsen’s storm over Christmas  1951 into January 1952. There was a hero. Every boy wanted to be Captain Carlsen.  We followed his progress on his stricken ship Flying Enterprise, as the wind and seas of the Western Approaches battered it. Every radio bulletin reported his plight, alone on his ship, refusing to give it up. Aerial photographs  in the newspapers, showed him, a small dark figure against the immensity of the waves working on deck, trying to secure lines to the tug, Turmoil. The mate of Turmoil, Kenneth Dancy, managed to get aboard to help the captain. He also became a hero, except for the fact that he knitted Aran style sweaters, as a hobby and supplied them to his shipmates. We weren’t sure if knitting was a suitable activity for a hero. The episode was an heroic failure, still shrouded in rumour and occasional controversy. The ship went down eventually with its cargo of Volkswagen cars, coffee, rags(!) peat moss, gold, zirconium and pig-iron. Why had he not abandoned ship with his crew and passengers? We will never know. However, he gave us an enduring hero in those dark years.


There is a pub in Cork called The Flying Enterprise. I must go in there sometime, just for pig-iron and raise a glass to a hero.  That storm needed no name other than Captain Henrik Curt Carlsen’s storm.

Music Hath Charms. Church Street.

I remember, I remember, the house where I was born…

Church Street houses, Room dinner 005

Well, to be truthful, I don’t. I left it when I was about eighteen months old. All I know about our family’s time in Church Street is hearsay and conjecture. I feel that I should have some notion of the house but I have nothing except fragments of anecdotes, told by older siblings in that patronising way…’but you wouldn’t remember that. Ha! you were too young.’ Now the house with its familiar street-scape, is passing into history.

Everything is in a state of flux. They speak about future-shock, the shock we experience when familiar sights and practices are supplanted by new things. That which obtained in our childhood is normal. Everything after that stage is interesting, exciting, a change for the better, unsettling, sad, perturbing, crazy, a disgrace , even an outrage. Select the category that suits your mood at the time. The young will think it’s ‘deadly’. Older people will grow to accept innovation, may even say…’about bloody well time..’ We move on…but inevitably, we look back.

My parents rented that house from Mrs. Behan, a good neighbour, in the red house next door, a handy woman to have around. She helped Dr. Heffernan to bring me into the world, into the light as the Spanish say. I understand that it had indoor plumbing, a big consideration in the cold nineteen forties. It had a long garden leading down to Tennis Court Lane, where many adventures took place…’you couldn’t remember that…  Yeah, yeah. ‘The Pony Daly riding his horse into Kitty Kingston’s shop…but you couldn’t…..’  I know. I know. A neighbour’s child had a devastating answer to that:  ‘Yes I can. I was still up in Heaven and I could see everything.’  His sister replied archly:  ‘That’s a big lie. You were in Mammy’s tummy and you couldn’t see a thing.’  When you come into the light, you have a lot of catching up to do.

Church Street houses, Room dinner 002

My father died thirty six years ago today, more than half of my lifetime ago, yet he remains as vivid as when I was a child. I went to Mass to remember him. I went in by the lane on the South side, because he had taken a scunner against a woman who was in the habit of antagonising Mass-goers passing her house on the other side. Apparently she was good at it. We always went in on the South side. I don’t even know her name but am prepared to take it on trust that she was an old hairpin, a battleaxe, a right shrew, a bit of an old bags.’ (Hearsay, M’lud). The choir sang ‘Morning has broken, like the first morning. Blackbird has spoken…etc.’ I like to think that there were blackbirds in the garden I never knew, when I came into the light.  It was June. They have returned in force to our current garden. Anois teacht an Earraigh… There was a war on. Everything was scarce. There were no lights at night.

My father bought a new hat. It probably cost him a lot of ration coupons. I don’t suppose you remember coupons. I rarely saw him out of doors without his hat, except, one time when he came to call us in from a game of football in Duffs’ field. He went up for a high ball, whipping off his hat and executing a perfect header. We laughed and cheered to think that one so old could be so nonchalant. I took a go on a trampoline in my daughter’s garden. I wasn’t Olympic standard but I wasn’t a disgrace. My grandchildren laughed. One little fellow remarked: ‘He’s just trying to prove that old people aren’t rubbish at doing stuff.’ I did stuff when he was still up in Heaven or in his Mammy’s tummy and couldn’t see a thing..couldn’t possibly remember me doing stuff… Anyway my father’s new hat blew off. He chased it down Church Street, across The Square and on towards Quay Street. I don’t need anyone to tell me that his language was colourful. The hat blew through a gap onto the North Strand. By the dim light of a gibbous moon (writers love gibbous moons) he saw it sailing out to sea, with a fair following wind. When a sharp wind blows down Church Street I doubt if even Jesse Owens could catch it. But it’s an ill wind, as they say and a long road that has no turning. He probably dropped into Glennons to assuage his disappointment, wet his whistle and curse his bad luck.

Church Street houses, Room dinner 004

New Street, once known as Barter Street, runs at right angles to Church Street. Few of the houses had indoor plumbing. A lad who lived in one of the cottages, used to sing, whenever he was in the W.C. in the garden. He sang not for joy, but because there was no catch on the door. Like the blackbird singing to defend his territory he sang to ward off intruders…Are you going to be in there all day?…  ‘Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling….’ A cry from the heart for indoor plumbing. He had a very good voice…or so I have been told. I couldn’t possibly remember him.  They’ve made a right haimes of the house where I was born and Mrs. Behan’s house and Tommy Dunne’s clay-built cottage, although I couldn’t possibly remember him.

Church Street and house 013

The priest blessed candles and spoke about light. The choir sang and I listened for his familiar cough. I came out into a biting wind and looked down Church Street, half expecting to see him striding along, whistling, flicking his right foot out slightly, the legacy of an old wound, or perhaps raising his hat to a passing lady, (not the old Biddy on the North side). He even raised his hat to his daughters when he met them in the street. I didn’t see him. Maybe he had nipped into Glennons to have a word with Frank. I hope so.

goat, st patrick's church, belfry 006

When the low sun shines after rain, Church Street is paved with gold. It is. It is. I’ve seen it.  ‘You couldn’t possibly have seen that. It’s silver.’

Silver will do.