A belated Ave Atque Vale to Mary Mulvihill

Sometimes one suddenly discovers a death one missed some years ago. I love Mary Mulvihill’s Ingenious Ireland. It is currently Out of Print, which perhaps tells its own story, but I discovered from the Ingenious Ireland site that, very sadly, Mary Mulvihill died in 2015:

It is with great regret and sadness that we inform you of the recent death of our Ingenious founder Mary Mulvihill, on 11th June 2015, following a short illness. Ave atque vale.

Years ago I went to a meeting which had something to do with the Science Gallery – I do not recall the focus but I do recall Mary’s presence. She was evidently a sharp and shrewd intellect and brought a welcome rigour to what was quite an aspirational meeting.

It is nearly three years later, so it seems very delayed, but ave atque vale.


Textspeak in the 18th Century – the case of Pot-8-Os

Once, Prince’s use of “U” for “you” and “2” for “to” (or “too” or “two”) was seen as an example of his supposed eccentricity. Now, of course, it is all too commonplace.

What Prince was up to could be called “sensational spelling” though now it is not so sensational (and that sounds a little naff) with the rise of text speak. Naturally, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9481.00127/abstract.

One amusing 18th century example of this is Pot-8-Os. Here he is:


And here is his Wikipedia bio, which reveals him to have been an equine member of the 27 club. Here is one origin story for his name:

The origin of his name has several different versions. According to one, Abingdon intended to call the young colt “Potato” and instructed the stable boy to write the name on a feed bin. The stable boy facetiously spelled the name as “Potoooooooo” (Pot followed by 8 “o”s), which so amused Abingdon that he adopted the spelling


Ireland’s science Nobel Prize winners and Faith

Ireland has only two Nobel Laureates in Science – Ernest Walton and William C Campbell. I am working on a longer post on my perception that there was much more coverage of Walton than Campbell in the Irish media. That is leading me down various interesting byways on Irish science journalism and (as I will post shortly) a rather sad discovery.

For the moment back to Ireland’s science Nobel winners. Both are linked by Trinity College Dublin, and – in different ways – religious faith.

From the Wikipedia bio of Walton:

Raised as a Methodist, Walton has been described as someone who was strongly committed to the Christian faith.[7] He even gave lectures about the relationship of science and religion in several countries after he won the Nobel Prize,[8] and he encouraged the progress of science as a way to know more about God:

“One way to learn the mind of the Creator is to study His creation. We must pay God the compliment of studying His work of art and this should apply to all realms of human thought. A refusal to use our intelligence honestly is an act of contempt for Him who gave us that intelligence”

— V. J. McBrierty (2003): Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, The Irish Scientist, 1903-1995, Trinity College Dublin Press.)[9]

from an Irish Times interview with Campbell:

“I believe in God. I pray every single night of my life, but I have a very complicated sense of religion, and I am pretty fuzzy in that segment of my life.

“My faith, and that of millions of others, has evolved, if that is the right word, as civilisation has evolved. Evolved but not been abandoned. Religion and science can coexist. At least, that had better be true. There are certain intangibles.

“I know about these militant atheists, and I think they make very good arguments, but there is a certain level at which argumentation doesn’t come into it. Believing in something that you know exists isn’t a matter of faith; it doesn’t require faith.

“Gabriel Rossetti, the English poet, felt sorry for atheists because they didn’t have anybody to feel grateful to. That always stuck with me, because we have so much to be grateful for. I believe, and I believe in prayer.

One shouldn’t make too much of this, perhaps, but it is interesting. On the sister

Bird feeding and tracking notes, March 2018

Bird feeding and tracking notes, March 2018

Been a while since I <a href="https://seamhow much a local cat frequents our gardenussweeney.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/bird-feeding-notes-mid-july/”>I published bird-feeding notes. I was perhaps chastened by my unintended killing of greenfinches and felt there was a hubristic tone to the notes…

I have returned to bird feeding in recent months, taking care to rotate the location of feeders and to wash them out – properly – regularly. I have also paced myself in terms of feeding. A little and often is better than a lot irregularly. I have had chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches (not as many as last year, I think), collared doves, blackbirds, a mistle thrush, starlings, robins, great tits, jackdaws and rooks. No sign of magpies, although further afield I have noticed a couple more locally.

