She said that over the next few weeks, events not only in France, but in Europe, indeed the whole of the world, will determine the future of world history. Perhaps there’s something in all that. Perhaps dramatic events will happen shortly that will shape all our futures? Who knows? Perhaps Russia’s extraordinary foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who’s managed to run many rings around the West over Syria, has something else up his sleeve! But very often, in following world events, it’s often as well to think outside the box rather than taking the often limited and conventional wisdom that’s often pushed in the traditional mass media.
I had another instance of that this week, when the news came through from an amateur weather forecaster in New Zealand, Ken Ring. Working by phases of the moon, he provides forward forecasts of the long term weather in Ireland that are so accurate it’s incredible. Back at the beginning of the year, he gave a forecast of the summer of 2013 in Ireland that in retrospect turned out to be 100 per cent accurate, as we enjoyed the best summer since 2006. His forecast for the weeks and months up to the end of this year is for reasonably mild weather, with no snow until December and certainly no snow on Christmas Day. What is particularly amazing about this particular forecaster is that he also predicted with great accuracy the terrible earthquake in Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island a couple of years ago. No-one has ever managed to accurately predict earthquakes before, so this was quite a revelation.
From this coming Monday, drivers in France will also get a taste of the future, the new EU driving licence. I got one earlier this year and it’s the same size as a credit card, with all the details included in a very small space. The plan is to have identical driving licences right across the EU and what has already happened in Ireland is about to happen in France. This small example of greater EU integration comes at a time when the Front National in France seems to be making big gains. Last Friday, in the centre of Nice, a Lebanese-born jeweller called Stéphane Turk was opening up his
jewellery shop for business when he was accosted by two teenage robbers. He promptly pulled out a gun and shot dead one of his assailants, a 19 year old. The case has aroused enormous interest in France.
The Facebook page set up to support him had got close on two million messages for him by Sunday
morning, making it the biggest ever online petition in French history. A former right wing French prime minister, Francois Fillon, has encouraged voters in next March’s municipal elections to transfer their second rounds of votes to the Front National. Marie Le Pen, the leader of the party, says that the UMP party of former presidents Chirac and Sarkozy is imploding and that in the upcoming
municipal elections, she expects her party to win 1,000 council seats in south-east and north-east France, as well as gain a slew of mayorships in those regions. The Front National, apart from its “France for the French” ideology, is also highly sceptical about the process of European integration and wants to pull France out of the Eurozone, which of course if it happened, would make the
There were other unmistakeable signs of present day France as well this week, especially in the story about the Louvre. Standard entry tickets to the famed art museum cost €11.60 and €13.60, which are reasonable amounts. But it turns out that many visitors from Asia, especially China, have been unknowingly presenting tickets that are perfect fakes. In April this year, customs authorities in Belgium gave the French authorities the tip-off that they had discovered a substantial quantity of
forged entry tickets to the Louvre en route to France. Nothing it seems is sacred these days!
We also had a vision of the future the other day when the solar powered boat, PlanetSolar, arrived on the Seine in Paris at the end of a 20,000 km long scientific voyage. The boat had travelled from Florida and the Bahamas to track changes in the Atlantic Gulf Stream. It’s the largest solar powered boat in the world and it proves that it’s perfectly possible to use the sun as propulsion power for marine vessels.
Meanwhile, here in Ireland, there was another glimpse of technology that enthralled many people, myself included, the Flightfest last Sunday in Dublin. Some 30 aircraft representing every decade in aviation since the 1930s flew up the River Liffey at a height of about 240 metres. The star of
the show was the new Airbus A380, capable of taking 800 passengers, and the largest passenger aircraft in the world, in the livery of British Airways. Ryanair as usual was cheeky; on the underside of its plane was the slogan: "You can’t beat d Irish”. Wags were also saying that this was the first
time Ryanair had flown so close to a city centre! Dublin hadn’t seen anything like it since Alan Cobham brought his flying circus to Dublin and Ireland and that was in 1933.
Meanwhile, the Lonely Planet has come out with some top places to visit in Ireland. It says that Mullaghmore Head in Co Sligo, on the west coast, is one of the best places in the world to go
surfing, the waves are so spectacular. It also recommends Croagh Patrick mountain in Co Mayo, also in the west of Ireland, as an ultimate pilgrimage destination. The Lonely Planet also recommends Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan, for its horses, its historic house and its touch of eccentricity. One of its
inhabitants is 96 year old Sir John Leslie, who still has a taste for night clubbing, discovered when he was a young man in his 70s! But like all stories, there’s also a dark side behind two of these places, but then of course, tourist publicity never tells you about them!
