Friday, August 31, 2007

12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?)

The joy of cinema is that you can travel further and cheaper than is easy to do in real life. So, over the last couple of years, I’ve had regular forays into French culture, a couple of Danish angst flicks, a Dutch wartime story, a German spy story, an Irish Traveller story, an Italian anti-hero, a Spanish fairytale, an Australian disaster, a medieval Swedish classic, an Austrian/Bosnian-Herzegovinian/German/Croatian co-production, and very nearly a Polish comedy.

Poster for 12:08 East of Bucharest

Last night extended this tour to Romania, with the Cannes award winning A fost sau n-a fost? (12:08 East of Bucharest). Interestingly, 4 Lluni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) another Romania film picked up prizes at this years Cannes festival, though it won't be released in the UK until 11 January 2008. Update 7 Feb - Now reviewed.

The film takes place over part of a day, three days before Christmas. It’s the 16th anniversary of the revolution. One character commented,

“What’s all the fuss about the revolution? No one cares any more.”

But the head of the local television station, Virgil Jderescu, is marking the event with a retrospective interview with a couple of local guests from the provincial town of Vaslui who remember the events of 22 December 1989. The question is

“Was there or wasn’t there a revolution in our town?”
(The film’s Hungarian title literally translates as “was there or wasn’t there?”)

A matter of whether there was any real pro-democracy revolting before the news came through at 12:08 that Ceausescu had been toppled, or if the residents just came out into the town square to celebrate after Ceausescu’s was overthrown in the capital Bucharest.

12:08 East of Bucharest - the interview

Prof Manescu, the local school principle, is joined by an old retired man, Emanoil Piscoci, in the studio. Manescu has a well-known (and long-term) drink problem, and borrows money from both his friends and foes. While he owes half the town their loans back, do they owe him anything? Was he present in the town square that day, standing up to the Securitate before 12:08?

Will the callers into the programme remember his contribution? Or sixteen years on, do they all hold different memories of that day’s events?

“There was no revolution. We were better under Ceausescu.”

It’s basically a televised radio talk show: a bit like plonking Stephen Nolan down behind a table, with a webcam trained on him, and a studio guest either side. And at this point, the film turns into a play, with three talking heads sitting behind a desk.

We watch in real-time, ad breaks and all. Between the show’s wobbly set, wobbly direction, and even more wobbly camera work, it becomes ever more excruciating to watch as the guests credibility is questioned and the show’s narrative disintegrates. Only, when it comes to treatment of the local Chinese businessman, Nolan would never be so rude to a caller. Believe me!

three shots from 12:08 East of Bucharest

As someone largely ignorant of Romania and its culture, the film portrayed post-revolution life as downbeat. Revolution, but not transformation. The men order their wives around, teenagers’ main pastime is lighting firecrackers in apartment block hallways. It’s a grey-coloured film, in which even the whites are grubby. And in the gloom, much is made of shiny surfaces that reflect, including car windshields and windows.

It’s a slow burning film, that raised very few laughs in the sparsely filled Renoir screen, and for didn’t live up to its comedy billing. Yet reviews suggest that if you know a bit about Hungarian life, you’ll find lots to smirk about. Watch out for the origami!

But if it passes through the QFT, it’s worth a viewing. It’s beautifully and simply shot. And it’ll be one of the few films you see this year that will show some foodstuff companies as sponsors in the opening titles!

Win some, lose some

Air Berlin logoWhile Ryanair will be shortly squeezing its planes onto the apron at St George’s Belfast City Airport, Air Berlin have announced that they’ll be making space for them by terminating their Belfast City–Stansted route from 29 October 2007.

So no more civilised flight across to Stansted, complete with free snack, cup of tea, and copy of the rarely sighted International Herald Tribune.

