Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Annual Viewing of the Bono

Apart from the occasional wedding or funeral I only go to church once a year - to the Christmas Day service at St. Patrick's in Dalkey. This is a low-key and friendly affair presided over by the benign Ben Neill - what a great name for a vicar. A feature of the gig is the number of badly behaved children wandering about the place and creating a rumpus - a state of affairs positively encouraged by our Ben. As with most Protestant services it's more social than spiritual - no incense or mystery but a decent choir and some hearty hymn singing. The are the usual party favourites: Hark the Herald Angel and Away in the Manger but the highlight was a beautiful rendition by the choir of Harold Darke's austere In the Bleak Mid-winter. A feature of the event is the annual appearance of Bono in our midst. He usually arrives late and sits in the balcony (choir?) and is accompanied by his toothsome wife Ali and two attractive daughters - one a dark-eyed siren. His two young sons seemed to be missing this year. They all march up to communion together - Bono wearing an elaborate pair of silver-framed aviator type glasses, OTT perhaps but now his trademark. Ali greets and kisses female friends on the way back but Bono remains stoic behind her.

Afterwards we shake hands with the bould Ben and the congregation mills around outside chatting in the unseasonably balmy weather - and Dublin bay sparkles below.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Farewell to the Cruiser

So farewell then Conor Cruise O'Brien (who died last Thursday) - that rarest of creatures: an intellectual and an Irish politician. He was one of the first to see Haughey for the venal creature that he was and all through his career showed courage in airing unpopular views. His book States of Ireland argued for the rights of the Unionists in any political solution to the problems in the North - time has shown that this was the only way forward. He had his blind spots and was frequently wrong-headed. His pro-Zionist book on Israel, The Siege, ignored the plight of the Palestinians and was a disgrace. He was popular in Africa for his anti-colonial views - but not so popular with his paymasters in the United Nations who brought an end to his diplomatic career. He was also the first prominent Irish man I can remember getting a divorce. It's hard to think of a more articulate, colourful or provocative figure in Irish public life over the past 50 years.

He did cause me a big problem in San Sebastian back in the Seventies. I was staying with an Irish girl friend in the city and we went out one night to do a tour of the Basque bars - eating pinchos and drinking San Miguel. She was a woman with strong, if not rabid, Republican views and when I started singing the Cruiser's praises she became so incensed that she dashed her glass to the ground and stormed out into the night - covering me in drink in the process. Worse was to come, when I eventually returned to her apartment (after enjoying the Basque singing that is a feature of San Sebastian night life) I found I was locked out. Luckily it was summer.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cobh Rambler

Roy Keane eh, aren't you sick of him. Thanks be to God he's gone from Sunderland and we are no longer exposed to his querulous post-match ramblings. But what will our lazy sports media do for a story. I notice Gerry O'Sullivan on Newstalk is particularly bitter about his departure and has taken to snapping at those who ring into his show and fail to show the proper respect for his idol.

Roy Keane was a great player, second only to Liam Brady in Ireland's hall of fame. He combined strength with finesse and brought an intensity of effort to every match. But he had a fatal flaw - he despised everyone who didn't share his dedication to the cause, and alienated them accordingly. He left United after criticising his fellow players, he left the World Cup after criticising his manager, and he left Sunderland when his players turned against him and failed to perform.

Yet there were hints of hypocrisy amidst this seeming dedication. As a manager he commuted from leafy Cheshire while most of the players lived amid the dark satanic mills of Sunderland.

Like many great sportsmen he's not very bright or empathetic (sensitivity and imagination are not positive attributes in sport) and his various post-match pronouncements at Sunderland were more stream of consciousness than reasoned analysis. And one of the key attributes for any manager is a talent for real politik, a talent that Keane ("I don't do directors") clearly did not possess.

Let's leave him now to his domestic idyll and his labrador.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Nothing for Something

GBS had it right when he opined that gambling “is an activity whereby you get nothing for something”. Most gamblers will agree, if they are honest, that in the long term they lose. Of all forms of gambling, roulette is the most foolish and random, but horse racing comes pretty close. Predicting the antics of a horse on any given day is fraught with risk, not to mind divining the intentions of trainers, jockeys, and owners. Throw in the slings and arrows of the average race and the most careful scrutiny of the form book is no recipe for even fleeting success. I know all this and more and yet I still like to have a bet, at least once a week – usually on Saturday when there’s more choice and the races are televised. I’ve been doing it since I was 15 years old and even managed to sustain the habit while living in Germany and the Middle East – through online accounts. You go through winning streaks and prolonged losing runs but it only takes the occasional day like last Saturday to keep you at it.

I like to bet in the bigger races as the horses are more likely to run on their merits rather than save themselves for better handicap ratings. And last Saturday the Hennessy Gold Cup, one of the top steeplechases of the year, caught my eye. I never back favourites and always look for value for money – a horse on offer at a higher price than you expected. David Pipe’s horses have been out of sorts so far this season but early on Saturday he had a couple of winners at lowly Towcester – an indicator that the stable may be coming back into form. He had a horse in the Hennessy called Madison du Berlais who had run creditably in the race last year – always a good indicator – and seemed very overpriced at 66-1. Also, his trainer had expressed satisfaction at some work he’d done earlier in the week. He could easily sneak a place I thought so I stuck €50 on him (€25 each way). He was in the first two or three for most of the race, sticking to the inside and jumping neatly. A couple of fences out he was joined by a couple of the fancied horses but he out jumped them over the last two fences and stayed on gamely to win by a couple of lengths.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Buzz at Buzzers

Went along to the De Vere art auction at the Berkeley Court last night to gauge the current state of the art market, and perhaps to rob a striking little Dan O'Neill I had my eye on. I arrived on time but there wasn't a seat to be had - a good indicator in these austere times. A feature of the show was the eight works by Donald Teskey - most of them top quality examples, especially a beauty of Dun Laoghaire. There was also a large nine-piece painting of cats by Shinnors (owned by a face about town), that begged to be broken up into individual works.

The story of the night I suppose was that good work sold for good prices and poor work didn't sell. Around 60% sold but there was little of quality left behind. There were a number of bargains to be had: a sinister little Martin Gale went for €4,200 and a striking Patric Pye charcoal for a mere €800. I let my little Dan O'Neill go for €2,800 but am still suffering remorse. I can see those eyes staring at me.

All the Teskeys bar one sold - many for well above their reserve. A smashing George Campbell of looming nuns went for €52,000 - twice its estimate; while a poor William Scott oil failed to reach its reserve. Shinnors' cats didn't sell (it's a cumbersome size) but two other pieces by him went for substantial prices. Paddy Collins continues to be unloved at auction and you couldn't give away the Michael Farrells. A newish name on the auction scene, Gearldine O'Neill got very good prices for a couple of colourful still lives. Not for me dear but I can see why she will sell. There was an appalling Bewick of rugby players that predictably went well and the glut of Charlie Bradys on the market meant that he didn't. A good time perhaps to get a couple. A lively night and I'm sure Buzzer (John de Vere) raised a glass of claret to Donald Teskey afterwards.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Phil Coulter Versus the Haka

Ireland against New Zealand at Croke Park, a unique occasion, never perhaps to be repeated. There was a wonderful atmosphere in the buildup but isn't it appalling that our riposte to the haka is a bland Phil Coulter song. The shame of it. The crowd played an active role in the first half, disrupting lineout calls and becoming frenzied the few times Ireland broke out of the NZ half. But after the penalty try and the early score in the second half things petered out. The NZ defence was impenetrable so at no stage did Ireland look like scoring a try and in fact spent most of the match defending desperately. The team just lacked the power, speed and intensity of the All Blacks - especially the South Sea Islands contingent, who seem to make up a large proportion of New Zealand teams these days. Of course it's the start of the Irish team's season while NZ are battle-hardened after a testing campaign - and they had their very best team on duty. But Ireland were poor in most positions. I've never seen O'Gara so tentative - his first kick was charged down and he looked a haunted man throughout. There was plenty of aimless kicking to the NZ back three, asking for trouble and getting it. As we were efficiently decanted from Croke Park I was inclined once more to ruminate bitterly on the freakish chain of circumstances that led this NZ team to lose the World Cup a year or so ago - and cost me a pretty penny.

And what of Munster versus New Zealand today? What a farce, Munster playing without their ten Irish internationals surely have no chance. Their novice pack will be devoured, so their classy back line (mostly from the Antipodes) won't get a sniff of the ball. Let's hope NZ treat it like an exhibition match and don't humiliate us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

RHA Annual Exhibition 2008

The good, the bland and the ugly - although as always the bland predominates. What stood out? A big powerful Teskey seascape (although it teetered between landscape and portrait size in a disconcerting way), a couple of typical Martin Gales, a smashing Mick O'Dea portrait of a woman against an orange background (such expression in the face compared to the waxwork efforts of James Hanley), a couple of moody pieces by Francis Matthews, and some classy visual poetry from Eilis O'Connell. Nick Miller disappointed with his lacklustre and inaccurate portrait of Sean McSweeney. McSweeney himself had an unusual landscape that moved away from his rural Rothko style - but still retained his characteristic iridescent green. Same as before stuff from Felim Egan, John Noel Smith, William Crozier (I just don't get it), John Shinnors and Liam Belton. There was nothing there I lusted after but would have bought the weird nude by Jack Donovan had I being in funds.

