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Friday, 24 October 2014


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Hey doggie,
Not the oak,
No, the other one,
Not the pine,
No, the other one,
Not the cedar,
No, the other one,
Not the elm,
No, the other one,
Not the redwood,
No, the other one,
Not the poplar,
No, the other one,
Not the yew,
No, the other one,
Not the mountain ash,
No, the other one.
Deary, deary, deary me,
You’re barking up the wrong tree.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


This morning, the news that Harry Roberts is to be freed from prison reminded me of the effect his mugshot had on me when I was a wee boy.  The Belfast News Letter published this piece in March 2009.

Tormenting Picture of a Killer
by Joe Cushnan

Harry Roberts

Picture from BBC News website

WE all know that certain smells, sounds and images can stimulate the senses and trigger memories of childhood. You know the sort of thing: mother’s apple tart freshly baked and hot from the oven; frying bacon sizzling and spitting in the pan alongside pork sausages and potato farls; Michael Holliday singing The Runaway Train; the theme from Housewives’ Choice filling the scullery with a soundtrack to the daily chores; and even Pinky and Perky murdering one or two hits of the 1960s – all tiny fragments of nostalgia to bring a smile for the joy of days gone by.

But like most things in life, memory and nostalgia also have a dark side and something happened last week to transport me back to a time when I was 12 years old. I saw a photograph in the newspaper. The accompanying news that a man called Harry Roberts, labelled Britain’s most notorious police killer, could be freed from jail after serving 42 years, jolted me back to some nightmare weeks in 1966 when Roberts was on the run, hiding out in Epping Forest during a massive manhunt. He shot dead two young policemen and was complicit in the shooting of a third constable so, by any accounts, he was a nasty piece of work. He managed to avoid arrest for three months and because he was an evil fugitive his photograph was all over the television news and newspapers. It was this picture that haunted me because, at a young age, I understood the evil in his eyes and the terrible things he would do to me if he turned up at our house looking for a place to hide out. He had a kind of Jack Palance look about him, entirely unpleasant and certainly not the kind of man you would want to get stuck in a lift with for even a nano second. The fact that Epping Forest was hundreds of miles away from Belfast did not ease my concerns that Roberts could be banging on our door at any minute. He was the bogeyman, a real life baddie who, for a time, overtook my fear of banshees, those wispy screechers who, it was said, wailed the nights away in Smicker’s field, a few hundred yards up our back garden. Roberts was in a different league. Banshees were not as frightening – perhaps, maybe, hopefully.

My fear of this man, from the mugshot, was so intense that when my mother asked me to go into the airing cupboard to switch on the hot water I couldn’t do it at first. I had the notion that Harry Roberts, on the loose and with the military skills to be anywhere in any disguise at any time, would emerge from the piles of towels and sheets to grab me by the throat and throttle me before I knew anything about it. My mother would only realise I was missing when she ran a bath and discovered that the water was stone cold. Later, in bed, I would try to erase the picture of Roberts from my head, but it kept returning, kept me from falling asleep quickly and, coupled with the noise of the wind outside, rustling trees, occasional footsteps of passers-by and general creaks and groans from the walls and rafters, it made for a very scary experience. I would wrap myself tightly in bedclothes in the hope that my eiderdown armour would protect me through the night.

I look at the 1966 picture of Harry Roberts in today’s newspaper and it still sends a shiver down my spine but, I kid myself, now that he is 72 years old, that if he came round our way looking for trouble, I could take him and exorcise all those childhood demons. But he won’t and I won’t because I’m not hard enough and, hopefully, neither is he any more. But I still hesitate any time I go to the airing cupboard, for you never know, as you reach for a clean towel, who or what might make a grab for you. But you can do it. Go on, be brave and hum The Runaway Train to give you that little bit more courage. Know what I mean, Harry?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


From Fun With Words, Fun With Rhyme - 2 weather poems:


The howls, the gusts,
The hedgerow sways,
The tree bends,
The honest truth
That nature sends.....
Strong winds and umbrellas
Are not the best of friends.......

......and they're not too fond
Of fence panels either!


Whether or not the weather is nice,
Sunny and hot or cold as ice,
Whether or not the weather is nasty,
Windy and wet and just plain ghastly,
Whether the weather is whatever it is,
We can look out the window and see what we see,
Or we can weather the blether of the weather forecasters, 
blethering about weather on TV.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


On the motorway.....
cars travelling within the law,
cars at speeds to drop a jaw,
dithering drivers slow as hearses,
prompt shaking fists, inaudible curses,
up ahead another pain,
numpty hogging the middle lane,
lorry moves out, no indication,
car horn blares in indignation,
lorry driver not giving a hoot
with a rather dramatic two-finger salute,
white vans opt for the wacky races,
in and out changing places,
in the fast lane, deadly speeds are done
by drivers testing for Formula One,
others on phones chatting away,
eating sandwiches or drinking tay*,
blue lights off to deal with sadness,
fallout from some roadway madness,
it seems that getting from here to there
is something of a danger-dare
for one or two behind the wheel,
pedal to the metal is the only deal.

Some of us are cautious sighers and tutters
justifiably so when you see all the nutters.

*Well, I'm from Northern Ireland and it's my poem!

Friday, 17 October 2014


In the library, fifty years ago.....
in days of olden,
silence was golden,
no subtle tease,
just "quiet please",
that was the rule
and you'd be a fool
to break that rule,
there was nothing cool
about the librarian's wrath,
if you walked the path
of the noisy lout,
you'd be thrown out,
for silence was golden
in days of olden.

In the library, fifty minutes ago.....
in days of gadgets,
operated by fidgets,
hi-tech smart phones,
rock 'n' roll ringtones,
bleeps and chatter,
coffee shop clatter,
gossip and blether
loud as thundery weather,
you forget what peace is
struggling to write your thesis,
try coping with the din
with your earphones in,
pine for days of olden
when silence was golden.

And although most of the library noise is annoying and frightful,
the sound of children enjoying books is really quite delightful.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


A walk in the park today,
looked at what signs say,
dogs on a lead,
some take no heed,
hounds on the loose,
scaring duck and goose,
wanna say "have a care"
but just wouldn't dare,
some owners look tough,
street-fighting rough,
best to stay schtum,
avoid the A&E room,
my nose-bone's intact,
that's a cowardly fact,
rules made to be broken,
no truer word spoken.

I was thinking about penalties,
punishments and fines
as I walked to my car parked
on double-yellow lines.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Every day
we wake up to another scare,
here at home or over there,
destruction, war, disease and death,
NHS on it's dying breath,
sensational, hyped-up rolling news
about fast food and too much booze,
the danger of smoking all those fags,
the Earth under threat from plastic bags,
failing schools, poor exams,
motorways choked by traffic jams,
riots, protests, sit-ins, clashes,
news obsessed with breaking flashes,
celebrities flogging boo-hoo books,
TV obese on bakers and cooks,
tainted banks now trying to be nice
with sugary ads to seduce and entice,
and Lordy how the climate's changed,
the seasons have been rearranged,
the law is indeed an ass
and politicians full of gas,
manifestos overflow with plop,
pledges, promises flip and flop......

it's easy to feel punch-drunk and confused,
as customers and voters we're ever abused,
it's hard to know who to trust
as we carry on to earn our crust.