Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Facebook A Go-Go

I post a lot on Facebook and I'm getting steadily less apologetic about this.

I have a lot to say. I get along best with people who have a lot to say. The people I find hardest to get along with are those who are reluctant conversationalists and who restrict themselves to small-talk. 

I'm not talking about shyness. I know all about shyness. I was excruciatingly shy for most of my life and I still struggle with it. I'm talking about people who are not at all shy but still make no effort. (In fact, I've noticed that some people are out-and-out extroverts, always in company, always eager to engage others in conversation...and still have nothing to say.)

I'm not saying they are bad people. Some of them might be saints for all I know. I just find it hard to interact with them.

I'm not saying I'm any better than anyone else for having a lot to say. Maybe I'm just a tiresome gasbag. The Bible is full of exhortations to silence and reserve in speech. But it's just the way I am. I put it down to being very shy and withdrawn in childhood. I was forced to develop "a rich inner life", as the personality profile of the INFJ puts it.

Anyway, I have a lot to say and Facebook is a good channel for saying it. Many of these little snippets are so miscellaneous that they're not exactly the kind of thing I could say out of the blue to a friend, colleague, or stranger. Some of my Facebook friends have been kind enough to say my Facebook page is a home for interesting discussions.

I also think it's good writing practice, as long as you're not just getting into tiresome flame wars and the like. (I don't do this.) If you're writing something that takes some effort to express, I think it can be good writing practice.

At its worst, it's a good filler for my blog when I'm too busy to write a blog post.

Anyway, judge for yourself! Here goes. (Regarding the post on titles: I realize I've written on this subject before and mentioned many of these specific titles before. What the heck.)

If Irish people just made an effort to say "Dia dhuit" and "slán leat" regularly, that would increase the use of Irish in daily life about a million per cent.

As I've said before, I have mixed feelings about the website Where Peter Is, especially how far it is embracing the language of identity politics. But I do often look at it-- as I often look at Edward Feser's blog, the Catholic Herald, Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog, and the many other websites that are generally on the opposite side of the "Francis wars".

One feature that is very interesting is "Which Pope Said This?", a series of quotations from Popes of the past which appear to reinforce the "hermeneutic of continuity". Here is a quotation from St. John Paul II which is most interesting. We could obviously go all around the houses on infallibility, etc. But it's still interesting. He said it in Mexico 1979.

The thing that caused me most distress in Francis's pontificate was the fear that Amoris Laetitia contradicted Veritatis Splendor. I've overcome this, but I do have sympathy with both sides in the Francis wars, as long as the discussion is conducted with respect for each other and the Holy Father.

As for the claim that we have to perform mental gymnastics to find an orthodox reading of Pope Francis's words, I don't put much stock in this. Protestants make the same accusation of Catholics; secularists make it of Christians. For instance, it seems obvious in the New Testament that the inspired writers expected Jesus to return in their lifetime, and I can understand how Arians felt they were on solid ground with John 14:28, "The Father is greater than I". 
You could hardly get plainer than that, it seems. This applies to the non-religious, as well. Atheists have to perform mental gymnastics to explain the origin of life, the existence of consciousness, and the stupendous "fine-tuning" of the universe for life. 

 As Chesterton said in Orthodoxy, orthodoxy is a balancing act where an inch is everything.

Anyway, here's the quotation:

"The Pope who visits you, expects from you a generous and noble effort to know the Church better and better. The Second Vatican Council wished to be, above all, a Council on the Church. Take in your hands the documents of the Council, especially “Lumen Gentium”, study them with loving attention, with the spirit of prayer, to discover what the Spirit wished to say about the Church. In this way you will be able to realize that there is not—as some people claim—a “new church”, different or opposed to the “old church”, but that the Council wished to reveal more clearly the one Church of Jesus Christ, with new aspects, but still the same in its essence.

