Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reflections on 2010

When I look back on 2010 it won't be in anger. Forget the economy, forget the weather, how could a year in which Tipp won a wonderful All-Ireland Final be considered a disaster.

Here are my best moments;

1. The exquisite pass from Noel McGrath to Lar Corbett that led to Tipp's second goal in the All-Ireland Final.

2. The removal of that pompous red-faced windbag John O'Donoghue from his sinecure in the Dail.

3. A definitive production of Death of a Salesman in the Gate - a parable for our times.

4. A glorious Goodwood where I enjoyed five winning days in a row.

5. Finally getting to the Prado and seeing for myself why Velasquez outranks Goya.

6. Sarah Jane Morris at Ronnie Scotts.

7. Novel of the Year: Damon Galgut's In a Strange Room.

8. A visit to Sean McSweeney's studio in Sligo.

9. Peter Green in the Olympia.

10. The winning point by Lar Corbett against Galway in the All-Ireland quarter final.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adams Auction - Bank of Ireland Collection

Because of the huge interest this auction was moved from Adam's to the Shelbourne. I had to run the gauntlet of a few well-turned out protestors with uniformly well-produced posters, Ballagh's influence perhaps. He was (some would say is) a graphic designer. He was very vocal in his opposition to the auction. The posters suggested that in some way the auction was robbing the people of their national heritage. This is a nonsense. It both flatters the work on show and neglects the fact that the work was hardly accessible to the people when the BOI owned it. Anyway IMMA had their pick of the choice pieces.

Although we weren't told so beforehand, it quickly became apparent that there were no reserves. A unique situation at an Irish art auction. However, as the estimates were set very low, most pieces went for the upper side of the estimates with quite a lot exceeding this. And there was lots of competition for most pieces. There were bargains to be had - a dark Dan O'Neill estimated from €6 to €8 K went for €4.5 K - but not many. A Dillon estimated at €35 K went for €50 K and Martin Gale estimated at €6 K went for €14.5 K. Le Brocquy and O'Malley were quite weak - all of the O'Malleys going for below the lower estimate and the Le Brocquys just about making the lower estimate. The Campbells sold well, as did some very dodgy McSweeneys. A poor Shinnors piece limped towards the mid-point in its estimate.

The only painting that remained unsold was a reasonable Barrie Cooke landscape. A resounding success for Adams but not a typical auction as many were buying for the cachet of having a piece from the BOI collection.

Monday, November 15, 2010

John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey

I was bored out of my tiny mind. This was stodgy, stagey old-fashioned theatre. The script by Frank McGuinness seemed stilted and occasionally clunky ("This disgrace breaks me to the bone") but that wasn't the crucial factor. My problem was believing in the central premise of the play - the battle for the heart and mind of Erhart. The concerns and mores of bourgeois Norway in the 19th Century don't carry enough of the universal to engage the interest. There were of course echoes of our own banking crisis in Borkman's plight - but these were peripheral to the main action. The set was impressive and the acting of the female characters was mighty fine - especially the gorgeous Lindsay Duncan. Even Fiona Shaw impressed, managing to harness her customary histrionics. I wasn't that taken by Alan Rickman's interpretation of Borkman - too low-key and mannered. And speak up man for God's sake.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Hugh Lane Revisited

What a wonderful amenity the Hugh Lane is. I hadn't been there for years so I went up last Tuesday to see the new Sean Scullys and to check out the collection in general. There's a great sense of spaciousness - the paintings are given plenty of room to breathe and they can be enjoyed in isolation from contending images. It's also nice and warm and would make a great sanctuary for cold tramps, but I suspect Barbara Dawson would not countenance any such blots on her escutcheon. I noticed a lot of yawning amongst the sparse attendants. What kind of job is that - sitting around all day. You'd want a very rich inner life.

The permanent collection is very much a mixed bag. There's worthy stuff by Mary Swanzy, Norah McGuinness, Orpen and Leech but do we really need mutiple Ciaran Lennons? Or Brian Maguires? Or anything by Mick Mulcahy. There is a smashing Jack Yeats (There is no Night), and a stark early Le Brocquy - not underivative of Francis Bacon. The Scully room is a bit of a disappointment - only three pieces, two very fine and one, I opine, a dud. The shrine to Bacon is a hoot. Can he really have worked in that chaos. Check out the multiple Krug boxes and note that he was a VAT 69 man as well.

The cafe down in the basement is a step up on your average museum cafe. There's an elaborate menu and waitress service only. There's also a collection of cakes that would do a Viennese emporium proud. It was empty apart from staff when I visited in mid-afternoon.

On the way out it did my heart good to see that heroic bust of Michael Collins by the great Seamus Murphy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Recent Reads - October 2010

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

A large part of this biography of Lincoln deals with the run up to the 1860 Republican presidential nomination and the stories of the three men who were his rivals: Senator William H. Seward, governor Salmon P. Chase and William Bates. We get loads of domestic and period detail - so much so that the actual nomination battle comes as an anti-climax. Lincoln comes across as a likable character, clumsy and folksy with a common touch and a talent for anecdotes, but a shrewd operator. And a man of principle - an attribute common to a lot of the politicians in those days. The roles these erstwhile rivals came to play on his new administration is the main theme of the book. Enda Kenny please take note.

Jim Thompson - the Unsolved Mystery by William Warren

He went out for a walk in the Malaysian jungle and never came back. This book tries to weave a mystery out of the Thai silk magnates disappearance but fails because there isn't a single clue to go on. The banal truth is that he probably fell down one of the innumerable ravines and the disorganised searches never found him.

Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens

Petty, point-scoring and self-aggrandising confection from the debased currency that is Hitchens. It veers from fawning adoration (Amis, Fenton et al) to blinkered hatred (Clinton, Ted Kennedy et al). Yet for all that it's an entertaining read. The section on Edward Said shows an interesting ambivalence and the early chapter on his mother (who committed suicide) is quite touching.

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace

I've long wanted to tackle David Foster Wallace but was loth to embark on a 900 page novel so I thought a book of his essays might be a good starting point. And, despite the tricksy typography and the rampant footnotage, I wasn't disappointed. Here's a writer who can move from porn conventions to English usage, from shock jocks to Dostoyevsky, from lobster abuse to radio hosts and retain his dry, lucid and sardonic tone. There are elements of gonzo journalism here but he is a finer phrase maker than Hunter S. Thompson and has a more intellectual bent.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oliver Sears Gallery

With all the gloom about and many galleries closing down it's heartening to see a substantial recent addition to the Dublin gallery scene - the Oliver Sears gallery on Molesworth Street. It's housed in a beautiful Georgian building that used to be the Ib Jorgensen gallery - across the road from the Masonic Lodge. It had a very successful Stephen Lawlor show a few weeks ago and last night a huge crowd turned out for an eclectic show by the sculptor Patrick O'Reilly. Oliver Sears is a class act and we enjoyed generous helpings of champagne as we checked out O'Reilly's strange mix of styles. Here a conventional but well-wrought bronze Pegasus, there a weird confection that looked like large iced caramels, outside an elegant silver tower made from tin cans, a hefty curved bull and many more surprises. Bemusing and entertaining - check it out. The crowd were mature and up market - I noticed the Gate's Michael Colgan really enjoying the champagne. There were lots of artists in attendance including Hughie O'Donoghue (Sears hottest property) and the very amiable Keith Wilson. Sales were't great but sculpture is notoriously slow to sell. O'Reilly is popular and has been doing well at auction.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This Sporting Life - October 2010

• Who gives a flying fuck whether that potato-headed pussy hound Wayne Rooney stays at Manchester United or goes to an even richer club for even more money. The whole English football scene is so bloated and decadent that it’s impossible to engage with it. From time to time the old-fashioned decencies of a modest club like Everton overcome ones' cynicism but these moments are few and far between.

