Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Hopefully it will be! Happy New Year everyone, hold on tight and keep your arms and legs inside the 2012 ride at all times. Scream if you wanna go faster and be sure to pose for the photograph when you're pulling a negative 4Gs.

Sweep in N.Ireland

Have a good one!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Checkpoint 2011

After leaving my camera at my mother-in-law's flat after our Christmas visit and therefore being short of my recent photos, it seems a good time to have a look back over the year from the start of 2011 when I made a 2011 list. It was a sort of loosely tied list of hopes for the year. So with the amazing powers of hindsight, I'm going to have a look back to see how it went.

Photo into the Water Tower

General :
- Live a little more whilst we're still young and relatively free'n'easy:
If affordable, try to make it on at least 2 foreign holidays and take in new places.

Within our means I think this was a success, we made it on one foreign holiday (to Mallorca for a week) as we were saving to head to the US (which is now going to be this year - a matter of weeks away!) but it was a new place for me :) We had our mini adventures to Dublin, London, Cardiff and Yorkshire and saw plenty of new places.
De-stress a little more often and don't let work stress carry home when at all possible.
To be honest I failed at this, and I did try my best but when even folks at work who have been in the industry 30 years or more are telling you it was a mad year, what can you do? With the goalposts moving all the time like they did, just thinking about June to October still makes my blood pressure rise :(
Book more wee things we like to do like comedy gigs, cinema trips, Belfast Giants games and the likes.
A total success on this one. There were some months when week after week we were out and about, not always spending money mind (couldn't really afford to), a lot was spending time with our friends and family such as at the film festival nights. Not to mention the sports stuff, volunteering, trips and the odd comedy gig, heritage day etc. Hopefully more of the same in this regards for next year.

- Remember to back up my hard drive more often.
- Invest in some new shoes.
Check... and comfy they are too!
- Sign up to a gym that is open during hours that are good for me to make use of it.
We did indeed and for the most part of the year we even went, that slipped over Christmas but hopefully back again soon
- Look into the possibilities of moving house again.
We looked into it and decided not to yet, maybe 2012?
- Use what I have before buying more and stop hoarding junk + sort through my mass of t-shirts and get rid of a few to make room for some trousers.
Ah... that would be what is now known as clothes mountain, yeahhhhhhh, about that...
- Keep an eye out for a Career change to something I'd enjoy more that is more suited to my studies.
If only! Still keeping an eye out, one day I'll probably just get annoyed enough to spam the world with my CV.

Blog related :
- Take more photos (I really enjoy photography).

So far so good... maybe I'll take more next year if I don't leave my camera at other peoples houses.
- Spend less time on things like blog promotion and put that time to writing posts.
Though there were a couple of lean months for my blog posts, including this month, I've posted the most I ever have, so I think that one goes down as a C+ 'Meets but with plenty of room for improvement'.
- Spend more time commenting on the blogs I really enjoy reading.
I did try at certain points of the year but like the blogging, the plan was swept away by reality, I'd give myself a 'D' - 'needs improvement'
- Clear out Troll blogs I've been hooked on from my reader (Note to self: I'm human - not a fish - don't get hooked into wasting time debating with ill-intentioned people who don't deserve the attention - especially in relation to those with religious or political ideals I find questionable who like to stir controversy - Northern Irish politicians being the exception since they have a real life influence over our lives)
I think I managed this one, and much better I felt for it too :) Highly recommended!
- Make a new title banner.
Did I make my current one this year? I can't remember but I probably did, not that it really matters.
- Finally write a post about our wedding and honeymoon.
Sadly not, my writing pad from that time still hasn't shown up, it'll probably fall out of the woodwork the next time we move house. Nay worry, I'll keep it on the back-burner as a day off/rainy day post for the future.

So it appears I didn't get everything done and not everything went to plan but then when does it? It was a busier year at work than expected and to be totally honest, we didn't really find the opportunities to live 2011 as awesomely as we'd hoped but it was still an action packed year in which we learnt a lot as well as did a lot even if it was more a case of preparation for the future. The other stuff could obviously wait anyway, luckily there is still time to cover the rest since contrary to the beliefs of the odd religious nutter-butter, the world didn't end.

Like 2010, which was packed to the point of new experience that posts flowed into 2011, we're hopefully setting ourselves up for bumper year in 2012. Just sticking with 2011 though: The thing that made 2011 most memorable, besides all the crazy events in the wider world, were as always, the unexpected moments. The little moments that get lost in time and don't get noted online, but those moments where if someone who was there reminds you about it in the future, it will spark a memory and bring a smile to your face or a shudder down the old spine.

