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Well, it didn't take long for the rainbows and butterflies and fluffy white clouds and cuddly kitties and puppies mood to dissipate. Normal service has been resumed, and I will now grouse at length.

In the middle of an online discussion about romantic/sexual relationships, engendered by a post on polygamy, we were all engaging in the free play of intellect and giving examples and counter-examples from our own lives and experiences.

The fools!

I made the cardinal error of expressing a personal opinion and revealing truthful data about myself.

I know: on the internet? Am I insane???

Luckily, a gentleman was on hand to steer the errant boat of my meanderings into the proper channels since my frail feminine intellect was not up to the job of piloting said vessel.

I’m not trying to too strongly doubt you when you say what you want, he began, before beginning to do exactly that.

You see, like an idiot, I had backed up the claim that I was not interested in romantic love (the very notion! what kind of female am I, to disdain such an important and foundational part of my innermost womanly essence?) by giving a concrete date as to when this realisation occurred to me.

That was my first error right there, you see. I was (or rather, I am) allowing that earlier child-version of me to control my life since it is unimaginable that there may be (or at least, the kindly-instructing male cannot imagine) areas of personality-space where you could rationally decide you’ll never meet anyone who could mutually increase your life satisfaction via intimacy.

But did I meekly and gratefully accept this mild admonishment meant only for my betterment? No, rather I persisted in being a graceless wretch and insisting that I knew my own psyche better than he did. This meant that he had to disburden himself of intimate personal information in order to lead me back onto the paths of proper behaviour and right-thinking; fortunately for me, he had both the experience and the advice which - if only I would not harden my heart and stop up my ears - would bring me true fulfilment, joy and human blossoming.

You see, he had been in a similar position once though probably not as extreme, but luckily it was self-delusion, and (he) actually hadn’t met the right people yet.

You see the cause of and solution to my problems right there! I am suffering from self-delusion, not the reasoned conclusion that I don't, I really don't, either want or need an emotional attachment. And he came even more blessedly to my aid by informing me of a conclusion I, in the decades of my life since that young age discernment, had never contemplated or considered for myself; that
Maybe your sample size is big enough that you really can be sure you’ll never meet anyone who you could be emotionally involved with in a healthy way, but there are definitely people out there who believe what you seem to believe now and then turn out to be wrong.


Ah, whatever would I have done without a smart, insightful male to mansplain my problem to me? Now all is clear: men of Europe, flee in fear, for that knocking at the door you hear is me carrying out data collection in order to generate a statistically significant result! After all, how can I tell I really don't want a man, unless I check out all the men living in my geographic location just to be absolutely sure? Rely on my own weak, ineffectual, female 'feelings' that I know my own mind, tastes and inclinations? Don't be ridiculous!
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For once, I am not going to be complaining or moaning or giving out. No, I am going to be all sweetness and light and happy-happy joy-joy, for last night I watched "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey".

Yeah, yeah: I'll be late to my own funeral. Only now got around to it? Didn't catch it in the cinema? Nope, rented it cheapo on iTunes and watched it on my modest PC screen.

And today, underthewillows is a contented specimen of Salix cinerea, for I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected I would.

Like most people, I had (still have) no idea how Peter Jackson is going to stretch out the story over three movies. Clocking in at just a whisker over two and three-quarter hours long, I assumed there would be a hell of a lot of padding in the first movie.

Well, although I had to pause it now and again to nip out to the loo, I really didn't notice it dragging. Yes, there is more stuff put in to introduce and flesh out characters and give us background, but it works. I thought I'd be bored with Bilbo's introductory flashback telling us about the dwarven kingdom of Erebor and the city of Dale (I know all this stuff already!) but no, I wasn't.

Yes, Radagast is a bit loopy. But Jackson also shows that Aiwendil the bird-tamer, the simple, is not merely an eccentric old codger snacking on too many mushrooms and that underestimating him is a bad idea (one that Saruman will come to regret, both in the near and far future).

The dwarves are marvellous. That is all.

Okay, you want more? Look, everyone is going to have their favourite dwarf or dwarves out of the group, but we get a great bunch of lads (although you see why Bilbo has a point about not being too happy to have a crowd of strangers turning up to eat him out of house and home).

Fili and Kili are cute, but come on, we're too mature to perv over baby dwarves. Even if they are cute as buttons. It's cradle-snatching. Ahem. If any of us are perving, not saying we are, not saying there's anything wrong with it. Drat it, I know I will be blubbering like a fountain at the aftermath of the Battle of the Five Armies. Yeah, break my heart even worse than Tolkien did, why don't you, Jackson?

fili and kili

Look at those sweet little mischievous faces, how can you do what you're going to do to them, Messrs. Tolkien and Jackson?


Thorin is gorgeous (and he knows it). There is one point where Jackson over-does the "Thorin brooding sexily" part, but that's not the actor's fault. There's not really much you can do when directed "Stand there in the moonlight, gazing out over the valley below with the wind tousling your flowing locks, as you smoulder darkly while remembering the griefs of your kindred and we all swoon over you" apart from standing there smouldering darkly while we all swoon over you.

Thorin

Can you not see that my manpain dwarfpain is as deep as the abyss of Khazad-dûm?

There's an air of genuine brotherly affection between Dwalin and Balin, as exhibited in their embrace on the battlefield (in a flashback recounted by Balin as Thorin does the abovementioned sexy brooding).


This is Balin. We all know he dies sixty years later in Moria, since we've already seen his tomb in "The Lord of the Rings". Nevertheless, you can get your hankies out now, because the thought of his ultimate fate will break your heart once you get to know him as more than a name on a tombstone.

