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Sunday, 21 March 2021


 © Joe Cushnan 2021 and beyond

Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly? 

In Search of My Father

Written by Joe Cushnan

Edited by Averill Buchanan

Word Count: 46,000

Here is a taster from Chapter 2 of a memoir about my father, John Cushnan from Belfast who vanished for 22 years (1960 to 1982) and resurfaced, with a reinvention of his background, as John Kelly from Derry.

Previous posts contain extracts from the prologue and chapter 1.

Enquiries to

CHAPTER 2: A Blue Folder

In 2013, I sat in my study staring at an array of items laid out on the desk. Stored in a ragged blue folder, the items had been buried in a filing cabinet drawer since 1982 when the folder was presented to Kevin and me at our father’s wake in the Rose & Crown. The folder contained:

·      undertaker’s receipts;

·      an employer’s letter;

·      a wage slip;

·      eight floral bouquet cards;

·      one mass card;

·      five club membership cards and five payment receipts;

·      a note on a scrap of paper;

·      two letters from friends;

·      correspondence from the Department of Health and Social Security;

·      a cheque book and a paying-in bank book;

·      nine photographs;

·      an empty wallet. 

These are the only things my father left behind. It is a rather pathetic inventory; nevertheless, most of the items turned out to be useful in researching his life.

Back at the wake, Kevin and I were in the company of strangers who were shaking our hands with gusto and passing on warm thoughts and happy memories as they reminisced about their recently departed friend. He sounded like a great guy – witty, generous when he could afford to be, and everybody’s pal. He had been living, working and mixing with Irish folks far from home in the Big Smoke and was being lauded and mourned by his circle in a boozer not far from Clapham Common. In true Irish fashion, this was a fond farewell, a celebration of a life, maudlin to a point but peppered with stories and a few homesick songs to send his spirit on its way. 

It was fuelled by free-flowing beer with wee chasers of whiskey and rum, trays of ham and tomato sandwiches and lots of watery-eyed throwaway plaudits: ‘Ach, sure, he was a great fella, right enough’; ‘One in a million, one in a million.’ 

Mourning is hard work when you don’t know the person you’re supposed to be mourning.

Someone handed us the blue folder containing the rather sorry collection of bits and pieces.

‘Kelly would have wanted you to have this,’ they said. 

Saturday, 20 March 2021


© Joe Cushnan 2021 and beyond

Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly? 

In Search of My Father

Written by Joe Cushnan

Edited by Averill Buchanan

Word Count: 46,000

Here is a taster from Chapter 1 of a memoir about my father, John Cushnan from Belfast who vanished for 22 years (1960 to 1982) and resurfaced, with a reinvention of his background, as John Kelly from Derry.

Previous post contained an extract from the prologue/

Enquiries to

CHAPTER 1: Grave Thoughts


On Monday 19 July 1982 it was mild and cloudy at Lambeth Cemetery, London.

I was living in Hemel Hempstead at the time and my brother Kevin was over from Belfast for a business meeting. We met up and travelled together to Clapham as representatives of the Cushnan family for the funeral of our father, John. He died at the age of 57 from an intracranial tumour. At the funeral, all the people there knew him better than Kevin and I did. Jim Nicholson, landlord at the Rose and Crown, our father’s local, had informed my mother of her husband’s death. She wanted nothing to do with the funeral, with very good reason.

At some point in 1960, my father left his wife and seven young children in Belfast and pretty much vanished. The next we heard of him was when we were told of his death, twenty-two years later. 

I was six when he left and Kevin was two. This dead man in Clapham was, to all intents and purposes, a stranger to us both.

We spent the day of the funeral surrounded by his friends, there because they knew and liked our father. But for us, there was only a bizarre emptiness. We were playing the role of mourners. I am reminded of T. S. Eliot, from Four Quartets: 


Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated

Of dead and living.


I have never felt comfortable in graveyards. The nearest one to home when I was growing up in Andersonstown, Belfast, was Milltown Cemetery. It is where most of my deceased relatives, including my mother, my eldest brother and my grandparents, are buried. A predominantly Catholic graveyard, Milltown is situated between the top end of the Falls Road and the M1 motorway and covers nearly sixty acres. It dates back to the mid-1800s and houses (if that’s the correct term) the remains of over two hundred thousand people in around fifty thousand graves. Despite being a ‘resting place’, Milltown has had its troubling incidents in the past, the best known being when Michael Stone, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), attacked mourners at the funeral of three IRA members on 16 March 1988. He shot around the crowd randomly and threw hand grenades. Three people were killed and over sixty were wounded. Stone was arrested and eventually jailed. Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ were pretty horrific over the years, but there are still some incidents that send shivers down the spine. I still associate Milltown with the chill of howling winds, miserable drizzle and, on the ghosts’ angrier days, pelting rain. 

