What is all that stuff on your desk I have been asked.

Desk Life

My reply. It all has a place and a purpose. If not for others, for me.

Let us go in then, an inventory of sorts. 

One screen good, two screens better. I would gladly have more given the opportunity. Twice the space and sprawl. I have been jealously stalking a mammoth curved Samsung screen for no good reason to be honest. But I could work approaching not 24/7 (god forbid) but 360 degrees. For the eagle eyed and there aren’t many these times, the screen desktop on the right is a photograph of a sensational sunset. A large print of the same shot I took reposes on the living room wall. 

How do you increase your desk area has no one asked ever. But if we only answered questions where would we be. So I answer regardless. Opinion. Fact. Theory. Whatever, it works for me. I haven’t actually measured the extra space provided by my mezzanine desk innovation but the difference is noticeable.

 By repurposing a couple of mesh in trays & magazine racks I was very pleased with myself. Miscellaneous usb hubs, chargers, ink jars and diverse objects can stay on the desk, close at hand but out of sight. What of your in-tray you may ask. Well, all I ever really did was let it pile up until crisis point whereupon I threw it all in the bin. Now I just throw it in the bin straight away. Out with the inbox and into the outbox. I have places I stuff things. That works for me but I can’t always find the things stuffed.

There are three lights on my desk, two useful and one ornamental. One of the useful ones is in use here, the ornamental one is on but of no real use, while the third and therefore second useful one is off, and out of sight. But it is there even though it is off and emitting no light. All IKEA. Airplants I have several. One in the 1/3 pint milk bottle was bought in a posh garden centre where they sell ludicrously expensive garden pottery, statues, gazebi and other follies. (I like gazebi rather than gazeboes). The other airplant lives in a reused Glendalough gin bottle, that I constructed myself, although sadly I did not deconstruct the gin myself. The green glass beads come from an ornament in our home in Omagh. Typical Christina nic nacs.

There in their small green case, Rosary beads given to me when we met Pope Francis the first time in Rome. Also there is a sleeping St Joseph, a strong man of silence (no not me). I let him sleep on anything that is bothering me. The Pope asked me to pray for him. I do.

Phone/iPad/tablet stands are there – for utility rather than ornament. Some people want to look at me when they talk to me. Why for the love of God I do not know. I find it difficult to look at myself betimes and used to tell myself that when I toiled at that University. ‘Look at the shape of you I would chide.’ Then I would look at the state of some of the  Professors I had to deal with and was reassured.

Capo. This is a rather expensive Thalia capo I splashed out on during lockdown. A clunky bit of indulgent guitar bling and typically American. Well-crafted and substantial, but the best capos I have are Shubb. I have several depending on the instrument of torture on any given day.

Desk life, roaming wild. Wooden hippo, I Giorni. Fantastical Glass animals from Rome.

Fountain pens, Parker. Black, blue and roasted red ink. I only really use these pens or a pencil in my work notebooks. As the channel through which my thoughts make it into the real world, or at least the world I inhabit, it is only fair that the instrument should be elegant and the notebook deserves no less. Sometimes a pen can be blocked, scratchy, devoid of ink, or can overflow and flood a page. Just like its owner. 

Item. Mac keyboard with annoying sticky a key. I had it replaced but it’s still not a hundred per cent.

Notebooks, one for work, I have a couple of shelves full of material I should revisit. Another for music, chords, theory, progressions, words, songs made suddenly clear. Also a journal for writing therapy. Therein I document the passage of grief, anxieties, insecurities and observations. I lament and keen and weep for things and people passed. Writing something down is therapeutic. Even pointless pieces like this piece have purpose. Peace. Settles an unquiet mind. I recommend it. If people like it, well that’s their choice.

That book there  about the early church in Ireland I will read with interest. I came upon it looking for another. Ireland’s landscape is punctuated with monastic dwellings, holy wells, a landscape of faith rich in story and alive. 

