Sunday, 9 December 2012

Here I am stuck in the middle with you

Ayn Rand said of compromise that, "one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil." I think the idiocy on display in Northern Ireland this week, in particular against the Alliance Party, has been proof positive of her theory.

I’ve been debating whether or not to write a blog post about this whole flags debacle since the decision was taken on Monday night and all hell broke loose. Not that anyone cares much what I think, I’m sure, but sometimes when your head is full of bewilderment and rage, it helps to write it all down and try to make sense of things.

I’ve spent a lot of time during the last 6 days on Twitter, where the somewhat derisive #flegs hashtag has been attracting the more liberal social medialites but a general search for Belfast has revealed the darker side of what has been going on in the underbelly of our society since Monday.

It has also revealed what seem to be many common misconceptions about what actually happened in Belfast City Hall that night. These misconceptions were unarguably initiated by the DUP and UUP members distributing anti-Alliance propaganda to an already riled up crowd at the back of City Hall before a single vote had even been cast. Whether they’ve been further propagated by plain old sectarianism or by paramilitary organisations taking advantage of the situation to further their ridiculous agenda is hard to tell. But regardless, the violence, destruction of property and death threats that have arisen from it all are just inexcusable.

The first myth seems to be that the vote was to remove the flag from the City Hall permanently. In actual fact the compromise Alliance put forward (which passed 29 to 21) was that it fly on designated days instead. I could understand Unionist qualms about that idea more if the exact same thing wasn't in place throughout much of the mainland UK council buildings and indeed if it hadn't already been implemented for Parliament Buildings at Stormont. Of course if Edwin Poots and his ilk get their way perhaps that won't be the case for much longer... like kids taking their ball home when they don't get their own way.

The second myth seems to be that Alliance have become some kind of pseudo Nationalist party now. My understanding of Alliance’s policies is that they have always been anti-sectarian, working towards an actual shared future for this complicated little country, rather than the smiling, nodding-headed, entirely superficial commitment to “cross-community” work that the big parties do (sorry folks, we’re not fooled).

Of course finding a middle ground means compromise – making difficult decisions that will undoubtedly offend someone, especially when it’s someone who has historically had their way most of the time. I’ve always voted Alliance in Northern Ireland for this purpose. My hope (which might be realistic given some recent articles) is that others start to genuinely consider Alliance as a “real” party, who could actually make some headway in moving this country forward. My worry is that voters will be swayed by the fear-mongering propaganda of the tribal parties and stick with them out of panic that “the other side will get in.”

One last myth (amongst the many) is that reducing the number of days the flag flies above the City Hall is somehow threatening the right of Unionists to consider themselves British and express that Britishness. Firstly, the decision isn’t going to impact on the usual overt displays of Unionism, like hanging flags from every lamppost and house during marching season.

Secondly, I’m sorry but if the only way you can identify with your nationality is to look at a piece of material flapping about in the wind, perhaps you’re not as intrinsically associated with that nationality as you think. After all, wasn’t Peter Robinson preaching about “confident unionism” to his fellow DUP members the very day the flag decision was made? I’m no behavioural therapist but running around that same evening distributing leaflets undermining a perceived threat doesn’t seem very self-confident to me.

Lastly, and to me this is the kicker, only 13 years and 1 day before the flag vote, the Good Friday Agreement came into force in Northern Ireland. Granted the DUP weren’t fans, but people spoke democratically at referenda and it was subsequently agreed regardless. The Good Friday Agreement states that the participants,

“recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.”

So if it was democratically agreed that the people of Northern Ireland can consider themselves Irish as well as British, isn’t it understandable that some might be a little peeved that only one of those countries is represented officially, e.g. flags hanging on official buildings? Now yes, you can say, tough luck, Northern Ireland is officially part of the United Kingdom, therefore our flag is the Union flag and that’s all there is to it, and it should be flown on public buildings. That’s correct. And indeed, that’s exactly what the Council essentially agreed to... even the Sinn Fein and SDLP members who voted for the proposed amendment. The only compromise was to reduce the number of days the Union flag flies, in line with equality advice and the precedent already set by the policies for other official government buildings. When you still get to maintain that “your” flag is the “real” flag, and also get “the other side” to officially agree with you on record, is a little compromise such a bitter pill to swallow?

Regardless, in the same way that the crazy, rioting loyalists who I've seen write on Twitter and Facebook have a “tough luck” attitude to those who don’t want the Union flag flying here at all, I’m afraid it’s “tough luck” to them too: a democratic decision was made by a Council that they helped to vote in. You might not like all the decisions they make but that, my friends, is how democracy works.

For my part I think Alliance’s compromise was fair. I appreciate the individual’s right to peacefully protest if they disagree with a decision made by their representatives, but to me shouting about a lack of respect for your flag whilst simultaneously burning someone else’s is not a truly peaceful protest. I personally resent the fact that these trifling issues are still a problem to be solved in this country, not to mention of course that many out there somehow think that thuggery will help them get their way.

Naomi Long has said that Alliance will remain strong and continue to make decisions based on the party’s principles, not being intimidated by threats or violence. I for one hope that they do, otherwise the future of this country is not one I want to be a part of. We need to move on, and what better way to do so than good old fashioned democracy? Now if only we can get the rest of the country to respect that.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Cruising on through a tough year

I have become somewhat of an infrequent blogger this year. It's all down to an unfortunate combination of being busy, being ill and honestly not being arsed. Also Twitter is so much easier. Random thoughts, 140 characters or less, job done.

I've even taken a week or so off Facebook such has been my apathy towards communicating with the outside world. And the strange thing is that I feel guilty about it; that I'm letting down all the people I befriended solely to send and receive game requests for the likes of The Sims Social, Sim City Social and Bejeweled Blitz. I'd like the games a lot more without the social aspect but apparently that's the whole point of Facebook so there's no avoiding it.

I refuse to spend actual money on those games though. What a rip off! I looked out of curiosity one time and it was actually the equivalent of a couple of real life US dollars to buy a pixel sofa or some such frivolous item on The Sims Social. Some people must have more money than sense. I'll happily relieve them of it if they like.

But anyway, I have been feeling very lethargic and indifferent of late. I think perhaps having medical problems on and off for almost a year now has maybe taken its toll - I finally got the dubious honour of a rare diagnosis for the excruciating pain in my hips but alas there is no treatment except rest and patience, neither of which I am particularly good at. I just feel very run down and ready to hibernate. Unfortunately with a full time job to hold down and with the expense of Christmas on the horizon, hibernation just isn't going to happen.

Happily though, I do get a bit of a break soon. After our amazing east coast USA trip in February, I hadn't imagined the Yorkshireman and I would get another proper holiday this year. We'd been considering a weekend break in Edinburgh, maybe sometime in November to coincide with our anniversary (10 years since we met, 5 years since we got engaged, 3 years since we got married) and because the Yorkshireman has never been there, but I figured that would be it really.

However the idea of a weekend break in Edinburgh turned into a train trip down Great Britain, stopping at various places en route. That then turned into a cross-channel Eurostar break, taking in Edinburgh, London and either Brussels or Paris. Then the search for ultimate destinations expanded a bit deeper into Europe. And a bit further. And then some more. Eventually we realised there are a whole lot of places out there we'd like to visit and we only had limited time and funds.

Meanwhile I had simultaneously come across a newspaper ad for a Mediterranean cruise around the same time. I ran it past the Yorkshireman and whilst he wasn't very keen on that specific itinerary, the idea of a cruise was intriguing. We liked the idea of hitting a lot of different cities in a relatively short timeframe, but if we did it ourselves we would have spent all our time and money on trains or planes or buses. A cruise was essentially a floating hotel with food and board provided, but also your form of transportation. They don't have cocktails and hot tubs on National Rail, let me tell you.

