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1) I had The Talk with my 11 year old son last night. I think I did well and I got some great questions from him. We talked about lots of stuff: DNA, puberty, the menstrual cycle, conception, contraception, XY chromasomes, how twins come about and teenage pregnancy. It was wide ranging and after a few brief factoids, I let him direct the conversation, to ask any question he wished. The only confusion that happened was when he couldn’t understand how eating a condom each month would help prevent conception. I had to go over that one with him one more time.

2) I have been suffering from a large mouth ulcer that has been lodged in the back of my throat over the past week. It is near the opening to my inner ear, so I have had an earache as well as a bad sore throat. I went to the doctor and I was prescribed antibiotics, which in hindsight was a fairly poor diagnosis. What I had was viral, not bacterial. It’s as useful as throwing a life-belt onto a road to help in a car accident.

3) I went for a medical test yesterday. The results indicate that I need to make some big lifestyle changes regarding diet and exercise. This is no surprise to me, but given my current daily and weekly routines, not to mention my love-affair with high cholesterol food and lack of exercise opportunities during the week, I am not sure where I start. It’s a huge challenge for me. Huge. No, really.

4) On the plus side, I had a meeting with my dermatologist and the result is terrific. Over four years, no recurrence and nothing suspicious looking on my skin. It means I’m now out of the danger zone. Long may it last.

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If anyone had asked me up to today what the Irish mainland’s most southern headland was, I would have immediately answered “Mizen Head”. I would have been wrong.

That honour goes to the much lesser known Brow Head, a few kilometres to the east of Mizen*.

Brow Head can only be visited on foot. There is a small car park near the ithmus between Crookhaven and Barley Cove. A 2km walk westwards up the Mallavogue laneway and through some fields, leads you directly to the headland. On the way, you will see the remains of some old mines, constructed in the 19th Century. There is also a signal tower on the headland, dating back to the Napoleonic times. Guglielmo Marconi built one of the first transatlantic telecommunications towers on the headland.

The headland itself is precarious. There are high cliffs on both sides, with sheer, vertical drops in all cases. Brow Head is undergoing active erosion and entire bedding planes are exposed in some places. The wave action is intense, to say the least. We were fortunate to come there during a large swell. The huge volumes of water crashing into and pouring off the rocks were nothing short of breathtaking.

Here’s a short video to give a flavour of the place. It’s a real gem. Hidden Ireland at its best.

 

* Mizen Head is actually the third most southerly point on the Irish mainland. That’s a good pub quiz question for you, right there).

The water scares me.

I look out on the river beside my house. Everything is serene and quiet.  The inhalations and exhalations of the tides add a beautiful rhythm to even the gloomiest day. The glistening and the ripples, the sparkles and the splashes. It’s calmness personified.

But now, this water scares me.

It frightens me because I saw yesterday what water can do. I have seen the live TV images of huge waves pushing themselves inland, carrying trees, cars, boats and houses as if they were matchsticks. I have seen, as we all have now, the sudden loss of possessions, of dreams, of lives, of everything, in a cancerous upwelling of this self-same liquid that flows silently past me every hour of every day.

Those images will not leave. The cars turning and reversing in panic. The houses crushed to a pulp in an instant. The fishing boats floating drunkenly over roads and streets. The manicured fields: one second ordered and cultivated; the next, crushed under a mass of human detritus and shapeless debris. A vast battlefront, more powerful and destructive than any army ever launched against an enemy. A formless hegemonising goo exerting its dominance over our civilisation. The immediate nullification of decades of patient human labour. Vast swathes of land reclaimed by a master more powerful than the greatest of our technologies.

What makes it scariest of all: its unconsciousness. Its indifference to the vast suffering it inflicts. This monster is nothing but a function of physics and geology. All else is moot. You get in the way, you die; no matter how virtuous or deserving your plight. The greatest cruelty is unleashed when no mind or conscience is involved.

I look out on this expanse of water and I imagine a giant black wave of destruction turning the corner and advancing up the channel towards me. I imagine stone buildings turned to rubble in front of my eyes. I imagine the windows exploding and and an unconscionable mess flowing into every room of the house. I imagine the walls of the house groaning and capitulating under the relentlessness of the planet’s most powerful weapon. Beyond this, my imagination fails me.

So you may babble away, dear water. You may bubble and sigh. You may lap upon the shore and twinkle under the passing flutters of a playful breeze. But I cannot trust you. Your darkness knows no limit.

I saw a Twitter message today that got me thinking. The tweet went along the lines of that if your kid wanted to be a politician you must do everything in your power to dissuade them. You should bribe them out of it if necessary. I can understand where the writer is coming from. Politics is a rough world. It’s a place where lofty ideals often tarnish and shatter in the rough and tumble of power games, bargaining and compromise. The bruising experience of politics leaves many people disillusioned and cynical. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is.

Nevertheless we must pause to consider where we are. We have schools. We have hospitals. We have fire stations and a police force. We eat food and drink water that, most of the time, won’t make us sick. We have rights. We can go to court to protect those rights. We have the right of assembly, press freedom and an electoral system where the powerful have to submit themselves to the wrath of the people who put them there every few years.

We have abolished slavery. We no longer have capital punishment or corporal punishment. Torture, child labour and animal abuse are proscribed.  The voices of women, children, homosexuals, immigrants, atheists, the poor and other marginalised people can no longer be ignored. The society we have today is in many, many respects better than the world our grandparents and their grandparents were born into.

And who, in the end, made it happen? Politicians.

It was politicians who gave people their rights to be heard. It was politicians who argued for child welfare and against slavery. It was politicians who faced tyrannies down and protected our democratic freedoms. It was politicians who wrote the reforms, signed the laws and brought and end to wars. Our society is what it is today because of the work of politicians from our past.

Not all politicians are perfect. Some, indeed, have set back the march of progress and greater freedoms. Many others have little to show for their years of service other than a fat bank account. Yet, some politicians have made a positive difference and those differences have created the society that we have today. The story presented is not an altogether gloomy one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Society is far from perfect. We still have crime, war, bad health, unnecessary suffering, discrimination, hatred, environmental damage and unconscionable injustice. We have problems in our country that are crying out to be solved. These problems require people of vision. They require people who can look beyond the grubby compromises and roadblocks. They require people who are willing to dedicate their lives to an ideal, mindful that failure awaits at every turn.

In politics, it is not years that make the difference, but decades. We need a cadre of people who are willing to dedicate their lives for a vision. Despite our concerns and our cynicism, we should encourage the most motivated of the upcoming generation to become politicians.

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