Sunday, 13 December 2009

After the wedding - back to the future

Sat on the sofa with my amazing wife on a date approaching our 1st month anniversary. In the house we rent and with the cold of winter outside being ousted by the pretty colours of our festive decorations. The construct of time has shed me a few moments, whilst watching DVD’s, to blog again for the first time in over a month. So this is just a quick update before I finally get time to type up the several thousand words worth (no host of golden daffodils included) of blog posts that I have written in my handy Muji notebook purchased on Oxford Street.  Inside, and with the gaps between the skirting boards and the carpet plugged and with only the draught emanating from an ill-fitting door, we’ve the heating on. It is certainly not the 30 degrees centigrade we were spoilt by, which is a big shame.  We kinda got used to the summer weather on our honeymoon on an island located south of the Equator... namely Mauritius,  but the warming of the festive season isn’t a bad thing to come back to.

Things haven’t changed too much, the mild side of crazy is still in both of us and is still prevalent even after we have gained the definition of Mr and Mrs. Even though the random dose of vitamin D has quenched the demands of our bodies that are unaccustomed to such treats, we have been ever so busy every day since we returned from honeymoon, sorting the aftermath of one occasion and preparing for the onslaught of another.

Half the whole of the story of 2009 might end up slightly over lapping with in 2010 but I intend to get there.

 First up is a trip or two to the BBC...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Plenty to come... please hang in there!

Sorry for the lack of posts this November. As November's go, this one has been, and will be, an extra special month. In 12 days I'll be getting hitched. The weekend just past was my stag do weekend. The evenings are taken up planning and sorting, the days working and getting things done and the spare moments hopefully dedicated to writing a speech that is still only a small bunch of notes long... eek!

Though for once I have a list of events, meaningful thoughts and feelings to blog about, the time isn't yet there to put them into the form of a blog post. To that end I am making a real and actually-written-down-in-a-hard-backed-notepad type list and I am determined to make my way through writing about them as soon as I find time - this is more than likely after the wedding. Possibly in the sun whilst Norn Girl reads chick-lit books about divorces ;)

So from appearing in the audience of BBC TV/Radio shows and a Leeds game, to Stag do's and meeting old friends, from ponderings about keyboards and time travel to hopefully (what will probably be many an entry of) the biggest event... the wedding and honeymoon.

Unfortunately life doesn't seem to have a pause button. So what has been and what is to come will have to just hold on a little while longer. Please don't venture far... I'll try to make small updates in the mean time but I'll be back soon, with more to blog than ever!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Random Google searches - 'voluntary stalking'?

After another long week at work and with my fiancée at the other side of the Irish sea, enjoying her weekend long hen party with the girls. I’ve had plenty of time to watch random TV, and loiter on the t’interwebs. Ok, so maybe I’ve not had the most wholesome time, all I’ve managed to do is choose my transfers for the fantasy football, to play online scrabble and complete another inquisitive but slightly nerdy task, that of looking through the Google search queries for my blog. Bemusing myself with the odd things that this here blog has been located by in the several months I’ve been typing here. Ok so it’s not exactly everyone’s idea of a great start to the weekend but it gave me a giggle!

With Christina Martin - occasional writer and comedian - leading the way (at least in my realm of reading about random search results beyond Googlewhacking), I thought I’d share some of the more random Google searches that have found my blog. Before I start, I’ll warn you they’re not quite as bizarrely random and as wonderfully absurd as those Christina found. After all, ‘comedian more powerful than jesus’ and ‘goose costume sale’ are searches worthy of awards let alone finding a blog – well that, or at least worthy of an explanation by the original search author.

So here goes... the first that caught my eye:

‘camera above the royal mail in belfast‘

I wonder if they were hoping to find if they could use it or if they were being watched? Maybe they were just hoping to find out if someone’s doing something about those letters that grow legs and make a run for it?

‘how to become a captain of a ship in ireland’

Ah this makes more sense, well – maybe. If it was possibly the same person as the camera query, and that person was going to be looking out for an important letter - it could easily be their Master Mariner’s licence they were trying to keep their eyes peeled for. Avast me hearties, I’ll be understanding!

‘belfast and northern island street directory ‘

Shiver me timbers! No wonder they wanted to be Captain. There might be treasure to be had if we can but find our way around the Northern Island... best set sail for Rathlin on high tide! Whilst we wait, here are a few more...

‘funny contact lenses in northern Ireland’

that hopefully didn’t result in the following search...

‘tragic stories blogs northern ireland‘


‘bargain buys vans on ebay no mot ni county down ‘

hopefully wasn’t anything to do with...

‘northern ireland explosive’

Then there were some people seemingly searching for the more random...

‘natalie imbruglia looks like carol vorderman’ - this is vindication of sorts, I knew I wouldn’t be alone in thinking that! Here's the explaination about the doppelgangering.

‘europe easter egg for kings ‘ – probably a DVD related search but I like the thought of an Easter egg fit for a King. I bet it’s like those kinder eggs you can get that have the giant toy inside... if I was a king I’d like one of those... but bigger! And then there were my two favourites...

‘huge statue of a lady in a bed in ireland’

I’m intrigued.  Does anyone know what they might have been looking for? If there isn’t one, I implore someone with more money than sense to make this a reality! I suspect they were the most disappointed to only find my blog.

And my overall favourite but also the search results I least wish to appear in...

‘voluntary stalking’

Sometimes you have to wonder what people are really looking for or if they’re just typing into a search box for the fun of it. When someone types in voluntary stalking, whats going on in their mind? Do they want to be stalked or are they looking for a consenting victim or are they looking for examples of such phenomenon - hopefully its the latter.

P.S. I am not volunteering for being stalked - no matter how many ‘funny contact lenses’ or ‘bargain buy vans on ebay no mot’ you might find my blog with! You might tempt me with ‘a huge statue of a lady’ but she has to be in bed and both she and the bed have to be in Ireland. You can send this via royal mail, a captain might be along to pick it up in the next few years if it needs importing and we’ll have someone watching to make sure it arrives at the sorting office ok. If you can fit it inside a European Easter Egg suitable for a king that would be awesome. Cheers!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bits of Belfast - Part 4 - Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall Oct 20th 2009The shortening daylight hours are quickly becoming a lot more noticeable and if Usain Bolt has found himself trying to beat the progression of the seasons to a finishing temperature, he best get a move on because it isn’t hanging around. With the leave’s falling off the trees, the first of this year’s Christmas decorations were being placed on Belfast City Hall over the last two days. It’s external redecoration co-in siding with it it’s reopening to the public after almost 2 years of refurbishment.

Part of the refurbishment is a cafe open to the public. The council ran a public vote to see what it should be named and of the choice of name put forward (all of which were related to the industrial/economic development of the city) it was the apt name of ‘Bobbin’ which won out and so this new coffee shop called the Bobbin Coffee Shop is now open and for the passerby to 'bob in' and have a warming brew. I have to admit; I’ve not made it in myself yet but have heard good things from those who have. Besides the improved functionality and intended use of the City Hall here is the councils run down on the refurbishment works.

So the Bobbin seems to be a name we might hear a lot in the future as Belfast City Hall does have a habit, for many of us who live and work in or around the city, as being a place we pass by an awful lot because it is seemingly the heart of Belfast. All roads might lead somewhere new but seemingly more so to this location than any other, roads in Belfast lead to City Hall. However you end up there, it’s probably only going to be a place to grab a bite to eat during lunch, the opening hours leave something to be desired. Monday – Friday, 9am - 4.30pm only (after the initial reopening celebrations).

The names popular in the vote for the coffee shop of ‘Bobbin’ and ‘White Linen’ seem very suitable because by all accounts, City Hall is where it is due to Belfast’s economically bright yet humanly gloomy industrial history. My curiosity of the history of Belfast got the better of me and I’ve recently been reading a book called Belfast – The Making of the City by J.C. Beckett et al. This book contains many photos and pictures from the past but most interesting to me was a map of Belfast of 187 years ago. On this map the River Lagan’s path is almost unrecognisable to today’s channel; the centre of town is dominated by High Street and the White Linen Hall, on the site of which that big impressive City Hall now sits, is on the edge of town to the South. The map depicted in the book shows the layout of the streets less than half a century after the completion of the White Linen Hall and within another ¾’s of a century the White Linen Hall, as a sign of the times and Belfast becoming a city, was being replaced by today’s City Hall. The location became a focal point through its importance to trade and is now the proud centre, however its development to a vibrant city.

