Sunday, 30 October 2011

Of Carlos Acosta

I was glad of the extra hour in bed this morning for I was really tired after last week's hectic schedule of travel, work and socialising.

Apparently the Russians, or rather Mevedev, has decided not to put the clocks back because every time they do the suicide rate increases by 66%.

I went to see Carlos Acosta at the Opera House last night. Wow can that guy dance and wow what a body for a man in his late 30s. His story is a fine one. Brought up in poverty in Havana Cuba the last of 11 children, he was sent to the state run ballet school because they gave out free lunches. The rest as they say is history. Top guy.Top performer.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Of Elvis and the Distractions

I went to see Elvis Costello in concert last night. I usually growl at people who come into a concert late and expect you to get off your ass as they pass in front of you and your view. But last night I was the one who was growled at for I was a good 20 minutes late thanks to my delayed flight from London.
It was only 20 minutes but friends told me afterwards that it was the 20 minutes in which he played all his classics including Oliver's Army and Good Year for the Roses. The bit I saw (which in fairness to him lasted over 2 hours) for me was a little hit and miss. There were a few pearls in there but there was a lot that was more album than singles music, esoteric and difficult to access.
I really disliked his electric guitar numbers and his song done through a loud speaker was clever but also very annoying. It's hard not to like a song writer who wrote "Allison" or "Watching the Detectives" but when it was all over and Elvis had left the building I was kind of glad I had too.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Of Much to Be Said for a Book on Your Head

When I was in Africa a few years ago I used to love watching the ladies in their beautiful long colourful dresses walk by. They had such grace and style. They appeared to glide by you with purpose and pace but so gently too. A friend of mine put it down to the fact that from such a young age they all had to carry something on their heads and this taught them to walk slowly but with back up straight and the utmost of precision.

Last night I entered into a small speakers' competition in Belfast and the adjudicator was invited to critique us all at the end. She was marvellously well spoken and conducted herself with the utmost of politeness and diplomacy at all times. So masterful was her critiquing exercise that she left me thinking that I had actually been given something rather unique to think about or even admire - like a rose - something quite beautiful and very special.

What struck me most was her deportment and they way she both sat and stood to address us. Her gait was straight and proud and reminded me of many of the African ladies I'd see strolling so beautifully to market every morning when on holiday.

In her introduction she explained that she had had a very traditional schooling and education that began with instruction on how to walk around a room with a book on your head.
Much to be said for a book on your head I thought

Monday, 24 October 2011

Of The Hot Seat

It was my Mother who taught me I should be scared of flying. As the old Channel Islands Viscount would hurtle down the short runway at Exeter Airport with its deafening propellers going full pelt, she'd grip her seat in terror like she was sitting on an electric chair.
I was cured of my aerophobia only decades later after reading John Simpon's book "Strange Places, Questionable People". Here he explains that he flies all over the world often in the most ropey of aircraft and he gets on thinking "If your number's up it's up so there's no point worrying about it".
On Thursday evening I took a flight from Southend Airport to Waterford. As the plane taxied into view through the departure lounge window I was reminded of the old planes I first experienced all those years ago. It had two windmills attached to each wing and its pockmarked skin suggested it had seen many many miles.
Practising my John Simpson attitude to flying all was well until about 40 minutes into the flight when I heard a slight thud and watched a circular object make its way down the isle and stop spinning just in front of me. I picked it up keen to identify it and a possible owner. As I did so a lady three rows behind me declared with an ironic smile"That's actually my reading light which has fallen out the panel above me. Could I have it back I've a chapter to go?!" "Certainly you may" I replied but be careful. It's very hot".

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Of Barry at Bovey

So that was my week away in London, in Devon and finally in Killarney.
Each time I go to London I change my mind in terms of where's best to hang out. Currently, it's the South Bank . It's vibrant. It's fun. It's slightly bohemian and it does whacky pretty well too.

Devon was looking beautiful bathed as it was in Autumn sunshine for virtually all of my visit. Mum was shocked to see me - a nice shock I hope.

Whilst passing over Dartmoor we dropped in at Bovey Castle for for a cuppa tea. Bovey was voted one of the top ten places to stay in the UK recently but this time I wasn't too impressed. Michael Winner would have been positively grumpy about the place. The meet n greet was great with a man popping out to park my rental car in his 1920s socks to the knees linen suit. As he did so I wondered whether he'd ever driven a Renault Clio before. If he had, I bet he hadn't parked one there before. It's a hateful car by the way. Budget you have a lot to answer for.

Then came the ropey service. We were told they didn't do cream teas until the afternoon (a wait of some 4 hours) so I asked if we could have some roibosh tea instead. "Yeh course ya can mate" said the over familiar waiter. We ordered toast and jam which arrived without cutlery.
The toilets were just as good as ever though - in the top ten of rest rooms in the UK? Without a doubt...

Friday, 14 October 2011

Of Presenting and the Evidence

So that's the main part of the week over then. On Wednesday I chaired our Data Protection Conference in Dublin which was a howling success. I then shot up the motorway to present at the Business in the Community Engage to Innovate Conference at W5. The first of my two presentations was filmed to be published I'm told on the Internet next week.

The added challenge in presenting nowadays is that you have to be really careful in terms of the every day examples you use to support the points you make. In the good old days of presenting pre the advent of mobile phones and the Internet you could refer to all sort of incidents and people knowing you'd get away with it as long as they weren't in the room with you and you didn't use their names. Nowadays, what you say could be tweated around the world. Phone video clips of you could be sent out of the room on their way to anywhere and everywhere before you've even finished your gig. The whole thing might even be kept for posterity on a web site somewhere for others (including your former bad boss, manager, teacher) to find at any point in the future.
I think my presentations went well but it's really difficult to know. People are always too polite to give honest feedback. They might say they loved a presentation and afterwards tell their mates that it was a waste of time. I've done it myself once or twice. So I've developed my own measurement system and it works like this. It was a reasonably successful if :

* No-one nodded off
* No-one left before the end;

* No-one got on their damn handhelds and started texting or fiddling with emails during your presentation;

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Of Structured Procrastination

I was listening to an interesting radio programme the other morning. It was early in the morning, probably around 4a.m. so I wrestled with myself in terms of whether my need to sleep should trump my desire to stay awake and listen to what was on.
The programme was about John Perry who has just won the Ig Noble Prize for his article "How to Procrastinate and still get things done". The Ig Noble Prize honours scientific work that makes you laugh and think. It has some curious past winners including a man who for forty years has cracked the knuckles in his left hand (but not his right) to see if the common belief that such a habit brings on arthritis is correct.
"Structure procrastination" according to Perry is when you make a list and do everything but the one on the top - the one that really needs to be done. He posits that this keeps you busy doing other useful things as you go up the list. He argues that you'll finally do the one at the top when it's trumped by others even more important and falls from the top spot.
When the programme finished I still couldn't sleep. There was too much going on in my head including whether for all these years I have been a "structured procrastinator". I never did come to a conclusion. Did I fall asleep.... or maybe I just didn't get round to it?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Of The Lost Art

Over the weekend I finished reading "The Lost Art of the Great Speech" by Richard Dowis. This is probably the best book I've ever read on delivering a speech and I've read a few by now.
Here are a random ten tips from the book :

* The six basic purposes of speeches are to entertain, inform, advocate, motivate, convince or persuade;
*One of the best ways to relax when waiting to speak is to use the progression method. Start with the top of your head and relax your scalp. Then go to your facial muscles, then to your neck, shoulders and on down through all your body parts. You'll feel the tension flow out your body.
* Virtually every person in an audience is attentive at first. This brief period may be called the "grace period". After that, the speaker has to earn the audience's attention. If you lose the audience during this grace period, you might never regain their attention
* A speech is a fondue pot and everyone has a fork.
* President Nixon was a master of alliteration. He once criticised pessimists for being "nattering nabobs of negativism"

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Of Former Heads and School Alumni

In a bored moment a few days back I Googled my old school : Northampton School for Boys. I was amazed by their impressive boast of alumni which includes the guy who discovered DNA and the 11th Doctor Who.
Maybe I was just part of a bad intake the year I first went to the school but the impression I got was that when we were through the otherside most of us were bound for the dole queue rather than university or certainly stardom.
In fairness to the Head at the time, the year I went to the school was its first year as a Comprehensive. Until then the teachers didn't really have to worry about controlling their class.Discipline, or perhaps more correctly lack of it, was never a serious issue. Once Comprehensive all sorts of boys were at the school causing all sorts of mayhem and many of the teachers were struggling to find the new style of teaching that was required.

I'm starting my working day meeting a former Head teacher, John Stevenson. Until recently he was Principal at Holywood Grammar School whose alumni includes the Open golf champion Rory McIlroy. Last time I met John he told me a great story about the day after Rory McIlroy won the Open. He said there was a media frenzy and he did nothing all day except give interviews from Rory's golf club for the likes of the BBC, Sky News and CNN. No doubt he felt the centre attention. And then the last interview was done the media circus cleared off and they went looking for their next big interview. John said that within an hour there was no sign that they had ever been and I went home wondering what an earth that was all about.

I guess I left Northampton School for Boys feeling much the same thing...

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Of Nit Picking over Blackberry Picking

When I was 13 at school I had a bad time in my English class. We had been asked to read Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney and write a 500 word essay on it. The trouble was I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand its metaphors its allegories and well 500 words about a poem probably no more than 150 in length seemed beyond unreasonable to me.
I struggled to make 300 words and handed it in thinking that was the end of the ordeal not realising that it was just the beginning. He made me do it again and read out my second attempt when I handed it in a week later. This version consisted of an extra 200 words recounting my own experiences blackberry picking which I thought had been masterfully crafted into the critique of the poem. My English teacher thought otherwise. As I read the essay to the class I realised he had asked me to do so not as an example of a piece of homework done well but as something so bad it could only amuse him and the 30 school boys in the class.
Needless to say he, English literature, Blackberry Picking and all poetry were tossed into my teenage rubbish bin labelled “To be despised at all times”.
Last night I attended for the first time a meeting of the Belfast Speakers’ Circle. This is a group of people who get together and practice public speaking, after dinner speaking, impromptu addresses etc. Each week I was told has a special theme. One week it may be Extempore Speeches, the next recitation of a well known speech etc. Last night, to my horror, was poetry night and everyone was asked to bring along their favourite poem.
Not having a favourite poem (only a most hated one) I decided to ask a neighbour for hers and went prepared to read “When you are old” by W.B Yeats.

As I sat there waiting to be called to read it was clear that the chairman was going to leave me to the very last. I listened to poem after poem realising that my fear and dislike of the subject had barely gone away after all these years. Up before me was a lady called Irene.
She proudly announced to the group “The poem I have pleasure in reading for you this evening is the wonderful  “Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney.
Strange world innit?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Of Jane Eyre

I went to see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last week. I think it was good. I say that because I nodded off at some point so I can't be too sure. The trouble with nodding off part way through a film is it's hard to work out whether you're away for just a couple of minutes or a full half hour. If the former, then it's worth returning to the plot. If the latter, then with, TTSS at least, you might as well go back to sleep.
There were no such problems last night when I went to see Jane Eyre. What a glorious film based on a glorious book. Jane Eyre reminded me of a neighbour I know also close to 19 years of age who also possesses a remarkable ability to judge situations and her next actions perfectly. She just seems to know exactly when to be assertive, when to be bold, when to concede, when to forgive. This is a skill that many of us don't acquire until late in life, if at all.

I say glorious book above but I've never read Jane Eyre. I write it with confidence however because strangely just a few minutes after existing the cinema a text popped up from an old friend of mine in Derry/Londonderry. Randomly it said that he had just that moment finished reading Jane Eyre and it was the best book he's ever read.

Strange world innit?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Of Speed Reading

I was at a speed reading seminar yesterday. I don't think it's for me. I like to go at my own pace and ponder words, the meaning of sentences and indeed ponder just about anything else as I "speed" my way through a chapter of a book.
I did confess to being a slow reader to the group; one of those that reads with his finger under each word and as we practiced I did note everyone else turning over a page before I was even half way down.
The secret I've decided to getting through lots of books for me is not to read them quickly but to have them handy throughout the day so whenever I'm on a train, a bus, or in a queue I'm reading.