Earthquakes, rhinos and other wonders of nature



Well, did the Earth move for you? The cat and I slept through that most recent tectonic revolt off our shore, an earthquake that measured 3.8 on the Richter scale and which fissured out from the Welsh coast on May 29th in the middle of the velvet night.

Actually, I don’t know if the cat slept through the quake; maybe she opened a rheumy eye when things went crunch and assumed I was down in the kitchen trying to master the weighted hula-hoop again (one of these days I’m going to just stop trying – the phrase “let yourself go” has an increasingly alluring ring to it).

We don’t often experience earthquakes in this country, we don’t often experience days of consecutive sunshine either, but sometimes nature likes to loosen her stays and stir things up a little.

Post quake, Dubliners said their cabinets/foundations/false teeth rattled, and the commotion surely caused some bushy eyebrows to rise among insomniac Welsh farmers, and maybe some curlicued mountain rams paused to wonder why it was raining scree.

I don’t mean to be east-coast-centric about this most recent rent on the ocean floor. There have, of course, been others: Co Mayo was geologically goosed a couple of years ago, as far as I remember; and apparently this latest burp under Abersoch was even felt in Co Donegal.

It’s just that I was in Clonakilty recently, having a conversation about shark attacks in Perth (as you do), and how surfers have been advised not to urinate in their wetsuits when they’re out in the brine. Apparently, urine is a serious come-on to peckish sharks; they speed over, see you wrapped in shiny black rubber, assume you’re a skinny seal, and, hey presto, you’re an hors d’oeuvre.

I felt that I had very little to contribute to the discussion in terms of my brushes with reckless nature (I don’t think duvet wars with the cat count), and suddenly I’m gifted with a conversation piece, an earthquake under my own mattress, and I sleep through the shagging thing.

I remember the earthquake in 1984, which apparently sprang from the same faultline and measured 5.4 on that busy old Richter scale. I was living, on and off, with my parents in a funny crooked house. There was a gothic-looking wardrobe in their bedroom that resembled a high-church confessional, and at its centre was a long mirror on which my mother had drawn a rather sinister outline of herself in red lipstick, one of her many innovative procedures to encourage weight loss.

The quake infused that little scene with verve; the glass door and my mother’s lipstick doppelganger were fired into shuddering life by the tectonic shift. No one was injured, but the psychological scars were slow to heal.

A country of tectonic movement
They say hundreds of years are but an instant in geological time; those plates shoulder each other for an eternity until, bang, one of them gives ground and the landscape is altered. We’re a bit like that in this country, grinding away in an endless scrum to assert dominance over how other people should live their lives.

In 1984, the year of the 5.4 quake, 15-year-old Ann Lovett, her newborn son and a scissors were found next to a grotto in Co Longford. I think it’s reasonable to expect that society might have moved on a little in the time it took for the tectonic plates to adjust again, but it’s funny how slow the ground is to shift, how little the topography changes. We are still not immune to tragedy over ethical issues.

I was in the supermarket on the morning after the powerful Prime Time Investigates childcare documentary, Breach of Trust, was broadcast. A mother and her baby son were at the bakery counter being verbally attacked by an elderly gentleman in a black suit.

There had been talk at the counter about the documentary, and now the gentleman was shouting at the mother, wagging his fingers in her face, telling her that women had no one to blame but themselves if their children were ignored or neglected or abused, no one to blame but themselves if they insisted on participating in the workforce.

The anger of his rhetoric was elemental; he was a big man, clearly once powerful, and his invective thundered. After a while, spent, he carried on down the pasta isle, singing softly under his breath Come Back, Paddy Reilly, to Ballyjamesduff. On he strode past the tagliatelli and the fusilli and the linguini, the ground splintering beneath his feet.

In this country, we’re like a couple of rhinoceroses, horns locked in an endless tug of war over our nervy morality, until one of us steps backwards into a bore hole and we all shudder in our beds.

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