Saturday, June 30, 2007

Doctor Who finale - prayer, forgiveness and grace

I've heard worse sermons than tonight's final episode of the third (new) series of Doctor Who.

Russell T. Davies isn't known for his apologetics for the Christian faith. Yet there were insights into the state of the human soul to be grasped.

The grotesque inhumanity of human kind - the human orbs from the future getting pleasure out of killing the present day humans.

And the ability of humans across the world to unite for a good cause - thinking/praying the Doctor back to health and youth - admittedly with the help of a 15-satellite telepathy network!

The Doctor - a God-like character - willing to forgive the Master who had tried to kill him and the population of the Earth. To paraphrase "What am I going to do with you? (pause) I forgive you." Not able or willing to eliminate the last of his type - the only other living timelord .

And yet the Master unwilling to accept the the Doctor's offer of grace - and the prospect of living with the Doctor in the Tardis. Salvation refused, won't regenerate, won't change.

There's the pain of the Doctor as the Master dies and is cremated on the pyre. An evil man laid to rest, yet still his kith and kin. No pleasure.

Season two ended with a runaway bride running through the Tardis doors. Season three ends with the Titanic slicing through the Tardis walls like an ice berg, heralding the theme of the Christmas special, which will no doubt end with Martha calling in the Doctor and reuniting for Season four. And we got the nod for the next season of Torchwood on BBC Two - either in the Autumn or as previously reported in early 2008.

... take from our souls the strain and stress ...

I’ve no great appreciation for poetry or paintings. High arts aren’t my thing. I’m inspired by people, ideas, events, but rarely blocks of words printed up on a page.

The final hymn in church last Sunday morning was Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. And unusually, the fourth and fifth verses of this familiar hymn caught my brain ...

With that deep hush subduing all
our words and works that drown
the tender whisper of Your call,
as noiseless let Your blessing fall
as fell Your manna down.

Drop Your still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of Your peace.

Will the busyness of a hectic week drown out voices that we should be listening to?

Can we find ways of ordering our lives in the middle chaos, and let go of the strain and stress before “all our strivings cease” (which sounds like poetry-speak for death)?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Yesterday, a helicopter & Blair

Yesterday morning I woke to the drone of a helicopter hovering above Westminster - about a third of a mile down the road. Turning on the hotel room's TV, I could see its view of Blair's predicted journey from Downing Street to the House of Commons and on to Buckingham Palace.

Around 2 o'clock yesterday I was queuing in the GNER travel centre in Kings Cross Station to find out how I could get a refund for my unused journey from Newcastle to King Cross.

An hour later, I was perched on a stool in the next door British Library cafe, reviewing an epic tender document (and at 200 pages it was half the length of the other submission).

Turned out the about the same time, Tony Blair was next door getting used to the less perk-ridden life as an ex-Prime Minister, catching a train (First Class seat) up to his Sedgefield constituency.

Just missed him - maybe he could have got some sense out of GNER - need to fill out a refund form, post it off, or you could ring this number (which wasn't actually in use any longer) and see if they'll give you compensation instead. August update: still chasing for a refund - no word back, not even the self-addressed "we've received your claim" slip.

Madness.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Escaped south

To the thousands of families unable to sleep tonight in their flooded homes, my travel woes are pretty unimportant. And to bereaved and fearful families, they are off-scale.

The human and material devastation caused by normally life-giving water is remarkable. Like words, water can be a powerful force for good as well as cause of misery and destruction.

Tonight's pilot landed the BA jet at Heathrow for the last time tonight, retiring after 35 years of service. It certainly explained his whimsy quips over the tannoy.

And if the baggage handlers ever finish offloading the Belfast City and Aberdeen flights ahead of us, the Newcastle bags may yet pop down onto the conveyor belt allowing this weary traveller to make the final tube journey to his hotel.

Update: Twenty five minutes later, bags appeared. Followed by the sloooowest tube ride into London, arricing at hotel at 11:20, seven and a half hours after leaving the Newcastle conference.

And so the adventure home began ...

Having braved the travel disruption yesterday, I set out on the journey back to London late this afternoon.

Like many good disaster films - such as Sunshine and 28 Weeks Later - it only takes one small mistake to start the dominos tumbling.

With the east coast railway line having problems, the conference organisers offered a choice. A bus into Newcastle station as originally planned, and a bus across to Carlisle to get onto the west coast line.

Umm ... a thirty minute journey to the local station, and the flooded line will have either cleared or they'll have a bus substitution in operation ... versus ... a two and a bit hour trek in an old minibus across to Carlisle, and then a long journey down to the south east. Oh, and the west coast line aren't accepting east coast tickets!

Got as far as Newcastle Central station only to find there were NO trains running south, and no bus substitution since the motorways were blocked and the drivers wouldn't drive on flooded roads. And no hope of a taxi connecting stations either.

Oops. Suddenly the Carlisle option didn't seem so bad.

So a few of us chose the easy route. It sounds and feels like a plot from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. As wikipedia summarises ...

Along a rough stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where they are forced to spend the night due to a rainstorm. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who takes them to his Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The giant wants them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has called Promise will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle, from which they escape.
Next plan involves a quick call to Amex and booking on the BA flight from Newcastle to Heathrow (with a view to getting a refund on the unused train ticket) and a trip on the Metro out to the airport.

Fingers crossed.

