Monday, July 16, 2012

"50 Shades of Grey" helping Irish mommies escape our long, grey summer

All the 'Shades of Grey' you could want this summer in Ireland
Two weeks ago, thanks to a flurry of Irish twitter activity built around a hash-tag topic of 'Irish 50 Shades of Grey,' I became aware of the book 50 Shades of Grey. At first I couldn't understand the tweets but assumed it was a play on the Johnny Cash song 40 Shades of Green and Ireland's weather this summer. Didn't take me long to realize that Johnny Cash and his song were not the source for the jokey tweets, but it was in fact a new book making headlines thanks to both its content and the speed at which it's selling.

50 Shades of Grey has been called "mommy porn" which is all I need to know. I'll be giving it a miss. I'll never know why it was called 50 Shades of Grey, although the title kind of surprises me because it sounds anything but sultry or steamy. In fact, it sounds cold and dull, just like our summer, which is why I was sure those tweets were about our weather.
Read More:

Give me Irish weather any time over heatwave America - Cool and wet beats hot and humid anytime in my books

"50 Shades of Grey" becomes fastest-selling paperback in Ireland and UK in just two months

Sunburn warnings in Ireland - more amusing than useful

I suspect the dreariness of the weather here may well explain why 50 Shades is selling like hotcakes. Mommies the length and breadth of Ireland are probably only maintaining a tenuous grip on sanity given that the children have been cooped up indoors for the past few months. A bit of escapism in a fantasy novel might well be medicinal.

All of which brings me around to Mr Niall O'Dowd of this parish, who spent a few days in Ireland at the end of June, early July. After his few days he returned to New York, where the weather was sweltering in the mid 90s and he longed to be back in cool, damp Ireland. 

Don't get me wrong, I can relate to that feeling. I remember how uncomfortable New York can be in a heatwave. However, that's just it. It's a heatwave. It lasts a week, maybe two then it breaks then you have temperatures in the low to mid 80s with lower humidity and it feels pleasant. Maybe the serious heat returns, maybe it doesn't. 

Here in Ireland, however, this summer we have had week after week of dull, damp, depressing weather. We had one very good week of weather in late March and a half-way decent week in late May. That's it. 

Over dinner two weeks ago I casually mentioned O'Dowd's column. My wife's look said it all. She didn't want to say anything as our son was sitting at the same table, but the look in her eyes was murderous. This morning my wife, fighting a cold, looked at me, looked out the window at the rain pouring down and as she wrapped her hands around a hot cup of tea said to me, "If I ever meet that O'Dowd ... And we only have the one. Imagine what it's like if you have two, three or more young children?"

Yesterday was St. Swithin's Day and tradition has it that if it rains on St. Swithin's Day it will rain for the next 40 days. That basically means the rest of this summer is a write-off.

So stir crazy Irish mothers of stir crazy Irish children will have to find another book to see them through the second half of summer 2012. 

I have no idea what that book might be, but if my wife was ever to write a fantasy novel it would be less "mommy porn" than "mommy horror." I already know the plot: a middle-aged Irishman who has lived in America for decades returns to Ireland for a short break and waxes lyrical to Irish mothers about the benefits of Ireland's cool, damp summers.  The mothers, incensed, take revenge. They lock him in a small house with their children and plan to leave him there until he's driven insane and has to be led away by the men in white coats.

And the title? Well, for the moment it has a working title of "50 Ways to Slay."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dun Laoghaire Harbour - few now emigrate from this beauty spot in Dublin

Dun Laoghaire Harbour from the more popular East Pier.
Dun Laoghaire Harbour in County Dublin is no longer the commerce and transport hub it was for more than a century after it was built in the 19th century, but it is still a functioning sea port. There is only one daily sailing from Dun Laoghaire (sounds - Dun Leary) these days, and even that is curtailed during winter months. Dublin Port has stolen Dun Laoghaire's thunder. Of course, Dublin Port would probably argue that Dun Laoghaire stole its thunder first and that turnabout is fair play. 

In the early 19th century Dublin was a growing city with a problem - it was difficult and dangerous to navigate a ship through the narrow channels that led into Dublin. The answer was to build a brand new harbor at Dun Laoghaire, eight miles southeast of Dublin.

