Tag Archives: slightly bemused

A scene from the 2001 movie ‘Black Hawk Down’ depicting the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters during a battle in Mogadishu between US special forces and Somali militia

Slightly Bemused writes:

Demons. We all have them. And they are different for us all, although some carry similar faces.

Reading my journal I am reminded that a few years ago one of our neighbours organised a block party where she invited all of the residents of our apartment complex to a ‘brunch’ where we could all get together. It was really enjoyable, with free-flowing conversations and wonderful food, from fresh cooked focaccia to pancakes and fruit salad, to pizza and Chinese dumplings. A couple of bottles of wine, beer, and spiced rum also helped the convivial conversation flow. It was truly a pleasant time.

Then I went back to my apartment, and a certain film was on the television. This film portrayed events that occurred during my first mission as a humanitarian actor, albeit wrongly and inaccurately (the film, not my actions). The film also fails to show the efforts, sadly both futile and fatal, of other actors to help those the movie depicts as heroes. In its climax, it uses actual media footage that includes colleagues of mine in a manner I find appalling, implying they were implicit in the events depicted.

That film is Black Hawk Down (2001).

That film depicts events in 1993 when US special forces tried to capture one of the main supporters of the warlord Muhammed Aidid. While the book is very accurate, and outlines what happened well, the film is ‘Holywood takes on terrorists’ and downplays many mistakes of the US forces, and impugns the other UN-led countries there. It is inaccurate and wrong.

How do I know? I was there. I watched the initial helicopter attacks from the flat roof of the accommodation I was staying in, and was the first person of my organisation to send the alert. There is much I cannot say (I am bound by confidentiality agreements ) but much is in the media. Most wrong.

This started late of an afternoon: the next day, my car (being from the organisation I then worked for) was the only one moving in Mogadishu until I could get clearance for the others. I was shadowed by two US military attack helicopters the whole time (Cobras, in case anyone is curious). Based on my organisations mandate, we arranged for medical support for those affected, and over the following days repatriation of the bodies of the fallen. Everyone else stayed in their accommodation or compounds – and I do not in any way criticise them. This was what we, and no one else, did.

What has this to do with our block party? Well, it came into focus for several reason, but one being an attendee did not know about the events of Black Hawk Down: he had not been born at the time. Others were too young, and did not remember, while one told me she had learned about it in her studying.

It made me realise that I am old, not necessarily in years but in experience. People now study in university what I and others lived through in real life. When I started to do this, there were no courses: now you can get a Masters out of school without ever setting foot in a humanitarian response. Are my mistakes now essential reading for the next generation of humanitarians?

We learn by mistakes, but this just seemed a little extreme. Are universities around the world examining my failures? Will they be looking at our work, and judging in the cold light of classroom projectors?

What will their judgement be?

Slightly Bemused’s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic: Sony

Slightly Bemused writes:

So I wore a hole in my sock today. Well, technically 3 holes. Second time this week, although the one yesterday was a single hole. Both in the heel, first right, then left. And a big toe started peeping out the end. I am not sure what this means.

These socks owe me nothing – they are 15 years old if they are a day, and have been washed in a variety of ways from washing machines, to hotel sinks to washboards at the side of a river somewhere. One of my t-shirts of similar vintage also decided to give up this past week. I wear my clothes to destruction.

Superstition tells us that if you wear a hole in your sock, you will receive a letter. If two holes wore in your sock within the same week it is a sign that you will soon receive a gift. As far as I can tell, superstition is silent on the matter of multiple-sock-multiple-hole scenarios, but I live in hope. The one thing that is certain is that ultimately a new pair of socks is coming my way.

When I was young, a hole in my sock meant that more often than not my mother would be out with the darning needle. These days, the material my socks are made of would not take kindly to such treatment, and so my socks are destined for a different fate. Just what, as yet, I cannot say, but that spirit of not just chucking something out because it is no longer pristine remains with me.

After washing, they make great dusters; if trimmed right, they can make good wrist warmers (not that that is needed here); or if transferred to an imaginative child, they could be anything their minds can craft them into. My daughter made hand puppets, as I am sure generations of children have done.

