Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Better the Devil You Know - Remaking The Omen

hic sapientia est qui habet intellectum conputet numerum bestiae numerus enim hominis est et numerus eius est sescenti sexaginta sexThe new remake of the classic ‘seventies horror movie The Omen is being released this coming Tuesday. Nearly all movies are released on Fridays, to capture the weekend date market, but The Omen is coming out on Tuesday because it’s too big a marketing opportunity to miss. This coming Tuesday, you see, is 6/6/’06 – THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST!!

Miserably, the whole project seems like a marketing exercise from start to finish – some smart boy in Twenty-Century Fox spotted the date in the calendar, and the thing began to rumble.

It’s such a pity – the original Omen was such a high water mark in horror movies. A high water mark that’s been carefully noted by the eminences grises behind this new movie – judging by the trailer, entire scenes have been lifted frame for frame from the original, with some new bits thrown in to thicken the soup.

I wonder if they had the sense to lift the most important part of the old movie? If Brian Singer can used John Williams’ marvellous Superman theme in Superman Returns, the shade of Carl Orff is hardly going to object to Carmina Burana going around the gallops one more time, as the Hornèd One tries to get the young fella a start. But it seems not – another black mark against the movie.

The casting looks pretty good – this new young fella, Séamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, looks just as sinister as his 1976 epigone, Harvey Stephens, and Michael Gambon and Pete Postelthwaite, as Bugenhagen and Father Brennan respectively, are sufficiently familiar with ham to fill the shoes of Leo McKern and Patrick Troughton. The casting of the Thorns is a little more doubtful – Julia Stiles is one of An Spailpín’s favorite icy beauties, but she’s a bit too young to be the wife of the Ambassador to the Court of St James. Lee Remick was 41 when the first Omen came out – Julia Stiles is twenty-five. A twenty-five year old Hitchcock blonde should be on a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford, not handing out the Ferraro Rochets at the ambassador’s reception and raising the infernal succubus in her spare time.

As for Liev Schreiber filling in for the immortal Gregory Peck, it’s an impossible task for anyone. The poor man is, inevitably, biting off more than he can chew. Chances are this movie will be a success, for the simple reason that as long as the boxes are ticked the crowd don’t really care if they’re being sold old rope or not – they just want two hours of fun, thanks. But it is a pity that, if you must remake a classic, you don’t try that little bit harder.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Focal Scoir na nDealbh Sráide Uí Chonaill

Tá rún na gcoiníní faoi solas geal an lae faoi dheireadh. Fuair an Spailpín ríomhphost inné ag míniú scéal na ndealbh phráis atá suite i Sráíd Uí Chonaill, Bleá Cliath, le deanaí. Ní coiníní iad ar chur ar bith, ach giorracha. 'Sé Barry Flaherty an dealbhóir a rinne iad, agus beidh siad ar Shráid Uí Chonaill i rith an Samhradh go leir. Tá tuilleadh eolais le fáil anseo.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Kneeling at Mass Banned in the OC

Now they don't even have to kneel at Mass, the spoilt pack of hoorsIn Huntington Beach, California, the local Catholic Diocese of Orange County has banned kneeling during the Mass, according to the Los Angeles Times. If they banned the their parishioners from having anything to do with that rotten TV show, wouldn’t it serve them better? Banning kneeling – they’ll ban the Rosary next.

Here in benighted Ireland, this information is difficult to swallow, as kneeling remains a very popular pursuit during the liturgy. It is a poor reflection on An Spailpín that the most fun he derives during the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony comes from watching the bride and groom trying to discreetly twist their heads through 120 degrees or so, in order to get a goo at Mammy and see whether she’s seated, standing or down on her knees during specific parts of the liturgy. It’s grand at the back, when you have the whole congregation on whom to base your decision, but you have wing it up at the front on those little kneelers. And when yourself and herself are standing while all the boys are kneeling, and kneeling during one of the take-five bits, it’s fairly clear that you’re only in God’s house today because it’ll look good in the photos or else Mammy will bate the head right off you, as she used to do in days of yore, if you weren't.

An Spailpín knows one man who wouldn’t be too impressed with this not kneeling malarkey – one Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, who was elevated to the Papacy on February 20th, 1878, taking the name Leo XIII. His Holiness Pope XIII didn’t cash out for another 25 years, making him the third longest serving Pope – he was second for a long time until JP II just edged him last year.

As Pope, Leo XIII knew what he liked. And one of the things he liked best was kneeling. Audiences with His Holiness Pope Leo XIII were conducted with His Holiness seated on his Papal Throne, Cathedra Petri, and ever other person in the room on their two knees with the head down. Suppose His Holiness were to use that new fangled telephone – Pope Leo XIII, in fairness to the man, was fully in favour of new technology – then you had to hit the knees as soon as you recognised his voice coming down the line, and stay down there until he finished talking, and not before. There were right Popes one time, and long before the age of the beardy priests and the banjo Masses. And An Spailpín isn’t making this up either – he read it in this book here.

