Category Archives: Influences

Teachers: The good, the bad and the naughty

Who has been the most influential person in your life outside your family? Probably a teacher. Whether you tend towards the Pink Floyd attitude or the opposite Abba extreme, teachers have been there opening doors, moulding, revealing and empowering – or in some cases, failing to do so and missing opportunities. Luckily for me, mine have mostly been in the first camp.

But I have encountered some dodgy ones. The problem with teachers is – it’s not always immediately clear who is a good ‘un and who who is a bad ‘un – because it’s not about niceness. I’ve been telling tales about what happened inside classroom over at the prestigious (how I love using that word), thought-provoking and entertaining Lessons from Teachers and Twits blog. Ahem, no prizes for guessing which category I belong in. The answer of course is – both, on occasion.

Teachers and Twits is run by RasJ in the picture. I can’t imagine anyone skipping her class. (Hope I don’t pull standards down too far.) Anyway – you’re welcome to have a look and issue me with suspension, expulsion or a gold star over at Teachers and Twits. And you’re also welcome to share your own teaching or being taught stories back here.

Oi! Pay attention at the back there! It’s your own Continue reading



Filed under blogs, Guest Posts, Influences, My Writing

Count Zero or Stephen Hero?

I’m torn. I don’t know which way to turn.


...or this?


Filed under art, Influences, My Writing

An old Sikh joke…

For most of us religion begins not as a matter of belief, but from the accident of birth and subsequent upbringing. Some make positive decisions to be born again, or to convert. Others drift off to something vaguer or all the way to none-of-the-above.

If I could choose, starting from scratch, all cultural and racial baggage to one side, the Sikhs might be the boys for me. Continue reading


Filed under Influences, life

Orange Republicans

You should never jump to conclusions, I thought to myself, as I stood in a field full of Orangemen in County Donegal. I’d spent the morning in a village with a family – three or maybe four generations – of Orangemen, walkers and musicians, before they set off for the field. This particular field was at the sleepy beach resort of Rossnowlagh on the Donegal coast.

Orangemen on Rossnowlagh strand

Orangemen on Rossnowlagh strand















(For those who haven’t been there, it’s a small resort on the north west coast of Ireland, within Ulster, but and also within the Republic of Ireland. There’s a great long lovely beach, and the water is the Atlantic. So you can actually swim in it without freezing to death. Unlike the Irish Sea on the east coast, where I was made to swim as a child with shivering regularity. No wonder half of Belfast decamps to Donegal each summer.)

The day was an eye-opener for me. Up till then I’d found Orangemen to be suspicious, resentful, aggressive, noisy and, above all, very cross. These guys were gentle and quiet and calm. They were also determined and comfortable within their own skin. Nobody’s fools. Self-contained. I could imagine some of them playing the Clint Eastwood character in a spaghetti western. The man with no name. Willing to welcome allies, but if not, so be it, prepared to carry on alone.

When I found myself surrounded by Orangemen later in the day, I was pleased to have these Donegal men beside me. Because it was a decidedly odd experience.

OK. Some context. The Orange Order is a Protestant organisation which marches a lot. It marches mainly in Northern Ireland to commemorate historic victories by an English monarch perceived as anti-Catholic over an English monarch perceived as pro-Catholic. (The history does not bear this out, but that’s not relevant really. For instance, few marchers today care, or in fact know, that the Pope of the day supported the supposedly Protestant side. )

So since I’ve been alive, and long before, you’ve had Orangemen marching, marching, marching. They march where they’re welcome. And they march where they’re not welcome. And there’s no denying it’s a spectacle – flutes, accordions, drums, Lambeg drums, batons, swords, pikes, uniforms, flags, music – whether you like it or not. And lots of people do not. (Especially the accordions. C’mon. Anybody?)

But – to cut a seductively long story short – they march to remind themselves and everybody else that they still rule the roost in Northern Ireland. (A moot point in a society in transition.) Or, as they might put it themselves, they march to commemorate the triumph of liberalism over religious despotism (that’s Catholicism and the Pope by the way).

Oh dear. I’m getting confused myself. My head is hurting. The point is – they march to remind themselves how lucky they are to have avoided the horrible fate of being sucked into a priest-ridden Pope-dominated Republic of Ireland.

So imagine my surprise in Donegal (that’ s part of the Republic of Ireland remember) to be chatting to soft-spoken Orangemen who declared themselves proud to be citizens of the Irish Republic, completely at ease in their religious freedom, and as Irish as anyone else with a green passport. (Yes, I know, they’re not green any more. But you get my meaning.)

My head was spinning. These were Republicans the like of which I had not previously encountered. I almost felt protective towards them as Blood & Thunder bands in dark glasses from north of the border, die-hard loyalist blow-ins from Scotland and the usual stern-faced doom-sayers stomped past.

Now, as some kind of a Republican myself, I think of those guys in Donegal.

They’re also on my mind as I write my book, Blackwatertown. It includes Orangemen, marching and a big Lambeg drum. (Sneak preview – the Lambeg drum comes to a bad end.) And my Orangemen, the ones in my story, are often not portrayed sympathetically. They do themselves no favours when it comes to public perception.

But I cannot forget the plain decency of the guys with whom I spent that day in Donegal. Those Orangemen. So that experience feeds in too.

Anthony McIntyre - The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre - The Pensive Quill

And here’s the link. Prepare for a handbrake turn. Something completely different. I meant to point to this satirical piece on the IRA ceasefire,  but I got distracted by Donegal Orangemen. This is from the Pensive Quill.

Here he is looking pensive…

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Filed under history, Influences

Blog inspiration

There are loads of good blogs out there. But these are a few I check in with pretty much every day.

Slugger O’Toole for (Northern) Irish politics. Mick Fealty is the main man behind it.

Cultural Snow by the prolific Tim Footman.  He’s just brought out a book summing up the past decade, The Noughties. He’s got another about Leonard Cohen coming out in October 2009 I think.

The Little Pinch of Salt is the up and down, here and there life and love of Annie.

In his blog Why That’s Delightful!, Graham Linehan waxes alternately whimsical and wrathful at the ways of the world. You never know when he’ll suddenly spark off a popular uprising – on the Scottish media and Dunblane survivors for instance, or his twitter campaign on the political football that the NHS has become in the United States. (You’ll remember Graham from Father Ted. Ah you will, you will, you will… Sorry.)

And Strange Maps is a by turns gentle and incisive exploration of the geography of the world and the mind, via unusual maps.

To all the above. Thanks for the inspiration. All eejitry here is, of course, my own fault.

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Filed under blogs, Influences

Reading on September 7th, 2009

I love to read. I’m an addict. But what if I get unduly influenced by someone else’s writing? How do any writers out there preserve your own unique voices when exposed to the excellent prose of a master?

My book is a thriller. So should I really be reading a classic like The Long Goodbye byRaymond Chandler? Taut,  terse, terrific. Thank you to Bob on the library bus for bringing it my way.

Before that I was underwhelmed by The Moving Toyshop (Classic Crime)by Edmund Crispin. I admit to being seduced inside Oxfam in Stockbridge in Edinburgh by the crisp green Penguin cover, one of the Classic Crime series. But inside there was just no sense of urgency.

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Filed under Influences, What I'm Reading