Saturday, February 28, 2009

Media Literacy - UU and Ofcom conference

On Friday, the University of Ulster and Ofcom hosted a conference about ‘Media Literacy for the 21st Century’ up on the Magee campus.

“85% of what youngsters learn about digital media happens outside formal education.”

It was well organised, and there was a good line up of thought provoking speakers, who provided different perspectives on the state of media literacy in Northern Ireland and the future paths it might take. This post isn’t a proper report on the day – just a reflection on the points that struck me enough to jot them down at the time. Most of the sessions were filmed and should appear on Youtube in a day or two. (I’ll update this post with a link when they appear)

Stewart Purvis – fresh from his RTS gold medal award win the night before in London – highlighted some of the relevant actions in Lord Carter’s recently published Digital Britain interim report. (He’s chairing the Digital Britain Media Literacy working group alongside his work as Ofcom Partner responsible for content regulation.)

Anthony Lilley (Magic Lantern Productions) provided further insight. He remarked that the call of “you don’t come around with the grandchildren often enough” from grandparents (an act mediated by footfall) is now being replaced with “you don’t post enough pictures online” (an act mediated by Flickr). Have sales of teak plummeted with digital media moving away from TVs in cabinets sitting in curtain-drawn living rooms?

Services need to be designed with the consumer in mind, person-centric, rather than being technology or system based. He finished with a demo of CBBC Bugbears which left me marvelling at the cartoon lip-syncing to the uploaded audio. (Must stop thinking about the technology!)

From Anthony Lilley’s perspective, new media seems to have two offers:

  1. Things only possible through new media (like World of Warcraft, rating other children’s worries, etc);
  2. Extending existing things through new media (eg, Facebook which is really an extension of phone calls and letters).

Michael Callaghan (UU lecturer and research team lead for Serious Games & Virtual Worlds) transported us into the field of virtual worlds, currently inhabited by over 30 million virtual avatars. At the end I was still a bit unconvinced, and left wondering about the mass-market, real world uses.

Paul Moore (Head of UU’s School of Creative Arts) talked about a literacy project he’d got involved in. Unlike may projects which are so well backed and supported, this one was set up with failure as a possibility. Take a rural school with no particular history or enthusiasm for technology, use only the equipment they already have, and see what difference can be made to pupil’s understanding of a book by going wider than the normal comprehension techniques and allowing them to explore and express through making short videos.

One point that resonated was the reminder that technology can profit children (and adults) who may otherwise find it hard to communicate and express themselves through writing and talking. Kids with learning difficulties are frequently exceptionally creative when it comes to editing together films and photo montages, with an eye for detail and a patience and concentration that other kids lack. Technology can be liberating and not constraining.

Before and after lunch, the first year UU Creative Arts students (and some helpers) ran a quick series of workshops looking at

  • Social Networking - "Twitter's no use" so they missed the fact that at least two people in the audience had been tweeting through some of the sessions;
  • Blogging - which seemed to be run by a non-blogger, though I was late arriving so could have got this wrong;
  • Youtube - demoed playing back clips but not actually uploading one; and
  • Gaming - which I didn’t get to.

Given the range of conference attendees, it would have been better to run a couple of flavours of each workshop – one aimed at sheep dipping complete novices, and the other starting conversations amongst existing addicts. But at least it whetted people's appetite.

The afternoon panel discussion highlighted the definitional question that had endured throughout the day:

What exactly is media literacy?

Everyone wants to increase media literacy. But it’s a bit slippery to get clarity and agreement on its definition. With his typically wise and topsy turvy thinking, Anthony Lilley helped by defining what it was not. It’s not IT literacy in the sense of fixing broken PCs. And it’s not just about understanding how the (old) media (newspapers, radio, TV) works – though that’s a part.

But it’s about individuals being able to make their full contribution as a citizen to society and not being excluded by an inability to make contact, inaccessible content and inappropriate conduct. It’s about not being illiterate and missing out on the opportunities that are only possible through new media (going back to Lilley’s two-pronged description of new media above).

Personally, I was disappointed that the conference attendees was so unrepresentative of the creative technology (new media) companies and organisations – like those under the umbrella of Digital Circle – that have so much to offer in creating those new possibilities and opening up new ways of fulfilled citizenship. Instead, the room was dominated by educationalists and the new media wing of old media broadcasters. Not sure why it happened that way, but it was unfortunate.

Eileen Kelly (Director of Educational Guidance Service for Adults/EGSA) referred to the need for media literacy to become part of general literacy, as well the need to embed it in the adult education agenda.

Yet Bernard McCloskey (Northern Ireland Screen’s Head of Education) was concerned by continuing narrow definitions of literacy, for example the reading & writing focussed Draft NI Literacy Strategy (link not found) which largely ignores any non-traditional aspects.

Media literacy could be driven through formal education and extended (adult) education, through the context of family (eg, using POS (parent over shoulder) as a way of digitally literate children educating their illiterate parents), through community organisation that can extend their reach through adoption of new media tools (and raise awareness in the process), and of course through the traditional media in partnership with other bodies.

Training teachers in the presence of pupils or immersing the entire teaching staff of a school for a day might be more effective than the old approaches of taking one teacher out of school for a day’s training.

One key problem today is the standard policy of schools to severely restrict internet access on school networks. Kids’ mobile phones have better and wider connectivity than many school facilities. There have got to be more creative ways of keeping safe without constraining the art of the possible. (A common theme from US teachers’ podcast The Tech Teachers.)

As well as talking about the BBC’s role in partnership with the wider community, Mark Adair (BBC NI’s Head of Corporate and Community Affairs) touched on the corporations’ sixth public purpose

“in promoting its other purposes, helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services ...”

(Though it’s a theme that permeates the first three purposes too.)

Visiting professor, Adam Singer (deputy chair of Ofcom's Content Board) gave a closing address that’s worth listening to when it appears on Youtube. He talked a lot of mulch (and that’s not an insult). But in the meantime, I’ll leave you with his through that

“People cluster where the bandwidth is – rail, roads, network, ...”

In her closing remarks, Ofcom NI’s Joanne McMullan (Head of Broadcasting and Telecommunications) announced:

  • the launch of MediaLiteracyMatters.net which seeks to draw together initiatives promoting media literacy across the UK. touched on the need and agreement to work in partnership;
  • the formation of a Media Literacy Network in Northern (with founding partners Ofcom, Northern Ireland Screen, BBC NI, EGSA and UU/Paul Moore);
  • a Creative Technology lunchtime event in Belfast on March 26 ... details tba.

