Thursday, September 18, 2014

Culture Night Belfast #CNB14 Making headlines, Buggy Boogie, Science, Wonder Women & a Methane Mardi Gras

Culture Night Belfast is now well-established … and epic. Along with many other cities and towns across the island, this Friday night (19 September) Belfast will see thousands of people ambling about soaking up the balmy atmosphere.

A couple of hundred free events will pop up in streets and venues, mostly concentrated in and around the Cathedral Quarter. The full programme is online (and available in many cafes and buildings across the city). Here's a sample ...

1230-1300 – Ten x 9 – Black Box – A special lunchtime performance to hear 9 people who have up to 10 minutes each to tell a real story from their lives.

1500-1800 – CNB14 for the Under 4s ... and the Buggy Boogie! – Office of Important Art, Castle Court shopping centre – An interactive creative haven of art, photographic and singing workshops and cast your dreams upon the magical wishing tree! At 5pm the youngsters and parents will boogie all the way to Buoy Park in their very own Buggy Boogie! Look out for Belfast Met Art & Design students who are organising fun for children with origami  in University of Ulster from 1600-1800. Booktrust will encourage parents and carers to tell Super Stories for Super Heroes from 1600-1800 - costumes encouraged! And children’s workshops in Translink’s bus parked up in York Street from 1600-2100.

1830-2030 – Science in the Square – Writers Square - a taster from the NI Science Festival whose science buskers will give live scientific demonstrations: the physics of balloons to 3D printers, come get your geek on with some interactive science.

1600-2200 – Big Red Rocket – Writers Square – Bright Stem (artist and designer Andrew Wood) will be creating a whopping 4.6 meter high Red Space Rocket!

1800-2100 – Belfast Roller Derby – Writers Square - Watch the Belfast Banshees and Norn Iron Maidens as they demonstrate how this hard-hitting, fast-paced sport, which is growing rapidly in popularity, is played.

1800-1930 – Belfast's Annual Slow Bicycle Race – Academy Street – The last shall be first as spectators assume the role of judge and jury (equipped with whistles and horns) as they observe the competitors over the 20m course. The rules are simple: (1) Forward motion shall be provided by the muscles of the rider; (2) No part of the competitor's body may touch the ground; (3) he bicycle must maintain forward motion at all times; (4) The bicycle must remain within the boundaries of the course.

1600-2200 – Culture Knit Fever – Cathedral Gardens – can the city’s yarn bombers construct a gigantic outdoor installation in Buoy Park?

1600-2200 – Headliners! – Belfast Telegraph, Royal Avenue – Head along and see yourself on the front page!

1700-2200 – Dawsons Music Block Party – 121-125 Royal Avenue – Dawsons in association with Beat Emporium featuring live DJ sets, local musicians and Vibe Academy performers.

1600-2200 – Pop-up Cabaret – Assembly Rooms, 2-6 Waring Street – 4.15pm Swing Gals / 5.00pm Ursula Burns - the most dangerous harpist in the world / 5.45pm Kenneth Fall / 6.30pm The Late Twos (presented by EBAF) / 7.30pm Swing Gals / 8.15pm Ursula Burns / 9pm Traditional Irish Music

1600-2200 – Café Chess – Caffe Nero, 17-21 Lombard Street - Sit down and play chess with a friend, a chess player, or a total stranger.

1600-2200 – Unfolding – 70-74 Donegall Street – Jonny McEwan’s continuously developing, code-driven, generative art installation.

1600-2200 – Growing Up – Talbot Street – Every child dreams of a house but their imaginative doodles of fairy-tale palaces, fortified castles and galactic space stations rarely become a reality when they grow up. White Ink Architects have taken a 5-year-old's dream house doodle and turned it into an architectural installation, displayed for all to see and admire, that begs the grown-up question, "Is the dream beyond reach in the reality of adult life?"

1600-1800 – Not Nice Portraits – University of Ulster – Fine artist Miguel Martin will be turning his sketch pad on Culture Night participants to create some cringe worthy portraits.

1700-2000 on the hour – A Wander of Wonder Women – starting from Morning Star, Pottingers Entry – Belfast Feminist Network will take you on a wander through Belfast streets to meet iconic women from throughout history. Hear about their amazing lives as Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Emmeline Pankhurst and other wonder women take over the city.

1900-2000 – The Methane Mardi Gras – leaving City Hall at 7pm to head into Cathedral Quarter – A grotesque troupe of fracking’s evil offspring will take over the streets of the Cathedral Quarter to disgust unsuspecting Culture Night revellers. Beware as Pollution, Disease, Rogue Methane, Gas-Flare, Flow-Back, and others have a literal Blow Out all over your city, just like they will if hydraulic fracturing is allowed to go ahead by the Stormont Executive. Brought to CNB by Friends of the Earth & No Fracking Northern Ireland.

1900-2000 – Myths of Belfast – University of Ulster – A short 30 minute film explores the city’s architectural and urban identity and finds that it doesn’t have one! Instead, it has a constantly shifting set of agreed ‘myths’ tacitly accepted as ‘truth’. Through a series of interviews with architects, planners, community activists and built environment professionals this short film attempts to document these shifts over the course of the 20th century, exposing the unplanned and arbitrary nature of ‘urban identity’.

Cyclists should note that there St Anne’s Cathedral car park (off Academy Street) is offering a free and manned bike park on Friday evening. And watch out for Culture Night Radio which you may hear around the streets as well as online.

Watch out for other Culture Night Extra events running in and around the main Culture Night.

Saturday 1100-1200 – The Boy Who Dreamed of Space Rockets – Reading by Andrew Wood from his forthcoming début children's book.

Photo via KeithBelfast.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Culture Night Lisburn 2014 - music, street theatre, crafts & a smart-adventure through the park #CNL14

Culture Night is being celebrated in many cities and towns across Ireland this Friday.

Lisburn is offering free entertainment, discovery and adventure for the second year running. The full programme (PDF) is available in shops and restaurants around the city centre. Keep an eye on @love_lisburn for updates.

