Thursday, December 31, 2009

Review of 2009 films

I haven’t seen an enormous number of films in the cinema during 2009, but there was considerable quality amongst the short list.

Five Minutes of Heaven pointed out that cheap truth doesn’t exist. (Though in my mind I keep comparing it to Hunger which was better.)

Slumdog Millionaire was a great film with poverty and hardship on show throughout, but also celebrating Indian heritage, architecture, humanity, enthusiasm, kindness and love. The book Q&A was even better than the film.

Poster for the film Milk

Milk was probably the best film I saw all year. It’s the one that made me angry. Creating ghettos and marginalising people’s identity isn’t smart, and isn’t loving. Go and see it, or rent it out.

Urban Hymns: The Movie was a brilliant way to look back at the Belfast Festival concert we’d missed the previous November. And the film turned out to be better than the similar concert – The Unforgettable Choir – held as part of the 2009 festival.

Prods and Pom Poms was a great locally produced indie film that was featured in the Belfast Film Festival in April. And it was great to see the story of the Sandy Row cheerleaders making it to the small screen on UTV in early November.

Rem Koolhaas – A Kind of Architect gave a documentary insight into the approach and designs of the Dutch lifestyle journalist turned architect, with an eye for floating buildings.

Us Now poster

Us Now explored changing patterns of social participation through a series of interviews with web visionaries, bearded boffins, couch surfers, football supporters and the odd politician too. It asks what government can learn from the kind of mass collaboration that is becoming the norm for a growing (though perhaps still small) proportion of society. Still reckon we need to organise a screening for local practitioners, politicians and civil servants. (Just realised I saw this on DVD and not in the cinema!)

Moon injected a welcome note of science fiction into the cinematic experience, with a low budget, a twisted plot, minimal tension, and a surprising lack of audience empathy. A good film, but sadly not a great one.

Poster for the film District 9

District 9 was the second blast of science fiction. Aliens appear in a spaceship hovering above Johannesburg. Once “rescued” and ferried down to the ground it becomes a story of dehumanisation, segregation, prejudice and community tension as the “prawns” are hosted in vast townships. Man’s inhumanity to man extended to man’s inhumanity to the very aliens they chose to rescue. Worth watching.

Katalin Varga brought an Eastern European flavour with a story of secrecy, shame and disgrace. A mother travelling through the Hungarian countryside with her son on a mission of revenge that turns out to be more destructive than she ever imagined. An unusual dark and thoughtful film.

And finally, Nativity! An unexpectedly sensible, schmaltz-free Christmas film, with lessons for anyone (a) caught lying; (b) made to arrange a primary school nativity play; (c) thinking about switching from shepherds and wise men to look at the character of Herod.

In terms of a top three: (1) Milk; (2) Slumdog Millionaire; and (3) District 9 just pips Moon, Us Now and Prods and Pom Poms to the winning podium.

2009 travel round up

Crowded scene at Terminal 1 Heathrow on Wednesday 20 December 2006

It’s the time of the year to make sure that all the expense claims are filed and see just how big a dent travelling made in life.

Looking back through the spreadsheet I use to track journeys and claims, it looks like the main difference between 2009 and 2008 is a further decrease in the number of nights spent in hotels.

  • In total, I sped down a runway and took off 38 times in 2009. The vast majority of flights were with easyJet (22), with Flybe (6), Ryanair (6), bmibaby (4), but none with BMI - which might explain why they dropped me down to a silver card!
    (2008 = 32; 2007 = 83; 2006 = 82; 2005 = 100)
  • I spent 6 nights in 4 different hotels, only 1 night not for work.
    (2008 = 18 nights in 9 hotels; 2007 = 65 nights in 10 hotels; 2006 = 51 nights in 18 hotels; 2005 = 64 nights)
  • I’ve spent 40 days outside Northern Ireland, 23 of those days for work.
    (2008 = 31; 2007 = 101; 2006 = 85; 2005 = 114)

You can look back to 2008, 2007, 2006 if you want to judge the size of my carbon footprint in more detail. Journeys that stand out this year include the one when the bmibaby booking system allocated Littl'un to a row all by herself, the one when the plane door wouldn't close, and witnessing DVT-beating aerobics on the ferry.

Nativity! (post-Christmas, but a good film nonetheless)

We went to see the film Nativity on Tuesday night.

Martin Freeman starring as Paul Maddens in Nativity!

My hopes weren’t high, half expecting something schmaltzy, seasonal Santa Claus The Movie. The first good sign was that Martin Freeman was starring, a step up from his small part in Love Actually (which featured the most colourful-looking Nativity play I’d ever seen). Unlucky in love in that film, he’d already lost Lucy in The Office, and would later lost Trillian in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and true to form was walked out on at the start of Nativity too.

Set in Coventry* it’s a film about two amateur actors who end up teaching in two primary schools, in charge of rival nativity productions. Paul Maddens (played by Freeman) is working in the “failing” St Bernadette’s Roman Catholic primary; whereas Gordon Shakespeare (played by Jason Watkins) is in the toffee nosed, private school.

*Staying overnight in Coventry, I once asked a policeman where he'd recommend I go to eat. He turned on his heels, pointed and said "Birmingham!"

What starts out as a small lie told to impress and annoy Shakespeare quickly mushrooms into an impossible to fulfil promise – that Maddens’ thespian ex-girlfriend who ran off to seek her fortune in Hollywood would be bringing a big studio name to see the school’s production.

The little school is excited. The press are excited. Coventry council are excited. Maddens is in trouble.

That’s the background, and the rest of the film follows Maddens as he tries to rescue his oversold and doomed production. Thrown into the mix is a new classroom assistant. With a strong whiff of nepotism, the headmistress has appointed her nephew Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton). He’s a big child, more at home in the playground than the staffroom. To him it’s obvious that the prospective shepherds will need some experience of real sheep and real childbirth.

One review I read explained his role as one of “messianic fool”.

“Far from being the disciplinarian [Maddens] believes they need, Mr Poppy gets down to the children’s own level. His incarnational approach echoes God’s willingness to reveal his love for us by becoming one of us. Like [Maddens], Mr Poppy has grandiose plans for the nativity production. The difference is, his are centred on the children, not himself.”

I’m not sure I picked up all of that while sitting watching the film myself, but it seems plausible. Lots more insights over on Damaris' resource page. Though in terms of tackling the Christmas story, baby Jesus is lucky he didn’t fall to the cutting room floor (or perhaps the Final Cut Pro bin) and not appear at all.

