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In Complete Circles: The Memoirs & Travels of an Ageing Schoolboy…

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Memoirs Part V: A Bird in the Hand

Peri - the joys of being a young Dr Who fan in the mid-80s

[“Bushmen of the Kalahari”][/caption]

It wasn't just Zammo...

“Places to avoid include almost all of Co Tyrone, which has so many non-descript, grim one-horse towns you can hear the collective hooves clop from across the border in Donegal. I have found next to nothing to see or visit in that county”

Henry McDonald, the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent

Henry McDonald, Tyrone’s version of Salman Rushdie will probably have no interest in the fact that I grew up in the largest of these grim one-horse towns.

It was the early autumn of 1986. For the first time in their history Tyrone were in the All Ireland final against the mighty Kerry. There was much excitement, and the school could claim a few past pupils among the Tyrone players. That summer I’d spent three weeks in Donegal at an Irish language college, supposedly learning the niceties of the Irish language. I shared a room with three chancers from Greencastle and Carrickmore called Bradley, Teague and Hughes. It was a rite of passage for many Irish schoolchildren. The place was called Machaire Rabartaigh (or Magheroarty) on the rugged north-west coast of the county with a view of Tory Island – the island whose name bizarrely became the alternative moniker for the British Conservative party – in the distance.
How ironic that the political party of the British establishment, a club of Old Etonians and aristocrats should be named after a windswept treeless island off Ireland’s rugged Atlantic north coast.

One of the big chart hits that year was the anti-drugs song “Just Say No” by the cast of the then popular TV series set in a London secondary school Grange Hill. You can see the video here.

I watched it for the first time in over 20 years and found it to be so embarrassingly cringeworthy – the hairstyles, the clothes, the music – it was almost painful to look at. At least it was all for a good cause.

One of the leading characters Zammo had become a heroin addict, a storyline devised to discourage young people from going down that route.
I even got to meet the boy who played Zammo and his screen girlfriend Jackie when they visited the local leisure centre as part of the town’s annual arts festival. I was the proud owner of another celebrity autograph to add the collection alongside that of former Dr Whos Peter Davison and the late Jon Pertwee as well as that of international footballer Pat Jennings.
There was even a boy at school nicknamed Zammo in honour of the character. I don’t know what became of him, but I’m sure he didn’t follow in the footsteps of his Grange Hill namesake.

The Dr Who Years
A small group of us ran a Doctor Who fan club – or appreciation society as we preferred to call it – chiefly organised by an older boy called Mark Doherty, a martial arts enthusiast, and an amateur photographer/film-maker, who in a few years time would go on to forge a successful reputation as “DJ Marco” on the local disco and hospital radio circuit . His highly original nickname was “Doc” – as was the case with virtually every other boy at the school called Doherty – and there were quite a few. Nicknames, not surprisingly followed a general pattern you see. If your name was Murphy, you’d be known as Smurf. If your name was Brian O’Donnell you’d be called Bod. If your name was Seamus O’Connor you’d be referred to as Soc and so on. But most nicknames simply just involved adding a Y or an O to the individuals’ surname . Another club member was a more anarchic lad in the same year as Doc called Brendan Bankfield, whose highly imaginative nickname was Fieldy. He had an explosion of upstanding hair and was studying art, drawing inspiration from the morbid, gothic imagery of heavy metal album covers. He showed us one of his masterpieces. As homework the art teacher had set the class an assignment entitled “Back to school – an environmental study”. Fieldy’s interpretation of the theme was a boy in school uniform hanging by the neck from a tree, with his tie as the noose.

Our club meetings were held Friday afternoons after classes had ended in the school lecture theatre. We would watch old Doctor Who episodes of very dodgy quality. These generally came from friend of a friend of a friend an uncle of a colleague of a friend of a “contact” who knew someone who worked in the BBC archives department and had smuggled out illegally copied videotapes of old episodes . So what we were watching was effectively a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy (etc) on videotape. These were the days before digital recording technology, DVDs and downloads. Or alternatively if you had penfriends in Australia which was several years behind in the episode schedules they could send you tapes.
We would have debates on who the best Doctor was, quizzes where we would impress each other with knowing who the second boom microphone operator on Terror of the Zogdats broadcast on the 12th of March 1967 was. We were basically a bunch of nerdy 13-year olds who attracted much derision from our classmates.

It should be noted that Doctor Who was not the big budget, highly popular and successful phenomena it is now. Back then the original series was dying a slow painful death and was considered very uncool. But part of me enjoyed being on the receiving end of the derision. Part of me revelled in the nerd tag. I felt I was part of an elite minority. It would take a few more years to realise how deluded I’d been.

It wasn’t the sort of hobby you would hope to meet girls through.

