Monday, 31 May 2010

The Hypnowheel of Belfast.

As promised, we now break for an interval from the exploration of the Cavehill Country Park, so put up your feet, sit back and take a breather with a rare sighting of the reincarnation of the Belfast Wheel... the Hypnowheel of Belfast. 

The Hypnowheel is a mysterious entity which chose to look over Belfast from the heights of Napoleons Nose... don't enjoy the view for too long though, for the Hypnowheel would like your FULL attention...

Friday, 28 May 2010

Exploring the Cavehill and Cavehill Country Park - Part 1

Napoleon's Nose McArts Fort at the Cavehill in Cave Hill Country ParkMy feet kept sliding backwards, it was clear I had taken the wrong path in my trek to the summit of the Cavehill in the Cavehill Country Park. It dawned on me that this was probably why the sign said the equivalent of 'take the sheep's path at your own risk'. It really hadn't looked this steep from the bottom. Oops.

I caught my footing and clambered back to much  sturdier ground that was scattered with plenty of fixed-in-place rocks. I negotiated my way over them, on all fours at times. It was like being a kid on a climbing frame again.

Steps leading up to McArts Fort aka Napoleons nose on the Cavehill.Conscious of eroding the hill quicker than nature and other people were already doing, I did my best to not cause the scree I was walking on to relocate further down the slope. I dodged the rabbit droppings that were peppering the ground and after a quick stop to rabbit spot, I was all but a short climb of some steps from McArt's Fort.

Before we head up those stairs though, here is where it all started...
The Monday before last was the Monday following the weekend of joy that crescendoed with Leeds United being promoted from League One to the Championship. So whilst feeling on top of the world, I had planned to use one of my days off to head a little higher in the physical sense of the term. So when the weather forecast had given the indication that Monday was the best day of the week to be heading outdoors, I made a vague plan. The idea was to make my way to ASDA on the Shore Road, to buy some supplies and then set off walking towards the Cavehill Country Park and, via Belfast Castle, make my way to the top of the Cavehill where I would reward myself with my lunch.

I know Divis at 478m is the highest elevation of Belfast's Hills but at 370m the Cavehill won out, mainly because it was closer and I couldn't fathom how to make it to the top of the Divis hills with just public transport and my own two feet (at least in any reasonable length of time) - though having found the link there I think that this trip might be do-able in the future!

Kitted out in the sort of gear you'd wear to play 5-a-side football but with a coat over the top, I beeped my items through the self-service checkouts and started my walk.

From ASDA this was my eventual route:

The first part was a breeze. It began well as I hadn't even passed too far by the old gateway to the Fortwilliam area before I had spotted some wildlife. It was a grey squirrel foraging around but it was already on the move before I had the sense to try and take out my camera. I was soon at the Antrim Road and walking up Innisfayle Park and into the grounds of the park.

The incline started to pick up as I approached Belfast Castle itself. Belfast Castle is a castle only in the palace type definition of the word as it is a sort of Victorian stately home, but is never the less an impressive structure with quite a view.

Belfast Castle and grounds

Having found myself here plenty of times before, I didn't go snooping around and just passed through the gates to head onto the forest path. The path leads up to an odd feature of the Cavehill, a depression surrounded by tiny-hillock like mounds and boulders, an area known locally as the 'Devils Punchbowl'. The path is lined with trees and from a gentle start gets quite steep about 3/4 of the way up to the Punchbowl. Being unfit and wanting to make it to the top as soon as possible (I was very hungry by this point) I took a quick rest and took on some fluids to keep me going.

Devils Punchbowl Belfast CavehillI set off again and soon made it to the Devils Punchbowl. Once there I had a look at the quickest route to the top. I was in two minds as to whether to stick with my original plan of making the steepish clamber or take the easy but longer hike. Sat on the edge of a hillock looking up at the hill I made my mind up. Or was there a little devil on my shoulder telling me to do it? Whatever the real reason, I decided I was going to head up the steep route.

With slightly heavy legs I began the walking-clamber. At first it is a slight hill heading south beneath the cliffs, then with the large basaltic outcrop looming, the path became earth and rocky scree. With the path uneven and very loose in places I was in two minds between looking up incase of falling rocks and looking down to ensure I wasn't going to be heading backwards.

Belfast CavehillInbetween the glances up and down I caught sight of something moving. Two rabbits bounded in opposite directions and out of site. Like Alice spotting a glimps of the white rabbit, I had to follow, although unlike Alice, I had a camera with a decent zoom so didn't have to get too close. Having spotted a rabbit moving I had the camera on and aimed. But where had it gone? I never saw it leave. I took a photo and had a look. Still nothing, but...ah wait, there it was! It was camouflaged against its habitat, presumably to make it harder for the birds of prey that stalk the hills to make the wee thing their next meal.

