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Monday, 31 August 2015


There is a barney going on inside next door,
He, a baritone-boom, she, a screech-witch:
“What have you done with my bloody trousers,
You stupid, careless bitch?”

“Don’t call me a bitch, you useless lazy cretin.
I’m not your skivvy, not the keeper of his majesty’s kecks.
I’m not the little woman you seem to want around,
Not here just for cooking, cleaning and sex.”

“Where are my sodding trousers?” Volume pumped up.
“Go to hell,” screeched she, then a door slam, BANG,
He let’s out an “aaaarrrrgggghhhh” and then silence,
Except for a singing bird perched on their roof’s overhang.

Later, they are out together gardening, as I walk to the car.
They nod and say a cheery hello in unison, smiles wide and unawkward,
He doing the edges, she pottering in the central feature,
She wearing a fleece jacket and he fully trousered.

The bird, mission accomplished, had flown.

Sunday, 30 August 2015


It is not often I can remember the exact dates of customer complaints but 6 September 1997 stands out because it was the day of Princess Diana’s funeral and a quite bizarre incident happened.  In order to give everybody a chance to watch the funeral on TV, all 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.  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, “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.  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.

Saturday, 29 August 2015


I’ve had bad days but not as bad as John J. Macreedy’s in Black Rock,
A day for him that began as he stepped off a train and into a world
Of secrets and lies, an isolated place of menace led by Reno Smith
And his heavies, Hector David and Coley Trimble.  Spencer Tracy,
Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine got on with their day
And I went to work in a period of bad day after bad day after bad day.
We were a ‘respect for the individual’ company, modern guru claptrap,
Mouthed by old-school bosses who couldn’t give a toss about changing,
After all, the old bark and bite ways worked. “Just bloody well do your job,
Or else!”  Big bully boss-boys and, sometimes, girls dressed themselves
In the morning with a sneer, a grimace, ready to belittle, begrudge, be a bastard
Or bitch because that was their fun, that was ego in top gear. “JFDI” –
“Just fuckin’ do it” – a mantra behind the wafer-thin curtain of culture,
A workplace on paper that looked like Disney cartoons, wholesome,
Encouraging, celebratory and proud. Away from the bullshit, smeared
On wall posters, on pocket-size leaflets, on badges and message pads,
Stone-faced business tyrants, Renos, Hectors, Coleys, underestimating
Us Macreedys. “JFDI,” they’d bawl. “JFDI.”  Until one of our number, hit back,
Just like John J. - “You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.”

Friday, 28 August 2015


Giving a shout out today to a singer new to me and, blimey, what a singer - Janet Henry.  Here's some background supplied by Colin Henry, followed by a link to the beautifully arranged and sung 'Scared':


Born in Belfast and coming from a very musical family Janet is one of Northern Ireland’s finest female vocalists and songwriters.
She has performed with artists such as Nancy Griffiths(USA), Gary Ferguson (USA), Kathy Barwick (USA), Pete Seigfried (USA) and, closer to home, with Charlie McGettigan, Andy Irvine, Mick Hanly, and legendary Irish jazz and blues guitarist Dick Farrelly, to name just a few. She has recorded with many artists not least the great Duffy Power and Henry McCullough.
Her strong melodies and thought provoking lyrics encompass all genres and with a voice that has been described as’ true, soulful and simply beautiful’.  
Janet was a founding member of the innovative band Birddog that successfully combined roots music with jazz.
Janet has toured a number of times with award winning American singer songwriter Gary Ferguson and her husband, dobro player Colin Henry. As a trio they have recorded their own material and were joined on the tracks by leading American bass player Mark Schatz and mandolinist Emory Lester.
Janet has recorded two albums of her own, THE ROAD TO THE WEST and WONDER WHY with a new cd underway.

Here's the link -

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Thursday, 27 August 2015


I asked my big question
And after confirming the second, third and fifth digits of my secret password,
And my mother’s maiden name, I was put on hold
To listen to Vivaldi, bowing to the voice on the other end of the phone,
Doing what I was told.

I had time to observe
The waxing crescent of a new moon phasing through its first quarter to full brilliance
To its last quarter, to its fading wane, broken
By a recurring message: “Operators are busy.  Your call is important.”
Cracked record had spoken.

I doodled and recalled
Catechism questions and answers learned by heart in primary school RE class,
Messages from Jim Rockford’s answering machine,
The names of the actors in The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven,
Chords to God Save the Queen.

I caught my reflection
In the glass of a framed picture, an artist’s impression of mountains and a lake
And my chin, resting on the highest snowy peak,
Gave it a new dimension, a puppeteer’s raggedy doll with a massive head.
“Anytime this week”.

