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Thursday, 23 May 2019

I WAS GOING TO SUBMIT THIS POEM, BUT NAH. NOURISHMENT.

I was going to submit this poem to a thing but I don't understand the poetry world. So, I'll not subject myself to months of waiting and then nothing. My blog is my bubble.

Nourishment

It’s not all about food and drink, nourishment,
It’s not all about worrying ingredients and calories
And allergies and adverse reactions. It’s not
All about what’s shovelled in and swallowed
And thrown up when food and drink collide,
It’s not all about raw, boiled, steamed or fried,

The heart needs fuel pumped in and the soul 
And the spirit and the mind, a big nutritious bowl
Of optimism, empathy, creativity, enthusiasm,
And dare I use the word without groans, love.
Come eat at the table laden with human kindness
And leave determined to create your own table.

RETAIL TALES - THE AVOCADO BRAVADO DESPERADO AFFAIR

Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping, the golden age of Hollywood (esp westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too. 

joecushnan@aol.com & @JoeCushnan

There is a lot of mundane, dull work to be done in shops.  It has to be tackled but it is hardly challenging to the brain cells a lot of the time.  You know the kind of boring stuff – walking round being Mr Happy, smiling at people you do not like, checking the cleaning, picking up litter and squashed grapes, filling shelves, telling people off, listening to customers complaining about the price of fish or a wonky trolley.  Sometimes, a new experience makes the day more exciting.  The lady with the two avocado pears is a hard case to beat.  She asked to see me in private, as she was prone to burst into tears at any moment because of the trauma I had caused her.  She catered at home for her husband’s business clients and, the previous weekend, had settled on an avocado and prawn starter.  She bought the pears from my shop.  But when she peeled them, both were mottled brown inside.  She explained emotionally that these two small, crinkly items had destroyed her confidence in the kitchen.  In short, she panicked at the dinner party and opened a tin of soup – the indignity of serving cock-a-leekie as her husband was about to clinch a deal had left her scarred, embarrassed and inadequate.  Her ego had been casseroled by this appalling incident.  Our discussion was like a therapy session and when I asked how best to resolve it for her, quick as a flash she perked up and said: “Each dinner party costs me £75, so if you pay me £75, that will do.”  My excuse is that I was too taken aback to disagree.  I still wince when I think of the two most expensive avocado pears in history but The Avocado Bravado Desperado Affair is a lesson for all shop managers to reassess the fruits of their labours, to tolerate crab-apple customers, to avoid sour grapes and to admit defeat when you know you’ve been mangoed.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

RETAIL TALES - PRINCESS DIANA & A MILKSHAKE

Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping, the golden age of Hollywood (esp westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too. 

joecushnan@aol.com & @JoeCushnan

It is hard to believe that Princess Diana left us over twenty years ago. She was loved, admired and respected by many people, but she was also criticized and ridiculed by others, and she has become an everlasting cash machine like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley as book after book of unseen photographs and unheard gossip are published and conspiracy theories trickle out into the public domain. In Royal Family history and amongst us commoners, she will never be forgotten, whatever side opinions take. Instead of this piece of writing being morbid, I would like to share a true story that happened on the day of Diana’s funeral. I will get to it shortly but first some background to my understanding of the human condition.

I was in retail management for a long, long time, longer than some criminals get for major crimes and the general public never let me down with their weird and wonderful ways. I cut my shop-keeping teeth with an after school job at the Mace supermarket on the Glen Road, Belfast in the days when customers could come in and ask for two ounces of cheese, a couple of rashers and ‘two of them thin wee sausages, son’. I was not yet a teenager but I was let loose on the bacon slicer. Health and safety was far into the future. I remember wearing out my fingernails removing stubborn sticky price labels off tins of Master McGrath dog food, a sign that working in shops is not all laughs and excitement. My first full-time retail job was with Stewarts on the Newtownards Road and then at their hypermarket partnership with Penney’s out near Dunmurry. (Gloria Hunniford was a customer. I was in love with her!) I was learning the retail ropes and slowly realizing that the customer is far from being always right. 