Back on the move, I found myself facing a literal uphill struggle. I could perhaps make better progress on a solid base of rocks. With that plan though came the problem of it being steeper. I ended up having to use my hands as well as my feet. It was feeling like the wrong choice, but in so many other ways it was the right choice. I was feeling free and having fun, even if I was having to avoid putting my hands in rabbit droppings.

I persisted and only got myself in a twist the once which required sitting down and spinning around. Having got out of that pickle I was soon on a short walk on flatter ground between two outcrops feeling quite proud of myself. I was near the top but couldn't yet see anything infront of me but rock, grass and path. The informal path reached a proper one and a cattle gate too. I was almost at the top, a climb of the steps away from the view from McArt's Fort.

As I made my way up the steps, the anticipated panorama was hesitant in appearing and a continued view of grass meeting the sky met my eyes. Then there it was, Belfast and the surrounding area, in the distance I could see the North Down coast and further afield. The Mourne Mountains were poking in and out of the clouds and the city was bustling by below me.

Mourne mountains from Cavehill

Sadly there was quite a bit of cloud so the view from the top of the Cavehill wasn't quite as far reaching as it could have been, but it was quite a sight never the less and here are some of the sights I captured on camera from (and in one case hanging over) the edge of Napoleon's Nose:

Panorama from the Cavehill of North Belfast, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Belfast Lough

Harland and Wolff crane Belfast and helicopterHanging over edge of cavehill   

Panorama from the Cavehill of Belfast City

Once I'd absorbed the view, I sat myself down and unzipped my backpack. I took out the goodies I had bought and dug in.

Chicken pasta salad over belfastÉclairs over Belfast

Settled down for a short stay, as you do. I set up a windmill and with the wind up there it spun like it had never spun before (yes I am a big kid, did I not mention that already?). Also except from birds, planes or the wind blowing it off the cliff, I was protected on all sides from food thieves and could really enjoy the hour or so I loitered watching the world go by.

View from Cavehill of Stena HSS and Belfast Lough

Reluctantly, I had to make a move and head down the hill. I packed up my things, making sure not to leave any trace of my presence. The question in my head was then, which way?

Panorama of the Cavehill, Northern Ireland

After hopefully joining me in a short hypnotic interval with the Hypnowheel of Belfast, please do visit the next page - Part 2 of Exploring the Cavehill and Cavehill Country Park to find out what I came across next.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Spot the Bunny

Quickly now! Can you spot the rabbit before it escapes, takes over the world and starts its own hoposphere?

Spot the Rabbit!

In case you're finding it tricky, Cavehill intelligence released this shot of the suspect...

Hurry... sources close the the warren claim he's likely to go underground soon!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

What a twit!

Yesterday night, in a moment of weakness, I did what I would consider a very bad thing. I gave in to temptation in a shocking way. For in a moment of thinking it might be a good idea, yep, I did what I'd been holding back from doing since its viral release onto the net years ago:

I created a Twitter account. :-/

I blame the events of the last few weeks, from a couple of weeks ago and Leeds being promoted, yesterday's Championship play-off and the Radio One Big weekend, to Champions' League and Over the Rainbow finals, its all been ripe times for possible Facebook updates. However spamming people's recent updates in a place they're not expecting just doesn't seem right and it was all just getting too tempting. So damn you social media! You might have won this time but I held on for a good long while... I'll be a good sheep and join back in line with the flock for now, but not before I've gotten this off my chest... for if a blog wasn't enough by itself as a means of publishing too much personal information onto the web, now I've set myself up for doing even more of it in 140 character batches. In such a circumstance this post would have only made it as far as:

 "Yesterday night, in a moment of weakness, I did what I would consider a very bad thing. I gave in to temptation. Yep, in a moment of thinkin" 

...and what sort of street talk is 'thinkin' and what sort of update is that? Waffling is therefore likely to be cut, except in extreme bursts. Explanations are to be omitted, except in follow up tweets.  So is that what my mind has sunk to - thinking in short sentences? Well yes and no. On occasions it gets distracted well before 140 characters, and sure, often I could probably express an opinion in 3 words or less, so 140 characters is probably a step up!

I'm not too sure on the benifits of Twitter except to reach out into the wider global consciousness of sharing random things but there is only one way to find out for sure. The one thing I do know it will bring is an opportunity to keep up with the rest of the worlds netaholics: those who prefer not to spend their time typing for an hour at a time. So fair do's, I've taken the leap. It might eat into my time a little but at least I'll be able to reply to what Stephen Fry is playing with and what Chris Moyles had for breakfast... why did I sign up again?

I'll be trying to tweet regularly and will be happy to follow my blog-readers or twitter-readers - is that what they're called? I'm a twitter n00b, can you tell?