A click and then a drone,
Cut off by something, someone, an imp, a gremlin getting kicks at my impatience,
Creased-up call centre comedian laughing like hyenas do,
Wasting my time when I’m perfectly capable of wasting it on my own terms.
O Job, I envy you.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


Racing driver Justin Wilson has died after a freak accident on the track.

In 2003, I had a spare £500 to invest in Justin Wilson plc. As far as I can recall, the plc needed at least 1,000 investors to support the guy over ten years in his chosen career. He had a very brief period in F1 (scoring one point - don't sniff, that is gold today) and a very good career on US circuits.

He seemed like a nice guy. He WAS a racer.

The BBC Sport site gives some background -

Justin Wilson was 37, married with two children. He had a risky job.  He was doing what he loved.  He was not involved in the track incident ahead of him but a flying chunk of racing car found him and killed him.

Freakish. We have no idea when the moment will come.

As for my investment, I got most of it back. I didn't give a shit then and I certainly don't give a shit now. It was a bit of fun at the time. I liked him a lot.

Now, a wife is without a husband and two kids are without their father.

RIP sir. I'm sadder than I can say right now.

Monday, 24 August 2015


Imelda loved the atmosphere of a wedding day, especially the fashion when everyone makes an effort to spruce up and look grand.   Men seem to be stuck with suits but ladies can be as extravagant as they dare, and a wedding is one of those rare occasions when hats can be worn without the wearers becoming too self-conscious.  Imelda’s headgear was a yellow pillbox number and her adjacent friend Penny sported a crimson fedora with an enormous spider brooch pinned to the left-hand side.  The whole thing was perfect, a beautifully turned out congregation in a delightful old village church on a wonderful summer’s day.  Perfect, perfect, perfect, thought Imelda, except for the groom standing up near the altar waiting for his new bride to arrive.  He was facing away from the pews, straight ahead towards the stained-glass window of the Resurrection, as well he might.
Charlie MacIntosh was the human resources director for a large retailing company, successful in his career, fun-loving, wine buff and general all round good egg, and very, very handsome to boot.  He was, as the kids say these days, fit.  There he was on this special day waiting for his gorgeous wife-to-be.  “She is the luckiest woman in the world, Penny”, whispered Imelda.  “The only trouble is, dammit, she’s not me.”  Penny looked at her friend, grimaced a little and whispered back, “Oh Immy, you are a one.  Anyone would think you have the hots for old Charlie.”  Imelda let out a tiny chuckle to give Penny the impression that she was only joking.
Charlie and Imelda had shared an apartment for a couple of years, a purely platonic, best mates kind of arrangement.   They lived their own lives but often spent evenings together watching television, listening to music, occasionally wine tasting and chatting about everything and anything.  Imelda had introduced Charlie to a couple of boyfriends, although she was now free and single, and Charlie had done the same with his girlfriends.  But his latest squeeze, Helen, seemed to be a bit more special than the others.  She enchanted him and when she came round for dinner for the first time, Imelda could feel the intensity of their relationship by watching their body language and eye movements.  This pairing was serious.
Imelda had never let on to Charlie that she was falling in love with him.  She feared rejection and didn’t want to risk upsetting their relationship with the apartment arrangements and certainly didn’t want to ruin a great friendship.  In any case, it was Charlie who rocked the boat, the night before the wedding.  In the tradition of the husband-to-be and wife-to-be spending their last pre-wedding night apart, Charlie had opted to stay at the flat.  Imelda cooked a spaghetti bolognese and uncorked the first of a few bottles of Chianti.  It was a nice evening.  They talked and laughed for hours and Charlie seemed relaxed.  Imelda kept trying to resist any amorous feelings or any drunken slips of the tongue that might ruin the night.  But when Charlie said: “Immy, I have something to tell you, something I need to get off my chest.”  Imelda raised her eyebrows and wondered what was coming next.  Charlie said,  “I need to whisper it in your ear.”  Imelda laughed: “You’re a right Charlie, Charlie, there’s no one else here but us chickens.”  Charlie moved over and sat down next to Imelda on the sofa.  “I know that but I need to whisper it because it’s a secret and I can’t say it out loud.”   Imelda waited for Charlie, at last, to declare his undying love for her and then kiss her for hours.  “Imelda,” breathed Charlie, “Helen, my soon-to-be-wife, has been having an affair.”  Imelda recoiled and her head hit the wooden corner of the sofa.  “Ouch!  What?  Are you mad?  Do you know what you are saying?  How do you know she’s been having an affair?”  “Crikey,” inhaled Charlie, “so may questions but the real question is should I go ahead and marry her?”
They talked about Helen for a while longer before Charlie declared that he had forgiven her and that his love far outweighed any feelings of betrayal. He hadn’t and never would let her know that he knew what she had done.  The wedding would go ahead as planned, a past indiscretion would be erased as a new future beckoned.  Over coffee at the flat the next morning, Imelda gave Charlie a friendly hug and wished him good luck for the ceremony.  She felt sorry for him. But she knew it was none of her business.
The organ heralded Helen’s arrival at the church and Imelda thought for a cheating two-timing bitch, she looked stunning in every way.  She was indeed the luckiest woman in the world.  As Charlie waited for her to walk the aisle, he was still staring at the Resurrection window, maybe thinking that he had risen above a potential disaster.
The service washed over Imelda and she didn’t hear most of it because her mind was distracted.  She was wrestling with her conscience.  She was trying to be rational and not feeling spurned.  Yes, she was jealous but her next actions required a cool head and a huge gulp of courage.  When the minister addressed the congregation and said:  “If any person here present knows of any lawful impediment to this marriage they should declare it now.  As usual, at this point, heads swiveled as people glanced about looking for any takers but all seemed to be well, except for some movement from a lady in a yellow pillbox hat.  Imelda stood up and there was an expectant gasp or two from the congregation.  Charlie, aware of something going on, looked around and saw Imelda standing nervously about halfway down the church.  He mouthed “no’ at her but Imelda took a deep breath and started to speak.

