Tag Archives: fear

The Beginning of the End of the Six County State

4 Mar

So here we are. For the first time ever Northern Ireland’s government isn’t unionist dominated. Unionism has repeatedly failed its ‘people’, focusing too often on single topics rather than wider issues. It isn’t enough to just want to be part of the UK, you need to do more than lip service – rim jobbing the conservatives in London isn’t being particularly British, but it is what unionism seems to have become. When you’re out of thinking with the rest of the country you so badly want to remain part of on issues like women’s rights, marriage equality, and anything to do with the LGBT community, eventually the voters will desert you.

35% of those eligible still didn’t vote this time round, and their apathy is in part because of the failure of politicians to be forward thinking or responsive. Sinn Féin have succeeded by refreshing the optics, preaching equality (though as I wrote on Friday, I’m concerned about how that will play out for non-republicans once they’re in ‘control’ ) and motivating their populous. Unionism sits on past glories, complacently assuming that the public will come out and vote for them.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, 2009.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, 2009. Image © 2017 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

They now have three weeks to reach an agreement for power sharing. SF have already said they won’t accept Arlene Foster until the investigation into the heating cock up is complete. Arlene refuses to budge. With no agreement then we’d face yet another election or go back to direct rule from Westminster. The latter won’t please republicans, and would surely motivate a return to violent protest and terrorist manoeuvres from the likes of the IRA. But with our assembly now no longer Unionist-controlled I expect the DUP to force through a situation where direct rule is enforced, breaking any progress from the peace process. The DUP is like Nero fiddling while the country burns, willing to fuck everyone and blame the fall out on anyone but themselves. It’s not enough to be linked to the £1/2 billion wasted  through the RHI scheme, the fortunes wasted in court battles over gay blood etc, why not waste yet more in a pointless series of elections until everyone snuffs it or simply grows bored of the whole damn thing.  I could be wrong, but then power balance is shifting and the Unionists know this. The DUP in all probability would rather collapse Stormont than allow a nationalist rule.

Thanks to Brexit  I suspect within ten,  if not five years,  we will have a vote in favour of a united Ireland. And with that a return to civil unrest from small vocal factions. But none of this should surprise. Northern Ireland will simply be following the examples of the other colonies in the former British Empire, redefining itself as a nation shaped and influenced by the British presence but with its own culture. We just aren’t economically strong enough to stand without help from outside.

What would it be like for a Northern Irish Brit in a united Ireland?

I suspect odd. Its hard to imagine that the territorial imagery would disappear, but one suspects there’d be a lot more tricolours flying and that would probably rankle hardliners. None of my protestant friends in the south of Ireland ever seem particularly bothered, and I don’t even recall any of them of British descent complaining about being on the end of prejudicial treatment, and that’s exactly how it should be when reunification finally happens. Defining one’s nationality is a complex business, and most of us have at least one strand of ancestry that is imported from outside the island. Self-identifying as Irish or British shouldn’t stop you living a normal life in either country, or being allowed to display paraphernalia that relates to your nationality. There’s no reason why the Orange Order couldn’t continue to march and celebrate its past (they already do in displays across the Irish republic, which are closer to peaceful pageantry than anything in the North). And finally we could all celebrate St Patrick’s day as a shared heritage.

But I think British residents will be scared, paranoid, and anxious, and likely to fall into antagonistic language and behaviour with little provocation. They know the perceptions of the past just as well as the republicans. Hopefully they won’t be intimidated out of areas or out of the island. In the past, the British might well have treated the native population appallingly, but one needs to remember that we are not responsible for our ancestor’s antics, only our own. Certainly the thought that I might be persona non grata simply because I carry a British passport is most uncomfortable. And I don’t wish to be ridiculed because of my heritage, any more than republicans wish to be for theirs.

Uncertainty breeds fear. Fear breeds anger. Anger breeds trouble. And that is the situation I foresee. This summer’s parade season could be a real melting pot of pent up anger.