Of course, there are some rebels in Orange County, CA, who refuse to stay standing, and get down on their knees just like they always used to. They’ve been threatened with excommunication. Excommunicated for kneeling at Mass – the world is just gone plumb crazy.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

The First Mayo Team of the Summer

Long Mhaigh Eo faoi lánsheolThe first Mayo team of the summer has been named at last – kinda. With typical efficiency the County Board has let confusion reign, and even now there is doubt over who will start at corner-back, Trevor Howley or Dermot Geraghy, in Mayo’s first Championship outing against London in Ruislip.

An Spailpín has chosen to reserve judgement on this Mickey Moran era – good start to the league nothwithstanding, Mickey’s china plate Mr Morrison remains a cannon so loose that he makes a nineteenth century Scotch Presbyterian look like Dr Timothy Leary. The big innovation is the Ulstermen’s “star” full-forward formation - it might make Morrison sound like a Saoi, or “wise one,” among the more gullible of our scribes, but An Spailpín can’t shake the idea out of his head that such choreography would be more at home in London’s West End at a revival of 42nd Street than on the playing fields of Erin when the summer is high.

But no matter. Though London might be seen as lowly opposition, there is always a tingle when the first team of the Championship is named and, with the great risk of leaving a hostage to fortune, An Spailpín really likes the look of this one. David Heaney has finally been freed from bondage in the last line of defence and moves forward to the thick of midfield battle, like Don John of Austria advancing to the war. An Spailpín’s dream midfield pairing is David Brady and Ronan McGarrity, but Heaney and Harte should prove able understudies.

The full-forward line is heavy with folk heroes, with neither Austin, McDanger nor C-Mort having to stand their own porter in their own towns, where each is hailed not as man, but god. Ciarán McDonald is the only one of the three to regularly deliver on the national stage, but it remains to be seen how he plays at full-forward, a position to which McDonald is unaccustomed. However, whatever doubts may be entertained by the always faithful support of the County Mayo, Moran has made it fairly clear that he is building his church on Ger Brady at centre-forward, and as such McDonald must serve the greater need. All Mayo will pray the experiment works during the summer, and that Austin and Conor deliver on their rich promise.

Doubts have been expressed about the size of the full back line, with the trauma of 2004 still biting deep in the Mayo psyche. An Spailpín is not that concerned; Heaney was clearly under pressure at full-back, and there have been problems finding a midfield pairing all year – the moving of Heaney is an eminently sensible decision. As for Liam O’Malley guarding the square, that same square that has been guarded by such forces of nature down the years as Mick Lyons, Sean Doherty and that punishing primose, Pat Lindsay, An Spailpín is not worried. In his last two outings for Mayo, O’Malley put stern shackles on Tyrone’s Stephen O’Neill and Galway’s boy-king Michael Meehan, two of the more dangerous desperadoes that one meets while patrolling the green and red redoubt. An Spailpín also noticed, from his eyrie in McHale Park, that when Stephen O’Neill attempted some funny business, O’Malley, for all his size, was not slow to chastise the Tyroneman, and show him the error of his ways.

Ger Loughnane told his troops that the referee would not protect them; a fact as sad as it is true. Liam O’Malley will be alright, and how could he not be, for what is O’Malley if not one of the proudest family names in Mayo’s long history? The song about Captain George O’Malley, that seafaring hero related to Gráinne Uaile herself, is never far from any Mayoman’s lips and, in the hope of a long and glorious summer, An Spailpín takes his leave with the final verse, and wishes the team all the best against London and further. Maigh Eo abú.

Nár mhór an clú is an t-ádh dúinn an bealach úd a shárú,
Is gan againn ann ach namhaid romhainn is inár ndiaidh,
water-guards san airdeall agus póilíos lena sála,
Revenue na háite is gach spiadóir dá raibh leo.
cutters, beag is mór ann, píolótaí santacha leofa,
Loinseacha Rí Sheoirse sa tóir uilig i mo dhiaidh,
Ach is mise Seoirse Ó Máille, fear maith de chineál Ghráinne,
A chuireadh i dtír mo lucht go sásta, is ná raibh maith acu dá chionn.

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Anthony Lane on The Da Vinci Code

The New Yorker's film critic gives the movie a most thorough kicking. Huzzah!

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Future of Irish Radio

Yet to find your finest hourMay I bring a link to the nation's attention? Those of you interested in the future of Irish radio - and with commuting times getting longer and longer and no great danger of anything practical ever being done about it, that's every mother's son and daughter of us - could do a lot worse than clicking this link to hear what the next wave - ho, ho - of radio talent will be like.

Radio Kerry is long and rightly acknowledged as one of the premier local radio services in the country, and they're doing their best to pass on that talent, experience and insight to the coming generation. They run a forty week radio training course and have a link on their website so you can listen online, and see what the future holds.

The service is called Mercury Radio, and an auspicious handle it is too - not only was Mercury the messenger of the Gods in ancient Rome, but the Mercury Theatre of the Air was the name of Orson Welles' company when he made his infamous War of the Worlds broadcast on CBS on October 30th, 1938. Big shoes to fill indeed, but An Spailpín Fánach is confident that Radio Kerry's Mercury Radio can rise to it.

