Category Archives: family history

I invented risk

riskI invented risk. The Game of Risk that is. The strategic board game of world conquest began on my kitchen table.

But hold on with the begging letters to share in my vast royalty riches until I explain how it happened.

Back when I was wee, we had to make our own entertainment. Oh we were so poor. It was a combination of the Four Yorkshiremen and Angela’s Ashes (by Frank McCourt).

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

Okay okay – I’m exaggerating a little bit. In fact, it’s a barefaced lie – we were well looked after my brother and sisters and I. But the bit about inventing The Game of Risk is true.

KamchatkaI did it by opening out some empty cereal boxes and sellotaping them together. On the blank inside sides I drew up a map of the world, divided into regions. Kamchatka – my favourite – was there of course. Madagascar was a secure deadend niche. Indonesia was the gateway to Australasia.

The soldiers, cannon and cavalry were little cut out cardboard counters rather than factory moulded plastic figurines. But hey, cut me some slack why don’t you. I was only wee.

So  – game created – we played it. And this prototype lasted for ages and worked very well.

And my creative inventive reputation was sealed.

Until Continue reading

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My first memory

See – I told you it was a tank. This British Centurion tank was out during Operation Motorman. So perhaps it was a tank I saw. The photo is by Eamon Melaugh – click on the pic for more of his work.

Memory is tricky. Childhood memories even trickier.

Which memories are real. Which are from stories or photographs?

Top Boy shares his first memory with me. He was running up and down the street in from of our house. Past houses, back past houses, back past houses again, then past a house with a low white wall and a blue triangular prismatic top… (the shape details are quite extensive and go on for some time, so I’ve skipped them – funnily enough he’s now a big science fan) …then he fell over and hurt his knee. What happened next? Doesn’t remember.

Mine is one of these. I don’t know which.

1. When I was five (or thereabouts) we moved house from a more troubled to a less troubled area of Belfast. I don’t remember anything before or during the journey until we turned onto the new street. It was more shaded, quieter, greener, with trees and hedges. I remember that. Nothing before. Except maybe for…

2. Seeing my first tank. Very exciting. Big. High. Wide. Dark, maybe green but definitely spattered with white paint. On the road outside the Busy Bee shopping centre in Belfast Continue reading

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It should have been the Jungle Book. (My X-certificate first cinema visit.)

This is the nearest I could get to an image combining both Clint Eastwood and a Jungle local.

At GrannyMar‘s prompting, I submitted this story to See You At The Pictures, a documentary about film-going in Ireland. Er… Sorry Dad.

The first film I saw in a cinema should have been the Jungle Book. My Dad took me to the cinema in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, one bright summer afternoon.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it wasn’t car chases, gunfire and a naked lady Continue reading

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Filed under family history, Film

Getting lost & Going on the lam

I used to be an expert at getting lost, making myself scarce, zipping off, disappearing, escaping their clutches and going on the lam.

My advantages were size and speed.

They were bigger and longer limbed.

But I could fit under the hedge. In fact I could speed off through the hole in the hedge without slowing.

By the time my pursuers had left the back garden and gone round to next door, I was out of that garden, under the next hedge, and the next one, the next one, the next one, all the way to the end of the row.

In my pyjamas of course Continue reading

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Who was that masked man?

Is your dog ready for Hallowe'en?

Hallowe’en is coming and the goose is getting fat… That was what we sang door to door at Hallowe’en back in Belfast. Tuneful? No. A seasonal song? No. On the scrounge? Yes.

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat… At some houses my mates and I were listened to once, then other residents would be summoned to the door for a repeat of our odd performance.

If you haven’t got a penny, a pound will do… And at many doors we were Continue reading

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Filed under family history, In the village

Some people cheat

Some people cheat. Sad, but true.

They use sellotape Continue reading

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I shouldn’t have let our nine-year-old fill in our census form

Maybe I should not have let my nine-year-old daughter fill in our census form. Looking at the form, we seem to have acquired an extra resident.

The once-every ten years trawl for information took place on Sunday night. It’s an offence not to to fill it in. It says on the front of the form. “You could face a fine if you don’t participate or if you supply false information.”

It also says: “Your personal information is protected by law. Census information is kept confidential for 100 years.”

A hundred years? Sure who can wait that long? When I checked over our completed census form, I found this entry for the fifth member of our household. As the form says: Individual questions – Person 5 start here…

1. What is your name? Christy Shmib   (First I knew he had a surname.)

2. What is your sex? (I see a third box has been added and ticked.) Continue reading

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I burnt my mouth on a roast potato (but the memory lingers longer)…

No, that's not me. What? You seriously think I got someone to photograph my burning mouth? I couldn't talk. Only smile and nod. (Pic from 4tnz.com)

Let’s check. Tongue up to investigate. Strangely smooth skin above my teeth. Yup, still tender.

I burnt my mouth on a roast potato after my Granny’s funeral. Continue reading

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Granny in Monet’s Garden

My Granny died this morning. Clare McGuinness née Ivory. It seems like the right thing to do to share this picture of her. We call this picture Granny in Monet’s Garden. Perhaps because of her floppy hat, the water and the sunny peacefulness. (You may know a children’s book called Linea in Monet’s Garden.) The picture was taken by my mother in the garden of my godmother.

What to say? She lived a long life. She achieved a lot. She was the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to many. I’m looking forward to seeing them soon.

I am her eldest grandchild. She was always lovely to me. And to my friends and then to my own children. Caring and tolerant. And the fount of so many stories, which she told so well. I’m glad that mine was one of the many lives enriched by hers.

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What I’ve learned

Its been tumultuous in Blackwatertown Towers lately. Normal service will soon be resumed. Once we establish just what the new normality will look like. But in the meantime, I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned lately.

Yes, it looks like a roof slate because that's what it is. (You get a shiny medal for Sport Relief.) The glamorous person holding the slate/trophy is presenter Rachael Hodges, flanked by "the prestigious" Richard Bacon, and me. I didn't think the beer bottle would be in the picture. Missing from the line-up are top guru Louise Birt, indefatigable Garth Brameld, podcaster Harri Ritchie and inspirational listeners Jon Hillier and the Digger. The award was for the Special Half Hour - SHH.

  1. I haven’t completely lost it, thank God. I’ve just left the BBC after many years, but can proudly brandish two new awards. The first one is the highly prestigious Most Innovative Programme Award from the admittedly slightly obscure annual Audio and Music Awards. I shared it for a radio show I produced up until Christmas. The award-winning bit was the Special Half Hour – SHH – of which it was an honour and a privilege to be part. (Rule No. 1 You don’t talk about the Special Half Hour. But it’s been axed, so I dare to speak of it.)  The second is the also prestigious and much better known Sport Relief Mile. My running partner and I distinguished ourselves by completing the three mile (Count ’em! 3!) circuit before any of the six milers crossed the finish line. (Question: For which award did I contribute more to the sum of goodness in the world?)
  2. Whenever someone claims to be the first to ever do something, they’re wrong. Continue reading

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