The redesigned building is a big improvement with a coffee shop and bookshop added and a few more discrete gallery spaces.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bare Bastion

Damn near choked on my kedgeree last Saturday when, leafing through the Irish Times, I happened on that photo-realistic painting of Nell McCafferty in the nude. It was only saved from being totally explicit by a fortunate fold of flesh. Is it not ironic that this bastion of feminist ideology is paraded before us for our delectation (well OK our prurient horror) like some page 3 girl. I attended the RHA annual show last night and encountered it in the flesh. Consdidering the current state of the art market I doubt anybody will pay ten grand for it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rugby Ruminations

Who to pick for our upcoming test against the All Blacks? We seem spoiled for choice in some areas - but our options are limited in the front five, out half, and centre. I think that Kidney will go conservative and pick the following team: Dempsey, Bowe, O'Driscoll, Fitzgerald, Kearney, O'Gara, Reddan, Horan, Flannery, Hayes, O'Connell, O'Callaghan, Wallace, Heaslip and Ferris. The back row is the biggest imponderable. He could pick Jennings, Wallace and Quinlan or Jennings, Heaslip and Ferris but I reckon he'll prefer Wallace to Jennings. He'll never risk Earls at full back will he? Mind you he brought in Denis Hurley in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup earlier this year so he does take risks. Horgan or Bowe - it's a toss up and the same for Flannery and Best. If O'Leary was fully fit he'd get scrum half but Reddan will get the nod on fitness - though hardly on form. Is O'Driscoll fully fit? He didn't push himself against Canada. He would be a huge loss as Trimble is not international class and Horgan struggles in the centre.

P.S. Got most of these right - O'Leary is a shock but he must be fit and if so is a good choice. Best may be in as the token Ulster man (I'd marginally prefer Flannery for his spirit) and Quinlan is the old dog for the hard course.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Shinnors Light

A new Shinnors show in the Wexford Arts Centre - featuring a triptych priced at €150,000, a record ask for the artist. The first impression you get when you walk into the shambolic gallery (no price list, unattended desk, poor lighting) is that Shinnors has gone abstract. The sections of lighthouses (the theme of the show) are depicted as black and white squares suggesting Sean Scully, an artist Shinnors claims to detest. There's more happening of course - check out the myriad flecks of colour that enrich both the black and the white. There's an occasional break from the severity of composition: a cat's tail, a sailor's shirt, and a ghostly nude, but the first impression endures.

Of the 8 pieces in the show only 3 had sold (and not the expensive one) the day I was there - a week after the opening. This is unheard of for Shinnors who always sells out. This can be partly explained by the location - an arts centre doesn't bring the big buyers - and by the recession. But perhaps Shinnors has pushed his prices just that bit too far and his buyers have cried enough.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?

Can you believe all the sanctimonious shite written about Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. So they rang Andrew Sachs and inferred, OK stated outright, that Brand had slept with his grand-daughter. So bloody what. If I had a grand-daughter who hawked her wares in a group called the Satanic Sluts I would just be grateful that she hadn't slept with Beelzebub. Their little squib wasn't particularly funny, and it certainly lacked wit, but the current fuss is quite disproportional. Look to the obscene machinations of the financial institutions if you want to be shocked.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

RHA Annual Robbery

The RHA in Ely Place is a fine venerable old institution - long may it thrive. It's a great space, very accessible, and has lost a lot of its traditional fustiness. Ok, the members still have to don their anachronistic drag on special occasions but they are a younger brighter bunch, full of fresh initiatives - eduction, life-drawing, innovative shows etc.

However, there is one serious blot on its escutcheon. The annual open submission show, once a wonderful platform for up and coming and established artists, has become increasingly difficult to get into. Perhaps this is because the age profile of the academicians has decreased and these younger guys are more prolific than the earlier generation. The members of the academy are entitled to enter up to 10 pieces each (could be a couple out here??) and if this allotment is taken up it doesn't leave a lot of room for outsiders. If you add the number of distinguished invitees (Shinnors, Teskey, McSweeney etc.), the chances get even slimmer. So isn't it time there was another Living Art Exhibition or equivalent open submission show to cater for the large number of applicants with nowhere to go? Come on Robert Ballagh get organising. And isn't it just a tad dishonest of the RHA to take €15 a painting from those optimists who continue to submit work. A couple of thousand do so very year - someone suggested that 4,000 did this year but I find that hard to credit.

The RHA should really issue a health warning to artists saying that those who apply are unlikely to get in. But of course that would remove a nice little revenue stream from an admittedly cash-strapped organisation. But should they be subsidised by the equally cash-strapped artists of Ireland?

And the selection process seems so random these days. A prize winner from last year has failed to get in this year. Someone who got in for 10 years on the trot suddenly doesn't get in for 2 years in a row - and so on whimsically.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gorge Rising

Listening to that risible old fraud Mary O'Rourke on Newstalk this morning I was so overcome by the odour of sanctity that I fair felt my gorge rise. She was defending Fianna Fail's volte face on medical cards for the over seventies by claiming that this would remove the likes of High Court judges and medical consultants from the scheme.

What she failed to mention was that the means test devised for the new measures also removes the large number of people in the private sector whose pensions have been ravaged in recent times. The bar has been set a few euros above the state pension. This means that if your much reduced personal pension gives you an extra €100 a week say, you will not get the medical card. A further crushing blow to all whose pensions disappeared as a result of world-wide financial chicanery. Of course those in the public sector are protected from these chill financial winds by their index linked pensions - these include Mistress Mary.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Heineken Cup Thoughts

The Heineken Cup is bubbling up nicely and there are a few tasty matches to look forward to this weekend, especially Leinster at home to Wasps and Munster away to Sale. On the evidence of last weeks matches you'd worry about Munster heading their group. The addition of a few tasty backs has them thinking they're French. They have begun ignoring their core values - kicking for territory and grinding wins out through forward possession. Also, they will surely not get an away bonus point against Clermont like Sale did. Sale of course are hot at the moment and as the season progresses things may change. However, Munster will do well to escape with a losing bonus point this weekend.

Leinster are so brittle that you don't know what to expect. How could they lose to Connacht? However I suspect that they will beat Wasps narrowly - the consequence of them losing would be dire. Overall I would narrow down this years Heineken Cup to Stade Francaise, Sale and Wasps. You can get 16-1 against both Sale and Wasps with Paddy Power, and 11-2 against SF. This might be a good time to have a bet. I think that the 6 group winners will be Sale, Wasps, Leicester, Stade Francaise, Toulouse, and Gloucester, with Perpignan and Cardiff Blues qualifying as best losers (they both have Italian cannon fodder in their groups). Oh and Munster to win the Magner's League.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Indigestion after a Feed of Bacon

In London last weekend for a cultural expedition, three art shows and a West End play on the agenda: Francis Bacon at Tate Britain, Mark Rothko at Tate Modern, an Irish art show at the John Martin gallery, and a play (Riflemind) directed by Philip Seymour Hoffmann over which I will draw a veil..

Bacon for breakfast on Saturday morning. I have always empathised with Bacon: admiring his dedication to the bohemian ethic, and sharing his life-long weakness for gambling. But I'm not sure I fully bought into his artistic reputation. This show pushed me over the edge. Each painting is a full frontal assault - showing you the reality lurking behind the painted veil. You marvel that such a camp and mincing creature could produce such powerful, visceral and nihilistic images.

The chronological layout is revealing: the artistic concerns map onto the biography. So much to confront and a wealth of incidental detail. The large triptych of the crucifixion has a swastika on the arm of  one of the thieves - its only appearance in Bacon's work that I can recall. Some of the most powerful work is inspired by the tragic and conflicted George Dyer, usually adorned with random splashes of white paint.

There are curiosities: a benign Pope Innocent X with his mouth shut, a couple of broody landscapes and a strange abstract stylised crucifixion.

I then head across the river by boat to Tate Modern - a fresh perspective on London's architecture. It's Saturday afternoon and the gallery is jumping. There are queues into the first Rothko room. It's a disaster. You can't view Rothko with large crowds milling around. His work doesn't give itself up immediately like Bacon's - you need to spend time with each work to absorb it. And in this space with this crowd it's just not possible. Also, there are too many paintings to handle - quantity diminishes the impact. The four large works that normally hang permanently in Tate Britain can be viewed in tranquility away from the hype and crowds associated with a big retrospective - this is the only way to encounter Rothko. His art needs peace and space and time for the imagination to engage - unlike Bacon's, which leaves nothing to the imagination.

Bacon, incidentally, had no time for Rothko,  or abstract expressionism in general.  In an interview with Melvyn Bragg he excoriated Rothko and was particularly dismissive about his use of maroon, a colour he apparently despised. But visual artists are notoriously critical of their peers - unlike writers.

Our third show was a visit to the admirable John Martin gallery in Abermarle Street (near Picadilly). This featured some good Martin Gales (all sold), some formulaic Shinnors (all sold) and some very weak Sean McSweeney's (all unsold). The market for Irish art has become more sophisticated and discerning.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Tansey

I was sad to hear of the sudden death of Paul Tansey last Sunday. He died in the middle of a game of tennis - a comfortingly good way for him to go, in the midst of vigorous life. I didn't know him that well. We went to Aintree a few years ago with a couple of other friends for the first two days of the National meeting, and I met him from time to time at dinner parties or in Nesbitt's. He was the most affable of guys.  We were hardly aligned politically but with Paul that was irrelevant. He had a remarkable talent for enjoying life and getting on with people. He loved to talk about horses and my rancher friend from California who was with us at Aintree established an instant rapport with him, and engagements with the South Tipperary Hunt were planned. As were games of tennis with me. His funeral mass in St. Patrick's Church in Monkstown was very well attended and provided a classy send off. His family were cool and articulate and his daughter was a perfect blend of true emotion and accurate remembrance. The coffin was carried out to the tune of "You've Got a Friend" - perfectly apt.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

La Clique at the Spiegeltent

My first visit in recent times to the Dublin Theatre Fringe Festival - the right-on side of the Dublin arts scene. La Clique is a kind of miniature Cirque du Soleil and all the better for avoiding the corporate giantism that has afflicted that idea. The event took place in the Spiegeltent - a kind of small top situated in the Iveagh Gardens. It was a balmy evening and the various food stalls were doing brisk business as lovers of varying sexual hues strolled through the tree crowned paths. I loved the lack of preciousness about the event. Drink was being served right through the show and not in those bloody plastic cups. Big bottles of Erdinger were being bandied about and one louser had even brought his own bag of Heineken which he shamelessly worked his way through in the front row. The tone of the show was relentlessly bawdy - even when acrobats or contortionists were involved. The opening song informed us that "sodomy is not just for animals" and things got more gamey as the night progressed. This culminated in a fairly conventional strip tease that ended with the artiste extracting a small red cloth from her nether portions - she then proceeded to draw it under the snout of a bemused punter in the front row. There was a lot of talented jugglers, balancers, hoop spinners and the like but what made the show remarkable was the fact that it wasn't just po-faced expertise, each act referred to itself in a self-deprecating and irreverent way - apart from the Asian hoop twirler who was so fucking fabulous that she didn't need to. Great stuff entirely.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Young Stalin

Just finished Simon Sebag Montefiore's rip-roaring biography of the young Stalin - a prequel to his wonderful "Court of the Red Tsar" (about the depredations of the older Stalin). You are always looking for clues as what set of circumstances created the monster responsible for the Great Terror (1.7 million shot dead in 1937/38). He was poor but very smart, a voracious reader and a mummy's boy. His father was a violent alcoholic. He studied to be a priest and was considered one of Georgia's finest young poets. He was a tireless womaniser. He lacked a permanent home until after the Revolution - dossing down wherever he fetched up. He spent some years in exile in Siberia, fathering children and becoming a proficient hunter. In later years he preferred gardening to womanising. In every situation he found himself in he had to dominate- he was the will to power incarnate. 

