Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Legend of St Ernan's Blues



When I completed work on the first Inspector Starrett mystery  – The Dust of Death – I immediately (quite literally the following morning) started writing the 2nd in the series - Family Life. Although I had the idea for the three books right from the get go, I didn’t start work on the 3rd title for several years. Starrett is a very enjoyable character to write but I had to wait for the right time in order to make it work. Time had to pass on and off the page; things had to happen, things which I had no say in, but yet, things I had to pay attention to. On top of which, in the meantime I had other writing pleasures to attend to.  Like the Castlemartin stories, the 10th Kennedy and the 1st McCusker.  

I had the opening scene of the 3rd Starrett in my mind's eye for ages.  A young novice priest would be found slumped over in a chair while a pot of potatoes still boiled on the nearby stove. There wouldn't be any noticeable marks about his body that pointed to the reason for his demise. Starrett and his team would be called in to investigate. There was a wee bit of an Agatha Christie vibe to it, although maybe the original title - with a nod to Paul Simon's beautiful lyric - Hello Darkness My Old Friend, was a bigger clue to my themes.  I did like the Agatha Christie approach where she would have the majority of the suspects in the one space; you know, like a train, or a boat or a library. I thought my mystery would be better suited to a retirement home for priests. I took time out from writing and spent quite a bit of time "getting to know" the 11 members of clergy, working out their backstory, their foibles, if you will, and making them individuals.

Now I needed a house, a believable house.  
I’m always discovering that fact is stranger than fiction - much stranger - that real locations are always infinitely more interesting than fictional ones. Take for instance the case in point: St Ernan’s House on St Ernan’s Island, located a stone’s throw from Donegal Town.  I was intrigued by the island and the house from the first time I encountered them.  I believe Catherine and I may have stayed in the house when it was a guest house, and I admit that might even have been my imagination.  But either way, bit by bit, I discovered the history of the Island. The story about how the causeway was built is true; the fireplace coming from the burnt out Eske Castle and the original antique pen nibs addressed to then owner, John Hamilton, being found in the house, are both true and have been included in attempts to try and make fiction read as fact. The four master writers that Starrett discovers amongst the St Ernan’s residents in the house are nods back to the original 4 master writers who were based in the nearby Donegal Town Castle and endeavouring to write the history of Ireland.

Now I had my house, a lone house on a small island, an island, and I also had my title: St Ernan's Blues. 

When I was doing research for St Ernan’s Blues I was intrigued by both the house and the island. I tried several times to fix up a visit to go and examine the Island and, if I was very lucky, the house.  The owner was very polite; the times weren’t convenient, “maybe check in again in a few months,” he said. I did and (equally politely) a few more times after that. Eventually he agreed I could come over and Catherine dropped me off by the front door and she and her father Gerry and our two nephews, Oisin and Darragh, went off for a drive around the grid lock that is Donegal Town, promising to return to pick me up. The owner was very generous with his time and showed me around the wonderful historic house.  I was always conscious I was encroaching on his time and tried really hard to do the swiftest version of the tour, while keeping my wish for an investigative walk around the island to myself. Don’t get me wrong, the owner was at all times very hospitable, but I believe by the time Catherine returned to pick me up, his sigh of relief was definitely visible.  He walked me out to the car and as we were saying our goodbyes, he though he recognised someone in the car. 

“Is that Gerry McGinley?” he asked.

“It is indeed,” I replied.

“How do you know Gerry,” he asked, as he quickly walked over to the car.

“He’s my father-in-law,” I replied.

“Sure you should have told me that,” he said, as he opened the car door and started shaking Gerry’s hand furiously. 

You see my father-in-law was a well loved legend in Donegal; very sadly he has since passed. The owner knew him and everything changed immediately. As he chatted away to Gerry he invited me to have an explorative dander around the island, “and go and look around the house again if you want to” and when I returned they were still chatting away ten to the dozen. 

From their chat I got a sense of the old Donegal, of how people dealt with each other; of how when people know you are connected to people they know and respect, they are prepared to offer you the same genuine hospitality friends of theirs would recieve in return, were the situation ever reversed.  

I came away from my visit to St Ernan’s Island with the words (and melody) from a famous traditional song of the county. “Your hearts are like your mountains in the homes of Donegal,” ringing around my head and my soul and knowing that the time would never be better to start work on my book.       




Monday, May 30, 2016

American Views *


* From the front of Taxi Cabs.

I’ve always loved all things American: the Lone Ranger & Tonto, Rawhide, Bronco Lane, Wagon Train, Geronimo, Mr Dillon, JFK, Hollywood, movies, Dylan, American dollars, Elvis Presley, the stars and stripes, The Doors, all-day breakfasts (particularly hash browns) and, of course, the American classic cars.

All those wonderful Cadillacs and the other classics, now they were a joy to the eye, weren’t they? Ford Mustangs; Chevys; Chryslers; Plymouth Roadrunners; Dodge Royal American Sedans; Lincoln Continentals; Corvette Stingrays; Pontiac Firebirds and Buicks - all items of beauty and all individual flagships of a never-to-be-forgotten era.  Sadly, very sadly, the majority of American cars have now been blanded into the one-design-suits-all models - much the same bland as we seen all over Europe. Trucks are the exception; the American trucks are still as majestic, eye-catching and individual as ever, while and the classic iconic yellow school buses just keeping on rolling along the length and breadth of my favourite country.

I recently visited America for a whistle-stop book tour, stopping off in New York, Washington (Bethesda & Arlington), Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle, Orange, Scottsdale, New Orleans, Houston and Austin. Yes lots of trains and buses and planes.  I was out there on the road just like Donald and Hilary, trying to win support from the American people. 

It’s definitely Trump Time in the USA at the moment.

On my travels I discovered taxi drivers really are the font of all knowledge. One driver told me that Bill and Hilary openly encouraged Donald to join the competition because they felt they could easily beat him. I tried to figure out how a taxi driver from Boston would know that Bill and Hilary Jones of Merthyr Tydfil, and members of the Cilsanws Golf Club, were always taking advantage of Bill’s younger cousin, Donald Jones, out on the golf course.

New York City born and bred, Donald Trump, billionaire, property developer, bearer of gravity-defying hair, on the other hand, is, it would appear, to blame for everything, everything that is, according to my taxi driver – this time the taxi driver on the way into Seattle from the airport. So taking his lead I also laid the blame at DT’s feet for Rory McIlroy and Man United’s current poor form and on how few the numbers of people who turned up at my bookstore event in New Orleans were. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have someone to blame for whatever is upsetting you, so thank you very much Mr Trump.

The prospect of Trump becoming the next USA president seems to be the current preoccupation in the whole of America. Hilary doesn’t seem to be making a connection with the American people on the street, nor with taxi drivers for that matter. One taxi driver confidently predicted that not only would Trump become president but that, when he did, he would pin a sheriff’s badge on his own shirt and ride off into the horizon to right the American wrongs. In lieu of the real Lone Ranger, Marshall Dillion, Ty Hardin, Roddy Yates (now there would have been a great US President) or, my own person favourite, Alf Tupper, the Tough of The Track, maybe DT will have to do. If Donald sets off on such an adventure I feel it would be very important that someone remind him that there are only a limited number of silvers bullets available.

