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Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski


A glimpse into the early travels of the famous Polish travel writer. He provides some insights into his views on Herodotus and how the ancient scribes The Histories was the young Polishman’s inspiration to travel.

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Alpha Male


Man likes dog.
Man walks dog.
Man walks dog on beach.
Dog fetches fish.
Dog likes fish.
Dogfish.
Dog brings fish to man.
Man hates fish.
Smelly fish.
Man hates smell.
Dead smell.
Bad smell of dead fish.
Dog chews fish.
Dogbreath is bad.
Dogbreath of dogfish.

Man and dog walk home.
Man calls dog.
Dog ignores man.
Man opens door.
Dog walks away.
Man calls dog by his name.
Dog ignores man.
Man calls dog.
Dog won’t come.
Man calls dog a name.
Dog barks.
Dog yawns.
Man swears.
Man enters house.

Man calls daughter.
Daughter is five.
Daughter ignores man.
Man calls daughter again.
Daughter shrugs.
Man smiles.
Daughter looks away.
Man asks daughter to get dog.
Daughter goes out.
Dog comes in.
Daughter comes in.

Man closes door.
Man smiles.
Man is proud.
Man is satisfied.
Man is the alpha male.

Sands of Eternity


When the tide is out, strolling Dubliners take to James Joyce’s favourite beach.

Ferries and sailing boats glide through mirages way out on the sand. Couples walk through pools of reflected dimming golden light. It is the end of the day and the evening promenade is in progress.

Sandymount Strand merges with the sky’s horizon when the tide is out and seems to stretch to infinity and back. I am not the only one with a special affection for this place and its mudflats, as Dubliners flock here even during winter squalls to stroll along the eastern edge of Ireland.

Sandymount Strand, jus a few miles from the city centre, is the most famous beach in Irish fiction. Our greatest writer, James Joyce, based two episodes of his epic novel Ulysses here.

At 11am on Bloomsday, upon which the novel is set, Stephen Dedalus wanders “into eternity” on the strand (“crush, crack, crick, crick”) and muses on being an artist, death, and the meaning of life. Dedalus is Joyce’s alter ego and his meanderings mirror those of an author who walked these self-same sands in his youth.

In Joyce’s day, the vista was much different from that we see today. There was a wooden latticed pier and the baths were in their heyday.  The graffiti-adorned square of stone was once a Victorian swimming pool into which salt water was pumped from beyond the tide line for well-to-do bathers. At tuppence a swim, this was a gathering place for Dublin’s aristocracy. Now it sits in ruins, submerged in silting sand.

The  pier, filled with brass from the bandstands and peddlers selling cockles and mussels, didn’t survive the lashing of the elements for long. It was removed within three decades.

Recently a plan was mooted to restore the baths and build another pier, but this idea has apparently been shelved. An international design competition was announced and then quietly quashed.

In the Proteus episode of Ulysses, Stephen closes his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. The mudflats are still filled with intertidal bivalves. Razor clams, cockles and mussels are all exposed when the tide is out and were eaten in former times. Perhaps the demise of the whole O’Connor family through mussel poisoning, as detailed in the novel, was the reason Irish found smaller shellfish unpalatable for much of the 20th century. The bay has been cleaned up since then, however. Irish dining tastes have changed.

Kitesurfers catch the wind here all year long. In summer, young children frolic in the tidal pools. Dogwalkers unleash canine companions who spray themselves with cooling splashes as they dash about. Venturing far out on the sands is not without peril, particularly when the moon is on this side of the earth. The tide floods rapidly and unfortunate strollers have been trapped and isolated by swirling saltwater lakes. The sea has claimed its victims at Sandymount the past, so be wary of a waxing moon.

Read more On Protean Sands..

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Brent geese overwinter here and feed on the eelgrass that colonises the mudflats. It is a birdwatchers’ paradise with all kinds of exotica on view, especially during the colder months of the year. Early morning is best for birding – if you’re lucky you might spot a red breasted merganser, turnstone, knot, snow bunting or bar-tailed godwit. They feed on the tiny razorshell clams and cockles exposed by the tide.

