Michael Moynihan: Irving Berlin and the ideas factory

Many thanks to the reader who told me during the week that he ‘admired my anecdotes’.

Michael Moynihan: Irving Berlin and the ideas factory

Many thanks to the reader who told me during the week that he ‘admired my anecdotes’.

I’m only sorry I didn’t respond in my best Kenneth Williams voice, if not nostrils, but l’esprit de l’escalier is a cross we must all bear. If the same man had asked where I got my column ideas from, however, for once I had an answer.

The traditional riposte here is along the lines of the Irving Berlin urban legend: There was a suggestion in the old days that the man credited with White Christmas and many other classics didn’t actually write them, but relied on a couple of musical geniuses he kept chained up in his attic to do the heavy lifting.

I don’t have any such facility to hand, principally because the roof beams are so low in the attic that it would be unfair to expect anyone to compose 1,200 words of sparkling wit up there.

Or even 1,200 words of cliched obviousness.

I do have a notebook that I sometimes scribble column ideas in, though, and after my brief encounter earlier in the week I had a look to see if I could strip-mine some inspiration from it. To my surprise I had some raw materials. Very raw.

Here’s a raw transcript, with my annotations in the brackets following.

Note 1: J. Burrow — hand size low? 9 compare to others 10 and one quarter — hurling/rugby — is Trump NO — but BENCH.

As far as I can make out, this relates to a prospective NFL quarter-back, Joe Burrow, whose hand size is now seen as a potential disadvantage, given some other quarter-backs have hands an inch and a quarter bigger than his. I abandoned this early on as a column idea because a) what could I compare it to, my own micro paws? b) I’d have to measure other people’s hands, which sounds creepy c) most people would ask who Joe Burrow is in the first place. Or Johnny Bench, also mentioned, who could hold seven baseballs in one hand.)

Note 2: WR release on TG: reported? Who? Numbers numbers numbers. Backlash prepared.

This note relates to a press release from World Rugby about a meeting to discuss transgender issues in that sport ‘going forward’, as the saying goes. This area is one which has the potential to detonate in all sports, so my reason for putting it to one side relates to a) one column segment being insufficient to address everything b) the anticipation of a howling mob reacting to anything that’s written.

One for a bigger space, and a later date, preferably the day before a three-week holiday.

Note 3: Butter big Milk Pizza bases x 2 Dark chocolate digestives McVitie’s only HAND SANITISERS X 8 PLUS TOILET ROLL ’24’

Self-explanatory, non-column-related note.

Note 4: handshakes, GG, happy Christmas, corona-corona lurking in background still, foreseeable.

This note relates to the columnist’s nightmare, the decent idea which is overtaken by events. On Monday it struck me that the traditional pre-game meeting of opponents — across most sports — might have to be shelved temporarily, because with the coronavirus ‘lurking in the background,’ the health authorities could try to cut out all unnecessary handshakes. It was a strong possibility until the church banned the sign of peace later in the week. Ah well.

Further clarification: The ‘GG’ refers to the shock revelation this week that some members of a certain GAA club’s U11 side do not say ‘good game’ when shaking hands with opponents after matches but abbreviate the greeting to ‘GG’. The scamps.

Note 5: Congress — smoke filled rooms and backstairs politicking, diary of a Congress naif.

This one was hot on the heels of the banned handshake, based on the fact that the annual GAA Congress has a high recognition factor among sports readers, readers who might appreciate a light-hearted expose of its machinations and masterstrokes.

Then I realised a) I wasn’t going to Congress b) I didn’t want to go to Congress and c) I didn’t want to imagine what the backstairs politicking might actually be like.

Note 6: Ask the two lads in the attic

So I did.

GAA presidents and GAA electorates

Congratulations to Larry McCarthy, the new president of the GAA, who was elected to the position last Friday night.

Your columnist has met Larry in the past — the Cork native was very good company a couple of years ago up in Gaelic Park in the Bronx when I landed in for a chat, freshly jet-lagged from a flight and slightly stunned by getting an Uber to the venue (thanks on that score to John Riordan, once of this parish, for making me feel like a metropolitan millennial; a metrilennial, if you will).

I note a trickle of dissatisfaction in the usual humid swamps and hollows of social media that Jarlath Burns, regarded as the favourite, didn’t ascend to the throne. This seems — to me, anyway — to be based on Burns’ profile and visibility in recent weeks, which far outstripped that of the other candidates, McCarthy included.

It’s probably a lesson too late for Burns’ camp, but more than one observer pointed out to this column that casual consumers of social media are not the electorate which appoints the president of the GAA. That’s not a reflection on those casual consumers either, just a statement of fact.

As for the surprise being expressed by some that Burns didn’t win, remind yourself of the single sharpest illustration of electoral politics ever spoken aloud. When Richard Nixon trounced George McGovern in the 1972 US presidential election, film critic and New York liberal Pauline Kael supposedly said: “How can that be? Nobody I know voted for Nixon.”

Where climate change meets game plan

Perhaps you watched some of Tyrone v Dublin the other evening, a game so wet it induced spontaneous dampness in the clothing of TV viewers all over Ireland.

The half-time row attracted a lot of comment, but the conditions deserve some focus. Not because of their severity, but because teams must now adapt game plans to a whole other mode of playing — i.e., surviving the unplayable.

Playing matches at this time of the year is inviting trouble, but if the GAA is to continue fixing games for January and February then managers and coaches will have to come up with a style that can be adapted to such horrific conditions.

Exaggeration? Not when a kicker like Dean Rock sees a delivery boomerang around the field as happened early on in Omagh. The NFL game with one side not kicking a single ball in the seventy minutes is on its way.

George Steiner had a powerhouse intellect

Better late than never — I mention here the late George Steiner, who passed away at 90 just a few weeks ago. Steiner was the platonic ideal of the European intellectual — multilingual, erudite, cosmopolitan (credited with introducing Anglo-American audiences, said the Guardian, to the likes of Ernst Bloch, Theodor W Adorno, Thomas Bernhard, Paul Celan and Walter Benjamin.)

Why is he here, though? Well, Steiner’s description of a chess player could stand for many a sportsperson (“A chess genius is a human being who focuses vast, little-understood mental gifts and labors on an ultimately trivial human enterprise”).

One of his very last books is also well worth a read — My Unwritten Books — but not, maybe, on a crowded train if you’re conscious about someone reading over your shoulder.


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