NI parkruns: Queens

The Queens parkrun is one of the longest established of Norn Irn’s parkruns.  It is nowhere near the main University building – it’s at its Sports Centre in Finaghy, known as “The Dub”.  The course is 2 laps around the tennis courts and playing fields.  It’s hillier than you’d think, some of the turns are quite sharp, and the terrain changes from car-park asphalt to gravelly path.

Access: Located close to the sign-post House of Sport roundabout, it’s easy to get to this parkrun either from the Outer Ring, or from the M1 via Stockman’s Lane.  There is ample parking, and facilities in the modern building are excellent.

Gear: When I first did this run I’d only just started parkrunning, and I was taking part in an accountants’ charity weekend.  So I got a lovely new T shirt to wear!

not quite on the cover of a magazine...

not quite on the cover of a magazine…

Crowd: As you’d expect, there are a fair few students and academics who regularly run this course, but it’s also popular with Lisburners looking for a change of scenery from Wallace.  Attendance is usually around 60 (at time of writing – it’s increased a fair bit since then!)

Strangely Appropriate Song: Reelin in the Years, by Steely Dan, made me reminisce about times past when I’d attended Queens University……

Time: I’d done this one pretty early in my parkrun career, and came in at 31:15, still chasing the elusive 30 barrier.

Update January 2015:

20150124_101610It’s been quite icy recently, and unfortunately this does lead to parkrun cancellations for safety reasons.  Queens is pretty weather-resilient, though – it’s a busy centre with lots of activities on each Saturday morning, so the staff are really good at gritting the surfaces.  After a Wallace cancellation, I made a quick decision to re-route to Queens, especially since my running mate Minnie hadn’t tried it yet.  It was a bright blue-sky morning, there were over 100 runners, including a few Wallace stable-mates, and we had a pretty enjoyable run.  I found some of the paths a bit narrow – it’s easy to get hemmed in at the start, especially with a dog!  But we managed a very satisfying 25:44, and I got those coveted letters PB after  my name.  The welcome from the regulars and volunteers was lovely, and I’m sure we’ll be back again soon.

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

NI parkruns: #18parkruns

Inspired by the recent visit of the Strathclyde parkathoners running all of our courses over one weekend, a group of intrepid local runners decided to give it a go themselves.

An early timetable fitting them into a 24 hour slot was later revised to a more do-able 2-day itinerary (well, many of the parks aren’t actually open during the wee small hours, and the danger factor should not be discounted).  Using modern technology, an event was created on Facebook, Belfast Running Club’s website, and the hashtag #18parkruns was used on Twitter to keep up with their progress.

A hardy core team was aiming to run all 18.  Others were hoping to join as a relay team, or for one day, or for just their local run, or for the final 5 Belfast runs.

I caught up with them at my home parkrun, Wallace in Lisburn.  I was early, and just as well, as so were they.  AND they wanted to run earlier than their planned-for 2 pm start-time, to allow for a more substantial recovery break before heading into the final 5 in the big city.


I’d been undecided as to what I would do – I could have treated it as a normal parkrun, including bringing Mini with me.  But they were probably faster than me.  I could have cycled there, and shown them the course from the bike.  But the forecast was for rain. I wasn’t too sure who else from Wallace was planning to turn up – as it turned out, I was the only one (complete with my traditional bucket of Haribos), so I opted to act as marshall and gave them the outline of the route, kept a tally of how many laps they’d done, and clapped and cheered.


Some of their friends and family arrived while they were part way through, and they either ran along, or joined me on the supporters bench.



The route they took was:

Saturday:  Comber, Bangor, Carrickfergus, Larne, Antrim, Ballymena (Ecos), Portush, Derry & Enniskillen

Sunday: Cookstown (MUSA), Armagh, Craigavon (CityPark), Lisburn (Wallace) & Belfast (Five Parkruns)

Belfast – Queens (Dub), Falls, Waterworks, Victoria Park & Ormeau Park

Thats 90km in total, about 2 full marathons worth!


I must admit, I’m tempted to try the Belfast 5 in one day – that’s just over a half-marathon, although split into 5 separated sections.

Well done Simon, John, Liam and Joanna – a fantastic achievement!


In the beginning was the play.

The play in question was “The Bible: The complete word of God (abridged)” done by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Both the troupe and the play have been around for over 20 years, so it wasn’t some new avant garde cutting edge piece of drama. It was a mildly amusing comedy.

