Friday, 26 February 2016

My first drink.

A young, small me.
I joined the medical faculty in University Collage, Dublin in September 1939. I was then only 5ft 2 inches in height. I was a pygmy among the rest of the boys in the class. I had spent 6 years in an Irish speaking school in Dublin and socially I felt a foreigner among the lads from Clongowes, Blackrock and Belvedere. I was very conscious of my delayed physical development, of my diminutive size and my light weight, but I was reassured at the time by my mother, who told me that her own four brothers also showed the same delayed development but all grew up to be of normal size.  

At first I showed little change in size or weight but within the next year or more I grew about 9 inches and was close to 6 ft by the time I finished growing.

No prizes for guessing...
At the time of my arrival in the university I was in great demand by the boxing and rowing clubs, the first as a flyweight and the second as a cox, because the lighter the cox, the faster the boat. Happily I went for the rowing club and for the next 3 years I became a dedicated member of this club.

By my 4th year I was strong and big enough to take up rowing so I continued as a member of the maiden and junior eights until my last year when I went back to work in the university. My first three years in the university had little to do with my education as a doctor and my interest was largely in the rowing club. We used to train in the club on the Liffey just beyond the entrance to the Phoenix Park. Training started in early October and finished by late May or early June. There were three classes of crew, the least experienced were called the maidens, heavier ones were juniors and the most competent and strongest were the seniors. Rowing up and down a river day after day must seem to the unacquainted to be a very tedious business but in fact as a sport and as a social occupation it was a wonderful world in itself. 

A serious business.
There were two classes of boats, fours and eights, and all competitions involved both classes. We rowed six days every week for about four miles on the river, except for a few days at Christmas time. We were fully trained in exercise and we were forbidden the use of alcohol; had to go to bed early and were greatly discouraged from close association with the opposite sex. My chief role as a cox was steering the boat and caring for its upkeep but I also maintained certain elements of order amongst the crews.
I might perhaps describe my last event as a cox before I took up rowing. I had by then stretched to six feet, and although I was still very light, I was considered the following year as being a suitable candidate for the maiden eight.  My last outing as a cox was in May 1942. On that occasion the regatta was held for the first time in an unusual river, that is the Boyne at Drogheda. There were several other rowing clubs taking part and the races were held in the estuary of the Boyne well down below the railway bridge. It was a very wet, cold and rough day, and the rough and turbulent estuary was such that the young cox who was with me had not the courage to face the elements. It was necessary therefore for me to cox all six races, during which five were overcome by the stormy weather and we were left drowning out in the ocean! We remained safe thanks to the big oars and the fore and aft airtight compartments of the boat but we got dreadfully wet and exposed. Because I was obliged to cox all races, I was totally exhausted and exposed by the end of the day.  It proved to be an important event in my life. I was given a glass of hot whiskey, my first alcoholic drink.  I recall the extraordinary recovery the hot whiskey had on my exhausted state and I therefore obligingly agreed to have another. Life was improving rapidly after the second Irish whiskey so I agreed to have a third and at that stage I must have passed out because I recall waking in the hotel bed the following morning after spending twelve hours in deep sleep or some might say, coma!

This seems a rather pointless story and hardly brings joy to the reader, but it was an important event for me because, apart from surviving the hazards of drowning and pneumonia, it started my drinking career. Fortunately, we were too impoverished as students to afford alcoholic drinks, but nevertheless what started as a medicinal solution to the revival to normal life, I had started a habit which I am glad to say I have always enjoyed, but, happily, almost always in moderation. 

Everything in moderation...
Despite the difficulties involved in enjoying the habit at appropriate times, I wonder do others still remember their first alcoholic drink under such traumatic circumstances. 

Sunday, 21 February 2016


The doting parents
After about four years training in London mostly in the National Heart Hospital, I returned as a cardiologist to my old teaching hospital, St Vincent’s in Dublin. Amongst my colleagues there was Jamesy Maher, the youngest surgeon of the staff.  We became very friendly, played a lot of golf in Portmarnock, dined occasionally together, went to the races and often finished one way or the other, rather late at night!  He lived in one of the large Georgian houses in Fitzwilliam Place.  He was unmarried but his two sisters had recently moved to a suburban house in Blackrock.  On frequent occasions he was obliged, because of his late work or other activities, to remain in his city house without returning to his family.  We occasionally visited his house late at night for a drink, perhaps with a few other colleagues.  His favourite drink was Guinness and champagne mixed and it was not normally refused by his friends when offered!  He also had an unusual habit of locking the front door so that we could not easily return home too early.   

The house
On one occasion at about seven o’clock in the morning I escaped and was walking up the rather long, slightly curvaceous avenue of our two acre home in Rathmines when I found myself passing my father on his way to seven o’clock mass in the church across the road from our house.  It’s the church with the big green dome.  He passed me by without any comment except ‘Goodnight’ as he exited the gate - embarrassing but not the first time this had happened,  having uttered the same greeting under even more embarrassing circumstances a few years previously.

