Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Rumpus Room

Be warned...this is one of my "private fascination" posts!

I've been watching a lot of Frasier recently. I've watched every episode several times over. In one episode, Frasier's snobbish brother Niles has to downgrade from his elegant apartment to a grotty one. Trying to put a good face on it, he cheerfully announces that there will be "a ping-pong tournament in the rumpus room".

I'd never heard that term, "rumpus room", before. It pleases me vastly, and it's been on my mind for weeks now.

It's not just the phrase that appeals to me, however. It's the idea of a rumpus room, especially in a rather grotty and cut-price apartment block. It's the idea of facilities in general-- especially facilities that you wouldn't necessarily expect to be there.

This concept has been on my mind a lot recently, but it's always fascinated me.

I'm blessed in the place where I work, in this regard. University College Dublin is a world unto its has everything. It has a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a small cinema (though I've never been in it), a bike shop, a bank, a post office, a pharmacist...and many, many more, as the K-Tel ads so deliciously used to put it. I delight in these facilities even when I don't use them.

Indeed, even the more euphemistic use of the term "facilities" touches on this fascination of mine. I love bathrooms! I love that UCD is full of bathrooms (or rest rooms, as the Americans say). I have a choice of five different bathrooms in the library alone. In the summer, or at other out-of-term times, they are often unoccupied. There is something delicious about walking into a deserted bathroom, away from everybody else. Most of all, there's something delicious about having a choice of bathrooms.

The old Ballymun
Another example. I often have dreams in which the "old Ballymun" (seven-storey apartment blocks, and fourteen storey towers, all now demolished) is still standing. Except, in my dreams, it's a science-fiction version of Ballymun. The apartment blocks (or "flats", as we called them) are like cities unto themselves, with all kinds of businesses and facilities available inside them. (And everything is gleaming white.)

Another example. When I visited Bavaria on my honeymoon, we stayed (briefly!) at a five-star hotel...the only time I've ever been to a five-star hotel. My favourite part was visiting the swimming pool, saunas, and jacuzzis on the bottom floor. But the cherry on the cake was a sign beside a telephone on the wall, which announced: "If you would like a drink from the bar, please call us on this telephone and we will bring it down to you". That drove me wild (although I forebore from ordering one...I was too busy enjoying my first jacuzzi!)

Another example: visiting a hotel or bar and seeing that it has a book collection worthy of the term "library", especially if it has an interesting selection. (I'm thinking of a particular hotel I visited once, whose lounge has a collection of old and idiosyncratic hardbacks. Sadly, I had no time to browse them.)

The original Cluedo board, with its library, billiards room, lounge, conservatory, and ball least Dr. Black went out in style!
So far, I've been talking about physical facilities. But my fascination isn't restricted to physical facilities in physical spaces. It includes any kind of "facility" that is unnecessary or unexpected.

The first example that comes to mind: growing up, I was always envious of the home-made "family magazines" that seemed to be common in the childhood homes of nineteenth-century writers. I was equally envious of the amateur dramatics that seemed a common feature of such homes.

I love to hear about any kind of activity, or institution, in a setting where one might not be expect to find it. For instance, clubs and magazines attached to workplaces, or to small communities, or schools, or other settings.

I love to hear about Bible study groups, writer's groups, fantasy football leagues, camera clubs, reading groups etc. which are specific to some place, institution or circle.

To move even further from the physical realm, this concept includes features in magazines and newspapers, or on broadcast media. I'm always pleased to see a poetry page (especially proper poetry) in any magazine, or a religious column, or a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" type column.

Or it can include a magazine or other publication whose very existence is surprising; for instance, the magazine of Westminster Cathedral, or Inside Time, the newspaper for prisoners and detainees in the UK.

The principle can extend to online spaces, too. As administrator of the Irish Conservatives Forum, I took great pleasure in introducing a thread called "The Salon", where members can post original creative works. (It's had one photograph and a couple of poems so far-- although one of the poems was mine!)

