Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Landlord's Friend - free ebook (download link at foot)

MARY LEADBEATER was the postmistress of Ballitore village on the border of Kildare and Carlow in the heart of Ireland, and a birthright Quaker. She was the first girl pupil in the school run by her grandfather, Abraham Shackleton, in the village a famous school, where Edmund Burke and Napper Tandy studied together, and Quaker parents from as far away as Norway, the Caribbean and France sent their sons to study. 
She is best remembered for her journal, published as Annals of Ballitore, which includes on-the-spot reportage of the horrors of the 1798 uprising of the United Irishmen and its suppression by the Anglo-Irish yeomanry, with the lynchings that followed. 
Mary also wrote several pamphlets — a popular pastime for well-got ladies of the time. Her Cottage Dialogues are unusual in their approach, because Mary lived among her poor farmer neighbours, rather than seeing them from on high, and understood how it was possible, if difficult, for someone hungry and impoverished to claw the way into modest prosperity.
The Landlord's Friend consists of 20 dialogues, between two landlords — the Quakerly Squire Hartely and the more typically Anglo-Irish Squire Wilfort; and two landladies — the Quakerly Lady Seraphina and her ditsy friend Lady Charlotte; as well as Mrs Wilfort, and Lady Seraphina's tenants. 
The squires discuss schemes for the improvement of the peasantry; the ladies get down to practicalities, and their dialogues involve visits to the model village under Lady Seraphina's patronage. ("What neat, white houses and pretty gardens are here! Do, Lady Seraphina direct your coachman to drive slowly that I may take a survey of them.")
In her earlier Cottage Dialogues, Mary had used the experience of her grandfather: Abraham Shackleton had been a poor English boy who gained an education through growing sallies and weaving baskets from them; by planting and selling his produce, seeds and plants; by working for anyone who would give him work, and finally by becoming first a monitor then a teacher in the small school where he was a pupil, until he was called to Ireland to open and run the new village school in Ballitore. By Mary's time the family were quietly well off.
Mary was unusual as a 19th-century pamphleteer in deciding to turn her instructive hand to her betters, the Anglo-Irish landlords who were the scandal of the empire to which they gave their loyalty. When she came to write The Landlord's Friend she used her keen ear for dialogue to capture both the speech and language of the Ascendancy and those of the Irish tenants who laboured under their rule. In these dialogues Mary strokes the egos of her landlord audience by picturing the delighted praise of tenants for those who will help them — while accurately reflecting the brutality of landlord attitudes. Here, for instance, in a dialogue on bedsteads, one landlord tries to persuade another to set up a scheme whereby his tenants may buy beds, and improve their health:
Squire Hartely: You cannot but have observed the lodging places of many of the poor.
Squire Wilfort: I have, with disgust. I would scarcely lodge my hogs in such a manner, but I suppose they imagine that dirt keeps them warm. 
Even in the model Quaker village (such places were regarded with astonishment at the time, as Italianate freaks of cleanliness and order), the tenants flustered by the visit of their landlady on an errand to award annual prizes to the nicest homesteads, show themselves lax:
Lady Charlotte: Judy O'Flinn, why have not you had your window mended? Is not that your husband's sunday hat stopping the broken pane?
Judy: Indeed, my Lady, I’ll not tell you a lie. It is Bill’s best hat, sure enough. We were laid out to get it mended these six weeks, and, I don’t know how it was, but we did not get it done.
Amid Mary Leadbeater's feeding of landlordly egos, her true loyalties sometimes break out, as in her story of a baby taken in by a wetnurse for cash. Years later, the foster parents tell a visiting lady of their fosterling's death and how the garden he planted remains a comfort to them:
Thomas: We strove to divert ourselves with [our garden]; and I loved these little trees which he planted, and I cut off the straggling boughs, as he used to do, that they might grow up handsome. Ah! He was suddenly taken from us.
Lady Charlotte: How old was your son?
Thomas: Just the age of Kitty there. Three and twenty last Patrick’s day!
Lady Charlotte: Twins!
Thomas: No, my Lady.
Lady Charlotte: How is this? Did you not say they were of the same age?
Thomas: Please, your Ladyship, our dear Henry was a nurse child from Dublin. We were paid very well for him the two first years, but after that we never heard of his father or mother, and we were often in dread that they would come and take him from us, and my poor woman often said she would beg the world with him, sooner than part with him. But now we are obliged to part with him.
Lady Charlotte: What uncommon affection!
Lady Seraphina: Not at all uncommon! There are many such proofs of the strong attachment of the Irish to the children committed to their care, and of the humanity and generosity of the Irish character.  
What effect The Landlord's Friend had on its audience is difficult to gauge. It was published in 1813, which is to say 15 years after the 1798 Rising — and 32 years before the outbreak of the Famine that cleared Ireland of millions of people, when landlords and merchants shipped out food crops and grew rich, while their tenants starved to death or, if they were lucky, emigrated to a country without landlords. 
Download The Landlord's Friend here:

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Lest we forget, lest we forget

When we were growing up we learned that the real wrong of the Famine of 1845-50 was that Irish goods and food were shipped abroad while the people of Ireland starved.
We swore - and we believed our own swearing - that such a thing was unconscionable, and it could never happen again. Yet this year alone, €20 billion was paid out to banks abroad by the Irish government while the budget imposes increasing need, deprivation and hardship on the people of Ireland. We are doing exactly the same again.
Here's a contemporary quote, from May 1, 1846, from the Anglo Celt newspaper in Cavan:
It is indeed painful to consider the state of Ireland. In a land teeming with plenty and abundance we have a famine. More than two million Irishmen are starving while we export more provisions than would feed five times our population. Out state would be much improved were those who derive large incomes from this country to expend at least a portion of it among the people from whom they receive it.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

How to have a dog

Dogs, according to a new scientific theory, may have taught humans to love*. We've been together now for hundreds of thousands of years, but while dogs know exactly how to treat humans - like beloved friends, dear companions, providers of food, exercise, play, comedy and entertainment - we haven't a bull's notion of how to treat dogs.
And it's not so hard. Every dog owner knows that the dog should be fed, once or twice a day according to your routine. Good dog owners know that dogs need exercise. That's about it.
But if you want a healthy, relaxed dog, there's more.
For a start, there's the walk. A friend with a guide dog tells me that her vet insists that her dog have daily walks, off-duty. "The sniffing dogs do is essential to their health," he told her. "No matter how much exercise your dog has, it's not enough without that walk where the dog can sniff and pee and walk and mark the trail. It doesn't even have to be a very long walk, if your dog gets other exercise, but a sniff-walk is necessary for a healthy, happy dog."
There's the way in which the dog is fed. Either you share the feeding experience, by doling it out in bits, which dogs usually enjoy - they love the interaction - or you eat yourself, then give the dog its food affectionately, and walk away. Don't stay there staring; this is unnerving and not good for a dog's digestion.
And play. Every dog from a six-week-old puppy to an 18-year-old aged gentlewoman, loves to play, and should have a daily session of play that's suitable for its age and abilities. Tug-of-war, 'fetch', chase - any game where you interact together for fun.
And finally, the evening grooming. In wolf and wild dog packs, the dogs groom each other in the evening, licking each other's faces, ears, necks and shoulders. It's probably not a great idea to lick your dog, but an evening session of petting, which can be done with a brush if your dog loves being brushed, will have an enormously calming and settling effect on your dog.


