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Saturday, 29 December 2018


Oscar Cainer - Daily Mail - 29 December 2019

To truly understand your 2019, look at the end of that year first. When Jupiter, planet of luck and adventure, enters Capricorn in December, half the major planets will be in your sign — a uniquely strong position, suggesting a period of great success in the run-up to the year’s end.
Your ruler, Saturn, remains in your sign, and Pluto has been there since 2008, so you have powerful allies already helping you to resolve complex situations.
A series of encouraging links between your ruler and Neptune mark crucial turning points in your year. Together with innovative Uranus, which changes signs in March, they highlight your creativity and compassion.
The cosmos is also encouraging you to have faith in your talent for inspiring others. Your self-motivation is legendary, but this year you’ll also reap the benefits of good teamwork.
November’s Transit of Mercury brings a moment to revisit past decisions and find ways to progress before Jupiter drops by to help. It’s an enjoyable year in prospect.

Well, that's my year mapped out!


Thursday, 20 December 2018


I am planning another series of A Dozen Questions, featuring only creative people from Northern Ireland, where I was born and raised as a Belfast kid. Click on any link below and I think you will get the gist of the idea.

Thank you once again to the stars of 2018.

At the beginning of this year, I ran a blog series of questions and answers featuring a wondrous variety of Northern Ireland creative talent.

For me, it attracts attention to my blog. For the contributors, it promotes anything they want to draw attention to. Any and as many links will be included. I share the blog posts widely.

Invitations will be sent out soon.

Here are the links to the 2018 special guest stars:

Mandy Bingham

Colin Dardis

Anne-Marie Quigg

Gerry Kelly

George Larmour

Geoff Hill

Lynette Fay

Janet Henry

Michael Smiley

Paddy Nash

Edelle McMahon

Kathy Clugston

Brigid O’Neill

Stephen Dunwoody

Colin Breen

Ursula Burns

Charles Lawson

Mairead Healy

Simon Murphy

Anthony Toner


Anna Burns

Faber & Faber

The Man Booker Prize winner, 2018

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.
Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

Milkman is not the first major prize-winning book to attract widely differing opinions. In a not terribly scientific trawl through comments on Amazon, here's a flavour of what has been posted:

If you’re looking for a light entertaining read, pass this one by. Long rambling sentences with very few paragraph breaks call for high levels of concentration just to grasp some understanding of the narrative. I’ve struggled through the first 90 pages and am fighting the urge to give up on it. Story teller she ain’t!

This book must count as the most miserable, dull read I have ever attempted.

Terrible. The tone/language used is not at all recognisable as anything even remotely used in Northern Ireland. 

This book, I found confusing, the writing style so opaque I couldn't really get a handle on the story. It was as if it was trying really hard to be clever and use everything in your inventory- something's got to work! Well it didn't work for me- I almost gave up. Lost my interest and was a chore to finish- sadly.

It is vastly overlong with rolling paragraphs of irrelevance.

It didn't work for me with few chapters a total lack and use of paragraphs the whole experience was muddled and confused. If the intent of the author was to get inside the mindset of the politically deranged "Ulsterman" it failed miserably and was a great disappointment to me personally.

 It is boring because there is much repetition of situations and of the girl's thoughts and her behaviour. 

It’s a chore to read this book. The story is pedestrian and lacks any ability to draw you in.

I found this book tedious, repetitive and difficult to read. 

I have no idea how to describe this book – it is so strange and dystopian and hypnotising and scary and funny with heart full of black humour. Milkman is not an easy read, but it is good. It is quirky, strange and surprisingly delightful. Did I mention the sarcasm and black humour? In abundance!

I found this quirky novel just a delight. The warmth and humour balanced this account of the Troubles in 1970s Belfast.

The author enabled one to fully enter the life of a young woman living in a situation like Belfast. 

I loved this book. I loved the writing. It was beautiful, lyrical, poetic.

