Friday, May 28, 2010

Have I Got News for You

I heard on HIGNFY last night that once again Mazher Mahmood struck gold when disguising himself as a wealthy sheikh with his latest dupe being Fergie Duchess of York. Those of you who have followed Mazza’s career might think that men disguised as Arabs is a modern phenomenon but of course as we older hands know even this particular branch of cross dressing has its own fascinating history. Those who have donned the disguise include such luminaries as Sir Richard Burton who made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and of course Lawrence of Arabia. At the other end of the heroic scale Articles brings you the following tale.

Before my time at school, thankfully, it was the custom for Jesuit teachers to listen to a reading from an inspirational or instructional book whilst having their tea. On one occasion the reluctant pressed youth was reading from a published work by one of the above luminaries. No it was not that book, but “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. The schoolboy came to the word “sheikh” and pronounced it “sheek”. One of the Jays cleared his throat and spelled out “s-h-e-i-k-h as in shake”. The youngster continued and again came to the word sheikh, this time pronouncing it “shike”. Another of the assembled said “shake, boy, shake” to murmured laughter. Our hero - as he was to become - continued and again came to the word this time spelling it out quickly and inventing an asterisk adding “Gentlemen the footnote reads ‘The word s-h-e-i-k-h can be pronounced sheek, shike, or shake’ ” and calmly continued reading, without further interruption.

Be warned dear readers, especially teachers, parading your scholarship is a risky game, and remember, dear readers, especially duchesses, sheikhs might not be what they appear to be.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

The question arises who is the more stupid

On the radio, I heard Professor Dawkin’s contribution to a debate concerning a local politician’s aim to introduce creationism to the Museum of Ulster. I heard it because I was at home listening in between helping my son with his GCSE science revision. I listened with a wry smile. I will resist the temptation of lampooning free Nelson  McCausland because there are a couple of serious points to be made and neither at the expense of  Mr McCausland.

Here am I a man in my mid fifties who is regarded as very well educated. I recently picked up my son’s science texts. I have to say I was appalled at my ignorance and it was as much a revelation to me as revision for him. Yet I am an educated man.  I went to a grammar school and university; I read popular science books including those belonging to Dawkins; I take an interest in current affairs including global warming, nuclear energy , dwindling resources etc. But having read my son’s texts on biology, physics and chemistry respectively I now realise I know fuck all about basic science. How can this be?

Both you and I know the answer and I shall move on. Furthermore I have been blessed with two bright , well adjusted and decent children who are highly creative but their home environment means that they will choose the arts, when in fact they are more than capable of a career in either arts or sciences, if such a crude binary categorisation still exists.

So the real point is this. Dawkins can continue to take shots at the creationists but  they are too easy a target. He can continue to write popular science which will inform, be bought by people such as me and make us all science lite. I could for example, thanks in part to Dawkins and other popular science writers, write a sentence as follows. “Creationism is nothing less than the black hole of contemporary thinking, a repository of endless negative energy which offers nothing, only sucks in the stupid, whose sole battle cry is “God did it in six days” whatever the science says.”

But what Dawkins et al really need to be doing is shaming the likes of me for thinking of ourselves as educated, for failing to encourage scientific appreciation in our youngsters, for being so scientifically ill informed in comparison to our 17th, 18th and 19th century forebears. Such a challenge might prove to be a much more difficult but rewarding target for Dawkins and for the country.

As my Jesuit teacher used to say “Atheism is just another belief system.” So, professor, don’t get sucked into the black hole of creationism. Forget the stupid and politically motivated, aim for the scientifically ignorant who think they are scientifically literate thanks to science lite.

Until I pass a science paper set by my son I shall now consider myself poorly educated and science lite. The question arises who is the more stupid , the creationist who denies science, or the arts /social science graduate who fails to fully educate his or herself.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

How a man from the Shankill won the World Cup for England in 1966 [The Thirty Nine Steps retold].

I have the honour of acting as legal representative and archivist to one Willie Smith of the Shankill Road who died recently after an eventful life. Among his papers is one in which he confesses to being responsible for England winning the football World Cup in 1966.

 “ As the hour of my death approaches, I have no fear. My affairs are settled and my conscience is clear, save in one matter which I will now confess, with you reader as my witness. ” Willie Smith, Shankhill Road

“ It all started when my long forgotten English cousin picked up a John Buchan novel, slipped and banged his head, and it ended a year later at the World Cup Final in 1966. In between times my cousin was stiff upper lipped Dick Hannay ever alert to conspiracy and betrayal of the motherland. If I tell you also that, by his own account Hannay had escaped, injured and bloody, from imprisonment by a man with a pencil moustache and a Germanic accent you will know that when he knocked on my door on the Shankhill that summer's evening he was already seriously delusional. Gradually as my alcohol and my painkillers kicked in, and in between glances out the window, he let slip the whole story from the very beginning.