Friday, 30 November 2012

Payment system needed for international small business

I HAVE a stove in my living room, a wonderful thing that pours out heat. It's well assisted in this by a device called an Ecofan, a Stirling engine assisted by a small electrical motor. The Ecofan sits at the back of the stove, and as soon as the iron surface beneath it heats up, the fan starts to turn, sucking in cold air from behind and pushing forward the hot air that would otherwise be trapped above the stove. The Ecofan makes quite a difference to the heat in the room, as well as being pretty and cheering as it whirls its golden blades.
But it's important not to put it at the front of the stove, because if you do that, the heat from the chimney can destroy the motor. This is pretty counter-intuitive: it would seem more sensible that it should sit at the front and push the air out from there. So naturally the fan gets put to the front; and naturally the motor gets nuked.
No problem. You can get new motors, at various prices. And a north-of-England chimney sweep called Andy offered to buy a motor from the English supplier (which, strangely, doesn't ship to Ireland) and wander down to his local post office and post it to me. It would cost under £15.
Now, it should be easy for me to pay Andy for this kind act. Both of us have PayPal accounts, checking accounts in the bank, local post offices. But it's not that easy.
Euro cheques are regarded as the work of the devil by British banks; in fact, you can't even pay someone in France with an Irish euro cheque, or vice versa - so much for the vaunted single currency.
Sterling bank drafts and the like are designed for businesspeople doing huge transactions. They'll charge you an arm and a leg for your £15 deal.
PayPal seemed the best solution: I could pay the chimney sweep from my PayPal account into his. But even this proved a shocking palaver. I sent the money out of my bank and it never arrived; turned out that I had never linked my bank account to my long-disused PayPal account. When I rang PayPal they were helpful, and sorted it through, but I was surprised that it was all so complicated and difficult.
It seems to me that there's a gap in the market for a payment system that would allow ordinary people - and especially small businesspeople - to pay each other across international borders for small transactions.
As the founders of the Irish Sweepstakes discovered back in the day, many small transactions can make for one big profit. Irish sole traders could be bringing a lot of money into the country - if it was very easy for ordinary people to pay them, without the sole traders or SMEs having to set up expensive payment methods. The country needs that money, and small exports grow into large business. When's that method coming?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Living the old-fashioned way

Then, the cottages of the west of Ireland looked like a handful of marshmallows thrown across the islands' fields. In the early 19th century, Irish cottages were grey, the colour of the local stone - My Little Grey Home in the West was literally true. But by the 1920s they were white, and by the 1950s they were a mixture of lovely pastels.
Whitewash was introduced to the rural areas of Ireland as a sanitary measure against the regular outbreaks of cholera and typhus and the endemic tuberculosis in the 19th century, and by the middle of the 20th century, it was a matter of pride to whitewash your home regularly; one islandwoman famously whitewashed her home inside and out once a week, removing all the furniture to do it.
The marshmallow colours came from some creative woman's discovery that food dye worked perfectly with whitewash. You could throw in a few tablespoons of the cheap food dye and tint your whitewash a tasty lavender or blushing pink or a shadowy indigo.
There was virtually no electricity then, except in towns. People ran the big old valve radios and the new TVs from car batteries. Lights were largely Tilley lamps, which gave a beautiful bluish light; the paraffin was expensive enough, so people waited through the lengthening dusk till it was dark enough to light the Tilley, then there was a ceremonial, silent, happy time of lighting it - heating the lamp with methylated spirits, then gradually pumping up the paraffin, making a fine pressurised gas, so that the light blossoms and blooms. Then the lamp was set in the window, and in each cottage one light showed across the sea, a beacon for the homecoming fishermen.
The west of Ireland has a warm microclimate because of the presence of the Atlantic Ocean and the limestone crags acting as a giant storage heater.
The traditional cottages of the 19th and 20th century were a masterpiece of insulation. Typically, the walls were two feet (60cm) thick, solid stone mortared with a mixture of sand and bull's blood, then plastered and whitewashed.
A turf fire was kept going all day, every day, winter and summer, with the embers smoored over with ash at night so it kept alight and warm under there. The cottages were built directly on the crag, and this limestone floor and the limestone walls took in the heat and radiated it gently back.
Turf was cut all over Ireland from the bogs; islanders who had no bog of their own bought púcán-loads of turf from mainland farmers. All winter, every cottage had a pile of turf stretching from the ground to the rooftop, against the cold northern gable, providing superb insulation against the winter wind and cold.
This was so universally recognised an image that Padraic Colum wrote it into the longing of his poem An Old Woman of the Roads:

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

All gone now. If country people have a pile of turf outside the house, it's neatly ranged against the garden wall, or sitting on the universal patch of lawn that fronts Irish rural houses' road access, outside their walls.
Other customs have gone with the turf. Then, the main room of the house - kitchen and living room - was set around a gigantic chimney. On the left, as you face the fire, was the woman's place - all women sat here, from the tiniest baby to the old, old lady whose place was on the stone bench actually inside the chimney; and on the right was the men's place. A hole in the wall on either side kept things handy for each sex: the woman's knitting and magazine or novel; the man's pipe.
Every house had musical instruments - with luck, an upright piano, but at least a fiddle or a melodeon; everyone could play a little, and many people played and sang beautifully.
Everyone also sang and whistled at work: the production of music had not yet been outsourced to professionals.
Cooking was done in big pots using a crane, a device that swung the pot in over the fire and could lower it or raise it to boil or simmer or sauté. A kettle was always purring on the hob of the fire, and bread was made in a pot oven or on a griddle set against the fire - delicious smoke-scented breads and stews and roasts came from these methods.
People collected seaweed - dillisk for drying and chewing and putting in soup; the gourmet treat slabhcán - sloke or nori or laver - for rinsing and frying up with rashers; carrageen for jelly and sore throat cures. They dried fish on the thatch in the salt wind, and cooked it with milk and onions and ate it served with buttery mashed potato. The lamb and beef produced on these crags was sweet and tender. Every woman kept a few hens and ducks, so there were eggs for eating and for sale and the odd cockerel for the pot. Most people had a cow, or if there was a 'delicate' child in the house, a goat, for milk. For Christmas, people raised geese and turkeys.
All this makes the life sound idyllic. It was not; it was a lot tougher than now, with no farm or fisheries payments or dole to provide a cushion against poverty. At the time that JM Synge - himself a tuberculosis patient who defied his illness by rambling and walking all over the country - wrote about the Aran Islands, a medical investigation reported almost universal malnutrition among the islanders.
When better times came, people fled the smoky, draughty cottages and built snug, well-insulated homes with slate rooves (thatch was thought of as a fire hazard and a home for the tubercules that spread TB). They put in Stanley and Aga ranges to keep the house warm, and later oil-fired central heating. The drifting turf smoke that scented the approach to every house in the old days was gone: more efficient combustion burned even the smoke.
A whole way of life has changed utterly in half a century: now, the typical country house runs a 4x4 and a runaround, cooks on an induction hob and in a fan oven, heats with oil - though the Stanley may still be on the go.
What will the next half-century bring? A natural pessimist, I'm reminded of the famous account of a visitor to Connemara in the 18th century being feted with a board piled with good food and wine imported from France and Spain; a few years later the Act of Union sent capital fleeing from the country, and another half-century later starved creatures crawled through this countryside on their four bones.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we're about to have a revival, where we build even better houses, use the land even better, and live snug and cosy and well-fed and creative and happy.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Friday, 9 November 2012

Hot 'n' toasty wood 'n' stovey

I SHOULD be writing about editing, and offering to edit CVs, and to write press releases, and to help you with your business books, but... later, later. For now, I want to talk about the toasty-warm wonderfulness of woodstoves.
We got a wood-burning stove last year. I wanted to have a backup for the gas central heating, but it looks as if it's going to be a total replacement, as the price of gas goes higher and higher. Twenty years ago when we moved in, we changed from a back boiler heating the radiators to a gas system, as it was the cheapest and best value. Now that's changed. How that's changed.
So, stoves. I was nervous - how on earth do you choose a stove? There's new technology that means modern stoves are waaay more efficient than the old-fashioned kind. Airwash. Secondary burning.
Here's a video that explains it.
A stove heats a million times more efficiently than a fire. With an open fire, you're basically heating (and polluting) the open sky. But with a stove, all the heat comes booming out into the room, heating the whole house.
The design of modern stoves burns the fuel, and then burns the smoke that rises off the fuel, lessening pollution by 90 per cent.
The heat that comes off a stove is quite incredible when you're used to open fires, or central heating for that matter.
You can get two styles of stove: free-standing, and inset or insert stoves. Free-standing means the stove stands there on its little legs out in the open. Like this:

You may also like to add a fan on top of your free-standing stove. These range from classic Stirling engines, which have no wiring but work purely from the heat of the stove:

to the Ecofan, which has some wiring and electrical magic. I have an Ecofan - because the Stirling engine is a big yoke, a foot high, and there wasn't room above my stove's top. The Ecofan, I can attest, makes a heck of a difference, throwing the heat out into the room:

An insert or inset stove it sits into your existing fireplace, like this:

or if you prefer a stylish, modernistic look, like this:

If you're going for an insert stove, and if you're in Ireland, you're better off to buy one of the Irish or British brands - the English-made Clearview (my own stove is a Clearview free-standing one and I love it, so I'd definitely recommend the brand, and Co Down Stoves where I got it), or the Boru Croí Beag

or the Stanley Cara

The reason for going for these rather than the superb European brands - top-of-the-range Nestor Martin or Morso or J otul or Stovax - is that Irish fireplaces tend to be both narrower and shallower than the European ones. Unless you're rich enough and patient enough to tear out the whole fireplace and rebuild it, you're not going to get one of the European brands.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing - though they're fabulous stoves. The Nestor Martin, for instance, can run two pipes off a stove, piping heated air for other rooms. And some of these stoves have soapstone sides or inserts, so they'll act as storage heaters, radiating heat long after the fire is gone.
Inset stoves sound as if they wouldn't give off as much heat, but they certainly do; they're toasty. Part of this is the fact that they block off the giant sucking draught that chimneys bring into the room; part is that they just radiate enormous amounts of lovely hot hotness.
I wouldn't be without a stove ever again; if I ever can, I'll put one in upstairs as well as downstairs and leave the central heating behind altogether.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Solar panels - why not get together on them?

One of my buddies was telling me the other day about her friends, an electrician, a plumber and a marketer, who were made redundant just as the Celtic Tiger's claws fell out.

There was a grant at the time - with the Green Party in government as they were then - for putting in hot water solar panels. It wasn't much of a grant, but it gave people an incentive and lots of households were installing the panels to get their water heated for free. It looked like an opportunity to avoid emigration, which was the friends' only other choice.

So the three friends got together and formed a company to instal the panels.  They pooled their redundancy money, started marketing and started putting in panels on houses all over their locality. They were an instant success: reliable, reasonably priced, honest, fast. The order book filled up in no time.

Then the new government, under the evil aegis of the Troika, withdrew the grant. The orders dropped away in a few days, and the three friends were out of a job, and had lost all their money.

It's kind of insane that Ireland, where we're desperately trying to cut down our carbon footprint, isn't using the economies of scale to get everyone using the sun to heat their water. This is one of the most successful green technologies for our climate: you have water heated to 65 to 70 degrees Celsius for most of the year.

Fitting solar hot water panels costs an average of €4,000 per house including the cost of evacuated tube solar panels (the best kind), new piping, a specialised immersion tank, and labour. For that you get a 60% average cut in your hot water bill - the largest part of your electricity bill.

But €4,000 is too much for most people at the moment; people can't commit to spending that much on one payment.

Ireland could cut our carbon footprint enormously - and give jobs to thousands of people currently out of work - if there was a State scheme which would buy the panels wholesale and hire the skilled plumbers, electricians and builders now out of work to instal them. 

If economies of scale were in place, and if no corruption was involved of course, it could be possible to instal solar hot water systems in every home in Ireland for an average of €2,000 per home.

If people could then repay that money over five years on their utility bills, there would be no cost to the State, yet thousands would be returned to work and Ireland's carbon footprint would be enormously aided.

This is really a no-brainer: it won't cost the State anything, because people will pay back the price of the technology on the never-never, but will slash our carbon costs and save the environment. As well as making life a lot more comfortable for Irish households.

