George Best’s Map. Global Strategy. Ask your Mammy.

Untitled-28There is no denying that George was a genius in his own way. This map might suggest that he had leanings towards rugby rather than soccer. The map makes a lot of sense. There is a good solid weight at the bottom to keep the world upright. ‘Incognita’ is Latin for ‘Dunno’. Think of how much simpler life would be if we could admit to not knowing. Exploded gear-box diagrams or instructions for self assembly furniture, could label components ‘no idea’, and ‘haven’t a clue’; ‘try a six-inch nail’; ‘lash in some glue.’  That’s how it works out in the end anyway. I went past  a hospital once, in the company of a farmer. He remarked: ‘My brother is in there right now, operatin’. He might as well be lookin’ into a bush’. It’s a learning curve.

George’s world is elliptical. There is a good reason for that. Otherwise half the world would be round the other side. Have you noticed that Leonardo’s Last Supper shows everybody on one side of the table. They call it ‘dough-nutting’. It is very important to get into the photograph with the leader. I recall an old geography teacher who told me how to get rid of an inspector. Inspectors used to visit schools to get invited to lunch. ‘Did you ever see an inspector producing the cigarettes?’ He didn’t care for inspectors. ‘Tell him that you’re having a bit of difficulty explaining Mollweide’s elliptical equal-area net.  Ask him to run through it with the class. That’ll get rid of him. Heh, heh.’ Mollweide dealt in sine curves  and stuff. Only Mollweide understood it and George Best, on one of his better days.

Bear in mind that George drew this map less than a century after Columbus. He had no satellites to photograph the world. He had never been to any of the new continents or islands. He gave the public what they wanted, a sea route to the Indies. This map is a call to adventure. Frobisher’s Strait is the most direct route. There would be no Spaniards to interrupt the voyage.  It is there because Frobisher thought that he had found it. Frobisher needed it. He wished. He prayed. He dreamed and George drew the map. It was  a bit like Dumbo. ‘You gotta have faith, Dumbo.’ It took another five hundred years for anyone to sail through the waters of the North -West passage. George might have done better to stick to the footeballe but it was illegal in Queen Elizabeth’s time. People were neglecting their archery. England and Spain were engaged in a global struggle. There are always at least two super-powers engaged in a global struggle, allied to an arms race.

I could never resist a map. I saw an advertisement in the paper.  ‘Get your free global strategy maps.’ Just what I needed. I was an eager student at the time. Students will go for anything free. I wrote away. You write in to complain. You write away for freebies. I forgot about it. The Chinese were shelling Quemoy and Matsu.  They did it every day at twelve o’clock so that the other Chines could go down into their bunkers. They were just making a point. The Pakistanis were shelling the Indians in the high Himalayas. Their people were starving and wracked by earthquakes and floods, but first things first. The Indians are sending a probe to Mars. Should we be worried? Eden was making a bags of things in Suez. Russian tanks were grinding and clanking towards Budapest.  A man called to the door. He wore an impeccable suit. His shoes were polished. He had a dazzling white shirt and cufflinks, all things alien to a student. He carried a brief case. He smiled. He had called, it transpired, to deliver my free global strategy maps. Just in time, to judge by the dismal news on the wireless. Imré Nagy was even then, making his plaintive broadcasts from Budapest. There was no time to lose. I brought him into the sitting room.

He discerned at a glance that I was a man of extraordinary erudition. I understood how the world works. I was a man of vision, perhaps even a man of destiny. With the right knowledge I could lead my people out of darkness. I could show the world a better way. Oh, all right. What do I have to do? It was ludicrously simple. For a small monthly payment I could have, nay, would have, access to all the world’s knowledge. How much? Too much. Less than a daily packet of cigarettes. I don’t smoke. Or a daily pint of stout. I don’t drink. ( I wasn’t much of a student, was I?) Would I deny my children the chance of an education? I have no children. I was a celibate, tee-total, non smoking ascetic. I rarely indulged in food or the pleasures of this world. Mediaeval hermits were roistering layabouts by comparison. (It was the truth.) I began to worry about my children.   The cufflinks glittered. I stared at them. My eyes glazed over. I was falling into his spell. I will obey.

