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. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thanks For The Memories

KERR’S CORNER this time is a little bit different from the norm. Since the last issue my father, Tommy Kerr has died, so I’m using the column to say something about him.During his ninety-one years a lot has changed in this country.

My dad was born in 1915 in Meigh in South Armagh when Ireland was all one country and part of the UK. This was during the Great War, a year before the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme. He lived through it all: the formation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, the early troubles, the hungry thirties, the Blitz, post-war prosperity and the latest troubles.

Despite leaving South Armagh in the early Thirties, he still had a fondness for the place. Earlier this year my sister took him for a nostalgic drive around some parts he hadn’t seen for over half a century. He really enjoyed it. On a trip to Dublin on the train on St Patrick’s Day last year, he eagerly pointed out landmarks around his old stamping ground. One of his earliest memories was seeing all the King’s dead horses lying by Kilnasaggart Bridge when the IRA blew up the line to attack a train carrying soldiers. Apparently King George V was opening the Northern Ireland Parliament in Belfast and the horses and men were intended to take part in the ceremony. Dozens of horses were killed in the explosion. No wonder he never forgot this grisly sight.

He also recalled attending the funeral of Lord Carson in Belfast. This was the biggest funeral ceremony he had ever seen until George Best’s last year.

During the Second World War he worked in Ewart’s mill in Bedford Street which was turned over to producing uniforms and other equipment for the war effort. He spent many evenings on fire watch on the roof of the building. During the big blitz, he had spent an exhausting night putting out incendiary bombs. Just about deadbeat, he went home to Rosapenna Street for a good sleep only to find that his home had become a pile of rubble. Fortunately no other members of the family were injured, I know of no surviving pictures of my dad from any earlier than 1941.

My mum was an ARP warden during the war. She met dad during the war and married him just before Christmas in 1947. At first they lived with her mother off the Shankill Road, but they eventually got a flat in Green End in a new Housing Trust estate called Rathcoole.
My first sister was born in 1954, I came along in 1957 and my second sister in 1962. By that time we had moved a brand new house in Movilla Park. This was our family home for most of my life.

Most of dad’s brothers and sisters – and his mum - moved to Canada just after the war. Another brother, who had served in the RAF, lived in England for a time before returning to Ulster. Tommy remained a home bird, although he did manage to travel to Canada a few times to see his relatives. The last time was only a few years ago. Hew was certainly highly regarded by them. Some of the loveliest tributes and sympathy messages I have received have come from Canada.

My mother never enjoyed good health and died in her mid-fifties in 1980 – five days after Dad retired. This was a terrible knock back but he didn’t let it beat him. He really enjoyed his retirement and remained very active, often walking everywhere. He made great use of his bus pass; often getting on any bus he fancied and walking back to Belfast City centre. Often I would get reports from friends who had spotted him walking in the most unlikely of places! Until the age of 87 he was still walking on the Twelfth with his Orange lodge, Primrose Temperance. He only stopped when he admitted to himself that he couldn’t stick the pace anymore.

On his ninetieth birthday the family organised a terrific party for him in the Spectrum Centre on the Shankill Road. My sister had organised this with military precision and it went very well. Tommy was tickled pink by the large number of friends, relations and well wishers who turned up for the event.

He strongly valued his independence. Until May he was even going into town on the bus to visit the Linenhall Library where he liked to read the Newry Reporter – his old local newspaper – each Saturday. It really upset him that he couldn’t do the things he used to do after he suffered a fall in early June. In the last couple of months he was in and out of hospital and the Cherrytree nursing home in Carrickfergus. He hated it. He was miserable. He found it very difficult to accept that his independence had been lost. All he wanted to do was go home to his own wee flat in Rathcoole Close. Even in his last hours, all he wanted to do was fight to get out of bed, out of hospital and back home. He was a fighter right to the end.

Despite his guts and tenacity he also had a generous spirit. He cared about other people and even cats. One of my cats went missing on June 6th. Right up to a few days before he died, he was still asking if there was any word of my lost cat. They just don’t make them like that anymore. We shall all miss him. Thanks for the memories, Dad!

Thanks to the staff of Cherrytree and Whiteabbey Hospital for all they did for Tommy and to Rev Alice Stewart of the Church of the Ascension for the magnificent way she conducted the funeral service and comforted the family. Thanks also to Primrose Temperance LOL who were kind enough to carry Tommy’s coffin to the graveside. I was deeply touched by he affection he was held in by so many people who came along and by all the messages of sympathy the family received. Thanks to you all.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Classic Movies In Belfast

After the last issue of Kerr’s Corner I was shocked to hear from my nephew that he had never watched any old black and white films. Although something of a movie buff, he has never seen the likes of Casablanca, Brief Encounter or The Day the Earth Stood Still. This is a great shame as many of these films can be seen or television from time to time and most are available on DVD.

