Birthday Holiday – a few more days

September 13th, 2013

I’ve now moved on from New York to Washington, where my hotel wants 13 dollars for WiFi, which I’m not paying, so there’s a bit less internet in my life.
So, on my last day in New York, I got on the Metro and went all the way to the to of Manhattan, since I’d been to the bottom earlier. I then walked across the Broadway Bridge, and into the Marble Hill district of the Bronx. It’s quite different to the one in Donegal, not unsurprisingly.
Then on to FAO Schwarz, New York’s legendary toy shop. I have to admit, it was excellent, and I did spend quite some time there.
But to be honest, the highlight of my last day in New York was seeing Matilda. Seeing a Broadway show isn’t cheap, but it was completely worth it – it is a marvellous show, which has all the charm of the book and the film, with splendid new songs from Tim Minchin. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Then back to my hotel for the last time, the packing of the case, and early on Wednesday I got the train to Washington DC. The train was very civilised – I got a seat facing the right way, and there was free WiFi all the way, so I was able to track our progress by Google maps. We seemed to pass through a lot of states – New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and finally into DC.
Spent a very hot afternoon exploring the basics of Washington – the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and a bit of the National Mall. Nice Japanese for tea.
Today, I went to the Capitol, then to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. What an astonishing place it is! When you walk in through the door and see so many historic planes and space ships sitting and hanging in one place, it’s a little jaw-dropping. I spent quite some time there too! And then we had heavy rain for a while.
I’m very impressed with the Capital Bike Share scheme, which I’ve been making use of. Cycling looks to be pretty safe, and for a 10 dollar membership for 3 days, I’ve already used 4 or 5 bikes.
Hopefully will find somewhere to upload this tomorrow. In the meantime, goodnight internet!

Birthday Holiday day six

September 10th, 2013

Four days of walking around New York has left me with pretty sore feet. No blisters, just soreness. So today I did the sensible thing and had a lie in, giving my feet a bit of extra rest. That meant I missed the breakfast in the hotel, and had brunch up the street instead, only some of which I spilled down my shirt. Then got the subway uptown, walked across Central Park, and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As is so often the case, I went in fairly confident that I’m not into art, so it wouldn’t take too long. But the first section was Egyptian, and they had artefacts from places I had visited, so it was very compelling. They even have a complete temple, moved from Egypt and rebuilt in a beautiful large room. And that was just the start – from there it went on to Greek and Roman sculpture, paintings, armour worn by Henry the 8th. Every section had something interesting to see. Especially the roof garden, where the view was splendid.
But not as splendid as from the top of Rockefeller Tower – it not only has spectacular views of the city, but also has a few seats so you can relax and enjoy them a little more, which was very nice. Dinner was very nice tonight too, at the Olive Garden. Plus I successfully managed to use the bus to go back downtown!

Birthday Holiday day five

September 9th, 2013

It’s Sunday, so I had to get up a little earlier in order to make it out to church. There are lots of churches in New York, but I decided to go to Redeemer Presbyterian on West 83rd Street. It was a nice service – no robes or choir and quite informal, but a bit more liturgical than I am used to. The sermon was on wisdom from the start of the book of Proverbs, and was very good. I came back to my hotel, since I had to pass by anyway, and grabbed the belt I had forgotten to put on earlier. A burrito for lunch, and then on to USS Intrepid, an old aircraft carrier that houses New York’s aerospace museum. The ship is pretty impressive itself, but it’s interesting that it houses two examples of obsolete technology that haven’t been replaced with something better. The have the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the prototype that didn’t go into space but proved many of the technologies, and they also have a Concord. Both technical triumphs of their time, and both now retired without really being properly replaced.
Feet really sore after yet more waking around, so gave them a bit of a rest back at the hotel before a very delicious dinner at the Red Lobster.