• Lar Corbett gets hurler of the year – probably on the basis of his hat trick in the All-Ireland Final but well deserved for his form throughout the year. His finest moment was that crucial match winning point against Galway in the quarter final – a match Tipp came very close to losing. Cometh the hour.

• For sheer intensity it’s hard to match the Heineken Cup and Munster and Leinster’s matches last weekend were up there with the best of them. Going against stereotype Leinster’s win was a heroic rearguard action while Munster’s was a 6-try massacre. Munster loaded to the gunwhales with grizzled veterans refused once again to be written off. I just wonder if they can repeat these feats of derring do on a consistent basis. Surely this season is a last hurrah for a whole host of them. Long term tips are Leinster and Leicester.

• The Ryder Cup – what a drama. And not just because I had a substantial sum riding on that phlegmatic Norn Ironer Graham McDowell. And aren’t you weary of Tom Humpheries’ bi-annual pop at the event, complete with mandatory references to Pringle sweaters. Yawn, yawn.

Workforce wins the Arc - how can such a thing be. I had his Derby written off as a freak. Horses eh

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dead Artists Liven up Adam's Auction

In marked contrast to the recent de Vere event there was a very lively and successful auction at Adam's last night. There was a decent crowd and some lively phone bidding. I noticed John de Vere lurking in the wings -taking note no doubt of where he went wrong. Adam's clientele are noticeably different to those you see at Whyte's and de Vere's - there's a lot of old Dublin professional money about, unaffected perhaps by the recession. You see it in the clothes (brogues, waistcoats, old jewelry etc.) and the general air of confident entitlement. There are a lot of husband and wife teams and a fair percentage of older women.

Adam's has always stuck to the more conservative and traditional side of the art market and were often regarded as a little old-fashioned compared to Whyte's and even de Vere. They have however a loyal following who don't follow contemporary trends and consider the presence of a painting in an Adam's auction as a kind of imprimatur. I stayed for the first 100 lots and 86 of these sold - most of them well above their lower estimates. These works were mostly safe conservative landscapes, portraits and still lives by dead artists such as Frank Eggington, Charles Grierson (who?), Frank McElvey Nath. Hill and Charles Lamb. A good quality Paul Henry went for €72K. The most adventurous works sold were the two Colin Middletons for €11.5K and €13.5K - one of these was well below mediocre. Most of the living artists on view did badly although there were good reasons in a few cases. A huge unwieldy Shinnors triptych was withdrawn at €45K, an overpriced John Doherty at €24K and a truly dire Blackshaw at €22K. Even the normally reliable Camille Souter failed to sell and was withdrawn at €7K. A number of early and poorly framed O'Malley's also failed to sell.

Overall though this auction showed that there's a decent market for safe paintings by reputable names - preferably dead.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Art Market Blues

Dire results at de Vere's auction in the D4 hotel last night - the first major art auction of the new season. The attendance was significantly smaller than usual. There was a reasonable number of good quality pictures with the estimates set noticeably lower than last year and yet nearly a third of the works didn't sell. It didn't help that usually ebullient john de Vere looked tired and shook and handed over half way through to his featureless factotum Rory Guthrie. Most pieces that did sell barely made their lower estimates. The usual suspects such as Teskey, Shinnors and Dan O'Neill did reasonably well - although a modestly priced O'Neill landscape didn't go. A large epic Paddy Collins of Yeats crawled to €29K while his other work didn't sell. Camille Souter remains popular and an airy fairy George Russell was one of the few works to surpass its higher estimate. Of the sculptors Rowan Gillespie did best. All in all a dispiriting indication that the art market is going the way of the property market. A rough estimate suggests that these works have halved in value over the past four years.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Death of a Salesman at the Gate

This play has aged well. The sign of a classic. Despite being tired and wet I was instantly drawn into the downward spiral of Willy Loman's life. What a powerful pleasure good theatre is. There was a great cast: Gate regulars such as Stephen Brennan, Barry McGovern and John Kavanagh, augmented by some smart newcomers (Garrett Lombard and Rory Nolan), and the star turn Harris Yulin as Willy. You'd know his face from numerous films and TV programmes.

The spare set worked well and what Joyce Carol Oates described as the "eerie dream-like melding of past and present" was carried out smoothly and convincingly. And how apposite the play is for our times - Miller's critique of capitalist amorality (immorality?) still holds good. A reference to bankers and jail brought a knowing laugh from the audience.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Banville on J G Farrell

Attended the symposium on J G Farrell at the Dun Laoghaire Mountains to Sea book festival last weekend. It was chaired by Lavinia Greacen - his biographer and all-around good egg, in a West-Brit gushing enthusiast kind of way. Although she is clearly a Farrell fan, her biography did include the warts, noting his emotional detachment and utilitarian attitude towards women. The panel included Greacen, John Banville, the nervy Rachel Cooke (the Observer writer), and a big amiable historical fiction writer whose name I have forgotten.

The sardonic and world-weary Banville was quick to prick the general veneration - attacking on two fronts. He described Farrell as "guarded and sinister with a creepy elegance." His major work Troubles he reckoned was too "finished and controlled" - whereas great novels should be "loose baggy monsters". Not a description that could be applied to much of Banville's oeuvre. He did praise Farrell as being "completely amoral" in his work - the "first requisite of the artist". He concluded by opining that he had died at the right time. His last novel, The Singapore Grip, suggested that he was waning as an artist. He lacked the engagement or passion to take things to another level. His letters and diaries were never ecstatic or despairing - he was always on an even keel. There were no wells from which to dredge material. Rachel Cooke hardly agreed suggesting that his work was "suffused with melancholy". She also took umbrage at Banville's playful suggestion that he might have improved as an artist if he had married a shop girl and the real world had intruded more. Well that certainly worked for Joyce.

Friday, September 10, 2010


That was a pleasant surprise and what a great match. After giving up on the Tipp team as a skillful but spineless lot after the Cork match they confound me by hammering one of the greatest teams in the history of hurling. Albeit a team that seems now to be over the hill - two retirements since the final confirm this. What worried me about the Cork match wasn't the defeat - few teams win at Pairc Ui Chaoimh - it was the lack of response by Tipp to Cork's onslaught. It seems they lacked leadership and intestinal fortitude. But as the season progressed they turned they changed this perception. There were Pyrrhic victories over Wexford and Offaly and then they were really tested by Galway. They gave away a couple of soft goals and found themselves 2 points down with a couple of minutes to go. But they didn't panic and picked off a couple of points before Lar Corbett hit a superb winner in the last few seconds. The Waterford match was an anti-climax - Tipp were in control throughout and were particularly impressive defensively - with Paraic Maher superb.