So if you'd like to follow me, my Twitter page is: 

As well as whatever I end up tweeting, I'll also be providing updates from there of when I have a new blog post up here. Also, to bring twitter to my blog (for those of you still fighting back the urge - if there is anyone left?) you might have already noticed that there is now a little feed on the sidebar here with a couple of the most recent updates. I apologise in advance for scaring or offending anyone; I'll try not to but you never know!

Happy Tweeting.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Belfast Wheel - A belated farewell

Belfast Wheel at Night in winterThe Belfast wheel closed back on Sunday 11th April and that was the day Norn Girl and I had our sentimental last ride. The wheel has originally meant to be a short term attraction but as it went down better than expected (I believe likely in part due to Belfast having a public starved of any traditional landmark tourist attraction), it proved to be a real 'money spinner' and so it was allowed to stay for a couple more years - in the end it was open for (if my research and math is correct) 2 years, 6 months and 3 days, or somewhere 'around about' that figure.

The ride itself I thought was very much worth it as it gave a great view of Belfast and the surrounding area. It was especially worth it in November 2008 because that was when I proposed to Norn Girl at the top of the Wheel and she said yes! That was a wheely good night!

We also went on the wheel several times inbetween, usually when family wanted to go on, it seemed like we went on every 6 months or so, maybe it was some form of 'rotational system'. Sadly it had to close because it got a few groups 'in a spin' which is understandable, hopefully it could still reappear maybe in a new location in the future.

Alan in Belfast gives a great video of the Belfast Wheel in his post about the wheel closing if you'd like to experience a full spin still. Do hang around a few minutes though and let me take you through a few of the favourites of the photos I managed to take over the time the wheel graced the grounds of Belfast City Hall...

Belfast Wheel ConstructionHere is the wheel being constructed in November 2007 - almost there but looking more like a Trivial pursuit counter than a tourist attraction:

Belfast Wheel 2008Things soon got going and in 2008 it was looking like its well known self:

After our engagement (and no doubt many others and other celebrations- and why not!) 2009 'rolled around' and the wheel started to become part of the skyline, which in part led to its deconstruction.

Bright Belfast Wheel april 09Belfast Wheel in the Snow at Night

Here is the Belfast Wheel on Sunday 11th April, its last day of operation:

IDoors of the pod of the Belfast WheelBelfast wheel last day #4Staff working on Belfast Wheel

The last rides came to an end and the wheel spent a few days still standing:

Belfast wheel last day #5Closed Sign for Belfast Wheel

As quickly as it had started spinning it came down... here is the Wheel being dismantled and packed away:

Deconstruction of Belfast Wheel #1Deconstruction of Belfast Wheel #2Deconstruction of Belfast Wheel #3

Deconstruction of Belfast Wheel #4

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

An Ottaman Storage Bedtime Story.

New Ottaman bed under constructionThe backache was causing us too much grief and if there is one thing we've learnt about modern living its that you have to invest maybe a little more than usual in two types of material goods to keep the body and mind in some sort of half decent condition. These are; a decent pair of comfortable shoes and a comfortable bed. On this occasion it was the bed that was causing us the problem and it wasn't just a pea that was causing the discomfort.

In late April, after the best part of 7 or 8 years in active service, our bargain basement divan bed frame gave up its structural integrity and repairs were not enough to keep in any sort of cube like form. It had a good innings to say it was also quite well travelled having joined us in several moves, including one across the Irish sea but it was time for it to be retired to the recycling centre. It was time to start searching for its successor.

Now we're a working married couple with a little more income than we had as students, we felt as adults we should probably find something sensible but practical, most of all though, comfortable. Sadly, our eyes turned to the elaborate as well as the childish, from swirly metal bed frames that would grace 5 star hotels, to solid oak frames that our rented house floor's probably wouldn't be able to bear the load of - we were checking everything out. From on-line stores that looked a bit dodgy and like the back of a garage on Google Street View, to the usual high street brands. We got our eye in and started to find a type that would suit our needs.

Sadly the novelty kids beds only came in single sizes! This was immensely disappointing so it was our choice to go for something that would give us storage as well as access to the storage. Something that should hopefully hold up to two lunatics throwing themselves onto it. So in the end we found our match with a fake leather Ottaman bed. The handy thing being that unlike a divan you get the full use of the underside of the bed without having draws or having to take the mattress off and lift the whole thing over. They're the type of bed that has a frame inside the frame which can be lifted by pressurised cylinders which allow you to easily lift the frame and mattress to a gentle incline in order to access the space underneath.

