To beard or not to beard


Yes we seem to have averted a total meltdown of regional government as in “we’ll all throw our toys out of the pram”. This is a common occurrence at Stormont’s non-functional and divided administration. Not to drag you down some winding path but do keep in mind this is about that bit of facial hair i.e. the beard.

The near collapse was the result of a murder in the nationalist redoubt of Short Strand, Belfast. In brief, two former IRA assassins had a falling out, one shot the other dead and was then shot dead by unknown gunmen. This, in turn, shot the Stormont administration in the foot with the accusation by the DUP that the IRA’s military machine was still functioning contrary to the Good Friday Agreement. Has the issue been resolved? Well let’s just say they are still drawing their salaries.

Remember the Beard?

I recently grew a beard not as a metro male statement but to add some volume to my thinning visage Stay with me now as this is relevant to the precursor as, hopefully, will become clear. The potential tsunami of political uncertainty that threatened to sweep the country caused tightened security at ports and airports. On a recent return from Scotland through the seaport of Cairnryan we were subjected to security not see since the bad old days. The slow progress of the traffic into the port did not immediately suggest a security alert. As we reached the barrier the beard marked me out as a potential suspect. In the psyche of the ever vigilant security operatives a beard is the trademark of all terrorists, freedom fighters, jihadists, therefore: documentation? check; search boot (trunk)? check; underbody of vehicle? check. Is this a bout of paranoia or the minority oppression flag being raised? Maybe, but there again, maybe not.

Let me take you on a brief tour of those bad old days alluded to previously, days of high security when N.I .was at the nadir of political upheaval. If I wore a beard I was often stopped by Police or army demanding ID and sometimes searched. Returning from my mother’s funeral in Scotland through the same port I was sitting in the middle backseat of the car, bearded. I was the guy asked to step from the car and ID,ed Travelling through Manchester airport on return from the States, bearded, having cleared emigration I was followed to the baggage carousel by two special branch officers, ID’ed and questioned. Six O Clock in the morning is not a good time for me. I was not polite.

Clean-shaven my saintly and angelic coupon caused me no intrusions. So beware all metro males, the beard is a changing face.


O’Leary’s research


A senior pupil is seated in the anti-room to the headmasters office. Mrs. Trip returning from the headmasters office sees young O’Leary and greets him.

“Good morning Timothy”.

“Good morning Mrs.Trip and how are you this fine morning,well I hope?”

‘Yes, thank you. Headmaster is expecting you. He is having morning tea so I expect he will be with you shortly.”

“Oh good, I’m sure he’ll enjoy his morning tea.”

A short time later Headmaster calls young O’Leary into his Office.

“Well O’Leary you have been escorted back to school by the local constabulary. They say they found you on your hands and knees on the 5th fairway of the local golf course, of which, I may add, I am a member. And this was during school hours. Can you please explain yourself.”

“Well sir, I was carrying out some ground work.”

“Ground work O’Leary….?”

“Aye sir, for my biology project.”

“Who takes you for biology?”

“Dr.Transplant, oh I mean Mr.Hart, sir.”

“Ah old Transplant,eh. And what exactly is the nature of this project, lad?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“What’s right, O’Leary?”

“Nature, sir”

“Be more specific boy, expound, expound.”

“Well sir, I chose fungi as the topic for the project and this being the time of year for fungi I have been doing field work. This, of course, being the explanation for my presence on the golf course, a well known location for ground mushrooms.”


“Well sir, I have been collecting samples.”

“Is this research fungi in general O’Leary, or edible fungi, poisonous fungi, bracket fungi?”

“Yes sir, though I have been concentrating my study on a particular genus which, incidentally, has a bearing on my sociology studies.”

“Fascinating O’Leary. And on which genus have you focused your combined study?”

“Psylocybin sir, aka the ‘magic mushroom’ which is known to have hallucinogenic properties, sir. A dose of one hundred can induce a state of euphoria, a mystical experience.”

“And you have been collecting these things, O’Leary?”

“Yes sir.”

“How many have you collected?”

“Over the last week about one hundred thousand, sir.”

