Not so much looking down as across..

Monday, July 26, 2010

Whither the Irish Catholic Church?

Sallynoggin Church viewed from Glenageary Avenue.

We watched an interesting program last night on RTE on the state of the Irish Church. The program was well made and the participants were excellent. The only problem was that it lasted only an hour when three hours would not have been sufficient. As a result we got mostly soundbites when we might have hoped for more reflection and analysis.

All participants, lay and clergy, were agreed that the Church must change. And no doubt it will. The problem for many Catholics liberal and conservative is what will it turn into? There would appear to be two possibilities with very little possibility of a middle way.

The first would see the Church shrinking to a size perhaps less than 10 per cent of what it is now. Parishes would be amalgamated and would follow demographically what has happened to a certain extent the Catholic Church on the Continent and the Anglican Church in UK. It would become more conservative and hold to its exclusion of women in the priesthood and the admittance of gays as full members of the Church. It would be theologically tight and would not suffer the doubts of many individuals and religions. It would no longer be the religion of the masses except perhaps in some emerging countries of the third world.

The other possibility is that the Catholic Church effectively converts to Protestantism - it embraces a more democratic process, welcomes women as priests, Bishop's and perhaps as Popes. Why not? It dumps clericalism. It embraces gays. It comes to terms with birth control. It rediscovers Vatican 2 and turns its back on the last hundred years of theological conservatism.

It ends up where many Protestant denominations are today.

The question for people like me is ' why wait?' Over recent weeks I have been learning about the Society of Friends and they seem to be where I would wish the Catholic Church to arrive. It seems of little import whether people leave and wait for the Catholic Church to arrive, or stay with the Church and help it along the road. An equally reasoned argument can be made for both stances. At the end we can only obey our conscience as best informed.

I believe at the end of the day religion is not about numbers or power but about people and something we try to define as God as we stumble out of darkness towards the light in all humility.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Istanbul - where East meets West

I spent a very short but memorable night in Istanbul last summer. I was returning to Dublin from Antalya where I had been attending an international conference of Amnesty International as one of Ireland's three representatives.

Our initial expereinces in travelling to Antalya should have prepared us. Turkish Airlines must be the nicest people to fly with but also one of the most seemingly unpunctual - and yet everything gets done in a slow, courteous and measured way. It reminds me of the West of Ireland in the fifties. I can never see a merger with time-table obsessed Ryanair

We arrived in Istanbul 'only' an hour late. A US colleague who was flying onward to Washington was beginning to hyper ventilate. But he got there , in the end. I did not know what to hope or expect before arriving in Turkey. During the week in Antalya I had been struck by the genuine hospitality of the people. They seemed untarnished by the harshness of commercialism or even their own precarious careers in the most volatile of industries - tourism.

We arrived at our modest two and a half star hotel in the centre of Istanbul beside the blue mosque just as the lazy languid light was fading in the soft blue sky. We quickly unpacked and rushed to the rooftop restaurant in time to see the sun go down and take a few photos of the mosque beside us. We heard the call to prayer as we sipped a gentle gin and tonic. The sacred and the profane seemed to mix serenely.

Istanbul was a revelation. I found it as Mediterranean as Nice or Barcelona but with the added zest of the Middle East. The scents and the perfumes were excitingly exotic. I was reminded me of the heady giddiness of seeing Paris for the first time in 1968. We wandered through the streets after midnight feeling totally safe and unthreatened. Our female colleague was at ease and joined us in buying attractive souvenirs that were ridiculously cheap.

Maybe they have got the balance right in Turkey between the religion and the state. I was a supporter of Turkey joining the EU before I set foot in the country. Having mets i's people I am one hundred percent convinced it is the right thing. If Israel can take part in the Eurovision why cannot Turkey join the EU? People point out to her human rights past. I lived in Spain less than forty years ago in the time of Franco and things were not great. In neighbouring Portugal things were not much better. They are now leading lights in the battle for human rights.

I also believe in the value of a secular state. I applaud the decision of the French to ban the burkah. I believe it is a medieval form of oppression on women - particularly on the women who defend it. While I believe in 'live and let live' we have to defend certain fundamentals.

The vast majority of Muslims are decent honorable people - as are the majority Christan's and Hindus. What has been done in their names has not always been the best. One of the big challenges of the modern world is to help religions reconcile with the founder's at times conflicting messages and interpet their charism in the light of modern science and insight.

I was truly excited by Istanbul and its people. I would love to go back. I can understand why people who have bought holiday homes in Turkey return every year. I hope we can support the Turks in their wish to come closer to the West - it's clearly in their interest - it is even more in ours.

Discovering Dublin - Hello Arthur

Since Lucy's operation three weeks ago she has been only able to eat mash and has has hardly left the house. Not surprisingly she is developing mild symptoms of cabin fever despite being quite the sweetest and most patient human being in the world. Enough was enough! After an encouraging meeting with her surgeon this morning we got the blessing to break out.

We would first attack the Guinness Brewery. I had brought Mexican tourists to St. James Gate perhaps forty years ago. It was cute then and interesting and very seventies with a pint at the end of the journey.

Nothing could have prepared me for the space age Guinness Store we discovered. We booked on line and got a ten percent discount and avoided the queues when we got to the store ( there were none). We parked the car in a convenient, monitored and totally free car park beside the store (is this the only thing in all of Ireland that tourists can get for free?).

Guinness are very good at a lot of things. They make a very fine porter. Their ads are some of the best in the world. And the storehouse is one of the best tourist attractions I have visited anywhere.

The old brewery has been tastefully remodelled - keeping the old and adding intelligently the new. It was very well attended with accents and languages from all over the world.

I would be telling a lie if I did not confess to enjoying the observation tower the best. We did not make the mistake of stopping off on the floor below to pull our own pint and drink our poorly pulled pint in drab surroundings. We ascended to the seventh and top floor with its uninterrupted views over Dublin and its circular bar counter in the middle of the floor.

I struck up conversation with Alex from New York. He had one of those interesting lived-in faces. He knew his Guinness well. Like me he was mildly disappointed with the quality of the Guinness on tap. We both agreed it was good without being great. He was staying in a hotel on St Stephen's Green so I drew him a map of Dublin 2 and pointed out where he might get some nice pints. I fully expect a complementary pint from O'Donoghues, Foleys and Doheny and Nesbitts when I return.(some hope!!)

