30 April 2013

229. The Vikings and Charlemagne

I had never made the connection. Strangely enough the advent of the Vikings and of Charlemagne had been put in separate files in my brain!

In the Wexford public library at the other end of my street where I've been spending my afternoons lately, I am learning about the History of Ireland in general and of Wexford in particular. Fascinating! Absolutely fascinating.

We learn at school in France that the Vikings came running to the northern coast of the French kingdom around the year 800. Under the impression that it was the only important thing they did I was very surprised to read that they actually raided the coast of Ireland in a much more drastic way.

In the book Exploring Ireland's Historical Towns, The History Press Ireland, 2010, Pat Dargan writes:

"The second phase in the development of Irish towns was undertaken by the Vikings, during the 9th century. At this period Ireland, in common with most of Western Europe, was subjected to a series of Viking raids. The first attack on the country took place in 798, when the monastery of Lambay Island, off the coast of Dublin, was sacked and destroyed. Thereafter, for the next 100 years or so, waves of similar attacks continued. Attracted by the wealth of the Irish monasteries, the Vikings arrived by sea, raided the monasteries and then disappeared back out to sea with their captured goods.

Towards the middle of the 9th century, the frequency of the Viking raids increased and, in about 841, the first permanent bases were set up in Annagasen in County Louth and in Dublin. These were 'longphorts', i.e. sheltered harbours that allowed the Vikings to over-winter in Ireland for the first time. Soon after, additional Viking posts were established around the Irish coast."

..."their captured goods". The Vikings were traders, international traders. That too was a surprise to me. I had been under the impression that they raided places for sport!

And then from another book, what do I read?

From Ireland's Other History by Hector McDonnell, The Lilliput Press, 2012, on page 157:

"The raiders returned each year, gradually moving inland, first to places near the sea like Derry, Bangor or Cork, then up rivers to Clonmacnoise, Devenish and Slane and finally to landlocked places like Armagh.

Ironically, much of the impetus came from Charlemagne's attempt to recreate the Roman Empire. His currency reform of 793-4 led to a big demand for gold and silver. As Islam now dominated the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Charlemagne looked north for precious metals and the Vikings became his suppliers."

..."Charlemagne looked north for precious metals and the Vikings became his suppliers". It makes sense.

Hector McDonnell goes on to say:

"They also wanted young females to sell to Islamic tribes on the Volga in exchange for Silk Route luxuries for Charlemagne's court."

This information we definitely do not learn at school. The Vikings were into trafficking humans, slaves and maidens, all over Europe. And of course ladies and gentlemen of Charlemagne's court did not ask where all the brilliant stuff came from. It did not say on the label: "stolen from Ireland"!!! And the young men and maidens thus sold into slavery could not appeal to anybody for justice. What a shamble!

228. IRISH ROADS

I had heard of Irish roads way back in the 1960s in Australia when someone with Irish background told me once in earnest that: "Irish roads were designed and made only by people coming out of a pub". This phrase used to make other people laugh but as a newcomer to Australia I did not see the joke.

In Ireland since January 2013 and driving around for four months now I start seeing the joke!

The latest motorways are fine, wide and with a flat tarmac, fairly straight, with spacious shoulders on the sides, and financed by the EU kitty for roads across Europe. The Irish country roads, however, have definitely been designed and made by people coming out of a pub, mainly... if not all. They are as sinuous as can be whether on hills or on the flat. They are as narrow as can be stuck between hedges of prickly bushes such as gorse, without any space for shoulders so that you just can't pull up on the side in emergency. I found I could not stop to take a photo. Very often as I was driving slower than the busy other drivers I wanted to pull up and let the faster traffic overtake. It took miles before I could vaguely pull up in front of a gate with a dangerous swerve.

Anyway at the public library recently I found the answer to this state of affairs. Apparently it has a very very old origin. A million years ago the island called Ireland now was totally covered with ice, much like Antarctica is now. Ice Age lasted for donkeys years until one day when it started melting away. It took a few thousand years to uncover this bit of territory and then, what did you find under the ice... sinuous roads. My word!

Quoted from: A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes, by Jonathan Bardon, Gill and Macmillan, 2008

p.1 "The ice sheets began to dissolve about 15,000 BC, and two thousand years later they had all but disappeared. (...) Meltwater flowing under the ice left behind sinuous ridges of gravels, known as eskers; often several miles long and up to twenty metres in height, these provided invaluable routeways later on across the boggy midlands."