As I think about our four year old Littl'un asleep in the room next door, her ability to access and consume information, as well as her skills in creating it, will be key competences as she grows up. Her ability to judge appropriateness and nuances around formality and security will need to be second nature in a way I didn't need to develop during the first half of my life. Her literacy will need to range across the written word, spoken word, electronic word, as well as a barrage of visual images.

Question is, will I ever catch up with her?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A short treatise about judging blog awards ... two recommendations ... and an afterthought

Irish Blog Awards logo

There’s always a bit of a whoo ha immediately after the Irish Blog Awards ceremony. There are always reasons to be upset with the results: the geographic spread of winners, the “big names” cleaning up, the absence of transparency in the process, the number of seats! It’s funny how seriously we all take it. This year, dissent and displeasure have been expressed, along with many, many plaudits for those involved in the organisation and delivery of the awards.

My offer to help this year was taken up. I suspect there was pretty large list of folk involved triaging the hundreds of blogs that were nominated for the various categories. During the period of judging we were asked to keep schtum about our involvement – sensibly removing the problem of lobbying.

You can skip the next bit if you want, but don’t miss the last few paragraphs where I recommend two terrific blogs I came across in the judging process!

I don’t think the criteria we judged against were ever made public, but I’m guessing that you won’t be at all surprised and Damien won’t be offended if I summarised that we were asked to look at the writing, the consistency (in terms of the nominated category) and what was happening below the line in the comments. Judges supplied a numerical score and a textual comment to justify it.

Twenty blogs and many hours later, and I had a handful of new subscriptions in my RSS reader, read through a couple of lemons, learnt more about football than I’d really wanted to (was a good blog though), rated the eventual Best Blog winner, and generally been impressed by the volume of well written and regular posts that were sparking off conversations in the comments across Ireland.

Was it the most scientific way of rating and ranking blogs? Probably not. But it wasn’t unfair. And good blogs scored above poorer blogs. So in terms of separating the sheep from the goats it worked well enough. And any more data collection might have put judges off finishing their allotted list.

The long lists were published, narrowing each category down to twenty or so blogs. It was good to see some familiar blogs that I’d ranked highly in the first round appearing on the long lists.

From other people's posts, it seems like the blogs long listed in each category were examined by at least four or five people. Ending up with Newcomers and Business, you can obviously only blame me for my ~20% contribution to the shortlisted blogs! Supplying marks against four different categories, it was pretty intense to work through each blog.

I generally started by reading through the archive for November. (So if I’m allowed to judge again next year, and you want to quickly impress me, start writing the good stuff long before the nominations open at the end of December!) Then a bit of a hoke through another month, and some recent entries to get a feel for the health of the blog. Looking at the level of comments on the posts, reading through the comments under some of the posts to see what kind of community there was and whether the post’s author(s) joined in the conversation. Some blogs were one or two posts a day, others one a week.

Nearly all the Newcomers on the long list were in my pile … except a few, mostly ones that may have been withdrawn from the category. The contentious Trust Tommy wasn't there either so I can’t look back at my spreadsheet and see how I marked it! The majority of the Business blogs were on my list, again with a few missing.

It’s hard to objectively rate blogs. Blogging is an art form, not a science.

I suspect very few people are doing it to win prizes. You can tell by some of the blog designs out there – mine in particular! I scored badly at least one blog that I really liked … understandable given the judging categories. And that didn’t make it a bad blog: it’s now on my RSS feed, still churning out fun posts. But in the beauty contest, it didn’t have enough dimples to make it shine above the others in the category.

As I read through the two long lists, two blogs really caught my eye. And I had to hold back on talking about them. But with the second round of judges’ marks totted up and the short listed blogs sifted to find a winner (I’ve no idea how, so don’t ask!) and the awards handed out, it’s now safe to single them out for praise.

Irish Times blog - outsidein

The outsidein blog on the Irish Times is full of really high quality writing, illustrated by vibrant (and source acknowledged) pictures, and features Bryan Mukandi joining in the debate so naturally in the comments below his thoughtful posts. Wow. Probably the best single-author newspaper blog I’ve ever come across.

Nice Day Designs

One business blog that really caught my eye was Nice Day Designs, a running commentary on the world of customising second hand clothes, making them into unique, beautiful garments, buying buttons, selling at markets, and delighting customers. Sure there were other entries in the category with even snazzier blog designs, and some with a much larger band of commenters, but Nice Day Designs grabbed me. It was an engaging and personal story about a business, letting me in behind the seams scenes of a trade I know nothing about, but ended up being fascinated by. It really seemed to capture the spirit of blogging. And it made me smile. Maybe I should send an old tired jacket down to see if it could be revitalised with some fun patches and colourful buttons!

An afterthought.

I don’t really want to enter into the overall debate that has raged and is hopefully now burnt out. But as I’ve been typing, one reflection/suggestion comes to mind.

Accountability is probably more important than transparency.

Formalising a group of people (that are respected, diverse and publicised) who Damien can bounce ideas off and act as his non-executive “directors” would quell some of the narkyness and perhaps help protect Damien from the criticism and abuse that’s got hurled his way. No reason why Damien can’t choose them himself. Most likely he is already using such a group of friends. But it might be valuable for the participants to know that there is accountability in place; people who will check that the spreadsheets tally and the rationale for winners is valid. It might help for next year, particularly as numbers continue to grow ... but it's only a suggestion.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Milk ... morality and marginalisation

Poster for the film Milk

Last time I’d seen the Curzon Soho so packed, Ingmar Bergman had just died, and the screen filled up with people wanting to see The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde inseglet) which had been recently remastered and was coincidentally showing in the art house cinema.

With Sunday night’s (or was that Monday morning in Europe?) Oscar wins for Milk and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the Curzon Soho was doing better than average for Monday night, with both films currently showing this week. By the time the main feature started, more than 50 people had come in to see Milk.

Is Hollywood changing? Is it losing its old homophobic ways?

The film Brokeback Mountain seemed to bring a more open spirit to the US film world, and a willingness to talk about sexuality. Who’d have guessed five year’s ago that Sean Penn would play the part of Harvey Milk, a gay activist and politician in the 1970s? Acting a role that would include kissing another man on screen? A role that would be celebrated with an Oscar for Best Actor.

