December 21st, 2010

Allotment gardens in Helsinki at the end of summer

December 19th, 2010

In the cities of Finland, you can find allotment gardens, green spaces divided into little packages of land. Some are given over to vegetables, but most are full of flowers, and the majority include a small colourful building. This functions as a summer cottage where the owner can get away from it all.

Originally, these allotments were created for the poor who could not afford their own summer cottage out in the countryside and to allow them to grow their own vegetables. In the way of things, these allotments became highly sought-after by the rich as well and there are long waiting-lists in each city.

I spent a few hours walking around one of these allotment gardens, while the weather was still warm.

Marlay Grange, Gate Lodge

November 1st, 2010

Approaching from the road, you pass through tall metal gates, with signs saying "Marlay Grange" on both sides. The driveway turns immediately to the left. Following the driveway, you proceed along a tree-lined avenue, now overgrown. It leads past some sheds on your left and on up to the house.

The gatehouse is to your right as you enter the grounds, a two-story building of approximately 102 sq.m. (1,100 sq.ft). According to the 1911 census, the house has "2 rooms and 2 windows to the front."

The front door is sealed with a metal panel and the windows are blocked up. There is a curious feature at the rear of the house, a platform jutting out from a window with a pole above it.

According to the property brief, the gatehouse is in need of extensive renovation and modernisation. They weren't kidding. The electrics would have to be completely redone, as well as the plumbing most likely. The decoration seems not to have changed since the early part of the century.

There are very few items left in the house, although all of the mounted furniture (such as cupboards) is still in place. The upstairs area is inaccessible, the stairway is blocked.

The gate lodge had at least one famous resident, at the time of the 1911 census, who we will see in a later post.

The spy in the bathtub

September 26th, 2010

Police line outside 36 Alderney Street, after the discovery

Police broke down the door of Gareth Williams' flat at 36 Alderney Street after he had not been seen for "at least 10 days". Work colleagues had become concerned. At first the story was not heavily-reported, but it soon became clear what "work" this was.

Gareth Williams worked for GCHQ, effectively the UK equivalent of the United States NSA. GCHQ is responsible for SIGINT (signals intelligence) for the British state, i.e. communications interception and the decryption of data collected. The agency has several listening stations, in Britain and abroad in places like Cyprus, and monitors various communications systems.
Read the rest of this entry »

Burning books requires much time and commitment

September 11th, 2010

In the last few days, we've seen Obama trying to reason with Pastor Terry Jones, an obscure preacher from Gainesville, Florida, over the television and protest rallies sweeping across Afghanistan. Why? Because Jones announced that he was going to burn some copies of the Qu'ran to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Pastor Terry Jones in Motion

Jones strikes an unusual figure, with his handle-bar moustache suit and 70s-coloured tie. He seems like a figure from a National Lampoon film, but right now he is being taken very seriously. He's called off his protest because the voices in his head told him to.

Back in July, Jones's colleague Sapp posted a YouTube video about their plans, and there was some brief interest, a few news articles. The story has steadily grown, as affiliate television stations have passed on the scandal. The BBC covers its growth in this article.

Burning books has always attracted controversy throughout history, symbolising a destruction of a civilisation and abandonment of intellectual society. It is taboo.

Non-Aryan literature burnt in Berlin's Opernplatz in May, 1933

The burning of books by the Nazis in the 1930s is probably the most familiar example, gleeful SA men piling academic papers and Jewish books onto the funeral pyres of civil society. Heine's quote "Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people" is on the lips of every secondary school History student. See the transcription of Goebbels' speech and the description of the scene.

The burning of the remaining books at the dwindling Library of Alexandria by the Saracens contributed to centuries of disdain in the West for ostensibly uncivilised and anti-intellectual Muslims.

ROSER 2, Nazi_Student_SA_Book_Burning_May_1933-01EXLG.jpg

SA Nazis and students burning books in May 1933

Since the act is taboo, most people have never tried burning books. Perhaps they imagine happy flames devouring the words and knowledge. See how happy everyone is above, glad to be rid of complicated ideas. Even the students themselves are joining in.