Birthday Holiday day four

September 8th, 2013

Today, I took a more traditionally touristy path, and did some of the iconic new York landmarks.
Rather than starting the day with a long walk, I got the subway downtown (as they say round here), to the bottom of Manhattan.
I had planned to start with the World Trade Centre memorial, but as soon as I came up from the subway, I found myself beside a lovely old church, and had to go in for a nosy. I was stunned to find that this 18th century church had been just opposite the Twin Towers, and not only survived but became a relief centre for the rescue workers. They provided beds, podiatry, counselling, and just about anything else they could – it was so moving to combine such a beautiful and peaceful little churchyard with that tragic story, and to make something positive from it.

I then got the ferry over to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. It really is a beautiful piece of work – I love the deliberate contrast with the ancient Colossus or Rhodes, as the statue is not a symbol of strength and power, but rather a symbol of hope and freedom. It’s genuinely moving to hear the “bring me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” on the audio guide as you look up at her. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside, as there were no tickets available. The other thing that struck me is how far it is from Manhattan – she does not loom over the city skyline at all – you can only just see her in the distance, which surprised me given her size.

And then as dusk was approaching, I went up the Empire State Building, another symbol of New York. It is a lovely building, and the views from the top are fantastic. They are also pretty much unphotographable with my cheap camera, which doesn’t handle low light very well. Oh well. At least I got to see them.

No, actually I seem to have a fairly good picture of the Chrysler building, which I think is probably the nicest building in New York – it is striking from below as well as above, during the day and at night – I took lots of pictures of it yesterday too.

Birthday Holiday day three

September 7th, 2013

Today I headed out along 40th street to see what I would find there. I was delighted to come upon the New York Public Library – a cathedral to the written word if ever there was one. A beautiful building, but a working one, with lots of people reading away in its lovely surroundings.

And yes, it still looks like it did in Ghostbusters all those years ago. Then more books, when I found Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue. St. Patrick’s cathedral was a disappointment, as they have the builders in. The Lego shop in Rockefeller Plaza was not. And nor was Grand Central Station, which is a magnificent building, where I stopped to have lunch.

The biggest surprise about the UN Building was that there were only 3 lone protesters outside – I had expected to see lots of people there showing there concern about Syria, but there were none. I looked upon the Guggenheim Museum, but decided that while I might like the building, I didn’t want to look at the modern art, so I gave that a miss. Likewise, I walked past the Metropolitan Museum, but for the opposite reason – I will go back there when my feet are up to it!
Will add some photos to this when I get a chance – actual camera to android tablet can be tricky you know!
(Photos now added thanks to my Transformer tablet, with its very handy SD card slot in the keyboard).

Birthday holiday day two

September 6th, 2013

Explored New York on foot today, started walking from my hotel, and made it as far as the American Museum of Natural History. That means I walked most of Broadway, and had a bit of a walk through Central Park, and then spent quite some time in the museum. So far, New York impresses! Hotel breakfast was nice, Times Square is impressive, I like Columbus Circle. There isn’t anything I fancy at the Opera or the Philharmonic, and I especially don’t fancy Fashion Week! Central Park is lovely, and I even saw a wedding happening by the lake. But best of all was the museum. My position on dinosaurs is well-known, but I feel I must reiterate it – dinosaurs are awesome, and I took lots pictures of skeletons. Loss of other cool stuff there too, and the planetarium was also excellent. Got the subway back to my hotel (my feet were killing me), and had a wee sit-down to relax. Then dinner at TGI Fridays (very American for my first dinner : )
In other news, I passed a number of Jewish activities, and it seems that today might be the Jewish New Year, and I think it said the year was 5574, out something like that. So happy new Jewish year to y’all!
And now to bed!