"The Pope expects from you, moreover, loyal acceptance of the Church. To remain attached to incidental aspects of the Church, valid in the past but outdated today, would not be faithful in this sense. Nor would it be faithful to embark, in the name of an unenlightened prophetism, on the adventurous and utopian construction of a so-called Church of the future, disembodied from the present one. We must remain faithful to the Church which, born once and for all from God’s plan, from the Cross, from the open sepulchre of the Risen Christ and from the grace of Pentecost, is born again every day, not from the people or from other rational categories, but from the same sources as those from which it was born originally. It is born today to construct with all the nations a people desirous of growing in faith, hope and brotherly love."

[Facebook occasionally throws up "Facebook memories" that you posted on the same day years previously. Here is one from 2020.]

These are the things that strike me as important and imperilled as I enter into my mid-forties, in 2020.

1) Cultural diversity-- the real sort, not the nominal, skin-deep sort. That specialness and character should be preserved against the tide of sameness. I worry about this all the time, incessantly.

2) Poetry. Poetry seems ever more important to me. Poetry seems, not only essential in itself, but the necessary corrective to all that is utilitarian, banal, and dehumanising in society. And it seems to me that poetry has never been more marginalized in the life of society than it is today.

3) Something I can only evoke by a term such as "folklore", or "oral tradition". Ballads. Parlour games. Campfire tales. Local legends. Everything that is not commercialized, commodified, passively consumed, or mass marketed.

I am always preoccupied by these subjects. I don't claim they are more important than others. But they feel most urgent to me.

And what about the Faith? Of course, the Faith. But the more I learn of the Faith the calmer and surer I feel of it. Our Lord's promise to St. Peter is a sure rock we can rest on. We need the Church to save us, not the other way round. That victory has been won already.

I know I bitch a lot about the banality and soullessness of modern life. What kills me is that it takes so little to mitigate it. I don't expect to live in Rivendell.

For instance, this backdrop in a Lidl on Talbot Street (I think) of old Dublin. A small thing that makes a big difference.

It's funny how evocative simple things can be. I spent a lot of my twenties in the cinema. Having gone to the cinema a grand total of seven times up to 2001, after that the floodgates opened and for about a decade I went hundreds of times, sometimes several times a day. It trailed off slowly. I think the peak was around 2005.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I was nervous about asking for a cinema ticket before that. I thought there was some mystique to it, like ordering in a fancy restaurant. How I persisted in this belief considering I had gone to the cinema once on my own, to see the terrible Irish film The General in 1998, I don't quite understand. All the previous visits were with my parents, mostly in childhood. (I vividly remember each one: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, Young Sherlock Holmes 1985, Biggles 1986, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 1989, Batman 1989, Michael Collins 1997.)

People identified me with the cinema so much that the first thing they would ask me was "Have you seen anything at the cinema lately?". I got so self-conscious about this that I stopped going for months, at one point, in my contrarian way. I was also very self-conscious about going on my own. One of the ways the prevalent misandry of our time manifests are snide comments about men who go to the cinema on their own. On reflection I see how stupid I was to pay any attention to this. Going to the cinema in company has its own pleasures but going alone also does. You can disappear into the film in a way you can't really when you're accompanied. I did sometimes go with other people but it was never quite the same. I was always conscious of having to entertain that person.

Anyway, this Carlton ident really sums up this period for me, and fills me with nostalgia for it. It was apparently used in Ireland till 2014. It really expresses what's magical about the cinema: the sense of awe, wonder, magnification.

Of course my cinema-going was partly a religious quest, a search for meaning, that found fulfillment in the Faith, but I hate to reduce things like that. It wasn't just that. It had its own justification. The cinema is about the biggest experience you can have at a reasonable price, and it also makes life itself seem bigger, grander, more significant. (Life Itself is the title of both the biography and biographical documentary of Roger Ebert, the great film critic.) Of course, life is fully worthy of such awe, but the cinema helps us see it better.

Even now the image of a cinema audience expresses something for me that nothing else can. The background image on my phone and my Gmail account is a cinema audience, the light from the screen illuminating their faces.

