Saturday, 28 March 2009

Holywood to Bangor, a walk for Northern Ireland Hospice.

After arriving in Holywood via the train from Belfast, we found our coats being adorned with a bright green Walking for N.I Hospice sticker and we set out on our way along the North Down Coastal Path. 2 hours and 35 minutes later, windswept, soaked by sea spray, sand in the shoes and with slightly sorer legs than we set off with, we arrived at the Pickie pool opposite Bangor Harbour.

North Down Ulster Way Coastal Path

Our sponsored walk started out as a good idea from Norn Girl (officially named in response to being named Yawkshire Boy). She had received information on the walk from the Hospice as she had done a different walk last year with her sister and mum in memory of her Granddad. So after receiving some very generous donations from our friends, families and colleagues we made it out of bed this morning bright and early and made our way to Holywood. From the train we stepped onto the platform and found ourselves in a wind tunnel. The first reprise coming as we walked down through the underpass and into the well sign posted leisure centre. A bit of form stamping later we were wished good look and we took our first steps onto the Ulster Way North Down coastal path.

It began well and although walking into a strong wind blowing down Belfast Lough, we made good if not slightly slow progress, probably hindered by me stopping for a few seconds every so often to try and get a decent picture. The sky over head was quite overcast with only occasional breaks in the cloud and the waves were cresting well before they got anywhere near the shore, sending wisps of spray into the air. The path meandered slowly around the small sandy, shingle and pebbly beaches that stretch along the shore at Cultra, the Royal Belfast Golf Club and other little hamlets containing houses with what must be some of the biggest windows in County Down.

At one point where the path juts out along a rocky outcrop and where the sea water laps against the rocks just feet from where you’re walking, the waves made for a game of dare. The options were:
1) run and look like a wimp trying to avoid getting a salty shower from the heavy sea spray that made it at least 8 or 9 ft into the air - but probably getting hit anyway or...
2) walk it and anticipate every step as being the one that will see you soaked.

We went with option 2. I’d like to think our fellow walkers, watching on and who were yet to face the choice, were very impressed by our placing everything on 0, roulette like defiance of the odds of a soaking.

They didn’t have to wait long for us to demonstrate that option 1 was where the money (aka staying dry and only mildly salty) was at. A couple of decent sized waves later and we were dripping from head to toe on one side. Luckily for us the wind was our natural hair drier even if it didn’t have the multifaceted capacity to provide a hairbrush at the same time. Handy but very cold and the salt on skin left behind didn’t do us very well when it came to bending our hands or expressing any sort of facial expression.

Further down the way we had to climb some steps which at the summit provided a close up of a herd of cows. Friendly they were too. Or maybe they were just curious or just a bit bemused to have so many people at once passing them by within such a short space of time? There seemed to be a constant stream of people along the paths, even more people than seagulls which was quite suprising. At least a hundred that we could see between those ahead and those behind us who seemed to be constantly overtaking. Why people wanted to run past us only to bunch up ahead walking again was a bit weird but maybe they just like to be competitive or maybe they just got fed up of me and my camera. They probably didn’t enjoy the scenery as much but maybe they get out and about more often.

Being over taken wasn’t demoralising though, that was left to Killroot Power station or as it will now be know; Kill-moral-oot. Due to the geography of the North Down coast in relation to that of its neighbouring shoreline in County Antrim, Kill-moral-oot can be seen from just about everywhere. It’s almost always in your eye line out to sea but you’re constantly walking at an angle zigzaging towards or away from it. At no point does it appear you are making any ground on it.

Putting that out of mind we then traversed along the scenic beaches at Helens Bay and Crawfordsburn Country Park and as we did the sun started to win its battle to be seen and showed itself for good spells, helping take the chill out of the breeze. As we continued to plod along admiring the view of the sands, we were captivated by the “Warning – Beware of Unexpected waves” signs and like the big kids we are, we began waving at each other at random intervals followed by laughing out heads off as if it was the best joke we’ve heard in years.

With just a mile or two to go of the 9 mile left to go the promenade undulates over the rocks, thankfully though, not at violently as the waves continued to as they pounded the coastline. The choppy water caused quite impressive collections of foam to gather in faults in the geology that the waves had exposed over time. Some of the foam that was being whipped up by the wind, flew into the air, narrowly missing us on a couple of occasions.

Over 2 hours into our walk the path turned south for the last time and Kill-moral-oot was out of sight for good. Instead we had the view of Bangor Harbour, and the town spread out behind it.

