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Helen's happy memories of Belfast shows

By Eddie McIlwaine

Published 20/08/2016

Teen star: Helen Shapiro sang in Belfast
Teen star: Helen Shapiro sang in Belfast

Surely singer Helen Shapiro can't be 70? I first met her in the old Royal Avenue Hotel, Belfast, when she was just 15 and in town to sing her No 1 hit Walking Back To Happiness at the lamented Empire Theatre, long since demolished.

Helen was a sweet young thing eager to talk about her career and how she hadn't liked the Walking Back song when it was first offered to her.

She had other hits in the '60s including You Don't Know and Don't Treat Me Like a Child and matured into her 20s and 30s as a sought-after jazz singer who used to appear with trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton until she retired in 2002.

We met up a few times down the years, once upon a time in Manchester when she was delighted to see someone from Belfast where she always got a good reception.

I mention Helen today because that 70th birthday is creeping up on her next month and I've just been re-reading her autobiography, which happens to be called, what else, but Walking Back To Happiness.

A word on my vintage dictionary

You'll remember a story I wrote a while back about my 1952 Chambers' Twentieth Century Dictionary of 1,340 pages which took 12 years to fill and which I was going to give away to any caller.

Well, even though there were dozens of word-lovers willing to take the Chambers off my hands I've decided to keep the dictionary, which is said to be an authority in courts of law, is ideal for crosswords and includes words and phrases that were new in the early '50s.

You see, my research proves this weighty tome is probably one of just a few 1952 copies still around and as a vintage publication is quite a collector's piece. So I've put back on the shelf.

The Chambers folk of Dean Street in London - who published their first dictionary in 1872 - have brought them bang up to date here in 2016.

This one from 1952 was resurrected from a dead uncle's library in Stirling. It contains 150,000 references and cost 21 old shillings (one guinea).

Nowadays Chambers produce several types of dictionaries including a Thesaurus, a crossword one and a biographical dictionary.

Peaceful pair made a difference

We only meet up occasionally nowadays, but I'll never forget Betty Williams or Mairead Corrigan, the courageous couple who founded the Peace People exactly 40 years ago in 1976.

The following year I accompanied them to Oslo where they received the Nobel Peace Prize for launching an organisation dedicated to non-violence, especially in their own troubled homeland. That Nobel occasion all began with the deaths of three children, mown down by a car driven by a young IRA volunteer who lost control as he was shot by pursuing soldiers.

In Oslo, Danny Boy never sounded sweeter, but let me repeat we were there only because of a terrible happening in Belfast the year before.

Mairead is now Mairead Corrigan-Maguire. Some time after the tragedy Anne Maguire the mother of the children who was badly injured in the horror couldn't cope with her terrible loss and took her own life. Eventually Mairead married the grieving widower.

The Peace People continue to do good work. Back 40 years, there is no doubt the level of violence here dropped as they went on their protest parades.

Raising a glass in memory of legend of Ulster's pub trade

The Crown and Shamrock hostelry, which is up for sale at Sandyknowes on the Antrim Road on the way to Templepatrick, has a colourful past.

It was owned once upon a time by the Church of Ireland before being taken over and refurbished by the celebrated Francis J Bigger and his Ulster Public House Association.

Bigger put about the story that O'Hawkins, a highwayman fleeing from a botched robbery, had taken refuge from his pursuers in the stables at the rear of the pub. And when the coast was clear it is said he arrived in the bar and had a drink on the house. His ghost is said to be still hovering around the bar but Rosemary McAlindon of the family who own this traditional hostelry has never seen him.

Bigger, who died in 1926, was quite a character. One of a Presbyterian family who worshipped in Rosemary Church in Belfast, he was described as a romantic Irish nationalist who did much good work among the poor of all denominations.

Youthful Ruth a sea of calm in the mid-morning madness

Who cheers you up the most on a dull or rainy weekday morning? It has to be Ruth Langsford, the attractive host on ITV's This Morning show.

Ruth (with a little help from husband Eamonn Holmes) never fails to rid me of the blues with her good looks and soft voice. The couple come across in everything they do and say as a happily married couple so long as he doesn't mention Man United.

I hope to catch up with Ruth and Eamonn next time they are in Belfast.

What I admire most about the lady, who is 56 and looks 10 years younger, is her sense of humour and ability to stay calm and deal with all those little glitches that can happen on morning telly.

WH Auden's wise words are often repeated by grieving loved ones

It's 80 years ago today since poet WH Auden wrote the last line of his Funeral Blues, but his emotive verses became even more familiar when John Hannah recited them in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Here's the opening lines of a poem that is often repeated at funerals by grieving loved ones who express their feelings through the words of Auden.

The first verse goes like this:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

And the final verse declares:

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Belfast Telegraph

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