Roald Dahl 101

roald-dahl

Today is Roald Dahl’s 101st birthday.  If you want to celebrate the work of this genius then vaccinate your children and teach them to read.  Happy Birthday Roald.

Television :by Roald Dahl

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.

In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.

Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?

IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!

‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’

Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!

And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)

The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.

And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

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Happy Birthday Gerard Manley Hopkins

PeterRabbit8

It must be rough to be a poet of the scale and stature of John Ashbery, to have won every award worth winning, to rise to the very height of your profession and then to find each year that your birthday is best remembered for a master of your craft who died before you were born.  Hopkins was born on this day in 1844 and died in 1889.  Ashbery was born in 1927 and celebrates his birthday under a weight of Hopkins credits.

If that’s not bad enough Beatrix Potter was also born on this day in 1866 which is why Peter Rabbit gets the picture credit.  As a gardener of course I am no friend of Peter Rabbit, nasty large eared rat with a short tail that he is.  I’m with the Farmer on this one.

I love Hopkins because I think he was one of the first writers who grasped the song of word, how the word itself can craft the poem.  James Joyce brought this understanding to prose but Hopkins gave it to Poetry.  The power of words has increasingly been recognized in fields of study such as neurolinguistic programming and nominative determinism.  This poem is an excellent example of how he plays with the word sounds to capture the echo of birdsong through the wood.

The Woodlark; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Teevo cheevo cheevio chee:
O where, what can tháat be?
Weedio-weedio: there again!
So tiny a trickle of sóng-strain;
and all round not to be found
for brier, bough, furrow, or gréen ground
before or behind or far or at hand
either left either right
anywhere in the súnlight.
well, after all! Ah but hark—
‘I am the little wóodlark.
. . . . . . . .
To-day the sky is two and two
with white strokes and strains of the blue
. . . . . . . .
Round a ring, around a ring
and while I sail (must listen) I sing
. . . . . . . .
The skylark is my cousin and he
is known to men more than me
. . . . . . . .
…when the cry within
says Go on then I go on
till the longing is less and the good gone

Tut down drop, if it says Stop,
to the all-a-leaf of the tréetop
and after that off the bough
. . . . . . . .
I ám so véry, O soó very glad
that I dó thínk there is not to be had…
. . . . . . . .
The blue wheat-acre is underneath
and the braided ear breaks out of the sheath,
the ear in milk, lush the sash,
and crush-silk poppies aflash,
the blood-gush blade-gash
flame-rash rudred
bud shelling or broad-shed
tatter-tassel-tangled and dingle-a-dangled
dandy-hung dainty head.
. . . . . . . .
And down … the furrow dry
sunspurge and oxeye
and laced-leaved lovely
foam-tuft fumitory
. . . . . . . .
Through the velvety wind V-winged
to the nest’s nook I balance and buoy
with a sweet joy of a sweet joy,
sweet, of a sweet, of a sweet joy
of a sweet—a sweet—sweet—joy.’

Happy Birthday Cat Stevens

cat-stevens-teaser-and-the-firecat-inside

1948 born Steven Demetre Georgiou, son of a Swedish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father.  His stage name was Cat Stevens.  I grew up listening to him.  When I learned to play the guitar it was to learn his songs.

His father was Greek-Orthodox, his mother a Baptist and he attended a Catholic school.  Always a man searching for the spiritual something that is very clear in his lyrics.  He found his own spiritual home in the Quran and is now called Yusuf Islam.

He has many great songs and great lyrics.  This one has an environmental message and asks a question we should never forget.  It reminds me of this quote:

Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”……Alanis Obomsawin of the Abenaki in “Who is the Chairman of This Meeting?” by Ralph Osborne, Toronto, 1972.

 

Where do the children play: by Cat Stevens

Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train
Switch on summer from a slot machine
Yes, get what you want to if you want ’cause you can get anything

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas
And you make them long and you make them tough
But they just go on and on and it seems that you can’t get off

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
Will you keep on building higher ’til there’s no more room up there?
Will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live, will you tell us when to die?

I know we’ve come a long way
We’re changing day to day
But tell me, where do the children play?

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

City

As a writer Poe is more about the macabre than about horror.  His skill is to paint brooding and ominous mental pictures replete with gloomy portent.  He explores the darkest recesses of our deepest fears and does it in style.

Born two years to the day after Robert E. Lee, Poe could, in different circumstances, have become a general on the Union side of the conflict.  He enlisted as a soldier in 1827 and was rapidly promoted to rank of Sergeant Major.  From there he bought out his enlistment as a soldier and entered Westpoint as a military cadet.  Poe did not graduate Westpoint.  Instead he had himself expelled on purpose, and pursued his writing career.

Robert E. Lee graduated from Westpoint the year before Edgar Allan Poe entered the college.  Both of them were artillery men.  Poe’s third volume of poems was published thanks to contributions from his fellow Westpoint cadets and contains a dedication to them.

Poe died at age 40, in 1849, a broken wreck of a man, probably from alcoholism. His family had a bad relationship with alcoholism.  For Poe this appeared to be exacerbated by the fact that the women he loved had a habit of dying on him.  His father abandoned the family with Poe was a baby and his mother died of Tuberculosis.  He was adopted by the Allan family and had a very up and down relationship of spoiling and over-discipline.  At age 26 he married his 15 year old cousin, Virginia.  She died after a five year battle with tuberculosis in 1847.  The darkness of his writing is a mirror of the demons that haunted his life.

