Monday, December 26, 2005

A Chroí Athbhriste ag an Spailpín Fánach

Cá gcuirfear an muinín anois?Scríobhadh ins an dara sliabh Parnassus seo cheana féin gurbh iad Podge agus Rodge an t-aon beirt amháin ar chlúdach RTÉ Guide na Nollag a chuirfeadh an Spailpín cuireadh chucu le linn na Nollag. Ambaiste, táim tar éis a gclár speisialta an Nollag a fheiceál anocht - nó na píosaí beaga ab fhéidir liom a fheiceál gan tinneas a chur ormsa - agus mar sin táim chun mo chuireadh a thógail ar ais. An tseanseafóid chéana ar chraoladar, agus na réalta RTÉ ag cigilt a ngoileanna eadarthu féin. Mo thrua do mo chean bocht gan chiail, nár shíleas go ndeanfaidís an feall mar a dheantar i gcónaí i nDomhnach Broc.

Téigí amach amárach agus na reiceanna ar shíul agus ceannaígí is iomai leabhar ab fhéidir libh. Léígí iad agus sibhse sa bhaile arís, agus ná bacaigí leis an teilifís lofa fhealltach arís. Seo é tairne deireanach na cónra.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Chavs in Space - the New Doctor Who and the Death of the Clubland Hero

A tall figure, dressed in a travelling cape and deerstalker hat, strides quickly through the fog-shrouded streets of Victorian London. Mr Sherlock Holmes, the internationally-renowned private detective, has just heard word, via a source in Limehouse, that Professor Moriarity, the Napoleon of Crime, is even at this moment in the final stages of a scheme that will be his criminal masterpiece, and only Holmes and Dr Watson, late of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers and the Berkshires of the Indian Army, retired, can put a stop to it. Quickly, Holmes bounds up the steps to the rooms he rents with Doctor Watson at 221B Baker Street, and burst in the door.

"Get your hat and coat Watson," he cries, "the game's afoot! We don't have a moment to lose!"

"I'm afraid it's quite out of the question," replies Doctor Watson.

"Eh?" says Sherlock Holmes, in that mental state to which he so seldom sank, complete bafflement.

"It's my dear old mum Holmes," continues the Doctor. "You see, she's never got on with the neighbours on the left 'and side of the 'ouse, the Braitwaites. She's always got on well with the Threepwoods on the right hand side, having them round for tea and a bit of a sing-song at Christmas, but this year things have come to a head. You know my cousin Gertrude, that works in 'Ull in the labour exchange? Well, she's marrying this young man that's she's been seeing, 'Erbert, nice chap, met him at the funeral of dear old Uncle Fred ..."

"I'm sure Watsonian Family Politics is a fascinating field of study Doctor," replies the Great Detective through clenched teeth, "but Moriarty is cooking up his most nefarious plot yet - he must be stopped!"

"That's exactly what my dear old mum said about Doris, Mrs Braitwaite," replies the Doctor, unperturbed. "If she's told me once she's told me a thousand times, 'John,' she'd say, 'I 'ate to speak ill of another 'uman being, but that Doris Braitwaite is a complete cow.' Well, I couldn't believe it. She was very upset, mum was, and now it's all got much worse. I say Holmes, where are you going?"

The great detective storms back down the stairs and back into the pea-souper. When you're all that stands between civilisation and the infernal triumph of the Greatest Criminal Intellect the World Has Ever Seen, you really don't give a toss about Doctor Watson's dear old mum.

A penny which has yet to drop for the makers of the New Doctor Who, who insisted on dragging Rose's harridan of a mother into their Christmas special, the jewel in the BBC's Christmas Day crown for this year. The Doctor may claim to a be a Time Lord from the distant planet Gallifrey, but in reality he really is another Clubland Hero - one of the gentleman adventures of England between the World Wars, in the Indian summer of the Empire. The Clubland Heroes stem from Sherlock Holmes, and reached their flower in the adventures of the likes of Richard Hannay, Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond and that dude with the monocle that Dorothy L Sayers wrote about.

