Ease with Dignity…The Rich (are different) List.

My Sunday paper is a mine of abstruse information. Two things struck me. One was an article on Aldborough House, a semi derelict ruin in Dublin’s north inner city. The other was a weighty supplement entitled The Rich List. It fell out of the bale of newsprint and struck me on the foot. I could sue on foot of serious injury or back strain from lifting the entire newspaper from the mailbox. I might be in line for millions, ensuring my place on next year’s edition. There might be millions of people in line to take similar actions as The Sunday Times is famously bulky.  A cursory flick through revealed the dismal news that I was not included in the 2017 rich list, just like previous years. Further dismal news revealed that the subjects of the interviews, in most cases became rich through hard work, ingenuity, entrepreneurial skill and unflagging determination. Very few it appeared became rich through inherited wealth. Some who had reached a great age, ploughed their money into philanthropic causes, helping others less fortunate than themselves. They bore out the theory that success brought on by hard work, is good for the health. Damn!

As for Aldborough House, I remember looking at it every morning from the train, as I made my way to UCD to study, among other things, Latin. I was convinced that there would be untold wealth to be gained from studying and teaching Latin. There it was on the portico in bold Roman letters OTIUM CUM DIGNITATE. I was onto a winner. Edward Augustus Stratford, (I knew a fellow from Stratford) the 2nd Duke of Aldborough, in the 1790s correctly envisaged the aspirations of a gentleman, a life of ease and dignity in a decent house, supported by privilege and inherited wealth. His timing was a bit askew. Within ten years The Act of Union deflected fashionable society away from Dublin to the centre of power in London. The grand town houses of the gentry fell into decay to the point that many became slums, while others became the business premises of professionals engaged in trade…(see above, hard work, ingenuity, entrepreneurial skill and unflagging determination.) No sign of ease and dignity there. How is a gentleman supposed to live? Aldborough House is a sorry remnant of its former self. Perhaps the new owners will redeem it. One of its lowest and ominously symbolic moments came with the discovery of a human skull when the leaking roof was being repaired in the 1950s. The theory was that this macabre occurrence dated to the North Strand bombing in World War II. An inauspicious discovery. The house looks rundown and possibly haunted. I imagine, never having been in it and never having tapped at the plaster work or probed the woodwork for wet and dry rot, that unmentionable horrors await any attempt to restore it.

As for the lucrative business of teaching Latin, the Second Vatican Council, knocked the arse out of that. Latin teachers were summarily turned out of schools and colleges to beg for their bread in the common street. For years I eked out a meagre  living in draughty hedge schools or as the despised tutor to the sons and daughters of decayed and debauched gentry in crumbling mansions. I lived below stairs and sat at table with the under footmen, scullery maids and grooms. The dry rot entered into my soul. My only comfort was a well-thumbed copy of S.P.Q.R. by Mary Beard, an illuminating tome about Roman civilisation. I mined the book, as she appeared to have mined the records and monuments of that faded empire. There were flashes of recognition from my student days, those bright days when I learned that all of Gallia is divisa in partes tres.; that it is dulce et decorum to die for the fatherland; that the chief priest of Rome was the Pontifex Maximus or bridge builder and stuff like that. I didn’t mention any of that to the footmen, the skittish young scullery maids or the grooms. What would they care? I recalled the words of that other great classicist, Frankie Howard, “titter ye not” but I knew that they would.  In S.P.Q.R. I found a harsh truth–the opposite of OTIUM (Ease) is NEGOTIUM (Business). It dawned on me that prosperity and wealth might be derived from business or even busyness. I had been on the wrong track all along. I devised a plan of action, (opposite of ease.)

