Monday, December 28, 2009

Sometimes It's Good to be Wrong

Munster's win over Perpignan in France last week was probably their best performance ever - in fact it may be the best performance by an Irish rugby team ever - except maybe for Leinster's win over Munster in last year's Heineken Cup semi-final.

The secret was motivation, as it was in Leinster's case. The triumphant cupping of the ear to the crowd by the Perpignan wing Burgur as he scored their third try in Limerick the previous week showed a lack of respect. Some loose quotes in the French press from a Perpignan player about Munster playing like an academy side added salt to the wound.

The whole team was immense, but O'Connell and Leamy stood out for the intensity of their efforts. What a loss Leamy will be.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gimme Shelter

A classic depiction of the Stones in their pomp and the debacle that was Altamont. Much is made of Altamont being the obverse of Woodstock - the place where the hippie dream died. Hardly. Altamont happened because the Stones and their advisors bought into the romantic outsider myth of the Hells Angels and made the disastrous decision to hire them as security for the concert. The Hells Angels took over and did as Angels do. There's one telling scene where a phalanx of them and their bikes drove straight the assembled crowd to a vantage point beside the stage. The peaceful blissed out crowd parted like the Red Sea to let them through. As the concert progressed the Angels grew more drunk and belligerent - crowding the stage, emanating menace, administering random beatings, and at one stage taking over the PA system. For all the Stones posturing with Sympathy for the Devil and Street Fighting Man, when confronted with the real thing all they could do was bleat ineffectually. There's a great scene involving a bearded ponchoed Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, blinking like some great wooly woodland creature as a lackey told him of the mayhem on stage "they hit Marty man". The Dead returned to their chopper and fled.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Leinster Wax and Munster Wane

Was that Heineken Cup semi-final last year a glitch from an over-confident team or the first sign that a great team was in decline and that Leinster had overtaken them. The evidence of this week's matches suggests that the latter is true. Leinster, without their brave new outhalf, were sensationally good. They have added a formidable pack to their brilliant backs. Elsom and Jennings were not missed as the backrow of Heaslip, McLaughlin and O'Brien ran amok. Nacewa was behind a lot of the creativity, aided by D'Arcy and Horgan - O'Driscoll didn't need to perform his normal miracles. I can't see them losing to anyone except perhaps Perpignan.

Munster on the other hand were defensively lax and stolid in attack. The pack did well, especially Leamy and Quinlan but the backs could do nothing with all the possession. Howlett missed tackles, Mafi ran into trouble, Warwick was undistinguished. It all looked stale and flat. Only that O'Gara found his kicking boots they would have lost to an admittedly very impressive Perpignan side. I think their glory days are over for a while.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

De Valera's Fault - Again

Reading extracts from the recent report on clerical sex abuse confirmed what we'd discovered earlier in the report on the physical abuse carried out at industrial schools by nuns and brothers. The religious orders treated their schools and churches like seraglios - if they weren't beating those in their charge, they were buggering them. And in either case these acts were carried out knowing that the law would not intervene. For in the Ireland designed by that spoiled priest De Valera (a regular visitor to his old friends the Redemptorists (Ok, Ok, the Holy Ghost fathers - same shit different name) in Blackrock), the state deferred to the church. The Gardai knew their place in the pecking order. Who can forget that image from the past of Bertie in the Dail on Ash Wednesday with an ostentatious display of ashes on his forehead. "Remember man thou art but dust" could apply now to his reputation. And of course we must remember John McGahern's sacking on moral grounds from his teaching job, not to mention the Mother and Child debacle. Rome ruled. Casey and Cleary fornicated. The priested peasants doffed their caps.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Recent Reads

Ship of Fools by Fintan O'Toole: Read this book and weep at the way we have allowed a collection of crooks and thimble-riggers to ruin us. O'Toole's polemic would inspire a revolution if had a critical mass of people in the country who actually read serious books. It is an expose of the cosy and corrupt cartel that runs this country. He's particularly good on the Ansbacher debacle and the abject failure of the Central Bank to police what was going on - even the sainted Peter Sutherland gets a slap in this section. The ruling classes, politicans, bankers, and the professions blatantly laundered their money off shore and the Central Bank turned a blind eye. When it became too obvious, the government introduced tax amnesties lest the great and the good suffer the wrath of the Revenue Commissioners. He also examines the disgraceful sale of Eircom at a time when we were trying to build a knowledge economy. There's lots of colour in this truly depressing book - most notably when describing the vulgar and ostentatious displays of wealth by the political elite and their paymasters in banking and the building business.

Blood's a Rover by James Elroy: Elroy's staccato mannered prose is only bearable in short chunks so this is the kind of book you dip into. Also, the narrative is so fractured that you are constantly trying to orientate yourself as the action constantly shifts locations and personae. But it's worth persisting with as every now and then you encounter perfect pithiness in the language - usually of a scatological nature: James Dean is "hung like a light switch", Sal Mineo "has a well travelled chute" (don't ask). Real live characters mix with the fictional ones so we encounter Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover and Sal Mineo along with sundry killers, junkies, CIA operatives, and mysterious molls. The time is around the Robert Kennedy asassination and the action moves from LA, to Las Vegas to Haiti.

The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave: Mildly diverting. Way too many masturbation scenes. Lively language, monstrous character, tedious story. And what's so special about Avril Lavigne?

Blood River: Tim Butcher: Surely to God it's impossible to write a boring travel book about the Congo in its current state? Butcher manages this unlikely feat. You get none of the sense of danger, violence and the randomness of life in is this benighted country. You do get lots of boring historical padding.

Friday, November 20, 2009

French Farce

For God's sake get over it. It's only a bloody football match - where randomness rules. It was bad enough having a Taoiseach who had a schoolboy crush on Manchester United, now we have one who goes bleating on about replaying a match just because the referee didn't spot a blatant foul. A bit of dignity and perspective Brian please. I recall Munster being cheated out of a Heineken cup final by the hand of Neil Back a few seasons ago. They took it on the chin and moved on - shit happens in professional sport. Quelle surprise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Read it and Weep

Anyone who cares about language, who relishes the pinpoint appositeness of a particular phrase, should read the novels of Nabokov and the non-fiction of Martin Amis. Here we have a fine example of the two juxtaposed from last Saturday's Guardian:

The snippets from Nabokov's novels and Amis's felicitous phrase-making combine to make the tastiest of appetisers for their main courses.

Read it and weep for your own shortcomings as a writer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Last Gasp at Croker

Instead of the customary brace of pints we started our rugby international day with a couple of mojitos at the Cuban stand in Jury's - part of some International Bazaar for charity. And then a taxi to Croke Park for Ireland versus Australia. It was unseasonably warm, dry turf, no wind, blue skies -ideal conditions for a good open game. And what a treat it is to have such a stadium. Aside from its visual impressiveness, it's easy to get to your seat, the pitch of the stands give you great theatre, and the facilities are a huge improvement on anything an Irish sports fan has encountered before - plenty of toilets for a start, and a chance to enjoy a warm Bushmill's.

The match itself was highly entertaining with Ireland snatching an unlikely draw in the last move of the game. They were on the back foot throughout after conceding a soft try in the first minute. This came through ring rustiness perhaps - although the speed of the Australian defence had as much to do with it as O'Gara's pass and O'Driscoll's fumble. Australia kicked intelligently and kept Ireland pinned back for a lot of the game, they also dominated in the scrums - with our lads getting poor ball as they retreated. But elsewhere we were more than a match for them. Kearney was excellent (apart from some poor kicking - too high, no length), O'Gara solid enough, and the ageless David Wallace a hero in attack and defence. But Paddy Wallace is a weak link, an insubstantial figure in a substantial team. Bring back D'Arcy for God's sake.

And what a pompous tosspot Jonathan Kaplan is. I listened to him on the ref audio channel lecturing the players like schoolboys, and getting great deference in return. Give me Nigel Owen any day. And of course we get the usual debacle around resetting the scrum and the completely arbitrary penalties at the breakdown. What a f***ing mess the current rules are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Is it my imagination or has the whole poppy wearing thing got out of control? Remembrance Day is the 11th of November but this year people in the UK seem to have been wearing them for weeks - and they're still at it. This surely debases the currency. Also, it's become so pervasive you would wonder has it become compulsory? Does wearing it mark one as more patriotic (like the US flag pin during Bush's time)? Even the bloody football teams have jumped on the bandwagon. And of course you can't appear on TV without it - even in the most vacuous of entertainment shows. Now it would be churlish to argue with sparing a thought occasionally for those who died in the service of their country - even in a war as foolishly engaged in and as spendthrift of life as the First World War. However, we in Ireland, and not just Derry, can't help but feel a bit queasy about the whole business.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kidney's Choice

For the first international of the season the Irish rugby team to play Australia almost picks itself. The only doubt is in the centre because of D'Arcy's poor recent form. But I think that Kidney will pick him because of his tackling, rather than move in Fitzgerald or Bowe from the wing. Earls will be on the bench. Here's my guess: Kearney, Bowe, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Fitzgerald, O'Gara, O'Leary, Healy, Flannery, Hayes, O'Connell, O'Callaghan, Wallace, Heaslip and Ferris.

And you'd fancy them to run Australia very close, if not beat them.

P.S. H'mm, close enough. But I'd quibble with picking that lightweight Paddy Wallace in the centre.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Man Seeks Quiet Local with Good Pint

There is a sacred time every Sunday, an islanded hour, when I like to find a quiet corner in a public house and read the Sunday papers. An essential part of the experience is the accompanying two perfect pints of plain. And then home for dinner. In this vale of tears surely that's not too much for a man to aspire to.

