what does facebook know that I don't?

A selection of advertisements that appeared while I was surfing facebook this evening - just how well do they know me? Apparently I'm overweight and in debt! Time to hit the gym.

have you ever?

Have you ever called or texted a radio show? Do you ever wonder who those people are who do? Julie took the plunge today under the moniker "wee Jul." Visit her at always paddle to read all about it.

the memory of snow

I had lunch today with someone I hadn't seen since before Christmas. He was asking me all about our holiday and time with the family in Canada. Feels like it was a long time ago. I had another look at our pictures this evening. My Canadian family and friends are probably sick of snow ice and sub-sub-zero temps, but I would love a wander in the snow right now!

The Lost Weekend

Poor Julie is sick and has been laid low all weekend. Despite feeling well below par she managed to finish the sweater she has been knitting for a great many months. I'm very proud of my wee knitter. Anyway, with Jul feeling rough and me feeling like I'm on the edge of feeling rough we have had a very low-key weekend. Just perfect for watching multiple episodes of Lost Season 3 - it just keeps getting crazier! Stay healthy!

"You're a nice wee man"

I work from home, but despite living in a built up area the daylight hours are fairly uneventful round these parts. This afternoon there was a knock at the door and I discovered a frail old lady on my doorstep asking for help. Yes - this is a true story. She explained that she had used a piece of stone to prop open her back-door, but today's strong winds had blown the door tight meaning she couldn't open or close the door. On the way to her house round the corner she told me she had cancer. I asked her if she lived alone and she said she lived with her elderly brother. it seemed like a tough situation. Anyway, I sorted out the door and we had a quick chat. As I walked away she thanked me and added, "You're a nice wee man."

I thought this was pretty funny. I don't often think of myself as being a 'wee man'!

winter sun

During winter in Belfast we specialize in the overcast. I remember an entire month during my teens when you could not see the sky and damp gray clouds hung low over Belfast's unimpressive skyline. It was a downbeat month. So this weekend has been something of a delight. It's pretty cold, but the sun has been out and the light has an interesting silver/gray wash to it.

Yesterday and today we hung out and chatted a lot, drank coffee, watched Lost and reconnected after my trip. Today we went to church, drank more coffee and then had a wander in Victoria Park with friends. A good weekend!

Weining around

Work can be tough sometimes - my hardship this week was a trip to Austria to attend the UNGIFT (Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) conference in Vienna or Wein as I prefer to call it. This was a gathering of country reps, UN people and lots of NGOs. It was an excellent time - really interesting conference, lots of networking opportunities and a great chance to get a sense of current and future plans for the fight against human trafficking. We saw a bit of Vienna and also heard speeches by lots of important political folk like Suzanne Mubarak and a few celebs like Emma Thompson and Ricky Martin! It was impressive to see a literal manifestation of the shared global commitment to bring an end to the trade in people. Hopefully UNGIFT will contribute to future steps to curb human trafficking. Stop the Traffik had an opportunity to present 1.5 million signatures (or at least a representation of the signatures) to the gathering and they also took part in the youth seminar. Really exciting to see them take such a prominent place at the UN.

I had big plans to take lots of pictures, but discovered on the flight to Vienna that I had left the battery pack at home in Belfast. I'd love to go back to Vienna - incredible architecture and rich in culture and history, very clean city and lots of friendly people. They have a public transport system that is a classic example of Euro efficiency. It would make the average Brit stare in disbelief at trains that run on time and cost next to nothing! Two slightly disconcerting aspects of life in Austria. Firstly, the toilets have an inbuilt shelf for you to inspect your business:Secondly, it appears the smoking ban, beloved of non smokers everywhere, hasn't yet reached Austria. It's very strange to be sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant and smell cigarette smoke.

It was sad to be away from my beloved on Valentine's day, but she is a very understanding lady! I was unable to get back to good ole Belfast on Friday night so last night I spent a few hours (about 7) in the new Yotel in Heathrow's Terminal 4. Yotel is the latest business venture from Simon Woodroffe the man behind Yo Sushi. It's a hotel room based on a British Airways first class sleeper cabin. It's a great way to catch a few zzzs between flights and I can highly recommend the comfortable bed, shower and wide screen TV.

Today we had an "all-day date" with lots of chatting and catching up, a trip to The Yard in Holywood for brunch, a walk into Belfast and a drink at the bar of the Baby Grand.

stop, look and listen

The simple version of the green cross code: "Stop, Look and Listen" is great advice for crossing roads. I think it's also pretty good advice for life. Reading, watching and listening to the incredible reaction to Rowan William's recent lecture and subsequent interview on BBC radio 4 makes me wish that many sections of our popular press and those who feel the need to "text in with their thoughts" would: Stop for a second, look at what he actually wrote and listen to what he is actually saying. I printed out the entire text of his lecture. It runs to 15 pages and it's hard work - yet it appears that vast swathes of the population feel a one sentence headline is an acceptable summary. There are many things that bother me about this whole episode, here are a few.

It is very worrying that much of the criticism directed towards the archbishop has been directed towards the Archbishop rather than an engagement with what he was actually saying. It's a bad day for all of us if we are willing to settle for second hand opinions and name calling rather than demanding that people do the hard work of actually thinking about Rowan William's arguments.

It is a disgrace that a number of Christian leaders have used this as an opportunity to get the boot into Rowan Williams.

