Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Alpha Memories

When I was growing up in Rathcoole in the Sixties, I often went to the Saturday afternoon matinees in our local cinema, the Alpha by the Diamond. These were often cowboy pictures.

My mother often told the story of taking me to see a cowboy film when I was around six or seven. The hero kissed his girl, much to my disgust. "He'll be kissing his horse next", I shouted out to my mums's embarassment and the laughs of many in the audience.

Sadly, the Alpha ceased to be a cinema in the Seventies and became a drinking club - The East Way Social Club. That club has moved to new purpose built premises and the old cinema has been demolished. I have no idea what is to happen to the vacant site. I'd be interested in any memories of the old Alpha cinema from older Rathcoole residents.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Green Green Attitudes of Home

People in Northern Ireland want to be more eco-friendley but they need Government help, according to a new report which surveyed over 1000 local people on their environmental opinions.

In the report 'Who Cares? A Survey of Attitudes to the Environment in Northern Ireland', 80% of respondents agreed with the statement 'I'd be willing to make changes to my lifestyle to reduce environmental damage to the planet'. Some of the most popular suggestions were recycling more rubbish, buying more locally-produced food and buying more energy efficient appliances.

The least popular measure was driving your car less. Mary T. Conway, mother of two living outside Omagh explains that the lack of any convenient public transport where she lives makes the family very dependant on a car., "Work, school, shopping, socialising - we've no choice. Our car is a necessity, not a luxury."

The survey, carried out by MORI Ireland, highlights a number of areas where the public believe the government should be taking action.
* Reducing VAT on energy efficient appliances (91%)
* Tax breaks for households that try to reduce their environmental impact (90%)
* More funding for the development of biofuels which are cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels like petrol (84%)

Linda Giles from Dromore says, "It's really up to the government to come up with some answers. I don't think individuals like me can make much of a difference."

Over three quarters of respondents believed that there should be a requirement on business to publish their environmental performance but also that there should be tax breaks for businesses that are eco-friendly.

Martin, a small business owner from Ballynahinch says that there is no provision for recycling bins for businesses in his locality. He pays between £4 - £5 per bin per week therefore tries to keep waste to a minimum. "Finding time to sort out my waste and more importantly the time required to bring the waste products to the council's local recycling area is impossible. They open during business hours and it's not feasible for me to take an hour out of my day simply to deal with rubbish

The data showed that those in the highest social class category and those living in the Belfast City Council area were the most likely to be concerned about environmental issues.

The most unexpected finding from this survey related to the views of the youngest age group (15-24). While most did display anxiety about environmental problems, their level of concern was less than that of other age groups.

"In the environmental movement and in government we are sometimes all to quick to tell the public what lifestyle changes they should be making. With this report, we wanted to take a step back and ask the people of Northern Ireland what they really think about the environment and how easy it is to be eco-friendly today." said Jim Kitchen, head of WWF Northern Ireland. The report can be downloaded from

Thursday, January 12, 2006

In Conversation with - Griefshare

In Conversation with … Griefshare – a Grief Recovery Programme

AS WE grow older, the more likely it is that someone we know or love will die. Few people over thirty have not lost a family member or a close friend, whether through illness, accident or just through old age. Some folk can cope with such loss with few problems, especially if they have a strong family around them, or a deep religious faith. However, not everyone can cope so well as their friends seem to ignore them or treat them strangely, perhaps afraid that they will trigger floods of tears or some other dramatic reaction in the bereaved person. This can be a particularly difficult struggle for beareaved persons at critical times of the yaer like Christmas, significant birthdays and the anniversary of the loved one’s death.

Griefshare is a charity associated with Woodlands Presbyterian Church which aims to help those who are bereaved through its recovery programme. Ruth Lorimer from Griefshare told me more.

As Ruth puts it, “it may be hard for you to feel optimistic about the future right now. If you’ve lost a spouse, child, family member or friend, you’ve probably found that there are not many people who understand the deep hurt you feel. That’s the reason for Griefshare”.

Griefshare is a 13-week programme for people who are grieving the loss of someone close. Each week includes a video seminar featuring Biblical teachings on grief and recovery topics such as ‘Your Family and Grief’ and ‘Growing through Grief’. The vides also feature real-life stories of people who understand through their own loss. These are also aimed at offering comfort and encouragement on the journey from mourning to joy.

Another key element of each evening is the time spent discussing the video in small groups, supporting and learning from each other. It’s during these times that people realise they’re not on their own, but there are others who are also struggling with their grief and they can help and comfort each other.

Each of the sessions are ‘self-contained’ and people can attend at any stage. The facilitators who lead the groups have themselves suffered bereavement and loss and appreciate the difficulties faced by people who are grieving.

Griefshare hold information evenings at Woodlands Presbytarian Church, Burleigh Drive, Carrickfergus. “If you need further information, have questions about Griefshare or just need someone to chat to about your loss, contact Ruth 028 270 274 or Lois 093 378 651. Hurting people matter to God and matter to us to”.