It was a warming sight as we made it to the cafe by the famous Bangor Pickie pool, the Swan boats and miniature railway at Bangor's Pickie Family Fun Park. We were given a lovely welcome and congratulations by some folks working for the hospice and we received a wee badge and certificate to say we’d completed it.

From there and with our hair set into some kind of crazy position from one of those styling mousse adverts, we headed for some food in a cafe up by the train station and then made our way back to Belfast. In the city centre, many a Polish fan were wearing their red and white merchandise, getting ready to see Norn Iron beat Polska 3-2 in the World Cup Qualifying game at Windsor later in the day.

As for our efforts we got home and were just a little, well... Wind-sore, especially our faces. After a warm bath and giving our legs a break though, we’re now good to sit back and thank everyone again for sponsoring us and helping us raise the sum of £140 £194.62 £213.85 that will go towards helping to continue the great work they do at the Northern Ireland Hospice. Hopefully we’ll be able to do something similar next year.

If anyone would like to know more about the Northern Ireland Hospice and the work they do, is interested in donating or maybe even taking part in any events, please do visit their website at

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Google's Street View of Belfast

The Streets of Belfast have gone global with Google Street View. From Larne to Lisburn and just about all the streets in-between, we’re all just a click away from roaming the fair-weather streets of Belfast and the surrounding area from the warming comfort of the t’internet.

As reported widely in the press and on other blogger's pages over the past day, 25 cities in the U.K finally got their unveiling to the t’interweb. According to the Timesonline
we’ve been held back in seeing Belfast and other UK cities on google due to the inclement weather. From memory, we hardly got two consecutive dry days to be able to cut the grass last year. No doubt they had great fun trying to find days to drive around and capture the images of some dry Northern Irish streets.

Judging from building works and things I recognise, these first 360 degree snapshots look to have been conceived by camera around 9 months ago. So the images were probably taken around the end of June to the end of July. Making for a pretty regular summertime view of Union Jacks and vertical tricolours on many streets. A lot of the photos also seem to have been captured on a morning or a Sunday. This was probably to cut down on the amount of faces and registration plates to blur out, which is fair enough, but it does seem to make the streets look slightly abandoned.

I’m sure all of us who live and/or work on a street covered have already checked out home and work or have tried to spot yourself or things belonging to people you know. Dave Gorman, in his blog didn’t take long to pin down when he saw the Google van roll past him in London.

The next question, after the initial hype, is what use is it going to be? Well as I mentioned just last week in my blog about our recent trip to Paris, it’s pretty handy if you’ve never been somewhere before, to get a grip of your bearings. Prior to even leaving the house to go to the airport we knew what shops were on the road of the hotel and what the hotel looked like. So now anyone coming to visit Belfast can visit their hotel before they get here, which on the plus side means we probably won’t get stopped and asked for directions as often by eccentric tourists but on the downside we won’t get stopped and asked for directions as often by eccentric tourists.

For us folks already living here I can see it being great for looking up a place before going for a job interview or as we did today, checking out the shop frontage of a take away to make a judgement call on the likelihood of food poisoning. A look before you leap tactic might come in handy for many other things though its always worth considering that it’s bound to be a lot wetter when you’re really there and the pictures could be up to a year out of date. In Belfast that means the changing skyline is already making the images released into the public domain today dated. Like Google Earth’s over head images they’ll no doubt re-new them every so often.

Possibly by the end of the year Belfast should be joined by some other areas on this island. Word is that the Google cameras will soon be taking to the streets of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. So if you know anyone living in those areas that might want to tidy up their garden? Do let them know they’ve not got long.

Right, time for a virtual wander to find some streets I didn’t realise existed, Woohoo!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Happy Irish day

St Patrick’s day, a day off, good times! My 17th March was a nice and relaxed one. The few ‘Irish’ themed things I did do were to: 1) Drink a couple of cans of Irish Stout - I have to admit that this one isn’t all that uncommon. 2) Catch a few minutes of the Gaelic football’s Schools (MacRory) Cup final, something I doubt I’ll ever intentionally repeat, it’s not really a sport I’ll ever enjoy the spectacle of but then I don’t really like Aussie rules or Rugby either. 3) Eat some soda bread pizzas for dinner.

Most of my day though was just spent in bed recovering from an extra long day at work yesterday, an hour at the Gym and doing things around the house like washing up and recovering from the treadmill.

