The highest honour

Between Sept 01 & May 02 I studied for a year at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey. It was an incredible year for many reasons. As well as bringing me relatively closer to my future wife (same continent) I became friends with some incredible people. I'm frightened to think that many of these people are now church leaders, but I still love them and miss them very much. A short time before I left to return to Belfast some of these friends including Josh Reitano and Jay Bowers, declared that they would name an intra-mural basketball team after me. They did. I'm not too sure of all the stats, but the Noblers went on to win the PTS league.

It's probably the greatest honour I will ever achieve - where does one go after that?

Good times in Dublin

Man and Boy walk past fan graffiti, Hanover Quay

We had a great day in Dublin yesterday. The crazy weather cast a slight shadow over the day as it shifted in dramatic fashion from torrential rain to blue skies in minutes - very confusing.

We spent some time in the city centre and then enjoyed an impromptu U2 tour courtesy of Dublin Dave. We drove past Windmill Lane Studios and then had a look at the many fan messages on the walls surrounding the Band's Hanover Quay studios. Tired after all the sight-seeing we retired to The Clarence Hotel (owned by Bono and the Edge ) for a cocktail, a hot choc and a coffee for the designated driver.

Good times in Dublin as per usual. Hopefully our next trip will be for Hawksley Workman - rumours abound of a Dublin gig for the Canadian showman.

"C'mon Ladiezz" and will I ever trust Julie again?

I try hard to battle the aging process and the deleterious effects of gravity. I try to run as often as possible, eat salads for lunch and recently, influenced by my wife, I embraced the world of 'group fitness.' Julie has been a member of a classes only gym for a few months and has been lobbying for me to dip my toe in the sweaty waters of Body Pump etc. I'm currently nursing an annoyingly persistent leg injury which has prevented me from running, so I took the plunge or should I say lunge and have recently been pumping the old noble body. I mean who could resist a class that says: "Get the legs shorts want to wear"? So far, it's been so good, but that was until last night.

Yesterday Julie suggested we go to Body Combat rather than pump. (Is it strange that we go to the gym together?) I pride myself on being an open-minded guy, so I agreed to go to combat, even though there was a little voice in my head saying "I'm not so sure about this." As they say, "pride comes before a fall" and let me tell you friends, things did not go well at Body Combat.

In my defense I did ask Julie a few questions about what went on in 'Body Combat', but she was a bit vague and assured me it was a great workout. Well a good workout it may well be, but it was not a good time for stu.

Body Pump is well populated by the male of the species and I can tolerate the series of bizarre shouts from the instructor, for example: "Strength and Honour"..."Find your perfect moment"..."Live the Dream" and my favourite so far, "Fire in the hole!" No joke. Sadly last night's Body Combat had a male population of 2, the instructor and me. The latter of whom was beginning to think this was not such a good idea. About 2 mins into the class I was no longer thinking. I knew it was a bad idea. I'm not sure what I hated most. Not having a clue what I was doing while prancing around and trying to look like I knew what I was doing was hard going. I also felt the male instructor was intentionally slighting me since he kept shouting "C'mon Ladiezz, let's work it." Thankfully it is my custom to take a spot near the exit and during one of the breaks I ran for the door, probably looking like a man fleeing a room of combative women. I should point out that all the combating and general prancing around was starting to aggravate my leg injury so it wasn't just the fact that I HATED the entire experience.

Poor Julie thought I was going to be furious - "Fire in the hole". For a second I'm pretty sure she assumed a combat stance just in case. But I saw the funny side and was simply relieved to have escaped. Although is it bad that I will never believe another word she says? The funny thing is, I once went to a lunchtime workout class in St Andrews Uni and ending up in a similar situation, only on that occasion it culminated in the excruciatingly embarrassing experience of 'air boxing' with an eminent medieval history Professor. For some reason I didn't learn my lesson.

Celebrating my favourtie Canadian

Today I celebrate my favourite Canadian - no not Celine Deon, but Julianne whose birthday is today. So what better way to mark the day than a thoroughly pro-Canada post. Today's Guardian carries a story about British police officers relocating to Alberta. I've seen reports like this before and over Christmas watched a special feature about the new Brit recruits on Canadian TV. But I liked today's piece because I think in a small way it encapsulates a major difference between Brits and Canadians; namely that those Canadians are a damn friendly people. Here's the word from Officer Jeff Locke one of the cops who has relocated to Calgary:

"No joke, around 10-15 times a day, a member of the public comes up to me and tells me what a good job I'm doing," said Locke. "In 14 years working for the Met, I think that happened twice."

As a frequent visitor to Canada I can say that the friendliness of the locals is not confined to Calgary. Julie and I sometimes debate this issue and while I often defend the people of these Isles it's fair to say that Canadians are a genuinely friendly people. People from the UK who travel in North America are often slightly perturbed by the exuberant and surprising friendliness of Canadians and Americans. The stereotypical response is often to mumble something about insincerity and that while staff in British shops may be grumps, they are at least genuine. I don't buy this for one second. Of course not everyone in Canada is friendly, I know this for a fact, but I think the quote from the Calgary cop highlights a very real distinction between public attitudes and behaviour between the old country and the new world.