Balin

Oh, Balin. Wasn't one doomed quest enough in a lifetime? No, that's just a speck of dust in my eye, ignore me, I'm fine.

This is James Nesbitt as Bofur. He's Irish (Northern Ireland) and I'm Irish, so I'm supposed to be immune to the twinkly-eyed charm. Nope. Damn him, the charming charmer that charmed my socks off.

Bofur

Dylan Moran was talking about you at 0.43 of this clip, Nesbitt. Yeah, you know exactly what I mean, Mr. Twinkly-Eyed Charmer.

Heck, I also loved Bifur, even though he gets just one line in Khuzdul and a gesture in iglishmêk. All the dwarves are great and I can't wait to see more of them in the next two films.


So yes, there were some silly bits, but I liked this a lot more than I anticipated. I even did not throw a strop over Azog, and I was all primed to do so, since Azog is dead, dead, deadily-dead and if they needed a vengeance-quest Orc, there's Bolg (son of the deceased) handily kicking around.

But no, it was fine with me once I saw it onscreen. What wizardry is this, O Jackson?

Speaking of wizards...I'm glad they kept this exchange from the book (in the movie it's slightly different in time and place):

"Where did you go to, if I may ask? said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along. To look ahead, said he. And what brought you back in the nick of time? Looking behind, said he."

Sassy wizard is the best wizard.

I still don't know how he's going to fill another two movies. The next instalment will, of course, bring Thorin & Co. to Mirkwood, and the meeting between Thorin and Thranduil is going to be a doozy, given the background Peter Jackson has built up for these two. And the third one will have to be the Battle of the Five Armies, but I'm not really sure how or what they will fill in with, if the next two are both going to be as long as this one.

But I'm a lot more confident now that it'll work. The additions he made worked, on the whole; the changes weren't dreadful, and although I'm sorry - for example - that we missed the "Fifteen birds in five fir trees" song of the goblins and wargs, I quite see that it just wouldn't have fitted the mood or the tone of the encounter as Jackson has developed it.

Speaking of singing, I am extremely impressed by the dwarven cast singing - it seems like they all really did sing "Far over the Misty Mountains cold" - and I admire their ability to hold a tune.

So unless he does something in the next two instalments (the way he went astray with some of the characters and plot in LOTR), I'll definitely be very hopeful for the trilogy.

A recommendation from underthewillows that ends on a happy note! Can it be possible?

Okay, I have to nitpick: in the introductory scene, I sort of wish they had mentioned Thorin's brother Frerin and sister Dis as well. After all, dwarves have few children and a two-to-one male to female ratio (I think), so a dwarf having three children and one of them female??? It must have seemed like a seal of approval from Mahal himself!

Yes, that's all I can find to complain about: a piece of obscure trivia. What is this strange sensation of not being grumpy called, again?
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Suppose you go to a restaurant for your lunch every day. It's not the greatest in town, but it's within your budget, it's convenient to your place of work or where you live, and all you really want is something hot and filling in the middle of the day. This place does that at least.

The menu isn't that varied, they have a bad habit of suddenly and with no warning switching the items on offer and when you can get them, and the service is (to be honest) not that helpful or responsive, but although you grouse about it, it hasn't yet got to the stage where it's more trouble than it's worth.

So, one day, you go in and decide to order an omelette. But when you look at the menu, it's all vegan food. Big posters on the walls about veganism. Flyers on the tables for vegan causes and events. Gift cards on sale that you can give to your friends and family for vegan meals. A collection tin prominently positioned at the cash desk soliciting donations for a particular vegan organisation.

Huh, you think to yourself. I didn't see anything outside or in the local papers saying this place had suddenly gone vegan or changed ownership. Maybe it's just a promotion for this week?

Anyway, when the waiter comes to take your order, you tell him you want an omelette. He tells you sorry, no can do. You ask why, and he tells you "Oh, we don't do those kinds of dishes".

You say you didn't realise they had switched to being a vegan restaurant - or is it because they're under new management? Your waiter says, with a distinct look of who let this one wander around outside on her own?, that they haven't changed, they've always been this kind of restaurant. Indeed, the attitude he exudes very strongly implies that this is normal, that this is what all restaurants are like, that anything else, well, just isn't food service provision.

Okay, you say. If you haven't changed, if this isn't a specifically vegan restaurant, if anyone can come in here and order a meal, can I get my omelette?

"Oh, no," your waiter tells you. He adds, with a sneer, "We don't do that kind of cooking because our staff don't share those beliefs, and we consider that the majority of our customers don't, either."

Those beliefs? What kinds of beliefs are those?, you ask.

"Pro-animal suffering", your waiter explains. "Neither our staff nor our customers believe that the provision and consumption of food should involve or rely on cruelty to animals. That's why we don't serve your kind of meals."

Now, I ask you: would you continue to eat in that restaurant? Would you accept that if you wanted an omelette, this meant you wanted hens to be kept in cruel conditions? Or that if you liked shepherd's pie, this meant you were a sadist?

Would there have been a better way for the waiter to explain why they had an offer on quinoa salad but you couldn't get a hard-boiled egg with that, without insulting customers, insinuating that those who didn't immediately embrace veganism were barbarians, or telling you why there wasn't a contradiction in the statement that this restaurant hadn't changed its policy or emphasis, it was the same as ever it was, but that being a restaurant meant it served greens but not steaks?

And, had you been treated as some kind of animal-torturer, would you have remained to munch on a lettuce-leaf or departed full of determination to eat the biggest, rarest, most juice-dripping steak you could get your mouth around - even though, when you went in, all you wanted was a lousy omelette and you didn't mind if the other patrons ate cous-cous at the same time you were eating your lunch?
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I am brooding and seething right now, and I want to rant, but it would be unfair of me to be too detailed about the circumstances because it involves the Site Which Shall Not Be Named and might possibly get the people who run this site into trouble or at least tsk-tsked at, which as I said would not be fair to them.

