Time and the hour run through the longest day

 

I looked up to this clock for most of my young life. It was on the top mantlepiece, the one most likely to wear a fine film of ash from the fire below. It was out of the reach of small children and is so again, hedged about with the same dire warnings. It punctuated our lives with its soft, harmonious chime… time to get up, time for school, time for the train, dinner time, Rosary time, time for ITMA, The Goons, homework, a story read aloud, O Henry, Joyce..( not James. His uncle. Old Celtic Romances,) The Wind in the Willows. THE PIPS..check the clock. ‘This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the News.’ Better get a move on. Look at the time! I imagined that Ratty had a clock like that in his snug little house on the riverbank. Time for bed…bong bong bong… you have insomnia. Time to get up.

It may have been a wedding present or maybe presentation. It was there before me and I treated it with respect as was fitting. My father might lift me up to see how he wound it.  It absorbed ash, tobacco smoke, piano music, yarns and jokes, arguments and discussions, French and Irish lessons, songs, some hideous skiffle crimes committed by my brother and his mates and all the little dramas of a large family. It is a ‘Witness Clock.’ The key miraculously survived to this day.This ceremony of winding has now become my responsibility. There is an element of tension involved…obviously. It was in intervention for a long time, in my mother’s house. Its mainspring was spavined by some enthusiastic winder. For many years it looked down impassively, taking no part in the proceedings.

                                                           

Today is Midwinter. The sun rises far to the South. The ancients watched its progress in the great oscillation, bringing light and warmth back to the earth, new life, fertility and harvest and then Winter again. They constructed enormous stone circles to keep track of time by the stars, the Moon and by the rising and setting of the sun.  I’m fortunate enough to have a headland for Winter and islands for the Equinox and Midsummer. I also have a calendar, a watch and now again, the chiming clock of my childhood. No need to ring bells for Matins, Lauds at ungodly hours, Vespers and Compline for a good night’s sleep. Or is that Complan? No need to lug megaliths, menhirs or monoliths to the summits of mountains to catch the fleeting rays. I have been to Newgrange, beside the fabled Boyne, and have seen the amber light creep up the passageway to illuminate the burial chamber at the heart of the mound. It evoked thoughts of countless years and countless millennia, when people looked back at their lives and savoured memories good and bad and looked forward to the coming year with hope and trepidation.  Too long for my mind to grasp. It is as futile as trying to comprehend the immensity of the Universe and the ever expanding Multiverse. The moon will wobble away from us in fifty million or billion years time and we will all be doomed. Don’t worry about it. Even Stephen Hawking has admitted to the odd mistake. It mightn’t be so bad in the long run.  I came home and had my breakfast and went to work. I was probably a bit late.

We took the broken clock to Tom Black, the ingenious clock-mender, on the road from Monasterboice to Termonfeckin, not far from the Boyne.  He performed some heart surgery. He set it to rights again. On the way back we met a childhood friend having lunch with his family. We reminisced. I recalled the time my father told me to dig and rake his vegetable patch…’and get it done by the time I get home..’ He was an occasional gardener but it never lasted too long. The clock was ticking. My friend and his brother looked over the wall.  ‘are you comin’ for a dip in the Captains?’  ‘ I can’t. I have to have this dug before my Dad’s train gets in.’ (5 past 6 from Amiens Street…on the dot). They came over the high wall like a pair of Ninjas, grabbed spades and forks and set to work. We were finished with plenty of time for a dip. I may even have got a tanner for my diligence. I can’t remember but the kindness of the two lads has stayed with me ever since.

I brought the clock home and put it on a high shelf. I noticed that it was in the company of our youngest son, who arrived too late, by a year, to meet his grandfather but knew and loved his Nana for a good many good years. Beside it is  the Chronicle of the 20th Century. My father saw a few years of the 19th Century and four fifths of the 20th. He experienced the worst of it on The Somme but survived to live with those memories of barbarism. My mother saw all but six years of the century and devoted her life to education and to making things better. The clock chimed, prompting a flood of memories. Forget the ancients. I can comprehend the memory of people I have known and loved and those I know and love today. I have a new mainspring. I look forward to a great stretch in the day

You can watch the sun at Newgrange online right now but you may not see much.  Eight minutes to nine by the clock.It’s a bit overcast. I will leave it to the Druids, romantics, astronomers and archaeologists. When the clock chimes nine I shall make some tea and bestir my self and of course, the tea.

