Not so much looking down as across..

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kevin Andrew Murray 1920 - 1980

Kevin Murray was born on November 30th 1920 to Kathleen and Patrick Murray in 63 Dublin Street Carlow. His father, Patrick, died when Kevin was only four. His mother Kathleen spent much of her time in England. Consequently Kevin was reared in the main by his wonderful sisters Biddy and Maureen. I never met my grandmother Kathleen nor indeed did my mother - to all intents and purposes Kevin was an orphan in his own home.
At sixteen he sat the Leaving Certificate and got top marks in the class. Having nothing better to do and lacking career advice, he repeated his Leaving Certificate the following year and again got top marks.
He served briefly and without distinction in the army reserves during the 'Emergency' (the Second World War) and upon escaping military life joined the newly formed Bord Na Mona - the semi state industrial company tasked with developing Ireland's bogs and harvesting the turf for industrial and domestic consumption. His job was to inspect privately owned bogs with a veiw to assessing their suitability for industrial harvesting. When petrol was scarce, which was most of time in the post war years, he would get up on his bike and would regularly cycle up to fifty miles a day over the Ox mountains to small blanket bogs lying on the Sligo Roscommon border.

He survived as an eligible - and at times a hell raising - bachelor for many years living elegantly in the Grand Hotel in Sligo which to this day stands on the Garvogue River that flows through the town. His carefree life came to crashing end when he met Lily McDonagh who at the time was engaged to another. They were married at 9.00 in the morning of 8th September 1950 and by lunchtime they were on a train to Dublin and on their way to their honeymoon in the Isle of Man. Kevin was never to step on a plane again.

Their first house was in Murrisk County Mayo. In early 1952 work brought them to Birr in County Offaly. The 'bog road' led them to Portumna later that year and eventually to head office in 1953. They bought a semi detached house in Churchtown, Dublin in the Spring of 1953. It was in this pleasant semi detached house they raised their family. Lily lives in the house to this day. I was born in July 1951, Catherine (Kate) was adopted at five months in November 1957. Lily and Kevin had gone to the orphanage to bring home a little boy but were capitvated by a little five month old girl who had lovely sad eyes. Kevin reckoned a daughter would be company for Lily in her old age. Tragically Kate died in February 2007 at the tender age of 48. But to the souind of the Angelus Bells Margaret was born three years later in August 1961. Karma, or what?

Kevin received a degree in Social Science in 1955 from UCD. His was the first group of evening students to graduate. Sadly this academic achievement did not lead to improved pay or conditions. It did however encourage him to pursue research and to lecture by night with the College of Industrial Relations (now the National College of Ireland).

He was extremely well read on matters of religion, sociology, industrial relations, and psychology. His private library was one of the best domestic collections in Dublin in the mid fifties.

His letters were masterpieces and his handwriting immaculate.
He suffered not from having too few talents but from having too many.
He did however lack the 'political' instincts to rise up the ranks of a big firm and so he languished in a job that did not make use of his many talents.

He suffered a massive stroke and heart attack one night in late September 1971. It took three crucial days to work out the double diagnoses. He underwent a number of operations to remove the damaged parts of the brain. He was not expected to survive the operations or even less to ever walk or talk again. Amazingly he did both. His GP called him the 'miracle patient'. Slowly over a period of many years he regained much but not all of what he once had been. Some of him died the night of his massive stroke.

To give his employers full credit they found him a job of sorts and he continued working until the 9th of January 1980. His friend brought him from work to a shop near home. As he was leaving the shop he collapsed and never recovered consciousness. His last purchase was a bar of chocolate for his daughter Margaret. His last three cheques had been made out to charities.

Lily often asked him 'Kevin, we have little or no money, why do you give so much to charity' His response was always the same 'Ah Lily, the rich, they cannot afford it' Lily does not claim the same sanctity but she has often remarked 'you never miss what you give to charity'.

Kevin lies in a well tended grave in Deans Grange Cemetery.
The gravestone and the blog will stand to the memory of Kevin Andrew Murray.
Here's to you Dad. We shall never forget.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Football Crazy

What is life without faith and hope? As I compose this blog the artistic photo of the football I took the other night in a friend's back garden is just six lines of hieroglyphics on my screen. It is more than a little disconcerting. I hope and believe this mumbo jumbo will turn into a football when I press 'publish'. Et voila - like a ugly duckling turned into a swan...

