The firelit room.

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It’s a kind of magic. Firelight makes time stand still. When you put out the lamps and sit in the firelight’s glow there aren’t any rules any more. You can do what you want, say what you want, be what you want, and when the lamps are lit again, time starts again, and everything you said or did is forgotten. More than forgotten it never happened.       Elizabeth (Sophie Marceau) to Louisa in the film “Firelight” (1997).

Fire, and the command of fire, has determined human society.  Fire is in our DNA.  It is a dangerous creature, capricious in nature.  But the ability to control fire gave early man a sustainable advantage over all other animals.  It gave us warmth in the cold, protection against predators, light in the darkness.  Fire also gave us a way to convert food by cooking.  This improved our calorific harvest from foods by cooking them.  For some foods it made them palatable, killed poisons or sterilised the food of harmful bacteria.

What happened first, did man make fire or did fire make man?

There is a special atmosphere when we gather by the light of a fire and only the light of a fire.  These days inside the house that only really happens when we have a power cut and we resort to the fireplace and candles for illumination.

In the open it is a joy to share a campfire, a bonfire or a firepit.  The flames dancing over the logs engage something very primal in our beings.  Around the fire we revert to a pre-civilisation society, a small intimate tribe.  The fire is a place where we can talk, share and confess to our hopes, our dreams and our fears.

All this post arose from a news story that a researcher found a hitherto unknown poem by Siegfried Sassoon.  It is thought to have been penned of his lover Glen Byam Shaw.  They lived in a time when to be gay was a dangerous occupation and could send you to prison.  So you may see why it reminded me of the quote from the film Firelight above.  In the firelight’s glow you can be what you want.

Untitled poem by Siegfried Sassoon

Though you have left me, I’m not yet alone:

For what you were befriends the firelit room;

And what you said remains & is my own

To make a living gladness of my gloom

The firelight leaps & shows your empty chair

And all our harmonies of speech are stilled:

But you are with me in the voiceless air

My hands are empty, but my heart is filled.

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Leda

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The latest addition to my family, my grand-niece Leda.

My first concern is that she not get too friendly with Swans.  Last time that happened a pretty little girl was born, and married Menelaus the Mycenean King of Sparta.  Helen of Sparta is not how we remember her, for Paris, son of Priam, stole her away to his home city.  And so we remember her as the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Illium.

Illium was the ancient name for the city of Troy, so Helen of Troy was daugher of Leda.  But who was the father of this child with the dreadful fate?  It was Zeus himself, who raped Leda, in the guise of a male swan.

And the brother of Menelaus?  The dread Agamemnon King of Mycenae itself, ruler of all the Achaeans as the Greeks called themselves in those days.  From this followed ten years of war.  Ajax and Achilles, Hector and Aeneas, wily Odysseus and his Trojan Horse.  Death and destruction as the Gods themselves engaged in the battle of the great Homeric Epic.

Calling a daughter Leda can come to no good I say.  But I am Cassandra and they shall not listen.

Leda and the Swan; by W.B. Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
but feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
the broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
so mastered by the brute blood of the air,
did she put on his knowledge with his power
before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

cecil-ffrench-salkeld-leda-and-the-swan

Happy Birthday this guy

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I am quite literally from another age, I was born during the Holocene – the 12,000 year period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm, and create civilisations. That led to trade in ideas and goods, and made us the globally connected species we are today.

That stability allowed businesses to grow, nations to co-operate and people to share ideas. In the space of my lifetime, all that has changed. The Holocene has ended. The Garden of Eden is no more. We have changed the world so much that scientists say we are in a new geological age: the Anthropocene, the age of humans.” … David Attenborough

 

Human Habitat; by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Some did not want to alter the design
when the failure message
said massive problem with oxygen.
Some wanted to live full tilt with risk.

By then we were too weak for daily chores:
feeding chickens, hoeing yams,
calibrating pH this and N2 that . . .
felt like halfway summiting Everest.

We didn’t expect the honeybees
to die. Glass blocked the long-wave
light that guides them.
Farm soil too rich in microbes

concrete too fresh ate the oxygen.
We had pressure problems,
recalibrating the sniffer. Bone tired
I reread Aristotle by waning light.