 

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Shambling man-like creatures.

  

It seems that in Trump’s America, Evolution is a dirty word in many schools. That is a pity. Look at this little fellow. Does he remind you of anyone? Yes. It’s you. Look at his toes, all ten of them. He has developed a  clever adaptation of the fingers. It has taken millions of years to produce such perfection. He probably would make an indifferent pianist or keyboard operator. But the fingers work for him. Maybe Evolution intended to equip him with an umbrella during the aeons of precipitation  when oxygen and hydrogen came together to fill the cavities of this cooling planet with water. However he got a hang glider. Not even Leonardo da Vinci (clever chap) succeeded in doing that. It has taken humans unreckonable numbers of millennia to achieve flight. To give Leonardo his due, he did many other admirable things.  The definition of the Renaissance Man is that he did not specialise in one narrow field, as is the pattern nowadays. Would you go to a fresco painter to design a helicopter for you, or a military fortification? You would look askance at a portrait artist or a writer of sonnets (backwards) who spent his nights sneaking into morgues or tombs to dissect cadavers by candle light. Those are jobs for specialists. They have papers attesting to their qualifications. No room for gifted amateurs.

This is Agatha,  an Aye Aye, a specialist. She has enormous ears for eavesdropping on termites. She has wonderful eyes for seeing in the dark and locating termites. Observe the remarkably long middle finger–for (you have probably guessed it)–locating termites inside trees and drawing them out, the perfect finger food.  There must be days or even nights when she sees the dark silhouettes of bats crossing the face of the moon  and wishes that just once, she could try something different. But no. She has to concentrate on the endless search for termites. High in protein, deliciously crunchy, inordinately nutritious, as the experts might say.

I’m not averse to a spot of evolution, especially when explained by someone like Attenborough. We have followed  his account of the development of life on earth and the many twists and turns of that story. He has opened our minds to marvel and wonder at the myriad complexities of this story. We like to think that human ingenuity has liberated us from the tyranny of a mere struggle for survival. We talk of Progress as if all new things are better and will make us happier. Trump has spoken about beautiful American weapons. Weapons make us feel secure. Nothing bad can happen to us if we have enough weapons. Arm the teachers to protect their schools. Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong film mogul had twelve Rolls Royce cars parked on his driveway. He had nowhere to drive them. The Plains Indians captured horses from the invading Spaniards. This increased their productivity when hunting buffalo, to the extent that they had to lug piles of buffalo hides (their index of wealth)  around, when they went on migration. This slowed them up. The Flathead Indians tied boards across the foreheads of newborn babies to make them more beautiful. This compressed the frontal lobes of their little brains, impairing their development. The tribe died out, a kind of reverse evolution. The wealth generated by The Industrial Revolution, was won at a hideous cost.  We should be able to do better—given our superior intelligence. Rupert Murdoch wants to acquire yet more media.

I watched  a shambling hunchbacked figure emerging from the mist. His head was lowered, oblivious to everything around him. His prehensile thumbs flickered across the screen of his phone, tablet, ipad, ipod or whatever, a Quasimodo of the digital age. In a generation or two his descendants will have developed  thumbs to rival the Aye Aye’s termite-catching finger, (specialised evolution). Their heads will grow out at right angles from the body, (specialised ditto) the better to see the screen. Perhaps, of course, Natural Selection will cull the most ardent screen watchers, by means of bigger, faster motor vehicles, particularly those who combine phone use with driving. Look around any restaurant. Families dining together, a vital bonding ritual since the days of the cavemen, sharing the wisdom of the elders with the young to give them a start in life. No they don’t. The wise old elders are texting and the young are left to their own devices. No mutual eye contact. The meals take place often without a word. They have the latest gadgets, so they must be happy. They are specialists. Nobody chipping arrow heads, painting the walls, stitching furs together, singing songs, sharing stories and jokes, tending the fire, looking out for sabre-tooth  tigers or demonstrating a rudimentary wheel (brilliant idea, might just catch on).

