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Why my pal Lord Glentoran got a reception fit for a king in Texas

By Eddie McIlwaine

I love the story about the late soldier Daniel Dixon - better known in his political heyday as the Second Baron Lord Glentoran - being mistaken for Irish royalty on a trip to America.

I heard this regal saga first-hand from His Lordship one afternoon at Stormont in 1973. In fact, it was on the day the Ulster Senate was being abolished. Glentoran - always approachable - was the last Speaker in the Upper House, elected in 1964.

Apparently, he was on a business trip to the USA, making contact with important industrialists as Minister of Commerce.

"I suppose the Americans, particularly in Texas, saw me as cutting a rather grand, royal figure," I remember him explaining to me.

"After all, I had been educated at Eton and Sandhurst and I served as an officer in the Grenadier Guards during the war. The Texans didn't bow, or scrape, when they met me, but they were always reserved and polite."

His visit got coverage in Texas newspapers, one of which ran the headline: 'Irish royal is on the way'.

What His Lordship didn't bother to mention during our chat was that, as a soldier, he had been mentioned in Despatches.

He died in July 1995, aged 83, so I never did find out what he had done to get his mention. I'd love to know about his heroism.

I used to report regularly from the Press gallery on happenings in that old Senate chamber and I was sad, along with many of the Senators, when it was closed.

However, that chamber is now back in prominence as the centre of Judge Sir Patrick Coghlin's Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry.

So, it is busy once again and still, in some ways, involved in the political scene.

I might just drop into the famous old chamber if only to remind myself of afternoons in that Press gallery.

After all that chat about the former Speaker, I just had to renew contact with his son, the Third Baron Lord Glentoran, better known in the 1960s as sportsman Robin Dixon, who celebrated his 82nd birthday a couple of months ago.

Robin was given leave from the Grenadier Guards to compete in the two-man bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics of 1964 in Innsbruck, where he and Tony Nash won the gold medal.

I'm closest thing to crazy about Katie

Every time Katie Melua comes on the wireless singing The Closest Thing To Crazy, I have to pause and even take a seat.

I expect to hear my favourite love song - written by Mike Batt - on Saturday, September 16, the day Katie turns 33.

By the way, The Closest Thing To Crazy was featured in the television hospital series Holby City the other week.

I hope Katie, whose latest album is In Winter, will do her best to squeeze in a visit to her adopted home of Belfast around that date to meet her many friends and fans.

I mention her birthday today for a special reason: my wife, Irene, was 33 when we met. We married soon after, so 33 has always been my lucky number.

Last time we were in touch, Katie - now on a sell-out European and UK tour - told me how she made a sentimental return to her native Georgia to record In Winter with the Gori Women's Choir.

You all know that charming Katie - wife of former motorbike ace James Toseland - spent her formative years in Belfast after her heart surgeon father came here to work. One of the singer's distractions away from showbusiness is researching the Titanic tragedy, which she found out about for the first time when she saw the James Cameron film of the same name at the MovieHouse cinema in Glengormley.

And Hobson's choice was ... Larne

Film star Valerie Hobson, soon to be seen on television in a revival of the 1947 movie Great Expectations, was an attractive woman, but let us be clear about her birth. She first saw the light of day in the Moyle Hospital in Larne in the spring of 1917. Her father was a Royal Navy officer on a minesweeper based in the port during the First World War.

He and his wife lived in Larne until the war was over and then took their baby back to London, so, strictly speaking, Valerie wasn't English at all.

I mention her and Great Expectations, which will be on our screens in the autumn, because the film is based on the Charles Dickens novel, which I read for A-level English.

Valerie's second husband was John Profumo, the Cabinet minister who was forced to resign after an affair with call-girl Christine Keeler. His wife remained loyal and stood by him.

She appeared in the Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Stand by for a grave weather warning

The folk at Carnmoney Presbyterian Church have more reason than most to remember that next Saturday, July 15, is St Swithin's Day.

You see, in AD 971, the grave of the Bishop of Winchester, St Swithin, was moved to a new shrine inside the cathedral.

Swithin had made it clear before his passing that he wished to be buried in the cemetery.

The removal happened on July 15 that year and, as the coffin was uncovered, a violent storm erupted.

Even though that tomb in Winchester Cathedral became a holy place of pilgrimage, tradition has it that the saintly Swithin summoned up a curse whereby if rain fell on July 15 in future, it would continue to pour for 40 days.

The connection with Carnmoney Presbyterian? Well, when work was being carried out in the grounds some years ago, three late ministers had to be dug up and reburied elsewhere.

Some time later, the new graves were in the way of further rebuilding, and the remains of the trio had to be moved yet again.

So you know who to blame if it rains often in Carnmoney.

A Scottish retailer refused money ... would you credit it?

Ann Grant, born and bred a Scot, attempted to make a purchase with a Scottish tenner in the town of Perth, but the lady behind the counter refused to accept the note.

"I've never seen a note like this before," she explained.

Ann, open-mouthed with amazement, gathered up her money, put the item she was no longer going to buy back on the shop shelf and asked to see the manager.

"I'm the manageress," replied the serving lady.

Her nationality? She was Polish.

The name of the shop? The Scottish Shop is what it is called in this Scottish town in Perthshire.

It is tales like this that prove that real life is often stranger than fiction.

Ulster writer makes it to pages of international mystery magazine

Ace detective Christy Kennedy, a teetotaller whose only addiction is to the puzzle of crime, has made it into the pages of the celebrated Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Fictitious Kennedy is featured in a short story by writer Paul Charles which is currently appearing in the international mag under the title of Harry Potter and the Shadow of the Forger's Throne.

Paul, from Magherafelt, has written 10 books around his hero Kennedy, a Portrush-born detective whose patch is Camden Town.

Another Kennedy yarn called The Case of the Smoking Life will be in the September issue of Ellery Queen.

Paul, who lives in Camden Town with his wife, Catherine, is busy dividing his time between writing about Kennedy and his other mythical cop, Inspector Starrett, and his profession as a music promoter.

There may well be a pot of gold at end of this rainbow

There is an old saying that a rainbow is the Almighty's promise that he would never allow the world to be destroyed by flood again.

Have you ever seen a double-rainbow? I saw one above Templepatrick a long time ago.

Perhaps it was a double reassurance about floods.

This brings me to a charming book in the shops called The Rainbow Comes and Goes. Author Anderson Cooper wrote it with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, after she suffered from ill-health aged 91.

The result is correspondence between them of surprising honesty and depth as they discuss their lives and things that matter to them and identify facts about one another that they never knew.

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