Skerries

LE_Roisin_at_Rockall

A skerry is a small islet or rocky reef, generally uninhabitable because they are washed by the sea in storms.  The word skerry derives from the Norse sker which is a rock in the sea.  It derives from the older proto-indo-european word sker meaning to cut.

Some say this refers to the fact that a skerry is a rock cut off from the mainland.  As a sailor I wonder if it refers to the result should you cross a skerry by accident.  It cuts a hole in your hull.

The SS Norge did exactly that on the Hasselwood rock, on the 24th of June 1904.  A Danish liner, she sank for the loss of 635 people.  Hasselwood rock is a skerry that lies just to the north of the contested Rockall, which lies far out in the North Atlantic between Ireland, Scotland, Faroe and Iceland.

Rockall has been claimed by the UK for many years, but the claim is contested because the rock is uninhabitable.  The huge Atlantic storm waves regularly break over the entire rock.  They officially claimed the rock in 1955, which would have made it the last imperial acquisition of the UK, if anyone had accepted it.  Nobody does.  But they did stick a plaque on the rock.

In 1971 the Royal Engineers and Royal Marines were dropped onto the rock by helicopter.  They used explosives to level a pad on the top of the rock, and this level base was the site for installation of a beacon.  They also installed another plaque to establish that the British owned the rock.

In 1978 the members of the Dangerous Sports Club held a cocktail party on the rock, and stole the 1971 plaque.

In 1985 survival expert Tom McClean lived on the rock for the month of June, and a little bit of May and July.  His occupation record was expunged when Greenpeace spent 42 days on the rock in 1997.  They wanted to protest any attempt to exploit the waters for fossil fuels.  It was around this time that the 1955 plaque seems to have disappeared.

Nick Hancock holds the current record at 45 days.

Visiting and claiming ownership of the rock has become something of a standing joke at the expense of the British Crown.  But Rockall will never become an “Insta” prize.  It is not an easy place to reach and a harder place to stay.  Still, I guess it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid instagrammer loses their life for the shot of a lifetime.

 

The Rock in the Sea; by Archibald MacLeish

Think of our blindness where the water burned!
Are we so certain that those wings, returned
and turning, we had half discerned
before our dazzled eyes had surely seen
the bird aloft there, did not mean? —
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!

Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
tasting of daphne, the enormous wave
thundering in the water cave —
thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff
and climbed the coral of that iron cliff
and found what only in our hearts we’d heard —
the silver screaming of that one, white bird:
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
that opened, red as blood, to shriek
and clamor in that world of stone,
no voice to answer but its own.

What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,
found in the bird its metaphor?

 

30 year wait

LVPL

Last time Liverpool won the top title in the English League was the 1989/90 season under Kenny Dalglish.  Irish star John Aldridge lost his place to an on form Ian Rush.  John Barnes was the top goal scorer.

Jürgen Klopp and myself were in University.  I was playing fully amateur rugby in Dublin City University while he was playing non-professional soccer in Goethe University of Frankfurt.  Klopp’s headmaster said he hoped football worked out for the young Jürgen because he didn’t fancy his chances of getting a medical degree.

He played most of his career in Mainz 05, starting as a striker but moving back to defence.  He felt himself that he had “4th division feet and a 1st division head”.  A pretty fair assessment given his record since.

He successfully managed Mainz – 05 on a shoestring budget, landing him the job with Borussia Dortmund where he secured their first ever Domestic Double.

His football philosophy is gegenpressing which is described alternatively as a counter-attacking or a forward defending style.  It is a development of the Johan Cruyff style of total football that defined the glory days of Ajax and made Barcelona such as formidable side.  Attackers become defenders the instant the ball is lost.  It stresses control of the ball, and is reflected in the possession statistics.

Klopp is a team builder.  He was the longest serving manager for both Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund.  In Liverpool he took his time to craft the side, continuing to build on the exciting forward attacking style of his predecessors, but fixing the back to seal up porous goal mouths.  He found great defenders and a brilliant goal keeper to secure the leads built by the strikers.

The last time Liverpool won the title it was the 1990 First Division.  The Premier League was formed in 1992 and this year is the first time Liverpool have lifted that trophy.

