Friday, 31 December 2010

Of Slovakia & Austria 2010

Wow! What a great holiday! Two great countries. Two great capital cities and a wonderful skiing holiday in between. Now back to porridge!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Óf Beans Means ..Poor Youngen

We spent a day yesterday sightseeing and being the sort of tourist I normally can´t bear. We hopped on a tour bus and followed a lady around with an umbrella in the air. We did the main palace then the opera house and finally a good walk back to the hotel caused mainly by jumping on the wrong tram.

My German from university days was coming back to me slowly and Youngen was having a go too with his "zwei heiße Schokolade bitte".

In the evening we went for a Serbian dinner just around the corner from where we are staying. Youngen´s eyes were popping out of his head as each waitress appeared prettier than the next. They do even less for Veggies than the Austrians´the Serbs it seems. Pretty waitress No.1 informed me that all they had to give me from the buffet menu was a plate of beans. This was my bad news but also Youngens for he knew that we were sharing a room later that evening. The waitress added that I could help myself to the salad bar (which, as it turned out, was jealously guarded by a roasted pig´s head).

I chatted to the pretty waitress as Youngen ogged on. Chatting to females is a skill that takes a long while to develop I thought afterwards. In fact, so long that by the time its of any use it´s of no use......

Monday, 27 December 2010

Of Vienna and Veggies

Youngen and I left Kosice, Slovakia yesterday having spent a great evening in the company of "Mo n Katz" two locals and former employees of Legal-Island. They had arrived in NI in 2008 and their first jobs were stuffing our company brochures into envelopes. It was great to catch up on them both again and find out how they are doing and I supppose, put some local context to our first ever foreign employees.

They kindly gave us a bottle of Modevina - a Solvakian alcoholic delicacy which we both strained hard not to drink on the 7 hour train journey to Vienna. We arrived to our Hotel last night and immediately went out looking for something to eat. No-one seemed to be around even though it was only 10p.m. except for the police that is who stopped us and demanded to see our passports. They wanted to know what we were doing out so late (clearly Vienna goes to bed early over the Xmas period at least). When Youngen informed them we were looking for a veggie restaurant they laughed. Getting back in their van they shouted "this is Austria we eat only meat here".

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Of Santa and very kind human beings

Wow! What a way to spend Christmas Day skiing among gorgeous scenery as snow flakes trickled to the ground. It didnt end the best however. Youngen knocked over a geezer on the nursery slope and his son skiied after him looking for a row which he promptly got from his uncle. Goodwill on Christmas Day was not in great supply between us all. Hey Ho as Santa Claus himself might say.

Our drinking pals from Warrington didn´t make it out on the slopes yesterday on account of a couple of thunderous hangovers. Apparently they stayed on at the night club for a good two hours after we had left them on Xmas Eve. They left at 4a.m. bladdered. Richard made it back to the Hotel but his mate Lee slipped over and couldn´t get up. He waited on the ground hoping Richard would realise he was unaccounted for but didn´t. Still unable to get up Lee decides to phone his mate but thereś no answer. Eventually Leeś discovered on the ground by the nightclub DJ walking his dog before going to bed. Heś then dragged back to his hotel by this poor samaritan with Lee in his pickled state declaring "Youre a very kind human being" every 10 minutes. The British abroad hey? No wonder people remember us.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Of Table Wizzardry

I went to a night club last night and was reminded how I mispent my youth. I played 20 games of table football and wiped the floor with every oppostion that dared face me across the table. So why isn´t table football in the Olympics? Lifeś just not fair.

Youngen and I went with a couple of guys from Warrington we´ve befriended. Theyŕe true down to earth Northern lads with no airs and graces - just great good old fashioned solid company. We popped into the Liptovsky for a quick one and were the last to leave at 3a.m. Boy they can drink. When I say "we" it was Youngen and I who left. The Warrington lads may well still be there for their pints and shots kept on coming and we left them stuck to the bar. Best go find out later I suppose.

The weather has turned misty and it hasn´t snowed for 3 days but I´m determined to ski on Xmas Day. So watch out world the table football wizz is on the slopes....

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Of Mulled Wine and Christmas Crackers

Hah! Unlimited access to the Hotel internet. Not a kid in sight. Granted it is 4.45a.m. so I´ve had to earn my little nugget of Internet time by crawling out my pit at some ungodly hour.

I learnt a very important lesson yesterday. You can´t enjoy mulled wine and then ski better or even really at all. Two cups of the stuff before doing another intermediate run proved to be a very silly idea. I felt like someone out of one of those Jimmy Saville alcohol campaign adverts where they show a bloke who thinks he can operate well after alcohol who then goes and proves otherwise. My ass and the ground must have met countless times from the end of the chair lift to the bottom of the slope. Never again. Not even on Christmas Day.

Speaking of which, it is Christmas Day today. Here in Slovakia they celebrate it on 24th December rather than 25. Who knows maybe Mother Mary went into labour on 24th anything is possible. According to the Hotel signs that pop up every now and again we were meant to reserve our place for the Christmas Dinner. If we didn´t, the sign warned us, we would be assigned one. Being the hell raisers we are we didn´t so who knows who weĺl get for company over Christmas Dinner and indeed, what poor crittas will get Youngen and I. I must find out how you say "Merry Chrismas" in Slovakian and "would you like to pull this cracker with me?".