Undoubtedly the change is now on us. And I find it hard to believe that things will swing the other way any time soon. We should all begin to prepare for the possible outcomes of an ideological swing and a new national identity. Border poll or not, I will remain Northern Irish – proudly aware of my mixed heritage and upbringing informed by bother British and Irish culture. And I only hope that whatever happens, we are able to retain that sense of identity as the very face of Europe alters.


Power is about to shift…

3 Mar

As I write this, 70 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election for 2017 have been announced. And it makes for an interesting glimpse into a changing country. Sinn Féin hold the largest number of seats with 24, and the SDLP have 9. The DUP have 18 and UUP 9. Taking Aliance out of the proceedings that gives a nationalists a five seat lead.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Disappointingly the country appears to have shunned the opportunity to usher in a change in our country’s leadership – the embittered, stubborn, starkly green and orange parties Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party are still on top. And its hard to see how anything is going to change while that remains the case. Northern Ireland is a shared country whether you like it or not. And the only way to move forward is through mediation and negotiation and compromise.

But then I’m a broadly liberal leftist long lapsed from a background of unionism, so its easy for me to say. I don’t hate my fellow citizens because of their religion or their politics or what language they wish to converse in or what way they define their national identity. But it matters to many others out there.

Without a change, I can’t help but wonder if the assembly will not just be brought down again? And if it does, then surely direct rule from Westminster is inevitable? And to do that would be foolhardy, because that will give many militant republicans the excuse they need to reactivate a campaign of violence against the perceived British threat in the country, and take us all back to pre-1997 times. Its not as if the leaders of the two biggest parties actually give a toss about the Northern Irish people anyway, and our democratic views. The DUP backed Brexit in spite of the majority of Northern Ireland voting to stay IN Europe, and Sinn Féin still refuse to sit in Westminster for ideological reasons, which means they aren’t actually helping to represent the people either. A right golden shower the lot of them.

And I’m sitting here thinking about something that I haven’t actually heard voiced yet. But what happens if Sinn Féin come away from this election as the largest political party in Northern Ireland? Ignoring their catalogue of cover-ups (notably with regards sex abuse cases) and their power-hungry control of republican ideology in Northern Ireland (there’s as many kinds of republicans as their are unionists), we’ve never had a republican party as the largest in NI. The balance has always (by design more often than democracy) lain in the hands of the unionist parties, and for decades the unionists and loyalists have been happy because they’ve benefitted in things like employment, funding, rights etc. The republican voice has been silenced (once upon a time, literally), oppressed, which in turn has only helped to stir up support.

Right now we’re at loggerheads, with both sides bashing each other where possible, positioning themselves as ‘us’ and ‘them’. They put down propositions made by the others because of the potential for small victories. They turn simple things into massive issues. They allow prejudice to dictate policy and propaganda does the rest.

Whats scares unionists is what will happen when the power finally switches. It seems rather improbable that a republican dominated political arena is going to sit back and allow loyalism to continue its triumphant marches and shouting and brow-busting. That call for a referendum on a united Ireland can’t be far away now, and that scares the unionists because it might actually go through. Most of us don’t want to leave the EU, and joining up with Ireland is a sure way to ensure we don’t. Britain doesn’t actually care about Northern Ireland. We’re a population of 1.8million out of some 64 million across the islands. We’re a massive drain on resources, particularly bearing in mind our habit of fighting on a regular basis, incurring vast policing costs etc, every time we have a “celebration”. Will the republican brothers and sisters treat the unionists with open arms, and remind them that Ireland has already embraced Protestant culture as symbolised in the orange on the Tricolour? Sadly, probably not. Instead, the sort of hostility that has been shown to many of them is likely to be returned. Its the way of the wild. Captive turns captor. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, not actually how you were treated…

I’m slightly scared for people like me. Those of us who sit somewhere between the ideologies. Not necessarily undecided, but who are aware of our backgrounds, and the complex web that we were born into without say. Northern Ireland is occupied – the politicians decided to remain as part of the UK, not the people themselves, and so a border poll would be interesting, to finally give all of us a say. We aren’t all going to get our way though, and as Brexit has most recently reminded us (and indeed the US elections), when voting is split, things can get nasty. I don’t want to return to violence. I don’t want to be scared of visiting friends across sectarian divides, or to be picked out because I don’t see eye to eye with official lines of whatever persuasion.

