Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nihilistic Swagger

It's not original but this description ("Nihilistic Swagger") sums up succinctly Martin Amis's style. Right back to the "Rachel Papers" I've always felt some unease when reading his lively, intelligent, and often funny novels. There was always an undercurrent of the snide, the prurient, and the post-adolescent. The protagonist was nearly always Amis himself with his tennis, his literary rivalaries, his sexual pecadilloes, and his relentless counting coup. The world view of this protagonist is invariably a jaded high-achiever, superficially sophisticated but a tad unhealthy in his sexual attitudes.

I've just struggled through his latest novel "The House of Meetings" where I found more of the same. This is the most disappointing of all Amis's novels for me. I found the structure confusing and it took a while to clarify where you were in the various periods and locations being covered. The intensity of the unnamed narrator's love for the heroine echoed 'Lolita" without the elegance of the writing. The clumsy "Americas" metaphor (breasts the US, waist Panama, arse Brazil) used to describe her hardly justified the depths of his passion. She remained a cipher. His extended riff on retrospective fidelity was pure Amis and seemed to be he primary fuel for the narrator's urges.

The stuff on the gulags was old hat. Anyone with any knowledge of Russian history had heard it before - right back to "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" or more recently Anne Applebaum's "Gulag". And Amis himself has written far more convincingly about the period in his non-fiction work "Korba the Dread".

He should stick to non-fiction.

Warfarin Clinic Blues

Last July I developed a DVT when my clot of an orthopaedic surgeon neglected to put me on Heparin or some such anti-coagulant while I was laid up with a broken ankle. The result of this neglect is that I have to attend the Warfarin Clinic at St. Michael's Hospital at regular intervals to get blood tests. These tests indicates the viscosity or whatever of my blood and are used to fine tune my Warfarin dose. Because I went into hospital initially via A&E, I stuck to this routine because it seemed less hassle than trying to get a haemotologist of my own - these are as scarce as unicorns in the Irish medical scene.

But it's a grim gig - this vigil in St. Michael's waiting room. No matter what time I go in, the same situation prevails. The waiting room is like an ante-room to the graveyard. The lame and the halt predominate. They are mostly women and there's hardly a soul under eighty. The men have presumably all died by that stage. There are multiple sticks, zimmer frames, and a few wheelchairs. The sit there resignedly as the criminally understaffed clinic winds its weary way through them. There's usually one Philipino guy going flat out and a palpably uninterested female nurse of mature years who spends most of her time wandering in and out with shopping bags and cups of tea. There are 60 people ahead of me - so I resign myself to a wait of over an hour.

The waiting room is cramped and stuffy - hard seats jammed together - some Sky channel spewing garbage over the mute throng - their clots developing apace as they sit immobile and endure. I walk around outside in the gale force winds.

Coming back I see a large hunched female dressed in what looks like a billowing blue marquee lurch towards the entrance to the clinic. My first thought is that if a gust of wind gets under that I'll see something that could damage me for evermore. Inside, her loud assertive middle-class tones ring out in dramatic contrast to the apologetic rare-old-dub mumbles of the regular clients. And then it hits me, this apparition is Maeve Binchy. I feel a twinge of admiration for the egalatarian impulse that brought her to a public hospital rather than a fancy Dalkey surgery. How will she manage the cramped seats and the long wait I wonder. How will the seats manage I also wonder.

I need not have worried myself. She's greeted by the clinic's Nurse Ratchit (a tight ship and no mutuinous nonsense character) and ushered into a private room. My turn comes up but the jaded lifer who is to take my blood hurries off to this private room with her needles and her pillow and I am left trembling on the brink.

Eventually I get to the Philipino guy and get the business done. But I am hopping mad. I'm sure my blood came hurtling out when he jabbed me. I want to make a scene but I also want to get my results back quickly so I leave the clinic. I wait outside a bit to see if I can interview Binchey on her way out. But there's no sign of her - no doubt she's getting a cup of tea and a wholemeal biscuit.

