Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Pukeology & a trip to see Dave Gorman at the Belfast Waterfront Hall.

Quick warning - This blog post contains descriptions of Pukeology, part of the theology surrounding the Toilet Gods and may not be suitable for the queasy. Thanks to Norn Girl and Dave Gorman it does have a happy ending, so do read on if you think you can stomach it...

It was Saturday, Somewhere Over the Rainbow finished and I ran up the stairs starting to feel the disconcerting lumpy mush enter my mouth via the back of my throat. There was no holding it back any more. It was now a race to see if I could make it in time to pray to the toilet bowl god and appease it, before its backup plans of sending me to work with a mop were enacted.

I should probably mention at this point that the TV show was not in anyway responsible for me vomiting, it was just bad timing. Saying that, I don't like poodles and I'm not 100% convinced Graham Norton's Labradoodle didn't have a role to play - too closely related to a poodle to be innocent! The more popular 'Pukeology' might be that a bug, aka 'the Boke Beast' had made its home within me and had marked my stomach with the number of the Puke, 444. And so, with a sound from beyond the U-bend , I found myself on all fours, four times and unable to get to sleep until 4am.

With the epic battle between the microbe army of the Toilet God and the pasta bake claimed by the Boke Beast's orders, now spreading into the sewers, Norn Girl fetched me a glass of water and looked out for me. My sleep was sporadic but I stayed in bed until after 1pm on Saturday. Feeling dehydrated and a bit inhuman, probably a side effect of the unearthly conflict that used me as its vessel, I made it downstairs and sat bleary eyed in-front of my laptop.

A few hours and a couple of litres of water passed. Norn Girl ran me a bath and made a mercy dash to the supermarket for me and made me a lovely bowl of mash, peas and carrots for dinner. A heavenly treat compared to the taste I had in my mouth a good 18 hours earlier.

We were running a little late for a visit to the Belfast Waterfront Hall at this point so we ordered a taxi. The trip was part of Norn Girls birthday present from her family, she brought me along and I'm so happy she did

The Taxi arrived and we jumped in, inside our heads we were playing out scenes from a movie and thinking 'FLOOR IT!'. The imaginary screen went blank and the lights came up. We pulled away at a very gentle pace. I tried to find my seatbelt plug but failed, the one I had managed to find didn't fit my belt clicker thing. I was repeatedly trying to get it to work in the feint hopes it would mould itself to fit. It turns out kids who sit in the back of modern cars have a seat belt that clicks in both sides and so, in the event of a crash it would support their chest instead of bending them in the middle making them turn into sideways stools for a second. With Norn Girls help, I finally saw the error of my ways and the buckle went into the new holder first time. I live and learn.

This had taken a good 30 seconds or more but we hadn't yet made it onto the main road... a journey of around 20 meters. Safety first - sure, but we were getting suspiciously close to being able to be accused of accessories to curb crawling - if there even is such an offence.

We did make it onto the main road eventually but only after several cautious checks. These repeated mirror checks continued. I thought our driver had maybe see some faint impression of a 444 on my forehead. He kept looking to his left, to the right, to the centre, over and over again, as if a ghost car might appear at any moment and try to ram us from the road. I've never seen a driver like this guy, especially a diver who drives for a living. Staying safe is one thing but this was verging on OCD, maybe it was? It was slightly off putting as a passenger though, it was like someone dancing to a beat you can't hear.

Ah well, we made it to the Waterfront and just in time. The tickets in our hands were to see the brilliantly funny comedian, Dave Gorman. With the buzzer thing going off we headed on up to take our seats for the start of the show. Dave was as friendly and enthusiastic as ever and gave us all so many laughs in his own brilliant and unique manner. Still feeling a little out of it as Dave took to the stage, it was only moments before the combination of having food in my belly, and us both lol'ing at his stories and jokes, that things were feeling good again and the smile on the inside was echoing the the smile on my face. In fact I found myself chortling and chuckling without much of a concern and for those couple of hours felt almost 100% again. Though much time had passed it was still over too quickly and we were soon heading past Dave who was meeting, greeting and signing in the foyer. On a related note, if you've any Genius ideas, Mr G is looking for them for his new series of Genius on BBC, click this link to go to the BBC Genius site if you have any, I'm still thinking!

