Book Sixty Six

Book Sixty Six 2014:

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell

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See this is the sort of book that immediately grabs my attention. It’s not in any way post-apocalypse fiction (and I read a lot of that) but instead a genuine, serious assessment of what the human race would have to do to restart everything from scratch (growing crops, fabrication chemicals, making metals) in the eventuality of the very worse happening.

I love what he’s done by first picking the Armageddon that he can work with (a pandemic that kills off 99% of humanity instead of a nuclear war or asteroid strike, thanks for asking) and then reminding us that while all of humanity’s expertise is scattered here and there it’s mostly in specialist texts that are understood by specialists themselves (99% of whom are now, of course, dead!)

We’d need a book, one book, to get us back on our feet.

My only criticism is a stupid one, it’s that The Knowledge gets very technical in places in describing the processes the small band of survivors would need to use to get back on their feet! In doing exactly what it sets out to do it made me skim a little.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t make this a thought-provoking and head-tilting exercise and one that I’d recommend if you have any interest in how things are made, how processes work and what bands of people would need to get cracking with in the eventuality of disaster.

It also at least partially inspired THIS.

A Few Beers…

Look, it’s just been a while since I stuck one of these up, right? All of the ones below have been tried and are worth your time.

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As for the below, I did warn you just how good White Hag’s beers were at the recent Craft Beer Festival, save to say that a few weeks ago we ended up in L. Mulligan and this is a *dangerously* driinkable beer. Waaaaay too drinkable.

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I was also on holliers recently, tried all of the below and they are incredible in places. SOme are available in Ireland but the 3 Monts is around €7.50 here – it was a little over €2.50 in the local supermarket where I was. The tax on alcohol in Ireland…

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Then finally there’s this. I raved about the Mikeller Bar in San Francisco recently too. Little did I realise you can get bottled here. Found this in Donnybrook Fair and it’s lovely if very pricey, sadly…

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Insider Magazine – The One Where I Question If I Have Any Skills

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Billy Bragg had a brilliant new album out this year called Tooth And Nail; in case you missed it. It’s not like his earlier, angry “New England” stuff, it’s the gentler almost country ramblings of a man in middle age. Still with loads of furious political thought, mind. The lyrics of Handyman Blues are lovely…

“I’m never gonna be the handyman around the house my father was / So don’t be asking me to hang a curtain rail for you, because / Screwdriver business just gets me confused / It takes me half an hour to change a fuse.” He follows this on by telling her what he’s good at, writing words and songs, and how his talent is using those to put a roof over their head. It got me thinking.

I’m from a generation many of whom are absolutely shite at the manual skills their parents would have found necessities.  For instance, my dad once built, with some help from men in the family, the kitchen extension to their house which has stood, unchanged, since I was a little kid. I wouldn’t know which way up the bricks went even if you put a gun to my head. Similarly my father-in-law’s never-ending DIY projects around their house involve talents of building, measuring, hammering and wiring which to me  are almost the equivalent of translating a papyrus filled with ancient Sanskrit. To be honest with you I’d probably stand a better chance with the Sanskrit.

To give you a rough idea of my manskills – I can wire a plug. If it still has the little bit of paper on it that tells me what goes where. Once, many years ago, I was dealing with a tricky lamp that had gone dead. I tried checking the bulb, not that, figured out it was the socket the bulb goes in (it was a bit out of shape and needed to be bent). I tried that with a screwdriver and forgot to unplug the lamp first. My best guess is that it was about 20 minutes later I woke up crumpled on the opposite side of the sitting room.

Recently I started reading a great book that might help me be a bit more useful in the practicality department recently. It’s Lewis Dartnell’s “The Knowledge – How To Rebuild Our World From Scratch” and takes the form of a thought experiment about what you’d have to do to reboot civilisation after a pandemic or the like. You know the sort of thing – making chemicals, weaving fabric for clothes, growing crops, agriculture. It’s fascinating stuff even if I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about most of the time.

