Saturday, December 28, 2013

A is for Activist (Innosanto Nagara)

From an early age, children are introduced to animals, right and wrong, concepts of fulfilment and disappointment, fear and joy, all through chewed hardback books. Princesses are in need of rescue, dogs misbehave and talk, mice covet strawberries. Wealth is equated with happiness, poverty with sorrow.

How do you introduce the concepts of social justice, gender equality, caring for the environment, and the responsibility for citizens to fight for each other’s rights?

Innosanto Nagara wrote A is for Activist.

Originally funded via a Kickstarter campaign it a introduces children to an A-Z of vocabulary from Activism, Advocate, Banner, Co-op, Democracy, all the way through to Zapatista.

The board book is full of alliterations and rhymes, together with rich drawings.
F is for Feminist.
For Fairness in our pay.
For Freedom to Flourish
and choose our own way.
I remember taking our daughter to the ICTU-organised rally in front of the City Hall in July 2009 after the series of racist attacks against Romanian families in Belfast. One way of instilling values into your children is to teach them through your own actions.

(Incidentally, I also remember living with the consequence of a long lens photo of my daughter popping up again and again in the Belfast Telegraph after that rally in which it looked like she was carrying a placard (that she wasn’t) while sitting on her parent’s shoulders. When she’s older, I’ll give her the clipping as a memento of the birth of her activism!)

There are times when I’d need to resort to Google or Wikipedia to get the background on some of the characters mentioned on the pages of the book. Not all the content entirely matches my politics.

However, A is for Activist is a fantastic way of helping your children be more critical in their thinking from an early age … and potentially starting a revolution on the school council!

And as a festive teaser, can you name any of the people in the 'R' candle-lit vigil above? I'll post the answers in a day or two.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Out to Lunch festival: talks, comedy, music, theatre and great grub (2-26 January 2014)

The annual Out to Lunch festival in January starts the year with joy and hope This year’s programme is particularly strong with the corner of page after page folded over in the pocket-sized booklet. Lots and lots of lunchtime talks, comedy, music and theatre – together with evening events – in the festival this year.

All events are in the Black Box unless otherwise noted. The ticket price of weekday lunchtime events includes lunch.


Thu 2 Jan at 1pm // String quartet Scala Strings – graduates of the Youth Ulster Orchestra – with classical and contemporary music. £6.

Fri 3 Jan at 1pm // Songtrist and violinist Niamh Dunne (in Irish trad band Beoga) playing material from her first solo album Portraits. With Sean Og Graham and Trevor Hutchinson. £6. [quick review]

Thu 9 Jan at 1pm // Chris Braniff is The Young Shadow as “this teen guitar prodigy from Larne” plays the hits from the 60s legends. Backed by The Shadowmen. £6

Thu 9 Jan at 8pm // Smoke Fairies are a duo with a “mix of ethereal vocal harmonies and swamp-land guitars … as seemingly contradictory as the rolling hills of the pair’s native Sussex and the foothills of the Appalachian mountains”. £8.

Fri 10 Jan at 1pm // Tucan’s musical genre-crossing instrumental tunes are familiar to Electric Picnic festival audiences with the interpretations of 90s and 00s dance classics. £6.

Sat 18 Jan at 3pm // Abbabelle Chvostek is a former Wailin’ Jenny and will be belting out her “joyful, anthemic, and unabashedly political collection of songs revealing her passion for social justice and musical activism”. £5.

Sun 19 Jan at 2pm // Northern Ireland’s LGBT choir QUIRE will fill the Black Box with contemporary hits and old favourites. £5

Comedy, Theatre & Spoken Word

Sun 5 Jan at 2pm // John Hegley – New & Selected Potatoes // Poet, comic, singer, songwriter and glasses-wearer …. with seriously funny, cleverly comic poems on everything from love, family, France, art and the sea to dogs, dads, gods, carrots, spectacles and – of course – potatoes. £8. [quick review]

Tue 7 Jan at 1pm and 8pm // Terry Christian: Naked Confessions of a Recovering Catholic lifts the lid on the outspoken TV presenters upbringing, Manchester, The Word and Celebrity Big Brother. £6 (1pm), £8 (8pm). [quick review]

Wed 8 Jan at 1pm // Mark Grist: Rogue Teacher tells the story of a 30 year old supply teacher who defeated a “teenage grime artist” in a rap battle, bringing on-the-hoof poetry to a war of words. Yet the educational establishment weren’t so enthusiastic about his success. Warning, contains poetry. £6 [quick review]

Sun 12 Jan at 4pm in The Black Box Green Room // The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is a “wildly entertaining romp through the crossroads of cinema and philosophy” by “cultural theorist superstar Slavoj Žižek” as he explains how epochal movies reinforce prevailing ideologies. What hidden Catholic teachings lurk at the heart of The Sound of Music? What are the fascist political dimensions of Jaws? And lots, lots more. £4.

Tue 14 Jan at 8pm // Not the Messiah is the one man show by actor George Telfer, “an extraordinary quest for the holy meaning of life of a very naughty boy”, namely the only non-living member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus Graham Chapman.

Wed 15 Jan at 1pm // Lee Ridley aka Lost Voice Guy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child. He embraces his disability and uses his iPad to great comic effect as he makes himself heard. The programme says “this guy will leave you speechless”. £6.

Wed 15 Jan at 8pm in The Black Box Green Room // In the Dark is described as “a communal listening experience which celebrates the world’s best radio” with RTE’s acclaimed radio producer Ronan Kelly and “a wealth of BBC and Independent wireless obsessives for a bespoke evening of radio. Admission free, no booking required.

Wed 22 Jan at 1pm and 8pm // Julie Madly Deeply takes songs from Julie Andrews’ musicals (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady) and intertwines them with stories and anecdotes about the star’s life. A cheeky yet affectionate cabaret performed by Sarah-Louise Young and musical director Michael Roulston. £6 (1pm), £8 (8pm).

Thu 23 Jan at 1pm // Stand-up comic Nat Luurtsema will entertain with her first solo show in three years Here She Be! £6.

Fri 24 Jan at 1pm // The Whinge, The Nordie & The Geek sees three new generation NI comics – Ruaidhrí Ward, Shane Todd and Lorcan McGrane – given seventeen and a half minutes each to cheer up the lunchtime audience. £6.

Adventures With the Wife in Space (Neil & Sue Perryman), not an adventure likely to be repeated in our house

Until recently, watching Doctor Who seemed destined to be a solo activity in our house. Cheryl wasn’t a fan and over the last ten years I’ve watched every episode of the new series alone.

