Thank you Ma’am

Last year Queen Elizabeth II came to Ireland for the first time in her life.  She had previously not visited for political reasons.  On her travels she kindly paid a visit to our home town here in Cashel.  There are those who say her visit to Coolmore stud was the real reason for the entire trip, but we don’t believe that now do we!

My son is compiling a Blog on wordpress of his charity drive and hopefully his trip to Calcutta on the following blog

I suggested he write to Queen Elizabeth and ask for a photo from her visit to bring to the children in Calcutta, as they might know who the Queen is.  She kindly responded and you can see her lovely letter and photos on my sons blog site.

In dedication to her kindness I proffer a sonnett written in the reign of the other Queen Elizabeth.

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!
And yet this time removed was summer’s time;
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seemed to me
But hope of orphans, and unfathered fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute:
Or, if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer,
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.

Sonnett XCVIIby Billy the Bard (Will Shakespeare)

Lost Spain


I remember driving across northern Spain in 1977.  Six of us crammed into the new Renault 12 Estate.  Four of us teenagers in the back seat, fighting like cats and dogs.  Listening to Cat Stephens “Tea for the Tillerman” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Waters” on my oldest sister’s tape recorder.  Dad driving for hours on end in the dead heat of an Iberian summer.  My mother in the front interspersing a running commentary from Fodors Guidebook to Spain with selections from her Speech and Drama Syallabus.  In particular I remember Miranda.  Ah Miranda, that sultry girl of the high Pyrenees, and your primitive sexual dance.   Miranda always reminds me of that Spain.  The old Spain.  A country only newly out of the grip of fascist dictatorship, just beginning tentatively to find its feet in a new Europe.  The old Spain, a place of high morals, dark clothes and churches dominated by portly, big busomed widows bedecked in black dresses and veils.

Tarentella: by Hilaire Belloc

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in–
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar;
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground,
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far waterfall like doom.

Nov Ice

No, I am not a beginner who has inadvertently inserted a space and a random capitalisation into the word Novice.  Rather it is November and this morning we Irish encountered the first widespread icy roads of the winter.  And as per usual the traffic fell apart.  Ireland is not equipped for ice and snow.

Remarkable when you realise that we share the 53rd parallel with places such as Alaska, Labrador, Kamchatka and Lake Baikal in Siberia.  But we are brushed by the gulf stream, bathed by sultry Mexican waters and caressed by balmy Caribbean zephyrs all winter long.  So we see little ice and less snow, and winter in Ireland is actually very mild and rather pleasant.  So pleasant, in fact, that we were forced to manufacture human induced misery just so we could suffer properly in the winter.

Christmas is just no fun if you don’t come to it through weeks of torture and misery.  In continental Europe they have heavy snow and ice, biting cold, snow shovelling, wind chill, cracked pipes and blocked roads.  Here in Ireland we have Advent.  It starts on Sunday.  Get miserable or die trying.  Here comes Lent….the sequel.


We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.                          Patrick Kavanagh

Counting Kids

Blogging on the coach from Cashel to Dublin for the Ireland vs Argentina rugby match.  46 kids, 7 parents and a driver. Talk about pressure of noise!  Terrible wi-fi. This is too slow. Edit later.

OK, shepherding 46 children through match day crowds is a nightmare of responsibility.  I won’t go into detail, but if you ever find yourself doing it, count them, move them, count them, move them.  Count them off the bus.  Count them outside the stadium, then again inside.  Then again after they use the bathrooms.

The good news is we didn’t lose any along the way.  The better news is that Ireland played a stormer and hammered Argentina.  It was over as a match by half time.  24 – 9 at half time, and finished at 46 -24.

When you travel with lots of kids I have one really good piece of advice.  Tell parents that fizzy drinks are banned.  Ask them to give their child water to drink.  Frisk the kids, search their bags as they get on the bus and confiscate the cola.  That way you can eliminate about half of the bathroom breaks.  As a parent escorting kids, bathroom breaks are the ultimate nightmare.  It is simply impossible to corral them effectively.

The funny thing is how oblivious kids are to all the dangers around them.


To a child dancing in the wind.

Dance there upon the shore;

What need have you to care

For wind or water’s roar?

And tumble out your hair

That the salt drops have wet;

Being young you have not known

The fool’s triumph, nor yet

Love lost as soon as won,

Nor the best labourer dead

And all the sheaves to bind.

