Secrets and lies: Ronnie Morrison
I don't feel my masculinity is in any way threatened by doing the housework
Ronnie Morrison, presenter of Downtown's Gospel Time, is married to Sharon. The couple have three daughters, Rebecca (21), Sarah (18) and Rachel (17), and live in south Belfast. Ronnie (56) is also a member of the group, The Harvesters. He reveals all to Gail Walker
WHAT ARE YOU LIKE IN A RELATIONSHIP? ARE YOU A GIVER OR A TAKER?
I'd like to think I'm a bit of both because, in any relationship, you need give and take. Sharon and I have been married for 31 years and though we share an interest in the church, we're also very much horses for courses. Sharon is a qualified Christian counsellor - a job she does voluntarily two nights a week. That could involve everything from helping people break free from the occult to working with those who have drink problems. My big interest, though, is music and I've been in The Harvesters for 34 years, and at Downtown for nine years.
Sharon and I met at church. It was one of those situations where there was a crowd of us, and then people began to pair off.
I used to work for NIE - in debt collecting and meter reading - but I took early retirement eight years ago. Some of us were offered redundancy - a lump sum and a pension that would kick in at 50. Since then I've been more or less a house husband. I take the children to school, do the shopping, make the evening meal and, like many parents, act as an unpaid family taxi driver. Of course, my early retirement meant a big change for us, but I think it's worked out well - and, no, I certainly don't feel that my masculinity is threatened in any way by the fact I do housework! Besides, I think it's something that's increasingly common in homes across Northern Ireland. Sharon works as a team leader in Northgate, a computer utility company, and the fact she's level-headed, a good listener and good at problem- solving undoubtedly helps her in her work. But she's also a very caring, very loving person.
My advice for making a marriage work? I think the toughest time is the first few years, when you have to adapt and change to someone else's needs and wishes. Basically, you get to learn annoying things about them, and they get to do the same about you.
ONLY CHILD OR ONE OF A CROWD?
I have two older sisters, Audrey and Hilary, and an older brother, David. We grew up in a terrace on Belfast's Ravenhill Road, so there were six of us in this little two-bedroom house. We also had a good, old outside toilet, and when you had to visit it in the middle of the night, you had to wrap up in a big coat - and even at that you wouldn't have sat there too long! When my sisters got a little older, they got a room to themselves and David and I slept in the wee downstairs front room, which was right beside the scullery. We'd no bathroom so we'd have been stood in front of the Belfast sink - filled with water heated from the geyser - for a quick wash down. Then, on Saturday nights, the tin bath came in. It was set in front of the fire. We didn't have a lot in those days, and mum and dad certainly made many sacrifices.
I'm still close to all my siblings, and probably see David most often because he is also in the band. In fact, he got me started in it. He used to go out singing at various venues and one day he heard me strumming my guitar and asked me how I would feel about being in a band with him. Then, a young guy up the street also joined us - he played guitar, too. We sing gospel country and southern gospel. I've been to Nashville many times. Once I went to see Johnny Cash's house there. It's built into a rock at the side of a lake and is amazing. He was still alive at the time, though he was away from home. But, next thing, his Cocker spaniel ran towards me. I bent down to stroke it and it snapped me, so that's my 'Johnny Cash claim to fame'.
ARE YOU CLOSER TO YOUR MUM OR DAD?
That's an interesting question. I know it's said that often sons are closer to their mothers, but I've always felt that both my parents were there for me. As a child, I remember dad taking me down to the park to play football, or repairing punctures on my bike. And when I got my first car, an Austin A35, which had a hole in the floor, dad helped me patch that up, too.
Mum was always the provider of good sound advice.
Dad worked for NIE - like father, like son. His job was to photocopy and print maps of street lighting. Before that, during the war, he had been a driver for the Admiralty. He'd have collected important politicians travelling over from England from the docks and driven them up to Belfast Castle. Then, he would have slept over there, before driving them back to the docks in the morning. Mum's job was to look after us. As a family we were very fortunate that, though we lived just off the Ravenhill Road, none of us were killed in the Troubles or got involved with paramilitaries or did time.