Fittingly, this spectacle of a focal point, if only in passing, to so many of our days, is taking on the next stage of its civic role with a good dose of the past woven into its fabric. The start of a double dose of re-openings... soon to follow, the Ulster Museum on the 22nd of October.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate change, a very local story.

Northern Ireland has many of its own unique problems to solve but there is one problem that Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain have in common and a problem that they all contribute to on the global scale - influencing climate change. How do I know this... because I live in Northern Ireland and I believe that I too contribute to the problem. I know, not a great admission to make, especially when you take into account I spent 3 very worthwhile years of my life studying the environmental sciences. So why am I telling you this?

I’m telling you this because I don’t mean to detrimentally exploit our environment, but I know my actions are likely to be contributing to the problem. I’m telling you this because, although I’m by no means an expert, I studied the literature from what I hope was a balanced perspective, I’ve read the arguments for and against and have made my own mind up from the scientific data and theory I’ve had to sift through to write my essays. I was even going to write another essay for this occasion of Blog Action Day. However to cut a long story short, my opinion is that we are precariously playing with natural systems that are resilient but that are part of such a complex balance that we’re foolish to think we aren’t at least having a significant impact. An impact that could leave a much harsher world for our offspring to live in by worsening pre-existing problems that it seems mankind can’t even resolve during the best of times... the likes of poverty and war.

It wasn’t that long ago I was at university, and climate change was a leading topic but as we found when searching the media, it hardly made the news that often and it wasn’t such a large part of a political parties manifesto. Thankfully that has in recent times begun to improve, even if it has led to a slight transference of scepticism because of its increasing use as a political tool to win votes. Eventually though, those with the ability to approach the problem, i.e. government and the industrial and business world, those who are reliant upon the systems people have developed up to this point, have at least on the surface begun to show signs of acknowledgement. Sadly though, change is slow in human behaviour. A change that has not been helped by those who have a vested interest to oppose such change, especially when the change might affect their profits or control. But like the political scene in Northern Ireland it’s likely to be a generation or two before a general consensus overwhelms the petty arguments and those in a position to do so get their acts together. Let me put it this way, Northern Ireland has its fair share of sceptics on climate change problems but I’m not one of them, sadly regarding the hope for change, our last Environment minister here in Northern Ireland was.

My more immediate and local problem though, is that in my current situation I find more often than not that I am not in a ready position, like billions around the world, to do what I would need to in order to restrict my own impact.

For instance... I choose not to drive but I still have to use a bus that is stuck in traffic pumping out its fumes because Northern Ireland is seemingly obsessed or dependent on the petrol motor car and there are only limited mass transit facilities in Belfast. I try to buy locally sourced produce, for instance if I buy bottled water for my desk at work I buy the one that was bottled and sourced closest, but I still end up buying it because it’s convenient when really I could go out of my way to carry a 2ltr bottle of water to work each day. I use a lot of electrical devices and lights and I turn them off when not in use, we’ve also replaced most of our bulbs with energy saving light bulbs but the electricity here is still predominantly provided from non renewable power stations and it’s either their way or the highway. We don’t use hardly any heating and wrap up in blankets but when we use hot water it’s powered by a gas boiler, we live in a rented home and neither our landlord nor we are eager to fund an expensive conversion to renewable energy sources. We like to travel and experience new places and culture but to do so we have to get on a plane or a boat, there is no realistic alternative. We recycle but just about everything we buy comes in packaging and bags. These are just a few scenarios whereby whether I or not I like it, I end up playing a small part in reinforcing mankinds effect on climate change through many of my choices.

Sure, some choices are not exactly choices, others are indirect consequences and some are my choices and those I do hope to change the outcome of in future.

The point though, is that even with a conscience acknowledgement of the problem, it’s not so easy, at least in my experience, to make changes that can help rather than hinder on your own. Northern Ireland isn’t the best place to try and live carbon neutral or in a sustainable manner right now, but I’ll keep trying even if I’m frowned upon by others in their 4x4’s. I intend to make a more concerted effort and hopefully I won’t be alone. Though just another view, much like the rest of this post, Northern Ireland is in a great position to repolarise the effect in place at present - there is hope yet and we can all make a difference if we try a bit harder. Given also the support shown today with Blog Action Day 09 we won't be alone. I’ll hopefully blog further on this topic in future, preferably with some facts and interpretation rather than just opinion.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Up 3D and the 3D Cinema Showdown.

Up 3D advert at Belfast City Side Mall Movie House CinemaOn Monday it was another cinema night and a trip this time to the Movie House cinema at City Side Mall (aka Yorkgate Shopping Centre) on the outskirts of the central business district of Belfast. There we enjoyed a trip for a cup of tea and then on to see the recently released Pixar /Disney Digital 3-D film, Up. After Toy Story 3D at the Odeon where RealD is the preferred format, this was a chance to try out the 3D experience at the Movie House’s flagship cinema, with a Dolby 3D system. So what did we find?

Well, to begin with, a delicious raspberry muffin and a cup of tea at a near by cafe. It was there I met up after work with Norn girl and friends, closely followed by my soon to be sister and brother-in-law. The group were set. Losing one to other commitments, the group heading to the cinema comprised of 4, 20 something’s and a 12 year old. It was the oldest of us, *cough* Norn Girl, who with the encouragement of her younger brother ended up buying some crazy coloured clip in hair extensions which were worn all evening until donated to a lion... don’t ask!

We made it to the kiosk outside the York Gate/City Side Movie House and bought our tickets. After a quick ice cream stop for some. We climbed the stairs and handed in our tickets. The rest of the group headed to the queue for drinks and refreshments but I only wanted a bottle of something wet and cold so made my way around to the vending machine that’s around the corner near the higher numbered screens. After I had bought an overpriced bottle of Oasis compared to any other shop in the area I had a look around at the machines whilst I waited for the others to catch up. One caught my eye. It was a grabber machine like I used to play in Blackpool on family holidays as a kid. I was tempted to play this one because it had a nice sign on it saying ‘win every time’. I got my £1 and put it in the slot. I moved the stick and the grabber moved forwards, I had my eye amongst the random items for a toy SpongeBob Squarepants... the grabber stopped, I hadn’t meant to but it hit the back wall and was just out of reach of Spongebob. Oh well, I pressed the lit up button and the claw descended and missed everything. Thankfully it was a win every time... take 2... this time I headed for a pile of stuff and managed to dislodge a few things and there was another Spongebob... if only I could grab it with my grabber. Take 3 I tried, and failed. Take 4, the claw grabbed, and started to pick something up... in a real life version of Sid’s space ship grabber machine victory in Toy Story, my first thought was also...“Alright! Double prizes!”. The others were soon with me and I gleefully donated Spongebob to Norn Girl. I offered the weird bee thing around but sadly for this ‘Buzz’ there were no takers.

Spongebob Squarepants and a BeeWe made it to our screen and the staff were handing out the glasses. The Dolby3D glasses are reused and are apparently washed each time between uses because they are expensive to produce. They look the part, like trendy sunglasses and have an almost two tone coloured shimmer to them.

We picked our seats and watched the 3D ads and the 3D Pixar short film called ‘Partially Cloudy’ which was funny and a good warm up for our eyes. The view through the glasses though seemed just a bit off being 100% clear. There was almost like a slight fog around the outside of the field of view from the glasses which didn’t take away too much but was just noticeable. We tried each other’s glasses but they were all the same. A wipe on a cotton t-shirt to see if it was a smudge or residue from cleaning or something didn’t make a difference.