Kilkenny had their 5 in a row and injury distractions but they seemed strangely subdued for much of the final - creating very little up front. Mind you this was the best defensive performance I have ever seen by a Tipp team - they were tireless and harried Kilkenny in packs. It must be hard to recreate the intensity required to win an All Ireland year after year. Tipp were younger and hungrier and the had learnt some of the dark arts from their clash with Kilkenny last year. Also, they kept the ball away for that force of nature Tommy Walsh. Brendan Maher epitomised all that was best - bursting forward from mid-field and launching the boys up front, while Kelly was clinical from the frees and Corbett applied the finishing touches.

One worrying aspect of the whole business was how even Cork fans were behind Tipp - a patronising situation that we need to sort out. This team is young enough to win 3 or 4 more in the next 5 or 6 years - that should do it

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Redemption of Benny Dunne

For the stifled impulse there is no redemption according to the Bard of Baggot Street. You could argue that there is frequently no redemption for the unstifled impulse either. When Benny Dunne tried to decapitate the niggling Tommy Walsh in last year's All Ireland Hurling Final he got himself sent off and this tipped the scales back in favour of Kilkenny. Forget about the dubious penalty, forget about the missed goals, it was this incident that gave Kilkenny the lift they needed at a time when Tipp had them buried. I blamed Dunne. In forty years time when he's nursing a pint in the corner of a pub in Toomevara the thought that he was responsible for Tipp losing an All-Ireland they should have won will still be tormenting him. However last Sunday Sheedy had the tact and grace to send him on for the last few minutes and in that time he scored a point and was on the pitch to savour Tipp's unexpected triumph. Partial redemption at least I'd say.

Strange Experience in Lucca

My hotel in the centre of Lucca had offered a parking option but when I drove into the old walled town it quickly became clear that getting there was way beyond the abilities of my GPS. The tiny narrow streets are all pedestrianised and I was like Theseus in the labyrinth without an Ariadne in sight. I parked the car on the outskirts and walked to the hotel. The young guy at the desk produced a tiny map and marked a route for me so I returned to the car to give it a shot. Within seconds I was lost again, edging around corners into cul de sacs, negotiating my way around bemused pedestrian, and generally becoming hot, bothered and increasingly desperate. Then a portly middle-aged man on a scooter suddenly appeared in front of me and gestured me to follow him. I had no idea who he was or why I should follow him but being desperate I did so. He weaved his way around 4 or 5 corners with me in pursuit and then stopped and pointed to the little cul de sac where my hotel lay hidden - and rode off without a word.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On the Road Again

1. Ferry from Dun Laoghaire at 13:15 - packed with returning English holidaymakers. As ugly an agglomeration of humankind as I’ve ever encountered. They gather at the fast food queues as the ferry casts off .
2. I run for cover to the upgrade lounge but a snooty factotum tells me it’s full. I buy a coffee and endure. It’s a two hour trip.
3. Road out of Holyhead much improved these days – get a flying start. I’ve my GPS set for the fastest route to Dover but I’m not sure about my subsequent traipsing across north eastern Wales. Maybe it’s avoiding traffic – another feature. And it does warn me of speed cameras. A feature that will be useful back in Ireland.
4. I’ve given myself a tight 6 hours for the journey and my GPS ETA suggest I’ll need every minute of it – presuming no stopping.
5. Yawn yawn M1 for miles and then get caught in the M25 debacle as I circumnavigate London in fits and starts.
6. Things loosen up after the Deptford tunnel and I hurtle towards Dover.
7. Make the ferry with 30 minutes to spare.
8. It’s a French vessel. All restaurants are shut but I butch my way into the truckers canteen (full of burly men in shorts!) and enjoy a cheap and serviceable meal. No wine.
9. In Calais at midnight and head diagonally across France – bound for Nice.
10. Get as far as the Arras turn off at 2:00 and decide that sleep is necessary. Find a dodgy hotel in an industrial estate and get 5 or 6 hours and an adequate breakfast.
11. On the road again at 9:30. Heading for Lyons and points south. Using the toll roads is expensive. I spend around €100 traversing France. Nice addition to the French GNP when you think of the volume of tourist traffic these routes attract.
12. Reach St. Raphael by 18:00 but monstrous traffic jams suggest I go elsewhere for a hotel. Nice itself is out but I reckon that Sophia Antipolis would be a good bet.
13. Find a perfectly adequate Novotel and settle down for my first decent meal in 2 days. There’s a live French version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire going on in restaurant. I’m impressed with the literary nature of a lot of the questions: Zola, Baudelaire and the films of Stanley Kubrick amongst others. Plus Greek myth.
14. Pick D. up at Nice airport – Terminal 1 for Aer Lingus a good guess.
15. Then a hairy, scary switchback ride through the tunnels and winding dual carriageways connecting southern France and Northern Italy. Not for the faint hearted.
16. We fetch up in the beautiful Tuscan town of Lucca – its old walls in perfect condition after all these centuries – suggesting amiable alliances through the ages. We dine in the old town and sip sambuca by the marvelous Gothic cathedral.
17. Stay in the outskirts in a Best Western which makes up for giving us an unmade up room by presenting us with a fine bottle of mine. Class.
18. Head towards Arezzo past the ravaged mountains of Carrara. What looks like snow is in fact the exposed white marble treasured around the world.
19. And then the green hills and golden fields of Tuscany. Through Arezzo and a winding mountain to our eyrie overlooking Caprese di Michelangelo.
20. Let the idyll begin.

More anon.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Letter to Irish Times Today

Dear Madam,

While I understand the need to edit letters I think it is a bit cheeky to rewrite them. In yesterday's Irish Times you ascribed usage to me that made me cringe and afforded my family a cheap laugh at my expense. I would never use "a chara" and "is mise. This is civil servants' patois - a pious and perfunctory nod towards the language.

Yours etc.

I don't expect publication. Confounded: published in full.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shock Horror - Irish Times Edit Readers' Letters to their Detriment

Check out how the Irish Times edits letters without so much as by your leave. Outside occasional ironic usage I have never in my life used the phrases "a chara" and "is mise". Yet here I am sitting in my hotel in Nice fielding calls from my family wondering what's happened to me. I did however throw in a quote from Cill Cais which was omitted. Here's the corpus delecti. My original letter is first.

Dear Madam,

Every August we get the same old agonising about the poor Maths results in the Leaving Certificate. Maybe some year soon the whizz kids in the Department of Education will see some connection between the undue emphasis they put on our poor beautiful dead language and this phenomenon. Cad do dheanaimid feasta gan matamaitic.

Yours etc.

Here's what Geraldine published:

A Chara,

Every August we get the same old agonising about the poor maths results in the Leaving Certificate.Maybe some year soon the whizz kids in the Department of Education will see some connection between the undue emphasis they put on our poor beautiful dead language and this phenomenon.

Is mise,

Should I sue? Certainly the ridicule my family is already heaping on me demands some response. Where does that mouldy trollop Kennedy live?