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Of Kids in the snow

Hah! At last! Access to the Internet on the Hotel PC. Said access thus far has been severely restricted by kids, many no more than 4 or 5 playing computer games on the Net all day long. There should be a sign up saying "No kids playing computer games" or better still just "No kids".

I´m aching all over today. Every bone, joint and part of my limbs is aching or sore or both. I must have skiied the run outside the hotel 10 times yesterday. I also spent a good while teaching Youngen how to ski. For a while he just wasn´t getting in and he was running into the side netting, the fences, the young, the old and just about anything that moved or didn´t. We then decided we´d go down the slope together with him slightly behind me. Somehow we got the skis tangled and ourselves in a terrrible human knott but managed to remain upright. It must have looked as funny as it did quite incestuous. But now hes got it and for the last two runs hes remained upright. Granted I do have to ski in front of him and warn others that weŕe around but it´s a start.

And now to breakfast and to do the whole thing all over again.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Of Welcome Snow

Weve arrived. Its cold. Its quiet. Its beautiful. Tomorrow we hit the slopes and we cant wait. Youngen is all pumped up and ready to go and so am I. Theres a cable car right outside our hotel which will take me to the top of the local mountain. Cant wait top come down it. Must check my insurance.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Friday, 17 December 2010

Of snow and the way to go

I walked to work today. I had to. I tried to drive but got little more than 500 metres from the house when I got stuck on a slope. I then had to suffer the indignation of watching teenagers (including boy racers) go zipping past in their piddly front wheel drive Peugot 206s. Shouldn't be allowed that sort of thing. A good Samaritan eventually arrived and towed me up the slope in his jeep.

It's a funny thing but when snow comes you feel you're entitled not to do any work but I've loads to do before I leave on holiday.

May be I should do a deal with myself and work until lunch time then build a Legal-Island snowman with any staff that do make it in today then leave for home. Emmm I feel a plan coming on.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Of what beckons for us all

The neighbour's cat is about to croak it. The "wee dote" is a grand 19 years old and has been clinging tenaciously to life for the last 5 years at least. It hasn't eaten now for three days and has lost all use of its legs. The neighbour's dog realises that something is up and indeed very wrong. She goes to the edge of the sofa where the cat is wrapped in a blanket and sitting atop a hot water bottle and places her paw carefully on the cushion next to her. The dog is a grand old age herself and may be thinking that what she is witnessing she will have to face one day and sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, the neighbour is being very pragmatic and talking about getting to a local field quick with a spade to dig a hole before the cold snap returns. Ever the pragmatist.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Of Positive Thinking v Cold Feelings

Youch! I went swimming early this morning only I had forgotten my trunks. So I used the ones from yesterday which I had left in the boot of my car. Only overnight they had frozen solid. Youch!

I met a guy called Miro in Tesco today. Miro used to work for Legal-Island a long time ago. He's from Slovakia. He told me all about the mountains where soon Youngen and I are about to perform our snow aerobatics. It sounds like a great place and I can't wait to go.

I'm a little worried about the weather forecast however for Ireland. It's not great and I'm wondering if Youngen & I will have to ski to our respective departure points. However, I'm actively replacing worry in my mind with positive thinking for this as we know is all powerful.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Of Turning Pages and Turning Back Time

I've just finished reading Lord Sugar's tome of an autobiography - all 600 pages of it. Well to be truthful I probably read only about 400 pages of it because some of it I found hard going at times with far too much unnecessary detail.

It was interesting to read that many of the products I bought as a kid or teenager, which for one reason or another were quite ground breaking in their day, were actually thought up by and designed by Alan Sugar. When I say this I don't mean by his engineers or his design team but his lordship himself. This includes the twin deck tape cassettes and the stack hi-fi system. I remember my mate buying the hi-fi in probably about 1978. It looked great but at £399 I just knew it had to sound wonky. I was wrong. It sounded great.

I'm a great Apprentice fan and I've huge respect for what Lord Saccharine has achieved. In his life time he's built an empire from nothing. He's improved significantly the quality of many electrical products making them available to an awful lot more people than before. He's created jobs and wealth for hundreds if not thousands of people. So why couldn't I take to him in his own account of how he achieved all of this? May be it was because in these 600 pages he comes across as belligerent, petty, vindictive and lacking in any empathy. You'd expect to find this in a biography of someone that was out to be controversial and make headlines but not in your own work. Churchill once said "History will be kind to me because I intend to write it". Will history be kind to Lord Sugar as a result of this autobiography? It's hard to see.

Of Climbing Mountains

I've just had a great weekend. It started on Friday lunch time with the Legal-Island Christmas Party. It was a hoot and everyone appeared on great form. Best of all were the impromptu speeches made by everyone at the party. They all commented on what a great year we've had and how much each of us had got from it and achieved. It was lovely to see. Rock on the Islanders!

