Chicken, Bacon and Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan sings: Lay, Lady , lay. Lay across my big brass bed. There is nobody as laid-back as Bob Dylan, but the image puzzled me. I saw him as a poultry farmer addressing a good laying hen. The misapprehension is understandable, as big brass bedsteads were often pressed into service by farmers in times gone by, to fill a gap in a hedge. Bedsteads worked for sheep and cattle but hens could overcome them.  In the evolutionary scheme of things, hens have almost achieved flight. Like farmyard geese, they see their more fortunate cousins flitting or gliding overhead but they are powerless to join them. They can launch themselves off the hen-house, flapping furiously but in vain. They lose altitude. They fall to earth and hobble ignominiously about the hen run. It must be heartbreaking. They can however make it to the top of a brass bed rail and escape, to lay in the bushes, to the frustration of the farmer, or more often, the farmer’s wife. ‘Laying out’ it’s called and who can blame them? They see their progeny ruthlessly gathered and taken away to become protein for humans. ‘Add two eggs; beat the eggs; fry the eggs; glaze with the white of an egg; scramble the eggs; separate the white from the yolk…..The litany is endless. Hens have never learned to lie (not ‘lay’) low. They cackle in triumph, giving the game away. The rooster struts and crows about his farmyard conquests. When his powers begin to flag he will be overthrown. He will become a figure of ridicule in the farmyard. He will be shunted down the pecking order.

I showed the children a shed full of day-old chicks. There is nothing as cute as a day-old chick. The children were entranced. There was a woman ‘sexing’ the chicks, thrusting the males into boxes and closing the lids. I don’t know how she knew.  They all looked the same to me. The females got a temporary reprieve, being put aside to fatten up or lay more eggs. “What happens to the males?” I asked gormlessly. “Oh,” she replied in a matter of fact way, “they go to the mink farm down the road.” I ushered the children out before they could think of too many questions. It is kind of Bob to provide a big brass bed for his hen. It must have been sexed of course, at some stage, as he addresses the bird as “Lady”.

My little daughter was chatting to her friends at the garden wall when she saw the cat running in the door. “Oh”, she said in alarm, “He’ll get the chicken.”  “Have you got a chicken?” asked one of her friends. “Yes, but I’d better go and stop the cat getting at it. ” “Would he kill the chicken?” her friend asked in alarm. “The poor little chicken.”  “It’s already dead,” explained my daughter. “Aw!”  “It’s in a plastic bag.”  “Ahh”  I’m not the only one to get the wrong end of the stick when it comes to poultry. Fortunately the chicken was still frozen solid and the cat’s evil designs were thwarted.

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Sir Francis Bacon.

Not surprisingly, all this came to mind the other morning when I was scraping ice off the car. I should have worn gloves and a warm hat. It was the only morning this winter that ice was a problem. It took longer than I had expected. My fingers pained. The ice reformed almost as quickly as I removed it. We have had no snow to give old guys heart attacks from shoveling.  Old guys should wear warm hats. My son and a friend went to Antarctica. The friend got a phone call in Ushuaia as they were preparing to set off across the Drake Passage. “That was my Ma,” he announced. “She says  to be sure to wear a hat.”  By the way, it’s also very slippy out there.

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Penguins carry their eggs on their feet. It’s a good thing they don’t fly. Mink would do well in Antarctica. They dress for the weather.

Sir Francis Bacon was possibly the most impressive mind of his generation, (No, he didn’t write the Works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote the Works of Shakespeare. Logical deduction.) He probably knew Drake and all the other eminent Elizabethans. He is remembered as an essayist, jurist and the ‘father’ of empirical science. He promoted colonisation in the New World, making a better fist of the colony of Virginia than Raleigh. He fell from grace on a charge of taking bribes. He admitted the charge. ‘Of course I take bribes but I have never given anything in return.’ Very few people of influence have been so frank. (I also am open to the receipt of bribes, if anyone is interested but like Bacon, I will give nothing in return. I have principles.)  In retirement, Bacon devoted himself to writing and observing natural phenomena.  He caught a chill when he got out of his coach to retrieve a chicken that he had buried in a snowdrift. He forgot to put on his hat. The experiment worked. The chicken was still fresh but Bacon developed pneumonia and died. If he had thought to wear his ermine robes and a mink hat with ear flaps on it, he might have gone on to make a new fortune from refrigerated foods. If he had tried cryogenics, he would be a rich man today, now that pneumonia is treatable. I note that Bob Dylan almost always wears a hat, even indoors.  He’s still going strong.

A man on the radio was praising the efforts of Irish egg producers in finding new markets in the Middle East.  He maintained that these eggs are hatched in Monaghan and Meath, packed and put on aeroplanes, and are on the shelves in Dubai a couple of days later.  That would make for an interesting and cheep flight.  Bit of a misapprehension there. Mrs “Pullet” Jones, the most laid-back motorist in Skerries, would never have approved of that. The man on the radio made no mention of Irish rashers.

