Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Please Áine, Don't Do It!

Áine Ní DhroighneáinAn Spailpín felt very old and very sad when he read about Áine Ní Dhroighneáin’s participation in RTÉ’s rotten “talent” competition, Celebrity You’re a Star, in this morning’s Irish Independent.

Twelve years ago, Áine Ní Dhroighneáin used to sing on Sunday nights in Monroe’s Tavern in Galway with three friends – Breandán Ó hEadhra, who used also play the guitar in the same fashion as Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff played the piano – not well, but with great feeling – and two other girls, one named Marie and one almost certainly called Bernie, but An Spailpín can’t be sure. It is, after all, a long time ago.

They may even have had a name for their group, but I can’t quite recall. Breandán’s party piece was The Seven Drunken Nights, featuring guest verses from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Surreal and reasonably hilarious but, as in ABBA, the girls were the stars of the show. I remember they rustled feathers among the politicised of their admirers with their insistence on singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, which had recently been appropriated as the anthem of English rugby, but their showstopper was I am Stretched on Your Grave, from the 17th Century poem in Irish, Táim Sínte ar do Thuama. First Áine would sing solo:

I am stretched on your grave
And I'll lie here forever.
If your hands were in mine,
I'd be sure they would not sever.

Heavy stuff, but then the other girls would come in on the harmony, and blow the crowd away:

My apple tree, my brightness,
It's time we were together,
For I smell of the earth
And I'm worn by the weather.

Impossible to replicate in prose of course, but you may take An Spailpín Fánach’s word for it that a strange and chill wind used blow through Monroe’s on those Sunday nights when those three girls sang I am Stretched on Your Grave, all the way from the wild and dark Atlantic, across bleak Conamara and through the old medieval streets of Galway. Maybe those strange sprites that used sing Port na bPúcaí down the chimneys on the Great Blasket sent it – who knows, but An Spailpín still remembers that feeling.

I don’t know if Miss Ní Dhroighneáin herself remembers it, and I doubt it. The residency didn’t last long, the exams came quickly after and I never heard of any of them singing again. But even one evening, half-cut in Monroe’s Tavern as a student singing for beer money, was worth more and is more worthy than Áine Ní Dhroighneáin’s participation in this hideous freak show masquerading as a talent contest. You’re a Star is a succinct summary of all that is wretched and worthless in contemporary Celtic Tiger, Bouncy Castle, Up-to-our-lugs in debt modern Ireland, and if ill-chance should see a recording of that awful show survive for a future age, those who inherit this place after us will have no further need of any more time capsules to explain how Ireland lost her soul.

Áine Ní Dhroighneáin is putting herself forward to be judged by a goon squad who aren’t fit to lace her drinks. We only knew each other to say hello to but I remember those nights in Monroe’s and I’m begging you Áine, please don’t do it. It’s beneath you.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Back to School for Professor Bacik?

Ivana find out a bit more about Irish historyIf a candidate is running for political office, how much should he or she know about politics and political history? That’s the fascinating question that An Spailpín Fánach pondered over his Weetabix yesterday morning, while listening to the Sunday Supplement on Today FM.

The Sunday Supplement, for those who do not indulge, is one of those shows where a panel of talking heads gather in the studio to gas over the Sunday papers and the great events of our times. Yesterday’s Sunday Independent led with a story about President McAleese being rebuked by Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea, over some remarks that she had made concerning the war in Lebanon – a rebuke that the Minister strongly denies, of course. The kerfuffle caused presenter Sham Shmyth to muse on the last time there had been trouble between a minister and the President. “I’ll go back over the details for younger listeners,” wheezed Sham.

“And for younger panellists, as well,” laughed Reid Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity College, Dublin, Ivana Bacik, one of Sham’s panellists.

This is where An Spailpín paused, spoon of wheaty goodness poised in mid-air. I’ve been listening to Ivana Bacik on the telly and radio for damn near ten years – how on Earth can she be so involved in current affairs not to have heard of Paddy Donegan?

Sham Shymth then outlined the story, about how the Minister for Defence in 1976, Paddy Donegan, addressed a military meeting in Mullingar, and remarked that the President (and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces), Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, was a “thundering disgrace.” This provoked a constitutional crisis, and was only resolved when Ó Dálaigh himself resigned, to protect the good name of the office. Donegan offered to resign but the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrove, refused to accept the offer, for reasons that still baffle nearly thirty years on.