While digging himself in deeper and deeper by not admitting the central lie, Maddens is quick to rebuke Mr Poppy for his unorthodox and juvenile behaviour, and cajoles less-enthusiastic and uncooperative children. Meanwhile, down the road, Shakespeare pulls off a distressing and painful to watch nativity centred around Herod’s execution of the male infants.

The final nativity scene from the film Nativity!

It’s an interesting film. None of the cast look glamorous. In fact, they look deliberately ordinary. A lot of the singing is very obviously dubbed. While the children are sometimes sweet and cute, they’re not outrageously talented prima donnas. Yet near the end, the headmistress admits:

“Nobody ever expects enough of the children at St Bernadette’s ... All I know is that each and every one of these children is amazing and wonderful and a pocketful of stardust.”

Something echoed by many a parent at local school carol services in recent weeks.

So if you fancy an afternoon in the cinema before you go back to school/work, you’d do worse than go and see Nativity. It’s no Chronicles of Narnia, but the teenage girls in the row behind us loved it. Just a pity they didn’t squeeze an octopus into the nativity scene somewhere! Oh, and a pity they didn't scrap the last line before the credits.

Just noticed that the Guardian's Jason Solomons was less enthusiastic:

The film taps into our nation's ability to celebrate all things amateurish and dreadful. Cue thinly drawn sitcom characters (Mr Poppy, the creepy man-child classroom assistant, and TV's Alan Carr as a theatre critic), ooh-aren't-we-a-bit-crap-but-at-least-we-can-laugh-at-ourselves British jokes and rows of ugly children with bad teeth and ugly specs singing songs that start: "Things are really cool in Nazareth."

Another tin of humbugs for Mr Solomons please!

Pizzarellys - lost its touch?

Christmas tree bauble hanging on with a papercip - Pizzarellys

Having caught the late afternoon showing of Nativity! in the Odeon (Tuesday tickets are only £3!) we fancied something to eat. Under impressed with the food outlets in Victoria Square – that is, under impressed with the food outlets without queues snaking out their doors – we headed back to Lisburn to grab something to eat.

We’d been to Uno’s quite recently, and having walked across to Lisburn Square we found that the excellent Café Square Bistro had closed early. So we headed back to that old favourite, Pizzarellys in Bachelors Walk.

Growing up in Lisburn, I spent most of by birthday teas eating in Pizzarellys. (All except a couple of meals over at Angelo's half way down Market Lane tucked in-between Reids shoe shop and the Health Centre. I’ll always remember being in there when the bomb went off at the fun run.) So while the owners may have changed over time, it’s an established fact in my mind that Pizzarellys is a reliable place for a meal.

But it has changed. And going by Tuesday night’s experience and feedback since then from other people, it’s lost much of its charm and quality.

The honey chicken strip starter was a bit too tough. The pizza was ordered with “no onion” (and it was underlined on the order), but it came festooned with more onion than any other ingredient. To be fair, when I pointed this out, the waitress did immediately volunteer to wipe it from the bill.

Their selection of pizzas on the menu is quite strange too. I wouldn’t want everywhere to be the same, but it’s odd not to find Four Seasons or BBQ Chicken on the menu. In fact the standard ones (which nearly all come with onion by default) are plain, simple and frankly uninspiring. And while you can build your own, it’s a much more expensive option than choosing the standard ones off the menu. But I digress ...

The vegetarian courgette lasagne had a millimetre or two of vegetable at the bottom of the stack, but you had to go looking to find it.

Is that an Emu at the top of the Christmas tree?

On the plus side, customer service was good, the milkshakes were large (and half the price of a lot of other establishments) and the Emu on the top of the Christmas tree was unique.

But unless I hear that Pizzarellys has improved, I’ll not be back. The less-than-perfect Uno’s down the street, and amazing Market Square Bistro in Lisburn Square will get my business instead.

You can check out other people’s reviews on Lookaly.

It's been quiet around here ...

Alan in Belfast - Christmas profile picture

It has been quiet on the blog over Christmas. Quite a lot of that was due to the way that our broadband modem lost sync about half past three in the afternoon of Christmas Eve and has only just started working again (they reset the card in the DSLAM) a few minutes ago.

Of course broadband wasn’t the only thing to break on Christmas Eve. The boiler went first. To be precise, the ancient pump on the boiler went on permanent vacation just after lunch.

The ancient pump that was more or less welded onto the rest of the boiler, that was not simply released by the two screws that were supposed to hold it. Much hammering, chiselling, and eventually taking apart various other bits of the boiler to force it to separate, and the plumber got the pump off and a new one fitted about 8pm on a cold and icy Christmas Eve.

Thank goodness for a plumber who answered his mobile mid-afternoon on what may well have been the busiest day of the year and promised “I’ll get to you eventually, you’re on my list”. Now just to get an invoice out of him to pass onto the landlord.

The house was cold, and there wasn’t enough snow to construct an igloo, so we decamped to my parents’ house where we’d be spending Christmas Day. It would be fun to draw the comparison with Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem to find accommodation all those years ago. Except throwing a suitcase in the car and driving less than half a mile to reach a warm welcome didn’t exactly grant us refugee status.

But thanks goodness for heat, water, food and family this Christmas, things not guaranteed across the world, not even in this country.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Example of public transport *not* disrupted by snow!

Here's one example of public transport that isn't turned upside down by the appearance of snow.

A ten minute clip from a seven hour long HD documentary film of "the scenic train ride between Bergen on the Norwegian west coast, crossing the mountains to the capital of Oslo". You can read more about how and why at Norwegian Broadcasting's website.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Little Wing Pizzeria (Ann Street, Belfast) - pizza to remember

Twas the last day of work before the Christmas break, and all through the morning, my tummy was rumblin' ... so along with a colleague, we headed out to Little Wing Pizzeria in Ann Street at lunchtime.

Cheesy garlic bread, Pollo pizza and a vanilla milkshake ... Little Wing Pizzeria, Ann Street, Belfast

The cheesy garlic bread was good. The Pollo pizza (chicken, sweet red pepper and pesto) was fantastic. Arrived hot.

No knives and forks. You get your own wheely cutter to chop it into hand-holdable slices. And there’s a serviette dispenser on each table to mob up greasy/cheesy paws.

The milkshakes were good too.