Now I can forgive Maeve Binchey her insipid and banal novels; but I cannot forgive this cavalier abuse of a public facility. And as for the compliant administration, well that's a darker issue. Their willingness to compromise in a small matter like this, suggests an indifference to their passive patients that is reflected in the appalling nature of the service and facilities they preside over.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Life's Like That

A recent new hire for the Irish operation of a daily newspaper was flown by private jet to Deauville for lunch with the owner. It was a serious editorial position and he was accompanied by the paper's top editorial brass. Wine flowed and an urbane and pleasant time was had by all - opinions were exchanged and robust dialogue was the order of the day. However, before he rejoined the corporate jet for the journey home he was given a list with two columns: those we never speak ill of; and those we never speak well of. Denis O'Brien topped the latter list.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Golden Age of Irish Rugby

Is it? While I wouldn't get over excited about wins against a South African second team and an Australian team in decline and transition (and a whit discomfited by the extreme weather), nonetheless this is the best Irish rugby team I've seen in my lifetime. And I've seen them all. Jackie Kyle in Musgrave Park, Tony O'Reilly in Lansdowne Road, Gordon Wood in Thomand Park ("more fire Munster forwards" bellowed from the stand) and Tommy Kiernan playing scrum-half for UCC in the Mardyke. For God's sake I walked to Ballyphehane every Saturday of my schooldays to see Dolphin and Sunday's Well play - lantern-jawed Jim Kiernan in the centre, blind Bernie O'Mahoney at out-half and Vincie Giltenan a prop to savour.

There are of course better individuals from the past. You would love to see Sid Millar and Ray McLaughlin in the front row with Ronnie Dawson, and the immortal Ken Goodall at number 8. You'd have to have Tommy Kiernan at full-back - even if he is a Pres boy, and places must be found for Mike Gibson and Simon Geoghegan. But overall this is the greatest team and a number of them would make any Irish team of any era: Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, and the underrated David Wallace to name a few.

The only weakness is at prop (but the new tame scrummaging laws will help us out next year) and perhaps at full-back. Stringer has been criticised for the lack of variety in his game but I'd prefer him to the showboating Boss. And who can forget his solo try in the Heineken cup final last year. I'd like Jerry Flannery back at hooker as well - he is an extra loose forward, whereas Best and that Cork Con fat boy are relatively immobile. Leave Dempsey at full-back and bring Murphy on from the bench for extra attacking options.

We'll never have a better chance of winning a Grand Slam. But put your mortgage on New Zealand for the World Cup. You can get 4 to 5 with Sporting Odds. Do it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

In the Presence of the Lord

Went to the National Gallery last Saturday for a celebration of Louis Le Brocquy's 90th birthday - one of a seemingly endless series of events held this year to honour the great man. This was a rather special one judging by the invitation's unusual assertion that it should be presented at the door. And indeed there was security at the entrance checking that the riff raff didn't slip in.

The great and the good of the art world were in attendance. i saw Robert Ballagh as I came in, and there is the venerable Pat Scott leaning on an elegant cane. John Taylor and Mary were there, keeping very close to Pierre Le Brocquy - the man who controls access to Louis's work. The legal profession were out in force, Eoin McGonigal, chairman of IMMA was there and so was Jim O'Driscoll in the company of Peter Sutherland (whose wife appeared to called Verucca if my ears didn't deceive me). There were a lot of men dressed all in black but with extremely colourful ties - Ian Whyte to name but one. This is obviously the look for the professional art person. I also saw John Kelly from RTE (taller than I imagined) and even Benji from the Riordans (OK, Tom Hickey).

Raymond Keavney made the opening address suggesting that if Jack Yeats was the Irish artist of the 1st half of the 20th Century, then Louis Le Brocquy was his equivalent for the 2nd half. He then slightly lamely took him into the 21st Century with some assertion about how he would extend his influence into this period. It's a bit dodgy, I suppose, discussing the future of a 90-year old man. Le Brocquy himself then stood up and spoke very eloquently, from notes, about the origins of his head pieces. Some of the artists like Bacon, Beckett and Bono (oh dear) were his friends, he said. Others were artists he particularly admired - like Lorca and Strindberg. He remembered as a schoolboy meeting W.B. Yeats but only knew him as one would know a school-teacher. He tried to capture some of their intelligence and genius in these head images.

