Thursday, October 28, 2010

Something for the weekend - basically you can't avoid Halloween

The Northern Ireland Hospice and Children's Hospice are fundraising on Friday night through a 2 mile Spooky Stroll through Belfast city centre. Organisers are promising hair-raising ghost stories and actors popping out to surprise you along the way. Strolls start at Central Hall on Rosemary Street from 7pm and continue every 20 minutes until 9.40pm, suitable for adults and children aged 7 years old and over. Booking is essential as walking slots are limited in size. Adult tickets £15, children 7-17 £7, family £40 (2 adults, 2 children, additional children £5 each). Call 028 9077 7123 or emailing laura DOT gray AT nihospice DOT org.

On Saturday 30, it's Boo at the Zoo up on the side of Cave Hill when Belfast Zoo offers (creepy) crafts, bat talks, a (spooky) trail, carved pumpkin competitions and face-painting. All the normal animals are on show too! Entrance for under 18s is free if you come in fancy dress.

The Goblin Market is back in Belfast's Black Box on Sunday afternoon between 2pm and 4pm. I've no idea what really goes on, but advertising promised "a bustling bazaar filled with foolish and fantastical strangers who have journeyed from afar ... a hubbub of hullabaloo". (Which makes it would like a political convention!) And double the normal number of puppets. £1 entrance.

And if in doubt, as soon as the sun goes down, step outside and you'll see fireworks. Most councils seem to be promising to convert rates into bangs this weekend!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

East Belfast Speaks Out - 10 November (rearranged date)

Update - you can find out what happened and even listen back to the debate from the follow-up post.

East Belfast Speaks Out leaflet

East Belfast Speaks Out returns to Ashfield Boys School on the Holywood Road on the rearranged date of 10 November. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.

Mark Devenport is chairing this year’s panel which is in the process of being publicly announced, but safe to say that there are some heavyweights on the list to attend and respond to questions from the floor.

  • Liam Clarke (journalist and commentator)
  • Dawn Purvis (Independent MLA)
  • a senior republican MLA (Sinn Fein)
  • a member of the NI Executive (DUP)
  • a senior government representative
East Belfast Speaks Out leaflet

Last year’s event was a response to the successful West Belfast Talks Back that has become a regular feature of the summer festival. Back in September 2009 around 130 people came to the school hall and asked Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP), Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin), Naomi Long (Alliance), Laurence Robertson (Conservative) and Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty) about:

  • loyalist working class areas getting left behind;
  • the effectiveness of the HET;
  • negative reporting by the media;
  • the Bloody Sunday inquiry (which hadn’t been published at that stage);
  • the possibility that a Tory government would declare NI an enterprise zone and reduce corporation tax to attract business;
  • the 11 plus;
  • Belfast City Airport’s runway extension and the possibility of a public inquiry.

I bet some of those topics get raised again this year! But let’s hope there are some fresh ones too. The video below records the impressions of organiser James Smyth as last year’s event ended ...

An Irish Possession - Friday lunchtime theatre at the Black Box

Local writer and occasional blogger Gerard Brennan is making his stage debut in An Irish Possession in Belfast’s Black Box venue on Friday at 1pm. Gerard wrote the play which has been adapted and directed by Conor Maguire.

Jim O’Neill is possessed and it looks like all his mother’s love and valiums are powerless to save him. Can he put his faith and hope in Belfast’s last exorcist? Enter the mighty Father Silver of Clonnard Chapel. Things are about to get mental!

Between the season of Sunday lunchtime readings at the Ulster Hall earlier in the year, the reopened Crescent Arts Centre and the occasional lunchtime theatre being staged in the Black Box, local playwriting seems to be well and truly alive.

Tickets for the one man show are available at the door for £3.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Something for the weekend – books, bunting, hackers, fireworks, dust and fringe festival

The Linen Hall Library book sale finishes on Saturday at 3pm.

To celebrate the first anniversary of its reopening, the Ulster Museum is encouraging visitors to head up to Discover Art on the top floor to make bunting “long enough to festoon the whole building”. Saturday 23 and Sunday 24, 10.30am-12.30pm and 2pm-4pm.

Hackerspaces logo

Hackers and gamers will be taking over The Space upstairs in QUB Students Union this weekend. HackerspaceBelfast is running a series of workshops over 24 hours from noon on Saturday looking at “software, network, and hardware hackery goodness, as well as screening hacker movies, DIY repair, and maybe, just maybe, how to build a laser”. It’s running in parallel to a 24 hours Dragonslayers gaming event featuring console, PC and tabletop games. “Attendees will be able to both play and make games to their hearts content.” Admission is £5 and space is limited. Details on their Facebook page.

