Absconding. Small adventures of adolescence

One Sunday Morning in May1960

Exam day at Mungret college, a Jesuit boarding school in the west of Ireland

The exam was on Religious Knowledge. I must have been 13. This was a subject I despised even at that early age.
At eight years old I had undergone a swift transfer from an enlightened Quaker environment to be fostered with Drogheda butchers family and full on Irish Catholicism. It wasn’t bad. I was well loved. And In the first instance I became quite enthusiastic. I was fitting in. First holy communion and confirmation all in the same year. I still have the formal photo of myself in corduroy short pants and the ubiquitous zip-up top of the period, happy, holding my open prayer book against the gable wall of the farm house. I remember those nights when rosary was said, kneeling, as my beloved Seamus Hogan wrote so well in ‘Decade’, “in the half moon, around the fire of personalised chairs, between the mysteries, the pinching, the faces and the smirks… …I’d be half half aware it was because of another world that we were kneeling there bums to the heat.” Sometimes we said it in Irish too.
My affair with catholic dogma wained slowly but surely as I approached adolescence . The version of the bible I was given was written in rather pedantic English and didn’t correspond to what I remembered from my quaker days. There was no beauty in it. (When I was 13 or so I flogged my copy to Kiely for the price of a packet of fags.) Years later I came back to the bible with pleasure when I discovered the text I’d been missing was called the King James’ . What a work of art.
In Mungret nobody bothered with the Old Testament. And the New was all Jesus this and Jesus that. And I found myself muttering under my breath ‘ for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory ….’ at the end of every Lord’s Prayer . My soul held a secret, never to be confessed. . At the weekly confessional I desperately sought for suitable sins – self abuse, dirty thoughts – to satisfy the man behind the grill with the soft insincere voice. Sometimes I burnt to tell but always bit it back. I knew the sky would fall if I did. It trained me in the art of keeping secrets, but at a steep price I only realised later in life.
That particular morning I was pissing against the urine stained concrete of the outside jacks. Basically a high wall with a stinking gutter running at it’s base. It was there that Kiely, Wardy and I held our pissing contests. Ward had a real hosepipe. He always hit higher. I was always second. In everything, even debating.
That late spring morning I was pissed off. I did not want to do the Religious Knowledge exam.
“Feck it I’m off” I said. Kiely gave me a hoosh up over the lip of the grey permanently wet concrete.
And I went. AWOL

The first thing I remember was the silence. And the immensity of the fields spread before me. And the clarity of the light.
I cut around the smoke walk area and the rockery with the statue of our lady and walked. Walked down the long tree lined avenue to the gates of the school. I didn’t wish to be seen. But I didn’t care either.
I turned left.
To this day I don’t know why.