Local restaurants and pubs will be hosting a rotating platter of live musical acts for diners and drinkers: Del Toro, Square Bistro, The Tuesday Bell, Angelo’s, The Wallace, Hague’s Bar, The Favourite Bar, The Three Crowns, and The Cardan (which celebrates its tenth birthday in the old Robins Nest site with a party on Thursday from 8.30pm)

Lisburn Ladies Harmony Choir will be livening up Castle Gardens from 5.15pm-6pm. Later on at 7.30pm there’ll be an hour of entertainment with Fusion Theatre performing hit songs from popular musicals.

R-Space Gallery on Castle Street (the old rectory) is hosting family art workshops with Shirley Brown Camblin (Garryvoe House art & craft studio) from 5pm-7pm. Local blogger Heather McGarrigle from The Patchwork Quill will be there from 6.30pm-8.30pm with knitting, pom pom making, friendship bracelets and more. Singer and guitarist Guitarbuckle will be playing live, and there's the promise of hot drinks and sweet treats too.

Down the street Lisburn Cathedral coffee room will be open with an acoustic two-piece Sarah and Chris Calvert performing.

Students from SERC will be performing on the street around Lisburn along with firedancer Colleen Eardley.

The YMCA on Bow Street will be open to explain how they support and empower vulnerable young people, adults and families.

And there’s a QR-code based animated adventure Dog#7 from The Left hand Cinema through Wallace Park starting at the back gates (Belsize Road). The clues/codes will be in place from 4pm until 9pm. Make sure your phone has a QR code reader.

Theatre coming up - Cabaret, Pentecost, Dracula and Fast & Loose (4 new plays in 24 hours)

Cabaret has just started its run at The MAC (16 Sep–4 Oct). The MAC’s main theatre space has been transformed into the Kit Kat Klub.

Not content with singing and dancing, the Bruiser Theatre Company production involves and actors playing the music too in the Kit.

Book a seat and a cocktail around one of the club’s tables, or sit back and relax in a traditional theatre seat and be transported back to the decadent but decaying world of 1930s Berlin.

Over at the Lyric, late Belfast playwright Stewart Parker’s last play Pentecost runs from 20 Set – 18 Oct. Back in a QUB symposium marking the 40th anniversary of the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike, actors Adrian Dunbar and Barbara Adair read snippets from the play that uses the strike and the surrounding strife as its backdrop.

(At the same event, Glenn Barr shared his recollections as a strike organizer, including Ian Paisley’s involvement with the union/paramilitary/political group and the story of the day Paisley tried to take his seat.)

Marian has sold her business and takes up tenancy in a repossessed Belfast working-class parlour-house. Her hopes for a safe haven and fresh start are soon shattered when she finds herself bunkered down during the Ulster Workers' Strike with estranged husband Lenny, his muesli-chomping friend Peter, and her best friend Ruth who is fleeing from an abusive husband.

The four have their own personal crises to reconcile before they can carve a new future. They work out their relationships to each other, the world outside and to the past while trying to envisage a future beyond bombs and reprisals. Only Marian is aware of a fifth presence - the ghost of Lily Matthews, the previous occupant.

The Theatre at the Mill at Newtownabbey promises a show that audiences can sink their teeth into. The première of Jonathan Harker and Dracula features Gerald McCarthy (Hollyoaks). The new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic gothic masterpiece is directed by Michael Poynor and runs from 18-27 September. Age 12+.

And Accidental Theatre is back for the third year in the Lyric on Saturday 4 October with Fast & Loose. Described as plays for the chronically impatient, four mini-plays are written, rehearsed and performed in a day. Starting at 9pm on Friday evening, four playwrights spend 12 hours crafting their short play, before four directors and cast take over at 9am to rehearse and finally perform the plays that evening in the Naughton Studio at 9pm.

Drama doesn't come any fresher! Tickets only £5 (plus booking fee).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster - a guide to the events of March 2011 and its aftermath

Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster is simultaneously a terrifying and a disappointing read. The book sets out to deliver an in-depth explanation of the events at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor during and in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that disrupted the operation of the nuclear power station on 11 March 2011.

Even after numerous investigations and reports, there is still confusion about the exact chain of catastrophic events in Fukushima Daiichi’s four reactors and associated spent fuel pools. The inside of the damaged reactors are still off-limits to humans, water-level instrumentation was clearly inaccurate, and many of the computer models used to predict damage have proved ineffective.
  • However, it is clear that given the loss of AC (mains) and battery power, the absence of effective cooling systems led to the core of Unit 1 melting onto the bottom of the sealed reactor vessel and hours later through the floor of the vessel and onto the containment floor where it “violently reacted with the concrete”. Hydrogen seems to have made its way to the top of the reactor building and exploded.
  • Despite large amounts of water being pumped in, the core of Unit 3’s reactor is likely to have melted, but it is uncertain whether it breached the floor of the vessel. However there was an explosion. There was core damage in Unit 2, but uncertainty to the level of damage to containment. There was an explosion, though what initiated it and how much damage it caused are uncertain.

It is unfortunate that the illustration of a boiling water reactor early on in the book (page 6) was not larger and easier to read given that the next 250 pages would refer back to the elements that make up the reactor facility. However, there is a useful appendix towards the rear of the book.

The book mixes details of earthquake and tsunami with design defects, regulatory failure, government intervention, misinformation, poor decision making, population evacuations, competing analyses, human tragedy as well as heroic efforts by the Fukushima Daiichi staff.

The book is terrifying given that a colleague and blogger Destroy All Onions was 250m up on an observation deck of the Tokyo Tower when the earthquake hit on 11 March 2011 and stayed in the city until 21 March. [Norwin’s blog entries for the whole month of March 2011 are well worth a read.] Start at the end and work forwards.]