So.

I'm angry right now. Angry as in "throbbing veins at the temples, getting a tension headache" angry. Because of a piece of stupidity which is very probably a storm in a teacup, and I am blowing this way out of proportion, but dang it.

I spent the majority of my life being the nice girl, being the good girl, being the responsible eldest, and I have earned - strike that, I don't have to earn it - I am claiming the right to be angry and express my anger.

So, again.

Look, I'm not the smartest apple to tumble off the branch. A lot of my opinions are fossilised. I'm aware of that. But I have come, by simply remaining alive to this age, and by experiencing an exposure to other points of view (thank you, Internet, and very much thank you, other people out there who have engaged with me), and through fandoms of all kind, to moderate some of my opinions and to change others and to adopt new ones. I still have particular religious, political, gender, whatchamaycall'em views peculiar to the circumstances of being born into a certain class, geographical, temporal and cultural milieu, but that's true for us all.

So, even when I think someone is wrong, or that their opinion is wrong, or the position they are representing is wrong, I can understand that they hold that opinion sincerely, have come to it by methods they consider valid, think that it is for the good, and are not holding it just because they are Evil and if only they would admit it, they would immediately come over to my side.

What I do not appreciate is being addressed de haut en bas and instructed - either explicitly or by implication - that I am just too dumb to recognise the truth when I see it; that the only reason I can be opposed to these obviously true, right, universal and superior views of religion/politics/gender/putting the tea or the milk in first is because I am a bigot, an antediluvian dinosaur (well, I very well may be an antediluvian dinosaur, but that does not in itself demonstrate whether what I think is correct or is false) and a hater.

I particularly do not appreciate 'mansplaining' or a snotty-nosed youth (hey, at my age, if you're thirty, you're still a youth) assuming an attitude of self-evident demonstration that he cares so much more for women and their status than I do merely because he expresses support for side A or position X or organisation Q. Thanks, young man; obviously, despite possessing double-X chromosomes since conception and having experienced both menarche and now menopause, I don't like being a woman, I don't like women, I don't like anything about femaleness, femininity, the female experience, and I want women to be under the rule, thumb and dominion of the patriarchy. Just like in "The Handmaid's Tale"! Otherwise I wouldn't hold these political/religious/social/tea or coffee views!

I especially, particularly, most decidedly do not like such an attitude when it is in the context of my being a customer, consumer and user of a service of which said male person is the representative, and in the context of a justified complaint by another consumer, and we unevolved ones holding The Wrong Opinions get the 'mansplanation' that "The reason we decided to do this is because of our enlightened status - and by extension, by being associated with these kinds of people working here who all like to support this kind of cause, my consciousness is so much more raised on this matter than yours, you hating haters" - when the activity engaged in has nothing to do with that service provision, is pure activism on their part, and the manner in which the complaint is addressed is pissing off for no good reason the portion of your customer base who hold The Wrong, Unclean, Taboo Opinion.

Was there a reasonable way to address the complaint and explain why this action was done? Yes.

Did Mr. Junior Staffer do it that way? No.

Is Deiseach sticking around where she's not wanted? Hey, I can take a hint!

And so here I am complaining and grousing in my new, comfy, she-bear cave. Grrrr!!!!! Snarl!!!!! Crunching of bones!!!!!
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Here's a little home-cooked quiz-type question, just for our own amusement.

A particular popular culture short stories series remains part of popular culture in our own day, to the point where recently there have been two separate re-makes or re-imaginings of the serial. After you've read the following, I want you all to have a guess which version was written when - Today or 121 years ago?

Question 1: Female antagonist is
(a) femme fatale and/or defined in terms of her sexuality which spills over into her line of work
(b) professional artist

Question 2: Female character is
(a) Love interest of/for the male protagonist (she may or may not return his romantic interest if he is the one interested in her)
(b) intellectual equal of the male protagonist just as if she were a male character

Question 3: Female character gets
(a) Stuffed into the Fridge as a motivation for the male protagonist
(b) to live her own life as happy, independent woman

Question 4: Female antagonist gets
(a) what's coming to her - rightful punishment for her crimes (if she is a criminal); if she's only the plot device she gets killed)
(b) away with it all, beats all the guys, and lives happily ever after


Well, okay - we all know those repressed, puritanical Victorians had a bee in their bonnet about women's rightful place and Fallen Women, right? The only redemption is through punishment or death? So obviously Option A is the original and Option B is the modern spin on the old tale, updated and corrected for the world where women are treated as individuals and equals and capable of earning their own livings and, just as importantly, where the rich, powerful and connected males are not automatically in the right - correct?

Not so fast, Grasshopper. Not if we're talking about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia, recently re-made in two versions for the British Sherlock and the American Elementary.

Now, I've only seen the first series of "Sherlock" and I haven't seen anything of "Elementary". There's been a lot of heated comment back and forth, between those who think the BBC series is superior and how dare those Yanks mess around with it, and those who think "Elementary" is just as good and just as valid, and hey, we finally get a female Watson!

I'm not going to comment on that. What I am going to comment on is the argument I have seen put forward by female genre fans that "Elementary" is superior in its portrayal of strong female characters (see: Joan Watson). Well, how does it treat the original Strong Female Character, Irene Adler?

Oh, dear. As I said, I haven't seen the episode in question, but however dubious Steven Moffat's handling of female characters in general and Irene in particular (a dominatrix who's supposedly also a lesbian who immediately falls romantically for Sherlock?), at least we got to see her in the part. "Elementary"'s Irene apparently doesn't even last long enough for a cough-and-a-spit scene.