So we did a bit more digging and actually found a complete bargain which fitted with the dates we wanted and had a great itinerary. We're paying less for an 11 night full board cruise around the med than we've paid for a half board hotel room for a week in Spain. Granted we also had to pay airfares to get to Barcelona, where the cruise ship sails from, but it still worked out at an unbeatable price for the experience. The ship we're going on gets something like 92% positive reviews and the ports of call look fantastic. After 9 years of studying Latin at school, I actually get to see Italy for the first time. I can't wait!

So although it might all be tough going at the minute I am so happy that there's another amazing experience just around the corner to look forward to. Also that I get to spend some quality time with the Yorkshireman. When you're both working full time and then spending your spare time on housework and shopping and family commitments and sports games and social occasions, there's very little time to just "be" these days. It will be really lovely to just relax and discover new things together away from the usual daily grind. Not long to wait now. Plus it'll finally give me something to blog about!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Today was the last Chris Moyles Show on BBC Radio 1.

Chris has always been a bit of a "Marmite" presenter, with many loyal fans on one side and those who find him irritating on the other. Those who don't like the show don't appear to have much in common (I would struggle to think of many other similarities between my 23 year old colleague, my mother and the tabloid press) but those of us who love it feel like part of a little community. We remember things that happened years ago. We get the "in jokes". When Chris goes off on one and Aled tries to regain control, others deem it outrageous behaviour whilst we tut fondly, knowing to just enjoy the rant and that everyone will be laughing again in half an hour's time.

I started listening to the Chris Moyles Show somewhere around 2001. I was doing my A-levels at the time and the Chris Moyles Show (then on in the afternoons) provided me with light relief after a hard day's studying. I remember my granddad calling me down for dinner at about 5.30pm some nights, but I would stay in my room listening until the show broke for Newsbeat at 5.45pm. My food might have been cold but it was worth it.

Many fans of the show (including celebs like James Corden, Gary Barlow, Davina McCall and Billie Piper who were guests at yesterday's Goodbye Show broadcast from the BBC Radio Theatre) have said that being a regular listener of the show is like having a group of friends come around to chat to you every morning. To me it's all the better because I'm fairly socially anxious, so it's nice to have a group of friends who make me laugh every day without actually having to join in the conversation myself.

I have some very strong memories of the Chris Moyles Show through the years. Obviously there are all the big moments on the show itself, e.g. being on air during the events of 9/11, moving from afternoons to breakfast, members of the team's children being born (I still love the lullaby version of the jingle they made - it's so sweet!), Carrie leaving, Dave's divorce (well, both of them really) and all the last shows before Christmas (it always felt like the festive period had really begun).

And then there are the various features from over the years, e.g. the Cheesy Song, Celebrity Tarzan, Rob DJ's Monday Night Pub Quiz, Sting Ring (and at Christmas Bing Ring), the Golden Hour and King of Tickets. Not to mention the parodies - I can't read an Indian takeaway menu without singing Lamb Bhuna and I can't even see a lorry now without singing, "I'm driving my truck with my high heels onnnnn", which might really get me in trouble one day!

But it's funny that all these memories are attached to memories of what was going on in my life at the time too. I remember vividly living in Bradford, waking up with a real case of the "mean reds" after yet another late night of the chavs playing loud music, winding up a pit bull and dealing drugs in the car park below our bedroom window. And then Sting Ring came on and out of the blue made me smile. Before I'd even gotten out of bed, the show had turned my mood right around, just by calling some poor, confused soul at an ungodly hour and playing clips of Sting songs down the phone at them. Childish? Certainly. Funny? Hilarious!

I also remember being very stressed whilst organising our house move a few months back and all those problems being the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning. Then one morning when it seemed everything was going wrong, they played Clair de lune by Debussy (a feature called Classical Class) and I just let myself lie in bed and be soothed by the lovely music for a few minutes. It was the most peaceful I'd felt in days. It didn't last long mind you, but for those few minutes it was just what I needed.

On a happier note I also remember the show's tours. In March 2007 the show came to the Beach Club at the Odyssey for Red Nose Rallyoke. We managed to get in and saw the team for the first time in real life. We put money in Dom's charity bucket as he went past and he thanked us. I wanted to ask him for a photo but I was too shy. We said hi to Aled too. It was a great night and cemented my already-pretty-hardcore devotion to the show.

Then in December 2009 the team brought Caroloke to Mandela Hall at Queen's Student's Union. They had announced they would be giving away tickets in a "secret location" that morning in Belfast, and I had determined I would hang around the City Hall (being the centre of the city centre) ready to hotfoot it to wherever they announced.

As luck would have it I never needed to hotfoot it anywhere - as my bus turned into Donegall Square East I caught sight of the familiar figure of Aled walking up the ramp to the Belfast Wheel right at the City Hall itself. I got off the bus and lurked around the locked gates leading to the Wheel. Another girl appeared at the same time, also with her headphones on, looking up at the Wheel and then back at me. We shared a smile and started a queue by the gates.

Minutes later the show went live to Aled and he announced he was at the Belfast Wheel (well duh!) and would give out tickets for the show that night to the first however many people turned up. Other Girl and I grinned giddily at each other and then stared down the security guys who had now assembled behind the locked gate. Impatiently we waited as the seconds passed. We could see others approaching from the ends of the street… come on men, open those gates!

Eventually (with weary looks - clearly not fans of the show), they begrudgingly opened the gates and Other Girl and I ran up the ramp towards Aled. We still had our headphones on so we could hear the show and we could both see and hear Aled as he exclaimed that, oh my goodness, people were there already! A steady stream of Belfast listeners soon followed us up the ramp and we all gave Chris a cheer on air before we got our wristbands and were directed away from the Wheel again. I rushed to phone the Yorkshireman so we could share our glee!

Then it got even weirder. That evening I was on the bus on the way back to the city centre from work and Scott Mills asked people to text in if they were looking forward to Caroloke that night in Belfast. Dutifully I texted in saying I was really excited and thought that was that… until a few minutes later my phone rang. It was only flipping Scott Mills himself! He asked if I'd be willing to go on the radio to tell everyone how excited I was and despite my phobia of the phone and also being on a bus full of people I said ok. Gulp!

He said he would come back to me after the song finished and I said ok, experiencing the strangeness of listening to the show but live from the studio over my mobile. I could hear him talking to someone in the background about places in the UK it was supposedly snowing. Then Scott came back on to ask me how far away Larne was from Belfast. Seemingly someone from Larne had texted in to say it was snowing there. My geography is not great but I guessed about 20 miles. It turns out that's pretty close so it was a good guesstimation! Anyway, the song ended and Scott introduced me and asked me if I was excited about going to the show that night. I cannot even remember what I said (yes, obviously, but there were more words) but I don't think I embarrassed myself too much. I do however think I said "love you" back to Scott at the end of the conversation, which I had previously said was silly (damn it) but the pressure of being live on the radio to literally millions of people does funny things to you!

Apparently back in Yorkshire, the Yorkshireman's sister was listening to Radio 1 in her car on the way home and was deeply perplexed by simultaneously trying to drive up a steep hill in the snow and wondering if that was indeed me she was hearing on the radio. Fun times!

That night the Yorkshireman, sister dearest and I all went to the Student's Union and stood in the world's longest queue for ages! I actually had 4 wristbands and only needed 3 (no-one else could come at short notice) so I gave away my spare one in the queue while we waited. Eventually our wristbands and IDs were checked and we were allowed in. We rushed to the front (prioritising proximity to the stage over proximity to the bar, which was simultaneously worth it and annoying) and laid claim to our territory.

