Skerries

LE_Roisin_at_Rockall

A skerry is a small islet or rocky reef, generally uninhabitable because they are washed by the sea in storms.  The word skerry derives from the Norse sker which is a rock in the sea.  It derives from the older proto-indo-european word sker meaning to cut.

Some say this refers to the fact that a skerry is a rock cut off from the mainland.  As a sailor I wonder if it refers to the result should you cross a skerry by accident.  It cuts a hole in your hull.

The SS Norge did exactly that on the Hasselwood rock, on the 24th of June 1904.  A Danish liner, she sank for the loss of 635 people.  Hasselwood rock is a skerry that lies just to the north of the contested Rockall, which lies far out in the North Atlantic between Ireland, Scotland, Faroe and Iceland.

Rockall has been claimed by the UK for many years, but the claim is contested because the rock is uninhabitable.  The huge Atlantic storm waves regularly break over the entire rock.  They officially claimed the rock in 1955, which would have made it the last imperial acquisition of the UK, if anyone had accepted it.  Nobody does.  But they did stick a plaque on the rock.

In 1971 the Royal Engineers and Royal Marines were dropped onto the rock by helicopter.  They used explosives to level a pad on the top of the rock, and this level base was the site for installation of a beacon.  They also installed another plaque to establish that the British owned the rock.

In 1978 the members of the Dangerous Sports Club held a cocktail party on the rock, and stole the 1971 plaque.

In 1985 survival expert Tom McClean lived on the rock for the month of June, and a little bit of May and July.  His occupation record was expunged when Greenpeace spent 42 days on the rock in 1997.  They wanted to protest any attempt to exploit the waters for fossil fuels.  It was around this time that the 1955 plaque seems to have disappeared.

Nick Hancock holds the current record at 45 days.

Visiting and claiming ownership of the rock has become something of a standing joke at the expense of the British Crown.  But Rockall will never become an “Insta” prize.  It is not an easy place to reach and a harder place to stay.  Still, I guess it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid instagrammer loses their life for the shot of a lifetime.

 

The Rock in the Sea; by Archibald MacLeish

Think of our blindness where the water burned!
Are we so certain that those wings, returned
and turning, we had half discerned
before our dazzled eyes had surely seen
the bird aloft there, did not mean? —
Our hearts so seized upon the sign!

Think how we sailed up-wind, the brine
tasting of daphne, the enormous wave
thundering in the water cave —
thunder in stone. And how we beached the skiff
and climbed the coral of that iron cliff
and found what only in our hearts we’d heard —
the silver screaming of that one, white bird:
The fabulous wings, the crimson beak
that opened, red as blood, to shriek
and clamor in that world of stone,
no voice to answer but its own.

What certainty, hidden in our hearts before,
found in the bird its metaphor?

 

30 year wait

LVPL

Last time Liverpool won the top title in the English League was the 1989/90 season under Kenny Dalglish.  Irish star John Aldridge lost his place to an on form Ian Rush.  John Barnes was the top goal scorer.

Jürgen Klopp and myself were in University.  I was playing fully amateur rugby in Dublin City University while he was playing non-professional soccer in Goethe University of Frankfurt.  Klopp’s headmaster said he hoped football worked out for the young Jürgen because he didn’t fancy his chances of getting a medical degree.

He played most of his career in Mainz 05, starting as a striker but moving back to defence.  He felt himself that he had “4th division feet and a 1st division head”.  A pretty fair assessment given his record since.

He successfully managed Mainz – 05 on a shoestring budget, landing him the job with Borussia Dortmund where he secured their first ever Domestic Double.

His football philosophy is gegenpressing which is described alternatively as a counter-attacking or a forward defending style.  It is a development of the Johan Cruyff style of total football that defined the glory days of Ajax and made Barcelona such as formidable side.  Attackers become defenders the instant the ball is lost.  It stresses control of the ball, and is reflected in the possession statistics.

