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The season of the wasp

Wednesday, 31 August, 2016 0 Comments

Chester Britt, chairman of the Iowa State Department of Sociology, died yesterday after a severe reaction to a wasp sting suffered earlier while jogging. He was 54.

A wasp sting is extremely painful and can be fatal since the sting produces an anaphylactic reaction in some people who have allergies. The August/September transition is the season of the wasp when the insect displays a complete lack of respect for personal space and will aggressively insist on tasting your food and drink. What to do? Those who have allergies should carry medication, such as an EpiPen, which can be used to treat anaphylaxis in an emergency. A local café slices an orange, perforates it with whole cloves and places it on a plate. Kabooom! Wasps away.

Wasp repellent


I remembered her head bent towards my head

Tuesday, 30 August, 2016 0 Comments

The poet Seamus Heaney was born on 13 April 1939 in a “one-storey, longish, lowish, thatched and whitewashed farmhouse” in Mossbawn, Co. Derry. He was the eldest of nine children and he grew up in a culture that was “Catholic, folk, rural, Irish”. He died on 30 August 2013 in Dublin, after a short illness.

Seamus Heaney shows us a sepia snapshot here of a mother and her son preparing dinner. It is a simple, almost hum-drum scene, with the silence being broken by “pleasant splashes” of water as their peeled potatoes drop into a bucket. The next sounds we hear are of sobbing and of murmured prayers: “some were responding and some crying”. As his mother dies, Seamus Heaney recalls the peeling of those potatoes “when all the others were away at Mass,” and the beauty of that moment is heartbreaking.

In memoriam M.K.H., 1911 – 1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives —
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Picking the potatoes


Robopocalyptic conflict in Westworld

Monday, 29 August, 2016 0 Comments

The second trailer for Westworld teases the robopocalyptic conflict between a futuristic theme park’s automata residents and their human keepers. The key figure in this clip is Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), a frontier “host” who’s actually the park’s oldest resident, having been resurrected after countless “deaths” that she’s been programmed to forget.

In 1973, the late, great Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park androids that malfunction and begin killing visitors. With stories about job-stealing robots and fears of wayward artificial intelligence filling the news stream, HBO feels that what our world needs right now is an upgrade of Westworld. The story has been re-engineered for this young century and we’re expected to sympathize with the sentient bots enslaved by their scary creator, Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Westworld is tapping into the Zeitgeist as people are increasingly alarmed about a society that seems to be out of control, especially because of what information technology and the life sciences are making possible.


Balkan mushroom wisdom

Sunday, 28 August, 2016 0 Comments

“All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.” — Balkan proverb

mushrooms


Behind the veil in Saudi Arabia

Saturday, 27 August, 2016 0 Comments

“On every vacant lot in time appears the jumble of brownish brick, the metal spines of scaffolding, the sheets of plate glass; then last of all the marble, the most popular facing material, held on to the plain walls behind it with some sort of adhesive. From a distance it lends a spurious air of antiquity to the scene.” Hilary Mantel’s Saudi Arabia, as depicted in Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, is a place of impersonal ugliness and stifling heat, a kingdom of sexual repression, corruption and violence.

Andrew Shore, a civil engineer, accepts a lucrative package from a British firm that has been commissioned to erect an opulent office building for the Saudi government. When his contrary, independent wife, Frances — a cartographer by trade — arrives in Jeddah to join Andrew, she’s instantly disquieted by the city and soon finds herself despising this masked society peopled by expats, who are mostly alcohol-sodden mercenaries, evasive Muslim neighbours and cruel, capricious officialdom. Confined in her apartment for most of the day, she begins to hear sounds of suffering from the supposedly empty flat above. Shopping provides some relief, but not much:

In the supermarket, Francis bought mangos. She put them in a plastic bag and handed them to a Filipino. He weighed them, twisted the bag closed, gave it back to her, but he did not even glance her way. Around her, women plucked tins from shelves. Women with layers of thick black cloth were their faces should be; only their hands reached out, heavy with gold.

She caught up with Andrew, laying her hand on the handle of the trolley beside his, careful not to touch.

“I didn’t know the veil was like this,” she whispered. “I thought you would see their eyes. How do they breathe? Don’t they feel stifled? Can they see where they’re going?

Andrew said, “These are the liberated ones. They get to go shopping.”

Thirty years after its original publication, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is still as disturbing as ever. Frances Shore is not a radical feminist but Hilary Mantel’s character is a dedicated opponent of fabricated separatism: “I would like to stride up to the next veiled woman I see and tear the black cloth from her face and rip it up before her eyes. I know that would be wrong, but I would like to do it.”

The naqab


The Great Phatsby

Friday, 26 August, 2016 0 Comments

Just in time for our annual reading of F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic jazz age novel comes news that The Simpsons will hit their 600 episode milestone later this year and the series will celebrate with a 60-minute special titled “The Great Phatsby”, which will be shown in January. The story focuses on Mr Burns and his friendship with a hip-hop mogul called Jay G (a nod to Jay Gatsby and Jay-Z). The action will take place in the Springfield Hamptons with Homer providing the narration in a Nick Carraway manner.

“This was just going to be a regular episode but the table read went so well, in a fit of passion and excitement and ambition and excess, we decided to supersize it,” executive producer Matt Selman told Entertainmnent Weekly.

