Thursday, 31 March 2011

Of Journeys Short and Long

I'm off to Geneva this weekend to see an old Venezuelan friend. Oswaldo is someone I met in Caracas at a human rights conference in 1988 and afterwards we travelled through Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador on what was to turn out to be an epic journey full of laughter, singing, dancing, stress, angst, hardship and I guess an awful lot of silly risk taking. For me that part of the world was fascinating if only for its contradictions and contrasts. It was dangerous, violent and completely unpredictable. Juxtaposed with this was an area of outstanding beauty - and people who were warm, relaxed, welcoming and friendly.

Oswaldo is now a diplomat at the UN and married with kids. I can't wait to find out what else he has been up to in the past two decades and to meet his wife and family. I'm curious too to know what he remembers about our trip and how he saw it then and recalls it now.

He was a true rebel in those days. I can't wait to hear his response when I ask him Qué piensa usted de Hugo Chavez Oswaldo? Vamos!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Of Checking Your Mirror and Over Your Shoulder

I was nicked yesterday for driving whilst on my mobile. I was on the road to Derry/Londonderry when boredom struck and I thought I'd call a friend for no other reason than it would break the monotony of the long drive. I had checked the rear view mirror but saw no sign of the long arm of the law in hot pursuit.

The police were very polite and professional about it as they dished out my fixed penalty of 3 points together with a £60 fine. They asked me what I did for a living. I didn't want them to live off the fact for weeks on end back at the station that they'd nicked a lawyer in a sports car. So I told them I was a hairdresser.

Derry/Londonderry always amazes me. Everyone you speak to is either related to the person you're talking about or at least knows them. You can tell whenever a Derry person is about to tell you something confidential because they look over their shoulder first to see if there's anyone who's in earshot. If there is, there's a good chance they'll know who you're talking about and that your highly confidential conversation will soon be all round town.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Of Laying for Ulster

I swam 40 lengths of the pool this morning with my swimming coach Bruce - although he did sprint off during the last 10 and left me well behind. He tells me that he's trying to lose weight and that he's lost a stone in the last two months. He assured me that it was a combination of more exercise and a diet designed for him by slimworld. When I asked him if that meant good bye to the Ulster Fry he replied "Oh no only the bread I still have my five rashes of bacon, two double yoked eggs, mushrooms and beans for lunch". There's no stopping some.

I had my friend and hen consultant, John McKee, over to advise on my production problem yesterday evening. He reckoned the hens may not be laying because they need some decent green food. I was thinking of moving them to different grass when he said " A lettuce should do the job". Habsburg or Cos lettuce I wondered as I thought they're beginning to get fed better than me at the moment.

1 egg a day between four of them. Not even enough to supply an Ulster Fry for a day. I think I'm going to have to have words.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Of Selling to the Converted

I was at a sales seminar on Saturday delivered by sales guru and author, Richard Denny. My, this guy's impressive. In fact he was so good I spent a good part of the rest of weekend reading his book "Selling to Win".

Here's what I picked up from both :

* Successful sales people have three main elements : Product Knowledge, Skills and Attitude.

* Both sales person and customer must be winners in a transaction

* Think on behalf of your customers. Go on thinking "How can I help this person".

* The more you sell to a customer them more likely you are to keep them

* Your "No not today list is vitally important to your business"

* A good sales person is not pushey but pulley

* Decisions to buy : 84% of the decisions are based on emotion not logic

* Be proud of your price. Never apologise about your price when putting it up.

* Remember 5% buy because the price is the highest. 25% because it's the cheapest. 70% buy because its the best value.

* Incentivize : the fear of loss is a strong selling technique. You spend more time looking for the lost £10 note than trying to earn £10.

* Don't ever give the next move to the customer. For example, letters which state "please don't hesitate to contact me should you require further assistance" might be better as "I will call you on Tuesday to discuss your needs further"

* If asked for a discount you must exchange something. For example, better payment terms or guarantee of further orders. *Risk Reversal - back what you do with a money back guarantee

* It's desire not ability that determines success.