At £8.25, the pizza would be good value for an evening meal. For lunchtime, perhaps a slightly smaller pizza for £5 would be a better price point, but for a Christmas treat it was warm, friendly and we’ll be back again.

Check out other people's reviews on Lookaly.

presents that keep on giving

I’m not really one to follow big name US Christian speakers and their blogs. Google Reader doesn’t follow any of their feeds. (I’m not putting Pete Rollins in that category quite yet!)

Ever since the cotton wool up one nostril and down the other icebreaker at a MAD weekend, I’ve been a little more dubious of the Americal influence. (In fact, truth be told, people posting status updates with the wise words of US pastors is practically justification for being un-friended on Facebook, or un-followed on Twitter.)

Marko's family mugshot

But Mark Oestreicher’s blog has caught my attention as he adjusts to no longer heading up Youth Specialties and figures out what he’ll do next. I’ve been surprised by his frankness and honesty – an absence of the bravado that I’d half expected.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a review of Marko or a critique of his blog and the complete absence of capital letters in an ongoing tribute to e. e. cummings. Before going out of town for the holidays, his family “did” Christmas early. Two observations tickled me.

[my wife] is always grabbing a blanket to cuddle in while watching tv or reading a book. so one of the gifts i got for her was a snuggie. i wrote “for my snuggler” on the outside of the wrapping paper. when she saw it, the night before opening it, she said, “ha! that makes me think it’s one of those stupid snuggie things!” i seriously had to suppress laughter, knowing how completely awesome it was going to be when she opened it!

Always best not to second guess what’s in the wrapping paper and make snarky comments.

But his final point was brilliant.

my favorite gift we gave our kids was $50 kiva gift cards. as part of our adventure game, i brought my laptop to a local coffee house where we were having breakfast; then we gave them the gift certs, and they had to go online and figure out what they were and how to use them. liesl invested in a beauty salon in jinja, uganda; and max invested in a store in ecuador.

I’ve given people ducks and goats for Christmas in the past. This year a few family members – look away now if you think it’s you – will be getting stuff from the Fairtrade shop in Spires. But even better, give something that allows the recipient to in turn pass it on.

Kiva logo

Kiva is a non-profit organisations that allows people to lend money to small businesses in developing countries around the world through micro-financing schemes. (I've talked about micro-financing at least once before on the blog.)

Browsing through the kiva.org website, lenders choose entrepreneurs to fund, and all the little offers of loans are aggregated together to allow a local partner to distribute the money to the small business. As loans are repayed, lenders can either withdraw their money or lend it out again. Lenders transfer their money in through PayPal who – for once – don’t collect their usual fees.

This Christmas, Mark and his wife Jeannie gave their 15 and 11 year old children a present that reminded them about generosity, stewardship and using their material goods to encourage and empower others. Not a bad gift.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lisburn (ish) Bloggers' Meetup?

Alan in Belfast - Christmas profile picture

Last Christmas I reached out from social media cyberspace into the real world and organised a fun informal meet up for bloggers in East Belfast. Less than a month later, I moved house, and during the year two of the other participants upped sticks and moved to London!

While I've got to know the Open Coffee Lisburn techie posse in the meantime, I’m not that aware of other bloggers in the area.

So if you blog - about any subject - and you’re based in Lisburn, drop me an email on the address up in the top right hand corner (that’ll not mean a lot if you read this post in a feed reader!) and I’ll see if something can be organised between Christmas and the New Year. A kind of a bloggers’ coffee morning in a suitable venue in Lisburn.

And before there are cries of a lack of inclusivity ... if anyone else would like to run a wider event, I’ll not be in the least offended! Though I might be persuaded that Dromore, Hillsborough, Glenavy and Dunmurry are natural extensions of Lisburn - even if the Boundaries Commission aren’t so convinced.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An A-Z of Possible Worlds - A C Tillyer

A C Tillyer's An A-Z of Impossible Worlds

If you're stuck for a present for a book lover, then I suggest you look no further than A C Tillyer's An A-Z of Possible Worlds.

It's a box set of twenty six separately bound booklets, each a well crafted vignette of a world imagined by Anne Tillyer as she sat writing on the train. Within a few sentences, I found myself drawn into the created environments. The prose and situation would stir up questions in my head ... some of which would still be left floating in the realm of imagination long after the short stories come to an end.

A C Tillyer's An A-Z of Impossible Worlds boxset

C is for Casino takes place in a beautifully crafted sinister principality where the growing population is precisely controlled by a scheme dreamt up by the consensual Founders’ Society. Only “the occasional screesh of an approaching siren” and the presence of an ambulance “threatens to disturb its peace”.

Twenty six short booklets, but not too fast to read. Great glimpses into the human psyche, and our ability to enjoy and destroy, to open up and to control. And Amazon can still get the boxset to you in time for Christmas!

(Disclosure: I accepted a free review copy. And reading one every couple of nights, it’s taken a long time to get them off the bedside table and beside the computer to be reviewed!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Decorating baubles in *Lisburn* Square (Saturday 19th)

One Saturday morning in November, Littl'un and I had great fun making and decorating a paper boat and floating it in the fountain up beside the Castle Gardens Farmers' Market.

Baubles and sign - Alyson McLoughlin-Harte

The same team of enthusiastic community art gurus will be back on Saturday morning (19th December), this time in Market Lisburn Square between 11am and 4pm, giving children (and any enthusiastic adults!) the opportunity to decorate Christmas baubles. There should be face painting and other attractions down in Lisburn Square. Full details on the Lisburn City Centre Management website.

Baubles - Alyson McLoughlin-Harte

And it looks like the weather will be fitting in with the frosty/snowy theme. Wrap up warm! The images above come from Alyson McLoughlin-Harte's here's-some-we-prepared-earlier bag!

Update - due to cold weather, the decorating was moved from Market Square to Lisburn Square.

Belfast Spendmas - documenting Christmas 2009 for generations to come

Street photography is all about capturing what people see when they’re out and about. If archived and shared, it creates a photographic record - a social history - that can be revisited years later to interpret the changes to buildings’ architecture and usage as well as the fashion of passers-by.

The camera clubs that captured footage of events in towns across Northern Ireland back in the 1950s and 1960s left the legacy of Super-8 material that was more recently re-examined in the nostalgic BBC NI programmes.

Having snapped a couple of Belfast buskers and a hotel nativity scene over lunch two years ago, the next logical step seemed to be to blitz the city centre on a specific day and capture the colour of what was happening on the pavements with a larger group of people. But the idea faded and never happened.