The venue in question was the Theatre at The Mill, a beautifully realised piece of architecture combining an original mill building in Newtownabbey with new state of the art gallery and performance spaces. It is run by the local council.

My husband is jealous of the number of evenings I spend runninganddancing, and so we have an agreed date night at least once a month. This seemed like the perfect idea for January’s date night, and so we booked tickets.

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And then, a week before opening night, the show was cancelled. A DUP member of the council had felt that play was offensive and blasphemous. Why it had taken him till so close to the performance to raise these concerns isn’t clear – the play had been approved by the council’s artistic committee months ago, had been advertised on billboards, flyers, and in the theatre’s brochure.

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Why it couldn’t have just had a warning, like the parental advisory sticker on CDs with rude words in them, isn’t clear either. Nor why theatre goers couldn’t just have been made aware of the content and left to make up their own minds.

No. Councillors, without having seen the show themselves, decided that no-one should get the opportunity.

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What happened next was perhaps predictable, but most satisfying nonetheless.  The theatre going public were outraged.  The Nolan Show took up the case.  The twitterati picked it up and gave it the #ThouShaltNotLaugh hashtag.  The Arts Minister and local comedians expressed their concern about censorship.  A Christian who HAD seen the show penned a thoughtful and measured letter, which was widely shared on Facebook.  A petition was signed.

Momentum grew – the show, which had precious few advance sales, began to sell out in its later venues.  Followers of @reduced on Twitter zoomed over the 10,000 mark.

If ever there was a case of no such thing as bad publicity, here it was.

And in a miraculous volte-face, the council reversed their decision, 2 days before curtain up.  The theatre’s website crashed under the demand for tickets, the cameras were out in force to vox-pop people entering and leaving the show, a mahoosive round of applause greeted the first appearance on stage of a cast member, and a warm standing ovation followed the closing lines.


There are some lessons to be learned here.  The PUL (Protestant Unionist Loyalist) community in Norn Irn have a long history of not understanding the importance of PR.  The world’s cameras have seen them stoning primary school children on their way to school, fleg protestors disrupting Christmas shopping, and stern-faced men in bowler hats valuing intransigence.  Could no-one have advised the councillors that this was the almost inevitable outcome?

I was not surprised but a little disappointed that the opportunity wasn’t taken to have a “proper” discussion about what is and isn’t blasphemous or offensive.  There are a lot of grey areas, and a debate should have been instructive.  How about nudity for instance – is Page 3 offensive? Breast-feeding mothers? Topless beaches?  What constitutes blasphemy – is Douglas Adams’ “God disappearing in a puff of logic” blasphemous?  Taking the Lords name in vain on television? The internet meme of God reaching out to the spaghetti monster’s noodly appendage – is that offensive to Pastafarians?

Sadly we had The Nolan Show, a pointing and shouting match with a fair dose of “whataboutery”, but no real depth or substance.

The real winners, though, in the silveriest of linings to this murky cloud, is the Theatre at the Mill.  The staff there handled the cancelling-uncancelling efficiently and pleasantly (though the bar staff seemed overwhelmed with the packed opening night crowd of punters at the delightfully named “Yarns” bar).  Its fabulous facilites have been seen by the world’s media, and those who made the 5 mile trip to the outskirts of Belfast will undoubtedly visit again.

I think art is the ulitmate winner.

World Police and Fire Games 2013 Opening Ceremony

Who could fail to have been inspired by the colourful spectacle of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics? When the announcement that the 3rd largest sporting event in the World was coming to Belfast, and would have its own fabulous opening ceremony, I was intrigued. More than that, I wanted to be involved. And so I volunteered as a dance performer for the opening of the World Police and Fire Games 2013.

1st meeting : Space is Big

There were very few people at the first meeting/ rehearsal which was held at T13, across the road from the iconic Titanic Belfast building. I hadn’t been to this venue before, but it is a great space full of BMX, roller bladders, scooters etc. And break dancers. I’d been a bit worried that the performance might be a gaggle of skinny 15 year olds twirling ribbons, but the dozen or so who were there were a variety of ages, shapes and sizes. Artistic Director Mags Byrne set out the theme for the parade and showed pictures of some of the costumes, played some of the music etc. She described one of the costumes as being like a big blue bird with wings, and suggested that it might have the most choreographical element – the other costumes and flag bearers weren’t doing much more than smiling and walking in formation. The smiling part was important, though, that was emphasised!