Early in the morning as commuters Dart by, there is often a silhouetted fisherman out looking for telltale sand casts just before the turning tideline. He will dig up a trench and hopefully get his treasure in the form of lugworms to stick on the end of a line as bait. Lugs are allegedly great for baiting flounders and bottom feeder fish such as cod, pollock and haddock.

The Martello tower on the edge of the promenade is one of nine fortifications built on the Dublin coastline stretching from Howth to Bray. Erected to thwart an alleged impending invasion by Napoleon, the all conquering little emperor never made it to Irish shores and the towers were used to temporarily imprison smugglers. Some were rented out and Joyce spent an infamous night in the one at Sandycove.

In the distance, tiny sailing boats race from Howth and Dun Laoghaire on summer evenings. They fill the sweeping panorama of sea and sky with multicoloured spinnakers, jostling in the wind with each other. Sailors distracted from racing look towards the setting sun or the southwest, the Sugar Loaf mountain and the distant Wicklow Hills. They cannot but be affected by the majesty of the surrounds – even if it distracts from a competitive edge. The views from Dublin Bay are one of the undiscovered treasures of the region.

Towards the end of the day another episode of Ulysses takes place on Sandymount Strand. The book’s hero Bloom, the greatest of ordinary Dubliners, watches fireworks and pleasuredshimself in a blue dusk on Sandymount Strand. He was permitted an intentional glimpse of Gerty McDowell’s underwear in the light of a pyrotechnic Roman candle explosion.

Joyce was the most European of Irish writers and Bloom, the Magyar-Celt, was a European Dubliner. It seems fitting that the welcome of his fictional ancestors, the Hungarians, into the fold of the European Union during the Irish Presidency was marked here on Sandymount Strand.

The “Stars of the Sea” pyrotechnic explosions on May 1 2004 however, were probably located there more by accident than design. This would have appealed to Joyce as he was rather fond of a spontaneous party, not to mention serendipitous coincidences.

The Floral Fundamentalist


“They are scary they remind me of triffids,” said Al.

I looked right into his eyes with amazement.

“Triffids you must be mad,” I said “They are tall, majestic and beautiful.”

It was at this precise moment that the germ of the idea was off firing neurons in some as yet unidentified region of my brain.

There is no way I will be taking a kitchen knife to my ear sometime soon. I am too afeared of pain and would probably botch it up.

Nor do I see myself as an Irish Van Gogh, but we undoubtedly have a similarity and I am not just being arrogant even if the links may seem somewhat tenuous.

Our major commonality is undoubtedly our shared fascination with my favourite flower the sunflower.

The wonderful mad Dutchman painted sunflowers to distraction and the greatness of these works is perhaps over-diluted by the immense popularity of these images and their commercialisation in far too many calendars.

I in the past have over-photographed these floral subjects en masse, in close up using expensive macro-lenses and using a blur that some might now call cliché thanks to the all too simple click of a mouse photoshop effects and the horrible digital revolution.

Days later under a white sky like a giant lightbox I was standing and gazing in wonder at a host of my floral tributes to the sun god all yellow and gold magnificence.

One seemed to be smiling at me or was that just my overactive imagination in the still chilliness.

A drunken honey bee with a slowly vibrating abdomen fascinated me and caught my attention.

Its endorphin high was mesmerising and I wondered then do bees sleep.

I touched the edges of the flower and the anaesthesised bee fell to the ground. His body limp and relaxed he did himself no harm.

As I lifted him gently on a small nettle leaf carefully held between finger tips back up to continue his undisturbed reverie the idea to emulate nature’s great pollinators took hold.

So it is now I am rhythmically collecting thousands of little seeds. The rhythm of the task is therapeutic.

There is a surprising varied collection as my garden haven is full of tall to small and lemon yellow through gold to rich red.

My thumbs are blackened on separating the flowerheads before they decay with the eternal dampness. The seeds I collect are dried and will be stored till next Spring.

