Nothing personal; just business.


There is some nice ‘artisan’ furniture there at a cursory glance. We could strip it down or repaint it to our taste. It would would add an authentic touch to the refitted cottage. That would make a nice holiday home, with ‘stunning views’ of the wild Irish scenery. We’ll keep the thatch of course, if the bailiffs don’t tear it all off to discourage the former occupants from sneaking back in. Delightful, colourful peasants indeed, but it will be better if they beetle off to America. They could possibly get a job with Henry Ford in Detroit. What was it Henry said about history? Ah, yes. “History is bunk.” Now there’s a thought–bunk beds for the boys when we come down for the weekend. We feel sorry for the people of course, but they shouldn’t have got themselves into this situation. Thank God there was no wailing mother with a baby in her shawl. That can be terribly distressing. It can almost put you off snapping up a bargain. All strictly legal as you can see from the constabulary in attendance. I love those old whitewashed walls. I hope there’s no woodworm in that chest or whatever it is, on the right. You can find some unexpected treasures in these old cottages.

Fig -2

There is an insatiable appetite nowadays for ‘Nordic noir’ fiction and films. I imagine that the tourist bodies (unhappy choice of words there) tear their hair out when yet another film or novel emerges telling us that the neighbours in some bleak and windswept part of the country are in fact, incorrigible serial killers. Poor Inspector Wallender  bought a small house in the country to get away from it all. The gardener unearthed a decomposed body in his back garden. The beetles always give the game away. As we all know from forensic pathology books and films, the beetles are the first responders to a corpse. Actually, that one is colymbetes, the swimmer, oarsman and aviator all in one. Nothing sinister there; not one of the ghoulish ones to delight the forensic sleuth. I shared a dinner table once with a forensic pathologist. I admired how he dissected his meat into neat little squares, (all of them numbered. No that’s a lie.) They tell me that he has a great slab-side manner. Perhaps I’m totally wrong about the tourists. Perhaps we all want to see where Wallender found the corpse. The garden consisted of dark, wet clay, adjacent to a field of dark, wet clay with a dark, sinister tractor ploughing back and forth in the gloom. Like the shuttle in some doom-laden loom. Hey, some assonance there. I should write this noir stuff.

We learned a lot of bunk in school but there were some bright episodes. During the Land War people did not, by common consent, take over the property of an evicted tenant. Captain Boycott gave the language a new word. There was a sense of solidarity, reinforced by anathema, public disdain and the explicit threat of violence. “If he’s a good man I’ll shoot him for five shillin’s. If he’s a bad man, I’ll shoot him for nothin’.” The “Grabber” and the “Gombeen Man” (the profiteer)were the lowest forms of life. The campaign changed the agrarian landscape. The Absentee Landlord and his Agent were the villains of the piece. The estates of the Ascendancy, generally seen as dastardly foreign oppressors, were gradually broken up by acts of parliament. The ownership of the land passed to those who worked it.

So that was that and they all lived happily ever afterwards. Except that the papers tell a different story.


 This man’s prize herd was sold to meet a debt. ‘Shouldn’t have got himself  etc’. Purchasers, home-grown, not dastardly foreign oppressors, came from far and wide, smelling a bargain. There is an Amazonian vulture with nostrils as wide a jet engine air intakes, that can smell a corpse from twenty miles away. He cruises over the canopy, always on the alert. His sight is poor but boy! does he smell! They came in darkness and fog. They made a killing and beetled off with their loot. Some neighbours appealed  for decency and patience. To no avail. He looks like a boxer on the ropes or even, at a stretch, a man crucified. It’s all strictly legal. The Sheriff said that she must execute (sic) any orders that come to her office. A distant relative of mine lost a farm  that had been in his family for centuries..’Shouldn’t have got …etc.’  He was driven to despair and violence by the experience. What happened to all that solidarity? Was that all bunk too? I heard an Irish artist explaining that although he lived and worked in Budapest, he would not snap up a few bargain apartments to rent out to Hungarians. He had no desire to become an Absentee Landlord. ‘We have a long enough tradition of those lads in Ireland.’ He missed a trick there. No doubt the vulture fund managers are on the case.

Human nature is a complex business. We learned that the last public hanging in Ireland took place in 1829, at Stephen’s Green. A good day was had by almost all. The practice was discontinued to spare public sensibilities. It was described as barbaric. It was moved indoors. There would be no point in having public hangings nowadays as nobody would go to watch. Our innate sense of decency would be outraged. Anyway, we could watch it on Youtube and we have other entertainments (strictly legal) to provide thrills and enjoyment, even for the kiddies, like bus tours of sites made famous by terrorist bombs. I read that in the run-down areas of American cities, evictees are offered a choice,’Truck or kerb?’ If you can pay for storage the bailiffs will arrange to move you effects.  If not, your property stays on the kerb. They would say ‘curb’. I hope that history does not repeat itself for the descendants of those poor Irish emigrants. With luck it will only happen to somebody else. They shouldn’t have….etc. etc.

I really shouldn’t read the paper.


Do you remember The Future?

