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Ulster log: Tragic date in my diary that led me to my career

By Eddie McIlwaine

A fascinating book called A Brief History Of Diaries reminds me of a day in my life - and one which helped to shape my future.

The date was Saturday, January 31, 1953 - the day the Princess Victoria ferry sank within sight of the Co Antrim coastline during a mighty storm with the loss of 133 lives.

But there is another reason why I recall that day clearly. On that January 31, when I was still a schoolboy, I made up my mind to be a journalist and started to write a diary.

In fact, I wrote a daily piece religiously, sometimes getting down profound thought, until last summer when a serious illness and an operation stole my enthusiasm for a task which I used to enjoy so much.

Let me go back to the beginning.

It was the horror of the Princess Victoria that prompted me to put my thoughts about the tragedy into a little Collins diary which I'll keep forever. And at the same time, I knew for sure I was going to be a reporter.

Sadly, although I've managed to keep writing my Belfast Telegraph columns I kind of dumped the diary after all those years, but I have to reveal here that as the 62nd anniversary of that horrible event approaches, I'm getting back in the diary mood and what better date to start all over again on a clean sheet than this January 31, when we will remember the victims who perished.

I must admit that it was reading A Brief History Of Diaries by Alexandra Johnson that sparked this change in my attitude.

The author looks in depth at diary writers down through the centuries and at what she calls creative diaries. She even takes time out for digital diaries.

Names of the diarists mean nothing really - it's their style and determination that matter, although, of course, Samuel Pepys gets a special mention.

What will happen to my diaries when I die?

Most likely they will all be dumped in a bin, but I may have turned them into a book by that time.

Just a final word on the Princess Victoria. Was there a stowaway on board?

Rita's risque top wasn't that shocking

Singer Rita Ora (24), the new judge on The Voice, caused a stir on The One Show with her plunging neckline. There were phone protests about her appearance on such an early-evening television show. But I ask you - would a glimpse of Rita's cleavage corrupt young folk anywhere? I say there is much worse out there. And anyway, take your boys and girls to any beach in the Canaries and they'll be rubbing shoulders with topless young ladies at every turn.

Rita is a singer/ songwriter with four UK No1s, the latest of which is I Will Never Let You Down. She has already made an impressive debut on The Voice as a successor to Kylie Minogue.

Mrs Cullen always had the answer to my colds

Whatever happened to Mrs Cullen and her powders? It used to be when I had a runny nose or a sore throat, I walked into the corner shop and bought a Mrs Cullen white powder in its paper sachet, took it home and stirred the powder into a glass of cold water which I swallowed in a gulp.

And the runny nose and sore throat disappeared within an hour. So far as I was concerned, Mrs Cullen was the answer to my cold.

Or was it just my imagination? I'll never know for sure. You see corner shops don't stock the sachets of Mrs Cullen any more. I blame Health and Safety. They couldn't allow an ordinary shopkeeper to sell a cure for a sore throat now could they? Mind you so far as I know, Mrs Cullen never poisoned anyone.

I heard a fella on TV claim he put peeled onion in his shoes to ward off the cold. The smell would have been nicer with a Mrs Cullens.

Powell was wrong about Pepys

Mention of Pepys reminds me of a story I wrote a while back about how Samuel worked in the Harbour Office in Belfast and may have written some of his diary there. The late Enoch Powell, an authority on Pepys, came on the phone to challenge the facts. But I was able to produce the documentation that proved I was right and Enoch was happy to apologise. We corresponded occasionally after that, but he wasn't a man you could call a friend.

Darn it, women have moved on

I love this quote in a Women's Institute cookery book from Elizabeth Shiels of Maghera W.I. "Women nowadays can't bake anything only scones, and knit anything only socks."

That isn't Elizabeth's quote, by the way. She is really repeating something her father used to say.

But a mention of socks makes me wonder if good wives still darn holes in their husband's socks.

I suspect that the gentle art of darning is no more. It's cheaper to go out and buy a new pair. And I suppose the same applies to shoe mending. Why bother with your old leather when new footwear is reasonably priced.

Elvis hit just what the doc ordered

Last week it was Old Blue Eyes we were talking about. If he had lived, Frank would be 100 now. So let us remember that Elvis would have just celebrated his 80th birthday if he hadn't died in 1977.

I always enjoyed Elvis singing a song called She's Not You so I was delighted to learn that it was one of his favourites, too. Really it's just a sweet little love ballad which suits his voice. It was No 1 in the UK charts for three weeks in 1962, written just for Elvis by Doc Pomus.

Her hair is soft and her eyes are oh so blue,

She's all the things a girl should be,

but she's not you.

She knows just how to make me laugh when I feel blue,

She's everything a man could want,

but she's not you.

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