All of this came as news to Professor Bacik, who ran for the European Parliament in 2004, is currently running for the Seanad and you can bet your shoes will be running for the Dáil next time out in some leafy south Dublin suburb (where socialists live, you know). But wait – there’s more.

After Sham Shmyth had given a brief outline of the story, Professor Bacik asked Sham if “this was all part of the GUBU thing?”

If you fly to Rome, sneak into the Vatican, meet a little old man dressed in a white cassock with a little white skullcap, stick him in the ribs and ask him if he was a Catholic you would be at the same level of awareness as Professor Bacik displayed with that question. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh’s resignation was one of the great selfless acts of Irish politics, and you do not need to be an aficionado to realise that the list of selfless acts in Irish politics is a short one. This alone would make President Ó Dálaigh’s actions stand out. The fact that Irish politics has been divided between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael since the Civil War makes Professor Bacik’s ignorance of who played for whom additionally distressing.

Does all this mean that the “thundering disgrace” story is something that isn’t worth Professor Bacik’s knowing, or could it be that she really isn’t that terribly bothered by details? Professor Bacik is running as an Independent candidate for the Seanad even though she’s a member of the Labour Party, which seems a little dualistic to An Spailpín Fánach’s rather literal intellect, who does not expect a shovel when he calls for a spade.

An Spailpín does not know how the discussion finished, having switched off in disgust; if previous hearings of the Shunday Shupplement are anything to go by, the matter was no doubt quickly subsumed in the eminently clubbable atmosphere of Irish public life. But An Spailpín, curmudgeon that he is, is not one bit happy about it. If someone is going to run for public office, he or she ought to have enough respect for the public institutions to know a little history. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh’s nephew, Liam Ó hAlmhain, maintains a website to our fifth President’s memory. Professor Bacik might pay it a visit sometime, if she’s not too busy.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Don't Blame Me, I'm Just the Junkie

If you're one of those poor eejits that can't get their head around the notion of how heroin addiction is a "disease" even though you don't catch it from toilet bowls or getting caught in the rain or Victorian plumbing, the gloriously named Theodore Dalrymple has some thoughtful stuff in this morning's London Times.

Theodore is making the point that, while junkiedom is by no means a great state to be in, it's not like junkies were unlucky in getting hooked. What they were was grossly stupid, and this is not the same thing as getting hit by lightning, an act of God over which we have no control. Anyway, Theodore makes the argument much more persuasively than a mumble tounged Spailpín could manage. You tell 'em, Theo!

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mike Hammer, NT

It's Hammer Time!Writer Mickey Spillane, Creator of Hard Boiled Private Eye Mike Hammer, Dies at 88 (LA Times).
ISPCC Calls for Law to Ban Slapping Children (Irish Independent).

She was a broad and she knew it. She had a body built for sin, and I don’t mean simoniac or manichee sins either. I mean the fun ones, like eating sweets during Lent and standing at the back in church. Her lips were red and full. She took a deep breath, and started flapping them.

“Are you Mike Hammer, the private eye?” she asked. Her voice was like whiskey and honey mixed by the smartest cook in C Block.

“That’s what mother always told me, sweetheart,” I said. I lit a cigarette and looked nonchalant. It’s easier to look it than to spell it. “Who can I do for you?”

“I’m sorry?” she asked.

“I’m not,” I said. “What are you here for, dollface?”

“It’s this new call from the ISPCC to ban the slapping of children. I teach in the city and if I wasn’t able to slap the children I’m pretty darn sure they’d end up slapping me.” She broke down sobbing. “Oh Mister Hammer,” she said, “what am I going to do?” I put my arm around her. She kept sobbing, but I didn’t mind.

“Don’t worry about it, baby. I think it’s time your school got a visit from An Cigire Ó Casúir.”

That Monday I went to the school. I saw a lot of graffiti on the walls and a lot of boys and girls who should know better throwing paper planes and sucking their thumbs. Staffrooms have changed since I was a kid.

A shaken old lady came up to me. She looked old enough to remember the piper that played before Moses, but it’s been some time since he’d blown his horn.

“Are you Mike Hammer, the private eye? Miss Smyth said you’d be here.”

“She wasn’t wrong there baby,” I said, chucking her under the chins. “Which one’s her room?”

I mounted the stairs two at a time, but always getting the feeling I was going downhill. I got that nasty smell of infant urine and mature Tayto that you always get in schools. I didn’t like it. Today, somebody was going to pay.