But beyond all these details the character of the man emerges in his photographs - in every one you can detect the same feral glint in his eyes. You suspect that nature not nurture produced the beast.

No Man's Land at the Gate

Pinter eh - master of the cryptic and the sinister. There's usually malevolence in the air and violence impending. And of course there is always something nasty lurking in the woodshed. But you know what I love about his plays is the way he relishes language. There's never any action of course, just verbal engagement. Don't ask me what this play in the Gate was all about. You had a well-heeled successful poet and a down-at-heel mendicant poet (of a kind that Grogan's used to nurture) and you had an enormous amount of drinking - mostly scotch. You also had the two sinister servants lurking. One poet seemed to lack money while the other seemed to lack the will to write. But what the hell, it was hugely enjoyable and Michael Gambon as the rich poet was a magnificent shambles.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Gearagh Days

Staying in an artist’s retreat outside Macroom for a few days -peace at last: no TV, no computer, plenty of music and reading and the odd canter across the coutryside.

The cottage is across from the Gearagh. This is a strange nature reserve that owes its existence to the flooding of the Lee Valley for the Inniscara hydroelectric scheme back in the Fifties. Many acres of ancient alluvial forest were disgracefully hacked down - this has resulted in the surreal sight of thousands of stumps sticking out of the water like seals' heads. The overall effect seems eerie rather than beautiful. Although about half the original area has been destroyed, the Gearagh still represents the only extensive alluvial woodland in Ireland or Britain - and it's a wonderful place to roam. There are miles of absolutely deserted paths through the reserve where you can get Wordsworthian with nature – and there are many thoughtfully provided benches along the way. An ideal place to murder your spouse - and plenty of watery grave options.

Macroom itself has little to offer the visitor apart from Golden’s (or "Gerard's" as the locals call it) – an Aladin’s cave of an old pub with decent music and an amiable clientele – and Quinlan’s classy design and craft store on the way to Killarney. It’s a market town serving its hinterland and has no interest in tourists – and it shows. The Cork Killarney traffic hurtles through the town making no concessions to pedestrians and one spot in the town centre (Murphy’s Corner) where the road narrows to one and a half lanes is a veritable death trap. There’s also a venerable old Protestant church near the River Sullane that has been left to rot and crumble – its grave stones lying at crazy angles. It differs dramatically from towns like Schull and Kenmare that are designed to grip the tourist buck. And there isn’t a decent restaurant in sight – join the lost souls in the Castle Hotel for shoe leather roast beef or industrial battered fish. Compare and contrast with the variety on offer in Kenmare where we retreated for a suberb meal – served in some style - in Mulcahy’s on the main drag. However, head out of Macroom towards Cork and about 10 miles away you’ll find the Thady Inn - a modest looking establishment that serves the best steaks in the world – and nothing else: no vegetarian option, no fish, no pasta – just steak and chips and onions and a simple salad. Perfection.

Out of town heading towards Coachford we pay a visit to Con Kelleher, art enthusiast (I remember him urging me to buy Kingerlee about 10 years ago), superb photographer, framer, Trad lover and man of very strong views. On the way in we meet Bill Crozier on the way out – still active and alert at 77. He was arranging some framing with Con and was now off with his rather bossy (and much younger) wife to buy oatmeal. Con works on the top floor of a restored mill. The purpose of our visit was to see his art collection – and very impressive it was. A lot of Shinnors going way back, a few McSweeney’s, three Tyrrell’s including a gem on metal and lots more besides.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Poulter, Cross and Cooper

Faldo the English man, and hardly a Hibernophile, picked two English players as his wild cards for the Ryder Cup - shock horror. I don't object much to either of his selections (OK I like Poulter - he's a cross between Payne Stewart and Rod Stewart) but Darren Clarke would have made a better team member.

Dorothy Cross on TV last night talking about her work and patronising some innocent Pacific islanders. Her kind of art needs an enormous amount of guff to sustain it and by God she's the girl for it. I prefer art that you can encounter without an intermediary. She kept referring to herself as an artist - a big claim. But she's a game bird with a talent for self-promotion and I do love her labrador, swimming alongside her uncritically.

Had a substantial bet on Kerry to beat Cork last Sunday but was made to sweat for my money. Colm Cooper is probably one of the greatest forwards ever to play Gaelic Football and he certainly proved it with the last goal - most players would have gone for a point at that stage. Now that's what I call an artist.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Golden Vision

An unexpected treat on BBC4 last night - a black and white film by Ken Loach (or Kenneth as he was then) called "The Golden Vision", based on the antics of a bunch of Everton supporters in the Liverpool of 1968. We get loads of wonderful period detail: the intruding priest (Everton were always the Catholic club), the bevvies, the pregnant birds, the long-suffering wives, Soho strip clubs, atmospheric slums, and moody shots of the towering stadium. You got Loach's political point - the energies of grown men totally absorbed by the great frivolity of football. But there's also the warmth, wit and camaraderie of the fans - amidst the deprivations of their daily life they keep their spirit and their sense of humour.

But the real treat for me was the interviews with the players from that era and the glimpses of various matches. That was a golden age for Everton, just after their famous 1966 FA Cup final win against Sheffield Wednesday (take a bow Mike Trebilcock) and just before their unexpected loss in 1968 to West Brom (hang down your head Jimmy Husband). I was a big fan myself in those days and the names still worked their magic. The solid and honest Brian Labone, the slight and mercurial Alex Young (the "Golden Vision" of the title) who looked like a minor Roman Emperor with his classical features and his blonde crinkly hair,
and the sublime Gordon West in goal with his film star looks and his hilariously short shorts. I remember him in the 1968 cup final when he didn't kick a single ball but rather threw everything - all the better to retain possession for a team that played elegant football. There was also the urbane Ray Wilson who played in the England World Cup team of 1966 - he was interviewed as he smoked his way to London on the train for a match against Arsenal. We caught a glimpse of the great Harry Catterick whose successful reign as manager was cut short by illness; and Everton's blimpish chairman John Moores who saw football as a device for keeping the masses under control by dissipating their energies.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Apotheosis of Padraig

It defies belief doesn't it - Harrington winning the USPGA and raising his tally to 3 majors from the last six. More than Norman, more than Langer, more than Olazabal and equal to the likes of Els and Singh. This seems more than a triumph for perspiration and his much vaunted dedication to practice. It's more a triumph of will and temperament. In both the British Open and the USPGA he took control over the closing holes as others faltered.

V. S. Naipaul: White Man Manque

Just finished reading Patrick French's "The World is What it Is" - a very candid biography of V. S. Naipaul.

The most astonishing thing about this biography is that it's authorised. One can only assume that Naipaul hasn't read it as the portrait it paints is consistently unflattering. However, it does all the while acknowledge his greatness as a writer. Maybe that's all he cares about, believing Auden's dictum:

"Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views
And will pardon Paul Claudel .
Pardons him for writing well".

The first thing to note about Naipaul is that he really wanted to be a white man. And in time he took on all the hauteur of an Oxbridge grandee - no doubt picking up his cues from the likes of Anthony Powell and Lady Antonia Fraser - he courted them and their ilk shamelessly and assiduously. He was born in Trinidad of Indian origin but was never happy with either designation.

The book tends to dwell on his two abusive relationships - one with his doormat wife Pat and the other with an Argentinian hottie called Margaret who seems to have brought him to life sexually and stimulated the most fecund period of his career. He kept the two of them going for ages, enjoying the movement between security and adventure. When Pat eventually died, he dumped Margaret and married an Indian woman dedicated to his service. What a hero.

The book is a rollicking read and full of wonderful detail about the upper echelons of British literary life. The author describes the sexually voracious Lady Antonia Fraser rejecting Clive James advances as he "wasn't from the first eleven". Presumably Pinter was.

I have always loved Naipaul's non-fiction (especially "Amongst the Believers and his work on Eva Peron and Argentina) but never got his far too folksy and characterful novels. This biography made me want to try again.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Toad and the Beaver ("A Dangerous Liaison" by Caroline Seymour-Jones

I never quite felt the same about Sartre after reading his autobiography "Words" many years ago. A slender volume full of bile and bitterness. I preferred the life (and love) affirming existentialism of Camus to Sartre's squalid misanthropy.