Up started and we settled back into our seats. I won’t spoil anything but the story sets up in the past with the lead character Carl Fredricksen as a boy, we are given his life story... and then the main story begins. The comedy is brilliantly done, the situation is so imaginative and well thought out that it’s hard to describe. All I will say is that Kevin and the dogs with their collars, at least for me, are the funniest movie characters to grace our screens this year, the movie lives up to its name and is as uplifting as the name suggests.

The 3D effects were quite subtle in places and not always used as much as they could have maybe been but the story to this movie and the comedy is its charm, the 3D effects are just the icing on the cake.

So yet another excellent movie experience. I don’t like to promote products and services and the corporate world but it seems like its probably about the right time to declare that 3D isn’t just a fad anymore. With the new push to promote digital 3D systems, its well and truly being integrated as part of the motion picture art form and it looks here to stay... which is good news for me because I’ve really enjoyed it so far!

The only let down to the movie (that was my own fault!) was the slight discomfort that came when I had randomly lifted off my glasses. I was trying to hold them away from my face try to try to see how the 3D was working out and to see what the brightness was like between that actually on the screen compared to what was coming through with the lenses filters. On their return to my head, I ended up missing the side of my head and poking myself in the eye with the end of the ear piece... oops! I missed a couple of minutes of 3D due to this slight mishap but I can officially say I’ve safety tested the ear pieces of the Dolby 3D glasses and that pair at least are a good level of blunt.

With the Storm cinema at the Odyssey at the time of writing not having a 3D showing advertised on their website (though they do have the VIP screenings with the lazy boy chairs – to which I’ve only been once, but they were so very comfy!) and having now experienced a 3D movie at both a Movie House and the Odeon. I think I can outline my experience mingled with a bit of the experiences of those with me on each occasion.

Customer Service: Both venues were great – excellent customer service, as in no fuss and friendly and clean (before other people made them messy). All good!

Prices (at the time we bought the tickets):
Movie House City Side - standard 3D showing ticket price £7
Odeon Victoria Square – standard 3D showing ticket price £8.45

3D experience: The 3D technologies of RealD and Dolby 3D were both good and produced a good quality 3D experience but here are what we found to be the pro’s and con’s of our visits.

Movie House City Side:

Positives - Choice of seats on the day. A few arcade and vending machines in the corridors between screens though if you’re a parent this could well be a negative hehe.

Negatives - What we judged to be slightly more uncomfortable glasses for our heads than the Real D (4/5 of us anyway) and slightly less clear/vibrant images but still a very good quality, however this is likely to be subjective and also could be influenced by the colours used in the movie itself. You can't take home the glasses and look cool/an idiot on the way home. Food and drink is expensive compared to same products at local shops and supermarkets.

Odeon Victoria Square:

Positives - What we judged to be slightly more comfortable glasses for our heads and what appeared to be slightly more clear/vibrant images, though this is subjective and also could be influenced by the colours used in the movie itself. The glasses are your own to keep and you too can look cool/an idiot on the way home :).

Negatives - Lesser choice of central seat locations without increased cost. Food and drink expensive compared to same products at local shops and supermarkets.

In regards to the technolgies involved, I’ve had a read around the t’interwebs and the best description I’ve found so far (one that isn’t too out of date yet) is a post by a user on the Audio Visual Science Forum who describes his observations of RealD and Dolby3D.


It’s honestly very hard to choose between them but personally from these experiences, I preferred the actual 3D movie experience of the RealD technology in the Odeon but preferred the physical venue at the Movie House.

However, if I had to choose what I enjoyed most of all; I enjoyed the good time had with Norn Girl, friends and family, the rest is just a bonus.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Weblog Disclaimer

Connecting with other consciousness in this usually warm and thoughtful but potentially unpredictable and dangerous world of the internet/blogosphere, it's hard to know who you might encounter and what their intentions might really be.
Heading further out into a largely uncharted expanse with my ever changing bag of feelings, ideas, opinions and accounts slung over my shoulder, the time has come to try to ensure a smooth voyage into the future with a Disclaimer.

This weblog is provided to the reader with the expectation that the reader, like the author, will try their best to be law abiding, ethical, have a sense of fun, be open minded and to cause no harm. Spammers, extremists, those seeking to be offended, or anyone who would intentionally harmfully exploit, please focus your attention on something more worthwhile and give our heads peace, life's too short and you're already the reason I'm creating a disclaimer. Be nice!

This blog is intended to provide a snapshot as well as an evolving record of an individual’s experience and opinion. Due to this nature, entries could potentially be written in the heat of the moment or only reflect a small moment in time, as such any thoughts and opinions expressed in older posts may not truly reflect my thoughts or opinions today but they were as accurate as possible at the time of the initial posting. Content may become 'out of date'.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this, now back to the journey!

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Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wedding planning, "Yellow Alert!"

With less than a month and a half until the wedding, yellow alert has been called. The rise in stress has stepped up a notch, especially last week. The joys of planning, arranging and holding a wedding with many of the more traditional elements, would seem to hold the potential to provide a taste of married life, before it’s even upon us.

The 'yellow alert' we've called, is seemingly due to a culmination of a few factors. The first admittedly, is that of me as of the end of last week not getting involved enough - my bad.

The other more substantial issues causing us headaches in our wedding organisation are as follows:

- Lots and lots of little things that snuck under the radar which all raise their little heads from the ground like attention seeking zombie leprechauns. Just little to-do's all asking for attention and needing a resolution.

- Work and other commitments eating time. It’s hard to relax when your wedding is on the horizon. Sadly and probably short sighted of us; the main victim of this, apart from our sanity, has been our gym time. This fell by the wayside some time ago.

- Other people. Please don't get me wrong, we really want everyone who's invited to show up to our big day (especially given all the planning involved with the day itself) but our original plan didn't include the complex web of wedding planning that we're still working on today. We didn't plan to be antisocial, but our initial ‘Plan A’ was to travel somewhere else, ideally Scandinavia. To head there with just our immediate families and in a beautiful setting, to have an intimate ceremony. The up side would have been that along with our families, we would have had a trip to remember. We wanted to then just hold a wee gathering back home for everyone else to not be left without a party.

Sadly, because of the cost of the travel, those plans didn't fit into our budget, even when cutting corners and after saving for the best part of 2 years. Now we're dedicated to Plan B. Plan B happened to provide us with some great venues here in N.I - a castle and a hotel no less. The problem with being here is that so many other people will also be there because its close, and as we've come to find, now more than ever, even some people you know well can be very unpredictable. It seems almost surreal the unnecessary problems we've had thrown our way.

It's not that we don't like helping, if anything we've a habit of never being able to say no when asked to help. However, if its not people wanting us to resolve their travel arrangements its being asked to confirm details that they have already been given the means to the information for and just not looking. As well as that its people asking for plus ones. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just asking - in fact we've not turned anyone down and now have people coming to the reception who we will be meeting for the first time. Come to mention it, we must ask for full names for the seating plan. The annoyance has come in the way we've been confronted with the requests. Whether intended or not, the enquiries we've had, have basically insinuate that they won't be coming unless they can bring a plus 1.
This would be understandable if it wasn't for the fact that the people know a lot of other people who will be there anyway. After all, we planned and planned and planned the guest list, it might not be perfect but everyone will be near someone that we know they know and actually like - or at least we hope they still do, eeek.

We've tried our best to cover every base and the majority of people have been great and many RSVP's have come back with Yes I will attend proudly ticked so it’s not as bad as I might have made the situation out to be. Its just a little disheartening when your best efforts are thrown back at you by people who you would have thought would appreciate those best efforts, even if they obviously fell short of their expectations.

Ah well, I'm sure there will be plenty more ups and downs yet as the time draws closer.

A big list in a calendar format was a creation on Sunday. A countdown, as well as a reminder of all we still need to do. A list I'm already behind with, oops.

Despite the stresses and what seem to me to be overly complicated arrangements. I still can’t wait to be married to the girl I fell for 7 years ago. I might be dreading the speech and we're both unnerved about the fact that so many eyes will be staring at us all day, but I'm defiantly looking forward to saying "I do". I just can't fathom why its so damn hard to set the scene to do so, and to throw a party afterwards. We were never going to be able to afford a wedding planner to take the stress away, so there was always going to be some organising to do. Its just maybe proving to be more complicated than it might have been.

