In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project

In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project
In Search of My Father, 2017 writing project supported by The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. January 2018, this potential book project is in development.

Friday, 16 March 2018


Our radio alarm goes off at 6.15 every morning. My wife likes to wake up to the news on Radio 4 and I used to like it too. But in recent times, the first words I hear coming over the airwaves are always associated with stories about conflicts, disagreements, threats, warnings, murder, mayhem, crises, various other negative messages and all sorts of things we must worry about. There are studies, surveys, research reports, opinion polls, most of which seem to indicate that we are clinging by a fingernail to the edge of the abyss.

Important subjects are reported and discussed but because of repetition and over-analysis, just about everything is watered down and fatigue sets in and we enter that dangerous mood of apathy.

Trigger words and subjects that make me shut down are, in no particular order, Trump, Brexit, gender, food and drink warnings, boo-hoo celebrities and bitching politicians. There is probably a lot more to add to that list. I'm sick of it all. Now, this may be a plan from the high authority's dark shadows to actually drum negative news and opinion into the nation's head to force us into apathy in order to manipulate us. But whatever, I am sure that gurgling noise I hear is the liquefying of my cerebral cortex.

Enough John Humphry's and all your cohorts. Enough.

My campaign is to convince my wife to jump the Today ship and join me on the far more pleasant morning cruise that is Classic FM, presented by the gently-toned voice of Tim Lihoreau. Okay, there's a few minutes of news every hour but apart from that there is minimum talk and a feast of music to help us march into each new day with positive spirit and an upbeat outlook on life. I shave and shower to great music, banishing the Eeyore misery of rolling current affairs blether.

I know we all need to have some awareness of what is going on in the world. But there's no need for force-feeding, which is what rolling news has become.

Misery out. Music in. It would be a much happier world.

Footnote: On the day I wrote this post, I listened to an old radio programme called The Tingle Factor in which George Melly said, upon waking each morning, he would play Bessie Smith records to start his day. Two records, about seven minutes in total, would be the time he took to get dressed.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


I can't imagine how far I would have travelled on the memoir of my father's disappearance from our family without the support funding from The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The memoir is still in development but, in spite of my impatience, I realise this idea to printed book takes a long, long time.

Some who know this story might be sick of me bleating on about it. But there will be many who haven't a clue.

In summary, in 1960 my father, John Cushnan, left our Belfast home, his wife and seven young children, and pretty much vanished off the face of the earth. The next we heard of him was when we were told he had died at 57 in Clapham, London in 1982. By then, he had reinvented himself and his history as John Kelly from Derry.

I have all sorts of material and clues about his 22 'missing' years and I am on the umpteenth draft of a memoir. It is a frustrating process but also quite gratifying and fulfilling to find out about this man. I am convinced and confident that a book will come - eventually. I have had some sage and sound advice on the manuscript.

The funding has been a godsend, allowing me to travel home to Belfast to research family background and archives, and to travel to London to actually walk in his footsteps, the road to his bedsit, the pub he frequented and the church he may have worshipped in. Orlando Road. The Rose & Crown, St Mary's.

I will be forever grateful for the support, and the belief.

Late last year, I published a slim volume of poems related to the 'Da' project. It was a kind of trailer to the much bigger project but it was probably a premature step pissing off important supporters in my work. Lapwing Publications in Belfast liked the collection, I enjoyed the attention (still do) and Feathers Ruffled was published. It may well have been a step too soon.

I'm not sorry about that but I do regret any damage to a previous supportive relationship.

The work on the memoir continues and not a day goes by without some writing.

The story of my father's vanishing has attracted the attention of some very important and key media contacts: Gail Walker, Editor, Belfast Telegraph; John Toal, BBC Radio Ulster; Michael Bradley, BBC Radio Ulster; Saturday Live, BBC Radio 4. Thank you to all.

I top all of those names, fine people, by thanking Damian Smyth, Head of Literature & Drama, Arts Council of Northern Ireland for encouragement and support beyond my wildest dreams.

