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Tuesday, 25 July 2017


I am in a room the size of my Granny's scullery,
(You'll have to use your imagination), cosy and small.
Her square window looked out on the outside toilet door,
No view to speak of. My window looks out to several back gardens,
Including the Rooney's. It is summer rhubarb season
And Mister Rooney, Tommy, but always Mister Rooney
To us kids, would make his way from his house to ours carrying
A big bundle of red and green lengths, stalks to be chopped,
Sugared and simmered to a softness for crumbles and tarts.
Memorable Sunday salad teas and afters and Tommy Rooney played his part,
by the armful. 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


And the morning after the day before........

Written before the publication of the BBC report

Later this morning, the world will find out the names and salaries of the BBC's most expensive talent. This is all being done in the name of 'transparency', one of those words used by the Government to appease a public mood for openness and also to weaken public trust in the corporation. Governments don't like the BBC. Some media organisations don't like the BBC. Some people don't like the BBC. Rather like the slo-mo death of the NHS by gradual demolition, the BBC is a big target for its commercial possibilities above and beyond any artistic, journalistic or entertainment merits.

The trouble is that such information will not be handled well by sections of the public and the media. It will not be viewed with any intelligent understanding of how the industry works. A lot of voyeurs will see the cash number and the associated name and develop a cough-splutter WTF moment. It will be gossip laced with bitchy bile and many a chin will scrape the floor in apoplexy. (I may well have a chin-drop moment here and there too!) Part of the nation salivates and prepares to deliver a good kicking.

It appears to me that revealing this information without proper comparisons across the whole industry with Sky, ITV and all the rest will just start a depressing game of Why Do You Think You Are Worth All That Dosh? Television and radio presenters are expensive people. Is that fair? Probably not. Footballers are expensive. Is it fair? Probably not. But within their own orbits, there is a going rate to attract talented people. Of course, there are also very talented people in other public service organisations - in health, education, the military, emergency services et al - and they are paid miserly sums in comparison to some showbiz personalities. Governments capping the salaries of essential service employees while allowing a free market to attract, select and pay huge amounts of dough to BBC entertainers and presenters is a powder keg - and once BBC salaries are released, boom!

Even before the official release of the BBC report, that cauldron of bitterness we call Twitter is boiling furiously as opinions, insults and poison spew out. Named personalities are being vilified and abused already and the vilification and abuse will just explode with a louder bang as photographs and big money numbers are splashed all over print, online and broadcast news. The BBC, yet again, and a lot of its employees, is in for a bumpy ride. Some criticism will no doubt be justified. And that's good. Big organisations need to keep analysing and managing costs. It is part of daily business life.

One good thing about revealing high earners and earnings will be a much better comparison across genders. That will be the most important part of whatever figures are released. Fixing any pay gap is a priority in any organisation and such analysis and action should be welcomed.

And, by the way, all that hoo-hah about TV and radio presenters earning more than the Prime Minister....... That ain't the BBC's fault. It is a false comparison however it is dressed up. Anyone mad enough to want to be Prime Minister with all its associated crap and personal pressure should be paid several million pounds whoever they are and whatever colour rosette they sport.

So, buckle up. In a couple of hours, much shit will hit many fans. Will we be better off once 'transparency' has been achieved? Not a chance. Mind you, one of the upsides on this subject is that Twitter might well overheat and that little blue bird will drop dead from sheer exhaustion.

Speaking of birds, good luck BBC, for the vultures are circling.......

Written after the publication of the BBC report

Link to the juicy details:

Well, there you go. Some jaw-droppers in the list but actually I couldn't care less about salaries negotiated and agreed. The big flaw is the gender pay gap and that must be fixed.

I could fixate on presenters that do not appeal to me and who force me to reach for the remote control but that's more to do with my taste. I could focus on the ones I like and whimper that they deserve more. I repeat, I couldn't care less about the money. I prefer quality on my TV and radio, almost whatever the cost.

