Friday, 14 March 2014

O Captain, My Captain...

Tomorrow evening, at approximately 7:30pm GMT, one of the greatest careers in International Rugby Union will come to an end, as Ireland and Leinster player Brian O'Driscoll finishes his 141st and final international match against France, against whom he played his first Test match in 2000.

On that occasion, at the age of 21, he scored three tries and helped the side to their first win in Paris since 1972. To put things in perspective, if Ireland win tomorrow, it will be their second win in Paris since 1972.

Now, at age 35,having been team captain, four times Lions member, Heineken Cup Winner and 6 Nations Grand Slam Winner, as well as having been acknowledged by his peers as one of the best footballers ever to have worn the Number 13 shirt, O'Driscoll lines out for his final Test, facing the country against whom he posted his debut hat-trick and Ireland's best result in 28 years.


Courtesy of a fan, here's a, shall we say, 'précis' of BOD's career highlights:

Tomorrow I shall be watching with my father, pint of Guinness in hand, as possibly the greatest player of his or my generation takes the field for the final time.

I feel tremendously privileged to have seen him play.

Now if only we could retire George Hook...


(Note: I began, but failed to finish, this post before the events surrounding Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had taken place. I thought about deferring it but felt that the two incidents were sufficiently different in nature that I could proceed with posting.)

Having some time on my hands on Friday last, I went to see Liam Neeson's latest picture, Non-Stop.

For those who may have been off-planet lately (or deep within the Kingdom of the Molemen - they only allow the cinema of Uwe Boll), the story follows troubled US Air Marshal Bill Marks, who, while on a trans-Atlantic flight, receives a message from someone who says he'll kill a passenger every twenty minutes unless his demands are met, namely the transfer of $150 million into a Swiss account.

When the account turns out to be in Marks's name, he's deemed to be a hijacker by authorities, and with  no-one to trust but a passenger (Julianne Moore) and a flight attendant (Michelle Dockery), Marks has to deal with 150 potential suspects if he's to foil the criminal and save the aircraft and passengers.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who gave us the slick Eurothriller Unknown, also starring Neeson, Non-Stop delivers exactly what its name suggests - a suspense-filled thriller in which one is never certain what's a clue and what's a red herring.

Here's a trailer:

One has to suspend a certain amount of disbelief in one or two instances, but the payoff is worth it.

Neeson will return in "Run All Night", a third collaboration* with director Collet-Serra revolving around a retired hitman who's forced into a contract in order to save his family. Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman and Genesis Rodriguez co-star, and it's set for release in 2015.

*but not, it seems, with Joel Silver...

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Read and Reading - The Overflowing Bookshelf...

As I may have mentioned, I'm an avid reader, and am lucky to live within short walking distance of the largest bookstore in Ireland.

Which is probably just as well, given the amount of time and indeed money I spend there, and the often heavy load of material I carry away from the place.

The store is called, appropriately enough, Chapters, and has evolved from a small rented space on Dublin's South Side to its present location, a purpose-built premises on Parnell Street, in the North City Centre.

I mention this because, when on a recent trip to Toronto and in need of something to read, I found a bookstore called, coincidentally enough, Chapters, at the corner of John and Richmond Streets, next to the ScotiaBank Theatre.

I didn't realise at the time that this store was part of a so-called 'big-box' chain; indeed, it gave every bit the impression of being similar to the one in Dublin (albeit with a Starbucks on the premises). It's bright, with helpful staff, and you can have a coffee and read if your feet have been worn out from walking.

I bought three books:

Red Planet Blues, by Robert Sawyer, a neo-noir PI story set on (the name's a giveaway) Mars. The protagonist, Lomax, is Mars' only licensed private investigator, in the domed city of New Klondike where prospectors eke out a living attempting to uncover ancient Martian fossils outside in the wastelands.

Many elect to become Transfers, downloading their consciousness into an android replica (usually enhanced in some manner) that allows them to exist on the Martian surface without the need for an environmental suit. Like Pinocchio in reverse.