What need have you to dread

The monstrous crying of wind?   ……..WB Yeats

Northern Lights

A 65% forecast that we can see the northern lights tonight in Ireland,  better chance up north of course, but let’s have a gander tonight.  The skies are clear tonight.  That also means it’s going to be cold.  Freezing in fact.  Reminds my of my travels in the Yukon…

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.                                      Robert W. Service

100 to 1 death toll in Gaza

Israel is a small country.  If you have a big canon you can basically straddle the entire country with a shell.  Israelis know a lot about being fired upon.  They have been fired upon from the North by Hezbollah in Lebanon, and before they took the Golan Plateu they were regularly fired upon from the heights by Syrian forces.  They have been fired upon from Transjordan before they occupied the West Bank, they have in the past been fired upon from Egypt and are now fired upon from Gaza.  Regularly.  In fact they are constantly fired upon by rockets from Gaza.  Listen up guys, this is not normal.  It is just not normal for people to fire rockets at their neighbours.

And yet the death toll of Palestinians to Israelis in the last invasion of Gaza was 100 to 1 according to some sources.  This statistic is given out by Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists as proof of the claim that Israelis are evil nazis oppressing the poor innocent Palestinians whose land they have stolen.

I present a different interpretation of the statistic.  Israel has a main battle tank (MBT) called the Merkava.  It is the only MBT I am aware of which has the engine in the front, in front of the driver.  This is a considered design feature.  When faced with a well armed enemy the tank will present its front to the enemy, and the personnel inside are protected better than in any other tank.  The metal mass of the engine block acts as another layer of protection.  The rear doors can be opened to admit troops, or to double as an ambulance.  What is the military philosophy that  led to such a design?  Simple.  Israel is small, Jews are few, Jewish commanders value the lives of their people above the value of a tank.  No small value.  The estimated price of an MBT is $6 million.

When Hamas or Al Aqsa fire a rocket at Israel they are aware that Israel is likely to respond, and to do so with dreadful force.  Israel will visit death on its foes to save the lives of its people.  Palestinians know this, and yet they knowingly site rocket launchers in built up areas, near schools and hospitals, in sites where a counter attack will cause the maximum possible damage to civilians.  So what is the philosophy behind this military strategy?

Palestinian lives are many, weapons and resources are scarce.  The most powerful weapon that Palestine possesses is propaganda.  Nothing does propaganda better than photographs of injured and dead children, innocent victims of an evil and powerful enemy.  Martyrs.  Palestine is about martyrs.  A dead Palestinian child is worth more to the cause than a live and happy one.

To me this explains why 100 Palestinians die for  every Israeli.  While Israel does everything it can to minimise its own casualties, the Palestinians are prolific with theirs.

Fate gave the word, the arrow sped,
And pierc’d my darling’s heart;
And with him all the joys are fled
Life can to me impart.
By cruel hands the sapling drops,
In dust dishonour’d laid:
So fell the pride of all my hopes,
My age’s future shade.

The mother-linnet in the brake
Bewails her ravish’d young;
So I, for my lost darling’s sake,
Lament the live-day long.
Death, oft I ‘ve fear’d thy fatal blow.
Now, fond, I bare my breast,
Oh, do thou kindly lay me low
With him I love, at rest!                          Robert Burns, A Mothers Lament.

What did America ever do for us?

Cranberries?  We should celebrate cranberries?  I think not.  And what is a blueberry only a commercialised bilberry.  We had them already in Ireland.

Then there is Maize, the runt of the grain family.  Maize was responsible for widespread pellagra due to niacin defficiency.  How did native americans ever figure out that soaking the grain in lye released niacin?  So Italians rave about polenta, big deal. You won’t find it in Ireland.

I will say that fresh maize is pretty good, no barbeque is complete without sweet corn on the cob.  And then I guess there is popcorn, which goes perfectly with that other American invention, the cinema.

The potato, that came from America.  And here in Ireland it was responsible for the death of a million and the emigration of 2 million Irish as a result of the potato famine.  OK, Irish cuisine basically doesn’t exist without the humble spud.  Boil them, crush them, mash them, cream them, roast them, sauté, fried, deep fried, dauphin, au gratin, croquette, duchesse, baked, deep fried skins, stuffed, layered, potato cake, potato bread, garfield, rosti, I could go on.

Then America gave us the turkey, which basically means that Americans invented Christmas.  We don’t do thanksgiving, but Christmas just isn’t Christmas without turkey, and cranberry sauce. OK, so there is a use for cranberries, once a year.

Tomatoes.  They come from America.  What would we have without them?  No ketchup, no puree, no passata, so there go half of all the pasta sauces.  And Pizza is not Pizza absent the tomato.  Provencale sauce, practically every other salad, burgers without tomato and ketchup?  Hot dogs?  OK, so we need tomatoes.

Then there is Chili, that came from america too.  Chili, not Chile, which is in America.  This insidious spice has effectively invaded every cuisine from Portugal to China.  Somehow it bypassed Ireland until the 1970’s, and there are still chili free areas in the deep rural areas of the country.

Chocolate, oh yeah, that’s American.  Chocolate bars, chocolate cakes, boxes of chocolate, chocolate pudding, hot chocolate, death by chocolate, mmmmmm.