Are you a little tired about this football thing already? Like me, do you prefer to play a bad game of golf or football rather than watch a good one? Do you mourn the fact we have become a society of 'watchers' rather than 'doers'? Do you mourn the death of amateurism and the birth of professionalism?
And what is about football and language? Teams no longer lose a match and retire for tea and cucumber sandwiches. No! They are dumped out. They travel home in disgrace on economy flights.

Do you believe it is more important to take part than to win? I find this passion to win at all costs slightly ridiculous. If we wanted to win that badly, why not play against a team of blind people where the result would never be in doubt?
Can football be telling us more about society than sport? Just as we get the politicians we vote for and the papers we buy, we get the sports we pay for. We begin to live our lives through our teams and through our sports heroes. Instead we should bin the remote and bring the kids down to the park and kick a ball of any shape or size.

I travelled to the home of Manchester United at Old Trafford about fifteen years ago with my son. A number of things surprised me. We could not find a taxi driver who supported Manchester United. They were all fans of Manchester City whom I hardly knew at the time. In the hotel where we were staying there were Finns and Poles, there were fans from Iceland and Ireland. Man United was a global brand. God help us!

The following day we enjoyed a fabulous lunch in the Old Trafford Corporate Area with the 'prawn sandwich brigade'. We were treated to a four course meal washed down with wine. The glamorous lady who sat at my table enquired who was playing that afternoon. She tottered out on improbably high heels to see the first half of the match but stayed in the bar for the entire second half. Her corporate seat lay empty while her pretty derriere occupied a bar stool. No wonder Roy Keane made his prawn sandwich remark.

And then there is FIFA. I am sure they do a lot of good work for the game - but have they become too powerful? The World Cup in South Africa will make hundreds of millions for FIFA while leaving the hosts with losses of roughly the same amount. How can this be right? Should South Africa be marooned with debts of hundreds of millions when the circus leaves town?

The perceived wisdom is that we need huge stadia catering for tens of thousands of people. I think the blind conviction that big is beautiful is nonsense. If you travel to the new Croke Park Stadium, home of Gaelic Games, you better not suffer from vertigo. It is just too big to be intimate. You end up watching action on the big screens around the ground. If you are watching a screen I reckon you would be better at home or even in a pub where you can criticise the ref in some comfort.

The same madness applies to the current trend in medicine - where the only belief permitted is the orthodoxy of bigness and centralisation. Give me a local hospital any day - but that is for another blog.

Having played rugby at school, I am now a convert to Gaelic games - football and hurling - which are still amateur. Sadly even in the GAA there is a growing belief that professionalism is the only way forward. This insanity is sadly gaining ground. Those who defend professionalism point out that players now have to train five nights a week and thereby travel up to a thousand miles. My solution is very simple -prohibit training more than twice a week and prohibit playing for teams more than ten miles away. Problem solved. We want sport that is amateur and that is local. The money spent on Sky Sports would be better spent locally.

The inhabitants of Easter Island were convinced they should cut down all their trees to able to build a statue bigger than the next door neighbour's. An entire civilisation can get things wrong. I believe this current love affair with 'sporting excellence' to be an aberration of the human spirit. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of millions of people around the world sacrifice their money and their health so that a few hundred sports people can get enormously and ridiculously wealthy. Insanity. Women mostly see through this nonsense. Sadly a few ladies have fallen by the wayside in recent years. They should be saving their husbands from careers spent in pubs watching 'sport' and gaining ever more girth.

Like a voice in the wilderness I know that my words are falling on deaf ears. Indeed I will be lucky to find any ears - even deaf ones. But we do need to rediscover ourselves, to believe again that the important thing is to take part. The motto for 2010 should be - don't watch it - just do it...

View from a hospital bedroom

If this Blog ever sees the light of day it will be a miracle and a denial of modern technology that suggests you should know what you are doing. This is being composed on a temperamental iPhone on a dodgy connection from a hospital bedroom beside Dublin airport. My daughter Lucy is recovering from a minor operation - if there is any such thing as a 'minor' operation that involves a general anaesthetic. Happily she is recovering well.

I feel genuinely sorry for Lucy's generation. They take mobile phones and iPhones, the Internet and Google for granted. I have to pinch myself every day. I don't take this new technology for granted. I live in fear we will wake up some day to find it is all gone and it has been a dream - a little like the wealth we thought had during the days of the Celtic Cheetah (maybe we were all cheated..). Life was travelling so fast it was a blur. If Aesop was still around I assume he would compose an appropriate tale and perhaps post it as a Blog.