It came to me on Quasimodo Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. My paper had not arrived. I read in S.P.Q.R. that Rome is a mess. Most of the great buildings are falling down. The Vatican Museum is crammed with old stuff,  statues without limbs or noses, heads without bodies, torsos without heads, old pottery, out of date books, paintings and tapestries so out of fashion that nobody would want them in their own living room. Look at that building, Nero’s Golden House. “At last” says he,after bankrupting the empire and expending the lives of thousands of slaves, “I have a house where I can begin to live like a human being.”  What Rome needs is a Quasimodo, someone to scamper about ringing bells and tidying up. The place has enormous possibilities, tourism, Air b and b. Clear out all the old stuff. Put a lick of paint on all those ruins. Put Mary Beard on a modest retainer. She could do all the hard work. I wrote to the Pontiff, in my best school Latin, outlining my plan. Revive the Latin Mass. Establish a Vatican Latin academy, endorsed by the Latin-American Pope, with low-cost accommodation in the Vatican itself. We could both make a tidy sum out of it. It can’t go wrong. He’s a Latin-American, for God’ sake!. He doesn’t even use the papal apartments. The hallmark of the entrepreneur is to see an opportunity and go for it. Give it a year or two and we could both ascend in glory, with trumpet blasts and angelic choruses, into the glory of The Sunday Times Rich List.

Isn’t that a disgrace?

{My other field of study was Eng. Literature. Brush up your Shakespeare/And the women you will wow/Brush up your Shakespeare/And they’ll all kow- tow. Do you think it would be worth having another crack at impressing those giggling scullery maids?  I might hold on a while until I’m wealthy.}

Some recent paintings. On being confined to my bar-stool.

Source: Some recent paintings. On being confined to my bar-stool.

Some recent paintings. On being confined to my bar-stool.

Hopefully a new vista from Holmpatrick Cove lands, to be open to the public. 

By the way, Rockabill Lighthouse is up to its old tricks, in sliding along the horizon, keeping pace with the walker. Click on images to enlarge.

Having passed for three quarters of a century as a bi-pedal, warm-blooded vertebrate, upright citizen, it comes as a shock to find that some of my essential components are in need of corrective surgery to restore this situation. While I am in no mood, or posture, for writing, surprisingly my bar-stool is ideal for painting. Oil painting has proved a welcome distraction and a morale booster, after a winter of discontent. (With acknowledgements to Richard III. Richard the One Hundred and Eleventh?)

North Beach, Rush and a steam traction engine at Skerries Mills.

 

Low tide at Skerries Harbour.

Midsummer Twilight at North Strand.

A Field of Oilseed-rape on the way to Lusk.

This vista will change very soon, with the addition of more houses. I was lucky to catch it in time.

I sympathise with poor Richard, in not being shaped for sportive tricks, or made to court an amorous looking-glass, or caper nimbly in my lady’s chamber, but at least I can sit upright with the aid of my bar-stool and hold a brush in my hand. I can look out of my window. As for a horse! A horse! Forget about it. I hope that normal service will be resumed fairly soon.

Observe, Grasshopper, and Learn.

Archbishop Martin spoke recently about the changed nature of violence among young men. He looked back to a more innocent time, when young lads fought, as they always will and one, or perhaps both of them, emerged with a bloody nose. There were boundaries to what was allowed. To cross those boundaries brought shame and contempt. To kick an opponent was the hallmark of a coward. ‘When did this change?’ he asked plaintively, appalled as he is, like any reasonable person, by the prevalence of extreme violence  on our streets.

The late Sam McAutrey remarked wryly, that the recruitment of young men into the army in World War Two, kept them off the streets and out of trouble. No doubt they learned transferable skills in the war, which they could apply in later life. We all learned from post war comics, how to deal with sentries like the Commandos did, silently and efficiently. The Germans seemed to recruit blind and deaf soldiers, specifically as sentries. The enemies went down in flames or up in explosions, in the graphic art of The Wizard, The Hotspur and The Adventure. That was o.k. though. They had asked for it. ‘Our chaps’ fought fair and square, by the rules of war. In the final analysis, a punch to the jaw was usually enough to sort out any foreigner. Or was that all in fairy tales?

Enter the Dragon!. We were in Drogheda one Saturday afternoon, minding our own business, when the cinema disgorged a crowd of young lads into the street, from the matinee show, the first ever Bruce Lee, Kung Fu epic. It was as if buckets of yelling spiders had been emptied out all around us. Satisfied customers. They kicked and jabbed with the appropriate blood-chilling yells. A good time was had by all. There was something different here. Bruce Lee was undoubtedly a foreigner. That made his kicking and hitting below the belt, understandable. He could levitate, unlike the kids in the street. He represented the forces of good, just like the knights of chivalric legend. He always won, just like the good guys in the Wild West films. Since then we have been overwhelmed by  practitioners of the martial arts, judo, ju-jitsu, kendo, karate, tae-kwando, origami, sushi. You are nobody if you can’t kick your opponent on the head or levitate onto roof tops. No holds are barred.

Gus Mulligan a Commandant in the army and a good neighbour, occasionally gave us boxing gloves to work off some steam. We strictly observed the Queensberry rules. Ollie Coulter, a bit of a wag, put his snake belt around the top of his head. Every boy had a snake belt, the coolest fashion accessory at the time. ‘No hitting below the belt,’  he insisted, as he weaved and jabbed, feinting with his left and following up with a devastating right…At least that was what he said in his running commentary. We fell about, laughing. Yet there was some moral force in the belt. I found out later what the belt was. A medical student, twice  my size, was throwing his weight around at the bathing place. ‘Did you ever hear of the solar plexus belt?’ ‘No.’  ‘Come here and I’ll show you.’ Knowledge is power. He showed me all right. I wish that I was a black belt fukushima expert at the time, but Bruce had not yet burst upon the scene. I wish I could have levitated and landed a few devastating blows on top of Ollie Coulter’s head, come to think of it. No, I’m glad I couldn’t do that. Ollie made us laugh. It was all in sport.

Do you remember when the notion of a professional foul came into the language of sport? Is that an oxymoron or what? Is it a defence in law?  I remember. I saw J.P.R. Williams, a god of Welsh rugby,  fell Mike Gibson with a punch, thereby averting a certain try. He justified it as a professional foul. A what? A case has been made that athletes should be allowed to use whatever drugs they want… and the Devil take the hindmost. Fortius, citius, altius.  Stronger, Faster and as High as a kite. The hindmost is most likely the clean competitor. The damned fool. What about a professional lie, as distinct from perjury? Lord Denning cast doubt on the capacity of black people and immigrants to serve on juries or practice law. In the case of The Birmingham Six, he ruled that their action against the police, would, if it succeeded, ‘open an appalling vista…’  No ‘reasonable person’ would want to open that can of worms. Even a Law Lord can stoop to a professional foul. We call it ‘Post truth’ nowadays.

Lord Queensberry curbed the excesses of The London Prize-Ring rules (anything goes except biting and gouging) with his generally accepted rules of boxing. These could not be applied to dog fighting, cock fighting, bull and bear baiting, so these sports remain illegal.  Significantly, the champions win enormous belts, big enough to cover the solar plexus. They do not, of course, wear these belts during the contests, especially not on the head, despite Ollie Coulter’s best efforts. Even amateur Olympic boxers are not allowed to wear protective headgear, despite the current concern about concussion in sport.

I admire some things about Conor McGregor. He dresses impeccably. He is clever and highly articulate. He turned the disadvantage of unemployment into an opportunity. He is a shrewd businessman. He is dedicated to his calling. He has a charismatic influence, especially over young men. He makes a lot of money. He tells the truth. ‘I’m involved in a violent and dirty business…’ He said this on being presented with his award for R.T.E. Sports Personality of the Year, as decided by a public vote. Personality, yes, but Mixed Martial Arts/ Ultimate Fighting/ Cage Fighting is not sport. People die.

Is it any wonder, Grasshopper and Your Grace, that young men bring what they observe and learn, onto the streets, particularly late at night and after a few drinks? They are all Bruce Lee in their own minds. The man who made the most money out of this phenomenon was a Hong Kong film maker, Run Run Shaw. Possibly the best advice when confronted by ninjas, dragons or tattooed Viking berserkers in a late night food outlet. Run! Run like hell!

