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

The Pen and the Sword

lesmis

The 6th of June has seen many great days and is, currently, best known for D Day because we still have among us some of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

Back in 1832 the 6th of June saw the crushing of the rebels in Paris during the June Rebellion, or the Paris Uprising.  The events were part of a confused series of Republican actions opposing the re-establishment of the Monarchy.  Many such actions have decayed in our memories as the participants died off.  But this one was immortalised when Victor Hugo framed his novel Les Misérables around the events.

This great novel of France was something I was aware of on the periphery in my youth, but there was never reason to read it or pay any particular attention to it.  It served simply as a literary reference.

Then in 1980 a French Musical version appeared in Paris written by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (French Lyrics).  By 1985 an English language version with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer reached London and has been on stage there ever since.  It is the longest running West End musical and the second longest running musical in the world.

In 2012 it went on release as a big budget movie version becoming a multi-million dollar success story.

Two years later a schools adapted version was staged in the Ursuline College Thurles in 2014.  My daughter was cast variously as a washerwoman, prostitute, and a rebel on the barricade with minor lines throughout the show.  That was the first time I saw it.

I would suggest that people today know more about the Paris Uprising of 1832 than they know about the Normandy Landings in 1944.  There is a challenge for a quizmaster!

Here is a parody from Key & Peele, in which everything is wrong!

Key & Peele – Les Mis

 

 

 

Sail Oil

Kilkee

Kilkee in County Clare on the West Coast of Ireland has an amazingly scenic beach, Moore Bay.  The strand is a perfect horseshoe open to the vastness of the North Atlantic.  On the north fringe of the beach is a small pier and boat slip used by the local fishermen.  Fishing is heavily weather dependent and Kilkee is not a bay in which you can keep a fleet due to it’s exposure to Western Storms.  And most of the storms on this coast are Western Storms.

Growing up I spent many years on holidays in Kilkee and our days were planned around the tides.  We went swimming almost every day.  If the tides were high we would walk out the headland to the North side of the bay to Byrne’s Cove.  For low tide days the pollock holes came into play, natural rock pools that lie just below this photo above on the bottom left corner.

The long channel gives some protection to Moore Bay, but not much.  I have seen breakers ten feet tall on the beach.

Sail Oil was a nickname given to the local village idiot.  That term is not used these days, but Jerry McDermott filled that role in the town.  He attempted to be a fisherman, but had the good sense to remain on his little boat within the bay so he didn’t catch a lot.

My oldest brothers went out in his currach with him once when they were young teenagers.  Along the way they encountered a basking shark, the second biggest fish in the world.  Basking sharks are enormous but placid plankton feeders.  When the boys tried to attract the shark by splashing their hands in the water poor Sail Oil had a meltdown.

If they had a good catch the real fishermen would toss Jerry a few mackerel or pollock to sell on the street corner beside Hickey’s Guesthouse.  When he gathered a few shillings he would nip into May Naughten’s Pub for a pint or two.  When the money ran short he would throw cow eyes at the locals and tourists in the hope of scamming a free pint.

He had a wooden pole with a bent metal hook for crabbing at the Pollock Holes.  Apparently he knew all the best spots for the plate sized brown crabs you can find there.

After storms he would walk the strand beach-combing for anything valuable that might have washed ashore.  That was how he found the mysterious cylinder that was behind the Thresher Hoax.  But that’s another story.

 

 

 

Thresher

Thresher

Launched in 1960 the USS Thresher was the fastest submarine of its day.  It was a nuclear powered attack submarine – a submarine hunter killer.

This was back in the early days of nuclear powered vessels and a lot of experimentation was happening.  In 1961 while docking in Puerto Rico the Thresher turned off its Nuclear Generator (standard practice in port) and ran on a backup diesel generator.  Unfortunately the diesel broke down and she had to resort to battery.  When it became clear the diesel could not be repaired the officers attempted to restart the nuclear generator, but the battery charge was too low.  So the embarrassed Captain had to ask another ship for a loan of some cables and then connected them to the diesel submarine, USS Cavalla, for a jump start.

In April 1963 the Thresher was engaged in deep diving tests off the coast of Boston.  The lives of 129 crew and shipyard personnel were lost in one of the worst submarine disasters in history.

Subsequent efforts to recover the boat failed.  All through 1963 and 1964 the shortcomings of the USS Navy rescue equipment for deep dive situation became evident.  The Thresher was found in 1964 in five major sections spread out over a 33 acre wide area of the sea bed, and was photographed to ascertain the cause of sinking.

