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An Ulster Log: Stockings fall out of fashion at Christmas

By Eddie McIlwaine

Did children everywhere hang up their stockings by the fireplace this Christmas and leave shortbread and milk for Santa?

My question is prompted by this card sent to us by family friend Anita Gibney. Those three stockings in the picture above were a reminder of how it used to be when I was young.

I love Christmas to this day - I would still enjoy hanging up my stocking only it isn't the done thing for guys of my age to do so.

I was 14 the last time I had my stocking filled. Filled with ashes, to my dismay. A sign that I was growing up. I wonder who put them there?

But getting back to the original question, I have to say, to my dismay, that the current Santa generation have stockings only for wearing.

The point is that you can't squeeze a laptop, or a computer game, into a stocking and children today aren't impressed by an apple and an orange down in the toe.

I used to keep that fruit for weeks just because of the Father Christmas connection.

While I'm on the subject of Yule, let me tell you that the sight and smell of blue paint brings memories of Christmas past tumbling back.

As compensation for no longer being allowed to hang up my stocking, I was promoted to my father's assistant when he was making toys for my sisters.

One year, he built a dolls' cot and painted it blue. Blue paint and Christmas have gone together ever since for me.

And I still believe in Santa.

Time to make the Waterfront glitter

The elegant glitter ball that was presented to television presenter Caroline Flack for winning Strictly reminds me of a similar ball that used to hang from the ceiling of the old Floral Hall, a Mecca of ballroom into the 1970s before falling into disrepair.

The Floral glitter ball then went missing for years and surfaced to be spun again at a play in the Arts Theatre.

That was the last I saw of it, before it vanished into a prop store somewhere.

Wouldn't it be nice if the Ulster Orchestra tracked it down again and had it hanging all aglow in the Waterfront in time for one of their traditional evenings of gentle music and song?

To make the evening complete they could invite 32-year-old Caroline and her dance partner, Pasha Kovalev, to perform a few routines in front of the musicians. Caroline, who judge Len Goodman said put her soul into her dance, would help the orchestra to pack the Waterfront in the New Year.

Pasha, by the way, is the boyfriend of Countdown's Rachel Riley, with whom he danced in last year's Strictly without much success.

But, back to my main point - where is the Floral Hall glitter ball hiding?

How Gerald forged a job and a new life passion

When the forge is glowing and the anvil ready for action, blacksmith Gerald Monaghan just loves shoeing a horse. Or even a donkey.

And today the horseshoes he shapes are for hooves at the Ulster Folk and Transport museum, where he has his smithy. And its proving to be a lucky one as Gerald has been made a Journeyman by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in London.

The certificate accompanying the accolade explains the Worshipful Company was impressed by Gerald, especially since he took up shoeing only four years ago.

"And he is self-taught," points out Kathryn Kirk at the museum. "His is a natural talent and his workshops are always a sell-out."

Mark Irvine, head of operations at the Folk Park, adds: "Gerald enriches the museum - especially at his daily forge demonstrations. Never mind the horseshoes - the pokers he fashions are always in demand, too."

Gerald, who arrived at the museum in 1996 as a guide, says: "I'm one of those fortunate people who love going to work every day, especially when I became a blacksmith - a trade I have always admired. When I first stood at the furnace back in 2010, I didn't envisage blacksmithing becoming such a big part of my work, but it's a traditional skill I'm delighted to be keeping alive."

Shame on the seasonal scoundrel

Here's a bit of a story about a Christmas rogue.

A 40-something stranger wandered into the hall of a church in east Belfast where a group of women were busy at a craft session.

After he told a minister he was starving, was out of work and generally having a rough time at Christmas with no money, he was made a present of a tenner and a parcel of edibles from a food bank at the church.

But after the stranger departed, one of the craft class ladies discovered that her handbag was missing and her purse, which contained a goodly sum.

Later the bag and purse - minus the money - turned up in a garden.

Here's the ironic bit: the rogue stranger didn't need the grub either.

You see, the food bag which was unopened had been discarded, too.

Quatro tribute to old friend Chris

Delightful Suzie Quatro, who will be at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, in May, has been reminding me that it will be 40 years come January since she and Chris Brown recorded my favourite song, Stumblin' In, which is a kind of love piece with a difference.

Sadly, Chris lost his life in a road accident some time ago and Suzie lost a good friend with whom she was always singing duets.

So when she is at the Waterfront on May 29, Suzie will be paying tribute to Chris, who was particularly popular in Northern Ireland.

Wonder who the lady will get to duet with her?

How about Peter Corry, a hometown boy who is a fan.

'Hopalong' roamed the dry docks

My stories about all those nicknames that used to be a tradition in the H&W shipyard went down a treat with readers.

So here's another one about a plater called Cassidy, who loved to be addressed as Hopalong because he was a huge fan of cowboy film star Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd).

Shipyard Hopalong used to tell his mates in the yard that he had a pony in a field near Glenavy called Topper. You've guessed it - Topper was the name of film star Hopalong's trusty steed.

Cassidy the plater claimed to have seen all of his hero's films - mostly produced in the 1950s and 1960s. Two that went down well in Belfast were Range War and Silver on the Sage.

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