Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

What can't Carbon Nanotubes do?

BBC Image of nanotubes
A short while ago scientists revealed that they had perfected the blackest material known to man (99.99% non-reflective, I think they said). What was this mysterious substance? Bush's heart? Bertie's underwear? No, a new development of the high-strength, tiny girth carbon nanotubes. On that 'Visions of the Future' programme a few months back these tubes were going to be the basis for an elevator into space. Here they were making blackness. Well, now scientists have truly excelled themselves. Harnessing the full power of the tube, they have brought it together with a quartz wafer to produce the world's first fully functional FM/AM carbon nanotube radio! With a nanotube 10000 times smaller than a human hair it's the smallest radio ever, so small in fact that apparently "you can put a tracking collar on a bacterium". I have seen the future and it is now and it is black!

Now if only they'd make them into curtain hooks.


Hickey's have a monopoly on curtain hooks! An extensive investigation through Ireland's top department stores unearthed a startling truth: no hooks! Despite each having sizeable, in some cases huge, curtain departments, no major store continues to stock curtain hooks. When pressed on the matter, store representatives invariably gave the same advice: 'Go to Hickey's!'

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I believe Earth came close to some pretty serious devastation this morning. Breakfast tv, usually not very stetching on the old intellect, furnished me with the news that an asteroid as big as a house had just missed our lovely planet by a couple of hundred thousand miles. Oh yes, just um, fifteen minutes ago. While I showered doom lurked not very far away.
In the grand scheme of things a couple of hundred thousand miles is close, too close, and though house size asteroids may not sound like much planetarily speaking, I know given its speed etc. that impact would not have been pretty. Not quite dinosaur extinction scale, but a nasty bump for some country or other nonetheless. As the show's guest pointed out a few hours earlier and things might have been different.
Then to keep things relatively serious they had a plug for the Horizon documentary on tonight (I'm missing it right now!!!!) about Gravity (with a big 'G'). I don't know about you, but the whole concept of Gravity fascinates me. To pervade everything, vacuums included, strikes me as a marvellous attribute and very much part of the whole Space-Time concept. Anyway I shouldn't make too many claims for breakfast tv; one of the presenters kept dropping his pen and asking, 'There! Gravity! What's there to explain?' Oh, dear.

Room for One More Inside

On my way to visit the folks. Already I find the second bus irksome. Having said that this bus had pulled away from the stop when I got there but he still let me on (he was caught in traffic anyway). And several more rushing fools were similarly let on. Are bus drivers becoming more accommodating now that I need them less? Nah, it's probably the driver's first day, or he's had an overdose of Prozac, or he's that scary hearse driver in 'Dead of Night' who goes, 'Room for one more inside....'
I need my endorphins. Either that or kick a kitten.
Shame on Tesco and their lack of 40x30 clip-on picture frames!
Ah, that Wilde quotation ("I have nothing to declare...") on the ferry poster is too old hat. Well, okay, so it is over a 100 years old; I guess I mean familiar. Or maybe it's just because I got the tee-shirt.
MSc class reunion is coming up at the end of February. 11 years!!!!! Typically it clashes with a retirement do for someone at work. Typical! I will atend though, oh, yes, I will attend.
Fingernail cutter has been replaced by bronchitus seeder. We shall all die, all die coughing!!! Nyyyyyyyaahhhhh!
"Room for one more inside...."


Seemed like the whole IT infrastructure was falling down at work today. In truth, it was just LDAP.
Curtain hooks, curtain hooks, my kingdom for some curtain hooks.
Bus book, 'Three Men in a Boat', doesn't float my particular vessel, but it's harmless enough to keep me reading.
As I pass through Phibsboro, the gymsters fast walk above Eddie Rockett's. Burger and the Beasts.
I hate the sound of someone clipping their fingernails behind me. Or are they toenails?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lust, Caution