Carrigogunnel castle sits on a high outcrop overlooking the Shannon just outside Clarina. I had visited it once before during a school outing and remembered it as magical. It was there I headed.
I sat on the ruins looking north towards the Shannon and had what my half brother Phill called ‘a meeting with myself’.
What I didn’t know then, but know now, was that I was looking over my cousin’s farm and land and sitting right in the middle of my grandfather Church of Ireland Rev. Craig’s parish of Clarina. I know little about him. He was a parson with twelve parishioners and a love of fishing. Before Clarina he had a living in Kerry. I understand it was he who first took in Roger Casement when he was landed in April 1916 from a German submarine on Banna Strand, wracked with malarial fever. I suppose it was he who informed the Irish constabulary Sargent of Casement’s presence. But that’s another story.
I was then the spitting image of my father Harry Craig. Certainly, had it not been Sunday and all in church, Catholic or Protestant, I would have been recognised as I walked, and thus uncovered, probably welcomed, and my life would have unfolded very differently.
I quietly curse my mother for having placed me in Mungret to go through those six long years. What possessed her I do not know. Vengeance? Defiance? So near and yet so far. And my father for not having the balls to ‘fess up. I will never know. Before she died burnt every paper she possessed and everything I possessed too. I have no trace of my childhood apart from photos gleaned from friends and relatives .
At the time she was living on the Doorus peninsula in Co. Galway in a tiny school house near the bridge to Inishdoorus island. ‘The Bus’ the family fishing lodge on Inishdoorus was my mother’s love. She tried to get it as as part of her divorce agreement but the relationship between her and her husband was such that it was never going to happen. However this is a place I have always felt as ‘home’. It was there I befriended a blackbird. I snared rabbits and swam. I was there I read ‘The crock of gold’ by James Stevens. And the ideas first germed of the stories which I would tell my children when they were growing up. It was there that the neighbour Miko Burke made the best apple cake I have ever tasted. He spread it with thick yellow butter. I would eat through it in his whitewashed kitchen while he and my mother would drink tea discuss outside in the garden in the cool of late afternoons.
I decided to head there and, retracing my steps I walked the four miles along the lower road to Limerick and crossed the Shannon into Clare. I walked at a steady clip. The Galway road was well signposted. I was well turned out, dressed in my Mungret blazer, regulation tie and white shirt. I tried to hitch but there were few cars and none stopped. The hedgerows were bright with colour. The sun beat down. The freshness of the morning opened into a day of windless heat. The fresh scents became muggy. A dogged determination drove me. And still the cars did not stop.
At Sixmilebridge I rested. I remember an old lady giving me a cup of water. And the pub closed for holy hour. When I was older, eighteen or so, I went to Ennis for a ‘Fleadh Cheoil’ an Irish music festival. And for some now unknown reason ended up drinking in that very bar I’d walked past those years ago in Sixmilebridge. There were was a session in progress and an intoxicating atmosphere of astonishingly good music, Guinness and general craic. At 11:00 the doors were locked but the pub continued serving, till about two. There was a guard there too as I remember . Afterwards I slept. In a parked bus. The driver asked me to get off in the morning. But without anger.

I walked. Somewhere beyond Kilcornan Cross a car stopped. But not going my way. The parents of another child. Out for the day. I got in. And was brought back.
On the peron of the college the rector was waiting. I was let out of the car which then drove off to park somewhere at let it’s other passenger off at a more normal entrance. I walked across the gravel and up the steps to the portico. A long moment for such a short distance . I felt isolated facing the grey stone walls and faceless windows of the formal frontage. When I visited the place again with Seamus Hogan I relived that feeling.
“Every dog has his day” said the Rector. But without anger. The words have stayed with me. The inevitable beating was less comprehensive that I had expected. The hands but not the arse.
My mother drove down to see me the following weekend. In a hired car. I remember she was furious because she had driven 70 miles with the handbrake on.
It was the last time she ever came.
I lost whatever interest remained to me in study. I enjoyed literature though and read my way through the school library over the remaining years. My saving grace.

Ever Green And My MND Reality


Recent weeks have been hard. I am washed over by silence. I speak less and less, and people find it difficult, if not impossible, to understand me.
I am finding it difficult to focus and tend to sit about a lot achieving little.

When the Ever Given was grounded in the Suez Canal Chaz Hutton, the bright spark who drew this cartoon, summed up my present state of mind pretty well.

As the days slip by guilt gnaws at my embankments , and friends give a tug from time to time .
Certainly, as with the ship, all this will culminate in a liberation .

The song of the masked swan

This year, it was with some hesitation that I accepted an invitation to lead the integration days of the International Masters program ‘Motis’ at ESIEE Paris. One last time. This is a mission that I have been carrying out since the creation of the Masters in 2009. I feel a particular attachment to the program and its successive graduates. I was worried this time though. My motor neuron disease is progressing in my face and throat and speaking is now a real challenge for me. However my friend and colleague Derek M. convinced me that we could do it together. And we did. The first day anyway. He spoke and I led the dance. A double act. The second and third days I was even more comfortable. The listeners were happy. The whole event went very well. Sometimes I feel more like a shaman than a teacher! The program director, Doudou Sidibe, supported me and made sure that I did not stumble in my momentum as a trainer. A milestone in a career that has been at it’s most satisfying during the past ten years.

