Frank Brandon’s column


It’s a lovely, bright October Friday morning – although there’s a definite autumn chill in the air – and I am on my daily walk up the quiet country roads of Lenamarla, thinking of an almost forgotten pastime – the game of conkers.

As I walk, I am struck by the number of crushed chestnuts on the road, all smashed to bits by the passing traffic. I realise that not once did I see a child stop to collect any of the fallen chestnuts, a far cry from when I was a young lad.

Back then, conkers was a sport that everyone could and did play. The thrill of beating your opponent and seeing their chestnut break into pieces under the incessant pressure you put on was just fantastic. It more than made up for the pain that was suffered when the occasional miss occurred, and the conker smashed into your hand or fingers.

Picking the right chestnut was a rare skill, and as in everything, big wasn’t always better. Even so, the tendency was to get the biggest one you could find, and when you were laced up and ready for the fray, it would be far more impressive than the small conker you were facing. However, it was of course harder to break the smaller one, as it was harder to get a clean shot at it. In fact, most times the smaller, hardier one would win.

The disappointment when a crack appeared in your chestnut was immense, with every subsequent belt widening it further until there was nothing left. Your defeat left your dignity and pride in tatters until you got another opportunity to avenge your loss. Chestnuts were everywhere for a few short autumn weeks, so there was no problem in getting back in the game.

I had many hours of fun playing conkers, and many more bathing my hands from the unintentional belts that I got. So, as I’m told that this is Cyber Break Week (which I think means children are asked to take a break from their computers, laptops, tablets and other gadgets), why not bring them out the country, locate a load of chestnuts, and let them find out for themselves the joy and pain of a game of conkers.

Back in those far-off days, we used to pass many hours picking hazelnuts, blackberries or blackcurrants (never knew which was which), and despite all the destruction of the countryside by machinery and fertilisers, there are still plenty of those to be seen. So use this cyber break well: reconnect with nature, have a bit of natural fun, and maybe the computer will get more of a rest than it does now.


Bounty blues:

Not such a happy

(100th) birthday…


Everyone has different interests. For me, aside from the obvious ones like sport and more sport, one of the things that intrigue me is crime. I often find myself watching some of the many telly programmes that investigate murders all around the globe, programme which try to get inside the minds of some of the most violent and depraved killers the world has ever seen.

However, murder isn’t the only crime that people commit. On last weekend’s Sunday World, the Sligo Chief Superintendent, Aidan Glacken, revealed that there are five major criminal gangs in the western town. The thing that caught my eye about them was their diverse activities: two of the gangs are involved in what I would have thought is the most lucrative area of all, the drug dealing business, but there is also a burglary squad that targets homes and businesses, another one that specialises in stealing farm machinery, and (finally) one that’s involved in cannabis growhouses, which is I suppose another branch of the drugs business.

Now, crime – by its very nature – hurts many people and leaves a trail of victims in its wake, but I have a certain amount of sympathy for a 57-year-old Cork man who was arrested this week for substantial Social Welfare fraud. For 33 years he had collected his dead father’s pension, and for an unspecified number of years he had also collected the pension of his dead mother. In total, he managed to get away with more than half a million, €520,000 to be exact.

He would still be going strong only for the fact that his father ‘reached’ the magic age of 100 years and qualified for the President’s Centenary Bounty – a payment of €2,540 and a congratulatory letter signed by the one and only Michael D. Sadly for our Cork man, the Department of Social Protection looked for proof that the father was alive – which must have come as an enormous shock – and when the son went to the Cork General Post Office on Saturday to collect the two pensions, he was arrested.

What will happen to him now, I have no idea, but even though he defrauded us all out of so much money, I bear him no ill will. He didn’t kill or hurt anyone – all it took was two forged signatures to get his ill-begotten gains. He didn’t have to wear a balaclava or produce a gun, he didn’t frighten anyone, he supported the post office by having the two pensions sent there every week, and in comparison to the drug dealers, murderers, aggravated burglars and rapists who terrorise our society, he is nearly a saint.

However, not even he could get away with it forever – although he sure did have a good shot at it. What’s more, I bet that in his wildest dreams he never thought that Michael D’s Bounty would finally bring his run to an end.

Anyways, I will keep an eye out to see what happens him. I imagine he may get a couple of years in one of our mini-holiday camps. Whatever he gets though, it will be nowhere near the 33 years since 1987 during which he got away with it at our expense.


The real Twink?


It’s Monday evening, and while I normally wouldn’t spend too much time watching ‘Lodging with Lucy Kennedy’, I did tune in because her guest was Adele King, better known as Twink, a woman whom we have known (or at least Carol has) for more than 40 years.

Of all the entertainers that have been at the forefront of the Irish entertainment world for so long, I don’t know anyone that has split public opinion so much, with many of her critics regarding her as too loud, brash, self-opinionated, and maybe even a little bit false.

For us, all through the years she has never seemed like that at all, but last night I think we saw the real Twink – a person deeply troubled by her constant battles to keep her house (a battle that she feels she is now going to lose), a woman who actually does care that so many people spend so much time criticising her – both privately and in the media – and a woman who, after 60 years entertaining Irish and global audiences, seemed somewhat unfulfilled, despite having had a hugely successful career.

I suppose one of her observations summed it all up, and that was when she said that entertainers just have to perform and cheer up the audience no matter how much trauma is going on in their own lives, which can obviously be a very hard thing to do. Nowadays, she is making fabulous cakes, which she sells outside her house to the public. She has her dogs, her parrot, and her two talented daughters, Chloe and Naomi. She is also a very talented artist.

So as she heads towards her 70th birthday, I wish her well, and hope she manages to hold on to her much-loved house. After all these years, surely that is not too much to ask.


Mind your money!


A couple of weeks ago I went to an ATM machine in Roscommon town – and was astonished to see a substantial amount of money still in the slot. I brought it into the bank in question and handed it in, but I wondered to myself what could happen that would cause a person to forget why they had gone to the ATM in the first place, and walk away without their money. Anyway, if it was you, I hope you got it back, but next time, try to remember to take your hard-earned money with you!


And finally…


Finally for this week, a nice story to finish with. As you know, last week my daughter Lisa managed to walk down the aisle, and sticking with tradition we wanted to give her ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue’.

Our son Paul went in search of the old and blue bits. He was in a Roscommon shop explaining his requirements to the assistant, when a lady overheard him, and praised him for looking for such items for his sister. The lady left the shop, but to Paul’s amazement she arrived back a few minutes later and gave him a beautiful little posy of blue flowers that Lisa was delighted to incorporate into her bouquet.

It was such a lovely thing to do. If you happen to read this, thank you so much – these type of nice gestures are very rare, and it was really appreciated.