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.