Every year I intend to take part in the Garden Bird Survey and every year something comes up around the start of December which leads to missing the beginning, and then feeling it is too late to catch up.

The recent snowy weather led me to put out a little more food and a steady stream of visitors ensued. One of the other features of the snowy garden is the ability to track birds – and other creatures – by their footprints. It confirmed to me how much the garden is frequented by a local cat.

The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

A while back I posted my own effort at labyrinth building. Small sections of mini fencing (I am sure there is a more technical term) seemed ideal for the amateur, low budget labyrinth builder.

Not all the sections of mini fence survived various ravages of children’s play, so my labyrinth is depleted in scale. As those of you in Western Europe may have noticed, there’s been a bit of snow lately. This photo is from the thaw and the pristine whiteness is ruined by my mushy footprints and by some seeds out for the birds … but you get the idea:

“Biography is a thoroughly reprehensible genre”

Only a few days after I made a rather grumpy comment on the quality of the Spectator now, comes this piece by Roger Lewis on the dodginess of biography.

Lewis captures an awful lot of things I dislike about biographies – the all-too-easy judgments, the reductionist explanations, the pseudo God’s-eye-view, the air of the laziest aspects of “quality” journalism being dominant. The Spectator has a limit of free articles per week so here are some highlights:

Indeed, it is a reprehensible and misguided genre. Privacy is violated, creative achievements are explained away, and great men and women are unmasked as sneaky, predatory, cruel and ordinary. Humphrey Carpenter wrote all his biographies — of Auden, Britten and Ezra Pound — in this way.

The exhaustive and exhausting biographies of Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin and Anthony Powell nearly killed those authors stone dead for me, as each and every girlfriend and sexual conquest was connected to an incident in a novel or a line in a poem. Ever since learning that V.S. Naipaul was a bully I’ve not ventured near his books.

More than the deluge of personal detail, however, the chief problem with biography is that the fundamental precepts are wrong, the principles too rigid. For the idea always seems to be that by gathering and establishing facts, cataloguing testimonies and anecdotes, each life can be made a perfect whole — that the objective biographer will see to it that there has been a plan or pattern, and dignity is conferred.

This is a futile quest, but one biographers insist on anyway:

Few biographers have had the ability or wit to perceive and describe the Cubist jaggedness of a life. Accident, chance, reversals of fortune, betrayals, sudden eruptions, dreams and areas of darkness; the shifting layers of identity, the friction between public and private selves (which character will a person choose to play?): little of this rough texture is ever evoked. Biographers conduct the background research, but few write it up with any verve.

Another insight of Lewis’ is the sheer futility of much biographical labour. An awful lot of the seemingly important figures of today will be in intellectual oblivion in due course:


tlas himself once laboured at a book about Delmore Schwartz, who’d inspired Bellow’s character Von Humboldt Fleisher. ‘No one outside the literary world had ever heard of him,’ says Atlas ruefully, save Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground, who paid for the upkeep of Schwartz’s grave, having once been his pupil at Syracuse.

When Atlas says, ‘I learned that biography is about death,’ he doesn’t only mean that Schwartz died of drink in 1966, aged only 52, or that Bellow croaked in 2005, aged nearly 90. He means that the world his subjects inhabited has vanished. The figures Atlas interviewed, the ‘fierce, irascible, antagonistic’ intellectuals of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s — Philip Rahv, Alfred Kazin, Maurice Zolotov, Dwight Macdonald, R.P. Blackmur, Glenway Wescott — the self-important and humourless fellows who once adorned fuggy Greenwich Village parties, whose book reviews mattered so much and who were in charge of dispensing grants and prizes, have quite entered oblivion, leaving not even footnotes behind

Of that catalogue of “fierce, irascible, antagonistic” intellectuals, I have definitely heard of Dwight Macdonald (not that I could tell you much about him), I have dimly heard of Philip Rahv (I could tell you nothing of him apart from the name), and the others are blanks for me. But what wonderful mid-twentieth century names – Glenway Wescott! R P Blakmur! Maurice Zolotov!