Recumbentman's NaJoPoMo 2016

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Here comes another month of blogs.

November 2016


Viol repair

Recently I brought my bass viol on a train. Normally it will fit on the overhead rack, but this train had too narrow a one so I put it in the luggage space behind my seat. It was too big for the low compartment and the middle compartment, so I put it up high, leaning against... yes, it fell down a few miles out of Dublin.

A viol scroll is not solid like a violin scroll, it's open like very loosely rolled paper. The scroll took the entire impact and broke in five places, but the rest of the instrument was unharmed. It was still in tune. When I got to Cork I bought some superglue and fitted it roughly back together, to see that it was all there. Then the other day I bought some nail polish remover, undid the superglue, washed and scraped it away down to the wood, and stuck it all back with white glue. Not an immaculate repair, but I think it will hold. To cover up the outside of the cracks, and to give it a bit of strength, I stuck a patch of thin leather over the worst part.

Bit of a Frankenstein job. Still plays.


Life goes on

I am 68 years old. Today would have been my late eldest brother's 78th birthday. Tomorrow is my eldest grandchild's 18th.

My youngest grandchild is almost three days old—at the time of writing, about 68 hours.

We come from the mountain

Living on the mountain

Go back to the mountain

Turn the world around


Viol class

In 1973, the late John Beckett started a viol consort class in the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He had one pupil, but soon he persuaded two couples to buy and learn how to play viols, and the class slowly expanded.At that time I was playing in a renaissance band, St Sepulchre's, and so I scorned to join the class, being, like, you know, a professional. However, St Sepulchre's disbanded in 1977 and shortly after that I joined in the class. We played a lot of John Jenkins—one of many composers now only remembered by viol players.

John Beckett left Dublin in 1985 or so and went to London to work for the BBC. I took over the viol class, which met on a Wednesday at seven pm and stopped at nine when the Academy closed for the night. It grew and prospered in a modest way, and quite often we had to split into two rooms. Viol consorts are written for three, four, five or six viols. There are a few seven-part pieces, but not enough to keep an evening going. One excellent feature of viols is that a good proportion of players can play more than one size of instrument: I do bass, tenor, and treble, some do bass and tenor, some treble and tenor, some tenor and bass. So we don't have to know in advance who is coming and who is not: there is always something playable by whatever forces we have. There are a few French, Italian and German pieces in the repertoire, but the greatest proportion is from seventeenth-century England, where they particularly developed this kind of domestic music.

In 2008, with the end of the Celtic Tiger in a cacophony of crashing banks, I removed the class from the Academy and took it home to my house. They were paying me more than they were taking in from the students, such was the deal John Beckett had struck. I charged them a bit more at home, enough to pay myself a modest fee. Then last year I decided to retire, and now I keep the classes going (there are two, on Tuesday and on Thursday) but without charging the players. They'll be along in five minutes, so I'd better wrap this up now.


Rural electrification

The electrification of rural Ireland began in the 1940s, the decade I was born. Ten years later it reached County Cavan, and my uncle's farmhouse.

My uncle Jack was born in 1903 and went to school in Portora, Enniskillen. The school is famous for two literary alumni, Oscar Wilde and Sam Beckett. By the time Jack Faris went there, the name of Oscar Wilde had been painted out of the wall chart listing the prize-winning pupils, such is the power of scandal. Sam Beckett was Jack's contemporary, but being three years younger, he didn't make much impression on my uncle. This is a universal feature of boarding schools: you know all of your seniors and hardly any of your juniors.

Six of us, all boys and all cousins, would spend our Easter holidays on the farm, and Jack would advise us, "Always bolt your food, boy. You'll never get indigestion." When he was given tea, he would say, "Cold, weak, and sweet—just the way I like it." He often carried a new kitten around in his coat pocket, and a farm hand asked him once "Is that a Parisian cat?" He replied "Yes, we're calling her Yvonne." He mortified his wife by asking one of her friends "How do you get your pastry so lovely and heavy?"