A city is mostly its suburbs. That's where most people live. I get frustrated when cities are identified with their city centres. It's the suburbs that need to be beautified and celebrated and have events held in them. City centres have enough already.

I am trying to develop the ability to look at my environment-- even the places I'm most familiar with-- as somewhere I've never been before and may never be again.

I love evocative titles. I very often comes across them in the library. I decided to begin a cumulative list of titles I love. Here's a beginning. Many of them are for books I haven't read, films I haven't seen, etc. Suggestions welcome. I'm looking for evocative, not just strange or wacky or whatever.


The Jungle is Neutral (war memoir by F. Spencer Chapman)
Goodbye Hessle Road
My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Too Small a World: The Life of Francesca Cabrini
A Prayer for Owen Meaney
All the Way to Bantry Bay (Benedict Kiely)
Puppet Show of Memory (autobiography of Maurice Baring)
Teems of Times and Happy Returns by Dominic Behan
The Road to Wigan Pier
Mornings in the Dark: The Graham Greene Film Reader
Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-Garde Film
The World That Came In From the Cold (history of post-Cold War world)
Love is Colder Than Death: The Life and Times of Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Parade’s Gone By (a history of silent film)
Porterhouse Blue
Goodbye to All That
A Girl in Winter (novel by Philip Larkin)
Farewell Dublin but never Goodbye (memoir by Donal McKenna)


Sex, Lies and Videotape
The Breakfast Club
On Golden Pond
Postcards from the Edge
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
Never Say Never Again
The World is Not Enough
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Ice Cold in Alex


There is a Light That Never Goes Out

TV Shows:

The Wonder Years
Mad About You


Love and the Russian Winter
Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space

Friday, July 14, 2023

Don't Forget Your Penance!

We don't talk much about Friday penance any more (I've often forgotten about it myself). So here's a friendly reminder that "Catholics observe each Friday of the whole year as days of penance", to quote from an Irish Catholics Bishops Conference pamphlet on the subject.

You can abstain from meat or do something else, such as visit the Blessed Sacrament or pray the Stations of the Cross.

Happy Friday!

Monday, July 10, 2023

Poetry Reading in the Axis Centre, Ballymun


Here I am reading my poem "The Fallen Seven", one of the winners of last year's Bards of Ballymun competition, in the Axis Centre in Ballymun.

Why am I holding a bag and an umbrella? Because I was nervous and didn't think to put them down. Also why my belt is unlooped. Well, I did it despite my nerves.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

My Customer Service Woes in Tesco, Merrion Road

This is a little bit of a departure from my usual blogging, but here goes.

Supermarkets are a central feature of modern lives, as we were all reminded during the Covid lockdowns. They provide an essential service, and we are all indebted to supermarket workers. It's undoubtedly a difficult and often thankless job.

However, being on the other side of the till can also be thankless, and I think I've accumulated enough bad experiences with my local Tesco to warrant a blog post.

I live ten minutes walk away from the Tesco in the Merrion Shopping Centre, Merrion Road. I'm very grateful it's there. I've spent thousands of euro in this supermarket over the last few years, and I visit it most days.

I've had some very positive experiences with staff there over the years, especially junior staff, who tend to be particularly helpful.

I've had other experiences which are not so good, and which are in fact ongoing.

Like almost all supermarkets, this one is very active in pushing customers onto self-service tills. There are rarely more than one or two manned tills available, and sometimes there are none at all. This has become so common it's barely worth mentioning, although it's a very depressing social trend.

Having reluctantly migrated to the self-service tills, however, it's irritating when even these are closed down. My local Tesco has quite a number of self-service tills. I think they have nine or ten. It seems weird that they keep closing these so that long queues of customers are queueing at four or five tills.

Another gripe is the customer service desk. It's rarely open, in my experience, and the hours that it's actually staffed seem to be reducing all the time.

