Saturday, September 30, 2006

These Are Our Lives

Or the all fiction issue of The Stinging Fly, of which I am now a patron because, you know, the arts and that. This book is a superb collection of 22 short stories plucked out of the submissions bag by editor Declan Meade. Declan's got a great eye for putting stuff together--you want him to make you a mixtape, in other words. The work in here is uniformly good to great, with only one story boring me with its show-offiness to the extent where I didn't finish it. The stories take in house parties in Galway, lonely farmers who've let life slip through their fingers, post-apocalyptic holidays in Spain, joyless voodoo-inspired sex in Dublin apartments, meeting Polish dreamers, and a bunch of other experiences worth putting down on paper. This is a beautifully put together book too, a very nice object all by itself. I'd recommend it.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin

It seems I am the last person in christendom to see this film. If you haven't seen it, you should. The fact that it has Steve Carell in it might make you believe that it's going to be like Dodgeball or Anchorman, so if you don't like that kind of film, you might have been put off. But this isn't like that. It's very old-fashioned, the people in it are real characters and they don't behave in a totally unrealistic manner that makes you wonder if they could actually keep themselves alive in a real situation. And although the film is, and I don't think I'm giving anything away here, about a 40 year-old guy whose friends find out he's a virgin and try to make him stop being one, it's not an all-out see-how-many-women-we-can-degrade-with-boob-humour jokefest. I really, really enjoyed it. And having seen some of Steve Carell's stuff on The Daily Show's ten-year retrospective, I have decided he is my new hero.
The photo, by the way, comes from this fun site. I like the modern Marilyn Monroe in particular.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hey, remember the summer, and how much fun it was?

Remember? Remember when I had my car fire? Well, Meath County Council would like me to relive those memories, by sending me a bill for the services of the Fire Brigade. A bill for €154. A bill I'm not paying. A bill that arrived after the insurance company settled the claim in full. A bill that I was not warned about in advance.

Good jesus I hate this fucking stupid country.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Impostor

We went to see this last night. Maybe I'm getting old, and can't pick up on subtexts in plays as well as I used to be able to, but see where it says this in the blurb for the play? Almost none of that was communicated to me. There was too much telling, not enough showing. There was too much running about and physical business that appeared to just be there for the sake of it, to show off the actors' ability to run about and do business, and to break up what otherwise would have been quite a lot of "and then he said..." "of course what he didn't know was..." and so on, which surely could have been put together differently.

That said, this is a beautifully performed five-hander. At one point, in fact, I was wondering if there had been a sixth person on stage because I thought I remembered one, but there is not. The acting is superb too, and the involvement and culpability of the audience is very deftly handled. Costumes, set, all spot on. Okay, I know that's usually what you praise when there's nothing else to praise, but in this case the set is actually quite a big deal, because it managed to communicate Art Deco luxury using only a couple of well put-together pieces, which isn't easy to do. Some of it is also very funny, and because you're kind of in the story, you have (well, certainly I had) no problem going "ewww" out loud when one of the characters started being especially lewd.

This is perfect theatre for middle-aged people who want to go to the theatre and feel like they've seen something terribly daring, when in fact they haven't really. I just wish more effort had been put into the writing. A really skilled comedy writing team could do something really excellent with this material and this cast. It could have been a huge hit, instead of there being only 19 people there on a Saturday night in the Sam Beckett. Ah well.

The Time it Never Rained

Some time ago, when William saw Flight 93, he said that it felt so real that when he came out of it, he wanted to ask people if they had heard about that plane crash that just happened.
When I finished reading this book about the effects of a long drought on small Texas ranchers, I was walking to work and it started to rain, and I felt a huge relief. At least the rain is here, I thought.
The main character in the book is Charlie Flagg, an old-fashioned (some might say slightly Libertarian) smallish rancher who works some leased land and some land of his own. He keeps a mixture of sheep and cattle and he has a wife and a son who wants to ride in the rodeo, and he's friends with his neighbours and the Mexican family who work for him, and everyone does okay. But then the rain doesn't come. And it keeps not coming. And latent tensions bubble to the surface. Racism, sexism, town against country, big farming against small ranching. And through it all Charlie Flagg refuses to take money from the government, refuses every handout, refuses to go "into the programme", and gradually the countryside dries up and a whole way of life starts to blow away.
There are elements of Steinbeck in here. And, for someone like me who has never even spent much time on a farm in Ireland, never mind a Texas ranch, it's almost like reading science fiction, because it's a totally alien environment. The book may as well take place on Mars, for all I know.
Sure, some of the lessons are delivered in a slightly heavy-handed manner. For example, the manager who works for one of the huge farming conglomerations may as well have a long black mustache that he twirls periodically. But on the whole this is a great, involving book. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Friends have baby