I turned to my right at the top of the stairs, and suddenly walked into a room full of four foot tall rats. Rats who wear tracksuits and spit on the streets. “Children,” they call them in the statistics. I call them rats, and the Hell with them.

“I’m Mister Hammer,” I told the class. “I’m taking over Miss Smyth’s class for today.”

I pulled up a chair, pushed back my hat, and gave them the sitch.

“About three days ago, Big Julie lifted three yeggs from the Lower East Side. He took them to his warehouse in Jersey, and gave each of them a bath, a bucket and beating. Turns out that Yegg A has a gallon bucket, Yegg B has seven pints, and that poor slob Yegg C is stuck with the three quart bucket and whole lot of work to do. Yeah – whaddya want?”

A little kid has his hand up in the air. He was shaking, like a guy that expected bad news. He wasn’t wrong.

“Please sir,” he said, “an bhfuil cead agam dul go dti an leithreas?”

“Sure you can go to toilet, kid,” I said, “IN HELL!”

With that I dived into a roll to the right, pulled out my gat and came up blasting. BAM! BAM! BAM!, and Sonny Corleone wouldn’t be beating on Carlo no more.

“Anybody else want to go to the toilet? Didn’t think so. Now where was I? Oh yeah – so the three yeggs have got their buckets but not much time and even less hope. Yegg A’s bath fills at three pints a minute, Yegg B’s at two and half, while that poor dumb schmuck Yegg C’s bath is a pint a minute if he’s lucky. So – you! Who’s gets his bath emptied first, and who gets to sleep with da fishes?”

I grabbed a kid by the tracksuit and lifted him half out of the desk. “Answer me, punk, I haven’t got all day!” I hit him a couple of shots, to get his attention. Damn kid started crying on me – I don’t see that often. So I pulled out the John Roscoe and whacked him, pour encourager les autres, as I was going to be telling them in French class after lunch.

“This kid don’t know nothing,” I said to the rest of them. “One of you guys better start knowing something, or else it’s going to be like the inside of Keith Moon’s drumkit in here. You – who do you think kid? Come on, come on, I haven’t got all day.”

“Sir, it’s Yegg A sir, Yegg A.”

“Kid, there might be hope for you yet. I might just let you live. Now get our your Irish books – looks like a heist caper went wrong for Caol an Iarainn and Fionn Mac Cumhail had to send for his consigliore, Bodach an Chota Lachna, to start smashing heads until somebody talked.”

We got on fine after that. They were good kids. The ones that lived. As for Miss Smyth, it didn’t work out. Velma told me that she just remembered that Miss Smyth had volunteered for the Catholic Mission in Terra Del Fuego, and was taking the veil. I couldn’t say I blame her – this is a tough town for anyone that spells their name with a “y.” I took Velma out to Toots Shoor’s after that and told her all about the Tuisil Ginideach. She told me she’d prefer a fur coat. Women, huh?

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Snipers Not at Work – What is Missing in the GAA Media

An Spailpín’s evening digestive turned to ashes in his mouth during last night’s Sunday Game, while his cup of tea was as vinegar, mingled with gall. After desultory highlights of the Connacht Final, our host, Pat Spillane, turned to his panel of Kevin McStay and Bernard Flynn to debate the standard of contemporary Gaelic Football. Why can’t anybody score points any more?, wondered Pat. What has happened to the game that Pat has loved since he was a bye?

Kevin McStay, who must harbour some sort of ambition to become the Flavius Josephus of Mayo Gaelic Football, agreed whole heartedly with the proposition. Mayo misses were shown as examples of same old Mayo, always with the misses. Mayo are the gang that can’t shoot straight.

Cliché is king in Gaelic Football analysis. It’s considerably easier to trot out canonical clichés about always missing Mayo, grinding Armagh, and that other Team Who Must Win All-Irelands (football) or else the whole edifice of the GAA temple will come crashing down about our ears than to actually try to use the old cloigín to put lazy presumptions aside and attempt to understand just what it is that we’ve been watching.

