“Black traveller duty”

I’ve been on the road this past couple of weeks (in fact, I’m in a coach somewhere in Israel as I write this). I don’t get to do as much travel writing as I would like to, so I’m really enjoying this time – and there’ll be a few articles appearing in different places at some point in the near future. This short blog post sprang from an outtake from the diary I’ve been keeping whilst on the road. it’s about something I sometimes find myself having to do from time to time whilst travelling; something I call my ‘black traveller duty’. Let me explain…

Back at home, whenever I meet a Spanish or Latino person, I use the opportunity to practise my Spanish. Something similar happens to me when I travel to certain countries – and judging by stories I’ve heard, a lot of black people have had similar experiences.

‘Urban’ culture is a global phenomenon; no-one can deny that. One side effect of this is that as a black person trekking through foreign climes (especially countries not known for having large black communities), you will, sooner or later, meet a local who wants to ‘practise their Urban’ on you.

I normally don’t get offended when this happens; the people involved mean well and it’s usually light-hearted and certainly not mean-spirited. And anyway it usually amounts to nothing more than a daft handshake – like yesterday in Shef’amer, when I had to fist-bump a young Palestinian man who works in the restaurant I had dinner in. Sometimes, though, it does get a bit weird. In Turkey last week, a market trader in Turgetreis introduced himself to me as AJ – “A to the mother____ing J”.

Ah, well – it’s all good (strangely, no-one’s said that to me yet). And I should remind myself of this next time I meet Alvaro from Cali and want to launch into “Oye, hermano – como te gusta Londres?”

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Making it up as I go along

I’ve kind of been in ‘stock-taking’ mode for the best part of the past month. Being on the ‘wrong’ side of your 40s will have that effect on you anyway, but in my case, quite a few other things have conspired to make me even more reflective than usual. Going to an old family friend’s 80th birthday party was one; an old school reunion was another. Then there was the preview of Fast Girls last week, at which I got to meet Paralympic athlete Martine Wright, who’d lost both legs in the 7/7 Tube bombings. And then I came across a couple of blog posts: one written by Loretta Andrews and one by Steve Best.

But what really kicked it off was an invitation from some former workmates to a reunion with the ex-director of the company I was made redundant from in the early 90s. The reunion took place last Friday; about 20 of us met in the Ladbroke Arms in Notting Hill and had a fantastic time reminiscing, catching up and just talking about life in general. So maybe my lists of things I’m thankful for and things I’ve learnt/done should begin with that old job…

Things I’m thankful for

Printronic International was a direct marketing firm based in Wimbledon, which I joined in 1987 as a computer operator, and was made redundant from exactly seven years and two days later.

To say that I was gutted at being made redundant would be a massive understatement. This was my first proper job since coming back to the UK, having spent my childhood and early growing-up years in Sierra Leone (yes, there was the crappy burger place I spent a year and a bit in before that, but that doesn’t count). I’d started writing in 1990, and was still finding my voice, so to speak, when I lost the job. The combination of the security of a living wage and the convenience of a four-day week had given me some space to grow as a writer without starving in the process. Losing that was a massive blow.

But if I hadn’t left Printronic, I wouldn’t have ended up spending a year at the South London Press, learning the journalist’s craft full-time and realising that I didn’t want to spend my writing career asking mugging victims how old they were (the SLP’s then news editor had a thing about getting the subject’s age into every story – even when you couldn’t quite see how it was relevant!). I would probably have never got round to going to university either.