Other stuff including power phrases :

* One certainty is that you have got YOU for the rest of your life. You might as well invest in it

* A person going nowhere normally gets there with ease.

* Seeing ourselves professing motivates us

* Success by the inch is a cinch but by the yard is hard. When setting goals start with the first one that can be achieved in just three months.

* A man goes into a hardware shop and says I want a quarter inch drill. The shop keeper says "No you don't Sir. You want a quarter inch hole". Always keep the focus on the result and you'll ask better questions

* If you don't stand for anything you fall for anything.

* You judge a person by the size of their thinking

* When closing a deal. Tell them the price then shut up! Shut right up!

* Sales is about LUCK : Labour Under Correct Knowledge * Your sales literature must state clearly the results to be expected following the purchase - highlights the benefits

* To be an interesting person all you have to be is Interested

I must apply all of this to how we sell our training centre in Northern Ireland

Friday, 25 March 2011

Of The History of School Days

For some reason I took a notion last night to Google my old history teacher, Mr Vickery and see if there was any record of him. I really liked Mr Vickery and his subject and we got on well. He was in his late 50s and I got the sense that he was really fed up with the school and I could see why even then. Classes were out of control, morale was really low (I could tell that from the number of arguments you could hear coming from the teachers' staff room as you went by on the way to assembly) and violence in the school was common place. That's violence between pupils and from pupils to staff. A colleague of Mr Vickery's got caught up in a fight with a fifth year in the play ground one winter's afternoon. He was the school chemistry teacher and approaching retirement. No sooner had the teacher put his "gloves up" than he was decked and out cold for a good few seconds. We never saw the teacher again.

Mr Vickery was enraged by this and the fact that another boy, the school bully, hadn't been expelled for beating up and cracking the ribs of one of the prefects. He didn't exactly tell us this. What loyalty he had left for the school prevented him from doing so but you could tell by the look on his face when you asked him what happened after each incident and indeed what was going to happen now. He'd reply biting his lip "No action is expected son" as anger and frustration welled up in his face.

According to Google Mr Vickery died in 1996. The only record of him online is an obituary. Strange that sometimes online you only really exist when you depart this world.

Incidentally, the school bully I came across on Friends United a while back. He left a message telling everyone that he'd love to hear from anyone that knew or remembered him.

Funny world innit?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Of Teenage Kicks

I was at a seminar yesterday. As part of the touchy-feely get-to-know-each-other section of the event we had to do an elevator speech about who you are and what your organisation does in just one minute. An extra requirement was that whenever it was your turn to listen if the person said something really interesting you had to say "Oh that's really interesting. Tell me more".

I listened to the first lady. She worked for an organisation that teaches sexual health to teenagers. She explained that her organisation tries to promote sexual health among teenagers by encouraging them to abstain. "That's really interesting " I declared "Tell me more. How do you do that?". She said "We encourage them to do other things instead" "That's really interesting" I replied "Like what?". "Like bath together instead" she said. Time up was called as I failed to suppress a teenage giggle and moved on.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Of An Age of Space Ships and Prompt Departures

I've just finished reading "The Other Side of the Sky" being my first introduction to Sci Fi. I wish someone had told me that it was a collection of short stories, because no-one did until I read the 1 review of the book on Amazon just now. So I spent all of the book trying to work out the connection between each "Chapter" only to realise there isn't one. Der!

If the book makes me want to jump on a space ship and fly away then so does British culture at the moment. I think I'm beginning to dislike or at least disown my own nationality. It seems to me that the Brits are becoming increasingly obsessed with looks, youth, celebrity and I can't help but think the Lonely Planet Guide got it right when they said "genteel traditions are eroded by an obsession with TV talent shows, junk food, binge-drinking and porn". I mean what is the point of a programme called "10 years younger" what does it achieve other than to suggest that we should be even more ageist than we already are?

Each time I boot up the PC MSN default page prompts me to click on headline news that a Spice Girl is pregnant again or that Katie Price is in love with her latest man. The biggest news questions being asked right now is "is Parade the new Spice Girls?. What is worse is that I'm beginning to click on these links curious to find out if there is anything of more substance in the story than the headlines suggest and of course there never is. Der.