I have often used the phrase "curtains make a house a home" as an expression of my social and cultural philosophy. It applies here. In fact, this love of "facilities" is deeply conservative on many grounds. I've always hated centralization. (I hate centralization in time, as well as in space...I've often complained on this blog that Christmas tends to gobble up all the traditionalism in the year).

This fascination goes to the very foundations of my being, the bedrock of my soul. Will anybody share it? I don't know. This sort of blog post is always somewhat akin to a message in a bottle. I hope it speaks to someone, out there, in the great no-man's-land of the internet.

Monday, July 9, 2018


It's a long time since I wrote a proper poem. This poem was inspired by an idea expressed in the following Facebook post, which I posted last week:

Whenever I have to do shelving in the library, I always choose the film studies section, and I greatly enjoy shelving the film books. I found myself pondering why this morning. Why film studies? Why not poetry or philosophy or religion or any of my other interests?

And I realized I love shelving in the film studies section because I like the reflective, distanced mood it puts me in. A book of film criticism is looking at the glowing screen through the printed page, and the glowing screen is looking at life itself. It's life twice removed. And the appeal of this isn't to escape from life, but that there are two filters of human consciousness between me and life in the raw. Not so much screening me from it as heightening it, accentuating it.

It's also inspired by a friend of mine who is silver-haired, has a huge library, and is a connoisseur of whisky.


The man with silver hair hair rose with slow grace
And scanned the bookshelves lining every wall.
Outside, the summer night began to fall,
A rich, full-bodied dusk. He drew a book
About the later Kubrick from its place
And sauntered, browsing, back into his nook.

He flicked through twenty pages. Ah yes, here,
The Shining-- the Prince Charles in Leicester Square--
Munich and Watergate were in the air.
He raised his glass of Redbreast, took a sip,
And held it on his tongue. Kubrick's career
Unspooled within his memory, a trip

Through darkened auditoria, bright screens--
From fuzzy black-and-white to Blu-Ray. So
He swallowed, bathing in the subtle glow.
The movie's aura only grows with age,
He read. He saw again the well-known scenes,
Viewed through the prism of the printed page;

The screen seen through the word, and life itself
Seen through the screen; the flickering mystery
Best seen obliquely, darkly, partially;
The shadows on the wall, the images
Pondered in every book upon the shelf;
Dreamworlds less dream-like than the thing that is;

He drained the glass, and poured another. Light
Streamed through the blinds, an amber-sepia.
A hush fell on the world. That cinema
Whose screen is bigger than the sky was filled
With images too vivid for the sight;
Life filtered, heightened, gloriously distilled.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ireland's Great Shame

Here is an excellent video from my friend and fellow Angelico Press author, Roger Buck, on the catastrophe of Ireland's vote for abortion on May the 25th. He kindly draws on something I wrote, at one point in the video. Watch and share!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Strain and Release

Ever since I read it, many years ago, I've been haunted by this passage from Plato's Phaedo:

Socrates, sitting up on the couch, bent and rubbed his leg, saying, as he was rubbing: "How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they are never present to a man at the same instant, and yet he who pursues either is generally compelled to take the other; their bodies are two, but they are joined by a single head. And I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had remembered them, he would have made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and how, when he could not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the reason why when one comes the other follows, as I know by my own experience now, when after the pain in my leg which was caused by the chain pleasure appears to succeed."

When I read that passage, it made me quite depressed, as it seemed to suggest that all pleasure was simply the relief from pain. However, it can also be read in a more positive way; that our sufferings and frustrations contribute to our joys.

I have written on this subject before, for instance, in this poem (which garnered a surprising amount of comments). I've also touched on it under the aspect of liberty and repression. (And, to be honest, re-reading those posts makes me wonder if I've said everything I have to say on the topic. But I've started, so I'll finish, as Magnus Magnusson of Mastermind fame used to say.)

