Monthly Archives: October 2014

Another day …

Yesterday, with Archbishop Ussher’s chronology and the sainted expatriate Donagh, the blog may have pleased one or two passing strangers. The Pert Young Piece, however, reckons her Canadian beaver has gone AWOL (which probably means it’s in a plastic crate in my loft).

What today, Malcolm?

Well, the Lady in My Life and I cruised across to Scarborough and  for Northern Broadsides’  She Stoops to Conquer. Note, again, the TCD connection: these things are not all three-star delights, you know — sometimes there ‘s a duty to be honoured.

All credit to the excellent Stephen Joseph Theatre: they do a good show on an open stage. O.K. the restaurant needs to be sharpened up, but beyond that, what not to be liked? I mean, what looked like a sell-out performance to the grey-hairs of the Yorkshire coast on a Thursday afternoon …

Meanwhile, I have to admit I’d need a lot of persuasion to fall into mild affection for Scarborough itself. It is very much the end of the line (and that’s the choice between Trans-Pennine Express — which, most definitely, is no express, and today ran well late — or Northern Rail irregularly poddling down to Hull. The really bad news there is you may see-saw down to Hull in a Pacer, which must qualify as one of the least successful locomotive experiments on record — an experiment 35 years on.

And then there are the pubs. There must be good pubs in Scarborough. There are several, mainly on the outskirts (see, but late October is obviously out-of-season. So one effort had Timothy Taylor Landlord on a pump (yeah!) but no proper draught actually available. Another had nothing but fizz. Shocking!

And what of today?

The main event has to be the scheduled departure of the swallows from Capistrano. The little buggers cleared off from North Yorkshire about the start of September. Still, let’s wallow in 1940s nostalgia with the Ink Spots:

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Filed under leftist politics., Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, Yorkshire

Cuddly, but bites

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore years that I like to count, we drove across the Lewiston-Queenstown Bridge from Canada into New York State. In so doing, we reclaimed our Canadian sales-tax at the frontier. It wasn’t a lot, but — cutely — it was paid out in Canadian currency. So we had to spend it on the spot.

The Pert Young Piece, perter and younger than she is today, set eyes on a soft toy: a beaver in RCMP costume. That solved much of the essential expenditure. Since she runs something of a bear parlour, I’d guess she still has it.

To me it represents something symbolic about Canada. It all seems cuddly and gentle on the surface, but those teeth can bite.

Strange that all came back to my mind today.

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Another not-so-great but probably-quite-good:

Meanwhile, today — 22nd October — is the Holy Day of Saint Donatus of Fiesole (died c.876).

Brother Donatus (who, probably, therefore, was Donagh before the Latinists got at him) went off from Inis Cealtra, on Lough Derg, to Rome. He was accompanied by his mate and pupil, Andrew the Scot, who was St Brigid’s brother, no less.

On the way back, as one does, they took a side trip to Fiesole, and slipped into the back of the basilica. The locals were having a bad time, what with the newly-arrived Norse landlords imposing new demands and being generally unpleasant — and their late bishop had ended up being drowned.

Legend has it that, as Donagh and Andrew entered, the candles lit spontaneously and the bells began ringing. The locals recognised a message when one was that obvious, and promptly elected Donagh to a job he held the next half century. Nobody has quite worked out why Donagh, rather than Andrew, was the Chosen One. Equally, and obviously Donagh hadn’t sussed why there were no local candidates putting themselves forward: the fate of the previous bishop ‘s watery end might have been in a few minds.

Sadly the Duomo di Fiesole is not what Donagh would have known: it’s been rebuilt twice, and Donagh’s various bits seem to have been carted from place to place in the meanwhile. For reasons I cannot fathom, he stands on the Madonna’s left in Verrocchio’s Technicolor© piece at Pistoia.



Andrew the Scot (no relation to the Galilean fisherman) was also sanctified. He stayed as Donagh’s aide, survived Donagh, and had established a monastery and church at San Martino di Mensola. On his death-bed, he was consoled by sister Brigid, whisked from Ireland by angelic transportation.

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The not-so-great and not-so-good: Usshering in another year

May I remind all denizens of planet Earth, and beyond, that today, 22nd October, is our universe’s 6,018th birthday?

That, of course, is according to Archbishop Ussher. Our natal moment will be 6 p.m. Adam’s and Eve’s come along next Tuesday.

Oh, don’t mock it!

Once upon a time an occasional series, vaguely linked to the “not-so-great and no-so-good” of mainly Irish history, appeared here. I lost count, but think this would be around number 32.

James Ussher was as prominent an academic and scholar as the Anglo-Irish produced in the early 17th-century.In 1594 he was one of the first entry to Queen Elizabeth’s Trinity College, Dublin. He became an ordained minister (and, by any standards, an extraordinarily well-read one) before he was properly of age. In his main career he was a protagonist for protestantism (which, after all, was the whole purpose of TCD at that stage): he was instrumental in composing the original Articles of the Irish Church — which were more hostile to Catholicism, more Calvinist, than the English Thirty-Nine Articles. They were more flexible — especially on the episcopacy and on subscription: as a result the Irish Church had more room to accommodate puritanism. This was conveyed all the way down to the later Twentieth Century (who can forget the Church of Ireland’s dconflicts over a crucifix appearing on the altar?). By no coincidence, in his later years, during the Cromwellian Protectorate, Ussher seems to have flirted with presbyterianism.

Ussher’s progress

At the end of 1621 Ussher was consecrated as Bishop of Meath and, as a member of the Privy Council of Ireland, was a major political as well as ecclesiastical force. In September 1622 he preached a strong anti-Catholic sermon at the swearing in of Henry Cary, Viscount Falkland, as Lord Deputy. Since many of Cary’s family, including his wife, reverted to Catholicism (which is another story), there may be more there than immediately meets the eye, and ear.

In 1625 Ussher was nominated to the Primacy of All Ireland, at a time when Irish politics were approaching fervidity. King Charles needed Irish Catholics to be soft-soaped, at a time when England was on the point of going to war with Spain. Hence the Graces, concessions on toleration, to be rewarded by financial contribution. This put Calvinist Ussher in an ambiguous position, which wasn’t eased by the rise of Arminianism in the Church of England (with Laud looking to regularise Anglican practices across the whole of Charles’s kingdoms), nor by the rule of “Thorough” when Wentworth arrived as Lord Deputy.

A significant moment here was the appointment of William Chappell (John Milton’s tutor at Cambridge) as provost of TCD. Ussher sided with the Calvinist “old guard”, against Chappell. Power was slipping from Ussher, who retreated to Drogheda and scholarship. In 1640 he left for London, as a royalist but with connections to the likes of John Pym. When England moved to Civil War, Ussher was in Oxford and a committed Royalist. He visited Charles in prison on 7th November 1648, and witnessed the king’s execution from the roof of the countess of Peterborough’s house in Whitehall.

Ussher’s anti-Catholicism seems to have softened over time. He have been on good nodding terms with the Four Masters, whose Annals underpinned Ussher’s computations. Which might suggest the postal service between Drogheda, London and Sligo was as good in the seventeenth century as it sometimes is today.

And, surely, he stands as the archetypal and prototype Trinity man.

Mainly remembered for his introduction

The whole business of 4004BC stems from his treatise on the calendar, De Macedonum et Asianorum anno solari dissertatio: cum Graecorum astronomorum parapegmate, ad Macedonici et Juliani anni rationes accommodato. This was the foreword to his final two publications: which were Annales veteris testamenti (1650) and Annalium pars posterior (1654). Ussher was effectively summarising his vast knowledge to generate an integrated chronology for biblical and ancient history. Put aside the Genesis assumptions, and much of it still stands.

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From rat to ratatouille

Occupying your local brats during long car drives is an art-form in itself.

When we were doing the summer vacation run to the south of France we invented a whole series of games. We piggled caravans (pointed finger and derisive “piggle!” — a useful term of mild abuse ever after. We politically-incorrectly nominated a “Mr Blob” in each town on an avoirdupois and circumferential basis. We evaluated all French dogs into one of three classes: rat, rug and demi-cheval. This was doubtless inspired by a numerical reduction of Macbeth‘s:

As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are ‘clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.

The other game which has persisted with the Pert Young Piece is the one with rat-wagons. Here one had to spot those decaying corrugated vans which stagger their way along Routes Nationales at minimal speed, with a trail of frustrated drivers seeking any opportunity to overtake. Or are seen in roadside vantage points, selling vegetables, housing chickens, proving piggeries … or just rotting. The prime specimens inevitably were  Citroën H vans. Bonus points for 90%+ oxidation and evidently broken suspension.

Rat wagon


Sadly those rust-heaps are no more.

PYP looks in vain. They have all been gentrified:



The punch-line here was from a BBC Radio Three French week. Between the main events, an intermission discussion was on French engineering.

A gloomy French voice inserted: “Ow can any county be taken seriously when it produced the Citroën Ami 6?”

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I know, I know.Hotter

Alongside my gripe about cleaners guaranteed to do for “99.9% of known germs” (it’s the 0.1% that worry me), I have a new grief.

It’s this advertisement for Hotter shoes.

I know what it is intended to mean, but …


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Sunday with rainbows

Tribe Redfellow swanned across a fair bit of North Yorkshire yesterday.

This is not, of itself, a matter of any note.

We were accompanied, to the the north by a persistent rainbow — one of the best I have seen for a long while. Oddly, this was against the background of a clear blue sky and no sign of nearby rain. That was worth noting, as I here do.

So, too, were the “autumn tints”. Thanks to a very fine, and dry, and warm September, leaf-fall seems late this year. North Yorkshire may lack the crowd-appeal of all those New England maples, but it’s worth the trip.

I have little to say in favour of the lime tree. For much of the year it weeps sticky goo onto your car. Come this time of year, the leaves make the limestone payments of York slimy and — at worst — treacherous.

Horse chestnuts, having conkered, are better when they dump crisp piles of fingered leaves. On the other hand, a motor-bike passage, at speed, under fruiting horse-chestnuts can be an experience. A nut falling at 32 feet per second per second, impacting a crash helmet travelling at sixty-mph plus, is as unsettling as a wasp inside your half-unzipped-for-summer leather jacket. I’ve had both.

Then there was the sight, yesterday, of silver birches silhouetted against darker foliage, almost ghost trees in the low sunlight.

The sight of sights, though, is the solitary mature oak, turning to rust.

Time for some suggestive musical accompaniment?

 Which brings me to a word.

There is a Greek noun, ἔκδυσις, “a slipping out, an escape”, which gave the mid-Victorian biologists a fancy and impressive technical term. The OED renders ecdysis as:

The action of stripping or casting off, esp. of slough or dead skin in serpents and caterpillars, or of the chitinous integument in Crustacea. Also concr. that which is cast off, slough.

I’m not strong on chitinous integuments, but I reckon we ordinary mortals might reach for “moulting” as a rough and graspable equivalent.

Then, in 1940, H.L.Mencken, writing to supplement his The American Language,  proposed a metaphorical usage:

It might be a good idea to relate strip-teasing in some way … to the associated zoölogical phenomenon of molting … A resort to the scientific name for molting, which is ecdysis, produces both ecdysist and ecdysiast.

Of all the trees in all the woods in all the world, the Great English Oak is the supreme silvanian ecdysiast.



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Filed under Britain, Music, Oxford English Dictionary, York, Yorkshire