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Tuesday, 30 June 2015


I take my spade
to dig the ground,
to graft the roots,
to ladle the soil,
to shovel the dung
to slice the turf
to tool God’s earth
to break up the clods
to cultivate the land
to poke
to prod
to turn over the clay
to earn my pittance
each working day.

But one other use it has
when I want to skive a bit,
as soon as the boss goes away,
I’ll lean on it.

Monday, 29 June 2015



Sitting at a bedside, looking at the dying man,
His eyes closed on his yellowed head,
His nostrils moving slightly like weak bellows
And me, breathing with him and for him and at him,
Trying to recharge this exhausted battery,
To wish the impossible wish that his face would show a trace of pink,
His nose would twitch a signal,
His eyelids, like a carrier pigeon’s wings, would deliver a message,
His near-silent communication would show he was not as bad as he looked.

No night-vision glasses to see life leaving his body,
Just a little less breath-noise, deflation, exhaling more than inhaling,
Lifeless, as the stillness of a glass pond that was once busy with ripples.


Mildew and moss are taking hold in cracks
And grooves of the weathered concrete headstone,
But I can still read the birth and death dates,
The first, middle and last names, cold, hard facts,
A pittance of proof that he was once here
But no hint of what he was, what he did.
A slab amongst other slabs of concrete,
Staking a rough claim to his last frontier.

Sunday, 28 June 2015


A version of this was published in the London Paper a few years ago.  I was wondering in this age of austerity, how tipping has been affected.  I am a reluctant tipper. Why should it feel compulsory in some places? What's the point of tipping anyway?

It would be interesting to hear from waiters, waitresses and others (employers?) who expect tips, and from that range of customers - naturally lavish tippers to the refusers.

Tips boxes, buckets, bowls, jars, etc are appearing in all sorts of commercial establishments. Should staff have to, er, beg?  Should customers be pressurised?

To tip or not to tip, that is the dilemma. A tip is always expected in most countries of the world, ask any taxi driver or waiter - but not always deserved.  Is tipping just a duplicitous way to supplement low wages? My answer is a resounding yes. The customer seems to be expected to pay extra for this thing called service, regardless of standards, especially in restaurants and taxis. Some time ago, a group of us went out to a pizza restaurant. The food was fabulous but the service was a little slow, a tad robotic and littered with several mistakes including forgotten starters, wrong wine etc. As a group we put in our share of the bill and I took it to the cashier. We had decided to leave the change as a kindly tip. Standing next to the till was the restaurant manager, an American as it happened, who watched the money being handed over and, in a mechanical calculator kind of way, he quickly worked out the change amount as a percentage of the total bill. As soon as I had generously said, “keep the change”, he glared at me with a Mount Rushmore stony face and said: “That’s only 8%. Isn’t that a little insulting to your waitress?”  I stood with my friends in a collective dumbstruck rigidity before saying: “The food was great but the service was just okay. Our tip reflects the service.” He continued to glare and complain about our stinginess citing at least 15% as a starting or indeed tipping point. We stood firm and left the restaurant wondering why we felt like naughty schoolchildren.  Clearly, in this case, the customer is always right except when he’s wrong.
This kind of pressure happens all too often either from the management or from the hangdog waiting staff who are only interested in supplementing their meagre wages.  It is interesting to note the fickleness of people in service jobs, where friendliness, helpfulness, sincere good manners and efficiency should be delivered willingly and well all the time.  At the point of payment,  some catering staff change attitudes like Jekyll and Hyde at the absence of a tip, turning surly and huffy to show their disappointment.  So, were they really suited to the customer service job in the first place?  Was the whole service gloss just a sham?

Here’s a warning notice I would like to see outside restaurants: “THIS RESTAURANT DEMANDS THAT YOU AGREE TO PAY ANY SERVICE CHARGE WE DECIDE TO PRINT ON YOUR BILL AND IT WANTS YOUR GUARANTEE THAT YOU WILL TIP WAITING STAFF WITH AN AMOUNT NOT LESS THAN 12.5%.  IF YOU DON”T COMPLY, WATCH OUT OR DON”T ENTER IN THE FIRST PLACE”.   If I saw a notice like that, I would know their stance and where I stood and I would avoid the restaurant, nip to Sainsbury's and buy a deep pan pepperoni to eat at home.   This tipping exploitation of customers and wage deprivation of staff by catering and taxi people is not just a UK disease.  On recent trips to California, everybody, it seemed, waited for a tip including the hotel doorman (but not the hotel receptionist, strangely enough), the porter, the maids, the bartender, the restaurant staff, the taxi driver and anybody else who could screw us for a few more dollars.   In one restaurant near Sacramento, a colleague and I went to a self-service (hold that thought) Chinese restaurant. We were shown to a table and then told to help ourselves from the buffet counters. We did just that, had a fine lunch and as we walked out, we could see a table clearer straining his neck to clock if we had left a tip in our booth. We hadn't, of course, but if his face had been a laser, the look he gave would have melted us on the spot. Tipping in a self-service restaurant?  What?   More recently, in another Chinese restaurant, this time in London’s Soho, we were a table of seven and our host decided not to leave a tip on top of the included service charge.  Our waiter’s facial expression, body language and attitude, formerly Saturday night game show host happy, smiley and charming, turned to Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” in a heartbeat.  It’s that arc from “greetings” to “grrrr”.