It seems to me highly desirable that our lives, and the societies in which we live, should combine strain and release in such a way as to give us the fullest benefit of both.

This thought arises from my recent fascination with the Catholic litugical calendar. Today is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a solemnity. I've recently evolved the tradition of allowing myself a can of Coke on Sundays and solemnities (I generally avoid Coke, which I could drink by the bucket-load, for the sake of my waistline). I drink it with great relish; pouring it into a glass, holding it up to the light, looking at the bubbles rising to the surface, enjoying all its nostalgic associations, and so forth. Of course, the rarity of the pleasure gives it most of its appeal.

And, even though this is obviously my own private tradition, the principle seems to be intrinsic to the liturgical calendar. Today, Christians often find themselves lamenting the fact that modern society has Christmas without Advent and Easter (insofar as it has Easter) without Lent.

Of course, even the more traditionally-minded Christians can be guilty of this. I've never really observed Lent as penitentially as I should. When it comes to fasting, especially, I find this very difficult, since over-eating is my biggest vice. Anne Widdecombe, the retired English politician, drinks nothing but water during Lent. I don't have that kind of will-power. Nevertheless, I do make some effort.

However, when I think of "strain" in the context of organised religion, I'm not only thinking of fasts and other obvious austerities. I'm also thinking about religious observances.

Occasionally, on this blog, I've remarked on the fact that Mass so often bores me. The paradoxical thing, however, is that this boredom seems strangely enriching, even on a natural level. And perhaps strain is a better term than "boredom".

Why is strain enriching? I don't know. It's very hard to understand the exact reason. It's not simply that there is a sense of relief when it's over, or a sense of satisfaction in having done it. It's more than that. Perhaps mental strain has the same bracing effect on our minds as physical strain has on our muscles-- who hasn't enjoyed the glow of exertion after some manual effort, even if it's just trimming a bush?

This principle doesn't only apply to religion, but to life in general. Take an example familiar to most people; going out to work, having a job. Having to be in a particular place at a particular time, having to get along with people you don't always like, having to sit through meetings, having to humour clients and customers you would gladly push into a lake-- what a bore it all is! And yet, how much we miss it when it's gone! I think the loss of such supports will be a big problem in the post-scarcity, automated society that some people believe we are moving towards.

(I had to abandon this post sooner than I'd intended to. Nevertheless, I feel that I've made all the main points here, and that if I wanted to elaborate on them, it would be a much longer post. I may do so in the future.)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Three Years of Keeping my Diary

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. It also marks three years of me keeping my Penzu diary. (Penzu is a diary website. Yes, it's online, but it's private. In fact, "write in private" is their excellent slogan. You can also export a PDF to keep, which I do every month.)

As it has a wordcount feature, I can tell you exactly how long it is: 1,067,605 words long! I've never missed a day. (It's actually quite easy to keep, five or ten minutes here and there at a computer.)

I've chronicled jury service, surgery, funerals, weddings, the abortion referendum, pro-life marches, major storms, Brexit, Donald Trump's election, a visit to a radio studio, several visits to television studios, and lots of other stuff.

I have a complete record of writing my book, from the moment of inspiration (when I was praying the rosary on my morning bus) to the moment I held it in my hand for the first time.

I know pretty much everything I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the last three years!

I record my dreams, when I remember them. I record interesting conversations. I record amusing or memorable incidents I witness on the street or bus or elsewhere. I take notes of the homilies I hear at church. Sometimes I even record little things like a change of shelf layout in the supermarket.

Will anyone ever read it? Well, I will read it, if nobody else does.

It's also a diary of my inner life, as well as my outer life. I record my dreams (when I remember them), my ideas, my fascinations, my internal debates, my reactions to whatever I'm reading. These are especially interesting to re-read. My diary flows into my other writing.