It’s taken 30 years but has been worth the wait.  Along the way we have had some good days and some great days.  Few football fans have ever experienced the single match highs and lows of the greatest European Final in history, the Miracle of Istanbul, the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final against favourites A.C. Milan.

I started supporting Liverpool in the early 1970’s when Bill Shankly was the manger who brought them to 1st Division Champions and UEFA Cup Winners in 1973.  That makes quite an impression on a 10 year old kid.  The names of that team remain in my memory.  Kevin Keegan at the front, Ray Clemence at the back.  Irishman Steve Heighway.  Welshman John Toshak.  Emlyn Hughes, Roy Evans, Tommy Smith, Peter & Phil Thompson and a trio of Scotsmen, Cormack, Ross and Hall.

I always thought it was a terrible shame that George Best played for the wrong team.

LiverpoolSquad1972-1973

 

 

Mad Mann

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Canadian author Elizabeth Smart was introduced to the English poet George Barker by Lawrence Durrell at a writers colony in Big Sur in California.  After an affair Smart became pregnant and returned to Ottawa to have the baby.  The married Barker tried to visit her but her father, a prominent lawyer, notified the American authorities who arrested Barker under the Mann act in 1940.

The Mann act, passed on this day in 1910, is an interesting piece of nominative determinism.  Also called the “White-Slave Traffic Act” it was designed to prevent the for-commerce transportation of female prostitutes.  The act was famously misused by authorities it its lifetime.  Jack Johnson the black boxer was arrested twice and convicted under the act for travelling with a white woman.  She later became his wife.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Chuck Berry, Charles Manson and Charlie Chaplin were also arrested under the act.

When the act was employed to frustrate the affair of two writers it spawned novels by both Smart and Barker.  Smart wrote the poetry prose novel  “By Grand Central Station I sat down and wept”, published in 1945.  Barker published “The Dead Seagull” in 1950.  The couple went on to have 4 of Barker’s 15 children together.

In a bizarre coincidence another Elizabeth Smart, a Mormon from Salt Lake City,  was abducted by Brian David Mitchell and  his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee in 2002.  Smart escaped nine months later and Mitchell was charged and convicted under the Mann act.

To my Mother; by George Barker

Most near, most dear, most loved and most far,
under the window where I often found her
sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter,
gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand,
irresistible as Rabelais, but most tender for
the lame dogs and hurt birds that surround her –
She is a procession no one can follow after
but be like a little dog following a brass band.

She will not glance up at the bomber, or condescend
to drop her gin and scuttle to a cellar,
but lean on the mahogany table like a mountain
whom only faith can move, and so I send
O all my faith, and all my love to tell her
that she will move from mourning into morning.

First Zeebrugge Disaster

Reproduction of a Cog

I have vivid memories of 1987 when the MV Herald of Free Enterprise, a Ro-Ro ferry capsized just after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.  It lay in shallow waters, half out of the water, but still 193 passengers and crew were trapped and died in the ship.

Long before Zeebrugge was a port the coastline of Zeeland and Flanders was very different.  The modern landlocked Dutch town of Sluis was, back in 1340 AD the Flemish port of Sluys.

The English under Edward III decided to land an army in the Low Countries in an opening gambit of the 100 years war, on this day, June 24th.  The French moved to the estuary with their superior fleet of 220 vessels.  In an accepted tactic of the day they chained the vessels together to create a floating fortress.

The English entered the river mouth with their fleet of about 130 ships.   They had few warships and mostly used commandeered merchant cogs.  The deep keeled and high sided vessels gave the English longbow men good elevation over the French galleys.  They also had a good following wind and freedom to maneuver.  As the English rained down shot and arrows the hapless French began to cast off their chains to break out of their “fortress”.

As they broke off piecemeal the French ships were hunted down by the English, operating in packs of 3.  In this way they captured over 160 French vessels and sank another 30 or so.  For a loss of 500 men the English took up to 20,000 French lives.  It was an unqualified disaster for France.

But the English navy did not “Rule the Waves” quite yet, and they were unable to convert the victory into any significant long term advantage either on land or sea.  No surprise given that the war was to drag on for a century.  The Knight’s son, the Squire from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales might well have been at Sluys….