From the hospital bedroom I can look across at the state of the art consultants suites. Maybe we do have something to show after all for the go go years. Maybe we did not blow it all. The private hospital is situated in the middle of a private estate with it's own private road. The rooms are better than the Four Seasons Hotel and no doubt cost a lot more.

We are thrilled with the service and excellence of comfort and care. Hospitals must be one of the few remaining quasi monopolies left. You do not appear in reception and ask for a midweek special, or check the price if dinner is not included. People who haggle over a ten euro hotel service charge do not even blink when the bill arrives for hundreds of euro.

Through the window I can see the planes as they take off and land in nearby Dublin Airport - the building we Irish love and hate in equal measure. I predict that in the distant future in a faraway land a kindly despot will build an airport building full of music and light, with running water rushing over mini waterfalls and tropical birds singing in the trees. While waiting to take off or waiting for a friends to arrive you will be able to take a shower and sauna, a massage and haircut, and enjoy five star fine dining.

I am after all a child of the fifties when the airport seemed to be the ultimate in excitement and allure. There was silver service dining and tea was served in fine bone china. Generally airports did not resemble a scene from Schindler's List. Human beings can be funny and gracious when allowed. When herded like cattle we display less endearing characteristics.

From the window I can see hundreds of new apartments. They seem attractive. Many have window boxes and bicycles on the patios (is this just an Irish thing?). Have you noticed? The flowers this year have been at their most vivid. Purple and blue are the colours that are making the strongest statement after our long, wet cold winter.

The hospital room boasts a screen beside the bed you would not even get flying first class on a long haul flight. Yesterday the three of us got to see the end of the longest game of tennis in history when John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut in the fifth set after almost eleven hours. Well done both. Vive la France! By comparison tennis players earn a lot less than footballers - but that is for another blog.

From our room we see the comings and goings of patients around us. A lady we met yesterday has just been wheeled into the room across from us with a new knee she just received this morning. Patients and visitors alike are bound by a common vulnerability and humanity.

We will depart tomorrow around midday and leave behind this parallel world of swabs and blood, of hope and suffering, of kindness and service. Is there any more worthwhile job in the world than that of a nurse? Both my sisters were nurses and I am so proud of them. The day is now coming to a close and looking out the hospital window I see the lights of the cars on the M50 who seem oblivious to our existence and whizz past in hurried ignorance.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

