Top movies from 2007

I'm looking forward to reading Santosh's movie list for 2007. His advertisement of a forthcoming post inspired me to think about the year in movies. My first thought was a bit of a blank and I'm sorry to say that I had to resort to a wikipedia article on films of 2007 to kick start my memory regarding the many films I've seen this year.

These are in no particular order - but here's my 10 favourite movies from 2007:

Amazing Grace - I suppose this is a work thing, but I did enjoy the movie a lot.

Zodiac - Some complained that this was too slow, but I loved it, this one also wins the award for best screening. I saw it in a VIP screen in London complete with mini bar and extremely comfy.

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) - Brilliant adaptation of Harlan Coben novel, but made even better by setting the story in France rather than New England. One of the best of the year.

The Bourne Ultimatum - probably one of the best thriller franchises ever, made extra special for us Brits with a storyline that takes in London as well as the usual cast of cool Euro cities frequented by spies.

Knocked Up - This was probably my comedy of the year. Yes - pretty crude, but surprisingly thoughtful and an interesting take on exploring Pro-Life issues. The comedy continued when I read a glowing review/endorsement in a newspaper called The Irish Catholic!

Eastern Promises - tough and gritty, but darkly compelling. I'm a big fan of David Croenberg and Viggo Mortensen's collaborations and look forward to more of the same.

Into the Wild - Possibly my top film for 2007, perhaps swayed by the fact that I loved Jon Krakauer book. Sean Penn's screenplay is outstanding and the cinematography captures the majesty of the great outdoors.

American Gangster - Denzel was born to play the bad guy. Enjoyed this film a lot - interesting to see Crowe in a slightly understated role and playing a somewhat shambolic character.

Atonement - Another outstanding adaptation of an unforgettable novel. I liked this film, but it was by no means my favourite release of the year. Unlike Into the Wild I found it hard not to compare the book to the film.

Charlie Wilson's War - just saw this last week and loved it. Like American Gangster it manages to capture the mood and personality of its time. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic.

Two I'm still waiting to see: No Country for Old Men, I really enjoyed the book by Cormac McCarty and can't wait to see this film! Also There Will be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson directing and writing the screenplay and Daniel Day Lewis - this can only be great! Sadly it will be 2008 before I see them!

Finally the worst film I saw this year was Sunshine - seriously considered a walk out on this one.

It's a dog's life...

Julie and I are DINKS (Double Income No Kids) - not only are we DINKS, we don't have a pet of any kind. My Aunt Amy gave us an aloe vera plant last year, I haven't checked on it for a while, but I don't think it will providing soothing balm ever again.
Our lack of pets has been thrown into high relief during this holiday. My extended family includes two fine dogs: Oscar a standard Poodle and fellow vetran of tree-planting and Shawndee Ceopatra Paper Doll an Airedale Terrier better known as Cleo. Here they are on a recent walk in the snow:

Don't worry they are the best of friends! Anyway, tonight another dog arrived on the scene. She looks suspicuously like Oscar - those Poodles all look the same, but she's called Mabel and is in fact a labradoodle. She has joined us becuase Nancy has kindly agreed to do some dog-sitting.

So all these dogs and all this dog loving has made me feel a little insecure. When you are surrounded by dog lovers you start to question your own humanity if you don't tickle that pooch's tummy every time it joins you on the sofa where you have parked yourself to read crime fiction. You just start to wonder if you've got a heart. So I guess I'm feeling the need to confirm that I am indeed a dog lover. While I am currently dogless and have been for some time, it was not always thus. Somewhere in the deeper recesses of my memory is a dusty folder entitled "Cindy."

My earliest memory is the collection of "Cindy" our black and white Jack Russell. I think we had her for about 17 years so she was about 4000 in dog years when she died. I really did love that wee doggie, we all did. There are some great Cindy stories. I think my favourite involves the noxious lingering farts she laid round the house. (This is probably not how my Mum would choose to remember her.) On one occasion our entire family was at a family wedding in England and we'd left an American preacher who was visiting our church in the house for the long weekend. He had agreed to look after Cindy while we were away. Anyway, Cindy, as usual, had been farting liking a trooper all afternoon, some real sulphurous offerings. Our American preacher was being taken out for dinner by some kind folks from Church. These good Christian people came into our house to pick up the preacher and must have smelt the stench, they could not have missed it, but Cindy was no-where to be seen and the preacher was left to employ the age old tactic of blaming it on the dog. For the record, our house didn't always stink of dog farts, we ended up buying some really fancy and expensive dog food that miraculously made little Cindy's farts smell like roses. I could tell other great stories about Cindy, but I like this one, the canine guile is fantastic.