On Saturday I tried out the new spa at the Slieve Donard Hotel (where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea). It's nice but to be honest I would have preferred to be out hiking over the Mournes. It's just as relaxing and a good deal less demanding on the wallet.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Of Secret Santa Detectives

It's our Christmas party today. We're off to the Ballyrobbin for lunch with our secret santa presents bursting to be opened. I caught one of the Legal-Island staff having a nosey at the presents yesterday. The incident reminded of my sister who used to sneak down stairs and go through all the presents under the tree one by one to work out what they were. She'd shake them, listen to them and sometimes sniff them too. She was so good at it that before anyone had opened their present she was able to say who it was from, what it was and no doubt she had also worked out in her mind roughly how much it had cost.

It's funny what you remember about Christmas. I recall waking up Christmas Day with my first ever hangover aged about 17 I guess. It was a humdinger and collected following my first ever college trip to the pub. This was followed by a trip home on a bus in which I was conducting all passengers on the top floor in Christmas carols. The waking up the following day was the hard part though. Tugging on my foot hanging off the bed was my brother-in-laws Mum. A lovely woman but golly could she talk the talk and her constant "Merry Christmas duck" (for everyone in Northampton is called "duck" for some reason) "Merry Christmas duck" just felt like a knife through my brain.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Of Sloping Off to the Slopes

I love my BMW. But I have to accept that it's a fair weather car. It seems to get stuck everywhere I go in the this cold snowy weather. I have to park it on slopes so at least I have a chance of rolling it out of where ever I left it. Last night I tried to nudge it out of my drive way using the neighbour's car. It didn't work. I tried to pull it out but there's no tow hook on the front of the car that I can see (almost like BMW didn't want to facilitate the humiliation of its car being seen on the road towed by another vehicle). May be the solution is simply to change the tyres to winter ones. According to Arnold our Polish employee lots of winter tyres are being imported from Eastern Europe at the moment at £75 a pop.

I'm off skiing with Youngen (MkII) soon and leaving the car far behind out of trouble out of sight and out of mind.

Of Patently Long Mornings

I'm off to see a patent attorney today or at least the Northern Ireland equivalent of one. I want to see if someone has already come up with and protected an idea which I think could be worth a fortune. I can't believe someone hasn't thought of it yet so I'm not getting my hopes up. But then I don't see it in the market place either so occasionally I fill up with excitement thinking there is still this gaping hole in the market that Mr P and his merry folk could fill. Guess I'll know by lunch time today.

Could be a long morning....

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

No.428 Of Disfunctional Snowmen

I was snowed in this morning. The only way I could get out was by driving forward and over my next door neighbour's garden. I wouldn't have felt so bad if the good lady doesn't suffer from OCD. But she does and the sight of two large tyre tracks across her lawn and drive wont do much to put her in a cheerful mood I know when she finally makes it out the house with the kids this morning. Worse still I drove over her kids' snowman. It wasn't deliberate. The back of the car just swung round taking out all in it's path including Mr Snowman. Not a great start to the day you might say.

The scenery at the moment is just beautiful. I don't think Antrim has ever looked so good. It's a shame we can't really function in it..

Monday, 6 December 2010

No.427 Of Banking on a Call

My bank manager is trying hard to get hold of me at the moment. She's phoned three times and even taken to emailing me now. I've not responded. It's childish I know but I'm rather enjoying the ball being on the other foot. For so long I'd phone a bank and get through to a call centre who would take a message and tell me that the appropriate person would call. But they never did. So my bank manager can wait, or write or fax or just have a Merry Christmas and I'll catch her in the New Year.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

No.431 Of Wintertime Bathing in Tents

I went to see the fabulous La Soiree on Friday night at the South Bank, London. It consists of a collection of acts the likes of which you're unlikely to see anywhere else in London. Done in Burlesque style in a tent and opened with Herb Albert music you know immediately that this night is going to be quite unlike any other you've experienced.

The evening finished with David O'Mer a former champion gymnast and his now famous bath gymnastics. This has to be the most sexy performance this staunch heterosexual has ever seen a man or, indeed, a woman do. It's explosively sensual, artistic and beautiful something I'm sure the row full of gay men sat nearby would attest to.

Good show La Soiree. Good show.

Friday, 3 December 2010

No.430 Of Coming Home and Going Away

It's not coming home : the football world cup that is. And thank goodness. It's bad enough getting over the dashed unrealistic hopes that we could ever win the thing again each time we lose and convincingly on the world stage - but double the pain when it's on home soil.

I'm in London at the moment. It's a great time to be here. It's not that busy because it's too cold for many to venture outdoors and some just didn't bother at all to fly into the capital with the weather reports as bad as they were. My strategy was to play the long game expect delay and lots of moaning people but go prepared and slowly but gradually I'll get to where I'm going. So far it's worked. Yes I did have a three hour delay at the airport but I had my Lord Sugar book with me and got through a good 200 pages before we took to the air. I like that man and what he's done but I'm struggling to continue reading his book. It doesn't flow like James Caan's book or Theo Paphitis's for that matter but hey lets hope, like the weather, it will pick up.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

No.430 Of Extremes & Extreme Embarrassment

It was Baltic cold when I got into the car this morning and the Z4 seemed to slip and slide its way out of the development before it managed to get any decent grip on the road outside.