The show was brilliant fun. The team all sang (some better than others) and everyone in the crowd went mental dancing and singing along. At one point sister dearest shouted something and one of the team (I can't remember who now) laughed in an approving way at her. Chris also smiled at me at one point. Our nights were made. The Yorkshireman wrote about it all afterwards - it's kind of fun to read it back now.

The shows yesterday and today were video broadcast as well as audio. I couldn't view it via the Red Button on Tivo (stupid Tivo) but both days I detoured via the City Hall on my way to work to watch a few minutes of the shows on the big screen. Yesterday I stood in the drizzle as Ant and Dec presented a special version of This Is Your Life for Chris.

Today I sat on one of the benches in yet more rain, looking affectionately on as the team enjoyed their last day.

After a few minutes I got up and turned to walk out of the grounds, when I caught sight of a guy about my age, standing in business attire just off to the side, also watching the screen. We caught each other's eye and shared a look that said it all: this is the end of an era. Then I went to work and broke all the Internet usage rules by watching the last 15 minutes streamed on the Radio 1 website. It was worth it to see the big finale and to be there for the last goodbye.

The following images were taken from BBC Radio 1's online live show

A fittingly musical ending for Chris given that he's now going on to star as Herod in the arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. We're actually going to see it in the Odyssey in October - can't wait!

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I can't remember a time in my adulthood thus far where the Chris Moyles Show hasn't been part of my life. I used to sorely miss it when they were off on holidays and now there's a vast sea of empty mornings ahead of me and I'm not quite sure how to fill them.

Like many of those who have remained loyal to the show for years, as I get that little bit older I like less and less of the music that Radio 1 plays, and I've found myself looking forward to the Golden Hour on Friday mornings more than the latest offering from Nicki Minaj or all this odd dubstep stuff that's so "in" right now. So I'm not sure whether to just cut my losses at being one of the hip and trendy crowd and just move on to a station that plays "all the hits from the 80s, 90s and today!", or whether to give Chris's replacement Nick Grimshaw a try. We'll see.

One thing is for certain, I am genuinely grateful to have had the privilege of listening for all those years, to share in the highs and lows of the team's lives and to feel like a very small part of something so special. I am also genuinely sad that it has come to end. However I'm told that all good things must, so it just remains to wish the team the best of luck and happiness in their future endeavours and again to say thank you. Goodbye, Chris Moyles Show. I'll miss you.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


Weltschmerz. I came across that term in a book once and thought it was an interesting concept. A sadness and ennui about the current state of the world. I have to say, sometimes I really get it.

The world can be a harsh place to live. We live in a time where sarcasm, forcefulness and an unwarranted sense of entitlement are rewarded, whilst those who just try to be nice and fair and get on with things are pitied. Liberal values like equality for all and freedom of choice are sneered at by those who have become empowered by their single-mindedness and ego-centricity, no matter how many others their selfish and ignorant values affect.

Meanwhile everyone is constantly gossiping about one another, judging and sniping. Everyone wants power but no-one wants responsibility. Everyone wants to show that they're in some way superior to everyone else - cleverer, wittier, richer, of a higher moral standing - with complete disregard to how they make others feel.

It's as though the whole world is a giant mountain of people, with everyone trying their best to clambour to the top, not worrying about who they might stand on or push down along the way. There are of course moments of sunshine - the people who love you might try to drag you to the top with them, rather than trample you - but sometimes it just all feels so hard. Sometimes you just want to stop fighting all the time.

Sometimes you just want to shut out the rest of the cold, uncaring world, and just be. No stresses, no egg shells to tread on, no-one to judge you or upset you or force their will upon you. I know, that's not real life - we should "keep calm and carry on" no matter how much we want to scream, and be grateful that it's only first world problems we're facing. But then again, thinking about the problems of others you can't help only adds to weltschmerz really. The world is not fair.

My grandfather has always told me that, "it's nice to be nice", and it is. Even when others get me down, I know that for the most part I am a good person. I have my faults, certainly, but I help anyone who asks for it, and even those who don't. Even when someone is driving me round the bend, I grit my teeth and move past it rather than kicking them in the groin like I might want to. I try to be helpful and friendly, even when it sometimes puts me out personally, and at the end of the day I can hold my head up high and say that, yes, it is nice to be nice.

But some days I just wish it were a motto the rest of the world lived by too.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Games in the Big Smoke

So what is everyone making of the London 2012 Olympics then?

I have to say, I thought the opening ceremony was fantabulous! I sat myself on the sofa with the Yorkshireman one one side and a bottle of wine on the other, then just relaxed and let the British eccentricity flood over me.

Just before it all kicked off I logged on to Twitter. Twitter is possibly the most sceptical and potentially damning place on the Interwebz, and of course there was plenty of cyncism beforehand. There was a sense that there was no way we could ever live up to the spectacle of Beijing in 2008 and so whatever we would offer would automatically be pathetic in comparison. However it was amazing! It was so funny to watch how people went from being so sceptical to being completely in awe.

When the (actual) Queen said, "Good evening, Mr Bond", I thought Twitter was going to implode.

In the end the ceremony had done its job - the British were pumped up with patriotism and pride, with a thirst for medals and great speculation about the closing ceremony to come.

There were only a few asshats who tried to rain on the parade, most famously MP Aidan Burley who thought that a time when millions of people worldwide were online following comments about the biggest, most diverse event in the world at the time would be the best time ever to make comments about it being "multi-cultural crap".

You know, because clearly no-one is going to judge you and/or respond negatively about a little throw-away comment like that... right? Wrongo! Have you met Twitter? It was even more hilarious when he decided to try and back-peddle a bit and made it arguably worse.

But anyways, after the ceremony came the actual games. I think some of us forgot about that in all the excitement of flying cyclists and giant foldy up flower petal flame cauldrons.

So far one sport that's taken me by surprise has been handball. A couple of weeks ago my knowledge of handball was this: "handball exists and is some kind of gamey sport thing." However the Yorkshireman became obsessed by it early on and I've now seen my fair share of people viciously firing balls into nets and dragging each other to the ground with rage in their eyes. It's great craic! I was trying to explain to my father-in-law what it's similar to and the best I could come up with was something along the lines of, "it's like if you played football but with your hands and then mixed it up with the rules of ice hockey." So yes, not very descriptive, but honestly it is! I highly recommend giving it a wee watch.

I've also quite taken to the swimming. I'm mesmerised by how much a human can look like a dolphin when they do the butterfly. Also how damn fit those people are! Anyone who ever doubted that old saying that swimming is the best exercise to work out your whole body need only a take a look at those boyos, let me tell you!

We've also been watching the duets synchronised swimming. Before these Olympic Games, the Yorkshireman had declared that this would be his choice for a random sport he would follow and become an expert at. It's not something we'd ever watched before and it is mesmerising! I'd seen someone tweet this a couple of days ago, and it made me laugh at the time, but let me tell you it is never truer than whilst watching synchronised swimming.

However it's amazing how quickly you pick up on things and by the end of the two hours of the technical part of the duets competition, the Yorkshireman and I were merrily damning albatrosses and double ballet legs that were too low in the water and twists and spins and weren't sychronised enough.

The Russians are the favourites to win and we can kind of see how. They have the height in all their moves (did you know they're not allowed to touch the bottom, so when they go launching out of the water that's all done under their own steam? Dude!) and they might as well have been joined at the limbs so synchronised are they. It's amazing stuff! I'm actually really intrigued about the teams version now - surely synchronising eight people has to be even harder than two?

Other high points of the Olympics for me have been watching Jessica Ennis overtake all of her competitors in the 800m of the women's heptathlon.

