Star Wars – the Force Awakens

I can’t tell you anything about Star Wars – The Force Awakens, in case I accidentally give you a spoiler. I’m not even sure if it’s ok to tell you that I went to it with my young lad in case you might deduce something. Cross-generational appeal, therefore this, therefore that, damn you Bock for spoiling the film, that’s it now I won’t bother going thanks very much for ruining it.

What I can tell you is that it has actors in it, there was a director and when you go to the cinema, they will project it on a large reflective screen for you in return for a modest amount of money.

star wars force awakens

I suppose it’s all right to tell you that Star Wars involves protagonists, antagonists, dramatic devices, obstacles to overcome, conflicts and resolutions but I can’t go further than that in case you come to my door and impale me with a light-sabre for spoiling the story.

Naturally, there are Stormtroopers wearing spiffy white armour that does absolutely nothing. The Stormtroopers fall down dead just like everyone else does when they’re shot, forcing us to ask very hard questions about the evil people who control them.

Why do they spend good money on armour that does nothing? Are they all about the style?

Do they not realise the armour is useless? If so, what does this say about their technical standards?

Why don’t they buy better armour for their Stormtroopers? It can’t be cheap to train these guys so why lose them so easily in battle?

But enough of trivial matters. I’m only talking about this because I’m afraid to tell you anything about the actual story in case I spoil it for you. I can’t even tell you the name of the main actors in case you accidentally figure something out so instead, let’s stick with minor irrelevant matters. Forget the Stormtroopers. We all know that Stormtroopers are as dispensable as Bond henchmen, so let’s turn our thoughts to other improbabilities, such as winged spacecraft having to bank in order to turn in the vacuum of Space.

Or noise. X-wings and TIE fighters making noise in a place where sound doesn’t exist. Bah! That’s all right too. It’s a movie. If I can believe a death-star exists I can surely swallow the idea of a screeching, banking fighter howling through the empty void. After all, I have no huge complaint about The Force, so why would I strain at the gnat of incorporeal sound?

Is there anything at all I can tell you about this Star Wars without giving away the plot?

Well, there are some famous people in it and people still battle with swords made of coloured light which does seem a little silly. Never bring a knife to a gunfight, as the old saying goes, but they seem happy enough with the well-worn trope, presumably because the knightly thing needs to survive. And that reminds me of something I can tell you. Brienne of Tarth is in it, but only as a person in a shiny mask. Still, it’s Brienne of Tarth. You just know it. Maybe.

There are cute droids. There are drunken aliens. There are huge explosions, there are battle scenes and there are light-sabre fights as you would expect. There are gigantic planet-disintegrations and evil masterminds saying Gaaaahhh! and Bring them before me!

There is no irritating and borderline-racist Jar-Jar Binks, you’ll be glad to know.

Apart from that, I can tell you very little for fear of being light-impaled, and therefore I’m left with very little to say apart from this: I loved it. My offspring, watching it again, loved it even more than he did the first time. I’ll probably go back and see it again.

That’s all I’m authorised to say apart from FN 37.


PS. Sceilig Mhichíl looked amazing but I hope they did all the shooting they needed to while they were on the rock. They won’t be getting up there again.


Music popular culture

David Bowie passes on

It isn’t often that I sit bolt upright in bed at seven in the morning with eyes wide open, shouting What?

Actually, I’ve never done it until today when the news announced that David Bowie had died.

What? Isn’t he supposed to be, you know … ?


That’s it. Isn’t David Bowie supposed to be immortal? As a friend remarked today, I’ve never lived in a world without David Bowie, to which he might have added a little kicker: And I never expected to.

Who expected to be living in a world without David Bowie? Not I.

David BowieSome people seem to transcend mundane existence and David Robert Jones was one of them. As the same friend remarked, at least we still have his knife, though even that is a bit ambiguous. Did he really call himself after a notorious killing weapon, the Bowie knife, or after the man for whom it was named? And if he did, wasn’t it lucky he didn’t choose any of the other knife descriptions?

David Flick.

David Bread.

David Boning.

No. He was right when he went for Bowie, leaving Blunt for lesser artists.