The Chinese used to crush the bones of little girls’ feet and bind them so that they grew into ‘beautiful lilies’. This was to make them more attractive (?) and unable to run away from their husbands (progress?). It was the fashion of the time. The mutilation was usually carried out by the older women of the family. I don’t understand modern shoe fashions. A  bevy of young ladies, fashionably dressed as for a wedding, scampered barefoot across a pedestrian crossing in front of me, carrying their fashionable, but unroadworthy,  shoes in their hands. But I thought shoes were for…..Nah!  They laughed as they ran and talked animatedly on their phones. I hope they weren’t late for the wedding. At least they were able to run. That’s progress I suppose. Grumble grumble. I guess I’m a Luddite at heart.

Not bad but still no cigar.

 

Holmpatrick Cove, Skerries. 2nd Invitation to Walk the Land. Bank Holiday Monday, 30th October 2017 1p.m.

Walking the land has long been regarded as essential to an understanding of what happens on a farm and what must be done to ensure a positive outcome. The same can be said of the proposed development at Holmpatrick Cove, Skerries, granted full planning permission by Fingal County Council last January. The first public walk on the land was on October 8th, when several hundred people came along to see what is proposed. Many had never visited this area of Skerries before. They were astonished by the spectacular views that opened up before them. There was well-nigh unanimous support for the venture which offers much needed amenities to Skerries and the surrounding area: a ready-to-go coastal walk and training pitches for young people; a hotel; a swimming pool and gymnasium, all fully accessible to the public, plus an outstanding housing development by Baufritz, one of the leading builders of Eco housing in Europe. There was widespread dismay and disbelief at the fact that An Bord Pleanála had, after seven months of deliberation, denied permission for the scheme to proceed.

For any who were unable to visit Holmpatrick Cove on October 8th, a second general invitation to walk the site, is extended for  the Bank Holiday, Monday, October 30th. The entrance is not far away: 22 metres from Shennick Green open space, 128 metres from the nearest house in Downside Estate and 24 metres from the bus stop at Shennick Estate, all integral parts of the urban  area of Skerries town. This leads you onto the Coastal Walk, an objective of Fingal’s Development Plan since the 1970s, which can be realised by the Holmpatrick Cove Plan, at no cost to the Council or to the taxpayer! You will see the site for the proposed hotel. There is no hotel in or close to Skerries, noted in the Tidy Town report as a major gap in the social fabric of Skerries.

 

 

 

You will pass the site of the proposed, ready-for-use training pitches, very much desired by the sports clubs of Skerries and offered at no cost to the Council or to the taxpayer. The houses nearest to these training pitches stand at an average distance of 120 metres from the site. None of the occupants of these houses made any objection to the development of Holmpatrick Cove. The houses of the principal objectors stand between 150 metres and 305 metres from the pitches. Nevertheless, the Bord Pleanála refusal maintained that children playing on these pitches during daylight hours, (as there will be no flood-lighting)could cause inconvenience and damage the enjoyment of their houses by the occupants. As for the coastal walk, the objectors’ houses  are at an average distance of 310 metres from the coastal walk. My apologies for burdening you with statistics but compare the three main sports clubs, G.A.A. Soccer and Rugby Clubs whose pitches (flood-lit) are surrounded by housing estates that stand as close as 20 metres to the main pitches. Does anyone demand that these clubs should be removed? On the contrary, most residents  regard these clubs as valuable assets and good neighbours, encouraging healthy activity among hundreds of young people and as major contributors to the social capital of Skerries.

    

Consider if you will, the enormous benefit of the coastal walk, projected by the Council to go to Loughshinny, Drumanagh and Rush and even further. This would undoubtedly become one of the great tourist attractions of Fingal.

