Where the grass is greener


The grass is always greener on the other side.  Far away hills are green.  Far away cattle have longer horns.  You can’t be a prophet in your own country.  Familiarity breeds contempt.

Our language is turgid with aphorisms, metaphors and maxims that cast warnings to those who would travel in search of a better life.  We are advised to look before we leap, for there is no place like home and home is where the hearth is.

And yet the impetus of wanderlust remains strong.  Country bumpkins dream of the bright lights of the big city, the big smoke replete with crowds, jobs, opportunities, noise, bustle, anonymity, rampant consumerism, flux and a frisson of danger, life in the fast lane.  City folk harken to a slower pace, an easier life, of simple pleasures, community, courtesy, living space, clean air and water, a green and pleasant land, a rural idyll, perhaps even a backwater.

City pad or an escape to the country?  What is your dream?  Do you want to be at the centre of a chic crowd of suave urbanites who work hard and party harder, or do you fancy a potter in the garden and making an apple tart with fruit from your own orchard?

Here is one of the great poems on this theme.  An Australian classic, about a drover who shares my name.  If you want to follow the fortunes of Clancy further you can find him in a poem entitled “Clancy’s Reply” and he also plays a starring role in another Paterson poem “The man from Snowy River”.

CLANCY OF THE OVERFLOW – A.B. “Banjo” Paterson


I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better

knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,

he was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,

just “on spec”, addressed as follows: “Clancy, of The Overflow”.


And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,

(and I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)

’twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:

“Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”


In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy

gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the western drovers go;

as the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,

for the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.


And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him

in the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,

and he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,

and at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.


I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy

ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,

and the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city

through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.


And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle

of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,

and the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,

comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.


And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me

as they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,

with their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,

for townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.


And I somehow fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,

like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,

while he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal –

but I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.

A prayer to the creator.

Monotheism has been knocking around for quite a long time.  Back around 1350 BC in Egypt Amenhotep IV (meaning Amun is Satisfied) departed from traditional religion and renamed himself Akhenaten (Living spirit of Aten).

The prayer below is clipped from the Great Hymn to Aten.  Reading it I am struck by how easily the name Aten can be substituted for Jaweh, Jehovah, God, Allah, Ahura Mazda or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Image,

 “The Great Hymn to [Insert Desired Deity Name]”

How manifold it is, what you have made!

Your workings hidden from the face of man.

O sole god, like whom there is no other!

You created the world according to your desire,

While you were alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts,

Whatever is on earth, going upon its feet,

And what is on high, flying with its wings.

The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,

You set every man in his place,

You supply their necessities:

Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.

Their tongues are separate in speech,

And their natures as well;

Their skins are distinguished,

As You distinguish the foreign peoples.

You make us a world in the afterlife,

You bring forth as You desire

To maintain Your people

According as You made them for Yourself,

The Lord of all of them, caring for them,

The Lord of every land, ruling them,

The [insert desired deity name] of the day, great of majesty.

Psychic Distance

Assorted 017

My brother Rory lives in Calgary, Alberta.  Last night he emailed photos of his flooded home and the surrounding streets.  It is nothing short of a disaster.  His home is ruined.  His belongings are destroyed, musical instruments, books, photographs, all personal and highly sentimental.

This morning I switched on Sky News to see the footage.  They are reporting that 75 thousand homes have been evacuated.  Four people may have died.  The news report dedicated about 5 minutes to the story.  That is no small allocation of time for a story in a foreign country.

But then Canadians speak English.  They are part of the British Commonwealth.  They are a predominantly anglo-saxon protestant society, and this is especially true of Western Canada and Alberta.  So the British and Irish audience of Sky News can readily empathise with the flooded Albertans.  We have little aesthetic or psychic distance from these people.  They are like us.

Also on the news report this morning is a one line spoken report of 550 deaths in Northern India due to the early arrival of the Monsoons.  Stop press!  they have updated it to two lines and added a shot of a mule being pulled to safety across a raging river.

