Sunday, 30 August 2015

Leaving Belfast with a bang

We're off on holiday tomorrow - Jamie and Charlotte don't have to rock up at their new school building until Thursday 10 September, mainly because it hasn't yet got a roof.

And we've reached the "final packing" stage.

People who've known me for a long time will be shocked to learn that I'm struggling to narrow down my summer wardrobe.  This is because people who've known me a long time say I always looks the same.

However, the biggest challenge we face is finding another bag for Jamie to carry on board.

Below you can see the bag he's taken on as cabin luggage for the past few years.

It's his Busy Bees trolley dolly and it was given to him when he was attending the local Busy Bees nursery.  Yes, he's been a walking brand ambassador.  But that's a matter for them.

He had it with him on Tuesday when we were passing through security at Belfast City Airport.  We'd had a great few days, the airport wasn't busy and all was fine with the world.

Jamie's bag went through the scanner with all the others and I was about to pick it up.  But I was beaten to it by the security lady who advised that it was being taken off for a special scan.  Okey dokey, Jamie's eyes are fairly close together and you can't be too careful.

A couple more minutes passed before I was asked to go and see a grim-faced security man standing in a dark corner behind a desk. Over I went.

"Hello sir," he said.

"Hello," I replied.  It seemed the obvious response.

"Sir, I don't know how to tell you this.  But your son's bag has shown traces of TNT."

I shit you not.

My new best friend - as he instantly became (my choice) - then spent the next 10 minutes asking me questions about what I'd been up to over the previous few days, where I'd been (he wasn't familiar with the Big Marquee Weekend), what I did for a living, who I'd met, and so on.

But we weren't really getting anywhere.  And neither might I be if I couldn't find a way to sort this out.

Then the conversation took an unexpected turn.

"What's in your toiletries bag," asked yer man.

"Urmmm....deodorant, contact lens stuff, toothbrush, shaving stuff.......oh, and moisturiser," I whimpered.

"A-HA!"  boomed my mate.

"Man moisturiser, all men are at it these days - even men from Norn Iron," I protested.

"What make?" he asked.

"Nivea - for MEN.  Like in that TV advert with the Liverpool players in.  They're all men," I battered on.

"GOOD ANSWER!" he announced, with what seemed like genuine pleasure.

"Thank you.  Do you moisturise yourself?"

"No.  But that's where the TNT reading came from!"

He then proceeded to explain that apparently 90% of explosive materials are organic.  (I almost interrupted to remind him he was in Belfast and he might be better to keep his voice down).  And Nivea (for Men) moisturiser had many of the same natural substances in it.  You learn something every day.

Anyway, given that around about this time tomorrow we're due to pass through Turkish customs - where many wannabe ISIL suicide bombers have recently chosen to go for their last piss-up before heading into Syria - we've decided that Jamie's Busy Bees bag will not be coming with us.

Should we be fortunate enough to gain entry, my next update will be from that part of the world.  And if we're not, I wish each and every one of you well.                  

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The weather was fair when I called to see Clare

I almost choked on my Sunday lunch last weekend when a friend sent me a picture of the Sunday Life article you can see above (that's my head on the left above the ad).

Nominations for the the Northern Ireland Pub of the Year Awards have just opened and, as regular readers of this increasingly irregular blog may know, my girl Clare Johnston deservedly walked away with last year's Bar Person of the Year Award.

Clare is the landlady of The Railway Arms in Coleraine, also known as Johnstons as it's been in the family for years.  It's my local bar when I'm home and, without question, is my favourite hostelry on the planet.

The reasons for my adoration centre on what Clare has done for and to the place, and how she treats the people who care to visit.

The most recent Johnstons upgrade came as recently as this month when the beer garden was given a splash of splendour.  

Given the "unpredictable" weather on the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland, it is more likely to be frequented by smokers than sun worshippers.  But I don't like to miss out.  So last week, before my arrival, I told Clare I would be in with a packet of sweetie cigarettes to join in the fun.