When I was a lad, and that wasn’t today or yesterday, Limerick was a decent enough place to live, but I can’t deny that it was fairly direct. In working-class towns, people tend to be direct. You wouldn’t, for example, have ever suggested to anyone that they might be gay, unless you wanted a punch in the face, or maybe worse. Unless they were gay, of course. In those days, if you were gay and living in a land under the control of the Catholic church, you either jumped in the river or went insane on mind-bending drugs in Amsterdam.

But it was a paradoxical town at the same time. It was a place where you might not expect the stereotypical working classes to produce classical musicians, or socially-engaged doctors, or hippies for that matter. And yet that’s exactly what happened. And that’s why it came as no surprise when the toughest of the tough, guys who wouldn’t back down from the roughest front-row Kilfeacle could throw at them, or the nastiest lowlife spawned by skinheadery, were happy enough to tell the world that they were bisexual.

They probably weren’t, but that’s not the point. Tough guys, tough hippies, were happy enough to come out. Happy enough to embrace Bowie’s androgyny because it didn’t matter one flying shit to them.

David Robert Jones, a young lad from Brixton and later Bromley, with an Irish Catholic mother, reinvented himself as he would many times in years to come and presented an alternative vision of what might be possible with a little imagination. David Jones understood very clearly that all he had to do was tell people who he was now and they would believe him, thus making it possible for everyone else to do the same.

You want to be Ziggy Stardust? You’re Ziggy Stardust. You want to be the Thin White Duke? Fine. Just tell them with enough confidence and they’ll accept it because they, too, long for the exotic, the enigmatic and the thing that resides just a millimetre beyond the veil that divides our reality from the next. You’ll believe a London boy can be a starman because you want it to be so.

The real point is that David Bowie — along with many others — brought to every little backwater an understanding that there exists a great world out there, a world that couldn’t be confined within the narrow boundaries of the past, free of the old failures who still sought to impose the old discredited order on a youth yearning for something more.

And he never stopped offering us that freedom, which is why I found myself sitting up in bed at seven in the morning, wide-eyed and incredulous.


Perhaps more than any other artist of his time, Bowie showed us that everything is possible. You can be a goblin king. You can be a defiant prisoner of war. You can be the voice of everything that yearns to become real.

You can even fall to Earth, but of course, he knew that already.




BBC report

Official Bowie site


Rolling Stone

Politics Stories

Nosferatu’s Easter Rising

nosferatu easter risingNosferatu wakes from a terrible dream. A different, unimaginable Rising where neither one blood sacrifice nor a thousand will placate his tortured appetite.

He leaps from the coffin in which even the beloved soil of the Carpathians cannot soothe his anguish.

What is this thing he has seen when the veil slipped? What monstrous worlds exist that he has not imagined?

Cherishing all the children …

What is this talk of Nation?

Nosferatu flings aside the library door and tears books from their shelves till he sets his claws upon a scroll, his Infernal Proclamatio, written in the blood of peasants.

He groans. He groans in horror as his finger traces the words until at last he finds what he seeks.

cherishing all the children …, says the manuscript and Nosferatu recoils as his dream bears in upon him. The slaughter. The deaths. The horror.

It is nearly dawn. Already the curtains begin to smoke in the crepuscular awakening but Nosferatu cares nothing for it. If this dream is real he will end it now. He will throw back the drapes and drink deep the life-ending rays of daylight.

Show me, he groans, and draws a thumbnail across the manuscript.

Cherishing all the children, it says, and Nosferatu leans for the drapes, but then his yellowed eye reads on and he halts his reach as the meaning reveals itself.  …the children of the night … it says in his ancient and perfect script.

Somewhere, a wolf begins to howl as Nosferatu falls back, clutching his breast.  A dream after all, he mutters. What sweet music. No children tonight will die by my words.

He will sleep peaceful in his coffin one more day and the blood sacrifice for his Rising will be small.


Celebrity Entertainment

New private terminal for celebrities at Los Angeles airport

Los Angeles is planning a new terminal at the airport for celebrities, famous people and filthy-rich actors, along the lines of the Windsor Lounge at Heathrow, and truthfully, this seems like a great idea.

