*First of all can I re-echo the applause of last night at 8, from the Dáil through the streets of many towns in the country and assuredly in the hearts and minds of us all, for those on ‘the front line’ in hospitals, local health facilities, ambulances, pharmacies, care homes and the myriad of other fronts who are the ‘HEROES’ in the current battle to help us emerge from this virus pandemic. When the battle is over, as it must, I expect that they will be remembered and respected all the more and appropriately recognised for their sacrifices and courage. The return of some 60 doctors from Perth Western Australia yesterday was emotional even at a distance and it must be something special for their families. Those of us brought up on cowboy films will remember the climax of the many times the cavalry arrived just in the nick of time to save the threatened and how we felt relief and left the cinema as willing suspension of outside reality evaporated.
It was ironic that Leo Varadkar reached for a Churchillian quote in his fine declaration last week; "Never in the field of human conflict has so much owed by so many to so few" was a wartime speech made by the British prime Churchill on 20 August 1940. It was said as a tribute to the Royal Air Force’s successful efforts in the aerial Battle of Britain.
Speaking of Varadkar, our leadership too has to be commended with Varadkar, Coveney and Harris to the fore ably assisted by the many expert medical officers led by Tony Holohan.
I will not dwell long on Covid 19 other than a few comments. It seems as if New York is now going to be the major hot spot in the United States. It is an ongoing frustration with me that such a great country is remiss in some basic ways. At this time every country needs clear and decisive leadership. President Trump hasn’t the capacity to provide that though I hear that his ‘rating’ is going up rather than down! Incredible. His daily press conferences illustrate some of the simple errors and thoughtlessness of his approach. He is surrounded by a group of ‘advisors’ in a way that would alarm us here in terms of ‘physical distancing’ which has been one of the weapons of resolve in this country. His constant play on the source of the virus coming from CHINA is juvenile at this time. Would he allow assistance from China in helping confront the crisis as might need to happen in a global survival strategic way? Trump’s messaging has been ‘all over the place’. The most recent being the desire to have the churches full for Easter. What’s that about?
I was in the States for three summers as a student and loved the experience of it as did so many students. I have met thousands of Americans down the years and have found them to be ‘normal’ reasonable, bright people. They have given so much to science, the arts, sport and all the ways that humanity exists and progresses BUT (it was coming) while we ‘Love America’ we cannot understand those illogical behaviours that come to a head in a Trump leadership. I think in terms of Obama being in office at this time. How different would the tone of that leadership be? In my mind too is the large number of Irish people, including friends of mine from Boyle and elsewhere, in New York and throughout the States. Their undocumented status could possibly pose problems for them now with layoffs in the hospitality industry where there are many Irish. So we remember them and hope for them. A good news story is that Irish backpackers stranded in Peru are in the process of being brought home through government intervention.
Here … Errata
• In case you are unlucky enough to contract the virus it might be an idea to keep a track of people you have been -for whatever reason-in contact with. A success story is the reduction in the number of contacts from around 20 down to 5.
• Be extra careful in work that you do around your house these days especially when going up that ladder. You don’t need to be the one to be heading to Roscommon/Sligo with an injury acquired by some carelessness.
• Take care also of your glasses as I am learning to do. This reminds me of one of the early television series that I remember vividly from the sixties called ‘The Twilight Zone’. There was one episode where there was a bank clerk for whom book-reading consumed his life. At one lunch break he had entered the bank security vault to pursue his reading treat. Then there was a nuclear war (this was close to happening in the early sixties during the Cuban Missile Crisis and thus was credible to an extent). When my subject exited his secure vault he did so to a devastated environment. He made his way to the remains of a nearby library and secured a life’s reading requirement. He was totally happy with this …BUT…in his euphoria he managed to dislodge his strong glasses and they fell on the rough debris and the eye lens broke into fragments to his immense distress. Maybe it was a life metaphor but it is still a vivid memory of an ‘oh no!’ moment. So maybe you should be totally visually prepared by resurrecting the redundant glasses which your current ones replaced!!
What day is it?
There is a sense that the usual markers of time are redundant at this time as one day merges into the next. Still as I wrote last time a structure/routine is important. A diversion of a memory comes into my head. It was the actor Eamon Morrissey in some James Joyce interpretation where he had a week end of drinking and as he finally began to emerge from the haze of the week end and walked down the Dublin Street he wondered as to the what day it was, muttering to himself ‘You can ask a passer-by what time is it but it is a different message if you ask them; “What Day is it?”.
I heard on radio this am of Maggie Smith’s character in Downtown Abbey asking “What is a week-end?” which clues into what I am relaying here.
* While it is a very sombre worrying time there are some flickers of amusement too with a number of amusing videos and posts online these weeks. It started for me with one in which the Mexicans were urging Trump to hurry up with his wall.
One cannot do the good ones’ justice in writing but if you can source them these are three of my favourites;
3. say…a husband in a kitchen kicking a ball and his wife’s positive response to the ball going askew.
2. A pink muppet and a driving instructor. Q. Driving instructor; If you were driving down the road and an old man and a young man were crossing the road what would you hit? Student driver…….
1. Survey question; “If you were to be quarantined which of the following would you prefer to be quarantined with? A ‘Your wife and your ten –year- old son or ‘B’…….
A Poem I heard om radio this am.
Everything is Going to be All Right by Derek Mahon.
