Saturday, June 24, 2006

The day I quit as an Altar Boy. The Genesis of success!!??

I was an altar boy for a few years in the 1960s when I was about 11 or 12 years old. It was technically an interesting little job. It made you feel important and it was a bit like acting out a play on stage. Most of my altar boy peers were also school pals and we used to have fun. There was always something to have a laugh about, usually without the priests knowing about it.

When I was an altar boy it was just before full English mass so we had to know a lot of Latin responses etc. Priests were major figures of authority to us of course and they would often criticise us after Mass for little mistakes and we took it seriously but then got over it quickly.

However I recall one incident when I was serving at an early Sunday morning Mass. I was helping with Communion distribution. This involved following along beside the priest at the rails as he put Communion onto each person's tongue. My job was to hold a gold plate - called the paten - under each person's chin to collect fragments of Holy Communion particles which might fall as the priest delivered the Communion to the person's tongue.

After Communion I was also supposed to bring the paten up to the altar so that the priest could wipe the Communion dust from the paten back into the chalice. This normally was quite a routine exercise. However, on this occasion as I started to walk up the steps to the altar the priest gestured to me from the altar with his hands that he didn't want me to come up.

Strange, I thought. I was confused. I looked down at the paten in my hand and there were clearly some particles of Communion dust on the paten. Normally my next task was to put the paten into a padded cloth storage glove. However I had the dilemma of the Communion dust. I surely can't put this in with Jesus dust on it!!?? But the priest doesn't want me to bring it to him.

I felt I had to think fast and I made an executive decision. I dusted the Communion particles off the paten myself with the back of my hand! However just as I did it I felt that maybe I had been too hasty. I looked up at the altar to see if the priest had noticed.

Oh yes he had noticed - big time! There was absolute fury on the priest's face as he looked down at me and I froze in fear. I also felt that the entire congregation in the church was witnessing my error through the priest's visible wrath. It was like a judge handing down a sentence and the entire courtroom agreeing with the guilty verdict. I could almost hear ghostly words from the priest's facial expression....

Only an ordained priest handles Holy Communion! And YOU....YOU...YOU touched the sacred Holy communion and much more besides. YOU threw bits of Jesus Christ all over the floor!! YOU ARE CONDEMNED!!!

The mass was almost over and I was freaking in fear as we went through the closing formalities. Finally when Mass ended, myself and the three other altar boys marched with the priest in procession style off the altar and into the sacristy.

What would happen to me now? The priest turned around and calmly blessed us as he always did after Mass. Then he said to us warmly and softly "Thank you boys" as he always did.

I was starting to feel signs of relief. But then he suddenly walked to me and turned from a Dr. Jekyll calm to a Mr. Hyde rage....


What followed was a blur of loud verbal anger and major admonishment. It was severe, long lasting and terrifying. I can't even remember what he was just a torrent of pure rage. We all had a huge respect for priests - they were like Gods, everything they said was absolutely correct. So a litany of abuse like this from a priest to a child was like being made more than worthless in the extreme. I would have much preferred if he had just hit me instead, as teachers did.

As we left the sacristy I do recall one of my pals saying to me - "Jaysus! That was rough, are ye alright?" The other two boys remained silent and it looked like the intensity of the barrage had shaken them up a bit too.

We went our separate ways and I remember running home full of guilt and fear. My mother turned white when she saw me coming in the door visibly very upset. She thought something terrible had happened. She had to hold me by both shoulders, eyeball me and talk assertively to stop me shaking. She tried to get sense out of me and halt my hyperventilating.

When she heard what I had done my mother was the parent of dreams. She was kind, helpful, played it all down, brought me back from hell. My mother was a very serious Catholic but her relationship with God was a soft personal friendship. She knew I was not evil and as I listened to her a calmness slowly descended.

But I never went back to the church as an altar boy. I never wanted to hear rage like that again from a priest.

As I write this and reflect also on other incidents, it helps me to clarify a few things in my head about myself. I think I grew up into early adulthood with some fear and discomfort towards people who had strong authority over me, especially if it seemed badly used and was accompanied by anger. I also had a few part time jobs in my teens with absolutely moronic bosses.