I just hope that we can ride out the storm long enough to prevent us swimming away and eloping. All being well it won't come to that but I'll keep an eye out on national express coach prices to Gretna Green just in case.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Toy Story 3D

Excited about a movie we’d all seen several times before? You bet we were! Last Friday I bounced into a cinema screen like I hadn’t done for over a decade.

Having been very impressed by the latest version of the 3D cinema experience when we took the plunge and went to see Monsters Vs Aliens a wee while back, we were really looking forward to this one. It’s not hard to see why when I break this down in true Joey Tribbiani style - probably a reviewing technique that the likes of Radio 1’s James King wishes he’d thought of (I don’t know about you but I think he has a terrible taste in movies, but even he gave this 5/5!)...

Whats not to like? Toy Story, good. RealD 3D Digital Cinema, good. Getting to walk out of the cinema with 20-30 other people all still wearing polarised glasses and looking like you’ve all come out of a Blue Brothers re-enactment, good!

This new generation of 3D cinema really does beat the pants off the older 3D versions. I remember being at Alton Towers in their 3D cinema as well as the odd IMAX elsewhere and coming out feeling quite nauseous. I’m surely not that prone to it? I’ve never been car sick and even when my cousin and I decided to spend the best part of a morning at Blackpool Pleasure beach riding only anything that spins, and riding those rides repeatedly we didn't hurl. We might have been dizzy and in need of food to give our internal organs some stable and cohesive binding, but it wasn’t as bad as a 30 minute visit to see an unstable 3D adventure. With the new range of digital 3D cinema, we’ve headed to the Odeon mainly so far, and I believe they use RealD, this has been by convenience more than choice, but undoubtedly it has been first rate. The screen still seems very bright, the colours are great, the 3D really does stand out and the experience has been all together brilliant. Sure it might seem outdated and be superseded before long, but right now, it’s quite a sight, quite literally.

The only downside I’ve found has been the cost. The Odeon is far too expensive, as it is anyway for its regular tickets, especially compared, over here in Northern Ireland, to the Movie House cinemas. With the 3D showings, for 2 adult tickets and a bag of sweets, you’re not going to get much change from a £20 note.

Toy Story itself was the same bunch of giggles and action as it was in 2D but in 3D that extra dimension really does add an extra dimension. Seeing Andy’s toys coming to life with depth was great, it was like watching it for the first time again and brought you closer into the characters CGI world. From the reactions of those in front and from my own behaviour, it seemed like everyone was taking random turns at smiling at whoever they were with. Not to spoil it for anyone, but even the credits had a hint of 3D to them!

All in all, it was probably worth the money this time but I do hope it comes down in price a little, and perhaps it will if the hints are true that 3D TV might be upon us in the not so distant future.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Is it Christmas time already?

Merry Christmas! It’s here; it’s the most wonderful time of the year. That time honoured festival, where people throughout the ages have celebrated the coming to an end of darkest days of winter by filling it with a feeling of optimism and togetherness for the year ahead. It had only just turned September when the 1st signs were there to be spotted by the curious passersby. And in the race to win over the hearts and minds of those less fortunate than themselves, it’s the business world who, as usual have bolted from the start line.

First signs were the sneaky inclusion of some wrapping paper and bows, hidden low down at the foot of the shelves in a few stores. “What a funny sight at this time of year”, I did think to myself as I first laid eyes on them. I wondered who in their right mind would have already brought Christmas presents and be looking to wrap them? Are there really that many people heading away on a 3 month vacation who will be out of reach of a reliable post service?

So, are the stores making a good profit and getting the cash flow running early? Is it just planning ahead and filling the space? Or possibly, could it just be to get people thinking about buying? Besides my suspicions, there are probably many other reasons that are better known to those in seasonal sales and marketing. However (and feel free to call me a cynic) but it doesn’t seem anything new for a group to manipulate a holiday to suit their own cause. Even a celebration seemingly originally founded from the best of humanity’s spirit.

Pinned to today’s Gregorian calendar there would be a 1 in 365.2425 chance of getting it right, however when Hippolytus of Rome put forward the suggestion and when Pope Julius the 1st and others declared the date of their Saviors birthday, it seems a co-incidence that they picked the date they did. Especially, when the decision came centuries after the event. I heard a line tonight, it was from the Deep Space Nine episode ‘Cardassians’ and it seems quite apt to share at this moment and it went as follows, "I believe in coincidences, coincidences happen every day... but I don't trust coincidences."

So it seems quite likely they were assimilating the winter solstice holidays to suit the pursuit of strengthening their belief system in the same sort of way that Patrick popularised Christianity in Ireland. That is by adapting what had already evolved to be the predominant cultural focus of a people and their communities, and to manipulate that to be an integral part of what you want it to become. Sure, it could have been the masses who, taking on their new beliefs, adapted them to their old festivals and celebrations. But all this without the drive or influence of those at the head of an organized religious group who would have had the biggest vested interest in controlling the hearts and minds of people? The best part of 2 millennia later and the themes and methodology of controlling powers of religions and states seem to have put to bed much doubt. So moving on, cultural change and through the centuries of developments, we meet with Capitalism and eventually, mass production. At this point, the most powerful ideas being sold are purely of financial implication. Those formerly able to control states (in what is now seen as the developed world) with religious dogma, now have to settle, on the face of things at least, for a control of spirituality. The door to the sale of ideas to the masses is largely in the hands of the corporation and the press. Along comes Coca Cola, and looking for a new marketing campaign, didn’t create, but adapted on an already popular image of the day, that of a popularised American interpretation of a religious figure - St Nicholas – aka Santa. Since that marketing success, Christmas has since become a quirk of the materialistic and consumerist western world. Both taking advantage of as well as adding substance to - as Christianity did - the good nature and goodwill of mankind. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, is an opinion entirely at the judgment of the individual.

So looking around town this weekend, where numerous shops like BHS already have some of their ranges of wrapping, cards, chocolate advent calendars, ornaments, toys and other festive decorations, it’s not so difficult to understand that it’s not really strange at all that we’re being offered such items at this time of year. For these items, which relate to the current convoluted symbols that now help us feel attached to our continued interpretation of an ancient celebration, are our link to our ancestors and to their hopes, fears and optimism relating to the natural cycle of our planet. For that, it is likely there will always be demand. As is the case in Britain and Ireland, where power and heat is largely taken for granted all year round. A sense of connection with the seasons, even though it may only be a case of whether it is dark when we wake. Or our sense of community within our families and with others. Still brings even the most secular of us to understand that Christmas, aka x-mass, the Winter Solstice, aka the winter holidays, is whatever we want to make of it. If that’s led people to wish to prepare for it 3 months early, then there doesn’t seem much harm. People and this celebration have been manipulated for a very long time but when we look back at what Christmas has been, Christmas only matters in what it means to you.

Personally I see a Christmas shop, even at this time of year, and it makes me smile. It gives me a sense of excitement and warmth as I recall and relate it to many fond memories. Sure, I’m as confused by the desire to sell or buy Christmas themed goods so early as I am by the Church and religious groups who advertise that we should remember ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ each year.

So, the PLC’s might have their foot in the Christmassy door first, the Church won’t be that far behind, but when it comes to the time when the traditions and festivities are played out this year, it will adapt to whatever we each make it. Hopefully the more hopeful and forward looking ethos, of those who first gathered and instigated a celebration (for whatever their reasons), will shine through.

