REGULAR readers of this column will know that Squinter enjoys a punt. Whether it’s in his DNA or whether it’s learned behaviour, it’s not possible to say. Squinter’s da used to send him to the bookies as a child – the exact money, the bet written on the docket, and Squinter would say to the first punter who passed at betting shop door: “Mister, my da says will you do this for him?” The boy Squinter always got the job done and never once did the money (admittedly modest amounts) disappear out a side door with the obliging customer.

Is it the memory of the burning desire to get inside the shop from which he was excluded by dint of his young age that drew Squinter to the bookies as a young man? Or was it a synapsis in his brain gifted to him by his father? A combination of both? Who knows?

Thankfully, Squinter has what might be called a relatively healthy attitude to gambling, if such a thing can be said to exist. He sees it as recreational pursuit – like snooker, golf or going to the cinema. And just as these three pursuits cost money, so too does the occasional flutter. And crucially, Squinter sees gambling not as a means of making money, but as a stimulating diversion, and he’s under no illusion that at the end of every gambling year the accounts book is going to be firmly in the red. Online betting means that Squinter can now work out  exactly how much he’s won and how much he’s lost over the past year – or indeed the past two or three years. But he prefers not to do that because he’s unfortunately aware that his visits to the winner’s enclosure are disappointingly rare. But then he doesn’t get any money back when he finishes a game of snooker and the cash for his cinema ticket stays firmly in the box office – and he doesn’t count how much he’s spent on potting balls and Pepsi and popcorn either.

But gambling wins are not as rare, let it be said, as Squinter’s success with the lunchtime Radio Ulster phone-in Talkback. Squinter listens to the show religiously – and, no, that doesn’t mean he fingers rosary beads next to a picture of the Sacred Heart as he tunes in (much as he’s tempted to re-embrace his lost faith when the DUP come on). It simply means that he listens to it every day. Part of the reason is that it’s office routine, but mostly because it’s proper grown-up radio dealing (mostly) with serious subjects and hosted by the very talented and engaging William Crawley.

Indeed, so proper and engaging is the content that Squinter finds himself compelled to text in on a determinedly regular basis – as the Talkback team will no doubt confirm. 
Stormont boycott? Squinter always turns up for that conversation.
Public sector strikes? Squinter has it all worked out in his head.
Legacy issues? Squinter’s text history tells the tale.
Hospital waiting lists? You better believe Squinter’s got the cure.
The marching season? Step this way and Squinter will beat the drum on that.

But here’s the thing: They always get ignored. After hitting the Send button and dispatching another gleaming pearl of wisdom to illuminate the debate, Squinter listens with increased attention for the thrill of recognition that comes from getting your name on the radio; he longs for the sullen and disillusioned masses of Our Wee Country to be enertained and educated by his latest searing insight. But all too soon the end of the segment rolls around and Squinter’s text is left unbothered and unread in the Talkback in-box marked ‘Reject’.

Needless to say, Squinter’s thoughts on the quality of his tweets are entirely subjective and he’s big and ugly enough to admit that his opinion of them is more than likely a tad over-inflated. But even with that unfortunate reality banked, they’re not terrible. They’re not something you’d expect to receive from a bloke in a bedsit with a cowboy hat and a balloon who suddenly developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of vaccine microchips and the New World Order after his missus left him and took the kids. And compared to the tweets that daily get an airing – and again with the health warning that this is Squinter’s subjective truth – his tweets in a more gentle world have got to merit even a 10 per cent success rate.

But he doesn’t get anywhere near one in ten. Truth is, Jamie Bryson has likely had more peer-reviewed articles in the Harvard Law Review than Squinter has had Talkback text success. And so Squinter continues to wallow in misery and self-pity, his nose pressed against the window behind which a rambunctious throng thrashes out the great issue of the day.

William Crawley wasn’t able to join us today, but what he would say in his defence is that...

Just kidding, this isn’t the Beeb and William’s what’s known in the business as A Good Lad. He told Squinter: “It’s quite easy to get a text message broadcast on Talkback. You just need to text some words to 81771, ensuring that they are tolerably relevant to what we are talking about on-air, and free of any defamatory taint. We then sift through the texts, choose some of the more interesting ones, and nix the pointlessly snide or insulting ones. It’s clearly not a process evidencing any kind of scientific methodology, but it usefully works.”

Hmm... “quite easy”, eh? Squinter has to say his personal experience doesn’t chime with that inspirational and egalitarian manifesto outlined by William, but perhaps a new day is dawning at Ormeau Avenue. Perhaps wireless fans in Trillick and Tamlaght and Lurgan and Lisbellaw are about to be as thrilled by Squinter’s acumen as readers of the Andytown News. Watch this space. 

Or listen to it.