In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project

In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project
In Search of My Father, 2017 writing project supported by The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Sunday, 17 December 2017


This is 17 December 2017

By the end of today, I will have deactivated my Twitter account, not because I have had any negative personal experiences as a result of my tweets over the years. On the contrary, I have developed many positive, supportive and amusing connections and I have benefited from a lot of good thoughts on my various writing efforts. The banter has been fun. I have made friends (many of whom I will never meet face to face). I have reconnected with long lost contacts and I have exchanged many a pleasantry with actual friends. All of that has been great.

I have used Twitter to promote my work, to participate in discussions, to share the odd joke and quotation here and there, to offer my own brand of wisdom (whizz dumb?), to rant, to talk bollocks and to salute my many western heroes/movies along the rocky trail. In addition, via links to my blog, I hope I have helped and encouraged Northern Ireland's talent pool along the way having had the pleasure and privilege of reading splendid books and listening to wonderful CDs,  and posting reviews.

But, I am just tired of the mish-mash that makes up this thing called Twitter. I have enjoyed and learned from the many upbeat messages about writing and writers, music and musicians and all layers and levels of the creative arts. I appreciate and am grateful for the supportive messages about my own work from tweeters. It means a lot.

However, I have loathed the general bickering, the insults, the bile, the hatred that spews out about individuals, communities and organisations. There is more than a kangaroo court element to social media and it disgusts me. Twitter is used by manipulators to spread nastiness and vulgarity, and I can do without all the obnoxiousness.

If only there was the option to choose a Twitter route after signing in: this way for all the good, positive, creative stuff or this way for all the shit.

Besides, Twitter is a distraction and I have a number of writing ideas floating around this skull of mine and I want to use the time I save reading avalanches of messages, most of which are irrelevant, to develop as a writer and for that to happen I need to concentrate. I have ambitions for 2018 and I'd like to achieve at least some of them.

There are some tweeters that I will miss a lot.

If anyone has a mind to keep in touch for all the good reasons either leave a message in the comments section at the bottom of this post or connect on Facebook where I will be from time to time mainly to stay tuned to family stuff and to share where I am up to with my scribbles.

I might return to the fray sometime in the future but, then again, this could well be it.

Never too far away from a western reference, I leave you with this. I can't remember where I heard it but it makes sense to me::

"Never miss a good chance to shut up"

Thursday, 14 December 2017


Hearing choirs at this time of the year prompts a memory.

In the mid-1960s, I was a first year pupil at St Mary's Christian Brothers Grammar School, Belfast. Just about every kid was Shanghaied into participating in music lessons run by Tommy Cooney - obviously Mister Cooney to us - and one of his major tasks was to assemble a decent set of singers to celebrate some anniversary or other to remember the life of Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers movement in 1802.

Mister Cooney was a plinkety-plonk piano player, somewhere between Mrs Mills and Animal from The Muppets, but he was enthusiastic and tried very hard to keep us from getting bored with the necessary repetition of scales and all the other layers of music theory. He did tell us that he expected us to jump out of bed in the mornings, open the window wide, take as deep a breath as we could muster without busting a rib and then sing the highest possible note we could manage. This, he said, was good for the lungs. Now, if anyone ever followed his advice I have yet to hear about it. Letting out a high-pitched squeal early in the morning where I lived would not only have scared the birds and the milkman, it would have been a signal for some annoyed neighbour to hurl a brick through the aforementioned window.

As the weeks went by and we moved closer to the big Ignatius Rice event, several kids were dropped from the choir. Sadly, I made the cut. Rehearsals continued at a pace. It was mostly torture but there was no escape. Light relief came from watching Mister Cooney demonstrate the techniques of singing. Whenever there was a Pavarotti vocal stretch required, he would go for it but, almost always, his false teeth would dislodge and he would chew and gurn them back into position before trying again. Picture a couple of dozen squirming kids simultaneously trying to stifle titters.

As far as I can remember, the event went well and not long after that I left the choir. My work was done.

One other thing I recall about Tommy Cooney, the music teacher - he could't sing a note!