There I see an LP coffee coaster Cáit got me for Christmas a while back. Also there my ruler. Most people have rulers that go to 30cm but mine goes to…31cm. One centimetre can make all the difference. The man smiling benignly from the photo and observing every move I make is my dad. Younger when he died. 

Than I am now. The cross on the wall is a penal cross made from turf by the sadly defunct Owen Crafts. We brought one to Peru on our honeymoon and presented it to a family we stayed with on Isla Taquile. I remember the nodding, smiling total lack of understanding in the Quechua speaking woman and her husband as I talked about Lough Derg. I don’t imagine they ever made it over.

Thonder a Tibetan singing bowl. It’s deep tone is strangely calm and healing. It amused my mother greatly. 

The desk itself cost 18 quid from IKEA when I was getting myself started. It’s wobbly, chipped and cheap. I should consider another but it has served its purpose well.

And what of these trinkets. Essentially they mean nothing and when I’m done could all be swept into a bin bag and dumped. But they are familiar, calm, reassuring. For me.

And what of this piece? An exercise in writing about nothing that I set myself today as part of trying. Job done. Nothing ventured.

Turn Up, Tune in, COP Out

Serendipity brought me to Glasgow last weekend, not in my capacity as eco-warrior and general life guru, but en route to Islay for fresh air, a break from things, and some single malt whisky.

Passing through Glasgow, it was apparent that everyone had jumped on the COP26 bandwagon; whether it was wind power, solar or just hot air wasn’t clear. Billboards, posters, everywhere seemed eager to make some climate-related point.

The wallpaper effect is in full view, everyone trying to say something and ultimately communicating nothing. The virtue signalling was all around. It’s been a long time since I was in Glasgow, and the immediate impression on my return was the traffic – there were cars everywhere. Of course, the first thing needs to go are cars, but that won’t happen.

There is no doubt that trying to unravel the diverse contributors to and causes of Carbon emissions is complex, intractable and tied up in many vested interests. Nevertheless, you have to admire the innocence of teenage mutant ninja eco-warriors reusing their shopping bags, switching on their gloomy energy-saving lightbulbs and staring mournfully at the empty fire grate with four jumpers on to stay warm, berating politicians and other carbon wasters through chattering teeth.

Until the mega polluters of the world change their ways, the situation is unlikely to change. Chinese manufacturing will continue so long as the rest of the world wants to buy the things they make, likewise in the US and Russia where oil = big bucks and influence.

Crying Wolf

In Ireland, which contributes less than 1% of carbon emissions, 80% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 is the target. But, despite Ireland’s progressive role in adopting wind farms, is it realistic?

Leading the charge is the Green Party led by Eamon Ryan, who cycles from the front. Someone who has a career interest in bicycles that the Third Policeman would be envious of is determined to recycle the entire country. He recently declared the end of fossil fuels, and all new cars will be electronic by 2030, he says. Fair enough. This is the same person that wanted to reintroduce the wolf to the Irish countryside, almost 250 years after the species became extinct in Ireland.  Mr Ryan said he believed that wolves should have a place in Ireland’s environment and would contribute positively to the ecosystem and the State’s national habitat. He also annoyed more than the Healy Raes of this planet when he  suggested that a village of 300 people could operate on 30 cars. Car sharing, cycling down to your pick up point would be straightforward; indeed you might get there quicker if one of the wolves decided to give chase.

Ireland’s island status, clinging to the west of Europe makes it ideal for wind farms. And indeed harnessing wave power if it can be made viable. Last year despite the growth of the windfarm estate approximately 11% of energy was lost because of problems with the national grid. In other words one in ten windmills is a waste of time. There are diverse views on windmills.

Ireland’s Birnam Wood

sCommunities point to their size, scale, closeness to property, visual pollution as negatives. They use large amounts of concrete and their end of life disposal plans aren’t clear. Alarmingly also the construction of wind farms has caused MacBeth-esque slippage of forest and bogland. Most recently tonnes of peat slipped downhill near Meenbog Wind Farm, close to Ballybofey and the Co Tyrone border,

The wind farm is owned by Invis Energy who said helpfully: “There is no risk to public health.” The Environmental disaster caused the pollution of the internationally important salmon spawning Mourne Beg river. But hey, who cares about the death of a few thousand fish and their contribution to biodiversity, fishing and tourism.