Having read the book, the information in the blog entry on 17 March 2011 now seems too optimistic, perhaps plain wrong.
Today we wake to more media scaremongering. If you haven’t seen it yet, this page [dead link] from the UK Embassy (not the Japanese government), from UK nuclear experts makes it clear that Tokyo is safe from radiation whatever happens.

The scale of the opportunity for venting of material from the reactor and difficulties with the spent fuel pools included fallout spreading far south to Tokyo and beyond.

Pumping water into the spent fuel pools was a priority to prevent further damage and release of nuclear material into the atmosphere.
… the Japanese had rejected two fire trucks offered by the U.S. Air Force because the vehicles were not registered in Japan and thus could not be legally driven on the roadways, an act of bureaucratic nitpicking that amazed the Americas.

As well as being slow and ill-calculated, the evacuation plans were at times chaotic and heartbreakingly tragic.
… preparations got under way to move the two hundred and nine ambulatory patients and staff out of Futaba Hospital, located about three miles from the plant. Left behind, however, were one hundred and thirty bedridden hospital residents at a nearby nursing home. The SDF [Japanese Self-Defense Force] were reportedly en route to transport them. Owing to a series of bureaucratic errors and communication mix-ups, the trips didn’t arrive for two days, during which time the facilities had no power or hear and caregivers had departed. By then, four patients were dead … Fourteen more died during the trip. But thirty-five patients were accidentally left behind, forgotten and not rescued until [two days later].

With no mains electricity or backup power, valves that could be used to vent the pressure building up in the reactor building had to be operated manually, in the dark, and in ‘hot’ areas. The lack of filters in some vents meant that radioactivity was emitted straight into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, over in the US, their Nuclear Regulatory Commission was piecing together media reports and scant information reluctantly provided by the reactor operating company (TEPCO) and the Japanese nuclear authorities. Deciding on an evacuation radius for US citizens proved difficult given the lack of accurate models and a likely conflict with Japanese government advice to their own citizens.

The book is let down by its constant drift away from Fukushima Daiichi to instead overly-critique the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It is clear by half way through the book that the obsessive documenting of the ins and outs of relationships between the NRC’s five president-appointed commissioners is part of an agenda by the authors (David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The lessons and fire safety regulations imposed by the NRC in light of accidents at US nuclear reactor sites have reportedly not yet been fully actioned; in once case they have not been met at the site of the accident. It that the nuclear industry is addressing the few fresh regulations that the NRC do impose with cost-conscious shortcuts rather than structural solutions that think beyond the design-limits and react to possible catastrophes rather than theoretical models.

For example, portable pumping and safety (‘FLEX’) equipment is positioned around reactor sites and further backup equipment is kept within a few hours drive. However, this often overlooks any difficulty in road transport (it was very difficult to approach Fukushima by road) or the possibility that huge dams might flood landlocked reactor sites and render ground-level equipment unusable.

By chapter ten, Japan has all but vanished from the narrative and been replaced with a negative (though potentially quite fair) criticism of the NRC and the US nuclear industry. The fast-paced almost thriller-like page-turning of the opening chapters has by this stage has evaporated. The authors conclude that:
… severe reactor accidents will continue to happen as long as the nuclear establishment pretends they won’t happen … Until the NRC acknowledges the real possibility of sever accidents, and begins to take corrective actions, the public will be protected only to the extent that luck holds out.

Yet in their attempt to lobby US readers, the authors damage the tone of the book and dent the perception of having written a rigorous scientific analysis. Critics of the work question the sense of balance in the book, noting the odd omission of any mention of the coastal Onagawa nuclear power plant which was closer (half the distance) to the epicentre of the March 2011 earthquake than Fukushima Daiichi plant (and proves the authors’ point about the necessity of safety systems that exceed the minimum expected abnormal conditions).
The town of Onagawa to the northeast of the plant was largely destroyed by the tsunami which followed the earthquake, but the plant's 14 meter (46-foot) high seawall was tall and robust enough to prevent the power plant from experiencing severe flooding. All safety systems functioned as designed, the reactors automatically shut down without damage, and no reactor damage occurred … Following the tsunami two to three hundred homeless residents of the town who lost their homes to the tsunami took refuge in the Onagawa nuclear plant's gymnasium, as the reactor complex was the only safe area in the vicinity to evacuate to, with the reactor operators supplying food and blankets to the needy.

For anyone curious about the events in Japan in March 2011 and concerned that governments, regulators and industry may not always act decisively or transparently in the middle of disaster, Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster deserves a place on your shelves. Two thirds of the book describes a situation that was so nearly even more catastrophic than it ended up if it wasn’t for the actions of brave workers at Fukushima who at times ignored company HQ advice and did the right thing in unforeseen circumstances.

The book concludes by asking How safe is safe enough? and How much proof is enough? Questions that equally apply to Japan, the US, the UK and every other nuclear nation.

Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster is available from Amazon for £15.43 (or less from other traders). James Mahaffey’s book Atomic Accidents - A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima also seems to be recommended for readers interested in Fukushima and other nuclear incidents.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (Gladys Ganiel)

The Emergent Church Movement (ECM) is small and often written off as an insignificant bunch of post-modern people struggling with their faith and trying to find a wishy washy compromise that removes the socially awkward edges of mainstream Christian denominations and loses the rigorous theological positions. There’s also the question of whether ECM is church or is even a coherent movement.

Local lecturer and sociologist of religion, Commonwealth Games marathon runner and winner of today’s Belfast City Half Marathon Gladys Ganiel has written The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity along with Gerardo Marti to analyse the development and significance of ECM and draw out conclusions about its innovations.

You can listen back to Gladys Ganiel talking with Steve Stockman about the book and how the topic of ECM challenges Northern Ireland evangelicalism in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church earlier this evening. Her talk was followed by a long Q&A which ended with the final questioner asking how ECM measures up to the test of the fruit of the spirit it exhibits!