Last night I had fallen asleep listening to the BBC World Service. The radio woke me this morning at about 4a.m.. There was a programme on about extremes in the world. The reporter was in a desert somewhere in East Africa which apparently is the hottest inhabited spot in the world regularly clocking 55 degrees centigrade. Later, the same reporter was in a small town in Siberia which is the coldest town in the world having once experienced -71.2 degrees and regularly clocking -50. She said the town folk seem to get use to it. The kids pile into the school buses just like anywhere else only all you can see of them as the bus goes by in the morning is lots of pairs of eyes peering through woollen face masks and oversized hoods

In the past 3 days the UK has seen -6 degrees and an average of 10cms of snow and it's crippled us. I wonder if any Russian or African journalists come over here and to report that news back home.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

No.429 Of Mainly Alistair Campbell

I was at a black tie dinner last night with master communicator Alistair Campbell. Whenever I go to these events I never know who is going to turn up. By that I mean what sort of mood I'll be in. Sometimes I love the networking opportunities each dinner presents and I work the room until my wallet can't take any more cards. On other occasions I look around and see mainly the same faces, mainly men looking mainly like each other and I wonder why I bother attending such events. Last night I was angling toward the latter type of mood and person but was saved by having great company sat either side of me at the table.

Campbell was superb. He seems to be able to pass on amusing stories and useful advice and wisdom he has acquired from working closely with some of the greatest leaders of the day whilst remaining grounded, modest and honest. Mighty.

Monday, 29 November 2010

No.428 Of When One or Two Just Wont Do

I'm back! After almost a week away from the blog I finally have time to write and explain where I've been.

I suppose the answer is not very far but I've been mixing business with pleasure in Dublin, London and Belfast as I try and get ready for next year's work on the Island.

I was at a great Moroccan restaurant last Friday night in London. As I waited for my dinner guest I was given a lovely bowl of black olives. I took one. Then another and then some more. In fact a load more. I never realised black olives could taste so good.

Shortly thereafter we were at the Royal Albert Hall watching, among others, Ruby Turner and Alison Moyet. The latter used to be as large as the former but not any more. She came on stage looking very slim and attractive and gave a packed auditorium a real dose of her beautiful voice. I have to say she was upstaged however by Ruby herself who just seemed to belt out the notes from the back of her mouth to the back of the very highest row of balconies with so much ease and aplomb. There's something about large black American soul singers - almost like you can't be a truly great soul singer unless you have all three of these qualities/characteristics - one or two just wont do.

Monday, 22 November 2010

No.427 Of Big Weeks & Little Trips

It's going to be a huge week this one. We're full out here on the Island getting ready for tomorrow's conference. We're expecting up to 200 people there at the Ramada Hotel and a good number of VIPs (including my parents!). Mummy's boy is speaking on mediation and I had better be good otherwise I'll be in trouble and they'll be demanding back all their hard earned and quickly spent university funding from all those years ago.

Later this week I'm in London for a few days. This is to work. I keep telling myself London trips = work but I know I'll find time for a good few restaurants, jogs round Hyde Park and may be a bit of theatre too. Shopping? Don't know depends on the crowds.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

No.426 Of Last Night & This Morning

Dinner last night with the Earlybirds was a rip roaring success. My guests fell for the "Homemade" soup not to mention the "Homemade" bread which one of them declared as being "Far nicer than any of that rubbish you can buy in the supermarket".

We got talking politics and then religion. Bruce, who has known his mate John for 37 years, discovered something about him last night that took him by surprise. It turned out that John was not a Prod after all but a Catholic. Bruce, still flabbergasted, promptly retracted and apologised for the multitude of anti-Catholic jokes he had dealt out in John's company for the past 37 years and we all laughed.

This morning I took part in yet another river clean up - or perhaps more correctly river path leaf sweep. I was doing well until Arnold turned up. He's 75 and was going at twice the speed of me and without my frequent stops too (the excuse being to see to the dog). It does give you cause for optimism however seeing guys in their 70s zipping around like they're 35.

Friday, 19 November 2010

No.425 Of "Home" and "Away"

I'm entertaining tonight. I'm cooking vegetarian spagbog for three carnivores. It's quorn mince in place of the three deal. I wonder if they'll notice? I'm starting with "homemade" tomato and lentil soup accompanied by "homebaked" bread - I wonder if they'll suss the "home" bit. My guess is not because I've been known to "talk the talk" when required.

I've spent the last two days shopping for tonight's dinner whilst at the same time buying the last of the items for my new kitchen. I now have a replica station clock. I have two lovely wooden forks for my salad bowl but I still have no butter dish. Neither TKMax, nor Tesco, nor Poundstretchers sell butter dishes for some reason. I wonder if there's a gap in the market there?

I need to spend sometime this weekend giving thought to the Christmas holidays. Youngen says he's got all the gear for the ski trip but we've no hotel booked to receive said gear and us for our stays in Bratislava and Vienna if we make it over the border.

