Saturday, 29 January 2011

10 O'Clock Live and a laugh of fresh air.

I've been meaning to type one of those posts about current events, world affairs and the ins and outs of all that is driving me nutty in the world. From the Con-Lib coalition helping to force us towards U.K. Corp (where we'll probably just have to be glad to have oxygen we don't have to pay for), to the stresses of the work and the madness of mankind. I know, old before my time, get a life, stop listening to Radio 4 at the age of 26, etc, etc, blah blah blah. The thing is, these things wriggle their way into my conscience each day and must rub my frontal lobe against my parietal lobe or something because it's an action that makes me want to facepalm, then get sorted on some plans to emigrate.


That dissipated a little last night however. After a trip to the Gym, dinner and a short marathon of Star Trek Enterprise, I happened to catch the second episode of Channel 4's new show 10 O'Clock Live. I had meant to sit down to watch the first one but never got chance and it turns out I've been missing out. It was just the shot of comedy on the right subject matter that I needed. As they rattled through their scripts it was great to know I'm obviously not the only one thinking how messed up the system is in this country and, well, the world. Although after watching, the system and 'democracy' in which we live still feels messed up, I don't feel so alone in holding the thoughts I was going to try and express. Thankfully my favourite comedian and his colleagues managed to say it in a better way than I could. Whoever writes it has my kudos flying their way.

Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Charlie Brooker are four very smart and funny people who are also perfectly suited to indulge us in what I can only describe as The Daily Show meets a hybrid of Question Time and Mock the Week sprinkled with a hint of Spitting Image - the Spitting Image thing I think is just a feeling of the show, something in the realms of the similarity of the satire rather than the appearance of the hosts.

Unlike some reviews such as this one by Kevin O'Sullivan on the Daily Mirror website, where it was declared after the first show that, 'as of now, 10 O’Clock Live is dead in the water', I found the show oozes with great humour and intelligent chatter but best of all it doesn't hold back in asking the questions you don't seem to get on other shows, though it does poke fun at the tabloids somewhat. Having now seen the same show he reviewed, I think all I've taken from Kevin's review is that he may be missing two cents of humour short of a dollar of understanding. Maybe he'll change his mind when it becomes the must-view show that I'd say it is, going by what I've seen so far.

If you share my little worries, fancy a bit of comedic release and haven't given it a watch yet, I'd highly recommend taking a look over on the Channel 4 On Demand Website for the 10 O'Clock Live show where if you're in the UK you can catch up with the series so far and choose for yourselves. Other than that, it's on Thursdays at 10pm and then repeated on a Friday at 11.20pm. Episodes are around 45 minutes long. Happy laughing :)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

St Paul's Chapel and the NYC World Trade Center Site

St Paul's Chapel NYCNot an easy subject to write about but I'll give it a go. On the afternoon of our fifth day in New York we visited the area surrounding the World Trade Centre site.

Initially, we were in a garden-like area at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge surrounded by roads with New York City Hall, the very ornate French Embassy and the start of the large skyscrapers of the Financial District. We had just walked across the Brooklyn Bridge but the only thing overriding our desire to see more of the city was the call of nature.

In Starbucks we each bought something and waited for what seemed a lifetime in the queue for the one restroom. Managing to not wet ourselves, we successfully each eased our bladder pressure before leaving.

Norngirl's laptop doesn't have a memory card reader so we first of all took the opportunity to buy a card reader so we could, later on, see and back up our photos from the previous 4 days.  Once our nerdy necessities were out of the way, we then we visited St Paul's Chapel which is open to the public.

Plaque on St Pauls Chapel NYC

St Pauls Chapel Lower ManhattanIn the building itself there is a memorial to the victims of 9/11 as well as religious and historical displays and memorials, such as another commemoration plaque to note the Chapel's link to George Washington, who apparently frequented it to worship back in the day. It seems somewhat bad to visit a place just to dwell on times of pain and suffering but we'd already happened to watch most of the documentaries recounting the events of the day during a previous anniversary of 9/11. Being in the vicinity really does remove some of the distance from the event in more ways than just the geographic, which TV just doesn't always provide. Norngirl had done some research beforehand and knew that the tribute here existed and had been warned, understandably, from visiting memorials that still insensitively referred to the place as "Ground Zero".

