Saturday 26 November 2011

New Look, Crown Court and Wild Wind

I decided to have a new look for my blog, hope you like it.  We're having wild weather here, gale force winds and rain, until now November has been very gentle on us weather-wise, so can't complain.  I'm glad to be at home all warm and snug.  This is my least favourite month of the year, but because the weather has been ok until recently and the fact I've had a little break away it hasn't felt too bad.

Last week I was on jury service at the Crown Court.  It was the first time I had been called up and it was a fascinating experience.  We were looked after throughout by the jury bailiff, Steve, who was great. About 16 of us were chosen randomly by the computer from the people that had been called in for jury service that week. We were taken down into the courtroom and names were called out, if your name was called you had to say "Yes" and then go to sit in the next available place on the jury bench. At this point if there were any objections to jury members, or jury members and witnesses/defendants knew each other objections are voiced. The remaining uncalled people were taken out of the courtroom back to the jury waiting area.  We were then sworn in and sat back and finally able to really take in the courtroom.

It was a huge big room with a very high ceiling.  To our right on a raised platform was the judge, he was a "red" judge, signifying he was a High Court judge, the red coming from the red robe with white fur facings he wore under his back gown.  He also wore a short fawn-coloured wig.  In front of him, on a lower level to the judge, was the court clerk who wore a wig and black gown.  At the same level in front and to the right of us and the clerk's bench was the witness box.  Opposite the clerk were the prosecution and defence barristers who also wore black gowns and wigs.  To our left behind the barristers was a secure, partitioned area where the defendant sat with a security officer.  Opposite the jury benches and to the right there was the court usher.  To the left were seats where the public could sit and also the press bench. There were some small windows very high up behind us, but otherwise there was no link to the city outside.  It felt very much a separate world, with its own protocol and rules.

We had very long spells in the court two and a half hours each in the mornings and afternoons with no break.  When we had the lunch break the jury was the first to leave court and then last to return.  And there was everyone, back in exactly the same place, and whatever had been happening before the break picked up again as if time had just stood still for an hour while we had been at lunch. Weird.

I was fascinated to watch the various members of the court working as the case continued, especially the Judge who was constantly writing.  Everything is done much more slowly than you see on TV of course! Things that at first seemed insignificant were shown to be important as the case developed.  It took two days for all the statements and cross examinations to be done. Then the prosecution and defence barristers gave their final speeches, in one case with a real flourish.  Finally the judge summed up and I realised why he had been writing so much.  His summary took almost two hours and he went through all the statements in detail, I was well impressed.  He also gave us guidance on how to approach deliberating about the case.

Then Steve, the jury bailiff, took us to the jury room for our deliberation.  In the room was a large table with 12 chairs (very comfortable thank heavens!) and toilets.  We could not leave the room at all (the door was alarmed apparently) except to go back into the courtroom. Our only contact outside of the room was via the jury bailiff who we contacted by pressing a buzzer.  If we wanted to have more information or guidance, ask about a point of law or give a verdict we had to write our request on a piece of paper and contact the bailiff who would pass the message to the court and judge. We would then be summoned back into the courtroom for the answer as everything, except the deliberation, is done in the court itself.

I found it hard work mentally, as you have to listen very hard to the evidence and take note of all you can, being a jury member is a very important role and not to be taken lightly.  Each night I went home with my mind buzzing and a headache.  After almost four days, the case was finished, and it was with some relief that we left that room and the rarefied world of the Crown Court for the last time and emerged into the real world of the city on a wild, windy November afternoon.

Thursday 24 November 2011

An Irish Eye - Colm Henry Photo Exhibition

Anyone who lives near Manchester and is interested in Irish music should pop along to an exhibition of photographs of Irish musicians by Colm Henry.  It features early U2, Phil Lynott, Rory Gallagher, The Pogues and Sinead O'Connor amongst others.  I'd love to go to see it, but unfortunately Manchester is a bit too far for me to go just to see an exhibition.  Full details here.  It runs until December 4th at the Manchester Photographic Gallery.