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What a pretty picture they make; the elegant lady, the top-hatted gentlemen, the fine buildings and of course the deferential, bare-footed boy with his broom. He knows his place. He is, of course, a crossing sweeper. His job was to keep the roads level, especially at junctions where the dust and gravel was rutted and scattered by iron-shod hooves and iron-rimmed wheels. Like the labour of Sisyphus, his work never ended. Like the stone-breaker, the porter, the child chimney-sweep, the agricultural labourer, (women and children on lower rates of pay), factory hands, all those who labour and are oppressed, their work was hard, monotonous and repetitive. Their task was to make the world a better and more comfortable place for their betters. Humanitarians were moved to charitable efforts. Reformers looked for legislative change, new labour laws, better pay, better living conditions, education. Revolutionaries sought to change the system by force, promising a glittering future.. Anarchists sought to blow the whole bloody lot up. Idealists envisaged brave new worlds, tending to be less than tolerant of those who didn’t share their ideals. In many cases, change came about with a great deal of bloodshed—-for the Greater Good, of course. The artist possibly, kept an eye on next year’s fashions, with a view to another edition of his painting. I note that the child has changed his tie. The lady is going for a more autumnal  palette, this season.

I had a (borrowed)book, The Boy’s Book of Aviation, published sometime in the 1920s, that caught the romance of flight for youngsters. There was a chapter on trans-Atlantic passenger flights of the future. Nobody wants to land, like Alcock and Brown, arse over tip, in a bog outside Clifden, County Galway. It would be difficult to maintain a regular schedule on that basis. The book predicted that trans-Atlantic  aeroplanes would hop from one floating runway to another, all the way across, to refuel and let the passengers get out to stretch their legs. It just might work, but not on windy days, or in the dark, or in heavy fog, or in the hurricane season. What happened was that aircraft got bigger, carried more fuel and hopped from London to Paris, Lisbon, The Azores, Bermuda and New York or other destinations westwards. In summer they hopped from London to Shannon, Reykjavik, Gander and New York. As planes got even bigger, all those intermediate airports became obsolete and had to develop other reasons for their existence. Those who plumped for floating runways, had to wait for World War II to get any customers at all. As for Zeppelins, well, you know that story. By the way, I identified the owner of the book some fifty years after I read it. I brought it back. I apologised for the delay.  “Ah!” he said,”I remember that book. I borrowed that from Des McDonough, away back in the Thirties.” That was a roundabout trip for any book. I’m glad that nowadays, we don’t have to land with the aid of trip-wires, on a heaving deck in mid-ocean and take off again by catapult. Even the pilot would need a few gins and tonics in the VIP lounges along the way. (That’s my father-in-law below, by the way.)


In The Soul of Man under Socialism,   Oscar Wilde paints a romantic picture of how ‘the masses’, released from grinding toil by science and technology, would devote themselves to the arts, to music and poetry. He particularly picked out the crossing-sweeper as an example. Machines would be installed at every crossing to sweep the gravel level. Meanwhile, the liberated crossing-sweeper would be at home composing concerti or polishing up a collection of sonnets. It didn’t quite work out like that. Firstly, tarmacadam eliminated the trade altogether. Lenin and Stalin carried their socialism to extremes. The poor became cannon fodder or merely hands for industry. Intellectuals were seen as a threat. People of Oscar’s proclivities were liquidated or sent to Siberia. Mao carried his version of communism to its logical conclusion– a never ending revolution…thesis/antithesis/synthesis. A grinding equality forced surgeons out of operating theatres, even in mid-surgery, to make steel. Biological science had to bend to conform to Marxist theory. Everyone had to accept a never-ending revolution …but not yet. Jung Chang tells how her pregnant mother walked on The Long March while her father rode a horse, consistent with his dignity as a Party member. James Connolly, a bigger name internationally than Lenin, inexplicably abandoned his socialist ambitions and threw in his lot with militant nationalism. Mr. DeValera, alarmed by the Bolsheviks, was at pains to assure the Irish voters in 1918 that he was not a ‘revolutionary’. Everything would remain the same in a new Ireland, but on his terms. Cue athletic youths and comely maidens….

We particularly looked forward to robots to do all the work, especially in the house. There is already a domestic robot that can stir soup. You prepare and put the ingredients in a pot and a robot arm will stir it. Then you take it out and eat it with a spoon. All this research was misguided as scientists were about to develop pills to take the place of meals. There are some dietary substitute tablets already, but I would miss the accompanying spuds and gravy. Not the washing-up though. There is also a robot/computer lawn-mower that mutters about the garden all night, like a hedgehog, while you get to work on that concerto. Teachers will become redundant too, as children will be placed in classes of hundreds and taught by computers. Mars will be a staging post to other galaxies. Everyone will wear the hideous get-up of Mr. Spock. Politicians will no longer be abused about potholes in the perfect world of the future. I remember Dan Dare, pilot of The Future,putting on a helmet that translated Venusian speech into English….just like Google.


I loved the occasional visit from the steam-roller and the tar boiler. The road was painted with shining asphalt. It reflected the sky The men shoveled crushed stone onto the gleaming surface. The steam-roller followed, ironing everything flat. The rollers boomed and chimed as they trundled along. The smell was heavenly. On hot days you could assist by bursting the tar bubbles with your fingers. (Butter will remove tar from hands but not, alas, from clothes. Try to remove the tar and gravel from the soles of your shoes before entering your house or the consequences will be dire.) The steam-roller made smoke. It even had a whistle and a bell.  What more could a child ask for? The modern process is impressive and entirely mechanised but not as exciting. No need for crossing sweepers on our long straight motorways.

boys and cake,cows, baldungan road in field,leighlinbridge,Athy 064

Some people are building a road near Baldungan Castle. They have started like MacAdam, with rough stone. When they get to the fine aggregate stage, I may be able to get work for my little grandchildren as gravel and dust sweepers. At four, five, six and seven years of age it’s time they started to earn their keep. On a sartorial note, I shall insist that they wear ties and are deferential to all. In a revolutionary departure from standard practice, I shall provide them with shoes. If a tar-boiler and steam-roller are to be employed, I may even look for a job myself. If it was good enough for Cool Hand Luke, it’s good enough for me.