“My God, lad. Have you eaten any?”

“No sir, not me sir.”

“Thank God for that, lad. What exactly have you done with them?”

“Well sir, that’s exactly where the sociology and biology projects merge.”

“Where exactly, O’Really, you’re not making myself very clear, am I?”

“I chose a closed community of nine hundred and fifty to conduct my experiment…”

“Jesus O’Leary, that’s the entire population of this school!”

“Exactly sir, well minus one. Enjoying your tea, sir?”

Shadow of the future past

shadow I’ve been absent of late. Was convinced I was being stalked by His Grimness. You get strange looks when you dart behind a tree as a long shadow is cast across your path. Fortunately ‘The Seventh Seal’ scenario is not on my chequerboard as I’m crap at chess but I know for sure the fucker is out there.

Why am I telling you all this? That’s a fair question and one that leads me into my story of the dark past of this small sod we call Northern Ireland when the work of the Grim Reaper was carried out by armed and masked men. A shadow cast on a door pane or window was enough to put the fear of god into many a soul out for a casual nights drinking with friends or simply for the comradeship of the local bar.

My partner and I were in the heart of the countryside in a small village of a Friday evening when we stopped for a drink. As we entered the bar a tide of silence swept through every corner of the bar as the clientele took in the strangers. Like a murmur from another room the conversation resumed in an uneasy truce when we sat with our backs to the window and ordered a drink. We shared the bench seat with one other not unduly fazed by our presence, nodding in unspoken greeting.

The drink continued to flow, the atmosphere lost some of it’s tension as he began a conversation, not unfriendly, which sought to identify the stranger with the Belfast accent. “What has you up around these parts, boy?”

“My partner here she’s a local and we’re up visiting.”

We introduced ourselves and the volume went up a further notch. When the lineage was unraveled he stared at her and with something resembling recognition he declared I think for the benefit of all,

“Jesus, sure don’t I know yer brother well. We’ve worked together many’s the time. What are ye drinking?”

The bar seemed to breathe easy and resumed it’s pre-stranger volume. As I passed through the bar seeking the toilet people nodded, we were home. The toilets perplexed me though. I stepped into a gravelled yard with no obvious facilities.

“Where do you take a pee round here?” I asked

“Anywhere.” came the reply.

For a staggering drunk a perfect arrangement, and for the landlord a convenient solution, everybody’s happy I thought to myself as I re-entered the bar. But it got better. When I took my seat last orders were called, more protocol than fact. The barmaid came from behind the counter pulling blinds, closing doors, and dimming lights, then took orders from each table for the chip shop across the road. On return each table was delivered fish suppers, pasty suppers, sausage suppers, onion rings and chips as ordered, while the landlord landed pints and shorts amidst the unwrapped newsprint. By this time the atmosphere was of a family sharing a banquet.

George Best and Flash Gordon

Storey-BridgeA preamble. For those of you not familiar with the name George Best, George, a Belfast boy came to prominence in the 60’s as a phenomenon in football. His skills drew the attention of talent scouts leading to a career with the now world famous Manchester United. Back then when George joined the team under Manager Matt Busby he demonstrated his talent to adoring fans both male and female. He was probably one of the early Football superstars living the high life in all the connotations of that word. Ultimately he was consumed by an addiction to alcohol. Belfast posthumously honoured its famous and notorious son naming the city airport George Best Belfast City Airport.

We were sitting outdoors at a street café in West End, Brisbane enjoying the late evening ambience on a first visit to the city. Jamesie, Kevin, Jim and myself, all Belfast bred, had arrived in Australia for an international conference outside of the city and commuted daily to the event. So this evening we were having a beer exchanging stories, and probably bad jokes as we would in any hostelry back in Belfast. We had a couple of days before returning to Ireland so planned a visit to the ocean to entice the sharks with Irish beef.

The café on Boundary Street had a low barrier defining it’s pavement space, which our table was tucked up against. As we talked I notice an approaching gent who was obviously a little the worse for wear. He was dressed in a khaki shirt and shorts and his trajectory was plotting a collision course on our little group. The barrier proved our line of defense. Denying defeat he leaned forward and used it as a prop and a fine vantage point from which to conduct his interview of the limeys.

This man, excusing the unkempt thinning and greasy hair, the outback wardrobe and runny right eye like a raw egg, had a build and striking resemblance to actor Michael Gabon.

“Hi fella’s where you from?”

“We’re from Ireland.”

“Oh Ireland eh? Which part?”


“Oh Belfast eh? George Best eh?

“Yea that’s the boy and that’s the place. One of our greatest exports.” was the response, not mentioning the Titanic for obvious reasons.

“Georgie boy played for the Brisbane Lions ye know back in ’83. Saw him play myself, what a star eh?”

He had become so animated at his good fortune in witnessing the great George Best play that his khaki shorts escaped and dropped to his feet. The interloper was bollock naked.

“Oops!’ says he flashing more than a smile while simultaneously mooning up street, before bending to hoist the khaki flag.



A tissue of lies?


Mr. Sainsbury, as a customer I commend you on stocking products that reflect and promote public awareness. As a dynastic Greengrocer, who includes green products on the shelves, your green-ness has been compromised by being somewhat green when it comes to graphics. As was my own reaction, this product must surely have caused a smile or a snigger in the household department as customers browsed the shelves of toilet tissue. Recycle Toilet Tissue indeed!

The package says it all though there may be an essential piece of information or punctuation omitted. I suspect, Mr.Sainsbury, that someone was not paying attention. ttEither that or that same someone is shitting us or taking the piss, which may be concealed in the small print, since no one has noticed or they are too green to say. Conversely, having been assured that my observation is old news, I would have thought a Corporation of such standing in the best interests of commerce would have withdrawn said packaging, had litigious exchange with the graphic designer, and assured customers that the wording did not reflect on the product’s content.

As a consequence I can only conclude that the product description does indeed describe the contents accurately, a double entendre, reasoning that customers will assume, as I have, that the product has been inappropriately labeled. I suspect a smear campaign is already afoot and the truth will be flushed out. When the banks of the cesspool of incriminations finally breeches the shit, most assuredly, will hit the fan.


Flying in the face of reason.


Pushing back into my seat as the aircraft hurtles down the runway and lifts into the air is a thrill, the lingering spectre of Paranoia International Airport, Belfast an irritation.

It begins at the bag drop, the first step into the moral maze, a visceral reaction reminiscent of end of term exam nerves.

“Did you pack this bag yourself? Are you carrying any of the prohibited items listed e.g. a gun, a knife, golf balls, water?”

Jesus! What do these people think I am, a terrorist? I’m going to Spain for a bit of winter sunshine not to join the International Brigade. But that’s entry level to what comes next. People who have not received counselling for sexual dysfunction or have had any hint of humour surgically removed can be found at this stage of your journey,

“ Passport and Boarding Pass. Please have any permitted liquids or cosmetics in sealable plastic bags before entering the security area.”

Right, that will be the Congo Line for penned animals, all shuffling along fidgeting with pockets and bags while trying to maintain some sense of dignity.

“ Place items in the trays provided. Remove your coat, belt, and your shoes too, sir”

Don’t be fooled by that moment of apparent civility, the Crack Squad are on standby with stun guns to take you down if you step out of line.

So all my earthly possessions are on the way to be incinerated, ok scanned for WMD, and I step, unshod, through the Pearly Gates. The scanner bleeps. Fucking ‘Bleeps!’. Eyes turn on me, fellow passengers in sympathy and relief, the securocrats in glee at the opportunity to demonstrate the efficiency of airport security in the ‘War on Terror’. In this instance that would be the infamous ‘Grey Zone’ headed to the Costa del Sol to spend their pension and save on the heating bills back home.

I’m ushered into the controversial Full Body Scanner.

‘Stand with your feet on the marks, and raise your arms above your head” Reichsfuhrer von Po-Face instructs.

Now I am a fucking criminal, the real deal, how proud my parents would be. I step from the Tardis after 3 seconds of high-octane x-ray to be confronted once again by Po-Face. For the benefit of his apprentice he indicates the ciphers on the body map betraying the WMD secreted on my person.

