Great TV: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Repost: Recently browsing through my obscene DVD collection (I mean in size, not in content) I was reminded of the fact recently that if I never bought another

Sherlock Holmes BrettDVD again I would not be too troubled. I was also reminded that I have some treasures that I have not watched in ages that are such a treat. Granada Television’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” is one such gem.

It’s available on DVD, and stars the late Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke and Edward Hardwicke respectively as Watson.

Just as every generation has its James Bond, Batman and Doctor Who, for my generation, growing up in the 1980s, Jeremy Brett WAS Sherlock Holmes, and for two words: Pure Quality.

The period details are great, including an entire life-size Baker Street set. It’s mainly true to the original Conan Doyle stories, but the real meat is in the performances of Brett and his two co-stars.

Brett, who suffered terrible psychological illnesses later in life and died at a mere 61, is just stunning as Holmes, creating an eccentric, captivating character around the framework created by Conan Doyle. Every scene with him leaves you unable to take your eyes off him, with every twitch and flamboyant hand gesture and flinging of himself onto the floor of grand country houses looking for clues adding to the character’s depth.

Both Burke and Hardwicke could easily have been blown off the screen given Brett’s performance, but both instead create a calming, grounding and very human foil to Brett, leaving the viewer with a very clear understanding that Holmes could not be Holmes without Watson, who although is not his intellectual equal, brings to the table human skills that Holmes does not possess, in particular Watson’s skills with women, a fearless willingness to get physical if necessary, and simple human decency. Burke and Hardwicke are pretty much responsible for the repairing of Watson’s reputation after Nigel Bruce’s bumbling fool during the Basil Rathbone years. Today it’s normal to see Watson as equal if differently skilled to Holmes thanks to both men. It was easy to believe Holmes and Watson were genuine friends.

The series was made over a ten year period beginning in 1984. An absolute cracker of a gift for someone.

Thank God for the Americans.

“Americans! They’re all thick!” is a common remark in Irish circles after the latest eye-rolling piece of news that comes from stateside. It’s not unique to the Irish either: the rest of the world has no shortage of superior notions on hearing the latest from President Trump or the millions of gun-toting paranoiacs who voted for him. It’s very easy to feel smarter than the Average American.

And yet: here’s the thing. The United States is not just another country. It is a country so powerful that it can supply Ukraine with enough weapons to paralyse its former superpower rival whilst utilising a mere 5% of its defence budget. And not just any old weapons either. Advanced missile systems that allow a single infantryman to destroy a Russian tank worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. HIMARS missile systems which allow Ukraine to devastate Russian forces. US satellites that provide incredibly accurate information on enemy forces to Ukraine. Sure, the UK and France and Germany are contributing in their own ways, but the reality is this: Ukraine is not defeated because the United States stepped in and equipped a brave but shockingly underequipped Ukrainian army with the arsenal of democracy. The US saved Ukraine.

Not only that, but the US also maintains a vast nuclear arsenal and air force and 12 aircraft carriers where the nearest rival has two. Could it suddenly fight China if it had to? Probably. It would almost certainly require the US economy to shift from its current consumer footing to a military manufacturing mode, but it could do that, and what’s more, that’s when, the US really shines.

People forget what defeated both Nazism and the Empire of Japan. Yes, British and especially Russian blood sacrifice, but what did it was the incomprehensible heft of sheer American economic power. It was American steel and Studebaker trucks that kept the Soviets in the fight.

If a giant asteroid was detected to be on an impact course with Earth, who would we all turn to? Beijing? Brussels? London? No. Even if the EU got 20 year notice that a giant meteorite was going to destroy, say, Poland, we’d still not get our act together. Once again, we’d assume that only one country would have the mix of resources, know-how and sheer willpower to actually save humanity. And after they did it, we’d bitch about their arrogance and lack of consultation.

Can we rely on them forever? Probably not. The US feels like it is turning in on itself, and not just on its right. If there was, say, an Ocasio-Cortez led liberal landslide, there’d be a huge focus on building a massively expanded (and expensive) US welfare state with an American NHS at its core.

As if that is depressing enough, just remember that there is only one country with a sniff at matching US power, and it is a brutal one party dictatorship that uses tanks against its own people.

As for Europe: we can’t even agree on a single currency.

 

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The man who never experienced the Celtic Tiger.

