The surprising complications of tide-watching

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Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ “Tide: The Science and Lore of the Greatest Force on Earth” has a title that sounds hyperbolic, but is endearing in its combination of a certain rhetorical restraint (noted by the Guardian reviewer linked to above), simple awe and a willingness to get into quotidian detail. I went into the book thinking that the tide basically boiled down to the influence of the moon – there is a lot more to it than that.

Early on, Aldersey-Williams decides he needs to observe an entire tidal cycle. This sounds something very straightforward – just sitting by the sea for a day! – but not so:

It is an odd idea, I admit, simply to sit and watch the water for twelve or thirteen unbroken hours. You might find similes coming to mind to do with watching paint dry or grass grow. But I will shut these unhelpful analogies out of my mind. I do not know what I might see, but I will at least try to note down anything I do. I do not know what I might see, and that will be the best of it. The first requirement was to select a site where I could do this. Every part of the British coast is subject to substantial tidal movement. I live in Norfolk, a county that bulges obscenely out into the North Sea (in old satirical cartoons that depict Britain as a person, Norfolk is always the rump). The coast is correspondingly distended, and so I was spoiled for choice. I considered Blakeney Quay. I’d seen the tide running in there so fast round the bend in the river – I reckoned its speed as about three metres per second, based on counting as pieces of seaweed hurried by – that it sent thick wooden mooring posts into frenzied vibrations. But the place was too overrun with tourists, and I could see that I would be constantly interrupted by curious busybodies. Instead, I selected a site a mile or two away where I knew I would be undisturbed

Aldersey-Williams has even more criteria:

The scene would be nothing like the domesticated sublime of the beach at Lyme Regis that Jane Austen describes in Persuasion, ‘where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the tide’. My prospect would be more like that in George Crabbe’s epic poem of East Anglian life, The Borough. I would ‘view the lazy tide / In its hot slimy channel slowly glide’. I would make myself into what Charles Dickens in Our Mutual Friend called one of ‘those amphibious human-creatures who appear to have some mysterious power of extracting a subsistence out of tidal water by looking at it’. Reading passages such as these, I saw that writers use the tide as a kind of hypnotist’s watch. It is something to induce a state of reverie or, more dangerously, a trance. I would have to be careful not to fall into daydreaming if I was going to make more incisive observations of the unceasing rise and fall of the seas. Next, I had to choose a suitable time of year and time of day to make my study. The tides are in constant action, washing the world’s shores, but they vary according to astronomical factors that are subject in turn to their own complex temporal rhythms. I did not want to freeze or fry out on the marshes, but more important than that, I would need my thirteen hours to fall during daylight in order to make my observations. Wherever you are, a full tidal cycle, from high water back to high water (or low to low), takes nearly this length of time. This constraint limited me to the months from March to September when the days were long enough. I also wanted to observe a fairly typical tide, not a huge one that would flush me out of my vantage point when high water approached, nor one so meagre that I would miss the things I should normally expect to see

….

Any thirteen-hour time slot guaranteed that I would see one high water, one low
water, one full flood tide and one ebb. But where in the cycle did I want to start my work? This was more a matter of aesthetic preference and narrative design. To begin with the tide in full spate, either flooding or ebbing, seemed to me melodramatic. An obscure logic told me that low water would be a natural beginning: a bath or a bucket starts empty, after all, and its story is to be filled. This version would give the greatest sense of a flooding. I could watch the flood tide fill the creeks, but I would then have to see them empty again as the cycle came around, and something about this displeased me. Or, I could start at high water. But this was not right either: even though I would then end on a high, it seemed wrong to begin by witnessing the departure of the substance of my tale. I feared that the immediate ebb might be the end of my own story. In the event, I found my choice still more restricted. The tide table showed few days when the tidal range would be sufficient for my needs, the day long enough, the weather likely to be bearable, and the place quiet enough – a weekday during school term rather than a weekend – that I would not be disturbed. In the end, I chose a day when the sun would be rising just as the ebb was gathering pace. I would begin my observations about an hour after high water. The mood should be one of calm and expectation. My morning would see the tide recede and the muddy shore revealed. High water would come late in the day, and provide a well-timed climax. By starting an hour or so after high water, I would then stay on through the subsequent high water long enough to see the ebb begin again. This, I felt, would show more truthfully that the tidal cycle does not in any way peak or culminate at high water, as we might be tempted to think, but that it goes on in an eternal cycle in which no momentary state has any more claim to special status than another

Aldersey-Williams prepares himself for longeurs:

Though I intended to be diligent in my observations, I imagined there might be long stretches when little was happening, and so I armed myself also with a copy of The Oxford Book of the Sea. It held excerpts of many works I would need to familiarize myself with, from Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us to Matthew Arnold’s allegorical poem ‘Dover Beach’. These poems and prose pieces would remind me of the main to which my insignificant creek, thanks to the tide, was eternally connected and intermingled.