I have more stuff on tipping.....but I don't want to bore you.

Have a nice day.

Saturday, 27 June 2015


The gauze of dawn
mists my eyes to semi-blindness,
the fine rain drizzle
dims my fading vision,
the window’s condensation
obscures nature’s outlines,
the rough-edged world out there
is blurred and hazy.
I rub my face to no avail
for all before me is vague,
distant, dreek and dim,
hopeless,  desperate and grim.

I should have gone to Specsavers.

Friday, 26 June 2015


We read, we learn.  It is as simple as that.  Currently, I am reading a collection of Terry Pratchett's non-fiction, speeches, reflections, bits and bobs - a pick 'n' mix of all sorts of things that actually forms itself into an untidy writing masterclass.  In short, it is a joy.

Here and there in the book, he mentions books and writers that influenced him and on his recommendation, I have downloaded a book (circa 21 pages) called The Specialist by Charles Sale.  I have not read it yet but I'm intrigued.  If it is good enough for Sir Terry, then it is more than good enough for me.

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction (Paperback)

Here's the blurb for The Specialist, from the Amazon site:

"The Specialist is one of the world s favourite humour classics. Generations of readers have enjoyed its gentle wisdom about the building of privies and applauded Lem Putt s devotion to making a privy a thing of beauty. Lem Putt is a specialist, and this book is the philosophy of a man who loves his trade and has considered every aspect of it, from how to prevent people taking their time when they commune with nature to solving the problem of female modesty in an ingenious way."

Even before I read it, I know it is going to be £1.25 well spent.

The Specialist (Hardback)

Tuesday, 23 June 2015


I stole the next twenty-nine words from Sir Terry Pratchett*:
“We look around and see foreign policies that are little more
than the taking of revenge for the revenge that was taken
in revenge for the revenge last time.”

We kid ourselves that there was a simpler age in the cut and thrust
Of nation versus nation, clear-cut rules of war, tit for tat, eye for an eye,
Tooth for a tooth, the victorious, the defeated, the romance of blood spilled
By heroes, and corpses tallied by military admin to deliver a final score.

Now, it’s still tit for tat, but evolving into tit for tit and tat for tat, tweet for tweet, 
Whatever suits, two eyes for one eye and a mouthful of teeth for one tooth, 
And sometimes a whole head, sometimes heaps of bodies buried where no one will ever find them. “Put’ em up. Put ‘em up,” said a cowardly lion once.  Who do we think we are kidding?

*Carnegie Medal award speech, 2002

Sunday, 21 June 2015



We didn't call him Grandfather or even Grandad. He was Granda, my mother's father. He was a small, slight man but with the work ethic and grit of somebody twice his size. I remember he did the annual wallpapering and decorating in our house, always with a cheery demeanour, the occasional whistle and, every now and then, a song to himself. He had a stammer, quite severe at times, but that made him all the more endearing. He would give opinions and tell stories, sometimes struggling with certain words that simply refused to roll off the tongue. But, and I recall this very clearly, at a family do, he sang the song Nellie Dean and it was beautiful, even to a young kid like me. When he sang this simple little tune, the stammer was dead. Instead, he had the sweet voice of a tenor, unforced and pitch-perfect. "There's an old mill by the stream, Nellie Dean," he sang and, you know, he looked happy and content, a small man but a great Granda.

Friday, 19 June 2015


Today, the Belfast Telegraph kindly published my article on my father, as we approach Father's Day.  It is not a very heartwarming story, more a series of clues I need to follow up to understand his life from the time he walked out of his Belfast home in 1960 to his death in 1982 in Clapham, London.  What happened in the 22 "missing"years?

