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The Partitioned Isle and the Potato

A few weeks ago I posted a poem on this blog about a divided island. Here’s another poem about a divided island:

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Partitioned Island

There’s a border dividing north from south

Two tribes separated by faith and flag

British troops still haunt these shores

But the guns now silent, bombs drop no more

An uneasy peace of mind, a tired truce?

With a long sigh, Prus-sia lost its empire

All around was ire, land unfree and betrayed

But in the Med it’s raining…

Dark memories of ancient times

Up north the churches are no more

Down the south the mosques lie empty

O Greek and Turk where lies thy fate?

The lira or the euro

The church or the mosque

The crescent or the cross

The Efes or the Keo

The doner or the shish?

Icons of Ataturk and Makarios

Adorn dusty streets high on mountain passes and city centres

To what end?

When Aphrodite emerged from the waves

In the palm of Zeus

Hopes dashed on the rocks

Like a UN peace plan

This United Nations

Haunts a disunited nation

But now lobster red alpha males

Lounge by the pool sipping lukewarm beer

Reading yesterday’s Daily Mail

And digesting last night’s fish and chips

They ignore the pathos in Paphos

But go out on a limb in Limmasol

As the Russians invest in surreal estate

Lands long plundered

Now there’s nothing left to

Nick, oh see a ray on the horizon

Aye a ray it is

A glimmer of hope?

A spark?

An alphabet soup of conflict

The letter “E” – OK, “A” not so good

Spelling Grivas bodily harm (sic)

Long bearded priest with long memories

Wafts incense around gold leaf chandeliers

The olive groves and vineyards wither on the line

A green line on a map

Even the lemons are bitter

Aim a missile at a Greek, at a Turk

And they bleed the same shade of red
A book that’s been read a thousand times…

Memoirs Part VI: Creatures unknown to Science

OK, here’s another extract from my forthcoming book, provisionally titled “In Complete Circles: The Memoirs & Travels of an Ageing Schoolboy”. 

In primary school the nearest thing we got to science were schools TV programs which told us how beans grew or how a printing press worked.

In grammar school we got to do the real thing. On a Friday afternoon in the first week of September 1985 we were made to congregate in the lecture theatre while the three science masters Flanagan, Thompson and Quigley decided who was to be in which class. It was an old-fashioned lecture theatre with wooden fold-up seats of the type you would have found in cinemas years ago. As we quickly found out the hinges of these seats were badly in need of oiling. It started with an accidental squeak. Then a few sneaky squeaks which were meant to sound as if they were made accidentally. This had a snowball effect. Before long there was a chorus of 60 chairs squeaking in unison and 60 amused 11 year olds. We were soon told in no uncertain terms to stop it. Along with about 25 other lads I was placed in Mr Cedric Flanagan’s science class. He was another one of those teachers who didn’t have a nickname, but was simply known to pupils (among themselves that is – not to his face) by his first name. There was unlikely to be any confusion here as there weren’t many Cedrics in the West Tyrone area.

“Does anyone have any experience of science?” he asked as an introductory ice-breaker in our very first science class.

“My brother’s got a chemistry set.”

Another lad went one better and boasted: “I’ve got a chemistry set”.

 And even better still was the classic line: “My brother squeezes stuff out of worms”.

“What kind of stuff?” Cedric asked.

 “Brown stuff”.

Laughter

 “I don’t think I’d like to meet your brother!”

 “You already have, he’s in 2B.”

About a year later the worm-squeezer’s brother came up with another classic, this time in Tim Thompson’s science class. “Some fella up by Ballygalduffy drank a bottle of etherium hypochloxite. And then he vomited this blue stuff.”

A short pause followed.

“And died.”

There was an eruption of laughter at this rather macabre tale.

 The last section of our1st year  textbook, the infamous Chapter 10 was on reproduction. On receipt of the book everyone naturally made a beeline for the back pages.

“Any questions?” Cedric asked.

“Sir, will we be dissecting rats?”

