Why I'm hoping this isn't the last waltz for Ulster Orchestra
A new year wouldn't be a new year without a Viennese concert, and it wouldn't quite be the same in Belfast without the Ulster Orchestra to host the gala proceedings.
There's a tradition in our house of lifting the January blues every year with tickets to the orchestra's New Year Viennese concert at the Waterfront Hall.
We fell into the habit by accident (after being offered tickets to the debut year) but never miss what is always a fantastic night for two reasons. Firstly, it's a rousing rollick through the dance halls of Vienna which sends the audience home with sore hands and a polka lodged firmly in the head. Secondly, the music is accompanied by dancing from Strictly stars Camilla Dallerup and Ian Waite who have been faithfully adding sparkle to the occasion for 10 years now.
This time a decade ago, I didn't know my Strauss from my, um, other Strauss. I had never seen the Ulster Orchestra play live before. I was lured along to the Waterfront to see two stars from my favourite TV show, with not much interest in the actual music.
But that first night was a revelation. I was amazed at how many songs I recognised. I also left fascinated by the experience of watching a full orchestra play live. That night transformed my limited perception of classical music and started a much-loved tradition. I have to confess that despite my one annual date with the Ulster Orchestra, I've never seen it play in any other context. I couldn't help feeling a bit of guilt, therefore, when news emerged of its serious financial difficulties last year when the unthinkable prospect of a Belfast with no Ulster Orchestra was nearly, and still could be, a reality. Back then, it looked like the Viennese New Year nights weren't going to happen.
So there was a palpable feeling of appreciation among the audience and the musicians on Saturday night. Conductor Christopher Bell - a man who sports sparkly shoes and whose banter is worth the entry fee alone - emerged on stage to a rousing welcome. There was a feeling that this was a night that almost didn't happen - but there we all were, enjoying ourselves against the odds.
He updated the audience immediately by saying while the orchestra wasn't completely out of the woods (a last-ditch financial package was close to being drawn up before Christmas) things are looking hopeful. He held crossed fingers in the air to a cheer.
That feeling of mutual appreciation was never far from the surface on Saturday night: applause was longer and more charged than usual; when the musicians stood to the face the crowd on several occasions, they looked a little emotional at the response. Camilla Dallerup took to the microphone to barnstorm a heartfelt speech about the quality of music she loves dancing to in Belfast every year - and how important the New Year tradition has become to her. Ian Waite spoke of how the hair stands on the back of his neck when he dances on stage with the Ulster Orchestra. The lingering, at times emotional, standing ovation at the finale was worthy of a determined orchestra that had come out fighting for its talent and tradition.
Camilla summed it up when she left with 'See you next year!' and no one doubted her.
Let's not discover our appreciation for something when it's too late. If you've never seen your Ulster Orchestra before, get some tickets. If, like me, you only go once in a blue moon, get some more.
Hats off to Aussies on animal welfare
It says a lot about the heart of a nation which takes great care in looking after its wildlife.
Cork hats off to Australia, where it was hard not to be moved by community efforts to help koalas which suffered burns in recent bushfires. A wildlife hospital near Adelaide was inundated after issuing a plea for help in treating koalas which suffered badly burnt paws trying to flee the flames.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare helped by providing a printable sewing pattern and the public rallied to muster homemade mittens out of tea towels and cloths. Cue heart-warming pictures of the stricken koalas in soothing ointment and looking forward to a full recovery.
Oh brother, how stupid can you be?
Wow. Just a week in and Celebrity Big Brother has already had an overload of hideous behaviour from the housemates.
Baywatch actor Jeremy Jackson has become the first inmate to receive a police caution for an unsavoury incident inside the house (he pulled open a model’s dressing gown). His exit was closely followed by Corrie actor Ken Morley for using racist and sexist language.
It makes you wonder, they have seen the show before, haven’t they? They do know they’re being followed by cameras 24 hours a day and any mistakes will haunt them forever? Didn’t an agent warn them of the dangers of making the dreaded Katie Hopkins look angelic?