Being is either actual or potential.
The actual is prior to substance.
Man prior to boy, human prior to seed,
Hermes prior to chisel hitting wood.

I leafed through Turner’s England,
left the book open at Stonehenge.
A shepherd struck by lightning lies dead,
dog howling, several sheep down too.

The painter gave gigantic proportion
to sulphurous god rimmed clouds
lightning slashing indigo sky
while close at hand lie fallen stones

dead religion, pages dusty
brown leaf shards gathering
in the gutter yet I cannot turn the page
wondering what I am and when

in the story of life my life is taking place.
Now what. No shepherd. No cathedral.
How is it then that I read love
in pages that lie open before me?

ICE Age

 

H&J

Main Dublin to Cork Road in the 1960’s

 

 

ICE Age; by Donal Clancy

 

In Cork City at the Newspaper office

are three photos of Cork Docks.

Cork of the past

in the age of sail and steam

when the Bandon train on Albert Quay

met the Steamships and the Sail Ships

and carried their cargo south.

Cork of the present

where the bridges to the island

are congested with cars

which own the roads

ahead of pedestrians or cyclists.

Cork of the future

with soaring buildings

and efficient electric light rail

and an absence of the dinosaurs

the mammoths and the internal combustion engines

that progress made extinct.

Little brown jobs

Gerald-Durrell

Gerald Durrell with a pair of little brown jobs

When he founded Jersey Zoo Gerald Durrell changed the very purpose of the Zoo.  Instead of being an exhibit for the entertainment of the bored public Durrell created a haven for threatened species.  In the process he moved the entire zeitgeist of Zoo Keepers from the entertainment paradigm to a model of study, conservation and preservation of species.

The greatest success for a Durrell style zoo keeper is not the display of animals, but the act of returning them to the wild, to a habitat made safe for them.

Gerald had a special place in his heart for the animals he called “little brown jobs”.  The bored public came to the zoo to see the headliners, the Tigers, the Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, Gorillas and so on.  It is not enough to save the species we admire.  To be true conservationists we must also protect the species that are less exciting, and indeed some that we find truly repulsive.

 

To a Lady, viewed by a Head-Louse; by Denise Riley

I with my triumphant bites
Vex useless human parasites.
You world-devourers are for – what?
“Useful” you yourselves are not.
Refer me, lady, to your Gaia –
My jaws will raise your blush of fire.
When humans pause to think of me
It makes their skin crawl eerily:
“Delusional parasitosis”: infestation
Of purely phantom nits’ gestation.
It’s my sole work to multiply –
The task of ladies to ask “Why
Should such a pointless breed exist?”
Only the entomologist
Admits my “good-for-nothing” species
To own the interest of its faeces
For those can raise allergic wheals
Then mortified parental squeals
Or groans of mums or dads who find
Their darlings’ hair home to my kind,
Each louse egg’s tight-cemented pearl
Superglued to their shampooed girl.
I’ll plant rosettes of telltale red
High on her neck, low on her head
Until your steel rake catches me
Or unguents loose their fatal sea.
Fleas acquire some charming tropes
For amorous fluid-mingling hopes;
Lice? Condemned to Owen’s trench
By reportage of mud-blood stench.
Some sorts are meals for grooming birds
While others have engendered words
Like “lousy”, apt for human speech –
Each head-louse purely is for each.
My species’ world obeys no brief
Of reciprocity – such a relief
Not to claim virtue. Ah, your “rich
Biodiversity”! Makes you itch.
I am for nothing – only to increase
My number, swelling after my decease.
“Purposeless” insects may prove good
For thwarting your delusion that all should
Conform to human dreams of mutual aid –
Presumptuous fantasy we lice downgrade.
Lady, I’d answer Robbie Burns:
Let other species take their turns
And do not keep so dour and mean
Vaunting your old Anthropocene.

Modern Working Life

Hostelworld

Hard at work in Hostelworld

Jobs I did

Lounge boy in McGowans Broadstone Inn

when it was a cabaret.

Lounge boy in Finglas Castle,

not Finglas and never a castle.

Steward on the B&I Line ferries

to Pembroke and Liverpool Docks.

Storeboy in Dunnes Stores

on Georges St. with a blue shop coat.