But there are generations of children who have never made a sock puppet. And in many of the places I worked, I am sure there are many who never will. And not because they are not imaginative, or resourceful, or careful not to waste items that have passed their original use. The plethora of homemade toys I see every day is testament to that.

No, they likely will not make sock puppets for a more basic reason: they mostly do not have socks in daily use. The footwear of choice there is the flip flop, or sandal, or thong (for our antipodean friends). It is cheap, cheerful, and more importantly, cool. I have occasionally had snickers come my way at wearing socks in such a hot climate.

Socks are certainly available, and are worn, but only with the good shoes, like on Sundays and special occasions. This will wear them out slower, while the wearing of sandals allows one to be much cooler.

Except of course for those who were forced to flee their homes. They might not even have the flip flops. I have occasionally asked myself, as this morning, that if I were forced to leave at no notice, what would I try to take with me? Would socks be high on my list of priorities? or would I go for the photo albums of my daughter? Or the external disc drives with my electronic data? What if I had not time, and all I was left with were my socks?

Today in far too many places, millions of people have been forced from their homes with little or no warning. I heard stories of women walking for over 8 days, carrying their children and little else, to get to safety. They came without socks, and occasionally without flip flops, or they wore out. Yet on they came, seeking a place to allow their children to be children.

So this morning, as I contemplate the holes in the heels of my socks I do wish for a gift, but not for me. I wish for the gift of peace so children can explore their own imaginations in peace, and mothers do not have to walk for days just to keep their families alive. And maybe even a sock puppet or two may make a dull day more amusing.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic: Alamy sock stock

Slightly Bemused writes:

There are a few problems with coming up with a good murder plan. I suppose the first is to not devise it with your supposed victim while lying on a certain sleeping bag under a wonderfully dark starlight night

I went to Christmas Mass. Of course, I had not booked ahead, but the stewards were wonderful. I got offered a place at the back where they normally sit. Masks were on, social distancing was observed. And somewhere in there my knees let me down. A very kind man with a really cute baby helped me up, but one of my decrepit knees took a knock. When a lot of kilos of me decides to come down, and the portions of my body supposed to stop them get in the way in the wrong way, let me just say it hurts. So once home a gel was brought forth and rubbed liberally. Knees move again! A dog will happily do yoga once more.

When I met the lady who became my wife first came into my life she did something very sensible. She told me of her allergies, and one in particular. It was to the active ingredient of this particular gel, hard to come by in the US, but easily available in Europe, and Ireland. She had an Epi-pen, and made sure I knew where it was and how to use it. And so a murder plot came about even as I was being told how to prevent it. She presented it herself, but did advise it would only work in Europe.

The second problem with a murder plot is discussing it with the daughter of the proposed victim, especially when she is your own daughter. She gets kind of upset at the idea of you offing her mother!. Probably not too surprising, really. This discussion was after she pretty much broke her wrist the year Harley Davidson fans came to town, and we had to go to Chicago. Out came the gel, and after making sure she was not allergic, the plot was presented while massaging the sore joint. Now currently safely a couple hundred miles away from the ‘victim’.

We did head up the Sears Tower and did the whole Ferris Beuller thing of leaning on the window. The look on the usher’s face pretty much said that everybody did that, and he had had enough.

And so comes the third problem with a murder plot – stop telling everyone! The theory was that if I liberally smeared this gel on my hands, then said hello, would it be a problem? Lots of TV shows have hinged on less.

Simple answer is it would not work. Apart from there being an Epi-pen to the rescue, I have an image in my head of a CSI type scientist saying something along the lines that her allergic reaction was caused by a product not readily available in the US. Hmm… Who might have visited recently? So, nabbed! It was my darling daughter who explained that point, after she gave out to me, and hit me with her other arm.

Now I am lucky, I have very few allergies. Biggest one is contact nickel, and in recent years I am not sure if I am developing hay fever, or just live too close to lots of grass. But Little Slightly does have a few. One year we had to take her to get one of those tests where they prick you multiple times for all sorts of stuff. Her mother could not hold her, as she said she herself was allergic to pretty much everything being tested.

