Monthly Archives: August 2011

Instead of washing that paintbrush, do this instead

I’ve been painting the outside of the house (with some help from my resident hat genius). But the part I hate is cleaning the brushes afterwards so they can be used again.

I clean them for two reasons:

  1. I might just be able to reuse them. That sometimes – rarely – does happen.
  2. I can feel my Dad’s pained expression at the thought of the waste involved in using a brush just once. That’s the main reason.

Do you have those brushes wrapped in plastic bags or propped up in empty containers that once held white spirits – long evaporated? As the days and weeks and months and years pass – the brushes harden into a state that makes them worthless by the next time you come to use them.

And you think to yourself, who was I kidding? I should have chucked them in the bin back then, instead of having them cluttering up the place.

But throwing a perfectly good, albeit painty, paintbrush away just doesn’t seem right. Sometime during the period between you storing it and then retrieving it, the morality shifts. But when exactly it becomes OK to bin it, is hard to pin down.

So the charade is repeated.

But what if there was an alternative Continue reading

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Filed under art

The day I met… Frederick “Day of the Jackal” Forsyth

Just imagine, you finally get to meet your idol, only for it all to go terribly badly wrong?

Perhaps they disappoint you and disillusion sets in? Perhaps you throw up in their cumberbund? Or perhaps – like me – you manage to make an awful first impression.

I’ve received some great entries for this blog’s The Day I Met… competition. Some funny. Some poignant. All you need to do is email me your story – doesn’t have to be long – and I’ll publish it on this blog – a new one each Wednesday as long as it lasts. The competition details are here. But really, it’s as simple as emailing me at paulwaters99 @ hotmail.com (just remove the spaces in that email address). If it’s a funny story – all the better. And you’ll get a prize – the book of your choice from the list I’ll send you. But never mind that – just think of the prestige. Aaah.

Anyway – I need more entries – so please email.

And – just like junior army officers leading the charge on World War One trenches – I wouldn’t ask you to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself. So I’ll kick off with…

The Day I Met… Frederick Forsyth. 

This was not how I had imagined things would go. Since internationally famous best-selling writer Frederick Forsyth popped up on the local scene, I’ve been secretly nurturing the hope that we’d have a chance meeting – over a pint in the local perhaps, followed by a quiet chat and erudite conversation about commonly held interests – the BBC, Africa, writing and local goings on.

Millinery maestro (huh!) Frederick Forsyth

Who knows where it might lead? Not to the disastrous encounter of the other day Continue reading

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Filed under In the village, The Day I Met... Competition

Romance Not Dead – Official

The wedding invitation had two photos.

On the front were a boy and a girl sitting together on the grass. She’s Su. He’s Wink. Both wearing cowboy hats. Both with whistles. Arms round each other. She’s holding a bunch of flowers and from the way she’s looking at the boy, clearly thinks he’s the best thing since soda bread (or whatever people round here like for breakfast). At the age of, I dunno, six? It’s obvious that they’re best buddies.

Lovely.

Cute.

But it couldn’t last, could it? Continue reading

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Filed under friends, In the village

Smile (for the Loose Bloggers Consortium)

Smiling has got me into a lot of trouble. It made me look guilty at school. Which is mad, because if I’d been guilty I’d have taken care to look innocently serious and preoccupied with work.

But maybe that’s why I wrote this take on smiling and how if you do smile, the whole world will not necessarily smile with you.

It’s an excerpt from my book Blackwatertown.

Here’s the context. Jolly Macken (Jolly being his ironic nickname) is a Royal Ulster Constabulary sergeant in Northern Ireland in the 1950s. He’s been walking a tightrope. He’s viewed with suspicion by his colleagues because he’s a Catholic – nominally anyway – in a mainly Protestant pro-British force. He’s not trusted by his co-religionists because he is in the employ of the Protestant-ruled state. Macken has just, with bad grace, led a baton charge of police and Protestant marchers to clear a Nationalist barricade and so let an Orange parade proceed through a Catholic village. Though the police action was successful, Macken himself was embarrassingly entangled in a bicycle thrown at him by a protestor.

The main players in this wee bit include Jolly Macken, the District Inspector (Macken’s superior officer, in attendance as a civilian and member of the Orange Order), the Worshipful Master (boss of the local branch of the Orange Order) and Big Jim (Lambeg drummer in the Orange band). Oh, and the word “Fenian” is used as a derogatory term for Catholic.