'Lust, Caution' is apparently based on a short story. After two and a half hours, you have to wonder what got gained in translation.
A war-time story set in Japanese-occupied China, it tells of a young actress roped into a naive plot to assassinate a collaborator. To lure the security savvy traitor into the open she must become his mistress. But at what point does pretence end and passion really begin?
I'm not entirely sure. Despite some infamous sex scenes, I found it all a little too passionless. As befits a film by Ang Lee ('Brokeback Mountain', 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'), this is a rich, beautiful movie, but with its slow pace and long running time, it suffers from the restraint shown. An occasional outburst by the excellent Wei Tang is simply not enough to gain our empathy. Does she really care for Mr Yee? Do we care?
For the climax to have any impact, the audience can be in no doubt of Wong Chia Chi's feelings, and must have bought into them long ago. I don't believe Ang Lee does enough to earn that payoff and it is at the end that he seems most unsure. The climactic diamond scene becomes a throw-away moment instead of a culmination, as arbitrary as Chi's emotions appear to be. As such it undermines all that has gone before. And a lot has gone before. It leaves a slightly bitter taste.
I have no doubt that were I to see 'Lust,Caution' again I would still find much to admire. Lee is an artist and even a work that doesn't meet his highest standards is worthy of attention (think of 'Hulk'). This film is by no means a second rate work, not even a second rate Lee film, but it does not achieve the emotional resonance it tries hard to win. A near miss then, but so close, so close.

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The fat politican rolled down the street. He licked his bulbous lips with the satisfaction he felt with the world and his place in it. Ahead of him a thin man in a long grey coat walked, slowly and melancholily. The sight made him even happier with himself.
He could do no wrong. In television appearance after television appearance he had committed the ultimate political sin; he had let his emotions show. But the audience loved him for it. His smug scorn for his opponents was apparently lapped up deliciously by the people. They adored his blunt contempt, his selfish arrogance. He need not hide anything any more. Having initially trailed in the polls, now he led. The newspapers that morning said so. People loved him.
He breathed in the cool spring air and looked, with an apprehension uncommon for him, in quiet wonder at the grey sky. Life was good. He could walk and walk and everything would be pleasing. The world was good. It was his. And this was his city, he felt like shouting. Indeed, outside of the sad character ahead of him, the road seemed empty. Basking warmly in his pleasant reverie, he was alone.
Or was he? Not far behind him, a soft, but sprightly fall of feet suddenly began. A hop. A skip. For some reason the happy staccato bothered him. So soft, but excited. As if the person behind had an anxious aim, but was trying to evade notice. It annoyed the politician, intruding on his happiness because it seemed to be another's happiness. This was his day, for him alone! Who was this person who shared this day?
Turning his head he stole a quick glance behind. Sure enough, a small jumpy character was close behind, a grubby, scruffy man in a tracksuit. He didn't like the look of him. Well, no reason to have him there. Let him have the street. The fat man turned at the next corner, on to a less populated street, and walked on at a faster pace.
The tracksuited man followed.
The politican felt a small stab of worry. What did he want? Was he following him? The sound of the man behind was even unhealthy. It was an irregular tread, a kind of anxious skipping. Not like a normal person, certainly unlike the politician's own strong stride.
He sped up still more and again, noting the upcoming intersection, readied himself to turn again. He did so, quickly. The man behind accelerated and turned the corner too. He is following, thought the heavy walker. It's me he wants. Damn, why do I refuse a police escort. I am an important man. I attract attention, undesirable attention. Naturally stalkers will target me. He turned another corner. And another.
It was hard to go any faster. His bulky frame was not used to so much walking, and he certainly didn't want to give his pursuer (yes, I am being pursued, he thought with a shadow of fear) the satisfaction of seeing him run. He had to evade him in some other way. Evade the man or confront him. He decided to stop. If the man still came on, he would face him.
In front of a glass pane, he stopped and stared into the shop, apparently looking at the merchandise. Was he coming? Could he hear any footsteps? He tried to catch sight of the pursuer in the reflection of the window, but he couldn't see enough of the street. He hazarded a glance. No, no sign of the tracksuited man. Muscles that had bunched up, now relaxed. Air escaped through his teeth, and he began to absorb his surroundings. He had been standing in front of a sex shop. Hastily, he tugged at his trousers and walked on.
In his haste to get away he had wandered into a poorer part of the city. Small, grimy houses faced poster covered hoardings. There should have been new construction behind those boards, but somehow after demolition, no one had gotten around to rebuilding. There were some shops as well, ones like the one he had stood outside, but few of them seemed to be open, at least, not yet. He shouldn't be seen here, he reflected anxiously, but then after a moment's reflection he relaxed. People love me. People love me no matter what I do.
The irregular hop and skip of footsteps started once more.
Damn him!
Self-respect lost in his panic, he began to run. And run. He panted, but refused to stop. He felt his stomach protest with pain, but he wouldn't halt. His lungs too burned. Behind him the hop and skip had morphed into a corresponding patter, a frightening speedy chase. Who was this man? What did he want? Ahead of him he seemed to see another fleeing figure, a thinner mirror image of himself. Pursuit was everywhere. The chase was everything. What is happening to me?
In his exhaustion and pain, he noticed an upcoming corner almost unconsciously. Without a thought, he turned it and stopped. He had to stop. Through the stinging of his eyes, he saw a desolate blind alley. He shouldn't be here, he thought. This isn't a safe place. But he couldn't run any more. He had to rest.
His eyes flew open as the knife pierced his stomach.
'Why?' the voice hissed. 'Why are you following me? Who are you?'
The thin man in the long grey coat stared hysterically into his face.
'Your partner has been following me for weeks. Now you. I can't stand it! Can't stand it!'
The fat man tried to speak, but no words entered his head, only a growing awareness of pain.
'Why do you hate me?' the man screamed.
The politician sank down to the pavement. He grimaced as the thin man yanked the knife out.
'I'll get your tracksuited friend too! I swear!' Tears flowed from the man's eyes. 'Why couldn't you just leave me alone!'
Grey coat flying behind him, the man, sobbing, ran off.
The fat man on the pavement gripped his belly trying to stop the flow of blood. It was no use. It flew in bright streams through his fingers and across the pavement. He watched the red lines run away from him. They sparkled like threads of rubies in the bright spring light. Glittering streams. Rivers. On and on, they ran and ran, his life, running away.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Gilliam Curse

