Monday, January 29, 2007

Take That, Backwoodsman!

A backwoodsman, yesterdayAn Spailpín’s little head is ringing this morning. The Backwoodsmen of the GAA, those people that are deeply unhappy to see Croke Park turned over to competing codes, got a very severe lash of Tom Humphries’ crozier in the Irish Times this morning and, as your faithful correspondent is a card-carrying member of that strange church, he too is withered under the blow.

Big Tom sums up his argument in two paragraphs in about the middle of this morning’s Locker-Room column. (The rest of the column is shadow-boxing and pontificating about Dublin’s chances of winning the All-Ireland, which makes An Spailpín less guilty about blathering on about Mayo all the time in this forum – after all, An Spailpín Fánach is only a weblog, whereas The Irish Times is, famously, the Paper of Record). Anyway, Tom sums up the pro-opening argument:

The rest of us (barring the iconic Michael Greenan) are just happy to see the back of that dark period of time and to be on the cusp of an era where the GAA's achievement at Croke Park is highlighted and talked about and welcomed and respected.

For the next few months we might still be backward-looking, swamp-dwelling stickballing Neanderthals but we are the ones opening up the grand house and taking the rent from our professional friends. Only a churl would be, well, churlish about it.

Now your diligent quillsman does not number “psychologist” under his many titles and banners of honour, but even to an amateur opinion do those pars suggest to you that someone may be nursing an inferiority complex?

“We might still be backward-looking, swamp-dwelling stickballing Neanderthals.”

As well as not being a psychologist, your constant chronicler does not consider himself a Neanderthal either, neither the swamp-dwelling nor backward-looking variety. And even if things were so low that he did, it’d take more than a pat on the head from Nige and Darren, over in Dublin to support the English rugger XV, to change my status. An Spailpín Fánach is an Irishman. You can take him or leave him, but you' won't change him. It's up to you how you deal with that.

This notion about Croke Park being “highlighted and talked about and welcomed and respected” – what’s going on there, exactly? Does anybody really think that Pierre or Freddie give a rooty-toot-toot about any of the stadia in which games are played? How many people came back from the World Cup talking about the stadia? Let’s play a little game – which stadium was considered so gosh-darned wonderful in the last World Cup that FIFA would have given it six stars, rather than the regular five, if only they could?

Exactly. The answer is at the bottom, as your steadfast scrivener hates leaving people guessing. But anyone that thinks anybody is coming for those two rugby games to hear about Michaels Hogan or Cusack would want to think again. If Big Tom and his ilk are looking for some sort of legitimacy from the visitors they’ll be waiting. Maybe the soccer boys will be more grateful. Let’s hope so.

Finally, unpleasant as it is, An Spailpín can’t help but worry about what may be another Freudian slip – what rich pickings those two paragraphs are! The phrase that concerns is “we are the ones opening up the grand house and taking the rent from our professional friends.”

If you make one substitution in that sentence you will realise instantly why we benighted backwoodsmen, we knuckle-dragging, shirt-under-geansaí wearing, Smithwick-drinking, country-loving hicks, are so desperately concerned about competing codes in Croke Park. Read “we are the ones opening up the grand house and taking the rent from our professional friends” again, this time substituting the word “wife” for “house,” and you’ll see in all its sordid glory just what Seán Kelly and the other appeasers, from the innocent to the ignorant to the downright cynical, have wrought.

The German stadium? Gelsenkirchen, of course. Where else?

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oscars 2007

So I woke up the next morning and I realised - I'd bought the bloody pub!The Oscars have always been one of An Spailpín Fánach’s great vices. When he was nine years old, An Spailpín learned for the first time just how unfair life is when – for reasons that still baffle – the greatest motion picture in the history of human civilisation, Raiders of the Lost Ark, did not win the Oscar for Best Picture and some damn film about two Tans running won it instead. Get the *%@# out of here, as one of this year’s nominees was to catchphrase some years later in Beverly Hills Cop.