Friday, 19 March 2021


© Joe Cushnan 2021 and beyond

Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly? 

In Search of My Father

Written by Joe Cushnan

Edited by Averill Buchanan

Word Count: 46,000

Here is a taster from a memoir about my father, John Cushnan from Belfast who vanished for 22 years (1960 to 1982) and resurfaced, with a reinvention of his background, as John Kelly from Derry.

Enquiries to

Short extract from part of the Prologue


The film I Never Sang For My Father (1970), starring Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas, is a powerful human story, beautifully scripted and performed. The plot revolves around a complicated and emotional father/son relationship. The nub of the story concerns a decision by the son to move to America’s West Coast, leaving his widowed father alone in New York. One line has stuck with me over the years. Gene Hackman, the son, struggling with his father’s predicament and fear of loneliness, says: ‘I hate him. And I hate to hate him.’

While I have been researching and writing this memoir, I have often thought of those words with regards to my own father. As I uncover more about his life, I wonder what my conclusions will be in the final chapter. Will I choose to use the word ‘hate’? The plot of the film is not quite the same as my story, but it’s interesting nonetheless. One other thing the Gene Hackman character says after his father’s death made me think: ‘Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind towards some resolution, which it may never find.’ How powerful is that?

I was also struck by the chemistry in John Mortimer’s play A Voyage Round My Father. The father in this play loses his sight in an accident, and as result of which he is dependent on those around him to assist whenever he needs help. The father, a barrister, is opinionated and irritable, but he also carries around a lot of wisdom which he imparts liberally. The relationships within the family are stiff, cold and unemotional. His son becomes a barrister too and increasingly resembles his father in word and action, even though their relationship has never been particularly deep or serious. The final act sees the father take his last breath while the son reflects on the father who is no longer there.  It is a very powerful play, and a reminder that family relationships often have more faces than Big Ben and the Albert Clock combined.

In setting the scene for this memoir I was also drawn to the painting And When Did You Last See Your Father? by William Frederick Yeames. The painting allegedly depicts a Royalist family captured by the enemy. The boy in blue is ‘in the dock’, being questioned about the whereabouts of his father, considered a traitor by the Parliamentarians. If I was the young boy in blue and I had been asked that question when I was six, I wouldn’t have had a clue about the answer, as you will soon see. 

Sigmund Freud coined the term ‘infantile amnesia’ to describe his theory that, until the age of six, children either forget or hide their earliest memories. They are either blocked or withheld, but not completely erased. Freud described this as repression. As children approach their teenage years they remember more than they realise, but as they grow into adulthood and the decades pass, the early memories really do fade away. 

Why am I mentioning this here? Well, when I was six my father left us; as I write I am heading into my mid-sixties. I have racked my brain and tried to recall as many details from my childhood as I can. I’m convinced that I do remember some things. Occasionally a forgotten memory has been triggered by someone else’s recollections; sometimes, though, I’m aware that I may well have hijacked someone else’s memories and claimed them as my own. It’s difficult, too, to disentangle family stories, repeated over and over and over again, from fact. The problem is, there is very little ‘fact’ to go on.

In this memoir I have the urge to do a couple of things. I am interested in detective mystery stories and, leaving my personal connection to the ‘missing person’ aside, this is a pretty good mystery to investigate. Why did this man disappear? Where did he go? What did he do? Who were his new friends? Did he have a second family? Did he have a relationship or relationships with other women? Did he have other children? But I also feel a responsibility to research and record this aspect of the Cushnan family history to share my findings with Cushnans down the line. Will this bring any kind of closure? I don’t know, but I have found out a considerable amount about my father, my mother and their forebears, information I would never have known had I not embarked on this project.

This memoir, then, is a mixture of conscious recall, fact, and a lively imagination. It is both true and accurate, and a fabrication, much like the man it seeks to find.

Thursday, 18 March 2021



I wrote a memoir and hired much-lauded and Belfast-based professional Averill Buchanan to knock it into shape. Here's a link to her site.

In 1960, my father John Cushnan, left our Belfast home, his wife and seven young children. I was six. He vanished. The next we heard of him was when we were told he had died at 57 in Clapham, London. Apart from anything else, he left us 22 'missing' mystery years. He reinvented himself as John Kelly from Derry and denied any family back home.