Klopp is a team builder.  He was the longest serving manager for both Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund.  In Liverpool he took his time to craft the side, continuing to build on the exciting forward attacking style of his predecessors, but fixing the back to seal up porous goal mouths.  He found great defenders and a brilliant goal keeper to secure the leads built by the strikers.

The last time Liverpool won the title it was the 1990 First Division.  The Premier League was formed in 1992 and this year is the first time Liverpool have lifted that trophy.

It’s taken 30 years but has been worth the wait.  Along the way we have had some good days and some great days.  Few football fans have ever experienced the single match highs and lows of the greatest European Final in history, the Miracle of Istanbul, the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final against favourites A.C. Milan.

I started supporting Liverpool in the early 1970’s when Bill Shankly was the manger who brought them to 1st Division Champions and UEFA Cup Winners in 1973.  That makes quite an impression on a 10 year old kid.  The names of that team remain in my memory.  Kevin Keegan at the front, Ray Clemence at the back.  Irishman Steve Heighway.  Welshman John Toshak.  Emlyn Hughes, Roy Evans, Tommy Smith, Peter & Phil Thompson and a trio of Scotsmen, Cormack, Ross and Hall.

I always thought it was a terrible shame that George Best played for the wrong team.

LiverpoolSquad1972-1973

 

 

Happy Juneteenth

England

Juneteenth is a holiday that originated in Galveston Texas, two years after emancipation.  It marks the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read a proclamation that informed the slaves in Texas that they were free.  It is known variously as Freedom day, Liberation day and Jubilee day.

A song closely associated with this day is “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, a negro song thought to have been used by slaves as a code to navigate the underground railroad.  It  has been adopted by English Rugby as an anthem for their team.  It began life when Chris Oti, the first English black player for 80 years, scored a hat-trick of tries against Ireland in 1988.  The RFU is actively working to replace it with a less racially charged anthem.

Here is a poem to America that serves as the polar opposite to the Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” slogan.  It is a perfect Juneteenth poem.  Someone should print LABAA hats.

 

Let America Be America Again: Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Happy Birthday Jacques Cousteau

Cousteau

As a scuba diver myself I am eternally grateful to the father of the Aqualung, the pioneer of sport diving Jacques Cousteau.  Born on this day in Aquitaine, France in 1910.

His contribution to diving, and to marine conservation, cannot be overstated.  He was also hugely influential in the film industry and bringing nature documentaries to a mainstream audience.

If you look up the town of Kilkee in Ireland on Wikipedia you will see a note that Cousteau considered Kilkee the finest dive site in Europe.  He probably said it too.  He regularly dived there with the local Scuba fanatic, the owner of the fish and chip shop: Manuel Dilucia.   As you can tell from his surname Manuel was not a Kilkee native; he was born in Belfast.  Indeed so were his parents.  It was his grandparents who emigrated from Italy.

Manuel’s was the “good” chipper in Kilkee.  A bit more expensive but worth it if you had a spare penny.  Manuel Dilucia was involved in all things marine in Kilkee.  He brought his love of seafood to the Irish people, who rated the fruits of the sea low on the scale of things to eat.  Manuel brought his Italian delight of seafood together with his love of marine sport.  He eventually opened a gourmet seafood restaurant in Kilkee when the locals were ready for more than battered cod after the pub.

He helped the Gardai with underwater searches, he pioneered scuba diving, he worked tirelessly on conservation of the natural environment and he founded the marine rescue service. It is no surprise that Jacques Cousteau would seek him out if he was interested in diving the West of Ireland.  So it may be unaccredited but I believe that Jacques Cousteau said that Kilkee was the best place to dive in Europe.

 

Dover Beach; by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
upon the straits; on the French coast the light
gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
listen! you hear the grating roar
of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
at their return, up the high strand,
begin, and cease, and then again begin,
with tremulous cadence slow, and bring
the eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
of human misery; we
find also in the sound a thought,
hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
retreating, to the breath
of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
and naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
to one another! for the world, which seems
to lie before us like a land of dreams,
so various, so beautiful, so new,
hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
and we are here as on a darkling plain
swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
where ignorant armies clash by night.

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.