Here is where I get all shouty, so mind your eyes:

IRENE ADLER WINS!!!!

That's right; Irene Adler beats the King of Bohemia, beats Sherlock Holmes, marries the guy she loves and gets away with everything including a happy ending. She's an opera singer, not a sex worker defined only in terms of how 'kinky' the services she provides, her personal preferences and orientation, and her notoriety as a public pest for the rich and powerful and not a motivating rag doll who ends up dead to send the hero on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. There's no indication she cares tuppence about Holmes as a romantic interest, sex object, soul mate, One Twu Wuv or as anything other than the latest bloodhound the King has set on her trail.

And she most emphatically does NOT end up dead or needing to be rescued from the pickle she got herself into by the hero. Irene saves herself.

Yes, a conventional, conservative, ex-Catholic Scotsman of Irish extraction writing during the Late Victorian era could produce a more rounded female character than the supposedly more evolved culture of the 21st century seems capable of doing.

Imma leave the last word to ACD and Irene:

MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES:
You really did it very well. You took me in completely. Until after the alarm of fire, I had not a suspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I began to think. I had been warned against you months ago. I had been told that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me. Yet, with all this, you made me reveal what you wanted to know. Even after I became suspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself. Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch you, ran upstairs, got into my walking-clothes, as I call them, and came down just as you departed.

Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see my husband.

We both thought the best resource was flight, when pursued by so formidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you call to-morrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by a better man than he. The King may do what he will without hindrance from one whom he has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a weapon which will always secure me from any steps which he might take in the future. I leave a photograph which he might care to possess; and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,

Very truly yours,
IRENE NORTON, née ADLER.
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Seeing as it's the time that's in it, season's greetings to you all and may the stress not be cardiac-event inducing stressful, the rows only mildly vicious, and the sherry free-flowing to lubricate all that wonderful family togetherness.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-67)

A Christmas Childhood

I

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch
Or any common sight the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

II

My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon – The Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
“Can’t he make it talk” –
The melodeon. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco,
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.


Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!
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Reading the weekly local paper, I note that a native of the town has won Irish web design awards in national competitions.

Two of them are as follows:

(1) "Most joyous to look at and splendid to use" from the Dot ie Net Visionary Awards run by the Irish Internet Association

(2) "The Most Beautiful Website in Ireland" from the Irish Web Awards

And what is this amazing site? What cool new-fangled product or service does it advertise? In 21st century, modern, hip, post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, what do the not-so-plain people of the Technorati and the design mavens find worthy of accolade?

Potatoes.

We may be living in the future now, but we still like the good, old-fashioned hape o' spuds for the dinner. :-)
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Saw on my sister's Facebook that she had changed her religious views.

Wondered if she was going to come out as atheist/Pastafarian/Church of the Sub-Genius/Scientologist (noooooo!!!!) instead of being a lapsed-Catholic semi-Anthroposophist High(ish) Church Protestant-by-marriage.

Entry reads "Religious views: Can see the church from my house."

:-)
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A link to de nevvie's short story which he wrote for Hallowe'en (he's fifteen, so that excuses the florid prose. Actually, being a blood relation of mine explains the florid prose, never mind what age he is).

Yes, this is the kind of winsome little tale my family is inclined to tell.

:-)
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Answer songs aren't just confined to rock and roll (or blues, RnB and hip-hop); there were (are?) answer poems as well -

To a Fat Lady Seen From the Train
– Frances Cornwell (1886-1960); originally published in 1915

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

 

The Fat White Woman Speaks
-
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936); originally published in 1933

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves as such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

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For the origin of that line by Belloc I used in the screed below:

"Heretics All" by Hilaire Belloc.

Heretics all, whoever you may be,
In Tarbes or Nimes, or over the sea,
You never shall have good words from me.
Caritas non conturbat me.

But Catholic men that live upon wine
Are deep in the water, and frank, and fine;
Wherever I travel I find it so,
Benedicamus Domino.

On childing women that are forelorn,
And men that sweat in nothing but scorn:
That is on all that ever were born,
Miserere Domine.

To my poor self on my deathbed,
And all my dear companions dead,
Because of the love that I bore them,
Dona Eis Requiem.

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Or,

Beware the unimpressed older Irish woman with a keyboard, Internet access, copious spare time and who has already heard more than enough bullshit from fellas in her life already (see "Irish" above).

What terrible things have I engaged in recently? Why, I have whiled away the pleasant hours casting aspersions on people's genitalia!  As proof, I proffer the very accusation so that you may see for yourself:

"This doesn’t really answer my question, though. First of all, I didn’t say that it would make no difference TO KNOW ABOUT or TO HAVE EVIDENCE OF alien life; that is a totally separate claim that has nothing to do with my argument (which you might have noticed if you weren’t too busy casting aspersions on my genitalia). What I said – and I’m quoting myself here, since you apparently are incapable of even that basic action – was: “let’s say that we’re talking about THE POTENTIAL EXISTENCE OF sentient alien species on other planets – is that really something that is at all analyzable in terms of its effect on my day-to-day existence?” (caps added for emphasis) See? Not the same thing."

I won't go into the whole discussion, save to explain that I was making a general reply to another commenter in a discussion on another blog (which wasn't actually about the possible existence of alien life; that was just an example this person used).   I may indeed have been mean about manhoods and their metaphorical and symbolic (ab)use, but you know, I cannot find it in myself to regret it.  Let me tell you why.

