Pop culture’s on an uphill slant

What’s happened to the world in the last six months? Everything’s seems to be getting better!

Lost has just finished series four – and it was the best yet. Not since I feverishly wondered what was down the hatch at the of series one have I tuned in as urgently to Sunday night TV. The finale was awesome – seriously cool and I can’t wait until next January when series five starts.

Benjamin Linus is by far the best bad guy ever to make it into a TV series. Tony Soprano eat your heart out. This guy is just fabulously written, acted and portrayed.

Meanwhile Battlestar Galactica has been merely good, as opposed to the excellence it had in previous years. However, that doesn’t matter because The Cure are on tour, playing vast chunks of the as yet un-released 13th album, due in September.

(This clip is of the sublime new track Underneath the Stars, played two days ago in Dallas.)

I’m a life long Cure nut, but truthfully, it’s been quite a few years since I haven’t had to really try to like their new material. However, the new stuff is just awesome – it’s at least as good as Disintegration (the holy grail of Cure albums – for the uninitiated just know that all new cure material is compared to Disintegration, and usually found lacking.)

The new stuff kicks ass though – you can find bits of it on youtube as it’s played live but they’ve also started releasing singles again, – one on the 13th of each month up until September 13th. The first two are out.

The first – The Only One – was pretty good. Not earth shattering, but definitely quality stuff. Then they drop this!!! The frankly awesome Freakshow is on sale tomorrow and you can hear around 1:30 mins of it at www.thecure.com and I’ve had it on loop for the last hour. It’s the grooviest thing I’ve heard since Disco Inferno. Who would have thunk Smith would still have it in him, edging as he is towards 50. I just know this is going to rock hard.

And when it comes to video games, Grand Theft Auto IV has just been fantastic – I’ve seriously never played a game as well concevied as this, and I’ve been spending obscene amounts of time in front of video games since 1986. We’re on an uphiull slant people – enjoy it while it lasts!

Review: A Secret Place

A Secret Place by Patricia Rainsford, €15
Published January 20th, 2008, Sunday Business Post. Review by Alex Meehan.

The problem with crime fiction is that so many people think ‘hey, I can do that’ — before proceeding to do it badly. The genre is heaving with mediocrity and for every artfully constructed page turner there are scores of formulaic stories with badly drawn characters and unoriginal plots.

So it’s all the more pleasantly surprising that when one of the good ones comes along, it’s not only written by an Irish author but it’s also set in an unconventional setting with compelling characters and a great plot.

In A Secret Place, Patricia Rainsford tells the story of a trio of escaped convicts who get circumstantially caught up the murder of wealthy Limerick businessman Billy Hendrick.

Written in the form of intersecting first person letters and personal accounts, the story follows petty criminals Gina Brennan and her two friends Nathalie and Kelly as they attempt to stay ahead of the law, while Limerick Detective Rob Carlos O’Connell leads the investigation into Hendricks’ death.

Found shot dead in his Lexus with his trousers down, Hendricks has apparently been killed in an argument with a prostitute who may or may not be Gina’s friend Kelly. Either way, the girls are in trouble as they have been seen fleeing the scene of the crime.

Meanwhile Rob is also on the run from his personal life as he faces the challenge of managing his own problems as well as the investigation into the shooting. His wife is in a coma following a car accident and his own life has been turned upside down. He visits her bedside every night to watch TV and struggles horribly with the knowledge that after being unconscious for a year, it’s unlikely she will ever wake up again.

At the same time as managing the Hendricks investigation, he continues his private hunt for the driver of the car that hit his wife and the witnesses to the accident that has ruined his life.

Meanwhile Gina has to deal with the problem of finding safe houses and planning a future on the run in Spain. She unburdens herself in rambling letters to her dead brother Clint while all three girls come to terms with where their life choices have taken them. It seems that Gina and Rob have experienced similar degrees of suffering and loss and are more similar than either would like to think.

As Rob leads the investigation, a cynical view of Limerick society emerges. We are introduced to Billy Hendrick’s wife and children as well as his ambulance-chasing solicitor brother – the scourge of Limerick’s detective unit. The families of the three runaway girls are interviewed as part of the Garda investigation and their various attitudes to their daughters – from denial to acceptance – make for an interesting contrast.

Each interview subject has a story to tell and each story helps to flesh out the book’s characters, showing them to be well drawn and revealing a variety of compelling plot twists that help keep the reader’s interest.

A Secret Place is Patricia Rainsford’s second solo novel and it’s a confident and entertaining read. It uses the conventions of the genre when it suits the plot but Rainsford isn’t afraid to chart her own course either and A Secret Place is all the richer for it.

My enemy’s enemy. . .

is my friend, or so it says in the book of Exodus. In this case, it’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, TV chef and foppish foodie. Hugh makes good television, and contributes to the amount of soothing pastoral green acreage we get on our TV screens.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall seems like a decent bloke, and is currently in the news because of an attempt to get Tesco, the UK and Ireland’s largest supermarket chain to improve the lot of the battery farmed chickens it sells. Hard to argue with that.

In his TV programmes, Hugh has campaigned to improve the lot of farm animals and chickens in particular, arguing that we should offer them kindness in the miserable lives they lead, prior to being killed for our tables.

(Personally, I don’t get this flawed logic – why not be really nice to them and just not kill them. That’s the vegetarian in me speaking though – I find all meat-eating needlessly cruel. )

Anyway, as a realist I know that the world isn’t going to give up its meat eating habits over night, and while I’d rather chickens weren’t farmed at all it is obviously preferable that people be made aware of the conditions they are kept in and so be given a choice about whether they support those factory farming methods.

Free range birds are more expensive ‘product’ than battery farmed hens and critics of the move to ban battery farming say that free range is an extravagence reserved for the rich. But do you really need to eat chicken five times a week?

If you had to look the miserable creature in the eye that’s needlessly tortured for a meal you’ll probably forget in 20 minutes, would you really insist that it’s preferable to pay less? Wouldn’t you rather pay twice the price, eat it half as often and know that in the process you’d contributed to lessening cruelty in the world? Perhaps not, but I believe people should be given this choice, and so does Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It seems Tesco doesn’t like having attention drawn to it’s business practices. Perhaps they’re not illegal but from a moral perspective, they’re certainly immoral.

(Anyway, when did something have to be illegal before a society would choose to reject it?) If you want to support more humane conditions for chickens, click through to Hugh’s site and give him some of your money.

He needs it – he wants to petition Tesco’s stockholders to force the company to improve the lot of chickens. The company’s response is to say it will cost him ST£86,000 to do the printing and postage to put his proposal to Tesco’s stockholders. Of course, they’ll probably reject it, but at least he’s doing something. According to his site, he’s put ST£30,000 of his own cash towards the proposal bill. Hopefully, he’ll hit the target.