Monday, August 16, 2010

This Sporting Life - August

Tipp are beginning to insinuate their way back into my affections. That Cork debacle was almost the end but I retained a vestige of interest and slowly they are winning me over anew. Wexford and Offaly were training sessions but the match against Galway, which I attended, showed an intestinal fortitude that I doubted they possessed. Then along came Waterford last Sunday all butched up from Davy Fitzgerald's midnight route marches and Spartan regime - and Tipp matched them physically and destroyed them with their superior skills. The open spaces of Croke Park suit this team. The Mahers are motoring, Lar Corbett is enjoying an Indian summer and the McGraths are bringing youth and fearlessness to the mix. Why even the notoriously inaccurate John O'Brien scored freely. Now dare we hope - of course we do.

Aren't you sick of Padraig Harrington and his endless gabbing about how he builds his season around the majors. He's only qualified for one of the four this year. He should practice silence, exile and cunning until he wins again. All the self-justifying guff is undignified. And I don't know why he's pitching for a Ryder Cup slot - in his heyday he didn't win a point in two Ryder Cups (two half points was his lot). His long game has disintegrated. And much as we admire the gloriously exuberant Rory McElroy (notwithstanding his role as a corporate shill for Jumeirah), the fatal flaw in his game was again evident as he threw away the USPGA at the weekend - hardly sinking a decent putt in his last round.

Doesn't your whole being recoil in horror at the avalanche of hype for the new football season in England. The hiatus between seasons seems especially short this year with the World Cup interlude. Do we care how many million City spend, or how Russian oligarchs affect Chelsea selections, or how furiously Ferguson chews his gum? The fact is that it's all about how much money you have to scoop up the best players. Chelsea or United will win, Arsenal will flatter to deceive, Liverpool will struggle to score, City will struggle for cohesiveness - the rest don't matter. The only thing more irrelevant is Scottish Football. The Irish scene is not discussed in polite company.

How can the English handicapper rate Harbinger superior to Sea the Stars on the basis of one, admittedly fabulous, performance in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stakes? Nonsense. And now of course that he's had to retire through injury a myth will be perpetrated. Sea the Stars won at all distances throughout the season culminating in a miraculous win the the Prix De L'Arc. Fie on't.

And Sharapova is back.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Glorious Goodwood

Betting on horses is of course a mug's game. But it's a game I've been playing since that fateful day in 1953 when my mother took me across the Curragh plains to watch the Irish Derby. That was the year that Vincent O'Brien's Chamier won on a disqualification and I had a shilling on him at 8-1. Being a pious little prick in those days I remember buying two plaster statues - the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary - with my winnings.

Since that auspicious day I've taken a keen interest in the horses and over the years have been to Ascot, Epsom, Cheltenham, Aintree, Goodwood and all the major Irish tracks. I've even owned a horse or two and spent quality time with Charlie Swan's mother. The key is to enjoy the racing and don't expect to make money. From time to time you win and that suffices. Don't depend on it.

One thing that's common to all gamblers is that you don't hear of their losses - which are often painful and persistent. They will talk up their successes though - so here goes. This is my betting diary for the 5 days of the Goodwood meeting last week.

Day 1: Indian Days: won at 14-1; Lord Shanakill: won at 13-2
Day 2: Ghimaar: won at 8-1
Day 3: Beachfire: won at 10-1
Day 4: Proponent: 4th at 25-1 Webbow: 3rd at 12-1
Day 5: Evens and Odds: won at 20-1; Midday: won at 15-8; Genki: unplaced

Five winning days in a row is unusual if not unprecedente

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Just finished David McCullough's 1,000 page biography of Harry Truman - and what a riveting read it was, and what a cast of characters: Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, and even a cameo appearance by JFK. The book while generally lauded has been described as "a valentine to Truman" and indeed it is hard to find a lot that is critical. But the times he embraced were so important and eventful and he showed such strength and character that you are inclined to gloss over aberrations like the Loyalty Program - where federal employees were vetted for any communist tendencies. And what times: the creation and dropping of the atom bomb, the founding of NATO, the creation of Israel, the Marshal Plan and the Korean debacle. Having dropped the bombs on Japan following intense military pressure he was horrified at the civilian casualties and strongly resisted any subsequent use - the military wanted North Korea taught a lesson as well. His finest hour may have been the highly unpopular sacking of General McArthur who had lost the run of himself in Korea and was ignoring White House orders.

Incidental curiosities were unbuttoned quotes from those non-PC times where casual anti-semitism was rife and a farm boy from Missouri had no problems calling a spade a spade.

As history I'm not sure that this is the definitive word on Truman, but as an entertainment about a fascinating character and auspicious times it's hard to beat.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Galway Farces

Here's a few thoughts about the Galway Races:

1. It's a party not a race meeting. Anyone interested in racing would be at Goodwood this week.

2. The races are mostly over-subscribed handicaps full of mediocre horses who have been running dishonestly for the past year to improve their handicap marks.

3. The exception to 2 are horses trained by Dermot Weld who is an honest trainer, a nice guy and extremely successful at this meeting. He's the only trainer I'd back knowing that I'll get a run for my money based on previous form.

4. The RTE commentators are racing insiders who will never rock a boat or raise a critical eyebrow. They're a bloody disgrace and the ugly red-haired one is creepily inclined towards sexist remarks - like when he twice importuned Barry Geraghty about his feelings for the generously proportioned female owner when Invisible Man won today.

5. Tracey Piggot is evidently a nice woman but a mind-numbingly tedious and talentless interviewer. Her special subject is the bleeding obvious and she shows no special insight into the horses or the jockeys. She may be the great Lester's daughter but he was famous for his riding and his taciturnity. I reckon RTE should have taken notice of the breeding.

Transports of Delight?

The way our chauffeur-driven government continues its war of attrition against the private motorist (NCT, VRT, more tolls on the way, and of course the impending speed cameras) you would imagine we had a reasonable alternative. But of course the Luas lines don't connect, the DART serves only those based around around Dublin bay, the buses are slow, infrequent and finish too early, the trains lack basic amenities, and there's no coordinated ticketing strategy. Beyond all this is an endemic contempt for customers from all these bloated unionised semi-state organisations. I remember travelling in first class from Cork to Dublin a while back and having to endure what seemed like a union meeting in the next section. A bunch of uniformed staff ate sandwiches and argued vociferously as the snail like breakfast service dragged on around them. Getting the Luas from Sandyford recently at 09:00 there was only one ticket machine working and a long line of agitated commuters watched as their fellow travellers fumbled with the one machine - a touch screen system almost unusable in the bright sunlight. Later that morning I was getting a DART from Tara street and found that the decrepit ticket machines took neither my debit card nor a 50 Euro note. When I finally located a tiny ticket desk, the pimpled churl behind the counter took major umbrage at my temerity in proffering a 50 Euro note.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hurling Accusations

The season is taking shape and I don't like what I see. Are we going to have to suffer more cheap triumphalism from the charmless Cody (we haven't forgotten his antics at the final whistle last year). Kilkenny combine the sublime skills of Sheflin with the controlled aggression of Tommy Walsh - a winning formula. All the remaining teams are deficient in different ways. Galway are a one-trick pony, without Joe Canning they are toothless. Cork are in decline and are missing someone like Seanie O'Leary or Joe Dean up front. The twin towers strategy was found wanting against Waterford. Tipp have all the skills but I feel they are short a few Tommy Walshes. Also they keep tinkering with their half forward line. Surely to God they can cobble together a decent unit from all the talent in the county. And, by the way, Seamus Callanan is not the answer. On current form Waterford are the closest to a match for Kilkenny but a lot of their senior players are on the wane and I'm not convinced the new guys will compensate - although I liked the cut of Shane O'Sullivan's gib. The only way Kilkenny are going to get beaten is if Tipp put together a half forward line and, more importantly, discover within themselves the kind of passion and physical commitment they encountered in Pairc ui Caoimh when Cork hammered them. An unlikely scenario.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Art in Schull

