Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Connemara Whiskey

Since I was in the relevant part of the world last week, what better time to honour a drink that parallels a location? Connemara Whiskey, can be seen as a sort of genius loci – spirit of the place – if you like. Peaty, rugged and uncompromising, the taste has a desolate beauty about it, somewhat like an Islay malt, but much more rugged.

There are caveats, mind. Tourists love the region for rugged beauty, the sense of being far from the world and at one with nature, and its this that the drink is playing on. But this only works because, in the age of electricity, heating and relative affluence we are sheltered from its worst excesses of nature untrammelled.
O Lady ! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live :
Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud !
And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,
For there in the country's isolation there is true desolation: the ghosts of the poor loveless ever-anxious crowds of Irish history. When Cromwell offered those driven from the more fertile lands of Ireland the choice between hell and Connaught he wasn't - and this was pretty much true to form - joking. In the scrabby, peaty, poor lands of Connemara those with a few barren acres struggled to scratch a living. Potatoes were pretty much all that could be grown in sufficient quantities and, come the famine… quite.

The area's population collapsed after the famine and then, decades of poverty, emigration and the slow death of Gaelic Ireland took their toll. It's enough to turn one to drink and, if no drink is to hand, start writing maudlin and cloying ballads. So let us drink, then.

Only look at the place, bleak and beautiful, but a void into which the wind will ever blow over nothingness. If Galway city weren't within striking distance you wouldn't wish to be stuck there forever. There's nothing there – and bear in mind this was a picture taken on the first sunny day in those parts since Daniel O'Connell was a boy.

Along with the emptiness, of course, comes the unfortunate fact that there is no distillery in Connemara. For the whiskey is made in Co Louth – a proper old hole on the other side of Ireland into which tourists never venture.

You see, the drink is a distillation of a romantic Ireland that never existed. To use the marketing speak:

Named after one of the most famous regions in Ireland, Connemara is one of nature's masterpieces. The rugged Atlantic coastline and majestic mountains blend with the rain-soaked peated bog lands to create a landscape of unique natural beauty. Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey captures the beauty of this region while reviving its traditions.

If the otherwordly romanticisation of harsh reality and the creation of of myths for a place revive its traditions, then this drink does it. Consume enough and your imagination will be peopled with the demons - historic and otherworldly - of Irish history and culture. The Connemara is just the drink if you want to take a bellyful of it and then spill your guts out in the emotional sense (and possibly the literal one too).

I'm not saying this is a bad thing (albeit I prefer Laphroaig which is better tasting and lacks the misty eyed stuff; what do you expect? It's made by Scots who only want you to like it enough to hand over your cash, which is a good way of ensuring a better taste).

Still, we need myths and I should prefer them to be in liquid form rather than in the more troubling forms in which nations, cultures and histories have been been too often packaged. It's easier to sober up eventually, just so long as you always remember the danger of
looking for a genius loci – a spirit of the place – is that you'll start seeing things that you wish had been there.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

View from Grand Parade, Cork

You may wish to take this as a symbol of the state of the Irish economy.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

There's always someone, somewhere with a big nose who knows

For some reason the Telegraph website decided to mark Morrissey's 50th birthday with a piece that includes the following howlers.

Dr Gavin Hopps of St Andrew's University said the former lead singer of the band The Smiths was not truly appreciated for his literary abilities, despite his fame.

Best known for such songs as 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' and 'Kill the DJ', Morrissey was actually a "bookish" singer-songwriter and a fan of Oscar Wilde, said Dr Hopps.

I could make an obvious and rather boring point about why its a good idea to get people to edit things before they are published; I might even add in passing that Smiths fans are one of those groups that will turn on you if you display a less than reverential - and accurate - attitude towards the object of their affection.

But let me make a more subtle and interesting point. The type of journalist who would be concerned with getting the title of Smiths songs right would be the type to end up as a sub (or actual) editor, of course. However - in my experience - this sort would also be far more likely to be someone who likes The Smiths.

I do not think the media would be improved by getting rid of people who like The Smiths. That it is all.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

There's a reason why there are so many Kerry jokes

LinkOff to Ireland for a few days tomorrow. In the interim, here is a superb story from over there.

A man recently voted the most romantic in Ireland had been suffering from “severe strain” when he followed young women and committed lewd acts two years ago, the Galway District Court heard this week.

Celebrations were in full swing for Aidan Clifford and his fiancee last month when they won a prize of €46,000 after Ireland’s Wedding Journal voted them the most romantic couple in the country. However the champagne bubbles quickly fizzled out when it was revealed that Clifford had been involved in indecent acts.

The 29-year-old who is a native of 10 Ballyoughtragh Heights, Milltown, Kerry, but who now lives and works in Co Clare, had first appeared before Galway District Court in May 2008 where he pleaded guilty to masturbating in such a way as to offend the modesty of the community at Williamgate Street, Galway, on March 20, 2007, and again at Eyre Street, Galway, on July 26, 2007.

The court had heard at the time that Clifford used to work in Co Clare and would come to Galway on his days off, follow women in his car, and masturbate in view of them. The case was adjourned for a year by Judge Mary Fahy for a Garda Behaviour Report and to ensure that he attends therapy.

Remember: in Ireland a gay is someone who prefers women to drink, so I don't think the competition was especially fierce.

(Hat tip: Locker)


Lincolnshire, so much to answer for

Baroness Thatcher's home county is a rather strange and sinister place: the flatness, the ditches on the roadside that seem to have the express purposes of drawing in motorists who have become hypnotised by the monotonous landscape so that the in-bred locals can slit their throats and take their valuables. You might see it as Wales without the redeeming features.

