Thursday, 29 April 2010

No.296 Of Vacant Neighbours

My vacant neighbours have been at me again. This time they've sent me a letter informing me that any damage done by my builders to the pathway between our houses will have to be repaired by them laying a whole new strip of tarmac. A patch job wont do apparently. They've also noticed a gap in my fence to the building site and have contacted their solicitor. Not bad considering they bought their house two years ago and its been empty ever since. May be they're sitting the other side of the river in the woods with a pair of binoculars. May be they not and they should be doing things like that to get out more.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

No.295 Of Knobs and Whistles

I need a knobs and whistles day badly. By that I mean just a whole day devoted to working out all the technology around me that I rely on but from which I currently only get about 5% of its true potential.

I'll start with my Ipod and workout how to get podcasts onto it from the BBC World Service. Then I'll play around with its transmitter which will put any downloads through my car speakers. Then I'll take a look at my USB data transmitter which fits into the cigarette lighter and puts MP3 files through the car speakers too. Then I'll take a look at the new car itself and work out what all the buttons and dials in the cockpit do. Then there's the car manual itself which I'm hoping will lead me to where the dip stick is under the bonnet. I know. The dip stick but could I find it yesterday?

We've a Bank Holiday coming up this weekend. Why not rename it knobs and whistles day? I think I just have.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

No.294 Of Walking In Blind

Friday night was different. Very different. I went to the restaurant Dans Le Noir in Clerkenwell London. The idea is simple and just like anywhere else. You go in. You eat your food. You leave. There's just once difference however. Here it all happens in total darkness. Yes that's right. Utter complete pitch black darkness. You can't even see the knife and fork in front of you. You have to search around and hope you've found yours and not your neighbours and I guess that they're clean too.

We were led in by a blind waiter from Japan called Takashi. With one hand on his shoulder I shuffled my way into the darkness and eventually sat down on a table with people immediately eitherside that I couldn't see but could hear perfectly well. The couple on my left were talking about a tribunal application and it was all I could do to stop myself chucking into the darkness some legal advice to the effect that they had better get on with any claim for fear of being time barred. To my right I heard someone say that she was born in a place called Ballymena but she's not been back for a good while.

Takashi soon disappeared to return with the first course which had been ordered before we entered. I'm glad I asked him to confirm that he'd got the veggie dish for me because he hadn't and a twenty year rule of abstinence was nearly broken without trying. He promptly returned with the right dish about and it tasted like it was tomatoes with goats cheese in a pastry of some sort. There was something else on the plate too which I didn't recognise either from its shape or its taste but it went in and down just like the rest.

The main course was artichoke and something else. It didn't taste great and it was completely cold. I was beginning to wonder whether the restaurant was making the most of the fact that you couldn't see the food and were tasting it to recognsie it rather than to assess its quality.

After about an hour we asked to leave and Takashi duly led us out the same way we had come in, hand on shoulder shuffling slowly and nervously towards the exit.

The declared purpose of the restaurant (to deny one sense and heighten another) didn't really work for me. I don't believe taste quite works like that any more than smell does. This is a myth perpetuated by the likes of programmes such as 'Kung Fu' where the blind monk, 'Grasshopper' can't see a thing but can hear well enough apparently to pluck out a fly trespassing across his airspace from the air with two fingers. It did give me a sense however of what it must be like to be blind and just how that restricts your day-to-day activities.

As we headed out into the light again I wondered what it must be like to be like Takashi and blind all the time and how it must feel for him to hear many times a night punters declare 'Oh thank God I can see again'.

Friday, 23 April 2010

No.292 Of Every Now & Then

Every now and again something happens to you that you think about a lot and that you know you'll always remember such was its impact. Usually it happens when you're least expecting. It happened to me yesterday. Best of all it happended at a Legal-Island event and yes I'll admit I wasn't really expecting it.

Yesterday at the Legal-Island Belfast Telegraph Annual Human Resource Conference Judith Gillespie gave the opening address. Unassuming, understated but overwhelmingly effective she delivered a thundering presentation. She also delivered a masterclass in how to connect with people. If she tries to force any more personnel skills into that relatively small frame of hers (responding by name, eye contact, openness and approachability to name but a few) there's every danger that she may self combust. Astonishing.