Monday, 11 December 2017



Looking back,
there were decisions I should not have made,
there were decisions I should have made,
things I should not have said,
things I should have said,
people I should have forgotten,
people I should have remembered,
situations I should have avoided,
situations I should have arranged,
jobs I should have abandoned,
jobs I should have done.

But in the end, what difference does it make?
We will all burn out, as sure as the sun will.
In time we will succumb and disappear,
for we are what we are in life for good or ill.

Looking forward,
there will be decisions I will not make,
there will be decisions I will make,
things I will not say,
things I will say,
people I will forget,
people I will remember,
situations I will avoid,
situations I will arrange,
jobs I will abandon,
jobs I will do.

And at the end of this year, what will be different?
Will I write the same words, think the same thoughts?
Write a summary poem exactly like this.....will not.....will.....?
Be someone else or be the same man?
We are what we are in life for good or ill.

Life, the rough, the smooth,
the pleasure, the pain,
bring on 2018,
for off we go again..............

A link to another post on this blog highlighting some of the pleasures enjoyed by my eyes and ears

Beyond family including the wonderful Joseph Campbell Higgins, just over one-year-old, I am indebted to two very important people in my writing efforts – Damian Smyth at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Gail Walker, Editor of the Belfast Telegraph. A few other people have shown an interest in my writing and supported it, and I thank them enormously.

My unsung hero of the year - a checkout operator called Maureen in my local Sainsbury's. She is quietly-spoken, friendly and helpful with impeccable manners ....... and she doesn't call me 'sweetheart' (the irritating service word of the moment, alongside 'enjoy').

The most depressing sights and sounds of 2017 all feature the Trump fella.

The best day of the year was when my son David married Stevi-Ann, amongst a great crowd of guests on 26 August in London.

The joyous moments included a regular run of photographs (supplied by my sister "Granny" Geraldine, rightly gooey over her first grandchild) of the aforementioned Joseph Campbell Higgins who turned one-year-old. His smiles lift the spirits.

Happy 2018 folks. You – nay, we deserve more joy.


There are many others, of course, but here’s a short selection In no particular order:

Crow by Ted Hughes
Faber 1972

‘He tried ignoring the sea
But it was bigger than death, just as it was bigger in life.’
Crow and the Sea

Sentenced to Life by Clive James
Picador 2015

‘Tired out from getting up and getting dressed
I lie down for a while to get some rest,
And so begins another day of not
Achieving much except to dent the cot.’
Elementary Sonnet

North by Seamus Heaney
Faber 1975

‘As if he has been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep
the black river of himself.’
The Grauballe Man

Poems by Agatha Christie
Collins 1973

‘The fairies talk to little girls,
They push aside their golden curls
And whisper in a shell-pink ear
But what they say we cannot hear.’
From a Grown-up to a Child

Market Street by Damian Smyth
Lagan Press 2010

‘It was over in seconds, a total waste of a good man.
The shop was there from 1896 and had a language all its own.
A “footprint” – a plumber’s wrench; “bastard” for rough files;
You could even buy bubbles for a spirit level.’
A Wrench from McMaster’s

How To Be Well-Versed In Poetry edited by E. O. Parrott
Penguin 1990

‘The eye rhyme
Is generally used by me
To show how you can rely
On foreign pronunciations to upset the applecart completely.’
Eye Rhymes by Paul Griffin

Domestic Flight by James Ellis
Lagan Press 1998

‘For better, worse, memory which serves us, right,
Or wrong – storehouse of being, well-spring
And fountainhead, recording and recounting
Sounds, odours, touch, taste, sight;
Yet fallible as flesh, and prone to error.’
Pictures In The Fire

The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes
Faber 1982

‘There was this road,
And it led up-hill,
And it led down-hill
And round and in and out.
And the traffic was legs,
Legs from the knees down,
Coming and going,
Never Pausing.’
The Legs by Robert Graves

A number of years ago, I would have automatically included one of Roger McGough’s books
but, sadly in my view, the poems don’t really stand the test of time, entertaining as they are.

And finally, one I am reading at the moment:

On Balance by Sinead Morrissey
Carcanet 2017

‘No matter the shift, the only food he’d take with him
down the pit was bread and jam, two slices wrapped up
in greaseproof paper, and a bottle of gone-cold tea.’