The Trinity College Ball

Trinity College, just across from my hotel, had its Trinity Ball on Friday, featuring music on several stages. I was unaware of the event but was up early on Trinity College, DublinSaturday morning and wanted to visit the campus and so had the chance to survey the wreckage personally, after persuading an Eastern European security guard to let me in the Pearse Street gate at about 7 am. All the other gates were shut tight. There were quite a few students in tuxedos and formal dresses still pounding down beers at that hour, as workmen dismantled the pavilions and stages erected for the event.

At 8 am I met another group of students having breakfast at the McDonalds on Grafton Street. One chipper student’s shoes and lower legs were caked with black mud, as if she spent the night digging for clams in formal dress.Trinity College, Dublin

The campus is attractive and the trees are in bloom. Other than the overflowing garbage bins and the odd collection of cans and bottles it looked like an appealing place to study.

Afterward there was a story in the Irish Independent newspaper indicating that one of the musicians, Jessie J, was shocked, shocked at the wanton drunkenness of the students who paid to bring her to Trinity:

Following her performance on Friday night, the singer…took to Twitter to rant about the drunken Irish girls at the gig: “Just came off stage at trinity ball. Probably one of the hardest gigs to date,” she raged. “To see so many people so drunk they couldn’t even stand. Girls unconscious and (students were) literally trampling on each other. It wasn’t easy.” Trinity College, Dublin

The singer, who has had a stellar rise to fame over the past year, later posted: “I’m not upset they weren’t all listening. It upset me to see so many young people so not with it. I’m not used to it,” she said.

“It’s hard to sing when I just wanted to go into the crowd and help all the crying girls who were being squashed.”

The poor dear. For the record, I saw no squashed girls on the campus, although they might have been pried out of the mud before I got there. (Jessie J’s number 2 debut single, Do It Like A Dude, is a heavily autotuned and calculated bit of pop garbage).

The Book of Kells is housed at Trinity but I skipped the exhibition as I am over my museum quota. Instead I spent my Saturday night having a few pints at the PadraigPadraig Pearse pub, Dublin, Ireland Pearse pub near my hotel. Its namesake was the Irish patriot and revolutionary who, along with his brother and thirteen others, was executed by the English after the Easter Rebellion in 1916. I enjoyed speaking with the bartender, the son of the owner, who said that Pearse’s nephew, 78 years old, had been into the bar earlier and he would have been glad to introduce me to him had he known I was interested in Irish history. The place was lively; two women visiting from Wales turned the place upside down with their antics.

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The Boat Train From London to Dublin

The train/ferry from London to Dublin is a bargain at around £35,  taking you to Holyhead in Wales, then onto a ferry for the easy crossing to Dublin on the Irish Sea. I sat with twoP1010560 Irishmen, James and Paul, for part of the trip. James is a thoughtful fellow who is considering a career change into the field of renewable energy. Paul is an older know-it-all who pulls his wheeled suitcase with an improvised piece of blue nylon rope.

At James’ mention of renewable energy Paul claims you could build a windmill with a used car alternator and propeller. “Of course you also need the tower. And wind.” He’s got an opinion on everything and is foul mouthed. Both men seem to think that an American has designed an efficient steam-powered car which baffles me. Paul is certain that the ongoing nightmare at the Japanese nuclear power plants is only a temporary setback for that industry. He is deeply contrarian. He books straight for whatP1010564 he calls “refreshments” on the ferry, even though it is still morning.

Talking to Paul reminded me of this conversation between characters discussing the Emperor Nero in Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds:

The like of him would have no principles, of course, said Mrs. Furriskey.

Oh, he was a terrible drink of water. Death by fire, you know, by God it’s no joke.

They tell me drowning is worse, Lamont said.

Do you know what it is, said Furriskey, you can drown me three times before you roast me. Yes, by God and six times. Put your finger in a basin of water. What do you feel? Next to nothing. But put your finger in the fire!

I never looked at it that way, agreed Lamont.

I’m telling you now, it’s a different story. A very different story, Mr. Lamont. It’s a horse of another colour altogether. Oh, yes.

When we get off the ferry in Dublin a police dog gives all the passengers a sniff and James is pulled out of the queue. I’m concerned that he’s in trouble but he turns up within minutes, explaining that he likes the occasional joint and the dog must have smelled the one he enjoyed the night before in England. James helpfully points me to the bus I need for central Dublin and urges me to visit Killarney, which I plan to do.

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Totally creepy, totally cool.

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I’m leaving London on a high speed train operated by Virgin Trains. That company is everywhere in London, offering wireless calling services, air travel, and music stores. It was started by 70s-era tycoon Richard Branson about whom I know little except that he is all hair and teeth and I saw him once, unprovoked, throw water on Steven Colbert.