“Not a lot of people know this,” my Seattle taxi driver started off confidently, sounding like a denim-clad Michael Caine, “but candidates who are way behind in the primaries, just before they drop out of the running, apparently go to the leading candidate and “invite” them to contribute to their campaign losses in order to confirm - or maybe even “persuade” would be a better word - the candidate behind in the polls, that they will drop out and maybe even, in some cases, endorse the leading candidate.” He also reckoned that Cruz was too desperate to win, to be a good president. “Can you imagine the lengths a desperate president might go to, to win some issue while in the White House? On top of which he turned up at one of his final rallies dressed in denim jeans!”

Supposedly large numbers of government staff will resign if Trump wins the presidency and (allegedly) an even greater number of American citizens are going to emigrate into the open, welcoming, arms of Canada. That particular cab driver cautioned me with, “let’s wait and see how many actually do.”

Hilary Clinton’s campaign reminds me a lot of the Bjorn Borg approach to his legendary tennis matches with John McEnroe, where Bjorn would never ever “win” any of the marathon competitions, it was more that he would just refuse to “lose” to his superior, but temperamental, opponent. A very effective ruse in that it gained the Swede a 50% success rate in their twenty-two meetings. But, you’d have to say, hardly a presidential quality.  

While on my stateside travels, I also picked up from another American taxi driver that three USA nuclear reactors are currently leaking; that the Euro is shortly about the crash, not due to, but certainly helped by the fact that, three Italian banks and one Austrian bank, are about to fold. Warming to his “doom” subject, he also predicted that the US dollar will be devalued this autumn (a.k.a. “fall”). On the positive side, he predicted Gold and Silver and Wheat will go through the roof and become the main commodities of trade measurement again.

Yet another taxi driver put forward the theory that Trump is “happening” just because ordinary decent people have come to the conclusion that politics doesn’t work for them anymore. He cited the fact that the leader of the Republican Party (allegedly Trump’s party this time around) said he wasn’t ready yet to endorse Trump. Everyone immediately realised that the subtext was, “We haven’t done a deal yet.” Trump floored the party leaders by implying he wasn’t going to do a deal, suggesting, at this stage at least, that the guard is changing. My taxi driver reckoned that Trump has come this far because he is suggesting he’s going to change everything about politics than needs changing and, maybe more importantly, he’s not in anyone’s pocket, meaning that he won’t have any favours to return should he get into office.  The minute he starts to do deals and/or accept endorsement is the day he will lose his support. My cab driver predicted that people are going to show up at the polling booths who have never bothered to vote before. More alarmingly he claimed that people are really going to take it onto the streets if they don’t feel that their man is getting a fair crack at it. As I was exiting the cab, pondering street riots, his parting shot was, “if you don’t believe that Trump will get in, then please just watch the audiences on the Jerry Springer Show, or the Maury Show, or any of the games shows on our television. They’re the same audiences that will take Trump to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” 

“USA Literacy rates rise in the bad weather.” This snippet of wisdom was from a Russian taxi driver on the Orange airport run, “Really? How so?” I asked after I’d worked out what he was saying. “Don’t you see,” he continued after he decoded my own strong dialect, “that in the bad weather, the homeless pile into libraries and hide behind the great (as in physically big) tonnes so they’re not thrown out into the cold and damp.”

Talking about accents that reminds me, when ordering food in American restaurants it is important for me to remember that a) I have an Ulster accent and b) the subtle differences between the USA and UK version of English. I have an aversion to tomatoes and it’s so easy to get your order wrong in restaurants where they say “to-mate-toes” where as we (I) say “to-matt-oes.” So, invariably, my order arrives with the latter but no former, whatever it is… you know, “and hold the to-matt-oes, please” (where they translate what they think I’m saying with my to-matt-oes.” I’ve never been able to figure out what’s missing from my plate but as long as it’s not hash browns that are missing I’m okay. Having said that the cafeteria across the road from the Seattle book store does an amazing bean and ham broth.

My Taxi driver in Phoenix recommended that I beware of pick-pockets in New Orleans, my next city. The other cities to watch are: New York, Miami, parts of San Francisco, Oakland. But it’s interesting to note that not one American city figures in the Top Ten Cities in the world to beware of pick-pockets. While in New Orleans I tried to figure out if my lost crowd there had anything to do with the numerous graveyards I passed on the way in from the airport.

When I arrived in Austin, the taxi driver joyously advised me that just that very morning Uber and it’s 40,000 (yes 40,000 drivers, he claimed!) had been thrown out of the city by the mayor because they would not agree to their drivers been checked and fingerprinted or doing a test.  The following day it transpired that the mayor (unlike Trump) was negotiating.   

My personal prediction is that Donald Trump will become president, but the Trump University case will derail his presidency shortly thereafter.

Until the next time,



Saturday, April 16, 2016

Three Gillians & a Couple of Jeans

In one of his many classics, Paul McCartney famously asked, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

Well let’s see now. DAVID BUCHANAN is from Castlemartin in Mid-Ulster; MARY SKEFFINGTON is from Bath; JEAN SIMPSON and JEAN KERR – yes that’s the two Jeans - are childhood best friends from Matlock in Derbyshire; JOHN HARRISON is from Scotland. All are in their late teens - so late, in fact, that they will soon leave them and (hopefully) their innocence behind. 

I started work on this book a long time ago, as was the case with the other two books in what has turned out to be The Castlemartin Trilogy. The first two were located in Castlemartin, a fictitious village, located about four miles away from (the very real) Magherafelt, on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. All three books are set in the mid-1960s. In One of Our Jeans Is Missing, however, David Buchanan, the main character, moves from Castlemartin to London and… well perhaps there’s a wee bit of: you can take the man out of Ulster but you can never take Ulster out of the man.    

David meets up with Mary, John, Jean and Jean and they start to enjoy each other, and music, and each other a bit more, and then one of them disappears. At least two of remaining quartet start to consider what might be the perfect murder.

I had the title from the get-go for this book. This isn’t always the case for me. Tanita Tikaram an artist I was managing at the time visited China for a holiday. She took her two best friends with her. Both of her friends were (in fact still are) called Gillian.  One day Tanita telephoned me from China in a panic. 

“One of our Gillians is missing,” she gushed.

I laughed. In my defence I laughed, not so much at the fact that one of her best friends was missing in a foreign land, but more at the way she had put it. 

“No PC,” Tanita pleaded, “she’s seriously missing!” 

When I set the phone down and had got D.I. Christy Kennedy, Inspector Starrett and McCusker, on the missing Gillians case, I started to think that ‘seriously missing’ - as opposed to ‘casually missing,’ or even just, ‘missing’ - would be a great title for a book, but for some reason or other when it came time to write it up in my wee ideas book I only wrote, ‘One of our Gillians is missing.’ 