And so my little love, with both forearms pricked many times, nestled in my arms, and put her head down on a certain rotund part of me and said it was her personal pillow. Still trying to lose that!

The funniest bit though, was when the doc came back in, and he had a little chart of which prick was what. The biggest, reddest welt was labelled as ‘Control’. Both her mother and I started laughing. Our darling never did respond well to control, she has always been herself. And with all in my power I will make sure that never changes.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic: Allstock

Slightly Bemused writes:

Of course at Christmas Life Of Brian (1979) keeps coming to mind. “Blessed are the cheesemakers.” “Maybe he means makers of all dairy products”. There is a town in a country where I used work. To get there you did not ask ‘how far’, it was ‘how long’. But there was a farm there, originally set up by a Belgian, but had since passed it back to his workers after he became too old to manage it. Before he passed, he taught them how to make cheese.

They also had a hostel, and when I say that people would endure the hours on those roads to come, stay overnight, drink the excellent beer from the local brewery, just for that cheese, please do not think I am exaggerating.

The cheese was not unlike Edam in flavour, but he had no wax, so he wrapped them in a muslin-like fabric, and they developed a hard crust, with the inside being the softer texture. An Italian colleague loved the rinds: he would grate them like parmesan whenever he made pasta, simply cutting off any mold that developed. Nothing of the little rounds was wasted. I do not recall what happened to the muslin. Most likely taken by the housekeepers for their own use.

Weeknights were fine – you could hardly get in the door at weekends. I once had to sleep (quite comfortably, I assure you. I still have the sleeping bag) on the floor of the common room as all beds were taken, and my important guests had nabbed the couches. Once or twice I had to stay at the nun’s convent nearby. Basic, but clean and safe. Not so much beer though.

I had met them years before that, when I was travelling alone. He was only building the guest quarters, I slept in the same room, but that time on a couch. Everyone ate around the same table. His wife was ruthless as the workers came in if they had not taken off their boots and washed their hands outside. But she made sure there was food enough for all, and would at the end send one of the workers off with food in insulated dishes for the guards and workers who could not attend the table.

And that first night he told me about his passion for cheese. It came about simply because when he started the farm he had no refrigeration, and the milk from his cows would go off.

He tried yoghurt, but without pasteurisation and refrigeration, people got sick. So he turned to cheese. On one of his visits back to his home he visited local dairies and commercial cheesemakers. He was rebuffed a few times, but one told him he was asking in the wrong place. He needed what I guess we now call artisanal makers, or farmers. He eventually found a farmer who made small batches, mainly for family use, as the dairy took most of their milk and that was their income.

So he learned from this family, where when the children came home, one of their chores was turning the cheeses as they matured. At home, I had to clean the grate and lay out the firebox of the range, twisting yesterday’s newspapers into little firelighters. Or maybe a different day it was laying and clearing the table, or the washing up team. I thought turning cheeses sounded more cool, until I saw this man’s operation. It looked like hard work, not so much for the effort as the monotony and the amount of it, and the care that needed to be taken.

He told me this over several glasses of Chivas Regal – the real stuff. Knock-off could easily be obtained, but blindness is a risk. He told me he was sure one of his staff sold his own empty bottles for that illicit dealing. He was not worried about that aspect, but was about the dangers. But lectures did not help, although I do recall his admonishment not to eat yoghurt in that country.

I always brought him a new bottle every time I traveled, varying the whiskeys, introducing him to Irish ones he had not tasted. He really liked the Jameson, Black Bush went down well, but the 12 year old Bushmills malt went down better. I never tried Paddies on him. The last one before his passing was a Middleton. On that night, we talked rugby.

And had it with cheese and Belgian mustard, and slices of his own farm apples.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

A still from Yoplait yoghurt launch ad in 1982

Slightly Bemused writes:

I went to the shop today, and was delighted to see something that the past few times has been sold out. About two weeks ago one of the ladies who works in the shop, and always has a smile for me (and a very nice but large husband, and some absolutely delightful kids – don’t worry, that is not where this is going) recommended a yoghurt. I had not had it before – caramel and toffee flavour. Probably not good for my cholesterol, but is a yummy dessert as the wind picks up outside and the rain drives against the window.

