Sure its the simple things in life we miss the most

G’Day Ballyclare!

I trust that this week’s instalment finds you all well and good, enjoying life to the full and perhaps even luxuriating in your winnings from the recent Grand National. I trust that you are because, I most certainly am not - but more about that later.

Before I go any further, I would like to take this fortunate opportunity that I find myself in to (ab)use this wee corner of The Ballyclare Gazette and send a heartfelt congratulations to Jamesie Kirk and all associated with Ballyclare Comrades FC on their recent promotion as champions of the Irish League Second Division.

Having watched “The Dixon Aces” since the age of ten and continued to watch them home and away for pretty much the next 15 years, with the occasional cameo appearance at The End of The Field ever since, I think I’m allowed to indulge in some of the glory that Dixon Park is revelling in at the moment.

Well done guys and I look forward to “Walking down the Doagh Road to see the Dixon Aces” sometime soon!

Also, special thanks must go to the official website for its provision of a more than able medium for me to share in the ups and downs of my beloved home town club. I look forward to following the wee reds next season as an avid reader of this excellent website.

OK – thanks for letting me get that off my chest and now on with the rest of the article…

Having just been granted an official visa to legally live, work, rest and play in Australia for up to four years, today is a quite monumental occasion for me and as a result, has provided me with my inspiration for this week’s article - along with the Grand National of course.

Ah yes – the Grand National.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start here – I am not a horse-racing expert. Yes, I take the very occasional flutter on the gee gees but to be honest, with a distinct lack of knowledge in this field, I always feel that I am just handing money across the counter to a more than willing recipient.

But what is it about the world’s greatest steeplechase that has me thinking that I’m able to fool the bookies “just this once”? A race that any person in the know will happily tell you amounts to nothing more than a lottery on four legs?

I spend hours pouring over form guides, 5-day weather forecasts and expert opinions, convincing myself that this year – this year, I’ll have it sussed. Yet every year, without fail, I end up a loser – save, of course, for the year that Red Marauder (chosen after the aforementioned Ballyclare Comrades) won. All be it in a race with only a handful of finishers.

That year was spent watching the race from my apartment in Belgium – and talking to my mum back home on the phone for its entire duration – both of us opting to watch the race at home alone rather than watch it in the hustle and bustle of a pub. Quite a surreal Grand National but an enjoyable one nonetheless and with the obvious added bonus of a Grand National Win thrown in for good measure.

Oh but it all seems so far and distant now – especially after yet another Grand National loss. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, just to further rub salt into an already open and gaping wound, my better half – enjoying her first Grand National bet EVER ‘romped’ home with an each way bet on Mckelvey.

Believe me, I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of that one…

So just how exactly does getting my Australian ‘457’ visa and losing on the Grand National have enough in common with each other to provide me with this week’s topic?

It’s quite simple really – my love of home.

I spent a lot of time and effort, I begged, I pleaded, in order to find somewhere, anywhere, that was showing the Big Race but it wasn’t to be. Not one channel Down Under showed, quite possibly THE biggest horse race of the year. And this, don’t forget, in a country where sport, pubs and gambling all go hand in hand. Many of the bars here even have their own bookies.

On Saturday night, going to an English bar up the road called the Pig ‘n’ Whistle (or the Pig and Chicken as I affectionately refer to it), I chatted with the bar staff to see if they were showing it. The staff, including a Northern Irishman, an Englishman and a Scotsman (surely there’s a joke there somewhere?), all shared in my disbelief. The remaining Aussies that made up the staff shrugged their shoulders and happily informed us that the Melbourne Cup would provide us with our fix when it comes up on the sporting calendar.

And that’s just it – yes the Aussies love their sport and with a passion that is admirable but as soon as Australia or Australians aren’t involved, they don’t want to know.

Take for example, the time I found myself in Melbourne a few weeks ago, with my time there coinciding with The World Swimming Championships being held in the same city.

Everyone knows that swimming is for the Aussies and the Yanks.