I grew up with the tale of the Thresher because of a subsequent prank.  I was born in 1963 so I have no direct memory of the events, but a bit of detective work will turn up the newspaper clippings of the day dated March 29th to March 31st or thereabout in 1966, three years after the sinking.

Thresher2

In those days we used to spend every summer holiday in Kilkee, County Clare in the West of Ireland.  So it was big news in March 1966 when a mystery enfolded.  A three foot cylinder bearing the name Thresher and with radioactive markings was found on the beach in Kilkee the far side of the Atlantic from the sinking.

The Irish police informed the US Navy as a precaution, but had already established that the object was not radioactive.  Two US Navy officers stationed at the Nuclear Submarine base in Holyloch in Scotland were dispatched to retrieve the “object” and it was a mini-media storm.  The events were widely picked up by news media around the world.

The truth, as I heard it, was that some local wags in Kilkee painted up an old barrel and decked it up with markings to make it look like debris from the wreck.  They then placed it on the beach to be found by a local beachcomber, Jerry McDermott.  Nicknamed “Sailoil” this simple man was, as we say in Ireland “a bit touched”.  Today we would say he is on some spectrum.  The traditional Irish rendition is “leag Dia lámh air” meaning “God laid a hand on him” or “God touched him” hence “touched”.  He was the perfect innocent straight man to perpetrate the prank.

Sailoil proudly bore his prize home and stored it under his mothers bed.   The news of the fine percolated out into town and caused a bit of consternation when people saw the nuclear markings.  So experts were sent for, armed with geiger counters to scan the object.  The press showed up and the hoaxers celebrated with pints as they watched the whole thing unfold on the News.  In 1966 this was the equivalent of “going viral”.

As I say my memory of these events is third hand hearsay.  If you know better let me know!

Stranger Children

ho-chi-minh

A friend of mine wrote a sci-fi story called Stranger Children based on the quote “Politics makes for strange bedfellows”.  She thought that strange bedfellows would make for even stranger children.  There is truth in that.  Some very strange situations have emerged from political couplings.  If it is strangeness you desire play on, if it is history you seek you will gain little satisfaction from this tissue of lies.

I digress; back to strange situations, and none stranger than the American relationship with a man born on this day in 1890 by the name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung.  In the course of his life and his travels the Vietnamese revolutionary leader claimed four different birthdays and dozens of names, aliases and nicknames, from 50 to 200 names.  To his own people he is fondly remembered as Bác Hó (Uncle Ho) or simply Bác (Uncle).

In the western world he is recognised by some as Colonel Saunders, and by people who know something about history as Hó Chí Minh.  Honestly he never worked in KFC, although he did work in the USA as a cook, and a baker and as a supervisor in General Motors.  That is possibly where he learned how to be a General.

Ho Chi Minh came to be recognised by the American people as the face of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  That was a strange war indeed.  The Americans refused to accept it was a war and tried to classify it as a police action, or technical support to defend the democratically elected government of South Vietnam against global communism.

John McCain, the Presidential Candidate, learned to his regret the very rocky ground on which you stand as a US Bomber Pilot when you are shot down over a country with which you are not at war.  He spent almost 6 years under house arrest in the 5 star Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, North Vietnam.  But he put his time to good use and he invented McCain’s Oven Chips, possibly inspired by Ho Chi Minh’s Southern Vietnamese Fried Chicken.

To the North Vietnamese, and to many in the South this was simply a war of independence.  Ho Chi Minh himself said that his loyalty was to independence and not to communism.  And this is attested to by what happened during WW2.

Ho Chi Minh helped the Americans to defeat the Japanese during the second world war.  He hoped the Americans, that bastion of freedom and democracy, would help the Vietnamese to shake off the colonial chains of their French occupiers after the war.  So in the 1940’s the USA and Ho Chi Minh were strange bedfellows.  Indeed the USA saved Uncle Ho’s life by treating him for malaria.  They saved his life so they could fight him later.  The OSS officers may also have given him the recipe for Southern Fried Chicken during this period.

The origin of the strange bedfellows quote is actually William Shakespeare in the Tempest when Trinculo, a shipwrecked sailor, beds down with Caliban, a beast, remarking “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”.

 

What have we here? A man or a fish?
Dead or alive? A fish.
He smells like a fish, a very ancient and fish-like smell,
a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-john.
A strange fish!
Were I in England now, as once I was,
and had but this fish painted,
not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver.
There would this monster make a man.
Any strange beast there makes a man.
When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar,
they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
Legged like a man and his fins like arms!
Warm, o’ my troth. I do now let loose my opinion,
hold it no longer: this is no fish,
but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt.

Thunder.

Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine.
There is no other shelter hereabouts.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.