In addition, analysis of the numbers should be done on a like for like basis. Jobs must be fully comparable if salaries are to be fully comparable. How many hours, days, weeks, months in a year does each presenter work? It has a bearing and it is important not to assume that a lower paid presenter does the same or same amount of work as a higher paid presenter. Publication of a universal hourly or daily rate would have been helpful here.

It's a can of worms for sure and the information should be used to provoke positive change. BBC enemies will squeeze every last drop of negative blood out of this list. BBC haters will just scream abuse because that's attention-grabbing antisocial media fodder.

Non-BBC media folks in highly paid jobs for other organisations are already adopting a kind of smuggery that makes me want to grab hold of a bucket.

Hopefully, gender pay and contracts will be the primary beneficiary. The second beneficiary will be the gossip industry.

BBC - keep and strengthen the positives and eliminate the negatives.

Monday, 17 July 2017


I was nine when Doctor Who began. William Hartnell (1963-1966) was the star. It was in black and white - we didn't know any better. In the years of two TV channels, our choices were limited (ah, glory days!), so it was inevitable that the show would find an audience pretty quickly. I loved it and didn't miss an episode. I quite liked the Daleks and contrary to popular myth, there was no hiding behind the settee. But they were scary. It was the voices and the 'exterminate' stuff that terrified and excited. Later, I was more worried and frightened by the Cybermen. I didn't like those guys at all. Shiver.

After the great Hartnell, it was Patrick Troughton (1966-1969), a bit of a softer personality, but okay to carry the show on. Jon Pertwee (1970-1974) was probably my favourite. Even at that young age, I knew his silliness from radio's The Navy Lark but he was able to combine lightness and seriousness in his Doctor persona. Tom Baker (1974-1981) stands out for many, partly because he has been the longest serving Doctor and he had not only that long scarf but a tremendous actorly voice and a brilliant face to contort whatever the situation. Peter Davison (1982-1984) didn't quite work for me, nor did Colin Baker (1984-1986) or even the clownish Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989). Paul McGann in a 1996 TV movie had a certain style about him that worked well, restoring a more serious tone to the character. But, whoever was in the role, I watched and enjoyed all of it. And then, there was a long gap as Doctor Who ended after the McGann gig.

Time travel to 2005 and Doctor Who was revived starring Christopher Eccleston, a great choice and a wonderful resurrection for a character that we all thought had had his day. It was a brilliant series but Eccleston left after one season. David Tennant (2005-2010) was next up and he took the character to new levels with comedy, drama and many a tussle with ever weirder villains. It was fun at the start with Tennant clearly relishing the role and, it has to be said, drawing in bigger audiences than ever.

My interest came to a grinding halt when Catherine Tate joined the cast as Donna Noble. Sadly, talented as she is, I didn't like her performance at all. I found it all a bit forced, not that convincing and more often than not irritating. In addition, the show became tiresome to me. The Doctor/Donna combo to many people was a dream ticket. Some friends of mine, Doctor Who diehard fans, reckon it was the best chemistry in the history of the show. For reasons that I cannot define clearly, Catherine/Donna failed to connect with me. I switched off, only occasionally dipping in to see how things were going.

Matt Smith (2010-2013) was a David Tennant clone, keeping a continuity for the audience and then, an amazing oddball choice in 2014, Peter Capaldi, the ranting Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It, became the 12th Doctor. I watched a couple of his episodes and he was very good. I suppose my apathy for the show in the last few years has been due to the outrageous plots. But, at the end of it all, it's only a TV show, disposable and not that important in the great scheme of things.

Whatever my opinions, I applaud the show's tremendous success and salute the casts and crews involved in maintaining a high level of production quality and success.

And now, we have a new Doctor to be played by Jodie Whittaker and congratulations to her. I won't be watching because I'm done with Doctor Who. Much has been made and will continue to be made of the fact that she is the first woman Doctor. And that's fine. Doctor Who is a character that regenerates, so he/she/it can become anyone or anything the writers and producers want he/she/it to be.

