Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Top 20 Movies of 2005

2005 produced some gems of movies buried in the continuing output of Hollywood rough. The industry has had its worst year in nearly two decades, largely, I believe, due to mediocre remakes and disappointing sequels putting the punters off from buying tickets. So let us hope that Hollywood pulls its finger out and gets back to basics. Great films have always been about a great story, not CGI and explosions. Understand Michael Bay? Good. Now let us begin. Below are the top 20 movies of 2005 in no particular order.

The Descent - After a tragic accident, six friends reunite for a caving expedition. Their adventure soon goes horribly wrong when a collapse traps them deep underground and they find themselves pursued by bloodthirsty creatures. As their friendships deteriorate, they find themselves in a desperate struggle to survive the creatures and each other.

History of Violence - Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, A History of Violence is the tale of Tom Stall. Tom is a loving family man and well-respected citizen of a small Indiana town. But when two savage criminals show up at his diner, Tom is forced to take action and thwart the robbery attempt. Suddenly heralded as a hero who took the courage to stand up to crime, people look up to Tom as a man of high moral regard. But all that media attention has the likes of mobsters showing up at his doorstep, charging that Tom is someone else they've been looking for. Is it a case of mistaken identity or does Tom have a history that no one knows about? Either way, someone's about to find out if there's a history of violence.

Sideways - Miles is a failed writer living a meager existence in San Diego as an English teacher. With his career seemingly fading and the fate of a book hinging on a publisher's decision, Miles is depressed with himself and what he hasn't achieved. Jack is a television actor whom some recognize but not many do, as if he were a minor actor who got a taste of success. With his best friend Miles, the two embark on a road trip through California's wine country. Miles wants to give his friend a nice sendoff before married life, while Jack simply wants to have a fling beforehand. As they're both nearing middle age with not much to show for it, the two will explore the vineyards while ultimately searching for their identities.

Garden State - Andrew Largeman is a depressed, out of work actor eking out his existence in Los Angeles. But a fateful call from his father has Andrew heading back to his home state of New Jersey. As he's about to confront his the personal demons in his life, Andrew just may find that life is worth living. But only when he can deal with the conflicts that arise from he and those around him.

Downfall - In April of 1945, Germany stands at the brink of defeat with the Russian Army closing in from the east and the Allied Expeditionary Force attacking from the west. In Berlin, capitol of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler proclaims that Germany will still achieve victory and orders his Generals and advisers to fight to the last man. "Downfall" explores these final days of the Reich, where senior German leaders (such as Himmler and Goring) began defecting from their beloved Fuhrer, in an effort to save their own lives, while still others (Joseph Goebbels) pledge to die with Hitler. Hitler, himself, degenerates into a paranoid shell of a man, full of optimism one moment and suicidal depression the next. When the end finally does comes, and Hitler lies dead by his own hand, what is left of his military must find a way to end the killing that is the Battle of Berlin, and lay down their arms in surrender.

Million Dollar Baby - In the wake of a painful estrangement from his daughter, boxing trainer Frankie Dunn has been unwilling to let himself get close to anyone for a very long time--then Maggie Fitzgerald walks into his gym. In a life of constant struggle, Maggie's gotten herself this far on raw talent, unshakable focus and a tremendous force of will. But more than anything, she wants someone to believe in her. The last thing Frankie needs is that kind of responsibility-- let alone that kind of risk--but won over by Maggie's sheer determination, he begrudgingly agrees to take her on. In turns exasperating and inspiring each other, the two come to discover that they share a common spirit that transcends the pain and loss of their pasts, and they find in each other a sense of family they lost long ago. Yet, they both face a battle that will demand more heart and courage than any they've ever known.

Spartan - A "lone wolf" U.S. government secret agent, Scott( Kilmer), is assigned the task of rescuing the kidnapped daughter (Bell) of a high ranking government figure, only to discover along the way a larger, more sinister plot.

Inside I'm Dancing - Michael is a 24-year-old who has cerebral palsy and long-term resident of the Carrigmore Residential Home for the Disabled, run by the formidable Eileen. His life is transformed when the maverick Rory O'Shea moves in. Michael is stunned to discover that fast talking Rory, who can move only his right hand, can understand his almost unintelligible speech. Rory's dynamic and rebellious nature soon sparks a flame in Michael, introducing him to a whole new world outside of Carrigmore.

Dead Man's Shoes - A disaffected soldier (Considine) returns to his hometown to get even with the thugs who brutalized his mentally-challenged brother (Kebbell) years ago.

The Constant Gardner - Based on the best-selling John le Carré novel and from the Academy Award-nominated director of "City of God." In a remote area of Northern Kenya, activist Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz) is found brutally murdered. Tessa's companion, a doctor, appears to have fled the scene, and the evidence points to a crime of passion. Members of the British High Commission in Nairobi assume that Tessa's widower, their mild-mannered and unambitious colleague Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), will leave the matter to them. They could not be more wrong. Haunted by remorse and jarred by rumors of his late wife's infidelities, Quayle surprises everyone by embarking on a personal odyssey that will take him across three continents. Using his privileged access to diplomatic secrets, he will risk his own life, stopping at nothing to uncover and expose the truth - a conspiracy more far-reaching and deadly than Quayle could ever have imagined.