Celtic Tiger? Maybe up in Dublin Four, but not around here, he announces. No, we went from the recession in the 1980s to now, and nothing has changed around here. Nothing! You point at the new motorways sweeping past him and off into the horizon. Sure that would have happened anyway! He declares, believing that motorways are some sort of natural phenomenon like turf or dandelions sprouting in a field.

What about your state pension? €253 a week. Sure it’s only €160 in the UK. Exactly! He shouts. Only €253! How am I supposed to afford SkyPlus on that sort of money? And look at the car I’m driving! That’s over four years old! It’s like living in the dark hole of Calcutta!  No one around here got anything off the government or the so-called Celtic Tiger.

And the health service? I know a fella who did his back in picking up his cheque from the Department of Aghriculture. Bet he gets no compensation for that. No, the rich get richer and the poor working man struggles for a bare crust. Now, have to go and pick up me rent from them students I rented me section 23 flat to.

Be seeing you!

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Party Loyalist.

Repost: You can hear him in a quiet room, mouth hanging open, air rushing in and out as his dull eyes stare blankly into an imaginary distance. Occasionally, the waft of stale urine will emanate from him. For him, the party is everything, and the affixation or removal of party membership decides his opinion on a person. A party man can do no wrong, and a non-party man can do no right.

The truth is that the party, with its open-to-all-with-a-pulse policy, has provided a social structure to him that exists nowhere else in his life. A two line notice of a cumann meeting is carefully scrutinised a dozen times and then placed on the carefully dusted mantelpiece over the fire where his mother knows not to touch it. Everyday, he takes it down to read again, to just make sure that he has the date and time and location correct, even though all three are the same every month.

He will be at the meeting at least 45 minutes early, with a Club Orange in front of him bought with the €10 his mother gave him, and will twist in the seat every time the door opens to see if a party member is coming in. Continue reading

The (Revised) Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Inoffensive Dynasty TD.

Handsome in a bland kind of way, he resembles a male model wearing drip dry shirts in a safety wear catalogue. He was never interested in politics, but everyone knew the old man and it was just assumed, and sure enough, when the father moved on, the party moved in. It was the wife who made the decision, and runs the campaign, and, let’s be honest, has the political brain, and should really be the candidate, but she didn’t have the pedigree, and in this party, pedigree is everything.

He was comfortably elected first time out, and the wife and his father’s old secretary keep the constituency ticking and a life in his father’s shadow allows his brain to pump out trite, harmless nonsense at the drop of a microphone. He has earnestly declared that he passionately believes in a “world class health service” and “protecting the weakest in our society.” as well as, one assumes, gravity, the North Atlantic, and the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun.

He was asked once as to whether he was ideologically more disposed towards higher taxation or alternatively, spending cuts, and he’d had to lie down in a dark room for a week.

Given his absolute blandness, one wonders as to whether there actually is any real passion behind those dull eyes. It is, of course, quite possible that he pays to be dressed up in tights, suspenders and a bra, tied to a rocking horse and spanked by a woman dressed as an SS Gauleiter, but it’s very unlikely. He’d need an imagination to do that.

In recent times he’s got all sorts of people roaring at him about cutbacks and the like, and he doesn’t know why they’re all shouting at him? He’s just trying to run a small family business. But he’s sure of one thing: There should be some sort of elected body to run the country and represent people and make rational decisions about this stuff. He might even write a letter to the papers about it.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The Unknown Senator.

The Seanad: A deeply respected institution, especially by those in it or aspiring to be in it.It’s the title that gets him first, especially when he sees it on his passport for the first time. Senator! He can’t help but see himself in the great senatorial pantheon. Hello Senator Kennedy! Good to see you Senator McCain! That and the fact that he’s just fought the scruffiest, dirtiest, filthiest election this side of Palermo City Council, and somehow managed to scrape through on the 47th count with 1/47 of a preference electing him. For just one moment, he imagines himself going into oratorical battle on the floor of the house, in defence of The Republic.

Of course, once the elation dies down, reality comes roaring back in. Joe Public not only hasn’t a clue, but thinks he’s trying to sell him double glazing. And the party expects him to run for the Dail next time, which all looked great when they were talking nominations but now seems a bit stressful.

He thinks that after driving up and down every boreen in the country speaking to the greatest assembly of pathological liars ever assembled by Man he can now take it easy. Then he tries to have his tea in the members restaurant, and watches as the old hands practically stampede the door every time a county councillor darkens the door. Three weeks in he’s throwing his chocolate digestive over his shoulder as he runs for the restaurant door. He’s pretty sure that he’s just recognised a county councillor for Borris-in-Ossory. Either that or your man is just a fella delivering photocopying paper, but he can’t take the risk. His nerves won’t let him.

