In Defense of Love and Banter…

British working-class banter. Cultural or just plain disrespectful?

Over the past few months, my dear new wife has overheard the banter between me and my daughter and was left almost traumatized to the point where I questioned whether I had been as good of a father as I had thought.

blogpicture1Perplexed, I immediately called a friend I had grown up with, now living in Ireland to seek his opinion. In stitches, he said that my idea of banter was lame compared to that of him his daughter. His wife too, at first, was distraught with the apparent cruelty of words that were brushed off so easily and countered with equal venom. Today, he is happy to say, his wife is now a master in this form of communication and could hold courses in its subtitles.

So how did I master this art and unwittingly pass it down a generation? It certainly wasn’t from my Jamaican parents, who too would be mortified if they heard me speaking in such tones. Not here in this area of North American where it would certainly result in fisticuffs or worse………. It was learned as an engineering apprentice in the heart of a rough, working-class environment of a small town called Willenhall nestled in the ‘black country’ of the Midlands, so-called for its role in the industrial revolution. In my mind ‘Black Country” would have been better referenced to the style of humor.


My teachers were Mick, Gary, Ernie, Harold, and Willie. Every one of them a unique character. I remember it well, during a coughing fit on my  first day as a fresh-faced apprenticeship one of them shouted, “Hurry up and die yuh bastard!”  That was my initiation and joyful to say, it only got worse from that point on.

Banter was the means of communication throughout building sites and it worked to pass an otherwise repetitive and boring day, provided everyone involved was in on the joke. The gentler form of banter involved sport but once that was established it could progress to sexual orientation and performance, colour and even mild disability. The ground rules were that remarks were delivered with underlying, if heavily disguised, humour with the understanding that all would be received without offence and returned with a withering riposte. The ‘slag’ had to be received as well as given.

Puppy dogs and roses weren’t our environment. We used what we had to, to bond and create friendships- memories that I still hold dear to this day.

This won’t make sense to many readers but those from a similar background will understand only too well.  My daughter flipping me the bird is not a form of disrespect or anger, but actually a term of endearment.



Adventures in Sunny Costa Rica!

IMG_7637When the tropical sun hits your skin, it’s different. And on the heels of an ice storm, its down-right decadent!! I had the true pleasure of visiting Costa Rica this past April to witness the wedding of my beautiful daughter Kimberley. The joy of a destination wedding was multi-layered: We got to explore new surroundings, experiences and a grand event not only as a couple but with family and close friends. With a warm breeze while the sun was about to set at 5:00pm on April 26th, Kimberley and her wonderful fiancée Alysha exchanged vows near the beach. It was a very special event that we will not soon forget, complete with a sandy aisle, tropical flowers, a few tears and a lot of love. I am very proud of this loving couple and very much look forward to watching their life together unfold.blog1
I have been to other tropical destinations but none have delivered the magnificent wildlife that Costa Rica did. Huge poolside Iguanas, tropical “raccoons” (that resembled something like a cross between a monkey and an opossum) and wild monkey’s that we hand fed a short walk down the beach – simply amazing! The little guy to the left seemed to actually pose! It was remarkable how human-like these creatures were. We chose to focus on beachside rest and relaxation on this trip but heard the zip-lining and other local animal sanctuaries were well worth experiencing.blog2
If you are planning a visit to Costa Rica anytime soon I have a little helpful advice for your afternoon at the beach: be prepared for intense heat and humidity and remember – the black sand MUST be navigated with foot ware!! 

Ralphs Take: How to get new ideas for your book

  1. New location

A change of scene will do you good! Get those creative juices flowing by venturing out of your office or house and find a new place to write. The new smells, sounds, sights, and feel will push you to expand your imagination and explore new ideas.sylvesterstake 2

  1. People watch

People are fascinating creatures. Their quirks, mannerisms, and perceptions are great resources when it comes to creating new characters.  Grab your notepad or computer and venture out to a busy location and just watch how people interact. You’ll be surprised by how many qualities you find for your characters.

  1. Just write

When you find yourself struggling to write, just write. Sounds funny, but just sitting and letting words, any words, flow from your pen will get your mind moving and hopefully help to break through any blockages you may be having. Plus, you never know what ideas you have hidden at the back of your mind!sylvestertake1

  1. Find your voice

Figure out what you’re most passionate about. It’s harder to write about a subject that you have no interest in compared to something that holds great meaning to you.  Readers can tell when you are furiously passionate about a subject and will become as enthralled in it as you are if you share!