Interspersed with newsreel footage showing the real events in the area, Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk running away to San Francisco’s Castro district with his new lover to start living life out of the closet (at least in part). In the face of prejudice he faces up to his beliefs and swells in confidence, turning to community activism to fight the oppression he sees in the area in which he lives. He asks why the local police are persecuting minorities rather than protecting them.

And from community activism, it was only a small step to the world of politics, running with union support but failing to get elected for City Supervisor (an elected position) three times before the boundaries and voting rules changed and he finally won in 1977 and was sworn in on 9 January 1978. An opportunity to champion legislation that can protect the working rights of minorities.

Sean Penn starring as Harvey Milk in the film Milk

But while his section of town is willing to elect him to office, the state senate politician John Briggs is following the lead of Anita Byrant and the Christian right who want to repeal the rights legislation and sack teachers who are gay or even support gays. Even though upcoming leaders like Ronald Reagan didn’t support the repeal, state after state tore up the legislation. Would the threat of discrimination unite the Bay area community or fragment it?

It’s a film that doesn’t lay on the emotion with a trowel. And doesn’t burden the story with over atmospheric tension. No haunting soundtracks or heart beat rhythms. In fact the soundtrack occasionally exhibits a sense of humour of its own - look out for the well-placed hoot after a particularly crass joke, and the phone ringing accompaniment.

Yet the film highlights the repercussions of anti-gay (or any kind of anti-minority) sentiment. Suicide is a refuge for the scared and the lonely. Watching the film, it struck me strongly that if any organisation or group - and I’d include the Christian church - is found encouraging people to stay hidden away, hiding concealing their emotions and intimidated by righteous belief, then they have a lot to answer for. (And by "encouraging" I also mean "making it uncomfortable to do otherwise".) Whatever the personal or social morality, personal and community identity shouldn't be squashed. Suddenly last year’s proposal that Christians quietly march as part of the Belfast Gay Pride parade to show support and intentionally disown any attempt by others to intimidate the LGBT community made a lot more sense and didn’t see as fraught a suggestion as it did at the time.

“40 years old and I haven’t done a thing I’m proud of.”

But by the age of 48, Milk had changed attitudes in San Francisco. Not everyone was recruited to his cause and his plea for dignity and equality. But enough to start making a difference. 48 years old, and thousands turned out to a vigil for his violent death. Proud of what he’d achieved.

Are we proud of how we treat those different from ourselves? Am I? Are you? Whether it’s gender, colour, sexuality, age, language, accent, wealth, education, disability … creating ghettos and marginalising people’s identity isn’t smart. And it doesn’t show a whole lot of love. Go and see Milk and think about what you see. After all, milk is good for everyone!

Runway extension campaigning

Belfast City Airport have enlisted some the airlines operating from their base to gather support for the runway extension they've recently submitted to the Planning Service.

Ryanair cabin crew passed out postcards on tonight's flight back from Stansted to gather signatures in support of the extension that would allow Ryanair to take off and land with fully loaded Boeing 737-800 aircraft, and stop the current restrictions that stop people sitting in some of the front rows and limit the amount of fuel they can fill up with.

Belfast City Airport postcard to support runway extension

The postcards were airport-branded - not Ryanair - but curiously featuring a picture of a Flybe aircraft on the back ... an airline which has been particularly vocal in their lack of support for what they see as a needless extension.

(Updated with scan of postcard.)

Update - Thu 26 Feb - The airport explain that the postcards were printed quite a while ago, reusing images that had been taken for other airport publications, and about two months before Flybe came out against the runway extension.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (a review after the event)

Slumdog Millionaire

Driving over to the airport this morning, the car radio brought the news that Slumdog Millionaire was doing well at the Oscars. Just how well didn’t become apparent until after I’d got airside, and the TV behind the coffee bar explained that they’d won eight awards (out of the ten they were short listed for) including Best Picture.

As mentioned earlier this week, we caught Slumdog Millionaire at the Victoria Square Odeon just over a week ago. It was a film that brought back memories of working and sightseeing in Mumbai (and nearby city Pune) nearly ten and a half years ago.

Early on in our trip, drivers and Indian work colleagues warned us about giving to beggars. There was a reminder that some - but not all - of the adults and children sitting along the sides of the street were not the sole beneficiaries of their collections. Some of the striking injuries so obviously displayed would have been deliberately inflicted to boost the children’s earning potential. Under no circumstances should we wind down the car window to give money to people begging in the middle of the street. Yet I’ll never forget the sight of the one legged one armed man hopping across the busy junction to bang his fist violently on the car window as we drove through Mumbai.

To our shame we followed our hosts’ instructions to the letter, leaving the country after fifteen days without having handed over any Rupees to those asking for them. (Though the driver who looked after us all week did get a bit of a bonus as we handed over our spare cash to him as we departed … Indian Rupees are a controlled currency, so you’re not meant to take them in or out of the country, though that didn’t stop Hogg Robinson getting us some before we left, and I used to carry just enough in my wallet to get a return ticket from Lisburn to Belfast on the train!)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Slumdog made be think about Oliver Twist. Kind of on a bigger more organised scale? Made me think of Enid Blyton and the Secret series (you’ll find my adult review of Secret Island elsewhere on the blog) as children ran away to fend for themselves, though Slumdog’s youngsters had a lot more challenges to face than any of Blyton’s characters.

Normally, I’d be uneasy about a film that was based around flashbacks. It’s a device that’s hard to pull off. But Slumdog rewrote the textbook. Despite the jumping backwards and forwards, there was never a timeline that you were completely on top of. Even the present day police interview proved enigmatic, not realising until much later in the film that he hadn’t actually won the big money yet and was still to come back the next night.

The brothers’ relationship is complicated. Jamal (played as an adult by Dev Patel) always seems to be under the shadow of his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal ). Jamal’s instinct is to protect Latika (Freida Pinto), yet his minder prefers to assure his own security and comfort above all others. Yet there’s a softer, emotional side that still rescued his wee brother from being blinded. And as the film draws to a close, there’s a realisation that his decisions to become the tough guy and always work for the biggest crook in town has ultimately been destructive to himself and those around that were once close.

