Written in the Stars

I blogged about Ireland’s Bloody Sunday some time ago. In a nutshell, on 21st November 1920, in reprisal for IRA assasinations earlier that day, British military forces went along and sprayed bullets around Croke Park in Dublin where the Dublin team were playing Tipperary at Gaelic football.

15 were killed or fatally injured, and many wounded. Amongst those killed was Michael Hogan, the Tipperary captain.

Michael Hogan

Last weekend was 100 years since those landmark events. The provincial Gaelic football finals were played, amongst them the Munster final Tipperary v Cork. Tipp hadn’t won the Munster championship since 1935, i.e. 85 years ago – Kerry (especially) and Cork habitually fight it out amongst themselves.

It was written in the stars that Tipp would win, which they duly did, thus honouring their former captain who was taken too soon.

And another strange coincidence occurred. That year, 1920, the provincial champions were:
Munster – Tipperary
Leinster – Dublin
Connacht – Mayo
Ulster – Cavan

That was how they finished last weekend as well.

Songs for my Funeral

Not that I’m expecting it or anything, but neither was Gary Burgess and he’s way younger than me.

I’ve not been to too many funerals in recent times but it seems that, generally speaking, you (or your family) can have a say in how the ceremony goes. And I believe the general idea these days is that funeral clothes and black ties are no longer à la mode.

My Mum is having a good go, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, in outliving her children. In which case I’ll be upsetting her by rejecting a Catholic funeral and going Humanist. These affairs, I understand, don’t include religious content, including traditional hymns. But, for starters, let’s have a look at the most popular, traditional hymns taken from a random website.
1. Amazing Grace
2. Going Home
3. Abide With Me
4. How Great Thou Art
5. All Things Bright and Beautiful
6. The Old Rugged Cross
7. Morning Has Broken
8. Great is Thy Faithfulness
9. What a Friend We Have in Jesus
10. Be Thou My Vision

Umm, no, though presumably I’ll not be that bothered on the day.

So what are my picks? I’ve always had two in mind but today I added a third possible. The two are
1. Rest In Peace, (Mott the Hoople). Written in 1974, it was already a retrospective. It has stood the test of time and, as the original members of the band have started to pass on it has gained in poignancy.
2. Meet on the Ledge, (Fairport Convention). It wasn’t written as a song about death, but it can be beautifully imagined as such.

And the third, the one I decided on earlier. Another Mott the Hoople number performed here by leader Ian Hunter, now 81. Saturday Gigs is an old Mott fans’ favourite and is rich with nostalgia.

Which might leave me with two more picks, not sure how many are allowed. I might go back to my teen years for the first. Clear White Light by Lindisfarne, the folk/rock band which has achieved sainthood in the north-east of England. This was one of their signature songs.

Finally, one I doubt would get the nod even from the most liberal of celebrants and tolerant of family and friends. Black Sabbath were a shock metal band from Birmingham, playing the pubs and clubs when I was in my final years at school. Ozzie and mates have apparently played their last after a mega career, but Sleeping Village (and its iconic cover, below) remains one of their best songs. (On re-listening, maybe best played quietly in the background as the few mourners arrive.)

So, have you thought about your selection?

Life and death

An incredibly sad but typically eloquent and brave piece of writing by one of Jersey’s most respected journalists.

Gary’s Chemo Diary

Yesterday I found out I will die soon.

A half hour video call with my oncologist in Southampton concluded I have a life expectancy of six to twelve months as my cancer is terminal.

The nasties growing between my heart and lung that three months of “salvage chemotherapy” had shrunk earlier this year have come back to life, but there are now more, and the expectation is they will continue to do their thing, possibly making their way to my liver, my brain and elsewhere in my body. They’re inoperable. There isn’t a treatment left to get rid of them.

I’m apparently unusual (I knew that!), with my oncologist seeing only one such case of this rare cancer each year.

There is a chemotherapy treatment that has the potential to add a few extra weeks, maybe months, to my life, but the trade off is the loss of quality of…

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Whistling, a Lost Art?

A man may whistle and a man may sing
A man can do a thousand things
But a whistling woman and a crowing hen
May bring the Devil out of his den

Maxine Peake

When was the last time a man in a hat walked down your street whistling a merry tune? No, nor me. In fact, was there ever a time when people really whistled? I mean, whistled casually rather than as an entertainment? Maybe that image was more in the imagination – or absorbed from mid-century Hollywood or Elstree Studios films.

However, Charles Dickens in Pickwick Papers recounted “To the great horror of Mr John Smauker, Sam Weller began to whistle. ‘I beg your pardon Mr Weller’ said Mr John Smauker, agonised at the exceedingly ungenteel sound.”

Indeed, the stereotype I have in mind is of a cheery butcher’s boy or newspaper boy out on delivery, and of more genteel boys being warned not to lower their standards to such levels.