The biggest and most pleasant surprise of the day was that of Lorraine drinking her first glass of Guinness ever. She loved it. She felt it was more ladylike to ask for a glass rather than a pint. Mind you, it did not prevent her from finishing her glass and then my pint. She has not forsaken her first love, wine, but she will include Arthur in her circle of friends.

The circle of life once again is complete. I started drinking Guinness in a pub in Churchtown when first 'going out' with Lorraine. My father had tired of our two hour phone calls and banished me to the Glenside Pub which had a coin operated phone very handily beside the bar counter.

It was great being a tourist in our town and we are committed to visiting our home town through tourist eyes more often.

A tourist in my own town - Discovering Dublin

Who needs an alarm when the dog can wake you at 5.30 on a Saturday morning? Feigning sleep I tried to get another ten minutes of much needed rest. But Ruby was having none of it. Eventually I gave in to the inevitable and rose to let her escape into the garden bathed in early morning light.

The sun was rising unsurprisingly in the East and was shining through the kitchen window at an angle peculiar to early morning. It danced on the dresser and lit up the glasses. It was a sign from God. No going back to bed.

I quietly fed the bicycle through the kitchen and gently placed it in the back of the Volvo saloon. Thank God for Mr. and Mrs. Volvo and their clever off spring who designed a car that allows you to collapse the back seats in under twenty seconds and develops space big enough to hold a concert in.

I drove to Sandymount Strand where the public car park boasted a smattering of white vans . They all seemed to be driven by Polish builders and their helpers, drinking steaming coffee and munching sandwiches ahead of a a busy days fixing Mrs Murphy's kitchen. What will we do when the Poles go home? God forbid that we Irish might have to fix our own gutters and drains.

Somewhat unsteadily I cycled at a leisurly pace towards the Poolbeg lighthouse. I was passed out by young men and women in Lycra looking very professional. I was nearly passed at one stage by a jogger but my pride spurred me to up the pace. I was reminded of the Scots author who recounted how one stormy day while walking he passed out an elderly gentlman cycling into the wind. I passed through the Irishtown nature reserve and looked back at Dun Laoghaire with its twin church steeples and Killiney Hill with cloudy nightcap still adorning its head. I suppose if you are wealthy enough to live in Howth or Killiney you have to put up with the odd mist. It is God's way of showing he has a sense of humour.

As I made my way to Poolbeg Lighthouse I reflected that despite living in Dublin for nearly 59 years this was the first time I had seen the city from this angle. It struck me that with a bit of money and imagination this area could be a fantastic place to live and bring up children. Why not build low rise apartments within two miles of the city centre rather than exile people sixty miles outside of Dublin and expect them to commute every day?

The famous/infamous Glass Bottle Site might indeed have been a very good idea, if only someone had paid the correct price for it. Amazing to think that the development of Poolbeg may never go ahead not because no one was prepared to spend money on the site but because they paid too much. I am sure David McWilliams will be able to exlpain that.

Back to my central theme. This is the year to rediscover Dublin - or indeed to discover it perhaps for the very first time.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Compassion is at the heart of being Irish

Chesterton tells the slightly implausible but interesting allegory about a child who is reared in a big house and who when he leaves it for the first time gains perspective only when he walks down the driveway and looks back and for the first time realizes how big the house really is.

In a sense we do not really miss Ireland or know what it really means in our lives until we leave it. Nowadays some of the angst is reduced because thanks to Ryanair of Aer Lingus we can be back home within a few hours. Being a child of the fifties who visited the gaeltacht at the end of that decade I had the dubious privilege of knowing what emigration looked and felt like in the west of Ireland. On the way to school in Connemara I passed houses where all the occupants had left and were now lying derelict.

I left home in 1969 with the intention of never returning home. I spiritually left Ireland on the 1st of August to join a Mexican Order. I called a few of my best friends around to the house at the end of July and told them casually I was off and away and might never see them again. To their eternal credit they did try and visit me in the seminarian fortress on Leopardstown Road and went as far as bringing girl friends to visit the incarcerated until the practice was discouraged.

When I landed in Spain I remember for the first few weeks missing BBC TV and Cadburys chocolate. After a year in Spain I travelled to Italy. Sad to confess I did not miss Churchtown where I was reared. I missed the West of Ireland where I had spent every summer holiday as a child.

What I missed most was the element of compassion in the Irish psyche. I found that Irish people cared. Not that we are alone. But our compassion that extends to complete strangers is quite unique. This compassion manifests itself initially in plain curiosity. It is impossible to pass a person on an Irish country road or in a small village without some form of a recognition - a greeting or even a nod of the head. City and suburban life is reducing perhaps this intimacy although Dublin is regarded as a remarkably friendly city.

We may need to rediscover that sense of community and self reliance that disappeared not only in Ireland but throughout Western Europe over the past twenty years when as a society we became the equivalent of social drug addicts. We simply passed to the State. i.e. to complete strangers the entire responsibility of education, caring, and maintaining the young and old and sick.

As I studied and travelled it struck me that all cultures have their strengths and weaknesses. The Spaniards struck me as direct, at times brutally so, and fun loving with a keen sense of the picaresque and the whimsical (not unlike the Irish). Spain of course is not a single country - it is a series of countries and there are huge regional variations. Similarly in France. I was impressed with a country in tune with its culture, and confident in its past. In Italy I found a family oriented society. It seemed Italians would never utter a sentence if a paragraph could do. They seemed to love to talk and occasionally to listen.

Compassion in the Irish soul may date back to Famine times and the shared memory of suffering, loss and support. It may find its roots in the Christianity that we Irish embraced so willingly and exported so effectively in the golden years of monasticism between the 6th and the 12th centuries. This physical and spiritual outpouring found a reprise in the missionary, teaching and mideical efforts of the early 20th century. It may date back to our Celtic and preceltic roots. Or it may be a mixture of all of the above.

Other cultures - particulalry the Moslem religion - have long and worthy traditions of welcoming strangers and giving them sustenance when they arrive on the doorstep by chance . But whar seems unuusal and radical to me is that a child sitting at a school desk in Gorey Co. Wexford will decide improabaly to devote some or all his/her life to people in Africa or South America she/he has never seen.