Cunningly a week before all the other fireworks and Halloween festivities, Seapark in Holywood will be hosting a funfair and children’s entertainment topped off with a firework display from 4.30pm to 8pm on Saturday 23.

Ikon - Dust - October 2010 event

Ikon is back on Sunday 24 in a new venue (and a new website). Meeting in the Crypt of All Souls at the bottom of Elmwood Avenue at 7pm,the “iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging and failing collective experimenting in transformance art” is taking the subject of “Dust”.

Belfast Fringe Festival logo

Belfast Festival continues until the 30 October. For the first time, a Belfast Fringe Festival is running from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 alongside the main events. The fringe website highlights the forty or so events stretched across comedy, music, theatre and writing. Most of the events are pay at the door. Looking through the programme, I’m intrigued by ...

  • Fleck Gillespie, Get Out Of Here! (Fri 22 at 7.30pm in Cultúrlann for £5) telling the story of 26 year old Fleck who burns down a library and is awaiting the arrival of the police.

  • The Live Poetry Jukebox will be in Forestside Shopping Centre between 2pm and 5pm on Saturday 23. Pop £2 in the slot and one of Fringe Benefits Theatre Company’ actors will perform your favourite poem.

  • Supergirlactica is an interactive children’ show telling “story of 2 friends who fight against the threat of boredom and the adult world ... by having one last whirl at play by becoming super heroes”. Expect “physical theatre, acrobatics, juggling, dance, music and puppetry” in Cultúrlann at 3pm on Sunday 24. (Ages 4+, £5/£4)

  • Room For One is a “short comedy with a cast of seven young people from West Belfast which is based on a chance meeting between a [pyjama clad] girl and a young Polish man at a Falls Road taxi stand” and examines the cultural shock is seeing people walking around in their pyjamas during the day. The Belfast Fringe programme says “life’s too short ... but who can be in such a hurry that they can’t get dressed in the morning?” (Cultúrlann, Saturday 23 at 7.30pm, £5)

  • Always full of energy and a real treat, the Inishowen Gospel Choir are in concert with Joby Fox in Berry Street Presbyterian Church on Saturday 23 at 8pm. £7

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010)

An enlarged portion of the Mandelbrot Set - (source Wikipedia)

Never during three years of studying for a Applied Mathematics degree did fractals appear. But as a teenager I spent a lot of time improving my speed typing skills and entering programmes from Acorn User magazine.

Over a year or so, ever faster fractal generation assembler programmes appeared balancing the BBC Micro’s limited screen resolution with its even more limited 6502/65C102 processor.

Photo of Benoit Mandelbrot - source Wikipedia

The “father of fractals” was Benoît Mandelbrot, a Franco-American mathematician born in Poland who discovered the mathematical shapes known as fractals. He died of cancer on 14 October last week, aged 85.

The MathsBank blog have a good post about him, along with links to explore the Mandelbrot Set and other fancy fractals.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Linen Hall Library book sale - all this week

Linen Hall Library book sale

Linen Hall Library are clearing out their surplus stock all this week, keenly priced at £1 per book (or £5 for 6) for fiction and non-fiction, with some newer titles and Irish/Ulster books priced individually. Bring a strong bag with you!

The sale room is based in the Performance Area upstairs on level 3 in the new wing. It's open 10am-5pm during the week and 10am-3pm on Saturday 23 - the sale's last day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Something for the weekend - railway Chopin, open console organ workshops, festival talks and pumpkins

Image of tiled concourse inside Belfast Central Station

Chopin is getting an outing on his 200th anniversary of his birth. Musicians will be playing Rush Hour Chopin at Central Station on Friday 15 between 7.30am-9am, and returning at 4.30pm-6pm.

Following on from the recent Street Piano installations, you can sign up on the Belfast Festival website to play for 15 minutes in Open Chopin on a piano that will be available in Belfast City Hall on Saturday 16 between 10am-5pm.

Image of Mulholland Grand Organ by Phil O'Kane / icedcoffee - used with permission

The Ulster Hall’s Mulholland Grand Organ is in the spotlight on Saturday 16 in a series of free workshops with Belfast City Organist Colm Carey and the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters.

  • 9am – 10.30am How an organ produces its sounds for beginners (up to 15 years old)
  • 10.30am – noon Workshop for young players (up to 20 years old)
  • noon – 12.30pm Demonstration and recital
  • 12.30pm – 2pm Open Console – come and try out the organ.

Nothing to stop you popping into the hall to listen to the music during any of the workshops.