Cindy - a great example of man and woman's best friend if ever there was one. Sadly Cindy had to be put down in June of 1997. It was left to me to go pick her up and then bury her in our backgarden. I remember this episode with vivid clarity not just because it was really sad, but because I buried Cindy in the middle of a final cramming session for my Philosophy A-Level (Paper II). It seemed somehow fitting that I should break off from reading philosophy to bury my dog. Cindy - I miss that dog!

Dressing gowns were made for Boxing day

I didn't bring my dressing gown (house coat) to Saskatoon, but if I did I would have worn it all day. My family have always tried to fully embrace relaxation on Boxing Day. Everyone is overfed and a little exhausted after Christmas Day, isn't it strange how all that eating tires you out? For years now my Mum has spoken of looking forward to Boxing Day; a day when it seemed acceptable, perhaps even mandatory, to relax. What better way to make sure you relax than wearing your dressing gown all day?

Anyway - don't worry just because I didn't have my dressing gown didn't mean I sat around in the buff all day; this town is way too cold for that. But I did move pretty slowly and spend most of the day reading crime fiction. I bought the PD James novel, "A Certain Justice," last week at a second hand book store here in SK. Really enjoyed being able to read it for most of the day. As a child I once read an entire Enid Blyton novel, one of the Famous Five series, in one day, a feat of reading skill that I'm still proud of. I thought I might achieve reading zen once again, but I'm not finished and it's 1:30am. It's one of those stories that builds slowly, but really draws you in. Highly recommended. Anyway, Julie and I took a break from the relaxing to walk 10mins to Starbucks for an egg nog latte (reduced fat of course) and then went out with the gang (Nancy, Matt, Nico and Jeff) to see a documentary at the Broadway Theatre called, My Kid Could Paint That.

It tells the story of 4 year old Marla Olmstead who gained worldwide fame a few years back when her paintings started selling for thousands of dollars. Hailed as a child genius, Marla was propelled into the media spotlight and her story became huge. My Kid Could Paint That, offers an insider perspective on a fascinating story. I won't say too much, but you should see this movie. Along with the obvious artistic questions, this movie is also about family, ambition, childhood and how the media machine can swallow people up without them even realising, or perhaps realising too late. I really like documentaries and this is one of the best I've seen for a long time.
So that was Boxing Day. But the great thing about being on holiday is we can do it all again tomorrow.

A white Christmas

Happy Christmas!

If you're from Ireland, it doesn't matter how old you are, the sight of snow is always exciting. This year we were pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas; if Saskatoon has anything, it has
snow to spare!

Julie and I enjoyed a Christmas Eve walk today - Sam (happy birthday) requested some snow shots - here is a particularly impressive icicle, there are more on my facebook profile.

In the Broten family they open gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day, so it's 0:13 and we're all sitting round full of food and gifted out - look at these two happy girls:

We had a fun and busy day. Some food prep this morning (Julie's famous pies emerged from the oven and filled the house with that freshly baked aroma that drives you wild), a walk in the snow and a pub lunch; Julie and I decided this would be a new tradition for Christmas Eve. This evening we went to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, the Pastor, Harley Johnson is Dad to Nancy's boyfriend, Matt. It was a great service that climaxed with the church illuminated by hundreds of candles after a great message from Harley that offered a fresh vision of hope at Christmas. We also discovered that Matt, as well as being an expert pie maker and all around outdoor wildman, is a great singer.
A picture of Matt, Nancy, Harley

So we've had a good Christmas eve here in Saskatoon. I hope you have enjoyed your Christmas eve and have a great Christmas Day - enjoy that Turkey and remember thoughts of diets are for 31st Dec not 25th! Happy Christmas!!

Swearing shepherds

Have you heard anyone complain that we've lost "the true meaning of Christmas"? I've noticed this a few times already this year. The evidence is predictable, you know the usual suspects. But before we rush out to storm the castles of political correctness, I think it's important to point out that the chief culprit of killing the meaning of Christmas is those who think they know what it means. These criminals we catch In flagrante delicto.