I am not collecting seeds for the green finch who we occasionally see foraging among the bushes nor for his blue tit friends, although they will get some spare ones mixed in with the bird feed we hang up high out of reach of feline paws.

The seeds are not for prickly Harry our bustly resident hedgehog friend who generally sticks to guzzling a diet of cat food anyhow in preparation for the long hunger of his hibernation.

I have a dastardly plan to make Greystones the sunflower capital of the nation through an illegal and surreptitious spilling of seed about the town at the dead of nights around the ides of March.

So you may wake in startlement on a wet summer morn next year only to see a host of giant floral beanstalks that have triffid-like suddenly materialised in your front garden.

It will unlikely be the work of Merlin. Nor the interference of the restless spectre of some ancient Irish druid that has been disturbed by the callous construction industry and its wanton disregard for sacred resting places.

No it will likely be the work of Ireland’s first floral terrorist.

 

 

What Publishers Want in 2011


Some very interesting points made about what some book publishers are looking for in a book.

http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/2011/01/13/what-editors-want

Sleepyhead


There is an x-ray of my head stuck to the window. You can see the black shadow of the nail clearly as the light passes right through my head.

I am a medical miracle. They parade a picture of me around their medical meetings. They tell my story.

It is a good story to tell. They probably laugh at me.

Laughing is one thing I cant do. It is not that I haven’t a sense of humour. I do find things funny. I just can’t laugh and have to suppress it if I can.

It is not the fact that I had  a manic sadness for years. You would want to be bloody sad to put your dad’s nailgun to your head and pull the trigger. And I was bloody sad alright.

I did it on impulse and I didn’t realise it. If I did I would have chosen another way to kill myself. If you get shot in the head, you do have a chance of recovery.

I shot myself in the head at a pointblank range and I survived. I can think for myself and I remember things.

I don’t get blinding headaches anymore like I did for the first few days. I can talk. I can walk around. I can make tea. But I cant laugh.

I cured my depression completely. I would not recommend shooting yourself with a nailgun in the head to get better if your sad.

They said I had given myself a lobotomy, and that is kind of weird. It used to be one of those drastic cures they used for severe mental illness and I had done a job myself with no anaesthetic. Just a nail gun and a steady aim that I thought would be my last act.

Cataplexy. You have probably never heard of it.

Go on say it. Cataplexy.

Dogs get it but cats don’t – cataplexy.  Ha Ha really funny. Not if you get it. It isn’t funny.

I have seen a video of two Dobermans get an attack of it.

It was funny. They got it at the same time. They both collapsed in a heap beside one another.

Narcolepsy is also a good word. Say it. Sounds like it is someone who is angry but it is not about me losing my temper.

Again I hadn’t heard of it before they diagnosed me.

Whats that? What is narcolepsy I hear you say?

Well the doctor had to tell me. You fall asleep. Just like that.

The nail went into your brain and damaged the hypothalamus, which is the part that regulates when we are asleep and when we are awake. It is our internal clock if you like.

He said ‘you might fall into your soup when you are eating’.

I hate this bloody example. They all use it. Every time I hear someone talk about it.

I have become an expert on this now. I know about it.

I have never fallen asleep in my soup. I don’t like soup I say and I hate my narcolepsy.

And I know of none of my friends on Facebook that have fallen into their soup either.

No narcoleptics on Facebook have had chicken soup in their hair follicles.

So there you go. Another clinical myth from the medics who sneer at their colleagues who gave poison to treat all ills just over a century ago, but are happy to give everyone they meet another dose of yet unproven to be poison for a mild heart condition.

That is another myth I have heard about us. We have no bloody sense of humour. This is utter crap and typical of the rubbish you hear. Of course we have a laugh. Well we don’t physically laugh as if we don’t control it then we are in the soup (See what I mean that was funny). Seriously though it is more an inner laugh so we can control it a bit.

Once I did fall asleep when eating fish fingers, chips and peas. This was just for a few seconds. It was easy to wipe the mush off the side of my head both quickly and surreptitiously. None stuck to my hair permanently.

