Monday, 26 April 2010

You haven't been to Belfast in 2010 until you've...

10. Taken a long detour to get to a shop because of construction works, a journey that likely resulted in a bounce across a makeshift wooden bridge which you perhaps slightly enjoyed even though you know you should be annoyed by the inconvenience.

Belfast roadworks

9. Witnessed a near death 'You've been Framed' moment on or around one of the sculptures in the middle of town - like the Spirit of Belfast - and wished you'd caught it on camera!

8. Had the joy of listening to old men 'gurn' and complain at a local sports event, seemingly oblivious to the fact they aren't at home in front of the TV or watching the multimillionaires.

7. Considered how the view will look from the top of the Obel and if you could get a paper plane from the top of it to land on the Odyssey?

6. Made it to the top of the zoo on the cave hill and said "Bout Ye" to the cute Sunbears. They tend to pop their heads up to the glass to get a better look at you and maybe say "oh hai".

5. Stood wobbling at the top of Victoria Square on the viewing platform whilst peering at the passers by below and plotting the logistics of an abseil down to sneak up behind them.

4. Got bored trying to find something cheap to do so head into a bar or cafe only to find it would have been cheaper to have done the thing you were thinking about doing in the first place.

3. Felt bad for almost falling over a busker or big issue seller in the street - though in your mind questioned the choice of location they have occupied - usually at the at the other side of a blind corner!

2. Become frustrated by the tour bus people offering you a leaflet when you've already turned down their colleagues or competitors all the way down the street - especially when you're not a tourist, dagnabit!

1. Walked around the Ulster Museum and come out wondering how next time you can get away with making things in the 'interactive areas' without been frowned upon. Likely to coincide with thoughts of how you could go about borrowing a child for an afternoon or making one just for this purpose, followed by the thought of 'don't be silly, grow up', followed by the thought 'then again...'.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Lake Placid on a Boat: Belfast Film Festival event

Belfast film festival screening of lake placid on a boatThe sun had set, the blue lights of the Lagan Weir shone brightly and we stepped onto the boat. We headed down below deck into a blue/purple glow, in there were benches lining the walls and 3 rows of bean bags strewn across the floor with a big screen the size of the rooms width at the front. Everyone settled themselves in and got comfy. After a quick briefing about the location of life rafts and life jackets, the engine started, the screen came on, the snacks came out and our floating cinema headed out into our very own Lake Placid - the channel of the River Lagan connecting to Belfast Lough.

Yep, we managed to make it to the 'Big Fish' in time to take in another of the 10th Belfast Film Festival's events. This time, as mentioned in the post about the disappointing Queens Film Theatre Quiz, it was a showing of Lake Placid on a boat, in the dark on Wednesday night. We had high hopes and it didn't disappoint. How could it, we were on a boat! (link warning - explicit lyrics)

We had all met by the river after passing by the few hours after work in our own ways. I had intended to go to see a movie but through either my fault or the websites, the showing/movie didn't exist so I then resorted to having a look around the shops, loitering in Starbucks (which for me, as someone who doesn't like coffee or the smell of it, isn't as fun as everyone else seems to think it is) and then when Norn Girl had headed off to her class, waited for her in the Kitchen Bar by Victoria Square with a pint of Guinness – much better!

The time flew by and it was soon time to make the short walk down past another Boat (of the building variety) which on a side note, from the outside almost seems complete now. It was all lit up with its big square frames surrounding its balconies.

The Big Fish aka Salmon of KnowledgeWe didn't have time to muse though as we didn't want to be late. So we scurried on and got to the 'Salmon of Knowledge' aka the 'Big Fish' in time to meet our friends and get in the queue. Boarding was quick once it was all ready to go and we made it into position ready to watch Lake Placid. Prior to going I could have sworn I'd seen it before but as it was I didn't remember any of the plot so maybe I was thinking of something else. I thought it was a great choice of film though, just the right amount of comedy and jumpy moments to make the tight but friendly environment of the boat the perfect location.

