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An Ulster Log: Blitz spirit made freeze all white in the end

By Eddie McIlwaine

Every time the conversation turns to the weather my thoughts drift back to the snowbound winter of 1963 when the province was at a standstill for 10 long weeks. And then I think about the late Frank Carson and how he found himself far from Belfast where he and his wife Ruth lived before he was discovered on a TV show and became a star.

The comic's proud boast was that he had never missed a date or failed to turn up for a booking. Even when he was injured in a road crash in Dubai Frank made a remarkable recovery before his next stage appearance.

But that wretched January of 1963 with ferries and flights suspended, he was unable to make it back to Belfast after a club tour in Liverpool and Manchester for a concert at the lamented Arts Theatre, now long gone. The port of Belfast didn't thaw out in time for the Carson date and it bugged him no end.

"I was kicking my heels in Liverpool because of the elements when I should have been at the Arts," he told me. "My motto has always been to put the paying customer first."

But Frank's fans understood the difficulties and in the spring he made a point of playing the Arts to packed houses.

Getting back to snow time in '63, my highlight was flying in an RAF Auster out of Aldergrove with photographer the late Eddie Stirling and a crew who were pinpointing families, hungry and in distress below, so that supplies could be dropped to them from helicopters. And to farm animals quickly running out of hay and fodder until the RAF arrived with life-restoring essentials.

A farmer's wife, about to give birth, was airlifted to hospital and, in another drama, a helicopter attempting to pick up a seriously ill pensioner became tangled with overhead cables and crashed at Mossley with the pilot escaping injury. Another 'copter put down and transported the pensioner to the Mater Hospital.

I only mention these events in the worst snow fall here in living memory, according to many who experienced it, to illustrate how dangerous and frustrating it was.

But nobody died and it was widely acknowledged that the people were closer than at any time since the wartime Blitz and eager to help one another.

Dance treasures take to Waterfront

Dancers Anton du Beke and Erin Boag, who will be gracing the Waterfront stage on February 1, have been called national treasures and with good reason.

These icons of dance were one of the first couples to join Strictly Come Dancing. In fact, the first series wouldn't have been the same without them.

They have each partnered an array of celebrities, from Esther Rantzen, Gillian Taylforth, Patsy Palmer, Kate Garraway to Julian Clary, Austin Healey and Ricky Groves. Anton and Erin are known in the dance world as The Entertainers. There is always something new and original about their performances.

Anton's latest book, B Is For Ballroom, is already a bestseller.

Carousels will never be the same after Colm

It's never going to be the same again in Barry's Amusements in Portrush where I relive my boyhood at least once every summer in the park founded years ago by the late Frank Truffeli.

You see, Colm Quinn, the mastermind behind the famous carousel where he had names for every one of the hobby horses, has died.

He was an icon at Barry's for 60 years and never missed a day until he fell ill.

I first met Colm way back in his early days at Barry's when he operated the little puffer trains which used to run on a winding open air track at the front of the park, but which are now in storage.

Colm knew I liked those little puffers and once took me to the lock-up where 10 or 12 of them were kept.

But that carousel was his passion every day of the summer season.

He always arrived at Barry's around six in the morning to make sure everything was in order.

Colm Quinn will be mourned by folk like me who respected this beautiful man.

They should put a plaque to Colm on his carousel.

Suck eggs for love? It's no yoke

The controversy over choc cream eggs not being the same taste-wise anymore prompts Diana Magill of Ballyclare to tell me a folksy old tale about real hen eggs.

According to Diana, if a girl wants to know whom she will marry, she should boil an egg, fast for a day, then extract the yolk and fill the cavity with salt. Next she has to eat the whole thing (including the shell) and walk backwards repeating an incantation to St Agnes. If she takes a drink before sunrise, the spell will be broken and she may never find a husband.

Did you ever hear the like of it? Diana isn't saying if this was the method she used to find the man in her own life.

By the way, who was St Agnes?

When Stairway took its first step

All the gossip about 71-year-old Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin fame, and his 25-year-old girlfriend reminds me that it was in the Ulster Hall in Belfast that Zeppelin first played their big hit, Stairway to Heaven, way back in 1971.

It was at a Jim Aiken concert and Page had been telling the late Jim about this great new recording that would soon be released by the band. In fact, Page and the others became so enthusiastic about Stairway that they agreed to debut it at the gig.

Did it go down well? Of course it did.

Stairway got a standing ovation that famous night, convincing Led Zeppelin that they had a hit on their hands.

A good shepherd till the very end

I surely started something weeks ago when I mentioned the tradition which existed in the shipyard of giving the workers nicknames to suit their hobbies, the songs they loved, and even film stars they liked.

The latest saga involves an iron turner called Jimmy Millar who was always singing the hymn, The Lord's My Shepherd, even though he wasn't particularly religious. He told his mates at H&W it was played in church at his wedding and it reminded him of his happy marriage to Jean.

So naturally the good husband became known as Jimmy the Shepherd. You couldn't make it up.

Jimmy is long gone and I hope they sang The Lord's My Shepherd at his funeral.

Belfast Telegraph


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