Saturday, March 26, 2016

Mariah Garnett - Other an Father

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on 11 March 2016

The Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) in Belfast encompasses three separate galleries and a risk-taking programme that contrasts with the more conventional Ulster Museum exhibitions. One of its current shows features Mariah Garnett an LA-based film maker often associated with LBGT themes. Garnett's previous subjects included the iconic gay porn star Peter Berlin and the transgender historical figure Catalina de Erauso. Her first solo show outside the USA looks at the circumstances that led to her Protestant father's departure from Belfast during the Troubles because of his relationship with a Catholic girl. Garnett bases her film on the now seemingly innocuous BBC interview her father did back in 1978 that got him into trouble with both communities. The exhibit consists of three films: the original BBC interview, a recreation of the interview where Garnett dresses up as her father (convincingly but for the baggy overcoat) and a transgender actor plays his Catholic girl-friend, and finally a film of Garnett interviewing her father now as they watch the old BBC film. While Freudians may have a fine old time speculating on a woman dressing up as her father and employing a transgender actor to play his girl-friend, the resultant film seems more whimsical than portent-laden.

John P. O'Sullivan


Monday, March 21, 2016

Blue Notes

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Sunday Times Speakeasy column on 20 March 2016.

Blue arrived in our Cork secondary school half way through 3rd year from Dublin so he was always going to be an outsider. He was a rheumy-eyed, dirty blond haired boy with a blotchy complexion. Our school was relentlessly philistine and success on the sports field mattered far more than other pursuits. Blue had no interest in games and not much in academic matters either. He also had a fine line in insolence, which did not endear him to Brother Leo - our ferocious Latin teacher. Leo made it his mission to beat this insolence out of Blue. He was singled out for almost daily beatings that went far beyond the routine punishment we all suffered. Leo would often lose his temper as he beat him out of the room and continued his ministrations in the small adjoining teacher’s room. One curious thing I remember from that time was his virulent dislike of his mother. Issues with fathers were common-place amongst adolescent boys, but it was unusual to encounter such animosity for a mother.

We were never very friendly and I thought no more of him after we left school. A few years later between stints at university I spent some time in London. Going into Piccadilly Circus tube station one day I met Blue and a couple of other Cork guys – including the infamous Judd Scanlon (later to spend time in US, British and Irish jails for heroin dealing). We got talking and they told me that they had a scam operating whereby they went around different dole offices in London signing on under different names. This way they made a comfortable living. They also had acquired a pile of unused tube tickets and generously tossed a few in my direction.

I bumped into him and his cronies from time to time in London in ’68 and ’69. These were halcyon days – the anti-Vietnam protests in Grosvenor Square, the legalise pot rallies in Hyde Park and of course the Stones in the Park (a sad anti-climax that). Blue had started to deal drugs – mainly hash but also LSD and various uppers and downers. He had become, according to his friends, extremely paranoid and reckoned he was being followed around London. He carried a Polaroid camera with him every where and would wheel around in the street and photograph those walking behind him to try and establish who was on his trail.

I moved back to university in late ’69 and didn’t see Blue again for about 6 years. After university I spent a few years working on oil rigs around the world. Between operations we spent 6 months in dry dock in Amsterdam getting our drilling ship refitted. We would head into the bright lights most evenings after work. I was walking through the red light area one night on my own when I bumped into Blue. He was very upbeat and invited me back to his nearby apartment to sample some of his wares. It transpired that he had moved on to heroin dealing and was doing well. He introduced me to his very pretty 17-year old French girlfriend. She couldn’t stay long as she was going across the canal to her work in a live sex show - a thriving industry at the time. Blue made tea and invited me to join him in snorting some heroin. He was thoughtful enough to warn me that first time users often vomited when using this method. We sat back and reminisced about the old days in CBC. A little later there was a knock on the door and Blue opened it to reveal two middle-aged Chinese men in suits. It became clear that my presence was superfluous to requirements so I took myself off back to the rig.

In 1979 I had moved to Dublin and found more conventional employment. I was driving past the old Salvation Army hostel off Stephen’s Green one late afternoon and spotted Blue emerging. It looked like he was down on his luck. A few week’s later I was sitting in Stephen’s Green admiring the flowers. Suddenly Blue appeared making erratic progress across the grass and through flower beds. He seemed very agitated. He was shouting and gesticulating while he kicked the heads off inoffensive flowers. I left him to it.

