A marvellous tour de force of political sketch writing by Simon Hoggart in this morning's Guardian. Imagine reading something as urbane, witty and cutting as these six hundred and fifty words in an Irish paper. No; An Spailpín Fánach can't either. Sigh.
Monday, April 25, 2005
1. Big Brother
2. Celebrity Wrestling
4. Coronation Street
6. Desperate Housewives
8. Fair City
9. Footballers' Wives
11. Hell's Kitchen
12. I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
13. Kirsty's Home Videos
14. Mile High
15. Pat Kenny's Late Late Show
16. Playing It Straight
18. Strictly Dance Fever
19. The Ex Files
20. The Games
21. The Newlyweds
22. The Osbournes
23. The Restaurant
24. Tubridy Tonight
25. You're a Star
Twenty-five fairly strong reasons to sign up to the White Dot Campaign.
This morning's Irish Independent quotes John Maughan as attributing Armagh's win over Mayo in Croke Park yesterday to Armagh's superior fitness. That analysis seems a little superficial - certainly, the fists in the air approach taken by current Maughan poster-boy Andy Moran compares poorly with the more impactful fists in the ribs approach favoured by Armagh in terms of effectiveness, but An Spailpín gets the feeling that, deny it though Maughan might, there could be more to this Gaelic football than running up mountains and eroding beaches.
When GAA pundits assembled to administer the pats on the head to Mayo for being such game sportsmen last year, one of the favoured pats on the head was for Ciarán McDonald, and what he was doing to bring kick passing back to Gaelic football. Which was very damned nice of the pundits, but they seem to have missed just what a fine kick-passing team Armagh are, and have been for a long time. McDonald can hit a spectacular pass and can do things with a football than would bring an envious blush to the cheek of a pool trick-shot artiste, but who else on the Mayo team kicks long, accurate and defense-splitting passes? As Armagh were beginning to pull ahead in the final ten minutes of the league semi-final yesterday balls were raining in on the full-forward line and were being collected by that same full-forward line. That's Gaelic football at its most fundamental operation, and Armagh are quite superb at it. Mayo are not, and it's as simple as that.
Right now three counties stand ahead of the pack when it comes to contending for the All-Ireland title - Kerry, Armagh and Tyrone. The ideal final would be a 2002 rematch, to see if Kerry have learned anything, and to see how well their more robust style of play measures up against the chaps who will be robust right back at 'em.
As well as being highly skillful, Armagh are highly, highly physical. When they charge in to make a tackle, it's going to hurt. They're also very inclined to bend the rules by continually body-punching opponents, on the basis that it looks like they're just attempting to get at the ball. Referees have turned a blind eye to this tactic for years, and it's not likely that they'll get scandalised about it now. In the meantime, Armagh will soften up all that come within their reach.
Kieran McGeeney was superb again yesterday - what a remarkable, what a fine player he's been, and he's been on the go for a long time now. A lot of attacking centre-half backs tend to be negligent when it comes to their basic defensive responsibilities, but McGeeney realised yesterday that Priority One as far as he was concerned was to make himself as a big a pain in Ciarán McDonald's ass as he knew how, and, as the country knows, there's nothing as painful as a narky Nordie. McGeeney shut down McDonald, and Mayo folded like a tent around him.
Peadar Gardiner is thrilling going forward, Ronan McGarrity and Billy Joe Padden are developing into a very handy midfield pairing (even though An Spailpín would bring back David Brady and have Billy Joe play at ten as a scrounger - for what ASF's $0.02 are worth), and time's fell hand is has made no impact yet on the imperious James Nallen, Mayo's most loyal servant over the past decade. But the full-back line creaks like a loose bannister rail that is going to break someone's bloody neck someday, and up front lacks focus and direction. With Roscommon in disarray and Galway in a period of transition Mayo could again be in the quarter-finals without breaking sweat but right now one gets the uneasy and profoundly depressing feeling that they are as the boxer who can run but cannot hide, and are waiting for another fatal punch in the nuts and another autumn of regret and infighting. Bugger.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
On the evening that he was elected Pope, Vincent Browne had a discussion on Tonight with Vincent Browne about what the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI would be like. I forget who exactly was on the show, although I do remember Gina Menzies was there - Ms Menzies is an alleged theologian whose career An Spailpín follows with great interest since she first swam into his ken on those Bible shows Browne was doing at the end of the 1990s - but the panel's prognosis on the future of the Pope, and therefore on the future of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church itself, was grim.
