A round-up...

So my determination to be a regular blog poster has been challenged - the goal was there, I just failed to make the transformation to action. So what's been going on?

Work trip to London which is always fun. I'm fortunate that my job requires occasional trips to London. When I'm there I usually stay with Dunc and try to get together with Big Chris. Do your kids or nieces or nephews watch Nickelodeon in the UK? Big C is the man behind the magic! Ok so there are probably other people involved. But for me Chris is the wizard behind the curtain. Duncan is kind enough to share his delightful flat with me. We always have a good old catch up and put the world to rights.

The weekend started as soon as I got home on friday night - Julie had our friends over for indian food and a great time as had by all. On saturday we had breakfast at our favourite Avoca - If you ever need proof that Belfast is really going places visit Avoca Belfast!! Their restaurant is fantastic - I can highly recommend the porridge. Of course no saturday in Belfast is complete without a visit to St George's market. I also recently received some book tokens so we hit up waterstones. I've been meaning to get a book on photoshop and I've been messing around with that this evening - the photo above is the fruits of a photoshop session.

So that's probably it - busy work week this week, but it's all good. I'll leave you with this great story from Belfast. Yesterday 4 men were arrested in Belfast for climbing a 200ft crane that is currently operating on one of the many major building sites in the city centre. A totally crazy stunt, but if you've ever spent much time in Northern Ireland you will not be completely surprised that this happened. I can imagine the conversation going something like this: "Come on like, let's climb that thar crane, it'll be great banter." Of course there are crazy people all over the world, but here in Northern Ireland we like to feel we do a special line on crazy young men. Come on Belfast!

Blue monday

Apparently today, 22nd January, is the unhappiest day of the year. A depressing combination of unpaid Christmas bills, terrible weather and the realisation that, 22 days in, we have failed to keep our new year's resolution. I guess the floods across many parts of the UK and the crisis in the US financial markets haven't really improved the mood. The UK news in brief: Weather = terrible, your pension = worse.

My own day was not particularly blue. Yes a little damp, but an Irishman complaining about rain is a bit like an Eskimo moaning about the snow. Inspired by a sunday afternoon flick through the lakeland catalogue we bought a fairly inexpensive slow cooker today. It seems like people with busy lives swear by them. I promise not to swear, but I'll keep you posted on what delights the slow cooker produces.

Julie told me a hilarious story about becoming 'lost in translation' at work. I hope she blogs it. It turned a potentially blue early evening positively yellow.

I blog wirelessly lounging on the bed with one eye on the TV. Damages is about to start so I'll say adieu. I hope your 22nd January managed to buck the trend of gloom and doom. Let's organise a BIG party next 22nd Jan.

A hero called Coward

I was wandering aimlessly round our local food superstore recently. (Julie power shops and I wander - it's a simple division of labour.) There I was in the vicinity of jams and spreads when I saw the 'school bully' from my primary school. It was a weird experience. Funny how nearly 20 years later he remains 'the school bully'! I don't think I was ever 'offically' bullied by this guy. He never took time from his day to flush my head down the toilet, demand money or beat me up. But school bullies are like dark clouds on the horizon. You might not get wet, but the clouds tend to affect your day. Anyway, he seemed smaller - perhaps diminished by the years of being the main man. It's strange, looking back he was a fairly benign bully. Tough kids in school today carry knives and do all sorts of nasty things. I guess we were more innocent in the late 1980s.

I should have said hello. I will next time I see him. For some reason I wasn't really sure what to say. I can recall the precise moment I saw him last. I had moved to a different school, one that was officially 'snobby'. We met on the Holywood to Belfast bus and had a little chat about life. It was not unpleasant and I arrived in Belfast safely.

Anyway, you will no doubt have heard about the amazing incident at Heathrow airport. A British Airways flight from China suffers a catastrophic double engine failure 2 miles out and the co-pilot manages to pull off a miraculously successful crash landing just short of the runway. Some passengers only realising something was amiss as they jump out the emergency exit and slide down the chute. Apparently there were just a few minor injuries. I heard on the news tonight that the heroic co-pilot is called John Coward. No doubt John was the butt of many a joke at school, but today the world discovered a hero called coward!