As pointed out at the last walk on October 8th, there have been campaigns for a swimming pool in Skerries for at least 40 years. There is no swimming pool in North Fingal. Holmpatrick Cove offers a swimming pool to serve the schools and general public for this area–again at no cost to the Council or to the taxpayer. You might like to read that again…no cost, either financial or environmental. The rigorous Environmental Impact Statement, the Archaeological and Ornithological Surveys show conclusively that environmental and cultural considerations have been at the forefront of this development. Yet permission was refused on foot of objections  from  a few individuals living close to the site.

Judge for yourself. You may read these objections (public documents) on the website of Fingal Planning…search planning applications online. F16A/0085, as you may study the plans, the history of this application and other correspondence under Documents. You can click on the last entry on the panel  CLICK HERE for the some details of the appeals against the Council Grant of permission, the BordPleanála decision and inspector’s report. Fingal PLo6F.247928  (Public documents.) If you are wearied, frustrated, angry or curious from all this reading, come along to Holmpatrick Cove on Monday next, Bank Holiday Monday 30th of October, take in the views, breathe the fresh air and give your imagination free rein to picture what could be here and has as yet, been denied permission by An Bord Pleanála against the wishes of your elected Council and the many people who signed the petition, as you can still do, in support of Holmpatrick Cove. Assemble at Shennick Green to  start at 1p.m.

 

See also the splendid photographs in Skerries News and videos on the Holmpatrick Cove Skerries  facebook site.

See For Yourself: Holmpatrick Cove Support Walk. Sunday October 8th at 1.00. p.m. to 3.00 p.mm. Rugby Club Steps, White Wall, Shennick Green

Click on all images to enlarge. Please share this post as widely as possible.

               

   

These are a few views from the proposed Holmpatrick Cove Coastal Path. It is probable that most people in Skerries and the wider Fingal area, have never seen this vista. Up to now this view has been available only to a privileged few—-who object to the lands being made accessible to the general public. Please come and see what could be achieved here by the Holmpatrick Cove Development—-already granted full planning permission by Fingal County Council, your democratically elected Council. Do not allow this amazing opportunity to be lost to you, to your children and to future generations. Bring your camera and be delighted.

Be prepared

  

It is worthwhile clicking twice to enlarge sections of the notice attached to the rocket rescue cart. You can appreciate the amount of forethought that went into the serious business of saving lives at sea. There is even a whip for the horse. Speed was essential. The apparatus shed stood in the yard beside the old Coast Guard station, where the RNLI lifeboat house now stands. The pole itself has decamped to the bandstand to become, appropriately, a memorial to all those lost at sea along this coast.

           

Colonel Congreve pioneered the use of rockets in the British army. Some useful lessons were learnt in the wars in India. Congreve saw the rich possibilities for using rockets to dismember  people at a distance, as at Waterloo in 1815. The science has progressed to multiple rocket launchers, to guided missiles, to intercontinental ballistic missiles and rockets to the Moon.

In 1807 Captain George Manby of the Royal Artillery at Great Yarmouth developed a system of firing a mortar carrying a line to a stricken ship, using a weapon of war to save lives. A Cornish Man, Trengrouse , adapted the process by using rockets. The rocket rescue became the more common method. It must have been like divine intervention to those in peril at sea, a veritable deus ex machina. Survivors were winched ashore by breeches or sling buoy. I saw a demonstration on a fine Sunday afternoon a long time ago. There was a band playing at the bandstand. I doubt if they played “He flies through the air with the greatest of ease.” The daring young man was Des McDonagh, a rather dashing character, game for a challenge. The breeches buoy dragged through the water, a minor inconvenience when set against the enormous benefit of a life saved. I tried to imagine how it would have been in a storm, in darkness, when the waves surge over The Grey Mare Rock. Even Des might have been daunted.

