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Saturday, 26 May 2018


Over a long period of time, I have jotted down snatches of conversations overheard in the streets, in queues, in waiting rooms and barber shops, on trains, in cafes, pubs and restaurants and all manner of places.

They are all true moments. I have no idea what the conversations were before and after the bits I overheard. Here's a few examples. 

"I’ll see you on the 5th
unless it changes to the 7th."

"I told him I wanted
all them presents wrapped
by the time I get home." 

"It’s all pins and pisswords, 
I mean passwords, these days." 

"I only need a small one
but if he gives me the large one
at the same price as a small one,
I’ll take it." 

"Don’t feed the wrong bread to birds.
It sticks to their beaks." 

"I’d phone but I can’t remember the number.
Anyway, I haven’t got my phone with me." 

"That man playing the accordion
obviously hasn’t had his second lesson yet."

“If it’s not working, it’ll be 
the snow on the satellite dish.” 

“I don’t like onions
but I love onion rings.” 

“You can tell by the way he stands
that he’s about to hit somebody.” 

“I had £90 cash in my wallet this morning.
Not even lunchtime and I’ve got zip.” 

“I’m going to Greece. 
He can come if he likes.” 

“I’d had a few drinks 
but I was stone-cold sober.” 

“Are you going to walk
the same speed as me,
or what?” 

“I could murder
a sausage sandwich.” 

“I’ll grin and bear it for a while longer
before bothering the doctor.” 

“I’m gagging. I’m gagging.” 

“I’ve been at this stall for four hours
and I haven’t even made a quid.” 

“You can pick and mix
off the Valentine’s love menu.” 

“Shopping trolleys are handy
but they do get heavy.” 

“To get the benefit
you have to exercise as well.” 

“I’ll wait here for you.
Don’t come out the wrong door.” 

“You carry this bag 
and I’ll carry that bag
And we’ll swap halfway.” 

“He bought a brown suit.
He bought a brown suit.”


Over a long period of time, I have jotted down snatches of conversations overheard in the streets, in queues, in waiting rooms and barber shops, on trains, in cafes, pubs and restaurants and all manner of places.

They are all true moments. I have no idea what the conversations were before and after the bits I overheard. Here's a few examples.

‘Every Christmas
I send him a long letter.
I think he appreciates it.
He’s in prison, like.
Nothing serious.’

‘He’s had his final last chance.
Every frigging time
he thinks he can waltz back
as if nothing has changed.
No more. No fucking way.’

‘You have rice with it.
Everybody does.
You don’t have chips
with Chicken a la King.’

‘You’ll have to come down yourself.
They won’t let me in the bookies
with a baby.’

‘Hey big bollocks,
how’s it hanging?’

‘He has to take it easy.
They found a kink
in his small intestine.'

‘I don’t think I will
but I know I could.
Maybe I should.
What’s the worst than can happen?’

‘Her birthday present will be a surprise.
It’s not what she wants
but it’s what she’s getting.
She’ll get the hump
but she’ll have to lump it.’

‘Ach, I do miss him.
He used to kill all the spiders.’

‘Some nights I think I wear
all the clothes I’ve got,
layers and layers.
I can’t afford the heating.’

‘At the funeral somebody said
that for all his faults
he had lovely handwriting.’

‘I can’t get used to a Great Dane
in the living room.’

‘Can’t believe the number
of orange trees in Seville.”

‘He slammed the door
and cracked the glass
with that temper of his.’

‘Every time you come shopping with me
you turn into an idiot. Go and sit
on that bench over there until I’m finished.’

‘Some days I need the stick
and some days I don’t.
It depends on what my leg tells me.’

‘It’s against the law to call them Cornish.
They’re meat and vegetable pasties now.’

‘Watch out. That puddle’s wet.’

Friday, 25 May 2018


In the mid-60s, my mother knitted me an almost exact replica of this hat.

Bobble Hat

Mother’s skillset expanded out of necessity,
Back in the tight money days, post-Elvis, pre-Beatles.
Alongside kitchen and other housewifery talents,
She knitted in what seemed like every spare moment,
Aran jumpers a speciality, but also
Scarves, gloves and non-military balaclavas, hats,
Especially one unforgettable hat for me,
A bobble hat, green, an almost exact replica
Of a Mike Nesmith Monkees hat, cool woolly number. 
Should have seen my face! I was a believer. Still am.