Cipher 1: location lower jaw; Cipher 2: waist.

I venture to ask what exactly this marvelous piece of modern security technology, costing a number with lots of zeros, has revealed. I am not given a reply but asked if I object to a further search. Now tell me, dear readers, what the answer to that question is as my recourse to consulting the oracle has failed. Po-face uses a hand-held scanner, then a thorough finger and thumb search of the waistband of my jeans.

“Would it be the endosteal implant in the molar of my posterior lower jaw and the copper rivets in the waistband of my jeans that are causing such confusion for your technology?”

A further lack of courtesy indicates that the technology, the operator and the government policy are in dire need of recalibration.

Now let me get this right. I decide my partner and I need a mid-winter break. The ease with which this can be achieved is the boon of technology. Book flights, print boarding passes, book hotels, and all so straight forward you want to congratulate yourself on savoir faire. In possession of the relevant documents you set off for the airport, with pre-paid parking voucher, to make that trip. The world of reason inverts when you step onto airport property. Customer? Customer my arse! Expect implants, fillings, dentures, piercings, and clothes to be added to the list of prohibited items, while issue of an orange boiler suit de rigueur

The Security Industry is ruling our lives. Edward Snowden has been excommunicated from the Church of the NSA for telling us so and the Sus Law now applies to 90% of the population. Airports are strangled with this nonsense and customers have become suspects.

Question: How many flights have been the subject of terrorist attack?

I can think of seven.

Question: How many flights, national and international, transit without incident annually?

The answer to that has lots of zeros.

The Security Industry will assure us that the safety of those flights is a consequence of their vigilance.

Question: Do you know why elephants paint their toenails green?

Answer: So they can hide in apple trees.

Question: Have you ever seen an elephant in an apple tree?

Answer: No, demonstrating how effective that ploy is.

Time Bandits


A recommendation from a friend had me trawl the listings online for a BBC 4 extra Radio Show. I found it due to air at 8 o’clock. I called at the Off license for a fine bottle of wine, prepared dinner, and I was ready to dine at the appointed hour. Oh foolish me. I switched on and tuned in to discover that BBC listings have gone global and operate on the 24-hour clock. Did it ruin my dinner? No. Dinner was exquisitely cooked and the glass of wine complemented it to perfection unlike my maladjustment to the 24-hour clock.

Why should I be surprised at this development as we live in a 24-hour society, shopping 24/7, television 24/7, even 24/7 is 24/7. But as a license payer I expect the BBC to be the epitome of Britishness with a stiff upper lip and a staunch adherence to the 12-hour format. This expectation is not unfounded. The BBC Televisions flagship evening news programme is the Nine O Clock News. Isn’t the clock that appears also a 12 hour format or is that a throwback to the halcyon days of sweeping hands across an indented disc? The post meridiem news on radio is announced, after the ‘pips’ of Greenwich mean time, as the one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, or “eleven o clock news from the BBC”.

What’s with the duality Beeb, and the aspiration for military precision? If it’s flight times or a train timetable and such then fine. You can’t argue at the check-in desk if you are 12 hours late for a flight. It would also render a military operation unlikely to succeed if 01.00 hours target is stormed at 1pm when everyone’s out to lunch. This I can understand but it doesn’t have a direct relevance to my daily existence. I don’t go to work at 09.00 or return home at 17.00 hours, I do a 9 to 5. Right! So I’m not way off message, am I?

The clock hanging on my wall is an old factory clock salvaged from a defunct Linen Mill. Its humble origins are concealed in a face of Roman numerals, which give it distinction, but its numeracy is strictly duodecuple. From where I sit I can see the second hand sweep past 12 indicating that my time is up.

Gasworks ’88



In 1988 when the Belfast Gasworks site was to be closed and redeveloped I was given access to record the Victorian works, which had been established by Belfast Gaslight Company in 1822. The site boasted several follies, which offered a stark contrast to the industrial plant, like the classical meter complete with laurel wreath, and the Meter House’s stain glass dome.