It’s happened before. In Galway in  2003, during the construction of a 70 turbine wind farm in on the Slieve Aughty mountains at Derrybrien. The landslide sent tonnes of peatland, trees and debris down the mountainside, killing tens of thousands of fish and disrupting natural ecosystems. Repeated attempts to stop the slide by erecting earthworks were effortlessly swept aside by the moving landmass.

In 2019, the Irish State was fined €5 million in relation to the site, with further penalties of €15,000 per day, until the government assesses the impact of the development. To date, the Irish state has accrued over €15 million worth of fines in relation to the wind farm. That continues, so add that to your energy bill. These bogs are also huge carbon sinks and movement or disruption causes the release of carbon, defeating the entire purpose of the exercise. If you want to cycle up and take a look, or take your wolf for a walk, be my guest.

Military Precision Emissions

There’s more. Not many people know that Military figures are not included in a country’s carbon emissions tallies. This is quite unbelievable when you consider that the US military is estimated to emit more hothouse gas than 148 countries out of 195 in the world. Shame on them you may say, but consider for a moment Russia, China, North Korea and India about whose emissions we know nothing.

To give an idea of the scale of the problem, while the eco children of woke Northern Europe are tootling about in their electric cars and bikes berating politicians, Norway invested in a squadron of F-35 fighter jets. These yokes burn 5,600 litres of fossil fuels for every hour they spend in flight.  The average car can travel 61,500 km for that amount of fossil fuel, in other words, a car would take three years to throw out an hour’s worth of fighter pollution.

In 2017, the US military bought c270,000 barrels of oil a day and emitted more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide by burning those fuels. The US Air Force purchased US$4.9 billion worth of fuel, and the navy US$2.8 billion, followed by the army at US$947m and the Marines at US$36m. In comparison, the carbon footprint of EU military expenditure in 2019 was estimated to be approximately 24.8 million tCO2e. This is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of about 14 million average cars. It is also considered a conservative estimate.

Taking the Climate Emergency Seriously

It’s no wonder that one of the first things the Northern Ireland Assembly did after their three years off due to the RHI and subsequent huffing debacle, was to declare a Climate Emergency. There is no doubt that if someone lights a turf fire on the Malone Road or  desperate housewife fires up the Aga in North Down that there will be repercussions worldwide.

Some countries take the whole situation more seriously than others. Spare a thought for the Zimbabwe delegation to COP 26, that comprised 100 people. Sixty of them have no expertise in climate issues. To get his team there the Zimbabwe PM hired a private jet from Azerbaijan at a cost of $1million. The lads on the trip were clearly pleased to get the gig and entered into the spirit as social media images emerged of delegates pushing groaning shopping trolleys laden with Glenfiddich, Jamesons and various other treats including Irn Bru. The climate briefing obviously covered the need for a hangover cure on a cold Glasgow morning.

It hasn’t been reported whether or not any tiresome teen eco warriors joined the Zimbabweans jollies, it may be that it would all be just too much fun for these eco eager beavers. And anyway as far as they’re concerned you can shove the whole thing up your arse.

What’s the answer? Some folk reckon that it’s hard to establish any actual starting baseline from which to measure progress because there are so many variables world-wide. While  the west pursues the ‘fossil fuels bad, renewables good’ maxim, there are other subtle and nuanced views. We could do with some demilitarisation for a start. Make peace not fighter jets. Avoid virtue signalling and empty words and pathetic suggestions. Bicycles may be a solution for an urban woke elite but they won’t cut it elsewhere. Government ministers lecturing us all whilst complicit in eco disasters in their own back garden aren’t acceptable. Likewise the teen ninja eco-warriors. All the hot air and headlines without any accountability.

