Saturday, November 11, 2023
I suppose if I were to start from the beginning, my earliest memory of the Jews, stoked by my church, was that they crucified Christ. Not a good start. As there were no Jews living in proximity in those days this concept had no operational meaning. I'd just add here that it took up to the 1960s and Pope John XXIII to absolve them of this horrendous crime.
However, in the course of my youth I had great admiration for the Jews, and by extension for Israel. The main player here was the Holocaust, and no member of my generation could have been unaffected by it. We were all on the side of the persecuted Jews. We empathised hugely with them and hated the Nazis for what they had done. Truth told, we hated the Nazis anyway, having been raised on British comics and British war heroes.
Then there was the Exodus and the establishment of the State of Israel. A huge achievement for the Jews and a fitting act of reparation for what had been done to them. At last, a safe homeland, not only democratic but sort of socialist as well. We admired the Kibbutzim and many Irish people did a stint in one of them. The coming together of people to help one another. Ar scáth a chéile. The Meitheal.
We became more aware at home of the huge contribution of the Jews to Irish society. And at a later stage, Yanky Fachler wrote a book about a hundred such people. We had never realised there were so many of them.
And there the matter sort of rested until, over time, we came to realise that there was more to it than we had been led to believe.
Israel had not been virgin territory waiting for the return of the Jews who had been scattered to the four corners of the earth two thousand years ago. It had, in the meantime been inhabited by Arabs, Palestinians, scraping a living from a difficult land. And the glorious establishmnet of the State of Israel had a totally different meaning for them.
For them it was the Nakba, "The Catastrophe", which I had been totally unaware of until my later years. The new settlers/occupiers banished half the population out of the area and spent the next seventy years grabbing the land of the rest of them, killing and toruring them, and finally locking them up in a vast concentration camp which was totally dependent on Israel for its existence and day to day survival.
The United Nations, God help us, had decided on a two state solution to the problem. An Israeli state coexisting with a Palestinian one, but this had been long ignored by the Israelis, who actively encouraged Jewish immigration to, inter alia, swell their population while they continued unimpeded in their land grab from the Palestians who they held in general contempt.
To cut a long story short, that's where we are today. And it is crystal clear to me that the displacement of the Palestinians, started with the Nakba, is the ultimate aim of current Israeli action against the Palestinians.
Israel has a habit of getting its own way and harnessing the unqualified support of other states, such as the US and UK, and it currently considers itself unstoppable. In this, it is probably right. A long propaganda war, conflating the Jews and the State of Israel, has struck fear into the hearts of those who might think of supporting the Palestinians but who know that any criticism of Israel will have them labelled as antisemitic and who wants that around their neck.
So, today and tomorrow I am flying the Palestinian, not the Hamas, flag in support of the London march. And I'll fly it again on appropriate occasions.
And I will wear with honour my blocking on Twitter by the Israeli embassy in Dublin, whose record on inspection is one of what they most give out about, antisemitism. They are doing Jews worldwide no favours and it is interesting that significant Jewish participation in the pro-Palestinian marches is beginning to emerge.
Check this out. It made me cry, though the experience was is far short of that of the current genocide/ethnic cleansing or whatever you're having yourself that is going on today
Thursday, September 21, 2023
Brugge, SPQB, Senatus Populusque Brugiensis
Window in the College residence
in anticipation of a visit by Napoleon
Window in the College residence
in anticipation of a visit by Napoleon
This post is a little piece of indulgience on my part.
Albert Folens' associations with the Belgian city of Brugge (Bruges) are fairly tentative. His aunt was a nun there. He nearly ended up in prison there. And some of his relations live there today.
My own associations with the city are somewhat stronger.
I spent an academic year in the College of Europe in 1967/8 (Promotion Comenius) and returned on the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation in 2018 to celebrate with fellow students on the site of St. John's Hospital where Folens' aunt was a nun. I like to fantasise that Dweerstraat is named after my stay there (Ó Duibhir). And I finally traced a book, in which RTÉ tells us Folens claimed to be a war criminal, to a bookshop on the Potterierei in Brugge.