  

  

You may have noticed the stump of a similar pole at The Captains, with two eyelets set into the rock to anchor the line. This would have been all bloody fine, if the rocket team could have got anywhere near the pole to receive the survivors. An easterly gale would have made this problematic. It is to the enormous credit of the rocket volunteers, that the system persisted for almost two centuries until the advent of helicopters, the ultimate deus ex machina. But these people are not gods. The recent tragedy at Blacksod reminds us that they are exceptional people who go out in all conditions, to risk their lives, without hesitation, in the service of others. It’s a far cry from a sunny Sunday afternoon and a demonstration of a quaint and antiquated rescue apparatus, but it is nonetheless a part of the same long tradition of selfless service to those in need.

Click twice on image.

 

 

The music in my heart I bore, long after it was heard no more….

I rose on May Day to see the sunrise behind Rockabill. I miscalculated by an hour, like a bargain hunter arriving too soon for the irresistible bargains of “Our Greatest Ever Sale!!!” Fortunately nobody lives in the vicinity, to be alarmed by “a quiet sort of chap…keeps himself to himself” like any run-of-the mill serial killer. I don’t advertise my presence by smoking…”You’re never alone with a Strand” as the Frank Sinatra lookalike used to say in the ad. Maybe it was actually Old Blue Eyes. I couldn’t say. He probably died of lung cancer, like the poor old Marlboro Man, the epitome of masculinity. In fact there was a succession of Marlboro Men. They went down like flies. I don’t wear earphones to fill my head with music, like any normal person. I didn’t even have a paper cup of coffee. Fortunately I had a camera as my excuse for standing in a field in darkness. You must have an alibi. I waited for the show to begin.

It’s a much more mundane looking scene in broad daylight. Like so much of showbiz, a lot depends on the lighting. Your average vampire, conspirator, axe-murderer, ghoul or zombie, is cleverly illuminated from below, changing  the “ordinary sort of chap…kept himself etc. etc.” into a hideous monster. Those bushes are just bushes by day but for the hour or so before dawn they are the strings and woodwind sections of a wonderful orchestra. They are the choir stalls, filled with linnets, sparrows, thrushes and blackbirds. A lark might clear its throat and try a few scales. The broad tympanum of the beach might echo to an early curlew, or oyster-catcher. I made not a sound. There was a faint glow to the east. A silver wire began to form on the edge of the low cloud bank. A tinge of pink leached into the mist. The lighthouse tip glowed red for an instant and faded back into the darkness. You’re never alone with a strand, a lighthouse or a field full of birds at dawn.

Long, long ago we used to listen on BBC Home Service, to Birdsong of Britain, a contest between different counties and shires. Shire always sound more romantic. Technicians with headphones and tape recorders, ornithologists with awesome knowledge of birdsong and commentators whispering reverently into microphones, brought the dawn chorus to listeners all over the world. We listened to a recorded version in the evening. There may have been tampering with the tapes in the interim. There may have been crowd violence as Oxfordshire strove with Shropshire, but to us it was an interlude of rural tranquility, brought to us by the outside broadcasting department of the BBC. It is illegal nowadays to listen to the sounds of nature, the wind and the sea, a distant bell or the lowing of cattle, the cries of children in the school playground or conversation with friends. You must have earphones, an i-pad, i-pod, i-phone, whatever, to validate your existence, as you walk, jog or even sit anywhere alone or in company. Do you remember the Walkman, a device invented to cull unwary pedestrians? The i-phone does an even better job at sensory deprivation. Quiet contemplation is the preserve of wierdoes. Loiterers up to no good. Lock them all up, I say, before they become a danger to society. They will have computers and televisions enough to straighten them out in prison. (That was a godwit, a plover, a herring gull…The maritime counties always had an advantage. There was the occasional nightingale from the southern counties, a show-stopper to send the commentators into rhapsodies.)

Anyway, the sun came up. The colour faded. The birds folded their music and went about the mundane business of the day. Rabbits emerged and cocked their ears for danger. The day became ordinary. I momentarily regretted the lack of gadgetry on my camera. With a big zoooom, I might have caught a meadow pipit or a willow warbler. There are goldcrest in those bushes, little yellow chevrons darting about in a perpetual quest. It was of course the mating, nesting, territory claiming, uninhibited singing season. There was a heron on a lonely vigil on the strand. Quiet sort of cove…keeps himself to himself. Up to no good. Be wary of fellows like that.