Julie and I just watched Notes on a Scandal - very intense and a little creepy. Philip Glass' score guarantees you remain on the edge of your seat. Oddly the whole 'scandal' part of an affair between a teacher and pupil, while disturbing, was less creepy than Dame Judi Dench's idea of friendship. Made me think of an english version of Kathy Bates in Misery - without the sledge hammer!

It's official! Weekends are just too short

Where did the weekend go? Our first weekend in Belfast since the hols was great, but went oh so quickly. We had a fun day on Saturday helping my parents out with setting up their new computer. We were over with them on Tuesday and my Dad was sharing his computer woes. It didn't take too long to diagnose the problem. His computer was pretty much dead. So we connected a drip and coaxed it back to life just long enough to purchase a replacement. Julie and I are seen as the resident computer experts. (Did you know Julie is renowned for her typing?) We're not really, but it's great when our limited skills are celebrated! I'm delighted for my parents. The good people of Dell kindly swapped a fantastic computer for some of my dad's hard earned cash. It's the beginning of a new computing era for the senior members of the Noble family, perhaps they'll join facebook?

Today was just as exciting! We made our first trip to Belfast's brand new IKEA. We are "lucky" enough to live a mere 5 min drive from Ireland's first Swedish home megastore. I think in future we will avoid going on a Sunday. We went pretty early and it wasn't that crazy - but things soon got pretty mad. By 2pm there wasn't a single space left in the overflow car-park and cars were tailed back onto the dual carriageway. You could almost hear those clever Swedes saying "Come to Papa you Irish shopaholics!"

I suppose IKEA is another one of those places that everyone seems to hate, but yet we still fill our lives with their funky furniture and garishly coloured goods. Our trip went pretty well. We bought two fairly inexpensive pieces of furniture, some candles and a fantastic IKEA dish-rack. I've built one piece and it seems pretty solid, but I really need an electric screwdriver if this relationship is to continue. Most important of all we got hotdogs! Veggie hotdogs to be precise, which while looking a little anemic totally hit the spot. After IKEA we had a lovely dinner thanks to Julie and did a little churching in the evening. Good to see friends again after the holidays.

So the weekend is over. I really want to stay up and watch Damages which we discovered on Friday night, but we are simply too tired. How long can we use the jet-lag excuse? Thank goodness for the BBC iplayer! Seems like a very promising show.

Will the real Stuart Noble please stand up?

I've been robbed! Well sort of. While reeling from the double whammy of jet-lag and being back at work, I was the victim of identity theft yesterday. Have to say I was really impressed with the swift and effective action of my Bank - Halifax Bank of Scotland. Just before dinner I received three phone calls (one on my work mobile, one on my personal mobile and one on my home phone) and an e-mail asking me to call the bank immediately as they were concerned about a recent transaction. Earlier on in the day I had received an e-mail from Western Union thanking me for setting up an account. Thinking this was just spam I had ignored it. I would realise later this was a mistake

It appears that at some point yesterday someone, somewhere created an account with Western Union in my name and with my e-mail address and transferred £530 quid with my credit card. Thankfully those smart computers at HBOS know my habits and while I recently punished my credit card in Saskatoon, I'm not one to transfer money with Western Union. At the end of the day we had one canceled credit card, one hopefully frustrated Stuart Noble impersonator and one relieved Stuart Noble...the real one that is.

Have to admit I am pretty impressed at the Bank's immediate locking of my account and determination to track me down. Although I'm a bit disturbed as I have no idea how these sneaky fraudsters got hold of my details. Probably it's much easier than you think. I'm still waiting for Western Union to get back to me with some info about the setting up of an account in my name and the transaction I didn't know I'd made.

Anyway, aside from all that excitement we are slowly adjusting to a different time zone and having to get up in the morning and go to work! Still it is good to be back to the job, although I didn't enjoy being heckled by an old lady this week when I was speaking to a group of more mature citizens. Still...they never said it would be easy!

This morning I watched the 1,000 episode of Frasier and it cheered me up no end. I love Frasier, especially at 8:30am! And on that note I head to bed - stay safe out there and keep an eye on your credit card!