I don’t want to spoil the account of his actual tide watch, which is well worth reading, but can reveal he does find not much time for reading:

I had thought that there would be longueurs in my day. But it is clear now that I will be kept very busy. I find it necessary to carefully plan my activity between each hourly tide reading, because I know I’ll only have the chance to do certain things – like delving in the mud for worms, or observing how the wind whips up waves – at certain states of the tide. Suddenly, my schedule starts to look like a school timetable. I have the whole curriculum covered: plotting water level graphs (mathematics); observing mud life and marsh plants (biology); recording water flow (physics); canoeing (PE); contemplating the cosmic order of things (religious studies?). I will be so busy for the day that English will have to be cancelled; The Oxford Book of the Sea lies unregarded, its pages turning crisp in the dry breeze.

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“The whirligig of time” : A note on Fr Pat Noise

“The whirligig of time” : A note on Fr Pat Noise

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Seeing that this documentary is to be broadcast next Saturday I thought it an apt time, though any time would be an apt time, to post about my own research into the obscure career of Fr Pat Noise…

Some years ago, when lecturing in UCD, I was working on a presentation on conditions in some ways connected with the passage of time. The best known being deja vu, the perception when in a new place or situation that one has been here before, or the same thing has happened before. Of course, there is a whole psychological science of time.

In those days I had the chance to read more deeply and broadly for this kind of thing than since. I used what was then the UCD School of Medicine in Earlsfort Terrace. It was the last few months of it being part of UCD. The librarians were working on transferring stock of the main UCD Library and many older and more obscure volumes were out and about on various trestle tables. Among these was one which I had dimly heard of but had also come up in some of my reading, Vico’s The New Science. Vico believed that history went in a curve or spiral, and that events recurred.

In the middle of the book, presumably used as a book mark at some stage, I found a faded, worn prayer card. I could barely make out the text on it except for a request to say an Our Father and a Hail Mary for the soul of Fr Pat Noise, and below this the following words:

Do you want to see what human eyes have never seen?
Look at the moon
Do you want to hear what ears have never heard?
Listen to the birds cry
Do you want to touch what hands have never touched?
Touch the earth
Truly I say that God is about to create the world.

This struck me as somewhat unusual content for a prayer card. Again, having more time than now, I was able to follow up with some research on Fr Noise in the Dublin Diocescan archives in All Hallows. I think I had a vague idea about writing some kind of paper. I am not a historian and was seeking not truth nor likelihood but astonishment. So I found out somewhat more about Fr Pat Noise.

Noise, like Fergus Kilpatrick and Dungarvan native John Vincent Moon is a figure who has somehow been forgotten, by and large, in the so called Decade of Centenaries. Unfortunately, at the time , I made my notes in a file on a laptop which is long defunct.

In the archives what we read about Fr Noise is entirely through the words of others, him being a curate in Berkeley Road who dressed in an extremely flamboyant manner, who was unambigious in his support of the workers in the 1913 Lockout, and also as proposing theological views not entirely Orthodox. However one letter describes him as travelling to the furthest reaches of orthodoxy, but not going over the precipice.

This was contained in another letter from a priest that was otherwise quite hostile to Fr. Noise. According to this priest, Fr Noise stated that there are no two moments alike and every moment is a new moment and that history is in a cycle and life is in a cycle because every moment is new again. The poem that was on the prayer card was reproduced in this letter; apparently Fr Noise read it at a ceremony. It is unrecorded what the congregation in Berkeley Road made of this.

Fr Noise’s sympathy for the 1913 Lockout and for the poor of Dublin seems to have, in a similar way, gone right to but not past the limit of what the Church hierarchy could tolerate. There are hints in another letter, by an anonymous outraged parishioner, of accusations of Socialism and Communism, but in this area Fr Noise crafted his sermons in the words of Christ Himself, and remained at the dangerous edge of orthodoxy.

The link with Peadar Clancy came through being one of the genuine customers of Republican Outfitters. This was a well known meeting place for the IRA in Dublin. Dan Breen said that really if you were an IRA man you shouldn’t stay there too long. In the letters about Noise it is mentioned that he wore quite elaborate capes and top hats which were sourced from Republican Outfitters.

He also apparently translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar into Irish, but there is no trace I could find of this. There is also a clipped article by Fr Noise, but from an unidentifiable periodical, on Festspiele – festivals in Switzerland in which thousands of people , possible the whole population of a town or area will renact historical events in the place where they happened. In this piece he suggests that this is something that Ireland and Dublin should emulate and and there were all these hints that the 1916 Rising was a reenactment of a previous event that had happened before in history.