Weird as it sounds, going to uni in my 30s is something else I’m thankful for. It would’ve been nice (and considerably less of a financial burden) if I’d gone a few years earlier (my going to uni coincided with Tony Blair scrapping student grants). But at least I knew what I wanted to do when I went. And for all that’s been said and written about how rubbish media degrees are (a lot of it justified), mine has helped me land a great job, a handful of fun writing and radio gigs and a nice radio award on my mantelpiece – y tambien, ahora puedo hablar un poquito de Español. Not too shabby…

I’ve become very experience-rich since my Printronic days, and for that I’m thankful. There are other things I’m thankful for as well; I’ve put them in the “things I have/have done” list below…

Things I’ve learnt

  • Circumstances can change very quickly, and it only takes one bad experience to screw up your perspective on life.
  • What you like in school doesn’t necessarily dictate what you’ll end up doing when you grow up. That said, I still love maths (yes, I’m weird. Got a problem with that?).
  • Empty vessels really do make the most noise. Sadly, we still live in a society where he who shouts loudest gets the most attention…
  • That thing about stuff being for a season is true, but some seasons go on for longer than others.
  • We’re all our own worst critics. And we really do need to cut ourselves some slack.
  • Everyone needs a ‘Team Me’.
  • It might be true that everyone has a book in them. It might also be true that some books “just write themselves”. But you still have to type the bloody things…
  • Passion counts for a lot.
  • In 95% of life’s dramas, the most reassuring thing one can say is “I’ll put the kettle on”.
  • You really are never too old to learn something new. As I write, I’m listening to one of the zillion albums I get sent to review. It’s by an Austrian musician called Gottlieb Twerdy; an architect who only learnt his first instrument at the age of 53, and has just released his debut album – at 60!

Things I have/things I’ve done

  • Some good friends (I may not see some of them for lengthy period of time, but we’re cool)
  • A kick-ass music collection (any rubbish you find in it was either given to me or is meant to be ‘ironic’)
  • A church where the people aren’t right-wing, and God isn’t just there to make you a millionaire (yeah, I’m a God-botherer. As such, finding a church I can be me in matters to me)
  • A degree
  • An exotic drum collection (all right then, three djembes and a darbuka)
  • A passport full of stamps (there would have been even more in it, but I accidentaly stuck my old one in the wash after a trip to Spain, and had to start afresh with a new one. A very expensive mistake)
  • Had a ride on an elephant
  • Traveled to Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and seen how a little compassion and generosity can make a big difference to a poor child’s life
  • Played daft games with kids on all four afore-mentioned continents – and in the Middle East too
  • DJed at a rock festival
  • Written a book and co-authored a few more
  • Waded in a waterfall
  • Eaten a guinea-pig
  • Had a walk-on part in a crap film
  • Learnt to swim as an adult (falling into the Pacific Ocean was kind of a wake-up call; boy am I glad my mum isn’t on the internet to read this!)
  • Met a few of my boyhood heroes – and not been mentally scarred in the process
  • Sailed on Loch Ness (if there is a monster there, it’s an incredibly shy one)

Still on the “wanna do” list…

  • Visit Cuba sometime before the ‘Miami Mafia’ take control of the place
  • Visit Brazil and join a samba school
  • Maybe I should just be one of those ‘single and proud’ older guys, but I’m not really sure I want to totally give up on the love thing just yet…
  • No kids (yet) – we live in hope

Things I’d have done differently (or, “Regrets? I’ve had a few…”)

  • I wish I’d known about introversion and all that stuff while I was in school, or that it was talked about in the more constructive manner in which it’s discussed nowadays. It would have made those awkward teenage years slightly easier to navigate…
  • I would have started writing earlier – even if it was all rubbish. A lot of rubbish gets written on the road to becoming a great writer. It’s all in the rewriting – well, most of the time, anyway…
  • I would have read more, too. Making up for that now, though…

Note: This blog post is not complete. Like life, it’s a work in progress – and I’m making it up as I go along.

My weekly round-up

My workmates and I have to do one of these every Friday at work; it helps us keep track of all that has been achieved (or not) over the week. I thought I’d extend the concept to other areas of my life, and see what effect that has on my outlook. And so, in summing up, last week:

My niece turned 14;
I met Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez (and got paid for doing so!)
I had two nice pub evenings (one for a friend’s birthday and one for another friend’s ‘leaving job’ do)
And a nice pub lunch (with workmates)
And a nice afternoon tea (with an ex-workmate who’s about to start a round of chemo)
Swam for free when the guys at the pool didn’t have change for my £10 note
Had my work contract extended by a few more months (then had a few extra days added, so I could cover a conference).

A few crap things happened as well. But I think I’ma concentrate on these, rather than on the bad stuff. You know, accentuate the positive, an’ ting. Irie, man…

10 things I’d have liked to see Hitler’s reaction to

It’s been nearly four months since Constantin Films (the company behind Downfall, the Oscar nominated film about Hitler’s last days) got Youtube to take down a rash of “Hitler reacts to…” videos, made using key scenes from the film.

The first one I saw was the Fuhrer’s foul-mouthed reaction to the news of Michael Jackson’s death, barely days after watching his memorial concert. Others followed: Usain Bolt’s 100m win; Kanye West upsetting Taylor Swift; Oasis splitting up… all of varying degrees of hilarity (and tastelessness).

While I can understand why the filmmakers had the videos pulled (they did kind of trivialise what was a really deep, serious film), part of me wishes they were still around, and new ones were being made. I’d have loved to see what Hitler would have made of these news stories:

  • Rage Against the Machine getting the Christmas number 1
  • Heroes being axed
  • Britain’s hung parliament
  • Reception problems with his new iPhone 4
  • The vuvuzela
  • Delirious?’s ‘History Maker’ only getting to number 6 in the charts
  • Robbie Williams rejoining Take That
  • Google Wave not really catching on
  • Naomi Campbell giving evidence at the Charles Taylor trial
  • Usain Bolt losing to Tyson Gay

… And if possible, I’d like those videos to be in 3D.

Resolutions, etc…

Never been big on New Year Resolutions. Too much guilt when you slip up. Yeah, I know – you’re supposed to get up and start again. I just find that the initial enthusiasm dies a little with each slip. So instead of a list of Things I Will Stop Doing This Year, I’ve decided to use a little reverse psychology (or something) and gone for a list of thing’s I will do (or at least aim for) in 2009 – a list to which I’ll add things as time goes on. I’m starting with these (in no particular order):

• Write something every day (this post doesn’t count as today’s, by the way)
• Do one crazy thing each month
• Say ‘yes’ to any gig that involves travelling
• Use the Mac more and the PC less
• Learn one new guitar chord, dos palabras nuevas en español and deux mots nouveaux en Français each week
• Choose one stupid TV show and stick with it for an entire series (suggestions as to which show would be appreciated; at the moment, I’m thinking either Ugly Betty, Samantha Who? or Gilmore Girls)
• Read more
• Raise the price threshold of the wine I take to friends’ “bring a bottle” parties to £5

I think that’s enough for starters. Suddenly I’ve got a good feeling about 2009…

Well, here goes nothing…

So, after years of fighting it, I’ve finally caved in and started my own blog. And here’s the crazy part: I still haven’t got a clue as to what it’ll be about!

That’s actually one of the reasons I haven’t had one for so long. Yes, I’ve posted the odd note on facebook and stuck a couple of pieces on Myspace, but not on a regular basis. Even now, I’m not so sure why I’m starting this one (I think I’ve already said that). I don’t want to become one of those people who has to write something about every little thing that happens and post it on the “woo” (© Fonejacker) for everyone to read. Opinions, someone once said, are like noses: everyone has one, and they all smell (I think I’ve heard someone say the same thing about another part of the anatomy – nuff said). Maybe this could be the Seinfeld of blogs – a blog about nothing!

Naah, I’m sure I’ll think of lots of things to blog about. It’s just beginner’s nerves getting the better of me right now. So do come back again sometime, and there’ll be plenty of musings, ventings and general ramblings by me up here for your perusal.

Here goes nothing…