  1. Step outside of your comfort zone

Are you used to writing from a female’s perspective? Do you always use the same words and style? Expand your comfort zone and push yourself to try new things and adventure into new realms.  Reach new heights, break the limits!

Ralphs Take: How to create an intriguing character

  1. What’s your character’s purpose?

Give your character motivation that helps to drive the story.  Perhaps create a backstory that influences the actions of your character and helps to explain why they are on the mission that they are on.  Figure out what their beliefs are, morals, how they think and why they were placed on the journey they are on.characterpost

  1. Make your characters human

Be sure to paint a clear picture for the reader of who the character is. Include what they look like, why they are who they are, who or what made them the way they are. Try using character flaws, strengths, fails and achievements to make them more realistic. The better picture that you paint for your readers to see, the more they will be able to picture the character as a real, living breathing person and form a connection.

  1. Create a journey for your character

As your story progresses, your character should develop, grow, take steps backward and change.  Don’t just describe who they are in the beginning and have them remain the same. Like real people, your characters need to progress towards a general outcome.characterpost 3

  1. Create depth

Characters shouldn’t be two-dimensional beings.   Try having your characters play off each other, encounter different issues and explore their surroundings.  You want your characters to be three dimensional in the sense that they take up space and flush out the storyline, events, and plot.

  1. Avoid stereotypes

Humans are complex beings so don’t try to pigeonhole characters or force them to be “normal”. Yes, we all have qualities that are similar, but we also have major qualities that make us different. More readers will connect with your characters if they find unique qualities that are relatable to themselves.

Heightening The Senses

lisashikeIt may sound a little crazy, but sometimes when I’m out on a trail I close my eyes for as many steps as I feel brave enough to take to heighten the 4 remaining senses that naturally get diluted by the 5th. For me, my purpose for hiking is not only to get exercise that both my dog and I need, but to simply take notice. To notice the things I hadn’t, before now, seen or paid attention to, the natural things in nature. By taking in the smells, the sounds, the feeling, I inch towards a mindset that keeps me in the present moment. I like to think of each hike as a walking meditation, a time to just let go and feel. Interestingly, in the brief moments that I have walked with my eyes closed, I have indeed noticed some interesting things. One is that in the summer time, the leaves of different trees make different sounds in the wind and that these are less obvious in the fall when they all begin their decline. While this may not sound like the most intriguing of discoveries, I can say that for me, it deepened my connection with nature and most certainly contributed to my goal of keeping my mind in the present. I have also discovered a much broader variety of birdsongs on these walks and that some of the less appealing “songs” didn’t belong to birds at all. Who would have known that frogs can sound like birds too? Without my sight, my breath sounds get amplified and my stride significantly slows. Breathing in the smell of fresh cut grass fills my nose, the wind teaches me about things I thought I knew, the sun warms on the back of my dark shirt. I no longer take my steps for granted, in that moment I feel accomplished.

Comic Book Memories…

It’s kind of funny- I can’t remember many of the books that I used to read as a kid. This could be because there weren’t that many that went beyond C-A-T spells cat. Why would there be? All the reading material that I consumed came in the form of comic books surrounded by beautifully illustrated art work and given exotic names like Hulk, Spiderman or Dare-Devil. All characters that were in some way troubled – something that I could relate to. Trust me, thinking “Hey! What would Spiderman do?” has got me out of some tricky situations.spiderman

I can remember listen eagerly to the local news when some poor kid was injured jumping off a roof wearing a red cape thinking he was superman. I also remember telling my sister, “It serves the fool right for reading DC comics instead of Marvel.” I know, I know, don’t judge me for being a snot nosed kid, I was going through a phase!
One book I can definitely remember reading was ‘My Family and Other Animals’ the shenanigans in the wilds of Corfu. It held me captivated, but still it didn’t have any impact on my thoughts once the book was completed. A book that did blow my mind at the time and put me on the path of reading regularly was – Enter The Dragon which featured Bruce Lee kicking his way to justice. I see you rolling your eyes there, but come on — at least it set me the correct path. A teacher once told my class, ‘it doesn’t matter what you read so long as you read’. This could explain why many young men in that class ended up on the wrong side of the law!

