September 26, 2009

Chairing Onwards

It's part of mankinds condition to relate to all objects, animate and inanimate, in human terms. Toddlers turn their teddy bears into guests for tea, cartoonists promote a beastiary of the bizarre and many languages demand that objects are given a sex. It's a long known fact, of good design, that objects must be created in human terms. The origin of the Georgian window is a case in point. All it's proportions are based on human ones. It's not for nothing that we stand back on the pavement in Merrion Square and admire the twinkling lights of so many panes catching a shrinking sun. We are admiring ourselves.

Any woman, of a certain age, will tell you that you can judge a man by his shoes. After all, that is how the fairer sex judges itself. YSL, Jimmy's or Louboutin's? A shoe may not have a face but it does have a soul. For me the most anthropomorphic of loves is the chair. I like a good human quadruped. Wherever I go I am on the look out to make new friends of the four legged variety. Not dogs, not cats - but chairs.

The Amstelkring in the Red Light District of Amsterdam hosts some Christian examples. These are not the thrones of the Kremlin, the Victorian sofas of Dublin Castle or the Academic mahogany examples of Trinity. These are chairs worn soft by constant vulgar use. Vulgarity being, in chair terms, the highest order. Of course, the Netherlands has form when it comes to sitting down. The most famous chair in art was depicted by Van Gogh. Sitting there, nursing the artist's pipe, the chair waits to provide relaxation for a man whose mind was a hectic machinegun of ideas and emotions. Cousins of that chair sit in the kitchen of Our Lord in the Attics as the museum is known when translated from Dutch. An example (probably late 19th, early 20th century) with an ancient coffer is given above.

Closer to home, in Glasgow, sits one of the greatest of the museums of the British & Irish Isles, the Burrell. This is the collection of a Scottish magnate which was donated to the city of his success. And what a collection! Wonderful works by Rodin, Chinese porcelain, a Rembrandt and so many other delights - each worthy of a sonnet. And there in the cafeteria, some wonderful hide and wood chairs. I have pictured one below. And they say the 70's was a decade that style forgot? These chairs have it!

Whether wood of oak, mahogany or pine was shaped and hung with hide or straw each of these chairs, for me, tells us a little about the age and a lot about ourselves.

I think I need to sit down now.

September 21, 2009

Escaping the World

Nowadays every moment of our working life is ruled by the calendar and clock. Every so often a beep indicates another meeting, a ring an incoming call, a buzz a text message and horror of horrors - a tweet. There are now so many electromagnetic ways of demanding your attention that it's hard not to have sympathy for a group of middle aged French Luddites who have retreated to a woody cleft somewhere in the Massif Central to escape the debilitating effects of all these electronic impulses. As they sit there cowering against their alumininium caravans, wrapped in tin foil shawls a certain human impulse empathises.

For the less extreme of us there are holidays. I've just come back from one which I try to do at least once a year. A trip to Holland, the Netherlands, the Low Country. People have all kinds of reasons for travelling East to the Kingdom of the Dutch. For the young and impressionable the narcotics speak loud, for the hippies its the heady scent of marijuana and for the middle aged the chance to sit in a gezellig brown bar drinking jenever and listening to rumpy thumpy Eurovision accordion music. The more discerning travel over to visit the museums and for the nostalgic it's a chance to wander in the steps of long dead comrades who perished in the second world war.

For me there's the opportunity to meet old friends, hopefully make some new ones and practise some apalling Dutch. There is the chance too to study the paintings and architecture of the Golden Age. This is the country of Bartholomeus Van Der Helst, of Carel Fabritus, of Rembrandt and of Johannes Vermeer. Add to that Hoogstraten and Jan Steen. Think too of the landskip experts Van Goyen, Ruisdael, Ruysdael, Hobbema and Cuyp.

Then there is the chance to walk in these artists' shoes in cities that still bear remarkable resemblance to the towns of the 17th century. A wander around Delft reveals Vermeer's hometown, a circuit of Leiden gives scenes of Rembrandt's youth and Harlem echoes memories of Van Der Helst. Even the most mundane of strolls opens up vistas to worlds that hitherto seemed the sphere of oil paints and etchings. Each new view another sigh of relaxation.