Air Berlin - you’ll be missed. Ryanair - I’m not sure I’m that excited by your arrival.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

101 things to do near Nelson’s Column – number 63

Inflatible screen in front of Nelson's Column

Tonight at 9pm sees another extravaganza in Trafalgar Square: a classic silent Indian film that has been digitally restored by the BFI National Archive is being shown on a giant inflatable screen. Prapancha Pash (A Throw of Dice) will be accompanied by a score that was specially written by Nitin Sawhney (an acclaimed British Asian songwriter) and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

The event follows on from the recent season of India Now events. After tonight’s premiere (only a stone’s throw away from the normal London premiere location of Leicester Square), the film will then be released on digital-enabled cinemas across the UK—with a soundtrack rather than an orchestra (though I don’t see Belfast’s QTF on the list yet).

COnfiguring the projector

IMDB describes the film as a story of

"two rival kings addicted to gambling, Ranjit and the evil Sohan, also vie for the same woman, Sunita, Kanwa the hermit’s daughter. Ranjit loses his kingdom and his love and becomes Sohan’s slave through a crooked game of dice."

It also provides some background trivia ...

"The production used over 10,000 extras, 1,000 horses and 50 elephants provided by the royal houses of Jaipur, Udaipur and Mysore."

Last night, there were still rigging out Trafalgar Square, inflating the screen, focussing the screen (with the high def image thrown all the way from the steps in front of the National Gallery).

deflating the screen after a test

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jesus returns to Belfast ... catch Jesus: The Guantanamo Years at The Black Box 6/7 September

Jesus: the Guantanamo Years

Following on from his previous run in Belfast, a spell in London’s West end, a tour of the US, and some dates in the Edinburgh Festival, Abie Philbin Bowman returns next week on 6 and 7 September to The Black Box in Belfast with Jesus: The Guantanamo Years.

You can catch my review of the opening night of his London run back in June. But to recap ...

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.

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 ... wearing Moses sandals and a bright orange jump suit.

Catching a flight to the US, Jesus runs up against Homeland Security who aren’t impressed 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.

So he’s shipped off to Guantanamo Bay.

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?

Recommended. Well worth the £6 ticket price. It'll probably be worth it for Abie's attempt at a Belfast accent alone!

Jesus (Abie) relaxing with some followers/friends in the bar after the opening night of his London run

And maybe Abie will relax in the bar with his followers friends and audience after the show in Belfast like he did in London!

Oops ... someone's nicked my seat!

Luxury 2 by 2 seats on bmi's old Heathrow-Moscow flight

The first flight to Heathrow this morning used bmi's A320 from the now defunct Moscow route. It has luxurious seating installed at the front, two seats on either side of the aisle, rather than the normal three, and with lots of extra leg room.

As a result, there are six rows squeezed into the usual eight, and the row numbers run 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, ...

Although checked in for 8C, there was no room at the inn when I got on the plane this morning! Usually they catch it at check-in or going through the lounge. But today, communications had broken down, and passengers expecting to be hunched up behind the business class curtain were left loitering at the front of the plane waiting for a decision from the dispatcher on where to sit.

Perhaps a seat in the near-empty business rows (like the last time it happened) to compensate for hanging around like unwanted stowaways? After all, us nitwits that check in early are wanting off the flight quickly and sitting in those rows deliberately.


"Find any free seat you want ... behind the curtain!"


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Replacing a nipple ... with a whole new keyboard!

Laptop nipple pointer

Laptop users fall into different camps: those who love their track pad, those who love their nipple-like joy stick pointers, and those who just prefer to plug in a mouse.

A friend had worn out the nipple on his laptop and phoned the helpdesk to see if they could post him out a replacement. In older laptops, the rubber nipples could be eased off, and replacements pushed on.

No. Not this model. The nipple was a integral part of the keyboard (not intended to wear down to the metal stud underneath.)

Instead, the helpdesk arranged an appointment for an engineer who came out this morning and replaced the entire keyboard!

Wasteful or what?

A whole new keyboard to replace a nipple pointer

101 things to do near Nelson’s Column – number 46

In the never-ending game of 101 things to do near Nelson’s Column, last week’s involved erecting a huge painting as part of London's Indian Festival. (The Belfast Mela was on Saturday 26th in Botanic Gardens - I missed it!)

India Festival, Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square

They were lucky that by the next morning the paint hadn’t run with the heavy rain.

Nelson's Column from behind, Trafalgar Square

Sunday, August 26, 2007

IT Crowd hits the spot?