I think it all helped me to develop over time some goals. The initial and most basic goal was that I was determined to work in a carreer in which I was respected as a person. This, coupled with a natural interest in science and technology, helped to drive me forward educationally. When I eventually graduated and worked in various large companies things were good. However I still felt some imprint of unease in a general sense at authority. This would apply in a moderate level to either individual bosses or - in the case of multi-nationals - of faceless forces who could control my own and other's direction and fate. I suppose it was one factor in getting out of it all and forming my own company, although there were other better reasons. I find I can cope with and enjoy challenges, pressures and deadlines from customers and even worries of failure much better than dealing with powerful - and especially unpredictable - figures of authority.

So who knows - often dark clouds have a silver lining.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bebo...I think it's good

My three daughters (aged 16-22) use Bebo almost daily as do every one of their friends.

I put myself up on Bebo for a laugh and to learn more about it. It generated great amusement by my daughters and their pals for awhile that a 50+ dude would be on Bebo. The comments were generous though!

My overall view is that Bebo is quite a good service and particularly suited to Ireland in my opinion. Here is why I think it's good...

1. It is sociable and has helped young people network with both friends and friends of friends and school peer groups etc. It has been said that in Ireland everyone is almost a friend of a friend away from everyone else.

2. It encourages less time watching TV and using computer games so creates some balance.

3. It facilitates a certain amount of creative imagination and freedom of expression in sharing writing, pictures, video etc. It's hardly the stuff of genius but it's a start. Some of the participants are certainly hilarious and have good imaginations.

4. It's well used as a free alternative to mass texting and is great for organising parties and outings. When pals are abroad it's just as easy to stay in touch. It also marries well with Skype for talking free PC to PC.

One possible negative I notice is that a lot of macho talk goes on especially in relation to joking on male-female stuff and relationships generally. I could imagine a degree of bullying might simmer. However it's such an exposed medium that I think it tends to find it's limitations and gets sorted by good peer group pressures. Of course Bebo also has internal mechanisms to report and deal with bad behaviour.

Bebo is hugely popular and it's biggest advantage is that it's a good tool for fun sociable interactions and keeping and extending networks of pals.

Monday, June 19, 2006 pains me to say more.

So much has been written in the last few days following the funeral. It will continue and become more interesting, complex and revealing. To quote Churchill following the defeat of Rommel in North Africa in WWII - "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning".

I wrote a short piece on Haughey on the day of his death and I wanted to leave it there. The man pains me too much and has always done so since I was in my teens. I decided to try and move on by writing on Joyce's Ulysses on his funeral day (the old goat probably smiled from the grave at being buried on Bloomsday like another little man - Paddy Dignam). I've read many interesting things in recent days which were tempting to comment on. However I wasn't going to bother at all until I read John Waters in the Irish Times today.

I've respect for John Waters, a great writer, and I've agreed with him so many times. I can also forgive him for writing in my opinion a total load of rubbish on Haughey today. However, there is something much more sinister about what John wrote today which represents a bigger picture. It's the effect Haughey has had on intelligent people. It must be something approaching witchcraft. What else could make an intelligent man say about Haughey "He showed us a way we might live, by living it himself. That this emerged as another illusion was part of its value". I don't like just pulling out one part of his article, but the entire piece builds a picture of Haughey as showing the way for the masses who had it hard.

What bothers me is that so many good people were beguiled by Haughey. It was at it's most dangerous at the attempted illegal import of arms which could have easily caused a civil war bloodbath in Northern Ireland. As a Government Minister at the time he certainly (along with others) at the very least offered a quasi-morality to the acceleration of the Provisional IRA. He thought he was backing the winning game and of course when it went pear-shaped and he was caught - it was into his favourite pastime of lying and cheating his way out of trouble. I lived through all this as a teenager and I was in my 20s when my jaw dropped (along with Jack Lynch and most of the nation) as he became leader of Fianna Fail. His ability to beguile was laid bare for all. And yet supporters of Fianna Fail voted for him. Business men gave him truck loads of money, he tapped phones, he continued borrowing and swept the country into crippling debt. At it's peak I remember him in a televised pre-election debate with Garret Fitzgerald saying that Ireland had a good credit standing abroad for borrowing...i.e. let's keep doing it. He was proved to owe hugely in personal tax from wrongly channeled donations over his time as leader of the country and only made limited settlements recently when fully cornered. The beguiled authorities couldn't see fit to have him trialed and jailed.

