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Monday, 18 March 2019


If any features editors would like to commission anything to do with this trip, 
please contact me.

Author: Retail Confidential (career retrospective)
Author: Stephen Boyd: From Belfast to Hollywood (story of a film star)
Writer: Features, reviews, poetry, fiction, and this blog.


In the not-too-distant future, I will be off to Japan for a couple of weeks. This really is the trip of my lifetime.

There will be Tokyo, cherry blossom, Mount Fuji, shrines, temples, castles and much to absorb in terms of culture, food and a wee nip or two of sake

As is my wont, I will be taking lots of photos and keeping a written record of as much as I can possibly remember and record.

A particular challenge I have set myself, in the spirit of Matsuo Kinsaku, better known as Basho, widely regarded as the first great haiku poet, my diary will be mainly haiku nuggets.

Here's two Basho haiku to be going on with:

Boozy on blossoms -
dark rice,
white sake

Under the cherry -
blossom soup,
blossom salad

Saturday, 16 March 2019


1969 was a cracking year for film releases. Here's a reminder of several.

Where Eagles Dare

The Love Bug

Goodbye Columbus

Midnight Cowboy

Once Upon a Time in the West

Easy Rider

Paint Your Wagon

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

True Grit

The Wild Bunch

They Shoot Horses Don't They?

Hello Dolly

Friday, 15 March 2019


I am happy to receive commissions to write about any of the events below or Direct Message on Twitter @JoeCushnan


Soul king Marvin Gaye was born 80 years ago. He died at 45 in 1984. 

Actor Heath Ledger was born 40 years ago. He died at 28 in 2008. 

Singer Kurt Cobain died at 27 25 years ago.  

Director Francis Ford Coppola was born 80 years ago.  

Actor Jackie Chan was born 65 years ago. 

Presenter David Frost was born 80 years ago. 

Musical South Pacific opened on Broadway 70 years ago. 

Businessman Frank Winfield Woolworth died 100 years ago.

First British-built Concorde test flight took place 50 years ago.

10 Britain's first Formula 1 Champion Mike Hawthorn was born 90 years ago. He died at 29 in 1959. 

13 Nobel Prize-winning poet, Seamus Heaney was born 80 years ago. He died at 74 in 2013

14 Novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was first published 80 years ago.

14 Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson was born 90 years ago. He died at 83 in 2012. 

16 Manchester United Football Club was founded 125 years ago.

16 Singer Dusty Springfield was born 80 years ago. She died at 59 in 1999.

22 37th US President Richard Nixon died 25 years ago.

22 Yachtsman Robin Knox-Johnson became the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe non-stop 50 years ago.

25 Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was first published 300 years ago.

26 Actress/comedian Lucille Ball died at 77 30 years ago.

26 Newsreader/presenter Jill Dando died at 37 20 years ago.

30 Director Sergio Leone died at 60 30 years ago.

30 Jubilee Line on the London Underground opened 40 years ago.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019


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When all of this Brexit (what a detestable word!) stuff is over and done with, if ever that time comes, I propose a Shut-the-Hell-Up Day once a month when politicians, pundits, experts, gurus, soothsayers  and all talking-head numpties stop yammering for 24-hours and social media takes a day off, so that we can all rediscover the beauty in the sound of silence.

Sorry, I am distracted by a flying pig.

That is all I have to say on this windy, windbag morning.

I'm off for a coffee and a bit of Jeeves and Wooster.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019


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One time, I forgot my wife's birthday, a no-no in a marriage, but it happened. It's odd what we remember and damned annoying when we forget other, more important, stuff.

I remember very clearly that, in 1980, a man called Dennis Buckley was crowned Milkman of the Year. I have no idea why that nugget has stayed with me, but it has. It is of no use to me. It is not important. I don't know Dennis Buckley and his name is unlikely to surface on The Chase or in a pub quiz. It is rock-bottom trivia. But there it is occupying a tiny space in my head. I will never forget Dennis.

Once I read that the name for a handleless coffee/tea cup holder is a zarf. In the old days, when we would get our hot drinks from an office machine, a thin plastic cup would drop down and fill up. The cup would then be placed in a zarf to avoid scalded fingers. These days, the equivalent is the cardboard sleeve from a coffee shop.

The plastic or metal bit at the end of a shoelace is an aglet.

I have never ever had cause to use either of these words in conversation and I doubt I ever will, unless someone wants to discuss this blog post.

From 60 years ago, I remember my mother's Co-op divvy number - 182883, yet I hesitate sometimes when about to enter a PIN number in a shop.