In the meantime, there’s a good chunk of this year left to live. I for one intend to make the most of it before I even start to contemplate any major Christmas related plans. Time to put the Snowman back on ice.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Bits of Belfast - Part 3 - Spirit of the City

Walking out of Victoria Square on Monday evening after enjoying the Odeon Cinema’s showing of Indian Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (yep this is still 2009 and not 1981) and armed only with my mobile phone, we stumbled across an unfamiliar sight. Sat on the plinth of granite before us, a large metal structure, a kind of tangled metal ball. For those of us either ‘not in the know’ or just forgetful (given it was 2 years since this piece of art was selected to be one of the centre pieces to Belfast’s Streets ahead project) we were all puzzled as to what it might be that was being set in place... and indeed, could it even just be a giant 3D puzzle? By the looks of it being installed by the men working well into the night, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it might be. So apart from our first impression of this object being erected in the dimly lit Cornmarket that evening, what exactly is this new addition to the city’s growing list of shapely metal objects?

Well the answer, which has been much more coherently reported on by other bloggers and media sources such as AlanInBelfast, the BBC and The Belfast Telegraph; is that this is the ‘Spirit of Belfast, a big steel sculpture created by Dan George, a 66 year old artist and creator of large installations and sculptures who hails from a place called Lake George in New York State, USA.

It is supposedly going to be awash with coloured lights at some point that will illuminate the hard metal frame (which incidentally wobbles quite vigorously at the biggest overhang when the wind blows). A feature to encourage more people to use the space that’s now, more than ever, a prime meeting spot with its vicinity to Victoria Square. The sculptor himself hinted that he had the old linen and shipbuilding industries in mind with its concept and “so you might see it as having the strength of steel and the delicate woven fabric of linen”.

Forgetting it was even taking place, I happened to stumble into the middle of the official opening on my way home from work on Thursday night and hung around to watch the speeches and the ribbon cutting. Those on show were a circus school act which I sadly had just missed, followed by a few folks including Dan George himself, Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Naomi Long and MLA Margaret Ritchie.

The speeches were ok, not too boring but mainly just the usual civic event type spiel. Dan George spoke well and tried to connect with the public, not keeping it too formal. He gave a bit of an insight into his feelings toward the piece. Naomi Long came across warm and almost seemed to be reciting her piece from memory, stating how it was positive for Belfast. Margaret Ritchie also went down that line but inadvertently gave the highlight of the speeches... during her stop-start, dry and dull stereotypical politician like delivery, her speech notes blew off the stand from in front of her. She didn’t notice for a split second and so the classic look of panic on an MLA’s face as she realised she didn’t have a clue what to say next. Ordinarily I’d feel bad laughing at someone’s misfortune but what the hey, MLAs get paid enough to simply go to Stormont, recite answers and questions that are prepared for them by someone else, whilst very rarely, so it seems, actually solve any problems. Maybe that’s harsh, but sure, it was almost ‘You’ve been Framed’ worthy. She gingerly stepped down from the plinth and a step or two forward to stop her papers making it any further towards the press. Afterwards there was a wee wait before a very prolonged posing with some scissors – the usual pretending to be cutting the ribbon whilst cameras recorded the forced moment.

So formalities over, it was just the sculpture itself. Now I’m not going to claim to be any kind of an art critic... I mean I’m the heretic who was more wowed by Egyptian Cat statues at the Louvre in Paris than I was the stamp hung on the wall that goes by the name of the Mona Lisa. However when it comes to things like this, it’s hard not to have an opinion or come to a conclusion... and you know what, apart from the question of whether it’s really worth £180k, I do quite like it. However after some careful consideration; it doesn’t make me contemplate the historical industries of the city. Like the others who were with me when we first saw this thing in the dark; it instead reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog and the loop-de-loops you pull as Sonic beats gravity in his twisted world of hoops and rings. Maybe it wasn’t the intention but that’s what springs to mind when I look at it. Positive in the long run and reflecting the spirit of Belfast, whatever that indeed can be put down to in words... who knows? What I can say is that I do think it does fill the space well and it will no doubt be as big a draw for tourists having their photo taken – maybe as popular as the ‘big fish’ aka Salmon of Knowledge’ and the ‘Thing with the ring’ aka the ‘Loop with the hoop’ aka the 'Doll on the Ball' aka the ‘Ring of Thanksgiving’. Also along these lines, apart from the delays, Belfast’s streets ahead project does look like it might do the trick and make the city center more of a great place to head to. The new trees heading away from the Spirit of Belfast really seem to suit the place and the nice stone paving seems clean and fresh. Let’s just hope they don’t have to dig it all back up too soon for more utility repairs.
As with the the other pieces scattered around the city, our landmarks and city artworks tend to get a more suitable nickname. So the last question on this new addition has to be what will its new nickname be?

'Ball by the mall'? or as Norn Girl suggested - The 'Twist when you're pissed'? she's classy is that Norn Girl.

If you have any suggestions of what we should all be affectionately calling it, please do add a comment with your ideas :)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

25% of the Irish League

What a league we have this season, the Irish Football Association’s Carling Premiership is building up to be a nail biting quest for the Gibson Cup and it’s not even October yet! 25%... a ¼... of the league season in and there are only 4 points separating 1st to 7th. All of the teams, so it seems, have the potential to get a result against any other side... well maybe except poor Lisburn Distillery who are currently the only team really looking to be struggling.

Many results last season were starting to hint that times were changing. Linfield ended the season without a trophy and things were starting to become a little less predictable. This season has started off in an even more spectacular style and it seems that the increased competition provided by the 12 team league is starting to show. There are no more guaranteed wins for the so called big two, even Linfield with their numerical advantages off the pitch are finding that money doesn’t buy you everything (although there is no denying it does help in the long run).

Looking at league tables for me at the moment is a bit surreal. Amazingly in my realm of understanding football, I didn’t think they were allowed to do well?... both of the domestic sides I support with a passion are at the top of their respective tables. With Crusaders top of the Irish League in Northern Ireland and with Leeds United top of League One over the water. It’s an odd feeling. I recently wrote on my Facebook that I do have to wonder if a rift might have formed in the space time continuum someplace. If anyone spots one, do let me know! I don’t know what it might look like but I’m guessing this one might be ball shaped, possibly size 5.

Although we can’t draw too many conclusions of how the Irish league might pan out in the remaining ¾’s of the season from what has gone so far, we can though see that it’s going to be no easy ride to the top for anyone. The title is going to be hard earned by whoever can last the distance. In a semi-pro league that’s harder than it sounds. Come February and during busy spells, those teams with the bigger squads are still likely to make back any ground lost, so it is still seemingly Linfield and Glentoran’s league to lose.

Looking through the teams and their games so far, it’s not looking good for one side. As mentioned, Lisburn Distillery are really struggling this season and have had some heavy defeats handed to them already. The management and subsequent team changes backfired more than I think they could have expected. As a club with one of the smallest supporter bases in the league, one that is funded quite strongly by business ties, it’s not looking too good for them at the moment. A -21 goal difference and 1 point from 9 games doesn’t bode well for a decent season when you don’t have much of a vocal support to urge you on.

The Whites, although bottom of the league, do seem to have been the most consistent - even if it is an unenviable consistency. The 11 teams above them have been in a dog fight for position and here is how the dust has settled so far from my point of view...

Above them, but currently sitting in the bottom half of the table are Portadown, Institute, Coleraine and Ballymena United, all sides that carry a big threat. Institute for instance after a poor start have in their last 2 games beaten league leaders Crusaders and drew away against Glentoran. Although these sides haven’t shown any strong form, none of them is so far off the pace that they can’t still make a challenge for the top 3. Above those teams 4 points and Glenavon, Cliftonville, Dungannon Swifts, Glentoran and Linfield separate Newry in 7th from Crusaders in 1st. No team remains unbeaten and of those records that do still stand, Glenavon are the only side with an unbeaten home record and Glentoran with an unbeaten away record... oddly enough Glentoran haven’t yet managed to win at home in the league this season!

Of these teams Glenavon and Dungannon are the teams who have most improved since last season. On the occasions the Crusaders have played these sides, we’ve beaten them both but on those days they’ve given enough to show that they’ve improved a lot, playing some good football and on the most part going for it which is all you can ask really! Cliftonville are also improved. They look to be re-finding their ability which they showed quite consistently 2 seasons ago. That season they put up quite a challenge to break the domination by the ‘big 2’, only fading in the later stages of the season.