Earthly Paradise

I’m in the Morvan at the moment with my friend Marie. Daily swimming in the lake in front of a Frank Lloyd Wright type house. There are hens and horses. Cats too. Even a couple of lamas. Bee loud and butterfly laden flowers. Earthly Paradise, though improbable demons hide in the bushes and haunt my insecurities. My spirit is not quite at rest.
There’s a dog. I throw a stick. He swims. Normal. Except there’s a twist. In this case we BOTH swim for the stick. Generally he gets there first. Dogs can really swim fast when motivated.

Manners maketh man



New Princeton Research: People Judge Your Competence Based on Your Clothes in Under 1 Second

It really might be worth spending a bit more on your interview outfit.

“We like to think we judge people’s competence objectively, by carefully weighing their past actions and skills. But science shows a host of other factors, from height, to confidence, to even the way someone walks or smells can have unconscious effects on how we rate people’s warmth, trustworthiness, and ability to do their job. 

Now, new research out of Princeton is adding yet another item to the long list of weird biases you need to look out for when you’re hiring or job hunting. Even incredibly subtle differences in your clothing can affect how people judge your competence, the series of studies found, and these impressions form in under a second. 

Your clothes matter a shocking amount.

A suit, you might think, is just a suit. As long as someone shows up to a job interview neatly turned out in role appropriate attire, then the finer details of the suit (or hoodie) wouldn’t matter. But when the Princeton team placed identical faces atop very slightly different outfits, they found people rated their perceived competence much differently. 

Specifically, when the clothes in question appeared subtly more expensive, whether the article of clothing in question was a suit or a T-shirt, people’s perception of the wearer’s confidence shot up. 

This was true even if the researchers explicitly instructed subjects to ignore clothing, when they told them that people in slightly more downmarket outfits actually out-earned their fancier clothed peers, and even if study subjects only viewed the pictures for 130 milliseconds, which is barely long enough to realize you’re looking at a face. 

Is that depressing and unfair? Why, yes it is. And it’s likely to be particularly demoralizing for those without a lot of money to spend on an interview outfit. It’s an annoying reality the researchers readily acknowledged.

“Poverty is a place rife with challenges. Instead of respect for the struggle, people living in poverty face a persistent disregard and disrespect by the rest of society,” commented study co-author Eldar Shafir. “We found that such disrespect — clearly unfounded, since in these studies the identical face was seen as less competent when it appeared with poorer clothing — can have its beginnings in the first tenth of a second of an encounter.” 

The only upside here 

For job seekers out in the harsh real world, these results suggest it’s probably worth springing for the fanciest interview outfit you can realistically afford (even for more casual workplaces). The larger initial outlay will actually make a difference, this new science strongly suggests. 

But there is also a message here for hiring managers, according to the authors, and it’s the same old song about bias: at least if you know about it you can try to correct for it. “Knowing about a bias is often a good first step,” Shafir says. 

Those truly committed toc compensating for humans’ buggy brains might want to take more radical action. “A potential, even if highly insufficient, interim solution may be to avoid exposure whenever possible. Just like teachers sometimes grade blindly so as to avoid favoring some students, interviewers and employers may want to take what measures they can, when they can, to evaluate people, say, on paper so as to circumvent indefensible yet hard to avoid competency judgments,” he suggests. (Tech tools exist to help with this but they’re controversial.) 

While many employers might balk at the idea of hiring blind, Shafir notes that in academia (and orchestras) experiments with hiring without seeing candidates have actually yielded better results. But even if hiring just a voice and resume is too much for you, this research indicates any efforts you can make to reduce your exposure to candidates’ clothing is likely to lead to more rational hiring”

Meet Will Clarke

Meet Will Clarke, vidéaste and multimedia artist studying in Bristol at UWE

I really appreciate Will’s work. After studying engineering he moved over to his true love : graphic art.

His key focus is stop motion video.

Click on the link below to enjoy the interview.

I have always had a soft spot for engineers who go on to the arts.

During my career as a teacher in the French engineering school system there have been many – designers, actors, painters, poets, artists and writers. A subversive becoming that I have actively encouraged.

I can’t claim to have influenced Will Clarke . But he is definitely one of the pantheon.


Lightnesss of being


I’ve been having trouble managing my weight ever since I gave up cigarettes. And that was in 1992! Or perhaps I should say I’ve been having trouble managing sugar since I gave up cigarettes?

It’s kif-kif as they say in Algerian Arabic .

When I gave up cigarettes I started to eat a lot. I put on eight kilos within a year. And without really noticing I lost my mojo. I moved from being a relatively successful teacher training professional to being a simple teacher, luckily with  tenure. It could have been worse. 

After twelve years in the doldrums (where I replaced professional success with wife and family so all was not lost) I managed to slim down again in 2006. The reward was immediate.  I felt bright again and started behaving brightly once more. The new self confidence led me to become head of my university department. But then I got fat and once more I slowed down mentally and mediocrity returned with a vengeance. 

I’m happily retired now but still struggling with my demons.  

The other day I bumped into  Nicolas Trub, severally a friend, colleague and an ex-student of mine,  and founder of a design company called Stilic Force. 

With maturity he had become roly poly. Now he was thin once more and radiating personal energy. 

“I’ve been fasting”he said. “You should too. Here’s how.”

The method he described is called intermittent fasting. Basically you don’t eat  for 16 hours straight everyday . This includes sleeping time so it’s really not that difficult. You then eat normally in the remaining eight hour window. 

“16/8 : look it up.” I did. 

And since then I’ve been looking into it. It’s all about insulin. 

Here’s how it works, put simply:

When you eat your insulin levels rise and your body uses the food you have eaten for energy.

When you stop eating  your insulin levels fall and your body uses your body fat for energy. 

Up till now I’ve been trying to reduce calories and sugar intake and keep up an active life style in order to lose weight. This demands a lot of personal sacrifice . And the results have never been great over the long term  (in my case anyway).


I’m no longer trying to limit my calorie up-take but rather to limit my eating time, thus allowing my insulin system to do it’s job properly. I stop eating at 22:00 every evening and start at 14:00, or a bit later, the following day. My liver and guts get to rest a bit. 

The result?

I feel much more energetic, especially in the mornings.

I often go to bed a bit earlier and in a more sober state since I stop drinking at 22:00 . I still have plenty of time to socialise with my friends. If there’s a party I just go with the flow. My objective is to create a healthy habit not forge an immutable discipline.  

I’m slowly but steadily losing weight. And this without trying. 

My recipe for honing English language skills acquired in school but unevenly developed as an adult

As a project management trainer and teacher working with engineers and future engineers in French environments here is my recipe for overcoming the eventual shortcomings of a lycée education in English:

  • Fluency – speak continuously at least two minutes today, even if it’s with your bathroom mirror!
  • Precision – write in English, at least one paragraph per day.
  • Prosody – tell lots of stories. Entertain. Play with the music of the language.
  • Pronunciation – dictate to your telephone! If you get it right it writes what you say. If it doesn’t start again 🙂 .
  • Interaction – meet lots of people. Go to meetup, pubs and anywhere else where you can speak English. Create an English-speaking world yourself.
  • Vocabulary and culture – watch television series, go to the movies, go to the theatre, read books, travel, sing songs, play video games etc. etc. The more you explore the world the more your vocabulary and your understanding will grow. In any language.975C8486-9B9C-4A82-8A3F-5A6245F00374