The Lagan Boat Companies' boat that we were in, chugged by alongside the docks and we passed by the Odyssey, the area the Titanic was launched from and the other cranes and buildings lining the docks in that area. Each was fairly brightly lit and we passed some big container vessels and other such maritime truckers who looked on into our wee boat looking a bit perplexed. Had they never seen a cinema boat before!

The noise from the engine was minimal and the sound from the speakers was great. The lights from the rest of the docks wasn't too bright, though at one time we did get glared a little by some floodlights on one of the container ships but that passed as quickly as it had found us. The screen was a decent size in the main part of the boat with a smaller but still big flat screen TV for those sitting/smoking outside.

All in all was great fun and so much more enjoyable than the quiz. Watching a movie rather than talking about them is looking a cert the way to go in this festival. Though the quiz wasn't my cup of tea, this certainly was and I'll be scouring the events listings next year and booking another cinema on a boat experience if they do it again!

We were kinda hoping that they'd start screening more films and make it a permanent thing - though we did realise there is the big question of how many movies there are that are focused about being in or on a lake, river or ocean? There must be quite a few... any good ones spring to mind?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

What the QFT in the BFF!?

The 10th Annual Belfast Film festival is well underway and on Sunday night a group of 6 of us went along to have a laugh and take part in the Queens Film Theatre (QFT) Film Quiz. It took place in the foyer of the QFT and we were one of the first teams there.

We got some drinks in and sat chatting and laughing about recent events and were having a good time chatting and writting random thoughts on pieces of paper that then got hung on a big wall. It wasn't long before the room had filled and every seat around every table was taken. The whole thing was building up to be something quite good.

The quiz begun with an entusiastic host, it was quite professionally done and there was even a giant screen used to play some clips of movies and picture rounds. It certainly looked the part.
The majority of people in the room looked to be students and older, it didn't attract a very diverse crowd but it seemed an enthusiastic one. Everything was in place.

And then the questions started....

What a load of pretentious over-specific, fun-ruining waffle.

You expect some tricky questions, after all its the 'Artsy' home of film in Belfast. But for the love of whatever you believe in! It left 3/4 of the room looking at the 1/4 who only had a slight inkling with a perplexed glaze.
The opening statement was that they expected no one to get 2/3's of the 90 questions right. One team scraped the 60 and they were the ones who won and no one came close to them. The rest of us who didn't look to have a degree in motion picture studies or cinematography media or some such, it was a rarity to find something to be able even to guess on, though we gave it our best try anyway.

I don't think they got the point with a quiz that its easy to ask questions people are very unlikely to know the answer to - about any subject! Surely the idea with a quiz is to facilitate people having a good time, providing questions people will search their brain for and have to pick between 4 answers only to find you picked the wrong one and it was your gut feeling that was right after all. That is the fun of a quiz for me. The questions of the event we attended more closely resembled an exam in subjects no one could be expected to revise in.

The most fun round for me was probably the 'guess the bad review round'. In that round the most recent question was about a movie only a mild 24 years old. Another good round was the movie clip round as at least you got to watch a movie and though some were obscure, they were all at least from the last decade.
As for the worst round and the one saved for last... anyone an expert in Sweedish cinema?

You might think this is a bit harsh, that we should have expected to be paying to play a quiz that was aimed towards a neiche of cinema goers when its a film festival and an event at the QFT. That a lot of the questions would be obscure. Well that probably would be the case if it wasn't for the advert on the Belfast Film Festival website that was slightly misleading before we went - especially as they advertised:

"Rounds will include our psychic cinema props round ‘Can You Read My Mind?’ and the Cryptic pajama photo round ‘Lady in Bed’, where you have to identify the actresses under the covers."

Neither of these fun sounding rounds (that at least we could have guessed at) materialised on the night. Instead we had 'name the obscure pre 1980's of a director in a photo' and 'Can you read my mind without any props because that's the only way anyone in the room will get the answer' rounds.