He hasn't had much luck, has he? After escaping the Pythons and wowing with 'Time Bandits', Terry Gilliam could only get 'Brazil', his critics prize-winning dystopia, released by taking out a full page ad in Variety asking the studio why they were shelving it. After the sadly unsuccessful 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen' (at least financially), he became a Hollywood pariah, the man who had brought in, over-time and over-budget, the most expensive flop of the time. Only by giving them Oscar-winning movies like 'The Fisherking' and 'Twelve Monkeys' would the studios forgive him. They still wouldn't let him make 'Watchmen', or 'The Golden Compass'. Then when he tries his hand at his own take on Don Quixote, his lead, Jean Rochefort, comes down with prostate cancer, exacerbated by the horse-riding involved in the part (not to mention a long string of additional bad luck documented in the excellent documentary, 'Lost in La Mancha'). Then Harvey and Bob 'Scissorhands' Weinstein (Miramax) decided to 'reengineer' Gilliam's 'The Brothers Grimm'. Flop. 'Tideland' is released. Flop. Away for three years or so, things were finally looking up for Terry with 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus'. A good cast headed by a rising star (with whom Terry had already worked), a script written with long-time collaborator, Charles McKeown, a fantasy dealing with beloved themes (illusion, theatre, death and the devil: not dissimilar to 'Munchausen'); it all seemed to be going so well. Unfortunately that rising star was Heath Ledger. 'Parnassus', up until two days ago in the process of being filmed, now looks unlikely to be finished. I don't deny Ledger's death had a tad more impact on his own life, but you can't help but feel a little compassion for the jinxed director. Things just don't seem to go his way. You can almost see that rag-clad reaper hanging over Terry's head laughing. Wish I could lift the curse, Terry, I really do.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Off the Rails

Using a drill while standing on a chair balanced on a coffee table is not going to win many health and safety awards, yet that was my clever ploy, that was, last Sunday. The curtain rail was old and unhinged, so to speak, at one end. The curtain too pretended, badly, to cover the window, but hung down in the middle. The only solution, as I saw it, in my new industrious frame of mind (ordinarily quite unnatural for me) was to replace the rail and rehang the curtain. Unfortunately the rail I got needed new holes to be drilled. With my height and no ladder, just unscrewing the old screws was an ordeal. Drilling was painful. I now have the arms of an orangutan to complement my full body hair. Despite this apelike physique, balance and dexterity at a height still did not come naturally to me. It was only after many a perilous fall was avoided (or at least taken from coffee table height), and curtain re-hooked, that I noticed the new rail was for two curtains not one and so the curtain could now only be opened half-way. To Hell with it, it will do!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


With the new year come new beginnings and yesterday I was to move into a friend's apartment, apartment-sitting while he travelled. At lunchtime I met up to get the keys. There are a lot of doors involved - it's a city centre apartment - so before we parted I made sure that we went outside and that I made my way in, door by door, key by key. No problems. On my way home from work I bought some bed linen. Most of my stuff was in my parents', so I was going there ultimately, but I stopped in the apartment to drop off my purchases. No problems. Finally I collected a suitcase and my laptop and got a lift into town. I made my way through each door, I turned key after key in each lock. I stood outside my door, suitcase by my side, and unlocked one lock, then.... The last lock wouldn't open. The key turned, stopped, but no give on the door. One of my new neighbours walked by and, in case it was just me, I asked them to have a go. No, it wasn't just me. I struggled for ten, fifteen minutes more, but was getting nowhere. In the end I went back to my parents.
This morning at nine, I stood outside the locksmith's locked door. When he finally opened he told me it would cost me. What choice did I have? A young apprentice was sent to do the job. Several ploys yielded no results, so in the end he had to drill into the cylinder. Several drills bit the dust, another locksmith had to come along, an hour later, finally, we got in. Not an auspicious start.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jackanory Time Again