Take This Bread (Sara Miles)

If you’re looking for something to read that will challenge the religiosity of many Christian denominations, and the formula that congregations follow, then grasp Sara Miles’ book, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, firmly with both hands.

“... I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans—except that up until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.”

To borrow from CS Lewis, Sara was “surprised by joy” when she was unexpectedly welcomed to participate in that first communion service at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

“Jesus invites everyone to his table.”

Coming from a background as a chef and a journalist (with an interest in revolutionary war zones), she was gripped by the “food and bodies” that the sacrament united, and attracted to a faith offering “food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious”.

It resonated with her experience as a journalist travelling through remote areas of El Salvador and South Africa: strangers, comrades and even enemies had offered her food. Everyone had hunger in common.

“There was the immediacy of communion at St Gregory’s, unmediated by alter rails, the raw physicality of that mystical meal. There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements.”

Now open communion won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. St. Gregory’s isn’t entirely typical of all Episcopal parishes. But the effect of that inclusion is challenging as Sara explains what happened next.

Sara’s experience of Eucharist led her to petition St. Gregory’s to allow her to start up a weekly food pantry. But unlike other pantries across the Bay Area that required registration and social security numbers, everyone was invited to St. Gregory’s table. After all Jesus didn’t say “Feed my sheep after you check their ID”.

Taking food from the San Francisco Food Bank, a non-profit warehouse that collects surplus food—non-perishable goods and fresh produce—from growers, grocers and manufacturers, Sara’s team of helpers split it up between the 20, then 50, then 250 people who started coming once a week to the doors of the church.

Yet selling the idea of extending the open communion table from a Sunday morning to a Friday morning—using the same precious round communion table that had a loaf sitting on it at the weekend to hold staple goods for the pantry—had been an uphill struggle. Even as the pantry became a regular part of the church week, the number of helpers from outside St Gregory’s always far outnumbered her fellow parishioners who signed up to assist.

Another worshipper, a Jesuit priest, pointed out that Sara “was hardly the first person to get excited about Jesus, then disappointed in his church”. But Sara writes about the desperation that she felt:

“Echoing everything that was wrong with churches and church politics, repeating in microcosm the ugliness of Christianity through the ages, I started to fight fiercely with the people I was supposed to be in communion with, struggling to institutionalize my own dogma, and generally hounded people in the name of the Lord ... Hadn’t we announced that welcoming strangers was at the heart of our mission? How could people cling to their comforting, cozy services, rejecting changes and newness?”

Cries of too much change, and too little change, ring out through parish councils and church committee meetings. Does the Bible have anything proscriptive to say about the level of change that people should tolerate before complaining? I think the worked examples within tend towards people volunteering to undergo total transformation with little warning. That about covers it.

There’s a brief mention of the ordination of Gene Robinson. a seminary friend of Donald Schell, Sara’s priest. While her analysis of the conflict inside the Anglican Communion may not be extensive or complete ...

“It wasn’t just about gayness, of course, but a more fundamental conflict between believers who craved certainty and those who embraced ambiguity; those who insisted Scripture was inerrant and unchanging, given once and for all time, and those who believed that the Bible was only part of God’s continuing revolution.”

... but neatly sums up one slice through the current Anglican rift.

In all, it’s a fascinating book, documenting Sara’s spiritual and culinary journey. A book that challenges our reluctance to fully embrace social action. And at the same time, a book that asks a lot of questions about our well-worn, practised traditions and beliefs. Well worth a read.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Flooding up north

Sodden fields south of York

After the Belfast floods from a couple of weeks ago, it’s with a feeling of déjà vu that I find myself travelling north from London on a packed GNER train surrounded by people affected by the heavy rainfall and flash floods that are affecting England.

Coming out of the Tube at Kings Cross, the signs said that all GNER trains were cancelled. The truth wasn’t quite so stark. Venturing further into the train station brought signs of hope as the overhead departure boards showed some services running, including my 16:00 train heading to Aberdeen, via Ant and Dec’s home city of Newcastle.

There was a general feeling of camaraderie amongst the four of us sitting around our table in carriage D. Each glad (smug, even) that we’d started our treks north earlier than planned, in order to beat the ailing rail system and the possibility of rush hour chaos.

The solidarity took a knock when Clara, sitting next to me, got a call from her husband. Her end of the conversation sank our hearts.

“Oh ... sh*t ... (silence) ... Well all the best. (hung up)”

She sat with her head in her hands for a minute. The woman in pink sitting opposite offered sympathy “I’m so sorry, it’s awful. Happened to me once.”

My mind went into overdrive. My utter feeling of sympathy was tempered with a teeny weeny worry about how Clara would process the bad news. How would she deal with being trapped on a train, unable to bail out her home? Would there be tears? On-board flooding? Would she spend the journey blubbering over the phone to her soggy husband? Was there any way we could console her?

Clara rescued the situation, when she raised her head, brushed her hands through her hair and gave a laugh.

“At least we can get new carpets and a bit of decorating. The house needed it.”

And the mood lightened. As the next couple of hours ticked away, it turned out that the flooding was limited to the kitchen and garage. There was nearly a tinge of disappointment in her voice as she realised that the hall, stairs and landing carpet wouldn’t be refreshed this time.

Low-lying fields turned into lakes south of York

Update: Got as far as Durham, about twenty minutes shy of Newcastle. The train’s now running exactly one hour late, so it’s a good job I got the 16:00 rather than cutting in fine and waiting for the 17:00 as I first planned last night.