Attendant in James Connolly Memorial Hospital

cycling to Blanch through Finglas and Dunsink.

 

Clerical Officer in the Dept. of Posts & Telegraphs

a civil servant for 4 months,

then becoming an uncivil servant, Executive, Administrator,

in Telecom Eireann, which became Eircom, and then Eir.

If anyone else buys it I expect it will become E.

 

Senior Scientific Officer in Enterprise Ireland

or Forfás, or Forbairt, or whatever it was called.

Bórd Gais market development manager,

market research manager, heat sales manager.

Leo Burnett Strategic Planner,

I don’t advertise that one.

I donned a robe and a mortar board,

and cultivated the minds of tomorrow,

and more than a few of yesteryear.

 

And then the real work started,

the self employed work,

the contract work,

never a dull moment, never a routine.

Finance today, beer tomorrow,  pass the fags,

sporting clothes, babywear, cooking pots,

pan handling, networking, adding value,

finding syngeries and changing games.

 

I changed the sheets in Hostelworld,

not bedsheets, spreadsheets.

I worked in Waterford for the Canadians,

life in the sun, with Sun Life, was testing,

data testing.

 

Sometimes Project Manager or Senior Business Analyst,

a DQA for the USA an MBA Association Panellist.

You see him here you see him there,

the contract guy is everywhere,

three workplaces in one year,

three job titles in one chair,

dedicated follower of management fashion,

no wonder I have grey hair.

 

Tiles

Real work!

Marriage is Creation

Louise Hourihan Hi-Res (14 of 104)

Lifestyle for sale!

We grow up hearing the Hollywood Fairy Tale which brings a relationship to the point were the hero and heroine unite at last, true love triumphs, barriers to happiness are removed, a marriage ensues and …… they all live happily ever after.

But that is not reality.  In real life the wedding ceremony is only a beginning.  People who see their “perfect day” as some kind of ending to be enshrined and treasured forever are fated to be disappointed.

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.”                  from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Berniéres

This entwining of roots is an interesting metaphor.  From the day of the wedding we begin a long journey of co-creation.  We create the partnership and to a great extent we create the person that our partner becomes, and they have a heavy hand in creating the person we become.

Every day in every act and interaction we give each other tiny permissions, approvals, disapprovals, censures etc.  We validate certain behaviour patterns with our permissions and we invalidate others with our refusals.  As the years go by we settle into these patterns like the couple on the beach in Beckett’s play “Happy Days” who settle deeper and deeper into the sand of their routine.

So think about this;  If you get 40 years into a marriage and you find you can’t stand your partner just think about the fact that this is a person you created.  You are rejecting the very thing you have had a strong influence in building.  What does this say about your feelings for the person you are?

If on the other hand you are lucky enough to have a marriage that deepens in love and mutual respect then well done and give yourself a pat on the back.

The house above is our current home and we have it up for sale.  It is a home where my wife has deep roots, her Grandmother was born here.  The DNA of her extended family is woven into the very fabric of the building.  While I have had a role in creating the person Louise is today there is no doubting that this house, this land, these fields and streams had a role in creating her too.  Never have I felt more like Thomas Kinsella than in this house.

P.S. If you want to buy my lifestyle it’s for sale here:  Ballykelly

 

Another September: by Thomas Kinsella

Dreams fled away, this country bedroom, raw
with the touch of the dawn, wrapped in a minor peace,
hears through an open window the garden draw
long pitch black breaths, lay bare its apple trees,
ripe pear trees, brambles, windfall-sweetened soil,
exhale rough sweetness against the starry slates.
Nearer the river sleeps St. John’s, all toil
locked fast inside a dream with iron gates.

Domestic Autumn, like an animal
long used to handling by those countrymen,
rubs her kind hide against the bedroom wall
sensing a fragrant child come back again
– not this half-tolerated consciousness
that plants its grammar in her yielding weather
but that unspeaking daughter, growing less
familiar where we fell asleep together.

Wakeful moth wings blunder near a chair,
toss their light shell at the glass, and go
to inhabit the living starlight. Stranded hair
stirs on still linen. It is as though
the black breathing that billows her sleep, her name,
drugged under judgement, waned and – bearing daggers
and balances – down the lampless darkness they came,
moving like women : Justice, Truth, such figures.