What possessed Ben Dunne to give him so much money - 1.3 million? He spoke after Haughey's death on RTE radio that he felt guilty of the pain he caused Charlie after this (he generously gives Haughey money AND manages to feel guilty!!). Ben then said his own biggest weakness is his own BRAIN . Frightening stuff. More beguiling of a successful businessman - reduced to self criticism and self doubt.

There is so much more, not to mention Haughey's cheating on his poor wife, but I've had enough of him. I'm all spent, I was weakened and let down by a leader whose salary I paid. I feel a bit like Scott of Antarctica as he awaited death in the frozen wastelands...."It seems a pity but I don't think I can write any more".

However I hope many more keep writing on Haughey. It needs to be said.

Friday, June 16, 2006


It's Bloomsday.

I've been a part time student of James Joyce's Ulysses for years. I use the word student carefully as I believe it's not a book anyone can take lightly and just "read" it.

There have been times when I've agreed with Roddy Doyle that Ulysses needed a damn good editor to shorten it. However I can never help dipping back into it in phases and researching or learning more from it. I like it on many levels....

* In a simplistic way, as a Dubliner I enjoy it. It's full of places I know well. Also, some of the little expressions which come out in dialogue remind me of things I heard my paternal grandparents saying. A small example would be a description of Paddy Dignam at his funeral..."As decent a little man as ever wore a hat." My Grandad was always using such an expression. I've heard many say that it's a book that is better read out loud, and there is some truth in this. I think there are some parts of the book where you can just chill out and have a laugh, you don't always have to take it so seriously and it includes many interesting working class characters.

* Some of the descriptive images were very powerful. Stephen's description of his mother and her death are very strong. Even a simple description of the sea by Buck Mulligan will strike a chord with many people used to the Dublin coastline..."The snot-green sea...the scrotum tightening sea."

* Its depths and paralleling are of course hunting grounds for scholars. The Homer parallels and the little linked events in different chapters. Then of course each chapter is often in a different style altogether, it's almost like reading multiple but linked stories from different writers. And we have the Stream of Consciousness revised style at the time.

* In another way I'm interested in Joyce's wonderful blend of Dublin and Irishness and the greater World. He is a very free spirit globally. We see considerable analysis of Shakespeare's work and other English writers and Greek literature of course. I can't yet figure out if he was before his time in his view of Irishness or was somewhat taken in by the strong English influence on the artistic Dublin at the time - which maybe encouraged the wider global study. I suppose both views are compatible. There is mention of the Irish language in the book and Irish heritage but it seems subdued and almost strikes one as being of historical interest. The Irish freedom struggle from England is not given any serious analysis to the best of my recollection. This is interesting even though it would have been highly topical as he wrote Ulysses from 1914-1921(albeit abroad), but maybe in the setting of 1904 it was less topical. Joyce clearly liked Dublin and had strong memories as an exile. He used to say he felt he never left Dublin in his heart.

* Some of the beauty of Ulysses is that it constantly causes debate and analysis of meaning for scholars. This is assisted by Joyce's refusal afterwards to offer any help in answering detailed questions on the book. Nothing like a bit of innuendo to get literary sleuths excited.

I could waffle on longer about Ulysses, but one think is certain. The book is considered essential study for literary scholars Worldwide and by many as one of the most important works of literature in the last century. And it is all set on one summer day in Dublin - 102 years ago today. What a national treasure for us.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Charles J. Haughey died today

Well well, the man has passed away. Much will be said. I wonder how many times in the next week we will hear the Shakespearean quotation...."I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him!"

