Trousers, Lobsters and a Giant Leap Sideways.

Pagurus_bernhardus

 How would this sound as a slogan? Lobsters will fight and Lobsters will be right.  It looks good in red, although lobsters might think otherwise. It needs a great leader and a loud voice, to attract followers,  perhaps other crustaceans, tired of seeing their kinfolk boiled alive to grace the tables of gourmets, gourmands and the running-dogs of capitalist imperialism. No, that isn’t a boiled lobster. It’s a hermit crab without a shell. He has that ammonite spiral perfected by his remote ancestors, countless millions of years ago in the primaeval seas. Our remote ancestors had it too. Even the embryo in the womb retains a touch of the ammonite spiral, in the early days. A Red Spiral would make a potent symbol to rival red crosses, red sunbursts and red stars….The Lobster Liberation Front…..The Ammonite Army….The No-Crab Clause written into the menu of every restaurant.

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Waiters would compile lists of those who ordered the prawn, the shrimp, the crab. We could all end up in re-education camps, re-educating our palates to enjoy only vegetarian food culled from sustainable sources. Is that so far-fetched? It appears that the lobsters liberated last week from a tank in a Chinese restaurant in Dublin, were fetched from as far away as Canada. They were obviously Canadian as they did not fight or make any trouble. They looked a bit glum when they were restored to the sea at Dollymount. It can be very chilly out there. Normally, when alarmed, a lobster performs a Giant Leap backwards. These lads just lay there.The young woman from the Animal Rights group made an impassioned and cogent speech about the cruel fate of the Crustacean race. I can’t argue. I am a life-long offender. I am probably already on that sinister list. Is it an omen that Henry VIII’s ship The Marie Rose, sank with all hands, on her maiden voyage? Only a jar of the delicious sauce survived.

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The 1970s gave us plenty of news, reported nightly on television. A lot of it was about war and oil. South East Asia was crucified daily in an attempt to preserve our freedom. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m sorry. I’ll read that again. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. He did, but then, Time Magazine once named Adolf Hitler their Man of the Year. There was also Richard Millhouse Nixon and Watergate. There were too, hideous crimes against fashion, perpetrated during that decade. Trousers became tighter and tighter at the top and wider and wider at the bottom, to the point that they bestrode this narrow world like a Colossus. (J. Caesar….Great Leader.) There was a world shortage of denim. The spread of trousers had to be curtailed. Severe cutbacks resulted. Fortunately, we had the shaggy dog, Roobarb, to bring a little sanity to the chaos and dismal news. He had five minutes before six o’clock to lift the gloom. If you don’t remember Roobarb, you should look him up on Google. Denim was originally intended for making tents etc. When Levi met Strauss in a gold-mining camp, they decided to make indestructible trousers out of it. It’s a great story. In fact it’s a riveting story.

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Roobarb peered through the neck of a bottle wedged in a rock pool. He saw crabs, magnified by the curved glass in the base of the bottle. The crabs went about their business of fighting and tearing one another’s legs off, until they spotted the Giant Eye in the Sky. Some panicked. Others fell down on their numerous knees (I make it 24, not counting the claws, which are I suppose, are arms ) and worshipped the apparition. Others consulted The Wise Old Crab. (Crabwise?) He divined that a Great Leader, a Messiah, had come to save them: “This could be a giant leap sideways for crabkind”, he declared, to universal applause. They waved their arms and legs in excitement. They are very good at that. The tide came in and flooded the rock pool. Roobarb lolloped away. The Six o’Clock News came on The children groaned. So did I.

