Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Big Freeze.

The big topic of talk on radio and TV and between people, as I write, is the weather. Lets hope that by the time you read this things will be back to normal, rain and possibly more rain! We can handle rain, but a fall of snow puts us in a real spin literally and metaphorically speaking. The ‘blame game’ is uppermost on everyone’s lips. “What’s the local government officials doing about it, what’s the government doing about it”? “When is my road going to be gritted or some salt spread”? Hold your patience folk, Ireland has more miles for its size than any other European country and it’s just not possible to cover all of them. Comparing us with other countries such as Sweden say is a useless exercise. They get lots of snow in winter, every winter, and are equipped to handle it with snowploughs, snow blowers, and graders. If we can keep our main arteries open depending on the amount that has fallen we’re lucky. So far, what has fallen is not a major problem, though the forecast for the weekend is dire. The big danger, and what everyone fears, is snow falling with a high wind. This causes drifts, and drifts bring everything to a standstill.
I’m sure we can all recall our own snowfall. One that is stamped on our memory for all time. I can remember two. One a long time ago, and one a long long time ago! The first one took place sometime in the mid thirties; it’s so long ago that I can’t recall the exact year. The second one took place late fifties or early sixties. I’ll deal with the second one first. It was the time when the Tullow bus was running which had replaced the Naas to Tullow rail line. Every morning it left Tullow and headed for Dublin and returned every evening. On this particular occasion we awoke to a heavy snowfall, and when I had the farm animals seen to I set about clearing our avenue of snowdrifts with the front loader. It was slow work. Pausing to take a breather I spotted a lone person approaching from the road. He was dressed as if he was out for a morning stroll; he certainly wasn’t equipped for the weather we were having. Turned out he was the driver of the Tullow bus and had got as far as our back gate where snowdrifts put a halt to progress. To this day I don’t now how he had got so far, but there he was, and wondering if I could move some drifts from off the road to allow him proceed. As I was making such slow progress we came to the conclusion that it would be black dark before I would have him out of his hobble. There was only one solution; reverse the bus to Brannockstown, a mile or more of road, as there was no possible way he could turn around. This he proceeded to do and I went before him with the jeep, in case of oncoming traffic. There was none! He had one passenger, a woman. I can only assume that they both arrived in the Big Smoke safely.
And so to the thirties. As I can’t recall the exact date I can’t recall my exact age; possibly eight but not more than ten. It was the time when the Dublin Cattle Market was in full swing facing onto the North Circular Road. It is now ‘flatland’. The Market started every Thursday morning round about 5 am. Cattle and sheep were kept in nearby paddocks the day before, though some from nearby were driven in on the morning of sale. It was the premium sale in Ireland at the time and stock came from all over. On this particular morning my father was there, possible selling stock. He left the market early for snowflakes were drifting down but got no further than Blackchurch were he got stuck in a drift. He left the car and walked across the fields to my Uncles place at Kill. My aunt gave him a welcome meal and he borrowed a horse from my Uncle and set off for home arriving about midnight.
The snow came hard and heavy that day and drifts piled up all over. No staff arrived and there was a shed full of cattle tied up by the neck, as was the custom at the time. They were called “stall-feds”. They were hand fed a basket full of turnips plus meal twice a day per animal; hay ad-lib, being fattened up for the Dublin market. The only staff to attend to these animals: a slip of a lassie about twenty years old and myself. A mother’s help was the term used to describe this girl. A certain snobbery ruled downstairs as well as upstairs in those times. Doris was her name. On the day that was in it she and I were the only staff to feed these animals. First we had to slice the turnips. A turnip slicer is a simple tool and a good way to raise a sweat on the best of men. You raised the handle, dropped in a turnip into a v-shaped box with cutter blades on either side, slammed down the handle and the slices dropped into a basket underneath. Doris must have been a farm girl for she had no fear of walking up between twelve hundredweight bullocks straining on their chains awaiting their meals. They mightn’t have got their full complement but at least we took the hunger off them and when father came home he was well pleased

So that’s my memory of one Big Freeze. The present one is on the way out as I write, and good riddance. Once is enough to grow from a gossoon into a man in one day. At least that’s the way I saw it all those years ago.
A Happy New Year to all readers Jeffers.

Bits ‘n Bobs with Rose
A Scandalous Affair

Imagine a scriptwriter proposing a new political soap drama “The Corridors of Power”…
The wife of the First Minister is a stunning mature women, great figure, high cheek bones – you could see Joan Collins or Stephanie Beacham trying for the part, albeit the character is seen as somewhat of a ‘bible-thumping Holy-Jo’. Not much scope for the dramatics then; but she’s going through a late mid-life crisis and who knows, maybe bored with marriage to her similarly good-livin’ husband. The script writer is proposing she has a fling with a nineteen year old (and she pushing 60) – there’s even a hint of romance with his dad first - and then she organises funding for her teenage lover. Anyway, everything goes belly-up (no pun intended); sooner or later, the guilt weighs on her conscience or fear of exposure.

