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.