Sin City - A collection of interweaving stories all based in the corrupt, crime infested hell-hole that is Basin City. Heavily influenced by film-noir, the main storylines concern a hulking brute called Marv (Mickey Rourke), who is seeking the murderer of a beautiful woman who was killed while asleep in bed with him; an ex-photographer called Dwight (Clive Owen) who accidentally kills a hero cop and has to cover it up; and a soon-to-be-retiring policeman called Hartigan (Bruce Willis) who is incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit. All based on the brilliant graphic novels "Sin City", "The Big Fat Kill" and "That Yellow Bastard", written and illustrated by Frank Miller.

Napoleon Dynamite - A listless and alienated teenager decides to help his new friend win the class presidency in their small western high school, while he must deal with his bizarre family life back home.

Batman Begins - As a young boy, Bruce Wayne watched in horror as his millionaire parents were slain in front of him--a trauma that leads him to become obsessed with revenge. But the opportunity to avenge his parent's deaths is cruelly taken away from him by fate. Fleeing to the East, where he seeks counsel with the dangerous but honorable ninja cult leader known as Ra's Al-Ghul, Bruce returns to his now decaying Gotham City, which is overrun by organized crime and other dangerous individuals manipulating the system. Meanwhile, Bruce is slowly being swindled out of Wayne Industries, the company he inherited. The discovery of a cave under his mansion, along with a prototype armored suit, leads him to assume a new persona, one which will strike fear into the hearts of men who do wrong; he becomes Batman!!! In the new guise, and with the help of rising cop Jim Gordon, Batman sets out to take down the various nefarious schemes in motion by individuals such as mafia don Falcone, the twisted doctor/drug dealer Jonathan 'The Scarecrow' Crane, and a mysterious third party that is quite familiar with Wayne and waiting to strike when the time is right.

The Edukators - In Germany, Jan (Daniel Brühl) and Peter (Stipe Erceg) are best friends and revolutionary activists calling themselves "Edukators". Berlin student Jule is hoplessly indebted due to an accident she caused, uninsuredly hitting a rich businessman's limousine. Evicted from her flat she moves in with her boyfrend Peter and soon learns that Peter and his flatmate, Jan, are breaking into luxurious mansions at night. Instead of stealing or vandalizing, though, they carefully and ornately rearrange furniture and valulables as a form of protesting against the system. This finding leads the three into a chain of dangerous events which leaves them as a love triangle and are forced tro confront their own identities and friendships.

Maria Full Of Grace - A pregnant Colombian teenager becomes a drug mule to make some desperately needed money for her family.

War of The Worlds - Ray Ferrier is a working class man living in New Jersey. He's estranged from his family, his life isn't in order, and he's too caught up with himself. But the unthinkable and, ultimately, the unexpected happens to him in an extraordinary sense. His small town life is shaken violently by the arrival of destructive intruders: Aliens which have come en masse to destroy Earth. As they plow through the country in a wave of mass destruction and violence, Ray must come to the defense of his children. As the world must fend for itself by a new and very advanced enemy not of this world, it's inhabitants must save humanity from a far greater force that threatens to destroy it.

Crash - Several stories interweave during two days in Los Angeles involving a collection of inter-related characters, a black police detective with a drugged out mother and a thieving younger brother, two car thieves who are constantly theorizing on society and race, the distracted district attorney and his irritated and pampered wife, a racist veteran cop (caring for a sick father at home) who disgusts his more idealistic younger partner, a successful black Hollywood director and his wife who must deal with racist cop, a Persian-immigrant father who buys a gun to protect his shop, a Hispanic locksmith and his young daughter who is afraid of bullets, and more.

March Of The Penguins - Each winter, alone in the pitiless ice deserts of Antarctica, deep in the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, a truly remarkable journey takes place as it has done for millennia. Emperor penguins in their thousands abandon the deep blue security of their ocean home and clamber onto the frozen ice to begin their long journey into a region so bleak, so extreme, it supports no other wildlife at this time of year. In single file, the penguins march blinded by blizzards, buffeted by gale force winds. Guided by instinct, by the otherworldly radiance of the Southern Cross, they head unerringly for their traditional breeding ground where--after a ritual courtship of intricate dances and delicate maneuvering, accompanied by a cacophony of ecstatic song--they will pair off into monogamous couples and mate. The females remain long enough only to lay a single egg. Once this is accomplished, exhausted by weeks without nourishment, they begin their return journey across the ice-field to the fish-filled seas. The male emperors are left behind to guard and hatch the precious eggs, which they cradle at all times on top of their feet. After two long months during which the males eat nothing, the eggs begin to hatch. Once they have emerged into their ghostly white new world, the chicks can not survive for long on their fathers' limited food reserves. If their mothers are late returning from the ocean with food, the newly-hatched young will die. Once the families are reunited, the roles reverse, the mothers remaining with their new young while their mates head, exhausted and starved, for the sea, and food. While the adults fish, the chicks face the ever-present threat of attack by prowling giant petrels. As the weather grows warmer and the ice floes finally begin to crack and melt, the adults will repeat their arduous journey countless times, marching many hundreds of miles over some of the most treacherous territory on Earth, until the chicks are ready to take their first faltering dive into the deep blue waters of the Antarctic.