She had an epiphany in November and watched the anniversary episode with Littl’un, declaring that it was quite good. Unfortunately an epiphany U-turn occurred about 10 minutes into Christmas Day’s episode – just after the weeping angels but before any of the really sad stuff – when Cheryl left the room and now her Doctor Who boycott seems as strong as ever!

For Christmas – post-epiphany, but pre-reversal of opinion – I bought her a copy of Neil Perryman’s Adventures with the Wife in Space: Living With Doctor Who, about Neil and his wife Sue watching the entire canon of Doctor Who. Sue scored and reviewed ranted about each episode and Neil posted about the multi-year project on his blog.

Having pinched the book and read it over the last two days – well it’s Christmas and everyone knows that they buy presents for other people that they’d really like for themselves – I’ve come to the conclusion that even if Cheryl was still hooked on Doctor Who, it might not have been the book to encourage her fandom!

Being of an age where Tom Baker was my first Doctor, Peter Davison my favourite, and the early novelisations in Lisburn Library my main source of stories, the book proved useful as a way of allowing someone else to watch all the early stuff that I’ll never get around to.

I’m a fan, but not to the extent I have that amount of time to devote to it, and Sue’s musings have given me an independent opinion on whether I’ve missed anything.

BBC Four broadcast the four episode-long original story An Unearthly Child in November and to be frank it was awful. The story crept along at the pace of K9 moving on a sandy beach. So I wasn’t sure the old stuff was as good as people said.

From Sue’s scoring and commentary it sounds like the Pertwee era was good. Not necessary for the Doctor’s performance, but the ensemble around him and the storylines that held it together. But I seem well shot of Hartnell and Troughton.

An amusing romp through the perils of being too caught up in the cult of Doctor Who, Adventures With the Wife in Space is a reminder that what seemed good at the time may not age well. It poses some good questions, like why – with all the modern Doctor references to the Time War – didn’t the earlier Doctors talk about it?

But in the end, it’s a celebration of an incredibly long-running series and its ability to generate conversation and relationship … and a warning that fans can really annoy the actors (like the time Neil upset Colin Baler with his fanzine, and Sue upset John Levene, the actor who played UNIT’s Sergeant Benton)!

Currently £7 for the dead tree version on Amazon, or £5 on Kindle.

Update - As if by magic, Neil Perryman is interviewed on the Tin Dog podcast this week.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Rudolph wae yer neb sae bricht, wud yae guide mae sleigh the nicht?"

I'm still fascinated by the Ulster Scots carols and Christmas songs!

Rudolph, the rid-nebbed reindeer
Had a perfu shiny nose.
An if yae iver saa him,
Yae wud even say it glows.

Aal o the ither reindeers
Used tae lauch an call him names.
They niver lut power Rudolph
Join in onie reindeer games.

Thin yin foggy Christmas Eve
Santa come tae say:
"Rudolph wae yer neb sae bricht,
Wud yae guide mae sleigh the nicht?"

Thin all the reindeers loved 'im
An they shouted oot wae glee,
"Rudolph the rid-nebbed reindeer,
Yae'll go doon in history."

Monday, December 23, 2013

"I want a society where we will have politics & not a sectarian pantomime" (Alf McCreary in 1976)

In his autobiography Behind the Headlines, Alf McCreary recalls his editor’s leading article in the Belfast Telegraph on 5 November 1968 in which Jack Sayers wrote:
The threat to Northern Ireland’s future is not … the IRA or even Nationalism. It comes from Protestant Ulstermen who will not allow themselves to be liberated from the delusion that every Roman Catholic is their enemy.

Alf McCreary has had a long a varied career, from being editor of the Gown at Queen’s University, journalist and columnist for the Belfast Telegraph reporting on major stories during the Troubles as well as covering the religious beat, witnessing and telling the story of relief efforts in the third world, and exiting the printed press to become Queen’s University’s Information Officer during a stormy period in the institution’s history.

His recently published autobiography avoids the temptation to simply become a set of rose-tinted recollections about news stories. Instead Alf is not afraid to allow some self-criticism to enter his narrative.

A strong personal thread to run through the book evaluating the impact on his life and relationships of being born “out of wedlock” in the village of Bessbrook. While adopted by his grandfather and concluding that he overcame “these emotional obstacles”, Alf describes the “unwarranted shame” that he felt along with his mother:
… it was a huge struggle to overcome this perceived early ‘handicap’ of illegitimacy in the Northern Ireland of the Forties. Nor was it easy for a young boy to understand the background when he was told that the girl whom he had been reared to accept as his ‘sister’ was in reality his mother.

Sporting success and a great English teacher developed confidence in a young Alf McCreary. His first year at university involved passing exams to get onto the Modern History honours course as well as playing for the First XI hockey team and dating the then Miss Northern Ireland. He resurrected the Gown student newspaper after it was sued for libel and ended up as a graduate trainee in the Belfast Telegraph.
I have never believed in horoscopes since the time I had to write them for a couple of days because we have lost the agency copy.

The editorial position of the Belfast Telegraph of the late 1960s seems familiar to the paper’s take on NI politics and society forty five years later. Leader-writing direction came in the form of a sharp command to “give Terrance O’Neill a boost” or “write three pars in support of the New University”.

Alf McCreary’s faith also sews a thread through the three hundred page book. While never a member of the Corrymeela Community, he “approved of its objectives” and wrote a book about its history.

Northern Ireland politicians might want to check if Alf McCreary is available for speech writing when they read part of his Lenten address in Belfast Cathedral on 16 March 1976:
We have a short fuse and a long memory, we look forward, not back, to 1690 and 1916. We lack vision, we lack compassion, we lack statesmen, we lack politicians. We even lack ideas …

I look forward to a society where I can walk without fear in Royal Avenue, or East Belfast or the Bogside. I want a society where we will have politics and not a sectarian pantomime, where tomorrow is more important than today.

I look forward to the day when we in Ulster will use our brains (and we have them) and not our brawn; where power will come from the pen and not the sword; from the ballot box and not the barrel of a gun. I look forward to the day when I can look into the eyes of my children and know that this is a fit place for a child to live.

Alongside some hard-to-forget incidents and atrocities like Bloody Sunday and the Kingsmills Massacre – a story with personal connections for the author – Alf also shines a light on less-well-remembered events like one of the earliest meetings between church leaders and the Provisional IRA in December 1974. Bishop Arthur Butler, Canon Bill Arlow, Rev Eric Gallagher (former Methodist President), Rev Jack Weir (clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly) acted on “their own initiative” and endured criticism from Unionists and denominational bodies for their meeting in a hotel in Feakle, County Clare in December 1974.