The worst flooding could be seen out the window south of York.

Further update: The train pulled into Newcastle an hour late at 8pm. Turns out that the noon departure from Kings Cross had finally stumbled into Newcastle only an hour earlier at 7pm, taking a mammoth seven hours to make it up from London.

That goal ... twenty five years on

It’s one of those where were you moments.

Northern Ireland had made it through the qualifying round and into the 1982 World Cup competition. I remember that just before the world cup started, someone had come in to the classroom given everyone in our primary school class a big rolled-up poster of the Northern Ireland team. It had been sponsored by a local firm like Dale Farm.

And twenty five years ago tonight, Gerry Anderson (not that one) scored the winning (and only) goal in the World Cup match between Northern Ireland and Spain.

When that goal was scored, I had popped out to the garage to feed a friend’s rabbit that we were keeping while they were on holidays. Of all the moments to pick to nip out, that was the one. So I missed the goal. (And not being a great football fan, I think I’ve missed all of Northern Ireland’s goals since.)

There’s an informative where are they now run down over at BBC News.

Ryanair to launch routes from Belfast City?

Ryanair logo

Another week, another airline threatens to start flying out of a Belfast airport! Following the recent speculation that Aer Lingus would choose to set up a new base at Belfast International. This morning, news centres on Ryanair who have announced plans to fly to six destinations from St George’s Belfast City Airport starting in October.

Likely to be a mix of UK and mainland European destinations. Chief executive at Belfast City Airport, Brian Ambrose, was keeping tight lipped when the Belfast Telegraph talked to him, describing the news about Ryanair as “speculation”. He added that “the airport is in negotiation with a number of carriers in order to realise its ambition of offering our customers an increased portfolio of European routes.”

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On the road ...

Back across to England for the week, dodging between London and Newcastle (upon Tyne).

And then it will be holiday season. So posting may slow down for a while.

Doctor Who and a Tardis or two

The third season of Doctor Who has continued the tradition of great episodes and very strong storylines.

Despite the Whovian twitchers—who filter the press and internet for snippets of news and try to second guess the plot lines—there have been plenty of surprises.

Plenty of good reasons to tune in next Saturday to see the last episode which needs to resolve the current conflict between the Doctor and the Master. (It’s unlikely they’d hold the tension over until the Christmas special).

Blue Tardis collection

Question: Where in Northern Ireland can you find a whole collection of Tardis?

Hint: The same place you’ll find a hemisphere full of green Kermit the Frogs and another one with yellow rubber ducks.

Green Kermit the Frog collectionYellow Runner Ducks

Send your answers on a postcard comment below!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A rolled up red carpet

Wandering through London’s West End back to a hotel, you probably stand a one in four chance of stumbling across the tail end of a film premiere. AiB has posted about the aftermath before.

Last Wednesday was the Die Hard 4.0 premiere. How could I tell? Must have been the rolled up carpet and people wandering around with Die Hard posters they’d removed from the safety railings!

You can see the unfurled red carpet over at letmethroughpls’ Flickr set.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne)

Tell No One poster

Having raced around from TGI Friday’s, I settled into my seat in the Soho Curzon mid way through the trailers for forthcoming attractions. Suddenly one trailer ended and Tell No One started. But no BBFC classification certificate popped up on screen! Most unusual.

Tell No One starts with Alexandre and Margot Beck driving along the long country roads towards the beautiful lake where they met as children. It’s an annual pilgrimage on their anniversary, back to their favourite place for a spot of skinny dipping and basking in the summer sun.

Except Margot is murdered, and Alex is knocked unconscious into the lake. Five minutes into the film, and I wondered if any of the film’s cast were still alive!

Eight years later ... and the main story starts. Somehow Alex survived. And on the eighth anniversary he receives a email. Clicking on the link at the specified time, he’s directed to a webcam at the top of an escalator. Margot walks past, looking up at the camera. “Tell no one. They’re watching” is the message. How is it possible? He saw her coffin at the crematorium. She couldn’t be alive ...

The next two hours are spent watching Alex struggling to piece together the little information he can find out about Margot’s death. It’s like watching the layers being put back onto an onion. Bodies found near the lake stir the police investigation back into action, with forensic links back to Alex. Photographs in safe boxes. Lawyers. Guns. And some killings. Missing coroner’s photographs. He always was a suspect. Is he being set up?

In the frame, and on the run, Alex leads the gendarmes on a great chase through Paris. On foot! It’s not one continuous shot like the extended scene in Children of Men, but it brings some light relief to the unfolding human disaster.

Alex’s luck eventually changes when the chief of police, a man showing signs of OCD and a stickler for detail, starts believing in Alex and stops trying to frame him. “All I want is the truth.”

Despite being 125 minutes long, the film has a gentle pace that keeps the story moving. Unlike Zodiac, I found it to be engaging, with human characters unravelling rather than police procedure. The level of family intrigue is reminiscent of some of the Danish films I’ve seen—see the review of After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet).

It’s a messy film. One where the bloodshed and hurt might have been minimised if the events of eight years ago had been left to lie. But there’s a strength and resilience to Alex’s character. And the twists and turns keep the full story from being revealed until the final minutes. Well worth a watch.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dinner Dillemma

Sitting in Trafalgar Square's TGI Friday's food emporium tonight and faced with a dilemma.