The reality is less exciting. Allow me to present a personal anecdote about burning books... Read the rest of this entry »

Living in disestablishment

September 7th, 2010

As promised, here are some photos from inside the convent where I live at the moment. I should have shared these earlier, but there's no internet in the convent!

I live on the first floor, in the middle wing of the very large building. There are perhaps 150 rooms in total, across wings with names like Bethany and San Damiano. It's very quiet, days go by without seeing another person.

See yesterday's post, In A Convent Garden, for the first set of photos from the grounds and gardens. Feedback very welcome.

A free album for everyone: Skintone – In Slow Motion

September 6th, 2010

Long ago, I borrowed a CD of then-contemporary ambient music from my artist Uncle Brian. It contained some really great tracks from bands like The Orb and Groove Armada. The song I liked the best off it, "Lennox Avenue Butterfly", was by an artist I had never heard of before, Skintone.

I did some digging online and found out that the track was taken from the debut and only album, "In Slow Motion", of a short-lived Irish electronic music duo. The quaint record company page, still hosted on IOL web storage years later, led me to the producer Brian Kelly. I discovered that on his website he had the album in full available for download! I've re-hosted it here for posterity.


Their music falls somewhere between ambient and Orbital-style electronica. I hope you enjoy the album as much as I have, over the years. Brian was very appreciative of my previous efforts, so I'm sure he won't mind me re-hosting the album here...

Read the rest of this entry »

In A Convent Garden

September 6th, 2010

This weekend, I took some photos in the garden of the former convent where I currently live, St Clare's in Harolds Cross. There's some historical information about the Poor Clares on their website. A lot of people think it must be very spooky to live in an abandoned convent but I rather like it.

I'll post some photos from inside soon enough. Let me know what you think in the comments.

A dressing gown and a fishing rod for ‘Moaty’

August 9th, 2010

Normally, I would not link to anything published by The Sun, grotty English tabloid that it is.
But this article is too good to miss
. While Sky New presenters frothed at the mouth, and even the BBC dribbled profusely, this strange article slipped out.

Were 20 armoured cars really necessary?

At the start of July, not too long after the British election which ended in a draw, ex-convict Raoul Moat went on the run after shooting his girlfriend, her new partner and later a police officer. An enormous police operation swung into action, with armed police brandishing automatic weapons all over the place. The public were in terrible danger from this half-baked commando, and so on.

The Mirror

Rumours of roid-rage abound

The pathetic tale of Raoul Moat came to an end in the little village of Rothbury, where he holed up and eventually shot himself by a river, after a stand-off with police.

Former English football star, and noted oddball, Paul Gascoigne, better known as Gazza, turned up in Rothbury in the middle of the siege, clutching a fishing rod and dressing gown. In a phone interview, he claimed to  have known "Moaty" in the old days, as a bouncer. Gazza brought Moat "a can of lager, some chicken, a mobile phone and something to keep warm".

"a can of lager, some chicken"

Here are some more quotes from the interview:

"He is willing to give in now. I just want to give him some therapy and say. 'Come on Moaty, it's Gazza'."

"I heard he was by the river, and I brought my fishing rod too so we can fish together and have a chat. I want to talk to him because I think I'm the only man to help him."

"The police wouldn't let me through because they were frightened he might shoot me, but I know he won't. I have just been in a car crash, hit a wall at 90mph. I survived that, so I can survive a bullet - knowing my luck he will probably miss."

When Gascoigne's long-suffering agent heard about this latest escapade,  he remarked:

"He's doing what? I am sitting having an evening meal in Majorca. I'm speechless."

Yet another bizarre story surrounding Raoul Moat, and the mother who brought her children to his funeral, claiming it was "better than Legoland".

Update: Thanks to Robin, here's the full interview:


July 5th, 2010

Last summer, a little bit later than this, I went to Helsinki for a week. I stayed in a few different hostels and carried my backpack around. I took a lot of photos during this time, and I am only now getting around to sorting them.