The good news is that some folk are getting together this weekend to pull off a much more ambitious and better organised project that I could have imagined. Belfast Spendmas will document the Saturday afternoon scenes on the streets (and shopping centres) of Belfast this weekend.

Kicked off on Twitter, Belfast Spendmas is encouraging photographers to meet up in front of the City Hall at 2pm on Saturday 19 December.

“Venues we will be visiting will be the Continental Market, Victoria Square, Castlecourt, Donegal Place, Spires Shopping Centre, and the general surrounding streets. Plan to continue until 5/6, to get the best of the light and the evening/Christmas lights, as well as the shoppers. Wrap up warm, it'll be a cold one!”

Photographers can upload their photos to the Belfast Spendmas group on Flickr to create their shared record of the afternoon. You don’t need to be a tweeter to take part. And you don’t even need a fancy camera!

Talking to Radio Ulster, the event’s organiser Rob Elkin explained:

“It’s really to capture the difference between what Christmas used to be, and what Christmas has become. People are going to take what they want from the photos that we take anyway, we’re there just to document, we're not there to comment.”

Over the past 20 or 30 years, there’s been a a creeping - perhaps, rampant - commercialisation of Christmas. This is a chance to document what 2009 is like in the centre of Belfast, leaving a record behind for social historians in years to come to examine.

Over that time there’s also been an increasing disapproval of street photography, with security concerns being cited. Anyone participating should remember that it’s rarely an offence to take a photograph in a public place (ie, on a pavement or street) and that permission does not have to be sought from people or buildings being captured - though you may feel it’s polite to ask! If you’re inside a shop, shopping centre, or even the grounds of Belfast City Hall, then the owners are free to impose restrictions. You shouldn’t take this as formal legal advice … though a printout of the handy UK Photogtraphers Rights pamphlet should fit snugly in your camera bag.

Monday, December 14, 2009

DPP websites … out of action since before August

The Northern Ireland Policing Board has had its own physical security issues over the last few weeks. But they’ve had an ongoing online security problem that’s affected the District Policing Partnership websites for around six months.

Static page for District Policing Partnerships

The problem arose when they switched from hosting externally to move their servers into an internal civil service data centre at the end of August. For many months, local DPP managers were unable to update pages and documents on the old website which was frozen awaiting the relaunch.

The new hosting environment has much stricter security requirements and website testing procedures which so far seem to have frustrated the Policing Board’s relaunch of the local DPP websites.

For a long time, the website just displayed a flat holding page with no alternative contact details. Last month, that changed to at least link to a static page of real-world phone numbers for the 26 DPPs.

The upshot is that at a time of increased interesting in the issues of policing and justice, while some local councils are now hosting DPP information on the council websites, it is harder for people to find out what’s happening concerning the policing of their local areas.

Anyone want to take bets on just how long it will take to resolve?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What Would Jesus Tweet?

Cover of Dec 2009/Jan 2010 issue of Presbyterian Herald

(The article below appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of the Presbyterian Herald. It follows on from Tech Camp, and some posts and interviews I gave about technology and churches during the summer. Your comments and conversation welcomed!)

I heard about a minister who recently decided to set up a group on the Facebook website so that his congregation could continue discussing Sunday services and could find out about events that were being organised during the week. He announced this new innovation to the congregation. After the service, someone spoke to him at the door and told him that there already was an active Facebook group for the congregation. He shut his down and joined the existing one.

If you’re on your Church Committee and you don’t remember anyone asking permission, that’s because most social media tools are informal. They reach underneath and around bureaucratic structures. Anyone can start a group. And if you don’t, someone else will.

While forms of communication come and go, people’s desire to communicate and build relationships seems to remain constant. Postal services report a big reduction in personal letters being written and delivered through letterboxes. Emails are now more commonplace between family members and friends. Poolside postcards have been replaced with text messages.

Where face to face meetings used to be the venue for all important business decisions, increasingly I spend my time on phone calls connecting contributors scattered across the country, even the world. It used to be a treat for far away grandchildren to speak to Grandma and Grandpa on the telephone. Now some young faces grin, gurgle and wave at their remote family through the wonder of Skype and the webcams that are often built into modern computers.

Formality is on the decline, but sharing and communication is not. Instantaneous, low-cost, informal methods are on the increase.

Just over one million people across Ireland are registered on websites like Facebook to share updates about their lives with their friends. A smaller number of us regularly use the Twitter micro-blogging service to allow their followers to read short text message sized updates and questions (maximum of 140 characters long). Some write about events and issues that interest or disturb them on blogs (public online journals that allow readers to leave comments and engage with the author). And no doubt by the time this article is published and read, other tools will have popped up and joined the social networking arsenal!

Lenora Rand speculated in an article in Christian Century that the popularity of social media sites seems to testify to the fact that many people miss what the church used to provide.

“A place to know others and be known, a place to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh, a place to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys - not just once a week or at Easter and Christmas, but daily.”

Friends, followers, readers: does it have any relevance to the church? Any relevance to Christians? What are the opportunities and the challenges?

This year, some Presbyterians will find out what the Moderator is thinking about and where he has visited by reading his online blog long before they hear him speak at their church or read about him in an article in the Herald.

Self-published and free from a monthly print cycle, blogging has been a way for Stafford Carson to raise and discuss contemporaneous issues, even managing to post updates online while away in Ethiopia during August. He remarks:

“I have been surprised at how much I have wanted to blog about, and it has actually helped me to reflect on a number of issues that I might have ignored or dismissed quickly.

The short-length and semi-informal style of a blog means that it isn't excessively burdensome to post some thoughts, and it has many of the benefits that others have discovered through keeping a journal or diary.”

Of course, the Moderator’s blog is not a replacement for other more established forms of communication. Not everyone can access the internet: there are barriers of cost, proficiency and even personal choice. Yet for an increasing number of us, it is becoming an accepted and commonplace means of promulgating news.

While a blog may feel like an informal way of communicating, whatever the Moderator writes online will be read by journalists and will be treated as his public opinion on the issues he addresses. Anyone leaving a comment under one of his posts is similarly on the record - a bit like writing into the Herald and finding your words appearing on the letters page.

Blogs have been incorporated into some congregational websites and can be used as another way to spread the word about events and news - though many lack the sustained effort needed to keep them up to date after an initial flurry of posting. Individual Christians find them a way of discussing their observations and interests with a wide range of interested parties.

