http://www.hangingfish.com by Alison Ryan, on facebook.
My Dad’s too sad to blog because of corruption. He knows of a terrible abuse of power that has had devastating consequences.
He’s too sad to blog because of injustice. The sense of injustice is overwhelming when he knows the truth and can see how the truth can be inconvenient to those in power.
He’s too sad to blog because of the broken system. A system that protects itself to serve and reward loyal disciples.
He’s too sad to blog because of transparency. A self-serving system that lacks transparency.
He’s too sad to blog because of accountability. Powerful individuals are given unchecked power and are accountable to nobody.
He’s too sad to blog because of democracy. He sees how our democracy is being eroded and the balance of power lies in the hands of nameless executives.
My Dad is too sad to blog because of corruption.
I have been remiss. In all the time I’ve been posting on this blog I have never photographed my dinner. So here it ..was. You might think that I made a dog’s dinner of it, but not so. A kindly Jamaican lady on Youtube showed me how to cook an oxtail. She pointed out that it was in fact, a cow tail. First catch your cow/ox. “Christmas Eve and twelve of the clock/ Now they are all on their knees,/ an elder said…” Not exactly the Christmas spirit. She spoke of ‘our oxtail’ in ‘our pressure cooker’ with ‘our spices’. Pressure cooker? I don’t have joint ownership of a pressure cooker with any Jamaican lady, no matter how kindly. It’s a lie, Your Honour. I hardly know the woman. Anyway I have a mortal dread of pressure cookers ever since my father made porridge in one and blew the valve off. I still speak in admiration of his courage as he grabbed the device and ran for the back door, drawing a line of porridge along the ceiling. It looked like the Battle of Jutland or a reconstruction of Vesuvius on a bad day. Porridge—bad for the blood pressure, despite what the experts tell us. Anyway I fried (off) our vegetables and browned (off) our oxtail and added (in) our spices. I popped it in our oven and waited… And waited. It took a while. I thought about Hardy’s meek mild creatures. The oxen opened up the great expanses of the world, accepting their burden every day and waiting patiently through the night for the labours of the morrow. That Hardy language is catching. No wonder the Romans made conquered opponents pass under the oxbow (Juga, the symbol of subjugation.)
I felt guilty. I thought of Dean Swift and his description of the carnage left on dinner plates every day all over the world. I remembered the account of Picasso jumping up from the table with the skeleton of the plaice or sole that he had just devoured and using it as a stencil to produce a piece of art worth, no doubt, millions. Henry Moore made a good living from items just like these, cast in bronze and ten feet high. I felt hungry and guilty. I plated (up) our oxtail. It was delicious.
This is a taba, used in a game of skill in the Southern Cone of South America. It is a bone bleached by the sun, possibly from a sheep or a young colt. It was used for divination in the temple of Hercules. It was played by the Greeks at Troy. Patroclus, friend of Achilles, was a bad loser. It was used to predict the fall of that city. ‘I feel it in me bones.’ Who hasn’t used the phrase? The practice spread throughout the Mediterranean civilizations and came to the Americas with the Spaniards.. Gambling at the taba, was so rife that the practice is illegal nowadays, except, by dispension, on election days. Everything is on the hazard on election days.
By the way, how are your teeth, the bones most visible to others? I was told once by a careers officer that the minimum requirement for recruits to the Irish army and air corps is twenty seven teeth. These could be decisive in close combat. I fear that I would be kept in the reserve line, called upon for some back-up gnawing of the enemy. These young lads in the prime of their lives at Waterloo, were presumed to have had excellent teeth. So much so, that these young heroes were dug up for their teeth some time after a decent interval had elapsed. Waterloo teeth were highly prized. After a slightly longer interval, their bones were also dug up by a grateful populace and used for fertilizer. So much for the glory. Queen Elizabeth the First had a mouthful of black teeth from overindulgence in the craze for sugar. No ‘ring of confidence’ there, Out of consideration, her subjects blackened their teeth to match. George Washington, a slave owner in his time until late in life,, had a set of gnashers made of elm wood. Try not to picture that. It explains his grim and disapproving expression in portraits, even on the currency. In the days of sail, when warfare took an obscene toll on the limbs and lives of sailors, doctors were known as ‘sawbones’. Long John Silver, who sailed with Captain Billy Bones, the apocryphal story tells us, remarked to Jim Hawkins, that if he had his life to live over again, he would take more care of his health. Ahar!