Deputy Chief Constable Legal-Island salutes you.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

No.291 Of Rules and Regulations

This volcano business is really getting on my nerves. Can't they drop a whole load of ready mixed concrete down its throat from an Airbus Beluga or something? I suppose not bearing in mind nothing is allowed to fly just now. Regulations hey?

Easyjet has effectively estopped me from claiming back my £200 for my cancelled flights to Geneva. They've done this by stipulating that I must transfer the booking to another date on the same route and change it within thirty days. The problem is the route finished for the season last Sunday and doesn't start until December again. They've also done this by playing piped music to me whenever I phone them (using incidentally a phone number I found in a chat room -there's no number given on their web site that I can see) to point out that their rules have ruled me out. I can stick 5 minutes of piped music but 15 both times is just excessive. Ho Hum

Monday, 19 April 2010

No.281 Of Weighty Wagers & Iconic Smiles

The number of friends who send me smiley icons either by SMS or Email seems to be increasingly by the week. I can't do smiley icons. I mean what the hell does a :) mean or a (: or for that matter a ;) ? When conversing electronically and I receive an icon back I just have to assume that I haven't offended them and I'll get a normal bit of communication at a later point.

In a moment of bravado last Friday night I bet a from of mine, Ricardo, that I could lose a stone in weight quicker than he could. We he asked me if I wanted to put £100 on it I heard myself saying Yes as we shook hands.

Against him winning is the fact that his a skinny urchin as it is and I can't see a stone to come off anywhere. In his favour is that I like my tucker and I have not been under 15 stone "(not to mention 14) since I was well 15 years of age at a guess.

I suppose if I were to beat him not only would I win £100 but I could send him a :) too!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

No. 280 Of Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Well come on and let me know. Should I stay or should I go? Therein is the dilemma. The Easyjet flight to Geneva for this evening has not been cancelled but what if I get there and can't get back before Monday? I could think of many worse places to get stuck than Switzerland but I've stuff to do next week which very sadly can't be done from a friend's study overlooking Lake Geneva.

Also I'm sure the airline authorities have done their bit but the thought of flying into an errant bit of volcanic cloud doesn't really appeal to me much as though my personal motto of "anything new anything once" might suggest otherwise.

I have a feeling I'll be going and taking my laptop with me and a good long read of a book. Warren Buffet's "The Business of Life" at 800 pages should do nicely.

No.279 Of Kennedy Says its Time for the Nolans

I couldn't get to sleep last night thanks to an ear worm as the Germans call it - a tune in your ear you just can't seem to shake.

Last night's tune was "Kennedy Says" a song I came across whilst following the band Terry & Jerry years ago when first at university. Terry played the double base and Gerry the guitar and sang lead vocals. They played a type of skiffle music which was fun, furious and fabulously entertaining. I suppose I became a groupie of theirs for I followed them around with friends to many parts of the UK and even took up the guitar so I could play "Kennedy Says". If I remember rightly I got as far as the first line of the chorus but no farther for it had a bar chord in it which I could only ever hold down lying on the floor with the guitar stretching my fingers across what seemed like completely unrealistic distances in complete agony.

The reason why the song was in my head last night was because I ordered the best of their music from Amazon last week and I've been playing in my car since it arrived. I'm one of these people who plays a CD to death because I like it so much then I get completely fed up with it and remember it as an awful piece of music.

The song goes "Kennedy Says, Love thy neighbour. Kennedy says no bad behaviour. Kennedy says to reap you must labour. ..Kennedy Says."

Time to try some musical exorcism methinks before it's too late and play the Nolans when I'm on the way to the dentist this morning.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

No.278 Of Taking Pride in your Piles

The builders in. They're so in. There's bricks and bags and dust everywhere. Two weeks' ago I spent a good hour pruning the lovely bush that adorns the back wall in readiness for its blooming sometime soon only to lose the wall and the same said bush when the builders arrived end of last week.

The piling has started this week. Piling is quite an art it seems and it's something that builders even specialise in. My piler handed me a business card with as many letters after his name as in it. He then talked me through the challenge ahead explaining exactly where they had to go, how deep and just why.

I'm very proud of the piles I woke up to this morning!. I must show them to the neighbours.....

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

No.277 Of Suggestibility

I went to Zen's last night followed by a night out at the Waterfront for Derren Brown's Enigma show. He's an impressive entertainer and a master of psychology, misdirection, suggestibility and distraction. He struggled a bit with the Noren Iron accent at times but he didn't struggle to hypnotize the most suggestible of the audience.

