Bank Holiday Sunday Morning

Image result for holstein cows

Sitting here in the kitchen on a sunny Sunday morning of a Bank Holiday and I am wandering the wide spaces of the world with deft strokes of my fingertips.

And here I found Billy Collins, the Irish-American poet with a poem about Irish-Dutch cows, if they are Holsteins, or Dutch-Irish cows if Friesians, or they could be a US bred strain of Holstein-Friesians imported back into Ireland.  He didn’t say.

Cows it seems are not like people.  We bring in a Friesian, or a Limousin, a Belgian Blue or a Scottish Angus.  We set it on the land and it eats the green grass of Ireland and magically becomes an Irish steer, an Irish Bull, or an Irish Cow.

We don’t point at it in the field and shout “Go back to Hungary”, or “We don’t want your type of cattle round here”.

Ireland is sometimes personified as a cow.  In his lament for Thomas McDonagh, Francis Ledwidge uses this analogy very powerfully.  And of course the greatest ancient epic in Ireland, central to the tales of Cúchulainn and the Cycle of Tales of the Knights of the Red Branch is the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

Afternoon with Irish Cows

 

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Industrial landscape or green island?

Image may contain: grass, sky, outdoor and nature

If you look really carefully at the skyline in the photo above you will see a line of electricity generating windmills.  In the field are dairy cattle and on the gate is a warning  about a bull and electric fencing.  All these elements got me thinking about the environment.  But don’t believe a word of what I say – the “Beware of the bull” warning applies to my posts too.

I hear a lot of people complaining about windmills in the countryside, and how they are ugly things, and how they ruin the landscape and how they kill birds etc etc etc.  These are the kind of people who look into this field and see nature.  Then they go to the shops and feel very morally superior when they drink soy instead of milk.

I look at this landscape and what I see is a factory.  The field is not natural, it is a creation of man.  The cows are not natural, again we created them through breeding.  There may be a bull in the field but I guarantee he is only servicing the cows that missed out impregnation with the top quality AI sperm.

The windmills in the distance are no less “natural” than any other element in the picture.  The countryside is a factory, a unit of production, an industrial landscape.

There is a balance to be struck.  Hardline vegans say that the dairy industry is engaged in the rape of cows and the forcible kidnapping of their calves.  It is emotive language.  At the extreme conclusion of their philosophy we plant a fraction of the currently farmed land with vegetables, fruits, grains and pulses and the remainder becomes rewilded.  This is a dystopian horror future for farmers.  More importantly for the nation it results in the depopulation of the rural countryside.  If you want a vibrant rural economy there must be jobs.

We have already seen the conclusion of the extreme commercial approach to farming.  Cows so heavy with milk they cannot walk anymore, riddled with infections which are controlled by massive amount of antibiotics.  Meat animals in cramped conditions where diseases are controlled by antibiotics and where hormones are used to accelerate growth.  Widespread use of insectisides, weedkillers and fertilisers that are undoubtedly harming the environment and killing off pollinators.  Destruction of biodiversity in favour of commerical monoculture.

Funilly enough the result of both extremes – High intensity automated commercial farming at one end, and a rewilded vegan world at the other, is rural depopulation.

I believe Ireland can and should lead the world as a Green Food Island.  A place where the most environmentally positive farming practices are the minimum standard.  A place with a reputation for compassion in husbandry.  A country that keeps people in the countryside by valuing less profitable family size farms that provide employment on the land.  And keeps people in the countryside by rewarding the situation of production in the rural infrastructure.

That is a vision of a world in balance.

 

 

 

 

Margarita Pizza

Margureite

Prepare yourself for nonsense:  Marguerite Piazza, the American Soprano, was born on this day in 1920.

The Pizza Margherita is a Neapolitan classic of Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil, the colours of the Italian flag.  There is a story that the famous Pizza was invented in honour of Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy, to celebrate Italian Unification, in 1889.

Image result for italian flag

This is considered now to be a false history, like many tales of the invention of famous dishes.  There is a competing theory that the Pizza Margherita is named for the pretty flower pattern in which the Mozzarella slices were presented on the pizza, representing a daisy flower, the Italian for which is margherita.

The Spanish for daisy is margarita, which is also the name of a famous tequila drink from Mexico, a country with the same tricolour flag as Italy.

Image result for mexican flag

But the origin of the drink actually comes from the Latin word margarita which means pearl, as in the maxim “margaritas ante porcos” meaning pearls before swine.  The margarita drink is named after the latin for pearl, as it is a pearly colour, and that may also explain why it is served with a ring of salt on the rim of the glass.

Image result for classic margarita drink

As to the American soprano, her real name was Marguerite Clair Lucille Luft.  She took her mothers maiden name, Piazza, as her stage name.  A Piazza is a square, not a pie.  So her stage name translates as Daisy Square.

