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Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald

Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.

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Harry and Meghan and the Whit Wedding

Monday, 21 May, 2018

Once upon a time, Whit Saturday was a popular day for weddings in the UK. This historical fact, however, was unnoticed by the Reverend Michael Curry in his sermon during the Royal Wedding as Whit Saturday was turned into Windsor Saturday. The British poet Philip Larkin would have been bemused.

The Whitsun Weddings is one of Larkin’s best-known poems and it was published in 1964, the year The Rolling Stones released their debut album. Larkin, who was more of a Beatles man, describes a train journey on a hot Whit Saturday. The windows are open and he becomes aware that the passengers boarding the train at its several stops are members of Whit wedding parties. He observes the people and imagines the venues where the wedding receptions have been held. As the train approaches London, his thoughts turn to the meaning of what the newly-weds have done.

The Whitsun Weddings

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.

At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,

As if out on the end of an event
Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that

Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known

Success so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
— An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl — and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

Today, Whit Monday, was declared a bank holiday in the UK in 1871 but it lost this status in 1972 when the Spring Bank Holiday was created in its place.


Hurling: Letter from Ireland (1937)

Sunday, 20 May, 2018

For some people in the Northern Hemisphere, summer begins with the start of the Munster Hurling Senior Championship. It’s a cultural thing that has its roots in an agrarian society driven by grass growth and the arrival of better weather. Today, the festival opens at 2 pm with Limerick vs. Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds.

The connection between Munster hurling and Graham Greene would not be known to most attending today’s game, but the great English novelist was the editor of Night and Day, described as a British rival to the New Yorker, in the 1930s and during its brief life he published a piece titled Letter from Ireland by Elizabeth Bowen, the doyenne of Anglo-Irish writing. Snippet:

“Cork left Cork for Killarney when the All Ireland Hurley Finals were played there. Tipperary won. This was a great day for the whole of the South of Ireland; special trains were run and the roads for a hundred miles round streamed with cars and bicycles, most of them flying flags. The Tipperary contingent passed my way. Those who unluckily could not get to Killarney stood on banks for hours to watch the traffic. This is, in the literal sense, a very quiet country: the Troubles and civil war were fought out in an almost unbroken hush, punctuated by a few explosions or shots. Voices are seldom raised, and you can (so to speak) hear a dog bark or a milk-cart rattle or a funeral bell toll two counties away. But these great Sundays of sport galvanise everything; from the moment you wake you know that something is going on.

Hurley is the fastest game, short of ice hockey, that I have ever watched. It is a sort of high-speed overhead hockey, played with sticks with flat wooden blades, and it looks even more dangerous that it apparently is. Though a game that would melt you in the Antarctic, it is, for some reason, played only in summer.”

There are gems of appraisal and style in everything that Elizabeth Bowen wrote. Her observation that “the Troubles and civil war were fought out in an almost unbroken hush,” is revealing, given that her Letter from Ireland was published just 14 years after the conflict ended, and “Cork left Cork for Killarney” is delightful. Today, some 80 years later, Tipperary will leave Tipperary for Limerick.

Limerick vs. Tipperary


Prince Hal

Saturday, 19 May, 2018

Stories about young Prince Harry’s wild life were legendary. According to the English chronicler Thomas Elmham (1364 –1427), “He fervently followed the service of Venus as well as of Mars, as a young man might he burned with her torches, and other insolences accompanied the years of his untamed youth.”

Some 150 years after Elmham’s death, William Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part I. Here, in Act 1, Scene 1: Falstaff addresses Hal:

Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art king, let not
us that are squires of the night’s body be called
thieves of the day’s beauty: let us be Diana’s
foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the
moon; and let men say we be men of good government,
being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and
chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.

And Prince Hal says:

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

Royal Wedding


Sup, Yo!

