Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Cause of Leonard LaRue/Brother Marinus

Last Christmas, I had an article in Ireland's Own on the incredible story of the Meredith Victory, a ship which evacuated more 14,000 refugees (in a single trip!) during the Korean War. It happened over Christmas.

The ship was captained by Leonard LaRue, who made the fateful (and very dangerous) decision to evacuate as many people as possible. Since he was a member of the Merchant Marine, and therefore a civilian, he was under no obligation to do so.

He later became a Benedictine monk in New Jersey. He died in October 2001 and his cause for sainthood was recently opened.

The postulator of Brother Marinus's cause was extremely helpful to me in the research of my article. In turn, I'd like to encourage readers of this blog to acquaint themselves with the cause, and perhaps pray for Brother Marinus's intercession.

Rather strangely, the cause does not have a website itself. This page is the closest thing I can find.

There is also a newsletter, which is distributed through the email address I'm sure they would be happy to add you to the mailing list.

Pray for us, Brother Marinus!

Monday, March 27, 2023

Remembering Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch

Over the years, I've written several posts in which I've tried to memorialize various things I've experienced. For instance, I wrote a post about the Allen Library, a research library where I pursued a training course for eleven months. I also wrote a post about Ballymun Shopping Centre, and another about the Philip Larkin Society Forum. The first two were surprisingly popular, the third one hasn't had any responses yet.

What's funny about this sort of post is that just putting down the facts has a value of its own. It's history, of a modest sort. People are surprisingly interested in even the most mundane facts about the past. An old timetable or menu or floor plan can be of absorbing interest, after a sufficient number of years have elapsed. I write these posts for my own sake, for the sake of my regular readers, but also for the sake of others who had the same experiences and might come upon the post in their internet travels.

So now I'm going to write about my primary school, Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch. It's the school I attended for eight years, up until 1990 when I was twelve years old. It still exists. It's located in Ballymun, and was founded in 1973. (I've just discovered that it had its fortieth anniversary celebration on my wedding day!) It's an Irish language school and the name means School of the Seven Heroes-- a reference to the seven signatories of the 1916 Rising. (The towers of Ballymun, now demolished, were named after the same seven signatories.)

In Ireland, the first two years of primary school-- junior infants and senior infants-- are familiarly known as "low babies" and "high babies", which is rather funny.

When I entered Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch, it was temporarily located in Glasnevin, in a school called Scoil Ciarán, which is now a "special school". I think tSeachtar Laoch itself was being rebuilt, or something like that.

I have only very fragmentary memories of Scoil Ciarán. It always seemed very dark in the classrooms. The recreation yard always seemed chaotic to me, and I remember congratulating myself once when I managed to walk from the classroom to a door on the other side of the yard, without being knocked over by running pupils.

There were diagonal beams apparently propping up the walls outside. I remember one day, pupils lying on these beams and pretending to be injected or tortured or something.

There was a high wall along the yard, and I remember my class-mates being chastised for throwing stones over it, and being told there was a baby in a garden on the other side.

I wasn't in Scoil Ciarán for long. While I was still in low babies, we were transferred to the new schoolhouse in Ballymun, which still stands.

My first memory of the new school building is an assembly where a fire safety officer (I suppose) boasted about the fire safety of the new building, and told usabout the fire alarms, whose glass we could break with our elbows or a chair leg. The speaker raised the possibility that we could actually die in a fire and this shocked me a little. I'm not sure why, as I was under no illusion that I was immortal. Perhaps it was the matter-of-fact way he mentioned it.

As I've said, Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch is an Irish language school. The Irish language was taught immersively, meaning that all communication was through Irish, from first class onwards. Low babies and high babies were allowed to speak in English, being gradually phased into Irish. When I heard that we'd only be allowed to speak in Irish in first class, I remember resolving that I wouldn't say anything at all, since I was worried my Irish wouldn't be good enough.

We wore a navy uniform-- navy sweater, navy trousers (navy skirt for the girls), and a sky-blue shirt or blouse. The school's rather attractive crest was sewn onto the sweater. (Incidentally, I'm glad I attended mixed schools all through my education, since all-boys' schools sound awful.)

Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch was a Catholic school, and I see it's still under the patronage of the Archbishop of Dublin, but it was entirely run by lay people. There were no prayers before class, no holy statues or pictures that I can remember, no particularly devotional ambience. We had religious education, which was sound enough, as far as I can remember-- mostly learning about the life of Jesus. The school prepared us for, and organized, our First Communion (first class) and Confirmation (sixth class). I took the first very seriously, but not the second.

