9/11

Twintowers.jpg

A great day for Scotsmen, who celebrate the victory of William Wallace over the British at the Battle of Sterling Bridge in 1297.

A great day for Maltese, who celebrate the lifting of the Great Siege of Malta when the Knights Hospitallers defeated the might of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power in 1565.

A remarkable day in the history of New York, when Henry Hudson discovered the Hudson River and Manhattan Island in 1609.

A mixed day for the Duke of Marlborough and his allies in the war of the Spanish Succession.  They defeated the French at Malplaquet in 1709 but it was something of a pyrrhic victory as the allies lost twice as many men as the French.

A better day for the Americans in 1814 at the battle of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain when they defeated the British in the war of 1812.

A bad day in 1916 when the central span of the Quebec Bridge collapsed with the deaths of 11 men.

A worse day in 2001 with the loss of 2,296 people in terror attacks on the Twin Towers.

Today we are not sure yet how bad a day it has been for the people of Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

This ebb and flow across one date in history reminds me of the following sonnet.

 

SONNET 64; by William Shakespeare

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
the rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
and brass eternal, slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
and the firm soil win of the watery main,
increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
or state itself confounded to decay;
ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.

This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

 

Advertisements

Death of the Republic

Actium, Egyptian ship with battering ram

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Actium, the final major conflict of the civil wars that wracked the dying Roman republic from 133BC (if you ascribe to the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus origination) or   from 49BC (if you take it from the Rubicon Crossing) to 31BC.

The poet Virgil was effectively a propagandist working on behalf of Octavian, to counter popularity for Marc Anthony and solidify the transition to Empire.  Virgil worked with Maecenas, the agent of Octavian.  The poem below is clearly propaganda.  Octavian and the Romans are portrayed as the home team supported by the “right” gods.  They are bright lights against the gathering darkness, Anthony is portrayed as deviant, relying on a gaudily dressed ill fated woman, a rag tag coalition speaking a babble of tongues.  They bring strange animal gods from the East.  They are the foreigners, the others, interlopers.

The Battle of Actium; by Virgil (trans. John Dryden)  

Betwixt the quarters, flows a golden sea;
But foaming surges there in silver play.
The dancing dolphins with their tails divide
The glittering waves, and cut the precious tide.

Amid the main, two mighty fleets engage:
Their brazen beaks opposed with equal rage.
Actium surveys the well-disputed prize:
Leucate’s watery plain with foamy billows fries.

Young Caesar, on the stern in armour bright,
Here leads the Romans and their gods to fight:
His beamy temples shoot their flames afar;
And o’er his head is hung the Julian star.

Agrippa seconds him, with prosperous gales,
And, with propitious gods, his foes assails.
A naval crown, that binds his manly brows,
The happy fortune of the fight foreshows.

Ranged on the line opposed, Antonius brings
Barbarian aids, and troops of eastern kings,
The Arabians near, and Bactrians from afar,
Of tongues discordant, and a mingled war:

And, rich in gaudy robes, amidst the strife,
His ill fate follows him–the Egyptian wife.
Moving they fight: with oars and forky prows
The froth is gathered and the water glows.

It seems as if the Cyclades again
Were rooted up, and justled in the main;
Or floating mountains floating mountains meet;
Such is the fierce encounter of the fleet.

Fire-balls are thrown, and pointed javelins fly;
The fields of Neptune take a purple dye.
The queen herself, amidst the loud alarms,
With cymbal tossed, her fainting soldiers warms–

Fool as she was! who had not yet divined
Her cruel fate; nor saw the snakes behind.
Her country gods, the monsters of the sky,
Great Neptune, Pallas, and love’s queen, defy.

The dog Anubis barks, but barks in vain,
Nor longer dares oppose the ethereal train.
Mars, in the middle of the shining shield
Is graved, and strides along the liquid field.

The Dirae souse from heaven with swift descent;
And Discord, dyed in blood, with garments rent,
Divides the press: her steps Bellona treads,
And shakes her iron rod above their heads.