Sunday, 23 August 2015


One year on from the passing of the wondrous broadcaster, a reminder of his fine book "Heads"


My review of this book appeared in Fortnight in March 2009.

HEADS – A Day In The Life
By Gerry Anderson
Gill & MacMillan

Many books have been written, words spouted, poems recited and songs sung about Ireland, the Irish, the history, the trouble and strife of the Emerald Isle, with politicians talking about talks, who is going to shake hands with whom, which side is right, which side is wrong and all that shamrock and roll of toing and froing on the rocky road to peace and civility.  But not enough has been written about ordinary existence, about the mundane and general stuff that happens on the streets in humdrum life.  There are many strands to the humdrum, no doubt, and “Heads” by Gerry Anderson lifts the lid on a paradoxically trivial but important strand of Irish culture – the jobbing music group, trivial in that they mostly swam in the shallow end of the entertainment pool and important because these bands had huge followings and brought some sparkle into people’s dull lives.

It would have been nigh on impossible to have lived in any part of Ireland in the 1960s without some brush or other with the concept of showbands.  These ensembles were the main form of live and lively entertainment in dance halls around the country.  They provided a touch of glamour and excitement as they belted out cover versions of chart hits and back catalogue favourites, earning substantial amounts of money in the process.  Many of the lead singers were regarded as major pop stars and, as a result, grabbed their share of magazine covers and wall posters in the process.  They were proper bands with guitars and drums, of course, but also brass sections to jazz things up and produce their own walls of sound.  They were, in short, incredibly successful and amazingly popular.

By the early 1970s, the showband sheen was beginning to dull down and it is in these dying days that Anderson recalls the sleazy, slimey, degenerate side of Irish show business life in this heady memoir.  It seemed in those days that the scurrilous behaviour of musicians was exclusively an American affliction, a sort of San Francisco syndrome, but in Ireland, there was also an underbelly of mischief on the highways, by-ways and off the beaten tracks in amongst the gigs and audiences.  This is a story that needed to be unearthed, a missing piece of the Irish cultural jigsaw puzzle.

Gerry Anderson’s “day job” now in Northern Ireland is to fill an hour and a half of daily morning BBC Radio Ulster air with banter, meanderings, discussion and good music, and he has done this very successfully for a couple of decades.  He is considered to be a local radio legend and there are not many in Ireland who would disagree that he is an extraordinary broadcaster.

It is his life on the road with a band called The Chessmen, playing in lower league rural, and therefore sometimes draughty and sometimes smelly, halls, barns and sheds, that forms the substance of a bawdy tale of itinerant musicians with muscular tastes in women, booze, drugs and, every now and again, music.  These were the dying days of showbands with most musicians playing because they had to earn money somehow rather than play for the love of the music.  It seems to have been a time of drudgery and despair over professionalism and glamour and it is clear from the narrative that Anderson loved the thought of being a musician but hated the concept of showbands and the hassles of performing the same routines and endless cover songs night after night after night.  Interspersed with his recollections of incidents and obvious embellishment of many memories, Anderson is not shy in expressing his opinions about a variety of subjects and his devoted following of radio listeners today might be shocked at his frequent use of coarse language, a necessary inclusion if the honesty of the story is to be upheld, but a side of the man that is not normally heard.

