Friday, August 11, 2006

Finscéal 2006 - A Writer's Trail of Fingal

Congratulations to Fingal County Council's Libraries and Arts Office for organising another excellent festival of readers' and writers' events during September 2006. The events run from 12 to 30 September in a variety of locations around Fingal county. At the many workshops, which are facilitated by published writers and people involved in the publishing industry, participants can learn to write a book in a year; improve their creative writing and deal with writer's block; listen to and share poetry; enjoy a murder mystery in the magnificent Ardgillan Castle, and spend a day with successful Irish women authors. The authors Nell McCafferty and Evelyn Conlon will also share their long experience with participants.

I attended one workshop last year and it was excellent, so I am really looking forward to this year's programme. Further details can be got from
Fingal Arts Office on +353-1-890 6237 or you can email Sarah O'Neill.

A small worm turns

In September 2005, I wrote a blog entry about the ejection of an 83 year old man from the British Labour Party conference during a speech by Jack Straw. I was incensed that such a breach of civil liberties should occur.

I’m glad to say that the worm has turned and that the members of the Labour Party have now elected the man, Mr. Walter Wolfgang, to the party’s national executive committee. Mr. Wolfgang has pledged to campaign for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon and a withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. He also wants Blair to quit as leader. How delightful and I hope that Mr. Wolfgang becomes a constant thorn in Blair’s side.


Good on ya, Walter, and here’s to your long life and good health.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Air travel set to get worse

I learned with horror on the Irish news programme, RTE’s Morning Ireland, that it may be possible in as little as a few months to use personal mobile phones on aeroplanes. While applauding the Kerry-based company that is developing this technology, I dread the day I get on a plane to, say, France, and have to listen to some jumped up self-important idiot talking to his business associates or his girlfriend or his solicitor or his counsellor while I am trying to have a relaxing flight and forget about my terror at being in a steel tube hurtling through the air at about 500 miles an hour.

This must surely be one of the worst inventions ever and will make air travel more stressful, more unpleasant and more fraught than ever. There is nothing worse that listening to someone else’s telephone conversation under any circumstances but, in the confined space of an aeroplane – when it might not be possible to change seats – it will be truly awful. I hold the view that all devices that make any sort of noise should be banned from aeroplanes. But, once these damned mobile phones are permitted on board, I will be using my iPOD on full volume at all times and, if a loquacious arsehole ever sits beside me, I will do everything possible to disrupt his or her conversation.

I recently travelled from Cork to Dublin on the new fancy train in first class, at a cost of €115 return, excluding food. So, in all, the cost of the trip was probably about €150. No sooner had my colleague and I sat down than some asshole behind me got on the blower and proceeded to conduct his business in the loudest voice possible on the train. If he had kept it to a single call, perhaps, I would have tolerated it but this idiot – who was obviously too important to be off air even for a minute – proceeded to make and take call after call. If he had kept his voice quiet, maybe that would have been OK but he bellowed so loudly that I wondered why he needed the phone at all.

I complained to the steward on the train and he relayed my complaint to the offending prattler. From then on, he made and took his calls outside the train carriage. Problem solved, as far as I was concerned. But he was not too happy with this. As if I gave a shit that this plonker was upset!

And here is another thing that really bugs me: why do people on aeroplanes have to talk on their phones prior to take off, almost up up to the point that the wheels are lifted? And why do they also feel the need to turn on their mobile phones again as soon as the rubber hits the tarmac? How sad are these bastards? What sort of lives must they lead? What makes them think they are so important?

You have probably gathered that I am not a great fan of mobile phones but that is not correct. I actually have three of them. But I manage to arrange my life reasonably well and to get things done efficiently enough so that people do not have the need to ring me too often, nor I them. I actually look forward to the day when mobile phones go out of fashion because they are a damned nuisance. As soon as I can, I am dumping mine, but that probably won’t happen until I retire!

Anyway, dear reader, please have some consideration for other people when you are using your mobile phone. Try to have some simple manners and show respect for other people. Speak quietly and keep your call as short as possible. Oh, and don’t be an asshole like our fellow traveller on the train from Cork.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My week and a bit!

Lazy fortnight
I have been off work for the last two weeks and have been totally lazy! I spent most of the time on the Internet chatting to friends; trying to tidy things up; getting more use out of web sites; setting up news feeds; personalising Google, Yahoo and MSN and lots of other wasteful stuff! I also met some nice new people online.