Sometime later when I had the idea for this story of David Buchanan and his four fellow teenage exiles in 1960s’ London, the title presented itself to me at pretty much the same time. In fact the original working title for the book was, One of Our Gillians is Missing. Then I started to date a lady called Gillian (yet another one) for a while, and so in order to protect the three Gillians I changed the title to One of Our Jeans is Missing a.k.a. OOOJim (pronounced ‘Oh Jim!’  

Apart from being exiled from the home you grew up in, another of the main themes of the story is how music, big pieces of music, become very important as soundtracks to parts of our lives. I suppose the other important point to mention here is that we are all equally passionate about the music we dislike as we are about the music we love. A lot of the music references in the book – Dylan,  John Lee Hooker, The Spencer Davies Group, Taste and Stevie Winwood – have all had major influences in my life and, along with quite a few other artists, helped me during my move from Ulster to London in 1967. Yes, music certainly helped me deal with the potentially debilitating illness known as homesickness. Even today every time I listen to Neil Diamond’s classic, I Am… I Said, I can still recall vividly the intensity of the helplessness of the bed-sitter days. With hindsight if I had been a doctor I would have prescribed a twice weekly listening session of I Am… I Said, one or Mr Diamond’s most soulful statements.  Just to know that others had suffered and where suffering from your ailment could be a comfort.  With the benefit of that same hindsight I would probably add a thrice weekly visit from Jean Simpson into the potent healing mix. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean should you visit the pages of One Of Our Jeans Is Missing.  

This is my first title to be published by Fahrenheit Press.  I found main man Chris McVeigh refreshingly straightforward to deal with.  His view seemed to be that if he read the book and liked it (and assuming that I could spell Fahrenheit) he would publish it without any publisher interference, fuss or delay.  His only other observation was, “If you want to be treated like a delicate little snowflake we're definitely NOT the publisher for you - try Faber & Faber, they're lovely.”  That was certainly good enough for me. 
That's it until the next time. Next one soon.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Big Jim, Wee Doyle and the Mysterious PE Teacher


Teachers and schools can and do make a difference in our lives. When I think of my time at Magherafelt Technical College, September 1965 to June 1967, two characters - and a certain PE teacher - stand out. I remember Big Jim and Wee Doyle two great teachers and great mates of each other. The PE teacher we’ll get to later.

There are also quite a few images from those days indelibly forged in my mind.

Scenes like those of the gang of smokers behind the bike shed. I never smoked, still don’t, but I used to hang out with a bunch of outlaws (we thought) who did. They were always getting caught when I was with them but the teachers would always say, “We know you don’t smoke Charles, so just wise up and scoot off.” as the rest of the gang were led off for detention or lines or some similar punishment - I don’t remember the cane being used a lot at the Tech. I’d planned that on my last day at the Tech I was going to walk around with a cigarette in my mouth, just to make the same teachers, including Big Jim Warwick and Wee Doyle, think they’d been wrong about me all along. I lost my bottle though and didn’t go through with it. Perhaps if I had I would have been a smoker today, so maybe that’s something else I’ve got to thank the Tech for. 

The Beatles were making their mark worldwide by that point and their influence stretched as far as Magherafelt and even as far as The Technical College.  Long hair, tight trousers and Beatle Boots (winkle-pickers) were all the rage. Long hair wasn’t permitted at the Tech back then and a few of the gang were forever fine-tuning ways to hide their long locks while in school – deceptions such as brylcreaming it back into a slick DA and tucking it into their collars and so forth. I seem to remember that approach had one particular natty dresser looking like he had a permanent stiff neck. Come the final bell of the day, as we were all released and rushed down to Agnews’ Café, their locks would be allowed to flow freely again.

It was around my time at the Tech that I got both the writing bug and the music bug, both of which has been with me every since.

On the music side, one year a few of us formed a wee group together for the Christmas concert at the Tech. The group was called Goggles Anonymous – what can I tell you, we all wore glasses and Hedgehoppers Anonymous were enjoying their one and only attack on the pop charts. By a process of elimination and deduction, and as the only non-playing member, I was duly elected the Manager. At the said concert the girls screamed loudly, as they did to the Beatles on the telly; mind you, in our case it could have been due entirely to the pain, rather than the pleasure, we were inflicting. For some bizarre reason, I was the one responsible for trying to routine the group through Sloop John B 

Anyway, after that exhilarating experience the guitarist of Goggles Anonymous, Vince McCusker, formed another group, this time with four chaps from the Rainey. The new group was called The Blues by Five - there were five of them and they played (their version of) the blues - and once again I was the Manager. This time I wisely kept away from the music. In those pre-a-phone-in-every-house days, my Blues by Five business cards listed the number of the telephone box closest to my house in Beechland.  

I would use Chemistry periods to design and hand-colour posters for the notice board by the front door of the original Technical College building (where my father and my Uncle Harry had attended night classes in their teens). These posters were to announce the Blues x 5’s up-coming gigs, usually at the Trend Club or supporting the Breakaways Showband - the local kings of the Fair Hill - somewhere exotic like Cookstown Town Hall. The forward-thinking chemistry teacher used the sound-logic that if you didn’t want to be taught, well then she quite simply didn’t want to teach you. She was fine to leave you completely to your own devices, as long as you had the decency to attend all the classes and keep quiet; she was an excellent teacher and I regretted having no interest in chemistry.

I probably didn’t have any interest in Chemistry because by that time I’d already mapped out my career:  Staying at the Tech long enough to secure enough qualifications to be able to move to London in 1967 to train to be a Civil Engineer; while in London simultaneously continue with my part-time career in the music business  managing, agenting and writing lyrics for Fruupp, a Belfast group featuring my mate Vince McCusker from the Blues by Five; in the course of my work with Fruupp I would make enough contacts to move into the music business full time; I’d become partner with Paul Fenn in the Asgard Agency and go on to be luckily enough to be agent for (amongst others) Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Don Mclean, Jackson Browne, Crosby Stills & Nash, Robert Plant, The Kinks, Rory Gallagher, Elvis Costello, Jean Michel Jarre, Marianne Faithful, The Undertones, The Waterboys, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Ray Davies, Lonnie Donegan, and Christy Moore; while, at the same time, I would continue to follow my other love, writing, with my weekly column and articles for CityWeek /Thursday Magazine (Belfast) and by persevering with it over the years until in 1995 the first of The D.I. Christy Kennedy series was published. 

But of course I neither knew, nor planned, any of that.  If it was that easy and we could cherry-pick our way through our careers and our lives, I’m sure it would be altogether a much more boring journey.  

However with the group of teachers I was lucky enough to come into to contact with in Magherafelt Technical College, I enjoyed a solid grounding and an education diverse enough to equip me for my great journey. I think that’s most probably where I learned that what you aim to avoid is just as important as what you aim for.

