An Ulster Log: War hero pilot who was a real class act
RAF hero Tom Long, now 96, rarely talks about the 87 operations he flew during the war, mostly in Wellingtons and Mosquitoes to hot spots in the Mediterranean, Egypt and targets in Europe, including 25 missions to Berlin after which he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and Bar.
On one memorable trip in the Middle East, Tom had another hero as his passenger, the distinguished BBC war correspondent, Edward Ward, whom he flew to Benghazi to witness a bombing raid close-up and broadcast an eyewitness account on the World Service.
Soon afterwards, Ward (he became the Seventh Viscount Bangor on the death of his father, Maxwell) was taken prisoner by the Italians at Tobruk in November 1941 and spent three and a half years as a POW until he was liberated from Oflag Camp in Germany by Americans in March 1945.
By this time Tom, who joined up in 1939, had been mentioned in Dispatches and, back in the UK, qualified as a flying instructor. He became a deputy Flight Commander, but had his request to be returned to operational duties granted and he joined No 8 Group Pathfinder Force, flying Mosquitoes with 608 Squadron.
Later, he was posted to India as a squadron leader before returning to civvy street in March 1946, after receiving an Air Efficiency Award. And what next? Many folk of the generation that followed the Second World War will know Tom Long as a respected principal of Whiteabbey Primary School.
Why there is more than one string to Tara's bow
Violinist Tara McNeill, who also plays harp, will be guest artist at the Una Voce Choir Christmas concert tonight at 7.30pm along with the Lagan Camerata.
Tara, from Antrim and a former head girl at St Louis Grammar in Ballymena, teaches violin in Mount Anville Junior School in Dublin.
She is a graduate of the Royal Irish Academy of Music and has toured in China and Mexico with Barry Douglas and Camerata. She has also toured in Canada, Japan and Holland and has played with the RTE Concert Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra.
Bono is one of the artists with whom this young woman has collaborated.
Get in festive spirit with Hayley for a good cause
If you're getting married give Hayley Howe a call. She's a wedding violinist (and singer) and will make it a right romantic occasion. However, Hayley is a versatile musician and can bring a sparkle to any kind of special occasion, never mind the nuptials.
Catch up with Hayley - with husband Timothy on the piano - at the King's Chorale Yule concert in Fisherwick Presbyterian Church, Malone Road, Belfast tonight at 7.30pm, in aid of Hope for Kids in the Lebanon and Tampulma Widows and Orphans.
This classically trained violinist has a Masters from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and has built a reputation of making every occasion memorable with her repertoire of much-loved tunes and songs, aided and abetted by Timothy, head of music in Ashfield Boys' School. They have two sons, Nathan (15), who plays clarinet, and Jamie (13), a violinist.
"I do a lot of solo work, but I enjoy playing at weddings, too, and anywhere I'm invited because I love performing," says Hayley.
"My favourite Christmas piece has to be O Holy Night - you can make it sing through the violin."
The tower of hope and respect
My thoughts, like those of the rest of you, have been with Paris after the horror of recent events.
In particular, I was impressed by the way the Eiffel Tower was lit up as a token of respect.
I climbed the famous tower once upon a time and note today that it was named after Gustave Eiffel who was born on December 15, 1832.
The tower was built in 1889 in celebration of that year's Paris Exhibition and at 980 ft was the tallest building in the world for years.
Cure that literally falls from sky
One of the hazards of having towering trees in your field or garden, like I do, is that at this time of the year I'm surrounded by falling leaves. If we aren't careful they would take over indoors, too. It's the brush-shovel-and-wheelbarrow season for the next few weeks.
But there is a consolation according to Edith Radford, in her book on Superstitions Of The Countryside. She claims that the amount of falling leaves that can be caught in the hand equals just as many happy months to follow.
Apparently, even a single leaf caught before it touches the ground will protect that person from colds and minor ailments in the following winter.
Must give it a try.
Which black stuff works wonders?
Here's a little superstition of my own: carry a new potato in your pocket until it turns black and as hard as stone and it will be a sure cure for rheumatism.
Now, I have to confess to never having had the opportunity to test this theory, simply because I don't suffer from that particular ailment.
The potato story was told to me years ago by an old-timer called Bob McKeown.
And I remember Bob getting around in a right sprightly fashion well into his 90s before he died. Mind you, though, it could perhaps have been his daily pint of Guinness that kept him going.