It’ll be outdoors, in daylight, so everything has to be really big, OTT, exaggerated. Subtlety won’t work.

Back home, I asked my dance-student daughter if she’d come across Mags before, and sure enough, she had, as part of her performance with the Cultural Olympiad last year.

2nd meeting : Be the Sea

There were lots more people around for this one! The various groups were shown their props and the moves they’d have to do – roly-poly arms for the propeller blades, dramatic avian moves for the black sinister birds, twirling white umbrellas for snow, and up-and-down black umbrellas for rain. There was not a lot to do for the big blue wings (now referred to as waves) but Mags did point out that your arms would get sore holding out those wings for a full 15 minutes. While smiling. But in my head I’d already volunteered to be in that group. Everyone picked their own section based on what appealed most – the propeller group was favoured by the blokes in the room.

a group of propeller costumes
I joined my fellow wing/ wave dancers and we went outside to practise some moves, in the shadow of the famous Belfast Harland and Wolff cranes. After a few minutes my arms were aching and I wondered if it was too late to change my mind about my chosen group. But the costumes were lovely – glittery sequin-strewn capes with poles to extend the arms, and fluttering in the breeze to represent the sea. Ah the sea! I grew up beside it and it has always been an important part of my life, so I reckoned I could “be the sea”.

Yes Mags remembered my daughter fondly, when I asked her, and was very complimentary about her as a dancer.

Our homework was to practise smiling for 15 minutes. There would be at least six TV cameras filming the event, to be shown in 70 countries around the world, so no doing anything that might be embarrassing, and keep expressions big and energetic. Oh dear, I bet my blue cape blows over my head and that’s the clip that’ll go viral….

Ceremony Day : Smile and Wave, boys

the front of Kings Hall Belfast with welcome poster
I was really excited in the run up to performance day , full of adrenalin and positive nervous energy. I’d opted for public transport to the Kings Hall, and it was free for competitions and performers. Which was nice. I found my way to the allotted meeting point in Alexander Hall – the last time I’d been there it had been full of goats waiting to be judged at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show! At 10 am, the hall really started to fill up: there was a group of young children who were to be a school of fish, the costume lady was dishing out the various jackets and headgears to be worn, and other performers were arriving and finding themselves a corner to claim. It transpired that there were different categories of participant – those with red passes were “volunteers”, and entitled to a £4 lunch voucher to be used at the various vendors on the site. They could choose from paella, pulled pork sandwich, or a gourmet hot dog. My meagre lilac pass marked me as a “performer” and consequently only entitled me to the sandwiches which were brought in in large boxes. I avoid bread, but I’d anticipated this problem and was well stocked with my own refreshments, including a rather tasty butternut squash and red onion tartlet that I’d made the night before.

Outside, the rain had started. The forecast had not been promising, and there’d even been talk of tornados! I dreaded to think what my blue cape would do if caught by a strong wind. At 11 we donned some of our costumes and lined up outside in order, ready for the only practice run we’d have. The theme was “exploration”, and the opening music was the cue for some fur clad and ice-encrusted adventurers to appear from the small stage in the centre of the arena, and start looking round in an exploratory fashion. As the music rose in pace and tempo, they joined the head of the parade with a succession of floats. First came a small fishing boat. This was followed by a shipwreck, and, bizarrely, a piano. Then came a huge whale, complete with noisy spout, and in its wake chattered the school of fish. That was followed by a man with a spyglass in a bath tub, perched high on a scaffold. Then came my group of waves. The parade director decided that some of us waves should go in front of the bathtub, so that it looked more like it was surrounded. I was one of the four to go in this first group, which meant being circled and teased and deafened by the school kids who couldn’t resist playing hide-and-seek under our cloaks.

We started our parade, smiling for all we were worth, twirling our capes as best we could in the drizzle and wind. Then, the music stopped. The whale was having difficulties in negotiating one of the corners, so we all had to go back and start again. The end product may all look very glamorous and be over in 10 minutes, but there are hours of hanging around in the rain for shows like this.

a carnival whale float
Take 2, and we are more on top of what we had to do. As the parade proceeds, local singing star Peter Corry takes to the stage and sings about a little stream winding its way down to the sea. At this point the school of fish go off and do a swimming dance up the centre aisle, before joining the main parade again. The music returns to an up-tempo beat, and various BMX bikes appear and do some stunts around the centre stage. Peter comes back on stage to sing “Go the Distance”, which is our cue to leave by the nearest exit. Without cheering or whooping as we depart, so that audience is still focussed on the stage.

