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The aqueous Hannigan Undertow

Saturday, 4 February, 2017 0 Comments

The word “undertow” is used usually when talking about the rip current that drags unwary swimmers away to their doom. More generally, undertow describes an underlying emotion that leaves a particular impression. Example: “There’s a dark undertow of rage in the tweets of those in denial about the recent election result.”

Genesis recorded a song titled Undertow as did Kim Carnes, Leonard Cohen, Suzanne Vega, Pet Shop Boys and R.E.M. Now comes Irish singer Lisa Hannigan with her own aqueous Undertow from her recent album, At Swim. On Monday night, Lisa Hannigan will play the Festival Antigel in Geneva.


Champagne and a bicycle thanks to John Huston

Friday, 3 February, 2017 3 Comments
Champagne and a bicycle thanks to John Huston

And so we come to the end of a week of postings inspired by the upcoming sale of Luggala, that legendary estate in County Wicklow now on offer from Sotheby’s International Realty for $29 million. At the centre of these recollections has been the fortunes of Claud Cockburn, a charmingly Communist English journalist who made Ireland his home in the late 1940s and then eked out a dicey living with a rugged Underwood typewriter.

All changed, utterly, when he met the Hollywood director John Huston at Luggala and sold the film rights of his novel Beat the Devil. The story of when the cheque for £3,000 arrived was told beautifully by Claud’s late son, Alexander, in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. Snippet:

“After my father had agreed with Huston to take the money up front we travelled to London for a couple of weeks. I remember sitting in a hotel room with my mother and father and their friend Maurice Richardson, waiting for the cheque to arrive. I don’t think we could go out until it did. There was a call from downstairs and in came a waiter with an envelope on a tray. There was silence as my father opened it and then volleys of cheers as they danced about passing the cheque from hand to hand and shouting for champagne. I was ten and not interested in champagne.
‘Does this mean I can have a new bicycle?’ I shouted up.
‘Yes, yes,’ they beamed down. ‘Of course you can have a new bicycle.'”

UPDATE: “The Guinness trust behind the sale of the €28 million Luggala Estate in Co Wicklow has indicated it will consider offers for the 5,000-acre property that will allow custodian Garech Browne to live there for three months annually.”

Luggala


Claud Cockburn’s Cork literary colony

Thursday, 2 February, 2017 0 Comments
Claud Cockburn’s Cork literary colony

At the height of the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia and in it he accused Claud Cockburn of being under the control of the Communist Party. Was the star journalist a Stalinist? The debate raged through the 1940s and when it became uncomfortable the suspected “Red” moved his family from England to Ireland and the Cockburns set up home in Youghal, County Cork, in 1947.

With a household to maintain and a dodgy reputation to contend with, Claud needed to be agile and he was. He created his own “literary colony” and proceeded to type a constant but uneven income stream under a variety of names. In his memoirs, he recalls a visitor to Youghal describing the hive of creative industry thus:

“He claimed to have met Frank Pitcairn, ex-correspondent of the Daily Worker — a grouchy, disillusioned type secretly itching to dash out and describe a barricade. There was Claud Cockburn, founder and editor of The Week, talkative, boastful of past achievements, and apt, at the drop of a hat, to tell, at length, the inside story of some forgotten diplomatic crisis of the 1930s. Patrick Cork would look in — a brash little number, and something of a professional Irishman, seeking, no doubt, to live up to his name. James Helvick lived in and on the establishment, claiming that he needed quiet and plenty of good food and drink to enable him to finish a play and a novel which would soon bring enough money to repay all costs. In the background, despised by the others as a mere commercial hack, Kenneth Drew hammered away at the articles which supplied the necessities of the colony’s life.”

And it was James Helvick who helped the family win the lottery, as it were, with the novel Beat the Devil. Helvick, aka Cockburn, met John Huston in Luggala and sold the film rights to the Hollywood director and this advancement from penury to prosperity is recalled by Claude’s late son, Alexander, in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. As we’ve been pointing out here this week, Luggala, the outstanding 18th-century Irish house and estate in County Wicklow, is now being offered for sale by Sotheby’s International Realty for $29 million.

What did Helvick/Cockburn do with the fat film cheque when it eventually arrived in Youghal via Luggala and Hollywood? Champagne and a bicycle were involved, as we’ll find out tomorrow.

Luggala


When Hollywood came to Cork

Wednesday, 1 February, 2017 0 Comments
When Hollywood came to Cork

On Monday and yesterday here, our topic was the impending sale of Luggala, the beautiful 18th-century Irish house in County Wicklow. Sotheby’s International Realty want $29 million for the estate, an incomprehensible sum for many people today and an unfathomable amount for the creative types who once found refuge in Luggala.

