Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sherlock Holmes Condemned to Learning, Growing and Hugging in Elementary

Mr Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first and only consulting detective, faces a peril far greater than any other he has faced in a long and distinguished career. Professor Moriarty, Irene Adler and even the giant rat of Sumatra itself are as Curly, Larry and Moe compared to the rack of fire on which the Columbia Broadcasting System and their nefarious allies in Great Britain, Sky Living, seem determined to roast the ne plus ultra of fictional detectives in their new series Elementary.

At first, the danger seemed slight. There is no real problem with modernizing Holmes – he is an archetype, a man for all seasons. The classic Basil Rathbone movies of the 1940s were moved to modern times, when Holmes moved from the Victorian peasoupers to the Churchillian beaches and landing grounds to face down the Nazi menace.

Bringing Holmes to 21st Century London is one of the many reasons why the current BBC Sherlock is the triumph that it is. The character remains constant though the times may change.

The move to New York and the sex change of honest Doctor Watson in Elementary are also permissible. The writers have to do something to make it different. The biggest danger, in the early stages, seemed to be the tin ear of writers who over-egged the English pudding.

Holmes refers to the tube, rather than the subway. He refers to the baseball team as the Metropolitans of New York, rather than the New York Mets. That’s because he’s English, you see.

However, once the game’s afoot, Holmes speaks fluent American. “I need you to send this to the lab,” says Holmes to a flatfoot. Only Americans consider the subjective “I need” as an imperative. How has Holmes picked this up but can’t call the subway the subway?

But sloppy writing is a flesh wound compared to the evisceration that the writers seem determined to inflict on the misfortunate, unsuspecting Holmes. Part of the backstory of Elementary is that Holmes is a recovering addict; Watson is a doctor hired to keep an around-the-clock eye on him. Fair enough.

What is not fair enough is the burgeoning plot development that Holmes will flower as a fully-rounded human being under Doctor Joan Watson’s loving ministrations. In the second episode, the sensitive viewer is appalled to discover that Holmes has taken something from his AA meetings, and is now a “better person” as a result.

Watson complements Holmes on the “progress” he’s making as a person, and this isn’t even the worst of it. As Watson retires to her boudoir, we see Holmes staring at his childhood violin that Watson found earlier. As Watson lies in bed, she hears the first plaintive scrapes and smiles at the thought of Sherlock Holmes getting back in touch with his soul and becoming a more rounded person. That we are spared stock imagery of flowers blossoming can only be the grace of a merciful God.

It’s not hard to plot the coming years. Love rears its ugly head and, by Season 5, Elementary has become the Brady Bunch as Holmes and Watson’s brood perform precocious feats of deduction to the delight of their parents and the agonized rictus horror of anyone with any taste whatsoever.

They could even have a Christmas special. The grandparents can meet for the first time since the wedding – Holmes's parents are played by Joanna Lumley and the guy who played Lord John Marbury in the West Wing, while Mr and Mrs Watson are George Takei and Barbara Bloody Streisand.

The eldest and most precocious of the children, Chet Holmes, deduces that Uncle Mycroft is running a covert op between the CIA and MI6, and hilarity ensues. Ricky Gervais will be cast against type as Mycroft – to keep things edgy, you know. Challenging assumptions.

Sherlock Holmes – learning, hugging and growing. What George Constanza expertly dodged for so long is to be the grim fate of the world’s first consulting detective. How he must long for the sweet release of the Reichenbach Falls.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

By the Numbers - the Hurling All-Stars

Three hundred and fifty of the six hundred and thirty All-Stars awarded over the forty-two years of the institution have gone to the Big Three counties. Kilkenny have 163, Cork 103 and Tipperary have 82. Galway’s six for this year sees them bring their total to 79 all-time, three short of Tipperary but well clear of the rest of the field.

Offaly and Limerick, joined forever in the memory by the incredible 1994 final, are joined on the All-Star roll of honour too. The Faithful and the Shannonsiders have 44 each. Clare have 42, Wexford 30, Waterford – the only county in double digits on the list who haven’t won an All-Ireland since the All-Stars began – have 29 and then list falls away to Antrim and Dublin with five each and Down and Westmeath with one each.

Down’s sole winner was Gerard McGrattan, who lined out at right half-forward on the 1992 team, the year he made his inter-county debut. Down won Ulster that year and gave a good account of themselves against Cork in semi-final. Westmeath’s sole All-Star was David Kilcoyne, who lined out at right corner-forward on the 1986 All-Star team. David was one of five Kilcoynes to wear the maroon and white in the 1980s.