On the tail of the new Doctor announcement will cling the inevitable cries for a woman to play James Bond, which, of course, is an argument that goes nowhere. Bond is what he is, well defined and, unlike Doctor Who, does not regenerate across genders. By all means, have another similar character and call her Jane Bond but leave James Bond out of it. In the 1960s, Stefanie Powers became April Dancer, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and not Natalie Solo or Irene Kuryakin. But, whatever I say, knickers will be twisted in this age of hot air and apoplexy and debates will rage in hard copy, on screen and via online media for equality and political correctness. We might even get calls for a seven-stone weakling to play Tarzan or a tiny chimp to play King Kong. Sigh.

Doctor Who? Doctor Yawn in my life.

Thursday, 13 July 2017


Whatever else I am, I try to be a gentleman with regard to manners. I say 'please' and 'thank you' a lot and I'm old-fashioned enough to still hold doors open for people with a cheery 'after you' to boot. But in this increasingly screwed up, head-in-its-ass world of apoplexy at the merest gnat's fart of a potential offensive action or remark, I sometimes wonder if manners are worth anything at all. Why bother?

So, what's brought this on. I was entering a shop and, through the glass, I saw a woman heading for the door to leave. I opened the door and said 'after you' with a smile. She looked at me with a face that suggested she had just won gold at the world lemon-sucking championships and said - she actually said: "I'm quite capable of opening my own doors, thank you." And off she glided into the street.

I stood for a moment or two with my jaw scraping the pavement before shaking my head a little and entering the shop. As I browsed, I was aware that I was muttering expletives to myself at this gink of a woman and how she had pretty much ruined my morning which, up to then, had been jolly and upbeat.

My point, I suppose, is that it would have been better had she not said anything at all - and there are plenty of people who do not acknowledge a kindly, well-intentioned gesture like holding a door open. But she had to open her citrus-soaked bake and say what she said.

I don't wish ill on many people but I hope to read in the local paper about a woman with a taut, tight-lipped face and a gold lemon medal round her neck who fell down a manhole and who said to rescuers: 'I'm quite capable of falling into and getting out of my own manholes.'

Tuesday, 11 July 2017



Here are some ideas for August 2017 features. Some of them may be in your diary already. Some of them may be added to your diary after reading this. Some features may be written by in-house journalists. But maybe, just maybe, I can write something for you.

Have a good old nosey round the blog to see some of the features in the archives.

Let me know what you want, word count, deadline and fee and I will get to work. (A summary of my published work appears below.)

Here's the August 2017 list and, if I can help, I look forward to hearing from you. 
I will add more to the list if and when I come across any interesting ideas.

5 Marilyn Monroe was found dead 55 years ago
6 Robert Mitchum was born 100 years ago
6 Barbara Windsor turns 80
8 Dustin Hoffman turns 80
10 The Queen visited Northern Ireland for the first time in 11 years 40 years ago.
13 Walt Disney’s Bambi premiered in the U.S.
15 Corporal punishment was banned in British state schools
16 Elvis Presley died 40 years ago
19 Michael Ryan killed 14 people in a rampage in Hungerford 30 years ago
22 Bluesman John Lee Hooker was born 100 years ago
27 Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein died 50 years ago
29 F1 champion James Hunt would have been 70 (died at 45 in 1993)
30 F1 champion Michael Schumacher won his first Grand Prix (Belgium) 25 years ago
31 Diana, Princess of Wales died 20 years ago


Books: Belfast Backlash; Shops, Shoppers, Shopping & Shafted; Before Amnesia: Seeds Of A Memoir; Shaking Hands; Retail Confidential; Much Calamity & The Redundance Kid; Stephen Boyd: From Belfast To Hollywood; Hamish Sheaney: The Nearly-Man Of Irish Literature; Juggling Jelly; Geek!; A Belfast Kid; Jack Elam, I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life; The Chuckle Files; The Poems Of Hamish Sheaney: Remastered & Expanded; Only Yules & Verses; Only Drools & Corsets; Fun With Words, Fun With Rhyme; Fun With Words, Fun With Noise