Everyone knows that, save for the occasional Duncan Goodhew, David Wilkie and a certain Irish female swimmer who is best left confined to the annals of history as the drug-taking cheat that she was, the world’s best swimmers hail from either of these two countries. There’s just not that much competition from anywhere else.

However, in spite of this procession of races, on my way to meet up with a mate in a pub at the main square in Melbourne for an after-work drink, I was amazed to see that a giant 300 square metre outdoor screen was erected so that people could watch events unfold from a stadium that was less than 10 minutes walk away.

Incidentally, the stadium was The Rod Laver Tennis Stadium – they had simply constructed an Olympic size swimming pool on the Centre Court. That’s how nuts about sport these people are.

Every single Cricket World Cup match is broadcast live in its entirety from the West Indies. These games start at midnight, local time.

So, resigned to not seeing the Grand National live at the ungodly hour of two in the morning, I planned to phone home and catch some of the action through the tried and trusted method of a Phone Call with Mother.

However, after going home to watch a DVD with Krissy, the two of us promptly fell asleep and missed everything – the end of the movie, the result of the Grand National – everything. As things turned out – with my horses not even finishing and with rumours of them being taken to the nearest glue factory at the soonest opportune moment, I missed nothing.

But that’s not the point - this year’s Grand National may as well have taken place in the outer reaches of The Milky Way, for all the coverage of it there was down here.

This brings me nicely to my next point – the granting of my Australian 457 visa, the news of which I heard from the company accountant today. Upon bestowing me with this news, he asked me about what my plans were for the future. Did I want to stay in Australia? Would I be happy with living here forever? After all, he couldn’t see himself living so far away from home.

And of course the answer to this is no.

Things are undoubtedly trickier now and I mean more than just tricky as in “both mothers reaching for the valium at the prospect of their children having fallen in love with someone from the other side of the world”

I miss my family, I miss my friends. These things go without saying but say it I shall. I MISS YOU ALL A LOT.

But it’s much more than that. It runs much deeper than that.

Of course, it is a fantastic experience for me to be living in Australia and I am in a very privileged position to be able to do so but that doesn’t mean to say that my life is any better down here and in fact, in many ways it isn’t.

So, in no particular order, these are some of the things that I have been missing since taking the plunge to move Down Under:

I miss giving my Nana a wee hug and telling her that I love her
I miss the famous “kitchen session” at my mums where the drink runs freely and the tongues run even more so
I miss standing at the bar enjoying the banter with my father, my brothers and all the other clowns (and you know who you are) that make my returns to Ballyclare so enjoyable
Speaking of which, I miss the sense of humour. The acerbic and caustic wit which at times requires Teflon-covered skin to deal with and gets me into a lot of trouble when I try to use it down here
I miss walking down Ballyclare Main Street and seeing all the familiar faces. A town where people will still look you in the eye and say a cheery hello as they pass.
I miss the scenery, the countryside, the Sixmilewater, The Antrim Coast, the Giants Causeway, Slemish, the Glens of Antrim, Tardree Forest, the Collin, the list is endless
I miss my brothers and my sisters whose company I really enjoy and treasure
I miss my nephew and being able to say that he is growing up before my very eyes
I miss Easter Monday with The Black Clan – a wonderful family institution that I hope will remain forever.
I miss Christmas and the special time that it is for the family and I
I miss being able to go to the pub to watch football at a reasonable hour and seeing the Dixon Aces getting crowned champions!

I’d better stop, before I depress myself too much but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I miss Ballyclare and all it stands for. Of course it’s my own fault that I’m down here and so far from home and I’m certainly not expecting any sympathy. I feel fortunate to have been able to travel and see a bit of the world and always with the encouragement of my family.

I just want everyone to know that the town of Ballyclare is a great wee place to be proud of. Warts and all and I CANNOT WAIT to get back there in a few short weeks time.

Take care of each other and I’ll try not to get so sentimental next week!

BTW – if any of you have any feedback or want to get in touch with a wee fella from Ballyclare who feels the occasional bout of homesickness I’d be glad to hear from you. You can email me at

For more of my ramblings, you may be interested in going to my websites and (I’ll hopefully be adding more to this website once I get internet connection sorted out at home)