I mention this on my blog because members of my family will be amused to know that they are calling her Elizabeth and shortening it to Lily. Which was Gaggy's name.

Anyway, congratulations friends, and new baby Elizabeth-shortened-to-Lily.

Who will be next?

Actually, who will be next? I should write these things down, really I should.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

There's always some poxy bloody thing

So, it turns out that my dogs are not the well-behaved little angels all day long that my neighbours on either side of me have always claimed them to be. I have asked them, on several occasions, to let me know if the dogs were making excessive noise, and they have always shaken their heads and said words to the effect of "you wouldn't even know they were there". Well, my neighbour over the back fence tells a different story. And he came round and told it to me on Friday evening. Now, in fairness to him, he was very polite, and he could have been rude and upset me by simply sticking a note through my door, which would have been unfair and unneighbourly and unkind, and would have made me cry, and equally he could have tried to bully me in some way, which he did not. He simply explained that he works shifts, and he tries to sleep during the day, and he has a new baby coming into the house on Tuesday (that's today) and that the dogs have been driving him mad now ever since I got them and could I please do something about it.

So now I have to keep the dogs indoors, and because I can't afford to hire someone to come and let the dogs out during the day when I'm not here, it means I have to get up at 5.50am, bring them out for half an hour's walk, come home, have a shower, throw on clothes, dash to 7.10 train, come home on 4.15 train (which is not Mister Monkey's train home, might I add, even though he very kindly comes in with me in the morning), so as to be the first one home, in case there is any disaster. And I came home today and there was no disaster, but when I went upstairs to get stuff from my room, Dweezil ran in under the bed, and he got stuck on something and couldn't get out, and when I lifted the bed a little to move it and see if I could get him out, my back went SPROING and I dropped the bed and I think I've broken the frame. And now I hate my neighbour and his stupid breeder of a wife because of this. Sorry, breeders. And I do not love my dogs either, because of this. Sorry dogs. I'm sure that will go away eventually, but right now I resent them enormously.

And now my ranting is over. Thank you for your time.

By the way, that is not a photo of my own bed frame. I did not take one.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

If you had to pick one...

...which of these celebrities would you rather have on your side if you were in trouble?

Naming your kids after DART stations: a good plan?

I should point out that the only reason I have these fantastic nuggets of celebrity information is that my Google homepage has a link to People magazine on it. I don't go looking for them, they just pop up.

Still though, bless them.


Love this.

Friday, September 15, 2006

And They Used to Star in Movies

I'm baffled by the Irish Times and their good review of this play (which obviously I can't share with you, because you don't have a subscription and neither do I). I was even more baffled before I read the blurb about the show and realised that it was first performed 30 years ago, and was written by Scott Campbell, a reaonably well-known author.

The play is about Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse. Mickey and Minnie have split up, they're all washed up. Mickey hangs around a bar waiting on a call from Visconti in Rome, because Visconti is supposed to be doing a production of Baudelaire's later poems, and Mickey wants in on it. But the call doesn't come. And Mickey gets drunker, and he and Minnie reminisce about the days when they used to be somebody, and then Donald arrives, and he's a successful producer now.

I'm making this sound more exciting than it really is, honest.