It is a wonderful, crazy, energising, funny, ultimately life affirming read. Brilliantly written, and because the characters don't have names, I found it easy to remember who was who.

One of the best books I’ve read in recent times. The narrative is so real, I felt I was in the Northern Ireland of the 70s and 80s. 

This just took my breath away. By far the best thing I have read in years.

And so on and so forth.

From the back cover, some other comments:

If somebody hands over their hard-earned cash to buy a book, they are entitled to their opinion. So, here's mine.

I started reading Milkman twice. The first time, about twenty pages in, I thought 'this is challenging me to find a rhythm' and I hadn't found it. So, I started again. A kind of rhythm began to emerge and, as is my wont, I read it in my native Belfast accent. The story began to flow. The humour was there. So was the intrigue and menace, the soul-searching, the claustrophobia and pressure of troubled localities, the powerful versus the powerless, the dividing lines, the thinking aloud. I could put faces to the unnamed characters, faces from my own circle growing up in Northern Ireland. I could hear voices from the city where I lived and worked until my early twenties. I grew into the narrative and I was more than happy to be swept along by imaginative and daring wordplay. This is quite unlike anything I have read before. Anna Burns, in my view, has invented a new style of writing. 

Yes, it is challenging and takes a bit of getting used to but it is nowhere near the impossible novel or improbable prize-winner that critics with negative views would have you believe. Like any book, you either get it or you don't. After my brief stumble when I first started reading Milkman, I found my way in and I'm glad I did.

It is a rollercoaster of just about every emotion you can think of. It reeks of honesty and is layered with light and dark humour. It is unsettling in parts, as was intended, but has a kind of uplifting ending.

The fact that Anna Burns hails from Northern Ireland makes me and a hell of a lot of other people proud.

This was an extract that cracked me up:

'Don't be thinking I'm not grateful because I am grateful.' After a pause brother-in-law said he was going to beat him (Somebody McSomebody) up all the same. 'Not necessary.' I said. 'Still,' he said. 'Ach,' I said. 'Ach nothing,' he said. 'Ach sure,' I said. 'Ach sure what?' he said 'Ach sure, if that's how you feel.' 'Ach sure, of course that's how I feel.' 'Ach, all right then.' 'Ach,' he said. 'Ach,' I said. 'Ach,' he said. 'Ach,' I said. 'Ach.'

For the readers who gave up on the book: 'Ach, catch yourselves on!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018


It is too easy to allow mountain mist to give permission
At times of grief, in grief, because of grief, to influence
And encourage thoughts of God’s winter breath, of angels
Forming a shroud of gauze, of spirits on pilgrimage, of wisdom
And poetic nonsense, when it is simply mountain mist.

But, you know,
Mountain mist is not the only mist.

Thursday, 13 December 2018


Some Christmas cheer from my Ho! Ho! Ho! collection.


To gadget geeks – Appy Christmas
To bakers – Bappy Christmas
To dentists – Cappy Christmas
To good blokes – Chappy Christmas
To audiences – Clappy Christmas
To birds – Flappy Christmas
To Tube guards – Gappy Christmas
To motor racers – Lappy Christmas
To explorers – Mappy Christmas
To babies – Nappy Christmas
To urban singers – Rappy Christmas
To boxers – Scrappy Christmas
To make-up artists – Slappy Christmas
To crocodiles – Snappy Christmas
To plumbers – Tappy Christmas
To puppies – Yappy Christmas
To video game players – Zappy Christmas


Good King Wenceslas looked out
And did a double take,
Despite all his initial doubt,
He rubbed his eyes awake.
Brightly shone the sun that day,
Sweltering hot and sticky,
He thought as this is Boxing Day,
The forecast’s a bit dicky.

“Bring me shorts Bermuda-style,
Bring me sun tan lotion,
Bring me cola by the crate
And ice cubes by the ocean.
Bring my sunbed by the pool,
I can’t believe this weather,
I can swim around all day
In the altogether.”