It's not like the standard of Irish radio is all that stellar anyway. Only yesterday, An Spailpín Fánach was in a doctor's surgery, waiting to go in for the NCT, only for people. High on a shelf, and chained to the wall, was a radio, tuned to "fabulous" 2fm. An Spailpín had to listen to ten minutes of Gerry Ryan before finally staggering into the physician.

"Cad uait, a Spailpín Fhánaigh?" asked the doc.

"I'd like to die," I said. "Straightaway. I've just been listening to Gerry Ryan and I've completely lost all will to live."

If one of these students can remove Captain Gerry from the airwaves then he or she will have done the nation a favour. And if one of those students is that personal friend of An Spailpín Fánach currently doing the course, so much the better. Nothing is more boring than people going on about their friends, so An Spailpín will refrain from temptation. I will say though, that this is a man who supports where he's from, as I think that's the way he'd describe himself if asked. An Spailpín and he have been discussing hibero-socio-philosophical matters for these past fifteen years, and with God's good grace we shall kick on and do so until those distant (please God) days when we race our wheelchairs down the corridors of the Home for the Bewildered in which our issue have institutionalised us, and fight swordfights with our crutches on the lush green lawns when the summer is high. Treat yourself, and tune in to Mercury Radio.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sayonara Paddy

David McWilliams has a deeply distressing piece in this morning's Independent. McWilliams points out that all this brouhaha about getting the unions onside for Ireland's greater economic growth is a bottle of smoke. "Partnership" doesn't matter outside the public sector, where the Unions will continue to béal bocht even when their begging bowls are made of actual gold. What does matter, however, is the country's tremendous reliance on multi-nationals, and consequent dearth of native industry on which to fall back should the multi-nationals pull the plug.

Right now, according to McWilliams, Microsoft, Dell and Intel acount for twenty per cent of the Irish Gross National Product, and 87.6 per cent of our exports. Partnership doesn't matter a rooty-toot-toot to the multi-nationals. And while we're protest marching about the war in Iraq the Nike sneakers on our marching feet are paid for by Yankee dollar. It begins and ends in the States - we're only making up the numbers on a spreadsheet on someone's desk back in the States whose name we don't even know.

And back in those United States, in a back room in some steel and glass office in Houston, TX, or St Louis, MO, or even New York, New York, itself, there's a guy called Hank wearing hornrimmed glasses and a seersucker suit. All Hank does all day is sit in front of a great big set of scales with a leprechaun in one basket and a green eyed yellow god of the mysterious orient in the other. Right now the leprechaun has the balance, but as India and China get more and more computer literate that green eyed little yellow god gets heavier and heavier. Until the balance tips, at which point Hank picks up the phone and says "Mr President? Hank here. Yes sir - it's sayonara Paddy."

An Spailpín Fánach notes that his countyman, Mr Kenny, if elected, will give the bums the rush to troller sleepers, drunks and wasters - I wonder what he, or any of those other buckaroos in Dáil Éireann, are going to do about all these Irish eggs in one multinational basket?

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sráid na gCoiníní i mBÁC 1

Puck, mar a shamlaigh Sir Edward Lanseer é ina phictiúr bunaithe ar radharc ó "A Midsummer Night's Dream"Bhuail an Spailpín Fánach isteach go dtí Sráid Uí Chonaill tráthnóna inné, ag déanamh iarracht fáil amach cad é an scéal taobh thiar na ndealbh coiníní atá ann faoi laithir. Mo bhrón, ach theip ar do scríobhnóir dílis - táim comh chríonna inniu mar a rabhas inné.

Thugas faoi deara go bhfuil na dealbha i bhfád níos laidre ná mar a shíleas, agus níos flúirseacha. Ní choiníní iad go leir ach an oiread - tá coinín ann cinnte, coinín phráis leaga amach ar chloigín phráis os comhair Supermac's, bialann na tuaithe, ach is deachair a rá cén saigheas bocanna iad na dealbha eile. Shíleas Dé Domhnaigh gurbh coiníní iad, toisc go bhfuil cluasa fada acu, ach nuair a bhíos i mo sheasamh in eineacht leo, bhuail sé orm níl coinín in Éirinn cosuil le mo dhuine anseo. Tá siad ró-ard ró-chaol, agus a ngéaga ró-dhíreach, chun a bheith ina gcoiníní. Ach ambaiste, murab gcoiníní iad, cad iad?

Tar éis beagán smaoinimh, thosaigh mé ag ceistiú orm féin an Pan a bhí ann? An bhfuil fíos agaibh ar Phan, saigheas leath-dhia ins na seanscéalta Gréigise? Tá part mór aige ins an úrscéal álainn a scríobh James Stephens, The Crock of Gold, ach feicim ar Amazon nach bhfolsaítear an leabhar fós. Is trua é - scéal breá draíochta súgrach é The Crock of Gold. Ach má rinne an dealbhóir iarracht Pan a dhéanamh, theip air - is fear le cosa ghabhair é Pan, ach tá mo dhaoine ar Shráid Uí Chonaill leath-dhaoine agus leath-asail, más rudaí ar bith iad.