So much to do and oh yes loads at work to be getting on with too...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

No.424 Of Media Obsessions & Pressing Concerns

Oh No! The royal couple are to tie the knot. It's not that I'm not pleased for the happy couple don't get me wrong. But I'm old enough to remember the last royal wedding and the Press's obsession with it 12 months beforehand and indeed several days afterwards too. It seemed liked nothing else was going on in the world during this time and it didn't matter which TV channel you were on all you saw were two people standing watching flash photography go off everywhere giving daft answers to daft questions. (Incidentally,. as I type at 7.03a.m. Radio 3 is playing Grieg's Bridal music).

Of perhaps a tad more concern to me at the moment is that Ireland is on the verge of bankruptcy and may be too proud to ask for help. Perhaps the nation could swallow some pride and start manufacturing wedding memorabilia for next year to help its balance of payments problems......

No.423 Of Quality Celebrities

Apparently "I'm a celebrity get me out of here" received record viewing figures yesterday for an opening night. It seems this obsession with celebrity of ours is getting worse. I wonder if soon schools will be giving out career advice on how to be a celebrity and perhaps universities will offer degrees in the same too.

Another record is expected to go this week when a rare a pink diamond is auctioned in London. It is 24 carats in quality and huge. To quote one celebrity (wife of Wayne Rooney) "the diamond's the size of a chicken nugget". Thank goodness for quality celebrities hey?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

No.422 Of Remembrance Sunday

Its Remembrance Sunday today. I never go to wreath laying ceremonies and then feel guilty because I feel I should. I also agonise over wearing a Poppy in Northern Ireland for it is seen as making such a political statement yet it's important to remember those who lost their lives fighting to keep Britain safe and free. These may have included descendants of mine. I don't know for sure for there are many in my line who remain unknown and yet to be discovered.

I read Birdsong last year which is probably the best book I've ever read in terms of portraying the horror of war. War films always seem to glamorise the going to war but Birdsong shows nothing but the horror, the tragedy and the shocking waste of life.

Friday, 12 November 2010

No.421 Of Scores on the Electronic Doors

The scores are pouring in from this week's Annual Review of Employment Law Conference. I don't know that I've ever seen marks so high. The average score for all plenary speakers is about 4.5 out of 5 which is quite phenomenal. I'm teetering on 4.62 at the moment. I think that means I'm through to the next round and I'm in no sing off at least.

So far the overall satisfaction level from delegates is a gobsmacking 4.62! Well done Team Legal-Island says Mr.P!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

No.420 Of Painful Pauses

I spoke at our Annual Conference yesterday. I think it went ok but we'll see what the delegates thought when they reply to our survey by email today.

There's a great art to public speaking and I think it's one of those skills that need to be constantly practised and refined. Your style and pitch, not to mention content has to change each time in accordance with your audience, the time of day you're speaking, the venue and a whole load of other factors too.

There's a guru around at the moment that says before you can be considered excellent at anything you have to clock up at least one thousand hours of practice. He wouldn't claim that once you've clocked your hours you'll be excellent only that you'll never get to excellence before notching up over 1,000 hours of "air time". I've no idea how many times I've spoken in public but it must be well into the hundreds by now.

What I'm learning now is that waiting on feedback and scores is almost as nerve racking as walking to the podium. Perhaps it's the equivalent of that moment when on Strictly they say "and the couple leaving the competition tonight is...................[huge pause]."

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

No.419 Of Replacements for the Ulster Fry

I got talking to Mr Slimming World this morning as I waited to get in the pool. He runs the local slimming club and will tell you exactly what is wrong with everyone's diet and how best to lose weight. In fact its comes out at you like straight off one of his intro cards he no doubt uses when trying to attract new members to his club. As he was saying this two other early birds were looking away guiltily for they, I know, yesterday both availed of the local Spar's offer of 10 pieces of an Ulster Fry for just £2! Rotten for the heart but good for the soul I'm sure they would both say.

We have a busy day today getting ready for Annual Review of Employment Law Numero Uno at the Culloden Hotel. It's almost sold out. I'm speaking at it. Can't wait. It's a huge pleasure speaking at the Reviews. Beats a 10 piece Fry any day.

Monday, 8 November 2010

No.418 Of DIY Confessions

It's day 2 and my TV is still on the wall. I write this proudly for anyone who has gone before and doubted my DIY ability.

I was back in the pool today after a long absence on account of my cold. I did just 20 lengths and then called it a day. There were too many in the pool for my liking. It's bad enough having to go forward but forward and round people every now again at that time of the morning is just too much to ask.

I got talking to one of the Earlybirds afterwards. For some reason he told me that he's 64 and still can't read or write. A strange confession to hear in a pool I know. He told me he used to sweep chimneys and could remember everything discussed with the person the following year each time he went back to them. "Never had to write anything down either" he told me. "Things were much better in those days" he lamented. I bet he left his front door open too.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

No.417 Of TV Times

I spent much of last night wrestling with my new TV and fixing it to the wall. An easy enough task you may think but it's a process which requires an almighty bracket to be screwed to the wall and then the TV to be dropped carefully onto said bracket. I called the neighbour in for assistance. She duly arrived with a toolbox and a tube of prestles. An hour later all was up.