When St. Patrick looked out over Clew Bay

Even allowing for exaggeration and the separation of time we can be fairly sure that St. Patrick came to Ireland, first as a slave and then as a missionary 20 years later around AD431. He is reputed to have spent forty days and forty nights in prayer on the holy mountain that overlooks Clew Bay in County Mayo. The mountain is named after Patrick for that reason. 'Croagh' is the anglicised name for mountain. To complicate matters further the locals refer to the mountain as the Reek. The annual pilgrimage takes place on the last Sunday in July and is termed 'Reek Sunday'.
I was born in a little ten-house village (that has barely changed in 60 years) at the foot of Croagh Patrick called Murrisk on the eve of Reek Sunday 1951. My mother who nearly died in my delivery was recovering in Castlebar Hospital while my father climbed the reek in thanksgiving. His thanksgiving had begun in the pub the previous night and had lasted into the small hours whereupon he begun the treacherous ascent. It was a miracle of St. Patrick himself that my father got up the Reek and even more miraculous that he descended. While my poor suffering mother was up the creek, her celebratory husband was up the Reek.
My son Daniel and I climbed Croagh Patrick last year to raise money for Amnesty International. Daniel had climbed the mountain previously but this was my first (and perhaps last) time. Despite many promises made and broken I had never succeeded in scaling the mountain that overlooked our first family home which was a humble cottage in Murrisk.
On recovering, my mother returned to the cottage with her new born son. She tells me that she spent those first early months walking with me in the pram along the road that is overlooked by the mountain and in turn overlooks Clew Bay. Apparently in 1951 the Bay turned an emerald green because of the plankton (certainly not my fault). Maybe it is while sitting up in my pram that I developed my love for the West of Ireland, for the sea and its harsh majesty and for the bare but beautiful mountains Four years ago my mother and I retraced our steps. We tried to find the cottage we had left in Spring 1952 for the town of Birr, Co. Offaly. We discovered the house had been demolished but we were able to trace its foundations to the stream where my mother used to wash our clothes - no tap water in those days - even less a washing machine. As we walked the field we felt the shadow of Croagh Patrick loom over us as we climbed over the stream that makes its gurgling passage to the sea beyond.
In honour of my Grandfather, I was called Patrick and in deference to the Mayo version of Patrick, I was called Padraic. That is Padraic with a 'c' not a 'g'. Thanks to the great golfer Padraig Harrington the name with a 'g' is well established - perhaps too well established. I often give up explaining the difference between 'c' and 'g'. Nearly all of my friends to this day call me Padraic and write to me as Padraig. I am sure I have been called worse.
Parents should be very careful of the name they give to their children. My daughter Claire's middle name is Marie which never gave her any trouble until the day she went to receive her parchment in UCD on Graduation Day. When her name was called out 'Claire Marie Murray' (try saying it out loud..) there was a snigger in the Aula and I have not been forgiven yet.
The recently publicised census' of 1901 and 1911 have revealed to me some things I never knew - that my paternal grandfather - Patrick -(who was to die in 1924 when my father was only 4 ) also had a son called Patrick who must have died before his first birthday.
Despite having to explain and spell my name for the last 59 years I am still proud of it - except when I travel to Spain. The name Padraic can be mistaken aurally for 'podrido' - 'rotten' - so I go by 'Patrick' - my late grandfather's and uncle's name - full circle.
St. Patrick also gave one of the best explanations of what Christians call the Trinity -by using a shamrock. It was a clever prop. One God with three divine persons, one shamrock with three leaves. Even though I harbour growing doubts about the divinity of Jesus I am still proud of what Patrick did and guilty that I cannot share his conviction.
Notwithstanding my struggle with faith I still admire and revere the prayer attributed to him, his breastplate which contains many sublime lines and includes
Christ be with me. Christ be within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
I spent four happy summers in the Gaeltacht in the West of Ireland where the presence of God was a natural and daily occurrence that included greetings - 'Dia dhuit '- 'God be with you' and the response 'buiochas le dia' 'thanks be to God'. God moved easily in and out of the lives of the spiritual people that lived in the poor conditions of the Atlantic seaboard where Cromwell had banished them. Part of their unconscious spirituality lies within my DNA.
Patrick is a name that has travelled widely. It is well established in France, perhaps through the wild geese. It almost has cult status in Mexico where the 'San Patricio's' - an Irish band of renegades or freedom fighters - depending on your point of view - turned sides and defended Mexico against an imperialist US army towards the middle of the 19th century.
From the top of Croagh Patrick you can see the beautiful expanse of Clew Bay which allegedly has 365 islands - a handy number. There is a majesty and still beauty looking across the bay to hills that have been weathered for over a million years. A stark and haunting landscape. No wonder St. Patrick chose to spend his retreat on this holy mountain. No wonder thousands have climbed the Reek for centuries as they will again on July 24th this year.
I think I might climb it again this year. Certainly with Daniel. but certainly not on Reek Sunday. The crowds do not make it easy to ascend or descend. St. Patrick has already saved one Murray; it would be a lot for us to expect him to save two more, no matter the forename