The Sea Inside - Life story of Spaniard Ramón Sampedro, who fought a 30-year campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity. Film explores Ramón's relationships with two women: Julia, a lawyer who supports his cause, and Rosa, a local woman who wants to convince him that life is worth living. Through the gift of his love, these two women are inspired to accomplish things they never previously thought possible. Despite his wish to die, Ramón taught everyone he encountered the meaning, value and preciousness of life. Though he could not move himself, he had an uncanny ability to move others.

40 Year Old Virgin - 40-year-old Andy Stitzer (Steve Carrell) has done quite a few things in his life. He's got a cushy job stamping invoices at an electronics superstore, a nice apartment with a proud collection of action figures and comic books, good friends, a nice attitude. But there's just one little thing he hasn't quite gotten around to doing yet--something most people have done by his age. Done a lot. Andy's never, ever, ever had sex--not even by accident. So is that such a big deal? Well, for Andy's buds at the store, it sure is. Although they think he's a bit of an oddball, there's certainly a planet full of stranger (and homelier) guys who've at least had one go at having a go. They consider it their duty to help Andy out of his dire situation and go to great lengths to help him. But nothing proves effective enough to lure their friend out of lifelong chastity until he meets Trish (Catherine Keener), a 40-year-old mother of three. Andy's friends are psyched by the possibility that "it" may finally happen...until they hear that Andy and Trish have begun their relationship based on a mutual no-sex policy.

Well folks, there you have it. If you haven't heard of these movies and plan to have a quiet night in, check them out at your local DVD store. Will put up a festive gamespot tomorrow. Until then, I hope you're having a great holiday.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Secret Santa

Well peeps - Merry Christmas to you! Here's some pictures of the Secret Santa night. Unfortunately the batteries died after 6 pictures but luckily the camera lasted long enough to take a picture of everyone. I hope you all got what you wanted. See you soon!

Eva & Lou

Don, Jill, Bert & Chris

Jude, Keith & Heather

Colin & Me



Thursday, December 22, 2005

Happy Holidays!

It's my last day in work today which means that it's the party season and as such any future blogs this year would repeatedly revolve around how drunk I got and social faux-pas' I have made. As such, this will also be my last blog of the year although I will be posting up any really exciting news, stories, and more importantly, pictures of drunken escapades.

Last night kicked off the late nights as Ian and Peter came back from Aberdeen and London respectively for family get-togethers, spending time with loved ones, and more importantly, getting drunk with friends. Although I didn't make it into bed until 3am I didn't start drinking until 11pm as Don, Lou, Colin and I went to see the OTT CGI cheesefest trainwreck that is King Kong. I'll be posting a review up tomorrow before I push the traumatic event out of my head.

We met up at Auntie Annies, already heaving with punters but somehow Peter and Ian had secured a table and we ordered in doubles and started playing catch up. A great night was had by all but unfortunatly Ian is flying back to Scotland today and wont be able to make it to Friday and Saturdays big group come-together. Have a great hogmanay though!

Have a great festive period whatever you're up to and I'll see you in 2006!


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Comes Early

I was only on my way in this morning when I was bothered by a piss-artist driver. Not that I get bothered by drivers in work. I have a desk on the fourth floor and that would be quite a feat. But I digress. The event took place on Little Victoria Street:

I was 3/4 accross the street when a car came speeding around the corner and flew towards me, clearly over the speed limit. I didn't increase my pace. Why should I? I was crossing the road before this arsehole appeared on the scene. He flew past me and beeped his horn twice. I flipped him off in the hope that he would stop and I could throw a christmas cake I was carrying wrapped in tin-foil at his back windscreen but that was only an after thought - one of many including running up and kicking his side panel. Fingers were crossed and hexes placed that this loser will wrap his piece of junk around a lampost.

In other news, it was Xmas dinner at the folks place last night as neither Keith or I will be available on the 25th. I'm pretty sure everyone was happy with what they got - more so because they got what they wanted. The meal, while not strictly Xmas dinner [but then it's not exactly Xmas] was delicious and I finished before everyone else leaving room for pudding!

Drinks were poured and we sat down to watch an old Morgan Freeman film which was a little too long but enjoyable nonetheless, the name of which escapes me. By 11pm, I was falling asleep and ready for bed. I took a call from Peter during the film and he let me know that himself and Ian are back in town and I'm looking forward to catching up with them tonight. Everybody will be back by Friday and we're all hooking up on Saturday night for Christmas Eve drinks.

