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But as religion had superseded the dominance of survival as the focus of these festivals, so it seems in the past century that the focus has once again been tied to the dominant social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!

Sunday, 9 October 2011


A slight washing up accident has resulted in a bit of a problem. We now only have one wine glass left intact in the house. The glass's close encounter - of the metal-spoon kind - did however leave quite an impressive mess behind!

Broken Wine Glass

If ever there was a good reason not to wash up it would be now as I have a bad cold at the moment (almost recovered) and my clumsiness-factor has increased exponentially the last week. We now only have 1 big plate left too. Oops. Ah well.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The rest of our August Yorkshire Trip

Was all a bit squished together like this:

I left out Norngirl getting stung by a wasp or the ref ruining the game at Elland Road but there was certainly a drink or two and a railway museum, a bit of York, Leeds and Lotherton Hall.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Five Rise Locks in Bingley

Bingley in West Yorkshire isn't the biggest or most exciting town in the UK, but nor does it try to be, that isn't it's claim to fame or charm. One thing it has that surpasses most other towns of it's size - apart from it's handy location along the River Aire and the view of the Aire Valley - is it's staircase locks along the Leeds Liverpool Canal. Per wikipedia, the steepest flight of locks in the UK.

Lock on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Back in August we visited my family and during the trip headed up to Bingley. Whilst there we had a wander along the canal up along the Five Rise Locks and back into the valley again. Here are a few photos from our walk that day including some of the local non-human inhabitants:

If this photo looking into the canal looks odd it's because it's upside down.
Upside down canal reflections

The ducks liked the bread we brought them:
Duck on the canal

Duck by the Leeds Liverpool Canal

The Five Rise Locks themselves we rather impressive as locks go.
Five Rise Locks on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Five Rise Locks overflow channel

Locks on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Five rise locks

5 rise locks Bingley

Barges lined the canal at the top of the locks.
Barges on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

And the view of Bingley was like stepping back in time (excluding the telephone lines) even though a lot of this part of town is refurbished from the original mills or just built onto the old in the same style.

Flowers on Sandstone


The local livestock were quite friendly with one another...
Cows in a field

Seed covered plant

This resident cat took a curiosity in my camera and got a stroke for it's portrait.
Local Bingley Cat

Flowers by the Leeds Liverpool Canal


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