Claud Cockburn was one of these and his Wicklow adventures were recalled by his late son, Alexander, in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. Claude, author of Beat the Devil, met John Huston in Luggala and made a pitch for the novel’s screen potential. The Hollywood director was impressed and soon afterwards he made his way to Youghal, the ailing port on the Cork coast, where the Cockburns lived precariously:

“By the time Huston and his wife came down to Youghal to talk more about the screenplay he couldn’t read Beat the Devil on the phone, not ours at least, because it had been cut off for non-payment of bills. Telegrams shuttled back and forth between Youghal and Hollywood and finally the offer came: £3,000 for rights and screenplay, or a lesser sum up front, against a greater, but as yet insubstantial reward — the famous ‘points’ — in the distant future. My father naturally took the lump sum on the barrel, used some of it to plug the roof and appease the bailiffs and then went to work with Huston on the screenplay.

The film had a sumptuous cast: Bogart, Peter Lorrie, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Robert Morley. When it finally got to Youghal there was a great to-do in the form of a grand screening at Horgan’s Cinema. The people of Youghal, not entirely without reason, found it incomprehensible but applauded heartily, none more so, I imagine, than the bailiffs and other representatives of the commercial sector of the town.”

But there was a fly in the ointment. As the film’s credits rolled, the screenplay was attributed to Truman Capote, “from a novel by James Helvick.” Who was this James Helvick and how was he related to Frank Pitcairn, Patrick Cork, Kenneth Drew and Claud Cockburn? Or were all they the same person? The answers can be found here tomorrow.

Beat the Devil


The acme of extravagance in Wicklow

Tuesday, 31 January, 2017 0 Comments
The acme of extravagance in Wicklow

As we read here yesterday, Luggala, the exquisite 18th-century Irish house located on 5,000 mountainous acres in County Wicklow, is now for sale and the lot can be yours for $29 million says Sotheby’s International Realty. Luggala played a decisive role in the fortunes of the Cockburn family in the mid-1950s as the late journalist Alexander Cockburn recounted in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. His father, Claud, author of the novel Beat the Devil, had found temporary refuge from his creditors at the estate and then Hollywood arrived:

“Quite apart from the simple comfort of not having water on the floor, and bailiffs at the gate, Luggala was a wonderful place to go in the mid-1950s. Writers and artists from Dublin, London Paris and New York drank and sang through the long hectic meals with a similarly dissolute throng of politicians and members-in-good-standing of the café society of the time. And during this particular Horse Show week Luggala was further dignified by the presence of the film director John Huston and his wife of those years, Ricky. My father was a friend of Huston — from his stint in New York in the late 1920s perhaps, or maybe from Spanish Civil War days — and quite apart from the pleasure of reunion there was Beat the Devil, ready and waiting to be converted into a film by the director of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

My father spoke urgently to Huston of the virtues of Beat the Devil, but he found he had given, beneath fulsome dedications, his last two copies to our hostess and to a fellow guest, Terry Gilmartin. These copies were snatched back and thrown into Huston’s departing taxi. A week later, Huston was in Dublin again, shouting the novel’s praises. He and Humphrey Bogart had just completed The African Queen and were awaiting the outcome of that enormous gamble. I can remember Huston calling Bogart in Hollywood and reading substantial portions of the novel to him down the phone — a deed which stayed with me for years as the acme of extravagance.”

Tomorrow, here, Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Jennifer Jones and Robert Morley join the party as it moves from Luggala to Cork.

Luggala


When the Cockburns went to Luggala

Monday, 30 January, 2017 0 Comments
When the Cockburns went to Luggala

“Hidden inside a secluded Irish valley lies Luggala, an exquisite 18th-century house at the centre of an estate comprising of some 5,000 acres.” And for $29,952,931 this can be yours say Sotheby’s International Realty, who don’t spare the adjectives in their blurb: “Luggala is that special brand of eighteenth-century gothick that rejoices in little battlements, crochets, trefoil and quatrefoil windows and ogee mantelpieces, Indeed, quite like the gothick of pastrycooks and Rockingham china.” Good ones those: gothick, crochets, trefoil, ogee.

Anyway, Luggala, with its 27 bedrooms and 18 full baths featured in the hilariously readable Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era by the late Alexander Cockburn. In the chapter titled “Beat the Devil”, he recalls how his father, Claud, author of the novel Beat the Devil, retreated to Luggala to escape his creditors:

Beat the Devil was published at the beginning of the fifties, in England by Boardman and in the US by Lippincott. Both are now defunct, at least as houses publishing trade books. The advance against royalties provided by Boardman was, to my mother’s recollection, somewhere between £200 and £300, and the sum of the American rights was $750. This sort of money, though not as paltry as it now appears, did not long stay the bailiffs and things were looking bad as we went off to stay, for the Dublin Horse Show week, with Oonagh Oranmore at Luggala, her house in the Wicklow mountains.”

Tomorrow, here, how the Hollywood director John Huston, a frequent guest at Luggala, made a dramatic entrance and saved the Cockburns from poverty.