The difference between involvement and commitment, they say, is like rashers and eggs. The hen is involved; the pig is committed.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen….Sir Walter Raleigh

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 “My Lords….Ladies …..aaaand…..Ge….e…..ntle…..me….e….en.   When you hear that phrase you assume that there will be a fight. What is a lord? What is a lady aaaaand what is a gentleman?  To the Anglo Saxons it was a bread and butter issue: Hlaf  a loaf.  Hlaford,   a lord, the man who ensures a supply of bread. Hlafdie, the lord’s wife, the lady who distributes the bread. It paid to know on which side your bread was buttered.  A gentleman was defined in later mediaeval times, as one entitled to bear arms and thereby entitled to wear a coat of arms. He followed the noble calling of arms. He was expected to follow his lord into battle. The last thing he was expected to be was gentle. Raiding, and conquest secured the supply of food. ‘An army marches on its belly.’ (Napoleon). Julius Caesar saw the year as consisting of winter quarters, grass growth for the horses and weather for campaigning and finally, harvest for either capturing or destroying the crops of the enemy. It’s a straightforward annual cycle, determined mostly by the weather. Greed,  megalomania, fanaticism and madness can play a part in this too. ‘You look after the enemy and I will take care of the winter.’ (Adolf Hitler).

Nothing so becomes a gentleman as his sword. The sword is a symbol of power and authority, an extension of the arm, a device for sundering limbs, for slicing windpipes and internal organs and for spilling blood. It is also a work of art, a thing of sinister beauty.  To the Samurai it was an object worthy of veneration. Wieland and Vulcan were blacksmiths to the gods. The Scythians prayed to the sword and to the North Wind. If one doesn’t get you, the other will. Conquered people are ‘put to the sword,’  a final solution.  The sword is integral to a ‘guard of honour.’ A knight or a gentleman, uses his sword only to defend the weak, to defend ‘womanhood,’ to defend his country and his own honour.  Or does he?

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Sir Walter Raleigh is presented to us as a ‘dashing’ Elizabethan gentleman. Throwing his good cloak over a puddle to protect the queen’s shoes, assured him a place in popular imagination as a gallant gentleman. It was a good investment, unlike some of his other ventures.  Like many another, he came to Ireland to win fame and fortune with his sword. He did well here….eventually.  Elizabeth’s young gentlemen were referred to as mastiffs, on account of their ferocity.  Raleigh’s half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert was accustomed to making  an avenue to his tent at the end of each day’s campaigning, from the heads of his victims. “Nothing so cows a man as the sight of his children, his wife, his brothers….”  Fear and revulsion. You can see the logic of his tactic.  Perhaps the name, ‘Fort of Gold’ was what lured Raleigh to west Kerry, a region in one of its sporadic revolts against Elizabeth. In the conquest business, it is important to be in at the kill. To the victor the spoils.

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This small declivity on a clifftop is The Fort of Gold, a bloody awful place to be  as the nights lengthen and the rain sweeps in from the Atlantic.  A small Spanish/Italian force landed here in the autumn of 1580. They had magnificent armour and swords. They had little or no artillery. Their line of retreat was to the rocks below. They came to assist the Irish rebels and to place an illegitimate son of the Pope on the throne of Ireland.  The Pope’s bastard wisely stayed at home, waiting for news. The mastiffs closed in. Lord Grey, Elizabeth’s Deputy, pounded the fort with his cannon. The young gentlemen distinguished themselves in the trenches.  Lord Grey offered terms and safe conduct out of Ireland. The invaders agreed.

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(Cannon in Youghal, a town later granted to Raleigh.)

Even a lord can break his word. Raleigh took charge of the surrender and the pillaging of the armour and weapons. The few Irish taken prisoner, male and female, were executed in the most hideous manner. Under Raleigh’s direction, almost eight hundred foreign soldiers were beheaded by the soldiers in the fields below the fort, The Field of the Cutting and The Black Fields. There was an enquiry into Grey’s breach of faith. His star faded. Raleigh defended his actions on the grounds that he was merely following orders. That has a contemporary ring to it. Anyway, he was the queen’s favourite dancing partner. He gained a town, some castles and forty thousand acres of confiscated land. Young Ned Denny, who coined the nickname ‘mastiffs’, became Sir Edward Denny, lord of extensive estates in Kerry. His Lady wife, eight years later, personally counted the heads of shipwrecked Spaniards from the Armada, two hundred in all, and was paid for each one. Raleigh went on to failed ventures in the Americas, in pursuit of fortune and eventually lost his own head in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster. He trembled from ague. “I would not have mine enemies think that I quaked from fear.” He tested the edge of the axe. His personal courage was never in doubt. If the axe hadn’t got him, the tobacco, his constant companion, surely would have.

The sword is the staple of popular films and television programmes. It is everywhere in children’s stories and in legend. The Sword of Light. Excalibur. Gladiators spill blood and maim, always in slow motion. Film critics use the term ‘gore fest’ as a recommendation.

The time of fear and revulsion has come round again with ISIS, the sword as ‘the key to Heaven and Hell.’  This is not a new thing. With modern media it no longer happens somewhere far away.

The lord Katsu, one of the greatest of the Samurai, never drew his sword in anger.

He adapted his scabbard to make it almost impossible to draw the weapon.

He never killed anyone—- for which he was greatly criticised.

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