Macken came to with a start, his face full of pedals and handlebars. During the seconds he had been stunned, the rest of the attackers had surged over the barricade and were now coming to blows with the defenders. It didn’t last long. The fewer Catholics were soon put to flight by the combined forces of law and Orange Order.

Soon beefy-faced farmers had planted themselves on top of the barricade, and were leaning forward with their hands on their thighs, catching their breath. The general back slapping began. They gathered in excited chatter round Big Jim, who now sat panting on a boulder, his vast girth quivering. The sight of that alone would be enough to send me running for the hills, thought Macken, still knotted up with the bicycle.

After a few moments watching the world from ground level, Macken began to try to shift the bike from on top of him. That brought the other pedal, the one not pointing skywards over his face, sharply into his side. He hissed at the pain and let the bike settle back on top of him for a moment.

By now his efforts had caught the eye of the victorious mob. The Worshipful Master was taking control of the celebrations now, quietening down the war whoops. He led three cheers and a prayer of thanks. He also managed to find time to thank the loyal officers of Her Majesty for helping to preserve the integrity of Her highways. And to draw attention to one person in particular: “Sergeant Macken there. Sadly, he does not have the stamina of people who are proud to walk the Queen’s highway. He’s found himself a bike to get himself home.”

The taunts began. “Come on you monkey!”

“Sure yon’s more of an old goat. He got his head stuck in the fence going for the pasture beyond. Can’t you hear him bleating?”

Realising that no-one was rushing to help untangle him, Macken summoned all his annoyance to turn on his side and pull his legs underneath himself. Then he was able to stagger, crab-like, to his feet, a walking deckchair. This delighted his audience all the more.

“Look at Jolly. He’s belongs in the circus.”

Macken gingerly extricated himself and slowly straightened up, leaning on the dented bike with one hand, rubbing his back with the other. But the scorn in the District Inspector’s look was far more withering.

“Come on Sergeant, stop horsing around! You’ll not be catching them on that pile of junk. They’re away off over the bog. Let’s take control of the situation here.”

Macken clenched his teeth and angrily dashed the bent and buckled bicycle to the ground.

The routed defenders were by now disappearing over the bog and hills in the distance. The Worshipful Master was attempting to calm his warriors back into walkers, and corral them into some sort of order in preparation for the resumption of the triumphal procession.

The District Inspector meanwhile was close shouldered in muttered conference with the man mountain that was Big Jim. Macken noticed the red piping on his band uniform trousers, but realised he had never seen him wearing the military style jacket. Maybe he couldn’t find one to fit. The shirt sleeves rolled up over his broad arms revealed dull flecks of blood drying on the skin. Looks like Big Jim has bloodied a few noses, thought Macken.

As he took in the scene, other band members joined in, making a circle, remonstrating in raised voices. Macken thought he had better give the District Inspector his support. What now, he sighed to himself. Isn’t winning enough for them?

He pushed his way through to beside his senior officer. They were all gathered round the Lambeg Drum, sat squat like a broad round table on the roadway. Laid parallel across it like an extra long knife and fork, were two Malacca canes – tapered and thinly splintered at one end, the fatter ends pointing to Big Jim’s brawny reddened arms.

You have to admire the sheer brute will it takes to lug that huge drum along the road for miles, thought Macken, whacking it with such furious abandon that the hillsides themselves flinch.

There was a scattering of red dots on the goat skin of the drum, near where the drummer was pointing a finger aggressively towards the District Inspector. Macken smiled ruefully to himself at his mistake – the blood had come from the drummer’s own wrists, from repeated contact with the wooden rim of the big drum. No matter how bad the situation was, he reminded himself, jumping to conclusions could always make it seem more blood thirsty than it really was.

Macken realised too late, he had just made another, worse mistake. In some cultures, a smile may be disarming. In Ulster, a nod will do just as well. In fact, far better. You nod in acknowledgement, respect or agreement. A smile may be devious, deceitful, ridiculing or weak.

“Funny, is it? Now we have this friend of the Fenians rubbing it in too!”

Spit from the irate drummer shot across the face of the drum hitting both Macken and his senior officer.