The book begins with a detailed description of a ”theo-dramatic performance” by Peter Rollins, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Jonny McEwan as part of a “Re-Emergence” conference that was held in Belfast in 2010. Held in a bar, candles flickering, a call to worship, an antique book used as a prop, a modern Hebrew lament sung, a ‘sermon’ preached and a novel benediction. Informal conversation follows the close of the ‘service’ as those congregated around the bar tables grasp at the possible meaning and significance of what they’ve just heard.

Rollins and Ó Tuama were regular contributors to the Belfast-based Ikon collective. (Many involved with Ikon would dissociated themselves from the emergent church movement, but deep down that helps qualify them as being at the heart of ECM.) The description of the Re-emergence event felt very familiar when I think back to Ikon events I’ve attended over the years. The book’s second chapter includes more beautiful descriptions of different emergent services and events.

While usually seen as emerging from Evangelical Protestantism, I can think of  more Catholic-based neo-monastic communities in Derry/Donegal that certainly fit the bill too. Whether in bars and pubs, old deserted church buildings, neo-monastic settings or performance spaces, Ganiel and Marti document the gatherings of people who hold beliefs lightly, mostly based in Ireland, UK and the US. Asked tonight about the English-speaking western nature of the emergent examples, Ganiel explained that the charismatic/Pentecostal movements – also individualistic – are the main area of growth in Latin America … so there is little evidence of distinctive ECM.

Many of those involved in ECM – the “dechurched” – seem connected by “what they are jointly leaving”. Some want to “subvert” the church they love, but recognise that it needs to change. The authors note that Emerging Christians seem to be creating space that is “church-ish without being church-y”. The authors see ECM as a “religious orientation” rather than a “religious identity”. Relationships “trump” other considerations, and while membership may be informal, customs and rituals do abound amongst the chaos. Storytelling and the creation of networks and alliances (social capital) are commonplace.

The authors quote emergent leaders who see denominational statements of faith as tools that “tend to stop conversation” and can be used as a way of “manipulating or excluding people from the community”. ECM instead hold on to ambiguity. Doubt is wholeheartedly embraced. They react against the glitz and razzmatazz of megachurches and those trying to invade that space. Formulaic approaches are ignored. Creativity is turned up to eleven. Meaning is multi-layered and it can be exhausting for those attending emerging services to pick out the truths and spot all the meaningful references in the reflections and dialogue. (Though that can be true in mainstream denominations and services too!)

From the range of ECM communities and examples listed in the book, the majority of “leaders” (or organisers if ECM prefers) still seem to be male. Maybe ECM isn’t quite as radical as it proclaims!

I was surprised to see The Dock mentioned in as an emerging example. Perhaps best known for running an honesty box café in one of the otherwise vacant shop units under the ARC apartments in Belfast's Titanic Quarter, The Dock's original intention had been to buy and restore a boat. However, the inter-denominational group have ended up (for now) with a bricks and mortar café that acts as a chaplaincy for this burgeoning area of the city which lacks any physical church. Lead chaplain Chris Bennett describes the setting:
The cafe is a space where absolutely anybody can feel at home – no-one is attacked with Bibles, tracts or evangelistic slogans when they come in through the door. At the same time, we try to provide a little bit of space for spiritual life in the Titanic Quarter – especially in the Prayer Garden, a light-filled little oasis of greenery and peace in the corner of the cafe, and through the presence of the team of Dock Chaplains, who are just as happy to get stuck in to a deep and meaningful natter about the meaning of life as to get stuck feeding Doris the Dishwasher!

Is The Dock part of the emerging movement? It certainly doesn’t self-label itself this way. Yet perhaps its non-evangelical, non-pushy, relational approach that has brought spirituality to a new area through the generosity of building owners and the smell of fresh coffee in a pop-up venue does qualify it. Asked about The Dock this evening, Ganiel defended its inclusion under their ECM umbrella by explaining its parallels with the Fresh Expressions movement that is particularly active in the Church of England and English Methodism. (Although FE's institutional links challenge the normal independence of ECM!)

The Dock lacks a formal sanctuary, instead meeting up on Sundays at 3.33pm for Dock Walks that stroll around Titanic Quarter, pausing to reflect along on the way. They also now meet once a month on a Sunday evening in the SS Nomadic boat (rather than their cafe space). While it “may not be on the radical fringe where Pete Rollins dances”, The Dock’s peripatetic, conversational chaplaincy model sits well with ECM.

Towards the end of the book, co-pastor of the Refuge in Denver, Kathy Escobar, is quoted:
You have to dismantle systems that perpetuate inequality, money, power and control. You have to stop hanging with people who are just like you. You have to give up making sure you’re the “us” and others not like you are “them”. You have to lay down your idols of comfort and worldly success.

Sounds suspiciously like Jesus!

The authors rightly point out that ECM is a niche, minority network of disenfranchised Christians. Is it more that “hipster” Christianity? Is the deconstruction masking empty religion or is it confident questioning “on a perpetual spiritual quest”?

The fact that some early ECM literature – like Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller – was banned form conservative Christian bookstores adds legitimacy to the movement. I can only imagine the book burnings that Peter Rollins’ back catalogue must have suffered!

In the closing chapter of The Deconstructed Church, the authors agree that Emerging Christians are “embedded agents … attempting to change Christianity from within”.
It is precisely the taken-for-granted aspects of Christianity that the ECM attempts to make obvious in order to play and subvert, The ECM’s apparent informality in so many settings can be seen as an attempt to create slack in rule-following, and a space for experimentation, thus engaging the tensions of pluralism. Even in a pub, where the drinks appear to allow for a great reduction in sanctity, drinks can actually be familiar objects to hide behind (drinking with friends on a night out) while new normative imperatives flex their way into the scene.
One pub church leader wrote:
… something magical happens around that table, with half-full pints and honest conversation”. It becomes a social space that allows individual convictions yet a cooperative place for expression …

My hunch is that our world would be a better place if more people with differences came together to learn from each other, rather than allowing unwarranted assumptions to grow into ignorance, hatred an division. Around this table, instead of building walls, we tear them down. Instead of assuming, we ask, and say “Teach me.” Instead of attacking each other, we buy another round. Instead of “moving on,” we become friends.
The pub may not always be the setting, but the concept is readily transferable to other situations.