With hym ther was his sone, a yong Squiér,
a lovyere and a lusty bacheler,
with lokkes crulle as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his statúre he was of evene lengthe,
and wonderly delyvere and of greet strengthe.
And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie
in Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,
and born hym weel, as of so litel space,
in hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
al ful of fresshe floures whyte and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
He was as fressh as is the month of May.

Poor Dad

Fava Beans

Fava beans are one of the oldest foods known to man.  In the middle east they are known as foul medames, and they are the basis for a bean soup or stew served from Morocco to Central Asia.  Foul is pronounced, usually, as “fool”.

These days most people reference fava beans to Hannibal the Cannibal of Red Dragon fame.  Hannibal Lecter is the doctor, serial killer and advisor to the FBI in Silence of the Lambs.  He famously told of the census taker who tried to quantify him “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone”.  When the book was made into a film the research demonstrated that the audience did not know what expensive Amarone was, so they changed it to a cheap Chianti.

If you come from Southern Italy or Sicily you might know about the association of fava beans with the Feast of St. Joseph.  Today is American Fathers day, a Hallmark holiday.  The Catholic Fathers day was always St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th.

In Ireland since we had St. Patricks Day on March 17th the feast of St. Joseph was not a thing.  But it was very popular in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Catholic Communities.  One of the symbols of Joseph is the “lucky bean”.  If you bring a dried fava bean to the church on St. Joseph’s Day and have it blessed by the priest it serves as a charm against poverty.  You keep the lucky bean in your wallet or purse and you will never completely run out of money.

The feast is preserved these days in the saying “I haven’t got a bean” meaning that you have no money.

 

 

 

Brian Wilson – Music Genius

Dennis Wilson

Dennis: The Surfer Dude

Today is the birthday of Brian Wilson:  The Musical Genius, born this day in 1942.  When you think of the Beach Boys you probably think of Surfers, the Muscle Car Culture, driving the main drag and running around town with the best girls.

That was Dennis.  The only real surfer of the group.  The guy who hung out with Charlie Manson, who punched him in the throat.  The cool good looking guy who was selected for the photo shoots to portray the California Sound.

Brian looked like this:

Brian Wilson

Kind of like the awkward brother that you don’t want at your party.

But it was Brian who single-handedly crafted the legendary album that is Pet Sounds.  At the time  Pet Sounds was so far ahead of its time that people struggled to know what to make of it.  The Beach Boys didn’t want to make it, but they relented and the album was released to moderate success in May 1966.  Wilson was inspired to create Pet Sounds by the Beatles Album:  Rubber Soul.  The Beatles had the artistic standing to take full creative control and they were experimenting with psychedelia, using instruments like the Sitar, organ, fuzz bass and vari-speed piano.

Brian Wilson shook the music industry to its core, re-imagining what was possible from a studio recording.  When you are so far ahead of your time it takes talent to recognize your genius.

Many people believe that the Beatles Sergeant Pepper album recorded in 1966 was a direct response to Pet Sounds.  The timing of Sergeant Peppers came about because according to the Beatles they were done with touring.  When they reviewed their competition and the music industry trends Pet Sounds was top of their list.

Wilson challenged what was possible and the Beatles took up the challenge.  The response continued one of the greatest and most creative eras in the history of popular music.

Posterity has proven that the Beatles were right.  Wilson is a genius and his Pet Sounds album sits comfortably at the top end of any “Top Albums” rating.  And who doesn’t love goats?

Pet Sounds

 

 

 

 

Happy Juneteenth

England

Juneteenth is a holiday that originated in Galveston Texas, two years after emancipation.  It marks the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read a proclamation that informed the slaves in Texas that they were free.  It is known variously as Freedom day, Liberation day and Jubilee day.

A song closely associated with this day is “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, a negro song thought to have been used by slaves as a code to navigate the underground railroad.  It  has been adopted by English Rugby as an anthem for their team.  It began life when Chris Oti, the first English black player for 80 years, scored a hat-trick of tries against Ireland in 1988.  The RFU is actively working to replace it with a less racially charged anthem.

Here is a poem to America that serves as the polar opposite to the Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” slogan.  It is a perfect Juneteenth poem.  Someone should print LABAA hats.