I am proud of the relief efforts of thousands of young Irish aid workers over the past fifty years. My sister Kate spent three years in Bangla Desh with Concern. I have a fondness for Gorta and the work it does in the Third World by helping the poor to upskill and to lose their dependent on the West. I hate the culture of dependence that we have encouraged. I love the Gorta maxim, 'give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime'. I am impressed with Trocaire which does terrific work in areas of social justice. I served briefly with the Irish section of Amnesty International which traditonally punches above it weight. I welcome the newer arrivals on the chairity scene - the Niall Mellon foundation that builds thousands of house in S Africa and the Haven charity set up by Leslie Buckley to assist the people of Haiti and countless tiny charities including the project to build an orphanage in Lesotho run by Acara. Lest we forget, these latter are children of the Celtic cubs. Not everything we did in the past decade was bad!!

At a time when we despair of our leaders in the Church, in politics, in business and in finance we can always fall back on our inner resources and the deep and tried and trusted reservoir of human emotion and compassion that has served us so well. In Ireland we don't have a monopoly on compassion but for me it is the word that more accurately describes our core value - ahead of drinking and poetry and music and literature - themes for another day.

Demon Drink

Cannot live with it, cannot live without it.. Drink has been a good friend for most of my adult life. But now I am learning to live without it. Not through virtue but out of necessity. The medicines I am taking for a broken, well if not broken, certainly challenged, heart do not sit well with alcohol.

My first encounter with alcohol was entirely unintentional. 'A likely story', you may say. I was eleven and staying for three months in the Connemara Gaeltacht. The mother of the man of the house died. Strangely I do not remember her alive, just dead, lying out on the kitchen table. The wake became a party. I cannot remember if the deceased lady stayed for the party or was moved to another quieter room. I was promised a glass of lemonade by the kindly bean an ti (lady of the house) Cait Bean Ui Welby.

Normally she was very attentive. She had reared ten children to see them all emigrate so she kind of adopted any of the Gael Linn students who stayed with her for three months. While other Gael Linn students in other homes practically starved and had to fight for food round the table, I was spoiled rotten and was treated to as many as eggs were as laid that day - typically three eggs - and six sausages and boiled potatoes and warm freshly baked bread.

Anyway she was busy that night tending to friends and neighbours. After a few hours of waiting for the lemonade that never came, I decided to help myself. I poured a glass for myself and knocked it back. Within minutes the room was revolving. I had just drunk a glass full of 90% proof Poiteen neat. It was only years later that I put two and two together and decided I must have finished off their stock of poiteen that night.

Some weeks later I made my confirmation in Carraroe, County Galway, af ew miles from where I was staying. My class mates in Dublin were making their confirmation in Churchtown so I made mine in the local Church. I took the pledge in Irish - promising to avoid alcohol until the age of 21. Some years later I concluded that because I had taken the pledge in Irish, it did not really count.

I did not take great advantage of my self awarded dispensation because the next time alcohol touched my lips was on my 17th birthday. I spent the summer of 1968 in Paris working in the De La Salle hostel for Brothers from all over the world. Unused to alcohol, two glasses of wine were enough to send my head swimming. I remember stumbling back to my quarters on the Rue de Sevres feeling that Paris seemed so gay and exciting and full of possibilities.

My drinking career suffered a significant hiatus for the eight and half years I spent in the Seminary. However between the age of 30 and 55 I tried to make up for a lifetime of abstinence. I remember or half remember a weekend in Puerto Banus where we did not sober up for three days and various golf excursions where as the drinking improved the golf disimproved in direct correlation.

In pre Celtic tiger times, drink was an agreeable crutch in business. Three or four pints in the eving were a pleasant way to end the day's work. The last decade in Ireland became a time for deals that demanded ferocious working hours, often three or four days in a row followed by a celebratory drink that became a necessity.

We are a great country for drinking. I mean that in the best possible way. Enter a pub in Sydney, or London or Paris or Berlin and you do not have the same sense of fun and animation. The Greeks may have given us philosophy and the French may have given us wine and cheese but the Irish have given the world the Irish pub. I don't mean the 'Irish' pub in Warsaw owned by a Russian and manned by Poles, all good people, but a real Dublin pub that sells real Guinness or a a pub in the West of Ireland where traditional Irish music is played at the drop of a spoon.

I will miss those nights of quiet pints of Guinness where we ended up hugging friends and complete strangers. I am not sure if I am ready for the life of sobriety that involves a sensible glass of sweet sherry that lasts the night. I will miss the madness. The generosity of spirit.

Looking back on a life time of drink there are very few pints I regret. My family will be mightily relieved that my cheeks will not shine red and ruby and acquaintances both male and female with be spared bear hugs after midnight. Leaving drink is like leaving a good friend. There have been good days and bad days but the good far outweigh the bad.

Onto the next chapter of an unrehearsed life...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kate and Colin Lincoln Wedding July 1987

Thanks to all for your kind messages of sympathy and love on the appearance of the previous post.

Colin and Kate would have been celebrating their 23rd Wedding Anniversary this month and in a sense they still do. Your gentle wishes are much appreciated!

I will leave you with the words of a song that Kate loved. To this day and over the years it has alternatively perplexed, beguiled and haunted me.

'If you cannot be with the one you love, at least love the one you're with..'

Courtesy of Stephen Stills and Billy Preston

Her other favourite song was 'Living next door to Alice' by Smokie.

Over to you.

Of Cars and Men

This is a photo of our 13th Volvo. I wonder if this is a world record? I hope number 13 is lucky for us. Number 12 was both lucky and unlucky. With a view to retiring and getting a car that would last 'forever' I bought a Volvo V70 in early 2006. Unlike company cars which religiously had to be changed every four years, this car would last a life time. However I was to learn the wisdom of my philosopher Uncle Frank who regularly says 'men make plans, and God laughs'

On Good Friday 2007, just over one year later I was driving down to our summer house in Wexford. We had just sold it and I was planning to tidy it for the new owners. I thought it would be my last visit. And it very nearly was. It was a beautiful sunny day, the road was narrow put perfectly straight. I saw a big 4 by 4 BMW approach. I pulled over. I expected him to do the same. I at first thought he had seen me and it was just typical big car bad manners. I should have blown the horn. I thought it might be bad manners. Crash. The noise filled the quiet countryside. Fortunately I had almost stopped my car and had brought it as far off the road as possible. The front of the big BMW came apart and the wheel went over my car and stopped less than three feet behind me. The big 4 by 4 weighing over two tons continued to travel in a perfectly straight line and caught the car behind me also.

As I got out of my car both shaken and stirred I counted myself lucky to be alive and unscathed. So I pose the question: was car number 12 lucky or unlucky? The Wexford locals left the fields and gardens to offer help. Within minutes we had tea, sympathy, two fire brigades and one ambulance - or perhaps the other way around. The personnel in the fire brigade commented that if I had been driving any other car I would be dead. Wow!