An Puck é a bhí i gceann an dealbhóir? An chuimhin libh ar Phuck, an spiorád drochoibre i seanscéalta Sasana? Tá clú agus cáil ar Phuck, níos mó ná aon scéal béaloidis Sasana eile, mar chuir William Shakespeare an fear céanna isteach ina dráma cáiliúl A Midsummer Night's Dream. Ach más Puck é atá ann, cén fáth go bhfuil Puck, nó Robin Goodfellow, ina dhealbh ar Shráid Uí Chonaill, príomhshráid phríomhcathrach na hÉirinn, agus eisean comh Shasanach leis an mBanríon Eilis nó Marmite? Nach níos fearr dúinn Nelson féin a thabairt ar ais linn, ná an leath-duine, leath-asal agus lán-amadán seo, Puck?

'Sé tuairim an Spailpín Fánaigh gur tháinig mearbhaill ar an ndealbhóir a rinne na dealbha seo ar Shráid Uí Chonaill maidir leis an ndifríocht idir Pan agus Puck agus, toisc gurbh é tuairim an cathrach narbh gá ar dhuine níos mó ná aon leabhar amháin a léamh, is docha nach bhféidir le duine ón gCorpo an dhifríocht a adhmaigh ach an oiread. Ní doigh liom cad a shíleann ár gcomharsana nua ón n-Eorap Óir ar na bocanna phráis laidir seo - bhí roinnt maith acu ann tráthnóna inne, agus má bhíodar cuirthe amach nó ba chuma leo, níor inis ceann da laghad acu faic don Spailpín Fánach.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Ehhh, What's Up, Dub?

Bugs B: And he thought Yosemite Sam was some kind of dummyAn Spailpín Fánach got something of a fright last night as one of Dublin Bus’s chariots spirited your faithful correspondent southbound on O'Connell Street. While gazing out on that section of the street south of the Spire and north of Danny Boy himself, An Spailpín spied, with his little eye, several new statues. Who could these worthies be, ready to stand with Larkin, O’Connell and Parnell? Mick Collins, maybe? St Patrick, apostle of Ireland? Welcome back, Horatio, all is forgiven? A two faced statue, after Janus, to celebrate those two Dubliners with the greatest compassion for the oppressed masses, Bob Geldof and Dessie Farrell?

Not at all. Who-ever is in charge of the city reckons the most appropriate decoration for the main street in the capital city of the nation are ten or twelve foot high bronze bunny rabbits.

Rabbits. I ask you.

An Spailpín spent an earnest hour googling before posting this, trying to find out how it is that Dublin City thought it appropriate to bunnify O’Connell St, and I couldn’t dig up a damn thing. About the only thing I did find out was that, in Dublin City’s erudite opinion, a citizen of this great capital of the arts need only read one book to consider him or herself a fully rounded human being. Surprising, but true. Happily, the book chosen is a good one, but hey – check out David Copperfield sometime too. It’s a gas.

What’s going to happen to these rabbits? Will they breed out of control, as they did in rural Ireland until the State waged chemical warfare against them? Will they be seen as pagan symbols, likely to madden the definitely cotton-tailed head of Clíonaith, from Templelogue, studying 2nd Arts, Classics, in UCD and deeply committed to the future of the planet (the one book Clíonaith has read is Ms Klein’s, of course, but she’s hoping to fit in some Chomsky in about 2008)? Are Clíonaith and her homies going to dance naked in, out and around the damn things at midsummer, in some sort of ancient Celtic fertility rite? It’d be better than one of those incessant Sinn Féin parades of course, but dammit, since when did twelve foot rabbits come to represent the Great Gael of Ireland?

An Spailpín has difficulty in understanding why these things just spring up with no record of their ever having been discussed. That’s why Lord Mayor is a strictly honorary title in this town – one sniff of responsibility taking, can carrying or buck stopping and the entire council would be on their bikes, heading for the hills.

An Spailpín may investigate these strange phenomena later, on his way home from work, and report back in this forum. But if it’s raining, it’s straight to bed for your scribe, with nothing to get him through the night except LA Woman on CD, a volume of Ó Conaire and a 20 oz bottle of strong Presbyterians’ whiskey. After a while, there's just no point in fighting it anymore.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

RTÉ's Soccer Analysis

Four Wise MenMartin Kelner's remarks in this morning's Guardian concerning the ITV coverage of the Champions League Final and the omens for that station's coverage of the looming World Cup are yet another reason for Irish people to utter silent prayers of thanks for RTÉ's soccer analysis team. ITV have been awful for as far back as An Spailpín can remember, hitting particular lows with Jimmy Greaves making a fool of himself in 1990 and the misfortunate Paul Gascoine doing the same in 2002. The BBC used to be excellent, but Gary Lineker and the once-excellent Alan Hansen are now in the comfort zone, phoning it in from the golf course or else running a contest to see if either of them can outdo Lawro in a smirkathon. As for Wrighty, An Spailpín has no idea what sort of a zone he's in, but I'm pretty dang sure that not even Ryanair would fly there.