Away from the verbosity of blogs, the short-form Twitter service is being used by some ministers to broadcast daily devotional messages to those who follow their updates (known as “tweets”). Often regurgitating brief quotations from well-known US pastors, these can sometimes come across to me as cheesy.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu (@johnsentamu) is an expert communicator. He uses Twitter to raise the profile of specific issues and pass remark on news and deeds that have touched him.

Other ministers and youth workers use it to promote local events, give an insight into the shape of their day, and to react quickly in response to incidents that they want to comment on. During the General Assembly, the @pciassembly Twitter feed provided insight into the running order and a flavour of some of the debating points and results of votes. Alongside the online video streaming, it was a great way to follow the highly anticipated debate on the Presbyterian Mutual Society.

Much like blogging, Twitter is a public pursuit. Members of the press are amongst the most enthusiastic tweeters. Many deliberately follow a variety of people and organisations in their local area in order to pick up stories that they can subsequently cover in their newspapers, television or radio shows. So I should not have been surprised when the Belfast Telegraph cited a selection of related tweets made by interested parties on the afternoon of the PMS debate.

While the use and uptake of Facebook in Ireland has been doubling annually for the last two years, a show of hands at next Sunday morning’s service might show significant pockets of the congregation who’ve never heard of it and have no wish to join its bandwagon.

A Presbyterian Church in Ireland group has been active since late 2007, allowing several hundred Facebook users so far to choose to associate themselves with the denomination alongside their favourite causes, bands and TV shows. Some congregations have registered their own Facebook groups and use them to advertise details about services and local events. They could be going further and adding photos, video, sermon audio and encouraging discussions.

Aside from the structure of groups, Facebook can also host conversations - public and private - between individuals registered on the website. Publish an intriguing status update like “Tracy is off to wash cars for the afternoon” in reference to a charity car wash and you can be sure that some of your Facebook friends will soon ask what you’re doing and offer to bring their cars around too!

One question that has been vexing some Facebooking Presbyterians across the Atlantic in PCUSA has been whether ministers should break electronic links (“un-friend”) with members of their old congregations whenever they are called away to a new church. Some think that it offers an easy way for people to remain in touch, keep up-to-date with progress and allow gentle encouragement from afar. Others see that it can interfere with the process of building relationships with the new congregation and lead to unhelpful remote pastoral care.

Of course, this assumes that anyone working in a church would agree to be linked as friends on Facebook with the people they serve in the first place.

Opinion differs. One minister I’ve spoken to feels that distance is required. For him, boundaries are important and Facebook is for personal use only. Concerns about child protection and professional reputation mean that he would be uncomfortable having online communications with his congregations - particularly younger members - that could ultimately be misconstrued and used against him.

Others take a different view and see online communications as no more vulnerable than face-to-face conversations, phone calls and letters. There are no right answers. Different people are comfortable with setting their communication boundaries at different distances.

Modern day joiners carry around an amazing array of different implements in their toolboxes. Not everything can be fixed with a hammer. A good joiner has the ability to select the most appropriate tool for the job and the skill to confidently use it to accomplish what needs done.

For me, the important rule with all these types of emerging social media is to approach them with our eyes open, thinking through the consequences before it’s too late.

As Moderator of PCUSA, Bruce Reyes-Chow has been a strong advocate for his denomination taking advantage of social media. With a huge landmass to cover, he uses Facebook, Twitter and his blog to organise, inform and enthuse members of his denomination and beyond.

“As the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and bona fide participant in the social media world, I have come to strongly believe that, when used well, social media technologies will not only help the church become more connected, but in our doing so our impact on the world will be that much more real.

Too often churches will reject that which we have not been part of leading or discovering. With this in mind, churches should be able to embrace social media, because it simply enhances what we already do best, build and live in community.”

People matter to God. Technology is at best ancillary, and at worst an enslaving distraction. It is definitely possible to get carried away with these new approaches. They are neither universally accessible nor universally understood. Communicating through niche media should be in addition to and not instead of other approaches. But equally social media may be a beneficial way of reaching out to friends, followers and readers who fall into the age range most missing from our church communities; putting in place a foundation of understanding that can be built on in real life.

What individuals and congregations say online is part of their Christian witness. Whenever it is used to show love, demonstrate grace and model Christ-like thinking and actions then it can help build God’s kingdom.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bigger cranes, teeth, Cinderella and a sunset

It's been a busy couple of weeks, but full of interesting images.

In Lanyon Place, the new office block with the apartments perched on top had reached the stage that the crane embedded in one of the lift shafts needed to be removed. So an even larger crane appeared to lift it out in pieces.

Cranes in Lanyon Place

On Wednesday lunchtime, I happened across a few teeth in the lobby of the University of Ulster's Belfast campus.

Model teeth at the University of Ulster

Cinderella (Alana Kerr) and the Dame (Dan Gordon) posing outside the Waterfront at lunchtime.

Cinderella (Alana Kerr) and the Dame (Dan Gordon) posing outside the Waterfront

Getting off the train tonight, the sun was setting and the clouds over Lisburn city centre were much more spectacular than the photo can portray.

Lisburn sun set

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

UTV's uPlayer displaying ITV Player branding?

UTV's uPlayer displaying ITV Player branding

UTV's online on-demand player was displaying an unexpected image tonight.

Trying to catch a segment from tonight's UTV Live on uPlayer, the ITV Player icon was strangely visible.

Normally UTV and STV try to minimise the ITV network branding, and emphasise the local nature of their operation.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The pigeon renaissance - books, wind-up toys and a superb animated film

Pigeons are having a bit of a renaissance as far as I can see.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Firstly there’s the excellent series of “Don’t let the pigeon ...” children’s books by Mo Willems. Nip into your local book store and check out Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or any of the follow-ups!

Then two plastic wind-up pigeons entered our household last weekend. Complete with waddling feet and nodding heads. Great for racing across the kitchen table.

And now to crown the pigeon merchandise and media, there’s a short animated film Pigeon Impossible, the story of “a rookie secret agent faced with a problem not covered in basic training: what to do when a curious pigeon gets inside a multi-million dollar, government-issue nuclear briefcase”. Written and directed by Lucas Martell, it took nearly five years to complete, and has been winning awards at festivals across the world.

Pigeons are obviously in season and cool.

