Writing the book, I realised how happy my childhood was. I remember all the laughs... I wouldn't change anything
Radio presenter Stephen Clements has released a book about his fun filled childhood which featured the slippery dip in Newcastle, visiting next door to watch the neighbours' colour TV and his first 'forn' holiday. He tells Una Brankin what his hopes are for his own children growing up in today's very different world
Stephen Clements is just off air and grabbing a rushed breakfast before he is interviewed on a Spanish radio station. It seems that his jaunty memoir, Back In Our Day, has caused a stir among our ex-pats in the sun, a growing percentage of whom tune in to Q Radio for Clements' popular breakfast show with co-presenter Cate Conway.
The hilarious programme has a legion of listeners, including First Minister Arlene Foster who once phoned in as "Arlene from Fermanagh", and the BBC's Stephen Nolan, who has described his broadcasting rival as "the most talented young man on Northern Ireland radio at the moment".
Back In Our Day, which recounts the lighter aspects of the Carrickfergus author's childhood and youth, is as enjoyable as his radio show.
A quick, fun read, it looks like an Eighties pop annual, filled with nostalgic snaps of the young Stephen and his family and friends at special occasions at home and on holidays in Portrush, Newcastle and Greece.
"Everything I do is quite bubblegum and fun, but the book became a lot more personal than I thought it would be," he admits, between mouthfuls.
"You do feel exposed when your name's on the cover - you wonder will anyone buy it, and if they do will they decide it's c*** and ask for their money back?
"It's quite surreal to be asked to write a book in the first place. I wasn't overly good at English at school but I always loved reading and I always loved quirky stories. At home I've everything from history books to a book of quotations."
He shares his sometimes dark sense of humour with his father Roy, a former lorry loader at Henderson's Wholesalers in Mallusk, who worked his way up to management level. Mr Clements Snr suffered a cardiac arrest while at home with his wife, Helen, on January 3, 2014, the same weekend Stephen's wife found out they were expecting their second child, Robbie.
The heart attack damaged Mr Clements' brain and put him in a care home.
"There is a photo of my dad holding Robbie as a newborn and I would have bet everything, that weekend in January, that they never would have met," Stephen recalls. "It was, and has been, a roller coaster this past few years. You kinda just get on with things as best as possible.
"Dad can't speak very well but we can understand him. The brain damage affected his personality, too, and his short-term memory is awful - he'll be able to read my book when I drop it in, but he'll forget all about it two days later.
"But he's still Dad. My brother and I give him terrible abuse and there'll be tears of laughter falling down his face. He always had a good dark sense of humour."
Now 44, the former beer salesman is feeling increasingly ensconced in middle age. In his book he marvels at how teachers now look like students to him, while policemen appear like "boy scouts with guns". As with many beyond 40, he and his brother Gavin have found themselves in a role reversal with their parents when it comes to care.
The huge differences in the short shrift approach to parenting from the Seventies and Eighties to today's kiddie-centred style, is one of the themes to arise from the well-written Back In Our Day. Stephen writes entertainingly of how the parental licence for "getting a clip" was extended to the neighbours and friends' parents, for any naughty behaviour on his part.
"We got a smack on the bum," he says. "In this politically correct world, you're nearly ashamed to say it. I did, on the radio, and there was such an over-reaction - people accusing me of promoting child cruelty and all that.
"It scared the life out of me far more than getting a slap when I was a kid. I had more than one slap but there was more fear in the anticipation of it.
"Now, I'm an older parent of young kids; there are no rules for parenting. You're nearly frightened to say anything to kids these days. We bring ours up the same way we were, though we don't hit them. But it just shows you how crazy the world is now when wolf-whistling has become a crime in Scotland.
"We whistle at Poppy when she comes down the stairs all dressed up for a party. We'd be arrested in Scotland. It's unacceptable."
Poppy (six) is Stephen and his wife Natasha's first-born and "star of the show" on Q Radio's breakfast programme, on which she describes movies she has seen.
The proud father says: "She's a wee performer even though she's shy. She sings and she's super smart and gorgeous - she's going to be a real headache for me.
"My views are so politically incorrect - I love to encourage the kids but you have to do it in the right way. I even see it in Poppy, when she's showered with praise, that she doesn't try as hard. All that constant praise kids get these days; it gives them a sense of entitlement and sets them up for a fall.
"I try to give them a sense of worth, rather than over-praising, and encourage them to be all-round well-educated individuals who can make their own life choices, who don't feel like the world owes them a living."
The biggest problem, he believes, for the backbone of the younger generation, is the easy availability of credit.
Recently, he was shocked to discover his niece had used her plastic to buy a sports car.