Yet allowing Latika to flee captivity in return for his own life wasn’t a straight swap or a simple act of redemption. It was crowned with taking his evil boss with him, ridding Mumbai of a powerful crime baron … though perhaps just leaving a vacuum to be replaced by someone else. Someone better qualified can comment on how Salim’s actions fitted in with culture and religion. Jamal’s winning came at a price. And his reunion with Latika - I did warn you there could be spoilers! - is unlikely to be adopted by Disney for conversation to an animated fairytale romance.

For all the poverty and hardship on show throughout Slumdog, there’s also a celebration of Indian heritage, architecture, humanity, enthusiasm, kindness and love. It’s a great film. While director Danny Boyle’s Sunshine was a visual masterpiece (and a cryptic success), Slumdog is more engaging and gripping. Not one that I yet fully understand. But one that will stay with me for a long time. And one that means I picked up Q&A - the novel the film is based on - at the airport and plan to read it soon.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Importance of Being Earnest ... in East Belfast

If you want to indulge in a spot of amateur dramatics then why not book a ticket and head along to Belmont Drama Group's performance of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest on Tuesday or Wednesday night in Belmont Presbyterian church hall. Phone numbers for tickets are listed on the poster below.

Poster for Belmont Drama Group's February 2009 performances of The Importance of Being Earnest

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Translink website usability casestudy

Translink logo

Dear Translink (and anyone else reading), here's a challenge. The scenario is that you're a student and you've heard a rumour there's a bus that goes between Belfast (is it Queens?) to The University of Ulster campus out at Jordanstown. The challenge is to go to the Translink website and find the timetable.

I'll give you five minutes.

Still looking?

My natural instinct was to click on Students in the main menu bar. Though perhaps staff would want to catch the bus too, so just sticking it under students wouldn't be the whole story.

So you've got to a page that mentions Unilink ... but where's the timetable, or even a list of the stops? I couldn't find a direct link from there, but clicking on the Special Discount Student Bus Fares more info link in the Special Offers box did bring me to a page that linked to a specific Unilink bus page, that has a link near the top to timetables that doesn't work, but you'll have more joy scrolling down to the bottom of the page and where you'll find a link to the Unilink timetable PDF.

But then, maybe I should have used the Journey Planner on the homepage and gone from "QUB" to "UUJ" ... except that would have translated into a journey from "Queens Road Science Park" to "Ulster Amercn Folk Pk Entrance"!

Turns out that the trick might be to ask it to plot a journey between "Queens University University S" and "Jordanstown University" ... which suggests the 163A bus during daytime hours Monday to Friday. (163A is the Unilink service.)

Translink search results for Unilink

To be honest, why would you do that? Googling for "Unilink +timetable +translink" is probably faster than relying on Translink's own search which only turns up sitemaps! (see image on the right)

Suggestion. A new user story for Translink website designers.

As a university student or member of staff at UUJ

I want to be able to easily find details of buses between Belfast and the UUJ campus using the keywords "Unilink", "Belfast", "Jordanstown", "QUB" or "UUJ"

So that I can find a bus to college and back without getting RSI or giving up in frustration with the Translink website

The acceptance criteria might be

  • being able to access the time table with no more than two clicks (pages) from the Translink homepage;
  • being able to use UUJ or Jordanstown as search criteria;
  • being able to find the timetable in a list of other bus services without having to know that 163A as a magic codeword.

Oh, and isn't it time for Translink to be a bit more specific with the bus stop locations. "Queen's University: Botanic Avenue" isn't that precise? How far down Botanic Avenue is it? Right at the gate? Near Duke's hotel?

Translink's bookcrossing bookcase was bare

Translink's Time to Read bookcase in Belfast Central Station

Quick update on a recent post about Translink's Time to Read bookcrossing scheme. On the way through Central Station this week - my first attempt at public transport commuting from Lisburn - I wandered past the prominently positioned bookcase.

Empty - except for a Josephine Cox novel and one by Catherine Cookson. Either everyone's still reading their first book, they're all piling up in Bangor or Portadown at the end of the line Lisburn, or the idea of releasing books back into the wild was missed by those taking them!

Friday lunchtime = Paisley + hat

Yesterday (Friday) Ian Paisley was part of the weekly Free Presbyterian open air service outside the gates of Belfast City Hall.

IAn Paisley preaching outside Belfast City Hall on a Friday lunchtime

While there are now bollards to persuade mere mortals' not to park their cars in the area in front of the gates - an old favourite picking up point - Paisley's security escort seemed to be able to overlook that and parked up on either side of the "platform party".

Not as loud as he used to be, and more hunched over ... but still a voice that attracts attention from the lunchtime shoppers.

Nearly calls for a caption competition!

Words of wisdom on the wall of The Garrick?

The Garrick bar in Belfast

Yesterday lunchtime, my eye was caught by the words painted on The Garrick's wall.

Back in the old days I tended to work as part of Belfast-based collocated teams, who would go out for a "team lunch" every few months, often to celebrate people moving on, or successful software releases. The pre-most-recent-rennovation Garrick was one of our haunts along with the Morning Star (fancy some kangaroo) and Smith-something??? (on Fountain Street).

But uploading the photos from my camera this afternoon, the words on the wall resonated with last night's première of Five Minutes of Heaven and my ongoing reading through the Consultative Group on the Past's report document.

Words painted on the wall above the Garrick Bar

A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise.

A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Five Minutes of Heaven

Liam Neeson in Five Minutes of Heaven

Five Minutes of Heaven is a film made in Northern Ireland, with a local cast, local crew, local story, and yet speaks beyond our borders into international situations. It’s a fictional story but with a real beginning based on an incident from Northern Ireland’s more recent past.

A young UVF gang setting out for their first hit. Part lacking in confidence; part over confident. Taking the life of a Catholic worker in a Lurgan firm. Targeted in retaliation for a republican threat against a Protestant worker. A chance for young Alistair Little (played by Mark Davison) to feel “10 feet tall” as his masters celebrate the action?

The shooter and the shooting is unexpectedly witnessed by the victim’s young brother Joe (Kevin O'Neill) playing outside the house. And so “two people are inextricably linked for the rest of their lives”.

Coming only weeks after the publication of the Report of the Consultative Group on the Past, it’s a film that explores the emotions of the different types of victims that conflict in Northern Ireland created.