Published features, reviews, poetry and the odd broadcasting gig include – Family Tree magazine, BBC Radio Ulster "The Arts Show", BBC Radio Ulster "The John Toal Show", Wells Festival/Poetry 2016 (Shortlist), The Galway Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Derwent Poetry Festival 2015, 2015 Templar Poetry Anthology “Mill”, Octavius Magazine, Ireland’s Big Issue, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Belfast Telegraph, 2013 Belfast Book Festival, Irish News, BBC TV NI “Stephen Boyd: The Man Who Never Was”, BBC Radio Sheffield “Rony Robinson”, BBC Radio Ulster “Saturday Magazine”, BBC Radio 4 “You & Yours”, The Guardian, Tribune, NZ Management, The Grocer, Retail Week, Edge, Open Eye, Yorkshire Post, The Catholic Herald, Cambridge Evening News, The London Paper, Southern Cross, NZ Freelance, Writer’s News, Belfast News Letter, Irelands Own, Fortnight, The Dalhousie Review; Blithe Spirit; The Cannon’s Mouth, Poetry Monthly, Poetic Comment, Bard, Current Accounts, Candelabrum, Decanto, Inclement, Haiku Scotland, Time Haiku, etc. 

Monday, 10 July 2017


Don’t You Know
By Kaz Hawkins, featuring Sam York
Produced by David Jamison
Co-produced by Kaz Hawkins

1 Nendrum
2 Don’t Slip Away
3 Because You Love Me
4 Don’t You Know featuring Meg Tyler (Spoken word)
5 Surviving
6 Better Days
7 Alabama Love
8 The River That Sings
9 Lipstick & Cocaine
10 Hallelujah Happy People
11 Don’t You Know
12 My Daughter My Reflection featuring AMY

“I want listeners to hear every breath I make, feel the tears that came when I recorded certain songs, giggle when they hear me having fun with my vocal. The pressure was off for this album and I recorded it for me. That is what music is, a journey through emotions and I laid them all bare on this.” Kaz Hawkins

I don’t like this album. I love and adore it. Kaz Hawkins is one of the most extraordinary singers I have ever heard in my lifetime, and I have heard a hell of a lot. She has an astounding vocal range and can belt out big, brassy blues numbers or hit you in the heart with a sweetness to behold. Her last album (by the Kaz Hawkins Band) blew me away. I blogged about it here.

This new album is pretty much a solo production, although others are involved, notably Sam York on piano and guitar, and producer David Jamison. Kaz’s daughters feature too. Ten of the tracks were recorded live in a single day. Kaz’s grandson is the star on the cover.

Don’t You Know is an intimate, reflective album that draws us in to Kaz’s emotional world. I have kept an eye on her online messages and it is clear that her life runs the gamut from huge success and adoration to unhappy challenges and frustrations. These highs and lows inform the songs. It all works beautifully. Yes, you get serious, sad and deep lyrics here but they are complemented by inspiration and encouragement that whatever life throws at you, it is possible to fight like hell, most of the time, to get through the bad times. Even at the first play, the album oozed class. The production keeps things controlled. Kaz is singing to me and just me. She will sing to you personally when (not if) you buy the album. Whatever you pay, it will pay you back a hundred times more.

I’ve picked three tracks to give you a flavour of the amazing Kaz Hawkins. If you know her work, you won’t need reminding, but you must hear these new songs. If you don’t know Kaz’s catalogue, invest a few minutes on these links and you will see and hear someone who deserves through hard work, determination, sincerity and raw talent to be an international star.

Don’t Slip Away is a truly powerful song, released for Mental Health Awareness Week. Here it is: An important message and a powerful performance combined.

The River That Sings is a salute to the people of Alabama and was inspired by a specific story.

My Daughter My Refection is a mother/daughter performance and, as they say, feel the love.

 If I awarded star ratings for reviews, there wouldn't be enough in the sky for Don't You Know.

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