Gerry Anderson progressed from the Irish showband scene to a short spell with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, but before long he was back in Ireland looking for a new phase in his life.  There are more stories still to be told but “Heads” is a wonderful journey through the badlands of Irish entertainment and pulls no punches in laying out a rough guide to life on the road.  Anyone hell-bent on a popular music career could do worse than read this story if they want to understand that showbusiness and the pursuit of fame is not all gloss, glitz and glamour.  It can have a dark side but, let’s be honest, hell is a lot more interesting than heaven.

Saturday, 15 August 2015


I have been tinkering with this book idea about management style and behaviour based on my own bosses over four decades. "Career-View Mirror: 40 Bosses In Forty Years" is a work in progress and I return to it from time to time to tinker some more.

Here is the draft introduction and following it, I have listed the one-word chapter headings to describe each boss's style.

(If publishers/editors are interested in a book or features, let me know - ) 

In forty years I have had forty bosses spread over seven different companies.  I don’t know how that sounds to you but to me it is an astonishing statistic.  It is not mathematically complex to work it out as one boss a year over four decades on average, in retailing, wholesaling, tourism and business education, but the answer to the arithmetic still amazes me.  I have no idea if an accumulation of so many bosses is an unusual affliction but, apart from anything else, it gives the lie to the notion that one boss or, indeed one job for life, is probably a pipedream.  

I thought about my bosses, their management styles, their strengths and weaknesses and their impacts on me personally and on my career progression to construct professional advice I was asked to give to some college students.  The event was to help kids at school to understand the world of work, the value of career choices and ambitions, and to drive home to them the vital connection between productive education, an appetite for learning and the quest to earn a continuous living.  The preparation for working life seminar was both a chance to share old-hand experience and to prompt discussion about the reality of adult life.  My core role within the agenda was to encourage students to think about what they have to offer a future employer and then to assist them in constructing CVs, writing application letters and rehearsing mock job interviews.  There was a great deal of time spent talking about self-honesty, self-awareness, clarity of realistic ambitions and how to manage the transition from academe to the industrial landscape.  In short, the seminar was a career planning exercise, using student naivete and hard-earned experience to help steer lives and careers.

As a group leader on the day, my first task was to subject myself to a question session where the students asked me about my own working life.  I talked about the companies I had worked for, the various jobs and responsibilities therein, the educational and professional qualifications I offered employers, my attitude to continuous personal learning and development, and the best and worst experiences in my career.  It was during this session that I first considered my many bosses and the kinds of questions I would have asked them if I had been allowed the opportunity to do what these kids were doing with me.  Here I was, an experienced manager of businesses, people, customers and so on, sharing sage advice, and it occurred to me that some, perhaps not all, of these students, would remember me and fragments of the advice and stories I had related to them.  Somewhere in the corners of their minds, my words might just come back and help them on their way through life and work.  It was and is a big responsibility.  

Many things shape us as human beings on the path from the cradle to the grave, from family to friends, in school, in work and in various lay-bys and cul-de-sacs along the road.  If we are lucky, we can build on the foundations of a good upbringing, influenced by sensible parents, close siblings, positive teachers, fair employers and other mentors, giving us a basis to at least know right from wrong.  As we grow up, we have opportunities to learn to understand how to conduct ourselves, the advantages of good etiquette, bright personality, punctuality, reliability, smart personal appearance, effective communication, team work and individual drive, amongst many other things.  A proportion of the human race either chooses not to adopt these attitudes and approaches, or is deprived of a fair shot at life because of background and adverse circumstances.  

I remember teachers as well as I remember employers and managers in my life.  Some were exceptional, full of energy and inspiration.  Some were average men and women who stumbled along, achieving or failing, according to their individual abilities.  Some, it has to be said, were downright appalling as bosses and, in a couple of cases, as people.  But, from the sublime to the ridiculous, it was impossible not to learn something from every one of them.  