Of Glad Tidings Over Troubled Times

I watched Fergal Keane's history of Ireland last night. Wow this guy is good. In fact, for me he's written the best piece of journalism ever. There's a reason why everyone talks about "Letter to Daniel" more than 10 years after it was first broadcast.

Last night Fergal Keane explained the genesis of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and he did so with his trademark thoroughness and objectivity. If some politicians or key stakeholders with reliable crystal balls had got together in the early 1900s to plot a more difficult problem to resolve 100 years later they couldn't have done it any better than what we have been left to sort out now.

Occasionally I threaten to chuck out the T.V because I know I'd get so much more done without one in the house (or three come to think of it...). But occasionally, just occasionally, the likes of Dimbleby, Paxman or Keane come along and deliver a programme of such first class quality that I'm glad I never did.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Of Not So Close Encounters

Well the English were well and truly gubbed yesterday; played off the park, suffered a mauling or took a good kicking. It doesn't matter how you describe it but we just weren't in the game.

After the match, I never realised I had so many friends. Irish friends that is all out to find and send me joyful text messages. And I quote "looks like
the wheels on the chariot came off a little today hey Bazza tee hee?!"

The new stadium in Dublin is lovely. It's like a Mexican Wave captured in architecture. Yes it's lovely. I spent a lot of time yesterday looking at it.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Of Multiculturalism early in the Morning

It's 4a.m. and I'm at Dublin airport waiting on a flight to Milan. The place is stuffed full of exhausted looking leprechauns most of them with German or Italian accents.

I drove down to the airport listening to a CD entitled "200 Italian phrases". By the time I pulled into the airport car park the CD had just played N0.200. Now lets see what I can remember...

I'm off to the Ireland v England rugby match tomorrow and I can't wait. Come on England!

Of St Patrick's Day & Production

Yey! St Patrick's Day! A public holiday here in Northern Ireland but I'm at work covering the phones in case any non-on-leave Brits call about the events. With few phone calls and no staff I'm expecting to get a week's work done today.

It's another beautiful day here too. Yesterday was gorgeous and for first time this year I had the top off the car. I was sunbathing in a car park in Belfast as I ate a sandwich in between meetings listing to some Mozart and thinking life is pretty good - which of course we all know it is.

Apparently I'm on the radio later this morning talking about the company hens and green eggs on St Patrick's Day. The only thing is they haven't laid any eggs for the previous 3 days. I shall have to have words with them and explain that as Legal-Island staff they are expected to produce just like everyone else - otherwise they're out!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Of Late Last Night Before I Went to Bed

Last night was a hoot. I did dinner party No.3 of 12 and I have to say I think I got away with it. Apple, carrot and celery soup with home made bread, followed by Vegetable Hot Pot followed by Apply and Rhubarb crumble. They're all carnivores so they suffered a little bit with my veggie cuisine - they probably shot off to McDonalds as they left mine at the even of the night in search of some proper food.

My mate Barry, (who you can always rely on tell it as it is) said the soup was good, the bread delicious and the Hot Pot lovely but needed a good slab of meat beside it. I believed him because he also said the Crumble was hard going which may be why he drowned it in custard.
The kitchen this morning looked like a Tsunami had hit it. Monday night dinner parties are never great. The cleaner's not in until Thursday.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Of the Best Laid Plans

It’s been a remarkable weekend and one of Legal-Island’s best in a long time.
On Friday the new henhouse arrived. It’s a funky “Egloo” house- with very nice shapes and bright orange. A friend of mine who saw it said he thought it was great but not very politically neutral bearing in mind it s colour. He joked that I should stuff it full of hens that lay green eggs for political balance. The following day I phoned a number I had been given for a hen seller not far from here in Ballymena. The boy on the end of the phone explained that the hens were a rare breed called Aruncan hens and he had just four left. He added” And they lay green eggs is that okay?”. I told him I’d take the lot of them…

I called round to pick them up. The farmer’s lad chased them round the pen and stuffed all four in a sack - de rigeur for hens apparently. I placed the sack on the front seat of my car. Just when they thought life couldn’t get an worse it did. I had the best of the Bee Gees on the music system all the way home.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Of La Dolce Vita - Ryanair Air Style

This morning I booked a weekend in Milan. I can't wait. I love the Italian culture and slip into it so easily that I often wonder if I am really the lost love child of an Italian Count or something. There's nothing better than people watching in an Italian piazza as you sip your double shot expresso and observe how the Italians do life. Either side of the trip is a ropey flight in an Ryanair plane that treats passengers more like prisoners of war than people flying off in search of La Dolce Vita but hey I'll worry about that when I'm in the air.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Of Aborted Attemtps to Start the Day

I awoke this morning to realise that I had forgotten to put the emersion heater on last night. Not a disaster but it did mean there was no hot water with which to shave. So I hoofed it 3 floors down to the kitchen to boil some water. It was then that I remembered that I had forgotten to do just the same 2 nights before too and the kettle was actually in the bathroom where I had left it yesterday morning. So I hoofed it 3 floors up and 3 down again to dock the kettle and get some hot water finally. Once this was done and I had shaved and dressed I descended the stairs again to the door heading out for my morning swim. As I did so I remembered I had forgotten my Iphone by the bed so up and down again I went.

As I'm leaving the house I wondered why I was sometimes so forgetful and concluded that it was because I'm thinking of too many things at once and I need to focus on just one. Fine useful learning I told myself as I hopped in the car. Driving out the development I slammed on the breaks. I'd forgotten to leave the money for the cleaner.....

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Of Fast Turn Around Times

The pool was bunged this morning. By the time I arrived at 7.10a.m. there were a dozen people in the queue. As the door to the changing room opened there was a mad rush to get changed and into the pool early to get a lane. Clearly I don't undress very quickly for I was last in. I should practice a few times to get ahead of the rest. I think it helps if you arrive with your trunks already on and your goggles on your head ready to pull down for action.
I swam my obligatory minimum 20 lengths around some swimmers and underneath others before jumping out in a hurry to head for my first meeting of the day via the office, the PC (and blog) and a quick bowl of porridge.

Bring it on!

Of Rustling Up a Good Story

At the beginning of the year as part of my goal setting I decided to change my reading strategy. The idea now is that every new book I pick up to read must be completely different to its predecessor. My last book was "Winning!" by the former England rugby coach, Clive Woodward. My latest is "The Other Side of the World" by Arthur C Clarke. I''ve never read any sci-fi before and I have to say I've been nicely surprised. He writes a great story. It's not as heavy on the brain as I though it might be and, as you might expect, the book takes the reader onto journeys and to places in your mind you might not otherwise get taken to.

Clarke is best known for the classic "2001 a Space Odyssey". I went to see this film a good few years ago in Dublin with a friend. Sat next to us was a guy who was eating a back of crisps. Normally, this would only irritate me but in front of a film that was intended to transport you to another world aided by some of the most wonderful classical music this world has ever produced I found it infuriating. I took lots of deep breaths thinking this was probably me being irritable again. But I wasn't the only one. Unprompted, my friend suddenly seemed to snap and turned to him and said politely "Please would you mind not rustling that bag it's very noisy and distracting?". Caught at the very point of retrieving his next handful of crisps,
the poor fellow was so shocked and embarrassed that he kept his hand in the bag for the rest of the film too scared to take it out in case it made any further noise. Perhaps we were the only two in the history of cinema to come out of 2001 Space Odyssey laughing...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Of Talkin the Talk

Yey! The week's barely begun and I've managed 40 lengths of the pool or put another way 1 km of forward motion through water. Credit for this must go largely to my self appointed swimming coach, Brucie baby, (featured middle of the picture) who swam with me all of the way this morning. Bruce fell off a roof a good few years ago and can hardly walk but he can swim well and boy can he talk! (-most of it in a hard Ulster twang that takes some deciphering!)
For some reason the first 10 lengths of the pool are just hell. The next 10 are tough but easier. Thereafter your muscles seem to fall into a rhythm of their own and you feel like you can go on forever.
We're now talking about entering an open water race off the north coast of Northern Ireland. It's held in April and you're not allowed a wet suit but you do have a guy in a canoe alongside you in case hypothermia sets in apparently. I wonder if swimming with a hot water bottle strapped to your under carriage is considered cheating. Must ask my coach....