I vividly remember my days at the Tech being extremely happy and really enjoying myself. I know you’re not meant to admit such things, but my school days were very happy days, not my happiest days, well that would be just too sad now wouldn’t it? But happy days they were nonetheless. You see my mum and dad always sent me out of our house well fed, in clean clothes, washed behind the ears, with a smile on my face and a sense of humour that served me well in all my travels. I worked after classes, on Saturdays and during school holidays for a gentleman by the name of Dawson Bates. He had the grocery and hardware shop in Market Square (now the home of Maurice McLean) so I had the occasional few  bob spare to buy the latest singles by the Beatles, Kinks, Them, Dylan or Otis Redding , (six shillings and eight pence) in Toners at the foot of Broad Street.  Dawson Bates, although not a teacher, taught me many an important lesson and, by his example, showed me how absolutely important it is to be professional in all your business dealings.      

With the Beatles came an awareness of girls and there were quite a few to be distracted by at the Technical College; all my gang though were madly in love with the PE Teacher who took the girls’ classes. She had a great swagger, never wore an ounce of make-up but always looked stunning. The only problem was that no one knew her name, except the girls… and they weren’t telling. 

Talking of PE, sadly I was never any good at football or athletics so my chosen sport had to be cross-country running because all you had to do was… keep on running and that was easy for me because there were so many things going around in my head to occupy my mind as I jogged along, including but not limited to The Spencer Davies Group.

Magherafelt always seemed to have more schools than any of the neighbouring towns and the number of educational establishments seemed to grow by the year. There was definitely a pecking order. I always felt the Technical College was, status wise, mid-way between the Intermediate School - a wee bit further out the Moneymore Road from the Tech - and the Rainey School. I always wondered why, due purely to geographical reasoning, they hadn’t called the Tech the Intermediate School.

As I mentioned at the beginning, teacher’s can and do make a difference.  The reason I moved to the Tech was because Mr Mowbery, one of my teachers at the Intermediate School, thought he saw something in me and felt I should not leave school at 15 (which I nearly did). No, he felt I should push myself and try for the Technical College and he facilitated an entrance exam for myself and one other pupil, Derek Mc Celland. But he didn’t stop there. Master Mowbray also thought we shouldn’t settle for the regular secretarial course available to late students at The Tech but nudged us both towards O Levels by way of the Junior Cert. Then the Tech welcomed us warmly, where teachers such as Big Jim and Wee Doyle showed to us once again that teachers can and do make a difference. So to you one and all, not to mention the Technical College itself, I offer big, big thanks and I remain forever in your debt.     



And this time I’ve read:


What’s Exactly the Matter with Me? by PF Sloan & S.E. Feinberg A chilling, disturbing and very sad read. I knew all about Eve of Destruction and The Sins of The Family but I’d never realised he was such a prolific songwriter way before that writing hits for The Searchers, Herman’s Hermits, Jan & Dean, The Turtles, Johnny Rivers, The Association, The fifth Dimension and The Grass Roots where he produced and made the records and then went out and found a band to tour under the name. On top of that he secured the Beatles their first record label with Vee Jay Records when EMI’s sister company Capitol Records literally didn’t want to know. Elvis Presley taught him to play guitar. He signed his first song-writing deal when he was 15 years old. The sad part deals with the company he signed with and how wrong these things can sometime turn out. The book serves as great lesson for everyone wanting to get into the music business - just be so mega careful who you do your deals with. As with all great music books it sets you off out to add to your CD collection. I found – Here’s Where I Belong – the Best of the Dunhill Years 1965 – 1967. Taking into account his thoughts in this book perhaps a somewhat ironic title but for all of that a great selection of songs from his career.   


Mrs Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill – a great read, the inside story only told from a totally different angle.  The description of the ordinariness of the 21st Nov 1963 is spine chilling effective


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – I’ve been meaning to read it for years and, prompted by the TV series, happy I did. Pack a lunch and a sleeping bag; it’s a long but rewarding journey. I really don’t know how they’re going to fit this into 7 hours of TV.


And that’s it until next time.





Monday, February 16, 2015

Mugged In Manhattan Blues

A few years ago, quite a few years ago in fact, I was mugged in Times Square, in New York, one of my favourite cities in the world.

I mean in hindsight I was an ideal target for the muggers. I’d been in NYC on business on a budget air-ticket and so I would cram all my meetings into a few mid-week days and then pretty much spend the entire Saturday in the cinema.

So, mid-afternoon I dandered out into Times Square’s hazy day-light, my mind clearly still in the themes of the previous movie. I was wandering aimlessly along the street with 20 or 30 minutes to kill before my next film.   

To be honest I hadn’t even realised that I’d walked into a makeshift tunnel, which had been created by scaffolding spindling overhead, up the block-size building. There were wooden planks (acting as a workmen’s walk-way) above me, while to my left there were side barriers, solid to shoulder height (and protecting the pedestrians from the nearby screeching and screaming traffic) and, on the right hand side, the building itself secured the tunnel not only from the outside in but from the inside out, that is to say successfully trapping victims in the rat-run.

Anyway I was vaguely aware that there were several other humans in the darkened corridor with me. I did notice one particular lad (mid-20s, Caucasian and slim) several feet ahead of me, because he appeared to keep looking back in my direction. I was aware of this but certainly not preoccupied by it.

Then a string of things happened and although they all appeared to happen in slow motion I was helpless, as in being unable to protect myself in any way whatsoever.

The guy who had been looking back at me, let’s call him Noel (as in the first), made a speedy dash away from me to his end of the tunnel. I later realised he did so, not to confuse me as I originally thought, but, to secure his end of the corridor from any pedestrians entering the tunnel from his end.

Three of his colleagues immediately rushed at me, all mid-20s, and one of them violently shoved me against the building side of the corridor. The same one steadied me and jammed his arm against my throat, thereby pinning me to the building, while his two colleagues piled in as well. One of them kept looking all around him, his head darting this way and that just like a chicken desperately searching for slim pickings on a stony farmyard. The other assailant quite literally ripped my pocket from my trousers and the contents - my rather meagre stash of dollars and cents - dribbled out into his greedy hands. The Ripper and the Chicken then speed off towards Noel, while Mugger himself, pulled me away from the wall and then heaved me back towards the wall with such force, perhaps some of the force  even due to his frustration at their miserable takings, that I was severely winded and I collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk.

Next a very strange thing happens. A man came up to me and helped me up from the ground. He said, “I’m Clyde, you’ve just been mugged but you’re okay.” He dusted me down, examined my torn pocket. Clyde instructed me to stay where I was and advised me that he was going chase after the mugger to get my money back for me.

He dashed off at a speed of knots after Noel, Ripper, Mugger and Chicken.

By which time other people, a crowd even, seem to have materialised from nowhere. They gathered around me and they too were concerned about my well-being. One of them pointed out that the Lone Ranger, a.k.a Clyde, who had helped me up from the ground and rushed off to rescue my dollars and cents was also, in fact, one of the gang. He had been stopping people behind me from entering the tunnel thereby protecting his fellow Caucasian gang members from the crowd.