Tomorrow will be the last of blogs of 2005 but I will be posting the Top 20 films of the year between now and New Years so check back for that amongst whatever else is worthy of my penmanship.

See ya tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Links #14

All quiet on the Western Front this week so rather than subject you to subjectivism, here's some worthy links to clicky-click.

Haile the Interactive Robot Drummer - Haile is robotic percussionist that can listen to live players, analyze their music in real-time, and use the product of this analysis to play back in an improvisational manner.

Bendy Woman - To be limber and flexible is one thing. To watch this woman dancer is something a few levels beyond those adjectives.

Human Suit - A belabored man makes his dog into his proxy via a robotic human suit.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Keep It Unreal

Mr Scruff was back in town on Friday night and the place was packed with people ready to get their funk on. History repeated itself and once again we all danced for hours on end before the beat got the better of us and we left around 2am. I was accosted by a total stranger during an encore, who was slightly pummelling my stomach in what I took to be some strange ritual. However, after leaning into my ear and calling me a "fucking pussy" I did the only honourable thing and dug him in the stomach. My friend Richard separated us and I continued jiving for the rest of the song. Said asshole remained in a standing position on the dancefloor looking into oblivion. Lou and I left and met up with Don and his brothers [the 3 amigos] at our place and we sat up drinking until 5.30am. By which time I think we all decided it was now or never to get some shut eye.

Unfortunately I'm reaching an age where all-nighters have implications well into the next couple of days and I was feeling the lethargy for the rest of the weekend. Bar getting in some last minute christmas shopping and picking up a few groceries, Saturday and Sunday were spent lying around on the sofa playing San Andreas and yawning until I cried. Where did my youthful vigour go?

In other news, this week is looking like one long wind-down in work in direct proportions to the increasing amount of partying to be done outside of the working week. My last day is on Thursday and we're booked into St James South for lunch which will set us up for a huge piss-up in bar or bars afterwards. They are serving nouvelle cuisine and I hope this will be sufficient to line the stomach of my belly for the amount of alcohol that every one of us will enjoy when we hit the beer. I've also plans to make mulled wine on Thursday morning so I hope the day doesn't turn into one long blur!

Hope you had a great weekend yourself and have all your shopping done because there's nothing worse than last minute rushing to complete the santa sack.

See you tomorrow!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Calm Before The Storm

Cruised through yesterday still suffering from the previous nights excesses. Work has moved from manic to busy but managable. Receieved last pay-cheque of 2005. You know this one has to last 6 weeks and start thinking about ways to cut back Xmas spending. Never going to happen.

Looking forward to Mr Scruff tonight. Caught him what is probably half a year ago but doesn't seem that far away now. Danced for 3 hours straight. Funkalicious. Just checked his discography on Amazon and he's not released an album since 2002 besides a compilation last year so with any luck he'll have some new material for us to swing to.

I finished playing F.E.A.R. on the PC so have now gone old school and started playing GTA: San Andreas for the PS2 as I never got around to finishing it. With holidays kicking off next week I hoped to have Oblivion to play but the release date has been pushed back to March so I will have to scope out some other games to fill the void.

I think I will hang up the blog next Friday until I return to work in 2006 but I will try to post whatever I can, I would imagine in the form of Gamespots and Links and any festive photos I take along the way.

Have a good weekend whatever you're up to and catch you on Monday for the final week of blogging in 2005!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tagliatelle Pagilia E Fieno with Creamy Bacon & Mushroom Sauce served with Zucchini Polenta Slices

Last night I attempted to make the following dishes. I think it turned out OK although I would certainly make a better stab at it on second go. Don also made a triumphant return to Northern Ireland from his soujorn to New Zealand and we preceeded to get very, very drunk. I think I'm still drunk now. Here comes the science:

Tagliatelle Pagilia E Fieno with Creamy Bacon & Mushroom Sauce

Ingredients [serves 4] :

6 slices bacon, cut into strips
4 cloves garlic, crushed
125g button mushrooms, sliced
100ml thick cream
150g grated pamesan cheese
400g green and white tagliatelle pagilia e fieno


Place bacon in cold frying pan. Stir over low heat for 5 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms for further 3 minutes.
Whisk eggs, cream, and cheese into a bowl adding pepper.
Cook pagilia e fieno and drain.
Whilst still hot, add egg misxture and stir quickly until combined.
Add bacon mixture and stir until combined.

Zucchini Polenta Slices

Ingredients [serves 4]:

15g butter
45ml olive oil
250g courgettes, grated
750ml chicken broth
175g polenta
40g grated pamesan cheese


Grease a shallow roasting pan.
Heat 15ml of oil in a large frying pan.
Fry zucchini (courgettes) until soft.

Bring the broth to boil in a large saucepan.
Sprinkle with polenta, stirring with a wooden spoon until polenta thickens.
Remove from heat and stir in the zucchini (courgettes).