In Belfast, it’s possible to pick up classic movies on DVD and some on VHS in a few places. Energy Records in the High Park Centre in High Street specialises in hard-to -find titles and also carries a range of North American Region 1 imports, but it can be expensive. Gemini Video in the Haymarket at the corner of Royal Avenue and North Street offers a lot of variety, especially for fans of John Wayne and for the range of Fox Studio Classics. These shops are tiny in comparison to the corporate behemoths of HMV and Virgin, but you’re much more likely to pick up a classic film in one. Check them out and don’t forget to say that Kerr’s Corner sent you.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Film Review - Snow Cake – Autism N.I. Premiere – Wednesday 23rd August

I WAS delighted to have the opportunity to attend the premiere of the film, Snow Cake at the Movie House, Dublin Road, Belfast.

Having never been to a premiere before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it certainly seemed strange to be dressed to the nines just to go to the cinema!When we arrived we headed for the champagne and Guinness reception, after collecting our goodie bags. No Rolex watches or Tiffany jewellery, but lovely skin and hair care products as well as perfume samples and other nick nacks. Very acceptable!

After indulging in a glass (or two) of champagne, we headed in to watch the film.

Set in Canada, the film introduces us to Alex Hughes ( Alan Rickman), just arrived from England and heading for Winnipeg.

It starts off slowly with Alex hiring a car and going to a diner for something to eat. There he encounters the wonderfully kooky, Vivienne (Emily Hampshire), who is hoping to hitch a lift to her hometown to see her mother. Despite his initial misgivings he finally agrees to take her along.

As they travel, Alex starts to relax as Vivienne makes him laugh with her questions and observations.

I felt myself really warming to her character and so was very shocked when they are involved in a very serious road accident.

In the aftermath, Alex decides to visit Viviennes’ mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), to tell her what happened and to give her a present that her daughter had bought her.

Linda certainly wasn’t what he expected, and he soon discovers she suffers from High Functioning Autism and has a particular obsession with snow.

As the mother of a teenage boy with Autism, I could certainly relate to all her little quirks, her love of order and her seeming indifference to the tragedy that had befallen her family.
This character was wonderfully portrayed by Weaver. She had based the character on Roz Blackburn a British woman with Autism, who advised her.Having seen Miss Blackburn at a conference I could see how Weaver had picked out her mannerisms and had got them perfectly.

The film then follows Alex as he stays with Linda and Viviennes dog Marilyn who lives on a diet of bananas!

He meets the mysterious but beautiful Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss) and embarks on an affair.

Alex has a secret past and the local Police Officer, Clyde (James Allodi) is anxious for his some time girlfriend, Maggie, to know about it.

This film was beautifully shot, the scenery is fabulous and I was very impressed with the wonderful statue of a Canada Goose on the outskirts of the town. It made me want to go there.
I don’t want to tell you any more about the plot, suffice to say the film is everything I hoped it would be, and more. It gives an insight into the world of Autism, and how it impacts on families and friends. It is funny, heart warming, moving and sad.

Alan Rickman was superb; he has such screen presence and is one of my favourite actors. The film was well cast, and is worthwhile going to see even if you have no interest in Autism.

Much praise should go to Autism NI (PAPA) for hosting this premiere. It was well organised and the prize draw was excellent with some great prizes. Top prize was return tickets to Canada with Zoom Airlines, which sadly I didn’t win! This was drawn by Donna Trainor of BBC Newsline.

All in all a good night at the movies, though next time I’ll settle for popcorn and diet coke instead of champagne and canapés!

Margaret Field

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Do You Follow Rangers?

AFTER THE disappointment of last season, Rangers fans are anxious for new boss Paul Le Guen to turn things around. It’s way too early in the season yet to predict how his French Revolution will affect the Light Blues. However, ‘Le Gaffer’ is known as a hard taskmaster and disciplinarian – and may be just the thing Rangers need to steer them to the next level.
However, in anticipation of a cracking season ahead, I’m able to highly recommend an excellent new 22 mm full colour Rangers Football Club enamel badge.

This beautiful badge features the well-known Rangers crest of a red Scottish Lion Rampant on a blue football. This is set on a light blue shield with the motto Ready underneath the crest. The shield itself has a golden Crown on top of it. Around the shield is a striking red circle and around this is a light blue band bearing the words Rangers Football Club.