Great Movies You Should See: Seven Days in May.

seven days in may

“Seven Days in May” was made in 1963 and stars Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in a story about a plot to overthrow the President of the United States. Lancaster plays a Curtis LeMay type figure who is appalled at the plans of the President (Played by Frederic March) to sign a deeply unpopular peace treaty with Russia. The movie is based on a book written by a journalist who, having interviewed a number of senior Pentagon figures, came to believe it was a viable proposition. Interestingly, President Kennedy (Who had removed a rightwing general, Edwin A. Walker, for openly advocating far-right policies whilst a serving officer) supported the making of the film, permitting filming outside the White House, a courtesy the Pentagon refused to extend to the filmakers.

What makes the movie, as in so many great motion pictures, is the moral greyness. Lancaster’s general has no doubts about the rightness of his cause, and indeed has the support of the public, whilst Douglas, who agrees with the general’s analysis of the treaty, nevertheless remains loyal to the constitution. An Oval Office confrontation between the president and the general is a high point of the movie, putting all the issues bluntly on the table, and unlike so many modern stories, it paints Lancaster, the nominal baddy, as a man whose patriotism even the president accepts. Both men are patriots, but fundamentally disagree as to the policy which will secure peace.

Well worth a watch.

Short Story: “Your call is important to us”.

“Your call is important to us.”

A multi-millionaire CEO wakes up inside a glass box.

He woke up on the floor of what seemed to be some sort of reinforced glass box in the middle of an otherwise empty warehouse. He was still in the expensive suit he had been wearing in the restaurant, and recalled washing his hands in the bathroom just before feeling a needle in the back and then blackness.

Someone had loosened his tie, but left him unmolested. His wallet was there, but his keys and his phone were gone. This was obviously, he thought to himself, some form of kidnapping. Hardly surprising given who he was.

He pressed against the glass. He knew something about armoured materials. His panic room at home was made of them. The glass was solid, thick but clear with a slight green tinge and held in place with a heavy metal frame. Any attempt to break the glass would break his foot faster than the glass.

The whitewashed wall of the warehouse was bare on all four sides.

No, wait, it wasn’t. On the wall nearest the box, in large clear black letters, was an address. It even had an Eircode number. Above it, in equally large letters it said “You are here.”

Was this a joke? Some sort of trick? Some sort of mind game?

He then noticed some sort of device attached to the glass on the outside. It was a vent, with a digital display, and it said “Minutes of oxygen left”.

That made his chest tighten, because it suggested that the box was airtight. He looked around, and it did look sealed. The vent was outside holes cut into the glass. 

He then noticed there was also a smart phone attached to the outside of the box. There were a number of holes cut into the glass which allowed his finger to reach the green dial button on the phone.

He hesitated. Was it some kind of trap? A bomb? Not that he could see any other option.

He took a breath and pressed the button.

The phone lit up.

A number flashed on the screen.

He knew that number. Of course he did. It was the customer service number of the company he was chief executive of.

“You’re through to TryinAer. For customer service, press one. For reservations, press two.”

The digital display beeped and came to life, as did a noise from the vent. It was sucking out air, and the display started counting down from thirty minutes.

“No!” he cried, and tried to block the vent with his two hands, but the vent was just slightly two big and he could hear the air sucking. It was like the vent had been designed to be just slightly too big.

“You’re through to TryinAer. For Customer Service, press one. For reservations, press two.”  

He looked at the display counting down, and then abandoned the vent and went to the phone. He pressed one.

“Thank you for calling TryinAer customer service. Your call is important to us. To deal with an existing flight, press one. To deal with a new flight, press two. For other queries press three.”

He pressed three.

“You can resolve many of your queries by trying the TryinAer website at www.YourTryin.com or waiting online to speak to a customer service agent. To speak to a customer service agent press one.”

He pressed one.

The display was now at 22 minutes.

“Thank you for selecting customer service agent. Did you know that you can find details on frequent customers queries on www.YourTryin.com? You’re currently 37 in the queue.”

“What? Answer the fucking phone!” he shouted at the phone.

The clock was now at 19 minutes.

He tried to block the vent again, this time with the silk lining in his jacket.

“Thank you for calling TryinAir. Your call is important to us. You are number 29 in the queue.”

16 minutes.