Clyde apparently was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As well as being the rear guard, his job was to slow me down, disarm me with his friendliness, ensuring I didn’t chase off after the gang and even if I had felt compelled to do so (but please believe me, nothing,  but absolutely nothing, was furthest from my mind) he’d given his mates a good head start.

I headed back to the hotel still very shaky on my feet, feeling very sorry for myself and realising I was on the edge of tears. You see the thing is, you really just don’t know how you should feel or how you are meant to react. Obviously being a stranger in a strange land didn’t help my predicament. By the time I reached the hotel I was still unable to shake the feeling. All the time wondering if there had been a chance I quite possibly may not have made it through the tunnel of terror.

Ray Davies was mugged in New Orleans and when the mugger made off with his girl-friend’s purse, Ray gave chase and was shot in the leg for his gallantry. Nick Lowe was mugged in Spain once and Tanita Tikaram was mugged at the foot of the Spanish steps in Rome. I and several record company staff and band mates were with her at the time and again the attack was carried out by a well organised team; this time several young girls rushed her, begging and lifting their own skirts to hide the fact that one of them was empting Tanita’s purse, her actions camouflaged by their skirts and amplified by the shock effect of them not wearing under-garments. Again a well organised heist, only this time the profits were going straight to their organiser or maybe even pimp.

They all clearly were also traumatised by the incidents and, as I say, I was maybe trying to hide my feelings by being preoccupied about not knowing how to feel.

I remember I was meant to join Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche for dinner that night and I rang them up to tell them what had happened and that I’d like to take a rain check on the meal, saying I didn’t feel up to it. They wouldn’t hear tell of me cancelling and of course they were correct. A night out with good friends was all I needed to see that absolutely everything wasn’t really bad with the world, you know, that the company of good friends would be the perfect cure for those Mugged in Manhattan Blues.


And this time I read:


Mary, Mary & JFK  by Michael Pincot – even Camelot needed a scribe and the fact/fiction approach is very interesting.

The Good Son by Christopher Anderson

Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes  - or at least taken from his tapes after he’d passed.

Sound Man by Glynn Johns – master engineer, worked with the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton and the Who and he is too much of a gentleman to tell tales out of school but yet still manages to come up with a fascinating  account of his own career.

The Time of My Life by Bill Medley – I love the books where you’re given the inside track on how the legendary songs came to life and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Dreamweaver by Gary Wright – I was a big fan of Spooky Tooth, so again a great trip for me.

Stiff by Mary Roach – interesting read, you’re never know when you’re going to need some background.

Live at The Fillmore East & West; West by John Glatt – superb account of the three years the Fillmores were in operation and the rise and slip of Bill Graham and Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, Allman Brothers, Santana, grass, cocaine, heroin and (to a lesser degree) The Doors, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He really does take you back to that time and place in painstaking, not to mention revealing, detail. The history of Fillmore (East & West) and the above artists and drugs connection with them have now been properly documented; look no further for a reference book. This is truly a brilliant work, not to mention a major achievement.

Practice To Deceive by Ann Rule – once again it chills me to the bone to see how close some killers come to getting away with their crimes.

The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman – again a first class account of the ever changing group of the cream of LA session musicians and their work all the way from being Phil Spector’s house band for his wall of sound, to the Beach Boys (on record) and everywhere in between and how the records came to be. The author shares the inside track on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, McArthur Park and Pet Sounds. I read it in a single spellbound session!

Ode To Billy Joe by Tara Murtha (Part of the 33 1/3 series of books on classic albums) So much missing both on the artist and on the music; that would be the book I'd look forward to.

Superman Comes to the Supermarket by Norman Mailer – a major including, the original pro-Kennedy, Esquire article by Norman Mailer and a collection of stunning on-the-campaign-trail photos.

JFK -  The Smoking Gun by Colin McLaren – a true revelation. You know I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders as Mr McLaren quite logically, reasonably and without a great deal of fuss or pomp solved the mystery, which has been continuously, not to mention seriously, troubling me since 22/11/63. Approximately a couple of hundred books later on the subject, I happened upon JFK – The Smoking Gun (the clue really is in the title). I followed his research and proof in this major work and I completely agree with his solution. (For me) the greatest mystery in the world has finally been solved! But you know what the sad thing is? I woke up the following morning and the world is still the same, nothing had changed. 

And listened to:


Bill Handle on Law - on KFI 640 FM) – top, top presenter… works without a safety net and is very entertaining.

Breakfast with the Beatles - on KLOS – a weekly (Sunday) treat.


And watched on the small screen:


Final series of Parenthood – classic – brilliantly resolved, but so much  more… at the same time it should be taken as a family as a work in progress.

Whitney – a very sad story, still so sad.

Newsroom – perfect TV.

The Dave Clark Five and Beyond –  there’s a great book there if any investigative journalist ever get down to writing it.

Bosch – 10 outta 10 and congratulations to all concerned on being able to make a brilliant series of books into an equally brilliant TV series (not always the case).


And watched on the large Screen:

The American Sniper – twice – a modern classic, whose 30,000,000 tickets at the box office far out balances the 6000 Oscar voters.


Miss Julie

The Penguins of Madagascar

Big Hero 6

Night Stalker – great movie loved it.

Horrible Bosses 2


Theory of Everything – excellent.

Black or White

Birdman (twice) worth going to see twice if only to witness Michael Keaton and Edward Norton exciting performances.

St Vincent – excellent.


The Imitation Game – excellent.


Whiplash - excellent but I’m a bit disappointed that Miles Teller’s performance seems to have been overlooked.

Inherent Vice

Top Five

Hobbit Five Armies

Night at The Museum 3.

The Gambler

Unbroken – unfinished; the book (and the life of Louis Zamerini) was so much more than the torture the movie focused on.

The Interview – marketing campaign if the year.

Citizen Four



It Was a Really Violent Year

Life Itself

Big Eyes

Taken 3


Still Alice – surely Ms Moore’s Oscar winning performance.

Two Days One Night

The Boy Next Door



The Humbling


And finally I witnessed The Waterboys, in all their powerful glory performing their new, amazing, Top 10 album, Modern Blues, at The Roundhouse London.


Until the next time…


Cheers pc



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How McCusker found himself investigating a murder down on Leafy Cyprus Avenue

My first trip to Belfast would have been when I was about six years old. My dad took me down on the bus. I’d never been in a city before and I just loved the buzz and the unique aromas of the city. Coming from a small rural village I couldn’t believe the actual volume of the noise around and about the streets. In my home town, Magherafelt, if someone sneezed up the town it was news in the following week’s edition of The Mid Ulster Mail, and, most likely on the front page at that.