But I am finding it increasingly difficult to achieve this modest aspiration in my neighbourhood. Take last Sunday. The pint in my local (Fitzgerald's) has deteriorated of late and besides the big match (Chelsea and Manchester United) means that it will be heaving with soccer fans. Finnegan's is a fine pub but its Guinness has never been great - and I hate that renovation they did. I have a grudge with the Queen's (an incident with the red-blazered basilisk that owned the place) and I never liked that weird little speedy bar man in the The Club. So I settled on The Ivory where I know the pint will be perfect, and there's usually a quiet corner. And indeed the pint is excellent but there's no quiet corner - I think they've added a few TVs. There were five or six of them blaring the bloody match. The place is crowded with the gormless, mouths open, intent on the irrelevancy of the Premier League. I can't settle so I depart in exasperation after one pint - papers half read. Maybe I should move to West Cork. It wouldn't happen in Hackett's.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hope at Last

The impossibly gorgeous, the impossibly exotic, Hope Sandoval appearing in Dublin. It's as if we had a visit from a unicorn. I have been an ardent devotee since the early Nineties when she sang with Mazzy Star. She went quiet in recent years but now has re-emerged with Colm Ciosog from My Bloody Valentine and a new band called the Warm Inventions. She graced us with her presence in Vicar Street last Saturday. A chance to experience that erotic and ethereal voice in the flesh.

What an extraordinary concert it was. The entire gig was performed in darkness with the band occasionally illuminated by the surreal films that were projected onto the back of the stage throughout the show. We caught glimpses of Sandoval's striking looks, her long skinny legs emerging from a layered white lace skirt, and the silhouette of her impressive embonpoint in a tight black top. But glimpses only. She spent a lot of the gig with her back to the audience noodling with a zylophone while she sang and when she did face the audience she had her hand over the mic at face level so her features were obscured. But the voice was as entrancing as ever. And the band and the film meshed with it perfectly to give us a memorable show.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kidney Failure

I'm surprised that Declan Kidney hasn't selected Alan Quinlan in his 39 man squad for the autumn internationals. How can Quinlan be good enough for the Lions' squad 6 months ago and not good enough for the Irish squad now? Could Kidney be making a statement about foul play? Does this mean that Shane Jennings' Irish career is also over? But then he has picked John Hayes. So maybe there's the more innocent explanation that he's looking towards the future.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's Official: Men Get in the Way

For years I've been labeled a backwoodsman and sexist brute for my single-handed campaign against men attending the births of their children. It's women's work I maintained - man's place is in a nearby pub. But from the early Seventies it became the norm rather than the exception - a by-product of feminism no doubt. All over the land ashen-faced males grimly did their duty, often distracting medical resources in the process. They came out afterwards speaking of mystical experiences rather than telling the truth about the abattoir it really was. Also, let's fess up lads, you never look on your partners in quite the same way again. The mystery is gone.

Now I see that my slightly dodgy rationale has been backed up by the much respected French obstetrician Michel Odent. He was being interviewed on of all places the Tom Dunne show on Newstalk. He had such a wonderful hammy French accent that I thought at first it was one of Dunne's spoofs - but no, it was the real thing. He maintained that men should not attend births for two reasons: it made the woman tense and so slowed the production of oxytocin, the happy hormone that makes the mother forget the trauma of the birth and helps breast-feeding; and it robs the woman of a lot of the feminine mystique she enjoys in man's eyes, an eventuality, Odent contended, that could have consequences later for the couple's sex life. His contention was that woman is best served by having another experienced woman, or mid-wife, with her. So relax lads, you're off to hook. Tell them Mr. Odent advised you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A World Undone by G. J. Meyer

This is as good a primer for the First World War as you'll encounter. It covers everything from its origins with the Serbs troubling the rump of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (a boil that was lanced with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand) to its conclusion with the redrawing of the map of Europe. It's particularly good on the political posturing and personalities that led to the whole debacle - military gung-hoism trumped political dialogue. It's brilliant on context. Besides the main action you get potted histories of the Ottoman Empire, the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It also shows, notwithstanding all the guff we read about the Somme, how the Brits stood back from a lot of the engagements and let the French and Russians suffer the cost. The casuality statistics confirm this scenario.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Not exactly a page turner like "In the Heart of the Sea" by the same author - but a revealing slice of early American life. There is not much on the voyage itself, the book concentrates on the fight for survival in the first few years. This fight was initially against starvation and then against the indigenous Indians that they were supplanting. There was not much to give thanks for on the first anniversary of their landing, half of the 102 that sailed were dead from scurvy and malnutrition. Their religious preciousness was soon forgotten in the battle for food and land. The most abiding impression you get is how amazingly resourceful they had to be after arriving in virgin New England: building, farming, trading, and fighting. A lot of the book describes various battles and skirmishes - mostly of course from a pilgrim perspective as the Indians left no records. The pilgrims had a nasty penchant for sticking Indian heads on spikes for the delectation of the populace. While the Indians were great men for the scalping. The book is strong on anecdote and character but a little weak on the broader picture - the role of England, the French, the other colonies etc.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The breath-taking presumption of that pompous prick John O'Donoghue in his risible and deeply disingenuous resignation speech in the Dail. He suggested that the people of South Kerry are so thick that they will be blinded to his obscene extravagances and look after him at the next election. If I were a voter in that region, and I do have a Kerry father, I would not be amused. I would be smart enough to realise that there is a connection between his incontinent (no wait a minute, unbridled is a more appropriate term) expenditure and the lack of funds for all kinds of causes worthier than his interest in the gee gees.

No Disrespect

What the fuck is wrong with us - Ireland I mean. The death of a very minor pop star - and by the way an apparently very decent guy - receives the kind of coverage in the national media that you might expect for Parnell or Michael Collins. While Boyzone are as charming a manufactured band as you'll meet in a month of Sundays, they are not momentous, they were (oh shit they are) limp, banal, and deeply derivative. Buddy Holly didn't die, nor even John Lennon. Let the poor cratur rest in peace.

And just to confirm that this was a celebration of the trite, Bertie Aherne turns up at the funeral suggesting a great loss to western civilisation etc. Dear God give me strength and courage.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sean McSweeney at the Taylor Gallery

Sean McSweeney's opening in the Taylor last Thursday was a bellwether for the state of the art market. This was a new show by one of our most popular and respected contemporary artists. It was a strong show with a very reasonably priced selection of works on canvas and paper. Up to recently he would always sell out - except for the occasional very large piece. All these works were quite small and very accessible with more colour than is often the case with McSweeney. A total of eight sold on the opening night. Not bad. There was a comparatively poor turnout, certainly compared to Brian Henderson's show there earlier in the month. But Henderson sold only one piece on the opening night - so you could say the market is becoming very discerning.

McSweeney himself was in attendance - a most affable man is our rural Rothko. He went out of his way to greet anyone and everyone. There was no preserving a cool distance from the hoi polloi. We all repaired to Buswell's afterwards for a few pints.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kingdom Come Again

The All-Ireland Football Final was a sad debacle if you were a Cork man. Actually it was a sad debacle if you weren't a Kerry man. Here's the bottom line: Cork froze, their big names did not perform; Kerry rose to the occasion as experienced teams inevitably do, their big names performed, and they got their tactics dead right (stop Cork playing, swarming defence, even Cooper back). It wasn't pretty. Tadgh Kennelly, feted by our craven sporting press, committed one of the most cynical, dangerous and mean-spirited fouls I've seen in a long time - in a notoriously foul-laden mean-spirited sport. He did it smack dab in front of the referee at the very start of the match and got away with it. And Nicholas Murphy, the recipient of the elbow in the face, was not the same man for the rest of the match. But this incident encapsulated why Cork lost. Kerry were darker, harder, better organised and cooler in the heat of battle. Cork will come back next year, wiser and wider (read cynical and mean-spirited) as they say down there.

Monday, September 14, 2009

William Boyd in Trinity

Went to hear William Boyd speak in Trinity last Saturday - fresh from reading his excellent latest novel - Ordinary Thunderstorms. He seemed the most amiable of coves, devoid of the kind of literary preciousness I detected in Colum McCann recently. He read an extract from his new novel and then answered questions from his meagre audience. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, which probably impacted the numbers. He spoke about his writing process (two years research, one year writing)and wasn't shy about sharing his opinion of certain sacred cows. He's not a fan of Virginia Woolf it seems and he wouldn't take Jeff Koons too seriously. He was very entertaining on the subject of Nate Tate: An American Artist - his hoax biography of an Abstract Expressionist. He enlisted such worthies as Gore Vidal, John Richardson (Picasso's biographer) and David Bowie in his plot and fooled most of the New York art establishment until the British press broke the story.

He also told us that a film was being made of Any Human Heart. I noticed Stephen Rea in the audience so maybe there's a connection.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Shine a Light

What a sad dispiriting movie this was. It basically showed the Rolling Stones cavorting in front of Bill Clinton and a bunch of celebrities for one of Clinton's charities. All well and good but hardly rock and roll. The audience looked like extras from Sex and City: plastic, overdressed, and lifeless - mostly well-groomed women of a certain age. And the music was a pallid echo of its former gutsy self. Jagger looked like a dizzy queen sashaying down the King's Road and Keith Richard was a gurning parody of his former cool self. Only Ron Wood was convincing - especially when he played pedal steel guitar on Faraway Eyes, one of the few bright spots on a dull night. The Stones have turned into an unconvincing tribute band to themselves. And Martin Scorsese, the creator of the wonderful Last Waltz has produced a real turkey, and not a wild one either.

Ordinary Thunderstorms

Just finished Ordinary Thunderstorms, William Boyd's latest novel. What a pleasure it is to read a good uncomplicated story, with an interesting cast of characters, and a fine sense of place. And one free from literary pretension and arty faffing about.

William Boyd can be relied upon for all this of course, we got it with Any Human Heart and Restless also. This story revolves around Adam Kindred's fall from grace through a chance meeting in London. It takes him from the cossetted world of hotels and credit cards and effortless living into a feral underworld of violence, dirt and hunger. Along the way we meet psychopathic hit men, corrupt pharmaceutical executives, and a randy police woman. We are also shown the London of council estates, begging and sleeping rough. It's a cautionary tale about how one slip can throw us back into the gutter. A tale for our times then.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tipp Undunne

I'm not sure what happened in the last 20 minutes of today's All-Ireland Hurling Final because I took the dog for a walk after Bennie Dunne was sent off and Henry Sheflin equalised with the subsequent free. I knew the tide had turned and Kilkenny would win - somehow, and I just didn't want to be around to see it. It was the ultimate irony that Tipp should have a man sent off after suffering the attentions of the thuggish agglomeration that is the Kilkenny backline for the previous 50 minutes. Dunne deserved to be sent off. He was practising the lost art of doubling on the ball but mistimed it completely and almost decapitated Tommy Walsh. It was a careless rather than a malevolent act. It came when Tipp were dominating but had fatally missed two easy goal chances and it turned the match. People will say that this was a gallant performance by Tipp and that their day will come. Bollocks, today their day came and they blew it. Dunne would be better emigrating to Australia now with all his close relations for he will endure daily recriminations from parish and county for the rest of his life.