How at an early age Brockwurst, Pieters, and von Mooren moved from communist East Germany to West Ham United, how they became Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Bobby Moore, and how they progressed from the youth team, incidentally always leading the communal singing, to full England internationals. By far the most dangerous of the three was the blonde, blue eyed and brainwashed von Mooren who was a trained assassin primed to be triggered at a crucial moment.

Well …my astonishment was matched only by concern for my cousin's welfare …but more detail was to follow.

Seemingly, accordingly to Hannay, the three footballers were controlled by a mysterious figure located in the Scottish Highlands known as Angus McHilter. Incredibly my cousin had managed to steal a manuscript entitled “Och ma stroogle” which gave brief biographical details, and more importantly, particulars of a fiendish plot. In sum, forced by circumstances to live in exile, in what McHilter considered a backward country, where music had not progressed beyond the 15 th century, and where men wore skirts and not manly lederhosen, it was McHilter's plan to avenge the humiliations suffered by his beloved Fatherland and to regain his personal honour. What better than to humiliate the England football team at Wembley by ensuring England lost all their games and to assassinate Her Majesty the Queen. The only outstanding question was how and when this foul murder was to occur. The only clue was the recurring phrase in the manuscript “The thirty nine steps”.

Well my astonishment was now matched only by my concern for my own welfare. Here was a man, my cousin no less, who at the very least was clearly paranoid delusional. And I admit I wanted to talk to someone about him, preferably someone wearing a white coat. My fear subsided temporarily as my cousin lapsed into a drug and alcohol fuelled oblivion. I took stock. Forget my cousin. Here, to all intents and purposes was Richard Hannay, a man of absolute moral certainty who had discovered a conspiracy and had set out single handed to frustrate the fiendish plot and there was me…….. cousin Willie Smith.

I, wanting to find out more about the World Cup, went out and bought a football magazine in addition to my usual Belfast Telegraph . I needn't have incurred the extra expenditure. There staring out from the front page of the Tele was a picture of myself without moustache without spectacles, but according to the caption it was Bobby Moore. Thus on that fateful day I learned that I with the habitual sick note for games, the champion school duffer, could be an exact double of the England captain - the world's greatest football defender.

I had to think quickly. Nothing. I tried thinking slowly. Still nothing. I reflected. Was it my problem, our problem or his problem? My cousin began to show signs of awakening and it came to me in a flash. It was his problem; let him worry about it, and I hid in the bathroom and waited. I glimpsed myself in the mirror but there was no trace of shame. I became curious however and removed my spectacles and lathered my face with a shaving brush, and slowly ever so slowly, shaved off my waxed moustache. Ever so slowly I became Bobby Moore.

Too late I realised what a damn fool I was! This placed me in even greater danger. In addition to Bobby Moore I was now Von Mooren, enemy of the state, part of the conspiracy, and alone in a flat with Dick Hannay. Now it was my problem.I had to think. I thought better of it and decided to improvise. I left the bathroom, entered the sitting room and held out my right hand. I have never ever forgotten the ensuing conversation as I gradually warmed to the task of entering and controlling his world.
“I congratulate you, Hannay, you are a formidable opponent. Nothing in my training prepared me for your English bulldog spirit; you are truly indefatigable. To survive.. to escape… to evade capture… was incredible enough but to post your cousin with the secret of the thirty nine steps together with a ticket on the QEII to New York was nothing less than a masterstroke. Indeed we are all at sea , and I must assume that the authorities have been forewarned. I can do no other. Take my hand Hannay, it's over, you've won”.

The pause was short but significant. He had accepted my new persona.

“What are you doing here Von Mooren? How do I know this is not a trick?”

“Because you are alive Hannay. Think man. You are alive because you are no longer a threat to my plans that, sadly, are now in ruins. In choosing to run with the hare your brave Shankhill cousin escaped a very painful death, spared your life and saved your Queen. You're men after my own heart, Hannay. What is it that they teach you on the playing fields of England and Ulster that they cannot teach us in Prussia ?”

Hannay took a step back, assimilated the information about his cousin and at last said, “I'll not shake your hand Von Mooren but tell me this, what will happen to you?”

I thought quickly again. “Nothing, both sides pretend none of this ever happened and start again. Already we have new orders.”

“And they are?”

Growing more confident I found myself saying. “Why to win the tournament, climb all those steps and collect the World Cup for England of course. What could be more proof that this never happened?”

“Very clever. One last thing Von Mooren, should you triumph and climb those steps, ah yes, those thirty nine steps , make sure you wipe your dirty Bosch hands before greeting Her Majesty…because I'll be watching you. One false move and you….”