UK IT Crowd - series 2 - image from Channel 4

On Friday night, the IT Crowd came out of their closet (in more ways than one) and brought humour and mirth to Channel 4.

Looks like while the first series introduced us to the not-a-million-miles-away-from-reality support team in their basement fluorescent-lit lair, the second series will move on to explore the havoc they can wreak on the outside world. (Must have got a bigger budget to allow them to film outside their studio sets!)

US IT Crowd

Incidentally, the series has transferred to the US, where it is being piloted and recast.

Only one of the original characters—Moss, played by Richard Ayoade—has been kept.

So did you enjoy it? Were the jokes about disability and homosexuality funny, or did you prefer when the characters (and their victims) were kept in their cage?

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Having seen the trailer for Sparkle a couple of times over the last month or so, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the trailer hadn’t spoilt the entire plot.

Sparkle - Sheila (Stockard Channing) and Sam

Young man Sam moves to London and flirts with Sheila, an older woman played by Stockard Channing, ending up working as her PA. He flirts with a younger girl, Kate—Amanda Ryan who you might remember as Sophie in BBC2’s Attachments—at party and falls for her. The older and younger women know each other, but Sam doesn’t realise. And the younger woman doesn’t know the extent of his relationship with the older woman.

Sparkle, Sam and Kate

And in the background, Sam’s mother is trying to sing for a living, while neither Sam nor Kate know who their father is, Bob Hoskins is old, sad and looking for love, and I keep expecting Jed Bartlett to run onto the set and attack Sam for sleeping with his wife!

There’s a chase scene that’s not up to the standard of Bourne Ultimatum (go and see it!), but is funnier. There’s some visual humour—watch out for the dialogue about “building” while people in the background play an unrelated game of Jenga—and the film’s background music has a live feel, sounding like it’s being played by a live band just under the screen, like the band that you’d find at the foot of a village hall stage when the local drama group are putting on a musical!

Sparkle - Bob Hoskins

It’s a lot less cheeky that British romcom Love Actually (remember the nativity with the lobster from Christmas 2003?) and was produced with a much smaller cast and budget. But it makes the most of its triangle of love and deceit.

And although nearly all the film is set in London, it was almost entirely shot in Liverpool and the Isle of Man. Maybe the next UK romcom will be shot in Belfast?

British films are a bit hit and miss. Sparkle isn’t the most exciting of films, but the small cast’s acting is good, and there are enough twists and turns to keep you watching for 104 minutes. My only disappointment was that Stockard Channing seems to be missing from the last ten minutes of the film, and her character’s issues are never resolved. A loose thread that fell to the cutting room floor.

“Cup of tea, with an embarrassing amount of milk. Thanks.”

MyCuppa Tea/Coffee from Suck UK

When it comes to tea and coffee, everyone has a slightly different set of requirements. First there’s the caffeine vehicle of choice: coffee (instant, decaf, filtered, percolated), tea (normal, earl grey, mixture of both, fruity, chai, fair-trade, bags or leaf) or neither.

Having got through the first set of attributes, there’s more detail to collect. Strong or weak, sugar (brown or white).

And then there’s milk. Without (easy). Just a tad. Or lots. And for tea, do you prefer the milk in the cup before the tea (to prevent the milk being scalded)?

In my case, I’ve a standard response to the question “tea of coffee?”

“Cup of team, with an embarrassing amount of milk. Thanks.”

Keep pouring the milk until you feel embarrassed about squeezing any more out of the bottle/jug into the mug, and then stop. I’ve yet to be served tea that’s too cold or too milky.

But other people seem to have more trouble getting their cuppa right. So the nice people at Suck UK are about to launch a set of MyCuppa mugs, that include mini-colour charts on the inside of the white mugs to help identify your preferred colour of beverage. Now there’ll be no excuse.

Selector Mug from Suck UK

And in case people have trouble remembering what the rest of their house wants, Suck UK have another helpful product, with stainless steel selector rings to mark people’s preferences.

