Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Religion a leading question - Census 2011

The 2011 Census. A document that was sent to every household in the country - a survey aimed at giving a snapshot of the people who live on these shores at a specific point in time and a handy tool to see the make up of what is an amazingly diverse amalgamation of human beings scattered around the UK. But what about the question of Religion?

Sadly for Northern Ireland, one statistic from the census that is keenly awaited by many is the response to the question that deals with religion affiliation. Groups with vested interests both faith based and political will be swooning over the results to see if they can claim a popularity victory and with it the political and financial sway it provides. Due to the question and answers put to the public by this census, I honestly doubt they'll be disappointed with the affirmation I expect them to receive. For all intense and purpose, through my eyes, the people who wrote the census might as well have written "What is your religion? Catholic or Protestant."

You might think I'm exaggerating, so lets take a look at this question and the answers from the 2011 census on Sunday...

OK, so first of all (in my opinion anyway) this is a leading question aiming towards having someone answer positively and I'm not alone... the British Humanist Association also agrees and here's why; the question assumes a positive response - even with a negative response as an answer - this encourages the respondent to relate to a choice provided. For instance people are more likely to answer to any loose connection they have when asked "What cultural background do you belong to?" (combined with some listed) compared to "Do you have strong cultural background? If yes, please state." (with no multiple choice).

To compound the problem the question comes with both multiple choice and space for an open answer. On this occasion; four denominations of Christianity, a write in box for 'Other' followed by 'None'.

This limited degree of options though seems somewhat unique to Northern Ireland. I'm sure those who designed it would say it just reflects the main denominations and communities in an area but it all has an impact on the responses they will receive. So lets take a look at the same 2011 Census question in Scotland where we see a much longer list and these faiths are practised in N.I too:

It seems odd that he rest of the UK followed a similar route in this question and N.I had to be special, in the same way job application forms want to know which 'side of the community' you grew up in.

The option of 'None' for instance has to be there to make it not stupid too, but in the Northern Irish census this appears even below the write in option. Odd really that the same question should have too very different layouts of answers. I also do wonder why in NI we didn't get a small reminder within the question that these questions were voluntary? Seems an odd omission to make. My biggest annoyance with the Census and this question was universal across the board and that was the 'Other, please state' option. It turns out there are 393 recommended abbreviations provided in the help section of the Census website; from the mainstream denominations of the largest institutions and belief systems all the way through to the satirical such as Church of the Pink Unicorn - not to mention the odd cult along the way.

Of all the abbreviations though, this one took my interest the most:


Yep, only as important to the census creators as Pink Unicorns if the choice of answers they listed in the multiple choice were down to expected popularity.

Yet surely common sense would have 'own personal beliefs' along side any organised religion or lack of belief  at all? Given this option, how many people would tick it rather than stating a denomination of Christianity? Without this answer it seems we've found that establishing an overview belief isn't the main purpose for the inclusion of the question, it's to put people in boxes so politicians can make excuses with 'facts'. I mean does having a bible in the home really mean you have to divide yourself into one of four or more denominations of Christianity, given the question asked, I reckon people will have done, even if they haven't been to church since they were children. That's neither right or wrong, but if these stats are to be used for more than just curiosity, someone really needs to start rewording that question.

As the BHA found; "by assuming that all participants held a religious belief, the question captured some kind of loose cultural affiliation", asking such a leading question is going to give unrealistic results - at least in relation to the interpretation that the stats will be used for. Translate this into the Northern Irish religious and political scene and given the way the question was asked, laid out and with the multiple choice answers selected - if loose cultural affiliations are being responded to, then the religious and in turn, political landscape that is being reflected by the question, will surely just feed back the same old answer.

But you know what, the same old answer is probably the answer some authorities led by community leaders with their heads in tribal politics and religious institutions wanted to hear.

Friday, 25 March 2011

That was Early March in Belfast...

The months seem to be literally flying by like someone has a super dense ball of matter they're using to distort regular space time with. Thankfully for my memory, I was taking lots of pictures (as usual) this month and to prove to the world as well as myself that there was actually a period of time between the end of February through to mid March - here are a few snap shots from around the beautiful city of Belfast that I haven't yet had chance to share with you...