The show itself was mighty fine - the Yeat's and the Beckett's being especially good. The Lorca's seemed weaker to me but maybe that's because I have no real image of Lorca in my head. And thanks be to God they had the good sense to omit the horrific portrait of Bono as the Mekon.

After the speeches, Le Brocquy sat himself down at a chair by the rostrum and received a line of well wishers - a number of them shabbily putting the make on him for an autograph. And yes readers, I joined that line. But only because P. had his camera and pushed me. I let him off lightly - just congratulating him on his speech and saying it was an honour to meet him. His hand was surprisingly soft and delicate. Most artists (male and female) are horny handed. He seems a gentle soul - unlike his great shark-faced biddy gliding through the attendant lords nearby.

Oh and the food being handed out was pretty good: duck kebabs no less, and dainty confections of choux pastry and peppers with olives. And the wine flowed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My long-term obsession with the work of the Limerick artist John Shinnors has led me to commission just one more piece to round off my collection - that'll be it I swear. He did a series of scarecrow heads (one of his perennial motifs) that he sold as one lot to Dunloe Ewart about 5 years ago - I was much miffed at the time that he didn't sell them individually but he has agreed to paint me a piece in the same style. So I took myself off to Limerick last Saturday morning to collect the finished article. Commissions are always a bit problematical as you are under pressure to take a painting that you may not like when you see it. It's a bit like a blind date only, in this case, more expensive. So I approached this encounter with some trepidation.

We meet as always at the White House, at the Crescent end of O'Connell Street. This is a fine old bohemian pub with photgraphs of poets and artists lining the walls - and advertisements for various art events everywhere. There's even a framed letter from Robert Graves. There's some poetry event on in the evening and I meet one of the organisers - Gerry O'Brien. He's a gnarled looking character sporting very long hair dyed a reddish colour unknown to nature. Underneath this extraordinary head is a Munster jersey mainly concealed by a multi-coloured cardigan. Nature disclaims him.

Shinnors eventually shuffles in head down in his Lemmy Caution white coat with white pork-pie hat pulled down over the frizz of his remaining hair. I am playing with a black coffee (it's 1.30) but he launches into the Smithwicks. He gets a pint with a half-pint glass on the side - this I discover is for use on his very frequent trips outside for a smoke. He tips a portion of his pint into his half pint glass and out he goes. Strange, eh? He is a man with many foibles. He also goes to the jakes more often than any human being I have ever met. I'd estimate 3 visits for every pint. I would advise him to have his prostate checked but I expect he doesn't need me to tell him.

After an amiable chat we head for his display studio nearby. He does almost all his painting in his home studio, which he keeps very private. He assures me that I will like what I see. He has the painting set up on an easel with light flowing onto it from the large windows. It's a masterpiece - way beyond what I had hoped for. In addition to the stark and ominous image of the scarecrow, there's a wealth of attendant detail - red stitching, flecks of colour and a shadowy mirror image. I had been uneasy about the cost, given his recent auction results, but he comes straight out with a figure that is most agreeable to me. If I flipped the painting tomorrow, I could get twice his asking price.

We head off to Willie Sexton's (an old Garryown hero) to celebrate and after that to South's - another of the many rugby pubs in the city. I see Shinnors for about 50% of the time we are there. He's either out smoking with his miniature Smithwicks, or going for yet another piss. But that's OK, I watch Ulster hammer Toulouse.

We return to his studio eventually and he packs up the painting for transportation. We go back to the White House for one for the road and we run into the multi-coloured Gerry again. We are joined by two amiable old bohemian broilers who are very chatty and amusing about historical art events in Dublin - both seem very familiar with McDaids in the rare old times. It transpires that one of them is the wife of the estimable Jack Donovan.