Well, there is a lot of psychic distance between us and those folk in India.  They don’t speak our language.  They don’t look like us.  Let’s face it, we really don’t want to look at dead poor people.  Which is why the newsroom selected the mule footage.  We can empathise with a poor frightened innocent animal better than we can empathise with the 550 dead and their bereaved families.

Now it would be very easy to blame the person in the newsroom over in Sky and rant about how they devalue the lives of those Indian people.  But that would be missing the point.  Sky news broadcasts for ratings.  They know we want to see Calgary and that we do not want to see India.  They understand a lot about psychic distance.

The question is, what does it say about us as people?  We have concern for those we identify as “us” or “of us”.  When we identify people as “other” or “them” a different set of dynamics comes into play.  They are not us.  They do not behave, look, sound or smell like us.  In many cases this engenders suspicion and even fear.  We want to set up barriers between ourselves and those people who are not us.  We do not want to empathise with their deaths, because at a certain level the world will be a more secure place if there are not so many of those “other” people  in it.

By contrast, to those facing an exogamous impulse there is an attraction to the “other”.  In simple terms exogamy stimulates tribe members from mating within the tribe and broadens the gene pool of a race.  This is why gap year students are motivated to travel long distances from home and engage in courtship with strange people.  But even then gap year students tend to have their fling with other gap year students, or with other people from developed western nations.  Even when we are most open to those from “other” cultures we have limits on how far we will comfortably stray in terms of psychic distance.

I feel sorry for my brother and the loss of his personal effects.  But I am glad I am not an Indian living in London who has heard that my brother is dead and his home has washed down a river valley.  I am glad that my brother is alive and safe and that his greatest worry is that the insurance company won’t pay.  And Rory, if you read this, stop wading around in that water, you will contract giardiasis.  That water is full of Beaver crap!


The Listeners; by Walter de la Mare

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

From the Big Six

Here I sit again on the six o’clock train. It is five past six and I am praying that they shut the damn doors and get going. I call this the Train of the Lame, the Crippled and the Insane. I, sadly, fall into the latter category, but at least it is not out of choice.
Early this morning the Lame and the Crippled and the voluntarily Insane assembled in train stations in Cork and Limerick, Tralee and Mallow, in Limerick and Tipperary and elected to travel up to Dublin for the day. All of them agreed “let’s come home on the six o’clock train”.
Of course they are not commuters. They do not realise that I am condemned to this train if I am to get home at anything like a reasonable hour. They could take the 5pm train, or the 5.05, or there is one at 5.25. I cannot make any of those beautiful, half empty, spacious, comfortable trains, but they could. Or they could elect to get a bite of food in Dublin, relax for an hour and take the 7pm train. But do they? NO! They must all cram into the Big Six.
Why? Well if you put absolutely no thought into your decision, 6pm seems somehow right. If you have to visit a hospital in Dublin (Crippled) for elective treatment the appointments will get you out in time…..for the 6 o’clock train.
If you want to go shopping for the day you know you will be footsore (Lame) and tired out by 5pm. Then you will get on the Luas, or onto a bus, or into a taxi and get yourself down to the station in good time to relax, grab a coffee, and make….the 6 o’clock train.
If you are up in the city for the day on business a morning train that gets you to Dublin for a morning appointment requires a very unreasonable hour to get out of bed. So they arise at a reasonable hour, and arrange an afternoon meeting, and get away in time for……the 6 o’clock train.
Brides to be with their wedding dresses, teenagers with bags from Hollister, senior citizens clutching their free travel pass, revellers in party mood, small children on school tours, hospital patients on Zimmer frames, surfer dude replete with board, middle aged couples with holiday tans or legal papers and briefcase wielding fools like me, all crammed into the Big Six.
But I have a seat. I have a signal. I have a book. I have an apple. I was not late. I will be home. The train is clean, and relatively on time. I have a job, a wife, a home, three healthy happy children, a purpose for being on the Big Six.
If you are happy now you know it will not last. If you are sad then it too will pass. But if you are content and appreciate this sentiment, I wish you nothing more in life than further contentment.