Jamaica, sugar islands and men before the mast put me in mind of slavery. “Put your back into it.!” Not only oxen felt the lash in the march of civilization. Maybe I’ll settle for a few scrambled eggs for lunch, although I read that Natalie Portman opposes the taking of eggs from hens because they are female. Where can we turn? It’s back to porridge…
Turn to music perhaps….Oh you should see Mr Jones as he rattles the bones. Old Parson Brown fooling round like a clown. Aunt Jemima, who’s past eighty three, shouting and full of pep, ‘Watch your step. Watch your step…’
A palimpsest is a manuscript, usually parchment, rubbed clean of writing by scraping with a blade, chalk or pumice, on which later writing has been superimposed. In many cases the traces of the earlier text survive, adding layers of interest for the reader. If you were lucky enough to inherit a school workbook from an older sibling, you may remember the joy of finding the traces of the rubbed-out answers, still readable in certain lights and from certain angles. Not great for your understanding of the problem but a great saving in time and mental exertion. Publishers realised that this was a great incentive for teachers and diligent parents to change the books regularly. The rest of us were content to go with the flow in the weary hours between teatime and bed time. Maybe we fooled ourselves into thinking that we had produced offspring of preternatural sagacity and ability. There were no inherited workbooks when I was in school. I still find arithmetic a challenge.(What is the cost of four hundredweight of coal at three pound, six and eight pence per ton?) Don’t get me started on Algebra. Trigonometry…nah! Differential Calculus…wha’? Geometry made some sense. I preferred drawing and painting– shapes and colours. I painted the anti-log page in my Napierian Log tables red, to avoid confusion. Red for danger…get it? Didn’t work. Still trying to get the hang of it.
Just add memories garnered over almost eighty years and you may begin to get the picture as I see it. Bartle Grimes said with some pride, that Hoar Rock is the Montmartre of Skerries. As a settlement it is probably as old as Montmartre. It was Skerries before the Holmpatrick end of the town evolved. Legend has it that the Vikings named the place; that a Viking fleet drew up on this strand a few weeks before the Battle of Clontarf, deliberating whether they would back the Irish king, Brian Ború or the Viking king of Dyflyn, Sitric. It all comes down to money. Nothing personal-just business. It’s a good beach to land on, with deep water up to the high tide mark. Result- Brian won, Sitric nil. Norway nul points. It set the pattern for Eurovision some years later. Tottie Derham lived in a cottage there. She might have remembered the Vikings. She was the librarian for a few centuries. After ten o’ clock Mass, her friends used to come into the library to censor the books with black pencil. If you held the book up to the light, especially the cowboy books, you could make out the rude words. You probably knew that already. Another Derham told me that the Derhams came over the Hoar Rock Hill, ‘playin’ penny whistles,’ meaning that they came in the wake of Cromwell’s army. Tottie was impossibly old but I came across a postcard she wrote to her uncle, a seafaring man. The address was The schooner Baltic. Prince of Wales Dock, Swansea. She stated that she would be expecting a good few dances when he got home. There was a photograph of a young girl sitting on a bollard at the harbour. The photograph was sepia, as are the memories.