Might as well post a story/anecdote for this week:

A Snowy Night

There was snow on the road. That would have to be his excuse. Lying on his side, he felt more annoyance at the blood flowing into his eyes than he did at what had just happened. It was an accident, nothing to do with him. Although he couldn't turn his head, he knew the young child's (dead?) body lay some way back. Damn this blood! Damn the snow! Damn!
All he could do was wait. Between the pain, the seatbelt and the tightly packed metal, he was rigidly contained and couldn't move. Waiting was the only answer. A car would surely come soon, would round that bend and light up the scene in all its gory glory. They would phone for help and he would be cut out, carried away, rescued. Maybe the child might be saved too. Just wait. As it happened the way the car had fallen by the roadside, his eyes were pointed out over the edge, directly at the road below. He might see any approaching cars. He might do, if that blood stopped washing into his eyes, stinging. He closed his lids to keep the liquid out.
The silence rushed in. Almost silence. A whisper of wind spoke through the firs. Something dripped somewhere. Slowly. Come on, he thought, come on, someone! Anyone! As if in answer he seemed to hear a gentle purr. Risking the sting, he opened his eyes. Yes, there were headlamps on the road far below. They were headed up the mountain and would round that bend within minutes. He could hear that purr grow louder.
He could now hear something else though. A rustling sound came from the road behind him. The child? He couldn't turn his head, but surely it was the child. It sounded like a body marshalling its poor powers, laboriously trying to pull itself together and up. A slap of flesh on tarmac, a dragging scratch of cloth, it could only be the child waking up, getting up. There was a silence, then what sounded like, yes, a footstep! The child was walking! Well, limping. He could hear a long drag follow the thud of shoe. In spite of his own discomfort, he almost felt relieved. Curious, how there was no noise of breathing. That long drag of foot could only mean pain, yet there was no sharp intake of breath, no choking or gasping. And the noise of the child was getting louder, nearer. He suddenly revised his relief. He didn't like that sound at all.
Below the car had disappeared, but the strong music of its engine was now becoming clearer. Hurry, he willed the vehicle. The halting footsteps were getting nearer. He didn't want to see that creature. He didn't want to look in its bloody face. He closed his eyes to keep out the blood, but with his mouth he prayed in his own harsh way for the new car. Hurry! Ignore the footsteps!
A foot came down hard on the tarmac behind him. He cursed the chain of cause and effect that faced him away. What was that person doing? Sweat, or blood, trickled under his shirt. Why had they stopped? What would they do? Why had all gone silent?
Suddenly in the many surfaces of snow, glass and metal the light of the new car erupted. The car was rounding the corner. Finally! Under the roar he heard the child move, away from him, into the middle of the road. Into the path of the oncoming car. For all that the road was covered in ice, he heard the tyres sliding to avoid the figure. He heard the spin of the driver's steering wheel, the panic. He was an audience to an event. There was a crash of the new car against his own, a shearing meeting of metals and a push. It all seemed of a whole, a complete act, especially the steady downward motion that began to accelerate. He tried to press the blood from his eyes as the road below came nearer and nearer.


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Purty (Kitchen) Sessions

It was an exceptionally heavy weekend - going away drinks for Francisco (world trip) on Friday, going away drinks for my cousin Barry (Oz) on Saturday), and a Nigel place gig on Sunday. The common thread was The Purty Kitchen, the city centre branch on Friday and Saturday, out near Dun Laoighaire on Sunday.

Of course, things weren't that simple. Leaving work around 4.00 on Friday, we headed into the Czech Inn first for some Czech beer. An old, unintelligible geezer (Irish) tried to get into conversation with our motley crew, but we were in no mood to humour him. He sat down at a table opposite a sleeping girl and proceeded to do strange trips with his beer, pouring it from one glass into a mayonnaise dish into another glass and back again. Initially it looked like he was perfecting his rohypnol approach (obviously successful on the sleeping girl), but if this was the case he wasn't shy about sampling his wares. We left for cheap pints in the Purty Kitchen.