The school was supposed to be all-Irish speaking, after low babies and high babies, but this requirement was pretty much ignored outside the hearing of teachers. In fact, to speak Irish when you didn't have to would have been seen as seriously weird. In my earlier years, kids speaking English were made to wear a blue badge with the letter B for Bearla (meaning English).

What effect did attending an Irish language school have on me? Well, my Irish is certainly much better than it would have been otherwise. I'm fluent in the sense that I can hold a conversation, although it's a broken and stammering fluency.

Sometimes, when I hear an Irish word or phrase, I'm struck by a balmy wave of nostalgia. I wasn't very happy at the school, but nostalgia doesn't only attach to happy memories.

There was a strong strain of cultural nationalism in the school, and this certainly had a strong effect on me. Hurling and camogie were the school sports-- I don't think we even played Gaelic football. (I did join in hurling training and very occasionally played in games, but I was mostly a benchwarmer. I think I could have been given more than a few minutes on the field, no matter how bad I was.) We learned about Irish myths and legends, we practiced Irish dancing (which I hugely enjoyed, since I had not yet reached the age when boys get self-conscious about dancing), and we were taught how to play the tin whistle.

We were given lunch in school. It was always the same thing: cheese or corned beef sandwich, cut diagonally, and currant buns. For a drink, we had cartons of milk, which we seeped through a plastic straw in those ecologically irresponsible days. In my later years in the school, they began to introduce flavoured milks-- strawberry, banana, and toffee. As my mother worked as a cleaner in the school in those same later years, I ended up getting a lot of these leftover flavoured milks, much to my pleasure.

The memory which prompted me to write this blog post was the "Comórtas Gaeilge", or Irish Competition, which occurred every Friday afternoon in my last few years. I don't remember exactly what year it was introduced. It was a kind of school assembly at the end of the week. First we had bingo of some kind, then we broke into teams for the Irish Competition. Each team was composed of pupils from different grades.

The idea behind the Comórtas Gaeilge was that each pupil kept a record of how much Irish they spoke during the week. The team with the biggest aggregate won. The self-assessment was broken into different stages of the day. I forget what the stages were exactly, but going home from school was one of them. When kids protested that they hadn't spoken to anyone on their way home, they were told to record what language they were thinking in. It was all on the honour system and I think only the older pupils lied, and then only for the hell of it.

The prizes were rubbish-- for the bingo, they were Mars bars, standard sized and mini-sized. I can still hear the headmaster booming "Mars bar mór" and "Mars bar beag" as though they were Rolls Royces. The prize for the Comórtas Gaeilge was a Toffifee sweet each, for the winning team. I always envied the winners of these. I think my team only won very occasionally. Did we ever win? I don't remember it, but it would be extraordinary if we didn't. There were only about two hundred kids in the school, all told.

I remember the Comórtas Gaeilge fondly because it was the last event of the week and it had an air of imminent holiday. Along with the Late Late Show it marked the beginning of the weekend, two whole days of freedom stretching in front of me. I didn't like school, though I don't blame the school I attended. I'm not even sure I learned anything much in school other than Irish.

The schoolhouse was built around a central assembly hall, with a stage at the back of the hall. We did our physical education, dancing, Comórtas Gaeilge, and activities of that sort in the assembly area. The classrooms ran from youngest to oldest in a kind of horse-shoe formation around the school, so that sixth class looked down a corridor to low babies. First to fourth class were in a corridor of their own, and fifth year and high babies were on opposite sides of the assembly hall. The corridor with sixth class and low babies' at either end also contained the kitchen, the headmaster's office, the teacher's staff room, and the teacher's bathrooms. There was a sliding door which led from the kitchen to the stage, which fascinated me. A hatch from the kitchen opened onto the assembly hall, which also fascinated me. The front door was beside the headmaster's office, and there was (in later years) a fish-tank with goldfish on the right as you walked in.

Paintings were mounted on the walls around the school, mostly paintings by the children. I had quite a reputation as an artist in school. One picture that showed myself, my brother and my mother walking from behind won a lot of acclaim, much to my bafflement. It hung on the wall for years, until I left and was given it to keep. I still have it. It's by far the oldest creative work of my own that I still own.