Image taken from The Telegraph

She was pretty much guaranteed gold before the race even started but it was such a high point to end on that you couldn't help cheering. Plus she just seems like such a lovely girl.

I'm not really into tennis (the scoring system alone confuses me and I don't have the patience or interest to learn) but watching everyone else go mental when Andy Murray finally won something was good fun too. And then of course there was Mo Farah taking gold for the 10,000m. The "Mobot" became a popular meme for a while:

Image taken from Yahoo! Sport UK & Ireland

So that's pretty much it for my Olympics round-up so far. Weather permitting I'm hoping to go spend some more time watching more of the Games on the big screen in the grounds of the City Hall some time over the next week, which is really good fun. I was there yesterday afternoon and saw Jason Kenny take gold in the individual sprint cycling; everyone watching made some kind of "yes!" or "wooooo!" or "yayyyy!" noise before we realised we were all in public and then smirked to ourselves, half in embarrassment, half in shared joy. Great craic! If you happen to be in the area and it's not pouring out of the heavens, give it a wee go!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The law is reason, free from passion

Title quote attributed to Aristotle

Last week I wrote about the hate-filled comments people were leaving on Belfast City Council's Facebook page following the destruction of a dog called Lennox. Annoyingly a few of them are still hanging around, wishing tsunamis on the city of Belfast and copying and pasting evocative words like "shame" and "killers" in big, black, block letters.

If it's not enough that they're doing this on the post actually about Lennox, they're also doing it on every other post the Council makes, be it about parks winning awards, Rose Week, staff vacancies or, in particular poor taste, about the City Hall being closed due to a hoax bomb threat, which is just ridiculous really.

Plus everything is a conspiracy theory. Apparently they're advertising vacancies because they're replacing people who were involved in the Lennox thing (yes, I'm sure that a Duty Manager of a leisure centre and an Economic Development Manager are intricately involved in the control of dangerous dogs). Also, did you know that the Council planted that suspicious device itself to garner sympathy from the public? 'Cause it's not like anyone else had a motive, bearing in mind the animals rights nutters and the Twelfth weekend just before, no siree!

The sad thing is that I'm completely fascinated with the whole thing. I find myself checking the Council's Facebook page every night to see what nonsense the crazy people have been spewing since the day before.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for freedom of speech (as long as it doesn't hurt innocent people) and the individual's right to question or support anything they wish, especially if it's the actions of a public authority. However some of these people are offending people by what they say (I must admit I don't take kindly to being told that my city should be nuked) and also most of them don't even live in the UK, let alone Northern Ireland (the main offenders seem to be from the USA and Italy for some reason), so what right do these strangers from around the world have to demand an unnecessary "full explanation" and "investigation" from an authority that I (who do not want these things) would have to pay for?

The thing that annoys me about it most is that these people are almost militant in their campaign, but yet they're basing it on propaganda, half-truths and a complete misunderstanding about how our country is governed. I would give them some leeway if the facts of this case were hard to find or obscured in any way, but they're freely available and have even been published in response to the vile comments on Facebook by some of those who have actually done their research before rushing headlong into the debate.

This is how I see it: it is a sad situation when a beloved pet is removed from its family and put to sleep without actually having attacked anyone. However, when you understand the facts of the case, I don't think what was done was unjust or in any way demands a "full explanation" or an investigation. This is my understanding of the matter, based on my own research.

In 1991, it became illegal in the mainland UK (The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991) and Northern Ireland (Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991) to breed, sell or own certain types of dog, one of which was a Pit Bull Terrier type. Note, "type", not "breed" - the legislation made it clear that whether or not a dog was considered one of these "types" was subject to an assessment of its physicial characteristics and a subsequent judgement by a court. This legislation granted the power to seize and destroy any such dogs.

In 1997 the mainland UK amended their legislation (The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997), part of which allowed the court to make certain dogs that had been previously declared illegal an "exemption", if it was satisfied that the dog was not a danger to the public. It took us a while but Northern Ireland implemented similar legislation in 2011 (Dogs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011), specifying in Article 5 (2) that "the district judge (magistrates’ court) may order the destruction of the dog and shall do so unless satisfied that the dog will not be a danger to the public.”

In the case of Lennox, the dog's owners had apparently originally disputed that it was a Pit Bull Terrier type but later agreed that it was, so that matter is not up for debate any more. Therefore what happened next was simply the fulfilling of the legislation. The dog was illegal and its destruction was therefore required by law, that is unless a court found that the dog would not pose a threat to the public and granted an exemption.

In April 2011 the Magistrate's Court had ruled that the dog was to be destroyed as it was an illegal type. The dog's owner therefore submitted an appeal to the County Court, seeking an exemption to spare the dog's life.

The County Court heard the appeal in September, when it took all previous evidence into consideration and also heard two expert witnesses itself. I won't go into the ins and outs of who said what but the written judgement is available on the Belfast City Council website anyway. It is actually quite an interesting read and it's clear that the court carefully considered all aspects before it made its ruling.

I would concur with the written judgement that, given the reports of the dog's potentially violent behaviour (in one case even from an expert witness who had acted on behalf of the dog's owner), there was no way to be sure that the dog would not be a danger to the public and therefore it had no option but to order the dog's destruction. As above, the legislation says that, "the district judge (magistrates’ court) may order the destruction of the dog and shall do so unless satisfied that the dog will not be a danger to the public.” In legislation the word "shall" means "must", i.e. there is no wiggle room.

There was then a bit of legal toing and froing about how the County Court's judge may not have taken into consideration the fact that the Dogs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 allows the Council to set up an "exemption scheme". The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal therefore considered the case in light of this on 12 June 2012. However its verdict was essentially that the dog had been considered too dangerous for an exemption scheme to apply and so it overturned the appeal; the decision to destroy the dog would stand. The Court of Appeal's written judgment is available on the NI Courts website for those who may want to read it in full.

Seemingly there was then a one month deadline for further appeal, which passed without anything being lodged by the dog's owner. Therefore on Wednesday 11 July, the dog was destroyed in line with the legal decision(s) that had been made. The Council, as the body responsible for enforcing the law and the legal decision arising from it, was just doing what it legally had to do.

What I actually find outrageous is that Peter Robinson, our First Minister, saw fit to take to Twitter and condemn the death of the dog, when in reality it was his Assembly that passed the legislation in the first place! Perhaps not the 1991 Order, because devolution hadn't happened at that stage, but they certainly passed the 2011 Amendment without, so far as I can see, any kind of uproar about the law as it stood in relation to this kind of matter.

Granted MLAs have to consider and pass so many laws they probably don't get to sit down and really research them in any great detail, but that's really their preogative. If a point of law resulting from legislation your Assembly has passed makes you unhappy, you should address the matter through the relevant Minister in the fora already set up for such things (Assembly Questions and the like), rather than taking to the public stage to undermine the law, the process and all those involved just to gain a few brownie points with the animal lovers in your constituency.

On Twitter he said he has asked the DARD Minister to review the law, but, firstly what does that really mean? Preumably it was reviewed plenty over the last few years when the Amendment was being drafted and passed. New legislation tends to be subject to review by legal experts, the relevant Assembly Committee and at least one public consultation before the Assembly can pass it. In fact as First Minister, an MLA and the leader of his party he would probably have received notification of the public consultation at least three times. If he didn't comment then, that's kind of his problem; plenty of other people did and their responses are available on the DARD website (search for "response from" to get to them on the list). But to come out now and whine that it's just not faaaaiiiiirrrrr is just downright inappropriate for someone in that position. If the public see that you don't have confidence in the laws your Assembly is passing, First Minister, how are we supposed to trust them? Or you for that matter?