"A Dangerous Liaison" focuses on Sartre's relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. What a creepy duo. The patron saint of feminism pimping for the existential hero. Sartre quickly lost interest in sleeping with the relentlessly intellectual (and frequently unwashed) De Beauvoir - so she began sleeping with him by proxy. Their modus operandi was for her to identify a vulnerable young student, sleep with her and then pass her on to Sartre. The book goes into forensic detail about Sartre's peculiar bedroom habits - let's just say he preferred passive victims to active engagement. Most of these girls (and there were dozens of them) were young students usually far from home – looking for a parental figure, or swayed by the fame of their seducers. Unlike his nemesis Camus, Sartre didn't relish the cut and thrust of adult relationships.

This doyen of authenticity and enemy of “bad faith” also collaborated with the German occupation; and later refused to criticise Stalin or the Soviet system – despite all the evidence – until the Russian tanks rolled into Budapest. Also, he and De Beauvoir conveniently abandoned their Jewish girlfriend Bianca Bienefeld in 1940. No doubt Satre’s contempt for bourgeoise morality made these stances easier for him.

The book quotes John Huston's famous description of Sartre: "He was small, stocky, and as ugly as a human being can be. His face was lined and swollen, his teeth yellow, and to top it all up he squinted.” His own awareness of his physical shortcomings may explain his appetite for female reassurance - but no matter how many princesses this frog kissed, no magic transformation took place.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sharkey's Machine

Kevin Sharkey eh - what an operator: homosexual, heterosexual, professional victim, commercial hero, paramour of Sinead O'Connor (well OK, he claimed a one-night stand), artist manque but above all self-publicist extraordinaire. For the past few years we've had RTE, the Irish Times, the Tribune, The Independent and various light-weight magazines publish uncritical puffs for this creature - invariably telling the gullible Irish art parvenus that here is a good investment. We've even had the sainted Aidan Dunne, kindly art critic, interviewed on RTE and not having the balls to state the obvious about his artistic pretensions. His most apparent talent is for self promotion - how did someone so obviously devoid of talent get so many editors to promote him. His forte is for sub-Pollock abstract shite, dashed off.

However, his latest ploy has rendered all the aforementioned articles and uncritical puffs both ridiculous and pernicious. Sharkey has announced, through various media ads, a closing down sale at his gallery whereby all works are reduced by 50%. Now if I had followed the advice of the various organs of opinion that advocated investing in this guy, I would feel a tad disgruntled to find the value of my investment halved in one fell swoop. But therein lies the problem of following fashion and the trendy rather than obeying the evidence of your eyes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Weir at The Gate

It's always a pleasure to go to the Gate: easy car parking, great view everywhere in the auditorium, well acted, professionally presented theatre.

The program cover told us what this play was all about - it featured a shot by the Magnum photographer Martin Parr of the Mayflower Ballroom in Drumshambo, Co. Leitrim - some time in the early Eighties. The image speaks volumes about spiritual desolation and quiet desperation in rural Ireland. The play was a more garrulous version of the photograph and was set in a pub rather than a ballroom. Sean McKinley was wonderful as the embittered old bachelor who had lost his one chance of love. It was all too believable and naturalistic - although I did wonder whether they were drinking real alcohol. Was the Guinness tap not working a ploy to enable them to drink alcohol-free lager - because it looks no different than its alcoholic equivalent. I brood about stuff like that. The play dwelt on the superstitions of those immured in the darkness of rural life (both real and metaphorical), and of their isolation and loneliness. There is no redemption, or much hope - just humour as a whistle in the dark. And lots of drink.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Harrington Does it Properly

Last year Padraig Harrington won the British Open by default - he fell over the line ahead of the collapsed Garcia. When tested he cracked under the pressure but was redeemed - luckily. This year he won it in style - as all around him fell apart: Norman, Choi, Wakefield etc. It was left to Rod Stewart clone Ian Poulter to set him a challenge. Having started cautiously (irons from the tee), Harrington faltered at the turn, but from the 10th he didn't make a false move and attacked the course like a hero. His shot at the 17th typified this courage. He could have laid up for a safe par but instead went for the hole with a five wood - curving the ball over the gorse and landing it four feet from the flag. This shot will be played on TV the day he dies. Now if only he could control that bloody child of his as well as he does his five woods (we had the little blighter running amok on the green after he holed out).

Nice speech at the end as well - gracious to Norman and Poulter - but unfair to plumbers: he recounted an incident from an earlier round where he was walking off the green after taking a double-bogey and a spectator tapped him on the shoulder and said "Don't worry about it Padraig, I've to go back plumbing on Monday".

Monday, July 07, 2008

Reign Ends at Wimbledon

What an engrossing Wimbledon final eh. You have to go back to the halcyon days of McEnroe and Borg to find an equivalent. Neither player deserved to lose – and neither blinked when facing the abyss. The margin between them was tiny. In the end Nadal made fewer mistakes. His style allows for a far greater margin of error – his strength lies in the weight of his shots, that heavy top spin forehand that kicks and swerves. Federer on the other hand goes for pin point accuracy – clipping the lines a speciality. But he leaves himself little margin for error. His backhand passing shot at match point in the fourth set was the best shot I have ever seen – allowing for context obviously.

Nadal is like Borg in his relentless consistency although Borg never had such power. His main weapon was the accuracy of his passing shots. McEnroe is more like Federer – he has a far greater repetoire of shots. All four share a steely temperament and exhibit amazing grace under pressure.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Italian Journey - 18th to 24th June (Part 2)

After Siena we negotiate our way across the rolling hills of Tuscany to Caprese Michelangelo where we have a party to attend. Good food, good company, good fun.

The next day, for our sins, a visit to La Verna high in Tuscan Apennines. This is where Francis of Asissi built a monastery and acquired the stigmata (or suffered the side effects of malignant malaria - take your pick). It's an epic location, an eyrie. We saw some of his relics, his scourge, his poignantly ragged habit, and a few blood-stained bits of cloth. We also saw the damp cell where he slept - no wonder the poor man died prematurely. The monastery is still a place of sanctuary and repose. The food in the restaurant is vile though - St. Francis would have approved of the pain involved in eating it.

If you ever plan to fly home to Ireland from Ciampino - Rome's second airport and home to Ryanair - be sure to spend your last evening in Frascati, only 15 minutes drive away. We ate out near the main square amongst locals of all ages - making sure to sample the refreshing white wine for which the area is known.

Bo Diddley - RIP (June 2, 2008)

So farewell then Bo Diddley – the gaiety of nations suffers a subtraction. He seemed to be around forever with his black bedecked hat and his rectangular guitar. He was a seminal figure in the history of rock. Without him we’d hardly have had the Rolling Stones and he was a major influence on Buddy Holly. You’d imagine that “Not Fade Away” was a Bo Diddley song but in fact Holly wrote it – inspired by the Bo Diddley sound. Holly also, of course recorded the song “Bo Diddley”.

It’s curious Bo Diddley also wrote the plangent “Love is Strange” – recorded by the Everly Brothers and Paul Macartney among many. He was best in small doses singing stuff like “Mona” (also recorded by the Stones), “Roadrunner” and “Who Do You Love”.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Italian Journey – 18th to 24th June (Part 1)

Action packed trip to Italy last week. Flew into Rome and holed up for two days in the Trastavere district – we stayed in the Hotel Santa Maria, an elegant little boutique hotel in the middle of a warren of alleys. There we dined outdoors in the hotel's own little orange grove. Schedule was hectic, Rome was hot (32 C), beer was consumed at regular intervals. Just to the right of the Spanish Steps was the Museum Di Chirico – you must book in advance, but it’s worth it. You get a private tour of the great man’s house and studio and you get to view dozens of his masterpieces, and a whole bunch of conventional academic stuff he did before he reverted to the signature style for which we know him (see right). You see his much younger wife’s double bedroom and his monk-like single bedroom. She was the model for a lot of his academic work and a fine worthy looking lump of a girl she was. A surprise for me were the beautiful Brancusi like sculptures he did mainly in silver and bronze.

We were with some visitors from the USA so certain tourist sights had to seen - at this time of the year, in this climate, that was a painful mistake. We cooked in the cauldron of the Colosseum; we sweated bricks in the Pantheon; and we trod the via dolorosa through St. Peter's Square. But from time to time there was respite.We visited the Capuchin Cemetery on the Via Veneto and checked out the mouldering monks and the beautiful decorative, albeit macabre, uses that their bones were put to. We also heeded the message therein: AS YOU ARE WE ONCE WERE - AS WE ARE YOU WILL BE. Nice.

But you know the great pleasure of being in Italy is the food and being able to dine outdoors with friends. Each evening we relished the first Prosecco and the slow procession through the menu - plates of pasta, plates of meat, and all the while the Montepulciano working its magic. We tried to stay away from the tourist areas and found some great spots without venturing outside Trastavere.

Driving is daunting in Rome with those pesky Vespas buzzing around you all the time. The trick, a taxi driver told me, is to drive as if they don't exist and they'll do the avoiding. Good advice I found out as I headed out of the city towards Siena.

Siena is a beautifully preserved city and is free of the curse of traffic. The cathedral is a striped marvel with a very unusual highly decorated bronze of John the Baptist by Donatello. We aim for nothing more than a stroll around and a leisurely meal at the Papei Trattoria - with a glorious view across Tuscany at dusk.

Leonard Cohen at IMMA - 15th June 2008

A truly epic gig. The portents were not good: showery weather; seats mostly on the same level spread over a greedily wide area; and the feeling that maybe Cohen’s best days were behind him. Surely at 73 he would just be going through the motions.

But the genial old boy confounded my pessimism and put on an unforgettable show – sustaining the power and polish for nearly three hours. He received maximum support from a multi-dimensional band, and a trio of angels on backing vocals. As if the foxy and talented Webb Sisters weren’t enough, we had Sharon Robinson lending a voice also. She has co-written a host of Cohen’s songs (“A Thousand Kisses Deep” , “In My Secret Life”, “Everybody Knows” etc.) - and she added texture and colour to his renditions of these classics.

