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.