John D. Sheridan wrote about the simple truths of life. He wrote that no man can sleep easily in his bed, unless he knows that his trousers are nearby, hanging on the bedpost or draped on a chair within reach, in case of an emergency. Trousers are the first life-support system. They have pockets for keys and a few bob. O Casey said: “Money isn’t everything but a few pound in the pocket is good for the nerves.” Trousers keep us warm. They protect our vital assets and our dignity. Dictators and Great Leaders specialise in special police who make dawn raids on suspects, catching them at their most vulnerable, without their trousers. No man can command respect or awe, dressed only his underwear. At the subsequent show trials the defendants’ belts and braces are removed, making them subjects of derision, conclusive proof of guilt. In your liberation revolution, let your motto be…’Keep the faith; keep your powder dry and keep your trousers nearby at all times… preferably on your person.’ That’s far too long for a pithy motto or a rousing speech. An acquaintance of mine many years ago, was surprised in the middle of an amorous dalliance, by the unexpected arrival of the young lady’s father. He managed to salvage his trousers and one shoe, from the debacle, escaping through the window in panic. The romance fizzled out. He lamented the loss of that shoe more than the loss of the love of his life. His story provoked derision and laughter rather than pity or tears. There is a fine line between tragedy and farce.  Kissinger? Did Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, have a black sense of humour?

Which brings me in a sideways fashion, back to hermit crabs. I had no intention of walking sideways. There is a little cauldron worn into the rocks at low tide level near The Captain’s bathing place at Red Island. It has been scoured to a perfect circle by pebbles carried in and stirred for millennia by the churning waves. I have visited it many times over the years to observe the hermit crabs. There are always some of them in the pool. They go about their business like shoppers at the January sales, constantly searching for the perfect fit. In the endless bargain-basement of the sea they can renew their wardrobe of shells, upgrading from winkle to whelk and possibly to conch if an irresistible bargain drifts by. Sometimes they have to resort to violence to protect a find…just like the January sales. Have you ever noticed how the rejects are indiscriminately thrown on the floor? I mean in the January sales. They wriggle their wobbly tail-ends inside. They sigh with satisfaction. They smile in triumph. The hermit crabs, I mean. After a pleasant lunch with my family and a few glasses of wine, I decided to photograph the hermit crabs. I set off across the rocks, ill equipped for clambering or wading. I took a spectacular tumble on slippery seaweed and lay there with one foot in the water and my dignity severely damaged. I’d swear that I heard the little hermits sniggering. At least they didn’t swarm out of the pool to nab my trousers. I retraced my steps painfully, working my way sideways over the slippery rocks. I was bent over like an ammonite. My left hand began to swell like a lobster claw. That was a few days ago. I have evolved again into an upright, vertebrate, bipedal mammalian life form. That’s a relief. Until genetic engineering can provide me with six more legs, I might stay off the tidal rocks. Throw in a shelly exoskeleton and I will be ready for anything.

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Some Gaulish and German tribes insisted on fighting stark naked as a sign of manliness. Ok. Ok. We believe you. On one memorable occasion (I forget where and when. I must have been looking out the window when we were studying the Gallic Wars–) Julius Caesar manouvered the entire battle into a vast field of nettles and thistles. Surrender  was immediate. Had they never heard of combat trousers? Julius liked to end each chapter on a cheerful note..’making a great slaughter of the enemy’. Great Leaders do that sort of thing. Chairman Mao led his people on a Great Leap Forward into famine and further repression. His successors have sidled away from his doctrines and policies in recent years. My brother, a busy man, used to jog because he had little time to go for a walk. Many years ago, while in Peking, he left his hotel room early in the morning to go for a jog. His good wife was surprised to see him back in twenty minutes. ‘They were all laughing at me’ he complained. You know how that can feel…but 9,000,000 o0f them! He had not heard Katie Melua sing about about nine million bicycles in Beijing. He had not expected to meet nine million laughing and pointing, Chinese cyclists, in identical, grey Chairman Mao padded jackets and trousers. He is quite a large man. Let’s  just say that with his freckles, white skin and hairy legs (He was wearing shorts) he stood out from the crowd. I think they were very mean to my brother. He made a Giant Leap backwards to his hotel,to his trousers and his dignity.