In my earlier years in the university, as was our custom in the rowing club, we were all teetotallers during the six months training season.  But after each Regatta we were inclined to let our hair down.  At that time in the late 40’s there was a custom in Ireland that the pubs closed at 10.30pm but that if one could claim to live three miles or further from the pub, one could remain legitimately until 12.30.  You were considered a traveller.   

The Clock
We visited a well known pub on these late occasions up in Rathfarnham.  As a result, my arrival home could be as late as 2am.  Once, when I arrived at the gate of the house and looked up the avenue I could see that the lights were still on in the drawing room and therefore my parents were still up.  I was very surprised at this so I decided to wait my time until the lights turned off – about 5 minutes later and then I waited until their bedroom light, which was above the drawing room, went on.  Again, I waited a few moments before approaching the house as I assumed that they were either in bed or on the way. 

The Culprit
After a few moments and with some difficulty I managed to insert the key in the front door and quietly opened it and probably fell rather than walked into the hallway.  I was shocked to find both my parents standing up at the top of the stairs watching me.  They must have been watching me all along but not a word was said.  I knew I was in an awkward situation and I realised that I must do something sensible and rational which I would have done under normal circumstances.  It occurred to me that our big grandfather clock in the far corner of the hall might need to be winded, so without a word to my parents I rushed across the hall to the front of the clock.  The glass covering of the clock face was closed.  I took a good hold of the covering catch and pulled it vigorously in order to open it but in my vigour I pulled the cover so thoroughly that I threw its glass right across the hall with a loud smash as it disintegrated.  I felt immediately embarrassed, looked up at my parents, saw them standing there watching without a word, felt like a living statue standing in their presence and waited interminably until my father said ‘Goodnight’, and left quietly.

The clock now lives in Strasbourg with  my daughter Tina who sent on the following account of her own escapades:

When Dad's parents replaced the broken glass they put a flat glass on it with the result that for 72 years or so the door in the face did not close.  I got the clock in 2008 following mum's death and spent 6 years looking for a new oval shaped glass which I eventually found and had fitted by the clock man who repairs Strasbourg Cathedral clock.  So the clock face door was able to close again... for six months when I discovered that the top of the door's wood had warped!  He had obviously used some glue that had an effect on the old wood.  I am now trying to find a way of unwarping the wood.  I should have left it as it had been for over seventy years! 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Peter Scott

Peter Scott, Painter and Naturalist. Elspeth Huxley. Ulverscroft Large Print Publishers Leicester. 1996 (first published in 1993). 

This blog was written on February 6th 2012

I bought this book for one Euro at the RDS sale of books in December 2011. Peter Scott was born in 1909, the only son and only child of the explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic and Kathleen (Née Bruce). His father died in the Antarctic in March 1912 and is stated to have said before leaving for the South Pole that he hoped his son would become "a strenuous man", as indeed he did. In a short summary at the beginning of the book it described Peter as

A championship skater, dinghy rider and glider pilot as well as an accomplished painter. Scott’s abiding passion was for wildlife. He travelled the world, hunting and painting wild birds, and then gave up shooting to found the Wildlife Trust and later co-found the World Wildlife Fund. His campaigns and television programmes awakened the world to the damage being inflicted on the natural environment.

Kathleen's statue of her husband, Robert Scott
His mother simply doted on him and through her elitist contacts played a large part in his success, particularly as a painter. After her husband’s death, Kathleen came to reflect in her late husband’s glory as did her son, which allowed her to become an intimate friend and a close acquaintance to the elite of Britain and of Royalty. She was a competent and successful sculptor. She subsequently married the Tory politician Edward Hilton Young, later to become Lord Kennet of the Dene. Her son too shared her prominence and in his later years he was not slow to take advantage of his influence to establish his reputation as a painter of birds, as a naturalist and as a sponsor of the World Wildlife Fund. The author’s description of mother and son is liberally provided with the names of the high and the mighty, perhaps with a tendency to name dropping.

However, the subject of the biography deserved to be remembered for his extraordinary career as a naturalist and his very special interest and research into the natural history and natural habits of geese worldwide. He had spent three or four years at Cambridge where his academic progress left little to be proud of (he emerged, after an extra year, with an indifferent pass degree) but it was there that he acquired his great passion for shooting and learning all there was to know about geese. He spent little time in the classroom in the University but almost all his time in the Norfolk Fens with a few other enthusiasts and naturalists.

Early in 1940 he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and remained in the naval service until the end of the War by which time he was commanding a frigate and had received several mentions in dispatches with an MBE and a few bars. Later in 1943 he was awarded a DSC for his courage. He surely was lucky to have survived some very dangerous sallies into the French coast long before the invasion of the allied troops in 1944.

For those who are interested in wildlife and particularly in birds, the book is worth reading if only to learn some aspects of the social and environmental life of Britain before and after the World War. The subject of the book certainly emerged as the strenuous character which was hoped for by his late lamented father. Peter Scott must have been endowed by an enormous energy and by exceptional ambition and confidence to have such eclectic achievements as a writer, painter, propagandist, soldier and, above all, as a naturalist. The author quotes a friend who said that Scott attracted a great sense of deference amongst his acquaintances and yet he was struck by his character, so natural, so reasonable, so kind and so unaffected. His marriage in 1942 was to end in divorce much to his distress. His mother’s death from leukaemia at the age of 68 was also a blow. He was to travel widely in search of naturalist interests and to have chronic financial troubles not improved by his commitment to the cash-starved brainchild, the Severn Wildlife Trust. The Trust aimed at scientific research, public education and species preservation. It was his financial problems with his various interests that induced him to start writing and broadcasting with the BBC.