The Weaker the Wine
“The weakest wine is better than warm water.
Rags are better than no clothes at all.
An ugly wife and a quarrelsome concubine
Are better than an empty house.”
The weaker the wine,
The easier it is to drink two cups.
The thinner the robe,
The easier it is to wear it double.
Ugliness and beauty are opposites,
But when you’re drunk, one is as good as the other.
Ugly wives and quarrelsome concubines,
The older they grow, the more they’re alike.
Live unknown if you would realize your end.
Follow the advice of your common sense.
Avoid the Imperial Audience
Chamber, the Eastern Flowery Hall.
The dust of the times and the wind of the Northern Pass.
One hundred years is a long time,
But at last it comes to an end.
Meanwhile it is no greater accomplishment
To be a rich corpse or a poor one.
Jewels of jade and pearl are put in the mouths
Of the illustrious dead
To conserve their bodies.
They do them no good, but after a thousand years,
They feed the robbers of their tombs.
As for literature, it is its own reward.
Fortunately fools pay little attention to it.
A chance for graft
Makes them blush with joy.
Good men are their own worst enemies.
Wine is the best reward of merit.
In all the world, good and evil,
Joy and sorrow, are in fact
Only aspects of the Void.

SU TUNG P’O (1036-1101) Translated by Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

Day of the dad!


Fathers day was fun.  I mowed the lawn, cut down some trees, went to the cinema to see “After Earth” with the boys, came home and cooked a really good pork stir fry with ginger, garlic, onion, sugar snaps, soy and white wine.  Served it with steamed rice, noodles and chili sauce.  The whole meal took about 20 minutes to cook.  That’s classy fast food.


After Earth turned out to be the perfect choice.  It is a film practically made for fathers day, starring a father and son, about the relationship between father and son.


It is a good plot too.  A young boy comes of age by saving the life of his father.  To do this he must take a long walk on earth.  On the way he is frightened by some monkeys, some cats and a large bird.  He triumphs by mastering his fear and slaying a monster, thereby earning his father’s respect.


We all try to slay monsters to earn our father’s respect.  Along the way many fall by the wayside, doomed to live their life in the shadow.  It is in the nature of fathers and sons to compete for respect from each other.  Fathers want their sons to look up to them.  Sons want the same from their fathers.  Both have to be careful not to allow this competition to become negative and destructive.  For it to become a battle for dominance, the young lion and the old, the young buck fighting the old stag.


I am still learning all of this.  I still make mistakes, but hopefully not as many or as bad as in the past.  So what are the secrets to a great father and son relationship?  Damned if I know!


Apart from the dreaded teenage years I think my own relationship with my father was very strong, and it got better and stronger as we both got older.  We played more chess, discussed books and music and enjoyed each other’s company.  He passed away in 2006 in October coloured weather.  I really wonder where seven years have gone.  He got out before the bubble burst and Ireland fell into recession, lucky sod!



Memory of my father; By Patrick Kavanagh


Every old man I see

Reminds me of my father

When he had fallen in love with death

One time when sheaves were gathered.


That man I saw in Gardiner Street

Stumble on the kerb was one,

He stared at me half-eyed,

I might have been his son.


And I remember the musician

Faltering over his fiddle

In Bayswater, London.

He too set me the riddle.


Every old man I see

In October-coloured weather

Seems to say to me

“I was once your father.”

Horseman pass by.

My first cousin, Liz Kay, passed away this week after a long battle with cancer.  Her mother, Ann, was one of my Fathers sisters.  She also died of cancer, leaving a young family.  I grew up knowing my cousin as Lillian McKenna.  Then we were told to stop calling her Lillian, that her name was Elizabeth.  This then became Liz.  That seems to happen with a lot of Irish names.  My father started life as Patrick.  As a young man everyone knew him as Pat.  As he aged he became Paddy.


