Friday, June 29, 2007

Bullshit and Horse Sense

At this time of year an older man's fancy often turns to horses. The Epsom Derby was won with some authority by Authorised, with Frankie Dettori finally getting his Derby. But only in the absence of the black prince Kieran Fallon. Ascot was a bit of a damp squib but was livened up by those big old Aussie sprinters and their no-bullshit trainers. Aidan O'Brien had a good meeting with Yeats' win being the highlight. The horse is, like his namesake, a great stayer and improving with age. I had a fairly poor meeting from a gambling perspective but Mahler at 7-1 rescued me from penury.

Talking about Ascot, the BBC's commentary team is appalling. Willie Carson was a wonderful jockey, a whirling dervish who never gave up. But God is he inarticulate when it comes to talking about racing. When he does get a coherent sentence out, it's usually some banality. He is flanked (nay overshadowed) by the great bulk of Claire Balding - a jolly hockey-sticks type whose main claim to fame is bursting into tears when her father (the great Ian Balding) won some big race. She's an amiable earnest type but again incapable of moving beyond the banal. The third member of the team is some harmless cratur presumably brought in to provide racial balance. He's young, cheerful, hard-working and relentlessly gormless. He clearly knows very little about horses.

Contrast them to the Channel 4 racing team: the incomparable John Francome, the shrewd and knowledgeable Jim McGrath and the astute Alastair Down. There is that bufoon McCririck of course but he's confined to the betting ring and provides harmless colour. The thing I like about the Channel 4 crew is that they obviously like a bet and can be ruefully amusing about their failures. Also, they are not so close to the racing scene that they are reluctant to offend anyone. Trenchant stuff from true professionals and always entertaining with their informed banter.

As for RTE's racing team of Ted Walsh and Robert Hall. They bugger description. Ted is a working trainer and shouldn't even be doing this job. He's sure to observe how one of his horses is not trying - if that ever were to be the case. And he's too close to the whole Irish racing scene to snitch on one of his buddies either. Instead he has adopted the cringe-inducing role of the plain-spoken unpretentious horsy man who calls a spade a spade ("that mares a right little tinker" etc.) - but it is a sthick that has grown tedious and forced. We are no longer amused Ted. Robert on the other hand lives in an area beyond bland. Special subject: stating the bleeding obvious. The only member of the team that gives value is the rarely seen Tony O'Heihr. He is an excellent commentator but is also clearly a man who likes a bet. You can occasionally detect a tone in his voice at the end of a race that gives some indication of how his luck has gone. It's a subtle thing but worth listening for.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Premier Cru?

Tipp's alternative name (the Premier County) is becoming an embarrassment, at least from a hurling perspective. They deservedly lost heir epic Munster battle with Limerick yesterday and few fans could really quibble. Everone's enthusing about the 3 great matches and the excitement of it all - I'm just left musing at what's gone wrong. Looking at Babs Keating's belly I wonder if it symbolises the current state of Tipp hurling - we've gone soft. We need a lean mean Ger Loughnane type.

I remember vividly the last All-Ireland they won in 2001 against Galway. At the end of a comfortable win for Tipperary, the jubiliant young team did a circuit of the pitch waving at their supporters. One player, the immortal Declan Ryan, walked apart from the celebrating players. He seemed to be looking around the stadium as if to soak it all in for the last time. This was his third All-Ireland victory and the end of a glorious career. Some of the younger players there that day (Eoin Kelly, Eamon Corcoran, and John Carroll) should have had a good look around as well because it looks like it'll be a long time before they play in an All-Ireland final again. This Tipp team lack character.

Limerick won because they showed greater strength of character and hunger. They were also physically braver. Players like Mike O'Brien epitomised the Limerick team. He's not very big and he's not very skilful but he put himself about with absolute physical abandon. The same went for the more (much more) substantial Mark Foley. Tipperary were a far more stylish and skilful team but they failed the physical test. Time after time it was a Limerick hand that plucked the ball from a thicket of hurleys and burst downfield. The modern game is so fast and furious that artistry alone will not suffice, and in fact often plays a secondary role. Seamus Butler is a lovely player but is shy of the physical commitment to go with it. The Moran brothers have both qualities as of course does Eoin Kelly for Tipp and Eamon Corcoran. But too many players went absent. Where was John Carroll?

