Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mark Thomas - As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade

The title’s a bit of a mouthful, but As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade is like an extended paper edition of the Channel 4 Mark Thomas (Comedy) Product.

In the middle of deadly serious discussion and reasoning, it sometimes felt wrong to be laughing out loud at one of Thomas’ humorous one liners that are liberally sprinkled across each page. He’s a talented writer, and a committed campaigner for human rights and industry hypocrisy.

This book centres around the arms trade, includes various trips to London arms fairs (including an account of the first time Mark was ever arrested), getting a secondary school Amnesty group to import banned weapons into the UK and Ireland, and trying to bring a banned item into the Palace of Westminster to show the Minister Malcolm Wicks.

Part of the book deals with the report that Thomas prepared for BBC2’s Newsnight investigating the Hinduja Group and military supplies to Sudan. Threatened by the Hinduja Group with court action, the BBC have never broadcast the piece, though Thomas robustly defends his findings in the book.

The work behind each chapter would probably have made up half of one of his TV shows, so it’s good to be able to read more about the pain and detail of investigating and exposing wrongdoings. It’s compelling.

As the book goes on, I got the feeling that marriage and fatherhood has made mellowed Mark Thomas, making him use the system and play its games to expose duplicity … but none of it has blunted his sword.

I hope he comes back on tour to Belfast soon. Would be a challenging evening’s entertainment.

Eyeball fodder

I’m behind in mentioning books that I’ve been reading and films I’ve seen. So the usual long rubbish commentaries will be replaced by snappy rubbish ones instead. Well that’s the plan anyway ...

Monday, October 30, 2006

UN Security Council - Ding Ding Round 42

While we await the NI political machinations to come to their next conclusion in November, let’s cast our eyes over to the United Nations.

In a bid to break to the deadlock over the vote for the Latin American and Caribbean seat on the UN Security Council, Venezuela started to give chocolates to voting delegates. Lobby for the sweet tooth vote. After all, everyone has a vice.

Then they turned up the heat, bringing what the Independent described as “a crack team of Latin lovelies to charm those in need of a little gentle persuasion”. Someone in the UN commented that “they’re not quite scantily clad”.

I suppose it makes a change from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calling George Bush “the devil”. But it’s unlikely to be the straw that breaks the camel’s impasse.

After a total of 41 rounds, Guatemala and Venezuela continue to fail to get a significant enough share of the vote.

But there is news of a compromise. Venezuela has suggested that both countries should withdraw and allow Bolivia to stand instead. But Guatemala isn’t ready yet to step aside for Venezuela’s political ally. Other potential substitutes include Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

But at the moment, no one winning is better than one side loosing. Watch this space to see if this game of Risk ever finishes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Candelabra, not Menorah

I promised you the story of the candles at Belfast's synagogue when I posted about our fascinating visit there last Sunday.

An overseas donor heard that the new synagogue was being built on Belfast’s Somerton Road and commissioned an Israeli artist (N H Azaz, now based in the UK) to design a large bronze menorah for the new building to be mounted on the Portland stone east well. (See the second entry under 1965.)

Side note: A menorah normally has seven candlesticks, all the same length, with none more prominent than the others. Those are the important features.

But artistic licence took over from religious observance when shaping the bronze menorah. When it arrived in Belfast they discovered that the normal symmetry was missing, and the candle holders were all over the place. Beautiful, not no longer religiously appropriate.

Should they send it back? Well the cost of postage would be prohibitive! And the donor might be offended. So they came to a typical Northern Ireland compromise.

They asked the shipyard (Harland and Wolff) to weld on another two bronze candle holders, bringing the total number to nine, so there would be no chance of confusing it with a traditional menorah. (Though some menorahs do have nine candlesticks.)

And so the “candelabra” was affixed to the East Wall.

But the story’s not over. Guess how many times they’ve lit the candles? Although it has no religious significant, it would still be good to light the nine candles during services, particularly important festivals.

They’ve been lit four times. Three within the first month. Then they realised that the hot wax dripped down over the important luminaries who sit in the front pew.

And the fourth time? For a wedding about a year ago (a fairly rare occurrence given the shrinking number of young people). The bride’s mother scoured Belfast and found non-drip candles And so the candelabra shone out once more.

Since then the non-drip candles have remained in place, but un-lit. Probably too much hassle to reach up to get them lit!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lost Forever

Bye bye Lost. It was nice to be able to see you while you were available on a UK terrestrial channel. But now you’ve been bribed by an overly flush Uncle Sky, I’ll not be able to catch up with your progress.