There were two recreation yards, on either side of the school, one for the younger children and one for the older children. We had hopscotch courts (which I never used), and the older boys played handball against a wall constantly. It seems mildly odd to me in retrospect that the teachers never objected to this, given the danger of breaking a window. But, as I recall, the windows were not made of conventical glass but of some more durable and flexible material, perhaps plexiglass.

My teachers were mostly women. All through low babies and high babies, I was taught by a woman called Áine, who I remember as pleasant and friendly. In first year, we had the headmaster, Domhnall, a native Irish speaker from Cork. From second to fifth year, I'm less sure of who my teachers were. I definitely had a teacher called Enid, another called Roisin, and another called Eileen (my favourite-- I had quite a crush on her, and she once gave me two pounds for a cake sale, enjoining me to pay it back to her when I was thirty years old).

In our sixth and final class, we had a teacher called Deaglán, who was regarded as the cool teacher since he played the guitar, had a beard, and wore jeans. He had a particular gift for bringing Irish history to life.

I'm amazed how little I can remember about my teachers. A few years ago, I found myself at a talk which was incredibly boring. I was sitting right in the front row, so I couldn't really distract myself with my phone or anything else. But actually listening to the talk was unbearable. So I found myself playing a mental game, going from class to class in Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch and trying to summon up memories attached to each one. I was amazed that I drew a complete blank in some cases. Of course, memories come to me unbidden at other times.

We had to change into slippers when we entered the classrooms, to protect the carpets. The classroom floors were partly carpet and (nearer the door) partly linoleum. When we ate lunch, we brought out chairs to the linoleum. Every classroom had its own bathrooms.

We had a line-up for every break time and for going home, during which we would form a line according to pre-assigned places and file out in an orderly fashion when told to do so.

Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch was an overachieving school, considering that its location and many of its pupils were working class. It punched above its weight academically, athletically, and artistically. This was undoubtedly because of the active involvement of the parents, and the tendency of Irish language schools to draw more committed and idealistic teachers. My father, in fact, was one of the people who were involved in setting up the school in the first place, though he had next to no Irish himself.

I wasn't particularly happy at the school. I didn't like school. Maths especially made me miserable, and I hated it with a passion. But I enjoyed art classes, and was proud of my reputation as an artist. I enjoyed class discussions, though I rarely joined in.

One particularly happy memory is the "telegóir", or projector. This would be used to project slides onto the wall. The blinds would be drawn (there were French blinds in every class), the room would be darkened, and we would look at various glowing slides. As I write this, I'm wondering what its actual benefits were. I think it was probably a bit of a gimmick. I remember a lot of cartoon pictures. One set of slides illustrated the story of Setanta, the boy who became Cúchaillin in Irish mythology. Anyway, I enjoyed the telegóir as an aesthetic experience. It impressed me so much that, in my late teens, I was putting together a collection of poetry entitled Slideshow.

There were no computers in my primary school. Actually, there was a computer, but I don't ever remember it being used for anything other than simple computer games, such as anagrams. There was one mobile telephone, a huge thing which never seemed to work.

One particularly unhappy memory is geography class. The teacher would pull down a huge laminated map of Ireland which was usually rolled up above the blackboard. I felt completely at sea during geography class and could never remember any of it. I think I had very little sense of place.

In my last year, my class performed a musical play in an Irish language arts competition called the Slógadh, which was held in Ennis, County Clare. The play was on an ecological theme, and concerned the imminent destruction of the ozone layer by aerosol sprays. Some scenes were set in an apocalyptic future, and starred a chorus of extras dressed in red gauzy rags and wearing make-up supposed to suggest burnt skin. Naturally, I was one of these extras. (I was always an extra in this school, which-- looking back-- strikes me as a rough deal, even if I didn't put myself forward.) I'm pretty sure the musical was written by Deaglán, and I can still recall a few lines from it. One of the songs used the tune from "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina". We practiced and we practiced and we practiced, and we won first place. I still have my medal.

We stayed overnight in Ennis, and slept in a dormitory in a girls' convent school, overlooking a graveyard. This is one of the most vivid memories of my school years, and I've written about it here.

I can remember, during the trip, standing in a computer games arcade with some of the other boys in my class. I wasn't playing the computer games (the only computer games I played in my childhood were hand held), I was reading a comic book of Nemesis the Warlock, a story taken from the 2000 AD comic. I can remember a piece of graffiti on the wall that read "FREE NELSON MANDELA". Underneath, someone had written: "HE IS FREE, YOU IDIOT." This was towards the summer of 1990.