In the first hostel I stayed in, I met a very nice South Korean guy visiting from Italy, Kim Hee Won. We chatted for a while, and then went our separate ways. I ran into him again later at the market on the waterfront, where I bought peas and blueberries.

Together we got the ferry out to Suomenlinna, one of the many small islands in the bay of Helsinki. Once a sea fortress protecting the city from invaders, it is now popular with day-trippers and artists, who live and keep studios in the buildings which were once barracks.

Kim Hee taught me how to use my camera much more carefully, and I am very grateful for his help. Here are some nice photos from the island.

Two wheels good, and all that

May 16th, 2010

Click to enlarge.

It’s Grim On The Docks

April 18th, 2010

The following has been re-posted from the old

Album Cover

This is a remix, of sorts, of It's Grim Up North by The JAMMs. The making of this song was almost an accident, but I think it worked out well. The JAMMs is one of the many pseudonyms for the group known mainly as The KLF, still one of my favourites, after all these years.

By clicking on the thumbnails, you can see the full album art. The art is also embedded in the MP3s.
Press the little play icon listen to a song. If you like what you hear, download the whole release in a .zip file below.


  1. It's Grim On The Docks

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download release as a .zip

Back Cover:

Back Cover

Coding in the great outdoors

March 23rd, 2010

Cottage Computer Programming

Paul Lutus (above) has sailed solo around the world, in a 30-foot yacht, worked for NASA, designing electronics for the Space Shuttle and modelling the solar system for the Viking Mars mission and written one of the most popular word processors ever, Apple Writer.

The story of the writing of the initial version of Apple Writer is the subject of his article above, how he dropped out of college, and out of NASA, and moved into a cabin in the forest (see below). He tells us how he began developing software in almost total isolation. It is inspiring, one man's private exploration of the inner space of the microcomputer.

I was particularly struck by the third section, disputing the death of the individual programmer, who seems to have been dying since about 1965. One man can still write a program. If I wanted to, I could still write an entire operating system from the metal up. This might not be the best use of my time, by normal measures, but as Lutus says, it doesn't matter.

Programming need not just be a mechanical means to an end. It can be an almost philosophical exercise, creating something from tiny bricks of pure logic. Like the carpenter or mason, a programmer chips away at the program until only the desired form remains, sometimes surprising even its own creator.

I don't want to build atop the tottering hierarchies of libraries and objects and APIs, conforming and compromising my way to mediocrity.

I want to write my own tiny operating system, for a small computer, with a minimal programming language of my own devising, and I want to live in the mountains. Just for a while.

A chilly swim at Lough Bray

March 21st, 2010


Beyond the tail-end of summer, we drove up to Lough Bray in the Wicklow mountains for a swim in the ice-cold water. The weather was just perfect, sitting on the rocks, swinging our feet in the water.

David played his mandolin, Ciarán his guitar. Kevin refused resolutely to get his head wet. Laura and I swam out to the other corner of the lake.

A blind dog felt his way across the boulders. The sun went down behind the mountain and we put our shoes back on.

Secret Soviet maps of Ireland

March 21st, 2010

Russian mapping of the town of Carlow

From the same institution which brought us the sublime book by Daniele Ganser, Secret Warfare : Operation Gladio and NATO's Stay-Behind Armies, a fascinating article by retired Irish Army colonel, Desmond Travers:

Soviet Military Mapping of Ireland during the Cold War

It was an open secret among analysts during the Cold War that the two major powers used satellite and high altitude surveys to assess each others aims, intentions and resources. Indeed it was US satellite surveillance which first noted the disparities between the USSR's claimed crop yields and the reality, as Khrushchev once bitterly observed to his US adversary!

Colonel Travers carefully compares the Soviet maps with those of the Ordnance Survey, noting how the Soviets included some objects that the OS did not, but neglected others. They seem to have been oddly attracted to water-mills! More chillingly, it looks like they may have been categorising Irish roads based on how militarily viable they were, for logistical support.

I encourage you to read this article, and gain another viewpoint on our rolling terrain. Imagine plotting tank-routes and support artillery...