Saturday 18 July 2020

Avuncular Tales. Pt 1.


 Everyone has a picaresque picaroon or two in their family and mine had several. When they found Uncle Harry, just after his sixty - second birthday, dead in his armchair, ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts onto the table beside him (lucky they hadn't caused a fire) and a knocked over last cup of tea on the floor, it's tannic dye staining the carpet like an old bloodstain, I felt I had lost someone very special. Our relationship went back a long way, right back to some of my earliest childhood recollections. Weekends, we went to the seaside, him, Auntie Miriam, my mother and father, and my older cousin JJ. We played on the soft sandy beach at Malahide, just outside Dublin and he and my father would take us on their backs, and swim, what seemed to us to be way out into the Atlantic Ocean. It was in fact a barely off-shore little island about a mile off the beach. Sometimes, when we looked back at the beach, everything looked so small that I began to worry that we would never get back. The story of strong currents and occasional drownings heightened the excitement and I member my mother and aunt warning them to be cautious. When they found him, I learned later, his record player had the power turned on, and on the turntable was an old recording blaring out classical music that he loved. He had introduced me to classical music when I was very young, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major, that masterpiece in counterpoint continues to be one of my favourites. I remember that piece, because when Uncle Harry went bankrupt for the second time and deposited all his records and books in my parent’s home, he suggested to me that I might want to listen to some of his records and read some of his books. So I listened to the classics, starting with Beethoven and I read Saki, and O'Henry and Huxley and deFoe (Moll Flanders when I was a randy teenager, and in holy Ireland too!) and many other magnificent writers that are rarely heard of now. I listened to (and enjoyed) Beethoven and Mozart and Tchaikovsky and many other great classical works, when all I had been really interested in until then was Jazz. And ‘dirty’ books! Which in the Catholic Ireland I grew up in included most of the world’s great literature, including most of the renowned Irish writers like Joyce, Wilde and Behan. Selling ‘dirty’ books in Ireland was like selling drugs in America - only worse. In fact, in the eyes of most Irish Catholics booze and drugs were far less offensive than sex! (or fucking, depending on your literacy). God forgive us!

   And I couldn't help thinking of the time, when as a brand new graduate, I had to leave Dublin to go to England and get a job, and for financial reasons would have had to leave my wife and the baby to follow on later, how he, (just after the third time he had gone bankrupt), managed to lend us the fare so that they could come with me. I guess I sort of loved him, which is funny in a way, because for some strange reason (to me) his own kids had a painful relationship with him.

    One evening, soon after I had started in University, I asked Uncle Harry how come someone as educated as he, had ended up in the schmatte business and not gone to university.

    "I did go to University, Steve," he said, " to study pharmacy, but I found tennis much more interesting than my studies. You see I was a pretty good tennis player and I wanted to do that more than anything. I was also a prodigious reader. I had entered the College of Pharmacy, and while I found that mildly interesting, it came a distant third behind the tennis and reading. So, I cut pharmacy classes, and I played tennis every day when the weather was good enough, and I went to the library and read when it wasn't.

   I read O'Casey, Camus, Synge and Wilde, Joyce, Koestler and Huxley, DeMaupassant,Wells and Orwell and very many others. In fact for a while I thought I was going to be a writer myself, and even wrote a short story or two. They weren't very good, so I settled for tennis and reading."

    (I read a couple of his short stories and I thought they were very good - but what did I know?)

    "Wait a minute," I said, "you must have had to take exams."

    "Yes," he said. "Initially I did attend a few classes,until I really got into the swing of tennis and generally educating myself, and I didn't do too badly in my first year exams. By then I realized that no one was taking much notice of me, and I thought I could scrape through.