Thirty years on from the murder, Liam Neeson plays Alistair Little, the UVF gunman who having served twelve years in prison is a world-travelled speaker helping perpetrators come to terms with their actions, and seeking to convince people not to join the organisations that will inevitably lead to taking up arms. Yet he can’t lose his own baggage as easily as the advice slips out his mouth to other ex-paramilitaries.

Jimmy Nesbitt plays Joe Griffen who has outlived much of the rest of his family (early deaths and suicide) and yet carries their blame for not stopping or disrupting his brother’s murder. Given the opportunity to meet his brother’s killer, what will he do? Reconciliation? Revenge? Can it ever be over between them?

Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt in Five Minutes of Heaven

The emotion of the two lead characters runs high. Alistair appears calm on the outside, but inside he is empty and broken. Joe finds it hard to abate his anger, with violent mood swings, manic ranting and sweating.

The film’s sound track could be summarised as a series of bass rumbles, and that lack of distraction somehow allows the characters’ emotions to take centre stage. There are few stereotypes in the film. Instead complicated people unhappy in their own skin. It’s pretty gritty, so if you catch the film on TV or in a cinema, expect a couple of violent scenes (including a wonderfully auditorily graphic fight).

In the introductions to the film’s premiere in Belfast tonight, it was described as “in and off Northern Ireland, reflective of this place”. Somehow it sits well alongside Hunger - another film supported by Northern Ireland Screen - charting some more aspects of the conflict, looking into the hearts and minds of more victims. At yet, despite the local portrayal, there is a story of two sides creating pain and living with the consequences that will echo around the world.

Guy Hibbert’s screenplay tells the story in an unusual way. It's dark and sinister, yet has its light moments too, and I occasionally found myself laughing at quite inappropriate moments! If there’s a sticking point in the dialogue, there’s a moment where Alistair puts forward that young Muslims need to hear his message to prevent them rushing into organisations and falling into conflict. To me it felt too simple and jarred with the rest of the film.

But it's a film that points out that while some are looking for truth, others may want to tell their truth too. But getting an opportunity to tell your truth isn't guaranteed. At least not in front of the people who are so dearly connected to the events in question. Cheap truth doesn't exist.

Overall, it’s quite minimally directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. A colour palette of black and white and brown. And having picked up two awards at this year’s Sundance Festival, the film should appear on BBC Northern Ireland in the next month or so, before a network showing on BBC Two. Sounds like it will also get a theatrical release in cinemas overseas. Update - showing on BBC Two on Sunday 5 April and available on iPlayer for a week afterwards.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Belfast Book Festival for book worms and book huggers

Belfast Book Festival 2009

While I'm not sure that Sesame Tree's resident bookworms Samson and Goliath will be attending, Belfast's Book Festival does start its extensive programme of events next week, and there's plenty to look forward to.

Browsing through the programme a few events jump out. (Unless otherwise noted, the events take place in Belfast's Linen Hall library.)

John Banville fans will already have booked their tickets to hear him in conversation with William Crawley on Tuesday 24 February - the event is now sold out.

If you're feeling cookie, then Simon Dougan is coming out from behind The Yellow Door on Wednesday 25 at 1pm.

Copyright is on the menu afterwards at 2.30pm, with Roger Dixon and Clifford Harkness sharing their knowledge and offering authors guidance on how copyright applies to books, sound and moving image recordings.

Poetry really isn't my thing. But if you're looking for a free event, pop along to Central Library at noon on Thursday 26 to hear the Shalom Poetry Group reading Lifelines: Letters from Famous People About Their Favourite Poem. According to the festival programme, it's "fascinating and accessible even to those who think poetry is 'not really their thing'".

Emerging Irish talent Claire Kilroy's talking about her debut novel All Summer and more recently published released Tenderwire at 1pm on Thursday 24.

And if you didn't get your fill of poetry at noon, there's a recital of Ulster-Scots Poetry in the Shankill Library at 7pm.

For me Friday 27 has some of the most fascinating opportunities, with a (sold out) coach leaving Linen Hall Library at 9.45am to visit W & G Baird's printers to see how a manuscript gets turned into a printed and bound book.

And at 1.15pm in the University of Ulster in York Street, Charles Leadbeater will be looking at mass online collaboration and the themes from his book We-Think: Mass innovation, not mass production.

If science fiction is more your thing, Toby Litt will be blasting off from Earth with his novel Journey into Space at 12.30 on Saturday 28.

There's lots, lots more - Gerry Anderson, Malachi O'Doherty getting into print, George Best, Dead Poets, films, and events for schools.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mini adverts in Victoria Square?

Print photoed on pavement in Victoria Square - advertising a Mini One for sale

Kiki emailed through with an interesting picture of a stencilled print taken over the weekend in Victoria Square.

A novel way to try to sell your car. Anyone any idea of the story behind the prints? Or any idea whether their campaign was successful? Bet the folks at Victoria Square weren't impressed with the extra cleaning.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quick update - Slumdog, electronic park & mobile blogging

It was a busy enough weekend, celebrating Cheryl Wonders' birthday on Friday the 13th with a trip to Victoria Square for a quick Pizza Express and a chance to see Slumdog Millionaire. More about the film later, but don't wait before you go and see it.

Discovered a solar powered play-frame-thing in the Mo Mowlam play park up at Stormont yesterday afternoon ... apparently on dull days it stops working at 3pm, long before the park closes! If you visit, make sure you bring someone with you who can work a games console, otherwise you'll never figure out the Start and Select buttons.

Today started out with a pile of work this morning, and then after lunch we set off for Cavan for a day's retreat. I'm being driven - hence the ability to type on this wee Vodafone 3G-enabled Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook that I've been loaned for a while to review. There was surprisingly good 3G signal as the M1 morphed into the A4 (how many roadworks can they fit onto one road?) - so now it's switched back to GPRS. First impressions are good and bad. Handy size, great to have no dongle sticking out the side, but the keyboard is miniscule, no function keys, and a very glarey screen. Full writeup in a week or so.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Belfast Twestival - for those flush with water and cash to help others who aren't

One in six people does not have access to safe, clean drinking water

By the time you've reached lunchtime today, how many times will you have relied on having clean and plentiful running water to hand?

Brushed your teeth? Flushed the loo? Hopped into the shower or bath? Boiled up for a cup of tea or coffee? Done the dishes? (or like me just left them piled up in the sink for later!) Are the clothes you put on this morning clean - maybe recently washed? Is the house warm - guess what the central heating system pumps through the pipes and radiators? Squirted the windscreen of your car to wash off the salty scum that leaps up off the roads?