(via Shiny Shiny)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Watawieh! All yorlye gwen? (Norfuk = a indigenous minority language)

“An indigenous language is one that is native to a region and spoken by indigenous peoples. This language would be from a linguistically distinct community that has been settled in the area for many generations. Indigenous languages may not be national languages, or may have fallen out of use, because of language deaths caused by colonization, where the original language is replaced by that of the colonists.” (Definition adapted from Wikipedia.)

Now in Northern Ireland, Irish and Ulster Scots are recognised as indigenous languages.

(c) Telegraph

But cast your eyes across to the other side of the world to little Norfolk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean. As a result of settlers who arrived from Pitcairn Island (which has been in the news for the wrong reasons over the last couple of years), some of the population speak Norfuk (or Norfolk), an amalgam of English and Tahitian. About half the 2000 islanders speak Norfuk, and it featured on the Telegraph’s daily podcast earlier this week.

Watawieh! All yorlye gwen?
(Hello! How are you all?)

While part of Australia, Norfolk keeps a distinct flag, national anthem, and even stamps passports (including Australian ones) on the way into their territory.

As organisations across Northern Ireland work to boost the understanding and appreciation for Ulster Scots and Irish, Norfolk islanders have been fighting to preserve their disappearing language. It’s now being taught in school to the island’s 300 children, and the UN will be including it in the next edition of Unesco’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing.

Norfolk government spokesman, Peter Maywald says:

“It’s now undergoing a renaissance. People are more interested in their culture and historical roots than they were before.”

Some pages of the island’s newspaper are now translated from into Norfuk (from English) and there are even plans to build a cultural centre to showcase this unusual creole language.

And if you want to brush up on your Ulster Scots, check out A Kist O Wurds at 7pm each Saturday evening on Radio Ulster (starting back on 1 September). It's surprisingly accessible and fun!

Update: Radio 4's Word of Mouth will be include a feature about Norfuk on Monday 3 September at 11pm, repeated on Tuesday 4 September at 4pm, and available for seven days on Listen Again.

The penultimate wisdom – part 4

Chinese Calligraphy ... Wisdom

In this continuing series of pithy (and not so pithy) clichés

Sometimes the majority only means that all the fools are on the same side.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Paddington Bear and his eponymous station?

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station

Continuing an occasional series of photos related to food taken at Paddington Station. (Last time, it was pigeons.)

I walk past the Paddington Bear sculpture most weeks on the way out of the station to take the short walk to Lancaster Gate tube station and the Central Line.

I’ve always meant to stop and take a photo. And yet the day that I have time to take a picture, he’s littered with the remains of passengers’ picnics.

Looks like Paddington has been enjoying more than marmalade sandwiches!

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station

A third dose of wisdom

Chinese Calligraphy ... Wisdom

Following on from the last two spoonfuls of the wisdom medicine,

Going to church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Local Bookerthon nearing completion

The Man Booker PRize 2007 logo

Local blogger John Self has been selflessly reading through all the books on this year’s Man Booker Prize long list ... so the rest of us don’t have to!

The good news was that he’d already read five of them, and “managed to wangle freebies of five of the other eight from publishers”. The power of the blog!

John has now started into the last (thirteenth) and longest book (Darkmans by Nicola Barker weighing in at a massive 838 pages). He’ll be finished well before the judges announce the further truncated short list on 6 September.

You can catch all of John Self’s reviews over at The Asylum, and you'll be just in time to cheer him across the finish line.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Memories of Lots of Infuriatingly Stupid Parentheses (LISP)

Cartoon from

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard anyone mention the LISP programming language. These days, the only thing you need to know about LISP is that it doesn’t stand for

Lots of Infuriatingly Stupid Parentheses

... though it’s a pretty good description. The curious can go and investigate Wikipedia or The less curious can be satisfied with the following example.

(append '(1 2 3) '() '(a) '(5 6))

;Output: (1 2 3 a 5 6)

The following cartoon from sums it up (not the first time AiB has borrowed from the “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”).

Lisp logo

Eric Raymond is attributed with the quote

“Lisp is worth learning for the profound enlightenment experience you will have when you finally get it; that experience will make you a better programmer for the rest of your days, even if you never actually use Lisp itself a lot.”