Liz was a model to anyone suffering from a long illness.  To the very end she remained upbeat and positive.  She treated her illness as an intruder into her life, a monster eating away at her, but not part of her, not her.  She fought it.  She fought with diet, medicine, positive attitude, any weapon available to her.  In the end she died, but I don’t think she was ever defeated.


She brightened the world for all those around her.  She always behaved like a lady.  She radiated positive energy, smiling and interacting with everyone.  In the absence of her light the world is just that little bit of a darker place.


On Another’s Sorrow; By William Blake


Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear —

And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.

Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled an gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

Five foods you should never eat


The internet is filled with ads and articles telling us the five foods you should never eat.  There are three general commonalities in the five foods you should not eat.  They are white, they are full of sugar or they are highly processed (which means they are full of sugar or full of salt).

Here are my rules for a happy and healthy  eating life:

  1.  The longer it takes the healthier it is.  A four hour casserole is hands down healthier than a freezer to microwave meal.  The casserole may contain red meat and saturated fats such as lard or butter.  But it will have not a fraction of the salt, carbohydrates, sugars and strange chemicals you get in processed foods.
  2. If you make it yourself it will be healthier, tastier and you will eat less.
  3. You can get full, but you can’t get fat on salad.  You can get fat on buckets of mayonnaise, so eat salad with vinaigrette– Olive Oil, Vinegar, Mustard, Sugar.  Make it yourself and avoid all the processed crap.  Just one other thing:  Pasta is not salad!
  4. Coloured food is better.  Red, green, yellow, purple, eat lots of tomatoes, peppers, chilies, onions, garlic, sprouts, salad, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, celery, herbs, courgettes, squashes, go for it big time.  You will get full but you won’t get fat, unless you smother it in cheese sauce.
  5. Brown food is not great – sausage rolls, buns, fried food, deep fried food, breaded anything.  White food is even worse.   Ease up on pasta, rice, potatoes (eat as many sweet potatoes as you like), white bread, sugar and salt.
  6. Do not eat diet food.  It is only low in fat because it is full of sugar.  It is highly processed and the texture probably comes from the slime you get on rotting cabbages (really true).
  7. Eat fat.  Fat does not make you fat.  Sugar makes you fat. (Watch those sugary drinks)
  8. Eat broadly and in moderation.  Eat a little of a lot of different things and leave the table before you are full.
  9. Eat slowly.  Chew properly and savour every bite.  If you eat too fast you cannot follow rule 8 because your brain does not know how full you are.  If you are inclined to eat fast, then go to rule 3 and start every meal with a large salad.
  10. Enjoy food in a civilized manner.  Sit at a table with a knife and fork and plate, surrounded by other people.

Of course the other side of eating is exercise.  If you get off your ass you can eat as much as you want.  When did you see a fat postman?

Now, 5 things you really should never eat….

  1. Don’t eat your hat.
  2. Don’t eat humble pie.
  3. Don’t eat your words.
  4. Don’t eat your heart out.
  5. Swallow your pride, but never eat shit.


Italian Food : by Shel Silverstein

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops–I think I split my jeani.

Chemin de fer sans wi-fi

Welsh colliery narrow gauge steam train; Princess

Welsh colliery narrow gauge steam train; Princess

Garum, garum, garum. 

Garum, garum, garum.

Gadagady diddy de dadady de.

Garum, garum, garum.

The train upon the tracks as it starts upon its journey.

Building rhythm slowly, interrupted over points.

Garum, garum, garum.


Wahwhu, wahwhu, wahwu. 

Wahwhu, wahwhu, wahwu.

Gediddlyde, gediddlyde,

Wahwhu, wahwhu, wahwu.

