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...

Friday, 8 October 2010

No.399 Of Tidying Up for the Weekend

It's been a long week but a great one at work. We opened up in GB with a great conference in London and followed up with a superb event yesterday in Dublin on Data Protection. I think we're all crawling to the finish line at 5p.m. today.

Next week we have Birmingham to cross off our tour itinerary followed by Manchester the week after that and then finally Leeds.

I've just taken delivery of a skip at home which means yippee dee I can empty my garage of loads of junk and get my MG back in its proper bed. At this rate I might have a normal household and life by Christmas!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

No.398 Of London Calling

We opened with our first event in London yesterday after a rather agreeable dinner the night before in a Moroccan restaurant Covent Garden. We took no prisoners yesterday and it was good. Very good. The venue was great beaming T.V pictures of the conference everywhere. The speakers were all exceptionally good. The notes as usual, first class. The food delightful. Not a bad way to open up in a new jurisdiction though I say so myself.

Monday, 4 October 2010

No.397 Of Bad Dogs and an Englishman

I was a beautiful morning when I headed out to the pool today. 6.30a.m. is a great time to be up at a great time of the year. The mornings are fresh but not cold. The trees are glistening an Autumnal gold.

I did my statutory 20 lengths before racing back to the house to dash up the round and walk the neighbours golden lab. All was going well until on our return from the river walk she refused to release a large stick in her mouth which meant I couldn't get the lead back over her head. "Drop. Leave. Dead. Bad Dog" nothing seemed to work and she looked at me, passers by looked at me and those shooting by in cars no doubt wondered what the stand off was all about. Eventually I snapped the stick off either side of her mouth leaving enough room to get the lead on her and hurtled back to the house with her still firmly biting what was left of the stick. And I thought humans were meant to be stubborn.

I'm off with a couple of aforementioned humans to London this afternoon. Tomorrow marks the first day of Legal-Island in Britain and what a place to open at Oxford Circus, London. Bring it on. Let's do it.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

No.396 Of Sticks and Stones

I'm babysitting the neighbour's dog, Isla, this weekend. I couldn't remember if I had to feed her or not this morning so I gave her the last of some apple pie I found in the neighbour's fridge. She looked delighted. (Isla that is. The neighbour is on holiday).

Isla is a mix between a labrador and a retriever. However, she's clearly got a complex about not being a full blooded retriever for when you walk her she shows no interest in any other dogs but spends all her time bringing things back to you. You get lost golf and tennis balls. You get old trainers and boots. You get large stones. You get an awful lot of fallen branches and sticks. And I mean an awful lot. This morning I soon got bored of throwing things for her and ignored all the stuff she deposited at my feet in the hope she'd do something else. Alas she simply took all of the flotsam and jetsam she found in the river to anyone else she could find in hope they'd do the casting for her. Fickle or what? Should have had the apple pie myself.

Friday, 1 October 2010

No.395 Of Buddies Past

I tried a new restaurant last night Hooligans in Talbot St Belfast. I met an old mucker there Maura whom I first met at University and then worked alongside at the Law Centre.

The food was exceptionally different no chips here and no "alf n alf" either. It was also very tasty too. The bread and butter pudding was to die for and yes probably as good as my Mum does possibly even better (sorry Mum!).
There was one thing that spoiled it however : the loud music. Straining to hear Maura over lots of Buddy Holly tracks made me feel a little deaf and in need of an ear trumpet or two to stick close to my head and point in her direction. Not a great feeling for someone of my age. Perhaps the solution is to wear a couple of those rinky dinky new motorbike helmets that come with headsets and two way radio. Marginally less embarrassingly than ear trumpets I suppose and far more fun.