After a 15 minute wait, burger finally arrives. The first bite has a surprise. Although it looks well cooked, the meat is only lukewarm - maybe having sat round in the kitchen for a while before the plate was dressed and delivered to my table.

The dilemma?

It's 8.38pm and I need to leave by 9pm to get round to the cinema. (I've already got a ticket) So if I complain I've only got 22 minutes to wait for the replacement and get it down me before having to leave ...

Should I just eat it? Should I send it back?

Update: I did the decent thing and complained! They cooked a new burger, apologised (twice) and had a scalding hot plate of food back on my table within six minutes. Result was that I had indigestion, no time for dessert, and got to Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) in the middle of the trailers and five minutes before the main feature started.

A Day of Quiet Reflection (Thursday 21 June)

Tomorrow, Thursday 21 June, is the longest day of the year and has been badged as A Day of Quiet Reflection allowing people across Britain and Ireland to reflect individually on past hurts as well as think about how attitudes can be transformed and society can move forward to a peaceful future.

Research suggested that society is not yet ready for specific public events of cross-community remembrance. But the Healing Through Remembering group decided that the time was right to start the process by encouraging individuals to take time to reflect on the past and the future. The day of reflection may end up being marked annually.

While HTR is independent of churches, political parties and governments, many of the local church denominations are encouraging their flocks to take part.

Out of the Depths (CCCI) image

Some organisations have developed materials to facilitate private reflections. I’ll give a plug to Out of the Depths material from the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland (also available as a PDF) which includes a series of biblical reflections that can be used individually or collectively on the 21st or at another time.

Alan Johnston - 100 days

Alan Johnston logo

Alan Johnston has now been held in Gaza for 100 days.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Is email vital to you?

On behalf of software firm Nasstar, ICM recently polled the UK recently to find out how much we've all come to depend on email.

When asked whether email was vital ...

41% of teenagers agreed
50% of 25-34 year olds agreed
44% of 35-44 year olds agreed

41% of women, compared to 38% of men

Teenagers tend to use a much wider range of media than oldies - texts, mobile calls, IM, twitter, Facebook/Bebo ... - which may explain their lesser reliance on email.

Additionally those of us in work tend to depend on email in a business context, upping our figures.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kermode appointed Five News editor

screen shot of Media Guardian headline

Kermode appointed Five News editor

A headline relating to a story that will suggest that Channel Five’s news coverage will be increasingly celebrity and movie based?

No. Turns out there are more Kermodes in the media industry than the film critic and reviewer Mark Kermode!

David Kermode, editor of BBC Breakfast has been appointed editor of Five News (which is produced by Sky News).

John Ryley, the head of Sky News, said he hoped Mr Kermode’s experience including time in “fast-paced 24 hour news environments” would ensure Five News was “authoritative and exciting”.

Authoritative and exciting - three words that pretty much sum up Mark Kermode’s film weekly reviews on Five Live too!

No Mean City - 52 photos in Belfast City Hall

No Mean City photo exhibition, Belfast City Hall

After months of not quite getting around to it, I popped into Belfast City Hall at lunchtime last Monday to check out the No Mean City photo exhibition. An homage to the number 52 ... and to sons and daughters of Belfast too!

52 photos taken over 52 days by Michael Donald. Tucked away on the ground floor West Corridor.

The exhibition consist of two wall boards, pictured below, with the photos printed quite small. And it’s open to the public until the doors of Belfast City Hall close for refurbishment in the Autumn.

No Mean City photo exhibition in Belfast City HallNo Mean City photo exhibition in Belfast City Hall

Given the quality of the photos, it’s a shame that they’ve been printed up so small. They’re also mounted on inch-thick blocks that stand out from the display board obscuring the legends that have been printed very tight underneath the photos ... making it impossible to read some of the text below the lower photos unless you bend down and squint at the white text on the pale blue background.

Close-up showing legend text obscured by mounted photographs - No Mean City, Belfast City Hall

You've probably read this blog post in 52 seconds!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

East Belfast’s Secret Santa Honoured

Turns out that East Belfast has his own philanthropist. The Birthday’s Honours List includes Edward Joseph Cooper. Now 68, he’s an East Belfast man who has been buying toys every month since the age of 14, storing them up and then giving them to needy children at Christmas.

“... one man charity who works independently of any organisation and has not made his actions known publicly ... Many of the organisations who receive his gifts don’t know they are from him.” (BBC News article)

Congratulations to our local Secret Santa. And congratulations to parents, teachers and friends who all those years ago influenced the life of a fourteen year old boy to think beyond his own self and invest in others in society.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Zodiac

Poster for film: Zodiac

There’s part of me that thinks that given the increasingly high price of a cinema ticket, you need to get your money’s worth. But then I sit through a film like Zodiac ... a bum-numbing 158 minutes epic ... and remember that quality beats quantity every time.

Set in the San Francisco Bay Area, the film is based on a true story and real case notes. In opens in 1969, with the murder of a courting couple in a lonely car park. The murderer phones in the details to the police. Following on, there are a series of shootings and stabbings, with the serial killer identifying himself as Zodiac and keeping in touch with the authorities, even sending cryptic cipher sheets through to local newspapers.

The film alternates between the police investigation—hopelessly inefficient due to the lack of cooperation between the different county forces involved—and the city newspaper staff as they examine the evidence and try to identify the killer.