I have to say, however, that I found the book far too long and somewhat tedious and by the second half of the book I found myself skimming rather than reading the text. Despite this reservation, I must agree that Peter Scott was a remarkable man well up to the reputation of his famous father, Scott of the Antarctica. I will finish by quoting a letter in chapter 13 of the book, a plea written in 1855 to the then President of the United States from Chief Seattle, a Dkhw'Duw'Absh chief -

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.

Peter Scott married again, had three children and had grandchildren before he died in 1986 just short of his 80th birthday. It would be impossible in a short review to give justice to the immense amount Scott contributed in his talents, his worldwide contribution to wildlife, his travels and his contribution to international understanding of our dependence on Nature and of every other species sharing the earth with us.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

A final blog from the travellers

Lucy, trying to take it all in.
(Ed. After seven weeks, the travellers have returned home. Many attempts were made to persuade the younger members of the party (aged 10 - 16) to write a blog but Lucy was the only one who proffered some thoughts. We will return to Risteárd's blogs next week.)

A day in the life of Martin Carrillo – Lucy Perrier (age 13)

Edward (Asst. Guide), Dad and Martin.
This profile is about a day in the life of a Peruvian guide for the Inca Trail.

His name is Martin Carillo and I will introduce him to you. He was
born in Cusco, Peru in 1975.  He grew up in a big family with six brothers and two sisters. His childhood was not the same as ours. Most days he would walk through the mountains with all his brothers and sisters to visit his grandmother’s house or go to school.   “We would walk for hours and hours”, Martin told me.  

Add caption
Walking is an Indian tradition and his family has a lot of Indian origins so that explains the common walks in the Carrillo family.  The walks made him want to become a guide, but not just a guide in a museum, a mountain guide so that he could enjoy the outdoor life and the beauty of “mother nature”, one of the favorite things he liked to say!   

The Inca Trail is a four day trek from Piscacucho, Kilometre 82, around 100 km from Cusco, the Quechan capital of Peru.    The Quechans were an old Indian population who built Macchu Picchu and other ancient sites in parts of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador.  The Emperor of the Quechans was the Inca.  The day in the life of Martin as described here will be the first day of the trek with a group of walkers from abroad

Martin wakes up at 5 am. He says goodbye to his 10 year old daughter Urpi (Indian for dove) and to his partner of 20 years.  He is always sad when he leaves for his four day treks but he knows that this work and the salary he makes will allow his daughter to have the education she deserves “I am very very proud of her” he says with a tear in his eye.  He takes the bus to the hotel in the centre of Cusco where his group (us!) has been staying for a few days in order to get used to the altitude.  Cusco is at an altitude of 3,200 metres and for most Europeans it will be difficult for them at first.  Once he greets the group he helps them put their rucksacks and three bags of clothes they need for the trek into the van driven by Hugo that will take them to KM 82, the beginning of the 42 km trek.

After a two hour drive the van arrives at Piscacucho KM 82.  The group is all ready to go and a little nervous about the challenge ahead.  But Martin is full of stories about the mountains and the land around and gives the group last minute advice about how important it is to drink lots of water and to wear sun cream and hats at all times.  Once the group is at KM 82 Martin introduces them to the team of 14 helpers who will be with the group on the trek.
Having a little rest along the way.
There is an assistant guide, Edward, a cook and 12 porters who will be carrying all the gear needed for the trip.   Each porter will carry up to 30 kg of equipment like tents, gas canisters, sleeping bags, food, tables and chairs.  They have amazing strength and sometimes are quite small men who do not look as strong as they are.  Most of the porters are also small farmers on a piece of land.  But they are poor so they work as porters whenever they can to get extra money to feed their families.

Once everyone is ready to go Martin sets off with his group.  It is nearly 8:30 am and this first day will be quite short so that the group gets used to the trekking.  Everyone has a set of walking poles as the trek will mainly be climbing uphill or downhill.  The poles help in both directions.  Martin walks in front with great speed accompanied by the faster people from the group and Edward walks at the back to stay with the slower people. The porters run ahead to get to the campsite before the group so that they have time to set up the tents. During the day Martin stops many times to explain about the history of the Quechans. He knows so much about the Quechan culture because he went to university to learn about the ancient Peruvians. Martin went to one of the best universities in Cusco. His parents had to raise nine children, and they weren’t very rich so it was a great achievement that they were able to put him through university. After his many years in university Martin was qualified to be a guide for Machu Picchu and many other museums. “I am very proud to know my culture well” he quotes. 

Thank you Martin.
When Martin and the group arrive at the campsite they greet the porters and then relax after the long day walking. The cook prepares dinner and they eat at about half six and then go to bed to wake up early the next day.

Martin has been working as a guide for twenty years and loves his job.