Griefshare has been a real help to many people. A few people who had been helped by Griefshare have allowed us to quote them.

Mary said:
“Griefshare acknowledged the severity of how I felt and made me feel like it was okay. In Griefshare I met people who knew by looking at me, how I was feeling … they felt the same too. It gave me a focus and helped me get by in small steps from one week to the next”.

Deborah said:
“I went to Griefshare a year after my son died and received comfort, understanding and support. Those of us attending Griefshare are suffering the unbearable pain that comes when one we love so much, no longer shares our lives. At Griefshare I am able to share my deepest feelings and know that those around me really care for me.”

And Donald said:
“I made the call. It was a really difficult one to make! Over 12 months have passed, sad times, happy times, but it’s the caring and sharing that makes the difference.”

Griefshare has helped numerous people work through their grieving and encouraged them to rebuild their lives again. So if you're thinking about attending, come along to the information evenings and see for yourself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

David Kerr’s Top Films of 2005

MY CHOICE of the top five films of 2005 is purely subjective. It’s ones that tell a good story, are well acted and very entertaining, informative or inspiring.

1. Downfall. The last days of the Third Reich from inside Hitler’s bunker.

2. Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Fire. Harry comes face-to-face with the evil Voldermort in the latest sequel.

3. Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. CS Lewis’ wonderful Christian allegory hits the big screen.

4. King Kong. Peter Jackson’s remake of the classic beauty and the beast story.

5. Serenity. From the neglected Firefly – the Browncoats come to the big screen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mickybo & Me - Film Review

Mickybo & Me (, Certificate 15
Directed by Terry Loane

Reviewed by David Kerr
Starring Adrian Dunbar, Ciaran Hinds, Gina McKee, Susan Lynch, Julie Waters and introducing John Jo McNeill and Niall Wright

Mickybo & Me brings back a lot of memories for me. It's a bittersweet comedy set in a divided Belfast in 1970, just as the troubles were starting to get underway. The opening shots show a shop exploding into the middle of a city street as Johnjo and his mum go to buy a pair of shoes. Part of the fun for me is identifying where in the city the different scenes where shot.

Oblivious to the disintegrating society around them two bright youngsters from each side of the rapidly widening sectarian divide in the city meet and become firm friends in the face of a gang of older boys led by Mickybo's archenemy, a boy he calls 'fartface'. Mickybo (John Jo McNeill) fascinates Johnjo (Niall Wright) who is quite unlike anyone he has ever met. Mickybo is cheeky but loveable - he's definately the leader - brash, self assured and confident.

After blagging their way into a local cinema to watch Butch cassidy and the Sundamce Kid, the boys become obsessed by the lives of Butch and Sundance and decide to run away to Australia, living as outlaws on the way. A scene in which Mickybo 'robs' a small town banks branch while Johnjo waits outside on a getaway bike is priceless. And a later scene where the boys, like their heroes Butch and Sundance are chased by security guards and Gardai (across the border in 'Australia') is terrific.

Sadly the reality of Seventies Belfast hits the boys hard in a shocking twist to the storyline just as they return from life on the run. Powerful stuff!

This film is magnificent, with strong supporting roles from Julie Walters as Mickybo's mum, Adrian Dunbar as Mickybo'stragic alcoholic da and Cairan Hinds as Johnjo's philandering dad.

Great stuff! Get over the occasional bad language and watch this film. The DVD also has a few bonus features including some deleted scenes and a short film showing how the stunts were done.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Film Review - King Kong


Certificate – 12ADirected by Peter JacksonStarring – Naomi Watts, Carl Denham, Jack Driscoll, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis.

Reviewed by David Kerr

PETER JACKSON has had the world at his feet since his acclaimed film version of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy broke all kinds of box office records over the last few years. He could have had any film project he cared to name, so it’s no wonder that he decided to aim for something big – very big!

The dustbins of cinematic history are overflowing with dreadful, pointless remakes and sequels. The worst one of recent years has to be Psycho. King Kong itself was remade once before and set in the late twentieth century. In that one, the great ape met his gruesome end while balanced on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

Why bother, the, when the 1933 original was such a masterpiece? Well, I suppose that Jackson thought that he could bring in some modern film making techniques and produce a new classic for a new era. Id so, he has done it and done it well.

Andy Serkis, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, brought a real sense of believability to the role of Kong. This wasn’t just a bit of fancy computer generated imagery with a man mucking about in a monkey suit. The CGI was impressive with its lovingly recreated images of Thirties New York. Jackson’s choice in keeping his film in the same historical era as the RKO original was the right one.

Jack Denham really shines as the seedy, fast-talking and non-too-scrupulous filmmaker who takes a down-on-her-luck comedy actress into sailing to ‘Singapore’ to make a shipboard movie. He narrowly avoids arrest as the ship slips its moorings and sails to the mysterious Skull Island. No matter what horrors emerge – and there’s plenty of them – he keeps his camera rolling. Naomi Watts plays the hoodwinked actress who is captured by savages to be given to the great ape as a human sacrifice. The scene where she tries to befriend the ape with part of her stage comedy routine is hugely entertaining.