Purchasing a museum card allows you to closet yourself with the minds of men and women who passed on centuries ago but still speak to us. Their's is a language immediately apparent to us today. Rembrandt's etchings, carefully displayed in Rembrandthuis, tell stories that highlight the eternal human experience. His are children caught in angry fits and biblical characters contemplating existentialisms. Even a trip to the Van Gogh museum tells us more about what we have in common with a man of enormous willpower who in the end could not hold his sanity together despite the superhuman efforts of his brother Theo. There can be few statements as universal as his canvas of almond flowers. This Chinese inspired oil was Vincent's heartfelt reaction to the news that Theo and his wife had decided to call their newborn son, Vincent. He painted it and presented it to Theo in thanks for this ultimate of gifts. In the museum there is a poignant photograph of two comradely gravestones, one for each brother, and a note that Theo's wife insisted that her husband be buried beside his brother despite the loss she felt at having him interred so far away.

From the good humour of the tram drivers, to the sardonic eye rolls of the waitresses, the narcissism of handsome Dutch men, the friendliness of barflies and earnestness of museum guards the openess of the Lowlanders is a pleasant interchange for visitors. An attempt to speak some Dutch results in even more sincere discussions. There is little danger of beeps, buzzes and electronic whines. There may be advice on a little shop selling advanced furniture, a little known museum somewhere in The Hague or a discussion on post colonialism. The beauty is that as a land, what you put in as a visitor, you get out a dozen times. A visit to this flat and ancient land is a conversation and an escape.

For now I am not thinking of hiding in a French valley. Instead if you wonder where I am as I day dream on my way to work it's probably somewhere in the Veluwe or perhaps sitting quietly in the Amstelkring (pictured at top and above) waiting for the ghosts of tolerance three centuries ago. Escapism can sometimes be the best part of life.

August 17, 2009

Notre Dame de Paris

Paris is rightly famed for it's beauty. Its magnificent boulevards, astonishing art collections and pompous history make up for an atmosphere that is unique! The city centre holds some of the world's most identifiable landmarks. The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

The Louvre, with I.M.Pei's ground-breaking pyramid, experiences a constant relentless roar of tourist traffic. The museum buildings are on such a magnificent scale that they easily swallow the ever increasing volume and form cliffs of golden stone in the wintry sunlight. The very size of this massive treasure collection negates a human engagement.

The Eiffel Tower dominates the skyline for miles around and the image of Paris. Legend has it that the nineteenth century painter Edouard Detaille insisted on having his lunch within it's restaurant everyday. A purist, he disliked the metal construction so much that he ate his dejeuner in one of the few places in Paris where Mr. Eiffel's engineering was not visible. I tend to agree with Detaille in this one opinion at least - albeit the tower is instantly definable as Paris and, for most, Paris is the tower.

Notre Dame is centuries older than the other two structures. It rises up on the banks of the Seine and casts a shadow across European history. Every child is familiar with the legend that Victor Hugo entwined between its rooves - Quasimodo. Indeed when I visited a young French mother was sharing the story with her children. They looked suitably impressed.

For me, like those French children, Notre Dame and it's romantic mythology is Paris.

August 14, 2009

Canal Reflections

The beauty of Amsterdam is that there are two cities, not one. For every stretch of Golden Age merchant's houses there is another reflected in the placid waters of the canals. The elms that raise watery green leaves against the skyline reflect again waving slowly in the silent depths.

Canals are elemental, a mixture of water and sky, made all the more profound by being angularly framed by man. A perfect picture of what lies above.

Ireland has a mere handful of canals to compare with those of the Netherlands. They stretch like a belt across the central plain and form a necklace around Dublin's girth. Those of Amsterdam ripple outwards from the Palace forming a maze of refracted and reflected worlds. The grachten are present in all the Western cities from Utrecht, to Leiden and the Hague. Each metropolis marked by a thumbprint of waterways. There seem too many to name.

Dublin has the Grand and Royal canals. The Grand ambles along the south of the city viewing Ballsbridge, Ranelagh and Rathmines on the way. Near Baggot Street a seat is set, allowing the observant to sit and watch. Here a statue of the country poet, Patrick Kavanagh, looks on. The bench was a response to his fantastic request, O commemorate me where there is water, Canal water, preferably, so stilly. The poet imagines the canal as a passageway and journey to Arcadia. In quite summer evenings his words come back to life: A swan goes by head low with many apologies... He ends the elegiac text with... ...O commemorate me with no hero-courageous Tomb - just a canal bank seat for the passer-by.