 

Let America Be America Again: Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

The last king of Rome

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When he was 21 years of age the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered the unconquerable city:  Constantinople.  He is known as Mehmed the Conqueror for this reason.

What is less known is that he presented his rule as a continuation of the Empire of Rome  instead of a conquest.  He named himself Caesar of Rome – Qayser-i Rûm intending his rule to be a continuation of the Roman Civilization that began some 2,206 years before the capital fell to him in 1453.  His successors did not continue the practice, but we may say that Mehmed was the last Caesar, the last Emperor of Rome.

When a man who besieged and conquered the greatest city on Earth comes to your pesky little fort in Wallachia you pretty much know that there is little to be gained by hiding behind the walls.  This was the astute assessment of Vlad III Dracula known as “The Impaler”.  This is how the Night Attack at Targoviste was born.

On June 17th, 1462 the Wallachian Prince threw the dice in a winner takes all gambit.  He assembled his knights and launched attack after attack on the Turkish encampment in an attempt to assassinate the Sultan of the Turks.  It was a night of confusion and slaughter as the mounted knights made charge after charge into the encampment.

Ultimately the attacks failed because they did not kill Mehmet that night.  Ultimately the attacks succeeded because the Ottoman Army withdrew.  Faced with such passionate and suicidal bravery Mehmed realised that his life was in very real danger.  A number of Pashas; senior officers in Tents very close to the Sultan, had been killed.  So the Turks made for home and steered a course south.

On their retreat they encountered a further demonstration of the resolve of the Romanians.  They passed through the “Forest of Death” where Vlad had impaled 23,844 turks (he recorded the exact number in a letter to Matthias Corvinus).  The Sultan and his troops filed past the corpses of tens of thousands of men, women and children.  It was a clear and unequivocal statement of intent from the Romanians to the Turks.

Mehmed II was a poet who wrote under the pen name Avni and many of his poems are dedicated to his lover, a beautiful foreign boy:

The roses of your cheeks, they made my tongue a nightingale.
The locks on your forehead, they made me desire, lose my mind.

If the fruit of love is for lovers, the worry and grief,
thank God, they have many for us, the fruits of your love.

The breeze is powerless to untangle the ends of your locks.
No, it is not easy to resolve the difficulties at all!

What is the relationship came between us, as the nectar from the lips of the beloved,
this poison of grief is halva for me, but for the rival, the poison of assassins?

How many enlightened men became insane by your love!
How many sensible men have gone mad with desire for you!

To what good is the saying: “Let the arrows of his eyelashes murder you!”?
They are brave inexperienced people who hold such remarks.

O Avni! If one day you were on a pilgrimage to the temple of the Magi*
you would have seen the lights of the wine candles illuminating the company!

 

 

 

Chicken Marengo

ChickenMarengo

One of my bucket list meals is to eat a proper Chicken Marengo on the 14th of June.  It is very difficult to get the dish, and this is reflected in the difficulty of getting a decent free to view photo of it.  The free photos of Chicken Marengo on the internet are dreadful, and seem to be taken by people who don’t know what they are cooking.

First let’s understand the Battle of Marengo and why it was such a celebration and so important to Napoleon.  Bonaparte had just returned from his victories in Egypt and was appointed First Consul of France, but he was at this stage just another lucky general.  Defeating Mamelukes was just not the same as defeating a scientific Western army like the Prussians, Russians or the mighty Austrians.

Napoleon took his army over the Alps into Italy in a moment subsequently celebrated with heroic portraits of the Emperor astride a prancing stallion on the mountainous tracks.  In fact he crossed on a mule.

His army was in bad shape.  Many of his troops were barefoot, starving and sick.  The French moved over the country in loose formation to maximize the ability of the men to live off the land.  This spread a wide net to catch the Austrian Army, but ensured that the French would be weak when the two sides engaged.

The French fought a number of battles in the Italian campaign but matters came to a decisive head at Marengo on June 14th, 1800.  At first when the retreating Austrian army turned to fight Napoleon thought it was merely a diversionary tactic by the rear-guard to cover the retreat.  But the Austrians had other ideas.