The Great Phatsby will also see Marge open her own boutique store and Lisa snag a rich Bae, while Empire‘s Taraji P Henson will voice a “Simpsons version of Cookie” called Praline who helps Homer, Bart and the gang take their revenge on Jay G after he takes over the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Until then, there’s the timeless original.

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that registered earthquakes ten thousand miles away.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Hey, you wanna hear a good joke?

Thursday, 25 August, 2016 0 Comments

Joshua Paul “Josh” Davis is better known by his stage name DJ Shadow and he’s said to own an exceptionally large record collection consisting of more than 60,000 albums. Run the Jewels is a hip hop supergroup formed by New York City-based rapper El-P and Atlanta-based rapper Killer Mike in 2013. Their “fist and gun” hand gesture is iconic and beloved of graffiti artists. Nobody Speak is the title of their remarkable joint venture.

The lyrics are intriguing and the language is cryptic. This is English evolving.

“What more can I say? We top dealing it
Valiant without villainy
Viciously file victory
Burn towns and villages
Burning looting and pillaging

Murderers try to hurt us we curse them and all their children
I just want the bread and bologna bundles to tuck away
I don’t work for free, I am barely giving a fuck away”


The Bourne Formula

Wednesday, 24 August, 2016 0 Comments

The story at the heart of the latest Jason Bourne adventure is sandwiched between two major action scenes. First up is a mesmerizing segment in Athens, where the hunters and the hunted weave their ways between police and protesters. The ultra-violence is balletic and superbly choreographed by director Paul Greengrass. The other big action scene is a car chase in Last Vegas that instantly veers into destruction porn. Compared to the opening, this is jaded stuff. There’s a similar déjà vu feeling about a pursuer-pursued scene set in London. Wasn’t that done in Bourne 2? Or was it Bourne 3?

Yes, there are some nods to surveillance and Facebook and Snowden, but substance and subtlety have to make way for fisticuffs and formula. Matt Damon is more muscled and taciturn than ever and utters a total of 42 sentences. Tommy Lee Jones looks poorly, Alicia Vikander is less robotic than in Ex Machina and Vincent Cassel is the “asset”. Overall, then, an excellent way of whiling away 2 hours and 28 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Jason Bourne is huge at the box office.


Small acts of kindness and love

Tuesday, 23 August, 2016 0 Comments

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Scones of love


A cheery Spectator and a glum Prospect

Monday, 22 August, 2016 0 Comments

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Great Britain won 15 medals, including a solitary gold. Team GB finished 36th in the medal table that year. This year, Great Britain finished second in the table, ahead of China, with 67 medals, 27 of which were gold. The greatest credit for this achievement is due to the athletes, but Sir John Major, whose Conservative government set up the National Lottery in 1994, is central to their success. The Lottery started funding athletes in 1997, the so they could train full-time and, by 2004, Team GB’s medal tally had doubled to 30, doubling again at London in 2012.

Andrew Marr credits John Major in his Spectator diary entry written in sunny Dubrovnik amid crowds of contented Croats and tourists. “Team GB is a near-perfect post-Brexit idea” says Marr, inspired by it all and hoping for happy days:

“Imagine a Britain which had seriously invested for the long term, focusing only on industries and technologies where we were likely to be world-class; and where ‘company’ was used in the old sense of being a tight, committed team of friends and allies working together for a goal many years in the future. It would be a Britain shorn of short-term political lurches in funding and direction, whose corporate leaders had a lively sense of how much they owed to their teams and didn’t treat themselves as Medici princelings.”

Prospect But all that is gold does not glisten. Well, not for the “remoaners”, anyway. With a most unfortunate sense of timing, Prospect depicts Team GB stuck on a self-imposed, starting line in its race for a place in the world. Jay Elwes, Deputy Editor of Prospect, argues: “…there is a strong case that Britain’s new settlement with the EU should be put to a further vote. As the economic threat posed by Brexit grows ever more apparent, so the need for parliamentary intervention will increase. Britain needs a new plan — in the end, a decision by the Commons not to proceed with Brexit might turn out to be the best plan of all.”

After a summer of gold for spectators, disgruntled remoaners are hoping for the prospect of a winter of discontent and an un-Brexit.


The day Jim Hogan ran the marathon in Tokyo

Sunday, 21 August, 2016 0 Comments

The men’s marathon event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was run on 21 October 1964. A total of 68 athletes started, 58 finished and the gold medal was won in a time of 2 hours and 12 minutes by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. One of the starters who did not finish was Jim Hogan from Croom, County Limerick, in Ireland. With the silver medal seemingly within his grasp, dehydration forced Hogan to abandon the race with just five kilometres remaining. His agony can be witnessed at the 5:30 mark in this clip.

After the Tokyo Games, Jim Hogan became disillusioned with the Irish athletics hierarchy, which he called “the blazer-wearing brigade”, and he decided to compete for Great Britain instead. He recorded the biggest victory of his career when he won the marathon for Great Britain at the 1966 European Championships. Later in life, he returned to Limerick and trained horses with success for local point-to-point races. Jim Hogan died on 10 January 2015 and is buried in Knocklong Graveyard.