This kicked off because of a post this young man made in which he makes the following statements in development of his point:

"humans are optimized for aggressive, raised-hackles, high-stakes reasoning", "human reasoning faculties are practically weaponized in their forms and functions", "In short, the evidence indicates overwhelmingly that we reason best when we reason competitively" and that " Asking us to reason with a constructive curiousness – to reason, that is, in a state of suspended disbelief or make-believe – is tantamount to asking us not to reason at all."

He clarifies in a further comment in reply to another commenter that "Charity is a flawed heuristic and I reject it openly."  (This is in regard to debate; I have no idea of his opinions on charity in other human interactions or indeed life as a whole).  Well, fine, then: to quote Hilaire Belloc, caritas non conturbat me, so let me answer a fool according to his folly.

Because I am so damn well sick and tired, fed-up to the back teeth, of the attitude expressed by that young man - I mean his discovery that "Hey!  If I talk really fast and really loud and steamroller over anyone else trying to make a point and be all aggressive and in-your-face, then I can win debates!"  Ah yes, I vaguely remember back when I was young and stupid, too.

But now I am old and cranky and I don't care a straw about your delicate sensibilities, and certainly not about this same old nonsense, where there is confusion between making a convincing argument and winning through boorishness.  You can bore your listeners into submission or piss them off enough to make them ragequit, but that is not the victory of obvious truth or superior wisdom, that is winning because all you care about is winning.

In short, I am sick, sore and sorry of this "who's got the biggest sausage stuffed down his trousers?" approach to debate or conversation or any attempt at discourse.  All too prevalent and easily visible all over the Internet, but not confined to there; it's in the media, politics, and all areas of public and private life.

Listen, if you be capable of instruction, and know that an argument is not the same thing as a quarrel.  The point is to convince your interlocutor through the rigour, sturdiness and elegance of the proposals you put forward and the conclusions you draw from them.  Thinking that "competitive reasoning" is the prime and only sincere method of reasoning leaves those of us not in possession of a
membrum virile and/or in possession of common courtesy and functioning manners unable to engage in reasoning at all, by your definition.

As further proof of my all-round baseness and malignity regarding the never-to-be sneered-at phallus, let me confess that I await with contemptible glee the moment when this young man gets a job, tries this style of discourse on a customer or superior, and gets smacked down so hard he bounces by his boss or the staff who have been in the workplace longer than him.  Because in the Real World, this attitude from a snotty-nosed brat does not fly - he won't find the flawed heuristic of charity too prevalent!  So that should make him happy, correct?

Oh, and apparently, I am also a WASP (or at the very least, in possession of "WASPy cultural presumptions").  Given that I am, as mentioned above, Irish and that he was lecturing me on making assumptions, the irony that he was himself assuming I am an American mainline Protestant (credit where it's due, he at least got the "white" part right)... well, what else should I expect from a competitive reasoner exercising his weaponized, optimized abilities?

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Instead of a rant* about our incompetent government and all the various ways they've made my blood pressure rise over the past week or so, here.

Have
some videos from the National Ploughing Championships which just concluded yesterday. The first day was rainy (not to mention a 21-mile traffic tailback first thing in the morning on the road between Waterford and New Ross), but the subsequent two days had better weather and they sorted out the traffic.

Since it looks like we'll all be living under toadstools and eating our own hair to survive by this time next year, it's just as well that the old skills are being kept up.

*Where to start? Our Taoiseach; our Tánaiste; our Minister for Finance; our Minister for the Environment; our Minister for Health; the resignation of the Minister of State for Primary Care because she had no confidence in her senior minister, our Minister for Health; the "return" (for those of you who have been living in a cave on Mars for the past five years, they never went away, so calling it a return is a misnomer) of  stroke politics; the débâcle with the bank debt deal thanks to our European partners (see: "our incompetent government" above); the possibility over the next two years of anything between €400-€800 of household and water charges being slapped on every household in the country; and last but not least, whatever horrors and disasters lurk in the upcoming Budget in December?
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A poem from Irish-language poet, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, for her husband the Turkish geologist Dogan Leflef. Translated from the Irish by Medbh McGuckian:


Nude

The long and short
of it is I'd rather see you nude -
your silk shirt
and natty

tie, the brolly under you oxter
in case of a rainy day,
the three-piece seersucker
suit that's so incredibly trendy,

your snazzy loafers
and, la-di-da,
a pair of gloves
made from the skin of a doe,

then, to top it all, a crombie hat
set at a rakish
angle - none of these add
up to more than the icing on the cake.

For, unbeknownst to the rest
of the world, behind the outward
show lies a body unsurpassed
for beauty, without so much as a wart

or blemish, but the brilliant
slink of a wild animal, a dream-
cat, say, on the prowl,
leaving murder and mayhem

in its wake. Your broad, sinewy
shoulders and your flank
smooth as the snow
on a snow-bank.

Your back, your slender waist,
and, of course,
the root that is the very seat
of pleasure, the pleasure-source.

Your skin so dark, my beloved,
and soft,
as silk with a hint of velvet
in its weft,

smelling as it does of meadowsweet
or "watermead"
that has the power, or so it's said,
to drive men and women mad.

For that reason alone, if for no other
when you come with me to the dance tonight
(though, as you know, I'd much prefer
to see you nude)

it would probably be best
for you to pull on your pants and your vest
rather than send
half the women of Ireland totally round the bend.

Nuala
reading her poetry and talking about it - well worth listening to!


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And lastly, something a bit less "gloomily brooding over the pint of stout in a shebeen while the rain lashes down and is that persistent cough perhaps the first signs of TB?". For all you cat-owners and cat-lovers:

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Something a little less depressing, though -  it is to be hoped -  still germane to the thread I seem to be developing (which, God between us and all harm, looks like it's turning into "Come Out, Ye Black and Tans" and other Greatest Hits of the Wolfe Tones' Discography, though that is not the intent).