The man who owned the Grosvenor House pub at the harbour, also owned a coal yard. He maintained a constant vigil against the Guards, especially during The Holy Hour. An upstairs window was always left slightly down. His head would emerge sideways through the gap,  leaving a semi circle of hair oil and coal dust on the reveal over the window. He emerged with the caution of a hermit crab and withdrew slowly to the protective shell of his pub when the coast was clear. Grosvenor House, renamed, is now a very fine seafood restaurant. There is another one where the coalyard used to be. We went there yesterday to celebrate the happy occasion of our first grand-daughter’s graduation. I had the prawns. From Thailand. Far fetched or what?

Don’t tell anyone. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Shrimps might get to hear about it. Or the Gambas Gang. Not to mention The Spanish Squidinkquisition. Aha!!! Who dares to mention The Spanish Squidinkquisition?

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Solstice 2014. A Great Stretch in the Day.

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Solstice Vigil 2014

The sun has been around for about 13.77 billion years, give or take a few, since the Universe began. Who calculates such figures? And how?  Archbishop Ussher declared that Adam was created in 4004 B.C. six days after the creation of the world. Scientists, playing ‘the dating game’, give the earth’s age as four and a half billion years. We throw these figures around casually, as if our minds can actually grasp their significance. Only at particular times of the year do we stop and marvel at what we are witnessing. The winter solstice is one such day.We persuade ourselves that we can now look forward to bright and sunny days. We have a little way to go still, but it does no harm. We need to think positively, because January and February have yet to come. Nevertheless we will begin to look for signs of new growth. Snowdrops are a good bet, as are a few brave crocuses. This happens without the need for chanting Druids or human sacrifices. In many societies down the ages, the sun has been worshipped as a god. There is a certain amount of logic to that, if you feel the need of a god. Everything in our world depends on the influence of the sun. Too much influence and we die. Too little and we die. Too much light and we are insomniac. Too little and we are S.A.D.  I watched a sun-worshipper at the sea wall a couple of days ago. He struck some odd poses, but it worked. The sun came up. He might, of course, have been a jogger limbering up and stretching. Keep at it.

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In ancient times the Ancients were believed to have ancient knowledge of the workings of the universe. The average ancient person was overawed by such knowledge and was easily persuaded to lug gigantic rocks to mountain tops, to build megaliths and temples, to appease the sun and ensure good hunting and crops. There really was no need for all that effort. The sun has been rising in the east for xxxx billion years. I’m no Druid but I confidently predict that it will continue to do so for a few billion more, so that’s  one worry out of the way. You have more immediate concerns today and tomorrow, than incurring the wrath of the Sun God.

The photographers and solstice watchers were probably disappointed yesterday morning. The Sun God was veiled in cloud. This was not an omen. It was weather, itself caused by the sun. If those keeping vigil in Newgrange passage grave, had to rely on electricity to create the effect of rejuvenating light penetrating the gloom, they can be consoled by the thought that the electricity began from the sun. So all is well. Same time next year.

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This is my favourite sunrise, at the other end of the scale, when the sun rises behind Saint Patrick’s Island. That’s a little temple, where the monks chanted their matins at dawn before setting out to change the world. There is a promise of warmth and light. It is a sight to lift the heart.  Sursum corda. Morning has always been a symbol of hope.  On this dull December morning, I thought that I would remind you that we are in the run-in to summer. There’s a brave stretch in the day. There is. It may be by nano-seconds, whatever they are. The sun will come up tomorrow. We poor subjects of the Sun God will bask in his favour again. We will stroll along by the harbour,on long summer evenings, eat ice-cream and think ourselves blessed. Some days we are.

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June 2014

The Birds are Back in Town. WAGS and The Spice of Life.