I head back to Dublin with my precious cargo - taking extra care.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Graphic Studio Gallery

Went to the opening of a group show in the Graphic Studio yesterday evening. It featured work by he currently hot Donald Teskey, the perenially sound Gwen O'Dowd, and the nicest artist in Ireland Tim Goulding. There was also peripheral work by Nigel Rolfe, Brian Henderson and the bearded patriarchal Patrick Pye.

There's always lots of artists and few punters at these GS gigs so it's great for networking. In addition to the above named we had Tom Phelan, the saturine Stephen Lawlor, Gerry Cox (in a fez), the delectable Yoko Akino and a host of familiar faces.

This was a very strong show but two pieces stood out: a beautiful Teskey seascape (I bought it dear reader); and a gorgeous colourful piece by Gwen O'Dowd. The works by Tim are worthy but don't engage me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bertie's Blatherings

Bertie's act of contrition (but not perfect contrition) in the Dail yesterday was a vomit inducing performance. His sins were minor in my eyes but his playing of the poor befuddled Joe Soap was deeply unconvincing. When he's in the wrong and is playing to the plain people of Ireland in explanation, a few things occur: firstly he reverts to dis, dat, dese and dose in a big way; then he introduces a stutter - all the better to display his deep-felt dismay at these unfair accusations; then there's the mispronunciations: "relevations", "quid per quo" etc. He is disgracefully inarticulate for a prime minister at the best of times, but in extremis he seems to lay it on with a trowel - all the better to show the people that he's one of their own.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Edinburgh Art Expedition

Off to Edinburgh to see exhibitions by Ron Meuck and Robert Mapplethorpe. I arrive at Dublin Airport with a tragic hangover and in a mood of quiet desperation. Ryanair delay the flight by 2 hours to allow me further time to dwell on my misery.

Finally arrive and we take a bus into the city centre - enjoying the substantial architecture of this impressive city. We're staying at the Radisson Hotel on the Royal Mile. We climb piss-soaked steps through Advocate's Close to reach the hotel.

It's a glorious day but it's raining, raining in my heart. Try a few beers in the trendy hotel bar and watch the Ryder Cup for a while - mood lifts a little. Then it's off to dinner, weaving our way through the standing army of on-street alcoholics. We have selected an upmarket and slightly stuffy French restaurant called Cafe St. Honore. It's passable but the wine is too expensive and the clientele uninteresting - stolid Scottish burghers.

Up and about next moring for the Ron Mueck show in the Nationa Gallery of Scotland - followed by a trip across town to a Robert Mapplethorpe show. Mueck is a puppet maker who has raised his craft to the level of art by using two simple devices. Firstly he dramatically alters the scale of his subjects - making them either gigantic or miniature. Secondly, they are all portrayed as profoundly unhappy or disturbed - the human condition don't you know. It makes for a diverting encounter but it's hardly Titian.

Mapplethoprpe's work is notorious because of his obsession with naked black men and the trappings of SM. While this show contains some of these pieces, its main focus are his portraits and these are surprisingly good. There are also a number of very moving self-portraits as he neared the end of his riotous life. The two pieces that stood out for me were a wonderful image of Louise Bourgeois with a phallus-shaped sculpture under her arm smiling mischievously; and a portrait of De Kooning shortly before he died - looking like an amiable old farmer.

Mapplethorpe's bad boy sthick was a bit wearying, but as a living cause celebre he had fame and thus he had access. He used this access to photograph the main movers in the New York art scene of his time. These portraits may turn out to be his real legacy.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

En France

Fetched up in a quiet village south of Lyons; spending a few days pleasantly matching the pace of the locals. A couple of experiences reinforce how badly off we are back in Ireland in comparison; how poorly we provide for the general public.

We took the kids down to the local swimming pool - an immaculately maintained, carefully supervised, hygiene conscious operation. This is a small village - do we have any equivalent facility in Cork, or Dublin or Galway? Only if you pay exhorbitant gym fees I reckon. It highlights yet again the way our government leaves everything to private enterprise and does very little for the less well off. Every town and village in France has similar public facilities.