Reading the book as a non-sociologist and simply as a questioning Christian, I appreciate the structure that this volume provides, helping frame how the creation and development of emerging church movements can be evaluated and understood.

The book highlights the wider spaces and models that may be running in parallel with, or be part of, the emerging movement (eg, peripatetic chaplaincy) and – for me – starts to sound warning bells about the rising “religious individualisation” that challenges modern Christianity from all directions.

Aspects of the emergent movement are (thankfully) creeping into congregations and denominations that would be embarrassed to be associated with ECM. Will the institutional embrace of emergent facets push geeky forerunners into ever more extreme rejection deconstruction of traditions, or will it provide more secure homes for those seeking faith without the comfort blanket of having to have all the 'right' answers? This book by Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel certainly succeeds in setting down a foundation of material about the practices and beliefs of individuals and communities.

The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity is available from Amazon on Kindle (£11.84) and in hardback (£21.32).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Celebrating Seamus Heaney On Home Ground - poetry festival in Magherafelt (11-14 September)

If you love your poetry then there's a festival for you running in Magherafelt. The festival website introduces the event:
The Festival which was named “On Home Ground” by the poet before his untimely death will take place in the stunning setting of Laurel Villa, Magherafelt, and surrounding locations which inspired much of Heaney’s work and will this year be called Celebrating Seamus Heaney On Home Ground 2014, in his honour.

The event, running over four days in September in the heart of the late Seamus Heaney’s homeland, will this year celebrate the life, work and legacy of Ireland's most well-known and respected poet through poetry, music and art and will bring a host of huge names from all of these worlds to Magherafelt, the district he called home.

Heaney, who was born three miles away at Mossbawn, was a patron of the On Home Ground Festival and featured heavily in last year’s very successful event at Laurel Villa. This year the Heaney family have given the festival their blessing to carry on in his name.

Friday 12 September

4pm Henry McDonald (Guardian & Observer Ireland Correspondent) shares his favourite Heaney poem. £5.

7pm Pat Loughrey (former controller BBC NI) talks about how Heaney's poetry captured the wonder
of a child’s eye view of the world. Free, but booking required.

Saturday 13 September

1pm Seamus McKee (Presenter of Evening Extra) shares his favourite Heaney poem. £5.

2pm Belfast Noir - a discussion on this burgeoning literary genre chaired by Darragh McIntyre with panellists Stuart Neville (The Twelve), Brian McGilloway (The Inspector Devlin mysteries) and Gerard Brennan (The Point). £10.

6pm The amazing Wireless Mystery Theatre present My Heaney. £5.

8pm The Invisible Tribe - Gary Lightbody in conversation with festival curator Marie-Louise Muir about Heaney "as a central force in his creative life". £25.

8.15pm A night of music and song - Heaney and Songs of the Scribe: Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin with Zoe Conway, John McIntyre and Poets Leontia Flynn and Medbh McGuckian ... oddly accompanied by my photo in the festival brochure. £10.

Sunday 14 September

1pm Liam Clarke (Belfast Telegraph Political Editor) shares his favourite Heaney poem. £5.

For ticket availability, check with the box office on + 44 (0) 28 7963 1510.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2014 European Heritage Open Days - 13/14 Sep - free access to hundreds of NI buildings #ehodni

This weekend over 400 properties across Northern Ireland will open up to the public – for free – as part of European Heritage Open Days. The full programme (and list of amendments and corrections to the printed brochure) can be found on the Discover Northern Ireland website.

I’ve consistently blogged about EHOD in previous years, and many of the venues and attractions listed in old posts are open again this year. So it’s worth a peruse of the old posts to find some gems.


Currently celebrating 125th year of operation, the tour around Belfast Central Library has long remained unticked on my EHOD to do list. Tours 10.30am and 2.30pm on Saturday.

Over the weekend, the sound of church organ recitals will fill various St Peter’s Cathedral (Saturday and Sunday, 8.30am-7pm), May Street Presbyterian (Saturday 10am-4pm, Sunday 12.30pm-4pm) and Townsend Street Presbyterian (Saturday 10am-6pm and Sunday 2pm-6pm).

The Masonic Hall in Arthur Square (better known as Cornmarket) has been refurbished and offers fantastic rooftop views across Belfast city centre as well as an insight into a somewhat mysterious organisation. Open on Saturday from 10am-4pm with a tour at 11am.

Templemore Baths (at the top of Templemore Avenue) are open on Saturday from 11am-3pm with tours of the community trust-maintained baths on the hour and a short documentary by Lorna Milligan How far can you Swim, Son? showing every ten minutes between 1pm and 3pm.

While Sunday’s Art Deco tour in Belfast is fully booked, another free tour has been arranged for Sunday 21 at 10.30am – you can register through PLACE. Spaces are still available on tours looking at the architecture of Donegall Square, city centre churches, and an urban photo walk. More details and booking at PLACE.

Twenty minute tours around Belfast Waterfront Hall will take place on the hour between 10am and 6pm on Saturday,

If you’ve never visited Sinclair Seaman’s Presbyterian Church (tucked in beside the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office on Corporation Street) it’s well worth a trip to see the novel pulpit and naval artefacts throughout the building. Open on Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 2pm-5pm with tours subject to demand.

If you book you can join free tours of the Grand Opera House on Saturday and Sunday at 10am, 11am and noon. The Ulster Hall is also open for guided tours on Saturday 10am-4pm and Sunday 10am-noon.


Hilden Brewery is running a free tour around Ireland’s oldest independent brewery at noon on Saturday and Sunday. [Brings back memories of our class visit in P7 when we came away from the brewery with school blazer pockets full of hops to chew on for the next month!]

The R-Space Gallery (32 Castle Street) in Lisburn was once the Cathedral Rectory and is now a thriving visual arts and crafts space. Open on Saturday between noon and 5pm, hard hat tours are available and talks at 2pm and 4pm.