Friday 18 November 2011

U2 at HQ

Interesting little titbit in the Irish Independent today, seems U2 were at HQ yesterday.  I was surprised to hear this, Adam said they planned to be back in the studio in the New Year, so this was unexpected news!  I'm pleased to see that they are spending time in Dublin once more, it's the right place for them to chill, and, it seems, work. Nice pictures of the B-man, he's looking well, his post tour rest seems to have done him good.  Mmmmm makes me wish that we'd been a bit more motivated whilst in Dublin recently and checked out HQ, that'll teach us to be so lazy LOL!

By Edel O'Connell
Friday November 18 2011

U2 back in town with wall-to-wall support at studio

Bono at HQ
U2 were back in town yesterday to record part of the band's newest studio album at their Hanover Quay studio.
U2 frontman Bono was spotted signing autographs for fans outside the band's Dublin studio, where many of their best-selling albums were recorded after the band bought the studios in the early 1990s.
He even took time to pose next to some of the graffiti left on the studio walls by fans of the band.
Among the excited fans waiting outside the band's studio yesterday was Gary Paul from Parkwest, Co Dublin, who asked Bono to sign his miniature 'Achtung Baby' Trabant car, which had been earlier signed by The Edge.
Bono with his Niece Leah Hewson
He later attended the opening of an exhibition of art by his niece, Leah Hewson, at the KTcontemporary gallery in Donnybrook.
Leah graduated last year from Dun Laoghaire Institute of Design, Art, and Technology. Her new exhibition, 'What's behind the Magic Door?', uses multimedia to explore the importance of preserving imagination.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Chilling, Fine Dining, Champagne and Tracksuits

Saturday 12th November 2011

I got back from Dublin yesterday and it was as great as ever.  I was so ready for this trip, I find that after about three months at home I'm ready to go off somewhere else and it had been four months since my Canada trip in the summer.  Also, it had been 11 months since my last visit to Ireland, the longest I've not visited in well over twenty years! The long gap was U2's fault, their everlasting 360 Tour's last leg was in North America in the summer and, well, we just had to see some shows and have a holiday at the same time didn't we?  But it was expensive which meant this trip to Dublin had to be done fairly cheaply.

Debbi and I met up at Manchester airport and, as usual, we just picked up from where we left off last time we got together.  We got to the security area and had to get our little packs of liquids etc out of our cases (we only had hand luggage) and I discovered I'd brought the wrong keys for my case padlock!  They rang for someone to come down to cut off the lock.  Soon a man arrived with a huge bolt cutter which cut through the padlock like it was butter.  As he was walking away deb said.

"A man with a tool." And we both giggled, I was just going to add, "A very big tool!"  When he glanced back and we tried to be sensible LOL!

No more mishaps and after a 35 minute flight we landed in Dublin on a mild, bright day.  Our taxi took us to our Travelodge Hotel in Ballymun.  When I'd first seen rooms there I wondered whether to go for it as Ballymun was once a notorious area of the city.  But there had been a lot of regeneration and our friends in Dublin said it was not as it used to be.  So we booked our rooms for the grand total of 25 Euro per night, a snap!

Most of the area was new build with those odd empty areas and some roads leading to nowhere.  There were still a few of the old 60's flats and the shopping centre close to our hotel was a relic from the past, and very rundown and most of the shops were empty.  But we went there as it had a Tesco and we needed to get a few supplies in.  We noticed it was cheaper than other supermarkets we had been in which was a pleasant surprise.  We also noticed there were a lot of people in tracksuits around, often in lurid colours, the best we saw was powder orange with lime green stripes down the side.

We got a half price bottle of champagne, wine, nibbles (Tayto crisps yay!) and something for our breakfasts. There was a Macari's fish and chip shop right beside the hotel so that was dinner sorted.  I love how they make fish and chips in Ireland, they cook the fish when ordered and leave it to drain for a minute or two once cooked, so it is always lovely and crunchy, never soggy.  The big, fat chips too were yummy too.  We'd both been dieting for a while and it was such a treat to have a meal like this.  And the champagne went with it very well too.

The rest of the evening we just chatted and nibbled, finished the champagne and opened some wine.  All very relaxing, it was good to chill like that.