We retell the Christmas story to each other at this time of year in a hundred different ways: gifts, church and parties each in their own small way express a little bit of the Christmas story. While the main aspects of the tale are retained we church folks have sanitised and polished the story so much that it is beyond recognition. Perhaps you've been to see a nativity play at church or school - aren't those shepherds so cute and those wise men, so wise and that stable so clean. Nothing wrong with cute kids, but the nativity version misses the best bits; those rough and ready shepherds, the dirty stable and those dodgy magicians from the east.

I once overheard some Christians discussing whether God had a sense of humour - yes, how very Northern Irish. While I hate to dwell on dumb questions like this for even a minute, I think the answer is so obvious when you look at the Christmas story - talk about a divine comedy. God born in a smelly cow-shed in some backwater town! My favourite part is that the angelic announcement of Jesus' birth was given to a bunch of shepherds. Far from being clean cut fellows cuddling nice cute lambs and singing hymns they were most likely a bunch of tough hairy outcasts, getting drunk and telling the 1st century equivalent of dirty jokes round the campfire. These were the people God decided to tell the good news!

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. "

One can only imagine their initial reaction when the angel shows up. What choice phrases did that visitor from the heavenly realms hear before adding "Do not be afraid." Perhaps the canadian freeze has damaged my brain but for me this year, the meaning of Christmas is not found in a word or a greeting or a nativity scene or a "religious" play - it's those 1st century shepherds thinking they must have had a bit too much hooch as they run for their lives having just heard the good news of great joy.

brass monkey weather

I've been telling Julie for weeks that I would happily swap the rain and continually grey skies of an Irish winter for the snow and sub-zero temps of the prairie. My reasoning is simple: if you're inside it's better to be looking out at brilliant blue sky and virgin white snow than fat raindrops and clouds that settle on the chimney pots and don't move for weeks. I'm still commited to this position, but Sask takes cold to a whole new level. I decided to go for a run this morning, the temp was

-15, I was dressed for a cold day in Belfast - my run lasted under 10 mins! The last few minutes of my run were accompanyied by my constant repetition of "so cold" - it was a great way to begin the day - sort of like a dry cold shower. Tough guy eh?!

Julie and I once bumped into "celebrity" chef Paul Rankin and his wife Jeanie in Belfast. Jeanie is from Manitoba so we made the - guy from Belfast, girl from Canada connection. Part of the conversation went like this:

Paul Rankin: "You ever been there (Saskatoon) in winter?"

Stu: "Yeah - we were there for Christmas and New Year last year."

Paul Rankin: "Oh Gawd - it would freeze the balls off a brass monkey!"

So I have a fresh respect for these Canadians! Everyone keeps telling me that it's really plesant at the moment and I should have been here a few weeks ago for -30. Anyway - either I dress a little more appropriately for the weather or hibernate and just enjoy looking out at those brilliant blue skies.

eggnog, elvis and evil...

A day of sleeping in, eating out, dog walking and drinking coffee - why do I feel so tired? Apologies if you are still working, but I have tasted the holidays and they are good.

After a slow-motion morning, Julie and I wandered the snow covered streets of Saskatoon with no real purpose - the best wandering is always without purpose. We lunched at the Broadway Diner. I had a Denver and felt comfortable with the numerous pictures of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elivis that adorn the walls. Which reminds me: earlier this year we went to a Church weeknd in Sligo, during one of the social/relaxing times this guy leaned across a table and said: "You've the face of evil..." I sort of smiled nervously and said "Right?" in a fairly non-comital fashion. A few minutes later I was relieved and somewhat flattered to discover he had actually said "You've the face of Elvis". I think it's the sideburns. However, we've never established if he meant the young Elvis or the old Elvis pumped up on fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Anyway, after lunch we had coffee with Liz McT at the Broadway Roastery. Liz is a wonderful person, someone who is as close to the Brotens as you can get without actually being a Broten. After a leisurely coffee Julie and I took Cleo (Nancy's dog) for a long walk - the poor pooch had cold paws by the end of the afternoon wander.

This evening we had dinner with the Pierce family. Another chance for Julie to catch up with old friends and my chance to meet new people. I always enjoy meeting people who have been an important part of Julie's life. Over the years I've acquired knowledge about many Sask people I've never met - such and such a person's son or brother or sister etc. Tonight I finally got to spend time with the Pierce brothers and Val - they lived up to their rep and we had a fun evening eating, drinking coffee and chatting. The conversation was wide-ranging and funny - they highly recommend The Movie Blog for all your movie needs.