“Thank you Macken,” said the District Inspector under his breath. “I was half way to persuading them not to worry about it – until your helpful intervention.”

“But what…”

The District Inspector looked up the hillside. Macken followed his gaze, to where a couple of small figures were jigging about on top of a large flat rock. What they were shouting, Macken couldn’t tell from this distance, but he presumed it had something to do with the piece of cloth they had hung from the front edge of the projecting rock.

Macken closed his eyes for a moment and cursed silently. It was the green, white and orange flag of the Irish Republic. An affront the Orangemen were not willing to let go, even if it was but a pinprick in the hide of an elephant.

“Sort it out, will you, Macken.”

“Sir?”

“Just get up there and get the bloody flag and let’s be on our way.”

What happens next? Well Continue reading

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Filed under D - Loose Bloggers Consortium, My Writing

Lively ladies

Lilian Bland preparing for take off

Lively ladies sounds so much more alluring than likely lads, doesn’t it. Smacks of cancan and Toulouse Lautrec. But in this case it’s paint and engine oil.

Lively lady No.1 – Lilian Bland

Lilian comes courtesy of Grannymar, who tells a lovely story about the first woman to design, build and fly her own aeroplane. The pioneering aviatrix (1877-1972) was originally from the south east of England, but she spread her wings in, round and over Carnmoney in County Antrim in the north east of Ireland.

This excerpt from Grannymar’s post gives you a flavour of Lilian Bland’s character:

She was so keen to fly that she came over to England to pick up the engine and took it a back on the train with her.   Once home in Ireland, there was no petrol tank so she used an empty whiskey bottle and her aunt’s ear trumpet Continue reading

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Filed under art, history

Partial Truths & Organised Forgetting (A Right of Reply)

Christine and two out of three of her children. (Lovely picture.)

Ever wanted a right to reply? Here’s one… A few months ago I published a post called How to come back from being burned at the stake. One reader, Christine Kalume, felt so strongly about what I had written and what had been said in the comments that she wanted to respond at length. I agreed and here is her response.

First a reminder. The original story was pegged to the row that erupted after a newspaper feature asked whether the southern English town of Lewes was racist. The white journalist is in a marriage to a black woman and has mixed race children. He listed perceived slights and discrimination. Some people in Lewes were very offended at what they saw as a slur on their community. They even went so far as to burn an effigy of the journalist David James Smith at their annual bonfire – putting him in the company of the Pope and politicians.

David James Smith and his family

So far, so inflammatory. But what appealed to me about the whole business, was what happened next. Rather than running, hiding, moving house or lashing out, David James Smith bravely took part in an open meeting with his critics, the better to discuss the issues he had raised. You’ll find details about all that in my original post.

It was great to have responses  from David James Smith himself and some very long considered comments from others too. But I promised Lewes local Christine Kalume that she could write a guest post on it all, and here it is. So these are her views, not mine. I find them fascinating and enlightening – I hope you do too. But whether you like what she has to say or not, I hope you’ll leave a comment. (It’s quite long, so you’re allowed to leave a comment on just a wee bit of it, or the lovely pictures scattered throughout.)

Who are we? Partial Truths and organised forgetting – by Christine Kalume *

The Sunday Times feature article last year by David James Smith  (DJS)2 on his family’s experiences of racism in the English market town of Lewes sparked some intense debates. Initial responses tended to focus on the pros and cons of the approach taken and points made in the article (like this one by local Lewesian David Bradford). However, the article also opened up a communication space to explore issues linked to racism – and diversity more broadly.

Christine and Tony's wedding day in Nairobi, Kenya

As a Lewesian and someone in a mixed race marriage for whom connections to other cultures and to Africa in particular have been important, I found myself thinking and thinking about some of the issues raised. So when Paul gave me this space on his blog to contribute, I was delighted. I have tried to provide evidence to support some of my points but this is not an academic article. I hope it encourages further discussion ‒ and even contributes in some small way to change Continue reading

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Filed under Guest Posts, politics

Animosity

Does rarity make for intensity? The objects of my animosity are few – in fact, as a child I had only two.

One was a public figure, a demagogue alternately overpoweringly charming and ferociously frightening. Out to get me, I felt. But I didn’t really know him. Not back then anyway. I later had the pleasure experience of meeting him a number of times.