Back in Alexander Hall, fine adjustments are made to costumes. Under our blue cloaks we wear rather fabulous green gowns, and mine needs to be shortened using a staple gun, so that I don’t risk tripping over it. It’s now lunchtime, and we have a few hours free to explore the site and stretch out legs. The rain has stopped and the sun is making an attempt to shine. While purchasing a coffee, I notice local DJ Alan Simpson sitting at a table, getting ready for his show to be broadcast from the venue later on. I introduce myself and thank him for his part in getting Jedward to sing Happy Birthday to my stepson last year. During his show, he chats with Olympic golden girl Dame Mary Peters, a wonderful ambassador for sport and for Northern Ireland, and the pair of them dance to a samba band who were wearing stilts – quite an achievement!

Dame Mary Peters with DJ Alan Simpson  and a samba band
The doors open to the public at 3, and soon there are long queues for the loos, the burger vans, the bar….

The atmosphere is one of palpable excitement, and many of the competitors are sporting interesting outfits – the Norwegians show off their horned Viking helmets, the Dutch team are very visible in bright orange, and the Canadian Mounties are being photographed by all and sundry. By 6, most spectators are in their seats, ready for the athletes’ parade at 6.30. We don our costumes and have our faces painted in a suitably oceanic theme. We commence lining up at 7.15, and the sun finally makes an appearance! The opening speeches duly delivered, the opening strains of our music start up, and we were off! Smiling, twirling, avoiding TV cameras, being dazzled by the flashes of the cameras of the thousands of athletes and spectators now filling the arena, smiling some more. The energy and atmosphere is just electric – the athletes are smiling, the First Minister is smiling, Dame Mary Peters is smiling, and we all smile and smile for all we are worth. It’s all I can do to stop tears of joy spilling down my painted cheeks as Peter Corry launches into the stirring opening lines of his final song, and my heart sings with him as he belts out :

I know every mile

Will be worth my while

When I go the distance

I’ll be right where I belong

Tempting though it was to stay and watch the rest of the show, I really hate the rush of crowds at the end of events, so I made my way to the train station for the journey home, still in my blue face paint! This greatly amused some Sri Lankan cricketers who asked me to take their picture, especially when I discovered that I was on the wrong train! But I did make it safely home in time to watch the highlights on the evening news.

Someone wearing blue face paint, but not a Smurf
It was a truly unforgettable experience. I am in awe of all those enthusiastic and highly trained athletes who will be here for the next 10 days pitting their skills in such events such as climbing-the-stairs-while-in-full-firefighter-kit. I am inspired by creative talents such as Mags and Anne Marie the costume guru who can work miracles with a staple-gun. And I love being part of a team of volunteers who are funny, warm, generous of spirit, and – as they say in these parts – great craic.

We’re going to need a bigger box…

Jem had her first paid work in a theatre yesterday, at the preview of this year’s panto in the Grand Opera House. At first we thought she was just going to be a sort of stand-in dancer for some photo-shoots, but it was actual appearing on stage, with Dame May McFettridge, and included a stint as the back end of a dragon, which is obviously vital training for any budding thesp.

Jem with stars in her eyes

Jem with stars in her eyes

So today her picture was in most of the local papers, as well as this lovely publicity still on the Grand Opera House website. Honestly, if this is going to happen every time she goes to work I’m going to need a much bigger box in which to put all her photos, certificates, publicity, programmes…


J has been working her little socks off for, well, most of the year really, towards MT4UTH’s production of Godspell. This was a bit different to the usual “Musical in a Weekend” projects that they do – firstly they had a whole 6 days to rehearse this one, and secondly, it was being staged in Belfast’s iconic Grand Opera House. J was particularly chuffed that she got her picture in some of the local papers, on the eve of her 16th birthday.

Jem leaping over cars in a single bound

Jem leaping over cars in a single bound

My sister and her family accompanied me, and we had seats in my favourite row at the front of the Upper Circle. We were in pretty good form as we’d been quaffing champagne all afternoon to celebrate her getting her PhD. <hic>

J really does shine when she dances! She was in the front row for most of the numbers, her big smile reaching right up to the Gods. Aly described her as looking as if what she was doing was just THE most wonderful thing she’d ever been asked to do.

She also made a very good plague 🙂