Outside, it was a call for a another taxi to get us home. As we approached a car that had the signs of the taxi company we'd asked for a ride from, we realised we were headed towards a cab that looked quite familiar. After climbing in and with one smooth action of clicking in my seatbelt, I looked up. My eyes caught a now familiar cautionary glance. We'd managed to get the same driver and he was still looking out for the first sighting of a time travelling Delorean to appear!

It was another cautious drive home. A journey that gave plenty of time to continue the internalised giggling from the memory of the stand up but also at the fact this was the first car I've ever been in to have airline-like food trays with cup holders and also the only one I know that has these things covered in no-eating or drinking notices! Hope he didn't pay extra for them.

Finally home, smiling and free from the Boke Beast, it had been a great Saturday night. The beginning of a better weekend than had been expected, especially after it wasn't looking quite so rosy 24 hours earlier. Unless of course you count semi dissolved cherry tomatoes, those vibrantly red wonders stood out like a polar bear on an ice sheet - post a seal meal to go.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Madness in March

Morning sun in North BelfastThere is just too much going on at once for a dedicated post of each event that March has thrown my way so far, its madness, madness I tells ye! Thankfully, possibly related to the quantity of hours being put in at work, there has been a silver lining (or in my specific case, a giant glowing hourglass in the sky!) to all the rushing about. Though there have been far too many early mornings and late nights. A busy schedule has led to some nice photo opportunities, photos of things I would perhaps have missed had I not been moving around at funny times of the day, and here are a few of them:

It all kicked off on the 1st March with Crusaders first game live on Sky Sports and first game under our new floodlights at Seaview. The game was the kick start for a run of good results getting our season back on track with a guaranteed top 6 finish due to the league split after 33 games. Leeds sadly haven't got their act together and didn't look great this Monday just gone. In fairness though injuries aren't helping either team but there is still plenty of season to go though and its never dull when it comes to Leeds or the Crues.

Seaview - Prior to Crusaders Vs Glenavon March 1st 2010

Next up was part of Norn Girls birthday weekend and a trip to Dundonald and more specifically a Sunday afternoon trip to the Pirates Adventure crazy golf by the Ice Bowl. It's great fun and we've been a few times now. We prefer the course to the right because of the wet musical hole (that sounds wrong), but both are great. None of us won a free game token at the last hole but it is possible!

Crazy golf
We also made it to two restaurants, one occasion was a trip to Gingerroot on Great Victoria Street and the other a trip to the Bellevue Arms on the Antrim road up near the zoo. 2 completely different types of food but both very, very nice. Gingeroot is the best place I know of in Belfast for a curry, though for any big heat in your curry be sure to ask for it. The flavours are yummy though and the set meal was huge! The Bellevue was great even though they were out of pineapple juice last thing on a Sunday which was disappointing as we were eager for a cocktail or two. The food itself more than made up for it though. I had the roast beef and it was perfectly cooked for a joint. Delicious and only to be equaled by the all you can eat carvery we headed to for mothers day at the Clarion hotel, the only shame there is that you have to go easy on the first 3 courses to be able to manage to sample the vast array of sugar loaded deserts.

The all you can eat was a bit like the mad hatters tea party but with cups that hold fluid and another outing we went on was a trip to the Yorkgate Moviehouse cinema to see Alice in Wonderland 3D. I hadn't made it to see Avatar whilst it was out so this was the first 3D movie I'd seen with real actors included on screen and I really quite liked the mix. I think the enjoyment was aided by the familiar voices of the computer generated characters, many of whom I didn't realize had actually been in it until the very atmospheric credits were growing and rolling.

Twirl by the Belfast Courts
As with the story in the movie whereby Alice finds herself at an engagement party, I found myself at my first ever engagement party. Not my own mind you (we couldn't nor really wanted one), we were invited to one of Norn Girl's friend's celebrations. The celebration was a nice evening out in the end. It was held at the Malone Rugby Union social club and the happy couple were eager to show everyone a great time. That was echoed by the performers of the live entertainment. They had a lead singer who was very eager to get audience participation. The crowd was quite young (or at least young at heart) and the tactic of joining the audience if they didn't come to you seemed to work well. I managed to escape the dance floor but had a really nice time never the less. It reminded me of a wedding reception which confused me a little but if that's the warm up, who knows what their wedding reception might be. Good luck to them in their build up to their wedding.