A lot of folks around these parts and likely across the Atlantic will probably have spent a fair part of the day celebrating St Patrick and all things Irish. Those with a Catholic faith will probably have spent a wee part of the day at mass. An awful lot more people around the world however probably just celebrated the tie to anything remotely Irish with a drink in one hand and some green decorations of some form on their person. That’s just the modern day slant the day has taken on and in my opinion it’s not such a bad thing. Take me for instance, my only tie to St Patrick would be that like me he hailed from across the Irish Sea somewhere and (although under very different circumstances) found himself living around the same part of this island.

Me and any of the growing number of non-religious people who live on this island (be they born here or not) can’t get away from the fact society has been controlled for so long and is still strongly influenced even today (both north and south of the border) by religious institutions and people . *insert rant about why Church and State shouldn’t mix*. In your eyes, be that a good or bad thing (though its bad in mine) it means for those of us who don’t have ties to Catholicism or any denomination of the Christian church, that the day is very much celebrated in the sense of celebrating the good in Ireland that has spread from the folks who live here now and from those who left its shores in the past.

I love so much to do with this island. Namely its natural beauty, the people (who aren’t trying to kill or inflict pain or enforce their views on each other), the soccer (mainly the Irish league but the Eircom isn’t too bad either) and of course its beverages. Sure that’s why I got in the stout even though I’m trying not to drink so often, I tried to watch a bit of Gaelic football even though I don’t find it entertaining and we made sure today’s dinner was soda bread pizza.

The writers of the St Patrick’s Day Simpsons episode shown earlier on Sky1 ahead of the screening over in the States went that way, bringing things closer to reality. The Irish were portrayed to have gotten with the 21st century, including some adorable gay leprechauns and the brilliantly named Derry Air airlines. I lol’ed lots.

Sadly though some folks, as usual, take it too far. There’s one thing having a drink and a good time but all too often (in the now infamous area that is the Holylands where students and residents try to live side by side) the combination of mainly students with no respect for alcohol and people with no respect for other people + an excuse to throw a party ends up in law and order being broken. 12 people were arrested.

So in the 21st Century, we have a day off where all things Irish (hopefully Northern as well as Southern) can be celebrated and that to me is a good thing. I guess in reality we’ll never know if St Patrick was indeed worthy of representing by name the heritage of a people and a culture. After all it’s unlikely to be ever proved if the ‘snakes’ he was supposed to have purged from these shores were literal or metaphorical. I would though add there are no records of there ever having been any native snakes since the last ice age so it’s for sure not out of the realms of possibility that all he managed to evict was part of a different culture and belief system. In the grand scheme of things who knows if it was a good or bad thing to introduce Christianity to these shores but at any rate you can't change the past. All we do know is it did happen and he's credited with it by the anscestors who have followed on those traditions. We can but make the most of what we have in the here and now.

I’m still holding out though for a public holiday a bit more meaningful to me that I really would go all out with and throw a big party for. Maybe one day the powers that be in the world will finally do something meaningful that we can all help with, that could be celebrated worldwide in the name of humanity, a shared cause that would benefit the people of every country and that we could all feel a part of. Until then I’ll make the most of days like today with soda bread pizza, stout and a day off work.

Friday, 13 March 2009

A day and a half in Paris

One hour and twenty minutes into an Aer Lingus flight and Paris loomed into view from the oval peep hole to the side of us. Never having stepped a foot in France, this was a new one for me and a Birthday related trip for my Fiancée.

Last Thursday - the day we travelled, didn’t start out too well. One thing you don’t want to see on the way to the airport are fields sugar-coated with snow and clouds up above exuding more. Normally such a sight on a weekday morning would fill me with excitement and I’d head out of the door with a smile on my face. With a flight due to take off and hotel reservations paid for however, the same sights do tend to hit a different chord. A little sense of unease and uncertainty took over. Was the flight going to be delayed? Will it be cancelled? Will we make it to the hotel the same day?

Thankfully the answer to the first two questions was no and to the last, yes. Unlike Templepatrick just down the road, Belfast International Airport had hardly seen much snow at all and the planes were pottering about as normal. After a very expensive breakfast and an unsuccessful attempt on the dance machine on difficult level we were full throttle on the gas and up in the air. Within a few hours we arrived outside our hotel on the streets we recognised from the brilliant Google street view.

After dumping our guff in our room and having the customary hot beverage to recharge the batteries we headed out into the heart of Paris. I soon learnt that both pedestrians and drivers in Paris have a little bit of a kamikaze nature. There seems to exist some sort of system whereby going through a red light is ok as long as you don’t hit anything and for pedestrians, it’s ok to walk through someone as long as they are the ones to lose the game of chicken and no one complains. Still once you get used to it; it did seem to speed journeys up. Though I’m glad I wasn’t nursing any injuries at the time.