Developing World Differing Perspectives

Some chastening words on COP26 from NJ Ayuk JD, MBA, Executive Chairman at African Energy Chamber

“I respect China and Russia who aren’t attending #COP26. They’ve no intention of playing games and will drive up their energy industry while the West impoverishes their citizens through radical action. Ironically not attending is better for the planet than the hypocrites arriving by private jets and burning a few million litres of rocket fuel through the atmosphere every 5 minutes to show off to their friends and lecturing Africans to go green immediately with failed promises around energy poverty. China and Russia are laughing at you.

“The 400 private jets used by world ‘leaders’ to get to #COP26 pumped out 13,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, yet they want you to stop eating meat, to stop going on holiday, to buy a new electric car when we don’t even have electricity to charge a Tesla (600 million Africans have no lights), and to spend thousands of dollars on new boilers.”

Jocelyne Machevo, from Mozambique, Energy Industry Expert

“Mozambique is a resourceful country, besides many things we have discovered a huge amount of gas that placed us amongst the most prospective regions in the world. As one can certainly understand, the gas industry also acts as a catalyst for further developments and industrialization, so we (Mozambicans) see in these discoveries an opportunity to boost our socio-economic development.
In Mozambique, less than 50% of its population has access to modern and reliable electricity. So we also see in these discoveries an opportunity to leverage on our own resources, using this gas, which happens to be relatively cleaner, to improve access to energy to the Mozambican households and serve as the base load required to boost industrialization. In simple terms, this is our plan as Mozambicans.

“Data has shown that Africa’s CO2 contribution is minimal while the developed world was busy maximizing the benefits of their own resources and focused on their own development, which is nothing but fair and understandable. It is now our turn to do the same, to exercise our fairness right.
We have decided to not romanticize and entertain solutions that will not solve our core problems. Renewables at this moment, cannot solve our energy poverty issues, we do not have yet the money, matured technology, infrastructure, policies, just to mention a few.”

The Solution?

I suspect I’m not the only one, and that other people are fed up with the likes of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mary Robinson, Elon Musk, Eamon Ryan and worst of all Boris Johnson telling us what to do. With their cavalcades, their executive jet, their space rockets, hot air, self-interest, cycle schemes, wind farms, and huge military expenditure the answer is straightforward. Turn up, tune in, and COP out.








Fair Warning Lord will Strike That Poor Boy Down

With the passing of Eddie Van Halen I’ve had a sad excuse to listen back through my Van Halen collection. Probably goes without saying, for any Van Halen fans,  their first album is the benchmark. I always liked VH I and II, but for me the albums that are the most memorable are Women and Children First and Fair Warning. The reason?

When I was doing my A-levels I applied to do English at Kings College and University College London. This required me to attend for interview so off I went to be interviewed by a couple of scrufty old profs and a rather stern-looking but attractive woman in a not-quite Ann Bancroft way. She who gazed at me over a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, nodding sagely at my answers. The old duffer beside her in jumper and tweed stroked his beard thoughtfully.

I wasn’t sure what her intentions were. The nadir of the whole experience was when she asked me for a comparison of Edmund in King Lear and Iago in Othello. My response? I replied, “to be honest I haven’t really thought about it too much.” That was my considered opinion on two of the great Machiavellian villains of Shakespearean literature. I knew then that my chances of joining the elite in London had disappeared. The woman looked mildly disappointed, it was as if she’d set me up for an open goal and I fell over trying to kick the ball. All was lost. Even namedropping that my mother was a first cousin of the brilliant Irish playwright Brian Friel, as she had instructed me to do, didn’t get me out of jail. It was a close shave. I could’ve spent the rest of my life gazing into the abyss of my own academic arsehole in London. Instead, I ended up in the fleshy parts of the holy land. What dear reader you may think has this got to do with Eddie Van Halen?