The city itself has very strong associations with the "Battle of the Golden Spurs", a battle which has inspired the Flemish cause through the ages and which is celebrated in the famous Flemish novel "The Lion of Flanders" by Frederick Conscience. This novel was a formative influence in Folens' young life.
Finally, not Brugge but Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I passed through here in both directions this year and on the return journey thought of Albert Folens' flight to Ireland from this very spot some 75 years ago.
You can follow my adventures regarding the title of this post here. But I do think the College owes me the piece of paper to confirm my continuing honorary residence in Brugge, even if I am not strictly entitled to the "Freedom of the City".
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
I always knew Brian Lynch was a writer. He was the favourite of our English master Michael Judge a really fine teacher and a great judge of writers.
The first piece of Brian's I read was Pity for the Wicked. This was a savage indictment of the IRA's assassination campaign during the troubles. It includes the Pat Gillespie incident and the collateral damage from the Mountbatten bombing in Mullaghmore. It made me weep and then burn with anger. Brian did not do himself any favours going against the prevailing grain in that one, but, as usual he has been vindicated in the long term.
Brian mentioned recently to our class that Colm Toibín's Preface to his recent publication of Crooked in the Car Seat is worth a read on its own, and that it is. Colm explores the nuances of how homosexuals coped in company at a time when homosexuality was a crime. There was much fear and insecurity and each person brought their bespoke closet around with them, so to speak.
It is no wonder that thinking back I can't remember ever meeting a homosexual in my youth.
In his introduction to Crooked in the Car Seat Brian cites Tomás MacAnna, then Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre, who asssured him that the Board's acceptance of the play would be a formality, only to have it stymied by internal board bickering.
He recalls earlier contact with MacAnna who wrote and produced our patriotic school pageants in Coláiste. In one of these he cast Brian as Douglas Hyde, below, a character about whom Brian has a lot to say in his introduction.
Brian makes the interesting, and correct, comment that the famous Croke Park pageant in 1966 was a vast upscaling of our earlier school pageant. Incidentally, as Brian says, the term Glóir Réim, which is what we got, is completely inadequately translated into English as pageant. A pageant is sort of passive, what we had was a passionate and pro-active re-enactment of the Rising and, though I was not there, I'm sure the same can be said of the Croke Park venture.
The book is interesting for the script of the play with its overt references to homosexuality and women's periods, taboos of their day. Given that it's not exactly James Bond, my feeling is that you would need to see the play performed to get any sort of a feel for it. I found it quite a depressing read. The difficulty is that in our changed world it would surely lack its original impact.
So the value of this book, apart from recording the script for posterity and bringing us an interactive copy of the programme, lies in both Colm Toibín's introduction which I found fascinating and Brian's own story of the shinanegans at the Abbey.
I always love to see references to the long departed and much underrated Eblana theatre with which I had some minor association myself in its day.
Thursday, July 27, 2023
This is a Volkswagen California Ocean Camper Van.
I have read the advertisements and specs and nowhere does it say the roof leaks when extended in the rain.
So I thought my friend was having me on when I was told the story.
Now, what is the point of a camper van that leaks in the rain? I am baffled.
The VW dealer purported to fix my friend's camper van but finally lost patience and as much as admitted that it was supposed to leak, so what's the problem?
And that seemed close to a true answer when you look at the California Club site and see pages and pages of people complaining about leaks.
I am not a consumer lawyer but my understanding is that when a firm sells you something as new it is supposed to work, and it seems to me that an integral part of working in this case is that it doesn't leak in the rain.
And these things cost a mint. You'd spend your life savings on one of them.
So we know where the dealer stands - six months after the purchase the roof still leaks.