So what can I really do? What do I bring to the table? What skills do I actually have? I tried asking my wife but she came back with the holy trinity of my talents – I kill spiders, I get stuff off high shelves and I can zip awkward dresses up. There has to be more to what I bring to the world, right? After ten days hard thought here’s what my notebook had.

Making lists – this I am world class at. Or at least I thought I was until I realised I had mislaid the list I’d made about things I was good at. Point taken. Then there’s knowing where to find the latest episodes of major American TV shows on torrent sites – not that I would ever download such a thing because that is illegal, immoral, theft and makes baby Jesus cry. True, I have a bladder like a camel. Wait, do camels never have to pee? If so, that’s me.

One that might be a bit helpful is finding my way around the public transport systems of foreign cities. I’m pretty decent at this one actually; slap me in the middle of wherever with a rudimentary map of how their Underground/Metro/Subway works and I’ve been told I wander with a sure stride like I know what the hell I’m doing. Then, of course, I can talk and I can write – but sure when is stupidity like that ever going to make me a living, eh?

However, now is the time to change. I’m determined to gain a new, useful, real-world skill this year that will stand in my stead and make me a better “man”. Give me more practical skills that will be handy in society. I must get started right after I finish this book I just bought that’s going to help me learn Latin.

(This column originally appeared in Insider Magazine in the Irish Independent)

Book Sixty Five

Book Sixty Five 2014:

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

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First things first – this is the cover of the actual edition I own. It’s from 1946 and is a little thing of beauty I got in a second-hand store in the U.S. a couple of years ago.

Second thing second – I’ve never seen the movie. I know, I feel the hot shame of your disapproving gaze already. To be fair to me it’s one of the few classic movies of the 30s and 40s that I haven’t seen. Didn’t stop me form having Bogart, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet in my head while I read…

I love this. Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Horace McCoy, James M. Cain, I even have a beautiful book of noir short stories of the 20th century edited by the brilliant in the genre James Ellroy (I’ll be reviewing Perfidia, his new one, soon).

The gumshoes are gruff, the villains slimy, the femmes very fatale. This is one of the best of the genre – you should dip your toe in the waters…

Book Sixty Four

Book Sixty Four 2014:

Detroit – An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

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One I picked up in the excellent City Limits bookstore in San Francisco. You know a book is going to be vivid when a man’s frozen legs are found sticking out of a block of ice at the bottom of a lift in a disused factory and it’s shrugged off as nothing new. That it is that way in a major American city is the rub of this thoroughly believable/unbelievable story.

It’s a vivid, gritty, nasty, no holds barred report of a journalist returning to his native Detroit to live and how he sees one of the poorest places in America, how the city fell from its once glorious heights and just how far it has fallen.

Empty rotting factories, corruption in a bankrupt city, firefighters dying in houses set alight for the insurance money, even people setting houses on fire for kicks as it’s cheaper than tickets to a movie.

Bleak, great, and a huge exercise in pulling back the curtain on 21st century America.

Insider Magazine – The One Where I Show You The “That Guy” Game

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This week I have a brand new game for you to play the next time you’re watching telly or a movie. Well, maybe not new, but certainly one only the anal few call their own and one that I’m fairly sure my other half and I play with a passion to put us on the Irish Olympic team if standards ever sufficiently slip to make nonsense like that worthy of the highest accolades in world sport.

Now that I say that, you can win global awards for playing console games, tweeting, and (perish the thought) radio so maybe this old nonsense will have its day sometime in the near future.

It’s the “that guy” game (the term ‘guy’ in this context is like “the lads” or “the gang” in some parts of Ireland and gender nonspecific).

The rules are simple, the scoring non-existent, the rewards merely the internal glow of smug satisfaction at knowing some pointless smidge of pop cultural information that means nothing to almost anyone else (apart from that actor’s family and friends, obviously). This means the game is perfect for me.

To start your training you need to begin noticing the minor players onscreen. Not the stars, not the co-stars, you need to dig much deeper down for a game of this navel-gazing intensity and so full of nit-pickery.