As a child at school I remember reading Alf McCreary’s book Tried by Fire about peacebuilders. It turns out that was merely one of thirty or so books he has penned over the years. Survivors told the stories of innocent victims of the Troubles. During the Troubles, Alf McCreary was supplying reports to some English papers as well as the Christian Science Monitor and Time magazine.

On a 2011 trip to Rwanda, Alf met Michael Kayatiba, a Tutsi, who had lost 56 members of his family during the genocide. Michael told him:

We are all children of God, and we need to come out from our ethnic mindsets, and to repent and to forgive, in order to transform our society.

Just one of many pertinent reflections that jumped out of this autobiography as I read it while Northern Ireland politicians continued to discuss processes to "deal with" our past in the Haass/O'Sullivan talks.

Spanning decades of journalism, from back in the day when reporters phoned in their copy from remote locations to more contemporary times with “more outlets, more commentators, instant experts and interactive interlopers who often exhibit more bias than expertise,” Alf McCreary’s story was unexpectedly gripping. Between writing television columns, numerous overseas visits on behalf of Christian Aid, his years at QUB outside journalism, and publishing a shelf full of books, the son of Bessbrook’s autobiography is at times humorous, often perceptive and very compelling.

I’ve seen copies of Behind the Headlines stacked up in Waterstones and Easons so if you’re looking for a last minute present … and no doubt it’ll be back in stock on Amazon after the holidays to soak up your vouchers!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Awa in a manger - singing carols in Ulster Scots

The Ullans Christmas Song BookI found my copy of The Ullans Christmas Song Book. I'll save Rudolph the rid-nebbed reindeer for later in the week, but to get you humming in the meantime ...
Awa in a manger, nae crib for Haes beid
The wee Lord Jesus left doon haes wee heid.
The stars in the bricht sky lukt doon whur Hae lay
The wee Lord Jesus sleepin on the hay.

The kye are lowin the poor wean awakes
But wee Lord Jesus nae crying Hae maks;
I love yae, Lord Jesus luk doon frae the sky
An stye bae mae side, ‘Tae morning is near.

Bae near me, Lord Jesus, a want yae tae stye
Near by mae forever an love mae, I pray
Bliss al the dear weans in your tender care
An tak us tae heaven tae leeve wae yae there.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Forget Turkey - sketches, songs, political satire & belly laughs - at the Lyric until 12 January

Belfast’s theatreland is full of shows about grocery stores closing down! In the Lyric, it’s Foodsides supermarket that’s having a clearance sale in the run-up to Christmas.

The show starts strongly with a musical review of the year that covers local and world events. Images are projected onto the gable wall of a house, with lyrics of some of the songs appearing to tempt the audience to join in. Politics is never far away.
"Every time someone says something [about the future] someone else goes to get a shovel to dig up the past."

Multimedia rich and packed with more laughs a minute than any show I’ve attended in years, Forget Turkey tells the story of the supermarket workers and shoppers, punctuated with a series of standalone sketches and filmed spoof adverts. Phil Crothers’ video work is excellent and while the show is technology-dependent, it never gets in the way of the real-life performance on stage.

Nothing is sacred.

The triumvirate of writers get laughs out of the most inappropriate subjects: Oscar Pistorius’ alleged murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, Jimmy Saville, the Maze/Long Kesh, the Peru Two, not to mention Gerry Adams’ forgetfulness.

Michael Condron plays a smoker in a mobility scooter and delivered some of the most apposite monologues of the evening. Amongst other characters, Maria Connolly and Jo Donnelly play a pregnant shopper and Bridie the cleaner, while Chris Robinson has perfected Artur the Polish porter with an architecture degree.

Conall McDevitt’s departure from politics along with “Anchorman” Mike Nesbitt are granted their own songs during the show. The SDLP and UUP headquarters staff should really join up to go and see it! The Nolan Show team might want to keep Stephen away from the Lyric for the next few weeks.

Willie ‘Abu Hamza’ Frazer and Jamie ‘mouth taped’ Bryson get the treatment too, along with an intimate call between ex-News International executives Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson which inspired one audience member to sway along with his cigarette lighter lit.

The banks and the churches seemed amongst the only groups to get away from the Forget Turkey spotlight. That may change as the material adapts during the month-long run.

The Mrs de Brún’s Boys sketch was very popular with the audience. The pace was consistent and it was rare for a joke to fall flat. The audience giggled and tittered and belly laughed no matter which culture or politician was being lampooned throughout the two hour and a half hour performance. (And this was at an early evening show which started at 17:45!)

Audience participation is encouraged – in fact, demanded – and the four actors bounce off the audience reaction and adapt their script with glee.

You can get your photograph taken with local cardboard celebrity scenes (including that landrover) in the Lyric’s foyer. As a bonus, the programme doubles up as a 2014 calendar with scenes from the show for each month.

The language is strong throughout and it’s very much a show for a new Northern Ireland that can embrace diversity and move on from its past. The refrain in the final song seems to sum up the writers’ vision:
"The boys and girls up at the big house don’t speak for me."

Forget Turkey has seven performances a week and runs in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre until 12 January. Highly recommended if you’re not easily offended.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Nostalgic entertainment that will make you laugh out loud - It’s A Wonderful Life … So It Is!

It’s A Wonderful Life … So It Is! marks the fifteenth and final festive collaboration between Grimes and McKee.

Their first major on-stage partnership was Button’s Hole in 1998, an alternative Christmas pantomime in the Old Museum Arts Centre. This year’s show runs in the Grand Opera House while the set is simple with black drapes disguising the colourful pantomime scenery, the lighting design takes full advantage of the theatre's height and the kit installed for the more complicated panto.

At breakneck speed short scenes introduce a raft of colourful Belfast characters and locations. Georgie Brady (played by Katie Tumelty) manages the corner shop. Money is tight but she comes up with a plan to start a Christmas club and tie the local community’s money into her store rather than feeding the profits of her monstrous competitor. But her co-workers are a liability and on Christmas Eve it all goes wrong.

Georgie blames herself and it’s up to a sweary apprentice Guardian Angel Clarty to earn his wings by saving Georgie, saving the business, and saving Christmas.

The audience are transported back to relive the events that shaped Georgie’s character and then experience the counterfactual of what Belfast would have been like if she hadn’t been born, including Grimes and McKee’s nightmare vision of 'West England'.

After all these years, Alan McKee and Conor Grimes clearly know their audience.

Lots of references to Belfast places and culture from the past. Frasers in Cornmarket, the Balls on the Falls. The cops are bent, the women are tanned to a crisp and emotions run high.

With the show starting at 10pm, the seats are still warm from the earlier pantomime audience. There’s a short interval and the performance ends around a quarter to midnight.