In regards to the memorial/tributes, I remember watching the events unfold live on TV back in 2001 on what was an afternoon after school for me.  I can remember it well but the Chapel's tribute gave a different feeling compared to the memories and documentaries on TV. Personally, being what I would consider quite desensitised like most of my generation seems to be, seeing things on TV always seems somewhat detached from the reality. The tribute is quite poignant and really brought home the scale and the lives of those who were caught up in the tragedy but it also gave a more personal perspective from the community in this part of New York, admittedly (being a religious venue) displaying most prominently religious-worded tributes. Amongst other things there were personal photographs and a collection of badges from fire fighters and other emergency services around the world, left in honour of their American peers who lost their lives that day.

Tributes of emergency services in St Pauls Chapel

As you probably know, I'm not a fan of churches and their role in society for the most part but I have to say that this one is that little bit special due to its position, circumstance and role. As well as its history and function, going by the information on display, the Chapel did quite a lot for the area when it needed it most and was an important source of comfort for many. Leaving through the rear of the chapel into the graveyard you really do get a sense of the scale and how close to the collapsing towers the Chapel was. For outside, across a graveyard and literally within a couple of hundred meters, is the site of the former World Trade Centre towers and current site of the World Trade Centre site redevelopment project (Link is a PDF document from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation).

Cemetery of St Paul's Chapel NYC

Construction of  WTC redevelopment plan Tower 2

It really is quite amazing being there and thinking that two skyscrapers once towered above all the buildings that still stand now but that they imploded without leaving much of a mark on most of the buildings around them, even though the mark that was left on humanity is so great. Leaving the grounds of the Chapel, we took a look at the World Trade Centre cross memorial, and then visited the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site which was brought to our attention by the fencing spanning the construction site.

World Trade Centre Cross Memorial

In the Preview Site, apart from all the things for sale, which in all honesty seemed a little tacky given the reason the place existed in the first place, there were some informational boards and displays about the new memorial site featuring two large pools/waterfalls and the buildings that are to be built around the site. The site itself is under construction and it's aimed that the main buildings will be completed in 2013 going by the accounts I can find.

As we were in the area, and to lighten our spirits a little after a sombre afternoon, we had a wander around a department store followed by what turned out to be the worst Subway sandwich I've ever eaten. We then walked up Broadway, criss-crossing between shops looking for some gifts for family back home. We didn't find much, just repeating shops all selling the same things. About a mile along the avenue we were starting to feel the ache in our feet and so got a non-food-related subway uptown where, after some more shopping, we headed back to the hotel early and ordered in.

Overall I found making the trip to the World Trade Centre site quite humbling but worthwhile.  Being close to the site and walking the streets around the site after finding the USA not all that far across the world made the scenes I saw on TV back then, the personal stories and tributes on TV since then and the displays we read in the chapel at the time, all seem an awful lot closer to home.

Though we took some photos of the new buildings being constructed, for memory's sake, the place is not a tourist attraction in the traditional sense. Undoubtedly the curiosity and empathy of people both near and far will bring tourists (who didn't personally know those lost) to the site as we did, to pay respects, to put context to a memory, to learn more. All being well, the 'reflecting absence' memorial that is being constructed on the World Trade Centre site will be a suitable and fitting memorial and the 'footprints', waterfalls and trees certainly seem like a nice idea.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Cold of Winter

Hi lovely readery peoples, how has your January gone so far? Sadly for me, mine hasn't really got started due to the dreaded cold, flu and general all round sickness which has made bed seem like the best location in the world and soup more appealing than sex with chocolate on top, well, only when the cold relief capsules and sinus spray haven't kicked in.

Man Flu

Over Christmas I came down with something that was more of a bad cold than a flu, I tried to kill it off with whiskey and cold relief medication and this either contributed to it's downfall or the virus realised it had a problem and checked in to AA then took up religion. So, as it turned out, I was just feeling better the week after New Years. I got a good week of a fully functioning face without leaks and I even joined another gym with Norngirl. We're not total newbies to the gym but we'd only ever joined our local council one before and now we're attending a cheaper but much shinier one in town. We've made it 3 times so far and there are some fun looking machines to bend you every which way but the the treadmill is still my favourite and this one is very cool... literally, they all have in built fans with 3 settings. It's like running through the streets especially since they have several in the windows looking over the square.