A recent trip to Schull coincided with their art week. The local shops and restaurants featured work by artists based in the area. These ran the gamut from dire to excellent. Representing the dire was Michael Whelton and there were a whole bunch of insipid landscapes by Jules Thomas (whose partner is Ian Bailey - Schull's most famous denizen) in the Black Sheep pub. Anyone looking for tell-tale expressionism from that source was out of luck. The estimable Chapter One bookshop had 3 pieces by John Doherty - two good ones of buoys in Sydney Harbour and an outstanding piece of a Carrick-on-Suir shop front - preserving for posterity the picturesquely decrepit. Further up the town in East Meets West had ceramic work by the supremely talented and frequently self-destructive Pat Connor. While he occasionally creates benign elephants and smiling birds, his stock-in-trade is angst and agony - gaping mouths and tortured poses. Many of his figures bring Munch's The Scream to mind and of late he has been producing wretched couples yoked together in Beckett style misery. Great stuff. There was also a smart abstract piece by his daughter Jo Connor.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This Sporting Life - July

The World Cup eh, the apotheosis of all that's trite and overblown - presided over by the super-annuated suspender expert Sepp Bladder. Even the bloody ball was garish and unreliable. And don't tell me South Africa benefited - apart from generating an awareness that you may not get car jacked if you steer clear of Johannesburg. From time to time there was magic - a couple of the Argentinian goals, Germany's devastating counter attacking against England and Argentina, the spirit of Landon Donovan and the Yanks, the pure skills of Spain before the clogging started, and the passion of teams like Ghana and Uruguay (especially the splendid Forlan).

The flat racing season is getting interesting. Despite the fact I bet on him I do feel that Workforce will prove to be an overrated Epsom Derby winner. He was beaten easily by Cape Blanco in the Dante and that horse flopped in the French Derby. Though he did redeem himself in a workmanlike way in the Irish Derby. The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot, when these two meet the older horses, will show us the wiser.

Wimbledon had its moments. The Ladies Final was effectively the match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the last 16. Two big hitters pounding each other over two close sets. The only difference is that Sharapova's service technique has too many moving parts, which leaves her prone to double faults, especially at tight moments. This proved the difference between her and the Williams juggernaut. The Wimbledon ladies finals have been deeply monotonous in recent years - Serena Williams' powerful and reliable serve repels all boarders except, occasionally, her big sister. The best woman's match I've seen this year was the final of the French Open where the Italian Francesca Schiavone defeated Samantha Stosur from Australia. Here we saw skill, shot variety and protracted rallies. I do like a sliced backhand and and a subtle drop shot. On the men's side we saw that as long as Nadal stays fit Andy Murray will never win Wimbledon. The reason is simple - Nadal's looped forehand is reliable, Murray's forehand falters under pressure. Of course Nadal retrieves better as well but Murray's service is marginally stronger if less reliable. Both have excellent temperaments but Nadal is a machine and Murray is a mere mortal.

Another great match between Cork and Waterford yesterday. Looking at it selfishly as a Tipp man I'm delighted with the draw - the ultimate loser will be vulnerable in the playoffs. But it's hard to call. That Cork half back line are the fulcrum of that team. Gardener, Curran and Sean Og are mighty men and Cusack is a hero in goal - but they are lacking in the forwards and this may undo them down the line. Mullane and Kelly may prove decisive in the replay especially if the Brick Walsh and newcomers like Shane O'Sullivan repeat their performances. As for Tipp's pyrrhic victory over Wexford, it'll take more than that to rekindle my enthusiasm. I need a win over Galway, Kilkenny or Cork.

Will Padraig Harrington ever win a golf tournament again? He's so bloody erratic off the tee these days that I doubt it. But I do feel that Graham McDowell, after his ice cold US Open win, has another one in him. He's got the right stuff temperamentally and a rock solid technique. What to do with Darren Clarke? He's playing well, especially tee to green, but he looks so bloody rueful all the time you suspect he's waiting for something to go wrong - as it did in the Scottish Open last weekend. If you could combine his accuracy off the tee and the fairway with Harrington's short game you'd have a decent golfer. As for the British Open this week, I fancy anybody but McElroy who will never win a major because he can't putt. This spake Zarathustra.

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 Café 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.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Art Musings

The annual RHA debacle is upon us. Looking at the paucity of sales you might wonder are the RHA now making more money from the entry fees than they are from sales. And of course the vast majority of submissions are rejected every year - there being little room for everybody else in a show dominated by the Academy members' multiple submissions. The exhibits are the usual mix of the good, the bad and the truly mediocre. I am mortally affronted every year by the poor quality of the portraiture - dead eyes in dead faces, no animating presence. Send the lot of them off to the Prado to see how it's done. There were occasional good deeds: a mighty fine Gwen O'Dowd, an exquisite little Eilis O'Connell bronze, a moody Martin Gale featuring a line of cars at dusk heading into the ominous countryside, and a super urban landscape by Donald Teskey. And then there was a plastic bag of used clothes with a little photographic ID showing through - the title was "My Father's Portrait" . The bag contained the clothes and property handed over by the hospital after the poor man died. Poignant? No, bloody trite.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Peter Green at the Olympia

Rumours of Peter Green's terminal decline are greatly exaggerated. Backed by a solid chugging band (including standup bass) he put on a fine performance in the Olympia last Sunday. Sporting a bandana and bearded like Captain Birdseye he beamed out on the audience as if he was really enjoying himself. The show took a little time to get going, but after a couple of perfunctory workouts we were treated to that sharp soaring sound that make him a legend amongst blues guitarists. And the amiable growl of a voice worked well. He ran through some of his popular stuff like Black Magic Woman, and Albatross but a large proportion of the show harked back to his John Mayall days and obscure songs by Robert Parker and Willie Dixon. The highlights for me were a virtuoso version of Parker's Steal Your Heart Away and a lengthy exploration of Rainy Night in Georgia.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Donovan at Russbrough House

The last time I saw Donovan was in the old Arcadia Ballroom in Cork back in the Sixties. It was very early in his career and he was plainly at sea as a public performer. I remember a lot to time spent tuning his guitar before he got going. I quite liked some of his songs but regarded him a lightweight in comparison to Dylan. When I saw that he was opening an exhibition called Atlantis to Arcadia in Russborough House I saw it as an opportunity to kill three birds with one stone. Pay my first visit to Russborough House, support the excellent Cherrylane Gallery folk who were presenting the show, and see how the old hippy was looking these days. The show was very well attended but was over awed by its salubrious surroundings - why look at the decorative and insipid art when you can enjoy the glorious architecture and antique silverware. Donovan made a short and zany speech that seemed to suggest that Atlantis was located off the Kerry coast and told us how much he had in common with John Lennon. He is still flying his freak flag but these days it's topped by some circular decorative headwear - a la Richard Thompson. After the opening the crowd go downstairs for the promised performance by Donovan. This actually consists of Donovan declaiming rather than singing something dreadful called Atlantis while abusing a perfectly good guitar. After one song he mercifully hands us over to Chris de Burgh (an in-law of the artist) who sings a tuneful and perfectly acceptable version of Catch the Wind - by far Donovan's best song. A rum do all in all but we left well amused.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meditations on Madrid

Just back from Madrid - an estimable city that heroically resisted that old brute Franco and had the gumption in 2009 to to strip him of all his self bestowed titles (honorary mayor of Madrid, Adopted Son of Madrid etc.).