At the end of the night, Browne finished by asking the panel if they welcomed the election of Pope Benedict XVI, and not one of them did. Not one. I find that astonishing - why didn't they ring Reverend Paisley, and ask him if he thought that things had gone from bad to worse as well?
I don't understand how a selection of Catholic theologians could not welcome the appointment of a new Pope, even if that Pope was Charles Haughey or Teddy Kennedy, both noted for ambivalent attitudes to certain traditional tenets of the Faith. I don't understand how Catholics, or even Irish people in general, couldn't just think of what the new Pope has ahead of him and not even have the grace or good feeling to say even, "musha God help him, I hope he gets on ok?"
But Browne's panel couldn't even do that. An Spailpín is at a distance from the faith of his fathers himself - so much so that unless there's a Pauline event somewhere in the future, An Spailpín's connections would be more prescient in laying out his mortal remains in bermuda shorts and sunglasses rather than the wool suits more traditional in those that have some hopes of avoiding the less temperate climes on the Other Side - but my God, I do not envy Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger as was, one bit. One thing that the new Pope gets from An Spailpín though, is admiration, in that in this age of fudge and half-truths and petty little deals cut by men of little honour, Pope Benedict is sticking by his guns. You have to admire a man for believing in something in an age that believes in everything and nothing.
One last note about the old Pope - I never realised it at the time, as my eight year old brain wasn't the finely tuned thinking machine that it is now, but Pope John Paul II's rhetoric in his plea to the IRA to end their campaign during the Pope's Irish tour of 1979 was really quite remarkable. Not that he asked for an end to the war, but the words he chose.
The Pope said to the IRA "on my bended knees I beg you" - what a remarkable image to use. As anyone familiar with the two thousand year history and tradition of the Papacy should know, the Bishop of Rome bends his knee to no-man. But in his appeal to stop the slaughter - and it's all to easy now in peacetime to forget what the the weekly death-toll was like in those days - Pope John Paul II went beyond even the two thousand year history of his office to the imagery and humility of JC himself. He was some operator, Karol Wojtyla. God have mercy on him for all he did for poor forgotten Ireland.
Monday, April 18, 2005
There's a marvellous interactive guide to the Conclave on the New York Times website. You have to register, but it's a small inconvenience.
Pingin an Spailpín is currently riding on a South American candidate - eligo in summen pontificem Cardinal Hummes of Sao Paolo, Brazil, but then these things are always hard to handicap. Still, it should make for fascinating watching.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
It could just be that your Spailpín Fánach is a miserable, bitter and suspicious little man, but has anybody else noticed the underwhelming response that the GAA's ditching of Rule 42 has got from those two sporting bodies who are the decision's only beneficiaries, viz, the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Rugby Football Union?
Is it just my imagination, or have the boys already decided to go to Cardiff anyway, irrespective of the Brave New World that Liam Griffin, George Hook and Eamon Dunphy were eulogising on The Sunday Show on Radio One this morning? The FAI says that it was paying a quarter of a million Euro per game to the IRFU for Lansdowne Road and it considered that daylight robbery - as such, anybody in that organisation would have reacted badly to the GAA's Peter Quinn saying on Network News on RTE2 (it is hard to keep up with branding, yes) on Thursday last that if the GAA were renting Croker, it'd go for one million squids a pop, and probably two. Something's got to give.