Given the time of night, thankfully it’s high energy with a lot of jumping around. For the most part it’s very shouty. Even the interval music is cranked up to eleven … presumably to empty the audience out to the bar. Unlike some of their previous Christmas shows, it’s smut and innuendo free. Strong language is used sparingly and with good humour.

Katie Tumelty more than holds her own against the more established Grimes and McKee. Hecklers are smoothly incorporated into the dialogue.

Last night’s show ended with a standing ovation from the audience for a confident performance. If you want some nostalgic entertainment that won’t tax your emotions but will make you laugh out loud, then grab a ticket for one of the eight remaining performance of Grimes & Mckee (& Tumelty) from the Grand Opera House.

Produced by Brassneck Theatre, It’s a Wonderful Life … So It Is! runs on Thu 13-Sat 14, Thu 19-Sat 21 and Fri 27-Sun 29 December.

Photos via Brassneck Theatre and Niall Cullen's twitter feeds.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Hatch: an eggcellent musical alternative to Christmas pantomime at the MAC (until 5 January)

Hatch packs an energetic adaption of The Ugly Duckling into a two hour show that runs in the MAC until 5 January. Patrick J O’Reilly’s adapting and directing together with Katie Richardson’s composing deliver a colourful Christmas musical allegory that steers clear of becoming a yah boo pantomime.

Starting with a couple of French rats, the versatile cast of six also play ducks, hens, a pig, a fox, a cat, an old woman, some children. It’s quite a physical performance and choreographer Jennifer Rooney has the cast doing acrobatic tumbles and running around on all fours as well as more traditional animal dancing.

Different animal species adopt an assorted array of European accents, with a few broad Belfast drawls thrown in. And lots of quacking. Masks, accessories along with hand gestures and facial expressions help distinguish between the farmyard characters. Watch out for the chicks in their Madonna-inspired costumes!
Is he just a waste of feathers? … You’re different, not like us, you’re not welcome here … You don’t fit in here.
Children – and some adults – will find themselves caught up in the emotion. My daughter observed that “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house” during some of the final scenes. While there are many laughs, a dark and sad mood hangs over Hatch.

The blame for that lies with the pen of Hans Christian Andersen rather than Patrick J O’Reilly. Sibling rivalry and bullying leads to discrimination and ostrichisation ostracisation, low self esteem, running away, a quest for beauty, and false hopes. There’s a large dose of fear: fear of the other, fear of the outsider and fear of what looks different.
I’m me and that’s all I can be.
It’s a Christmas show, but Hatch’s imaginary setting has unavoidable parallels with Northern Ireland and questions how well – or poorly – we treat newcomers and welcome them into communities. Whether thinking about immigration, mixed relationships in one-sided communities, or the treatment of the LGB community, there’s a poignancy to the MAC’s timely choice of story this Christmas. But back to the show ...
Just for one day I won’t be afraid of the night … I won’t have to fight.
As a child I was mesmerised by the lighting in theatres. Hatch doesn’t disappoint in that regard with slender spotlight beams giving height to the relatively low level set which is neither flat nor regular. A long ramp provides a vantage point for learning to fly and separates the front staging from the live band standing at the back. For once it’s a set and a performance that doesn’t rely on video projection and ambient music. While it’s unlikely that any of the lyrics or tunes will live on beyond the run of the show, Katie Richardson & her Carnivals are superb playing live with a mix of drums, guitars, woodwind, synths, party horns and a little vocal augmentation for ensemble numbers. [There's an extended interview with composer and musical director Katie Richardson on The Thin Air.]

While hard to avoid if adapting The Ugly Duckling, the enormous number of well drawn characters in Hatch nearly becomes a burden with many only appearing briefly, making a quick impression before being dispatched off the stage, never to return to the plot. A smaller number of characters would have been less emotionally draining.

If anything, the ending snuck up on me too quickly without quite enough time to warm my heart and savour the revelation of freedom being granted and freedom being taken. The finale is touching but rushed, and left me feeling that the ever-so-slightly depressing narrative overshadows the all too fleeting ray of sunshine at the end.

Families with young and pre-teen children sitting around me at last night’s performance loved the show. Youngsters in the front row, inches away from the stage, jumped up and down with glee. With twelve shows a week until early January, Hatch is a great alternative to a cheesy pantomime. (Tickets still available for the matinee on Christmas Eve if you want a treat.)

So gather up your feathers and waddle down to the MAC to conquer your inner ugly duckling and enjoy a home-grown, well-crafted musical in a terrific venue. Ticket prices start at £9.50.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: an unsung hero of Belfast ... and deserving of a statue

I don't normally post sponsored infographics. Every month I get one or two emails from companies who are wanting to boost their SEO and brand awareness through some charts that are vaguely related to their business. However, Jurys Inns (they have a hotel in Belfast!) have created a list of Unsung Belfast Heroes which includes Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, an astrophysicist and past pupil of Lurgan College. They explain:
A Northern Irish astrophysicist (Belfast born), Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first radio pulsars while under her thesis supervisor. This discovery resulted in her supervisor Anthony Hewish, and Martin Ryle sharing a Nobel Prize in Physics. The omission of Bell Burnell from the prize sparked outrage and has been a point of controversy ever since as she not only found the initial anomaly, but also reviewed and reported on as much as 96ft of paper data per night, even against Hewish's scepticism.

Despite helping to build the four-acre radio telescope and being omitted from the discovery, Bell Burnell stated that Nobel Prizes would be demeaned if they were awarded to research students unless in very exceptional cases, which she deemed that hers was not. However, many institutions awarded her recognition for the discovery and she continued to rise in her career serving as the president of the Institute of Physics for two years.

Bell Burnell attended Lurgan College where she was one of the first girls permitted to study science in place of subjects such as cross-stitching and cooking.

You can hear a little of her story in her TEDxStormont talk earlier this year.

You can also watch clips of her explaining pulsars, listen to her discussing being a woman in the scientific community, and listen to her Desert Island Discs! On a BBC News Channel HARDtalk programme she explained:
I have discovered that even if you do describe it as an injustice you can do incredibly well out of not getting a Nobel Prize.
What a great success and role-model for Belfast City Council to celebrate with freedom of the city and a statue?

And the infographic ...

Belfast Unsung Heroes Infographic by Belfast Jurys Inn
Unsung Heroes of Belfast, by The Belfast Jurys Inn Hotel

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Could you live in a 182 sq ft room? Steve Sauer's amazing pico-dwelling in Seattle

Steve Sauer has created an amazing space in which to live and sleep, as well as to entertain and party.