I explained to my wife later that night that I had been driving Volvo cars for 25 years for that very day. In gratitude to God and to Volvo we decided we could buy only one marque - Volvo - and so we ended up buying Volvo number 13. Car number 12 was a write off. The Volvo dealership confirmed the same. Amazingly and incredibly the insurance company insisted on mitigating their loss and directed me to sell it to some poor crash repair specialist who struggled I believe to sell it. It made me wonder about insurance companies. It was my first time coming in contact with insurance assessors and I certainly hope it is my last.

So we have explained the birth of Volvo number 13. How do we explain baby Volvos 1 to 12? What does it say about us? Our children are appalled by our lack of imagination. They have never known what it is to sit in another car. Do cars say something about our personalities? If pets begin to begin to look like their owners over time, can the same be said of cars?

They say the original VW Golf weighed about half what it weighs today. Have we humans got bigger or is the middle age spread due to improved safety measures? Why is it that most cars look and sound the same? As a five year old I remember at night lying in my bed listening to the cars driving up Landscape Park. I could tell a VW from a Ford and a Citroen from a Rover. Their engines sounded distinctly different. Today all we can hear is the whoosh of tyres. Maybe that is a good thing.

The question was once asked, why do blonde's drive BMW's? And the answer was 'because it is the only marque they can spell'. There may be a ring of truth to it. Have you noticed that people in bigger cars often but not always drive more aggressively and typically rank lower for good manners on the road?

How can we explain emergence of the gas guzzling 4 by 4's? Cars with all wheel drive that never leave the leafy suburbs of comfortable South County Dublin. Driving a big car reminds me of the gun lobby in the States. Driving a big car is a deterrent. It is called getting your retaliation in first.

I try not to pigeonhole people but do any of thse sterotypes ring true? People who drive the new mini (also owned by BMW) must be pretty and sport pony tails and sun glasses that sit on their fair hair. People who dive Skodas are mostly farmers who know a bargain when they see one and want to buy a car that will last for years or at least until Fianna Fail leave Government. Alfa drivers are romantics who believe that life is too short to worry about resale values. Merc drivers fall into a number of categories including petty criminals and company directors, and yes, there is a difference. Saab drivers are would be Swedish military aircraft pilots. Volvo drivers are notoriously boring and wear cardigans. Drivers of white vans are all related to Michael Schumacher, but generally drive faster than him. People who buy Toyota generally want their cars to outlive them, except perhaps recently. Lexus are for people who cannot spell Toyota.

How often do you bring your car for a wash? Do you polish it at the weekend? Do you vacuum the boot? Sounds sad, but in many cases is true, I confess. It has been noticed that young men who would regularly wash shine and polish their car in their twenties suffer a miraculous change once they mature to their thirties and get a company car. They discover that these cars do not need to be washed, can be parked high on kerbs and left with the door unlocked and the keys in the ignition.

I have a terrible habit of glancing into parked cars to see what I can learn about their owners. You would be surprised. Once I was very surprised. I found a pair of twins no more than a year old happily playing with the dog who alone of the three did not have a baby seat. I can tell who is going on a camping holiday, who has come back and who is not sure whether they are coming or going. You can find out what cigarettes they smoke, or indeed don't. You can discover their favourite sweets, Lidl purchase, DVD collection and garden furniture.

My first three cars were VW's. Three Beatles that clocked over 100,000 miles and never saw the inside of a garage. I stopped at a filling station one hot summer's afternoon in Omagh in 1972. The car I had been driving for over a year (I did stop at night) was showing signs of over heating. The mechanic was very attentive. He dropped everything and came to my help. I was in clerical garb at the time. I went to open the bonnet. The mechanic tried to save my blushes - 'the engine is in the back, Father'. He went on to explain that the VW was oil cooled - there was no radiator - front or back. Fortunately I never had to open the bonnet again to display my ignorance. This included a late summer evening when driving through Fermanagh and I was stopped by the local Protestant volunteer force. Insisting on calling me 'Sir' they asked me to open the bonnet. The bloody thing was jammed. They offered to blow it open. With the courage of insanity and innocence I told them in no uncertain terms they would not shoot my bonnet open. On reflection I am not sure who was more surprised - me or the young volunteers. My VW made its way to Cardonagh safely that evening only for the engine to blow. I had to be towed into Derry the next day as a car bomb exploded in the street behind - but that is for another post.

I think we all, well men at least, remember our first car with fondness. My first car was a Triumph 1300 with leather seats and mahogany dashboard. I was its fourth owner and it had officially 120,000 miles on the clock. It would break down on average once a trip. I did however learn how to open the bonnet. Indeed the bonnet spent more time open than shut. My future mother in law was most impressed when I drove her and her fair daughter into town for a meal. She was less than impressed when the car broke down outside Jurys in Ballsbridge and I asked my unimpressed passengers if they had a spare pair of tights to substitute for the fan belt. They made their excuses and made their way home on the 8 bus. I had to abandon the car and walk home to Churchtown. From then on I bought only new cars. As a result I have not looked inside a bonnet for thirty years. I would not know where to find the lever to release it. I suppose this is what we call progress.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Kate!

My poor mother was three days in labour before I decided to make an appearance. That may have something to do with my being late for the first fifty five years of my life. For the past four years I have been ferociously punctual - like a reformed smoker or alcoholic. I cannot understand how a person can be late for an appointment. I was delivered in Castlebar Hospital. They had practically run out of surgical implements before they succeeded.

As I result I led the rich kid, poor kid life of the only child. Making sandcastles all my own on the beach in Rosses Point I would look enviously at large families where children fought incessantly over buckets and spades. Just after my seventh birthday I was brought into the dining room and sat down. I felt I must have done something really bad. No, all was fine. 'How would I like a baby brother?', I was asked. 'Fine', I said, 'now can I go out and play football, please'.

Family lore recalls how my parents went in to collect a boy and came home with a girl. Things were a litte less formal in those days. They fell in love with a pretty little baby girl of five months with beautiful sad eyes. She was to be called Catherine Anne in memory of my paternal grandmother. My sister Margaret was born three years later on the stroke of six pm to the sound of the Angelus Bells. They first attended St. Louis in Rathmines and then went to the Domincians in Muckross Park for secondary school. My father suffered a stroke just as Margaret was beginning secondary school. The nuns put the girls through secondary school for free. I did not realise how my leaving home in 1969 affected Catherine. It was only 20 years later I learned that she had decided to change to writing with her left hand as I do. I left home to join a bizarre Religious Order called the Legion of Christ. The family was allowed a visit to the seminary twice a year. Catherine had heard me mention how I loved Fur Elise by Beethoven. Sure enough, on the next family visit she sat down at the piano in the monastery's reception room and played the piece flawlessly.