While staying in this village I had to get a routine blood test so I made an appointment to see one of the 5 GPs in the town - a Dr. Dubois. He saw me 5 minutes after I arrived in his waiting room, gave me a note for a nearby laboratory and told me that he would contact me with the results. He then bade me a very cordial farewell and refused to take any money. Later that day he contacted me with my results and some advice on the implications. I try to imagine how a French man arriving at my local GP in Killiney would fare by comparison - he,d probably take one look at the queue and turn on his heel.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sick Transit

Watching the state funeral for Haughey it’s hard not to feel a little queasy. Here we have the state honouring someone who considered himself above the laws of the state. You can count the ways: there was the arms debacle; and bless my soul the offshore accounts; and ‘pon my word the phone tapping and to be sure the perjury before the Moriarty Tribunal.

I never bought into the myth of the lofty leader above all mundane considerations. He cheated, lied, hustled and threatened to gain power and to fund his grandiose life style. His arrogance and squireen posturings were risible. He was a Mussolini manqué, a pompous o’erweening power-crazed little man – and deserved a similar fate.

Shame they didn't use a gun carriage - the associations were too blatant I suppose.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

La Petit Mort

Now that you've achieved your heart's desire don't you feel a little sadness, a little emptiness? What's going to drive you onwards now? Where's the thwarted ambition? The lingering injustices: John O'Neill's disallowed try; Neil Back's hand; the swirl of wind that thwarted O'Gara at Twickenham all seem unimportant now that you've reached your goal.

But what an epic match. If ever heart and will won a match it was this one. Biarriz were a more skilful and accomplished team - player for player. But they just could not contend with Munster's ferocious desire.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Henry Blows It

Great drama at the European Champions Cup final in Paris. Against all the odds: ten men, superior opposition, missing goal keeper, Arsenal take the lead and look like holding on. At this juncture Thierry Henry is put through on goal and, for the second time in the match, fluffs a clear-cut chance. A goal at this stage would have killed off Barcelona. The turning point. Barcelona bring on Henrik Larsson - ostensibly in the twilight of a great career. Two subtle and precise passes from the Swede and suddenly Barcelona are ahead and coasting home. Something all Ronaldhino's huffing and puffing had failed to achieve.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Dark Night of the Sole

I woke up on Saturday April 29th feeling very unwell and shivering uncontrollably. On getting up to go to the bathroom (I felt I was going to vomit) I collapsed and had to be revived by B. who had assumed initially that this was the big bang. Amid alarums and excursions an ambulance was called and I was taken off on a stretcher. I was aware of my daughter watching anxiously from the front door as I was loaded up.

I arrived in A & E in St. Michael's (Dun Laoghaire) and was taken straight into the Resuscitation Room (very comforting that). I was attended by a nurse and a very pretty Pakistani doctor. They inserted a drip and an oxygen mask and began checking me out. Once they determined that it wasn't a coronary (I could have told them that -the heart is very robust), they concentrated on my lungs. A clot? To check the lungs out they had to send me to St. Vincent's, accompanied by a nurse from the Philipines, where the appropriate scanner resided. Another ambulance journey and another A & E department. I was brought into a high-tech room and dye was injected into my veins and I was passed under the scanner. Back out and a brief wait before a very smart and articulate Chinese doctor informed me that I had pneumonia. They also x-rayed my foot which had got hurt when I fell and was giving me some pain.

Then a four-hour hiatus while I awaited an ambulance to return me to St. Michael's. The lack of urgency led me to assume that my life was not in danger. Although, knowing our public health system, this may have been a rash assumption. Eventually I get back and they take me straight to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) - not that comforting really. I was put next to (almost elbow-to-elbow) someone who just had an ileostomy and seemed very sick indeed - stuff dripped out of him into a large bag under the bed, in full view of me as I ate my evening sandwich. Across the aisle and old lady, rigged up to all kinds of machinery, farted unrelentingly - all the while staring at me intently. I was in a chamber of horrors.