I suppose I could go on adding memories indefinitely, so I may as well stop.

As I've said, I wasn't happy in school. But I think I was pretty fortunate in the school I attended. It was definitely a lot less rough than the other schools in Ballymun. There was some bullying in Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch, and I was on the receiving end of some of it, particularly from one boy. I imagine that happens everywhere, though. It was nothing the teachers would have witnessed.

The school was more idealistic than most schools, from what I can tell, because of its commitment to the Irish language and Irish culture. This definitely gave it a particular atmosphere, a rather elevated one.

I never felt at home there, and I always felt very much an outsider. But then, I was very withdrawn and shy. Perhaps the school could have done more to include me and encourage me. On the whole, though, it was a good school.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Ireland as Toytown

I was once listening to an interview on RTE radio in which a foreign visitor described Ireland as a "toytown".  She didn't mean it in a disparaging way. She felt a sort of surprise to see that Ireland was its own country, with its own flag and government buildings and so forth. (I can only vaguely remember the interview.)

I'm very familiar with this sensation. I have it all the time myself, although I'm a native of the country. It's a pleasing sensation.

Ireland is a small country, with only five million inhabitants (a big increase in my lifetime). Of course, there are many other countries with similar populations. But perhaps being sandwiched between Britain and the USA gives us (and others) a greater sense of our own smallness.

For my part, I'm glad that I live in a small country. I can't imagine wanting to live in a large country.

The fact that it took so long to achieve independence, and that this occurred almost within living memory, gives a certain added value to our political institutions. We know how much they cost, and how eagerly they were sought. Or, to put it less grandiosely, they was a lot of hype about them.

I still feel this strange sense of surprise all the time. Even though my father was born in an independent Ireland, the sight of an Irish flag flying still makes me do a bit of a mental double-take. "Well, look at that, we have our own country."

And living in a small country means the ordinary person has way more access to the central institutions of that country. I work in the university with the greatest number of students in the Republic of Ireland. But there are only a handful of Irish universities anyway. There's a very good chance that any given person I meet is a graduate of University College Dublin.

The college's academic staff includes many prominent figures in Irish life. Ireland's most prominent historian, Diarmaid Ferriter, is a regular visitor to the library.

When it comes to history, UCD has a long roll-call of famous Irish writers, politicians, and others who graduated from it.

The word "national" features around campus quite a lot. We have the National Folklore Collection, the National Hockey Stadium, and the National Virus Reference Laboratory-- the last of which featured very prominently in the news during the Covid pandemic, as you can imagine.

But it's not just UCD. Twice a day, on my way to work and on my way home from work, I walk past the main studios of RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcaster.

A lot of my conservative friends would love RTÉ to be abolished, or at least for the license fee that funds it to be abolished, seeing it as little more than a peddler of woke propaganda. I feel differently. While I don't deny the bias for a second-- who could?-- I have a lot more respect for institutions, especially old institutions. What would replace RTÉ? Well, non-Irish stations, for the most part. Besides, the license fee also funds Radio na Gaeltachta and TG4, the Irish language stations.

Similarly, I would not like to see The Irish Times or any other Irish newspaper go out of business. They are a part of Irish history.

Recently, I've been reading a book called Jonathan, about the late journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Philbin Bowman, who died in the year 2000, at the tragically young age of thirty. He was a precocious kid, the son of a famous broadcaster, who appeared on national television in his teens to announce he was giving up school to go straight into journalism.

As with all precocious kids, I found him nothing but obnoxious when I was a kid myself. But I came across the book (a series of recollections by different people, compiled by his father, many of which are quite blunt about his shortcomings) on the book exchange outside the library, and found it surprisingly compelling.

I was interested in the book partly because I'm always interested in Dublin characters and literary figures. I like reading about Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh and Myles Na Gopaleen and people like that.

But I was especially interested in Jonathan Philbin Bowman because he was such a free spirit, as evidenced by his decision to quite school in his teens. He was also the sort of person who would invite himself to dinners and give flowers to everybody he knew.

Free spirits are interesting to me because they seem to give a new life to their surroundings. It's fascinating that there's a limit to every free spirit; or at least, there's a background. William Blake was the most original figure imaginable, but he was still utterly English.