The McGuffin in this case is the "mother lode" of fossils discovered years previously by two explorers (but now lost following their untimely demise in a spaceship crash), and which everyone considers the Big Prize. Naturally skulduggery and double-cross abound, and our hero finds himself in one tight situation after another as he uncovers clues that lead him to the solution of who murdered the original explorers.

Originally a novella entitled "Identity Theft", Sawyer expanded the original story to tell a bigger tale, however for me the result was unsatisfying. Too many plot twists, reappearing characters, and changes in motivation made it difficult to warm to.

I made it to the end, but if a sequel appears, I won't be first in line..

Next, by Gordon Pinsent with George Anthony, is the autobiography (if one can say that where there was a collaborative effort) of one of Canada's foremost actors.

I first became aware of Mr. Pinsent when he appeared in the Canadian comedy drama Due South as Sgt. Bob Fraser, RCMP (deceased). Initially only supposed to appear in the pilot, reaction to the character was positive enough that the writers kept him in the show as a ghost, appearing to his son at certain moments to provide guidance or advice, not always useful.

 In Next, Pinsent writes about his life, from early childhood in Newfoundland, touching briefly upon military service before describing the beginnings of his career in acting; first, on the stage, then later on TV, working his way up from walk-ons to speaking parts, etc.

In terms of style it's very much as if he's recounting his anecdotes directly, in a tone that recalls the aforementioned Ghost of the RCMP.

In the course of the book, Pinsent drops enough names to cover a decent-sized living-room floor - the index runs to nineteen pages - but never (well, rarely) with a disparaging word for anyone.

A relaxed, sometimes poignant, but more often witty insight into a life on the boards.

The third and final book was The Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson, the first in his series featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor in the successful A&E TV show) of the fictional Absaroka County, set against the backdrop of Wyoming's High Plains country.

Initially involving the murder of one of four high school seniors acquitted of the rape of a local Cheyenne girl, the story, one of revenge, also serves to introduce the central character, his friends and co-workers and the country in which the stories are set. Indeed, the plains of Wyoming, the Bighorn mountains, Powder River, all are brought to life in the same vivid detail as Spenser's Boston, or the Los Angeles shared by Harry Bosch and Elvis Cole.

In the first book, Walt Longmire is the long-serving sheriff of Absaroka County, facing re-election as he approaches twenty-five years in the job. Widowed three years previously, and with a daughter in Philadelphia, he's still rebuilding his life and contemplating retirement. Friends Henry Standing Bear, a fellow Vietnam veteran; Victoria 'Vic' Moretti, his chief deputy, transplanted from Philadelphia PD, and former Sheriff Lucian Connally, with whom Walt plays chess, make up his core of close friends.

I picked up the book on impulse, having seen the TV series on cable here in Ireland, and was pleased to find it quite similar in tone to Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series, with a light touch that brought to mind Parker's other character, Spenser. That being said, the two are entirely different in style, with Johnson's Longmire a far less introspective soul than either of Mr. Parker's creations.

The Cold Dish is the first of 10 novels in the series, which as yet I have been unable to find on this side of the Atlantic; happily, there's always Amazon, and I'm currently midway through Book Three. The series is a more-than-worthwhile effort, and I encourage anyone interested in crime fiction to give it a try.

And on we go...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

World's Finest...

It was announced this week that none other than Ben Affleck has been chosen to portray Bruce Wayne / Batman in the sequel to this year's Man of Steel.

Now, I don't know about you Fred, but I have to say I like it.

I've always had a regard for Affleck as both actor and director - I thought Argo was excellent, enjoyed his turn as the tortured angel Bartleby in Dogma, and Daredevil really wasn't as bad as people say. I think he'll do okay in the Batcave, but it will be interesting to see how he gets on in his encounter with the Man of Steel.

