November 15, 2022
Feature Column: Another Story
It’s no exaggeration to say that being involved with Radio Foyle had a profound effect on the rest of my career. As a direct result of working/playing there, some doors opened immediately and others further down the line. One early joy was being asked to write for ‘Radio Times’. I’m not sure that the tale of how this came about can be conveyed as well on paper as in speech, but I’ll try it anyway.
My first series for Foyle focused on my own full-time job and was most originally called ‘Teacher, Teacher.’ Just before the first programme was due to be aired, I had a call from a very posh-sounding gentleman in London called Chaaahles – Charles to you. He told me that ‘Radio Times’ had commissioned Sean McMahon to write an article on my upcoming series and could I please contact him. ‘Can’t I write it myself?’ I asked. No, I couldn’t he said because I was too close to the material and they wanted a more objective viewpoint. But was I interested in writing for them? Yes, indeed I was.
And indeed Chaaahles took me at my word. A few days later, his plummy voice came down the line again. Was I still interested? I was. Did I know anything about peegs and hawses and kys? Sorry? Peegs and hawses and kys. Pardon? After excuses about a bad line etc. I finally cracked it. Pigs and horses and cows. No, I didn’t know a lot about farm animals. Apparently that was fine and I was charged with writing 1,000 words about a future outside broadcast from Enniskillen Agricultural Show.
I clapped my hands with delight at this fresh opportunity. Dismay and consternation soon followed. I’d rushed out to buy an armful of farming magazines, but neither ‘The Progressive Farmer’ nor ‘The Small Stock Journal’ nor ‘Grassmen’ nor ‘Practical Pigs’ was throwing up any inspiration. How to get a handle on this? How to make it interesting? Anita was as much use as a chocolate fireguard. She wouldn’t even deign to think about the subject. Farming, muck, ugh. She shuddered and not a hair moved. In the end, I based it on fair days in Cushendall.
My mate Chaahles loved it and more commissions followed.
What was it about those times? There was such optimism and trust abroad. Russell McKay offered me a job without ever meeting me (possibly because he’d never met me), Ian Kennedy gave me, and so many others, the wings to fly on air and here too was the bold Chaahles, who didn’t know me from a hole in the ground – hardly spoke the same language - assuming I could write just ‘cos I said so. And there was me, making so many forays out of my comfort zone. Probably because I didn’t have the wit to do otherwise.
Those were definitely the days, my friends, and Derry was the place to spend them in.
Lovely as the village and people were, everybody in my birthplace, Cushendall, knew the other’s business and I felt constrained. Then we went to Belfast, where few knew or cared and I felt isolated. And then came Derry with the best of both worlds. A city with the heart of a village, a place to participate when the mood took you or withdraw when it didn’t.
I felt free and empowered in Derry. I did a prodigious amount of work there and (I don’t know what it is about brushes) but I was frequently as daft as one too. Nowhere else would I have dyed my hair green for Paddy’s Day, nowhere else would I have spent a day with the bin-men and nowhere else would my late and bearded husband have reveled in dressing up as the Sugar Plum Fairy. But that’s another story…………………………………..