But when you consider its politicians an Irish friend of mine suggested an even better comparison: the Tipperary of England. It is perhaps not entirely a coincidence that the most shameful examples of troughing MPs have come from Lincolnshire.

Viscount Hailsham, aka Douglas Hogg, aka the man with the moat seems determined to destroy his own career in a manner designed to make David Cameron look good in comparison.

Then there are his Labour counterparts, foremost among them Elliot Morley, who will spend the rest of life longing for obscurity after claiming for the mortgage that never was - oh while renting out his other home to a fellow Lincolnshire Labour MP.

Another representative of that country is Austin Mitchell, a man whom no one has taken seriously since about 1979. Even the Commons Fees Office questioned some of his claims. At least, he doesn't appear to have done anything too outrageous and, to give the man his due, his response to the Telegraph is far more enjoyable that the standard "it was all within the rules" shtick.

However, this is also the county that sent to Parliament Quentin Davis, the man who was once prosecuted for cruelty to sheep and who - in possibly the gravest misjudgment since Paris whispered in Helen's ear "come over the weekend, no one will miss you" - decided to leave the Tories to join Labour because of his admiration for Gordon Brown's "sound judgment" and "great competence".

Going back further, this was also the county that sent the young Jeffrey Archer to Parliament.

What the hell is wrong with the place? Great cheese, though.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Waiting for the Balls to drop

Politically there's very little to comment on at the moment. While we wait for Gordon Brown to be put out of our misery, it's becoming dull to point out how Majorishly hapless he is.

(For all that, this is pure cones hotline stuff; if I were planning to rob a bank - or some such crime - I'd make damned sure my accomplices were busy getting the cops to walk them home. On the other hand it might be a master stroke; think of all the lonely women or homosexuals who would love to be escorted home by a chap in uniform.)

As for MPs' expenses, there is nothing to be said that it is not a statement of the crashingly obvious: nothing can really top the comic perfection of claiming to get one's moat cleaned. It will be interesting to see what venality remains: the married couples have yet to been gone over. Until such time, may I urge you to consider this iron rule of politics:

If two Members of Parliament are married to each other, they will embody the most unspeakably ghastly aspects of their party.


Could everyone shut about Twitter now please?

A few weeks ago I remember saying (this was in real life, there's no mention of it on the blog) that it was only a matter of time before some cretin tried to rewrite Ulysses via Twitter (possibly as life on Bloomsday). Sure enough:

"Maybe we are only just beginning to appreciate the potential of Twitter as an art form," he said.

[Tim] Collins, whose The Little Book of Twitter is published this week, said it was ironic that the novel he had most trouble shortening was Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce, which is written in a stream-of-consciousness style that has much in common with many Twitter updates.

Some examples:


jamesjoyce: Man walks around Dublin. We follow every minute detail of his day. He’s probably overtweeting.

How stunningly banal. In a way, though, it's quite an achievement to miss the point of both Twitter and literature. Of the two I far prefer the latter - obviously - whereas the former seems to have passed its high watermark. Not that I object to the idea of laconic literary summaries - some of you may remember my six-word game. The point is that it's a fun parlour game that tells about the reader and how they perceive a book. And to try and condense everything into an ultra-laconic form, all the damned time, rapidly becomes intolerable.

In the case of Twitter: it's a great example of how just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should. The compulsion to reduce everything, to simplify and to always be instantaneous is going too far. Those who wish to reduce everything to series of tweets are either reducing their own capacity for profound thought, or were incapable of it in the first place.

There has to mental space for longueurs; for slow, considered thought, silence and reflection. You may regard my intermittent silences on this blog as a service in that regard. (You may also regard it as bone idleness, of course, but I like to demonstrate how idleness can be a virtue).

More generally I am coming round to the view that a lot of the contemporary technological fads have passed their high watermark. Far too much stuff out there: far too little worth bothering with. Most of its free, of course, but that's pretty much what its worth. (I include supposedly commercial operations in this; self too of course).

When critics disagree, the blogger is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All blogging is quite useless.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Measuring out life in coffee spoons

Can Gordon Brown's stint at Number 10 be explained entirely through the medium of the poetry of TS Eliot? The Macavity jibe has long been a popular way of describing his habit of vanishing from view when there's rough work to be done and, of course, for many hacks the poems about cats are about the extent of their knowledge of Eliot's work.

But Andrew Grice in the Indie today makes a manful extent at extending this modernist approach to political commentary with a piece on the theme of April as Brown's cruellest month; albeit he - or his editors - resist the obvious and crass course of directly comparing the economy with the waste land itself. Still, it is something of the nature of that poem and its endlessly allusive nature which ensures there is no shortage of passages one could apply to the present day. However, since Eliot's source material itself is so rich, rather than re-echoing Dante, Baudelaire or Petronius, say, I should prefer to quote them directly.

I confess that nothing in the first two strike me as immediately apposite (except perhaps the section in Purgatorio where failed rulers are sent to do penance); but the epigram taken from the Satyricon has some resonance. In political terms Brown is the withered, shrivelled Sybil suspended in a bottle longing for death.

Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβυλλα τί θέλεις; respondebat illa: ἀποθανεῖν θέλω.

But as for Brown and his diminishing band of "loyal" followers (caveat: I would not be surprised were Ed Balls to deliver the final blow to his old mentor - "et tu fatty?"), there is a much more obvious choice of poem: The Hollow Men.
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Bonus random and entirely irrelevant fact: as part of his final exams at Oxford WH Auden was asked to write about one contemporary poet. He chose TS Eliot. Unfortunately for Auden none of the dons were familiar with Eliot's work; and when one of them spotted that his name was an anagram of "toilets" they concluded it was some undergraduate prank. Auden received a third.

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