The hugely impressive metro system takes you from the airport to the city centre for €2. Most other journeys cost €1. Whenever I travel in Europe I am struck by how the citizens are looked after by their governments. We have a dysfunctional public transport system and a punitive regime towards cars – the worst of both worlds. The four days I spent there I used the metro exclusively - it operates until 1:30 or so and is clean and regular. Now that's what I call public service.

The highlight of course was the Prado. My nomination for the best gallery in the world. I kept my focus narrow because you can be overwhelmed by the infinite variety on offer. I confined myself to Goya, Velázquez and Titian. I love Titian, his Ecce Homo is one of the most powerful paintings in the building and his Danae is definitely the most erotic. However I had never seen Velázquez en masse before and his wonderfully expressive portraits left the most lasting impression. Most of them were of Spanish royalty but painted as the poor bare forked animals that lay beneath the ruffs and finery. There was also a series of portraits of the court jesters or bufoons. The one that lingered in my mind's eye was Velázquez's portrait of Sebastian Don Morro. In his expression you can see his intelligence at war with his ridiculous station.

The Reina Sofia Gallery was also worth a visit - not just to see Picasso's austere masterpiece Guernica - but also to enjoy a playful collection of contemporary sculpture.

There's a moving minimalist memorial to the 2004 terrorist attack in the Atocha train station. It's interesting to see that amongst the 191 victims named in the monument there are only a couple of non-Spanish names - and these are Eastern Europeans ones. An indication that Madrid is not a tourist city like Barcelona.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Recent Reads - March 2010

Hitler by Ian Kershaw
Or how an art-school reject became a demagogue. It's very good on the early deadbeat days in Munich and Vienna and on the political chicanery prior to the Second World War. He was clearly asexual and seemed to get his orgasms from public speaking. It's still a mystery to me how he went from sad sack to beer hall orator to omnipotent leader. The will to power I suppose. Kershaw does his best to trace this route but it remains baffling. You can see the gradual progression in Stalin's rise but with Hitler there seems to be these massive leaps.

Love of the World by John McGahern
This collection of essays and reviews is a pure unadulterated delight from start to finish. Unlike the occasionally esoteric and acidulous Banville, McGahern keeps it direct and simple. And his judgements are more generous. His piece on the little known Patrick Swift is a gem and there's also a nice nod towards the great Edmund Wilson. It's not all literary, there are amiable rural reflections and some rueful comments on the state of the nation - the arrogance of the philistines in office. The writing is peerless and pellucid throughout. Buy it. Keep it by your bed.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Some excellent scene setting but the conclusion was a let down.

Letters of T. S. Eliot
For dipping into. A few surprises. He could be quite scatological in his exchanges with Ezra Pound, in marked contrast to the extreme formality of his letters to family and publishers. Also, these letters show vividly the health problems of his first wife and of his deep concern for her - contrary to what some biographies suggest. He also had to grub about for money for a lengthy period before he achieved financial security.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Yea, yea, very worthy. Convincing view of Thomas Cromwell from the inside and very sound on period detail - especially food and domestic stuff. I liked the alternative view of Thomas More and the machinations of Anne Boleyn and the suave Wolsey and all the court intrigue. It's a rollicking read. However, Henry VIII remained vague and peripheral and I would have liked to have seen Cromwell's comeuppance. Maybe that's the sequel.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Fine piece of reportage on the US school shootings. The initial plan was for bombs as well as guns but the bombs failed to detonate saving hundreds of lives. The book looks closely at the families of the two killers and finds little to suggest they were responsible for spawning monsters. One of the two was clearly a sociopath and the other a weak-willed follower. It still amazes me how blithely they viewed the prospect of their own deaths. They went into it knowing that they couldn't survive.

Thoughts out of Season - March 2010

I salute the person who came up with the Hell in Mirren headline after those Celtic sad sacks got hammered last night by St. Mirren in that great irrelevancy the Scottish Premiership. A headline that surpassed the event it described.

The Irish rugby teams defeat last Saturday was primarily a tactical one - Kidney failed us for once. He wasn't helped of course by Sexton's kicking failures or by Rory Best's public nervous breakdown, but he presided impotently over a team superior in almost every position that should have won easily. The Scots had a limited game plan - gain territorial position by Parks kicking on the right and Southwell kicking on the left. Then wait for Kaplan to give a penalty which he invariably did. Sexton's penalty misses sowed the seeds of doubt and the scrum and the lineout were a shambles. He should have brought on Buckley, Cullen and Cronin with 15 minutes to go. But instead he adopted a Mr. Micawber approach and inevitably nothing turned up. Mostly in rugby the best team wins. This was a sad exception.

For those of a cynical bent, Cheltenham was a pure delight. Binocular won the Champion Hurdle in fine style at the handsome price of 9-1 after been declared a non-runner a couple of weeks before the race. A few wide boys on the betting exchanges laid him at around 900-1, ostensibly taking advantage of those who hadn't heard or trusted the news. After he suddenly became fit again and romped home you might have expected some recriminations from the British Racing Press (or even the craven Irish hacks). After all we can recall the abuse visited on Jim Bolger after New Approach won the Derby after being declared a doubtful runner. Binocular's trainer is the incorrigibly amiable Nicky Henderson, whereas Bolger is a prickly perfectionist who doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Gentle Beating in Killester

It's good to get out on a fine Sunday afternoon. A DART from Dalkey to Killister and a 10-minute walk brought me to Parnell Park and an opportunity to see the thoroughbreds of Tipp open their National Hurling League campaign against Dublin. It's a nice intimate ground and you are right on top of the action. How young the players look and how slight compared to the rugby guys - although Paul Curran looks physically equipped to play number 8 on any rugby team. Now that helmets are compulsory it's very hard to know who's who although the numbers help if you have a programme.