We ordered from a well known high street store on line after seeing the same product for more up at a store near the Abbey Centre. It seemed sturdy enough and comfortable enough there so we were happy to take the plunge. We knew we were going to be building it from a flat pack but we didn't fathom quite how long it would take until we got back from watching Jimmy Carr at the Waterfront and headed home needing to make the thing up before we could go to sleep. As it ended up, we read the instructions and pushed everything to one side of the room. The old bed came back into place and we quickly made it up and went to sleep for one last uncomfortable 'sleep'.

The next day we started construction. The tools we needed were a screwdriver (so we used the electric drill Norn Girl had cleverly thought ahead to include on last years wedding gift list) and a lot of patience. Sadly some of the instructions were not so clear. We made light work of the first part which was putting together the outer bed frame. The trickiest part came when we were trying to put together the inner frame. Unfortunately for us, the instructions neglected to show the difference between which way around the frame should sit as there was a small bar on both sides which could sit either way but had mysteriously failed to make it onto the construction guide. This is much like an architect failing to note there should be a door on a wall and leaving the builder to guess where it is wanted. As you can probably tell by the world unfortunately being used, we got the guess wrong and so had to undo half of our good work.

At this point I'd nipped down to watch a game on TV that I was hoping to catch. Norn Girl being the pro and (I'm sure she'd be the first to admit) slightly neurotic in not being able to leave things half undone, carried on without me. She switched the frame over after taking it apart again. After the game we got stuck back in with a religious like fervour and in record breaking time put all the slats in their plastic holders and forced them into position. Last but not least were the small boards that sit on the floor to put your stuff on top of to keep it off the floor. They didn't work so well due to the small screws and the thin boards - the casters just fell off if they were knocked - but we found hand tightening them gently, so as not to over screw, gave the best results. The bed was complete.

New Ottaman bed liftedNew Ottaman bedHere is how it looks. If you like, ignore the not so nice bed sheets, we do have nicer ones but due to a broken washing machine (and as of the time of finally typing this - a machine we've just managed to replace), those were the best we could manage.

So far its been excellent, very comfortable and it holds plenty of guff underneath it, which is all we could really ask for - we're just hoping it can do as well, if not better, compared to the last bed. Only time will tell. Hopefully we'll both sleep and enjoy our bed happily ever after.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Kiss Me Kate at the Strand and Bennets on Belmont

Strand Cinema BelfastBetter late than never, this is a recap of the last of this year's Belfast Film Festival events that we managed to make it to in April. On this occasion it was a trip to the Strand Cinema on the 24th April, the Strand being the only other independent cinema in Belfast other than the Queens Film Theatre. On show was a 2D showing of the 1953 film Kiss Me Kate.

We had made our way to East Belfast and met up outside the Strand then headed over to the row of shops on the Belmont Road to find somewhere to eat. We had just finished work and the movie wasn't due to start for a couple of hours so were eager to get some grub in us. We were torn between the Gourmet Burger restaurant and Bennetts on Belmont. In the end, after some expert decision making using a game of chance, we headed into Bennetts and were seated in a booth by the window. Not one of us had ever been here before so we didn't know what to expect. We ordered from what was quite a varied menu and got chatting. It wasn't long until the food arrived and it was an amazingly pleasant surprise because the setting seems a little understated for the presentation and quality of food we were presented with. The portions were quite big, the chips were delicious and the spiced chicken naan bread sandwich type thing I ordered was delicious too! Everyone really enjoyed their meals and I think the general consensus was we'd be back there if ever we find ourselves out that way again. Though we were eyeing up the desserts we held off in favour of sweets for during the film. We weren't hurried out of the cafe/restaurant and sat there a fair while. After we'd finished some hot drinks we made our way over to the old cinema.

Inside the foyer is relatively small but all nicely laid out, one refreshment counter and one ticket booth. We headed to the latter and were instead directed to the screen. Once we had our refreshments we made our way into the room and paid the lady our money. The room was, how to put this... ermm, quaint.
Its hard to describe but I'll give it a go. The room sloped, both down towards the screen but also about a meter sideways over the width of the room meaning you were sat slanted to the screen slightly. This was a little odd but it kind of added to the experience. The other issue with the room was the ceiling which was coming apart in places but it didn't flake on us so we can't really complain - who looks at a roof anyway?

About 15 people joined us and the movie began. There was a slight technical hitch at first; to begin with the screen wasn't sized properly, we were watching wide-screen stretched people, then it was out of focus but before long it was corrected and we got on with enjoying the show.

I'd never seen the movie before so I wasn't sure what to expect other than being told it was a musical about a musical. I found it very funny but maybe for the wrong reasons. On-stage spanking tipped me over the edge and don't even get me started about the lady being thrown over a donkey. If you fancy seeing the main reason why we all ended up in fits of suppressed and not so suppressed laughter though, fast forward to about 2:06 of this youtube clip...