Some have criticised Jackson’s film for its length. I thought that the scenes where King Kong fights dinosaurs didn’t have to be so long and the scenes where the crew of the vessel encounters giant insects and leeches could have been cut. However, I decided against a large Coke before entering the cinema, so my bladder allowed me to sit through the whole thing without any discomfort! Definitely, this is one of the best films of 2005.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Disneyland Paris


IN LATE October last year, four of us – two adults and two children – visited Disneyland Paris. A ninety-minute flight took us from Aldergrove to Charles de Gaulle airport on the North East outskirts of Paris. A further 45-minute coach journey took us from the airport to our final destination – the three star My Travel’s Explorers Hotel. It’s just one of around a dozen different hotels that form part of the massive Disneyland Resort Paris complex. We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, so we spent most of our time relaxing with a meal and some drinks in the restaurant/bar area. A further hour was spent exploring our hotel and its grounds. It was then back to our room for a well-deserved first nights sleep.

The Explorers is a very family-orientated hotel and is just perfect for children. Indeed, on our first morning, excited children charging down the corridor woke us up just before 8 am. They were all heading towards the swimming pool! (It’s open from 8am – 9pm every day and is well worth a visit). Despite this, we lay on in our very comfortable beds and ambled down to breakfast around 9am. This seemed to be the most popular time for breakfast as the place was absolutely packed.

A self-service system was in operation. It seemed very chaotic to those of us used to patiently queuing, but we soon got used to this idea. Continental breakfast was included in our holiday package, but for a few Euros more a full English breakfast was available. However, we decided to stick with the Continental breakfast. Here you can lift as much food as you like – look out for the rolls, croissants, pain de chocolate and fruit salad. All were absolutely beautiful. There were also yoghurts, pureed fruit, cereals, tea, coffee and fruit juice available.

On the first full day of our holiday we decided to visit the main Disneyland Park. Getting from the Explorers Hotel to the Park couldn’t be easier as a free shuttle bus took us from our hotel direct. The bus served a couple of hotels but on average the journey was around ten minutes. The bus itself was a massive and reasonably comfortable ‘bendy bus’ – something similar to the City Express that runs between Newtownabbey and Belfast. As well as having a large number and destination information visible, the buses seemed to be colour-coded as to what hotels they served (ours was a yellow No. 54 bus). With the pick up/drop off areas being the same one couldn’t go wrong. On top of this, each bus supplied information via leaflets and TV.

Everything was translated into English, so there’s no problem in understanding announcements or instructions.

When we arrived at Disneyland Park we went through a brief security check and were then met by large queues. There seemed to be thousands of people waiting to get in but at least the queues were moving. We’d pre-booked our tickets for both the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. This proved to be very fortunate as we were able to join a special pre-booked queue, which only took between five – ten minutes to get in. (We’d pre-booked our passes at the Explorers Hotel – something we’d highly recommend doing).

One of our group was also disabled. Therefore, we were very happy to see that at each entrance a special entry system for wheelchair users and other disabled people had been put in operation.
Disneyland Park itself is divided into various different zones. Main Street USA is “a charming recreation of small-town America at the turn of the last century” and Fantasyland, which “is packed full of attractions based on classic fairytales, such as Peter Pan’s Flight and Pinocchio’s Fantastic Journey”. There’s also Discoveryland – “a world of tomorrow, as imagined by the likes of da Vinci and Jules Verne” and Adventureland “where you’ll experience the Caribbean, Africa and the jungles of Asia in one afternoon”.

We knew that there were special disability passes available and the staff at the entrance told us to obtain them from the ‘City Hall’ which is just inside the main entrance. (The ‘City Hall’ is also the main information centre for the Disneyland Park. All the staff spoke English and all maps and leaflets were translated into English). The ‘City Hall’ staff were very helpful and nothing was too much trouble for them. We had to provide our Blue European Disability card and in turn they provided us with our Disneyland Park disability pass. This pass enabled us to get on the various rides and attractions without having to join the main queue.

They explained that you had to take the pass to the exit of each attraction and staff would get our group on each ride. We were happy that some thought had been given to disabled visitor – however it was a very strange experience to enter each attraction via its exit. We thought this could be potentially dangerous, particularly to wheelchair users. Perhaps a separate entrance for visitors with special needs would have been more appropriate.

We found that our average wait to get on a ride was between five to ten minutes. Unfortunately we had to wait 45 minutes to get on the Thunder Mountain ride. Whilst we realised that this was perhaps the most popular ride at Disney the situation wasn’t good – especially as we had an autistic child with us, they don’t like to wait!

