Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Summer in the country - part ten.

Post 589 – Undoubtedly, the greatest event of the summer was the threshing season, which I think of as the 'Thanksgiving' of its day. Here, the neighbors always gathered to help each other. The young and the old worked in harmony to the rhythmic drone of the threshing machine that was driven by a long leather belt harnessed to a steam engine. My grandfather’s threshing was a one-day event but for some others, like my cousins, the Harts, the threshing took two or three days to complete. I particularly remember having lunch with the men in Hart’s kitchen, the turf fire blazing, the fresh baked soda-bread, the thick slices of crispy fried bacon, the big mound of boiled potatoes laid out on a sack in the middle of the table, the jugs of buttermilk, and of course, the storytelling. I always felt very big and grownup to be included. Orange squash and bottles of stout were in abundance at the end of the day.

My father was a “machine man” when he was young. He went about the country in the 1920s with his family’s threshing machine, renting it out for a day here, a few days there. All he had to do was to make sure the machine arrived on time in good working order and collect the money (sometimes in gold sovereigns!) when the engagement was finished. He said the machine man was always treated with great respect and he seldom was allowed to do any actual physical work. Instead, he was plied with food and drink and, if he was to be believed, had frequent adventures with the daughters of the farmers he was working with – an ideal job for a good-looking young man who hadn’t as yet any thoughts of settling down. In those days, the threshing was often followed by a barn dance to celebrate another successful harvest – a custom that had largely died out by the time I came along. Probably just as well, as my mother used to talk about some local lads who came to these dances wearing hob-nailed boots with the sole intention of breaking through the barn floor with their “dancing.”

Once the threshing was over, the hay barns were full of loosely packed straw that had just come off the conveyor belt and hadn’t yet had time to settle. I loved to climb up to the top of the barn and then somersault from the rafters, disappearing into the fresh straw like diving into the ocean. It was usually quite a challenge to claw my way out so I could do it over again. The threshing season was usually the end of my summer stay as my parents arrived shortly afterwards to drive me back to Kilkenny, where we lived at that time.

I remember it all as a very free and happy time. Life was good and I hope the same is true for you and yours this holiday season. I wish you all good health, the joy of family, the gift of friends this Christmas, and the best of everything in 2011.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stuff you may not know...

Post 588 - Chief Executive magazine's CEO Confidence Index, the nation's leading monthly CEO Confidence Index, increased 14.7 points (14.4 percent), rising to 102.1 following the results of the November elections. All five components of the index showed double-digit gains in November.

Check my math - A clunker that travels 12,000 miles a year at 15 mpg uses 800 gallons of gas a year. A vehicle that travels 12,000 miles a year at 25 mpg uses 480 gallons a year. So, the average Cash for Clunkers transaction will reduce US gasoline consumption by 320 gallons per year. The government claims 700,000 vehicles were taken off the road, so that's 224 million gallons saved per year. That equates to a bit over five million barrels of oil. Five million barrels is about five hours worth of US consumption. More importantly, five million barrels of oil at $70 per barrel costs about $350 million dollars. So, we paid $3 billion of our tax dollars to save $350 million. Bottom line, we spent $8.57 for every dollar we saved. I’m hoping the government will do a better job with our health care, though.

In 2007, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley tried to estimate just how much information had been produced in the previous year. Their answer was five exabytes, equivalent to almost 40 times the contents of the Library of Congress.

An associate and friend of Thomas Edison, Edward Johnson, is recognized as the first person to put electrified lights on a real Christmas tree. It happened in 1882, just three years after the incandescent light bulb was invented. Johnson was an executive of the Edison Illumination Company of New York City. Christmas trees before 1882 were displayed in homes with lighted candles - many tragic fires resulted from this custom. Edward Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue hand-blown bulbs and strung them around a rotating evergreen tree. To quote Johnson from a letter sent to New York newspapers, "Electric trees will prove to be far less dangerous than the wax candle parlor trees." In fact, those first bulbs became very hot and were nearly as dangerous as the candles they were replacing. Still out of range for most American families to purchase, Edison's Christmas tree lights did not immediately catch on. It would take decades for affordable lighting to become available to most Americans.
In 1917, a 15-year-old boy named Albert Sadacca had a "light bulb" experience. Sadacca's family owned a novelty store selling electrified wicker bird cages with lighted imitation birds. Sadacca suggested to his parents that they begin making electric lights for Christmas trees. After a slow first year, the New York City novelty store grew into NOMA Electric Company and quickly became the largest Christmas lighting company in the world.
According to the National Electrical Contractors Association, the bladed wall plug that we use today was actually a development of a device that was originally used to facilitate the interconnection of strings of Christmas lights.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Repelled by Metal, a poem by Roger McGough.