Michael Hartnett (1941-1999), a poet who decided in 1975 to write only in Irish from then on and did so for ten years until returning to English-language work in 1985.

from "A Farewell to English"
 for Brendan Kennelly
1

Her eyes were coins of porter and her West
Limerick voice talked velvet in the house:
her hair was black as the glossy fireplace
wearing with grace her Sunday-night-dance best.
She cut the froth from glasses with knife
and hammered golden whiskies on the bar
and her mountainy body tripped the gentle
mechanism of verse: the minute interlock
of word and word began, the rhythm formed.
I sunk my hands into tradition
sifting the centuries for words. This quiet
excitement was not new: emotion challenged me
to make it sayable. This cliché came
at first, like matchsticks snapping from the world
of work: mánla, séimh, dubhfholtach, álainn, caoin:
they came like grey slabs of slate breaking from
an ancient quarry, mánla, séimh, dubhfholtach,
álainn, caoin, slowly vaulting down the dark
unused escarpments, mánla, séimh, dubhfholtach,
álainn, caoin,
crashing on the cogs, splinters
like axeheads damaging the wheels, clogging
the intricate machine, mánla, séimh,
dubhfholtach, álainn, caoin
. Then Pegasus
pulled up, the girth broke and I was flung back
on the gravel of Anglo-Saxon.
What was I doing with these foreign words?
I, the polisher of the complex clause,
wizard of grasses and warlock of birds,
midnight-oiled in the metric laws?

Editor's Note: dubhfholtach = blacktressed   álainn = beautiful mánla, séimh, caoin = words whose meaning approximates to the English adjectives graceful, gentle

My dictionary renders "mánla" as "gentle, pleasant"; "séimh" as "pleasant, gracious"; "caoin" as "gentle".  There's another word he could have used, "caoimh", which again translates out something as "gentle, kind"; "caoimhiúil" means "kind, tactful, prudent" and as Caoimhe (for the feminine name)/Caoimhín (for the masculine, Anglicé as Kevin) it has something of the savour of "gentle, kind, pleasant, comely".
 

My own sense of "mánla" involves the sense of "even-handedness" as "steady hands" and so "gentle (in touching)" and "séímh", too, has an echo or shadow or undercurrent of "steadiness, evenness, level" so these adjectives have a tactile and sensuous resonance, not just as a description of an emotional or psychic attitude.  This is not, I hasten to add, any kind of 'official' definition, just a nuance that I experience from the words.

Very poor approximation of phonetic pronunciation guide:

Mánla - mawn-law
Séimh - shave
Dubhfholtach - doo-ull-tock
Álainn - awe-ling (or awe-linn, for those parts where the local pronunciation doesn't slap a 'ng' sound onto the terminal 'nn')
Caoin - queen

And dammit, Mick, but yerself has the perfect encapsulation of what I was raiméising on about in the previous posts and comments on same; lave it to the poets, boys, they're the lads for the expression!

Death of an Irishwoman
 
Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that moved
at night were neither dogs nor cats
but púcas and darkfaced men,
she nevertheless had fierce pride.
But sentenced in the end
to eat thin diminishing porridge
in a stone-cold kitchen
she clenched her brittle hands
around a world
she could not understand.
I loved her from the day she died.
She was a summer dance at the crossroads.
She was a card game where a nose was broken.
She was a song that nobody sings.
She was a house ransacked by soldiers.
She was a language seldom spoken.
She was a child’s purse, full of useless things.
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This seems to be the place I am even more grumpy and pessimistic than ordinary. I think perhaps I am slowly figuring out why.

Ireland has changed. Ireland has changed a lot. Socially, religiously, you name it. The way we went totally mad over our little taste of prosperity should have been enough of a demonstration (ah, the seven fat cattle of Pharaoh's dream and their fate should have been a warning for us, but we didn't want to even look for a Joseph to read the signs, never mind listen to any ill-omens).

I can read and understand the mindset of the characters in 19th century novels (and, to an extent, 18th century ones) with little to no difficulty because it was pretty much the mindset of Ireland up to my youth. The joke about Éamon de Valera (member of the revolutionary forces in the 1916 rebellion, elected as representative to the various governments of Ireland from 1917-1959, president of Ireland 1959-1973) was that he had dragged Ireland, kicking and screaming, forward into the 19th century.

From about 1980 onwards, that changed. Another joke about Ireland was that we were always about 20 years behind the times, so yes, the Sexual Revolution didn't really hit until the 80s. Now we have readily available contraception, we have divorce, there's a groundswell amongst certain politicians to bring in same-sex marriage (we already have a Civil Partnership and Cohabitiation Act, giving same-sex couples the status of civil partners and giving certain rights to cohabiting couples of whatever gender) and we're looking to be gearing up for yet another abortion referendum.

It's safe to say the mindset I grew up with is very much a relic of the past; my generation is likely the last to share it (and not all of us do). So does the future belong to the mid-Atlantic accented dwellers in dormitory towns commuting to the conurbations for their white-collar jobs? The children who grew up watching Australian soaps and American movies and now pronounce Z as "zee", not "zed" and will likely spell words in the American fashion because the software training them for their computer courses is all bought in from Microsoft's American sources? Those who are now two generations away from the bog, newly right-wing and fiscally conservative while being socially liberal, who would have voted Progressive Democrat for their low-tax, business-friendly policies while the PDs were still in existence, and are now the floating voters Labour is chasing while forgetting all about the rural voters and working-class urban voters, more or less accepting that Sinn Féin is mopping those up.

Maybe. Not so much. I don't know. We're all middle-class and aspirational now, aren't we? Except for those of us still living in the countryside, or small rural towns, or the less salubrious areas of those same conurbations (there may be a well-regarded University of Limerick now, but swap "Angela's Ashes" for yet more news about gangland shootings in Moyross and Southill, and not all that much has changed, has it?)