Saturday, 1 September 2012


From Padraic Colum's book My Irish Year, about the midlands of Ireland in 1912 (downloadable from

That evening I had an adventure with two members of the army of occupation, or, as some would prefer to call them, the army of no occupation, the Royal Irish Constabulary. 
Between the town of B and the village of C I came upon a brace of constables. They were lying in the ditch, smoking their pipes. As I passed I remembered that there was an inquiry in my mind that the patrol were competent to answer. I determined to raise the question on our next meeting. 
Outside the town I met the children of my friends and turned back. We caught up a country woman who was carrying some packages and a heavy basket. The children helped her with the parcels, and I took possession of the basket. When we came to the police again I was one of a group of country people. They were still in the ditch. 
I turned to one with the query, '' Would you tell me the meaning of a proclamation that I saw in Carrigallen last Tuesday?" Now, unawares, I was asking an invidious question, as this proclamation had reference to the withdrawal of extra police from the County Leitrim. 
" The meaning of the proclamation—would you like to know ? " 
" Yes." 
" Why didn't you read it ? " 
"I was too far away." 
" Then you can go to Hell." 
There was notliing to be done at the moment, so I lifted the basket and went on with my friends. Later I came on the patrol ; they were leaning against the parapet of the railway bridge. 
" Your pardon, gentlemen," said I, " were you the constables I met a while ago ? " 
" Would you like to know ? " said one, and " What's that to you ? " said the other. 
I asked for an apology for rudeness, but they said, " Go home now, or we'll throw you over the bridge." 
Their insolence came from the fact that they regarded the country people as Eastern officials regard the provincials. Such a woman sold porter illicitly ; if her friends were uncivil to the constables they could show their power. So-and-so's children grazed a few cows along the side of the road ; if their father raised his head there would be a case of technical obstruction. I saw how easy it was for the Royal Irish Constabulary to fall into the insolence of Turkish officials. 
Next morning I called at the barracks. The sergeant, good, easy man, was recovering from an attack of delirium tremens and was " shook " as the saying is. He asked the constables to apologise, but again they used the word " Hell." I might have communicated with the authorities had I not a prejudice against addressing myself to DubHn Castle. 
The Royal Irish Constabulary are a force of 11,000 armed men, distributed through 1475 stations. They are not under local control, but are ordered directly from Dublin Castle. For their upkeep the Imperial power raises £1,400,000 in Ireland, an amount largely in excess of the grant for national education. 
In the main they are a rural force, but they are extended to the cities of Belfast, Cork, and Londonderry. In country places individual constables look bloated and patrols have an easy-going air. One comes to regard the Constabulary as a rural police with little to do. But let us go into Connemara and enter a police hut in a lonely place. The constables are probably idle and unbuttoned, but there are rifles and bayonets to hand, and the hut has the position of a blockhouse. 
The life of Ireland has been forced back on the land, and the most powerful of Irish efforts has been directed to the liberation of the land in the interest of the majority. Against all forms of agrarian agitation stand the Royal Irish Constabulary with their rifles and bayonets, their drill and revolver practice. 
Why does Murty Flynn join a force that stands against the interests and passions of his class ? There is the bribe of a livelihood, and the fundamental muddle of the human mind prevents him from seeing the conflict in clear terms. They tell of a constable who had to assist at the eviction of his father, and Murty himself knows of a recruit, sent down with an extra levy to the County Clare, who found himself guarding a rancher's cattle against his father's hazel stick. The direct conflict rarely occurs. 
Murty's father has four sons. One of them will inherit the farm, and another may obtain the means of getting some land. For the rest there is emigration or casual labour. Murty is not studious enough to become a teacher, nor has he enough application to succeed as a shopkeeper. He is a big, healthy lad, with a fair intelligence and a fondness for outdoor life. 
He offers himself to the Constabulary. There are many applications, but Murty obtains a place, and his people are as glad as if they had got two acres of land. Constable Murty Flynn begins with a renumeration exceeding that of the assistant teacher in the local school. With twenty-one shillings a week, he has various allowances, and is lodged in the barrack at a slight charge. 
Promotion is almost inevitable, as there are 1859 sergeants and 451 acting-sergeants to 8380 constables. He is sure of a pension, and is under no necessity of saving. There are three Constabulary men in the station — an easy-going sergeant with a wife and family, Murty Flynn, and another constable. 
His day is really idle. He goes on parade at 9 a.m., when there is elementary drill, then for a while the three sit in the station smoking, going over the rules of the Constabulary and the Acts of Parliament governing the action of the police. Two go on patrol at 11 a.m. —that is to say, they stroll through the country for a couple of hours. 
They attend the arrival and departure of the Dublin trains, secure the newspapers, and read them on their way back. There are more patrols in the evening, and each constable has to put in six hours per day in outdoor duty. 
Sometimes the constable has to collect statistics for the Department of Agriculture, and some writing has to be done. Murty Flynn is well content with the life. He knows in the force men who are good Irishmen, good Catholics, and good citizens. After seven years he can obtain permission to marry, and many goodlooking girls would be glad to wed a man who can take them away from the hardship of the farm — a man of assured position, moreover, with a pension, who need not make himself anxious about a dowry. Murty's comrade intends to remain single for the next twenty years ; then he can retire with a pension of at least £42 per annum, when he intends to marry a girl with a dowry and set up a shop.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Eavesdropping for beginners