This is my third north american Christmas, one in New Jersey and two in Canada. For some reason I always like to consume a little egg nog when I'm celebrating Christmas on this side of the atlantic - perhaps it's the whole Elvis thing. Today one of my few goals was to drink some egg-nog, but I've failed - I'll have to put that on the to-do list for tomorrow.


Busy day today. It was still dark when Julie, Chris (father-in law) and I left Saskatoon for the trip south to Regina. While the Queen City is always worth a visit our main purpose was to visit the Saskatchewan Legislature, sit in on question period and hear Cam Broten MLA (Julie's brother) give his maiden speech. Before the speech we were given a tour of the magnificent building by a wonderfully enthusiastic tour guide - we three felt like we were 6 years old again, but we sure learned a lot. Julie, an ex-tour guide was impressed!

It was great to be there on such a significant day. Cam's speech was excellent and we were really proud of our son, brother and brother in law.

After our time at the legislature we tried to visit the new RCMP (Mountie) museum, but we didn't have enough time to get the full experience so we settled for a cup of coffee and a conversation with a very random barista who was bored. Our chat with him made up for missing out on the tour.

No trip to Regina would be complete without some Rosom time. The Rosoms are part of Julie's extended family and we had dinner with them and the legendry dentist Nico at The Mongolie Grill - tasty! Yes it's Mongolie not Mongolian. We discovered that adding " bed" to the end of any fortune cookie fortune is guaranteed to produce much hilarity - seriously you should try it bed!! (see!)

So a good day in ole Regina - along with all of the above we accidentally stalked the Australian High Commissioner to Canada who was also in town for the day. He was sitting across from us during question time and also turned up at the RCMP museum, I guess he decided to pass on dinner at the Mongolie Grill...(in bed)!

happiness is only real when it's shared

Another day another post, this is a first! The holiday continues to do exactly as it says on the tin - relaxation all the way. Yesterday I skipped a baby shower that Julie and nancy had organised and went to see Into the Wild a film I've been hoping to see for some time. I read John Krakauer's excellent book a few years back and was excited when I heard that Sean Penn was working on a screen play. The film tells the story of Chris McCandless or Alexander Supertramp as he called himself - after graduating from Emory he gives the $24K that remains in his college fund to Oxfam and tramps around North America. After camping and living in various locations he fulfils his ultimate ambition and makes it to Alaska. I won't go into the details, but the story makes for a compelling tragedy. The movie does a great job of telling a complex story and I was impacted by Chris McCandless' geographic and psychological journey. His discovery that "happiness is only real when it's shared" is deeply moving within the context of his story. Incredible shots of Alaska - reminded me of our time in Northern BC and the Yukon.

Today was fun - Julie and I celebrated 5 years since we got engaged. Not sure if you're supposed to celebrate one's engagement, but we were back at the scene of the crime and thought we'd mark the day with a nice breakfast and a walk in the snow.

Aside from breakfast and coffee - we did some Christmas shopping and I indulged in one of my fav pastimes, browsing in second hand bookstores!

back in saskatoon

Yes - this blog is very neglected! Julie has done a good job of regular posting, so good that I gave up, but here I am again with a little time on my hands and that almost new year "must do a better job of (fill in blank)" feeling.

We are back in Saskatoon for Christmas and New Year - it's been a year and a half since our last visit and five years since we were last here for Christmas. On that occasion I got down on one knee and asked Julie to marry me - she agreed!

It's great to be back to see family, meet dogs and enjoy the 'deep freeze' that is SK. My poor wee irish body was somewhat shocked by the -10 temp (although this is pleasant according to the family). My mother-in-law was worried they would find a frozen stu before Christmas so I've got some long johns, a new hat and some approriate footwear to protect my body from the elements.

Aside from staying warm we have been relaxing and spending time with family. I think I'm totally switched off, although I had the most vivid dream last night about forgetting a meeting I was susposed to be at - very odd!

the Duke at the waterfront hall

For those of you not in the know - the gentleman above is Duke Special aka Peter Wilson, a Belfast based singer who has had a truly amazing year. He's always had a very faithful local following - one of the first fun things Julie and I did when we moved to Belfast was go see him play at The Empire - I think it was October. Anyway, since then he has signed with V2, played some huge gigs and travelled the globe to perform his incredible songs. Last night he played with the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast's Waterfront Hall - it was a special free concert organised by BBC Radio Ulster, the cathedral Arts festival and I think there was some lottery money in there also (thanks Jul).