British Home Stores, Belfast was my next career move and probably the best fun I can remember in more than thirty-five years in and around shops. We encountered more than our fair share of characters and chancers, especially where ladies’ hats were concerned. Sales surged on Fridays, as did refunds on Mondays. “It wasn’t suitable, and that make-up on the inside rim was there when I got it home.” Yeah, we thought, let’s see the wedding photos. I moved around the UK with BHS, then on to Makro and Asda. I went from being a greenhorn to a grizzled veteran in what seemed like the blink of an eye. I was in an industry that could be defined as the university of life. We experienced just about every human specimen and temperament possible, mostly good people, to borrow marketing parlance, legal, decent, honest and truthful. But at the other end of the spectrum, the blockheads and ignoramuses who tried it on to get some goodwill cash or freebies.

I could tell you the stories of the young woman who complained that parts of a tree were in her curry ready meal and describe her ‘redner’ when I pointed out it was some bay leaves; or the guy with a slurring voice who claimed that a bottle of bleach had jumped off the shelf and attacked him, ruining his leather jacket; or the man who was horrified to find glass in his tinned salmon only to feel rather silly when I pointed out it was rock salt; or the eejit in the chin-to-boot thick overcoat on a sweltering day who couldn’t for the life of him explain why he had pockets full of unpaid for food and drink; or the gentleman (me, always polite) who demanded that each individual item be wrapped in a separate carrier bag; or the jack-the-lad who said he found a piece in metal in his bread and wanted an apology, some gift vouchers…… and a set of garden furniture. Oh, the public. What a carry on! And, no, yer man didn’t get his patio refurnished. But regarding Princess Diana, this true story is a peach. I have stretched it a bit for entertainment purposes but at its core, it happened.

It is not often I can remember the exact dates of customer complaints but Saturday, 6 September 1997 stands out because it was the day of Diana’s funeral and a quite bizarre incident occurred.  In order to give everybody a chance to watch the funeral on TV, most shops closed on that morning.  Later, at two o’clock, we reopened and within ten minutes, I was called to see a customer. As I got closer, I noticed red mist around her head, cheeks a-flush, hands on hips and a trace of steam coming out of her ears.  As a sharp personality analyser, I detected she was annoyed about something.  (Now bear in mind the sadness of the day.)  

"I am furious,” she began.  “I have just driven my new car into your car park and I drove over a McDonald’s milkshake carton, causing the contents to splash out all over my new tyres.  What are you going to do about it?”  

I stood staring at her like a rabbit locking onto the full beams of a juggernaut, my face frozen, and wondering if I had just heard what I thought I heard.  

She looked at me and said, with menace, not unlike Bette Davis in that Baby Jane film, “Well?” 

My head was searching for the number of a psychiatrist or a hit man.  Eventually my mouth uttered an apology and an offer of a free car wash.  She demanded the full wax and polish and I thought but didn’t say, “Yeah, first the car and then you, baby.”  

I agreed to her demands and she stomped out of the shop. (This is where I really stretch the tale.)  As it was raining, I was doubly cheesed off but I went out in my big mac to retrieve the milkshake carton that had caused the mcflurry.  The woman who had made an unhappy meal of it had gone.  It had been a burger of a day.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

WHEN A GRANDCHILD IS BORN - A GAME-CHANGER

Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping, the golden age of Hollywood (esp westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too. 

joecushnan@aol.com & @JoeCushnan

In this often crazy, mixed-up world politically, financially, environmentally, militarily and more, it has been and continues to be far too easy to become negative and cynical and ask the question: "What's the bloody point?" There is a long list of frustrations and annoyances in everyday life like queues, litter, lazy car parkers, bad manners, cold callers, to name a few. And don't get me started on the quagmire that is so-called social media which, for the most part, appears to be rotten, hijacked by ignorant fools and fakery. The news is dominated by miserable stories which are dissected by callers to and panellists on talk radio. There's a lot of negative stuff to deal with.

I will still get exasperated by these things but, as of 3 May, 2019, my attitude changed in a heartbeat - literally a heartbeat. Our first grandchild, a boy, was born. He is healthy and beautiful. He has great parents, both on a steep learning curve because of the arrival of this brand new human being. They are doing brilliantly.

The parents, of course, have the primary responsibility for their son, but coming in a close second are the grandparents who have a job to do as well, supporting in any way necessary, playing as full a part as possible to help the baby develop through the coming weeks, months and years. Of course, this is indeed about supporting and not interfering.

Our two sons did not know my father but they had a role model of a Grandad in my father-in-law, a generous, creative, wise man who played a big part in their upbringing. He's a pretty good template for me.

