Friday, January 22, 2010

Some of the people some of the time

Economist and Author David McWilliams gathered the best minds of the Irish Diaspora to Farmleigh from September 19-20 for an Irish Economic Crisis Conference.

‘‘a national effort to reach out to the most successful and influential members of Ireland’s diaspora to facilitate their work and contribution to economic recovery’’. 

'And what was the result of this wonderful meeting', you ask?

I  cannot re-seal a vacuum, nor not keep a shared secret...y'see, at Farmeligh, when all the land's intelligentsia had been gathered together from the three corners of the globe, by Royal Summons no less, the talks began and the hot air rose and rose and soon, even the building swelled with their importance and Farmleigh got bigger and bigger and was fit to bust with all the ideas and brainwaves bandying about, pushing at out the doors and windows, suffocating for the lack of air, and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't get out of the way fast enough when King Cowan took the microphone, for they knew it was going to blow, or so they thought, but alack, all he did was glare at them, for having sucked them dry of ideas and soaked up their limelight with one fell yawn, he knew, right there and then, that he could fool all of them all of the time, while standing on one leg, and so he said nought (of importance), burped a little, and smiled that knowing, wry little smile, and the whole house settled back down on their hinds and after they were foddered, they all left for the other, bigger house to speak in tongues and relate all they had seen and heard, but they were put under a spell by the wicked witch with the whip and they all forgot the wondrous ideas they'd been told and they fell asleep for forty days, and not long later a handsome prince came among them and kissed Queen Harney on both cheeks, breaking the spell and they awoke, stretched (the truth and our patience), and went off on their holidays for Christmas and they all lived happlily ever after!

The end.....!

Or somewhat loike that I guess! (unless you heard different)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Men at Work at Christmas

A lot has been said in the past year about our public servants and their easy terms of employment. Some of the criticism is no doubt warranted, but I would like to publicly thank the 4 men from Galway County Council's Water Department (Spiddal/Moycullen area) who today, the 31st of December at 3pm, arrived out to my house and identified and fixed a burst water main under the frozen road at Paddys Cross, Barna.

Our house was a disaster over Christmas. We had had no water pressure since the 23rd of December and put it down to either frozen pipes inside my house, or more likely a drop in mains pressure owing to the common practice of home and business-owners opening their taps up during a cold-snap in order to prevent their water pipes from freezing. Thats all very well, but multiply that by every house and business and farm in the west of Ireland and you soon realise that water, while plentiful in Galway this year, what with the floods and all in October and November, will pretty soon become a scarce commodity if everyone is letting our potable water run off into the drains, just to stop it freezing!

My wife worked over Christmas in the hospital and had nowhere to shower or wash, or clean uniforms etc. My two teenage daughters fled the roost shortly after Christmas day, declaring our house 'The Pits' and my son and I, well we had stuiff to do, like hefting 35 x 5 liter bottles of water each day up to the attic and filling our water tank. At least we worked up an appetite for the left-over Turkey!

As it turned out many areas around Galway have had similar water problems all over Christmas and the New Year and no doubt many more will suffer similarly, after the thaw, when leaks and burst pipes will re-open and many families like ours, will have had to shower and otherwise cope with pails of water drawn from relatives or neighbors houses. It re-affirms my belief that water is the next big commodity in the world and investment in infrastructure, particularly in water systems is of paramount importance for Ireland as quality and renewable supplies of potable water becomes a more and more scarce resource.

I didn't see any county engineers or managers in their expensed cars running around making sure essential services were maintained over the holiday period. Similarly, no one made announcements on Galway Bay FM or in the local papers. No special notices were posted on the Galway county and city councils websites or answering machines! And I know they were not manning their department desks because I had called every number I could get my hands on from 26th December to the 30th, seeking some re-assurance on my water supply's restoration. I even phoned the police and fire service, wondering if they had numbers that might lead to someone on duty over Christmas, all to no avail.

In the end, I phoned the County Council Water Dept on the 30th, when they re-opened after the holidays and the lady who answered helpfully told me that her family in Moycullen also had no water since Stephen's day! Misery indeed does love company! Anyway, she promised to let the Spiddal work crew know and sure enough on the evening of the 31st, a very busy, Mickey Faherty showed up with his rather intrigueing 'listening device'. In fairness to him, in no time at all he had verified that it was a mains problem (not frozen pipes in my house, which I would have believed) and he called his work crew, who were finishing off another leak in the locality. They arrived and within one hour had fixed the problem and restored water to us.

I took this photo of them repairing the broken mains pipe at 4.30pm on New Year's Eve, of the men, their digger being ably supervised by my son, our dog Puff and the two snowmen we had made the night before as a complete co-incidence. All they were missing were two shovels to lean on!

So, spare a thought for these 4 men from Galway County Council, and indeed the many other teams from the fire departments and the city and county councils have been working non-stop, in terribly cold conditions over the past week, to ensure a happy Christmas for those of us suffering from a water shortage this winter.  They are the €10 per hour workers keeping the front line services open. These are the same workers who just had their wages cut twice last year by the government Budgets.

Thanks again guys and I hope you all enjoyed a Happy New Year, at home with your families.

Christmas Letter

December 2009

Hard to believe that a whole year has whooshed by again, but time and tide (and Christmas shopping) wait for no man and inevitably, the first Christmas card dropped into our letter-box around the 20th of November. Too early one might say for good manners, yet late enough not to be confused with a delayed Halloween card. This year’s first card was special though, as the card was over-sized, under-stamped and out of date! Naturally we wondered who might have sent it. A favourite aunt, a neighbour from the past, a former classmate? Our first card is usually from someone we are unrelated to, have never met, never heard of and never did business with. One year it even came from our local politician, the one we didn’t vote for!

No, this time it was from none of the above, because, surprise, surprise, it came from me!

Yes, it was a card I had belatedly sent on last Christmas eve, to friends I had forgotten, overlooked in the Christmas rush and hadn’t sent a card to, but they hadn’t forgotten us and so mine was one of those cards that one hurriedly pens at the 11th hour, embarrassed at ones tardiness and forgetfulness. This one was particularly nice, a charity card, from last year’s Parkinson’s batch, with a scene that wasn’t quite appropriate, but I liked, for its quirkiness.

Anyway, suffice it to say, the sentiment was long-winded, the glue was over-licked, the stamp upside-down and the address, yes, the most important piece, was incomplete and faded to a blue smudge, unlike my return address, a day-glow sticker, still attached to the upper left hand corner. Don’t ask me? It could have been the heavy rain last December, or that impromptu session at Donnelly’s Pub on Christmas Eve, but either way, it just never stood a chance of being delivered anywhere, even by the most enthusiastic Poirrot-like Postie.

And so it came to pass that my mis-directed missive came to rest in a fold at the bottom of an old, damp post-bag somewhere in Barna’s little post-office, where it lay forgotten all Spring, and Summer, and Halloween, until last week, when the first of the seasonal staff was told to get the bags down from storage and start delivering the Holiday mail! No doubt even the postman was surprised to see this letter from the past in his bag this morning, but true to the motto on his badge, the heavy rains and floods of this November did not stop him bringing it back to the sender! So Merry Christmas you, our friend, you know who you are, and thanks for your early card this year! We will be sure to include you in our first tranche this year!

By the time you receive this note, the girls will have finished their Christmas exams in Galway University, (3rd Commerce and 2nd Psychology resp). David will have put away his trumpet after playing with the carollers in Shop Street for his School’s adopted charity, ‘To Russia (with love)’, that send toys and clothing to orphanages in the former Soviet satellite states, and we will be stuffing the Turkey for Christmas dinner with the grand- parents at our house in Barna. So, another Christmas, another year coming to a close, and another chance for us to say thanks for all we have, thanks to all our friends and may you all have a lovely Christmas holiday, happy, safe and healthy.

Merry Christmas Everybody

Winter 1962/63 v's 2009/2010 - Walking on thin Ice - Priceless

An old schoolmate of mine reminded me of the wonderland that was Loughrea when the lake froze over in 1963, him having heard a cautionary interview on Radio the day before about walking on thin ice.