So we're back in Belfast - the mammoth journey from Saskatoon went smoothly. A sad farewell to the Brotens at the airport and then about 24 hours of travel. At this point I haven't really slept much at all, but I will admit that I'm starting to feel a little weird!

Brief update on our last days in SK - fun times with the family, a visit to the Flying J for breakfast, a last day viewing of No Country for old Men and a fun meal with lots of laughs and last minutes visitors who kindly called by to say farewell.

I won't bore you with the details of our trip - aside from the great news that I got to watch 3:10 to Yuma on the flight from Saskatoon to Toronto. The plane was equipped with those oh so swish personal entertainment systems - loads of fun. Oh it would also be wrong for me to go further without mentioning Taylor the Head Steward on our Air Canada flight to London. He made the best on flight announcements I have ever heard! Facts, safety info, greetings and a little poetic reflection all delivered in his dulcite Canadian tones. Two gems from last night's performance by Talylor: Firstly, "So this evening as we chase the sun perhaps you are still enjoying memories of 2007 and looking forward to what lies ahead in 2008," and secondly, "If you're tired of London; you're tired of life" - I don't think this was his own, but the delivery was perfect and this being a Canadian airline he repeated everything in perfect French.

It was quite surprising to see green fields and other landscape colours again when we landed in Belfast. I had gotten quite used to the beauty of the snowy prairies; all that white and the consistent blue skies. Aside from the green there was a little bit of white, the remaining evidence of Belfast's recent snowstorm. For some reason our Belfast taxi driver thought we were returning from somewhere hot. I think it was perhaps that we had the red faced look of people who have been traveling for too long and haven't slept in a while. Or perhaps I haven't been washing my face properly during the holidays?

Goodbyes are always tough. Mums, dads, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives; everyone is involved in those sad moments at the airport security barrier. Hard to say bye after such a wonderful holiday. Thanks Brotens et al.

smile, enchant and think english!

So the holidays continue - should I feel bad about that?

Yesterday I was solo in Saskatoon for most of the day since Julie and Anne went Grandmother visiting. After an enjoyable walk round Saskatoon and a visit to the public library (impressive selection of magazines) I went to the Dentist! I am fortunate enough to be a friend and relative of legendary Dental student Nico. She needed a patient for teeth whitening and who better than me to provide the slightly stained enamel; yep, all those years of smoking, drinking and caffeine have taken their toll. I'll admit I was a little self-conscious about the noble teeth. I'm British or Irish, I'm still not really sure, but either way my teeth are not as straight or cavity free as the average Canadian. Julie still has no cavities and all her own teeth! Anyway - I went to the Dental school at the University of Saskatchewan and Nico made a set of trays for me - later I will bleach it up and hopefully have teeth with the old million dollar smile.

After the Dentist it was time to party. Chris Broten, Julie's Dad is 58 on Sunday so we had a extra special early birthday party for him. The celebrations began at Fuddruckers, the restaurant that sounds like a swear. Great burgers, fries and I also treated my bad-self to a chocolate malt. Below see picture of the helpful burger size guide they provide:

It was Chris' birthday wish to have all the family join him for a viewing of Enchanted and I'm glad to report that he got what he wished for. Great movie - if you don't enjoy this feel good fairy tale you don't have a heart. Also, as Always Paddle points out, Patrick Dempsey is in it! Oh la la!
Today we caught up with some more friends and hung out at chez broten. Then this afternoon we went to visit the ninny-goat at her office. Civil servant Julie is growing increasingly jealous of people with fun offices. Nancy takes it to a whole new level. It's not an office it's the "think English zone" where overseas students come to participate in programmes at the U of S. Who better to help them adjust to life on the prairies and learn about Canada than the wonderful and multi-talented Nancy J Broten. Yet another legendary Broten. Fun to see her in her work space and meet some of her colleagues.

So it appears Northern Ireland has had some serious snow in the past 24 hours! Crazy, although I can't say I'm sad to have missed it. Strangely while they shiver in NI we enjoyed a balmy +5 in Sasky. All this snow and guaranteed chaos on Irish roads reminds me a great song lyric I heard recently. In her song, Salt truck, Eleni Mandell sings:

"I want roads I can drive on, I want love I can rely on."