I investigated his journey and whereabouts and filled in quite a lot of blanks. I knew the exact address of his bedsit in Clapham, the pub he frequented, the friends he made, the life he lived, the work he did, the Catholic church he may have attended and, the possibility that he had a relationship and a son - my half-brother. Maybe! Really!

He is at the core of the memoir but he is not the most important person. My mother stepped up, naturally and instinctively, and raised her kids alone. She became and remains the greatest woman I have ever known. 

I have presented the story in newspaper features (Belfast Telegraph), on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio 4.  The link to 4's Saturday Live with the Reverend Richard Coles and Aasmah Mir is here:

I would like a publisher. I would like an agent.

Randomly, over the next few weeks, I may well publish here some paragraphs to give a flavour of my story.

Monday, 15 March 2021


Anne Haile wrote about film star Stephen Boyd in today's Irish News and highlighted my book, Stephen Boyd: From Belfast to Hollywood. Follow the link to find the article. 4 July, 2021, is the 90th anniversary of Stephen Boyd's birth. He died at 45.


Friday, 12 March 2021


                                             For writing commissions -

              A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. 

All true but stretched for entertainment value.

 I was managing a food/non-food superstore and a customer asked to see me.  I found my way to the customer service desk and, although I am six feet tall, this guy seemed to tower above me.  His girth was wider than mine too and as I looked up at him I prayed that this was not going to end in tears - mine.

I stuck my hand out to shake his but he ignored it and started bawling: "Lime marmalade. You've got none."  I went through the motions of saying that I would check for him but he told me that someone had already been to the stock room. "Why haven't you got any?"  I told him I didn't know but I would find out and let him know by phone that afternoon. 

"What?" he bellowed, "I am not leaving this shop without lime marmalade."  

"But we haven't any in stock, sir." 

"Don't call me sir. Stop patronising me." 
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to patronise you. I apologise for not having lime marmalade in the store but I will have to contact the buying team in head office."

"Ridiculous," he shouted and with that he threw the empty hand basket he was carrying at me, told me to stuff the shop up my arse and stormed away.  The wire basket struck my chin but, heroically, I didn't wince.  

In a mid sigh as I watched him leave, I spotted that he had turned round and was heading back my way. "I'll be back tomorrow at 10 o'clock to buy a jar of Rose's lime marmalade and you better have it or I'll not be responsible for my actions."

He turned on his heels and walked briskly out of the door.  I sent someone out to a rival supermarket for a jar of lime marmalade and kept it locked in a drawer.  The next morning, the clock ticked in High Noon fashion. 10 o'clock, no customer. 10.15, no customer.  10.30, nope.  12.00, nada.  He didn't show up at all, ever again, to my knowledge.  

"What a (s)lime ball”, I thought, in a moment of retail blasphemy. 

People in shops have much to put up with day in, day out and, rather like me, heroically they take it on the chin. 

Like baskets, some customers are wired up!

Thursday, 11 March 2021


                                                For writing commissions -

              A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. 

All true but stretched for entertainment value.

In a large hypermarket, no two days are the same, and that can be both a good thing and a bad thing.  Sometimes a manager just wants a quiet life but as soon as the doors open and customers arrive to shop, all bets are off.  Thankfully, most customers are legal, decent, honest and truthful and just get on with their shopping, but every now and again, something happens and a customer tries it on, thinking that he or she can make a bit of money on the sly.
One day I was called to the customer service desk to speak to a young man.  As I approached, I could see that he was not happy about something or other.  He told me – and I have not changed his words - that as he was walking down one of the aisles in the shop, a bottle of bleach just jumped off the shelf and splashed all over his leather jacket.  He actually said the bottle of bleach had jumped off the shelf.  I mustered all of my professionalism and good manners and apologised, but on inspection of his jacket, I explained that most of the wear and tear could not have been caused by the alleged incident.  He left unhappy, but without a penny, a chancer who took a chance and failed.
As incidents like this are always worth following up, like a good battle-worn manager who has gone a little stir-crazy, I went to the aisle and gave all of the bleach bottles a good talking to, but rather like the man with the leather jacket, some of the bleach was too thick to take it in.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021


For writing commissions -

              A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. 

All true but stretched for entertainment value.

