Eternal sunshine of the Irish Summer

Athlassel Drone

The above photo is a drone shot taken of Athlassel Abbey in Golden Tipperary.  On the left of the shot is the river Suir and on the right you can see the green area that is what remains of the fish ponds built by the Monks as a fish farm.

In between the grass is burnt dry as a bone, the effect of weeks of a heatwave, unbroken by the rain that usually falls in July in Ireland.

Elsewhere the dry conditions have been turning up interesting archaeological findings.  At the world famous Boyne valley site of Newgrange the perfect outline of an entirely undiscovered Henge has magically appeared due to ancient post holes holding just a little more moisture than the surrounding ground.

Newgrange 2 2

Usually invisible; the combination of a long dry summer, and the widespread availability of drones have brought a whole new set of possibilities to the Newgrange site.  At first guess the henge is thought to date from 2,500 years ago, some 500 years after the construction of the passage tombs.

The finding is an incentive to drone fliers to get out there and exploit the conditions.  There are more sites waiting to be discovered.

In the meantime we will sit here and swelter, and wish we were more used to coping with this weather.  The Spaniards are better prepared as you can see.  Photo from the Guardian this week of a girl cooling off in a fountain.  With a hosepipe ban in place and dire warnings from Irish Water for the coming September we can only look on jealously.

Fountain

Ramona Street on a Hot Summer Day; by Betsy Franco

You can hear the whack
of a tennis ball against the plastic bat.
You can smell Ms. Lowry’s
honeysuckle bush
that grows along her fence.
You can lick an ice cold popsicle
from Petey’s ice-cream truck.
You can feel Joey’s sprinkler water
tingling on your skin.
There’s no place I’d rather be
than Ramona Street
on a hot summer day!

 

 

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Cork Bus Driver’s Dogging Den

Cork

Just another normal evening, you think, as you board the bus in Iniscarra at the end of another sweltering day in the Irish heatwave of 2018.

July in Ireland, you can usually get relief, as the weather breaks and rain falls again once the state exams are over.  Not this year.  Irish Water has declared a state of emergency, hosepipe bans, asking people to ease up on the showers, baths are a big no-no.

Two sweaty and tired lads knocking off from their summer job climb onto the bus.  It is not full.

Near the front is a lad who appears to be a little touched.  He is singing to himself.  Back from him is a good looking young girl.  She is heading into Cork for a night on the tiles.  Dressed to the nines.  Hair and makeup all done.  Black fingernail polish.  She looks a bit ridiculous in broad daylight, not yet 5pm, but she will look amazing tonight in the club.  For now though she must be melting in all that makeup.

Down the back is a parody of the stereotype of an American tourist.  Grossly overweight, shorts and polo shirt, wearing hat and sunglasses, backpack, camera round the neck, map spread out wide over his bare knees.

The two lads settle in for the 40 minute trip to Cork.  The driver guns the engine and goes into rally driving mode down the narrow winding country road.

Sadly this bus is not destined to complete the journey.  In the Lee Valley a car is attempting to pull out of a side road and the Bus driver careens into it.  Then the fun begins.

Instead of doing the thing required by the law, you know, stopping at the scene of an accident, the driver takes off.  In dramatic style he swings up a side road and begins a madcap speed chase through the Irish countryside.  Behind the poor divil in the smashed car does his best to follow, but the Bus driver has no trouble shaking off his pursuer.  You see, the bus driver knows these roads, very well, as we shall see.

The bus driver pulls into a remote site where he can park the bus.  He declares to his passengers “I had to leave the scene of the accident, because I would have caused a traffic jam.  This bus can’t go any further, the axle is damaged.  If you wait a while we will get a replacement.”

The passengers are looking around at the uninviting site surrounding them.  Should they stay on the bus or wait in the parking area outside?

The man who was singing to himself at the front of the bus looks round and finds a comb on the floor.  He picks it up and proffers it to the heavily made up girl.  “You dropped your comb” he says.

“No” she replies “It’s not mine”.

“But you can have it” says the man.

“No thanks” she replies politely, realising that the guy is a bit special.  Otherwise she would probably have flipped him off by now.

“But you have long hair” says special guy, “you would need to comb it a lot”.

Makeup girl decides to sit outside.

The guy at the back asks the bus driver “Hey, buddy, how long will we have to wait?” confirming for everyone that he is indeed an American.

The Bus Driver has no idea.

The passengers drift out into the blazing 30 degree heat of another stifling day.  It is not a pretty vista.  They are in some kind of area for cars to pull in.  There are some large concrete blocks, the type the Council use to prevent Travelers from parking caravans and setting up an unapproved halting site.  It is an unkempt, ugly site, what you might expect in an industrial city suburb, but perched out here in the countryside.