It’s a long, slow movie, that lacked the momentum to keep be interested all the way through. Although labelled as a thriller, it’s Vauxhall Conference material when compared to something like 28 Weeks Later or Sunshine.

letters and ciphers from Zodiac

Throughout the film, we see the serial killer’s obsession with murder matched with the all-consuming search that takes over the lives of the principle police investigator and the newspaper cartoonist. Their fixation with the unsolved case stretches throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

We see the difficult in coordinating information between police departments, and the editorial ethics being teased out as the newspaper considers the demands of Zodiac to print his codes and letters, and the police wishes to suppress specific threats (like one against school buses) from the public at large.

As the film winds on towards its conclusion, original characters are cast off to the cutting-room floor: the journalist Avery recedes to his hazy house-boat, while the the cartoonist Graysmith spends more and more time leading the story. The lack of a firm resolution (the case is still unresolved in real life) cheats the cinema goer from a proper conclusion to their investment in a ticket.

Some trumpet the film as a triumph for its attention to police procedure, its exposure of prejudice and bending forensics (particularly handwriting analysis) to fit the suspects. Me? I think it’s about an hour too long, and about ten stunts short of being watchable. (BTW, the trailer for The Bourne Ultimatum looks good.) Why I didn’t fall asleep is a mystery!

Zodaic ... unless you’re into low energy police thrillers, avoid it like the plague. (And if you’re into plagues, and have a strong stomach, go and see 28 Weeks Later instead.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

bmi’s catering malfunction ... no hot food ... actually no food at all

Bing Bong!

Over the tannoy: “The catering service will soon be commencing in the rear cabin. Unfortunately due to an overnight catering oversight, we can’t offer any hot breakfasts this morning, but I’m sure the crew will be able to help you with alternatives.”

Umm. Methinks I’ll have to pass on the hot cheese’n’tomato toastie and go for a sandwich this morning.

“What would you like sir?”

“Cup of tea and … what sandwiches do you have this morning?”

“None. Can offer you chocolate or shortbread. Nothing else to eat.”

Wouldn’t it have been better when bmi made the original announcement on this morning’s BD79 red eye, that they came clean and immediately explained that there was a complete fresh food malfunction?

Rather than pretend that the cupboards were half bare, only to individually disappoint everyone who asked for something to eat as the trolley passed down the economy cabin. Particularly when they've made such a fuss about the re-introduction of free catering for blue-plus, silver and gold card holders since April.

Maybe competition from Aer Lingus on the Belfast-Heathrow route would do no harm ...

28 Weeks Later

Photo of 28 Weeks Later film poster

Not having seen 28 Days Later, I came to the prequel 28 Weeks Later knowing only what I’d read in a couple of reviews in the papers.

The opening scenes show a couple Dan and Alice barricaded into a house, lit by candles, running out of food, fearful of what’s outside, and hoping that their children—who were away on a school trip when the incident broke—will be safe. But the virus-laden attackers come, bringing with them an onslaught of cowardice and self-preservation.

It’s brutal, violent stuff. Blood and gore, slashing and ripping. Not quite zombies since the Infected are still alive. Not for the feint hearted, and easier to take sitting near the back of the cinema in a detached frame of mind. And occasionally, the bloodbath becomes faintly comical.

There was a virus. Horrible things happened. Everything locked down. After 18 weeks the Infected had starved to death. 24 weeks later, Nato and US troops had arrived to start reconstruction. The Isle of Dogs is District 1, the safe area being used to house survivors. Reminiscent of Baghdad’s Green Zone. There’s an overall lack of humanity as the military control the operation and surveillance cameras are everywhere.

The couple’s children have survived. Andy and Tammy are reunited with their father who is reluctant to fully explain how their mother died.

Like all disaster movies (including the recent Sunshine), it only takes one single quite action, reasonable in its own right, but enough to start toppling over the dominos. Maybe it's when Don opened the door at the start. Or maybe it's when the children escape and find their mother Alice still alive. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but given that it’s a sequel, you know what’s going to happen already. The mother is carrying the virus, but doesn’t exhibit the symptoms and seems immune. But she wants revenge.

A new outbreak brings catastrophic consequences. But can be it contained without killing the innocent? Is there any room for compassion when the risks are so high?

It was fun to pick out the film’s locations. The long corridor down to the domestic gates at Stansted Airport. It must have been an early start the morning they filmed such a deserted Canary Wharf. Watch out for the beautiful shot as the brother and sister ride a Domino’s moped across Tower Bridge.

Good film. Standby for 28 Months Later (though it might be called Vingt huit mois plus tard) ... not sure I'll have the stomach to go and see it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rain and flash floods

Ravenhill Road flooded, via BBC

It was fairly downcast in Belfast all morning, with the mountains covered in cloud. That lasted until about twenty past twelve when the heavens opened and torrential rain poured down on the summery-dressed people below for the next two hours or so.

Some East Belfast highlights taken from a longer BBC news story ...

Rain causes widespread flooding

East Belfast has been particularly affected by the downpour.

Connswater Shopping Centre had to close water started pouring through ceiling vents.

Declan Bailie's photo of flooded Castlereagh Road, via the BBC

Strandtown Primary School and police station have also been flooded.

Meanwhile, rainwater has leaked into the third and fourth floors of Parliament Buildings at Stormont. Deputy Speaker John Dallat warned MLAs the flooding may have damaged the building’s fire alarm system causing it to be activated by accident.