After the first two series of 24 were shown on BBC2, Sky nabbed it and I stopped watching. Now Lost is going the same way, and it’s not enough to convince me to invest in Sky coverage. Media Guardian reports:
Sky has poached US island drama Lost from Channel 4 for an estimated £20m. The satellite broadcaster has snapped up exclusive rights to series three and four and will air them on Sky One.

It is understood that Channel 4 negotiated with makers Disney's Buena Vista International Television for a month but was unable to reach an agreement.

Other broadcasters were invited to bid and Sky won the day. Channel 4 was given the option to match Sky's offer but declined.
Though the good news (?) is that C4 retained Desperate Housewives!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

An empty London Luton

Luton Airport is a busy airport - the easyJet headquarters (though they now have more flights out of Gatwick than Luton) and home to the easyAcademy for training up orange-suited flight crew.

So picture the scene at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon when lots of people start to arrive for the early evening flights home. Empty. Not a single passenger queuing up to check in.

The reason: chaos on the roads outside the terminal. A bad road accident near one of the car parts had jammed up the roads. Buses from the train station and distant hire car park were stuck on the approach roads. The nimble of us jumped out of the buses and walked down the hill, round the corner, under the bridge and back up to the terminal. Hot sweaty and on time. The queue through security was similarly light.

Moral of story: it’s always worth turning up at the airport early. That way, even when you have to fill out an accident report to explain that Hertz delivered a vehicle with a puncture and argue that you aren’t going to pay for the repair, even when your bus gets stuck three quarters of a mile away from the terminal, you still have time to get checked in and grab a cup of tea to take onto the flight.

Oh, and looks like Starbucks at Aldergrove have had trouble filling a couple of long-term vacancies, causing the problems getting opened up in the mornings. Maybe Costa and Café Rankin pay more to attract enough staff to turn up to open each morning? (If the franchise at Belfast International Airport isn't open at 5.30am some morning, feel free to ring their Customer Care team to complain - they may even send you some vouchers!)

Same story this morning - not opening until 6pm. Left a message with Starbucks Customer Team answering machine. No reply yet.

A visit to Belfast Synagogue

On Sunday afternoon we paid a visit to the Belfast Synagogue on the Somerton Road. The lovely Mr Rosenberg showed us round, introducing us to the history of the building, the Jewish community in Northern Ireland, and the rituals and patterns of his faith.

The Somerton Road orthodox synagogue is an architectural vision. Unusually it is circular, not rectangular. Unusually there isn’t a balcony for women, but a raised platform on either side, only three steps up. The roof is held up by concrete-covered beams, apparently coincidentally in the shape of the Star of David. The shape is visible from above (thanks to Google Maps).

The focus of Sabbath (Saturday) services faces the Eastern Wall in the Synagogue, built of Portland stone.

  • The inscriptions to the left says “Know before whom you stand” in Hebrew.
  • The middle inscription points to the 10 Commandments (given to Moses on two tablets).
  • The blue lamp reminds the congregation of the eternity of God (until they have to replace the bulb).
  • The gates slide back to reveal the Holy Arc, holding the Torah scrolls.
I’ll tell you the story about the candles another time! The synagogue's folly!

As well as being the oldest minority faith in NI, Judaism is now probably the smallest minority faith too. Having peaked at around 1600, numbers have now fallen to around 150, mainly due to the brain drain as young people go to university in England and don’t return.

The original Jewish community was involved in local business. A number of Belfast Lord Mayors worshipped at the Belfast synagogue. And Chaim Hertzog, son of a former Belfast Rabbi, became President of Israel. Not bad for a Belfast boy! (His father had moved from NI to become the Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.)

Over the years, Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe and Russia arrived in Northern Ireland. During the Second World War, Jewish families in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia sent their children abroad. Some ended up in Northern Ireland, where they many came to be housed on the the Millisle Farm bought and run by the local Jewish community. They are still (rightly) proud of their hospitality and foresight to host the children (who became orphaned) and provide them with skills that would help them as they grew older.

Somerton Road isn’t the original Belfast synagogue site. 1870 saw the first NI synagogue on Great Victoria Street. As the incoming refugee population settled around Carlisle Circus and New Lodge. The next synagogue was based nearby in Annesley Street and opened in 1904. This building was taken over by the Mater Hospital who only recently moved out.