Tip polenta into roasting pan, spreading evenly, then sprinkle with parmesan and leave for 1 hour to cool.

Cut the polenta into slices, brush with oil and fry until golden.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Bird In The Hand

Only a weeks worth of days left before I finish for Xmas and I can't wait to be off - like anyone loves working around this time of year? I've also felt that gravitas you get when the year is coming to a close and you metaphorically tie up or cut loose ends that you don't want to be bothered with in the new year. I certainly feel it in work more than I do at home. I've lost 2 bosses this year to pregnancy and although I have set up new ties with my current boss, I know she will be leaving soon into 2006 and I will have to set about reconciling with my old director whom I got along famously with but I'm sure having a child knocks your world viewpoint out of synch and things wont just slip back into place like finding an old pair of comfortable shoes.
As for home, it's more getting rid of the amount of clutter that has found it's way into the nooks and crannies of the flat than anything else. Our airing cupboard still has a four man tent in it and I doubt I will be needing that for at least 6 months.

Additionally, a sigh of relief can be breathed as the shopping in regards to presents has been fulfilled and I am free to ponder who my secret Santa is and what they will see fit to award me with. Pending a successful event, I think people will no doubt want to repeat this next year. It is far easier finding a good present for one person than trying to accommodate 8 or more people on limited funding and you can never really afford to give them that one thing you see that you know they will love. In regards to food and drink shopping, this list has nothing crossed off it. The market at the city hall closes in 5 days and I want to buy some odds and sods for the larder [Editor's note - he means more sausage and cheese] and then there is still the question as for what to cook for Xmas lunch/dinner. Lou wants turkey, I want duck. Someone suggested we compromise and buy goose. Perhaps not a bad idea but will this bird fly with Lou? I'm game. [Editor's note - I think he's gone cuckoo]

Suggestions for Xmas day food to the usual place. My turn to cook tonight and at least I know what I'm cooking this far in advance. Catch you tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Parts Of The Process

It's true what they say that people do not read what is there but only what they want to read. Said people when querying what they have read, question the validity of it to the person that placed it, and do not allow said person to respond legitimately to them but rather talk over the top with a degree of self righteous pomp. I would like to believe that universal karma will at some point swiftly and deftly deliver a blow to these docile self righteous twits at a point of severe vulnerability and they will have a sudden revelation of just how they have been reacting to those who actually have recognition and appreciation for other peoples efforts.

Such a convoluted narcissistic rant I hear you cry! It comes with the territory and is the nature of the beast regarding an area of work I am currently undertaking. However, such folk are few and far between and for the most part it has been a pleasant process.

A few weeks ago I placed advertisements in various newspapers around the province. It was an expensive undertaking and you may question the validity of placing such public notices in local papers. Does anyone under the age of 50 read them? Do you read that local paper that falls through your letterbox? I certainly do not. I did one time and it was full of the same photograph of a local MP that I did not know nor care for posing for causes I doubt he cares about save for making him look good. Conceited. Moi?

These public notices advertised roadshows regarding a grant process that was now available to apply for. And to get back to my original point, the material was available to download on our website. Apparently some people have problems using this mysterious and magical thing called "the internet". Said people also have problems in conversation in that they don't understand the basic principles whereby they ask a question and wait for a response. Said people interrupt mid-sentence asking that which you are about to reveal and then complain afterwards that they were not given the advice needed. Open your frickin' ears, take a deep breath and...listen!
Hear that? It's the sound of me not giving a shit.

Anyway, 5 emails, 3 conversations with other staff members and a confabulation with my boss revealed that this lady is a complete tool so I feel somewhat vindicated. I'm hoping that her application form will be somehow incorrectly filled out and will become invalid. Guess who looks through them for inconsistencies?

See you tomorrow for up to 100% less chip on shoulder!

Richard Pryor R.I.P.

Location, Location, Location

Here's something to waste your time with this afternoon. Draw a house to reveal your personality!

Click here to view my house

"You love excitement and create it wherever you go."

Oh yes I do!

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Boondock Saints

The Boondock Saints are Irish brothers Connor & Murphy McManus, meat packers from Boston. They believe that God has given them permission to rid the Earth from all human Evil and the film shows the brothers in action.

They are tracked by FBI agent Paul Smecker, who follows their trace of bloodshed, and admits that the brothers are doing exactly what he secretly always has wished to do.

The film is a great mix of action, comedy and drama and although there are some momments where suspension of disbelief is required, one can always admit that perhaps god has a hand in their antics - hey, it helped Maradonna!

William Dafoe is excellent as quirky detective Smecker and the brothers acting is a hell of lot better then their Irish accents. There is also an excellent cameo by Billy Connelly who plays the mysterious and deadly Il Duce.

All in all, the movie is a fun way to kill a few hours - straight forward storytelling with an original and appealing script.

I would give this 3.5 Angels out of 5.