Customers come in all shapes and sizes, from all backgrounds, as do shoplifters.  A shop is a thieves’ paradise and professional bandits know all the tricks of the trade to confuse and distract, as they attempt to steal anything that is not nailed down.  They are a menace but the more inept thieves, the ones that have more than enough empty space between their ears, the ones that aimed low in life and missed, provide some light relief.  One day, we followed a man who was wearing a long overcoat.  It was one of the hottest days of the year and he looked as out of place as a kipper in a tap-dancing class.  By the fixed smile on his face and his glazed eyes, it was obvious that he had lunched recently with Jim Beam or Johnnie Walker.  He was high as a kite.  Slowly but surely, he walked around the shop putting various things into the pockets of his coat.  After about half an hour, as he was about to leave, we apprehended him and took him to the security office.

“Please empty your pockets,” I said.  “What pockets?” he slurred.

“The ones in your coat.”  “Oh, those pockets,” he chuckled. 

In a few minutes, the following items were displayed on the desk: a bottle of brandy, a packet of custard powder, two small tins of cat food, a bar of chocolate, a bag of sugar, a bottle of ketchup and a bunch of scallions.  The man was arrested and whiskeyed off to the police station, leaving us wondering if all the food and drink he had tried to nick had been intended for a romantic meal for two – or just a quiet night in with the cat.  Even with the scallions, he was more chump than champ. 


Tuesday, 9 March 2021


For writing commissions -

              A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. 

All true but stretched for entertainment value.

It is easy for customers to get hold of the wrong end of the stick, (or the twig, or the branch – all will become clear as this story unfolds).  I was having a coffee break one morning in my office, away from the shenanigans on the shop floor, when a young mother phoned to tell me that, in her words, there was a tree in her curry ready meal.  I sat in my office, phone to ear, quite shocked at this strange complaint but, like the TV cops of the 1950s, we managers are always trained to get the facts, Ma’am, just the facts.  But I couldn’t help but imagine a giant oak firmly embedded in amongst the chicken, peppers and curry sauce.
As I was concerned, I asked her to bring the offending meal back to the shop and she agreed to come in that very afternoon.  But as soon as I had put the phone down, I realised that I had not offered the services of a lumberjack and a large truck.  But, as it happened, none of that was necessary.  When she brought the curry meal in, I unwrapped it and found two bay leaves in the exotic mess.  I explained that bay leaves were there to help flavour the food and she reddened up and laughed.  “But it’s still part of a tree,” she said.  “Yes, it is,” I agreed, “but, thankfully, not the whole tree.”  She ignored me, accepted a refund and left the shop.  I thought about this complaint for a while and concluded that in this game, sometimes life is not fir, but we can all pine for a better fuchsia, and no matter what, it is important to curry favour with all customers when they korma round to my shop.


Monday, 8 March 2021


 For writing commissions -

              A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. 

All true but stretched for entertainment value.

There is no one I know in the wild and wacky world of shops and shopping who believes that the customer is always right.  Those of us who have been managers for more years than we care to recall know that on many, many occasions, some customers play the game with common sense and fair play but a growing number can see ways to exploit the system and shout or needle their way to getting much, much more than a verbal apology for something that has gone wrong.  The man who explained to me that he had found a piece of metal in his bread stick looked upset, understandably.  The fact that he went on to say that the metal was in the very last nub end of the bread made me think that all was not how it seemed.  We managers are well trained to refer tricky matters like this to head office, for health and safety reasons of course, but also to pass the buck to someone else, if the truth were known.  Our head office team could not come up with any explanation regarding the metal, putting it down to a rare mistake at the bakery (but really thinking that this guy had put it there himself).  It was funny to me that he had gobbled all but the very last half inch of baguette.  However, in the interests of goodwill, they offered the man an apology and £20 of gift vouchers.  The man said he was not happy.  When asked what would make him happy, he said that he wanted twice the amount of vouchers and, I am not kidding here, a set of garden furniture.  Alas, I can report, dear customer, several years on that he got the vouchers but on what he sits to have his summer lunch in the garden, I neither know nor care.


Sunday, 7 March 2021


                                   For writing commissions -

              A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. All true but stretched for 

                                                         entertainment value.

Health and safety concerns have seeped into our heads, sometimes for good reason and other times causing overreaction.  One day, I was getting ready to go home after a long day, when I received a call from a man, clearly distraught.  His voice was a mixture of panic and anger.  He said that his family had eaten salmon sandwiches for their tea and his wife and son had found pieces of glass in amongst the fish.  I was taken aback.  This was a new one on me.  After he assured me that his family did not seem to be suffering from any ill affects at this stage, I offered to send someone round to his house to investigate.  But he declined, saying that he would bring the remainder of the sandwiches and a newly opened tin of salmon to the shop straight away.  I agreed to meet him.
At his request, we met in a private office and he produced the sandwiches and opened salmon tin.  “There,” he pointed, “glass.”  I studied the fragments carefully, touching one or two with my finger before using my thumbnail to crush a piece of the glass.  I then proceeded to taste the white powder and I could hear the man gasping in disbelief.  “What are you doing?” he spluttered.  “Oh, just tasting some rock salt,” I said, trying not to sound too smug.  “It’s natural in some tins of salmon.”  I could see the man’s dreams of compensation drain away with the colour from his face.  He coughed a bit and then rushed off to explain things to his anxious family.  Later, I reflected that it’s important to stay in tuna with your customers even if some of them act like pilchards.