HC McNeilie, who wrote the Bulldog Drummond stories under the pseudynom "Sapper," was a fascist in many ways, but he certainly knew how to tell a story. McNeilie wrote once that a good adventure story should be a like a good golf shot - it should begin with a bang, soar for the middle part of the tale and then drop like a stone to a climax. Anything else is a distraction. Consider a situation where Hugh Drummond has got word that Carl Peterson has just kidnapped Gwladys, only daughter of Professor Montague Forsyth, and is holding her captive until the Professor hands over the formula for his top-secret nerve gas to Peterson. Does Hugh go charging in to rescue this flower of English maidenhood from the clutches of her (invariably hook-nosed) captors, or does he sit on his hands in the car while Algy or Jasper of whomever of the boys is inside in the house reassuring his dear old mum that he won't get hurt saving the world and that his under-garments' state of cleanliness is immaculate?

I bloody wonder.

The whole idea of going on an adventure is that you leave mum behind. It's not a bug, it's a feature. The writers of the new Doctor Who's insistence at dragging Mrs Tyler along is only taking valuable story-time away from the Bug Eyed Monsters, and people tune in to see the Bug Eyed Monsters, not somebody's whiny old mum. If they were looking for whining, they've have tuned to Eastenders, wouldn't they?

Mark Lawson and his Newsnight Review Panel nominated the New Doctor Who as one of the television triumphs of the year, causing An Spailpín Fánach to raise a quizzical eyebrow. That the new Doctor Who has been a commercial success is demonstrated by the fact it had its own Prime Time Christmas show, previously the territory of Delboy and Rodney, and Eric and Ernie before them. However, popular does not mean good, as the X Factor underlines with soul-destroying regularly. The new Doctor Who is a success in the sense that it's by no means as bad as the sad way the so-called "Classic Series" finished up, but that doesn't mean that hammers aren't being dropped.

Christopher Eccleston's casting as the Doctor, for one, was a mistake. If you want a guy to play some wrist-slitter out of a Thomas Hardy novel or something cheery about Scousers on the Dole, send for Chris. Otherwise, you need to start thinking Grant - Richard E would be a glorious choice, while a left-field but potentially marvellous casting would be Hugh Grant. Not the stumbling Hugh Grant of Four Weddings, of course, but the bit of a boyo Hugh Grant of Bridget Jones' Diary. Eccleston's casting was part of a political subtext in the new Doctor Who, that was to be a defiant clenched fist against Received Pronunciation and Class Bias and that sort of thing. Which is all fascinating, interesting and worthy of debate but it's no damned use to Gwladys in Peterson's basement, or the innocent and peace-loving planet of Xantantin, about to be terraformed the Daleks, is it?

Because the Muse Calliope is nothing if not capricious in her favours, the new Doctor Who team may have discovered a pearl greater than all their tribe in David Tennant, who made such a bravura debut tonight. The man has huge potential to be a Doctor for the ages, but before he can the creative team in Doctor Who have to decide to whom they're pitching, and tighten up the slack a little.

As is, the Doctor Who writers are inclined to pitch to two distinct and separate groups - children, and the sort of pale and sallow young men that argue about the canonicity of various elements of Doctor Who on the Wikipedia entry. Miserably, this results in jarring changes of tone, as different bones are thrown to the different constituencies. The writers need to realise that you can only serve one master, and cut that cute stuff about the flatulent aliens. Children just aren't grateful and, as Russell T Davis himself said, Buffy has changed everything when it comes to fantasy TV writing. In fact, Davis and his team may have made their biggest mistake in not consulting longtime Doctor Who fan and friend of An Spailpín Fánach Brian, who remarked to An Spailpín that the correct televisual model for a 21st century Doctor Who would be The X Files, thus furthering its ties with another progenitor from BBC past, Professor Quatermass. But maybe Russell T. Davis was too busy trying to sneak in that bit in the final episode of the first series where the Doctor kisses Captain Jack on the lips to bother about consistency of tone. We all have our little agendas, don't we, Russell? Besides, Brian wouldn't be about to come on board as a consultant without a big spond upfront. Lucre comes before Art with that man.

An Spailpín Fánach will continue to watch the new Doctor Who, although the uneven tone, Mrs Tyler and Mickey and the rest of those missed opportunities will be as vinegar and wormwood to him. And in case any of those Wiki-writers arguing canonicity are feeling a little hurt that I had a cut at them, I'm a guy that spent a hour on Christmas Day writing 1300 words on Doctor Who. I'd say An Spailpín could be a bit sallow in the gills himself.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Nollaig Shona Díobh Go Leir

Neither cool nor topical I know, but just think of what I saved on stamps.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

On the Cover of the RTE Guide

Have you seen the cover of the Christmas edition of the RTE Guide, currently in the shops? For those of you that haven't, let me describe. The cover of the RTE Guide featurs some of RTE's best and brightest, all in festive mood with a glass of vino in their paws, toasting the holiday season and us, the Plain People of Ireland.

The stars whom RTE have chosen to dazzle us are Eddie Hobbs, consumer watchdog and self-appointed Nemesis of "Rip-Off Ireland;" deviant glove-puppets Podge and Rodge; Afternoon Show presenter Blathnaid Ni Cofaigh; 2FM DJ and "National Institution" Gerry Ryan, and the inevitable Kerry Katona.

Now, is it just me, or is it a weird reflection on the tax-payer funded State broadcaster that the only ones of that entire bunch whom An Spailpín Fánach would even consider letting into the house are Podge and Rodge?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Clive James on "Sludge Fiction"

There's a marvellous article in today's Times Online, taken from the Times' Literary Supplement, where Clive James reminiscences about the books that he read as a child, and how they inspired him to life as a lifelong reader. Anyone that's spent a goodly part of their childhood with the nose stuck in a book, oblivious to all around, will empathise and be delighted. Not least if you spent that childhood reading the same stuff as Clive, which is Biggles, Bulldog Drummond, Sherlock Holmes and those sort of shams. Marvellous.

The role of what Clive's English teacher described as "sludge fiction" is often under-estimated in literary circles, where it seems the butterflies flit from John Banville to Tommy Pynchon and maybe a touch of De Maupassant (in his original French, naturellement) thrown in for a breather. This is not An Spailpín Fánach's experience, as An Spailpín Fánach, like many of his contemporaries, is inclined to leaven the wheat somewhat by carefully tempering my exposure to heavy dudes with a good shot of sludge. I'm a big John Buchan man ("You inferal cad! I'm going to give you a damned good thrashing!" I mean, where would you get it?) and I am not ashamed to admit that I have read every James Bond book. An Spailpín Fánach's current guilty secret is that he is slowly working his way through Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise ouevre. Ripe as bedamned, but strangely compelling.

Guy Bolton, who collaborated in writing musical comedies with Jerome Kern and PG Wodehouse in New York in the 1920s, once said of Wodehouse that he had read more books not worth reading than any other man alive. That was part of the secret of Wodehouse's great talents, but also that he leavened that with great big chunks of juicy Shakespeare and Tennyson.

Of course, one does rather need to tread carefully, as a lot of the stuff that's masquerading as sludge out there is, in fact, not masquerading at all, but in deadly, stinking, earnest. Your humble narrator once found that out the hard way.

An Spailpín Fánach is a big fan of Newsnight Review, the Arts Show on BBC2 at eleven o'clock every Friday evening - tape it sometime if you can't tear yourself away from the Late Late. The panel can be a bit of a curate's egg (nothing like Bonnie Greer declaiming the PC gospel to see An Spailpín breaking off at a run for a few swift stouts), but poet and critic Tom Paulin is usually very reliable for something interesting. Anyway, a number of years ago, the panel were reviewing a book called "Ralph's Party" by Lisa Jewell, Ms Jewell being then in Britain what Cecelia Ahern is now in Ireland, a bit of a publishing phenomenon. Tom Paulin was in raptures about Ralph's Party - it was such a breath of fresh air, it was so lightly written, it made the heart sing. And yadda yadda yadda from the normally quite stern TP.

Reader, I bought it. And over two or three hundred pages I discovered that spending too much time in the groves of academe had slowly drained the oxygen from Tom's brain. Ralph's Party is not very good at all. But you can't win 'em all, and even as I speak, I can take full comfort in the fact that Ms Blaise is waiting for me at home, hair casually tied back a chignon, all set to take me to Tangiers on another caper. Can't wait.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Glasgow Celtic: An Rogha Ceart do Roy Keane?

Roy Keane agus a gheansaí nuaTá Roy Keane tagtha ina imreoir Glasgow Celtic faoi deireadh. Taispeánadh é don lucht scriobha agus craoltóra inniu, agus d'inis Roy Keane dóibh nár tháinig sé go Parkhead chun críoch bog a chur ar a saothar sacair, ach chun craobhanna a bhuaigh ar son an fhoireann.

Tá sé sin ceart go leor - is fear sárbhródúil é Roy Keane agus is cinnte go raibh a chuireadh amach ó Manchester United ag cur isteach go mór air agus é amach ar boithre iargulta Cheshire ag siúl lena ghadhar. Ach an cheart é, í ndairire, Roy Keane dul suas go Glasgow agus imirt ins an SPL? 'Sé amach ins an Spáinn atá an ghlóir agus an onóir. Ag imirt í leine bán Réal Madrid, b'fhéidir don laoch mór Éireannach seo a tháispeaint don domhan mór - agus go Ridire Albanach éigin fréisin - gurbh é Roy Keane ceann dena peileadóirí sacair is fearr sa domhan fós, cibe blianta d'aois atá sé. Ach níor imigh, agus mar sin beidh Roy Keane ag imirt in Albain, fatach ag imirt i measc abhaic.

Is deireadh brónach é do Kheane, cé nach bhfuil dul amú aige tar eis an clampar a d'éirigh suas idir eisean agus Sir Alex Ferguson. Ach dar leis an Spailpín Fánach, murab fhonn do Kheane dul suas go Glasgow, bhí gaisce amháin fagtha aige le déanamh, rud a mbeadh an rud is crógachtaí a rinne sé riamh. Agus is é sin ná dul suas go Glasgow ach dul ina Ranger, in ionad a Cheltic.

Is docha go bhfuil roinnt smigeanna tar éis an talamh a bhuaileadh tar éis léamh an abhair sin. Ach seo iad mo fháthanna mar ba mhaith liom an gorm a fheiceal ar dhroim leathan Roy Keane.

Gach aon lá agus an Spailpín ag siúl sráideanna Bhaile Átha Cliath, feicim roinnt ápatha agus geansaíthe Glasgow Celtic ar a ndroimeanna. Cén fáth Glasgow Celtic? Ón thírghrá, ar ndóigh. Dár leo, is é Glasgow Celtic an fhoireann sacair is Gaelaí ar an ndomhan, agus ba cheart gach aon Ghael a thacaíocht a thabhairt leo, nó dul amach ón gcófra mar dhúchrónach agus spiaire Shasana.

Bhuel, ní club Éireannach é Glasgow Celtic; mar is léir ona ainm, GLASGOW Celtic, is club Albanach é, a imríonn faoi Bhrat an Ríocht Aontaithe cosuil le gach club Albanach eile. Bhunaigh sagairt Éireannach an club ar dtús, cinnte, ach sin seanscéal anois. Má tá an meid mheais ag an dream tacaíochta Celtic ar an gCaitliceachas, b'fhéidir gurb fhearr dóibh dul chuig an Aifreann Dé Domhnaigh, in ionad dul isteach i dtithe tairbhne ag feachaint ar Sky Sports.

Cé nach dtaitníonn sé go mór liom, is feidir liom a thuiscint cén fáth go gcreideann daoine ins an mbolscaireacht agus ins an bhfógraíocht seo. Sin é an saigheas bolscaireachta chéanna atá ag cur geansaíthe foirne Shasana ar dhroim gach dara mhac Éireannach, ar ndóigh. Ach an rud a choireann mo bholgsa maidir le Glasgow Celtic agus Glasgow Rangers ná an clampar seicteach uafásach amadánach a éiríonn idir lucht Celtic agus Rangers. Támid anseo in Éirinn i bponc leis an fuath olc seicteach seo, ach chun an seanargoint a chur ar siúl i dtír eile, agus a choimead ar siúl níos faide ná céad bhlian? Ba cheart náire a bheith ar gach mac mhathar go léir acu.

Geallann stiúrthóirí Glasgow Rangers agus Glasgow Celtic go gcuirfear coisc ar an seicteachas atá ar a lucht tacaíochta agus deantar rudaí beaga ó uair go h-uair, ach tá fios maith ag gach céann acu gurbh í an seicteachas atá faoi bhun a staideas mar clubanna móra sacair. Dá dtiocfadh Roy Keane, laoch mór na hÉireann, amach ins an léine gorm ag Parkhead, feictear nach raibh ins an seanargoint ná seafóid, agus is féidir leo é a chur taobh thiar de. Ach nuair a thógtar an fuath agus an fhéiniúlacht seicteach ó Rangers nó Celtic, cad atá fagtha agat? Partick Thistle, sílim, agus ní cheannaítear roinnte geansaíthe Partick Thistle.

Is trua nár rinne Roy Keane an gaisce deireanach sin, ach táim go résúnta cinnte ná nach bhfuil na fir móra Rangers ná Celtic ag siúl le deireadh a ngnó tairbheach faoi laithir. Go n-éirí le Roy Keane agus a chlub nua, cibe club é, an t-imeoir sacair na Poblachta na hÉireann is fearr riamh, seachas amháin Liam Ó Brádaigh. Cén fáth an Brádach? Sin scéal eile, mar a dhearfá...

[Gaeilge], [sport], [soccer]

Monday, December 12, 2005

Public Service Broadcasting

JS Bach
The BBC is a public service broadcaster. What this means is that as well as broadcasting shows that the majority of the public want hear, such as Jonathan Woss on Wadio Two, or whatever awful chatshow the Corporation have signed Davinia McCall to present on TV, the BBC also broadcasts shows that most people do not want to hear, that are of interest only to a minority. The reason for this is because worth and value are not democratic notions, because there are some things that should be broadcast and disseminated because they are valuable in and of themselves.

The Bach season on BBC Radio 3 is the latest example of this. In what is a magnificent, epic gesture towards one of the towering giants of Western music, of Western intellectual and artistic achievement, BBC Radio 3 is going to spend ten days continuously broadcasting the complete surviving works of JS Bach. Nobody is going to listen to ten days' of Bach, but that's not the point. The BBC is making a statement of values, that the BBC considers Bach valuable and worth cherishing and celebrating. And we should all rise in a shouted hurrah! at the very notion of it.

While the BBC is the best and most famous public service broadcaster in the world, that does not mean that other public service broadcasters should not try to emulate the BBC standard, even though they cannot match the BBC for resources. Consider YLE Radio, the State Broadcaster in Finland. YLE cannot even attempt to match the BBC in terms of reach, resources or history, but that doesn't mean it doesn't try. In a marvellous statement of who they are and what they believe in, YLE broadcasts a weekly bulletin of world news in Classical Latin. There are very, very few people that listen to this broadcast, but that's not the point. The point is that Latin runs through the weave and woof of our Western Civilisation, and YLE is reminding people, as part of YLE's public service remit, that this is important in reminding us of who we are and where we come from.

RTÉ is a public service broadcaster, supported by a tv license of €155 per set per annum. RTÉ's idea of public service broadcasting for Christmas appears to be a repeat of Showbands, starring Kerry "Chipshop" Katona, the pride of Warrington. "Why do we bother, Fawlty? I didn't know we did, Major," indeed.

Friday, December 09, 2005

King Kong is Getting Monster Reviews

Pardon the pun above, but this is looking a lot like war. Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph, normally one of my favourite movie critics, goes absolutely nuts about Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong in this morning's Telegraph. You correspondent wasn't expecting this, as I always thought the original Kong was of its time - fantastic, amazing, for 1933, but a bit so-whatty in 2005. But by damn it seems I was wrong - Peter Jackson's movie is, according to Robey, "magnificent in its own right - [it] could be the most loving remake in film history, an elaborate act of homage whose generosity of spirit and sheer sincere rightness, qualify it instantly as one of the great movies about a movie."

And then he starts to say he likes it. Slightly stunned, I visited Rotten Tomatoes, and it seems the Yankees are swooning too, with Todd McCarthy of Variety telling us that "What's up on screen is rarely short of staggering." So there might be something to do this Christmas other than get hammered and fight with your relations after all. Who would have thunk it?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Wretched State of Irish Politics and Irish Political Journalism

Ivor Callely has bitten the dust at last, and the vultures are circling the corpse. The Evening Herald, squalid rag that it is, reports on its front page this afternoon that Callely "begged" Bertie Ahern not to give him the heave-ho. Marie O'Halloran criticises his courage from the safety of the high-minded pages of the Irish Times. And that Old Lady herself editorialises that Ahern had no choice but to put a bullet behind Ivor's ear.