Many of us just take water and sanitation for granted. Others don't have that luxury. One in six people don't have access to safe, clean drinking water.

Twestival logo

Techie enthusiasts and users of the Twitter social networking site are getting together across the world today for a series of events under the banner of Twestival to raise money for Charity: Water. All the events are being put together for free, and the volunteer organisers have been donating their blood, sweat and tears to get the events organised.

Tonight in Belfast from 8pm, you can pay £7 at the door (or purchase online in advance - ignore what it says about the venue being The Black Box) to get into Lavery’s Bunker and enjoy Belfast Twestival: an evening of DJs, a Rock Band tournament, raffles and prizes (McHughs meal voucher, Foy Vance CD, a replica Stratocaster, amongst others). The venue has been donated for free along with all door takings.

And if you can't make it down but want to support the cause, you could buy a T-Shirt or donate online.

Update - There's also a Dublin Twestival event tonight starting at 6pm in The Sycamore Club.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Below the Radar goes up the Alps into the hands of Blakeway Productions (ok, you write a better headline!)

Below the Radar logo

Lunchtime’s email from Broadcast brings news that local factual independent producer Below the Radar have been acquired by Blakeway Productions (itself a subsidiary of Bob Geldof’s Ten Alps).

As the BBC and Channel 4 increase the level of network (ie, not local) productions made in the nations and regions (rather than in London) it’s always been expected that some of the bigger UK indies would start to gobble up (ahem, invest in) smaller local indies and move where the broadcasters’ money was going.

Blakeway already have a northern division, north of England that is, with offices in Manchester and Derby. So adding Ireland to the roster is a natural extension west. Time will tell whether other local indies will tie up with the bigger players, consolidating the disparate but colourful local production market.

Publicity still from The Honeymooners, (c) 2008 BBC

While you mightn’t immediately recognise the name Below the Radar, you’re more likely to remember their BBC 1 Northern Ireland programme The Honeymooners shown last year which took a look at the relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness. Dr Peter Collett came to on-screen prominence as an expert in the first series of Big Brother. Here, Collett applied the same behavioural psychology to look behind the Chuckle Brothers to give viewers an insight into what was really going on between the pair.

Below the Radar also sponsored the talk by Sir Jeremy Isaacs on Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) as part of the 2008 Belfast Festival.

Belfast Telegraph style guide updated with new spelling for Niorthern Ireland!

Niorthern Ireland - using the Belfast Telegraph spelling!

Quick ... could someone run around to the Belfast Telegraph and turn on their spell checker. While the occasional spullingz mistake slips into AiB, there’s a higher standard expected from regional and national newspapers. And a particular emphasis on spelling place names correctly.

Update 8.45am- the headline has just been fixed, but you can still see "niorthern" in the URL!

Capture of Belfast Telegraph online article using the strange spelling Niorthern Ireland in the headline

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Time to Read on the train? Bookcrossing hits NIR

Time to Read - Translink's Bookcrossing.com book club

OK. So despite living within ten minute's walk of Lisburn Railway Station, after two weeks I haven't yet managed to catch the train to work.

But flicking through the freepaper Belfast News, I stumbled on a story that could tempt me onto public transport. The joy of driving into work is catching a bit of what's going on in the world by tuning the car radio into Good Morning Ulster. But since radio reception on the Lisburn-Belfast line isn't the best, the benefit of the journey would be sticking my nose in a book and getting through some of the backlog on my bedside table.

Translink have teamed up with Bookcrossing.com and publishers Pan Macmillan to form a commuter book club. If you look carefully in Central Station, Great Victoria Street, Lisburn, Bangor, Carrickfergus or Coleraine, you should be able to spot the Time to Read bookcases filled with books to read, log on and release.

Do leave a comment if you've been able to find any good reads in the station bookcases.

The Advocate (Rumpoles) has closed it doors

The Advocate, Chichester Street, Belfast - ceased trading in January 2009

Over the years, I enjoyed the odd lazy lunch in Rumpoles, the restaurant/bar opposite the Belfast courts on the corner of Chichester Street and Victoria Street. You'd be sitting chomping down your Chicken Maryland and suddenly you'd be transported back to Shakespeare's England as men in wigs and black gowns would walk past! The favourite (?) haunt of the local legal eagles, it seemed like it would always be there.

A while back, it closed for refurbishment, reopening as The Advocate. It's owner Mark Beirne sold the "gastro bar" to Newcastle-upon-Tyne-based Ultimate Leisure (which recently changed its name to PBR/Premium Bars & Restaurants).

And at the end of January The Advocate ceased trading. The end of an era. Not sure now where all the barristers and solicitors will discuss their cases? Neither Cafe Legal (pronounced in a French accent Cafe Le Gal?) nor the catering in the Bar Library get great reports.

But The Advocate's closure - only days after the death of Rumpole's creator John Mortimer - surely points to how the economic pressure is hitting the legal profession as well as local catering outlets.

Girls outweigh boys! At least when it comes to articulating and sharing their thoughts

Finley the Fire Engine - a picture submitted as part of the BBC Trust's review of BBC Children's programming

As part of the BBC Trust’s review of children’s programming (CBeebies, CBBC, etc) last year, they [engaged with Kids Industries family-focussed consultants to] set up a website where children could contribute to the consultation.

In the words of the creators, the Say What You Think website had

“a distinct look and feel for children aged 2-6 and 6-12, using language and iconography developmentally appropriate for the target audience ... Through this website children were empowered to contribute to the consultation, have fun and share their views on the BBC in a manner that was most appropriate for them.”

You can read the BBC Trust’s findings online, and there is plenty of media analysis on the report.

However, one paragraph a the sub-report analysing the Say What You Think website responses (part of the supporting evidence) jumped out at me:

“The CBBC strand of the site received the most visits. A total of 2,084 children submitted a valid response. Girls outweighed boys in their number of submissions with a ratio of 4 to 1. Similarly, children aged 10 to 12 years submitted more responses that 6 to 9 year olds with a ratio of 3 to 1. This is not surprising as girls generally enjoy articulating and sharing their thoughts more than boys and the older age groups are more confident with technology.” (emphasis mine)

Which is proof of something I always suspected.

