Travel Journal April 17, 1999
A Lady in Peril.

Castle Matrix

One of the interetesting things about being a mythology buff is finding interesting parallels between the mythic stories and your own life. I had arrived at Castle Matrix [sounds like "Matt Tricks" with a short 'a'] yesterday, and I had quickly come to the conclusion that Liz O' Driscoll was a woman with a problem. I realized that one middle-aged woman, an old man (her father), and a boy in his early teens (her son) were too few people to take care of such a large estate with so many animals. I had observed them running ragged trying to cope with the wedding guests, as well as deal with the mischief of numerous dogs, horses, sheep and cats.

If any of you have read any of the Grail stories, such as Wolfram Von Eschenbach's Parzival, you'll know that Sir Gawain was constantly encountering noble ladies in peril. Usually what would happen is Gawain, in his errant wanderings, would come across the castle of the Lady in question, which would be either enchanted, under siege, or some other unfortunate circumstance. Gawain would then offer to be the Lady's champion, and proceed to defeat the besiegers in combat, or take whatever action was needed to dispell the enchantment, etc.

According to Joseph Campbell, this particular story motif is actually derived from a much older type of tale, which is the typical Celtic faery tale in which a Celtic warrior wanders into the woods, perhaps chasing a stag, and comes across a faery hill. The warrior learns that the Faery Queen is in trouble, and offers to become her champion. Later, after he's solved the problem, and has tired of all of the feasting and merriment, he takes his leave of the Queen, who, failing to dissuade him from going, warns him not to get off his horse, or touch the ground, or something like that. He emerges to find that hundreds of years have passed, and of course he fails to heed her warning, and as a consequence crumbles to dust or something like that.

Anyway, I decided to play the role as it was presented. I'm not much with lances or other weapons, and I doubt that would be much use against Liz's creditors; But I do have a surplus of cash, and I'm pretty handy with tools, so I offered my services to Liz for the weekend. She brightened considerably at this offer.

It should be noted that one of Gawain's most memorable challenges was the Perilous Bed, which Gawain must spend the night upon in order to break the enchantment. At first the bed bucks like a bronco, then bolts and arrows fly out of the walls, and finally a lion leaps out and pounces on him.

So, as I was going to sleep last night (after fixing some minor problems with Liz's computer), Liz mentioned that I should shut the curtain tightly, else I would be in danger of having the cat pounce on me in the middle of the night, and all I could do was laugh to myself and think "Well...of course!"

Upon getting up, I was immediately assigned the task of starting the fireplace. This took a while, as firestarting is not one of the skills on my character sheet. Then, a crisis occured: One of the dogs, Jules, had chased one of the lambs across the river. (They didn't even realize that their sheep could swim at that early of an age.) So Liz, Kieran (her son), and I got in the car and drove around the river to the neighbor's fields, where we braved muddy paddocks, electric fences (I didn't mind the mild shock, so I held the wires using my coat while the others passed through) and thorn-covered vines to get to where our little lost lamb had ensconced himself. Even so, the lamb was situated in an area which was only accessible from the river, and
we had to get assistance from one of the fellows who works on that farm (who happened to be wearing tall rubber boots.)

Here's the lamb, in the car, wrapped in a towel.

Here's Liz.

And Kieran.

Next, Kieren had to be taken to basketball practice in Limerick (he was already an hour late because of the lamb) and I tagged along because I wanted to go to the hardware store to get a few tools I needed (what few tools they had were rusted to uselessness.) I got a few useful general tools, including a cordless electric screwdriver, some drill bits, a wire cutters, some channel locks (i.e. adjustable pliers) and a good, solid hammer. I also got a large, sturdy plastic I told Liz, "listen, I'm not going to go out and buy a bunch of nice tools for you and let you throw them in a drawer or lose've got to promise me you're going to take care of these tools." (This may sound a bit harsh, but it was delivered in good humor, and frankly, if you'd seen the disorganization of the place you'd know it was deserved.)

A shot of the castle.

The main hall, being prepared for the wedding banquet.

Here's a shot of the wedding cake. Note that the suitcase is also made of cake.

Later that evening I was talking to a few of the wedding guests in the reception; One elderly lady (who was the bride's mother) introduced me to a nice young lady who worked for the BBC. (This was definately an upper-class wedding.) Unfortunately, shortly thereafter a woman took me aside and told me that the reception was for invited guests only, so I withdrew, and "hid out" with Liz and her family in the TV room, where we watched "The Postman" which was playing on pay-per-view. (I think Brin called it a flawed movie with a big heart.) Later that evening, several of the guests came to me and apologized for what happened, they thought it was terrible.

Now, for tonight's mini-essay:

Before I left the U.S. I was warned to expect that British and Irish Technology would be a few years behind the U.S. However, I find that this is not exactly correct. I find that in terms of consumer electronics and other high-tech items, there is at most a lag of a few months over here.

However, what I find is a somewhat more subtle and systemic difference in technology. Specifically, I have noticed a general trend that some of the technological standards (in particular, those dealing with plumbing and wiring) in Britain are, in my opinion, inferior to the ones I am accustomed to. This also applies to Ireland, since the Irish tend to follow the British lead in matters of domestic technology.

It is as if the British have a lower level of expectation as to the level of comfort and convenience that can be provided by basic infrastructure such as plumbing and wiring, and thus it never occurs to them to complain about facilities that are uncomfortable and inconvenient, or to imagine that there is anything better.

A few examples: I have noticed that about half of the toilets in Britain and Ireland use the exact same flushing mechanism. I can tell, because this particular system has a distinctively shaped flush handle. I have also noticed that this particular model tends to stick - that is, you have to lift up the handle once you've depressed it in order to prevent it from sticking. One would think that something that had such an obvious design flaw would soon have been out-competed by a better model?

Similarly, virtually all of the bathroom sinks I have encountered in England and Ireland have seperate outlets for hot water and cold water. This means that you get scalding hot water out of one outlet, and freezing cold from the other - you cannot get warm water by adjusting the flow rate of each. I'm told that you can in fact get a "mixer tap", but for some reason (tradition, possibly) most places have not installed them.

There are many other examples I could name: Shower heads, room heaters, toasters, etc.

According to several inquiries I've made, there appears to be nothing like a Home Depot or Builder's Emporium here. When you want lumber you go to a lumber yard; when you want bricks you go to a brick yard. I went to a "hardware store", which was located on a busy city street, with no nearby parking. This meant that the only items sold were small enough to be carried by hand, such as small tools, appliances, and parts - there was no lumber, concrete, bricks, shelving, or other items which would have required a truck to carry away. I suspect that most people don't "do it yourself" and instead hire builders or contractors to do even light construction work.