St Anne's Sqaure and Cathedral

On the 28th February, St Anne's Square and St Anne's Cathedral looked the part as the blue skies faded as dusk descended.

Then, on the 6th March I happened to be passing through East Belfast around the Strand Cinema and as always it was looking rather chilled with it's 1930's Art Deco Streamline Moderne Style:

The Strand Cinema at night in East Belfast

On the 8th March, Chichester Street was looking a little wet:

Chichester street and Victoria Square

On the 11th March, the gloomy skies were still pouring rain onto the streets of Belfast but even against the dull grey clouds, the signs of spring were starting to take shape with buds sprouting on the trees:

Does it grow on trees?

Then it came to the 13th, maybe an unlucky number for some but never as unlucky as the Titanic. May 31st will be the anniversary of the ill-fated ships launch and the Landmark Titanic Quarter building is really starting to take shape:

Landmark Titanic Quarter Building Belfast

Nautically inspired sights filled the day, as would most wanders around Belfast's waterfront. Here, down by Clarendon docks lives the Flying Angel of the Flying Angel Seafarers Centre:

The flying angel seafarers building Belfast

In East Belfast again and there was Goliath, the smallest H&W Crane of Samson and Goliath, who was looming over some houses that were seemingly hiding in bushes. Samson and Goliath don't half get about town.

Yellow Crane in the bushes

Meanwhile, things in town were looking up... oh wait, that was just me...

Belfast up high

The 14th was soon throwing up some amazingly colourful skies. Dusk and the sunsets that came with that time of day were quite spectacular.

Belfast Urban Jungle

Sunset and the Belfast Squiggle

Sadly the colourfully silhouetted scenes were soon replaced by darkness but in the last of the day's light the River Lagan was still looking pretty.

The River Lagan Belfast

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Promises Promises in NYC

Giving up the Ice Skating as one of those things that just wasn't meant to be, we instead embraced our love of plastic interconnecting toys and headed into the Lego shop to buy a couple of Lego themed souvenirs. NornGirl bought a brick and I bought a Toy Story 3 Lego Alien keyring. It was then a quick dash across town to get in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square for some discount show tickets, our first choice would have been Avenue Q but as we saw the sign and got in line it became apparent that it wasn't on that day. D'oh! Instead we looked around and desired to give one we'd never heard of before a try. 'Promises Promises', caught our eye and so that's what we bought tickets to.

We had a wrap and beer at a Chipotle on the way back to the hotel where We dolled ourselves up and headed out for our anniversary night out.

First came the show which was at The Broadway Theatre. The musical of Promises Promises is set in New York and it's the same plot as the film 'The Apartment', a comedy with a romantic plot that plays with themes of affairs and attempted suicide. Set to the music of Burt Bacharach, we're led through the story by the lead character Chuck who is a quite junior employee working in the corporate world of a 1960s insurance company whose life takes a few twists involving his love interest and his apartment.

When we were there, the character of Chuck was played by Sean Hayes (aka Jack from Will and Grace). His comic acting as you'd expect was brilliant and really made the show.
Both he and the female lead of Fran who was played by Kristin Chenoweth (of West Wing, Pushing Daisies and Glee fame) did a great job and it was great fun, Kristin's voice is quite something.
Apart from one or two rather unbelievable moments in the plot around the Fran character, there wasn't really a downside and although not our first choice it was a great substitute.
As far as an American cultural experience goes, it really was very American, which you'd hope for really being on Broadway! However this did leave us ending up laughing at somewhat inappropriate moments that most of the room didn't seem to get - ah well!

Near Times Square in the rain

Leaving the theatre with the glow of having had a good laugh we made our way out into the rain for the grey blanket was still snuggling the tallest of the city's skyscrapers. Our next destination was the Marriott Marquis View Lounge for some drinks and deserts.
The viewing lounge is on the 47/48th floors of the hotel and rotates around a central column giving a view of the city and the Hudson river. We had a lovely desert and some nice drinks and enjoyed a little us time chatting as couples on their anniversaries do (in our own 'special' way). The view was largely of clouds and rain but beyond the raindrop painted glass we could still make out a fair few of the NYC Skyline's well known features.