Monday, December 07, 2009

tElegraph.co.uk mis-capitalisatioN

Telegraph headline - incorrect capitalisation in Prince WIlliam headline

A different Telegraph blooper this week. Not quite so awful as last week's discovery of Bayroot in the Belfast Telegraph. This time it's The Daily Telegraph, who in their royal-watching excitement must have forgotten to check the capitalisation of the headline in an article predicting a Christmas engagement for Prince William and Kate Middleton.

My guess is that this kind of simple mistake would not have made it into the Telegraph's print edition. So how come reduced standards apply to their web offering which may well be read by more people than the dead tree version?

(Obviously, the Microsoft red wiggly misspelling underline was added to screen shot above!)

Ikon ADVENTure - Saint Nicholas - Conspiracy

IKON logo

Last night’s Ikon gathering in the Black Box Café felt surprisingly middle of the road for an anarchic transformance art collective whose strapline includes “iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging, failing”.

In the second week of advent, and on Saint Nicholas Day, it was appropriate that Ikon staged an ADVENTure. Maybe being momentarily mainstream was the challenge, or maybe I’m imagining that the majority of society – or a significant minority – would like to turn the Christmas season on its head and reform it completely?

It was obvious that enormous effort and thought had gone into the preparation of the contributions throughout the evening. Interesting to hear more about the background to Saint Nicholas with the normal tangential tinsel trappings removed.

Jonny McEwan’s reflection particularly struck me, and I include it below. I loved the way that various unhelpful aspects of Christmas rituals could still “remind” Jonny of biblical themes and stories.

‘The feast of xmas on December the twenty somethingth ... is filled with ritual that take us to the heart of our spiritual journeys.

It starts with a miracle ... as children who normally can’t be woken on a school morning jump out of bed as early as they are allowed.

As children unwrap presents, parents think about their debt to the banks and are reminded of how great our Debt is to our heavenly banker.

As we gather round the dying tree decorated with colourful lights and plastic tinsel ... we are reminded, not only of our thinly veiled paganism, but also of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6 “I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.”

When we unwrap what are sometimes inappropriate, unwanted or useless presents ... We wish we were more like Paul who knew “the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

And when we split into our traditional roles, where the woman busies herself in the kitchen while the man, plays with the children’s toys or tries to work out how to use a new gadget … we think of the story of Mary and Martha ...

As we begin to overeat our xmas dinner ... we remember the loaves and fishes and wonder how many thousands Jesus could have fed with this turkey!

As gathered families start to quarrel ... we often echo Christ’s words ... “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

Some one will fall Lazarus-like asleep in front of the TV. And others will drink until they forget what they were trying to forget, and in doing so remember that we are remembered by God.’

Suffering from a projector failure, the Advent Conspiracy video wasn’t shown and was pushed into the homework diary instead.

The Mockingbird’s Leap group blog ran during Advent 2007 and 2008, but hasn’t been resurrected this year. It provided a set of near-daily reflections on the season of waiting and anticipation. But again, maybe critiquing winterval has become a more mainstream preoccupation.

As a long-term Christmas curmudgeon, there’s always one moment in the season that feels real and genuinely worth celebrating. In previous years it’s been a workplace carol service that combined Santa hats and gusty singing with a sense of faith and season that I’ve not experienced elsewhere. Last night’s Ikon is currently top of this year’s chart for the seasonal highlight, and I’m not expecting anything to knock it off the number one spot. Maybe I’ll be wrong.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hallelujah! (sotto voce or tacet)

Thanks to David Braziel for his post pointing to this excellent performance of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus by a group of silent monks (well, creative high school students).

Love Will Linger - Susan Tomelty launches fundraising tribute CD for Steve McGovern

Steve McGovern

Fans of the talented Tomelty clan might be interested in a stocking filler CD for a good cause this Christmas.

Susan Tomelty is the daughter of Irish Tenor Peter Tomelty, and niece of actor and writer Joseph Tomelty.

Her partner and fellow band member Steve McGovern suddenly took ill last Christmas and sadly died from pancreatic cancer a few weeks later in early February, aged 43.

Love Will Linger CD - Susan Tomelty and friends

As a tribute to Steve and in order to say thank you and to raise funds for the North West Hospice in Sligo, Susan has produced a CD – Love will Linger.

It features artists Charlie McGettigan, Noel Bridgeman, John Quearney, Eddie Lynch and Ed Deane, along with Susan Tomelty, and also features a track produced by Steve.

The CD is available to order online or by post for €10.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Zero central heating, the D in OFMDFM and the dead tree business vs bloggers - the end of this series of Blogtalk

The final episode of this run of Blogtalk was recorded at NvTv’s studio in Belfast on Monday night. Carl’s been single-handedly producing, filming, editing and herding sheepish bloggers in and out of the building over the last couple of months, so it seemed like a good time to ask him to reflect on the show.

“The idea behind Blogtalk was to harness the political debate found on Northern Irish blogs, because while I respect and enjoy the Beeb’s and UTV's political programming, I have always felt that debate was stifled by the concision needed for their scheduling which is a problem NvTv does not have.”

Over the seven episodes, eleven bloggers along with host Donal Lyons have sat on the comfy black sofas. I wondered if it had been easy to find willing contributors?

“My biggest frustration has been the lack of bloggers coming forward to participate, and while I would wish to thank everyone who took part, I had been hoping that it could become something that the many more would contribute to in much the same way as Slugger works. It wasn't just female bloggers who didn't come forward - perhaps I need to look harder next time!”

There may be more Blogtalk in the new year ...

“If I get the go ahead to produce more, I would be looking to up the production value of the show and will try and consult on the blogs during the development stage of the production. So all ideas would be welcome and considered.”

This week Donal, Geoff and I kicked off talking about the thermally performant social housing with no central heating that Habitat for Humanity propose to build in Madrid Street before pondering the problems that the D word brings in OFMDFM – for both Sinn Fein and the DUP.

We returned to more familiar ground with the editor of the Irish Times Geraldine Kennedy’s recent speech accusing the internet of posing a threat to the traditional structure and financing of the dead tree business, which now seems set on a wider rollout of paywalls. Contrasted with Amnesty NI’s post about blogging and non-traditional journalism providing a scrutinising role in countries with poor human rights records – but with serious consequences for participating bloggers.

Finally there were some highlights from the recent Slugger Awards and chat about 4IP’s announcement of an investment in Slugger O’Toole.

Insomniacs can check out the whole series on Vimeo. And if you’re interested in contributing next time around, get in touch with carl at northernvisions dot org. Remember, you don’t have to be overtly political to take part!