The Oscars are a fraud, of course, and many films have won Oscars that are now unwatchable. American Beauty springs to mind, as does the last Lord of the Rings picture, and that’s just from the last ten years. But still, people that love cinema love drama, and we’ll get it in spades from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – just think back to the expressions on Burt Reynolds and Lauren Bacall’s faces when Robin Williams and Juliette Binoche went up to collect their Oscars and you’ll realise just how worth it the Oscars can be. So without further ado and making room in our hearts for schadenfreude, the most delicious of all emotions, let’s take a peek at the categories.

Little Miss Sunshine was one of those movies that people couldn’t really find fault with, no matter how hard they tried. Not that that will save veteran Alan Arkin in this. Eddie Murphy is a lock for this, he can’t be beaten – the man has made the industry millions and millions of dollars over twenty years, and don’t think the industry isn’t grateful.

Someone once said that 42nd Street or A Star is Born is the quintessential Hollywood movie – “you’re going out a nobody but you’re coming back a STAR!” As such, Jennifer Hudson is the nominee here for the intelligent punter. From what diligent research can tell your faithful narrator, Ms Hudson suffered a bad beat as a contestant on American Idol and if there’s one thing America loves it’s the plucky underdog coming out on top.

This has been Helen Mirren’s to lose since The Queen was released. Yanks love the British royal family – probably from having got shot of the freeloading wretches so early – and that gives Ms Mirren added zip in the running. Judi Dench – I found her very moving as M in the new Bond, didn’t you? – and Curvy Katie Winslet keep the British end up but it might be a mistake to rule out La Streep’s challenge. Jane Fonda and Helen Hunt both won against all-British fields for Klute and As Good as it Gets in 1971 and 1997 respectively, so Meryl can take comfort from historical precedent. To confess a personal bias, An Spailpín hopes Meryl does it – she and Dustin Hoffman co-starred in one of the most miserable movies of all time, Kramer versus Kramer, twenty-five years ago but both she and Hoffman have mellowed out considerably since then, and have both relaxed and realised that hey, it’s only show business. Meryl has got very good indeed at the scenery-munching lately and she seems like fun to be with. La Streep, then, to dust off the Dames and win it for the US of A - and Penelope Cruz to look just fantastic in her Oscar frock, of course.

An Spailpín has yet to see The Last High King of Scotland but even in the trailers Forest Whittaker looks impressive. It’s the sort of casting-against-type career defining performance that’s traditionally been richly rewarded by the Academy, and that’s why Whittaker is the ante-post favourite. Peter O’Toole is the sentimental favourite, but the movie he’s in could be a bit too slight to push him over the line. He should be good crack on the talk-show circuit trying to get it though. Leonardo DiCaprio’s nomination leaves your faithful popcorn-muncher baffled, quite frankly.

Scorsese. Next!

Now here’s an interesting one. Traditionally the Best Film is the one that’s been directed by the Best Director, but this doesn’t always apply, as when Chicago won Best Film but Polanski won Best Director, chiefly because the Academy felt very, very sorry for Polanski, what with the California PD on his case for thirty years. So, if Marty does win it this year it’s nothing to do with The Departed, it’s more a thanks for the memories sort of vote (which he wouldn’t get from An Spailpín, by the way – your eagle-eyed attendant at the Astoria finds Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and the King of Comedy all unwatchable, frankly, and I’m not too gone on Mean Streets either. An Spailpín is nothing if not brave enough to stand alone).