My mother put her head around the door. I know  she sensed that her cub was in trouble. You’ve seen it with lionesses and polar bears, even the wren. ‘Are you folk nearly finished?’ He invited her to join us. He was good. He invited her into her own sitting room. He gave her the spiel.  As an adult she would understand the necessity for Enclycopaedia Britannica. In fact if she had bought it years ago, there would have been no need to waste and hour and a half on this dunderhead of a son. He didn’t put it quite so starkly. She nodded. He elaborated. There was a special offer, a reduced rate for Ireland. ‘Oh, indeed, and why is that?’  I watched him commit hara-kiri in our sitting room. UNESCO has designated Ireland as one of the world’s educationally deprived areas. Encyclopaedia Britannica were prepared to do their bit. They were giving a special reduction, for one year only  to Irish buyers. After that year it was Devil take the hindmost. Not a moment to lose. Eejit!  He didn’t know my mother. She had dedicated her life to education. It was her guiding passion. She was proud of her country. She exploded. His smile faded. He fled, with his cufflinks and his briefcase. ‘The cheek of him!’  Sheepishly, I held onto my global strategy maps. I found that I could launch my missiles across the Arctic Ocean. I had never thought of that.  I had always thought the the US and Soviets would send  them over Europe, the Mercator way. I could control the world’s oil supplies  with fleets at Aden, Simonstown and Gibraltar.  On the other hand, I could send my Mammy in to sort them out.  Maybe I would have been better employed in trying to get George Best to play for the Republic of Ireland.  A cunning strategy.

They got me though. They caught me in a shopping mall years later. I was still a non-smoker. I had children with me. I was a goner. I love the look of my encylopaedia. I have only read as far as Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. What was the name of that eejit, the president of Georgia, who invaded Russia when Putin was at the Olympics in Beijing? He thought Putin wouldn’t notice. He thought that NATO would weigh in on his side. I could have set him straight. Note: do not invade Russia. It’s large and it’s cold. If you feel that you must, at least bring a note from  your Mammy.spider webs 007

Nowadays we get our information from The Web. We don’t know who writes it. It may be all wrong, but it’s free!! and readily available at the click of a mouse. I keep a wary eye on the Chinese. If they invade, I shall build a barricade from my volumes, the macropaedia and the micropaedia, plus the free three volume Webster’s dictionary and the annual update volumes that I have never opened . However, there is no cause for alarm. They will probably buy Ireland by regular instalments. They have great smiles too.

There was a Global Web conference in Dublin last week. All the Web strategists were there. I wasn’t invited to speak. I was too busy anyway, photographing spiders. They’re taking over the world, you know. Scientists tell us that spiders could even survive on Mars. Where did it all go wrong, George? I’m worried again.

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Mau Mau, A sense of place. Winds of change. Justice delayed.

There was a map of Europe on the wall of my classroom in National School. I emphasise that it was on the wall. There were several other maps rolled up and kept on top of a cupboard. One of them, Mercator’s world map, made an occasional appearance, but it was a puzzle. It looked top heavy. Greenland and Canada dominated the world. Africa was a bit sketchy. There was no North or South Pole. There was a lot of red. I never got to see the other maps.

Europe, however, was always in front of my eyes. There was not so much red, just the two western islands,Ireland and Britain. France was pale green, square and solid at the left hand edge, but a bit skinny, lacking Alsace and Lorraine. I learned the reason for that later. The German Empire, a purply blue, sprawled across the top. It wasn’t exactly Prussian blue, a colour I found later to be overwhelming, with a tendency to dominate all other colours. I draw no conclusions there. Russia was pale yellow. St. Petersburg stood out in large black print. It later became Leningrad, but Peter is back again. There were several little countries in that area, that later disappeared but have also come back. Scandinavia always looked like a monster preparing to devour Denmark. Nederland was hollowed out by the Zuyder Zee. That’s ‘sea’ zpelt wrong. There was a song about it: ‘Zing, zing, zing a little zong with me….’ The zee is all filled in now. Where was Poland?