Catherine failed every single subject in her mock exams of Spring 1976. My parents stormed heaven with prayers and by some miracle she squeezed through the Leaving Cert and got the necessary points to study nursing. Kate was accepted by James St Hospital. She spent the first year as an intern and in her second year she and a number of tearaway nursing friends rented a house on South Circular Road. The parties were famous. I brought two friends to one particular party. They met student nurses and thirty years later they are still married to them. Be careful where you party..

I returned home after an absence of seven years to find my room which Catherine had occupied covered in giant posters in homage to Liverpool Football Team. Handsome young men adorned my bedroom walls and even the ceiling. Long hair, bushy moustaches and short shorts. Typical footballers of the seventies.

After graduating Catherine studied midwifery in Stirling in Scotland and returned to take a job in the Adelaide Hospital. It was unusual for a Catholic to be employed in a Protestant hospital - yes just 30 years ago!

On a beautiful early summer Sunday in 1984 we celebrated Claire's Christening with a party in our back garden. Catherine casually let it slip that she would be leaving Ireland for a few years to work with Concern in Bangla Desh. it was around this time she decided to amend her name to 'Kate'. It took the family some time to adjust to this and my mother still refers to Kate as Catherine. I am a great believer in calling people whatever they wish.

We would get a letter every few months with photos enclosed. We read of hilarious tales of derring do. The expatriate community worked hard and played hard. The photograph above was taken on a trip she made to Nepal. She returned home in 1987 with exciting news. She was engaged to be married to Colin who worked as an engineer on gas turbines. I was supposed to interview him very diligently and determine his intentions. I failed woefully. I simply felt if they were happy, then I was happy. And they were happy.

As Colin was a divorcee they were not able to be married in Church. However we had the most wonderful time in Lincoln where Colin was now working. Colin and Kate met us at the Little Chef cafe just beyond Anglsea Island as we headed to France for three weeks holidays. Claire who was now three enquired ' if we were there yet'. We did not have the heart to explain the journey that lay ahead that took us to London, Dover, Calais, Paris, Lyons and eveually Port Grimaud. We returned to Lincoln to celebrate the wedding.

Colin and Kate bought a pleasant, handsome red brick house outside the City Walls of Lincoln, just a 20 minute walk from Lincoln Cathedral. Some time later the company asked Colin to move to Como in the north of Italy for seven years. We enjoyed the most wonderful holidays there. The hospitality was unflagging.

It was in Italy we began to notice how Kate's mental health was deteriorating. She found it impossible to leave the house on her own and continually checked windows and doors last thing at night. In every other sense she was as normal as we were, more normal than the rest of us, full of fun and laughter.

They moved to Australia for two years and we all but lost touch. It was there she was hospitalised and received electric shock treatment which I believe to be inhuman. We were relieved and delighted when they returned to Lincoln and were only an hour and a Ryanair flight away.

I tried to make a point of ringing her most days. Some of the chats could go on for hours and I am sure BT were delighted. Her phyiscal health began to deteriorate over the next few years and when she came to Dublin for a family visit at Christmas 06 my mother knew with maternal instinct that she would never see her daughter alive again.

Kate died in Lincoln Hospital on the 22nd of February 2007. I had spoken to her only two days previously. I managed to fly from Tenerife and drive through the night from Manchester to see her before she passed away quietly.

We celebrated her month's mind in Monkstown Catholic Church in March 2007. I had dropped a note to Concern advising them that a former volunteer had passed away. I got a lovely letter from Fr Aengus Finnucane. I was pleasantly surprised to find that her memorial mass was attended not only by nurses who had served with her in Dublin but also Concern volunteers who had served with her in Bangla Desh over tenty years previously.

Kate dealt with her mental illness with humour and without self pity. We never got a complete explanation of her exact problems but we have assumed it was a form of depression. Whatever it was, she managed it with heroism. Day in, day out. My heart goes out to people dealing with mental problem every day of their lives. I think of the terrible drugs they have to take, of the slurred sentences and the private demons.

And always there was laughter. Amazingly she could always see her plight with perspective. She had the most infectious laugh. She was one of the warmest people I ever met.

I feel honoured to have been called her brother.

She would have been 52 on the 8th of July 2010.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

7,300 days and counting.

I will be 59 later this month. I reckon I have a further 7,300 days left (20 years) give or take 7,300 days. Theoretically I could be dead tomorrow or indeed even, less likely, I might live to be one hundred. Statisticians will try and cheer me up and tell me the average man who gets to 59 has a life expectancy of perhaps a further 28 years – so theoretically I should live to 87... But I am not the average man. Soon I will be taking more pills every day than there are candles to blow out on my birthday cake.

I have always taken an interest in planning. When studying for exams – and I did lots of them –– I always made a schedule. However in practice I rarely followed the plan. But at least I knew the schedule was there. I knew exactly what I was not studying and when I was not studying it.

When in business I loved to make lists – perhaps of up to thirty things to do in a day. I loved putting a line through them as they were accomplished. So I wonder, why not make a plan of what to do with the remaining 7,300 days? Surely I must have people to meet, places to visit and books to write? The man without a plan is like the unwise virgin in the Bible who facing perhaps her last 100 days decides she will at last write that book and take that world tour.... As a good friend of mine would regularly say – failing to plan is planning to fail.

Dear reader, if you are under 50 there is no point in reading further. Indeed apologies, there was probably little point in reading as far as here. Sorry about that. Because up to the age of fifty the world is inexhaustible. Full stop. Theoretically at least we feel we could have another five children and marry a further four partners. Health is not something we worry about, it is something we use and abuse. Like air or water. Just to test our immortality we will spend an entire week drinking Bordeaux or climbing the Alps or both. Under fifty, health is something we take for granted. A little like oil – there will always be more.

But after fifty you turn the corner on the great race track of life and to your amazement you see the finishing line in the distance – perhaps not in the immediate distance – but there it is, sure enough. It is similar to climbing a mountain, up and up we go, always straining, always higher, our sight firmly on the summit. We arrive at the top – it’s called our forties. The view is fantastic, the air is pure but the only way is…. down, the only vista is…. below.