The Northside of the city boasts the Royal Canal. Sitting with his back to Drumcondra Bridge the statue of Brendan Behan sits vigilant eyeing passing ducks and the distant bulk of Mountjoy Gaol. A very different writer to Kavanagh, Behan circled the political, mocked the heroic and settled uncomfortably into his vision of Every (Dublin) Man. His poetry is all about Republicanism, prisons and politics. The anger of the little man in the larger scheme of things.

Both writers, although very different, share a genius for contemplation and it is this quality that inspired them to seek beauty and Arcadia and solace in these man made waterways. My canal pictures, I hope, do the same.

August 10, 2009

The Liffey

...riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay... These are the words of James Joyce from his novel Ulysses. The book is considered the centrepiece of Anglo-Irish literature and a cornerstone of world culture. Joyce exiled himself from Ireland in order to see her clearer. He loved the city on the banks of the river Liffey so much that his book is a detailed description of Dublin - the more you walk the streets, read place name signs, pass old institutions and hear muttered conversations the more you begin to realise that you are not sure whether you are inside his book and will, happenstance, run into one of his characters. Or maybe that his characters are reading a book in which you may well be a minor, and lethargically written, figure.

One of the secrets to reading the book, and there may be many, is not to read it. Do what every other purchaser does and leave it, casually - ever so casually, on your shelf for passers by to read. Affect it in some literary position somewhere between Saints and Sinners and The Amen Corner.

Occasionally dip into it. Choose somewhere near the back, pick a sentence at random... God save Ireland from that bloody mouseabout. Up near the front yank this from the text Grossbooted draymen rolled barrels dullthudding out of Prince's stores and bumped them up on the brewery float. And from the middle Then he starts hauling and mauling and talking to him in Irish and the old towser growling, letting on to answer, like a duet in the opera. That's quite enough and now close the book.

Maybe start with Dubliners. Read a story or two. And then perhaps dip into Patrick Kavanagh's Collected Poems. You will find it in there, his poem, about the US grad students who killed Joyce. Then read one of the critical books. Maybe one about the language of Joyce. Choose one by a visiting professor from the University of West Somewhere. (They probably hold an archive of James' butcher's invoices and a reference collection of early Yeatsian boiled sweet wrappers). You will then engulf a couple of hundred closely argued pages on words that Joyce 'invented' and nod sagely feeling you are really getting into the writing. Unfortunately you then realise that half the words mentioned are current slang from Ballybough to Stoneybatter and even then the place names sound, well, Joycean anyway. And you realise it's happening again, is Joyce Dublin or is Dublin Joyce?

And the mystery of the thing leads you to believe you can plough into it and you get as far as the scene where Leopold Bloom savours the taste of some offal. Too much. Replace the book in position as sentinel of your Learning (note the capital L). Until one afternoon you begin again... This was it what all that company that sat there at commons in Manse of Mothers the most lusted after and if they met with this whore Bird-in-the-Hand (which was within all foul plagues, monsters and a wicked devil) they would strain the last but they would make at her and know her.

And if that is not a description of at least a dozen bank boards then what is? Again Dublin, then and now. Fresh image of a Hungarian below and below again:

I, Rudolph Virag, now resident at no 52 Clanbrassil street, Dublin, formerly of Szombathely in the kingdom of Hungary, hereby give notice that I have assumed and intend henceforth upon all occasions and at all times to be known by the name of Rudolph Bloom.

August 08, 2009

Green Door

The photograph is of the door of an old music shop on one of my favourite Dublin thoroughfares, Capel Street. This is a street dating from the late seventeenth century even though the buildings, for the most part, have eighteenth century facades. These are punctuated, here and there, by Victorian pubs and modern offices. Nothing is particularly out of place and nothing has particularly changed over the past two hundred and fifty years - with the exception that the street has taken a decidedly downmarket air.

In the eighteenth century it was a fashionable parade with dukes and dandys strolling along and purchasing lottery tickets - wealth was a given and the people inhabiting the street led unimaginable lives to the 'mere' Irish as they were known. Along the way gentlemen in frockcoats pranced, ladies sauntered and servants dashed invisible.

Meanwhile five miles in any direction from this spot people lived in abject poverty and suffered a series of famines in the lead up to the Great Hunger of the mid-nineteenth century. This was when over a million people died in five years.

