Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Two James Bonds

If the James Bond of the Ian Fleming novels and the James Bond of the EON Productions films ever met, in some glamorous bar in St Moritz or some seedy dive in the back streets of Belgrade, would they recognise each other?

Would the impossibly ripped Bond of the upcoming Quantum of Solace movie, which enjoyed its royal premiere in London last night, recognise as his progenitor the hard-drinking, 60-a-day-smoking cold war hero into whom Ian Fleming breathed life in 1953?

Both men live in utterly different worlds. With the exception of his womanising, Ian Fleming’s Bond is still a clubland hero of the Richard Hannay or Bulldog Drummond stripe, one of our chaps whose upper lips stiffen at the sound of Elgar on the Third Program. But the James Bond of the world’s most successful movie franchise is an iconic cinematic hero, an avatar of want and desire, a man whose life is soundtracked by the sounding brass of John Barry, without whom the cinematic Bond would be just a little bit 006.

Daniel Craig is only the second Englishman to play James Bond onscreen, but the Bond of the books is not English at all. The London Times’ obituary of Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVR, as quoted in You Only Live Twice, the second last James Bond novel that Ian Fleming wrote, states that Bond is the son of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, a sales rep for the Vickers gun company, and a Swiss mother, Monique Delacroix, of the Canton de Vaud.

Bond’s parents die in a climbing accident when he is eleven, and he is subsequently raised by a maiden aunt in a village outside Canterbury, in Kent. Bond’s aunt, one Miss Charmain Bond, sends her nephew first to Eton and then to Fettes in Edinburgh for his education. That the inchoate 007 left Eton for Fettes due to “some trouble with one of the boys’ maids” is an indicator of what Bond would be like once he was old enough to be served in public houses.

These mixtures of nationality and upbringing explain the contradictory strands of the Bond of the books’ nature. His snobbery (“Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.” From Russia with Love, 1957) is a product of his public school education, while Bond’s gourmet tastes are continental in origin; they did not arise from the post War diet of spam and tripe in 1950s Britain.

Bond is described as looking cruel in the books. Vivienne Michel in The Spy Who Loved Me describes Bond as “good looking in a dark, rather cruel way” while Domino Vitali in Thunderball sees “dark, rather cruel good looks.” A Russian general in From Russia with Love cuts closer to the chase: “he looks a nasty customer.”

How jarring it was to hear Daniel Craig say the famous last line of Casino Royale the book, “the bitch is dead now,” in the recent movie. The harshness of the books is out of place in the elaborate fantasy of the movies. On the final page of 1955’s Moonraker, Bond recognises that conventional love and relationships are not for him, that he must “take his cold heart elsewhere. There must be no regrets. No false sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette.”

By contrast, the Daniel Craig Bond proves that the “bitch is dead” line was just tokenism, a sop to the sort of pathetic and hopeless wretch who would enjoy a brief thrill of recognition of something from the novels. The cinematic Bond is the most hopeless of romantics if he spends the entirety of the next film in seeking to avenge Vesper Lynd’s death. This is a phenomenon known as the magic of the movies.

Have the James Bond novels dated? Considerably. The James Bond books were written in one of the Empire’s final outposts after all, and the days when Great Britain was a player on the world stage are now over. The racism in the books is profound, but 1950s Britain was a racist society – when the first Dirk Bogarde Doctor movie, Doctor in the House, was made in 1954, Bogarde and Kenneth More note on the college noticeboard that a lodging house has no interest in Irish gentlemen.

Bogarde takes the rooms anyway and gets entangled with the landlady’s lovely daughter, played by Shirley Eaton – the same Shirley Eaton who would go on to global fame ten years later as Jill Masterson, the girl who is asphyxiated by gold paint in Goldfinger.

Are the Ian Fleming books still worth reading? Yes, they are, once you get over the hurdle of those dated attitudes (or else revel in them as incidental comedy, of course). The argument of whether or not Fleming was a great author is somewhat moot in age that cleaves to Jacques Derrida’s theories on the death of the author, but Fleming had an unquestionable gift for narrative.

How great a gift is evidenced by the fact that Kingsley Amis, who is considered a literary great, wrote a James Bond novel, Colonel Sun, under the pseudonym of Robert Markham in 1968, and failed utterly to capture that deft Fleming touch.