The shocker of the season so far has been Linfield. Usually so dominant, they have been found wanting in relation to the resources they posses. Like a wounded dog though, they are still dangerous and sitting not very far off the pace, things can soon change. They’ll not be worrying too much at the moment but if their poor-by-their-standards form continues come January it could be interesting to see if they can buy their way back to the top. Also a bit of a turn up for the books has been Glentoran’s form. They looked decent in pre-season but haven’t carried their ability to overcome some of the sides just last year they might have brushed aside. Maybe Keith Gillespie can help them; he scored his first goal for the Glens tonight. Neither side are far away and will still be hard to beat, saying that though, it’s been well proven already that teams that hold no fear can come away with 3 points from both the Oval and Windsor Park.

Above all of these sides, and currently at the top of the league even after a week with only 1 point from 2 games... are... (and I’m very happy to say it again) Crusaders F.C! We’ve had a brilliant start to the season apart from last week and also the tight 3-2 home loss to Cliftonville. We’ve a squad full of potential, the ground work having being built up from the season not so long ago when Stephen Baxter pulled the club back into the top flight from the first division. However since the Cliftonville loss and maybe a game or so before, we’ve not been playing the eye pleasing and highly effective football as consistently and as often during games. The team’s strength in recent times has been in keeping the ball on the floor, utilising the wings effectively. Obviously all other routes haven’t been neglected, but we always seem to do most damage down the wings. Goals from set plays have also dried up a little bit and we’ve been relying, a little too much, on goals from the player in the form of his life... David Rainey! It would seem in the press that the team are looking a little short of rocket fuel for flying down the wings in their usual fashion. I hear third hand but Stephen Baxter has said that this is due to fitness - fitness in terms of too many games/long trips in the space of a short time for part time player, which is understandable.

With the odd injury too (namely to Mark Dickson), that’s seemingly caused us to struggle a little more when sides sit back and counter attack. I can sympathise given the fact that most of the time I’m tired just heading home on an evening after work. These guys work... then train... then have to traipse around the country playing football - sometimes only to get home after midnight and then having to head to work again the next day. I think we’d all be a little jaded after several weeks of that sort of thing. So it is understandable for a few poorer performances on the pitch. Hopefully it won’t be long until the team are back in their groove and hopefully consolidate the position we’re in. That’s no easy job, but if there was ever a side the Crues have had that could do it... and if the majority of the team can stay fit and motivated... then there is no reason we can’t be looking to perform another outstanding achievement to add to last season’s Irish Cup final victory.

29 games to go on the stop watch... 24 games until the split. Who might win the league this year... only time will tell, but I can’t wait to see it play out! If the start of the season is a flavour of what we can look forward to, we’re in for a treat.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Thinking out loud and some words from Einstein.

I stayed up late last night, well past my bedtime. Ideas I've toyed with in my mind for a long time were at the forefront of my concentration and I finally felt I could maybe piece together a coherent post about it. Slightly encouraged by the quite creative movie that we saw on Monday; District 9, I got to work. My thoughts and opinions flowing onto the screen in my own very convoluted manner. I soon hit 2566 words. That’s where I ended. My eyes were struggling to keep open. The morning was almost upon me so I had to place my thoughts and opinions on hold and head to bed.

All the spare minutes at work today I spent thinking about it. Passing thoughts around in my mind - scenarios regarding how society, the structures and groups of people in the world and their ideas interact. The drives of humanity, psychological and physical needs, necessity, emotion, but also the darker drives of the society we live in, greed and exploitation. I pondered how ideas could make or break humanity... after love and happiness, is there something in life that is worth focusing on more than anything else? If making more money really is worth the dedication required, or if there is something much more meaningful, something helpful to humanity we could aim to do with life. How it might be possible to limit the detrimental ability of those with entrepreneurial, political or ideological ruthlessness and greed in obtaining and retaining wealth and power that brings about scenarios that are not pareto efficient, and further to that how to ensure that those who need it most are helped before those who have more than they need.

My thoughts were also geared towards how the influence of organised religion on the world can be reduced to find a situation where personal belief does not impact on other people or society in a way that indoctrinates, causes discrimination and division. Thinking about if it would be possible for human society to find a constructive bond that could unite people and set us on our way. Somwhere on track to find leaders of the future capable of Star Trek like ideals, where monetary competition might no longer be needed, where competition is about the will to further and better ourselves and explore. And where we might be able to dedicate more than we can now to help each other and to try to answer questions of our existence. Not forgetting having a few laughs and a bit of fun along the way.

Although I spent a fair bit of time typing it, I’m glad I held off posting it now. Mainly because I know I still have a lot more to learn, an education that might take a life time to refine my thoughts... and even then I still might not have an answer to the questions I was even asking myself let alone the arguments others would pick in my arguments. Thankfully I have found someone who held a similar world view to that of my own. Someone who wrote something that I’d like to share because there are unlikely to be many wiser words written and like all of his work, whether you agree with him or not, its great food for thought ...

Here is an excerpt from “Out Of My Later Years” by Albert Einstein, 1950:
(and here is a longer extract that I have found on the web which includes the lead up to this part... best though would be to lay hands on a copy of the book :) )

“Every individual should have the opportunity to develop the gifts which may be latent in him. Alone in that way can the individual obtain the satisfaction to which he is justly entitled; and alone in that way can the community achieve its richest flowering. For everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labour in freedom. Restriction is justified only in so far as it may be needed for the security of existence.

There is one other thing which follows from that conception-that we must not only tolerate differences between individuals and between groups, but we should indeed welcome them and look upon them as an enriching of our existence. That is the essence of all true tolerance; without .tolerance in this widest sense there can be no question of true morality.

Morality in the sense here briefly indicated is not a fixed and stark system. It is rather a standpoint from which all questions which arise in life could and should be judged. It is a task never finished, something always present to guide our judgment and to inspire our conduct. Can you imagine that any man truly filled with this ideal could be content:-

Were he to receive from his fellow men a much greater return in goods and services than most other men ever receive?
Were his country, because it feels itself for the time being militarily secure, to stand aloof from the aspiration to create a supra-national system of security and justice?
Could he look on passively, or perhaps even with indifference, when elsewhere in the world innocent people are being brutally persecuted, deprived of their rights or even massacred?

To ask these questions is to answer them.”

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Today was a good day.

Today has been a good day! I don’t know how non-football fans get by but most Saturdays are dominated for the lesser-spotted-in-a-shopping-centre-but-much-more-often-at-the-stadium supporter by their team’s results on the pitch. Ok, so it wasn’t just the football that has me in a good mood. Dare I mention an orb of blinding radiation appeared as from nowhere early this morning?

Pretty much since Thursday, when after another late day at work I found myself on an impromptu evening out, things have been running smoothly (well expect work on Friday – another late finish but I’m getting used to those). On Thursday I was meant to be heading home but due to the time I ended up meeting Norn Girl, her sister and her friends in Starbucks. I really don’t like coffee, even the smell makes my face screw itself into a ball to avoid the odour. However on this occasion it wasn’t so bad, I wasn’t getting anything though I did help myself to a sachet of brown sugar to help me stay awake. The rest of them being cafe culture enthusiasts were stuck into their overpriced beverages and it was just light chatter which was nice.

After a wee while our stomachs got the better of us all. On the spur of the moment it was a plan to head to an eatery. We ended up in the all you can eat Chinese buffet place on the top floor of Victoria square. It was a nice meal as always.. how can a meal that involves a triple helping of pudding go wrong! There was a normal pudding course, a fruity pudding course followed by a super sloppy pudding course. However delicious most of the food, I would add that its probably worth avoiding the Egg Custard that disguises itself as cheese cake, it tasted of neither... very odd indeed! My later attempt at making a cinema pamphlet paper aeroplane was just as bad, it went further as a ball than a finely tuned masterpiece but that came after the meal and ended up in a bin down by BHS.

