Houdini, the Teflon Taoiseach and the Polytetrafluoroethylene Prime Minister…

man in black and white shirt painting

So following an apparent pyrrhic victory in the party confidence ballot and notwithstanding the damning conclusions of the long-awaited “FINDINGS OF SECOND PERMANENT SECRETARY’S INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED GATHERINGS ON GOVERNMENT PREMISES DURING COVID RESTRICTIONS” (better known as the Sue Gray report) Boris Johnson lives to fight another day. Partygate is simply the most serious in a long line of scandals which have dogged Johnson over the years. His alleged part in unlawfully promoting the business interests of ex-girlfriend Jennifer Arcuri …

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The untapped tourist potential of Tyrone…

Ulster American Folk Park

Having recovered from being effectively a no-go area for tourists for the best part of three decades Northern Ireland now has much to offer the discerning visitor. Although I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who have never seen Game Of Thrones, the show seems to have worked wonders for the local tourist industry now that places like the Dark Hedges and the Giants Causeway have become popular must-see destinations. There are of course the …

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What’s with the Accent?

Twins

Having lived in England for several years if I had a pound for every time someone on hearing my accent asked me “what part of Scotland are you from?” I’d certainly have a few extra quid in the bank. Now I’d understand this if I spoke with a strong north Antrim accent which clearly has a strong Scottish influence due to both geographical proximity and centuries (if not millennia) of inter-mingling – but I don’t. I then usually try to …

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Rebuilding the human factor…

brothers, boys, affection

Events of the past two years have demonstrated that thanks to modern technology and the increasingly individualistic nature of modern western society it’s now perfectly possible, especially if you live in an urban area to go for days and even weeks on end without any meaningful contact with other human beings. We can do our supermarket shopping online and have the groceries delivered to our door by an anonymous delivery driver on a zero contract. In fact we can now …

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Playing New Games Without Frontiers…

sochi 2014, russia, olympiad

As we’re all too aware in our own small corner of the world, politics and sport can often be a toxic mix. But in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine the combustion of sporting and politico-economic interests was inevitable. George Orwell famously described sport as “war minus the shooting”. The same principle applies today with many governments using it as a propaganda weapon. But one thing which has changed massively since Orwell’s day is the lucrative multi-billion dollar …

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Nostalgia – the double-edged sword…

photos, hands, hold

The nostalgia industry has become something of a lucrative business. There are now entire TV channels dedicated to repeats of old shows where (if you have time on your hands) you can spend all day watching the likes of Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Kojak, Starsky & Hutch or The Sweeney. There are radio stations which only play golden oldies. Ageing rock bands re-form (sometimes with less than half their original line-up) and go on tour thereby cashing in on the …

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Brave New Post Lockdown World: Same Office, Different River? 

despaired, businessman, business

In the early 2000s, TV viewers were invited to see the funny side of the drudgery and monotony of the white-collar workplace. The Office starring Ricky Gervais as David Brent, a deluded manager at a regional branch of paper merchant’s firm  Wernham Hogg cashed in on the then-new trend for reality TV, presenting itself as a fly-on-the-wall “mockumentary” and revelling in the incidents of social awkwardness, gaffes, flirtations, clashes of egos and professional rivalries which permeate workplaces throughout the world. If …

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Haunting Of Queen’s University Halls?

chamber, chair, mirrors

Back in the 1990s when I was a first-year student at Queen’s I lodged in one of the brutalist Soviet-style 1960s tower blocks known as the Elms halls of residence located just off the leafy Malone Road. During the week the area was a hive of activity, a self-contained student village where countless tomfoolery, pranks, romantic liaisons, all-night parties and all kinds of alcohol-fuelled debauchery and hedonism abounded – just as you would expect to find at any university campus …

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Notes from the outer regions…

Having lived in London for over 20 years now I’m always careful not to bring back too much of the local currency when I return from trips home. I’m referring of course to the regional banknotes produced by Danske Bank, Ulster Bank, First Trust and Bank of Ireland. It’s a well-worn rant that most retailers and service providers in GB won’t accept such notes despite the fact that they are sterling and should (in theory) be legal currency (albeit not …

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Freedom to express, but not freedom to incite?