Fr Noise pops up in letters beween Peadar Clancy and Sean Treacy and also seems to have been an intermediary for Clancy. Surprisingly these activities do not make it into the accusations of his various foes, and in the letters what Clancy describes are purely philosophical and theological discussions.

Fr Noise is now commemorated with a plaque on O’Connell Street, but otherwise his life is nearly totally forgotten by both the worlds of the Church and of Official Ireland. Perhaps in the narrative of commemorations and the rather self-congratulatory rhetoric about How Far We Have Come, a priest with cosmopolitan intellectual influences does not fit neatly into our perceptions of a cleric or a revolutionary. His plaque is, by coincidence, on the spot on O’Connell Bridge beside which the Millenium Clock, a digital clock inserted into the Liffey in 1994 but which was beset by all sort of problems, including time running backwards.

“For my sins”

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In Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor expertly sketches the lives of the elderly long-term residents of the Claremont Hotel, a somwhat shabby-genteel premises on the Cromwell Road which acts as a (bare) alternative to the nursing home.

Mrs Palfrey, widow of a colonial administrator, takes up residence in the Claremont. Unvisited by her grandson Desmond “who works in the British Musuem”, and ignored by her daughter in Scotland, Mrs Palfrey ends up engaging in one of the first deceptions of her life – pretending that Ludo, a writer who she meets through a fall on the street, is her grandson.

Ludo himself lives a hand-to-mouth existence, “working at Harrod’s” – meaning he writes his novels in a café there – and making occasional resentful visits to his narcissistic mother and her new lover, “the Major.”

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Anyway, all this is as prelude to this wonderful passage with its play on the trite phrase “for my sins.” A final background – here we meet Lady Swayne, who uses the Claremont yearly as a base for a London fortnight, and condescends spectacularly to all present:

At that moment, out of the life stepped brocaded Lady Swayne. Mrs Palfrey, who had sometimes in her life been majestic, but never graceful, thrust out the violets as Lady Swayne paused beside her.

‘A breath of spring,’ she said. She seemed un-coordinated, Ludo thought, like a robot that gone wrong. Lady Swayne took full advantage of this state of mind, with a flowing, gracious gesture. ‘Exquisite,’ she breathed, in the softest of tones. ‘Alas though! They never last.”

‘My grandson,’ Mrs Palfrey continued wildly, nodding towards Ludo.

‘Ah, I’ve heard of you, heard of you.’

‘Desmond,’ Mrs Palfrey added firmly. ‘Lady Swayne.’

‘You are at the B.M., I believe’, said Lady Swayne.

Mrs Palfrey was alarmed, but Ludo’s pause was brief. ‘For my sins,’ he said, smiling. He had often thought of using this meaningless phrase, which was one of the Major’s favourites.

‘Do you know Carr Templeton?’

Mrs Palfrey was now mesmerised like a startled hare. ‘Only vaguely,’ said Ludo. He had quickly summed up Lady Swayne, and decided that Carr Templeton must be grand, or would not have been mentioned by her. ‘I am hardly on that plane as yet,’ he said, and almost added ‘for my sins’ again, but took a grip of himself. He might have extricated himself by talking of being in different departments, if he had known what Carr Templeton’s department was. He was not even sure of his own, and felt that the British Museum background should be gone into in greater detail.

‘You are young,’ Lady Swayne was saying graciously. ‘Your time will come.’

‘My Grandmamma is going to give me a glass of sherry.’ (‘For my sins’ would have gone beautifully with that, too.) He moved a little, and took Mrs Palfrey’s elbow.

‘That will be nice,’ said Lady Swayne. ‘ Your grandmother has such peaceful, quiet evenings that you will make a little change for her. Unlike poor little me.’ (She was at least give foot ten, and with shoulders like a bison’s.) ‘I am whirled round London in a way more fitting to a deb than an old, old lady. Yes, a taxi, please, Summers. This evening … ‘ – she sighed – ‘I’m off to the Savoy,’ and then, to Ludo’s immense delight, she added, ‘for my sins.’ It is infectious, he decided.

