KATE Hoey was back in court on Monday in the latest round of her epic attempt to have the NI Protocol consigned to the dustbin of history alongside her political career. She was joined, as ever, by the other two musketeers, Jim Allister and Ben Habib.

Sadly, the trio suffered yet another blow to the head with a gavel as the Court of Appeal ruled the Protocol legal citing paragraph 3 subsection c(2) of the Northern Ireland Catch Yourself On Act. It was another kick in the ging-gangs for loyal Ulster, whose efforts at disposing of the Protocol have proved about as effective as cleaning your windows with tinfoil.

But as Athos, Porthos and Aramis saddled up and prepared to ride back to Paris, in Donaghadee young d’Artagnan was still swinging his sword and yelling defiance at an unjust world. “The four judges who determined Unionism’s Protocol challenge,” wrote Duc Jamie du Wheeliebin Bleu, “Keegan LCJ; Treacy LJ; McCloskey LJ; Colton J. Does that reflect the ‘spirit’ of the Belfast Agreement supposed balance between communities in public appointments?” The message loses a little in translation from the original French, but the raw passion was clear for all to see. If four Protocol-loving Sinn Féin plants in the judiciary think they can undermine Our Precious Union© without opposition they had best think again.

But, ooh-la-la! What’s this? Only last September, d’Artagnan, in his former career as a leading legal light, had cause to appear before ‘Keegan LCJ’ (that’s Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan to non-experts like us) and his assessment was – what’s the best way to put this? – not quite as scathing.

He wrote: “Appeared before Lady Justice Keegan (sitting with Treacy LJ and Maguire LJ) this morning in the Divisional Court. Fantastic Judge who I think will be an excellent Lady Chief Justice who will ensure that the entire community can have confidence in the fairness of the judicial system.”

Alas and alack, Jamie’s touching confidence in the Newry woman didn’t survive the next “All stand!” and in the blink of an eye she’s gone from being the Carson-like saviour of Our Precious Union© to a barrier in the way of community balance in the judiciary (i.e. a fair deal for Prods).

Doubtless Keegan LCJ has been left bereft by her vertiginous fall from grace with one of the North’s brightest legal minds and the 2006 winner of the Taxi Dispatcher of the Year (Bangor heat). But she can console herself with the knowledge that even more eminent figures than herself have fallen out of favour with My Cousin Binny – only to be welcomed back into the wee man’s fold. In 2013, as chair of the short-lived but perfectly-formed Ulster People’s Forum, he parted ways with Willie Frazer over the direction and nature of street flag protests. Six years later when it was revealed that the boul’ Willie was the key distributor of Ulster Resistance assault rifles and rocket launchers, Jamie commented: “The loyalist people of the time had a right to defend themselves. Ulster Resistance evidently played a key role in enabling loyalist counter-terrorism; that’s nothing to be ashamed about. Proud to call Willie Frazer my friend.”

So, Keegan LCJ, in words that you may find pleasingly familiar and conducive, spes oritur ut aeterna – hope springs eternal. It may not be all over with you and him after all. Yes, your career may suffer in the short term as you remain in the opprobrium of loyal Ulster’s most famous son. But if and when you’re are back in good odour, your prospects will surely rocket like those of a senior figure within the previously-despised DUP when he got this ringing endorsement. “Nationalism, roll-over Unionism and the peace processors are all furious… that’s all you need to know about why Edwin Poots must be the new leader of the DUP.”    

Bag it or bin it? Looks like this one’s a keeper

GAMECHANGER: But the manbag provokes mixed reactions

GAMECHANGER: But the manbag provokes mixed reactions

THE modern world places increasing demands on the capacity of men’s pockets. The vast majority of women have their handbags into which all manner of objects practical and cosmetic have historically been carried, but blokes have traditionally relied on the pockets of their shirts, trousers and coats.

When all that a man used to carry with him was a wallet and a comb it wasn’t much of an issue, but the age of the mobile phone and associated accoutrements has put an increasingly unbearable strain on the cargo capability of menswear. To such an extent that Squinter has finally given in to the inevitable – he’s bought a manbag.

