300 men and 3

Oath

In the Irish song “A nation once again” is a reference to 300 men and 3 men, two legendary acts of bravery.  The 300 are the Spartans at Thermopylae who gave their lives to slow the Persian advance into Greece.

The 3 are less famous, Publius Horatius Cocles, Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius Aquillnus, the three Romans who held the Tibur bridge against the army of Clusium in 509BC, giving the Roman Army time to demolish the crossing and save the city.

XXVII

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods,

There is a lot of debate, and has been since ancient times, about the verity of the tale.  Historical records suggest that the King of Clusium defeated Rome in the battle.  The heroic defence of the bridge may have been a PR exercise to whitewash a defeat.

LXX

When the goodman mends his armour,
And trims his helmet’s plume;
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.

The Heroic tale of Horatius regained popularity in the Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington, Lord Macauley, published in 1842.  Today happens to be the birthday of Macauley!

Two years after publication Horatius was reflected in “A Nation Once Again” written by Thomas Davis.

Winston Churchill wrote that that while he stagnated in the lowest form at Harrow  he gained a prize open to the whole school by reciting the whole twelve hundred lines of the Macauley poem.  It is long, so I am not pasting in in here, but if you want to read it here is a link:  http://www.englishverse.com/poems/horatius  

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Eulogy for Ophelia

Ophelia.jpg

She came from warm southern waters and wasted our island with her wrath.  Then she flounced away to the north, leaving a trail of death and destruction in her wake.  We expected a lot of hot air, but she blew us away with her powerful delivery.  We cowered before her.  We quaked beneath her wrath and worshiped her as the modern day Morrigan.  She took three lives and passed on, her lust for death satiated.

 

Hamlet Act V Scene 1: A Churchyard

First Clown sings, as he digs a grave:

In youth, when I did love, did love,
Methought it was very sweet,
To contract, O, the time, for, ah, my behove,
O, methought, there was nothing meet.

But age, with his stealing steps,
Hath claw’d me in his clutch,
And hath shipped me intil the land,
As if I had never been such.

A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade,
For and a shrouding sheet:
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.

O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.
One that was a woman, sir;
but, rest her soul, she’s dead.

I don’t like Mondays.

Geldof.jpg

Bob Geldof, songwriter and lead singer of the Boomtown Rats is now most famous for his charity work in Africa and motivating the pop industry to do their part for the Ethiopian famine.  Born on this day in 1951.

In the week of the Las Vegas mass killing it is salutary to remember that the second major hit for the Boomtown Rats was also inspired by an American shooter.

Geldof wrote the song after reading a telex report at WRAS Campus Radio in Georgia State University.  Brenda Ann Spencer, a 16 year old, fired a gun at children in Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California in January 1979.  She killed two adults and injured a policeman and eight children. When reporters asked her why she did it Spencer said “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day”.

Happy Birthday Eavan Boland

Eavan

The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me: by Eavan Boland

It was the first gift he ever gave her,
buying it for five five francs in the Galeries
in pre-war Paris. It was stifling.
A starless drought made the nights stormy.

They stayed in the city for the summer.
The met in cafes. She was always early.
He was late. That evening he was later.
They wrapped the fan. He looked at his watch.

She looked down the Boulevard des Capucines.
She ordered more coffee. She stood up.
The streets were emptying. The heat was killing.
She thought the distance smelled of rain and lightning.

These are wild roses, appliqued on silk by hand,
darkly picked, stitched boldly, quickly.
The rest is tortoiseshell and has the reticent clear patience
of its element. It is
a worn-out, underwater bullion and it keeps,
even now, an inference of its violation.
The lace is overcast as if the weather
it opened for and offset had entered it.

The past is an empty cafe terrace.
An airless dusk before thunder. A man running.
And no way to know what happened then—
none at all—unless ,of course, you improvise:

The blackbird on this first sultry morning,
in summer, finding buds, worms, fruit,
feels the heat. Suddenly she puts out her wing—
the whole, full, flirtatious span of it.