Later it was down to the Westin on Westmoreland Street. We had been warned it was up it's own behind most nights, but on Friday Salsa reigned. On the way down i bumped into an old Film Studies buddy. I was pretty far gone at that point, so I hope she was too. Anyhow the positive rumours about the Westin were true. Although the very agile women looked Latin, a little conversation proved them to be more Eastern (with tans). Fine, by me, though the inebriation got profoundly worse. So much so in fact that by 12.20 I went home.

The next night was again in The Purty Kitchen, though upstairs this time. I ate more fish fingers and tartar sauce than is realistically healthy, but I was a little better behaved.

After treating my body like a pickled onion for two nights (and days), I stayed on rock shandies on Sunday. The venue was once again The Purty Kitchen, though this time the one on the Coast Road on the way to Dun Laoighaire. Bubbly Stace Gill hosts a regular free(!) gig every Sunday, with four accomplished acts sharing the two hours or so running time. Every act had a Myspace space, including Stace, a sign of the musical times, so should you be interested the acts were as follows:

It made a relaxing end to a strong end of week.

More Notes on The Night Stalker

One big anomaly in Kolchak was having Richard Kiel, Jaws in the James Bond movies, playing an Indian wizard. More convincing by far was Kiel as the lettuce-covered creature, Peremalfait, in one of my most fondly remembered episodes, 'The Spanish Moss Murders'. Probably taking its cue from Swamp Thing and Man-thing, Peremalfait was a huge, green Bogeyman, remembered and unconsciously created by a sleep experiment subject from the Bayou. Kolchak must eventually confront him in Chicago's sewers with what is admittedly a somewhat ridiculous weapon, a whittled piece of Bayou gum tree. The huge Kiel being speared by the little twig is just a little too easy.

The curse of the pathetic make-up surfaces again in 'Mr R.I.N.G' about a homicidal robot. A jump-suited actor with lights on his face strives to make itself human (learning philosophy from St Augustine, among others and using undertaker's wax and a ski mask for that Jason look). I think it's easy to see where the story had its origins when you see that the robot was invented in the 'Tyrell' Institute ('Bladerunner' anyone?). Not bad. Shame about the jumpsuit.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

After all my talk of books, it's sad to say I've spent the last two nights watching dvds. My buying frenzy was confined not only to literature, you see, and a week or so back I found a rake of old, macabre shows online for cheap as chips prices. Sadly none arrived while I was off work (I had planned one long day of watching), but on Monday 'Kolchak: The Night Stalker' was finally delivered.
I have fond memories of the 1974 show from my childhood, when it was repeated on late night BBC2. Starring Darren McGavin as the eponymous journalist, each week it featured a new monster or supernatural threat that Kolchak would investigate and usually dispatch, before finding evidence for his story go up in smoke (quite literally, most of the time). The type of show that a growing kid likes to see and I haven't grown up that much since.
Of course, it's all very cheap and tacky, and the horror elements are probably not helped by the gentle comedy thrown into each episode. The only thing scary about the Werewolf episode, for instance, is that they actually allowed such shoddy make-up on to the screen (Jack Pierce this isn't). But there is still an appeal about the show. I splurged on eight of the twenty episodes already and though there is a standard formula - Kolchak sees a strange pattern in apparently mundane events, identifies (correctly) a malevolent supernatural force, tries to convince everyone, fails and has to kill the beast himself - there is enough originality in the 'Monster of the Week' to keep you entertained.
For instance, take the first episode concerning the original Jack the Ripper. Mysteriously he pops up (as a veritable Spring-heeled Jack) in Chicago and must eat the kidneys of five women to be reborn. Kolchak delving into the records, discovers several 'Ripper' copycats since the famous London murders and jumps to the 'logical' conclusion that they are all the one superhuman killer. Anyone remember the 'Tooms' episodes from 'The X-Files'? Very similar. This should be no surprise, as 'X-Files' creator, Chris Carter, has publically acknowledged the influence of the Kolchak series on his own.
Other clever twists on old standards populate the rest of the series; a werewolf on a singles cruise ship; an incredibly politically incorrect episode on an underworld zombie (featuring Antonio Fargas - Huggy Bear from 'Starsky and Hutch' - and Scatman Crothers - The Shining); a firestarting doppelganger. Tom Skerrit, of 'Alien' and 'The Dead Zone', pops up memorably as a Satanist politician (aren't they all?) headed for the Senate. Add in a treasure seeking Indian sorcerer and a vampire hooker and you have what 'The X-Files' might have been without all that 'Smoking Man and the Aliens' nonsense. Not that aliens don't figure too. In one authentically funny scene, a UFO nut proclaims the following before having his bone-marrow sucked out by a malign alien:
"You are on the third planet of our solar system. We are peaceful. I will now speak to you in the universal language of Mathematico. Arrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhhhh!"

Needless to say 'Mathematico' was his own invention.
American television recently tried to remake the series with Stuart Townsend in the Carl Kolchak role, but after six episodes broadcast the series was pulled (although another four episodes had been made). Critics complained that it was too much like 'The X-Files'.

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So Hillary Clinton comes from 10 points behind in the opinion polls (conducted just 24 hours beforehand) to win the New Hampshire vote. And wasn't New Hampshire where Bill made his comeback when he was on his campaign for the Democrat nomination? From the Clinton perspective it almost seems too good to be true. Unbelievably good. Yes, unbelievable....

I guess I've just seen too many movies. Speaking of which....

From one set of nominations to another; the Golden Globes, scheduled for Sunday, have been cancelled due to the writers' strike. Does this mean Hollywood finally gives a damn about the writers? Now that would be unbelievable.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Books Today

Eason's Bookshop on Dawson Street is closing down or something, so everything was half price. Unfortunately, though the sale started just after Christmas, I only discovered it last week (probably why it's closing). Although most of the good stuff was good, i still managed to buy an obscene quantity of books. Of the lot, however, I am only currently reading Verne's 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth', principally because it fits in my coat pocket making it ideal bus reading material.

Like most kids, I read a lot of adapted versions of Verne when I was a child, and of course watched the movies. I am still unsure whether I read any of his books as they were written (well, obviously not as written, my French isn't good even these days, but you know what I mean). I have a faint recollection of reading '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea', one of my childhood favourites, but I could be wrong. Anyway 'Journey' is nice, breezy stuff. The principal pleasures are derived from the potted science lessons littered throughout (full of a wonder hard to resist) and the travelogue nature of the storyline. Iceland really comes alive under Verne's pen.

Aside from the Eason's haul then, I am also reading two very lengthy tomes; Susannah Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' and Kissinger's 'Diplomacy' (some might see that last as an oxymoron).

'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' concerns two master magicians in Napoleonic England, an England with a proud history of magic and one these magicians are trying to revive. The land of Faerie is around every corner in this world. Despite the occasional archaic spelling, there is no doubting the style with which the story is told. Indeed, the word on the street is that this is a masterpiece of contemporary fantasy, maybe a little long, a little leisurely, but worth the slog. I hope so. At present, it's colder than a dead penguin. I'll stick with it, but diverting though it is, it's hard to get excited about. For a real masterpiece of Faerie, and a large swathe of the Fantasy canon besides, get John Crowley's 'Little, Big' instead. Despite a thread concerning Barbarossa that sticks out like a sore thumb (to my mind), Crowley's work is a bona fide masterpiece. Fantastic.

Whatever you think of the wily old professor, Henry Kissinger certainly knows his politics. Only a hundred pages or so in, I have to confess that 'Diplomacy' is also something of a masterpiece. Perhaps my opinion will change as I go on, but so far his perusal of 300 years of European politics has yielded many a useful insight (British foreign policy of today makes a whole lot more sense in the light of yesterday). Machiavelli's 'Discourses' cover 1600 years of European intrigue, right up to the Renaissance, and has long been a favourite of mine. Kissinger's 'Diplomacy' takes up the story from the early 1600's, and expands the canvas to incorporate America. Monster or not, the book is hot.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Books Read

I finally finished a book or two that had been hanging over me.

Before Christmas I finished the 'Pocket Essentials: Steven Soderbergh' by Jason Wood. Like most books in this series, the director comes out as a saint, the author/apostle finding nuggets of gold and pearls of wisdom in even his most obscure works (although I do agree on the positive appraisal of 'Schizopolis'). I have a lot of respect for Soderbergh, who has a lot of intelligence and something to say, but I would never rank him in the top tier (though who I would place there I'm not too sure these days). The book stopped at 'Ocean's Eleven', so we were spared Wood's excuses for 'Ocean's Twelve' or the needless remake of 'Solaris'. Nevertheless it was a pleasant trip through his back catalogue.

Last week I finally finished Russell's 'Problems of Philosophy'. You cannot expect me to refrain from anger when he resorts to Platonic Universals to back up his case (something Schopenhauer's 'The World as Will and Idea' annoyed me by doing too), but I perservered and in the end there were some insights to be gleaned. Still not convinced by Russell's argument though.

I also finished, 'The Power of Darkness', a collection of horror tales by Edith Nesbit. Despite my admiration for some of her work, even I have to admit that there is too much sentimentality too often throughout the collection. I suspect Nesbit, earning her living from her writing, had to appeal to magazines (and their audiences) that gave her little room for innovation. A very modern style is almost always apparent, and in her masterpieces, the much anthologised 'Man-size in Marble' and 'John Charrington's Wedding', and the lesser seen 'The Violet Car', 'The Shadow' and the caustic 'The Pavillion', she shows what she was capable of. Unfortunately she was also capable of pieces such as 'The Letter in Brown Ink' and 'The Five Senses'. On a positive note, there is something positive that can be said about each story in this collection and so ultimately it's something the horror buff ignores at his peril.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008


'What can I do for you, Mrs Quinn?'
The man at the meat counter smacked his hands together with anticipatory professionalism. Grace looked at the display, not him, thinking how much he needed some meat himself. A thin man was Gary, but he suited the clothes at any rate. They must make them wear that straw hat and striped red apron, she thought. The traditional butcher's uniform.
'A pound and a half of round mince. That'll do.'
'Fair enough.'
He set to weighing the meat, adding little tidbits to get the exact weight. Around them both a soft, warm piggy smell curled lazily. The ovens shhhed as their fans swirled their heat.
'Actually, give me some pork chops too, around four. They'll do for tomorrow.'
Grace looked away from the glass fronted ovens as he continued to put together the order. It was a quiet morning in the supermarket, with only a few trollies moving up and down the aisles of the small store. A few young mothers with prams or toddlers or both.
A six year old ran by, his hand out to knock two packets of toilet rolls from an end of aisle stack. She stared for a moment at the spilled packages, wondering should she pick them up. No one else would. Certainly there was no sign of the youngster's mother. Spoilt little brat. There was no discipline these days for these young women. They let their kids run riot and they would pay for it too, eventually.
'There you go. Fresh from the freezer this morning.' The hollow-eyed butcher was holding out the meat to her.
'Thanks, Gary. That's great.'
She took a look around to see where the child had run to.
'They're let run wild these days.'
'The kids? Yeah, make a mess of the place.'
Gary knew what she meant. Our generation, she thought with nostalgia. She picked up the toilet rolls and placed them as best she could on the pile.
'Still they have to be let grow,' he added.
She stared at him.
'I suppose. Still you feel we did it better in our day sometimes. See you now.'
'Bye now.'
She certainly felt she had gotten it right with her Martin. He had done okay, out there in Sydney. She had brought him up well. Some day she would get over her fear of flying and go out there to visit him. So far off though.
She walked along the shelves in search of gravy granules. Ahead, the empty aisle stretched, past an intersection, and on to more goods, no people. Such a quiet morning. So empty. Well, not quite. There was that child again. She recognised the copper coloured head of the small boy down in the next aisle, the confectionery aisle. He stood, not much taller than two shelves, hardly visible except for that hair, staring intently at the chocolate. I'll bet his mother stuffs him with those things, she thought. It's easy to spoil a child. Bad for them though, letting them get used to getting without any effort. They think the world is their's.
Suddenly the boy reached out, grabbed a chocolate bar and ran off, screaming with victory.
A tall dark-haired woman came into sight, shouting after the tike.
'Daniel, put that back!' But he was gone.
Shout all you want, Grace reflected, that's not enough. He needs to learn that it's wrong. You need to tell him.
The woman looked down at Grace with a rueful shake of the head.
'You just can't control them at that age,' she complained.
'No,' said Grace. She gritted her teeth and turned away. You won't get any sympathy from me. She turned to the pickles. She didn't want any. Gravy granules.
The cold flourescent lighting of the ceiling played on unnoticed as the morning sunshine streamed through the windows beyond the cash registers. There wasn't even any music from the loudspeakers that day. Just the easy sound of footsteps, the squeak of prams and trollies, the soft clink of a jar inspected and rejected and put back in its place on the shelf.
The high voice of the tall woman rang out suddenly. Grace looked up from the frozen foods at the sound. The woman was behind her.
'You haven't seen my son, have you?'
'The little red-haired boy?'
'No.' Can't you even keep an eye on him, even if you can't keep him under control?
'I can't find him anywhere.'
'Did you try down by the chocolates?' Grace asked pointedly.
'Yes,' the woman answered, not picking up on Grace's tone. 'Thanks anyhow.'
The woman walked swiftly on, pushing her trolley towards the cash registers.
No control, no discipline. Just fattening up a spoilt little brat to take, take, take with nothing to gve to the world when he's grown. She'll find him now drinking out of the lemonade bottles, or scattering around potato snacks on the floor.
But the woman didn't find him doing either. The tall woman didn't find her son at all.

The face of the red-haired child stared out at Grace from the side of the milk carton. To think, all that time missing. Poor child. Poor woman. It must be hard to lose an infant like that, even more so not to know what happened to him. There had been a lot of publicity at the time, a lot of questions and a lot of searching. Soon the searching gave way to the questioning though, sterner questions, questions asking what kind of a mother lets her son disappear in a supermarket like that. A supermarket! How could she let him out of her sight. Grace did not agree. A mother shouldn't be held accountable like that. She shouldn't have to know where her child is every second of the day. And especially in a supermarket. How could you lose a child in a supermarket, for goodness sake.
She put the milk down. She didn't need any.
'What can I do for you, Mrs Quinn?'
Gary stared at her hollowly from under the brim of his straw hat.
'Oh, I'm not sure yet.'
The ovens puffed quietly in the background, exuding a warm, meaty smell. She couldn't place the aroma.
'What is that you have cooking today?'
'In the ovens? That's today's special, Mrs Quinn. Venison. Fresh from the freezer this morning.'
'It doesn't look like venison.'
The slender, small limb on the rotisserie seemed too evenly proportioned for an animal leg.
'Just the cut of it. I have more of it uncooked if you want a proper joint.'
He waved behind him to the meat counter where a large round of flesh lay waiting to be cut.
'It does look good. I haven't had venison in ages. I don't even remember how it tastes.'
'It's a good meat, Mrs Quinn. They fatten them deer up well these days too. Had this in the freezer as a special like.'
She looked hungrily at the red haunch on the counter. She could see the bone in the middle of the dark red meat, a layer of fat all around. It did look good.
'Okay. Give me a joint. Though the ribs look good too. No, the joint will do.' She looked in her purse to check she had enough. 'We should treat ourselves every now and again, shouldn't we, Gary?'
'Certainly should, certainly should.'
He went back and began to hack at the thick piece of flesh.
It's amazing how the freezer keeps it so well, she thought. So fresh. You have to wonder though.
'There you go.'
'Thanks, Gary,' said Grace taking the package. She tucked it into her basket and was about to go away when she looked at Gary again. 'Gary, just while you say it, the freezer. You say it's fresh from the freezer. Does it really keep it well. The freezer, I mean.'
Gary smiled from ear to ear.
'Gracious, Mrs Quinn. The freezer would keep anything fresh from now till Doomsday. I put everything in there I want to keep.'
'So it is fresh,' she persisted.
'Mrs Quinn, it's as fresh as when it's killed. I just thaw it out when I need it.'
'Mrs Quinn,' he said levelly,'I'd never let it spoil.'
He smiled again, treating her to a wide mouthful of tombstone teeth. It made her feel queasy for some reason, but she smiled back and walked away. There was a man who enjoyed his job.



Last year, in a nasty mood, I determined to write a short story every day. I got as far as seven before laziness/writer's block struck (and that after ten days). Anyhow I might as well do something with at least one of them, so I am posting one, that seemed to be liked by the few I showed it to, next. Any comments are appreciated. Oh, and did I mention it's nasty?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

2007 - In (Some) Pictures

Okay, let's get 2008 kicked off, firstly by looking back.

I was clearing out my phone this evening and came across the following. That's life, 2007 style.

Bronte Beach New Year's Day 2007
Bronte Beach New Year's Day 2007

Walking to Bondi
Walking to Bondi

Bondi Beach - New Year's Day 2007
Bondi Beach - New Year's Day 2007

Mary at the Kauri Tree - New Zealand, this day last year
Mary at the Kauri Tree - New Zealand, this day last year

Darklight Festival 2007
Darklight Festival 2007

Summer in Dublin
Summer in Dublin

Summer in Durham
Summer in Durham

Liffey Swimmers
Liffey Swimmers



It's Will's Party...
It's Will's party..."

...and he'll cry if he wants to
...and he'll cry if he wants to


Rosalind's Party
Rosalind's Party

Ger in The Botanic House
Ger in The Botanic House

Sunny Murcia
Sunny Murcia

Halloween Bonfire
Halloween Bonfire

Grafton Street Today
Grafton Street Today