The backdrop was sensational, ragged clouds, the Wellington Monument, and the darkling sky provided the canvas on which Cohen painted his masterpieces. The sound also helped – it was pellucidly clear and plenty loud. And the alienating layout of the seats was offset by the two giant screens on either side of the stage. This allowed us to catch every nuance of Cohen’s performance and plenty of closeups of his twinkling eyes – and they twinkled a lot as he basked in his rapturous reception.

I have never been a supporter of the view that Cohen is a miserabilist. He is acerbic and sardonic for sure, and occasionally ruefully reflective, but he’s also a great celebrator of life and especially love. “There Ain’t No Cure for Love” was one of the early highlights. And his acerbic side comes out with “Democracy” (“democracy is coming to the USA”) which got one of the biggest cheers of the night.

He seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly and doffed his fedora in a courtly bow to the audience after each song. He also regularly introduced his band and stepped back from time to time to allow them the limelight.

I fear we shall not see his like again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Art Market is Alive although Slightly Unwell

Went to de Vere's Irish Art Auction last night - a reasonable attendance but with a high proportion of dealers. The highlight was a characteristically whimsical Gerard Dillon which went for €200,000 (€90,000 reserve) - two big boys locking antlers I suspect. Overall about 75% of the works on offer sold although a lot of them were at the lower end of their guide prices. However it did suggest that rumours of the death of the art market seem wide of the mark. A modest decline perhaps.

Both Donald Teskey and John Shinnors bucked the trend and remain very strong. Also, of the dead school, Dan O'Neill and Colin Middleton continue to wax. On the other hand poor old Paddy Collins star seems to be on the wane - although the works of his on offer were not great. A Camille Souter work on paper ("The Champion") went for €60K - €20K above the higher end of the estimate. Although it's a powerful piece, I couldn't have got over the apparently wizened left bicep of the victorious boxer. It's not that we're looking for realism from her, it's just that this particular section occupies the focal point of the image. Also, a lot of Souter's work seems to be on materials whose durability would worry me. There was sharp competition for a characterful Caracciolo pencil drawing "Portrait of an Italian Girl" - an exquisite piece. It eventually went to Frank McGuinness, the playwright, who also bought a dainty little Mainie Jellet nude.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bolger ‘s Accidental Derby

So New Approach wins the Derby (Saturday 7th June) in the style of a very good horse indeed. What a jolt to the British racing establishment; and it showed in the sniffy post-race interviews. Bolger had dissed the Derby by saying that he would rather run the horse in the Irish 2,000 Guineas followed by the Irish Derby – he inferred that the Epsom Derby didn’t really rate these days. As the Derby grew closer he reiterated this and claimed that the horse had only been left amongst the entries due to an administrative error on his part.

Then six days before the race Bolger announces that the horse will run after all. Consternation all round – pious fulminations in the Racing Post – apoplexy in Newmarket and Lambourn. And you can imagine the effect all this had on the ante-post market – at one stage this putative favourite was as high as 209-1. Bolger maintained that the soft ground changed his mind and that he was delighted when the owner’s (Sheik Mohammed’s wife no less) agent rang to discuss running the horse. He also asserted that his administrative error was the "best mistake" he ever made.

The bottom line of course is that all this is pious guff. Bolger didn’t want to run him but the owner saw a Derby opportunity (it’s a race Sheik Mohammed has never won) and made the decision. I’m sure Bolger can endure the humiliation – all he needs to do is look at his Derby trophy.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Dare We Hope?

Settled into Fitzgerald’s in Sandycove to watch Cork and Tipp last Sunday. Sitting in front of me was an intense young Cork guy who was ignoring his comely raven haired girl friend as he followed every puck – groaning and cheering as the match ebbed and flowed. I was with a Macroom man who behaved in a more restrained manner but still burned with the Cork passion for hurling - and with the tribal imperative to beat Tipp.

I kept quiet as Cork dominated the first quarter and it looked as if Tipp would be buried by half time. My phone grew hot with text messages from gloating friends in Cork. My Macroom mate made consoling noises. Then Eoin Kelly got half a chance, pivoted and flashed an unstoppable shot past the Cork keeper. The game turned on that instant.

Tipp waxed and Cork waned – especially after Paudie O’Sullivan missed a penalty – and Tipp were pulling away at the end. They looked fitter and more battle hardened than Cork and it seems their pro-longed league campaign did them a power of good. I also think that those three tough matches against Limerick last year brought on a lot of their younger players.

My phone grew cold again as my Cork buddies became mysteriously incommunicado. A few minutes before the end, lover boy in front of me got up and stormed out – followed at an Arabic distance by his foxy paramour.

Now it gets interesting. If Tipp beat Clare or Limerick in the Muinster final – and current form says they will – then they go straight to the All-Ireland semi-final and avoid Kilkenny. Dare we hope.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mary Lohan at the Taylor Galleries (22nd May 2008)

This is a major return to form – in fact more, it’s a creative leap onto a new level by an artist that I’ve long admired for her lonely, moody, atmospheric work. Her paintings suggest a watcher looking out to sea, taking in the intersections of shoreline, sea and sky. And never a building or person in sight. There's a cold elemental feeling to the work - suggesting the benign indifference of the elements (or that could just be me).

Her last couple of shows had suggested that she was stuck in a rut and her subtle variations on West Coast seascapes were beginning to look laboured and repetitive. Also, in those shows the paintings were subdivided to the point of fussiness into diptychs, triptychs and heaven forfend polyptychs. Apart from any aesthetic reservations, they were a pain in the ass to hang.

But this show is a revelation. There is a freshness of image and a variety of style and there’s not even a diptych in sight. The work is inspired by the East Coast this time, specifically the Blackwater, Tuskar and Ballyconnigar areas. The catalogue essay by Colm Toibin suggests that Lohan painted a lot of the work in a house he lent her in that area. It was obviously a source of inspiration to her.

There has been some changes to her palette as well. There’s a new grassy green that would not be out of place in a Sean McSweeney piece. Also in a few of the pieces she loads on the paint in a manner that suggests Paul Doran – but achieves a more resonant image. I liked most of the show a lot and was particularly impressed by the still, almost austere, works on paper – the Cush Strand series.

There wasn’t a huge turn out which surprised me – Lohan is a very popular artist. I keep thinking that Thursday’s in town are very difficult these days with late closing and horrendous traffic.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Of Junk Yard Dogs: Heineken Cup Final May 24th

I have attended many great sporting occasions: Ireland beating England in Stuttgart in the Eighties; Ireland beating Italy in the Giants Stadium; Tipp beating Galway in the 2001 All-Ireland Hurling final amongst them, but nothing compared to the experience of seeing Munster beat Toulouse in Cardiff last Saturday. The absolute intensity of the match and the amazing and moving spectacle of the Munster fans doing what they do made it a memorable occasion. Despite the closeness of the score (16-13), Munster were comfortable winners and controlled most of the match apart from the first 20 minutes and one aberration in the second half. They controlled it through the ferocity of their tackling (often double tackling to prevent the release of the ball), their superiority in the lineout and control in the scrum, and primarily their mastery of the dark arts of the ruck and maul where they regularly won turnover ball. Their junk yard dogs Quinlan and Leamy were central to all this while the thoroughbred Wallace was also outstanding. But aside from all these technical matters Munster won because they wanted it more and their passion and commitment was reinforced by the incredible volume of their support – both in terms of numbers and of noise.

A few images and observations:

• The ferry from Rosslare to Pembroke jammed with Munster jerseys - a spectacle spoiled for me by the intrusive Toyota logo. Let the drinking commence. The most common accent was the Cork one.
• The road from Pembroke to Cardiff full of Irish registered cars (from all counties) flying the Munster flag.
• Camper vans sporting Munster flags lining the paths on the way to the stadium.
• The centre of Cardiff a sea of red – everyone with pint in hand.
• O’Leary practicing his kicking and passing for about 20 intense minutes before the match started.
• Hurley putting Munster in trouble from the start by conceding an early 5 metre scrum and was never commanding under the high ball. Shaun Payne must have been feeling pretty hard done by as he watched from the stand. This was a mistake in selection that could have cost Munster.
• The small but animated Toulouse group near us chanting “too loose Anne” (Toulousain) – including a nut brown beauty with a wonderfully expressive face – especially evident when the first chorus of The Fields of Athenry rolled around the stadium.
• The stadium going from riotous singing to eerie silence in a fraction of a second as Elissalde ran up to take a penalty.
• Quinlan collapsing dramatically (a fraction of a second later than was convincing) after being kicked by Pelous. And then the entire Munster medical team rushing from the bench as if his leg had been snapped off.
• Cedric Heymans left boot hoofing the ball miles and his flash of genius for the French try - coming from nowhere as Munster were in seeming control.
• The whole stadium singing "Stand up and Fight" - a welcome relief from the "Fields of Athenry" - moving and all as that was in the context.
• Pelous and Heymans staying on for the post-match celebrations and gazing around the stadium in wonder as they soaked up the atmosphere. Respectful and classy.
• Quinlan presenting a boot each to the Tipp hurlers Nicky English and Donie O’Connell for their sons – a smelly souvenir.
• Quinlan seeking out Declan Kidney at the end of the celebrations for a prolonged embrace – Kidney had faith in him when O’Sullivan didn’t.
• O’Gara and Howlett going off together arms around each other as the rest of the team formed a circle around Kidney.
• The disgraceful state of the pitch made slippery from condendsation due to the closed roof.
• Encountering Mick Galway, Nicky English, and a bunch of old Tipp hurlers in the Yard Bar – a splendid spot in the old brewery quarter.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

I’m not a great fan of historical novels generally, although I remember being much entertained on a tedious return journey from Greece by a Mary Renault novel about Knossos. This book takes us into the world of the British navy in the late 18th Century and does so convincingly – but am I bothered? Well I suppose I’m mildly entertained although the accumulation of arcane detail can occasionally clog the narrative flow. The descriptions of setting up ships for naval warfare and the various stratagems employed to fool the enemy are entertaining, in a Boy’s Own sort of way. Less convincing is the psychological landscape depicted. Why was Maturin dreading Dillon’s arrival? What did Aubrey do to Dillon that made him sulk so? The explanations hardly seemed to justify the inordinate fuss. I did however discover what “loblolly” meant (it also crops up in Larkin's poetry). It is used to describe a boy or man who helps out the ship’s doctor by feeding the sick crew. But I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the rest of O’Brian’s work.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bye Bye Bertie

So Bertie’s gone. Yesterday was his final day as Taoiseach. He was last seen in Fagan’s pub in Drumcondra singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with a gang of his cronies. What a class act eh. Doesn't it make you feel proud to be Irish.