Then from no where came along the reformed virus, born again from the afterlife and looking to convert my cells. *blaaaaaaarrgurghhhhhh*. The day after our 3rd trip, I got the start of a sore throat, that turned into a head cold. By Thursday it had me falling asleep at my mother-in-laws house after work and I dropped into my bed at home soon after 8pm. If I'm in bed without wife or laptop before 11pm at night there is usually something amiss. A long night of fever and sweats followed.

As an undiagnosed idiot (at least not legally) who doesn't wish to be penalised by his workplace for having the audacity to be off sick when I am actually sick, you know, just in case I'm actually sick again later in the year with something I can't physically walk with - I went to work anyway (everyone else does). I felt oddly alert that first day but I think that was more to do with the caffeine in the cold relief capsules, the plentiful supply of snack sized Haribo and throat lozenges that I was using as an aid to create a hole in my neck to get some air in my lungs. Ta Santa! Friday was a harder slog and I was far off the mental and physical pace but each night I had chance to recuperate and I got the work done I had to do.

By the weekend I could narrow it down, it seems I had caught myself some seasonal flu, aka man flu, that scourge of the male psyche, maybe a viral pathogen dreamt up by a pharmaceutical entrepreneur who had gone through a bad break up with a man and wanted revenge and to also make millions of dollars in the process by selling relief that involved making men visit chemists.
I wonder if there will be a mad scientist one day who will come onto a show like Dragons Den and ask for all their money under the condition that otherwise that they will release 'Women's flu' into the populous. No doubt the money lenders will all be sceptical and ask for a demonstration then all we'll see is Deborah stating that she must keep working as she falls asleep drooling phlegmy saliva onto her pile of cash.

So yeah, so far it's not been a brilliant start to the year. Norngirl is under the weather too health-wise. So we're hoping we get well soon and can kick start 2011 again.
On the positive side. With half a month of 2011 gone, one of the vaguely held bucket list of to-dos is ticked off with getting back to a gym, it's stereotypical timing but I won't let that deter us try to look after our health since I'll be happy to not have a face full of snot at some point. One thing that has been surprising, but in retrospect understandable, is the amount of times I've burnt my tongue with hot liquids. Being slightly doped up with the cold relief - a little out of it with the symptoms of the flu and the amount of hot drinks and soups consumed - it all stands to reason. But it's still a stupid thing to do to yourself, a life lesson to be learnt there somewhere.

Other positive news is that we're getting stuck into some DVD box-sets, namely all of the Benidorm seasons which we finished on Sunday and now can't wait for the next season (RIP Mel of course). Next stop is digging our teeth into season 1 of Enterprise, 4 episodes in at the moment.
We know its the least popular of all the Star Treks but I haven't seen all of them and Norngirl is willing to give them a try, so we're going all out.

In other news, Dean the fish is still alive and swimming, the football season is going better than expected and we ran out of gas again... though Dean doesn't mind, he quite likes the cold. Hopefully my sinuses will let me stay out of the house for longer periods soon and I might have more than just the rest of the highlights from NYC to blog about :)

Feel free to post your stories or links to yours pages in the comments section about how your year has gone so far, hopefully you've had more luck than us so far!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Brooklyn Bridge

Am I alone in this? I don't know about everyone else but I always find it quite surreal to go somewhere that I've seen so often but never physically visited. The Brooklyn Bridge was one of those places.

The Brooklyn Bridge NYC

The bridge itself must be up there as one of the most pictured bridges in the world. It has been featured in many TV shows, numerous movies, books and magazines and beyond this, it even has a song or two in its honour! Thankfully, we were lucky enough to have made it there in real life to experience it for ourselves. We had planned into our trip to take a wee walk across the East River and on our 6th day in New York, we had our chance. After some breakfast that morning we ventured to the edge of Brooklyn. We came above ground at High St subway station before crossing the leafy Cadman Plaza and climbing the stairs onto the pedestrian on-ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge itself is elegant with its towers built in a Gothic style. In front of us as we looked forwards was a long expanse of path with splendid arches on the horizon.

Brooklyn Bridge Promenade

The pedestrianised walkway (or the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade), runs above the 6 lanes of traffic (3 lanes each way) on the lower deck and is itself split into two lanes, one for pedestrians and the other for cyclists. Free to roam, there was even quite a view to take in on either side of the on-ramp. To the North of us was the Manhattan Bridge.

Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge

To the side of us at the start of the bridge were buildings which anywhere else would be buildings of note, however across the East River at the other side of the bridge, buildings twice their height or more stood tall awaiting our arrival.