However, one of the main attractions of Doctor Who from an adolescent male point of view is the high quality of the lead character’s young female assistants. The girl in the role back then was certainly no exception. She was a whiney American called Peri who often wore low cut tops exposing ample amounts of cleavage. A cynical ploy on the part of the production team to boost the already flagging ratings of washed-up TV show in terminal decline no doubt – but we weren’t complaining.

One particular teacher, TJ O’Loughlin took an interest in our club. He would occasionally pop his head around the door to lend us some moral support, impressed that we were doing this through our own intiative and without any outside interference. But he would deliberately keep his distance so as not to be seen to be interfering.
He was one of the last of a dying breed, the genuinely eccentric teacher. I suppose every grammar school must have had one or two of them back in the day. Something of a renaissance man, he ran the school chess club, worked as a part time attendant at the local swimming pool and was an occasional actor with the town’s drama society.

He once challenged the whole class to a bet about cannibal chickens – which he won and pocketed his winnings.
He was a regular visitor to Eastern Europe in the days of the Iron Curtain and one of his claims to fame was that he was one of only two men in the town who could speak Polish. Since the expansion of the European Union and the movement of labour from east to west I’m sure the town has at least a few dozen Polish speakers these days.

Since retiring from teaching he’s become a prominent spokesman for minority rights. An interesting career move to say the least.

Such was his influence on a generation of pupils that the former head boy Sean Daly at the 1993 prize-giving night paid tribute to “our swimming French teacher who has since followed in a different dimension”.

At this time one of the popular playground games was the rather sadistic and violent “killerball”, a variation on the less harmful game of handball. About 20 boys would stand beside the wall of the school. A small rubber ball would be thrown against the wall with great force. If it hit you on the rebound you would get a kicking. It was the element of living dangerously that appealed, something that many of us would get addicted to over the coming years. But that’s another story altogether…

Life is cruel – get over it!

The GAA comes to Paris

It would be churlish of me to use the old cliché “it’s only a game”, but to quote a popular expression “shit happens”.  OK, I was disappointed with the outcome (more for the supporters than the players though, who always have their big mansions, Porsches and trophy wives to go back to) , but wouldn’t go so far as to say gutted.  We all know that on occasion no matter how hard we try we don’t always get what we want.  A great a many things in life aren’t fair and this is simply one of them. 

What those who demand a replay fail to acknowledge is that even if the goal had been disallowed, France probably would have won on penalties anyway.  And if Ireland had taken their chances properly they would have won.  As Twenty Major points out:

I mean, did FIFA fix it for Kevin Doyle to miss a great chance with a header? Did FIFA fix it for John O’Shea to be found free at the back post only to hoof the ball over the bar like a GAA player? Did FIFA fix it for Damien Duff to be clean through on goal only to miss a great chance? And did FIFA fix it for Robbie Keane to be one on one with the keeper only to fuck it up by trying to be too clever?

And as someone on Slugger O’Toole pointed out, England won the World Cup in 1966 by a wrong decision when the ball clearly hadn’t crossed the line, but got their comeuppance 20 years later with the infamous Maradona “hand of God” goal.  What goes around comes around.

If it’s any consiolation, it was an achievement in itself for a bunch of journeymen from Hull, Preston and Wolves to take a team of Champions League players to the wire.  Yes it was unjust, scandalous and all the rest. 

But  that’s football.

That’s life. 

Welcome to the real world. 

Get over it.

Tyrone Manager Harte blamed for global economic woes


The World Bank with the support of the G8 leaders has sent a stern letter to the secretary of the Tyrone GAA County Board blaming manager Mickey Harte for the current global recession.

“The economic downturn is all due to the actions of one man, Mr Michael Harte of Glencull” said Brad J. Hackenbacker Jnr III, chairman of the Wunch of Bankers Association of America.

President Obama has called on Mr Harte to come clean about his misdemaeanours. “He might be a great manager and an inspiration to his team” said the president, “and I congratulate him on his recent All-Ireland and Ulster successes, but that doesn’t absolve him of the blame for our dire financial situation, which he must be held to account for.”

Piet Van Aardvark, managing director of Net Blankes, a South African company specialising in the distribution of washing machines, cookers, fridges and other white goods which recently went into liquidation slammed Mickey Harte for his irresponsible actions. However others claim that the poor quality of Van Aardvark’s goods was to blame for the company’s downfall. In the 1980s the washing machines supplied by the company were unable to wash coloured garments as the dyes used were likely to cause internal damage to the machines. To this effect each product came with a “whites only – no coloureds” warning notice, which was wrongly interpreted as a racist slogan. Cyril Mbsekwe, chairman of the Associated Consumers Network (ANC) dismissed Van Aardvark as an incompetent businessman and a publicity-seeking fantasist who simply wanted to blame Harte for his own mistakes as he was a disgruntled Armagh supporter from the Orange Free State.