Looking at the graph of All-Stars over the years for Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary and Galway, we can see that All-Stars come in spurts. Kilkenny have led always but it’s only in the Cody era that they’ve really torn away from the chasing pack.

Part of the reason behind that the separation can be put down to Cork’s decline. Cork have won two All-Stars since their most recent strike. There may be something in that. There may not.

It’s interesting also to note that Tipperary were not forgotten during the famine that lasted from 1971 to 1987 – the kept winning the odd All-Star here and there. Bobby Ryan and Tommy Butler won one each during the famine, Francis Loughnane, Pat McLoughney and Tadhg O’Connor won two and Nicky English won three in a row before Richie Stakelum made his famous declaration of Premiership über alles in Killarney in the magical summer of 1987.

The All-Star era also saw the rise of Galway after they were released from Munster. They are now neck and neck with Tipperary in the All-Star Roll of Honour, twinned around each other like some sort of perpetual Keady Affair.

Comparing hurling with football, it’s interesting to note that spread of awards around the counties is much the same in hurling as in football – a ratio of 6:3:6 between the All-Ireland winners, the All-Ireland runners-up and the rest. This is despite the fact that that only thirteen counties have won hurling All-Stars, while 27 football counties have been so honoured. So, even though Kerry dominate the football All-Stars just as Kilkenny dominate the Kerry, it’s easier to win an odd award in football than in hurling.

Of the 630 football All-Stars, 236 have won just one All-Star. There are just 151 once-off hurling All-Star winners – all the others are multiple winners. In hurling, once you’re in, you’re in.

As regards the years themselves, the worst years for the winners were 1971 and 1979, when Tipperary and Kilkenny got only four each. 1983, 2000 and 2008 were the best years, when Kilkenny scooped nine each time. 2000 and 2008 were also the worst years for the runners-up, with only one gong to bring home after getting stomped in the final.

The best years for the runners-up were 1973 and this year, when the runners-up seven and six All-Stars outstripped the winners’ tally of five. Limerick got six All-Stars as runners-up in 1994 too, but it’s highly unlikely that made them feel any better. All Mayo wept in silent empathy and brotherhood with the Shannonsiders in 1994 and 1996, having known what it was to fall short ourselves. Still though; there’s always next year.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

By the Numbers - the Gaelic Football All-Stars

Donegal’s haul of eight All-Stars puts Donegal 2012 joint second on the list for the most dominating performance of All-Ireland football champions at the All-Stars. Of course, the All-Stars aren’t quite the most accurately calibrated metric in a country that is generally adverse to precision, but come on. The winter is almost here and we need to make the most of what’s left of the summer’s fun before the frost covers the green isle once more.

Besides; questionable though the process behind the All-Stars might be, they are very much part of what we are. Or at least, the poster is.

They don’t seem to make them any more, but once the All-Star poster was an essential feature of any self-respecting Irish bar, and it is a reasonable rule of thumb to posit that the older the poster, the sweeter the poster. There’s a fine selection the GAA museum, with those distinctive black borders and the mugshots of men’s men. Reader, treat yourself sometime.

Looking at the 630 awards over 42 years, we discover that the typical All-Star team breaks down at an average of six All-Ireland winners, three runners-up and six of the rest. The football of the year, which began 1995, is generally from the champions too – Peter Canavan in 1995, Steven McDonnell in 2003 and Bernard Brogan in 2010 are the exceptions.

The biggest haul of All-Stars for All-Ireland champions is nine, which happened twice. Those years were 1977 and 1981, the bookend years of Kerry’s four-in-a-row. This year’s Donegal join Tyrone in 2005 with their eight awards – 2005 saw only three counties, Tyrone, Kerry and Armagh, honoured at the All-Stars, the lowest number ever. So much for the back door shining a light on the little guy.

The lowest haul of All-Stars for the champions is four, which has happened four times. Offaly won four in 1971, the first year of the All-Stars, when a highest-ever ten counties were honoured. Dublin got only 4 All-Stars in 1983, when they boxed their way past Galway in a notoriously ill-tempered game.

Down, astonishingly, got only four All-Stars in 1991 while Meath, whom Down defeated in the final, got six. This is the only time the losers have got more All-Stars than the champions.

There have been three years when the All-Stars divided equally between the champions and the losing finalists – 1971, that great year when all men stood equal saw the champions, Offaly, and the runners-up, Galway, got four each. 1996 and 2010 saw five each to the winners and losers of those years.

The most honoured of the runners-up were Meath in 1991, which was also the year of their famous marathon encounter against Dublin in the Leinster Championship. Three Dubs from that remarkable series had to decide between beef or salmon in the Burlington that year – Keith Barr, Tommy “Tom” Carr and Mick “Michael” Deegan.