So Canadian friends and family on this day of celebrating my own little Canadian I salute you!

This is where I live! Help!

Spare a thought for lambs in Northern Ireland. For people of Christian faith Easter is a time of hope and celebration. For many poor lambs Easter marks the end of life. But hear this. Here in good old Northern Ireland someone decided to put good use to the leftovers and...wait for it...generated the following, highly improbable, but sadly true headline on the BBC website:

"Lamb leg thrown at football match"

Who are these people? Seriously!

Sadly it's not unusual for missiles to be thrown during football matches, but usually the objects are the sort of items carried in pockets: coins, bottles, lighters etc. But a leg of lamb? Someone actually thought about this. Wrapped it up in plastic and hid it under their jacket. How depressing.

my market trader

I think it's important to go public with fulsome praise for my fantastic wife! On Saturday Julie fulfilled a long-term ambition with the first day of trading for the Knitwear deli. Julie and her friend Beth have been planning and working towards the stall for months so it was great to see all the hard work come to fruition. I have observed first-hand all the work and preparation that's gone into this venture so it was great to watch as people stopped and not only looked but bought some of their creations.


I saw a man throw two empty cans of Pepsi Max out his truck door today. I'm still really annoyed I didn't walk over, knock on his window and ask him what he thought he was doing. My inaction bothers me more than his selfishness.

Starbucks are changing it up. As an ex-barista I'm always interested in changes at the buck. The man at the helm of S bucks is the legenendary Howard Schultz. He's something of a god within S-bucks. During my latte making days 'H' was going to grace the UK with his presence. In the weeks leading up to his arrival a notebook was being passed round a variety of stores in the UK and staff were encouraged to use a page to write a note to HW. (No - I'm not joking.) I couldn't make up my mind to refuse or write something witty and sarcastic. The notebook was rapidly filling up with effusive paeans from a worryingly high number of baristas. Sadly the book was whisked away before I could add my tribute.

In other news Coldplay have announced that their forthcoming album will be entitled Viva la Vida (long live life). Chris Martin has good pedigree on coming up with strange names - there's his child 'Apple', his original name for Coldplay, 'Pectoralz' and of course 'Coldplay'. At this point I'm tempted to indulge in some coldplay bashing, but moaning about coldplay is about as predictable as coldplay's music - some of which I like, so I'll resist. Far better to enjoy the new We are Scientists album which is fantastic.

Speaking of music we are going to see Brian Houston in the Empire this weekend. He was on Radio Ulster this afternoon, chatting about life and singing a couple of numbers. Reminded me of how much I like BH and was a great appetizer for the gig.

no shirt, no shoes, no service.

Yesterday I was reading the restaurant review section in the Belfast Telegraph. Typically this is a frustrating experience. The reviewers are always a bit full of themselves and seem to imagine they are sampling the food of the greatest restaurants in Paris rather than Belfast's slightly below par cuisine. Anyway, Friday's review caught my eye because it finished with the following statement:

"Unfortunately our overall dining experience was marred when the man at the table next to us took his shoes off. Judging by the whiff circling our table he'd already done several laps of the nearby Victoria Square (Belfast's fantastic new shopping experience)"

I mean come on people - this is not California where bare or flip-flopped feet are de rigeur. Especially in March when Northern Irish feet have been locked away in shoes and socks since last July. It reminded me of the wonderful sign popular in Waffle House or other similar establishments. However, while "no shirt, no shoes, no service" seems like a good summary it does appear to permit the following:

London street art

I was in London for work this week and used a bit of free time to wander on the South Bank. If you're ever looking for somewhere to relax over coffee and have a leisurely conversation may I recommend the Royal Festival Hall. There's a huge seating area and you can sit undisturbed for a long time. There's also the regular performances that seem to occur with little or no fanfare. My colleague and I were treated to the sounds of a local school choir. Good times.

Just a couple of minutes walk from the RFH there's a great skate park squeezed under a bridge. I've never been a skater, but it was fun to watch a group of guys do their stuff. Sadly no Banksy's amongst the graffiti.

Tell me your truth and I'll tell you mine...

It's hard to talk about Vantage Point without giving the game away. The general idea is that the US President has been shot and we are treated to a succession of eight eyewitness perspectives on what happened. Each perspective sheds a little more light while at the same time deepening the mystery. It's really clever, fast moving and exhilarating stuff. Sadly the film climaxes with a disappointingly formulaic conclusion (which I won't spoil), but in the final analysis it doesn't really detract from a great movie. Vantage Point also gently explores the deceptions perpetrated by the media and governments in a way that is quite thought-provoking, but not 'in your face.'

Watching Vantage Point reminded me of the old story of the group of blind men who examine an elephant - each one feels only one part of the elephant and they thus fall into complete disagreement about what it is they are touching.

So far 2008 has been great for films - Vantage Point is another good reason to visit your local multiplex.

wild weather in the UK

Bright sunshine and blue skies in Belfast today, however, our neighbours in England & Wales were lashed by high winds and heavy rain. The news is full of stories and pictures of storm damage.

past your sell by date?