A big thank you to Mr Rosenberg for hosting our group ... and for his insight into his faith's heritage and workings.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

London’s Ultimate Burger vs Belfast’s Gourmet Burger Bank

Googling for Gourmet Burger Bank still lists the Alan in Belfast postings (one, two and three) reviewing the Belmont Road eatery, and your comments, good and bad.

But East Belfast isn’t alone in offering smart burger joints. London has four Ultimate Burger restaurants. On Wednesday night I had a meal in the branch nearest to the British Museum on the junction of New Oxford Street and Bloomsbury, just east of Tottenham Court Road tube station.

Dark, half empty and small, half empty: it was quite a contrast to the Belmont Road with it’s bright, bustling and a tall ceiling.

Shown straight to a seat—no sitting around nursing a drink while waiting for a table to clear—the menu was familiar but without some of the more exotic meat options. Prices seemed about £1 dearer than Belfast.

My Smoky Mountain burger arrived with skewer through the middle, with layers and layers of cheese and mushroom fillings. The milk shake was huge. At the end of the meal I had the same feeling of indigestion. The burger, fries, onion rings and shake came to £14.

All in all, apart from the queuing, I’d say the Gourmet Burger Bank in Belfast is better :-)

PS: If you’re in London on a Thursday or Friday night, check out British Museum Court Restaurant up on the upper floor. The food’s great, and the tables overlooking the library offer a great view. Shame it doesn’t open all week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Guess what flooded, and guess what got stuck in it?

I’d resolved not to become an under-bridge-flood anorak … but then I had to divert around the Mays Meadow lake again today.

Not only had the drains failed and the hollow under the railway bridge turned into an extension of Belfast Lough, but a car was marooned with its window open (means of escape?), headlights still on and horn blaring. The owner will have a flat battery as well as soggy footwells!

A great start to someone’s week :(

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Choose Suffolk - Why?

From the bottom of the escalator in a central London tube station (can't remember which one).

Begs the question: "Why?"

Apologies to any readers with East Anglian postcodes. But Suffolk Development Agency did put pay for the posters and the Choose Suffolk website, which states:

"With easy access to central London, Cambridge, Stansted Airport ..."

Let's get this straight. Perhaps the most unreliable rail link I've ever used is between Norwich/Ipswich and London Liverpool Street. The A14 up to Cambridge is a race track ona good day, and a virtual car park whenever there's an accident (how many times a week?). There's no direct way to Stansted, except by driving the hour and a bit down the A12 and (admittedly much-improved A120).

Not a great selling point.

Don’t buy a Navman F20 if you live in NI

An update on winning a sat nav unit - the first action was to choose one under the agreed value, and order it!

I picked up a parcel on Friday night. Out of the box popped a Navman F20 GPS. Bit of a disappointment to discover the small coverage map printed on the side of the packaging.

The small coverage map points out the … small coverage … in Ireland, north and south.

Despite the lack of mention on Navman’s website or on Amazon UK's product page, the unit has woeful coverage outside of Belfast.

Big mistake. Time to call Amazon’s customer service number first thing on Monday morning to arrange a return and refund either under the seven-working-day cooling-off period or because they accept that it’s not fit for purpose and mis-described (or perhaps under-described).

And time to order the TomTom ONE Europe instead.

Methody head resigns

Someone got to the story before I did and added a comment to a previous post ... but the head of Methodist College has resigned.

The Belfast Telegraph explains:

The first woman principal of one of Ulster's most prestigious grammar schools is to resign after just 10 months … Cecilia Galloway … issued a letter to her staff [on Friday] morning revealing she will resign on October 31. She made history last January when she became the first woman to take up the high-profile post.

The move comes after weeks of speculation she was set to quit, rumours which she denied to the Belfast Telegraph and reports of staff unhappiness with her management style and comparisons to Sir Alan Sugar - criticisms she strongly refuted.

UTV’s online news adds detail:

In a statement Ms Galloway, who relocated from England to take up the post, said she had taken the decision because of problems with buying and selling property and the management of her husband’s business interests.

She thanked the Board of Governors for their support and wished the school every success in the future.

The governors said interim arrangements are being put in place to manage the school until a replacement is found.