Rainy night Skyline of NYC through the window

Bertelsmann Building NYC

Sadly, apart from the guy who served us who couldn't have been more helpful; our experience did end up a little tainted. This was because a rude member of staff commandeered the rare sighting of a lift that a group (of about 8) of us had been waiting on for a good 5 minutes or more. It wasn't like the member of staff had some urgent repair work to do, he just had a trolley of supplies and the place was closing for the night. We were not amused, especially as it took the best part of another 5-10 minutes for another lift to reach us. We were even less amused though when the hotel never released their hold on a reservation of money they had placed. Norn Girl even emailed them weeks after the event and they said they were in touch with their accountants to release the hold. It never happened. In the end - a month later, it was our bank who by default broke their hold on the money in our account - sure $48 to some of their clientèle might not be much but to us that is a fair old chunk of money. It has to be said that this was all 4 months ago now so I wouldn't worry if you're heading there soon, they could have been one off's. Thankfully we didn't have to worry about too much on the actual day and another good thing about the Marriott was that the lift to the rotating restaurant is quite a ride - it moves through a massive space inside the building. If you stand facing towards the glass and just look out it's like a theme-park ride. It was awesome!

Overall, my personal opinion on the rotating viewing lounge is that if you have a bit of money to burn, the place is worth a one off trip, but given the cost of it (over $120 after you count the cover charge, the desert buffet, two drinks each and the service charge, the bill came to over $120) it won't be on our to do list if we're lucky enough to return to NYC again.

We ventured out happily into Times Square, a period of very heavy rain had left what was usually one of the very busiest parts of New York almost empty, an odd sight indeed.

My head at this point was filled with fond memories of our wedding the year before, I was also happy as always (when not in the dog house) at being present in the company of my wife Norn Girl which was made more special by being surrounded by one of the biggest urban rainforests in the world. We merrily meandered back to our hotel. The day hadn't gone completely to plan but we'd enjoyed ourselves nevertheless – as Norn Girl wrote; “the whole holiday was really a celebration of our anniversary anyway and we were really looking forward to what we had planned the next day... “ and that day was 'AWESOME DAY!'

[Back to Part 1 of this 2 part post]

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Morning of our First Wedding Anniversary

I never did finish these posts about our trip to NYC... so here begins a two part story of Day Six... the day of our 1st Year Wedding Anniversary. We had some events planned but as with all of the best plans... the day didn't pan out exactly as we'd envisaged, nevertheless we enjoyed our anniversary muchly regardless.

Empire State Building NYC

The events you could really split into three:
1) To start the day it was to be Ice Skating at the Rockefeller Centre and shopping around that area/5th Avenue.
2) Buying some tickets and heading to a show in the evening
3) Heading for a romantic desert buffet in the rotating restaurant looking over Times Square.

Unfortunately weather familiar to Belfast - a blanket of grey clouds - had found it's way to NYC. By the time we had grabbed some breakfast and headed to the Rockefeller Centre there was a fine drizzle of rain turning the sidewalk a darker hue. Skating in the rink was on hold so in the hopes the rain might stop we started on the shopping side of our mornings plans.

The Nintendo Shop was first up - the bad thing being we had all day and I didn't want to buy things there and then that I'd have to carry about most of the day. Instead I got Norn Girl to pledge that we could indeed return later in the week at a more opportune time. Unlike public showers at a leisure centre, the water falling on our heads wasn't stopping of it's own accord shortly after it had begun. By this point I also needed to release some water of my own and we began to look for a Starbucks or some public toilets.

5th Avenue Street Scene NYC

We were going to be heading towards Tiffany's on 5th Avenue anyway so started that trek early. It turned out that there was a distinct lack of toilets or Starbucks along that section of 5th Avenue. Norn Girls radar for coffee thankfully pinned down an outlet... it was hiding on the 1st floor of none other than Trump Towers.