This aside we must say that Disneyland Park itself is absolutely amazing. We had just never come across anything like this before. There was almost too much to see and do. We soon realised that a three-day visit was inadequate for to see the whole of Disneyland – especially as we also wanted to visit the Disney Village and the Walt Disney studios. Our advice would be to go for a week if your budget allows it.

There’s something for everyone at the Disneyland Park. If you’re a thrill-seeker, head for Discoveryland. This is the home of Space Mountain: Mission 2, the newest and perhaps the most exciting ride in the whole Resort. Just reading its description will raise the hairs of your neck:

“The G-force crushes you deep into your seat as you blast off. Hurtling like a high-speed cannonball, the Mission spacecraft hits zero gravity and suddenly you're weightless. Then wham! You’re knocked off course, power-sliding and not knowing which way is up!”
We can testify that Space Mountain lives up to its hype! One trip on it was enough for us. It took us much of the day to get our breath back.

Every zone has its memorable rides and attractions. Also look out for the Enchanted Castle and the daily parades around the park. There’s also a free steam train railway that runs right around the park and you can get on or off the train in any zone you fancy. However, be prepared to queue a while for the train – it’s very, very popular!

All roads and streets were lined with various shops selling every type of Disney product available. These ranged from small enamel badges to clothes and costumes for the kids. There were also a lot of places to eat – but be warned they are extremely busy and can be a bit on the expensive side.

Our first full day at Disney flew in and before long it was getting dark. However instead of going back to our hotel we decided to visit the Disney Village. This is a vast area situated in the heart of the Disney resort. Full of Disney shops, bars, a nightclub and a multiscreen cinema. There also seemed to be every themed restaurant under the sun. Again there was a fantastic family atmosphere.

When we visited Disney it was at Halloween. This seemed to be a big holiday in France – and half the country seemed to be at the Disney Village! We’d never seen anything like this in our lives – men, women and children were all in fancy dress as ghosts, vampires, witches and so on. Some of the makeup they wore was very realistic. We had to look twice at lots of people who appeared to have terrible facial injuries – only to realise that it was elaborate make up.

We stayed reasonably late to enjoy the festivities. There were live bands, an open-air disco and various street acts. All in all there was a great carnival atmosphere. We’d highly recommend visiting Disney during Halloween period.

On 1st November the park was decorated for Christmas, the staff must have worked hard to transform it during the night. All part of “the magic” of Disneyland Paris!

John Field.

Film Review - Lassie


Certificate PGDirected by Charles SturridgeStarring: Peter O’Toole, Robert hardy, Nicholas Lyndurst and Edward Fox.

Reviewed by Alan Thompson

I HAVE accompanied my seven year old son to numerous multi-million dollar blockbusters over the last number of months, including batman Begins, the disappointing Legend of Zorro, Star Wars III, and the impressive King Kong. So what a delightful change this modest, fast paced, emotional, lower-budget picture was.

I was apprehensive before seeing the film that Lassie might just be another computer-generated canine King Kong, but not a bit of it. A real life dog with special effects and an absolute barely noticeable minimum.

A superb cast inspires Peter O’Toole as the Duke of Rudling to turn in one of his most impressive on-screen performances in years. The supporting cats includes Edward Fox, the ever reliable Robert Hardy and a surprise screen villain role for Nicolas ‘Rodders’ Lyndhurst, whose dastardly actions caused my son to have to wipe a tear from his eyes.

The story, set on the eve of the Second World War, begins with the local Yorkshire coal pit closing and miner Sam (John Lynch) is forced to sell Lassie to the Duke, much to the dismay of his desperate wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) and his heartbroken son, Joe. Lassie is transported to Scotland, but escapes the clutches of his belt-wielding handler, to make an epic journey back to Yorkshire. This version is the most faithful adaptation of Eric Knight’s original novel since the legendary Lassie Come Home (1943).

Some beautiful scenic photography, mostly shot in Ireland adds to the pleasant fell-good family experience. If you miss it at the cinema, grab the DVD – you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Les McKeown – Seventies pop legend talks to Alan Thompson.

FOR THOSE of us who can remember let’s get one thing straight, the bay City Rollers were absolutely massive in the Seventies. With a string of hits including ‘Shang-A-Lang’, ‘Bye Bye Baby’, ‘Remember’, ‘Summer Love Sensation’ and ‘Give a Little Love’. The magic is kept alive today by Les McKeown, the voice on all the original hits.

I caught up with Les as he prepares for his whistle stop Irish tour that includes gigs in Banbridge, Newry, Dublin and Belfast.

Les told me he’s always amazed by the reception he gets this side of the Irish Sea. “It’s brilliant” he daid. “I played here last year with David Cassidy and other stars of the 70s and the years just rolled back. I kind of think of Belfast now as my second home”.

Over the last five years Les’s popularity has again begun to soar and he told me he’ll be playing over fifty venues this year. But there’s another event high on the pop legend’s mind this year, the pending court case he and other former band members are bringing against their former record company. “It’s all been quite stressful but at least now at last it’s going to come to a head in court and hopefully be settled this year”. Les and the other band members are hoping for a negotiated settlement for monies and royalties they claim to have been cheated out of over the years.

