Tag Archives: history

Are you SURE you want to take his name when you get married?

I know some women can’t wait to change their surnames when they get married. They’re so keen you wonder if the possibility of a new identity was the main marriage motivator?

But what if you were marrying into this family? Continue reading

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True romance

Gallant Sir Walter - famous for doing things he didn't - like laying his cloak over a puddle in front of Queen Elizabeth (and infamous for doing things he did - the odd forgotten massacre in Ireland - but that's off the subject).

Forget Walter Raleigh.

Forget that pathetic bit at the end of  Four Weddings and a Funeral – “Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed.” Pass the sickbag, quick.

This is what I call romantic.

True, it could have gone terribly wrong Continue reading

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Why is it easier to teach kids about Hitler than Stalin?

I’m telling my children about Hitler. But how do I teach them about Stalin?

Looking back to when I was at primary school, I was appallingly ignorant about the Holocaust.

I don’t want my children to be as in the dark. Continue reading

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When no one locked their doors on my street

This is a history of my street, from 1931-2011. It’s a firsthand account. So it’s not written by me. Guess that makes it a guest post.

One of my neighbours, Pam, wrote it to share with the rest of us on the street. I typed it up and printed off copies to hand out at our recent royal wedding street party (here, here and here).

I’ve slightly edited it for this blog. And I’ll give you a little context too.

The street is on the edge of a village in the south of England. Population less than five thousand people. Used to be mainly farm workers. Now a lot of people commute to the nearest city.

Pam was born on the street and has lived here most of her life.  She has some good tales. One of them features an odd woman in a beret. (Apologies. In the previous post I promised you a flat cap. Turns out it’s a beret.)

So here’s Pam’s story.

I was born at no.22, lived there for a year, then moved to no.18 for a year, then to no.17 for the next thirty years, until my husband and I bought an allotment and orchard from the owners at no.19 and built our own bungalow no.21.

Many of the houses were built in the late 1920s and 1930s by two local builders. They were mostly rented. It was only after World War II that people began to buy homes outright. Most houses have altered almost out of recognition with rooms added up and out.

I do not know if our home came with gas at first, but I do remember the excitement of just touching a switch and the light coming on when electricity was installed. Before then, one had a bracket with two gas mantles which had a chain to operate the gas flow. One then lit the mantles carefully with a match. That was only downstairs. Electricity came to the street around 1937 I think. Before then we went to bed by candlelight.

Everyone had a flower garden, a vegetable patch and a few greenhouses – fruit trees and bushes and strawberries. Everyone in those days grew most of their vegetables and shared them with neighbours.

A few chickens at the bottom of the garden and rabbits in hutches provided extra meat – especially during the war years and eggs were precious. During the war we had a retriever who when told to “catch a rabbit” over the fields, did just that and made the meat ration go further. The large oak tree (now listed) at the rear of no.17 was home to a family of red squirrels until the grey squirrels moved in.

1. It's not a woman in a beret. 2. It's the wrong type of rabbit. 3. It's a pipe not a cigarette. 4. Who cares.

Also to the rear of no.17 in the corner of the field was a reclusive lady who Continue reading

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Filed under Guest Posts, In the village

Don’t mention the handbag

I have discovered the origin of the handbag. And there’s a shock in store for all you fashionistas out there. Two actually.

I made the surprising discovery in Berlin. But the trail goes back far at further – to ancient Babylon.

Unexpected discovery no.1

It wasn’t just you ladies who felt bereft without something gripped in your fist.

Here’s a full length picture of what could be the original bag man himself, showing off his latest to-die-for acquisition. Continue reading

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Explaining the Japanese nuclear crisis using poo

Once you get away from the explosions and help! Help! Radiation! Head for the hills… All this nuclear meltdown China Syndrome in Japan business gets a bit complicated. Too many millisieverts, half lives, critical masses and atomic bomb memories. Should we all be panicking? Or not?

Without wanting to be too complacent – and sitting far from Japan – I think, on balance, not.

Here are two options for you to make sense of it all.

1. Read this book. Physics for Future Presidents by Richard Muller. (Or he’s here on wikipedia.)

Or check out his University of California at Berkeley lectures on YouTube.

2. Or – watch the children’s version of events, using farting and poo. Continue reading

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Movie star actually makes a difference. Shock.