Its time to stop being complacent. Time to learn to moderate, to co-operate, and to stop wallowing in the past. Think about the people.

Melt down

24 Oct

Edvard Munch’s The Scream

I think I knew it was going to happen when I wrote my last post. I could feel the build up reaching the overflow point. I’d been unable to have the conversation I need to have to help me process my state of mind. It was only a matter of time.
Yesterday I sat on the floor of my bathroom in tears, unable to face the world outside in spite of commitments. Ashamed, embarrassed and full of self-loathing.

The night before had begun on uncertainty. Joining work colleagues for a social evening but filled with anxiety about bridging the gap. Normally I try and keep my personal and professional lives separate. Feedback from a previous gig suggested this made me come across like I wasn’t a team player, words that have stuck and forced me out of my comfort zone. Even before I arrived I had been wandering the streets of Belfast aimless and trying to clear my head of the building stress. Walking I finally zoned out.

But being social when my depression is building into an episode is always risky. Especially when they don’t know your back story. Heck, I know I bored one of them silly running through some of the shit that’s been troubling me while we were standing in a club. Sorry.

Come 3am and I’m standing near the river Lagan. I’ve lost all sense of control and am posting histrionic messages on social media. “Nobody cares. I may as well not exist” and other lines of that ilk. I’m seriously considering self-harming to give some focus to the pain and frustration. Punishing myself for my own stupidity. I’m feeling so overwhelmingly low and lonely (in spite of two nights with friends) that this is all that makes sense.

It’s not unlike poor Sinéad O’Connor’s public outbursts. I look at those and think she needs help, she wants help. I look at mine and I see the same problem.

Worst of all I message people and pour out thoughts and feelings they don’t need to know, don’t want to know. I’m that creepy guy who can’t get the fucking message. And I know better. I didn’t even realise I’d done it until I was weeping on the bathroom floor.

I’ve always thought I was difficult to live with. I’m hard to love. This is why. It’s not just that I have mental health problems, it’s that I’m open about it. Why pretend otherwise? 

The malaise can strike, last for weeks or months. I’m up and down, kept functioning by manic activity. My ego is fragile and even the slightest knock back can send me spiraling. It pretty much takes someone with similar issues to understand it, but if you’ve got similar states of mind it can be incredibly testing. I’m good at trying to mask my depression. Until I crack. It’s little wonder I chose celibacy for three years. Only I get hurt that way. But being alone for ever isn’t going to be the solution either.

Today I wander around like a husk without drive or purpose. I’m calmer than yesterday but I’m definitely somewhere on the downward arc still. I’ve had time to think. I can see the signs, the triggers that have brought this on. It’s never just any one thing, but a cumulative effect. 

I realise that I’m scarred by various traumas over the years. They’ve left me vulnerable. I ignore them most of the time but when a trigger touches them the wounds remanifest themselves like ghosts. I live the experience again in echo. My brain makes connections between now and then and it’s hard to shake myself into the present.

The last few months I’ve spotted some of those triggers and thought I was ok because I talked about them, but the accumulation meant they weren’t clearing.

I was brought back into the terror of being abused, re-opening my therapy sessions as a result. I found myself in a relationship situation relearning how to function, relearning trust, affection and more. I’ve been challenging myself too though – my sense of self and identity, my limits, questioning my sexual self, my future. Questions have been asked which are leaving a mark and have me in a state of confusion.