Escape to a bolt hole

Many of us value having a place where we can escape both physically and mentally. For us Dubliners it can be a place down the country. It can be a caravan in Brittas Bay, County Wicklow, A golf lodge in Rosslare, County Wexford or a lakeside apartment or boat on the Shannon.
We used to own a caravan (sorry, 'mobile home.'.) in Tara Glen ,County Wexford. As the barrier rose and I entered the camp site my heart rose. I left my worries at the gate. I put on my shorts and runners and didn't think of distant Dublin until the barrier opened to allow me leave some days later. Sadly we grew out of the mobile home. The children got older and developed their own friends and interests in Dublin. We sold it with great regret some years ago and left a little bit of our heart and a section of our life buried there.
We then bought a small apartment in Tenerife that overlooks the pool and the sea - as you can see. Tenerife has become our new bolt hole. Unfortunately it is more than an hour down the M11 motorway. It takes four hours to fly to Tenerife and another four hours getting to and from airports. It does however have the advantage of meaning that when you are gone, you are gone.
Tenerife has become our second home and where eventually we will spend the winters. The cost of living is 50% less than in Ireland and we often wonder if everything goes pear shaped financially would we we better to move out permanently.
The greatest thing about Tenerife is not necessarily when we are there but the knowledge that at the cost of 100 euro and a four hour flight we can indeed be there. It's like having insurance. You don't need to claim on it every day. Similar to almost everything in life, anticipation is greater than consummation, as the actress explained to the Bishop.
Tenerife allows us to do some things better than we do at home - to be better and more considerate neighbours, to spend less time in front of the telly and more time walking, chatting and swimming. We can escape some of the social straight jackets we insist on wearing at home. We can make friends without pressures of family or finance.
Paradise gained can also be Paradise lost. Many are the stories of couples who retire to Spain or France to find that life follows them with a vengeance - but that is a blog for another day.
But where else would you be today?, except in Ireland - the sun is shining, the white sailed boats scud along Dublin Bay. I will probably walk from Bray to Greystones in the afternoon and drop into Dalkey for the Dalkey book festival this evening. Last night I attended a hugely enjoyable talk in the Heritage Centre, listening to the excellent Bernard Farrell reflect on his good friend Hugh Leonard. It was a unique experience, sitting in the hall looking through the floor to ceiling windows out to St Begnets Church dating back over one thousand years. It was a backdrop the Abbey Theatre (no pun intended) could only dream of. Dalkey buzzed. Clients of the Queens Bar sitting out on the terrace lapped up the late evening sunshine. The Borza Cafe filled the main street with the powerful aroma of salt and vinegar, fish and chips. Now you don't get that in Tenerife!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dogs are human too

This is Ruby sitting on her favourite step. The location is perfect. She can keep an eye on the front door which is unfortunately made of glass. Such is her territorial instinct that she extends her concern not only to our modest front garden but to the entire road. Anything that goes up or down the road is barked at except of course burglars and postmen.
Ruby will be nine in July, one of a litter of 4 pups that were born to her bichon frise mother in Blessington County Wicklow. She has a genealogy longer than our family. We are using the 1901 Census to find out about our grandparents. Ruby goes back 9 generations, no problem.
The family speculates that her great grandmother was actually a sheep who met a handsome dog at a barn dance somewhere outside of Paris. In support of our theory we point to her white fluffy coat which is pure wool. You could make an Aran sweater, if you had the time and the tiny needles. When she runs she gambols like a sheep and travels obliquely - a little like the knight in chess - forward and sideways at the same time.
Our youngest daughter who loves animals of all types begged us to get a dog. She was allergic to dog hair so I was able to postpone the decision for years (you are either a dog person or your not (or you become one)). My wife always had a dog at home. We never had. Eventually I succumbed to blatant lies - 'it wont cost you a penny' - 'you won't have to walk her' - 'you wont even notice her.'
For a start her hair cut costs a multiple of mine. I am accused of cheating because I managed to get a haircut from a Lithuanian barber in Dun Laoghaire for five euro before Christmas.
The point of this article is to suggest that dogs may actually be human and if that is the case they should have rights.
As I have discovered, dogs can share all our emotions - fear, envy, anger, generosity, gratitude and stubbornness. When my wife takes a break with 'the girls' and returns she is not immediately forgiven. Ruby turns round and gives the world her bum while she sulks for about an hour. Eventually she seems to forgive and the tail starts wagging again.
If there is a judgement day, is it possible we will be judged on the way we treat animals? The way we look after our pets reflects often the way we look after others. St. Peter won't bother with all the questions about tax returns and the cardinal sins - he will just ask us how we treated our pets.
Then there is the theory that over time we begin to look like our pets. I have believed the reverse to be the case - over time they begin to look like us - and none of us is getting any younger. No wonder people feel sorry for our dog.
I love the pets cemetery in the Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. There are monuments to dogs and horses. It gives the impression that the animals were very much part of the family. They have headstones far more impressive than I will ever enjoy.
In recent times I have come to question the way we treat our pets. Should animals be our playthings? Or should they be free to roam like Lassie on the prairie? Do we diminish them and ourselves by keeping them in our houses which become mini zoos? Are animals created for our enjoyment or do they have rights? I just don't know.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I can see Wales on a clear day