She lengthens her stride to canter on the track,

the odd bump or thump as she slips a hoof in a hole,

sucking diesel now!


Sheeeee, sheee, sheee,

Ga Da,

Sheee, sheee, sheee,

Thug, gug, gah,

Shee, sheee, sheee,

The constant susurration of the breeze along her flanks,

Is punctuated by the cloddish ineptitude of the fools who laid the tracks,

She stumbles where she should float and fly.


Iron Horse, Mighty Mare,

Thundering over the countryside,

Belly filled with sweaty commuters,

Looking for a missing wi-fi signal,

Condemned to write bad poetry instead.

Lies, Lies and Resumés

It was Francis Bacon who wrote of three forms of lies in his essay “Of Simulation and Dissimulation”, which you can read in full here: http://www.authorama.com/essays-of-francis-bacon-7.html

Bacon told of three forms of lying.  Secrecy, which is the hiding of the truth, is the least of them.  Dissimulation, which is the art of misdirection without overtly lying is the second.  Finally you have simulation, which is the overt telling of porky pies.

In the Catholic church we have a whole sub-classification system for excusing lies.  They can be good lies, which we sometimes call “white lies”.  These are told to save someone from harm or to avoid causing them pain.  It is the automatic response to the question “does my bum look big in this?”  (For reference the answer to western white women is “You look great” and to Afro/Caribbean women the answer is I believe “Hell yeah!”)

Then we have venal lies, which are bad, but can be easily absolved with a standard confession. 

Mortal lies are the really terrible ones, that require pilgrimages, sackcloth and ashes.

It is interesting to run through your resumé and to classify the lies you have told.  Which ones are secrecy, leaving out salient information that will not get you hired.  Which ones are dissimulation, where you “suggest” achievements or seniority that is a stretch of the truth.  Which ones are outright lies.  Watch the latter, because those are the ones that can trip you up.

So to one of the great liars:

Matilda; by Hillaire Belloc

Who told lies, and was burned to death.

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
They galloped, roaring through the Town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed;
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away,
It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out–
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street–
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidnce) — but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’
They only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.


The winter has at last loosened its cruel grip upon the land and has allowed the sun to come to play a merry tune over field and stream, meadow and woodland, in the towns and villages, on city streets and seaside strands.  The nation basks and bakes, summer dresses flouncing in the breeze as pallid skin warms, glows and finally fries red and raw.  Break out the sunscreen.

This is the day I change my own rhythm, trading car for train on my commute.  It takes me longer to travel, but on the plus side, I get time to write my blog.  That can’t be all bad.

This it seems is a year of Moment (capitalisation intentional).  My oldest brother celebrates his 60th Birthday.  He is 10 years my senior.  And to add to those two landmarks Louise & I celebrate 20 years of marriage this June.  What to do?

With any luck I will finally rid myself of the stinker of a cold that has been dogging me for the last two weeks.  I finally figured out the Aircon in work today.  It is hidden in a cupboard.  Someone had set the sensor over my head to deliver 16 degrees C.  With the rest of the office at an ambient 21 the system was dumping freezing air on me to compensate.  No wonder I caught cold.

Now that we have this lovely sunny June I am minded to celebrate the joys of the April we should have had.  So I give you the “poet of the blackbirds”.

A Rainy Day in April: by Francis Ledwidge

When the clouds shake their hyssops, and the rain
Like holy water falls upon the plain,
‘Tis sweet to gaze upon the springing grain
And see your harvest born.

And sweet the little breeze of melody
The blackbird puffs upon the budding tree,
While the wild poppy lights upon the lea
And blazes ‘mid the corn.

The skylark soars the freshening shower to hail,
And the meek daisy holds aloft her pail.
And Spring all radiant by the wayside pale
Sets up her rock and reel.

See how she weaves her mantle fold on fold,
Hemming the woods and carpeting the wold.
Her warp is of the green, her woof the gold,
The spinning world her wheel.