Paul Healy’s Week

Thursday

Just nine months into his term, Joe Biden is already shaping up to be potentially one of the least impressive US presidents in history. That may seem a harsh judgement, but he has certainly made an underwhelming start.

His weak and uninspiring opening months in office are reflected in dismal opinion poll ratings. Normally a new President might reasonably expect a honeymoon period of at least a year, perhaps especially when succeeding an enormously divisive figure like Donald Trump. But Biden’s approval ratings have fallen as low as 38% in one poll, and are generally in the early 40s, very poor figures –

particularly given the unique turmoil of the Trump era.

The American public are unhappy with Biden on a number of fronts, including the economy and healthcare. I suspect that his dreadful handling of the botched withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan may even have done permanent damage to his credibility.

Politics is certainly a ruthless old game. As Biden struggles, he would appear to have little business looking to his Vice-President, Kamala Harris, for support. She could be at his shoulder, instead Harris is distancing herself from the President.

Physically frail, at times stumbling over words and struggling to grasp issues, Biden needs to assert himself better and recover ground or this will indeed go down as a weak and forgettable presidency.

Harris of course is presumed to be planning her own White House run in 2024. Meanwhile, in the shadows, almost certainly determined to run again, stands the Democrats’ smarting nemesis: Donald Trump.

 

Friday

The weekend, whether you liked it or not, belonged to Mrs Brown. Not bad for a fictional character. Befitting his marketing astuteness (and considerable ego), Brendan O’Carroll was everywhere.

The creator of Mrs Brown’s Boys was on Liveline today, chatting to big fan and fellow Dub, Joe Duffy about the hit comedy’s 10th anniversary. Later, Brendan and the cast did a live link-up with Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show.

In between, the 10th anniversary special was broadcast simultaneously on RTE and BBC at 9.30 pm. Regrettably low on laughs, it was pretty dire.

While I sometimes find an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys an amusing enough way to spend a half an hour, I’m not really a fan. Certainly there are original aspects to the show, and it can be funny at times. Also, it does have a nice ‘family values’ theme running parallel with all the crude humour. Overall though, I find it completely overrated, and am mystified by its success over the years.

That said, I think O’Carroll is very talented, an extremely hard-working self-made man. He deserves all his success.

 

Saturday

It was very sad to hear of the closure of another famous bookshop, in this instance Chapters Bookstore in Parnell Street in Dublin. The closure will take effect early in the New Year.

Speaking to Joe Duffy on Liveline, the proprietor philosophically explained why it has come to this. Firstly, there was a big move to online buying of books during the pandemic; secondly, there are very few tourists in our high streets; thirdly, remote working has also impacted on footfall.

The line that struck me was when he said there are “hundreds of thousands of books” in the store. “A browser’s dream” as Liam Collins wrote in a lament in Saturday’s Indo.

The thought of those books, those walls, those beautiful shelves with their magical stories, soon being removed from everyday life is really so sad.

For many of us, browsing in a bookshop is one of life’s pleasures. Looking up Amazon might be convenient, but it’s soulless. What sort of a world are we creating?

 

Sunday

Moving an incalculable number of rungs up the TV quality ladder from Mrs Brown’s Boys (see Friday), I watched some vintage This Is Your Life clips on YouTube recently. Many of these now grainy episodes are powerful, nostalgic TV gold.

Indeed most of the episodes of the long-running show (established by Eamonn Andrews, later succeeded as host by Michael Aspel) are wonderful celebrations of giants of the entertaintment/showbiz and sporting worlds. (Of course a handful of these elaborate gatherings of celebrities now make for uneasy viewing due to the shadow of scandals that only came to light in recent years).

I hadn’t realised that the producers even managed to land Muhammad Ali, a reflection of the ambition, meticulous planning, and seemingly limitless budget that made This Is Your Life the great show it was.

When Henry Cooper turned up to add his congratulations, Ali’s eyes smiled: “Henry, you hit me so hard, you hurt my kin folk in Africa!”

If you’re a YouTube fan, there’s some golden memories waiting for you.

 

Monday

 

The five-part documentary series ‘Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution’ came to an end on BBC 2 tonight. It was riveting, an engrossing insight into Tony Blair’s three terms as UK Prime Minister, and his fascinating and flawed political relationship with Gordon Brown, who finally (but relatively briefly) succeeded him at Number 10. Both Blair and Brown contributed to the series.

Between them, the one-time close friends created New Labour. Blair won three elections, but his success as PM was tainted by his track record on Iraq. Meanwhile, Brown fumed in the background as Blair hung on to the Labour leadership, despite having apparently agreed in private that he would step aside. Brown eventually made it to Downing Street, by which time his relationship with Blair was close to toxic.

Despite his talent, charm and initial ‘international statesman’ status, Blair’s legacy remains a mixed one at best, while Brown was left to curse his bad luck and ended up suffering the embarrassment of never winning an election (although his handling of the 2008 financial crisis was hailed).

Ultimately, this enjoyable documentary series was a sobering reminder that Enoch Powell was more right than wrong when he said that all political careers end in failure.

 

Monday/Tuesday

Nuno seems to be a nice guy. Full name: Nuno Espirito Santo. Former manager of Wolves, his career took a positive turn during the summer. On June 30th, a glamour job: He was appointed boss of Spurs (Tottenham Hotspur), filling the shoes of none other than the charismatic Jose Mourinho.

He signed a two-year contract, with the option of a third. A mere four months on, there must be sections of Spurs’ fabulous new stadium that Nuno hasn’t yet been to, invitations on his desk perhaps not yet dealt with. He can hardly have met supporters’ groups, not all of them at least. There may even be staff members he hasn’t yet met! There may be Christmas cards ordered with ‘From Nuno, manager of Spurs’ printed on them.

All very fine, until Monday afternoon. That’s when Spurs sacked their manager. The Premier League at its most ruthless! Granted, Spurs were on a bad run, but four months into a two-year term? And he was ‘Manager of the Month’ in August! Just as well there’s a severance package of a reported £14m waiting for Nuno!

Meanwhile, adding insult to injured ego, Spurs rather insensitively appointed Antonio Conte as their new manager on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after sacking Nuno Espirito Santo, meaning they were in negotiations with the ‘new man’ while the dead man walking was…walking. Not sure if I’d be buying a house in London just yet, Antonio!