For as little as $1,800 each, the travelling public will be spared any contact with the Kardashians, Kanye West or Miley Cyrus, but  the best thing is this: you won’t have to pay a cent for the privilege.

In a stroke of genius, Los Angeles airport has somehow persuaded the Kardashians to pay the money themselves to spare the rest of us from having to meet them.

Isn’t that great?

Described as a win-win situation by almost everyone apart from the newspaper photographers, the new arrangement ensures that celebrities can leave their planes unhindered and they don’t have to look at us poor people. Meanwhile, the poor people don’t have to endure lectures about the benefits of organic, Vegan food-replacement crystals.

Why is anyone criticising this? If you can afford first-class treatment on the plane, why shouldn’t you buy first-class treatment when you arrive? And besides, if your extra money buys the rest of us a respite from your air-headed, vacuous inanities, what’s not to like?

Everyone’s a winner.


Crime Film

Escobar – Narcos Season One

I don’t know what it was. It could have been the busy weekend, it could have been laziness or it could have been straightforward getting old, but for some reason I began to feel tired and drowsy, an overwhelming sense of lassitude enveloping me and I realised there was nothing for it but to go for a snooze.

Not a power nap. I needed a real, full-on sleep though it was only 7 pm.  Snoring, sweating, the full nine yards.

I hit the sack and slept like a dead man for three full hours until my eyes popped open like Dracula with a stake poised above his heart, temporarily undead and unlikely to sleep for the foreseeable future.

What ya gonna do?

What else can you do?

narcosI started watching the first episode of Narcos, a treat I’d been holding in store for just such a moment.

Now, I did actually know about Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel. I knew what a smart operator he was. I knew about Escobar’s posturing as a Robin Hood figure and I knew that, on a certain level, his activities benefited the poor in his own comuna. I knew he made vast sums of money by smuggling cocaine to the USA where he found a ready market and I knew he was a violent, ruthless criminal.  But I didn’t realise how vast his fortune was or how extreme his capacity for violence. I didn’t fully grasp the sheer scale of his activities, almost, though not quite, rivalling the power of a sovereign state.

I knew about the US government’s involvement in South and Central America, or some of it, at least.  I knew, for instance, about the influence of National Fruit and Nabisco on the murdering elites of Nicaragua and El Salvador. I knew about Ollie North’s adventures with the Contras and I knew about the CIA killing of Chile’s democratically elected president, Allende.  But I’m not sure I knew quite what a ferment of anti-communist paranoia the Reagan-era US embassies were, to the exclusion of all other considerations. Despite the manifest stupidity of US policy south of the border, I’m not sure I realised quite how dim-witted and ham-fisted it was, though later examples, most notably in Iraq should have reminded me.

Narcos is narrated by a US spook in Colombia, a DEA officer operating in an extra-judicial capacity, usurping the role of police in a sovereign country. It traces the tensions between the American embassy and a Colombian government determined to protect its autonomy despite US pressure. It illustrates the utterly insane Reaganist obsession with communism in the face of genuine threats like the vast coke trade that was destroying the American streets. It shows how the administration chose to sacrifice its youth to drug addiction rather than divert its focus from a spurious political bogey-man.

Escobar wasn’t a monster and the show properly doesn’t portray him as one, since monsters only exist in comic books. Real people do monstrous things. Real men like Escobar, who love their children, their mothers, their wives, their cousins, do dreadful things and Escobar was undoubtedly a ruthless man willing to carry out cold-blooded murderous acts in order to protect the  empire he’d built up. But to call him a monster would only relieve us of the responsibility to think about what he did. It would allow us to retreat into a world of cartoon certainty populated by cartoon bad guys and cartoon good guys. In other words, the cartoon world of current US foreign policy that has brought us Afghanistan, Iraq and latterly Syria.

Escobar wasn’t a monster. Escobar was a murderous, violent criminal but he had moments of compassion, moments of generosity and moments of love along with moments of savagery, cruelty and barbarity, exquisitely portrayed by Wagner Moura, who not only had to gain 40 pounds for the role but also had to learn Spanish, though that was probably easy enough for him, being Brazilian.