Then there were other incidents. Things that happened that I can’t and won’t share. Things I said were OK, that I dealt with, but which I haven’t. History has repeated and I need to talk about it with the one person I can’t talk to just now. That’s been tough, switching from pouring out all your thoughts to suddenly not.

I’ve been eating to excess, drinking more than I’m comfortable with. I’m taken back to a dark place that needs to remain in my past. 

Even a visit to the cinema prompted memories. Reviewing The Girl on the Train for tv I felt the compulsion to point it out as a trigger film. And it was for me, sparking memories of the worst months of my life, the icing on the cake of this personal hell.

My therapist is away just at the moment I needed that outlet most. Sometimes fate conspires to exacerbate things.

Each moment triggered a memory. A pain. A wound. And I struggled to cope. Until I could no longer. 

Elvis once remarked how he often felt lonely in the middle of a crowd. An insight I identify with. I busy myself with creative projects, I try to fit in, but inside I’m screaming. Chronic isolation, a sense of not fitting in. A social anxiety I’ve never really admitted to. Being in the crowd this weekend kept me from my thoughts for a while, until it didn’t and I turned away into the night and my own despair and self-loathing. 

With any luck now I’ve hit this low I can rebuild. Within time I’ll be riding an upward curve. I have to. 

There are those that think I shouldn’t talk about these issues online, who say I am jeopardising professional work. But I function normally nearly all the time I’m working. It’s my private life that bears the brunt. So many people go through these issues and are shamed into silence, making the impact even worse. I want ownership of them. I shan’t be bullied into silence by my own being. 

I was wrong. I do have merit. I have friends that care for me. A life of value and worth living. And I will continue to do so.

The plight of male victims of domestic abuse

10 Feb

PSNI poster for Domestic Abuse help

When you hear the words ‘Domestic violence’ what do you picture? A woman being beaten by a man? A child living in terror of an overbearing father figure? A woman with bruised face, cowering indoors afraid to upset an unstable male partner?

Recently the BBC News reported on warnings that ‘Men need more help‘ with regards to domestic violence. The article cites statistics from Belfast-based Mens Advisory Project (MAP) which have seen an increase in numbers helped through the organisation from 294 in 2013 to 536 in 2015.

We now seem to live in a society that automatically thinks of domestic violence as something which is perpetrated solely by men, and nearly always against women. Men have become increasingly demonised with sweeping generalisations which automatically set up a gendered prejudice when we hear of troubles in relationships.

A grossly misleading and gender-biased column by Frances Ryan in The Guardian just a month ago is typical of the weighted phrasing:

“The biggest danger for a so-called civilised society is to convince itself domestic violence is inevitable – that women will always be beaten, raped or killed (often in their own homes) and that there’s just not much the state can do.”

The article repeatedly voices concern about the (very real) abuse suffered by women and children in the domestic setting, but ignores any mention of men other than as perpetrators. This isn’t a unique situation. When ‘Clare’s Law’ was announced, much of the news headlines were worded such as to suggest that it allowed women to check on whether their male partners had violent pasts, rather than more accurately advising the public that it allowed anyone to check into their partners’ histories (thus accepting the reality that not all relationships are heterosexual, and not all abusers are men).

While I have no wish to belittle the fear that many women experience through abusive relationships, they aren’t alone.

Domestic violence, and more widely domestic abuse (including the various forms of psychological abuse, coercive control and other abuses) is something that can happen to anyone, irrespective of age, gender, orientation or social class.

Organisations like MAP and Refuge are badly needed for those caught in the abuse cycles. But while women’s organisations receive headlines and vocal support, men’s groups – which are thinner on the ground – often go overlooked. Men are more likely to suffer in silence, mostly through fear. Typically men appear to be physically larger, stronger, more dominant than their female partners. How likely is it that they are the ones to be struck rather than striking? There is a fear for many that they wont be believed. The judicial system simply doesn’t know how to deal with instances of men raped by women, conviction is highly unlikely. Most men simply don’t report what’s happening to them. Of those that do, a tiny percentage actually follow through with reports or charges, and those that do seek help from counsellors often don’t show up.