Problem is the reception is not great. On BBC1 all I can get is 42inches of fuzz and crackle. Even the good old time tested technique of shoving a coat hanger in the back of the TV for reception didn't appear to work.

Plan B whatever that is. Possibly Satellite TV.

Friday, 5 November 2010

No.416 Of Wee Buns

I was up at the crack of dawn today in Dublin. In fact earlier than that. It was 5.30a.m. to be exact to make sure I made a meeting in Belfast for 9a.m. This I managed but my opposite number didn't. He thought the meeting was for 11a.m.. We're going to try again next week and the cream buns are on him methinks.
I used the extra half an hour to go shopping and skipped up the alleyway featured here. I've always like this part of Belfast it has a certain je nais ce pas.
I'm keen to get home but I've loads of work to do before the weekend.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

No.415 Of Feeling Blogged Out

I have a really bad cold today. I feel groggie and not at all bloggie. Out.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

No.414 Of Jamie's Crabs

I'm in Leeds at the moment - home of Jeremy Paxman according to the Tourist brochure I found in my room (though how welcoming visitors may find this fact I'm not quite sure).

I'm staying at the Queen's Hotel in the centre of Leeds. It's like the grand old lady of the hotel industry. The lift says call "Car" rather than elevator or indeed lift and the old ballroom (home of our Annual Review conference today) looks like it's the kind of place the local parliamentary hustings take place every four years or so.

I was led astray by another bad woman last night. Jayne and I went to dinner at Jamie's (Mr Oliver, the waiter assured me, had only put in one appearance in the restaurant all year this year). She made me eat a bit of her crab brochette. I accepted partly on grounds of taste but mainly nostalgia for the poor thing had come all the way from Devon to be on the end of my fork last night.

Anyway, crabs or no crabs I'd better get on with the day....

Sunday, 31 October 2010

No.411 Of Tricks of Nature & of Memory

Northern Ireland is looking so beautiful at the moment. I think this is my favourite time of year when the leaves turn a fabulous gold and organge before finally falling to the ground acknowledging that Winter has finally made it's chilling appearance. I would, or I suppose should, say that summer is my favourite time of year but we don't seem to get them in NI any more or when we do they're a huge disappointment.
I'm wondering if we ever did actually get decent weather in the UK and perhaps my memory of boiling hot summers as a kid in Devon is largely illusionary. But then again I remember trying to sit in our black Austin A30 after coming back from the beach in my swimming trunks and getting a parched bum because the seat was so hot as I sat down.
Also I remember as a kid going to visit my Nan and Grandad in Guernsey. She would go down the market to buy a lobster and then boil it when still alive before serving it in a lovely salad. The terrible screaming noise it used to make I can remember to this day. Or at least I thought I could. You see many years ago I met a guy at Glasgow University who was doing a PhD in, and I kid you not, the rapid eye movements of crabs. He assured me that it's physically impossible for either a lobster or a crab to scream as it dies (or any other time for that matter) because it's just not in its physiology to do so.
Funny what tricks memories play on you innit?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

No.413 Of Blonde Blighted Barman

I went out for dinner last night at Drennans in Belfas. I ordered the awful sounding pasta and beetroot dish being the only veggie main course on the menu. It was delicious. The service was exceptional too. Smiles and eye contact combined with real knowledge of the food and the wines. It sounds so easy when you write it out. So why can so few restaurants produce it?

I suppose you might say it was something of a corporate night out as my company were a businessman and another lawyer who early on at least was as happy to talk shop as not. As the evening developed we gradually left work behind and began to relax.

We ended up at Cafe Vauderville. At the bar I was surrounded by blondes. Not because they gravitate towards me I supposed but the club just seemed full of them. Blonde blight in amongst all the black Halloween costumes proved quite a visual spectacle. However, trying to get service from barmen when surrounded by blondes is an almost impossible task. I tried to flash some heavy looking notes like they might get a serious tip if they acknowledged that I was and had been first in the queue for the last 20 minutes but it didn't do any good.

On the balcony were a number of dancers led by another blonde who was something of a diva - part Diana Dors part Devine. She was rather sexy although I couldn't help but wonder if she was actually a man. I think "she" may have been.

Once finally served (by a female barman who suddenly appeared) I managed to deliver the three pints to my mates and then get completely lost in the scrum of people around us all. Just after midnight I decided to go leaving the blondes, the Diva and my muckers to it.
Tough game this clubbing.

Friday, 29 October 2010

No.412 Of Recipes for Work and Play

It's Friday which began for me with 20 lengths of the Antrim pool followed by a bear sized bowl of porridge sprinkled with lots of anti-oxidant raisins and berries. If it goes pear shaped from here on in at least the day started well.

And as for the day ahead it's a never ending list of things to do which have gradually crept up on me since Monday. As I eliminated one duty so another two would appear to the point that now I can look forward to nothing but a weekend of solid work. I've checked the forecast for tomorrow and Sunday and it's good. Good for work that is : rain for the two days.