There is a field beside the pull in area.  The grass is burned brown by the heatwave.  In the field is a dead horse, flies buzzing lazily over the corpse.

There are two cars already in the car park.  It is hard to see into one.  The other contains a shirtless guy with a dog on his lap.  The guy seems annoyed by the arrival of the bus.

The passengers file out and find concrete blocks to sit on.  The two young lads and the girl are immediately into their smartphones, rearranging meeting times around the delay.

The two cars at the site start their engines and pull away.  Silence descends.  There is the song of birds, the cheeps of shrews and grasshoppers.  The bus driver remains on the bus and his five passengers sit in the sun like so many marine iguanas on the rocks of the Galapagos, absorbing energy directly through their skin.

A car arrives.  The passengers are hopeful.  Is this some emergency response by Bus Eireann?   A rapid response team to rescue stranded passengers?

The car pulls up.  A woman opens the drivers door, leans out and vomits.  She closes the door and pulls away.  The pool of vomit remains, providing a balancing contrast to the carcass of the dead horse in the field.

The lads are looking at each other and cracking up.  You could not make this up.

Another car pulls up, neatly avoiding the pool of vomit.  A middle aged man steps out of the car.  In his hand is a smartphone.  On the smartphone they can clearly see that he has a Tinder page open.  The man scans the area and looks annoyed.  He pauses for no more than a minute, re-enters the car and drives away.

Now it sinks in.  The shady parking area.  The concrete bollards.  The remoteness of the area.  The lads parked up.  Tinder.

The bus driver has parked them in a hookup site, and when the sun sets it is in all probability a dogging site!  The bus driver found it unerringly.  He has been here and more than once.  If they could see what these concrete bollards have seen…….

The replacement bus arrives.  It is a city bus, not the usual coach used in the countryside routes.  The passengers are whisked away, leaving behind the damaged bus, the driver who fled the scene of an accident, the dead horse, the pool of vomit and the memories held by those concrete cubes.

 

 

Keys to the earth.

ships-1917

Ships by Lyonel Feininger (1917)

July 1st and half the year is down.  I sit here sweltering in a heatwave, condemned to inactivity by an injury to my ankle.  This year Ireland has become a sunburnt country.  Oh what I would give for a day on the sea, rolling over the waves beneath a full sail, air conditioned by spray and spume.

So instead I man my Mindship and head out across the oceans of imagination.  On my journey I found Dorothea Mackellar, a household name in Australia for the second stanza of her poem “My Country”.

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me!

Today is her birthday, in the year 1858.  The title of today’s post is taken from another Mackellar poem below.  I love the notion that Ships are the keys to the earth.  That means that instead of being walls between nations the Seas and Oceans are doorways.

The Open Sea; by Dorothea Mackellar

From my window I can see,
where the sandhills dip,
one far glimpse of open sea.
Just a slender slip
curving like a crescent moon—
yet a greater prize
than the harbour garden-fair
spread beneath my eyes.

Just below me swings the bay,
sings a sunny tune,
but my heart is far away
out beyond the dune;
clearer far the sea-gulls’ cry
and the breakers’ roar,
than the little waves beneath
lapping on the shore.

For that strip of sapphire sea
set against the sky
far horizons means to me—
and the ships go by
framed between the empty sky
and the yellow sands,
while my freed thoughts follow them
out to other lands.

All its changes who can tell?
I have seen it shine
like a jewel polished well,
hard and clear and fine;
then soft lilac—and again
on another day
glimpsed it through a veil of rain,
shifting, drifting grey.

When the livid waters flee,
flinching from the storm,
from my window I can see,
standing safe and warm,
how the white foam tosses high
on the naked shore,
and the breakers’ thunder grows
to a battle-roar…

Far and far I look—Ten miles?
no, for yesterday
sure I saw the Blessed Isles
twenty worlds away.
my blue moon of open sea,
is it little worth?
at the least. it gives to me
keys of all the earth.

The history of my stupidity

Clamped

In a week when I injured my leg jumping from a wall and went on to get my car clamped I have to celebrate my own humanity, the flaws in myself, my own stupidity.  I present a portrait of both myself and my car sporting immobility boots.

So I can have not better companion than Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish Nobel Laureate who was born on this day in 1911.  Born in what is today Lithuania in what was then the Russian Empire, but speaking Polish, Milosz has that quality common amongst writers who struggle between their national and linguistic identities.  You will see it in Irish, Indian and African writers who write in English.  The disassociation between language and race promotes a focus on the weight of words, how words can shape meaning and identity.

Milosz was happy to resolve his identity by a refusal to identify.  To the ire of various activists he refused to be either Polish or Lithuanian.