The National Trust site at Castleward is hosting Pumpkinfest & Craft Fair on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 between 1pm and 5pm. Along with 50 draft and food stalls, there will be pumpkin scooping and carving; a pumpkin people murder mystery; pumpkin soup; pumpkin (organic) picking in the walled garden; horse and pumpkin* carriage rides. Included within the normal NT entrance fee. (* sorry, just an ordinary carriage – couldn’t resist)

Belfast Festival at Queen's logo

Peter Hain is talking on stage to plug. Peter Hain is on stage for a Belfast Festival Talk in Elmwood Hall at 6.30pm on Saturday 16, plugging his new book Mandela: The Story of a Universal Hero. Tickets still available.

I recently caught up with Claire Keegan’s novel Foster when an abridged version was serialised as the Afternoon Readings on Radio 4. It’s the story of a small girl sent to live with foster parents in rural Ireland without knowing when she will return home. A warm and loving relationship develops, before a secret is revealed, rocking her new-found security. Author Claire Keegan is talking to Marie-Louise Muir in the Crescent Arts Centre at 6pm on Sunday 17.

(Image of Mulholland Grand Organ by Phil O’Kane used with permission)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Animal Farm - one-man show in Newtownabbey (Thursday 14 October)

Animal Farm one-man show marketing image

Animal Farm is a great book, and one I keep coming back to in different guises since I first read it at school.

Tomorrow night sees actor Guy Masterson take to the stage at the Theatre at the Mill (Newtownabbey Council headquarters) in his one man show Animal Farm that played at Edinburgh Festival this summer.

Masterson plays all the characters during the two hour adaptation of Orwell’s allegory. Expect to hear references to “contemporary references to British politics and makes links to dictators and regimes throughout history” as well as retaining the links back to communist Russia.

“Over the course of the two hours Masterson will take command of the stage leaping, rolling, cart wheeling, barking, grunting and bleating whilst effortlessly leading the audience along through the narrative and clearly presenting the underlying messages.”

There are still around 100 tickets left (£10/£12/£14) for Thursday night’s two-legged performance – the only staging planned in Northern Ireland. Four actors good, one actor better? Not sure. But if you go along tomorrow night come back and leave a comment to let us know what you thought!

If you miss the show, keep an eye on BBC Radio 7 next spring/summer for their enthralling adaptation that’s been broadcast in March or June for the last few years.

Through The Mill // David Cleland // Lisburn Island Arts Centre (Gallery 1)

Last night, the Through the Mill exhibition opened in Lisburn’s Island Arts Centre.

Photos at David Cleland's Through the Mill exhibition

Back in primary school, I’ve vague memories of being told about local flax growers and the associated linen mills. (I’ve a much stronger memory of visiting Hilden Brewery in P7 and coming away with a blazer pocket-full of tasty hops that I chewed for weeks to come.)

John Barbour’s son William set up Hilden Mill in 1824. It continued to operate until Coats Barbour closed it down in July 2006. Employing up to 2000 workers by the eve of the First World War, Barbour Threads supplied houses and a school (first opened in 1875, rebuilt in 1913) for its workforce.

The stove house and water mill stands 3-storeys high, the boiling house, office and yarn stores 2-storeys high. All other houses occupied in the business is [sic] 1-storey high and the entire building slated. (source)

Photos at David Cleland's Through the Mill exhibition

The striking red brick mill complex is now the scene of rapid urban decay and the subject of David Cleland’s industrial photo exhibition that hangs on printed canvasses on the walls of Gallery 1.

‘Through the Mill’ ... offers us a unique opportunity to see the mill as it is now and a chance to imagine something of the lives of generations of mill workers. The images challenge us to consider our heritage – what has gone before, what will never return, what is our legacy, and what will become of an architectural and industrial landscape on our doorstep?

Image from Through the Mill exhibition press pack (c) David Cleland

There are some great images and the canvass blocks work really well. There’s a photo of a five-pane window. One pane is cracked, and printed on canvass you nearly want to reach and touch.

Further along there’s a gargoyle [think it’s photo 14] with peeling paint and just a touch of colour to lift the grey stonework made me step closer to check that the canvass wasn’t cracked rather than the photograph.

Overall the images seem to capture the past and the present. Brickwork and tiling, bits of machinery, cog wheels and painted factory rooms, mixed with the detritus of littered newspapers, decaying décor and the weeds starting to bring new life into the abandoned spaces.

For an amateur who hasn’t been taking serious photographs for very long, I’d expect to see more of David Cleland’s work appearing on walls, pages and screens in the future.

Opening of David Cleland's Through the Mill exhibition

The exhibition runs until Saturday 23 October; the Island Arts Centre is open on weekdays 9.30am–10pm, and 9.30am–5pm on Saturday. And if you’re looking to buy an early Christmas present, you can pick up an A2-sized version of the limited edition digital canvas prints for £100.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

canal ways

Sample from post from Canal Ways blog

Thanks to a comment on another post last night I stumbled across the canal ways blog.