And she very kindly mentioned this in her Sunday Life interview, the text of which you can read HERE.

On Monday I was delighted to keep my word.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Big Weekend in the Wee Village

I rabbited on about Macosquin's Big Marquee Weekend, here and on social media, for weeks on end.  And my enthusiasm proved to be well-placed.

Really, what an incredible few days.

I spent the first 10 years of my life living in Macosquin - a small village on the outskirts of Coleraine - and the people there are second to none.  Add to this a group of local organisers who were prepared to take a risk, and a list of artists spread across three days who were amongst the best that Northern Ireland has to offer and success was guaranteed.  

After a clubland night on Friday (I'm much too old for that caper), Saturday came to life with madly energetic Coleraine band Cellar Door, followed by this lot.

Remind you of anyone?

Well I do hope so, because they are an Oasis tribute band.  Roll With It is their name, they hail from Belfast and they were eerily magnificent.

Ending the evening was Armagh outfit Con Jovi (work it out).

In the background you can see Jon Con Jovi on the MIC; in the foreground you can see Vanessa on the beer.

That was Saturday.  Then Sunday swiftly followed (ouch), with country music the theme of the day.

Joint top of the bill was Claudy man Ritchie Remo, who went down an absolute storm. Here he is having a fiddle on the floor.

Then he fiddled on the stage, joined by his little boy (AWWW!!).

Whilst Vanessa and I fiddled in the audience with his father-in-law Kenny, an avid Leeds United fan.

I hope you're digging my cowboy shirt.  

As night fell, Mrs White dined al fresco (I spoil that woman)...

...whilst her father-in-law (left) held court under the roof of Mary Pat's Bar.

Finally, bringing the curtain down, was Ireland's top Garth Brooks tribute act Jason Hughes.

Yes he does have friends in low places etc etc.  He can also sing a bit.

I felt very privileged to be asked to help promote the event.  But spotting so many faces I hadn't seen for far too long and exchanging tales was an even greater pleasure.

Thanks to everyone involved for the welcome and the fun.  Top of the list was my oldest friend Drew Hutchinson, aka DJ Steady. Wearing the purple tee shirt, Drew was the big brain behind a triumphantly professional operation.

Roll on Big Marquee Weekend II next year. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Primal Scream

I'm all sore - and it's made me hate the gym even more.

I've never been a fan, you see.  But at the age of 43 and with memories of the London Marathon and four Great North Runs increasingly distant, I've had to find other ways of remaining alive.

So last year I joined our local gym.

After a few sessions of gently raising some very small pieces of iron, I found myself very bored and in need of greater motivation/a kick up the arse.

I discovered a remedy in the form of spin classes, during which I was often told to get off my bike and do press-ups because I wasn't trying hard enough.  Fair enough, and I was comfortable in the knowledge that I was still putting in more effort than on the pigeon chest press machine.

And I remain spinning once a week, although trainer Jason now makes me do punishment burpees for a little change.

But I've been getting a bored again.

Cue "The Primal Series." (GRRRRRR!!!!)

Yes, dear readers, I've decided to bring out my inner animal by "working [my] body like nature intended," according to the gym bumpf. (Another GRRRRRR!!!! anyone?)

In layman and laylady's terms, what we're talking about is a range of five 30-minute sessions that do different things presumably to different parts of your body.  (I'm not yet an expert).

Earlier this week, I did "Core" which basically hurt all my middle bits.  Then today I did "Conditioning" which hurt all my middle bits again, together with some other bits that escaped damage on Tuesday.

And I've loathed every second of it.

Core was harder, principally because Jason was the trainer and wanted to make me cry.  He came very close.

Today was a little less physically tough, but more taxing mentally because our adolescent apprentice trainer kept telling my three co-participants (all 50-year-old plus women in leotards and lots of make-up) and I that she was "proud" of us.  She then ended the session by trying to flog us those gloopy protein drinks that men with big arms allegedly inject into their eyeballs

But I'll stick at it.  I might leave "Strength" for a while.  Perhaps until I gain an element of strength.  And "Perform" suggests dancing, so that'll never happen.  But maybe me and my girls might move onto "Renew" at some point.