I have a stupendous commercial idea - a series of language courses that would cover the deepest needs of anyone visiting a strange country (and most countries are strange). French for Eavesdroppers, Basic Eavesdropping in Italian, Listening In On the Next Table in Spanish, and so on.
One of the things I miss about pubs, now that I hardly ever go into them, is the enjoyment of listening to Irish people bawling their most intimate secrets to their neighbours over the loud chatter. Mind you, as one gets older this is more difficult: a request to science - would you ever design a cochlear implant with a directional microphone?
On Friday, in a pub in a Liffeyside street, some stáitseirbhísigh - couldn't work out what Department, but you'd know by them - were questioning their colleague. "She was teeny!" he said. I was earwigging like mad. Love interest, I thought, or new puppy. But then he made all clear: "But the second she spoke you could hear a pin drop." He must have been among those present when Aung San Suu Kyi visited Ireland. To my annoyance, a flood of fellow civil servants came in and I couldn't hear the rest of it over the racket.
But next to me were two men discussing their cases - social workers it seemed. I conscientiously closed my ears. Not so, though, when one started talking about his love life - this is, obviously, something that the conscientious eavesdropper considers well within her moral ambit.
"My friends all tell me I always fall in love with crazy girls," the man next to me confided. I nearly ricked my neck stopping myself from turning around to get a look at him.
"Do they so?" his friend said. "Do they?" He seemed to be in the position of wise old adviser. Unfortunately, I hadn't got a good look at him either when the two of them sat down, and now I couldn't.
"She bought me this yesterday," Crazy Girls said. He laid a spectacularly ugly watch on the table.
The other man turned it over. "Inscribed!"
"One hundred and twenty euros! And that's before she paid to have it inscribed!"
"Your name and everything."
"She's spent €180 on me in the last three days."
Then my own friend arrived and we solved the problems of the country for the next ten minutes. (Expel Germany from the euro, the mark would find a proper level, as would the euro, and then stiff the banks; they've had enough by now. Simples.)
At that stage Crazy Girls and his adviser got up to go, and like a flash my eyes swivelled over and gobbled them up. The adviser was a grey-haired man of sober mien. Crazy Girls, to my disappointment, was no prize. A nice enough looking youngster, but you wouldn't want to be spending all your money on him. Still, maybe he had hidden talents.
Anyway, I was telling my pal about the two of them afterwards, and she said she'd nearly died of frustration on a recent visit to Italy, because she was in a train carriage where everyone was talking about sex and politics and she could only understand one word in ten. It wouldn't have been so bad, she said, if she could understand nothing at all.
So, Basic Italian for Eavesdroppers. The vocabulary would have to include "married man", "sister-in-law", "love", "spent a fortune", "politician", of course "bunga-bunga", "brown envelope" - and so on. I give it freely to the company that wants to make a fortune.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Notes from the Seanad, 1934

In 1934, in the middle of the 'Economic War', when Ireland stopped paying Britain compensation for land confiscated and redistributed to tenant farmers, and Britain reacted by placing a 20% duty on food imports from Ireland, crippling the Irish economy and resulting in mass emigration, the Special Branch killed a group of protesting farmers.
In the Seanad debate, Kildare Senator Richard Wilson spoke, in terms that could be replicated today:
It is not political bias or political conspiracy that is at the bottom of this unrest. The farmers would pay their way if they were able, and as they have always done, and it is not to make any political capital out of this situation that I am speaking here to-day.  
I am urging the Seanad to ask the Government to set up a tribunal to examine the situation. I have stated the case in a rough and ready way, and I will just finish my remarks by a reference to the payments which are being extracted at the present time on the basis of the low prices. Last year the British collected from the farmers of this country £4,500,000. 
The Free State Government collected in land annuities £2,000,000. That is £6,500,000 collected, and out of that they gave in bounties £1,750,000 leaving a sum of £4,750,000 net loss to the farmers. That, in fact, is more than all the annuities and the other moneys that are in dispute. 
The farmers have to pay that money out of produce which they are selling 20 per cent. below pre-war prices. 
If civil servants who get a bonus were suddenly to find themselves deprived of that bonus, and, in addition, if they were to find their wages cut 20 per cent. below pre-war level, what would they say about it? If the Guards or the servants of the local authorities, the school teachers or the artisans—if all these people had their remuneration reduced to the same extent as that to which the farmer's remuneration is reduced, surely we must all agree that the farmers are really mild in their protests in comparison with the protests that would be made by those people?

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Monday, 11 June 2012

How to write a joke...

...or a story. This is how jokes work: you introduce a concept that's a bit off-centre: "Waiter, bring me a crocodile sandwich!" Then, when people are smiling a little at the oddness of this, you turn it around and twist it again: "And make it snappy!" Like a moebius strip, so it's turning in on itself and going around and around.
Here's another: "How many Freudians does it take to change a lightbulb?" Odd thought: a bunch of bearded and bespectacled psychoanalists clustered around changing the lightbulb. "Two, one to screw in the lightbulb, the other to hold the penis - I mean, ladder." Lightbulb jokes always rely on odd electricians: "...surrealists?" "A fish!" "...feminists?" "Do you think that's funny?"
All jokes use this basic formula. Shaggy-dog jokes just stretch out the first part for a loooong time. My old chief sub Jim Carwood used to tell one that involved a man leaving his house, bumping into a lamppost, making an insurance claim, putting the money on a scratchcard, winning a million, going into a pub, being picked up by an incredibly beautiful Indian woman, taking her home and going to bed with her and in the morning waking up and saying "You've got a spot on your forehead and scratching it - and he won another million! And the punchline: she says to him, "You're a lucky man!"
Stories use the same basic idea: your hero is put into a situation where he's thrown off centre - as in Claire Keegan's superb Foster, where the child of an all-over-the-place family is brought to stay for the summer with her mother's sister and brother-in-law. Then further off course: in Foster, the child's father drives off with her case of clothes, and the aunt and uncle dress her in boy's clothes and put her to sleep in a boy's room, but there's no boy in the house. Gradually, as the story opens out, things get odder, and yet reveal themselves, until with the twist at the end, in the last line - but I won't spoil the pleasure of reading it for you.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Sunday, 10 June 2012