And let's not forget the power of advertising. (I promise you I am not using search engines to verify this stuff. It's logged in my cranium!)

'We love to eat Kennedy's bread.
It's hard to beat Kennedy's bread.
It's quite a treat, Kennedy's bread.
J. B. Kennedy's bread, it's the best.'

'There's all-round goodness in a Farley's rusk.'

'Opal Fruits, made to make your mouth water,
fresh with the tang of citrus,
four refreshing fruit flavours -
orange, lemon, strawberry, lime.'

'Fray Bentos means lean meat.'

'Boom, boom, boom, boom,
Esso Blue.'

'Ding, dong, Denny.'

Not forgetting Jim Figgerty and his fig rolls, and a ton of other nonsense.

Memory. A funny old game.

Monday, 11 March 2019


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We need to talk about grouting, you know, your basic stuff that holds tiles together on kitchen and bathroom walls and floors.

Two years ago, we had a new bathroom installed. Everything was ripped out back to the bare walls and floor. One man, in his late-20s, installed everything, a bath, sink, toilet, shower, plumbing, electricity, the whole shebang, on his own. His name was Ash.

The whole job took nearly two weeks and, although Ash was getting pressure from his boss to speed things up, he took his time because he was meticulous. Everything had to be perfect or, as he told me: 'I couldn't sleep at night if I ever did a shoddy job.'

After being impressed with every aspect of his work, my attention was drawn to the grouting on the wall and floor tiles. It was and still is flawless, a work of art, not a sign of a bodge anywhere. No mistakes. No howlers. Nada. Magnificent.

But, the side effect of this exactness, this precision, this achievement, is that it has given me a bit of an obsession. In pubs, restaurants, hotels, motorway service stations and other places of public convenience, I check the grouting. I stand at a urinal and scrutinise the handiwork and, after dozens and dozens of examinations, Ash reigns supreme. He is the Master. No one comes close.

The amount of clumsy, rushed work is there for all to see and some of it is astonishingly bad, awful and a disgrace to the tiling community. In one not-too-cheap hotel bathroom, I saw a patch of grouting that looked like one of my own rare efforts. My grouting work always looked as if I used porridge.

So, thank you Ash for your meticulousness and brilliance, for having a standard and for caring about the work you do.


Sunday, 10 March 2019


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I read that Virgin Atlantic are relaxing some of their rules on female cabin crew appearance, particularly the option to apply or not apply make-up and the option to wear trousers or a skirt.
I have no issue with any of that but I was intrigued by the reported comments of Virgin Atlantic's Mark Anderson: 'Not only do the new guidelines offer an increased level of comfort, they also provide our team with more choice on how they want to express themselves at work.' Express themselves at work. Interesting.

I hope easing a few rules, while sensible enough, does not start a gradual decline in the professional appearance of cabin crews. As a customer, I still have expectations that they will be, as my father-in-law used to say, 'smart'. Which brings me to my own experiences in a different industry.

I was a retail manager, of supermarkets mainly, for the best part of forty years, starting out in Northern Ireland (Stewarts Supermarkets, Penneys, BHS), then around various parts of England and that has given me more than a fair degree of inside knowledge.  If I add many more years as an observing customer, I think I have a valid point of view on a number of factors concerning shops, shoppers and shopping.  The world changes, of course, but in some cases, not for the better.  I will highlight one area that has become sloppy – employee appearance.  Department stores and smaller shops are of a higher standard, generally speaking, but supermarkets let the side down badly.  Of course, there are some supermarket employees who take pride in their appearance but they are in the minority.

The standard of dress/appearance of supermarket staff has gone downhill fast and it is depressing. I come from an era (starting in the 1970s) when Staff Managers, rather like old-fashioned Matrons in hospitals, would do a daily patrol of all staff and managers to check compliance with the dress standards code in the employee handbook. They were strict but effective. We were all terrified of them but, particularly in comparison to today, what they did worked well.  They were policing an important part of the company image. It was ‘old school’ but it worked. Anyone or anything not complying and the employee would be sent away, including back home, until their appearance was deemed acceptable.

A typical inspection would assess whether or not each employee was well-groomed, in ironed clothing, wearing clean footwear and free from body odour. In addition, male staff would be observed for unacceptable beards or sideburns and female staff would be examined for any excessive ear, neck and finger jewellery.  Clean fingernails were expected from everyone and female staff, specifically, were encouraged not to use garish nail polish. Visible tattoos on both sexes were taboo.