The reaction to his ideas demonstrates a highly insecure population and a venom towards Islam that does not bode well for the future.

But there is hope. I'm cheerful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, despite the apparent death of religion and triumph of secularism an archbishop can still cause an unholy row. Or as one vicar described it, "a media shit storm." But mostly I'm impressed with the rare example of moral leadership that Rowan Williams has demonstrated. Every leader offers a moral vision and has an opportunity to exercise moral leadership. Many shirk this opportunity, some abuse it, few get it right. I'm pretty sure Rowan Williams knew exactly what he was doing. Granted I'm sure he did not anticipate the reaction of the press, his mistake was assuming a level of maturity that no longer exists in British society. But as, Andrew Anthony notes in the guardian today, "this is a strategic attack on secularism." He knew he was stirring the pot and after 4 years in the post he must have had an inkling that his enemies would use his words against him. But rather than conduct some focus groups or listen to the coterie of advisers that our political class seem to reply on, he gave his speech and even went on national radio to make sure his message was broadcast. I'm not saying I agree with his argument - I need to read these 15 dense pages. What I am saying is that leadership is rare and I'm delighted to see the leader of the Church of England demonstrating true moral leadership. Or as the Belfast Beard put it: C'mon beardy!

Friday foto post

The all new Friday foto post - more pics from today on flickr

friday night at the movies

One of the great things about living where we live is the close proximity of our local cinema, The Strand. We can make it from our front door to box office in under a minute. It's a small local cinema so it has a limited selection of movies, but lots of character; a crappy sound-system, but a night at the movies for two can be yours for under tenner. So tonight we dashed up the street to (finally) see Juno. We've been waiting to see this movie for weeks and I'm glad to report it did not disappoint. One of those rare experiences when the reality actually surpasses the hype.

Michael Cera (aka George Michael) is great, but Ellen Page is incredible, making the script and character her own. Go Canada! Juno is essentially a movie about teen pregnancy, but it's so much more than that. I've read a couple of articles that have been critical of it for being Pro-Life propaganda because it doesn't present the option of abortion. Now I'm more than happy to say that I'm Pro-Life so I'm obviously unmoved by an argument that complains about a lack of emphasis on abortion. However, I think this is a pretty jaundiced interpretation of Juno. Yes, it's important to note that the story in Juno is about a teenage girl who decides to have her baby and give it up for adoption, so in that sense it is Pro-Life, but it's equally a story about relationships, family, love and growing up. Juno, the 16 year old slacker misfit is actually more mature and possibly more ready for adult life than the wealthy couple who hope to adopt her child. Highly recommended.

I spent most of the day revisiting research on human trafficking and prostitution in preparation for briefing peers ahead of an amendment that will seek to tackle demand by criminalising the buying of sex. This is a central aspect of the so-called Swedish approach to tackling prostitution and human trafficking. It made for a fairly depressing day, but it's potentially a significant step forward for anti-trafficking measures and it will be interesting to see how the house of Lords responds.

hide and seek

We are just back from a very chilled out 2 days in the west of Ireland. The February weather was as expected, but when you are warm and cosy and drinking Guinness by an open fire the sound of rain beating against a window only increases the feeling of relaxation! Julie has already testified to the wonder of doing very little and the delights of Westport; I will only add that you could play a fairly decent game of hide and seek in the hotel room! Did someone say floorspace?

One of the funniest moments of the weekend was during the walk to the room. The Bell boy, or rather Bell man, Damien, stepped aside to let an old lady out of the lift. She thanked us profusely with a "God Bless you." Our man Damien, looked at us and with a big grin said "Typical Granny" - just imagine this in an Irish accent - it was sweet! Not sure why it was so funny to the Jul and myself, perhaps it was Damien, perhaps it was the fact that there was nothing typical about the Granny in question! Take my word for it: we laughed.

Right now we are watching Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares (The USA version) - it's crazy, trust those yanks to put on a show!!

weekend again

I hate it when people talk about weeks flashing by or days passing faster than they used to, but the past week has just flown. However, it's been good busy rather than bad busy. Without going into too much detail the past week saw me: speak at a church, help organise a public meeting, spend the day with a Peer and visit one TV studio and two radio studios - thankfully I was the shadowy figure in the background on all occasions! Oh and some day I'll tell you about the haranguing I got on the phone from a very random 'Christian' caller. My diplomatic skills were definitely put to the test!

Today we are starting the first of 4 days of relaxation - tomorrow we head away for a couple of nights on the west coast of Ireland - can't wait for quality time with the lovely Julie and hours to read, relax and chat over coffee!

Today we started with a reprise of last saturday: Avoca and St George's market. However, this week we were joined by my mum and dad and bumped into Julie's good friend Beth and her lovely son, Dominic, her husband and other son were also around, but they didn't pose for a photo.
On the way home we discovered a new coffee shop in East Belfast - very exciting! Totally Mojo is well worth a visit. Lovely bagels and coffee, friendly staff and independently owned. They just opened on Tuesday of this week so it was fun to chat with the owner about setting up etc. Anyway, it's well worth a visit. Before you ask: Yes, we did spend our day eating and drinking coffee!

Last week I bought myself a new camera - the ridiculously well-priced fujifilm finepix S5700. Expect lots of pictures to appear on my flickr pages.