The Court of King Ronnie

Ronnie O’Sullivan eh, World Champion for the third time. Where would the world of snooker be without him? Snookered I’d say. Apart from his undoubted genius at the table, he brings a seedy charisma and a whiff of danger to a generally dull arena. Mostly I find the commentators and analysts more interesting than the players. Both Steve Davis and John Perrott are generous, articulate and perceptive analysts but most of the players are ciphers – joyless potting machines. Are Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire the same person? Is Shaun Murphy Stephen Lee’s younger brother? Is Peter Ebdon related to John Malkovich? Did Stan Laurel ever visit Scotland? It’s clear to me that John Higgins is a twig from the Laurel tree.

But it’s the neurotic unpredictability of O’Sullivan that keeps your interest. Will he score 147 or walk from the arena. Will he get bored and lose willfully. What proportion of his shots will he play with his left hand. What a three-ring circus he is.

He is in trouble for his schoolboy outburst in China but I suspect that the snooker authorities will go lightly on him. They need him more than he needs them.

Due Considerations by John Updike

I’ve always been an admirer of John Updike: an elegant writer and a perceptive and generous critic. This is his latest collection of essays and reviews and it’s a treasure trove. How does he do it? Such quantity and such quality. While you may encounter the arcane and the obscure you will never be bored – an amazing feat when you consider that a lot of these pieces were written to order. There is hardly a false note throughout, although I found the tribute to Tina Bown a bit mawkish – can she really be described as “personally unassuming”?

His subtle dissection of Colm Tobin’s The Master is a fine example of his skills. He gives Tobin credit for his fluent writing and for his research but asserts that the portrait painted is a blurred one – culled from the biographies. He takes Tobin to task for assuming that Henry James was a closet homsexual – there is a tendency for homosexuals in general to assume there’s more of it about than there actually is. Updike reckons that James was more asexual than homosexual – not uncommon amongst writers in those times (George Bernard Shaw springs to mind). He describes Tobin’s portrait of James as carved in soapstone – a less than oblique putdown.

In an essay entitled The Future of Faith he nails the vacuity of the Venice Biennalle in a couple of pithy paragraphs. He lists some of the ludicrous exhibits and decries its “abrasive irony and nihilism”. He bemoans a world where art is no longer “a physical work amenable to being housed and contemplated”.

His analysis of the poetry of Larkin is the best piece in the book for me. It’s a sympathetic and perceptive account that must send you back to the bitter sweet poetry. It’s also a swingeing rebuttal of the politically correct attacks on Larkin’s reputation by right on feminist critics such as the egregious Bonnie Greer.

He quotes a couple of contrasting (or complementary) bits of Larkin:

“the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.” (Aubade)


“We should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time” (The Mower)

But the book is full of little treasures – ruminations on literature, sex (still a key Updike concern), art, sport and even a piece on poker.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Brian Maguire at the Kerlin Gallery

Agitprop as art eh. Long may Brian burn with political passion. Quite a lively portrait of Patrice Lumumba, a giant suffering Allende and a lot of dirty angry expressionism. Not much happening in the way of sales but you can’t have it both ways. His heroes are hardly heroes of the bourgeosie. Or his concerns theirs.

Timothy Hawkesworth at the Taylor Gallery

Good to see a new artist at the Taylor – well new to me anyway. They are inclined to rely on their tried and tested stable of artists. On first encounter the work suggests Jackson Pollock (a chaos of swirling colour) and you feel that this show is an anachronism. But on closer inspection they are quite different - the swirls don’t cohere the way Pollock’s do. There’s something different going on here. Hawkesworth’s own words describe them best: “rectangles of burning consciousness”. Well worth a look.

Tipp Top

A harbinger, a harbinger. The last time Tipp won the National Hurling League (in 2001) they went on to win the All-Ireland. This was a very impressive performance for this time of the year. You could see the passion and engagement. Every time Eoin Kelly scored, he would turn and shake his fist in encouragement at his team mates – urging them on to even greater heights. Lar Corbett seems back to his best as well – scoring a goal of great poise. There wasn’t much in it but Tipp kept their cool when Galway got back into it and Butler’s point ensured the victory. Bring on Cork. And it was nice to see a more intense Tipperary manager. Liam Sheedy has that lean and hungry look. A stark contrast to his media-loving fat boy predecessor.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Winnie & Wolf by A N Wilson

Herein lies the danger of book clubs. Left to my own devices I would never pick up a book by A N Wilson. I know of him as a writer for the Evening Standard and The Spectator – the twin organs of right wing England. One addressing the hoi polloi and the other the more dim-witted members of the Oxbridge set. He is also a writer of populist histories and biographies on subjects no interest to me: Hilaire Belloc, John Betjeman, the Royal Family, Sir Walter Scott etc.

So of course I approached this book with my prejudices and pre-conceptions on red alert. They were not disappointed.

The book is divided into parts, each named after a Wagner opera: Tristan and Isolde, Parsifal etc. Maybe these operas parallel the action described in the different sections but unless you’re familiar with Wagner you will never know. Wilson gives you a tedious summary of the plot of each which provided me at least with little illumination. Throughout the book you get little essays on Wagner, Bayreuth, the Weimar Republic, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche etc. These are irritatingly opinionated and seem to reflect the prejudices of a young fogey (such as Wilson) rather than those of a contemporary of Hitler. He accuses Nietzsche of anti-semitism in The Birth of Tragedy on palpably nonsensical grounds: Nietsche was an advocate of the Dionysian, Socrates on the contrary stood for the Appollonian, therefore Nietzsche didn’t like Socrates. Socrates had many of the qualities we associate with Jews; intellectual rigour, hard work etc. Therefore Nietzsche didn’t like Jews. Make sense? No, I didn’t think so. And Nietzsche was always an admirer of the Jews. Here’s a quote from Human all too Human on the Jewish nation:

"the most sorrowful history of all peoples, and to whom we owe the noblest of all human beings (Christ), the purest philosopher (Spinoza), the mightiest book, and the most effective moral code in the world. "

Wilson also seems to have some kind of cloacal obsession: referring frequently to Hitler’s farting and bringing up that old canard about his coprophilia. This is schoolboy stuff.

And then you get him playing around with historical fact. So in this account Hitler actually executes the leader of the SA Eric Rohm himself. This never happened and in fact I don’t recall Hitler ever getting close to violence and executions in the way his contemporary Stalin did.

And of course the central promise of the book has Hitler and the gruesome Winifred Wagner having a child. An event made highly unlikely by Hitler’s obsessive avoidance of procreation and famously low libido – not to mention the lack of any historical evidence. That’s fiction for you I suppose.

Rocco Tullio at the Cherrylane Gallery

It’s always a pleasure to get out to the Cherrylane Gallery in Delgany on a Sunday afternoon – particularly when the weather allows you to gather outside. And Michael and Robert are amiable hosts.

Tullio’s work reminds me somewhat of Gwen O’Dowd’s, or occasionally Tim Goulding’s. Some of the smaller encaustic landscapes are excellent. He has a reputation as a talented portrait artist and there is a straightforward charcoal piece of Skellig Michael that demonstrates his skill as a draughtsman. However, the bulk of the show is made up of moody expressionistic landscapes with splashes of reds and yellows suggesting fires and dawns. Generally the show is impressive, if not very original, but when he moves away from encaustic to oil (or acrylic?) the work is flat and uninteresting. I suppose encaustic lends a heft and ambiguity to paintings that oil by itself cannot.

Whatever about Tullio’s artistic future he will hardly starve in a garret. The show was opened by U2 manager Paul McGuinness – who happens to be Tullio’s godfather. McGuinness damaged his arm falling off a horse on the morning of the show. He had asked John Boorman (the film director) to stand in for him should he not make it. An impressive duo to launch your solo career. Both ended up saying a few words: McGuinness with his arm in a sling, Boorman looking fit and dapper with his dicky bow.

There was a huge turnout of Wicklow bohos – foxy ladies with ethnic jewelry and roguish eyes. Chris de Burgh was there with his fragrant wife and so was Neil Jordan – dressed, as usual, like a refugee from a Salvation Army hostel.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Munster Abu - Heineken Cup Quarter-final

Munster eh, how do they keep on doing it? One reason is the palpable espirit de corps in the squad - in contrast to the Irish squad. Also, the experience and intensity of their forward play has now been augmented by a trio of hard and dangerous backs from the southern hemisphere. Add a couple of up and coming local lads and suddenly Munster are looking like a complete team. Spare a thought for poor old Peter Stringer though – cast off by Ireland and now by Munster. The best passer of a ball we’ve had since John O’Meara and he’s discarded for Thomas O’Leary (who was fine) - just as O’Meara was discarded for Andy Mulligan (who was rarely fine) many years ago.

For the first 15 minutes Munster were on the back foot but thanks to resolute tackling Gloucester never looked like getting over the try line and when the usually metronomic Patterson started missing his kicks the Gloucester assault began to wane. Slowly the wheel turned and Munster began to strut their stuff in mid-field. Some inspiration from O’Gara and Howlett led to Dowling strolling over in the corner. Gloucester never threatened thereafter. Bring on the Saracens.