It amazing what some people will do when told to do so even in front of hundreds of others...

Monday, 12 April 2010

No.276 Of the Good Life

Wow! And Wow again! What a superb weekend. The North Antrim Coast is what sunny days are made for. If there's a nicer drive in NI than that from Torr Head to Bushmills and the beach beyond I've yet to find it.

Hood down, Katie Melua in the car and glorious sunsets. Yep this is the Good Life.
But it was back to Porridge this morning with 10 lengths of the pool and a quick walk round the park for some slugs of fresh air and a bit of re-adjusting into work mode again. Ho hum. Onwards!

Friday, 9 April 2010

No.275 Of Getting the Message

I had a call from HSBC Mastercard yesterday. It was one of these part human part machine calls where a human starts off by saying he has an automated message for you. The machine message then asks you to call them urgently. It's a really infuriating way to communicate with customers. I promised myself I would complain. I hit call back and got an automated message saying there was nothing to be concerned about and that there was no need for me to call again. I tried another number and eventually got through to someone who told me that they thought my credit card details had been stolen and that he'd need to ask me about recent transactions. He gave me the last 6 and I could understand little of what he was saying and not because the line was bad either. I suggested we just leave it. He suggested we didn't and cancel the card. I agreed and quickly finished the call in case he had another automated message for me with which to close the call.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

No. 274 Of Tony Robbins and Dame Edna

I drove to work this morning in my Z4 sucking my thumb. You see I had cut my thumb and it was bleeding badly. There was blood all over my keys, on my shirt and hands. The strangest thing is that I've no idea how it happened. It just did.

My cousin used to suck her thumb a lot. We'd be travelling in the car for a family day out and Uncle Bryan would suddenly shout out at the top of his lungs "Thumbs"! and we'd all jump out our seats startled - all except except cousin Jen who carried on with her thumb in her mouth. She had an iron discipline and will our cousin Jen.

I'm currently reading Anthony Robbin's "Unlimited Power". He talks about ways to re-model behaviour and gives an example of how to stop biting your nails. In fact he addresses just about everything in the book and with authority too although he does make many brave assumptions.

Dame Edna also gave advice on how to stop biting your nails to the MP David Steele if I remember correctly. She said "David if you're biting your nails. It so easy to stop sweetie. All you have to do is dip your finders in your jobbies in the morning and you wont put them near your mouth all day darling". Top advice Dame Edna...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

No.273 Of Epic Journeys & Epic Memories

Its' "Oh yes it is. Oh no it isn't time again". According to the radio this morning a fruit and veg heavy diet does not actually reduce your risk of cancer. But they didn't say what does. Chocolate?

The radio programme also asked can you remember where you were exactly 20 years ago? As it turns out I can because twenty years ago exactly today I was at a human rights conference in Caracas, Venezuela. It was there that I met a fellow aspiring do-gooder of a student lawyer called Oswaldo who was a local and like me then out to change the world. At the end of the conference after just a few days knowing him I asked Oswaldo what plans he had for the following week. When he replied "Nada" in my broken Spanish I suggested that we go travelling. "Loco hombre" was his reply. But the next day we were on a plane to Quito in Ecuador with a plan to take a series of buses through Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela right back to his front door.

What followed was what turned out to be an epic journey over many days on many campesino buses shared with locals in their ponchos carrying their poultry to market. Buses that wound their way round narrow mountain passes sometimes slowly sometimes, when in bandit country, at breakneck speed.

I don't remember getting much sleep during these days. It was very hot and every B&B we stopped at seemed to be within vicinity of the local town square which always seemed to have a game of bingo going on. It was like we were following the "Bingo route" of Latin America. Every night we would lie awake listening to a distant voice shout "Doce, vingt-uno, ocho". It drove us loco.

The journey was an amazing cocktail of experiences. We laughed, we fought, we talked, we played, we drank with the locals and we watched carefully as we toured three amazingly beautiful countries.

An epic journey indeed. But where are you now Oswaldo? And did you manage to change the world for the better? I hope so.