It’s a good strand to swim from. You will get depth in two or three paces at high tide. The water tends to be a bit nippy, but clear most of the time. We swam races from the Hoar Rock to the harbour. As with your man, Proust, it was fascinating to watch the familiar landmarks exchanging places and perspectives. I was entranced. Maybe I lacked the killer instinct. I never made it to the Olympics but I usually made it as far as the harbour, ticking off in my mind the stages. Bobby Beggs’s cottage. Bobby was a superstar of the G.A.A. An old swimmer, Paddy FitzPatrick, told me that Bobby was double jointed. This, he maintained, explained his extraordinary strength and agility. His strength and agility were legendary. Do you remember Bobby Beggs? No? Well then you don’t know what you’re talking about. McGinty, the teacher, who lived in the high grey house, put me to mark Bobby’s son, Brian, in my first ever and last Gaelic football match. It was not a contest of equals. I never heard if Brian was double jointed but he had the advantage of me. McGinty took me off before half time. I’m still metaphorically on the bench.
Hurricane Charley August 1986
The redbrick house belonged to Mr Varian. In fact he owned two houses with a communicating door. The bricks, I understand were imported from Wales or Scotland. Hence the schooner in my painting. I wasn’t actually there that day. Mr. Varian wore a white beard. He walked his two Russian Borzois, rather hairy wolfhounds. They say that people resemble their pets. By happy coincidence, he owned a brush factory in Talbot Street, in Dublin. When we went to the strand with our parents we were in awe of Mr Varian. The hounds were taller than us but seemed amiable enough. He had a daughter called Barbara Varian. I sort of mixed her name up with ‘barbarian’, hairy chaps also, by all accounts. The son, Stephen apparently disliked getting up in the morning. He delayed the evil hour until he could see the smoke of the train at Gormanston across the bay. Then he was galvanised. He ran to the station just in time to collapse into a carriage and slump into a seat, gasping profanities and struggling for breath. When his vital signs returned, he took his breakfast from his pocket, blowing shreds of tobacco off two slices of toast made the night before. He also had a hard-boiled egg. Go to work on an egg, the slogan used to say. Frank Matthews, an aviator living at Hoar Rock, gave me an old textbook, Fog, Clouds and Aviation, an invaluable aid when painting land and seascape. Frank, a man of many interests, had a Mannlicher rifle, accurate at three miles, with a telescopic sight. If Stephen had owned such a gun, he could have shot the train driver at Gormanston and gained a few hours in the scratcher. Breakfast in bed even.
I offered to buy McGinty’s house with a view to reviving his bed and breakfast business. Toast and hard-boiled eggs with a quiet smoke afterwards. Percy French stayed there. He was inspired to write The Mountains of Mourne there. He was also inspired to write it in Balbriggan, Laytown, Mornington or anywhere they can be seen sweeping down to the sea. We sat by the fire and discussed the idea. He was most affable. He was not ready to sell. I was glad afterwards. I imagined myself sitting like a funnel-web spider waiting for the sound of a holiday maker, a wandering songsmith in search of lodgings, an unruly band of roisterers on a weekend junket. We have rules in this house. If you want to stay here you’ll have to get out. Tom Boylan’s white wall radiated heat. There was a ledge to sit on and water inviting the swimmer. I would not have been the most genial host.
My parents took us to the North Strand. There wasn’t too much sand to make dressing difficult. My mother swam and chatted to Mrs Nielson as they trod water twenty yards offshore. She always described Mrs. Nielson as a striking Scandinavian type. Those Vikings again. They could chat for hours. Mrs Nielson had striking Scandinavian looking daughters. I could have chatted for hours but I was tongue-tied in their presence. At low tide we played rounders and cricket on the exposed sand. My brother, who owned the bat,(because he had made it,) was often the winner. He danced around in triumph. He waved the/his bat. He wasn’t tongue-tied in front of the Nielson girls. “I won.I won!” he shouted. “Don’t crow,” said my father sternly. “You never crow when you win. It just isn’t done.” I didn’t crow. Didn’t have cause to. I was reticent and modest. I don’t think the Nielson girls noticed me at all. I can see them still,laughing and turning cartwheels on the wet sand. I wasn’t all that great at rounders. Maybe the bat was to blame. Now if I had made it… The Nielson family went to live somewhere else. Bloody Vikings.
