À la recherche du temps perdu*


Involuntary memory is the serendipitous recollection of past events through an unexpected stimulus.  In Proust’s novel* it is famously the eating of a Madeline dipped in tea which triggers the protagonist’s memory.

Current thinking on the structure of the brain is that it operates somewhat like a watershed.  Instead of rain falling on hills, carving a stream which becomes a river and flows to a meeting with the sea, we have a set of stimuli which react in the brain, following established links and connections to come to a certain conclusion.

When we have a particularly happy event, our levels of neurotransmitters are high.  Patterns are laid down by Dopamine, Seratonin and Norepinephrine in our brain.  These patterns are associated with a pleasurable experience (or sometimes with a traumatic one).

The patterns act like the watershed of a river.  A little rain falls on one side of a hill in County Cavan, and it will flow to the sea via the Shannon River.  With a small gust of wind that rain falls on the other side of the hill.  The water will enter Lough Erne and reach the sea at Sligo bay.  Once the watershed is established that rain can go nowhere else but down the established flow.

In the same way the smell of cookies in the oven may trigger memories of your grandmother.  A particular floor polish smell may bring back the memory of visiting your father at work.  A certain taste combination may open up a memory of a very special night of moonlight and romance.  One neurotransmitter sets off another and another in sequence until the memory is fully formed.

Involuntary memory is as good as it gets!

Sonnet XXX; by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

Mirror Mirror


Titian:  Venus with a mirror
As you trowel on the ol’ slap tonight in preparation for your big rosemantic night of the year, bear in mind that you are engaged in one of life’s key rituals. What BBDO call “Sexing Up” in their Ritual Masters study.

In MCCP we found that, for women anyway, the moment of truth, the key win of the night, the high point, is that final check in the mirror. You know that moment, in the hallway, the door is open, the taxi is waiting, you turn to the mirror and there you see her, your radiant self, the special you, gorgeous. Yes, you are worth it!

Most men don’t realise that this is make or break time. If the date with the mirror is good, the night is a hit. If the date with the mirror goes wrong the poor guy is left dazed and confused, wondering what he said that put her in the bad mood. Truth is he was never even in with a chance.

For many women a girls night out is far better than a date. You have the added benefits of getting ready together, helping each other to look good, going out with people who understand the trouble you have gone through to look this good. They have a clue about fashion too.

Preparation starts days before going out. Some call and talk about the evening ahead; teenage girls photo message pictures of their outfits for approval and reassurance. People eat and drink luxury foods, forget diets and treat themselves.

The music you listen to as you get ready has the power to put you in a certain mood. It’s amazing we have lots of “driving down the road” music compilations and “love” compilations, but wouldn’t it be great to have a “putting on the ritz” compilation record?

Lots of brands participate in the sexing up ritual, starting days in advance with restaurant and event bookings, clothes shopping, waxes, hair colours, plucking, exfoliating. On the day we have shaving of all sorts of body parts, men and women, tooth whitening, brushing, flossing. Makeup (insert tech piece here). Deodorant, anti-perspirant, spray on smelly stuff, nail varnish, eye drops, alcohol, over the counter drugs, recreational drugs, contraceptives etc etc. Sexing up is a brand marketing wet dream.

Bottom line: when “sexing up,” people are transforming from their normal to most confident selves. They use special products to make themselves feel special.

Was it better in the good old days, when a man could get by on his dreams?

HE wishes for the cloths of heaven: William Butler Yeats

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Budget Baby


Today the Irish Government announces the budget for 2014.  This is the one that is supposed to free us from “the clutches” of the Troika.  What a joke!  Not so long ago those “clutches” were “helpful hands”, perhaps even “comforting arms”.  Beware the pejorative language of politicians and journalists.  Beware pejorative language in general.  When someone couches a noun with an adjective ask why did they use that adjective?

Language aside, the government is making an attempt to step out of the controls that the Troika insist upon in exchange for financial surety.  This is not to say that the government can have a party, blow money and spend like it is 2005.  I wonder if the Irish Government is being sensible about this.  As long as you are under Troika control you can deflect negative sentiment away from yourselves.  As soon as the Troika is out of the picture the full weight of economic angst will fall squarely on the government parties.

Have we reached an end to recession?  Can the Irish government count on an upward trajectory in the coming years.  If the situation in the USA continues then I would say no!  Until the US financial crisis is settled the global economy hovers on the brink of another collapse.  Political brinkmanship by the Republican Party in the USA is a threat to the world.

What is most interesting is to hear the Chinese premier state that the world needs to move away from the US economic model.  Perhaps he is right.  The US model seems to be broken.  Perhaps a society driven by oligarchic capitalists, unmitigated greed and founded on debt funded rampant consumerism doesn’t work after all.

A radical idea, but one that has been around for a while:  http://vimeo.com/60345640

My first Grand-Nephew was born yesterday to my niece Eavan.  What world will he face?  When he is 50, in 2063 I will be 100 years old, if I am still alive.  He will hopefully be paterfamilias of his own clan.  Will he look back fondly at us and the legacy we have left for him?  Or will he spit on the generation who mortgaged his future so that we could have oak flooring, a newer car and an iPhone?

Infant Joy’ by William Blake

“I have no name;
I am but two days old.”
What shall I call thee?
“I happy am,
Joy is my name.”
Sweet joy befall thee!
Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!


Horseman pass by.

My first cousin, Liz Kay, passed away this week after a long battle with cancer.  Her mother, Ann, was one of my Fathers sisters.  She also died of cancer, leaving a young family.  I grew up knowing my cousin as Lillian McKenna.  Then we were told to stop calling her Lillian, that her name was Elizabeth.  This then became Liz.  That seems to happen with a lot of Irish names.  My father started life as Patrick.  As a young man everyone knew him as Pat.  As he aged he became Paddy.


Liz was a model to anyone suffering from a long illness.  To the very end she remained upbeat and positive.  She treated her illness as an intruder into her life, a monster eating away at her, but not part of her, not her.  She fought it.  She fought with diet, medicine, positive attitude, any weapon available to her.  In the end she died, but I don’t think she was ever defeated.


She brightened the world for all those around her.  She always behaved like a lady.  She radiated positive energy, smiling and interacting with everyone.  In the absence of her light the world is just that little bit of a darker place.


On Another’s Sorrow; By William Blake


Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear —

And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!
He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not near.

Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled an gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

Winter is Coming

Really, it feels like we live in Westeros rather than Ireland.  For the second year in a row spring has not arrived.  This is April 28th and we are still getting frosty mornings.  The hedgerows are only now beginning to leave.  Migrating birds are stuck in France waiting for the weather to pick up before they arrive. What has happened the weather?  Is this the climate change that was predicted, or are we just in a cyclical phase of cold winters and bad summers?

It is the ultimate expression of pathetic fallacy.  As we languish in the sixth straight year of recession the nation limps into another failed spring.  The mood of the nation is perfectly matched by the climate.  And the weather is compounding the woes of the economy.  Farmers have run out of fodder and the spring grass has not arrived.  The government has had to introduce a form of dole for cattle and sheep.  Sales in garden centres are down 25% as the spring planting fever has failed to take hold.  Who would invest in a lawn chair or a barbeque in such weather?

The Sun Bathers; William Carlos Williams

A tramp thawing out
on a doorstep
against an east wall
Nov. 1, 1933:

a young man begrimed
and in an old
army coat
wriggling and scratching

while a fat negress
in a yellow-house window
leans out and yawns

into the fine weather