#Inktober 2017 – the art of Mark Chilcott

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One of the joys of Inktober , as I was just posting, is finding new artists whose work resonates, or charms, or moves, or whatever. So here is another, Mark Chilcott

From his personal website, Chilcott’s usual work is a little different from his Inktober pieces, which saw inked figures interact with The Real World, including the means of their own production:

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Like many Inktoberers (including myself), the prompts “Climb” and “Fall” were combined into one handy package:

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Chilcott’s responses to the official prompts were among the wittiest and most creative I saw:

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Annals of not-very-deceptive front business names: “Republican Outfitters”

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“Republican Outfitters” was a draper’s on Talbot Street, founded by Clare-born Peadar Clancy From the Wikipedia article on Clancy:

After his release, Peadar Clancy started a drapery business of his own, called The Republican Outfitters, which was located at 94 Talbot Street.[8] According to Dan Breen, it was one of the best-known meeting places in Dublin for the IRA, and was so closely watched that it was never advisable to remain there for long.[9] By 1917, it was advertising as The Republican Outfitters: Clancy, Brennan and Walsh.[10] Clancy’s initial partners in the business were Maurice Brennan, Thomas Walsh (who, like Clancy, had been in the Four Courts garrison at Easter 1916, had been sentenced to death, but was later reprieved) and other comrades.[11] By 1920, the initial partnership had been dissolved, Brennan and Walsh had gone out on their own at 5 Upper O’Connell Street (which was also used as a base by the Volunteers, with Walsh acting as intelligence officer of the 1st Battalion)[12] and Tom Hunter had become part proprietor of the Talbot Street business with Clancy.[13]

One wonders how many customers idly went into Republican Outfitters for a new suit.

Here we have a remarkable photograph that viscerally reminds us of the fundamental nature of war and conflict – Lt Gilbert Arthur Price seconds before his death in a gun battle at Republican Outfitters:

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Or is it? It turns out that remarkable photographs, even then, often were remarkable for other reasons.

Here is some footage from “Irish Destiny“, the 1926 silent film from which the above photo is actually taken:

“I have only once encountered pure evil in a person”: Auden on Yeats

Auden’s “In Memory of W B Yeats” is a great tribute poem, especially the closing lines:

Follow, poet, follow right

To the bottom of the night,

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse

Make a vineyard of the curse,

Sing of human unsuccess

In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start,

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.

Reading the poem, one may or may not be surprised to read of Auden’s ambivalence about Yeats, in this fascinating talk by Mike Douse to the Yeats Society in Sligo:

I sum up the complex and often contradictory nature of Auden’s perception of Yeats in the term, ‘vehement ambiguity’. This is an extreme example of a love/hate relationship, a more intense variety of the equivocal and fluctuating interactions that often exist between artists. WH’s feelings towards WB were complex, confusing, and contradictory. The elegy, which we shall shortly focus upon, contrasts sharply with many of WH’s expressed opinions of WB, such as: “Yeats spent the first part of his life as a minor poet, and the second part writing major poems about what it had been like to be a minor poet”; or his considered view that the version of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse edited by Yeats was “the most deplorable volume ever issued”; or, even more pointedly, “I have only once encountered pure evil in a person, and that was when I met Yeats”.

And yet Auden praised Yeats as the saviour of English lyric poetry and noted in a 1948 essay entitled ‘Yeats as an Example’ that he “… accepted the modern necessity of having to make a lonely and deliberate choice of the principles and presuppositions in terms of which [he made] sense of his experience.” Auden assigned Yeats the high praise of having written “some of the most beautiful poetry” of modern times. In that article he credited Yeats with transforming the occasional poem in English from an official performance of impersonal virtuosity, such as Tennyson’s “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington,” into a serious reflective poem having at once personal and public interest; and he identified Yeats’s elegy for Robert Gregory as “something new and important in the history of English poetry…”.

But as the thirties wore on, Auden’s admiration for Yeats as poet was tempered by his dislike for his perception of Yeats’s fondness for the trappings of aristocracy and his flirtation with O’Duffy’s Blueshirts. In the second half of his life Auden developed an almost obsessive fear of the danger of Yeats’s kind of outlook, and much of the story of Auden’s development as a poet after 1940 is also the story of his struggle to exorcise the persistent spirit of Yeats: his hardening of the conviction that the greatest threats to individual freedom in the modern world were a direct legacy of the Romantic outlook upon which Yeats prided himself.

The cawing of the crow resounds among the woods | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for October 12th, 1841

On this day one hundred and seventy six years ago, this is what Nathanial Hawthorne wrote in his diary….

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October 12th.–The cawing of the crow resounds among the woods. A sentinel is aware of your approach a great way off, and gives the alarm to his comrades loudly and eagerly,–Caw, caw, caw! Immediately the whole conclave replies, and you behold them rising above the trees, flapping darkly, and winging their way to deeper solitudes. Sometimes, however, they remain till you come near enough to discern their sable gravity of aspect, each occupying a separate bough, or perhaps the blasted tip-top of a pine. As you approach, one after another, with loud cawing, flaps his wings and throws himself upon the air.

There is hardly a more striking feature in the landscape nowadays than the red patches of blueberry and whortleberry bushes, as seen on a sloping hill-side, like islands among the grass, with trees growing in them; or crowning the summit of a bare, brown hill with their…

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