Thankfully as always, the company we were keeping made it a fun night never the less. We may have seen more blank looks on each others' faces and doodled many times more than your average quiz but as always I guess it was an experience. Even if that experience highlighted to us that either us or the quiz people were slightly out of touch to what a fun quiz is all about. In the end our team got 30 points, like us, most of the teams were challenging for last prize from the first question. In fairness to the quiz, last place was awarded a nice prize, that was a nice touch.

Still I think I'll give it a miss next year, once was enough for me. I prefer coming last at the Crusaders Social Club's quiz on a Thursday night, where failing to answer those questions are also part of the fun :)

Next up for our film festival experience: Lake Placid... on a boat, in the dark!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Northern Ireland sees amazing twist in Election build up

"You wouldn't get this from any other guy"

Election 2010 Day 9 - Nick Clegg & Vince Cable Launch the 2010 Liberal Democrat Manifesto

Congratulations, you've been Nick Roll'd in honour of Nick Clegg. Do bear with me though... I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling about Politics here in Northern Ireland in view of the general election on May 6th. ((This is only my pub discussion opinion and not representative of any group or persons I may be linked to))

As you probably know, in Northern Ireland we vote for MPs to send to Westminster like anywhere else but unlike the now brand based (Americanized) all out commercial politics in the rest of the UK - I gotta make you understand that its likely to be tribal politics that will once again cast its shadow over meaningful policies and debates here. This is because there are a lot of people who are never gonna give you up when it comes to pushing socially divided campaign material your way - flashing national flags and colours on their posters is the least of it. In all honesty I think people who don't vote tribally are put off even participating due to the seemingly foregone conclusion and in your face approach. We even end up with campaign cars being driven around blasting out noise pollution from loud speakers like salesmen from developing nations (no offence to developing nations).

In fairness some of these party's representatives may make decent MPs, but in my view, too many don't! Not at all aided by the fact the traditional divide here shares a religious connotation that means faith based politics also gets thrown into the equation. Such as the case where we are the only part of the UK where a woman's right to choose is forced over the sea and where politicians don't seem to pay much attention to statistics unless it fits into the neat categories of Catholic, Protestant or Other.

So are our current MPs here in NI really representing what is often the silent majority? The sad thing is until people speak up, no one will know. Still, they (our political elite) say they're never gonna let you down, but they do let you down very often by being petty and argumentative. A prejudice that is becoming more and more outdated in the ever increasingly globalised world. I personally feel embarrassed at times seeing those who are supposedly speaking on my behalf talking to the media.

So for none tribal politics, the closest party to the Liberal Democrats in N.I are the Alliance Party who tend to work with the Lib Dems. There are also the Greens and several independents who would also appear to also focus more of their effort to helping their potential constituents in things that really matter most in our every day lives and less about reliving the past. Such MP candidates may be unproven as they've never been given the chance, but we can hope they're never gonna run around and desert you when the time is needed for you to call on their help. Lets face it they can't be much worse.

My current view of politics here is that giving a neutral candidate a vote is a vote for unity and a single community where differences can be respected including those who don't share the traditional view points. It's an ethos that's never gonna make you cry. Sure, if people don't start voting here on policies outside the realms of century old feuds - of decisions made by people and values long since dead - then the political system is never going to work for the people. Rather it will continue to work only for the Politian's and other groups with vested interests.

The politicians who become the spokes people for local issues where national prejudice aren't relevant are never gonna say goodbye unless they are democratically pushed. Even when they trip themselves up with scandles, they're not going to want to give up a good thing and will rarely step down. They may say they're "never gonna tell a lie and hurt you", that "we've known each other for so long" but that doesn't change the fact tribal politics only benefits the few with the polar opinion and those opportunistic enough to fill any voids left.

What about the rest of us just wanting a fairer and pleasant place to live, free from fear and hate and not being imposed on too much by other peoples beliefs?