The Victorian country house Drumalis (just outside Larne on the Glenarm Road) is open with free tours on Saturday afternoon (noon-4pm) and afternoon tea is available to purchase.

The Moravian Church at Gracehill (outside Ballymena) opened in 1765 and is running tours on the hour on Saturday (open 12.30pm-5pm). The nearby Gracehill Old School is also open on Saturday 12.30pm-5pm with a living history exhibition running throughout the afternoon.

Star shows at the Armagh Planetarium are free on Saturday, though you need to book. Open between 10am and 5pm.

A Cold War bunker buried 15 feet under a field on the outskirts of Portadown will be open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday (11am-5pm). FULLY BOOKED

There are countless other venues open to potter around or more formally tour across Northern Ireland with a strong showing up in Derry, including a guided urban walk around the city centre (booking required, but places still available).

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Belfast Festival - 16 Oct to 1 Nov 2014 - bandsmen, holy bus tours & multi-lingual sci-fi #belfest

In six weeks' time, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s will be up and running with 110 events over 16 days. Some highights from their programme.

Disappointingly there are no performances in SARC’s whizzy Sonic Lab this year. Update - breaking news - SARC students are performing PLAY/Sounds of Squash (complete with trumpet, trombone, tuba and a game of squash) in a PEC squash court on Friday 24 (7pm) and Saturday 25 October (3pm and 7pm)!


More Than a Flag – 3 Bands, 2 Sides, 1 World War – commemorates East Belfast’s participation in the First World War through song, poetry, music and drama as 18 young bandsmen work with Dan Gordon and Happenstance Theatre Company in this much anticipated premiere. Thursday 23 – Saturday 25 October at 7.30pm in Ballymacarrett Orange Hall, Albertbridge Road. Tickets £7.

The Holy Holy Bus premières with a play by Brassneck Theatre Company that follows four women on a “hilariously madcap adventure” as they go on “a pilgrimage that leaves a West Belfast parish once a year to tour the holy sites of Ireland”. Tuesday 21 – Friday 31 October (not Sunday 26) at 8pm in Belfast Waterfront. Tickets £12-15.

Makaronik by Dave Duggan and produced by Aisling Ghéar Irish Language Theatre Company. It’s a multi-lingual sci-fi drama in Irish, English and Empirish.
It’s the year 2084 in a world where ‘The Empire’ reigns supreme. Most European languages are forbidden. We’re introduced to the menacing wilderness that was once Belfast. Makaronik, the last woman standing, has been instructed by ‘The Centre’ to wrap up her archive and send back all remnants of the Irish language for ‘storage’. Diarmuid and Gráinne, two high level officials, arrive to ensure that all goes smoothly and that Makaronik comes back with them….. but will it all go as smoothly as planned?

Futuristic, yet rooted in an ancient tradition - think of Beckett’s Endgame, Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, with just a hint of The Matrix – Makaronik asks big questions about the relentless drive of technology, as it makes the world seem smaller. It asks what are we losing out on? It’s also a story about home, security, and the basic human need to create family and community, even under the most alien of circumstances. A struggle that is at the beating heart of Makaronik.

Makaronik plays on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 October at 8pm and Sunday 26 October at 3pm in Lyric Theatre. Tickets £12. After Belfast Festival, Makaronik will tour through Galway, Monaghan, Derry, Maghera and Dublin.


War photographer Paul Conroy will deliver Amnesty International’s Annual Festival Lecture – Syria: The World's Most Dangerous Place for Journalists – explaining why the role of war correspondent has never been more important or more perilous. Followed by a Q&A chaired by William Crawley. Monday 20 October at 7.30pm in QUB Great Hall. Tickets £8.

Actor Adrian Dunbar will reflect on the work of playwright Stewart Parker in the annual memorial lecture.  Saturday 18 October at 5pm in Brian Friel Theatre (QFT). Tickets free, but booking essential.

Former Blairite advisor and negotiator Jonathan Powell asks Should Governments Talk to Terrorists? Spoiler – yes. He’ll discuss his new book Talking to Terrorists (“an inside look at the subterranean exchanges that occur between governments and terrorist organisations”) with Mark Carruthers. Saturday 18 October at 7.30pm in QUB Great Hall. Tickets £8.


A smorgasbord of Chinese cinema in the Queens Film Theatre over the festival.


Photographer Donal McCann followed Máirtín Ó Muilleoir during his year in office as Belfast Lord Mayor. He’s launching his book and exhibition on Saturday 18 October at 2pm in the Golden Thread Gallery. Free admission. Exhibition runs until 21 October.

Global Groove promises “a readical manifesto on communications” with video art created by Nam June Paik – Korean-American father of the genre – using surreal visual wit, artworld figures and Pop iconography in “a joyful, hallucinatory romp and a prophetic statement on mass communication and contemporary art”. Runs from 11am to 4pm daily in QUB Naughton Gallery from Thursday 23 October until 2 November.

Kabosh present the world premiere of 20, a multi-sensory experience of Belfast in an unexpected venue.
Superb Detached City in Excellent Convenient Location … Surrounded by picturesque hills, this lively metropolis features south-facing gardens, a thriving port, two airports and a variety of road & motorway connectivity. A colourful history with huge potential for development. Midnight, 31st August 1994. The IRA declares a ‘complete cessation of military operations’. The announcement sends shockwaves throughout the province sparking joyous celebration, anger, frustration, elation, resentment and relief. Does peace have a price?

20 is open from 10am to 6pm, Thursday 23 October until Saturday 1 November in The Dome, Victoria Square.

Join the Belfast Civic Trust for a floodlit bus tour of key civic buildings in the city to hear their history and architectural story. View significant Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian Belfast buildings such as Belfast City Hall, St Peter’s Cathedral, Clonard Monastry, St Anne’s Cathedral, the Custom House and Stormont together with modernist architecture such as the Waterfront Hall and the Ulster Museum. Bus picking up passengers on Thursday 23 October at QUB, University Road at 7.30pm. Tickets £12.