There was something of a plot, though it tailed out towards the end and was replaced by tap dancing and jazz, which was probably more apt than a meaningful conclusion. It was light-hearted and a 'frolic' throughout though, a post-war happy-go-lucky number worth seeing, even if its not at a cinema. I guess that's what the festival was supposed to be about, getting out there and watching some examples of the films you maybe would not have chance to enjoy on the big screen any other time. So all in all it was a success and left us giggling all the way home like the big kids we are.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Leeds United: Bye bye League One, hello the Championship

Billy Bremner statue Elland Road As every life long Leeds United supporter knows, the team never manages to do anything the easy way - ever! So it was no shock to myself or any fans I know when it came down to the last 32 minutes of the last game of the season and we were 0-1 down with only 10 men knowing a win would see us promoted.

So where did it all begin, well that's a mammoth story that has been well documented elsewhere but to skip to the end - until the 8th May 2010, Billy Bremner's statue has been watching our fate in League One since relegation from the Championship back in 2007. This season (2009/10) was our 3rd in the 3rd tier of England's professional leagues. The first season begun with -15 points. That season ended in a play-off final only for us to lose to Doncaster 1-0 at Wembley. The 2nd season in League One ended up with another play-off fate and that was to lose 2-1 to Millwall at the semi final stage. This season there was more hope in the air around Leeds supporters compared to the previous two seasons. Even back in August in pre-season when Leeds brought an almost full strength side to play Glentoran at the Oval you could feel that with Simon Grayson, a Leeds supporter, at the helm, we knew we were in with a decent chance this time. Even though we knew, that as always in this league, every club would be upping their game when Leeds came to town because of the name and size of the club.

The season begun so well with an unbeaten run in the league lasting until late October. In that spell we even gave Liverpool a bit of a scare in the League Cup. This good run of form continued and coming into the new year we were sitting 8 points clear of Charlton at the top of the league and looking odds on for promotion.

Then came the big one and one of this seasons biggest highlights for any Leeds fan - an FA Cup Tie away to Manchester United. As I wrote at the time "it was a much appreciated visit to Cloud 9 for all concerned with Leeds United" as we came away with a historic 0-1 win The cup run came to an end after giving Spurs a scare but it was at this time that our form fell away, a loss to Exeter kick started a string of games where we only took 7 points from 24 and were overtaken by a great Norwich side. Sadly with 10 games to play after Millwall took 3 points at Elland Road, we were left without the services of arguably our star defender Patrick Kisnorbo as well as only 3 points from being caught by the very same side. Charlton, Swindon and Huddersfield were also all lining up behind us ready for any slip ups.

The slip up wasn't far away and with a late 1-0 away defeat to Norwich and a 0-3 home defeat to Swindon. Swindon and Charlton, Leeds now sat in 4th place and 2 points adrift of that remaining automatic promotion spot. This seemed to be the spur that the players needed though as they dusted themselves down to bring home 12 point from the next 5 games. This set up a chance of possible promotion when the team took to the field at the Valley. Though Millwall kept their end of the bargain, Leeds failed to beat Charlton, instead in what seemed like some repeat of the earlier away game at Norwich, we went down to a late own goal and the hopes transferred to the home tie against Bristol Rovers on the last day of the season.

Fast forward through a sending off, past their goal and me getting started on the Vodka which I knew I'd need one way or the other. I'm listening like many other Leeds fans to the radio commentary with my head in my hands, trying to console myself and not think the worse. Things seem to be going so far from plan that its beyond a joke. Then 36 minutes from time - Simon Grayson throws on the amazing Jonny Howson (who coincidently set up the goal which Jermaine Beckford scored for the win against Man United). Within 5 minutes he had played a major role in turning the game and the situation on its head. A sweet shot from the edge of the box neatly nestled past Anderson in front of the Revie Stand. A draw for 30 seconds or so was enough for promotion but then news came through of a Millwall goal. We had to win.

4 minutes flew by as Leeds turned up the pressure, playing like we weren't the team with the numerical advantage. Bradley Johnson had a great chance but blazed over and we thought it mightn't be our day yet again, but Johnson more than made up for the miss as he caught onto a loose clearance by the Bristol goalkeeper and took it into the box. His shot/cross was intercepted by a defender but the ball bounced to Beckford, who kicked the ball into the ground and under the goalie, into the net , Elland Road on the radio went wild, as did we on the sofa!

It was then a case of holding on and that they did even though my heart was in my mouth every time the commentary mentioned the ball going anywhere near our box. It didn't matter if it was offside or going out of play, just the mention had me biting my nails.