A travelling blacksmith set up shop occasionally in Grimes’s stone shed. It was a major occasion. We peered in at the door. Sparks flew. Metal rang on his anvil. Great horses shuffled and snorted in the semi darkness. That shed has been converted into Ithaca, a house where a childhood friend made a light- filled home after his travels. I swim on. There’s Ed Hogan’s house. Ed was an unfailingly kind man. He always told the punchline of the joke before he remembered the build up. He laughed and we laughed. It was funnier than the practised delivery of the professionals. Bennie Ryan lived in a quaint yellow house standing out on a platform. When you reached the yellow house you were more than half way there. Bennie had several Alsatian dogs. They understood English. “Watch this” he said, throwing a cigarette packet onto the sand. “Fetch.” The dogs scurried around and snatched up stones and sticks and other flotsam. “No, no no,” he said patiently. “That twenty Carroll over there.”. The dogs looked at him. “Ah” they seemed to say.”You could have been more specific.” One of them ponced on the packet and brought it back to him. The children were entranced.
When we lived in The Square, we spent our time on the strand. With a canvas windbreak we could extend the summer by a few weeks. My grandchildren ask: “Why is it called The Square? It isn’t square.” I gave a rambling explanation covering a wide range of possibilities. “But it isn’t square.” True enough. We take poetic licence. We try to decipher the palimpsest of our familiar places.
When our eldest children were very small we took them on a walk up the lane where the Community College stands now. When we got to the top of the hill they looked back. “Oh we’re up in the sky!” The strand stretched away to the harbour. “Are we up in Heaven?” Near enough. Near enough.
Your eyes do not deceive you.The grass-topped breakwater slopes steeply towards the landward side The five sandbags represent a futile attempt to stop the water from flooding into the lane and then into the gardens and houses at Holmpatrick. The firemen work diligently to alleviate the problem but their work is cancelled out by every wave or swell that breaks against the rock armour, when a south easterly wind meets a high spring tide. In fairness, the reinforcement of the rock margin in recent times, by Fingal Council, has made some difference but the spray over-leaps the barrier and has nowhere to go but down the slope.The obvious solution is to reverse the slope of the grassy area by raising the landward side by a few inches, a minor tweak, allowing the water to expend its energy and seep back into the sea. This would have no impact on anyone’s view and would ease the anxiety of householders. By the way, the drains in the laneway are dummy drains, leading nowhere.
This flooding has no connection to the flooding caused by the Mill Stream or The Brook, further north. It is the result of some well-meaning, but thoughtless design. The promenade and path are splendid assets and welcome additions to the amenities of Skerries. There is a Council plan to extend them much further along the coast, with spectacular potential for tourism and recreation. The sooner the better. Ideally a link-up from Balbriggan to Skerries and onwards to Loughshinny, Rush, Malahide, Howth, Sutton and beyond, would rival any of the notable greenways in the country. It would open the enjoyment of spectacular vistas of Fingal’s coast, now available only to a privileged few, for local people and visitors alike.
This is the gold standard of sea defences, the White Wall. Built of Milverton limestone, it deflects the force of the sea upwards and kills it by gravity. It has worked well for nearly two centuries with minimal maintenance. Diagonal drains carried the water efficiently back into the sea, like scuppers on the deck of a ship. The road dried out as soon as the tide began to drop. However… if it ain’t broke as the saying goes. Someone decided to improve the drains by sinking them vertically, thereby allowing debris to accumulate and block the flow .Look closely. This is a modified drain. Somebody should look into it.