Tonight we're having a dish we like to call 'the mexican' for dinner. One key addition is plain yogurt (along with cheese, green onions and salsa). Unfortunately the yogurt lurking in the back of our fridge was well past its "best before" date. Julie point blank refused to tell me just how "well past" we are talking. But she's the brave one in this situation and of course began a smelling and tasting session. I should add at this point that our "well past" yogurt was still unopened - we're not that crazy! Anyway, the final conclusion was a thumbs up for the 'off' yogurt. We had a bit of a conversation about yogurt and like many modern conversations it ended with a someone (in this case me) saying "I'm going to google that." My internet search uncovered the following gem which I thought was worth repeating:

"We are raising a generation which will live by sell-by-dates. They are taught all about the importance of them, so much so that they reject food by sell-by-date alone.
Unless accompanied by an understanding of what the food in question actually is, it can go in the bin unopened, despite more advanced refrigeration and hermetically sealed packaging. My daughter is sniffy about yogurt one day past its date. Yogurt! Full of bacteria already, sealed and kept refrigerated below bacteria breeding temperature? Eh?

Changes at the top

Northern Ireland tops the news again tonight. Our First Minster, Rev Dr Ian Paisley announced today that he will step down in May. I imagine the media will go all out tomorrow and then again in May. I guess what's most interesting is the question of what a post-Paisley Northern Ireland will look like. The big man's influence, on both political and religious life, has been felt in our little corner of the world for a long time. His departure in May poses all sorts of interesting questions for unionism and politics in general in Northern Ireland. A changing of the guard, but not merely cosmetic. Watch this space.

What a week for journalists in Belfast. First Paisley says I'm off and then on Thursday it's the opening of the latest venue for us Northern Irish to indulge in our favorite pastime: shopping, or shapping as they say round these parts. Victoria Square boasts that it is a renaissance for Belfast. Perhaps it is and it is certainly an impressive piece of architecture. For many years Belfast was avoided by the 'big' stores, aside from our faithful friend Marks & Spencer, but we've certainly caught up. Retail development here has been relentless - this is shopping on steroids. I don't want to give the impression I don't go shopping; I'm as bad as the next man or woman, but with the credit crunch and many people still paying off the Christmas bills it's "steady as she goes" people.

The Truth Commisoner

The front cover of David Park's The Truth Commissioner depicts a dove in flight. After reading the book it occurred to me that the proverbial bird of peace that adorns Park's book looks a bit like a bird of prey, wings outstretched, talons looking sharp and slightly menacing. A fitting image for this excellent novel's vision of how we address the past.

Park certainly has timing. No doubt he's been working on this book for years, but its recent publication coincides with the highly public work of the Eames/Bradley consultative group on the past and a great deal of conversation in the media about how Northern Ireland will deal with the past. Park's contribution is much needed.

The book tells the story of four people connected by one event from Northern Ireland's murky past. The Truth Commissioner, The ex-Policeman, The ex-terrorist living in Miami and the recently appointed Minister for Children. I don't want to give anything away, but the beauty of Park's work is the way he uses the four distinct narratives to contextualise truth and artfully challenge the simplistic idea that simply telling the truth will heal the past. Park is clearly skeptical of truth commissions and their ability to deliver what victims actually need. At a number of points in the narrative the shadowy hand of high politics can be detected in words unspoken and ideas that are merely implied. The book is not without hope, but it offers a compelling version of Faulkner's observation that "The past isn't dead and gone, it isn't even past."

Ultimately Park's book warns that the in the quest for 'truth,' justice, closure and healing will be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency or for the 'sake of the future'. Political peace can be characterised by a dove, but this book reminds us that it's much messier and the dove can easily become a bird of prey.

There Will be Blood

Last night I experienced There Will be Blood. I say experienced, because this a film one feels and experiences rather than simply watches. If nothing else this is one of the triumphs of this film. When the impact of most major releases last about as long as the popcorn, it's a great and rare achievement that days later one is still thinking about the experience. Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible; mesmerizing, menacing and totally immersed in his role as Daniel Plainview the self-described "Oilman". Day-Lewis' meager output (8 movies in 18 years) is understandable when you see the depths he plumbs for the roles he chooses. His career is living proof that less is almost certainly more. From my completely uninformed perspective Day-Lewis appears to have incredible integrity, character that must make some of his contemporaries squirm a little. Married to the daughter of one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights he has managed to completely avoid planet celebrity; a man you will never catch trying to sell you a watch or a coffee maker.

I'm delighted to say that There Will be Blood surpassed my high hopes. Jonny Greenwood's score keeps you on the edge of your seat and slightly short of breath throughout. Paul Thomas Anderson is a genius and his taut screenplay weaves together a multitude of themes which demand further reflection. If you haven't had a chance to see this film already I recommend you experience it on the big screen. I'm considering going to see it again next week.


Finally! Cinema audiences in Belfast get the opportunity to see There Will be Blood - I'm going tonight and I'm really looking forward to it! Have you seen it?