This seen, Apollo, from his Actian height
Pours down his arrows; at whose wingèd flight
The trembling Indians and Egyptians yield,
And soft Sabaeans quit the watery field.

The fatal mistress hoists her silken sails,
And shrinking from the fight, invokes the gales.
Aghast she looks, and heaves her breast for breath,
Panting, and pale with fear of future death.

The god had figured her, as driven along
By winds and waves, and scudding through the throng.
Just opposite, sad Nilus opens wide
His arms and ample bosom to the tide,
And spreads his mantle o’er the winding coast;
In which, he wraps his queen and hides the flying host.

Happy Birthday Rupert Brooke

Rupert_Brooke

Described by none other than W.B. Yeats as “the handsomest man in England” Brooke is the quintessential war poet.  A product of Rugby school and Cambridge University, a confused bisexual, steamy good looks, went skinny dipping with Virginia Wolfe, associated with the Bloomsbury set of poets.  He had a nervous breakdown in 1912 and toured the world as part of his recovery process.  He may have fathered a child with a Tahitian woman along the way.

When the first world war began Brookes poems “The dead” and “The Soldier” captured the mood of the nation and brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty.  He was commissioned as a naval officer and sailed for Gallipoli.  He died of an infected mosquito bite before the fleet reached Turkey.  He is buried on the Greek Island of Skyros.

Here is a funnier and less heroic poem from the pen of someone who is way too godlike for his own good.

A Channel Passage; by Rupert Brooke

The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing — YOU!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice — heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!

Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.

Happy Birthday Hilaire Belloc

CautionaryTales.jpg

A prolific writer in politics, travel, religion and war Belloc is best remembered for his children’s poetry.  In truth his poems appeal far more to the parents than they do to the kids.

Belloc was also a sailor, he raced with the French team, and the Dermod McCarthy book “Sailing with Mr Belloc” details his cruising around Britain.

Born on this day in 1870, just outside Paris.

 

Matilda Who Told Lies, And Was Burned To Death; by Hilaire Belloc

 

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
it made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
and would have done so, had not She
discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the close of day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
and finding she was left alone,
went tiptoe to the Telephone
ond summoned the immediate aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.

Within an hour the Gallant Band
were pouring in on every hand,
from Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow.
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow,
they galloped, roaring through the town,
‘Matilda’s House is Burning Down!’

Inspired by British cheers and loud
proceeding from the frenzied crowd,
they ran their ladders through a score
of windows on the ball room floor;
and took peculiar pains to souse
the pictures up and down the House,
until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
in showing them they were not needed;
and even then she had to pay
to get the Men to go away.

It happened that a few Weeks later
her aunt was off to the theatre
to see that interesting play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her niece
to hear this entertaining piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
to Punish her for telling lies.

That night a fire did break out-
You should have heard Matilda shout!
You should have heard her scream and bawl,
and throw the window up and call
To people passing in the street-
(The rapidly increasing heat
encouraging her to obtain
their confidence) – but all in vain!
For every time she shouted ‘Fire! ‘
they only answered ‘Little Liar!’
And therefore when her aunt returned,
Matilda, and the house, were burned.

 

Bear Island

Bjørnøya_5

Fans of Game of Thrones know all about Bear Island.  It is the home of the family Mormont who play major roles in all parts of the saga.  In Essos we follow the fortunes of Sir Jorah the Andal, disgraced scion of the house, exiled for slave trading by the Starks.

On the wall serves old Jeor Mormont, Commander of the Nights Watch.

When House Stark under Robb raise the North Maege Mormont and her eldest daughter lead house Mormont in support.  The second daughter of Maege, Alysane, joins with Stannis in his struggle.

Later, when John Snow and Sansa Stark need support the youngest child of Mormont, Lyanna, leads her small force, though only a child.  There is a legend that the Mormont women are skinchangers and I kind of hope this turns out to be true.