Most importantly looking forwards, apart from Kelly the Cat, 2011 was a year of no fatalities of our nearest and dearest and long may that continue! Hopefully, given the things we already have planned, no matter what the economic outlook or political stupidity that goes on around us, there will be lots of great moments to discover in 2012.

So let me raise this post in a blog toast to 2011 and all who sailed on the crazy ship Earth during the year gone by. To 2011, so long!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Mad two weeks. Almost at it's crazy conclusion. Have a good one!

Btw here is a high level view of our festive train wreck :)

Just a reminder, here was the before:

Christmas Tree Train

Friday, 9 December 2011

Rolling Along into Christmas

It's all been getting rather Christmassy recently, both at home and in Belfast City Centre. During the first of two visits from my family we took in a fair bit of the city's festivities. My sister's boyfriend had never been to Ireland, let alone Northern Ireland before and so it was our duty to show them how awesome the place is. And Belfast didn't disappoint. The Belfast City Hall Christmas Continental Market was one of our many stops during our meanderings as we gave them a 'residents view' tour.

Belfast City Hall Continental Market

More on that visit later when I get chance, including our multi-weather coach tour along the North Coast - I'll at least post the windswept photos before too long.

After our guests had headed on home again, we looked at the calendar and unable to see another time that would suit putting up the Christmas decorations, we chose... ASAP.

And up they went. The tree and the rest of the festive themed shiny items are out and about the house. Including this Tiffany Glass Christmas Tree Decoration from our 1st Wedding Anniversary New York trip last year.

Tiffany & Co Glass Snowman Christmas Tree Decoration

We've been saving like mad for our next US trip in early 2012 and this Christmas Decoration is a nice memory that we'll always link back to our wedding and first year of marriage. We're old hats now though, plenty into the 2nd year and counting so it came as little surprise when I was placed on the naughty list by Norngirl via Portable North Pole this website along with Elf Yourself are now a common place email lolage along the advent calendar journey to the big day. Talking of advent calendars, someone should tell Sesame Street to do a Christmas Special on advent calendar numbering, my advent calendar this year had me checking the back to see if I'd missed a box, turned out to just be my eyes and some chameleon like text/background.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we also bought a toy train, just a cheap and cheerful £5.99 battery powered plastic thing. We'll hopefully be painting and decorating it in due course but for now this is how it looks sat under our tree.

Christmas Tree Train

If only I could be as "calm and organised" (to quote Matthew Corbett in the Sooty Show) in my Christmas Shopping. Hardly scratched the surface of that job. On the plus side we did manage a bit of charity work manning the Giving Tree for a couple of hours. A worthy cause if you are in Belfast, like shopping and can spare a bit of money, just head along to the top floor of M&S (up until the 10th December) and pick up a tag and buy a present then drop it back. Sadly the UK and Ireland is still unable to look after it's most needy, even at Christmas time. Until the politics and economic idiocy of this country and others is rectified, if you can spare some money to give a present, it really could be the spark that helps a child through a hard time and set them on the way to better things.

So with all that in mind, a busy few weeks ahead. More soon.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

My View and the Belfast Public Sector Strike Rally.

This post is just my own opinion, the people featured in my photos in this post may not share that opinion but are included to try and illustrate the public sector strike rally and the feeling on the street that day.

So here goes: If we ever want a fair society that is worthy of our species' potential, then it's about time that our so called 'democracy' started listening to those trying to keep it functioning at its fundamental level. For far too long there seems to have been a disconnect between many of those with the biggest decision making powers (politically and financially) and anyone who isn't profiting from playing the system (the regular honest citizen left to pick up the pieces).

If You're Not Outraged You're Not Paying Attention

I can't be 100% sure but I'd say this guy might agree a little. Let's face it, his sign has a profound point to make, for really, in how we all got here, I don't understand how anyone (who didn't get into debt, worked hard and is now getting a slap in the face) couldn't be outraged. So many people really do turn a blind eye to the bigger picture let alone on a smaller scale and for a democracy to work well, I can't imagine that being a good thing.

So anyway, as I work in the private sector, I was at work on the 30th November 2011 - the day of the public sector strikes - but I can happily say that didn't stop me attending the public sector trade union strike rally outside Belfast City Hall during my lunch break. The main issue on the day - the issue that forced the strike in the first place (besides the government not willing to negotiate properly with union leaders which didn't help) - was public sector pension cuts. However, in the big picture, the overwhelming problem, at least seen through my eyes, is that the placement of the Con-Lib cuts have totally missed the root cause of the financial mess we've been led into. The cause of financial mismanagement, speculation and outright gambling was not entirely just down to the Tory's blinkered stance over the years, Labour were just as bad in this regard - the problem is systemic. What is unforgivable (now that we know) right now is the seemingly opportunistic methodology in addressing the debts currently being played out by this Conservative led coalition... methodology that smells of the very same conservative ideology that landed us all in this mess in the first place.

