Monthly Archives: January 2010

Attention seeking

Please don't invade us! It's manky here. (Bigger version below.)

Writing is attention seeking. You want readers. But there’s no guarantee they’ll like what they read. And then there may be those who never actually read a word you’ve written, but form opinions through hearsay.

Those were the fellas on my mind even before I started. My book, Blackwatertown, is fiction. But it’s set in a real time, the 1950s IRA border campaign. And it’s based on real events which involved real people.

Some people whose views I respect urged caution on me when they learned I what planned to write. Not because they feared it would be rubbish. (Or if they did, they were too polite to say.) But because they feared what people might think.

Those dread words. The book might trouble people, offend them or annoy them. Even worse – it might attract attention.

You’d imagine attention would be a prerequisite to getting published and selling a few copies. But when the normal modus operandi is “Whatever you say, say nothing” – drawing attention is discouraged.

Of course loads of people write prose or poetry, sing or create images related to violent times in Ireland. And good for them. Perhaps, like I have, they decided to put other people’s sincere concerns to one side and plough on regardless.

Now I’m close to completing my Blackwatertown story, brows around me are furrowing again. While I’m worrying if anyone will publish/read/enjoy the book, others are dreading adverse reactions. Will publication dredge up old resentments? How far might critics, especially the hearsay merchants, go to express their disdain? What might be the practical consequences? Who might be vulnerable?

When people pass on warnings to me, I do take them seriously. But living life head down, shoulder hunched is a waste. So, publishers permitting, the book carries on.

And to any critics tempted to vent their criticism in an extreme fashion. Please at least buy a copy of Blackwatertown when it comes out, before you do something unpleasant. It’s only fair.

Ireland - Not Worth Invading, Honest... This map comes from the incomparable Strange Maps website. The map title is "Cautious Cartography". Apparently it appeared in the August 1940 issue of the Irish satirical magazine Dublin Opinion. According to Strange Maps: The map purports to portray Ireland in as unappealing a perspective as possible. The text accompanying the map explains how cartography may be at least partly to blame for Europe’s misfortune: " Feeling that the present unrest in Europe may have been largely caused by the well-intended, but highly mistaken policy pursued by countries of boasting about their natural advantages and attractions, a policy which has had the not unnatural result of exciting the cupidity of other countries, our Grangegorman Cartographer has designed the above map of Ireland, which is calculated to discourage the inhabitants, much less strangers. The trouble is, he feels, that, even as depicted, the country still looks more attractive than the rest of Europe." Well, yes, that'll be World War Two, Southern Ireland remained neutral during the conflict, managing to avoid invasion by either Britain or Germany, (though many volunteered to serve in the Allied forces). NB: Obviously it's all lovely in Ireland these days. Come and invest, why don't you?

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Filed under history, My Writing

When does welcome really mean goodbye?

Feline loving fool

Feline loving fool - What not to name your cat.

When does welcome mean goodbye? When it’s the title of the seminar designed to ease you out of your job. Nineteen of us were in attendance at the Welcome Seminar, each clutching our “welcome pack”. We felt like extras out of Up In The Air. Which is where our futures are at present.

To be fair, the session was useful, and the women running it friendly and professional. And one was from Carlingford. What more could you ask for? Perhaps I should check out the film to see how George Clooney would have handled us.

So – a few more weeks and welcomes to the world outside, and that’ll be that. I’d better get a move on finishing writing this book, Blackwatertown. (Opening lines here.) The good news is, it’s nearly complete. I was hoping to be done by the end of this month, but realistically it’ll be February now.

Which means that, book written, current employment behind me, I’ll be available for weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, freelancing, wild book launch parties and promotional tours. Happy days.

But enough about me. In other news: Is it significant that the fool in the newspaper cutting above is a cat owner? Would a dog owner be as stupid? Or worse?

Abandoned Cities

Kolmanskop, Namibia. An abandoned city.

And this post caught my eye – a set of eerie Abandoned Cities from Daily Cognition. No. 3 on the list is Kolmanskop, a small town a few miles inland from the port of Lüderitz in Namibia. According to Daily Cog’: “Windswept sand has made its way into nearly every building in the town, which was once a diamond mining town and abandoned in 1956 as diamond demand declined and richer sources of diamonds were discovered in other areas. Its only residents are now birds, hyenas and other animals.”