Where Amis failed and where Fleming was a master is in the constant cascade of detail. Fleming noticed everything, and put it all down in his books. The effect can sometimes make Bond seem an anal-retentive (his breakfast egg must boil for three and a third minutes; his coffee must be from De Bry in New Oxford Street) but the richness of the detail brings everything to life, and that is the most important thing in a thriller.

The Bond of the books, for all his expensive tastes, walked the same streets and lived in the same world as his readers, while the Bond of the movies, with his underwater cars and enemies who command such vast armies of personnel that they can build space stations without anyone ever noticing, belongs strictly to the realm of fantasy.

When Bond tries to buy time in a deadly confrontation with the SMERSH assassin at the end of From Russia with Love he curses his luck that the cigarette he’s smoking is just that, a cigarette: “if only it had been a trick one – magnesium flare, or anything he could throw in the man’s face! If only his service went in for those explosive toys!” If the two Bonds ever do meet, in some strange trans-dimensional beachfront bar at Nassau, it’s clear which one will envy the other.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Hare of Timahoe

A friend of An Spailpín Fánach ran in the marathon yesterday, and it seemed only meet to write a ballad in his honour. His time was four hours twenty-six, which has been extended in the text to four and a half, for reasons of metre - this is what you call poetic license. This can be sung to the tune of The Wild Colonial Boy, should anybody feel the need.

Deep inside the counting house
Among the piles of gold
There lived and worked an Irish boy
Whose story must be told
The gochi berry replaced dry sherry
As he counted out the dough
Then he went and ran the marathon
The hare of Timahoe

The runners lined up in a bunch
With no heed of the bitter chill
Six and twenty impe'ral miles
Stretched out between flat and hill
The starters gun began the run
The streamed up Westland Row
And the foremost in that gallant field
Was the hare of Timahoe

They passed O’Connell’s statue
And also the great Parnell’s
They tore up through the NCR
Past Mountjoy’s lonely cells
At Inchicore their feet got sore
Some hit their first plateau
But he drove on regardless
That hare of Timahoe

The pace picked up at Dolphin’s Barn
For reasons best unsaid
And the KCR and Dartry sweet
Saw the first contenders shed
His teeth he clenched, he never flinched
His arms went to and fro
Sure I’m only warming up
Said the hare of Timahoe

Stillorgan now after twenty miles
The home of the bourgeoisie
The lesser men, they fell to the earth
Like the price of property
The credit crunch has left a bunch
Of prices wan and low
I’ll come back and buy a place
Said the hare of Timahoe

The fanlit streets of Merrion Square
Were hosts to the finish line
The hare sped through the waiting throng
Four thirty was his time
He didn’t pause but set his jaws
As for porter he did go
Just a hundred yards to Toner’s! cried
The hare of Timahoe

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hard Times Return to Erin - And Could Be Here a While

Another classic budget from the legendary Minister for Hardship!Brian Lenihan swung his axe yesterday, and the steel bit home into an Ireland that had been living beyond its means. Worst of all, this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. The future looks bleak for quite some time. Fast forward four years and seven weeks, to the Late Late Show of December 1st, 2012...

The titles roll as the owl takes his customary flight over the credits. The cameras go live to studio 4, where host Pat Kenny comes out to the cheers of the studio audience. The lights are flickering slightly, and Kenny doesn’t look quite as well groomed as is his wont; during the show, he keeps tugging at the collar of his suit jacket, as if it itches.

PAT KENNY: Hello and welcome to the Late Late Show, sponsored by Lidl – remember folks, turnips are only five Euro a pound in Lidl for the happy hour this Saturday, from four to five, be sure to get their early, and dress for battle – and what a show we’ve got for you tonight. But let’s get right to it, and welcome my first guest, the fabulous Caroline Morahan!

Wild cheers. Caroline comes on stage, waves to the crowd, sits down, bats Pat’s paw smartly away from her shapely knee, and smiles radiantly – or as radiantly as radiantly gets when a few choppers are missing.

PAT: Caroline! How fabulous you look!

CAROLINE (whistling slightly, due to the gaps in the teeth): Pat, you’re too much! Ah hah hah hah!