She becomes depressed, unable to carry out her own duties as a member of Parliament and attempts suicide and invariably, tells her husband before it goes public as you can be sure it will…

In the opposing party, the scriptwriter pens a story about disclosures of child abuse within the family of a particularly strong political leader, a man who has courted and played the media to perfection throughout his career. There’s no insinuation of wrong-doing on his part, non whatsoever, just the tragically sad story of a family torn apart by revelations of abuse spanning two generations. The political leader’s brother is accused by a daughter of abuse and has ‘gone to ground’. In a touching interview, the elected MP appeals to his brother to come forward and face charges….and admits to being shocked decades ago to accepting another member of the family was guilty of child abuse.

Then we have a strong figure in a neighbouring state who has just delivered the toughest budget in living memory amidst months of a ‘hostile’ media claiming his own government pretty much made an ass of managing the economy over the previous decade. Despite all this, the Minister in question is popular with the press and becomes even more so when a TV station breaks the news that he is battling a serious illness. It’s holiday time, family time and the said TV station claims to have given the Minister 48 hours to notify family and friends before going live with the news.

This was pitched to a reputable TV production company but they turned it down on the grounds that the first scenario was just too ridiculous. Scenario Number 2 – a non runner too; it’s too sensitive in light of the recent Murphy Report and the many child abuse cases revealed over the past few years.

Scenario Number 3 – Outrageous, no decent media producer would intrude on an individual’s private life like that, after all, the man has a wife and young children, a large extended family. What TV station would broadcast his illness and possible diagnosis when it is likely to be seen by his immediate family, his children even.

Disappointed, Johnny Murdoch closes the file, marks a big “X” across the folder and fires it into the corner pile behind him, another proposed TV drama bites the dust, too farcical even for Soapland.
You couldn’t invent this, could you?

“Under A Bit of Suspicion”
I love mass on Christmas Eve - the choir, the church crib, the décor and none more so, than this year when the choir excelled and truly exuded joy at mass on Christmas Eve. Mary Campbell and Co had an abundance of holly and greenery draped over windows and doors, themed with burgundy candles and trimmings. Families attended with members who’ve maybe been abroad, at college or living down the country. It’s a real warm, happy family occasion.

I didn’t feel warm nor happy leaving the Church that night. I listened intently to Fr Wilson’s homily and when he referred to “institutions, banks, the government even… and the Church… falling a bit under suspicion…a disappointing year… a lack of confidence”, I was horrified. “A bit of suspicion” implies rumour, un-substantiated facts, un-proven deeds.

I didn’t think the Murphy Report and the many paedophile charges taken against members of the clergy were only ‘under a bit of suspicion’. I assume when Fr referred to a need to have ‘scapegoats’, he meant high ranking bishops who were all tarred with the same brush, when some were not as guilty of others as covering up cases of abuse and hoping the problem would go away.

It has to soul destroying for genuine priests and bishops dedicated to the service of God and their parishioners to feel they are, by association, linked to the crimes carried out by paedophiles wearing the collar.

Politicians “under a bit of suspicion” will face the ballot box in the next election; developers are fighting bankruptcy in the courts and bankers have been slightly curtailed (but not enough) by the Minister for Finance and the terms of NAMA. The Church must now be seen as a transparent body; to build and re-coup its caring image, it should adapt an apologetic stand because here in Ireland, it has been found lacking. There are generations of victims of clerical abuse who need to know they were wronged and in no way at fault.

There are generations of future church-goers who will be lost to the Catholic Church if it doesn’t accept its mistakes and adapt a compassionate, caring and transparent policy.


Happy 40th Birthday to the little wee man. Isn’t he so cute? Well, you’d want a JCB to do that now ‘cos he is a big fellow and the Mrs wouldn’t like it. She’s a lamb by nature and by no means porky in build, but Kilcullen women can be tough so I wouldn’t squeeze him too hard.
Who is he? Ah, come on, he is one of our leading lights in the GAA, both on the field and in management. As a youth, he excelled at the shot putt, athletics and of course, football. A Lilywhite all round.
Just look at the big, broad smile and look at the quality of the little suit he is wearing – that was probably from the Mammy’s shop. Anyway, this little tyke has reached The Big 40. If you know who it is, give him a cheer the next time you see him or toot the horn.
The Bugle salutes you, Birthday Boy!


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