And those piercing whistles with the aid of fingers in the mouth? I used to have a friend who could split stones at a dozen paces with one of those.

And those wolf whistles – now generally frowned upon – aimed by workmen at a cutie walking by. Said cutie was supposed to smile, perhaps wave, or she’d be subject to rather less complimentary comments.

Whistling is actually a traditional language in La Gomera, one of the smaller Canary Islands, so much so that it is studied in schools to keep the language alive.

Did soldiers whistle? John Keegan Casey (1846 – 70) appears to think so in The Rising of the Moon commemorating the 1798 Irish uprising.

One more word for signal token, whistle up the marching tune
With your pike upon your shoulder at the rising of the moon.

Colonel Bogey and When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again also suggest a tradition when soldiers might have whistled a marching tune if unsure of the words.

Whistling has a long history in music hall and vaudeville. Here in Jersey a lady called Doreen Le Maistre did a ‘Whistle and Saw’ act during the Occupation. Ronnie Ronalde was a rather more famous star with yodelling and bird imitation among his other talents.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) gave us Whistle While You Work which went on to epitomise the British war effort a few years later.

There are many examples in popular music. Perhaps Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay has one of the more memorable whistling passages.

But to conclude I give you Whistling Jack Smith aka Billy Moeller aka actor Coby Wells who was a Jersey resident for a while in the late 1970s and who was no mean cricketer who I played against on several occasions. He was the public face of the hit I was Kaiser Bill’s Batmanhere is Billy.

Fungie the Dolphin

He’s not been seen for over a week now. The mainstay of tourism in the town of Dingle, Kerry in the far west of Ireland is gone and hopes are fading.

Fungie originally turned up in Dingle Harbour in the early 1980s. He fascinated locals and visitors alike with his friendly nature, but surely he’d soon join his mates in deeper waters.

Not so. He became a regular attraction and a little industry quickly grew up, – boat trips certainly but also the hospitality trade which found itself suddenly busier with the influx of tourists. No longer was Dingle a peaceful, niche corner of old Ireland, it was suddenly on the beaten track, a short and scenic trip down the road from celebrated Killarney.

Dingle Town

Now, here’s the thing. Some of us, maybe with rival Cork sympathies, thought it was all a cod (pun intended). Fungie might have been a real dolphin at the outset but those cunning Kerrymen weren’t about to lose their new income stream. I, for one, reckoned that the thing was now a blow-up dolphin, dragged about the harbour on display to gullible Americans.

One time I espoused this thought to the (previously friendly) ladies in the Tralee tourist office to be met with the fiercest of death stares (and I’ve received a few so I should know).

I repent; there is nothing in the present grief that suggests that Fungie was anything other than a real fish (or mammal). Fungie come back 😢😢

Your favourite cartoon strip?

I’ve looked out for Bristow since the mid-1970s when I was a fresh-faced articled clerk in a firm of accountants in Birmingham. Mr Bristow, buying clerk (19th in line for Chief Buyer), was a kindred spirit. Running since 1961, the Frank Dickens-created strip was a fixture in the Birmingham Mail at the time. Though I lost track of Bristow in later life and Dickens died in 2016, happily Facebook still remembers him with a daily insert.

Surely the master of the one-paner, Gary Larson. His offbeat takes on somehow familiar situations ran for 15 years. There was a hiatus from 1995 when it appeared the great man had done with cartooning, happily to re-emerge with new work in early 2020.

Probably the British favourite during the 1960s, the stereotype of a British (un)working man has been running since 1957. Reg Smythe was the creator, the flame carried by others since Smyth’s death in 1998.

Dilbert, created by Scott Adams in 1989, is very much an American product taking aim at the absurdities of corporate life. I love it but it never seems to appear or have gained traction this side of the Pond.

Peanuts, very much a product of American culture yet instantly recognisable here in GB. Charles M Schulz wrote and illustrated the strip from 1950 to his death in 2000 and it’s remarkable for not only its longevity but its continued popularity and striking of chords.

So what’s your favourite? Have I outraged you by missing an obvious strip out (like I am by the continuing absence of Rory Gallagher from any list of great guitarists when he’s in the top few)? Has the day of the comic strip gone, overtaken by new and more cutting edge humour? What say you?

Take a leaf from Bob’s book

My hero Bob Le Sueur just celebrated his 100th birthday. He is a legend in Jersey having lived, worked and resisted during the Occupation. As a young man and office junior he found that all of his colleagues, including his superiors, had evacuated the Island in advance of the German invasion. On telephoning his head office in the UK he was instructed to take charge, and so he did.

He spent much of his spare time during those terrible years risking his own life by organising shelter for escaped slave workers and carrying out various other acts of subversion. Since the War he has devoted much of his life to supporting various human rights causes and charities.