Though just a kid I remember being part of a group walking across the lake from Long Point to Cooreen, via Island McHugo and the Bishop's. I was just talking to my sister about it yesterday, recounting Norman Morgan's attempt to prove that Volkswagen Beetles were capable of floating...well of Ice-Roadin' at least, before the car went through the ice at the Grove at the County Home. She told me about the parties the teenagers had on the smaller Islands beyond the barracks and the few Tynagh Mine-brats' who actually had real Ice-Skates. One couple had brought real snow Skis from Canada with them! What were they thinking when they emigrated to the west of Ireland?

Dad built us a toboggan, a wooden sled on which he dragged a bunch of us across the frozen lake pulling the rope with one hand, while holding four rather bemused looking greyhounds on leashes with the other. I remember being simultaneously terrified of drowning in an icy hole in the middle of the lake, while wishing this magical dream would never end!

My memories are those of a child, no doubt exaggerated and inaccurate, but I remember what seemed like the whole town being out on the ice that time. I still have memories of skimming stones at Flaggy Meadow, the stones bouncing and skidding for hundreds of yards across the frozen lake waters. The bigger boys competing, 'can you make the island with the next stone' and 'mine went a half-a-mile, way past yours'. The eerie echo of the ice cracking and the stones zing-ing, ricocheting and thunking across the unexpected artic plain, and the silence only punctuated by the nervous excited cries of children with their mouths agog at the impossibility of walking on water.

Later on I remember the ice thawing and our parents being more cautious about letting us wander near the lake. Nonetheless I remember an older boy crashing through the ice at Flaggy Meadow, opposite O'Briens and watching in horror as he struggled, knowing for sure, he was going to drown, watching helplessly as a child does, recording his inevitable demise, only to see him rise like a phoenix, as he successively clambered up on, and broke through plate after plate of ice, until he reached a shallow enough point to finally get back up on the ice. Funny thing I remember going through the ice myself at the back of the Temperance hall, sliding along the frozen slides and suddenly being neck deep in very cold water. The thing is, I don't remember going home to change, we just continued playing on our new winter playground. No wonder I had asthma as a kid!

But no-one died, nor even had a bad fall it seemed, only great gobs of innocent fun! No X-Box back then!
I recall visiting the islands in our boat years later and seeing the remains of the bonfires the older teenagers lit to enjoy their illicit beers and late-night sing-songs and surreptitious snogs on a heretofore inaccessible part of their town. The scandal of what went on at those parties seems to have been more the talk of the town than the absolute lifetime event of being able to Jesus-walk across the lake to see the Bishops Palace!

Yes indeed, looking back now, we really did have an impoverished and dull childhood in Loughrea in the sixties. Nothing exciting ever happened back then! Duh!

And so, yesterday, and admiddedly, initially with great trepidation, I walked and kicked a soccer ball from Long Point to Fair Green, with my 10-year old son David, his buddy Breffni, and my friends, Brian and Paddy, on the frozen lake at Loughrea. This is the first time since 1963 that the whole lake has frozen so completely over, though it did freeze pretty hard too in 1982 as the younger Paddy and Brian reminded me, the old man.

Dull, sleeting and very cold...but the lake was a magical playground. Frozen completely, up to 4 inches thick where we checked one ice-hole off Long Point where someone tried ice-fishing in...though not all of the lake is walkable especially near Island McHugo, where a fiercely audible ice-crack sent us scampering like frightened lemmings back towards the relative safety of the Point.

Hundreds of people were wandering on the ice all day (indeed all week apparently)...we saw 2 teenage girls with ice skates, that were capably navigating the biggest ice-rink in Ireland. One guy with snow skis, (he's from Tynagh, brought them back from San Francisco 3 years ago...what was he thinking when he remigrated back here?) and a carefree geezer on a push-bike, buzzed us twice, meandering happily all over the lake, beaming in his hi-viz jacket!

Poles, Brazillians and Latvians mixed with equally bemused's become quite the tourist attraction...even the guardai were chilling...not interfering. No sign of anyone taking a car out on the ice yet, though I suspect it would bear it. Baffle were preparing for a hot-wine and poetry reading sessiun on the little crannog island behind the Barracks at 4.30pm.....I wish we could've waited!

Perhaps little David will catch it next time round, maybe with his son! There are some things money just can't buy! Walking on thin ice with your son...Priceless!