Good King Wenceslas’s dream
Ended with a bump,
He fell out of his bed it seems
And bruised his ample rump,
Groggy from his accident
And dazed and half-asleep,
He gaped out through the curtain gap
To see snow six-feet deep.


Santa likes to dig-dig-dig,
Santa likes to grow-grow-grow,
Santa likes to rake-rake-rake,
But most of all,
Santa likes to hoe-hoe-hoe


Strictly come 
Strictly come 
Strictly come 
Strictly come 
Strictly come 
Strictly come 
Strictly come 
Strictly come 


Christmas shopping,
Christmas shopping,
Really makes me dizzy.
Why can’t Christmas
Be in June
When the shops aren’t quite so busy? 


Two cows talking
In the language called Moo –
“Mooey Christmas”
“And mooey Christmas to you.”

Season's greeting friends!

Sunday, 9 December 2018


Books I read this year that informed and entertained, and made me a better reader and writer.

Not all of the books featured were published in 2018, but I read them all during the course of the year.

Saturday, 8 December 2018


Tomorrow, 9 December, 2018, Kirk Douglas turns 102.

Here's a blog post I wrote on his 100th birthday, which I had the pleasure of discussing with Michael Bradley on BBC Radio Ulster's Arts Show.

John Wayne had the walk, Robert Mitchum had those hangdog eyes, Burt Lancaster had the athleticism and lyrical delivery, James Stewart had the hesitant drawl and Kirk Douglas had the dimpled chin. They and others lit up the screen in their own unique ways and established themselves as class actors in distinguished careers.  All but one has passed away and the exception is Kirk Douglas who turns 100 on 9 December this year. His story is literally a rags to riches tale. He was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky in Amsterdam, New York to poor Russian immigrant parents. He was one of seven children, the only boy. His father was a ragman and junk seller who would drive his horse and cart around the neighbourhood trying to scrape together nickels and dimes. “I came from abject poverty, “he said, “there was nowhere to go but up.” He also recalled: “My mother and father were illiterate immigrants. When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a (library) building and take a book on any subject. They couldn’t believe this access to knowledge we have here in America. They couldn’t believe it was free.”
Young Issur would do odd jobs to help the family finances but as he grew older, he developed a strong urge to leave home and the pressures of living with a large family in restricted living space. He saw college as his escape. He acted in some school plays and even wrestled for a time but it was acting that became his primary ambition. After securing a scholarship, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. One of his classmates would become famous as Lauren Bacall.
Issur changed his name to Kirk Douglas* around 1941 when he joined the US Navy and participated in the Second World War. He was discharged on medical grounds in 1944. In 1943, he married Diana Dill with whom he had two sons, including Michael who would follow in his father’s on-screen footsteps. It was the first of two marriages.
Kirk Douglas loved the theatre and seemed to be content with the work but his friend Lauren Bacall helped him win his first screen role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin. It was more than enough to get him noticed in Hollywood. His biggest breakthrough was three years later when he played ambitious and ruthless boxer Midge Kelly in Champion. It showed off Douglas’s powerful intensity as an actor and his peak physical condition in the fight sequences, attributes that he developed in more dramatic and action films during his career. In 1947, Douglas starred alongside Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Build My Gallows High considered by many critics and film buffs to be a superb example of film noir. Once again, Hollywood took notice. 
Throughout the 1950s, Kirk Douglas built a reputation as a compelling leading actor and a major box-office star. Films like Ace In The Hole (1951), Detective Story (1951), The Bad And The Beautiful (1952), Lust For Life (1956) (as Vincent Van Gogh) and Paths Of Glory (1957) proved beyond any doubt that he could handle highly dramatic roles. But it was westerns that honed his reputation as an action man. Always physically fit, he adapted naturally to the genre; The Big Sky (1952), Man Without A Star (1955), The Indian Fighter (1955) and as Doc Holliday to Burt Lancaster’s Wyatt Earp in Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957). But he was no stranger to historical epics; Ulysses (1954), The Vikings (1958) and into the 1960s with one of his biggest successes Spartacus as the heroic slave who takes on the might of the Romans. In 1962, he starred with Walter Matthau in one of his finest and favourite films, Lonely Are The Brave, a tour-de-force story of a tough cowboy loyal to the old ways and resisting the modern world.
Apart from epics and westerns, Douglas made some successful war films including Seven Days In May (1964), The Heroes Of Telemark (1965), In Harm’s Way (1965), Cast A Giant Shadow (1966) and Is Paris Burning? (1966). He was canny enough to form his own production company early in his film career, emulating Burt Lancaster who did much the same to retain control over his projects. They made seven films together concluding with Tough Guys (1986) hamming it up beautifully as two old gangsters.  Of being master of his own destiny he said: “I don’t need a critic to tell me I’m an actor. I make my own way. Nobody’s my boss. Nobody’s ever been my boss.”
Douglas was nominated three times for Academy Awards and was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1991. In 1981 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Jimmy Carter and a host of lifetime achievement awards from various organisations. He won a Golden Globe and a New York Film Critics Award recognising his outstanding performance as Van Gogh in Lust For Life. 
In January 1996, at 79, he suffered a severe stroke, impairing his speech but he fought back and recovered his ability to speak. He wrote about the experience in A Stroke Of Luck. His autobiography, A Ragman’s Son, is an honest and delightful story of his upward journey from poverty. On Michael Parkinson’s BBC chat show in 1978, he described his rags to riches life as a typical, corny American immigrant story.  Along with his second wife Anne, he has donated considerably to charities and causes close to their hearts.
Kirk Douglas is by any measure one of the greatest actors we have ever witnessed. From the outset he was committed to extremely high standards of performance and production. He devoted himself to his career and he took control of it. His screen CV is staggering, varied and impressive. His energetic work rate over his prime years is breathtaking. He was a risk taker – “In order to achieve anything, you must be brave enough to fail”. 
It is too tempting to say that he is the last of that breed of superior actors from the 1940s to have lit up the big screen, but he might well be. “People are always talking about the old days. They say that the old movies were better, that the old actors were so great. But I don’t think so. All I can say about the old days is that they have passed.”
In conclusion, here’s a line from Spartacus - ”Maybe there's no peace in this world, for us or for anyone else, I don't know. But I do know that, as long as we live, we must remain true to ourselves.” Kirk Douglas at 100 just emphasises his greatness as a magnificent star and as an amazing human being.