 

Blowin’ in the Wind

The drama tends to be on the seaward side of our road. It is a favourite spot for photographers, walkers, joggers, bird watchers and idlers. We get both sunrise and moonrise. Mountainous seas may h…

Source: Blowin’ in the Wind

Blowin’ in the Wind

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The drama tends to be on the seaward side of our road. It is a favourite spot for photographers, walkers, joggers, bird watchers and idlers. We get both sunrise and moonrise. Mountainous seas may hurl themselves at the White Wall. Low spring tides may retreat almost to the horizon and a walk to the island becomes irresistible.

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Waves January 2014 102

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It is altogether safer to walk on the landward side in the shelter of the high Rugby club wall, especially when the wind and rain come from the west. The slip-stream of the C.I.E. bus is less alarming. Outbound traffic on the seaward side, impelled by the camber and centrifugal force, threatens to hop onto the pavement or shed its load on the hapless pedestrian. A sly wave may take the opportunity to give you a refreshing shower. You may be obliged to break into a trot if the old bones permit.

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When we were kids the wall at the Rugby pitch was a low, crumbling, stone wall, overgrown with red and green succulent weeds. There was no pavement on the west side. There was no refuge from the east wind for either players or spectators. We were fascinated by and wary of, Bang and Wallop, an eccentric old couple who lived on the other side of Curkeen Hill. They did their shopping on Saturday afternoons and cycled home along this road. Bang, (not her real name but an appropriate one by all accounts,) had brakes on her bike. It was her task to cycle ahead and give the all-clear to her husband who had no brakes, by means of a football whistle. This gave him, as we say in management-speak, a window of opportunity to get farther around the bend in safety. The rules of Rugby Football are complicated enough as they stand. They made no provision whatsoever for Bang’s whistle.  As I get further and further around the bend myself, I appreciate their caution.Traffic was sparse in those days. I presume they pushed their shopping-laden bikes up Curkeen Hill. I never saw their white-knuckle ride down the hill. I rode up that hill once, in later years, on a twelve gear mountain bike in a vain effort to get fit. I made it. I saw silver-fish in my vision and heard whistling noises all around me. My heart was going ‘bang and wallop’. I turned around and freewheeled homewards, with cautious touches on the breaks. Enough of that carry-on.

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My little son said to me once: ‘I heard on the radio that C.I.E. lost ninety million pounds. I’m keeping an eye out for it, in case it fell off the bus.’ Buses had open platforms at the back in those days. ‘What would you do if you found it?’ ‘I would give most of it back….but I would keep enough for a Rally Chopper.’  That sounded reasonable to me. I decided to keep an eye out for it myself. I noticed that there is always an accumulation of dust, sand, sweet papers and in season, crackling withered leaves, at one point on the bend, as if there is a demarcation dispute between winds coming up the road and winds coming down. I found also that at the same point, the car radio cut out, just for two or three seconds. The Twilight Zone. It was in the days of ‘Medium and Long wave transmission.

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He came back to me. ‘You know how I thought that rubbish liked me, because it always followed me up the road?’ ‘Hmm? Well you are a likeable sort of fellow.’  ‘Well it does. I found a twenty pound note in the leaves.’  It’s a start. Only£89,999,980 to go. He has gone from Raleigh Choppers to B.M.X, to multigear, carbon frame racing bikes with wireless gears. He likes cycling up hills. These are expensive items. If I find that he hasn’t come clean on the rest of the money, I may have to blow the whistle on him…unless of course we can reach some eh, understanding. I made a tentative enquiry concerning same. The reply was a not very encouraging ‘On yer bike.’

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There appear to be rich pickings on the other side of the wall.

Cryonics, Disney in Ice. Sir Ranulf and Black and Decker.

The ice was here, the ice was there. The ice was all around/ It cracked and growled and roared and howled/ like noises in a swound. Ancient Mariner There is frost outside as I write. Not as bad a…

Source: Cryonics, Disney in Ice. Sir Ranulf and Black and Decker.