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.