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Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
Well, here we are again, welcome to the frenetic autumn. Summer never seems long enough, and the list of things we hoped to accomplish in the summer far, far too long to tackle more than a small fraction. And autumn in Ireland this year seemed to begin at the end of July. But here we are. And autumn has its compensations too. But on with the show.
Horses for main courses
The coming to fruition of judicial processes internationally regarding the 2013 horsemeat scandal - started from an investigation by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (well done FSAI, sure others are only trotting after you) - is an interesting one They certainly began to stirrup a furore.
There is of course the question of what you consider moral, ethical, and culturally appropriate, or religiously permissible, to eat. If you are going to eat animal flesh or products, do you draw the line at horses, pigs, frogs, snails, dogs, insects or dairy products? One person's delicacy is another's revolting and appalling horror and nightmare (with the emphasis on the 'mare'). And that is apart from questions about food miles (or furlongs) and the climate cost of food and other political issues. You don't want to horse about on any of these questions, they are not a horse chestnut.
But of course there is the straightforward question of deception and value for money (though if given something for nothing the question remains whether you should look a gift horse in the mouth). If you are buying 'beef' burgers, well, they should be beef or you would have a beef about it. Those involved in the scam of filling out 'beef' burgers with cheaper horsemeat doubtless thought they were on the pig's back, but a lot of people were being taken for a ride; it might have seemed a bit of horseplay to the perpetrators but, not to mince words, it was a serious fraud with consumers being treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed horse manure. Definitely not a case that many hands make light work.
Two of those convicted in Britain worked for a firm called FlexiFoods, in fact very flexi foods. You just have to hope that the authorities have cut to the chase and the controls have been beefed up. You wonder if those involved had much horse sense in thinking that they would never be detected, while it was a racing certainty that it would happen sooner or later.
What is perhaps most amazing in this horsemeat scandal is that some of the horsemeat was traceable to individual horses – one load of mixed beef and horsemeat, associated with a businessman now convicted of fraud, "also contained microchips for one Irish and two Polish horses that had previously been owned as pets or riding horses. Their original owners had not been aware that they had been sold on for slaughter." This presumably was somewhat distressing for the original owners, not to mention the people who had been buying such burgers. One consumer response might be - "Well, I didn't expect to get saddled with that when I went to the supermarket to buy burgers". Though of course the mane practical question here could be "Would you like chips with that burger???" No thank you very much.
After such serious comments I thought I would end on a more humorous (and variation on an old) note as I canter to a finish and hoof off. What is the definition of an oscillator? A bilingual Irish person who eats donkeys. [Linguistic note; 'Asal' is the Irish for 'donkey'] I think I'll end it there and not risk a capall more jokes or the editor will be reining me in.
Great little exhibition (well, over seventy paintings) at the Hunt Museum/Gallery in Limerick on Jack B Yeats and Paul Henry; it runs until 30th September. The exhibition information correctly draws on parallels and contrasts, both were Prods (Henry from Belfast) and had similar career paths, coming back to Ireland from more commercial artistic work in Britain, and both drew inspiration from the West. Both had considerable success during their lives and their very different styles developed, Yeats to the extent that some of his later impressionist works require a title to make sense of what is in the picture.
Paul Henry was directed to 'go West' by J M Synge while Synge had received the same advice from Jack B's brother W B. Some of Yeats' work is instantly recognisable, and Henry's even more so because of use in tourist posters from Ireland and other reproductions – indeed if you talk about a 'Paul Henry sky' a lot of people would still know just what you meant. The work of both would be widely recognised. Both provided the nascent Irish Free State with what was considered suitable imagery and iconography (e.g. countryside and peasant life) in the early years of the state, though neither romanticised their subjects; you can feel the hardship of existence in a picture like Henry's "Mountain Cottage" (1918-19) with a very basic thatched cottage and tumbledown gate in the shadow of dark hills.
I did buy a copy of the exhibition catalogue which is good but I found the colour reproduction, and even more so the contrast, disappointing, e.g. a deathbed scene by Paul Henry, "A Prayer for the Departed" (1910-12) is so dark in the catalogue print that you can't make out the kneeling and praying women in the foreground, and "Fisherman in a Currach" (1911-1913) does not do anything remotely like justice to the nuances of colour in the original.
A favourite from the exhibition? From Paul Henry, due to its innovative composition, I would go with "Two men in a Currach" (1917-1918) where 80% (my unmeasured estimate) of the picture is actually grey mountain in the background and yet the picture is full of life, and the mountain makes you feel the scale of humanity and nature. From Jack B Yeats I would maybe go with "A Dancer, Rosses Point, Sligo" (1923) for the atmosphere and composition – a lot of space in the picture given to an open door which is very symbolic, plus the concentration of the dancer before he starts, and the detail of those in the background including the accordion player. Another one of Yeats' I would particularly like is the urban "Girls and Boys" (1925), partly impressionist and certainly bustling with the cosmopolitan life of Dublin (well, that's how it feels).