My Mam didn’t notice as she had her back turned. I simply scraped it off my fingers on the side of my plate to leave behind.

My suddenly falling asleep was nothing to do with the taste of my dinner. My brother Joe had told me a joke. It wasn’t that funny, but I felt paroxysms of laughter come on. Actually it was just ordinary giggles but it set me off. Cata-bloody-plexy. Para-fuckin’-lysis. And down into the peas, spuds and fishes for me.

When I used to go to school they would pick on me. So I had to stop going to that school.

Some of them didn’t know that I have narcolepsy. They knew me as the idiot who shot himself in the head and missed. And I suppose then they had to take the piss. Just looking for a difference they were.

My narcolepsy explains why I used fall asleep in my class all of the time. I wasn’t bored in history lessons, nor did I do it to wind up my teacher Mr Goggins. I couldn’t help it.

My grades were always poor.

I wasn’t thick. I didn’t know any of the answers. Just you try and do your homework when you can’t control not falling asleep. I feel like my brain is heavy all of the time and I can’t think straight.

I am not lazy. I don’t stay up all night playing computer games or on the net. Although I would like to.

I spend my nights dreaming and not getting the proper rest of sleep our body’s need.

My dreams are like prisons. They are filled with images of hell. One I keep having is where I see an eternity of grey skulls emerging from the stars behind my eyelids. Some of them are human skulls and some of them look like the skulls of monkeys. Not nice really. It used to scare me when these dreams first started occurring but now I know it is just because my brain refuses to shut down.

I heard a podcast on it recently and some expert said that I don’t actually sleep anymore than anyone else. I’m tired because I just get very poor quality sleep. My brain never shuts down properly at night and that explains all the dreams.

I am so tired during the day and it is getting worse. I don’t go to school. I don’t go out. I do nothing just watch TV game shows. I can’t even watch the comedy bloody shows, but even still I fall asleep sometimes on what I often feel is a whim.

And I too often get this horrible buckling catatonia where none of my limbs work and my feet are like sloppy jelly. And I collapse into a heap of paralysed sleep on the floor.

Narcolepsy is genetic and most people get it from their Mams or Dads. They have found what causes it. It is called hypocretin and they are making a drug. I find the cretin bit funny.

They say the drug will work for those who have what they call true narcolepsy. But that is not me. They are not sure if it will work for me. We will just have to wait and see.

I guess I have to make the best of it. Me and the nail in me head will have to stick together. Now that’s funny. Ha Ha.

© Conor Caffrey 2010

Samhain


On the table in front of the two men there was a pint glass filled to three quarters with what to all intents in purposes looked like blood.

There was no coincidental culmination of constellations. There were no portents of imminent disaster.

This was the most extraordinary event that occurred in the history of Ballyshockney.

A one bank town, the bank manager and the Garda Sergeant sat opposite one another.

John Pat O’Connor, the outsider, sat with his head in his hands opposite his good friend Peter Fogarty.

John looked impassively at his companion. He had an order of things and he was mulling in his mind over how all had been upset. If only the media had not been involved, but there were a lot of ‘what ifs’ now that they were in this situation.

It was up to these two friends to put their heads together to figure out how exactly they were going to extricate themselves from the quandary they were now in. Quandary was a euphemism in truth.

Peter was not sure how this would be, but he was willing to discuss all the options with his friend who usually could find a solution to any problem. He was his confidante.

If only Molly and Deirdre had not taken the opportunity to trip up to Dublin on the train to do some shopping, things would not quite have got out of hand they way they did he thought.

John too was not quite sure how he had got here. To this situation. To this difficulty. And how was it going to be handled.

John was all together different from his friend. He was a man governed by his emotions, by instinct, by impromptu action. He spent his life deviating from the norm. It was something he really did have to keep in check.

He knew it. He always had to check himself before he spoke. Before he acted. Always taking a deep breath and then proceeding.

His impetuous nature might get him into trouble and he knew that this was his weakness. He prayed to God that he could keep everything controlled. And now there was this dilemma to solve.