Mullaghmore is today a fairly prosperous and well developed seaside holiday village but it
was in the bay there in 1979 that Lord Louis Mounbatten was one of four members of a boating party who were killed when their boat was blown up. Similarly,there’s a dark story behind Castle Leslie, for it was there in 2002 that Sir Paul McCartney made his disastrous marriage to Heather Mills.
Sometimes, however, the most unexpected can provide good news. I’ve a good friend here in Dublin who specialises in antiquarian books. He set up a bookshop about two years ago to put his passion for books into practice, but in the recession that has engulfed Ireland during the past five years, antiquarian books weren’t anywhere near the top of shopping lists. All that has changed within the last couple of weeks. The unexpected death of that great poet Seamus Heaney has led to a surge in demand for copies of his books that were signed by himself and a welcome boost in trade for this antiquarian bookseller. As another bookseller friend of mine said to me the other day, it’s an ill wind and all that.
But a couple of stories about the media here in Ireland show how much things have changed. In RTÉ, a reporter called Joe O’Brien did an excellent job for years in reporting on all matters
agricultural and he managed to combine that job with reporting on security issues, especially with the Irish Army, a strange combination indeed! But Joe retired last November and since then, he hasn’t been replaced. The station has finally admitted that it has no intention of replacing him, since it can’t
afford what’s involved. No matter that the farming industry in Ireland is still one of its biggest sectors, and an indigenous one at that, RTÉ isn’t going to have a dedicated reporter covering that particular beat.
In another equally extraordinary twist, when I went into the local Spar shop last Saturday to buy
papers, I was astonished to find that the heap of Daily Telegraph newspapers for sale was almost as high as the pile of The Irish Times. Talk about a turnaround in fortunes!
But sadly, last week marked the 21st anniversary of one of the great Irish newspaper editors, J.J.Walsh, otherwise known as Smokey Joe. For something like four decades, he owned and edited the Munster Express in Waterford, in the days when local newspapers could be voluminous. The amount of local news it carried was just as amazing. Smokey Joe himself was incredible, a great source of stories. One of the best concerns his toupée. It was long rumoured that he used to keep a salt cellar in his office and that when he went out to functions, he’d sprinkle salt on his collar to give the impression of dandruff!
Other stories about him are legion. He also owned a lot of property in Waterford and it so happened that many of his younger staff lived in flats and bedsits that he owned. Long battles went on when they wanted their pay raised, but eventually, with the help of the unions, he gave way to some
extent. The delighted reporters would find modest raises in their pay packets, only to find that a week or so later, their rents had gone up by an amount equivalent to their pay rise. Smokey Joe was a great character, very flamboyant, of a type that you just don’t find in the present day media, so it was rather surprising to find last week that although his family still continues to own what is now a tabloid sized rather than a broadsheet newspaper, his annual In Memoriam notice had been airbrushed out of story. It simply didn’t appear in the family paper.
It was all rather reminiscent of what happened recently in France when President Hollande was having official photographs taken. One showed him grinning from ear to ear - what he has to grin
about I’m not sure - but it didn’t fit the official image and was promptly banned. Needless to remark that photo has since appeared all over the place and now it seems one of the American TV satirical shows is going to do a piece about it.
Still, looking back can produce some fine programming. The Reunion programme on the BBC’s Radio 4 last week was compelling listening; a group of people from Jersey in the Channel Islands, who had been teenagers at the time, recalled what happened when Nazi forces overran the
Channel Islands, especially Jersey. The accuracy of everyone’s recall was amazing.
I also recall another telling moment in history, one that I experienced myself. In October, 1987, we were on vacation in Aix-les-Bains, a delightful small town beside Lac du Bourget, a mere 34 km from
Annency in the south-east of France, close to the Alps and the Swiss border. Those two towns are delightful and well worth visiting, but what really struck in my mind was what I saw on Tuesday, October 20, 1987. That day, I took the train from Aix-les-Bains to Geneva. I was en route to Lausanne to meet a publisher for whom I was then working. It’s what I saw when I disembarked from the train at Geneva that still astonishes me: the newspaper billboards at the kiosks in the station were full of the dramatic news that the day before, Black Monday, October 19, 1987, had seen the first of the great recent world financial crises, when the Dow Jones lost a quarter of its value in a single day.
During our holiday, we had deliberately avoided all news, so I’d had no inkling that Black Monday had happened, until I saw those billboards in Geneva. It was a powerful reminder of the power of the press in those days and nowadays, I just don’t think that the same frisson from breaking news could ever be repeated in these days of instant, online, digital news.