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.


On my annual visit to Schull I eventually track down the site of the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. It’s a godforsaken bleak hillside in Dunmanus West. You turn off the main road between Schull and Goleen, follow a narrow road meandering uphill and then take an even narrower path through rocks and scrub land. You turn a corner and are suddenly confronted by the incongruously large white house with a multitude of windows gazing down accusingly on the spot where the body was found. The site is marked by a simple Celtic cross bedecked with flowers and wreaths (“Sympathy and Prayers from the Kingston Family”).

I am struck by how far the site is from the house – it’s about 150 yards down a winding lane. There are plenty of loose stones and rocks around and a couple of ominous breeze blocks. How dark and lonely a death in this bleak spot.
The whole affair is an indictment of the local gardai. The crime scene was compromised by their failure to preserve it and there was a fatal delay in gathering forensic evidence. I’m surprised that there wasn’t anything gleaned from the victim, but who knows whether she ever got to grips with her assailant. Locals say that the Murderer still walks the streets of Schull.