Turns out that getting 2–6 year olds to talk about CBeebies proved harder!

“The CBeebies strand (children aged 2-6 years) of the website received considerably fewer visits than the CBBC strand (children aged 6-12 years), receiving only 25 valid submissions … However, CBeebies submissions were also dependent on parental support. Children aged 6-12 were able to respond independently, whereas children aged 2-6 needed a parent to accompany them online. This may have been a barrier for children aged 2-6 taking part in the consultation process.”

In a comment that won’t cause Igglepiggle to fall over backwards with surprise, but may incite Upsy Daisy to croon and Makka Pakka to polish his stones faster than ever, the Trust report declares (in paragraph 124):

“... CBeebies remains among the least expensive but, on the basis of audience approval ratings, the most liked television service offered by the BBC.”

The picture above was submitted as part of the consultation and published in the research report. And no, before you ask, it’s not mine!

New Statesman: Donald Patton

New Statesman logo

I reckon it's not too often that a Presbyterian moderator gets to write in the New Statesman magazine ... but Dr Donald Patton appears in this week's issue, talking about the Presbyterian Mutual Society - whose members voted by a majority (around 90%) to opt for an orderly rundown of the society rather than a faster liquidation.

(You can also read online the report given by the Moderator's Advisory Committee to the Presbyterian General Board at their meeting last Thursday.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Good and bad customer service

Logo for Computing magazine

Email in from Computing magazine:

With the recent snowfall and icy conditions bringing much of the country to a halt we are pleased to send you the digital edition of Computing in case the delivery of your print copy has been disrupted. Click on the link below to access this week's Computing digital edition.

Thoughtful. Great proactive customer service. And the first indication that they'd switched me from being a digital-only free subscriber back to getting the printed copy ... which arrived through the door about the same time as the email!

Royal Mail logo

While Computing picked up a bouquet this week, the Royal Mail lost points. I called into out old house at lunchtime and discovered three letters that hadn't been redirected.

Three letters with names and addresses that matched what's on the redirection form, and match the kind of post that has been successfully redirected for the two weeks before and week after the post marks in the errant letters.

Why pay for a redirection service when you have to go back and check to see if you've any mail that they've overlooked redirecting?

Blogs of the World (Pocket Cultures)

Alan in Belfast featuring in Blogs of the World section of Pocket Cultures website

Alan in Belfast unexpectedly featured today over on the Pocket Cultures website, in their Blogs of the World section.

Browsing through some of the older content, there are some interesting blogs and sites and featured there, giving a fascinating glimpse into life around the world.

One post that caught my eye linked across to an excerpt from Andrew Marr's Britain from Above, series looking at the path of taxis through Central London. ... bringing back memories of the occasional manic run from St Pauls towards Paddington when meetings used to overrun, the Central Line would be suspended, and the flight time home was getting too close!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Series 3 Torchwood promo online from 9pm tonight

Torchwood logo

I’m a fan of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off show. Fewer dinosaurs than Primeval, real lives on show, and the one novelisation I read was pretty good too.

It has been in a rapid ascendancy. Its first series was shown on BBC Three (and repeated on BBC Two). The second series – which had stronger storylines than Doctor Who at the time - then premiered on BBC Two and was endlessly repeated on BBC Three. (A CERN-based radio play turned up on Radio 4 on Big Bang Day.) And the third series is due on air later in 2009 and will be screened over five nights on BBC One (and no doubt repeated back home on Three).

From 9pm tonight, a minute-long trailer for the third series will be made available on the programme website to promote the “epic story ... Torchwood's greatest adrenalin-fuelled, high octane adventure yet.” Aren’t press releases wonderful!

Torchwood: Children of Earth re-joins Captain Jack (John Barrowman), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David Lloyd) who are still coming to terms with the death of two of their closest friends. Despite their pain, they have a job to do.

This time they are faced with their fiercest threat to date - one which throws the future of Torchwood and the entire human race spiralling into danger. They battle against the odds but do they stand a chance of saving mankind?

Russell T Davies has executive produced the series along with Doctor Who stalwart Julie Gardner, and writing alongside Davies are John Fay and James Moran.

Update - clip should be embedded below:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Moderator Designate = Rev Stafford Carson (as predicted!)

Stafford Carson

So there we have it. The Presbytery votes have been phoned in and tallied up and as predicted Rev Stafford Carson has topped the poll for 2009/10 moderator for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

The voting ran as follows:

  • 10 - Stafford Carson (First Portadown)
  • 5 - Norman Hamilton (Ballysillan)
  • 6 - Derek McKelvey (Fisherwick)

Minister of First Portadown, Stafford was born in 1951. He was ordained as assistant in High Street, Antrim in 1983 and was called to Kells and Eskylane in 1984. In 1991 he became minister of Carnmoney before leaving to take up a post at Westminster Theological Seminary, USA, in 2000. In 2005 he became minister of First Portadown. He was convener of the Review of Theological Education Committee between 1992 and 1996, the Committee re Deacons from 1992 until 1995 and the Studies Committee between 1997 and 2000. He currently convenes the Resourcing Christians for Ministry Committee. (PCI press release)

Congratulations. It'll be an interesting, challenging and exhausting journey that he takes as the becomes the public face of the denomination at June's General Assembly - a meeting likely to feature the fallout from the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS) going into administration. And given the financial uncertainty across Ireland, it would be hard to imagine that prioritisation, pensions and funding won't be on the agenda too.

In his acceptance comments, he said:

"I am very surprised but greatly honoured by the way in which the Church has chosen me for this important task."

He describes himself as 'theologically conservative' and sees one of the major challenges of ministry today as introducing change within the church to help it connect with people in relevant and meaningful ways.

"Outreach and mission has to be one of our main priorities. In First Portadown we are trying to develop that aspect through various initiatives. We are involving ourselves more in the daily life of the local community so that the practical side of our Christian faith is clearly seen while on Sundays the introduction of a contemporary style makes our worship more meaningful to people new to the congregation."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Will the media choose the next Presbyterian Moderator? (a prediction)

Someone may need to remind me tomorrow night that predictions should be made in the privacy of the bookmakers and not on a public blog! But I reckon that the Presbyterian Church’s Moderator designate elected on Tuesday night will be Rev Stafford Carson (from First Portadown). And here’s why. Update - he was elected Moderator Designate!