My last sighting of him came around 1990. I had been staying in a hotel in Bloomsbury and was getting a tube to Heathrow the following morning. I was standing with my suitcase on the platform of Russell Square tube station when I saw a familiar figure working his way down the platform begging. He was very shabbily dressed and I particularly remember that the sole of one of his shoes was flapping. About half way down the platform he spotted me and before I had a chance to say a word he abruptly turned down one of the exits and was gone - into the underground. He's never been heard of since. Should I have offered some succour or was it too late?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cheltenham Post-Mortem

I'm glad that's all over. It was a vintage festival with many highlights but it's so all-consuming that I need a break now. Back to the rugby. Yesterday's best race was the Gold Cup and Don Cossack won impressively. I suspect Willie Mullins needed the ground softer for Djakadam who came second. It's rare to see Mullins' impregnable amiability punctured but his disappointment showed in the interview afterwards. Don Cossack was only 11-4 when I backed him but I was especially delighted with this result for Brian Cooper his star-crossed jockey and for the doughty trainer Gordon Elliot, tieless in Gloucster. I had another winning day thanks to yet another Paul Nichols handicapper - Ibis Du Rheu won the 4.50 for me at 18-1. That gave me a handsome four figure (OK, just about four figures) profit for the four days. Sprinter Sacre's win was the highlight for me although I thought Altior was sensational in the Supreme Novices and I enjoyed Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle - even if she did beat my fancy My Tent Or Yours. Thistlecrack was also superb in the World Hurdle (again I was second) as was Vaoutour in the Ryanair. The good ground helped matters. To end on a sombre note we can't omit to mention the death in action of No More Heroes and Long Dog - the down side for Gordon Elliot and Willie Mullins.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Thoughts on Cheltenham Day 4

Day 3: Post Mortem: While not quite a disaster Day 3 was worse than mediocre - a case of getting it slightly wrong and scraping by on my each way bets. In the JLT Garde De Victoire was going well until he landed clumsily three out and went arse over tip. Road to Riches was clearly inferior to Vautour as was Alpha Des Obeaux to Thistlecrack, I had them both each way - I just hate backing short-priced favourites as a general rule and so I often ignore the obvious. I will draw a veil over the Coral Cup although Broxbourne plugged on gamely. It was great to see Colin Murphy win with Empire of Dirt but I didn't trust his jumping and so eschewed a trainer I follow who always means business at Cheltenham.


Day 4: I'm getting bored now - I preferred when Cheltenham was just three days. It's hard to sustain the intensity for four days. The Triumph Hurdle is a hard one. but I like Paul Nichols young hurdler so I'll go for Zubayr. In the County Hurdle Wait for Me beckons although I will have a few bob on Cheltenian at a huge price. I will go for another fancied horse in the Alfred Bartlett: Shantou Village. The Gold Cup is best watched but if I bet (as I probably will) it will be Don Cossack. My policy of ignoring Willie Mullins apart from Vroum Vroum Mag has to be sustained. All his horses were at false prices - except Vautour (a bargain at evens) who it was claimed was below par.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thoughts on Cheltenham Day 3

Day 2 Post-mortem: After a distinctly unpromising start with No More Heroes severing a tendon when apparently going well two fences out, things got much better as Day 2 progressed. I had to back Sprinter Sacre (above) at 5-1 and he ended up giving us the biggest story of the Festival so far. He had been written off because of a heart murmur and many felt he should have been retired. Instead he recovered his former prowess and slaughtered the Mullins favourite. Bolger's horses ran disappointingly in the cross country and I was not alone in thinking the sainted Nina Carberry may have given Josies Orders too much to do. Although a mistake a few fences out didn't help. I should have stopped at this stage but decided it was time Paul Nichols had a winner so I backed both his horses in the Fred Winter. Diego Du Cahrmil had smart French form and word from the gallops was positive, as was the decreasing price. Romain De Senam was too long a price for his form so I added him for insurance. They finished first and second after the fortuitous last hurdle fall of two Irish challengers. That result ensured that this year I'll finish ahead no matter what happens over the next two days.