Now, I love my social history on a very amateur level. I enjoy seeing those black-and-white photos of old Jersey and hearing the old folk tell their stories of their youth. But it annoys me intensely to read, on an almost daily basis, the sighs and laments from those who long for those days to return.

“Look what they’ve done to Jersey.” (Whoever “they” are.)
“The Island has been ruined.”
“I wish I’d lived back then.”

I bite my tongue and refrain from suggesting that, should the complainers be transported back 100 years, they’d be clamouring to return to 2020 – with all its faults – before nightfall.

Bob Le Sueur, 100.

So, what does Bob have to say? Surely he looks back on his life in Jersey with fondness and regrets those things we have lost? This is what he has to say:

“I’m not someone who sighs for the good old days. I feel happy to have lived long enough to have seen so many positive improvements in our lives, in our attitudes and what we call our values.

“The position of women has improved dramatically in my lifetime, and we as a community care about the disabled. They are no longer hidden away, particularly the mentally disabled.

“I think young people today, in general, are much more aware and concerned about people in other parts of the world who are being victimised.

“I’m proud that I live in a self-governing community which has the breadth of vision to look beyond the horizon, and be a small part in the positive development of the global village.”

That’s Bob. If only there were a few more like him.

*Bob’s recently-produced memoir Growing Up Fast is available as an ebook here, and Waterstones here in Jersey has, I believe, copies of the paperback.

Change Your Life Direction in 3 Difficult Steps

This is for anyone who’s lost their way in recent months, from my Stateside blogger mate Britt.

Britt Skrabanek

Changes have happened all around us this year—we’re observing them and living them. The harsh closed signs, endless commercial spaces for lease, and out-of-work artists, musicians, servers, retailers, teachers, and flight attendants with nowhere to go. Many of us had to change our life direction this year, whether we liked it or not. We feel lost and maybe we feel found as well.

If you are changing directions with your job, your business, and/or your passion, today I’m sharing three difficult steps that have worked for me this year. I say “difficult” because none of them are easy steps to take.

It’s probably more like 300 steps rather than 3 steps by the time you work through everything. Anyway, I hope this helps if you’re in limbo right now.

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Talking to Tuula

I often run past the field entrance where Tuula Hoeoek, a young au pair, was assaulted and battered to death 54 years ago. This field entrance is at the top of a serious hill so it suits me anyway to stop for a few seconds.

“Hey Tuula, how are you doing?” I wait and listen, there’s no answer. I move on.

We know who did it Tuula.

Maybe people are afraid to believe in ghosts

Have you ever seen a ghost? If not, do you believe in them, or at least have an open mind? If there was a scale of belief 0 – 10 where would you be? I reckon I’d be a 7 or an 8.

Obviously, if you’ve seen a real live ghost you’ll be a 10. Others, many of you, will be a sceptical zero. So no, I’ve never had the pleasure though I’d desperately love to learn that ghosts exist on a physical level.

Cottingley fairies

We’re short of apparitions here in Jersey. We do have a few old legends but they are firmly rooted in the past with no sightings (to my knowledge) in modern times. Our medieval castle Mont Orgueil does supposedly have a resident ghost whose dark corner I point out to our visitors; there is a little substance to this maybe according to previous ghost hunters. Doctor John Lewis, in his memoirs of the Occupation years, describes taking rooms in Bath Street and, for several nights in a row, heard a tumultuous racket coming from the room next to his own bedroom. Upon opening the dividing door there was silence and emptiness. He had almost got used to this phenomenon until one night the noise stopped abruptly, never to reoccur. (The building has since been demolished.)

A family I know well once experienced the sensation of an invisible ‘someone’ walking slowly across their living room and out through the wall – there were three of them who simultaneously experienced this. I re-wrote this scene in A West Cork Mystery.

Credit blogs.bcm.edu.

And of course, Ireland is where you will find ghosts, if anywhere. There is a rich cornucopia of myth, legend and folklore documented by the likes of WB Yeats, Lady Gregory and more recent writers like Michael Scott. And Ireland of course doesn’t just have ghosts; it has the faeries which, as everyone knows, are the descendants of the Tuatha Dé Dannan who were driven underground to the Otherworld by their conquerors the Milesians. They interact with the human race in myriad ways.

As a child, on a visit to an aunt in west Cork, she’d say, “Go to sleep now but wake up at midnight to see the leprechauns dancing outside.” And next thing the morning light would be streaming in through my window.

Slievemore, Achill (Atlas Obscura)

Walk (or run, as I’ve had the pleasure of doing) through the misty wilds of Connemara, wander through the deserted village of Slievemore on Achill Island, listen carefully to the dark silence descending over any Irish village once the pub door has been closed for the night, sit for a while, your back against a standing stone which pre-dates any history we know. Then tell me again that you’re a zero.

Any spooky experiences out there?