An Spailpín does have one hope though. An Spailpín hopes that all those people that were saying what bigots and traitors the GAA would be if they forced the FAI and IRFU national teams to play home games on foreign fields will be suitably contrite in their apology to the GAA if the IRFU and FAI do just that anyway, and do it for the most base reason all - money. An Spailpín will not hold his breath, however. The GAA may be constituted of idealists to over 66% of the delegates at Congress but Spailpíní plough a more realistically rocky furrow I'm afraid.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Fans of PG Wodehouse will be aware of how Jeeves, gentleman's gentleman to man about town Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, used to react when Bertie declared that he was going to wear something particularly outré at a social event - spats, perhaps, or a white dinner jacket, or, on one still terrifying occasion, a moustache.
Jeeves would just lift his eyebrow a micron or so in disapproval. If the outrage was particularly serious, the eyebrow might go up by about a quarter of a inch. But, though PG is long gone to that Great Country House in the Sky, he would have had old Jeeves' eyebrow shooting right up his head, across the pate and half-way down his dragon-tattooed back if Bertie strolled into the room wearing one of these yokes. Oh my God almighty.
They've even got ones patterned on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls - to show that the wearer is what, exactly? The biggest buck-eejit in the history of humanity?
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
I just paid a visit to the Boston Globe website, where they have a lovely little slideshow showing the presentation yesterday of the Boston Red Sox team of 2004 with their World Series rings, and I feel quite emotional as a result.
Last year's World Series was the first World Series that Boston have won since 1918, which is a long, long time to wait. And the Red Sox organisation were sufficiently aware of how long the faithful had been waiting that they thought outside the box to make the ceremony really mean something. Not only did they involve all of last year's team, including flying players back to Boston from Los Angeles and San Diego, from the teams to which they'd been traded since the Series, but also including giants of the past. The gloriously named Carl Yastrzemski walked Fenway Park again. Eighty-five year old Johnny Pesky, who played shortshop when Boston's Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, set the all time single season batting average record just before Pearl Harbour and World War II, was there too, suited up with the big Boston B on his cap.
In a display of sports ecumenism that's impossible to imagine in Ireland, the ceremonial opening pitches were made by other giants of Bostonian sports history. Teddy Bruschi, a key member of the current New England Patriots team that's won three Super Bowls in four years was there. So was Bobby Orr, of an all-conquering Boston Bruins hockey team of the 1970s. And so was Bill Russell, the greatest player on the greatest - so far - Boston sports team in history, Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics of the 1960s. And they all came there to acknowledge the fact that the Red Sox were back in the big time, that the faithful had been semper fidelis all through those long years of famine, and that in sports in Boston, the Sox are first among equals, that there's no shame in saying that a Sox series is a bigger deal than a Patriot Super Bowl. Baseball runs too deep in the weft and weave of the Boston psyche for a Sox series not to overawe any event other than, perhaps, another Kennedy presidency.
And once again the scene was changed; new earth there seemed to be; I saw the Holy City beside the tideless sea; or, to be more specific, Castlebar, Co Mayo, the technical home if not the beating heart of Mayo football. And then, as the vision deepened and intensified, and I saw a Mayo County Board that remembered the barren half-century and remembered those that still wore the Green and Red with pride for so many barren years - Jinkin' Joe Corcoran, Willie Joe, TJ, Liam McHale, heroes all, who were called forth from retirement and anonymity and told come, join us now in this hour of celebration, our good and faithful servants. And then I could already hear Morgan Freeman's narration on the commemorative DVD of Mayo's first All-Ireland since 1951: "I can't rightly remember when I became aware that if I was a Mayoman I was always going to lose; it seemed like that was always the way. And then Andy Dufrense/ Maggie Fitzgerald / Kieran 'McDanger' McDonald faded one in over the blackspot into the graveyard end at the Hyde and well, we knew that there and then that this was going to be a very special summer..."
Go dté an Spailpín slán go dti an aimsir aoibhinn sin.
There's a report on MSNBC this morning that renews a man's faith in this Age of the Simple Minded. Two students have a pet rabbit called Toby, and they will eat Toby on June 30th, unless they collect $50,000 to save the life of this particular lagomorph.
The details can be investigated online at the Save Toby website, and and it provides some marvellous links, including my own favorite, which is the page with the recipes. The recipe for Lapin Braisé begins with the chilling line "cut Toby into serving-size pieces."
