Monday, 25 June 2012

Some Snapshots of Brooklyn

In the few days we visited Brooklyn, we stayed in a hotel on Atlantic Avenue. Along that street were a few interesting shops with some interesting items outside them - like this life sized replica of a cow.

Cow on cow in Brooklyn

And this metal chicken which I'm sure the Bloggess has landmarked several times over.

Brooklyn Metal Chicken on a snowy day

We ventured into several shops around the area over the few days. One of them was a laundrette to do some mid-vacation washing - we picked the smaller one with fewest people in as the big one we went into had lots of people staring at us expecting us to announce we were lost or something. Some of the others were Charity shops (thrift stores) as you just never know what awesome item you didn't know you needed might be awaiting it's arrival in your life. There was something of a more of a relaxed atmosphere in Brooklyn compared to the managed madness of Manhattan.

Here are a few pictures from the streets we wandered up and down the most:

Atlantic Avenue Brooklyn

Stephen Powers' Love Letters to Brooklyn

Fulton Mall in Brooklyn

Some might say it was a little too relaxed... like the lady who sat near us in a Dunkin' Donuts shop who was expressing her annoyance to a friend about the audacity of the NYPD for having recently arrested her for shoplifting lipsticks. The reason for her annoyance - that she had not been arrested in 13 years and thought they'd cut her a break for that sort of good behaviour (or more than likely, good fortune).

A lot of the time we were venturing back and fourth to other parts of New York but on the day we visited the Brooklyn Flea market held in Skylight One Hanson - the old bank building (more on that soon) we also saw the construction site of the new Barclays Centre.

Barclays Center Brooklyn

It was a much different experience to staying in Manhattan but a nice change of pace and we were very happy that we chose to stay there for a few days of our trip even if we did end up back in Manhattan a lot of time.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Watching the Titanic Belfast Light Show

On a cold Saturday evening back in April, we headed into Belfast with some bright yellow wristbands. After some food and drink we joined the huge queue for the shuttle buses that were to take us down to Titanic Belfast to watch the Titanic Belfast Light Show.

Titanic Belfast, Harland and Wolff Drawing Office and Crane

There were plenty of buses ferrying passengers to the show and the large queue moved at almost walking pace which was good. Once the bus was full we were all delivered to the Titanic Quarter. When we arrived we made a quick detour to the portable toilets for the pre-show wee so that we wouldn't need to fight our way through the crowds later on which was a wise move as there were lots of people there.

Once relieved, we had a wander around the market (which to be honest was pretty much identical to every other continental market hosted in Belfast in the last 5 years - many of the goods on offer you'll also find at St Georges market on a Saturday morning). The beer tent had closed at 8pm which was a shame but we were expecting no alcohol there anyway so it was no surprise.

This was the first time we'd been down to the slipways since it's regeneration really took hold, the last time we were there, the place was a derelict bit of old tarmac with weeds around the edges.

Titanic Slipway and Titanic Belfast Building

And it was now looking rather good. The lighting of the slipways was pretty cool.

Titanic Belfast Light

With more and more people arriving we decided to head towards where ever we were going to stand for the light show. On the way we passed people doing card tricks, costumed performers on stilts, people twirling and juggling things that were on fire and a unicyclist.

Fire performer in front of H&W crane

We found ourselves a spot front and central, had a look around at our surroundings...

Titanic Belfast Lit Up

And chatted whilst we waited for the show to begin.

Around 15 minutes later than scheduled, things got going. Well, I say they got going - the lights of the slipway and the market went out, some music that was different to the music we had just been listening to was played and 2 spotlights appeared on the sides of the Titanic Belfast building.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 01

They moved around the building, sometimes disappearing off the sides and top. Then, lower down when the lights passed over, silhouettes appeared; the Harland and Wolff Cranes were the easy ones to identify, I think some others were ship funnels, maybe the roof of a mill was in there at some point too? Eventually the silhouettes turned into wind-farms. This went on for a good 5 minutes. There was then a pause in the music before the same thing happened again.