Over the passing centuries this brilliant avenue began to drift from the raffishness of the lotteries to gambling clubs and side street inns. Gradually a middling crowd took over and the great public houses such as Slattery's appeared and provided a convivial pleasure for real working class Dubliners. In between grocers, tailors and merchants plied their wears only beginning to lose ground as the late Victorian suburbs spread outwards dragging the better class of customer with them.

The Rising against Britain, the subsequent destruction of the city centre by the Empire and the catastrophe of the Civil War played out within an ass's roar of the street and pushed the wealth of the area further downwards.

In the 1930s the route was famous for haberdasheries and builder's providers as well as furniture. The Emergency, as the Second World War is known in Ireland, killed off another layer of businesses and the street saw the erection of some new out of character buildings as planning and design were luxuries that the country could ill afford. Emmigration sapped the lifeblood of the island. By the 70s, when I first remember Capel Street, it was reduced to a steady stream of furniture shops, a well-known garden shop and an equally famous tailor. There were some less than salubrious pubs as well. All was snarled up in the beginnings of the angry love affair between Hibernia and the car. Come the 1980s, stripped pine showrooms with bunkbeds lined up on the footpaths became a common sight - readily parked to scoop up the baby boom. Then crazy happened.

Sex came to Ireland! Sexshops appeared, protests began, the church ranted, little old men railed, rosaries were proffered and yet these purveyors of sin survived - albeit dyslexically - Uthopia (and perhaps they are).

But through it all from the 1920s onwards this little shop sold musical instruments. Fiddles to be loved and played and the soul of the street resided in that brass handle as musicians, decade by decade, came to view and buy lutes, guitars and all manner of melody makers.

Now the shop, too, has passed.

Warsaw Rose

I really like travelling and seeing new places but have learnt that what the location looks like often comes a poor second to how it feels. An important part of the atmosphere of a place is the way in which the locals treat you. When away on business or pleasure I usually travel alone which if you have never done it - can only be guessed at. You learn to take things easy and actually work out what you want to do for yourself. Small and nondescript activities become defining moments.
The twenty minute chat you have with the exhausted owner of a kebab shop on the Damrak at twenty past four in the morning where he tells you of his Lebanese brother's sons who like me are 'Irish' - because they go to Notre Dame (proud motto the fighting Irish) in the States.
Or the Spanish woman in the tourist centre who, having handled two irate customers who screamed at her, laughs when I wind her up and promptly sends me to stay with her sister-in-law in a stunning Art Nouveau castle leading down to the beach. It's these passing moments, the kindness of strangers as Blanche would say, that are when local culture truly comes into it's own. The least is expected and the most is gained.

On one of my trip's to Warsaw during an extremely warm summer I asked a young chambermaid whether she could find me some bottles of water so that I could take them with me during the day. She smiled shyly and left - returning quickly with an armful. I thanked and tipped her. I thought no more about it and set off in a taxi to visit customers all day.

Later, worn out from the heat, I returned to my room and I found this gift of a Warsaw rose from her on my bedside table.
For me, that's Poland.

August 07, 2009

Watery Waterford

The Irish climate is not for amateurs. No matter what time of year it is, no matter what the weathermen predict, even what you expect - you can't expect to know what the heavens will provide.
When you look at the photograph, above, you might think that I stumbled upon a tropical beach, that the sun was beating down and that off to the wings tropical forest festooned with orchids and alive with monkeys and parrots waits. In fact off camera was the seaside town of Tramore in County Waterford.
Traditionally this is where working class Dubliners went on holidays and it is a hive of grisly hotels, loud pubs and run down amusement arcades. Wandering through it twenty minutes before taking this image I was struck by the grey light, the ugly shopfronts and the garish funfair pumping out exhausted music and teenagers lurking outside off-licenses. Walking down to the shore past the public toilets and over anonymous waterpipes you reach the broad expanse of Tramore Beach.
Tramore, in Irish, means the Great Strand and in the cold light of a passing shower its shimmers cold and silver. Vast puddles reflect stormy skies and grey leaden clouds and then, suddenly, in the middle of a rainy day the clouds open and the sun debuts. The light clasps the air in pale blues and light pinks, the sand reflects upwards and puddles turn into fallen sky.
And then just five seconds after the image is taken the sky turns, the clouds close over and the rain begins again.
Irish weather.