Going Home
Janet Henry


Track Listing:

Hello Radio
Hardest Place To Fall
Lonesome Me
Bluebird And The Roses
Sonny Boy
Then There’s You
River Is Rising
Slow Down
Going Home

Is there no end to the talent pouring out of Northern Ireland, no end to the excellence in literature and the performing arts, no end to the creativity in every artistic endeavour?
No, thank God and just to emphasise that point, I have been listening to a brand new CD from singer/songwriter Janet Henry, Going Home.

To start from the outside, as it were, it is designed and packaged beautifully and it comes with a lyrics booklet. The cover opens out and there’s Janet on the left, guitar in hand, sitting in front of a car bumper and her Dad on the right, guitar in hand, sitting in front of a car bumper. The connection is very powerful especially when considering the decades between the two photographs.

‘Recently I came across an old photograph of my late father in the early 1950s, sitting in front of a Humber car, playing his guitar and singing. As I looked at it I realised that this was where my journey began, even before I was born, and that now I had taken over a part of what he started and what he loved.’

I have listened to the CD three times. Its superb, flawless production is a joy to behold. The musicians simply cannot be any better. And Janet’s voice is (and I know a lot of hard work goes into these projects) effortless, calm, confident and often stunning. In this era of screeching divas – all genders – from TV talent shows, (you know the ones who think they’re in a lung-busting contest to see who can hit the highest note), well, you’ll not get any of that here. This is classy. The mood is easy and the songs are excellent.

The opener, Hello Radio, is a natural for much airplay and I hope it gets a fair crack on the wireless across the UK and beyond. (Are you listening Nashville?) The tracks evolve into reflections on life, falling in and out of love, memories, getting away from things and, of course, going home. Here are a few extracts:

‘Driving in my car a hundred miles an hour
To get away from you, away from you.
Switching off my phone so I can be alone
Away from you, away from you’ 

‘She’ll wrap her wings around you
Walk the miles beside you,
Protect your world around with her light,
She must be right’

I thought of my mother.

‘The shadows of that August sun still haunt like some old ghost
and the things best forgotten are the things remembered most’

I love that. 

Then There’s You:
Doesn’t matter how I’m feeling
if my heart is black and blue,
when I think there is no reason
then there’s you’

Going Home:
‘Why are the colours grey instead of green or blue?
Why does the falling snow make me think of you?
Why is my beating heart beating on its own?
I really think it’s time that I was home’

This is an exceptional album in so many ways, musically and lyrically. Janet Henry has a showcase collection here that deserves much attention from broadcasters, audiences and the record buying public. It is impossible not to like it and it is a match for any album of its genre, bar none, an outstanding achievement. 

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Thursday, 24 May 2018


I feel 'with it' using my new plane-finder app,
useless on cloudy days, of course, but I can track
the noise at least and even estimate the heights,
better when the sky is clear blue, open highway;

Dublin to Amsterdam, Manchester to Dubai,
Charles de Gaulle to LAX, Heathrow-Seattle,
some streaming vapour, some silver-winged, Haggard-like,
people going to and coming from, heading home

to loved ones maybe, to no one, en route for work,
holidays, window-seaters looking down to earth:
Is that a guy lying on a garden lounger
playing with an iPad, looking up at our plane?


English Street
Damian Smyth

Templar Poetry 2018

(Please, whatever I say and whatever extracts I choose to highlight, please follow the links above and buy a copy of the book from Templar. £10. That's it, with a bit of p&p. Enjoy these words.) 

This collection of seventy poems demands concentration. The poems blend seemingly straightforward details and observations with layers of complexity and deep-thinking. The comprehensive notes section at the back is testament to thorough research into a wide range of subjects.

Many opening lines are subtle and not-so-subtle hooks into the bodies of the poems. You read and have little choice but to dig in.

Take these openers from The Big Wind In The Barony:

It’s all about simply describing what happens:
A wind so strong it blew the teeth off a saw…

Or these lines from The Woodgrange Parleys:

It was our John said it was hard to believe
That someone who couldn’t even get his words out
Could have so many opinions on so many things
He knew bugger all about.