Les welcomes the modern management techniques and layers of protection afforded to more recent boy band phenomena such as Take That and Boyzone. “We were thrown to the dogs” he states with understandable bitterness. “WE were exploited fully by ruthless, cruel, nasty people. They couldn’t have cared less about us. The only thing they worried about was lining their own pockets. We weren’t given a thought”.

However, les now looks to the future and his current management are planning a CD later in the year. Les has no contact with the other original members of the band socially but has been in contact as a necessity due to the pending legal proceedings.
Les stated “Sure I regret a lot, especially the management side of things but they were great times as well and I’m happy the way things are going now. I’ve a great team around me now and a big year ahead”.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Les in action during his forthcoming tour.

CD Review - Return To Splendor by The King aka Jim Brown.

RETURN TO SPLENDOR by The King aka Jim Brown.
15 Tracks. Running Time: 58 minutes 38 seconds.

“PLEASE ALLOW me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste” – the first line of the famous Rolling Stones song, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ – a song about the devil in disguise. I hadn’t expected to find this on an album by Northern Ireland’s foremost Elvis tribute act. Nevertheless, it’s there as the first track of Jim Brown’s second album, ‘Return to Splendor’. I thought that Gravelands was good, but that was just a warm up for this truly splendid CD. Shame about the spelling!

An Elvis fan for many years, I might be expected to welcome any decent tribute to the late King of Rock and Roll. True enough, but until listening to ‘Gravelands’ and this CD, I’d only thought of Elvis tribute acts singing Elvis songs! Who else could get away with adding that special Elvis touch to such a variety of songs and styles? From that opening Stones ballad, through the fast-paced ‘The House is Rockin’’, and country standards like ‘King of the Road’ and a very upbeat cover of ‘Take me Home Country Road’ to apparently outlandish tracks like the Sex Pistols’ classic ‘Pretty Vacant’, ‘The King’ makes them all his own. There’s not a weak track on it!

I particularly liked ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ and ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ as they gave The King’s Band a chance to excel in some wonderful instrumentals. I also loved the Elvisly-influenced gender-swapped version of Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. On this ablum she becomes ‘Child of a Preacher man’ with the occasional touch of ‘Elvis That’s the Way it is’ style comments throughout the track! Wow! The album winds down with a pleasant cover of the ever-popular ‘What a Wonderful World’ and a cheerful vesrion of Dean Martin’s tearjerker, ‘Little Ole Wine Drinker, Me’ that quite belies the self-pitying lyrics.

Quite why this talented singer has been so little recognised at home beats me. The man is a musical virtuoso, but his record label is German. He’s bigger there than he is here, so it’s good to see him getting a bit more airplay on Gerry Anderson’s Radio Ulster show in the last few months. I hope that the renewed interest in this talented artist will bring many new faces to his Elvis Spectacular Show in the Clarion Hotel in Carrickfergus on March 3rd.

David Kerr

Friday, January 06, 2006

Maxwell's Last Hours … Alan Thompson visits Santa Cruz, Tenerife.

I TOOK a New Year sunshine holiday break to Tenerife to recharge the batteries over the holiday period. I deliberately booked an up-market hotel complex outside the brash resort of Playa de las Americas. If – like me – you detest loud, noisy, lager lout infested neon-lit costa style resorts, Santa Cruz the capital of Tenerife and the Canary Islands, is well worth a visit.

I have for years now been interested in the life of the late disgraced publishing tycoon, Robert Maxwell. Having recently re-read two outstanding books on the subject ‘Maxwell: The Outsider’ and ‘Maxwell: The Final Verdict’ both by author Tom Bower, I decided it would be interesting to retrace his final steps before he boarded his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine for the last time in November 1991. What happened to Maxwell between that and his body being found at sea 24 hours later has remained a mystery ever since, and has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories.

I decided to stroll to the Hotel Mencey. The beautiful and elegant early twentieth century Hotel is where Maxwell had his last meal. I took the scenic route along the waterfront, the Avenida Jose Antonio Primo De Rivera. As I turned left to ascent I stumbled upon what is now a rarity in Spain; a massive statue of the former Head of State, El Caudillo himself, General Francisco Franco. The statue shows Franco in heroic pose with a massive sword on an angel type figure. The statue has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. It is surrounded by weeds and has obviously been uncleaned for years. This is probably a prelude to its eventual removal. It was only last year that the authorities removed the last remaining statue in Madrid. The Franco connection, and probably the reason the statue has survived, is very strong. It was from Tenerife, whilst Governor of the Canary Islands that Franco began the insurgency that would engulf Spain in a bitter and bloody civil war.