PAT: Caroline, what is your secret? How are you getting through the recession and remaining so fabulous?

CAROLINE: Well Pat, I was going to keep it to myself, but I can’t not share it with the sisters, ah hah hah hah.

Laughter, hissing from the audience. And a strange smell, truth be told.

CAROLINE: You see Pat, the secret is soup.

PAT: Soup!

CAROLINE: Yes Pat. Nettle soup.

PAT: Nettles! My goodness. Tell me more.

CAROLINE (forgetting herself, and leaning into him): Well Pat, one thing I think we neglect in this country is our traditional Irish cuisine. I mean France is famous for its cuisine, it’s impossible to think of Italy without their fabulous pasta dishes, so I thought: why not get back to good old Irish tradition?

PAT (as the paw snakes across the desk): Why not, indeed?

CAROLINE (wise to the play, sitting smartly back): Exactly! So I got on my bike and cycled out to Dunsink, where you can get the most beautiful nettles, and I spent an hour or two picking them and popping them into my basket. Home then, and I popped a big cauldron on the open fire and just threw in the nettles. Six hours boiling – and don’t forget ladies, boiling also heats the room – on the embers, drain and serve a nourishing broth for all the family.

PAT: Well, it’s certainly suiting you Caroline. Your skin looks simply radiant – do you find nettle soup good for the skin?

CAROLINE (through gritted teeth): You’ll never know, Pateen my boy.

PAT: Let’s have a big hand for Miss Caroline Morahan, ladies and gentlemen!


PAT: Caroline is off now, as her shift with the taxi company starts at half-ten. Well, it’s all go. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our first musical guest, all the way from the ‘sixties, it’s The Who!

The camera pans across to two old men, one with a guitar. He raises his right high in the air, slashes down on his Rickenbacker – and all the lights go out.

GUITARIST: Wot the fack is this?

PAT: Ah, Jesus! Where’s the floor manager?

AUDIENCE: What matter as long as we’re indoors! It’s so cold! Brr!

PAT: What do you mean, meter? I don’t know anything about any meter? What? Well, you bloody cycle it. I don’t care how long it’s been since you’ve eaten – Christ, some people can only think of their bellies. Get peddlin’ – we need the light!

Pat slowly comes back into view. It looks a little like a daguerreotype of the 19th century, but beggars, choosers, talk to the hand, yada yada.

PAT: And now, a harrowing real life tale. Please welcome my next guests, Dan O’Hara and journalist Liz Bennett.

Two guests walk on, Dan and Liz.

PAT: In 2008, in the first year of the Depression –

AUDIENCE: Oh God between us and all harm, the Depression! Will there every be joy agin in Erin?

PAT: Ah, keep the head, will ye? Or else it’s back out in the snow. Now, where was I? Oh yes - in the first year of the Depression, Dan O’Hara was sold by his father into slavery. Now, with the help of journalist Liz Bennett of the Daily Mirror, Dan’s story is finally told. Welcome Dan.

DAN: Thanks now Pat, thanks.

PAT: Dan, your father sold you into slavery back in 2008. Is that true?

DAN: Oh it’s true Pat, yeah, not a word of a lie.

PAT: And what price did he get?

DAN: That man sold me for three hundred Euro and two hundred worth of parts for an E class Merc.


LIZ: It’s shameful!

DAN: I’m very ashamed.

PAT: Oh dear, oh dear.

DAN: I’ll never forgive him. I mean, I was a big, strong boy. He could have got eight hundred, even a grand cash, if he’d a only tried.

LIZ: Dan’s father proved, time and again, to have no head for money.

DAN: No head at all, at all. No good with the cash.

PAT: Dear oh dear.

LIZ: Pat, you have to remember, slavery was still underground in 2008. It was a sellers’ market, and this man settled for a mere half brick. It’s a scandal, and it's time that this story was told.

DAN: No good at the sums, like.

PAT: Dear oh dear. Dan, Liz, thank you for coming, you’re both very brave.
And that’s all we have for you this evening ladies and gentlemen. We hope that you enjoyed the show, and don’t forget, next week, it’s the Late Late Toy Show!