A couple of days later there’s another bus tour, this time taking in Modernist Churches of Belfast and exploring if the universalising tendencies of modernism erased the differentiation between Protestant and Catholic churches in Belfast. Architectural researcher Rosaleen Hickey leads the one hour tour at 11am on Saturday 25 October. Free but booking essential as the tour is limited to 30 spaces.

Passport Deals are offering festival goers discount if they book two different events from a list in various genres:
  • 2 Classical for £20
  • 2 Dance for £25
  • 2 Film for £8
  • 2 Music for £15
  • 2 Talks & Literature for £8
  • 2 Theatre for £40

Can sociologists explain faith communities to the general public? And can church leadership pull its weight? #esabelfast

Furthering Belfast’s aim to become the city of conferences, the European Sociology of Religion conference – Religion in the Public Domain – is running this week in Assembly Buildings.*

The delegates escaped on Wednesday evening to the City Hall where QUB’s Prof John Brewer identified in his lecture that faith leaders and communities find it difficult to know how, when and what to say publicly about major issues. So he challenged the assembled sociologists of religion to take on the role of explaining the good work of religious and faith communities in the public square.

On Thursday morning, Prof Linda Woodhead (Lancaster) addressed the issue of How Public Religion has Changed now that ‘Church and State’ isn’t the only Game in Town. In her very accessible talk, she breezed through:
  • the history of church and state, and the shift from old-style nation-state religion to modern global-market religion;
  • compared state denominations (like slow to turn supertankers administered by committee) with newer churches (relying on lots of enthusiastic volunteers who are quite unaccountable);
  • referenced research on Westminster Faith Debates conducted with YouGov that looked at public attitudes to faith and values;
  • questioned the kind of leadership being demonstrated by major faith leaders (does Oprah have a wider pastoral influence than the Pope** given her 25 million Twitter followers?) and wondered whether they have reduced themselves to photo-gallery leadership?

In the capable hands of Dr Gladys Ganiel and her team of organisers, sessions at the conference continue until Friday, covering issues of church grown and maintenance; pilgrimage and memorialisation; religion and politics; post-secularism; Islam in Germany; religion, public health and death; global justice; religion online and in the media amongst other streams.

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* Worth remembering that one of the successful arguments employed ten years ago against the Presbyterian Church in Ireland moving out of their central Belfast stone-clad turreted building was that it would encourage the perception that PCI was no longer at the heart of the public square.

** While the Pope Francis’ English-language Twitter account has a mere 4.43m followers, if you add on the followers for his other eight language-specific Twitter accounts (including 6.62m Spanish followers), his overall total rises to 15.3m … not so shabby, particularly when compared with the Dalai Lama 9.3m and Justin Welby 0.063m!

Monday, September 01, 2014

IKEA Belfast Crayfish Party (Fri 5 Sep): crayfish, meatballs, kitsch music from Bjorn Identity (& no flatpack)

It’s nearly that time of year again when IKEA turns orange as they host their annual crayfish party complete with ABBA tribute band The Bjorn Identity.

Crayfish and schnapps along with mountains of meatballs, cocktail sausages and lingonberry jam, salads and yummy desserts … and huge orange paper bibs … and Swedish drinking songs helped along by a large Scandinavian contingent – and wannabes – in the IKEA cafe.

From previous experience, it’s a great evening’s craic … and The Bjorn Identity are in their element.

Friday 5 September from 6pm – 9pm.

Tickets on sale in IKEA’s restaurant.

Reduced price entry for IKEA Family members (their free red loyalty card); complimentary drinks vouchers; kids under five get in free.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bleeding Edge (Thomas Pynchon): a fast paced but disappointing detective story about NY's 2001 tech industry

I can't remember who or what tickled me into buying Bleeding Edge (for Kindle) but I'd love to go back and interrogate them.

The basic story [culled from the back cover to avoid too many spoilers] is set in 2001 and the dot com bubble has burst. Maxine runs a fraud investigation business in New York and starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm hashslingrz (always lower case) and its CEO Gabriel Ice. She is dragged through the 'Deep Web' and an unsavoury Big Apple underworld. Oh, and she stumbles across a video of men practician on a rooftop with a Stinger missile launcher that may link up with the 9/11 bombings ...

A much-quoted Washington Post reviewer described Thomas Pynchon's novel as "totally gonzo". I'd prefer "totally bonkers" or "totally disappointing". The story rips along and you can basically speed read it at any pace to keep up with the unfolding narrative, though you may miss the joy of some of the rich-in-vernacular conversations. Unfortunately the ending comes when the book runs out of paper - or the Kindle version runs out of screens to swipe - rather than when the story is complete or any of the loose plot threads are tied up. How terribly post-modern, with the emphasis on 'terribly'.

The book is well researched, and there are some lovely concepts like hacking a Furby to give it a wireless connection to spy on confidential conversations from an office shelf. And many corporate office workers will smile at the reference to the Disgruntled Employee Simulation Program for Audit Information and Review (or DESPAIR)!

There may yet be a gap in the real-world market for a "Darklinear Solutions" brokerage that maps out unused dark fibre in empty office buildings and matches them with technology clients. The idea of using a vircator to generate an EM pulse to disrupt data centres may not on Anonymous' anarchy list given the amount of power required, and the concrete walls that protect data centres together with the long distance they are set in from public roads?

There's a page-long rant about IKEA which includes the observations that "an entire section of the store was dedicated to replacing wrong or missing parts and fasteners, since with IKEA this is not so exotic an issue" [not true in my experience!] and "exits are clearly marked but impossible to get to". Good stand-up material that is sure to get a few laughs, but it sits awkwardly in the middle of this 500 page book.

The Stinger missile storyline has potential, albeit threaded into the narrative slightly more than half way through. However, rather than becoming the driving force for the rest of the novel, it surfaces every now and again before fizzling out rather than helping to draw the book to a satisfying conclusion.