Ladas Drive flooded, via BBC

It has also been reported that cars are floating down Ladas Drive and Channing Street, off the Castlereagh Road.

Please send pictures of any flooding in your area to nipics@bbc.co.uk.

You’ll agree that some of the pictures are startling.

Night time roller skating – Wed 6 June, central London

Wednesday night. Busy day. No lunch. And it was now quarter to nine. Walking down from the hotel in Bloomsbury, desperate to find somewhere decent to eat.

Half way across a road, and suddenly the traffic on one side of the road heading up towards Euston station thinned out.

Roller skaters in London, late evening, Wed 6 June 2007

Only to be replaced by mad whistling. And for a full minute, hundreds of people on roller skates zoomed past. No idea who they were. Or what they were doing. But they were well-marshalled, and enjoyed a police motorbike escort!

Roller skaters in London, late evening, Wed 6 June 2007

Seeking enlightenment, I quickly checked flickr – but no (similarly blurry!) photos turned up with appropriate dates and tags. So if you’re reading AiB and you have any ideas what was going on, drop me a comment.

Aer Lingus to expand into Belfast International Airport?

Aer Lingus logo

Local news this morning reports that Aer Lingus are considering an expansion into Belfast International Airport as one option in their current expansion programme.

Having floated on the Irish and London Stock Exchanges in October last year, Aer Lingus have been playing with (investing) an estimated €400 million of capital that was raised. This has included recent orders for new Airbus aircraft, doubling its long haul fleet over the next seven years.

A move into Aldergrove would open up the possibility of Aer Lingus using some of their precious Heathrow landing slots to open up a second Belfast–Heathrow service, giving bmi the competition that has been missing since British Airways’ departure in October 2001.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Happy Birthday Guardian - 50,000 editions old today

Happy Birthday Guardian - 50,000 editions old today.

Still wish they’d sort out the colour printing of the Northern Ireland edition so we wouldn’t pay the same price as the rest of the UK for a substandard version that’s even missing come content.

John Self summed it up nicely in a comment back in March:

“...we don't get the same paper in NI that the rest of the UK does. We're still mostly in monochrome, so a lot of the tables and graphics are meaningless when they appear to us to be using similar shades of grey to differentiate between features; and the central double photo spread is never interesting because the lack of colour robs it of impact.

More annoyingly though is that G2 appears to have four fewer pages for us. We don't get radio listings or Last Night's TV - which when the reviewer is Nancy Banks-Smith, means the loss of the best thing in the newspaper.

All this is because the Guardian in NI is printed in Portadown on old-fashioned presses, unlike the state of the art MAN Roland presses which they use for the rest of the UK (in Manchester and London).”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Busy, busy, busy ...

It's been a busy week. The kind of week that saw mealtimes - particularly lunch - squeezed until on Wednesday it disappeared until being combined with dinner just before 10 that night.

And yesterday was full of wiring up four video cameras to try and get decent shots for the big screen of two youth events. Difficult when there's no full rehearsal, and when not all the cameras are manned.

During the afternoon we had to make do with three fixed cameras, while an additional helper was able to reduce that to two in the evening. Normal PVR walkie talkies are totally unsuitable to communicate in noisy environments, so the whole thing had to be done with no proper talkback.

Review of 28 Weeks Later due sometime soon.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years (London Art Theatre, and back in Belfast in September)

A few months ago as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival (poorly funded, so they couldn’t afford to stage a full one!), Jesus: The Guantanamo Years played at lunchtime in The Black Box. I missed it, but had followed the link from the festival’s website to the comedian’s Bebo page, and left him a message asking if the show would be coming back.

Significantly more than forty days and forty nights later, Dublin-born Abie Philbin Bowman got back to me today, saying that he was currently with the show in London, but would be bringing it back to The Black Box in September. Put that date in your diaries.

Over in London for most of the week, I wandered down through Covent Garden towards Leicester Square and picked up a ticket for tonight’s show as the bell rang to announce five minutes to curtain up.

It was opening night for Jesus: The Guantanamo Years in the West End, playing in the small Arts Theatre (on Great Newport Street) to an even smaller audience. But packed into the first six rows were many followers fans of Abie’s stand, including one (in the picture below) who had especially flown across from Dublin for the opening night.

The premise is that God has decided to return to earth to set the record straight and explain what Christianity is really about. Fans who meet up once a week for an hour in a specially made building to talk about how good he is may not have got the whole point.

But God’s a bit old to start travelling at his age. Jesus’ previous comedy tours Jesus live on the Mount and the Miracle Tour (five thousand turned up) went down well with the crowds, so he’s offered to go back on the road for his father.

With only a stool, plastic cup of water and a mic to hide behind, a long-haired, bearded Jesus occupies the stage for the next hour wearing Moses sandals and a bright orange jump suit.

Lots of ad-libbing, and well able to deal with hecklers. A few first night problems with the simple lighting were covered over with a “Dad’s playing tricks on me again” gag. And even a topical joke about the Olympic logo (one of which is exactly the colour of Jesus’ garish jumpsuit).

Wanting to maximise the impact of his recommunication with humanity, Jesus caught a flight to the US to kick off his tour. Homeland Security though had a problem with him being born in Palestine, having a beard, no fix abode (though until recently lived with his father) ... and his Israeli record as a radical troublemaker willing to die for religion is the last straw.