A bespoke micro-living pico-living one-room apartment with multiple levels, storage for two bikes, a kitchen, bathroom and even a sunken bath!

182 square feet of design.

h/t IkeaHacker

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Return to "Summertime" at The MAC ... isn't this some ministers' reality?

I went back to see David Ireland’s Summertime at The MAC last night. The opening night £5 ticket deal was too much to resist! Amazingly my memory had suppressed some of the more gruesome aspects of the plot.

For anyone who has graced the often dingy rooms around the back of a church, the red-carpeted set with authentic old-style cushionless church hall chairs and books stacked higgledy-piggledy on cheap shelving was very real. All it needed was the smell of damp!

The vulnerability of the minister at the centre of play was authentic too.

Firmly in the school of why use three words when fifteen or thirty would more precisely surmise the situation at hand, Church of Ireland minister Jonathan (Richard Clements) faces challenges and questions from the friends and strangers he meets. Challenges and questions that few other occupations encounter.
“Is my [abusive relative] in hell?”

“I haven’t been able to sleep for weeks over this …”

“I worry if I don’t talk about it I’ll do something I’ll regret”

[head tilted to one side while motioning finger towards the minister and back to self] “We have a problem …”

“We know where your sympathies lie …”

“I’ll do everything I can to destroy whatever remains of your reputation in this community”

“People don’t like you; they never have”

Your GP in the local health centre will face some of these statements, but hopefully with less venom and threat.

A minister’s vulnerability only increases when they attempt to respond to or answer these utterances. Immediately launching into a description of your theological doubts about the existence of hell will be a tough sell to an abused parishioner, never mind explaining to another your belief that homophobia is unacceptable and admitting that you take the odd drink and have been known to swear.

Dealing with multiple ongoing crisis situations, people in stressful circumstances, conflicting time pressures and other people’s sense of priority and urgency; getting many sides of a story but still being in the dark as to the whole truth; being played (consciously and not); and yet being expected to park your own emotions and frailties in order to “fix” and pacify everyone else … even while you’re being verbally attached and threatened.

In the case of Jonathan, but like quite a few young ministers who are not long ordained, this pressure is only added to by the lack of release and going home to an empty house without the support of a partner and close family.

David Ireland hasn’t written Jonathan as a saint. He can be a right tube, naïve and gormless. But based on the limited information he has, and trying to remain true to his calling and beliefs, for the most part he acts in good faith.

Even with its minimal cast, it was as if Joe (Ivan Little), Isaac (Ryan McParland) and Judith (Victoria Armstrong) were circling around the minister, binding him ever tighter in gaffer tape, slowly suffocating him as he tried his best to serve them.

Do our local churches and theological colleges prepare ministers for a role in which no one might speak up for them, and in which they may be left to work alone under the mental and at times physical stress of what they encounter? Are accountability and support mechanisms tangible or simply good intentions? Is a denomination’s or congregation’s duty of care taken seriously? Or is it left solely in the hands of God? Belief in prayer and God’s sovereignty doesn’t excuse negligence.

I didn’t spot any clerics in the audience on Tuesday evening. From experience of the read through of the play earlier this year, they are easily identified. They’re the men and women who quickly stop laughing and are consumed in empathy as the pressure cooker of misery and pain builds up without an obvious escape route.

Perhaps one answer is for ministers to stop playing the super hero. Maybe even to stop playing God and to be human instead. To be slow to offer answers and quick – and confident – to admit that there aren’t easy answers to every pastoral situation or theological issue. To seek help from trusted colleagues and support from friends. And to seek out and find colleagues and friends before crisis hits.

Summertime also deals powerfully with the critical issue of how a family copes with abuse and the consequences of not properly dealing with a potential abuser in their midst, as well as giving a gentle nod to society’s illogical hierarchy of vices.

Amongst the threat and the haunting tragedy, Tuesday night’s audience giggled and laughed, enjoying the absurdity of conversations, and at times chuckling in discomfort at the silences and misunderstandings.

If you’ve got a strong constitution, I recommend a trip to The MAC before Summertime’s run finishes on 16 November. Bring a friend, just in case!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Belfast-based Sixteen South head to Driftwood Bay as they launch new animation series

Local independent television producer Sixteen South who specialise in children's programmes launched their new series Driftwood Bay this morning.

Previously known for their puppet shows - Sesame Tree (with special guest star Oscar the Grouch!), Big City Park, Big & Small, and Pajanimals - their new production is a beautiful mixed media animation based on original drawings by artist Joanne Carmichael who created characters based on what washed up on the beach near her home on Aaran Island.

Casting for the voice of the lead character Lily took place back in December 2011, and young Orlagh attended the launch this morning.
Lily is 5 years old and lives on the Island of Arranish with her Dad. They live in a little hut on the beach packed full of jars, knick-knacks, driftwood and some very special friends … all made by Lily from salvage washed up by the sea

Across the way is Driftwood Bay … another island that Lily can see from her window, and it is here that the characters that she has created in her imagination come to life.

Every day the sea washes up a new treasure which sparks Lily’s imagination about what might be happening on Driftwood Bay. And so, accompanied by her best friend Gull, the clever seagull, an adventure begins as they head off ‘across the way to Driftwood Bay’.
I've embedded a rare clip of Driftwood Bay that gives a taster of the style of the animation:

Creative Director and Executive Producer, Colin Williams explained this morning that the Driftwood Bay has "retained 75 people from across the local creative sector to work specifically on Driftwood Bay over an 18 month period", putting £2.5 million into the local economy.

First and deputy First Ministers attended this morning's launch - happy that there wouldn't be a repeat photo-opportunity with muppets! Peter Robinson was quick to point out that Sixteen South was an example of the local creative industries having success outside of the spotlight on Titanic Quarter.

With strong advance sales, the fifty two 7 minutes episodes of Driftwood Bay will start to appear on screen from Spring 2014 in Australia, Finland, Ireland, Israel, North America, Norway and the UK (Nick Jnr). Let's hope Orlagh's Finnish, Swedish, Hebrew and Norwegian is as strong as her Northern Irish accent that helped to sell the show!

It's amazing to realise that Belfast is hosting an animation factory that will produce over 350 hours of animation, and to be dubbed into multiple languages.

Driftwood Bay's in-house band who provided the original music for the animation played at the launch - adding to the celebration of local talent.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Summertime (David Ireland/Tinderbox) in The MAC (5-16 Nov)

I went along to a reading of David Ireland’s new play Summertime during the Pick’n’Mix festival earlier this year, and I’m delighted to see that it’s back in the MAC for a full run from 5-16 November.