It has a very distinctive style with lots of sketches and handwritten content.

There’s also a good dose of healthy questioning of consumer society and planning, along with more than a passing interest in market gardening and vegetarianism.

Sample from post from Canal Ways blog

Where else would you find posts titled yeah though I walk through the Lagan Valley shadow of death, analysis of shop fridges and self-scanning tills.

canal ways ... from the man who is trying to "make sense of Lisburn".

Sample from post from Canal Ways blog

Monday, October 11, 2010

130 years of Westbourne Community Church

Westbourne Community Presbyterian Church - 130th anniversary service

As well as hosting the première of The Boat Factory last Tuesday, and staging a concert on the Friday night, Westbourne Community Church (sometimes known as The Shipyard Church or the church with the neon cross on its tower) marked the 130th anniversary of the first service in the East Belfast building on Sunday morning with a packed congregation of past members, old friends and previous ministers.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Anne Frank [+ you} in Lisburn Library (4-30 October)

Anne Frank [+ you} exhibition in Lisburn Libraru during October 2010

Back at the end of July, I posted about the Anne Frank [+ you} exhibition that had opened in the Mossley Mill Newtownabbey.

The exhibition has now moved to Lisburn and has been shoehorned into the second floor of Lisburn Library for the month of October.

Looking at the life and death of Anne Frank during the Second World War, the exhibition relates her experiences to contemporary discrimination, exclusion and other social issues facing today’s society.

Comment left on a Post-It note at the Anne Frank [+ you} exhibition running during October in Lisburn Library

There’s a timeline of Anne Frank’s life and the Holocaust as well as a near life size replica of her room in the secret Annexe.

Then there’s the material exploring political persecution and injustice, racial abuse, Indifference and responsibility, conflicts and peace, inclusion and exclusion.

Anne Frank [+ you} exhibition squeezed into Lisburn LibraryAnne Frank [+ you} exhibition squeezed into Lisburn LibraryAnne Frank [+ you} exhibition squeezed into Lisburn Library

Well worth a visit, though the layout is quite cramped and unsatisfactory. Unlike Newtownabbey, there’s no shop selling copies of Anne Frank’s diary, though the library staff will be delighted to get you a copy from their shelves!

This exhibition is open whenever Lisburn Library is open:

  • Monday and Tuesday, 9am-8pm
  • Wednesday, noon-10pm
  • Thursday, 9am-9pm
  • Friday and Saturday, 9am-5pm
  • Sunday closed

Friday, October 08, 2010

Something for the weekend - food, fashion, eco living, drama and drawing the future

PLACE logo

The Big Draw. Can you imagine Northern Ireland in 50 or 100 years time? What would you like our towns and cities to be like?

PLACE encourage people of all ages to come down to PLACE HQ on Fountain Street (just beside the back of Boots) sometime between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 9 to draw their vision of the future. “It could be realistic - maybe every house will have a wind turbine or a grass roof. Or it could be a real flight of fancy - how about a floating school to save space on the ground?”

Causeway Speciality Market

The Causeway Speciality Market will be setting out its stall at The Diamond in Coleraine on Saturday 9 October.

The organisers promise gourmet food and drink, organic meat and vegetables, seasonal fruit, hand-made jewellery and teddy bears.

Fashion Souk

Belfast’s Fashion Souk makes a return appearance between 1pm and 5pm in the Ulster Hall on Sunday 10 October. A variety of “locally made, vintage, recycled, up-cycled and nearly new clothing” will be for sale.

The “Humble Jumble” zone will all “fashion lovers to unload their wardrobes and sell their fashion favourites and fast faux-pas”. Kids fashion activities, on-site alterations, DJs and a crèche too. £2 door tax.

Food Glorious Food sees food and drink stalls alongside live music and children’s crafts at the National Trust’s Mount Stewart property near Newtownards on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 October (10am-5pm). Normal NT entrance charge applies.

Eco Show Live

The Eco Show Live is running in the Kings Hall between Friday 8 and Sunday 10 October. Find out about building a zero-energy house, listen to an Really Rubbish Orchestra playing instruments made from recycled waste. Different zones will focus on business, energy, food, health, lifestyle, home and transport.

There’s a £5 entrance fee and under 16s go free. £1 off the entrance free if you can prove you arrive by bicycle or public transport. Free admission if you arrive by public transport from RoI. Doors open at 10am and close at 7pm on Friday, 6pm on Saturday/Sunday.

