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Why Lex's Peru trip will bring back memories of his childhood

By Eddie McIlwaine

Retired textile executive Alexander (Lex) McVicker is off tomorrow on a sentimental trip to South America to recapture memories of the happy childhood he had in Peru.

Lex (65) was born in that sprawling country and spent the first nine years of his life there. He is the son of Baptist missionary John McVicker and his wife, Mary, whose home was in north Antrim.

John, originally from Dunseverick, not far from the Giant's Causeway, packed his bags and headed for Peru to deliver the Christian message in 1950, and his sweetheart, Mary (McMullan), followed him a year later.

The couple were married in a civil ceremony the day Mary arrived, and there was a religious wedding performed by Sam Jardine, another Irish missionary, a few days later.

Their four children, Lex, Ronnie and daughters Joan and Helen, were all born in Peru. Lex, the oldest, came home to Northern Ireland to live with relatives, sit the 11-Plus and continue his education at Ballycastle High.

"In the beginning we were all home-taught by our mother back in Peru," says Lex, who went on to take a degree in engineering at Queen's University in Belfast.

He and his wife, Iris, who have three grown-up children, Shane, Alice and Emily, and four grandchildren, are going at the same time as a party - led by another former missionary, Dessie Creelman - is heading for South America to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Irish Baptist churches bringing Christianity to Peru.

The anniversary has already been commemorated in Belfast at a gathering of the Association of Baptist Churches, attended by Peruvian visitors and missionaries who still serve in the country.

A book called Peru 90, edited by Mervyn Scott and telling the story of how Christianity reached the South American country in 1927, has been published by the Baptist Association.

Lex McVicker recalls his father telling him that his initial journey to Peru, where he settled in a village called Puno, was an arduous seven-week voyage on the Reina del Pacifico liner, which was built at Harland and Wolff.

This was the vessel on which former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald died in November 1937 while on a holiday cruise.

John McVicker eventually returned home for good and became pastor of Kilrea Baptist Church for 12 years.

Laura solves mystery of a crime drama

The mystery of whether the thriller Not Dead Enough was coming to Belfast and who would be playing top cop Roy Grace has just been solved for me by actress Laura Whitmore.

She has confirmed that ex-Coronation Street actor Bill Ward will be Superintendent Grace at the Grand Opera House, Belfast from Monday, June 26 for a week and that she will co-star as Cleo Morey.

Which gives me an excuse to show off this charming picture of Dubliner Laura who has read the novel by Peter James on which the stage drama is based.

"It's a fiendishly clever plot and one of the best in the Roy Grace series," says Laura.

"The books have been published in 36 languages and 17 million copies have been sold."

On the night Brian Bishop murdered his wife, he was 60 miles away, asleep in bed. At least that's what he claims.

But as Superintendent Grace continues to deal with the mysterious disappearance of his own wife, he starts to dig a little deeper into the chilling murder case and it soon becomes clear that love can be a dangerous thing.

Laura, who's just turned 32, has been a news presenter and has taken part in Strictly Come Dancing.

In her time she has also presented I'm a Celebrity.

Winged guests playing with fire

We are being tormented at our place this high summer by unwanted daily visitors who are hard to get rid of.

They don't come knocking at the door - believe it or not these callers come slipping and sliding one a day down the chimney of the log burner and pop out of the grate into the family room.

They seem to time their arrival just as the Emmerdale credits are rolling.

I'm talking about small birds like wrens, sparrows and robins who hide under armchairs until I get the window open so they can flutter out to freedom.

This takes ages.

The problem is caused when these winged guests perch on the lip of the chimney and then topple into the flue. No matter how many times this happens they never seem to catch on.

Perhaps they are simply young birds who haven't yet learned how to perch safely.

I hope that is the case as I shudder what's going to happen when winter returns and the log burner is reignited. It would be a catastrophe.

I don't fancy roast robin or wren for dinner.

Stan and Ollie in another fine mess

I hope when the film about comedy duo Laurel and Hardy is produced later in the summer it is remembered that Stan and Ollie visited Belfast in 1952, staying at the old Midland Hotel while performing at the Grand Opera House.

And it was in the foyer of the Midland that the late Frank Carson came face to face with Ollie one afternoon during the run.

After a chat and a few jokes (naturally enough) Frank queried: "Where's Stan?"

It turned out that the little one of the duo was right across the road in a barber's getting a haircut. So Ollie and Frank joined him and told Stan he needed a shave, too. For months later the barber had a notice in his window which declared: Hairdresser to Stan Laurel.

In the BBC film now being planned Steve Coogan is to star as Stan Laurel alongside John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy.

Way back in 1931 a solicitor in Strabane who took his family to the pictures to see Laurel and Hardy wasn't impressed at all by the film. So he wrote to Stan and Ollie in Hollywood telling them their film wasn't up to their usual standard. The duo replied saying it was an early movie over which they had no control.

Who was that solicitor?

How Labour's Jeremy forced the pundits to eat their words

I'm certain today that clever-with-words journalist Quentin Letts will never suggest again that Jeremy Corbyn is about to self-destruct or hint that he looks like Compo in Last of the Summer Wine.

Letts must have a red face now that this politician has become a force to be reckoned with after the General Election.

In his national newspaper column Quentin has been name-calling Jeremy, who for a time last weekend emerged as a possible Prime Minister.

Let's be clear about it - Letts will be treating Corbyn with more respect from now on.

And so will a few other columnists and TV political commentators.

Quentin isn't the only one who got the election all wrong.

Mind you, I don't like some of Jeremy Corbyn's ideas, but that's no reason to bad mouth him in print.

In my opinion Patch and Shep were the real Blue Peter stars

I'm sorry that John Noakes has died at 83, but I have to confess that I preferred his dogs Patch and Shep.

To my mind Noakes was a show-off on Blue Peter although I was impressed by his pluck and courage in some of his stunts. I still shudder when I see that clip of him climbing Nelson's Column in London without any apparent safety equipment.

As we say in Northern Ireland, he was always determined to be the person in the big picture and that didn't go down well with me and a few of my pals.

We preferred to kick a ball about out on the lawn when John came on the screen.

However, the dogs were devoted to him and he trained them so well and they became as famous as the presenters of that much loved children's programme.

It's hard to believe that soon the days will be on the turn

Wednesday, June 21 will be the longest day of the year.

It is not to be confused with Midsummer Day, June 24, nicknamed the Methuselah of the Year. By the way, the film The Longest Day has nothing to do with either of these June dates but rather refers to D-Day in World War Two, June 6, 1944, when the largest ever seaborne invasion began in Europe to liberate it from the Nazi yoke.

The longest day has been celebrated for centuries across the globe including by those who visit Stonehenge to watch the sun rise among the stones. The celebration is often accompanied with bonfires, dancing and general merriment.

June 21 is also International Yoga Day, so those who like to stretch and find inner peace will have plenty of time to do so.

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