Even with a minimal set and the actors carrying around their scripts the play was powerful, emotional and at times excruciating.

A young minister’s vulnerability was explored as he settled into an East Belfast working class congregation. It was distressing to watch as Jonathan (played by Richard Clements) found himself caught in the middle of other people’s lives and expectations.

How could young troubled Isaac (played by Ryan McParland) be best helped? And people talk. Yet gossip could cost a minister – particularly a young single man – his reputation … or more.

The reading was incredibly authentic, and anyone in ministry may find the tension and the bullying far too true to life to be a pleasant evening’s entertainment. I’ll be interested to see whether a fuller set and costumes changes the impact of the play.

Kim Lenaghan interviewed playwright David Ireland on tonight's Arts Extra

If you’re up for some real theatre, don’t miss Tinderbox’s production of Summertime in the MAC with its cast of Victoria Armstrong, Richard Clements, Ivan Little and Ryan McParland, directed by Michael Duke.

Tickets available from £12. Strong language throughout as well as discussion of child abuse.

A leafy adventure in Rowallane #NTautumn

We headed down for an Autumn Adventure at Rowallane Garden outside Saintfield this morning.

Obviously heading deep into middle age with family National Trust membership [the Stannah Stairlift catalogue must be due soon?] Rowallane's leafy walks and cafe has become a favourite spot.

An NT Facebook app allows young adventurers to (use their parent's account to) narrow down their options of what type of experience (muddy puddles or fairies, rabbits or conkers, etc) they'd like at either Mount Stewart, Rowallane or Castle Ward before presenting them with an A4 sheet to print out with their six challenges.

In other words, it's a way of cajoling and tricking youngsters into coming for a walk with you! The sheet also offers a free cup of tea in the cafe, and using the Facebook app gives the parent a chance to win a family break in Fermanagh.

What more could you ask for? ... except dry weather and sunshine to make a pleasant family outing!

Mount Stewart is being lit up during November weekends. Details of the Festival of Light and how to get tickets on the NT website.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rhinoceros - the Incredible Hulk crossed with The Fly and Lost in Translation while set in Trumpton #belfest

Suspend disbelief now.

Rhinoceros is a play about the inhabitants of a small French town. It seems like a quiet, sleepy place – reminiscent of Trumpton – with a square, a local fire brigade, and offices. Over the three act no interval play, the audience watch the inhabitants adapt to changing circumstances as an epidemic of rhinoceritis overtakes the townspeople.

Bérenger is the central character and plays the common man. As the play begins, he is being scolded for his drunkenness by a friend when the appearance of a rhinoceros interrupts them. Soon other rhinos are spotted, and one tragically tramples a local cat.
It’s in the paper in black and white … It’s in the Dead Cats column, you can’t deny that.

Confusion reigns. While there might have been more pertinent questions to ask, the cast are soon debating the type of rhinoceroses that they’ve seen – one horn or two horn … and even whether it could have been a unicorn! The appearance of The Logician further muddies their response to the dangerous epidemic.

As the play progresses, more and more people are afflicted and transform into rhinoceroses with the application of lashings of green greasepaint. A cross between the Incredible Hulk and The Fly with added moments of slapstick and infectious giggling that spreads throughout the theatre when a character jumps out a window.

The modular set is simple but effective, with fabric covered panels forming the shape of the town’s houses, and forming windows which superbly frame the talented cast of five. Sion Dey’s haunting score subtly signals off-stage rhinoceros behaviour.

Eugène Ionesco’s 1969 play examines how we react to new and fearful conditions and philosophies. While we can sometimes agree about the new enemy, we spend longer categorising and explaining it than figuring out how to stand up and resist. We accuse others of intolerance.
I think you’re right to have some reaction, but you go too far.

We question what is propaganda and what is truth. We ignore the elephant rhinoceros in the room and become complacent.
Rhinos are living creatures, with as much right to life as the rest of us.

Soon some will become comfortable with the oppressor or the conflicting ideology, excusing or even joining the new movement.
[We can] build a life on new foundations.

And the blame shifts from the oppressor to the oppressed.
Maybe it’s our own fault.

So far, so good. However, the Paris-based company Theatraverse have added another twist to Ionesco’s already absurdist play. Many of the characters deliver their lines in French, the remainder in English. This doesn’t affect the on-set characters (who seem confidently bi-lingual) but it does cloud the understanding of the audience.

The Belfast Festival programmers assured audiences that “Does not require French to enjoy”.

I beg to differ. My rusty school-boy French allowed me to pick out snippets of the dialogue, but far too slowly to keep up with the cast. At least two thirds of the dialogue was in French. And the delivery of some of the English lines was indistinct.

Without French I could certainly follow the plot and understand the dynamics of each scene. However, I was left wondering why nearly Francophones were laughing at French dialogue, and missed a lot of the detail including Bérenger’s final lines which explain the rational of his final decision. It’s like two-thirds of the subtitles failing on a foreign film. It makes me want to read a copy of the play to discover what I missed.

At only an hour and forty minutes long I wouldn’t dissuade you from picking up a ticket to attend Saturday or Sunday night’s performances. (There’s a post show talk with the cast on Sunday.) However, by adapting Ionesco’s play and mixing languages, Theatraverse have deformed the work and created a much more complicated, multi-layered work. For me, the inaccessibility and supplementary confusion ended up detracting rather than enhancing Rhinoceros.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Two public events - Platform for Change debating Haass/O’Sullivan agenda (Mon 25 Nov); East Belfast Speaks Out (Wed 27 Nov)

The last week of November is shaping up to be a week of political hustings and community discussions.

Looking towards the final stages of the Haass/O’Sullivan talks, Platform for Change are hosting a panel discussion in Dukes at Queens (aka, Dukes Hotel) on Monday 25 November from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

Previous events this year have explored flags (with a remarkable inclusive panel) and education. This time the panel tackling the agenda of the political talks and is appallingly titled:
Parades, dealing with the past, flags ... and we thought they just hated each other

After a fraught summer of rioting and recent murders, against a backdrop of political impasse since the decision by the first minister to abrogate the deal on the future of the Maze prison site, the Americans are back to try to resolve the issues dividing the parties in command of Northern Ireland’s increasingly dysfunctional power-sharing system.
  • Dominic Bryan (Institute of Irish Studies, QUB)
  • Rev Lesley Carroll (Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church; member of the Eames/Bradley Consultative Group on the Past)
  • Brandon Hamber (INCORE, University of Ulster)
  • Maureen Hetherington (Towards Understanding and Healing),
  • Peter Osborne (Parades Commission)
  • Orna Young (independent researcher)
Trevor Ringland (former Irish rugby international) will chair.