The nurses were very attentive, making me comfortable and checking my vital signs regularly. They also began pumping me full of antibiotics to combat the pneumonia. My big toe seemed very misshapen and was giving me a lot of pain. Eventually the night nurse gave me a serious pain-killer (via the arse) and I drifted off.

It makes me laugh the way hospital routine trumps all considerations of care and good sense. Therefore I am awoken from my fitful slumbers at around 6.30 for various tests and then my breakfast.

They just don't care about nutrition in hospitals do they. It's as if it's not considered - it's generic institution fare, I bet prisons get much the same. Breakfast is corn flakes or rice crispies (not even Alpen), white sliced pan, a hard-boiled egg, jam, and a pot of tea. No sign of any fuit. Lunch is meat, watery gravy, mashed potatoes, soggy vegetables, and cake or tart with the ubiquitous pot of tea. Supper is a sandwich, an omelette, or a very limited salad (limp lettuce, tomato, coleslaw and a slice of ham; with a pot of tea of course.

But I'm not hungry so I can't be arsed really. Now that I begin to feel better I start noticing things. There are no doctors around. When I ask why I'm told that it's the Bank Holiday weekend so I won't see anyone until Tuesday. Silly me getting sick on a holiday. I need to see the chest man for my pneumonia and the orthopaedic guy for my ankle and toe - both apparently broken.

The man apparently dying beside me suddenly vomits loudly and copiously just missing the side of my bed, and follows up shortly afterwards with another torrent. The nurses quickly pull the curtains around him and clean up but the not before the offending tide carries under my bed. Grossville Alabama. Get me out of here. I tell the night staff I'm feeling fine and eventually when they need an ICU bed, they transfer me to a public ward. As I've come in through the A&E I am unable to get a private room.

So here I am with Anto, Decco and an amiable old lunatic who appears to have Alzheimer's. They are all Dun Laoghaire and all appear to know each other well as the recount their adventures in various pubs around (O'Loughlin's and Dunphy's). This is a male surgical ward and the others are all witing for some form of surgery.

They may as well be waiting for Godot it seems. Where are all the consultants? Becalmed off Dalkey Island? Lingering in Barbados? Who knows. I have now been in hospital for 4 days with pneumonia and two breaks in my foot and I have yet to see a consultant. Like my brothers in exile I have no idea what the prognosis is or how long I will be detained. I appear less unwell than a lot of them yet they seem resigned to a situation where nobody knows what the hell is going on. I bitch to any staff member I can find but am benignly shrugged off - tomorrow, soon, they're very busy etc.

Finally on day five my chest man sails in with his entourage and gives me a couple of minutes of his time. The drugs are working, I can leave when I get my foot sorted out.

In the course of my toing and froing around St. Michael's I kept encountering this large redundant old fraud of a priest. He'd waft into the ward clutching a leather brief-case and wander unconvincingly from bed to bed asking how we were today in a tone that veered from perfunctory to downright insincere. There was no lingering for an answer - he was in and out in a flash.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Brave Inca

A vintage Cheltenham and a very successful one on the betting front. The absolute highlight was Brave Inca's performance in the Champion Hurdle. This was a win that went precisely according to forecast. We know this horse is indolent and talented in equal measure. Normally when a horse is being worked on by his jockey in the middle of a race you expect him not to figure in the finish. With Brave Inca you knew that McCoy (the greatest ever?) was only keeping his mind on the job. You also knew when he hit the front that nothing would pass him. You knew Macs Joy and Hardy Eustace would range up alongsides and you knew that as soon as they did he would find more and repel them. You also knew that the Cheltenham hill would suit his resolute nature. And all this came to pass exactly as you expected - if only all horse races were so predictable. Although he was a short priced favourite (7-4), I had backed him in December at 7-1 just before he won a trial race at Leopardstown. This horse has now won around 10 races and I've backed him in every one of them. He has never run a bad race.

My best betting day was Friday when I had Greenhope at 20-1 and Adamant Approach placed at 50-1. I also had place bets on Liberman at 20-1 and Strangely Brown at 28-1. So over all a good four figure profit.