I mean just look at what we've had in the last month or so?

- Winding up the Trade Unions to provoke a reaction in order to try and make up reasons to legally curb their influence in the future.
- More plans to just cut, rather than 'reform' (a term used very loosely in this government), the public sector.
- Even further passing of the buck (aka debt) from private to public hands. For instance: Instead of chasing the tax evaders, plans are to cut 12,000 HM Revenues and Customs staff (how stupid is that?). It's now also expected that there will be 500,000 public sector cuts over the course of the next 5 years, up 100,000 from the last guestimate. That is half a million jobs yet we've an ever rising population to provide services to. Yet, the staff still working will have their benefits and incentives cut too. I'd love them to ask CEOs the following question: "if the public sector was a private company, what would you expect such changes to do to morale, motivation and productivity?". It doesn't take a genius to work out what the answer would be. That would be bad even if the public sectors' main role was providing luxuries - maybe making toys or selling coffee for example - but unfortunately, the service involved here is the smooth functioning of the country and the well being of it's people. But who needs that? Oh wait.

If the idea is to privatise as much as possible and divert the responsibility of necessary services (that no profit driven company would touch with a barge pole) to the voluntary sector under the political umbrella branding of 'The Big Society', then I worry what the UK will grow to represent and what unspoken divides will grow from the resulting widening of financial inequality such changes would leave in it's wake.

Thankfully, not everyone is willing to let the buck be passed so easily. Here are some of the scenes from the rally last week:

This is actually how the day began for me; with a dawn walk into town to head to work.

Sun Rise over the River Lagan

After an early start to work up the extra to take a long lunch, I made use of it and headed out into town to join Norngirl at the rally and the crowds began to gather.

Crowd gathers at Belfast City Hall

Union members from trade unions such as NIPSA, were out in force.

NIPSA Union members at Belfast Strike Rally

But like myself, it wasn't just members of the unions that were attending the rally. So were friends, families and anyone with common sense and the flexibility to do so. I think this child's sign sums up the whole point of the rally and quite succinctly encompasses the bigger issues at play. His sign reading 'STOP STEALING OUR FUTURE'.

Stop Stealing Our Future

The crowds made their way to gather outside Belfast City Hall where the rally took place and some speeches were given.

Trade Union members at Belfast rally

Belfast Rally Strike action

Public Sector Strike Rally at Belfast City Hall

And more common sense was sung in a few lines by Tommy Sands compared to the press releases of the current con-lib coalition so far, when he sang the line “There's a way, there's a better way — tax a billionaire”.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

What a Mad Couple of Months

Manchester at Dusk Like all the busy times (OK, and lazy times too) when I fail to write here regularly, I feel compelled to apologise for not sharing more with the world. But that's crazy, right? It's like going down the pub and apologising to random strangers for not being down there the day before sharing with them the story of how your day went. So as it is, this time I'll just slide past all that and onto another topic.

Which leads me to ask the question - Do I share too much online? - My thrush cream says I don't. The fungal infection on my back said I did... but the cream won the battle! I'm now 'period of low immune system fungal free', good times! and now you know.

That's just the last week or so, before the application of feminine orientated pharmaceuticals to my torso, there was already plenty going on. Here is a quick summary of what Norngirl and I have been up to besides having too much to eat...

Food Platter

And too much to drink...

Shadow in my beer

Back on the 23rd October we headed along to the Waterfront Studio to see Tony Hawks - the Author and Comedian. It was a fun night, the crowd wasn't huge but most of the audience was up for a laugh and that we did. Obviously with Tony Hawks it's going to be a little more gentle than a Jimmy Carr or Dara Ó Briain or an all out stand up of that nature. Tony tells a few jokes through stories, much like his books, and adds in some silly stuff and music for good measure. It was a fun night and well worth the entrance fee.

