Sunday 23 October 2016

We are pygmies standing on the shoulders of Victorian giants

Published 03/05/2016 | 02:30

Steve Jobs: A ‘new Victorian’. Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File
Steve Jobs: A ‘new Victorian’. Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File

We in these gormless times owe much to those born under the reign of Victoria. Overall, we cannot hold a candle to achievements of that world. A gasoline-powered car was built in Birmingham in 1895, London's tube opened in 1890.

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Thomas 'John' Crapper, born in 1836, created his floating ballcock. My house still has various functioning ballcocks, I'm proud to say. Ontario, powered by Niagara falls since 1896, Edison's bulb brightened his finances in 1879. By 1903, Orville Wright's prescient but weather-delayed flight offered no beverage, only varieties of nuts. Thomas Watson received an unexpected telephone summons in 1876 from impatient Mr Bell. Also ahead of time Logie Baird, born in 1888, broadcast a ventriloquist dummy on his televisor - a dummy, for the first time on TV.

Next to astronauts floating in space stations for 40 years, doing 'experiments', observing copulating Drosophila, driverless cars are now this generation's great goal. Which country needs these things? Rockall? Sleepy Hollow? Maybe bus, taxi and Uber drivers better get off their high horse, if that is coming down the pike. However, except for delivering mail in corridors or dodgy carnival rides, I expect 'headless cars' will not come to pass. Too soon.

Now travelling in our shiny, petrol-engined vehicles, we are copiers, pygmies on shoulders of giants. No less than ancient scribes copying, illuminating texts in Glendalough monasteries.

Likely Steve Jobs was our generation's true Victorian, discovering new gates to open.

Where to go from now?

How do we solve a problem like tomorrow and ageing gizmos? Did he leave 'new stuff' notes on the iPad?

Brian O'Dowd

Ontario, Canada


Blame the cuckoo for Scaraveen

Just as a group of us were emerging from the crystal-clear sea water at the bathing slip in Fenit one evening last week, a warmly clad onlooker jocosely cautioned us that in "April/May stay out of the sea, in June/July swim 'til you die".

"Ye are mad to swim during Scaraveen, ye'll catch yer death from cold," he light-heartedly chided us. Being well used to such dismissive remarks, we retorted that he was only "a fine-day swimmer" - the ultimate put-down - and he was missing the therapeutic benefits of the iodine discharged into the sea from seaweed and carrageen moss in early spring. Suddenly, a stinging northerly polar wind blew across our bows, reminding us that Scaraveen has, indeed, arrived with a vengeance!

'Scaraveen' is an anglicising of the Irish phrase 'garbh shion na gcuach' which means 'the rough weather of the cuckoo'. The Irish term gradually became 'garbh shion', then 'Garaveen' and, finally, 'Scaraveen'.

Folklore has it that Scaraveen is nature's way of exacting retribution on the cuckoo for the havoc she causes in the bird world. From about April 15 to May 15, mild spring weather has been known to revert to cold, wet, miserable weather, which is more typical of winter.

The cuckoo winters in sub-Saharan Africa and returns to Europe in early spring. She is a solitary bird who is more often heard than seen. The familiar 'cuck-oo cuck-oo' call heralds the beginning of spring. As one of the most infamous brood parasites, the cuckoo lays her eggs in the nests of small song birds with precision timing. Once hatched, the cuckoo chicks eject the legitimate occupants and are then fed by the unsuspecting foster parents. The cuckoo chick is already a true master of deception!

Unfortunately, we all pay the price for the cuckoo's misdeeds. Alexander Buchan, a leading 19th-century Scottish meteorologist, sometimes labelled the Father of Meteorology, conducted research to support the existence of Scaraveen and other unseasonal weather glitches at certain times of the year. Buchan found there were six such cold and three such warm spells. Among the cold spells were April 14-21 and May 7-14, which is compatible with the Scaraveen period. I'm sure that current meteorologists can offer a more scientific explanation for the phenomenon of Scaraveen, if in fact it exists at all. Indeed, the much-maligned cuckoo may be an innocent party!

Billy Ryle

Tralee, Co Kerry


The Gaeltacht and saving Irish

A shrinking minority language can be saved only if its remaining speakers want to save it and take the necessary measures. Excepting a few individuals, this desire has never existed in the Gaeltacht which, remember, once covered most of Ireland. As a final result no Irish-speaking community will exist in about 10 years.

Latin is taught in thousands of schools. On the internet, there is a Latin-language journal containing international news and ads. A weekly radio news broadcast in Latin even gives football results. Around the world, Latin-speakers organise get-togethers. But because Latin is the language of no living community, it is classed as a dead language. Over the past year, I have published several articles in Irish and English suggesting in some detail that Irish, despite being faced with the same fate in the near future, could be maintained forever as a living language if an all-Ireland, promise-bound and self-renewing community of good speakers and writers of Irish were formed for the sake of the Irish language's future.

Dr Deasún Fennell

Sandymount, Dublin 4


Dangers of anorexia ignored

Frequently one might be inside a clinic or pharmacy only to come across the usual leaflets warning how childhood obesity is dangerous, leading to bad health in the future, etc, but what concerns me is that no-one ever shines a light on another weight problem - anorexia.

It seems that it's almost unheard of for children to be anorexic, and it's always promoted that it's wrong to 'fat shame', but I have never heard anyone give out to someone for 'skinny shaming'. Both are severe illnesses, each with possible fatal results, but it seems the attention is always how to prevent obesity.

Name and address with editor


A bird in the hand...

When compared with avian females, some women don't do enough when it comes to making men fight for them.

Female birds judge males on their nest-building prowess and singing, while many women give their all to men without a house or a note in their heads! The derogatory term of 'bird brain' cannot, therefore, be fairly attributed to our avian friends.

Florence Craven

Maynooth, Co Kildare

Irish Independent

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