Well during my visit I took a stroll to the Virgin megastore and spied there two Van Halen albums that you couldn’t get hold of back in Omagh. Women and Children First and Fair Warning. I arrived home full of glee more excited about my new listening material, fairly unconcerned about the blown opportunities in London. I consoled myself safe in the knowledge that the stern older lady often mentioned me at fancy cocktail parties in Bloomsbury or Highgate or wherever the academic class gather. “That Irish fellow… I wonder where he is now? I’m sure he could’ve been someone,” she probably mused wistfully.

Meanwhile back in Omagh I was seduced by the divebombing and tapping of EVH as he kicked off Fair Warning with Mean Street []. The album is probably Van Halen’s heaviest effort. The guitar playing is supreme, I Alex Van Halen’s drum sound was immense,  t combination the brown sound as they called.

Standout tracks are the aforementioned Mean Street, Hear About it Later (Isolated Guitar track:] and So This is Love, the drum intro on the latter a thing of beauty. Alex Van Halen is on tiptop form and alongside them Dave Lee Roth jackasses around on vocals, entertaining as usual. Dirty Movies is a funky enough outing, with a classic Roth interlude “Take it off, take it all off.” Funny, dunno if he’d get away with it now, or if he’d care! For me Unchained, is one of the classic EVH riffs, chopped guitar with staggered drum beat a bit like Bonham []. Sunday Afternoon in the Park is weird, something you’d play loudly on repeat to annoy the neighbours. Push Comes To Shove has a reggae like bass intro and a leery guitar line to go with a sleazy vocal from DLR.

When I heard from Brogy that Eddie Van Halen had died Fair Warning was the first album I stuck on [for some reason we used to refer to it as Fair Warning Fair Warning I don’t know why].

“…And someone said fair warning, Lord will strike that poor boy down”

If I could meet the lady professor in London now I would ask her for a comparison of Women and Children First and Fair Warning and see how that one goes down at a fancy Bloomsbury cocktail party or wherever. Eddie Van Halen, RIP. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.


Travelling Lockdown Bar Blooze

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy time when miserable.”
Dante Alighieri

Pubs. My mother grew up in one and I’ve personally funded several establishments over the years, freely giving my time and money to ensure their ongoing prosperity. But.

I don’t get out or go out much anymore. Nothing to do with lockdown, no. It’s more to do with getting older, disinterest, and the problems of getting locked on a night out and the unplanned adventures that can ensue.

The people you meet, bump into, folks you see after all these years, or the local plumber you’ve been trying to get a hold of to fix the toilet. On any given night out, that’s all part of the craic. On a weekend in Dungloe last year some of my longtime beer drinking comrades attempted to relive parts of their misspent youth jousting with a few locals from Kincasslagh who behaved poorly in a chip shop. We had to intervene to diffuse an impending melee. In the course of the gung-ho diplomacy one of the younger nightowls told me that he respected old people like me. If he’d hit me a punch in the mouth he couldn’t have stopped me quicker in my tracks. It was funny. And reality.

The vintners in Ireland are desperate to get the pubs up and running and have proposed a series of measures, or half measures, to get things motoring again. Now, frankly the ideas floated propose a vision of going to a bar that I don’t recognise. It’s the pub Jim, but not as we know it.

The new sanitised, hellish and unfortunately necessary vision of a trip to the local is so squeaky clean that a night out with Stepford Wives would be more fun. It sounds like being forced to socialise with people you don’t know times ten. You know like when you end up accidentally part of a girls night out and you scour the bar for a sidekick. You won’t even be able to do that.

Six people only to a table. Everyone must stay seated. Organised visits to the bog. Table service only. Remind you of anything? School dinners. No DJ or live music. Too bad, by the way, about the gig economy. Musicians who are the lifeblood of pubs; the two piece with a chickaboom drum machine; the somber-faced, utterly miserable looking traditional musicians in a corner belting out their sets (they definitely won’t be smiling now); the one man storm-in-a-tee-shirt-Christy-wannabe; the Argyle-jumper-clad accordion player with the long suffering wife dressed in housecoat accompanying gamely on banjo, bodhran and backing vocals, quaffing pints of Smithwicks.