In most movies and episodes of major shows there are appearances by actors who are journeymen. Men and women who are eternally fated to be onscreen for a few minutes or in a fairly minor role and then who disappear off your radar for a few years. Maybe every now and then they’re lucky and get a role over 8 episodes in a middling to big TV series but usually, once you do cave and check out their history, you’ll find a journeyman career of show to show to show to dodgy straight to video flick to the one big thing they were in, to show to show.

Know who Ray Wise is? Victor Garber? Patton Oswalt? How about Kristine Sutherland or Frances Conroy? You probably think you’ve never seen them on TV. IMDB them, you have. They’re the people who play the father, the judge, the quirky fire chief or the patient with the mystery illness that gets 20 lines and a bit of screen time. They’ve all been at one time or another in their lives “that guy”.

Usually, they remain “that guy” for the rest of their careers; once in a while they become “the guy”. The ultimate one in my mind is Samuel L. Jackson. For years before he was Nick Fury, Mace Windu and in every Tarantino movie he lurked around in Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Patriot Games, Goodfellas and finally in Jurassic Park (he’s the tech guy with the cigarette dangling from his lips trying to get the park online again, remember?) Pulp Fiction finally made him “the guy”. Kevin Spacey too. He was in The Equalizer, Working Girl, Heartburn, L.A. Law and in the most minor of roles (he’s the office manager) in Glengarry Glen Ross before The Usual Suspects, Se7en and A Time To Kill came out within 18 months of each other and made him “the guy” too.

Few make the crossover in TV though. In recent years there’s been Kate Mara from House of Cards, Clark Gregg from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the wonderful case of Eric Stonestreet. He’s the brilliant Cameron in America’s most successful comedy series of the 2010s – Modern Family. Scan back though and you’ve probably seen him in one or two episodes each of Bones, Dharma & Greg, Malcolm In The Middle, ER, Nip/Tuck and even The West Wing before he hit the big time.

Back to the rules. The “that guy” game is played usually on Saturday night on your sofa with a beer or glass of wine in hand (helps the thought processes and recall). You stick on a movie or any long running TV series (House, The Good Wife, Criminal Minds, Boston Legal, even any of the 23 CSI shows will do at a pinch) and just wait. First one to spot one says “hey, it’s that guy!” and whoever gets the name right first gets a self-satisfied look on their face and, frankly, little else. You get half a look if you can only remember the name of a previous character they played. The further on in the evening’s imbibement the more entertaining the whole process becomes.

The only real sub-rule in all of this is that you can’t go IMDBing every suspect straight away. If you did you’d never get anything watched in that case and you’d never know the ‘World Cup Final goal scoringness’ of shouting out after 20 minutes of brain hard-drive searching “of course, it’s Denis O’Hare! He was that judge in Boston Legal!” when you’re watching American Horror Story.

Look, I know it’s not for everyone and takes years of being obsessed with the minor performances of certain actors in series you probably didn’t see who were around for a while once in Buffy but when it comes to Olympic sports it’s the closest I’m going to get to a gold. Well, a silver. My wife beats me every time.

(This column originally appeared in Insider Magazine in the Irish Independent)

The Irish Craft Beer Festival 2014

What a genuinely brilliant night.

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I’ll be honest, before I went to my first Irish Craft Beer Festival in the RDS last Saturday night I had a tiny inkling that it might resemble Temple Bar and thus be very, very not for me.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nice people, nice chats, music, laughs, loads of decent food and some incredible beers.

Next year again, lads?

I decided to take pics of each beer I sampled, remember each was a 250ml glass :-)

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And then there was White Hag… I was grabbed (in the nicest possible way!) by Bob and asked if I wanted to do a tasting panel. Tried all the below; they are genuinely exceptional beers from the top drawer.

Guys, the Fleadh Red IPA in bottles.

Please.

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I’m such a lightweight that after 2 hours my switch went off in my head and I was gone. My apologies to everyone else I didn’t get around to (including some breweries whose output I love!)

One of the best Saturday nights of the year…