Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Two Random Thoughts

1. I had a whim to watch some Youtube videos of stand-up comedy this evening, as I was making dinner. Being a lover of the seventies, I typed in a random year from that decade, reckoning that would get me past all the "trending" stand-up routines of the moment.

It brought me to this 1976 performance from Steve Martin. It's amusing that, about one minute and fifteen seconds into the act, he brings up the (then) novelty of hand dryers in airport bathrooms, complaining how long they take to dry your hands and how paper towels (which had apparently been removed in favour of the automatic driers) are infinitely superior.

Isn't it funny that, more than my whole lifetime later, hand dryers are still terrible? I mean, truly terrible? I've never used one that was a fifth as good as a paper towel. And few public bathrooms wouldn't give you the choice of a towel now. I take considerable satisfaction in the fact that the boffins haven't been able to make a machine that dries your hand better than paper in all these years. The breakneck pace of technological progress, my eye.

2. Tonight I also found myself asking my father what card games we had played in our house when I was a child. I was told that one of them was Twenty-Fives, which the online Encyclopedia Brittanica lists as "Ireland's national card game". I never suspected we had a national card game, but the fact delights me. And it occurred to me that someone should try to compile an absolutely exhaustive list of all the things that are unique or distinctive to Ireland-- especially little things like that, things that are usually forgotten when we come to listing the things that make our country different from the rest of the world.


  1. 1) Yes, a lot of hand dryers are still terrible. I have found a few good ones though.

    2) I didn't know we had a national card game either. I concur with your idea for making a list of cultural Irish-ness.

  2. Sorry for not publishing this comment till now, Antaine, I was away from a computer. I wonder where you came across this good hand dryer. And was the Yeti using it ahead of you?!?!

  3. Twenty-Five (no 's' at the end!) has a couple of 'cousins': Forty-Five and A Hundred and Ten. They are basically the same game. When I came to the Philippines - I'm a Columban priest - in 1971, 110 was very popular with my fellow Columbans who didn't play Bridge. It was normally played by three sets of partners but could be played by four, without partners. It's a game that needs a certain amount of skill, strategy and memory, none of which I ever had in abundance, but wasn't nearly as serious as Bridge, which I wisely vowed never to learn and so could in good conscience say 'no' when three of my confreres were looking for a fourth to play that game. If you knew how to play it you simply couldn't refuse that request..

    I remember playing Twenty-Five down in Cnoch na hAille in 1954, on my first visit to the Gaeltacht, with the father of the Fear a’Tí. Old Séamus Ó Fatharta, who had no English at all and rarely spoke to the three young 'Jackeens' - we didn't become 'Dubs', the nickname for the Royal 'Dubbelin' Fusiliers - until much later - but was happy toplay Twenty-Five with us, a happy memory. Ar dheis Dé go raibh Séamus agus Feargus, duine dem’ bheirt compánach ó BhÁC.

    An Irish expression I learned in school comes from these games: 'Ni fiú deich triuf é' - 'It's not worth the ten of clubs' - in other words, not worth a damn. The ten of clubs and spades are basically worthless in these games, though I once managed to win a 'bell' - when you go for a clean sweep in 110 - with the ten of clubs, to the initial consternation of my playing partner. Beannacht Dé ort.

  4. Thanks for that blessing, Father. I can't even remember how Twenty-Five was played. But it really seems to have been a social adhesive from what you say. Playing card games does seem to have a unique rhythm all of its own, it's almost hypnotic, and very "more"-ish. And very companionable since you can lapse into a friendly, absorbed silence. Nice to hear, too, that even a Gaeilgeoir without any English could connect with "Jackeens" over it.

    As for bridge, it seems more of a commitment than marriage!

  5. Yes, 'social adhesive' is a good way to describe card games. Whist drives were very popular when I was young, often as a way to raise funds. Solo was another very popular game. Some of my classmates from O'Connell Schools go off for the day by train from time to time, spend a few hours and have lunch in whatever town or city they go to, and play solo on the train, just for fun.

    Your comment about bridge reminds me of a story of three Columban priests in China back in the 1920s or 1930s who were trying to keep a step ahead of bandits. When they arrived at the house of another Columban he was delighted and said, 'Good, we can play bridge tonight!' I'll be dropping by here regulary now, a Mhaolsheachainn.

  6. I never heard of Solo! I do envy you all that card experience, Father. I've only had a little bit.

    It's good to know this humble blog will be read in the far-flung Phillipines!