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.


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