Belfast Telegraph

My father, the stranger: Joe Cushnan on his absent dad

Slowly but surely, I'm piecing it all (or most of it) together for a possible book or just to satisfy my own curiosity.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015


A POEM FOR CHILDREN (Attributed to John Neale, 1886)
Three little words you often see
Are ARTICLES a, an and the.
A NOUN's the name of anything,
As school or garden, hoop or swing.
ADJECTIVES tell the kind of noun,

As great, small, pretty, white or brown.
Instead of nouns the PRONOUNS stand,

Her head, his face, our arms, your hand.
VERBS tell of something being done,

To read, count, sing, laugh jump or run.
How things are done the ADVERBS tell,

As slowly, quickly, ill or well.
CONJUNCTIONS join the nouns together,

As men and children, wind and weather.
The PREPOSITION stands before

A noun, as in or through a door.
The INTERJECTION shows surprise,

As oh! how pretty! ah! how wise!
The whole are called 'nine parts of speech',

Which reading, writing, speaking teach.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


It's 19.41, Tuesday 16 June 2015, UK time.

I have just read that the BBC has contracted broadcaster Chris Evans to a 3-year deal to front the car/caper show 'Top Gear'.

My heart sinks.  No, my heart sank when that dangerous, risky, bumptious Jeremy Clarkson ruined a show because he was sacked for physical violence against a colleague, and rightly so.  Single-handedly, he destroyed a great concept and a damaged a lucrative BBC brand.  Much as I loved his front as a presenter and his banter with his presenting mates, James May and Richard Hammond, he is a dickhead.  He has ruined one of my all-time favourite shows, forever. And I'm not even a car guy.

Chris Evans is very successful but, in my ears and head, he is an annoying presenter, full of ego and, at times, a high-pitched delivery. He is a turn-off.

I can see why the BBC - if this contract news is true - is attracted by the disc jockey/presenter.  He will probably haul in a new audience from his Radio 2 supporters and his TFI Friday fans.

The BBC might end up saving the brand.

For my taste and that of many others, Clarkson more than crossed a line and deserved his fate.  In doing so, he screwed up a fun show, in my opinion, and left the door open for the BBC to recruit lesser presenters to find their feet, a new format and a challenge to keep 'Top Gear' alive as a global business.

I only watched 'Top Gear' for Clarkson, May and Hammond.  A variation of Freeman, Hardy and Willis, The Three Stooges or The Three Mustangteers just will not do.

So long. I'm away down the road in a cloud of smoke.


I have started reading this book and 55 pages in (a 380 page book), I think I have learned so much about the business of writing and the business of being a writer.  Insightful, funny, educational, entertaining and honest - loving it.  Onward......

A Slip of the Keyboard:
Collected Non-Fiction
by Terry Pratchett
Foreword by Neil Gaiman

Here's the blurb from the Waterstones website:

Terry Pratchett in his own words. With a foreword by Neil Gaiman Terry Pratchett earned a place in the hearts of readers the world over with his bestselling Discworld series - but in recent years he became equally well-known as an outspoken campaigner for causes including Alzheimer's research and animal rights. A Slip of the Keyboard brings together the best of Pratchett's non fiction writing on his life, on his work, and on the weirdness of the world: from Granny Pratchett to Gandalf's love life; from banana daiquiris to books that inspired him; from getting started as a writer to the injustices that he fought to end. With his trademark humour, humanity and unforgettable way with words, this collection offers an insight behind the scenes of Discworld into a much loved and much missed figure - man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek, champion of hats, orang-utans and the right to a good death.
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
ISBN: 9780552167727

Monday, 15 June 2015


with love and affection, and sincere congratulations to Van on his knighthood.
Cleaning windows no longer necessary!

Hey where did they go,
with their young men's voices,
back in the day
when you could hear all the words,
come gather round people,
and help understand this,
why Van and Bob sing
like catarrh-coughing birds.

They still draw the crowds
with their legendary status,
still command the stage platform
like the rock gods they are,
they know how to stare
with a menacing scowl
and they've evolved how they sing,
now adopting the growl.

All those tours and those travels
on the hard-nose highways,
all the years of freewheeling,
all the blood on the tracks,
have I told you lately
that I still love them both,
even though their worn voices
are so full of cracks.

So hail Van the man and his Bobness,
to the hat wearing two, hats off,
but just now and again music legends, 
clear your throats and have a bloody good cough!

Saturday, 13 June 2015


Well, this is nice.

Two pieces of mine published on the same day.

First in The Guardian, a memory about the Marty Robbins song 'El Paso".

Product Details

Second, a poem published online by Octavius Magazine.

Hope you enjoy them.