I have enjoyed my fifties even more than my forties. I have enjoyed the gentler path down from the summit. I have been examining the flowers and smelling the roses and the coffee on the way down. On the way up I just walked past and on top of the flowers unaware. In a sense I treated many people a little like flowers. People I hardly noticed on the way up have become more familiar and more important on the way down.

If there is no life after life, as is my increasing conviction, then it is all the more important to enjoy sensibly the 7,300 days left. Rather than being sad at only 7,300 days left, I daily celebrate that there are as many as 7,300 left. Quality becomes far more important than quantity and size no longer matters. Very often less is more.

Death is the only human certainty. As my mother puts it so well, she is not afraid of death, she is just afraid of dying, as in, the circumstances of her dying. Not many people make it to 90, and not many of the people who get to 90 are in great health. Medicine has done a great job in keeping more of us alive a lot longer. The downside is that we are living longer than perhaps the manufacturer had in mind. Cars built for 100,000 miles are now regularly clocking 200,000 and not all the parts are working.

Society is facing huge issues regarding aging, health and death. By and large society is simply refusing to address them. For sure the State can no longer be expected to look after every sick, deprived and old person. Families will have to relearn the age old tradition of caring. Families will become less atomic. The family will have to find a rocking chair and clay pipe for 'the old fellow' (me) and just stick me in the corner beside the turf fire. We will probably see many elderly people head to warmer climes to pass the winter more comfortably and less expensively.

So I better sit down later today and make that list
Books to read
Blogs to write
Places to Travel
People to meet
Charities to support
7,300 things to do before I die...
Suggestions on a postcard...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Cathar Creed

Blogs are supposed to be original, so apologies in advance. I can claim no authorship of the text below. It is attributed to a vaugely Catholic sect which flourished in a number of European countries in the 13th century paticularly in France and more particularly in Albi in the south of that wonderful country.

When I heard it today for the second time in less than a month I decided it was more than a coincidence and it was a sign I should share it with others.

My intention is not to get into an argument about the rights and wrongs of the theology attributed to the Cathars or their persecution by the Papacy and Crusaders from Northern France whose motives seem purely mercenary. I suggest we judge the piece on its own merits, on how it speaks to our spirit and its effect on our own lives.

Along with the Song of St Francis, St. Patrick's Breastplate and of course the Sermon on the Mount, it is one of the most moving statments I have ever heard or read.

Make of it what you will. It 'reads' better out loud. Shalom!

The Cathar Creed
It has no membership, save those who know they belong.
It has no rivals because it is non competitive.
It has no ambition - it seeks only to serve.
It knows no boundaries, for nationalisms are unloving.
It is not of itself because it seeks to enrich all groups and religions.
It acknowledges all great teachers of all the ages who have shown the truth of love.
Those who participate, practice the truth of love in all their being.
There is no walk of life or nationality that is a barrier.
Those who are, know.
It seeks not to teach, but to be, and by being, enriched.
It recognizes that the way we are may be the way of those around us because we are that way.
It recognizes the whole planet as a being of which we are a part.
It recognizes that the time has come for the supreme transmutation, the ultimate alchemical act of conscious change of the ego in to a voluntary return to the whole.
It does not proclaim itself with a loud voice, but in the subtle realms of loving.
It salutes all those in the past who have blazoned the path, but have paid the price.
It admits no hierarchy or structure, for no one is greater than another.
Its members shall know each other by their deeds and being, and by their eyes and by no other outward sign, save the fraternal embrace.
Each one will dedicate their life to the silent loving of their neighbour and environment, and the planet, will carry out their task, however exalted or humble.
It recognizes the supremacy of the great idea, which may only be accomplished if the human race practices the supremacy of love.
It has no reward to offer, either here or in the hereafter, save that of the ineffable joy of being and loving.
Each shall seek to advance the cause of understanding, doing good by stealth and teaching only by example.
They shall heal their neighbour, their community, our planet and living beings in whatever form they take.
They shall know no fear and feel no shame and their witness shall prevail over all odds.
It has no secret, no arcanum, no initiation, save that of true understanding of the power of love and that, if we want it to be so, the world will change, but only if we change.
All who belong, belong; they belong to the Church of Love.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Newsflash - The return of Adam, the prodigal son

The skype phone must have been ringing for a few minutes before Archangel Michael got to it, slightly breathless. He was thrilled to find it was Adam, God's only son at the other end. 'Hi Adam, great to hear from you. It's been a while'. 'Yeah Mike, I've missed the last few New Year's dinners. Been a bit busy with some problems on earth. Anyway, how are you?'

'Oh terrific, thanks. We are getting great use out of that pin you bought us some years ago'. Adam felt guilty. He had left the shopping for presents for the New Years Party until the last minute and all he could find in the shops that were closing quickly was a pin with instructions as to how to place angels on the head of it. 'How many angels are you up to now' asked Adam, to make conversation. 'Well, just before the phone rang we had managed to get a hundred and thirty seven'

'Wow' exhaled Adam, trying hard to show some interest. 'To be honest Mike, I thought it was a fairly mean present, but I am glad you got some use out of it. I don't suppose Dad would be around?' Adam tried to sound matter of fact, but he was terrified that God would not take his call. Adam had missed the last twenty New Years dinners in a row. It was the only thing that God asked of Adam and his younger sister Eve all year long. God took these annual family meals seriously.

The skype phone rang in the Greenhouse where a white bearded, stooped God was busy watering the seedlings. 'Adam, my dear boy, how lovely to hear from you' God positively beamed. 'I hope you don't mind me saying but you look worse the wear than me. I hope you haven't been drinking too much'. Adam was so relieved to be talking to his father that he filled up slightly and his voice broke a little. 'You will glad to hear that I am off the drugs and drink over five years now. Its just I've had a lot of family problems recently - nothing new, the usual famine and war and global warming. It just seems to have got more difficult lately and my off spring have run out of money and ideas to sort it. But we will get over it, we always seem to'

Adam wasn't sure how to broach the subject of the New Year dinner, having missed the last few without even sending an apology. Happily God intervened. 'I hope you can make our family dinner next week. It's never the same without you. Angels are good company but we seem to run out of conversation topics fairly fast. Your sister Eve has missed you. She hasn't told me, but I gather you haven't rung or even texted her in some years. 'Sorry, Dad, I've been a bit of a black sheep for the last few years. I won't make excuses but it has been a rotten last few years on earth. I won't bore you with the details'. 'On the contrary, my son, I cannot wait to get all the news over dinner.