The other was a more minor figure of authority. A big fish in his small pool. My primary school Continue reading

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Filed under D - Loose Bloggers Consortium, life

The day I met… (Competition Time)

Did you notice the owl? An owl!

Drum roll please – It’s the all-star celebrity competition.

I said I’d do it – and here it is. Inspired by Rasjacobson, I would very much like to have your stories of celebrity encounters. There’ll even be prizes. But before you rush to leave a comment, breathless with excitement, read on…

It’s partly Jackie Leven’s fault. Now he’s what I call a celeb. Never mind his transcendant singing and story telling – just look at his picture. Looks both rugged and fey. Gazing into the distance. On a motorbike. No helmet. With an owl. An owl!

I got an email from him today because I’ve been trying to track down a copy of an album he made. Turns out it was a private limited edition and sold out. So he’s given my the go-ahead to think laterally (a euphemism). Which I will. But how lovely to hear from the owl-meister personally.

It’s a far cry from the unfortunate encounter I had with one of my favourite writers when I finally got to meet him. I was very silly. He wasn’t impressed.

And that’s the sort of tale I’d like to hear most – how you got to meet someone (need not be someone well known, though fun if it was) and it did not go as planned. Perhaps you finally got to speak to Robert de Niro and spilled gravy in his lap.

"Psst! Can you pass me some loo roll. I know daarling, I know, it's a little embarrassing. But at least it may make an entertaining blog post some day. Goodness daarling, this toilet is very comfy. I hope I'm in the right place..."

Perhaps Liza Minnelli whispered quietly to you… to ask you to pass some toilet roll into her cubicle next to yours. Or you nipped in ahead of another driver, only to find you’d just stolen the Dalai Lama’s parking place. It’s over to you.

This is how it will work (I hope).

  1. Have a giggle or blush about that time when you met… yes, that time.
  2. Doesn’t have to involve a celebrity/icon/politician/etc – but good if it does. (If you’re worried about getting into trouble, we can use a pseudynom for the celeb.)
  3. Also good if it is funny.
  4. Length? Up to you.
  5. Write it down and email it to me at paulwaters99 at hotmail.com
  6. I will put it on this blog as a guest post – with a link back to you.
  7. You will bask in the satisfaction of seeing your story on a highly prestigious, critically acclaimed, hugely popular blog – er… this one. And if that’s not enough…
  8. I’ll also send you something lovely in the post  if you’d like (probably a book to be honest, I’ll give you the options,  you can choose). I’ll email you back for your postal address and won’t tell it to anyone else.
  9. Hang on – doesn’t that mean everyone who enters could win. Er… yes, I suppose so. I better buy in some stamps.

I’ll post on my embarrassing celeb encounter, but I’d love to hear yours. So have a think.

But in the meantime do leave a comment to let me know if this tickles your fancy, whether I should be bracing myself for overseas postage – or whether I should join the Foreign Legion to avoid having to look at an empty inbox for the next few years.

Have I left anything out? Any vital piece of information? Tell me.

But more importantly – tell me you’re joining in.

Yeeow - that hurts!

Here’s another prompt. It’s audio. It’s got me in it. (Oooh!) It’s an episode of a podcast on life in the UK that I used to do for a German media company. I’m interviewing Tanya who reveals how she accidentally assaulted Donald Rumsfeld Continue reading

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Filed under Guest Posts, media

Heroes of the frontline

Standing up for what’s right costs. The question is whether or not you are willing to pay the price.

What we have learned from people’s reactions to the wave of rioting, looting and burning hitting UK cities over the past few days and nights, is that some heroic individuals are willing pay that sometimes very high price Continue reading

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Filed under life

Good news from the London riots

Burning, looting, shooting, rioting, robbing – you can find pictures of all that happening in London and elsewhere in the UK on the TV news or elsewhere on the internet. No need for it here too.

Instead, I have a couple of stories of bravery and people trying to make things better amidst the violence. I’m sure there are many – but here are just a few.

Try not to be put off by the subtitles below…

 The woman in this video is apparently on the streets of Hackney in London. The original police shooting and subsequent arson and rioting began in the Tottenham area. Hackney is one of the areas to which the trouble has spread.

There has been lots of condemnation of the violence from TV and radio studios and the pages of newspapers. This woman is out on the streets face-to-face with the people involved. So that’s brave Continue reading

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Filed under life, politics