I think it’s unintentionally humorous. While I had a lot of time for Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar when it first appeared in the late nineties, he was more disappointing in real life at a Linux User Group lecture in City of London University a few years ago. (Much like my experience of Richard Stallman when he spoke in Belfast last spring.)

Belfast International Airport - Tribunal finds in favour of sacked workers in 2002 strike

Photo from Belfast International Airport (BFS) Master Plan (c) BIAL

Next time you go through the airport and sigh loudly as you join the back of the security queue and then sigh again as you get asked to take your belt and shoes off ... spare a though for the men and women working as security staff.

Tasked with making air travel safe, they put up with grumpy, sweaty travellers while getting paid a pittance.

The staff working for ICTS up at Belfast International Airport went out on strike back in 2002 in a dispute over pay, overtime rates and sick pay. Around that time you may have noticed many of the familiar faces disappearing from Aldergrove, replaced with staff brought in by ICTS from Scottish airports.

Image (c) BBC

The dispute ended with 23 (or 24 depending on your source) staff being sacked. It all got very messy: the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation’s Solidarity Bulletin explains the background.

Despite a lack of support for their case from the TGWU, an industrial tribunal has found that the staff were unfairly dismissed by ICTS and that four shop stewards had been unlawfully discriminated against. A total of £750,000 compensation was awarded.

Shop steward Gordon McNeill commented in a BBC report:

“Our case sets two important legal precedents which strengthen the hand of all trade unionists ... The tribunal decisions in our case now establish that shop stewards can legally resume suspended strikes with no legal requirement to give any notice to employers and that any shop steward who is victimised or sacked can claim political discrimination, rather than just unfair dismissal.”

However, for the shop stewards, the matter is far from resolved. Chris Bowyer, Madan Gupta, Gordon McNeill and Malcolm Spencer felt abandoned by their union, and are staging a hunger strike in front of Transport and General Workers' Union headquarters in London demanding to answers. McNeill added:

“We have had a battle for five years, we need answers to questions from out union as to why we were told effectively this case could not be run. We have had to fund this ourselves privately it has cost over £200,000. We will stay on hunger strike until the union leadership meet our demands for a full inquiry and until they agree to meet the legal bill and other costs we have incurred.”

Update: some progress on the ICTS case ...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Have you ever posted a letter to Somalia?

One of (Alan’s) wonders of the modern world is that you can send an email to nearly anyone, anywhere. As a student, I remember the good old days of UUCP bang paths and mail gateways that forwarded email from SMTP onto CompuServe or IBM etc.

At that time, there wasn’t a single standard mail protocol and messaging service. Even in work, there were islands of users on different email systems, with what felt like yoghurt pots and wet string in-between. Now it’s ubiquitous.

Of course, not everyone has an email address. Not everyone has access to their own or a public shared internet-connected computer.

And similarly in the offline world, not everyone has access to snail mail. Not everyone has a fixed abode. Not everyone has an address that they can be reached at. But at least you can post a letter from Europe to any country in the world?

Window on the World logo from

Well, nearly. The Royal Mail’s website includes its International Incident Bulletin, titled Window on the World.

Apparently, posting to Somalia was suspended in October 1991, and has never been lifted. A whole country unreachable by putting a stamp on an envelope and posting it into a red pillar box. For over 25 15 years?

Paul Gallico - The Poseidon Snow Goose Adventure

As a teenager, I did a week’s work experience in the local library for a week one summer. As a voracious reader each summer, I regularly enjoyed the random set of books that I picked off the shelves.

For each morning that week, in the half hour before the library opened to the public, I had to make sure that the hardback fiction books were in proper alphabetical order. People have a tendency to pick books off the shelves, discover that they’ve more than that they’re allowed to borrow, and then put the extra one back roughly (but not quite) in the right place.

It was fascinating work ... and maybe if the IT sector collapses, I should look for a job in a library. Not that it’s exactly booming with cuts to the budgets of the soon-to-be-merged education and library boards.

As well as reading through the ten-part Mission Earth series by L. Ron Hubbard, I tucked in to some more normal tomes.

