With his long hair and gentle ways.

I flinch from cancer stories, avert my eyes, turn my head.  Avoid.  If it’s on the radio I turn down the sound, on the TV, I change the channel.   It is all too painful, I fear I will be overwhelmed. I frequently am overwhelmed.  I have, we all have, lost friends, close friends, comrades, co-worker’s, family to cancer.  It has touched us all, but still, I flinch.    I cannot go to Gavan’s grave, cannot think of him lying there under that cold Ballymore Eustace earth, on the edge of the pale, swept by the sharp winds from the Wicklow mountains, So young, below the earth, with his long hair and gentle ways.  It overwhelms me. 

This is a photograph I took, many many years ago.  The two boys, Gavan and James, enjoying breakfast in bed with Patricia.  Gavan is the little fella.  How old was he then?  Six, Seven?   There is no date on the photograph.  Six then.    We had him for another eighteen years before the cancer took him. Glorious years, happy years, teenage years, college years.   He became a quiet young man, charming, with great wit, indomitable, he strode across life, skateboarded across life; he was into gaming, tried the guitar, he lived life, loved life, with his long hair and gentle ways. 

He was 24 when the cancer caught him and almost immediately, he began to fade.  It was terrible to watch.  Each day he faded a little more.  Degrees of fading.  He went from striding three miles across town to Griffith college, to stumbling around his flat with a Zimmer frame, from a Zimmer frame to a wheelchair, fading, fading.   We were lifting him now, all his faded bodyweight, lifting him form the wheelchair to bed, from the wheelchair to the bathroom, from the wheel chair to his computer, from the wheelchair into the car, from the car into the wheelchair, fading, fading.   In the flat there were now grab rails and bandages, a hydraulic bed, a lift to help him sit up in that bed. Visiting nurses, doctors, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs.  His hearing went. He faded a little more each day.     But he didn’t know or didn’t accept he was dying.  He talked of going back to college of seeing his friends again, of going to gigs, of the experimental drugs working.  To the final day, he never believed he was dying.   If he had asked us, we would of course have told him, but he never asked and only talked of when he would be well again, every day, each day, as he faded away.   

 He was in and out of hospital, scans, new drugs, chemo, radiation, James’s hospital, Mater hospital, Vincent’s hospital, hospitals in Scotland, hospitals in England, but there was no hope, he continued to fade, little by little, each day, with his long hair and his gentle ways. 

And then, in a little room in Vincent’s, he just faded away for ever, and we lost him.  He had wanted to come home, but he was too far gone, and we sat with him for, how many days, I don’t recall, we sat with him in that little room, for every second of every hour of every day until he faded away.    His eyes would open every now and then, but I don’t know if he registered that we were there, we told him we were, but it was impossible to tell.  Not all our love, not all those nurses, not all those doctors, not all the money in the world could stop him from fading away, with his long hair and his gentle ways. 

We buried him in Ballymore Eustace, where he went to school, and after, we had to get away.  We were physically exhausted from the lifting and care, emotionally exhausted from the horror of it all and we had to get away.   Away from Ireland, away from the grab rails and wheelchairs, the drugs and the hospitals, from doctors and the nurses.    We travelled, and Gavan was with us, everywhere we went, he was always with us, we lit candles for him in Rome and Venice, and Bologna, and Florence and Scotland and Yorkshire and London, he was always beside us with his long hair and his gentle ways. 

He has been gone a year.  And although I avoid cancer stories, cancer events, I must now go to his grave, mark his going, attend his mass.  It is the Irish way. I must mark his passing.   

We have our own ways of grieving.  Patricia talks to him.  In the kitchen, at the graveside, in the car, she tells him of her day, how we are all doing, of the cats, of his friends.   I cannot go to the grave – my visits to him are rare but I see him everywhere.  That lad getting on the bus, is that Gavan?    At his computer, sitting in his chair, I see him.  All the time. and then remember he is gone. In the doctors, only last week the receptionist said, “Oh we treated Gavan, how is he?”   She, of course, didn’t know, how could she, she was just being kind.    