The duke's set was amazing and his songs sounded so good with the full orchestra. Another local act on the rise, Foy Vance, also played a short set - On the basis of last night things will be getting big for Foy - incredible voice and some great songs. He's already been handed the accolade of having one of his songs used on Grey's Antanomy (read: worst show ever, but loved by my wife - oh mc Dreamie etc, Meredith Grey - did I hear you say narcissistic?) - anyway don't think badly of Foy if you hate Grey's - his, as yet unnamed, debut album is out next month.

Speaking of narcissistic - the award winning Julie Feeney was also on the bill. According to the blurb - Julie Feeney has 15 masters degrees and composed, arranged and probably decided on the seating plan for the entire event. One review of the event suggested "The music is also edgy and this informed classical scholar resists the temptation to put fluffy strings on everything."

I think this misses the point - if you've got a 65 person orchestra you should make the best possible use of it - I could see some of the underused members of the Orchestra sitting looking pretty fed up for long periods of Julie's song cycle - More Foy and more Duke would have been better - perhaps they don't have the classical training and numerous masters degrees, but they've got the tunes and dare I say it, the soul.

Anyway - it was a great event - of course this is Belfast so within 5 mins I'd bumped into my old boss from Starbucks and saw a bunch of other people I knew.

come fly with me

Last year my Dad faced one of life's imponderables - what do you get the woman who has everything for her birthday? Or perhaps 'seems to want for nothing' is a more accurate way of describing my Mum. Anyway, inspired by Mum's recent revelations about enjoying helicopter flights and dreaming of riding a motorbike along the North coast of Ireland, my Dad bought her a one hour flight in a small plane. On Saturday - Mum, Myself and Mr Chris Broten (Julianne's Dad) took off from Newtownards airfield. Oh yes - I should add that we were joined by David, our laid back, but fully qualified pilot from the Ulster Flying Club.The weather was great for the flight - a little on the misty side, but visibility was pretty good. We flew over Strangford Lough to Newcastle and then over the Mourne Mountains - mostly at between 2500 and 3000 ft which meant we were able to see a lot of detail - like the first 1 min of your average flight in a commercial jet. I know the Mournes are not exactly mountainous to those of you used to the delights of real mountains, but they looked incredible from our little Cessna 172 (SP) - very inviting for some hiking later this summer.

After our flight over the Mournes we followed the coast for a while and flew over Portaferry and watched as the famous Portaferry ferry departed for Strangford. Our pilot - who was mostly the very drool David (As we fly over a Graveyard comments, "that's the dead centre of Newtownards." - nice one Dave) worked hard to get us into position for a great picture opportunity of the two ferries passing - enjoy!

My Mum was under the impression that our one hour flight was a sort of aeronautical pleasure cruise, however, it can actually count as one hour of the many hours it requires to become a pilot. About half-way through David showed Mum the ropes...err controls...and for a time 'Lisburn Granny in Kamikaze mystery' could have been a viable headline. To be fair Mum did a great job of flying and I think old Dave was impressed. Here she is at the controls:

It was such a great way to see the countryside and loads of fun - I'd defintely go again, but I'm not quite sure I'm ready to spend the £5K required to get a pilot's licence. I will admit that I'm sometimes a little nervous at 35,000 feet, but my little trip in the Cessna was nerve free - not sure if it was the view or being able to see what was happening at the controls. Perhaps it was the absence of crap food and rubbish movies, who knows? Here's one last shot to illustrate both the good times and the close confines enjoyed by passengers on a Cessna 172- look at that smile!

st pat's day in belfast

You'd think st patrick's day in belfast would be a serious day
out - you'd be wrong. Belfast city council try their best, but I'm not sure about the brains behind their celebrations. There's a parade, which is fine if you like parades, but the high point is an outdoor concert at Custom House Square. On the bill this year: Sandi Thom, Samatha Mumba and someone even less famous - I'm so unimpressed I can't be bothered to google the full line up! I suggest they combine the fee they paid to Thom and Mumba and pay for someone half decent - take a risk, rather than go for the safely mediocre! I should add that in my humble opinion Sandi Thom released one of the worst songs of the past few years - I was I was a punk rocker - it is so bad.