If I stayed at home I'd only feel compelled to do more on the house. It needs a TV in the new extension area, door frames painted and a chef in the kitchen. The latter bit is me. One of my objectives this year is to learn 6 dishes good enough to serve to guests with a very real expectation that they might survive the ordeal.

So much to do and so little time.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

No.411 Of Model Press Releases

I went modelling today. Yes you read it right modelling in a photo shoot for a press release going out this afternoon all about Fit Notes from doctors. I played the role of the patient being assessed as fit or otherwise for work. A neighbour Kathy, was in as the doctor checking my pulse and blood pressure and a marketing officer from the Occupational Health offices was in as the Occupational Health consultant. As you may have gathered it was a rather low budget affair but who knows where the images will end up and to what avail. We don't that's for sure.....

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

No.410 Of Manu in Situ

I stayed at the Lowry Hotel on Monday night. It's the only five star hotel in Manchester and you can tell it has a touch of class as soon as you arrive. A doorman appeared to open the taxi door "Mr Phillips? Welcome. We've been expecting you" he said. Nice. Very nice I thought.

It is also known as "The Manu" hotel for it is here that Manchester United do all their strategic planning and their hosting of guests and dignitaries not to mention off field playing around that keeps the tabloids in business.

My room was huge with a bed big enough I thought for at least one footballer and two others. It was supremely comfortable and really difficult to get of the following morning. Just 45 more minutes I thought when the alarm sounded at 6a.m.. I think I took nearer 90.

One of the hotel staff (who asked to remain anonymous) informed us that the footballers all disappear to their hotel rooms in the afternoon for an afternoon kip. The rooms by the way didn't give you much change out of £150 a go. Littered round the hotel were the odd football fan waiting patiently with an autograph book and the odd glamorous female wanting to get noticed by more than a man with an eye for a blog.

All this in a week in which Rooney was confirmed as getting £250,000 a week. Mr Phillips left in the taxi wondering how on earth Roo and his mates keep themselves grounded. Truth is they probably don't care.

Friday, 22 October 2010

No.409 Of First Class Ways to the Weekend

It's going to be a mad day today with three meetings this morning then one at lunch and a whole load of things to do in between. At least the weekend is coming soon and it's mine. All mine.

Last night I returned from Dublin on the train. Next time I'm going to pay the extra and go in First Class. For yesterday we were squeezed in like sardines and the train didn't seem to start to unload until Newry and half way home. Opposite me were two teenagers coughing and spluttering are through the journey without putting their hands to their mouth (a capital crime when sat in front of me). The lady on my right hemming me in thought she could add to my discomfort by subjecting me to her favourite music of the week from her MP3 player though quaffed by her silly little ear pieces for head phones. By the end of the journey there was no-one left in the carriage except a yob of a hoddie with his feet on the seat opposite. Boy was I grumpy by the time we got to Antrim Central.

So deep breaths return to good karma and lets do Friday...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

No.408 Of Mobbing Around

Business contacts are like buses. You wait for ages and nothing then, suddenly, you get 5 in a row. Yesterday they came at me and I was mobbed. Oh I do like a good mobbing!

Business hotels are great but the breakfasts are too good. And oh I do like a good breakfast. So when I check in its Mr. Phillips and when I check out it's Mr Phillips + 1 that 1 being a breakfast pot belly. But not this time. For this week I chose a hotel not for its parking or its location but because of its leisure facilities and, in particular, its pool. This morning I did 30 lengths before breakfast and yesterday much the same.

Today it's back to more networking joining a group of trainee mediators one of whom I've been trying to meet for a good while. Lets hope he likes a good mobbing...

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

No.407 Of Wining Veggies

I went for dinner last night with two colleagues in Dublin. I think it was called something like the Jaipur in Dublin 2. Boy was it good. The French wine went down very smoothly and the vegetarian dishes on the menu told me straight away that the chef wasn't frightened to use his imagination and experiment.

In fact the dining experience was so good and the wine so plentiful that I sent for the chef to thank him personally at the end of the evening. A tiny little man appeared from the kitchen basement wanting to know if he was in trouble. He threw a huge smile when I told him it was the best veggie dish I had ever tasted. "Oh thank you very glad Sir" he said and off he trotted.

This morning I'm off to a conference marking ten years of the Equality Acts in Ireland. It's nice to attend an event where you are neither speaking nor ultimately responsible for it - helps you relax - in a kind of no French wine needed sort of way.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

No.406 Of Skiing in Slovakia

I'm about to book a ski trip abroad this Christmas with Youngen (mkII) . He's never skied before and I'm badly out of practice so I don't think we'll be winning any championships between us.

Last time I skied I went looking for my first beginner's run but got on the wrong chair lift and ended up skiing down a black one with all the pros. Not only did I manage not to break a leg but I also kept up right all the way down which came as something of a shock to me and worried onlookers. The descent did require a lot of shouting ahead mind you warning people that I was approaching fast, that I couldn't stop and they'd be well advised to get out my way. I wonder how I can say all of that in Slovakian?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

No.405 Of Black Ties and Red Faces

I went to a formal Black Tie dinner event last night in support of an Aids Charity in Malawi. Whenever I go to such dinners I always look out for the one person who is red faced and dressed in casual gear because he's forgotten it's a tuxedo affair or he has not been told. There's always one and I enjoy watching him squirm and try and look as inconspicuous as possible when, in amongst all those black and white suits, he sticks out like a soar thumb. The problem was, last night that Plonker was me. For I didn't know it was a formal affair and indeed, had been assured it was not.