Mayo have four All-Stars this year, which is above the average for All-Ireland runners-up. There has never been a year when no runner-up was nominated but there have been two years when just one runner-up got an All-Star and nine years when they got just two. There is nothing like getting tonked on the fourth Sunday in September to make footballers look bad before the gentlemen of the press.

There have been seven years when the All-Stars who didn’t play in the All-Ireland made up more than half the All-Star team. The biggest assembly of these was in 1983, of course. Ten players from seven different counties were awarded that year. Down and Offaly got two each, even though neither won their provinces. Jack O’Shea, who was captain of Kerry in 1983, got one as well, almost certainly on the strength of his sheer Jacko-icity.

Nine All-Stars came from outside the final in 1997 and 2007. The 1997 Leinster Champions Offaly got only one All-Star, corner-back Cathal Daly, as did Ulster Champions Cavan, whose great midfielder Dermot Cabe was slotted in at wing-forward.

Each province knows what it is to be left without a representative on the All-Star team, but only Connacht has had that dubious honour more than once. Seven times, in fact – 1975, 1982, 1988, 2005 and three years in a row, between 2007 and 2009. Sligo’s Charlie Harrison broke the duck in 2010.

Just four counties have won over half of the 630 awards over 42 years – Kerry have 127, Dublin have 86, Cork have 64 and Meath have 49. Tyrone is the leading Ulster county on 40 while Galway heads the list for Connacht with 37. There are seven counties, including London and New York, who have yet to win any All-Stars at all, with Limerick and Longford perhaps the hardest done by out of those seven in recent years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Letter to a Fat Kid, Stuck on a Wall

Dear Fat Kid,

I saw you while I was on my way home yesterday evening, when you were stuck up on that damned wall and wondering how in God’s name you’d get down. I hope that was your da with the ladder. Humiliating, of course, but dammit, at least he’s family. It being one of the neighbours would have made a bad situation ten times worse. Maybe a hundred times worse, depending on the neighbour.

Anyway, the main thing is I hope you got down in the end. You were a little red in the face when I saw you, and I think that stepladder must have looked as far away as China. I wanted to run over and say come on man, nearly home now, but I thought it best to leave it. Like I say, it’s sometimes best to keep these things in the family.

But you know what I hope most? I hope that as soon as you got down off the wall you shot up there again, just as soon as you could. I hope you spent the whole evening – and the evenings are getting shorter now, so you need to make the most of them – climbing up and down that stupid wall, and maybe shinning up a nearby tree or two, for variety.

Chances are, when you were up on the wall you probably felt you were born there, lived a long life there and would eventually die there, peacefully, in your sleep, surrounded by your loving family. Time stretches when you’re stuck. But the reality is you were probably only up there five or ten minutes. It might have seemed like a long time, but it wasn’t.

See, getting stuck on a wall is no big deal, really. A friend of mine got stuck in Bohola once. Boris Johnson looked a right eejit stuck on that wire at the Olympics. On my own first ever visit to Dublin under my own steam, I got lost on O’Connell Bridge. Nothing unusual in it. Happens all the time.

And I’m only saying this now because I was a bit worried about you, up on that wall. I hope I’m wrong, but I thought you were thinking that if you ever got down off the wall you’d never go higher than two feet off the ground ever again for the rest of your days. Just enough to climb into bed at night-time, and leave that other stuff to the Indiana Joneses of this world.

And it was ok to think that thought. Like I say, time gets long up there, and ladders look very far away. But I hope once you got down and settled you realised that it is only a wall, after all. I hope you laughed about the idea of never going higher than the bed again.

I hope you told your Da to come looking for you if you weren’t back in fifteen minutes as you went out with your rope and your grappling hook for another crack at that dopey wall. There’s a whole lot of world beyond that bed-high horizon.

And I hope that attitude stays with you, all through your life. That it’s not the getting stuck but the getting out that matters. And the more you get out of jams in life, the more you’ll take from the experience.

While I’m at it – it might be no harm to go easy on the cakes either. Tell you what, try an experiment – promise yourself you’ll go easy on the cakes for the next four weeks, and maybe walk home a bit of way from school instead of taking the bus.

Weigh yourself every morning, and write down your weight inside your sums copy – nobody will twig it among those other numbers. It’ll just be you that’ll know. After four weeks, you’ll be surprised how much the number has gone down. And you’ll notice that you’re feeling a lot better too.

There’s nothing wrong with being fat. Kids pick on other kids for being fat – there’s a special place in Hell for bullies, so you needn’t worry about them. Screw them. This is about you. It’s a fact of life that you’ll feel better when there’s less of yourself to carry around. You’ll get places quicker too.

