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

Friday, 24 March 2017


Ongoing family research project re John Kelly from Derry (aka John Cushnan (often misspelt as Cushion) from Belfast. Last address Orlando Road, Clapham; death at 57 in 1982; buried Lambeth Cemetery.

He is on the right of this photograph, with a friend.

His friends and regulars at the Rose and Crown pub, 2, The Polygon, Clapham circa 1970 to 1982

Jim Nicholson (Landlord)
Judy & Vin McManus
Hugh Hamilton (Club Secretary, Royal British Legion, Victoria Rise)

And first names only (any help with surnames appreciated):

Liz & Gerry (moved from Clapham to Wicklow to Spain)

If anything clicks with anyone, please get in touch:

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


In my last few trips home to Belfast, on my wanderings around the city, I have found myself looking around Smithfield Market. Now, no offence to any of today's traders but I do recall the old place, before the destructive fire in May, 1974, and staring at the site now brings back memories of many visits. I loved the place. I remember many things but especially the second-hand books, stale, musty, dank..... and recalled Hugh Greer's  in a poem I wrote about my first bookcase. Back then I wasn't too fond of second-hand books and I'm still the same today - with the odd exception, if there's a particular book I want and the only option is pre-owned. However, this poem is about more than that and, a warning to all the 'loose' poets out there, it rhymes! 


Teak, mahogany, oak, not a bit of it, luxury woods for the rich in the main,
My first bookcase was an oranges crate all the way from Seville in southern Spain.
Thrown out by the bins at the back of a shop, I carried it home with an idea in my head,
This crate would lose its original use and be transformed into a library instead.

Thin slats held with nails and wire, middle shelf and bottom for the books,
Old curtain attached, draped at the front, practical and cheap, not going for looks.
Paperbacks above, hardbacks below, encyclopedias, poetry, westerns and crime,
It lasted for years at the foot of my bed, my collection of knowledge, adventure and rhyme.

They had to be new books, not secondhand, of secondhand books I had my concerns
For someone had told me that oft-handled books would almost certainly be carrying germs,
Just like the well-thumbed, musty tomes in Hugh Greer’s untidy Smithfield store,
Inside the spines and under the covers, pages and pages of germs galore.

The only secondhand book I had on a shelf was ‘As I Roved Out’ by Cathal O’Byrne,
A gift from a nun I couldn’t refuse, a whimsical book at every turn.
Stories of old Belfast told by a master, the storyteller’s art on wondrous display
Describing a rough town smoothed by the telling, a good book to own whatever I say.

I can’t recall the day I threw out the crate. It might have collapsed through wear and tear.
But it did a good job for a number of years and I missed it just being there.
In southern Spain when I was nine or ten, men loaded crates onto ships at the docks
And unknown to them this Belfast boy was less keen on the fruit but had plans for the box.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


In a worst case scenario,
as the Arts are squeezed and filed under trivial,
by vote-seekers clinging to power,
consider the tumbleweed loneliness
of a world emptied of poetry
by a transient political shower.

The austerity oiks on a decent wage,
choke the creative day after day,
and the results of their efforts to be worthy -
they fuck things up and walk away.

They mess with the schools,
shut libraries down,
there's no cash in the coffers they lie,
yet there's millions and more
suddenly found to fund wars
and send young kids to die.

So, churn out the words, the phrases, the poems,
clear your throats and shout yourself hoarse,
drown out the negative bullshit,
for poets are an unstoppable force.

Sunday, 19 March 2017


The great Chuck Berry has passed away at 90 but through his amazing back catalogue of sublime rock & roll songs, his music and influence will live forever. Of his many hits, one stands out as a cheeky novelty song, and I thank David Todd for tweeting a reminder about a blog post of mine mentioning morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse's objections to a BBC Top of the Pops that featured Chuck Berry's My Ding-a-Ling (a 1972 number one hit in the US, Canada and the UK).