Talking of Jimmy Carr, a couple of weeks later we also went to see him perform his 'Laughter Therapy' at the Waterfront Hall. Prior to it we had the most deliciously affordable meal at The Northern Whig. I'd never been there for anything other than drinks, so I wasn't expecting anything amazing and the portions aren't huge but dude was it yummy. I usually hate batter on a fish but it was delicious, as were the potatoes and buttery saffron sauce that came with it. After Made In Belfast started putting their prices up, I was missing an amazingly yummy meal at a cheap enough price for me to afford it, and it turns out, it was hiding in the Northern Whig. We since went back on the day we substituted for our wedding anniversary, more on that later, and it was just as yummy the 2nd time with different meals on their 2 for 10 offer. So anyway, yes, Jimmy Carr. he talked about brownies too but his variety were scouts without nuts. As always, Jimmy Carr was excellent, crude and rude but politely so and brilliantly funny. Some of the audience interaction parts were a little bit of a let down but that was due to the audience not having any stand out characters. The picture part was the best yet, so wrong but yet hilarious. As Jimmy mentioned in the show, its about laughing before your conscious catches up to question it. As always, I can't wait until he's back to do another show.

The football has been keeping us busy too in more ways than one but it'll all be worth it in the end. C'mon Crues! Wooo! From watching games, to fundraising and from attending a testimonial dinner to playing 5-a-side in a charity competition at work, that game of kicking a bag of wind about sure has kept me busy.

In the last few weeks we also headed away for a few days, a trip to Rochdale for a wedding of one of Norngirl's relatives at Rochdale Town Hall.

Wedding White Rose

The wedding was nice and the Greek night we went to was great fun, great food too and plenty of dancing and plate smashing. If you're looking for a good place for a party in Littleborough in the outskirts of Rochdale, you probably couldn't go too far wrong at Demetris that's for sure.

I wasn't very impressed by Rochdale though, the town hall was lovely but there is not a great deal to see in the town to be honest.

Rochdale Town Hall

In the short time we were there it reminded me of Bradford but even more in need of regeneration. In the end on Saturday when we had some down time from the festivities, we went to see what the Trafford Centre was all about. I didn't really think it had much choice compared to the likes of Meadowhall, and with no Greggs, I was highly disapointed. Manchester was looking all cosmopolitan in the evening light though (see photo at the start of this post), a nice city to visit.

I mentioned before about our anniversary - it just so happened that 2 days before our actual anniversary we were both off work anyway, so we decided to celebrate early. As well as the meal at The Northern Whig, we headed along to Belfast Zoo. I know, maybe not a regular first choice for a romantic occasion but one I would recommend never the less. Though maybe not ideally on a cold November day if you can help it. We had a picnic with us and ate it by the lake before wandering around the animal enclosures.

The Cavehill from Belfast Zoo

Inside the reptile house was either a very lucky lost Peacock or, as I'd like to imagine, an evolutionary advanced Peacock with a heightened sense of common sense.

Indoor Peacock

The Peacocks wander the grounds freely but not usually indoors. I like to think he must have snook in to enjoy the warmth. I think he did as he wasn't going to move from his warm spot by the heated tanks, he was guarding his sauna space whilst being watched by the other residents like this Chameleon.

Chameleon Close up

Around the zoo, the Elephants, Giraffes and Zebra were out and about, as were the awesome Lions but most of the apes and bears were tucked up in the warmth of their burrows and heated rooms.


Sadly, the Malaysian Sunbears, the very animals that my blogger screen name is in homage to, were amongst those out of sight. I don't blame them mind you. The only animal at the top of the zoo brave enough to be out and about in the cold and with all the noise of the construction work (they're rebuilding the zoo's coffee shop at the top of the hill) was a lone hog that was frolicking in it's private mud-bath.

There were plenty of highlights in our 2nd wedding anniversary winter Belfast Zoo trip:

- Seeing a sleepy bat go to the toilet whilst hanging from a branch - which answered a great unanswered question! The trick is it wakes up enough to hang by it's 'hands' the right way around and then like a gymnast swings back into position once it's fertilised the floor below. Gravity 0 - 1 Bat.

Hanging Bat

- A giant Rabbit that made other species of rabbit look like mice in comparison.

- Elephant feeding time, turns out we might not have been the first species to find it fun to throw our food into the air and catch it in our mouths.

- Lions - RAWRRRRRRR. For a few minutes the Lionesses were just playing like my dads kittens, was hard to believe they could eat your hand off. Then the lady came to feed them and it was a quick reminder to resist the urge to take one home. Kittehs are powerful!

- Things that swim - specifically the Sea-lions and Smooth-coated otters. The Sea-lions are always a great sight, looking at them sitting still, I'd think they'd be slow and clumsy but they have more grace and agility then anyone human I know. The way they can turn and speed through the water and then leap like a penguin to clear a good few feet of rock and land perfectly, the Simpson's had the Dolphins take over but I reckon in reality it'd be the Sea-lion that took to land, it's always those you least expect and I reckon they're cleverer than they look.

Sea Lion in the water

Has anyone ever seen the Smooth-coated Otters out and about before? I hadn't until this time, I just assumed they were shy and retiring types, but nope, this time they were up close and personal.

