[2013] time to start working on a nerdy little Xmas

Long time no blog. It’s December 1st and I’m starting to think about this year’s nerdy Xmas cards. Last year’s had some very bad cartoons, such as:

curiosityfinal

and

Text: Charles wondered if Mrs. Darwin's Christmas wishlist wasn't a bit of a wind-up.

Text: Charles wondered if Mrs. Darwin’s Christmas wishlist wasn’t a bit of a wind-up.

I also made my then-bf a Higgs Boson tree ornament.

See, it's a Higgs Boson...

See, it’s a Higgs Boson…

... but sometimes he's a bit publicity-shy.

… but sometimes he’s a bit publicity-shy.

And now for some form of inspiration to strike…

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Saint Patrick was a Slytherin (and other stories)

1. Saint Patrick was a Slytherin.

Think about it. He could speak to and control snakes. He was ambitious and needful of converting everyone in the country to his viewpoint. He took orders from a Lord, but did everything he could to ingratiate himself with that boss – and then set up a hierarchy of his own within the country, because everybody needs minions. He’s always depicted wearing green – House colours.

Total Slytherin. Never trust a Parseltongue.

2. The snake thing.

Legend has it that Saint Patrick rid Ireland of our snake population by making them all jump into the sea (nsfw for language on picture). This sounds like rather unChristian behaviour toward harmless reptiles. They wouldn’t even have been venomous ones. It’s also funnier if you think of Paddy in his bishop’s mitre, standing on a chair like an arachnophobic sighting a spider. ‘I am NOT GOING BACK in that COUNTRY until THOSE SNAKES are GONE.’

In reality, we probably never had a snake population. Ireland was cut off from Europe at the end of the Ice Age, when it was still colder than O’Connell Street when the parade is late. Snakes are cold-blooded and need to warm their bodies through sunbathing – some chance of that here. I’m also very amused by this interview with the head of the Natural History Museum, which ends: “St Patrick never personally claimed credit for ridding Ireland of snakes, he added. “But when you’re selling a brand you don’t often bother with the detail.””

3. A Small Linguistic Observation

This one’s mainly for our friends across the pond.

tumblr_m0fy3aOh1P1qa6x5oo1_500

Look. There are snakes. I don’t like it.

Patty is a rarely-used women’s name, or (if we’re feeling linguistically urbane) the meat bit of a hamburger. Men called Patrick are abbreviated to Pat or Paddy; Pádraig becomes Páidí. Saint Patty does not exist.

4. St. Patrick’s Day, The Phenomenon.

To put it bluntly, quite a lot of us here have no bloody idea what the rest of the world** is doing on St. Patrick’s Day. Yeah, it’s a festival here, and yeah, of course we drink on it. We have a day off with no instructions other than eat a big dinner, avoid going to Mass, have lots of drinks, and fill your children with sugar and let them loose on the funfair in Merrion Square.

(This was my favourite bit of the day when I was living near there. In absolutely no way.)

Really, Dublin just does its thing and mainly avoids the city centre after the parade, because it’s full of drunken tourists. People who’ve schlepped over here to celebrate some weird version of an Irish holiday by drinking imported beers in tourist pubs and not encountering an actual Dubliner from one end of the day to the other, save the unimpressed bar staff.

It’s somewhat embarrassing, to be honest. Ireland has a bit of an unfortunate history, what with the oppression and the plantations and the famine and the poverty and the Troubles, and historically we’ve had a lot of people who’ve self-medicated through all that unpleasantness by moving to other places in the world and drinking lots. As you would, if you were an emigrant working for a pittance somewhere that hated you and took that out on you by treating farm animals more humanely.

But we’re not proud of that. We’re proud of the positive bits of the national character, the artistic and literary achievements of the country and the ability to habituate ourselves to new situations and people that’s eased by a gregarious nature. Not the alcoholism and violence end.

So the international marketing of St. Patrick’s Day is somewhere between ‘odd’ and ‘uncomfortable’ for me. It’s like if your neighbour threw a bigger party than you on your birthday, invited people who’d only met you briefly or not at all – but had met your parents or your grandparents and inaccurately informed their views on your personality thusly – and entertained everybody by playing games themed on all your least favourite of your personality flaws (pin the pint on the binge drinker! irresponsibility bingo! etc).

Odd. And uncomfortable. That’s about it. I’ll go back to being funny now.

** mostly the bit of the world between Canada and Mexico, let’s be honest.

5. The Backstory

Patrick wasn’t Irish, originally. He was Welsh, and he was sold into servitude in Ireland as a shepherd. It was during this time that he’s meant to have heard the voice of God telling him to go convert the Irish.

I only mention this because it’s amazing how often lonely sleep-deprived people who have to forage for interesting wild plants for food have religious visions.

6. Of Course, The Real Backstory

…is that he probably never existed. Or there were two of him, one called Palladius and the other, Patrick. Or he did exist, but he was never made a saint (which has to be done by a Pope, in which case, I know just the man). Or – look, here’s wikipedia. Go nuts.

7. Hail Glorious Saint Patrick, Dear Saint of Our Isle.

Anyone remember more than the first two lines of this? Been a long time since I was a choirgirl.

8. Have A Good One, All.

Avoid Temple Bar. Resist food dyed green with dodgy food colouring. Have an article about how the President’s a leprechaun. Mind yourselves, now.

[2013] Year of Getting Things Done: photography

2013: year of Getting Shit Done. In the spirit of sharing our creative endeavours, here’s a few words about one of my favourite hobbies.

I have just ordered one of these, and I am very pleased:

Tamron AF 70-300mm F4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 Nikon+Motor

Tamron AF 70-300mm F4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 Nikon+Motor

Already thinking of things to do and places to go with it.