If like mine, you're heart's been aching because of the frustration of the situation here, but your too shy to say it. It's not too late to try to do something about it. Over time, things will hopefully change for the better, but as the saying goes; there is no time like the present - so this May if you're registered to vote in N.I, think about what you are actually voting for and maybe consider voting against tribal politics. It makes no sense for people to keep voting for the same people over and over expecting things to change. In fact that's pretty much the definition of insanity.

And that vote against Tribal parties to me includes a vote against the Conservative's recent venture into Northern Irish politics - seemingly to try and exploit the chance for an extra seat by investing when stock is low - as they controversially sided with the UUP. Inside we both know what's been going on. They can say all they want about not becoming involved in Tribal politics but when you slap a union jack behind your candidate in North Belfast, either they're insensitive or they're buying into that realm of politics (and lets face it like the republicans in the states the Conservatives are experts at scaremongering) and I'm guessing they probably think, "We know the game and we're gonna play it".

Change probably won't happen at this election but with just a vote, a moderate voice can start to turn the tide towards effective, non-corrupt government that works for the people and not for the facilitation of lining the pockets of a few. It's a lofty goal and power corrupts so you never can know for sure but at least it's worth a shot.

If you were not going to vote because of past experiences or fears of it not being worth the time, please do try to scrape a bit of hope together for politics next month. If you feel the same, let's make the Tribal parties as well as the Conservatives and Labour take note! If you ask me how I'm feeling, it would be that we can all make the difference on May 6th, even if it's just by taking away some percentage points. That's not to say just vote for anyone, I'd suggest to listen to what everyone has to say and don't forget to read the small print :)

Don't tell me you're too blind to see that you've now been Nick-Rick-Rolled. I hope it was painless enough. If you fancy Nick-Rick-Rolling anyone you know, please do pass it on, even better why not Nick-Rick-Roll your own view of politics in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Losing our Rocky Horror Picture Show virginity

Not last Friday but the Friday before, 7 people gathered at a Restaurant in Belfast City Centre. Their fates from this point on are a little blurry as they became embroiled in a transexual, Transylvanian, extra terrestrial adventure at Belfast's Grand Opera House.

Distorted Belfast Grand Opera House SignWhat they do remember is that they had consumed their inter dimensional sonic transducer fuel at Restaurant Olio on Brunswick Street found underneath the Travelodge hotel. It was rather tasty, especially the tangy chili pasta dish that harboured a fair bite. The early evening science fiction double feature at Grand Opera House (GOH) was not long from getting under way as they took to the stairs to find their seats.

Looking around they noticed some people were more scantily clad than others. A Friday night in Belfast often has a few risky numbers on show but with Rocky Horror in town its the men scaring the taxi drivers with revealing outfits. Some of the more dedicated fans seemed a bit cold and should maybe have worn a 3rd sock like the soon to be on stage Brad, but kudos to them for the effort - face paint and all!

Our band of Rocky Horror virgins hadn't really specially dressed for the occasion. Some would say the one known as Simon was representative of the bunch, as he'd seen the movie but only several years ago and couldn't even remember how it ended. At one point they'd all planned to go dressed up, or down as this case would be, he like many thought to be tricky to know what goes, and it had put them off. A shame, but probably the best for their work colleagues. It may have made for an interesting dress down day but a day likely to be followed by a weekend trip to the Job Centre. Basically, like any self respecting virgins, they were playing it safe.

The curtain rose on the back of the opening number and we were introduced to fellow virgins of another kind, Brad and Janet. Soon joining us was a former screen Transylvanian, making a star guest appearance as the Narrator... none other than legend Christopher Biggins.