The statistics reflect reported instances of abuse, not the level of abuse that actually occurs, and I strongly suspect that the true figure is much higher. Women’s Aid suggest that 90% of domestic abuse is perpetrated by men. The NHS suggests that 4% of men are on the receiving end of domestic abuse each year. In 2013 the Belfast Telegraph reported PSNI statistics that showed 25% of domestic violence incidents that year were against men – itself a 41% increase in number of incidents in a decade.

It would seem that the statistics support an idea that more men are coming forward and reporting incidents. Though this is likely still the tip of the iceberg.

I am one of the statistics. The MAP organisation is just one of several that came to my aid as I struggled to come to terms with my own long-term experiences of abuse. It took several years from my first search online for help to actually contact anyone. I had MAP’s details stored in my computer for months before I made a call and set up an appointment – which I then had to cancel. It took several more months for me to call again and set up my first appointment proper.

MAP weren’t the first (or the last) organisation I’d spoken to. But they have provided a vital lifeline for me, and much needed counselling and advice. I transitioned from the depths of despair to a status of normality over many many months with their help. I was finally able to talk to someone about my entire story, about details that I’d overlooked or buried when I first turned to official channels. Their work, and the work of organisations like them is crucial. They help men like me from being a silent statistic, they give us some power, some understanding, and a vital safe space.

For help:
Mens Advisory Project
Women’s Aid
NI Direct pages on Domestic Abuse

Hitting the fan

11 Nov

There are all kinds of reasons folk get married – it isn’t all about love – and all kinds of reasons that folk get divorced. Ultimately, in the latter the situation (almost) inevitably becomes fraught, tense and leads to all manner of stresses, anger and accusations.

Here in Northern Ireland divorce is only granted as a result of ‘blame’, and blame itself can lead to all kinds of additional stresses and tensions and anger. But unless your partner will admit to adultery, or you’ve been separated 5 years (2 years with their consent) your sole option is to apportion blame under unreasonable behaviour. And no matter how valid your reasons, there are few folk out there who will take it lying down. (Why can’t we be more like Australia where they insist on a no-fault divorce – that’s so much more civil).

I’m facing these stresses right now, following the demise of my marriage – the troughs of which have frequently found their way onto my various blogs and social networking sites. Right now, the excrement is whizzing its way through the fan as the wheels of law turn their slow path.

I don’t really want to go into the ins and outs of my own situation just now, as public discussion will probably be regarded as me being insensitive, or antagonistic, but I have publicly declared my having started the process for some time. But I do want to vent about the ridiculous system we have in this country.

You can, believe it or not, get married in NI with just two weeks notice at a civil registry office. And a fee of about £80. While the impatient impetuous lovers may think this is great, the consequences of a rash rushed job may be felt for many months and years later. Nobody will stop you to ask if you are doing the right thing, merely that you are legally able to enter into the marriage, and nobody will offer you counselling during the whole build up process.

The Catholic church, as I understand it, has something right when it comes to marriage – they insist on taking weeks and pre-marriage classes. And the longer you have to talk things through the better.

Disgustingly, while one can be married in a fortnight, Northern Irish law says you must be married a minimum of two years before you divorce. Particularly in an expedited marriage situation (and indeed my own), problems may arise much quicker than in a longer-term engagement, and one is then psychologically bound for a minimum period. Sure, this might allow negotiations and compromises to be made, and I’m sure saves many relationships. But in other instances it allows the problems to grow and fester and utterly ruin a situation.