I'll keep you posted.            

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Fake War of Words: Lifting the Lid

It’s the story the music world is talking about.

If you haven’t heard, yesterday the roof blew off the Big Marquee as the two tribute bands headlining the Brit Pop versus Rock line-up in Macosquin in a fortnight’s time got involved in a fake war of words.

As I trust you’re fully aware, the three-day live event gets under way on Friday 21 August with a Clubland night topped by Micky Modelle and Ultrabeat, before climaxing on Sunday with a tasty country music menu featuring JD Country, Ritchie Remo and Ireland’s leading Garth Brooks tribute act Jason Hughes.

But it’s on Saturday 22 August when sparks were already expected to fly as Belfast’s Oasis look and sound-alikes Roll With It go up against Bon Jovi copycats Con Jovi from Armagh.

However, when I spoke to members of both bands yesterday, the verbals swiftly began when Roll With It’s “Liam” told me cockily that Con Jovi would “cast no shadow” over the Belfast boys’ performance on what is sure to be a spectacular night. 

"Liam" - he's a rock 'n' roll star 

 “Look man, some might say that Con Jovi are half a world away from us,” speculated Liam, who said he was looking forward to lots of cigarettes and alcohol after coming off the professionally-constructed stage.  “We’ve played all around the world and, unlike the real Oasis, we’ll not fade away and plan to live forever.  We’ve got a masterplan, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star and Con Jovi can slide away.  Come the Big Marquee Weekend, they’ll be standing on the shoulders of giants as we bask in the sunshiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. D’you know what I mean?”

And d’you know what? I did.

So I put Liam’s insults to “Jon” from Con Jovi who wasted no time in hitting back, saying that his band were planning to give Roll With It “a taste of their own bad medicine.”

"Jon Con Jovi" - keeping the faith

“Hey, we weren’t born to follow,” said Jon.  “We’ll have a nice day in Macosquin and leave in a blaze of glory.  But we won’t runaway and, no apologies, Roll With It are livin’ on a prayer if they think they’re better than us.  This ain’t a love song and I say to Liam, you give love a bad name. Keep the faith.  I’ll be there for you, always, but don’t lay your hands on me or you’ll be wanted dead or live. These days life isn’t a bed of roses and you were born to be my baby. What about now?”   

Not for me to comment.  But perhaps Liam’s pretend big brother “Noel” might have some thoughts.  So I asked him and, after short volley of poetic swearing, he responded with a challenge to Con Jovi. 

“Either stop crying your heart out or go let it out!” barked Noel, before changing tack, little by little. 

"Noel" - doesn't look back in anger 

“We’ll never acquiesce so let there be love,” he said like a big hippy.  “I’m a songbird and I don’t look bank in anger.  But after the gig, Con Jovi can stand by me as I sit on a wonderwall and toast Roll With It’s victory with a champagne supernova.  Then wake up with morning glory.” 

Before hanging up, fake Noel also revealed that Roll With It are planning to travel from Belfast to Macosquin in a supersonic car.  “She’s electric,” he told me proudly.

Armed with such explosive words, I had no moral option but to tell the showbiz press and also circulate the comments on social media.  And had Twitter and Facebook been around 30 years ago for Live Aid, I suspect the reaction and pre-event hype would not have been any greater.

But unlike Wembley's Live Aid, there is still an opportunity for you attend Macosquin's Big Marquee Weekend.

Day tickets are priced at £10 for Friday and £12 on Saturday and Sunday.   A two-ticket is also available priced at £20.  You can get them from Mary Pat’s Bar, Romaya Hair Sanctuary in Coleraine or by calling Tel: 028 7034 4659. 

And if it’s a nice night we can have a whole lotta rosé.  (Sorry, that’s AC/DC). 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The show did go on

Despite Saturday's tragic air accident, CarFest North did continue - albeit under a dark cloud.  And fun was thankfully still had.