Limerick won't win the All-Ireland this year. In fact I doubt that they'll win Munster. They dominated Tipp yesterday and yet barely won. They hit 13 or 14 wides to Tipp's 5 or 6. For all their heart, they lack a cutting edge. Most of their points were from long range. They were not a threat around the goal. I fear that the Munster teams will soften each other up over the next 2 months and Kilkenny will claim another title.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Christopher Hitchens at the Gate

Went to see Christopher Hitchins (a onetime intellectual hero of mine) at the Gate Theatre last Sunday where he was debating his latest book, "God is Not Great" (what a clumsy title) with John Waters.

The raison d'etre for this book at this time seems questionable - I could understand it being controversial 25 years ago but most of what he referred to would be commonplaces to any semi-educated person today. Of course there are Islamic fanatics who would willingly blow us all to perdition and we must be politically aware of this and ensure it doesn't ever happen. But a lot of it was banal stuff about how deluded people were to not accept evolution and how you don't need to be a Christian to do good deeds. Hitchins made much of his regular blood donations - his proof that you can do good without religion.

All in all the whole thing was a travesty. Firstly it was chaired by Brenda Power who was plainly in awe of Hitchins and allowed him to ride rough-shod over the whole proceedings. John Waters, a regular church goer apparently, was strangely subdued and allowed Hitchins to sneer and patronise him without much in the way of robust response. Waters' main argument was that the desire in man for religion and a life of the spirit indicated that it was intrinsic to our nature. He conceded that organsied religion had failed to satisfy this spiritual hunger. While Waters was speaking, Hitchins was smirking and playing shamlesssly to the audience.

The rot set in during a chaotic Q&A. The first question (admittedly rambling) was asked by Derek Dean (late of the great Freshmen showband). He was plainly not happy with Hitchin's theories but got cut off rudely when he tried to persist with his question in the face of Hitchins refusal to engage with him. He got no help from the Hitchins fan in the chair. When a question arose that Hitchins wasn't happy with he just said "fuck off - next question" and was appaluded for his efforts - both implicitly by the impotent Power and explicitly by the baying audience. The one interesting question about how his advocacy of Bush (a great God botherer) and his policies in Iraq tied in with his thesis he just plain refused to answer - and again got the apporval of the audience. How strange, maybe it was packed by members of the Irish humanist association or some such coterie of cranks.

But Hitchins went way down in my estimation. Galloway's description of him as a drink-soaked popinjay may indeed be true. He is fluent, articulate, and even witty occasionally (but with flashes of truculence when challenged) but he now smacks of somone whose metier is the chat show and the smart-arse quips - a shallow idle fellow whose given up on intellectual rigour to be a performing seal for TV.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sodomised by Sir Anthony's Serfs

Today's Sunday Independent has a feature on a little legal spat I'm having over a blog I published briedly on this site last December. I was interviewed over the phone (after a generous Joycean lunch in the Mansion House) by a carbuncular young journalist from the newspaper and gave him my general thoughts on this matter. The gist of these was that it seemed "much ado about nothing". Imagine my chagrin on seeing me quoted as saying that the relevant blog entry could be viewed as "tawdry innuendo". Now apart from the legal rashness of admitting anything that could be construed as "innuendo" - anyone who knows me knows that I would never admit to writing anything "tawdry". So what do I do now, sue the Indo for misquoting me. Perhaps I should sue tham also for publishing a godawful photograph of me looking up like St. Sebastian in the midst of martyrdom - shame on you Tony Galvin. Also, my friends in the IT industry will be well amused at its description of me as "a high-flying exec".