The gigantic Vainakolo on the wing for Gloucester with his elaborately coiffed hair looked as if he was going to Mardi Gras rather than playing rugby but an early encounter with Leamy soon put him right on where the party was. Leamy and Quinlan were heroic but I’d expect nothing less from a couple of Tipp boys. For Gloucester Simpson-Daniel was their best player and should clearly be playing for England instead of the other high-stepping peri-wigged galoot.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Sketches of Cuba - Part 5

One notable feature of Cuban life is the rarity of crime or violence on the streets. We walked down the meanest streets at all hours of the day and night and never once felt even slightly intimidated. And these are people who have nothing – a bunch of plump tourists would surely suggest rich pickings to them. You can attribute this to a constant police presence on the streets – but this presence is not too obvious or intrusive – just a couple of policemen every street or so as you walk around. This is a presence we could do with in Dublin.

On my last night I had my mobile phone snatched as I walked down a crowded street. This was my own bloody fault as I was ostentatiously texting someone with my left hand stuck out invitingly – thumbing away like a hero, in a country where mobile phones are like gold. It was snatched and gone before I had time to react. A shadowy figure disappeared into a darkened park and as I turned. I rang O2 and the account was disabled within minutes – not bad at about one in the morning Irish time.

The following day we headed to the Mirimar area for our last lunch. We took a taxi there from our hotel. On sitting down to lunch I suddenly realised I had left my bag with passport, airline ticket, wallet with credit cards, and about €1,000 in cash in the back of the cab. That ruined my appetite as I considered the awful implications of this piece of carelessness. I suffered for about 20 minutes when suddenly the taxi driver walked in holding my bag.

So Farewell then Bertie

Bertie going eh - after suffering the death of a thousand cuts. It's hard to see him as a corrupt figure, more morally amorphous I suppose. We can only speculate about why he was shifting all that cash around during the period he was separating from his wife.

He was the epitome of Fianna Fail - no discernible political philosophy, just all things to all people: cheerfully philistine, friend of big business, sensitive to the will of the big unions, but ultimately believing that the devil should take the hindmost - like his US friends. His legacy should include the disgraceful failure to improve our health and education services during a period of prosperity. (Hanafin is already saying we can't reduce class sizes because of a downturn in the economy - thereby begging an obvious question.)

His claim that he has left a "stronger and fairer Ireland" is palpable nonsense. The Ireland he has left has never been so divided between the haves and the have nots. And as for the tosh about Fianna Fail being the "republican party", who can credit that these days? Has he done one radical thing to improve the quality of our life in this country? Look at the violence in the streets, look at the traffic fiasco. Perhaps his efforts on the North are his best legacy. And his only piece of memorable legislation was the smoking ban.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Sketches of Cuba - Part 4

One of the undoubted highlights of our trip was the visit to Hemingway’s old home – the place where he put down the deepest roots and wrote some of his best known books including For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea and A Moveable Feast. Hemingway was devastated by the Bay of Pigs invasion because it meant that he could not return to Cuba and this beloved home. He committed suicide 3 months after the invasion.

The house is called Finca VigĂ­a (or Lookout Farm - there is a tower-like structure to the left of the main building) and is set on 15 sloping acres of mango, and avocado trees on the outskirts of Havana. The contents of the house have been preserved as if in aspic, frozen in time. We see his Cinzano bottle, his dandruff lotion, his Glen Miller record, and touchingly one of his signature eye-shields lying on a pillow. I wasn’t much impressed by the candlewick bedspreads – but maybe they were the height of fashion in the Fifties. There’s a Newsweek magazine speculating on the liklihood of a Kennedy presidency.

The rooms are dominated by the results of his big game hunting exploits – the stuffed heads of various deer, buffalo, moose and wild cat. There are also thousands of books showing the breadth of his reading.

You are only allowed look in the windows where each room has 2 or 3 staff doing some desultory dusting or occasionally giving impromptu lectures of the contents of the room they’re in.

Out back Hemingway’s boat is docked forever and there are the suspiciously well-tended gravestones of four of his dogs. A twee touch for such a butch guy.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sketches of Cuba - Part 3

Hiring a car is not to be lightly undertaken in Cuba. The cost is prohibitive and the paperwork formidable. You get the impression that it’s not commonly done.

When you get out on the road you soon discover why. There are no road signs whatsoever so in trying to get on the road to Santa Clara (one of the biggest towns in Cuba) we got totally lost and had to take a local on board for about 15 miles to set us right. A feature of driving on the largely empty roads is the huge number of people hitching – many holding up bundles of pesos to encourge you to stop. It’s the same in Havana where every set of traffic lights has a few hitchers trying their luck.
Also, there are numerous giant potholes that would render night driving extremely hazardous. The complete absence of street lighting means that only the foolish would drive at night in any case.

Anyway off we head to Santa Clara with the Che Museum our main goal. As you enter the town the giant monument of Che dominates the skyline. There is a vast square around it where presumeably ceromonies are held to honour the great man. The museum is under the square and attached to it is the mausoleum where Che’s bones were laid when they were finally dug up from their Bolivian grave.

The museum is a moving memorial to Che’s life. We even get his Irish grandmother’s chair. There is Che as rugby player and young medical student. You see pictures of him on his motor bike and climbing mountains. And plenty of his sojourn in the Sierra Maestra as they engineered the revolution: Che extracting a tooth, Che riding a mule; Che reading Goethe in a makeshift shelter.

The mausoleum in a separate area under the giant statue. There is an eternal flame and each of the 37 rebels killed in Bolivia have a separate niche in the wall decorated with rather insipid reliefs of their heads. There is also a real flower – a small lily - adorning each niche. There is no talking or even whispering allowed while in this area – and this rule is rigorously enforced by the attendants.

Santa Clara itself has little to offer visually but come Saturday night the whole town gets out and struts its stuff in a small square near the public toilets. There is a large and enthusiastic band and everyone, old and young, gets up and dances. Great fun.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sketches of Cuba - Part 2

In the bar of the Hotel Telegrafo in old Havana we were enjoying a mojito in the late afternoon when we noticed a peculiar character at a nearby table. He was engaged in animated conversation with a handsome Spanish-looking women in her early forties. He was compeletely bald and vaguely reptilian looking – it was hard to determine his age but I reckon in his fifties. (For an idea of what he looked like do a search on “Gollum” in Google images.) But it wasn’t his grotesque appearance that caught the eye, it was his peculiarly animated manner. He was hunched forward talking to the woman in a very intense fashion, there seemed just too much intensity for such an innocuous scenario. There was also some coming and going with the bar staff and the security guys – with all of whom he seemed familiar and at ease. He was either a local or at least a regular and he spoke the local language. A little later a young girl (15 or 16?) joined the couple – she was tall slim and extremely beautiful – more Spanish than Cuban looking. She looked timorous and apart from her very manicured nails and the tatoo on her lower back seemed an innocent abroad. It was also clear that she hadn’t met the old creep before. After a little conversation between the three of them, the older woman got up and left. And Gollum then gave her his undivided attention. He ordered some food for her and as she picked at it he hunched forward talking to her intensely - all the while gripping her thigh. Her body language bespoke her unease as she tilted backwards away from him. We left them to it but speculated at what on earth was going on. Was this a flagrant example of underage prostitution in broad daylight – or was there an innocent explanation.

It seems not, for the next morning when we came down for breakfast, there was Gollum and this girl dining together. While they hardly acted like a loving couple, she went about the breakfast buffet in a blithe and unconcerned fashion. He maintained his creepy intensity of manner as he devoured his breakfast. The strange thing was not the apparent prostitution per se, but rather the flagrantly obvious way it was conducted. Prostitution is illegal in Cuba and the security forces do clamp down on it from time to time. The only explanation I could venture was that our friend Gollum was in fact a member of the security forces. And, given his command and ease in a very upmarket tourist hotel, a senior member at that.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sketches of Cuba - Part 1

My first visit to Cuba – but not my last. We only got to Havana and Santa Clara – the east of the island remains to be explored.

We stayed in the Hotel Saratoga in old Havana – a relic of colonial decency and style. It had fine big airy (and clean) rooms and a very professional and helpful staff. Its crowning glory was its rooftop pool where you gaze in wonder across the crumbling tenements and general squalor that is downtown Havana – and then turn back to your mojito and check out the action around the pool.

Across the road from this hotel is the Marti Theatre long disused but now being renovated – slowly. This theatre was named after Cuba’s greatest freedom fighter and Castro’s hero, but during the Batista era became a venue for burlesque shows and striptease. A goad no doubt to the idealistic Fidel.

The food, oh dear, oh dear. The next time I will take preemptive action by bringing my own basics. It was generally vile (yes, thank you Bom Appetit in Mirimar for that one decent meal) – especially the breakfasts. And this criticism also embraces the otherwise excellent hotels.

Also, while the hotels are the glory of old Havana, they are very expensive if you book them on the Web. Wait until you get there and then book into the Saratoga, the Sevilla, or the Telegrafo – all fine relics of colonial splendour.

Cubans curiously are not allowed into their own hotels – at least the big tourist hotels. This is a strategy that allegedly protects tourists from the rapacious prostitutes and hustlers. And the rule is zealously enforced by the ever present and ominously lurking security staff. However, the same security staff will blatantly pimp their own girls for a not very modest fee, or sell you illicit cigars if you take your oral gratification elsewhere.

The hustling generally is not too bad – I was approached in quick succession by a very well-dressed one-legged man in the Museum of the Revolution and a man with two stumps for hands in a nearby market, but they were easily repulsed. At night however things get more intense. Any night club or music venue we went to involved being mobbed by importuning women – all dressed to kill and many very beautiful. It became so tiresome on one occasion (at the famous Casa de la Musica in Havana’s Mirimar district) that we actually gave the music a miss and retired to our hotel bar. The alternative was to enter the venue festooned with women.