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I passed on a piece ‘a pizza in the piazza in Pisa in the past.  But not with Margherita.

Now, I ordered ages ago.  Where are my pizza and my margarita?  And do not get them mixed up again.

pizza

Happy S&BJ Day

steak_and_bj_day

One month following Valentines Day, the supposed romantic highlight of the year, comes S & BJ Day.  You can look up what that means yourself, you didn’t hear it from me.  It is supposed to be the opposite of Valentines day, an anti-romantic holiday.

At its heart I think it is a reaction against crass commercialisation rather than against romance.  It is, at it’s heart, still a quest for companionship.  It does not reject the fundamental notion of two people wanting to be together.  Instead it rejects all the socio-cultural and commercial baggage that gets between two people.  It tries to pare the relationship back to raw basics.

In this regard it treads a well worn path.  How many times have you seen the narrative of the US Bachelor Party movie, where the groom or bride and his or her buddies have one last fling?  And how do these movies end?  With a wedding.  With true love and a lifelong commitment.  They end in happy ever after.

 

A Contingency Plan: by Suzannah Evans

What if we’re apart when the asteroid comes,
or the magnetic storm that shuts off the power?

You could be waiting for a train as the sun’s bulb
flickers out, high above the glass-panelled roof.

I’ll be at work. We’ll lose the phone lines,
the door-entry system will go haywire.

I will eat from the vending machine,
drink from the competition cupboard

and sleep on nylon carpet with my colleagues
all of us three-weeks unwashed. Stay where you are –

I’ll abseil down eight floors on a rope
fashioned from the supply of festive tinsel,

loot M&S, steal a bike and make for the M1
forty miles of silence and abandoned cars

so we can witness the collapse of civilisation
with a picnic of high-end tins

so I can lie in your arms on a rooftop,
our dirty faces lit by fires.

Valentine Wine

Romance

As Valentines day approaches here is some inspiration for your own scribblings to your heart’s desire:

To Celia; by Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes
And I will pledge with mine.
Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much hon’ring thee As giving it a hope that there
It could not withered be;

But thou thereon did’st only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me,
Since when it grows and smells, I swear
Not of itself, but thee.

The Seed Potatoes of Leningrad

siege-of-leningrad-005

There are few stories so hear wrenching they will make me cry, but his is one of them.

I am not going to re-tell it, I will direct you to John Green’s excellent podcast here:

—–>Tetris and Seed Potatoes

During the winter of 1941/42 as many residents of Leningrad were dying EVERY MONTH as the total Americans who ever died in all wars ever.  Mostly they died of starvation.  Amongst this carnage a small and dedicated group of scientists protected a seedbank which has benefited humanity ever since.

In our world today do we find any sense of such self-sacrifice for the higher goals of humanity?

What can I do today to reverse the damage mankind has inflicted on the Earth?

 

Earthrise

Earthrise

The photo of the Earth taken by Major William A Anders from the Apollo 8 capsule slingshoting around the Moon is called “Earthrise”

It changed the way we look at the world.  Captured in the lens are the lives, loves, dreams, hopes and worries of all but 3 of the entire human race, on that day, Christmas Eve 1968.

To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.” ….Archibald MacLeish

Seen in this way, a delicate ark of humanity, an oasis of life in the vastness of space really makes you think.

What is to be gained by man waging war on man?  We should be working shoulder to shoulder to reach out to the stars.

How can we exist on such a vulnerable sphere and allow it to be polluted, abused, over-expolited and poisoned by our own activities?

Why do short term greed, selfishness, personal ambition and crass materialism drive a society which should be planning for the long term survival of the human race?

If you need a resolution for 2019:  work in what small way you can to reduce the impacts of mankind on Planet Earth.  Badger your politicians.  Reject plastics and chemicals.  Eat less meat.  Opt for energy from renewable sources.  Invest your pension in ethical funds.

You, Andrew Marvell; by Archibald MacLeish

And here face down beneath the sun
and here upon earth’s noonward height
to feel the always coming on
the always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
the earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those under lands the vast
and ever climbing shadow grow

and strange at Ecbatan the trees
take leaf by leaf the evening strange
the flooding dark about their knees
the mountains over Persia change

and now at Kermanshah the gate
dark empty and the withered grass
and through the twilight now the late
few travelers in the westward pass

and Baghdad darken and the bridge
across the silent river gone
and through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

and deepen on Palmyra’s street
the wheel rut in the ruined stone
and Lebanon fade out and Crete
high through the clouds and overblown

and over Sicily the air
still flashing with the landward gulls
and loom and slowly disappear
the sails above the shadowy hulls

and Spain go under and the shore
of Africa the gilded sand
and evening vanish and no more
the low pale light across that land

nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
to feel how swift how secretly
the shadow of the night comes on …