Cash Machines, trackers and tin foil

Today's mad thought

Yesterday morning's news included a now familiar and recurring story of a cash machine being ripped out of a wall and stolen with the help of a mechanical digger.

Strikes me that while it may be impossible to stop gangs physically stealing cash machines, there might be some deterrent value in fitting ATMs with satellite trackers. The casing of a cash machine is pretty rugged and well armoured and wouldn't be the easiest object in the world to get a radio signal out of. But surely it's not beyond the ability of engineers to find a way of fitting a tracker antennae into the hinges or the handle on the back to give it a better chance of revealing its position when it's violently moved.

And for all those smart thieves who figure out that they could overcome the tracker by wrapping up their massive ATM swag in tinfoil to block the radio signal before driving away from the scene of the crime, I suggest that supermarkets are banned from selling more than 7m of tinfoil at to any one customer ... a bit like the way packets of parecetemol are controlled.

Ends.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Out to Lunch festival returns in January 2010

Out to Lunch Festival 2010 logo

The annual Out to Lunch festival in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter offers a welcome glow of warmth each January with its selection of lunchtime theatre, comedy and music (as well as a few evening gigs for those who can’t slip out of their city centre offices for an hour in the middle of the day).

This year’s programme has just been launched, and a quick skim though shows that there’s a lot to look forward to this year. Of course, this is my prejudiced sample! Check out the full programme to see what I’ve missed. All the events are in the Black Box, with lunchtime gigs still pegged to only £5 (with a hot lunch thrown in) and evening events varying from £8-12.

Comedy comes in the guise of ...

    Robin Ince
  • Robin Ince Versus the Moral Majority (Wed 6 Jan at 1pm and 8pm) who will be a familiar voice/face to fans of Radio 4 shows like The News Quiz and Just A Minute as well as BBC Two’s Mock the Week and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Pitched as: “Who was right, Orwell or Huxley? Are we amusing ourselves to death? Angry tirades, then quiet musings from one of the best brains in comedy.” Update - Understandably cancelled due to travel problems related to the snowy weather!

  • Karl Spain (Thu 7 Jan at 1pm and 8pm) who once “Wanted a Woman” on RTE but now wants to talk about “religion, love, dieting and being Irish”. Update - quick (make that briefest of brief) review.

Straight-talking will be the order of the day lunchtime for ...

  • Labour MP Chris Mullin (Fri 15 Jan at 1pm) as he gives his perspective on life as an MP in “A View From the Foothills”. Appointed to Government, he voted against the Iraq War. He is promised to be “irreverent, dry and candid” in his insight into serving on various parliamentary committees and his annoyance at “tax-payer’s money being spent on ministerial cars he didn’t want to use”.

  • Photo of Brian Keenan - taken by BBC World Service - used under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license
  • I’d imagine that tickets will be snapped up quickly for writer and hostage Brian Keenan’s appearance (Wed 13 Jan at 1pm) to discuss his new memoir I'll Tell Me Ma describing his “disaffected childhood” in 1950s Belfast. Update - reviewed.

If I’m honest, it’s the drama (loose definition!) that draws me in each year.

    Rebecca Vaughan - Austen's Women
  • Rebecca Vaughan is performing Austen’s Women (Thu 14 Jan at 1pm and 8pm) taking a comedic look at 19th century feminism using nothing but the words of Austen’s books and thirteen of her female characters. The reviews from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe look good – the Edinburgh Evening News swallowed a dictionary when it wrote that Austen’s Women “could give a few tips to some comedy shows, not just in timing and subject material, but use of pathos and verisimilitude.” Apparently knowledge of Austen is an advantage but not a prerequisite. Update - reviewed.

  • Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer (Sun 17 Jan at 8pm) is on “a one-man mission to introduce Hip-Hop to the Queen’s English”. Stiffen your upper lip and listen to Mr B’s ditties as he reworks familiar Hip-Hop pieces into an altogether more polite, pipe-smoking, high society Chap Hop.

  • Sticky Bivouac (Sat 16 Jan at 8pm) is described as “an absurdist, high-energy performance” as street clown and Foolosophist Jeff Window (played by Paul Currie) returns to Belfast with music, mime, puppets and innuendo. Watch out for audience participation! Post show cabaret folk rock from Katie and the Carnival.

Bookish folk may want to gravitate towards the free Black Books market (Sun 17 Jan, noon–5pm) in the Black Box featuring book sellers (rare, antiquities, children’s literature and plain old second hand) along with word-based entertainment (readings, performances, DIY publishing workshops and film screenings) in the Black Box Café.

Less taxing musical interludes include ...

  • The Demesne String Quartet (Tue 19 Jan at 1pm) whose repertoire spans from Bach to Bacharach through Purcell, Britten, Copland and Gershwin. Andrea Rea on violin/viola, Fergus Fitzpatrick on cello, Brendan Popplestone on guitar and Rachel Thompson on voice (soprano)!

  • Niamh ni Charra
  • Zoë Conway was the star fiddler at the 2009 Out to Lunch festival (returning later in the year as part of the main Cathedral Arts Quarter programme). This year’s fiddling falls to Niamh ni Charra (Thu 21 Jan at 1pm) who is All-Ireland Champion on both fiddle and concertina (though presumably won’t be playing both simultaneously). She toured with Riverdance for eight years, has supported the Chieftains, and her 2007 album made it to the Mojo Top Ten Folk Album list.

  • Sam Baker (Sun 24 Jan at 2pm) was “badly injured in a bomb explosion in Peru in 1986 [and] had to completely relearn how to play the guitar with his mangled left hand” as well overcome his hearing loss to develop “his uniquely hushed and quietly powerful performance style”.

  • Open Arts Community Choir (Wed 27 Jan at 1pm) came to fame in BBC One’s Last Choir Standing. Running for nine years and open to anyone over 16 “regardless of disability, race, gender or past musical experience” they’ll be performing from their wide range of “Gospel to Pop, and World to Cabaret”. Update - reviewed.

  • The Low Anthem
  • Or there’s blues from Grainne Duffy (Fri 29 Jan at 1pm), innovative guitar from Beppe Gambetta (Thu 28 Jan at 1pm), a choice of 30 instruments from “homespun Americana and raw minimalist rock” The Low Anthem (Wed 27 Jan at 8pm) or the brassy Haggis Horns + Dada DJs (Sat 30 Jan at 8pm).

