Why Neighbours really did become my good friends for 30 years
I have a small confession to make. I still watch Neighbours. Not in the obsessive, twice-a-day, never-missed-an-episode way I did as a teenager, but I still like to dip in now and then to see what the residents of Ramsay Street are up to. I was one of the generation of millions of young fans who fuelled the mind-boggling mass popularity of Neighbours in the 1980s when it first arrived on UK television, bringing a bit of Aussie sunshine into our lives.
It was this week in March 1985 (30 years ago. Strewth!) that Neighbours was first broadcast in Australia. It was to be another 18 months before it arrived on BBC One in a lunchtime slot.
I was in Primary Six at the time and first became aware of it when one of my best friends starting disappearing off home from school for lunch and coming back with tales of what was happening in her favourite soap. It was only when it moved to a teatime slot (famously on the insistence of a BBC executive's young daughter) that I became caught up in the full-blown hysteria that marked the first 10 years or so of Neighbours on our screens.
It's fair to say I was big fan, never missing an episode and making sure I got it taped on the VCR if I did. It was the era of Scott and Charlene, Daphne and her Clarkey, Mike and Plain Jane Super Brain - delivering water-cooler moments long before any of us knew what a water-cooler was.
I cried when Charlene Ramsay (Kylie Minogue) walked down the aisle under the adoring gaze of Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan). I cheered when Jane finally got her man, laughed at Dr Clive the gorillagram, fretted when Lucy Robinson was trapped in a drain for several days and scowled at Mrs Mangel. Of course, the vast reach of Neighbours didn't stop there. It took over the pop charts at that time as well. Kylie's I Should Be So Lucky was the first single I ever bought. Then Jason arrived on the scene and, just when you thought life really couldn't get any more exciting than that, they did a duet. And had a real-life romance!
Getting tickets to see Donovan at the King's Hall in Belfast in the early 1990s caused my near spontaneous combustion. Guy Pearce, who played Mike Young before leaving Erinsborough for an impressive movie career, bizarrely came to do a meet-and-greet at a hotel in Ballymena, also at the height of his Neighbours fame.
I was devastated to be ruled too young to go but my dad arranged with his friend, who owned the hotel, to get me a signed photograph. When the coveted picture was produced, I burst into tears with joy, unable to believe he had actually touched it.
When I got a new dog one Christmas, calling him Jason seemed like a good idea to a 13-year-old. But my beloved Jason lived to the grand age of 14, by which stage I was a mature adult mortified to explain how a sheep dog came to be named after a cheesy soap star. I was still watching Neighbours then, I just wasn't crowing about it.
I may have embarrassed myself with some of these revelations, but I know I'm not alone in holding fond memories of when Neighbours ruled the television schedules. I was just one of millions who still know who Angry Anderson is - but who never worked out what Bouncer's dream was about.
I can say with full confidence I would have done better at school had Neighbours never existed. But no regrets. Happy birthday Neighbours. Here's to at least 30 more.
I'm just crazy at thought of Van duet
I'm a big softie for Michael Buble, so I was delighted when I heard he had recorded a duet with his hero Van Morrison.
When Buble sang to his adoring Belfast fans at the Odyssey just before Christmas, one of the first things he acknowledged was how pleased he was to be in Van's city and what an influence he had been on his career.
The Canadian talked about how much he'd love to meet the Belfast legend after naming one of his albums and a world tour after Van's song Crazy Love.
We know now that Buble was keeping a wee secret under his hat that night - that the admiration was mutual and that they had even recorded a duet together, Real Real Gone, after the crooner was handpicked for Van's new album.
We need to keep on playing the Game
It has put Northern Ireland on the map as a filming destination - not to mention the millions it has pumped into our economy. So it's great news that US network HBO would love to see its smash hit Game of Thrones stretched out for 10 years.
HBO boss Michael Lombardo said as a fan, he's keen for it to hit a decade, but added it will be entirely down to the fantasy drama's creators on whether they want to extend beyond what was originally a seven-series plan.
Crucially, GOT novelist George RR Martin has already admitted that the television schedule is in danger of overtaking his ability to write new books fast enough.
Keep writing, George. Northern Ireland needs you.