What can you say about the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Which was it, Austria or Hungary? Apparently the last Habsburg, doddering about in retirement, was told that Austria and Hungary were playing that night in a World Cup qualifier. It was to be on television. ‘Ah, good,’ he replied. ‘Who are we playing?’ That was a man who knew which side he was on. It seemed to be made of millions of little pieces. We had a big carving dish at home. It was glazed with fine cracks. There was always the fear that it would fall apart and ruin the Sunday dinner. President Wilson tried to dismantle Austria-Hungary. The dust hasn’t settled yet. I have the bits of that dish in a box under my desk. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will have their work cut out.

The Ottoman Empire hung onto a sizeable chunk of the bottom right hand corner. A strange name for an empire. A white strip of Africa ran along the bottom. Africa wasn’t invited. But where the hell was Poland?

There was a song about Africa: ‘Take a trip to Africa. Happy, happy Africa. Come on along and learn the lingo, In a jungle bungalow.’ There was another one: ‘Bongo, bongo bongo, I’m so happy in the Congo, I don’t want to go. Ingle angle bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle….’ and ‘Zambezi, Zambezi, Zambezi Zam!’ Father O Sullivan particularly railed against these songs in his sermons. We nudged one another, thinking of the Sunday roast. Gravy. Crackling. ‘Put another nickle in, in the nickelodeon.’ He hated that one too. Decadence everywhere.

My brother had a taste for the macabre. He told us about the Mau Mau. He told us in great detail. We younger siblings were scared. They went out at night to attack white people and Her Majesty’s forces of law and order. They used voodoo and juju. Nobody was safe from the Mau Mau. The Mau Mau decreed a night of the long knives, when every European would die in his(or her) bed. My brother was quite tickled by the idea. I was puzzled by that. He’s European. I’m European.

I checked in school. Kenya wasn’t even on the map. They would have to come across the narrow bit at Constantinople. They couldn’t possibly, even by juju and voodoo, cut every European throat in one night. They couldn’t reach Ireland in one night. Someone would spot them before they got to Skerries. It was slightly reassuring.

My big sister brought me to a lecture in Floraville. Billy Blood Smyth showed lantern slides of Skerries, which his father had made in the 1880’s and 90’s. They were magic lantern slides. I would love to see them again. Leo Flanagan quoted Longfellow on memories and sea faring and growing up by the sea and… ‘Spanish sailors with bearded lips…..for the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’ All very appropriate to a lecture on old Skerries. There was an accompanying exhibition of curiosities and bric a brac. There was a bicycle pump bought on the very day that World War II broke out. There was a flower pot cast by James Duff on the day the Germans entered Paris. It impressed me because I was born exactly a year and a day afterwards. (No significance at all in reality). There was a panga—-‘as used by the Mau Mau’. A sea-faring Skerries man contributed the panga. A panga is a rough version of the machete. You could easily make one yourself. Ideal for chopping vegetation or Europeans. My fears returned. Fortunately, the Mau Mau never made it to Skerries.

Father O Sullivan also inveighed against women wearing shorts. The chief offender was Fanny Blankers-Koen, an athlete from bezide the Zuyder Zee. She distinguished herself in the 1948 Olympics. She was called ‘Flying Fanny’ in the tabloids. Father O Sullivan asked if we would be surrounded by flying fannies. My parents cracked up at the dinner table. I couldn’t see what was so funny.Nederland was inundated by a great storm a few years later. Had they not heard the story of Noah and a vengeful God? The Zuyder Zee is all polder land now. The Dutch built the Delta dams, but women are still wearing shorts. I fear for the future. ‘It won’t be rain but fire next time…’ Frankie Laine had a hit with that song.

There is a case going through the House of Lords. A group of poor old Kikuyu men are seeking justice for torture and mutilations inflicted on them by the forces of law and order in Kenya during the Mau Mau insurgency. There was another side to that story. Truth is indeed the daughter of time. Kenya is on the map. The empires are gone. What a bloody awful century!

However, we have two little Irish/Polish grandsons to delight us. I am glad that Poland came back.