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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 201: July 2012

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts -

Ochone, ochone, autumn and its schedules are here again. Well, I suppose for a week or two in August it did feel like it might be (an Irish) summer but for the rest of the time....well, even more dismal than normal. I really noticed it in the garden, our soft fruit crops (e.g. raspberries) were only 20%, if that, of what they should be; the flowers formed all right but it was that wet and cold the fruit didn't develop but rather where the fruit should have been just went black. And when I would normally have had a couple of big bowls full of cultivated blackberries I got less than a measuring jug.

I know not everyone's crops were as bad (high walls may also affect our garden), but germination outside was also very poor. The one mitigating, 'bright' factor was that some flowers - including tulips and some perennials - lasted in flower much longer than normal because the weather did not hurry them on to their post-flowering phase. But that was only a small consolation.

'Summer' may be over but still I like the weather of autumn, the slight chill going out in the morning before I get to warm up (on the bike). But autumn schedules I can do without. It usually feels so busy that it's a hop, skip and a jump to late December and C h r i s t m a s.......and nobody listens when I seek to postpone that by a week or ten days (the Orthodox Christmas would do) for me to catch up. I don't suppose anyone is listening now.... I could be (un)orthodox and refuse to recognise 25th December as Christmas but by myself there wouldn't be much point, would there?


Ah yes, the London Olympics 2012. Superlatives abounded. But a sense of perspective please. The award for that perspective should perhaps go to a letter writer in the British Guardian newspaper: on 11/8/12 Fiona Carroll pointed out that "Usain not the first to retain both sprint titles at the Olympics. Leonidas of Rhodes won the stadion or stade (just under 200m), the diaulos (two stades) and the dolichos (20 stades) at the four Olympics between 164 and 152 BC." So there.

Summer solidays

There are different approaches to summer holidays. Some people wish to collapse on a sun lounger in a sunny country (Ireland qualifies extremely rarely, 'once in a blue moon' would be far too frequent). Some people like to get up and go, at home or abroad, doing their favourite leisure activity or activities, whatever that may be. Others take different approaches again. But even for the first group, let's call them 'the relaxers', the return journey alone, not to mention the shock of returning to normality, can leave people needing another holiday to recover [so there are another group, the 'holiday avoiders' who prefer routine and dislike the stress of travel].

Whatever we have been doing on holiday, the return to work and/or normality can come as a bit of a shock, even if we know it's coming. Motivation takes a while to build. And how long does the effect of the holiday last? That's a good question but a week or two down the line holidays usually seem a distant memory. So do holidays really have an ongoing, lasting effect on people's well being? Don't know the answer to that one, I suspect it varies and the effect is as much psychological as physical - if people 'feel' they have had a good time then they also feel able for not having such a good time back at work and normality. I think this is probably as important as having been physically relaxed or energised by a holiday.

I do enjoy holidays. But for being relaxed at the start of the autumn I find feeling I have had a relatively relaxing time during the whole summer - not just the holidays - is as important, or even more so, than the holidays 'away'. In other words, this is also about the period I am at home and still at work, or partly at work, but normal schedules are not running, and there is an opportunity to take time to do things that might be impossible during busier periods of the year. I'm not quite sure what it is, how to put my finger on it. But I think part of it is that most of life is routine, and for most people a busy routine. Taking that routine and making me feel I am not ruled by it, that I can vary it, that I can still have a good and relaxed life, at least some of the time, is important in feeling in control.

Talking about this also reminds me of times being involved in public manifestations (usually small demonstrations and the like) when good upright members of the community have told me/us to get to work or 'get a job'. This shows their prejudice, making the assumption that someone engaged in such an activity is not a 'productive' member of society. The ridiculous thing is I probably work far longer hours than they do or would ever do because of the combination of 'paid' and 'voluntary' work I am engaged in. If I was 'there' it probably meant that I wasn't being paid because I wasn't working so in a sense I was 'paying' to be there. And even if I wasn't working, so what, is that the way to define a human being? I'm all for positive approaches to work, and useful and productive work to do (which rules out a certain percentage of the economy) but define someone by their (narrowly defined) economic function and there is a big problem. In the UK that big problem is primarily the Conservative Party but the Republic has its own little conservatives in Fine Gael and other quarters, but in both jurisdictions there are others who share the same approach.

And that also reminds me of times when we would have had a vigil in Belfast for some international crisis or event, perhaps just standing in solidarity with people who were suffering. Undoubtedly a passerby would comment "You should be doing something about Northern Ireland/the situation here." What they were doing of course was open to question. But I'd look around the small group present and realise that every last one was heavily involved in peace and community work locally in different ways. That's the way of it.

And the way that it was put together

The fact that INNATE is 25 years old and this newssheet is over the 200 mark made me think of political and small scale publication in days of yore, by which I mean c.1970 onwards. I would have produced my first duplicated material and magazines from my mid-teenage years. [Precocious get - Ed]

Those were the days of the duplicator, 'Gestetner' was a particular make whose name was used almost like 'hoover' for a vacuum cleaner. At this stage duplicators operated with an inked drum on which you placed a cut waxed-type stencil; the ink came through the stencil as the paper was pressed against the revolving drum. Simpler ones you operated by hand, later they all were automatic through an electric motor. Cutting the stencil was a careful task, usually done with a typewriter. If using a manual typewriter you had to hit the keys strongly but evenly to cut the letters; electric ones were easier. But if you made a mistake then it took a minute or two to correct; you got out correcting fluid to put over the mistake, forming an impermeable film, which you had to leave to dry before hopefully hitting the right key or keys the next time.