Napoleon spent the morning fighting, and losing, and praying that his calls to his distributed divisions would bring him reinforcements in the afternoon.  The Austrian commander Von Melas, was so sure of victory that he handed mopping up operations to his inferiors and retired from the field with his senior staff.  When Louis Desaix, commander of Bonaparte’s reinforcements arrived ahead of his 6,000 men Napoleon asked his opinion of the situation.  The legendary comment:  “This battle is completely lost. However, there is time to win another.”

And win they did, an unexpected and highly significant victory that assured Napoleon of his place at the top table in France.  The Austrians came to the negotiation table and ceded Italy.

After the battle the story goes, Napoleon’s chef was in a conundrum.  He was supposed to make a meal to celebrate a great victory but had little to work with.  He sent his foragers out in the local area to see what they could find.  They came back with a chicken and some eggs, crayfish, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, oil.  The chef chopped up the chicken using a military sabre because his cooking equipment was miles away, escaping an expected defeat.

He made a sauce of the tomato, onion, garlic and herbs and “borrowed” some Cognac from Napoleon’s personal supply. He fried the chicken in olive oil, boiled the crayfish, fried the eggs and added some rough bread from the military supplies.

Although the chef was embarrassed at the rude assembly Napoleon loved it and refused to permit changes to the recipe.  He considered it a lucky dish and called for it frequently.

The truth is a proper Chicken Marengo is just not very photogenic.  It is a rough peasant meal and that’s how it should look.

If you go to a restaurant and they offer you Marengo with pasta, rice, or potatoes, it’s not Marengo.  If they replace the crayfish with lobster thermidor or Dublin bay prawns then it’s not Marengo.  If they serve it in a Provencal sauce – not Marengo.

 

 

 

Friday Night Dinner

Friday Night

Last night we tried out a new restaurant:  Féte du Vendredi Soir.  It’s a bijou (very small) bistro hidden away in the countryside of County Tipperary, near Cashel.  Very hard to find, they have no website and are not on Trip Advisor.  Even harder to get reservations.  But they say you can find all the best people here.  Tamsin Greig is a regular and I heard that Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal have dined here.

We were lucky to get a table for our Wedding Anniversary.  The menu is set, there is no choice.  The chefs decide on it based on what they have available.  One week it could be squirrel, the next it could be soused herrings, always a surprise.  Louise, being a vegetarian, was delighted that our main was a mezze maniche rigate with a wild mushroom sauce.  I love the name of that pasta “striped half sleeves”.

When we arrived we were greeted with cocktails, a big G&T for me and a Mojito for Louise.  Her mint clearly came from the restaurant kitchen garden.  In the bistro you are dining in a half open kitchen, so you can see the chefs at work, smell the bread baking and hear all the clitter-clatter of a busy restaurant kitchen.  A little bit of “Gordon Ramsay” style shouting was going on between the head chef and the maître D which is a form of entertainment in itself, like watching Fawlty Towers.

The vibe was very chill, some great music playing in the background, Lou Reed, Kinks, ELO, Bryan Adams, Mungo Jerry, Rolling Stones etc.  Kind of a psychedelic rock theme.

The food was quite simple, but truly excellent.  When someone gives you a dish of salt, oil and bread it doesn’t sound like much.  But the bread is fresh baked out of the oven, first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and Breton grey sea salt – Gros Sel de l’ile de Ré.  When you taste it you understand the difference between what you can do in your own kitchen and the magic of a trained professional chef who selects the best ingredients.  That attention to the smallest details is what Michelin Stars are awarded for.

The service was excellent, a good balance between personable attentiveness without being intrusive.  Our glasses were never allowed to run dry.

Our journey through the menu was a voyage of the senses.  In a period of quarantine lockdown we had a tour of the Mediterranean.  Olives from Greece, white wine and pasta from Italy, red wine wine from Southern France, then to Canada for the Moose.

Dining here is not cheap, but let’s say no more about the price, because it is worth every penny.

As Bread and Salt; Janina Degutytė (trans Marija Stankus-Saulaitis)

Through a high gate, decorated
with wreaths and slogans…
Through a high gate
I enter
like a guest
the dale,
encompassed by woods, clouds, and flights of swans.
And I accept
with lips chapped by north winds
the black night and the white day
as bread and salt.

Bread and salt