Monday, November 27, 2006

New Newcastle?

Yesterday I witnessed a miracle in the happening. While Linda took an afternoon nap I watched as Newcastle United entertained Portsmouth at St. James’ Park and played with much passion and great determination. They won a creditable 1-0, although they could have easily scored 3 or 4 but for Portsmouth’s goalie “Calamity” James, now sporting a new hairstyle that resembles that of Superman’s. Newcastle hadn’t won a league game at home since August and haven’t won a league game, home or away, in 10 weeks.

The hallowed turf at St. James' Park, Newcastle United's home ground

They were briefly languishing in the relegation zone at one stage, however a very good draw against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last Saturday, and yesterdays magnificent performance, meant they have now jumped all the way up from 18th to 17th in the Premiership.

Newcastle have been very unfortunate with the number of key players that have been and are still injured. The team that played yesterday was by no means the “1st” team, and yet they came up with a stellar performance against a team which is in 4th place in the league. The performance of Dyer, Solano, Emre, Martins, Sibierski (the goal scorer), Ramage, and Taylor was very encouraging. Shay Given was hardly troubled in goal. Even the usually unreliable Bramble put in a solid performance. Three players who also played very well were added to the long injury list: Captain Scott Parker, Charles N’Zogbia and James Milner.

Contrary to their league form, Newcastle’s European form has been excellent, coming up with surprising wins against Palermo away from home, and Celta Vigo and Fenerbahce at home. Those wins mean that Newcastle are through to the knock-out stages of the EUFA Cup and top their Group with 9 points out of 9. It’s just as well that they have qualified to the next stage because they travel to Frankfurt for their next match against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday without Parker, N'Zogbia, Moore, Duff, Ameobi, Bernard, Babayaro and of course Owen. James Milner might be a possible for that game and Steven Carr could come back from injury too. Although Newcastle will be happy to have qualified they would still like to win and stay top of their group, because depending on where they end up in the group determines which opposition they face. The higher up they end up in the group the weaker the opposition (in theory) they will face in their first knock-out match.

Maybe Newcastle have turned a corner.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bridges and BBQ

The weather in Lebanon has been absolutely beautiful these last few days. The forecast is for this weather to continue at least till the end of the month. It’s unbelievable that we’re now over halfway through November and the weather is so mild.

In Brummana daytime temperatures are reaching 17º, night time temperatures not falling below 13º. On the coast they’re about 5º higher on both counts.

On Sunday Linda and I went down to Lori and Simon’s house in Fghal. This was the first time we’d gone there since the war in July. With us came Kina, Mike, Paul and Naimy. November is normally when Simon sets up his “kirke” to distil Arak. This year we had the added bonus with the weather being warm enough to have a barbeque outdoors.

Fghal is about 300m above sea level just south of Batroun. The fastest route to Fghal is along the coastal highway, this gave us a chance to survey the damage to all four bridges that were bombed by the Israelis during the summer war, and check out the progress made in rebuilding them.

The first bridge we come across is the Maamaltein bridge just north of Home City. I did not manage to take pictures of the repair work there. Only the south bound carriageway was bombed on this bridge, so heading north there’s no detour, and traffic flowed smoothly. On the southbound carriageway an asphalt bypass has been built.

The next bridge is the Casino bridge. Again, only the south bound carriageway was bombed on this bridge, however, traffic is directed both ways on the north bound carriageway and there was quite a traffic jam there.

The Casino Bridge soon after it was bombed on 4th August 2006

Casino Bridge on 19th November 2006

The next bridge is the Halat, or Fidar, bridge just before Jbeil (Byblos). This bridge was completely destroyed. However, an asphalt bypass had been laid, which goes down to the river bed and back up, making it pretty steep.

Halat or Fidar Bridge when it was bombed on 4th August 2006

Halat (Fidar) Bridge on 19th November 2006

The fourth bridge that was bombed along this highway is the Madfoun bridge. The turnoff to Fghal is just before that bridge, however, one can have a panoramic view of that bridge from the road up to Fghal.