Trump Tower NYC

A more gaudy interior to a building you'd be hard pushed to find. It took me back to episodes of hotel inspector I'd seen, except instead of horrible cheap brown and orange wallpaper it was expensive marble but of the same ilk in terms of it's effect. Focusing on the fact I was now busting to go, we made it to the Starbucks stall and whilst being served Norn Girl asked if they had any toilets. The toilets are on the lower ground floor, to get to them you go down the escalator and through a corridor that will have you wondering which hole in some iron-rich clay soil you fell down. Credit to Mr Trump though, his building has decent toilets. Some would say that like his apprentices they were probably designed to handle a lot of crap being thrown at them.

Tiffany & Co NYC

Relieved, we headed on. Next stop was Tiffany's, even as a guy with little regards for most mind numbingly formulaic romantic comedy, I had indeed seen and enjoyed breakfast at Tiffany's. However this was but an atom to the planet that was Norn Girl's glee at being there in person. It was all very sparkly but also like most of 5th Avenue, very expensive, very much too expensive for our poor bank accounts. Randomly most of the gold seemed to have been crafted into it's current form in Spain (going by the labels), it seemed a convoluted way of buying some jewellery made in Spain. As New York City was already proving to be very expensive though, we didn't have all that much money to spare and sadly common sense had to take precedence. Nothing bad ever happens apparently and Norn Girl did leave the shop holding a little blue box in a blue bag. The box contained a cute glass snowman Christmas Tree Decoration.

Pausing for photos outside the shop we headed back to the Rockefeller Centre. We arrived at a bad time, they'd restarted skating but we couldn't wait for the start of the next session.

To be continued... [Part 2]

Friday, 18 March 2011

Is there a B lose about town?

In 19 days between photos it seems a B has got loose. I for one haven't seen it, have you?

Be Fast Elegraph Ewspapers

This week:
e fast elegraph ewspapers

I'd guess answers should be sent via e-mail rather than on a postcard, that would probably be e fast enough. Does someone steal these things or do they just fall off?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Happy Irish Day and Nice One Chris and Dave!

It was 2 years ago when I wrote about St Patricks day and this year we've pretty much being recreating the same thing we did that day too. A sleep in and recovery from work, a trip to the gym, some household chores that needed doing, a bit of down time and now to end the day - soda bread pizza for dinner and plenty of Arthur's famous Irish Dry Stout.

The majority of the last two days however have been taken up with following someone else with Irish and Yorkshire links (other than Norn Girl and me). That person is Chris Moyles. For Comic Relief (which is tomorrow night on the BBC) he and Dave Vitty have been trying to break a Radio 1 record of a 37 hour long show and all being well the world record for the longest radio show ever (somewhere around 50 hours). All the money donated will go to the usual Comic Relief causes aimed at tackling the root causes of poverty and social injustice.

At the time of breaking the 37 hour record, listeners like Norn Girl and me had donated between us a grand total of... *drum roll*

Anyways, it's been great fun to listen to on the radio and watch via the interactive option of the BBC/on the radio 1 website. It's been an amazing amount of money raised so far and hopefully they'll carry on now and try to beat that world record and raise even more! Nice one Chris and Dave, enjoy the sleep when you get some, you both more than deserve a hard earned rest.

Happy St Paddy's Day :)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Belfast Street Art

Just following on from the post last month, here is a little more graffiti from around the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast - well I say graffiti - in this case I think it's better described as street art, especially with those colourful pieces of art that must have been commissioned.

Just around the corner of the same building as the owl and the purple girl with eyes wide open (from this previous post) lives another purple faced portrait with closed eyes:

A Street Art portrait on a Shutter

Hiding further up North Street in a slightly run down car park is a fun wall of bright colours and characters:

Street art in a Belfast car park

Street art in a Belfast car park close up

Amongst the flats facing St Anne's Cathedral can be found this odd bottle like Frankenstein's Monster...

Graffiti in Belfast Cathedral Quarter

Along Donegal Street can be found a shop decorated from shutter to wall...

Painted shop wall in Belfast

Painted shop shutter in Belfast

And last but not least, cutting down towards Henry Street you'll run into the decorated walls of the Black Box and surrounding buildings:

Black Box wall fresco

Black Box wall fresco Panda

Running paint on well know Belfast wall art

The things ya find having a wander!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Captains Orders Beta

Jelly Shots for Captains OrdersCaptains Orders (the infamous drinking game) made a comeback to our house on Monday night as we perched on the edge of our seats to watch the 2009 Star Trek movie.
For once the baddies on the screen were not the most dangerous thing! Like Tribbles these jelly shots appeared to have been breeding since last time and were looking a lot more ominous compared to previous occasions.