So if The Departed doesn’t get it – and let’s face it, what’s all that remarkable about the picture anyway? Exactly – we must search further afield. We’re looking for a picture that’s uplifting, ideally, and that makes the movie industry, which is going to make so much money this summer from Fantastic Four 2 and Spider-Man 3 and that sort of stuff it’s unbelievable – feel a lot better about itself. Some rich dame in London, England isn’t going to do it. No picture in gosh-darned Japanese will win it – unless Mel directed it, of course – and Babel is so last year. So step forward, the last man – or woman – standing and take a bow Little Miss Sunshine. Tonight you’re a star at last.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jimmy Murray Imithe ar Slí na Fírinne

Tá An Spailpín Fánach tar éis an scéal bronach a chloisteail, go bhfuil laoch mór Rosa Comáin tar éis fháil bháis. Cailleadh Jimmy Murray, caiptín an Ros ar an dhá uair a bhuadar Craobh na hÉireann i 1943 agus 1944, inniu. Dúradh dom gurbh é Jimmy an iar-chaiptín is sinne a bhuaigh Craobh na h-Éireann a bhí beo fós. Tagann an teideal ar duine eile anois.

Níor bhuail An Spailpín le Jimmy Murray riamh, ach tá sé im’ aigne dom gur chuaigh mé tríd a bhaile dúchais ar an nDomhnach, tar éis an cluiche idir Ros Comáin agus Maigh Eo, ach níos stopas. Ní bhuailfimis anois ar an dtaobh seo go deo anois, agus tá brón orm as ucht sin, mar tá fíos maith agam ar an méid measa a bhí ag daoine air. Dúirt cara Rosa liom gurbh bhreá an rud é gur chonaic Jimmy an craobh miniúr a bhuaigh Ros anuraidh, agus ba bhreá. Má tá sé i gceart orm, stop an foireann miniúr sin i dteacht ósta Jimmy ar a mbealach abhaile. Is dócha gur dhíol Jimmy braon mór beorach an oíche sin – ach óráiste amháin do na páistí, ar ndóigh.

Go gcodlaí Jimmy sámh i measc laocha na Rosa go deo. Cuimhnígí air mar seo, ins an agallamh a rinné sé anuraidh leis an fear den scoth sin san Irish Times, Keith Duggan. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar anam Jimmy cróga cneasta uasal.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Ain't Love Blind?

The happy coupleMeet Burt Pugach and Linda Riss, as they were when this picture was taken fifty years ago. He was a hotshot New York lawyer, she was an artist, they were both madly in love. Madly in love.

Burt was already married when he met Linda in the Bronx, New York, New York, in 1957, but he always promised her he’d divorce the wife and marry Linda. Linda got sick of waiting for what never happened and, two years on, she told him to hit the road and started dating someone else, as often happens.

Burt took it badly. Very badly.

So badly, in fact, that he used his connections to track down some tough guys. The tough guys subsequently tracked down Linda, and threw lye in her face, blinding her forever. Lye is sodium hydroxide, a strongly caustic alkaline solution. Which means that it wasn’t like Linda suddenly woke up blind – her eyes were burned out of her head in an extraordinarily painful way.

The law took a dim view of this type of carry on, and Burt Pugach got fourteen years hard time for the assault. And that’s when it gets interesting, because the day after he got out of the slammer in 1974, having finally secured the divorce, Burt Pugach met Linda Riss and asked her to marry him. And she said yes.

The couple are now the subject of a documentary movie that’s creating a bit of a buzz at the upcoming Sundance movie festival, and there’s an interview with them in this morning’s New York Daily News. Ain’t love blind?

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Horror! The Horror!

An Spailpín Fánach was distressed this morning to hear Morning Ireland use not one but two news items on the current brouhaha existing on a British reality TV program. They were presenting it as if this bad behaviour were news; surely it's the same as the front page headline on a newspaper reading "Pigs in Grunting Shock!"?

Hard luck on the British, of course, the race that civilised one third of the Earth, as we were reflecting in this forum only yesterday. There's a thoughtful and well-expressed piece in this morning's Telegraph on the matter by Shyama Perera, where the telling sentence is where Perera remarks on "the million 16- to 25-year-olds in Britain who are not in education, employment or training – young people on the scrapheap and costing us billions." We could have a few of those buckaroos ourselves, I'm thinking. God help us all.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

An Caiptín Scott agus Ré na n-Impireachta Breataine

Tá an litir deireanach chuig a bhean cheile, Kathleen, a scríobh an Caiptín RF Scott, an taiscéalaí Sasanach a fuair bás lena fhoireann ar an mbealach abhaile ón bPol Theas i mí Márta, 1912, a theaspáint don bpobal i gCambridge ar feadh trí mhí. D'fhoilsigh an Daily Telegraph an litir an seachtain seo caite agus is uaigneach, crógach, spreagach an litir í. Bhí sé go breá soléir do Shcott go raibh an bás i ndán dó agus dá dhream - cailleadh an fear misniúl sin, Titus Oates, cúpla lá sular scríobhadh an litir - ach níor scríobh Scott focal eaglach nó áifealach dá laghad. Tá sé buartha nach bhfeicfeadh sé a bhean nó a mhac riamh, ar ndóigh, ach choinnigh sé an liopa crua i gcónaí, mar ba cheart do laoch na h-Impire.

Tá dialann an Caiptín Scott le feiceáil fós in Iarsmalann na Breataine - chonaic an Spailpín é cúpla bhliain ó shin, agus d'fhán sí im'aigne ón lá sin amach. Bhí an dhialann oscailte ag an leathanach deireanach, an scríobhnóireacht briste agus Scott faoi ghréim an fuacht, agus fíos maith aige go raibh an bás ag teacht. Conas a choinneodh an Spailpín agus mise súil i gcoinne súil le Aingeal an Bháis? An thaispeanfainn an cleite bán? Mo bhrón, ach sílim go dtaispeanfainn, gan dabht.

Tá do scríobhnóir dílis ag smaoineamh ar an gCaiptín agus a dhream ón uair a léigheas an litir sa Thelegraph. Tá coireanna na Sasanach comh laidir in aigne na hÉireannach gurbh deachair an rud é cothrom a chonnigh orthu agus sinne ag féachaint orthu le súil na staire anois. Go rinnedar gníomaithe olca crua dubhchroíach níl aon dhabht faoi - ní gá duit ach smaoinigh ar áiteanna cosuil le Amritsar nó an tSúdáin agus feicfear lámh fola na h-Impireachta Breataine, a choinnigh an triú chuid domhain faoi smacht le fada an lá.

Ach ní fheiceann An Spailpín eachtraí an tsaoil comh dhubh agus comh bhán mar a d'fheicinn. Agus sílim, ag smaoineamh ar Scott nó ar laochra eile cosuil le Cook, Monroe, Wolfe, Nelson nó ár nGael féin, Arthur Wellesley, an Dúc Wellington, cibé eile a ndeirtear fúthu, caithfear adhmail gurbh dream crógacha iad. Ní hiad ina gcathanna amháin a thaispéanadar an misneach sin, cé go bhfuil sé go breá soiléir in eachtraí Rourke's Drift nó Cawnpore nó Trafalgar nó Waterloo - ní thuigeadar riamh nach n-éireodh leo agus rud éigin faoi lámh acu. Tagadh rud éigin ina aigne, agus déanadh é. Bhí sé comh shimplí sin. Iarnród a thógáil in India? Déanta. Canalach a thógáil ag Suez? Déanta. Feictear an creideamh céanna i ndaoine cosuil le Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a thóg na h-iarnóid i ngach áit, go dtí an tOllamh James Murray, a bhí ina eagarthóir ar an gcéad foilsiú ar an Oxford English Dictionary.