"We had to work and to save if we wanted something, and we'd usually get it from Kays Catalogue or rent it," he remembers. "We rented our first VHS player for £1 a week. Now, look on Facebook and you'll see thousands of pounds being spent on Christmas gifts.
"I don't know how the parents afford it. Looking back, my brother and I, two boys, we must have put our parents under so much pressure to get the latest Scalextric. (They eventually got an older version but treasured it, as he describes in his book.)
"There were no gifts during the year - my birthday's at Christmas. You got a summer outfit for Portrush, that was it."
In his book, he writes evocatively of the innocent fun he had growing up before the digital age of computers and the internet. Until his father was promoted at Henderson's, the family even went without a phone.
As he recalls, with a chuckle: "We went next door to the Gilpins to use theirs and mum would leave 10 or 20p for it. The whole street would use it. The Gilpins had a colour TV, too - we went in to see the Royal wedding (Charles and Diana's) on it, not that I had any interest in that sort of thing then or now."
But there was always a few bob for the amusements at Barry's at Portrush and the Slippery Dip at Newcastle, as he describes with glee in Back In The Day. He also recounts amusing anecdotes from his first "forn holiday" in Greece, where he suffered a scratched face from a fall on the side of the road while laughing uncontrollably at his friend.
And as anyone of a certain age will remember, there were always the holiday photos - physical, not digital, ones - to look forward to when they came back from processors such as Boots, about two weeks later, if you couldn't afford the 24-hour service.
"Digital photos are so frequent and prevalent now; everyone has a camera on their phone," he adds, still munching on his breakfast. "Back then, pictures were only for special occasions and you took the picture and hoped for the best.
"We had an aunt renowned for chopping people's heads off in photos - there's a whole series of us from the neck down.
"People now never get to experience that anticipation of waiting for proper photographs back from Boots.
"You'd be in tears laughing when you opened up the pack of your holiday photos. You wouldn't remember half of it. And the ones from home - there'd be your auntie picking her nose in the background and laughing her head off when she saw it.
"The world's a sadder place for not having all that."
What gives him those big belly laughs these days?
"I still have them with my friends. But I'd wonder about young fellas these days. After I took the kids swimming one night - they always want chips and sausage rolls and beans after it, for some reason - I saw these young fellas outside the chippie, all looking down at the phones. There was no banter, no wit. The odd time, they'd look at each other's screens and guffaw and that's all they have for humour.
"We used to tell stories and jokes and make fun. What I hope with this book is that people will read it and laugh on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or whatever, and reminisce about the time they went to Portrush or their first date and start their own conversations.
"Like, about your dad going to Greece on holidays and taking on the accent and losing his grasp of English. Yes, we had to deal with the Troubles but it was almost by-the-by for most of us, and we developed this dark sense of humour. It wasn't the sexy Northern Ireland Liam Neeson's promoting."
Back In Our Day focuses on Stephen's youth and therefore doesn't include his days as a beer salesman, a job which came with a very good car but which bored him stiff. He took a "substantial" pay cut, at 37, to leave his job and go work for Q Radio, after impressing them with a demo tape of his proposed radio format - influenced by the likes of Chris Moyles and Chris Evans. Natasha, who works in the hospitality sector, was seven months pregnant at the time.
"She said, 'I'd rather you went and did a job you loved than coming home from work with the face tripping you'," he laughs. "It was a bit of a gamble but nobody on the radio in Northern Ireland at the time sounded like me and my friends. The first year was a bit of a blur. The great thing was, and is, having the time to spend with my kids. I'm far more involved with their lives than most working men my age, even though I haven't a clue what I'm doing when I'm bringing my seven-year-old to ballet."
He'd love to do a chat show - a cross between Graham Norton and TGI Friday - but he's not gunning for TV at the moment, and has turned down various offers on his gut instinct.
He listens to the advice of his Q Radio boss Robin Walshe, who he "trusts 100%", and the written guidance of the film director Baz Luhrman: "Accept the compliments but don't let them blow your head up, and to try not to let criticism get to you. Just be normal - I think a lot of media people forget that," he remarks.
As for writing, he still can't believe he has managed to have anything published. But he's glad he has.
"Before the book, my childhood was blurry. Writing it, I realised I was happy, especially when I saw the pictures and remembered the laughs," he says. "I wouldn't change anything. Some terrible things happened my family but if things didn't happen the way they did, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you now."
With that he's off to regale the Spanish radio presenter with stories from Back In Our Day. Laughs guaranteed.
Back In Our Day by Stephen Clements, published by Blackstaff Press, £12.99, is out now. Stephen will be signing copies of the book at Eason's in Donegall Place, Belfast, today from 11am