My memories of that precious trip to Belfast are of streets crammed with exotic cars; lorries packed so high you felt they might actually topple over; my first ever sighting of a double-decker bus; the same streets absolutely bursting with busy and hyper people mostly laughing and joking; chilled people gilding along the footpaths and, the hustle and bustle of Woolworths, crammed so full you could hardly move through it. The shop assistants appeared so sophisticated with their chic make-up so expertly applied they looked just like movie stars. But packed though Woolworths was, my dad worked his way around the super-shop diligently buying hardware: hinges; brackets; nails; thingamabobs and cuttermegigs, lots of cuttermegigs. Things, which on paper he’d no need for, but then over the course of the next few years bit by bit, item by item, they’d all get used up and used in a manner that was always vital to making pieces of furniture and suchlike that had such a positive impact on our lives we invariably found ourselves wondering how exactly we’d ever managed to do without them. In a way I suppose that’s where I picked up the habit of hoarding; yes hoarding things like: locations; words; character-sketches; accents; traits and sayings. You just never know when they’re going to come in handy, do you?

The memories of that day, both of my introduction to the tangible excitement of Belfast and of being there with my father, have stuck with me so far through my life, and very vividly at that.

I have to admit I was up in Magherafelt while the Beatles were on stage at the Ritz Cinema on 8th November 1963. I would have been sitting down to tea with my family when they would have appeared on BBC TV at 18.10 and UTV at 18.30. Playwright Alun Own was in Belfast observing John, Paul, George, Ringo, Mal and Neil and the fans very closely that night for a screenplay he was working on. We have to assume he would have been inspired with both band and fans and worked some of the ideas from his Belfast research into scenes for the final script of A Hard Day’s Night.

Since those early days Belfast has always been close to my heart. There has always been something mystical about the city for me. I will admit I don’t really know why. Possibly it might have something to do with the fact that the grand city was home to George Best, Van Morrison and Alex Higgins, a trio of geniuses so talented in their chosen field that - although while all three were most certainly outstanding in their fields, sadly the fields were empty bar themselves - the world has just never been big enough for them.

Following my trip with my dad my next memories of Belfast are of visiting the city in my teenage years seeking bookings for my first group, the Blues by Five. It would have been on some of those adventures I would have been lucky enough to see and hear Taste, The Interns, Cheese, The Gentry, Sam Mahood and The Soul Foundation (Sam was way, way ahead of his time) and The Method, in places the likes of The Maritime Club, Sammy Huston’s Jazz Club, Betty Staffs, and Clarks Dance Studio. Sadly I never got to witness a live performance by Them but I did witness one of the best gigs I’ve ever attended one Saturday afternoon when The Interns played at Them’s old stomping ground, The Maritime Club. We - The Blues by Five & manager - had a group trip down into Belfast on 23rd July 1967 to witness the Small Faces do an absolutely blistering set at the Floral Hall. There were also a couple Northern Irish bands on the bill that night - I seem to remember The Interns being one of them, but I couldn’t swear to that. The Pink Floyd also played at the Floral Hall in April the same year but for some reason or other we didn’t make it down to Belfast for that show, catching them instead up at the Flamingo in Ballymena.

Later again came The Pound, Good Vibrations, The Ulster Hall, Fruupp and EMS at Queen’s Student’s Union.

Even when I moved to London in 1967 I still retained my strong links and connection with Belfast. I became the “London Correspondent” for all pop/contemporary/progressive music for City Week, a Belfast newspaper, which eventually morphed into Thursday Magazine. But more about that later. 

During the Troubles, while living in London, I booked all the music acts into Queens University (and the Irish University circuit) and it was during that period I got to know the Queens campus area of Belfast very well working with Queen’s ace social secretaries, Gary Mills, Tim Nicholson, Roy Dickson, Allister McDowell, Brian Gryzmek and John McGrath while we persuaded people as diverse as Chuck Berry, The Stranglers, The Clash, Loudon Wainwright III, Stackridge, Mike Nesbitt, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Clash, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton and Elton John to visit while boasting, truthfully, that they’d get the best reception of their lives while on a Belfast stage. Conversely, but we never admitted this in advance, should the said act, shall we say, not be at the top of their game performance wise… well then, there were few other stages, excepting Glasgow of course, where they’d wish to be caught out, as it were. In the interest of full disclosure all the above mentioned artists enjoyed rapturous receptions while in Belfast.

In my City Week/Thursday Magazine days, as I said, I covered the London music scene with a special emphasis on the Irish/Ulster acts doing well in the UK. I went to see Herbie Armstrong and Rod Demick (aka Demick & Armstrong - an act from Ulster formed out of the ashes of The Wheels) performing at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand in London. During the course of the evening they performed a song called Friday’s Child which Herbie introduced as a song written by his mate Van Morrison. In my following week’s City Week column I mentioned the show and particularly the song Friday’s Child. I’d never heard it before and couldn’t find a recorded version of it. I asked “if anyone out there” knew where I could find a copy. A few days after that week’s paper was published an envelope addressed to me was dropped off at the City Week office in Pottingers Entry. In the envelope was a mint copy of a single on the Major Minor label. The A side of the 1967 single (D410) was a re-release of Gloria (the original B side of Them’s hit, Baby Please Don’t Go) and on the B-side … yep, you guess it, Friday’s Child. Also in the envelope was a very nice and gracious note from a Mrs Violet Morrison, none other than the mother of Van and a fine singer herself. The only reason I mention this here is due to the fact that when I’m walking about the streets of Belfast the song which most frequently comes to mind is the very same Friday’s Child. 

You don’t really get to know a city until you’ve walked it. Recently I had reason to spend a few weeks in Belfast; I probably wore out a pair of shoes in those couple of weeks. In Down On Cyprus Avenue the main character, McCusker, likes to walk absolutely everywhere. Lucky for him Belfast is an extremely walkable city. He loves to ramble about the city being seriously distracted by the incredible historical and dramatic buildings. Buildings like the City Hall where, during my research for Down On Cyprus Avenue, I was allowed to spend several hours investigating it from the inside.  As I checked out the breath-taking beautiful building I couldn’t help thinking that the City Hall was so big, one could quite possibly fit all of Magherafelt into it. Well, at the very least, all of the Magherafelt I had left in the 1960s.    

But back to McCusker.

McCusker had a cameo appearance in the Christy Kennedy 2002 mystery, I’ve Heard the Banshee Sing (as did Inspector Starrett.) I liked McCusker. I liked the way his mind worked. He’s is fearless of the investigation, he doesn’t see it as a chore. He’s not jaded and is genuinely excited about leaving his paper-pushing days of the RUC behind him in favour of front line investigating as an agency cop. He is driven not as much by apprehending the guilty as by protecting the innocent.  He was (and is) a real pleasure to work with. But I couldn’t see a way of making it work in Portrush as I was already covering the rural setting with The Inspector Starrett series set in Donegal and the Castlemartin novels set in Mid Ulster. Time passed, as it has a habit of doing, I kept thinking about McCusker and the more I visited Belfast for concerts and book events the more I wanted to write about the city. So then I started to think about how it might be possible to set a McCusker mystery in Belfast and in that thought McCusker’s back story was born.