Amongst the eclectic mix, something for everyone.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

From Beirut to Bayroot ... Belfast Telegraph blooper

Searching for a free-to-use photo of Brian Keenan for a post that'll appear tomorrow, I stumbled across an interview he did with Gail Henderson in the Belfast Telegraph.

It's been two months since the last blooper post, but whoever edited the photo's caption may need to check their atlas next time!

The Wave - a blue themed climate change concert/event (only partly due to the temperature expected on Saturday afternoon)

Poster for Wave

This year's event on the Global Day of Action on Climate Change takes place from 1pm this Saturday 5 December in Bank Square (in behind the Belfast city centre Primark and Tesco Metro, beside Kelly's Cellars pub and the proposed Bob Marley Square).

There will be an outdoor concert, organised by organised by Stop Climate Chaos Northern Ireland. Confirmed acts include folk singer Juliet Turner, violinist/composer Ruby Colley, singer/songwriter Ken Haddock, multi-cultural music collective Beyond Skin, all compered by Joe Lindsay.

There's also a "mass action" Mexican wave ...

"which will involve everyone in the crowd holding up something blue, like a painted placard or a piece of cloth, to form a vast undulating Wave of colour, which will represent both the rising sea levels caused by climate change, and the rising tide of support for a fair and robust global deal on reducing carbon emissions."

If you're coming along, you're encouraged dress blue or bring along something blue to hold aloft though the organisers promise to have "a few blue placards available on the day for those without a prop". There will be also face-painters, jugglers and stilt-walkers. Facebook has up-to-date information.

Last year on a Saturday around now, there was a particularly cold gathering on the steps outside St Anne's Cathedral as part of the Global Day of Action on Climate Change. After a couple of short speeches by Jim Wells (DUP MLA), Bairbre de Brún (SF MEP) and Tim Magowan (Tearfund), bells of all shapes and sizes were rung - along with church bells from across Northern Ireland - "to call on world leaders gathering in Poznan, Poland to make bold decisions on cutting global carbon emissions". Abandoning campanology, there'll be a different kind of ringing in our ears this year!

Belfast Cycle Scheme?

Dublin Cycle Scheme - Photo by Paul May - paulmay.org - used under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license

While writing last night’s post about the Rise public art budget overrun, and flicking through a Belfast City Council committee minute from October, my eye caught a discussion about introducing a cycle scheme (similar to Dublin or Paris) to Belfast.

The subject of a Belfast cycling scheme did rise in a recent episode of Blogtalk. None of us were aware that it was under consideration by the council. The cynic in me meant that my immediate reaction was to wonder what would go wrong!

“What will we do to destroy it? How would we wreck that? How would we make that not work?”

Though it turns out my fears are well grounded!

The council’s Development Committee had a presentation from Andrew McMurray (Friends of the Earth), Steven Patterson (Sustrans) and Roy White (Northern Ireland Cycling Initiative), followed by a motion from Alex Attwood (SDLP) and Tom Hartley (SF):

“Belfast City Council notes the introduction recently of the Dublinbikes scheme in Dublin which seeks to encourage cycling and which makes available bicycles for public use at a negligible cost to the user; notes also that this scheme has been developed with a commercial sponsor thereby minimising the cost to the public purse and that similar schemes have been introduced successfully in Blackpool, Copenhagen and Paris.

The Council’s recently adopted Transport Policy encourages a shift away from private car use towards more sustainable forms of travel such as walking, cycling and greater use of public transport and includes a provision which commits the Council to use its influence with Statutory Agencies to seek to further these aims. The Council agrees therefore to engage with the Department for Regional Development, and other relevant agencies, in relation to the possibility of the introduction of such a cycling scheme in Belfast.”

The conclusion was that “the Committee agreed that Council officers discuss the matter with Belfast City Centre Management and the Department for Regional Development and submit a report to the Committee in due course.”

There’s even a Belfast Cycle City campaign website! The report hasn’t yet come back to the committee.

(Photo by Paul May - paulmay.org)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Paying up for the Balls on the Falls (Rise) ... and a proposal to stream Belfast City Council meetings online

model of Broadway roundabout sculpture - Rise

A couple of things converged today. Someone left a comment on yesterday’s post about the £36,000 budget hike in the Broadway roundabout sculpture that Belfast City Council were due to vote on last night (Tuesday). The anonymous commenter asked:

So what did the council decide to do?

It’s a great question. A straight Google search did turn up a council committee paper that referred to the overspend, but no answer. Unless you were present in the public gallery watching the council meeting or unless reporters present ran the story on the decision online, in this morning’s papers or in news bulletins ... then it’ll be a few weeks before the minutes of the meeting are approved and we can hear the results. I suppose someone could track down a councillor who was there and actually ask them!

Belfast SDLP Councillor Niall Kelly

But there’s another solution. Niall Kelly – SDLP councillor in South Belfast – issued a statement yesterday about a motion he had tabled for debate at the same council meeting last night. He was calling on the Belfast City Council to start streaming its meetings online.

“This motion is an attempt to bring forward a new era of openness and transparency to Belfast City Council by ensuring that in the future the monthly council meeting is streamed online, through the council website. The technology for this has been around for many years and I firmly believe that it is about time the council embraced this opportunity and moved into the twenty first century.

Already more than 80 local authorities in England and a number of larger councils in the Republic of Ireland, including Dublin City Council, not only stream their meetings online but archive the meetings, allowing people to see exactly what goes on in the chamber, at a time that suits them. As the largest council in the North of Ireland, Belfast should be leading the way on matters such as this.

At present there is provision for members of the public to watch the council proceedings from the public gallery but for many people this is neither practical nor convenient. It would be much easier for people if they were able to watch what is happening in the council in a way that suits them best.

Anything that we can do to highlight to the public to let them know what we are doing is to be encouraged. At a time when the public are increasingly suspicious of the actions of politicians I believe that we should be thinking of new and innovative ways of showing them the positive work that we are doing.”

I texted him and discovered that the motion had been referred to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee due to the financial implication. No doubt it will be on their agenda when they next meet on 11 December and hopefully they’ll report back in a few months, and the full council can them come back to the issue.

So in the meantime, back to the commenter’s question. Did the council approve the extra spend on the sculpture?

Yes.

Belfast Telegraph logo

Thankfully, Brian Lovett reported in the Belfast Telegraph that the council agreed

“to pay £36,000 of the shortfall while the Department of Social Development (DSD) has agreed to provide another £30,000.”