RTÉ are operating at a different level, as different from the BBC or ITV coverage as the shadows in Plato's cave are from the outside world itself. RTÉ can take little credit for this, for if this were a result of deliberate planning on RTÉ's part, it would be replicated on the other sports programmes, which it quite clearly is not. The convergence of Bill O'Herlihy, John Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady is one of those unique stellar events, like an alignment of planetary bodies, that will only happen once in millennia, and we are continually privileged to bear witness. It's a privilege for which we should be grateful, as it cannot last forever - let's hope that it won't be only when it's over that we finally realise what a unique thing we had.

Bill O'Herlihy has to take an enormous amount of the credit for maintaining the dynamic that exists in the first place. Many years ago, the penny dropped with O'Herlihy that nobody cares what the chairman thinks - the people are tuning in to hear the stars. As such, O'Herlihy deliberately takes a back seat to give Giles, Brady and Dunphy more room on their canvas. If anything, O'Herlihy deliberately plays the gom, like a guy who just turned around to you a bar after watching the first half on the telly in the corner and asks (as O'Herlihy has often asked): "My God lads, every paper I take up has pictures of David Beckham in it, telling me what a star he is. If that's the case, how come Real Madrid are three-nil down at half-time tonight in this crucial Champions League encounter?"

O'Herlihy can act the gom, of course, because he's so very far from being one. The man's intelligence and sense of what works and doesn't work in televisual terms is razor sharp, as evidenced by a memorable night last November when he sensed that Eamon Dunphy was coming to the boil. O'Herlihy let him off, and treated the nation to some vintage Dunphy: "Niall Quinn is a creep, the man is an idiot ... Robben is a bird brain ... Duff has never been world class ... I don't have to listen to you calling Roy Keane a thug, he's the greatest Irish player ever. These fellas weren't even in the same class."

The "these fellas" Eamon mentioned above were in fact Eamon's fellow panellists on the night, Mr Giles and Mr Brady. It wouldn't do to be sensitive under those RTÉ lights. Dunphy is a mercurial character, a volatile combination of sharp intelligence, passionate emotion, and a sharp disregard and disdain for cant, hypocrisy and bluff. The most important thing that Dunphy adds to the RTÉ panel mix, that unique combination that only exists on RTÉ's soccer analysis, is that passion. Dunphy is quite often wrong, in fact - he was wrong about Michel Platini and he was wrong about Giles and Brady above - but he is always right to be so passionate about what he believes in. Dunphy was right to throw that pen across the studio in frustration during the Ireland-Egypt game in 1990, because while other people yak on about "the beautiful game" Dunphy, God help him, means it. The notion of it is very real to him, and he will not have it sullied on his watch. It's this passion and intensity that legitimises all the soccer debate on RTÉ - Dunphy's passion tells the viewing public that it's right and correct to get this bothered about something that others may see as "just a game," that debating soccer intelligently is a worthy pursuit among intelligent people.

That passion can lead to people suffering collateral damage, as Dunphy strikes out at those whom he perceives as a threat, his crack at Brady and Giles not being "in the same class" as Roy Keane being an example. Liam Brady was not in Roy Keane's class - and Roy Keane operated at a very high level for a very long time - only because Brady was a class above. Liam Brady is the greatest Irish soccer player ever bar none, and the reason for that is because Brady played in Italy in the 1980s when Serie A was the greatest league in the world, and was acclaimed as a hero and sportsman by the greatest fans there are. Keane did not face the same sort of weekly examinations that Brady faced in Italy, week in, week out, and that must exalt Brady to a higher echelon of class.

Brady, as a soccer player, had one trait even greater than his famously sweet left peg, and it's a trait that he displays as an analyst, especially in his ability to stand up the hectoring of Dunphy when Eamon gets in a snit. Liam Brady had to take a penalty to win Juventus their second league in succession in 1981 or thereabouts. A pressure situation at the best of times, but consider the added pressure that Brady was under, knowing that the club had signed Michel Platini from Paris St Germain and that Brady's days in the club were numbered. This was his last kick with the club - where mortal man would have bitter and skied it to the stands, Brady slotted it home to win the league for Juventus, the club that had betrayed him. That takes guts.

Liam Brady was top scorer in Serie A that year - he scored eight goals, including that final game penalty. Italy separated the sheep from the goats in those days.

Despite their occasional spats over Roy Keane - Brady still makes a point of condemning Keane for leaving Saipan in 2002, when it would be so much easier to swim with the tide - Brady and Dunphy are as one in their vision of soccer as it should be. But the supreme architect of this vision of soccer as a Platonic ideal is John Giles. Giles has been Mr Soccer in RTÉ for damn near thirty years. Giles has educated the nation about soccer, because, and it's important to remember this, soccer is not that big a deal in Ireland. The misfortunate masses who throng the suburban pubs of Dublin in the winter watching Aston Villa and Everton think they love soccer, but they don't - they love not being at home getting an earful from the mot. They are also in favour of cheap lager. But they've been sold the Premiership package, just as they've been sold their horrid rings and their gauche pimped-up River Island shirts. Beyond the Pale, soccer is insufficiently manly, unlike football, hurling or rugby, to be taken seriously. As such, it has taken Johnny Giles fully thirty years to get the appeal of this game across.