Needing to soothe my red faced embarrassment I headed for the bar only to be advised by an also red faced male that it was dry tonight because the Presbyterian organisers of the event had deemed that it should be so. My plan had been scuppered. This was to get drunk pretty quickly so I wouldn't care that I was in my scruffs and everyone else was in their togs. Better still I thought if I could make it through the first hour everyone else would be too drunk after that to clock my state of underdress.

I don't really drink alcohol much nowadays and rarely take a tipple at these sorts of events but as soon as I knew I wasn't allowed it my throat was parched and choking for half a guinness. Once the meal was over 3 friends and I slipped round the back of the dining room unnoticed and slurped a couple of drinks at the hotel bar each feeling delightfully rebellious.

Altogether quite made the night really...

Friday, 15 October 2010

No.404 Of Leaders and some of the things they do

We've had a strange week news wise when you think about it. The world's attention has been focused on a hole in the ground in a country most of us are unlikely ever to visit. "Los 33" have all popped up out the earth's crust needing medical attention and a publicity agent. Their lives will never be the same again.

Then we've had President Armoured Dinnerjacket from Iran goading the Israelis from the Lebanese border. Sometimes you need these mavericks in the world for they make it a much more interesting place. When they might be sat on a pile of nuclear weapons however it's a little more disconcerting. At least all Colonel Caddafi was sat on was a pile of cushions when famously he let go all his flatulence when being intereviewed by John Simpson of the BBC.

Leaders hey. A load of hot air afterall..?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

No.403 Of Bids & Berries

I'm off to a breakfast seminar this morning all about how to make money out of the London Olympics. "Breakfast" at these breakfast seminars invariably means one of two things. Either just a small bun which doesn't keep you from hunger at all or a full Irish heart attack breakfast which does it's best to kill you. Anticipating such an incident I came in work early this morning to have my statutory bowl of porridge with raisins, berries and a banana. The berries my nutritionist assures me, are the anti-oxidants that keep me young and in "Olympic" shape...

I'm not convinced about the Olympic games for us over here in NI. Moreover, I still haven't worked out how Legal-Island might make a few quid out of it but you never know what you'll find out and more importantly who you'll meet.

No.402 Of Best Kept Secrets

I was in Birmingham yesterday for the first time in ten years staying at what used to be the Midland Hotel now the MacDonald Burlington. I like this hotel. It has a certain majestic grand old lady feel to it and plenty of history too. It was the hotel where Enoch Powell made his famous "Rivers of Blood" speech. It also has deep connections to the railway industry being just a stone's throw from New Street Train Station.

I spent three very happy years at university in Birmingham and have fond memories of the many things I did while there, from evening classes in Japanese and Aikado to working as a barman, a waiter, a stores security guard and a night watchman at the Birmingham Mint where they used to make many coins for use in the UK or commonwealth countries.

There's something rather strange about the city though for me. When we arrived to the airport on Monday evening at about 8p.m. there was hardly anyone around and when we left at 9p.m. last night there were fewer people still. It's the UK's second biggest city and yet no-one seems to be about and when you go abroad no-one you talk to has heard about Birmingham.
They have fabulous shops, restaurants and clubs in Brum with a thriving night-life and it is claimed, more waterways then Venice. When I left I couldn't help but wonder whether the city's inhabitants are having a great time living there and wisely keep quiet about just how good the place is.

Monday, 11 October 2010

No.401 Of Churchill & Handbags

I'm reading Max Hasting's "Churchill The War Years" at the moment. Hastings claims that Churchill rather enjoyed the War in a kind of my-time-has-come sort of way. "History" he said "will be kind to me because I intend to make it".

It's easy to forget that Churchill was responsible for some really bad calls both in the early years of the War and before. He was, however, the last Prime Minister ever to have killed anyone in a war situation and was therefore a consummate soldier/warrior. His PA used to claim that whenever the Luftwaffe were overhead in London she'd stand as close to Churchill as possible because she felt so safe in his presence. I suppose that's different to a lot of leaders since. With Thatcher they used to say you always had to be at least a good handbag distance apart....

Anyway on with the week....

Sunday, 10 October 2010

No.400 Of A Cat Skip and a Jump

I spent much of yesterday emptying my house into a rubbish skip. It's almost full but by no means am I almost finished. For the garage still contains stuff that needs either a new home or throwing 10 metres in the air in the direction of the hungry orange pair of jaws that awaits outside.

Today will be spent at work catching up on all the tasks I should have completed last week but couldn't because I was in London or Dublin or here but busy with other things. Cat Steven is my chosen artist to ease the pain of Sunday working along with, no doubt, many cups of peppermint tea.

Let's jump to it...