I think it's all best summed up by Fine Gael's Alan Dukes who was quoted as saying that Haughey was a gifted politician who ultimately wasted his talents - "I have never known anybody with such ability and who squandered it all spectacularly. It was incredible".

Footnote 6.00pm....

Speaking of Shakespeare - I almost forgot that Haughey quoted Othello when he resigned as Taoiseach around 1992 - "I have done the State some service." Things are bad when you need to go for self praise in a resignation speech. I head a cynical re-parsing of above recently for Mr. Haughey...

"I have DONE the State. Some service!"

DANGER - Daughter on route to domestic training....

Our middle daughter has just turned 20 and has finished 2nd year as student nurse. She travelled last week with a pal to Vancouver, Canada, for 3 months summer work. She is staying in dorm in a University. She is a little too used to home comforts as you will notice from below e-mail she sent me today...unedited from her text style and typos....

Hi dad,

Could u do a favour and print this letter off for mum to read or else read it to her. I thought you should both know how your favourite daughter had a reality check yesterday due to a sheltered life of never doing chores!!

So I woke up and decided I would have some breakfast only to discover I only had rashers, no bread, no drink. So a very parched Jill decided it was time to do a shop. Out came my big rucksack and down I treked to the bus stop. Got onto the bus and travelled the 7 minutes to the closest "tesco" as such where I signed up for a discount card because of low funds. I travelled up and down each aisle remembering that this is wat my good mother does so she dusnt forget anything!! I was quite chuffed with myself I bought lots of healthy things and it wasnt so expensive. I bought basmati rice, chicken fillets, tikka masala sauce, yogurts orange juice, spaghetti, soup apple juice oh and of course chicken nuggets n chips!!

So off i went after packing it into my bag. It weighed a tonne!!!! My poor back was broken....and i had to walk UP the hill to the bustop. I then got off a bus stop too late and had to walk 15 mins to our house by which stage my back was as gud as done in!!

So I made it home in one piece. I had bought myself all these nice foods......but i forgot i dont even no how to boil the rice!!! So all the girls had a great time laughing at me try to put my dinner together wondering where id been living all my life. But in the end I was quite proud of myself. With alot of help I barbqued a chicken fillet and cut it up n simmered it in tikka masala sauce and had it with the basmati rice!! It was the best and most proper meal Iv had since I got here!! I had a yop to follow and felt so much better !! Didnt realize I was eating so badly!! Anyways so I had learnt how to boil rice, cook chicken and masala sauce and how to shop for myslef and get the bus alone......wat else did i need to do? oh yes clean up after myself. So I had to go into the kitchen for 40 minutes and scrub all the pots and pans my plates and knives and forks ect. ect.

Then it dawned on me its Sunday....therefore its chore day in the house which means evryone is given a chore to do. Mine is to sweep and scrub down the second floor corridor......which I am realizing at 9pm. So up i go to my room and i realize i dont have any clothes to put on cuz ther ALL DIRTY. So once again the girls came to the rescue...i had to sort out my whites from my dark colours and bright colours and woollens from something else ITS ALL SO CONFUSING!! i had to trek three flights of stairs to put my washing on. Then back up the stair to sweep the corridor. Then I had to bleach and clean the mop and bucket with boiling hot water which i scorched my feet with on numerous occasions!! Then out to the corridor where I scrubbed it from top to bottom......

At this stage its almost midnight and the sweat was dripping of me. I went down the three flights of stairs to get my washing and put a new load on.....I didnt have money to put clothes into the drier so i had to hang my pants and clothes around the room...i then cleaned my room made my bed and then went bak down to get the second load of washing ad hang them around my room...

Finally i got into bed about 2am absolutly wiped ........and i no its only a matter of days before i have to do it all again....AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So growing up sucks......Im not enjoying doing chores MOMMY!!!! I DONT WANT TO CLEAN ANYMORE!!!!

u wont even recognize me wen i get home if i keep this up!!! anyway thought ud find this email amusing...i will not take u for granted anymore mother...........this is NOT fun!!!!

Other than my chores i still absolutely love vancouver and as hard as all my chores where it was actually very funny we all had a great time laughin at my expense!!! so for now its slightly amusing....!!!!

Still waiting to hear back on sum jobs....other then that not much news!! Gettin on great with aisling and all the girls in the house are lovely!!

Better go make sum breakfast.........

Ill call u guys soon!!!

Love ya lots!!

x xx x x

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Busy Saturday

Today has been busy. In morning I cut the grass and attacked some ivy which was attacking our shed and did general tidy up. Spousy did more though - washed every window in the house inside and outside - there's about 22 of them.

Whilst having lunch I alternated between England's World Cup opener against Paraguay and the ladies French Open tennis final on TV - I'm an expert channel flicker. I made sure I listened to BBC's experts views at half time and also Dunphy and gang on RTE. Predictably you would think they were commenting on two different matches - BBC guys thought England were playing great, Dunphy and gang didn't.

At 4.00pm I'd an inter-club singles tennis match. It was exhausting and lasted 3 sets and almost 3 hours. It was close but the other guy won. I'm absolutely shagged this evening, can hardly move, I was even too tired to do serious stretches afterwards - hence I can hardly walk. But I better learn as I've more tennis in morning.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

George Lee - The Terminator!

If I listen to one more sentence of Irish economy negativity on programs and news bulletins from RTE's George Lee I think I'll freak. In the last few weeks he has been a right moany Mary! If ever one man has tried his best to talk us into a recession then the nearest I can think of is George Lee.

Look, we all know the economy has benefited from the property boom and of course the scale of the building program and valuations can't last forever. The recent interest rate rises were inevitable eventually - they had dropped to amazingly low levels about 2-4 years ago. But to hint that Ireland in general is in major trouble from changes in the property area and interest rates is very speculative.

Mr. Lee seems to like a bit of one-track journalism to keep his points nice and crisp. On a recent RTE program he augmented his fire and brimestone on property by rattling on about closures of many factories. There will always be businesses closing even in strong economies, especially as trading models change. Furthermore, he did not balance this one bit by mentioning all the new operations which continue to start in Ireland, nor indeed the continued success and growth of many long term large facilities here.

I'm not arguing that the economy and wealth here is going to continue at same pace as previously. However, equally I do not believe there is any strong evidence to suggest it will go into serious decline. We are now a very adaptable and well educated country and have built up a considerble variety of skills in the last few decades. Our English language base is very valuable internationally and we also have good quality labour sources both within and outside the country.

Of course there are challenges ahead, they are always around the corner, but being plummeted by one track negativity by journalist economist (and mainly behaving like the former) George Lee is likely to make many investors unnecessarily nervous. Wow, can you imagine putting George Lee in charge of a sales campaign. He would have all the customers convinced they should buy from the competition.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Perfume - by Patrick Suskind

I just finished reading the above novel. I hadn't heard of it before and it was given to me by a pal to read. I had been telling this pal about my theory of the past being full of bad odours (which was also subject of my blog on 2nd May - "Smell....the sense of the past"). He reckoned I should read this novel "Perfume", and gave me the book (thanks G!).

Patrick Suskind is a German author and the book was originally published in the German language as Das Perfum in 1985. I was a bit nervous that the translation into English might dull the quality of writing. However it still proved to be a colourful and interesting read.

It's a most unusual story. Set in France (mainly in Paris) during the mid 18th century it covers the birth, childhood and adult life of a fictional bizarre man called Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Grenouille was born with an incredible sense of smell (and memory of smells) and also he himself has absolutely no body odour. As he grows up his driven passion of the pursuit of perfection in analysis and derivation of pleasure from odours develops him into a murderer. He also demonstrates phenomenal skills as an expert in the art of perfumery.

The beginning few pages of the book includes an amazing description of the stench of Paris in the mid 1700s. It made me smile as it confirmed even more strongly than I had thought how bad odours were a big feature in the daily routine of life in the distant past.

As I say it's an unusual book and makes you think a bit differently in lots of ways. It's not a bad yarn but of course includes plenty of fantasy. It also covers life in 18th century France quite well. I notice the book has received many good reviews and in fact it's just about to be released as a movie with Dustin Hoffman starring. It also is the featured book this month in Ryan Tubridy's book review club in his RTE morning radio programme.