(crawls under gaberdine)

Telling Lies #15: Non-denial denial

Washington Post bids farewell to office where it broke Watergate ...

Immortalised by Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee the non-denial denial was the foundation of the media strategy of Nixon administration attorney general John N. Mitchell.  Bradlee was played by Jason Robards in the hit film “All the Presidents Men” based on the Watergate Scandal memoir by Woodward and Bernstein.

A non-denial denial is a very carefully worded phrase which appears on the surface to refute an accusation.  But when closely analysed it is not in fact a denial, but rather some form of accusation or qualification.

A story breaks that a politician has had a child with a mistress.  The politician is asked if the story is true.  In response he says “That accusation comes from a tabloid, a cheap trashy rag which prints nothing but lies“.  So it sounds as though he is saying the story is untrue….but he never actually did say that.

In reality a non-denial denial is a pre-meditated approach to spin control.  It is crafted to diffuse a current scandal without giving away hostages to fortune.

When Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” he meant that he did not have full penetrative intercourse with her, at least according to what he said later when the case would just not go away.  Clinton maintained later that the above statement was not a lie.

Two athletes are asked “Did you ever take performance enhancing drugs”.

The first says “Never, any drug I took was prescribed by my Doctor for medicinal reasons”.

The second says “I have never taken anything in contravention of the rules of the sport”.

That second statement allows for someone who has taken a peformance enhancing substance which was not specifically banned by the sport at the time it was taken.  The first statement allows for blood doping.

That is just rood.

True-Cross-and-Templars

Jerusalem marches behind the true cross: Kingdom of Heaven directed by Ridley Scott

For Good Friday here is the oldest known Christian poem written in English.  The “rood” is the name given to the Cross of Christ, the holy relic found by Empress Helena, Mother of Constantine the Great.  This was in 328 AD a mere 295 years after the events central to the Christian faith.  Helena found 3 crosses, that of Jesus and the two thieves.  It was “revealed” to her by divine inspiration which was the true cross.

In 614 AD the Sassanid Persian Emperor Khosrau II sacked Jerusalem and brought the relic back to his capital as part of the spoils of war.  The Byzantine emperor Heraclius defeated Khosrau in 628 AD and brought the reliquary back to Constantinople.  There is much debate about what was in the reliquary when it returned to Christian lands.  By the time it was returned to Jerusalem two years later the rood had returned to its rightful place.

The “True Cross” was lost again during the crusades, taken by the Victorious Saladin at the battle of Hattin and brought to Damascus.  It was never seen again.  Or was it?

From “The Dream of the Rood
Anglo-Saxon, 8th century, trans. Richard Hammer (1970)

The Rood speaks:

“It was long past – I still remember it –
that I was cut down at the copse’s end,
moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
told me to hold aloft their criminals,
made me a spectacle. Men carried me
upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
a host of enemies there fastened me.

“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
upon me. I durst not against God’s word
bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
the surface of the earth. Although I might
have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.

“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
bold in the sight of many watching men,
when He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.

“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
the noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
the scars can still be clearly seen on me,

the open wounds of malice. Yet might I
not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
which poured out from his side, after He had
sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
black in the darkness. All creation wept,
bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
that I have suffered deeds of wicked men
and grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
that far and wide on earth men honor me,
and all this great and glorious creation,
and to this beacon offers prayers. On me
the Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
and I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

What Folly

Desert_View_Watchtower_Panorama

The original definition of a Folly was “a costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder”.  In this regard the Marino Casino in Fairview, Dublin, Ireland is the perfect example of a folly.  Constructed by James Caulfeild, the 1st Earl of Charlemont on his grand estate, it was built as a residence for his daughter.  A diminutive and perfect example of neo-classical Italian style architecture constructed in the 1760’s and 1770’s.

Caulfeild and his architect, William Chambers, spent a fortune on the dwelling to construct an optical illusion. They toured Europe for inspiration, sourced materials from all over the world, such as the timber used to construct the parquet floors.

From a distance it looks like a single room pavillion decorated with columns, porticos, urns and classical friezes.  Within it is a perfectly proportioned and very human scale three bedroom house with kitchen and workrooms in the basement, reception rooms on the ground floor and bedrooms hidden on a second story that is invisible from outside.

The beauty of Marino Casino is that it is the only building remaining after the destruction of the Charlemont Estate.  Built to enhance the view from the main house, it now stands as a kind of symbol to the impermanence of power.  Like the head of Ozymandias.

The photo above shows the Indian Watchtower at Desert View on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  It is neither Indian nor a Watchtower.  It is another beautiful folly.