The show was great - the sexual in your face comedy, whimsical love, hate, life and death plot intertwined with some very talented performers who seemed as dedicated to the interaction with the audience as the audience were to the actors and actresses on stage. Hardly an act went by without those who had either seen the show live already or had just spent too much time looking such things up online (like this rocky horror virgins guide), throwing the lines,  that are seemingly now part of the experience, out into the open within the theatre. Our wee band of virgins were soon getting used to this retro new world of musical theatre that brought the actors to the seats and the audience into the show. Somewhat like a Victorian music hall being audio-vibratory-physio-moleculary transported into the Moulin Rouge. The time warp was hardly over before our almost experienced Rocky Horrored contingent were being mesmerised by yet more transvestite shenanigans. For after a quick break they were jumping right back into bed with it. And so they all flew through this new realm, through space and, who knows, perhaps even time itself. It all went very quickly. Frank-N-Furter, Brad, Janet, Riff Raff and Magenta amongst others had ended their tale, the book had closed on the adventure and now Rocky Horror Picture Show virgins no more, 7 people amongst the masses were brought back to Belfast.

As they left even happier than they had arrived those who had gone dressed up spilled out into the streets and as they passed by the city hall on our Bus, it was a great sight to see the rocky horror spirit walking down the street, heading home. Men in corsets and fishnets, women in plastic and leather dresses with the odd Surgeon, Rocky and Riff Raff close by. Our witnesses were glad to see the realities merge and a bit of repression, if only for a fleeting moment, being lifted from the streets of Northern Ireland. So the next time the newly indoctrinated fans of Rock Horror have chance, they'll be getting into the spirit of it... they're already planning their costumes!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Earth: Empires - free social web game

I try to stay away from promoting something directly in my blogging but this is something thats been a part of our lives for almost a decade and like Stephen Fry and his iPhones, sometimes you just have to share - unlike iPhones though, this gem is totally and completely free!

Earth: Empires is the game I'd like to share with you all. It was its predecessor Earth2025 which originally brought the world of online gaming to our CRT screens (at least for me and Norn Girl) and we enjoyed just about every minute of it.

Earth 2025 had faded from our lives after the game stagnated due to its ownership maybe not giving it the treatment it deserved. Thankfully though, when the doors finally closed on that Earth2025, the community and 15 years of History wasn't lost. For up stepped some dedicated members of that community who had the required skills and resources to do something about it.  They created a game familiar to that of the old but with changes we had all been wanting and waiting for for so long. Earth: Empires was born. This was all only last year and the new game is still in its infancy but the main thing missing now is new players to grow the party to be the best 5 minute distraction of the day again like it was back in its hay day.

So what is it?

First and foremost its a web browser game, it can be played anywhere you have web access.
The concept of the game is to build a country and try to grow it as big as possible in the time period (familiarly known as a set) that each game is given (usually 2 months for the main clan based game) measured in Networth. Alternatively you can build a country ready to go to war and to take on others, usually in co-olitions of clans because reducing a country to rubble by yourself is not an easy task.

Earth: Empires is comprised of many screens where turns can be used to perform various actions such as:
  • Exploring for land
  • Building various types of structures on that land
  • Researching various technology
  • Cashing turns to make more money
  • Adjusting the government (type, tax and production levels)
  • Buying and selling military, comodities and technology privately or on the public market.
  • Allying, spying and attacking other countries in various ways - some to benefit your own country, some just to be destructive.
Other than this, players can join together to form clans in the team based games and this is largely where the community is to be found.

Close to a decade ago, to me, the clan structure within this game was somewhat comparable to what social networking is now, though obviously more restricted. In that respect, the various clan sites still hold their own as a great place to meet people you'd maybe not get to know through the likes of Facebook. For,  if you're like me, you'd not readily start chatting to people from other nations from all around the real world because you tend to mix socially with people you know in real life. The game is something we all have in common that spanned international boundaries and breaks those barriers of social networking. Inter clan relations have developed over time to the point where there is some political infrastructure in place and conventions that have developed within the game. Thankfully unlike a lot of other games of its nature, due to the fact the game is text based, in this the generation of instant gratification gamers, the game isn't over run with 12 year olds. From my experience, its generally higher education students and people with full time jobs who play, though obviously there are people from all walks and stages of life.