For the second year I did manage to scrape through, with a lot of last minute cramming and I managed to convince my father that I needed some special tuition. I managed to pass my exams . After that I dropped so far behind that I gave up the ghost, and made no further attempts to either attend class, or to write exams. So when the next round of exams came around, just to show I hadn't wasted my time entirely, I managed to mix a concoction that started me vomiting sufficiently to convince our old family doc that I had stomach 'flu or something, and he gave me a certificate that temporarily got me off the hook."

    "By now finals couldn't have been too far away," I remarked.

    He nodded. "There was still a year to go, and because I had abandoned all hope by then, I played snooker or tennis every day, depending on the weather and who was around. I frequented the coffee houses, read books, magazines and newspapers,and started playing chess quite seriously. In fact, I actually got into the semi-finals of the University chess championship."

   "Oh, how did you do?" I asked, because he consistently defeated me in dozens or maybe hundreds of games..

   "As a matter of fact, I didn't actually take place in the play-offs," he said. "my final examinations came and went and I didn't write them"

   "So what happened?" I asked.

   "Well of course I eventually had to tell my parents,and my father was absolutely outraged, to the extent that he gave me an ultimatum. It was this, that I seek permission to return to the College of Pharmacy, promising sincerely to mend my ways, or I move out of the house and immediately begin to support myself by the sweat of my brow. I knew by this time that I had no interest in becoming a pharmacist, so I chose the latter course."

    " You must have been about the same age I am now," I said.

    " Yes, about that."

    " So what did you do?" I asked.

    " It's a long story," he said, "are you really sure you want to hear it?"

    " Yes, I do," I said.

    " Well put on the kettle, and we'll have a nice cup of tea and I'll tell you what I did then."


 Chapter Two.

    Harry Hershberg was packing his old leather suitcase. It was time he got out of the house, though he didn't know where he was going to go. Of one thing he was sure, he certainly didn't regret his decision to quit pharmacy. He had wanted to get away from Manchester for years and intended to leave as soon as he got some money together. When better than now, to start on his odyssey. His father had given him the ultimatum and he had deserved it. He was sorry to have disappointed his parents, but that's the way it was,and now he would have to get out and make his own way. He was nearly twenty two years old. He was ready to go. He just didn't know where. America seemed like a good idea, that seemed to be where the money was, but right now he couldn't afford the trip.

   In fact, his life's saving added up to twenty-seven pounds, fifteen shillings and ninepence. Couldn't get very far on that. But wait a minute! He had met up with a couple of fellows from Dublin on holidays in Manchester last summer, and they had given him their address, and invited him to look them up and even extended an invitation to come and stay with them if he was ever in Dublin. He still had their addresses somewhere, and at least that would be a start. He could get a job, save some money, and plan the next step of his trip. He started looking through the untidy draw into which he periodically emptied his pockets of papers and anything else he thought he might wish to keep, and finally emptied it onto his bed. The pyramid of papers, elastic bands, chewed up old pipes, cigarette butts (saved for a rainy day!), paper clips and other desiderata seemed to have expanded threefold once it escaped from the drawer! Ruthlessly he discarded things he would never have dreamed of getting rid of just the day before. Just as he was beginning to think he really had thrown it away, the address jumped right out at him. He read it. Mickey Levy, 136 Stamer Street, Dublin.

    A week later, Harry boarded the night boat for Dublin. He was glad to be on his way. It had been hard telling his mother he was going, and then being around for a week after that and listening to her tearfully implore him not to ruin his life, to go back to College, to make 'something' of himself. Finally they had kissed goodbye, his father, short and dapper had grimly shaken hands with him, and unsmilingly pressed a ten pound note into his hand, wished him good luck and turned away. Harry stood by the rail, surveying the sombre grey September twilight, the fine drizzle lighting on his face. It was a pleasant face, not handsome, but strong, with a thin mustache, as was fashionable at the time. His hair was a little too long, and his dress a little untidy. He watched the deck hands casting off, and felt the steady throb of the old steamer crescendo as it slowly moved away from the docks. The movement of the boat increased the wind and Harry felt cold. There were private berths on the boat, but Harry couldn't afford one, so he moved into the lounge, a large communal area with a cafeteria and bar where most people spent the night. He found a comfortable corner, and sat looking at a novel he had stuffed into his pocket just before he left the house. His mind wandered. Perhaps it wasn't such a great idea to leave home right now, he knew they wouldn't have thrown him out no matter what his father had said. At least if he had saved a little money before he left, he'd have had a little time to look around for a job.