And here it is (above). Nifty looking, even if Squinter says so himself, and even if the first two things said when Squinter walked into the Roddy’s with it were “Were you out collecting the milk money?” and “Is your gas mask in that?”

No matter. Squinter’ swilling to take the barbs because as far as making life easier while out and about is concerned, the manbag is a gamechanger. On its first deployment – a recent train journey to the teeming metropolis of Ballymoney – it contained at various times and not always all at once:

• A woolly hat.

• A scarf.

• Gloves.

• Glasses and case.

• Phone charger.

• Earphones.

• Book.

• Water.

• Hand gel.

• Face mask.

That’s quite a payload, and Squinter’s probably omitted one or two items from the list. Had Squinter not had his manbag, lunch and a pint in North Antrim on a Baltic February weekend would have gone something like this...

Enter pub. Take off coat, hang on back of chair. Take off gloves. Place on table. Take off scarf. Place on table. Take off mask. Place on table. Take off earphones. Place on table. Take off glasses, attempt to place on full table, then divert to adjacent chair. Order lunch and pint. No room on table for drink. Divert half of items to adjacent chair with glasses. Food arrives. No room for plates. Divert remainder of items to another adjacent chair. Eat. Drink.

A post-prandial stroll around town, meanwhile, would go like this...

Get warm walking up a hill and take off hat. Squeeze it into coat pocket. Remove scarf for same reason, place in other pocket. Remove gloves, place one in each coat pocket. Take off earphones to speak to shopkeeper, place in trousers pocket with charger. Take out earphones on exiting shop, spend five minutes disentangling them from charger cable.

For someone who’s out and about walking so much, it’s all a monumental inconvenience, and as the day goes on every individual act becomes an agony of choice and action. The manbag, though, ends it all. As well as the main bag for bulky items like the book and the hat and the gloves and the water, there are little zippered and buttoned compartments where individual cables can be placed to avoid the dreaded entanglement. In other words, a day out for Squinter has been stripped of the endless minor inconveniences that pepper any excursion. On the downside, along with the aforementioned wisecracks, is the fact that a significant number of people within Squinter’s professional and social ambit view it as rather affected, not to say effete. Not much that Squinter can do about that, of course, for as they say, such a 1950s attitude is a reflection only of the person who holds it. For his part, Squinter likes to think it makes him look a little more interesting and dashing. A man who’s got a bag is a man on a mission, right? A man who’s not wandering around provincial towns and country graveyards just for the sake of seeing around him, but in pursuit of some definite and worthy aim. In that bag there’s got to be important papers and valuable items. And if they don’t know that it’s only got a pair of Primark gloves and an Antrim GAA hat, who’s Squinter to ruin the illusion?

Comb all ye young rebels...


THIS fearsome-looking object will appear to Millennials to be something that’s likely to get you three to five years in Maghaberry. To readers of a certain age, however, it will invoke memories of the 70s and 80s, when hair care, self-defence and GBH were related disciplines.

It's a steel comb. With a handle. A handle that’s been sharpened to a blade. And when Squinter was a boy and a youth, countless young men openly and proudly carried them in their back pockets with the pointy bit sticking out to impress their peers and the ladies. But that only worked if their peers were equally complacent about deadly weapons and the ladies were Bonnies in search of an acned Clyde.

Squinter can’t remember anyone from round his way ever being arrested for what in the United States they call the ‘open carrying’ of weapons. Admittedly the Yanks use that phrase in reference to battlefield weapons in McDonald’s and not shanks in Wranglers, but the point remains. People got stopped all the time – if you walked at night time the couple of miles from Squinter’s house to the middle of Andytown chances were high that you were going to bump into Steve and Andy from Burnley and that Steve would search you while Andy wrote down your name in a tiny book with a stubby pencil while wearing padded black gloves. (That’s not easy – it’s why they were known as the best-trained army in the world.) But the comb-knives were ignored, possibly because Steve and Andy themselves brought them with them to Rose and Crown at night when they were back home on leave; or possibly because they didn’t seem that important when it was coffee jar bombs and Browning Hi-Powers that they were really interested in finding.

Squinter’s told that occasionally the combs were used for combing one’s hair, but that claim has yet to be verified.