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.