Johnny Giles is thinking about something other than the mindless consumption of product, or the harebrained pursuit of a ball for an hour and a half. Giles sees soccer in its pristine state, a game that has probably never existed anywhere, man being frail and mortal. Giles has soccer axioms in which he believes, and he repeats these as mantras. Play the game the right way. Let the ball do the work. Be honest. Don't abdicate responsibility. Keep doing the right things, even if things are not going well. Things will go well if you keep doing the right things, if you remain honest to the game and its principles.

A few weeks ago, Giles made a comment about Arsenal's Gilberto Silva that gave an insight into what Giles really thinks about soccer. Silva, said Giles, "lacks the moral courage" to correctly man-mark someone. Giles believed that Silva's attention would wander, instead of doing what he was told and what his team-mates were relying on him to do.

Moral courage. How many other sporting pundits would express themselves in terms of moral absolutes, of right and wrong? Only Giles. And that is what separates Giles from the herd. When Giles became a full-time pundit for the first time in the 1980s he wrote an autobiography in which he detailed, coldly and clinically, violent acts he committed as a player for Don Revie's Leeds in the 1970s. Again, for Giles it was a question of moral courage - he did not think he had the right to criticise other players if he did not give a full and frank admission of what he did himself. It was known that Revie's Leeds were violent, but Giles was thought of generally as an artist among artisans. It would have been easy - and potentially more lucrative - to let that impression continue, but the easy option has never been Giles' way.

John Giles is a giant among pygmies. He is a man that wears his expertise lightly, jollying along on George Hook's excruciating drivetime show on Newstalk, or displaying infinite patience with those strange, strange young men that present Off the Ball on the same channel. But when given his head, and in the company of peers like Dunphy and Brady, under the skilled ring-mastery of Bill O'Herlihy, Giles elevates soccer debate to the sublime. Ná laga Dia é ná a lucht.

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The DaVinci Code - Just Enough Sugar to Help the Medicine Go Down

So - what Mass do you go to?On the eve of the release of its film version, An Spailpín Fánach is thinking once again of The Da Vinci Code book, and how Dan Brown struck exactly the right tone.

The tricky thing about that book, and books of that sort, is striking the correct tone. Strike too high a tone, yakking about Sir Guy de Boredulay on the Crusades in 13th Century marvelling at the Byzantine Empire and the remarkable harmony that existed in 12th century Sicily between East and West and nobody will read your book. Imagine that guff about Sir Guy extrapolated over 700 hundred pages and see how you fancy them onions. Not much, I'm thinking. Equally, if you go too easy on the Sir Guy business and its present day repercussions, then there's no mystery to the book at all and it's just another whodunnit, like that awful Elizabeth George writes, only set in a museum.

Dan Brown's crowning achievement, his bottling of lightning, was to strike exactly the correct tone, the happy medium between those two approaches; the approach of too much historical backstory over-egging the pudding and leading to profound mental indigestion among the hoi polloi, or not egging the thing at all and being left with nothing but flour that blows away in the breeze.

The best example of Brown's striking of that correct tone occurs in one single line of dialogue about half-way through the book. The crazed monk Silas has attempted to burgle the home of Sir Leigh Teabing (dig that crazy handle) in his pursuit of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu (Neveau, surely? Ah well - this is a book where a Frenchman leaves anagrams for a Frenchwoman in France that are written in English. You go figure), but has been foiled in the attempt. Sir Leigh covers Silas with a peacemaker, and asks the immortal question "Whom are you working for?"

And that sums up the whole damned book. The hoi polloi see the now quite exotic object pronoun "whom" and think well, this guy must be an Earl because he talks English good. However, Sir Leigh does not talk English so good as to alienate his core market - ending sentences with prepositions might be ok in Duluth, GA, or Topeka, KS, but an Oxbridge educated knight of the realm ending a sentence on "for"? Darling, quite below the salt, I'm afraid.

I'm looking forward to the X-Men movie myself. Another big payday for Ian McKellen I notice - he'll have to play a lot of Chekov and Ibsen to make it up to Dionysus I'm thinking.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Looking Out for Loot with the GPA

Dessie and the boys aren't this pretty, of course, but you get the ideaThe stench of freshly minted greenbacks has maddened another Celtic Tiger Cub, if what An Spailpín Fánach reads in this morning's Irish Independent is to be believed.

Colm Keys has a rather remarkable article in the Indo where he writes about how much moolah is available from advertisers for our newly sexy GAA stars. Pots of the stuff, it seems, in an impossibly glamorous Park Avenue context terribly far away from those old cattle dosage commercials that you may remember from the 1980s.

Mr Keys starts with some not so gentle ribbing of those same ads, which An Spailpín finds a little infra dig, but maybe that's just a matter of personal taste. If Mr Keys thinks Miss Paris Hilton would be willing to advertise potions guaranteed to counteract the effects of our that friend of Leaving Cert Biology the liver fluke he should certainly contact Ranizole - but that's certainly a matter for himself and Miss Hilton of course.