I really love photography, but it’s often hard to find good opportunities to go wander with a camera in winter. If it snows, you get the novelty factor of things looking pretty and white. Grey and grey on a grey background, as most Irish winters are, is not so lovely.

Two years ago, when we had several weeks of snow and a fairly solid freeze every day, my boyfriend and I went to Dublin Zoo when everything was still frozen. It was beautiful. The lake was almost entirely ice, and the winter-loving animals – wolves, penguins, snow leopards – were frolicking around with expressions of incredulous enjoyment.

I’d like to try some astrophotography soon – A (boyfriend) has a small telescope and a decent set of binoculars, I have a camera and a tripod: between us, we make one very prepared photographer – and maybe some more wildlife shots. A few years ago I was very into live music photography, but as I currently live outside the city there’s not a lot of that going on.

The next thing I want to invest in is a Flickr pro membership. I’ve been using Flickr for ages and just putting up a few shots here and there, but I’d really like to have the extra capacity that pro allows, in order to do a decent portfolio online.

If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth being broke for… as the saying should have read.

A few of my photos are under this cut.

Continue reading

Pin Up

I have this thing about Pinterest. There is really no way that Pinterest should have any hold on me, but I need something distracting to do when I’m thinking about the things I should actually be doing. Also, I like fashion boards and pictures of horses. You can’t be serious all the time.

The vast majority of Pinterest is made up of those bits of the internet I’ve never actually met. Crafters. Knitters. Women who define themselves primarily as ‘[someone]’s Mommy’. Oh, and Jesus. Jesus is really big on Pinterest. In fact, Jesus is the only man I’ve ever seen on there.

My favourite part of Pinterest, though, are the quotes. The quotes are as excellent as the graphic design is horrible. Let’s have a few, shall we?

Where ‘your comfort zone’ apparently = someone else’s uterus.

“Also, shag everything that moves. Always worked for me.” – Lord Byron

A reading from the Book of Played-Out Meme:

The quickest way to make a scientist twitch:

This is a question that has many answers but absolutely no insight:

1. Represent Ireland in the equestrian events of the next Olympics.

2. Fly.

3. Live affluently while doing only work that entertains or engages me. (etc)

And I’ve saved the weirdest for last:

There’s some slightly squicky Twilight vibe going on there, no?

I am here (and enjoying adding my feminist/skeptic two cents when I can). Join me.

Absolutely recommended reading: this blog, which is run by a hilarious and very courageous lady who actually tries the half-cocked ideas that populate the DIY and cooking categories on Pinterest. Mostly what I’ve learned from her is: don’t.

Oíche Shamhna

A thoroughly spooky good evening to you all, internet. I thought I’d be appropriately festive and tell you things about Hallowe’en in Ireland.

In Irish, Hallowe’en is called Oíche Shamhna (ee-ha how-na): Samhain Night or Samhain Eve. Samhain (sow-in (rhymes with how)) was the Celtic festival marking the transition from autumn to winter: the end of the harvest season, the end of the farmers’ year, and the beginning of the months of darkness. The Celts also believed that the walls between the physical world and the spirit world were weakened at this time of year, with the possibility of a portal to the underworld opening to let the spirits through.

November 1 and 2 are All Saints and All Souls Day, respectively, in the Christian calendar. This celebration of the dead and the spirit world dovetails nicely with Samhain – there’s still a certain amount of scholarly argument over whether this was deliberate. I’m in the ‘yea’ camp on this one. Sure isn’t God himself Irish?

The púca (poo-ka) is a mischievous spirit in Irish folklore – a gremlin or imp-type being – who would play merry hell with the farmers and the crops all through the harvest season. Samhain, November 1st, was also the púca’s day, and represented a sort of truce between the people and the púcaí: in return for offerings of food, the púca would stop his tricks for the day. You can see the parallels with the custom of trick-or-treating – hand over the sweets and we won’t get up to any devilment! My grandmothers still refer to trick-or-treaters as the púcaí.

Although Hallowe’en customs are often seen as American developments, the roots to most of them lie in Celtic traditions. The pumpkin jack o’lantern, for example, was originally a turnip: trick-or-treaters would carry them for light as they did the rounds of their neighbours. This is one improvement I will hand to America – carving a turnip sounds like bloody hard work. Most of the games associated with Hallowe’en are also Irish or Scottish in origin: dressing up in costumes, bobbing for apples, fortune-telling (did you ever do the one where you peel an apple and throw the peel over your shoulder? Whatever letter it forms is meant to be your future spouse’s initial. Apparently I’m marrying someone whose name starts with ‘&’).

The most traditional food for Hallowe’en in Ireland is a fruit cake called a báirín breac or barmbrack. I’ll leave you with my mother’s recipe for one here. Be aware that even though the alcohol cooks off as the cake bakes, the whiskey in this is, shall we say, a dominant flavour.

Anne’s Brack

  • 500g fruit (raisins/sultanas/cherries)
  • 250g brown sugar
  • 400ml cold tea/whiskey (I think that’s an either/or)
  • 340g flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • grated rind of 0.5 lemon and 0.5 orange
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 25g walnut pieces (optional)
  • small grated nutmeg (optional)

Soak the fruit, sugar, and tea/whiskey overnight.

Heat oven to 150C.

Line cake tin with parchment.

Sieve dry ingredients and fold into the fruit mixture. Add the beaten eggs and mix well.

Pour into the tin and bake for three hours. Let cool in the tin.

Serve with a cup of tea or possibly more whiskey. I hear whiskey is restorative after a fright.