Even free spirits have a history, an accent, a tradition, a physical environment which they share with others. And somehow, seeing them in this context, we see the context itself anew-- as though for the first time. (David Thornley, the Labour MP and Catholic convert, is another Irish free spirit who interests me in the same way.)

I touched on ideas like these in my recent blogpost The Sky and the Ground.

I spoke earlier about the strange sense of surprise I feel whenever it occurs to me that Ireland is an independent state, a country of its own. But there's another and more general sensation of "surprise" that often hits me; surprise that the person in front of me exists in the same place and time as I do.

This seems absurd on the face of it. Everybody has to be alive at some time and some place, and there have to be other human beings who share our environment-- it's not like we could pop up out of the ground.

But I can't shake the feeling. Nor do I want to. The fact is that this person in front of me, in all their uniqueness-- "once only since the world began, never before and never again"-- exists here and now. Not in ancient Egypt or the Russian steppes or in the vast depths of prehistory, but here and now.

I know this sensation isn't unique to me, since I recently heard the Irish writer John Waters describe his own experience of it.

As a sort of sub-category of that, there is the "surprise" of sharing a nationality. Walking the same streets, having the same collective memories, using the same buses and trains, and so forth. And in the case of a small nation, this sense of "surprise" is all the more vivid. So I'm happy to live in toytown.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A St. Patrick's Day Tradition

Well, it's almost our national holiday, and church choirs all over the country are limbering up their vocal chords, preparing for a rousing rendition of "Hail Glorious St. Patrick, the Saint of our Land".

It's a nice bonus that this year it lands on a Friday, meaning that there's no need to abstain from meat. (I like abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays; but I also enjoy the occasional reprieve.)

At this time of year, on this blog, it's been my custom to post an excerpt from Eamon de Valera's famous "comely maidens" speech, from St. Patrick's Day 1943.

This year is the eightieth anniversary of the speech, which was broadcast at ten p.m. on Radio Éireann. It only lasted ten minutes.

I have an article about the speech in the St. Patrick's Day edition of Ireland's Own.

Anyway, here is the most famous part. Much-mocked as it is, I suspect few (if any) of this blog's readers require any defence of it.

The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 13, 2023

Eating and Drinking

I don't think I've ever written a post about eating and drinking. Yesterday, I was in a café looking at people eating and drinking, and I had the idea for a blog post about it.

I love eating and drinking, but I tend to dislike conversations about eating and drinking. Foodie conversations bore me. I'm sure this is my loss. But I find myself struggling to find something to say in foodie conversations. Once I've said whether I like or don't like the taste of something, I don't really know where to go from there. Again, I'm sure it's a lack of imagination or appreciation on my part. (I hate the idea that not being interested in something is ever a cause to boast.)

I've noticed that foodies are generally light eaters, while hearty eaters (like myself) are often not foodies. Perhaps this is because hearty eaters like to know what they're getting. I take my food so seriously that I don't want to experiment. I want to eat what I know I will like-- and lots of it.

I've been a hearty eater all my life. (A "trencherman" was an old word for this, one whose loss I regret.) When I was a kid, I was chubby, and I got cruelly teased about it, which caused me a lot of anguish. I've lost and put on weight throughout my adulthood. I don't get neurotic about it. Right now, I'm overweight, but not remarkably so. (I was at a funeral a few weeks ago and someone who hadn't seen me for months said: "You've lost weight.")

Anyway, the point of this blog post isn't my weight. I just want to make the point that I like eating and drinking, and I've always liked eating and drinking. I've never really understood the sentence: "I forgot to eat". I've never forgotten to eat. Pretty much the only times I don't feel like eating are when I'm nauseous. I think I could easily have three dinners every day.

And of course, not all the pleasures of food and drink are to do with the actual eating. There's an element of ceremony, ritual, cheerfulness. This is what struck me when I was in the restaurant yesterday. I realized how much pleasure I took in the spectacle of people eating and drinking, the atmosphere. The clink of cutlery on plates, the scent of food, the steam rising from tea and coffee, the whole air of enjoyment.

I especially like the sight of people drinking tea and coffee. The simple sight of somebody holding a cup of coffee gives me pleasure. (I like the phrase "a cuppa joe".) The simplicity of the pleasure is part of the appeal. I find myself thinking: "Well, whatever else is going on in that person's life, whatever else is happening in the world, they can at least enjoy a cup of coffee right now, on this day, in this moment."