Friday, 18 May, 2018

Recent birthday presents included a camisa superior by Toni Vartrano, the promise of a lunch at O’Callaghan’s Deli, and, from Ian, a copy of Shakespeare’s Words by David Crystal and Ben Crystal. Upon opening the book, the first word Mrs Rainy Day noticed was “sup”, a verb meaning to have supper:

1H4 I.ii.191 [Prince Hal to Poins, of Eastcheap] These I’ll sup
2H4 II.ii. 139 [Prince Henry to Bardolph, of Falstaff] Where sups he?
Oth V.i. 117 [Iago to Emilia] Go know of Cassio where he supped tonight

The meaning of “sup” has morphed in our time and in the lingo of the yoof it’s become the short form of the phrase “What’s up?” In another context it’s capitalized as SUP, which is the acronym for the popular activity known as standup paddleboarding, often referred to as standup paddling. The image below shows a band of SUPPERS at play in the Mediterranean Sea. Hat tip: Mrs RD.

SUP in Sitges


The Unintended Consequences of the GDPR

Thursday, 17 May, 2018

The blogger Yeats, as opposed to the poet Yeats, might say that the “rough beast” of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), “its hour come round at last,” slouches towards us to be born on 25 May. For Rainy Day, which runs on WordPress 4.9.5, this will have implications. Our hosting service, WP Engine, had this to say earlier today:

“With WordPress 4.9.6 coming this week, we will be seeing a few new features built around GDPR compliance. This release is different in that it is introducing new features in a Maintenance/Security update, and that it applies only to websites already running WordPress 4.9 and higher. While this is atypical of a release, it is important to include these new features because they provide an essential toolkit for handling GDPR compliance. We have weighed the risk in introducing these new features and since they are not manipulating or impacting existing WordPress features, we feel that this release is not only safe but also important in enabling you to make your site GDPR compliant.”

The Law of Unintended Consequences lays out three outcomes: Unexpected Benefit, Unexpected Drawback or Perverse Result. Which one the will the GDPR deliver? Well, the reality is that the EU can only enforce the GDPR against entities that do business in the EU. Any website hosted outside the EU doesn’t have to comply with the GDPR and the EU cannot compel China, say, to accept its notion of privacy. Companies that want to keep tracking users will either ban EU customers and visitors, or move outside the EU and do business elesewhere.

And, if a company’s servers are in the US and if it doesn’t have any EU assets, it can keep tracking EU visitors. Brussels can’t do anything about this because US courts are not going to uphold EU law against US citizens who have not broken US law. In other words, because the web is worldwide, one consequence of the GDPR will be the creation of a false sense of privacy.


Jim Martin RIP

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018

On Saturday, in Munich, in the presence of those who loved him, Jim Martin died. He was an American, a pilot, an author, a bon vivant who loved the pleasures of France, a writer who was fascinated by Bavarian tradition and German history, a democrat in the broadest sense and a Democrat in the votary sense who enjoyed hosting a monthly salon where politics and wine were mixed with humour and hospitality. Our sincerest sympathy goes out to Winni and all the family.

Back in 2012, Jim was so dismayed by the decision of the Pulitzer Prize board to withhold its annual award for fiction — “Book lovers react bitterly to no fiction Pulitzer” — that he proposed setting up a fund for his choice, Denis Johnson, and he offered this guest post, titled “The Pulitzohr Prize”, to Rainy Day. Here goes:

Poet, playwright and author Denis Johnson was born in Munich, West Germany, in 1949 and was raised in Tokyo, Manila and Washington. He holds a masters’ degree from the University of Iowa and has received many awards for his work, including a Lannan Fellowship in Fiction (1993), a Whiting Writer’s Award (1986), the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction from the Paris Review for Train Dreams, and most recently, the National Book Award for Fiction (2007).

“English words are like prisms. Empty, nothing inside, and still they make rainbows.” — Denis Johnson

Not only does he get the prize money, but we buy him beer for a day in Munich (and he looks like he could put a dent in our wallet.)

I identify with the author. I’ve lived in Idaho — still have property in the panhandle. I’ve driven horse carts and flown biplanes there, just like Robert Grainier. I’d have been an orphan too, had it not been for my parents. I’m at least 42% crazy.