Monday, 5 April 2010

No.272 Of Romania, Reality & Redemption

On Sunday I visited an old friend Father Des in Liverpool. I had first met Father Des when working in a children's project in Romania for two weeks. During this time we became very close and to a point depended on one another to get through what proved to be a very challenging fortnight for many reasons. At the time there wasn't much good food about which bothered us both being rather keen on our tucker. Our accommodation was basic too. Our mattresses had bugs and the showers were so cold it took a good hour for your head to recover from the pain afterwards. We were also having to work with 12 other strangers which brought pressures of its own. You might say we were thrown into some sort of early reality TV show but without the cameras and a vote as to whom should be thrown out at the end of the first week.

I arrived at the Bishop Eton Redemptionist church unannounced and the poor fellow looked quite shocked to see me but warmly welcomed my nephew and I in for tea and biscuits and a good reminisce about times gone by together among many excitable kids.

Father Des used to do the services in Romania and they were beautifully done even in the eyes of someone who had seen far too many of them at school for his liking. He struck me at our first meeting as a deeply humane man and still does. There should be far more people like him in the world. It would make this "reality" thing far more easy to endure....

Sunday, 4 April 2010

No.271 Of Friends Family & Celebs

This weekend was all about family and friends oh, and as it turns out, a few celebs too.

I stayed at my cousin Jens in Chester or thereabouts. Chester is a lovely city and somewhere that evokes many happy memories for me from my days as as boy when I would visit Gran who lived there and walk the Roman walls, jog alongside the River Dee or go shopping at Woolworth for the next round of school equipment for my pencil case.

On Saturday I attended my cousin Richard's 40th birthday in Altringham. It was also his wife's birthday and their 17th wedding anniversary. The party took place above another in a nightclub attended by it seemed a number of celebrities including Janice Battersby from Coronation St and Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances. Nephew David was star struck and kept disappearing to the mutual Gents to see who else he'd bump into there.

Also there was third cousin William and his wife Michelle. Little Willy as he was once known is a big bloke of whom it would be wise not to tangle. A motley bunch when you think about it rather like those in the party downstairs I suppose...

Saturday, 3 April 2010

No.270 Of Whispering Secrets

Until last weekend I had never been inside St Paul's Cathedral. This is despite having lived close to it for several years and worked in offices even closer still. For some reason I always felt it was overrated and any visit would inevitably end in disappointment.

Last Saturday I marvelled at the beauty of its interior doom. It provides an explosion of colour to the eye that is quite intoxicating. Ascend the stairs to what is called The Whispering Gallery and you can see the doom's art work close up and get lost in all its glorious detail. Of course, its called the Whispering Gallery because if you whisper to its wall anyone else can hear your message as it scurries along at break neck speed to whoever is trying to do the same farther around.

Climb even higher and you're outside on the upper balcony with fabulous views over London. There's a Guide there trying to hurry everyone along and down. But you soon develop selective hearing for this is a place you want to stay for a long, long time. Below is a huge patchwork of something that resembles a mix of Lego, concrete, iron & steel and glass, punctuated by nature's shout with the green of parks, the blue of the Thames all overlooked by the moodiest of clouds and a darkening sky.

St Paul's is not only famous for its doom but its crypt too where two of the greatest English leaders lie. The tombs of Nelson and Wellington lie end on like they're keeping each other company. May be at night their spirits meet and they do their own whispering to each other about great battles and the fortuitous moments that history lost or never knew about.

St Paul's - a place that when you finally arrive you labour to leave....

Thursday, 1 April 2010

No.269 Of The Railway Children & What it Means to Some

Easter. It's a funny time of year when some people are off and just as many are not. For me it means two days without phone calls and interruption and a whole load of work done.

I was buoyed by some wonderful news today. The film "The Railway Children" is to be re-released in improved technicolour. The Railway Children is one of the most quintessentially English of films set in Yorkshire about a fractured family which is finally re-united after the father released having been wrongly imprisoned. It features blistering performances from many actors and actresses, who young then, went on to enjoy great careers..

Several years ago I went to visit the railway station where they shot, among other scenes, the bit where the oldest daughter sees her Daddy returning home. He is gently revealed as the train's steam on the platform dissipates and she runs along the platform into his arms producing one of the most moving moments in British Cinematic history. When I visited said railway station it was full of Japanese tourists running along the platform falling into the arms of anyone who was crazy enough to volunteer to stand in a certain spot. Ho Hum progress hey?