McCusker was a detective inspector stationed in Portrush. He dabbled at playing golf, more for the social opportunities than for the sport. He and his wife, Anna Stringer (McCusker always refers to her by her maiden name) successfully accumulated several properties which they (well Anna really) rented out. The idea was on McCusker’s retirement they would sell their property portfolio and retire on the proceeds. When the Patten Agreement offered a handsome payment for those willing to take early retirement during the transition from the RUC to the PSNI, McCusker bit their hand off. He was happy to give up what had become more of a paper-pushing chore than the art of detecting he’d originally joined up for. Anna Stringer perhaps fearing becoming a golf widow, (perhaps not, we never get to hear her side of the story in the first mystery) quiet and subtle as you like, sold off all the properties and disappeared with the aforementioned nest egg. The Patten payment was clearly not enough to last McCusker the remainder of his days. The only thing McCusker knows how to do, the only thing he wants to do, is detect. The Patten Agreement forbids retired officers from being reinstated but Grafton’s Agency (Belfast’s answer to USA’s Pinkerton Agency) took him on as a temp-agency cop (nickname Yellow Tops after the inferior in-house supermarket brands) and found him employment with the PSNI in the Custom House, Belfast. The PSNI aren’t actually stationed at the Custom House but I thought it ideal for McCusker’s team. I did get to spend a few hours in there and it really is an amazing building with an incredible history.

One of the original ideas for the McCusker Mysteries (hopefully plural) was to have D.S. Willie John Barr (no ‘e’) as McCusker’s side-kick, as was the case in the two McCusker short stories, Based On A True Story (included in this year’s Mammoth Book of Best British Crime - No. 11) and the Case of The Humming Bee. However when I came to start work on Down On Cyprus Avenue I had to deal with the fact that McCusker would have to be a Yellow Top and as such would have no real authority or seniority in the PSNI structure. So I introduced D.I. Lily O’Carroll who arrived on the page fully formed and who consequently quite literally forced her way into the partnership. Barr is still around though in what is also becoming a very important role.  

The Case of The Humming Bees brings us back nicely to McCusker’s preoccupation with the beautiful and historic buildings in Belfast in that it is entirely set in The Ulster Hall. The Ulster Hall was built in 1859 and designed by William J. Barre (with an ‘e’ this time.) The Ulster Hall is the hallowed concert hall we all visited to be in the presence of the greatness that was Rory Gallagher. Rory played there on numerous occasions either with Taste or, later, with his own band. A Donegal born, Cork bred man who also spent a lot of time soaking up the Belfast vibe and giving it all back to the audiences in spades at a time when few artists were visiting Belfast. The photos (but not the music) on the Live Taste album are from the Ulster Hall. The album was in fact recorded in Montreux Casino, Switzerland on the 31st August 1970. The album was released on Polydor on 1st January 1971 with my (short) sleeve notes. Sixty-four days later on Friday 5th March 1971 Led Zeppelin took to the stage in the Ulster Hall, Belfast and performed for the first time in the world a new song by the name of Stairway To Heaven.

In 2014 McCusker reckons that he and Belfast were starting over again at the same time. They both reached a good point in their life cycle and both seemed very happy to be doing so. McCusker for his part is thrilled to be getting to know the city; getting to know it in this era.

I have my father, Andrew, to thank for introducing me to Belfast. McCusker (indirectly) has Anna Stringer to thank. Yes he still has things/issues he needs to address and resolve but he frequently reminds himself about what he’d committed himself to when he left Portrush. He’d promised himself that he would forget the past, ignore the future, and get lost in the present.

Talking about the present I’d like to thank the Dufour fab four for producing such a handsome volume of Down On Cyprus Avenue and getting it out there into the world (November 2014.) I’m continuously humbled by this entire magical process.
This time I've been listening a lot to Leonard Cohen's beautiful new album, Popular Problems.  To my ears a true classic and the best album of the year so far by a country mile.

Until the next time,





Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An Adventure of a Retreating Crown a.k.a., Hats

      The time I started to grow conscious of caps (or hats) would have been during my pre-teens when my mum knit my dad and me a bobble hat each. Mine, by request, had blue and black hoops and my dad’s had red and black and they both, obviously, had bobbles on the crown. I had my mum remove mine. I thought my tassel was just a bit too loud. It’s a thing I’ve always had about clothes; I just don’t like them to be loud.
      Don’t get me wrong, I love people who can wear loud clothes and get away with it. I’m just not one of them. I remember I’d been bought a pair of sandals and they were so spanking new, the sole was snow white and, to me, they looked too much like new sandals, so I had my dad put brown boot polish on the white edges to the soles, just so they'd be ‘quieter,’ not so loud and would allow me to sink into the background. I was about six or seven at the time and I often wonder why I would think that way. I mean I haven’t changed a bit really. As an adult I’ve bought clothes and left them in my wardrobe, sometimes even for a couple of years, just so they would age and I’d feel more comfortable wearing them. I recall going to the Royal Albert Hall in London, my favourite venue in the world, for a concert and I remember John Peel was the compere and he had a buckskin, fringed-jacket - as favoured by Native Americans in the movies - draped over his arm. He just wanted to show it to us, the audience. He explained that he hadn’t plucked up the courage to start to wear it, “just yet.” I seem to remember that he brought the said jacket to several concerts, every time unworn, he clearly just wanted us to see that he was still trying to pluck up courage to wear it. So it was comforting to know I wasn't alone.

      But let's get back to the hats. The trouble is finding a hat that suits. Elvis Costello for instance looks absolutely fab in every style of hat. Me, well, not as much, well… not at all really. I do however have to play to the tune of my needs, but we’ll get to that later.

      So how do we start off on this great hat wearing adventure? Well, most likely through being influenced by our fathers, through fashion or by necessity.        
      Following my initial few months with the bobble hat my mum knit for me, I would have gone hatless for a good few years. Then in my early teenage years I would have sheltered under the hood of my trusted, and treasured, duffle-coat. It wouldn’t have been as warm as a hat or a cap – it was a bit of a wind trap really and only helped to compound the bluing of the ears.

      My big movement into hats and caps coincidently seemed to happen around two important points. One, the modern day popularity, not to mention preoccupation, with baseball caps, aka Trucker Cap, and, two, my physical need to shelter my head.

      I’d worn baseball caps for ages but I could never find the perfect model, for me. I mean, I would frequently see great models on TV or in the movies, but the ones that were available to purchase would either be too flat, too tall on the crown, a bad fit, or made from transparently synthetic material. But all the time I was going through the search process, I was gradually finding the need to wear some kind of covering on my head. In the winter I would need a hat, some item to cover the head, with its ever receding hairline, to stop it from getting cold. In the summer I’d need it to stop my crown getting burnt by the sun.