I remember the pre-electrification days, when we would go to bed carrying oil lamps. Their smell and friendly glow, slow to come on, were unforgettable. I am pleasantly reminded of that warming-up moment with our new energy-saving light bulbs. I was there when my aunt proposed buying a fridge. Jack was horrified. "What do you want a fridge for? Sure isn't the whole house a fridge?"



The Brexiters voted for more

Independence: "Give Europe what-for!"

Patriotic disguise

Covered populist lies.

You would think they were spoiling for war.

To us in Ireland, it looks as though both the UK and the US are in a bad way. People are backing chaos.

In an earlier century, when unrest started growing, a government would take umbrage at some foreign power and declare war. People's lives would be damaged, constrained, reduced. All they had in return was a narrative that purported to justify a loss in human rights and standard of living, but they gritted their teeth, blamed the enemy (by and large) and waited for the world to emerge a little changed. Now it is a bit harder to declare war. The US are currently bombing seven countries, but not officially at war with any of them.


Planet Earth 2

Settling in to watch. That first swimming stroke I learned, which we called the doggy paddle: I see now it was the three-toed sloth paddle all along.


Singing for the old folks

Tomorrow I take my ukulele to the Belmont nursing home in Galloping Green, to entertain the inmates for half an hour. My son's mother-in-law (my fellow grandparent) has organised a weekly event there, where she takes her dog and her violin to meet the old folks. I think it began with the dog, a friendly white ball of fluff. After a while started playing tunes as well, being a retired orchestral violinist. Sometimes she enlists her daughters, and between them make up a string quartet plus flute. A few times she has had me and my uke.

Tomorrow I plan to do a few Percy French numbers. I was reared on Percy French, a favourite of my dad's. My nearest brother and I managed to memorise two LPs of Brendan O'Dowda singing "The Mountains of Mourne", "Eileen Óg", McBreen's Heifer", "Slattery's Mounted Fut", "The West Clare Railway" and many another old chestnut.

Like Oscar Wilde, Percy French was born into a well-off family in 1854, and like Oscar he attended Trinity College, but while Oscar swept the board in Classics, winning all the available prizes first in TCD and then in Oxford, Percy came out with a modest degree in engineering, which got him a job as Inspector of Drains in the west of Ireland. He began painting landscapes and continued writing songs (he had written "Abdul Abulbul Ameer", a skit on the Crimean War, as a student), and eventually he gave up the day job and travelled around Ireland and Britain as an entertainer.

Tomorrow afternoon I think I'll sing "Phil the Fluter's Ball". Going over it in my head a few days ago I found I was missing one line, so I looked it up on the net. Mostly what you learn at the age of eight to twelve you never forget. We'll also have our 16-year-old grandson along, playing clarinet. He's off school—the teachers are out on strike—so I'm going to his house to rehearse "Stranger on the Shore" in the morning, and maybe "Sweet Georgia Brown".



Currently I'm finding myself addicted to the old seven-patience. It's the first patience game I learned, and simple-minded enough. I tell myself I'm exercising my short-term memory, but I don't convince myself. It's just moreish: as soon as I finish a game I feel inclined to start another.

I think I have a handle on the mechanics of addiction. Oscar Wilde said it in The Picture of Dorian Gray: "A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?" It's a little more than leaving one unsatisfied, though: it has to stoke the fire it damps. Invent something that gives long-term discomfort along with temporary relief, and you have an addictive substance or activity.

But why do we feel inclined to go on playing an unsociable game? There must be an urge to make up for earlier defeats, as though one game was somehow connected with another. But even then, we feel inclined to go on either way, whether we win or lose. It's just moreish.

My father used to shake hands in a joking way, saying "Are we friends?" If the answer was "Yes", "Then we'll shake all the more. Are we friends?" And if the answer was "No", "Then we'll shake till we are. Are we friends?"

As a child I was too polite to say "Knock it off."



Is this the real life?

Is this just fantasy?