Cad tharla don dream sin, dream Cook, Scott, Brunel? Anois, tá Jonathan Ross nó Simon Cowell nó an t-ápa sin Russell Brand ina laochra ag na Sasanaigh, agus is mó an titim é. Agus a n-Impireachta caillte acu ó Chogadh na mBoer, tá an Ríocht Aontaithe í féin faoi bhrú faoi láthair. Smaoiníonn an Spailpín ar an gCaptain Scott ag fáíl bháis i bhfuacht an Phoil Theas, agus ar an mBreatain sa lá atá inniu ann, agus b'fhéidir gurbh bás trocaireach é a bhás ar deiridh - ní fhéidir le fear cosuil le Robert Scott an Bhreatain 2007 a mhaireachtáíl.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

His Master's Voice - John O'Mahony on Laochra Gael

The diaspora and deoraíocht of the sweet County Mayo will gather around their TV sets tomorrow night to watch Laochra Gael profile John O'Mahony at half-nine on TG4, only the second Mayoman to feature on that marvellous show. Your faithful chronicler will certainly be tuning in.

Speaking of Johnno, he seems up and running in his election campaign. A visit (bewigged, behatted and further disguised, of course - one dare not risk the social ostracisation that would inevitably follow if word got out that one was fraternising with Fine Gaelers) to the Fine Gael Mayo candidates site shows us that of all the candidates, Johnno is using online exposure to its greatest effect. And how disappointing to note that Ms Michelle Mulherin's web page is completely blank. Ms Mulherin is clearly being deployed as a sweeper for the party's bigger guns but the fact that she's one of few women in the field - if not the only woman - and the fact she's from Ballina, which has spent the past five years sulking about not having a representative in Dáil Éireann, should surely make her worth watching. Wouldn't it be gas if she took Enda's seat? God knows, she'd be doing her own party a favour, God love them.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tickets for the Rugby - Attention, Suckers!

Shaggy - the face of modern IrelandAnybody who is a student of the dark arts of news management – commonly known as “spinning” – could do a lot worse than to visit the IRFU’s website, where the Union’s comments about this morning’s sale of tickets for the Irish home matches in the upcoming Six Nations Championship are textbook in their deviousness.

The tickets, unsurprisingly, in our hype-addled and value-deficient Celtic Tiger days, sold like hot cakes. They could only be bought by supporters’ club members, and were sold on a first-come, first-served basis this morning. The IRFU puffs out its chest at the thought of this morning’s stampede, and comes out with the following:

“The demand for tickets for these historic games has been unprecedented; such is the level of support for the Ireland Rugby Team.”

You can imagine the froggy eyes popping and the great bellies distending with pride at the thought of so many backs straightening to the sound of Ireland’s Call, can’t you?

Well think again, friends, because there has been dirty work at the crossroads.

The Irish Rugby Supporters’ Club was set up in 2005 to give those mythical, put-upon creatures, the “real fans,” first dibs at the good stuff. And Ireland versus France in Croke Park is clearly good stuff.

The Irish Rugby Supporters’ Club was modelled on the exemplary Munster Rugby Supporters’ Club, but with one crucial difference: the Munstermen limit the membership of the Munster Supporters’ Club, whereas the membership of the Irish Rugby Supporters’ Club is come one, come all, step right up, all are welcome.

Why is this? Well, it’s all about bums on seats, isn’t it?

An Spailpín Fánach sometimes forgets to push his soup away while eating it, and as such is probably persona non grata in the IRFU’s hallowed halls. But your faithful correspondent does know this much: the IRFU were advertising the Supporters’ Club as a way to get tickets to this historic Croke Park event before Christmas because they knew they would get sign-ups in their thousands, and so they did. It all proved too much for the gullible Celtic Tiger Cubs, every synapse quivering at the thought of Ireland and Irish Pride and a Great Day for the Nation and thank God “we’ve” got Croke Park off those backwoodsmen in the GAA.

So it seems that the IRFU saw this great wobbling mass of soft flesh that is the Irish party market – because the Ireland v France game is about so much more than just rugger, doncha know – and sank their fangs in good and deep. People came in their droves to sign up at fifty lids a pop and now they’re left with one hand as long as the other, with nobody for company except those poor eejits who suffered through the Brian Ashton era and the Gerry Murphy era and Rob Saunders and every other form of muck, who are now out in the cold as well, the bandwagon having steamrolled them into the ground.