I arrived at the Hotel and entered through the huge entrance, being nodded to enthusiastically by the commissonaire on the door. The hotel oozed both class and splendour, a world away from the ugly concrete hotel creations that have been thrown up all over the island during the last forty years. I proceeded to the bar, past the vast reception, by this time gasping for a beer after the long walk up the hill. The hotel bar manager Leonardo duly served me the most expensive bottle of beer of my entire holiday stay. I asked him how long he had worked at the hotel and he replied twenty years. I said that that the hotel was mentioned in the book I was reading about Robert Maxwell. “Ah, Maxwell” Leonardo responded, “I was on duty that night and served Maxwell. He came in and enquired were the restaurant was and I showed him to it while his associate waited at the bar”. Leonardo then took me from the bar along a high marble veranda, though the restaurant door and showed me where Maxwell had sat. “He was served by Sergio Rodriguez. Hake, if I remember correctly” added Leonardo. “He then re-entered the bar ordered himself and his associate another beer and he stood right there” said Leonardo showing me the exact spot at the bar. “Maxwell then bid me farewell and joined the taxi driver who had waited in the reception area, Sergio then came running from the restaurant with Maxwell’s jacket which he had forgotten. He thanked Sergio and then left”. It was from there that Maxwell’s taxi driver took him to The Olimpyo, a coffee house/restaurant where he had one coffee before returning to the Lady Ghislaine. After thanking Leoanardo I jumped in a taxi to return to the city centre for a coffee in the Olimpyo and a spot of shopping.

The taxi, because of the one way system in operation at first headed away from the city centre back down the hill from whence I had came and swung right, past Franco’s statue. As I gazed at it for a second time the taxi driver, who had already asserted that I spoke English pointed at it and said meekly “Franco”, then without warning, he screamed “BASTA …DDDDDDD!” at the top of his voice. He then broke into a frenzied loud laugh as I landed back on my seat after nearly going through the roof. He continued laughing loudly. As I got out of the taxi and paid the driver he was still laughing, a man obviously happy at his work. I gazed at the Olimpyo coffee house, then walked over sat down in the sun and ordered a coffee. The restaurant is in the shade of the massive Civil War Memorial, which stands in the Plaza de Espana. It was unveiled in 1946 to mark the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Civil war. Again this memorial is in decline, with graffiti scrawled on it. This was the only graffiti to be seen anywhere in an otherwise spotlessly tidy city.

As I finished my coffee I couldn’t help thinking what must have been going through Maxwell’s mind as he finished his. His empire was teetering on financial meltdown, only his sheer force of presence had delayed the inevitable. His plundering of the pension funds would be exposed. He could no longer buy silence. He would be disgraced, possible gaoled. At nearly 70 there would be no way back, not even for Robert Maxwell.

I strolled over to the Calle del Castillo, the main shopping mall and after gathering some bargains I then hailed a taxi to return me to the southern part of the Island. Thankfully, the taxi didn’t pass Franco’s statue.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

George Best

HAVE YOU ever wondered why so many Ulstermen – and women – of a certain age are fervent Manchester United supporters? The simple answer is George Best. At a time when our Troubles were raging furiously he was the one beacon of hope for many of our folk. He was the Belfast Boy. He was the best versus the rest. He gave a sense of pride to so many folk that younger people find hard to comprehend. That’s why so many tens of thousands paid tribute to him - on Saturday 3rd December 2005 – as his coffin was brought to the Great Hall in Stormont. He didn’t realise it but many people loved him, despite his many self-admitted failings.

Given this atmosphere, it was truly distressing to read columnist Joan Burnie’s piece in the Daily Record. On the day before he was laid to rest, this nasty harpie mocked all those who mourned George Best with the words “We’ve still got the State funeral tomorrow at Stormont where no doubt yet more extravagant praise and plaudits will be rained down on Best’s head. Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend. As the song says, send in the clowns”. Of George, she said, “The only important event which mattered last Friday was that an alcoholic waster finally did the Best thing and died”.

Nasty Miss Burnie has the right to say what she thinks, of course. So too have the people of Northern Ireland for whom she shows nothing but contempt. We can vote with our wallets and stop taking the Daily Record in favour of a proper newspaper.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Major John George Brew

THANKS TO THOSE of you who responded to an article in the last Kerr’s Corner on Major John George Brew, who in 1902 as a Second Mate on the SS Tor Head, had been decorated by the Kaiser for bravery. He had taken a leading part in rescuing the crew of the stricken German sailing vessel Helene in very heavy weather.

When war broke out Brew enlisted in Portadown, Co Armagh in September 1914. Although a qualified ship’s master, he was recruited as a Private, No. 13975. He was posted to his local battalion, the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, in the Ulster Division’s 108th Brigade. However, he was soon recognised as officer material and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant by December.

Much of his military service was undertaken in and around the Somme area.

