Getting punched for a good cause

Me and Ricky Hatton

Hoping that standing beside this guy last summer will have somehow rubbed off some of his skills!

So since January I have been back training again properly and slowly building up my fitness to where it was last summer before my injury. Whilst the training has gone well, I have been looking for an event to train for. Suddenly out of the blue came something I have been wanting to do for a couple of years but previously had been unable to take part in – White Collar Boxing.

Yes, it means I will probably get hit a few times but it’s going to be worth it. I decided it would be a great idea for a bit of fundraising and so after a few enquiries here and there, I decided to try and raise some money for Aware Defeat Depression. I have friends and relatives who have suffered from depression over the years and I have seen how it can affect people. Depression affects around 25% of the Northern Ireland population, (this could be indirectly – carers, family etc.). Aware Defeat Depression support carers and family as well as people experiencing depression. They’ve got 20 support groups across NI that are free to attend but cost around £400 a month to maintain. My target of raising at least £600 will at least go a little way to easing this burden.

In approximately 75% of all suicides, depression is cited as a factor. There were 260 deaths by suicide in 2009, which averages as 5 per week. Between January and September 2010 there were 234 deaths by suicide, averaging 6.5 per week. The suicide rate in NI for males is 3.5 times higher than for females. These statistics make for shocking reading. By supporting Aware Defeat Depression, you can help lower the number of deaths.

Training starts in earnest on the 26th April and will continue twice a week until I climb into the ring on the 23rd June at the Europa Hotel in Belfast. I am excited but also nervous, it will be a test of physical and mental ability as well as my discipline and nerve. I would love to have your support, knowing that I have a bunch of people behind me, raising money for this excellent charity would make a huge difference. I won’t let you down.

If you can afford to donate, please do by clicking here, if you can’t, then thanks for reading and please tell a few people and encourage them to support this cause.

The murder of Ronan Kerr. Not in my name.

Ronan Kerr; will his name be the last on the memorials? Any decent person will be hoping so but you can’t help but fear that his will be joined by others over the course of time. His is now the latest PSNI death in the long history of terrorist murders in Northern Ireland, just below Stephen Carroll who was gunned down just over 2 years ago.

For many young people in Northern Ireland, these murders will seem all the more shocking, out of the blue and totally at odds with the current lifestyle Northern Ireland has grown to know. I was reminded just how many people on Twitter and Facebook were being exposed to the real horror of these things for the first time – many of them young enough to have been shielded from the worst of the Troubles. Also of note was the very real sense of anger on social media, a platform for people to join together in instant protest at the murder of a young man, going about his business on a regular Saturday afternoon. The #notinmyname hashtag was quickly latched on to and became the vehicle for those unable to do anything else but stand shoulder to shoulder, across communities both on and offline.

It was best summed up by one tweet I saw:

“Do you know a 25 year old? Someone who’s just started a new job? Well, someone just like that was just killed today, for no reason at all.”@theronster

Also very sad was a tweet from Philly Taggart, member of Omagh’s own rising stars Colenso Parade:

“RIP Ronan Kerr. Can’t believe what happened today in Omagh. He was in my class fourth and fifth year. He was a total gentleman.”@PhillyTaggart

The futility of the murder has baffled me. It furthers no cause. Wins no battle. Wins no support.

If anything it will forge communities together. Increase solidarity. Make people more defiant to defend the peace we now have.

Perhaps the forthcoming election will be a chance for those who have previously been apathetic about politics in Northern Ireland to come out of the woodwork,  become part of a record turnout and vote. Show the world that this is the way to make a change. Peaceful change.

To place a bomb or other such device under a car in order to kill someone is ultimately a cowardly act. It’s hardly a fair fight and the perpetrators don’t have to witness the outcome, no mental image to live with for the rest of their life. Somewhere, there were celebrations of this cowardly success. Someone saw them, someone knows who did this. It’s time for those people, the ones who know the names, to be real heroes, to stand up for something that really matters and come forward and share that knowledge.

And all this – #notinmyname

Nostalgic ravers

Nostalgic look at 90s dance culture courtesy of new Chase & Status video for Blind Faith. Great tune, awesome video. Check it.

Always wear your seatbelt

This is a very powerful advert. There are many shocking and violent adverts promoting the message that you should always wear a seatbelt but this one is very different and very beautiful. Buckle up.

16 Years Ago

Hard to believe it was 16 years ago this month but strange how time moves on. Following the shootings in Cumbria yesterday I had a conversation with someone about random acts of violence. I ended up replying with this story. I guess that it shows these attacks are random, but it can happen anywhere.

June 17th, 1994

Usual exam weather, warm, sunny and I am doing one of my first written papers for my French A-Level. The GCSE kids had got up and left 10 minutes ago, leaving only the 30 or so A-Level students sitting their French and Technology papers. Three and a half rows of small desks, I am in the 2nd row towards the back of the exam hall.

I look up from my paper, to my left by the window, Jenny Dunlop is working her way through one of the questions, she looks up and shoots me a half-frown as I crack my knuckles. Glancing past her out the floor-to-ceiling windows I catch a glimpse of a man in overalls, he looks like a Fire Extinguisher engineer, canister in one hand, duffel bag in the other. He looks lost. My eyes return to the room, catching Jenny’s, exchange a smile and get back on with the exam.

The doors at the front of the hall open. The guy with the fire extinguisher has walked in and is standing there, I look up again as I hear the sound of a Zippo lighter opening. Then suddenly, a large ball of flame engulfs the guys at the top of the first two rows and shoots down the room. Dead for sure.