Sunday 13th November 2011

The Octagon Bar, Clarence Hotel
We tend to have very lazy winter holidays in Dublin and this one was no exception.  We've seen all the usual sights of the city as we've been going over for so long - though we did read about the new Fabulous Food Trails which sounds perfect for us and we've already made a note of it for our trip next year!  So, anyway, we had a lazy day and then got our glad rags on for our meal in The Tea Room Restaurant  at The Clarence Hotel in the city centre.

We first went into the Octagon Bar to have a cocktail as they were on special offer.  We each had a Cosmopolitan, our fave, and it was perfectly made.  At 8pm we went through to The Tea Room for our meal.  They have an Early Bird menu (which some days is valid all night) which is 25 Euro for two courses, 29 Euro for three courses, excellent value for such fine dining.

To start we had Duck Rillette which was slow cooked shredded duck made into a kind of pattie and placed on homemade rye bread.  It was accompanied by wild mushrooms, capers, beetroot leaves and dressing.  It was very good, though also very filling as the rillette was large.

For our main course we again both chose the same - slow cooked Irish loin of pork which was wrapped around pancetta flavoured with sage and parmesan, accompanied by sea asparagus, gnocchi, confit tomatoes and olive jus.  The meat just melted in your mouth, very tender and the tomatoes were so delicious we asked how they had been prepared. I'd never had sea asparagus before and it was delicious. To accompany the meal we had a lovely bottle of Chianti.

As usual the service was excellent from our two Eastern European servers, one, who was from Estonia, was especially attentive.  The atmosphere too, even though it was fairly quiet in the restaurant, was good, relaxed and comfortable.

We had no room for dessert (our stomachs must have shrunk with our diets LOL) so went through to The Study to finish off our wine, which was brought through for us by one of the waiters, and we just took our time finishing it.  It was a relaxing end to an excellent evening.  We've been going to The Tea Room for many, many years now and it has never disappointed.

Monday 14th November 2011

Deb in the Bridge Bar and Grill
Another lazy day and then another lovely night out!  This time we were trying out somewhere new, The Bridge Bar and Grill on Grand Canal Quay.  We've been to it's sister restaurant The Town Bar and Grill a few times and loved it, so we thought we'd try this place for a change - we have decided to try a new restaurant every time we visit Dublin.

The restaurant is built into the railway bridge on Grand Canal Quay in Dublin's Docklands, inside you can see one of the bridge's arches.  It is a bit out of the way and the part of the Quay it is situated on is not a through road, so not the best of locations, I thought it would be nearer all the other eating places further down the Quay.

We were seated in a booth at the window, though there was not a lot to see LOL!  The seating was comfortable, but, for me, the restaurant was too cold, though Debbi thought it was ok. Surprisingly, we did not hear the trains that passed over the bridge, very good soundproofing!

I had some Guinness bread while we were waiting, it was delicious, like a combination of soda bread, pumpernickel and, well, Guinness. For starters I had Katafi crab cake with roasted pepper and fennel compote, which was sooooo gorgeous, it looked fantastic too.  Deb had  roast butternut, chestnut and confit duck risotto, I tried a little and it was wonderful too, risotto cooked perfectly is so tasty.

Me and my halo in the Bridge bar and Grill
For the main course I had chicken supreme, garlic and chive mash, baby leeks and morel jus, delicious!  Deb had belly pork, butternut puree, spicy puy lentils and saffron aioli. I'm not keen on belly pork, but Deb loves it and said it was fabulous.

We had room for dessert tonight, our stomachs must be stretching LOL!I was in the mood for chocolate and had chocolate fondant with white chocolate centre and ice cream - it was to die for yum yum!  Deb had caramelised lemon tart with blackcurrant sorbet, it looked too good to eat, I've put a photo of it in this article (sorry the photos are a bit dark, the restaurant was dark and I was using my mobile to take the pictures.)

The food at The Bridge Bar and Grill was excellent.  But for me it lacking a little in atmosphere, it felt a bit cold, both  physically and psychologically. I prefer its sister establishment The Town Bar and Grill and of course, The Tea Room.