As to the story, the first meeting of Superman and Batman has always been a confrontation, and for good reason - a man with the power to change the course of mighty rivers and leap tall buildings at a single bound is obviously a potential threat to the world, and after leveling Metropolis in the battle against Zod, Batman will no doubt be looking carefully for weaknesses that he can exploit against Kal-El should it become necessary, if his power should somehow be subverted or he has, as so many of us do, a bad Monday.

And as the tale has been told, the two heroes will come to blows before joining forces against a common enemy and ultimately becoming friends.

This is Warner's chance to do it right; I enjoyed Man of Steel but there was something missing: emotion. Michael Shannon chewed the scenery as Zod, but the other actors were (and I'm going to have to watch it again to be certain) well, reserved is the best word I can think of.

I can understand why Henry Cavill played the role as he did; here's a young man who grew up with strange abilities, who used them for the good of others, and then discovered that he wasn't from Earth. Imagine your parents telling you you're adopted - now imagine them saying you've been adopted by a planet and showing you the ship that brought you here. The sense of displacement must be, well, incredible. So Clark leaves home and walks the Earth, trying to find out more about himself and his powers, helping people where he can before slipping away silently.

Much later, following the defeat of Zod, Clark works to help the people of Metropolis as Superman, a very visible symbol of hope in the city, perhaps reducing former leading citizen Lex Luthor (who we haven't met yet but know he's in the wings, waiting for his cue) to second spot, something he's both unused to and doesn't like.

I see Bruce Wayne going to Metropolis following the Zod incident and using Wayne Industries resources to help rebuild the stricken city. While there, he meets Lex Luthor, perhaps at a business meeting or reception, who expresses his utter distrust of the being known as Superman. Wayne is forced to agree, albeit not for the same reasons as Luthor, whose problem is not that Superman's power is dangerous, but that he seems intent on using it to help people rather than to rule them.

A subsequent plot by Luthor to discredit Superman is initially successful, but ultimately exposed jointly by Superman and Batman, and a friendship is forged. Somewhere in the middle of that, Lois needs rescuing (naturally) but it's Batman who does it. We may see Brainiac.
A good benchmark for the 'World's Finest' teamup was laid down by Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly in the WB animated series and movies - it'll be interesting to see whether the Affleck-Cavill dynamic comes any way close to that.

2015 seems a long way off...

Friday, 19 July 2013

And I Would Have Gotten Away With It...

...If it hadn't been for that meddling Hubble Telescope...

Yep, looks like the secret base has been discovered at last; maybe the cloaking field broke down or something in my absence.

But as far as Earth's concerned, Neptune has a 14th moon, with the somewhat unimaginative designation "S/2004 N 1".

Here it is:

(pic from Wikipedia)

In keeping with tradition, the moon will be given a name from Greek or Roman mythology, one that is in some way related to Neptune/Poseidon, god of the Sea.

Personally, I lean towards the name 'Nemesis' as being nicely appropriate, given that I used the place as a base of operations from which to pursue evildoers in my erstwhile role as a member of the Neptunian Space Patrol (it needs a bit of fixing up, but it's still serviceable, and has good parking).

One of the Oceanids (nice people, good with kids), Nemesis, in Greek mythology was the goddess of divine retribution and implacable justice, albeit with very much her own ideas on punishment fitting the crime.

In today's society, she would probably be a Republican.

In any event, "S/2004 N 1" is now on the map, so if you're in the neighbourhood, drop in and have a look around. The door's unlocked; just don't touch the thing that looks like a giant (transmission failure) - if you wake it up it'll eat you.


Monday, 1 July 2013

A Guy Goes To The Doctor...

The doctor tells him,

"Ooh - that's gonna leave a hell of a scar, haha..."

Nope, didn't sound funny to me either.

But that was very much the tone back in May, when I went to have a rash-like patch of skin on my left shoulder examined by a Dermatologist in the Mater Hospital, Dublin.

I'd had the thing for a while, and thought it nothing more or less than an irritation caused by carrying a backpack over that shoulder, but it wasn't going away and the E45 wasn't helping, so it was off to see the wizard, and my GP sent me for a consultation.