Invaluable routeways across the boggy midlands. The inhabitants of Ireland have always traveled on sinuous, gravelous routeways across their country. Straight roads with broad shoulders is a stupid idea of the Romans.

And yes, there is another explanation. I found, reading the History of Plantagenet England by Michael Prestwich, that inhabitants of islands in general use the sea to go from one place to another on the coast of their island.

This is a very strange idea to a continental reader. From Normandy to Aquitaine, for instance, an islander's first thought is to sail around. For the French or any other continental thinking person you build a road and a good road too. I guess Irish people, like English people, have relied on sailing around rather than driving through.

It could also be the reason why, to this day, the roads are so badly maintained and cared for. When driving in the countryside or even in town you get the impression that towns and county councils administrations have no budget for road maintenance. The suspensions and the tyres of cars in this country must not last for very long.

22 April 2013

227. Lost Mail

Wexford, Ireland

 I have been living in Ireland for three months now and so far I have only liked and praised this country. Maybe it is time I allow myself to critisize a few things for good measure!

The first thing quite bewildering for a continental visitor is the lack of letterboxes on houses and flats. There is a slit in every front door but no letterbox as such, i.e. a hard metal box with a door and a key to that door and your name on the box.

As I occupy the second and top floor of a very old house, I first thought it was peculiar to my place. But when I asked at the Post Office about a parcel I was expecting and mentioned that unfortunately my place had no letterbox, the lady behind the counter assured me it was not special to my place. A slit in the front door of all houses, old town or new suburbs alike, was what there was for mail delivery. When I explained about letterboxes, she had doubt at their efficiency saying that then just anybody could get into them.

To add to that problem, as I share the house with three other tenants on ground floor and first floor, mail that is put through the slit in the front door falling to the ground is picked up by anyone in the house and placed anywhere. And as I did not want to bother anyone asking if they had seen the mail man with a parcel for me, I stood outside all morning one day waiting...

An old gentleman across the road came to tell me that if I had a parcel that would not fit through the slit in the door, I would be advised by a note telling me to go and pick it up at the special Post Office for Parcels. That's what happened eventually. I had to go and get my car parked way out of parking fees area, drive to an outside suburb, ask a few people where the Parcels Post Office was and finally enter a receptionist type of entrance where a man behind a small hole in the wall gave me my parcel after I produced identity papers. It was just an ordinary parcel with a book I had ordered on internet.

The second parcel I received was a present for my birthday sent from England. That time since everybody had seen me stand all morning for a parcel, probably feeling sorry for me, the tenant downstairs got the parcel direct from the mail man when he came and placed it at the top of the stairs in front of my door. That was great but not a regular procedure, of course.

My third parcel is now LOST... It has to be declared as LOST in order to have it replaced. When I left France I did not forget to take my camera with me but I omitted to take the lead and the charger for it. So, after taking plenty of photos when I first arrived it ran out of power and that was it, I could not make use of my camera any longer. After enquiring here and there and being referred somewhere else in vain I decided to ask my son to help. He has since ordered the said camera equipment from Amazon.uk which has sent the said lead and charger by post to my address here in Ireland. Well this time... standing outside the door for hours and/or smiling to the downstairs tenant has not helped in any way. I even drove to the Parcel Post Office out of town again to see if they had something for me. The man there did not dismiss me, he actually looked around on his shelves but then said that I had to have a slip.

Now a full 15 working days have elapsed since the parcel left the Amazon stores in UK. The correct procedure is to launched a LOST MAIL claim and have the articles sent again. Will I have the lead and charger for my camera before I leave Ireland, do you think?   

17 April 2013

226. LET US PRAY




A field of rape seeds in bloom in France

Since I arrived in Ireland last January I have been happily going to the Presbyterian church in Wexford town attending the Sunday morning service and a bible study on Tuesdays. Members of this congregation have been patient enough with my weird notions and tolerant of my dissidence as a Christian. I thank them for this, whole heartidly.

We pray together out loud, each one talking to God and bringing up any subject where God is needed for help. Praying, in my view, is an act of humility, you admit blankly that you need help because you can't deal with a problem by yourself. It is also an act of transcendance, you connect by thoughts with a supra entity out of this mortal world of ours.

