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Diary

Stephen Smith: Stephen Smith goes to Cuba and tries to get his books out of the library, 24 November 1994

... In a library on Paseo de Marti in Havana – a single strip light, a stopped clock, a thrashed fan – I ask if they have anything by G. Cabrera Infante. The Cuban novelist was expelled from his country’s writers’ union in 1968, by which time he had already spent three years in exile. He has vehemently rehearsed exactly how underground his books are in his native land in a new collection of vindicatory essays, Mea Cuba, which I have boldly taken into Havana as hand luggage ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: On the Applegarth, 13 April 2000

... of the family. They lived in New Brighton, across the river from Liverpool. My great uncle, Harry Smith, was on the council. He was the first person to swim in the Guinea Gap baths on the day they were opened. He owned the Rockpoint Hotel and the Sunshine Café on the front, and once went to Leicester on the strength of a tip-off about ex-Naafi kettles. ‘If ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: Peace in Our Lunchtime, 6 October 1994

... only person in his audience. A flybill on a street sign promised ‘Ulster’s answer!’ Pastor Stephen Mitchell was proclaiming ‘the glorious gospel’ at John White’s Church on Sunday morning. Pastor Mitchell, who is in his early thirties, spoke of the ‘gross indecency’ of Chaldee in Abraham’s day. ‘Is this not a picture of our own ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: What’s become of Barings?, 23 March 1995

... rogue trader, that brought Barings down on his own, then they are fairly unrealistic,’ said Stephen Pollard, Leeson’s lawyer. He maintains that his client derived no personal gain ‘in any matters relating to this dreadful outcome ... He is being made a scapegoat for others. The information he is giving us involves a much wider circle of people in ...

On the Rwandan Border

Stephen Smith, 9 June 1994

... all told. Once night a hotel bellboy appeared from behind an arras with a message for me: ‘Mr Smith? It’s the President.’ ‘For me?’ I heard myself say. ‘On the phone?’ ‘No. Reception.’ I made my way doubtfully to the lobby, suspecting that I would not find Mr Sylvestra Titibantunganya, the interim President, and that the best I could hope ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: Make sure you sound British, 22 December 1994

... Why do people take the ferry to France to buy cheap drink? Obviously, it’s to save money – though not even the Yuletide change that the day-trippers trousered the day I accompanied them explained the glow in their cheeks, or the roistering of our homeward journey across the English main. Less obviously, but only just, the booze-cruises are also about over-indulgence, greed, and in some cases outright criminality ...

Last Stand

Stephen Smith, 8 May 1997

Solidarity on the Water front: The Liver pool Lock-Out of 1995-96 
by Michael Lavalette and Jane Kennedy.
Liver Press, 147 pp., £5.95, December 1996, 1 871201 06 3
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... Reporting on the Liverpool dock-workers’ dispute in its early days, I was billeted in Wigan. It was December 1995, and an international football match was being played at Anfield. There were no rooms to be had on Merseyside that night. Had I been by myself, I would have turned up on the doorstep of my aunt’s house in Wallasey, which is a mile or two from the docks, but she couldn’t put up an entire television crew ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: A 17-year-old murder victim, 5 February 1998

... The evening paper was leading with the police calling in a ‘Cracker-style’ forensic psychologist to help them solve the case. There was a poster with the same headline for the newsstands, which was a banker of a shot for us. But the vendor we approached wouldn’t bark his wares for the camera. He was probably on the dole, according to a passing policeman ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: In Havana, 16 October 1997

... Cubans like to say that their impoverished country is a land of miracles. How many people can pack onto a bus? Only God knows. The same irony was there on the road to the Church of St Lazarus at Rincón. The pilgrims had set out on their trek to the church for the saint’s feast-day as perfectly able-bodied men and women, but were inviting disability by grinding themselves against the blacktop for mile after mile ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: At the Dingle Derby, 19 September 1996

... The man from Cork thumbed through my race-card. Borrowing my ballpoint, he put a cross beside Kinard Diamond in the 4.30 and gave me a meaning look. We were standing at a lonely stretch of railing: myself, a girlfriend, the man from Cork and an old boy who said he used to be a priest. ‘I was in fifteen years,’ said the priest. ‘It was the women, I missed the women ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: In Medellín, 21 May 1998

... Of the two cathedrals in the city of Medellín, the one in Parque de Bolivar has far and away the lesser association with murder. It’s the largest brick building in South America and its confessionals are open-plan. You can see the priests, frowning, ears cocked, twiddling the cords of their vestments. The brick walls gave shelter to many mourners in the days when Medellín was ruled by Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s nabob of narcotics ...

One for water, one for urine

Stephen Smith, 3 December 1992

An Evil Cradling 
by Brian Keenan.
Hutchinson, 297 pp., £16.99, September 1992, 0 09 175208 6
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Hostage: The Complete Story of the Lebanese Captives 
by Con Coughlin.
Little, Brown, 461 pp., £16.99, October 1992, 0 316 90304 3
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... I had that Terry Waite in the back of the car once. Unlike the celebrity fares picked up by Private Eye’s proverbial taxi-driver, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy was technically occupying the front passenger seat. But such were the dimensions of legate and vehicle – the one broad yet gangly, the other originally designed by the Germans to give a thousand years of ergonomic motoring – that my companion seemed to be resting the crown of his head against the rear de-mister ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: On Alpha 66, 25 January 1996

... The grenade went off as we were breasting the pampas. There was a bonfire of smoke, threatening to obscure the humid prairie of the Everglades laid out beneath us, and an incongruous whiff, like the smell of the stuff you dip mosquito nets in. We had successfully taken the high ground, or so we thought, and seized command of the field of sweet potatoes which stretched almost to the horizon ...

Diary

Stephen Smith: Italy’s Monsters , 24 March 1994

... God is screening one of his satirical shorts the morning I arrive in Rome. The rail-link between the international airport and the city centre, which has been expensively revamped, or at least remarketed, shimmers me to the first stop, Ponte Galeria, and then breaks down. The power is out all along the line, says the guard. Trains are marooned to the front of us and behind, like the ghosts of journeys past and yet to come ...

Nuclear Smuggling

Stephen Smith, 10 June 1993

... The middle-aged man sat with his head bowed, flattening his face against his palms. ‘Lots of tears, lovely stuff,’ murmured the cameraman. The presiding judge had given us permission to film ‘arrivals’ at the trial of 53-year-old Polish national Krzysztof Chmist, appearing in court with two fellow countrymen at Bochum in the German industrial region of the Ruhr ...

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