Bear Island of course is a real place.  It is the southernmost island of the Svalbard group in the North Atlantic off the coast of Norway.  Bear Island was discovered on this day in the year 1596 by the explorer Willem Barents after whom the Barents Sea is named.  The last available census put the population at 9.  However the Bear Island Nude Swimmers Association (Bjørnøya nakenbadeforening) has over 3,000 members.  So if you are trying to raise an army maybe it is worth a visit after all.

Lyanna

Bucket List #5

Renault4

This is not a photo of my first car, but it is a photo of a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof.  My first car was a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof, but it also had matching dents on each front corner, and a chiaroscuro quality imparted by the proliferation of rust.

How does it qualify for my bucket list?  Well, it was a rust-bucket!

My Renault 4 came to me by way of my Sister, Síle, who decorated it with the two matching dents by knocking down first one pillar and then the other on the driveway of her house in Newbridge.  She bought the car second hand from the Burkes, who owned a garage in Tipperary.  That might explain why a Renault 4 came to be fitted with a sunroof.  It also had a go-fast stripe, and I suspect they did something to the engine to give it a bit of power, but maybe that was just an illusion imparted by the stripe.

There is a magic and a nostalgia associated with your first car.  It is usually a piece of rubbish, but it is a very important piece of rubbish.  Your first car is probably the most expensive and most important thing you have ever owned up to the point where you get your second car, or a house, or an engagement ring.

Your first car represents your freedom as a young adult.  Your ability to strike out at great distances without begging rides from parents or siblings, without the need to rely on public transport.

It is a space of your own.  If you have a car you can take a girlfriend for a date in said car.  Louise learned how to drive in it, and there was no worry that she might scrape a door or a wing as there might have been with later cars, of which we will say nothing.  Before you know what is happening a girlfriend can become a wife, much to the confusion of her brothers who would not be caught dead in a car like that!

You could bring friends to rugby matches as far afield as Malahide, Greystones, Clonskeagh and Churchtown.  You could give rides to Glénans trainees for holidays in Bere Island, Baltimore or Collanmore Island, instead of having to hitch rides from other members.

When the last exams finished you were able to bring a gang of friends to Rutland Island in Donegal for a week in Murf’s holiday home.  They could then have a great laugh about the acceleration qualities of a Renault 4 engine going uphill in a headwind with five big lads on board.

You could nip up the Wicklow mountains for Sunday hikes, or head off to Dingle or Glenbeigh for a rainy Irish summer holiday.  The possibilities were endless.

It was a gateway to adventures.  My Renault 4 carried dinghies, ribs  and sailboards on the roof.  It had a great cargo space, especially when you dropped the back seats.  It held lots of sailing equipment, hiking equipment, camping gear, washing machines and plenty of second hand furniture.  When we bought a house it was furnished with bits and pieces of second hand furniture bought from the small ads in the Irish Press and carted back in or on the Renault 4.

Because it was rusty and a bit battered there was none of the concern that you might scratch it, or leave a stain on the seats, or get a chip in the paintwork.  I didn’t worry that the seawater would add more rust.  I didn’t mind if puppies shat or puked in the back.  It was a workhorse, not an ornament.  It enabled my adventures rather than decorating my existence.

In its final years the rust holes became larger and larger.  On rainy days it was advisable to wear plastic bags on your feet because of the spray coming up through the floor.

Then one day it stopped.  Dead.

A friend of my Sister came up from Kildare and towed it away to see service in its final days as a hen house.

When I look back at the sum of my experiences in that battered old rust bucket I pity any teenager or 20-something who is gifted a brand new vehicle as their first car.  You will never understand the unadulterated joy to be had from owning a total piece of crap, bought and paid for with your own money.

Chickencoop

Mermaid or Siren?

Odysseus

Odysseus tied to the mast

This morning in work a lady was singing softly as she filled her water bottle from the ever so slow water filter in the office.  It reminded me of the passage below.  Do Mermaids really sing?  I thought it was just Sirens.  I thought the Sirens lured you onto the rocks with their singing, and the Mermaids saved you from drowning, if you were good looking enough!

 

—————————-

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
 
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

…………………..From: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: by T.S. Eliot