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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

GWEN TAYLOR, GRAHAM REID & FRANK ORMSBY

In Belfast last week, we stayed at the Europa Hotel. One morning while studying the form of the buffet breakfast, a lady turned the corner and we exchanged hellos. She looked familiar. We were at the orange juice stage of the morning. On my return to compile a hearty breakfast plate, there she was again and by now her name had clicked. "Are you Gwen Taylor?" I asked. "Yes,"she nodded. I did the 'I love your work" thing and I meant every word of it. She was in Belfast to star in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Grand Opera House.



Gwen Taylor has been in a whole host of television shows starting in the early 1970s. Perhaps her biggest break and most famous series was Duty Free. She played Amy to Keith Barron's David in the very popular holiday sitcom set in Spain. She was in A Bit Of A Do with David Jason, Conjugal Rites with Michael Williams, Barbara with Sam Kelly and had a long run as Peggy Armstrong in Heartbeat.

"Which of these is soda bread?" she asked. I pointed to the correct item. She was very nice and I wished her a good run at the Opera House. I didn't suggest she break a leg.



The next morning we met again. I don't want to give the impression that we spent a huge amount of time chatting. It was less than five minutes This time she was with her husband Graham Reid, the playwright most applauded for his splendid 'Billy' plays. I mentioned the plays and Graham reminisced a little about Jimmy Ellis and on another tack about Jimmy (J.G.) Devlin. I mentioned Jimmy E had written the foreword for my Stephen Boyd book and he said Boyd was often referred to as the 'Glengormley Cowboy'. I hadn't heard that nickname before. As I left them, Graham called out: "Keep writing. Just keep at it."



A little later the same morning, I had two hours of "me time" and had a wander. I introduced myself to the Poetry Jukebox, had a swift coffee in the Crescent Arts Centre, bought a book in No Alibis (Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, the owner digging into the display to find me a signed copy) and then headed for Waterstones where I recognised the poet Frank Ormsby. I said hello and he seemed relaxed enough to have a chat. He told me he had a new collection out for consideration with a publisher and the collection after that was already written. He reckoned in his writing life that there was on average nine years between published collections.



I mentioned that Damian Smyth from the Arts Council had sent me The Parkinson's Poems pamphlet and he was genuinely touched at that information. Referring to Parkinson's disease (he was diagnosed in 2011) he said that he reckoned, with a chuckle, the medication he was taking was instrumental in increasing the amount of poetry he was writing. He said he was writing far more than ever. I told him about some of my writing efforts and he said some very encouraging things.

So, there you go!

THE WHOOSH OF TIME

Something happened this year that made me stop in my tracks. My brother turned 60 and joined the rest of us on this side of the age line. There are seven of us kids in the family story, one sadly no longer with us. Looking back to the way we were, it is as if someone snapped their fingers and, whoosh, we were propelled from childhood to adulthood in a flash. Where did the time go? A silly question, of course, but seriously, where did it go?

My parents married in 1947. Their first child was born in 1949, followed by births in 1950, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1956 and 1958 - seven children in nine years. The first of us died in 1974. My father died in 1982. My mother died in 2011. Numbers are our stepping stones, markers on this sometimes uneven road. But we are more than statistics although they do remind us of the whoosh of time!

Occasionally, and probably more than I should sometimes, I reflect on time, the passing years, looking back through the blur of nostalgia and imperfect memory, remembering so many good things that have happened in my life and also, of course, the not-so-good.

Here, in a kind of thoughts for the day mood, are some quotations about time:

"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time." Leo Tolstoy

"The time is always right to do what is right." Martin Luther King, Jr.

"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. Johnny Cash

"Tough times never last, but tough people do." Robert H. Schuller

"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late." William Shakespeare

"You may delay, but time will not." Benjamin Franklin

"It takes a long time to become young." Pablo Picasso

"A man who dares to waste an hour of time has not discovered the value of life." Charles Darwin.

Shakespeare's seven ages put us all in a nutshell: infancy, schoolchild, teenager, youth, middle age, old age, extreme old age. Some cover all of those bases, others only the first few. (Who the hell wants to live in a nutshell anyway?)

In this unsettled and unsettling world, we still have an opportunity at whatever age to make the most of it, make the best of it.

Here endeth the lesson!! 😘

Monday, 26 February 2018

POETRY JUKEBOX, BELFAST

On a brief visit home to Belfast last week,  accompanied by my wife and two Belfast newbies, I had a couple of hours of 'me time' which I used to visit a wondrous machine at the Crescent Arts Centre (University Road). It is the Poetry Jukebox, a periscope of delights, where anyone can stop to listen to a poet reading his or her poems. The idea is brilliant and the sound quality is excellent.  As traffic shoots by, it is possible to blank out the noise by concentrating on the voices and words of poets like Michael Longley.

As I understand it, the jukebox idea was developed by Andrej Kobza and Michael Heckova as part of a Czech cultural project and adopted and curated for Belfast by Maria McManus and Deirdre Cartmill, both poets and, regarding this innovation and installation, geniuses. If ever a city should be proud of its creative arts, it is Belfast and the Poetry Jukebox is a symbol of such creativity.