*The story goes that in his early years, he met a fellow actor called George Sekulovich who advised him to change his name. It is lost in the mists of time why he chose Kirk Douglas but young George had already decided to change his name to Karl Malden.

Friday, 7 December 2018


Recent 'news' that Fairytale of New York contains an offensive word - faggot. Faggot.

I've had a look at the lyrics of this scurrilous piece of objectionable writing and I am appalled at how much time has passed since it's first airing before anyone has raised an apoplectic objection to its contents.

Items that surely must offend someone.

Christmas - for feck's sake, it's the Holidays now.

Drunk tank - alcohol is the devil's drop, next to salt, sugar and red meat.

Old man - ageist!!!!

Got on a lucky one, came in at eighteen to one - betting. Sheesh!

Bum, punk, aul whoor on junk - really?

Scumbag - mother, block your ears.

Maggot - dirty!

Cheap, lousy faggot - aghast, unless we're talking about the rather tasty but humble meat dish favoured by the ne'er do wells.

Arse - gutter language.

And I haven't even started on Chuck Berry's My Ding-A-Ling.

HARRY CHAPIN 7.12.42 - 16.7.1981

Harry Chapin, high up on my list of favourite singer/songwriters, was born this day, 7 December, in 1942. He was killed at 38 in a road traffic accident in 1981.

Shortly after the tragic news, I wrote this song.