This wasn't just one episode with several jelly shots though, this was a film and because of this the rules had to be clarified. The rules were agreed; orders were not to be valid if given by the follically challenged band of Romulans needing anger management classes. Not even Nero himself; we refused to respect his authority. Also, orders were only valid when the captain was giving a direct order to a person/sentient alien and when they were indeed the current acting captain at the time.

So we got stuck into the feature presentation. As you probably know if you've seen it, it's not long before as a viewer you're part of a grand action sequence... filled with orders.
The jelly shots were soon starting to form a queue that was waiting to be consumed. Nine were eaten before the first pause for breath. Thankfully this all or nothing start to the film went from all to nothing and we eventually got a bit of a rest from onset of a case of Jelly-belly that we were self inflicting.

Jelly Shots

There was then a steady flow of orders with odd breaks here and there between the various captains giving their orders until there came a point where Kirk had us unable to keep up. We tried our best though and most of us had only a small backlog of a couple of shots. The big problem we did encounter - apart from feeling rather full of jelly - was that we ran out of jelly shot. I know right, we were shocked too!

Empty Jelly Shot Glass TowerFeeling slightly overwhelmed with Jelly it was an odd feeling of can't give up now but also worrying that this wasn't enough!

So we reverted to non-alcoholic shots of diet coke and kept up until the end. Poetically, the quantity of coke we had on hand lasted perfectly to the last order at the very end of the motion picture.

As the credits rolled and the tipsiness was really kicking in, it didn't take away from the rather worrying/impressive stack of empties.

As such, I have three recommendations when playing this:

Firstly, we are adults in our late 20's and have enough sense to know the damage this much vodka can do, I in no way endorse this as a practice to anyone, shots can be non-alcoholic (*end of health warning*.

Empty Shot Glasses Captains OrdersSecond, if you go the alcoholic route (as well as on your own head be it) - dilute the alcoholic content more than you normally would to suit what you can handle and take into consideration the taste - taking into account you'll need more shots than you expect – more than fifty each., hence having multiple flavours is also a good idea.

The third recommendation applies even to non-alcoholic jelly shots! Don't stuff yourself with food before playing. If you do, when you're on your feet your stomach may feel like its travelling a second behind your actual direction of movement. If this occurs then you've got jelly belly, a belly too full of jelly! Take a break from the shots should jelly belly persist. That's an order.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Watching the Belfast Giants

On Saturday, as part of Norngirls Birthday celebrations, a group of us headed out to the Odyssey Arena to do something we should probably do more often. That was to go and cheer on the Belfast Giants. The game itself was Belfast Giants Vs Sheffield Steelers in a top of the table clash which was highly hyped but didn't disappoint.

It had been ages since we had last gone to watch the Giants. Norngirl and I had been to a live hockey game in the last 6 months but that was at Madison Square Gardens to watch the New York Rangers take on the Boston Bruins but it was a long time since we were last at the Odyssey.
I think it was likely due to the ticket prices which although reasonable for the games in relation to other entertainment prices tends to be more than we can realistically afford on top of all our other outgoings. It does seem we tend to go to watch the Giants mainly for special occasions.

There was expected to be a sell out and although there was a seat here and there that was not occupied, the Odyssey arena was indeed pretty much full to capacity

Before we headed into the stand, we headed to the bar and discovered that these days, like in the NHL, you can take your drinks to your seats. Heaven!

So hyper with anticipation and knowing we could enjoy a beer at the same time, we found our seats ready for face off and sat down just in time to join in a Mexican wave followed by watching the Giant on the ice bang his drum, the lights flashing and the crowd being worked up into frenzy as the music built. Game on!

It was a very good atmosphere, there were a few groups of school kids in the stadium and whatever they were on I think I would like to try (lots of sugar more than likely)!
The buzz about the place seemingly passed onto the players. To begin with it seemed to take a few minutes for the players to find an edge to their skates. Puck control wasn't the best but things quickly improved.