Milosz went on to become a citizen of Nazi Poland.  He refused to become a supporter of the short lived Warsaw uprising, holding to his determination of what he was not.

Then he was a comrade of Stalinist Russian Poland and eventually became the polar opposite; a citizen of the United States of America.

As to my own stupidity….volumes could not cover it.  I could fill a library.

The history of my stupidity; by Czeslaw Milosz

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
would have tended nevertheless toward the candle’s flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
the little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
the time when I was among their adherents
who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
if only my own — but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it’s late. And the truth is laborious.

Happy birthday Vikram Seth

Vikram_Seth,_in_Oxfordshire

On a day when US policy comes to the fore for stripping refugee children from their parents this poem seems appropriate.  Any country that makes a business of incarceration is on a wrong path.  Nobody should ever profit from locking someone away.

In the past, in Ireland, we paid the Church to lock away our fallen women, to take their children and to sell them into adoption.  The Church made sure we shamed generations of pregnant girls into a life of slavery.  We paid the Church to lock away our insane, and they found more insane here than in any other country.  We paid the Church to lock up rowdy boys who got in a bit of trouble with the law.  Those boys were abused both physically and sexually.

Locking people away should be a costly and painful exercise.  It should not be easy.  It should never be a norm.  Prisons create crime as much as crime fills prisons.

 

All you who sleep tonight: by Vikram Seth

All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above –

Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.

Happy Birthday W.B. Yeats

Meeting.jpg

The Winding Stair; by William Butler Yeats

My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;
set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
upon the breathless starlit air,
upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
fix every wandering thought upon
that quarter where all thought is done:
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

my Self. The consecretes blade upon my knees
is Sato’s ancient blade, still as it was,
still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass
unspotted by the centuries;
that flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn
from some court-lady’s dress and round
the wodden scabbard bound and wound
can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

my Soul. Why should the imagination of a man
long past his prime remember things that are
emblematical of love and war?
Think of ancestral night that can,
if but imagination scorn the earth
and intellect is wandering
to this and that and t’other thing,
deliver from the crime of death and birth.

my Self. Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it
five hundred years ago, about it lie
flowers from I know not what embroidery –
heart’s purple – and all these I set
for emblems of the day against the tower
emblematical of the night,
and claim as by a soldier’s right
a charter to commit the crime once more.

my Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows
and falls into the basin of the mind
that man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,
for intellect no longer knows
is from the Ought, or knower from the Known –
that is to say, ascends to Heaven;
only the dead can be forgiven;
but when I think of that my tongue’s a stone.

II

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
What matter if the ditches are impure?
What matter if I live it all once more?
Endure that toil of growing up;
the ignominy of boyhood; the distress
of boyhood changing into man;
the unfinished man and his pain
brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

the finished man among his enemies?
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
that defiling and disfigured shape
the mirror of malicious eyes
casts upon his eyes until at last
he thinks that shape must be his shape?
And what’s the good of an escape
if honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again
and yet again, if it be life to pitch
into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,
a blind man battering blind men;
or into that most fecund ditch of all,
the folly that man does
or must suffer, if he woos
a proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source
every event in action or in thought;
measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
so great a sweetness flows into the breast
we must laugh and we must sing,
we are blest by everything,
everything we look upon is blest.

Deppy Birthday Johnny

johnny-depp-7591

Today is the birthday of Johnny Depp and he was born the same year as me.  Johnny claims that the most important poets of the 20th Century.  On this point I am happy to agree.  Shane McGowan is a hero of mine too and I see song lyrics as the mainstream poetry since the back half of the 20th century.

When you see McGowan with his broken veins and missing teeth you might find it a stretch to associate him with the genius behind “Fairytale of New York”.  More incredible is when he puts his voice up against Sinead O’Connor in “Haunted” and he makes her shine.  Here are some of his finest lyrics.

 

“A Rainy Night In Soho” (The Pogues)

I’ve been loving you a long time
Down all the years, down all the days
And I’ve cried for all your troubles
Smiled at your funny little ways
We watched our friends grow up together
And we saw them as they fell
Some of them fell into Heaven
Some of them fell into Hell

I took shelter from a shower
And I stepped into your arms
On a rainy night in Soho
The wind was whistling all its charms
I sang you all my sorrows
You told me all your joys
Whatever happened to that old song
To all those little girls and boys

Sometimes I wake up in the morning
The ginger lady by my bed
Covered in a cloak of silence
I hear you talking in my head
I’m not singing for the future
I’m not dreaming of the past
I’m not talking of the first time
I never think about the last

Now the song is nearly over
We may never find out what it means
Still there’s a light I hold before me
You’re the measure of my dreams
The measure of my dreams