The picture was taken at great personal peril. I had to take off my executive shoes and socks, roll up my pinstripe trousers and walk to the edge of the beach. I am not sure if the photo will win any prizes.
It was noon on Swansea Beach and the picture captures the tallest building in Wales. The burghers of Swansea are rightly proud of this architectural feat.
Just as the citizens of Dublin look down on the people of Cork, (rumour) so the citizens of Cardiff, the Welsh Capital, look down on the Swansea folk (fact). So it is with immense pride that they can point to having the tallest building in Wales. Cardiff had been planning a taller one, designed by I. Carus, but the credit crunch burnt away his wings and his plans. So for the foreseeable future Swansea holds the bragging rights.
Swansea now also boasts of being the wettest city in Britain. I am not sure if it is the very thing I would advertise, but the Swansea folk mention it and are proud of it. I did not need an official from the met office to give me statistics. My sodden shoes last summer attested to the fact that when it rains in Swansea it does so horizontally.
Dylan Thomas unkindly remarked that Swansea was the ash tray of Wales. The city centre is certainly unimpressive. Of course it was the fourth most highly bombed UK city during WW II.(boasting an important port and a big source of iron and coal).
But once you travel a hundred yards utside the city (still imperial, God save the Queen!) you hit the sea and the most wonderful beach in the UK - 10 miles of sandy beach that stretches into the distance as far as The Mumbles.
I took the photograph because it marked my last assignment in Wales for the foreseeable future. I came to love Wales and especially Swansea. I believe the Welsh are our not too distant cousins.
They love language. They speak Welsh much better that we speak Irish and they speak English much better than the English themselves.
They share with us a love of music and language, rugby and rain. They share with us the emancipation from a bigger neighbour. They have valleys and beaches, mountains and streams. A Martian, or even an Australian, if brought blindfold to Wales, could well think he was in Ireland. I love the Welsh because they have had to scrimp and save for many years. They are justly proud of their roots and are enjoying their independence of Assembly. The Welsh are religious and noisy, they drink and they dream and they never lose their DNA.
Neighbours of mine in Dublin have seen Wales on a clear day - early in high summer mornings as the rising sun comes from behind the Welsh Mountains. Perhaps we should rename the pond between us as the Welsh-Irish Sea which for centuries has joined as much as divided us.
Tonight I will drink to Wales and her wonderful valleys.

The FINGAL Party

People who hate politics, please look away now! People who live in Ireland find Irish politics confusing, so I fully understand if people who live abroad, particularly in the UK turn on the TV and watch the World Cup.

Right, so just the two of us left? Good.

When the wheel was first invented, the middle aged inventor returned home to his cave and showed his invention to his wife who was preparing raw rabbit salad (some women were lazy even then). He was a bit deflated when she said in that tone we all fear and we find so familiar - 'sure that's obvious - anyone could invent that'. What he retorted has been lost in the mists of time but it was probably along the lines of 'if it's that bloody obvious, how come no one else came up with it before this?' And so began the long catalogue of events where really independent thinkers were mis understood or possibly were understood only too well.

Well this is my Eureka moment. Why don't Fine Gael and Fine Fail merge to become one centre centre party. We can leave out the Fine Fine because we can assume they are just that. We could cleverly merge Fail and Gael for it to become FINGAL. Brilliant! Isn't it?

As I write Fine Gael have two leaders or perhaps none and might well insist on appearing first in the new named party and might insist on GAYFAIL but something worries me about the alternative name.

Some people, obviously dull people, might conclude that this would a very difficult thing. They might say 'Think of all the new policies, and new personalities'. Quite the opposite! There is no difference in the policy areas of economics or finance, in trade or industry, in agriculture or tourism, in health or arts. All we need is the equivalent of a really good mail merge and apply it to policies. And Voila!! We have the strongest democratic party in all of Europe, if not the whole world, if we exclude Afghanistan.

We could reorganise the Dail and give the TD's new leather reclining seats with access to Internet, Nintendo and Facebook. That way we could be sure of enjoying a full house (I feel sorry for the politicians late at night who get all lathered up in oratory as they declaim to endless rows of empty benches with just the security men and the Latvian cleaning ladies present).

The FINGAL parties might want to retain a shred of tradition so to accomodate tribal customs their leaders could become Taoiseach on alternate days to include their birthdays, or they might just toss a coin for it.