The sergeant knew the bank manager for many years now. They were from neighbouring towns and indeed they played sport together since they were teenagers. Hurling it was for this was the country of the sliothar and the caman. They were on the same team that won the U15 county championships in 1975.

It was a golden age. The Great Paddy Murtagh who played on the county team that reached the semi finals two years in a row was the captain. The team then split up.

They both played for Ballyshockney until aging man troubles in their middle thirties limited their capacity for exertion. They followed the game still with a passion.

They were neighbours where they worked, not next door exactly, but were on either side of the post office, Murphy’s bar and the chipper.

This was the hub of the town and the police station and the bank were more places of social gathering than of business and crime prevention that you might expect in another bigger place. They were places you were guaranteed a cup of tea during the day. And a chat for this was a small social community.

The Celtic Tiger had barely touched the town of Ballyshockney apart of course from the new estate just on the east side of town. It was filled with those who commuted to the city to work. This was just within the forty mile commuter belt of Cork.

John and Peter were great friends and although different in personality they would share their great passions. Hurling first. Then football, although the county team left much to be desired on this front. Then racing. Both of them would lay a bet, although it was mainly for the fun and the competition between the two.

And the pint. Of course, both of them loved a drink and they would talk about all that entered their minds on the odd evening out when both of them were not working. For both of them liked their work and would spend more time than was warranted, as per the contract of employment, at their daily tasks.

The sergeant also liked the odd ball of malt and would chase down his creamy stout with a smaller glass when he was out on a particular celebration.

It was he that would read voraciously. From his reading he would digest esoteric information of all sorts. Indeed he was the one of the two who had the greatest mental capacity for knowledge. They would sit over a pint for hours and discuss what he had been reading recently.

The sergeant was in his uniform. He was working. He had no hat on of course because he was inside, but it lay on the empty seat in the corner in case he needed to rush out. He needed a hat in the chilled air of the night. He always had to remind himself not to forget to bring it.

The bank manager was not working. He had no specific uniform to wear to work anyhow.

But he was dressed in character. Those of you who know the novels of the Irishman Mr Stoker would have instantly recognised who he was dressed up as. Yes, he was, of course, the infamous Romanian count.

He had draped over his shoulders a long black cape. His painted face was eerily white. In his mouth were some false joke teeth with two lengthy incisors protruding down onto his lower lips. They were not too uncomfortable because he had a habit of leaving his mouth open. Something that led some to believe that he was not as clever as he truly was.

The most damning thing was absent from the face of the bank manager. When he had walked into the station, the Sergeant had observed and remarked on the dark red blotches of liquid streaks on his chin.

Instinctively, they had been wiped clean with the sleeve of the cloak. In the mind of the sergeant they remained. They were the most crucial evidence of incrimination of the alleged crime if any such crime truly did exist.

Perhaps the incidental of the discovery of the bank manager by the sergeant with possible blood streaks on his face and in the possession of a pint glass of a liquid that looked like blood could be dismissed on a day after a night such as was. It was Halloween after all.

Two other factors needed to be included into the equation to be considered in the muddled mind of the sergeant.

The first was perhaps the most macabre of evidences. Mrs Joan Maguire had been recently buried that week. She was the wife of the town victualler Joe Maguire, also deceased in the last year, and now the business had been taken over by the two sons. It was the Maguire twins who provided the town with fresh meat and fowl for consumption.

Her body was deathly cold in the interred earth of her final resting place for the best part of a week now. Her fresh grave with its earthy protuberance upwards still above ground level. It was scheduled for its concrete monument, a host of angels, to be fitted the following week.

It was with considerable shock that her grave was discovered opened again earlier that evening by Mr Darby who was paying his customary evening visit to his wife lost now for five years or more. He finished work at five, would repair to the graveyard to pray for five minutes or so and then he would return home to eat his fill of liver and onions and roosters he grew himself in his plot in his garden.

The decaying body of Mrs Maguire was discovered supine and exposed on the bare ground. The sergeant was called immediately to the scene and on cursory examination he noted two rather strange markings on the side of her neck. It looked to him like teeth marks. He did immediately think that they were canine indentations and that was his conclusion. So he arranged for the body to be re-interred immediately.