Smooth-coated Otter

They'd been playing in the water as we approached them but then a group of birds came close to the end of their fence behind some bushes. The Otters sprang into action as if they were Meerkats, like this actual Meerkat...

Meerkat on the lookout

They were overly curious about the white feathery bird things lurking behind the fence, I'm not sure if they were on alert or just thought dinner was approaching but they were largely oblivious to two humans stood literally a couple of feet from where they had come to nosey from. Obviously we're just not a priority or deemed as food or scary to a captive Otter. Amazing creatures though, their tails and coats are something else, so sleek and shiny. Norngirl learnt a neat trick too. If an Otter is on the look out and if you raise your hand up in the air like you're doing a Mexican wave, they're distracted by it for a moment until they realise you're just a stupid human and will sit upright on their tails in a true Meerkat like pose.

Smooth-coated Otter Meerkat Impression

- There were also some fun birds who seemed as inquisitive about us as we were of them. Maybe they're plotting their take over of the world with the Sea Lions.

Curious Bird

So that was our Wedding Anniversary Belfast Zoo trip. In more recent days, we had a hectic week of preparation and local football fund-raising and since then we've been trying to prepare for Christmas.

We just had a great weekend - well, apart from the very sad news about Gary Speed – my favourite Leeds United player when I was a kid, but on the Saturday before all that happened we really had a great time at the Odyssey Arena where the Belfast Giants took on Braehead Clan (from Glasgow). It was a game packed with highlights and a nail-biting finish which saw the Giants take a penalty, ride it out then out of the penalty box flew Jon Pelle, a long cross ice pass set him on his way and he slammed the puck into the net to tie the game up at 4-4 with about 5 minutes to go, two late goals sealed a win.

If you weren't at the game on Saturday night, courtesy of UTV, this is what you missed... well this and the great company, a good atmosphere and some beer - hockey rocks!

December is looking like another mad month, this time though scattered with visits from family, Christmas parties, some more football, preparing some more for Santa and getting the house decorated, but it'll be worth it in the end. Although I'm not a fan of the whole 5 month build up to the day, I really do like Christmas. I even bought a battery powered £5.99 plastic toy train to put around the base of our tree. Hopefully, if we have enough time and I can find some model paint, it shall become a small project to Christmas it up and I'll be sure to share it with you. Maybe even a video :)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The MTV Europe Music Awards

The MTV EMAs are to be held in Belfast tonight. I'm a little torn about how much to care about it:

On the positive side:

- A major PR/marketing Boost for the city and its image.
- An estimated £10 million boost to the local economy.
- Some happy fans of highly manufactured pop music.

On the negative side:

- Some disruption for Belfast City centre.
- The principle that Belfast is endorsing what is essentially a glorified marketing/PR exercise for a major industry.

I mean, hosting the EMAs is a postive for Belfast but on the other hand, I'm not a fan of MTV and looking at a lot of the acts chosen by those MTV fans just indicates to me that they need their heads tested. So I couldn't care less of which act wins what but I will be watching anyway. Watching to see what the world is being shown of Belfast and in a guilt free schadenfreudesque way, watching to see which act makes the biggest mess up or proves that they have no idea where they are.

Sure, it's all rather egotistical and very financially motivated but it is about to happen and it should be quite the spectacle. So all considered, I'm sitting on the fence on this one.

I do hope it goes well for everyone heading along and that everyone has a good time and Belfast gets as much out of it as it can. Belfast will hopefully be the winner.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween

I do love a good Halloween party.

Happy Halloween banner

From what I've been reading (and sorry for the lack of references, I can't remember where I read half of this); for thousands of years, this time of year has had great significance. In the ancient British Isles the Celtic festival was called Samhain and spanned for days surrounding this changing of the seasons. This festival is thought to be a major part of the beginnings of Halloween. Back then it was seemingly the time of the year when winter and summer, warm and cold, light and dark, plenty and little, hopes and fears, all collided with what must have been a hard existence. Livestock not expected to last the winter were slaughtered and going by most sources it is believed to be a time steeped with the understanding that death was a real possibility in the months to come, hence it seems that this particular festival took on the air of death and with it, lots of the spiritual connotations of a pagan culture.

Skull Cup and Candles

Moving forward in time; belief systems, culture and technology all moved on and due to being a human construct, the festival moved on too. First was the assimilation of this festival into similar Roman festivals, one of which was a celebration honouring the dead. Next came the spread of Christianity, and, as with most other festivals with pagan roots, a holy assimilation by some Pope or other. After it's placing on the substitutes bench by the Catholic Church, the celebration became known as All Hallows Eve - the night before the newly created All Saints Day.