If this idea is so obvious why don't more people agree with it? Many reasons. Mainly to do with the Celtic Tiger forcing many to leave school after kindergarden to work in the nearest branch of Spar. (Just to buy an aprtment somewhere on the side of the Dublin Mountains).Even my innate humility does not blind me to the possibility that this modest article could become the equivalent of Das Kapital in the Irish edition of politics for dummies. All I can say is that if I cannot remember you now, I will certainly have forgotten you then.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flying is a human right

I am surprised that many well educated people including stockbrokers seemed unmoved when it appeared that Aer Lingus might fall into the ownership of Ryanair. They seemed to forget that we live on island that lies off another island that lies off the biggest landmass in the world.

A humble sheep farmer called Hamish in Inverness can get into his battered Land Rover and drive to the Wall of China. Admittedly he has to cheat slightly by taking the Eurotunnel but he can still appear in his battered old car on the streets of Peking.(also know as Bejing, but not to Hamish)

Even Ireland's wealthiest Billionaire (if we still have one, a real one, Irish born and made) could not summon his chauffeur to drive the Maybach beyond the pier in Dun Laoghaire.

The point I am labouring to make is that air connections are probably more important to us than any other European Country. Daniel O Donnell may or may not be a National Treasure but Aer Lingus certainly is. That is why I am in favour of keeping Aer Lingus independent and Irish and flying.

I have to confess to actually liking Aer Lingus air hostesses be they in their twenties or fifties. There is something comforting about about them. They may not have made the annual Calendar Girls magazine but nearly of them are pleasant and helpful. That is not to say that other airlines do not have nice staff as well which they often manage to keep hidden from public gaze.

If I was really technically competent I would start a Facebook campaign to save and support Aer Lingus. A service business such as flying is more than oil costs and volcanic dust - it is about the people who serve. I know very generous people who think nothing of leaving a fifty euro tip after a big family or business meal but will choose an airline over the difference of 10 euro.

Eating in a restaurant is not usually a matter of life and death - unless you are eating shell fish - but if you are 35,000 feet in the air and surrounded by a vacuum that is minus 70 degrees centigrade you should be very grateful to the people who get you up there and far more importantly get you down.

As a young banker I lent to the airline business for a few years. Approaching any industry it is important to know the terms or words. Airplanes were monitored in relation to the miles they travelled and the cycles they flew. I was intrigued that a cycle was a combined take off and landing. I wondered if there was a word that described half a cycle e.g. a take off only. I was informed by a world weary pilot who looked over glasses and said without irony - 'half a cycle is a crash - there is no other word we have found for it'. And so I learned that aviation people take safety very seriously.

Most people operate on double standards and we are happily one of them. Buying thirteen Volvos in a row ( a world record perhaps?) to ensure safety makes sense only if I forget the series of single engined planes I have travelled on.

Should we think of tipping the staff and ground crew in Aer Lingus every time we safely disembark from a plane? I generally give the taxi man who drives me from Glenageary three or four euro as a tip and he only has to navigate the perils of the M50 - should I not give a tenner to the Aer Lingus staff who had my life in their hands for a few hours? We tip waiters and barbers. Some people even tip politicians and planning authorities (although that may be called bribery). But you get my drift. The Aer Lingus people are doing something far more important that a short back and sides.

If we could free the Birmingham six, why cannot we free the staff of Aer Lingus from the threat of eternal company rearrangements, personnel redeployment and downsizing?

When we book online there should be a box where we can donate a fiver or a tenner. We generous people who contribute should get picked out and pampered by the glamorous hostesses, brought to see the pilot and let off the plane 20 minutes ahead of the ungrateful passengers who did not tick the box.

Intel has come and some day may go - hopefully not. But Aer Lingus should never be let go. If they are closed down, merged, sold off or sold down I will be on the last flight that leaves the country. Someone else can turn off the lights.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Free Gaza - A One State Solution?

I have been attending meetings for worship at the Friends/Quaker Meeting House in Monkstown for the past two months. Officially I am an 'attender' as opposed to a fully fledged 'Friend'. It's like going on a date without any pressure to get married or even engaged any time soon. As I wobble between Atheism a la Richard Dawkins and Liberal Catholicism, attending Mass with my mother on a Saturday evening, the Friends meeting is generally an oasis of spirituality, common sense and practical christianity.

By the by I was not sure how my mother would take my casual references to 'attending worship on a Sunday morning with the Friends'. She has not passed comment. Even though she is 90 she misses absolutely nothing.I take her silence as tacit acceptance.