This was the first paragraph I wrote, this day three years ago. (The teen diary mentioned covered less than a year.)

I decided yesterday-- or was it today?-- that I would start keeping a diary again. Strangely enough, it was the memory of a passage in Brideshead Revisited that did it. There is one section set aboard a liner that filled me with a strange fascination with the notion of days, of how our lives are divided into these units. And I remembered, from the computer diary I kept in my teens, how delicious the in-betweeny days seemed to be-- the uneventful, reflective days-- and how each day seemed to have more of an identity when it was preserved in a diary. Even though that diary is long lost, I remember the days I chronicled in it as days because I chronicled them. Hence-- this.

Keep a diary! You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Flee Me On Facebook

I'm quite active on Facebook. It's a terrible temptation to someone like me who is always getting struck by miscellaneous thoughts and likes to have an audience for them.

Not all of my blog readers will be on Facebook. Why should they get off scott-free? Life isn't all beer and skittles. Here are some of my Facebook posts of recent times. All of these are from June!

I've long felt that "stray from the beaten path" is a bad phrase, at least when it comes to a usage such as: "I like to stray from the beaten path." In the figurative sense, I definitely like to stray from the beaten path.

In the literal sense, however, I LOVE beaten paths. I greatly enjoy walking along tracks made through a field by lots of people walking there over time. It's a symbol of so much I love: folk-life, tradition, custom, and so forth.

I suppose I don't really like to stray from the beaten path, when it comes down to it. I like to stray from the asphalted, signposted and floodlit path!

How come there is such a thing as brunch but no such thing as dipper or sunner?

Trams in Dublin have recently been bedecked with rainbow colours and the slogan: "Homosexual, heterosexual, who-gives- a-sexual". A promotion campaign by Smirnoff, the vodka makers.

It is laughable how Christians are always solemnly being told that they are allowed to believe whatever they want but they have no right to impose it on other people, the public square must be kept neutral. How many people find this kind of thing offensive? Plenty of gay people too, I know. I have heard gay people complain about the tackiness of so much done in their name. The tackiness is the worst part.

I was in the supermarket the other day and heard a song with the words: "Everything is better when you're naked", or something like that.

As to why I like snowglobes so much....many reasons, but partly because of the amount of times I find myself thinking such-and-such a thing is "like a snowglobe". They are very versatile metaphorically!

Had a conversation with a colleague about Catholicism. (I didn't look for it.) I was told:

1) Catholicism has to eschew dogmatism if it's to survive in Ireland.

2) The Catholic Church fought science and specifically the theory of evolution every inch of the way.

3) God couldn't have been behind evolution becau
se it was haphazard and could have turned out differently at any one of innumerable junctions. (This one just baffles me.)

So many sighs....

I loved this scene in School of Rock. Better than the whole rest of the movie. I found myself thinking of it today. It would be neat to have this kind of encyclopaedic knowledge on ANY subject.

(You can't really see it unless you expand the pic, but the blackboard lists different trends in popular music, and the links between them.)

Maurice Baring, a friend of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, wrote an autobiography entitled Puppet Show of Memory. I think that's an awesome title.

Here is something I don't understand about the Marxist left. They are willing to denounce Catholics and social conservatives for being "reactionary" and on the "wrong side of history" when it comes to homosexuality, abortion, transgenderism, etc. etc.

But it could easily be said that THEY are reactionary, and "on the wrong side of history", when it comes to trade unions, privatization, zero hour contracts, the commercialization of education, etc. And as a matter of fact, I would often be on their side on these matters.

Surely the important thing is to stand up for what you believe is right, no matter whether your side is in the ascendant or on the ropes? Surely you should support what you think is right whether everybody agrees with you, or whether nobody agrees with you?

When I was in Hull, I saw a little street called The Land of Green Ginger. I assumed it was some kind of publicity stunt, but's had that name for centuries and nobody knows exactly why.