I first got a taste of this great book when I was very young and my Mum and her sister had gone to watch the movie Enter The Dragon and returned with wild and wonderful stories. Laughing, they recalled how their running commentary of the film had almost gotten them thrown out of the theater. I sat in front of the living room coal fire and watched with my mouth hanging open as mom acted out all the fight sequences, kicking and punching the air – demolishing her imaginary foe. That was it! The very next day I went to the library in search of this book, but sadly they didn’t have it. Determined to read about these adventures, I had to dip into my hidden paper route money and muster a few coin to go buy the book. It’s no wonder why years later I started training in Karate. Sure it isn’t Kung- Fu but it’s close enough and lead me to represent Great Britain in many competitions.JetLee

Black Panther

There’s nothing like a movie and a dinner with my wife and two of our best friends to end a great Saturday evening.

MLD-01496_R.JPGGrowing up as an avid Marvel comics fan, Black Panther was never my favorite superhero. Much to the dismay of many, Spidey held that special bro-mance position for me. There was more to his character that I could relate to- a young boy, fighting to find his place in the world, while constantly being beaten down.  My opinion hasn’t changed after all these years.  The older I get, the more difficult I find it to be impressed by movies, but I have to say that Black Panther has restored my faith.  There is too much to rave about in just one blog entry but the script, the characters, and the special effects all meshed together to create some of the best entertainment for the two-plus hours I was in the theatre. It’s definitely up there in my top 5 Marvel movies.

This movie did what many can’t. It portrayed the African culture in a positive, powerful and beautiful light. The strength of communities coming together to preserve a way of life, while extending help to less prosperous areas of the world was breathtaking.  It was amazing to see the amount of power and responsibility that was betrothed to the female characters in the movie.  Not only were they considered to be equal to men but were also given positions of authority and dominance. I have three daughters who grew up in a world that often portrayed black women as being over the top, loud and obnoxious. The stereotypes were often comical and led them to become hyper-aware of their actions and the way they were preserved by the rest of the world.  Now, if a movie like Black Panther had been present during their childhood they may have grown up with the confidence of a warrior. They may not have felt shame because their hair was too thick, they may not have fought with their personal self-image, their self-worth and they may not have struggled to find other women who looked like them to look up to.  What this movie has done for black girls and women, black culture, in general, is both inspiring and auspicious.blackpanther4

With that being said, what didn’t impress me was a few bull-shit comments that I saw popping up on social media. Some of these left me shaking my head- I’m sure people just post crap just to get a reaction, no matter how head-up-their-own-ass these comments are.  I’m not sure why it is so difficult for the world to see progress and welcome it, especially amidst the negative and heart breaking events that are occurring world- wide.  I personally think that it’s because people refuse to put themselves into the shoes of others that these hateful comments are put out into social media.  Whether it’s regarding race, gender, sexual orientation- whatever the situation may be, more people NEED to put themselves in the position of those around them and try to understand what it’s like to be them.  Until we all find a way to understand and try to find a common connection between each other we shall continue to be divided.blackpanther3

Okay – less of my rant and more about my movie experience. The combination of various African tradition, artwork, and culture were great, after doing further research I discovered that those involved in the movie used elements from actual tribes to bring authenticity to the film. I even saw some elements of the Aztecs in there! Whether it’s strong black females, culture, adventure, action or understanding you’re looking for- then this is the film for you! Positive roll models – check. Insane villains – check. Moral compass – check. Fantastic special effects – check. You know what? Just go watch the movie.

Ps – I wonder if I can get my wife to shave her head!

Pride in the Streets

prideinstreetsThis year I had the pleasure of attending the Toronto Pride Parade and couldn’t believe the love, excitement and different groups of people that were there! It was definitely a party I’m glad I attended. Growing up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s the way that the LGBTQ community was perceived was very different than today and I for one am extremely proud of the fight that so many have put up to get the basic human rights that we all deserve. From TV shows, to movies, music and books they are finally getting the representation that is deserved and hopefully, with time, the safety that is needed. Within my immediate family my daughter identifies as a Lesbian and has a beautiful partner, while my fiancee also has a daughter who falls within the LBGTQ spectrum. I want the best for those I love, and attending the Pride parade was my way of not only educating myself, but also showing the amount of pride that I have for my daughters. No matter who you are, how you identify or what you’re into I just can’t understand why people can’t see that love is love. I recently saw a poster that read ‘Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get gay married!’ and I couldn’t agree more. Hating gay people for having the right to get married is like hating someone who is running a marathon, just because you don’t like running. Does the end of that sentence sound stupid? Good because that’s how it sounds to me when I hear people argue against gay marriage.

How ever I must say, the man in this picture strikes a shocking resemblance to a friend I have in Ireland. Dave wouldn’t you agree?