Its also a game that doesn't take up much time or eat into real life too much because of the way the turns are given out and able to be played at your own convenience.The game is real time but the turns used to perform actions are given out every so many minutes and are stored up to a certain amount, usually around 2-3 days worth. That means you can go a day or two without logging in if you so desire. Not only that but you can put your country in a protected vacation mode if you're going to be unable to play for longer.

What can eat into your time is the social aspect, but like blogging or social networking, connecting with real people and making friends isn't exactly a waste of time.

It might not be for everyone, those who like instant gratification in games might not enjoy it but for fans of Strategy games its one of the hidden jems on the web... hopefully not hidden for too much longer though as there is talk it might make it to Facebook at some stage in the future.

If you'd like to read more, take a peek at the Earth: Empires Wiki and if you would like to give the Earth Empires a try head over to

On a side note, the Clan we were always a part of is back in action, its name, The Fist of Odin. If you would like to come join us and enhance the experience you'd be more than welcome and we'll teach you all we know about the game.

Here is The Fist of Odin site, hosted by Boxcar (created by another section of the Earth community) which is mainly a forum that is tied into the game with tools to aid us. If the ride is anything like our experience with the game so far, it'll be worth your time :)

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Anagrammed Northern Ireland - Hand Linen Terror!

This account of an evening out in Belfast from earlier in the week has been hijacked by anagrams. Can you work out what the real story should be? (Answers at the bottom of the post - and yes I was quite bored!)

'Main File For Hand Linen Terror' trip to the Cinema

Branches of a Belfast tree in the darkOn Tuesday night in 'Stab Elf' City there was a trip taken by 5 people to see 'A Demonic One' within 'Caves Roar I Quit'. The feature film was 'Heirlooms Privily Oil Up' a love story starring 'Gnome Grew Car' with 'My Rice Jar' .

It was a film based on a true story and was quite tragic really, but very funny never the less and well worth seeing. Once the movie was over we headed out of the screen and into the hall. It was whilst there that we waited on a few who couldn't hold it any longer and had to take a trip to the 'Ham Robot'.

On the walls were posters for up coming shows, one was for 'Dandy Hag Knit' starring 'Most I Cure' and 'Domain Craze'. We tried to work out if the silhoutes in the poster were to scale in regards to one another and guess their heights. According to IMDB 'Erotic Sum' is 5' 7 and  'Amazon Cider' is 5'5½", the silhoets in the poster must have either been taken at different times or edited.

I don't think I'll be going to see that one, I'd rather watch Newry's 'Reliable Sticky Hen' on The One Show or Belfast's 'Hen Rang The Bank' in Much Ado About Nothing.

With everyone together again, we headed out into the cold, rainy night and out onto 'Their Erect Chests', down past 'Bitch Alley Flats' and the soon to disappear ‘Webfeet Halls’, to our bus stop.

We were soon flying past 'Yoga Trek'. I thought about writting this post then fell asleep and probably dreamt of 'Manhole Omens'.

Hand Linen Terror - Northern Ireland, Main File For Hand Linen Terror - A Lifeform in Northern Ireland, Stab Elf - Belfast, A Demonic One - Odeon Cinema, Caves Roar I Quit - Victoria Square, Heirlooms Privily Oil Up - I love you Phillip Morris, Gnome Grew Car - Ewan McGregor, My Rice Jar - Jim Carrey, Ham Robot - Bathroom, Dandy Hag Knit - Knight and Day, Erotic Sum/Most I Cure - Tom Cruise, Domain Craze/Amazon Cider - Cameron Diaz, Hen Rang The Bank - Kenneth Branagh, Reliable Sticky Hen - Christine Bleakley, Their Erect Chests - Chichester Street, Bitch Alley Flats - Belfast City Hall, Webfeet Halls - Belfast Wheel, Yoga Trek - Yorkgate, Manhole Omens - Eamonn Holmes


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