We have nurtured and protected goldfish in our garden pond for many years. Many visitors have delighted us there also, an industrious wren, robins, sparrows squabbling with the starlings, blackbirds bathing together among the lily pads and occasionally a bejeweled dragon fly. None of these have ever interfered with our goldfish except to nick some of their food. There was a net to discourage the heron but he mastered the vertical take off and landing. Our ghost koi disappeared. The net got taller and unsightly to a point where we couldn’t see the fish or the flowers. It was like a shabby nomad encampment. We settled for a lid. It kept the heron at bay but it depressed the lilies. The heron gave up on us and went back to his solitary vigil in the rock pools. We became careless, like the nymphea. We left the lid off. It was off for a year. The heron never came back.
Claude Monet might have sniffed at our small spread of water lilies. They take their time. For a few months of summer they probe upwards from the depths, more than a dozen at any given time, a little patch of Amazonia in our back garden. Adam in his garden probably named them, as he tried to name every creature on the earth, but the Greeks saw them as beautiful water nymphs. I’m ok with that. Monet would have given a little Gallic shrug, ‘Zut alors!’ and gone back to his great work. Candide would would have gone back to cultivating his cabbages. Erich Cantona would have muttered something cryptic about seagulls.
I’m with Erich on that. Seagulls are the original snappers up of unconsidered trifles. They can out-eat all competitors in the garden or anywhere else. They soar. They cruise. They watch .”Why do they follow the fishing boats?” asked Erich. He was speaking metaphorically about journalists. “Because they know that sardines will be thrown overboard.” That’s fine too, as long as they open the tins themselves and dispose of them responsibly. I like sardines, but not in our pond.
Anyway these are herring gulls. Their job is to chase the herring fleet and scavenge behind the boats. They can squabble with the fishwives and gutties on the quaysides. Sooner them than me. It’s a question of definition. In recent years they have branched out, abandoning their traditional trade. They have moved inland, preferring rubbish dumps and dustbins, not to mention wayside cafés and outdoor diners. They are thieves and brigands at heart, not honest fishermen. Our few fish are goldfish, a breed of carp. Freshwater fish. Perhaps I’m being koi. Have you ever heard of a carp gull? A shubunkin gull? A black-molly gull? I rest my case.
Our grandchildren witnessed the crime. On Saturday last a seagull dive-bombed the pond. He grabbed the biggest goldfish and swallowed it live. They gave us graphic descriptions of the culprit. I’m sure I could pick him out from a line-up. The next time I see those hooligans congregating at The Brook, I shall confront him and issue a stern warning. If I were a younger man I would administer a kung fu, Cantona style, flying kick and put him to flight. Meanwhile the lid stays on. No more topless bathing, malheureusement, for the nymphs.
“All my ex’s live in Texas” sang the man on the radio. It rhymed, which is half the battle in writing a song or a jibe. So that’s why he hangs his hat in Tennessee. I get it. Distance gives him some perspective on his failed relationships. In fairness he seems to accept a fair amount of the blame. There’s a good persuasive rhythm to the song too and a spot of wry humour. I like it. Another fellow on the radio talked incessantly about relationships and love, the staple ingredient for whimpering pop songs. It was, in fairness, Valentine’s Day. I feel a “Bah! Humbug!” coming on. He always talks incessantly. I reached for the little button beside the volume control. It’s a marvellous gadget. By depressing the button you can restore tranquillity to your life, instead of depressing yourself by listening to prattle or songs devoted to You, Baby,Love, My Heart, Leaving, You and me Baby, Love etc. It can also eliminate bad news, advertisements, (‘all those garden chairs–when they’re gone they’re really gone’). and the prattle of lemmings in Westminster arguing about, em, Brexit. ‘Can the Right Honourable Member describe this cliff?’ The little button does wonders for your blood pressure.