I was threatened with divorce within weeks of my marriage as our problems overwhelmed us. And repeatedly over the next few months until I had the first of my mental breakdowns which took me out of work on long-term sick for the first time in my professional life. If the law permitted I probably would have walked sooner, and on reflection I should have. My email records, journal entries and text logs are full of unhappiness. There are those who witnessed me on the receiving end of allegations and spats which are without foundation and who know how low I actually reached. My breakdowns were inextricably linked to my marital state and were probably the surest sign  I had that all was not as it should be in my life. But I was living 25 miles away from family and friends, four miles from the nearest bus-stop, in a huge house we couldn’t afford to maintain long-term, struggling to keep my start-up business on track, and without independent mode of transport. I was isolated, and what time I had with my wife was not on the whole, good. As a result I stuck with the life that made me miserable, hoping that things would chance, but it couldn’t.

If the bad days outnumber the good, your relationship isn’t working. If more than 75% of the days are bad, not only is your marriage not working, it is positively unhealthy and should be abandoned immediately.

Of course, we also now enter the awful scenario where claims for maintenance etc. come into play, and it is this which can cause most upset. Those who are left often feel wronged. And those who make the decision to leave may also feel a sense of injustice. I’ve made no secret, I want nothing but a clean break and the chance to move on with my life without having to think about my domestic situation over the last three years. My failed marriage doesn’t define me, but it informs decisions I make in the future. It has shown me at my lowest, and I am ashamed of the depths to which I personally sunk. It has confirmed to me multiple truths about my nature and living with other people – I’m quite a selfish and solitary person on the whole, partners are welcome but at my choice of time. Partner’s children from other relationships bring acres of guilt, confusion and their own stresses.

I have also learned to trust my own judgement more, and my suspicions. And not to date exes. Exes are exes for a reason on the whole, and unless you split because of a practicality one should steer well clear.

I am sorry that my marriage failed. I’m sorry that I didn’t have the strength and courage to leave when I thought I should. But most of all I’m sorry I didn’t speak out when I ought.

I have no doubt that things will get worse before they get better, and that there will be things said about me which are not true. There is much anger all round. But I know that putting the relationship into the past and moving on with our lives is the only option left that has any validity. One shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘it doesn’t work’. One shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t love you’. And one shouldn’t have to lie in order to proceed with the end.

Bear with me in the coming weeks and months.

March to what exactly?

17 Jul

“Orange March”
image © 2013 Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

I try and avoid discussing my perceived political background and my personal religious and political beliefs in public. Why? Well, a) because they’re rather personal, and b) because I live in Northern Ireland, a country which has a terrible reputation when it comes to tolerance. Have you seen the news during the last few months? We went from that insane violence surrounding the flag issue in December and following (ruining business for many of the little players), and then in the last week, the riots have started again allegedly because some folk were told they couldn’t host a parade on the periphery of a sensitive community.

I’m not stupid, I’m well aware that both sides of this supposed debate are perfectly adept at playing dirty, winding each other up, insisting on respective rights while completely negating those of the other. Not even the presence of Ross Kemp and his documentary crew were able to diminish tensions last Friday.

Considering that the negotiations didn’t start until very late in the day, I personally thought the Parades Commission made a perfectly sensible compromise in agreeing that the Orange Order could march along the route (Ardoyne/Crumlin Road area of Belfast) in the morning, but would not be allowed to do the same coming home. I also thought that the nationalist residents made the right voices when they said, in light of this, they would be calling off their planned counter-demonstrations. That m’dears is compromise.

Hatred Of Orange Cult

“Hatred Of Orange Cult” – Orange Order parade, Dublin Road
image © 2013 Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

I also think its pretty shitty when the Orange Order stands back while one of the bands marching under its banner stops outside a Roman Catholic church (St. Patricks – where there has been trouble before), and plays the Sash (a song, played to a traditional tune, which is perceived by many Nationalists and Catholics as deeply sectarian and thus offensive) in a triumphant manner, when the compromise instructed by the Parades Commission was to play only hymns (which as universal Christian songs are offensive to neither side). But then we all know that the problem here isn’t really about religion, it is simply intolerance. Much better was those bands who instigated a gap either side of the church when the march got held up, allowing the bands to respect the space.