That's not what I'm complaining about, though. I argue about religion elsewhere and I don't discuss politics much anywhere (though, dear Americans, I am astounded by those of you I meet online who, while otherwise pleasant and even rational folk, immediately go into the defence of capitalism as the One True and Only Workable System, Divinely Ordained and Favoured for the Spread of Liberty, Democracy and Human Happiness, instead of being, you know, a human-created method of handling the buying and selling of stuff).

What I am uneasy about is the easy amnesia that, to be fair, is not just the hallmark of this generation but going back two or more centuries. We can assign blame for various reasons due to our history, but the effect has been to make us a nation constantly looking over our shoulder for the approval of others, never secure in ourselves. We have so few historic buildings compared to other countries, because largely the attitude here was "Knock down them oul' ruins, what use are they?" There's a very true and very cutting saying that "You can't eat scenery" (the most scenic areas of the country, in the West, are the ones with the worst farmland. The people who can afford to enjoy the scenery are the incomers, the townies who made their money elsewhere and are buying up the cottages as holiday homes, while the natives leave for the four airts of the world for work). But we have no memory, no foresight, no vision. Knock it down! Build something new and concrete like the big countries have!

And, my dear urban sophisticates, that applies to you just as much. The attitude of mockery to de Valera's
vision, where to get an easy laugh all that was needed was to refer to "comely maidens" or "dancing at the crossroads" - yes, it's problematic, yes, it's a political speech and the kind of "Apple pie and Mom" fantasy notion that is easily peddled for demagoguery, yes, it ignores the reality of rural life, yes, yes, yes to all the justified criticism.

But what is funny, tell me, about the idea of people being able to live in their own place? Of having work, of having a house, of having a family, in a place where they have roots and there is continuity of memory? Or is it less provincial to aspire to being a suburb of London, or to be
Spiritually we are probably a lot closer to Boston than Berlin? Well, we're back on the emigrant trail to Boston and Australia, and we're going cap in hand with begging bowl extended to Berlin for money to keep us afloat, so despite all the modernity we still haven't achieved that old man's romantic nonsense of being able to provide employment and support for ourselves.

Look,never mind that. What I want to say, what I really mean to say, is this - why are we not remembering the sea and the rocks and the streams and the trees? We have a language we can't speak and names we don't know the meaning of, so that the builders and developers of the private housing estates (more egregiously in the 80s and 90s, it is true) slapped on monikers like "Tuscany Downs"  (we don't even have downlands in this country; that's the South of England as in the White Cliffs of Dover) and "Windermere Villas" to sell them to the aspirational?  Anything was better than the local; better to live in No. 56, Linton Hall, than in plain, common old Ballymore or Cloonduff.

Ironically, the pendulum swung the other way and at the height of the boom, developers were slapping elements of Irish together to make fake names that had nothing to do with the locale or they were even meaningless.  We're so adept at being fakes, we even have to fake being indigenous.

Town names may be a different matter; the map may say the name of this street is Wolfe Tone Road while the locals still call it Fair Lane, but you can go back and find older maps for older names.  But who will remember the names of the sea-caves in the cliffs by the little cove where my father was born?  Even he only knew one or two names from the old people when he was a child.  Now all the families who were born there are gone, moved away or died out, and the constant erosion means that the road that was there in his time is fallen away, the road there now in my time is falling away, and in twenty years who will remember?

Well, that's why there are books of local history and topography,and God bless the amateur and the dilettante who like to muddle about in old churchyards and overgrown ruins.  But unless the curious and enthusiastic amateur finds the old people in time, their knowledge dies with them.

No, I'm not saying "Ah, the good old days."  In my case, the "good old days" were being born and reared in a council cottage without running water up to the age of eleven (we moved into town when I was fifteen), where winter meant cleaning the mildew off the winter coats that had been hanging in the wardrobe for six months (yes, damp cold rooms mean mildew grows on clothes) and my mother regularly handwashed clothes in a plastic tub and cooked meals over the fire.  This is an
image of the kinds of fireplaces I certainly remember well into the 1970s (and in some places, up to the 90s) in the older cottages, and my mother up to her 60s was well able to handle this kind of equipment for the old people she visited.

I have no romantic illusions about poverty or the ennobling effect of hardship on the spirit (see Kavanagh's The Great Hunger for another countryman's experience of the same).  What I am angry about is that we're throwing away true silver for fools' gold, and we don't even care. We don't even realise. 
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Here, have a pome.* Here, have a link to the poet reading her pome and talking about her pome-writin'.

Quarantine by Eavan Boland
In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking - they were both walking - north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.


*The misspelling is deliberate. What use is poetry, after all? Can you eat it, wear it, make money out of it? It's still taught in English classes in our schools, but I can see the day when the useless stuff is stripped out and only Business English (or Computer English with American spellings - I am already hearing native Irish people thirty years old and over saying the American "zee" instead of the British "zed" for the letter Z) is hammered into the heads of the students (they'll probably be called 'customers' or 'service recipients' instead of "students", the same way nowadays that when you're signing on for the dole you're called a "customer" - as though you have an actual choice and input into the rules and regulations about accessing the services).

I remember back in the 80s the demand for "practical" subjects. The kids are not learning enough foreign languages, was the cry. Teach them German (because they'll need it when they go abroad for work). Then it turned to teach them Japanese (for the multinationals coming in to the West of Ireland) and latterly Chinese (the new giant economic power), instead of useless things like the Irish language (which, after fourteen years in school, no-one can speak) or art or music or any of that extra-curricular nonsense. The recent cry going up is that we're not good enough in maths and science, and we need more (for the technology multinationals).  More maths skills!  More girls doing higher maths!  All good aims, but rather in the sense of "churn out more worker bees!" than "expose our children to all the arts and sciences!"