Madfoun Bridge soon after it was bombed on 4th August 2006

Madfoun Bridge on 19th November 2006

On to the Arak, Simon managed to distill 7 gallons, which is pretty good going. Of course, sampling of last year’s vintage is also part of the tradition.

Simon's kirke for distilling Arak

Once the BBQ lit up the smell of cooking chicken and steak soon wafted into the air. One would assume that this would be the last BBQ this year, however, you never know with this unusual weather.

BBQ in November?

Brummana Pictures

I know that many of you would love to see some pictures of Brummana. Therefore I will be posting, from time to time, pictures taken from in and around the Brummana area. I'll start with a small collection that I took from the Kamel's house terrace. These were taken on 30th June 2006, during the BHS summer reunion, when Mrs. Amal Kamel, and her daughters Juhaina, Samar, Nahia and Sana graciously invited our group of BHS 70's friends over for breakfast.
Pictures of the actual gathering will be posted on the BHS70s website hopefully sometime in December 2006. I'm actually working now on resizing those and uploading onto the site.

The view towards grand Hills Hotel Resort

The view towards Grand Hills Hotel Resort zoomed in

The view towards Grand Hill Hotel Resort Zoomed in further

Rizk Plaza.

This place was bombed April 2005, in the period when bombs were going off on a regular basis.

Old House... We think Marie Hanna used to live there in the 70's. Can anyone confirm this?

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Very Special Day

As promised, here is a sample of pictures taken of our wedding.

Did you know that we were childhood sweethearts?
And here we are again, 30 years on!
Linda in her chosen theme colours Burgandy and Champagne
Linda and Bridemaid Kina
Kina, David and Linda

Diala, Sarmad and Randa

Khalil, Linda, Sarmad and Dahi

Best Man Toy, Kina, Linda, Sarmad & Dahi
Diala, Linda, Sarmad & Naimy
Ibrahim, Linda, Sarmad and Randa

Naimy, Linda & Nancy

Sarmad, Linda, Peter & Jason
Family picture
Family & Friends

The ceremony at the British Embassy
Exchanging vows
Then time for champagne
Simon, Nancy, Lori and Naimy

Hind and Sarmad
H.E. The British Embassador (Mr. James Watt), Lara Bou Habib, The British Consul (Mrs. Karen Kavanagh),
Sarmad and Linda
Sarmad & Linda

The wedding cake

Small preview

For those who have asked to see our wedding pictures here's a preview. I'm working on resizing the pictures. Watch this space.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

iPods and Podcasts

The last few days have been very hectic, catching up with some work and running errands. DIY enthusiasts know that when you start repairing a nagging water leak in the house it normally leads to carrying out repairs to many other long-standing-waiting-to-be-repaired problems.

Timmy the cat is still on his discovery trails. His latest discovery is Linda’s cordless mouse. While Linda was in the kitchen cooking he managed to paw her mouse from the dining table onto the floor and at the same time somehow managed to sit on the mouse usb connector bending it beyond repair. Linda is quite fond of her mouse, which she’s had for years. Actually the mouse was rather worn and due for replacement, but Linda would have preferred this to have been done on her terms, not the cat’s. Anyway, that resulted in a trip to the computer hardware shop in Beirut. While there I picked up a webcam, which now means that I am no longer faceless to those who want to speak to me on Skype, msn, IM or any other instant messaging program.

We also went around looking for a calligraphy set for Kina, but we couldn’t find anything suitable. The ones that are available in specialist stores are specifically for Arabic scripting. The nibs for those are slanted, so are unsuitable for traditional calligraphy. We’ll have to see if will deliver those to Lebanon.

