Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pointing the Finger at the National Library

Reading Room at National Library of Ireland
I'd forgotten what a haven of decency and decorum our National Library is.  How tranquil the atmosphere is - how helpful the staff. The beautifully designed reading room with its archaic fittings and first come first served ethos is ideal for researching.  And you can now order books online, as I did, and have them waiting for you when you arrive.  They even have a cafe these days.  I settled in with my books and began to take notes for a writing project.  Apart from the occasional distraction of some toothsome young woman moving through the room all was quiet industry.  The suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, like the Japanese at Pearl Harbour, I was attacked.  A short, stocky, choleric creature, vaguely feminine, appeared in front of me and it was clear she was angry.  "You can't use a pen in here" she railed.  "Are you serious" I countered, "How am I supposed to take notes?".  "You must use a pencil" sez she, proferring the very article.  "It's in the rules that you signed  up for".  Of course I never read the rules, or the bloody Terms and Conditions, so she had me at a disadvantage.  However she made the fatal mistake of wagging her finger at me as she spoke, so instead of gracefully conceding my guilt I went on the offensive.  "Whatever about your rules, please don't wag you finger at me" I retorted.  Taken aback she had the grace to say "I'm sorry", thereby making me feel like a bit of a prick.  Score draw I'd say.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Neil Young at the RDS

Neil Young and Crazy Horse
I got a last-minute complimentary ticket for this gig so I hurried along to check out the old trouper.  The last time I'd seen him he'd leavened the endless guitar pyrotechnics with enough lyrical interludes to keep both sides of his fan base happy.  I was hoping for a similar balance.  The opening number (Love and Only Love) ground on for over 13 minutes with those irritating false endings.  Not a good portent. Neil and his grizzled buddies from Crazy Horse were clearly having fun but I suspect that a lot of the audience were not.  As the show progressed it was clear that this was going to be a heavy-metal night - the old boys punishing their guitars in unison, often forming a tight little circle as they raved on.  Cinnamon Girl provided some relief but it was temporary.

Whatever his choice of music the people in the stands at the RDS are so far from the action that they may as well not be there.  Up under the stage was the only place to be.  Ok you got the usual cider wielding louts barrelling their way back and forth, and the odd idiot dancer bumping into you, but generally there was no hassle, and the sweet smell of hash in the air gave me a mild secondary buzz.

It was good to see the great man in such good nick and so clearly happy with himself.  But I could only engage infrequently with the music.  That weird evocative voice can still work its magic - there just wan't enough of it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rancid Ruminations - June 2013

Photograph from RHA Annual Show 
I do despair of Channel 4.  They have revamped one of their very best programmes, Channel 4 Racing, and in the process destroyed it.  Like the base Indian throwing away a pearl richer than all his tribe.  Did they know not what they had?  Recent surveys have told them that about 90% of people prefer the old formula.  It's not merely the irritating new people:  Claire Balding running around like a head girl on crack, commandeering the mike at every opportunity to bellow out the bleeding obvious; and the deplorably eager Rishi running after her with his tail wagging.  It's more the change in tone.  It's moved from low-key knowing professionalism with a tincture of world-weary cynicism (usually courtesy of John Francome) to a jolly hockey sticks false heartiness, dizzying location changes, and relentless bon homie.  It's lost its soul.  And is it my imagination but hasn't the royal ass licking grown more intense in recent weeks?  With Royal Ascot yet to come, heaven forfend.  It isn't just the amiable old broiler Bess who gets the grovel, that bettle-browed autocrat from Dubai is also smothered in deference.

Don't you grow weary of all this guff about Seanad reform.  Let's be honest and abolish both the Dail and the Seanad.  The Dail does not run the country - it's merely a container for lobbyists with specific local interests.  There is no real debate - no freedom of expression - just kiss the whip. The country is run by 3 or 4 senior ministers and the upper echelons of the public service - with the connivance of the Law Library.  Nothing radical will happen.  Imagine this lot abolishing RTE as Greece has just done with its public broadcaster.  We are even afraid to tackle the obscene salaries of our jaded time-servers.  The abortion debate is a non-issue cranked up following an incident of egregious medical negligence.  It's a distraction merely, a side show. And while we had no problem bringing in special powers to handle the IRA, we lack the will to touch the robber-barons who have plundered our finances.  They laugh at us from the US and other lands of capitalist refuge.

There is a worm at the heart of Tipperary hurling.  They have a young and highly skilful team leavened with a few wise old heads.  They won an All-Ireland a few years ago and looked set fair to win a few more.  But now that seems a freak result.  They caught Kilkenny weakened by injuries and on an off day.  Every time they meet this weakness surfaces.  They lack real appetite for the physical battle. Kilkenny are close to them in skill and organisation - but radically harder and more cynical.  Intestinal fortitude is where they differ.  This dearth showed itself again last Sunday against Limerick.  The Tipp forwards were physically bullied by the Limerick backs.  What to do?  Maybe send a few big lads forward - blend beef and skill up front.

The annual RHA show seemed stronger that usual this year.  Of course there were the usual waxen portraits of worthies from academe (step forward James Hanley) and way too many undistinguished pieces from the RHA members.  However,  there seemed to be a lot of new names, many of them foreign.  Mick O'Dea had some great portraits of fellow painters Charlie Cullen, Mick Cullen and Stephen McKenna.  There were a number of outstanding photographs (see image) and the customary elegant beauty of Eilis O'Connell's work.  My favourite piece was a typically edgy rural landscape by Martin Gale ("Fences").