It will be interesting to see what the interim arrangement is. Back at the end of August a rumour circulated that the previous principal Wilfred Mulryne was being lined up to stand in during any unsettling vacuum.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Modern Morals - as they relate to blogging

This week’s Modern Moral on page three of Wednesday’s Times magazine - times2 - looks at the dilemma ...
On “googling” the name of my daughter’s new boyfriend, we discovered his daily internet blog expressing his intimate feelings about my daughter and their relationship. It feels like snooping, but he must realise that there is a risk of our reading it. Is it wrong to read this, or to let on to him that we are aware of it?
Having pointed out that perhaps the boyfriend expects them to read it, Joe Joseph ends his response with the remark:
It surely can’t be unethical to read something published on a publicly accessible internet site. What should bother you is that your daughter is dating a man who thinks it normal to reveal on a blog intimate details of the relationship.
While some youngsters (and not-so-youngsters) won’t be aware that their every online utterance is increasingly traceable, there is an growing understanding that if you want to keep something provide, write it down. That’s the old fashioned writing with a pen, in a paper diary and keep it locked away.

Bloggers and podcasters like Jett Loe (who lives life “out there” on the net) and Jefferson Davis have all ended up deliberately keeping some details of their lives and relationships private. Salacious makes good reading, but sometimes people get burnt through being too open.

I guess it all depends on your individual circumstances and level of exhibitionism! But I'll be keeping Alan in Belfast the way it is for now.

And looking at the blog description up at the top of the page ...
Comment on cinema, books, technology, and the occasional rant about life.
... looks like if I add a review of The History Boys over the weekend, I'll have posted about all of these this week!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Stalemate - move over NI, make room for Venezuela and Guatemala

While NI politicians battle it out over loyalty oaths, and we look forward to the prospect of a referendum and/or elections in March 2007, spare a thought for another political wrangle being played out at the United Nations in New York.

It's shuffle time on the UN Security Council. While some seats go uncontested, others are being closely fought.

  • South Africa replaced Tanzania.
  • Belgium and Italy replaced Denmark and Greece.
  • Indonesia defeated Nepal in a contest to replace Japan.
But so far there's stalemate as Venezuela (76 votes) lag behind Guatemala (108 votes) for the Latin American & Caribbean seat. The US are backing Guatemala in an attempt to squeeze out the mouthy and anti-American Hugo Chavez from Venezuela.

The Venezuelan UN ambassador states that their victory would give impoverished nations "an independent voice needed on the Security Council to fight against the power of money".

It would also provide a global platform for Chavez to continue his outspoken attacks on US - at last month's opening of the UN General Assembly he called Bush "the devil" and added that he could still smell the sulphur on the podium where Bush had spoken the day before!

With a seat, Venezuela could disrupt the Security Council's ability to publish policy statements that need unanimity, but wouldn't effect the passing of resolutions - which require nine votes (out of fifteen) and no vetoes (from the permanent members - UK, China, France, Russia, UK and US).

The United State's vigorous lobbying on behalf of Guatemala (though not entirely welcomed by them) isn't helping matters - hardening the Venezuelan resolve to stay in the race and win.

Voting will continue until one country gets the 125 two-thirds majority required, or a compromise candidate is proposed to break the deadlock.

It could be a long contest. 1979 saw 155 rounds of voting over a two month period as Cuba battled with Colombia (though the UN press release mentions Mexico in their press release).

May the best man - country - win. Next votes cast on Thursday.

(Via an article in the complementary International Herald Tribune paper on this morning's delayed Air Berlin flight to Stansted.)

Flat tyre on a hire car ...

It was to be a fairly straightforward journey. Get up, taxi to Euston station, train up to Apsley, pick up a hire car from the hotel opposite the station, and drive half a mile up the road to the office.

Got up, checked out of the central London hotel. Raining. No taxis! Had to walk to the station. No time to pick up breakfast, so get a ticket, board the train and a minute later, on my hungry way.

Got off at Apsley, walked across the road, picked up the keys from reception, found the car out the back, no obvious scratches, waited ten minutes until 9am (when the hire started) and drove up the road.

Odd noise from the car. Steering a bit wonky. Half a mile later parked.

Got out and discovered that the front right tyre was completely flat. On a newly delivered hire car. Arghh.

Rang up the local Hertz depot, and they reassured me that while I could call the AA, if I changed the wheel myself there would be no charge! To speed up the pressure checking they when reparing a car for hire, they don’t put the little black tops on the wheel valves. So every now and again, some dirt gets into the valve and the tyre deflates overnight.

So out with the spare wheel, and in the light drizzle changed a wheel.

Half nine and I think I’ve now complete my six impossible things before breakfast.

Time for food.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sat Nav recommendations? TomTom One vs Navman F20

Don't tell anyone - in case they want to come around and steal my car - but I've just won a Sat Nav system! (Handy hint - only enter competitions with good prizes but a likely low number of entrants. Focus your efforts.)