Part 1 of the book contains condensed, retrospective appraisals and reflections of each of my forty bosses.  Like the students in the seminar, I am interested in reflecting their personalities and methods of working.  I have not named any of them and I have decided not to run through one to forty in any career chronological pattern.  I’ve shuffled the deck, so to speak, because identifying individuals is irrelevant here.  I want to share my experiences of them as bosses to help anyone in a career or about to embark on what is indeed a journey through life and not simply a final destination. I do not necessarily agree with nor have followed all of the lessons and advice here.  I see these assessments as a kind of menu to prompt ideas, think about solutions and promote discussion in a one-size doesn’t fit all management world.  Some of the lessons and advice might overlap, but that goes with the territory.  From the opening index, you will have noticed that each chapter heading is one word intended to pinpoint my opinion of the style or personality of the boss discussed.   At the end of each chapter, I have included a short scorecard, an estimation of how I rated each boss on leadership credentials, inspiration, trustworthiness and how they cut it as an overall management role model.  It is not meant to be mathematically scientific, more a snapshot of what these people meant to me.  

In Part 2 of the book, I take a quirky but hopefully realistic and helpful A to Z look at some of the things you can do if your career is interrupted by redundancy, dismissal or any other form of “letting go”.

I hope you have a great career, regardless of how many bosses you enjoy or endure.  Over to the Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, for our initial team talk:
“As you pass from the tender years of youth into harsh and embittered manhood, make sure you take with you on your journey all the human emotions.  Don’t leave them on the road, for you will not pick them up afterwards.”


Friday, 14 August 2015


Here's a few jottings following a recent trip back to Northern Ireland.......

I noticed something in Northern Ireland recently, something beyond political bitching, flags, remembrance of things past, bad stuff that hogs the headlines and all the blether and blah hot air that must be as much of a threat to the environment as methane gas.  I’ll get to that soon but here’s a little historical and travelogue background.

I was born and raised in Belfast but nowadays I am more of an in-out tourist, always delighted to step off the plane to meet up with family and friends.  I am not a kiss-the-tarmac kind of guy but, emotionally, I come close. My trips are also opportunities to catch up with Belfast, to walk in my old stomping grounds and to remember the great times I had working in the grim era of the 1970s.  I am very fond of the city, annoying though some of its citizens and politics can be. It has a special creative vibe and a lot of good history.

On my most recent visit (August 2015), my wife accompanied me.  It was a surprise birthday treat for her – one of those milestone numbers – and it was a big success.  We arrived at George Best airport and headed for a pre-Belfast stay at the stunning Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, a location and building on the coast second to none.  It was a little disappointing to observe a lack of that famous Irish warmth and personality from some of the staff but we ignored the surly ones as best we could and enjoyed the craic from others who seemed happier in their work.

After two nights at The Slieve, we meandered our way towards Belfast via Ardglass, Strangford and Downpatrick.  There is not a huge amount to see and do in Ardglass, pretty spot though it is, but we did have coffee in Doyle’s and a chat with a lovely waitress.  I asked where the main street was and she pointed up the hill. “That’s it. That’s Ardglass.”  We smiled a collective smile. Strangford had a bit more to it and Downpatrick had a lot more to it including the obvious but still interesting stories about Saint Patrick, ‘dear saint of our isle.”  I was particularly interested in Downpatrick’s Market Street because of Damian Smyth’s excellent 2010 book of poems named after the thoroughfare.  We ended up in Belfast, a chance to dander around and see how the old town is doing. There was a lot of observing and absorbing of life going on.

So what was this thing I noticed.  I keep tabs on Northern Ireland’s news via the Internet, scanning the newspapers and the BBC and, unless I am being unfair, bad news and conflict continue to dominate.  Some good news and cute stories are sprinkled here and there to celebrate, entertain and amuse.  But, for someone on the other side of the world, dipping into Ulster news coverage the reality of what actually goes on in, for example, Belfast day in and day out is skewed. 

The thing I noticed was NORMAL LIFE.  Blimey, I hear you cry.  You took five paragraphs to present a statement of the blinking obvious.  Well, yes, but I would argue strongly that emphasizing normality is very important in a place where morale can have as many holes as a colander.
I watched people heading for work, carrying their coffee cups, yabbering and tapping on phones, queuing for buses, shopping, chatting in the street, choosing sandwich fillings, sitting on benches reading newspapers and books, driving, honking horns, waiting to cross roads, delivering stuff, drinking in bars, smoking in clumps outside, and on and on.  It was like any other city. NORMAL LIFE.

NORMAL LIFE, a thing not to be underestimated or taken for granted, a thing that should be a comfort when the going gets tough. After arguments, fights, despicable acts, nasty interludes, hurled stones and bottles, etc, NORMAL LIFE returns and most people get on with earning a crust and living a life.

NORMAL LIFE never goes away for long.  It always comes back, ’as sure as the turning of the earth*’.

*Never too far from a western quotation – ‘The Searchers’.