I had time to kill, metaphorically, in a department store. Look about you. There are always husbands loitering in department stores. They hold bags. Some become zombies. Some become potential murderers. It’s the quiet ones you have to watch. I went down to the  electronics section to get a cable to rejuvenate my steam-powered computer. The old cable has corroded, possibly from the sea air. There were televisions with frighteningly high definition, lining the walls. There were computers and gadgets of every description which I hope I will never possess. There were packets of stylish earphones for every shape of ear. There was music, the sort of amorphous background sound that you don’t recognise or remember, carefully devised to lull you into a compliant state of mind.. A tall young man looked down on me both physically and metaphorically. “No we don’t stock that kind of thing. Try Maplins.” Maplins sounded like one of those post-war holiday camps where music blared from tannoy systems all day long, the height of human felicity..Rosemary Clooney, Joseph Locke, Guy Mitchell..Poor little robin, walkin’, walkin,’ walkin’ to Missouri, a sad and moving lay; Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy…They don’t write stuff of that quality nowadays. All surly young men scowling at the audience. Bah, Humbug!  “Do you know where Maplins is?”  I nodded and turned away, feeling rejected. I contemplated loitering near the coffee machine counter, perhaps passing myself off as Rosemary’s nephew, George. Not a runner. I could have used a cup of coffee but I didn’t want to subject myself to the racket of the cafeteria… the hissing and clattering of the espresso machine, all that hammering of spent grounds. You could imagine that the gadget had been salvaged from a nuclear submarine. All that steam. Clear the forward tubes! Stand by for a cup of coffee.

I steadied myself and opted to lurk near the bargain basement. I was too late for all the bargains but it was quieter down there. A few forlorn gleaners were disarranging the displays. Still good value in tea towels. The music changed and I heard her, pure and clear, a gentle but compelling accompaniment, a sad story, as is the case with much Country and Western music..Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene. I’m beggin’ of you not to take my man. In the quiet of the bargain basement, I could hear the words. Her voice went from pathetic plea to rising panic tinged with despair. She was no match for Jolene with her green eyes and flaming auburn hair. I listened, motionless and still, like Wordsworth listening to the highland lass reaping in her field. A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard/ in springtime from the cuckoo bird/ breaking the silence of the seas/ among the farthest Hebrides. My heart went out to Dolly Parton. A song should move the listener. I could lie and say that I saw a woman stopping in her search, her eyes glistening with tears and pressing an as yet unbought tea towel to her face, but that would be corny. The music faded. I wondered how things turned out..old unhappy far off things/and battles long ago. (Quiet sort of chap,Wordsworth.)

It was time to go. Dolly once came second to a drag queen in a Dolly Parton lookalike competition. I’ll bet she got a great laugh out of that. A drag queen? Some imposter who dominates the world of speed trials in high-powered, improbable looking cars, no less! A woman who gallops across country with foxhounds, pursuing a trail left by a rider dragging an aniseed scented kipper? Mistress of Foxhounds, no less! Whatever turns you on. Far be it from me to decree how people spend their time. I wouldn’t want to be trying to hold a blonde wig in place, going from nought to a hundred miles and hour in three seconds, or when setting my hunter at a stiff Irish fence on a brisk October morning. There is a story about such a lady, one of the breed that Brendan Behan described as a Horse-Protestant, who got her groom to give her a leg-up onto her sidesaddle. “Patrick” she said, in high good humour, “Did you see my agility?” Patrick, in some confusion, removed his cap. He scratched his head. “Yerra, I did, Ma’am, but sure I won’t tell a soule” Definitely time to go.

Dolly, let me say that one who can sing as pure  and true as the blackbird before dawn on a luminous May morning, has nothing to fear from Jolene or anyone else.  Come with me to Holmpatrick as the darkness is lifting, to listen to the birds in the summer bushes and watch the sun come up over the islands. It is guaranteed to raise your spirits. You will be safe. I’m relatively harmless…quiet sort of chap. Forget Jolene and the drag racer and the woman chasing a kipper across the fields.  They’re not worth bothering about.  

