Brexit, Strawberries, July and Enterprise.

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At one time The Golf Path, a narrow cinder track along by the railway, was an adventure trail. Nowadays you have to brave nettles, thistles, briars, waist-high weeds, David Attenborough and sundry gorillas, to get to the other end. Before the high, metal fence was installed, all that separated you from the track were several strands of bull-wire threaded through fence posts made from upright sleepers. There was a good chance of being in close proximity to a train, a demure diesel rail-car humming along or a steam engine huffing and puffing up the slight gradient, in a cloud of smoke and smuts. It was always obligatory to wave to the driver, just as he was obliged by his terms of employment, to wave back. When The Enterprise express went through from faraway Belfast, with pistons hammering , it was time to grip the wires or uprights for fear of being whisked into the vacuum behind the roaring monster. The Enterprise blasted children into delicious, shuddering terror. The whistle screeched. White smoke streamed behind, as windows, with anonymous white faces looking out, flashed past. As suddenly as it came, it was gone. It is no wonder that Captain Kirk, when he decided to boldly go where the hand of man has never set foot, called his star ship after the Belfast express.

King James, when he fled ignominiously from the battlefield of the Boyne, would have been glad of a seat on The Enterprise, a nourishing dinner in the dining car and a few pints in the bar. Alas for him, The Enterprise didn’t stop at Drogheda for another two centuries. He had to be content with a fast horse, an overnight in Hacketstown House, no time for a round of golf, early breakfast, headlong flight southwards and ‘o’er the watter’ to France. He never came back to claim his three kingdoms. Britain opted for a commercial union with Holland and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Business is business.

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When we picked spuds on Hacketstown land, we could peer into the walled garden where the strawberries grew. These were hand-reared strawberries, tended lovingly by the farmer himself. It was a shrewd business decision not to let hungry schoolboys into the rarified micro climate of the walled garden. The farmer picked and packed the berries at regular intervals and took them to the fruit and veg market in Dublin. There was benefit in this for us also in that we could lie around in the drills and maybe share a Woodbine or have a spud fight, until we heard the sound of his car coming back down the track to the field. On the way home we could forage for strawberries that had been ‘liberated’ onto the railway embankment along the Golf Path, old plants and runners that had been cast out from the farmer’s loving care. This required a degree of bravado and a reasonable knowledge of the railway timetable. The strawberries were green and miserable but still a bonus.

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One day in the early seventies, the farmer was unable to get his crop to market. The narrow street was blocked by an enormous lorry with a cargo of fresas from Spain. Roll On Roll Off ferries had arrived in Irish ports. He turned his car around and came, disconsolately, home. ‘Take those strawberries down the town’, he said to his foreman, ‘and give them away to anyone that wants them.’  We were heading, pell mell into the Common Market.

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For several years I was intrigued by a bright blue ship that passed by every week from Drogheda and back again to Drogheda. I made enquiries. It belonged to Tyrrels of Arklow. It was bringing cement to the builders of The Channel Tunnel, a scheme to provide closer links between Great Britain and the Continent. No longer would The Continent be at risk of isolation by fog in The Channel. Good business for everyone. The other notable change is the growth in container ship traffic. They pass like floating castles, usually hull-down beyond the horizon with the sunlight catching the superstructure and the soaring piles of Lego blocks on  deck.

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Up to a week ago business seemed to be on the up and up. Confidence was growing. While the strawberry and cream farmers, the tennis players, the ticket tout/entrepreneurs and fans were limbering up for Wimbledon; while the British were commemorating the young men sacrificed in a war ostensibly to protect Europe, the Brexiteers shot themselves with unerring aim, in the foot. The collateral damage  leaves everyone else in Europe and beyond, among the walking wounded.

The older generations who grew up with the aftermath of wars that dismembered and impoverished Europe, chose to turn away from the project of greater unity and greater opportunity. The young can go fend for themselves. Great Britain is now Britain, a tenuous association of conflicting interests. The Scots should go out and beat the bushes for some long lost Stuart to fly over the sea to Skye, in his bonny boat and rescue them. Even Boris, about a year ago, was suggesting that London should declare independence from Britain. You do remember Boris, don’t you? Can even the Welsh live in harmony after Brexit?  Does Dave remind you of the skipper of the good ship Exxon Valdez?

I blame that scoundrel, Louis Bleriot, for all this nonsense about closer links with damned foreigners.

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Until morale improves. Golf and the Wages of Sin. The Crying Room.