And it got me thinking of my first yoghurt – a raspberry flavoured Yoplait. I was 8 years old. Apart from the fact that this was a veritable taste explosion I had never experienced before, the reason I remember it is the friend who shared it. I think in many ways we remember the most important things by the people who were part of that time with us.

He lived round the corner, we were in the same class in school and there was a group of about 4 of us who did our best to terrorise the neighbourhood. We two were on the way home, and his house was first. We went there to watch something on TV (sorry, the yogurt experience made me forget what), and his mother gave him a yoghurt. She apologised to me – she had not expected me, and only had the one left. My friend promised to share.

And so in a situation that would give our Chief Medical Officer paroxysms today, two snot -nosed kids shared a yoghurt with the same spoon while not watching television. Naturally, it was gone all too soon. But he taught me the proper etiquette for eating yogurt: you lick the lid, and when the spoon cannot get any more out, you run your finger around the pot and lick the remains off a digit which of course had not been washed. I did not share that bit, his largesse extended to spoonfuls and half the lid, but not fingers.

I have sat on many flights over the years, and often if it is a morning one, they might serve yoghurt. I always lick the lid, thinking of my friend, I do not always run my finger around for the last bits, depending on how horrified the look is from my fellow passenger in the row when I lick the lid. Of course I smile at them, but never explain.

One was a Swiss colleague, and her look was wonderful. When I smiled, she snorted, and made a comment to the effect of ‘When Irish eyes are smiling, you have to wonder what they are up to”. She was Swiss French, her husband was Swiss German and was sitting a few rows back. They spoke to each other in English. The yoghurt was peach flavoured.

And of course this evening, when I crack open this new yoghurt and settle down to watch something silly, I will lick the lid, I will use my finger to get the last bits, and I will think of my friend, and the lady in the shop with the nice smile who introduced me to this new treat. And I will smile at the horror of a colleague on a plane. In honour of Dr Holohan and in the interests of my own safety, I will wash my hands before and after.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Slightly Bemused writes:

They truly are a thorny problem. And one I let get away from me. The end of my back garden became shorter by about 10 feet while I was away as the brambles decided I was not living in the house and were making a mad run for occupancy. Maybe they were jealous of the new loo

But thanks to Woodies I have been able to hold the front, although I did nothing once fruit arrived. There are little birds living there, and the fruit was important. I saw the last of it a week ago. And a lovely man who comes in about 3-4 times a year and makes sure my garden does not completely take over my home was in.

He regained me about 4 feet of my garden. He will be back in spring, and we can decide how much more to recover, and how much to leave for the robins and the bluetits, and maybe even the goldtit if he is still about. The blackbirds were upset, but they live higher in the trees. I never figured out where the crows nest – they do fly-bys and come down for food, but keep their sanctuary a secret.

I know I talk about how small my town is. But I have known this guy for several years.Yet last night something clicked. He knows my Dad well, and perhaps more importantly used take the bus regularly with my youngest brother. Not just a small town, but a small county. First names are all well and good, but adding the surname, while not important on the one-to-one, adds in layers that make you part of your town.

A little like brambles. Before he knew who I am and our connection, he was explaining how brambles grow. They put out tendrils, and once away from the original, the end of the tendril puts down roots, and a whole new briar is born.

I guess we are all like that a little, with each of us the next tendril. Some of us are thorny, but all of us are reaching into our communities, creating and continuing the connections. And we occasionally meet a tendril from a different family, often without knowing it. Another root out into the stuff that keeps us together, keeps us whole.

I know I mentioned before that I lost family. Yesterday (8th) was the anniversary of my Mum’s passing. They are buried together in a family grave in our local graveyard, which is right beside our local supermarket. The graveyard is closed, and in any case a wall from the first abbey constructed in the town is dangerous. But it has a low wall around it, and from there I can see the grave only a few metres in. Chat with my Mum, and my brothers who have gone ahead of me.