Belfast City F1 Race track
We had turned up a little later than we had hoped to the party that night. We had gone into town to change buses, but instead of the 6A we found David Coulthard being interviewed. He then proceeded to jump into a Red Bull F1 car and drove up and down in front of Belfast City Hall making an awful lot of noise in the process. As our bus stop was now part of a mock up race track for a one man piece of exhibition driving with hundreds of people swamping it. We realised we had to head on somewhere downstream of the event going on to some place where we might happen to find our bus. We eventually found the one of it's later stops on the bus route and the bus, thankfully, wasn't long. We sat down in seats that looked a lot more comfortable than the multi-million pound technological play thing that was wearing down its tires performing spins just down the road. One car traffic jams, whatever next.

Ham and Tomato Bread Rollwich thingAfter that, I invented a new form of sandwich or wrap, taking 2 slices of 50/50 bread and using them as a condensed wrap... any ideas of a name for this delicacy?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Wedding: Part 2 - Writing the speech the day before

I got thinking but the fact that I've always been on the not so good side of poor when it comes to public speaking was nagging at me in my mind. It's no underestimation. Even when feeling confident about what I'm saying, about a minute or two into a speech, if there are more than around 10 people in the room, I don't know why but my hand starts to quiver and then the situation heightens. I get self conscious that people are listening to my tone and wording and whatever confidence was there just drifts away like a demon leaving the body of a host in Supernatural.

I usually end up mumbling plenty of disjointed sentences to an unsuspecting audience. Anyways, the point is, my speech was hardly going to be the fitting tribute to my bride that she so very much deserved but what the hay. I thought I'll give this my best shot and just went down the personal route, and tried to put down in words something meaningful to my bride disregarding whatever anyone else might think.

I got typing and surprisingly when I focused on Norn Girl herself and not what people would think of my words, I had a speech written, typed up in large print, colour coordinated paragraphs surprisingly quickly - the last part a great tip recommended by my best man and I was all set for the reception. All I had to think about now was the wedding itself and making sure all our best laid plans went to schedule.
My cousin and his girlfriend returned not long after I had finished. They had taken in a Sunday whistle stop tour of Belfast which is admittedly not the greatest day to do so due to a lot of things being closed, but they had gone to the Ulster Museum and returned with a mixed report. Apparently abstract art has crept in but they liked the café. A trip in the near future is no doubt on the agenda to compare the old to new. (And here is that very trip we took to the Ulster Museum in February).

The day seemed to fly by and it was soon the evening and time for us to head to Carrickfergus. We were all heading to the Clarion Hotel that night, not to see Norn Girl but to collect the rest of my family and Norn Girls brother as he was staying with my side of the family later. My dad, as always, was being a star and became taxi driver for the lot of us. We were soon at the Clarion and waiting for my sister to appear from her room, late as usual! Most of the family headed off the in car but those of us brave enough braced the cold and made the short walk to Carrickfergus harbour and into the Brewers Fare for a meal.

The party were all rather noisy, especially down the bottom end of the table where the oldest generation of our family were having quite a few beverages and becoming rather vocal. Us younger folk tried our best to join in but most of us were going t-total for the day and so it was all rather civilized down our end. It was like some kind of random role reversal. The meal wasn't the greatest but it was ok for the price and was filling enough to get us through the evening and into the big day. Before long we had to get going and left those of the family staying at the hotel to enjoy a few more drinks and those of us staying at my place headed back with me to Belfast in a taxi.

When we got home, I started to get prepared. In some sort of nervous double checking mode, I was simultaneously trying to make a check list for the morning as well as playing pro evolution on the PS2 with Norn Girl younger brother. Thankfully the later helped my nerves as it was a great distraction. In our games of football on the games console, there are 2 ways to win. First is the regular way, by scoring more goals than the other team. The second is by getting the most players sent off which is surprisingly harder than you might think when you are trying to do it. The ultimate victory is to have 8 men left on the pitch with your best goalie playing up front and win the normal way too. This very rarely happens and didn't in these games. On this occasion it was a win each time for the side with most players left on the pitch so a draw overall. It was soon past midnight and we headed to bed. With a full house I was on the sofa for the night, so I got the pillows set up and threw the spare duvet over me and that was where I woke on my wedding day...