View of some Brooklyn Buildings from Brooklyn Bridge

We walked at a gentle incline until the cables of this suspension bridge caught us in their web, leading us past scenes you'll likely have come across before and passed us through its first arches.

Brooklyn Bridge Classic

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge Arches

I'm unsure if they are usually there but at the time we were crossing the bridge, on its east end there were construction/restoration like protective sheets and metal barriers each side of the promenade, though these disappeared further along. When walking on the path it's certainly best to stick to the left and on the pedestrian side because the cyclists sneak up on you at some speed.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

View of Manhattan Bridge from the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

The view was hazy but still quite spectacular of the Manhattan skyline, especially from the focal points around the limestone and granite towers.

Skyscraper from Brooklyn Bridge

At these points there were also plaques commemorating the structure and also boards describing the buildings which seem to huddle to fill the horizon of the financial district of Manhattan.

Brooklyn Bridge view of NYC

In the distance, as with almost everywhere in NYC, the Empire State Building could be seen. This time though it was souvenir sized, though I'm sure on a clear day it would make a picture postcard scene.

Empire State Building Souvenir?View of NYC from Brooklyn Bridge

At the towers of the bridge you can look down at the traffic below and at the end of the bridge, peer back at angles you're unlikely to see in a film or in a magazine.

Brooklyn Bridge Road

The bridge also seemed a handy perch for the local wildlife such as these starlings.

Brooklyn Bridge Starlings on Cables

On the downward slope to exit the bridge, we came across a group of people who were making the most of a photographic opportunity to look like victims at a crime scene which made us laugh. Then the buildings in front of us really started to loom. It's hard not to look up when you're presented with this sort of view but thankfully we didn't get mowed down by any speed-happy cyclists and could take in the towering skyline once more.

Financial District from Brooklyn Bridge

Out in the river there was a boat circling another, at first I thought it might be a drugs bust like in the movies but as it was it seemed to just be someone having some fun as they zoomed off afterwards.

Boat Circling by the Brooklyn Bridge

By the end, the initial surreal feeling (which was somewhat like going on set of a TV show) subsided. It was a nice walk for us and the bridge is quite a sight even in the age of massive steel structures like the Humber Bridge in Yorkshire (which has shared the honour of world's longest suspension bridge at one time in its history). The views from the walkway are worth the trip alone and the bridge itself is quite an amazing construction given the date it was built (back in the 1880s). The best thing about walking or cycling it too is that it is totally free. Like the Staten Island ferry and Central Park, I'd go so far as to say it is a must if you have some time to spare. It's certainly 45 minutes that will stay long in my memory.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A New York Sunday in the Chelsea Neighbourhood

Carrying on with the story of our New York trip of last November and it was the day after our very long but fun and hungover walk around Central Park. We woke up mid Sunday morning and headed out to explore and take in what the Chelsea neighbourhood had to offer. In our few hours we visited Chelsea Market, had eaten and drank brunch, took a walk along a section of the Highline followed by a walk along the promenade passing the Chelsea piers walking on up towards the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

NYC Highline

I'd never seen these streets (beyond a quick peek on Goggle street view) and so it was again a chance to do some more urban exploring. First we headed toward the market. The streets were traditional New York scenes on 8th and 9th Avenue.

NYC street scene on 8th Avenue

In between the more stereotypical views were some innovative designs being incorporated into some make overs for some of the area's buildings, such as the Dream Downtown Hotel that has apparently been labelled as the 'Cheesegrater', I think I'd call it the 'Cheese Liner' though as it's kinda nautical too.

Dream Downtown Hotel Chelsea NYC

It didn't take long before we arrived at Chelsea Market. It wasn't what I expected but it was a pleasant surprise. The market is indoors but unlike your regular UK indoor market, it is more like a small quaint shopping mall or a shopping arcade like Queens Arcade in Belfast. There were lots of preserves and sweets, lots of books and groceries, lots of cup cakes and breads, all in a small indoor walkway with some themed d├ęcor such as mining themed wishing well water fountain and some metal/stone sculptures.

Some of the cupcakes were quite awesome and looked more like works of art as opposed to a consumable nom. My favourite looking were the Turtles ones!