The closest I came to that kind of violence was in the 70s when I saw an off-duty RUC Reservist shot. I was working for NIE, near Great Patrick Street in the city, and as I left work and went to get my car, I saw these two gunmen shooting this policeman. People ran towards the man to help him, but as there were no mobile phones in those days I decided to run back into work to ring for an ambulance. As I was running up the stairs I could hear someone running behind me. I shouted to my colleagues: "Quick, a fella has been shot in the car park, ring the police and ambulance." I'd no sooner said that than the man who'd been running after me, caught up with me and said: "You have been seen running away from the scene of a crime." It turned out he was a plain clothes policeman. That shook me - he'd been running after me, thinking that I'd done it. It was all very traumatic. The reservist didn't survive the attack, and often all that comes back to haunt me.
Dad is now 89 and has dementia. Mum is 86 and is in a rehabilitation unit. She has had a full knee replacement and three hip replacements.
I used to be able to talk to dad about everything, but now his mind is away back to when he was a boy. At least he still recognises us when we go to see him, but once we walk out the door of the care home he would not even know that we had been there. Some people would go so far as to call it a slow death, but I'm just glad he's there. And he's not aggressive, but very placid, and physically he's great. Interestingly, before he went in to the home he would have been a lay preacher at our church, the Ulster Temple, on the Ravenhill Road, and to this day if you ask him to quote, say, Psalm 93 of Psalm 113, he would be word perfect.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Like any father, I'd have to say my daughters. Rebecca is in the last year of a computer science degree at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown. Sarah and Rachel are both at Bloomfield Collegiate, working hard for their A levels. Both of them raised the money themselves to go on a mission this year to an orphanage in Tanzania. Now, they're planning a trip to Zambia to build an orphanage and a school.
I'm also proud of the fact that I was brought up in a Christian home and that my children have been, too. They also have a personal faith in God.
And I'm proud that The Harvesters are still going strong, singing concerts across the province, and of my show on Downtown. This year the international Country Gospel Music Association of America presented the Gold Cross Media Award for Foreign Market Radio Station of the Year to my show.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST ASHAMED OF?
I've thought and thought about this and the only thing I can really come up with is stealing a bar of chocolate from a shop when I was 11. It was a Milky Way.
I was in with what you might call a bad crowd and one morning on my way to primary school we went into the shop as usual. The trick was to ask the shopkeeper for something that he would have to turn round to reach, and that's when I grabbed the bar.
I still don't feel good about that.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A FORTUNE-TELLER?
My answer would be absolutely not. God warns us against such things and I have a contentment knowing that God has my future in His hands and nothing will take Him by surprise.
I also firmly believe there is good and evil, and there is a spirit of good and a spirit of evil. I think Satan speaks to mediums so that they are able to tell things to strangers who come to see them. And because those people's lives are not in God's control, they start to believe what the fortune-teller or medium is telling them.
That's why you get these people who will tell you someone has told them x, y and z and it all came to pass.
But I firmly believe a medium or fortune-teller couldn't tell me anything, because God's spirit is within me.
What they are listening to are evil spirits - the same type of spirits that people hear at seances.
Of course, it concerns me that mediums, psychics, whatever you call them, are everywhere these days. It's rife, on the move and people get caught up in it, only for it to wreck their lives. Sharon has had to pick up people who have been chewed up and spat out by this.
Yes, I believe as a Christian that we are living in the last days.
There has never been so much evil in the world, and I'm not just talking about the upheaval in Iraq, Iran and Israel, but also what is happening in so-called civilised Britain. But I also believe God is doing His work in places like Korea, where there is a spiritual revival and in China, where incredible things are happening and people are turning away from their pagan religion to Christianity.
But look at our weather - it's up the left. I cut the grass just the other week - the first time I've done anything like that so close to Christmas.
These are all signs we are living in the last days. I have heard people speak about how they believe the return of Jesus could be in our generation because things have accelerated so fast. The Bible talks about how there will be wars and rumours of wars and, when you turn on the TV, there is terrorism everywhere. Not even the angels know when God is coming back, but God knows and people need to be ready ...