Animal rights people are going ballistic about this, unsurprisingly, including sending the entrepreneurs death threats on a daily basis - it seems to be an article of faith with these people that it doesn't matter how many human beings suffer so long as one bunny is saved.
The students have had their ability to collect via Paypal stopped after the notoriously gutless online payment processors were deluged by the animal rights people, but the scheme proceeds nonetheless, and it is with his hat doffed and head bowed that An Spailpín is pleased to announce that, at time of writing, the entrepreneurs have raised twenty-four grand, the price of a brand new, straight from the showroom, Chevrolet Impala or Pontiac Grand Am, with money left over for gas, just by threatening to do something that's entirely legal and has been done by humanity since we evolved from the water. Genius. Sheer genius.
Those three Scots who did make Sir Clive Woodward's initial panel of forty-four souls to journey to the Land of the Silver Cloud are probably too grateful to be there to entertain any thoughts of foreboding. Perhaps this just as well - when the fate of Sir Patrick Spens awaits you, it's best not to find out until the ship starts to take on water.
'Mak ready, mak ready, my merry men a'!
Our gude ship sails the morn.''
Now ever alack, my master dear,
I fear a deadly storm.
'I saw the new moon late yestreen
Wi' the auld moon in her arm;
And if we gang to sea, master,
I fear we'll come to harm.'
Anybody with any knowledge of rugby history should fear coming to harm once the Lions arrive in New Zealand. There have been twelve tours to New Zealand by the British Isles since Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury brought 21 players from England, Scotland and Wales (the British Isle?) to New Zealand in 1888, and only one out of those twelve tours has been a winner. Which means that the current 2/5 price on New Zealand handing the Lions their customary trimming looks just about right.
There has been the usual "Hurrah for Sir Clive and our 'white clad warriors'" from the English media, and an unsurprising yet still depressing outbreak of shoneenism in the Irish Times, where rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley piece declares he has "no quibbles" with Sir Clive's selection.
An Spailpín has a quibble. Sir Clive is living in the past. Since he was appointed as Lions coach, it now seems clear that the former Leicester outside centre has been grim set and determined to put Lions jersies on his World Cup winning team, and damn all evidence, provided by either time's fell hand or a Welsh rugby renaissance, to the contrary.
Should we consider ourselves lucky he didn't pick the "proven experience" of Ronald Cove-Smith, who captained the first British Isles Rugby Union Team to be named Lions in 1924 in South Africa? Nigel Melville writes in this morning's Guardian that "after all, you do not win clinching Test matches in Auckland in the driving rain with a bunch of fresh-faced kids who have never done it before." Actually, Nigel, you do not win clinching Test matches in Auckland in the driving rain at all. Full stop end of story next topic, whether you've got kids or fully-grown goats.
Only one Lions tour has been successful in New Zealand, and, in this this grim age of professionalism, the chances of a touring team like that assembling the same level of élan are slim indeed. One thing that Sir Clive could learn from the 1971 tour is that the 1971 tourists did not make the mistake of trying to mix it upfront with the All Blacks. Historically, the South Africans would be considered the more powerful pack down through the years, but it's akin to asking if you'd prefer to be hit in the small of the back by the 6.25 to Cork or the 7.15 to Tralee. Either of 'em will smash you up plenty.
The only way to play the All-Blacks is to play an expansive game, and pray you get enough points on the board to force them to try and play equally expansively just to catch up. Other than that, you will be coursed like a hare and in Eden Park, where you may run but you cannot hide.
It seems to this particular Spailpín that Sir Clive decided after England won that World Cup that he would remember his men when this tour came around. It's interesting though that he would drop Neil Back as being too old at 34 the season after England won the World Cup and then consider him just about perfect at 36 for a professional Lions tour to New Zealand.
This will be one of the last Lions tours, I fear. The Lions were always about glory, and glory is too hard for accountants to put a price on. It's a pity that the Lions are going, and it's a pity if their last hurrah is to be buried in Christchurch and Auckland.
Monday, April 11, 2005
Is uasal ardmheasach an thréith í an dhílse. Is ceart an rud é gan cairde a threigeadh, agus cabhar a thabhairt dóibh nuair atá an dheis agat. Ach síleann An Spailpín gur thug An Ridire Clive Woodward an iomarcha dílse don bhfoireann a bhuaigh Corn an Domhain do ins an Astráil i 2003, agus go mbeidh brón air i rith an Samhradh, nuair a chuirfidh foireann Nua-Shéalainne iad faoin bhfód i Eden Park, Auckland.
D'fhogair An Ridire Clive Woodward a phainéal ar maidin - bhí triúr Albanach uaigneacha ann, deichniúr ón Bhreatáin Bheag, fear is deichniúr Éireannach, agus scór Shasanaigh. Scór - sin foireann rugbaí agus binse ionadaigh.
Bhí ceathrar fear dhéag ag an lucht Shasanaigh atá chun dul ar Thuaras Leoin ar an bhfoireann Shasanach a rug Craobh an Domhain d'Shasana agus don Ridire Clive ins an Astráil i 2003, agus naonúr acu a bhí ar an bpáirc ón dtús. Más fhéidir le sáreolaí Jonny Wilkinson a chur i gceart mar a rinnedar le Steve Austin, an Six Million Dollar Man, beidh deichniúr den fhoireann sin ag dul ar thuras chuig Talamh an Scamaill Gheall.
Ach éiríonn an Spailpín beagán buartha nuair a fheiceann sé ar an bhféilire agus tugann sé faoi deara go mbeith an Tuaras Leoin ar súil i 2005, nach 2003. Más aimsir fada í seachtain i gcursaí poilitiúla, comh fada é dhá bhlian i rugbaí?
Theip ar fhoireann Éireann i gComórtas na Sé Náisiún i rith an Earrach tois go raibh siad ró-shean. Tá sé comh shimplí sin. Ní raibh mórán ag Eddie O'Sullivan le deanamh ach bheith ag súil go n-éireodh leo sular theipfidis, ach níor éirigh. Ní raibh faic fagaithe san tobar acú, agus tá an Ridire Clive ar tí dul amú ar an mbealach céanna. Is ardmheasach an rud í an dílse, ach ní bhuafar cluichí rugbaí léi.
An Spailpín doesn't normally move in terribly glitzy circles but a special occasion last Friday night saw him transported from his usual haunt (slumped and drooling in front of the telly, God help him) to a terribly glam bar in Ballsbridge, one of the capital's premier areas.
After sinking a stout or three, it was time to repair to the john and shed the customary tear for Parnell. The jacks in this particular glam ginjoint was large and spacious, which is just as well, as this was yet another of those bars that have a guy, invariably black, in the jacks with a selection of deodorants, aftershaves and divers toilet waters for sale or lease. These black guys will always turn on the tap for you as you approach the sink to perform post-urinary ablutions, on the basis that if they do this they're entitled to a tip. There was a time when the innocent Spailpín used to get terribly guilty about this - he's got over it since, chiefly through willpower. I have heard that some citizens bypass the guilt by not washing their hands after teaming the spuds, but this may just be an Urban Myth.
Anyway, I was at the urinal and had assumed the position, when my terrific peripheral vision and Labhras Ó Loinsigh-esque lugs beheld and overheard a young man entering into conversation with the custodian of the Old Spice, Brut and Lnyx. The young man was one of these upmarket types - he was wearing an expensive-looking suit and had his hair spiked in the manner of Welsh rugby star Gavin Henson - and he had decided to make friends with the guy who works in the gents. The monologue - guys who work in the gents aren't encouraged to talk back - went something like this:
"So where are you from? Kenya? Oh, Kenya's a great country, you guys are really chilled out. Tell me, do you know many Nigerians? I think Kenyans are so much sounder than Nigerians. I mean, you guys are so chilled out, but the Nigerians - I don't know if I trust them, do you know what I mean? Not like Kenyans."
A dumbstruck but not terribly surprised Spailpín exited, stage left.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Friday, April 08, 2005
Cuireadh an Pápa Eoghan Pól II faoin bhfód ar maidin - nó, faoin urlár, má tá tíreolaíocht na Vatacáine i gceart agamsa. Agus anois, beidh naoi lá ag na Cairdinéalta, Príomheaspaig na hEaglaise, chun smaoineamh a dheanamh agus paidreacha a ghuí sula gcuirfear fear nua ina Phápa agus a dtíocfaidh sé amach ar phóirse Naoimh Pheadair chun a bheannacht a thabairt don bpobal.
Cad a cheapfadh an SeanPhápa, agus é ag feachaint siar ón tSíoraíocht? Cad a cheap sé nuair a chonaic sé méid na daoine í gCearnóg Naoimh Pheadair, ag fanacht naoí nó deich uair chun leathnóimead a thabairt in ómós ar chul a choirp fuar caillte? Ar shíl sé deor, meas tú, nuair a chonaic sé an slua ag teacht tríd na hEorpa, ag deanamh oilithreacht chuig an Róimh mar a dheantaí trí stáir fhada na Chríostaíochta? Agus an dhearna sé smaoineamh, cá raibh sibhse agus mise beo fós?
Ba seachtain ait iontach í an seachtain seo caite, agus scéal an Phápa ar tosaigh gach clár nuachta ar raidio nó ar an dteilifís, fiú amháín anseo in Éirinn, ach thior ar an mBBC, i measc pagánaigh Shasana? Chuir an Príonsa Cathal i Sasana stró ar a phosadh in ómós an Phápa, agus an Eaglais Caitiliceach ár a nglúinneacha ag guí ar són iompú na Sasanaigh ó réimeas an Rí Aonraí VIII? An é seo an chéad míorúilt a dtabharfar don Phápa Eoghan Pól agus é ar an mbealach chun dul ina Naomh?
Ní fhéidir le Spailpín bocht a thuiscint cad a tharla ins an seachtain seo caite, an chéad seachtain tar éis an Chasc, an uair ina smaoineann lucht Críostaíochta ar an Aiséirí? Ní fhéidir liom a thuiscint conas ar tharla sé go raibh an tionchar mór ag fear a bhí dearmad deanta air ag na ndaoine, fear nach raibh tabhachtach i saoil an domhain nua-aosach, ar an méid daoine mar a bhí ag an bPápa Eoghan Pól II.
Beidh súl an Spáilpín go ghearr ar an Vatacáín agus ar an gConclave ar siúl ag Príonsanna na hEaglaise amach san Seipéal Cistine san Róimh, agus beidh suim mór aige ar an bhfear a dtabharfaidh eochair Neamh agus an domhan do. Ach tá súil agam, ar mhaithe leis féin, go dtabharfaidh Dia cabhar dó. Is ait é an domhan seo, agus tá an saol i bhfad níos deachar a thuiscint - ní folair duinn gach cabhair a thogfaimis.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Ladies and gentlemen, for your boxing entertainment tonight, An Spailpín Fánach, in association with Don King, is proud to present, live from Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, the Media Punditry Championship Fight for the Interpretation of the Legacy of Pope John Paul II!
In the left corner, weighing in at nine stone one ounce, the bleeding heart of the Irish Times, the liberals' liberal, Fintan O'Toole! In this morning's Times, Fintan breaks a sixteen hundred year old exclusive that the Roman Catholic Church was built on the Roman Empire, and he's into caring and sharing!
And in the right corner, weighing in at about thirteen stone, it's global media provider Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph, the man who, when he was in the Irish Times, had his column condemned by Michael D. Higgins as "This column of bigotry, homophobia and racism... slick, degrading, immoral rubbish which is ... an example of the degraded level to which we are falling." Mark Steyn argues that it's unreasonable to expect a Pope to be anything other than dogmatic about dogma!
And may the best man win.
Monday, April 04, 2005
They are having three days of National Mourning for Pope John Paul II in Cuba. Cuba. They are not having any day of National Mourning here.
The official Government line on this, according to Morning Ireland today, is that it would "create a precedent as regards deaths of foreign heads of state" and days of National Mourning, a statement that is profoundly craven even by the standards of this Government. Three days in Cuba, none whatsoever here. It's stunning.