It will be forever thus.

The work continues with enthusiasm.

Arts Council and other funding helps the seemingly impossible to inch closer to the possible.

Monday, 12 March 2018


I am blogging this think for the record.

My feature in today's Belfast Telegraph on why my mother is the greatest woman I have ever known.

Here's the link:

Thank you to Gail Walker and the Belfast Telegraph team for running it.

Sunday, 11 March 2018


well look at you
at a beach somewhere
with your mates
but it’s you
the only one looking at the camera
better than a movie star
and get those sunglasses
cool in the forties
was he the camera man
was it him
at what stage
and there’s a snap
of the two of you
acting the lig
you in a flared skirt
white blouse
bobby socks
sensible shoes
him in a jerkin
suit trousers
and bicycle clips
must have been
one of your epic jaunts
out to the coast
and one of you flanked
by two girlfriends
I’m reckoning New Lodge Road
O’Kane’s pub window
one on the left looking stern
you and the other one smiling
there are more pics
many more in my head
a forever gallery
without you and him
I wouldn’t be here

especially without you.

Saturday, 10 March 2018


The demise of the New Musical Express, condensed over the years to NME, brought back memories of weekly anticipation. It was a music paper I devoured and I remember playing the deejay using the printed charts (hit parade) to run them down out loud in a breathless race to cram the top 30 into a minute, like Alan Freeman used to do at the end of Pick of the Pops. When I first started reading the NME it covered a wide variety of music but then it steered itself towards punk and I kinda fell out with it, switching my allegiance to the Melody Maker. The NME was essential reading at one time but, alas, it's time is up.

I was also reminded of the other publications we would get every week. This was in the early 1960s. The girls in our house favoured the Bunty and the boys the Valiant or the Hotspur. We all found common ground with the Beano, the Dandy and the Beezer. I must confess that I had a soft spot for the Bunty. On the outside back cover there was an illustration of a girl (Bunty?) and some skirts and tops to cut out. I enjoyed the fashion and flair of dressing the girl in a selection of outfits. If I used my mother's pinking shears, they gave a distinctive look to the outfits. My sisters and brothers looked on with a variety of facial expressions, obviously in awe of my creativity and imagination. There were no such cut-out features of Desperate Dan or Colonel Blink, sadly.

Our paper bill must have been steep but those weekly publications were valuable in terms of entertainment and, sometimes, education.

Farewell NME, you served us well. And Bunty must be a fair age by now.

Friday, 9 March 2018


And what did you do to act when those times came,
When it was your turn to do something positive for the final appraisal,
The spreadsheet tally of your votes, no votes, spoiled votes
In a lifetime of alternating apathy and activity?
How much was done by leaders in your name,
Transients at large wielding power for a few years,
Permitted to swagger and preach well-spun scripts,
Following hidden agendas without conscience or pity?

How often did you abstain, hold your tongue and allow
Injustice, privilege, snobbery and smug officialdom a free rein
To ride roughshod over the powerless and desperate,
Innocent souls who just wanted a simple life to live?
How much satisfaction did you get with your highbrow
Friends who had all the answers and dug-in heels,
The cruel-to-be-kind set that ignored the sound of weeping
And the sight of red eyes on faces with nothing left to give?

How many outstretched bony hands did you ignore
While you engaged in dinner-party chatter about equality,
About the unfairness of a world of haves and have-nots,
About the new conservatory and latest sports car?
How many times did you feign frustration and angrily roar
At talking heads on television saying a lot of nothing,
The vacuous, the liars, the wily and articulate, the sleazy,
Manifesto pitchers, bandwagon hitchers to an unreachable star?

How much did you cram into your life’s baggage
That you are willing to declare as the truth, the whole truth,
That you are willing to admit to under a sacred oath,
Imperfections that you are ready to confess, revealing the real you?
How can you sum it all up, the experience, the knowledge,
The value of your life and what you added to the world,
From the rocking of your cradle to the lowering of your coffin,
With all the chances you had, what did you actually do?