August 06, 2009

Spitting Fire

Kelvingrove Art Gallery is one of the highlights of a trip to Glasgow. The collection is a good one - star pictures include Salvador Dali's masterpiece Christ of Saint John of the Cross. An image that is both memorable and astonishing and the crowning achievement of the Spaniard's career. Another stunning image is that of Sandro Botticelli's Annunciation. There are also a raft of French Impressionists and a good showing of Dutch Golden Age panels. The latter includes a dramatic essay in chiaroscuro in Rembrandt's A Man in Armour.

One enters the massive Victorian building through a grand and elaborately decorated hall. The grey stone walls rise up massively around you and lead the eye upwards to the balconies that overlook this ceremonial space. Taking the main gallery on the right you enter a display area for sculpture. A bust of Queen Victoria eyes you with barely concealed disdain, whilst around her a cast of disembodied bronze heads look on. To these sightless eyes are joined a host more - this time laughing, sneering charaters who hang from the rafters in silent mirth. These hanging jokers have become the leitmotif of the institution. You can see what they look like in my picture above.

Beyond the giggling heads is a room devoted to the Glasgow School. These Art Nouveau designers put the city firmly on the design map. Charles Rennie Mackintosh is, of course, world famous - his School of Art is a lodestone for those interested in this international movement. Here is the western entrance.

The gallery devoted to Mackintosh's work includes other work by his contemporaries which are well worth examining. When a comet flies through sometimes stars are unfairly dimmed. Being a big Victorian museum the atmosphere is dusty and there is a feeling of things being a little worn down. As one enters the Scottish picture galleries this feeling of a grey and dusty space grows stronger. Unfortunately this takes away from the paintings. Oddly your eye is, as a result, drawn to the texture of the canvases, the joints of the frames and the way that the light can sometimes hit a canvas obscuring the image. It must be some sort of psychological effect - in the same way that if someone tells you they think they have been bitten by fleas you immediately and subconsciously reach to scratch your calf! To see one blemish is to see all.

Upstairs one has a chance to view the French impressionist and expressionist paintings. Here the heavy hand of central government is strongly visible. The British Labour party government is all about access. They now target anything that moves with accessibility numbers. As a result poor old Kelvingrove has 'signage' helping visitors interpret the art. One victimised image has a plastic frame complete with arrows and interpretative text to 'allow' children to understand the picture! This completely negates the point that art has it's own language and what is important is not to dumb it down but to raise the understanding of the viewer to it's level. This is not an easy task but that, in it's own way, makes it a much more valuable one. No child will visit an art gallery on their own - they will do so with an adult who has a moral obligation to explain and inspire the student in a lifetime's passion. The kind of guidance that I was lucky enough to get from my parents.

The way to introduce young minds to art is amply demonstrated in another first floor room - one where the gallery's Botticelli is displayed in a custom built space with the feeling of a quatrocento side chapel in an Italian church. No child could fail to understand the spirituality of the image and the way it is presented - one hopes that proud Glaswegians will advise the gallery on the right path to take regarding access. Letting the imagination soar rather than allowing dull text to plod heavy footed makes all the difference.

Passing to the other side of the museum you wander past a statue of an indomitable Churchill to overlook the western atrium. You look over and your heart figuratively leaps when you espy a Spitfire, forever airborne. Here in this city where so many fought and died in the Second World War - it is a mighty talisman. You find yourself circling the balcony watching the machine, which hangs in space, from all angles and marvelling that the history of the world turned on such a simple craft. The inner workings of an iPod a million times more complex. The small bakelite rearview mirror perched on the windscreen bringing home the vulnerability of this airplane.

The greatness of this museum is in it's eclectic collection, the quality of some of the masterworks and that wartime legend. A 1940s fighter enshrined in this stone edifice is like the angry proud heart of this great city.