Werner Herzog

Two videos below for your enjoyment - both feature the legendary film director Werner Herzog (continuing on from the Grizzly man theme). One is a fascinating interview with Henry Rollins, the other an interview with BBC film critic Mark Kermode, during which Herzog is shot by a sniper in LA! Herzog's comment, "It was not a significant bullet."

Werner Herzog on Henry Rollins' Show.

Herzog gets shot by LA sniper during interview

gotta love those extra features...

Took a day off today since I worked all day yesterday (sunday) - unfortunately my day off arrived on the same day as a cold so I've been sitting around staring into space and dosing myself with vit C and other seeminly ineffectual remedies. The one bright spot in the day was the chance to watch Grizzly Man - we have had this on loan from amazon dvd for weeks and haven't had a chance to watch it. If you haven't seen it I recommend. Most people know the story of Timothy Treadwell - the filmmaker and enviromentalist who was killed, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard by one of the bears he was filming in 2003. It's a tragic and compelling story and the way Werner Herzog tells Treadwell's story is incredible - like all great documentary filmmakers he uses the specifics of Treadwell's story to tell a bigger story about nature, human nature and our place in the world. What makes Herzog's work unique here is that he doesn't tell the bigger story with a megaphone, but rather in a gentle whisper.

Like most dvds Grizzly man includes some 'Extra Features' - along with the trailer (hardly an extra worth getting excited about) there's a 'making of' movie that shows how they put the soundtrack together. It's incredible and I almost wish I'd watched it first since I would have appreciated the music even more - it's one of those rare moments when you get to peek inside the world of incredibly talented people collaborating to produce something magical.

six weird things about me

kate vp 'tagged' me and I'm now required to let you know 6 weird things about me. Incidently - I have been a terrible blogger of late, work has been fairly hectic and I've neglected my blogging. Anyway, six weird things about me. Not sure how we define 'weird'. Hopefully it's not supposed to elicit information about malformed body parts or other 'weird' stuff. Here's my weird/things you don't know about me list:

  1. As a child I desperatly wanted to be a farmer when i 'grew up' - I had a huge model farm in my bedroom which I played on for hours. My nieces now play with my tractors and little plastic farm animals.
  2. I love crime fiction - mostly american writers; Michael Connelly when I want some fast paced action, James Lee Burke for a more literary approach to themes of violence and dealing with the past. During a time of extended unemployment I read a lot of crime fiction and started to write a crime fiction novel set in Belfast. I think my love of crime fiction dates back to a childhood passion for Enid Blyton mysteries - I once read one in its entirety in one day.
  3. I was a terrible pupil at school - I failed my 11+, (exam for NI kids that determines where you go to school), was put on daily report in 3rd year (age 14) for bad behaviour and did badly in my GCSE exams (age 16). Thankfully a stint working at a petrol station brought me some much needed academic maturity and after getting into St Andrews I spent nearly 10 years in university!
  4. I once went to see the Christian band DC Talk play in Belfast. I'm not proud of that. However, during their set I jumped over a crowd barrier and jumped around on stage with the band before being 'escorted' off stage by a bouncer. One of the band was wearing a cool nike baseball cap which I tried to take as a memento, but he grabbed it back from me. When I was back in the crowd I got high fives all over the place, it was pretty cool.
  5. I love stationary - pens, moleskine notebooks, writing name it I'm always on the look out for something new. I can never have enough stationary. One day I plan on buying a Mount Blanc fountain pen.
  6. I read blogs, like 43 folders and books like Getting Things Done, about being organised, but my office is always chaotic and and desk covered in papers, books, files and stationary. I am a terrible administrator.

10 most visited websites...

This image has nothing whatsoever to do with the following post...

Where do you go? Aside from Julie's blog here's are my ten most visited sites. (In no particular order and kind of off the top of my head rather than based on any serious analysis of my history folder!)

  1. BBC news (and BBC radio)
  2. Guardian unlimited
  3. Amazon
  4. Wikipedia
  5. Slugger O'Toole
  6. 43 folders
  7. Slate magazine
  8. You tube
  9. Google
  10. imdb
Not sure what this list says about me - easyjet,, hotmail, g-mail, yahoo mail, the wonderful flickr and dreams unlocked are also up there - as I've said this was more of a spur of the moment...what sites do I visit regularly... rather than a rigorously researched experiment.

If you've got any recommendations let me know - nothing dodgy mind this is family viewing!

cursed or jinxed?