Birthday holiday day one – travelling

September 6th, 2013

Hi internet. First a word of explanation – this is officially my holiday to celebrate my fortieth birthday. It was originally booked for the day after my birthday but it had to be delayed for a few months while my leg strengthened again. So, it’s my birthday holiday.
Day one was spent travelling – Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow, then a bit of a wait, then Heathrow to New York’s JFK.
As usual, I am appalled by the fact that Heathrow runs on buses – Terminal 5 is the newest, most state of the art terminal at Heathrow, but you still have to use a bus to get there.
I also discovered that Wagamama’s curry is hotter at Heathrow than Belfast – not quite as nice, I would say.
My flight was delayed due to security problems with the food. But once we got going, and i was eventually able to get my screen working, I was able to enjoy some in-flight movies.
I liked Monsters University – the classic story of the underdogs achieving the impossible, and two enemies working together and becoming friends.
After Earth was poor – I know I was a bit tired, but it is a bit dull. I gave up on it.
Robot and Frank was very good – a surprisingly touching story of the friendship that develops between a man with an interesting past but a failing memory and his home help robot.
Also watched the first episode of the new American remake of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey. I have to say, it was very good – I’d like to see some more of that.
I got a rotten cold 2 days before I left, but fortunately it was much better, and I wasn’t too disgusting on the plane, thank goodness, despite the usual horrible recycled airplane air.
JFK airport does not impress – very long queues at passport control. But I did get a proper yellow New York cab to my hotel, which was cool. And so I arrived safely in New York!

New Saturday Routine

August 3rd, 2013

Today was my first attempt at what I would like to be my new Saturday routine. I cycled out to the Assisi Animal Sanctuary, on the far side of Newtownards, walked a dog for a bit under an hour, and then cycled home again.

I went to Assisi for the first time on my birthday. I love dogs, and I loved having a dog when I was a teenager, but have to accept that my lifestyle isn’t ideal for having one – if I had a dog, they would spend a huge amount of time on their own while I’m at work, which wouldn’t be very fair. So instead I am participating in the Assisi dog-walking scheme. They have a place full of dogs that need walking, so they are keen for volunteers to come and walk them, on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, or Saturday or Sunday during the day. I walked a dog for the first time last Saturday, when I took Jacko out. Today I was out with Sox.

There’s a nice walk through the Whitespots Country Park, which is an old lead mine works just off the dual carriageway, and fortunately the dogs are well used to walking alongside the traffic. It’s probably good exercise for my ankle, as it’s got quite rough paths with a lot of ups and downs through the hills. And there are plenty of things for the dogs to sniff, so they love it.

The only problem with the whole idea is cycling to and from Newtownards, where the hilliness of the ride makes up for the fact that it’s not very far.
On the way out, you have to get up the hill at Dundonald, which is quite hard going. But on the way back, the hill out of Newtownards is murder. Not helped by the fact I was riding my mountain bike rather than my road bike. Nor by by wind which was not at my back. And definitely not helped by the fact that I had already cycled 20 miles, and walked 2!

But I hope I can make it work, at least while the weather is good, as it’s a nice way of combining a ride with doing something useful!

Sing to the Moon

July 28th, 2013

This is the debut album by Laura Mvula, which I bought a few months ago, and months later I still like it enough to want to write about it.

I heard one song from the album one evening on the radio, and I thought it was very interesting, then read something about her on the BBC news page ( she is one of the sounds of 2013 it seems), and decided to seek her out on Spotify. From a listen there, it was a quick purchase!

It’s a really varied album, from laid back to bouncy, but what I really enjoy is the variety of really beautiful instrumentation – there’s a lot of xylophone (which you don’t get much outside of kids alphabet books). Green Garden is probably the catchiest song, and the obvious introduction. If you like this, you might enjoy the rest of it.

But I have to admit, it’s not my favourite song – I love That’s Alright, which reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk because of it’s heavy use of drums and brass (especially trombones), but I also really like the message of “Who made you the centre of the universe?” in the chorus. You know, now that I listen to the two of them together, there is a lot that separates them, but they do have something in common (the brass doesn’t start until nearly 2 minutes into Tusk, by the way, and it does get louder towards the end). Flying Without You has a similar sound to it – trombones, xylophone and drums, and again a positive message about independence with a great opening lyric – “He was a boy in love, just not with me…”.

But away from the bouncy feelgood stuff, there’s also depth – She, again has the xylophone, but combined with beautiful backing vocals. Father Father is really just Laura and her piano. I don’t know what it’s about, but it’s got feeling. And Sing to the Moon has lush strings and a soaring theremin or something like it towards the end.