Somewhere online I saw a comment about how it's no longer "education" but "training", and I'm starting to agree: fill the empty vessels with what will supply the needs of business because they need to be trained for whatever jobs our governments manage to scavage. Teach from the textbook, teach to the test, to get the best grades to get the most points to get the in-demand university courses to get the degree to get you the good job. I felt the need to put up a poem, and I wanted a modern Irish poem, and I didn't want to quote Heaney, so random Googling gave me this. I don't know - or rather, I didn't know - why I decided on this one.

Except the subject matter of the poem resonated with the post on here about memory and the past and the thread that gets cut by the running out of life. There's a small coastal village about fifteen miles to the east of where I live, and when my father used to drive through it, he would always tell me the anecdote about the time of the Famine. There were copper mines here, and during the 19th century (from about 1827-1877) the mines here were the major employers. During the Famine, you took what work you could get, and people from all over the south of Ireland came here looking for work.

A woman and her children, at the height of the Famine, walked all the way from Kerry (let's call it about eighty miles) to Bunmahon, to meet up again with her husband who had gone there for work. They would have been starving and desperate. The man wasn't there - whether he had died, moved on, who knows? They had no choice but to go back home, walk all that way again with nothing.

They probably didn't make it. They were probably amongst those who died by the side of the road. It's one of those stories all too familiar from the time, that was handed down as folk memory and (for a while, at least) part of our official history officially taught in our official schools (though not all of them; there's another local anecdote which I never learned in school but again from my father, about the parish priest of a mountain parish in this county allowing the people - evicted for non-payment of rent and having no choice but the workhouse - if they could get in, which wasn't guaranteed or the roadside - to squat in the graveyard attached to the church, so that when (not if, please note, but when and this is not an error) they died, at least they wouldn't have far to go to be buried.

Except those kinds of anecdotes are not being taught anymore, either as official textbook or by the teachers in class. It's a combination of forgetting the past, teaching the lists of dates and approved regurgitation of the text for the exam and 'let's stop blaming the English for everything' and 'forget our peasant background of misfortune and misery, we're shiny modern New Europeans now' (though the gloss has rather come off that last with the demise of the Celtic Tiger).  When those who remember these stories are gone, what becomes of the stories themselves?

Our history is being reduced to (a) the thing you learn in school to pass the exam and forget as soon as the exam is finished because it has no relevance to what we do nowadays (never mind examining critically what has formed us, and the reaction - the opposite swing of the pendulum, as extreme in its own way as the swing to the earlier side - from 'blame the Brits' to 'revisionist historians rule') and (b) fodder for the tourism industry.  The small coastal village and its mining history I mentioned above?  Has been re-purposed as "The Copper Coast**" and is a European Geopark.  No anecdotes about starving women and children during the Famine, as far as I can make out from their website.

I realised, after a bit of thinking about it, why this poem recommended itself to me (and the whole ensuing rant you've just waded through, if you've made it this far): there's a hotel in town, which has always catered to the tourist trade (in the summertime, insomuch as we get a summer, the tour coaches are lined up outside it on the street) and which is neither as fancy or as modern as other hotels in the town and surrounds, but has done a bit of re-decorating and up-market(ish) styling.

Now there are advertising signs on the walls facing the main road in and out; advertising a "Real Irish carvery".  Well, so what? says you, sure the Sunday lunch trade and pub carvery is keeping many's the business afloat and didn't you have a dacent dinner yourself in such a hotel carvery one time when you were out with your mother shopping? 

Indeed I did, and that's not the point.  The point is the image used on the sign - the stereotypical cartoon leprechaun.   You can do an online image search and find the kind of thing yourself, so I'll spare us both the embarrassment and misery of describing the wretched thing.  The point is, that's what is considered attractive to the tourist trade (so much for the more sophisticated campaigns latterly!  Though the thickness of our national veneer of modern sophistication has always been measurable in ångströms).

That's what they're boiling our history down to; leprechauns and geoparks.  Convenient historical amnesia and Paddywhackery resurgent.  This poem is an antidote to that.


**Feel free to Google, I won't mind.  Oh noes, you may get an idea where in the world I come from?  I'll just have to borrow a shotgun and load it so I can keep you kids off my lawn  :-)
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Summer has finally arrived in Ireland - just as the leaves are starting to turn colour.

It's always the way - after the three months' school holidays, the first week in September when all the kids are in school - that's when the weather gets better.

This summer has been a really bad one, and it's only the past three days that have been sunny, blue skies, and actually warmth in the sun.

Indian Summer once again.  Enjoy it while it lasts.
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It is so strange to have outlived buildings.

We think of stone and mortar as being more lasting than flesh, but it is in memory that continuity lies.

The vulnerability of an oral tradition: so much that is never written down, and if no-one asks (or listens), so much is lost, the chain of transmission broken.

- Do you see that yew tree?  Do you know why the trunk is twisted like that?

- Tell me.

- Because it grew up and around a wall, the wall of a house.  It leaned on the wall, and its trunk developed that bend to accommodate it.

- But there is no wall there, now.  No house, no ruins.  Nothing but the tree and the grass.

- Because, over thirty years or more, the house was left abandoned when the original inhabitants moved out, died.  The house fell into ruin, then the stones of the ruin were cleared away.  But the tree remained and remains.

You see those houses?  I remember -

- Don't tell me.  You remember when it was all fields round here?

- Yes.  Yes, I do.

Even the mountains wear down, in time.

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