We had planned during the meal to also head to the cinema but on re-analysis of the cinema times it was evident that the showing was going to go on too late for one of our crowd to be able to readily get home. As is the problem with anyone living far outside of Belfast, its hard to make it home after a certain time of day. So that was called off and instead we made our way home via a quick stop off at the Apartment. Norn Girls sister and I got a little trigger happy with our cameras. Having a compact camera that although not brilliant is fully manually adjustable, I got busy playing with some of the manual settings.

Before long and one glass of muti-strawed water later, we were home and I was flopping under the duvet like a fish freshly darted having being given a sedative. It’s that time of year again and we’ve replaced the thin summer sheet with the high tog warm-yer-cockles super duvet, and it’s so snug it’s unbelievable. Ahhh duvet... the stuff dreams are made of.

I woke up on Friday and the less said about the ridiculous pile of work we’re all being hit with the better. The good thing about fire fighting through a tricky time of work is that the time flies by and it was soon a belated home time. I put in my earphones, turned on radio1 and listened to the radio. As usual, after work any music that has a beat and is played relatively loud is the best to bring me out of work mode, so even Scott Mills’s floor fillers sound good, I was soon brought back to loopy old me. Although following the Leeds game and it was a 0-0 draw, it wasn’t a loss and it sent Leeds, albeit for only several hours, to the top of League One.

After a relaxing night in and some much needed sleep, it was soon this morning. I love Saturday mornings, when you don’t have to work on one or go anywhere, they’re the best day there is to sleep in. Just the knowledge that it’s only Saturday, there is still the entire rest of the weekend ahead and for the football fan... that later that day there is all the frills and spills of the highly anticipated game ahead.

That game was Crusaders vs. Glenavon. We made it for a couple of Guinness’s and then went out into the lovely warm sun. In the first half it was a case of the Crues being awarded a penalty but other than that being the second best team in terms of the football on display. Come the second half though and the tide turned. From 1-0 after that first half Chris Morrow penalty, a fair few chances went by for the Crues before Rainey slipped in the 2nd from a neat cross along the ground from the right and that was followed by a well worked goal where the quick build up was fed back to McCann for the calm finish. A great 2nd half, its odd because we’ve hardly got out of 2nd gear for the last few games but we’ve been winning regardless. Its an odd position as a Crues supporter to be in but a nice one. Top of the league and with a game in hand, the squad we have are living up to their potential, Stephen Baxter is a legend at this club and is performing one of the greatest achievements in football I’ve known in terms of taking a club forward with so few resources. With 2 Northern Ireland internationals in the squad who achieved that status by impressing for our club and with a few who look like they might push for that prestige in the future (*cough* Ross Arthurs *cough*), that future is looking bright and that’s even before brining into focus those improvements off the pitch again too! Long may it continue and with those dedicated to bringing at least one club into the 21st century here in N.I, it’s looking good so far. Linfield don’t count, the fact Windsor might be being upgraded is a farce. A last resort to try to make up for a failure by the IFA to get themselves out of a contract with the aforementioned club that makes no business sense. A deal that they should have never have signed and a failure to get new national stadium in order. Who knows how that one will end but it that is a post for another time. Hopefully it won't effect the other clubs in the league like it has the potential to!

Also football related, but on a more fun note for me, my team didn’t suck so badly today in the world of Fantasy Football. Room for improvement this season but over the last couple of years I’ve thrown myself into it quite a bit. Last year for instance I came well in the top 1000 overall (out of just shy of 2million players) which surprised me quite a bit and I do tend to end up following the results and assists and clean sheets and who played where and for how long quite a wee bit more than is probably healthy. I enjoy it and there is no money involved so it’s all good!

So yes, this weekend, it’s Saturday night now and with my fix of football quenched and the invitations for the wedding almost ready to be posted its looking like the rest of the weekend has chance to be quite good too. Even the plan for a Stag do is gaining speed. It seems as though a trip to Yorkshire is in order, although not set in stone, a trip to Elland Road to see Leeds United take on Yeovil followed by a night out in Leeds on Halloween of all days. Spooky!

Tomorrow is a time to book flights for both yours truly heading to Yorkshire and also for some family coming to the wedding, also to relax a little more, the dowtime is much needed... and maybe even blog! I know right... who in this part of the world, who has time to do something mad like blog and still try to have a life that isn’t just work? I dunno, but I’ll give it a try. If only all weekends started so well! Enough with the dear diary, I’ll hopefully have chance to uncross some wires and delve into what’s left of my imagination tomorrow.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Snot funny!

As you might be able to tell I’ve been dealing with a bout of the common cold. For two days last week it was no laughing matter. Indeed, as it turned out, laughing caused me to agitate the delicate balance within my sinus that tipped the bucket of delightful smooth wallpaper paste. A paste containing some colourful stray contaminants that found its freedom into the world beyond. Ok, so most did make it into the white flag of truce which I was constantly waving in front of my nose. However, plenty did make a break for it and found its way onto my face in only the way rouge mucus can. I admit to maybe noming a little that dribbled as far as my top lip, oh don't cringe, we all do it and you know it! In a related incident though, it wasn’t the only thing to find its way out of that orifice last week.

Oddly enough it all started after another fluid found its way to the back of my throat and back up through my nose. No it wasn’t that, and not that either. It was some soapy bath water. I don’t know how many times I have to lean back and put my face under the water in a bath to realise holding my nose IS actually a good idea. Sure, the water doesn’t percolate my airways every time I’ve done this, but thinking back it’s happened more times in a bath than it probably has at a swimming pool. Maybe it’s just feeling relaxed and not expecting to be penetrated in the head by a fluid. When swimming it’s all about the breathing, but laid back in a warm bath with only the stresses of the day to work out and disregard its maybe something I tend to overlook when it comes to holding my breath. At the time I thought, ‘ah cack’, it’s not a very nice feeling. Unlike most times that this has happened, the uncomfortable feeling didn’t fade. The burning sensation from within stuck and this irritation to my inner linings seemed to create the crack in my immune system that was ready to be invaded by whatever lurked. Well, maybe it was a cold already about to strike and all down to chance but it did seem some co-incidence.

Whatever the reason, it quickly became a week I wanted to end as soon as possible. I hardly ever go to bed before midnight, a habit of a lifetime. However the week just gone had me in bed very early by my body clock. Work saw me doing a great Jesus impersonation. Since most people seem to take his supposed resurrection as gospel I’m afraid he’s the only ‘real life’ definition of a zombie I can culturally relate to. If you’re religious don’t worry it’s all about the dictionary definition. Just in case you’re wondering I’m just explaining myself on the off chance I end up in the Republic of Ireland sometime in the near future and end up being fined for Blasphemy... I can’t afford the 25,000 Euro fine it might end up in – in my opinion an outdated law to support an already religiously bias constitution. Anyway, back on track, I was a zombie, fully functioning except my head had a slower response time. Oddly work went smoother with the distraction of a leaking face then it did for many a week previously. I just hope I didn’t annoy too many of my colleagues with the constant attempts not to contaminate anything but my tissues. In retrospect I maybe should have taken a day off but I had reached crunch time on a few items of work that had been months building up to and with deadlines of this weekend I had to get them done. I was able to isolate myself enough not to be a health hazard and also made it through so it was a small victory that means I might actually be able to leave on time this week coming for once, woohoo! Gotta love the private sector... Maggie Thatcher and her Conservative ideology still have a lot to answer for!

I'm feeling better now, though I'm still suffering the after effects and needing tissues for my nose. Possibly a little bit of a sinus infection? Shall see how that goes. At least my head is no longer lost in Snotville, Coldland. I best get ready for work tomorrow with another bath now. No Bank Holiday for me! Will this bath end with the same result as one of last week’s? I sincerely hope snot.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Sometimes it's all a blur

It’s all a blur... it’s time to get up, time to go to work. Time to have to work late to get things done to the tight timeline of numerous deadlines. Time to pay the bills and time to do the housework. Time to worry about time getting away from me - to time dragging its heels at the worst moment. Whether it’s time to check the list of what it’s time to do, or time to forget about the list and worry about what I haven’t done.