Nowadays, nobody wants to hurt anyone's feelings because everyone has "a right" to be an individual, the right of freedom of expression, the right to dress and look as they darn well please. Well, in my humble but experienced retail opinion, both as manager and customer, it is unacceptable.

Every time I shop in a supermarket of whatever brand, I see at least one grubby-looking employee preparing, handling and serving fresh food, working checkouts, or mooching about the shop doing whatever job they are employed to do.  But whatever role they play, each employee should be conscious of how they look.  If only they did that three-word check before they start work – neat, clean, tidy – oh, how things would improve dramatically. 

The most recent example was a lad on a fish counter. He was a mess from head to toe, greasy, uncombed hair, shaggy beard, quite a bit of face jewellery, tattoos from his wrists to the edge of his short-sleeved shirt and filthy fingernails.

In another store, the young man on the checkout had clearly been dragged through a hedge backwards and was in some kind of razor-denial cult.  He looked dreadful. But, then again, he was allowed to start work looking like that. His fault? Yes. Management fault? Definitely.

A girl on a delicatessen counter in a different supermarket was wearing her trilby hat at a jaunty angle, choosing to see it as a fashion accessory rather than a head cover.  It was as if a Frank Sinatra impression was more favourable than a testament to hygiene standards.

Who is recruiting people like this? Who is managing standards of appearance these days?  The way employees look in some customer service environments has been pushed way down the management agenda. In fact, it may have dropped off the supervisory radar altogether. Bring back the HR retail Matrons, say I.  But that’s not going to happen because anything goes and if it is not reined in, then, by default, it becomes acceptable policy.  I repeat - lank hair, tattoos, face jewellery, stubble, scuffed shoes, dirty fingernails and on and on, coupled with poor manners seem to be the order of the day.  Surely store managers see the same things I and other customers are seeing, or perhaps they need to book appointments with Specsavers.

Supermarket bosses seem to talk about variety, offers and customer service when trying to explain their successes or their woes. But the big players in the industry are all trading on common ground. Price and choice are very similar.  Customer service is all over the place, inconsistent and a lottery.  The management gurus talk about ‘points of difference’ when comparing companies but, for me and I am certain for many other customers a big difference would be neat, clean and tidy staff especially in meat, bakery, deli, pizza and fish departments et al.  Pristine customer servants (let us not gloss the job) would increase trust immediately.  Add to those essentials an obsessive, compulsive attitude to frequent hand washing in fresh food areas and I would be a regular and faithful customer.

In order to get close to the ideally presented supermarket person, recruiters must be ruthless in hiring employees and managers on a day-to-day basis must insist on high standards of appearance.  I am not really that nostalgic for Matrons of old but I do think a modern equivalent should be found.  We should applaud managers and staff who make the effort and take pride in themselves. We should never accept the scruffs.

Friday, 8 March 2019


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I have given up on most news outlets because I find it exhausting trying to decide what is true and what is not, what is agenda-driven, sponsored, merely opinion, snake oil, mischief-making and so on. We live in an era of deliberately encouraged suspicion and propaganda pea soup. The air is thick with the smell of misinformation manure.

Of course, those in power and those who aspire to power for good or evil, love my kind of apathy. It means they can get away with doing whatever the hell the want. So, I need to work on that failing in my list of things to fix before I move on to whatever is next.

But, my point in this post refers to money. Many, if not all, the architects and executors of UK austerity policies are now doing quite nicely for themselves in the private sector. Remember the mantra: We're all in this together? Except we never were and certainly aren't now.

I read Private Eye, that organ of satire, schoolboy humour, insult and parody, but also a shining example of deep-digging investigative reporting that is rarely seen in the mainstream media. Each fortnight, I can feel my blood pressure rise as I absorb stories of taxpayers money being wasted, literally wasted, because of shoddy government management, of inept national and local politicians pouring millions, sometimes billions of pounds down the drain - and getting away with it.

It would be too easy to drop the Grayling word here - oh, feck it, I will. This from Private Eye, 8 - 21 March 2019:


£33m - Cost to taxpayers of settling case brought by Eurotunnel in which it claimed Chris Grayling failed to follow procurement rules over post-Brexit freight contracts.

£171m - Cost to taxpayers of terminating contracts handed to private probation companies by Chris Grayling in an initiative National Audit Office said was "set to fail."

£2bn - Extra costs of delayed Crossrail project which public accounts committee says are because Grayling's department "did not sufficiently probe the assurances given by Crossrail Limited'.

£3bn - Amount Grayling is about to commit to Trans-Pennine route upgrade despite PAC warning that "the department is not learning from previous programmes."