I cast my vote for Train Dreams. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Anthony Doerr:

“The story concerns the life of Robert Grainier, a fictional orphan shipped by train in 1893 into the woods of the Idaho panhandle. He grows up, works on logging gangs, falls in love, and loses his wife and baby daughter to a particularly pernicious wildfire. What Johnson builds from the ashes of Grainier’s life is a tender, lonesome and riveting story, an American epic writ small, in which Grainier drives a horse cart, flies in a biplane, takes part in occasionally hilarious exchanges and goes maybe 42 percent crazy.

It’s a love story, a hermit’s story and a refashioning of age-old wolf-based folklore like ‘Little Red Cap.’ It’s also a small masterpiece. You look up from the thing dazed, slightly changed.”

Farewell, Jim, Your words and quotations and writers were always well chosen. In his novel, Night Flight (Vol de Nuit), the French pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry expressed well what Jim Martin was and where he was going;

“The villages were lighting up, constellations that greeted each other across the dusk. And, at the touch of his finger, his flying-lights flashed back a greeting to them. The earth grew spangled with light signals as each house lit its star, searching the vastness of the night as a lighthouse sweeps the sea. Now every place that sheltered human life was sparkling. And it rejoiced him to enter into this night with a measured slowness, as into an anchorage.”

Jim Martin


Commodity City in China

Tuesday, 15 May, 2018

Jessica Kingdon says: “Commodity City is an observational documentary exploring the daily lives of vendors who work in the largest wholesale consumer market in the world: the Yiwu Markets in China. The film explores moments of tension between commerce and individuality, between the goods for sale and the humans who sell them.”


Cavafy on the Mediterranean migrants

Monday, 14 May, 2018 0 Comments

One can read C.P. Cavafy’s In the Harbour-Town as a poem about home-sickness or a poem about migration, or both, as the two are often intertwined. In another way, it can be interpreted as a poem that speaks to our times because he mentions “a Syrian harbour” in the same breath as “the great pan-Hellenic world”. Recent reports of a rise in unaccompanied child migrants reaching Greece and Cyprus through the Central and Western Mediterranean Routes make this Cavafy poem sound uncannily prescient.

In the Harbour-Town

Emis – young, twenty-eight –
reached this Syrian harbor in a Tenian ship,
his plan to learn the incense trade.
But ill during the voyage,
he died as soon as he was put ashore.
His burial, the poorest possible, took place here.
A few hours before dying he whispered something
about “home,” about “very old parents.”
But nobody knew who they were,
or what country he called home
in the great pan-Hellenic world.
Better that way; because as it is,
though he lies buried in this harbour-town,
his parents will always have the hope he’s still alive.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

Translated from the original Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

Harbour town


They were against McCain before they were for him

Sunday, 13 May, 2018 0 Comments

Suddenly, the gallant old naval pilot, John McCain, is a Hero of The Left. This might have to do with a surge in leftist support for McCain’s belief in the importance of the warrior to the defence of freedom and the West, or it may be connected to McCain’s opposition to many of President Trump’s policies. The reader must decide.

But there’s more to this new wave of admiration for the man who fought Hanoi Jane Fonda’s bestie, Ho Chi Minh, than meets the eye. If we scroll back to late 2008, when John McCain was running against Barack Obama for the presidency of the USA, we can learn a lot from how the media apparatus treated him then. Consider the role of that bastion of liberal ideals, The Atlantic. Its October 2008 cover story was titled “Why War is His Answer – Inside the Mind of John McCain” and the author was one Jeffrey Goldberg, who went to become an Obama administration sycophant for eight years. But a picture is worth more than ten thousand of Goldberg’s words so the snapper hired to do the (hit) job on McCain was a famous “#Resistance” operative named Jill Greenberg. Here’s how she deployed her skills to take the photo that helped sink the McCain campaign:

When The Atlantic called Jill Greenberg, a committed Democrat, to shoot a portrait of John McCain for its October cover, she rubbed her hands with glee…

After getting that shot, Greenberg asked McCain to “please come over here” for one more set-up before the 15-minute shoot was over. There, she had a beauty dish with a modeling light set up. “That’s what he thought he was being lit by,” Greenberg says. “But that wasn’t firing.”