 Tuesday 15th November

Home time already.  We checked out and had a delicious, and very cheap breakfast in Macari's before heading to the airport.  Our flight back to Manchester was 30 minutes (we are so lucky to live so close to Dublin) and then we parted our ways, Deb to Stoke and me to Carlisle.  I had to change trains at Preston and the Glasgow train I needed to catch was literally pulling into Preston station as I was running over the bridge from the other platform, I sat down and the train left, that's how close it was.  That run was the most energy I expended in the last four days!  If I'd missed that train I would have been stranded in Preston for the night, I vowed then and there never to have to get the last train home again!  

It was a short but sweet visit.  Dublin is like a second home to me, from the first time I set foot in the city in 1989 I felt I belonged, "It's not where you are born, it's where you belong" some band said LOL. So true, and that has never changed for me over all those years.                                                                                  

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Ireland Bound!

Not long until I'm off to Dublin now.  This is my only trip there this year and I've missed the place so it'll be wonderful to be back.  These last few weeks have been very strange for me in some ways, and it'll be good to just chill in my favourite city.  Debbi and I have already got our meals out organised (well you have to get your priorities right.) The diet will be forgotten and my muscles will get a rest from the treadmill, swiss ball and weights for a few days, yay!

Friday 4 November 2011

Is it time for U2 to call it a day?

Good article from The Telegraph by Neil McCormick which brings up some interesting points for any U2 fan.

Is it time for U2 to call it a day?