“Welcome to the land of the free ... conditions apply!”

Shipped off to Guantanamo—there’s some brilliant material comparing it to KFC—Jesus is perhaps the only Jew incarcerated in the camp. And so we arrive at the point of the show. Having taken the opportunity for a range of jokes aimed at all kinds of religious targets, Abie gets down to business, taking pop after pop at the hypocrisy of the west’s war on terror.

Whereas Mozaam Begg (saw him at 2006 Belfast Festival) makes argument by being disarmingly honest and unnecessarily graceful about his treatment, Abie uses humour to cut away at the myths surrounding war-related prisoners who are detained at the pleasure of the US in Cuban battery hen cages, and makes a strong case for why Guantanamo is so unchristian. There’s a poignancy to his statement:

“Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.”
(Jesus quoting from his old material, not the new stuff)

There’s a great moment after Jesus has escaped from Guantanamo when he explains that he needed to find somewhere to live (and tour) that he’d feel at home in religiously and also where they’d know how to deal with terrorists ... so he walks across the Gulf Stream to Belfast, where his orange jump suit, striking Belfast accent, and meet-up with the UDA quickly divert him down to Dublin.

Over the course of the hour long monologue:

  • we learn that Jesus doesn’t believe in atheists;
  • Jesus is being chased by the paparazzi—the Pope and the photographers!
  • and most importantly, not all middle-eastern bearded men are terrorists.

I’m not sure if Judith Elliott will be popping up on Sunday Sequence or Arts Extra to review this show anytime soon, but if she does, it’ll be interesting to see what she says! The show takes few prisoners, so if you (and your faith) are easily offended, it’s not for you. But if you’re willing to look beyond the bluster and the sharp wit, you’ll find a comic using his talent to expose one of the shameful wonders of the modern world. And if you take the position that you shouldn't “refuse light from any quarter”, then you might ponder if Jesus would forgive Abie’s portrayal with a posh Dublin accent and join in the condemnation of Guantanamo?

If you’re in London this week, check it out. And if you’re intrigued, put it in your diary and book a ticket for the Belfast shows on 6th and 7th September.

The photo above shows Jesus relaxing in the theatre’s bar with some of his followers fans, still drinking water from his plastic cup!

Abie - thanks for the (un)timely email earlier today, and good luck with the West End run!

iTunes Plus, tagging tracks with personal info, should I care?

Podcast Icon (c) Apple Computer, Inc

Why is everyone getting their knickers in a twist over Apple embedding buyer’s information in music tracks downloaded from the whizzy new DRM-free iTunes Plus?

Customers are buying these tracks and their DRM-locked predecessors to be used according to the iTunes licence (that we’ve all clicked to acknowledge that we’ve read, whether we have or not). So sharing of the files outside your household’s shared collection of iPods is verboten.

So given that the new DRM-free tracks are instantly sharable between iPod/iTunes users, it seems reasonable that Apple would embed user information that could be used to track the spread of music around the world as people break the licensing agreement. Much like Microsoft track the spread of the most common pirated Windows XP licence keys that float around the web.

Although I haven’t yet noticed a comment from Apple on this latest ruckus, there’s a commonly repeated suggestion that the DRMed tracks already had this tracking information in them (presumably in case someone broke the DRM protection and they wanted to measure how bad their music was diffusing across the internet).

Is this a gross invasion of my privacy? Do I care?

Well, I admit I wasn’t overly aware that the few tracks I’d downloaded from iTunes (mostly using a free voucher) were tagged with my details. But given that I’m not an advocate for piracy, it’s not overly concerning.

When I check into a hotel, they know who I am. When I buy a TV they take my name and home address. When Tesco or Sainsbury’s send me a money-off voucher, it’s got my name and details stamped all over it (even if the vouchers can probably be given to someone else to use).

So why shouldn't Apple retain some ability to discover when their usage licence is being breached? If Apple could only admit this is what they do, I don’t see anything wrong with their tagging of downloaded tracks.

Maybe you disagree?

Monday, June 04, 2007

London 2012

New London 2012 Olympic logo

The new logo for the London 2012 Olympics was unveiled this morning.

When I first looked at, I though it was a very poorly drawn stylised lion.

It was only about an hour later that I read somewhere that the logo actually said "2012".

Oops.

Failure of intuitiveness.

I’m sure it meets the design criteria, and must have lots of street cred given that it looks like it’s been drawn by a graffiti artist with a lurid-coloured aerosol can of paint. But it’s as if they tried to avoid any colour that could be associated with England (red, white and blue) or the Olympic rings.

New London 2012 Olympic logo

Seb Coe explained/justified:

"It reaches out to young people in new and creative ways and uses the language that they understand and all the technology that is familiar to us.

It is different, exciting and it really defines us as a city, a country and an organisation."

Interim (old) London 2012 logo

A real shame given that the previous interim logo was so stylish! Maybe the new one will grow on us ... through repeated use.

So what do you think?

I like some of the alternative logos that have been emailed into the BBC. My favourites below ...

General Assembly - quick synopsis

The Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic churches locally appoint their respective Primates of all Ireland that lead their denominations for many years, bringing a stability to their office until their eventual retirement. Alan Harper took over the CofI top job from the retiring Lord Eames earlier this year. In contrast, Presbyterians and Methodists vote in a fresh face each year as their moderators and presidents serve for a fixed twelve month period.