Later that week East Belfast Speaks Out is back again in Ashfield Boys School on Wednesday 27 November.

In its first three years, the community hustings has attracted audiences of 400 to the school hall and featured featured DUP and Sinn Fein politicians as well as government/opposition ministers. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness made a rare appearance as MLAs together on a panel in 2010. This year the largest executive bedfellows are being rested and other parties given a chance.
  • Alex Attwood (SDLP)
  • David Ford (Alliance)
  • Deirdre Heenan (University of Ulster)
  • Mike Nesbitt (UUP)
  • a senior government representative (Conservative)
Mark Devenport is back in the chair and will hopefully repeat the model from previous years which allowed a large range of questions – local and ‘national’ – to be covered by the panel.

Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.

Previous East Belfast Speaks Out panels:
  • September 2009 – Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty), Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP), Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin), Naomi Long (Alliance), Laurence Robertson (Conservative). Mark Devenport chaired.
  • November 2010 – Liam Clarke (journalist and commentator), Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein), Dawn Purvis (independent), Peter Robinson (DUP), Hugo Swire (Conservative). Mark Devenport chaired.
  • February 2012 (postponed from November 2011) – Michael Copeland (UUP), Sammy Douglas (DUP), John Kyle (PUP), Chris Lyttle (Alliance), John O'Dowd (Sinn Féin). Conor Bradford chaired.
Both events are open to the public and free to attend.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

16 hands, 1 prepared piano, 4 John Cage Sonatas – experimental music but still tuneful #BelFest

When I hear the phrase experimental music my brain conjures up the sounds (and perhaps noises) of tonally discordant whines, crashes and shrieks – more noise than sound

But Sunday night’s performance by PianOrquestra in QUB’s Sonic Arts Research Centre (part of the Belfast Festival and the outcome of a British Council creative partnership between UK and Brazil) was an altogether more pleasant and tuneful affair. The ten piece programme was based around four of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes using a “prepared” piano and a saxophone.

In the musical score, John Cage specifies the alterations necessary to prepare a piano for the performance.

Different lengths of screws and bolts need to be placed at different depths between particular strings along with strategically positioned pieces of rubber, plastic and a rubber. The effect is to distort the piano’s natural tone, often creating a sharper metallic sound, with the soft pedal used to further vary the instrument’s output.

Despite all this DIY, many of the notes still sound like a familiar piano – so the while the tune is disguised and unexpected, the sound isn’t so alien that you can’t follow the music. Here's a sample from one piece.

Alongside John Cage’s Sonatas, the Brazilian group performed works by and with SARC’s own Prof Pedro Rebelo and Justin Lang.

Earle Brown’s short piece December 1952 was performed three times during the one act programme. Each player interpreted Brown’s alternative music notation – horizontal and vertical lines varying in width, spread out over the page – in a different way, creating three remarkable unique pieces.

As one or more players would “play” the piano – some at the keyboard, others picking strings, dragging wood or rubber over strings – a large screen would often show the score.

During the penultimate piece – Perk, a composition by PianOrquestra themselves – a camera mouted on the camera showed the many hands at work creating the sound, darting back and forward across the strings.

While the final item aRound Cage proved to be the largest auditory sensation – with SARCs surround speaker system (above and below as well as all around) put to good use – Justin Yang’s Webwork was perhaps the most involving.

A little like an arcade or Wii dance game, short coloured lines moved clockwise inside a circle on the screen, a little like a clock. As each player’s line passed over another object in its way, the appropriate musician would play something.

The audience followed the score on our big screen at the same time as the players craned their necks to watch their monitor. With variation in the speed of each player’s line and the kind of shapes they passed over, the music morphed and adapted.

And afterwards we discovered that Justin Yang was controlling and changing the flow in real time, simultaneously conducting and composing.

The hour long programme was a fascinating insight into alternative musical notations as well as an education into the sounds you can get out of a piano if you’ve two hours and a few pounds well spent in your local hardware shop! You never know, maybe PianOrquestra will be called up to play at the opening night of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games!

I spoke to Pedro Rebelo afterwards about the performance, the piano and experimental music.

Friday, October 18, 2013

New media and new politics in NI? Or complacency after conflict?

This afternoon's Political Studies Association of Ireland conference in Trinity included a panel looking at new media and new politics and their influence on conflict transformation in Northern Ireland. Chaired by Niall Ó Dochartaigh (NUI Galway), the panel spoke in the order:
  • Alex Kane (Journalist)
  • Paul Reilly (Uni. of Leicester)
  • Brian J. Spencer (Political blogger and cartoonist)
  • Alan Meban (Political blogger)
Topics covered included whether NI actually wanted to change, whether anyone could think of an example of social media influencing politics in NI, and looking at groups, parties and campaigns (eg, Platform for Change, Occupy Belfast, NI21, LADFLEG, Hope and History) that have mostly failed to use social media effectively.

You can listen back in three parts.

- - -
My speaking notes from today's panel:

New Media, New Politics: Social Media and Conflict Transformation in NI

Addressing the seminar’s title … New politics has to stand for a lot more than two political parties agreeing to cooperate in private and fall out in public (unless G8 leaders or US business reps are over). In terms of democratic renewal and popular participation, I only see some very limited evidence that any kind of new politics in infiltrating society.

New media. If we think about social media for a minute. Sure Adams, McGuinness and Robinson are all on Twitter. But knowing about Snowy the dog, and laughing at the First Minister falling into his fish pond during an election campaign isn’t going to win many votes.

Neither has social media brought down Adams or Robinson, though it may have swung a presidential election once picked up and repeated by the traditional media.

Parties are getting better at using Twitter for instant rebuttal – faster than a press release, read by more people and trusted by the mainstream media to repeat. Smaller parties are finding Twitter and Facebook good for amplifying their brand and getting a consistent message across. But I conclude that parties have so far hopelessly failed to capitalise on the tools at their fingertips. [As another speaker suggested, Blue State Digital and their digital Obama campaign have a lot to answer for!]

The DUP’s Jim Wells once quipped that the Facebook limit of 5,000 friends equated to a good quota. He saw the potential to connect with people in your distract to constituency, to “groom” them (not the phrase he used!) to turn out and vote. But no evidence that social media in itself encourages people to walk out of their front door and travel to a polling station. Around 50% of the DUP’s constituency work now comes via Facebook.

If Mick was here he might remind us that when Slugger O’Toole was first set up, it provided a space – maybe even a safe space – for the politically active and interested to listen to alternative viewpoints that they’d normally ignore or violently disagree with. Education for mutual understanding without having to be in the same room as each other. (Though we should remember that at times paramilitaries did allegedly sit together in backstreet bars during the Troubles to agree the legitimacy of targets.)