Next time: The book is not even published, but already I’m receiving warnings that it could annoy people. The type of readers who express their annoyance in a more physically direct way than writing a bad review. Ain’t life rosy.

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Oi! No smirking at the back there.

RUC Hastings Street garrison, Brickfields district, Belfast. 1923/24.

What a difference 30 years makes. In this police photograph from the 1920s almost no-one is smiling. I have another of new recruits to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) taken in the 1950s where nearly everyone is beaming. Two photos, two different sets of people, two different times, two different generations.

This one includes the father – my grandfather. When this post was originally published I included his name, rank and where he is in the picture. But I’ve been asked to remove the name – so I have done so.

But he’s easy to spot. The handsome one with the patrician air. (God no, not yon dopey-looking one.)

You’ll notice they’re a serious bunch. I suppose given that they’re in a tough area – the Belfast’s Brickfields police district – and that some of them will have survived World War one, the Irish War of Independence, civil war, pogroms and general rioting – it’s understandable. Or perhaps it was the rule back then. No smiling while on duty. Perhaps Smiler in the back row, left hand side, is actually squinting, not grinning.

I was struck by the contrast between this photo, and another from the mid 1950s. In the later one they’re all smiling. Including the son of the handsome one above. (I hope to put it on display shortly.) Maybe it’s because peace has broken out and war in Ireland is a sufficiently distant memory. They weren’t to know that the next round of hostilities was heading their way in a couple of years time – the IRA’s 1950s border campaign (which is the setting of my book, Blackwatertown).

So the men in this photo are the fathers or uncles of the police officers who fought in the ’50s campaign. They were a formidable bunch.

But back to 1923/24. Does anyone else remember those snake-clasp belt buckles? I remember coveting one when I was small. (Which was only the other day. Or perhaps the day before.)

Perhaps some faces in the picture are familiar. Drop me a line if you recognise anyone. (I’ve posted pictures of some other branches of the family policing tree: Dan Waters & Michael Murphy.)

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Filed under family history, history

Originality is concealing your source

Giving you the finger. More like these at J@V@JuNKiE.

Originality is concealing your source. Something I learned today at  Sendlabs. But who can get away with that these days? (By the way, the link is to serious online marketing discussions, so you might just want to skip ahead to the next GENIUS idea…)

Which is why I will now reveal the source of all three part ideas, stories and TV and radio shows. Introducing… The Brainstormer. Try it out next time you’re stuck.

For instance: madness, industrial, ballroom. Still not convinced? Genius, demolished, pier. All winners.

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Climate change, crispy silkworms & outside toilets in Beijing

Our man in Beijing.

Our Beijing correspondent M reports on UFOs, outside toilets, climate change and why China is not the global warming villain it’s made out to be:

“Beijing is a strange old place. There are some immensely rich people here, alongside the mostly closeted expats. There are many smells and sights on the streets, and several Unidentified Frying Objects.

I’ve recently come back from Jilin, meeting fiance’s family (yes fiance now, got that sorted pretty quick). Jilin is in the far north, and was bloody freezing, minus 20. Dinner was served the day we left, and it included a massive plate of crispy silkworm, which I just had to pass on. They were big fat things and had been sliced in half.
I saw some some really basic living conditions up there too, mostly pig farmers or shopkeepers plus their families living in tiny one room houses with smoky fires that burn all day long under concrete beds. No fridges, no hot water, no showers, toilet out the back… so to speak (a hole in the ground at minus 20 IS an experience, let me tell you).
Healthcare is not what it should be, and some of the children are a sad sight.

I could fill a programme talking to them all about the changes they are undergoing. A couple of brand new blocks have gone up in this small town, with all mod cons, and they are buying them up fast at less than £10,000 a piece. The western lifestyle is coming, and you can see exactly how much more energy the new places use than the old simple existence, with their showers and central heating and water down the plug hole.

I am not a brainwashed citizen (yet), but the West’s criticism of China after the Copenhagen summit was unfair. Nearly everybody here, bar the city dwellers, lives in conditions that most of us can’t even imagine spending one night in. They are happy, but when it’s offered, they all want what we take for granted. They are incredibly thrifty and energy concious on a personal level. It’s the horrible gigantic coal power stations that they’ve got to find a solution to.