 

 

 

Happy Parilia

Romulus

Parilia is an ancient Roman spring festival which came to mark the founding of the City in the late Roman Republic.   It was held to fall on April 21st and legend says Rome was founded in the year 753 BC.

Parilia was a spring festival which is said to pre-date the foundation of Rome.  Pales  was a rustic deity and a patron of Shepherds and their Flocks.  It is no accident that a festival for shepherds falls at this time of year when most of the lambs are born.  The shepherd can count his likely wealth from this moment.  It is time to offer thanks for a fertile flock and healthy lambs.

Parilia was a purification festival, absolving the shepherd and the sheep from any sins they may have committed by unintenionally trespassing on sacred ground, drinking from sacred wells or in any way falling afoul of higher authorities.  Sweet cakes were consumed and the night ended in rowdy drinking of boiled wine and milk (fresh from the newly purified sheep).

There are nascent elements of later Easter celebrations in the rituals, which involved making wreaths of foliage, setting them on fire and leaping through.  Stepping or leaping through a hoop or circle is a common trope in ceremonies of renewal and rebirth.  These days the sweet cakes and the flaming hoop are reduced to a chocolate egg.

This innocent bucolic festival was given two gory elements by the Republican Romans:  the Fordicidia and the Equus October.

The Fordicidia involved the slaughter of a pregnant cow to the Earth Mother Tellus as a plea for continued fertility of the cattle, the fields and the state.

The October horse was the head cut from right hand horse of the pair who pulled the winning chariot in the races in the previous years Ides of October.  The head was taken in a ritual battle honouring Mars and displayed for winter in the winning neighbourhood.  Remnants of this festival live on in the Italian town of Sienna which stages the Palio twice a year.  Palio / Pales / Parilia?  Sound alike?

The ashes of the unborn calf and the blood from the October Horse were mixed by the Vestals for the final offering of the festival.

Over the years the dedication of the festival moved from the old rural deities Pales, Tellus and Vesta to celebrate Roman Republican deities Jupiter, Mars and Venus until ultimately it celebrated the God Roma himself.

 

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.

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus

Roman Empire Gold Aureus Emperor Nero (54-68 AD) XF NGC ...

Born on this day, December 15th, 37 AD, the great, great grandson of Emperor Augustus, known popularly as Nero, he was the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.

Nero was a populist.  He instigated broad improvement and reform programmes in his reign, and entertained the people with games, plays and music.  All of which was funded by taxing the rich.  As a result the wealthy Romans and Provincial magnates hated him and made numerous attempts to assassinate him.

The greatest damage to his name in posterity was his supposed persecution of Christians.  The great fire of Rome in 64 AD destroyed a quarter of the city.  Accounts of what happened vary, but the version handed down by the Medieval Christian Church is the one that stuck.  Nero fiddled while Rome burned (violins had not been invented).  He burned down the city himself to create space for his personal mansion.  He blamed the Christians and had them fed to the lions in the Colosseum (which had not yet been built).

When Rome was rebuilt after the fire the insulae were well spaced on broad boulevards and constructed of brick, greatly reducing the risk of future conflagrations.  At the heart of the rebuilding was the Domus Aurea, the Golden House of Nero, the palace that drew the wrath of the wealthy taxpayers.

In the vestibule of the Domus Nero erected a 100 foot bronze statue of himself, called the Colossus of Nero.  For reference it was about the same size as the Statue of Liberty in New York.  A generation later when the Flavians were building their amphitheatre they they modified the statue to convert it from Nero to a representation of Sol, the Roman Sun God.

In 128 AD Emperor Hadrian had the Colossus moved, a feat requiring the aid of 24 elephants and had it erected outside the Flavian amphitheatre.  The Romans nicknamed the Flavian the “Colosseum” because of the statue, and the name stuck.

Quandiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma;
quando cadit coliseus, cadet et Roma;
quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus.

While the Colossus stands, Rome stands;
when the Colossus falls, Rome falls;
when Rome falls, the world falls.

Attributed to the Venerable Bede, the 8th Century monk, Father of English History.