Narcos invites us to consider the parallels between Pablo the Colombian drug dealer and the great geo-political forces he barely realises he’s provoking. He sees himself as a monarch. He sees himself as a benefactor to his people. He regards himself as a feudal prince and everything that follows is directly as Nicolo Macchiavelli might have advised him.

Pablo Escobar would have prospered very well in 15th century Venice or in 20th century America, if only he had been born into the Patrician ruling class of that classless society. After all, the only difference between Escobar’s brutality and ruthlessness and that of the USA has been a matter of scale, as Narcos makes clear to anyone watching with an analytical eye.

But of course, you can watch it on a different level and just take it as pure entertainment.  It’s up to you.

Leave aside the parallels and the allegories, strip out the analysis and Narcos still stands up as one serious heap of but-gustin’, chair-grippin’, breath-holdin’ shoot-em-up fun.

I love Narcos.

But now, suddenly, it’s five in the morning and power-naps mean nothing. Shit.



Review. The Martian – spuds in space

Watching The Martian won’t rot your teeth.  Despite the sugary sentimentality, all the sweetness is artificial, derived scientifically from Martian potatoes and it’s just as well the sugar isn’t real, because otherwise this film could single-handedly cause a pandemic of obesity and diabetes.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with The Martian. It’s engaging, it’s entertaining and it offers a welcome break from the clichéd stereotype of technologists as one-dimensional, socially-dysfunctional obsessives. It’s exciting, it’s gripping and it’s visually magnificent.  Even the cheesy 70s disco soundtrack works, though it comes across at times as a bit too self-aware, a bit too knowing, but it doesn’t offend and sometimes it provides a little chuckle of mild amusement.

Remarkably for Hollywood, the science is real, most of the time, and when it isn’t that’s because Scott chose to depart from reality as, for example when he decided not to bother replicating the low Martian gravity. He was right.

Matt Damon’s portrayal of Mark Watney, the stranded astronaut, is deadpan and laconic, as it should be. His video-diary – a good solution to the problem of an actor alone and strangely reminiscent of Spencer Tracy’s Fish – keeps us entertained until it doesn’t. Nobody wants to soldier through another Silent Running, with Bruce Dern (a botanist, of all things!) becoming ever more gloomy on his solitary journey into the void, but Watney’s relentless wise-cracking and the interminable joke about the bad disco music eventually grow as predictable as the endless Martian  sands.

The problem is director Ridley Scott’s unremitting determination to make the viewer feel good at all times, using every cheesy plot device, every wise-cracking dialogue cliché and every grouchy-but-likeable Chief of Complicated Stuff.  Not to mention the implausibly sympathetic Chinese space agency.

We didn’t know any of these people when the film ended. We didn’t even know Mark Watney, the central character, despite his existential predicament. We start out learning how smart he is, how tough and how resilient.  He’s the first man to grow spuds on Mars. He’s a space pirate. But he doesn’t evolve, he doesn’t develop, he doesn’t change, apart from the spectacular physical wasting Matt Damon underwent.

None of the other characters is more than a cipher.  The hard-ass PR lady. The gruff but kind-hearted head of NASA. The nerdy geek who sleeps all night in his office trying to think up a mathematical solution to the problem.

There wasn’t even a crudely-drawn bad guy to provide some dramatic tension.

It’s probably no accident that The Fonz pops up in the middle of the film for some added light relief because in the end that’s what the Martian is:  Happy Days in Space.

The Martian fonz happy days



Big top

Nile Rodgers and Chic back in Limerick

Who remembers this night?

That’s right. Nile Rodgers at the Big Top in 2013, followed by Nile Rodgers jamming with local bands at the after-party.  Nile Rodgers, the man whose guitar launched €2 billion worth of record sales, enjoying the shit out of Limerick, and why wouldn’t he?

He enjoyed Limerick so much, in fact, that he’s back in the Big Top in November.

You heard me right. Nile Rodgers and Chic, in the Big Top on the 10th November.