Most of my blog posts are shared on Reddit, Digg, Twitter and Facebook

Thursday, 11 June 2015


Ron Moody died today at 91.  He is best remembered as Fagin in Oliver! (1968) but his CV beyond that famous role is very impressive.  Here's his IMDB link:

In 1980, he published a novel - The Devil You Don't - which I read and enjoyed.  I recall that it was a crime/ story within the nuclear power industry.

The Devil You Don't (Paperback)

After I read the book, I wrote to Ron Moody and he sent me an autographed photograph.  On the back he wrote:

Dear Joe,

Thank you for the appreciation of my work.  I like to think that what I think makes other people think - I think!

All best wishes,


RIP, sir!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


A man goes into a B&Q DIY superstore.

Man: I'd like a chainsaw that can cut down eight trees in an hour.

Assistant: I have the very one for you, sir. Top of the range.

Man: Thanks, I'll buy it


Man (furious): That chainsaw you sold me is bloody useless.  It took me all day and most of the night to cut down one tree.

Assistant: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.  Let me have a look at it.  I'll just start it up.

Man: What's that buzzing noise?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


I am just back from a long weekend in Belfast with my son, David.  We saw the wonderful Christy Moore in concert at the Waterfront Hall, did the splendid Titanic tour, met family and friends and reconnected with my old home city.

Just by chance, at my sister Mary's house, I saw a copy of St Teresa's Parish Bulletin (from my old stomping ground) and read about the death, at 99, of Father Fred Hanson, an imposing man with a booming voice who scared the living daylights out of us kids with rousing sermons.  Back in the late 1960s when I was knee-high to a cornflakes packet, a big tall man with a big loud voice (the voice of God?) was a powerful thing.  But he was likeable and memorable and knew how to use his vocal power to get the Church's message across before we all slunk out of the chapel and into the sweetie shop across the road.

But, as is often the case, we childer had no idea or interest in this man's life before he came to the parish.  To us, he was one of our priests and we saw and definitely heard him on occasions, but beyond that, nada.

Here's the piece from the parish newsletter:

FredHansonsscFr Frederick ("Fred") Hanson was born on 8 September 1916 in Belfast. Educated at St Brigid's NS, Holy Family NS and St Mary's CBS, Belfast, he came to the Old Dalgan in Shrule, Co. Galway in 1933. He was a member of the last class to be ordained in Shrule in December 1939, before the seminary relocated to St Columban's, Navan.

The war prevented his being assigned overseas, so he was assigned to parish work in the Diocese of Down and Connor for three years. He joined the Royal Air Force as a chaplain in 1943 and served until 1950. This appointment clearly suited Fred's talents. The RAF Chaplain-in-Chief pleaded that he be allowed serve a further three years, "Fr Hanson is a most zealous priest and has done heroic work in looking after young Irish men in several RAF stations ... I cannot conceive of anybody doing greater work for the glory of God than he is doing in his present position." He was assigned briefly to Korea, but the outbreak of war in that country resulted in a change of assignment to Japan. From 1953 until 1958 he served as Editor of Tosei News (an English news service for missionaries) and NCWC correspondent for Korea and Japan.

From 1958-1964 he was assigned once again to Korea where he served as secretary to Bishop Quinlan. There followed two years doing pastoral work on a temporary basis in parishes in England. Then he was assigned to the Parish of St Teresa, Glen Road, Belfast and later to Holy Family Parish where he served until the year 2000. Fred was a big man, big in stature and with a voice to match. He was generous and kind, devoted to his sister Mary, and managed his long illness with patience and occasional outbursts of exasperation.

I'm glad I spotted the parish bulletin.  It was sad to read about Father Fred but I'm pleased to know more about the man, his history, his experiences and his influences.  May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015


We had things to do, a ball to kick, tig to play,
But at inconvenient moments, it was time for the family to pray
At the slow bead-to-bead pace of the Rosary - Our Father,
Ten Hail Marys, a Glory Be To The Father,
Topped off with a Hail Holy Queen – after dinner,
Adults keen to stay on good terms with God and kids
Impatient to get outside, a ball to kick, tig to play,
No escape, forced on our knees to pray.

Each prayer had its tempo, its pauses,
Unhurried and spoken out loud, in unison,
No chance of acceleration, no get-on-with-it rush,
Steady as ever to accommodate the old ones
Who loved to savour the comforting words.
Not much for them to do after - poke the fire, snooze, 
Read the Belfast Telegraph, tut at the TV -
But we kids had things to do, games to play.

Rosaries, week nights included - week nights! -
Not just Sundays.