Adam normally came in his best tuxedo but Eve knew he must be down on his luck when she saw him in Paradise Park Reception in faded denim jeans and flip flops. Eve was wearing the same homely dress. She hadn't changed it in fifty years. In her parallel universe things were not as plentiful. Her planet only supported a few thousand humans but at least she was on first name terms with all of them. Adam on the other hand had been given a fantastic start in life with a world that now supported billions of humans. Adam claimed he had lost count recently and of course he knew the names of very few in latter years. It seemed to Eve that Adam had lost much of his good looks. It was only twenty years since she had seen him but he seemed to have aged a thousand. God, who was now bent over with arthritis, seemed almost in better nick. 'Adam you must pop over to my world for a little break, you look as if you could do with one'

Adam was touched by Eve's words and big sisterly hug. For years he had ignored her. He took little interest in her humble world that did not support the diversity of his own. He had often wondered aloud over dinner how she managed to live in a world without animals to eat and where the cereals did not even produce alcohol. Her sober, simply dressed, bicycle riding offspring seemed so dull compared to his own innumerable noisy litter.

The elevator doors opened and God slowly made his way across reception and threw his arms around his prodigal son. 'Lovely to see you Adam, even if you do look knackered'. God turned to Eve and gave her a hug 'Wonderful to see you daughter. Hasn't the year flown?'

Adam put on a bravura performance over dinner, as always. He had Eve and God,not to mention the angels it fits of laughter describing some of habits of his tearaway children. After dinner the tables were cleared, the angels dutifully left the room to allow the three have a private chat.

'Dad, you know how grateful I am for giving me the earth, even though I haven't always shown it.' Adam began. God stroked his beard a little nervously unsure what might follow. 'It's just that in recent years we have some serious problems. Up to now I have tried to solve them myself. But this latest problem of global warming has got out of hand. I am ashamed to admit it, but I can't handle it, I need your help.' Silence filled the room. Eve looked positively pained. She threw her arms around Adam ' Oh dear, I am really sorry for you. I can take a few hundred of your children if that can help. We don't have much but we are willing to share'.

God looked at Adam with those gentle blue eyes. His voice was warm but serious. 'Well son, how many children do you have to cater for?' Adam blushed. Adam rarely blushed. 'Actually, I am ashamed to confess I have lost count. I lost count a few years ago when the number went over the six billion mark. I hate to ask you for a favour but can you change a few laws of nature - just temporarily -until we get over this crisis.'

God, gently slumped down on the sofa, looking every one of his many years. He seemed suddenly exhausted and weary, a little like his profligate son. 'Adam, you know I would do anything to help, but I cannot break my own laws. It's the one thing you cannot do as God. You on theother hand can break them and you frequently do' mused God ruefully 'but I cannot, that is what being God is all about. I can do almost anything, but not everything. Even God cannot cease being God..'His voice trailed off.

'So, all six billion plus of us are screwed, pardon the expression'Adam said angrily.
'Please, son not in your sisters presence' sighed God.

Eve interjected 'What about other universes Dad, didn't you create billions of them. Maybe Adam could borrow a few while he sorts things out back on earth?' 'Lovely thought Eve' God rejoined 'but there is nothing that would suit Adam for another few million years and I am not sure he has the time to wait round'.

Adam looked wretched. 'What will I tell my children?'
In sorrow more than anger God replied ' the truth might be a good place to start'
'So, we're on our own,then' sighed Adam.

'Yes, my son you always have been'

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A tale of two Legions

I spent seven years studying for the Mexican missions with the Legion of Christ. I spent the first five - 1969 - 1974 in a boxy building on the Leopardstown Road covered in hideous green cladding (to blend in, we hoped). The tired building stands to this day a monument to the victory of architectural hope over experience. It can be seen clearly from the M50.

It was built as a seminary and was opened in 1969. My group were the first to join in the new building. The group of '68 joined initially in the seminary on Belgard Road in Clondalkin, leased to the order by CRH. CRH took back the building and converted it into a modern head office around 1970.

The Legion of Christ was founded by Father Marcial Maciel in Mexico in the early forties. I met Maciel on numerous occasions - perhaps as often as 20 or 30 times. He seemed charismatic, funny and different. What I did not know at the time and would not learn for a further twenty years was that Maciel stands accused of molesting dozens of boys, his own seminarians, of living with two women and siring two families. It appears sadly the case that money and drugs were used and abused during his long life until he died in 2007.

When Maciel visited the seminary in Leopardstown he would arrive in a black, top of the range Peugeot and often dine in the Glenview Hotel. This in an Order that preached poverty chastity and obedience.

I left the Legion in the summer of 1976 after finishing first year studies in Rome, disillusioned with the Order's approach to mission and worried about the extraordinary high drop out rate - over 90% in many cases. I had remembered Oscar Wilde's comment about the misfortune of losing one parent.

I left the Legion in the Summer of 1976. I flew into Dublin on a hot July afternoon sweltering in an Aran Sweater. In September 1976 I joined Clonliffe College with a view to continuing my studies for the priesthood for the Dublin Dioceses. For the first year I was assigned the job of attending a Legion of Mary Group in Dominick Street - a very poor part of Dublin.

I was intrigued by the Legion of Mary. The coincidence of names did not strike me at the time. I asked for a meeting with the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff. I was granted a meeting without fuss within a few days. I have an abiding memory of Frank, a frail man in his eighties arrive at the centre on his black bicycle. I can still see the stooped man with the clear blue honest eyes, carefully take off his bicycle clips and stand the bike aginst the wall in his office. He gave me as much time as I wanted. I met him four times in total and typed my notes in duplicate on a typewriter with the money I had saved from working on the ferries for the summer. I gave a copy of the notes to the history department in Clonliffe. I hope the notes still survive to this day.

I no longer have any time for the Legion of Christ who to me and many others seemed interested only in money - all for the greater glory of God, no doubt. All I can say - be careful what you work with - much of it stains your fingers and nails. Even then I could not subscribe to the Legion of Mary which seemed quaint and from another era. But my admiration for Frank Duff has grown over the years and for the Legion of Mary.

Within a year I had encountered two very different Legions, but it took me almost thirty years to find the words and the perspective.

We men can be kind and wonderful. At times we can be incredibly stupid. When Lorraine and I first became friends I took her to both the Legion of Christ and to Clonliffe. Strange way to woo a girl, I suppose. Within five minutes she had worked out exactly the differences.