We all partied

Two statements define the upper class's reaction to the disaster that crashed the Irish economy in the last five years: the late Tánaiste and Minister for Finance's Brian Lenihan's "We all partied", and current Minister for Finance Michael Noonan's "Emigration is a lifestyle choice".
Both are the statements of people who live in a restricted area of society. From the point of view of these upper-class politicians, these members of a ruling class, they are true. These people do not know anyone - or at least, are not close friends with anyone - whose children have been forced to emigrate for lack of work. If these people and their friends borrowed and spent recklessly, it was not to buy a home for themselves and their children; it was to invest in sources of further profit, to further enrich themselves.
This is not so for the rest of us. I visited a friend in the Dublin Mountains last week. A second son is emigrating to Australia with his wife and children. "I don't know why he's going," he said. "He has a grand job here." His wife said: "He's going to make the money to pay down the mortgage, and to have the kids' university fees." Their son, a highly qualified and expert mechanic, is going to work in the mines. "I've worked in the mines," said his 75-year-old father. "The air pressure down there ruins your health. You're only supposed to work two hours at a time, but they all work full time and overtime, don't tell me they don't."
We all partied: the politicians, mostly men from a background where a steady income had been theirs all their lives, and now in the Lotto class, with unimaginable pensions piling up, with daily access to a huge salary, expenses - even unvouched expenses amounting to the same amount as someone on disability gets every year - invested in apartment blocks and second and third homes; so did the people in the circle within which they moved. The Irish saying had always been "Put your money in land; they're not making any more of it"; the Irish philosophy had always been that land retains its value.
With the coming of the multinationals, and, for the first time in the history of the Irish State, secure jobs were available to a growing middle class. Education had, for the first time in the history of Ireland, been extended to the whole populace. People whose older brothers and sisters had left school at 14 and got on the boats from Dun Laoghaire and Cork to go and work as servants and factory hands and miners were able to go to university, and to get professional jobs.
Joining the EU had opened up farming to grant aid that changed the face of the country, and its exports. I remember cycling from Dublin to Galway, Cork and Donegal in the 1980s and being astonished at the luxury of the farmhouses where I went to ask for water to boil up my tea - the damp, dark thatched cottages with their squinting windows and a crane over the fire were gone; now small farmers were living in five-bedroom detached houses with porticoed doors and 100-meter tarmacadam driveways, fitted kitchens and living rooms packed with silver-framed photos and state-of-the-art entertainment centres. The effect on the country was stunning; we became Europeans. We also bought our own homes.
Historically, Ireland had always had a housing crisis. The annual lottery for council flats was a front-page story every year up until the 1980s, the fact that suicide threats could get you more points on the housing list a constant scandal.
Irish landlords were famous for their pillaging profit-greed, grinding a profit out of every tenant and doing the minimum to keep the rental housing in good nick. A Constitutional case worsened this by choosing the right to property over the right to a decent life, and so ending restrictions on raising rents.
Another friend of mine was renting a room in Dun Laoghaire while waiting on the eternal housing list; when the inspector called she showed him the mould that had grown under the mattress in the week since she had turned it. She told him she was going to move out, because it was dangerous for her baby to live in such conditions. "But that will knock you right down the list, if you move!" he said, horrified at her recklessness in choosing the health of her child over the chance of a council flat.
When Europe and America invested in Ireland, all this changed; at last, a growing class had a regular, good wage, and the possibility of buying a decent home and owning it outright after a few years - the possibility of not having to rely on the Corporation or the landlord.
God never opens one door but he digs a hole in front of it; this good thing was the doorway to a bad thing. Despite the growing education, and the growing equality, there was still massive unemployment, mainly in the class that had less education - because, despite the opening of education to the whole populace, there had been little attempt to give a hand up to those who were unluckily born into poor areas; the impoverished were given no extra boost. So there was a large dole class still, with no skills but their strength.
The combination of the desire for housing and the need for work was the makings of a perfect storm. The dole queues started emptying as long-unemployed people poured into work as unskilled and semi-skilled labourers filling the jobs in construction. Houses were built and bought, and the money was ploughed into more houses.
The price of homes started to rise. In the 1980s, an artisan cottage was £10,000, but the possibility of affording it was remote. People borrowed for a 'car' from the credit union, and used that money as a deposit. By1980, I think it was, the price had risen by 50% to £14,000. It seemed reckless and crazy to go into debt for such an amount.
But the prices went up and up. People were absolutely desperate. Buying your home was like clutching the runners of the helicopter during the retreat from Saigon - once you had it, you were safe. And we sat there watching as the prices rose and rose - and so did the rents.
The thinking was that if the worst came to the worst, you could throw the keys back to the lender and go back to renting. On the other hand, if you could keep paying the mortgage you were sitting pretty.
In 1990, a €45,000 mortgage on a Dublin semi-D cost €550 a month; 10 years after that, a tenant was paying €1,200 a month to rent a flat on the quays. Or an "apartment", as we had now learned to call flats; a "flat" now only meant a Corporation flat, and no one wanted to be associated with such a thing, in our new semi-prosperity.
Ireland was doing well: the educated had jobs in technology or finance or pharma or the professions. The multinationals had hived off companies run by their Irish staff, who were now trading with Europe, the US, the Middle East and the Far East. The construction workers were doing well. Wages were going up and up.
Wages were going up and up. One of the advantages that had drawn the multinationals to Ireland was our membership of the EU. Despite being an island, adding to the cost of exporting, we made a good base for export into the EU. We had instituted a cheap corporation tax because of this island disadvantage, which attracted the corporations. But another part of our attraction was a highly educated and creative population with a wage base far lower than the rest of Europe. Now wages were going up and up.
They had to go up - the price of houses was rising, driven by demand; wages had to go up to pay for the houses.
By 1987, an 1880s redbrick house in the Dublin suburb of Harold's Cross, which had sold for £20,000 10 years before, was worth £32,000. By 1989, it was worth £80,000. By 2007 it was worth £2 million.
More and more people poured into the construction industry. Ireland's roads had been famously winding and pot-holed; Ireland's telephone system had a two-year waiting list for a phone. Europe started pouring money into constructing modern highways and motorways and a 20th-century telecommunications system, making more work for the construction industry.
Ireland had virtually full employment. The councils stopped building homes and started selling those they had to the tenants who lived in them, at super price deals, to increase ownership and 'responsibility'. Former council tenants who had bought houses (famously better built than private housing) for £20,000 sold them for £60,000 and bought a new home and a holiday home, to the indignation of the inheritance class.
By the mid-2000s, the construction business was almost half of the country's industry; 45% of the GDP. If the politicians or the economists who advised them wanted to cool the pressure, they did not know how. We had joined the euro, so the usual option of raising interest rates on loans was no longer available.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern revealed that when he was Finance Minister he hadn't had a bank account. How did he get his wages, people wondered - a huge wage packet with his thousand pounds a week or whatever in notes that he would count carefully, licking his thumb as he thumbed through them? Now, he told economists who warned that the economy's dependence on property that they should go away and commit suicide. The boom, he said, was only getting boomier.
Irish people's lives had changed - we were eating and drinking like Europeans; flights and holidays were cheap; spending was good, it seemed, because it spread the profit around.
The enormous power of the construction industry - because in Ireland, moral power comes from wealth - meant no politician was going to suggest the measures taken by other countries, like making it illegal for the value of land to be changed by rezoning from agricultural to industrial or residential; or compulsory purchase by the State of land to reduce profit. After a series of scandals in which State employees were revealed to have profited from planning decisions, the political parties were terrified to lift the lid on any construction problems.
When the bubble burst, the worst hit was the construction industry, the 45% of the country's moneymaking that had concealed the empty heart of the boom. Almost immediately, people who had been working in construction began to emigrate - a neighbour's kid, qualified as a plumber and a year before looking forward to a life of luxury as a self-employed businessman went to Australia, hunted for work for a couple of years, came home, went to London, where he's now working for the railways in a decent but not highly-paid job. He's lucky.
Emigration may be a lifestyle choice for the children of the friends of politicians; for most, it's a hard, grim, realistic choice. It's also a choice that takes the pressure off the same politicians, as they impose new 'austerity' on the poor.
The admitted rate of unemployment in Ireland this week is almost 15%. Nine people per hour are emigrating - most of them from what has been bitterly nicknamed "Generation Emigration": the young, the talented, the ones we need desperately if we are to recover from this disaster. Seventy thousand people a year - and accelerating - are currently emigrating.
Noonan reckons this "lifestyle choice" will be temporary: the young will go abroad, get glamorous jobs, make useful contacts, and return to Ireland in a few years with new skills and the ability to foster new trade. Is he delusional? We didn't all party; only the rich friends of the politicians did. It's not a lifestyle choice, not for most of us.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Friday, 8 June 2012

