Monday, June 28, 2010

The Dalkey Book Festival

Dalkey was en fete last weekend for its first book festival. The glorious weather helped and the local merchants pulled together impressively. The quality of the events varied. You had to tread carefully lest you happen upon Maeve Binchy dispensing blandness (that Chesire Cat smirk with no substance behind it); or John Waters (looking like Rasputin’s less charismatic younger brother) offering his unique brand of wrong-headed righteousness. There was some diversion in the likes of John Connolly and Declan Hughes discussing the best of crime fiction and Bruce Arnold talking about the art of writing about art. David McWilliams seemed to be everywhere, dispensing good humour and positive energy. There was plenty of literary heft and intellectual substance with Declan Kiberd and Robert Fisk showing up. My favourite event however was the interview with Conor McPherson in the Heritage Centre. The interviewer was Gerard Godley who is a jazz man so we were entertained by a wide-ranging discussion rather than one confined to the minutiae of his plays. McPherson looks more like an accounts clerk in an IT company than a tortured artist and there was an impressive absence of arse about the whole proceedings. He was inspired to begin writing by seeing a production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. He did make one revealing comment when he maintained that he had a strong sense of the wonder and mystery of being alive and that he tried to bring that awareness into his work. This is something we tend not to say in these empirical days – with Dawkins and Hitchens bringing us down to earth – so it’s refreshing to hear it from one of our brightest and best. What is the stars, what is the stars indeed.

The only criticism I’d have of the whole event was that demand for seats far exceeded space so they may have to lose some of the intimacy of venues like the Tramyard and the Idlewild CafĂ© to accommodate more punters. Let’s hope it becomes an annual event.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Killer Inside Me

Don't let all the febrile witterings from the right-on British press put you off going to see this excellent film noir from the estimable Michael Winterbottom. (I enjoyed his last film as well - a decent stab at the story of Daniel Pearl called A Mighty Heart.) Casey Affleck plays a sociopathic cop in a small Texan town in the 50s. He has a penchant for spanking and casual murder. The period and milieu are perfectly recreated and Affleck is superb as the affectless villain. The much talked about violence is no worse than I've seen in hundreds of movies. The fact that it's done to women that he's been romantically (or sexually anyway) involved with makes it more shocking I suppose. Also, some feminist critics may have taken exception to the compliance of these women in the S and M games that preceded the murders. All done in the best possible taste in my opinion. Although the plot was a little unlikely, and the suggested Freudian origins off Affleck's behaviour a tad simplistic, this was a powerful and entertaining film. And there's a great original soundtrack with a Last Picture Show feel to it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fear of Balding

The gold standard for horse racing coverage is set by Channel 4. It has the peerless John Francome and shrewdies like Jim McGrath, Alistair Down and Emma Spencer. It even has an Essex girl Tanya Stevenson keeping an eye on the exchanges and a finger on the pulse of the betting market. All professionals, all enthusiasts. Ok there is that bufoon McCririck but he's been marginalised in recent times.

Then you have the shambles that is BBC coverage. Clare Balding would make a great head girl, or perhaps captain of the lacrosse team but she's a ponderous disaster as a presenter. Her speciality is stating the bleeding obvious with heavy emphasis. Then they cruelly give this large ample arsed woman the tiniest co-presenter on TV, the famously inarticulate Willie Carson. They are never prepared. Carson keeps getting asked questions he has palpably to bluff answers to and there's any amount of off camera muttering as things unwind farcically. Their Royal Ascot coverage is a bad joke. Before the big races they have Balding gallumphing around the paddock pointing out who's who - like a nosey neighbour. Their post-race analysis is done by another distractingly diverse couple - the miniatiure ex-jockey Kevin Darley and a very tall pundit. Finally you have a guy called Richie who gallops around like a dog with two mickies grinning inanely as he asks questions of brain melting banality. The only relief is when the race starts and the one professional on the team, the commentator (another Jim McGrath) takes over. And don't get me started about the camp fashion spotter - straight out of a Carry On movie. What a bloody farce. It's fair wrecking my buzz and the racing itself is so wonderful.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This Sporting Life - June

These days I am mostly watching racing. The World Cup is a buzzing sound in the background. I'm sure I'll start taking an interest at the quarter final stage. So far, from what I saw, Argentina played the most interesting football.

This week we have the annual glorious coincidence of Royal Ascot and Bloomsday - and sunshine to boot. Yesterday the Queen Anne Stakes opened the royal meeting with the best race of the 5 days - no keeping the good wine until last here. The French super mare Goldikova beat the English colt Paco Boy thanks to Richard Hughes waiting a few strides too many before launching his challenge. Aidan O'Brien's Rip Van Winkle performed like most of O'Brien's horses this season - badly below par.

The Irish rugby team are jaded. They should not be touring - it's purely a money making gig and is unfair on the players. By the way, what has Alan Quinlan done to Kidney? There is hardly a back row forward left standing in the country (Ferris, O'Brien, Leamy, Muldoon, McLaughlin, etc. all out) and yet he picks some pimply adolescent from the under 20s rather than someone who was selected for the Lions last year. It can't just be the gouging incident as Jennings was found guilty of the same offence. And our craven rugby journalists seem unable to address the issue directly. Given his lineout prowess Quinlan was an obvious choice to tour in the first place and was fit and fresh. Why was he ignored? Will no one ask the costive Pres boy?

I am sulking with the Tipp hurling team after their spineless display against Cork. Like a disaffected lover it will take something special to win my love back. They will now have to do it the hard way - maybe Galway in the quarter-finals and Kilkenny in the semi-finals. So be it. I am waiting for something to rekindle my faith. Otherwise Sheedy may have to go. Declan Ryan watches from the wings - his hour come round at last?