I also find it somewhat sad that a tune which originates in a song about sadness in failing to bring two communities together (Scots and Irish as Irish Molly O – http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/view/image/7421/0) has become a symbol for emphasizing divide.

Let me avoid for now, getting into the flag debate too deeply, but I do find the idea of burning flags of the other community/nation on bonfires rather repulsive. It isn’t just disrespecting the Irish community when you do that, dear protestant brethren, it is also disrespecting this entire island and our ancestors. Need I remind you that the green is meant to represent the catholic population, the orange represents the protestants, and the white the hope for peace between the two. Unionists should embrace the tricolour alongside the UK flag… after all, you are at least represented on it, which is more than can be said about some of the alternatives.

To lay my cards on the table – I myself am from a largely protestant/unionist background. However, I spent a good deal of time in my youth in cross-community work, and with friends and work experience on all sides of the community (North and South), I’m far too liberal to be a bigot. Should I be ashamed of my ‘heritage’? I’m not sure – but I’m certainly ashamed of some of those who claim to represent me and who influence others’ perception of me.

I think there’s a place for the Hibernians AND the Orange Order in our society, but they need radical overhauling if they want to be accepted by us all. The PR around these organisations is a disaster. You CAN be pro-protestant or pro-catholic WITHOUT being sectarian – they should learn how to do that.

Unfortunately there are always going to be idiots – and they are probably the minority – who make things very complicated and unpleasant for the rest of us. But whatever I feel personally, nothing will change without proper dialogue and discussion with ground members.

I spent several days this last couple of weeks photographing various scenes relating to the Orange Order demonstrations. Unlit bonfires, bonfires, parades, riot squads, flags, debris… trying always to be an objective observer, and yet looking for images which intrigues or speaks in its own right.

There are some who will see the publication of these images as being a pro-Orange Order move. However I hope that the images of drunkeness, police forces, and loyalist troublemakers go some way to establishing my near-neutral stance.  For balance, I will have to photograph a companion set from a Hibernian march, or even some of the St Patrick’s day parades (which do get out of hand).

The images are available on my Flickr profile, with a few more to follow.

A specific album for the 11th night is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avalard/sets/72157634603919194/

and from the 12th July parades in Belfast: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avalard/sets/72157634616143544/

In closing, an addendum… The Orange Order isn’t just a protestant organisation, it is a (supposedly) Christian one. With Christians on both sides (Roman Catholics and Protestants), perhaps they should listen more closely to the teachings of Christ – didn’t Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? Does violence and taunting really sit comfortably alongside that?

Altercation II

Altercation II. (Loyalists come face to face with the riot squad near Belfast City Hall).
image © 2013 Robert J.E. Simpson. All Rights Reserved

Real men don’t wear cologne

26 Nov

Working into the wee small hours a couple of weeks back I could hear something pounding across the ceiling. Leaning back in my faux-leather office chair I pondered the noise and put it down to the bloody cat I’m now forced to share my space with. Don’t get me wrong, I love cats, really I do – but they make me very very ill, almost to the point of hospitilisation. Of course when said cat padded down the corridor to see me just seconds later I realised we may have another problem.

So last week, lying in the bath as is my custom, at about 2am I suddenly became very aware of the patter of little feet above me. At speed. Repeatedly. Yes dear Bobbystalkers, without a shadow of a doubt that was the dreaded sound of mice. Slightly astounded by the volume that one rodent weighing a mere 25g can make, I took a sip of my cough medicine and opened my book once again.

Prior to last week I’d seen only two mice since we moved in. One was in the corner of the stables during the first week. The other I found floating in the horses’ water bucket when cleaning them out (very peaceful it looked). And in the last week we’ve caught three of the feckers. My sister has been berating me on Facebook for my ranting about them, but then she has two cats and a flat. We’re in a mini-farm scenario, miles from the nearest bus shelter and I don’t drive (actually, that’s a rant for another night…). I try to point out they eat wires, cause electrical fires, pee everywhere, carry disease, eat my food…

I saw ‘we’ve caught’ but in fact, muggins here has been left on Mouse duty. Wifey finally heard one at the start of the week and decided to set the traps that were lying in one of the cupboards when we moved in. Within an hour we had one. Of course, me, with my minor rodent phobia, had to dispose of it. Worse was number two, which was still slightly alive when I spotted it. And number three (which we caught today after a wait of several days) left a bloody mess on the woodwork which I bet I end up cleaning.