There's no shortage of advice in books and online about the traits of a grandparent. Just as Mum and Dad will, both Gran and Granda will find their own ways but here's a few brainstormed thoughts (which I have to think through) for our "training":

Unconditional love
Connecting
Patience in a changing family world
Generosity with time and advice (when asked) - and goodies too!
Empathy to understand the world through a child's eyes
Listening
Reading, nurturing a love of words and stories
Celebrating milestones, events and achievements
and much, much more, I'm sure.

Some of what we must be will come naturally but there is no denying that our grandson (two weeks old as I write) is a game-changer, exciting, thrilling and a delight. So, out with the negative and in with the positive. There are many wonders in the world to highlight and share with this little person.

I am looking forward to it so much.

Monday, 13 May 2019

POPPYCOCK - A FEMININE OR MASCULINE WORD?

Skimming through the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, I paused to read this article.


Who decides the gender-neutralness of words? The last two paragraphs suggest "feminine and neutral" words include:

understand
kind
honest
dependable
cooperative
support

"Masculine" words include:

active
decisive
leader
ambition
challenge
objective
competitiveness
independence
confident
intellectual

Who decides?

Funny, in my near 40-year career, I have worked with women and men who have been all of those words and more.

But, this is the modern world, where we are prone to dust crops where there ain't no crops, to pinch from the film North by Northwest.

What poppycock?

Friday, 10 May 2019

A SHORT NOTE TO MY FIRST GRANDCHILD, A GRANDSON

Dear Finn,

Here we are at the end of your first week. I'm your Granda. I know, in time, that will sound natural to you, but to one or two right now, it seems a bit odd. Why not Grandad, Grandpa or any other connotation? But not in Northern Ireland where I come from, born, bred and proud to be from that part of the world. Granda is a very common tradition. I didn't know my father's father but I did know and love my mother's father, Granda Tommy Millar. He was a wee man with a stammer but a lovely singing voice. I'll lullaby you with 'his' Nellie Dean in the not too distant future. Northern Ireland. Belfast.  Strange places full of humour and love and hospitality, but also other stuff that need not concern you. I'll tell you all about it as time goes by.

By the way, did I mention that you are beautiful? When I held you in my arms the day after you were born, I can't even begin to describe how I felt. I couldn't stop looking looking at you as you slept. It was a wonderful feeling that would be impossible to top. I looked at your perfect face, tiny nose, hands, fingers, feet and toes. Awesome. Occasionally you moved and squirmed as if to confirm: 'I'm here.' I could see and feel that, but thanks for letting me know.

We have an adventure ahead of us and I will do everything I can to do my absolute best for you. You have a wonderful Mum and Dad, and all of us other supporting family members will cherish your every moment as you grow and develop.

Love you, Finn. Can't wait to spend every possible second getting to know you, getting to talk to you, to read to you, to play with you, and anything else I can do.

Granda Joe.
XXXXX

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

WELCOME BABY FINN


At 12.29 pm, 
on the 3rd of May, 2019, 
123rd day of the year, 
45th day of spring, 
the emerald birthstone glinted, 
Zodiac’s Taurus stood tall, 
a new life to begin,
welcome baby Finn. 

Monday, 6 May 2019

ON BEING A GRANDA

Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping, the golden age of Hollywood (esp westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too. Sometimes, I get mad as hell!


joecushnan@aol.com & @JoeCushnan



Work in Progress.......

In recent times, I have been researching and writing about my father and, as part of the process, I thought about what a good father should be. From various sources, I pulled together some notes to help with a definition:

A good father is a steady provider and works to see that his family has the necessities of life. He does everything in his power to keep the family safe from anything and anyone that would injure or harm his children physically, emotionally or spiritually. He shares his knowledge and principles to help his children grow and develop. He shows kindness, compassion and interest in his children. He is a good example for his children to look up to and he is revered by his children for his moral character and actions. He helps his children learn proper boundaries and consequences.  Of course, he shares all of this with his wife or partner, his partner in love, the person he respects and to whom he is totally faithful.  Therefore, he is protector, teacher, friend, exemplar, patriarch, disciplinarian, spiritual leader and devoted partner, a good man, a good husband and a good father.

I think that just about covers it.

But, now I am a grandfather (Granda) for the first time, (grandson born 3 May, 2019) I need to think again on this new level of responsibility, perhaps draw from the words above and add to them to draft a blueprint for this new, exciting and joyous role.

At 12.29 pm, 
on the 3rd of May, 2019, 
123rd day of the year, 
45th day of spring, 
the emerald birthstone glinted, 
Zodiac’s Taurus stood tall, 
a new life to begin,

welcome baby Finn. 