(c) BBC

Back in February, Dr John Finlay from Harryville congregation in Ballymena was elected as the moderator designate, and he will be installed tonight at the opening of this year’s Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast.

Belfast City Council often elect their new Lord Mayor the Monday before General Assembly. This year, the mayoral vote is happening around the corner in Belfast City Hall tonight, so the likely winner Sinn Fein’s Tierna Cunningham will miss out on a trip to Church House (unlike her party’s Alex Maskey back in 2002). Update: Of course, favourite horses don't always win the race, and in the end it was a coin toss to decide between two UUP mayoral candidates, with Jim Rodgers elected as the new Lord Mayor of Belfast.

The complex ecclesiastical choreography that is the opening night will no doubt be rehearsed this afternoon, before being performed at 7pm tonight. The outgoing moderator, Dr David Clarke, will give his closing address, and then be escorted out of the main assembly hall by the phalanx of previous moderators (who sit up on the stage behind him in chronological order). Soon after, they’ll troop back in, bringing with them the new moderator, who will then go on to make his opening statements, setting out his theme for the year (“Jesus is Lord”).

In a deviation from the normal agenda, Tuesday night will be opened up to the public for a town hall event focussing on education. Teachers, parents, politicians (including the Stormont Assembly’s new education minister Caitríona Ruane) and maybe even pupils will debate curriculum reform, governance changes and educational ethos, chaired by BBC Good Morning Ulster’s Seamus McKee. Update: It's been confirmed that Caitríona Ruane will address Tuesday night's education meeting.

During the week, the mood of the assembly will be tested with another break from tradition: a proposal to move the installation of the new moderator to the end of the week, allowing the moderator to get more experience working across the breadth of the church for a year before chairing the assembly business. (If successful, the transitional moderator will get to chair business twice ... unlucky!)

As well as dealing with internal structural issues (a bit like any trade union or political party annual conference), assembly is expected to debate a number of other higher profile matters ...

  • During the year, guidelines for pastoral care of homosexuals have been developed and will now be discussed at assembly. (They've also been widely trailed on the Will and Testament blog.) It's a contensions area for many in the church, exposing their differences of theology and interpretation. Included are recommendations that congregations “create an environment of love, acceptance, patience, forgiveness and grace” while a “safe space” is developed within PCI where people can discuss their sexuality. Amendments to the report are possible, along with further work to refine the church's policies and attitudes.
  • For the fourth year running, the sale of Church House (home to the assembly, and also the main office accommodation for the denomination’s central departments) will be debated. Faced with the question of restoring the crumbling stonework and redeveloping the impractical internal office spaces versus the emotional and practical pain of moving out of the trademark property to another premises (perhaps outside of Belfast), it’s been an alternating game of Oh yes they will! Oh no they won’t! And even if assembly sticks to last year’s decision to stay, there are still a variety of renovation options that will test the hearts, minds and pockets of PCI in the months and years to come! Or as the church’s press office phrased it:
“The on-off sale of Church House will be debated once again on Wednesday afternoon. This should be the final definitive debate in a saga that began in 2004 with a vote to sell the 100 year old building and should end today when a resolution to rescind that 2004 decision is either accepted or rejected.”
  • And around lunchtime on Tuesday, the Communications Board will announce the winners of their first annual Excellence in Communication Awards. Created in an attempt to improve communications across the denomination, awards will be made in four categories: print, broadcast, internet and audio-visual. (But unlike the Church of Scotland, assembly's business isn't streamed live over the internet, and doesn't feature a daily news update podcast!)
  • And somewhere in the middle of the buzz, debate and bureaucracy, hopefully God will be glorified, as the Shorter Catechism advises!

You can catch the sounds of the opening night on Radio Ulster (Medium Wave only) from 7pm tonight, complete with Bert Tosh and William Crawley's commentary on the unfolding events.

(c) 2006 Ucj / UNIVERSAL MUSIC OPERATIONS LTD

And if the excitement of a mayoral vote and the installation of a moderator is too much, Katherine Jenkins will be singing along with the Ulster Orchestra in the Waterfront Hall.

A Segway in London (indoors) ... and a mention for 10mph

Sorting through some photos recently, I came across some shots from April. Segway scooters pop up at irregular intervals on this blog.

I’m a fan of the 10mph.com project in which a couple of guys rode their Segways across the US and made a film of their journey of discovery.

While it won some awards at film festivals, there’s no sign yet of a UK cinematic release. But the DVD is now out in the US (and ships internationally) and should appear on Amazon UK soon! In the meantime, there's an iTunes download version too.

So back to the photos. It’s after 10 o’clock at night, and there’s a man scooting along the London pavement in his scooter, just down the Farrington Road from the Guardian offices. He stops at the door to a block of apartments, keys in his PIN, and then rides through the door, rides into the lobby, and ultimately rides into the lift.

I can only assume that he went upstairs, rode along the corridor, rode into his room, and parked the Segway in a built-in wardrobe … and probably fell asleep still balanced on top of it!

Trailer for 10.mph below ...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Weather Blues

The weather’s been pretty poor this weekend – what else should we expect at the beginning of June! Such a contrast from last weekend when we were enjoying the delights of the Belfast Children’s Festival.

(Anyone else think that the photo makes it looks like Gem have been sacrificing more call centre agents to the gods from the top of their building?)