Neurotypical Nonsense: A Beginner’s Guide

It all started with a trip to the funfair, complete with its overload of noise, lights and crashing machinery, and a casual remark from my bemused oldest: “what is this neurotypical nonsense?” And so, the Big List of Neurotypical Nonsense was born. And we’re going to share some of it here. Neurotypical nonsense is, according to my two proudly Autism spectrum teens, anything so ludicrously head-wrecking it could never have been invented by an Autistic person*. Because if it had …

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That DUP ‘Doff Your Cap’ Ethos: Time is Running Short…

As a close witness of the DUP’s surreal days in control of Ballymena’s council chamber in and around the 1990s, the recent conduct of Gregory Campbell has a very distinct echo of the way those DUP councillors spoke about those who didn’t look (or think) as they did. It was summed up perfectly back then by a Nationalist friend in Ballymena who wasn’t the only person to explain that, partly as a result of DUP councillors’ actions, he felt “tolerated in my own …

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We’ve All Been Infected With a Covid Side-Effect… And There Is No Cure

In The Comey Rule then-FBI Director James Comey, played by Jeff Daniels, remarks that the Bureau losing the trust of its public is nothing less than “a bell that can never be unrung”. Similarly, the information vacuum created by the NI Executive’s confusion, frequent poor leadership at individual level and – in places – crude self-interest during the Covid crisis created a space now occupied permanently by cranks, conspiracy theorists, attention-clamouring ‘influencers’ and small government hyper-fanatics. In particular, and this …

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MLAs: If You Can’t Raise Your Game Now…

It would be interesting to know how many people who were eager for the return of the Assembly now feel the same way after witnessing the spell of – largely – flailing around, procrastinating, point-scoring and mixed messages we’ve endured since Coronavirus really hit the local headlines. And one place where the true motivation, character and talent of individual political representatives has been laid bare? Social media. While some are making their mark, the old fallbacks of political bunkers, blame …

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A (Brutally) Honest Visitor Guide to Belfast

City Hall image for Honest Visitor Guide to Belfast

A side-effect of Belfast picking up tourism awards across the world? Visitors are now shepherded from one pre-packaged tourist ‘experience’ to a generic theme bar, finishing in shoebox glass hotel with the paint still drying on the walls. In days gone by a local would tell you about a great wee pub, a gem of a ‘chippy’ or the best place to find a cheap pint any day of the week. But times have changed, the city has changed and …

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The Problem With (Earthly) Blind Faith

A quick observation about the devastating, unfolding story around the loss of Wrightbus jobs in Ballymena and the interwoven fortunes of Green Pastures Church. Look carefully at the wider issue and you’ll see one of the significant downsides to a church gathering a vast amount of money, power and influence: it becomes too big for some, even on a subconscious level, to criticise. This means defensive barriers begin to be erected as almost reflex action. Let’s treat Wrightbus and Green …

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Gun Control: If Even NI Can Get It Right…

In response to yet another mass shooting in the US, a quick note about one of the many ironies of life in Northern Ireland: we have extremely high levels of *legal* gun ownership. But legal gun ownership in NI is very tightly controlled. And successfully too. It really isn’t rocket science. As I understand it* applicants for a firearms certificate simply have to… Prove why they want a gun: Be it for agricultural reasons, target shooting at a club, clay …

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Skills Shortage? Don’t Make Us Laugh

Recent debate around a ‘skills shortage’ in Northern Ireland seems to be running in a surreal parallel universe to the actual job adverts those in the local employment market spend so much of their time scouring. Let’s take a closer look at the near-billion pounds hospitality industry as an example of a stated skills shortage area: there’s little evidence to an outside observer that the pay and conditions often offered to hospitality employees represent much better than a ‘bare minimum’ mentality. …

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Islay: NI’s ‘Hidden’ Whisky Island Neighbour

Longread What if someone told you we have a relatively untalked-of, world-renowned island destination, full of stunning views, good food and A LOT of even better drinks, a stone’s throw from NI’s shores? For our recent honeymoon, myself and the newly installed Mrs Johnston took to the globally celebrated, whisky-producing island of Islay. And if your first question is ‘where?’, you’re in for a shock. That’s because it’s just one hour from Ballycastle. One hour. Why have I called it …

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Union vs United Ireland Declared a Draw! What Happens Next?