Van Aardvark has since set up a new company called Afri-Kans a continent-wide distributor of aluminium drinks containers. “If we went into liquidation this time I would consider that a very bad pun”, he was quoted as saying yesterday.

The CIA has issued an arrest warrant on the Tyrone boss, but said it would also like to question the Dutch entrepreneur Mikey H’Aart, president of the Global Assets Association (GAA) headquartered in Tyrone, Pennsylvania. H’Aart, a wildlife conservation enthusiast has a number of failed business projects behind him. In 2005, he lost millions of dollars after the construction of a sanctuary for endangered frog species called Croak Park went way over budget.

Mickey Harte was approached by a scrum of reporters and photographers from the international media while attending a fundraising event at Drumquin community centre, but denied any liability for the global recession.

Eoghan Harris makes another “balls-up”

Talking out of his Harris

Talking out of his Harris

I’m not a regular reader of the sensationalist fascist rag known as the Sunday Independent (the Irish paper that is – not to be confused with the English Independent on Sunday which is almost at the opposite end of the spectrum even though they share a common owner).  However one of my local pubs has complimentary copies – useful if the toilets run out of paper.  Anyway I was in one particular establishment watching Tyrone beat Armagh in the Ulster Championship.   I will concede that its GAA coverage is good – rather ironic considering that certain columnists on other pages have an aversion to the association and view it in a similar way to which the Ku Klux Klan view people of dark skin pigmentation.

One particular columnist Eoghan Harris churns out the usual bullshit.  I don’t pay much attention to what he says as it’s mostly arrogant, self-opinionated bollocks anyway, but if it’s factually inaccurate it’s worth noting.   He’s been called many things over the years by other bloggers, such as Infactah, Cedar Lounge, Maman Poulet, Green Ink, Associate Notes, Tangents  and Adam Maguire – most of them fairly accurate. 

In the wake of the Ryan Report detailing cases of abuse of children in the care of various institutions of the Irish Catholic church, Harris touches on Fianna Fáil’s (at worst) alleged complicity with the church or at best its failure to come down on the church harshly enough.  He cites a story from the 1950s which would seem to contradict this notion.  A certain bishop had urged football supporters to boycott a match between the Republic of Ireland and Yugoslavia because of a cardinal imprisoned by Tito for alledgedlt being a wartime collaborator.  It seems however that the cute hoors of the Soldiers of Destiny went against the bishop’s wishes:

“far from bowing to the archbishop, the prominent Fianna Fail shadow minister Oscar Traynor threw in the ball to start the match at Dalymount Park on October 19, 1955”

Although Eoghan obviously likes his detail right down to the exact date of the match, this couldn’t possibly have happened, as he makes a glaringly obvious error.  It looks like he’s getting his ball games mixed up.  As any schoolboy knows soccer matches start with a kick-off, not a throw-in.  At the start of Gaelic football matches the ball is of course “thrown in” by the referee. However I’m pretty sure there were no GAA teams in Tito’s Yugoslavia. 

So not for the first time Harris is (quite literally!) talking balls. I’ve written a letter to the editor pointing this out (albeit in a more subtle and diplomatic manner), but won’t be holding my breath regarding publication next Sunday.

Kingdom gets revenge as Red Hands catch the wrong balls

Ryan McMenamin lectures Marc O Sé on the complexities on the credit crunch and recommends a shave

Ryan McMenamin lectures Marc O Sé on the complexities on the credit crunch and recommends a shave

It’s not often I get to see Tyrone play live in the flesh, due to being in London most of the time.  However, this weekend I got to watch a now mostly clean-shaven team do battle against Kerry at Healy Park, Omagh – rather than my usual match-watching haunts of the Erris, Toolans or the Wishing Well in NorthFinchley. 

Suffice to say the better team won.  Kerry took their chances, while Tyrone caught all the wrong balls. 

On one particular occasion quite literally.

Maybe getting rid of the beards wasn’t such a good idea.

Violent Thug Noel McGinn gets just desserts

I was disgusted to hear of the appalling violence which marred the Tyrone county GAA football final,i n which Dromore manager (and former Tyrone player) Noel McGinn was caught on camera head-butting a Clonoe player. However, in a way thought I also felt somewhat vindicated by the (in my opinion lenient) 72-week ban handed out to McGinn – for more personal reasons.

McGinn was a teacher in my primary school back in the 1980s. As a county player at the time, he had a real chip on his shoulder and thought he was the dog’s bollocks. On one occasion I got involved in a fight with a boy from McGinn’s class. I say “fight”, but in reality very little happened. Nevertheless I was summoned to McGinn’s classroom and interrogated on what had happened. I told the truth, but he refused to believe me and suspected that I was guilty of something more serious. This was a few years before corporal punishment in schools was banned. I received 5 hard slaps on each hand with a solid wooden ruler and (although I’m generally not one to bear grudges ) I’ve had it in for this vicious bullyboy thug ever since.