 

 

The City In The Sea: by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
in a strange city lying alone
far down within the dim West,
where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters he.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
on the long night-time of that town;
but light from out the lurid sea
streams up the turrets silently-
gleams up the pinnacles far and free-
up domes- up spires- up kingly halls-
up fanes- up Babylon-like walls-
up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
of sculptured ivy and stone flowers-
up many and many a marvellous shrine
whose wreathed friezes intertwine
the viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
that all seem pendulous in air,
while from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
yawn level with the luminous waves;
but not the riches there that lie
in each idol’s diamond eye-
not the gaily-jewelled dead
tempt the waters from their bed;
for no ripples curl, alas!
along that wilderness of glass-
no swellings tell that winds may be
upon some far-off happier sea-
no heavings hint that winds have been
on seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave- there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
in slightly sinking, the dull tide-
as if their tops had feebly given
a void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow-
the hours are breathing faint and low-
and when, amid no earthly moans,
down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
shall do it reverence.

VR is future tourism.

Newgrange

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be trucked around Europe by my parents.  We visited attractions such as the Tower of London, the Eiffel Tower, Peniscola in Spain, Chamonix Mt Blanc, Seville Cathedral, the Alhambra, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the British Museum, Stratford upon Avon, Nimes Amphitheatre, the Pont-du-Gard etc etc.

Later, as a young adult I visited the Parthenon, Ephesus, the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Mycenae, Venice, the Vatican Museums, St. Peters Basilica, Il Duomo in Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa, Pompeii etc etc ad infinitum.

The last times I was in London, and Paris, and Rome and I saw the length of queues for the major tourist attractions I pitied those who have not seen them yet.  The queue for the Vatican Museums (I don’t remember any queue in 1986) was about 4 hours, just to get in the front door!

Tourism is killing the very attractions that stimulate tourism.  There is a sea of humanity trekking to tourist sites and filling them up with……tourists.  So many tourists that you can no longer see the attractions, let alone appreciate them.

Many, if not most, of these tourists have little real interest in the attractions, other than ticking off some box on a virtual bucket list, taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook.

In some circumstances this sea of humanity is causing physical damage to the attractions.  Last time I visited the Alhambra I was told (very sensible I thought) to take the backpack off my back and wear it on my front, to prevent the bag from banging the delicate tile mosaics.

Sensitive sites like the Galapagos islands are under serious environmental threat.  Governments the world over are struggling with the balance between protecting heritage and permitting access to it, with all the attendant economic advantages.

The future is VR.  Not Victoria Regina, but Virtual Reality.  We can allow all area access to our most fragile heritage sites using the wonders of both Virtual and Augmented reality technologies.  Virtual reality will allow us to tour sites in an immersive way using a VR headset without having to visit the attraction.  Augmented reality allows us to tour real places and imagine what they looked like in the past.  We can experience the New York Wall Street of the 17th Century as we stroll down the modern street of today.

By visiting the Coliseum in Rome without ever leaving your home you incur no flights, no taxis, no carbon footprints.  The challenge facing the worlds great heritage sites will be a balancing act.  How to monetize worldwide VR access is step 1.   How to price the remaining restricted access to the sites is step 2.

One example that tourism operators might like to consider is Newgrange in Ireland.  This iron age passage tomb is in extreme demand for one day a year, the winter solstice.  On that morning, if the sky is clear, the site is transformed from passage tomb to ancient timepiece.  Access to this rare event is by lottery.

Using VR we can reopen access to sites that have already been closed such as the prehistoric cave paintings of Lescaux and Altamira.  The future is now.

 

 

A Grain of Sand:  Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

Anniversaries

AnneFrankSchoolPhoto.jpg

This is our wedding anniversary.  On this day in 1993 I tied the knot with Louise in Holy Cross Abbey, 24 years and still muddling through.

It is Anne Frank’s birthday.  When she was 13 years old, on this day in 1942, she received a diary as a birthday present.  She wrote in it regularly for two years and two months until the family were captured by the Germans and interned in concentration camps.  Only the father, Otto, survived the war.  He found the diary and had it published as “The diary of a young girl”.

Today my daughter, Esha, sits her Maths 2 paper in the morning and the Irish 1 in the afternoon.  This is the busiest exam day in her Leaving Cert Schedule.  Esha is 18, an age never attained by Anne Frank.

Over in England people are fuelled by Brexit jingoism and xenophobia heightened by recent terror attacks in Manchester and London.  In the recent election Theresa May was leaning in favour of internment of suspect terrorists and deportations.  Effectively she was speaking about an assault on civil liberties.  That is a dangerous road.

The last time the British Government tried internment was as a solution to violence in Northern Ireland.  Far from solving the problem Internment was responsible for bringing the leading lights of Sinn Féin and the IRA together, facilitating them to organize and acting as a recruitment drive.

Anne Frank was born a German citizen in Frankfurt. Her family moved out of Germany in the early 1930’s as the Nazi’s dismantled the civil liberties of certain sectors of the population including communists, gypsies and Jews. By 1941 Anne Frank no longer held citizenship and was effectively a stateless person.

Theresa May can show good reasons for removing civil liberties as a means of protecting the populace from terror attacks but there are better reasons for protecting civil liberties.  Remember the poem by Pastor Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.