Although I backed Workforce to win the Derby and he obliged by 7 lengths in a record time, I am not convinced that he's a great Derby winner - in the Sea the Stars, Shergar, Nijinsky mould. The record time means little. Some of the best Derby winners had relatively slow times. He took advantage of O'Brien's pace maker and the going was very fast. I think it was a weak Derby. Time will show us the wiser.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Paul McCartney at the RDS

Is it safe to admit that I was at this gig last Saturday? Will I be consigned to the carpet slipper and slippery elm food brigade? What the hell - here goes. It was a blast. McCartney's enthusiasm and engagement with the audience (including a number of Irish phrases) was in stark contrast to my last stadium gig - that addled old curmudgeon Dylan hiding under his hat. Two giant screen on either side of the stage helped. His voice was in excellent nick (another contrast with Dylan) and he ran through the Beatles back catalogue with freshness and verve - the Wings and later McCartney stuff were mercifully kept to a minimum. Highlights for me were the slower songs, especially "Something" dedicated to George (started off on the ukelele), and "Blackbird" although he showed he could rock too with "Jet" and a wonderful version of "Let Me Roll It". The band were tight (the splendidly louche looking Brian Ray on guitar) and the sound perfect - and we got two and a half hours plus a fireworks display. He interacted constantly with the audience and seemed to be enjoying himself throughly. Take note Mr. Zimmerman.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Recent Reads - June 2010

The Forsaken by Tim Tzouliadis

This was a revelation to me, a well researched account of how a large number of US citizens fell out of the frying pan of the Great Depression into the fire of Stalin's Russia. These economic migrants were welcomed and feted initially but soon they began, one by one, to fall prey to the paranoia that prevailed under Stalin. The US embassy washed their hands of those who looked to them for succour - presumably viewing them as traitors for deserting their country. Aside from the great ogre Stalin, the villain of the piece is the US ambassador Joseph Davies who, in addition to ignoring the plight of his trapped fellow countrymen, sent glowing reports back to Roosevelt about the state of the Soviet Empire. Davies attended the Stalinist show trials and alone of all Western observers saw nothing untoward in these farcical proceedings. His main preoccupation was buying up Russian art treasures and shipping them back to the US. A monster of appetite and self-regard.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

While a lot of this was too technical for me, I think I got the message. And can even explain what a credit default swap is. While the world's economy was going down the toilet thanks to the reckless packaging and selling of sub-prime mortgage bonds, certain clever boys (and they were all boys) were betting against these bonds and making billions from their inevitable failure. The brazen effrontery of the financial institutions who marketed these scrofulous bonds and who, in some cases, also bet against them is a wonder to behold. And we thought we had poor regulation over here. The book is good on the personalities who populate this freakish enclave - a lot of them seem to suffer from Aspberger's Syndrome .

Solar by Ian McEwan

A light-weight comic offering by a man who in his early days suffered from a certain portentiousness. This is an amusing confection for the beach - and why not. In Michael Beard McEwan has created a character to rival Nick Cave's Bunny Munro or Martin Amis's John Self. He's ostensibly a scientist but his glory days are over. His main concern is indulging his appetite for drink, food and women - strictly in that order. The plot is replete with cod science and there's an unlikely murder scenario, but that makes no difference. Enjoy the fun of the set pieces - especially the frozen penis episode. If you don't laugh out loud at that I'll refund your money.

At the Same Time by Susan Sontag

I picked this up at a car boot sale in Dun Laoghaire. I noticed that the flyleaf was neatly inscribed with the signature of Sinead O'Connor. A common enough name of course but I hope she's not down on her luck. Or maybe it was just spring cleaning. This is Sontag's final book of essays published three years after her death in 2004. It contains her famous (or infamous) New Yorker article following 9/11 where she bravely bucked the trend. She's a true intellectual hero who, while sometimes priggish and gratuitously esoteric, expands our horizons and challenges our smug assumptions. The best essay in this book is about Leonid Tsypkin a Russian doctor who wrote just one novel - Summer in Baden Baden. It's a labour of love.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Rancid Ruminations

What fresh hell is this - being exposed on the national airwaves (Newstalk at lunch time) to the fulminations of that officious twat Gay Byrne. He was banging on about the 600 new speed cameras that are going to be installed - all the better to harass the persecuted Irish motorists still further. This is all about revenue gathering. Remember when parking restrictions were introduced we were told that this was to help traffic flow. Now it's an extortion industry - I can't even park outside Paddy Power's in Dalkey on a Saturday without some prick in a comic opera uniform feeling my collar.

For me the summer is over after the carnage in Pairc Ui Caoimh last Sunday. Nothing to look forward to but another lap of honour for the charmless Cody. Cork had the hunger and the passion, Tipp had lots of elegant stylists but they weren't allowed to play. It was like a saluki being attacked by a pit bull terrier. It ill behoves me to say an admiring word about Cork hurling - I still haven't forgiven Mattie Fouhy for throwing that hurley back in '61 (or was it '62). However there was much to admire about them last Sunday. I've always been a big admirer of Donal Og - both for his politics and for his tactical acumen. He threw in a few superb saves as well. The full back Cadogan was my man of the match though. Would that anybody on the Tipp team had his energy and manic commitment. Add the likes of John Gardener, the marvelous and ageless Ben O'Connor, and that family of South Sea Islanders they imported and you have a truly formidable force. Will they be able to crank up that level of intensity again this summer is the question. As for Tipp, I truly despair. What can Sheedy do with such a spineless bunch. And apart from Cummins they have no natural leaders. Maybe last September has damaged them fatally for they must know they left an All-Ireland title back there.