And many times there are others along that wall, all properly socially distanced, but all doing the same thing. So we chat, not just with our departed loved ones, but with each other. Sometimes we just nod at each other, and quietly rest our heads on our arms.

Looking today at the recovered ground of my garden I realised that my mother is one of those tendrils, as are my brothers. Those of us along the wall are the next set of tendrils, reaching out and binding our community together, even when we do not know it. Brambles grow quickly, communities slowly. But the more deeply they burrow, the more they grow together. And even when some are cut back, the rest remember them.

And sometimes it is hard to know the you from your town. I for one have no complaints. And little things like the chat with my friend doing the gardening reminds me of that, and how far the tendrils reach.

Slighty Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic by Slightly

 

Oooh.

Very posh.

Slightly Bemused writes:

I did promise to update once my new bathroom was done. I know I am out of day, but if anyone is interested, here are a few pics (above) of my new bathroom. No more burgundy hell. Apparently grey is the new ‘in’ colour, but my landlady held out for the warmer sand colour.

The tilers were incredible, 3 walls and the floor in less than 5 hours. The slabbers (who put up a waterproof wall covering and repaired my collapsed kitchen ceiling) took about the same time, all the while being bombarded by my questions. Turned out the electrician went to school with my brother, and I with his. This is truly still a small town.

For all the inconvenience of not having a convenience, it was truly a joy to watch masters of their craft at work.

Previously: Toilet Humour (Slightly Bemused)

Slightly Bemused writes:

I try to get up each morning to see the sunrise. Admittedly, I pretty much fall back into bed afterwards and sleep until a much more sensible hour. But sunrise is wonderful, even when the sky is clothed with cloud. The brightening of the day brings a joy.

And the chorus of birdsong to welcome it is wonderful.

Except for the robins. There are two who live in my garden, among the briars and trees. One fellow likes to come and visit me whenever I do work out there.Occasionally he will do the typical and sit on my garden fork handle and sing. I used think it was lovely.

But yesterday I saw him face off against a Goldtit (there is a colony of them among the briars too) and Mr Robin was not being very nice. I suppose at this time of year food is getting more scarce, and they would be after similar grub, but the aggression of the little red breasted bird was surprising to me.

I wonder if part of that is my fault? Every year I put out seed feeders and later fat balls for the little birds. The crows and I have a different understanding, and they leave the seeders alone.

But I have been late this year. I normally wait until the fruit is gone from the brambles, but bathroom upset has had my mind elsewhere. Never mind, this afternoon will see some new seed in the garden.

It has been my joy to travel the world a little, and watch the sun rise over many different scenes, and listen to the birds welcome the day. Something that surprised me was to hear that birds have different accents wherever you go. And in some of those places they perform like an orchestra in the morning.

They are a little quieter in the evening, as they settle to their beds. Sunset can be just as wonderful, but where sunrise signals the start of a new day, sunset is the time to rest.

But I think the best sunset I ever saw was with a young lady with whom I was quite taken. We drove north from Nairobi towards Naivasha, and along the way she had me stop the car. We went over to the edge of the Rift Valley, and sat with our feet over the edge, at least a kilometer down, and watched the sun set. Beautiful colours, and birds singing around us. With a lovely lady tucked into my arm, I thought I was in heaven.

They have since built a viewing platform at that place, so no more legs dangling over the abyss!

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic posed by model

 

Slightly Bemused writes:

So I have no bathroom.

I went to bed all nice and cosy on Thursday last with a bathroom. Then Friday morning a very nice man turned up, and by lunchtime a new, clean, blank canvas was there, waiting for whatever was to come. At least they left me the toilet for the weekend. That was nice.

And then Tuesday morning happened. By 8:30, that was gone, and this could get awkward (and possibly messy)! At least until Friday.

This made me realise something I have known, but pushed to the back of my head. It is the little things that are important, like access to a bathroom. Amid all this talk about shared accommodation recently, this is surely one of the most basic issues. Not to mention for the homeless.