Mr Keys then gets into his stride by talking about the endorsement opportunities open to "the best hurler and footballer in any given years" - two rarae aves that we'll be looking at later - and the great pots of money they'll get for taking post-training belts of Lucozade, driving to training in Opel motor cars and then flying home on Emirate Airlines. The hot flushes break out when Mr Keys gets talking to a Mr Donal O'Neill, "commercial director" of those old friends of An Spailpín Fánach, the GPA, and the boys get talking about what sort of player could make really big bobs and crash through the magical €100k barrier.

This "ideal player" turns out to a Dub - imagine - and his earning power would increase substantially if only - you've guessed what's coming next, haven't you? - Dublin could win the All-Ireland. Mr Keys quotes Conor Ridge of Horizon Sports Management: "Dublin is by far the biggest market and if they won an All-Ireland I think we'd really see big spin-offs for the players. The day when a GAA player can earn €100,000 through commercial activity is not that far away at all."

How wonderful for the Dubs. Because if you think that sort of dough will be rolling around all 32 counties you'd want to think again. In a rare outbreak of honesty from one of the GPA bagmen, Donal O'Neill admits that the pool of potential big GAA earners is limited. This makes Mr Keys wax philosophical for a moment: "Inevitably, the charge of elitism will be thrown in the direction of those with earning power, but that is the nature of the business."

That certainly is the nature of business, but it is not the nature of the GAA. People think the GAA is a business because it makes money, but that is to miss the core reason for the GAA's existence - to provide an opportunity to play Gaelic Games to anyone that wants that opportunity. To say the GAA only exists as a money-making business is the same as claiming that the only reason that tea exists is provide people with somewhere to put their milk and sugar. Read up your Aristotle on Metaphysics, where he talks about essence and being qua being - a work overlooked by our friends in the GPA, who are more in the Economics and Get Rich Quick shelves of Hodges Figgis.

In fact, An Spailpín Fánach has serious reservations that the GPA are even familiar with basic economic theory, great and all as money is in their value system. From An Spailpín's limited grasp of the subject, all economics operates in a closed system, where nothing can be added or taken away, but only moved from different places. So, if players - Dublin players - are making off with great big barrels of loot, that means that other players, who are not blessed with the same economic incidentals, are losing out. The nature of the business, according to the hard-nosed Mr Keys, his text on supply-side economics open on his knee. Sadly, if the business is allowed to run through to its nature, then players from anywhere in the country will all flock to Dublin, just as we in civilian life are flocking to Dublin now, looking for a way of making a living. And in five or ten years, Dublin will become the supreme power in Gaelic football, but at the cost of having no-one to play against. Everybody that could have played for Galway or Cork or Mayo or Kerry will have headed for the big city, looking for the handy cash.

In the brave new world, the Dublin GAA team will have become what the Shamrock Rovers super team of the seventies tried to be, and will have outgrown the domestic market. Dublin will have done that, but having outgrown Ireland, they'll find that nobody else wants to play. They'll be like Bohemians without Shelbourne. And when you consider what a depressing situation it is currently when Bohs have Shels to play against, you realise why Colm Keys is so far off the ball in this morning's Irish Independent.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Unblinking Stare of the All-Seeing Eye

An Spailpín has been chided, in the past, for his insistence on the pseudenomynous nature of this weblog. Nearly everybody who reads this thing knows who I am anyway, or knows someone who knows someone, so why maintain the pretence? Get it off your chest, they tell me - you'll surely feel so much lighter in the morning.

Whatever the chances of that happening before now, a sobering and deeply depressing article in last week's Guardian put the bullet firmly behind the ear of the reveal all option. There is too much information out there about us already, so to post in my real persona would only add to that, and An Spailpín is pretty fixed in his insistance that They shall get only what They can pry out of me by the most brutal of force or the most subtle of guile, and by nothing less.

For those who don't click, a recap: the writer of the article in The Guardian found a boarding pass stub in a bin near Heathrow Airport in London which contained a passenger's frequent flyer number. Using that number, and the expert assistance of a computer whizz kid (so whizz, in fact, that's he's the guy that invented SSL encryption), the Guardian were able to find out everything short of hatsize and preference for Pele or Best about the poor dumb hoor of a frequent flyer.

When said PBH was contacted about all this, he was, understandably, distraught. Like the rest of us, he realises that we live in an insecure, post 9/11 world and accepts that security measures are unavoidable, but he does not accept that his inside leg measurement should be available to every whey-faced hacker with a broadband modem.

How did it come about? Money, of course. The US Government has been insisting on greater profiling of passengers on commercial airlines since the Clinton administration, long before 9/11. Using a system called Capps, the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System, the G-men are trying to profile passengers so they can hear a dodgy one's bomb ticking and haul him out of there before he goes BOOM! and there's another disaster. Unfortunately, while twisting the arms of the airlines to provide all this info, the US Government does not stump up any readies for the intelligence, meaning that the airlines invest commensurate resources in protecting that information. Not a damn thing, in other words.