Anyway, I've heard so many opinions on this whole case that it makes my head spin. I wrote a quick three sentence post on Facebook about how ironic it was that people who were up in arms about the death of a dog would be so quick to wish death and destruction on a whole city, and it attracted quite the debate, let me tell you. And I don't even have that many friends to begin with! There were comments from those who have witnessed what happens when a young child is mauled by a dangerous dog and therefore support the law, but also from those who have said that the council staff, by not refusing to disobey the law to destroy the dog, somehow makes them like the citizens of Germany allowing the holocaust to happen during WWII.

Frankly, I'm tired of the whole thing now. Personally I prefer to deal only with the facts of the case and with logic and common sense, which is why I did the research I referred to above, about the judicial rulings made and the legislation behind them.

The animal rights campaigners on the Belfast City Council Facebook page keep harping on about wanting Belfast City Council to answer for what they've done (obey the law so far as I can see) and how they demand a full investigation. Well, investigate it yourselves, people. The information is all out there. But to help you out, here's a clue: if you're taking your facts from a page where someone has photoshopped a picture of the dog to make him look like an angel, or a picture of the Council logo to look like it's running with blood, you may wish to consider that they have a certain bias in the case at hand.

In the meantime I'll probably keep checking the Council's Facebook page every now and then (to simultaneously amuse and frustrate myself) to see what the crazy people are saying now, until they inevitably crawl back under their rock, just like people do with every other cause for outrage in the world. Such is life. And for those who are "boycotting" Belfast because of this? Please do!

P.S. I wrote this post yesterday. This morning I read this article from the Belfast Telegraph about how a dog rehoming charity has been the target of this hate mail campaign because some lazy journalist somewhere in the USA misreported that Lennox had been held there for some time whilst the legal battles were ongoing. Even if he had, how would dog lovers taking care of a dog be any reason to target them rather than thank them?! These people sicken me.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A dog's tale: irony at its finest

I'm sure you'll be aware of the big news story of yesterday around Lennox the dog? Unless of course you're reading this in a couple of years time when everyone will have forgotten about the utter furor despite claims that they will "never forget". We shall see.

The upshot of the story is that pitbull and pitbull type dogs are illegal in the UK, so this pitbull type dog was seized, removing it from its family home. Quite why the family thought it was a good idea to have a breed of dog known to be so dangerous near their vulnerable children in the first place is a different matter altogether. Anyway, after a long legal battle where two courts had ruled in favour of destroying the animal, the deadline for an appeal passed this week and the dog was humanely destroyed. Thanks to the social media age in which we now live, the story went viral and Belfast is now the subject of an international hate campaign, specifically Belfast City Council's Facebook page.

I'll freely admit, I'm not an animal lover in general. However I can see how attached other people in my life get to their pets and how upset they are when something happens to them. So I get why this ruling is upsetting. I also understand that ordering the destruction of an animal whose family have never seem him be anything other than docile and a loving family pet, purely based on his breed, seems outrageous. However those who have handled and dealt with the dog since it was seized have reported that it has shown signs of dangerous behaviour, which is why the Judge ruled that he could not be sure the dog would not cause harm to anyone else.

When I was a teenager, a German Shepherd dog which lived next door to my grandmother cleared a 3 foot wall to jump at me. It apparently had cancer and had gone a bit mad, but knowing that still wouldn't have stopped it mauling me if I hadn't managed to get indoors before it reached me. If I had been smaller and younger I might not have made it on time.

Therefore I am a supporter of dangerous dogs legislation. Have we got it quite right basing our decision on what dogs are legal/illegal based on breed rather than their behaviour, the conditions where they are to be kept, etc? I don't know. But it's not enough to just say that any dog should have freedom to roam the streets and be in proximity to vulnerable members of society until they do something wrong. Because for those animals who really are dangerous, by then it could be far too late.

Anyway, this blog is not about whether or not "the right thing" was done here this week. It is instead about the idiocy of some of those who have taken to commenting on the Belfast City Council Facebook page. I've put a link there but to be honest the page has been removed at least once in the last day, so there's no guarantee it'll still work.

Campaigners have taken to making comments on the various posts the Council has made but some of them are completely over the top. The general themes are that all of the countries in the world hate Belfast, that everyone should boycott the city and all of it products, and that Belfast City Council are murderers. However there are those who have gone too far, threatening the council members and their families and calling for all of the citizens of Belfast to be killed. As one of the latter I take exception to this suggestion.

There are currently over 30,000 comments on the top few posts, with reports that previous comments had been deleted. Here are some highlights (names removed):

"Looking forward for news about BCC members or their families being knifed down!"

"I pee on you"

"you moronic desgusting waste of space power ridden hillbillys FACT,shall be starting conversations with over 500thousand brits and americans to get all your internet accessabilty taken away as i dont think the world really needs to know anything you have to say anymore as you prove you dont listen and have no idea when it comesto a living life ROT IN HELL"

"You are not humans, you are monsters!!! Belfast is the new synonym for injustice"

"We hope your world ends in the same undignified way. Scumbags"

"I wish the gentlemen down the anus to the devil"

"I seriously wish that YOUR children are kidnapped and murdered."

(To someone who had dared to defend Belfast) "enjoy your aids blondie"


"Rain FOREVER in Belfast ..... PLEASE!!!!"

"a drop away of a nuclear bomb! so long bcc!"

"Burn belfast" (well, it was the 11th July last night, so we gave that one a go ourselves)


"That's my family holiday cancelled. You know where you can stick your Giant's Causeway." (should we tell them that Causeway is in a different council district?)

"Belfast is now a black spot on the map of humanity!"

"B nice if ur offices were to..get burned down wen ya in there : )" (the smiley is a nice touch)

"Belfast city has been put to sleep by me. Retarded!" (pardon?)

"MOTHER FUCKERS! Irish people sucks!"

"You guys are going to die a much more horrific death ...."

"JUDGES Drunks, OLD IGNORANT arrogants" (all of them?)

"I will wait for your family to come in Crete island and I will Humanly welcome them........fcktards"

"Unionist=murderers" (from an Italian guy - where did that one come from?!)

"YOUR MOTHER WAS ILLEGAL! IMPUDENT SWINE!!! Heed our words, this shall not go without punishment!!!" (is that a... yo mama joke?)

"Everybody hates you!!!! Belfast is now knows as a horrible city."

"i hope belfast crumbles"

Thanks all. Such a shame you won't be visiting - bet you'd all be great craic!

So it's ok to condemn a whole city and threaten the lives of the whole council (who actually have nothing to do with making the laws or the court orders), but to humanely put down one potentially dangerous dog is tantamount to, and I quote, "concentration camps"? Some might argue there are gaps in your logic.

Anyway I'm off to peek out the curtains and watch for the plagues of frogs and seas of blood that are apparently on their way here. Wishing you all a safe and pleasant holiday weekend... and best wishes to the poor council workers who will no doubt have the most awful time of it next week.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A week of dining out in the wee city

This week the Yorkshireman had a few visitors from the US - timely given that it was Independence Day on Wednesday. I didn't know them at all before they arrived but we soon became well acquainted and spent time together as a foursome (not in that way) every day since Monday. They left this afternoon to see if the grass really is greener on the other side (of the border) so it's nice to think back about what we all got up to this week.

The Yorkshireman and I do enjoy dining out but unfortunately we have a stronger preference for going on holiday and, y'know, paying our rent, so we don't do it that often. Similarly we've discovered that it's cheaper to grab a half price bottle of merlot from Tesco to enjoy on the sofa than hit the bars in town after work, so it was really nice to have our visitors as a valid excuse to spend the time and money frequenting some of our favourite haunts in the city and also trying some new ones.

On Monday evening we met in Northern Whig for dinner.