Underwhelmed would have been an overwhelming understatement at this point.

Things did then pick up; the random spotlights went away and Titanic Belfast lit up. The lighting began to show steel girders and rivets. The fireworks were launched from the top of the building and the first of them appeared in time to some pistons thrusting up and down.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 02

Titanic Belfast Light Show 04

Titanic Belfast Light Show 03

Titanic Belfast Light Show 05

The scenes went from the industry and boat building - at one point turning into something like a furnace of an engine room which was pretty spectacular, this wasn't that bit but the red lighting and smoke was similar.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 06

And then it progressed into the construction of the White Star Line ships. From the construction on the site to the unavailing of the boats and their launch.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 07

The launch being to massive display of bright lights, fanfare music and fireworks. It was really good.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 08

Then once it launched and the sailing, it all got a bit random. There appeared to be a bit that would signify an ice berg where the building went silvery and jagged.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 09

After that, it turned into some sort of pre-loaded Windows screensaver.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 10

Titanic Belfast Light Show 11

Swirly things all over the place. All seemingly nautically themed. Randomly there was also the sound of a sonar... something which wasn't patented until a month after the Titanic disaster - though maybe they were trying to hint at lessons being learnt or the finding of the titanic years later? That was the problem, it got very random I couldn't follow what was being represented. It was hard to tell what was going on. The scenes of seaweed didn't help, other than being related to the sea, quite where seaweed fitted into it all I don't know, the thing being this was seemingly the underwater world the Titanic now found itself but Seaweed doesn't grows at such depths. Anyway, I might be mistaken but if I recall correctly, it was followed by a sea creature or two who clung onto the sides of Titanic Belfast swaying in the current.

Titanic Belfast Light Show 12

Titanic Belfast Light Show Frieworks

All this built up to a rather positive but random ending. I think they'd given up on the visuals on the building by this point but the huge display of fireworks made up for it and it all looked pretty impressive.

Titanic Belfast Fireworks

Once the show had finished there was a mass exodus over the uneven rocky stuff and onto the road.

Crowds Leaving

The queue for the free shuttle buses back into the city centre were even longer than earlier and it took us an hour to be on a titanic shuttle and passing the Odyssey. Apparently all the people leaving the show as well as exiting the JLS concert that was going on in the Odyssey Arena had caused traffic chaos for the buses. D'oh!

Overall, I thought the whole event was ok and I can't complain at being able to take advantage of a free event. I usually complain about there being a lack of non-corporate big events in Belfast and this was a nice idea. Saying that, I don't know how much it cost and I'm no expert on outdoor light shows, lasers or pyrotechnics, but just going on the content and experience I had, I do think it could have been executed a little better.

The delayed and underwhelming start combined with some of the visuals being a little random towards the end, slightly tainted what in places was really excellent. The fireworks were the best part and very impressive!

Here are the highlights on Youtube from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board:

The Light Show's lit up building part was nowhere as sleek as the launch of Virgin Money - but it was a lot better than that show at the times the visuals did work well - such as the scenes with the inferno (my picture really doesn't do it justice), the part where the Titanic was launched and the general use of fireworks throughout. The main issue was that those were a few minutes scattered between a couple of hours standing out in the cold.

Maybe I'm a being a bit too critical but that's just what I thought of the show. On the BBC site they seemed to have got 3 people who adamantly thought it was the best thing since sliced bread if you'd like to hear their opinions.

I very much doubt it's an event that people will be talking about in 10 years time... which perhaps it had the potential to be but it was still worth heading along to on the night.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Leeds United 2011/12 End of Season Review

Leeds United's 2011/12 season was one to forget. I'd even go so far as to say that the season was a total wash out.