Luggala


Winter reflection

Sunday, 29 January, 2017 0 Comments

“Are the evenings longer where you are?” she asked.
“There’s a brightness between the trees,” I replied.

Winter sky


John Hurt and John Donne

Saturday, 28 January, 2017 0 Comments

The late John Hurt starred in many films but there was something extra-special about his performance in The Hit, a 1984 British road movie directed by Stephen Frears. It also starred Terence Stamp, Tim Roth and Laura del Sol, and the music was by Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and the flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia. In a crucial scene, Terence Stamp quotes from the John Donne sonnet, Death, be not proud: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

John Donne (1572 – 1631)


Life and death in the Gulf Stream

Friday, 27 January, 2017 0 Comments

Life: Crew members of the US Coast Guard cutter Cushing from Atlantic Beach in North Carolina have released 27 “rehabilitated sea turtles” into the Gulf Stream. The turtles had been treated for “cold water shock” they suffered earlier this winter.

Death: Further down the coast, in Key West, Ernest Hemingway created the “Death in the Gulf Stream” cocktail in 1937. Here is how the great man himself mixed it:

“Take a tall thin water tumbler and fill it with finely cracked ice. Lace this broken debris with four good purple splashes of Angostura, add the juice and crushed peel of green lime and fill glass almost full with Holland Gin… no sugar, no fancying. It’s strong it’s bitter, but so is English ale strong and bitter, in many cases. We don’t add sugar to ale, and we don’t need sugar in a Death in the Gulf Stream… Its tartness and its bitterness are its chief charm. It is reviving and refreshing; it cools the blood and inspires renewed interest in food, companions and life.”

Drinks links: Angostura bitters, Holland Gin

This excellent illustration of “Death in The Gulf Stream” by Yoko Ueta is from The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris by Colin Peter Field.

Death in the Gulf Stream


The Google Lunar XPrize: shooting for the moon

Thursday, 26 January, 2017 0 Comments

Ten days after the death of Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, the Google Lunar XPrize has revealed the names of the five teams going forward to the final stage of its competition. To claim the award of $20 million, the winner must launch by 31 December and their lander has to move at least 500 metres across the surface of the moon, and transmit images and high-definition video back to Earth.

The five finalists are:

  • Synergy Moon, an international venture aiming for cost-effective space exploration
  • SpaceIL, a non-profit operation based in Israel
  • Moon Express, a lunar-resources company based in the US
  • Team Indus, a for-profit lunar company from India
  • Hakuto, a Japanese venture operated by ispace, a private lunar exploration company

Notably absent is Part Time Scientists, a team based in Germany that announced it had secured a launch contract last year. And the really big surprise is the nonappearance of the long-time front-runner US-based Astrobotic. It said it was withdrawing because rushing to make the XPrize deadline conflicted with the company’s goal of building a long-term business. Astrobotic hopes to launch its first mission in 2019.

SpaceIL and Team Indus have signed launch deals with the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, respectively, and Hakuto will share the trip with Team Indus. Moon Express and Synergy Moon will launch with Rocket Lab USA and Interorbital Systems.

XPrize


Storytelling the year 2035

Wednesday, 25 January, 2017 0 Comments

Did anyone ask the “experts” 10 or 20 years ago to predict who’d be inaugurated as US President in 2017? We know what the pollsters said on 8 November and we know how that turned out. Still, there’s an insatiable demand for a glimpse of the future, no matter how far-fetched, and there’s a tidy industry devoted to churning out the visions. Consider two new studies: the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” and the Atlantic Council’s “Global Risks 2035: The Search for the New Normal.” Both look at the year 2035.

Each of them offers a somewhat similar views of a world in which the United States is more insular, while China, Russia and Iran have become more aggressive regional powers. Technology continues to innovate but economic growth is uneven. In 2035, people are flooding from the land into megacities of 10 million or more, growing the number of such metropolises from 30 now to 41 in 2030.

For its scenarios, the Atlantic Council presents a variety of fictional situations written in part by August Cole, author of Ghost Fleet, a near-future military thriller published last year about an America-China conflict in the Pacific. Cole drew upon the Atlantic Council’s The Art of the Future Project, which uses fictional depictions of the future “to inform official perspectives on emerging international security issues.” Example: “Fingers on the Scale,” a short story by Mike Matson about an app that allows parents to boost their children’s academic achievements, and which is on the homescreen of all rulers of despotic nations. To prevent nasty countries from developing the intellectual calibre of their elites, however, the CIA steps in to limit the abilities of the despots’ offspring. Langley saves the West again!

The future is always just around the corner, which means lots of people in Washington and Brussels can now make a nice living creating infographics about what might come after the present. August Cole is saying, though, that storytelling can be just as useful as trend-line graphs for forecasting. And, if those don’t satisfy, there are the stars. In the 1980s, the Reagan White House turned to Joan Quigley for astrological advice.

Ghost Fleet