So brief summary – I really liked this album when I bought it, and listened to it non-stop. I still really like it. It’s quirky, possibly even eccentric, with a rich variety of unusual sounds that I think is the most interesting album I have bought in ages!


The story of a man and his leg

July 27th, 2013

Hello internet. How’ve you been!

It’s been a while. I guess I’ve been putting off this post if I’m completely honest.

But I should say something about my unexpected life-changing event. (As opposed to the long-expected one when I turned 40 in April, which turned out to change very little).

It all started on the last Friday in January, when I was at Young Life, our new club for teenagers in Craigavon. One of the major parts of Young Life is doing very silly things, and so it was that I was dancing to Gangnam Style, having practised it all week. Towards the end, I had a sudden sensation of being kicked in the ankle. It really hurt. And when I looked round, I could see another leader, dancing vigorously like myself. I assumed she had kicked me. But it really hurt! At the end of the song, I lay down, and couldn’t get up on my own. I hopped off for a wee sit down until the pain passed. But it still hurt a lot when I put any weight on it.

So off I went to casualty at Craigavon Hospital, where the nurses were very entertained by the fact that I had hurt myself dancing to Gangnam Style. Within very few minutes, the nurse diagnosed that I had ruptured my achilles tendon, which was then confirmed by an x-ray showing no broken bones. Apparently it does feel a lot like being kicked, but that’s just the feeling of your tendon snapping. Yuck! Unexpectedly my parents turned up, and were able to take me home, which was good as I left in a pair of disposable trousers and my left leg in plaster to the knee.
I know! Disposable trousers! They are the very thing when you’re putting a leg into plaster, as it saves any cutting of the patient’s trousers.

I stayed at my parents’ house for a week, working from home on my laptop and mobile, which was great for a while, but when they went away for a few days, I headed back to my own house. The fact that my car is automatic, and therefore didn’t require any use of my left leg was brilliant, as it meant I was able to be out and about. While I was on the crutches, I was even able to use disabled spaces, which was kind of fun. And the Tesco home delivery service was great at delivering all the microwavable meals I needed.

After a couple of weeks the plaster was taken off (which was less scary than I had expected – it turns out it isn’t a circular saw – it’s a vibrating thing which can’t cut skin), and I was given an aircast boot instead. It was to be my constant companion for the next half dozen weeks. It was great at immobilizing my leg, and keeping my foot in an equinus position (toes pointed down), but it’s a ton weight, and really hard to sleep in. It was a great relief when my physio (Oran at the City Hospital, who was very good) finally told me I could take it off when I was sitting down or sleeping!

From there, it was still slow progress to get to the point where I could put my foot flat on the ground, and then more before I could put my weight on it. But I met my target of being able to walk again by my birthday. At the start of April, I was able to walk to Tescos without crutches (not very far, but an achievement), and even made it back onto my bike (including cycling back into the office after a long time working from home without going crazy). By the end of May, I was able to do a 15 mile cycle, and a 5 mile walk into Belfast round the shops and home again. I wasn’t doing either very quickly, or very well, but I was at least able to do them again, and was overjoyed.

By the middle of June, I was even able to run a couple of miles, but then had a bit of setback when I hurt my ankle again in London. I am guessing it was running for the train wearing a heavy rucksack, but it was much sorer again after that, so I had to take things a bit easier for a while. But I am now back to being able to walk long distances (like to the top of Cregagh Glen on the 12th of July), and cycle for an hour (along the Comber Greenway). I even took a dog for a walk today! So I’m sufficiently confident in my walking that I have re-booked my cancelled birthday holiday to New York and Washington for September, when hopefully I will be back to full strength.

The whole thing was a fascinating experience – my first major injury in my life, first time in plaster, first time on crutches. I remain astonished at how easily it happened, and how easily I hurt it again (usually playing with my nephew, who is nearly two now, and harder to catch than he used to be). But now, 6 months later, I am over the worst of it, and hopefully it won’t have any long-term ill effects.

So now you’re up to date!