And when they ring Des or Joe or Marian, what will they be told, these actual rugby fans? Why, they’ll be told about Ireland and Irish Pride and a Great Day for the Nation and thank God “we’ve” got Croke Park off those backwoodsmen in the GAA. And sure fellas, there isn’t room for everybody, you know.

So what you have on one hand are those poor saps whose simple brains are addled listening to well intentioned but hopelessly naïve commentators bigging up rugby-in-Croke-Park shelling out fifty lids a soul to enter a raffle, and good hearted innocents in the GAA who believed all that good neighbour palaver out of the IRFU and the FAI both being sold a combination elixir of snake-oil and hair-restorer while the IRFU makes another soft few million for themselves, offering greater access to tickets that isn’t so accessible after all.

And what off the real fans, about whom we hear so much? Watching on TV, as usual. May God forgive the IRFU. Nobody else will by the time the penny finally drops.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Anti-Social Behaviour

There was a feature about the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit of the Tallaght Garda Síochána on Morning Ireland this morning, just after the half-seven news and sports. The reporter followed two officers on their beat, going around talking to youths in Tallaght area. They came on two young people who were loitering in an alley behind a private home; the young people were asked, very nicely, to please move along, and we know that you’re not doing anything wrong but people might get the wrong impression and you know how it is and aren’t we all in this together, really?

An Spailpín, unfortunately, nodded off again at that stage, returning to consciousness later to hear what I can only guess was a social worker or community activist remarking that what the youth in Tallaght needed were “amenities” and “facilities,” and an end to alienation. Fair enough.

Your faithful narrator then arose, and went outside. Imagine An Spailpín’s surprise when I beheld that my motor car, the two cars in front of me on the street and one behind me, had all be keyed during the night. By which I mean some gouger – I personally suspect it was a gouger, but this is hateful prejudice on my part, of course – it may very well have been the manager of a Branch of the Allied Irish Banks, or perhaps a Sacred Heart Missionary, or a nuclear scientist, or anybody at all – that went along and scored the paintwork of my car and three others. It was a very through job, as the scoring goes right from the headlight to the back lights, taking sufficient care to ensure that the paintwork behind the door handles was not missed.

So I stood there, looking at this, trying to figure out how much it would cost me to get it fixed (I haven’t looked yet, but I would guess €500 at least, for four panels and a petrol cap), and I remembered what friend social worker had been saying earlier about amenities, facilities and alienation.

Am I understanding his philosophy correctly in positing that, given the choice between vandalising my car and four others or going to a local youth centre to play draughts or table tennis, or perhaps join Father Bob in a moving singalong of Kumbaya, the gouger/banker/missionary/scientist would chose the latter option? Be japers, but I bloody think not. I think by the time you have a buckaroo on the loose who thinks that keying random cars is good crack it’ll take more than the opening of a table tennis centre to wean him back to the primrose path. I think he’s already at a very difficult stage indeed.

And then a revelation opened up before your faithful corr, An Spailpín Fánach – I too was experiencing the very same feelings of alienation, rage and discombobulation that friend social worker was talking about on the radio in relation to the disenfranchised unequal masses in Tallaght! And then I started to wonder exactly how many Euro of my taxes were going to be squan-, whoops!, spent in dealing the alienation and anger of An Spailpín Fánach? Would it be enough to repair my car, for instance? To whom should I apply for the appropriate grant?

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Monday, January 01, 2007

How Not to Park the Car

Doesn't this take the biscuit? An Spailpín damn near put his own car up on the ditch in a popular multi-story parking lot in Galway over the weekend when he saw this attempt. It left two questions: Is it a display of Olympic incompetence, or of monumental selfishness? Astonishing.