...To be continued...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Wedding: Part 1 - The build up to the big day

**The following was written last November in the presence of a warm soft breeze, a soothing environment and several cocktails in what can only be described as luxury. Having been broke for 2 years to make it happen, we were still feeling so very lucky to be chilling on our amazing honeymoon in the tropical wonderland of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean... more of that to come later**

Sat here writing with pen and paper in a pad rather than typing from my laptop, let me take you back 6 days, rewinding a 12 hour flight, a 3 day break in London and our wedding day. We've landed back in time the day before the big day. My best man and his girlfriend are present and staying over, they arrived on Saturday and the nerves or anticipation were starting to get to everyone was having to give a speech the next day. The big day was almost upon us.

Within hours of landing on the Saturday we'd disappointed both my best man and his girlfriend by taking them to a less than impressive game of football when we went to watch Crusaders Vs Glentoran, not a regular occurrence mind, just one of those games, it ended 1-1. Thankfully things picked up quite quickly.

It was soon Sunday and Norn Girl had been picked up by her mum and driven away to the Clarion Hotel in Carrickfergus (the location of our reception) where she was to hide out near Carrick Castle, the location of our wedding ceremony on the big day that was now just a day away. My best man and his girlfriend had taken the chance to head into town and see the sights. So there I was, all alone with my laptop, my new shiny shoes eager to be worn the next day and with my fish noming the surface of their water hoping for an extra sprinkling of pellets. My mission, with less than 24 hours before the event and the speeches to be given, was to write my speech for the reception.

I know, I know, I should have had it done ages before and I had tried so very hard. I had even taken my pad over on my stag party but time and events got away from me. On my return work was very, very, very busy (as it still is to this day in March 2010!) and I was rushing until the last day to meet future deadlines to ensure that I'd not miss them whilst I was away. During that same time in the weeks building up to the wedding day, Norn Girl and I were nervous wrecks operating on a mixture of adrenalin and auto pilot, always trying to think about what we still had to do and what we might have missed. Everytime I had assigned time, the time had somehow got away from me and so, with only a couple of hours to myself before it was too late, this was my last and only opportunity!

So I set my head to the task again, a task of trying to write something both personal and impersonal, affectionate (or as I had written at the original time of writing this - Effectivate, now there's a word - send your meaning on a postcard!) but not sickly, not overly waffley but also not too direct. This task worried me for about 10 minutes until in a moment of inspiration I came to the conclusion (aided by everyone I'd asked about this sort of thing too) that it probably wasn't going to make the slightest bit of difference. Sure, by chance I might have been able to write the perfect speech but this was me, even if I was to have had the perfect speech written down word for word it wouldn't come out of my mouth that way! It still had to be written though so what was I going to put in my speech?...

...To be continued...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Bits of Belfast - Part 6 - George Best Belfast City Airport

Plane in the Belfast Sky over Belfast City AirportWhat did they do!? It was a few weeks ago and the start of our long weekend in Northern England, the snow was falling sporadically around Europe and it was causing a few issues with flights. Delays were expected and understandable, however we were a little disappointed by the recently refurbished George Best Belfast City Airport.

The new layout of the City Airport seemed more like a work in progress and failed to impress, much like the City Aiport bus service whose number wasn't quite working properly a couple of weeks later when I happened to pass one. For information the 600 Airport Express to Belfast City Airport (BHD) leaves from the Europa bus station and heads through town via the Chichester Street stop very close to Belfast City Hall, a bus route not to be confused with the number 300 Airport Express which serves Belfast International Airport (BFS).

It started off well, it was a Friday night and probably the busiest time of the week at the airport which has to be taken into consideration. We were a little early as usual as we made our way straight to security. This section of the airport now goes back into part of what used to be the departure lounge. It was nice and spacious and actually an improvement on the old security layout making it a little quicker considering the day and time. Before long at all, we were past the friendly staff through the beepy machines and putting our shoes back on (this isn't sarcastic, the staff honestly were nice and friendly, especially with a family whose kids were a little bemused by the whole process - something seemingly quite unique for airport security staff).