Even before the harbor was complete - it took over 40 years to finish - Dun Laoghaire was busy providing a safe harbor for ships bringing goods and people back and forth to Britain and further afield. Dun Laoghaire was connected to Dublin by one of the first suburban rail lines in the world. 

Of course this being Ireland, one of Dun Laoghaire's less happy functions was as point of embarkation for many of those who emigrated from Ireland over the past 170 years. Most of the emigrants who left through Dun Laoghaire would have landed at Liverpool, where many settled and many others found further passage on ships going to America or Canada.

Emigrant Ship by Edward Hayes, 1853
{From the National Gallery of Ireland.}

Dun Laoghaire remained a pivotal trading hub for Dublin until recently, when new roads to Dublin port attracted away most of what was left of Dun Laoghaire's shipping traffic. Today traffic in Dun Laoghaire Harbour is mostly pleasure boats. There was a proposal a few years ago to develop a "Diaspora Centre" on a small disused pier, but I haven't heard too much about that recently.

Read More:

Beautiful day for a walk up Dalkey Hill, one of Dublin's jewels

Synge's lover brought to life

Ship surgeons spurned famine and convict Irish

So Dun Laoghaire Harbour is mostly used by sailboats, but the piers themselves are also a great amenity. People come from all around to walk the piers. The East Pier, which is the most popular for walkers, rollerbladers, etc, is a mile long and finishes at the lighthouse, which is surrounded by a small 19th century fort.

The fort was recently opened to the public. It's not the most interesting old structure in Ireland, but it's having a quick look around. You do get a good view of Howth in the distance and the town of Dun Laoghaire, of course.

I always like walking the pier and inevitably as I walk back I take a good look at Dalkey Hill, which is a couple of miles away. The rock used to build the harbor was extracted from Dalkey Hill. I don't know if quarrying the rock, transporting it to Dun Laoghaire and building the harbor was an engineering marvel or not, but it always impresses me.

Today that disused quarry is part of the beauty of Dalkey Hill and useful for rock climbers, who like the sheer drops the quarry provides. Nature has covered over what I'm sure was a man-made eyesore and just down the hill the man-made harbor still tames nature.

From the end of the pier looking back towards the town of
Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Irish wife thought Americans loved liberty too much to accept the health care mandate

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts,
whose surprise vote was decisive
in health care decision.
The other night my wife and I were watching the NBC Nightly News, which is broadcast here on NBC's European cable station.

There was an item about firefighters in Colorado not having health care. It was the typical network news lechh, with a plastic reporter not so much reporting as trying to grab us by the heartstrings. That sort of thing just gets my goat and I blurted out, "Oh gimme a break."

My wife started asking me questions about the the Colorado firefighters thinking I knew something about those who are fighting fires in Colorado and their health care issues. I don't. It was merely the reporter's tone that set me off, although I told my wife I doubted that the firefighters' tale was as straight-forward as NBC's talking emoticon made it seem.

I said that I thought this is NBC's way of providing more back-up for the new Health Care law in America. We got talking about the new law. I explained that I didn't understand all of it and went through a few of the provisions as I understood them.

I told her that people who were already sick or injured or whatever could not be denied health insurance. She didn't have much a problem with that one. I told her the government claims it will help control the costs of health care and health insurance, but "who knows? We have a lot of that here and costs seem to be exploding."

I mentioned that under the new law children could remain on their parents' policy til they were 26. That didn't phase her, although I find it odd that someone who's 25 can be considered a child.

Not a biggie, however.
Read More:

Chief Justice John Roberts votes his Catholic conscience on Health Care bill -- One of six Catholics on court and a true lover of Ireland

Bill O’Reilly weighs in on Healthcare - says John Roberts decision on Obamacare was wrong

Ireland's health care example

I then mentioned the individual mandate and my wife was stunned.

"You mean, even people who don't want health insurance are going to be forced to buy it?"
"Really? Surely that would be ruled out in court."
"No, the Supreme Court just ruled it was constitutional. It's the law of the land."
"I'm shocked by that. I didn't think Americans would stand for anything like that. They always give the impression of not liking it when the government intrudes in their lives. I'm really surprised that Americans are willing to put up with that."

My wife was sure Americans had more respect for individual liberty than that. "If people can be compelled to buy health insurance what can they not be compelled to do?" Indeed. Happy 4th of July.