At the end of 2010/11 it was fairly obvious that the squad needed a few additions and to keep or replace what we had. Sadly, quite the opposite happened - rather than improving the squad over the last 12 months, it ended up being thinned out. Away went 3 of our best players - Johnson, Gradel and Howson, and in came short term free agents and a swathe of loanees (7 free agents and 9 loanees in total). Sadly, a lot of those free agents and loan players were either not up to scratch or were not playing in the shirt long enough to make a difference. There was no stability and that reflected in the teams' results.

Ultimately it cost Simon Grayson his job and Neil Warnock was brought in by Bates to try and resurrect the season. The problem being, Simon Grayson is a very good manager and seemingly, to me anyway, it appears he was actually acting as the glue keeping the side together - doing a very good job in a very difficult situation. Though he may have made a few mistakes and some poor signings, I really think this was mainly due to the scenario he found himself in.

Nay matter, however it came to be, the season was a mess and though I hoped Neil Warnock could somehow instil a siege mentality into the players, it never materialised and results got even worse... the worst of the worse, a 3-7 defeat at home to Nottingham Forest in March. The season was over well before it actually finished. Our haphazard squad of players finished the season in a mediocre 14th place. Though poor, it would be somewhat unfair to blame either manager, that's the sort of season we'd had, many of the players just didn't show up a lot of the time.

There were very few positives to take from the season but the main one would be the continued development of some of the players who came through the clubs' youth academy - players like Tom Lees and Aidan White. Another was the form of Ross McCormack and Robert Snodgrass who were the stand out performers over the season and Andy Lonergan did pretty well too. Last but not least, a statue of Don Revie was unveiled outside the East Stand. I'd say that those 3 things were pretty much about as good as it got.

But anyway, I best not to dwell too much. Once the season was over, Neil Warnock summed it all up well by placing 6 players on the transfer list and releasing 5 more. Compared to this time last season when we needed a few players in key positions, now the entire squad has to be rebuilt brick by brick since the wall was allowed to fall down. One thing that isn't falling down mind you are the corporate facilities in the East Stand. The stand has had 7 million spent redeveloping it.

For most clubs this could have been a wise move but it is a little disturbing when you hear the club are spending this on infrastructure it doesn't own rather than a playing squad it does - the question has to be - why? To put it another way; if you were a tenant renting a house, would you take out a loan secured against your car to pay to have a conservatory built that you might use to host an Ann Summers party once a fortnight? (Btw, this is why I chose Ann Summers as part of the metaphor - offering a "long, drawn-out affair with plenty of foreplay and slow arousal"  – sounds kinky to me)

And that's the thing I dislike most of all about Ken Bates' and Shaun Harvey's reign at Leeds:
The secrecy, the seemingly strange decisions, the unaccountability and a total lack of transparency.
These issues that have helped to alienate supporters have been prevalent from the start; from the saga regarding the ownership of the club, the use of corporate anonymity through offshore companies to the unprofessional comments published through the clubs own media. For a more in-depth read here is a great article on the Leeds United situation from The Swiss Ramble including a fair bit of background and plenty of figures - well worth a read for any football supporter!

Who knows what the next chapter will be in the Leeds story or even what happens at the end of this one? Your guess is as good as mine!

Recently it was revealed that there is investment being sought. Whether potentially a partnership investment or take over, it hasn't been revealed yet. As Blackburn and Portsmouth have found to their detriment in recent years, sometimes it's a case of better the devil you know and although we long for a knight in shining armour, since that's sadly the way English football has fallen, I know it's best not to get carried away with the chance of being bought out unless it is by someone who will care for the whole of the club.

From a fans perspective, the Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST) has laid out it's vision - and it sounds sensible to me. So much so, I joined – why I hadn't before now I'm really not sure!

Neil Warnock and the players have also been quite vocal recently about their ambitions.

The only people we haven't heard much from are the board but right now, it's action rather than words that will tell us as supporters all we need to know and if they are working hard to do the best by Leeds United Football Club then I'm happy for them to be as silent as they like.

Even inaction will lead to something giving way. It's building up to be an intriguing summer ahead.


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