The Edge and Bono have also contributed to the plot and dialogue (Photo: Getty)
There has been a lot of internet chatter about whether U2 are breaking up, following comments from Bono in Rolling Stone. He has been talking a lot recently about U2 having been “on the edge of irrelevancy for 20 years” and suggested “We’d be very pleased to end on No Line on the Horizon”. Despite a failure to deliver a hit single and a general perception that it wasn’t a classic, the album has recently reached the five million sales mark, and U2 have just completed the biggest, most technologically ambitious and highest grossing tour in rock history. Q magazine just presented U2 with an award for Greatest Act of the Last 25 years. Might it represent an opportune moment for U2 to bow out?
There is no set process for a band to break up. Usually it happens more or less accidentally and spontaneously, through internal conflict. Often it is accompanied by a decline in popularity and increasing creative divisions. But when you have been together as long as U2 (36 years and counting), and successful throughout your career, a kind of inertia can set in, where the band continues to exist just because, well, it continues to exist.
REM have been widely applauded for their recent decision to disband because of a sense that their best  days were behind them. The Rolling Stones continue despite of it, taking the critical flak to deliver music and entertainment for their massive fan base. You can’t say one is right, and one is wrong – it is each according to his own. But REM are close to U2, and belong to the post punk generation for whom an allegiance to rock bands came with high ideals and a sense of purpose. Talking about REM’s break up on Newsnight this week, Mike Mills explained that “It was an opportunity for us to walk away on our own terms. There are no external forces, no problems, we can walk away as friends and feel like we’ve accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish.”
U2 have certainly accomplished a lot, probably more than they ever dreamt… although they did dream big. I’ve got Bono on tape when Boy came out, in 1980, enthusiastically telling me that one day they would make a record as great as Sergeant Pepper. They’ve been the biggest rock band in the world for much of their career, they have constantly reinvented and reinvigorated themselves musically, done ground breaking and record breaking tours, and been at the centre of political and charitable campaigns that have helped shape the world we live in. I think this is part of the problem, actually, the very cause of the existential crisis the band find themselves in. Bono likes to be at the centre of things, part of the musical, political and cultural conversation. “Lots of people have U2 albums, why they would want another one is a reasonable question,” he admitted recently. “I don’t know if it is possible for us to make something that is current that is meaningful, not just to our audience but to the times we live in. But that’s kind of the job for me.”
U2 have recorded a lot of music over the past couple of years, with a lot of different producers, including new songs with Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton, the cut and paste wizard behind Gnarls Barkley), clubby pop tracks with Red One and meditative, quasi-ambient material with their established team of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. I would like to hear those records. But there seems to be little sense in the band camp that this is music the world needs right now, something singular and original and powerful enough to stand up with their very best, as big and bold as the sprawling emotion of Unforgettable Fire, the rough hewn rock of The Joshua Tree, the industrial strength invention of Achtung Baby or killer tunes of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. And so they just keep chipping away, in search of that elusive creative breakthrough. But can a band of super rich middle-aged men ever achieve the creative heights of their youth, when making music really seemed like a matter of life or death?
Bono’s conviction that they have to create something world beating every time effectively creates a rod for their own backs. What bands have ever done their greatest and most resonant work in the middle age of their career?  When U2 made their early classics, they worked day and night in pursuit of an ideal, sacrificing personal time and private lives, giving everything to the cause of the music. Inevitably that is not the case any more. They arrange meetings and recording sessions to fit with their increasingly complex personal schedules.  Their fans may still like to believe that U2 live in Ireland and meet in the local pub or prayer meeting (hence the ludicrously inaccurate tax avoidance charge that keep being made against them). In fact, Bono lives mainly in New York now, The Edge in LA, Adam in London and only Larry remains a more or less full time resident of Dublin. They have all (apart from Adam) got wives and children who need time and attention. They have the kind of extreme wealth that ensures fabulous comfort. And Bono, their driving force, finds his time and energy much diluted by his sprawling range of extra-curricular interests and commitments, particularly political and charitable activities that inspire much antagonism in people who think a rock star should be in the business of making rock music. As Bono recognises, “We’re the most loved and the most hated band on Earth” and a lot of the reasons people don’t like them are actually about him – which he says he understands “because I have to live with me too.”
I was supposed interview Bono last week about the 20th anniversary re-release of Achtung Baby but he called it off because he felt he had done enough promotional work, and needed to take a break. He says he is becoming embarrassed by the amount of focus there is on him, as opposed to the rest of the band. It is a running joke that he sympathises with people who are sick of the sound of his voice, because he is too. And he’s plainly worn out. Or as he put it in an apologetic message: “Flat on my back from exhaustion.”
U2’s two year world tour may have finished in the summer but sometimes I think Bono just doesn’t know how to stop. He has continued his ceaseless globetrotting in connection with all his philanthropic, humanitarian and business commitments. He sang at Steve Jobs memorial in California on October 17, met Nicholas Sarkozky in Paris on the 19th as part of a lobbying group for the Global anti-poverty coalition One ahead of the G20, and was in London a few days later with the rest of U2 to pick up their award from Q magazine. It is hardly surprising that he told Rolling Stone his only future plans were to have some time off: “I want to take my young boys and my wife and just disappear with my iPod Nano and some books and an acoustic guitar.” Then on Monday, this week, he was in Dublin, as part of a delegation trying to convince foreign technology companies to invest in Ireland. He is the rock star who can’t say no.
Which is why, personally, I don’t think U2 are likely to do an REM and retire gracefully. If they ever do go, it will be in a blaze of glory or an act of outrageous folly, broken by their singer’s mad ambition. Right now, it is probably fair to say U2 need a break and the world needs a break from them. But U2 fans have heard these hints of disillusion and dissolution before – notably in 1989, after the excesses of Rattle And Hum, when Bono declared they had to “go away and dream it all up again.” They came back with Achtung Baby in 1991, probably their finest moment.
From my experience, what they tend to do is manufacture a sense of crisis to drive them. Edge refers to it as jeopardy, a constant buzzword in his discussions of their creative process. U2 need to feel that there are things at stake when they are writing and recording, deliberately using tension and risk to maintain focus. This, presumably, gets harder the more successful and comfortable individuals get. When Bono declares U2 to be on “the edge of irrelevance”, what he is really doing is raising the stakes for himself and his band, shoving them rudely out  of their comfort zone.
U2 are in temporary retreat while their leader recharges his batteries, but his own self-questioning is not actually an indication of disillusion, but an instigation to action. Fans worrying that Bono’s remarks suggest U2 are about to call it a day could not be more wrong. What he really wants to do, indeed what he feels he needs to do, is for U2 “to go away and create the album of their lives.”
I don’t know if it is possible for a band with their long history to reinvent themselves again. But, like millions of other fans, I want to hear them try.