First some background. On Tuesday night, Presbyterian ministers and elders representing their congregations will meet up at their regional monthly Presbytery meetings across Ireland to vote for a new Presbyterian moderator who will take over on the opening night of the annual General Assembly (church conference) in early June. While the Pope generally dies in office, and the Church of Ireland primate stays in office until retirement (was Robin Eames, now Alan Harper), Presbyterians and Methodists figureheads only hold office for a year.

This year, there are only three ministers up for nomination! Each Presbytery will vote and submit their favoured candidate to Church House (don’t think they have any Eurovision-style scoring boards!) where the numbers will be totted up and an announcement made around 9pm.

Two of the three have previous form – Rev Norman Hamilton and Rev Derek McKelvey – having gathered one and two votes respectively in last year’s election that put Rev Donald Patton in the hot seat. And most years, previous form is an indicator of who will be elected. But not this year.

Christmas is traditionally a slow news period, and plenty was written in December 2007 (dragging into January 2008) about the difficulties in Portadown. Alf McCreary summed it up in Friday’s Belfast Telegraph:

Stafford Carson

In December 2007, [Rev Stafford Carson] became embroiled in a controversy where he said that he was unable “in conscience” to allow the Rev Christina Bradley from Armagh Road Church in Portadown to preach in First Portadown during a traditional Christmas joint service. Attempts to reach a compromise between the churches were unsuccessful and it was decided not to continue with the joint Christmas service in an atmosphere which was polarising opinion within the town and within the Church at large.

Mr Carson suggested that the services should be resumed in 2008, with the “home” minister conducting the services — not the “away” minister as was the tradition — but Armagh Road turned this down.

Now the issue of conscience could turn out nowhere near as simple as a difference in theology over women in ministry or even being ill at ease with a more liberal theology. Who knows? Stafford has perhaps wisely kept his counsel on the matter and seems to have been slow to answer media questions or accept interviews.

But the media covered (and kept covering) the dispute in great detail at the time, helped by the Portadown Times journalist Victor Gordon who just so happens to sing in the Armagh Road church choir and wrote articles on the subject for the Belfast Telegraph.

So seemingly out of nowhere, Rev Stafford Carson is the third name on the list of potential moderators. Now from what I know and have heard about the three candidates, they could all make good moderators.

In fact, most moderators come to office with the odd rough corner that the year knocks off and smoothes over! Most seem to realise that in order to represent the breadth of Presbyterian belief and membership, they’ve got to put aside any of their more extreme (or minority) views and concentrate on the fundamentals that everyone will agree on. And some moderators have ended the year and resumed their parish ministry changed people, with their grip loosened on old beliefs and policies that they used to hold dear.

The media have thrust Stafford Carson into the limelight, and in doing so have made him a champion of the conservative cause. And I suspect that as a by-product of the media’s reporting of events in Portadown, he’ll be elected in a (democratic) bid to stamp a conservative voice on PCI for 2009/10.

Certainly Sunday morning’s traditional interview with the moderator designate on Sunday Sequence will be an interesting listen, as questions about sharing services with women elders and ministers, as well as potential ecumenical activity and pastoral care, are inevitably discussed.

While many will hope for shouts of “Down with that kind of thing” and “That’ll be an ecumenical matter”, Carson may not be so predictable or so easily pigeon-holed. But it’ll be the media, as well as the voters at Presbyteries, who will have chosen the moderator designate.

The atheist bus - make your own slogan

Make your own ...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Life Shop Till You Drop

Clodagh Reid playing Ailish McGovern in the one woman show Life Shop till You Drop at the 2009 Out to Lunch festival in Belfast 2009

Looking back, my expectations were a little too high and skewed for this lunchtime event in January’s Out to Lunch festival in Belfast. Coming on the back of the previous week’s comedy lunchtime with Shappi Khorsandi, I’m not sure everyone in the audience had realised that Life Shop Till You Drop was comedy theatre rather than straight laugh-a-minute-comedy. So maybe that’s why it seemed to fall a bit flat.

Ailish McGovern (played by Clodagh Reid) first appears as the winner of Irish Tatler Woman of the Year, glad-handing through the audience and up to the stage. And up on stage, accepting the prize, she starts to retell her story. It’s a one woman show, except for her boyfriend who sits in the audience in his tuxedo until close to the end when he’s allowed to run out.

There’s a self-help section in most decent bookshops – one of those embarrassing sections to be caught in – and Ailish would have no need to browse the books as she probably has a copy in her bedroom at home. A recruitment consultant by trade, she’s ended up a self-help freak, desperate to find and keep the perfect boyfriend, with little help from the quite bizarre Concepta Dating Agency.

The plot – as it’s scripted theatre and not thrown together on the spot – is based around her self-help mantras, conveniently scribbled up on a flip chart. Classic motivational lines like

“If you shoot for the stars you might just get off the ground.”

“Life Shop rule #8. Don’t blame your parents. Reimprint them.”

Clodagh Reid playing Ailish McGovern in the one woman show Life Shop till You Drop at the 2009 Out to Lunch festival in Belfast 2009

One of the best sequences was a conversation between Ailish and her sister. Talking to a nodding woollen hat was clever and innovative, and got some of the best laughs. There’s lots of clever costume changes, accents aplenty and motivational crying thrown in for good measure.

Clodagh Reid playing Ailish McGovern in the one woman show Life Shop till You Drop at the 2009 Out to Lunch festival in Belfast 2009

A friend suggested that it would be the live performance version of chick flick ... and he got it right. Alice Coghlan’s play was good, but it wasn’t great. While it worked well as a self-help “life shopping” spoof, it didn’t really challenge my behaviour or preconceptions enough to make a big impact. (You can check out some clips yourself from a Youtube clip uploaded by Dublin’s Wonderland Theatre.)

A little hard to hear at times - the backing music and sound effects (sometimes completely out of sync with the script) could be overpowering as it pumped through the Black Box’s PA over the top of Ailish’s unmiced voice. And a little hard to see on occasion as Ailish spoke out of shadow ... standing in-between the beams of spotlights that illuminated the stage rather than in them.

But as £5 including food lunchtime comedy theatre goes, it was good enough. And fun when Rosie (from Shappi’s gig the previous week) came to sit down at the same table. (Bumped into her again at Bully too.)

Adapted banner for 2009 Out to Lunch Arts Festival