The good thing is there's a choice - either a TomTom One GB or a Navman F20.

Doesn't seem to be much in it - both devices now seem to have decent street level maps of Northern Ireland.

But is there anything else I should be looking out for? Any usability tips from readers who have already played with the devices? Auto-replanning for wrong turns? What's with the Bluetooth of the TomTom One? Problems fitting them into Minis?

Despite being a gadget freak, I've long held off looking at GPSs since there's not much need for them in NI! But a free one could be useful for those random trips in hire cars from mainland airports to far flung offices and hard-to-find hotels. And for finding that short cut through Dee Street to the Odyssey.

December Update: Since it's Christmas, lots of people are googling for TomTom vs Navman and hitting this post. Yet it doesn't really answer the question in the post's title. So some further ramblings may help ...

The Navman F20 is being heavily promoted, but there are two aspects I dislike. Most importantly, it doesn't have good maps for Northern Ireland. Get a Garmin or a TomTom One Europe for good all-island Ireland maps. Secondly, as the salesman on Tottenham Court Road demonstrated, the usability is really poor too.

The Garmin units are pricey, but very easy to use. If you can afford one, I'd recommend them. The TomTom One's are cheaper - I got a TomTom One Europe in the end - and you get used to the idiosyncrasies in the interface after a while.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A local book group is looking at A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka in November, so I picked up the household copy. It took a couple of goes to get past the first four pages, but once I got going, I steamed through in a about two flights and three bedtimes!

The basic story examines how two sisters – normally at loggerheads – deal with their aging widowed father and his young bride. All the main characters are Ukrainian refugees settled in England. If nothing else, you’ll be more aware of Ukrainian culture – and tractors – by the end of the book.

Although portrayed as a black comedy, you’d be better getting stuck into some Magnus Mills if that’s what you’re looking for.

Valentina – the young bride – is a buxom, pushy blonde who wants bigger, faster cars, and perhaps a more sprightly, energetic partner than Vera and Nadezhda’s father can provide.

By the end of the book, you’ll have felt sorry for all the characters. Perhaps the most moving part of the book comes near the end as some of the family’s history is exposed to the youngest daughter for the first time. Their war-time experiences - before Vera’s birth – have until now gone unexplained. Yet they go some way to explaining the family’s dynamic and the sister’s differences.

Tractors, Rolls Royces … I hope the book group select a better book for December/January. And although I’m glad there won’t be a sequel to this particular novel, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve read this year.


CBeebies Live! rip off – discrimination or understandable?

You’ll all join me in being aghast that the CBeebies Live! tour is charging £2 more for each ticket for their Belfast Odyssey Arena show than all the other locations across the UK.

There’s a standard price (+ local booking fees) for all of the other venues (Cardiff, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wembley, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow) ... except Belfast, which is exactly £2 dearer.

Why? Passing on the transport charge? Is the Odyssey sticking its arm in? Is it normal for concerts to be dearer in Belfast than other UK venues?

It’s unbelievable that the cost of each of the other non-Belfast events is identical. So the prices have probably been averaged out. So why not include Belfast in that?

Makes be a lot less inclined to arrange a 6 January 2007 treat to see the Bobinogs and Balamory in action.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Booker Prize - reply from BBC about lack of live award show

Last Monday I expressed my disappointment that I wasn’t going to be able to watch the Man Booker Prize result live on BBC2 on the Tuesday night this year.

An email to BBC Info elicited an answer on Thursday—which was sorted into my spam folder and only found today!

Thank you for your e-mail regarding Man Booker Prize.

I appreciate that you were unhappy that coverage was not broadcast on BBC TWO.

We did broadcast 'Man Booker Prize - The Shortlist' a number of times on BBC FOUR in the weeks before the ceremony, but I appreciate you feel we should have broadcast live coverage of the event on the night.

Please be assured your comments have been fully registered on our daily audience log. This internal document will be made available as part of our daily feedback to our scheduling department and BBC management.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact the BBC.

So if you want to be bookish, you’ve got to tune into BBC Four and devour the electronic programme guide - since you’ll not see such programmes trailed anywhere else. Bet the Shortlist show(s) didn’t get a huge audience!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An apple for the teacher … in fact, for everyone

Anyone heard of the Environment & Heritage Service (EHS)?

According to their website, they are the largest agency under the Department of Environment with approximately 700 staff. Their aim is “to protect, conserve and promote our natural environment and built heritage for the benefit of present and future generations.”