More women in the boardroom is all I can say and in the Church when we are at it.

You're not the man I married

How often have we heard this statement?, and wondered. Of course I am not the man my wife married thirty years ago. I was young then, I could run a marathon, stay up drinking all night. I am nothing like the man I used to be, I hope.

I used to be a big fan of Cliff Richard. I preferred him to Elvis in the fifties and sixties. We will never know how Elvis might have aged. It certainly wasn't looking too good. But am I the only one upset by Cliff's apparent inability to age gracefully? There is nothing wrong with wrinkles, crows feet and grey and receding hair - well yes if you're 20 but not if you're 60.

But on a more profound level are we spiritually the same people we once were? The Greeks spoke of the river that was never the same - the water we see now is different to the water two minutes ago and different again to the water in two minutes time.

We rightly keep our sense of inner self - to protect our sanity if nothing else. But at times do we guard it too closely? Do we become parodies of ourselves? Surely we need the inner courage to change - hopefully for the better.

I wonder if we have a number of selves during our lifetime. Not at the same time or we develop twin or multiple personalities. It might help to explain why people do change. If there is a heaven and if we get there, which self will we bring? The 10year old version or the 90 year old version.

I don't have an answer to these questions - as usual.
For now, Shalom! Be kind to yourself (ves) and others.

What's left is not all right

I am proud to be a leftie - to write and do other things with my left hand. It is surmised that about 9% TO 18% of the population are naturally left handed. In this age of super science and super communication you might think someone would work out a more accurate figure. The generally accepted figure is 10% although my own observations would suggest that the true figure is about 20%.

It wasn't always easy to be a leftie. The Romans gave left the name 'sinister'. The French use the word 'gauche' and in Irish 'cle' can also mean evil. In many modern cultures with old roots the left hand is supposed to be used for the less attractive duties while the right is to be used for eating and other important chores.

I count myself lucky. In 1956 at the age of 5 I went to a progressive school called Ardtona in Churchtown which survives to this day. The teachers did not insist I change hands when writing. When I graduated to primary school I found that some of my left handed colleagues were not so lucky and had been forced to write with their right (wrong) hand. One boy in particular had developed a very bad stammer attributed to this enforced change that lives with him to this day.

Overcoming the prejudice against left handed people took centuries and suspicion still exists in certain parts of the world today. Primitive man needed some hard and fast rules to survive. The rules had to be black and white. At various times it was decided it was best to shun or even persecute people from different villages, of a different sex, of a different religion.

The country to first and best overcome this prejudice was the US where it is almost mandatory to be left handed to become president - Obama, Clinton, Bush Senior, Ford and Regan to name a few (Regan was actually ambidextrous but generally believed to have been a natural left hander). To paint a balanced picture we should mention other presidents who were right handed including George Bush (junior) Nixon..unfair, I hear you cry!!

I feel part of a minority who have had to work that little bit harder to fit into the world. I played tennis every July (yes, only July) in my early teens and would spend the first week transferring the racket from one hand to the other, trying to work out which felt right (that word again!). I can blame my poor golf on the fact that I have played golf both left and right handed with equally disastrous results. I play table tennis mostly left handed but not always. Finally I played squash right handed but when caught in the left hand corner of the court I could switch to the left handed to the amazement of the opposition. Generally I won the point not through skill but through confusion (Is it legal to change hands?).

Maybe the moral of the story is that we should embrace obstacles as part of our development. Maybe we shield our children from too many problems and cosset them too much in the wrong belief they won't work things out for themselves the way mankind has done for the past few hundred thousand years.

I think I may start a Facebook Campaign to get a new word for left in those languages that associate it with clumsiness and evil. Come to think of it, why should right handed people be always right?

Let's celebrate the difference! Vive la difference!

The Queen's English

Like all would be-writers and aspiring bloggers I am fascinated by the written word. I am equally captivated by the spoken word. I love regional accents - as long as I can understand them.

I clearly remember when the Australian soap 'Neighbours' was screened on TV at home over twenty years ago. Initially I could not believe that anyone could mangle the English language so skillfully. Two years ago we visited my daughter who is living and working in Melbourne and we didn't need to use an interpreter.

Who are we the Irish to mock other peoples accents? What many outside of Ireland do not realise is that there are at least dozen very distinct accents in the small country of Ireland - sing song from Cork, staccato from Belfast, soft Scots in Donegal, flat Wicklow/Wexford, Soft quiet Galway, and a myriad of accents in between.

Britain is encouraging a revival of local accents - Geordie accents have become popular on the back of Cheryl Cole and Ant and Dec; The Beatles made Liverpudlian fashionable, Eastenders instructed us on how to understand Cockneys and TV News Anchors tend to be either Welsh or Scots. Come to think of it, does anyone speak like Her Majesty any more?

When the English language travels the small pond to France, it becomes alluring and sexy. When it travels in the opposite direction to the Americas it often develops a nasal twang. Words like flavour lose the u. My spellcheck will not accept anything other than US English as a result my RAM has been saved thousands of 'u's and other defunct letters.

They say if alchol were discovered in the last fifty years it would have been banned as the most harmful substance known to man. But we don't need scientists to tell us that. Our hangovers are proof enough. If you were given the task of inventing a common world language fifty years ago - you would never have thought of English. It is such a mad language. For a start vowels can have no sound or different sounds. Compare English with Spanish where the vowels always stay the same - an 'o' is always pronounced the same, and so on.

English has been a good language for elliptical writing and the same applies to the spoken word. Whereas Spanish might have five or even fifty funny accents, English can boast of hundreds or even thousands. My guess is that most native English speaking people would not succeed in learning English if it were not their mother tongue.

I hate laziness. I hate the way characters in the Coronation Street soap fail to finish sentences, or even words. There is after all a distinction between regional accents and bad English. Other languages often suffer the same fate.

French is a most wonderful language - it is enchanting when spoken well - and it usually is. But what about all the redunant letters? - C'est in English would become - say - and in Spanish - se. Think of the thousands of letters that could be spared by leaving out the ones that are not pronounced. Think of the rain forests that cold be saved - maybe even the Bois de Boulogne, who knows - que sais je? (Montaigne)

But at the end of the day the Engliszh language will do whatever it wants. People have treid to control and cordon it - with 100% lack of success. English does not boast a committee of experts like in France to tell us how to spell and how to pronounce. That is the joy of English - it is the most anarchic language in the world while aspiring to be the most proper.

To give the Queen her due, she certainly speaks 'proper' English - but does anyone else?