It was after security that the new layout started to cause us a few headaches or rather feet aches. Beginning with a broken escalator.

The departure lounge is now upstairs in an extended section that used to be where the cafe was. The cafe is still there and the rest of the facilities extend either side of it. So facing either the broken escalator or the stairs and with our hand luggage of a long weekend's worth of guff including a wedding album weighing down on our backs we looked for the lift. The lift wasn't very big, it would have been a push to get much more than a buggy, 2 people and a little luggage into it. Thankfully we fitted in with the bags on our backs and ascended to the 1st floor to the 'relax and shop' area known as the departure lounge.

Once we were up there we were met by a mass of people, every seat filled and people using the floor and anything that could be leaned on to as best effect as possible. Next to the main restraunt/cafe mentioned already is a bar to the left and across the way a W.H.Smith. We were eager to explore what was there and without any seats free, there wasn't much of an option but to wander around anyway. The relax had already been taken out of the relax and shop for us and we did actually need to shop, first of all we needed food and drink.

First came drink and this was a plus, the bar is a bit bigger than the old one and the service was relatively quick given the amount of people. After about 15 minutes stood up we eventually managed to bag ourselves a bar stool each and perched for as long as our drinks could last (a pint of Guinness was £3.30 which isn't the most expensive pint in Belfast by a long shot).

We were hungry by this point, the restaurant/cafe though was full, people were understandably loitering after eating. So plan A was out the window. Plan B was a quick snack from W.H.Smith... and a good job it was a small bite, the prices, if anything were steep. 73p for a packet of fruit pastels... seriously, 73p. You expect to be taken advantage of a little with high prices because you've no choice, especially since you can't bring much through security these days. However there is a point where it goes beyond a joke. Although expensive as airports generally are, in the end we did make it into the cafe for some hot food just before our flight flashed up as ready to board. The soup was yummy, worth the £3.95 a bowl at that point.

A little time before we had found a place to be seated in order to eat some food once a few flights worth of people had left, we had been looking for a gift. The 2nd part of 'Relax and Shop' fell flat on its face at this point too. There was very little choice, a bit of perfume, a few watches, some chocolate and a few bags and everything out of my price range even if it had of been suitable. I'd advise heading to town before heading to the airport if you have chance, choice and price were not on our side here, we gave up and left it for another time.

So feet aching and having wolfed down hot soup, albeit delicious hot soup, we headed off to the gate. The gate system at its heart, is as before. The difference now, is that you're upstairs to begin with and instead of been led out into the long gate corridor you're heading downstairs to get to it. The stairs back to the ground floor are labelled and this is where the 'gate boards' directed us. So it was to 'Gate C' or more aptly Stairs C for us.

The stairs led us down directly into the path of arriving passengers making their way into the baggage reclaim area. We found ourselves stuck into a mass of held up people. People who were heading different directions and trying to work out where to go next whilst not getting sucked into the wrong queues that scattered down the sides of the corridor. We made it beyond this bottleneck of people and kept walking, still not a clue where our destination was, we just kept walking. The logic was that it is just one long corridor and we hoped since we had been directed down the set of stairs closest to this end of the line, that it would be somewhere around here we were expected to find our way to.

At the very end of the corridor was our actual gate the number of which was never mentioned at any point, Gate 10. Just to put the icing on the cake we were led out from the corridor onto the apron and to our awaiting plane via gate 9. I couldn't help but laugh.

So overall we didn't have a very good experience, it was probably made all the more disappointing because personally I liked the old lay out of the departure lounge which had more than adequate seating no matter how busy it seemed to get. Maybe if they put in more seats into the new layout rather than having huge walkways between single rows of seats along the walls of the place, it might improve it. I doubt the prices will fall, that's the joy of shareholders wanting profit. So although 'shop' is never likely going to be a pastime most suited to an airport, surely for what is at the root of its existence, a giant waiting room the 'Relax' surely can't be that hard or costly to get right. A waiting room after all needs places for people to wait otherwise its just a very poor shopping centre.