Paul Gallico is one author’s name that comes to mind. There were two of his books in the library, The Snow Goose (the story of a friendship along with a wounded snow goose being nursed back to good health) and in complete contrast The Poseidon Adventure (well known for the 1972 movie original and the 2005 and 2006 remakes – so good they remade it twice).

Since then I’ve doubled my age, but haven’t heard a thing about Paul Gallico. Never read another book he authored, or heard anyone discussing him. Maybe reading bookworms will comment on his other great works ... or reason for his lack of notoriety.

Wisdom, part 2

Chinese Calligraphy ... Wisdom

In a follow-up to last week’s wisdom, I give you ...

If you lend someone £20, and never see that person again; it was probably worth it.

When a pumping station can’t cope, the water’s got to go somewhere ...

Mays Meadow flooded again - August 2007

Looks like the pumping station at Mays Meadow, where the road goes below the water level of the River Lagan, failed again. It has happened before and no doubt it will happen again.

Part of me wondered whether the cost of clearing up each flood is less than the cost of fixing the root problem, so they just let it happen ... or maybe that logic is too sophisticated!

The Edge is well named ...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum ... Bourne Again ... Bourne Free

Aftermath of Bourne Ultimatum premiere in Leicester Square

The London premiere of the latest in the Bourne trilogy was maybe even more rain-sprinkled than star-studded. Only an hour or two afterwards, I settled down into my cinema seat half a mile away to catch up with the thrilling life of Jason Bourne.

I remember really enjoying the first two films in the franchise, but at the start of last night’s two hour epic, I couldn’t remember much about them. But a bit like Bourne, it was all coming back to me by the end. The Bourne Identity enticed me into reading the original Robert Ludlum novel, eventually wading through all three - which you can even buy as one bumper book. (Unlike the films, the books get more and more convoluted—and longer—as they progress.) And I’ve just discovered that Ludlum’s estate gave Eric Van Lustbader permission to write more Bourne sequels. Something to add to the Amazon wish list!

The film follows Bourne as he circles in on his own identity, and the people responsible for the mess that his life has become since leaving David Webb behind. Directed by Paul Greengrass (who co-authored the not-quite-banned Spycatcher with Peter Wright back in the 1980s, and closer to home helped write the screenplay for Omagh and Bloody Sunday), there’s lots of his trademark hand-held camera shots, with quick cut editing and blurry action sequences that help justify the film’s 12A certificate (rather than getting a 15). And in an AiB tradition that had been waning recently, there are a few references to torture for good measure.

While the TV series Spooks has never shied away from gritty violence, it does maintain a polished veneer. Bourne is a much rawer and less refined drama. It’s a scary thought to wonder whether there are people around the globe whose lives aren’t so far away from the world that Bourne inhabits.

The characters are clever and consistent, the chases (whether on bike, car or foot) are superb. Although the Eurostar will shortly transfer north of the Thames to St Pancreas station, The Bourne Ultimatum will give Waterloo Station a place in cinema history. And while the film mightn’t boost applications to MI5, it won’t be attracting too many to work as journalists at the Guardian either!

Despite the pace and voracity of action in the film, there are lighter moments which raise a few chuckles and remove the tightness in your chest. There was even a spontaneous round of applause from people around me when an assassin was subdued.

“Let go of yourself, give yourself to this programme”

Words exhorted by Dr Albert Hirsch (played by Albert Finney) who oversaw the psychological conditioning that converted David Webb to Jason Bourne. Words that have quasi-religious overtones, giving the Treadstone/Blackfriar project a cultish quality.

In a review, Frank Lovece noted that that in this “dazzling third act ... amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne ... [crosses] enough ethical and international borders to go down to Hell on frequent-flyer miles”. I’m not so sure about ethical - as there’s a morality to Bourne’s approach, and a reluctance to inflict needless pain (or kill), but his carbon tax will certainly bankrupt him.

A sign of a great film is the effort (and money) that is thrown at the closing credits. In the case of Bourne Ultimatum, I wonder if someone is trying to get the Oscar for best credits? Not quite the Pink Panther, but certainly not bland.