Happy Birthday Louis MacNeice

louis_macneice

Poetically associated with W.H Auden and C. Day-Lewis who he met in Oxford.  He was also in school with John Betjeman and the Art Historian/Soviet Spy Sir Anthony Blunt, who lost the knighthood of course.  MacNeice is from Northern protestant stock and grew up in Carrickfergus.  Though educated in Dorset and Oxford his Irish roots ran deep and he has been an inspiration to many poets, especially Northern Irish poets and in particular Paul Muldoon.

Wolves; by Louis MacNeice

I do not want to be reflective any more
Envying and despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
to be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
Join hands and make believe that joined
hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
that no one hears them among the talk and laughter.

 

Fishtrap

LobsterPot

Easy to get in, very hard to get out.  That is the principle of the fish trap.  The photo above shows how this is done in a traditional lobster pot.  The fish can swim in from the top down into the heart of the trap to eat the bait.  Once the bait is eaten the fish swims around the perimeter looking for a way out.  But that is the trick, the exit is in the middle, not at the edge.

What has this to do with anything?  The fishtrap sums up every software company ever.  They make it easy to get in and very very difficult to get out.

An example is mobile phones.  Anyone who has ever tried to move from one technology to another will understand the pain.  When you join a mobile phone company they do everything they can to make it easy for you to import your data to their system.  All your phone contacts, all your social media and as many files as they can get from you.  They provide you with plenty of space at setup to store your photos and documents.

It is a different story when you try to leave.  If you move from Apple ios to Windows, or from Windows to Android, or from Android to Chrome etc you will find every barrier thrown in your path to prevent a seamless move.  Like the Hotel California “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”.  Or as Maurice Sendak said “Oh please don’t go, we’ll eat you up we love you so!” (Where the Wild Things Are).

When you decide to invest in a technology for the next 18 months to 2 years it is a wise researcher who looks at the exit costs.

To this day I have a list of mothballed contacts locked up in Apple cloud storage that has been there since I last owned an iPhone – I think that was 2014.  I have a stack of photos that I hope I can retrieve at some later date.

I would like to sign up with a technology company that did not treat me like a plump fish to be landed on their plate.  I am not a net profit, a cash flow, an income line or a revenue stream.  I don’t love their marketing lure or their sales hook.  I want a fair exchange.  I’ll swim with you a while, but when it’s time for me to leave I don’t want to have to escape your grasping claws.  Let me go gently and I just may return one day.

 

The Fish: by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
– the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly-
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
– It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
– if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels- until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Groceteria

Shop

In the 1890s the concept of a self-service restaurant developed in the USA.  Based on the Scandinavian model of the smorgasbord it was given the Spanish name “Cafeteria” by John Kruger when he was serving food at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago Worlds Fair).  Perhaps it was the association of Columbus with Latin America that inspired Kruger to call his format the Spanish for Coffee Shop.

On this day in 1916 the first self-service grocery store opened in Memphis Tennessee.  The Piggly Wiggly opened by Clarence Saunders was originally marketed as a grocery version of the cafeteria and was called a “Groceteria”.  You entered through a turnstile.  You were offered a basket or a grocery cart for convenience.  It offered self service, price marked goods and a customer checkout.  The supermarket was born.

I have seen the rise and fall of many groceterias over the years, including the Ballymun Cash Stores (which was in Finglas), H. Williams, Superquinn, Quinnsworth, Crazy Prices, Super Crazy Prices, Roches Stores.  The rise and survival of Iceland, JC Savages in Swords, Nolans in Clontarf, Musgraves/Supervalu, Dunnes Stores, Tesco and most recently the German invasion of Aldi and Lidl.

As a kid growing up in Dublin I was always exposed to supermarkets.  On the other hand my summers were spent in Kilkee in the West of Clare.  There were no supermarkets in 1960’s Clare.  I have vivid memories of my mothers frustration, on her holidays, having to queue at the butchers and at the grocers to be served one at a time with a long line of other mothers.  I always had the enjoyable job of going to the bakery.  Picking up fresh loaves, hot from the oven and bringing them back to the house for breakfast time.

Travelling to the continent in 1976 was an eye opening revelation.  The French Hypermarche was a decade ahead of Ireland.  All those wooden barrels full of olives, who knew olives were so popular?  Those were the days when you bought Olive oil in a pharmacy in Ireland to treat an ear infection. Very different days.