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I love this inscription on the Floraville path of memories: The beatings will continue until morale improves. It’s for your own good. Spare the rod etc. On Monday morning, after the childrens’ sodality, the schoolmaster beat the boys who had not attended church from three o’clock to four, the previous day. No excuse was accepted. ‘Where were you yesterday?’ ‘Sick, sir.’ ‘Not good enough. Sín amach do lámh.’ Think of the courage of a small boy stretching out his hand for the cane. ‘Caddying, sir.’  ‘Caddying! Caddying!’ This was a ‘reserved sin’. To endanger one’s immortal soul for a few pieces of silver from a good natured golfer on Sunday afternoon, smacked of the treachery of Judas. ‘ How much did you get? What did you do with it?’  ‘Gev it up, sir.’ ‘Not good enough. Sín amach do lámh’.  The child had contributed his few shillings to the household budget, no small consideration in the hungry Forties. One boy admitted that he had bought noranges. Nobody laughed. ‘Sín amach do lámh.’ Noranges, in the lean years after the war! Bloody luxury! The boy will be hung. ‘Now stand up the boys who were up in the gallery.’ This was , for some reason, a particularly offensive offence. I don’t know what depravity went on up in the gallery. There is an old music-hall song, ‘Miss Jenny Lind, With the Entire Company and This Time , Principally YOUR—SELVES’: The boy/girl (Delete as appropriate) I love is up in the gallery. Up in the gallery… The church is no place for that sort of thing. Down with that sort of thing etc.. Sín amach do lámh.

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Margaret and I  sat at the back of a crowded church yesterday. We were in the chidrens’ room, sometimes called The Crying Room. It was Mike’s First Communion Day. The children looked very smart in their new outfits. They were happy.They sang a song about thanking God ‘for making me me.’ Songs of Innocence.  There was another one that sounded a bit like: Ob-la-di Ob-la-dah life goes on brah, la la how life goes on.. Some small children in the room, broke off from their kick boxing, to dance together. The parents smiled indulgently. A granny with a walking -stick tried to restore order. Let’s hear it for grannies. My mind wandered. I remembered sodality. Sodales, dining companions, boon companions, members of a secret society. No we weren’t. There was no fine dining on Sunday afternoons in the church. There were hymns in Latin: Jenny Tory, Jenny Tokway, louse et jubilatio… I liked the sound of Latin, although I wondered who Jenny was and where the louse came into it.. Somebody up in the gallery, played the organ. My older brothers took me to my first sodality. ‘Then the priest comes out with some yoke and lights a fire in it. The church fills up with this lovely smell’. I loved the drifting smoke and the lovely smell. I imagined that my prayers rose up, like the smoke in the afternoon light, to wisp about the throne of God.

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Those windows haven’t been opened in years. No waft of fresh air has come in there for half a century. The spiders are secure in their tenancy. I thought of the countless numbers of good people who have given their time to the church. Their contributions built it. It was thronged every Sunday, as it was for yesterday’s Mass.  Nowadays it is mostly a church for children and old people. I went to an evening funeral. By the time the crowd had finished sympathising with the bereaved family, it was time for the visiting mission priest to address the mens’ retreat. I stayed on. A mind, just like a window, should be opened occasionally. He spoke about lust and the sins of the flesh. I looked around. I was the youngest in the church. The other customers were propped up on sticks. Down with all that carry-on, we agreed.

I felt sorry for Colin Powell when he was instructed to address the U.N. on the matter of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It was obvious that he didn’t believe his own words. Body language. He showed a spy camera video of a large truck manoeuvring in a circle. This was to put the fear of God into the members of the U.N. Be careful around large trucks. The invasion went ahead anyway. Iraq was destroyed. A more frightening enemy, Isis/Is/Isol came into being. To Isis, we are all infidels. A Christian church, filled with children on Holy Communion Day, would be a plum target. Very dark thoughts in the Crying Room on such a happy day. By the way, Tony Blair became the Peace Envoy to the Middle East.  For crying out loud! He resigned recently to concentrate on making a few bob for himself. I felt sorry also for decent churchmen who were obliged to repeat the ‘party line’ on the referendum on Marriage Equality for gay people. Body language again.

The light comes through the mottled glass and makes the alcove glow. It’s a granite building. The mica glitters in the sunlight. We came out to see the people laughing, taking photographs and greeting one another. I saw one or two grandaddies who were there on the day I made my First Communion. If only I could recapture some of that innocence.   The news was that the Yes had been carried in the referendum. Ireland had not disgraced itself yet again. I felt proud that a sense of fairness had lifted the dark and cruel shadows of the past from fellow citizens who had suffered too long.  We went to Mike’s birthday party. There was a bouncy castle, as decreed by the Third Vatican Council—-well, it will be. Things change. We were charmed to see our children and their children enjoying a family day together. The other news is that Mike made a few bob. I could well have gone caddying in the golf club and made a few for myself, on such a fine day, but I don’t know a niblick from a five iron. Tips would have been thin on the ground.

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We are living in a better Ireland today. I spotted this sign on the way home. A bank open on a Saturday! For mortgage appointments! A few bob available. No grovelling required. (I made that bit up.)

In a couple of years they have built a home sweet home/With a couple of kids running in the yard/Of Desmond and Molly Brown…./Ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on…yeah..la-la-la-la life goes on…

Indeed it does. The beatings have been suspended. Let’s hear it for the Beatles.