It's clear from early on that Dublin are up for this game and that Tipp see it as a stroll in the park. The result is an easy win for Dublin. Nicky English is sitting directly behind me so I am treated to a rueful commentary on the proceedings. He's not getting very excited about things though so I expect that Tipp will improve from this first run. I have to absorb the abuse of my two Dublin buddies on the long journey back to Killiney. It's a long way to September.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Arrogance of Office

An illustration of everything that's wrong with this benighted republic was there for all to see in the Dail on the day of the debate about Willie O'Dea. The RTE cameras showed O'Dea, Dermot Aherne, and all the other Fianna Fail heros having a good laugh at the opposition as they tried to unseat O'Dea on a matter of principle. The notion that anything as spurious as mere principle should affect them was clearly hilarious. And of course it's beyond irony that O'Dea is a barrister and actually lectures on law. These guys have been in power too long.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Fall from Grace

The old story from Paris eh. You never give a sucker an even break. France were far from suckers and we gave them numerous breaks with our mistakes and poor decision making. And another thing, this French team were hugely well motivated and determined to show who was cock of the walk. This was exemplified by Parra - an annoyingly cocky and confident scrum half in the Matt Dawson mould. As a team they showed more hunger and intensity - a decisive ingredient in rugby. We lost despite dominating possession especially through the lineout. The French defence had plenty to do with this but we showed a lack of tactical nous by not varying our game more. Our backs, apart from D'Arcy's break, looked lumpen and one-paced. Their backs were faster and more varied in their attacking gambits. I felt that the French would have won anyway but the momentum turned after Flannery's foul. Instead of going to 3-3 we found ourselves 10-3 down shortly afterwards and never recovered. Healy's sending off further weakened a crumbling scrum. Kidney didn't help with his bench selection. He picked two out halves (Sexton and Paddy Wallace) and no wings. This meant that when Kearney went off 2 other players had to change position - Earls to full back and D'Arcy to the wing. If he had Trimble or Horgan on the bench we would have had better cover. And Paddy Wallace showed yet again that he's a game lad and a sound club player but is out of his depth in international rugby. Ferris and Heaslip were the only two Irish players to emerge with reputations unsullied.

Changes? Sexton for O'Gara certainly. Put Earls at full back for the injured Kearney and bring back Horgan on the wing (or maybe Trimble). Who knows what to do with the front row. Maybe Healy, Best and Court. Or maybe Horan, Best and Hayes. Neither one if going to trouble England. Where have you gone Tony Buckley, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Arthur Koestler

There's a new biography of Arthur Koestler by Michael Scammell that's just received a lengthy and laudatory review by the estimable Anne Applebaum in the current edition of the NYRB. Koestler's reputation has waned considerably since his death, for a variety of reasons. There's the lack of a manager for his estate (having taken the best qualified candidate with him when he committed suicide), there was the rape incident described in a previous biography by David Cesarani (he apparently didn't take no for an answer with Michael Foot's wife), and, perhaps most significantly, as a Hungarian Jew and native German speaker who wrote in English he doesn't really belong to any one country. And of course the actual suicide itself, where the dying writer took his perfectly healthy 55 year old wife along for the ride, didn't help.

I was an avid reader of everything he wrote when I was in college and I still have considerable respect for his achievements. Darkness at Noon was his masterpiece. Stalin and Russian communism were popular with European intellectuals at the time and Koestler's book helped to remove the blinkers from many. Not Sartre however, who was in denial long after it was reasonable and who broke off relations with Koestler as a result of the book (ok, Koestler also slept with Simone de Beauvoir which didn't help).

The book of his I enjoyed most however was The Sleepwalkers. This was a history of cosmology and astronomy brought to vivid life. I became familiar with the personalities and ideas of the likes of Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Copernicus and of course Galileo.This was the book that influenced John Banville's wonderful early novels about Kepler and Copernicus. Although a Jew by birth and an early supporter of Zionism he wrote a hugely controversial book, The Thirteenth Tribe, that argued that European Jews are not descended from the Jews who lived in ancient Palestine but rather from the Khazars of Central Asia. A thesis that went down badly in Tel Aviv and New York. Another reason perhaps for his relative obscurity.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

McSweeney in Yeats Country

Went to Sligo last weekend for an opening in the Sligo Art Gallery. Our first stop was Drumcliffe Churchyard to visit Yeats' grave. It's been tarted up since I last visited about 20 years ago. There's now a large car park and a bloody interpretative centre. However, the graveyard itself is untouched and there's still the wonderful unobstructed view of bare Ben Bulben.

The show in the gallery was of small works by members of the Graphic Studio Dublin in response to the poems of Yeats. It was a low-key event but the work was attractive and affordable. I bought an exquisite Stephen Lawlor piece entitled Glencar. A lot of the artists were present and we all repaired to Hargadon's pub in O'Connell Street afterwards. This is a great old pub full of nooks and snugs and mercifully free of the accursed television. And the pint was first class. Later we moved on to a French restaurant called Montmarte. The service was glacial but the food and the company compensated.

The following day we were invited to visit Sean McSweeney and his ever amiable wife Sheila in his studio out past Lissadell (which sported a large Closed sign). Sean had been at the centre of the drinking proceedings the previous night but was there hale and hearty to greet us at midday. Not bad for a 75 year old. The studio is a converted national school - formerly Ballyconnell National School for Male and Female infants - as the plaques outside testify. Although Sean is going through a dry spell at the moment the studio is tantalisingly full of past work - but it was not a time for negotiating art deals. There was a group of five of us and after a tour of the building we sat down to an excellent lunch of coffee, homemade brown bread and some local smoked salmon. The studio is idyllically situated amidst farmland with a brief walk to the sea and Ben Bulben and Knocknarea looming in the background to remind you of your heritage.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Dull Start to Six Nations

Neither France nor Ireland had to break into a sweat to win their respective matches. It was good to see O'Gara back to his best and Cullen may have fought his way on instead of O'Callaghan. Trimble or Earls will do on the left wing. If Ferris can't play against France, Kidney should pick Quinlan instead of McLaughlin - but he won't. It's a mystery why he has been omitted from even the extended panel. If it was gouging, Jennings is back from a similar offence. If it is age, Hayes is older - although of course in a position where options are limited.

France looked very strong against a limited Scotland. Their pack is fearsome and as usual they have speed and guile in the backs. Bastardieu is nothing special I reckon - a smaller and uglier version of Lomu. I'd be more worried about Clerc. Apart from a late flurry of activity, the England Wales match was nothing special. England have a great pack but nothing creative behind. Wales have a great back line but no pack - especially without Gethin Jenkins. I favour France overall as they are at home to their main rivals Ireland and England. By the way, is it my imagination or has the scrum become much more significant this year?

Friday, February 05, 2010

I have done the state

The excellent Taoiseach series on TV3 - it's full of rich anecdotes from the past. When Reynolds cleared out the cabinet after he took over, Mary O'Rourke sought a meeting to protest her case. Reynolds' response, God bless him, was to tell her "to get put of here with your ould guff". Dick Spring also recounted how Reynolds' idea of consultation was to tell Spring what decisions he had made. The rock on which he subsequently perished - with the Harry Whelehan business. One constant since W. T. Cosgrave relinquished power to De Valera is the complete absence in Fianna Fail of any set of beliefs or coherent political philosophy. It's all about the acquisition of power and the dispensing of the subsequent largesse. It shows in events like Albert Reynolds' blithe acceptance of Dick Spring's Labour coalition demands in order to remain in office. I also liked Justine McCarthy's succinct put down of Haughey - she reckoned he should have shortened his risible quotation from Othello to "I have done the state".