Then it came, the ref blew his whistle, I bounced around the room like an ejit, I think there was even the sight of a victory dance in there somewhere. I couldn't believe it, especially the way it had panned out. We were promoted and the curse we all thought was hanging over our heads had been lifted. No play off this year, guaranteed Championship football next season. I refused to take off my Leeds shirt to go to bed that night and wore it the next day too. I didn't care for smelly, my head was in a better place and life was good. I've removed the shirt (and ordered a new one for next season) but am still yet to come down from the happiness. Maybe the nerves as the World Cup will bring me back to Earth and I'll start to ponder over next season.

For now though, as the song goes - "we've had our ups and downs" - and for once, which makes a huge change, the emphasis on that line is at long last back on the 'ups' - music to my ears!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Northern Ireland's alternative general election summary.

Inspired by the funniest bit of media to grace the UK's May 6th, 2010 General Election, I thought I'd try to bring a bit of an alternative review of the political events we witnessed here in Northern Ireland over the last couple of days. So please join me for a few minutes and I'll try not to keep you hanging around as long as Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

If you haven't guessed already the bit of media I'm referring to was the immensely funny Channel 4's Alternative Election Night. A show that was hosted by David Mitchell, Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker and Lauren Laverne and made me laugh all 4 of my cheeks off even more than Conservatives complaining on Radio5 today. It wasn't meant to be funny on the radio but I just couldn't keep a straight face. I mean callers were lifting their handsets to their heads to moan that their party has to actually come down off its high horse and 'talk' with other parties. Parties that after all make up the other 63.9% (with one constituency still to be decided) of voters who didn't vote for them... or as the case might be outside of England, the 80.5% of the electorate who voted against a Tory government - and that's a stat including the other comedy gold that was the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists New Force (though not the Fermanagh and South Tyrone unionist candidate who said he would take the Tory whip). How long will the quick attempt to buy a tribal vote just in case of a hung parliament continue is a intriguing question. Is the UUP likely to get Conservative HQ 'junk' status? Or is it just likely there is to be a bit of re-branding? Perhaps "UCU New Force can be felt by Jedi Cameron as strong - trust in the force, party" or "Ulster Conservatives and Unionists Revenge of the Sixth"?

And it wasn't just the Galactic Tory Empire that was having trouble with the Rebel Alliance here in Northern Ireland when it came down to tribal politics. Our fair and benevolent First Minister Peter Robinson found his hand being lightsabered by the positive force. Naomi Long led the Alliance to arguably one of the most significant victories of the election here and one that shows that even tribal leaders aren't above the democratic process. A positive campaign and admittedly although as I'd be biased since I voted Alliance in my constituency, a great step forward in Northern Irish politics. I'm almost tempted to move to East Belfast!

As it is, I'm not alone in the optimism that this might be a turning point in Northern Irish politics. Akin to taking down the shield generators on Endor, in time, maybe the Alliance and the Ewoks, ermm sorry, Green party and other moderate candidates may be able to normalise politics here, letting us finally vote on issues that effect us all as a single community. We can but keep the dream alive.

Why a single community? Well, other than what I said in this Nick Roll post, I hate to break it to everyone on planet Earth but we are all human and part of a global community - our species' future will depend on everyone pulling together at some point - even if it is just to co-ordinate getting away from each other and flying to separate planets like in Dr Who with Starship UK the other week! So even if the naughty boys and girls (who make friends by choosing to sit in separate groups and only agree to play with each other nicely when someone holds the chance of more toys their way) would like to make us all think otherwise, that isn't our future. At least not a pleasant future anyway. I think the Channel 4 Alternative Election Night got it spot on in bringing it all into perspective when they had the charismatic and worldly wise Dr Brian Cox giving the top 5 things we SHOULD be worried about. From Super Volcanoes to Supernovas, which would pretty much kill all of us, number one was mankind's own stupidity.

Which leads me nicely on to another MP elected - Sammy Wilson. His re-election by the votes of the happy go lucky residents of East Antrim may worry anyone interested in the growth of science, technology, niche green markets in renewable power and manufacturing throughout the UK - after all, his vote in Parliament is unlikely to be for green economic change - at least going by the environmental views he's held in the past - but wait! Maybe I'm not giving the credit to the DUP voters in East Antrim they deserve... after all, sending him to London to once again be 1 voice amongst 649 others (where we would hope some common sense on major issues might shine through anyway), we're also getting a free gift! I personally believe it to be one of the best results of the election - now he's re-elected, he's stepping down from his his ministerial position and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Good times!

In North Down we saw popular opinion shine through for Sylvia Hermon who left everyone in her dust and I thought she came across very well on TV. The interview made it seem like she might be in a game of Deal or no deal. If it came to it Banker Cameron or Banker Brown could be calling to test the waters but the good news is she sounded like she'd hold on for bigger money. Sure, if it was needed for any party to join some tangled coalition or informal support, maybe they'd all get to take turns at opening the boxes until it was their turn to play? I reckon we could hold out for £299 million if Plaid Cymru are holding out for £300 million. All we need to make this work is Noel Edmonds on board. Sadly it'll all probably collapse before going to air due to the banker getting a bit greedy selling all the audience seats to people who can't afford them. In the short term maybe getting all the Blues out of the way first is a good idea and we'll leave the Reds for later!