Mrs Whitehouse's campaigning life is documented in a brilliant book called Ban This Filth! Letters From The Mary Whitehouse Archive, edited by Ben Thompson and published in 2012 by Faber and Faber.

Mary Whitehouse wrote to the BBC's Director-General, Charles Curran: 

Dear Mr Curran, 

Now that the controversy over the pop record, Ding-a-Ling, has died down, we feel it is important that you should understand our reasons for criticising the Top of the Pops presentation of this disc. Our complaint was based on the objections coming to us not only from parents, but from teachers. One teacher told us of how she found a class of small boys with their trousers undone, singing the song and giving it the indecent interpretation which - in spite of all the hullabaloo - is so obvious. She was, by no means, the only one with experience of this kind. Parents too were very upset by the stories their children were bringing home about the actions which were accompanying the singing of this song amongst their friends. I tell you this, not to justify our complaint, but because I feel sure that in your position of responsibility, you would wish to know. We trust you will agree with us that not is in no part of the function of the BBC to be the vehicle of songs that stimulate this kind of behaviour - indeed quite the reverse.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Whitehouse

Extracts from Charles Curran's response:

Dear Mrs Whitehouse,

........This record has been among the most popular of the records on sale in recent weeks to the public........the BBC aims to broadcast all the most popular records on current release, and in programmes such as Top of the Pops there is clear expectation that it will do so. We do not, however, accept a record for broadcasting if we consider it to be in any way corrupting or frightening or disturbing for young people. My Ding-a-Ling begins with such a clear account of the contraption in question* including bells, that although the possibility of a double entendre was recognised, we decided that it could be broadcast at the discretion of producers according to the context and character of their programmes. We did not think it would disturb or emotionally agitate its listeners and we believe that the innuendo is, at worst, on the level of seaside postcards or music hall humour.........I have noted with interest the question which has been widely asked as to whether the record would have remained in a high position in the charts for such a long time without the publicity attendant upon the publication of your comments.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Curran.


"When I was a little bitty boy
my grandmother bought me a cute little toy
silver bells hanging' on a string
she told me it was my-ding-a-ling-a-ling......"

I'll leave it with you.

Friday, 17 March 2017


Researching my father's story - he left his Belfast home in 1960, his wife and seven young children, and pretty much vanished until we were told of his death at 57 in 1982 in Clapham, London. He died from a brain tumour.

I am looking into his 22 'missing' years. I know quite a bit about what happened to him but quite a bit is not enough.

I tweet, post on Facebook, Google, and try everything I can think of to discover who he became, where he ended up and whether or not he had a second family.

Over time, little bits of new information trickle through.

This week, thanks to a piece of mine in the Clapham Society's March newsletter (thank you), I received an email from the daughter of the man who used to be landlord of the Rose & Crown pub, the Polygon, Clapham. Jim Nicholson was incredibly kind, helpful and generous in arranging a lot of my father's funeral. Forever grateful. 

His daughter, now living in Australia, told me that her brother remembers my father fondly from those pub days. I wait to hear from him.

The pub. Still there.

John Cushnan from Belfast, circa 1957. He chose to be known as John Kelly from Derry in the 1960s/1970s. He was 32.

My father on his wedding day in 19047. He was 22.

My father with people I don't know, sometime, I think, in the late 1970s.

A woman my father knew.

A boy my father knew.

Any information about John Cushnan aka John Kelly, the woman and the boy, gratefully received.

Thursday, 16 March 2017


Saint Patricks Day on 17 March every year brings out the best and worst of Irish and Irish-related people all over the world. Of all of the things to like or dislike about the day across the spectrum from genuine sincerity and sentimentality through to pissed-up mindlessness, one aspect of the Irish gene that prevails is humour.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine called Damian gave me a copy of a book called Now You're Talking... by Michael J Murphy, published by Blackstaff Press in 1975. It is a collection, a treasure trove no less, of tales, yarns and stories heavily laced with wit, wisdom, sense and nonsense and all the ballyhoo associated with Irish storytelling.