CODA: Having watched the portion of the match I missed I still think the sending off was the turning point. It gave Kilkenny more space and more importantly more hope in a match that seemed to be slipping away from them. The penalty was a mistake by the ref but Kilkenny were making inroads at that stage - the tide had turned. After the penalty Tipp were deflated and beaten.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Moby Dick

I often find classics disappointing and either wade through them dutifully or plain give up. I remember failing miserably to finish the Brothers Karamazov because I kept getting confused about who was who - those Russian patronyms and everyone having multiple names. Anyway after enjoying In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbright, about the sinking of the whaling ship Essex by a giant sperm whale, I decided to check out Moby Dick - which Melville based partly on the Essex incident. And what a treat it was. I suppose I had expected something portentous and doom-laden, with Ahab a tragic existential figure. Instead you find that a lot of the book takes the piss out of him as do his unfortunate crew. There's a droll tone to the whole escapade - even the tragic conclusion seems but a merry jape. And the language, despite the many archaicisms, zips along like the whaling boat attached to Moby Dick. There's a modern feel to the way the author refers to his creation. At one stage we're told to pay attention as this is the most important chapter in the book. On another occasion he tells us that we should believe his story because of the real-life precedents that he can recount - these include the Essex's misadventure. The book is very good on the characters on board (Starbuck and Stubb), the logistics of whaling, the hierarchies of dining, and there's even a prolonged meditation on crow's nests (the lookout kind). The opening section on land is a bit tedious but once you climb on board the Pequod it's plain sailing. Buy it. Try it. You'll really like it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy RIP

The end of an era for sure. Aside from nostalgia for a figure from a lost age of promise, his departure means that Ireland no longer has a friend in high places. It also means that an ever-dependable liberal voice in the Senate is now silenced. Forget the mean-spirited obituaries, he made a mistake and paid for it by losing the presidency. You hear talk of his drinking and womanising. So what. If I had a monster for a father and three of my brothers had died violently I might also be tempted to reach for the bottle occasionally, and overreact to a well-turned ankle. He fought the good fight tirelessly in the Senate and as one of his final acts had the prescience to endorse Barack Obama and live to see him bring his brothers' political philosophy back to the White House.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Insolence of Office

You have to laugh at the emerging details (courtesy of the Sunday Tribune) about John O'Donoghue's travelling habits when he was a government minister. The brazen sense of entitlement to private jets, five star hotels and chauffeurs everywhere - it fair takes your breath away. The latest revelation had him paying €472 for a chauffeur to take between two terminals in Heathrow. And all for what? Some po-faced factotum in the relevant department maintains that he was representing the Irish people blah blah at an important race meeting/tourist board lunch blah blah and so would be promoting the blah blah. One would love to see the ROI on these escapades - or, horrible dictu, could they just be jollies?

And now just to confirm the impregnable chuzpah of the man, he has broken his coy Ceann Comhairle silence on all public matters to row in on the debate about drink driving limits. This from a man who habitually has a chauffeur sitting outside while he has his head in the trough.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sporting Thoughts

Tipp's win over Limerick in the All-Ireland Hurling Semi-final was more an exhibition match than the intense encounter they needed to prepare them for Kilkenny. Limerick just stopped playing after those early goals and the wide open spaces of Croke Park were ideal for those speedy forwards. Eoin Kelly is on the way back and in Noel McGrath up front and Padraic Maher at full-back they have two new stars. This team will win an All-Ireland and it may even come this year. To get to the final they beat Cork, Clare, Waterford and Limerick - not an easy route.

Don't you wish Padraig Harrington would shut up about the mechanics his game and his psychology and just play. All this golf in the head stuff is ruining him. He should read some of D. H. Lawrence's fulminations about sex in the head as distinct from the real instinctual thing.

Premier League football, who gives a shit. The teams with the most money buy all the best players and as soon as one of the lesser teams get a good player her is snapped up and the imbalance is perpetuated. Everton having lost Rooney to Manchester United a few years ago will now lose Lescott to Manchester City. I'm bored of it all.

Is Sea the Stars the best horse since Nijinsky? Let's see him win the Arc before we decide. Also, what's all this this preciousness about only racing him on good ground. Great horses can win on any going - Nijinsky did.

Schull beneath the Skin

It's always a pleasure the spend a few days in Schull. The Gubeen walk, the dogs' antics on Barleycove Beach, the bread in Brosnan's, the crab sandwiches in O'Sullivan's of Crookhaven, the pint and bohemian ambience in Hackett's (although there has been a toxic influx of yachties in recent times), Mount Gabriel looming above, the harbour spread below, the star-crossed Fastnet on the horizon. I paid a visit to the beautifully located cemetery at the end of Barry's Hill. There I came upon the recent grave of Jim O'Driscoll (a simple cross at present) - great spot overlooking the harbour.

Two down from him I noticed the recent grave of John Verling, another old acquaintance from the art scene, a man who relished his Rubenesque nudes. They'll have plenty to discuss.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hot to Trotsky

Just finished an account of Trotsky's last days in Mexico - leading up to his assassination by a Stalinist agent. The book is inappropriately titled "Stalin's Nemesis" (Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky
by Bertrand M. Patenaude). Surely Stalin was Trotsky's nemesis? He wrested control of the party from him after Lenin's death, he banished him, wrote him out of the history of the Revolution, and eventually killed him. Anyway it's a diverting story with a potted history of Trotsky thrown in for the ignorant like myself. He had many admirable traits but he was inflexibly doctrinaire about Marxism. Stalin tailored it to suit his lust for power, but Trotsky was unbending in his adherence to dialectical materialism and his belief in the global nature of Marxism. He praised the Soviet invasion of Finland because it was spreading the revolution - when all reasonable people saw it as a land grab by Stalin. A lot of the book is taken up with descriptions of the elaborate security precautions taken by Trotsky to avoid assassination. In the end he was murdered by a friend of a friend who got close to him despite a dodgy French accent and a curious past - sloppy. Despite his lengthy marriage to Natalia he had an eye for a well-turned ankle. He had no qualms about bedding Frieda Kahlo despite Diego Rivera being his host and he had a go at her sister as well - but was rebuffed.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cold Cocked in Croker

I don't often watch Gaelic football - it's got none of the finesse of hurling and there seems to be a premium on being a hard man. And then there's the technical issue of the tackle - the choices seem to be a shoulder charge or a lot of hand flapping. But last Sunday I watched the Kerry Dublin match from start to finish and was almost persuaded that it's a reasonable diversion. Kerry's passing, running into space and general creativity in the wide open spaces of Croke Park were a joy to behold. Unless of course you were a Dublin fan - in which case you wondered how a whole team could freeze in unison. Almost every sports journalist in the country had made Dublin favourites - a fatal diagnosis against Kerry.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Recent Encounters

"Endpoint and other poems" by John Updike: Still writing in the midst of his final illness with the void beckoning. Now that's grace under pressure.

"Be with me words, a little longer; you
have given me my quitclaim in the sun

"Katyn" directed by Andrzej Wajda: You forget how powerful cinema can be until you encounter a classic like this. Wajda's father was one of the Polish officer class and intelligentia slaughtered by the Russians in Katyn in 1939. Stalin's aim was to destroy any future dissent in a country he intended to occupy. Its attention to period detail and its slow build up to the horrific and inevitable climax made riveting viewing. It also made you aware of how lucky our generation has been in avoiding death, destruction and dislocation.

"Geoff in Venice, Death in Varanasi" by Geoff Dyer: Smart arse, witty, and sexy. The first half takes the piss out of the creatures who attend the Venice Bienalle, lots of drinking, adventurous sex and hilarious put downs of contemporary artists. Gilbert and George are described as "an affable pair of pricks" whose work is as "weary as some harmless sin". There are also some reflections on Turner in Venice and Tinteretto. The second half takes us to the ghats of Varanasi and reflections on death. Nice balance.

"But Beautiful" by Geoff Dyer: A real curiosity this and worth seeking out even if you are not a jazz buff. It's a set of fictional imaginings of the decline and fall of a number of jazz giants. It brings you into the interior world of Lester Young, Charlie Mingus, and the truly eccentric Thelonious Monk amongst others. You are also taken on the road with Duke Ellington and along the way you get a primer on the weird and wonderful world of jazz.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Homage to Catalonia 2

Left Girona and headed east towards Begur and the coast. Begur is an undistinguished town devoted to relieving tourists of their money before they carry on to the coast. It's full of shops selling tat and overpriced restaurants - despite its spectacular location is hardly worth a visit. It does however, like most villages and towns in Catalonia, have a 24-hour manned municipal car park that costs only 30 cent an hour.

On to Fornells, a small harbour with a tiny beach - mostly occupied by the Catalan and French middle classes with a sprinkling of upper crust Brits. We stay in a nearby hotel and read to the sound of the lapping sea. Nice.

Next stop Figueres where the plan is to visit the Dali museum. We walked around this fly-blown unattractive city for over an hour without encountering a reasonable restaurant or bar. The Dali museum however made the visit worthwhile. Apart from a range of his paintings and drawings, he presided over the entire design of the building, which is a work of art in itself, or a grand folly maybe. You have to chuckle at the sight of a building decorated with croutons and topped with eggs. The old buffoon is buried in the crypt but he provides plenty to amuse us as we wend our way down there. Artistically the highlight for me was his pen and ink drawings but there was a fair sprinkling of his surrealist masterpieces worth seeing also. Gala's charms are featured regularly of course. There were plenty of curiosities including a holograph of Dali and the giant Mae West face - best viewed through a reducing lens set up on a platform above.