“He didn’t make it” I said and began to cry.  And she was upset but it wasn’t her fault and I was sorry for her.   For the rest of that day I was lost, overwhelmed. 

We miss him so much.  His long hair and his gentle ways. 


Three Cities, three Airbnb’s

Florence first.  In the footsteps of Dante, of Michelangelo, of Botticelli, of the Duma and of David, of the Medici, the Ponte Vecchio, stepping back into the Renaissance.   A city of alleyways and lanes and Lambretta’s and art, the most glorious art in of all Italy, in all the world.   You would hardly be surprised, hardly bat an eyelid if, while strolling across the Ponte  Vecchio you bumped into Dante himself, fully robed, wearing earphones and checking his Android, for Florence is still, after all these years, a Renaissance city.20180419_141121

Our Airbnb apartment was in one of the myriads of narrow back alleys of tall ancient buildings.   It was on the 7th floor. And there are no lifts, just a narrow, steep, winding marble staircase.

Now as it happens I travel fairly light, no more than a briefcase-sized piece of hand luggage, but Patricia, she requires at least nine pairs of shoes, plus those she is wearing, and of course, nine sets of appropriate accessories and outfits, resulting in a huge and heavy monstrous piece of luggage.  It’s O.k. when wheeling it across an airport concourse or a railway station lobby, but six or seven levels of a renaissance staircase – we are not fit young backpackers – and your heart sinks.      What we needed was a team of Sherpa’s who could set up a base camp of the sixth floor, from where we could rest before making the final ascent, either that or abandon Patricia’s shoes.   But we made it, exhausted and sweating.  It was a disappointment.   We might have wanted, after such a strenuous climb, to collapse into a comfortable sofa, but the apartment furniture was more knackered than we were.  It was old and scruffy, the sort of stuff you might donate to Oxfam; the sort of stuff Oxfam would politely decline and refer you to the nearest skip.   It really shouldn’t have been allowed by Airbnb at all.   And there were no wine glasses, and god forbid, in the land of vino, in a city whose hills were vineyards, Buon vino fa bon sangue, no corkscrew!   I don’t want to push the Sherpa analogy too far but I reckon that these days if we had ever reached the top of Mount Everest we would probably find a corkscrew. But there, there was none!

One of the pleasures of Airbnb, over the hotel room, is that you can retreat, as and when you please, nip in from the heat and the crowds, take a glass of wine, play some music, have a dance, and then, refreshed and restored, venture out again into the city you are visiting.   Problem here was that to nip in from the heat meant climbing a mountain to a not very pleasant retreat.   The one redeeming feature of the apartment was its location. We were but minutes from the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi gallery, and hardly more than ten minutes from the Duma.

Florence is too gorgeous to allow such trifling’s as a bad apartment to spoil your visit, there is too much to explore and too much to experience.  But this piece is about Airbnb.  I did write a little blog piece about the real experience of Florence, you can read it here, but in the context of Airbnb, someone made good money on that ill-equipped poorly furnished apartment.   And it wasn’t worth it.

And so to Venice.

From the Railway station, you catch a bus into Venice.  Except that it’s a not a bus, it’s a boat, a boat-bus that casts off from the station and sets off across to the city built in the sea.

Vaporetti they call them, their buses, and its already exciting to be on board watching the city draw ever closer as the boat- bus calls at various bus-stops on the way.   We were met on board the valporeto by our Airbnb host, on the bus, on the boat.   God knows how she recognised us for me, in my flat cap and tweed jacket almost always blend in with the locals, it must have been Patricia’s suitcase full of shoes.   She took us, our host, to the correct bus-stop for we would surely, on our own, have got lost.   Spirito Santo bus stop.

sprito santo venice bus stop

Spirito Santo Bus stop.