Northern Whig
Photo source: Belfast Restaurants

The Yorkshireman and I have had some great meals here in the past, and always reasonably priced. Plus I love the d├ęcor in there - I'm a sucker for a chandelier! We got to know each other over their 'two courses for £10' offer, with our visitors opting for starters and mains, whilst the Yorkshireman and I went for mains and dessert. The statesiders thought it was odd that we had a dessert each without sharing, which is apparently the done thing in the US. Dream on - my dessert is alllllll mine!

Our guests then expressed their desire to go somewhere "more traditional". As we were nearby anyway, we took them off to White's Tavern.

White's Tavern
Photo source: Discover Belfast

For those unfamiliar, White's has been around since 1630 and still looks like it on the inside, with its dark beams and (in winter) roaring fire. Alas at 9pm on a Monday night there were only a few patrons around and they'd decided to close up early. Oh well, back out onto the streets of Belfast we went.

Still going with the traditional theme, we walked over to McHughs instead.

Photo source: Wikipedia

McHughs has only(!) been around since 1711, so it's a little younger than White's, but as our statesiders exclaimed, still older than their country. Wow! I guess we take history a bit for granted here. We had a few drinks and continued forging our burgeoning acquaintance for a while. One of our visitors was clearly ready to go all night, but the other was yawning every 3.4 seconds (approximately) so we decided to call it a night. We dropped them back at their hotel and headed home ourselves.

The next night I already had a previous engagement to meet an old friend for dinner at The Point in Ballyhackamore, so the Yorkshireman escorted our statesiders to Gingeroot, a regular hangout for our merry band of amigos.
The Point
Photo source: The Point

Northern Whig
Photo source: In Your Pocket

I actually really loved my meal in The Point (another set meal offer - they seem to be pretty popular in the restaurants of Belfast at the moment - I've declared we shall return for their Sunday roast meal offer sometime soon). Plus they do a mean Long Island Iced Tea (my cocktail of choice). The Yorkshireman and statesiders apparently had a nice meal at Gingeroot too.

After my friend and I went our separate ways, I jumped in a taxi and met the guys at The Spaniard.

Photo source: Hispano-Irish

I love The Spaniard - it's so quirky, the music is good and they sell Brooklyn Lager - what's not to love? However it's only a small space and on Tuesday evening the crowd was literally out the door. With a choice of queuing at the bar for half an hour to get a drink and then standing in the rain with it or moving on to another bar, we (ok, I) opted for the latter.

We relocated to The Cloth Ear, just across the street.

Photo source: Belfast Telegraph

I've been told that The Cloth Ear didn't used to play music (I've only been once before and can't remember whether it did or not) but it certainly had some laid back background music on Tuesday night, which was perfect to allow for conversation and the sampling of something called Jeremiah Weed Root Brew, which tasted like ginger. Odd but nice for a one-off change from Guinness. Then it was back to our respective beds after another late night on the town.

Wednesday was Independence Day in America, but ironically I celebrated it more than our statesiders did this year. My mum and sister always like to have a little Fourth of July family gathering to watch Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum save humanity. Double yum. Combine it with pizza and homemade apple pie and you've got yourself a fun night!

Meanwhile the Yorkshireman had taken the day off work to go gallivanting up the coast to the Giant's Causeway in the statesiders' rental car. They had a long but fun day which culminated in them crashing out back at ours with pizza of their own. Their 24" pizza from Little Wing was a little more interesting than the Dominos I'd had though - the box was bigger than our coffee table! It must have been nice - the statesiders had the whole thing between the two of them (the Yorkshireman went for his own cheeseless pizza... I don't know either!). The guys had also decided to sample every possible ale and stout on sale in Tesco, whereas I was stuck with a few bottles of Coors Light I'd gotten because it reminded me of the happy hours we spent drinking it in The Flying Puck in New York.

The night ended on a strange note with us introducing the statesiders to One Born Every Minute. Being two single males they had declared their curiosity about the childbirth process when we stumbled across the show on the TV listings, but after the full hour we established that it had apparently not been graphic enough for them. Nor me actually - show it like it is, never mind all this blurring malarkey!

There was less gore and bodily fluids involved the next night thankfully. Thursday was such the best night actually! We started with dinner in one of my very favourite restaurants in the city, Made In Belfast Cathedral Quarter.

Made in Belfast Cathedral Quarter
Photo source: Life-in-NI

We'd tried to get reservations for the City Hall one but good luck with that one with short notice on late night shopping night! Besides I like the Cathedral Quarter one just as much. We had great food and good conversation in interesting surroundings, so I had a lovely time. However the evening was only getting started.

In a conversation we'd had a few days before, one of our statesiders said he liked older music, plus they'd both mentioned the traditional Irish thing a few times, so we'd suggested taking them to a traditional Irish music gig. They were entirely agreeable so we headed off to Fibber Magees for Bleana that night.

Fibber Magees
Photo source: The New York Times

The band (two guys playing the guitar, uilleann pipes, tin whistle and singing) didn't start until 10.30pm but we arrived at around 9.30pm and settled in with a drink, quickly afterwards pouncing on a corner table when one became available. Just as well we arrived so early though - by the time the fellas were starting into The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond, the place was packed.

We stayed for their whole set (until well after our carriage had turned back into a pumpkin) and it was such great craic. We drank far too much Guinness for a week night (or indeed any night) but the music was good and it was amazing to watch the couple of people in the crowd who could actually Irish dance compared with the few tourists who were just giving it a good go. By the end of the night the two girls who could dance properly looked like they might be heading for an Irish dance-off but alas the tourists kind of crowded them on the dance floor so the ability to jig about was a little restricted. One thing we did notice is that the ones to watch (i.e. the ones who can actually Irish dance) always go barefoot. Rather them than me in a Belfast pub, but there you have it!

Funnily enough, being a local, going to a traditional Irish folk night never really crosses my mind as something fun to do - another example of taking things for granted I guess - but it was really good fun. Highly recommended for visitors and locals alike.

Somehow we made it out of bed on time for work on Friday morning, but we had one night left to entertain our visitors. We'd asked them what kind of cuisine they were in the mood for and they specified Thai. The Yorkshireman and I have never really gone to any of the Thai restaurants in Belfast, although I'm not sure why not, bearing in mind we love spicy food. Just one of those things I guess, but we were eager to give it a go. I'd heard good things about Thai Village and it was pretty close to their hotel, so we booked a table there for Friday evening.

Thai Village
Photo source: Thai Village

I really enjoyed my meal at Thai Village. I'd been a little hesitant looking at the menu because I don't like peanuts, sweet chilli sauce or shellfish, all of which were heavily featured, but I ordered Seekong Moo Yang (thai ribs) as a starter and Keang Pad (essentially duck thai red curry) with steamed rice as a main. They were all delicious - really tasty and just the right level of spiciness. Yum!

Our statesiders were pretty tired after their long week (as were we!) so we decided to grab one quick drink and then go for a relatively early night. We'd intended to try out the Secret Garden at Filthy McNasty's across the road from Thai Village but unfortunately they wouldn't allow one of our party in because he was wearing sandals, which was a shame but understandable in these days of health and safety paranoia. We decided just to go to the bar at their hotel for a nightcap instead.

One shared bottle of wine in the hotel bar actually soon turned to two, as we got into deep conversations about politics, education and psychological profiling of common acquaintances (to name but a few topics covered) and it was really interesting to discover the differences and similarities between our respective countries. Soon though it was time to say goodnight, with an agreement that the statesiders should call at our house for lunch the next day before they began their road trip to the south.

We figured that we'd covered a lot of different cuisines during their stay, but not really traditional British, so we decided to host an afternoon tea party to send the guys on their way. I dispatched the Yorkshireman to Marks and Spencer this morning for some English themed supplies and set about hunting for my teapot.