Chelsea Market Cupcakes

Once we'd had enough of resisting the temptation of buying something to eat, we gave in and headed to a restaurant called Zemi for some brunch. I'd never had a proper brunch let alone having it combined with cocktails before so this was a first and it was very nice... largely helped by those cocktails and the fact the staff had live football (soccer) on TV.

Fuel stop complete, we went looking for a way onto the Highline. The Highline is an old abandoned rail-line that has been turned into a park. We found our way onto it via a few flights of stairs. The Highline has some decent enough views but really its no Central Park especially I suspect at the time of year we were there.

NYC Highline

The plants all just looked like dead or dried out grass and the amount of the Highline which has so far been opened after its regeneration isn't really enough to add much variety to the views you have chance to see from it.

NYC Highline and Empire State Building

If you lived in an apartment nearby then it might be a nice place to take a walk, to get a breath of fresh air or to just watch the world go by, however right now it isn't really a place you could go to do much else.

NYC Highline

It's really just a glorified overpass in the state it was when we visited but from the looks of the sections to be opened in 2011 there is more to come and during the spring and summer months there would be more to see.

We came down from the Highline and made our way west to the Chelsea piers. On the way we came across some more architecture that made us look twice such as the InterActiveCorp Headquarters.

InterActiveCorp Building NYC

However the thing that most caught our eye and made us laugh was the advertisements on the side of the storage containers which New Yorkers must use to facilitate their hoarding with space at such a minimum. They said things like, “Bonfires are a bit final”.

There is a cycle path, running path and at a lot of the points, some promenade to walk down. From the path there was plenty to see, as with pretty much everywhere in NYC the Empire State Building kept popping up:

Empire State Building

Park and Empire State Building

As well as grassy banks to take it easy on like many New Yorkers (probably some of those shattered from cycling, roller-blading and jogging) were doing that day. Easy to see why under the sun with the views across the Hudson River:

River Hudson and Pier

We didn't go onto any of the piers which stretch out into the Hudson River but we did walk as far as the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum where we saw the impressive Intrepid Aircraft Carrier though we didn't go into the museum either.

USS Intrepid

We didn't visit because we were scheduled to do something else that day which was Norngirls drool moment as we were partaking in what we had labelled as 'Camp Day', heading on the Sex and the City tour followed by Italian food and spending the best part of the night in a piano bar in West Greenwich Village.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The 2011 list

So here we are, 2011! The start of a new calendar year - that chosen marker tied to the beginning of another orbit of the Earth around the Sun. A time that seems to offer a chance to reflect, to take stock and to plan ahead. After a nice Christmas away in Yorkshire with my family and after being very appreciative of some down time, I'm going to make a list. Lists are my favourite way to keep organised, even with an outlook calendar I can't beat a simple list. So as well as everything I'll take forward from 2010 here are the new additions to my list of New Years resolution type/ to-do type things for 2011:

General :
- Live a little more whilst we're still young and relatively free n'easy:
      > If affordable, try to make it on at least 2 foreign holidays and take in new places.
      > De-stress a little more often and don't let work stress carry home when at all possible.
      > Book more wee things we like to do like comedy gigs, cinema trips, Belfast Giants games and the likes.
- Remember to back up my hard drive more often.
- Invest in some new shoes.
- Sign up to a gym that is open during hours that are good for me to make use of it.
- Look into the possibilities of moving house (again).
- Use what I have before buying more and stop hoarding junk ( + sort through my mass of t-shirts and get rid of a few to make room for some trousers).
- Keep an eye out for a Career change to something I'd enjoy more that is more suited to my studies.

Blog related :
- Take more photos (I really enjoy photography).
- Spend less time on things like blog promotion and put that time to writing posts.
- Spend more time commenting on the blogs I really enjoy reading.
- Clear out Troll blogs I've been hooked on from my reader (Note to self: I'm human - not a fish - don't get hooked into wasting time debating with ill-intentioned people who don't deserve the attention - especially in relation to those with religious or political ideals I find questionable who like to stir controversy - Northern Irish politicians being the exception since they have a real life influence over our lives)
- Make a new title banner.
- Finally write a post about our wedding and honeymoon.

Hopefully an exciting 2011 ahead for us all and I for one can't wait to live it.

Cat sleeping

As tempting as it is to curl up in a ball and do an impersonation of our family cat, we don't get that many cosmic twirls around the sun so it certainly makes sense to make the best of those we do get. Time for me to get started on that list.

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