 "Hello, anyone sitting here?"

Harry looked up. A tall, heavy-set man of about forty, was moving into the seat beside him,without waiting for an answer.

 "It looks as though you are," Harry answered with a smile.

 "Couldn't get a berth on this old tub, so I have to sit up all night.

It's time they sunk her." He said. The boat's fog horn gave a throaty blast, as though protesting the calumny to which she had been subjected.

     "I suppose you are in the same boat - ha,ha, no pun intended," he laughed.

 Harry didn't think it very funny, but tried to smile politely and said,"Yes"

 "My name is Dave Brown," he said,holding out his hand. Harry took it.

 "Harry Hershfield," he said, shaking hands. "Are you from Dublin?"

 "Yes," he said. "Would you like a drink?"

 Harry said he would love a drink. Dave came back with two glasses of scotch, and passed one to Harry.

 "What were you doing in Manchester?" asked Harry.

 "Well, I was trying to hire a couple of machinists. My family has a clothing manufacturing business, we make raincoats, and we are always looking for good machinists. They're hard to find in Dublin. What do you do for a living?"

 Harry saw a golden opportunity. He took a large gulp of his whiskey.

 "As a matter of fact" he said,"I happen to be a machinist, and I am on the way to Dublin to try to find a job!"

 "What an extraordinary piece of good luck," said Dave, "I need a machinist and you need a job. I can offer you one right now! What sort of experience have you had?"

 Harry tossed back another gulp of the whiskey. He thought hard. If he said he was in something a bit different from raincoats, well that would explain why he was a little slow to pick up raincoat making. He'd often watched his mother using the old Singer, and Auntie Sarah had an electric machine that he had watched her using, so he was sure he'd pick it up pretty quickly. He always had been good with his hands.

 "I was a machinist in a kite factory." It was the first thing that came into his mind. He'd had an uncle who made kites and he'd watched him machine them.

 "You were what?" yelled Dave, incredulously.

 "What's so unusual about that?" said Harry, "machining a kite is just like machining anything else."

 "Not quite," said Dave,"but I'll tell you what. I like you. I need a machinist and I think you're smart, so I'm going to give you a chance. This is the deal I'm going to offer you, I'll hire you for one month, and if by the end of that time you are as capable as my least capable machinist I'll keep you on. If you are not, you'll get your months pay and you're out on your ear, and no hard feelings. Is that a deal?"

 "It's a deal," Harry said, "let's shake on it."

 They shook hands, and Dave bought two more whiskeys.

 "Where are you going to stay in Dublin?" Dave asked.

 "I met this fellow in Manchester last summer and he said if I was ever in Dublin to look him up and I could stay with him."

 "I hope it works out," Dave dubiously.

 "I have enough to last me for a few days, even if I had to stay in a boarding house."

 "If you get stuck I could pay you weekly, instead of you having to wait for a whole month."

 "Oh I'll be okay," said Harry,full of optimism. Hell, he hadn't even been gone a day, and he had a job already!


Friday 3 July 2020

Pot, panem et circenses

Panem et circenses.
Bread and circuses. Panem et Circenses – Rooted Leaders

the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace[1] — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses). Juvenal, who originated the phrase, used it to decry the "selfishness" of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. The phrase implies a population's erosion or ignorance of civic duty, as a priority. Wikipedia.