Sometimes I've pointedly stood at the customer service desk while a member of staff is working nearby-- or indeed, actually standing behind the desk, attending to something more important than customer service. Invariably, the staff member helpfully tells me: "This desk is closed", before disappearing.

The less-than-enthusiastic attitude to customer service extends to vouchers. For Clubcard members, Tesco gives vouchers for various discounts. I use these very reluctantly (usually persuaded to do so by my nearest and dearest), since at least half the time the staff fight me over them. I read the conditions of the vouchers very carefully to make sure that I'm using them correctly, but that's no guarantee I won't find myself in a battle over them. Generally I'm directed to the customer service desk...which is, naturally, empty and unmanned.

Easily my biggest problem with the Merrion Road Tesco, however-- and this is why I've kept it till last-- is their very aggressive attitude towards closing time.

I get it. Shops have to close. People have to go home. But surely customers should be allowed to shop in some kind of peace right up to closing time, rather than being bombarded with ever-more urgent messages and verbal reminders for the last forty or thirty minutes of opening hours.

Indeed, it's frequently the case that Tesco Merrion Road closes early. I don't like to walk into a shop when it's closing, but sometimes it's necessary. I've quite often had the experience of running all the way from my apartment to the supermarket to pick up that one item I urgently need...only to find the supermarket has shut down five minutes (or more) before the advertised time.

To be fair, it's the staff of the shopping centre (not the supermarket) that do this. But if the supermarket advertises itself as open until a particular time, it should be open until exactly that time. Surely there can be some conferral between the supermarket and the shopping centre on this point.

My worst experience with Tesco Merrion Road was some weeks ago. I very urgently needed to get some particular provisions from the store. I ran all the way, and did my shopping as quick as I could.

I was the last person going through the tills-- the self-service till, obviously, since the manned tills are closed by now.

When I reached for my wallet, I realized to my consternation that I had forgotten it in my panic. I phoned my wife to update her, and she suggested I download the app for a payment card that we use. By now, the staff were helpfully telling me that the store was closed, doubtless imagining that I didn't realize this.

I downloaded the app. It was agonizingly slow, as you can imagine. At this stage, three staff members were hovering over me. One of them was an employee of the shopping centre, while the other two were Tesco staff. They just stood there, right beside me, staring at me as I tried to install the app.

The app required a password to set up, as most apps do. You, dear reader, might find it easy to concentrate on something like that with three people hovering over you, glaring at you. I don't. I tried and failed again and again to enter matching passwords.

Eventually, I gave up. I abandoned my shopping, and let the shopping centre employee escort me to the exit. I'll admit I passed some bitter remarks as I did so.

My wife was hurrying to the supermarket as we walked out, bearing my wallet. We had a bit of an animated conference with two of the Tesco employees as they left. To be fair, they apologized, and were quite gracious. One of them, seeing how flustered and upset I was, has been especially nice to me since.

I don't want to castigate supermarket employees. But I do think this particular branch of Tesco has a culture of hustling customers out of the shop unlike almost any I've encountered before. (I say "almost any", because to be honest, the only worse example I've ever experienced was the Tesco in the Omni Centre in Santry.)

It's not the same every night, but quite often, the closing-down announcements begin twenty minutes (or longer) before closing time and will be repeated every five minutes or so. As well as this, managers are going around verbally reminding customers that the store is closing-- as though you could possibly miss that fact. (I'm reminded of those episodes of Star Trek involving an auto-destruct sequence: "This vessel will auto-destruct in seven minutes thirty-five seconds..")

I've had experience of implementing a closing time myself, of course, in the library where I work. Sometimes in the smaller branch libraries, where I might be the only person there and closing time is ten at night. I only make one announcement, even where the guidelines suggest more. I try to treat people like responsible adults.

Perhaps the problem is that Tesco itself doesn't take a realistic view of closing times, and isn't giving their employees enough leeway to close the store down. Maybe blogging about it here will help that. It's worth trying.