Full marks to the Hunt for providing an exhibition which provides such parallels and contrasts, and questions about the nature of Ireland at the time and, implicit although not explored in the exhibition, contrasts with today. It is hard to think of an Irish artist today that might be equivalent to Yeats and Henry in terms of distinctive style who would be so well known to the public, Robert Ballagh would be the nearest living artist that I can think of.
Youth paramilitaries rescued
A large youth paramilitary group was rescued in the Mourne mountains at the very start of August when they got into serious difficulties in very poor weather. A major rescue operation was put into effect. Seventeen of the seventy in the grouping were stretchered off the mountain, all but one of the seventeen suffering from hypothermia and there were also some ankle injuries. The sixty young people were aged 12 to 17 years and there were 10 adults with them.
While I am pleased that no one was seriously injured, it is not thought any charges regarding paramilitary offences will be brought because it was a group of British army cadets from Cleveland in England who were based for summer training in Ballykinler Army Base on the coast nearby. I wonder why it is not OK to indoctrinate young people (as young as 12 years as recorded in this case) in the ways of the UVF, UDA or IRAs (sic) but it is in the ways of the British military who have done far more damage to the world? Or what English Army Cadets are doing coming to a training camp in Northern Ireland and being inculcated in the ways of violence here? And that's what it does, while projecting an aura of educating 'responsible' young people.
In case anyone wonders whether I am speaking from profound ignorance, no, I spent a period as a member of the British Army Cadet Force in Norn Iron in my school days. No to all paramilitary forces!
Time moves on
Not so many people wear a watch these days because of the ubiquity of mobile phones though watches can be statements of fashion or wealth. I was given my first watch on my thirteenth birthday, it was second hand (and it didn't have a second hand) but in excellent condition. At that stage I suppose wearing one was part of growing up or feeling I was growing up.
I had a wind up watch for a long time and when they were becoming rarer I amazed someone with the (true) excuse in being late for a meeting because I had forgotten to wind my watch and it had gone slow... I continued to wear a watch until last year when I decided I didn't need to, my current watch is still working though the strap is done, and I can bring the watch itself with me if I need it.
Giving up wearing a watch was partly that at my stage in life I felt I don't need it. Yes, I have appointments, meetings, buses or trains to catch but if I am heading from home, which has a couple of clocks and the time on my computer, there is no need. It was also symbolic perhaps of trying to shake off some of the shackles of being governed by Time, and ultimately we all are to some extent. Successful? In parts. My internal clock usually, not always, gives me a good sense of the time so I reckon I don't need it and with the time on my computer – says he glancing at it now – and one in the kitchen and in the bedroom, I am well provided with accurate time when I need it.
When out it may be a different matter and glancing at my mobile phone to check the time is more distracting, to myself and others, than a sly glance at a watch. That is fine if I am by myself but if I was doing a presentation at a more formal meeting or something like that then I would take a watch; people constantly checking their phones looks both annoying and anti-social and if you are responsible for the conduct of a meeting you need to keep things On Track unless there is a reason not to.
Of course I haven't Taken Back Control of Time. But perhaps I have done slightly more than Take Back the Illusion of the Control of Time, and that is probably as much as any of us can do in this era. It is all very elusive and getting time on our side is difficult but however we handle it the matter is an important one and related to being properly present in the world and its affairs.
It's tough at the bottom
The life of a peacemaker, community activist, or volunteer can be hard. You are working flat out much of the time, giving your best, and does anyone notice? So imagine how thrilled I was in July to receive an telling me that "Your decent background and personality impressed us to introduce you to the GLOBAL PEACE & SECURITY PROMOTERS for their periodical financial award to deserving professionals and some people with decent background and outstanding personality.... Meanwhile, we take the pleasure to inform you that you have been awarded the maximum of US$450,000; by the humanitarian GLOBAL PEACE & SECURITY PROMOTERS in recorgnition [sic] of your outstanding personality. You won the fund awarded to you through internet based promotional lottery conducted through random sellection [sic] of over 200,000; email addresses." All I had to do was pay an admin fee of between $38 and $338.
Well, I declined the offer. Would I want to belong to a club that would have me as a member? And was I being 'sell'ected to be sold down the river? Seriously though, it is amazing that people are still working this type of scam, though in this case it seems to be a hybrid of 'we have picked you especially even though we don't know your name' and 'you have been chosen as the winner of a lottery you didn't enter.' Maybe they just merged a couple of scam templates. Last Christmas I won a bottle of wine and a free couple of meals in a Christmas pub lottery locally where a friend bought the ticket, not me, but with my name on it, and that is about the limit of winning something you haven't personally entered, unless of course it's the Nobel Prize for Peace and that hasn't come in the post to me either.
Well, onto the autumn routines and treadmill. But, as I have said above and oft enough before, every season has its compensations and I do like the autumn colours and fine weather with a slight chill as I go out, ready to warm up as I get going on bike or foot. And darker evenings give you more of an excuse for sitting and doing nothing, well, nothing productive anyway, and we all need that kind of time too. I wish you well for the autumn and approach to winter, and see you soon, Billy.
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).