A gat in the hand means the world by the tail


THE film rights to this Chris Andrews Twitter story have probably already been sold. It’s got everything – a powerful political family, a sting, a love interest (well, a wife, but we can rewrite that), an unexpected twist and, best of all, lots of Pelican Briefy close-ups of someone at a computer screen going tap-tap-tap-frown-tap-tap-tap, without which no thriller is complete.

Andrews was exposed as the anonymous tweeter @brianformerff, who posted some 300 tweets critical of his own party. That wasn’t where he went wrong, though. After all, you can’t throw a stone nowadays without hitting a critic of Fianna Fáil, which is why stone-throwing has gone so much out of favour. No, he was exposed because @brianformerff reportedly made derogatory remarks about the wife of a man who turned out – imagine that – to be a keen amateur detective.

I say Steve Buscemi for the character of the mysterious gumshoe who rumbled Andrews after hunting him down for months. Admittedly, Buscemi is no Humphrey Bogart, but then no one is any more; that’s what’s wrong with the world today.

Here’s a brief reminder of what he did – if this fantastic story is to be believed, at least. Having suspected for some time that Andrews was responsible for the antagonistic Twitter character, he collected every tweet issued from that account. He then deduced – using powers that you would not understand, Watson – that they had all come from a computer, rather than a mobile phone, for example.

This is where it starts to get even more weirdly obsessive. He set up his own web redirection server, so that if his prey clicked a given link, it would reveal the computer’s IP address. It turned out to be an internet café in Rathmines – not the most promising setting from a cinematography point of view, I’ll grant you, but we can change it in the final script.

The last stage of his plan involved covert photography and video surveillance of Chris Andrews tap-tap-tapping in the café, and it’s at this point, I think, that we’re going to have to give our private dick a little more flesh.

Let’s make him wear a fedora, so that we can enjoy the rare opportunity of quoting Sam Spade: “Say, what’s on your mind, besides your hat?” Throw in an unfiltered cigarette, together with the consequent hacking (forgive the techie pun) cough, and a certain fragrance, from spending all night in his car on Rathmines Road, piddling into a bottle. Let’s add a dog, as well – a Jack Russell – sitting in the passenger seat, panting, staring, understanding.

At the front desk of the internet café in Rathmines is one of Dashiell Hammett’s lanky brunettes with a wicked jaw. She is chewing gum and whistling some popular number.

“You do know how to whistle, don’t you?” she challenges him. “You just put your lips together and blow.” She knows that’s not a quote from a Dashiell Hammett story but heck, we live in an untidy age. If DJs can call themselves musicians, then shop girls can surely mash up their literary references for art’s sake.

“I’m not here to whistle,” he says, charmlessly. “I’m here to secretly spy on the other patrons.” And when he splits an infinitive, God damn it, it stays split. And when he sets his sights on a disgruntled Fianna Fáiler, God damn it, he gets his man.

If the man would go to these lengths because someone belonging to him was insulted on social media, where insults fly about like a drunk’s spittle, then what other immense feats of vengeance is he capable of? It’s practically Shakespearian (setting up a redirection server to track someone’s IP address being the modern equivalent of pouring hemlock in their ear).

Pity the children who make the mistake of ringing his doorbell and running away. They open their Spongebob Squarepants lunchboxes the next day to find scrawled notes clipped from newspapers saying, ‘i kNow wot u Did’.

What if you pranged his car in a car park and drove off without leaving a note? You’d end up with two or three of those flying camera drones circling your patio.

“What are those, darling?”

“Beats me. They’re probably something to do with the barbecue. I told you you should read the instructions on the barbecue.”

It just goes to show what you can achieve if you have enough time, energy and money to indulge your crazy. You can despatch a device to see what Mars looks like up close; you can establish Wikileaks; you can uncover which member of a Fianna Fail dynasty is peevishly dissing his former associates; you can even put together a film script exploiting every detective cliché you know.

 Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 19th August 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius?

Carl Schuhmann on a vaulting horse in the 1896...