Our first evening was spent walking around the Galleries Lafayette looking at things we could never afford followed by a really nice curry and a shared bottle of wine in the restaurant Marinisa near the Moulin Rouge which seemed more popular than the queue for passport control at the airport.

Moulin Rouge Paris

A wee walk later we found a rather French looking bar where we sipped another drink outside watching the world go by. It would have been the perfect end to the evening had I not accidentally thanked the bar man in Spanish. Oops. Half in preparation for the day ahead and half to cuddle up somewhere comfortable we headed back to our hotel.

Friday morning dawned and we made a relatively early start (by my standards anyway). After a quick wander past the Madeleine, around a posh chocolate shop, a few photos around the Place de la Concorde and a dander along the Seine we found ourselves in the Louvre.

As much as I like to immerse myself in a dose of culture, I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy the Louvre for the educational value. Within the museum we stayed largely within the Denon and Sulley buildings as they housed the exhibits we were most interested in as we planned our route in the coffee shop.

There were many things you could only stand back and admire. Some of the works and exhibits must have taken someone, somewhere in the depths of time, a whole lot of their lives to create. Not being a regular subscriber to the religious connotations pulsing through a lot of the artworks on display, I found it nice to find a few paintings with some pretty clouds. Those were much more appealing to me than yet another over elaborate artist’s impression from the 15th Century of a larger than life baby Jesus.

The Mona Lisa still had the crowds at her mercy and the other major works were all being ogled and flashed more than a streaker at a cup final.
As well as impressive the sculptures were great fun as were the Egyptian, French, Roman, Greek and Medieval artefacts. In a room of statues it was ideal to recreate a scene from the Dr Who episode ‘Blink’ where the statues come to get you when you close your eyes.

The Venus de Milo was still using her phantom arms to hold up her drapery and eat her apple whilst looking on into the middle distance luring everyone to admire her assets. No mean feat when you're over 2000 years old. If the museum is anything to reflect the culture of the ages, then along with religion the other main trend was the age old healthy obsession with bits n’bobs, it did cross my mind to wonder how many phalluses and breasts were actually on display? Answers on a postcard!

Later in the day, after a flying visit to Notre Dame. We refuelled with Banana and Chocolate pizza washed down with a wee bit more of the red stuff before pushing on towards the Eiffel Tower. As we approached its base I finally had to get over the fact that indeed it probably was a little more impressive than Blackpool tower. More annoyingly though were the mass of ‘1 Euro’ mini light up Eiffel Tower sellers who were constantly asking over and over again if you’d like to buy one. When the police moved in they all scuttled across the bridge, it was a very odd sight but that didn’t deter them. I have to give it to them they were persistent. Before heading up the tower we made it past another wave of mini tower sellers up to the Palais de Chaillot where we took in a great view.

Tour Eiffel

Sunset was fast approaching as we made it to the front of the queue on the East entrance. When we made it to the 2nd floor we fell out of the lift to find the prettiest view of a city I think I’ve yet had the fortune to see. It really was beautiful. Paris stretched as far as the eye could see. A few wisps of cloud scattered the mid distance of the sky as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, holding on for us just a few moments longer than for the river and people below.

Paris Sunset

Just after sunset we made it to the top of the tower. The 'city of lights' illuminated around us and after a quick smooch we wandered around the top deck admiring the beams swirling around the sky light a light house for pigeons. Not wearing a coat, no matter how beneficial in the sun and whilst walking around the Louvre earlier in the day, now became a bit of a disadvantage. Putting the cold out of mind it was still an awe inspiring view. The cold did eventually beat us and another brew, this time on the first floor, was required before we dared venture back down to ground level and carry on to the Champs-Élysées and to the Arc de Triumph.

With very, very sore legs and tired feet we finally arrived back after a meal and slumped into our hotel room, into the shower and before long to a deep and much needed sleep.

I don’t know why it took me so long to visit Paris. Funds and situations allowing, I’d love to visit again and do all that we didn't have chance to this time - is it sad I was jealous of all the kids at the airport heading back from Eurodisney?

On the plane home, between turns playing travel scrabble, I did ponder what Belfast might be able to do to compete with Paris? The best I could come up with was that they have their towers and arc’s but what they don’t have is two giant yellow cranes. The Harland and Wolff cranes are already a working tourist attraction of sorts. Maybe one day they will go ahead with that fun idea of sticking a coffee shop on top of one of them so that French tourists can grab a warming brew between the cranes creating offshore wind turbines ... who knows, stranger things have happened?