The Waiting Game

I arrived in work on Friday feeling pretty good. Afterall, it is the last working day of the week and I was looking forward to getting stuck into the sausage and cheeses I had bought at the market the day before. It's becoming a little tradtion now to pop into the market at lunchtime and grab a bratwurst and a beer and enjoy the rich pickings of conversation between co-workers.
Alas, this was not to be so as I had forgotten about a training course I was to attend, only reminded, as I sipped the first cup of coffee of the day, stretched and sat down at my desk, by a co-worker telling me he was off for the very same course I had shoved to the back of my head and dismissed. Dammit.

I still had the bean flavour in my mouth as we walked quickly along the bustling streets, rain coming down and somehow finding its way into your face despite your hood covering most of your head. We walked past the building twice before we noticed it tucked off a side-street. That's the thing about government buildings. They do not want to be found. They blend in with their surroundings, only becoming obvious when you know it's there. They should dress soldiers up like government buildings and send them out onto the battlefield. Before they knew it, the opposing force would have forms filled out in triplicate and be paying tax for the wrong side. "I thought I was going to win something!".

Anyway, we shuffled into the foyer and were greeted by the receptionist. Another thing is that receptionists in archaic government buildings are male and they are never seen answering a telephone. I suspect the number is ex-directory and you can only find it in small print on any documents, half way through an Appendix regarding income support. We recieved our official passes and were told to go to Room 3 on the third floor. We pushed the button for the lift and it arrived with unexpected expediency, a noisy beep emitted as the door opens which, I imagine, causes much chagrin first thing in the morning and may in the past have caused someone to spill their latte, as the outside street as no less than 5 cafés.

I wont go into the detail of the training as it was quite possibly the most boring time I've ever had looking at an overhead projector [as if there is ever a joy to be had looking at a powerpoint presentation]. Needless to say, it ran longer than anticipated/my mind could perservere. By 5pm I was ready to jump out the window and run down the street.

I decided to pop into Argos because a) it was right beside where I was and b) I saw a Xmas present I wanted to pick up there. When I walked through the doors I was greeted by the faces of 20-30 people who had been waiting for their item to arrive from the warehouse in the back. I really hate these places. I think it's the waiting combined with the fact that the item you want is always out of stock and they have to give you an item of equal or greater measure. I flipped through the catologue looking for the item and keyed it into the machine half hoping that they would not have it in stock and I could leave for another time but I knew this was the best opportunity I had. It was indeed in stock and after filling out the slip I joined a huge queue where customers were being directed to their cashier by a voice operated machine. I finally reached the top. "Customer to cashier 8". That's me!
"Excuse me sir, the item you have requested is out of stock and an item of equal or greater quality will be give to you. Is that OK?"
"Uh, yeah."
Every. Fecking. Time.

I was assigned #500, collection area B. The depot was being ran by 3 millies who shouted out your number in true gipsy style. I was worried because my number never appeared on the monitor. After 15 minutes standing around getting anxious I heard my number being called. Sweet Jesus, let's rock and roll.

Several minutes later I was in the Garrick and had a pint of Guinness in front of me. Our Business Centre work party was being held there and had the bar not been accross the road from me, I would have been half way home. Besides, the drink was free and only an idiot or a tee-totaller would have turned it down. The place was packed with people I had never met let alone seen in the building and several ladies had made quite a considerable effort, everyone else in normal work fatigues. I made my excuses and left.

Lou was on her work do that night too and Colin and myself settled down to watch The Electrfying Conclusion - Guided By Voices last ever gig on 31st December 2004. A lot of beer was drank both on DVD and in my living room with a little singing at the later stages. It's sad that they have ceased as a band as Robert Pollard's solo efforts have never been up to the same standard as GBV releases. Nevertheless, perhaps with the onset of age, the lack of touring and the label requirement to put out releases, the quality of output will rise. From A Compound Eye is released next month, so we will see.

Hope you had a good weekend. Catch you tomorrow!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Guest Publication #1

My brother isn't able to write the Blog today, so he has asked me to take over for a change. He couldn't have picked a better day for it either: it's one of those days today where everyone is in work but noone is really doing any work. Why, you ask? Because this evening is our work Crimbo dinner, and everyone is acting like kids on the last day of school before the summer!

It's the first work outing I've been on where everyone is in attendance. I went out once before, but out of the vast majority that promised to go only about 6 turned up. They mostly seem to be quite boring in work, but I'm hoping that their quiet day-time demeanor will change in the evening, especially after a few drinks. If not then I'll be home by 9pm!

We're going to the Hilton - not the slapper but the hotel. I'm a vegetarian and unfortunately the "guilt-free menu" is surprisingly sparse - spinach and ricotta cheese pasta is the only veggie meal infact. Not great for a £46 dinner or a 5-star hotel, but I guess I'm not paying for it or the bottle of red I'm getting, so I can't really complain. Things always taste better when they're free!