The second factor that threw a spanner in the works was Mrs Ann Rice. She was from the estate and her husband was a commuter to the main city branch of the self same bank as the bank located in the centre of Ballyshockney. The two men were employed by the same bank and they were on cordial terms despite not being overly friendly towards one another as they from different generations in banking.

She was trouble and it was a serendipitous and unfortunate encounter that involved her in the whole affair.

Young Ann was five and the sweetest young thing you could ever encounter. A wee pale blonde with hair down her neck and large pools of the bluest eyes. A future heartbreaker the sergeant thought to himself.

There was no doubt that she could only dress herself as a princess. And so she was a princess and because of her tender years she was accompanied most early on her ‘trick or treat’ parade. Just after dark it was when they set out.

The sergeant’s greatest passion of all was for history. Perhaps history is the route of all calamities.

The Aztecs used to drink chocolate with spices he had said over pints. Perhaps he should not have told his friend of these things but he did.

The bank manager was prone to one specific weakness. His wife was his logic on this matter. She was not around but shopping in the big city. He was a victim of the attainment of perfections.

His first error was to dress up as Count Dracula on Halloween night to get ‘into the spirit of things’.

His need for perfection was sated by the exactness of his dress. He looked indeed like the vampyre.

Three coincidences were required to bring the complete picture to fruition.

The first was the likeness in visage of the bank manager to a certain snooker player often seen on the BBC called Mr Ray Reardon. Indeed he was oft mistaken for this man when abroad in other towns or when he ventured to various bank meetings and went on certain excursions. So he too truly had the visage of an ancient bloodsucker.

The second coincidence was the knowledge both men had about the Aztec chocolate drink. The bank manager had made such a concoction and it was sitting on the table right now. It was just a chocolate drink coloured red and not a pint glass full of blood. It had the colour, thickness and viscosity of blood but tasted the bitter sweet of chocolate. The sergeant had tasted it and it was true.

The third coincidence and most damning of all was the first little visitor to the bank manager’s house that night on Halloween Night. It was all a misunderstanding.

Offering a drink that looked like blood to a five year old was a grave mistake in retrospect. Two hysterical females named Ann Rice, one five and the other thirty seven, fled down the avenue of his drive screaming aloud for all and sundry to hear.

They were inconsolable until they had run home. Mrs Ann Rice first phoned the Tribune and told her story. Then she called the sergeant and she ordered him, ordered mind, to go and arrest the bank manager.

The sergeant had waited till morning because he needed to be vigilant on the night of fireworks and there was none to take his shift. Also he knew that there was no way that this story was true and he was waiting for things emotional to settle. He invited his friend the bank manager in for interview at 10am the next morning.

And so there was seated in front of the two men this glass of alleged blood and a dilemma. The story was sensationalised by the Tribune in the morning edition.

The lead on the front page was a story of blood curdling vampires. The bank manager of Ballyshockney was possessed by a legion of the undead. He ransacked the warm grave of the recently interred body of Mrs Maguire the wife of the former victualler of the town. Her two twin sons were now running the business and supplying the area with meat and poultry.

This was elaborated upon in the story because the Maguire boys were good advertisers with the paper.

The vampyre then plundered the body of the unfortunately deceased and allegedly sucked her blood dry.

Then adorned in an outlandish and fiendish costume of the un-dead offered the blood of his unfortunate victim to a young seven year old girl.

Both the girl and her mother were terrified out of her wits by the whole experience, but the local Sergeant failed to act and apprehend the culprit before he returned to normal humanity with the rising sun.

More issues of the paper were sold that day than any other issue of the Tribune ever. There was even copies seen circulating in some of the neighbouring counties.

The journalist who wrote the piece went on to achieve fame as a script writer on Fair City.

Mr John Pat O’Connor took a sip of the chocolate drink and sighed with pleasure at the taste. He smiled at his own misfortune. The only course open was resignation.

© Conor Caffrey 2010


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