Indeed, repeatedly quizzed to name their favourite part, both Jamie and Charlotte have steadfastly stuck to the same line: "All of it."  A rare but very welcome response.

But this was the moment that amused me most.

Yes, even though she's really lazy, Charlotte is still my number one girl so it was fitting that she spent a few seconds in pole position on the Oulton Park race track. What you can't see however is, behind me, there was a crowd of cooing middle-aged mums cheering at the sight.  And as I pushed her on her way, Charlotte gave a little regal wave to them - prompting an even bigger roar from the ladies gathered behind the safety fencing.

The photo was taken early on Saturday morning and we were there for The Great Festival Dash consisting of a lap of the circuit.

And yes we all did it, Charlotte being propelled by me.

She got a medal too, which made Jamie grumpy given that he ran a full lap without stopping.

Back at the campsite, Charlotte then chose to rub it in by pretending to fall asleep.


Talking of the campsite, it was actually much more pleasant than I expected.

Jamie and Charlotte enjoyed pretending to drink wine under canvas.

Whilst outside, Mummy concentrated on pretending that real wine was in fact Capri-Sun.

Yup, that's a wine box she's decanting into a Capri-Sun pouch for smuggling purposes.  Classy bird.

Back inside Oulton Park, there was plenty to do and see including dancing JCBs....

...and the Red Barrows 'barrowbatic' display team.

They were wheelie funny.

But it was on the two main stages where greatest interest lay for the crowd of 30,000.

We chose to give the Boomtown Rats a miss on Friday night, which turned out to be a wise move after Bob Geldof came on stage hammered and swore at the child-heavy crowd for an hour. What a willy.

Unsurprisingly, there were no such problems on Sunday night with Will Young, who arrived dressed as a racing driver.  (CarFest, you see, although he forgot to wear shoes).

Nor indeed The Proclaimers who sang about how great Scotland is for 45 minutes, before taking the high road home.

 Finally, a quick word about my old school chum Pete "Happy" Wilson.

He and his wife Michaela, who live just a stone's throw from Oulton Park, put us up the night before the event.  And then they joined us on Saturday and Sunday to enjoy the fun.

But they weren't alone.  Their charmer of a son, Dylan, was there too and amused and entertained the junior Whites in equal measure - saving Vanessa and me a job.

With a bit of luck, we can get to do it all again next year.

Monday, 3 August 2015

A sight best never seen

I said last time that I'd tell you about our trip to CarFest North, and I will.  But if you've been following the news over the weekend, you'll appreciate that it wasn't the weekend anyone had envisaged.

I've reached that stage in my life where, every so often, I think I've seen most things.  And then I'm corrected.

We were standing watching with many others at Oulton Park in Cheshire on Saturday afternoon when pilot Kevin Whyman's fast jet flew overhead before disappearing behind a clump of trees, probably a mile away.  I turned around for a few seconds for a reason that escapes me.  When I looked back, the sight was one of a plume of black smoke.

My initial thought was that the plane had gone down.  But then I said to myself that, as with many so things, I was wrong.  You see planes crash in films or on TV but the odds of it happening in front of your eyes are minimal.

Anyway, you know the rest.

The whole episode kind of passed Charlotte by but we're still trying to explain it to Jamie.  We're not getting very far, but we're trying.

A couple of passing thoughts.

The way the organisers in general and host Chris Evans in particular handled the incident was a huge credit to all involved.

As you may have seen, Chris Evans spoke to the crowd late on Saturday afternoon - about three hours after the accident had happened. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

And on Sunday, we stood for a minute's silence - bookended by two tunes from a military band.  

But back to Saturday.  The first band on after Chris Evans' short speech was Texas.

But what to do?  Lead singer Sharleen Spiteri (pictured below) could hardly come out and shout "Are you ready to rock?!" Because the crowd was anything but.  

So she guided everyone through it. Slow stuff to start, gradually building up.

She was great.  But what a sad weekend.

I'll try to inject a bit of fun tomorrow.