China as a country is now the largest emitter. But per head of population, they emit a fraction of what a person in the USA emits. It’s the West that needs to reduce its energy use, or at least change its habits.

Anyhow, enough of the polemics, I am having a great time.

Snow here too. Volunteer neighbourhood street clearing gangs roam the estates. Our door has been knocking at 8am the last two mornings, and we’ve politely ignored it and stayed under the covers….

What about me, eh? I got settled pretty quickly. We are in a nice suburb, and it’s mega cheap for everything if you avoid all the western bars, clubs and restaurants in the centre. Something I’ve mostly managed to do, barring the odd messy night. Been to a few music gigs, found my bearings, done a few touristy things. Mostly living the quiet life and unsuccessfully trying to learn Chinese.

Though I’m trying to live a more normal ‘Chinese’ existence than most foreigners do, I have to say BBC Redux and the iPlayer are godsends. I listen to (BBC Radio) 5live, 6 music, download Match of the Day, Attenborough’s Life programme, movies, and all sorts of other stuff. Keeps me sane!”

There’s more from Beijing on the difficulties and laughs around getting married here and about his own new blog here.

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Filed under friends, politics

Welcome to your new job?

I started a new job this week. This video seems appropriate. (Seen at ComaGirlX.)

And there’s still no respite in the white shite (as snow should now be described) round our way. (Sigh. Brr.)

But on happier notes:
Q: Who’s the nicest man in a hospital?
A: The ultra-sound man.

Q: Who covers his shifts while he’s away?
A: The hip-replacement guy.      (Both courtesy of Popbitch.)

Also (fanfare) SHE’S BACK!The Little Pinch of Salt. Everyone can do with a bit.

And just time for a quick glance over to Portugal where you may some day see these images plastered on a crumbling wall.

Lisboa / Lisbon wall paintings (from "The Cardinal de la Ville presents"). Click on the picture for his site.

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Giant robots run rampage. Cool!

From Scott Teplin's Alphabet City

B is for Blackwatertown. I saw this at TSA (Tom Shea) Art & Music Blog. You can construct a home to match your initials.

Stupid flasher. I expected more from New Zealand.

Death of the Blog Post – or perhaps just how to make them more varied.

And this is great. The story of Panic Attack! (Ataque de Panico!) from YouTube to the big screen.This is how to get $30 million to make a film. Skip the BBC’s excerpt for the full version with giant robots trashing Montevideo. Who says nothing ever happens in Uruguay? Apparently it cost $300 to make. (Can that really be true?)

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Filed under art, blogs, Film

Bus protest gets results

Bus protest (from the Bucks Free Press)

Blimey! That was quick. A couple of days ago we brandished our placards – see previous post:  Save Our Bus! We Want The Bus!

Then this happened. The Office of Fair Trading announced it was referring local bus services to the Competition Commission. (Not including London or Northern Ireland.) Because apparently fares are 9% higher where one big bus company has a monopoly.

Instant results from one small protest.

Or coincidence? Let’s just skip on ahead to the more important question.

Will more competition help?

The OFT suspects large operators of taking a hands-off (non-competitive) approach to each others’ territories, thereby keeping fare prices high.

But more competition could lead merely to short term fare reductions, the crushing of smaller operators and the long term establishment of fewer even more widespread monopolies than before. And that’s not to mention the dislocation and confusion we’re still suffering thanks to the privatisation and splitting up of the rail network.

For their part, the big companies say they are already in fierce competition… With the car. And that what’s needed is more public subsidy for unprofitable routes. Subsidy paid for by local councils, i.e. me. And you.

Worthwhile? For the sake of preserving vital social glue? Or cutting emissions?

But back to our local bus service. Discussions on altering another existing route to fill the gap left by the axing of the old service have been postponed. Pesky snow.

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Filed under In the village, politics

William Shatner v Sarah Palin & Bernie Taupin

I always enjoy William Shatner‘s album Has Beenwith Ben Folds. (Nick Hornby – that man again – co-wrote one of the songs.) Shatner’s explanations are good value too if you get hold of the music/interview sampler. So, in the spirit of Has Been…

The great William Shatner does…     Rocket Man.

Or, more recently, William Shatner does… Sarah Palin.

(I saw these both at Patrick Madrid.)

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Filed under Music, poetry

And the weather forecast is…

Justin Snow - from uniwatchblog.com

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