I’m also on my discovery trail. My latest discovery is rss feeds. Ever since I’ve noticed them on newspaper articles I’ve wondered what they were, now I know. And wow, am I amazed! Actually, over the last few days I’ve been quite busy catching up with all the feeds I’ve subscribed to. All are free, including the rss reader, or aggregator, which you will need to download and install if you want to subscribe to rss feeds. It is estimated that there are over a million publicly available rss feeds, from news articles, to technology, to business, to shopping to internet gaming etc., not to mention the private ones such as blogs and private websites. I’ve subscribed to articles from various newspapers and a number of blogs and websites. With news articles you can choose what your interests are and subscribe selectively to them. Some of you may have felt the effects of my subscriptions when you suddenly started receiving articles I’ve been sending you from Reuters, AP, CNet, Washington Post etc…

Next on my to-do list is Podcasts; and learning how to upload soundtracks to my blog.

A few of you have berated me for being stingy and not posting more pictures on my blog. So I’ll make up for this shortcoming in this and future posts. I was also slated by Hind Abboud when I spoke to her while in Damascus. She attended our wedding at the British Embassy in Beirut and the reception afterwards and was upset that she hadn’t seen the pictures yet. Out of 900+ pictures that were taken we chose 380 for printing and including in 3 wedding albums that took us 3 months to complete. The DVD wasn’t finally completed until 6 months later. I wanted to be absolutely certain that we edited our choice of music to the DVD. However, the end result is outstanding.

Solhi before his illness

Mum and Solhi sharing a joke

Young lady Maria

Halloween girl Rama

The problem with posting pictures on blogs is the amount of time that is required to resize them, unless you take them in the required size initially. I use ACDSee to resize pictures, if anyone knows of an easier way to do this could you let me know, as long as it doesn’t mean I have to learn to become proficient in such programs as Photoshop.

This reminds me, I have to resize the 2006 BHS reunion pictures too to be posted to the BHS70s website. The technique for resizing the pictures is exactly the same, although an FTP is required to handle the pictures for the website. (Listen to me talking like I’m an expert at programming and web designing, although I’m getting there.) Speaking of the BHS70s Website, Debi has posted the November update where she’s also posted the remaining galleries of the 2005 reunion.

Lori’s husband Simon is in the USA for a conference. A business trip which just happens to be in New Orleans, which is a couple of hours drive from Baton Rouge where Linda’s brothers Sammy and Danny live. So Simon was bound to meet up with them at some stage in the week he will be there. Exploiting this opportunity, Linda has ordered my Xmas present from Amazon. An 80Gb iPod. This is another toy that I have increasingly wanted to get. Everyone I speak to either has an iPod or wants one. Those who have one have said that it has changed their lives. Of course Nassif Aoun would say that, wouldn’t he. Anyway, iPods are about $150 cheaper through Amazon than they are here in Lebanon, and about $100 cheaper than you can pick them up in Dubai airport Duty Free, which don’t have the 80Gb version anyway. But iPods cannot be delivered to Lebanon, like CD’s and DVD’s can, so she ordered it to be delivered to Danny’s house. Simon has actually now picked it up. It will be here in Lebanon tomorrow night, but I won’t see it till Xmas Eve. We’ve also ordered something for Simon and Lori’s boys Peter and Jason to be brought back from the US, but since they are likely to read this I’m not telling what it is, but it will be a very nice surprise boys!!. We should have ordered a calligraphy set for Kina at the same time. Just proves you can’t always think of everything.

Linda's mother Naimy

David and Nancy

Nancy and David's son Michael

Nancy and David's son Paul and Simon and Lori's son Peter

Lori and Simon

Lori and Simon's youngest son Jason

The Three Lions played the Oranje last night in a friendly football match at the Amsterdam Arena. I would have put money on England losing, but they managed to hang on to a draw. I supported England during the World Cup, even did the traditional Lebanese thing of having an England flag fluttering from our veranda.

I have no idea why I support England, I guess it’s the fixation of siding with the underdog. After all I support Newcastle United. A stickler for punishment!!