The most hotly contested seat of this general election in the whole of the UK though has to be Fermanagh and South Tyrone. It wasn't the eventual winner that made it exciting but the number of votes involved. In the end Michelle Gildernew took the seat by a margin of 4 votes, yep, wouldn't you be gutted if you were a Rodney Connor supporter and didn't bother to vote or missed the cut off time? Who knew there was actually a place where every extreme vote counted!? After being bored to sleep by the slow results trickling through at around 2.30am we missed this one being called live or the recounts with the final result being declared at 20300 to 20304 after the 3rd recount! Not only that but now it seems even this result is being disputed. Here is the full story of the Fermanagh and South Tyrone count on the BBC site. I feel sorry for anyone counting there, just imagine you've been up all night and get asked to do a 3rd count! All the while, probably being glared at by the two candidates/supporters from opposite sides of the 'traditional' divide. I suspect it would feel like making a funny sound by accident and then making it again to make it sound like you meant to make the sound and then realising they might not have heard the first time and thus have to do it again all the while wondering if they heard all 3 and think you need help.

The rest of the DUP, Sinn Fein and SDLP candidates who gained the public's vote seemed to be elected without much of a shock with no other seats changing hands and not too many delays. With counting happening overnight it also proved to the rest of the UK and Ireland that we've either found a new use for the night staff at a 24 hour Tesco, or, as is more likely, we have joined the rest of the world in planning accordingly for a special occasion. Get us and our in time election declarations, still a wee way to go before rivalling Sunderland.

And that was that for now. We could probably all end up doing it all again before too long depending how all the negotiations go. So next time I want to see TV executives asking the party leaders to compete in Krypton Factor as well as live debates. The good news is that no matter what, most of us who live from pay check to pay check are still likely to be worse off in the near future but luckily the financial system and billionaires will be very grateful. I'm rather dubious at the moment as to how things will pan out, I doubt it'll be as bad as the election scare tactics made out but you never know. Like the public in Greece found, you never know if we hear everything - like those big numbers that have gone walkies. I presume, like IKEA flat packs, where these days they usually give you one extra screw that you weren't expecting, I'm still waiting for one to show up both in the package here and over the water. I'm just hoping this half decent start to a hung parliament does end up providing some real and long lasting changes, both in a shift to normalised politics for Northern Ireland and general electoral reform in the whole of the UK. With nothing more to say on the subject for now I'll sign off today with a video recently posted by Stephen Fry. So just in case it goes mammaries up with electoral reform this time out, here is that light hearted yet serious video starring John Cleese on the subject of Proportional Representation and why we need it:

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Another Marathon event in Belfast

Belfast Marathon May 2010Most people here in Northern Ireland have a bank holiday on the first Monday in May, something like May Day bank holiday I think they call it. Its also the day of the Belfast Marathon. I say 'they' because I don't get many public holidays off work (though in fairness I could take it as annual leave). Instead the day has developed its own tradition for me. Over the last few years it has become Simon's 'having to work out a way to cross a Marathon to get to work day'. Some would say its a long running event. This year was thankfully an easy cut across a street with a few seconds gap between runners. Other years it has been a 200m run with a street packed with runners and having to edge sideways slowly and jump out the other side looking stupid with my coat and work clothes on.

View of Cave Hill Belfast May 3rd 2010There are perks to having the buses being detoured and having to pick an opportune time to run in or through a Marathon though. These are that the roads are quiet and the weather always seems to be good and apart from the runners everything else seems more relaxed (on the streets of Belfast at least).

So on my way to work it usually gives me a little time for views like this of Belfast's Cave Hill. Not sure about anyone else but I find it enough to make me smile on any morning. That combined with the likes of football to listen to that goes on during the day elsewhere makes these days speed by.

Well done to all those who took part in the Marathon yesterday, see you all the same time next year :)

Saturday, 1 May 2010

2010 Election: Capitalism, UK politics shadowing America and an idea.

Aprils Election Storm CloudsIts less than a week now until the election and I'm depressing myself more and more investigating, researching and learning about the actual ins and outs of the financial world. For someone who thinks Capitalism has given too much freedom to large and multinational business which is just encouraging something of an Imperial dominion over the world, I find it hard to stomach listening to the ongoing debates which all seem to take for granted the long term and only seem to consider the short term.