Mouse or Rat?

Several centuries down the line and the festival gets caught up in another belief system dilemma, again wrapped up in politics and power, this time a good old Christian in-fight over which way to worship the ye'olde spaghetti monster in the sky. With a bit of dissent between State and Church came an alternative to All Saints day - a lack of it, however it didn't take long for the traditions of Hallows Eve and it's Celtic and Roman roots to be adopted into another day of remembrance. As the Catholic population had adopted many of the ancient traditions and symbolism centuries before, the Protestant community, albeit with yet another twist took on many of those age old traditions. The Gun Powder Plot of the 5th November 1605 eventually became celebrated as Guy Fawkes night or Bonfire night.

Freaky mask lamp

But as religion had superseded the dominance of survival as the focus of these festivals, so it seems in the past century that the focus has once again been tied to the dominant social driver of its time. This time - economics. Even with this new tie and a re-branding across the water in the USA, it does appear that many of the traditions accumulated through it's existence have stuck and are still moving along with popular culture and societies values, even if that is just an excuse to dress up, have a good time and celebrate all things supernatural and spooky.

Halloween Cobweb

In an increasingly secular and technologically advanced world, the thoughts, fears and the motivation we each have to continue the tradition of an ancient festival may have changed but it still continues, even if the very first origins of this are lost in time. As it did likely begin – through peoples thoughts and ideas – so it is that everyone who celebrates it each year has the ability to retain and adapt it's traditions and create new ones.

Last year we decorated the house for the first time and this year we did it again (The photos running through the post so far are all decorations we have up in our living room this year).

This year we also had a small party for our friends in our house, it wasn't technically on the night of Halloween itself but the night before as it was the time we could all gather. Take away food, party snacks and inflatable spiders were the order of the day.

That is handy because, on this, the night of Halloween, I can show you what we got up to.

This is a rare photo of me, probably not looking my undead best but somewhere along the lines of a 1970s vampire rock artist or something up that street.

Rocking Vampire

Norngirl dressed up as a witch and we were soon visited by an Alien. Our extraterrestrial was shortly followed by the Green Lantern, soon followed by another witch.

Alien Halloween


And bobbing for apples was on the menu as was waving some sparklers around in the garden.

Bobbing for apples

As well as the take away we ended the night watching The Japanese version of the Ring and Alien.

Alien Rocker

It was a really fun night!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Visiting the Lyric Theatre to Watch 'The Painkiller'

The Painkiller at the Lyric Theatre in Stranmillis, Belfast, was the setting for our date night last Tuesday night. It would be very fair to say that we're not regular members of the audience at plays. This was not only my first time at the Lyric Theatre but also the first play I'd seen live since I was in high school. When we usually visit a theatre it has always been either to look around, watch a musical or a laugh along at a pantomime, so on this occasion we were venturing a little out of our all singing, all dancing bubble and into a new world of stage plays.

Painkiller Car

In all honesty, it is also true that the cast list of Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon was the sole thing that sold it to us, and Norngirl in-particular was insistent we give it a go. I'm not overly enamoured about the 'OMG' celebrity culture of our society but when those celebrities are well known for being excellent at their craft then it's well earned and I was happy to go along. So after work we met up in town and got the 8A to Stranmillis.

Before heading to the venue we had an early bird meal at a restraunt on the Stranmillis Road. The food was lovely but sadly the place lacked a lot in the hospitality department and we won't be going back there again for a while.

After a rain soaked walk we reached the bright lights of the Lyric Theatre and headed to the bar for a drink, a small glass of wine was £3.80 which although expensive in real terms wasn't the most expensive as far as theatres go. The view from the bar was pretty cool, overlooking the River Lagan at the Stranmillis Embankment.

Before long the buzzer sounded and this prompted the hurry to the toilets. Finding them took a few looks around, one guy almost gave up after finding the ladies and the disabled but not the mens,  maybe a bigger sign needed there. When you do find them, they're pretty cool and very modern, one of those bathrooms where everything is sensor activated.

Comfort stop completed, we climbed the stairs to locate our seats. Entering the theatre was a little confusing at first as usually (in bigger theatres we've been to at least) you have a door number to enter by, here we didn't, so we just aimed for the top and asked the lady who pointed us to our seats. The room was impressive, it was like a mini Waterfront hall but finished in dark wood and carpet. It was all very modern, the stage in front of us was big, bright and open. I honestly don't think there could have been a bad seat in the house. The set was pristinely laid out to look like adjoining hotel rooms.

