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My weekend with author Jim Shields

The Larne author on some of the simple pleasures in life, such as enjoying chips that come wrapped in newspaper, or his daughter’s homemade jam


Jim Shields

Jim Shields

Jim’s last trip to the cinema was to see Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast

Jim’s last trip to the cinema was to see Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast

Seasons Of Affection book

Seasons Of Affection book


Jim Shields

What is the best time to get up at the weekend?

I’m an early riser. Early morning is the best part of the day. The blackbird in the tree at the bottom of the garden sings me awake to the dawning of the day and all that’s in it.

Breakfast or brunch?

I’m not a brunch kind of person. Breakfast is simple. Porridge made with full cream milk, laced with a few blueberries and the tiniest teaspoonful of my daughter’s homemade delicious raspberry jam. It’s a tiny teaspoonful because I want it to last forever. It raises porridge to another level. A mug of coffee, the instant variety, and a thick slice of brown oatmeal bread — well toasted — topped with a thin slice of mature local cheddar cheese. I’m ready to meet the day.

What does an ideal Saturday look like?

Fortunate to be fit and able, my ideal Saturday, now that my undistinguished golf career is over, begins the same as every other day. An early-morning swim in our local swimming pool — no sea dipping for me, thank you — to do my 30 lengths and be back home at for 10am.

I have my usual breakfast, rest and prepare for a long, leisurely walk exploring somewhere in the Glens of Antrim that I haven’t been before or haven’t visited in a long time.

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In the early evening I would settle to listen to music and enjoy a light supper with perhaps a glass of red wine.

If there was something on in the Opera House or the Lyric, then I would exercise my bus pass and be there for the Saturday matinee. On the bus home, I would be very happy knowing my glass of red was waiting.

What do you get up to on Sunday?

Rise early as usual. If there’s anything I need to do then I get it done. I take time to empty my mind and reflect on the mysteries of God, creation and salvation. Sunday is family time. It’s an afternoon full of WhatsApping. We have five grandchildren, so there’s a lot of chatting. Weather permitting, it’s a leisurely stroll along the riverbank, through the parks and home. Then it’s reading time with a mug of coffee and a good book to get lost in. If I’m feeling generously energetic, I might bake a sandwich cake.

Do you prefer to be indoors or outdoors?

My childhood was mainly spent outdoors. I learned to swim in the river before graduating to swim in the sea. Earning a living in the construction industry meant spending a lot of time outdoors in all kinds of weather.

A high handicap golfer, I would go out early, very early, to the golf course, not to improve my game, which was impossible, but just to be outdoors at one with creation.

How have weekends changed as you have got older?

They are much less intense. I’m retired. Our five children have grown up and moved on. I don’t work weekends anymore. There’s always work to do about the house — plenty of it. I sometimes wonder how I coped when I was working. Our children frequently entertain us on weekends.

I have greater freedom, that is to say, to do what I and my wife want to do whenever we want to do it.

If you could eat out anywhere at the weekend, where would you go?

I don’t know. I would have to ask my children for advice and do some research. I haven’t eaten out in two-and-a-half years. It would have to be very special.

What would you have?

I’m not a fine diner. Searching for bits of this and that on a plate to eat is not my idea of eating out. I had duck feet in a thick brown sauce in China once. I managed a nibble. Didn’t lose face.

For a special occasion, I would have baked salmon fillets with all the trimmings to share with my family; Glenarm salmon of course.

At the weekends, you’ll always make time to?

Tidy up the garden. I find pulling weeds therapeutic. Each one is an irritation needing attention.

When I’m finished, all my irritations have magically disappeared, except the very deep-rooted ones — but I’m working on them. My garden has taught me patience.

Who would you like to go for a drink with?

I’d say first off my cousin Pauline because she makes me laugh out loud. She’s very witty and can see the funny side of everything.

I have family I haven’t seen for a while so I would like very much to take them out somewhere nice and quiet where we could catch up. No loud music or blaring televisions.

If you are too tired to cook, what are you ordering from the takeaway?

Fish and chips every time from our local Station Road chippy. It is much the same as when I was a boy getting my chips there wrapped in newspaper. We used to go in after playing our schoolboy matches up in the Legion (Inver Park) — a big pitch with a big slope for schoolboys — but eating my chips sitting in one of the high backed booths made me feel so grown up.

Heading for the cinema? What are you going to see?

I don’t know what’s on in our local cinema and don’t often look to see what’s showing. The last film I saw was Belfast. It was interesting. I didn’t like the Gary Cooper-High Noon scene — but that’s just me. Parts of it were quite chilling.

It would have to be something compelling that I would want to go to see. Something without gratuitous violence, an overdose of special effects and car chases.

What are you reading?

I have just finished reading Seamus Keane’s novel, Reading the Dark. It’s worth a read.

At the moment I am reading for the second time, Into The Magic Shop, by Dr James R Doty. It is the true story of how Dr Doty overcame adversity in the most extraordinary way to become a renowned neurosurgeon.

It is an uplifting and inspirational read in which the labyrinth of the mind is opened and explained in layman’s language. It is a riveting memoir loaded with compassion and ways forward into mindfulness. The plasticity of the mind and how it can be reshaped using simple techniques is earnestly explained.

What is your bedtime routine?

My bedtime routine is simple. I try to slow down. Find inner quietness. Sometimes music helps. I reflect on the day, examine my conscience and aim for improvements the next day. I meditate for 10 minutes or so, then it’s lights out.

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