“Please be seated over there. Six to a table. A waitress will be over shortly to give you the Covid Safety announcement. Please do not leave your seats.

When she arrives, haggard from a career in Aer Lingus, the automaton waitress’s instructions are clear, dreary and tired. Borne of necessity.

“The queue to the bathroom is to your left. No more than three occupants at any one time in the Gents. Please observe social distancing by using every second urinal and we ask in particular that you exercise due care when shaking the last few droplets, as you know droplets can spread disease.

“There will be no communal eating or sharing of crisps or nuts at your table. Each patron is requested to purchase and consume their own snacks.

“Customers should not fraternise, flirt with or glad eye any patron at another table. Once assigned a table you must not swap tables to get closer to a nearby acquaintance. Attempts to do this by subterfuge will be resisted. Closed circuit TV surveillance is in place at all times.”

“You are not permitted to go to the bar; all orders will be administered by waiting personnel in a manner befitting social distancing. This requirement will be strictly enforced. All high stools have been removed.

“Any patron displaying signs of intoxication will experience the form of social isolation known as being thrown out and barred. Signs of intoxication will include loud argumentative talking resulting in the release of spittle; such slabbering will be frowned upon because of the droplets. Likewise outbursts of loud solo singing in the absence of proper music is forbidden, many people release droplets when they sing. Sean Nos singing is also strictly prohibited, nothing to do with Coronavirus.”

“Smoking in the smoking area has been decommissioned and patrons are asked not to smoke in the environs as WHO advice suggests compromised lungs may increase your chances of infection.”

It is a vision of hell at the bottom of a glass. Public houses will become rooms where groups just sit and drink. I went into a mining community pub in East Falkirk once that was like that. Linoleum floor, formica tables. It was fucking grim then. The Scots were protesting poll tax and the Miners strike had been and gone, the men sat at these tables, heads bowed, not talking. Drinking.

If you can’t stand at the bar, sit at it or go to it, remove the bar itself to a backroom and make more room for the drinking stations. Bring back snugs, with their service through a hatch, locks on the inside and opportunities for couples to court or priests to drink furtively after mass. Anyone who’s ever been in the Crown in Belfast has experienced a snug session. Cramped and good craic, social isolation it is not.

Some of the most interesting people you will ever meet, you meet at the bar. Conversation and loquaciousness suitably lubricated, the at-the-bar banter is witty and charming and at times irresistible. At other times your bar encounter can be a pure pollute. “would you like a drink?” “No I’m in a round (code leave me alone).”  To a hapless female standing waiting, who ends up with too much head on her beer, the witty interjections, “would you like a flake in that. Do you come here often?” Tactlessness award goes to the man who unwittingly in the old Queen’s Speakeasy asked the girl with one arm to help him carry his round down from the bar.

Standing at a counter I’ve met Pat Cash, Jimeoin, Andy Irvine from Planxty skulling brandy, and Gerry Adams who I told not to take my seat as it was against party policy. Many others. The Bomber Liston, George Best, Pat Spillane, Pat Crerard, Norm from Cheers. It isn’t on the cards anymore, no not for the immediate future. And it can’t be.

The concern is that in trying to keep the industry afloat, Vintners will distil the pub experience from a pint into a shot glass, sanitised. If there’s no atmosphere, no experience there’ll be no people there. Other than the people who are there to drink and drink only.

For now all these seem a distant memory of times past. For the future we need some thinking outside the box, so its not just all about getting locked and out of your box.

The hardcore drinker at the bar traditionally practises social distance easily with a growl and a grunt so no one comes near. The bartender knows by eyebrow lift and subtle hand movement that more porter in required. The reverse nod indicates another half ‘un.

How do I know? A lifetime in bars, I used to sit as a cub beside the daytime drinkers in my uncle’s bar in Omagh. Dipping a finger in the bitter drip tray, a taste of what was to come. Even at the age of five the bar stool was my throne, my platform and my high chair.