Take Mayo’s performance in the first half of the Connacht Final as a case in point. The Sunday Game analysis tells us that this is a typical case of the same of Mayo, always with the misses. Mayo had twelve misses in the Connacht Final, as did Galway. Yet Galway analysis does not sum up as same old Galway, always with the misses, so it mustn’t be something to do with number of misses. If it is not a question of mathematics, is then a question of genetics? Is it something to do with the Mayo gene pool? If so, we can only presume that the GAA Commentariat possess, as well as unlimited football expertise, levels of insight into genetics so powerful that they could save Dr David Banner from the terrible side-effects of his infamous exposure to gamma radiation, were they so bothered, and were they not in a hurry to get the football over with to leave room for Cyril Farrell and a bit of hurling tokenism.

An Spailpín Fánach is just a barstool philosopher of course, and would not be fit to drain the slops from the slop-tray of the Spillane family’s public house, but as this is my little bit of cyberspace, why don’t I share my two cents on the Mayo misses of yesterday? Your indulgence, please, this shan’t take long.

Mayo ratched up a great big total of misses yesterday because they selected one full-forward in their full-forward line, instead of the customary three. Andy Moran is not a corner forward. Mickey Moran’s attempts to make Kieran McDonald play inside are doomed, because even if you put McDonald on the full-forward line he won’t stay there. Not even for Crossmolina, where you would think the need would be greater. But the great insight of Mickey Moran and his assistant, that man of 200 ideas, Mr Morrison, is that Ger Brady is Mayo’s 11, and as such McDonald has to be squeezed in somewhere. But McDonald, who knows a bit about football himself, and is fully aware that last orders will soon be called on his own career, could see that it just wasn’t happening for Ger Brady on Sunday, and as such, like the conscientious householder who hears a disturbance downstairs, McDanger came out to put a bit of smacht on proceedings.

To say that McDonald foraging deep and getting on every ball is the bane of Mayo football is as canonical now in GAA analysis as the tropes of dour Nordies and cute Kerrymen; An Spailpín presents McDonald in his pomp, foraging deep and hitting killer passes for forwards into space yesterday as Exhibit A in the case for the defence.

Naturally, there are consequences to this walkabout on McDonald’s part. With Andy Moran condemned to anonymity by being selected where he isn’t suited to playing, McDonald down the field on a roving commission and Conor Mortimer being a bit on the small side, there was a great empty space where a full-forward line normally operates. With nobody on the fourteen yard line, bar Conor who couldn’t field a high ball without a stepladder, any shots on goal from Mayo had to come from out the field, where it was getting crowded. And they’re harder to put over.

This changed, of course, when Kevin O’Neill was sprung from the sideline in what, in retrospect, could be the making of Mayo this year. If Kieran McDonald is a man in the autumn of his career, O’Neill is Lazarus returned from the tomb – it’s thirteen long years since O’Neill won that All-Star and he cannot but be fully aware that it’s now or never. O’Neill is a naturally scoring forward, and once he arrived he brought shape, awareness, and the invaluable experience of a wise old head to the Mayo line. Mayo had a completely different setup in the second half, and it would not be a bit surprising were Mayo to start the six forwards the next day against either Laois or Offaly with the six that finished yesterday in Castlebar.

All of which is a level of detail that is utterly beyond our friends in the Sunday Game panel. Being a Mayoman, McStay should have been able to point this out. Instead, he went nodding along with the Spillane analysis, that nothing is as good as it was in Pat’s day. In fact, being a Mayoman, McStay should have countered Pat’s attack on the Mayo forwards by postulating a theory that if you wanted to look at a team that had scoring problems, maybe you could pick on a team that took off five of their six starting forwards, a move so shocking and unusual that you wouldn’t even see it at schools level. Anybody have any idea in what sort of strange Kingdom you might see that carry-on? No? Ah well. Another mystery.

Didn’t Luke Dempsey cut a forlorn figure in that pitchside interview with the worryingly ubiquitous Ciarán Mullooley after Longford’s triumphant victory over Derry? Dempsey wondered why Longford were getting no respect, as well he might. And what about Fermanagh? Being in the last twelve of the All-Ireland series for the second time in three years is no small achievement for one of only (I think) three counties that has yet to win a Provincial title, yet this Fermanagh team is as anonymous as Luke Dempsey’s Longford. And the reason they’re anonymous is because a slothful media are in clear dereliction of duty in printing the usual guff about the Big Three instead of getting off their bottoms and going out into the world to find out what’s going on. Not that the declining powers of the Big Three are any cause of concern to the same Commentariat, now that their all-time darlings are back in the Blue Big-Time. Longford and Fermanagh have to continue to plough their lonely furrow, unnoticed by the rest of the country. And it’s a crying shame.