Once, when I was folding overdue letters in the library (before we went fully automated), I saw one addressed to "Pollyhopple Lane". At least, I'm SURE I did. I can't find that name anywhere now. Maybe I got it a bit wrong. It was a street in Ireland.

Do you know any fun or interesting street names?

One interesting little quirk is that Nassau Street in Dublin has a completely different name in Irish, It's Sráid Thobair Phádraig, meaning Patrick's Well Street. (Although the street plate says "Sráid Nassau".)

I love tradition. It's one of the abiding fascinations of my life. And I'm especially interested in Catholic traditions. But what saddens me is the way tradition so often becomes weaponized in Catholicism.

A while back, on Facebook, I asked a question about the devotional songs people remembered singing at Mass. I instantly regretted asking the question as it immediately became a lightning rod for complaining about Vatican II etc.

I have previous experience of this tendency to weaponize tradition. It's happened in Ireland. The Sinn Féin republican party in Ireland, who supported terrorism, used the Irish language and other aspects of Irish tradition (including Catholicism) as a weapon in their fight against the British. They have no real concern for any of those things. They're Marxist internationalists. Their liberal-secular-internationalism is now becoming blatant.

I agree the comparison with Catholicism is not the same because orthodoxy IS a concern and abuses are real. Ironically, Vatican II was faulted for cautioning that popular devotions had to avoid such abuses. (Sadly, this translated into a prejudice against such devotions amongst some.)

But basically, I just find it sad that tradition becomes an occasion for anger and bitterness and enmity rather than joy or piety or devotion. I've avoided talking about Catholic traditions on FB for this reason.

P.S.: It just occurred to me that someone might argue that Catholic traditions SHOULD be weapons, that Padre Pio called the rosary a weapon, etc. Yes, in the sense of spiritual warfare against the demonic. Fine. But I'm talking about inter-Catholic warfare here.

I was sitting on the bus behind two guys who were speaking in Russian, or some East European language. They were chatting away and laughing. Obviously I couldn't understand a word...until one of them said: "Jessica Rabbit" !

This poem from A.E. Housman often comes into my head. I like its originality. The theme is a rather unsual one for poetry...the provincial in the metropolis. Well, it's an unusual theme for short lyric poetry.

From the wash the laundress sends
My collars home with ravelled ends:
I must fit, now these are frayed,
My neck with new ones London-made.

Homespun collars, homespun hearts,
Wear to rags in foreign parts.
Mine at least’s as good as done,
And I must get a London one.

My attitude towards pretty much anything is dictated by this question: Does it destroy or does it preserve? Does it break down or does it build up?

Of course, there are things worth destroying. Of course, sometimes you have to destroy to create. But I do think we should have a BIAS towards preservation, towards creation-- and against destruction and erosion. I do not admire people who find a glee in destruction, and mask it with rhetoric like "mould-breaking", "forward-looking", "progressive", "liberating", etc. etc. etc.

I was on a bus and I was thinking about games. I've realized recently that it's a long time (literally years) since I've played any game of any description. Suddenly I was seized (and "seized" really is the perfect term) with an intense desire to play lots of different games and to know about them. I was thinking especially about games like shove ha'penny, backgammon, and all those traditional kind of games. And this desire was overwhelming for a little while.

I get these fancies all the time. I've had them for as long as I can remember. It can be something completely random and sometimes even difficult to put into words. It's very strange.

In my letter to the editor today, I was responding to the main columnist of the Irish Times, who was arguing that our old national anthem is now outdated because "We have an open, fluid, multilayered identity."

Here is the thing that baffles me: this man is SIXTY. I can understand how, in your teens or perhaps your twenties, that kind of talk-- "open, fluid, multilayered", etc-- would seem exciting and clever and subversive. But....when you are thirty? When you are forty? When you are fifty? When you are sixty? How could you still find that inspiring, or indeed anything but clapped-out and banal? This isn't rhetoric on my part. I GENUINELY don't get it. Surely at a certain age a person should see past what is ephemeral to what is enduring.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Body and Soul

There are two things I intensely dislike, when it comes to society and social relations-- a body without a soul, and a soul without a body. This thought came into my head today, unbidden.