What was firing was a strobe positioned below him, which cast the horror movie shadows across his face and on the wall right behind him. “He had no idea he was being lit from below,” Greenberg says. And his handlers didn’t seem to notice it either. “I guess they’re not very sophisticated,” she adds.

So, when you hear any of this lot eulogising John McCain, reach for the vomit bag.

John McCain


Eurovision: Lucky Night for Moldova?

Saturday, 12 May, 2018 0 Comments

Simon Goddard, author of Mozipedia: The Encyclopaedia of Morrissey and the Smiths, claims the Lancashire singer is a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest. “My fascination with the show had an almost religious aspect,” Morrissey confessed to Goddard.

Who will Moz be cheering for tonight? Sweden’s Benjamin Ingrosso with Dance You Off? Not, we hope. Yes, it’s perfect pop in the peerless way that only the Swedes can make perfect pop, but the perfection is passionless. More joyful is Norway’s That’s How You Write A Song by Alexander Rybak, who won the Eurovision in 2009 with the highest points total, ever. Both Sweden and Norway are Top 10 candidates tonight, for sure.

And the UK? Nice dress, shame about the song, SuRie. Ireland? Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s Together is simply dire. Will Germany finish last again? Michael Schulte’s You Let Me Walk Alone is so obviously an Adele copy & paste job that it has to be a serious contender for zero points.

Our tip is My Lucky Day by DoReDoS from Moldova. Using a simple white wall as a prop, Marina Djundiet, Eugeniu Andrianov, and Sergiu Mita have created a slapstick show that mixes Danubian polka and the Charleston. This is proper Eurovision kitsch.

Back to Morrissey. His video of You Have Killed Me opens with a pastiche that mirrors the Eurovision from its glory days in the 1960s and ’70s, and for interval music during his 2006 tour, Morrissey used the immortal Pomme, Pomme, Pomme by Monique Melsen, who represented Luxembourg in 1971 and was awarded 13th place for her efforts. By the way, the 1971 Song Contest was held in Dublin and was won by French singer Séverine representing Monaco with Un banc, un arbre, une rue. Neither Luxembourg nor Monaco is in tonight’s Grand Final in Lisbon, but Australia, Israel and Albania are. The old order changeth.


Google: The duplicity of Duplex

Friday, 11 May, 2018 0 Comments

On Tuesday, Google announced an Artificial Intelligence product called Duplex, which is capable of having human-sounding conversations. “We hope that these technology advances will ultimately contribute to a meaningful improvement in people’s experience in day-to-day interactions with computers,” wrote Yaniv Leviathan, Principal Engineer, and Yossi Matias, Vice President, Engineering, Google. But that’s not good enough. They did not address the moral and ethical implications of Duplex. And these are enormous. For example: What will happen to the meaning of “trust” when the synthetic voice of synthetic intelligence is made to sound human? But before we go any further, let’s listen to Duplex phoning two different businesses to make appointments.

We’re racing towards a future where machines will be able to do anything humans can do. Duplex is an important signpost on the road but people should be thinking seriously about where we’re going. During Google I/O, which ended yesterday, tech journalist Bridget Carey posed some of the questions more of us should be asking:

I am genuinely bothered and disturbed at how morally wrong it is for the Google Assistant voice to act like a human and deceive other humans on the other line of a phone call, using upspeek and other quirks of language. “Hi um, do you have anything available on uh May 3?” #io18

If Google created a way for a machine to sound so much like a human that now we can’t tell what is real and what is fake, we need to have a talk about ethics and when it’s right for a human to know when they are speaking to a robot. #io18

In this age of disinformation, where people don’t know what’s fake news… how do you know what to believe if you can’t even trust your ears with now Google Assistant calling businesses and posing as a human? That means any dialogue can be spoofed by a machine and you can’t tell.

Speak now or forever hold your peace.