And where do Volkwagen stand on this issue? Are they hoping that the dealers will shut the complainers up and they won't have to deal with it.
Now, apart from their title "Volks Wagen" having evolved from the Beetle, promoted by one Adolph Hitler to bring cars to the people, the firm itself was involved in a massive recall when it turned out they were fidding emissions tests.
The leaky roofs are not on the same mega scale, so why are they not fixing them.
It looks as though it will take a court case, and the consequential reputational damage to both VW and the dealers involved to sort this out once and for all.
And just for the record, I drove a Beetle way back. Lovely car to drive and economical in their day. And the roof never once leaked.
Well, the van has vanished from my friend’s driveway and she is absolutely refusing to talk about it.
Now I have a nose for this sort of thing since I followed Stuart Syvret’s campaign attempting to hold the authorities in Jersey (CI) to account for their complicity in, and attempt to cover up, child sex abuse on the island.
Strangely for a man who could never stop talking, Stuart went silent on one of the court cases he was taking against the authorities. His friends wondered what was going on and it finally emerged, or they came to the reasonable conclusion, that he had been served with a gag order. Not just any old gag order, but one which prohibited from revealing the gag order. This is known as a super-gag order.
In more modern times, just give a thought to Stormy Daniels.
I read somewhere that legislation is on the way making NDAs unenforceable, but I can’t remember whether that is here or in the US or somewhere else. If it’s not here it should be. NDAs are always entered into under some form of duress and the only justification for them can be commercial secrecy and not a denial of human or customer rights.
I’ll finish with a quote from a recently published novel. The statement is made by a bit of a bragging idiot attempting to impress his girlfriend and no doubt eventually get inside her pants as soon as he can manage to get his tongue out of her mouth.
“And Volkswagen was started by the Nazis” he said “So Cass shouldn’t be sorry if her dad’s business [a Volkswagen dealership] closed down.”
Saturday, July 22, 2023
I came across this small military telephone exchange on a recent visit to the Fort bij Vechten museum on the old Dutch Waterline near Houten in the Netherlands.
It brought back memories, as this was the sort of telephone exchange we had in the Irish Department (Ministry) of Finance when I joined in the late 1960s, though ours was on a bigger scale.
It was manned by a group of young women (then called girls) who most of the new young recruits got to know on a daily basis.
I remember an occasion in the 1970s when both features described above proved most useful.
I was working, inter alia, on Northern Ireland affairs in the Department. An occasion arose where I would need to contact the duty (out of hours) officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs (Foreign Ministry) later that evening to be updated on a project which that Department was involved in.
Now, when the time came for me to contact that Department, I was sitting, with a friend from Radio Éireann, in Madigan's pub in Moore St. not far from the GPO where Radio Éireann was headquartered in them days.
So, I would have to ring the Department of Foreign Affairs from the public phone in the pub with clearly identifiable pub noises in the background. Remember the public phones with their A & B buttons?
In all the circumstances I figured I'd have a job convincing the duty officer that I was who I was. Then, in a Eureka moment, the idea came to me.
I rang the Finance switch where the girl knew me and asked her to put me through to Foreign Affairs but to make sure first that she identified herself as Finance and then introduced me onto the line.
And Bob's your uncle.
I love the old technology.
Tuesday, July 04, 2023
Ten days in Houten in the Netherlands visiting family. Apart from getting there, what preparations should I make in advance. Well, the Dutch have been very good at including me in conversations and switching to English in my presence, so the least I could do would be to sprinkle the conversation with a bit of Dutch myself.
So, it's two weeks of Duolingo for you, me lad.
Was I starting from scratch. Not quite. I had spent an academic year in Bruges, in Flanders, in Belgium, but my intention to learn Flemish (a dialect of Dutch) while there proved abortive. I had given a one paragraph speech by heart at my son's wedding in the Netherlands two years previously, and that one paragraph had taken weeks of learning off.