This fantastic badge costs only £2.50 (including p&p). To get your Rangers Football Club badge, simply send a cheque/Postal Order (made payable to Glenwood Publications) to: Glenwood Publications, First Floor, 316 Shankill Road, Belfast, BT13 3AB.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Restaurant Detective – By Alan Thompson

FANCY A cracking lunch with family, friends or work colleagues? I’ve found the very spot. The recently opened Harmony Chinese & Thai restaurant in Glengormley certainly fits the bill. I called last week to inspect the latest addition to Glengormley’s growing gourmet outlets and was immediately impressed by the no-expenses-spared manner in which the premises have been fitted out. Would the food live up to the surroundings? I was not to be disappointed.

A three-course lunch was on offer at £6.95. What immediately impressed me was the range of starters available, no less than a choice of 26. I plumped for the Chicken Noodle soup and have no complaints, served quickly (always a big plus at lunchtime), the soup was fresh and warm.

My main course then followed, Shanghai beef with fried rice. Again I have to say for a lunch menu special the choice was impressive. No less than 27 dishes were on offer. So often restaurants will limit the choice of menu for lunchtime specials, the reverse is true of the Harmony.

The staff were efficient and attentive, the food was served quickly (again I have to say that this is an important criteria for lunchtime), the quality and taste were A1.

The dessert menu was standard and could do with expansion, but this was a small blip on an otherwise faultless lunch visit.

The Harmony Chinese & Thai Restaurant, Unit 2, 1 Ballyclare Road, Glengormley. Tel: 028 9083 6600.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Film Review - McLibel: Two People who refused to say sorry

Release Date: February 20, 2006

Classification: Exempt

THIS IS documentary style account of the 314 day 'McLibel' trial which ended on 19 January 1997. In the longest trial in English legal history Helen Steel and Dave Morris represented themselves in a libel action brought by McDonalds. At the very start of the film two quotes are juxtaposed:-

"This is about the publics right to know what the most powerful organisations in the world are really doing" (Dave Morris) and "So far as McDonalds are concerned anybody is free to express his criticism in whatever form he wishes" (Richard Rampton, QC).

The early part of the film deals with the infiltration of London Greenpeace by private detectives working for McDonalds. McDonalds sent in seven different spies from two separate agencies (who were unaware of each other). At times more spies were present at meetings than genuine activists (just as in GK Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday!). One female spy was said to have had a six month sexual relationship with one of the activists.

The task of the spies was to identify who was responsible for a leaflet critical of McDonalds. The leaflet attacked McDonalds for an anti-Union policy, contributing to animal cruelty, complicity in environmental damage, adverse health effects of a junk food diet and advertising aimed at children. The spies needed to get names and addresses to serve writs. In the case of Dave Morris this was done by asking another activist on the pretext of sending his son clothes.

On 21 September 1990 five members of London Greenpeace were served with libel writs. Three of the Five apologised to McDonalds but Morris and Steel refused. The documentary illustrates how the odds were rigged against the defendants. Legal Aid is not granted for libel cases in the UK. The McLibel 2 had to defend themselves and seek to show the truth of the allegations. Arrayed against them was a substantial team of qualified lawyers and a company that could easily afford to fly witnesses in from around the world. It was a David and Goliath struggle.

Throughout the film we can see the strain that is placed on the defendants and their family life and relationships by the trial. Dave was bringing his young Son up alone and Helen was working night shifts in a bar to pay the bills. Yet when Helen Steel requested a short break due to this (on medical advice) it was refused. The film raises a number of questions about the UKs harsh libel laws and freedom of expression.

Each section of the leaflet was pored over and tested with each side presenting argument and evidence. The documentary follows this logical structure with a re-enactment (directed by Ken Loach) of a brief opening statement from Richard Rampton QC summarising the issue in question. Key exchanges between Rampton and witnesses and statements or questions to witnesses from Morris and Steel are also vividly brought to life.

McDonalds lost the publicity war to these two determined activists. Helen and Dave were adept at presenting their case through the establishment media. Yet they also realised that it was better to communicate their message directly to avoid distortion or censorship. They launched a website www.mcspotlight.org.

The trial eventually resulted in £60,000 damages awarded to McDonalds (reduced to £40,000 on appeal). McDonalds is estimated to have spent over $19 million on the case. Helen and Dave also challenged the UK government. However, this was not the end of the story. On February 15, 2005, the marathon legal battle finally concluded at the European Court of Human Rights.
Filmed over ten years by no-budget Director Franny Armstrong this is an enthralling and important project.

It's interesting to note that McDonalds is in decline in the UK. 25 UK stores are being closed after five years of falling sales. In the end, it wasn't criticism from activists that led to slump in the UK sales. Rather competition from rival coffee and sandwich chains combined with greater general health awareness is what has hit them hard. The impact of films such as this and Supersize Me in this overall equation is difficult to quantify

Pat Harrington