Caught in a landslide

No escape from reality

We live in interesting times, in the words of the Chinese curse. The victory of Donald Trump is a smack in the gob of the world. He is a climate change denier. And what kind of judges is he going to appoint? The only hopeful point seems to be that, though the Republicans hold both Houses, their majority is not filibuster-proof. Cold comfort.



Last night I had a one-hour session with the Dublin Ukulele Collective. My job was to teach them to sing the harmonies to The Coventry Carol and Magic Moments.

I had worked out both songs a month or so ago, and recorded each line for the group to access in Dropbox. Very interesting: I came to the conclusion that Magic Moments was brilliantly conceived. The tune is catchy, as you'd expect, but the harmony line is masterfully simple and effective. Perry Como used a chorus singing more than one line, but it boils down to one line that covers all the necessary points.

The Coventry Carol on the other hand is a mess. The "original" version we have is dated 1591 and is in three-part counterpoint. I suspect that the tune is older; it was sung traditionally in the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, which took place in Coventry from the 14th century. The earliest copy of the text (Lully Lulla) comes from 1534.

The 1591 three-part setting has the melody in the top voice. The other voices were added, as in normal hymn-tune practice, bass first and middle last. However, harking back to fifteenth-century practice, the melody stands alone, and the melody-plus-bass stand alone. The middle part is very much filling the available gaps. The effect of all this is that the bass is easy to read but hard to memorise (similar moments have different outcomes) and the middle part is hard enough to read and impossible to memorise. Of course anything is memorisable, but this is plain awkward.

My solution was to forget about the middle part and get half the singers (there are about 50 when the group is full) to sing the melody and the other half to sing the bass. Both men and women sing both parts, in their respective octaves. As for the chords, I ignored the counterpoint which gives a different chord on each note, and gave one chord per bar or so, as in modern folk songs and pop songs. Sounds OK. I preserved the varying time signatures, and they have no trouble with that. Keep listening to the Dropbox.


Killian Farrell

The international classical music world will know this name pretty soon. I met Killian Farrell in 2011 when he booked me to play the viola da gamba solo in Bach's St John Passion. I was mightily impressed at the first rehearsal, as Killian had such a grasp of the score, such a quiet efficiency in his rehearsal technique, such easy command and unfailing rapport with his forces, and such complete musicality, at the age of sixteen.

He had volunteered to prepare and present the John Passion when, the previous year, his parish church put out requests for events to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Incredibly, this fifteen-year-old schoolboy was granted his wish, to form a choir, teach them to sing, hire an orchestra and soloists, and conduct this massive work. It was a triumph.

The choir was named Jubilate, and two years later Killian conducted them in Bach's St Matthew Passion. He expanded the choir as an undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin, and staged several of the choral standards: The Christmas Oratorio, Elijah, the Brahms Requiem and the B Minor Mass. There are no gamba solos in these, so I joined the choir as a tenor and sang in three of them—all high quality, high energy, highly expressive performances to ecstatic full houses.

This year Killian graduated and moved to London to train as a repetiteur; he will emerge as an opera conductor and hit the world stage. In the mean time, Jubilate has taken on a new conductor, Amy Ryan. I'm not a member of the chorus any more: my voice though sporadically accurate is not a thing of beauty if it ever was.

There had been some uncertainty about whether the choir would continue at all when Killian left. For one thing, having set up the choir as a minor, he had never taken a fee.


Noye's Fludde

Today Mrs R played the recorder solos in two performances of Noye's Fludde by Benjamin Britten. I went along to the evening performance and found myself unexpectedly moved.

Britten wrote this mini-opera in 1958 for performance at his Aldeburgh Festival. He used a mixture of professional and community musicians: a string quintet, recorder, piano (four hands), organ, and timpani were the professionals; a group of buglers from a local school band, and a group of handbell ringers to accompany the opening up of the rainbow, were an intermediate category; the rest of the orchestra consisted of children playing strings (ranging from about Grade 2 down to open-string parts), more recorders, and percussion (including mugs hit with sticks to represent the first drops of rain, and blocks of wood with sandpaper glued to them). Finally, the audience is also involved, in the congregational singing of three hymns.

Not a lot of activity happens on stage. Noah hears the voice of God and builds his ark with the help of his sons. He summons the animals who come in two by two. He persuades his wife to join them on board, though she would prefer to stay and drink with her gossips. The storm builds and builds, then abates. The raven is sent out, with a dance to the accompaniment of a cello solo. The dove is sent out, with a dance to the accompaniment of a fluttering recorder. The dove returns with an olive branch and there is not a dry eye in the house (at least not in my seat). The rainbow is unfurled and the animals leave the ark. God congratulates Noah.

I took part in a performance of this piece almost thirty years ago, when I was the conductor of the Intermediate Orchestra of the Dublin Youth Orchestras. This was, and is, a wonderfully well-run group of four orchestras, whose prime mover, Joanna Crooks, is also the founder and organiser of the community orchestra in today's performances. She set up a violin school in Crumlin, a relatively disadvantaged part of Dublin, ten years ago, and now they put on musicals, pantos, and concerts every year.

Coincidentally, Noye's Fludde also marked the tenth anniversary of Benjamin Britten's Aldeburgh Festival. Among the cast in the first performance, singing Noah's eldest son Jaffett, was a sixteen-year-old Michael Crawford.


Hillary Effect

There may be a name for this already, but if not, let's call it the Hillary Effect: When a prominent person does what's right, no notice is taken by the news media. When they do something wrong, it is big news.

If the person is sufficiently prominent, it is still big news when they are suspected, however falsely, on however little evidence, of doing, or of being close to someone who may have done, something wrong.



I've taken on a guitar pupil for the first time in years, a pre-teenager. Mrs R reminded me of the importance of having recognisable tunes (not just exercises) for beginners to play, so I've taught him Good King Wenceslas.

I'm not wholly enamelled of carols, but Good King W is a good one. Also, it has a special resonance for us. When our eldest son was eleven (in 1981-82) he took part in a children's opera called Good King Wenceslas written by Timothy Kraemer. There were months of rehearsals, once and then twice a week. After a few weeks he announced "I'm the understudy for Boleslav" and after a few more he told us "I'm *the* Boleslav now".

Come the performance, we didn't recognise him: he was got up as a punk in black, with chains and zips, kohl round his eyes, and a rainbow Mohican. Not only that, he (Boleslav) was the baddie, Wenceslas's evil brother, the central figure in the story. He commanded the stage as though he had never done anything else. We said our silent farewells to our little boy.


Ornery streak

Our dogs Lily and Ella are now respectively ten and two years old. Ella is treated circumspectly by many of the people we meet in the park, as she has the colouring and approximately the looks of a Dobermann Pinscher. There is probably no Pinscher in her makeup however: her father was an Irish setter and her mother an Airedale to look at, though her background also included some spaniel and who knows what else. Lily was a rescue dog so we know nothing of her breed, though her looks are short-haired retrieverish.

Ella and Lily are both sweet and kind to all humans. Ella wants to climb all over visitors, which is discouraged. Ella is also sweet to other dogs: she will bark and confront a dog of any size and make little starts, but as soon as the other dog makes any move she will run away, making it a chasing game.

Lily on the other hand says nothing, but as often as not will snatch a mouthful of fur from the throat of another dog. When she was young we were assured she would grow out of it, but no such luck. She therefore remains on a short lead when we walk her.

A friend of ours found her, aged about one, wandering in County Meath, took her home and contacted us because she knew we had recently buried our previous dog. We can only suppose she had been kept tied up in a farmyard, and had to learn to defend herself.



Hootooers from the noughties may remember Chaiwallah, still a researcher but not active here (with one exception) since 2005. He is currently visiting us, delivering pots to an exhibition and celebrating his daughter's fortieth birthday.