      Then I found a Magic Johnston baseball cap which was all but perfect. It was the correct shape; the crown wasn’t too high; neither was it too low; the logo was subtle; the material was good, classy looking and, it was the perfect fit. In fact the MJ cap was so perfect, so cool, that lots of people, and I do mean lots, started to ask me where I’d purchased it. A few were so impressed they even went as far as seeing if they could buy mine from me. Fewer still offered me not unsubstantial amounts of money for my prized possession, thereby, in a way, putting a price on my head. All of which only served to defeat the object of the exercise, which had been to try to find items of clothing which would be comfortable, but would not draw attention. The Michael Johnston cap, as I have already mentioned was, “all but perfect.” Its only two flaws? One: it was snow-white and white hats do tend to… well go off-white through wear and tear and eventually can become grubby. Two: by the time I went seeking a replacement I discovered they’d discontinued my particular model. Maybe I’d been giving the elevated MJ bad press, or uncool attention, by wearing non-stop, an item he’d endorsed.

      Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

      You know, after searching for years, you eventually find an item of clothing you are totally comfortable with, and then, because it works for you so well, you eventually wear it out, (not as in wearing it outside, but as in wearing it until it literally falls to pieces around you) only to find it’s no longer an item of clothing you can buy, even on the internet. Recently though when I find something I like, if through wearing it I find I really, really, like it - like say for instance, a pair of shoes, or a jacket even, you know, something I’m really comfortable with - I’ll go back and try, if I’m not too late and they’re already sold out, and buy an extra back-up identical item, just in case.

      During my base-ball cap period, the two things I discovered about them were that you (obviously) couldn’t wear them everywhere. For example, it would be a bit unseemly to wear a baseball cap at a funeral, or to a formal black tie event, or similar, don’t you think? They certainly weren’t appropriate, so on those occasions you’d either have to risk getting cold by going bare-headed, or revert to a standby black cloth cap in the style favoured by my father during my childhood – even he set my mother’s woollen black and red hooped bobble aside following a discreet passage of time. The other great thing about the traditional cloth cap is that you can fold it and put it in your pocket. This would always come in handy at the above events. I did toy for a brief time with trying to find a suitable cloth cap, as an everyday item of clothing, even tried the one you wear backwards with the wee kangaroo logo on it, but I never really felt either was for me.                

      The other thing I discovered about baseball caps was that, when you really got down to it, they are a young person’s fashion accessory. Eventually I start to think that it was beginning to look a tad unbecoming for a person of my age to be living permanently under the peak of a baseball cap and so, reluctantly at first, I started to look for a replacement.

      Now with hats there really is such a multitude of choices out there: the traditional English business man’s Bowler Hat, aka a Derby Hat; the cheeky Pork Pie Hat; the wet-weather Sou’westers - talking of which I’ve just remembered a photograph of myself, all of four years old and kitted out in my wellies, raincoat and Sou’wester, this would obviously have predated the woollen bobble hat, my mum knit for me, but I have no consciousness of it, only the fleeting memory of that photograph in my mother collection; the Boater; the exotic Panama; the Beanie or the very similar you-too Toboggan Cap;  the race track, Trilby; the not exclusively French, Beret; the anyone for yodelling, Tyrolean Hat; the anyone for tennis Sunvisor, aka the Eyeshade; the anyone for playing scary monsters, Homburg Hat; the Top Hat, now mostly seen only on door men in posh hotels; Sherlock Holmes’ favourite, the Deerstalker; the Leopardskin Pillbox Hat, which was very visually included in a Dylan lyric, allegedly after he witnessed Jackie Kennedy wearing said fashion accessory; the impractical Brakeman’s Cap; the expensive Poor Boy’s Cap; the Cricket Cap, aka Schoolboy’s Cap, the same style that one would receive as a commemorative model, should one ever be lucky enough to play football for one’s country and be ‘capped’; the happily near extinct, Gatsby Cap, also known as the Newsboy Cap; Tommy Cooper’s favourite, the Fez; the conical, that’s not comical, but conical, Nòn Lá; the brain-boiling, Cossack Hat; the dual purpose Ushanka; a Skipper’s Cap, as popularised mid-sixties by a very young Bob Dylan and aped shortly thereafter by The Beatles' John Lennon; an Airman’s Leather Hat, with or without goggles; a Brakeman’s Hat; a Stetson Cowboy Hat, which was also handy for fetching water to your horse, hence the Ten Gallon Hat nickname; the Truckers Cap, aka the aforementioned baseball hat and, last but not least, H the classy Fedora Hat.

      I’ve always been a fan of the Fedora, the hat recently re-popularised by Leonard Cohen. I’d never been able to work up the courage to try one though. So I experimented a wee bit with that style for a while. Once again I went through the process of discovering that some were too high; too low; too tight; had too narrow a brim; had too wide a brim; too hot in the summer or even too cold in the winter. The major problem I had with them thought was that sometimes, just sometimes mind you, they looked fine from the front, but from the side they can look like someone had plopped a miniature armchair upside down on your head. My experiments led me to discover that it was better to have different models for summer and winter. In the summer it’s best to favour the lighter “straw” and consequently naturally aired version of Mr Cohen’s preference, while in the winter I settled on the traditional heavier version. Again you’ll really only get one summer out of alternating two “straw” fedoras, whereas the solid felt, winter model - but again it’s good to alternate a couple - will last you a good few winters if you take good care of them.

      Recently I’ve even discovered what could very easily become my regular winter hat. Again, like all my favourite hats, it’s one that was discovered for me by my wife, Catherine. This particular model is made by Christys’ of London and, as they’ve been around since 1773, I don’t think they’ll be going out of business or discontinuing my favourite model any day soon). It’s called a Travel Trilby, that’s a Travel Trilby, not a Travelling Wilbury. For me, it’s the perfect shape, easy to wear, fits well, with a wee bit, just a wee bit, of a wider brim and is a brown green in colour. It looks like it might be the model favoured by the race track fraternity (but not quite). Another major plus from my point of view is that it’s easily trained into my preferred, most comfortable, shape. However even after all of that, it’s biggest ace-in-one, or USP, and it’s one in the eye to all airport security staff who seem to take great pleasure in giving my hats an extra punch for good measure to make sure they were low enough to go into the X-Ray machines, is that no matter the battering delivered to the Travel Trilby, you can very easily remould it back to your perfect shape in seconds. Christys’ claim you can even roll it up to stuff it in your suitcase and it will spring back into the preferred shape the second it’s been released. I’m just three months into my relationship with my new hat and so I don’t have the confidence or courage to  attempt the rolling–up test with mine just yet, but through time I’m sure…

      I do know it’s been a long search from the bobble-less, bobble hat my mum knit for me (and my dad) all those years ago, but I do have a feeling that, where I rest my (new Christy’s of London) Hat (on my head) will be its home for a long time to come.  

      And now the bit before I go. After finishing work on The Lonesome Heart Is Angry I've been ODing on DVDs mainly the first 4 series of Parenthood - just incredible. Also watched Michael Connelly's Bosch, with Titus Welliver perfect as Harry Bosch. The pilot was 10 outta 10 and the amazing news is it's just been commissioned for a full series! There is a justice in the world after all.