Hot, hot, hot.

kinks

The Kinks lazing on a sunny afternoon……in the summertime

Today is summer Solstice and in Ireland we are “sweltering” in a heatwave.  A heatwave in Ireland is like a warm spring day in somewhere like Madrid, Kansas City or Cincinnati.  In other words, it’s not really that hot.  26 degrees Celsius or 79 degrees F is a heatwave here.

Something else that is hot is the lyrics of Ray Davies, one of my favourite songwriters who set the tone for the Kinks.  It is Ray’s birthday today, so here is one of his song lyrics.  What made Davies such a good writer was his mix of relevant social commentary with cutting wit and downright great tunes.  Ray, you’ve really got me.

Muswell Hillbillies is about the impact of slum clearance from city centres, a process of moving people from dangerous and unhealthy housing in vibrant communities out to safe accommodation in soulless housing estates in the 1950,s and 1960’s in the UK and Ireland.  Communities were ripped apart and families were left floundering trying to come to terms with a new paradigm for living.

 

Muswell Hillbillies : by Ray Davies

Well I said goodbye to Rosie Rooke this morning
I’m gonna miss her bloodshot alcoholic eyes
She wore her Sunday hat so she’d impress me
I’m gonna carry her memory ’til the day I die.

They’ll move me up to Muswell Hill tomorrow
Photographs and souvenirs are all I’ve got
They’re gonna try and make me change my way of living
But they’ll never make me something that I’m not.

Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy
but my heart lies in old West Virginia
Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Still I dream of the Black Hills that I ain’t never seen.

They’re putting us in little boxes
No character just uniformity
They’re trying to build a computerised community
But they’ll never make a zombie out of me.

They’ll try and make me study elocution
Because they say my accent isn’t right
They can clear the slums as part of their solution
But they’re never gonna kill my cockney pride.

Cos I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy
But my heart lies in Old West Virginia
Though my hills are not green
I have seen them in my dreams
Take me back to those Black Hills
That I have never seen.

Summer Holiday Time

Clonea

It’s one of those years in Ireland where the Summer will not settle.  Any fine day is soon blown away by a capricious wind which rips the blue from the sky and sends squall clouds scudding across the bay.

Wind; by Fannie Stearns Davis

The Wind bows down the poplar trees,
The Wind bows down the crested seas;
And he has bowed the heart of me
Under his hand of memory.

O heavy-handed Wind, who goes
Hurting the petals of the rose;
Who leaves the grasses on the hill
Broken and pallid, spent and still!

O heavy-handed Wind, who brings
To me all echoing ancient things:
Echoing sorrow and defeat,
Crying like mourners, hard to meet!

The Wind bows down the poplar trees
And all the ocean’s argosies;
But deeper bends the heart of me,
Under his hand of memory.

Ramadan

Iftar

Spare a thought today for Muslims living in Ireland.  Ramadan begins today at the height of the Irish Summer.

There are 50,000 muslims in Ireland.  They are not supposed to eat in the hours of daylight.

Daylight is defined as when you can tell a black thread from a white one.  That means they can’t eat or drink from 3am until 11pm.  So they go 20 hours of the day with nothing to eat or drink.  They need to wait until 11pm at night before they can sit down for the iftar meal and then, they have to rise only a couple of hours later at 2am if they want a bite of breakfast at suhoor.

The only way to cope with this situation is to sleep in the early evening when you come home from work.  Then dine through the late hours of the night and then go back to bed just as the sun begins to rise again.

Honestly, I don’t know how you are supposed to get through a working day like this.

Ramadan; by Kazim Ali

You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s

nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—

The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—

You are never going to know which night’s mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night’s recitation is secretly mere wind—

The Great Summer of 2014

The great summer of 2014 came to a snap close last weekend, when an Atlantic depression struck Ireland, bringing gale force winds to most of the country, and plunging the temperature from the balmy teens down almost to freezing last night.  It is a dramatic change in the weather.

The lawns are strewn with the litter of dead leaves, broken conkers and storm tossed branches.  The roads are crunchy with beech mast, hazel shell, alder cones, ash keys, sycamore helicopters and acorns.

The meteorological records show a long summer that was better than the average, with lower rainfall, higher temperatures and higher sunshine.  This pleasant summer gave way to a fantastic Indian summer all through the month of September and into early October.

We now use the term “Indian Summer” to refer to something positive.  An extension of the good weather.  In the past it was often used in a negative sense.  It is nature playing cruel tricks on plants, fooling them into germinating seeds that are doomed by winter frost.  It has connotations of infertility, inconsistency, inconstancy.  It might have been used to refer to the foolishness of a late flowering love affair.  The Indian Summer of a Spinster was seen as a foolishness in a society where the function of marriage was to produce children.  In modern society we are far more tolerant of romance, marriage for love and even gay marriage.

“Indian Summer” is one of those terms that has been researched to find the origin, only to come up empty.  We will probably never know who invented the term or why.  The origin seems to be from New England, and it was in widespread use in the 18th Century.

The original usage of the term referred to a period of unseasonably warm weather AFTER the first frost.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac has adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.”

There is a theory about the Indian Summer that SOUNDS viable.  Early New England settlers lived in fortified palisades, especially on the frontier.  There were conflicts between the British and the French spilling over from the Wars of the Spanish Succession and the Seven Years War in Europe, followed by the War of Independence.  The British, French and Colonists made frequent alliances with native american tribes and engaged in raids up and down the frontiers.  In addition, the Indian tribes were engaged in their own battles with each other and with the white settlers.