We live in the country. These things happen, and I’m sure its just as bad in the city, that is if you can avoid the rats and urban foxes. But since I was a kid I’ve had a thing about rodents… or rather rats. I’m completely captivated by them, but from a safe distance please. My dad used to have to catch them (we lived in the Craigantlet hills then), and drown them in the nearby quarry. Uggh.

Actually speaking of ‘uggh’, I was on the phone the other morning having just come from a very positive meeting, and standing outside the new restaurant where the old BK used to be beside the Movie House on Dublin Road in Belfast, and glancing down there was a huge black rat. Lying on the drain. Dead. Worse, it was squashed into the drain cover, flush with the top, but with little bits forced between the slats. I didn’t take a photo. I probably should have. I have photos of the other feckers.

I’m not much of a man really. I’m rather more squeamish than most people realise. Even the sight of mould on a bit of cheese can set me into spasms of fear (especially when you can tell the mould on the stilton isn’t the mould that was there when you bought it!).  I can’t bring myself to chug a dozen tins of light beer, or a single lager; I don’t get the attraction of football or indeed any competitive sport; cigarettes repulse me…

Oh if I had a quid everytime my masculinity was called into question…

Do people still buy Old Spice? I was pleasantly surprised when I started noticing Lamb’s Navy Rum in shops a year or so back, having never taken notice of it before, but knowing that the delightful Caroline Munro used to be the Lamb’s Navy Rum poster girl (and fact fans, can be spotted in Hammer’s On The Buses on a billboard, BEFORE she got a contract for the company). But Old Spice? I remember my dad having it when I was a wee sprog. Red bottle, and a pungent musky scent.  He had Brut as well, that came in an odd green bottle with a large neck, its very own medallion – you provide your own hairy chest- and a similar musky whiff. Musk, that seems to be the key to smelling manly, but I’m not sure why? I find these days when I choose a scent in inevitably has a citrus-aroma to it.

Lynx body products do the same sort of thing, present a musky masculine image. Thank goodness they’ve introduced some actual scent into the range (and I do like their body scrubs), but for me Lynx deodorant will always send me back to the locker room at school after a particularly horrid game of rugby in winter. Having braved the homo-erotic potential of the showers with the other boys and fumbled for ten minutes with the impossibly small buttonholes on my shirt with fingers still numb and red from the Arctic weather. Boys in their teenage years, whether deprived of female company (as I was) or not, seem to believe that more is best and will think nothing of emptying a half-can of aerosol onto their sweaty torsos. Are they just getting high on the fumes? Surely they can’t actually think they smell good? Somewhere in the middle of the room the emissions meet and react and new life is born… Girls don’t do the same thing, do they?
That the advertising standards folk chose to get their knickers in a twist this week because Lucy Pinder indulged in a little 1970s-esque advertising sexy is excessive. Frankly most of the children who are educated beside the (non-Pinder) billboards probably won’t notice a thing. I grew up on a diet of Benny Hill, Kenny Everett and Carry On films and I’ve seen far more in those. I bet it was grumpy wifes and girlfriends complaining about their gawping husbands.  That the online Pinder adverts are filled with sexual innuendo really shouldn’t bother anyone. Does anyone complain about the breasts on show in the Mail? Or some of the twats that you can actually see write for them? Is it more manly to use a product that markets itself with a near-naked woman? Wouldn’t it be more manly if Lynx promoted itself with images of bonding soldiers -like the Romans?

You know I’m sure I had a point in mind when I started this. But its gone now.