“Did you know that you can find details….”

“Yes, yes, I fucking know! I fucking know!” he shouted at the phone, then stopped.

Did he just see?

He stared at the digital clock. 

Did it just speed up when he spoke?

“Hello?” he asked, and the clock jumped forward three seconds.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” he exclaimed, knocking ten seconds off the clock. 

 “Thank you for calling TryinAir. Your call is important to us. You are number 20 in the queue.”

 The phone then beeped.

He looked at it. 

A low battery warning.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he screamed, before slapping his hand over his mouth as another 15 seconds vanished. 

“Did you know that you can find details…”

He was finding the air getting heavy, and sat down in the corner. Remain calm, say nothing, preserve as much oxygen as possible. 

 “Thank you for calling TryinAir. Your call is important to us. You are number 9 in the queue.”

He closed his eyes.

The phone beeped again. The battery warning again.

“Hello, you’re through to TryinAir customer service. Jackie speaking. Can I have your booking reference please?”

He jumped up.

“Jackie, thank God. Jackie, this is Trevor O’Reilly. I need you to call the guards and give them the following address, and probably put a trace on this call too just in case it’s false.”

“Can I have your booking reference number please?”

“This is Trevor O’Reilly, I’m your boss, I need you to listen.”

Eight minutes.

“Mr O’Reilly, my boss is Josh. Now, if you give me your booking reference…”

“Are you stupid? This is Trevor O’Reilly!”

“Sir, I’ll thank you not to take that abusive tone with me. TryinAir does not tolerate…”

“Shut up! Shut up! Just listen!”

“Sir, Mr O’Reilly himself told us in a video to never believe all the people who ring us daily pretending to be him. To be honest, I can’t imagine what kick you get from it! We have a clear TryinAir procedure to follow and if I don’t I lose my bonus for wasting the company’s valuable time.You have a Tryin Day. Good bye.”

“No wait!”

The phone clicked dead, just as the digital countdown reached zero.

He was now gulping trying to breed, and felt the darkness closing in around him.

The door clicked, hissed, and swung open.

A rush of cold fresh air pumped in through the vent.

He felt the blackness fall away as the clean air filled his lungs. 

Just outside the door, a mobile phone, his mobile phone, was vibrating with hundreds of Twitter and message alerts. As he caught his breath it was only then he noticed the tiny digital camera in the ceiling of the box. 

What if…President Trump was convicted and jailed?

President Donald J. Trump

It had been the selection of a jury that had taken so much time. Trying to find twelve jurors plus substitutes who did not have a strong opinion on the former President of the United States took months, because even those who claimed little interest in politics were found to have made some political comment on social media at one time or another. The Trump legal team, funded at huge expense by the Republican National Committee, had even objected to the idea of registered Democrats being on the jury, and the federal prosecutor was not enamored with registered Republicans serving either. The judge, on the point of desperation, proposed a compromise: Each side could submit 20 names, and he would pick, at random, 20 names from a hat. Both sides objected, but he ruled, and told them that if either side refused to submit their 20 names from the available jury pool he would pick names at random to fill that side’s quota. Both sides informed the judge that they would be appealing his decision, which he told them was their right, and set a date for the trial.

Continue reading

What if…Ireland became a fascist state?

The shots which rang out had been expected. The sound of the execution of the leaders of Sinn Fein, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Labour Party echoed out across the courtyard of Dublin Castle, a confirmation that the National Order government was serious. The firing squad had been made up of members of the Celtic Guard, the party’s uniformed paramilitary wing, as they had not trusted the remnants of the Garda and the Defence Forces to carry out what was a political act.

Ireland had not been the only country that descended into extremism after the great economic collapse of 2030, triggered by the electromagnetic pulse terrorist attacks in New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Hong Kong which had crippled the global economy and brought such chaos. The Second American Civil War was in its third stalemated year. Great England’s Lord Protector ruled over that nation and its dominions with an iron fist. The communist regimes in France and Italy squared up against the AfD government in Germany. China continued to struggle after Taiwan’s surprise nuclear attack just when it looked like the invasion of Taiwan was about to succeed after months of fighting.

As with so many other places, it had been a well-resourced and charismatic figure, Sean Connolly, who had led the far right to victory. The collapse of the global trade system had overnight turned the Irish economy into a pale shadow of itself, with the establishment parties rotating in a series of elections leading to rapid collapse as each new government failed to confront the reality that the Ireland of the early 21st century was gone.

Continue reading