Once again I found myself stranded in London. This time it was the worst storm for nearly 20 years that caused my unexpected overnighter. Don't get me wrong I enjoy going to london, I just like having a change of clothes and those other little essentials when I stay over. Thankfully I wasn't stranded at the airport this time and ended up having a meal out with my good friend Duncan and a pleasant wander around the Tower bridge area of London. I shouldn't complain - I encountered a number of people yesterday who were watching their weekend break rapidly disappearing before their eyes.

I was chatting to my mum this evening, telling her about my experience. I suggested I was cursed or at least my successful transition through Standsted airport was cursed - she preferred jinxed.

Big Brother hysteria continues - apparently Jade has just been evicted, but for her safety no baying crowds will 'greet' her exit. I have two observations about the BB racism furore: Firstly, I find it odd that a number of commentators are suggesting that class is the issue and not race. If your anger or rudeness towards another pivots on race how is that not racism? Secondly, I think it's really interesting how people have really been getting the knives out for Jade Goody. I'm no fan and have always found her post-BB "achievements" strange. But some of those who have championed her as some sort of people's princess, a sort of English inversion of the american dream (i.e. no talent, no work ethic and fame for breathtaking stupidity = a few million in the bank) are leading the call for Jade to be hung, drawn and quartered. Oh Jade - it appears the party is over.

Damon Albarn (Blur and Gorillaz) has done it again. Apparently the eponymous debut from the oddly named The Good, the Bad and the Queen is a minor triumph. I'm also pretty anxious to get my hands on Bloc Party's new album, A Weekend in the City which comes out on 5th Feb - this one will take them higher and higher.

With you always

Thanks to Sara C for pointing me in the direction of the With you Always website - the 'artwork' above, entitled executive comes from the site. I love how Jesus is sitting meekly in the corner as the executive looks like he's saying, a la The Apprentice, "you're fired!" There are a number of other pictures such as welder, student, barber, golfer and my personal favourite truck driver -

I'm not sure exactly what the Jesus figure is supposed to be doing here - in the mind of the artist he's probably keeping the old mac truck on the straight and narrow. In my twisted mind Jesus looks like he has kidnapped the poor fellow and is forcing him to drive south of the border!

An oscar for Beckham?

Never mind the increases to our interest rates or more troops to Iraq - the big news today has been the announcement that David Beckham is heading west. After finishing up with the Spanish - he's hitting the major league and the LA Galaxy. It's been interesting to see the reaction amongst pundits and fans - of course everyone has an opinion - David tells us he's up for a new challenge, but no one wants to hear something as predictable and safe as that. Your average English football fan cannot comprehend why somone would foresake the wonders of Manchester for LA! I think he's going to try and break into movies personally - £128 million over 5 years for the footy, a few acting classes on the side, some movie business buddies...David Beckham...coming to a multiplex near you - it will happen.

The whole Beckham phenomenon is so interesting - A google image search for 'David Beckham' provides a fascinating range of pictures - most of which have nothing to do with football. But I guess he's not lacking in the looks dept. His story is an interesting insight into the world of sport, celebrity and everything that lies in between . Anyway - good luck to you David, you appear to be relatively unaffected by it all so perhaps you are a pretty decent actor.

return of the the mazda

Our car finally emerged from the garage today - it has taken so long for the repairs I was expecting a brand new vehicle, but there she/he/it was. My pockets are a little lighter, but I'm glad I didn't take the earlier advice of our mechanic and head straight to the junk yard.

The guy who worked on the car was classic - oil and grease all over his face, he looked like he'd just been doing battle with an oil soaked enemy. As he passed the keys over he took a sideways glance at the mazda and shook his head adding, "that one was a heartbreaker." Much as that sounds like a compliment I think it translates to "I hate you and your crappy car."

rain stops play...

Sometimes living in Ireland, north or south is a real pain! Forget the wonderful green fields and pints of Guinness - it just rains all the time! The mazda is still in the car hospital and while we've enjoyed walking and using public transport, sometimes you sort of need a car. Last night we set out on the walk to church, but after a few minutes we realised we'd end up sitting through the service in a puddle of our own creation - surely sinful! Now when I say puddle of your own creation I don't mean...well you know...what I mean is that we'd be sitting there soaked. Anyway, I know it sounds soft, but we turned back and went home to make chili. I know this makes us sound like terrible examples of the faithful - but at least I'm being honest. And the chili was good!

stop the traffik


Been preparing a presentation on Human Traffiking today - depressing stuff. As some of you will know 2007 is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. This year there will lots of commemorations and a great deal of talk about William Wilberforce and the achievements of the abolitionists. There's even a movie coming out called Amazing Grace (Nth American release date is 23 Feb apparently). A lot of charities and NGO's are using the commemoration to highlight the plight of those who have been traffiked.