On the buses

On the bus to town - writing at home was impossible, I wanted people around me while I worked, and I was going into a pet shop anyway to get BioActivator (dig a three-foot-deep hole, drop the dog poo into it and cover with earth; once a week slosh in a bucket of water with a capful of BioActivator and it rots down fast and you don't have to dig another hole for ages).
As the bus drove up a friend came running, with her son. We all got on, and she and I proceeded to chat away, with me sat on the front seat beside a young girl, and my pal and her son on the seat behind me.
I didn't notice as the girl beside me got out - until a stocky woman with a shopping trolley said: "Excuse me, can I get in there?"
I apologised and leaped up - and the woman sat her bottom down on the outside seat where I'd been, and invited another woman to sit on the inside.
"I won't take that woman's seat," the other woman said.
Mrs Trolley said indignantly: "I wouldn't take anyone's seat! I wouldn't be so ignorant!" (Completely ignoring me standing beside her and trying to keep the grin off my face.)
When the woman she'd invited wouldn't sit down, she invited a grey-haired man, who rushed in and sat down quick.
A chorus of indignant looks roasted Mrs Trolley. The woman who had refused the seat turned to me, raging, and proceeded to critique Mrs Trolley's manners extensively and comprehensively, until I choked "I'm getting off at the next stop anyway, it's grand, it's grand", and hastily got off, smothering my laughter. Mrs Trolley was still sitting there, her trolley against her knees in front of her.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Fine Gael or Republican?

TONIGHT, dining with a friend, we invented a wonderful game. We were re-fighting the Civil War - Irish, not English or American - and I was making the point that I thought Michael Collins (left) might well have gone on to be a Franco or a Salazar had he lived.
I think I may have got this idea from my mother. This despite the fact that to my mother as a small child he was the adored "Uncle Mick" who'd come to see her and sit her up on his knee and give her sweeties.
Anyway, we started out looking at people passing on the street as we walked back from a local pub whose food (unjustly, alas) had won a high reputation for good quality at low prices. "Republican!" the two of us chorused as a man passed on the other side of the street. "Fine Gael!" as a group of three went by.
We couldn't say how we knew - or, of course, if we were actually right - but as we say in Ireland, we "knew by them".
Then we started transferring it to public figures. Marlene Dietrich? Fine Gael, deffo. Doris Day? Fine Gael! Marilyn Monroe? Republican!
What about politicians? Reagan? We both hesitated, then said: "Hmm... actually... Republican!" Bush? Fine Gael, without hesitation. Back to some actors: Harrison Ford? Republican! Cllista Flockhart? Ohh, of course Fine Gael!
Martin Luther King? Republican! Nelson Mandela? Republican! Che Guevara... ummm.... ummmmmmm.... Republican? Fidel Castro? Republican! Gianni Versace? Oh, Fine Gael, no question about that.
Once you started, you can't stop. Gene Kelly? Republican! And not only that you'd know by him, there's also the story of his striding up to a blacklisted writer and seizing his hand to shake it, putting his arm around the writer and turning to grin into the cameras, defying the anti-Red forceds to do their worst.
It's nothing to do with the Fine Gael party, certainly nothing to do with the Fianna Fáil party as it has become in its latter years. It's more to do with the 'set' or the 'make of a person.
And Gregory Peck? Republican! The reaction is instant (Frank Sinatra? Fine Gael! Dean Martin? Fine Gael!)
But Gregory Peck also had family form. In the year he was born, Thomas Ashe, his great-uncle or second cousin, led one of the 1916 Rising garrisons, in Ashbourne, Co Meth, eventually reluctantly laying down their arms on the orders of PH Pearse in the general surrender.
Ashe (left) was a huge tall man, very well-made and handsome and a noted piper. He was condemned to death on the same day as Eamon de Valera, and like de Valera's, his sentence was commuted to live imprisonment. He was sent to jail, escaped, jailed, escaped again. In 1917 America joined the Allied side in the Great War, and the Irish-American lobby put pressure on Britain to free the thousands of Volunteers and Citizen Army who were in jail.
Ashe was arrested again for making a "seditions" (probably anti-conscription) speech in Longford, and was jailed in Mountjoy Gaol.
Here, he and others went on hunger strike. The warders force-fed him, and according to my mother's account (insider knowledge, as always in Ireland, where everyone has a source), because he was so tall and strong, several prison warders would pile on top of him to try to force feed him.
Like most people at the time, she believed that the piercing of his lung with the instrument used in force feeding was deliberate. He died, a nasty death from pneumonia, a few days after his lung was pierced and filled with gruel during one of the attempts at force feeding. Over in America, Gregory Peck would have been seventeen months old at that stage.
Peck ("Republican!") was a big man too, six foot three. He grew up in California, son of parents divorced when he was six, and was brought up between his mother, his father, the maternal grandmother who is the traditional haven of lost children, and military school. He went to UCLA Berkeley as a pre-med student, but discovered acting there. He would become one of the 20th century's greatest actors.
In To Kill a Mockingbird - his greatest role - he would play a quiet hometown lawyer who takes on a case he can't refuse, and is forced to challenge the set views of his neighbours (Fine Gaelers? Republicans? A mixture!) who are locked into the apartheid of 20th-century America.
But would Gregory Peck really have been a Republican or a Fine Gaeler? Ah, definitely a Republican. You'd know by him.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Blast from the past: The Henternet

WHEN someone gives you three beautiful bantam pullets at point of lay, and a couple of weeks later one of them starts swaggering around crowing, and they keep growing and growing, the time has come to look for independent advice.

And where better to look than the Internet?

Not an egg from any of the chicks – Maeve, Grainne and Wilhelmina - and they don’t seem to be interested in nookie either. Could I have three cocks? Could even the gods be so unkind? Who can tell me?

Luckily the Internet is, well, flocking with hen sites, which I hoped could help me with my chicken-sexing dilemma.

I put one eye on Maeve (macho, hoarse-voiced, red of comb and suspicious of eye, crowing hopefully every morning).