The Friends have probably an unparalleled record in the area of human rights going right back to the start - be it the famine in Ireland in 1840's- where they fed people without asking them their religion - or contributing to the foundation of the UN, OXFAM and Amnesty International. They have also been active in promoting peace and understanding on the ground in the Middle East and support a school in Ramallah, Palestine. I believe the connection with Palestine goes back over a hundred years when Lambs imported fruit from Palestine to make their famous preserves.

It should come as no surprise that a Friend originally from Monkstown Meeting and subsequently Rathfarnham and thereafter Overseas - Denis Halliday - should feature recently in the mercy voyage of the Rachel Corrie to lift and the blockade in Gaza. I agree with the UN when it says the siege is immoral, illegal and unsustainable,

Denis has a long and respected record in human rights. He served with great distinction in the UN for 34 years before resigning in 1998 over the UN Food Sanctions of Iraq. I share his views about the illegality and immorality of starving entire countries because we do not happen to agree with the people they elect to Government. Let's not mention our own current political landscape!!

At the morning Meeting yesterday in Monkstown we learned that Denis would be addressing Friends from all over the country at the Friends Meeting House in Churchtown at 7.30 pm. The meeting was open to all including members of the Jewish and Muslim communities (who took up the invitation and attended). For once I arrived early and savoured the atmosphere and charm of the Meeting House situated less than a mile away from where I grew up. Many a time I passed the House of 'mystery' as I sat on the top deck of the No 14 bus in the sixties.

The meeting opened with five minutes silence. Fantastic! A bit eerie if you haven't been to a Friends Meeting but brilliant for putting mind and body at rest. It opens us up to the spirit or the Spirit depending on your point of view.

Denis gave us a fascinating record of his trip on the Rachel Corrie and his subsequent incarceration and deportation.

Small world - I attended a very moving production of the play 'My name is Rachel Corrie' while serving as Treasurer of Amnesty two years previous.

Anyway, I have offered Michael, our Friends Monksotwn blogger any help he may need in transcribing the narrative.
It would make a terrific article for the newspapers. I intend to drop a note separately to my friends in the Amnesty activist grouping Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories.(OPT)

As usual I am taking forever to warm to my subject and come to the point- so here it is.

Denis Suggests:

The solution to the Israel OPT tragic situation is not the two Two State idea which is currently proposed by friends of the Palestinians but rather a Single State - with Federal local governments - a little like Germany or Switzerland or the USA.

One's immediate reaction is to say 'mad' 'fanciful' 'impossible'.

I love the idea because it is brave, bold and simple - and perhaps mad.

But on reflection it ticks nearly all the boxes.

The following is my own take - so don't blame Denis for everything - he may or may not agree.

Physically policing two states is an almost impossible task - just look at the map and what remains of OPT after land grabs by the Israelis over the past 40 years since the 1967 war...

Commercially it makes sense - to be fair to the Israelis up to about 10 years ago - before the mad men and the hardliners in both camps gained the upper hand - the Arabs and the Israelis were prospering under the one roof.

Ethnically it makes sense - these two races are going to have to live together for the next 2,000 years and to anyone who visits us from Mars they must seem as similar as any two races on the planet.

Politically it makes sense - a little like the EU - if you have only one trading block -who are you going to bomb???

Morally it exposes the shallowness of the hardliners on both sides. When was a really good idea welcomed at birth?

Both the Israeli and the Palestinians will cry 'foul' which certainly means we are on to a good thing.

These two peoples who have so much in common have gone down a cul de sac and some one needs to turn them round 180 degrees, they both are deep in a hole and someone needs to gently prise the spade out of their hands. More digging will not suffice.

Almost certainly we will not see this sensible idea happen 100%. By promoting it we may get people to re look at the whole Rubik cube and start differently. More of the same is not an option.

As JFK said many years ago - problems made by man can be solved by man-* and my preference would be to leave God out of this equation - there is probably too much 'religion' already in that part of the world. That is not to say that religious people of good will cannot help hugely in promoting a secular state where all religions are free to practice and human rights are guaranteed to all citizens, including girls. The Friends come to this issue with clean hands.

* except perhaps the Banking crisis!

Amen - if that is not a contradiction in terms - but of course it is.....

This my first, and possibly my last, post ever

PPS Is this first ever first blog interrupted by a dog who has decided at 6.00 am it wants to 'go out'? Well maybe better in than out. Hmm. Maybe animals or at least cute ones should have human rights too?! Another post for another day.