And you might still be able to get tickets for The Boat Factory performances in Annesley Hall, Newcastle on Friday night, and Derry's Playhouse Theatre on Saturday night - both at 8pm. The play is back in East Belfast at Ashfield Girls' High School on the Holywood Road on Monday evening.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The meaning of life is ____

Alpha poster on the side of a Metro bus asking - The Meaning of Life is _______

I caught a mention of the Alpha bus posters on Thought for the Day on Radio Ulster this morning (starts at 1:26:25) as I turned into the work car park.

The speaker had been one of the commenters on a caption competition post I'd run on the blog, and he was on air talking about questions of life, love and God.

Commenters filled in the blanks:

  • ... is a relatively self indulgent, but moderately funny Monty Python film.
  • ... pasted on the side of the earlier bus which never showed up.
  • ... looking where you're going.
  • ... 42!
  • ... not to be found on the side of a bus, but we'll sell you a 'course' full of lies, distortions, falsehoods, and bloated with pretentious pomp, that will probably make your life even less meaningful but give you the utterly false impression that you understand how the universe really works.
  • ... entirely the business of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (and his noodly appendage).

It's a tough choice but I think Virtual Methodist's nod to Monty Python just beats Pete's mention of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

Election 1970 rerunning on BBC Parliament this Saturday

Every few months, BBC Parliament rebroadcasts election coverage – as live – over the weekend. Saturday 9th sees the rerun of the 1970 general election, starting at 9am and 4pm.

It doesn’t really matter if I spoil the ending and summarise the result as:

“... a surprise victory for the Conservative Party under leader Edward Heath, who defeated the Labour Party under Harold Wilson. The election also saw the Liberal Party and its new leader Jeremy Thorpe lose half their seats. The Conservatives, including the Ulster Unionists, were given a majority of 31. The election was the first in which people could vote from the age of 18, after the Representation of the People Act 1969.” (Wikipedia)

From a Northern Ireland perspective, 1970’s election just predates the start of ARK’s comprehensive election one-page summaries, though the constituency results are there if you care to flick through the individual pages. Update - there is a 1970 one page summary after all. I doubt there was overnight counting, so you’ll not see Ian Paisley win North Antrim for the first time.

Political anoraks, set your PVRs ...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Boat Factory – world premièred in East Belfast

Poster for The Boat Factory

Dan Gordon’s play The Boat Factory staged its world première at the “Shipyard Church” in East Belfast yesterday. It’s the church with a purple neon cross lit up on its tower at the bottom of the Lower Newtownards Road. Celebrating the 130th anniversary of its opening later this month, the church would have been filled in its early years with families working at or connected with the shipyard.

Sometimes sitting there on a Sunday morning I wonder what the emotion must have been like the Sunday morning after they’d heard about the loss of the Titanic. A ship that hundreds of the congregation would have spent years working on. Gone. Wiped out on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

Last night’s staging of The Boat Factory certainly won’t be sinking without trace. It’s part play, part documentary, plotting out the development of the shipyard in Belfast, as well as charting the social history of the shipyard workers. To be honest, it filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the area and the history of Harland and Wolff.

Produced by Happenstance Theatre Company and directed by Philip Crawford, the play is a two hander, with Dan Gordon playing Davy Gordon (based on Dan’s father) and Michael Condron cast in the role of Geordie Kilpatrick as well as filling in for countless other minor characters throughout the show. (There’s even a quick Paisley impression for good measure.) I caught up with Dan Gordon afterwards – watch the video.

“Too many bends, not enough depth,
can’t get the big boats in;
that river, that Lagan, that Lough
that Belfast.”

With a history of commerce around Belfast Lough for hundreds of years, it took men with vision to scoop up the sludge and create Queen’s Island, bringing the land out to meet the deep water to allow Harland and Wolff to build their ship-building business.

Davy grew up in a house where all the boys ended up working in the “boat factory”. Getting in the door was only the beginning of his adventure. Starting out as an apprentice joiner and carpenter, the audience listens to Davy as he remembers suffering the initiation pranks and learning to celebrate the traditions of the yard.

There is an abundance of dialogue: memories, conversations and at times lists of people and tools that turns into poetry. The dialogue is littered with portions from training manuals and instructions given to the apprentices, who spent the first few years learning about the tools and the practices of their trade.

“Both hands should always be behind the cutting edge.”

Apprentices also spent time learning the layout of the vast site, as well as the vocabulary, the names and the nicknames. The play had plenty of humour, innuendo and fart jokes, as well as pathos and an ending that had many in the audience reaching for a hanky.

The set is simple. Scaffolding towers, black crates, and a backdrop showing an old map of the area around the ship yard.