What’s not to like?

I’ll be there. Will you?


Meeting Father Wingnut

I bumped into my friend Cursin’ Jack the other day. He was lean and weatherbeaten, like a man who’d survived six months in the Andes following a plane crash.

Where have you been? I asked him.

In the Andes, he said. Plane crashed.  

Jack isn’t the most talkative.

So?  I prompted him.

I found a monastery. Met a priest you might know. He nursed me back to health.


Yeah. A guy name of Wingnut.

Wingnut? Surely not.

Was it Tommy Wingnut?

Could be. Called himself Thomas. 

I was astonished. Tommy Wingnut left years ago to join a monastery abroad after an unfortunate incident with a badger.

Did Father Wingnut, by any chance, tell you how he’s been getting on?

Sure did.  Matter of fact, he was glad to talk since he doesn’t see too many people up there on the top of the Andes.

He’s isolated?

Yeah. Seems the Mexican priests kicked him out so he started an order of his own. One of those things where a fella, you know, thinks about stuff.

A contemplative order?

That’s the one.  A con tem plative order. That’s it. He con-tem-plates, mostly what it must be like to get laid, but other stuff too. Like how to turn a slice of Gorgonzola into Jesus.

So how many other monks are with him?

None. Seems nobody would join up, what with him fondling himself all the time, and everything. And of course, that thing he does with the animals.

Yeah.   I can imagine. The badger incident was not pretty.

You know, said Cursin’ Jack, he kinda opened up with me after a while. Seems he arrived in Mexico to be a priest and then he was applying to NASA to bring the Eucharist to the Moon.


Yeah. He wanted to be the first priestronaut.

To the Moon. He wanted to bring the Eucharist to the Moon?

Well, not exactly. He wanted to be the chaplain on the rocket in case anything went wrong and they ended up stranded on the Moon. He could save everyone’s soul. When NASA turned him down, he applied to all the airlines to be a sky pilot.  He reckoned he could rustle up the body and blood of Jesus out of just about anything.  An old bag of nachos.  A pack of rice-cakes. A slice of salami. Even a cigarette if he had to and it was an emergency.

The airlines didn’t hire him?

No.  So he ended up back in the Mexican monastery until one day he made the body and blood of Jesus out of peyote and that caused the ugly incident with the armadillo.

They didn’t like that?

They kicked him out.  Don’t come back, they said. You fucking nutcase, they said, or whatever Mexican priests shout when they get mad at you. Hombre loco or something.  I think he said they called him by that Russian president’s name.

That’s when he set up his one-man contemplative order?

Yep. At the top of the Andes, waiting for a plane crash.  Grooming alpacasAnd that’s where he met me.


So how is he now?

Oh, he’s back home. When I explained to him about the internet,  he came straight back with me on the rescue flight,  set up the First Church of Troll and now he spends his days watching porn and picking fights. He’s very happy.

I’m delighted for him, I said. It’s a big improvement over that other thing he used to do.

Oh, said Jack. He’s still doing that, but who am I to judge?




Cobblestone Joe's Nancys Our lives

Fathers’ Day relaxation

There’s something very rejuvenating about Fathers’ Day — an affirmation that we old lads aren’t completely bad after all, not entirely without our decent points.  And truthfully, you wouldn’t have it any other way.  We raise our children and we set them free.  We don’t place obligations on them to observe ritual or custom.  We just hope they get it, and when they do, it makes us that much richer: so much the better if they come back of their own volition and say, right, Dad, let’s go for a couple of pints.

Gold couldn’t buy you that.

And so it came about that, after a long hard day slogging away at the garden, chopping down bushes and power-hosing patios, I found myself in Nancy Blake’s wonderful establishment, enjoying music played by good friends including one I haven’t seen in quite a while since he moved to Dubai.  Thank God for Ramadan, that time of year when Irish people flee the gulf en masse to visit and entertain their friends back home.  I hope we’ll catch up again before he goes back, though I expect to be travelling myself fairly soon, so who knows?