My biggest disappointment was L'Ami in a sub-standard Gold Cup. He plainly wasn't good enough although the ground was against him also. I'm kicking myself for not backing War of Attrition. The doubts about which race he would run in put me off him.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Messi Affair

Amid the infinite tedium and hype of modern football, the inflated egos and inflated salaries, the hyberbolic managers, and the pampered players, there is still, from time to time, some magic. The performance of young Massi for Barcelona against Chelsea last week was one such moment. Despite Chelsea's cynical ploy of providing a bog instead of a pitch to counteract Barcelona's superior skills, Massi put on a masterclass of attacking skills that suggested George Best in his pomp.

The fuss Mourhino made about del Horno's sending off has to be tongue in cheek. Or else Mourinho is less intelligent than I assumed. It was very clear that del Horno made no attempt to play the ball and just charged stright into Massi. You could see the look of fear on Massi's face as he saw del Horno bearing down on him. He was backing off when the charge hit him. The ball was elsewhere. And then del Horno had the cheek to clutch his neck theatrically as he rolled around on the ground. It was as clear a red card as I've ever seen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


The older Irish writers tended to ignore this dictum and leave their best work behind them in the pub. Behan is the most notorious example but Kavanagh and Flann O'Brien weren't far behind. Yeats famously avoided this trap after his single visit to Tomers.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Trouble at Mosque

This whole thing has been contrived of course. The axe-grinding Danes on the one hand deeming that bowing to multi-culturalism had gone too far and hoping these cartoons would provide welcome catharsis; and the Islamic militants on the other hand using this as a pretext to get the excitable masses wound up and visit violence on the despised West.

And of course the masses are ripe for it now that George Bush as pushed the vast majority of Moslems into an anti-Western lather. It's deeply ironic that a president whose term in office has been defined by the war on terror has in fact alienated the Islamic world to a degree that has rendered the world a far more dangerous place than it was before he took office. His exploits in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his indifference to the plight of Palestine has ensured that we now have a new Cold War between the West and the bulk of the Islamic world. It'll get really interesting when Iran get nuclear weapons.

And the cartoons themselves seem so bland - I did like the one about heaven running out of virgins though.

At least it won't affect Denmark's bacon exports.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Warhol or Not Warhol

What a charmless and vapid creature Warhol was. And how cold and affectless is his art - the apotheosis of the graphic designer. And of course how little of it he even touched after he became successful - apart from taking the odd polaroid. Much of his work is flat and perfunctory, the result of what Robert Hughes described as a "Franklin Mint" approach to subject matter. Whatever life and originality was there (and I did find his "Electric Chair" a powerful piece) disappeared after he was shot.

Alan Yentob and the BBC did a superb programme last Tuesday (Warhol: Denied) on the machinations of the New York-based vetting committee set up by the Warhol foundation. This foundation tightly controls the release of Warhols onto the market and jealously guards (aided and abetted by the auction houses) the right to say what's real and what is not. An English owner of an early Warhol self-portrait submitted it for authentication prior to auction, confident that it would get the nod. But it was denied, and had a dirty great stamp put on the back of the canvas that effectively destroyed it - the right to do this being part of getting the commitee to vet your piece. Now his piece instead of being worth $2 million, has only "decorative value" in the words of his solicitor. The point of the programme was to demonstrate how difficult it actually was to say what an authentic Warhol is because of his extremely off-hand (and hands off) approach to his work. He frequently didn't sign them, he rarely chose the colours, and he never went near the silk screen sweat shops where the bulk of his later work was mass produced. So in fact the only way you can prove a Warhol is authentic is to have the vetting committee say so - and they refuse to give reasons if they deny you. Such power corrupts. John Richardson the art critic maintained that he would never put his Warhol pieces up for auction as he was afraid that the vetting committee would deny them even though he had received them directly from Warhol.

You can't help feeling that the vast stash of Warhols still held by his foundation are playing a part in this charade.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Way of the Art World

Removed due to factual inaccuracies - or rather to doubts about which of the two versions I've heard is correct..

