The most common question in our house on 31 December was
“What were your highlights of the year?”
Cue lots of head scratching, memories of holidays, trips away, and minor reminisces. But the question stuck with me today and I remembered more and more. So, quickly trawling back through a year of blog posts – which tend to cover major thoughts or events – here’s my less-than-compact review of 2008. (I'll add in some photos to break up the link-fest tomorrow.)
January started as snow fell fast on the first Thursday night, delaying return to work by a day and instead we spent Friday building snowmen with Littl’un. After posting an unfavourable review, we were invited back for a second meal in two rooms on University Road and enjoyed it a lot. Toby Hadoke provided lunchtime titters as he explained how Moths Ate My Dr Who Scarf at the Out for Lunch festival, followed by a slightly bizarre “conversation” between local authors Glenn Patterson and Malachi O’Doherty. There was a rather full weekend that started with a conference in Windsor (including Evensong in Windsor Chapel followed by nibbles in the cloister) and finished with the building of seven of Ikea’s finest BILLY bookcases. Oh, and the yellow Mini went back and was replaced for six months with a second hand Smart Roadster and the first of many attempts to get a second key cut!
February saw in the Chinese New Year (year of the rat), voting for the next Presbyterian Moderator Donald Patton (and my rational desire of a Panini sticker book of PCI ministers), a Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (“brokenness ... offset with determination”), the launch of David Park’s superb book The Truth Commissioner, the relocation of the Jaffe Fountain, and a look at CCTV cameras around the Waterfront.
In March, AiB was two years old. Victoria Square opened to much fanfare, reasonable crowds, the sound of a hundred shutters taking photographs of the elaborate structure, and the (tedious) game of where and when will the Apple Store open started in earnest. There was mention of looming Muppetry in the Sesame Tree, a blogger meet-up in church followed by a great evening of Ladino music at the Los Desterrados concert in Belfast’s Synagogue and one of my photos from the night ended up in the national Jewish Chronicle – whose website is strangely theJC.com! The BBC’s Passion provided food for thought over Easter and there was a superb concert of Big Tunes & Anthems by Shaun Davey in the Waterfront on St Patrick’s’ Day. I also announced that single parents should be issued with medals ... at least annually and reviewed a purloined copy of the redesigned Third Way magazine (the one with that Ben Elton interview in it).
April was the month that Northern Ireland Post Offices came under threat. Philip Johnston returned to estate agency in East Belfast and rescued MCW Residential. Ryanair made dubious and unsubstantiated claims about their flightpaths out of Belfast City Airport over Belfast Lough and I favoured Ikon (later Mystery Worshipped) over the Celebration of Hope. Belfast Courts erected a squiggle. The bookworms - Samson and Goliath - finally appeared on-screen alongside Potto and Hilda in Sesame Tree. Belfast had a miniture flash mob. And car problems meant I caught the bus to work.
May saw little fanfare until the last minute when the display MOT certificates became mandatory. AiB started to scrutinise supermarkets’ pricing policies of different sizes of boxes of tea bags. We went to Streamvale Open Farm on a blistering hot May Day (summer came really early). Freesat launched, though it was hard to find any set top boxes in Belfast. And after April’s car problems, the Polo turned into a C-Max (with the inevitable second key fiasco). At the Eurovision Song Contest, Dustin turned out to be a turkey. AiB took illicit photos at the Barry and Basil Show up at Stormont and returned to the grounds for some Red Bull Soapbox racing. Cheryl threw herself off the top of the Europa Hotel. I mused on what makes a good or bad church website, and then reflected on Ofcom’s latest nations and regions market communications report.
In June, the Post Office consultation results were published and Belmont Post Office was confirmed for closure. More on tea bags. The NI peace process was compared to a game of chess and there was a visit to Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich over on the Falls for a spot of Irish chorale music. We went to France, didn’t book seats in advance for the TGV, didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower, and I didn’t enjoy the experience of ordering (and eating) profiteroles that arrived filled with cottage cheese and served with lettuce. Meanwhile a Lexus SUV tried to drive over a Porsche Boxster and a Toyota Celica in the Lisburn Road Co-Op car park. And a Sunday morning visit to Summer Madness with Littl’un was good despite the atrocious weather.
At the beginning of July I ordering a new car for delivery in August and I noticed that my cars have been shrinking over time. Belfast rolled out it’s new branding. I met someone I’d previously blogged about and he unexpectedly remembered what I’d written. Always write to be read! I discovered just how deafening Lambeg Drums could be in a small community hall at the beginning of a cultural exploration of all things orange while a Swiss journalist and his family stayed with us over the Twelfth. So we took in the Belfast launch of Orangefest (and an interview with First Minister Peter Robinson) before things hotted up with a tour of East Belfast bonfires. The next morning witnessed the main Belfast Twelfth parade (all two hours of it) before discovering what happened afterwards at the field. The Belfast County Grand Lodge never did come back with any comment about the "Peace Keepers" toy guns on sale at the Belfast field. Being part of a photographic exhibition – Add to Set – as part of the Trans Festival in the Waterfront Hall was an unexpected (and undeserved) opportunity and a great end to a busy month.
In August I handed back the Smart Roadster and picked up the Toyota Aygo after a short delay. (Though I never bored you with the tale of the subsequent key cutting!) Tech Camp dominated the start of the month with a superb scavenger hunt and visits galore, more stop-go animations than I could fathom, and including an interesting one to SARC and a brilliant (and unexpected) one to the production company behind Sesame Tree. Other excitement included attending a wedding that was being filmed (for an as-yet unbroadcast late-night TV series), the new Broadway underpass on the Westlink turning into a gigantic swimming pool and Dalek cookies. Meanwhile, the Apple Store was furtively built and photographed while a Sheffield car park turned into another photo opportunity.
September's Creative Camp Belfast was excellent. The big red switch was thrown on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (which spun off a rap and a hymn). I bought some monster ginger, the Proms came to Belfast City Hall ... oh, and AiB blog visit stats went through the roof as the Apple Store finally opened in Victoria Square (and I snuck in for a tour before the queue). The Independent newspaper went full colour (but had teething problems in Northern Ireland).
In October, AiB went along with The Slugger Awards in the echoey atrium of W5. There was an architectural focus on Micro Compact Homes and a walking house. Sir Jeremy Isaacs had interesting things to say about diversity and Public Service Broadcasting at the Belfast Festival, while “Oxymoron” was defined as “a DUP minister for culture” at a conversation hosted by William Crawley between authors David Park and Glenn Patterson. The Festival forgot to say that the John Cage concert at SARC had been postponed … but the when it did go ahead it “asked more questions than it gave answers” (but was never blogged about).
November again witnessed one of the side effects of blogging - the random invitations that occasionally arrive. So I donned my tux and bow tie to attend a free local showing of the new Bond film Quantum of Solace and met more Aston Martin owners that I realised existed in Northern Ireland. Obama won the US Presidential election, CNN experimented with holograms, and McCain gave a concession speech that will surely not easily be bettered. Vodafone’s Liveguy was nearly persuaded to come to Northern Ireland to hand out free 3G-enabled netbooks - but in the end didn't. There was a great Thanksgiving dinner. The Presbyterian Mutual Society came into the news when a minority of its members stopped acting in the mutual interest of all its members. And I went to see Hunger.
December was the month in which David Cameron came to town and answered questions about The-Thing-With-No-Name set by local punters. The doors closed on Woolworths for the last time. Bells were rung for climate change outside St Anne’s Cathedral. A carol service was enjoyed, a cake was superbly decorated and an old Mac turned up in a stocking.
A busy and varied year ...