This post is all just my view and maybe I'm being a little idealogical, but one thing that does seem to be emerging already is that the UK's Parliamentary elections are becoming more like the USA's presidential elections.

In my opinion the current situation is that the Labour Party is suffering from disenchantment since they've almost become a sub set of the conservative attitude, almost meeting them in the middle though still keeping a little more sense. The Lib Dems have taken great strides with the greater access to publicity, especially amongst the young who are starting to feel the inequality in the country for themselves as they enter further education and the work place. The Conservatives seem to have met labour in the middle from the other side of the fence and are saying whatever they think they have to to try and get elected.

It seems though, all three major parties have convinced a lot of people that the answer to the way out of economic problems caused by the financial world and wealthy people screwing us (by passing us on their debts instead of absorbing the shock themselves) is by giving the same people more freedom and opportunity for bigger profits... short term it is the only solution to prop up markets but surely aren't we setting the country up for a bigger fall? Where are the pledges to the long term overhaul to a fairer society? Where are the plans to limit the extraction of money or the slice of the pie able to be retained for those creating the value and therefore profitability of the country for us to be able to better our society and unlock potential in our children?

The lack of answers to those questions aside and this fall into a some bizarre US type blind faith that the leaders of major corporations will look after their workforce, the main reasons that I feel the UK's politics are becoming Americanised begin with the leaders of the key 3 parties in the UK taking part in live televised debates and how this is changing make-up of public opinion (should the press be trusted).

With the TV debates, a lot is down to the personalities, the two opinions that are gaining ground in the system here are starting slowly to align to the same political divisions in the US. The Lib Dems seem to be positioning to become the UK equivalent of the Democratic Party and the Conservatives matching up to that of the Republican. Labour seems to be being squeezed both ways with the class divisions in society more and more becoming income divisions due to the breakdown of the traditional British community led by Maggie Thatchers reign.

This is neither good or bad as times change so will the political landscape to meet new challenges. However the problem seems to be that the focus has well and truly started to ebb away from the local candidate (who could well be a moron or brilliant) and is probably going to be much more influenced by the personality of the leader. To me this is bad news. What I would consider the downside to politics in the US, that of celebrity culture and hype, is playing an ever increasing role compared to more in depth debate on issues and policies at a local level about what may be best for the long term prosperity of the individual, the locality, the nation and the world. The culture seems to be led by media profiteering and politics is becoming more and more a product with parties/candidates becoming brands, with TV debates selling tag lines and sound bytes, with tabloid newspapers alligning with a candidate and selling a bias view of all events to people who need education to help choose wisely not spin from someone hoping to make money from them.

With the corporate world pretty much leading society where it wants and unelected people largely focused on self gain having such a sway in the eventual laws we are governed by and public spending,  it is slightly worrying. However to be fair, since the same 'independent' advisor's, religious leaders and commercial groups with vested interests have always had a large influence over what actually happens when the country is governed its not like much is changing, only a different face to an old problem.

Being slightly cynical; at least the - 'its who you know not what you know' system will be equalled by something equally as silly. Making a mess of a debate on TV or saying something on a microphone will be blown out of all proportion ahead of policies and could end your brands chances. Combine that with the spin that tabloid newspapers spew out and even with these aspects alone it all becomes quite a farce. A farce of trying to convince a mass of people who probably don't really have a great picture in their minds of the national situation let alone the international scene that policies you have will benefit them even if it screws someone else over. On the plus side its at least making politics a more entertaining spectator sport even if our lives get turned upside down and we're paying more for less to help someone else keep huge figures in their bank statements and investment portfolios.

What an odd political time we live in. The local issues in Northern Ireland are even more perplexing and disheartening due to the further divisions and tribal politics overriding any other issue.

As for me, I've been trying to think of a way I can get along in this society in the long wait for caps on wealth that whilst not adhering to the whims of the rich or reinforcing the injustice faced by the poor. A way to help society with retaining the benefit from its own hard work and not just benefit the greedy and ruthless, the already privileged or lucky. A way that might  empower every individual to unlock their potential within the system that has evolved to how it is today.

Short of the government doing much about it - which in Northern Ireland is like hoping for a piece of an asteroid to deflect the ball into the net at a football game - and in Great Britian with the Lib Dems or Greens unlikely to get into power other than as part of a co-collision government in a hung parliament (those being the parties who I believe have the policies that would at least start a bit of positive change - so come on a score draw on the 6th May and a hung parliament!) things aren't likely going to be much different tomorrow than they were today.

I'm starting to seriously consider doing something I've long thought about as a way to personally go about it... starting a Social Enterprise. If I think of a good idea, and manage to afford some time and money besides trying to eventually find an over priced run down shell of a house to call a family home and to pay the bills and for the odd luxury to keep us sane, then I'm going to be right on it :)

Any ideas?


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