“Not this year.”

 Micheal was persistent and would ask at the beginning of each subsequent class:

“Sir, will we doing an experiment today?”

When we eventually got to do an experiment it amounted to boiling ink in a test tube.

The science labs contained many collectable trophies like crocodile clips, pieces of wire and test tubes, which were of no practical use in the “outside world”, but still got nicked just for the sake of being nicked. The teachers knew this was going on, but there was only so much they could do to stop it.

Tim Thompson, the science department’s answer to SeanConnery was wise to what was going on and had had the foresight to count the crocodile clips in advance of handing them out. After an experiment involving electrical conductivity and circuit boards a number of crocodile clips had gone missing.

“We have six croc clips missing. No-one’s leaving here till they’re found” he said firmly.

At this point the bell for lunchtime went off. Suddenly the missing clips all mysteriously and inexplicably reappeared in the oddest of places just like the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Knock or Lourdes.

“There’s one here, sir” said one boy who had “found” it in the sink.

“I’ve just found one on the floor, sir” said another.  Others miraculously “reappeared” under textbooks and on stools or desks.

Occasionally potassium permanganate, copper sulphate or borax would go walkies. Rumour has it that some of the more entrepreneurial pupils would attempt to flog them in the seedier snooker clubs and bars of the town, passing them off as crystal meths or some new wonder drug which had just arrived in the sticks.

My chemistry teacher in 4th and 5th year Pat Quigley, a small, bespectacled round-faced man was known to the pupils as Penfold due to his resemblance to an anthropomorphised cartoon hamster of that name from the children’s TV series Dangermouse. It wasn’t so much that he was a soft touch. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, but he was a bit doddery and had the air of the absent-minded professor about him. But was basically a decent sort – as a contemporary of mine put it in a social networking site – “that poor man took some abuse. A civil oul critter”.

It was a Friday morning. He had his back to the class while he was setting up the experiment, which we were standing around watching. It was something to do with electrolysis involving (if I remember correctly) an electric circuit board and copper sulphate, the blue solution into which you could dip your locker key and it would comes out with a copper-coloured sheen which soon wears off. There happened to be a box of crocodile clips on the table. When his back was still to the class one wag decided to discreetly attach one of the clips to Penfold’s jacket tail without him noticing. This caused a few silent smirks. Another wag decided to do the same and similarly got away with it. Before long there were five crocodile clips clipped to the tail of his jacket which he was completely oblivious to as he talked us through the chemical reaction and its significance to the scientific world while he continued to test the apparatus. By this stage it was becoming increasingly difficult to hold in the laughter.

“So the copper will now react with the sulphate solution to produce… Loughry, what are you sniggering at?”

“Nothing sir”

He continued “And as we can see… Brannigan, what’s so funny?”

“Oh…just a private joke, sir”

Double chemistry immediately preceded lunchtime. The bell went and as we exited the lab and buggered off to lunch with a spring in our step in joyful anticipation of the weekend ahead poor old Penfold must have walked through the corridors and possibly even entered the staffroom before someone (presumably another teacher) politely pointed out to him the presence of the clips attached to his jacket. An inquest followed. Even though I was wholly innocent of the charges I was summoned for interrogation along with a number of other prime suspects. This was probably because I’d got into his bad books a few weeks earlier for not paying attention in class and was therefore a potential troublemaker. This was my Achilles heel. I had a short attention span – and still do to an extent. Even now when I’m attending conferences or training courses I tend to drift into a different world and begin to daydream just as I did in class (particularly maths classes) many moons ago. It was my short attention span plus my tendency to be easily amused which most often got me into trouble.

