Review of “The Broken Boy”, Patrick Cockburn, Guardian, 9th July 2005

While this book has an ostensibly medical subject matter, as I pointed out in its review it is a curiously detached account of the 1956 Cork polio outbreak.

A Medical Education

My other Guardian piece,  from over a decade ago. I would end up knowing Cork a lot better in subsequent years.

It is generally OK, although I find myself cringing at some awkward phrases – like “resign on marriage” or “ engaging and witty book itself has a vigorous personality.” Perhaps I am oversensitive.

Too many of my reviews feature terms like “engaging” without real justification. I am not specifically talking about Cockburn, but a tic I have in general. Part of it is an ingrained respect for the Book, so that an enthusiasm comes too early. I really should justify whjat is engaging about a specific work.

The Broken Boy
by Patrick Cockburn
320pp, Cape, £15.99

Writing about the house in which he grew up in Youghal, east Cork, Patrick Cockburn says it “owed its vigorous personality to our lack of money, which ensured that it never saw…

View original post 668 more words

Stained Glass from Church of the Guardian Angels, Newtownpark Avenue, Dublin 

Stained Glass from Church of the Guardian Angels, Newtownpark Avenue, Dublin 


The above image is actually from a parish centre adjacent to the main Church. The distinctive facial depiction of Christ is echoed in the Stations of the Cross inside the Church proper. Unsurprising, as they were executed by the same firm:

The same link tells us regarding the front facade depiction of the Guardian Angel that : 

  • Note the outstretched arms of the Guardian Angel encompassing the world with protective care. The head-dress was, in fact, copied from that worn by Cleopatra in the block-buster film of that time!

For comparison, here is a close up of the angel and a headdress  worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the famously epic (in every sense) Cleopatra she starred on with Richard Burton:

There is also a selection of interesting abstract stained glass in this Church as at the beginning and now the end of this post:

Poems on the wind – John Hewitt, Patrick McDonagh, Wallace Stevens

From First Known When Lost:

In the meantime, we have the wind.  And poems about the wind.

Providence

White roses shatter, overblown,
by the breath of a little wind undone,
yet the same air passing scarcely stirs
the tall dark green perpetual firs.

John Hewitt, Scissors for a One-Armed Tailor: Marginal Verses 1929-1954 (1974)

“Providence” feels like a haiku:  a report on experience.  (To borrow from Edmund Blunden.)  However, a word such a “providence” would likely be avoided by a haiku poet.  Too subjective.  Of course, I am completely open to the possibility that what the wind does may well be “providence”:  I am not in any way criticizing Hewitt’s use of the word.

Hewitt, like a good haiku poet, tells us exactly what he saw.  The difference is that he gives us a hint.  A haiku poet would leave us to draw our own conclusions.  Or, better yet, would leave us to draw no conclusions at all, but only see the World as it is, or, perhaps more accurately, as the haiku poet saw it in a moment of passing time.

Enough of that.  I do not wish to create the impression that I am quibbling about “Providence”:  I think it is a lovely poem.  As is this, another poem about the wind of Ireland.

Afterpeace

This wind that howls about our roof tonight
And tears live branches screaming from great trees
Tomorrow may have scarcely strength to ruffle
The rabbit’s back to silver in the sun.

Patrick MacDonogh, Poems (edited by Derek Mahon) (The Gallery Press 2001).

Of course, poets cannot help but bring humans into their apostrophes about the wind.  Thus, for instance, they say that the wind “sighs” or “moans” or “cries.”  This is to be expected.  All poetry, all art, is an attempt to place ourselves into the World in the hope of making sense of things, however briefly.  It is not surprising that, in doing so, we see ourselves (or come upon ourselves) in the World.

Moreover, we mustn’t forget that the beautiful particulars of the World include human beings.  The wind.  People.

The Wind Shifts

This is how the wind shifts:
Like the thoughts of an old human,
Who still thinks eagerly
And despairingly.
The wind shifts like this:
Like a human without illusions,
Who still feels irrational things within her.
The wind shifts like this:
Like humans approaching proudly,
Like humans approaching angrily.
This is how the wind shifts:
Like a human, heavy and heavy,
Who does not care.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (Alfred A. Knopf 1923).

We are the wind and the wind is us.  The wind is us and we are the wind.

10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

10 things I’ve learnt about conservation optimism

I have posted before about #OceanOptimism. This post is an interesting summary (in handy listicle format) of some learnings from the movement and the wider conservation optimism philosophy. This is an ethic which is far from being blandly reassuring about very wicked problems but is also not falsely wallowing in a rather ostentatious virtue-signalling misery.

A View To Sea

  1. ‘Conservation optimism is about planning for the future, not just holding the line’ – Elizabeth Bennett. Conservation optimists are focused on making positive change and taking real steps forward for recovery, turning passion into practice.
  1. It’s a powerful movement that’s growing fast, thanks to the drive of hundreds of motivated and inspirational conservationists.
  1. We need to widen who can call themselves a ‘conservationist’. As Heather Koldewey spoke about at the Summit, anyone can be a conservationist. You don’t have to have a science degree – this is for anyone from any discipline, with concern for our environment and the drive to work to protect it for future generations. No lab coat required.
  1. The passion showed by young people is the engine of the movement. School children’s voices have been seen to have strong weight in political decision-making, and the skills and optimism shown by young conservation professionals entering the field…

View original post 296 more words

“Of swallows, hares and horrors” – Simon Barnes on nature in the Age of Terror

Original here:

Wild June moves into Day 5 and I’m spoiled for choice again. Shall I write about the swallows above the meadow? Or the hare in the garden? We saw each other at the same time and we both froze, holding a 15 yard stand-off for a full minute. Or perhaps I’ll turn to the butterflies that –

Tell me: is it wicked to enjoy such things in a time of devastation, after the horrors of Manchester have been followed by the horrors of London Bridge? Of if not wicked, is it not infinitely trivial, lacking in all seriousness, to bother with nature at times of random urban murder?

