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”.


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