Our political masters know well what this means, even though most would not understand the reference, What it really means, is that politicians and their ilk, know that if the folks have enough to eat (fairly luxuriously) and adequate entertainment, they can get away with almost anything. It has never been easier for the elites to fool the proletariat.   Keep them fed and keep them amused is all that is necessary for the rulers to get away with anything. Thus it was in ancient Rome and thus it still is. Throw in a chariot and a few mood altering drugs and the manipulation becomes much easier. Narcotics and other mind altering substances help. Because the restraints of morality and religion were largely accepted by much of the population the rulers could not too openly promote widespread use of narcotics and other mind-altering drugs. particularly because of the associated morbidity and mortality, effecting their own kind as much as the lower classes. Marijuana seemed less dangerous and enjoyed popularity among the 'kids', who are now the electorate. It didn't take many politicians long to realize that here was a 'cheap' way to buy votes and buying votes is the main pre-occupation of most politicians. As Orwell said, no one ever seized power with the intention of relinquishing it. Thus 'pot' became legal, accompanied by a myriad of miraculous medical claims and re-assurances as to how safe it is -which it isn't. A number of my own kind , general practitioners saw a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which is where they thought the gravy train they were jumping onto was heading. They weren't going to miss out.The promoters of recreational drugs know full well that today's pot is not the pot their mother smoked. They don't care that pot is a gateway drug and there is ample evidence that it can have dangerous health effects. The deaths from vaping were clearly related to inhaling marijuana, not steam. We are only beginning to recognize the increase in accidents in the work-place and on the road for which it is responsible .
Safety issues
Now that recreational cannabis is legal in Canada is there any reason why a worker can't enjoy a joint on the job?
Unfortunately, the government was in such a hurry to pass the bill, that it did so long before the country had solid guidelines regarding its use. We really know very little about the impact of cannabis in the workplace. Since use of this type of drug is no longer illegal it is up to individual workplaces to devise the rules. So, for instance,the Vancouver Police Department allows their police officers to consume cannabis at any time while off duty as long as they arrive for their shift able to perform their duties, whereas other departments ban it outright and everything in between. Supervisors, in these various and differing environments are not trained in the recognition and management of varying degrees of impairment. Inevitably, family doctors will be forced to make work-place decisions and a provide opinions regarding fitness to work and danger in the workplace to the patient and others. Decisions regarding recreational use or abuse and safety or even frank addiction may be requested by the patient for himself or his employer before he can return to work. In some cases there is bound to be union involvement or legal involvement. Although many FPs (Family Physicians) have the expertise to competently and confidently guide patients through such situations, many do not, while a few actively recommend cannabis for recreation. Unless a physician has taken some formal training or has a wealth of experience he is unlikely to have a deep understanding of the pharmacokinetics of cannabis, especially in view of the huge differences in bio-availability by the same route in different individuals. The difference between onset and duration of effect by different routes will make it very difficult to attribute blame to pot, if the person can stand and appears to be behaving relatively normally, in the case of industrial accidents, traffic accidents or of a combination of pot and booze.
Postal workers who tested positive for cannabis on enrollment drug screening had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries and 75% more absenteeism than those who tested negative. A Canadian study found cannabis to be associated with a four fold increase in motor vehicle accidents.
A frightening study involving airline pilots demonstrated impairment in aircraft landings 24 hours after smoking a joint. The pilots reported no awareness of impairment.
A Canadian cannabis survey found that among respondents who used cannabis in the previous twelve months, 39% reported driving within two hours of consumption, with twenty-nine per cent of those having done so ten or more times within the past twelve months. How would you like your kid driving the 401 (one of the busiest highways in North America) with those odds.
Eighteen per cent reported using cannabis at or before work.
Many users are on other medications both prescribed and unprescribed which have an additive effect when taken with pot.
The evidence is not yet in with regard to the extent of the additional risk in the workplace and on the highways the legalization of cannabis is causing.
The decision to legalize pot before developing plans to protect people in the workplace and on the road was reckless at the least but it was probably effective in garnering votes
Panem et Circenses – Maheshwari