Designed by Mary Colter, the american architect born on this day in 1869.  She was one of very few females in architecture at the time and developed a reputation as a perfectionist.  The Desert View Watchtower is a classic steel and glass erection of the 1930’s which is then veneered to present itself as some ancient relic of an Indian Nation that never was.  Built to look like a renovated ruin, a common tradition in folly building.

In classical landscape gardening a folly served as a focal point for the gaze.  It helped to frame a view.  The follys themselves took inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman temples, Crusader commanderies, Norman keeps, Tudor mansions or even natural features like gorges or caves.  Wealthy young men and women might pick up some “souvenirs” of their grand tour of Europe and these could be cemented into a folly to give it more authenticity.  The follys of England and Ireland serve in this regard as a testament to the vandalism of the upper classes, the pinnacle of which is Lord Elgin’s Marbles in the British Museum.

There was a good side to the folly story.  During the Great Hunger in Ireland follys were constructed as a form of famine relief.  Pointless work to build useless buildings as an excuse to give money to starving families.  In those days it was unacceptable to Liberal Protestant Victorians to just hand out free food to Irish Catholics in distress.  There had to be a work ethic!

Ozymandias; by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
who said “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
tell that its sculptor well those passions read
which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
and on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

Prepper Punk’d

Stockpile

Not my brother – but close enough!

In these days of Coronavirus Lockdown is there anyone who has not bulked up a bit on the supplies?  We all feel the need to put a bit extra in reserve just in case supply likes are interrupted, or rationing is introduced, or people begin to mutate into zombies.

We range in intensity from those who have a few extra soup packets, dried noodles and tins of beans all the way up to full scale survivalist preppers with supplies to outlast a nuclear winter.

My brother is at neither extreme, he had a stash of stuff, mainly tinned goods, put away just in case.

Last night he overheard his son and daughter discussing how one of the girls from school is preparing hampers of goods for poor people and his daughter wanted to leave some tins for the collection.  To maintain social distancing you put the food on the girls doorstep for collection and distribution.

This morning my brother checked his stockpile to find the whole thing gone!  Once the steam from his ears had cleared a little his kids reminded him it’s April Fools!  They had hidden all the stash.

Punked!

Let’s hope that’s an April Fool prank that won’t be played again anytime soon.

 

April Fool;  by Myra Cohn Livingston

The maple syrup’s full of ants.
A mouse is creeping on the shelf.

Is that a spider on your back?
I ate a whole pie by myself.

The kitchen sink just overflowed.
A flash flood washed away the school.
I threw your blanket in the trash.

I never lie————I————
APRIL FOOL!

 

 

 

 

Ye goode olde dayes.

Myles_Birket_Foster_-_The_Country_Inn

The Country Inn: Myles Birket Foster

Born on this day in 1859 AE Housman was too old to serve in Flanders Field but he was a poet ahead of his time.  The sentimentality of his poetry conjures up the nostalgia of a bucolic idyll of an England that never was.  His verse was the poetic equivalent of the chocolate box art of John Constable and Myles Birket Foster.  His nostalgia for a simpler and more wholesome life is reflected in JRR Tolkien’s image of the Shire from Lord of the Rings.  I like the lyric from the Kinks “Muswell Hilbillies” which says “Take me back to the black hills where I ain’t never been”.

World War One began with the Jingoistic and Triumphalist doggerel of music hall verse singing of the glories of adventure:  It’s a long way to Tipperary!

It then moved towards sacrificial verse like Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” and of Housman which said “This is what we are fighting for”.

Eventually it descended into the true war poets like Sassoon, Owen and McCrae who expressed the absolute futility of young lives thrown away.

 

A Shropshire Lad 53; by A.E. Housman

The lad came to the door at night,
when lovers crown their vows,
and whistled soft and out of sight
in shadow of the boughs.

‘I shall not vex you with my face
henceforth, my love, for aye;
so take me in your arms a space
before the east is grey.

‘When I from hence away am past
I shall not find a bride,
and you shall be the first and last
I ever lay beside.’

She heard and went and knew not why;
her heart to his she laid;
light was the air beneath the sky
but dark under the shade.

‘Oh do you breathe, lad, that your breast
seems not to rise and fall,
and here upon my bosom prest
there beats no heart at all?’

‘Oh loud, my girl, it once would knock,
you should have felt it then;
but since for you I stopped the clock
it never goes again.’

‘Oh lad, what is it, lad, that drips
wet from your neck on mine?
What is it falling on my lips,
my lad, that tastes of brine?’

‘Oh like enough ’tis blood, my dear,
for when the knife has slit
the throat across from ear to ear
’twill bleed because of it.’