We can read books and papers about revolution outside Northern Ireland and look at the role of new media in organising, reporting and monitoring citizen-led action.

Conflict transformation?

The group Platform for Change describes itself as “a voice for citizens of Northern Ireland who believe that now is the time for a new politics focused on the common good”. Supported by some in UUP, Alliance and SDLP, it’s a slightly left of centre group that have failed to use new media. No blogs. 595 followers on Twitter isn’t going to set anything on fire. A few papers on topics and traditional town hall meetings. Little audible call for change. (To their credit their flags panel was exceptionally inclusive.)

The bloggers around the table should be under no illusion that while we’re obsessing about the political and socioeconomic machinations and whispering in the ears of blog readers, we’re not actively changing much. We’re not “the people”.

Occupy Belfast had a campsite in Writers’ Square opposite St Anne’s Cathedral and later walked into a long-vacated Art Deco bank building. A hotchpotch of socialists who were internally focussed and did little to reach out. Lacked imagination. Ended when “a radio flung from the building at around noon narrowly missed a woman and young child on the pavement below”. The police entered the building and a few hours later ushered out the movement. At one point while one occupier was being interviewed on the Nolan radio show, another phoned in from the same building to contradict him.

Jamie Bryson, Willie Frazer and friends. They represented “the people”. While not always singing from the same hymnsheet and not always sharing objectives, it was obvious that “the people” which seemed to be the “goddess of structurelessness” was actually organised by an “exclusive friendship network”. Pre-existing networks assembled. Appropriate perhaps that Jamie Bryson and Willie Frazer ended up sharing a cell for a few days or weeks.

The “movement” didn’t grow from nothing online out of the #flegs hashtag. They grew out of Orange Halls, bands, loyalist bars. Facebook groups helped the urban protesters organise, and Facebook in general provided a forum for venting their anger and retaliating against anyone who questioned or condemned. And online gave Jamie Bryson a voice, if not a listening audience.

The flag protests were the closest thing Northern Ireland has had to proper flash mobs. And loyalism has been set free to express its anger and identity online.

For me one of the most intriguing innovations to come out of the flags protests was the picture of the collated schedule of protests with times and venues up to a week in advance that was circulated by someone every day. A decentralised secretarial service, and a huge public service for commuters.

Without new media we’d still have had flags protests. The difference would have been longer queues of traffic.

In the Middle East, reporting through traditional media is stymied by blocking satellite uplinks and trying to throwing the switch to darken the internet. The nearest we have in Northern Ireland are the constant attacks on Loyalism Against Democracy’s LADFLEG Facebook accounts.

LADFLEG is a loyalist parody site. At times hilarious caricature and lampooning of utterances and acts carried out in the name of loyalism, and more recently, crossing the difficult to see line into attack and viciousness. I’ve lost count but I think they’re on their sixth Facebook account – once enough people report them, Facebook seem to suspend the account. Not sure Facebook’s Irish presence is taking much notice of the north! Dave Magee @dgmagee has written about it as has Brian. While the jury is out they have successfully opened up further understanding of their community.

When Gerry Kelly took a lift on a PSNI landrover, Sinn Fein had filmed the incident and published it online. They would have wanted to draw attention to the PSNI’s reaction: instead, they also drew attention to Gerry Kelly’s own aggression.

Flags did bring the Harriet Long’s blog to greater attention, well argued opinions and an insight into working class loyalist East Belfast.

So any signs of democratic renewal or popular participation?

NI21 are one to watch. A new pro-Union party set up by Basil McCrea and John McCallister. They’re appealing to the middle class Facebook generation who are disaffected by politics. Their challenge is to convert “online Like” into “real world Vote”. They put out a video about Respect for Flags a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t go viral and they must be disappointed with just 2,202 views [accurate this morning].

With a statement about humility, healing and hope, the Hope and History campaign was set up by a handful of Christians, mostly clerics. It borrowed its name from the words in a poem by the just-deceased Seamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy) and was in response to Richard Haass arriving and an appeal for leaders and communities to seek the common good.
History says, don’t hope // On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime // The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up, // And hope and history rhyme.

A small-scale unsustained flash-in-a-pan campaign which collected 1,500 signatures online in September (and 50 so far in October). Plotting the number of signatures collected each day on a graph, it peaked on day two, rallied after church on the Sunday, and then fell away.

[In the question session afterwards I also highlighted the contributions to QUB’s Compromise After Conflict blog, with recent pieces by Jamie Bryson (a coherent and well argued post) and Martin McGuinness. Though in later discussions while reflecting on Alex Kane’s question of whether Northern Ireland actually wanted change, I wondered whether the blog should have been titled Complacency After Conflict.

Paul Reilly mentioned the Politwoops website which documents tweets deleted by politicians: UK, Ireland, and many others. I think we need a Northern Ireland one!]

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Let the church be the church: the face of forgiveness and mercy. No one else can be, it's our only gift to give"

Last night's well attended lecture by David Porter started by looking back at the circumstances that had influenced the writing and publication of For God And His Glory Alone.

(Despite a very mixed audience - and with the exception of Methodist President Dr Heather Morris - the masculine theme of the publication was unfortunately reflected in the people on-stage.)

Update - Gladys Ganiel's report on the lecture also unpacks its implications - well worth reading and digesting. In fact, stop reading this post, and read her one instead!

David Porter picked up on Prof John Brewer's "uncomfortable truth" when he questioned: Are the churches capable of doing anything anymore, even if they wanted to?

Each generation needs to lay aside the lure of our ancestral voices. We "de-story" other people's experiences; we have a "mutual antipathy to each other's stories" that wins out over "our shared story of faith". This contrasts with the "invitation to salvation which is an invitation to re-narate our story and align our story with the upside-down kingdom in which the king rides on a donkey and washes other people's feet.

The audience was reminded that Gordon Wilson's expression of "forgiveness" at the time of the Enniskillen bomb which killed his daughter seemed to some as being what the Gospel was about, yet to other Christians this this forgiveness was publicly questioned.

David Porter also reflected that the vision of Britishness on the streets of Belfast is not the vision he now sees on the streets of Coventry. The respectful raising of the Union flag on the village green - on designated days - in huge contrast to tatty flags on lampposts. He also looked at ways in which Coventry expressed and experienced reconciliation with Dresden. The lecture finished:
"Let the church be the church: the face of forgiveness and mercy. No one else can be, it's our only gift to give."

Heather Morris responded to the fifty minute lecture, picking up on some of the themes and calling out challenges to Northern Ireland faith communities.