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Buddy Holly

The unfailingly good-humoured Tom Dunne Show on Newstalk is this morning playing music by Buddy Holly - as I write this I'm listening to Heartbeat. Today's the 51st anniversary of his death so why not. This was the music of my early adolescence and so never to be forgotten. In those days we got all our decent music on Radio Luxembourg in the early evening. It brought us the likes of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran and of course Elvis. But Buddy was always my favourite. His plangent bitter-sweet ballads were especially attuned to the adolescent sensibility - check out What to Do and Crying Waiting Hoping. And he played exciting rock and roll with songs like Rave On and Not Fade Away. He had a homespun authenticity that made him a more empathetic figure than most of his peers. And then of course the tragic early death - he was only 22. What he would have become - a tired Las Vegas act, the greatest singer song-writer in the history of the universe, a drink and drug burnout - remains locked forever in the realms of conjecture.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Avatar and The Road

Went to both these films in the past two weeks and found neither of them more than mildly diverting. I rarely enjoy films that have loads of CGI flying and fighting sequences - and I have a low tolerance of dragons and the exotic monsters of fantasy. The real world is grim and fantastical enough for me. Star Wars left me cold, for example, and I was unmoved by the Lord of the Rings. Avatar is no doubt a treat for the senses and the 3D effects were stunning. There parallels to be drawn with Yankee imperialism and rampant capitalism, and the remorseless pillaging of the Earth's resources, but the basic story was simplistic in the extreme - full of stock characters and situations. It was entertainment without content - like eating a meringue. The Road on the other hand was content without entertainment - a wholemeal muffin maybe. No film has the right to be so grey. The design and cinematography were sensational - image after image took one's breath away. But there was no break in the relentless grimness of the story. Even Beckett relieves the gloom with an occasional joke. You could admire a lot of it but you were hardly entertained.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recent Reads 2

J. G. Farrell in His Own Words edited by Lavinia Greacen

This is a combination of the letters and diaries of J. G. Farrell up to his untimely drowning near Kilcrohane. The letters mainly concern the logistics of a writer's life and are not that interesting except to throw light on his early struggles for publication and survival. There's a lot of moving between modest flats and importuning his publishers for advances. A sad irony of his death was that he had (thanks to the Booker prize) just achieved financial independence.There's also an ever changing cast of women with whom he's arranging rendezvouses - while making it clear that he is not the marrying kind. Fair enough I say. Also, touchingly, he continued to write to his parents up to the end. The occasional diary entries from New York, India, Malaysia and Singapore are more interesting as the descriptive powers of the writer are employed. And you get glimpses of the characters he encountered, including Sonia Orwell, David Lean and William Burroughs. The tone throughout is rueful and self-deprecating but underneath you perceive the driven ambitious writer.

The Humbling Philip Roth

In his Last Poems Yeats referred to the perennial nature of the sexual urge: "You think it horrible that lust and rage
Should dance attention upon my old age". Roth's recent novels with their elderly protagonists clearly establish that this is an itch that's never cured. There is a wonderful scene in Everyman where the terminally ill hero encounters a beautiful girl running on the beach and toys with the notion of asking her out. The barrenness of the present compared to the superabundance of the past is the theme of his late novels. In The Humbling the elderly character gets the girl and much unfeasible sex occurs. But this is merely a dying spasm and soon soon he is left with nothing but his lonely decline. A lot of people prefer Roth's earlier more wordy novels, I prefer these pared down minimalist meditations on sex and mortality.

Annapurna by Maurice Herzog

As a rule I love climbing books and admire the insane romantics who write them. But I'll make an exception for Herzog's account of his ascent of Annapurna in 1950. The tone throughout this chaotic book suggests a hubris hardly in keeping with the disastrous venture that he led. He also fails to conceal his contempt for the sherpas and the "coolies" they encountered. A refrain throughout is the dirt and smells in the villages they passed through. What a prig. Structurally the book is a bit of a mess with the climb itself taking a secondary role to the struggle to actually find the right mountain and the disastrous aftermath. Herzog exalts his own leadership qualities, quoting some petty examples of how he exerted his authority. For someone who lost all his toes and most of his fingers, a degree of modesty might have been more apt. He lost his gloves on the summit and climbed down bare-handed, despite the fact he had spare socks in his bag. An expensive oversight eh.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Red by John Logan at the Donmar Warehouse

I do love the Donmar - a theatre with no safety net. The audience sits around the edge of the stage on three sides, or looms over the action in the balcony. It gives it an intimacy and immediacy that is lacking in a more conventional theatre. Given its modest capacity it's inclined to go for more experimental theatre and its audience is invariably young and right on.

I hadn't read any reviews of Red but it had two things going for it: the estimable Alfred Molina was appearing and it was about the last days of Mark Rothko - when he was wrestling with his conscience and the the Four Seasons commission. It turned out to be truly outstanding - Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his assistant were on stage for 100 minutes and there wasn't a false moment - except for one or two of those slightly pretentious ones that discourses on art tend to provide. In addition to Rothko's stricken conscience, as he tried to reconcile art and mammon, the play dealt with the barbarians at the gate as Abstract Expressionism was being threatened by pop art and the garish and glib offerings of Warhol, Jasper Johns and Lichtenstein. But these forays into art history were never dull as the passion of the protagonists brought them to life. There was lots of physical business taking place in the studio where the play was set. Paintings were moved and paint mixed and every now and then the white back wall was exposed - bedecked with drips of gore from the red canvases. There was one beautifully choreographed piece where the two characters primed a giant canvas in unison. Both actors ended up covered in scarlet paint - another intimation of Rothko's bloody end.

Sarah Jane Morris at Ronnie Scott's

First ever trip to Ronnie Scott's last Friday and what a treat it tuned out to be. Firstly the venue is great - it's reasonably small and intimate so that no matter where your table is you are close to the action. We'd made a priority booking and so got a table right at the very front. There's waitress service so we were able to order a bottle of wine and settle back.

Sarah Jane Morris used to sing with the Communards and throughout the show wore her socialist principles on her sleeve - Promised Land being a good example. What a voice - deep, sonorous and melodic. She sang a number of her own compositions which were fine and dandy but it was her three interpretations of other people's songs that raised the show from entertaining to memorable. These were John Martyn's I Don't Want to Know, Tracy Chapman's Fast Car, and Sting's Fragile. The latter in particular raised the hairs on the back of my neck. She is quite a sight: a mop of unruly red hair, layers of gipsy clothes and accessories, and a loads of expressive movement . She was I suspect ravishing in her day. Her spirit is still very much intact - notwithstanding a recent divorce after 25 years of marriage - an event she spoke about ruefully and amusingly. She was accompanied by a super cool and super tight band - with Sting's occasional sideman Dominic Miller on guitar (looking like a more languid William Dafoe) and a guy on bass who looked like BB King's younger and slimmer brother. Great show.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts out of Season

The Christmas debacle endured and survived and in bed by 23:30 on New Year's Eve - one can't complain. The post-Christmas spiritual recuperation in Schull worked its magic once again: the morning encounter with the congenitally upbeat Tom Brosnan in the local Spar; the lubricious crusty bread that is designed purely for a one-day stand; and then the long walk with the dogs on Toormore, Tragumna, or Barelycove beaches; back to read for a few hours - this Christmas I was reading J. G. Farrell's letters and Roberto Bolano's quirky masterpiece 2666; and then the crucial pre-dinner drinks in Hackett's (or for a change The Irish Whip in Ballydehob) where affairs of family and state are thrashed out (and Lucy from the Czech Republic, behind the bar, adds a frisson); and so to dinner which could be one of Tom Brosnan's succulent pork fillets or could be a trip to Antonio's in Ballydehob - Annies being now de trop.