 

Skerries Community Games and The Six-Million-Dollar Man.

It said in National Geographic, so it must be true, even compulsory, that the next stage of human evolution is in our own hands. ‘We have the technology.’ Out with the old and in with the bionics. I’m not so sure. I still prefer humans to machines. Steve Austin would hold all the Olympic records because his technicians were better than yours or mine. By running in slow-motion he passed out planes, trains and automobiles. How did that work? There was a Steve Austin Action Man with a hole in the back of his head so that you could look through his bionic eye. As an Action Man he really didn’t do much. That was left to the imagination.He was actually a doll.  A doll! Keep that to yourself.  Steve lived in our house for  many years until his arms lost their tension and his eye became dim. We didn’t rebuild him because his fans had grown up. We hadn’t got the technology or the super glue.

  

What do you do when your kids come home from school and announce that they are going to take part in the Macunity Games, the new childrens’ event that was popping up all over the country? You take them out to get new runners. They opted of course, for Steve Austin runners, blue and red with go-fast stripes. The race was in the bag. There was a parade, marshalled by Paddy McNally, from The Monument all the way to the Rugby Club.  There was a banner on poles. It’s still in use. Mick Carron was on the public address. Boys under eight, sixty yards dash. Boys under eight to the starting line, please. It’s wonderful what a whistle and a high-vis jacket can achieve with a crowd of small boys. They ran in groups of ten. Our lads ran like Steve Austin, in slow-motion, looking down at their new blue and red runners with the go-fast stripes, waiting for that miracle to happen– when the other competitors begin to slow down and go backwards, when the music begins to build to a crescendo, when Steve surges forward through the miracle of bionics, past trains, automobiles etc. driven by bad guys, to claim the glittering prize. There was no miracle. I thought of taking the runners back to the shop and demanding a refund under the Trades Description  or Sale of Goods Acts. Nowadays a concerned parent would sue for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and claim for at least six million dollars for emotional suffering. However, the lads were still pleased with their runners and they got Tayto crisps and lemonade, so all was not lost.

  

So recently, on a beautiful summer day, we went to the Community Centre  park to watch our grandson take part in his first Macunity Games. The public address system played Chariots of Fire. Who would not want to run to the music of Chariots of Fire? The sun shone all day, one of those special days that makes you grateful to be there, to witness a community at play and at ease together in a great public space.  The organisation was, as always, impressive. The children were a delight. They run in metres nowadays, of course. Boys under eight, sixty metres dash. Boys under eight go to the starting line, please.

I leaned on the barrier and looked around. This was Nicky Ellis’s field. He grew cabbages, sprouts and spuds, leeks and cauliflowers, carrots, turnips and parsnips, in the light, sandy soil. As we trudged every day to and from school, we watched him with horse and plough, weaving the pattern of the seasons. The field flooded in wintertime. I saw rowing boats there. The windmill was a ruin with two bedraggled sails. John Boland, Michael Lynch, Jim Quigley and Johnny Murray envisaged what it could become. I thought of a few old friends who had started these games when our children dreamed of Olympic fame and Tayto crisps: Tom Derham, Vincent Woodlock, Jack Murphy, Maurice Mullins, Kevin Carmichael, David Moloney and of course Leonard McGloughlin who launched the aquatic version of the same games. There were hundreds too numerous to mention by name, who gave their time and energy and still do, to encourage children to realise their potential and give us all a day out in the sunshine. There were no video games in evidence anywhere. Yes, I still prefer humans.

      

Did we win? We have a few Macunity Games medals in dusty drawers. Who won them? I don’t remember. I wouldn’t want to start an argument or a law suit. Steve is no longer with us. He just went to pieces from the stress about forty years ago. Evil Knievel is still around somewhere, speaking of go-fast stripes. Did we win on that fine summer day?  Yes we did. There were lollipops and ice cream. Everyone in Nicky Ellis’s field, was a winner.

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