Geordie’s an eejit. He spends his lunchtime climbing high up in the yard (cue, climbing the scaffolding!) to look out over the yard and across Belfast. Yet there’s hidden depth behind his jokey persona. A fascination with literature, and in particular Moby Dick. The yard was full of “philosophers and parsons” and amazing characters around every corner.

But it wasn’t all clean fun. There was bullying. And it supported a variety of scams ranging from small homers making Christmas presents and toys for the family to a complete fitted kitchen business serving East Belfast with the knowledge and participation of the foreman. Following Ishmael’s example from his favourite novel, Geordie made himself a coffin!

The play dealt with the Titanic, but avoided taking the sentimental approach.

“If she hadn’t sank, she’d be long forgotten by now. Just another number and scrap. Look at the Olympic, built at the same time and scrapped after 26 years in the Jarrow boat yard. We’re working on ship number 1384 the Juan Peron. Near one thousand ships have been built since boat 401. We didn’t just build the Titanic you know.”

In the days before risk assessments and the Health and Safety Executive, scaffolding was there to get the workers high enough to do their job, but keeping safe was their own lookout.

“The accidents showed you what was wrong – that was the way.”

While jumbo jets ended the luxury liner business, asbestosis prematurely ended the lives of many workers in the boat factory.

Like a theatre company from the 1950s, Happenstance are touring around unusual venues – mostly avoiding proper theatres – and taking the play into the heart of various communities: halls, schools, even a prison. Old fashioned community theatre.

The play strongly connected with the East Belfast audience last night, and seemed to validate many of the legends and perceptions they had inherited as they grew up in the shadow of Samson and Goliath.

If you get a chance, I would recommend that you catch a performance of The Boat Factory as it tours around Northern Ireland over the next two weeks.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

3% plastic surcharge at Belfast airport car parks

Are you aware that it costs extra when you pay for airport parking by debit/credit cards at Belfast International or Belfast City Airports?

Having conquered my previous compulsion to get up ridiculously early to catch flights to England and arrive at meetings in time for breakfast, I’m now a much less frequent visitor to Belfast’s two airports. (Though blog readers may wish to disagree!)

So as I pulled up to the short term car park barrier at Belfast International Airport I felt smug as I reached out the car window to put my credit card into the entrance machine and noticed the message about using your credit card rather than taking paper ticket. I hadn’t forgotten all the old tricks!

Half an hour later, Cheryl had landed, raced through customs, and we headed back down the long corridor to the door. I paused at the parking payment machine, shoved in my credit card and out of habit (normally for expenses) pushed the receipt button.

Parking receipt showing credit card surcharge from Belfast City Airport

Bit of a waste for £1 ... but then my eye caught the screen.


Where did the 3p come from?

Pretty sure the signs in the car park all said £1 for an hour. Then I looked up and spotted the sticker up in the top left hand corner of the payment machine (above the card slot, the screen and the buttons) which explained that debit/credit card transactions attracted a 3% surcharge. A 3p charge for following the airport’s advice and using my credit card?

It turns out that Belfast International Airport (or perhaps more properly, Q-Park who manage the car park) introduced the 3% plastic surcharge back in May 2010. It’s a handling fee passed on by card companies.

Parking machine at long term car park at Belfast International Airport

BIA assure me that “signs are placed on ALL entrance and exit barriers as well as ticket machines ... the most logical place to alert drivers to the change” so I must have missed it on the way into the car park.

But strange that I noticed the messaging about using plastic for convenience and missed the signage about the surcharge? I doubt it was as obvious as the example photo from the long term car park.

Strange that I didn’t notice the above eye-level sign when I stepped up to the pay machine?

BIA also highlight that they’re not alone: Belfast City Airport also charge 3% extra for the convenience of using your flexible friend. Though travellers using City of Derry Airport suffer no such penalty.

Long term car park tariff sign at Belfast International Airport

Belfast City Airport have for some time mentioned the surcharge on the parking pages on their website. Belfast International Airport have just added details of the surcharge to their website, but don’t mention it on the outdoor tariff signs.

Given the city centre rates to park at local airports and the high ratio of cars to staff, you’d have to assume that it’s not a cost-recovery business and that there’s quite a high profit margin that feeds money back into the operation of the airport.

Maybe some of that will be spent on rationalising the mass of signage that now greets car owners as they arrive at BIA: short term ... drop off ... £1 for an hour ... 10 minutes and the screaming “no U-turn” signs.

Pay by plastic, pay a little bit extra. You have been warned!

(Particular thanks to @szlwzl for the crowd-sourced photos.)

Lisburn City Council Planning Committee – trees, Lough Neagh incinerator and parking wardens

Lisburn City Council crest

It was a good night to randomly turn up at Lisburn City Council’s monthly planning committee meeting. There was a large turnout from Communities Against the Lough Neagh Incinerator (CALNI) who were updating the council on progress since their previous visit 12 months ago in October 2009.

