How Green was my valley?


Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.




In our lives we face many choices.  Some we get right, some we get wrong.  What defines us is how we deal with the negative outcomes.  Do I play victim, or do I accept responsibility for my choice, embrace it and move on?

There are many types of choices.  Some of them we claim are not a choice at all.  This is especially useful if you want to play victim in your life.  “I had no real choice” is a great excuse.

Hobsons Choice

Thomas Hobson (1544-1631)was the operator of a livery stable in Cambridge, England. When asked for a horse to hire, Hobson would bring the customer a single option, the next horse in his rotation. The customer’s “choice” was then essentially “to take it or leave it,” in other words no choice at all.  Or was it?  Hobson’s Choice is still a choice.  In “The Godfather” Hobsons Choice is represented by the statment “The Don made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

Achilles Choice

In Homer’s Iliad, the Greek hero Achilles tells the embassy that wants him to return to the battle against the Trojans that he has been given an important choice in his life.

“My mother, the goddess Thetis of the silver feet, has told me that
a dual-fate carries me until the day of my death.
If I remain here and wage war against the city of Troy,
I will never survive to go home, but my fame will be immortal.
Yet if I leave here to return to my dear homeland,
I shall have no noble fame, but my life will be long
and the end of death will not reach me quickly.” (Iliad 9.410-416)

Achilles choice is a great dinner party ice breaker.  Which would you choose, a long, content but unremarkable life, or to go out in a blaze of glory and be remembered forever?

Sophie’s Choice

Another choice we face might be termed as “the lesser of two evils”.  In the Odyssey the hero must choose to travel nearer Scylla or Charybdis, each a potential killer.  In the movie “Sophie’s Choice” the heroine must choose to keep either her son or her daughter as she enters Auschwitz camp.  Failure to choose results in both being taken away.  So she chooses, and let’s face it, it is not a choice that you can NOT regret.  We often call such a situation being “between a rock and a hard place” or being “between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

The latter, I believe is from sailing lore.  The “devil” is the longest seam on a wooden ship.  If it needed to be caulked when underway the caulker was suspended in a very difficult position!

Mortons Fork

A specious piece of reasoning where contradictory arguments lead to the same (unpleasant) conclusion. It is said to originate with the collecting of taxes by John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 15th century.  He visited lords with his entourage, and they could either plead poverty, and entertain him modestly, or they could try to win him over with their generosity and hospitality.  He held that a man living modestly must be saving money and could therefore afford taxes, whereas if he was living extravagantly then he was obviously rich and could still afford them.  We might also call this choice “being on the horns of a dilemma.”

Lawyers often try to impale a witness or defendant on a Mortons Fork.  My favourite is a question phrased such as “Stop evading the question, answer the court with a Yes or a NO, do you still beat your wife?”

So we face some difficult choices in life, and ultimately the real choice we face is how to deal with the aftermath.  Do you moan and wail or do you shrug your shoulders, brush off the dirt and get back on the horse?

One Art; by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel.
None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.