Friday, January 13, 2006


After a bracing pint in Dunphy’s (a great no bullshit pub), I went to see Woody Allen’s “Match Point” in Dun Laoghaire last night.

If you had subtracted Scarlett Johansson from the film, I would have been bored. She lights up the screen and induces thoughts of crazy carnality.

Elsewhere the film was a mess. First, and perhaps superficially, let’s look at the tennis. Using a net chord as a metaphor for luck was a bit strained – when the ball hits the net and goes over after a serve, you play the point again. Also, you could be responsible for the stroke that hits the net, this is not bad luck but bad execution. Also, anyone who knows tennis could see that the pupil was far more adept than the teacher in the coaching scene – you see it in the strokes. But this perhaps is nit-picking – most tennis scenes in films are unconvincing.

The biggest problem for me was the sudden transformation of the film from an observation of manners and mores in upper-crust Britain, to some kind of thriller, albeit a deeply unconvincing one. Did nobody ever hear of mobile phone records? Nothing in the early depiction of the limp protagonist would lead you to believe he was capable of murder – or even serious passion. In fact, Meyers (?) didn’t really have the screen presence or acting ability to carry off the role. Compare and contrast with Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. (And, incidentally, back the latter for best-actor in the next Academy Awards for his role in “Capote”.)

What else? Well you expect snappy dialogue and wit in a Woody Allen film. You got neither in this. I don’t know who wrote the script, but they got it all wrong. It was leaden. Allen, far from his natural habitat, perhaps couldn’t see this. Compare and contrast with the verbal sparkle of “Manhattan”.

Critics have bitched about the ticking off of tourist sites. I didn’t mind this and was delighted to catch a glimpse of the Royal Court (a famous pioneering theatre in the Sixties) and the Tate Modern.

Having said all that, I loved the central premise of the film – the role luck plays in our affairs (of all kind).

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Bunch of Artholes

RTE1 showed "Art Lives" last night, ostensibly a look at the Irish art market. From the outset it was a travesty. It was edited by someone who believed in the MTV philosophy that people have the attention spans of gnats - bang, bang, bang. And the relentless pounding music seemed suited to the catwalk rather than a reasoned debate about the Irish art scene. And the participants, dear, oh dear, oh dear: An oleagenious Julian Charlton from the Apollo art shop (it's not a fucking gallery guys) banging on about Graham Knuttel and "Sly"; Rubicon's ice-queen Josephine Keliher talking about the importance of a friendly reception - not your forte dear; Bitch on wheels Suzanne McDougall telling people to buy what they like - very original; Big ego small talent James Hanley mouthing truisms; Some Foxrock fanny type collector with appalling taste and grandiose expectations - she is collecting for posterity, IMMA will benefit when she dies, she opines; And Anne-Marie Hourihane, who should know better, presiding over the whole debacle.

No attempt to analyse what was good or bad; No lingering look at individual paintings; No wit; No insight; No mention of the Taylor Gallery - Ireland's leading contemporary gallery. This program was obviously created by someone who knows nothing about art. And those watching would have been left none the wiser - expect perhaps to feel they should steer clear of the whole morass.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Thank God That's Over

The blessed relief. Once the feeding and drinking frenzy ended on Stephen's Day, I was able to snatch some moments that seemed worth while:

1. Seeing Solerina, Beef or Salmon and Hedgehunter on a glorious day at Leopardstown. The beauty and nobility of the horses contrasting admirably with the bloated arrivistes who owned them. And then of course the cute tribe of trainers and jockeys for whom the whole show is run.

2. Walking across a deserted Barleycove beach in West Cork with my cavorting and delighted dogs - those labradors do so love the water.

3. A brace of pints in Levis's in Ballydehob and then across the road to feast at the estimable Annies. Sad that it's hardly likely that the Levis's experience will be repeated as the two old dears are very frail these days. The older one (Julia?) is very alert and misses little of the conversation - however she has problems with sores on her legs and is the weaker of the two. The other more taciturn one picks relentlessly at a large wart on her face between filling pints.