The road from Figueres to Cadaques is remarkable for the number of roundabouts that inhibit your progress. These devices have their place but someone in the Catalan local government has gone mad - it's as if all roads must be granted equal status and the idea of a main road is some corrupt Castillian notion. Cadaques is now of course a tourist resort and not the sleepy fishing village beloved of Picasso. It's still worth a visit though for its beautiful setting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Homage to Catalonia 1

Girona is a very salubrious town as long as you confine your activities to the old town and its immediate environs. The old town hugs the banks of the River Onyar, which conveniently separates it from from the undistinguished new town,and climbs uphill to the cathedral. Two things are immediately obvious to someone coming from Paddyland, the streets are clean and the traffic is minimal - like a lot of Continental cities the rights of the citizens to a reasonable quality of life comes before private enterprise. Ireland prefers the private affluence amidst public squalour model.The women are dark and saucy looking with tatoos much in evidence. Must be a cultural thing, I saw two well set up tatoo parlours (studios?) within a few hundred metres of each other. I paid a visit to the Museu D'Art and throughly depressed myself looking at the work of the Catalan master Isidre Nonell. I should have realised what I was in for when I saw his first series of paintings was entitled the Cretins of Boi - gloomy portraits of hapless wretches in an insane asylum, painted near the end of the 19th Century. Things didn´t get better as he progressed into the 20th - though his subjects changed class as he painted more affluent looking women in various states of introspective misery. And all so dark - while outside the sun was splitting the stones. We met a cheerful Irish girl in a local bar and she directed us to a restaurant called Occi for dinner. We were expecting something Catalan and funky (beans and sausage, rabbit etc.), instead we got the only chi-chi restaurant in the town. The decor was international minimalist chic - a warning sign. But I knew we were definitely in trouble when the waiter offered us kangeroo. We struggled to find something edible on the menu - when we finally got the food, the tuna we ordered was raw, a detail on the menu we fatally missed. We drowned our sorrows on Tokai afterwards - and resolved to try some local cuisine next, and find the Catalan word for raw.

The Ryan Game

After the predictable Ryanair debacle we have fetched up in Girona. Michael O´Leary is determined to undermine our international reputation for friendliness by initiating a kind of police state at check in - the last time I felt this uneasy leaving a country was running the gauntlet of Saudi officialdom. His latest wheeze is to insist that one piece of hand baggage only gets taken on board - no handbags, no shopping, no extra parcels, no doll for your daughter. I see a pair of old lags at the gate, looking as if they are on day release from Mountjoy, enforcing this policy with glee on bemused passengers. I quickly cram my shoulder bag into my carry on bag reducing my two to the legal one. However, this is my undoing, my formerly legal carry on bag now bulges beyond the legal - as the very slim metal guide at the gate confirms. So my bag is whisked off me and consigned to the hold accompanied by all kinds of dire warnings about not being responsible for its contents´safety. My travelling companion gets by legally but of course we both have to wait at the other end for my bag to come through - and miss the last bus into Girona by 5 minutes. I do notice leaving the airport by taxi that there are about a dozen Ryanair jets on the tarmac. People will eat shit for cheap flights it seems.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tipp Top Again

Tipp are on the road again - winning the Munster Championship for the second year in a row and doing it the hard way by beating Cork, Clare and Waterford. They have a young and upwardly mobile team so surely their day is coming - maybe even this year. They have a few new young hot shots in the shape of Noel McGrath and Shane McGrath and the old guard, Eoin Kelly, Conor O'Mahony and Lar Corbett, are coming back into form. If they can sort out their full-back line (Patrick Maher looked outsanding when he moved there) who knows. The one worry I have is their lack of ruthlessness - there's no player on the team that shows the kind of mad resolve we saw in John Mullane last Sunday. They seem like nice skillful lads but without that killer instinct. In their three matches so far they petered out in the second half after cruising in the first - instead of applying the coup de grace like a Kilkenny. Sheedy needs to get them fired up for that big day in September.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux

Clumsy title but a great travel book by an author I've long admired. Thereoux is retracing a journey he took 33 years earlier and wrote about in The Great Railway Bazaar. He seems mellower this time around but his powers of observation are not diminished and he can be acerbic when it's merited. He casts a particularly cold eye on the autocratic regime in Singapore where free speech is not encouraged. Its leader Lee Kwan Yew, a cold and domineering control freak, gets a memorable bashing. Lee is the guy who famously backed the Chinese government after their massacre in TiananmenSquare. He's also good on the new India of call centres and IT wealth. However he flees that country in horror at the relentless tide of humanity that floods the cities and make every venture on foot a nightmare. Other things that stick in the mind were the bleakness of rural Russian life and the cultural vibrancy of Turkey.

What I like about Thereoux is the way he engages with the country through which he travels - he talks to the people he encounters on trains, he stays in cheap hotels where the real people go, and he eats what's available on railway platforms. The book has many incidental pleasures: rueful reflections on his earlier callow self, his spat with the monstrous V. S. Naipaul, compact descriptions of the politics and topography of the host of countries he traverses, and a colourful cast of characters met along the way.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Michael Jackson RIP

Never got his music or his dancing but boy did he add to the gaiety of nations. Like Elvis and John Lennon he had a long dying fall as a performer - his best days were 20years ago. It might seem a strange thing to say about an erstwhile black boy but he lacked soul. Listen to his version of Ain't no Sunshine... and then listen to the original by Bill Withers and you'll see what I mean. Or watch his dancing and then look at the early Elvis, or Robert Plant in his priapic prime. There was always an aura of Disneyland about Jackson - an absence of the real and the visceral. In Disneyland there are no genitals. He was Peter Pan -living in Neverland in perpetual childhood.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Test Travesty

This was one that got away. If only, if only, if only. If only the French referee Christophe Berdos had the moral courage to give a red card to Berger for the most blatant piece of eye gouging I've ever seen in a rugby match. (By the way, contrast the lack of repeat showing of the incident by SA TV with Sky's public hanging of Alan Quinlan in the Heineken Cup.) If only the TV replay had given a clearer view of the scorer's trailing leg for SA's marginal last try. If only Ronan O'Gara had jumped for that fateful ball like a man rather than backing into it with eyes closed like a big girl. (OK, OK, the sun may have blinded him.)

But you know beyond all this lies the thought that SA are that bit more brutal and just don't countenance losing. They take physical commitment to a level that our boys just will not entertain - and rightly so. The SA attitude is encapsulated in their coach's refusal to see anything wrong in Berger's actions. He will be suspended, I suspect for a very long time, but that's too late for the Lions.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Lions - a Progress Report

Don't be fooled by how close the Lions got in the First Test. South Africa took their foor off the pedal and replaced some key personnel. Also, the Lions were appreciably fitter due largely to having had more competitive action. South Africa will be fitter and forewarned for the next Test. They have two key advantages, their forwards are more powerful and more evil, and they are better at kicking for position. Stephen Jones is past his best. His distribution is sluggish compared to O'Gara's and he can't kick as long as Hook. This is a fatal flaw in the team. The South African forwards will dominate the Second Test and the Lions backs will live on scraps. This brings us to another fundemental flaw in the Lions team, Paul O'Connell should not be captain. He is no Martin Johnson, he's not mean enough. He is an NCO rather than an officer. It's clear that McGeechan made a mistake in not making O'Driscoll captain. He has that mean streak (yanking at Gavin Henson's expensively coiffured hair and snapping: "How do you like that, you cocky little fucker.")and that fanatical will to win that eludes O'Connell. I'm not sure that it would affect the overall result but it would have brought the Lions closer to SA.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ry Cooder at the Olympia

I don't care that he's a white boy, he's still the greatest slide guitar player in the universe. Himself and his old sidekick Nick Lowe were in fine form - running through Ry's back catalogue and adding a fair few that were new to me. Ry wore a wooly hat, his trademark Hawaiian shirt and extraordinary goofy glasses - he's no longer going for the handsome rock star look obviously. He is beginning to resemble some of his grizzled old musical heroes.

Cooder's guitar can transform the most unlikely material - he did a haunting version of the old Jim Reeves song "He'll Have to Go". But there wasn't a false moment. I noticed Brendan Gleeson nearby drinking his Guinness and enjoying the music.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chicago Blues Festival

My first trip to Chicago - a solid city that looks after its citizens. You can't but be impressed by the amount of outstanding public sculpture including a giant Picasso, a Miro, and a huge Chagall mosaic. There are plenty of playful pieces also that are clearly enjoyed by the people out for their weekend walks. There's the giant reflective bean by Anish Kapoor that catches the spectacular skyline and the fountain spewing water from the mouths of changing images of Chicago citizens. Add in the Art Institute with its wide-ranging permanent collection (Hopper, Van Gogh, Rothko, Seurat, Gaughin, and even Remington's paintings of the old West) and you get one of the best art destinations in the US.

The blues festival is entirely free. There were four or five venues going non-stop from early afternoon to late evening over three days. All courtesy of the city and its mayor, Richard M. Daley. All the venues had his name emblazoned over the stages. Who's your daddy. It was well policed and attended by a huge good-humoured and heterogeneous crowd. There were food and drink stalls, loads of toilets and a huge support team to organise the crowds and the traffic. (Lord Mountcharles take note.)

I hadn't heard of most of the acts but they were unfailingly excellent. The highlight was probably Magic Slim and I enjoyed Lurrie Bell and Jeremy Spencer as well. Magic Slim was a truculent looking old buffer (and far from slim) with a missing little finger (severed by a cotton gin apparently) but he made his guitar sing. He was helped onto and off the stage but once there commanded his band with good old-fashioned autocratic hauteur.

For those who liked it a bit more lively Lil' Ed with his fez and his Chuck Berry sound got the people bopping. Late on Sunday Jeremy Spencer did a set that was redolent of the old Fleetwood Mac, before they became a Californian pop group.