This weekend the EHS organised The Autumn Festival at Crawfordsburn Country Park … which could perhaps have been dubbed The Apple Fair.

On Saturday and Sunday, over two hundred variety of apples available to taste – all available to buy in Great Britain or Ireland.

Freshly crushed apple juice was freely available to sample, and there were particularly tasty bruschetta with apple and brie on top.

You wouldn’t believe the quantities of brie they went through.

Animals were on show too: silky hens, geese, two goats and a rescued donkey– and the children loved it.

So hats off to the EHS for working over the weekend and bringing a little bit of fun, variety and education to the tax payers of Northern Ireland. Thank you.

If only, someone had explained that during the week, the EHS looks at …

EHS takes the lead in advising on, and in implementing, the Government’s environmental policy and strategy in Northern Ireland … promote the Government’s key themes of sustainable development, biodiversity and climate change. Our overall aims are to protect and conserve Northern Ireland’s natural heritage and built environment, to control pollution and to promote the wider appreciation of the environment and best environmental practices.

Our work is a diverse and integrated network that draws on the many different scientific and professional skills and expertise of our staff. This variety of skills base and experience allows us to manage and protect our landscapes and their wildlife, to record and conserve historic monuments and to maintain a cleaner and greener environment.

Local politicians have a soft spot for Winnie the Pooh!

When our local MPs have spare time left over from sorting out our local issues, they delve into other aspects of national interest. Earlier this year, some recognisable figures put their support behind an Early Day Motion to pay tribute to A. A. Milne.

(I got this by email – it may well have featured on other NI blogs. If so, let me know and I’ll add an acknowledgement.)

Early Day Motion - EDM 2639 – 24th July 2006 - WINNIE-THE-POOH 80th ANNIVERSARY

That this House joins in celebrating the 80th birthday of Winnie-the-Pooh, the much loved golden bear with a love of hunting Woozles, gorging on honey and catching Heffalumps, whose chums include Christopher Robin, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit and Piglet; recognises the significant contribution Mr A. A. Milne's characters have made to influencing the early development of fine values, honest principles and decent morals amongst many generations of children worldwide; notes the timeless appeal of this great British bear and, most notably the way in which this character of fiction, who began life in the imagination of an English schoolboy, Christopher Robin Milne, has reached the farthest corners of the globe, from Poland, where Pooh-Bear has a street named after him, to Hong Kong, where he recently successfully challenged characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Sleeping Beauty to be named the best Disney character of all time; and looks forward to another 80 years of tales from the 100 Acre Wood.

Amongst the MPs signing this Early Day Motion were some local MPs: Iris Robinson, David Simpson, Dr William McCrea, Ian Paisley and Gregory Campbell.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

St Andrews ... a long road still ahead

So the press and political commentators seemed to be caught out and maybe even pleasantly surprised at the level of progress made by local politicians over at St Andrews.

There must have been a lot of pre-work done before they arrived for their 2½ days of negotiation in order to pull such a wide-ranging set of ideas and timetables to knit together the beginnings of an agreement.

The 18 page document covers everything from secret services cooperation with PSNI to putting a cap on domestic rates and ministerial conduct. And the negotiations seem to have included nods to allow a working Stormont Assembly some say in academic selection, local council reorganisation and the introduction of water rates.

But the proof will not be in gesture politics conducted in corridor diplomacy in Scotland. Instead it will be in the hard decisions faced by the local parties in the month that they now have to consult with their members in order to state agreement with the St Andrews statement. (And the slanging matches that may occur on the radio and TV as the parties disagree about the side deals over education and councils.)

And Paisley and Adams are likely to both attend the Committee on the Preparation for Government early next week as the parties continue to sort out the details of what they need to

To finish this post, a quick excerpt from the Hansard minutes from the CPFG meeting on 25 September. Attendance seems to be a movable feast, with each party swapping their attendance amongst MLAs as they wish. Peter Robinson’s normal confident polish seems to have been replaced by a lack of certainty ...
Ms Lewsley: I am here on behalf of Mark Durkan.

Mr O’Dowd: I am here on behalf of Michelle Gildernew.

Mr McCarthy: I am here on behalf of Naomi Long.

Mr McFarland: Michael McGimpsey is here on behalf of David McNarry.

Mr P Robinson: I am not sure for whom I am deputising. I will see who the other two members are, and then I will have a better idea for whom I am substituting.

The Chairman (Mr Molloy): You are here for somebody, anyway.

Mr Ford: Can it be put on the record that Peter is not sure?