IT seems unimaginable now, but a day before the Olympic Games began, I was among those pledging not to so much as cross the road to look at any of it.

That was more than a week ago. The intervening nine days have been a lesson in human nature, in the persistent differences between the sexes, in craw-thumping patriotism, in difficult geopolitical relations, in cheesy sentimentality, and of course in commercial chicanery. Plus you get to watch a succession of tiny, androgynous Chinese people climbing onto and off podiums all day. I don’t want it ever to end.

The first surprise was the Opening Ceremony, which demonstrated for once and for all that one person’s idea of drama and pageantry and exciting musical theatre is another person’s idea of a living hell. That was four hours of needless embarrassment on Britain’s behalf that I’ll never get back. It turned out Britain was positively beaming with pride the whole time; it turns out all Britain needs to be happy is a never-ending performance of ‘Cats’ and a nice cup of tea.

Then there was the first contest of the Games, the Women’s 10-metre Air Rifle Finals. This might not have been the best event with which to kick off the Olympics, consisting, as it does, of eight women standing in a line issuing a slight popping sound from time to time.

Is there any sport that could more effortlessly appear to mock the very principles on which the Games were founded? How does the Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius, apply here, unless it’s actually a competition among the air gun pellets themselves? Fastest, highest, strongest pellet takes the gold? A televised coconut shy would be more in keeping.

At least, that’s what you think at first. Then, by watching it together with a man, you witness an old-fashioned gender stereotype being reinforced. Consider, if you will, the following transcript, which is as faithful as I can make it, chronicling the progress of male thought with regard to this event:

“This is daft… Women’s 10-metre Air Rifle Finals. Does that mean there’s also Women’s 15-metre or 20-metre Air Rifle Finals? If not, then why don’t they just call it Women’s Air Rifle Finals?… Why do they have to wear all that protective gear, for God’s sake? There isn’t even any recoil in those things… This is ridiculous. The Olympics should go back to what it’s best at, which is track and field events… Anyway, why can’t women and men compete together in air rifle shooting? There’s no need to segregate the sexes in an event like this – nobody has a natural advantage… I always wanted an air gun. I’d actually still like to get one… No, no, you can’t hurt anything with an air gun – well, maybe small birds… Ooh that was a good shot… What’s 9.8 plus 10.3?… Aw, no, the poor Polish girl – that was unlucky… Shush, be quiet, I’m trying to watch this…”

Men don’t care if it’s long-distance spitting – they just love to be party to competition, even as mere spectators. This is why idiotic sports such as water polo – it’s just floating heads! What’s wrong with everyone?! – continue to exist.

There’s the sailing, of course. The sailing is supposed to inspire national pride, thanks to Irish contestant Annalise Murphy. Instead it reawakens those lasting feelings of fear and inadequacy left over from the time you made the mistake of setting foot in a sailing boat with a sailing enthusiast. “I understand that I have to pull that rope, of course. But what’s the rush? And why all the shouting?” This is how you get barred from sailing boats.

Then there’s the synchronised diving. How many of us have found ourselves intermittently staring into space this week, speculating again about what unique combination of circumstances, skills and aspirations leads someone to pursue a career in synchronised diving? And what if, having committed yourself to the sport, you can’t find anyone to synchronise with? The loneliness of the synchronised diver. It’s heart-rending.

But you don’t even have to watch the Olympics to enjoy the Olympics. The Games just keep supplying stories, controversies and comedy moments, day after day. A highlight was the sight of London mayor Boris Johnson swaying gracelessly on a zip wire above an amused crowd in Victoria Park on Wednesday.

Naturally, this mishap grew legs and inspired another acre of newspaper speculation about Johnson’s chances of becoming Tory leader some day. Meanwhile, new Olympic converts took one look at Dangling Boris, gamely waving his union jacks, and cried out in dismay: “What? It’s never the closing ceremony already!”

But no, thank heavens, there’s a full week left. Now if you’ll excuse me, the Men’s Pommel Horse is starting shortly.

Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 5th August 2012