An Spailpín is glad Mayo are Connacht Champions once more, but he is under no illusions about the rocky and unforgiving terrain ahead. Nor does he plan to burn the docket where he backed Galway for Sam at 14/1 earlier in the year either. Missing Paul Clancy and Derek Savage, as well as losing Seán Armstrong during the game, would cripple any team, but the one thing Peter Ford will not countenance is the strange lack of desire shown by Galway yesterday. Ford will break many a rod over soft Galway backs on the harsh terrain of West Galway in restoring that desire, and, should Galway get by Westmeath in the qualifiers, maybe they might just manage to keep the ball kicked out to Big Blue in a quarter-final. But don’t expect to read it in the papers, hear it on the radio or see it on the telly. Least of all on the telly, if the unspeakable horrors of Park Live are anything to go by. But that is for another day. Now, An Spailpín must depart, to compose a letter to who-ever wrote this morning’s match report in the Irish Independent, putting him or her right in his or her confusion over what happened Mayo in 2002 with what happened Mayo in 2003. Must try harder, dear heart; must try harder.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bad Maroon Rising - Are Mayo in a for a Mauling in Castlebar?

Go bhfoire Dia orainn! Tá na Gaillimhí ag teacht!Not since King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans looked down from the Pass at Thermopylae at the invading Persians massed on the plain below can stout hearts have felt a greater trepidation that the ever-true hearts of the heather county feel this week as the prospect of a trimming at the hands of the herring-chokers in this Sunday’s Connacht Final.

Mayo have two things on their side – home advantage, and the weight of history. Home advantage goes without saying; it’s always easier to win on your patch than theirs (when was the last Mayo win in Salthill, now I think of it? And we thought Tuam had a hoodoo. Sigh). The history books tell us that Galway have never dominated Mayo, and the maroon jersey always brings out the best in a Mayo team. Thank the Lord for that, for without those two crutches, Mayo would be viewing Galway with the same sense of inevitable destruction as the frog views the harrow.

Galway have hammered Mayo in their last three meetings, in the League semi-final this year, in the FBD game at the start of the year and in last year’s Connacht Final. Galway haven’t edged those games; they’ve clearly been the superior outfit in all three contests. But Mayo were able to give Galway a 1-3 start and still beat them in 2004 in the Connacht semi-final in 2004, and that was the precursor to a very fine summer. So who knows what tomorrow brings, in a world where so few Hartes survive, as Laois proved on Saturday. But while the flame of hope will always flicker from Westport to Charlestown and all points in between, Mayo have to be concerned about where the scores will come from, and the potential of Galway to drill them over at the other end.

Interestingly, neither Michael Meehan, in his inchoate career, or Pádraig Joyce, in his considerably more extended one, has gone gangbusters against Mayo. Dermot Geraghty has been able to hold the Boy King in check in previous meetings, but such is Meehan’s deep pool of talent that one can only fear and dread that the berserker mood will descend on him one of these days, and he will cry havoc!, and let slip the dogs of war.

While Joyce has never danced on a Mayo coffin himself, as he did against Meath in the All-Ireland final of 2001, he has certainly got the scores when they counted, most notably in Castlebar in 2002. Whatever; the potency of the Galway forwards has been alluded to before, and there’s no point giving them big heads.

Pat Harte’s triumphant display at midfield in Carrick-on-Shannon, before he clumsily got himself sent off, gave hope to the fans that Mayo can hold their own at midfield, although the loss of David Brady to a broken metatarsal cannot be over-estimated. The heron-choker fears Brady as the crusty fears soap, and no doubt sang a grateful Te Deum when news of Brady’s injury filtered through. For Mayo though, it is a bitter blow, and we can only pray that Harte will be able to weather the storm.

Behind Harte and McGarrity an Cispheileadoir An Spailpín remains confident in the defence, but in front of midfield, as it has been for such a depressingly long time, problems not only remain but have multiplied as Mayo’s early form in the league imploded and began to eat away at the team.

An Spailpín was interested in mathematics in a previous existence, and his formerly potent arithmetical powers tell him that if Mayo are playing two forwards as third midfielders, Billy Joe Padden and Andy Moran, that’s two less forwards to whom the serried midfield ranks can supply with ball. If we also take it as read that Conor Mortimer’s temperament issues persist, that neither Ger Brady nor Ciarán McDonald can both wear the 11 shirt, this means that Mayo do not have an inside forward line in the recognisable sense of the term, and one gets the feeling that scoring will be an issue on Sunday in McHale Park.

Perhaps Mayo will play with a two-man full-forward line featuring Trevor Mortimer in harness with his brother. Perhaps Michael Conroy, star of the U21 team that brought Mayo its first Championship title in 21 years after so many final disappointments, can go in there and do his stuff. But the frozen rictus of fear displayed by the Mayo line in Carrick on Shannon, when the team was reduced to fourteen headless chickens after Harte got sent off, does not fill the heart with hope that the management have spotted this. We’ve been hearing all year about the profound tactical insight of John Morrison, Sancho Panza in Mickey Moran’s Don Quixote; if Morrison can figure out a game plan where a team with no full-forward line wins a game against the most potent full-forward line in the country then Hannibal Barca of Carthage and Irwin Rommel of Germany are only in the ha’penny place with him.

Galway are superior to Mayo in terms of experience, personnel and management. Mayo’s best chance against Galway would have been to infiltrate their borders with agents provocateurs during their Arts Festival, to wreak such destruction as they may while the enemy revelled. Miserably, the purple bastards have already thought of that, and do not start the Festival this year until the day after the Connacht Final. I see the bad maroon rising; I see trouble on the way.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fine Dining with An Spailpín Fánach

An Spailpín Fánach in full fig, waiting on Caroline/Kathryn/Insert Name HereNews that celebrity chef Gary Rhodes is opening a new restaurant in Dublin’s Capel Street leaves An Spailpín Fánach cold. Fine dining means as much to your loyal narrator as Mongolian folk dancing of the 19th Century, if not slightly less. The only thing that interests An Spailpín even vaguely about this new chophouse is that it’s called D7 even though An Spailpín is reasonably sure that Capel Street is in fact located in D1. I pity poor Postie – let’s hope he doesn’t go on strike, eh? You know what those public sector unions are like.

An Spailpín is not proud of the fact that Gary Rhodes’ new restaurant means nothing to him. If anything, he feels quite lacking. An Spailpín, as he dreams from the gutter, would like nothing better of an evening than to take some uptown doll like Miss Morahan or Miss Thomas to Gary Rhodes’ Expensive Chipper and relive that marvellous scene in Tom Jones – the 1963 movie, that is, as opposed to the ancient Welshman. Miserably, spending his twenties among children who were rough has resulted in that set of social graces never having developed fully in your scribe. While my contemporaries have banished the noble hang sangwich from their lunchboxes in favour of panini of hummus and goats’ cheese, An Spailpín still enjoys nothing better than the snackbox with a six-pints-of-stout aperitif. While my generation goes to each others’ dinners parties, An Spailpín Fánach is still slumped over a pint of strong black porter in the corner of a once-smoky bar, muttering about Croke Park mandarins selling out their Irish nation.

An Spailpín was at an actual dinner party, once. Silent, horrified at the strange sights, I sat there and said nothing while conversation swirled all around. A chap on my left hand side was yammering on about his particular likes and dislikes at table (“at table” – see how quickly I pick up the lingo?) when, having no doubt heard of me, the poor man turned to me and asked for my two cents. “How about you, a Spailpín Fhánaigh?” he asked. “Do you like hot food?”

“Well I don’t like it cold, boss,” replied your correspondent, to the consternation of the gathering. Things, as you can imagine, went downhill from there. Now, whenever An Spailpín turns up at these does, he’s just given a bag of oats and a can of beer, and fired out into the garden while the rest of the company gets dug into the Veal Sweetbread & Liquorice, Veal Sweetbread slowly caramelized, Glazed with Liquorice sauce, Light Parsnip Sauce and Lemon Confit Condiment. It’s not too bad now, in the balmy summertime, but I always think it rather cruel in winter, especially during sleet or hail. How supposedly civilised people can choke down their Pain d'Epice while a Noted Chronicler of Contemporary Irish Life is out in the garden wearing a bag of oats, petrified little blue lips mouthing “couldn’t we have gone to Burcdock’s?” through the French windows at them is beyond me, I must say.

Who is this Gary Rhodes, anyway? What has Paddy Guilbaud done for the nation? It’s not like he was out in 1916, is it? Isn’t a celebrity chef something like a celebrity DJ, a guy that can play records better than anyone else? How can Gary Rhodes turn a steak on a pan better than anyone else? Is it all in the wrist? It certainly would be the likely explanation.

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