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High spirits can still get you in hot water with long arm of law

By Eddie McIlwaine

Did you, just for a dare, sip a glass of poteen at Christmas? Be honest now - a few bottles of the moonshine whiskey still manage to evade capture when the festive season comes round.

Few imbibers admit to letting even a trickle of this hard stuff pass their lips. But perhaps some of the glazed eyes by Boxing Day weren't all down to legal alcohol.

Looking at this photograph, snapped for Royal Ulster Constabulary records back in the 1920s on a remote farm at Carrickmore, a village in Co Tyrone, an old-fashioned still had just been taken into custody and the secret distillers arrested too.

In the haybarn and cowshed, the policemen uncovered hundreds of lemonade bottles filled with the crystal-clear liquid, which was poured down the drain back at the station.

One of the good cops in the picture told me years ago about the raid and swore that the boys in uniform never gave in to temptation and kept even a pint of the poteen for personal use.

However, I've heard about one constable's wife who ended up pie-eyed after another raid in Co Down, when she mistook the contents of one bottle in the back of his car for real lemonade and quenched her thirst too well.

It was a lesson learned - he had to make his own dinner that evening - so never again did he delay in taking evidence to the barracks.

It's still a crime to distill poteen in Northern Ireland, although some brands of the stuff are made under licence at two distilleries in the Republic.

Every owner of an illicit still up in the hills above Belfast and beyond will breathe a sigh of relief today when they read that they are still breaking the law.

Poteen - it's called moonshine in America - would lose all its magic and mystery if you could buy a bottle in Tesco.

BBC NI's holiday show back in Vogue

Vogue Williams (31) - a model who will be one of two new female faces on holiday programme Getaways, which returns to BBC1NI next week - is perhaps best known as the winner of the ITV reality series Bear Grylls: Mission Survive, in which she beat athlete Kelly Holmes.

The young lady, who also lit up the screen when she was a guest panellist on Loose Women last summer, will feature in the series with the other new face, Mairead Ronan, and regular Joe Lindsay, with whom she will be exploring the Algarve and Cyprus.

Vogue, who split from singer husband Brian McFadden in 2015, has her own show, Williams On The Edge, where she investigates issues affecting the lives of ordinary folk. She will also be taking part in a new series of The Jump on Channel 4 in the early part of 2016 and she presents a radio show called Houseparty on Spin 1038 in Dublin.

Joe and Mairead are Las Vegas-bound in the first of six episodes of Getaways on Monday (7.30pm) on a mission to find out if there's more to the city than just gambling.

Also in the first programme, Mairead and her son, Dara, take a self-catering break in Co Fermanagh.

Paddy's Yarn could be a winner

Take note of the name - Paddy's Yarn. He's a chestnut race horse, who spent his early days down my field after being given that name by Philip Swann, who bred him. I liked the look of him and he became quite a pet when he did a bit of grazing at my place.

Now owned by a lady called Valerie Jackson, who has a stable near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Paddy's Yarn is starting to live up to the prediction Philip made that one day he could win races.

He finished third at odds of 66-1 in a hotly-contested handicap at Kelso the other day. And a few friends of mine who backed him each-way at those long odds got surprise Christmas presents in return.

And now you're wondering how this handsome horse with a white blaze on his face got his name. Here's a nice yarn. I can tell you he's called after an official from the Department of Agriculture called Paddy Kinney, who still calls at the Swann farm at Killead in Co Antrim.

The Kinney chap always had a wealth of stories and yarns about the countryside when the four-legged Paddy was a colt.

I'll let you know when Paddy's Yarn is due to run again.

The day Pinter brought me to book

I keep getting asked if I ever sent my novel to Harold Pinter for him to run his eye over and tell me about its chances of becoming a bestseller.

I explained here once upon a time how the acclaimed playwright and I met up in the Europa when he was in town to give a lecture.

When I unashamedly told him I was writing a book, he ordered me to send it to him when I had it finished.

I'll never know if famed playwright Pinter was serious and the truth is I still haven't written the tome.

Sadly, Mr Pinter, who used to tour Ireland north and south - including one visit to Ballymena, died in 2008. I'm still sorry that he went to his grave without seeing a little bit of my writing talent in book form. I dare not suggest that it could have left him feeling somewhat unfulfilled.

I'm reminded of my conversation with the great man around 20 years ago because a eulogy to him by his widow Antonia Fraser, which she called Must You Go?, is being republished.

A Parfitt evening in Dublin ... until I stood up Ole Blue Eyes

It always happens at Christmas - somebody I like dies.

There were a few last year, like Debbie Reynolds, whom I fell for when she was a teenager in Singin' in the Rain with Gene Kelly.

But the one whose company I enjoyed the most when he and Francis Rossi were here in concert with Status Quo was Rick Parfitt, who passed over on Christmas Eve aged only 68.

Several years ago, Rick and the Quo were playing in the Antrim Forum and, afterwards, accepted my invite to meet a group of orphan children.

I expected them to sign a few autographs and disappear. Instead, they gave the children an hour or so of their time and Rick, in particular, was a huge hit.

However, some time before that Forum night, I met up in Dublin with Parfitt and Rossi and the rest of the band on the Late Late Show.

Promoter Peter Aiken and I had a date afterwards with Frank Sinatra at The Point across the city, where he was a legendary guest. But Rick persuaded us to go for dinner first when the television show was over, to celebrate Rossi's birthday.

We agreed - thinking we still had plenty of time to make the theatre for our appointment with Ole Blue Eyes as he came off stage. We hadn't reckoned on there being a bus strike in Dublin that night, which brought too many cars on to the streets, causing massive traffic jams.

So, inevitably, when we arrived at the theatre, Frank was long gone.

His minder told us: "Mr Sinatra, he don't wait for no man."

If a diary is good enough for Bridget Jones... it's good enough for me too

Do good folk out there still indulge themselves in the gentle hobby of diary-writing?

I only ask because I'm thinking of keeping a daily diary again.

In fact, I've already entered my findings about the happenings so far this week in my trusty 2017 book of the days.

Perhaps diary-keeping is now out of fashion in this digital age of instant communication and emails.

I stopped keeping my original diary, which I had been to faithful to for a long time, three years ago, when I was ill and couldn't raise the enthusiasm.

I've always regretted giving up and now I'm determined to get back in the swing again.

If it's good enough for Bridget Jones, it's good enough for me.

Good Book offers us plenty of great advice for earthly days

Love the story about the little boy of five who told his dad: "I know what the Bible is all about" - and came up with this explanation of the Good Book: Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.

Here are a few of the favourite verses from the Good Book:

Psalm 23 - Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil.

John: 15 - Greater love has no man than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

Proverbs - A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Psalm 119 - You are my refuge and my shield. I have put my hope in your word.

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