An Spailpín Fánach has a question: If Ivor Callely's head is worth IR£1,500, the value of the freebie he got from this painting contractor, how come no-one is calling for the head of the senior minister at the Department of Transport, Mr Martin Cullen, TD, who famously blew €52 million on voting machines that don't work? What about Jim McDaid, speeding the wrong way down the Naas dual carriageway in a drunken haze? Frank Dunlop is at the Mahon Tribunal names names, times, dates, places and amounts of bribes delivered so the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre could be built, and it's not even getting so much as a stifled yawn from the chattering classes? What in God's name is going on here?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Moral Civil Servant

A Moral Civil Servant, yesterdayOnce upon a time, An Spailpín Fánach had enough of his then day job. In to the boss with him to hand in his notice.

"Behave yourself, you Spailpín Fánach," said the boss, wittily. "We'd hate to lose a man of your calibre. Tell you what, not only will we give you a few pound extra in the dear old per diem, we'll sort you for the company motor as well. How about that?"

"I've never been so insulted in my life!," replied your hero. "A car? Oh, how could you! How could you? I've never been so insulted in my life! Oh boo hoo! Oh boo hoo hoo!" I then collapsed on the carpet, weeping. As you do when you're offered a raise and a bonus.

Front page news on yesterday's Irish Independent today's Irish Times is Junior Minister for Transport, Ivor Callely, whose attempt to bonus an aide to get the aide to stay has blown up in his face. So Minister Callely is now a national laughing stock (when Joan Burton is cracking good ones about you on Rodney Rice's radio show you know things are very, very bad indeed) and poor Ivor was even the lead story on last night's Nine O'Clock News.

Is it just me, or does something stink about this whole business?

Ivor Callely offering or not offering a car to someone who works for him is not news. People get cars through work all the time. Civil servants quitting is not news; civil servants quit all the time, and it doesn't make the news because it's so hard to tell that they were actually working in the first place.

What is bizarre about the Callely quittings is the high moral tone of the departing civil servant/advisor. Corrrect me if I'm wrong, but you have to beat many a bush in Ireland to find this level of probity. Ireland operates on the nod and the wink, the you know yourself basis. Any law in this country is never seen as a constraint, but as a suggestion. The speed limit is 100km per hour but sure how would anyone get anywhere then? I'll shoe it to Hell - sure aren't the guards doing the same thing? Planning permission? Sure once it's up they'll hardly come and knock it, will they? It'll be fine. Don't mind that oul' plannning permission.

And then, out of the wilderness like an Old Testament prophet, come these two civil servants who are callling on the children of Israel - or in this case, Ivor Callely alone - to repent, repent, the day of the Lord is at hand? Minister Callely must be feeling very unlucky indeed that the two civil servants with the a higher level of moral probity than St Simeon Stylites should both pitch up on his watch at the Department of Transport? How odd that they were not in the Department of Health when that big booze-up was organised for Sligo? The preaux chavaliers would hardly have stood for that.

There is no way a political advisor having his feathers ruffled by the offer of a car is front page news. The only thing we should note about this story is that Minister Callely could be as well shot of him, because any man who operates at such a level of innocence will not last jig time in political life. So why is this business dominating the news agenda?

Why don't the media concentrate on what's happening to two of their own for trying to print stories about Irish Ferries? Gerry Flynn, Industrial Correspondent of the Irish Independent, has been taken off the story for writing that Irish Ferries management were thinking about using tear gas in another industrial dispute, and Justine McCarthy, one of the best journalists in the country, has had a story spiked and her column suspended for not toe-ing a party line. Maybe that's a story there?

Or how about what's actually news in political life in this country, where Tom Gilmartin and Frank Dunlop are dueting like matched canaries at the Mahon Tribunal, explaining who was bunged and for how much so that the Liffey Valley shopping centre should be built? Why isn't that being shouted from the rooftops, instead of buried in the graveyards of the inside pages?

Instead of wondering who in the corridors of power are on the take what we, as a nation, perfer doing is getting up early to watch George Best's funeral, and then out to that very same Liffey Valley shopping centre to queue for an hour or two and then buy a hatstand in B&Q. "Nam qui dabat olimimperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc secontinet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses." Like Juvenal's contemptuous remarks about the Romans in the first century AD, the Irish nation is happy with bread and circuses, and place absolute and uncritical trust in our betters. Go bhfoire Dia orainn, agus ár dtír bheag bhocht.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Subtitled Fillums

'But most of all, my panache!''Ave you 'eard that extremely annoyingg ad on ze rrradio, where zere iz zome mademoiselle with an accent thicker zan ze cheeze ze size of a tractor wheel encouraging uz to go to some foreign movie fest-ti-val? Mes amis, is it simply the fevered imagination of An Spailpín Fánach, or is that ad just as crass as having someone in blackface singing "My Old Kentucky Home?" It's not like we think it's Sophie Marceau, and don't know that it's actually some boiler whose day job involves raising the standard on Fair City by acting according to The Method. Specifically, the Ronseal Method, I believe.

Listening to the copy is instructive, though. As advertising copy it is poor, of course, as your faithful chronicler of modern Irish life didn't realise until I came to write this that I have no idea what this festival is for or when it's on. A quick google tells me that the only film festival that's on right now is a German one (meaning we should have some Brunhilde character replace Sophie, shouting "raus! raus! Ze offens are zataway!" I suppose), so that can't be it. The Jameson Film Festival isn't on until February, so it does seem terribly early to be advertising that.

What is interesting however, as we listen to Nat'lie from Fair City trying to sound like Marie Antoniette, is the revalatory insight it gives into the people that run these festivals, and whom they expect to turn up. If we can judge by the this ad, they're not actually looking for anyone who ìs particularly interested in movies. They're just looking for snobs. Someone who wants to go along to a French Film Festival because he, she, or it thinks it'll sound good in Rody Boland's or, God help us, Kehoe's of South Anne Street, later. They'll tell you that the French are so different to Americans, not so bombastic, so much more, I don't know, full of joie de vivre, perhaps? Oh, right, you'll say. So what was this picture about? Oo-er, they say. Haven't a bog.

If they knew their stuff, which of course they don't, they'd realise the French New Wave Cinema of the 'Sixties, the Goddard and Traufaut stuff, was France's tribute to Hollywood, which, like jazz, is a American Art first and foremost. Having a pop at US film, as they do in this film festival ad, is like that vogue in literary criticism that dismissed the Western Canon as simply the work of Dead White Males. If it wasn't for those DWMs, there wouldn't be any literature to criticise, and these goofs would have to get real jobs, instead of wearing black polo neck ganseys and bothering the first years in the Universities of Ireland.

Not that there's anything wrong with a movie just because it's French. I'm just getting a bit annoyed with the notion that everything is right with a movie just beacuse it's not American. The 1990 Cyrano de Bergerac that starred Gerard Depardieau is one of An Spailpín Fánach's favourite movies ("I saw him look at her with his eyes; it was like seeing a slug slither along a rose." Now that's a man that's torching. Quality.) but that's not because it's French. It's because, like any great movie, it takes me to places I've never been and makes me think and feel things I've never thought or all felt. Not because I thought I'd be able to swish around the wine bars of Dublin being gallic and insouciant.

The last movie An Spailpín Fánach went to see in an Art-House Cinema was Sideways, the movie that was billed as a comedy but played very much like a goddamned tragedy to your narrator's terrified eye. I saw it in one of Dublin's leading art-house cinemas, and the biggest laugh of the night, from a two-hour movie, was when George Bush was seen in the background on a TV screen. If you're mixing in a certain society, any reference to George Bush will always get you a cheap laugh. But what's behind the laugh is the notion that we are not some thick like George; we are urbane, cosmopolitan, witty, charming. We wash down our boxty with the finest of fine champagnes. We have a lot to learn.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

ASBOs, Social Order, and What Ireland Can Learn from the Ancient World

Crassus - he didn't take much nonsenseLike anyone else that saw it, An Spailpín Fánach watched the Prime Time show on Monday featuring the feral behaviour of young people beyond the law in housing estates all over Ireland with no small amount of revulsion, revulsion that very quickly turned to anger. Ordinary, decent people are having their lives ruined, blighted and put in very real danger by these hoodlums, while Irish society just wrings its hands and says "oh dear, oh dear, these children have problems, oh dear, oh dear." As remarked in this forum only yesterday, An Spailpín Fánach is only too aware of the dearth of positive role models for these young people, but, with the greatest respect in the world, that's no damned good to the aged, the infirm, the elderly and the helpless who are spending the autumn of their years in terrorised house arrest in their own homes.