The statesiders arrived to a feast of delicate sandwiches, pork pies, cocktail sausages, sausage rolls, salad and a variety of sweet pastries... not to mention tea and coffee (of course they went for the latter). At the beginning they had "wow"ed at the size of the spread, but half an episode of Top Gear later (they love it apparently) it was all gone. I'm glad they seemed to enjoy it!

With our guests fuelled and ready to hit the road, we found some exact change for the tolls they would meet on their journey south and they gave us their last Northern Irish £5 note. And with that, we waved them off on their journey, before slumping on the sofa for the rest of the day. It has been a busy and expensive week but we've eaten really well, drunk a whole lot more than could ever be considered reasonable for any human liver, and gotten to know some very interesting people. To combine the vernacular of our two homelands, I’ve had a feckin' blast!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

When love and hate collide

I've been in a serious relationship now for around 15 months now. It all began very quickly, just after my birthday last year - a whirlwind romance. He was always full of surprises and we had so much fun together, always trying out new things and discovering life together. The world seemed brighter and crisper - time flew by when we were together. It was wonderful.

But after a while, I started to notice things weren't quite the same any more. We'd become very co-dependent, spending all of our time together, but he started acting differently. I'd ask him to do the simplest things for me but he always needed time to think about it. If I dared ask him a difficult question, he would completely freeze me out. Sometimes when I was really depending on him for important things, he would completely abandon me in my hour of need. He even took to drunk-dialling my friends and family, not even stopping when I begged him to please hang up and stop embarrassing me!

Our communication has really broken down lately - sometimes when I'm trying to really get through to him, he just completely switches off and leaves me angry, frustrated and talking to myself, wondering what I've done wrong this time.

As time goes on, I'm just not sure how much longer I can stick it out. I mean, there are still some good times - he's definitely entertaining, always showing me little things that make me laugh, and at times he even teaches me a thing or two - but the bad times now outweigh the good.

I've even sought professional advice and they said I had two choices: stick it out and see how it goes, or cut my losses and run. What would make me happiest is obviously to leave him now and go find myself a younger model. However I've invested a lot already in this long-term relationship and it would just hit me too hard to walk away.

No, I'm afraid there's no backing out now. I'll just have to see how it goes, and try not to kill him in the meantime. Sometimes, when we've had a particularly big fight, I am really tempted. How easy would it be to just... make him disappear? But then I would be all alone and I don't think I can cope with that in this big, bad world.

Is an unhappy partnership really better than none at all? Sadly I'm now so reliant on him that I think it is. Maybe some day in the future I'll be truly happy - just imagine a relationship where you're perfectly in sync with one another, where you know exactly what the other is thinking and you're both working together towards one common goal. Maybe one day...

In the meantime I will struggle on in my increasingly frustrating and unhappy relationship, making the best of a bad situation until something better comes along.

Thank goodness I'm only talking about this eejit:

Eejit mobile phone

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Films, football and festivities, oh my!

Man alive, it has been a busy couple of months! I've already written about how we moved house in mid-April. We've settled in really well in our new house and our new area so far, with only a few minor issues to resolve (the most recent of which involved part of the guttering coming down in the torrential rain we had this week - eek!). Happily, although it has been a busy couple of months since the big move, they have been good ones! We've done a lot of fun stuff... and my credit card doesn't half know it! Here is just a flavour of what we've been up to.

Summary of a busy May and June

Firstly, I can't recall if I've ever written about this before, but my merry band of amigos and I quite enjoy holding themed movie/TV nights complete with appropriate costumes, kind of like our own personal film festival - it's great craic. Our dressing up boxes are certainly a lot more diverse because of it anyway! Amongst others we've had Blackadder night (medieval dress), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (posh dress), Japanese night (complete with origami), Star Trek night (speaks for itself I think!) and Disney night (PJs and bring your own childhood toy).

This year's calendar kicked off with Indiana Jones night on 21 April. The Yorkshireman and I had just moved at this point and spent that morning each making mercy dashes to the various charity shops in Ballyhackamore while the other managed things back home. I got to go first and I somehow stumbled across the amazeballs hat that you see in the photo above. Isn't it awesome? We had football stuff to do that afternoon so it was a bit of a rush to get ready but somehow we were back and all dressed up ready to go watch Raiders of the Lost Ark at our friend's house on time that evening. Another friend, who had visited Egypt last year, had prepared us an Egyptian feast in honour of the movie and it was delicious. And this from the woman who once microwaved baked beans still in the tin!

Next up was Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!) so we had decided to watch, well, Star Wars obviously. Our choice was the original, which is now known as Episode IV A New Hope. However it was on a Friday night after work and we knew we'd all be a bit tired to dress up, so we decided the dress code would be dressing gowns (closest thing to Jedi robes) and light sabres. Luckily not-so-little brother still has a whole arsenal of various toy guns, swords, etc from when he was younger, which happened to include some light sabres. Sorted! By the time the movie was over, we were all slumped and sleepy - dressing gowns are clearly too comfortable for effective socialising!

The next day we decided to forego another Star Wars themed day (even though it was The Revenge of the 5th) and instead attend a little event called the Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park. Our beloved Crusaders FC had fought their way to the final to take on the Marmite team of the Irish Premiership, Linfield. I cannot abide Linfield, with their special treatment from the Irish Football Association, the poor attitude of their players and management and the somehow-overlooked sectarianism of their dumbass fans. I also hate Windsor Park - it is the most soulless football ground I've ever been in, and I am perpetually angry that somehow Linfield get to play a home game in all their cup finals - an unfair advantage if ever there was one. So, I did not go to the final with high hopes. It was just as well really since Linfield won 4-1 on the day. Quelle surprise!

10 May was another public sector Strike Day, both on the mainland UK and here in Northern Ireland. I've written before about my personal feelings on the whole pensions debacle and my reasons for striking the first time around. This time I felt the strike was very badly organised - there wasn't nearly enough hype about it in advance to encourage people to strike or even explain what it was all about, plus by the time I left work on the Wednesday evening, no-one in my workplace had even been told where the rallies were going to be held the next day. I also don't think that the unions had given us enough information ahead of the strikes about the negotiations that had supposedly been going on with the government. The first that most of us heard that the government had said it was no longer open to negotiations was in the news stories after the strike. In truth I probably would have still gone on strike had I known this beforehand, if only for the principle, but it would have been nice to have all the facts on which to base my decision. I'll have to think very carefully about any further action proposed by the unions.

A few days later and it was the Setanta Cup Final between Crusaders and Derry City. Derry are a professional club from the Eircom League of Ireland whose wage bill is probably at least 5 times more than that of the semi-professional Crues. Combine this with our loss in the Irish Cup the week before and hopes for a win were tentative at best. Strangely, even though Derry had been the ones to knock Linfield out of the Setanta Cup, I'd said before either game that I thought we actually had more of a chance against Derry than Linfield, since the Crues (and every other Irish Premiership team) seem to have some kind of mental block when it comes to the blues. It turns out, I was right! Yay!

It was a nail-biting game at the Oval (not Windsor Park, thankfully) and eventually came down to penalties. The Crues are historically, well, not great at penalties, so there was an audible groan in the stand when the whistle was blown at the end of overtime. But somehow we did it! It was a great game, especially for Crusaders' captain Colin Coates, who scored both Crues goals himself, plus one of the penalties. It was his testimonial year last year and what a way to end it! The Yorkshireman and I ended the night dancing and drinking the night away in Crusaders Social Club with the players and hundreds of fans, young and old. When Fun.'s We Are Young comes on the radio now it always makes me smile as I remember when they played it that night, with the players and fans all jumping up and down together , holding the cup in the air and grinning in the disco lights.