I've had discussions about this sort of thing with people in the Downtown newsroom, because they know my views and are interested. One person said to me about how Muslims think they're right, too, and how they believe that if they die in a bomb they will go to paradise. I can only quote the Bible about how "I am the way and the life and no one will come to God but through me". This person called me a fanatic, but I'm not. I'm only saying what Jesus says.
I'd recommend watching a guy, John Hagee, who is on the Trinity Broadcasting Network every Monday at noon. He explains in such detail how we are heading to the last days - it's fascinating.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A LAPDANCING CLUB?
That's quite a random question, but here's a straightforward answer - no, I have not. Probably, if I didn't have my faith, I would say that I would love to go to one, but because of the way I live as a Christian, it's not the place that I would want to be.
HAVE YOU ANY PHOBIAS?
Yes - and this is something that is very real to me. I hate visiting the dentist, and it goes back to when I was a wee boy. The dentist I went to back then was a short-tempered man who really didn't want to treat children. He had ginger hair, but I don't know whether that had anything to do with it ...
I remember one time he was working on me and even though the nurse had warned him to be careful, he hit my tongue with the drill. It started to bleed and I started to cry. Despite the fact it was his fault, he slammed the drill down and walked out of the room. I can still hear the nurse shouting after him: "But you can't leave him like this ..."
After that I'd get appointment cards for the dentist, but hide them so I wouldn't have to go. But the next day a card would be delivered, stating that I had failed to keep my appointment ... so I'd get found out.
Even now, if I have to go the dentist I get nerves in my tummy, but luckily my dentist is great. I've explained to him how I feel and why.
DO YOU TIP IN RESTAURANTS?
In America, most definitely - not only are staff helpful and courteous, but it's also part of their wage. Over here, though, the service can be so poor. Even if you go into a chip shop, someone will just glance at you and say: " What's yours?" And sometimes they don't even speak, they just lift their head and nod at you. How could you tip a person like that?
DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?
Most definitely. I was brought up in a Christian home and from an early age I have always known there is a God. After a few years of rebellion, I became a Christian when I was 22.
How did I rebel? I wanted to try out the things that everyone else was doing. I wanted to go to discos and have a drink - my parents didn't drink so alcohol was never in our house. However, I didn't get deeply attached to alcohol after I tried a few beers one night and ended up being violently sick. That put me off, big time.
I don't believe in Bible-bashing because being a Christian is a lifestyle. And 'religion' is man-made and has ruined this country and is ruining the world. The original Church was just Jesus and His disciples, then over the years man formed lots of different churches, and there are so many disputes - take water baptism, some believe in just sprinkling water, others in total immersion.
I was totally immersed myself. I was wearing a white shirt and a pair of jeans and it was such a powerful feeling - the symbolic burying of my past life and coming up anew.
Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, but if I had never been baptised it would not stop me getting into Heaven - it's not essential.
Of course, we all get tempted by all sorts - sexual things, multiple temptations - but it's how you deal with it that counts. Like I said, if I hadn't been so strong in my faith, I could have gone into a lapdancing club and told myself there was nothing wrong with it because I was only looking ... But we are not just looking, we are lusting after, and that's when it becomes a sin.
QUICK DEATH OR TIME TO PREPARE?
I have prepared for death and I have no fear of it. When it's my time to go, I hope it will be quick. I don't want to be lying in bed with some disease, rotting away. I'd rather have a heart attack, not least for the sake of my loved ones. I think that ultimately a quick death would be easier on them. And they know that should anything happen to me, it's not the end and they will see me again because they are ready to go, too.
REGRETS ... HAVE YOU HAD A FEW?
There's a cue for a song ... Not really. I used to play football in the Churches League and perhaps I regret not taking up a vigorous sport to keep the flab away. Oh, I also wish I could have adhered to the multiple diets I've tried.
Ronnie Morrison, Gospel Time, Downtown, Saturdays, 8-10pm