The apartment was less than fifty yards away, and it was to be a most pleasant surprise.   On the ground floor, the canal right outside the front door, it was the most stylish and elegant and glamorous and spacious place, with marble floors, beautiful paintings, rich pieces of Murano glass, a little open courtyard to take breakfast in the morning or wine in the evening.  And superbly equipped, including, not only a corkscrew but a bottle of welcoming cold Italian prosecco in the fridge.   We were less than ten minutes away from the Guggenheim museum and gallery,


Guggenheim looking onto the Grand Canal

which means ten minutes from the Grand Canal.   We could catch a bus down the Grand anal!  For €1.50!  Surely the most astonishing bus route on all the earth.  Never mind yer London or Dublin hop on hop off, rip off tourist double decker’s, this was breath-taking.  Oh, to be a bus driver in Venice, bus-stops at St. Mark’s square, Salute, Accademia, the Rialto bridge, Piazzale Roma, travelling through a Canaletto painting, dodging Gondoliers, and there’s a water-taxi, and there a water fire engine, and a refuse truck, except it’s a boat!.

patricia on the grand canal bus

Patricia on the Grand Canal bus

You could stroll through the city discovering gorgeous churches, little squares, with pavement bars and cafes where you sit and listen to buskers playing Vivaldi, and no cars, no skateboards, and best of all, oh glory, no bicycles.   Here’s a street market except that the streets are canals and the stalls of fruit and vegetables are boats!

I have resolved that I will win the lottery and buy a marbled floored spacious apartment in Venice.  I have resolved to become a bus driver in Venice.  I have resolved to be a bin man in Venice or a Gondolier, I wonder if they have Uber gondoliers, for I will be an Uber gondolier, in Venice.


Shortly after we left our gorgeous Venetian apartment the news bulletins and the newspapers were full of photographs and reports of Venice being flooded, with St. Mark’s square, under two foot of water.  I was a little worried that in our glamorous Venetian apartment,  I might have left the tap running.

And so to Bologna.


This was our third visit to Bologna, the second this year, and most certainly won’t be the last. We know from experience that the location of your Airbnb apartment can be quite critical.   This was by far the best located of all the places we have ever stayed while in Bologna.  On the Via dell bella Arte, the Way of the beautiful Art, who could possibly not want to stay on the way of the beautiful art.  It was only minutes away from a rich selection of quite exceptional regional Italian restaurants, and after all, it is mainly for the food of Bologna that you go there at all!   But it was also in close walking distance of a wide range of Bologna’s sights and museums and galleries.  The longest walk was about 25 minutes, to the Museum of Resistance, but that’s on the other side of the city.  So, for location, it couldn’t really be much better.

The apartment itself was rather compact, but we knew that when we booked.  The  furnishing was dull, lots of brown stuff, not very stylish, probably late ‘50’s early 60’s, but hey, you can’t always find a place with perfect taste, and in fairness we were rather spoilt, for we had just come from an apartment  in Venice which was so astonishingly elegant and stylish and spacious that there would be few properties anywhere else on Airbnb’s books that could compare.   But the Bologna gaff, well it was in need a bit of makeover.   It didn’t matter too much as we were out exploring most of the time, the food shops,

pasta bologna

the food markets, the restaurants, the café/bars, the old churches, concerts, and the bookshops, and as a base location, well it couldn’t be much better.

We almost left early.  Not because of the furnishing or any inadequacy of the apartment but because while out to dinner on our first night we got a finger-wagging message from the host complaining that we had left a light on and a record playing and were treating his apartment incorrectly.

Well, how do you respond to that?  We left the light on, as we do at home, for reasons of security.  It’s recommended by the best crime prevention people.   We left the disc playing, a classical disc, at low background volume, (Dvorak) because it was a gift from our son, who had recently passed away, and it gave us great comfort to do so.    It rather spoiled our dinner, that message, we thought it was exclusively our apartment for the next four days, not a supervised lodging.  We were not disrupting neighbors or anything and thought it a bit over the top and intrusive. But rather than respond in kind we just thanked him for providing us with a second set of keys.  When we got back to the apartment, we found he had been in.  He had turned off the lights and removed the disc from the player.  Now that WAS intrusive and very creepy, and a strong interference with our enjoyment of the property.  Patricia was very upset, mostly about the disc, to the point of tears. So, we nearly left.   In retrospect, we probably should have.  It was me that counseled restraint, It was late and the chances of finding somewhere else slim, and besides I didn’t want to have to pack all those shoes again.

So we stayed on for the full four days and left in the early hours of a Sunday morning at the end of our stay, which apart from the disc incident had been a wonderful gastronomic break.

But, and this is a big but, the double bed in the apartment was an old model IKEA bed.  At about 4 am on Sunday morning, our final morning, the bed collapsed on the right-hand side.  It collapsed as I got into it after attending the bathroom.  You could hear the slats cracking or splitting.  I fell or slipped off the mattress onto the wooden frame and then on to the floor.  The bed was low set, a bit like a futon, so the fall was only a few inches.  I was not hurt, just a bit shocked, as if you’d banged your leg against a table, that sort of thing.

Because we were leaving so early, we were up at 5.30 am and had a taxi booked for 6 am, I had no chance to tell the host.

By the time we reached the airport and just as we were boarding the plane, we had another offensive message, angrily blaming us for the damage to the bed, and suggesting, somewhat incredibly, that it had caused by us acting like teenagers rather than mature adults.

I took that to mean that we had engaged in intense athletic sexual practices so vigorous that the bed could not take it and had collapsed under the strain, meaning that we were therefore responsible.

Well, that might have been true some 35 years ago when we first got married but it was not true now!  The message was accompanied by an immediate demand for compensation so that a new bed could be purchased.

It was very offensive and I was angry and a little outraged at the innuendo and inferences of the message.  I composed a stiff, but restrained reply to Francesco, for it was he who was being so offensive.   It was a sort of lawyer’s letter in which I suggested liability for the damage rested with him and referred him to the doctrine of Res ipsa Locqitar. *

I left it to him to look up on google what res ipsa locquitar * means, for it is a hallowed legal phrase, often the last resort of many a personal injury lawyer, who sprinkle it liberally throughout their pleadings and from whose lips the phrase often drops like the dribbling of a toothless man.**   It is designed, this Latin lawyer’s phrase, to bemuse and confuse.  It is what we lawyers do.

Communications between an Airbnb host and an Airbnb guest must, by the terms of the contract, be conducted through a special Airbnb portal which is monitored by Airbnb to ensure, amongst other things, that mutual due respect is paid, by each party to the contract.   My letter was half written in the hope that some Airbnb legal person, knowledgeable of the common law and its Latin phrases, would spot the phrase, perhaps with a cynical inward smile, and intervene to calm things down a bit.

In due course, we received a communication from an Airbnb “trust and safety” officer advising, in very neutral and polite language that Franseco was no longer pursuing his claim for compensation.

Let it be said then, that restraint, therefore, can sometimes pay off quod erat demonsrandum, one might say.

The offense I felt at Francesco ’s lack of respect communication has by now, been softened by the passage of time, the outrage has come back in, and the anger has been doused by distance.  But I have a message for Francesco,, I hope he gets the opportunity to read this for it is exclusively for him, an unrestrained message.

You can stuff your compact perfectly located apartment up your creepy Italian arse.

How’s that for restraint?

So we are back home now, in Ireland, and it is wet and cold and there is a turf fire burning and we have such happy memories of our Italian trip.  I may moan or complain about the accommodation, hopefully not too much, for, in the context of Italy, they are ephemeral things. It was Italy we went to see, Italy we went to eat, and Italy we went to drink.  We shall unquestionably return to Italy, to Venice, to Rome to Florence, even to Bologna, for   Bologna is just too wonderful not to return and we have rather fallen in love with it.

That apartment was in a perfect location, but I guess, next time, we will just have to find somewhere else.

*  the principle that the mere occurrence of some types of accident is sufficient to imply negligence.

**This term includes a toothless woman or a toothless non-binary person.

Letter from Private Giles to the widow of Private Christopher Coleman of the 7th Leinster Regt, killed on the Somme.

Dear Madam

Yours to hand the 15 inst & I have great pleasure in answering your

most kind & welcome letter. I daresay you was a little upset at first

after receiving a letter from my fried but I do hope & trust these lines

will find you in the best of health & spirits under circumstances & I

shall also be very pleased indeed if you will accept my sympathy in your

sad bereavement you said in your letter you would like to know details

re what I know of him well dear madam its a


very strange thing how I fell across him. My company was sent to

Guillemont to clear a way for traffic after the place was taken (this was) &

my duty was to go round & see all tools was collected & I can tell you

I was always on the look out for any one that may have been wounded or

killed & missed which I know often is the case as there is so much to

do & of course the lads cannot do everything. However I came across this

fellow in a shell hole (a very large one) & passed him as I passed

others that lay about. & something struck me to go back & see him, as he

lay there as if resting from a long walk. his statue marked me very

much indeed he looked sa smart & of a lovely build. then I pictured my-


self in his place. how if it was me & suppose he has just got missed

altogether how will his friends ever know. so you can guess how I got

my mind seemed only of him & his dear ones if any, how was I to know.

(at this time I forgot all about going to look for tools. & I thought

of his top pocket that all I could get tp. & with my knife I cut it

down & I saw a piece of paper I got it out & read it. & to my great

relief I saw an address taht as you have at the present. & then I opened

the other & the label of him was inside. this label I refer to is one

they all have to wear when wounded & as he was wounded in the hand. that

accounts for it)


& no doubt he was going to keep it. I hope dear madam you will forgive

me of taking liberties with your dear husbands body. but you can rest

assured (I will give you my word of honour.) that he is buried & I

buried him the best I could. not so well as some but better than

thousands. I was at this time up at the ruined church & luck came my way again

going about as I liked that gave me another chance of going to see if

any one had interfared with him. this was after I had buried him. &

about 600 yards from the church. I came back to my party after about

(say houer away. & found a lovely square stone from the ruins with 5



engraved on it. then I claimed it & took it for his grave after

writing his name & regiment in copying ink pencil as best I could. hoping &

trusting that if I was called away myself some-one would be sure & come

across him & probably would let your know. This was as near as I can

say to date Sept 15th & Fritz as we call the German was still sending

the shells pretty thick. & just after I was finished my duty to wards

this unknown soldier (your dear husband.) a shell came just after we had

finished dinner & I lost four of my comrades. I am very sorry also for

their parents.


it’s a hard war & dreadful to see let alone hear about it, but I thank

God he has spared me to write these few lines to you to night. how I

wish I had sent at the first. you can I hope well understand me. I did

not like sending such bad news to you but it struck me all at once. my

friend sent me a paper & has it happened there appeared the photo of a

fellow belonging to my own country. he also was reported missing but I

have the clue of him as of your loving husband & I saw him I believe

the same day but not in such a good condition & his letters & his kit

baglay their. I picked them up & he belonged to my own


brothers regiment & the same company. I kept them until now & when I

saw his photo. I soon reckoned up what to do. Send his & yours as

well. I thought to my self if that lady’s in the same street she will

never know. So of course I asked my friend as to her opinion about the

matter & if she would send. This she has kindly done & we must Thank God.

as I said before & hope & trust he will keep me long enough to let you

know as much as I possibly can can as regards to your husband Dear

madam if there is any thing else you would like to ask me I shall only be

to pleased to hear from you at any-time –


You said as to me wanting anything at present I’m afraid I do not as

I’m in good circumstances this has happened since, (this affair) & I have

pretty well everthing of the best. also I have good friends at home &

relations that will provide for me if Im wanting. I may tell you I

have had to rough it for at least 9 months. & this part I’m at now is not

so far up to the line. my work at present is cook for the superior 6

officers at Headquarters & they are of the best as one could wish also

my mates & we are all happy to-gether & make the best of it. not

forgetting to thank you for your kind offer. which is very good of you.


if I have done you a favour, I have been rewarded for it. & thats my

blood. I cannot help it I must be doing good some-where my dear mother

was the same – when she was alive. & she was my only treasure. you

can guess the rest. (how I miss her.) dear madam I hope you will forgive

me writing so much as its your husband you want to hear about it looks

as if I am telling you more of my-self. I was quite forgetting hoping &

trusting to hear from you again I must now close

I remain

yours truly

Pte G H Wiles

P.S. if you would like me to send the label I shall only be to pleased

to do so at my earliest convenience

Please excuse bad writing and mistakes

Good bye & may God bless you


Dear Madam

wishing you a Happy & Prosperous New Year

& Best of Luck

yours G W

I have no other paper & envelopes

so please excuse


Four days in North Yorkshire

boars head

Entrance to the Boar’s Head public house and country hotel, Ripley, North Yorkshire

You can catch a bus to Ripley, from Leeds Bus station. Number 36.  It takes you all across the dales to North Yorkshire and drops you off right outside the Boars Head in Ripley, which was where I was staying for a four-day Yorkshire Break.  Ripley is one of those handsome stone built Yorkshire villages set in rolling dales, which round there are steeped in the blood and the history of religious and civil wars.   Not too far away was Marston Moor where Oliver Cromwell destroyed the Northern army of Charles the 1st.    And at Ripley castle, on the edge of the village, lived the Ingleby’s, heavily related to and implicated with those involved in the 1605 Guy Fawkes gunpowder conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament.  There’s some good people round here!

The 700-year-old castle still remains in the Ingleby family but is now a neat manicured family home/castle/manor house,  with extensive gardens, tea rooms, souvenir shops, a lake with a small waterfall, and long county walks.  It has become the poshest and most popular place in Yorkshire to have your wedding and you can hire it for grouse shooting, antique fairs and such like county pursuits.

We dined, Patricia and I, as the guests of Sir Thomas and Lady Ingleby, in the panelled library of the Castle.  Cromwell had dined here, in the very same room, shortly after the battle of Marston Moor, in 1644.    While he dined, Sir William Ingleby, a staunch catholic royalist and the then owner of the castle, who had fled from the bloody fields of the Marston Moor rout of the King’s Army, to his home in the castle, hid from Cromwell and his troops in the castle priest hole.

So, when the royal toast was proposed, I raised my glass of Yorkshire beer and toasted, quietly, under my breath, Oliver Cromwell.

Crofts, Ernest, 1847-1911; Cromwell after the Battle of Marston Moor

Cromwell on the march after the Battle of Marston Moor

We were told the tale of Cromwell and his soldiers arriving at the castle, weary and tired, their boots, horses, armour and swords stained with the blood of the battle, seeking entry for the night.   The sister of sir William refused to open the castle gates and a tense stand off ensued with Cromwell demanding entry and Sir William’s sister, known as Trooper Jane Ingleby, denying it.    Of course, Yorkshire common sense prevailed, and the gates were eventually opened.


It occurred to me that what he should have done, Cromwell, to gain entry, was to shout up at Jane on the battlements, “We’ve booked it for a wedding”


To Ripon next, about half an hour on the bus.   It has the appearance of a smallish country town; market square, town hall, war memorial, old buildings, some of them timbered, that sort of thing.  But it has a cathedral.  Massive.  As big as St. Paul’s in London and it’s a puzzle as why such a quaint country town should have such a monster size cathedral.   But it’s a very cool place to visit.  It has been a place of prayer since 670, perhaps even before that. The cathedral is built over the original little 670 chapel of St Wilfred.  You can go down a steep winding stone staircase to the chapel itself, a small stone room not much bigger than a smallish garden shed.   I sat in the stone chapel a little while, on my own.  Thought it could do with a bit of a refurbishment.

Back up in the cathedral I sat and listened to a choir practice and saw this strange creature carved on one of the stalls of the choir. choir stalls 2   They are peaceful places such cathedrals, even if like me, you have no faith, worship no God and follow no religion.   There is an elegance in the soaring architecture, the stained glass and the low lighting.I lit a candle for our son Gavan who was taken from us earlier this year and sat and thought about him for a while.    owen ripon cathedral

And I stumbled across these five panels mounted behind the alter in the chapel of peace and justice, dedicated to the poet Wilfred Owen and engraved with words taken from his poetry.


A bloke on the bus had recommended I go for a pint at the Royal Oak in Ripon and as it was only 100 yards or so from the cathedral I took up his suggestion and so found myself in this proper ancient Yorkshire pub with black beams and real Yorkshire horse brasses and copper topped tables.   It was renowned, the Royal Oak, for its food.   There was an all-day full Yorkshire breakfast, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Yorkshire sausages, Yorkshire beef pies, Yorkshire Barnsley chops, Yorkshire pikelets, Yorkshire vegetable soup, Yorkshire cheeses and sticky Yorkshire toffee pudding with Yorkshire custard.

I asked if they had any Lancashire hotpot.   They were very rude to me!  pint at ripon

But the beer was cracking, and for the beer alone I would always return to North Yorkshire, it was brewed in Saltare and by gum it wer good.

There’s not much else to see in Ripon, I had lunch, as one would while up north, in Greggs, a cup of tea and a steak bake, and wondered about the charity shops and into a large store called “The Yorkshire Trading Company” – a sort of cross between Woolworths and the Co-op, most notable for its clothing department which seemed to consist entirely of tweed jackets and flat caps, a sort of national dress in North Yorkshire, although I didn’t see any dog leads.   Whippets don’t kick in till you reach the County Durham Border.

There’s a plaque to Wilford Owen on one of the side streets, 34 Borage lane, where he wrote some of his poems while stationed a t Ripon Army camp, but I couldn’t find it.

And there is a very ancient custom in Ripon whereby each night, at precisely 9pm a man in a three-cornered hat comes out to the war memorial in the market square and blows a horn.   They have not missed a single night since 868 AD.    Well I was not going to hang around Ripon till 9pm but you can see the horn blower on YouTube, here   http://bit.ly/2Ra6Lz7    it’s worth watching till the end, to catch a real touch of Yorkshire charm and wit.  And if you are quick you can see the Greggs shop where I had my cup of tea and steak pie.

I was rather taken with the Yorkshire accent.  It has a real warmth to it and was surprisingly familiar for my mother hailed from Yorkshire and I was born in York so it was good to hear again the lilt and music of it.   If you holiday in France or Italy it would be natural to try and learn a phrase or two of the local language to help you navigate the days, how to order a cup of tea, or a beer, how to buy a bus ticket, that sort of thing.   So why not, I thought, a few Yorkshire phrases?     Thus it was that I started earwigging Yorkshire conversations and secretly practising the accent.    You may not believe me about this but below is an actual conversation I overheard between two Yorkshire ladies, sitting on the seat in front of me, on the number 36 bus to Leeds.  It was so good I had to write it down.  I swear to god this is a genuine conversation.

1st lady:

“ee, it wer right windy last week.  Theay don’t mek clothespegs like theay used ‘ter.  Our Frank’s trousers blew right off washing line, we ‘anvnt seen em since.

2nd lady.

“Yer’d might get sum proper pegs off ee. Bay”

I looked out the window at the passing countryside, hoping to see Frank’s Yorkshire trousers billowing across the dales, but they had long gone.   Probably somewhere over Scotland by now.   But I was encouraged in my wish to learn a phrase or two

I had worked on it.  In the “bath”  and on the “grass”  (with a short “a”) on long  country walks, and now here I was, waiting for the big red Yorkshire bus to Harrogate, determined to put it into practice.   What I meant to say, I didn’t in the end, but what I meant to say was

“ Eee by Gum, ‘ow much is ‘ticket ter ‘arrowgute?”

I glad that I didn’t.   Bus driver was from Poland.

Aye Elvis.

Elvis tribute actI went to see “Aye, Elvis”.   It was such good fun. It’s a  musical.  So poignant ,  I laughed tears and wept at the pathos.   A Scottish woman, leading desperately lonely life, looking after her wheelchair bound mother, working for next to nothing as a checkout girl at the local supermarket, not well educated but the salt of the earth.  From Aberdeen.  Who have you heard of from Aberdeen?      At a local pub karaoke competition she performs an Elvis number.  In pure Scottish, if yer ken wha I mean.

Arre ye lonsime ta neet

De ye miss me ta neet

Ah yer sorrie  wer driffin apairt

She was awful but she is convicted she has it nailed.  She puts her whole heart into it  and it was a joy to watch and to listen to. She wins the £20 karaoke prize and emboldened by the win she buys herself a full glittery sequined Elvis jump  suit and enters a national Elvis Tribute competition And it is glorious, she puts her heart into it.  And it is funny and poignant.  But she’s noo good enough.  There is a happy romantic ridicules ending full of pathos and Elvis songs.   Ahh, its such fun, just what the festival is all about.  Five stars from me.