For me, the Elite League is to the NHL what Irish League Football is to the English Premier League, the skill level might not be consistently the same but it's of high enough quality to not take away from the spectacle. If anything, this adds a sense of unpredictability which combined with moments of class worthy of any league leads to a more exciting spectacle.

That unpredictability in this game first came when a shot from a giants player was almost saved by the Steelers goaltender but it wasn't saved, it sneaked over the line, seemingly lingering for a moment on it's way into the net as if to give the crowd time to rise to their feet.
The place went wild but not as wild as when the lead was doubled minute when the Giants made it 2-0 after Mason finished a fine move.It wasn't long before there was to be more drama. A penalty was called against the Steelers but as play continued and the Giant's goaltender hurried off to let a 6th skater on, the Giants capitalised on the play before the Steelers even had their man in the penalty box. The giants left the ice at the end of the 1st period 3-0 to the good. We happily wandered off to the bar very impressed by what we'd seen.

Into the the 2nd period things got even better. Taking a 3-0 lead against the league leaders doesn't happen every game and I'm sure it came as quite a surprise even to the most die hard Giants fans when the score board read 4-0 after the puck was flicked over the line from close range. Without time to draw breath the scoreline took an even better look. During a powerplay the Giants caught the Steelers too high up the ice and hit home to make it 5-0 - the game wasn't even half way in.

The giants efforts though seemed to come at a price. Understandably they eased off a little and credit to the shell shocked Steelers, they regrouped and started to press resulting in a powerplay that helped the Steelers get one back. The consolation goals totalled 2 before the end of the 2nd period when a hit and hope into a crowded goal mouth seemed to catch a deflection and sneak in. The score at the end of the 2nd period of play was 5-2

It was a 40 minute goalfest and great fun, the crowd got ready to throw pucks at the Giants mascot in a competition but we headed back to the bar in high spirits.
Back after a toilet break and with our last beers in hand, the 3rd period got under way. The Steelers momentum somewhat diminished after a short fight which although lacking much that could be defined as a punch, saw the Steelers player hit the ice first.

Both good and bad, there were no more goals in the game though not for the want of trying from either side, a few close calls and some good saves. Between the action all through the game were give-aways and a rather scary life-sized sandwich super hero who seemed to scare us more than the kids who flocked to it.

The Giants ran out deserved winners, reducing Sheffield's lead at the top of the league and giving themselves a chance at winning the league.

As the presentations took place at the end of the game we were completely baffled as to why we hadn't been back sooner. Being able to have a drink whilst watching the game was an added bonus. We certainly aim to make it back more often next season.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Sickly Poem

I'll boke on the floor if a bag isn't found, 
We can't stop it now, it's that or the ground.
It wasn't so bad as I read of your 'meal', 
But why buy a book to feed to your seal?

That makes no sense but then it got worse, 
The seal kept eating, expanding its girth.
I said it was terrible and that it set the scene, 
But why did I write it and what did it mean?

You may want to rethink what to do with your time, 
Was there a point or was it just for the rhyme?
I should boke down your shirt and it's not that far fetched,
Unlike your stanzas which left me perplexed.

I once saw some vomit so ominiously coming, 
Brought on by a story of a sheep and some plumming.
It was a bite sized tale about a creature so cute,
The sheep was old but also minute.

Like a borrower she lived off the scraps in a house 
But sadly she hadn't the speed of a mouse.
One day on a radiator she ran out of luck, 
The heating came on and she found herself stuck.

The temperature kept rising until there was steam, 
Internal fluids bubbling out at her seams.
It wasn't a pleasant sight or smell to behold,
Her wool contracted, her corpse it did mould.

There on the pipes swollen with heat
Sat a woolen ball of mutton - a cute cloud of meat.

The coach we were riding in when this narrative was told
Became covered with a breakfast not very old.
But unlike this fiction of an animal in trouble,
Reading pointless poetry makes me puke double.

I hasten to remind you I'm so close to hurling 
It's my own terrible poetry creating this churning.
So in order to end this I'll boke in my drink
Then force down the lumps with the plug in the sink.


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