What do they know about politics? Why don’t they just stay out of it and carry on looking beautiful or tortured or smug? Actors and politics, huh?

Especially movie actors. Team America: World Police satirised them as patsies for North Korea and aggressively naive and deluded- Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon and the other members of the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.).

By following the rules of the Film Actor’s Guild, the world can become a better place; that handles dangerous people with talk, and reasoning; that, is the fag way. One day you’ll all look at the world us actors created and say, “wow, good going, FAG. You really made the world a better place, didntcha, FAG?”

But it’s too easy to write them all off. And puncturing thespian  self-importance would work better without the lame homophobia.

There’s a guy just died who maybe did make a difference Continue reading

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Filed under Film, politics

Hero or villain?

How did these two guys find themselves in the same news story? A firefighter commended for his work in the 7 July 2005 London bombings – and a cocaine smuggler.

Their pictures may explain it. Continue reading

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Filed under life, media

The inside story…


Crumlin Road Prison by Stephen Shaw. He's a super observant watercolourist in Belfast. Click on the pic for his online galleries. The old prison was said to be the most secure in the British Isles. It hosted many escapes and executions. A tunnel led from the jail to the courthouse opposite, which features in Blackwatertown.

Here comes the inside story of my book. It’s the brief synopsis I’m sending to agents. (Some agents prefer a different approach – longer blow by blow, chapter by chapter efforts.)

The next post will cover my recent calamities and a particularly juicy piece of gossip. But for now, have a peek inside.

Synopsis of Blackwatertown:

Blackwatertown by Paul Waters is a thriller set on the Irish border in the 1950s. The intertwining of fact and fiction is based partly on a murky episode of Ireland’s past, and partly on things discovered about my family’s own secret history.

It is the story of a reluctant and conflicted policeman called John “Jolly” Macken, who is drawn into a conspiracy, accidentally starts a war (the 1950s IRA border campaign) and inadvertently becomes a hero.

It is also the story of how complacency in a time of peace can quickly be shattered, if the underlying tensions in society are not addressed.

Jolly Macken begins with a personal crisis because of his leading role in a police action he knows is legally correct, but feels is morally wrong.

As a police officer, an RUC man, he is isolated from his fellow Irish Catholics because he serves the Crown. As a Catholic (in name anyway), he is by definition distrusted by his Protestant fellow officers and the State.

There are three main strands:

1. Macken is punished after a farcical episode of violence at the beginning, by being exiled to Blackwatertown village, a sleepy Co. Armagh backwater. He is sent there to replace the previous token Catholic officer in the district who died mysteriously. Was it an accident or murder? Were the killers fellow police officers? Will Macken be next?

2. Macken meets an unusually bewitching local girl whose bravado masks a certain innocence. However, is her innocence feigned? Will their romance endure? Is she an IRA spy or is she hiding a much darker secret?

3. Macken is caught up in a police conspiracy and cover-up that has unexpected consequences. Their fakery is so convincing that the conspirators are lauded as heroes and accidentally start a war. Macken becomes part of a web of political and personal intrigue, watching his back as genuine and imaginary sides go to war for real.

An ambiguous fourth strand weaves in and out of the action. It retains its mystery until near the end, when its true purpose and horrible identity is revealed.

As the tension and stakes mount higher, Macken is forced to choose sides when it comes to war and to his personal life. He embarks on a journey through a broken and twisted world to see if it is possible to salvage anything that is good, worthwhile and beautiful.

Blackwatertown conveys a sense of place in the tradition of Ulster writer Maurice Leitch, and is threaded through with flashes of humour reminiscent of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian Inspector Montalbano mysteries.

The story transcends time and place, but also parallels the current dangerous political situation in Northern Ireland today, and shows how a seemingly secure peace can be squandered.

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Filed under art, My Writing

Invisible People

Yesterday upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away (from Antigonish, by William Hughes Mearns )

In this case it was children I met who weren’t there. As well as women and men. In fact a whole village. But officially they didn’t exist. “Never heard of them.” Or so I was told by the authorities. I got them to check just in case. “No such people,” I was told. I sought official confirmation. And got it. Definitely no such people in this country. And by now the man they wished would go away was me.

So naturally, I decided to have a look for myself. Continue reading

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Filed under history, life