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Of Jacqueline, Jackie and Jackson

As I type this I'm listening to Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro" played by Ophelie Gaillard. I'm not sure I've heard anything quite so soothing and easy on the ears in a long while. I don't think I've heard so much passion in someone's playing since Jacqueline du Pre did her legendary recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto.

I seem to be having something of a musical weekend without really trying. Yesterday evening one of my neighbours, Jackie, called round with two CDs for me of music by a few brass instruments. She plays a French Horn and is keen for me to have her turn up at a Legal-Island event and play either speakers or delegates into the conference suite on her Horn. So far I've listened to about 30 tunes. They're all great but I'm not convinced there's any there that really suit a legal conference. Mozart's Rondo Horn Concerto in E Flat (that's the one where you can't help but see foxes and hounds darting about everywhere) stands out most so far but will it work? I think we may chicken out here and simply pipe some Michael Jackson tune through the loud speakers instead....

Friday, 4 March 2011

Of Vital Statistics

I swam another 30 lengths in the pool today. That's the 5th day in a row which means my calculations are as follows 30 x 5 x 25 metres = 3,750 metres which, if I keep this up, = good bye flab or should that be "Au Revoir"?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Of Dinner, Dinner & More Dinner

I went for a business dinner last night. Guests included the Minister for Employment and Learning. The poor critta was sat right next to me for a good part of the evening so he if he didn't know who Legal-Island was beforehand he certainly did by the time he escaped from the table. I liked the man a lot. He was witty, funny and very self-deprecating. I felt for him too. He's been in the post for just 5 five months but we were giving him a hard time for stuff he has little or no control over. He has to face elections in a few months too so I couldn't help but wonder whether he thought it at all worth his while getting on top of his new departmental brief.

Still on the subject of dinners I'm entertaining next Monday again. One of my goals this year was to organise 12 dinner parties. This is No.3 which means two sets of guests have already gone through the process and survived to tell the tale - though what tale they tell about their experience is a matter of great conjecture. I'm planning to do Celery and Onion soup followed by Vegetable Crumble finished off by Rhubarb and Apply Crumble. In fact, come to think of it that's too much Crumble - better get the recipe book out and try something else over the weekend.

The best Crumble I ever ate was at school. It was topped by pink custard which though ghastly to look at was actually very nice. In fact, I think that was the best thing about that school. A recent chance encounter has prompted me to think a lot about my school days and why they were so bloody awful. Maybe they weren't because memories play tricks on you - although the memory of being caned for forgetting my 10p to pay for the woodwork I was taking home is still strong and very real. I wonder where that teacher is now - in a retirement home or a prison?

Hey ho school days hey - nothing like em.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Of the BBC n Me

I was watching "The Human Planet" last night whilst texting a friend of mine on my mobile. I don't think I've ever watched such a beautiful programme and shouted out "Wow" involuntarily so many times in one hour. It's packed full of beautiful cinematography and lovely shots of people enjoying Mother Earth. Well done the BBC say I.

A friend of mine from Spain used to complain about the British a lot. She said they had a poor sense of style and I think she might have been right. She said they were rotten cooks and had an awful diet and she was right. She said the Brits had questionable taste when it came to internal decor (carpets in the bathroom used to horrify her) and how they behaved after a night out drinking was nothing short of a national disgrace. Eventually I lost patience and asked her what if anything she liked about Britain and her immediate reply surprised me : "The BBC - it's the most fantastic institution in the world" And she was right.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Of Testing Personalities

A while ago my coach asked me to complete a personality questionniare and promptly sent me through the relevant web link. I made a mistake and tried to complete it whilst on a call to a business partner in Dublin. Multitasking - guys yes I know...Apparently I clicked all the wrong radio and submit buttons and the psychologists who analyse these things say they have seen nothing like it. I'm allowed one more go. If I mess up again I will be the only person in history ever to have failed a personality test :). Oh the pressure.....