But who is this supra entity? Who is God? We don't know. We don't even know if 'he' hears us. We try hard to listen to any sign of 'his' messages. With great difficulties we see signs of 'his' presence in our lives. We keep praying nonetheless.

So, let us pray. In the news we hear about a horrendous act of violence bringing death at a peaceful rally of marathon runners in Boston, USA. Sure, it is a political gesture on the part of those who thought out, organised and acted this evil deed. It is in fact a great act of hatred. You can't go and kill peaceful civilians with cold blood if you don't have feelings of hatred for them. Let us pray for these guys who are overwhelmed by hatred for other human beings and who spend their time and talents at killing and destroying. Let us pray for them so that they may turn their heads and their hearts around and see that we are all in the same boat, the rich, the poor, the young, the old, regardless of skin or eye colour or type of dress.

One thing I like to believe is that God is the same for all of us, for the whole of humanity, regardless of our earthly local identities. I also like to believe that 'he' is the principle of Good, the essence of Goodness, the initiator of Love. God is Love. 'He' wants us to love 'him' and above all 'he' loves us. Can these guys feel it? Or are they too deep into their hatred to feel any love for or from God? Let us pray for them, all of us, every day, until they feel this divine love coming to them.

10 April 2013

225. Tight budget, priorities and lucky strikes

Some say that money does not make you happy. From my experience the lack of money does not make you happy either!

I have lived on a tight budget all my life. Who doesn't?! But when I say 'tight budget' I mean not enough to eat AND do other things as well. It was eat OR do other things. Now that I am an old lady on a minimum old age pension my budget is 680€ gross per month. So I have to put my priorities in a strange order sometimes. Here in Ireland I can only use 550€ gross per month as I have kept my usual electricity and car insurance going at my place in France. Here I pay a rent of 300€ monthy. My monthly electricity bill is not regular but it comes to 40 or 50€ per month. Therefore I am left with 200€ for a whole month with food expenses, petrol for my car and entertainment... It is EITHER food OR petrol for my car OR entertainment. I am not even mentioning clothing. I have lived with one pair of pants for the whole winter. I might invest 10€ in a pair of jeans when the weather warms up.

Why do I publish this information all of a sudden?... because I am tired of hearing trendy French slogans such as "money makes you an idiot" or "the rich are filthy" or the like. In France it is politically correct to show a lack of interest in earning money. "Money is dirty" is another slogan. You are not supposed to wish to acquire any. You are not supposed to have any ambitions actually. Everyone should be on a minimum wage fixed by the State and paid by an 'employer' who is seen as evil anyway.


Here in Ireland it is different in many ways. You can have the ambition to earn a lot of money and enjoy it. But you can also live poorly and enjoy it... I mean, you can live with very little money and still enjoy your life because people are friendly with one another and everyone tries to make it easier for everyone else. Some food stuff is a lot cheaper, some other food stuff is a lot more expensive than in France. The range is wider. It is hard to give details. I'd have to keep my bills and make serious comparisons. What I am saying here is that I have found it easier to survive with very little money.

Entertainment is food for the soul in a way. Although there is plenty of it here in Wexford that I can't afford, I still find a way to enjoy some extra time outside sleeping and eating for survival. It was a matter of putting my priorities back to front but I did buy a ticket to attend a play at the opera house in March. This month I ventured to a pub to hear some music. It cost me less that 5€ for a beer sitting there for a couple of hours listening to a rock band and enjoying being with other people. In May I hope to go sailing one afternoon in a sailing club in Dublin. That would cost me 40€ plus the diesel at €5.55 for a litre to drive from Wexford to Dublin and back.

But something I had not counted on at all here in Ireland was becoming lucky!

I have an iPad kindly given by my son last Xmas and a friendly neighbour here is letting me share his internet connection by wifi. So I surf the net and connect with 'friends' on FaceBook and I read 'pages' and the like. I came across an offer for a fancy black chocolate Easter egg if you clicked 'like' and 'shared' a post on your timeline. I won the egg! A week later a similar offer was on for a hamper of milk products. I won the hamper!... I just can't believe it. It looks like I'll now have to include 'lucky strikes' in my budget.

254. END OF THIS BLOG

I started this blog in 2005 under a different name. When I deleted it at one stage its title was stolen, borrowed, hijacked by someone ...