It also reminded me of a family story. When I was doing my Inter Cert (yes, I am that old) my father decided to renovate our heating system. Out came the old anthracite boiler and in went a brand spanking new range, which would not only heat but roast, cook, and I think may have been able to juggle too from all my Dad said about it.

As part of this, the hot press was moved from our bathroom into the kitchen. In the space freed up, my Dad intended to put in a shower. He even bought the tray. This was a job he would do himself, being an engineer and a consummate DIYer.

Ten years later I returned from my first overseas posting. Still no shower installation. After a chat with my Mum, we headed down to the local hardware shop and bought one of those units that you fit onto the taps of the bath. Voila! Instant shower. Just had to be careful with the spray not to wet the floor too much.

When my Dad got home and saw this, he was really quite irate and turned to my Mum and said “Stop rushing me!”

I came home the next evening to find that a set-up had been rigged to hang the showerhead, shower curtain had been installed, and all was right between him and my Mum. But roll on another ten years and they moved out to a house designed for those with special mobility issues, and still no shower installed.

In fairness, he had been doing quite a lot of other work, including in the community, and it was not laziness. It turns out that there was not enough height under the floorboards for the correct fall to allow proper drainage, and the bathtub was in the way if he raised the tray enough. As the issue was not critical, it was put on the back burner. I heard the new owners just ripped everything out and started from scratch, so no worries. Kind of like my own bathroom now.

Anyway, back to Friday. Shortly after my bathroom started appearing on the grass as it awaited the skip, my next door neighbour pops his head in: “I see the plumber has arrived” and proffers a set of keys. His spare set, and the invitation to make use of his facilities for the duration. Messy avoided.

A short while later, the neighbour on the other side popped in, and showed me where the spare key was kept, with a similar invitation. And an admonishment to close the porch door before I open the inner, or the little Jackie would get out.

I have two great neighbours, and I would not trade them for a hundred new bathrooms.

Slightly Bemused‘s column appears here every Wednesday.

‘sup?

Slightly Bemused writes:

I think I was adopted by a cat.

Every day a black and white male cat wanders through my garden. On several days, an offering is left on my back doorstep. This little fellow has lived around here for a number of years. I remember one time, when he must have been little more than a kitten, watching him try to stalk a number of crows on the green outside where I live. He was really good, low to the ground, stealthy, creeping forward.

But his tail was up, the end twirling gently. And of course the crows knew he was there. As he got close, they simply hopped a little further away. I think between them, it became a game. He was learning to hunt, they were not the hunted. But crows are very smart. They were in no danger, but it was no harm to teach a young hunter to hunt. And so I think it is he who leaves the offerings.

Why is it important to say he is a male cat? Well, recently a female cat has decided to wander my back garden. I watched one day as they passed each other, one coming in, one going out.

They walked very slowly past each other, pretty much keeping eye contact. Until they had passed by, and each just went on about whatever business cats do. Both tails were up, so no aggression intended, but I think they liked each other.

The new lady is a ginger cat, and I think I know who her ultimate father was.

My now sadly departed aunt used come over, and stop off with us. Often she was heading up to the big smoke to visit other relatives, but a haven, and to be honest a bathroom, before making that part of the journey was something she enjoyed. She usually spent at least a night, and my Mum and she would be up all night talking. I often wondered what they could talk about for so long, now I am starting to understand.

But this one time she came, and she asked for help from us young ones. She had her cat in the back – she did not want to leave him alone while she was gone, and intended to ask us to look after him. His name was Teddy. So we all stood along the back of her car as she very gently opened it. She had made a lovely bed for him for the journey, and had made water and food available. And a ginger streak of lightning whizzed out of the back and made for the trees at the front of our garden.

My aunt’s reaction was pretty much ‘Oh no, not again!’ He did not come back, but ever since then there have been a large number of ginger cats in my town where previously there were none.

So I am kind of curious to see what happens between the black and white, and the ginger. Will Teddy’s legacy live on?

And it makes me curious. Which one is actually leaving the offerings?

Slightly Bemused’s column appears here every Wednesday.

Pic posed by model