So Duolingo it was. I have to admit to learning a lot, even if the course wasn't quite tailored to my exact requirements. I now had a vocabulary of sorts and a broad understanding of sentence structure. Enough to get me good will but hardly a sustainable conversation. Nevertheless, enough for what I wanted in the short time available. I definitely had no intention of encountering a tortoise in my travels, but if I did I was ready for it.
I also thought it useful to bring a phrasebook which would contain the relevant vocabulary at least. I thought I had one but couldn't lay my hands on it so I hoped to acquire one at the airport on the way out.
I was lucky to come across the one above and cannot recommend it too highly. It is the best thought out phrasebook I have come across so far. Sections are conveniently labelled and contain nearly all the phrases you'd need. There are a few tables to help you sort out the maze of Dutch pronouns, and there is a small two-way dictionary at the back.
Of course I would have Google translate on my phone for bespoke phrases and reading notices via the camera function. An amazing piece of technology, for my generation at least. I'm one of the last of the war babies, WWII that is.
So, armed to the teeth, I set out to deal with the Dutchies.
I certainly put in more than my quota of daily walk between Dublin airport and Schiphol. But it was still more convenient than making the overland journey, as I would have done when I was young. My father had privilege overland travel from working in CIE and my mother was an adventurous lady who took the children on holidays to the continent, as it was then called, and to the outer reaches of the "British Isles" such as the crown dependency of Jersey.
But this journey had a special emotional value for me and I insisted that my son take the photo above. Seventy five years ago this year, my first French teacher, Albert Folens, had passed through Schipol, with a false passport, on his way to Ireland.
He had been convicted of having collaborated with the Germans during the occupation of his country in WWII and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, from which he escaped and came to Dublin. The collaboration story was true up to a point but had been shamelessly exaggerated in Ireland some years ago. Not to mention the fact that it now transpires that he was actually working for the Belgian resistance, a fact which made his public vilification in Ireland the more egregious.
So, transiting through Schiphol on this occasion proved quite emotional for me.
Up bright and early the first moring to walk to the centre of (the new) town where I met this young lad and his companion. I'm not quite sure what he signifies, but I do remember the story from my youth of the boy with his finger in the dyke, not a phrase one would easily use nowadays. I'm not sure if this was him nor where the dog fits in, but the piece did make for a nice atmosphere in the main square, which was actually a Rond.
I did notice that the dogs head exhibited the same symptoms as Molly Malone's breasts outside of Andrew St. postoffice in Dublin. Signs of vigorous rubbing, no less.
And before I leave the subject of beloved dogs, I came across this sign just down the road: "Lovely dog. Bin the Poo".
The place is not overburdened with signs, but they occasionally come in clusters. I was pleased to be able to read this lot without the benefit of translation. Private property is private property and beware the Neighbourhood Watch group on Whatsapp.
I had not only mastered the words but am also an intensive user of the app involved.
So, off to a good start.
Duolingo had taught me the word "schildpad" which I really thought was taking it a bit far. Where in my travels was I likely to meet a tortoise, but lo and behold, at a family party on the first day, there it was. Inanimate, I'll concede. But I was able to show off my obscure knowledge of the Dutch language from the outset. Gave me a boost, that did. Thank you Duolingo, you must have seen that one coming.
The barbecue then turned into a nail-painting party during which I had my big toe nails painted from under the table by a young lady who had not yet left primary school.
She, in turn had painted her own nails with varnish and glitter.
And her sister had hers painted similarly, but by a very experienced adult.
Although this is the "newer" part of town, this particular entrance merited a town council badge as a recognised monument. To God alone, glory.
The Dutch, as we have come to learn, are very green, in the environmental sense that is, and what better illustration of this, apart from their vast underground street bins, than this ice cream cone advert which doubles as a rubbish bin. Whatever will they think of next?
A library/book swap box, just like we now have at home.