But wait. He was burbling about an anti-love Valentine’s message for your Ex. ‘It’s a bit of fun.’ There is a service where you can name a cockroach after your Ex and watch it being devoured by a larger creature. There is a more expensive grade which involves a salmon being devoured by a bear. I wondered what the most expensive, super-de-luxe version of proxy hatred might be. Could it be a scapegoat, laden with the sins of the reviled Ex, or even a human Sin-eater as was once the practice in primitive societies. People tired of this world could hire themselves out (This offer cannot be repeated) to be torn to shreds by tigers. Public spectacles could be arranged in stadiums to vent the hatred of jilted spouses and lovers on the hapless Ex’s. ‘When they’re gone they’re really gone. ‘ Would people go to watch? Would they what? ‘It’s a bit of fun.’ The more humane thing would be to pack them off to Tennessee.
I wondered about the obverse of love. The hatred and disappointment. The resentment at opportunities foregone or denied. The void where love and loyalty once dwelt or even empathy or even pity. The desire for revenge. Where’s that bloody cockroach? The cat taking evasive action to avoid a boot. The rancid despair and venom that makes someone want to inflict pain and suffering on another human being. I came to the conclusion that the Ex had a lucky escape. Better to hang one’s hat in Tennessee and start again. You would be close to Nashville. When you’re gone, you’re gone. Why, you might even write a song about it.
Aristotle defined tragedy as the imitation of an action that inspires pity and fear and purges those emotions in the audience to make them better human beings. It’s play-acting. They don’t kill the bad guy in reality. Even the bad guys come out after the curtain to take a bow and receive the plaudits of a grateful audience. But you knew that already. It’s a different thing entirely to derive pleasure from the infliction of pain on another creature, even a cockroach. It is less than human. It’s not a bit of fun.
I pressed the button. Silence. I pressed the button on the electric kettle. I needed a cup of tea. You can do likewise if you’ve had enough. There is a little X in the red square in the top right-hand corner of the screen. It…………..
Great leap backwards.
There is a salutary story about the Plains Indians of North America. They depended on the migration of the bison/buffalo and hunted them for food, clothing and shelter. Wealth was measured in hides for tepees etc. These hides were difficult to get, entailing a lot of footwork and stealth. The hides were transported from place to place, in times of migration. The tribes travelled on foot. They had no wheels or horses.
Enter the Spaniards, with their firearms and horses. The Plains Indians acquired horses and perfected the art of hunting on horseback. Their productivity increased. Wealth was available to all. The possession of hides became an encumbrance.
What about ourselves? We talk about “the old days” when crime was a rare phenomenon. We left the key in the door all day and often, all night. Burglary was not regarded as a serious problem. There was feck all to steal in the average home. Prosperity has created inequality and consequently, envy. One of the problems of winning the Lotto, (I haven’t), is the fear of being burgled, robbed, kidnapped etc. Security becomes a priority. Your bright yellow Lamborghini will probably invite resentment, envy and possibly theft.
The moral, for me, is that I obtained a modest upgrade of my computer. I brought down on my head a myriad of new problems. All my programmes appeared in unfamiliar guises, promising undreamt-of capacity and limitless reach. My familiar and limited activities went AWOL. This causes stress to the non-expert. Explanations and instructions, usually in initials, caused more stress. I avoided the damn thing, except for the occasional email.
HaHa! Yesterday I found my cache of photographs..by accident. This morning, also by accident, I found my old WordPress blog. To Hell with the new improved super-duper, rage inducing, version. I am reverting to the old, steam-powered version. Send me no advertisements for new anything. As for high-tech phones..Bah! Humbug!.. No, I don’t want a horse either. There’s nothing wrong with this old robe.