Post 587 - Roger Joseph McGough CBE (born 9 November 1937) is a well-known English performance poet. He presents the BBC Radio 4 program Poetry Please and records voice-overs for commercials, as well as regularly performing his own poetry. He is a Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University and is a Vice President of the Poetry Society. McGough was responsible for much of the humorous dialogue in The Beatles' animated film, Yellow Submarine, although he did not receive an on-screen credit. McGough won a Cholmondeley Award in 1998, and was awarded the CBE in June 2004.He holds an honorary MA from Nene College of Further Education; he was awarded an honorary degree from Roehampton University in 2006 as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 2006. He was Fellow of Poetry at Loughborough University from 1973 to 1975 and Honorary Professor at Thames Valley University in 1993. In 2005, Random House published his autobiography, Said And Done.

He once said, "Yes, you can feel very alone as a poet and you sometimes think, is it worth it? Is it worth carrying on? But because there were other poets, you became part of a scene. Even though they were very different writers, it made it easier because you were together."

Repelled by Metal by Roger McGough.

I don’t drive I’m afraid.
Never had the inclination or the need.
Being antimagnetic, I am repelled by metal
And unimpressed by speed.

Nor am I being ‘holier than thou’.
Thou are a godsend to be candid
You with the car and the welcoming smile
Without your lift I’d be stranded.

And it’s not that I dislike cars
Though noisy and dangerous I dare say
Monet-eaters and poison-excreters, okay
But I don’t dislike cars, per se.

It’s just that I know my limitations.
I’d be all thumbs behind a wheel.
Don’t laugh. Could you park a poem
In a space this small? Well, that’s how I feel.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Consider this.

Post 586 - Not fully settled yet in the new house but getting there. In the meantime, consider this:

In Australia, all swim teams must reserve one place for asthmatic athletes, a stipulation invoked after the rambunctious Dawn Fraser stormed through world swimming in the 1960s despite her affliction.

A Colorado man thinks he's found a way to protect your private parts from unwanted radiation and government peeping at airports. Jeff Buske of Larkspur is selling tungsten-lined underwear online, with fibers of the X-ray-repelling material strategically placed over the crotch. He says he's seen his sales skyrocket, since the Transportation Security Administration began rolling out full-body scanners at various airports and conducting aggressive pat-downs of people who refuse to use them. Aren't we an innovative people, especially when there's money to be made!

In the US, it’s estimated that on an annual basis:
• 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper are used…
• this results in 15 million trees being pulped…
• 474 billion gallons of water are consumed to produce the paper…
• 253,000 tons of chlorine are applied in the bleaching process…
• which uses 17.3 terawatts of electricity…

I guess WikiLeaks means the day is soon coming when our most private and candid communications will appear somewhere for everyone and anyone to read.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Solitude, a poem by Alexander Pope.

Post 585 - Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was an eighteenth-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. He is the third most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson. Pope's education was affected by the penal law in force at the time upholding the status of the established Church of England, which banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting, or holding public office on pain of perpetual imprisonment. Pope was taught to read by his aunt, then went to Twyford School and to two Catholic schools in London. Such schools, while illegal, were tolerated in some areas. In 1700, his family moved to a small estate at Popeswood in Binfield, Berkshire, close to the royal Windsor Forest. This was due to a statute preventing Catholics from living within 10 miles of either London or Westminster. From the age of 12, he suffered numerous health problems which deformed his body and stunted his growth, leaving him with a severe hunchback. He never grew beyond 4 ft 6 in tall.

I came across The Ideal Book of Poetry during my recent move. It was part of my reading requirements for my first year of English at boarding school in 1949. Leafing through it, I remembered that this poem was one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it too.

Solitude by Alexander Pope.

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire;
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years, slide soft away
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day.

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mixt, sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Strange, but true!

Post 584 - I've been saving these up ..........

The safety of most chemicals used in mattresses - or any other consumer product - is simply unknown, because the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 considers all new chemicals safe until proven otherwise, and does not require companies to do any testing of their products. This means that companies such as Naturepedic, which markets non-toxic mattresses, are forced to pay to individually test nearly any component they want to include in a product. This drives up the prices of their products, making a healthy mattress a luxury only the wealthy can afford.

Anne McCartt, co-author of a recent report on older American drivers by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pointed out that while highway deaths have dropped across the board, the decline in fatal crash involvement from 1997 to 2006 for drivers over 70 was much greater - 37 percent - than it was among drivers ages 35 to 54. Police data from 13 states also suggests that older drivers are involved less often in nonfatal injury crashes and in those causing only property damage. This confounds experts’ expectations that more old drivers on the road would lead to greater mayhem. It’s not clear why this hasn’t happened. “It probably has something to do with the cohort,” Ms. Hersman said. “Folks are more healthy, more active and more active drivers” - less likely to crash and more likely to survive if they do.

The Hindustan Times reported recently that a Nepali telecommunications firm had just started providing third-generation mobile network service, or 3G, at the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, to “allow thousands of climbers and trekkers who throng the region every year access to high-speed Internet and video calls using their mobile phones.”

In India alone, some 15 million new cellphone users are being added each month.

The U.S. government is currently borrowing $5 Billion dollars every single business day!

More than four Americans out of ten still think that Prohibition was the right way to go. What have they been drinking?

The UK's lowest ever recorded temperature in November was minus 23.3C recorded in Braemar, in the Scottish Highlands, on November 14, 1919.