Saturday, 6 March 2021


For writing commissions -

A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. All true but stretched for 

entertainment value.

There is a lot of mundane, dull work to be done in shops.  It has to be tackled but it is hardly challenging to the brain cells a lot of the time.  You know the kind of boring stuff – walking round being Mr Happy, smiling at people you do not like, checking the cleaning, picking up litter and squashed grapes, filling shelves, telling people off, listening to customers complaining about the price of fish or a wonky trolley.  Sometimes, a new experience makes the day more exciting.  The lady with the two avocado pears is a hard case to beat.  She asked to see me in private, as she was prone to burst into tears at any moment because of the trauma I had caused her.  She catered at home for her husband’s business clients and, the previous weekend, had settled on an avocado and prawn starter.  She bought the pears from my shop.  But when she peeled them, both were mottled brown inside.  She explained emotionally that these two small, crinkly items had destroyed her confidence in the kitchen.  In short, she panicked at the dinner party and opened a tin of soup – the indignity of serving cock-a-leekie as her husband was about to clinch a deal had left her scarred, embarrassed and inadequate.  Her ego had been casseroled by this appalling incident.  Our discussion was like a therapy session and when I asked how best to resolve it for her, quick as a flash she perked up and said: “Each dinner party costs me £75, so if you pay me £75, that will do.”  My excuse is that I was too taken aback to disagree.  I still wince when I think of the two most expensive avocado pears in history but The Avocado Bravado Desperado Affair is a lesson for all shop managers to reassess the fruits of their labours, to tolerate crab-apple customers, to avoid sour grapes and to admit defeat when you know you’ve been mangoed.


Friday, 5 March 2021


For writing commissions -

A short series from my days as a supermarket manager. All true but stretched for entertainment value.

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


Thursday, 4 March 2021




Featuring 12 Writers chosen by me.  If you don't get an invitation this time, DM me @JoeCushnan to be considered for the next run.


The Pivot Questionnaire comprises 10 questions. I have seen it used on the television show Inside the Actor's Studio, presented by James Lipton.  Apparently, Proust was the original inspiration.  The modern questions originated on a French TV show called Bouillon de Culture, hosted by Bernard Pivot.  I have expanded the questions to 12, plus a chance to share words of encouragement on writers and writing.

In a kind of ‘Season 1’, I interviewed creative artists from Northern Ireland. You can look them up on my blog

(Search Dozen Questions) 


In ‘Season 2’, I focused on writers: Damien Donnelly, Robin McNamara, Roger Hare, Margaret Royall, Matthew M. C. Smith, Devon Marsh, Peach Delphine, Gaynor Kane, Isabelle Kenyon, Zoe Siobhan Howarth-Lowe, Byddi Lee – and I snuck in as a substitute when someone was unable to respond.


This time I am interested in helping to promote more writers from anywhere and, from my knowledge of great writers on social media, this is an invitation-only opportunity (for the moment) to promote great work.


If you would like to accept the invitation to participate and to promote yourself and your work with images, links, sample writing, anything you want to say, please let me know.  If not, no problem.  Your answers can be any length.


What’s in it for me? Traffic to my blog. That’s it.


3 THINGS: I do not edit. 2. I intend to share your words, links and images on Twitter.  3. You can use the material freely for your own purposes on your own sites and across other social media platforms.




Q: What is your favourite word? 


Q: What is your least favourite word? 


Q: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? 


Q: What turns you off? 


Q: What is your favourite song? 


Q: What is your favourite film? 


Q: What is your favourite curse word


Q: What sound or noise do you love? 


Q: What sound or noise do you hate? 


Q: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? 


Q: What profession would you not like to do? 


Q: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? 


Q: Any words of encouragement for writers and writing?



If interested (and there is no pressure deadline from my end), copy, paste and answer the questions and send your responses with as many images and links as you like, and a brief bio to:


I will transmit each blog post to the information super highway at least 6 times.


If not interested, please feel free to decline the invitation.