Moving around Grant Park over the three days of the festival you couldn't but be struck by how well-behaved and relatively sober the crowds were. And how you had every class of citizen from the professorial to the janitorial. Would we be able to do the same thing in the Phoenix Park? Would you get the same mix? I doubt it. It would be dominated by hordes of marauding cider heads and the older citizens would give it a miss.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Bosie by Douglas Murray

Do we really care about the life of Lord Alfred Douglas? Oscar Wilde's nemesis did little interesting after carelessly ruining his friend. He wrote a number of exceedingly precious sonnets none of which were memorable, he developed an unfortunate appetite for litigation that ended in tears and jail for 6 months, and he even got married to a rather masculine looking woman. Murray's book takes a more sympathetic stance on Bosie than Ellmann does in his definitive life of Oscar Wilde.

It was extraordinary the sense of entitlement young aristocrats had in those days. He was always angling for an annuity that would keep him in the manner to which he was accustomed - and eventually got one from Shaw's widow. The notion of work was alien. He claimed to like pretty young boys and only succumbed to Wilde's grosser charms because he was a famous writer. And even then was very keen to establish the limited nature of their physical contact.

Far from being the effete figure he is often depicted as, Bosie was a keen angler, an excellent shot, and at one period he successfully trained racehorses.

The most remarkable thing about this book is that Murray started writing it when he was fourteen - and finished it when he was twenty. Precocious or wha'.

Simon Schama at Liberty Hall

A very fluent performance by Schama facilitated by Fintan O'Toole. You can see why the BBC paid him £3 million. He gave an amusing and illuminating perspective on American history unaided by any notes for about half and hour, before he started a rather po-faced dialogue with O'Toole. It was interesting to find out that Arlington cemetry was built on Robert E. Lee's garden. He is a keen admirer of Obama - particularly the way his world view is informed by a sense of history.

The one false note was when a venerable old dear asked him a question about the Israeli lobby in the US. He scoffed at the idea that any such monolithic entity existed - suggesting instead that there were conflicting Jewish views on Palestine and that this was typical of the Jewish liking for disputation; cracking a joke about the two synagogues on a desert island to illustrate this lovable trait. He described himslef as an "old Labour zionist" who favoured a two state solution in Palestine. Before this he had a go at the Taliban (and their hatred of writing and education) and the Wahhabis. Fair targets but dragged in perhaps.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Antony and the Johnsons at Vicar Street

What a strange androgynous blob of a man, but amiable with it, and what a heavenly voice - the body of a Caliban and the voice of an Ariel. He was wearing some weird voluminous black toga over his trousers. I expected some posturing arty band but instead he was accompanied by a very sober and serious collection of musicians incuding a severe lady cellist, a violinist, and a sax and clarinet player. The show was preceded by a dance piece where a lithe lady dressed in paint and little else threw angular shapes to some electronic music. It worked for me.

Antony's haunting and pellucid voice means you don't really notice the banality of his lyrics. The voice is so evocative that the words are irrelevant. And the band were stupendous. Antnony's patter slightly deflated the mood as he banged on about the superiority of the female - but it was hard not to like his shtick.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Vincent O'Brien

Vincent O'Brien died today - Ireland's greatest racehorse trainer and probably the greatest racehorse trainer in the history of the universe. He mopped up all the great National Hunt races (3 Gold Cups, 3 Champion Hurdles, and 3 Grand Nationals) before becoming Ireland's first great flat trainer - winning Derbies and Prix de L'Arcs. And he certainly was responsible for the replacement of the aristocracy by the meritocracy in that particular profession. But not before a bitter feud with the Irish Turf Club when he was banned on spurious grounds for over a year.

I first came across Vincent O'Brien unknowingly when I walked across the Curragh plains in 1953 with my mother to watch the Irish Derby. Chamier trained by O'Brien and ridden by Bill Rickaby finished second but was awarded the race on a disqualification. My mother put a shilling on for me at 8-1, thereby sowing the seeds of a lifelong interest in the horses. Being a sanctimonious little prig in those days I used my winnings to buy plaster statues on the Blessed Virgin and the Sacred Heart.

Nijinsky was his most famous horse although I always had a soft spot for the incomparable Golden Fleece and for the battling qualities of Sadler's Wells. O'Brien was a class act and he stood by the old rogue Lester Piggot when he had that spot of bother with the English revenue commissioners.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Colm Tóibín and Brooklyn

I first came across Tóibín in the early 80s when he was editor of Magill. You'd see him in places like the old Project Arts Centre, bearded like a patriarch and with a fine head of dark hair. His heart seemed generally in the right place - he was a critic of Haughey long before it became fashionable, for example. A position he retains with added vehemence today.

I remember one incident that gave me doubts about him. A friend of mine, back from the US, who used to be vaguely connected with the Irish arts scene was drinking with me in the Shelbourne bar one evening and he spotted Tóibín at the bar. Up he sprang, walked over and greeted him effusively. Tóibín blanked him - stared at him coldly and didn't respond. My friend repeated his greeting - again nothing. Just a cold stare. He rejoined me and we continued talking. As there were a few other people there I never got the chance to ask what might have caused such a creepy reaction.

In recent times I mainly encounter him reviewing or being reviewed in the NYRB or the LRB. Always great stuff. He did get a rap on the knuckles from the late great John Updike for inferring that Henry James was gay in his The Master - Updike chiding him for ascribing homosexuality to one who was merely asexual. Recently I heard him give an elegant and thoughtful speech at the Chester Beatty Library for the opening of the Graphic Studio's Artist's Proof exhibition. He praised the combination of craft and graft that is the printmaker's lot.

Impressed by this speech, I decided to lift my embargo on him, inspired by the Shelbourne incident, and read Brooklyn, his latest novel. I'm happy I did. It's a chamber piece without a false note. It charts the modest viscissitudes of a modest life. The scenes of small-town life in Fifties Ireland are beautifully observed and totally convincing. From our current free and easy perspective we are horrified by the conclusion - how the restrictions imposed by Church and convention limited the choices of his characters. Thank God we're out of that. Also, there's plenty of incidental fun to be had from the cast of characters (Mrs. Kehoe the landlady especially) and the period detail.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

This was a real find - thanks Paddy. It's the story of the the ill-fated Essex, a whaling ship rammed by a sperm whale and sunk in the middle of the South Pacific in 1820. The crew were cast adrift in three small boats. A couple of them kept diaries so there is a wealth of visceral detail about what happened. It ended of course in cannibalism but we got all the stages before that with Philbrick showing an impressive knowledge of the pathology and psychology of starvation and dehydration.

While the story is gripping, the real beauty of this book is the wealth of incidental detail. Life on Nantucket at the height of the whaling boom is lovingly depicted with details of how the Quaker women amused themselves while the men were away on their lengthy voyages. We also told what butchering a whale at sea was like -a bloody inferno. The head was a particularly important source of oil and was lovingly tapped of its contents.

Melville went to sea subsequently with one of the survivors, and the story inspired him to write Moby Dick.

Forget Patrick O'Brian, read this.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Judgement on Sky

One disquieting aspect of the Quinlan affair is the way that the agenda was set by Sky Sports. I was at the match and saw nothing. Neither I expect did most people who watched on television until Sky started showing the incident repeatedly in slow motion. Cullen didn't complain after the match and neither did Leinster. However the amount of attention it got on Sky meant that a citing was inevitable. And so I expect is the suspension that will cost Quinlan his Lions place. Looking at the incident on YouTube I'd say that at best he can plead carelessness. He didn't gouge but he did grab Cullen roughly around the eye area - that'll be enough to condemn him.

The problem is that every rugby match contains many such incidents, some captured on TV, some not. Sky have it in their power to focus on one incident and ignore another - to suit the agenda of whoever controls these things. A smidgen of jingoism is enough to set such an agenda. And let's face it Sky are hardly famous for objectivity.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Bob Dylan at The O2

I was disappointed and bored for much of this show. But then what did I expect. I know his voice is shot, I know he famously does not engage with his audience.

The man is a gurning caricature of what was - wearing a wide-brimmed caballaro's hat and what looked like pyjamas. The voice can no longer handle the rolling grandeur of pieces like Desolation Row. The songs are broken into choppy segments and Dylan croaks out incoherent lyrics with random emphasis. It was as if he could only utter a few words at a time before running out of breath. He murdered Like a Rolling Stone and Blowing in the Wind and I only realised after the show that he'd performed Ballad of a Thin Man.

But the band were great and there were more than a few bright moments: Summer Days sounded like a rockabilly classic, Highway 61 Revisited was passable, and If You Ever Go to Houston accommodated his ruined voice better then the older work. The crowd in general seemed to like him and the new stadium is a huge improvement.

One notable flaw was the absence of big screens. Maybe this is part of Dylan's increasingly uncommunicative attitude at concerts. At the Leonard Cohen gig last summer you could see every expression on the great man's face no matter where you were sitting - and this added greatly to the atmosphere. Here Dylan lurked somewhere under his hat brim but his appearance and expressions were lost on most of the audience - half of whom he had his back too for most of the show anyway. And of course not a single word of greeting or thanks. Not that his fans care a whit. I can't help but see it as self-indulgent arrogance. And strange in one who talks to us on his radio programmes and confides to us in his Chronicles.

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Visit to IMMA

IMMA: what a wonderful resource for Dublin. One of the few things our Government got right. If you never go in to look at the art you can visit and enjoy the wonderful landscaped gardens - ideal for fractious children to burn off energy on those long weekends. We pay a visit to see the Hughie O'Donoghue show and to take in the Bank of Ireland bequest and the Seamus Heaney show, and we discover on the way in the added bonus of some Alexander Calder. Enrique Juncosa's reign has encompassed some preciousness and some political decisions but he's hit the spot with this lot.