It had been during another chemistry class about a year previous to the above episode that our regular teacher was off on a course, so we had a supply teacher supervising us. As he couldn’t be arsed teaching the class we were basically told to get on with whatever work we had to do. The thing was this supply teacher looked like he’d been on the piss all night. He had bags under his eyes and his tie was loosely tied with the knot halfway down his shirt. His face which had a permanently spaced-out expression was as white as two albino polar bears fighting in a snowstorm. It also looked like he’d been snorting coke or smoking whacky-baccy and was considerably the worse for wear. When one lad Micheal Ferry pointed out that this doped up, hung-over supervisor reminded him of Danny Kendal, a spaced-out boy from Grange Hill – and there was indeed a physical resemblance – this was it. I could hardly contain myself for the duration of the class. I was desperately trying to suppress the laughter which was bursting to get out of me. Every time I made eye contact with this baggy-eyed Danny Kendal lookalike I found it all the more difficult not to laugh.

“Wipe that silly simile off your face, it’s annoying me” Danny Kendal finally said.

Not half as annoying as that man with the hammer inside your head who keeps banging away I thought.

Even thinking about that incident now after 23 years I still burst out laughing.  In the most awkward and inappropriate of places…

Memoirs of an ageing schoolboy

About 4 years ago I started work on a comic memoir of my schooldays, mostly for my own amusement. I’ve recently returned to it and have decided to publish a short extract of it below to gauge the general reaction. Comments and criticisms (just don’t be too harsh!) would be welcome. If you went to a boys school in the 1980s and 1990s (especially if you’re from Omagh or the surrounding area) you’ll probably be able to relate to it fairly well.

Living in Interesting Times
By the dawn of the 1990s, the ridiculous ’80s schoolboy fashion of wearing black shoes (often slip-ons) and white socks was gone. Major sportswear labels like Nike and Adidas were still very much in vogue then as they are now. But little did we know we were unintentionally contributing to global capitalism and the exploitation of young children in Bangladeshi sweatshops getting paid 50p a day to make our cool t-shirts for the western world – even though we still wear the designer labels now. As a backlash against the ridiculous 1970s fashions of outrageously vomit-inducing flowery-patterned wide kipper ties and flared trousers the schoolboy fashions of the mid-80s were wafer thin ties and almost skintight trousers. The anorexic effect of the neck attire was achieved by tying one’s tie using the thin end as the longer part and stuffing the thicker end into one’s shirt. Looking back in hindsight it probably looked rather silly, but the folly of youth knows no bounds.

Gaining entry to a certificate 18 film while you were still only 17¾ was seen as something of a coup, but getting into licensed premises at this age was even more so. A summer’s afternoon off following an exam was happily passed in one of the town’s watering holes after you’d taken your school tie off in a pathetic attempt to disguise the fact that you were underage and the barman serving you was breaking the law. Before that the only option had been to go to the local park or the river bank with a bottle of cider shared between 10. The tallest boy in the group was assigned to go into the off-licence, having not shaved for a few days and put on a deep voice when ordering the offending liquor.

We were living in exciting times. Winds of change were blowing across Europe. And the German heavy metal band Scorpions (think mullet haircuts and handlebar moustaches) wrote a song about it. When I visited Prague for the first time about a dozen years later I couldn’t get the bloody song out of my head. I’d been in Vienna just a few days earlier and a certain Ultravox song had been going through my head almost incessantly.
The Berlin Wall had fallen and the old iron curtain was finally being pulled open. Ironically while borders across most of Europe were disappearing, new ones were about to spring up in what was then still Yugoslavia.
Nelson Mandela had recently become a free man and the cracks in apartheid were beginning to show. A few years later we would even be able to buy South African oranges in the supermarket without feeling guilty about it.

The Metal Years
Heavy metal, for years a rather marginal genre was now becoming mainstream. Bands like Guns & Roses, Def Leppard, Metallica and Poison were storming the charts.
Other successful acts of the day at the opposite end of the musical spectrum included Bros, Brother Beyond and New Kids On The Block (currently residing in the proverbial “Where-Are-They-Now?” File – otherwise known as the dole office), but no pupil at a boys’ school would ever have admitted to liking them.
I didn’t have the typical short-on-top-long-at-the-back haircut known as the mullet or go around wearing a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off or a studded leather codpiece or any of that. I merely observed from a safe distance. Tattered copies of rock magazines like Metal Hammer and Kerraannggg would circulate around the classrooms smuggled inside copies of Macbeth or GCSE Biology. Sometimes the centrefold pages would feature scantily clad or topless young women invariably with their arms around the popular artists of the industry. These were usually heavily tattooed young men with bleached blonde shoulder length permed hair in sleeveless tops and ripped jeans (also bleached – for some strange reason discoloured jeans with holes in them were highly fashionable back then) clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels and exhaling cigarette smoke. With the type of stuff you can download nowadays at the simple click of a mouse, all this seems rather tame by today’s standards. But for a testosterone-fuelled 16-year old in the pre-internet era when real porn was hard to come by, especially in a smallish provincial town in a very socially conservative society where newsagents generally didn’t sell top shelf material – or if they did it tended to be kept under the counter (allegedly). Although more racy material did occasionally circulate around the classrooms. One particular individual who shall remain strictly nameless had a bit of a reputation as a purveyor and would bring his “wares” into school for his mates to gawp at wide-eyed and open-mouthed with their tongues almost touching the floor. This was until (or so the story goes) the incriminating publications were found by his mother under his bed while she was cleaning his room. Perhaps an all too familiar story for ageing schoolboys of a certain generation. As a result of this “unfortunate” discovery he was apparently put under virtual house arrest for the next 6 years until his 21st birthday and banned from going out in the evenings. Although the details of this story may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect.
In the spirit of the times a plethora of teenage heavy metal bands with names like Psychosis, Savages and Sanatorium suddenly sprang up in the town. But there was no danger of them upstaging the town’s best known musician, an alcoholic busker known as Arty G. Arty G with his unmistakeable afro hair and bulging eyes had a regular patch on the high street where he would play the guitar, usually with a few strings missing, and sing badly in a slurred voice, a bottle of extra strong cider and a small dog always by his side. Although he cut something of a pathetic figure he was generally liked by the townsfolk as a local institution. Various urban myths about his colourful past abounded – that he had once been a successful musician and had toured alongside the likes of the Rolling Stones and Deep Purple in his youth. After Arty passed away in 2007 he received apparently one of the biggest funerals the town had ever seen.
In a sad pathetic attempt to get in with the metal crowd I even bought a ticket for the Anthrax gig in the rather incongruous setting of Omagh GAA club. Even now the idea of an internationally famous rock act like Anthrax playing in a place like Omagh – and at the local GAA club of all places – seems nothing short of surreal.
When I arrived at the venue I decided I didn’t really want to go, so decided to cut my losses and sell the ticket for £11 – £3 more than its face value. It was my first and to date only experience of ticket touting. I suppose to a 15 year old in those days £3.00 would have been considered a not unreasonable sum – it would have bought you half a cassette tape album or two Viz comics.
Apparently Anthrax complained about being spat on by the audience and vowed never to play in Ireland again. At the time this practice known as “gobbing” I believe was a common occurrence at heavy metal gigs at the time – but have no idea why. It seems that Anthrax’s loss was Ireland’s gain.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 52,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 34 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 125 posts. There were 86 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 63mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was July 14th with 867 views. The most popular post that day was Experimental Short Term Vegetarianism Part 2 .

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were sluggerotoole.com, networkedblogs.com, facebook.com, irishblogs.ie, and dreamingarm.wordpress.com..

Some visitors came searching, mostly for kate bush, iceland, visa, giant hogweed, and hogweed.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Experimental Short Term Vegetarianism Part 2 March 2009
4 comments

2

Will the Real Kate Bush please stand up? October 2009
5 comments

3

Iceland’s volcanic revenge on China? April 2010
4 comments

4

Visa Card Apartheid Flags to be banned in the Rainbow Nation? June 2009
1 comment

5

ENNIO MORRICONE: MUSICAL GENIUS July 2009
4 comments