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
[On reading the title of the poem I seem to remember a song of the same name.]
While we are all hugely appreciative of modern communication at this time when we have to remain isolated Maybe this would be an opportunity to write a family member or close friend an actual letter which has been the staple mode of communication for a very long time until recently. Hearing a reference to ‘the letter’ on radio during the week I thought I might use a piece I wrote on that subject five years ago!
The Demise of the Humble Letter
“I regret three of the letters I have written in my lifetime but I regret much more the three hundred that I have not written”. This has been attributed to the English writer Alexander Pope who lived some three hundred years ago.
My reflections on the ‘humble letter’ are prompted by a few recent references. On Mairead O’Shea’s, Roscommon Herald page in the Roscommon Herald there is a short article headed ‘Mayo Artist Launches an appeal for old letters’. In going through the ‘effects’ of a relative I came across some letters. These are from family members and friends of course. The usual formats apply. The first line usually opens with; ‘Thank you for kind letter of some time ago’ followed invariably by, ‘I am sorry for the delay in answering your letter but…’.
My mother used to make a real effort when writing to any of us who were away. It was probably the best time that she revealed herself. Regrettably I have not come across any of her letters which would have been nice. Indeed, not long before she died in 1984 I helped her send an ‘audio’ letter I suppose –by tape- to my brother in Australia. We put a bit of work into that, first her reading into the record from a written letter and then a casual interview/conversation. Unusually for me I did not make a copy of the tape and it has not survived. I would dearly like to have it now. When away, a letter from home was a joy. There are many backgrounds where the arrival of the letter brightened the day for the recipient. There may be some people reading this who will remember the distribution of the post in boarding school. Then sloping away to read quietly on one’s own and maybe the young student re-reading it and keeping it for a time under his pillow.
Of course the letter was the constant link with emigrants all over the world. And those of us who have spent time abroad will remember that. I was not a great letter writer myself and I reflect on the rather irregular contact with home in those days. Indeed, some, men especially, never wrote home and went ‘off the radar’ as it were. For many this obtained for years. Sometimes through various happenings, such as weddings, deaths and searches by a brother or sister, communication was restored and the first letter from the ‘missing’ or long distance navvy was an awkward and apologetic one.
The Christmas letter with perhaps an ‘enclosure’ was always a treat especially the American letter with the image of American presidents on the enclosure. The Mayo writer, John Healy, in one of his books, perhaps ‘Death of Irish Town’-Charlestown in his case- tells of the regular annual Christmas letter and card with dollars to the home family from aunts in New York. Later when John made his first visit to them he found that they were actually in poor circumstances themselves and had to save through the year to have anything respectable to put in the envelope endorsing the American dream. I know of a relation of my own who did not write home for years after he went to Chicago in the late twenties, because he could not afford to include some dollars.
This reminds me of some long ago emigrants who could not actually write at all and there being people who were kind of semi-professional letter writers in the great American cities in the late 1800s’ a little like tax consultants today who might get back some rebate for a student after a summer there or whatever. Returning to my mother she took great pride in her writing which was assiduously taught in the national schools especially in the first half of the 1900s’.
People might remember the particular landscape copy book with the defining coloured lines which dictated the height of particular sets of letters. ‘Copperplate’ writing was the term for the expert practitioner. I am a poor enough writer myself and though I have sometimes tried to improve, the initial stumbling’s still obtain. I presume a good deal can be learned from a person’s writing but I haven’t the competence to do that. When a welcome handwritten letter arrives in today’s post it gets the first priority with the brown or formal envelopes being secondary. I can identify the source of most of them by the writing of my address. A lot of them are GAA related which will not come as surprise to most of you. The wide sweeps and tails of Christy Hannon’s brushstrokes are mirrored by the earnest functionality of Colm Dannell’s steady bid.
Of course the era of the handwritten letter is on the wane if not gone. A friend told me recently, that in a wide conversation with his adult son, his son told him that he did not remember having ever sending a handwritten letter. I imagine this is not unusual at all. It is indicative of the times we live in. The letter is referred to now, despairingly, as ‘Snail mail’! Today many of us just use the electronic mail in our social and business interaction. There is an immediacy about it all now and we have little reason to say ‘sorry for the delay in answering your letter’.
Still the good, ennobled ‘humble letter’ is a rare treat and in it you can record your deeper feelings for loved ones, especially those on far-flung shores. Believe me it will be regularly referenced as a touchstone of love, caring and mindfulness.
The Beauty of Nature
With the time change on Sunday am we are into a particularly vibrant time in the world of nature which is all around us here in Boyle. Today the sun is shining on the Curlieu Hills out my back window with the daffodils dancing on the green out front. The sullen skies (for the most part) are taking a break. From time to time I copy and paste to the blog a poem which illustrates all this much better than I can. Probably the most popular poem in the English language is William, Wordsworth’s
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:—
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:
For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.
Hundreds and Thousands
I used to ask about the above in quizzes but in our current challenging times there were a few of the above this week for me.
1. Was the arrival of the Irish doctors and the interview with one of them at Dublin airport.
2. On a personal level was the ‘Whats Apping’ (spelling) of special people in my life.
3. The finding of a ‘note’ in an old pants which was about to be discarded!
There is a hierarchy there of course!
*What are the distances in the Olympic Games walking competitions?
Take great care of yourselves. Do not let your guard down.