I did a piece for The World at One the other day, on the drastic decline of lesser sported woodpeckers. They put it on right at the end, cheerily describing it as “light relief”. I was a little surprised that extinction is now light relief, but I said nothing; I was glad to say something I thought worth saying on a damn good programme.

All the same, I really don’t think that the future of the planet is light relief. And I don’t think that it’s trivial to discuss that subject, even when we’re preoccupied with more immediate horrors. The environment is something that we all have to live in: our health, our happiness and our future are tied up in it, and so are those of our great-grandchildren.

The environment doesn’t become irrelevant, no matter how disturbing recent events have been. Swallows are useful indicators of the health and long-term viability of the planet we live on, being good monitors of pollution. The future of swallows is inextricably linked with our own. Swallows mattered before the events of the weekend, they matter today and they’ll matter even more tomorrow.

And then there’s the matter of consolation. Nature, the wild world, the non-human world, greenness, birdsong, running water, wildness and wilderness and weeds under swallow-filled skies: these things make life better, not just for bird-spotters but for everyone. They’re part of good times. But just as important — perhaps even more important – nature can also make life less bad.

Nature helps us to endure the terrible things in life just a little more easily. Nature makes life better on our good days; nature stops life being worse on our bad days.

Nature is not a pat solution to horror, grief, loss, terror and hopelessness. But we need nature to make us happy, we need nature to keep us safe and we need nature to console us. We need nature because life is wonderful and we need nature because life is terrible.

We need nature.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”

There are quotes – like “Let them eat cake” and an awful lot of things supposedly said by Mark Twain – which are indestructibly associated with the wrong person, or the completely wrong context. This post on the the blog Engage the Fox is an interesting reflection on some reasons why quotes are misattributed. However, the post is focused on why wise or witty sayings are misattributed to celebrities, or better known figures in general (something like this happened with the Mary Schmich column that became the Baz Luhrmann Sunscreen Song which was falsely reported to be a speech by Kurt Vonnegut)

There is another species of misattributed quote – the one that, rather than reflecting the supposed wisdom of the person falsely cited, makes them look foolish or hopelessly out of touch.  And one specific subspecies is the False Prediction – the boldly confident claim that, with the benefit of hindsight, looks totally absurd.

Seven supposed predictions from the world of technology are collected here in a PC World article. My confidence in this article, as will become clear, is pretty low. However it is a useful example of the kind of “prediction” that gets mocked in later years. We allow ourselves a little rather self-congratulatory chuckle at the fools of the past with their nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners and failure to see why anyone would want to own a home computer. Of course, our turn will come.

The very first “Foolish Tech Prediction” highlighted in the PC world article is this:

 

Foolish Tech Prediction 1

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

At the dawn of the computer industry, nobody really knew where this new technology would take us. But the explosion of desktop computing that put a PC in nearly every American home within 50 years seems to have eluded the imagination of most mid-century futurists.
After all, when IBM’s Thomas Watson said “computer,” he meant “vacuum-tube-powered adding machine that’s as big as a house.” It’s fair to say that few people ever wanted one of those, regardless of the size of their desk.

(IBM did stay in the business, of course.)

This, of course, does acknowledge that predicting that devices as big as house would ever have a popular appeal would not have seemed reasonable when Watson made his statement.

Except, Watson said no such thing. From Wikipedia:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” is often attributed to Thomas Watson; Senior in 1943 and Junior at several dates in the 1950s. This misquote is from the 1953 IBM annual stockholders’ meeting. Thomas Watson, Jr. was describing the market acceptance of the IBM 701 computer. Before production began, Watson visited with 20 companies that were potential customers. This is what he said at the stockholders’ meeting, “as a result of our trip, on which we expected to get orders for five machines, we came home with orders for 18.”[7]

Aviation Week for 11 May 1953 says the 701 rental charge was about $12,000 a month; American Aviation 9 Nov 1953 says “$15,000 a month per 40-hour shift. A second 40-hour shift ups the rental to $20,000 a month.”

So there you go – something quite different and in context entirely reasonable thing was conflated with various other speculative comments by others (there is more on the Wikipedia page on Thomas Watson) One wonders how many of the rest of PC World’s “foolish tech predictions” were quite so foolish after all

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hore Abbey, Cashel

Hore Abbey, Cashel


Hore Abbey is literally overshadowed by theRock of Cashel. It is well worth taking the path down from the Rock to the considerably less touristed Abbey. There is a relative lack of interpretative material, to say the least, except for this interesting information, especially on what I suspect was a rather convenient dream:

 

The abbey is reached by paths via a field which was populated by cows (and cowpats) aplenty. One doubts a Royal Visit is imminent.
From above on the Rock it appears a somewhat slight structure, an impression quickly corrected closer to. An air of monumentality remains, all the more accentuated for the relative abandonment.