I was washing my hands and thinking about the song "Soul of my Saviour". I've been trying to learn some of the songs I've heard at Mass over the years. (I mean the more traditional ones, not the awful modern ones.)

Reading about this song on the internet, I came across an intriguing comment that it was sometimes considered an Irish folk hymn, as it was very popular in Ireland. Then I found myself wondering how often it had been sung, in how many churches, over how many years...

And that led me to a thought which very often comes into my mind...that religion needs routine, repetition, custom, actions, infrastructure. It needs a body.

How quickly "spiritualized" religion evaporates! How often somebody declares that they are a devout Christian but that they don't go in for ceremonies and rituals and the "outward trappings" of religion.

The problem is that, when you remove these "outward trappings", the religion doesn't really have anywhere to breathe, to express itself, to manifest itself.

You could say that it manifests itself in the actions of the believers. But this is simply to collapse religion into a code of ethics, when it's so much more than that. Similarly, you could say that it manifests itself in the believer's inner state. But the inner requires the outer.

It's funny how quickly writers, musicians and other artists turn to the "outwards trappings" of religion in order to express an atmosphere of exaltation, or awe, or solemnity, or indeed of otherworldliness.

A soul needs a body. A religion requires ritual, ceremony, repetition. And repetition entails boredom.

It may not be the case with saints, but in the vast majority of cases, I truly believe that religion requires boredom.

In fact, I truly believe that everything that has value requires boredom. There must be repetition for anything to develop a soul, a character. A saying has to become a cliché before it can become a proverb. A book or movie or song has to become an old chestnut before it becomes a classic. And so on.

Another example is poetry. I would argue that modern poetry has been entirely "spiritualized". There is still such a thing as "contemporary poetry", to the extent that there are poets who publish volumes of poetry, critics who write about them, etc. But it no longer has a body in the sense that it no longer has a critical mass of readers. There is only the pyramid-- there is no base of the pyramid. A new poem doesn't pass into the everyday discourse of the people in the way poetry did in the days of Tennyson or Kipling. They are not quoted by journalists, taken up by musicians, imitated by imitators, etc.

So much for the soul without a body. What about the body without a soul?

Well, this is a bit easier to explain. It's what we mean when we talk about a soulless dormitory suburb or a soulless indoor shopping centre. I like G.K. Chesterton's description of George Bernard Shaw: "Mr. Shaw has no living traditions, no schoolboy tricks, no college customs, to link him with other men. Nothing about him can be supposed to refer to a family feud or to a family joke. He does not drink toasts; he does not keep anniversaries; musical as he is I doubt if he would consent to sing. All this has something in it of a tree with its roots in the air. The best way to shorten winter is to prolong Christmas; and the only way to enjoy the sun of April is to be an April Fool. When people asked Bernard Shaw to attend the Stratford Tercentenary, he wrote back with characteristic contempt: "I do not keep my own birthday, and I cannot see why I should keep Shakespeare's." I think that if Mr. Shaw had always kept his own birthday he would be better able to understand Shakespeare's birthday—and Shakespeare's poetry."

The college I attended, the Dublin Institute of Technology, was more or less a body without a soul. It was a relatively new institution in a new building, with none of the lived-in, time-hallowed look that a university or college is supposed to have...certainly no dreaming spires! There were no eminent graduates, no college legends, no grainy group photographs of old classes. By the standards of most institutions, it would be unfair to call it soulless. There were certainly lecturers who were characters, clubs, societies, and so forth. But by the standard of a college, it was soulless.

So there you have it...I'm opposed to both materialism and gnosticism, when it comes to social institutions. Soul and body are equally necessary.