Words by KA
PA is away but will return on Monday. Have a great weekend folks!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Spinach Lasagna with Roasted Rosemary Potatoes with Shiitake Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions and Gruyere Cheese

Last night Keith made a uber-delicious meal of Spinach Lasagna with Roasted Rosemary Potatoes with Shiitake Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions and Gruyere Cheese. I will definetely be making this recipe sometime soon!

Spinach Lasagna


1lb spinach
1tbsp olive oil
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup carrots, shredded or diced
½ cup mushrooms, sliced
2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tbsp oregano
2 cups Alfredo sauce
½ pound uncooked lasagna noodles
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated


Spinach Lasagna with Roasted Rosemary Potatoes with Shiitake Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions and Gruyere Cheese

Heat oil, add onion, carrots, and mushrooms, and sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile chop the spinach and Combine vegetables, spinach, ricotta cheese, oregano, a dash of salt, and pepper in the bowl. Set aside.

Spread about ½ cup of sauce in bottom of the baking dish. Line with lasagna noodles, then spread about a third of the spinach mixture on the noodles. Add ½ cup sauce, then another layer of noodles, then a third of the spinach. Repeat with sauce, noodles, and spinach. Top with the rest of the sauce, then sprinkle with mozzarella.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes. Turn off oven, remove cover, and leave lasagna in warm oven for another 15 minutes, until brown and bubbly. Let stand for a few minutes, and serve.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes with Shiitake Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions and Gruyere Cheese


3 tbsp butter
1 small onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp sugar
1/2 pound Shiitake mushroom caps, chopped
2lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1 tsp chopped rosemary


In a 10" cast iron skillet, over moderate heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add onion and sugar. Cover and cook until onion is softened about 10 minutes. Remove cover and cook until onion slices are golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Scrape into bowl and set aside.

In same skillet, over moderate heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook mushrooms until tender, 5-6 minutes. Scrape into bowl with onions.

In same skillet, toss potatoes with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Place skillet in the center of preheated oven and roast until potatoes are golden brown and tender, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven, spread evenly with mushroom and onion mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and return to oven. Cook until cheese is melted about 10 minutes longer.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Links #13

Today is somewhat of a Wil Ferrall special with links to some of his best sketches including a new clip where he reprises his greatest role as George W Bush talking about the (un)importance of global warming.

Global Warming Comedy Special featuring Will Ferrell as George W Bush

Will Ferrell interacts with news host Colin Quinn as the absurd Harry Caray.

Will Farell as the Architect.

A lengthy parody of the Matrix: Reloaded. Crafted for the 2003 MTV Movie Awards.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On The Waterfront

Last night was the end of year event at the Waterfront coinciding with International Volunteer Day. A few of in work volunteered our time although not in the true sense because we were paid in T.O.I.L. [See yesterday's section].

Part of my job was to meet and greet Nuala McKeever. She was due to arrive at 5pm but by 5.40pm there was no sign of her and from the expected 200 guests, only half had turned up. My director was getting worried. At 5.50pm, Nuala arrived and I walked her up the two flights of stairs to the dinner area. I knew the traffic was bad and thought that this might explain her lateness so I politely enquired as to her ineptitude of turning up on time and having me pace the ground floor for nearly an hour.
"I hear the traffic is murder."
"Actually" she replied, "I was here in 10 minutes."
What a bitch I thought. I handed her the cheque which contained her pay for the night.
"Oh thanks" she said, "I'll be off then."
"I wouldn't try it, it's been post-dated."
Smart arse.

After depositing her to our marketing manager, I grabbed Richard and we made a concerted effort to make as many swoops on the drinks table as possible. MMmm, cheap Cava. Guinness/Diageo were supposed to sponsor the event but pulled out at the last minute, probably after blowing their budget on another series of pompous TV adverisements, leaving the Agency to pay for everything.

We settled down to our seats and a series of speakers took the stage reiterating the importance of volunteering, the great job that volunteers do and the impact they have on the community and the province in general, some more sincere than others. There was a great sketch from the Bangor Drama Club as two members performed a scene from The Odd Couple, the classic film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. And yes, I must give credit where it was due, Nuala McKeever was funny too. Then finally dinner.

By this time, things were running nearly an hour late and I'm pretty sure the starter was supposed to be served warm [aubergine, red pepper, courgette] but at least the main course was [parma wrapped chicken]. Nevertheless, the rest of the night ran smoothly and it was a success. Awards were given out and there was good chat around the table.

By the time it was over I was absolutely shattered following a social heavy weekend and after sharing a taxi, I went straight to bed when I got in through the door.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Down On The Upside

I deem myself to be like death warmed up this morning. The head is fine but the body feels like it has been put through the wash or to quote Bilbo Baggins, “I feel thin, like butter spread over too much bread”.
I am, however, struggling on for several reasons. One is that today is my works End of Year event at the Waterfront and I have been asked to meet and greet Nuala McKeever, ex-Hole In The Wall Gang and currently, it seems, on a sojourn from television screens. Secondly, and most importantly, attending tonights event will score me four hours of T.O.I.L. [Time Of In Lieu] which I desperately want. The event also provides free drink and a warm meal which is always nice.