So there are really some pretty cool things that we got from America.  Oh, and another is the handgun.  Invented in America by Elisha Collier in 1814 and developed by Samuel Colt in 1836 and onwards.  Today I read how a kid on a schoolbus in Florida produced a pistol and shot a 13 year old girl, Lourdes Guzman.  That is one thing from America that I don’t want in Ireland.  Handguns and kids don’t mix!



Portobello is one of only five districts in Dublin which end in the letter “o”.  The others are Rialto, Marino, Phibsboro and….come on genius, what is it?

So, how is a district of Dublin City named after a Silver town on the Spanish Main in modern day Panama?  Well, on this day back in 1739 the British attacked and captured Porto Bello in a celebrated victory.  It was a major engagement in the “War of Jenkins Ear” one of the more unusual war names in history.

Portobello road in London, and Portobello in Dublin were named for the battle.  Admiral Vernon, the victor of Porto Bello was celebrated with a new song, “Rule Brittania”.  More medals were awarded for the action by the British than for any other battle of the 18th Century.  A singular victory, and be honest now….isn’t this the first you heard of it?

It was  a battle that ruined the economy of the Spanish Main.  It signalled the end of the great Spanish Treasure convoys.

The follow up battle, the attack on Carthagena de Indias, was the largest amphibious assault until the Normandy landings 200 years later.  Small wonder as it was a total disaster.

And that other district of Dublin, Pimlico of course!

Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we’ve received orders for to sail for old England
And we may never see you fair ladies again’
We will rant and we’ll roar like true British sailors,
We’ll rant and we’ll roar all on the salt seas.
Until we strike soundings in the channel of old England;
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues.

Start a long journey with a short step.

Image result for sahara caravan

I think it was Amin Maalouf, in his novel “Leo Africanus” who gave me this nugget.  He described the departure of a Saharan caravan from Morocco right across Africa to Egypt and beyond.  He claimed that a long journey always began with a short step.  The Caravan would pack up, assemble everything, and set off down the road.  Then, having travelled only one or two miles they set up camp for the night.

This is a great idea for many reasons.  Firstly, getting people organised to set off on the first day is always a problem.  Some people sleep late.  Others forgot to pack the night before.  Two people were both planning  to pack their goods on the same donkey.  Stuff that Clausewitz describes as “friction”.  So instead of planning to leave at 6am on the first morning, plan to leave at 11am, and count yourselves lucky if you get away by lunchtime.

The second reason is even better.  Imagine the scene if you do depart at 6am, you travel all day, cover 15 or 20 miles.  Then you unpack your tent, and find you have forgotten the pegs.  You unpack your cooking gear and find you have no cooking pot.  Are you going to lose 2 days travelling back and forward to get these goods?  If you have taken a short step you can simply stroll back home and pick them up.  In his book Maalouf describes the first night of camping involving armies of children running backwards and forwards on errands to collect those bits and pieces that were forgotten.

The trans-saharan journeys we tend to take these days are large scale multi-disciplinary projects in the workplace.  They should also begin with a short step.  Assemble your team, and undertake a short, small, simple task.  This will immediately identify if you are missing key people, or if there is someone on your initial team who will just not fit in for the long haul.

Tim Severin, in “The Sinbad Voyage” described how they hired a ship’s cook in a hurry because they were short of time.  To check if he could cook they asked him to cook a quick lunch.  He threw together an insipid plate of curry with soggy rice.  They forgave him this meal, excusing that he was not using his own pots and ingredients.  For many subsequent weeks they were served up the same insipid curry and soggy rice!  If they had started with a short step they could have dumped him.

You will quickly identify problems with authority.  Are there two people who both believe they are the project lead?  Are there resources who cannot engage with the project because they cannot let go of “the day job”?  Are people on the project using it as a lever in political powergames in the organisation?  When you go looking for promised resources do you encounter resistance?  All really valuable learnings for someone about to embark on a three year project that may determine their career path.

Success builds upon success.  If your short and simple project step is a success then your team will gel and you can promise great things.  If it fails you have not bet the farm on a turkey.  You can regroup at low cost and rethink the big project.

So now when you hear people talking about baby steps, and learning to walk before you can run, you can tell them it comes from Saharan Caravan lore.

Then you go to Australia and find out that “Giant Strides” are really big trousers.

O land of ours where our childhood passed
like dreams in the shade of the orange-grove,
among the almond-trees in the valleys —
Remember us now wandering
among the thorns of the desert,
wandering in rocky mountains;
Remember us now
in the tumult of cities beyond deserts and seas;
Remember us
with our eyes full of dust
that never clears in our ceaseless wandering.

(Jabra Ibrahim Jabra 1974, 227)

Don’t look now.

Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, a dwarf in a red coat, Venice, slick directing, wierd old ladies, all the essential elements of a Saturday night.  A genuinely disturbing film that you can’t really classify as a horror.  The use of red always seems to be an evil portent.What a compelling film.