Day 3: But the show goes on. Nobody gets rich betting in Novice Chases so I'll put Garde La Victoire in my Yankee but otherwise will avoid the JLT at 13.30. The Pertemps Final at 2.10 is a puzzle so I'll chance Leave at Dawn because of Charles Byrne's hit rate when he travels from Ireland for big handicaps. I like Henderson's Broxbourne e.w. In this race as well. The Ryanair Chase is supposedly at the mercy of Vautour but I never bet odds on and so will look to another Irish horse Road to Riches for e.w. value. I've always been a fan of Mouse Morris at Cheltenham right back to Trapper John many years ago. He seems to have a knack with long-distance hurdlers so I'll have a bet on Alpha Des Obeaux in the World Hurdle. The last three races I may nibble at as the day unfolds but nothing jumps out at me except perhaps that John's Spirit is reasonably handicapped in the 4.10.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Thoughts on Cheltenham Day 2

Great start yesterday with two winners (Altor and Vroum Vroum Mag) and two seconds (Sizing John and My Tent or Yours). The most enjoyable and impressive win was Altior in the Supreme Novices - a race I have done well in historically. The biggest disappointment was Polly Peachum who never got going in the mare's hurdle. I suspect her very hard previous race took its toll.

I can't get too excited about day 2. I won't bet in the first race as I can't decide between Yanworth and Yorkhill. I think No More Heroes will win the RSA and I'll have a few bob on Politologue in the Coral Cup. Un de Sceaux seems unbeatable in the Queen Mother Champion Chase although if Sprinter Sacre could recover his sparkle he may surprise him. The Cross Country chase is usually a benefit for Enda Bolger so Quantitative Easing or Josies Order should win. But mostly I'll just be keeping my powder dry today and watching for fun.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Thoughts on Cheltenham Day 1

The first day of Cheltenham is always my favourite. You start with the Supreme Novices Hurdle, then the Arkle Chase, the Champion Hurdle and the Mare's Hurdle. There are also three indecipherable Handicap Chases that I will steer clear of except for a nibble at a Paul Nichols outsider. The four championship races I've mentioned are probably best watched as they all feature Willie Mullins (M) trained short shots with Nicky Henderson (H) training the most likely contenders in each case.

1:30 Supreme Novices: Min (M) or Altior (H)

2.10 Arkle: Douvan (M) or Vaniteux (H)

3.30: Champion Hurdle: Annie Power (M) or My Tent or Yours (H)

4.10: Mare's Hurdle: Vroom Vroom Mag (M) or Polly Peachum (H)

I may back these as forecasts rather than go for one or the other. Vroom Vroom Mag seems the best bet of the day (Ruby thinks so anyway) but Polly Peachum has great course form and is better each way value. She's probably my main bet.The Champion Hurdle is the most open in years - I'm not convinced that Annie Power is a two mile champion, especially on the drying ground so I'll look elsewhere.

For an outsider I'll stick a few bob on Southfield Theatre in the 2.50 Ultima Chase at 20-1.

Forget the last two races. They're novice chases, one with amateur riders, so anything can and will happen.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Source - Eddie Kennedy

A slightly edited version of this piece appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on 28 February 2016

Source, the title of Eddie Kennedy's new show, invites speculation. It could refer to the sea, the source of all life, that appears in many of the paintings. Or it could refer to North Mayo itself which thanks to the commendable support of the Ballinglen Arts Foundation is becoming to Irish landscape artists what Mont Sainte-Victoire was to Cezanne - a rich source of inspiration. Luminaries such as Hughie O'Donoghue, Donald Teskey, and Pat Harris have recently engaged with its troubled waters, its jagged coastline, and it's haunted past. Kennedy is the latest to be drawn the region. A Tipperary native he has abandoned the placid pastures of the Golden Vale to focus on the seas around Blacksod Bay and the imposing presence of Nephin. The predominant colours are the creamy white of the sea and the blue grey of the sky. These are bedecked with flecks of colour and the occasional bold horizontal of green or black. Kennedy resists the label of landscape painter but rather sees himself as one who experiences the landscape and transmutes this into art. The fruits of his encounter with the wild West are surprisingly tranquil paintings, restful on the eye and soothing to the soul.