Thirty years ago he lived near us in Dublin and we had a workshop together, where we made and repaired stringed instruments. We began in 1979, making bouzoukis for traditional musicians. How the bouzouki became an instrument of Irish traditional music is dealt with in Gnomon's Entry A1098263. Among others we sold instruments to Christy Moore (though I never heard him play it) and Donal Lunny. Donal's was a special commission: an extra large bass bouzouki, which we called a Blarge. It was used in concerts, but I have no doubt that it has since fallen apart, as we used rosewood for the back and put it under heavy strain to give it a curve. A slight curve in the back of an instrument adds greatly to its strength, and (we hoped) to its resonance too. The strength of the gluing is severely challenged, however.

Both Chaiwallah and I are viol players, and we soon branched out into making viols too. We won an award in the Royal Dublin Society's crafts competition for a bass viol we made in 1981 (the one referred to at the top of this page. Then Chai took lessons in violin making and made a number of violins and cellos, while I took lessons in violin repair and bow rehairing.

After a few years of practising our various crafts we closed up shop. I went to Belfast to take a degree in Renaissance music and Chaiwallah went back to what he had been doing before, which is pottery. He finds clay much more forgiving than wood: mistakes in throwing can at least be recycled. He has since moved to the west of Ireland, where he runs Shivlagh Pottery (which can be googled, and will lead you to images of his amazing work). We visit him there, and he visits us here, to play viols.

Chaiwallah's most extraordinary achievement on hootoo was starting (and writing most of) The Ballad of Grimly Moer, which he revisited this year. A fairly complete transcript is at A1070786 but the entire collaborative thread is


Renaissance etiquette

I'm reading Baldesar Castiglione's Il Libro del Cortegiano translated as The Book of the Courtier. Published in Venice in 1528, it details in dialogue form the character and accomplishments that would grace the ideal man-about-court.

I've come across parts of it before, as it shows the attitudes that informed much of the renaissance music I've played throughout my career. It introduced the term sprezzatura to denote the kind of apparent nonchalance with which something should be done, in order to conceal its planning and rehearsal and make it appear that it is done without effort and almost without thought. This is a most desirable thing in music, where technical strain is a major turn-off. In a later age Dr Johnson said, on being assured that a certain piece of keyboard music which he heard a player struggling with was very difficult, "Would to God it were impossible!"

A similar recommendation comes in the discussion of chess in Il Libro del Cortegiano: the surprising conclusion is reached that mediocrity at the game is preferable to expertise, since to become an expert one must put in many hours of study, at the end of which all one has learned is a game.

Tell that to the Russians.


Tom Boland

Every day when I walk the dogs in the park I come across Tom Boland sitting on a bench that faces south-west and catches the afternoon sun. Tom loves the sunshine and in the summer he shows us how brown his arms are. He talks to everyone who passes, mainly about the weather. He tells us what the forecast is like for the next few days, often adding something like "I love the sun." He's always cheerful, and even when it's cold and grey like today he might say "They say it will be better tomorrow", or "It was great last Wednesday."

There are often a few others with him on the bench; people gravitate to Tom. Someone often brings him a cup of coffee and a sandwich. He leaves the park at four and goes walking slowly home. He was missing for the first few months of this year. He was ill, and we were relieved to see him back again in the summer. He quickly caught up on his tan.



The strength of democracy is that you can't fool all the people all the time.

Its weakness is that you only have to fool half the people for a few months.


Democracy (2)

A lot is gained by proportional representation, as used in Ireland and twenty other countries in Western Europe. Instead of enforcing the will of half the people who vote, it returns representatives that will be tolerable to a decent majority. The recent election of Donald Trump was achieved by a quarter of the electorate.



There is correctness and incorrectness, but there are other categories too, for instance over-correctness and deliberate wrongitude.