On the other hand there are some great things that it’s recently time for again... Saturdays at 3pm and other random times like the first evening game of the football season (even though it didn’t go too well for the Crues on Tuesday).

Contrary to what I'm typing, I’m not feeling down, but at the moment it does seem to me like the weeks are all merging into one. It’s odd because in a way it’s a good thing. The wedding, and more importantly in regards to my sanity - the honeymoon, will be here before we know it. The bad thing about that is that the time for setting times to do things is well and truly over. It’s now time to spend more time worrying about doing what needs to be done in order for the wedding to go well. Like the opening credits to the cartoon, The Racoons; Life would be simple in the forest except for... working full time and then some + trying to keep the house in order and having chance to live a little, planning a wedding and stag do, keeping up to speed with everything and trying to stay sane with life outside the forest where the Cyril Sneer’s of the world pull the strings never seeming to care about anything but exploiting every resource they can and to what end? I know billions of people are more stressed and in a more difficult position to live a happy life, but when time is something not one of us can yet create, seeming to lose some into a blob of existance (even if only in the mind) would appear to be a little disconcerting.

At least it’s still summer time in the urban Evergreen Belfast forest... hrmmm, oh well.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Land-lubbers out to see the Tall Ships in Belfast... arrr

The last few days have apparently seen crowds, comparative to 1/3 of the population of Northern Ireland, find their way into Belfast to take in the sight of the Tall Ships that took part in the last leg of the 2009 Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge. Well and truly keeping Belfast's numerous maritime links in the public imagination, and this year with the biggest Tall Ship event to meet these shores for decades, the city seems to have capitalised. Norn Girl and I were eager to make the time to head to what has to be the most publicised and plugged event I’ve ever seen in this part of the world. We wanted to go, not because of the adverts, but because of our past experiences at similar tall ship events in Belfast over the last few years. The last time so many tall ships were here for a previous event on this scale though was 1991. An event my fiancée went to see as a child. A long wait for the event to be repeated in full – so what went on and what did we find?

The build-up has been going for weeks if not months. The BBC have been plugging it, the local press all seemed to jump onboard and the council turned just about every lamppost in Belfast city centre into a ‘summer in the city – tall ships are coming’ beacon. With that level of promotion I don’t think there was anyone in Northern Ireland with access to a TV or Radio who could have not known that this event was happening. It was quickly upon us and the local press became flooded with the news of the arriving ships. The talk at work was constantly about when everyone was going down to see them and the anticipation of the events of the last 2 days of the week and the weekend were starting to seem a little feverish. The first ships of the Atlantic Challenge had arrived much earlier and here they are docked prior to the events on land that started on the Thursday. I nipped down to take a sneak peek at the first two boats to dock to see what they were like compared to ships that had been here in previous years and I have to say they didn’t seem much different, it was the quantity of ships that was going to be the spectacle this year ... or so it seemed.

On Thursday and Friday nights we could hear the fireworks going off down on the quaysides from our house and over the TV. We had seen what must have been similar displays including hot air balloons at a previous year’s event and really enjoyed them so were a little sorry we didn’t head down to these this time. Saturday morning was soon upon us and Norn Girl and I had to head into town to get our hair cut before heading down to see the vessels. The bus into town was packed, more than your average Saturday morning crowd. This was sadly a sign of things to come. Town had been quite busy the 2 days previous with the traffic also very heavy but Saturday was something else. The previous days had been wet and not ideal for those braving the early bird trips to see the ships. Saturday started that way, but before long the outlook turned and the sun was out with blue streaks and patches dotted between the white and grey clouds. We were a wee while in the hairdressers but it was much needed; I emerged with a much lighter head and a slightly itchy neckline. After a quick port of call at some shops for Norn Girl to buy some clothes, we wandered to the side of the Lagan.

Like the previous days in town, it was heaving! We first of all tried to make it down to Clarendon Dock. This took about 10 minutes shuffling and jigging to avoid people kicking our feet or running over them with buggies. We made it but were in touch with Norn Girl's family who were also in the area. We made it to the dock but were soon walking back the way we came as it was decided we were to head to the Queen's Island side to get something to eat together. We intended to make it back to that side of the event... we never did. Back to the Lagan Weir footbridge and it was one way traffic. A constant snake of people trying to cross. We got in line and joined what could have made an impressive conga line! Within minutes I was being tripped from behind by a lady with a child’s buggy – she took out the back of my left ankle and ran over my left foot. No apology, she just looked at me blankly and pushed on. I gave her evils! It wasn’t long before we were stuck behind 2 old ladies who were developing their own version of musical statues. A few paces were followed by sudden stops causing a headache for everyone behind, especially us who had to try and avoid sending them into the river below. In fairness to them they were being distracted by the sights of the stunt plane doing twirl, loops and tumbles through the air. That and the Whacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men!

We finally made it across but were soon queuing all the way into the mass of people bunched together around the Odyssey. It was impossible to move at times. There just wasn’t enough floor space for people to walk. We made our way into the Odyssey itself and had to laugh at the epic queues for both the ladies' and men’s toilets. I’ll be amazed if everyone who tried to make it to those toilets made it in without letting loose prematurely. This great queuing trend continued. Everything except the cinema had a huge queue. Nothing was going to be done soon. We headed out again and into the melee. The entertainment for this side of the event seemed just the same as previous years except there were more stalls and a bigger beer tent. One thing that did seem new was the quagmire. It seemed like wooden chips had tried to be laid down for the festivities but it hadn’t worked. It was a mud bath between the stalls and women with sandals were getting a free beauty treatment to their feet.

After another queue we finally had our hands on some food and we took our burgers down towards the boats to have a look at them. In previous years where there had been only around half a dozen ships we’ve been lucky enough to look around them. On this occasion it was hard enough to even get through the 10-deep crowds to the railings to look at the ships. Queues everywhere! Queues longer than your average land-lover would have been willing to stand in - all to simply look around a stationary ship.

We had a look at the boats but in all honesty we must have spent more time looking at the back of peoples legs whilst trying not to clip their heels. That was a shame because they looked great too!
Here are a couple of the tall ships:

Our trip had taken a couple of hours but all we had managed to do was queue several times and see the tall ships moored up. We had to leave eventually to head to pick up our wedding invitations and I at least left a little disappointed that because of the volume of people we’d not had chance to really do anything. Over the few days the Ships had been in town, I’d heard a few accounts from different people at work and at a fun ‘computer game party’ that turned into a card game party on Saturday night. It was a mixed bunch of reviews but the general gist was the same as my experience. Too many people, too many queues.

Today (Sunday) was the day the ships set sail. We planned to head to see them on their way and to see the spectacle that was really missing from the previous days queuing. It didn’t really go too well again though. Setting off in what we thought would be plenty enough time to get to the park and ride and from there to get to the beach to see the ships blown along Belfast Lough. We instead found ourselves stuck in a 3 mile traffic jam on the motorway. We were trying to get to Loughshore where a small event was going on with a few classic cars, a wee market and some entertainment. The plan was to watch the ships gracefully make their way into the Irish Sea then to enjoy the sun and look around the market and take in the atmosphere.

What we ended up doing for the first couple of hours was queuing. All but one ship was on the horizon by the time we were able to get there.

It was a real shame. We were not alone in having that problem though by all accounts. The upside was that we did see the ships out on the horizon and we did have a nice time by the beach in the sun. There was more space at this little event and plenty of chairs laid out for people to sit down. Lots of food stalls and although a fair few queues, nothing as crazy as the day before. It was just the traffic issue that was the sinking blow to being able to enjoy watching the boats sailing.

So overall, my weekend can be summed up as being dominated by queuing on land. Through bad luck or bad planning it was a little bit of a disappointment. Sadly the real spectacle for me turned out not to be the ships but the people. So many people! On the plus side it’s a great indication that people from all over Northern Ireland are willing to come out and enjoy something together when the effort is made to reach people... even maybe a little too much! Hehe.
Already, I can’t wait for the tall ships to return. I just hope that next time the events on the ground run as smoothly as the ships did on the water.


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