You took me to some places
and not once did I say no
from the deck of a sinking ship
to some local radio
You took me higher than an eagle
and you never let me down
you taught me simple lessons
of a world a-spinning round

It's so sad that Harry's gone but I can bring him back
with an electronic needle on a hundred album tracks
It's so sad to lose a singer before the final song
now the angels buy his music
it's so sad that Harry's gone

You made my dreams a little sweeter
and my smile a little wide
You made me laugh a little louder
and cry deep down inside
You took me by the hand
and you told your stories well
but when the wheel stopped turning
there was still much more to tell

It's so sad that Harry's gone but I can bring him back
with an electronic needle on a hundred album tracks
It's so sad to lose a singer before the final song
now the angels buy his music
it's so sad that Harry's gone

Thursday, 6 December 2018


Paul came to my rescue one time. I was walking down our street, Bingnian Drive, towards Benbradagh Gardens, not too far from home, when three or four bigger boys started to harass me, nothing violent, just pushing and shoving and getting in my way. I was a timid kid and this was one of those incidents that could have turned into a fight, especially if uncharacteristically, I had lashed out. If I had run, they would have chased me down, and then what? I just wished they would get bored and move on. 

You know in those Superman films when all hope seems to be lost until whoosh, there he is. I kid you not, from out of nowhere, Paul and one of his mates appeared. Paul’s boot connected with a boy’s backside in an eye-watering kick. They scattered. I was saved from any trouble and he was the hero of the day. Looking after little brothers is part of what big brothers should do. 



Dick Van Dyke is heading for his 93rd birthday on 13 December 2018.

55 years ago, in 1961, The Dick Van Dyke Show was launched on US television.  Dick played comedy writer Rob Petrie and Mary Tyler Moore played his wife Laura.  It was a huge success, running to 156 episodes in its five-year life. It was great family TV back in the days when we only had a couple of channels and we were still in awe of American shows featuring cops, cowboys and comedians

I thought I'd just blog a little bit about Dick Van Dyke.  On screen, he has had various phases in his career from the aforementioned TV show to other small screen series and, of course, films.

In 1964, he co-starred with Julie Andrews in the enduringly popular Mary Poppins and became legendary, as Bert the chimney sweep, for the worst Cockney accent of all time.  But, whatever we think of his mangled attempt at being a Londoner, because of that role, we haven't forgotten him and probably never will.  Two years later, he struck gold again with the much-loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, playing Caractacus Potts.  Both films pop up regularly on TV, as indeed they should.

When The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966, he made a so-so movie called Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN and followed that up with a couple of other efforts. In the 1970s, he made The New Dick Van Dyke Show, unrelated to the original premise and guest-starred in a great episode of Columbo as a murdering photographer.  That one surfaces every now and then, and it is worth catching.  More guest roles followed including an episode of Jake and the Fatman, starring William Conrad.  Van Dyke played a character called Dr. Mark Sloan, a role repeated in a couple of TV movies before being developed into a 178-episode hit series called Diagnosis Murder which ran from 1993 to 2001. Diagnosis Murder co-starred Dick's son Barry, and other Van Dykes appeared in various episodes through its long life.

When he started making The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1961, he was thirty-six.  When he started on Diagnosis Murder, he was sixty-eight.  In 2006, again with son Barry, he made several TV films under the banner Murder 101.  He was in his eighties.  Around that time, he starred in Night at the Museum as Cecil alongside Mickey Rooney, Ben Stiller and an all-star cast.  He was in a Museum sequel too.  I only mention the ages because I am trying to emphasise that Dick Van Dyke is a trouper, with show business in his blood, multi-talented, with the ability to warm the screen any time he appears.

Recently he was a hit all over again when a YouTube clip of him singing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in a diner went viral.

And he makes an appearance in the new 2018 film, Mary Poppins Returns!

A couple of years ago, I wrote to Dick Van Dyke to tell him how much of a fan I am of his work.  Out of the blue, one day, I received a lovely signed photograph from him - "Hi Joe! God bless, Dick Van Dyke".

 Happy birthday, sir.