A lot of advertising uses what can only be very deliberate dodginess of grammar. Sure, there are mistakes that companies take back, like the T-shirt that said "Lets Go". I was surprised to hear that the company had recalled the original batch and issued another lot, complete with apostrophe. I would not however be surprised to hear that the original lot were still for sale, at higher prices.

I can't help feeling that many advertising copywriters put grammatical teasers in on purpose, to act as irritants to the brain. While people muse "Can that be right?" they are willy-nilly remembering the ad. Apple were clearly doing this with "Think Different". They could be smug about it too, justifying the adjective-for-adverb switch by comparison with other slogans like "Think Positive".

Advertisers are the Sophists of this age, and they are as keenly aware of the effect of words and phrase forms as lawyers, if not more so. A good deal of advertisers choose the incorrect over the correct, as though putting themselves on the side of the common man, not talking down to him. People who don't use it can still recognise correctness and may despise it, not without reason.

I have heard a college contemporary of George W. Bush insist that at one stage in his life W was entirely capable of pronouncing 'nuclear'.

All accents are assumed. Around the age of twelve you have a choice in how you identify yourself. From then on, unless you practise mimicry or affectation, it becomes increasingly impossible to do the wrong thing for you, the right thing for others. 'Nucular' was an affectation on the part of George W. Bush.


Shall I?

One affectation of my own.

At the age of seventeen I was sent to experience two years of the English Public School "sixth form". By a quirk of fate I had already gained my entrance to university in Dublin, so academically I had no duties, and socially, I had classmates of my own age for the first time, so my life there was a pure doddle. I learned to play classical guitar, and enough double bass to play in the school jazz band. I did a few paintings and woodcuts in the art club. I studied music and did some composition with a teacher called David Rowland who wrote unsingable twelve-tone things. That's all that was being written, it seemed, in the 1960s. I also did A-levels in English and French, which was fun too.

Mainly I made use of my years there to learn the use of the word shall. We Irish, like the Americans, normally have no use for this word—we say "Will I?" Accordingly, for the past fifty-odd years I have said "Shall I?" I never say "I shall", though; it's always "I'll".

Ten years or so ago, a Yorkshire friend gave me this instructive example of the distinction between shall and will:

"I shall drown!" cried the man who fell overboard. "No-one will save me!"

"I will drown!" insisted the suicide. "No one shall save me!"


The deification of Clapton

In the sixties a famous piece of graffiti appeared and quickly spread around London: Clapton is God. At the time I surmised that it arose from a messily-sprayed 'Clapton is Cool'—because if you make your C a little too curly and put your l too near the second o, Cool turns into God. A millisecond of research on Google reveals that the original one was done in capitals, which destroys my theory. Ho hum.

I do agree that Clapton is a god, but then my definition is fairly loose: a god is a cult figure.



When I was in my mid-teens I realised with a chill that though I had been learning the piano for six or eight years (whatever it was) I could not volunteer to play the hymns on the harmonium in the church where our family went on holiday. I even tried practising a few, but couldn't do it. I was thrown into a profound funk.

Of course I was being hard on myself. Hymns are easy to sing, but the four-part harmony in the hymn book is not easy reading. Furthermore, like nearly all piano students, for me sight-reading was a neglected backwater. It shouldn't be, of course! It is the connecting stream to the ocean of usefulness that most piano students never reach. Teachers always say so, but somehow it gets sidelined. This is called 'lip-service'.

I scolded myself that I had spent that many years studying and had nothing to show for it. But counting the years is pointless: it's the minutes that matter. I had attended lessons, but had never put in much time between lessons. Even the time spent is secondary to the quality and quantity of attention given.


Family Tree

A few years ago I sent off a sample of my spittle, having assiduously chewed the inside of my cheeks as directed, to a company analysing DNA. They sent me the information that my ancestry is European, 500 years back. Apart from that, they put me in touch with a number of possible third to sixth cousins with whom I share around one percent of my genes. I contacted a good few of these through the site, but no one had any of the same surnames in their family trees as I have.