Mr P Robinson: I am it.

Ms Lewsley: He does not know who he is.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Saying of the day

A colleague recently suggested that one party in a particular corporate wrangle needed to open their kimono to the others to show exactly what was going on but had previously been kept hidden.

Charming! Any Japanese cultural scholars can feel free to comment on just how inappropriate and offensive this might be.

If there was an English cutlural equivalent it would surely substitute "dressing gown" for "kimono" - and would immediately feel unsuitable and charmless.

In the meantime, a quick Google suggests that Venture Capitalists (who seem Favour Capitalisation) often use the phrase. It even appears in the unofficial Microsoft Lexicon (though marked as of non-Microsoft origin).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Culture (in) Northern Ireland

If you’re interesting in the local cultural scene, check out Culture Northern Ireland’s podcast (feed).

Some interesting content in the first two editions, including a quick interview with Brian Keenan in the second show.

There’s also news on the site about The Grand Opera’s House and Belfast Festival’s enhanced support for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. The the GOH extension ACT II opens in October - check out the time lapse photo show of the building works.

Casting a slippery shadow

If only someone had been zooming past when I took the photo ... but it was a press day at Tate Modern's newest installation, with very few punters being allowed to put their feet in the pristine cream sacks to slide down.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Up for a Royal Computing award

More awards. This time it’s Belfast’s Royal Group of Hospitals who have been short listed for Computing magazine’s Public Sector Project of the year awards.

Site-wide wireless infrastructure is being installed to roll out a voice communication system based on Vocera hang-around-your-neck-voice-activated communicators. It will also support tablet PCs to reduce the paperwork involved with internal prescriptions and allow digital imaging (replacing physical X-rays) to be easily accessed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

And the winner (of the Booker Prize) is ... Kiran Desai with The Inheritance of Loss

And the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2006 is The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai.

(And not the hotly tipped favourite - The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.)

Nipples ... Paisley ... and overtaking Heathrow Express trains

Until I read this morning's Independent I didn't know we had a word to describe those who have chosen not to come home to NI after studying over in the mainland.

In some circles - the press at least - they're NIPPLES - Nothern Ireland Prodestant Professionals Living in England and Scotland. Often described as a Protestant issue - but not exclusively.

The reference was in a piece by David McKittrick subtitled "the Big Man makes a long journey" - describing the road that led up to yesterday's meeting between the DUP and Archbishop Sean Brady.

Earlier in the same issue, Pandora mentions that "Unioist firebrand Ian Paisley has informed Downing Street that he and his wife Eileen celebrate their golden wedding anniversary on Friday" - so he'll have to leave Scotland by 4pm on Friday afternoon to get back to a long-standing family function.

Sitting beside Willie McCrea in the bmi Heathrow lounge, I wonder if I should ask him if he's remembered to get the Paisley's a present!

When I started typing this with my thumbs on a PDA, I was stuck on a very slow Heathrow Express service, that had been crawling towards the airport for over half an hour, with unfamiliar views out of the window.

Definitely not following the usual route. There's a dead train on a track somewhere, and disruption due to the consequential rerouting of services around it.

But it felt quite wrong to be overtaken by another Heathrow Express service. There's always a point in the journey when you look out the window to see a familiar blue-liveried train going in the opposite direction. But not one speeding past you!

Turns out that it set off from Paddington long before us, and got caught up in the backlog on the main line, and has finally broken free. We eventually got into Heathrow T1/2/3 after it cleared the platform. And a strangely quiet Terminal 1 with no queues at security.

Helter Skelters - Slides at Tate Modern

After work yesterday, I scooted across London’s Millennium Bridge and into the Tate Modern to see the new installation in the huge Turbine Hall. Remember the white boxes that occupied it a while back.

For the next six months, it is home to five slides. Helter skelters. It’s the work of Carsten Höller who believes that there are alternative ways of moving around.

Twelve seconds to drop a full five floors.

Yesterday was the press preview … but if you had a camera you could get in to take some snaps. It opens today.

So go along, put your feet in a sack and take the ride of your life! And bring a camera - it's very photogenic, particularly the shadows.

City Hall, mayoral portraits and high ceilings

Belfast City Hall turned out to be a very grand venue for a formal dinner. A couple of hundred people milling about the Rotunda (the landing at the top of the stairs as you go in the main entrance) drowned out the string quartet – even if you stood beside them.

And the high ceilings, huge length and stone walls in the Great Hall made it a great location for food, but a bad venue for a loud band afterwards!