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The making of laws, observed Bismarck, and the making of sausages, should not be too closely examined. The Germans know a thing or two about sausages, as do the Italians. Think for a moment on what constitutes a sausage. No, don’t. Just enjoy it. The film 1900  has a memorable scene in which a pig is slaughtered, dismembered and re-assembled into hams, bacon, joints, brawn, crubeens and sausages. Every component of the original animal, every component, was used.  It would be a grave discourtesy to the animal to throw any of it away.  As to sausages, it’s all in the seasoning. I saw a headline in a newspaper yesterday: A spicy diet guards against dementia. Job done. I love a good sausage. (Latin botulus)

Did you ever dismember a golf ball?  With The Ryder Cup in full swing, I am reminded of how we used to peel a golf ball to get at the  miles and miles of rubber inside. Miles and endless miles of mini catapults and that was without even stretching. Inside that again were a few miles of broad rubber band, a flaccid version that was good for nothing. At the very core was/is a small balloon of deadly poison, a bacterium, a living organism that swelled and grew, constantly reinforcing the tension of the outer skin. Considering the treatment meted out to golf balls, it’s not much of a life. Is it?  Don’t touch that. You’ll die. At least run it under the tap before you try to blow it up. Those balloons won’t blow up. They are no use for anything except for imprisoning bacteria. I threw an old golf ball into the fire. It writhed and squirmed. A hissing reptile emerged from its shell and bombarded me with a blizzard of burning scraps. The golf ball’s revenge.

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As children we went down to the harbour when the trawlers came in. The fishermen always put up a box of fish for the lads. The harbour master always chased us away. “Get off the quay. Get off the quay.”  He actually said ‘Kay.’   “Get off the kay.” It has a ring of authority about it. I recall the cold of winter evenings and the pain of the string  when you carried a hank of  ‘whitenin’.  If you were lucky you had the comfort of a bike. You could drape the hank over the handlebars. The handlebars were freezing too. Most of all though, I remember the gulls, screeching and wheeling, emerging from darkness, yellow in the trawler lights and disappearing again, to squabble in the water over scraps and fish guts. The gulls bred on the islands. They knew their place. They swarmed after the boats, as press men swarmed after Eric Cantona. (He is a poet, fond of a good metaphor.) For a couple of decades the gulls moved into town. They nested on the houses, with broods of squealing chicks.  They white-washed the roofs in dry weather. They bullied cats away from their food and stalked imperiously around the bins. They became commuters, from one dump to another, from Ballealy to Dunsink and Kill in Kildare, crossing and re-crossing the flight paths to the airport, without a care for their own safety or that of anyone else, thinking only of their own gratification. Jet-setters. But always they came,  impeccable as golf WAGS, in their white suits, to The Brook at low tide. How can they stay so clean, given the nature of their work? The gulls, that is, not the WAGS.

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Then came botulism, dodgy sausage disease, bad food disease. If you dine out in low dumps, what can you expect? Clostridium botulinum. Dammit. Those sausages are ‘on the blink.’ I meant to cook them days ago. No amount of alchemy by Olhausens, Haffners, (clever Germans), or even Dennys, Kearns or the wizards of Clonakilty, can ward off that sinking feeling, that fruity whiff of a deceased sausage, that ruined breakfast. Not even the iron constitution of the sea gulls could withstand botulism. Their numbers dwindled spectacularly. They became, for a few years, rare birds indeed. Even the Iron Chancellor, a thrifty man, would not have endangered his health to a superannuated sausage. That would be the wurst fate imaginable. He wore a military uniform because he could get one free. He had a pickelhaube, a spiked helmet. I always wondered what he put on the spike. A pickle? A sausage? Nah!

On the other hand, if you are feeling bedraggled and worn down by age, you might consider spicing up your life with the miracle of botox treatment. Botox is a derivative of botulism. It is.  I understand that the sausage meat is injected into the areas in need of an uplift, eyebrows, sagging cheeks, scraggy necks and all points south. Get it into you. You’ld be mad not to. You will look swell.  The seagulls are back at The Brook, in greater numbers than I can ever recall. A man with a golf club, put them all to flight yesterday. A great golfing spectacle.