That night was also a great night for one of our other beloved teams, the New York Rangers, who made it into the Eastern Conference Final of the Stanley Cup. What a night for sports!

The next weekend we calmed things down a little for another dress-up movie night with our merry band of amigos. This time it was Some Like It Hot and the dress code was, "dresses, even for the boys!" I had great fun dressing the Yorkshireman up in one of my dresses, an auburn wig and teaching him how to apply foundation and blend eye shadow. I have to say he looked rather impressive - he was a very classy lady! I decided it was only fair I make a bit of an effort too, so I dressed up as Marilyn Monroe, complete with blonde wig and drawn-on mole. The film was actually pretty good, although it must be said I'm a sucker for classic films anyway.

The merry band of amigos didn't have much of a break from us after Some Like It Hot night, as the next morning we set off to the Marble Arch Caves on a belated birthday trip for the Yorkshireman. None of us had ever been before but we all thought it was great - the Yorkshireman especially seemed to enjoy combining getting his geek on with his photography hobby. My favourite bit was the (very) short boat ride though the caves. My least favourite bit was climbing the billion steps to get back up to terra firma again afterwards. I really need to get back to the gym!

The next day, Monday 21 May, the weather turned quite warm - a nice surprise for Belfast. However the day after it turned positively hot and stayed that way (in the 20s Celsius) for the next week - it was amazing! It cooled a little bit after that and now the highs are back down to the mid teens most days. If summer is a washout (again) this year, at least we'll always have that week in May... *wistful sigh*

During the hot weather, Eurovision appeared on our radar. We missed the first semi-final but enjoyed watching the second one at mother dearest's house. Eurovision is one of the highlights of our televisual year and we always enjoy getting all judgemental and scoring the various acts. This year was only improved by the addition of European Wil Wheaton! We took from the semi final that Turkey was the country to beat - their act turned themselves into a boat for goodness sake! Check it out: 2m 15s or so in - also keep an eye on the guy at the front of the ship - hahaha! Bring on the final!

The next day was not so much fun, as the New York Rangers were knocked out of the Stanley Cup by the evil New Jersey Devils. Bah! On the plus side at least that was the end of my disturbed nights' sleep as alerts of goals went off at all hours of the night on my mobile.

The next day was a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon. It was the perfect day to go out and enjoy the sunshine, but alas the Yorkshireman is a vampire who doesn't like the sun and so did not want to come out and play. In the end we compromised on going to a bar to watch the Yorkshire derby of a League One Playoff final, with Sheffield United and Huddersfield competing for a place in the Championship next year. We had no real vested interest, other than the Yorkshireman being, well, a Yorkshireman and also a football fan, but it was something to do. As we now live within walking distance of the Upper Newtownards Road, we decided to give The Point a go. We had lunch from their bar menu and a few beers; I opted for Peroni because it tastes like "holiday beer" and sure enough with the bright sunshine outside radiating into the cool bar through the open door, it really felt like being on holiday. Clearly the topless men walking around outside felt the same, as their torsos turned from blusher pink to lobster red.

That night we also attended one of my aunts' 50th birthday party. Everyone was in a jovial mood, even in spite of the inadequate air conditioning in the venue, and the Yorkshireman ended up downing a shot of Piranah in a pint of Stella Artois in one go... a wonderful example for not-so-baby-brother and my younger cousins, I'm sure you'll agree! Sadly the Eurovision final was also on that night, but we had plans to have a belated Eurovision party the next afternoon, so we had to endure a media blackout for almost 24 hours. Do you know how difficult that is in this day and age? No TV, no BBC website, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Google Reader... *shudder*

The next afternoon we did indeed have our Eurovision party at mother dearest's house: scorecards and European themed buffet food at the ready! Our own personal leader board had the Russian grannies as the winners, with self-boatulating Turkey in second place. Alas in reality it was Sweden who emerged victorious in the real thing - they had been 4th on our list so we were willing to accept that.

The next week saw the launch of the 2012 Belfast Film Festival (i.e. the city's official one, not just me and my friends being random). We've been frequenters of various BFF events for a few years now and this year would be no exception.

The first BFF event we attended this year was Zoolander night at The Black Box on 2 June. I love Zoolander - it's so funny - but I think they could have made more of the event itself. Don't get me wrong, they tried hard, but it was a bit too hard - most people want to enjoy the film, a few drinks and the company of their friends, but probably not embarrass themselves taking part in a Blue Steel competition or a walk-off on a catwalk in the middle of the room. I know it's just a bit of fun but when they're struggling to make people take part, it ends up making everyone feel a bit awkward. Some people's costumes were totally amazing though, including a whole table next to us who really went for it, and a guy who dressed as Zoolander in his mining outfit. Kudos, folks!

Then, thankfully, it was a bit of a break from the busy and frustrating hell that work has been for the last while, as it was the jubilee weekend. Sadly the Yorkshireman wasn't allowed any time off but I enjoyed both my days off (sorry darling!). On the Tuesday night I met him in town after work to go and see Men in Black III. I have to say I totally loved it, and not just because it is set in my beloved city of New York and heavily featured "my" building (the Chrysler Building). Definitely worth a watch if you enjoyed the first one/two.

The next day it was another BFF event, this time To Kill A Mockingbird, which was being screened in the Royal Courts of Justice - how exciting! It was a brilliant experience actually. There was a short talk beforehand from someone high up in the legal world of Northern Ireland, which was great except that he probably should have given a spoiler alert before he spoke, since he gave away every plot line in the film. The Yorkshireman, who hadn't seen it before, moodily quipped, "I wonder what's going to happen..." as the opening credits rolled, which made me chuckle. I have to say, the plush leather seats and solid wood benches made it one of the most interesting cinemas I've ever been to! The film, which I'd seen before anyway, was of course wonderful and watching the court scenes whilst actually in a court room really added to it.

Last but not least was our (now traditional) annual film on the Lagan Boat. This year we selected Ghost Ship and set about gathering snacks for the boat. Unfortunately at the last minute one of our group couldn't make it, but we pushed on without her, even in spite of the heavy rain that day. We'd been on a different (two level) boat in previous years but the weather was so horrible this year that they moved us to another (entirely indoor) boat. It was still great fun though. I always love to see the faces of the newcomers to the event as the old hands pull out their bottles of wine and plastic cups... it's like, "surely they're not allowed to do that... are they... oh but other people are too... damn I wish I'd known!" I very much enjoyed my red wine and cheese melts as we navigated Belfast Lough. The only thing cheesier than my snack was the film, but that only adds to the experience really. I already can't wait til next year!

Other than all of our above comings and goings, it has also been a good couple of months in TV land. I was sad that season 3 of Glee finished, but I thought the last few episodes especially were really well done. I can't wait to see how they're going to manage season 4 now that most of the big hitters have finished high school. We shall see! We also had The Apprentice Series 8 to watch. As soon as I heard Ricky Martin claim to be "the reflection of perfection" in the first episode, I took agin' him instantly. However by the end I was glad he won - the rest of them annoyed me or had stupid business plans (or both). I don't think it's that long until The Young Apprentice comes on, although I always feel a bit worse about heckling the younger ones. The other, unexpected for me, highlight on TV in the last couple of months was actually Planet Earth Live. I don't like animals in general and would never intentionally watch a wildlife show. We started watching it by accident (thinking it was maybe more about places on planet earth than animals) but then kinda got into it. I'm still perplexed at myself but really did enjoy it!

And now it's Euro 2012. I don't really care about it at all but at least it'll keep the Yorkshireman out of trouble for a while. I'm just hoping things will calm down a little soon and I might actually get to spend some time just chilling out in our new house without rushing around everywhere. We shall see what the rest of June brings!