I interrupted. “Don't worry remember she is my Queen too, she is of the House Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. One day the Fatherland and the Motherland will be united. Until that day we will continue to meet on and off the field. I promise you that you will not always win. Enough. Goodbye for now Hannay”.

The accumulated knowledge that his provincial Ulster cousin, Willie Smith, had saved his life and more importantly Her Majesty's, that the riddle of the thirty nine steps was so simple, and that seed of doubt about his beloved royal family was too much and my cousin hyper-ventilated, stumbled and fell to the floor - hitting his head once again. Quickly I put the recently purchased Charles Buchan Football Monthly in his hand and offered up a silent prayer. By the grace of God when he awoke he was no longer Dick Hannay.

And now looking back after all these years I wonder. What if my cousin hadn't come to my door? What if he hadn't revealed his delusions? Would he have taken it upon himself to eliminate Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst in the belief that they were the German assassins Von Mooren, Pieters, and Brockwurst. What if I hadn't confronted his demons? Would England have won the World Cup? What if, what if, what if…

All I can say definitely… is that for a brief time my cousin had the motive, the means, and most importantly, when he returned to his job as the England team barber, the opportunity.

“They think it's all over”. It very nearly was before it even began. Without me, Willie Smith from the Shankhill Road, England would never have won the 1966 World Cup and we in Northern Ireland would never have had the World Cup rammed down our throat by the English media ever since. I beg forgiveness from the Almighty. ”

Willie Smith

Signed in the presence of his solicitor.


Sunday, May 09, 2010



Stephen Nolan: Welcome to the new game show “ It’s Childs’ play” where two teams of PRIMARY SCHOOL PUPILS are asked to plan a project. The PRIMARY SCHOOL PUPILS are given an opportunity to ask questions and are then asked to identify the key factors which will ensure success. The teams reveal their conclusions and if they match the factors revealed by “Mr Oh! No!” they are awarded points. The more points they score, the more prizes they win for their school.


Stephen Nolan: Quite simply we present two teams of PRIMARY SCHOOL PUPILS with a real life situation and say “You’re in charge, you’re the adults TAKE IT AWAY ……….…..”

Stephen Nolan: Introduces team 1 Reginald, David, and Basil and team 2 Peter, Nigel and Arlene. Now team 1 won the toss and go first.

Stephen Nolan: So, you are the parents of a family who are going on holiday for the first time. You have one minute to ask me any question you like before we plan the project. What would you like to ask me? TAKE IT AWAY.

Reginald: How will we get there?
Stephen Nolan: Entirely up to you

David: How many kids have we got
Stephen Nolan: Lets say three, one of each, a boy, a girl and a baby

Basil: What time of year is it?
Stephen Nolan: “Summertime, when the living is easy….”

David: Can we afford the holiday
Stephen Nolan: Yes, all paid for in advance

Reginald: When can we go?
Stephen Nolan: Right now, Time’s up. On to the next stage


Stephen Nolan: My question is quite simply “what should you take into account to increase the chances of a happy and carefree holiday?” But first choose one of the following categories. The categories are: 1 Before you leave; 2 Transport; 3 Documentation and 4 Destination.

Reginald: Category 1 please

Stephen Nolan: So Team 1 have chosen “Before you leave” You have one minute to plan.


Stephen Nolan: OK time’s up. What have you got for me, team 1 on category 1.

Reginald: Well, we have to pack, pack everything we need. We have to turn off the lights, turn off the telly, turn off everything, close all the windows, tell the neighbours.

Stephen Nolan: Any more?

Basil : Have to remember to cancel the papers and the milk.

Stephen Nolan: Any more? MiaaaaaaaooooooW

David: Oh yes, put the cat and dog in the kennels

Stephen Nolan: OK time’s up and let’s hand over to Mr Oh!No!

Mr Oh!No!: Well I think they had that pretty well covered there apart from poor puss and Team 1 was on the right lines in that they wanted to take with them what was necessary for their holiday and wanted to ensure what they left behind was there when they came back.


Mr Oh!No!: But Oh!No! there’s one big flaw! There’s something fundamental missing

Stephen Nolan: Over to you Team 2. Can you supply the missing link?

Peter: They don’t know where they’re going. If they have no strategy and don’t know where they’re going, how can they pack the right clothes, take sun block or brollies, book a plane or a train. It’s fundamental.

Stephen Nolan: What do you think Mr Oh!No!

Mr Oh!No!: Quite right and so its three points to Team 1 but five points to Team 2.

Stephen Nolan: Right now we’ll take a break and be back in a couple of moments with “IT’S CHILDS’ PLAY”, the brand new game show for PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN.