Thursday, 28 April 2011

Of the Not So Beauitful Game

I had a "lad" moment last night and sat in front of the box with a can of lager to watch Real Madrid v Barcelona. I've never see so many overpaid petty petulant men in one place. By the end of the match the reserve goal keeper (who was never on the pitch) had been sent off as had one of the managers. One player who should have been on the whole match was sent off in the second half and another 5 players were booked. Apparently, the teams had behaved better than when they last met.

In amongst this all the only player behaving like a gentlemen and a true great scored one of the best goals I've ever seen. Brilliance laced with true greatness. Not a wasted 90 minutes afterall.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Of Pinch & Punishment

"Can you pinch an inch?"

So went the advert all those years ago for some slimming breakfast suggesting that if you could you needed to slim. It was great marketing because of course everyone can pinch an inch. If you couldn't chances are you couldn't bend over because your skin would be too tight.

I don't want to speak too soon but I think I may be winning the battle of the bulge. This morning I swam at speed 30 lengths of the pool. Last night whilst watching some trash TV (Come Dine with me) I did almost an hour on the cross trainer.

I get really annoyed with myself when I start watching trash T.V. I think of all the constructive things I could be doing like repairing the MG, tidying up or reading a good bit of Russian literature. So now I've brought the cross trainer into the lounge and the deal is as follows. I can only watch trash if I'm on the cross trainer at the same time. It's a kind of Crime and Punishment thing and it appears to be working.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Of Technological Developments

I think I've finally cracked it. How to listen comfortably to music or indeed anything you can download onto an Ipod. This is a project I started at least two years ago. I started out with large head phones. But these were bulky and combersome and I discovered a good while after, unfashionable. I then tried "minimal style" which did appear to be in fashion. They were like tiny earpieces the deaf used to wear a long time ago on the end of plastic wires. These were easy to roll up and take virtually anywhere. They were also very uncomfortable and would fall out at the slightest movement or jirky response to any rock n roll music they may have been conveying.

I'm now wearing a bizarre looking contraption with small bars that go round the back of the ears and the ear pieces hover closely to the ear without going inside. Eureka!

I can now drive to Dublin listening to the best of the BBC World Serice I may have missed. When I'm within range of some decent Wifi through an App I can listen to any radio station in the world that is on the Net. How good is that?

Best of all when in the garden reading wearing your earphones is akin to wearing a sign for the neighbour's kids which reads "DO NOT DISTURB". And guess what? They don't. The best £10 I ever did spend.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Of the Royal Wedding

I'll be so glad when the Royal Wedding is over and done with. Don't get me wrong I like the couple. They seem genuine enough, hard working and yes quite in love too. But the media coverage is just ridiculous. There's nothing else on the box at the moment. There's nothing else on the front pages of the newspapers, the magazines and now the BBC World Service has joined in too.

I remember exactly what I was doing during the last big royal wedding of Lady Diana & Prince Charles. I had a part-time job painting double yellow lines on the side of the road. It was decided that it would be a great day to do this guessing that most people would be off the road either inside watching the event on T.V. or at a street party somewhere. Wow did we get some lines done that day. In fact, I think if we had been given just one more day we could have covered the whole of the UK in double yellows. Now how would that have looked? Pretty damn smart if you ask me.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Of Smart & Too Smart

I've decided to double my fitness regime. This is for two reasons. I want to get in shape for my birthday in June. Also an old University friend, Morten, has been in touch for the first time in pushing twenty years. No doubt we'll meet at some point soon and like a couple of classic cars side by side comparisons will be made in terms of whose bumpers are still firmly on and where the rust is beginning to show. Not on this fine MG 1965 convertible matey (or maybe not lets see how the training regime kicks in).

Morten I remember as being really good at sport (though lousy at pool for some reason). In the run up to the big final exams he really annoyed me by studying using mind maps and spider diagrams. When you're putting in all the hours you can on big exams you don't want a smart ass sat next to you in the library absorbing the same amount of information but in half the time. Well do you?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Of Looking Ahead

Hah! It's strategy day 1 of 2 today. We're all in the training centre reviewing the story so far and the months ahead. We should hit the pause button more often like this me thinks.

This year I've read umpteen books on strategy development and attended many seminars on the same subject. It's never easy though and requires an awful lot of chrystal ball gazing.

Where is Gypsy Lee when you need her?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Of Choosing your Lanes and your Ways

I swam 40 lengths of the Antrim Pool today ably assisted by my self appointed swimming coach "Brucie baby". When finished he asked me about my trip to London and I gave him a rough summary of what I'd seen and been doing. "St Paul's" he said "What's that like?" When I asked him if he had been there when younger he replied "On no sure I've never been to London or England for that matter. Nearly went to Cornwall once but then thought better of it""Weren't you ever curious? I enquired. "Ah no I like my own back garden. I don't like going where I've not been and I know what I'm used to." I thought that might explain why he swims in the same lane every time.

I drove to the office and parked in a different parking space.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Of War on War and Peace

Ok its back on. The assault on War and Peace that is. This will be my third attempt in as many years to read it cover to cover.

It can't be that difficult can it? Surely a man even with half the intelligence (if that) of the great Tolstoy himself can read in a few months what he laboured to write over several years. Ok it may have approaching 500 characters and twice as many pages but bit by bit say 10 pages a day it should be possible.

As its essentially a book about war or more correctly wars and many of them I'm planning a "war room" in the house with a map of all the Napoleonic battles. May be I should buy some toy soldiers and horses for effect. Also in the same room I'm planning lots of charts for the walls listing the main characters. Throw in a students study guide to the epic and a dvd of the film and I should be ok this time. Shouldn't I?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Of This is London

So that was London. 3 business meetings, 1 great seminar, 1 visit to Lincoln's Inn for lunch, 1 to the Savoy for Afternoon T and a spectacular visit to the opera to see Rimsky-Korsykov's the Tsar's Bride.

This time, before the show started I went back stage to get an idea of just what goes into each production. I learnt that often a production is planned 6 years ahead. That's almost as long as a good malt whisky takes to mature for premium markets. I learnt the Tsar's Bride production required over 600 costumes and they didn't manage a full dress rehearsal until the day before opening night.

The production is not for the faint hearted. In the opening scene one of the lead characters casually dispatches a torture figure before slipping into something a little less blood stained. In contrast however, Marfa the Tsar's bride, was glorious and sang out a closing scene to match in beauty anything I've witnessed on stage anywhere.

Eastbourne or Antrim? London every time please....

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Of Helping Police with their Inquries

I went for a jog this evening around Regents Park - or at least that's what I set out to do. I wasn't really in the mood for it and was up for any handy excuse not to get going as I made it to the corner of the park. It soon came. Just as I was about to kick off two motorists got involved in a road rage spat. The car driver got out and went for the motor cyclist who ended up on the ground and on the wrong end of the former's boot. When he got up to square up to the driver I lead him away quickly thinking he was destined for another much stronger kicking if he made the mistake of trying to retaliate.

The Old Bill turned up and I spent the next hour in the back of police car giving a statement. The police constable took a four page statement and asked me to sign each page and initial each correction made. When he asked if I was prepared to attend court as a witness, I replied I would but would prefer not to bearing in mind I live in Northern Ireland. He replied "Well Sir, we may have to ask you to attend. These defence lawyers are a crafty load of buggers ya know".

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Of May Be Just May Be

I attended a seminar in London today delivered by Gill Fielding. Gill was featured in the Channel Four programme "The Secret Millionaire". She stuck me then as being a no nonsense sort of person and she gave me the same impression today. She did a strategy seminar from theory to reality and it was mighty. I've loads more to think about now from KPIs to communication wheels. If only it was as simple as she makes it sounds. Maybe it is.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Of Hatching a Terrible Plot

The hens are still not laying - all with the exception of Beata that is who seems to be popping one out a day. Well done Beata. Britney goes into the laying ward of the hen hutch but then after a couple of hours seems to think better of it and comes out having done nothing but cluck and complain a lot.

The trouble is last week I invited the kids over from the local primary school to come take a look. There's 20 of them and they'll all be wanting an egg no doubt. Guess I could always nip down to the local Centra buy 2 dozen eggs and stuff the laying ward full of 20+ battery eggs. A terrible con I hear you cry but it may make a lot of kids very happy.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Of Beginner's Luck

It's the Grand National horse race today. I have a full £5 bet on.

The first time I ever attended the race at Aintree I was on my way to my Gran's in Chester. I had discovered that a return to Chester from Northampton on the bus was £20 but a return to Aintree just up the road was a mere £14. So you might say that I went to the race because I was on my way to somewhere else.

I got lucky that day. First I found £40 (4 x£10) on the ground in the bookie's enclosure. Nobody seem to be claiming it so I did but of course didn't hand around very long in case someone came looking for it. I pocketed half and stuck the other £20 on Alderniti to win and it promptly obliged. Also, I managed to find my way into the royal enclosure. I'm not quite sure how this happened for the security was very tight. I guess it was because there weren't many wee lads on their own and the gate inspector must have confused the couple immediately in front of me as my parents and in the three of us went.

So somewhere not too far from where Queen Elizebeth the Queen Mother was standing I watched my horse come home and headed for my gran's in Chester about £100 richer than I had ever been before. Gran was amused, proud and disturbed all at once. Easy stuff this gambling I thought.

Oh and by the way Niche Market to win at 20/1...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Of The Danger in Early in Days

I went to the local police station yesterday to produce the relevant paperwork for them to process my three points for driving whilst on the phone. There was an air of nervousness about the place which I put down to the recent car bomb that killed one of their number at the weekend. It must be a very stressful job at times and a lightly stressful all the time when you're a police officer in Police Service Northern Ireland. When I first came to Northern Ireland all those years ago it was still at a time when it was prudent to check for bombs under your car - especially if you had anything to do with "the establishment". In those early days although I worked in Derry/Londonderry I first lived over the border in the Republic of Ireland in a place called Burnfoot which, it turned out, was something of a Republican/IRA heartland. The lady in the house opposite had a son serving life in Longkesh for a paramilitary killing whilst the family up the road had lost a son in a paramilitary incident. Late one evening I was in the bath after a hard day's battle in court. The lights were off, a few candles were on along with a bit of Mozart and I was chilling with a glass of red. I then heard a car pull into the driveway and stop right by my front door. Dripping wet and peering through a gap in the lounge curtains I could see the silhouettes of three me in the car. From what I could see none was talking. I was desperately trying to read this situation to work out what this meant and my next move. My car was around the back of the bungalow and with the lights out I hoped that they had come only to burgle the premises. I threw the lights on expecting to hear the screech of a car turning quickly around and making a quick get away. But there was no reaction at all. Instead, three inanimate men sat there in silence. Time to make a quick exit out the back of the property and up the back hill far away I thought. Just as I threw on a pair and jeans and a shirt and headed for the kitchen door I heard a car engine start and I watched as their vehicle calmly and coolly did a 3 point turn and make its way slowly down the driveway never to be seen again. The following day I asked a colleague at work who had a pretty good ear to the ground for her interpretation of these events. She surmised that I'd been sent a warning that "They" knew I was about and would return if necessary.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Of Living in a Global Village

Yesterday evening at about 5p.m. a business friend of mine in Moscow popped up on Skype so we chatted via sms for a while to catch up on all the news. Just as she signed off my friend from Venezuela zipped in to chat by video link from Geneva. Through his concave webcam he looked a little like one of those squashed up creatrures from Lord of the Rings but I didn't think I should tell him this in case the humour got lost in translation. An hour later I was on a telephone conference call with 12 other people dotted around the UK for a phone seminar delivered by Richard Denny from his home in Morton on the Marsh in Gloucestershire. Driving home I wondered how we ever managed to get by pre the Internet. But we did. Just don't tell me that it was better "in them days" when times hadn't changed because I just don't believe it.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Of What Goes Around Comes Around

I laughed early this morning. I met an Earlybird swimmer in the car park. He had just been for a run along the edge of Lough Neagh. He told me that my ears must have been burning yesterday because the chatter amongst the Earlybird swimmers as they waited to get in the pool was mighty. He said it went something like this "Aye yee know that boyee is some boyee, never at home at the weekend but always away gallivanting somewhere. Yee know he's in Geneva this weekend staying with a Venezuelan boy he's not seen in 20 years. Next week he's in London at the Opera and latter this month he's in Red Square for the Moscow Parade. Some boy that boy. Oh and yee know he's got four hens but only one of them is laying any eggs?" Oh the local tittle tattle. There's nothing like it.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Of Famous Swiss Ways and Sayings

My second impression of Geneva was much better than my first. When I was first there a good 20 years ago working for a while at the UN the place seemed almost too perfect and too good to be true. Everything worked like clock work (as you might expect in a land famous for it's clocks and watches) but so well it almost became a bit predictable and dare I say it boring too. The bus for the UN in the morning from the university campus always arrived at 8.47a.m. and deposited me at work at 9.07a.m where I'd see largely the same people walking into work and the process pretty much happened the same in reverse at 5.30p.m. each week day too. The Swiss bought their newspapers each day not from a corner shop or newsagent but from a stand which also contained an honesty box for the price of the paper which everyone I saw at least, seemed to use. The city was impressively clean and none of its inhabitants would dream of crossing even an empty street unless the green man indicated it was lawful to do so. After I left Geneva I remember returning to my flat in a rough old part of Glasgow. Early one morning (possibly at 8.47a.m. who knows) there was a knock at the door and I fell out of bed still in a sleepy haze to answer it. I was presented with the sight of a lady who had clearly seen better days. She looked in her 50s but she might well have been 35. She was holding a pair of jeans she had probably robbed from a neighbour's washing line that she hoped I would buy from her. As I went back to bed I wondered if such a thing had ever happened in Geneva and whether it ever would. As I hopped on the plane last night back to Northern Ireland I wondered if the Swiss obsession of running everything so perfectly was actually getting worse for we had managed to take off a full 20 minutes ahead of schedule. However, this head start was cancelled out the other end for when we arrived at Belfast International Airport there was no-one there to take us from the plane. We had to wait a full 20 minutes for someone to lead us the 100 metres from the aircraft to the the terminal building. "For each action there's an opposite and equal reaction" wasn't that what one famous Swiss mathematician once said?

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Of Memories and the Tricks They Play

My holiday companion of 22 years ago hadnt changed a bit and I recognised him immediately at the airport in Geneva. A little greyer around the edges may be but still the same man I travelled with through three wild and crazy countries by upteen number of buses all those years ago.

I soon discovered that Oswaldo married a lovely lady called Valentina not long after I left Caracus and now has a delightful family with Ana Cecilia aged 22 and Sebastián aged 16. They have a lovely apartment in Geneva and by all accounts a wonderful life in this wonderfully cosmopolitian city.

Unsurprisingly we were soon asking questions of what the other remembered about our epic journey and it was fascinating to discover what we did and didnt recollect between us. I had no recollection at all of winning a pile of Bolivars at my first attempt at the roulette wheel in a southern Columbian town one evening and upsetting the locals by insisting that we leave right there and then as we were ahead. But it sounds plausible because thats what I do today. Ive always had a lot of luck at the routelle table and the numbers he mentioned (24 and 34) are those I normally go for.

He had no recollection of the time we went in search of soup from a local peasant woman doing her best to make a few Bolivars from the bus that stopped in her village once a day. Just as he assured me that it was vegetarian a chickens foot floated to the surface of the soup. Poor Oswaldo struggled to find me anything veggie to eat amongst a continent of carnivores. When he asked for how long I had been a vegetarian I think he expected me to reply all my life. When I told him “dos semanas” he near through a wobbler. But I knew then that it would be for the rest of my life and so far it has been.

He didnt remember the guy from Israel who joined us for the last two days of the trip and my attempts to keep them from arguing for they didnt get on at all. Its funny how Oswaldo seems to have just airbrushed him out of his memory even though he remembers some of the adventures the three of us had together.

We both remembered arriving to a hostel in Bogata and Oswaldo calling a number he had been given of a man who gave tours of the city. Its only now after we revisted that memory that I understand fully what actually happened. Apparently Oswaldo called the man but he explained that he had had an accident and was in plaster and unable to work as a tour guide. When he asked Oswaldo where we were staying he advised us to get out immedately as we were in the most dangerous part of Bogata in a hotel notorious for incidents with its guests. I do recall a conversation which consisted of little more than muy peligroso hombre vamos.

We both remembered the amazing single bus journey from Cucata in northern Columbia to Bogata in the middle of the country some 24 hours with the same driver at the wheel around and across some of the most dangerous and high mountain passes youre ever likely to see. We recalled how at the bus station the ticket lady gave us two plastic socks in which to hide the majority of our money. Bandits apparently had hit the last two buses over the moutain passes and this was our best chance of arriving with enough money to get back again.

We finished the day yesterday with a lovely walk along one edge of Lake Geneva. Geneva is such a beautiful city and I struggle now to work out how it is that I lived here for three months and remember only how miserable I was. Or may be I dont, for I was a student and broke at the time relying on a pot of marmite to keep me alive. That I do remember and clearly...

Friday, 1 April 2011

Of Prepping for Weekends

I have three friends staying over in my house this weekend. Two are former Hells Angels and a third is a gay dance instructor. Yes I have an eclectic bunch of friends and yes I can't help but think sometimes that it's a miracle they all get on so well.

It's the weekend but I have so much work to do. I've to prepare a mediation appeal for Monday.I've to draft our strategy plan for Tuesday test some software for Wednesday and prepare a conference speech for Thursday. Easy enough you might think in two days but I don't have two days for today I'm off to see an old friend in Geneva for the weekend and I just can't wait. The four hour return journey time is my only hope of keeping on top of these work assignments so I plan to choose my Easyjet seat carefully. It will be by no crying babies. It will not be amongst hen parties at the back of the plane. It will not be in a middle row and so squashed that I wont be able to open a folder and work. Better be first on I guess or should that be last so I can choose who gets me rather than the other way round.

I had planned not to take my mobile away with me this weekend. A daring thought I know. The prospect of being out of range of business calls and even messages from friends and family became increasingly appealing the more I thought about it this morning. But then I realised I have no camera other than the one secreted into my Iphone so it seems it and I will be travelling together afterall. Maybe I should just be really reckless when boarding the flight and leave flight mode on all weekend. Wow I can be hard sometimes. Wait till I tell the Hells Angels - they'll be terrified...