Over the next short period, I shall return and add to this post.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

BARKING MAD SAMMY

Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping, the golden age of Hollywood (esp westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too. Sometimes, I get mad as hell!


joecushnan@aol.com & @JoeCushnan



In our Belfast neighbourhood, watching a puppy drown was not on most people’s lists of things to witness unless your name was Sammy. He was a swaggering oaf, like Pooh, of very little brain, a bully who was no stranger to the police or magistrates. He was unpredictable and devoid of conscience and common sense. It was the early 1960s and a group of kids my age, around six or seven, would play outside a lot. Next to our house, there was a field that became a football pitch, a playground and a space to chase and tumble, whatever amused us at any given moment. 

One day a kid brought over a new puppy, about six inches long and no more than a couple of weeks old. We were all fascinated by this little creature and had hours of fun watching it jump around. We took turns holding it, trying not to drop it as it attempted to wriggle free. We loved its little baby barking.

Sammy turned up one day. He was a teenager and he towered over us. He spotted the pup and barged his way into our group. He grabbed the dog and held it up high like a trophy. We shouted at him to leave it and us alone. He growled back like the angry monster he was. We were helpless, as was the little pup. Having made whatever point he wanted to make, he threw the dog on the ground and stomped away laughing. “I’m coming back for that runt,” he yelled. The pup was unhurt. We were shaken but tried our best to console our little friend.

After a short while, we saw Sammy walking up the street towards us. He was carrying a big bottle of lemonade. As he approached, we gathered round the pup like a human shield but we knew that this nutter would scatter us before long. And that is exactly what happened. We backed away a few yards leaving the pup alone. Sammy unscrewed the bottle cap and took a swig. Then he grabbed the dog and started pouring the lemonade all over its little face. The pup was powerless, trying to breath, trying to yelp but after a few moments we could see that its wriggling and jerking had stopped. Sammy threw the bottle away and once again held the dog up high before tossing it into a hedge. He ran at us snarling and howling like a pantomime villain and we ran away in different directions.

When we felt brave enough, we met up again in the field. Sammy was nowhere to be seen. The pup was lying on top of the hedge. Dead. We looked at each other wondering who would have the courage to pick it up. It was one thing to play with a live animal and quite another to handle a dead body. But one of us did. We dug a hole in the top corner of the field and buried it. The boy who owned the pup told his Dad and whatever happened after that barking mad Sammy never bothered us again.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

REIWA - A WORD FROM POETRY FOR ALL OF US

Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping, the golden age of Hollywood (esp westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too. Sometimes, I get mad as hell!

joecushnan@aol.com & @JoeCushnan

On Monday 1 April, 2019, I was on a coach with about two dozen others travelling from the Tokyo Prince Hotel to Mount Fuji. Our guide, Rumi, was very informative and entertaining about her city and country. She was fun. She taught us how to count from 1 to 10 in Japanese and a handful of useful phrases, some harder to say than others.

At a couple of points on the road, we caught glimpses of snow-topped Fuji but as we got closer the clouds rolled in and the mountain disappeared. No matter, we saw it and that's what counts. Our stopping place was at the base of Mount Fuji and Rumi kindly told us that we could claim to be standing on the sacred ground. It was a great morning.

On the way, she could not contain her excitement about some news that would be announced at noon that day. It was known that the current Emperor Akihito was abdicating and his son, Crown Prince Naruhito would ascend to the Chrysanthemum throne starting on the 1 May.

The exciting news was to name the new Imperial era. So, after a brief spell on Mount Fuji's lower level, it was back on the coach just before noon. Rumi was near-giddy and couldn't wait to tell us that the name of the new era is REIWA. She explained that it means order and harmony.


 


Next day, The Japan Times, of course, splashed the story on the front page, illustrated by Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, holding up the kanji for Reiwa. 'Suga said the name was formulated based on the introduction to a set of poems from Manyoshu, the oldest existing compilation of Japanese poetry. The first character represents good fortune, while the second can be translated as peace or harmony. (Close enough to Rumi's interpretation.)

It was a nice feeling to be in japan on that day and to witness such excitement. How different, I couldn't escape the thought, from the depressing state of politics back home, with absolutely nothing and no one to enthuse and inspire.

Whatever anyone thinks of Japan, its history, politics and culture, Reiwa is a word we should all use in thought, spirit and action.