Overall it’s an excellent film. Continuous action, yet not vulgarly violent. If you have even half a stomach, go and see it.

(But due to the shiny defect in the middle of the cinema screen, and the ill-focussed picture, I don’t recommend that you pop into Screen 1 at Tottenham Court Road Odeon.)

And I should point out that several police cars were harmed in the making of this film.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More Sky (and a little bit of the Isle of Man)

Picture of clouds over the Isle of Man (just visible towards the left of the picture)

If you enlarge the picture, you can just make out the Isle of Man over on the right hand side.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day;

teach that person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Strangford Stone—a monumental achievement

Strangford Stone in the middle distance

To quote from the explanatory signage around the site ...


When most people see a megalith (standing alone) they wonder why it was erected.

Strangford Stone up close

In Madagascar, where megaliths were a part of the culture until the nineteenth century, King Andrianampoinimerina said that working together to quarry and transport a stone is proof of mutual friendship and contributes to happiness.

In 1995, a group of local people decided to continue this ancient tradition and bring one thousand young people together to celebrate the start of a new millennium by pulling up the one thousand centimetre high Strangford stone.

They hoped, as the peace process was gaining momentum, to involve young people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland to create a lasting testament to a shared future.

View from the Strangford Stone


In November 1996, the Millennium Commission awarded a quarter of a million pounds to the Strangford Stone project. the remaining sixty per cent of the costs were donated as contributions in kind by all the people who worked on it. Down District Council gave permission for this site with its magnificent views over Strangford Lough, Slieve Croob and the Mountains of Mourne.

Another view from the Strangford Stone

From a quarry on Slieve Donard, visible from here on a clear day, the McConnell family quarried a single block of granite weighing over 200 tonnes, the largest ever-quarried in Ireland. They trimmed it along the grain of rock, using the ancient plug and feathers technique, to its smallest natural size, twelve and a half metres long and weighing forty seven tonnes. During the trimming, a weakness in the granite was discovered. The stone was split into two parts and was rejoined with three stainless steel dowels.

(Some might see this as an unfortunate metaphor for the NI peace process!)

The exact alignment of the four inner rocky planets for June 26, 1999, the day the stone was to be pulled into place, was engraved on its south face.

Engravings on the Strangford Stone

Experts from various disciplines collectively contributed thousands of hours of their time. A steel cradle to support the stone during the pull was designed, as were special low-stretch ropes, a hydraulic safety system and the three metres deep concrete foundation for the stone. Others recruited and trained the teams of young people or provided legal, financial and insurance support for the project.

Nearly 1000 adults gave of their expertise, time and goodwill so that 1000 young people could come together and leave a landmark to last for thousands of years.


By early afternoon on 26 June 1999, 1000 young people, aged 14 to 20 had assembled at Delamont Country Park to pull the largest megalith in the United Kingdom or Ireland into place.

Over the preceding months, the volunteers, recruited from schools and youth groups from all over Northern Ireland, had attended numerous training sessions. No one, however, could predict how things would work out on the day. As volunteers, in caps and shirts of various colours to signify the five different teams, lined up on twenty ropes, there was a tangible sense of anticipation in the air.

The abandoned safety cage for the Strangford Stone

For the first time, the volunteers pulled back on the ropes as one and slowly the Strangford Stone, encased in its safety cradle, moved a full degree before the hydraulic system locked back into place. For the next two hours of monumental effort, they slowly hauled the Stone upwards, the tension on the ropes making them feel like steel. Then, with one final heave, the stone was finally pulled into place. As Mahler’s Third Symphony burst out on the loudspeakers and a thousand brightly coloured balloons filled the sky, jubilant volunteers cheered and embraced. Their exhilaration was shared by those onlookers who had contributed so much of their time and effort to the project.

King Andrianampoinimerina had been right. The achievement (later captured on a Royal Mail stamp) had not just been in creating a monument to signify one millennium and endure another, but in the friendship it inspired between so many young people from different backgrounds throughout Northern Ireland.

Strangford Stone in the distance

Truly a monumental achievement! (And a piece of copywriting that Wayne might (not) be proud of!)