Duplicating was a messy job in that you were likely to get ink on your hands. I wonder if it was any more or less ecological than a photocopier today - I couldn't compare the content of duplicating ink compared to the constituents of copying dry print today. I suppose I enjoyed the challenge of the technology available, and with lettering stencils you could do larger headings by hand on the waxed duplicating stencil but that required careful coordination and planning of what you wanted to fit. Once cut the stencil was cut and you continued or started again.

'Dawn' magazine (1974-85) [and a predecessor of this newssheet - Ed] had its first 18 issues mainly produced on a duplicator. Of course the quality was rubbish but it was usually legible! At this time electronic stencils had been developed but they were relatively expensive; this copied your sheet onto a stencil by scanning and 'burning' the stencil. We developed a clever technique of getting full pages of cartoons scanned onto electronic stencils and then 'cutting and pasting' them onto typing stencils, cutting a hole with a scalpel and pasting them on with correcting fluid. The result usually held to produce the number of copies we needed.....

However with issue No.19 of 'Dawn' (March 1976) the jump was made offset litho printing, courtesy of Dave and Marilyn Hyndman (now of Northern Visions) of the Print Workshop in Belfast which printed a whole generation of political and community publications for Belfast and wider afield. This felt like it was getting a bit more sophisticated. The quality of print was what you might expect from printing, including photos (which needed screened) or cartoons (nicked from a variety of sources), and the charges were kept low to make it accessible. I'm not sure if 'the Print Workshop' ever got proper credit for their dedication to community and political causes at a time when commercial printing was expensive and much less accessible.

At this stage typesetters (woof!) would cost you an enormous amount so you set your electric (yes! Technological advance) typewriter with its 'one time film' ribbon to the column width you required and typed. When you had your piece all typed you cut it into columns and laid it out on pages with your headings and cartoons or other graphics. Of course there was a fine art in stopping your cut up pieces of column, some maybe only one line across, from blowing across the room, being swept onto the floor, or ending up in the wrong order. Hunting the tiny piece of type you had lost was part of the game.

The other aspect of this enterprise was 'Cow Gum', again a trade name, in this case for 'designer's rubber cement' - or what glue sniffers might like to use, it had a very strong small. Working together with others you might have three or so tins open in the one room and you risked getting a headache from the stuff though I think to get high, a risky enterprise, you would have needed to be inhaling closer up. Cow Gum enabled pieces of paper to be slid exactly into position, being more flexible in positioning than modern glue sticks where the glue dries quite quickly and you are tearing pieces apart. Cow Gum dried more slowly. However as the Cow Gum in a tin was left open it gradually got thicker, over time, to eventually become unusable.

The Print Workshop did later on get typesetting machines, this was in the pre-computer era (or 'BC' era - 'Before Computers' were common), which even managed to justify (make even) the right hand side of columns. How sophisticated was that! But you still had to cut and paste, and, while making minor adjustments before the Cow Gum dried was possible, anything more major meant taking it all apart. I enjoyed the challenge of this technology, in making interesting layout, and sometimes of squeezing things in where it looked impossible. Eventually printing technology became more accessible and the Print Workshop moved on to the great printshop in the sky.

The early issues of Nonviolent News were produced using a duplicator (if you look at the PDFs online you can see the poor quality of printing), and then a 'copy duplicator', one that burnt a stencil copy of your sheet - good ones of these could produce a result almost as good as a photocopier. These went out of common use and Nonviolent News switched to photocopying.

Computer design is, of course, a whole other and newer ball game. You can tear a piece apart as many times as you want because it is not an entity exterior to the computer. You print it directly when finished, or make a PDF, or send it online to your commercial printer. It is certainly an advance but it sometimes feels less 'artistic' - if that is a quality which you find desirable, though there are many different techniques you can use if you learn how. The messy, hands-on-glue-and-paper, approach did allow you to interact with the 'product' in a different way. And using no-cost publishing programmes can mean limitations, e.g. in how close you can place text to a photo or graphic without interfering with it.

However I also enjoy the challenge of dealing with the technology of today, and it can certainly be faster and easier to use. However keeping track of your type needs care, just as it did in the day of cut up columns; now it won't blow away or get lost under other bits of paper, but it may get 'hidden' off the page and the end result can be as bad, or if your linked columns are wrongly set up then bits of type can appear in unexpected places. Each technology I have used has meant a learning curve in being creative and effective.

Small scale publishing has come a long way in my lifetime. I wonder what advances the future holds, probably even more sophisticated 'print at home' options being one aspect. 'Nonviolent News' has deliberately kept a 'no graphics/images' policy for ease of production and size, but that could change too; INNATE has instead had a separate photo site. We'll have to see where we get to; for me, I have been through three generations of technology in forty-odd years - as detailed above - so I wonder if there will be another 'generation' in my lifetime.

Of course all this is only a means to an end - communication. It is the message that matters. But you have to treat the message right. If I produced a duplicated sheet these days it would look mighty strange, a bit like producing something with antique, outdated language, it would look exceedingly old fashioned. Whether anyone would read it, except out of curiosity for its old-fashioned look, would be questionable but then you can produce a really sophisticated looking leaflet in full colour and only few people may read it.... Communication still requires imagination, dedication and, most of all, a human touch.

- - - - - -

Well, that's enough reminiscences for now. Seeing rioting in north Belfast currently is enough sense of deja vu. I wish you well adjusting to those autumn schedules again and I look forward to talking to you again, same time, same place, next month, Billy.

Who 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).

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