There are such magic machines in various parts of the world, I read, including Berlin, New York and Prague.

The jukebox was launched last year and, to quote newspaper coverage, the aim is to create "an innovative new journal of poetry for the island of Ireland.......putting literature in public space......and open minds and hearts with the power and intensity and gentleness of poetry.....putting poetry where it belongs, everywhere for everyone."

What a great idea and not just an idea, a reality.  This jukebox should be on every visitor's agenda and any native should bear it in mind if they are just having a dander around town.

What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stop, admire and listen to the Poetry Jukebox.

I love it and cock an ear the next time you are in the Botanic, University Road area.

Big salute.

Here's me, after hijacking a passer-by to take the photograph:


Sunday, 25 February 2018

BBC SATURDAY LIVE 24 FEBRUARY 2018

JP Devlin, a Dungannon man, posted a tweet last week asking for personal stories to feature on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live. My personal story regarding my father's life has been documented on this blog, in the Belfast Telegraph, on BBC Radio Ulster's John Toal Show and the same station's Arts Show with Michael Bradley. In addition, I have written the first draft of a memoir about my father and the fallout from his vanishing act and the material is being perused by two independent editors and a publishing company. Hopefully, a book will emerge in due course.

I sent a summary of the story to JP and he phoned me the same day to say he was very interested in it. He recalled reading about it in what he called 'the Belly Telly' and said he would run it by the editor. In a later phone call, he said they would be very happy to include it in the 24 February 2018 show.

JP arranged train tickets and a Friday night hotel.

On the Saturday morning I arrived at Broadcasting House, Portland Place in Central London and entered what one of the SL team described as 'the mother ship'. There were plenty of security men roaming the lobby. At reception, I checked in. I was on the list. I was photographed and within moments there was my handsome visage on a visitor's pass. My bag was scanned a la airport and I sat and waited for someone to escort me to the SL office.

In the office area, I was encouraged to take advantage of a selection of pastries and fresh fruit and offered tea, coffee or water. I was the first guest to arrive. Next in was Peter Lovatt, aka Dr Dance, a dance psychologist. Instant rapport. Along came JP to welcome us and help himself to a bunch of grapes. He is a warm, chirpy personality, instantly likeable and has the gift at putting nervous people at ease. In a short while, Debbie McGee arrived and what a delightful person. Again, instant rapport and easy conversation.

About 8.55am, we were all escorted to the Saturday Live studio to meet the main presenters Aasmah Mir and the Reverend Richard Coles who welcomed us warmly and played their part at making us feel at ease and comfortable. We all took our seats and, tick-tick-tick, at 9.00 the show began. It is a 90-minute magazine show, very informative and great fun. We all joined in and did our bit guided along by Aasmah and Richard, consummate professionals, brilliant broadcasters and hosts. In the taped pieces and news bulletin, when the microphones are off, the chat and the banter continued.

Listening at home or in the car to such a radio show is great but actually being in the studio is a revelation, seeing all the action, the comings and goings, the silent signals to control timings and so on.

By accounts, my own pieces were well-received by the studio team and by several texters/tweeters.

It was a great experience and for a while, you can listen to the show on BBC iPlayer via this link:


Dr Dance, Peter Lovatt's website is here and he is on tour soon: http://www.peterlovatt.com

Thanks to JP Devlin, Aasmah Mir, the Reverend Richard Coles and the Saturday Live team for looking after us so well and creating a great atmosphere in the studio.

And now, a few photos:





















Me and the wondrous JP Devlin
















Aasmah Mir, the Reverend Richard Coles, me, Debbie McGee and Peter Lovatt





















My visitor's pass and the lavish buffet.

Monday, 19 February 2018

POEM - BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE


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,
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 bleak and miserable period of bad day after bad day after bad day.

We were a ‘respect for the individual’ company, modern American guru claptrap, 
mouthed by old-school bosses who really couldn’t give a toss about changing.
Why change for the sake of change? 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! Do you hear me? Do you hear?"

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 
- underestimated us Macreedys. “JFDI!” they’d bawl, “JFDI!” LOUD.

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.”

Sunday, 18 February 2018

POEM - GALLERY

well look at you
at a beach somewhere
with your mates
but it’s you
the only one looking at the camera
better than a movie star
and get those sunglasses
cool in the forties
was he the camera man
was it him
at what stage
boyfriend
fiance
husband
and there’s a snap
of the two of you
acting the lig
you in a flared skirt
white blouse
bobby socks
sensible shoes
him in a jerkin
suit trousers
boots
and bicycle clips
must have been
one of your epic jaunts
out to the coast
and one of you flanked
by two girlfriends
I’m reckoning New Lodge Road
O’Kane’s pub window
one on the left looking stern
you and the other one smiling
there are more pics
many more in my head
a forever gallery
without you and him
I wouldn’t be here

especially without you