And, the threat of food shortages aside, there's something very dependable about the pleasures of food and drink. They come around on a daily basis. Unless I die unexpectedly in the very near future, I'm almost certainly going to have another cake, another sandwich, another piece of chocolate. I may well have many, many more in my future. That's something to look forward to, to be grateful for.

The simple pleasures of food and drink are also a pleasing contrast to the more sophisticated pleasure that tend to be the focus of our lives-- whatever is occupying us at the moment, be it work, a hobby, the news, family, study, all the multitude of activities that preoccupy us. I've notice that the meals and drinks I enjoy the most are the ones I eat or drink while I'm intent on something else (I don't necessarily mean doing that thing while eating). It's an added pleasure.

Food and drink is something that's at once universal and beguilingly particular. Everybody eats and drinks, pretty much every day. Sitting down to eat together is an act of fellowship and togetherness across every time and place. But the things we eat, how we eat them, when we eat them-- those differences are rich in national, regional, ethnic, family, and other associations.

In fact, it's hard to think of a food without associating it with some circumstance or other-- a holiday, a period in your life, a friend or a relative you tend to eat or drink it with, etc.

I also take pleasure in the creatureliness of eating and drinking, along with all other human needs. Although we are god-like in some ways, in other ways we are very limited beings with very specific limits. We need to sleep every night. We need shelter and clothing. And we need to eat and drink. It's humbling, in a sweet way, and a cause for solidarity. I like to think of my own frailty and the frailty of others, in this regard.

And now it's time for lunch.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Nostalgia for US Airways, and Reflections Arising

I've mentioned the US Airways model on my desk before. (My life isn't very interesting.) I think I bought it about eight or nine years ago at this stage. Maybe it was even longer.

US Airways went out of existence in 2015, when it merged with American Airlines. Thus ended a history that had begun in 1937.

I'm not some kind of US Airways nerd. I didn't realize it had been founded in 1937 until just this minute, when I looked it up on Wikipedia. But I did develop a sort of attachment to the airline, over a few years when I was flying back and forth over the Atlantic.

I liked everything about US Airways. I liked the livery (colours) of its airplanes. I liked the uniforms of its staff. I like the style of its announcements and its in-flight videos. I even liked the packaging of all the little freebies they'd hand out on the flight. I always flew US Airways if I got the chance, and I was sad when I heard they no longer existed as a distinct airline.

(I actually enjoy flying. Mea culpa. I know this is terrible for a conservative, localist, traditionalist, anti-consumerist, etc.)

I've browsed the internet a few times to see if there's any such thing as a US Airways "fandom", but there doesn't seem to be. Nobody seems to be nostalgic about the airline.

It got me thinking about our relationship towards businesses. Some businesses evoke a great deal of sentiment from their patrons. Coca-Cola, for instance. Or Harley-Davidson.

I'm very interested in what I might call the cells of society. All of them. Nations, of course. But also families, political parties, clubs, religious organizations, and so on.

Businesses are such a fundamental unit of our society that I think we overlook them. But every single one has its own history, drama, identity.

If we have to live in a consumerist society, why shouldn't we make the best of it? I sometimes think it's a shame we're so cursory about these entities. Perhaps the relationship between the public and business would be less mercenary if it was softened by sentiment. ("Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.")

It's possible I've always had a glimmering of this feeling. When I was a child, I had a strange yearning to be considered an eccentric, and to do zany things. There was a brand of cheap household goods that went by the name Homestead back in the eighties. I began to scribble "Homestead" on the copy-books of my classmates. Eventually, one of them got in on the act and began to scribble "Cadbury's". Perhaps it's significant that I chose this particular form of eccentricity.

I know this is all rather fuzzy, and probably very naive. I'm the kind of person who always craves meaning and soulfulness. We live in a society that, in its day-to-day life, is rather short on both. We spend a great deal of our time in suburbs, supermarkets, office-blocks, and so forth. Places and situations which are rather deadening to the soul, to the imagination.

There are many possible responses to this. We can concentrate on our private lives; friendship, family, romances. We can flee to imaginary worlds of various kinds. We can take refuge in the past, or in visits to quaint country villages and open-air markets.

I'm not dismissing any of these approaches. But perhaps there is another approach; to try to find meaning and soul in the most drab, ordinary, unpromising aspects of our modern society. Or even to put more meaning and soul into them.

It's just an idea. Maybe it would never fly...