I had an early encounter with the priority accorded to pedestrians throughout the town. I nearly called it a village and it was so referred to by someone I was talking to. I'm sure Houten considers itself at least a town but there is a strong village atmosphere about the place. This informal and cooperative atmosphere was explained to me: the whole country is under existential threat from the sea and has been for yonks, so it pays to cooperate. One for all, all for one, or as we say at home: "Ní neart go cur le chéile".
Anyway, back to pedestrian priority. There I was, waiting to cross the road, somewhere between two official crossings, when this car stopped to let me cross. It was only on looking back, after crossing, that I saw it was a police car.
I continued walking up the street not paying too much attention when I was hit by one of the loudest sounds I had ever heard. My first thought was that Putin had pulled the plug and we were all going up in smoke. Then I wondered if there was an air-raid shelter nearby. Clearly it was some sort of an alarm and the matter was serious. Then I spotted the Siemens van and the big tower. Maintenance. Relief.
This was not a sheduled alarm but there is a general alarm scheduled for the first Monday of every month at midday. Luckily I was not standing under a tower when that one went off.
I had been advised to go visit the Rietplas (Reed-lake) where a whole new lake had been created and a sandy beach imported. Quite amazing.
So much for the "new" Houten. There was an old town and I was determined to see it.
Part of the town square, above.
The old village pump. I did a bit of pumping but it appears to be no longer connected to the mains.
A small bandstand, under the protection of the Lions, and the inevitable cheese stalls. I've never seen so much cheese in my life since I came to the Netherlands. It's everywhere.
A large chess board on the ground with the pieces in the lockers behind.
The restored Reformed (Protestant) Church. The corresponding graveyard is a little further away and I didn't get that far.
The true baker.
The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (obviously Catholic). The Protestant church just gave the time of a weekly service on its notice, the Catholic church claimed to be open 9am-5pm daily, but I didn't go in as I got distracted by the site of a fairly large adjacent graveyard.
Now, graveyards are my thing. If there is a graveyard, I'll visit it. They make me sad, thinking of all the full lives gone up in smoke, so to speak. But they can give you a strong sense of the local community and occasionally you may come across some particularly interesting features.
Before I reached the graveyard I came across this almost life-size crib behind glass. This is the end of June. Must have been a long gestation.
An amazing feature of this graveyard is the grave of little Madelief Smeets. Note the QR code in the bottom right hand corner.
Madelief died very young and her family were devastated. Her father, Jeroen, is a software developer and he hit on a brilliant idea to commemorate his young daughter. Madelief collected stones and had them all arranged and catalogued. Jeroen decided to include her stones on the grave. But better still, invited her friends and acquaintences to contribut stones, plain or painted, from near or far. The only condition was that they not be bigger than a fist.
Each stone, as well as being on the grave is recorded on an individual web page with its story if the donor so wishes. You can see them here. And that's what the QR code is about. It leads you to that page. Make you cry,
This is Selina's stone.
And now for a wee trip into the Dutch psyche. Hollandse Nieuwe, the new herring catch. Traditionally eaten during lent when meat was off the table for some.
Today it's decisions, decisions. Do you want to eat it Houten style or Amsterdam style. In the first, the salted herring is decapitated, filleted and eaten from whole. In the latter it's chopped up into little pieces (stukjes).
"Één stuk haring met uitjes, hier eten, alstublieft."
And Bob's your uncle.
The market in Het Rond, on a Thursday morning, has a wide range of stuff, with the emphasis on fish, flowers, fruit, clothes, knitting and cheese, cheese, cheese.
A nice touch on a house number.
There are bicycles everywhere. Parked, moving, silent, and at speed.
Not everyone, however, heeds the notices.
Fiets is a bicycle, but what is a "Bicycle Transferium". Well, after a thorough visual inspection and considering its location I came to the conclusion that it is an indoor cycle park for those taking the train.
They are vast and packed with bicycles.