But first the councillors (the full council attends the planning meeting) had to plough through page after page of planning applications/decisions, challenging the planning officer for meetings to discuss some cases, and deferrals for others to allow interested parties to bring new information to the planners.

For members of the public sitting in the public gallery – just behind the councillors – it’s a pretty bewildering process since there’s no paper work and at times sounds like a bunch of people order takeaway by yelling out numbers and acronyms.

In the midst of this, the councillors returned to an old subject - allegations that fishermen were pulling down and burning trees at the edge of the water at Stoneyford Reservoir – presumably in breach of their fishing licences.

Image (c) Michael High, accurately superimposing the planned RoseEnergy incinerator over Parliament Buildings at Stormont

Councillor Ronnie Crawford, the chair chairman of the planning committee, explained that the council had run out of process on the issue of the chicken litter incinerator.

Over the years, Lisburn City Council had mostly been in support of a public inquiry, but with the minister rejecting the need for an inquiry, he explained that tonight’s update from Danny Moore (the president of CALNI) would be noted rather than actioned.

Danny detailed some of the milestones in the incinerator campaign.

  • Back in November 2009, CALNI discovered through the result of a Freedom of Information request that Invest NI support (and in essence government support) for the project was more advanced that they’d thought. A bank or a VC would require planning permission to be in place before offering funds. So why should the same safeguards not be in place before committing public money?

  • Whereas Rose Energy have used biosecurity (eg, the lack of poultry flocks in the area) as a reason for locating the incinerator at Glenavy, CALNI’s work with the Chief Veterinary Officer has shown that there are in fact lots of flocks, including on a mere 300m away from the site, not to mention the migratory birds around the lough shore.

  • CALNI view the runway extension at Belfast City Airport as less contentious than the Glenavy incinerator. Yet a public inquiry for the runway extension was announced in April 2010, while on 31 August the DOE Minister announced that he was “minded” to approve the incinerator and wouldn’t wait for a inquiry. Despite media simplifications in stories about the incinerator, planning permission has still not been approved.

  • The next morning on 1 September, CALNI launched a Judicial Review of the DOE Minister’s intention to approve the incinerator.

  • The day after that, they heard of an application to open the Crumlin lignite site, fuelling an existing concern that the incinerator could easily be adapted to burn lignite. (Danny talks about the lignite problem in the video clip.)
  • Unconnected with CALNI’s health and environmental concerns, Irish poultry producers expressed concerns that financial support from Invest NI for Rose Energy would amount to state subsidy for NI poultry farmers. MEPs and the European Commission are now being briefed and lobbied.

  • Three hundred people turned up at a two and a half hour public meeting in Glenavy on 23 September which CALNI felt was an indication of the “depth and strength of feeling” about the issue.

  • CALNI were baffled that the Assembly debate on 27 September calling for a public inquiry for the incinerator was withdrawn at the last minute after the DUP submitted a petition of concern requiring a cross-community vote. When both Lagan Valley and South Antrim constituencies were dominated by the DUP, CALNI ask why the DUP chose to play the cross-community card?

  • The same day, CALNI were granted leave for their Judicial Review, with the hearing scheduled for February 2011.

  • For over a year, a (separate) Judicial Review has been running (wider than just the incinerator) to look at former DOE Minister Sammy Wilson’s statement on “economic benefit”. He stated that economic benefit should be given decisive weight in determining major planning applications. On 1 October, the High Court deemed the statement unlawful because of failure to follow proper procedures in creating new planning policy.

  • As a result, CALNI expect that the DOE Minister’s statement on 31 August about being “minded” to approve planning permission for the incinerator without a public inquiry on the basis of economic grounds is no longer valid.

The unspoken embarrassment for Lisburn City Council is that the DOE Minister in question is Edwin Poots, until recently a DUP councillor on Lisburn City Council. While the council were in favour of a public inquiry, one councillor – wearing a different ministerial hat – was pulling in the opposite direction.

The twenty or more CALNI supporters filed out of the council chamber while the councillors proceeded to Any Other Business.

Alderman Calvert (TUV) hadn’t quite thought through the repercussions of all day parking when he opined:

“How do we regenerate Lisburn? Get rid of traffic wardens so people don’t fear going back to their cars to find a ticket.”

Traffic wardens were accused of displaying zealotry behaviour while being put under pressure by their managers who monitored their performance from unmarked cars. There was a lack of common sense, with wardens touring areas at inappropriate times. The chair chairman quipped that “the fisherman follows the shoals”.

