Thursday 14 November 2019

The nomination that was beyond imagination

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

When it came to my attention a few months ago that the Irish Book Awards are sponsored this year for the first time by An Post, I thought nothing of it for a while - and then I remembered this book published in March called Tony 10 that I wrote with Tony O'Reilly, who funded his gambling addiction with approximately €1.75m which he stole from... An Post.

And then I thought that a situation may arise in which Tony 10 will either receive or not receive a nomination for these awards sponsored by An Post, and I knew we were in some strange place here.

So when it was announced last Thursday evening at the GPO that Tony 10 had indeed received a nomination in the popular non-fiction category, I remembered the first time that I encountered Tony - in a letter sent from the Midlands Prison where he was starting a prison sentence of four years with one year suspended.

And I did not imagine at the time that the journey from that hellish place would eventually lead to such fantastic things. But then, in working with Tony, I would find that I was routinely dealing with events that were almost beyond imagination.

Leaving aside the astronomical numbers and the completeness of the destruction of this individual by his gambling addiction, there was never a moment at which I felt that anything needed to be added, to juice it up a bit.

In those movies which are "based on a true story", they are always conflating things or just inventing them - so that when Tony is getting a call from Paddy Power offering him the facility to use a private number to keep betting while the website is down, the movie-maker might throw in a bit about a couple of auditors from An Post being in the office at the time, just to crank up the atmosphere. But Tony really did have the auditors in the office at that moment, just as he really had won €462,000 on that long weekend - and then lost it all in 12 hours.

Yes, I was finding that the incredible was becoming commonplace - so I'm thinking again of Tony, who had been doing so well in his career in An Post until the addiction seized him, ending up in that prison waiting for some horrendous battle to break out on the landing.

And then I see him last Thursday - a fully-qualified gambling addiction counsellor on his way to the GPO to hear that his story has been nominated for a national award sponsored by An Post.

And I am trying not to lose sight of the wonder of it all - because to get from where he was then to where he is now is really wonderful.

Another thing that attracted me to the story of Tony O'Reilly was how it spoke not just about a man who had lost his way, but about a whole industry.

They've got this thing now in the UK called the Gambling Commission, which recently fined Paddy Power Betfair £2.2m (¤2.48m) for various transgressions - they continued to take money from punters showing obvious signs of advanced gambling addiction, and there was the case of the chief executive of a dogs' home who funded his gambling by defrauding the home of almost a million. Just like Tony 10 but, of course, not as much.

They've got an executive director too, of this thing in the UK called the Gambling Commission, and he said of the money which flowed from the dogs' home to the betting corporation: "…significant amounts of stolen money flowed through their exchange and this is simply not acceptable.

"Operators have a duty to all of their customers to seek to prevent the proceeds of crime from being used in gambling."

And this thing in the UK called the Gambling Commission, in addition to directing that a large donation be made to the independent charity GambleAware, was able to insist the money stolen and spent with Paddy Power Betfair was returned to the dogs' home - quite a result there, for the old watchdog.

But I know you're probably thinking that sounds like an obvious or even an inevitable solution all round. Indeed, could anything be more obvious?

Well, it may be obvious in the UK, but it is not so obvious in Ireland, because there is still no Gambling Commission or an equivalent body, still no regulation - years after the story of Tony O'Reilly illustrated every single thing that can go wrong for the online gambler (and a few more things on top of that). In Ireland, there is no "watchdog", nobody even to instruct a betting corporation they should give back money that is known to be stolen.

Which really should not be such a big ask - Britain is not Sweden; there is a rapacious "free market" regime there which is highly supportive of the unfettered transfer of money from the poor to the rich, as exemplified by the betting business. But even they have brought in a few basic guidelines and have been known to enforce them too.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, we expect legislators to be able to organise the building of large numbers of houses, when it has taken them five years and more to contemplate a Gambling Control Bill, with a gambling epidemic going on outside.

You couldn't make that up either.

Faction fighting? Sock it to 'em JB

Not only is the smartphone changing the way that we live, it is changing things we thought would never change, such as our ancient culture of faction-fighting at GAA matches.

Or at least it is showing the fighting to us, unexpurgated, which will probably make change unstoppable - even if it is not greatly desired by any of the protagonists.

Most weeks now it seems, we are looking at some extraordinary brawl being captured from a safe distance on the little screen of the hand-held device, making us marvel once more at the unintended consequences of the restless creativity of Steve Jobs. And we wonder, if he even for a moment imagined that one day his genius would penetrate the darkness of old Ireland, showcasing one of our arcane rituals?

For generations we have held this knowledge in our hearts, without really wanting to know about it. Indeed it is a remarkable tribute to the... shall we say, diplomacy of our provincial papers that they have reported these events so sparingly, perhaps rightly fearing that the Dublin 4 media would cite these scenes in order to confirm their prejudices about "the incorrigible savagery of the Gael".

Occasionally one of these fights involving players, spectators and mentors (always the mentors) would be captured by an RTE camera which just happened to be there for a match - and when the best bits of the fight were shown on television as part of the public service remit, it would enrage the Gaels further due to the obvious disrespect for their way of life which it bespoke.

Little did they know what Steve Jobs and the lads had in store - this flimsy little machine that a fellow would just point in the general direction of the action, resulting in these images travelling instantly all over the world.

To compound the difficulty, there is now a progressive streak within the GAA which is sensitive to some of the new thinking in these areas, and which would question the value of these traditional forms of conflict resolution - without the resolution.

But there will also be a conservative element which argues that the faction-fighting served as some form of tribal self-expression, an essential release of the primordial juices in the days before MMA.

But I wouldn't want to be refereeing that game. I'm handing this one over to Joe Brolly.

Sock it to 'em, JB.

So how the hell did he do that?

One of the most encouraging things I have ever heard was that Arthur Miller wrote 14 plays before penning Death of a Salesman.

I don't even know if it's entirely true, though it was told to me by a reliable person working in the theatre. There are officially about 10 Arthur Miller plays listed before Salesman, but he may have written a few more that were so bad no record of them exists.

Indeed, he wrote a lot of plays after Death of a Salesman and his other great works such as The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, and All My Sons - and some of these were not, as they say, well received.

This was one of the most illuminating parts of the brilliant documentary made by Rebecca Miller about her father, Arthur Miller: Writer, which was on Sky Atlantic last week.

I hadn't been aware that towards the end of his career, you could find the great Arthur Miller wondering why the critics couldn't see the good in what he was doing - it had actually never occurred to me that Arthur Miller would be bothering to read reviews at all, let alone that he would be troubled by them in any way.

The way life is, it seemed to me, you write Death of A Salesman and then you don't feel the need to do much else for the next 50 years, apart from to sit and wonder: how the hell did I do that?

But Miller would keep writing, and talking about it to his daughter in these home movies which made up much of this film.

He also excelled at carpentry, and when asked if there are any similarities between making furniture and writing plays, he said: "The way I look at it, there are forces that want to break out, and forces that want to contract. And if you've got a sense of form, you can make that projectile on stage move like a living thing, and move people with it.

"If it just lies there motionless, it means that some of the forces in it haven't been captured, or you haven't evoked them."

Other forces emerged too in the 1960s and 1970s, whereby the great artists of the age were tending to be in rock'n'roll, not in the theatre or literature.

But this film evoked the mystery at the centre of it all: how does it all come together to make something as immortal as Death of a Salesman, how the hell did he do that?

Sunday Independent

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