If Thomas Pynchon has written shorter books, I'd be interested to read one to compare and contrast with the style and lossiness of Bleeding Edge. Perhaps it's a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The technological/Matrix-style cover didn't translate into a technological detective story, but instead remained a mundane and overall disappointing tale about a very mixed up fraud investigator who should turn her magnifying glass on her own ethics before being set loose on others.

If you've read Bleeding Edge, let me know what you think.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline) - a superb retrospective blast through 1980s gaming and culture

Ready Player One is a both a cracking tale and a much appreciated dredge back through all that was good about growing up in the 1980s.

When the co-creator of a vast virtual world OASIS dies, he sets enthusiasts the challenge of solving his puzzles in order to take over control of the company that runs the software. Think Second Life on steroids with 3D goggles and haptic suits. Total immersion in an online environment that freely educates children reduced to living in stacks of caravans in the modern day favelas of 2044.
The OASIS quickly became the single most popular use for the Internet, so much so that the terms "OASIS" and "Internet" gradually became synonymous ... Before long, billions of people around the world were working and playing in the OASIS ever day. Some of them met, fell in love, and got married without ever setting foot on the same continent. The lines of distinction between a person's real identity and that of their avatar began to blur.

Not that far fetched!

Wade has very little of value in real life except his wits and an ability to learn. In OASIS his avatar Parzival starts of with few artefacts or special powers. His gamesmanship together with his friendships help Wade grow into a powerful player. Like an enormous multi-round adventure game, Wade and his other high-scoring searchers uncover many of the secrets. But a commercial army of Sixers are determined to use brute force and murderous tactics - both online and in real life - to solve the giant easter egg first. In a world of fake identities and virtual relationships, who do you really know and who can you really trust?

References to WarGames [what a great movie and book] abound, along with Zork, phone phreaker Cap'n Crunch [aka John Draper], a DeLorean car, a spaceship called Vonnegut, Serenity, 80s music references, and countless home computer machines, gaming platforms and arcade games. It's a total geekfest - male and female - and will tickle everyone who borrowed and devoured the copy of Hackers Handbook in their local library (the original 1985 edition, not the later more populist and sanitised Steve Gold-edited versions).

Written by Ernest Cline, published in 2011 and sitting on my bookshelf since Easter 2013, I brought the book on holiday ... and its 374 pages lasted less than a day and a half. I'm looking forward to the stories he creates in his forthcoming new book.

Recommended for 40 somethings who've seen a TRS-80 or played Dungeons & Dragons, or spent too long in an arcade or at home trying to get the perfect score in a game they've already completed. £3.95 on Kindle or £6.29 in dead tree format from Amazon, and no doubt available from all good local (second hand) bookstores too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

1 million page views ...

Sometime on Wednesday, this blog received its 1 millionth page view. Traffic comes and goes depending on how often I post (not as often as back at the start eight years ago) and the vagaries of the Google's PageRank algorithm.

A minnow in the blogosphere compared to many other local blogs, but at least I've made it to 1 million (and 2155 posts) without giving up!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Punk Rock - dark teenage school days brought to life in the Lyric Theatre (until 6 September) #LyricPunk

While the open stage in the Lyric Theatre has always put audiences up close to the action, the isometric perspective set, tiled floor, individual metal-legged tables, and wood-covered walls mean that audiences for Punk Rock walk into the school of their childhood rather than a theatre. However, much deeper memories are stirred up in audience as the troubled lives of the seven troubled sixth-form students unfold on stage during the first act.

The play is set in late 2008. Lilly (played by Lauren Coe) is new to this Stockport fee-paying grammar school. At first bright and breezy, she has the audience’s empathy wrapped around her little finger very quickly. The first fellow pupil she encounters is William (Rhys Dunlop) who knows every detail of the school’s layout: he’s quite manic, wandering around with a lollipop in his hand, talking too much, giving too much detail.

The cast is full of characters you know from school. A girl (Cissy, Aisha Fabienne Ross) who struts around like a peahen, subservient to her bully of a boyfriend (Bennett, Ian Toner). A boy (Nicholas, Jonah Hauer-King) with the designer gear uniform. A girl (Tanya, Laura Smithers) who prefers to sit at the edge of the group, watching rather than leading. And the amazingly smart, well-mannered, socially awkward anoraked boy (Chadwick, Rory Corcoran) who knows more about theoretical physicist Paul Dirac than his classmates want to hear. At times it all becomes a bit pretentious, but in a terribly believable teenage way.

Simon Stephens’ play is very televisual and modern, with different conversations allowed to overlap, jump cutting between weeks and months, with the audience catching up as a scene develops. Between the terrific soundscape and the special effects, at times it’s like watching a live-action episode of Utopia.

It is quickly apparent that initial heroes can turn into anti-heroes. The audience is constantly asked to re-evaluate who’s good and who’s bad. Honesty is buried deep amongst the layers and layers of image. The characters match their endless outward observations with internal self-examination. Scene by scene their lives become more and more complicated as the tension in your chest builds towards the interval.

Warning: Punk Rock has the best interval cliff-hanger in the history of theatre!

At the end of each scene the lighting freezes the action, taking the colour out of the stage and reducing it to black and white snapshot. The actors reset the stage, dancing along to a snippet of a punk track that belts out over the PA. (Watch out for the spinning wall clock!)

The seventeen year old world portrayed in Punk Rock is a dark one with issues of family bereavement, self harm, mental health and depression, body image, and identity struggles alongside the normal academic pressures of sitting mock A-level exams. There is strong language, violence and scenes of bullying that make you want to shout out from your seat to intervene.

Punk Rock isn’t an easy play to sit through, and a few people seem to escape at the interval. Its mood lingers the next morning. There is little of joy to cling on to from the shocking climax.

It’s great theatre, and it’s really well acted … but be warned that the characters and their emotions will live on with you as you review and rehearse the memories of your own teenage demons.

Punk Rock plays in the Lyric until Saturday 6 September. (Student concessions available for £10.)