Here's a few or the shorter extracts:

A Toast:
Here's to the top of the house
And the solid foundation;
The Hammers of Hell
And the Sledge of Damnation:
The curse of the priest
And the congregation
On any ould hag
That'll refuse me the daughter.

This man went into confession and told the priest he'd stolen a bit of old rope.
"What about that?" says the priest. "That was nothing."
"But, Father," says he, "there was a pig at the end of it."

The catechism says that God's fit to do anything; but there's three things He can't do:
He can't catch a baldy man by the hair of the head; He can't make two hills without a hollow; and He can't rise and give His seat to a better man."

Two Irishmen crossed to England to look for work as navvies. At the dockside they separated, each promising to return to the spot that evening to tell how they had got on. When one man returned he found the other sitting on a bollard staring at a rusted old ship's anchor lying agin a wall.
"What are you doing?" asked the returning navvy.
"I'm waiting to see the man who is going to use that pick."

Attributed to Dean Swift about a town which need not be named:
In ............ town
Without renown
With church, tower and steeple;
In every door
There stands a whore
Looking at decent people.

A giant in Munster heard of a giant in Ulster and set out to meet and kill the Ulster giant. When they met the Ulster giant says: "Yesterday I killed seven with one blow." The Munster giant decided he had heard enough and at once set back for Munster. The Ulster giant didn't tell him it was seven flies he had killed.

A Roman Catholic man who neglects to observe the obligation of attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is being chastised by a new priest for his neglect and is asked to give his reason for doing so. He says that if anything is stolen during Mass no one can blame him.

Three coldest things in the world - a frog, a dog's nose and a woman's elbow.

Penitents at confession when guilty of serious sin were ordered to make a pilgrimage with peas in their shoes. Two men, neighbours, had been given such a penance in confession, to walk from their homes to a distant church. Both set out together but one man soon out-paced the other who hobbled along. Eventually, in agony, the sufferer asked his neighbour how he did it. "Did you not put any peas in your boots?"
"I did," his neighbour replied, "but I boiled them first."

Happy, peaceful and a not-too-pissed Saint Patrick's Day to all.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017


Last week, this old, grizzled retired retail manager spent a few days back home in Belfast and, as is ingrained in my psyche, I can't help but observe standards of service in shops, cafes, hotels, restaurants, etc.

I cut my teeth working in Belfast shops and back in the dark and troubled days of the 1970s when I was a rookie manager in the late, lamented British Home Stores, one phrase, a service opener, was as common as bristles on a gooseberry. The phrase was: "Are you gettin'?", quite often instead of hello, good morning or whatever.

In my three days nipping in and out of various places, no one asked the question. Most of what I experienced in customer service environments was very pleasant - cheery hellos, smiles and, often, polite conversation.

I have long been a critic of lousy service and that proportion of service employees I dub as 'lemon-suckers', you know, those pursed-lipped, concave-cheeked, squinty-eyed, tight-nostrilled specimens hired to do a job they can't do or don't like or both.

Hats off to the many customer service people in Belfast last week. Not a lemon-sucker in sight. They may be somewhere and I just got lucky, but a big thumbs up.

I did have one irritation and that was the new opener that is creeping in, not just in Belfast, but elsewhere. The new opener: "Do you want a bag?"

I do miss: "Are you gettin'?" I bet even I, Mr Picky, said it many times all those years ago.

Have a nice day!

Monday, 13 March 2017


Here are links to take you to a superb new single by Simon Murphy. 'Empty Room', written by Simon and Sean Trainor, is beautifully composed, arranged, produced and performed.

These are the kinds of records that remind me of all the great and glorious talent out there, talent that is sometimes buried under the PR for more famous performers who, inevitably, hog playlists and air time.

I urge music radio producers and presenters to rally round artists of this calibre. It would not only be fair, it would be well-deserved.

Buy 'Empty Room' via these 3 links:

Sean Trainor's website is here: 

In July 2015, I blogged about Simon's album 'Let It Be". Here's the link to that piece:

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