Private Peaceful – review.

morpengoMorpurgo;s  Private Peaceful is very disappointing.   Perhaps we expected too much after the stunning writing of War Horse, , its astonishing stage production and the film.  Or perhaps World War 1, as a vehicle for drama has passed its peak and needs to take a rest.

Of course one reason may be that without the need of any spoiler alert, we all know the end of the story. it is a universal and self evident truth that a world war one rank and file soldier, executed by firing squad is invariably innocent, has been treated unfairly and unjustly and his killing is a tragedy.

But this was a poor production.   As Private peaceful recalls for us, on stage, his life we see him terrified and traumatised by the horrors of  trench warfare.  He cowers under the barrage of artillery.   We all know, particularly from War Horse, what can be achieved on a stage, but here, the soundtrack of the gunfire and artillery is almost in the background and has none of the volume and horror that would induce the kind of terror and trauma being enacted upon the stage.  It is as if they had got a bog standard recording of  gunfire/artillery from Bargain sound effects for your drama group.com    One would reasonably, I think, expect to flinch from the sounds/ horror of a full scale artillery bombardment, but in truth, you could hear a crisp packet rustle.     And the shots that bring Private Peaceful’s life to an end, surely they could have been loud enough to shock us in our seats, just a little bit?

The story was not as powerful as I had imagined it would be.  Almost every cliche of world war one was thrown in.   Below age signing on;  close friend signing on with you;  friend getting killed;  nasty shouting sgt.:  weak officer;  girlfriend back home; letters about babies.

I have not read the book and cannot say whether this was an accurate reflection of Morpurgo’s  work.  If it is then Private Peaceful is not his finest hour..






Part 2:  A New Presidential election is Imperative.

This is a follow up to a piece I wrote back in 2012 entitled “The RTE have tarnished the Presidency” (http://bit.ly/2MoCa1Q

It is widely accepted that Trump secured the presidency of the United States of America with the help of some dodgy tactics, fake news, manipulation of social media and a ruthless disregard of ethics.

Let us accept that is true.

When it comes to manipulation of  social media and fake news then it worth recalling how Michael Higgins became President of Ireland.

He, personally played no part in the social media manipulation and the fake news that swamped the electoral process won him the election.   But he was, and remains,  the principal beneficiary of a manipulative process that effectively stained the election and stained the office of the presidency.

Let us recall.

We are a small country and national television debates have a markedly greater effect here than they might in a country with a massive population and many many cities and centres of population.      So it was that our most important TV station, deploying its most notable and expensive presenters, and having the most sophisticated monitoring  process  for   filtering “public” contributions and participation in their programmes, (and a wealth of experience in so doing), allowed a entirely fake social media account to plant an entirely fake story, at the prime moments of the principal national debate and  to entirely destroy the campaign of the then frontrunner.    No not just the front runner.  Sean Gallagher was way ahead, no one could catch him and no one would have caught him had it not been for the fake account, the fake allegation and RTE’s role in allowing it to run.

One of our major political parties,  Sinn Fien, was responsible for the fake news, manipulative attack, and they were aided by a supine RTE.

It undermined the integrity of the election and, in my view the integrity of the Presidency.

So now, when we have to consider whether there should be a new Presidential election or whether we should allow President Higgins into a second term without having to face the electorate, then let us remember what occurred.

It is, in my view imperative there be an election to clear the Presidential electoral process of the legacy of a fake news, manipulated unpleasant odour that saw the wrong candidate win.   Or perhaps, for I am a supporter of Michael D, the right candidate win for the wrong reasons.

Of course Michael D should stand, again if so wishes and if he does he would certainly be the candidate that I would support.  But not to have an election is to give legitimacy to the fake news manipulative process that took over the election, for if we are authentic in our collective condemnation of fake news, Trump and all that goes with it, then we owe it to ourselves.