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Lt Col Siri Skare who was murdered earlier today in Maza-i-Sharif was one of the most open and positive people you could ever meet.

She took on a mission to Afghanistan because she believed that the UN can and does make a difference to peace and the lives of people in torn & troubled places.  She did it because she believed that women can make a particularly valuable contribution to building a more just and equitable order in countries where their voices have not often enough been heard and valued.

When we last spoke, she was looking forward to returning to her family in Norway after a busy but  – she maintained – enjoyable few weeks at the UN Training School here in Ireland.  Siri talked of perhaps returning for a holiday this summer.  Sadly that is not to be.

Siri was Class President of the International Military Observer & Staff Offier Course she attended at UNTSI.  She brought a light touch to this role but made sure everyone was aware of what was expected of them!  Siri also had a wonderful sense of fun.  And she was quietly intense about the buisness of preparing for her deployment.  A professional, through and through.

It is easy to admire some people, Siri Skare was one of those.  This world is a poorer place tonight without her.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam uasail agus suaimhneas síoraí di.


a File in her right Hand, and a Garland in her left.

One forgets that the enduring touch is just that – it remains with us.  And so others after years sometimes can resurface, still seeing you as a fixture in the repertoires of their lives.  Or perhaps a prop to some place or time or character they once were. 

An unexpected email, a phone call, a postcard. You though you had moved on. But you’re still a total hedgehog in someone’s world.

– So what am I that connects to the hedgehog — mainly blind, deceptively indolent, fiercely solitary… ?
– Prickly. And living too close to the ground.

You draft your response, your apologia:  you talk about ‘pale hens and brightly coloured roosters’ who sit in their open cages until it’s their turn to be the rotisseried or fried chicken they deserve to be….  choked, scalded, plucked, gutted, and portioned.  All of which you present as a  variant on the sorites paradox. Clever, that. Even slightly erudite.

Further exchanges and you grow a bit tired. These have all the hallmarks of something else that’s going nowhere in your life and you don’t have the time for this.  Then an out presents itself:

– So at what stage are we gutted and portioned?
– Probably the best answer there is too often for the first and almost always for the second. I think it has something to do with loss of those bright dreams and caravan moments of the younger self.   Anyway, it’s probably a choice for most people between that or taking the chance regularly on being boned & rolled.  Though maybe there’s a touch too much of the-Boy-who-was humour there… 😉  And, yes. I have White Tiger but didn;t read it till you emailed.   Not a bad read: I’m surprised in a way I missed it.  We must have that coffee sometime…

And what you don’t say is about those spaces in life where we spend your time & energy just trying to keep it all together. Like now as you sit in a shaded part of an overgrown garden with too much to do and too many deadlines and no place in your heart for the sun and the summer.

 But only for another fortnight. After which it will get better.  Or at least this is what you tell yourself. Gilgamesh on the banks of that pool: his plant long gone. 

Galway was most enjoyable. Rather disappointingly Glasnevin didn’t follow through on that half-invite.  EDEN 2011 is coming to Dublin.  The UCD – TCD MDP  programme is out of the blocks, despite everything.  Two, possibly three, new doctoral students from September. 

And with that, belfield – like all those other academics who do nothing more than teach 3 or 4 hours a week, October to May  – has decided it’s time for a break and is now in recess.  Have a good summer, reader.

“Today’s students will learn nothing from such fatuous exercises as devising a marketing plan for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre … The whole notion of “marketing” in this context is completely misconceived. It invites students to bring a 21st-century, consumerist, mass-media mindset to bear on a cultural context in which none of its basic assumptions actually apply.”

Wonderful stuff…

Fintan O’ Toole

Finally back in Dublin on Tuesday morning.  Twenty hours previously the College bus arrived on time(!) to get us to Maseru Airport and the Jo’burg flight hadn’t left early (which, it seems, happens regularly). Jo’burg  /London worked out well also; I even managed to sleep a bit. And London / Dublin was just a dog-leg home.

On Monday after packing my stuff I had wandered across to the Alliance Francaise Coffee Garden for a final Lesotho Latte.  Didn’t even have to order. They looked out of the rondavel, saw me sitting there and out it came!
– The usual, n’thade!  Said one of the two who’ve brought me coffee each morning for a week. And she grinned. There’s one in the eye for Starbucks, Liffey Valley.

The sun shone like a good Irish summer. It was easy to forget that Lesotho is now well into autumn. Two Basotho sloped past wearing herdboy blankets and woolly hats; another – probably also Basotho but more style conscious –  drifted by wearing a full ski-suit and the mandatory rubber boots. Interestingly, my only companions in the garden this morning were both African too.  A very urbane looking guy with a clipped tash and oiled hair took an espresso and chatted to the barista who has come out to join him. It looked like a business conversation. The other coffee-goer was a well-dressed young african woman – though probably not local – who was slowly texting her way through a coffee and muffin.

We all sat in the shade of the trees. Tiny leaves rained down each time there was a breeze through the branches above.

The young gardener turned his attention that morning to those leaves building up in the borders and flower beds. It’s an odd sight roses and ‘summer’ flowers in full bloom and thousands of the tiny russet and brown leaves drifting down on them from the canopy overhead. The day before he had gone at those on the coffee patio, paved areas and grass with a vengeance.

The old gardener meanwhile stooped unhurriedly into the lee of a shrub and washed his spoon and food box in a small container of water. He then reached into the bush and produced a bar of soap to wash his hands, using the same water. It was then sprinkled over his roses. Not a drop was wasted. And he looked like he’s been doing this since before I was born.

My African days have, sadly, come to an end.  But I am still out there to some extent where the world is a place of wonder and we are all just motes on the air in the breath of God.

Thaba-Tseka, Morija, Maseru… names that now hold meanings which spark thoughts of return.

Our previous head of school may have run the place like a bit of a mammy at times but she did some wonderful things too. One of those was to sign us up as an institutional member of the Centre for Global Development through Education. It reflected, I think, a genuine interest in development issues at a time when not many of us took the whole thing too seriously.

All of which is a rather roundabout way of explaining why I’m now sitting here surrounded by enough Go South stuff to fill a small aircraft, let alone a suitcase. Pharmaceutical items for this, that and the next – just in case. My summer clothes and a lightweight suit. Small, corporate gifts from the college. Laptop. Cameras. The trusty moleskine. A bag of resources and digital bits and bobs. And a real sense of excitement.

Lesotho for twelve days. The chance to work with groups of local teachers and teacher educators in workshop settings. Thaba Tseka for a week.

As I say, sometimes you can be lucky… 🙂

Yesterday I had one of those emails. It was from a good friend who is in Barcelona for a conference; deep talk & tapas, as they say. She’s just on the good side of that long and – to an outsider – utterly opaque journey that is the dottorandi / dottorando experience.

It set me thinking. So later last evening I sat looking out into a Dublin sky that was cloudy and equally opaque, pondering the outcome of our ongoing visit from one of those new governance spawnings that will, I fear, increasingly overshadow life in the university. I got to wonder about it all. What drives us into this academic life, what keeps us in the bear pit? How can we be so invested in a business so many think they know – with such absolute certainty – so much about. And also that  we are doing everything wrong!  Maybe I should have stayed in that ‘good job’ it nearly broke my late father’s heart to see me cast aside all those years ago.

Lives considered, ill-considered and unconsidered jockey now for a place in the the frame. And I’m left a bit despondent by it all – not for the release of finally finishing with the dottorando stages but with the expectations that now seem less and less tenable around the life which follows.

In the world of the university, we are on the brink of losing so much and very few seem to either know or care.

Last night, we trundled off en-famille to see the Dromgoole staging of ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’ at the Gaiety.  It was as good as it gets.

The Gar Public and Gar Private  device delights and draws you in and I can only say that Friel’s portrayal of Irish small-town life still comes bitingly close to the  bone after all these years.   He captures in all their poignancy the struggles and frustration of a small life; the characters, the conversations, the hopes for escape – all spot-on in their observation, as are all those little acts of love and loathing Friel so effectively depicts.

Little clips from the play like wee sailor suit,  you know I never have a second cup, and desist! have been delighting me all day.  I found myself grinning and thinking about them and the elegant fluency of Friel’s work.  But when a conversation a few minutes ago between the Politics & History Student and The Junior Cert kid ended with a wry exchange about being in a blue boat on Lough na Cloc Cor, no a punt, no a brown one, I reckon that I’m not the only one who was deeply touched by the production.

Well worth seeing; running  until 10 April.

… generally.  But I have to admit I’m more than a little impressed by what this guy is doing.  It seems to me that if we could only get some of our crowd to go on a similar sort of trip and with as much open mindedness, we might actually get something worthwhile started. 

But then, there’s all that business about candles in windows and being among the diaspora – especially The  Farmleigh Faction – out there grafting for Ireland  on St Paddy’s Day, and all that cant, to contend with. 

So maybe I’m hoping for a bit much.  Having what the family Politics & History Student rather cuttingly refers to as one of my Glocca Morra moments

Universities and the idea of a university are taking a bit of a beating recently. Not just here on the island – where there’s a not-unreasonable case to be made that both have long fallen into the area of the conveniently unexamined – but more broadly. Miliband is leading a well-strategized and far-reaching disassembling over the water. Germany has seen recently a series of upheavals in its universities that go to the root of how that country sees and practices higher education, and indeed the idea of education itself. And France is in the throes of repositioning the university and grande ecoles in relation with the state.

Like others, I’ve been trying to make some sense of it all. It’s difficult however to do so when things keep moving around you in the day job. So in that most academic of traditions, I’ve signed up for a symposium. Call it focussing what’s left of the mind.  My hope is that they’ll give me some space to talk to what I’m seeing around me in the Irish university; growing nervousness, badly conceived repurposing, rampant corporatism, and a level of political interference that gives real pause for thought. In short, encroachment on the university on a scale we haven’t seen in Europe since the 1930s.  Additionally, it will be good to sit-in on a conversation around higher education and what it can do for us. In Galway. In the early summer.

Stable doors and horses.

In a six day series of ill-considered and ill-informed mouthings, this man may has done more damage to the credibility of higher education in this country than I would have though possible in a lifetime.