On the way into the Great Hall, you wander past portraits of past Lord Mayors. I’m sure they’re all along the corridor somewhere, but it’s three UUP and DUP ones on the way to the hall’s doors. (I’ve merged together Hugh Smyth, Reg Empey and Nigel Dodds below. There’s something not quite right about the heads.)

Monday, October 09, 2006

No Booker Prize show on BBC2 tomorrow night - watch the 10 O’Clock News instead to find out the winner

The winner of the Man Booker Prize 2006 will be announced during the BBC1 10 O’Clock News tomorrow night (Tuesday). Unlike every other year I can remember, there won’t be a show on BBC2, presented by Kirsty Wark from some echoey London hall to talk us through the short listed novels, introduce us to the judging panel, announce the winner, and hear his/her acceptance speech.

The official website states:
The Man Booker Prize will be announced on Tuesday 10th October on the 10 O'Clock News on BBC 1.

The announcement of the winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will air on the BBC 10 O'Clock News; this will be followed by coverage on BBC 2 Newsnight, BBC News 24 and BBC Radio 4 as well as interviews that will air around the world.

It’s always intriguing to hear about the judging process. How this year’s judges waded through the 112 books that were whittled down to the 19 on the long list, and then further shrunk to the final six on the short list. How they resolved their literary differences of preference and appreciation.

As official broadcast partner to the Man Booker Prize, the lack of an informative live broadcast on TV or radio from the BBC is disappointing. It’s an unexpected change, which will lower the profile of the prize and no doubt dent sales of the winning and short listed books. (Certainly in previous years I’ve bought and read some of the featured books after getting a quick introduction on the show.)

Reboot blues ... a PC with a sense of fairness

Accessing our campany performance management web portal has just rebooted my PC! Blue screen of death, back to BIOS reboot. It's just a website!

Given that we've just started Quarter 3 this financial year, and HR haven't officially released the marks for Q1, my laptop has obviously figured out that the possibility of being scolded like a child for dropping sweetie papers 5 months ago wouldn't be appropriate.

So I'm in the middle of rebooting, and my attention will be diverted to some other matter when it finishes loading up.

Sigh ...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

What is our harvest? And what would the world look like if it was a village of 100 people?

A lot of local churches celebrate harvest at this time of year, many over this weekend. Sheaves of wheat, apples galore, flowers in innumerable posies. And beside the local produce sit grapes, oranges, flowers that have been transported in from other parts of the world. The odd tin of fruit is stacked up in wicker baskets. The more adventurous might even include non-food stuffs in their harvest displays.

Random harvest church flowers from images.google.co.ukLike most major celebrations throughout the church calendar, there is much tradition and more than a little sentimentality (or schmaltz) surrounding harvest. But leaving cynicism to one side ...

Harvest reminds us that we reap what we sow. If we plant well, and the weather comes, we can expect a good harvest. If we plant badly, we can expect to dig up the ground and take out the weeds before starting again.

Harvest reminds us that many are hungry and thirsty, many are poor, many are sick, many have no roof over their heads, and many are asking how to change their circumstances. If we have food or water, money, medicine, can provide shelter, or if we can share our expertise, then we should. That is our harvest gift. (And as well as looking internationally, we shouldn’t be surprised if we can find ways of sharing our harvest in our own neighbourhoods.)

If the world was a village of 100 people, what would it look like?

There are various versions circulating the web and blogosphere – probably all inaccurate, but probably all still providing sharp reminders of the diversity of the world, and our own relative comfort.

One version that seems to have put a little more care into the statistics is published by the folks at Miniature Earth, and comes in the form of a Flash presentation. If you have a couple of minutes, have a look. (I don’t have a working sound card at the moment, so I can’t vouch for the music that goes with the words and imagery!)

  • The 100 person world village will have 12 Europeans mixing with 61 Asians, 13 Africans, 8 North Americans, 5 South Americans (including Caribbean) and 1 person from Oceania. Downtown Belfast it ain’t.
  • 50 women, and 50 men.
  • 33 Christians, 18 Muslims, 14 Hindus, 6 Buddhists and 13 worshipping other religions. 16 will be non-religious.
  • 43 will live without basic sanitation. 13 will be hungry or malnourished. one 15-49 year old will have HIV/AIDS
  • 6 people in the village will own 59% of the entire wealth of the community.
  • 14 won’t be able to read, and only 7 will have been educated to secondary level.
  • 12 have a computer, and 3 have an internet connection.