Western liberal democracies pride themselves on the right to freedom of expression. But social media has within the last decade or so had a profound impact on the possibilities of political expression. The suspension of Donald Trump’s access to Twitter, Facebook and now YouTube following the assault on the Capitol on 6th January has opened up a new debate on whether this ban is contrary to the right of free speech. The irony is that Trump’s supporters have accused these …

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Throwing a Scammer in the Works…

I’m sure many of you have received an unsolicited phone call asking about that alleged car crash you were supposedly involved in (or Microsoft (allegedly) telling you you’ve got a bug on your PC that needs fixing) or an email from someone asking you to deposit a large sum of money into your account – or a message purporting to be from your bank, HMRC or Netflix – with numerous spelling and punctuation mistakes, upper and lower case letters in …

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Taking back control of our personal data in a post-Brexit world…

Much has been written and debated about the impact of Brexit on the movement of people and goods. But relatively has been written about the flow of data post-Brexit. “Take back control” was a slogan used by the Leave campaign. But this apparently didn’t include taking back control of one’s own data. Remember the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal – and in a separate case – Leave.EU receiving a £45,000 fine in 2019 from the Information Commissioner for unsolicited marketing? And the …

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The Past Was Certainly A Different Country… But That’s Entertainment

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” (British novelist LP Hartley, 1953) In the months following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, a whole new debate has opened up on how we should perceive the events and actors of the past. History is undoubtedly awash with shameful events. In scenes reminiscent of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s statues of …

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Cycling – One of life’s simple pleasures…

Normally at this time of the year, cycling fever would be in the air with the Giro d’Italia a recent memory (remember the year it started in Belfast?), and that other famous pharmaceutical warehouse on wheels (sorry, bike race) the Tour de France just about to start. This year it’s all different though, but it hasn’t stopped the Middle-Aged Men In Lycra (MAMILs, I believe the modern terminology is) – ie people like myself – from making the most of …

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Is time an illusion?

For most of May with its spectacularly premature good weather, I was in t-shirt and shorts. Then In the first week of June after temperatures plummeted, I suddenly found myself under leaden skies wearing three layers of clothing including a fleece. It’s as if time is going backwards. But, in these crazy days, we’re now living in time has come to a sort a standstill. We’re still getting older of course, but it seems as if every day is the …

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From Banana Republic to Boomtown Rodents and Celtic Tigers…

I watched a recent BBC documentary on the Boomtown Rats (available on iPlayer for the next eleven months) which wasn’t just your average bog-standard rockumentary, but also partly a commentary on how the once socially conservative, deeply religious, unemployment-riven Irish Republic (a country many ambitious young people wanted to leave once they were old enough – Geldof and co included) has changed beyond recognition since the band started plying their trade at the height of the punk scene back in …

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Tiochfaidh ar Laugh – A brief history of Irish comedy…

At times like these when so many of us are simply not amused humour can often be the best medicine… After the ground-breaking Father Ted hit our screens a quarter of a century ago, Irish comedy shows tended to keep a low profile within the wider televisual world. However in recent years we’ve had something of a renaissance, now that three Irish comedies have made their mark on UK TV. The most popular of these shows (purely in ratings terms …

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Shining a light into the darkness of the Covid 19 crisis…

We’re now living in unprecedented times, sailing in uncharted waters, travelling rudderless to an unknown destination.  Now if you had a quid for every time you or heard this sort of thing over the last couple of weeks you’d no doubt be a multi-millionaire several times over.  Ok, slight exaggeration – you’d probably be about £74.50 richer. The weird (or not so weird as the case may be) thing about all this is that for many of us who live …

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