In these increasingly dramatic, uncertain and downright bizarre political times, one suitably off-the-wall scenario is good fun to imagine: what if London and Dublin stepped in and gave the dysfunctional Stormont 12 months to reach a permanent solution to the constitution and identity debate. Otherwise – sick of policing the NI naughty step – they’d step in with final rulings of their own. So, the parties would be warned that this post-deadline decision by the two governments would – intentionally …

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Let’s stop rearranging the border deckchairs

The distracting haze of our daily media sideshow – such as a severed wheel clamp, Jamie Bryson’s travel plans or a loaf of bread – brings with it the side-effect of obscuring an otherwise glaring point about our political tug-of-war. As sure as a new day brings with it a new ‘issue’ just divisive enough to keep the airwaves full of noise and drama without the effort of digging too deeply, it will also bring more and more material in …

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Did PSNI just change the script?

One standout take-away from the Belfast Telegraph’s ‘BelTelBomber’ piece was an unexpected response from police which cut to the very core of how large organisations deal with the media in two interesting ways. Firstly, a recap: the Belfast Telegraph’s story followed up on the Manchester bombing by sending a reporter to visit local tourist attractions, complete with a backpack, to check if he could do so without any checks. The newspaper’s front page was given over to the piece along …

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20 years on: Will the media outside NI ever catch up?

During the last election (for readers in the future – this means the March 2017 version) a throwaway tweet seemed to catch the eye of local news-nerds. And another variation on the same theme more recently had the same effect. The reason? A look at the headlines on the superb Newshound service for a few days in late March reveals plenty. Firstly, we have a Canadian academic and “supporter of the Irish peace process” who takes a look at the …

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Wrecking-ball Belfast – are we asking the right questions about right now?

The news that Belfast’s Movie House cinema on the Dublin Road could be flattened hasn’t troubled the headline writers too much. We all know how this goes, we’ll have a consultation then a new office block is likely to rise in its place. After all, we’ve asked ourselves the usual questions and for some the answers weren’t in much doubt: the Movie House isn’t particularly old and it definitely isn’t beautiful. So that’s that then. Or is it? There’s an …

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How we’ve reduced our identity to a Google Maps search

A Queen’s University student discovered some alarming home truths when he spent months investigating our addiction to the use of the blanket terms Protestant and Roman Catholic as a catch-all to describe the population of Northern Ireland. Roy Fisher, a print-maker and market trader who carried out the research for his Masters thesis, found that an increasing minority of employees who describe themselves as being of neither religion are still determined as being of one of those faiths due to Equality Legislation. …

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A city in colour: behind the scenes with a street art veteran

You don’t have to think (as I do) that Belfast’s street art puts a priceless, living vein through the heart of our city to be fascinated by how those ‘walls’ happened and where the local scene behind them is going next. Taking Dermot McConaghy as a great example, the established street artist explained how the scene has grown and where we might see the art appearing next. He also talked through the personal journey which brought much-loved pieces like Long …

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Publish or be damned: a party’s (very public) swipe at the Irish News

A brief ‘ICYMI’: an image appeared on Twitter at the end of last week criticising the Irish News over would-be coverage of Palestine the newspaper “chose to ignore”. Posted in the main Sinn Féin account on Thursday 8th, the image was published as a direct Twitter reply to a story the Irish News ran the same day featuring Palestinians voicing concerns over Sinn Féin meetings with Israel’s Likud party. The public broadside throws up some interesting points about the relationship …

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How Twitter is taking us beyond the PSNI’s closed doors

A quick one: over on his own blog a writer who describes himself on Twitter as a PSNI officer has just published a rarely-seen (WARNING – EXTREMELY GRAPHIC) glimpse into what are presented as some of the hardest days of a currently-serving police officer. For many years, Police Service of Northern Ireland social media policy for work social posts and security concerns for personal posts kept this kind of look at life beyond the PR hashtags and taglines to a …

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PSNI in 2016: Some hard choices we now need to make?

The Patten Report of 1999 famously led to the formation of the PSNI through a total of 175 recommendations covering a string of areas from human rights and oversight to – of course – the very name, size and composition of the organisation. With an Oversight Commissioner, Police Ombudsman, new District Policing Partnerships and a central Policing Board (and their associated costs) soon in place, Hugh Orde would often remark that his force had become the most accountable policing body in the …

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A love letter to William Crawley (et al.)

A few months a list written by an American visitor to England, detailing everything he found charming and/ or mysterious about his trip, went viral online. This week, when I stumbled on it again, it had the unexpected effect of causing me to think back to how I have enjoyed 30 years of Atlantic 252, John Peel, John Kelly, Radio Five, Gerry Anderson and, more recently, William Crawley as a near-constant background to everyday life. Why? Because one entry about …

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