Then they moved onto parking meters, with the Mayor upset that if you paid for an on-street two hour parking ticket and then wanted to move your car you’d have to buy a new ticket, “paying for the same hour twice”.

(Image showing proposed RoseEnergy plant accurately superimposed over Parliament Buildings at Stormont used with permission and (c) Michael High.)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Boat Factory - tour details

Tickets for Tuesday night’s première of The Boat Factory are now all gone, but the Happenstance Theatre Company will be touring with the play around Belfast and across Northern Ireland for the next couple of weeks.

I'll hopefully post some sights and sounds from the play on Tuesday night.

October 2010 tour dates for The Boat Factory play

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Write for your reader

a reader comments - Belfast Telegraph

Knowing your audience is a crucial part of pitching your argument and your content at the eyeballs and eardrums that will read, watch or listen to it. Not being a Saturday night reader of the Belfast Telegraph, the short weekly a reader comments piece in the Review section is new to me.

So the request for 150 words reviewing the week’s papers turned out not to be some kind of mystery shopping viewpoint for internal consumption but ended up on page 25 of the printed weekend paper. There’s no doubt that I could have made many of the same points in a softer, more publicly accessible style if I'd realised!

I’m not arrogant enough to know what Belfast Telegraph’s readership enjoy reading and demand from their daily local paper. However, I am opinionated enough to suggest that there’s been a definite tabloid-ification over the last ten years or so. Maybe that's something that the paper’s new Readers’ Editor Paul Connolly (also the Managing Editor) will pick up in his weekly column?

The original submission is reproduced in full below. I’m guessing it may provoke some comments. I used a few more than 150 words, so the version that appeared in tonight's paper omitted sections - including the one mention of Lisburn!

Cleavage on Belfast Telegraph front page

Reading four consecutive days of Belfast Telegraph papers I can conclude that page 3 is lightweight, and the print version is as obsessed with cleavage as BT’s non-work-safe website. Good coverage of NI political items – unionist heavy but that accurately reflects this week’s political news. Belfast heavy, Derry mentioned a couple of days, but relatively little west of the Bann. Generally very little RoI news or comment – a little bit more on Thursday around bank bailouts and relating NAMA to NI properties.

Monday 27 Telegraph:am

Tom Elliott article in Belfast Telegraph

Lots of news and reflection about Tom Elliott. Page 2 story uses phrase “Speaking yesterday, Tom Elliott said …” and “During the interview yesterday …” but is never explicit about which other media outlet (probable BBCNI Politics Show) did the original interview. Why not quote your sources?

education article in Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 28 Final Edition

Strong coverage of NICCY’s consultation on “transfer shambles” but no voices on p4/5 criticising or challenging the report.

Article about Corus Steel becoming Tata Steel in Belfast Telegraph

Good breadth of stories and analysis in Business Telegraph. But should the story on Corus adopting new Tata Steel identify (Business p2) not have used the new logo rather than the old one to illustrate the article?

Wednesday 29 Final Edition

PSNI teen photo article in Belfast Telegraph

Good in-depth and balanced two page spreads on PSNI’s publication of 14 year old’s photo (p4/5) and empty school places (p12/13).

Thursday 30 City Edition

20 facts about skating - Belfast Telegraph

Page 3 – 20 things I still don’t need to know about ice-skating. Looking across the week, it’s obvious that page is meant to be cheery and flimsy, but it is quite a contrast to the serious news on p2.

Page 6’s story about a Lisburn garden centre that opened last weekend (old news - 5 or 6 days ago) talks about traffic disruption – would have been helpful to mention where in Lisburn the store is located. Lisburn garden centre traffic chaos - Belfast TelegraphI live there and I (still) don’t know.

Irony alert as Robert McNeil’s column (p33) suggests covering up cleavage, boobs, hooters and “dubious [male] cyclists in Lycra” (whatever is he cheaply insinuating by “dubious”?) provides the excuse to print the accompanying photo. Maybe after the BT sorts out the local education system it'll start campaigning about body image.

nicarfinder masthead

The “ni” in the cover of Thursday’s nicarfinder supplement has completely dissolved into the grey background of the front cover image!

Page from Thursday night's Belfast Telegraph

Since it was over the 150 word limit – now the limit makes sense as it’s half a column as opposed to a strange limit for an internal report – the “irony” was somewhat lost when that second last paragraph was truncated down to ...

Irony alert as Robert McNeil’s column (p33) suggests covering up cleavage, boobs, hooters and “dubious [male] cyclists in Lycra” .

... losing the reference to the photo. [There really was a space between the double quotes and the full stop in the piece.]

Moral of story: check and double check who’s going to read what you’re writing!

Question to end the post: how satisfied are you with the Belfast Telegraph? or the Irish News? or the Newsletter?