Of course, the chief reason I’m writing to you is because I’m writing to myself as well. I didn’t even like climbing in the first place, when I was your age. But when I saw the red face and the terrified look up on the wall just now, I could have been looking at a mirror.

Take it easy, Fat Kid. It does get better, you know. I remember very well what it’s like, being stuck and scared and overweight and undercooked. But it’s ok. It gets better.

Your friend,

An Spailpín Fánach.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Nine Lives of Reilly

James Reilly may be thick, but he’s very, very far from being dense. There is an understanding abroad that a lack of previous political experience has stood against Doctor Reilly in his career as a politician. Rather than being a life-long party member, working his way through the ranks, Reilly was was a high profile candidate head-hunted by Fine Gael, just as George Lee was.

But this perception is not the reality. Of his current Fine Gael generation, Reilly may be the most cunning, the most devious, the most brilliant of them all.

The Minister for Health did a radio interview with Pat Kenny yesterday that is instructive of just how commanding a political presence James Reilly is. One of the distinctive features of a Pat Kenny interview is that Pat himself is seldom shy about showing his own grasp of a subject.

If he’s interviewing lovely Clodagh McKenna, Pat may comment that finds a cheeky glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape goes particularly well with fish fingers, or complement Denis Lehane on Lehane's excellent grasp of Boston vernacular. Pat can seldom resist interrupting the sports reports to remark that Sir Alex ought to play Rooney in the hole behind the strikers, or that Padraig Harrington has been putting too much weight on the back foot while executing his putting stroke.

It’s how the guy is. In every gang he was ever in at school, Pat almost certainly played the role of Brains.

Yesterday though, Reilly blew Pat away with a fusillade of facts that not even RTÉ’s great savant could keep up with. Pat was naïve at the start in not carefully corralling Reilly at the start – Pat’s first question to the Minister was “what do you have to say about that story on the front page of the Independent today?”

Reilly saw open country, and romped into its wide open spaces. He gave Pat and the people of Ireland chapter and verse on Irish health policy, far more than non-experts can keep up with. Over half an hour the Minister discussed

  • the contrast between public private partnership and direct provision,
  • the personal cost to him of his involvement in politics,
  • the fluid nature of the criteria by which things are judged,
  • Roscommon Hospital,
  • the differences in hospital standards across the country,
  • the importance of metrics in patient outcomes,
  • his personal financial losses due to his service to the state,
  • the cuts in the Health budget since 2009,
  • his relationship with Róisín Shortall,
  • a defence of the people of Balbriggan against insult,
  • improvements in the Health service since his took charge,
  • the Health service frontline staff who have taken ownership,
  • and his own managerial style.

Half an hour of radio, with enough material for a book on the Health service. Pat Kenny and the listeners got swept away in the tide while Reilly remained dry on the shore.

Two questions remained unaddressed – did the Minister pull a stroke for his buddy, and what exactly are these criteria by which these sites are judged? All the rest are issues for other days.

If Minister Reilly didn’t bump Balbriggan and Swords onto the list it’s entirely possible that they are the only two locations on the list that are not there as a result of stroking. This is Ireland. We don't do “criteria.”

The only reason things happen here is because someone has made a better deal than someone else. We’re Irish, not German. We sell horses to each other as darkness falls on the fair and hope the horse we bought is less lame than the one we sold. We score that as a win.

But let’s take the Minister at his word, and take it that he didn’t pull the stroke and that criteria for judging these sites do exist, no matter how fluid they are. The sad fact for Reilly now is that none of that matters anymore. Events have overtaken them.

Eighteen years ago a situation developed between Labour and their then coalition partners, Fianna Fáil, where Labour got sick of being pushed around by Fianna Fáil. That situation is now developing again. The backbench anxiety has been added to by two MEPs, Phil Prendergast and Nessa Childers, publically calling on Minister Reilly to resign. This means it’s now a game of chicken.

Eamon Gilmore has to call for Reilly’s head, or else be exposed as the grand old duke of York. Enda Kenny owes his entire premiership to James Reilly and Phil Hogan, who were the only major party figures to support him during Bruton Minor’s ill-fated heave two years ago. So the question now is: who’s going to blink first?

Labour can’t back down from this. Sauce for the goose has to be sauce for the gander, or else Labour can’t preach to anyone ever again. And it goes without saying that not being able to preach would be a fate worse than death for that particular party.

Will Enda give Labour Reilly’s head? Or will he call Gilmore's bluff on collapsing the Government? Who fears the doorsteps most? Labour, or Fine Gael?