Pat gives a big wink to the camera.

PAT: So don’t forget to tune in and join all the wonderful boys and girls as they work their little fingers to the bone making cheap tat for sale in Laos, Myanmar, and Bhutan. Until then, good night!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ger Loughnane and the Dream of Liberty

Close vote or no, the only real surprise about Ger Loughnane getting the maroon bullet from the Galway Hurling Board last night was that it took the Galway Board so long to pull the trigger. Loughnane made himself a hostage to fortune with his eagerness to express himself as a pundit between his leaving of Clare and his arrival at Galway, and all those wisecracks came home to roost when Galway were destroyed by Cork in the summer.

Where to now for Loughnane? Back to Feakle, and his dogs and the school, and maybe a time to reflect? An Spailpín enjoyed Loughnane’s punditry immensely, but when he saw the damage it was doing to members of his old Clare team who soldiered on and especially to Anthony Daly, who took over the manager’s job eventually, Loughnane should have buttoned it. It is to be hoped that, chastened by his time in Galway, Loughnane will find time to pick up the phone to Daly, and to Ollie Baker and to others, and arrange to meet up to discuss old times and repair a few bridges. Life is short.

Loughnane is defeated now, and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever manage another inter-county side again. His detractors will assemble to say that he was never that good anyway, and sneer at his record in Galway. No matter; Napoleon didn’t do much when he came back from Elba either. But, just as le petit general in his first incarnation cut his way through the belly of old Europe and on into Russia herself, so Loughnane blazed a trail for the downtrodden and despised in Gaelic Games. He told his Clare team that if they believed they could hurl with anyone; they did, and won two All-Irelands on the strength of it.

Three images from the nineties. 1995, the Munster Final, and Seánie McMahon playing out the seventy minutes one-handed at corner-forward, because he had dislocated his shoulder. 1997, Anthony Daly after winning the Munster final, the veins in his neck almost bursting in fury, screaming that “we’re not the whipping boys of Munster any more!” And most forgotten about of all, Loughnane’s sporting reaction to what must have been a heart-scalding blow, Ciarán Carey’s point of the century that knocked Clare out of the Munster and All-Ireland Championship in 1996.

Just as Napoleon should never have struck for Russia, Loughnane spoiled his legacy a little in 1998. As Jamesie O’Connor remarks in Denis Walsh’s marvellous Hurling: The Revolution Years, the way you manage a team that’s won two All-Irelands in three years is not necessarily the way you manage a team that hadn’t won Munster since Tull Considine wore the saffron and blue. But there is no changing in Loughnane – he’s too elemental for that. The sort of demons he was able to conjure for Clare wouldn’t cross the border with him, and Galway have signed on to the list of counties who have very little time for Ger Loughnane.

But it won’t always be thus. As times goes on people will look back on those revolutionary years and see just what it was Loughnane did – with the help of that extraordinary bunch of players with whom he was blessed at that time in Clare. Anthony Daly has said since that he’s embarrassed by the “whipping boys” speech, but he shouldn’t be; whipping boys is exactly what Clare were, and the fury that Daly channelled that day in 1997 was exactly that of a man who has broken free of the lash and the pint of salt at last.

The country is full of whipping boys yet. The changes made to the Championships, ostensibly for the benefit of “weaker” counties, have served only to strengthen the strong – Kerry have yet to lose a quarter-final match since the quarter-finals’ introduction eight years ago – and that means that the lash bites harder than ever now. But the memory of a slightly-mad bald man in Clare, who thought that Tipperary’s Nicolas English was laughing at Clare’s misery and determined to stop him come hell or high water, should give them comfort.

Loughnane is gone now, but his legacy – that there is no natural order; that everyone has a chance of winning an All-Ireland if they want it badly enough – lives on, even though Loughnane himself is no longer the man to deliver liberty. Le roi est mort; vive le roi!

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Mistaken Identity at Ravenhill?

Stade Francais Jersey
An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t normally comment on the Heineken Cup rugby, as your faithful narrator hasn’t a team to support in the competition, and wouldn’t be able to watch them even if he had, being too poor to afford Sky Sports. However, tomorrow’s clash at Ravenhill between Ulster and Stade Francais is nearly worth getting into the motor and hitting the M1 for. Not because of the rugby, but because of the fashion.