We agree Eleni.

Resolving to Fail

Hopefully it's not too late to be thinking about new year's resolutions. Despite the tardiness of this post I've actually been thinking about the making of resolutions for a couple of weeks. Rather than produce a longer list of resolutions I've opted for the slightly counterintuitive resolution to fail. It seems like we (me, you, everyone you know) tend to create a strong association between new year's resolutions and success and therefore avoiding failure, but I think this is a mistake. In 2008 I don't want to avoid things just because there's a chance they might end in failure.

I have a fairly decent track record with failure. I seem to recall failing my Cycling Proficiency Test, I flunked the dreaded 11+ exam, bombed at least half of my GCSEs, parachuted out of a PhD and got passed over for a summer job at Stewarts supermarket, before they got swallowed up by the mighty Tesco. I could go on. But the point is, even with my impressive failure pedigree I've conditioned myself to fear the F word, which in turn probably stops me from putting myself in situations where I might learn something, grow something or do something. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm going to seek out failure and be oh so happy when I screw something up at work, but I want to shed the insulation and dip a toe or two in the ocean called uncertainty.

So the quote for New Year's resolutions for 2008 comes from George Bernard Shaw,

"A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing."

New Year's Day

Happy New Year! How was it for you? In my 30 odd years I've had a mixed bag of new year celebrations. Granted the first 12 were fairly timid affairs, but once I hit thirteen...wow things got crazy!! My one new year's eve maxim is that if you're watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny with your parents you are probably not having a wild time - but that's probably unfair on my parents!

Anyway this year I enjoyed a unique New Year's eve as we bid farewell to 2007 in the winter wonderland of memorial lake regional park where my in-laws have a cabin. This was the deep snow and frozen laked Canada I had been day-dreaming about back in rain-kissed Belfast.

As usual there are more pics on my facebook profile - but I should point out that these shots don't come close to capturing the stunning beauty of pine trees heavy with snow and the almost overpowering silence of winter in the Boreal forests of Canada. Yes, I'll admit the occasional snowmobile did disturb the peace and quiet, but they were few and far between. Standing in the middle of a frozen lake listening only to the sound of your breath as it freezes makes for a deeply relaxing new year's eve!

When we arrived at the cabin the inside and outside temps were identical, -20, yes that's minus 20! But we got the wood-stove working overtime and plugged in every heater we could find, including one in the outhouse...and you thought they only had heated toilets in Japan! After about an hour we were getting toasty and it was safe to remove one's outer layer. We were joined at the cabin by Julie's parents (Chris and Anne), Nancy, Matt and Cleo and visiting dog-friend Mable the labradoodle. Our time was spent eating, reading, walking and chatting. Matt and Nancy heard the call of the city on New Year's Eve so our number was decreased for the big new year party; we were also dog less which was a bit sad. Ok so the party was for 4 (although there were fireworks on the lake at 10pm) and only 2 made it past midnight. At the moment of significance Julie and I were both reading in silence, Julie was drinking Diet Coke and I was sipping Highland Park. At 11:59 I glanced at my watch and sort of held it up in front of Julie; she looked up, realised we had reached the momentous moment, said "happy new year" and gave me a kiss before we both returned to our books! Crazy!

New Year's day and we started the year with a lazy morning. You'll appreciate we were exhausted after the wild party of last night. A bit more reading, a viewing of the charming and life-affirming Forrest Gump and a final walk in the snow with talk of the year ahead and some resolving. After shutting down the cabin again we headed back to Saskatoon. I've decided that my ipod is probably my favourite acquisition for 2007. I love it! On the way home I listened to music by Dixie Chicks, Sam Roberts and Neko Case - all of which seemed to fit with the snow-covered prairie scenery I had the pleasure of viewing out the car window. We finished our New Year's Day with a wonderful feast at Red Lobster on 8th Street, before getting a sneak preview of Cam Broten MLA's new constituency office.

So all in all a wonderful way to see out the old year and welcome the new. You can keep your Times Square and Sydney Harbour Bridge - I'll take a snow-bound cabin and frozen lake any day.

Hope you and those you love had an enjoyable New Year's Eve - all the very best for 2008...