Of course, these days no trip to town would be complete without a visit to Cobblestone Joe’s where they now serve the best pizza this side of New York City, thanks to their snappy new pizza bar and even snappier new chef.

What precisely could be wrong with this? A pint, a delicious thin-base pizza and a live shit-kickin’ band in the company of those you love most in the world?

Well, two things, I suppose.

Firstly, we were thoroughly hockeyed by Tipperary in the Munster semi-final, with the result that the town was full of people in Limerick and Tipp shirts.  Never a good look.  The men of Tipperary proved me right when I said having six fingers is an advantage and the tinfoil industry got a huge boost.

Secondly, being without a camera and taking a truly bad picture on a phone, of people jiving in terrible hurling shirts and worse.

cobblestone joes limerick

For this, I apologise sincerely and promise it won’t happen again.

For all the rest, let us celebrate Fathers’ Day and give thanks to the universe for our good fortune.

Crime Music

Crowdsourcing a country song — the Ballad of Randy Howard

I don’t mean this to sound in any way disrespectful to the late Randy Howard, country singer and songwriter, but the manner of his demise is the most country thing I have ever heard in my life and it only seems fair to pay him an appropriate tribute.

Who’s Randy?  An Outlaw, that’s all.  A man who shared a stage with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Junior.  One of those who rejected Nashville with all its country ‘n’ western schmaltz.  A serious performer of the country art.

How did he die?  In an exchange of gunfire with a bounty hunter, that’s how.  In a hail of God-given lead at the ungodly young age of 65.

randy howard killed by bounty hunter

Randy had a few convictions for DUI, and he’d lost his licence for it, thanks to an oppressive Washington-based federal government that doesn’t understand an American’s right to freedom of conscience.  But on top of that, he was facing charges of a fourth DUI, possessing drugs paraphernalia, possession of a firearm while intoxicated and driving without a licence.  A normal Tennessee boy, in other words.

Randy lit out for parts unknown.  He’d already done jail time for DUI and he wasn’t going back there, so when bounty hunter Jackie Shell showed up at his door, he wasn’t about to go quietly.  Now, anyone familiar with the Western genre will know instantly that the bounty hunter is the lowest of the low.  Lower than a gunslinger. Lower than a drygulcher. Lower than a rattlesnake. Lower, even, than a back-shooter, so it’s hardly surprising that Randy Howard cut loose with a volley of bullets.  Who wouldn’t?

Unfortunately, he only winged the low-down bounty-hunting rattlesnake and in the gunfight, Randy took a slug.

He died.  Randy up and died.

Jackie Shell, meanwhile, ended up in hospital for surgery, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, quoting his mother, Mary Jane.  We don’t know yet if he’ll collect the bounty, since it’s by no means certain the reward said Dead or Alive, but he doesn’t seem to have been on Randy’s property legally.  With any luck, the low-down drygulching back-shooting rattlesnake will end up in his trailer nursing a sore shoulder and thinking twice about door-stepping another country outlaw.

Meanwhile, we need a tribute to Randy, and it seems only fair to write him a song.

The Ballad of Randy Howard.

Here’s my plan.

Let’s all contribute a few verses.  Between us we’ll knock it together into a decent song and then I’ll get some of my musical friends to record it.  We’ll put it up here in honour of Randy Howard.

Here’s what we have so far.  After this, it’s up to you.


Randy Howard, a friend of mine, loved his truck, his dog and his gun.

But a wanted poster on the wall sent Randy on the run.


One night, a bounty hunter, a killer known as Shell,

Rolled up to Randy’s hide-out, like a critter straight from Hell.



You low-down bounty hunter, you ain’t nuthin’ but a coward

And I ain’t goin’ nowhere or my name ain’t Randy Howard



Come out now Randy,drop your gun, you’ve gone and jumped your bail.

This paper I got here in my hand says you’re bound for the jail.


No bounty hunter never set a foot inside my door.

And you ain’t gonna be the first, you son of a Texas whore.



You low-down bounty hunter, you ain’t nuthin’ but a coward

And I ain’t goin’ nowhere or my name ain’t Randy Howard



Git to thinkin’, y’hear?