With Le Brocquy atrophying and Blackshaw waning, it's clear that O'Donoghue is our pre-eminent living artist. And I suspect that history's jury will find in his favour also. He works on a scale that few Irish artists have attempted. Some of the pieces in this show are so big that IMMA cannot accommodate them sympathetically - there's one (An Anatomy of Melancholy IV) that's a whopping 10 feet by 20 feet. Like Shakespeare there's something for everyone in O'Donoghue. For those who feel insecure around abstraction there are the figurative elements - both painted and photographic: usually bodies, dead, adrift, or asleep. For the sniffers after the numinous, there's the big encounter a la Rothko and the emphasis on death and evanescence. For the artist and art buff there's the technique: the varnish, the matt, the layers of paint, the photographs encompassed, the newspapers painted over, the thematic coherence. There is an absolutely riveting video of the way he develops his work, the building up of layer upon layer, the going back and rejigging it, the use of photographs, the care and craft. It's a relentlessly elegiac show that will linger long in the mind's eye.

The Heaney show features a lot of prosaic art (Martin Gale's work is the exception) but some great manuscripts of Heaney's poems that make you want to go back and read more of the great man - one about a first encounter particularly struck me. The Bank of Ireland show is a disappointment, apart from a late Yeats' and an exquisite early William Scott of a young girl.

Irish Media Portraits

I have been subjected to these creatures on radio and TV over the past 20 years or so, and impressions have formed. If RTE figures predominate it's probably because that atrophied organ appears to assume that once it hires someone they cannot let them go no matter how rancid they have become. RTE observes no sell by date, so some of them had a fresh appeal that is long gone.

GERRY RYAN: Strictly for shop girls and taxi drivers. Mild scatology and bludgeon wit. His bloated self-regard a thing of wonder. Are his heaving bosoms the bellows of divinity?

EAMONN DUNPHY: Veers alarmingly between fawning uncritical unctuousness (Anne Madden interview) and ankle-biting spleen (Ronaldo, Sin Fein etc.).

JOHN WATERS: Beyond crankiness. The mute beside a ranting and deluded Christopher Hitchins (in a Gate debate on God) defined his true heft. His hair an objective correlative for his mind.

MARION FINUCANE: The heroine of Hume Street has become a cosy spokesperson for establishment Ireland with a strange undercurrent of antipathy towards the male of the species.

DAVID NORRIS: For God's sake David shut the fuck up. I admire your courage as Ireland's first unashamed homosexual (see Nell McCafferty) but you do go on a bit and you are the worst interviewer in the universe - but one of the best interviewees.

TRACY PIGGOT: Why? A seeming decent woman but with all the wit and charisma of a malt loaf. Surely her father's famous terseness should have been a clue.

NELL MCCAFFERTY: A clown for the media to patronise. Want a harsh-voiced lazy and predictable opinion on the North, Men, Women, or anything they can't find anyone else to talk about? Let's ask Nell. At least her erstwhile partner Nuala O'Faolain had the courage to admit she was a lesbian. For years Nell put up with the likes of Gay Byrne asking her when she was going to get married without reaching for the obvious rebuttal.

GAY BYRNE: Forgotten but not gone as the graffiti in RTE allegedly said. A nasty man gloating over the lengthy sentences drink drivers get - on some mid-afternoon show he has fetched up on. Who can forget his fawning interview with Margaret Thatcher when she was in Dublin her pushing her appalling autobiography? Or his less than gallant treatment of the unfortunate woman who had a child by his old buddy Bishop Casey.

Munster Mugged on Jones's Road

Went with the brother to watch Munster's lap of honour against Leinster in the Heineken Cup semi-final last Saturday. The portents were good. It was a beautiful sunny day and as we drove through town all the pubs we passed had their red armies in place. Yet I had a vague feeling of unease, Leinster's rearguard action against Harlequins showed a fortitude that had been missing in the past.

I had planned our route to embrace a trip to the Gravedigger's - cunningly hidden away in the heart of Glasnevin. It's an ideal staging post for Croke Park, away from the frenzy of the immediate environs but only a bracing 15 minute walk along the canal to Jones's Road. There were some of the more interpid Munster supporters around but there was plenty of parking and elbow room at the bar to quaff a couple of pints. The pub is a fine relic of bygone days and its only deviation from full-blown authenticity was the t-shirts for sale. A quibble.

And so to the match. There seemed to be more Munster than Leinster supporters initially but as the ground filled up it came close to balancing out. The organisers had laid on thousands of free flags for both sets of supporters - a nice touch that helped demonstrate the way the supporters were intermingled.

The match was a full on faction fight. At one stage there were four bodies stretched on the turf receiving attention and all through the referee seemed very lenient in allowing ministering medics come and go. The first significant incident was Contemponi going straight through O'Gara with malice aforethought. A statement of intent from Leinster. Rugby is all about motivation and intensity and it became clear very quickly that Leinster had it and Munster didn't. It showed in Elsom's ferocious marauding and it showed in the fearless tackling of D'Arcy and O'Driscoll in mid-field. It showed in the ferocity of their front five. Munster never got a chance to play - they were blown away. (Was that all-star pack minding itself for the Lions tour?) It was hard to feel too upset, the Leinster try scorers were the same guys we cheered on for Ireland a few weeks ago. And I have grown a bit weary of the Munster triumphalism that has been creeping in.

There is the sneaking feeling that this was Leinster's final. Can they build up to that level of intensity again? Or we will have to endure the roundheads of Leicster winning yet another Heineken Cup.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What a Surprise

After much persuasion I got a new cat last summer. He was a beautiful feral creature about four weeks old - rescued from a garden in Shankill. We called him Bosie after Wilde's nemesis - our other cat is called Oscar. I took him along to the vet for shots and he told me to bring him back in about six months so he could be neutered. We mollycoddled him ceaselessly and he soon grew domesticated. He would sleep in your lap as you watched TV and didn't show much interest in venturing outside at night. As he grew older we waited for signs of aberrant tomcat behaviour: such as spraying, fighting and wandering abroad. But none arrived so we let the six months pass without interfering with his manly apparatus.

Imagine my surprise then when I get an hysterical call from my daughter yesterday telling me that Bosie had just delivered a perfect little facsimile of himself on a duvet in her room. Our ostensibly male cat had just had a kitten.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Came to this novel late, but what a treat I had in store. There was so much to relish that I felt like starting it again immediately.

A Sicilian Prince (Fabrizio de Salina) is caught in a time where the old order is changing - Garibaldi is unifying Italy and a new democratic era is born.

But as well as being about the end of a way of life, it's a prolonged elegy for life, and love. About the useless pre-marriage abstinence of Tancredi and Angelica: "these overtures which outlive the forgotten operas they were intended for".

There's a wonderful death bed scene where Fabrizio does a reckoning of all the happiness he felt in his life: "2 weeks before the marriage and 6 weeks after, Bendico’s (his dog) delicious nonsense, the caressing paws of Pop the pointer...".

The lives are depicted vividly and humourously. "Then all found peace in a little heap of livid dust."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

United Irishman

What a disgrace our politicans are. It's becoming clear as the current economic disaster unfolds that most of them have no talents whatsoever and are suited for nothing but mouthing airy platitudes. We just don't seem to get people with any intellectual heft, or heaven forfend any priciples, going into politics. And the level of philistinism dear is alarming to behold. I was watching a documentary on Ireland's most humourless sporting hero Roy Keane last week and it featured Bertie Ahern talking about Keane and Manchester United. Bertie is clearly a United fan. He repeatedly used the term "we" when referring to United. "We should have won that match", "We were disappointed to see him go" etc. It's the kind of thing you'd expect an adolescent boy to say but not a grown man, and certainly not our taoiseach.

Reflections - Cuba 2009 - Part 2

Cuba is expensive. The problem is that you can't participate in the local peso economy where everything is dirt cheap. You can only buy things with Cuban Convertibles (CCs) - the tourist currency - and the prices set for tourists make everything as expensive as if you were in the US. You will find yourself paying $3 dollars for a beer while the locals get it for around 80 cents.

For the Cubans themselves there are certain things they can only buy using the tourist currency, for example petrol and mobile phones. The advent of tourism has created a two-tier society in a country that prides itself on treating everyone equally. If you are a taxi driver, a restaurant owner, a black market trader in cigars, or even a hooker then you have access to the tourist currency and buying power beyond the dreams of ordinary Cubans - when these are converted into pesos. Thus a cigar factory worker gets the equivalent of $32 dollars a month whereas a taxi driver may get that for one fare, and a hooker can get three times that for an hour. It's no wonder that you have to fight off swarms of prostitutes whenever you go out in Havana.

Those outside the tourist circuit are being left behind. I was approached one day walking through Old Havana by a distinguished looking gentleman with long grey hair. He told me he was a history professor and asked could he give me a guided tour of the old town. I was busy and had to decline but it seemed that here was someone outside the tourist economy trying to break in.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Watching the Door by Kevin Myers

Not since Frank Harris's "My Life and Loves", or Walter's "My Secret Life" have I encountered such a shameless piece of sexual self-aggrandisment. True the book has its moments. There are colourful glimpses of of terrorists at play - some truly peculair drinking habits, the whole wretched mileu of Belfast and Derry during the Troubles is well depicted, and the various atrocities are recounted in visceral detail (often at first hand). But the real theme of this book is what a great lover Kevin Myers is. His conquests are never mundane. They include a virgin, a lesbian, a married woman having her first affair, a woman having a last fling before marriage, and the most beautiful prostitute in the history of hookers (rejected becasue he doesn't "pay for sex"). Then there are the Carry On antics with a senior republican's wife's and a balancing act with a well-known loyalist's wife etc. etc. And finally we even get Myers having sex with the person he loves most in the world - himself. But who could blame him for this, he being so handsome - we know this because he tells us so a number of times.

I've always thought that Myers was a very good news journalist - I remember some excellent pieces he did from the Lebanon for the Irish Times. A lot of the reportage in the book confirms this impression. His current opinion pieces in the Independent sound like the dyspeptic ramblings of a retired colonel from Leamington Spa. He needs to get out more.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reflections - Cuba 2009 - Part 1

Havana is looking more prosperous this year. More shops along Calle Obispo, more goods in the shops, more energy in the streets. But the hustling has got more intense and it was a relief to get away to the unspoiled east where tourists are stared at rather than importuned. The hustling took many forms: straightforward begging from stick-thin old ladies, younger women using babies as props, hustlers hawking cigars, chicas offering themselves, and mariachi bands touring the hotels and assailing the hapless drinkers with Guantanamara and Besame Mucho. Luckily we had the roof-top pool of the Parque Central hotel to escape to - and there we were able to observe the radical differences between Air France and Virgin Airlines flight attendants. Women and girls really, in fact women and shop girls. While the Virgin crew frolicked in the pool with their under water camera, the French girls gave each other massages, or read their novels while smoking in that elegant French way.