All being well, the bugs we experienced will be ironed out and the modernisation of the airport facilities won't cause us too many departures in the long run like we experienced last month. The Bushmills Bar, the Cafe's soup and the security area all seemed improvements. The view from the top floor was also an improvement when we got the chance to enjoy it.

I guess in the end the important bit was that we took off in the plane on time, had a nice flight and arrived at Manchester Airport safe and sound.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Dr Who in Belfast and some Northern Irish Daleks

He probably got spun off course by some inter galactic wayward energy pulse from beyond our reality, but in a detour from the usual London and Cardiff locations it seems Dr Who is coming to Belfast later this month for the launch of the new Dr Who. The tour starts here in Belfast and is promoting the forthcoming series by brining the first episode of the new series to kids here. The BBC says "The focus of the tour is to reach relatively under-served communities by the BBC", personally I'm glad to see that this is being acknowledged and hopefully, like Radio1 they'll find the place to be beyond their expectations and come back more often. Maybe they will send back a set location finder because wouldn't it be awesome to have a Dr Who set on the streets of Belfast or some place else in Northern Ireland . So with Steve Moffat in charge and Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor it should prove an interesting journey through space and time on 29th March. On another note, its probably time he showed up too since that there Dalek appeared on Divis hill last year!

It seems the Daleks who arrived have been busy settling in and getting used to the place, even picking up the colloquialisms! I'm probably a little behind the times with this as I only came across it today after a friend had linked to it on Facebook and it is a year old and be warned before watching these that there is a little bit of bad language in some of the 4 parts of this on Youtube.

Over to Colin and Brian... the Northern Ireland Daleks...

Monday, 1 March 2010

Great Winter Olympics Canada.

For team GB, team Ireland and even for our one Northern Irish representative in team GB, sadly there wasn't much to write home from Vancouver about.  Every cloud has a silver lining though and as only one thing goes it was as good as it gets, it went to Amy Williams of team GB and it just so happened to be a gold medal. Thankfully, though the medals hauls wasn't as shiny as we'd hoped for our local nations, Canada put on a great show and although I've only seen a few, it was my favourite winter Olympics yet!

As you may have seen, unfortunately Jenna McCorkell fell during her routine in the figure skating short programme and came 2nd last so didn't qualify to skate in the free skate, hopefully she'll be back in 2014 to try again. Brilliantly though, team GB did win a gold and that was won by Amy Williams in the Skeleton who led the event from start to finish through all 4 runs.

In the winter sports that I really enjoy watching, there were some great games, sadly, GB in the Curling didn't quite make the big shots to qualify for the medals games. The games were compelling viewing in our household and it became yet another must watch. My dad stayed up past 1am which is unheard of and Norn Girl stayed up with me into the early hours of the morning on more than one occasion. The Bobsleigh events were also a bit of a disappointment because of the crashes and slow times for those who did make it over the finish line for both Ireland and GB.

The big surprise for me with these games was the great online and TV coverage, its given us a lot more chance to sample more from these games than probably any other winter Olympics. I have to admit, I've enjoyed so many of the other sports I wouldn't usually make time to watch - such as the Nordic Combined and the Snowboarding events. Not to mention the enthralling Ski Cross which was new to this Olympics and is a sport that will undoubtedly have quite a big billing in Russia after its début success in Canada.

My little 'lets go Canada, lets go" from the end of my previous winter Olympics post seemed well placed. A record gold medals haul and the clinching gold for that record came in the final event - the men's ice hockey final. It was 2-1 with only 24.5 seconds left but a last gasp equaliser with their goaltender pulled to give six vs five paid off and USA scored to make it 2-2 and took the game to overtime. I think most neutrals like me were probably routing for Canada at this point and a not long into the extra period, a great goal capped a good game and as the head guards came off the players heads and were thrown into the air, it seemed a fitting end to a games of compelling viewing. Lets hope the strengths from these games can be taken on board for the London 2012 summer games and we can all have a great time and maybe, if we're lucky, have a few reasons to celebrate like most of Canada probably will be tonight whilst watching the closing ceremony. I'm looking forward to that and the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics already!


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