Sunday, 8 March 2009

End of an era

1 Death, 3 days of work, 1 trip to Paris, 1 trip to Yorkshire and a funeral. Most defiantly not the usual or expected extended week I had envisaged but that’s how it happened to fall into place.

So it all began a week ago today with a call from my sister informing me that our Grandma had passed away. We had been over to visit her just before Christmas and although 76 years old we hadn’t at all expected that to be the last time we would see her. Sure we were still trying to work out how to get her up the stairs at our wedding venue in November as there isn’t a lift and she recently had to start using a walking stick. Alas when your times up, that’s it and with a heart attack there isn’t much anyone can do, not even in the hospital where she had arrived earlier the previous day.

Sadly, we weren’t very close, at least since I was a child. Family issues and past events and situations being the key factors. Still, it sure isn’t the news that you ever want to hear and it meant a sombre start to the week.

On Tuesday we found out the funeral date and thankfully it didn’t clash with my Fiancée’s 25th Birthday and our wee trip to France. So after 3 stressful days at work and just getting back from our wee trip to Paris (more on that soon) we’re heading back to the international airport today to catch our flight to Manchester. From there it’s over the Pennines into Yorkshire for the Funeral tomorrow. Scarily the trip to Paris cost £40 less than the last minute ticket to fly to Manchester. Living far away from the rest of your family, when the need arises, it’s just one of those things you have to live with.

It’s for sure the end of an era though. It seems now that my sister and I have been nudged up to be the 2nd next generation to being the oldest alive. In my immediate family it leaves just my dad and 3 uncles and aunties in that present role.

Ever feel like you’re getting old?

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Jimmy Carr, explosive stuff!

After an amazingly funny show last year, we went along to watch Jimmy Carr at the Waterfront Hall again late last week. This show being Jimmy Carr: Joke Technician... and he didn’t disappoint! Even the bomb scare earlier that day at Victoria Square’s House of Fraser didn’t shake his form.

Jimmy Carr

Yet again he brought a laugh to every minute of the 2 hours or so that he was on stage. Sure it wasn't for the easily offended. As it points out on the Waterfront’s page for the show; “It`s rude, crude and offensive but those aren`t the only reasons you`ll enjoy it”. That proved to be no false advertisement. The 2000 plus of us humanoids sat around the acoustically moulded auditorium LOL’ing and LMAO’ing at the potentially offensive two liners, delivered with precision. They seemed to flow like music to our ears, each leading from the last laugh to the next.

The audience as ever played its part, one of the biggest laughs of the night came not from a scripted joke but after a young woman with a bit of guile piped up in response as Jimmy asked a question. Her response led to a bit of an amorous approach of wordplay and gestures towards her. Looking a bit young Jimmy did eventually check with her what age she was. As she announced to the room she was 16 years old, Jimmy let out a sigh of relief... short lived though as the quick minded folks in the room hastily brought to light that the age of consent, unlike the rest of the UK, is 17. Oops. After the laughter had died down, he showed his quick wit and came up with an ingenious plan. This plan was that he of course wouldn’t do anything here; he planned to take her on a luxurious Flybe flight for £26.99.

Chris Moyles also got a mention from the crowd in light of the Comic Relief climb up Mount Kilimanjaro and Jimmy (all be it slighty rigged) being beaten in a quiz by Dominic Byrne's 5 year old son on the Chris Moyles Breakfast show a wee while back.

As always with Jimmy Carr the jokes came fast and furious. Like Ken Dodd (but with less tax issues) he has so many gags in his act that it’s hard to comprehend how he remembers them all. At one point and admittedly using props that were probably used as a cue, he got through a cool 80 jokes in 10 minutes.

The themes for the majority of the gags were as varied as they come, from Hitler to Scrabble and Relationships to Dwarf Shortages there was something for everyone. Nothing is out of his reach for use as a gag and it’s not that he outright offends for laughs. He cleverly twists conventions and plays with language in a way even great literary figures would be proud of.

The worst part of the night was that it ended. When you’re going from laugh to laugh, time flies and before you know it its 10.45 and you’re heading out of the door but rerunning the jokes through your head. Outside in the rain you see hundreds of people also letting out an unprovoked smile and giggle and you know that they’re doing the same.

All in all a great show and well worth £20. In my opinion he’s a brilliant comic who really is up there as one of the best comedians in the U.K and Ireland at the present time. I for one can’t wait until he’s back with a new show.


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