Over several days I photographed the site and had conversations with members of the skeleton staff, in their last days of employment on the site. The related history of the Gasworks, from the days of coal barges to the introduction of a new gasometer and the current operation, was told with a wistful reference to past events and employees, and an eye to the future.

One such event though referenced a dark moment in Belfast’s troubled history. On 16 October 1974 the IRA breeched security in the Gasworks to plant several explosive devices which if successful would have caused multiple casualties and major disruption to the city. As history records the attempt caused the death of three members of the Provisional IRA when a bomb exploded prematurely. A fireball, which could be seen for thirty miles, lit the night sky.

As I wandered the site I recorded a result of that evening fourteen years earlier, evidenced in the heat tortured metal casing of the gasometer in its sealing reservoir.

‘Provisional Sinn Fein — political arm of the Provisional IRA — held its annual conference in Dublin, the Irish Republic on Sunday (17 October). The party’s President, Rory O’Brady, criticised the Peace Movement that has gained strength in Northern Ireland and received wide support for its call an end to violence.’

Extract from David Cappers report of the event for the BBC


Double positive


A Visiting Lecturer to the English Department at the University of Ulster opened a morning lecture on semantics and the usage in English grammar of the double negative. He cited examples of the usage in both Chaucer and Shakespeare. ”Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous” from Chaucer’s Friars Portrait, and from Shakespeare’s Richard III “ I never was nor never will be.”

Though syntactically considered ‘bad grammar’, the double negative is still widely used often to express a positve as in “you cant just do nothing” and a negative as in “he didn’t do nothing.”

The lecturer went on to point out that the true miscreants of English grammar are the Americans whose use of the double negative is accepted grammar, quoting Ronald Reagan saying “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” as a taunt to his opponents, and a familiar put down, “you don’t care for nobody but yourself.” The lecture ended with a comment that there are no examples in language where a double positive can express the negative. In a  bid to educate the educated, a voice from the back of the lecture theatre was heard to say “Aye Right!”

I tell this well documented story to introduce a line from a letter sent to the Russian Minister of Justice Vladimirovich Konovalov by the American Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter addresses the Edward Snowden request for asylum in Russia claiming he may face torture or the death penalty if returned to the US. Having dismissed the claims as without merit, the Attorney General went on to say:

“Second, Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.”

Aye Right!



The sun has been shining unseasonably for July. The last few years saw rain and temperatures in the lower teens. I am enjoying the Mediterranean weather, with temperatures in the upper 20s it’s tee shirt and shorts weather. My body is responding to the vitamin D boost to my immune system and general health. But you would be mistaken if you thought the bright red face was the result of over exposure to the sun. Actually it is acute embarrassment, fortunately it’s not orange.

On the streets of Belfast on a beautiful summer’s evening the temperature ran high. After a day of ‘celebration’ of Orangeism on 12th of July the streets were besieged with cultural diversity in extremus. Petrol bombs, bottles, bricks, and expletives were hurled across police lines and at police lines by extremism. If the Orange Order thought rebranding their product to ‘Orangefest’ would alter the back looking narrative it has, if you’ll pardon the pun, backfired.

Several elected representatives were also on the streets attempting to quell the fire which they themselves had started.Their language was inflammatory since a ban was imposed on a returning march passing what has now become an annual flashpoint. They profess to support law and order and the directives of the Parades Commission, tasked with resolving contentious marches, which imposed the ban.

‘Orangefest’ displayed its intolerant agenda toward Catholics with the No.1 hit on the Orange Parade. “The sash my father wore” was played by a marching band stopped outside a Catholic church in contravention of the ban. So much for shared cultures and tolerance. One Orangeman and MP Mr. Nigel Dodds was knocked unconscious by a concrete block thrown by Orange rioters. Maybe he will have a ‘road to Damascus’ moment rather than the blinkered road to the Ardoyne shops.

In stark contrast a 16 year old Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban, another backward looking organisation, for her sustained protest demanding the right to education for every child, spoke at the UN on the 12 July. Press coverage of her forward looking international agenda of inclusion eclipsed the trauma of OrangeFest’s ‘big day out’.