"Perfume" is unlikely to hit the heights as a major work of literature but it is a different and interesting read. It really makes you think more on the sense of smell.

Friday, June 02, 2006

E.T. Phone Home...1971 style!

I'm a little amused by all the media coverage this week on the changes in Ireland in last 20 years since 1986. I understand and agree with the sentiments expressed but relatively speaking at the time I thought the mid 1980s were not that bad. The 1950s, 60s, and even 70s were considerably worse. Here is a little memory of telecommunications when I was 16...

I was in West Donegal in summer of 1971 camping for a few weeks with my cousin. We cycled there and we spent our time fishing and snorkeling and some rock climbing etc. We had hardly any money and had almost been surviving on what fish we caught! Money got too tight to survive by end of first week so I needed to make a phone call home to Dublin for help. The process of phoning home went like this....

I cycled a few miles to the small Kincasslagh Post Office - making sure to be there at a time when the postmistress was in attendance. In the outside phonebox there was no dialing facility - just a crank handle which generated ringing and alerted the reasonably elderly Postmistress. When she got finished selling some stamps to a customer the Postmistress answered my call...


"I want to make a call to Dublin."

"Dublin!!?" She was almost in shock.

"Ye-yes, please". I was getting a bad feeling.

"Oh God, I can't connect you to Dublin. Is it important?"

"Well, I need my Dad to send me money, I've hardly any left."

"Ach I see. I'm going to have to try to get you through to Lifford first and they can connect to Dublin. Hold on a wee minute." The high pitched but warm West Donegal accent was offering some hope.

I could hear clanking and crackling in the background and then a dull distant ring. A male voice answered as "Lifford".

The postmistress pipped up....

"Hello Lifford. I've a wee fella here who wants to phone Dublin, can you help him?

After exchanging a few pleasantries with Lifford the postmistress hung up and left me talking to the Operator in Lifford.

"So you want to call Dublin?" There was a hint of amusement in his voice. "Well, I got a few calls through to Dublin earlier, so fasten your seat belt! What's the number?" I had a faint worry that he might have misheard me as saying Dubai or some such remote part of the World. But no, he knew I meant Dublin, Ireland.

I could hear him dialing the number I gave on his rotary dial set. On first attempt nothing useful happened. Then he tried again. After a seemingly long pause and crackling I could hear a faint ringback. The Operator was pleased....

"Ah it's ringing!" he exclaimed with glee. I was starting to feel a form of unexpected honour and I began to share his enthusiasm.

I should explain that the number ringing was in a neighbour's house in Dublin as we didn't have a phone in our house. There were a few reasons for this. The initial reason was that we couldn't afford it. In 1971 I would say only maybe one in five of our neighbours had a phone in the house. However my parents then figured it was important and we had applied for a phone earlier that year. The waiting list for a phone line was up to 5 years in those days and we eventually got a house phone in 1976!!

Anyway, our neighbour Mrs. O'Farrell answered the phone and the Operator guy chirped up...."Put in 2 shillings please Caller!".

After I put in the coins the Operator let me go ahead and I asked Mrs. O'Farrell politely if she wouldn't mind going next door to get one of my parents. She always was very obliging for important matters like this. After quite awhile (and another shilling requested by the Operator) I got talking on the poor quality line to my Dad. I managed to get his agreement to help and gave him an address to send some money - Dad was always generous if he had any money to spare.

I ended the call with my last coin used up and a major relief came over me from the success of this titanic struggle. I had to remember to crank the ringer handle again to alert the Postmistress in Kincasslagh that I was finished the call - so she could pull out the cord on her ancient switchboard.

I then watched for the post over coming days to a nearby house. The post in those days was probably better than today and the cavalry were soon seen coming over the hill!

I was in the same part of West Donegal recently. I recalled the above incident (and many others like it) with a smile as I used my PDA mobile phone to downloaded e-mails and talked to anyone in the World I wanted to. Now THAT is what I call change!