The local primary school with its garden tended by students, teachers, parents, and neighbours.
I had the privilege of attending the end of year concert by the students and it was a hoot. Each class performed in turn, jumping up and down to a pulsating soundtrack. Even the teachers got on stage for a final act. Parents then chatted while the children cleared up and many lined up for pretty extensive face painting. Great fun. Loved it.
A little back lane fine art on the way home.
A visit to the Cityplaza in nearby Nieuwegein to buy a birthday present. But what is this? Doubt if it was vetted by a seasoned English speaker.
Then on to the cremetorium to look at a new way of spreading ashes.
And this rather brutal sign. I'm not a believer but I think I prefer the Glasnevin version of "Angels' Plot".
This is the Fort bij Vechten. It is part of the elaborate Waterlinies defence of Holland constructed in the seventeenth century. The idea was to create a continuous large body of water along the defence line and support this with a series of forts with overlapping fire, much like the case of the Martello Towers in England and Ireland.
Initially this proved a success and it was further enhanced at a later stage. However when the post-revolutionary French attacked at the end of the eighteenth century the defence proved useless as the waters had frozen over.
There is a representation in the Fort's museum of a man attempting to saw the ice and remove it. He asks for the spectator to take up a second saw and give him a hand. Needless to say that was a waste of time. You can hear his appeal in a very clever reconstruction here.
The defences fared better in WWI but only because they were not tested. It is thought that a German spy's report of 1908 which reported that the Waterline defences were impregnable played a part in enabling the Neterlands to stay neutral during the war, though it appears that there were many other factors at play.
The Waterline defence proved useless during WWII and was later abandoned. It is now a heritage site. I visited the Fort bij Rijnauwen in 2010 and you can read my extensive report on that visit here.
I just couldn't resist letting you see this military telephone exchange from 1945 which is in the museum. When I joined the Civil Service in the late 1960s this is precisely the system we had but on a somewhat larger scale. Brought back memories.
I came at just the right time to stay in Peter and Magda's Airbnb. They have an extensive garden and on Sunday it was the scene of a great performance by Eileen Graham and Katelijne Beukema, called MINEMINEMINE, from the theatre company "Coup de Boule" (Headbutt). This was part of a sort of garden cultural festival organised by the local community called "Struinen in de Tuinen" (Roaming or strolling in the Gardens). People offer their gardens and performers take them up on it.
The theme of this performance was greed. Eileen played the person who accumulated wealth, lost the run of themselves and continuously exploited the poor underling, played by Katelijne. The performances were vigorous and unrelenting and were very much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience, which included members of my own family
Congratulations to Katelijne (left) and Eileen (right). These two ladies are theatre trained and have been particularly active in shows over the last five years, mostly in partnership through their theatre company "Coupe de Boule". A really polished performance today,
I would just add that it continues to be a small world. Eileen's father is a Donegal man living in Rathfarnham.
Finally, just a few words about the wonderful place I was staying. Originally a farm but now a residence with a splendid garden which people come from all over to admire. This week it's a bus full of enthusiasts from Belgium. The garden is tended by the son of the house who goes (literally) to the ends of the earth in search of new plants.
There are quite a few buildings, some lived in, some converted to other uses. The original house was built in 1820 but there have been many extensions since. There is a profusion of thatched roofs as well as the tiled ones. The original piggery is converted into a garage, with its lines softened and a grass roof where you can relax in the hammock. The original cowshed is in the course of being converted into a swimming pool. And you can still see the mechanism for raising and lowering the roof of what was the hayshed.
There are all sorts of nooks and crannies with seating where you can relax and the available accommodation for people like myself is a granny flat on one level and completely self-contained.
I'm including a very few pictures below.
This is my entrance to the granny flat.
One of the many thatched roofs on the property.
An open area where the audience at the performance I described above sat.
In vacant or in pensive mood ...
Mine hosts: Peter and Magda