After a short wait and with everyone settled, the play started. Although The Painkiller's run at the Lyric is at an end, I'll not go into too much detail in case it's brought back. Saying that - POTENTIAL SPOLIER ALERT! - click away now if you want to know not of what we saw that night...

The main two characters were, as you'd expect, played by Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh. Rob Byrdon's character was a man on the edge, his name is Brian, a photographer whose wife has left him for another man and who wants to end it all. Kenneth Branagh played a hitman who goes by the alias 'John Smith', a man who checked in to the hotel to do his day job from the hotel window. As dark as it might sound, it wasn't, it was light hearted for the most part and very funny a lot of the time, the situations became increasingly comical and the laughs grew bigger and bigger as the play moved along. Incidentally the amount of clothing the famous pair were wearing went the opposite direction of less and less. Anyone who went to see this can now say they have officially been in a room where both Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon were running around with their trousers around their ankles amongst other things.

The weird thing is that if I hadn't read that it was Rob Brydon's first live stage play and I had to choose who the most experienced stage actor was, I would have picked the wrong man. When he was in a scene it became spookily like watching a movie but obviously this was all in one big take. Not that Kenneth Branagh was bad, quite the opposite, even a close encounter with a door frame and a slip on some water didn't break his focus for long. Saying that, I have to admit that I have no idea if it's harder to play a stone cold assassin who is unexpectedly chemically intoxicated or a suicidal photographer, but of the two, the suicidal  photographer was the star of the show for me. However the winner for most laughs per minute of stage time was the Hotel Porter who was played by Mark Hadfield, the best scenes of the whole show had to be when all three were on stage together when the Porter found the two in ever increasing compromising positions.

If I had one little bit of criticism of the play I think it would have to that a couple of the action scenes seemed a little too fake and a bit forced. In retrospect that could have just been the normal way these things are enacted in a play and a credit to how the rest of the play sucked me into feeling like I was watching TV to the point I was expecting realism in a fight scene.

Eventually the play came to an end and it ended well however I reckon my own alternate ending would have been awesome. All it would have taken would have been a voice over and sound effects from a helicopter a few of the characters, it would be an ending that would have either been a happy ever after with a big laugh or have just lead to a sequel. Maybe I'll have to be a real nerd and write fan fiction to a play, or not.

We left the Lyric happier then when we'd entered and made our way to the bus stop to head home.
The Painkiller really kept my attention well from beginning to end and was very entertaining. I'm still a little dubious as to what else on the list of performances coming up that I would actually like but I think I'll keep an eye out for other comedies at least. All in all I was very happy we went along and it was good to try something a little bit different to our normal entertainment. One thing is for certain, I'll be really looking out for any other live shows Rob Brydon decides to do and not just in case we get to see his undies again.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Tweet Trip Along the North Antrim Coast

This was my first attempt at live tweeting a day trip via Twitter and it seemed a good idea at the time. It almost worked, however there really is only so much you can show with low resolution photos and delays in updates due to sporadic 3G signal in rural spots. So really, it wasn't quite 'live tweeting' and didn't turn out to be quite the form of instant blogging I'd hoped it might be. No worries though. Here is a post of the same trip with some proper photos that includes the Tweets from our day out along the coast.

Waterlogged rowing boat in Carnlough Harbour

We set off relatively early on the 28th August, the 5 of us filling up the majority of space within the car. The weather wasn't looking like it was going to do us any favours with a mega-grey-boring-a-stratus formation looming overhead. We don't usually need nice weather to have a good time though, you develop that ability by living in the UK for any length of time, I'd go so far to say it's a natural fail safe of a mindset that prevents us all turning into troglodytes for 8 months of the year.

We were setting off in the morning but our aim was to make it to Portrush by the evening to meet up with some more friends and head out for a meal and catch up. The trip didn't end up quite the way we expected but it wasn't for lack of trying.

It wasn't long before we were coasting through Carrickfergus, always a nice reminder of a great day as the Castle was where Norngirl and I got married. Also, as you can tell from the tweet at the time, a notorious local spot for eating ice cream. We didn't stop there though and we also didn't stop in Larne.

Our first stop, as is now tradition, was in the car park by the Spar shop at Carnlough. We bought snacks and ate them at the harbour whilst watching a guy trying to land fish... in that the line he cast from the quayside flew and landed on the grass at the otherside of the harbour... oops.

Carnlough Harbour

The harbour is one of the nicest on the North Coast, very small but very quaint. Each time we've been there the small boats (like the rowing boat at the start of this post) look very much a rural and local harbour, aided by the very clear water and seaweed.

Carnlough Harbour Seaweed

Even the steps down to the water look like they were set there for a movie.