They connected me also to a site where you can assemble and edit your family tree, and suggested a large number of smart matches with other family trees. This yielded plenty of information, but curiously enough it all seems to be about the family of my great-great-great-grandmother, the Swinburnes of Northumberland. Everybody in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and plenty of the new world too, is apparently descended from Agnes de Umfreville.


Senior Moments

I'm getting more forgetful. My memory was always highly selective, so I'm not alarmed. I have no trouble remembering the tunes, chords and words of over 300 songs (at a guess) but I never was much good at knowing where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia work base, that has an attachment... or my keys or wallet for that matter.

These days, if it doesn't go in the diary it doesn't happen. Even some things that do go in the diary get passed over; I missed a dentist appointment because I had put the bit that broke off my tooth back in, and it stayed and worked so perfectly that I forgot all about it.

I've double booked myself in January. I agreed to do a concert in Kilkenny and also to go to a viol-playing weekend in England. The right thing to do is clearly to cancel my flight and do the concert, but I have asked my viol-playing son would he like to do the concert, and he just might fancy it. He is to get back to me. Oh dear.

I've heard that physical exercise helps delay the onset of Alzheimer's. My good friend the composer and organist Eric Sweeney tells us he was practising the organ once, and thinking to himself what good all-round bodily activity it is—hands and feet and many parts of the brain in cooperation. Coming down from the loft he said to the Dean, "I've just realised how good organ playing is for staving off the, you know, what's the name of that condition where you forget things?"


No Leprechauns

A friend once gave me a wonderful present. It was a brain-teaser in the form of three pieces of card with rather badly drawn leprechauns on them. One card had all the tops and two cards had all the legs of nine or ten leprechauns. The name on the packaging was "How Many Leprechauns?"

This comes in many guises, but my one had leprechauns. If you put the shorter bottom cards one way below the longer top card, you saw nine leprechauns. If you swapped them around you saw ten. The cut between top and bottom occurred at different levels of each leprechaun, that is, some were higher up on the cards than others. Magically, when you reversed the order of the bottom cards, one leprechaun disappeared. Where did it go?

It was clear that all the ten leprechauns were redistributed to make nine slightly larger leprechauns; a bit here, a bit there. But I found myself bothered by the question: Which one disappeared altogether? There was no answer to this, since the identity of each top part was lost when it acquired a different bottom part. Still, I stared at the images and tried to find the ghost one. My concentration focussed on the eyes, as I was convinced that somehow identity was located there. One redistribution went right through the eyes, so that one pair of eyes (messy blobs above and below the cut) became two. I felt I almost had it sussed, but I was still not satisfied.

In the end I gave up and just had to get used to the idea that there were actually no leprechauns there at all. There are no leprechauns.



When you’re hungry, attention can drift.

Eating something will give you a lift

But you’ll feel at your best

If the stuff you ingest

Is delicious and tasty and gift.

A family phrase, from the seventies. Said by our youngest while watching a blackbird eating a worm: "Mmm, delicious and tasty and gift!"



Is our planet creative and smart?

Has Gaia a soul and a heart?

Researchers are busy

Enough, geophysi-

ological theories apart.

In 1979 James Lovelock published Gaia, a New Look at Life on Earth, based on his observation that the Earth maintains a surprising equilibrium which is necessary to life. Geophysiology is the study of interaction among living things, treating the Earth itself as a living organism.


A Painter

Mrs R is a painter. When we met almost fifty years ago she was a student in the National College of Art and Design. She dropped out of that to concentrate on music: she played the flute and was a frequent deputy second flute in the National Symphony Orchestra (then known as the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra). After we married she played the flute less, but the recorder more, and she has taught generations of recorder players in Dublin.

Now she has gone back to painting, and moved on to oils. She attends classes and Saturday workshops. She has real talent and a terrific eye. I know I'd recognise any of her models walking down the street. Her sense of colour is magic too, and all her paintings have inner life.

Falling in love again. This is what Oscar Wilde called "Washing your clean linen in public."

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"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

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