Grayling is still in his job. 

In my near-four decades in business management, I have seen managers and non-managers sacked for relatively trivial reasons compared to this guy. Of course, Grayling has the full (fool) support of the Prime Minister! Disgraceful.

Private Eye is overflowing with stories of equally eye-watering amounts of wasted money by Westminster departments and local councils, denying appropriate shares of funding to areas that are crying out for support - the police, education, NHS, the Arts and more, all for their own good reasons. And this is not to forget the "secret money" handed out behind closed doors to fund individuals and organisations intent on influencing the way we ordinary saps are managed.

Remember, we, the aforementioned saps, are only "important" during election campaigns when promises and pledges rain down on us like fairy dust. Once the polling booths close, we are worth diddly squat.

I don't know what to do about any of this. How and when did "democracy" become "demockracy".

I'll leave you with this number cruncher from Private Eye:

£800 worse off - Average fall in wages for workers in UK since 2008 financial crisis.

£18,000 better off - Rise in wages for MPs in UK in the same period.

Them and us, 'twas ever thus.

Thursday, 7 March 2019


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Every so often I go on a rant about poor service in shops, restaurants, health centres and anywhere that purports to deal with the public.

I was in town a little while ago and heard, in passing, an old lady saying: "There's just a lack of good, old-fashioned manners these days.  Not like in my day."

I felt myself agreeing with her until I thought about it a little more.  Manners are and always have been erratic things.  And it's nothing to do with age or generation.

I know plenty of young and old people who are courteous and kindly when it comes to saying "please", "thank you", "excuse me", holding doors open, giving up seats on trains, etc.

Conversely, I witness bad manners every day - from young and old.  I recall bad manners when I was a child and bad manners several decades on.

Apart from the irritation of being called "sweetheart" by female assistants (mainly supermarket checkout staff) and "mate" by male assistants (anywhere), the latest annoyance is when I say "thank you" to a service employee, more often than not the response is "you're alright".

Perhaps, today, there is a laziness inherent in some people and a lot of them simply can't be bothered with manners as they rush around encased in selfish bubbles checking phones every few minutes and not giving a toss about those around them.

There are no such things as good, old-fashioned manners.  You either know what to do and say or you don't.  You are either brought up properly or dragged up carelessly.  Blame parents, blame teachers but don't forget to blame yourself when you get to that point in your life when you know right from wrong.

Good manners and natural courtesy are good and they are free of charge.

Thank you.

You're alright!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019


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I have an aversion to generalisations. All men are this, all women are that start a never-ending list encompassing religion, politics, gender, celebrity, mischief-making, et al. It's the word 'all' that annoys me. In this age of opinion and insult-blether, general comments, which people are entitled to make (I suppose), can't always be backed up by coherent and intelligent explanations.

I grew up in Belfast, spending my first twenty-two years there from the 1950s to the 1970s. The most common generalisations were all Catholics are this, all Protestants are that, all police are.... , all politicians are.... , and more, each tribe lumped together as one 'community' versus the other.

But before these generalisations, the ones that struck me were these nuggets: all Irish are thick, all Irish are lazy, all Irish are drunks. All! All?

I moved from Belfast to Manchester in 1976, a year in a bloody and vicious decade of Northern Irish troubles. As a stranger in a strange land, my accent branded me and I had to endure jibes (mild, for the most part) and jokes at my expense. Paddy jokes were comedic fodder in daily life and on the variety circuits. A TV show called The Comedians would have been half as long without Irish jokes.

One particular work colleague couldn't wait to find me and share the latest Paddy Irishman joke. He laughed to underline his brilliant delivery, and, perhaps, his superiority, as he was a 'mainlander'. I laughed to be polite. It was easier to get by that way.

After atrocities occurred in England, I tried to keep my head down because unenlightened people were convinced that all Irish were terrorists. It was a scary time and, to my embarrassment, I refrained from saying much in certain situations, and I even tried to disguise my accent.

Of course, nowadays, generalisations are the stuff of social media, the scariest newspapers, TV documentaries and radio phone-ins amongst other outlets encouraging variations of 'freedom of speech'. Many of the phone-in callers end up being tedious because they can't back up what they are saying. Adept phone-in presenters who dig down even a little can expose the shallowness of callers who have picked up a headline or a tweet and assumed a few words or a phrase as their solid belief. In half a dozen headline words, they have discovered the meaning of life, a handy one-liner to demonstrate their grasp of the issues when at a party or stuck in a lift.

Instead of all, I am more content to start discussions with some, and see how it goes from there.