It's not good enough. It really isn't. And, in the absence of positive role models, how about a negative role model to be getting along with? Something to remind these young people that, while they may be feeling disenfranchised and isolated from society now, society reserves the right to make them feel a damned sight worse if they continue to act the maggot?

As a proto-classicist, An Spailpín is reminded of the problem faced by Marcus Lincinius Crassus, who was praetor of Rome when Spartacus led a slave revolt in the first century BC. Crassus took on Spartacus' army and defeated it at Capua in 71 BC, but he still needed to make an example, to make it middling clear to all concerned that the Senate and People of Rome would not be standing for any nonsense.

Marcus Crassus had an idea. There were six thousand prisoners taken after the defeat of Spartacus at Capua, and Crassus had every one of them crucified along the 200 miles from Capua back to Rome, as an example of what happens when you start getting notions. Nothing good, in short. Allowing for crucifixions on either side of the road - a very practical people, you know, Romans - that works out at a cross every sixty or so yards on both sides of the road for two hundred miles. Crassus got his point across, and the Empire lasted for another thousand years.

An Spailpín Fánach is not advocating for an instant that we have crucifixions in Ireland at every sixty yards of road. Traffic is enough of a nightmare as it is without the added distraction of Emma Caulfield of AA Roadwatch telling commuters to use alternative routes and plan extra time for their journeys rather than use Merrion Square this evening at rush hour, as the Corpo are nailing up a few boy racers and delays are expected. No; that would be doing the dog on it.

All you need are a couple of high visibility crucifixions, to get the point across. 100,000 men joined Spartacus two millennia ago - we're talking about buckeens here that wouldn't be able to count that high, some of them. A mere handful of crucifixions will get the point across in jig time.

The standard crew to carry out a crucifixion in the Army of Rome was five, which worked out at one centurion and four ordinary soldiers. In 21st Century Ireland, this works out at one ganger, from Meed or some awful place in the midlands, where they don't breed 'em squeamish, and a few Eastern Europeans, who are glad of the work. They make their way out to whatever community is on the list for that evening - and I won't name names, but we all know where they are, don't we? - and the keep their ears peeled. Somewhere there'll be some wiseguy with his acolytes around him giving it socks about how he did six munts in da 'Joy, no worries, them cops are only bleedin' mulchies, I'm well tough, I am. He'll do just fine. Over go Ivan, Josef, Pavel, Nikita and Mick, they scare off the wiseguy's mates, and take the wiseguy himself. I'm not sure how many of these acolytes will go Musketeering with the one-for-all, all-for-one stuff when their dread commander is taken, but something tells me not many. So the crucifixion party take the wiseguy, his mates run away like the gutless wonders they are, pretty good at burning out old people's cars, not so tough at taking on crucifixion parties, and whack, whack, whack, up with the wiseguy the cross, and leave him there. Our hero, who found incarceration in Mountjoy Prison no sweat, won't have half as much jawing when he's a Carrion Crazy Meal for Pakie Preachán and the rest of the boys.

A lot of people will be horrified when they read this. Surely, they will say, this is simply too much. Rome's was a cruel and vicious Empire, which placed no value on human life or dignity. We've moved on from that - that was two thousand years ago, we've moved on.

Well yes, I am willing concede that point. One Roman practice your correspondent would not advocate, for instance, was the old superstition of human sacrifice, of burying people alive to appease the gods. An Spailpín Fánach would never advocate such a measure - in the time it'd take the Corpo to dig the damned hole the sacrifices would have died of old age, and An Spailpín will not stand over such a cruel end. But as for going for the lámh láidir with anti-social behaviour, I really don't see why not. It's going to come to that anyway, as the generations breed out a population that's more and more distanced from any sort of authority. And the longer it takes society to make a stand, the bloodier that stand will be. Make up your minds.