It’s an exam though. Everyone is so pre-conditioned to sit there that no-one does anything. My brain is screaming at me “Get the f*ck out”. Then it kicks in and I find myself getting up and running for the exit to the right at the side of the hall. A smell of petrol and burnt everything in the air and up my nostrils. Charging through the double doors and jumping over the chairs that are left in the corridor to prevent people walking down the side of the hall during exams. Tripping, falling to the floor and back up in a heartbeat I smash the fire alarm and run out through the changing rooms into the bright sunshine.

The rest of the school is wandering slowly out towards the front of the school to be counted off before heading back to class after what they think is a drill. I try to explain it’s not a false alarm, running into friends from the year below, I explain what just happened. Still unsure of how and why. I wander in a daze for several minutes before realising I am still holding my pen and paper from the exam. An irrational fear of allegations of cheating sweeps over me and I give them to Mr Halliday, a maths teacher.

Very quickly the Bomb Squad, Police, Fire Brigade and several ambulances are on the scene. Everywhere gets cordoned off. I have no idea what on earth has just happened. Only that a bunch of people I know must be dead.

We wait for news, then a stretcher is brought out, the first of the victims, then more. We can’t make out who is who – a mixture of bandages and blankets, blood and confusion – shouting messages of hope to them as they are loaded in to the ambulance.

I really wanted a cigarette. They were in my pocket, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it in case I got into trouble. Strange what happens to your rational thought in times of extreme stress.

We were brought up to the school Staff Room where I phoned my sister – “Hey sis, how’s things….yeh fine, fine…listen, there’s been a bit of an incident, can you call mum and dad…yeh I’m fine….”

After that, it was police statements. All the detail I can muster. Trying to fathom what went on. Piecing together what I had seen. Reliving the moments. Eventually I am free to go. My sister warns me there are journalists and cameras at the gates. I walk out, cameras in my face, Sky News, BBC, UTV, Press photographers. A hundred questions in 5 seconds. Flash bulbs. News logos on microphones. I said my piece and went home.

A year later I went to Antrim courthouse every day of the trial. Listened intently. I wanted to hear him speak. Make a human of him. He was vulnerable. Unhinged. Blew his own case to shreds in a matter of 3 or 4 sentences. You could see his defence team, heads in hands.

Garnet Bell died in prison, a slow and probably uncomfortable death from cancer.

I’ve suffered flashbacks, struggle with a heightened sense of risk but overall I moved on pretty quickly. My family still wonder if I get scared at the sight of flames and fireballs on TV. It triggers a memory sometimes but nothing much more.

I do find myself consumed by stories of sudden and extreme violence. 9/11, the Tube bombings in London, school shootings and in particular Dunblane (the first of note after my own experience) had me frozen to my seat as I watched the news unfold. I needed to know everything. Somehow I crave the detail in order to deal with my own experience. This still happens. I hate it, yet something in me still needs it.

Updated: Video Report from the evening news below. All images courtesy of UTV.

Belfast Twestival

The dust has settled and the hashtag has gone quiet but Thursday night’s Twestival in Belfast was nothing short of a spectacular event.

Organisers @Lopsi and @illusivelu

From Left - Organisers @Lopsi and @illusivelu

Organised by the rather smashing @Lopsi and @IllusiveLu and held at one of Belfast’s newest venues, Slide, the evening got off to a great start with RAMs’ Pocket Radio setting the tone for the evening. If you haven’t heard Peter before, you are truly missing out. Accompanied by Shauna Tohill on vocals the pair brought a dreamy, delicate sound to the beginning of the night, engaging with the growing audience and setting a high bar for the other 2 acts to follow.

Ram's Pocket Radio

RAMS' Pocket Radio

Up next were the excellent Seven Summits, bringing a little more edge to events and getting heads nodding and feet tapping. The new line up sounds great and having seen them at Trans Belfast last summer, there is a clear improvement in their direction. Keep an eye out for more forthcoming gigs.

Seven Summits

Seven Summits - Going up!

Before the last band of the evening, Little Wing Pizza brought what can only be described as some of the largest and tastiest pizzas in Belfast. Seriously huge but they went in a flash as people donated £1 a slice – many thanks to Phil for all his hard work on the night.

Little Wing Pizza

Little Wing Pizza, Belfast. Serious Noms.

Pudding arrived in the shape of Marshmallow Grove cupcakes, kindly donated by owner Sarah Landstreet. Again, these didn’t hang around and went down a treat.

Marshmallow Grove

Marshmallow Grove - Grab one before they go!

Claire Hanna from Concern moved on to make the raffle draw, with winners including Phil O’Kane and Lee Munroe. Again, all prizes had been kindly donated by local companies and were gratefully received.

Cutaways brought the evening to a conclusion with a fantastic set , showing just what a fine music scene Belfast has currently. Blistering guitars and beautiful vocals, their music gallops along with infectious rhythm and zingy synths. Make sure you check them out soon.


Cutaways - Infectious!

Just a final word of thanks to all those who came down, raising over £600 for Concern. Be proud of yourselves Belfast.

You can see all the photos from the night here

Place your bets! A quick look at Chat Roulette

So you have either been on Chat Roulette or you haven’t. The basic premise is that it will hook up your webcam to any other webcam to chat to someone else currently logged on the site. The results are limitless however the main scene is a bored looking guy staring at you and then disappearing. Occasionally you will arrive at someone who waves or says hi but mainly it looks like a whole bunch of random guys cruising for something which isn’t going to appear. A girl. Preferably with minimal clothes on.

That is how the site started off but increasingly it is becoming a place where the exhibitionists are hanging out. In some cases, literally! A quick look on Google for Chat Roulette Screenshots will show you some of what is going on. Just be aware that some of the images are not safe for work.

What did catch my eye was this fantastic piano guy, who plays and sings about the other person who is connecting to him. It’s a stroke of genius and something to be enjoyed amongst the banal and often seedy side of Chat Roulette. Enjoy.

You can read more over at Panic Dots and TheRonster