New iMAC
I got a new iMAC and really like it. The design is excellent and, if it were not for the fact that all my stuff is on an old Windows laptop, I'd probably shift over excluslvely to the MAC. But I have so much stuff on the windows laptop and so many applications installed that it would be a bit of a pain. I'll see how things go and maybe shift over gradually. I love the screen on the iMAC and, with my eyesight getting poorer, it is really great. The interface is very nice but a little hard to get used to when you have been using PCs since the '80s. I have not fully mastered the file management system yet, nor the way applications are set up and managed. But I am sure it will not be that hard.

You can get a lot for free online
Having so much time on my hands has enabled me to explore what the various free service providers like Google, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, AOL and Skype have to offer. Once again, I have to say that I am quite impressed. Besides free mail, chat and cheap or free voice telephony, many of them offer complete personalisation of their home page for RSS feeds; mail client links; chat links; calendar facilities; weather reports; flight tracking, etc. It is really good and all free. Google also offer a free spreadsheet program at http://spreadsheet.google.com, which is quite good. I have used it and it is possible to share spreadsheets with other users. An excellent free service. It's also possible to get reminders and log birthdays, anniversaries, etc, with many of the calendar offferings. If this becomes a trend the future of paid-for software might be limited. In fact, one idea I had for the iMAC was to put free software only on it to see how far I get.

Privacy concerns
Given this trend towards free hosted software services, which must be paid for by advertising, I suppose one worry could be privacy. While most apparently reputable providers have privacy policies, do we have any guarantees about the security and privacy of the information we store online? What would happen, for example if a predatory organisation - perhaps an unscrupulous one - took over an existing provider and sold customer information or pried into personal stuff. And, of course, there is always Big Brother and Uncle Sam!

Israel's murderous campaign in Lebanon continues
The Israelis continue to perpetrate heinous war crimes on the innocent citizens of Lebanon. Children are massacred, women mutilated and men torn to pieces by bullet and bomb. The infrastructure of that country is being destroyed by the Israeli terrorists, supported by the real sponsor of world terrorism, George Bush, aided and abetted by his lapdog Tony Blair. I know what Hezbollah are doing is wrong, but the response of the Israeli murderers is totally disproportionate. Surely some Western nation has the guts to stand up and say clearly that what Israel is doing is wrong and call it what it is - genocide and war crimes. I am horrified at what I see each day on the television and read in the papers.

Western support needed for Israeli murder to prosper
Nothing can describe my contempt for these Israeli murderers and I hope that some day they will reap the whirlwind they deserve. Is it any wonder that those of the Islamic faith - and the Arab world in general - hate us Westerners when they see their countries destroyed by Western armaments and their natural resources plundered by Western economic interests. A people under such pressure and suffering so much will, naturally, resort to so-called "terrorist" retaliation, as we know all too well in Ireland. And who is the terrorist - the invader in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine or Lebanon or the freedom fighter trying to defend his country? And what gave us the right to impose our Western values or standards on other cultures and nations? In the West our leaders and some commentators argue that Islam wants to take over the world and destroy it while, every day, we do this by economic expansion, unfair trading practices, plundering of natural resources, military might, etc. Are they a people fighting for victory or for survival? Maybe we should think about that sometime.

How far will Israel go to "defend" itself?
When will the international community get the courage to call these murdering bastards in Israel what they are - war criminals, every one of them. But as long as Israel is supported by that bastard in the White House, their terrorist government will never be brought to justice. And how can a heavily armed army, located deep in another country's territory and perpetrating indiscriminate bombing raids on its soil, be called a "defence force"? They are an army of terror and of occupation and should be called such. News media - like our own RTE in Ireland - should stop referring to these murderers as the "IDF" (Israeli Defence Forces) and at least call them what they are - an army at least and a terrorist band of murdering bandits at worst.

Life's cheap when you are a Lebanese baby
Two pictures in an Irish newspaper today (Wednesday) encapsulated our twisted Western view of and value for human life. On one page was a picture of conjoined twins who were separated following a lengthy operation. They are American and no expense was spared to separate them and save their lives last Monday. The other picture showed a dead Lebanese baby being carried in the arms of a rescue worker. She was about two years old and to see her lifeless body silhouetted against a Lebanese sky was appalling. In her case, no expense was spared in killing her. Thanks to American money and science, two children have a chance to live while, in Lebanon the same money and science ensures the death of so many children. What sort of people can do this to the innocent and helpless? People are bombed in their homes, they are strafed as they flee in cars, they are buried under rubble and they are maimed and scarred for life. Nothing justifies this; nothing.

Irish experience of occupation and terror
There was a very good programme on RTE television on Tuesday night about the burning, sacking and looting of Cork in 1920. It described in some detail the events leading up to this war crime perpetrated by the British forces of occupation on the Irish and on Cork city at that time. The callousness, brutality and murderous intent of the British forces was quite remarkable. And, as I watched the programme over 80 years after the event, I saw the children and grandchildren of those murdered by the British interviewed today and speaking with passion and anger about how their ancestors were treated. This is what leads to resistance and civil strife and it can help us to understand what happened for 30 years in Northern Ireland.

A Secret History of the IRA
I am reading Ed Moloney's book "A Secret History of the IRA", which is also a good read. It helps us to understand why things happened the way they did. Today we abhor - rightly - all terrorist acts, but we must acknowledge that the impetus for these actions often came from some action on the part of others - usually the oppression and subjugation of a native people. A simplistic view, perhaps, but one that might have at least some merit. More as I go through the book.

Holidaying in Ireland? Then it has to rain on me!
It is typical of me to take time off work when the weather changes. For several weeks prior to my holidays the weather was brilliant and then, as soon as I take holidays, it changes to wind, cold and rain. This always happens when I stay in Ireland for my holidays and I remember now why I go away every year. I won't stay in Ireland next year for the holidays. Maybe I will take a week abroad later in the year.

The gout got me bad
And as if the weather wasn't bad enough, for the first week of my break from work, I was stricken with gout and the pain was excruciating. Men don't do pain well and I do it particularly badly! I thought my foot was going to burst. I was hobbling around like an old cripple and felt very sorry for myself. Needless to say, I got little sympathy from others, seeing how they associate it with high living, rich food and alcohol. As if I would! I am on various tablets to clear it up and it is nearly better now. And I don't know what I would have done without Difene - it is a great drug and really helped. I will always keep it handy in future if I can.

Mixed exerience in Howth
Howth is a fishing village north of Dublin city and I spent many happy times there when I was a child, teenager, adult and parent. The family and I popped over the other day for a visit and I have to say I was very disappointed at how this nice quaint fishing harbour has become a tacky and tawdry extension of Dublin suburbia. The harbour was alright but the shopping side of the street is a real disappointment. Garish moden buildings with little or no architectural merit line the once quaint promenade. As usual, apartments abound and some of them are hideous. One apartment block has a bin bay and a car park at street level - no shops or nice apartments, but smelly bins, iron gates and cars locked away. How horrible. The old Time and Tide pub, formerly the St. Lawrence Hotel (where I met my wife, as it happens), retained its original facade but tacked on an ugly glass structure on the side. I was so disappointed to see these changes, which I do not think have been for the better. I won't be rushing back, except for the fresh fish (see below).

Not much in the way of decent pubs
We stopped into the Pier House pub, where I used to love to have a pint and watch the old timers and fishermen enjoying a pint, a chat and a game of pool, rings or darts. It is being renovated at the moment and whoever is doing the job has succeeded in removing all character from the place. It is now an overly bright, cold and unfriendly place and we really did not enjoy it. We left there after one drink and visited another pub, the Waterside. This was too dark and looked just like a plastic pub. We ordered food, which was very ordinary, though reasonably priced. Unfortunately my food was cold and when I sent it back it was simply zapped in the microwave and returned to me, complete with the fish I sent back with one mouthful missing. I was disappointed here also so we decided to forget having another drink.

Nicky's Plaice for fish
We called back down the harbour to Nickys Plaice (www.nickysplaice.ie), where we bought some crab claws, cod and seafood chowder mix. According to their website, the shop got a mention in Rick Stein's book, "Rick Stein's Seafood Lovers' Guide". This is a great shop and the fish was lovely and fresh and very reasonably priced. I ate the crab claws today, made really nice seafood chowder (for a recipe have a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/seafoodchowder_73917.shtml), and grilled the cod, which we ate with brown soda bread and a fresh salad. Bliss!

I love cooking
Cooking is a favourite interest of mine and I really lik the BBC web site. You have access to all the great English and Irish chefs and a wealth of recipes for free. But any search on the web for recipes will provide fantastic information on food and recipes. I will be doing a bit more cooking before I go back to work next week.