McGinn’s actions in the classroom mirrored his actions on the field of play. In his playing days he was certainly no saint. As a middle-aged manager it seems he hasn’t learnt much since then. Headbutting an opposing player was not only a deplorable act of gratuitous violence, it was also an incredibly stupid thing to do considering there were TV cameras present. But stupidity and McGinn go well together. I commend the Tyrone County Board for acting swiftly in handing out the ban, but McGinn was lucky not to receive a life ban. People like McGinn give Tyrone GAA a bad name. There should be no place in the association for violent thugs like him.

Red Hands Drub Dubs as Ronnie Drew his last breath

It’s been a sad weekend for Dubliners in both the sporting an musical arenas.  In a bizarre twist of fate I found myself celebrating the former and mourning the latter. 

Ronnie Drew RIP, one of the world's great Dubliners
Ronnie Drew RIP

The passing away of Ronnie Drew, former frontman with the Dubliners and celebrated wit, raconteur and all-round colourful character will be greatly mourned the world over.   Drew and his bearded cohorts broke the mould in successfully demolishing the homespun squeaky clean aran sweater-wearing image of folk music with their anarchic brand of bawdy, anti-estabishment music and tongue-in-cheek piss-take of revered and formerly untouchable Irish institutions.

The proliferation of beards among the Tyrone players starting a new trend for facial hair was almost as if they were paying tribute to Ronnie by way of apologising for the demolition of his native county in the All Ireland quarter final.  Written off before the game as a spent force, Tyrone defied the critics in style by producing an inspirational performance.

One shot the Dublin goalie couldn’t shave: It’s back to the drawing beard for the Dubs as Tyrone and Omagh’s Joe McMahon celebrates his razor-sharp skills after scoring a spectacular goal.

GAA and the People’s Republic of Finchley

Maggie Thatcher once famously said that Northern Ireland was British as her constituency, Finchley.  In cerain parts of Northern Ireland, especially in July, you’ll certainly see more British flags per square mile than in the said North London suburb.  Finchley, like many other parts of London has become something of a cultural melting pot.  If you walk its streets, you’ll find grocery stores run by Poles, Iranians and Indians, Turkish, Indian, Chinese,Thai and Japanese restaurants, ads in shop windows or in the local papers for Polish plumbers and various “massage services” provided by foreign girls.  Never mind the illegal trafficking and enforced slavery of young women of course  – as long as there’s a loophole in the law to be found and money to be made.

And like almost anywhere else in North London, you’ll also find Irish pubs.  This raises the more pertinent question – is Northern Ireland as Irish as Finchley?  The discerning GAA enthusiast who finds himself stranded in Finchley on a hot summer’s weekend of Championship action is somewhat spoiled for choice as to where he can watch the match.  Being the culchie redneck bogtrotter from Tyrone that I am, I was naturally keen to watch the red hands do battle against Mayo for a place in the All-Ireland quarter finals.  The highest concentration of Hibernianised watering holes to be found in the area is on North Finchley’s main street.  O’Neills doesn’t really count as it caters more for the plastic paddy than the genuine article.  Of the remaining three, The Wishing Well was experiencing a technical fault, The Erris (bizarrely for a Mayo-owned establishment) deferred in favour of the racing – which left Toolans.   It was a hard-fought battle with many a near-miss and a few scrappy incidents – but I managed to get served in the end.

Red Hands on the Up; Exiles continue downward spiral

I was glad to see Tyrone back in contention with a hard-fought win over Donegal after a shaky start to their National League campaign. The rest of Ulster will no doubt feel the opposite way. Being a Tyrone Gaelic football supporter is like being a Millwall supporter in some ways – it’s a sort of “no-one likes us, we don’t care” situation. In this sense victory is all the sweeter – there’s the satisfaction of seeing your team win as well as your rivals being pissed off.

Things aren’t so good for London though, after a comprehensive defeat to Antrim. London’s particiption in the league has been controversial for several years, with many being of the opinion that it’s a waste of time and money, particularly when the resources could be better spent on developing the games at youth level or directed at some of the cash-starved clubs in the English capital. I would concur. It’s equivalent to Leyton Orient playing in the Premiership. No disrespect to London but they just can’t compete on any serious level in the league. With a healthy club scene in the city, and my own club North London Shamrocks about to embark on the local league at intermediate level, the empahsis should be on developing the clubs, particularly at under-age level – not the county side who sholdn’t have to go through ritual humiliation every other weekend.