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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 ...


Stephen Smith: On the Applegarth

13 April 2000
... Bessie gave up clattering the dinner gong at seven. The hotels became a kibbutz for ageing members 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 Rwandan Border

Stephen Smith

9 June 1994
... strife. Aid workers estimate that there are now as many as a million displaced people in Burundi, 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 ...


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 ...


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. That was all this affair needed, I thought ...


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 ...


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.’ ‘He fell from the colours ...


Stephen Smith: In Mogadishu

23 July 1992
... The cars drive into the United Nations compound in Mogadishu. The two Somalis get out, and so does the Filipino woman, and the sad-looking Egyptian who has been telling everyone he must be on the flight back to Nairobi at four o’clock. I am the only one who is going on, to the Save the Children Fund compound. Ahmed turns the car around and there are only the two of us in it. The guards open the tall ...
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 ...


Stephen Smith: What about Somalia?

11 February 1993
... Reflecting on Somalia at the recent UN-sponsored peace talks, I found the more I heard about warring factions, Western intervention and the re-drawing of boundaries, the more I felt like shouting: ‘That’s enough about Bosnia – what about Africa?’ Although it was impossible to grudge the Bosnians their summit in Geneva, it was possible to be disappointed that the serious British media were in ...


Stephen Smith: Encounters at Holy Cross

18 November 1993
... Three men left the church by a side door. They made to walk down the stone steps, saw our camera, hesitated. We had been filming what every media-savvy toddler in Belfast seems to recognise as a ‘gv’ – a general view – of the Holy Cross Church and Monastery in Nationalist Ardoyne. It was forty-eight hours or so after an IRA bomb had killed ten people on the Shankill Road, including the Ardoyne ...


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 ...


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 ...


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. The Vietnam ...


Stephen Smith: Peace in Our Lunchtime

6 October 1994
... People rejected Him, friends. They rejected Him. Friends, this is the truth’ – although I was the 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 ...

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