It's a scary prospect, and while An Spailpín has little doubt that Richard Boyd Barrett is even now on his knees furiously scribbling out his protest placards against Uncle Satan, An Spailpín himself is not willing to pin all the blame for this one on the G-Men. Not having airplanes explode or crash is good for business as far as BA and the others are concerned, so for them to try pinning a combination of parsimoniousness, fecklessness on a global scale and sheer computer illiteracy on the Yanks is a little disengenuous at best. What are the airlines paying the US to act as the global policeman, for instance? But until such time as the airlines do decide to protect sensitive information after it's been harvested, An Spailpín Fánach's heartfelt counsel is to give them your name, rank and serial number, and not a damn thing more. Selah.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Washing Up is a Pain in the Glass

Hardly the Porterhouse kitchen, eh?The last time An Spailpín Fánach patronised The Porterhouse on Parliament Street, Dublin 2, I was having none of their nonsense. The Porterhouse builds its dubious fame on the fact that it brews its own beer, to the delight of the delicate and highly educated palate of its clientele. An Spailpín Fánach has been throwing back strong porter for quite some time now, and I’m pretty dang sure that any and all taste buds that a porter drinker may possess - that have not been coated over with tar from PJ Carroll’s tobaccos, of course – are as frogs before the harrow when those waves of porter go flooding back the throat. The man that smacks his lips in a gourmand’s delight after a sip of the Porterhouse’s Oyster Stout, or its foul and blasphemous Wrassler, is a man that wants a good smack himself – on the point of the chin, ideally. I spent that long ago evening drinking cans of Scrumpy, grateful that the company so far excelled the local brew.

Yesterday, however, An Spailpín returned to the Porterhouse, this time the new joint that now exists in Phibsboro, opposite the Brian Boru, to sample their lunch. Two Sisters of Mercy, who have waited on An Spailpín when he just couldn’t go on more times than I care to remember, arrived at my lair yesterday to drag me away from my Buffy DVDs and Christian Brothers’ New Irish Grammar, insisting that I return to the World, starting with an elegant Bank Holiday lunch by the Royal Canal.

We ordered the feed – An Spailpín, being about the most un-reconstructed redneck you could imagine, ordered the burger. We also ordered drinks for the party – a sparkling water, and two cokes.

The drinks arrived. It seems that The Porterhouse sells the most of its Coca-cola to gentlemen of limited stature answering to the names Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy and Sneezy – how else can one explain the fact that the soda was delivered in 200ml bottles, instead of the pub standard 250? An Spailpín was in the process of inflating his lungs to question the waiter on this very issue, when he noticed, from the corner of his eye, the brunette Sister holding her glass to the light, with an air of piqued curiosity.

“Excuse me,” she remarked, “this glass is dirty. Can you replace it, please?”

And so it was – the youth hurried off, and came back with a replacement. It was not to be his lucky day.

“I’m sorry,” remarked the blonde Sister on his return, gently but firmly, “but this glass is also dirty.”

Banagher was taking a severe beating by this stage of the afternoon's entertainment. The youth returned to the bar, where he started frantically going through glasses – holding them to the light, noting them dirty, returning them the tray (as opposed to, say, loading the dishwasher with them), and continuing his search, in the manner of Jimmy Durante’s lifelong search for The Lost Chord. Eventually, he picked a winner, and returned to the table.

“This glass,” continued the blonde Sister, with that infinite patience that only comes to one who has taught for a living, “is also dirty.”

The stripling held the glass to the light.

“Ah yeah,” he said, “that doesn’t come off in the dishwasher. You see, you’d have to scrub that.”

Three eyebrows – one brunette, one blonde and one property of An Spailpín Fánach – involuntarily elevated at this intelligence. We knew, of course, that staff in the catering industry are often over-worked, but never had we dreamed that this would extend to actual scrubbing. The young man spoke on.

“I mean, we do scrub them ever week, but otherwise that won’t come off.” Well, that’s not so bad then. How rude of us to have come in at the wrong time of the week. We resolved to make the best of it. It all proved too much for the juvenile, who disappeared at that point, leaving our food to be delivered by someone else, and the bill collected by someone else again. The young man’s buzz had clearly been wrecked by two witches and a seventeenth century homeless agricultural labourer in rural Ireland, and that's more than any child should be asked to withstand.

How was the food? Well, considering that An Spailpín was able to count his chips – seventeen – you may think the portions were less than generous, but perhaps that is unfair. An Spailpín Fánach sat Honours Mathematics for the Leaving Cert in the last century and as such is very, very good at counting indeed. To a mind less mathematically inclined, the chips may have seemed as limitless as the stars in the night sky – who knows? The mustard on the burger packed a rather stronger punch than An Spailpín would have preferred, but it could be that chef thought the burger might be washed down with that awful Oyster stout, and as such anything to kill the taste would be gratefully received.

We shall never know, of course. The bill paid, An Spailpín Fánach and the Sisters of Mercy quickly exited the Porter House and beat a hasty path to a house of porter, John Kavanagh’s excellent Gravediggers bar of Glasnevin, where memories of scrubbing and slavery were gently washed away by a half-gallon of stout each. We happily passed the evening away in the Diggers, nuzzling out stouts and giving thanks for our lucky escape, like the Scotch hymn-singer who once was lost but now is found, was blind but now could see. No more Porterhouse for An Spailpín Fánach and party, methinks. Unless we sees signs posted on all incoming roads informing us that today is Scrubbing Day.

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