Stade Francais are very francais indeed. Some years ago, they caused eyebrows to be raised in traditional circles when they played in a pink away jersey, not the most macho of shades. But the French are who they are, and they shrugged and got on with it. However, when State run out at Ravenhill tomorrow in their other away jersey, they might the locals object to more than the colour.

The jersey in question is at the top of this post. An Spailpín thinks it’s quite beautiful, actually, although your correspondent is an ardent traditionalist in the matter of jerseys generally. The lady featured on the jersey is Blanche de Castille, queen and regent of France at the start of the 13th century, and a woman noted in her day for taking no nonsense from the Tan.

Two thumbs up from An Spailpín Fánach on that one. However, the faithful in Ravenhill may not have access to Wikipedia, and in that absence, they may take one look at the head tilted sideways and the crown, and think “Popery! Close the gates! Close the gates!”

An Spailpín Fánach remembers the misfortunate Noel Thompson of BBC Northern Ireland reading the news when Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was released, and having to keep a straight face while intoning that “some church groups here have warned that the film may lead to Mariology and virgin worship.”

Don’t forget, there was holy – what else? – war up the way when a Heineken Cup game was played on the Sabbath, something the ERC had to promise would never happen again. What the locals will make of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, Bride of the Canticle, Eve’s Tears Redeeming and Immaculate Mediatrix of All Graces taking second-phase pop give-and-go ball on the loop to get inside Andrew Trimble and dot down in the corner is anybody’s guess.

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Aria Gettin' Outta Here!

Some culture paid a flying visit to Dublin yesterday evening. The Powerscourt Centre, for reasons best know to themselves, have decided that a spot of opera will be just the ticket to the take the consumer’s mind from the recession, and are now offering “Shopera” – a half-hour recital of operatic hits by baritone, soprano and piano.

The Powerscourt Centre itself is a Georgian house converted to a rather upmarket shopping centre. Its middle is scooped out, making it something of a well on the interior. There are rows of shops along the wall of the well, and at the bottom of the well there dining tables, where the consumer whose hunger exceeds his economics may spend five Euro on a cup of tea and a bun.

Directly opposite the till of the coffee shop there is roof which was used as a stage. A stage that contained a piano and two speakers, and, at six o’clock sharp yesterday evening, Mr John Molloy, bass-baritone, Ms. Sandra Oman, soprano, and Ms Mairéad Hurley, piano-player.

Below the artistes, a motley and disappointing assembly for what is, after all, a free show. There was a middle aged couple at the coffee bar, three ladies who had wintered not wisely but too well at a central table, and three pairs along the tables by the wall – two ladies of a certain age, two habituées of the Powerscourt Centre direct from central casting, and two Spanish ladies, who gave not a Figaro for the opera. Just inside the door there was a group of three or four, one of whom gave a thumbs up to the singers, and another of whom wore that mark of Cain that distinguishes the south Dublin middle classes – sunglasses up on his head on a dreary October evening. And in the far corner, hunched over that five pound tea meal, that caustic commentator on contemporary Irish life, His Impossible Excellency, An Spailpín Fánach.

Mr Molloy took in the house with a gaze, and decided to give the people what they wanted. He launched into Non Più Andrai from Le Nozze Di Figaro, a bravura choice to grab the audience from the get-go. Ms Oman matched him with a trilling Je Veux Vivre by Gonoud, and then they both duetted the gorgeous La Ci Darem La Mano, from Don Giovanni.

The result of the golden flow? The habituées left to go about their business, while the table next to An Spailpín was now taken by a couple who found the whole scenario most amusing. The performers gamely sang on over the crash of the crockery, tearing through Rossini, Puccini and a spot of Gershwin at the end. The applause was polite but sadly muted. Perhaps the bad summer means that Ms. Fenty’s Umbrella is the only music that has any meaning in Ireland any more.

A saddened Spailpín faced for home and went out into the night, where the smell of homeless person hung heavy on Trinity Street as the gloom descended on the city.

FOCAL SCOIR: No, I didn’t know until now that Chuck Norris sang opera either. I suppose Paul O’Connell will be at it next.

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