Any trip to Havana has to involve a walk along the Malecon – especially during the day. A favourite sport seems to involve sitting against the wall and letting the waves crash over you – dozens of youths in their swimming togs seemed to spend the afternoon doing this. Keep walking and you’ll come upon that old mob relic the Hotel Nacional. The terrace around the front of the hotel is a fine place to lounge and regain your equilibrium.

There are symptons of a lack of basics but this doesn’t seem to include food - if you consider rice and beans food. And the populace seems well fed. It does involve things like soap, toothpaste, deodorants etc. There was the well turned out security guy at the Museo de la Ciudad who spoke to me at length in excellent English about the museum and its history. As I was leaving he asked me did I have any pens. I gave him the one I had in my pocket and he went off well pleased with himself.

There is music everywhere. Not just in the hotel lobbies and the restaurants but on street corners or coming from the windows of tenements. In Santa Clara the whole town turned out for a Saturday evening concert in a square near the public toilets and teenagers and grannies danced happily side by side – but not, of course, together.

A lot of the bands passed through the various restaurants and there was the usual hustle for the CD but they were so good that you just coughed up with a will. However I did develop a violent antipathy to both Guantanamera and the plangent Besame Mucho before the holiday was over.

I was also impressed by the level of street activity. Aside from the musicians there always seemed to be a game of baseball on the go involving people of all ages. And it was hard to walk down any street without seeing someone tinkering with a car. Considering a lot of the cars in Havana were over 50 years old, there must be an untapped wealth of mechanics in the country.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Art and Fashion

Of course we all know that the art market is driven by who’s hot and who’s not rather than by any intrinsic merit in the work. And the whole area of intrinsic merit in art is vague and amorphous anyway.Who’s to say? Clement Greenberg? It takes centuries for the dust from the critics’ bullshit to settle and for the fashion bubble to burst. We know the likes of Titian and Goya are beyond reproach. But will history be kind to the flat and affectless work of Warhol? It has been so far. But I’d be uneasy if I’d paid $77 milion for one of his works as a punter did in Sothebys recently.

And what will history make of Damien Hirst? One of his paintings (from the ‘spin’ series) sold at an anonymous auction in Co. Monaghan recently for €380. A dealer later bought it from the lucky punter for €95,000 with a view to extracting even more on the open market. It’s the fashionable name and not the shining merit of the work that matters to the market. The work detached from the name can blush unseen.

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

How lust doth dance attendance on old age. The latest novel in Roth’s late flowering is much concerned with country matters. The itch never goes away – the ability to scratch it sadly does. Becket would be proud of a protagonist who’s not just impotent but also incontinent. And yet the fire burns. This novel is about his unrequited, and unrequitable lust for Jamie – the Texan heiress and writer manque. It’s also of course about the writer’s life and the vexed trade of the biographer.

It’s a riveting read. The critics complained about lacunae, the section on George Plimpton especially. I had no problem with this – and saw it as all of a part with the narrator’s decline. He saw Plimpton as an exemplar of the kind of physical engagement that he was no longer capable of.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Old Men Don't Read Novels (John Banville in UCD 20th Feb. 2008)

Banville modestly intruded himself into the lecture theatre about 10 minutes late. He was introduced by the auditor of the Philosophical Society - a smirking ingratiating creature in a tight suit – he reminded me of the young Alexi Sayle. A very unphilosophical looking figure. Unless of course hedonism is the dominant philosophical movement in UCD these days.

Banville began by making some stock joke about the North Side origin of his journey. “I’m a Northsider” he said – so he’s obviously disowned his Wexford origins.

He read quite rapidly from a prepared speech – occasionally his diction was unclear. He was dressed like a modest academic: sports jacket, light shirt, unassuming tie, all understated and unmemorable.

The first part of the lecture was a quick gallop through Beckett’s biography with several acknowledgements of Knowlson’s contribution. He obviously favours Knowlson’s biography over Tony Cronin’s. Some interesting observations about Beckett the lothario – describing how he had three women on the go at one period, including his future wife. He quoted the old one about Beckett declaring that “sex without love was like coffee without brandy”. He also mentioned that Beckett had an no nonsense utiliterian attitide about sex – he obviously liked coffee on its own as well.

He made much of Beckett’s appreciation and knowledge of art amd maintained that he would have made an excellent art critic. Beckett particularly liked Caspar David Friedrich’s “Two Men Contemplating the Moon” and cited it as an influence on “Waiting for Godot” – they have a tree in common anyway. He was also a big fan of Cezanne. This is an area well covered (and very interesting) in Knowlson’s biography. He saw in Cezanne’s work the fundemental incommensurability of man and nature – something Beckett’s work constantly asserts.

The main thrust of the lecture was a celebration of his mature masterpiece “Ill Seen Ill Said”. Banville claimed that one of the reasons he agreed to give the lecture was that he wanted us all to go out and read it. He also emphasised the role of Beckett as an exemplar for writers – he described him as a model of probity and tenacity and suggested that the hawk was a good comparison.

An interesting exchange, at least for Beckett geeks: Banville quoted Knowlson’s assertion that Beckett’s famous epiphany took place in his mother’s room rather than on Dun Laoghaire pier (this was the occasion when he realised that he would affirm the negative). He was in turn corrected by an elderly member of the audience who said that Beckett had told him that the epiphany actually took place on the pier in Greystones – within sight of his mother’s room. So now you know.

The whole thing may sound earnest and worthy but in fact it was well leavened with humour throughout (as indeed is Beckett’s work). He told the story of Beckett heading to Lords for a cricket match one gloriously sunny day when a friend turned to him and said “it’s great to be alive”. Becket paused for a second and retorted “I wouldn’t go as far as to say that”.

The session finished with a Q&A. When asked what he read these days, Banville replied that “old men don’t read novels” – a novel answer from our leading novelist. He reads mostly poetry and philosophy he claimed and mentioned Philip Larkin and Wallace Stevens.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Melly's Last Stand

I watched a BBC2 documentary on the last days of George Melly last night. Melly gave an heroic and colourful last performance as he lay dying of an array of fatal diseases (two cancers, heart etc.). His wife Diane was the star of the show however. As he lay in what would shortly become his death bed she escorted an array of former girl friends to say their last goodbyes. Included amongst them (for shame George) was that disgraceful old broiler Molly Parkin – dressed all in purple including an alarming purple cupola of a hat that added about 12 inches to her height. Parkin had tried to steal Melly from Diane many years ago and had suggested in print that Diane should be committed. (A dispassionate observer would put Parkin away these days.) Their doorstep greetings were less than warm but Diane explained that this was for George and her feelings were irrelevant. What a game bird. She also claimed that they hadn’t had sex since 1981. On the one exception to this Melly informed her afterwards that he had the clap so that was the end of it for her. She blithely informed us that he had plenty of girlfriends that looked after him in this regard.

The final scenes were very touching as they carried the old trouper on stage for a farewell gig at the 100 Club off Oxford Street. He gamely croaked a few valedictory blues but really it was a way for his fans to say goodbye – you could see it in the intent eyes of the audience. His spirit remained intact to the bitter kind. When asked how he felt by some well intentioned visitor, he retorted “How do you think I feel, I’m dying for fuck’s sake.”

I saw him at the Cork Jazz Festival about 10 years ago and he was hilariously scabrous. The nations will be less gay with his passing.

What a Gore

Just finished Gore Vidal’s memoirs “Point to Point Navigation:”. It’s disappointing. First things first, if you have already read his excellent “Palimpsest” don’t bother with this. There is a huge amount of repeated material. It has a scraping of the pot quality to it that doesn’t do justice to a writer that I generally admire. The sense of a dearth is reinforced by the large font and lots of white space. There is also a lingering elegiac quality to it that suggests it's his last attempt to set stuff down on paper. There is some alarming evidence of Vidal’s occasional blind spots. One is a fawning homage to Princess Margaret that ignores her well-documented boorishness. The other is where he describes Charles Haughey as the onlie begetter of Ireland’s new-found prosperity. Now if you’re using one sentence to encapsulate Haughey I suspect that your emphasis may be placed elsewhere. “The man who fiddled while Ireland starved” or “The unprincipled leader of an unprincipled party” or some such. The book is also full of Vidal’s shameless name dropping and endless rehashing of his family history and his various interactions with the Kennedys.

But Vidal is better than all this. He has written some very serviceable novels (“Lincoln” especially) and he has been one of the most discerning and acerbic writer on US politics over the past 30 years.

Cathal O Searcaigh

You really have to laugh at Maire Mac an tSaoi and Pauline Bewick coming out to defend the sex tourist aspects of the poet Cathal O Searcaigh’s visits to Nepal. (And doing so on the execrable Joe Duffy Show of all places.) When a fat unprepossessing middle-aged man goes to a third world country and manages to have sex regularly with very young males or females (and 17 is very young) ones suspicions are aroused. What’s in it for them? Well in places like Thailand it’s obvious – it’s money. In Nepal there may have been no direct offers of money but there was certainly dispensing of largesse: books, English lessons, scholarships, bicycles, and in one case it seems a new house. In a deprived country O Searcaigh represented opportunity and escape to the young people he encountered. And he took full advantage of this for his sexual gratification. This is sex tourism.

I’m as liberal as the next man but I find this creepy and exploitive. And isn’t it alarming that the arts establishment (well OK certain prominent figures in the arts establishment) came out to bat for him? And isn’t it also alarming that he seemed not to see anything wrong with exploiting these vulnerable children? And don’t all those who contributed to O Searcaigh’s Nepal fund feel cheated now that they know that they were in fact paying for the improvement of his sex life?

And who cares if he’s gay or not – that’s a red herring. And no he should not be removed from school curricula. If you do that then you would have to make moral judgments about Shakespeare, Byron, Joyce etc. - and God knows what they got up to. Joyce's cloacal obsession, for example, might alarm some folk. Although Philip Larkin is probably a better comparison. All the biographical stuff that came out about his spanking magazines and misogynistic leanings do not render his poetry any less sublime – although some feminist academics and media whores would have us think otherwise. (Isn't that right Bonnie?)