I’m grateful to the reader who steered me towards a new book from the News Letter journalist, Steven Moore, The Irish on the Somme. Mr Moore has spent the past thirty years researching the history of the Great War and has paid many visits to the battlefields of the Western front.
His tremendously researched book sheds some more light on the tragic death of Major Brew, who died of injuries received as a prisoner of war in April 1918.
‘Major John George Brew, of the 9th (North Irish Horse) Royal Irish Fusiliers suffered a lonely-death. The 41-year-old was commanding his battalion on the retreat when he was taken prisoner along with a General Staff officer and his driver, both of whom were injured, and MJ Furnell, who was in charge of the 1st Battalion of the regiment, as they returned by car from seeing their brigadier’.

In a letter to Major Brew’s widow, Annie, at her Portadown home in April 1921, Fernell described what happened: “After being searched we were being marched back to the German headquarters by an escort, when some Germans who evidently mistook us for British troops opened fire on us: your husband was walking alongside me and was hit”. After the confusion in the darkness subsided it was discovered that Major Brew had been shot through the lung but “it was impossible to move him without help from the Boche which they refused to give and only beat us with the butts of their riffles when we asked them to move your husband. We moved him to the side of the road and made him as comfortable as possible, he couldn’t speak much. The Boche were trying to hurry us on all the time so didn’t have much chance of doing anything and said goodbye to your husband and he was able to shake hands with me”. Major Brew’s body was later recovered and is buried at Roye New British Cemetery, some 28 miles south-east of Amiens”.

This was truly a tragic end for a really brave man who could undoubtedly have survived had he been given the proper medical attention.

Steven Moore’s fine book has many illustrations including those of Major Brew and his final resting-place. Published by Local Press, it is a well-bound large paperback. Look out for it at any good bookshop.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Film Review - The Manchurian Candidate

Director: Jonathan DemmeCertificate: 15 (UK)Running Time: 129 minutesReviewed by Betty Wood.

I APPROACHED the viewing of this film already slightly bored by the current trend for the remaking of old films and in a week in which the Alfie remake had gone straight to Number 5 in the Screen charts.

Not convinced that a remake of the 1962 Cold war classic targeting Communism and starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury had anything relevant to say today, I found that I was slowly, scene by scene, drawn into this complicated, rich tale full of complex and dangerous characters. This is not an action film, although there are scenes of war and assasinations but a hypnotic story of mind control and the political power exerted by large, global firms.
From the opening scenes of soldier’s playing cards before going into action, the story goes back and forward in time and focus, moving between the main protagonists.

As the story, which begins in Kuwait in 1991, unfolds against the current day tensions of elections for the Vice-President, we begin to see US Army Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) begin to doubt the reality of his 1991 Gulf War experience in which his Platoon (apart from two soldiers who died in the desert) was saved by Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Live Schriber).

I’m not going to describe the story in detail except to say that it raises serious questions about the tie-ins between political power and big corporations; the use of mind control techniques on combatants; the use also of personal power in the steely character of Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw (Meryl Streep), who is Sergeant Shaw’s mother.

The ending of the film is slightly contrived as the films pace changes and it seems to rush to present a conclusion, which ties up the loose ends.

The acting in this film is of a high calibre particularly Meryl Streep’s character who was so icy and powerful she made me shudder at times. The scenes with Streep, Washington and Schrieber were absolute stunners. The very deliberate camerawork focusing intently on the actors faces, showing every nuance of emotion, added to the impact and contrasted beautifully with other scenically powerful shots of burning oil fields and staggeringly high sky lines.
Smaller but equally significant roles were played by Jon Voight as Senator Thomas Jordan, by Jeffrey Wright as Corporal Al Melvin (a member of the saved platoon who is having strange and disturbing dreams).

Kimberly Elise as Rosie, a Federal Agent assigned to track Marco and learn what he knows is a key character. Previously unknown to me I was impressed by her performance and look forward to seeing her again.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Film Review - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Directed by Mike Newell.Running time: 157 minutes.Certificate: 12A

AFTER OPENING in November worldwide, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is, by now, the best Harry Potter movie in the series. It isn’t much of a surprise, since the movies achieve a higher level of excellence as they pass by. The first one was good, the second was great, and the third one was thrilling. The fourth instalment in the franchise improves some disappointing factors that affected the third movie (confusing ending; shallow performances), and is a winner from the start.

In a matter of action, ‘Goblet’ is much better than ordinary, brainless action flicks. It’s got emotion, tension, and incredible special effects. In fact, in matter of effects the Harry Potter series has been superb all the way. This time, director Mike Newell abuses much of them to create a spectacular and monstrous fire-breathing dragon, and an intense underwater sequence, filled with amazing creatures. Also, ‘Goblet’ is very surprising and unexpectedly unusual, with female giants and suicidal tasks for young wizards to complete. The Triwidard tournament is perhaps the best thing about the movie, for it adds character development, action, and density to the movie. It is also a reunion of the most spectacular, eye-candy sequences of cinema. The story also gets very dark and elaborate. Voldemort is coming back, and the Dark Mark indicates that.