Because I didn't realise the play was written in the mid-70s, I perhaps did not give enough weight to the film-making mood of that era, with its emphasis on realism and the decline of Disney cartoons. Disney was past its best for several reasons, and cartoons were not the big business they were in cinemas 30 years before that, or, dare I say it, today. The fact that it appears to take place around the time of the McCarthy hearings is more confusing still. But that's beside the point. I shouldn't have to sit around guessing when the play might be meant to be happening in order to enjoy it. If you're going to put on a play from an earlier time, you either have to do it as a period piece, or it has to be timeless. This was neither. It also isn't funny. and it's poorly staged. And the performances are waaaayyy too loud. Bewley's Theatre is a small space, kids. Rein it in. And your American accents are not so great that you can afford to take your sweet time over every single sentence. I think it would have been much funnier if, when being their public selves, they had talked in American accents, but then, between themselves, they had dropped it and just used their normal Irish ones. It would have been like a homage to Alexander, and could have brought the whole thing right up to date.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Phear teh kiten

Here's Dweezil now. He looks much better, and he and Linus are getting along famously, which means that Linus (who is at least four times Dweezil's size) completely ignores Dweezil at all times, until the leaping around his tailular area gets too much for him and he eventually smashes Dweezil in the face like James Cagney at breakfast time.

Good cat times.

The Golden Ocean

Some time ago, I talked about the voyage of Commodore Anson into the great South Sea. Here's what I said:

In 1741, Commodore George Anson set sail from England with five ships and a total crew of approximately 1400 men. He had orders to sail to South America, map some territories and harass Spanish shipping. He had a diasastrous voyage and returned with one ship and about 500 men. But along the way he captured prizes worth about £400,000.

Well, Patrick O'Brian thought it would be a capital idea to write a novel based on the adventures of two young Irish lads who sign on for Anson's voyage. Luckily, and I don't think it's giving away too much to say this, they have a fondness for lemons. This is a lovely precursor to the Aubrey-Maturin books, and it only makes me sad and wistful to have finished it so fast, bringing me ever closer to the end of O'Brian's works.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

This is a great book. James Shapiro talks about the English campaign in Ireland, the summer of the invisible Armada, proto-musicals, translations of Tacitus, the death of chivalry and the glimmerings of globalization, theatre companies composed entirely of little boys, the changes in the acting profession, the work of publishers, and the effects that all of these things may or may not have had on the work of Shakespeare, specifically on the plays he wrote in that year (which included Love's Labor's Lost, Julius Caesar, Henry V, and oh yes, Hamlet). He is very clear about where he's speculating and where he's employing facts, and he really opened me up to a fresh understanding of theatre of the time.
Just a great book. There's no point in my trying to recount any of the many hundreds of anecdotes, but trust me, they're in there.

Paper anniversary

It turns out that Dublin is not a bad place at all to go for the weekend, if you've got a bit of cash put aside. We both clocked out of work early on Friday and checked into our hotel. After a lovely nap, we stepped across the Green to meet MarkW and head up to Ranelagh to meet folks for drinks. We had dinner in McSorley's first, where I had truly excellent fish and chips, and then we headed next door to good old Birchalls for a huge feed of pints. Well, I didn't have a huge feed of pints, but everyone else did.
Next morning, we had breakfast in the Metro, then went to the Chester Beatty (because it's our paper anniversary, DO YOU SEE?) with Damien and Sinead. It was great. The ideal place to go with a hangover, and we even got to enjoy the ignorance of a couple of middle-aged American women who were determined "not to tarry" looking at Islamic artefacts, who thought that the fragments of gospel codexes in the exhibits were the real actual gospels, and who stared at our food in the Silk Road as if we were in some sort of zoo. And they wonder why people don't like them.
And we bought a poster with two monkeys on it. Very cute.
After more hangover clearing nap action, we met Simon and Caroline and Diana for cocktails in the hotel bar, and then went for our fabulous dinner in One Pico. I love it there. The food is great, the service is great, the room is pleasant and comfortable, and the sommelier is is helpful and not snobby and he suggested a wonderful dessert wine which I cannot remember the name of now, but Mister Monkey will. Expect to see the name in the comments tomorrow. Wonderful, wonderful meal. And plenty of lovely romantic chat. Amusingly, last week we actually went through our wedding folder, which still sits by the bedside table, with all the speeches and messsages in it, and read our vows again. It was a little like one of those review things you do in work, where you set your review your objectives for the past year and try to decide if you've met them or not. We seem to be doing alright*.
It was a great weekend. I recommend Dublin, if you've got the cash and a bunch of really nice mates to go and hang out with.