If you're interested in doing something with your church, youth group or friends visit: stop the traffik for loads of information and suggestions of ways you could join the campaign.

Friday already?

Short week this week - not starting work until Wednesday does that! Only days into the new year and my resolution to have a TVless month is under threat - Julie is watching Ugly Betty which started tonight on Channel 4 - apparently it's really funny! I'm tempted but remain committed, however, it may turn out to be a long month! I'm not even sure exactly why I've opted to skip TV, I think I just wanted to read a bit more - but as yesterday's confession demonstrates I'm not claiming that my reading material is always particularly challenging!

Besides reading I'm keen to explore the radio a bit more. The internet has opened a whole world of possible radio listening, but I'm still staying close to the familiar shorelines of the good old bbc - mind you they have a pretty incredible range of stations. Recently they've started broadcasting Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour on BBC6- yes Dylan as Dj - he's fantastic, sounds a bit like someone doing an impersonation of Bob Dylan, but it's a really great show and well worth a listen. Incredible mix of music and much interesting chat from the man himself. Themes include: weather, cars, food and sleep - xfm has the full list of songs and playlists.

Two great pieces in today's guardian: Firstly a news blog story about various acts of heroism in New York City - and secondly, do you have an ipod or have you ever used a mac? Did you think it looked cool? Then read all about the man behind the design, the elusive Jonathan Ive.

Finally I should mention julie's great post - she's blogged one of the best youtube vids i've ever seen - not like you haven't already paid her a visit today, but just in case...go watch it and think about beauty...

What's your guilty pleasure?

I asked this question at a dinner party recently and it caused a few raised eyebrows and an awkward silence. But the question is not intended to encourage a salacious response! Please...keep it clean. A guilty pleasure is that past-time, food, book or trashy TV show that you really love, but keep secret from friends, family and colleagues for fear that they will think badly of you. Asking the question actually brought about some hilarious revelations that provided new and interesting insights into the lives of our friends. I recommend the question for your next dinner party - just be careful who you ask!

What's my GP I hear you ask? Easy! Crime fiction - in particular the Harry Bosch series of novels by Michael Connelly, but if I'm honest I'm fairly indiscriminate in my love of Crime Fiction.

According to a survey reported in the guardian book section Stephen 'scary novels' King tops the list of books that people consider 'guilty pleasures'. Say no to guilt - Happy reading, watching, eating...

friends, resolutions and rain

Andi and Demitri left yesterday. Their departure was the final nail in the coffin of our holidays. Like two unhappy school kids Julie and I sloped back to work. Well it wasn't that bad, but we did experience the post-holiday blues for a while. It also poured down today - big fat rain drops bouncing off the street - Julie got soaked on her way home and turned up on the front door looking like the proverbial drowned rat!

Talk of New Year's resolutions has been in the air during the past couple of days - I am avoiding TV for at least the month of Jan (movies on dvd and trips to the cinema are, of course, permitted), blogging with greater frequency and hoping to do a triathlon in 2007.

It was great to spend time with A and D - we also had dinner with a dear friend of mine from St Andrews, Andrew and his wife Nice - I think one of the major downsides of how modern life allows us to stretch our wings and briefly live anywhere we want is the friendships we make and then can only maintain (sometimes badly) from afar. Like many people I went 'away' to university and now I've got all these great friends who I rarely get to see. Added to this is the Canadian-Irish dimension of our life and it's enough to make a grown man cry, or at least feel sort of sad! I was feeling pretty down about this, thinking of all the people who have been part of my life over the past few years and how I'd love to see them more often. But I was reminded of how life is richer because of those friendships and I felt a little happier. Happy New Year friends - wherever you are

the treadmill dance

A great music video by a band called ok dance, (the song is called 'here it goes again.') They clearly spent a long time working out the routine - the result is fantastic. For those of you who are on a new year health kick be warned: Don't try this at your local gym!

Happy New Year!

Happy new Year - welcome to 2007 - we have andi and demi staying with us and today we spent the day at the north coast, including a walk at the Giant's Causeway and ice-cream in Portstewart. It was pretty cold and a little wet, but we had fun and enjoyed the day!