Embarrassing for Britain, the British government and indeed NATO when in the middle of the last month (September 2012) the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan announced a stop to joint combat operations with the Afghans "until further notice". This was just a day after the British ‘Defence’ minister, Philip Hammond, had said in parliament in London that business as usual was continuing, despite a high level of ‘green on blue’ (Afghan forces attacks on NATO personnel) or insider attacks. And then the British announced subsequently that, no, they weren’t suspending joint patrols. Clearly NATO crusaders weren’t all singing from the same hymn sheet.
But you have to take solace where you can. “The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, described the attacks as the "last gasp" of a weakened Taliban.” (Guardian website, 18/9/12) If you believe that, well...... I’m not saying that the Taliban aren’t willing to talk and do a deal, clearly they are, but the idea that this is something like the last throw of the dice for them is pretty feeble thinking or a really weak attempt at salvaging something from the ruins of the US and NATO foreign policy debacle that is Afghanistan.
If you want a great short analysis of the UK role in Afghanistan, look at this piece from Simon Jenkins in The Guardian at the start of October.
It seems no time at all since the nerenes – pretty in pink and exuberant autumn flowering bulbs – were last in flower, though in fact as everything is late this year it could even be 54 or 55 weeks rather than 52 since they last started to give colour to us. They give the garden an autumn lift. Mind you there is one interesting fact about nerenes which I use all the time for pressed flower pictures and cards – they keep their colour well when dried and form tangled and joyous party-popper type shapes which help to give cards a celebratory look. However if you pick nerene flowers and press them straight away it is not really successful. But if you cut the flowers, enjoy their colour inside for a week or ten days in a vase with water, allowing the flowers on the cut stems to wither ‘naturally’ before you press them, it works really well.
Marking occasions with a card is usually much appreciated but when it is a homemade card the thought may be especially appreciated. You can buy all sorts of bits and pieces for card making with great results but with a bit of creativity and imagination you do wonders yourself – with coloured card or specialist papers for cutting to shapes, your best handwriting skills, and/or pressed flowers. Cards can be made for sad as well as happy occasions and although you will want some colour in a sympathy card on someone’s death there is a balance to be made in some brighter colour to mark the person’s life but more muted colours on their death, but the artist in you can guide you on this.
Making pressed flower pictures or cards is easier to do than you may think. If it’s for a picture then ink marbled paper (running ink down wet paper which you have ‘anchored’ so it doesn’t dry wavy) is a great background. For cards you can use coloured paper to stick on, or cut coloured card designs, or even a coloured picture – appropriate to the occasion - from the internet to combine with your flowers.
Drying flowers and leaves by pressing them is very easy. You can use a flower press but you don’t need one if you have a big phone directory – these are becoming an endangered species with the fact of less landlines and less people listed in phone books – on which you would place a weight – a stack of other books, anything heavy is fine. Simply place your flowers or leaves between pages in the phone book, leave some pages before placing more, and apply whatever weight you are going to use (an even weight over the whole phone book is best) and leave it for a month or two.
Mind you, learning what will keep good colour when dried is a bit of a learning curve. Pansies and violas are good. Sunflower petals are good. I have shared my tip about nerenes above. You can experiment – even tulip petals can make an interesting larger piece of a design or background for overlaying. Interesting shaped and coloured leaves, from tree or hedgerow, can provide contrast, and variegated red leaves are also good.
You can develop your own techniques. I use wood glue for sticking on dried flowers and leaves because they are fragile and this glue is relatively non-sticky but provides firm application when dry. I use a very small or child’s-type paintbrush for applying the glue before sticking it, laying the back of the flower or leaf onto kitchen roll before putting on the glue gently, working outwards from the centre point of the flower or leaf. When completed (flowers and leaves stuck on card) I usually put a weight on it for a short while – a casserole dish works for me – to keep the flowers flat and adhered – but I remove it before the glue is fully dry so none of it sticks to the weight.
I have run through here very fast some techniques which, if I were explaining fully to someone who asked about how to do it, I would expand further, But if you are using low cost material, as I do, you can afford to experiment as to what works and what does not. I’d be surprised if you are not surprised at what you can do. As you may or may not know (e.g. see my Colm in NN 175) I am rather keen on the reality that everyone is artistic, it is just a matter of realising how and developing the capacity that everyone has.
Perhaps I can continue the artistic theme (no extra charge) by considering which artists’ colours you need to be acquainted with. Of course you, as a dedicated artist, professional in your approach if even an amateur, are willing to learn the intricacies of colours and colour design. We can expect no less.
Here is the first instalment of my cut-out-and-throw-away guide to some colours and their possible applicability. Please note that these are guidelines and usage is beyond our control. If you are depicting water pollution and algae infested loughs then Crimson Lake is strongly indicated. If, on the other hand, you are marketing the latest margarine/noxious bread spread to come from the chemists’ lab (‘farm fresh’) which you hope will make you and your company a load of €/£ then it has to be Green Gold that you will use. Obviously Irish rugby uses Hooker’s Green when possible whereas Ireland would stereotypically be presented in Emerald Green. However, marketing lethal Scottish lemonade Irn-Bru then Iron Blue is necessary for the lettering.
Writing about or portraying one recent escapade of Prince Harry of England requires Winsor Blue or possibly (quite close to) King’s Blue. Portraying those iridescent with rage about the latter or news about coverage (or lack of coverage) of P Harry’s sister-in-law may require Burnt Umbrage, I mean Burnt Umber, or possibly Indigo for the indignant. In portraying power relationships, Viridian would be the colour best used. However I wouldn’t be seen dead in Caput Mortuu. Meanwhile Davy’s Gray after cleaning out the shed which has been ignored for years. And for those who couldn’t be bothered with any of this through lethargy I would suggest Litharge.
Dealing with socialism and the leftward direction in the Netherlands clearly indicates Antwerp Red, whereas Germany’s distraught feelings on the more flaithiúlach members of the EU might require Berlin Blue. The dispute between China and Japan over uninhabitated, and possibly also thereby uninhibited, and presumably totally useless islands (unless there is oil or gas involved) requires Chinese Blue. A former British Prime Minister should only be portrayed in Madder Brown. A salad in Italy requires Raw Sienna whereas the mafia have only to transpose one letter using Verdetta. The loyal orders, as they are known, in Norn Iron require the use of Avignon Orange (though instead of “Sur le pont d’Avignon / L’on y danse” it might be “Sur le pont d’Ormeau Road / L’on y danse en colère”. I think that’s enough about colère for now before you get Cadmium Red with rage. Your homework for next month: Just what combination of colours would make my brown eyes blue? Or my blue eyes red? Or, in photographs, my red eyes blue?
It’s clearly the fault of the poor
There is a clear difference between the two jurisdictions which I primarily relate to, Norn Iron (=UK for many purposes) and the Republic. Politics in the island-of-Britain context tends to be ‘a bit’ more ideological, certainly at the moment where a right wing Conservative government is trying to shift goal posts somewhere out of the playing field with a right wing revolution. In the Republic, the policies are often just as harsh, even harsher because the social support system has not been as developed and taxes have been lower, but there is not the same ideological edge to cuts. It has to be said that in the Republic most people also realise that the economic mess the state is in can be attributed overwhelmingly to the rich and powerful – primarily property developers and the last Fianna Fail government respectively – and that ‘ordinary people’ are certainly not to blame. Unfortunately what I would consider the logical steps to move forward from this have not necessarily been taken, but sín scéal eile. In Britain there is a clear move by the current government to stigmatise the poor, pushing them to get jobs which are simply not there. But the effect on poor people may be the same under both regimes. And the ideology in the Republic may be simply less developed or vocalised, less in your face perhaps partly due to the Labour Party being in coalition with Fine Gael, but not much less Thatcherite or Cameronite in practice.
In the UK as a whole there is a massive shift coming in social welfare, starting in April with the change to ‘Universal Credit’, combining various social welfare measures (including financial support to the unemployed and housing benefits) into one household payment. There is nothing wrong with simplification per se which has the potential to make things easier for everyone. However there are very many problems arising and the greatest is that most people will have their payments cut (which is presumably the primary purpose of the exercise), and the separate but related change (= cut) from DLA/Disability Living Allowance to PIP/Personal Independence Payment will see far greater cuts to some of the most marginalised of people, and much greater difficulty in getting the maximum payments possible in the new PIP system. Expect trouble ahead, and with a far higher rate of DLA payments in the North than in Britain, more people in Norn Iron will suffer greatly. Basically, the poor are, again, getting screwed.
It might be unrealistic in the era of economic recession to expect that there would be no cuts but two points need made. Firstly, it is state spending in the right areas that will be most helpful in moving an economy out of recession and not cuts. And secondly, can we start moving towards the concept of a ‘no growth’ economy where people’s wellbeing is not gauged by GDP or GNP? Obviously this should not be an excuse to tolerate poverty because with a no growth economy then redistribution of wealth and resources is essential. Even with a recycling society we cannot keep growing GNP and need to work out how to build a society that values people and not goods and wealth as such, one that, dare we say it, cherishes all the children of the nation equally, and indeed all the adults as well. I am talking about a joyful and caring society where everyone is valued and where no one goes in want, and which values human development and creativity. Now that would really be something to strive for.
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That’s me for now, winter is fast approaching, ten degrees centigrade or anything below that is where I put on the gloves on the bike [Surely you mean the gloves on your hands! – Ed]. Every season has its pluses and minuses and winter has many pluses – sitting warmly at home relaxing (and even not feeling you should be ‘doing something’), getting warm by walking or cycling outside, star and moon watching, and rain-watching where you have a long distance view (though in Ireland you can partake of this activity during any season and almost any day.....). I hope your autumn/winter schedule is bearable and I’ll be seeing you again here soon, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).