*Oh, alright. Substantially better than alright, really. Even if we did make ourselves sad by breaking off to talk about bomb dogs somewhere in the middle of it all.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

They do not move

To restore something of a proper Saturday night at the movies feel to the evening, we then watched Inside Man, which is an interesting name because it relates, obviously, to the idea of having someone on the inside for a bank job, but also because it gives you some idea of what makes people tick. Money, naturally. Power, of course, and not just the power to order people around, but the power to hold secrets and trade information and rewrite history so that it all comes out the way you like it. In this film, as in real life, Whitey (or Wealthy, if you like) holds all the power, and although Denzel can get things done, he can only operate with the cooperation of Whitey, and can only advance to the next level on Whitey's say-so.
On the other level of the inside man, it's a nice little heist movie with a nice conceit, except that not a lot really happens. Although Jodie Foster spends the entire movie in shoes so improbably high that they make her legs look as though they are about to burst open, thus giving her the impression of being poised for action and ready to pounce at any moment, she does not really do anything.
On both levels, it's quite confusing and there are many questions I didn't know the answers to by the end of the film. Such as


How did they know to go after the box? I didn't get the answer to that one. Why was Christopher Plummer satisfied with Jodie Foster's assessment of the situation? Didn't everyone just seem to give up too easy at the end? I mean, I'm not saying they had to be all White and Exley about it, but a little more doggedness and wrapping things up, no?


It was an okay film, but really only okay. Because it's Spike Lee directing, he can assemble quite a cast, but no-one, not even Denzel, has much to do really. Will Spike ever get it together to make a truly excellent film again? I hope so.

Taking a chance on love

Yesterday was the Monkey wedding anniversary, and we celebrated by clearing a space in the drift of books and newspapers and LRBs on the kitchen table and eating a bowl of pasta by candlelight and drinking some lovely red wine that we brought back from Paris in May. But we were sad. Because when we sat down to eat we had just finished watching Brokeback Mountain, which is a very sad film. By rights, Mister Monkey asserted, it should have made us happy in way, because it is a film about people who want one thing but carry on living another thing and so never get the thing they want, but we did not do that and we set aside the censure of others in order to get the thing we wanted--


although admittedly it was most unlikely that anyone was going to beat either of us to death with a tyre iron


--and so now we are happy, unlike the men in the film. And the film made me angry too, because it seemed like a very modern story, of two people who want to pursue something that is slightly outside the ideal for modern American people, and so they would in some way be bringing shame on others, and so they must be suppressed and stopped by other jackasses in big hats, and it made me sad again to think that economic necessity ties people to jobs and situations when all they want to do is ride their horses around, but of course this is how it is for everyone, so why should they be any different? And of course it slightly annoyed me to see two white men who have access to much (well, one of them does anyway, and he did offer help to the other one) but because they can't have things exactly the way they want them, they have to mess it all up for everyone, especially the poor sheep who got killed by the coyote because they were supposed to be watching him and they weren't. Hmm, maybe it's a film about the evil effects of transnational corporations? You know, the white American men are too busy fucking each other to notice that the sheep are getting hammered out there?
I could go on. The main thing about the film is that you can cover it with any meaning you want, because it's such a huge space with so little dialogue in it (and only half of that is intelligible) that you can have the characters be anyone you want without fear of them saying anything to contradict you. The open spaces (of where? That's right, Alberta) are so beautiful, and the human spaces are so grim and awful, that at times you wonder why everyone in the film doesn't take off to Brokeback Mountain to go fishing. Of course everyone won't. But once in a while, when you do, it all works out okay.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Friday, September 01, 2006

Fear it!

More teh cuetness in the Monkey house. Housemate Niall brought home a kitten that he found on a building site in Cavan. It was being kept in a mayonnaise tub, and the people who had found it were going to just turn it loose again, so he took it home. It is called Dweezil, and after three days of hiding behind things in the small room, it has been to the vet (it's a boy!) who pronounced him fit and well and just a little bit earmitey. A few more days will tell us for sure if he's got anything he's going to pass around, but otherwise we should be introducing him to Linus some day next week.
Hmm. The photos do perhaps make him look eviller than he really is. I will try to get better photos.

What are you doing at home?

I'm not well.


I wasn't well yesterday--breakfast made a run for it almost as soon as it was eaten--but I went to work anyway. This morning, however, my husband FORBADE me to go to work, because I am still sick. Forbidden! By my spouse!

Fair enough, like.