Looking into Carnlough harbour

Sufficiently amused by the dry land fishing and still also dry ourselves as the overcast sky hadn't unleashed its wrath yet, we jumped back in the car and headed along the road that cuts through a familiar by remote rural landscape. The road took us to our next port of call, Ballycastle.

In Ballycastle, we parked up near to a mobile home that contained a strange lady who wanted to tell us our fortunes. Happy to allow our futures to remain unknown - surely it's best to avoid those awkward moments when you already know what is going to happen and have to try and act all surprised, we walked past the lady and headed to the beach.

Ballycastle Beach

It was a windswept beach, even the wasps flying around the bins had trouble sticking to their flight plans due to the now wet salty breeze (as the rain was starting to fall) so we kept to the path and had a look at the ruins of the former salt workings and the sculptures - like this one of some seagulls...

Seagull Sculpture at Ballycastle

...before heading back towards the warmth of a small cafe. I wasn't hungry though so left the rest of the bunch to have their hot drinks and snacks as I went in search of a photo as I'd never really explored Ballycastle very much.

Ballycastle Harbour

I wandered around the harbour and then up to the top of the hill but the rain pretty much scuppered taking photos as I had to dry the lens repeatedly, I took a couple though.

Ballycastle Boat

After reuniting with everyone, we headed back to the car and got back on the road. The usual next stop would have been the rope bridge or the Giants Causeway but weather-wise at least, it wasn't a great day for those. It also wasn't good weather to visit the remains of Dunseverick Castle for the first time.

Dunseverick castle

It was looking quite pretty but as you can make out from the photo on the tweet at the time, there was an ominous cloud. We made it about 20 meters then mystical sky-wee fell from the clouds, it didn't take long for us to decided to make a quick u-turn and dash back to the car. We were slightly damp but our spirits hadn't been dampened as we ploughed ahead.

Next up was another Castle. Dunluce Castle. We didn't look around the castle itself but we did make it as far as the top of the hill looking down at the site and down to the gift shop at the entrance.

Dunluce Castle scene

Dunluce Castle Entrance

Arch at Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle

Even on a dull day, the area around Dunluce Castle is a very picturesque part of the coast.

Headland along the North Antrim Coast

Swell over the rocks along the North Coast

In the search for some form of entertainment that incorporated a greater percentage of time spent under a roof, our next stop was Portrush. We had to queue all the way into and around Portrush, there were events on and it was a bank holiday weekend, bad combo for getting anywhere very quickly. The car parks were all but full and after a few circles around one we managed to catch a car leaving and claimed our spot. Led by our tastebuds, the earlier thought of ice cream had developed into a yearning for ice cream. So first it was ice cream and second it was a visit to Barry's and a couple of rides.

Barry's Amusement Park Building

Norngirl then led us to the Waltzers for not just one but two consecutive rides and we had great fun, many laughs.

Merrily discombobulated and after some moderatly inappropriate posing with candy-floss, we walked down to the harbour.

Portrush Harbour Entrance

Portrush Harbour

The light was fading but we still had some time to kill before we were due to meet our friends who were meeting us by the restaurants at the harbour. We spent some of that time being highly amused by this sign.

Harbour Tackle

The rest of the time we spent watching the waves hitting against the harbour wall sea defences, the waves and spray giving us a taste for the sea both visually and orally.

Sea spray on the rocks

To be honest I could have stayed there all evening as I love just watching the waves splash against the shore and it's hard to pull yourself away from a view like this.

The Sea at Portrush

We had dinner plans though and so when the time came we headed down from the wall. Sadly despite taking no reservations there were mega waiting times for any of the restaurants with decent on-line reviews. With one of our now extended group heavily pregnant at the time, we made alternative plans as waiting silly times wasn't going to happen. Our meal in Portrush will have to wait for another day. We were heading to Coleraine.

After a long walk back to the car and a short drive, we made it to the outskirts of Coleraine and at the advice of our friends who were a little more used to frequenting this part of the world, we had a meal at the Yoko restaurant and noodle bar. I was very impressed by the food, especially given that from the outside it looks like a run of the mill chain restaurant in an out of town retail park. It was even nicer to have a good meal with great company and we were sad to leave but we had to make it back home to Belfast. My tweets had stopped sending by this point, I had no idea why as the 3G signal seemed strong enough. They did make it from drafts to the net later on but that's where the live tweeting really broke down. No need to worry though, that's what a blog is for.

As with every other trip I've had along this route, it was a good day out and even on a day with miserable weather it was still impossible not to be captivated by the natural beauty of this part of the world. A trip very much recommended... just be sure (if you plan to eat somewhere nice) that you can to book ahead at a restaurant and try not to wing it on a wet bank holiday!


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