But in the end it's my own bloody fault for talking to them in the first place.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tipperary in Doldrums

Watching Tipperary struggle to put away a game but limited Limerick team last Sunday filled me with forboding for the summer ahead. They may come back and beat Limerick but they won't beat Cork or Waterford and ultimately wouldn't beat Kilkenny if it ever came to that. On a day when there was a minute's silence for the great Kieran Carey, it was evident that this team lacks both character and characters. Eoin Kelly was unfit and subdued - and, by the way, targeted for softening up by Limerick. Apart from him there is not a major figure on the team. No Jimmy Doyle, John Doyle, or Michael Maher; no Donie Nealon or Theo English; no Tony Wall, Jimmy Finn or Pat Stakelum. And definitely no Nicky English. There are flashes from John Carroll but he disappears for long periods. The once promising Philip Maher seems never to have recovered from his long-term injury. There are major problems in defence, especially at centre half back and the full-back line. And they are far too reliant on Kelly up front. It's going to be a long cold summer for Tipp fans.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gruesome Twosome

Had my Saturday morning disturbed by happening upon Dunphy's interview with Anne Madden on RTE Radio 1. I was captivated by the sheer awfulness of it all. Dunphy at his most fawning and deferential - Madden at her most queenly and mannered - her self-esteem a thing of wonder. The great unspoken of course is that nobody would be the slightest bit interested in Anne Madden if it were not for her being married to the great Louis le Brocquy. This also goes for her impending show at IMMA. Her art is slight and decorative and I can think of 50 Irish artists more deserving of a show at IMMA.

She made much (encouraged by the shameless Dunphy) of her relationship with Beckett and Francis Bacon. Funny how I never heard mention of her in any of the biographies I've read of these two. Bacon, she claimed, said she had a third eye - this enabled her to guide le Brocquy in his work.

She does have nice taste in music mind you. She chose a fine John Coltrane piece and wonderful version of the Miserere by some Oxbridge choir.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Trashy Emin

Tracey Emin eh, you've got to hate her. The trashy art: can't paint, can't draw, banal conceptual nonsense, coarse sculpture and pointless installations. Then we must endure her constant references to her abortions, rape, and venereal diseases. The frenetic self-publicising and social round far from the islanded peace desired by the true artist. And the misplaced hubris. The twisted face is hardly her fault but it's hard not to see it as the objective correlative to something within that causes her to spew forth such garbage. She has the look of an 19th century street walker who's been through the mill (nice legs though).

There is something fundementally unpleasant about her work. This is not the grotesquerie of Otto Dix's social observations or Goya's depictions of war. Her Her work is banal and lacks both the wit and the technical skill of these painters. This is particularly true of her efforts to draw and paint. Her contribution to the Venice Bienalle is depressing - particularly the abortion water colours (, which combine naivety and nastiness. And don't get me started about that unmade bed.

In recent weeks I've noticed that Lynn Barber in the Observer has become a fawning fan. Two long articles and numerous asides about "my friend Tracey" suggest that this former scourge of celebrity has fallen madly in love with her. How else can you explain the malign old broiler's references to her "magnificent cleavage" and "gorgeous work" - total uncritical adoration. How weird.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Book of Evidence by John Banville

I got to this late. I had recently finished "The Untouchable", a much more florid novel, and was impressed enough to visit Banville's back catalogue. This is a very different type of book. The sociopathic first person narration reminds me of "Lolita". The similiarities to the McArthur case are marked. Freddie Montgomery, the narrator, is from the same social mileu and has the same flakey career trajectory. The appalling scene where the servant girl is beaten to death with the hammer is very similar to what happened the nurse in McArthur's case - right down to the detail of the ambulance guiding him to the hospital. The apartment in Dalkey becomes a house and the Attorney General becomes an art dealer. The raffish social scene seems similiar also. This is a very creepy book albeit written beautifully. If Banville's aim was to bring us into the mind of an affectless sociopath then he succeeded. Here and there we see evidence of Banville's intellectual interests. He uses Nietzsche's "those who look too long into the abyss" aphorism in an unattributed manner late in the book. A dark exquisite masperpiece.