Nahh. That thing won’t get off the ground
It looks a bit alarming at first glance, a Len Deighton, or Jack Higgins scenario, where the bad guys have won the war. No need for alarm. Those were not armoured personnel carriers trundling through College Green, or a Panzer division cunningly disguised as a fleet of laundry vans, taking part in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. The uniformed detachments marching with military precision were American high school marching bands, shivering on O Connell Bridge as the rasping east wind came up the river. It looks like traditional Patrick’s Day weather. The Archbishop and members of the government attended Mass at the Pro-Cathedral. The train of the Archbishop’s cope was carried by a glum looking cleric, an uplifting sight to the glum onlookers
The young ladies and gentlemen of the marching bands were not really dressed for the Irish weather, yet they remained cheerful and enthusiastic throughout. Much of the display was a glum procession of industrial and trade vehicles, with a few balloons attached. Not too much frivolity. The pubs were shut. The only place to get a drink was at the dog show in the Royal Dublin Society, also, like the Swastika Laundry, based in Ballsbridge. …I wonder..The weather undoubtedly improved when the Powers-That-Be decided to inaugurate a Saint Patrick’s Festival. Colour and extravagant displays were permitted. The 1930’s and 1940’s glumness was no longer mandatory.
I came across an old laundry list, stuck between the pages of a book. It itemised prices, terms and conditions. There was a disclaimer at the bottom..the laundry shall not be responsible for any loss or damage occasioned by War, Revolution, Civil Strife or Act of God. Blimey! I had never realised what a perilous business it was, entrusting garments to a laundry. The Luftwaffe had a good go at Dublin once. No doubt they had The White Swan, The Court and Mirror and The Bell laundries and others marked on their maps. But not the Swastika….very strange. Anyway, the laundries’ dirty linen has been well and truly washed in public. It might be wise to review the terms and conditions under which you purchased your washing machine. In many neighbourhoods it is not permitted to hang out your washing, especially not on the Siegfried Line. You may take your pick from the recurring wars and revolutions throughout the world. It’s what we humans do, despite the unending suffering and cruelty.The armaments industries influence policy and determine the fate of nations. We as a species, have the capacity to blow the whole bloody world up. Mr Putin, standing for election– another cliffhanger—states that he would destroy the world if Russia were attacked. “What use would the world be without Russia?”
But what about Acts of God? If cleanliness be next to godliness, why would laundries feel at risk, more than say greengrocers or tailors. Have you ever heard a hairdresser excuse his or her incompetence as an act of God, even on a windy day? A dinner may turn out to be a ‘disaster’, but hardly God’s fault. The Puritans, a god-fearing people, on the other hand, denounced starch. I recall as a child, being puzzled by the Volunteer uniforms in our National Museum. The inscription on the belt buckles read ‘Gott Mit Uns.’ It seems that the Kaiser, out of the goodness of his heart, had supplied uniforms and belts to the Irish Volunteers. (Clean underwear is a wise precaution to minimise the risk of wound infection when going into battle. Don’t get caught with your pants down. Belt and braces. Remember what your mother always said about clean underpants.’Suppose you were knocked down and had to go to hospital.’) Not a chance when God is mit uns. At other times God gets a bit impatient with us. He sends his chosen messengers to vent his wrath on his children..Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamburlane the Great, plagues, locusts, hideous diseases and natural disasters. That puts manners on us. ‘No atheists in foxholes’ etc. It’s all part of a plan. We grow up in the fear and love of God. Explain that to me. No, don’t. The people I fear most are those who speak with total certitude about God’s plan. Actually they shout and rant most of the time. Saint Francis of Assisi went to Egypt to convert the Muslims. Fair play to him. They recorded that he shouted and ranted so much that they concluded that he was a madman. Under their law at that time, madmen were not held responsible for their behaviour and should not be put to death. Moreover they complained that he was smelly and unhygienic. With high explosives nowadays there is no need to discriminate between innocent and guilty; young or old; male or female; black or white; believer or infidel, sane or insane. The shouting, ranting evangelists on television look very prosperous and well dressed. They shout with absolute certainty. They maintain that we are all made in the image of God. Is it not more likely that we have made God in our image?
I hope He turns out to be a bit better than that.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. It looks a bit nippy out there.
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.