The British Library, where Marx wrote Das Kapital, is now separate from the British Museum and is located in a modern building next to St. Pancras Train Station. This is where the Magna Carta is housed and displayed, together with other original texts including the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament (described in the accompanying materials as “a jewel beyond price”), and several exceptional  illuminated manuscripts.

The Library also allows visitors to listen to James Joyce reading a passage fJ.G. Ballard's "Crash" manuscript, British Library, Londonrom Finnegan’s Wake. Although it did not aid my understanding of that book, it was interesting to hear Joyce’s lyrical reading. Cecil Day Lewis reads several Wilfred Owen poems including Dulce et Decorum Est. The Library has the much interlineated manuscript of J.G. Ballard’s Crash on display and some Beatles stuff. It was easy to spend the morning there.

I went to Harrods department store, although I am hard pressed to explain why. I wouldn’t go again as it is a stupid and boring place. I did buy a shirt at a shop on Jermyn Street.

The Tate Modern Museum is just south of the Thames River, across from St. Paul’sMeredith Frampton, "Marguerite Kelsey" Cathedral. They have quite an interesting collection including pieces by Picasso, the Surrealists, a very good Jackson Pollock and portraiture by Meredith Frampton, whose work I was not familiar with. The museum had a section on humor in art that I liked a lot. David Shrigley had hand written the words “SANTA CLAUS IS NOT EVIL. THERE IS NO NEED FOR ME TO DEFEND MYSELF AGAINST HIM” over and over on a sheet of notebook paper, and had other cartoons that were funny.

I had planned to visit the recreation of the Globe Theater, which sits right next to the Tate Modern, but was tired and footsore and so crossed the Millennium Bridge and caught the Tube back to the hotel.

The weather was gorgeous on my last full day in London. I caught up on laundry and then spent time in Regents Park, where the tulips are up and the trees are leafing out. YouRegents Park, London, England could smell lilacs all over the Park and there were thousands enjoying the Spring there after what was a very hard winter. I also had to make arrangements for my onward travel and decided to go to Ireland. I got what I considered to be an incredible bargain on a train and ferry excursion to Dublin and took the underground to Euston Station in order to pick up the tickets.

There was a lot I didn’t see in London, and I didn’t really see much of England outside the City. Next time.

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A Million Dong

I mentioned earlier my problem in finding a currency exchange that would trade Vietnamese dong. I finally located one in Paris and was surprised, when I pulled P1010485my hoard out of my backpack and counted it, to find that I left Vietnam with over 1,250,000 in dong.

The woman at the counter was impressed, until she looked up the exchange rate and handed over the €36 ($50) that the Vietnamese bills netted me. I donated one of my remaining 2000 dong notes, worth 9¢, to an Irish bar here in London where it hangs on the wall next to banknotes from Libya, Brunei, Poland, America and other countries.

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The Tring Tiles

The British Museum is the gold standard when it comes to the presentation of antiquities. Their displays are well-organized and the writings about the displayed items are clear and the product of expertise.

An example was the display for the Tring tiles, produced between 1320 and 1330 in England. According to the text that accompanies the display,Tring Tiles, British Museum, London, England

The first official miracle attributed to Christ occurred at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11). However, gaps in the gospel narratives led to the growth of apocryphal legends to account for the early years of Christ’s life. The Tring tiles are an outstanding example of images drawn from the ‘unofficial’ life of Christ.

The tiles were purchased by the Museum at a curio shop in Tring, Herfordshire England.  They depict Jesus messing around with his pals. As described in the display:

Scenes of Jesus at play often result in the death of one of his schoolmates (shown as upside down). In every instance the Virgin Mary intervenes and restores things to normality.


Jesus makes pools by the River Jordan. A bully destroys one and falls dead.Tring Tiles, British Museum, London, England Jesus restores the boy to life by touching him with his foot.

Note that Mary is shown as unhappy in the second panel. There are several examples of this kind of comic narrative. In another a boy playfully jumps onto Jesus’s back and is stricken dead. Two women are shown in the next panel complaining to Joseph while Jesus resurrects the stricken boy.

Another theme in the tiles is the perhaps understandable unwillingness of the parents of Nazareth to allow their children to play with Jesus. Thus,

Left A father locks his boy up in a tower to stop him playing with Jesus.Tring Tiles, British Museum, London, England

Right Jesus miraculously pulls him through the lock so that they can play.

Another example along similar lines,

In one scene, parents have locked their children in an oven to prevent them from playing with Jesus (tile 7). When Jesus asks what is in the oven, he is told ‘pigs’. The scene where the children are turned into pigs and then restored to normality is missing.

I enjoyed these medieval comic books and their imaginative elaboration on the gospel record, basically depicting Jesus as a divine Cat in the Hat.

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