The weekend was a hive of activity. Following a quiet night on Friday, it was Cheryl's birthday on Saturday night in Bangor. Myself, Colin and Lou took the train from Botanic and the new trains that were introduced a few months ago still look decent which is surprising because of Northern Ireland's complete ineptitude to refrain from vandalising public services.
We were one of the first to arrive and were given a tour of her new house - very spiffy! I hope that there was minimal mess to tidy up the next day as there seemed to be around 30 people packed into the place. We booked a taxi for 1am and when we arrived home we foolishly decided to open another bottle of wine. I'm not sure when our heads touched the pillow but I felt rough as sin the next morning.

Unfortunately I had to be somewhere for noon and the afternoon was spent trying to focus and pull myself together as we were enertaining Brian and Jude that evening. Lou put together a sumptious meal of Pepper-Crusted Fillet of Beef with Roasted Balsamic Onions and Thyme with winter roast vegetables and sweet potatoes. Jude also made a delcious toblerone cheesecake which Brian and I couldn't resist helping ourselves to seconds!

If I can make it through tonight I will be hitting the hay as soon as I get through the door.

Hope you had a great weekend and catch you sameplace tomorrow.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Electrifying Conclusion

The weather has seemed to revert back to autumnal variety it seems. The frost and occasional snowfall has turned anti-clockwise to blustery rain-filled afternoons and clear breezy evenings where you can catch the moons reflection in the puddles. If you're lucky.

I've also noticed that I've been in bed earlier as I've been getting tired more quickly, most likely due to the fact that I rarely get to see any sunlight these days due to the lack of windows where I work. However, I don't mind this routine change because it gives me a chance to catch up on some reading that I've been neglecting recently. Yesterday I received my much anticipated Guided By Voices biography by Jim Greer entitled 'Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll'.
So far it has painted a picture of Bob Pollard, leader and hero of GBV, as a lamentable genius who has no time for those not willing to give him credit where credit is due and a performer who always has time for fanboys and hardcore UFO's. Regardless, they will always be remembered as the Kings of Indie Rock.

I also received the DVD of their last ever gig on New Years Eve 2004, 'The Electrifying Conclusion'. The show itself lasted for 63 songs and took over 4 hours. It is awaiting a drunken evening to be spent with my friend and GBV aficionado, Colin, so that we may rock out and sing along/play air guitar. And perhaps knock out a few high kicks as a salty salute to Bob.

Have a great weekend whatever you're doing and I'll catch you on Monday.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tapenade of Sun-dried Tomatoes, Olives and Basil & Penne with Wild Mushrooms and Creme Fraiche

Last night Colin made an extremely delicous starter of Tapenade of Sun-dried Tomatoes, Olives and Basil and a fabulous main course of Penne with Wild Mushrooms and Creme Fraiche.

Two thumbs up!

Penne with Wild Mushrooms and Creme Fraiche


1 lb 2 oz (500 g) penne rigate
1 lb (450 g) mixed fresh mushrooms
½ oz (10 g) dried porcini mushrooms
9 fl oz (250 ml) crème fraîche
3 tablespoons warm milk
2 oz (50 g) butter
4 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ whole nutmeg, grated
Parmesan (to serve)
salt and pepper


Place the porcini in a bowl and pour the milk over the mushrooms and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Heat the butter in a frying pan, stir in the shallots and let them cook gently for 5 minutes. Strain the porcini into a sieve lined with kitchen paper, reserving the soaking liquid, and squeeze the porcini dry. Chop them finely and add to the pan, along with the fresh mushrooms and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir, then cook gently, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated.

About 15 minutes before the mushrooms are ready, put the pasta on to cook and 2 minutes before the pasta is cooked, mix the crème fraîche into the mushrooms with the soaking liquid, and warm through.

Drain the pasta in a colander, return it to the hot pan and quickly mix in the mushroom mixture, then place the pasta back on a gentle heat so it continues to cook for 1 more minute while it absorbs the sauce. Take it to the table in a hot serving bowl and hand the Parmesan round separately.

Tapenade of Sun-dried Tomatoes, Olives and Basil


1 x 285 g jar sun-dried tomatoes, drained, but reserve the oil
6 oz (175 g) pitted black olives in brine, drained and rinsed
¾ oz (20 g) fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon green peppercorns in brine, rinsed and drained (36 peppercorns)
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled
1 x 50 g tin anchovies including the oil
110 g capers, drained & pressed between double layers of kitchen paper
black pepper

crusty loaf


Simply put everything into a food processor with 2 tablespoons of the reserved tomato oil. Switch the motor on, but use the pulse action, because if you process it too much it goes to a purée. What you need to aim for is a texture like coarse gravel and sand. Add a third tablespoon of the reserved tomato oil if it looks too stiff. Pack the tapenade into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and chill, but remember to allow it to come back to room temperature for about 1 hour before serving. Serve with crusty bread.


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