I put the second eye on Grainne (suspiciously Kellogg’s-logo-looking - by the same token, by the way, the Gaelic-L maillist for Irish-speakers had a vigorous debate some months back about whether Kellogg’s rooster logo came from the fact that the company founder’s researchers had discovered that the family name originated from the Scots Gaedhlig word “coileach”).

I put the third eye on Wilhelmina - “That one’s definitely a woman,” said my son’s Dutch girlfriend. But no eggs, and no cries of “an-egg-an-egg-an-egg-and-I’m-baaaarefoot”, or the Irish equivalent which I have long since forgotten and would love to know again. (This an-egg-an-egg-an-egg-and-I’m-baaaarefoot” is one of the translations of chick-talk. Another, “Mac a h-Óighe slán” for what English-speakers call “cock-a-doodle-doo” means “the Son of the Virgin is saved” and supposedly comes from an old story about two guys gossiping around AD33 as they cooked a chicken in a pot over the fire. “Did you hear about that fellow in Palestine that the Romans executed,” one said. “Apparently after three days dead he rose up alive.” The other man gave him a look. “I’ll believe that when this chicken gets up out of the pot and crows,” he said, whereupon the chicken leaped out of the pot, flapped its wings and shouted “Mac a h-Óighe slán!” Which is why many of the illuminated manuscripts have images of a cockerel above a cooking pot, flapping its wings and crowing.)

So to the Internet.

Where there was plenty to be found. First port of call was the Poultry maillist, a silent place with scarcely a posting, unless my mail software is doing something funny. So I defaulted to Dom_Bird, another maillist, this one strangely sited in Poland.

Here were lots of people keeping hens. The posters ranged from the “what age is best for meat and grows up fastest?” type of farmer to the anthropomorphising Silkie-keeper who noticed that her cock wasn’t the usual competitive type. No! He saved titbits not only for his mates but even for the baby cockerels. She wrote that this romantic soul was always waiting to give his favourites the choicest worms and snail-eggs. “Every day is Valentine's Day with him for a mate,” confided his owner.

Then there was the unfortunate guinea-fowl keeper who discovered that her birds were smarter than she was. Guinea-fowl are hen-like, but have tiny heads and big bodies, with a graceful, swelling look, and have adorable personalities, unless they don’t like you, in which case they beat the tripes out of you.

This poor poulterer’s fowl had been outsmarting her for nearly a year. “Every night, after the chicks all go in, I would shoo the guineas in. We'd go in circles around the henhouse, with them missing the door every time. I assumed this had something to do with the fabled guinea brainlessness. They'd never veer off track, always stayed in a path around the henhouse. Occasionally, one would peel off and make it inside, but we had to do a good ten or twelve circuits before they were all in.

“The other day, I had yenched my back and was in no mood to run in circles around the henhouse, so I just stood there near the door. The guineas ran to the front and around the corner. A minute later, one peeked back around the corner to look for me. Then they all came around, ran to within a few feet of me and back around the corner. They repeated this action several times. The little goobers were trying to get me to chase them again! The whole thing was one big game to them and bought them a little extra outdoor time and some entertainment at my expense. Eventually, they realised I wasn't up for the game and just trooped in. I swear they shrugged their shoulders as they walked past me.

“I hope none of the neighbours noticed!”

Apart from the maillists, there’s the Web. It’s full of chicken sites. The kids' favourite is the ooh-ah Feathersite


with its adorable pictures of our feather-footed friends, as well as ducks, geese, guinea fowl, pheasants etc. Good information, too, and links to addresses for fanciers' clubs.

There are bulletin boards, like the active Poultry Info Exchange message board ( and the Rare Poultry Breeders version, at There's at least one newsgroup, at sci.agriculture.poultry.

There are several useful maillists. Apart from Dom_Bird ( to subscribe), the wild gardening list (Wildgarden at has lots of poultry-keepers on it. Many of the biodynamic gardeners of the BD-Now list are hen-keepers too (write to and ask to subscribe).

All of these are great sources of information. Mind you, I still have no idea if Maeve, Grainne and Willy are boys or girls. They all have hackle feathers, but none has spurs; nary an egg to be seen. They are as pure as St Enda, without a thought of any high jinks with the opposite sex (whichever that sex may be). And every morning I go out to the music of Maeve crowing happily to greet the nine-o’clock bell.

Some hen sites:

The Poultry Place:

The Chicken Page - University of Texas's poultry site:

Page O' Chickens:


Little Farm:

Nubin's Chicken Coop:

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bankers' ramp

From  Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey, a superb book on the Fitzwilliam family of coal magnates; here, she writes about the coming of the Great Depression to Britain; it is starkly similar to what Ireland now faces:

ON 11 JULY [1931], Clive Wigram, George V's Private Secretary... wrote a stark letter to the King: "We are sitting on the top of a volcano, and the curious thing is that the Press and the City have not really understood the critical situation..."
The eruption came exactly one month later. On 11 August there was a dramatic run on the pound as foreign investors scrambled to remove their money from the City of London. Ramsay MacDonald's government was already grappling with a deficit in the forthcoming autumn budget; the flight from sterling threw it into crisis...
Hitherto, it had been assumed that the country lived by trade, exporting manufactured goods and raw materials which paid for the foodstuffs and other imports that came in. In fact, Britain's trading account had not shown a credit balance since 1822. It was the 'invisibles' - shipping and banking - that had always put the balance right. These were the very things that had been hit by the global Depression... in the same period the volume of Britain's exports had almost halved...
As the country's gold and currency reserves continued to drain away, the government collapsed...
Once again labour - the impoverished working class in Britain's old industries... was being asked to pay the cost of capital's mistakes.
Historians would condemn the crisis of the summer of 1931 as the 'bankers' ramp'. The flight from sterling on 11 August was not precipitated by the budget deficit - the millions being paid out in unemployment benefits - but by the speculative activities of London's bankers.
In the years after the Great War, striving to restore the City's position as the financial centre of the world, the bankers had borrowed money from French depositors at 2 per cent and lent it to Germany at 8 or 10 per cent. In the summer of 1931, a period of political tension between France and Germany, the French, objecting to the fact that their money was being used to help Germany, withdrew it from London. Simultaneously, a financial collapse in Central Europe caused the German banks to renege on their international loans. The London bankers were caught out, facing short-term foreign liabilities estimated at £400 million. It was the Bank of England's decision to allow them to draw on the gold reserves that had caused sterling to run down.

 Lucille Redmond's ebook, Love, gripping dark and funny stories of love and revolution, is available on Amazon and iTunes