Much affronted by naughty Havana our blameless trio decided to head for beautiful Baracoa on the east coast. The train seemed an adventurous option so we headed off to the central station where a bloated ticket office operator ignored us for a while as she conversed with a colleague and then gleefully informed us that there were no trains that day. So we hied it to the airport. Alas all planes to Santiago di Cuba, the nearest main town to Baracoa, were full. There were however planes to Moa if we bribed the appropriate ticket agent. We were in the air before we discovered two things: Cuban airlines have an appalling safety record; and the Rough Guide to Cuba expressly advises people not to go near Moa. Looking around the short-arsed turbo prop we realise that we were the only tourists to ignore this advice. Moa is known for its open pit mining of nickel - and not much else.

When we arrive, very bumpily, in an airport nestling cunningly amongst the hills, we discover that they're not really set up for tourists. I ask a surly police man if there are any taxis and he just sneers and turns away. Well he might, the only transport around is the cyclotaxi, designed for short local journeys. Baracoa is 30miles away and the road is not really a road - more a track with occasional stretches of tarmac and numerous pot holes. Miraculously we find a Cuban called Anderson who speaks English. He takes us to a shanty town where we find a man head down under the bonnet of a big yellow taxi. He agrees to take us for €60. The journey featured two police checks (for the driver), numerous black pigs, oxen drawing carts, and lots of purposeful men walking the road armed with machetes. Two hours later we land in an idyllic beach side hostel.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Where Were You When Ireland Won the Grand Slam?

I've been following Irish rugby since Tommy Kiernan played scrum half for UCC, since Jack Kyle and Paddy Berkery played for the Rest of Ireland against the Combined Universities in Musgrave Park, since Vincie Giltenan propped for Dolphin, since A.C. Pedlow couldn't get off the Irish team no matter how badly he played, nor could his lantern-jawed Ulster colleague Noel Henderson, since Mick English missed a crucial drop goal against England in Lansdowne Road. But where was I when Ireland won the Grand Slam, grasped the Holy Grail, saw the ascension into Heaven of the greatest Irish team in history (O'Driscoll, O'Connell, O'Gara, David Wallace et al)? I'll tell you where I was, I was lying beside the roof-top swimming pool of the Parque Central Hotel in Havana surrounded by Air France flight attendants - sipping a mojito. In the pool, riff-raff from Virgin Airlines cavorted, the Air France girls smoked elegantly and gave each other massages. All benignly indifferent to what was happening far away in Wales. I was in text message contact with a friend in Dublin who kept me engaged with the unfolding drama. I suffered along with the nation - except more exquisitely, as the pauses between the significant events were more laden.

Susan Sontag

Just finished Susan Sontag's Reborn: Journals 1947 to 1963 and the overwhelming impression is that she was a monstrous intellectual prig. But I should temper this criticiam with the fact that she was just 16 when she started writing them.

I have long admired Sontag as a feminist who was far removed from the ankle biting of Andrea Dworkin, as a Jew who saw flaws in the US policy in the Middle-East, and as an intellectual who was not afraid to say things that were unpopular even with her allies in the NYRB. She was the only prominent US intellectual to suggest that 9/11 may have been the pigeons coming home to roost. In the New Yorker shortly after the atrocity she stated that "The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy." Good on ye girl.

But her journals are something else. The first impression is how precocious she was. When I was reading science fiction and Frank O'Connor she was reading the journals of Gide and Kirkegaard. She was also wonderfully scornful of cerain writers - I felt a sympathetic twinge when she dismissed Henry James out of hand. She also dismissed people in her life - if you weren't contributing to her intellectual development you were let go. Her sole motive for marrying seemed to be that her putative husband offered interesting research options.

The journals were disappointing in that there were endless lists of books bought and films seen but very little of her opinions about most of them. The lists were impressive in their intellectual heft but we rarely get to hear of how they affected her.

Her achilles heel was her sexuality. Alongside the extreme intellectual precociousness is an unhappy besotted lesbian who was plainly embroiled in a number of abusive relationships. We never get to hear how she went from married hetero-sexual academic to tortured lesbian. In her public life Sontag never discussed her sexual orientation, but in her journals she sang the praises of lesbian adventure. Although evidence suggest she actually had a penchant for monogamy - she ended her days living with the photographer Annie Leibbovitz.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cheltenham Agonistes

Such hopes abandoned, such cups from lips dashed: that's Cheltenham for you. I love the first day, especially the Supreme Novices Hurdle (for future stars), and the Champion Hurdle (for established stars). I never back favourites so I'm always looking for good each way value for money.

In the first race I back Copper Bleu from the Philip Hobbs stable, more mature than most in the field having won point-to-points and just the kind to come up the hill past the more fancy bred flat horse types. He's good value at 16-1. He does nothing wrong, stays to the inside the whole way around and challenges for the lead coming to the last, but he's come too soon and is run out of it by one, two, three other horse, just losing third place by a head. Dear oh dear.

Next comes the Arkle Chase and I back Kalahari King to win at 10-1. He bides his time at the back of the field until two out and then he makes up a huge amount of ground to challenge Forpaddytheplasterer after the last - he makes up length after agonising length and the post arrives with him a short head to the bad. Shit.

Next comes the Champion Hurdle. All romantics meet the same fate sang Joni Mitchel and I really should have known better than to back Brave Inca with the ground so good - he's too old and needs heavy ground to be effective. The result is inevitable - a younger horse with a course and fast ground profile prevails. Stupidity.

I avoid the chases although fancied horses win both and concentrate of the Mares Hurdle - the last race, the getting out stakes. Alan King has a good record with staying hurdlers and I latch onto his Over Sixty as a good each way prospect at a fancy price - I back him at 33-1. You know the rest. He is up with the pace most of the way - loses position as they speed up two flights out but finishes strongly after the last. Fifty yards from the post he's in second place but is caught on the line by two others and finishes a tragic fourth - beaten by a head for third. Fuck me sideways.

But did I have fun?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Susie's Gone

We had our 15 year old Labrador Susie put down last Saturday. What a trauma - tears seeping like acid to the bone. She had been with us since she was a tiny puppy and grew up to be an unfailingly sweet-natured and gentle dog. For a long time we thought she couldn't bark because she never chose to do so. However, as she grew older it emerged as a demonstration of indignation at being left outside. But she wouldn't dream of barking at a stranger, or of snapping at anyone. She was an ideal children's pet - indulging them in all their playfullness, and she become an integral part of the family.

In the past year her back legs had been getting very arthritic and she also had become increasingly deaf and incontinent. She could no longer enjoy walks on Killiney Hill or swims off Dun Laoghaire Pier, or even her annual trip to Schull. However, she still looked the picture of health with a her big wet nose and her ceaseless quest for more food. It was the hardest thing to see her back legs collapse as she went for a walk around the garden or try to jump up on the deck. And, punished for her errant toilet habits, it was heart-breaking to see her stumble to her cold kennel at night.

So we made the hard decision and lifted her into the car last Saturday for a final trip to the vet in Wicklow. A simple needle in the shaved paw and she was gone in a flash - all that life and love.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hugh Leonard Snubbed My Aunt

Hugh Leonard has died: good TV drama technician, charming memoirs, a couple of decent plays, unfairly omitted from the Field Day Anthology of Irish Literature (because of his rabidly anti-Republican views I assume), played an inglorious role as a member of Gay Byrne's hit squad in the failed attempt to mug Gerry Adams on the Late Late Show, and a grumpy presence in the benign village of Dalkey. I do bear some rancor towards the old bollocks for the very unkind and inhospitable way he treated an old relation of mine who made the mistake of moving into the same apartment block in Bullock Harbour. He was unfailingly churlish in response to her tentative neighbourly overtures (even a hello on the stairs was too much effort) - crushing to someone old, genteel, and alone.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Intimations of Immortality

This year's Six Nations Rugby campaign is last chance saloon for a number of the Ireland team. They should have achieved more than a few paltry Triple Crowns - and they know it. They certainly played with an intensity against France that suggested serious motivation. They out muscled and out played a good French team and on this form will go all the way to Cardiff for a Grand Slam denoument with Wales. The media is full of stories about a new found harmony in the dressing room and freedom of expression on the field. Images of Munster and Leinster players leaving training hand in hand. However, I noticed O'Connell going over to embrace O'Driscoll at the end and receiving a very perfunctory response. Maybe I'm reading too much into a small incident. I still think O'Connell is a better bet to be Lions captain, and maybe O'Driscoll knows he's a political appointment.

Wales may not of course beat France in Paris so we may be even be looking at the possibility of a three-way tie for the championship should we lose to Wales. So we need lots of tries in the intervening matches. Scotland and Italy were woeful and England were not much better in their matches. Discount them all. If the Lions were picked tomorrow it would be hard to see many Scottish or English players on the team. Wales would supply the bulk but Ireland could have O'Driscoll, O'Connell, O'Gara, Kearney, David Wallace, O'Callaghan, O'Leary (maybe - there's lots of good scrum halves about), Flannery, and Ferris. Ireland, Wales and France will all win this weekend of course.

Monday, February 02, 2009

John Updike RIP

I was never a fan of his novels but I loved his writing, particularly his non-fiction essays and his criticism. He was a supreme stylist and I can't think of another living writer, apart from our own John Banville, who made me stop and relish a sentence like Updike did. Unlike the rather austere, and even prissy Banville, Updike liked to dwell on the carnal. His love of women and his wonder at their bodies is found everywhere in his writing. He wore his learning lightly and his range of knowledge was astonishing. He could move from Kirkegaard to cunnilingus without a slip of the tongue. I remember an essay collected in Best American Essays a few years ago where the entire piece was devoted to a loving description of an asshole - and I don't mean Michael Winner. He was also an accessible and original art critic and many of his more recent pieces in the NYRB were models of what art criticism should be.