August 04, 2009


Scotland gets it's name from the ancient Scots. Confusingly in Early Medieval history the Irish were known as Scots. Thus when they decided to colonise South West Scotland they gave the North of Britain a new name. The Scots are great, warm, friendly, positive people with killer senses of humour. Scotland was one of the first places that I visited when I lived in Britain. The acres of resin perfumed pine forests, the craggy oaken slopes, the magnificent peaks moodily surveying mile after mile of landscape always attracted me - as did the medieval cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

For my PhD I studied the ancient woodlands of the West Coast of Scotland and spent time doing research in Edinburgh at the National Library. It was a time that I really enjoyed and when I felt I was doing something important by ensuring that the last remnants of the ancient wildwood were recognised and protected. The people in the Scottish Forestry Authority as well as the Department of the Taoiseach were incredibly supportive. Due to that experience and visiting amazing beautiful landscapes, meeting friendly and helpful people and getting a chance to experience the rhythm of Scottish life has always tied me to the nation closest to Ireland and yet so different.

I went back for the first time in 12 years in May 2009 and had a really good time of it. It was my first trip since getting ill last summer and a great way to start travelling again.

Glasgow reminds me a lot of the Northside of Dublin. Buchanan seems like Henry Street, the Galleries like the Jervas and the ILAC like the St Enoch Centre. The best streets are the ones that fashion and time have forgotten that carry memories of older days - years when Glasgow was a workshop of the World, when she launched ships that patrolled the Empire, when Clydeside fought back against the Nazi's - when the metropolis burned. Here are a couple of images that I took that gave me that feeling.


London is one of the most interesting and ancient cities in Europe. It's home to a diverse collection of art galleries and museums, old buildings, threadworn monuments and landmarks - not to mention shopping, restaurants, pubs and clubs. This all adds up to ideal photo-hunting. My favourite part of the city, since my first visit in the early 90s, is the River Thames.

For Dubliner's the River is reminiscent of the Liffey in the way that it splits the capital in two - yet on a bigger scale. Nowadays the waterway is constantly busy with all manner of craft and activity. There are the large clippers that wend their way up and down stream, occasional sail boats lazily drifting along and motorboats that power noisly past the bridges. Occasionally you will see black clad soldiers in high speed inflatables in fast pursuit of unclear targets - the SAS practising. Further inland the grim head-quarters of MI5 oversees the river.

It's the bridges, though, that are most memorable. My picture, above, is of the Millennium Bridge that forms a path between Tate Modern and Saint Paul's. The bridge inspired much amusement in the British media when it first opened. Pedestrians who strode it in 2000 discovered that they were taking part in an impromptu trampoline event. The crossing was closed and reopened much later following the installation of shock absorbers. Below is another bridge, this time more elegant, and behind it some of the iconic buildings of the financial centre including the Gherkin and the Old NatWest Building (the tallest visible). I had a meeting in the latter ten years ago somewhere near the top floor. Oddly the meeting room had flock wall paper similar to that of my parent's sitting room when I was a kid. It didn't really feel like Master of the Universe stuff surrounded by my parent's idea of home comfort. No one was standing on the meeting room table shouting 'show me the money' either! It was pretty cool, though, standing in the clouds watching helicopters circle below and spotting Wren churches which punctuate the city grid.

Another trip to London with my sister over a year ago introduced me to the Thames Clippers. It was a rainy day (in Old London Town) and we decided to sail down the River - passing Parliament, H.M.S Belfast, Tower Bridge, Greenwich and ending up at the Thames Barrier. From the River the views are impressive and at times the trip feels like the Disney guide to London. Here is a picture from that trip showing the 1932 Cruiser which saw service in the second world war and later in the Korean war. The ship was made in Ireland in the dockyards of Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, by Harland & Wolff and was launched on St. Patrick's Day by Mrs Neville Chamberlain. Given her husband's success with that 'piece of paper' it's just as well that Mrs Chamberlain launched the ship. Back then Belfast cost £2.1 million. She provided cover for the Arctic Convoys to Russia. The ship also figured in D-Day when the Allies landed on the beaches of France. She provided protection for the men who ran up those beaches into enemy fire.

I was once told by a 70 year old man how he had charged up the beaches of D-Day. He and his best friend were in the same boat that scrambled onto the beach. Once it berthed, they had orders to run like hell, not stop and to not look back. The boat hit the beach, the gate dropped and he and his mate ran. As he powered up the beach he could hear bullets whistling past him and all around - adrenalin took over. Even as he did he heard a smack and the sound of a dull thump. Later, when he reached shelter a little further inland, he realised that that was the sound of his friend's lifeless body hitting the sand. He told me that story as if it had happened earlier that morning - except that morning had been forty years before.