While he was of the opinion it was a basal cell cancer formation, he wanted to be certain, so that was good enough for me.

On the day of the exam I was ushered into a small room by a young doctor who introduced herself as Karen. She took some details and then handed me a paper gown and said I could undress behind the screen.

"What, everything?" I asked, alarmed.

Karen explained that she had to do a surface check for any other signs of the condition. Happily, I was allowed to retain my boxers and a shred of dignity, but you didn't need to know that.

Satisfied there was nothing else of concern, I was allowed put some of my clothes back on while she reported to her department head, who confirmed what my GP had suspected and dropped the opening quote.

Having explained what would be happening (the word 'excision' featuring prominently in the description), I was given an appointment to return on Thursday, June 27th, which I did.


I'd never had a day procedure like this before, but I was surprisingly untroubled by the whole thing - after all, it was just going to be something more or less cosmetic, right?

Accompanied by my Dad, I sat and listened as a doctor explained the procedure and made certain I understood exactly what was going to take place before having me sign a consent form. I must confess to not having read it, since I was becoming more apprehensive the more I learned, but simply signed on the line as directed, before following a nurse to theatre.

I had a short wait in an anteroom while the theatre was prepared, then was ushered in and invited to sit on the table, then recline on my right side. The only person I recognised was Karen, but the doctor who had confirmed her diagnosis was also there, gloved and masked, so I can be forgiven on that count. Two nurses and the consultant who would be performing the procedure were also in attendance, and the whole thing seemed very informal.

Some music played softly in the background, and we got underway with the administration of local anaesthetic.

As we waited for it to take effect, the surgeon asked,

"Have you ever seen the show, "Breaking Bad"?

I never thought I'd laugh on an operating table, but I did then.

He raised an eyebrow. "What's up?"

"You're Number Eight," I told him, then explained, "the eighth unrelated person to ask me that and then tell me that I look like Hank."

He laughed, then explained to the theatre staff what the show was and who the characters were. I confessed that I had yet to see any of the show, but that maybe now that it was on Netflix and I'd have some time on my hands I could catch up with it.

In the meantime, someone pulled up a picture of the character on the OR's PC, and everyone went "Ahh..."

By now, though, the anaesthetic had kicked in, and it was down to business.

I didn't feel a thing.

The surgeon (I never did get his name) kept conversation going, I think as much for my benefit as anything else. I thought it strange that, mid-way during the procedure, one of the nurses asked me to confirm my name address and date of birth, but I found that this was to make sure I wasn't having a reaction to the anaesthetic.

While I couldn't see what was happening (and didn't really want to) I was nonetheless curious; like when you go to the dentist to have a cavity filled and you can't help but probe the tooth after he's drilled it out, but I couldn't do that.

I was able to hear, rather than feel, what was happening - scissors snipping, forceps forcepping (you tell me what the proper adjective is), swabs swabbing (avast!). And at one point I was warned that

"You might hear a crackling sound and smell smoke - that'll be you." Ha ha ha...

But in no more than 35 minutes, the job was done and I was sewn up, cleaned up and sat up on the table. A bit stiff, but still anaesthetised - the pain wouldn't begin for a couple of hours, so I was told to get some paracetamol and have them ready.

I was ushered to a wheelchair, my shoulders draped with a blanket, and wheeled back into the waiting area where my dad sat, reading a book I'd given him earlier. After my nurse had left, he came in to the cubicle where I was dressing and we discussed my instructions for the care and feeding of my wound.
  • Dressing to be changed every 2-3 days;
  • Stitches to come out in 2 weeks;
  • No heavy lifting or stretching for up to six weeks; and last but not least,
  • No golf for 6 months.
 Wasn't happy about the golf, but what can you do?

I need to see my GP again to discuss details and get a medical cert for my employer, but outside of that I won't be moving much for the next week or so.

So I guess for the moment it's Netflix and Breaking Bad for me...