He was a generous critic and only occasionally caustic. He didn't, for example, join the chorus of praise for Colm Tobin's book on Henry James (The Master). He felt that Tobin had assigned a homosexual orientation to someone who was merely asexual.

Buddy Holly

Today I remember Buddy Holly. It's exactly 50 years since he took the ill-fated flight into a snow storm that ended in an Iowa corn field. It's hard to believe he was only 22. His songs were the soundtrack of my adolescence. I was especially drawn to the more love lorn ones such as "Learning the Game", "Raining in My Heart" and "What to Do" ("The record shops and all the happy times we had, the soda shops, our walks to school, now make me sad"). Oh boy.

I remember first hearing him on Radio Luxembourg in the late Fifties along with the likes of Elvis, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. But he was dead before I really got into his music. Our local hops at Collins Tennis Club were musically advanced and I watched through the windows as the dapper older boys jived to "Rave On" and "Oh Boy". But mostly I listened to him on my own and yearned in unison. I bought his first LP, mostly recorded just before he died and wore it out. I can still see the large black and white image with the horn-rimmed glasses. Later, when they were shamelessly marketing his out takes and discards, I bought my bemused younger (and very young they were at the time) brothers singles of "Look at Me" and "Listen to Me" for Christmas.

He should never have been touring of course but he'd been screwed by his manager Norman Petty and having broken free he had a pregnant wife to provide for and no money. He wasn't to know the success that "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" would enjoy. His influence is to be seen in the Beatles (who took their name in homage to Buddy Holly's Crickets) and the Stones who made "Not Fade Away" their own. But mostly he was my first great musical crush and every time I hear him I feel a strong connection with that magical era when rock music was born and I was young and pleasantly miserable.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Importance of Being Frank

More on Frank Murphy, bastion of the Cork County Board and nemesis of the Cork hurling team.

A few years ago a friend of mine was called to a meeting with him in Pairc ui Caoimh to discuss an event my friend was hoping to hold at the venue. When he arrived
himself and his colleagues were ushered into a meeting room and seated on small plastic bucket chairs on one side of a giant table (around 40 feet long). On the other side of the table was what can only be described as an elevated throne, a large hand carved armchair. After a lengthy wait, Frank sidled in and assumed this throne. His response to most requests was "I am nearly sure that would be almost possible. I'll come back to you". He does everything by the book (my friend reported), so he cannot be argued with, and never made eye contact with anyone the whole time they were there.

An old Cork acquaintance once told me that he had been in school with Frank and that he was "the most hated boy from High Babies to Leaving". And it didn't stop then it seems.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ringy and Rudi

• The Cork hurlers eh, what a bloody mess. Watch the media en masse dance around the real issue which is Frank Murphy’s authoritarian, though, it must be said, politically astute running of the County Board. Players come and players go but Frank goes on forever – it has seemed. But Murphy has finally met up with a generation of hurlers that have stood up to his machinations and his controlling impulse – and he will be damaged by this. Gerald McCarthy is only a pawn and will become expendable in the end game. Watch the footballers join in before the matter is resolved.

• Watched Ringy last night – a documentary on Christy Ring. While it tended towards hagiography and lacked TV evidence of his skills, you couldn’t but be impressed by the spoken tributes of his contemporaries, including old adversaries such as John Doyle (the master chef in Tipp’s hell’s kitchen). Doyle reckoned that “Christy won 8 All Irelands for Cork, my lads (his Tipperary team mates) won 8 for me”. Ring was a prototype Roy Keane. He had the same cold competitive intensity but was very intolerant of anyone on the team who didn’t share his zeal and talents.

• Saw Slumdog Millionaire last Friday – underwhelmed. It’s visually lush and very snappily edited but the whole thing seems a romantic contrivance – notwithstanding our immersion in the slums of Mumbai and the teeming chaos of the lives depicted. There were redeeming features, the quiz master (Anil Kapoor) was wonderful – patronising the “chai wallah”, and the female lead (Frieda Pinto) had a lubriciousness that would put Scarlett Johansson to shame.

• Just finished Julie Kavanagh’s biography on Nureyev. It’s very good on the arcane world of ballet, and especially good the colourful characters who populate that world. (Such as Dame Ninette du Valois who spent some time with the Irish Ballet in Cork.) There was however more technical detail than I wanted. You came away with the feeling that Nureyev blew it. Removed from the discipline of the Kirov he became infatuated with his stardom to the detriment of his dance. He also fell prey to the lure of the money and the rich and frittered away his time and talents on hedonistic junkets with Stavros Niarchos and Aristotle Onassis. His warm and lasting relationship with Margot Fonteyn was an exception in a life littered with people dropped after they had outlived their usefulness to him. And he had a very unedifying and perfunctory attitude to sex - which Kavanagh manages to convey without salaciousness. This of course did for him in the end.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Che (Part1) - Steve Sodebergh

First of all Che is pronounced Chay (as in chain) and not Shay. This is a splendid historical recreation of the Cuban revolution - with emphasis on the Sierra Maestra period and the seminal battle for Santa Clara. Santa Clara was strategically important because it was exactly in the middle of Cuba and so was the tipping point in terms of rebel control - from controlling the east of the country the rebels gained a foothold in the west by capturing Santa Clara and became unstoppable. Key to their triumph was winning over the peasants and this film confirms this. I notice that Jon Lee Anderson was a consultant. He wrote the definitive biography of Che (warts and all) and his touch is all over Sodeberg's work.

It's by no means a hagiography and Che is often shown as inflexible and even priggish - but his integrity, self-discipline, and clarity of vision shine through. Che was perhaps more direct and brutal in punishing those who deviated from the path of revolutionary righteousness, he summarily shot anyone who deserted. In the film they fudge it by showing those he shot as murderers and rapists as well as deserters. Not quite true.

It's a shame that the film starts in Mexico City after Che has undergone his conversion from upper middle-class Argentinian doctor to revolutionary. His travels in South America (covered in the Motor Cycle Diaries) were only part of this conversion, his experiences in Bolivia (where a revolution tolerant of its erstwhile enemies failed) and in Argentinian politics also shaped his vision.

Benicio del Toro doesn't look as handsome as Che but he has the physical presence to capture the effortless charisma of the character, and this is a virtuoso performance.

Overall a great film - I'm looking forward to Part 2 - not withstanding the tragic denoument.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Natziism and Zionism

These words are close enough to being an anagram - as close as the behaviour of the Israelis towards the Palestinians is to the way the Natzis treated the Jews - as close as Gaza is to the Warsaw Ghetto. Fintan O'Toole said it best in yesterday's Irish Times:

Read it and weep for Israel. His key point is the fundemental racism of Israel's position. One Israeli life is worth fifty (or so) Palestinian lifes - they are expendable untermenschen to the Israeli ubermenschen.

It's Hard to Keep Up

Somebody somewhere keeps changing things and not telling me. I was going about my business comfortable in the knowledge that Bombay still existed until that appalling attack on the city late last year made it clear to be that it was now Mumbai.

Last night I was reading an improving article in the New York Review of Books and started coming upon chronological references to CE and BCE where I expected to see AD and BC. So I headed for Wikipedia and too my astonishment discovered that these designations were now obsolete - political correctness frowns upon them, they are de trop, redundant, dead as the dodo. CE stands for Common Era and BCE for Before Common Era. If you're feeling flighty and irresponsible you can substitute Christian Era and Before Christian Era - but beware the consequences.

Tony Gregory: Tieless Worker

So farewell then Tony Gregory champion of the working man and decent skin. He was surely the first man to grace to Dail without a tie and it became his trademark. His modest attire contrasted neatly with Haughey's Charvais shirts and silk ties - the one a model of integrity, the other an unprincipled scoundrel.

Monday, January 05, 2009

In Search of J G Farrell

When driving around the wilds of West Cork it’s always good to have a mission so on Friday last I decided to find J G Farrell’s house and the spot nearby where he was swept to his death while fishing. I’m armed with an ordnance survey map and Lavinia Greacen’s biography. The route from Schull involves driving up the east side of Dunmanus Bay and driving down the west side – a journey well worth taking without any ulterior motive. We pass through Durrus at the apex of the bay and head down to Ahakista (site of Ken Thompson’s impressive memorial to the Air India 747 crash) and onwards through Kilcrohane. I then let Farrell’s directions to visitors to guide me: “ Three miles past Kilcrohane on the road from Durrus, turn right at green shop, over brow of hill, right at a T junction, the fork left at cattle pen and first house on the right (You can tell it by the weeds.) “. Remarkably these directions written in 1979 are still good – the shop is brown-grey not green but everything else fits, and the house is still surrounded by weeds and bushes. Instead of Dunmanus Bay we are now looking out on Bantry Bay. It’s very isolated – I can see only one other house in the distance. The spot appears on no maps and there are no helpful signposts around. Without our book I don’t think we would have found it.

We park nearby and arouse the attention of a pair of collies. The owner comes out to check and we get talking. He’s an ex-trawler hand from Zurich but looks more like an old West Cork hippie – long blonde-grey hair tied in a streaming pony tail. He told us that he moved into the house a year after Farrell’s death and offered the opinion that Farrell liked a party because the garden was festooned with bottles of every shape and hue. Farrell bought the house with his Booker Prize money and used it as a writing retreat. Our old sailor said that his neighbours had various theories about Farrell’s death (assassination, suicide etc.) but he favoured (as I do) the simple one that he slipped and was dragged under.

The little cove where he drowned is about 300 metres down a muddy lane through rocky fields suitable only for sheep. It’s a bleak spot on a grey day. A small plaque on a rock gives the bare facts. Farrell was a very interesting man, rugby player, Oxford smart arse, labourer in the Arctic, polio victim (the experience that turned him into a writer), womaniser, solitary soul, and highly disciplined writer. He died tragically young at 44 but he left behind three of the best historical novels of the past century: The Siege of Krishnapur, Troubles, and The Singapore Grip.