Once the snows of winter fell the Indian tribes would settle in to their winter lodges.  For the white settlers the risk of an Indian raid were greatly reduced by winters grip.  In this context an Indian summer was not a good thing.  It extended the season in which a war party could swoop down on a settlement and drive off some livestock or raid food stores.  Indian summer carries a connotation of the treacherous nature of weather opening a door to danger.  As an explanation for the origin of the term it seems to match with the negativity of original usage.  While Summer brings plenty an Indian summer brings violence and the potential for want and even starvation.

There is only one problem with this theory.  It is wrong.  Indians raided all through the winter.  In King Philips war 1675-76 both the Settlers and the Indians campaigned through the winter.  The Great Swamp War was fought in mid-December when frost made it easier for the settlers to attack the Indian Lodges on the swamp.  The Deerfield raid was in February, which would have been in the icy grip of winter.  So the notion that raiding parties did not venture out in winter snows is simply not true.

Fall, leaves, fall; by Emily Bronte

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Summers End

As we wind into the latter half of August the talk turns to school schedules, uniforms, books, study plans and the hopes and dreams of the year to come. It always seems to me that the Celts got it right, starting the new year at the end of the last harvest in Halloween. There is a natural feel of completeness to a year at the end of the summer, that is absent at the winter solstice.

The Academic year just seems more RIGHT as a way of ticking off time. We will shortly close up our summer bolt hole and go back to the ranch. Back to lift and dry the onions, harvest the turgid tomatoes and pick the plumbs. Look for the blackberries to ripen, with the promise of crumbles to come.

Autumn beckons with the promise of misty mornings, log fires and the hope of an indian summer.

The End of Summer; by Rachel Hadas

Sweet smell of phlox drifting across the lawn—
an early warning of the end of summer.
August is fading fast, and by September
the little purple flowers will all be gone.

Season, project, and vacation done.
One more year in everybody’s life.
Add a notch to the old hunting knife
Time keeps testing with a horny thumb.

Over the summer months hung an unspoken
aura of urgency. In late July
galactic pulsings filled the midnight sky
like silent screaming, so that, strangely woken,

we looked at one another in the dark,
then at the milky magical debris
arcing across, dwarfing our meek mortality.
There were two ways to live: get on with work,

redeem the time, ignore the imminence
of cataclysm; or else take it slow,
be as tranquil as the neighbors’ cow
we love to tickle through the barbed wire fence
(she paces through her days in massive innocence,
or, seeing green pastures, we imagine so).

In fact, not being cows, we have no choice.
Summer or winter, country, city, we
are prisoners from the start and automatically,
hemmed in, harangued by the one clamorous voice.

Not light but language shocks us out of sleep
ideas of doom transformed to meteors
we translate back to portents of the wars
looming above the nervous watch we keep

Happy Thanksgiving

Image

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving.  My brother Rory is Canadian, and he is over in Ireland at present, so he is having a family get together.  Rory is the boy on far left of the photo.  I am the one beside him with my back to the camera.  My two oldest brothers are missing from the photo.  I am guessing that one of them took this.

It is a great photo for capturing the zeitgeist.  Clearly back in those days Batman was popular.  Imagine that!

If you saw a picnic today, would you see five kids drinking cups of tea?  Note the Primus stove against the wall with the kettle on it.  The kettle was a fundamental requirement of a picnic in those days.  No coke or sodas, and strangely enough, no overweight people.

We are all sitting on a rubberised groundsheet.  In those days people worried about damp the way we now worry about bird flu and Al Quaeda terrorists.  Damp was the enemy.  You did not sit on damp ground.  You did not wear damp clothes.  Laundry regimes ensured that clothes were dried, folded and stored in a hot press to drive out any residual molecules of moisture before the clothes were worn.

My sister Deirdre (far right) has one trouser leg riding up and one held down with a strap.  Remember when girls slacks had hoops that went around the foot?  They stretched the fabric to keep it sheer.  Do they do that anymore?

This was taken in Skerries, a seaside and Fishing village in North County Dublin.  The Quinn Family (Fergal Quinn of Superquinn fame) used to run the Red Island holiday resort there at the time.  The pink paint on the bench looks funny.  Nowadays it is all blues and greens for seaside furniture.  It’s like somebody wrote a manual of approved furniture paints for seaside applications.  If they painted promenade benches pink today there would probably be complaints from the “concerned public”.  Too racy by far.

Trying to put a date on this.  I am guessing it is the summer of ’69.  That would make me 5 and Batman (Cormac) 3.  He looks about 3.  But he could be 4, so it could be 1970.

My sister Síle (black hair) believed she was adopted.  I wonder why?  For info, the two missing older boys also have red hair.

Note that despite the glorious sunshine and a clear blue sky, there is an umbrella hooked on the back of the bench.  Well, it is Ireland after all.  It never rains on those with umbrellas!

Today also happens to be my mothers birthday, so the thanksgiving is also a birthday celebration.  Sadly I will miss it in person, but thanks to the wonders of Skype I hope to attend in spirit.  Happy 86th Maura.  Here is the poem that I always associate with my mom.  She learned it for her Diploma in Speech and Drama and I have vivid memories of arriving home for lunch from school, to hear her reciting it.  And I remember that my lunch was not ready.  Imagine, a parent having a life!   The indignity.

Stony Grey Soil ; by Patrick Kavanagh

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick-tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life-conquering plough!
Your mandril strained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of coward’s brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food.

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I still stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisened pen

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsha, Drummeril, Black Shanco –
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.