Speaking on Voldemort, let’s not forget the great interpretation of Ralph Fiennes. After a superb interpretation in ‘The Constant Gardner’, Fiennes delivers another great role, his chillier and most dangerous character since Francis Dolarhyde in ‘Red Dragon’. All the actings are great, but also not award deserving. The leading teenage trio works effectively well, especially Rupert Grint as the hilarious Ron Weasley. He mumbles and fumbles, but has a great heart, shown by Rupert really well. Michael Gambon proves once again to be a great actor as Albus Dumbledore. Sirius Black, here being reduced to a few minutes in a scene, is played perfectly by Gary Oldman. All other actors deserve a thumbs-up.

The dark background given in ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’ fits perfectly in ‘Goblet’, which features Death Eaters and the Dark Mark that appears in an unusual Quidditch Match, which was not presented in ‘Azkaban’. Although the darkness is very well presented here, Newell scores by perfectly showing an unusual teenager problem. Newell shows the wizards’ greatest fear – attraction – so well in some parts, that you can literally feel hormones boiling in the theatre. There is a dance sequence in the movie, and where teenagers from all different wizardry schools show one very particular interest, shown in screen perfectly. ‘Goblet’ is a movie that unites different movie genres exceedingly well, such as drama, action, thriller, adventure and romance. The film itself is really long, running for more than two hours, but all the time was used incredibly well, and this reflects after the credits roll on the screen.
Concluding, ‘Goblet’ is the best in the Harry Potter series by now, because it shows the emotion and fear of the characters with so many memorable scenes. There’s a phrase in the movie that could explain everything going on in Harry’s mind. Difficult times lie ahead, and soon we must choose between what’s right and what’s easy. It might sound cheesy, but it is the perfect definition for all that’s going on in Potter’s mind. This human side of the powerful wizard makes the movie irresistible and one of the years best.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Travel Review - Disneyland Paris, Day One - Arrival

My Travels Explorers Hotel, 50 Avenue de la Fosse des Pressoirs, 77700 Magny-Le-Hongre, France.

FOUR OF US - two adults and two children travelled to Disneyland Paris for a brief family holiday towards the end of October/early November. We travelled by easyJet from Aldergrove to Charles de Gaulle airport on the North East outskirts of Paris. A 45 minute door-to-door coach journey took us from the airport to our final destination - My Travels Explorers Hotel.
When we arrived at the Three Star Explorers Hotel, we were directed to the massive Reception area. Here the staff were very efficient, pleasant and friendly. They all spoke excellent English. A minimum of fuss and beaurocracy ensured a very quick check-in procedure. There were plenty of reception staff on duty and they also gave a brief outline of the hotel and details of the quickest route to our room. We were particularly impressed by the way children were catered for in the general reception area - cartoons were being shown on a big TV which kept the kids amused whilst their parents could check in.

Because a relative had travelled from England to join us we had booked a 'Crew Room'. This was really a family room with an adjoining room which could have comfotably slept six people. The Crew Room was a good size with more than adequate storage for of clothes and baggage. It also featured a separate toilet and bathroom. The bathroom also featured one of the hottest and most powerful showers we'd ever came across. If this didn't wake you up in the morning nothing would.

The 16 channel TV featured pay-to-view films, internet access and had a playstation facitily. Most programmes were in French, but you could pick up BBC News 24, MTV and Cartoon Network all of which were in English. The room also had a hair dryer and kettle in room. Our only dissapointment was the lack of the usual complimentary tea, coffee, sugar, milk and biscuits.

After unpacking, all five of us headed towards the main restaurant and bar area. This was located downstairs overlooking the large swimming pool. Although we were quite hungry, we didn't fancy a huge sit down meal. Therefore we visited Marco's Pizza Parlour. Here we chose our evening meal from a menu of around a dozen different types of pizzas, all of which are freshly prepared and baked on the spot. We can particularly reccommend their Vegetarian, Three Cheese, Margarita and Hawiaan pizzas. All were absolutely beautiful - very tasty and filling. The only drawback was the price, around 7.50 Euros each (about £5.00). We thought a Euro or two less would be more appropriate.

(Marco's also employed an ingenious method of serving up their food. Once our pizzas were ready they wrote our hotel door number on a blackboard and rang a ships bell. This ensured that there were no long queues of people waiting for their order).

To get our drinks we didn't have to travel to far, as the Travellers Cafe Bar is situated right next to Marco's. It serves many different types of beers, cocktails (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), wines, spirits and soft drinks. If booze isn't your thing, you can also get hold of a cup of tea or coffee. Unfortunatley when we visted it there was only one member of staff behind the bar. This led to a large queue forming. Nevertheless she was very efficient, calm and pleasant. She made up our order in no time.

After some time relaxing in the restaurant/bar area, we spent the next hour or so exploring the hotel and its grounds - and the hotel next to ours! We then returned to our Crew Room and within minutes we were all snoring our heads off in our very comfortable beds! Day one of our Disneyland Paris adventure was well and truely over.
To find out more about the Explorers Hotel check out their web-site: