Last month, Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th. birthday and, to mark the occasion, the managing editor of ‘Time’ magazine, Richard Stengal, conducted an exclusive interview with the former President in Johannesburg. Mr. Stengal worked with Mr. Mandela for almost two years on the great man’s autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and the writer’s son is named Rolihlahla, which is Mandela’s real first name.

The article is quite long and a fascinating read and, during the course of their latest time together, Mr. Mandela shared with the ‘Time’ editor his eight rules, or lessons, of leadership. Of course, they are not all original thoughts but, all the same, it was fascinating to see his attitude encapsulated in such a way.

Nelson Mandela’s eight golden rules of leadership are as follows: 1 Courage is not the absence of fear, it is inspiring others to move beyond it. 2 Lead from the front but don’t leave your base behind. 3 Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front. 4 Know your enemy and learn about his favourite sport. 5 Keep your friends close and your rivals even closer. 6 Appearances matter and remember to smile. 7 Nothing is black or white. 8 Quitting is leading too.

Finally, Richard Stengal referred to the fact that his friend entered prison as an emotional, headstrong and easily-stung young man but emerged, 27 years later, balanced and disciplined. “There is nothing so rare, or so valuable, as a mature man”, said Nelson Mandela.

A true Prince among vegetables

Regular readers will know that I have always been a great admirer of the late, lamented John B. Keane whose writing was much more elegant and emotive than many people realise. Most people are familiar with passages of dialogue from his famous plays when he put hard words into the mouths of his often-violent characters. But the Listowel man was a poet and an artist who could turn his pen and his talent to any subject.

Recently, I came across an article John B. originally wrote for The Limerick Leader newspaper in 1963, all of 45 years ago. It was a long, stylish piece dedicated to the delights of the simple onion and I quote just a couple of sentences to illustrate John B’s beautiful prose.

“Onion, you were well worth watching and will bear watching always. On sheds of corrugated iron and strung from hen-house doors you have faced the summer heat but yet expiry never neared you. The bestial frosts of harvest were as putty in your hands.

“The winter winds and rains taunted you in vain. Their worst could not subdue you. The sun you loved above all other and he, to show his feelings, clothed you in raiment of gold.

“You shone and bristled in the corded bags of fruiterers. When all fruit fails, there is the onion and fruit you are in truth and tuber too. No bough of tended garden free your likeness ever bore. No pear or peach or plum could match your glowing symmetry.

“No swirling planet is your peer and yet no poet has taken up his pen to do you justice. Onion, you are the poet and the poem in one, the lyric and the lyricist, the singer and the song. Your monument is your seed. I hail you and salute you, indefatigable onion.”

I didn’t know that!

We have all heard of footballers and hurlers who occasionally score hat-tricks and, in soccer, it is traditional for the player to keep the ball as a souvenir of his achievement. But I didn’t know until recently that the term hat-trick actually originated in the game of cricket. If a bowler dismissed three batsmen with three consecutive overs, he was awarded a new cricket cap by his team in honour of his achievement, hence the phrase ‘hat-trick’.

And while I’m at it, did you know that the phrase to have ‘cold feet’ about something originated in the game of poker. In 1862, a German writer named Fritz Reuter described a scene in one of his novels in which a poker player fears losing his fortune but does not want to lose face. So, he made up an excuse that his feet were cold. He said he was so uncomfortable he couldn’t possibly concentrate properly and, therefore, had to leave the table. The novel was obviously a big success because, before too long, the phrase about having ‘cold feet’ made its way into everyday language.

Patron saints for all

Last week, I was asked to repeat an item I wrote some years ago about patron saints of various professions. In fact, my original piece was inspired by a person who had asked if I knew, whether or not, there was a Patron Saint for taxi drivers. I didn’t know but I knew a person who did and so I was pleased to announce to our taxi/hackney drivers that their very own special man is none other than Saint Fiacre.

If you are a barber or hairdresser, your patron is Saint Louis. Saint Anthony, when he is not busy finding lost items, is the patron saint of gravediggers while Saint Barbara is the patron of miners.

Saint Jerome helps turn the pages for librarians while broadcasters are helped out no end by Saint Gabriel. Mind you, I was told years ago by a bishop that the patron of broadcasters was the Archangel Gabriel so take your pick!

Saint Cecilia helps musicians and singers to stay in tune while Saint Luke stirs up the juices for artists and other creative people. Out on the building sites, Saint Stephen steadies the hands of brick-layers while Saint Crispin helps cobblers keep us all well shod.

Up above in the Government Buildings in The Glen, Saint Matthew smiles down on all the tax-collectors while hoteliers are such busy people that they have two representatives in heaven to look after their interests, Saint Armand and Saint Julien.

Saint Dorothea helps florists with their arrangements, Saint Honoratus ensures that bakers’ dough rises as it should while the patron of tailors is Saint Homobonus. Finally, the patron of editors is Saint John Bosco. May he bless them all.

One day last week, a woman walked into the waiting room of a doctor’s surgery with seven children in tow. “God bless them, aren’t they lovely, are they all yours?”, cooed a woman sitting in the corner.

“Oh they are, they’re all mine all right”, replied the mother as the seven children started running about the room, throwing the magazines about the place and pulling pictures off the wall. “Pat, if you don’t sit down immediately and stay quiet there will be no ice-cream on the way home and no television tonight”, hissed the mother in a cross voice.

Immediately, all seven children heeded her words and sat down as good as gold. “They’re such obedient children”, said the woman in the corner, “but why did they all react when you just called out one name, Pat?”

“That’s because I named them all Pat, the boys are Patrick and the girls are Patricia. It saves so much time and energy not having to call out seven different names”, explained the proud mother.

“I see”, said the woman, “but what do you do if you want just one of the children to do something and not the others, how do you manage that?”

“Actually, it’s very simple”, said the mother as she hoisted two of the smaller children up on her knee, “when that happens, I just call them by the last names of their fathers.”