Or these lines from The Home Front On Church Street:

After we’d lobbed the duck eggs,
Over the hedge, onto the oul fellas
At the War Memorial – sound effects
Of translucence popping, cries –
We took off over the fields.

You see what I mean. You have to read on. There’s no choice.

Two poems in particular struck a chord with me, a big fan of cowboy pictures. The Ballykinlar Visitors:

Matinees in the Grand: dime-a-dozen westerns
With ranches, tipis, holsters, reservations,
Tomahawks; rednecks with lariats, steers
And Stetsons, kids our age and nice wives….

And The Burial At Ornans: Courbet In Chapeltown which draws on and from the classic western, The Searchers.

But there is so much going in here with specific locations, historical episodes, tragedy, comedy and humanity. Most of us look at scenery and even our own neighbourhoods and not see much of interest. Damian Smyth has an eye for details that he weaves into tremendously powerful poetry. Lines and images linger.

I am away on holiday soon and this book will be a companion. I will use the peace and quiet to read the poems again, dig deep, absorb and reflect in the sun (hopefully) on a lounger. I have much to learn about writing but also about reading. This is both a challenging and enlightening collection, but it needs, nay deserves, as I said at the beginning, concentration.

As I read through, I will add occasional thoughts on some of the poems. The Old Course Identities is a very funny take on names and nicknames:

Which may explain why Shite-the-Sixpence's own mother
Called him Shite-the-Sixpence all her life so when he died
It was only his birth certificate vouched for the headstone:
'James Robert' it declares but no one knows who he was.

The Rathkeltair Primer is about what we know and don't know, what we learn and what we don't learn, what we can and can't be bothered to take in from the world around us:

I never learned the name of a single shrub
Or could tell one tree in the wood from another.

Going on to say:

And thought that fish were brown and white
Like bread and people and C&C lemonade.

(Cantrell & Cochrane lemonade, a popular brand back in the day.)

Congratulations too to Templar Poetry (check out via the web address above) for a beautifully produced volume

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Sunday, 6 May 2018


I haven't had the opportunity to read the first collection of poetry by Colin Dardis, The X of Y, but from many Facebook and Twitter posts and a general understanding off his passion for poetry and other issues, I have much faith in him as a writer and ambassador. I point you in his direction.

Here's a link to who he is and what he's about.

Good luck with the book, Colin.

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Friday, 4 May 2018


I am writing a memoir about my father's disappearance. In 1960, he left our Belfast home, his wife and seven young children and pretty much vanished. The next we heard of him was when we were told he had died at 57 in Chapman, London in 1982. Apart from many questions, we were left with the mystery of 22 'missing' years.

A couple of years ago, after a conversation with Damian Smyth, Head of Literature & Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, I received a grant to help cover expenses in researching and writing the story of my father's life.

Over time, it became clear to me that this wasn't just about my father. This was about my mother, the rest of my family and me. And so the story expanded.

In tandem with the memoir, I scribbled together a collection of thoughts and memories in loose poetic form, a collection published by Lapwing (Belfast) called Feathers Ruffled. In retrospect, I jumped the gun and published these pieces without proper editorial advice. But, published they are and I'm sorry if I have irritated some people who have supported me thus far.

The memoir is still in production and a select few have had sight of extracts. Some feedback has been good and helpful. A couple of contacts have yet to reply.

On the advice of a reliable contact, I got in touch with a professional editorial expert with a view to entering into a contract to get the manuscript in shape. The editor was kind enough, after extracts submitted, to respond with three pages of free advice, an extraordinary generous act that has driven me on to produce in a very short time thousands of words on my family's history.

I have reviewed and rewritten a substantial amount of material and feel the flow in is the right direction.

This is a writing project that requires time and not my impatience to get published. The manuscript will be finished and edited professionally. Then, it's a question of who believes in it enough to publish it as a book.

Finally, for those who have not heard it, I was a guest recently on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live with the Reverend Richard Coles, Aasmah Mir and J P Devlin, invited to talk about this story. Here's the link:

Keep the faith.