Sunday, 27 November 2011

Of Some Really Worrying Stats

It's really sad news about Gary Speed former coach of Wales national team. I always feel deeply sorry for those surrounding suicide victims who must go through all sorts of turmoil asking themselves what if anything they could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

I'm reading a fascinating book at the moment called "The Psychology of Influence". Oddly, a chapter I was reading last night deals with suicide and in particular how the suicide rate rises in a community whenever a local paper features news of a suicide on its front pages. According to the author research indicates firmly that following a well publicised suicide you can expect a good few copy cat suicides to follow. He was able to point to firm evidence that whenever a pilot takes his life through a deliberate accident there's a spike of suicides from other pilots doing the same. According to one web site report during the period 1993-2002 in the states 16 pilots committed suicide with one actually exiting out the door mid air. So convinced is Cialdini of the stats that he tries hard not to travel by air whenever news of a pilot suicide has just made the headlines.

At University I often wondered of the value of the so called "soft" sciences and how much of real value they contribute to the improvement of the human race. Work such as that above has me thinking otherwise.


Friday, 25 November 2011

Of 50 Words

I've just bought the latest album from Kate Bush "50 words for snow". I had no idea one was on its way out until Amazon sent me an  email thinking that because I had bought her latest album I'd buy this one. They were right of course. I will buy every album she ever makes.
I've been a KB fan ever since she and Debbie Harry peered from their respective posters on my bedroom wall as a teenager giving me dirty looks..
Her first album "The Kick Inside" was very nearly a classic. Certainly the lead track "Wuthering Heights" was the most original sound of the 70s. It captured the haunting mood of the book and subsequent film perfectly.
I wish I could say I love her most recent album but I don't. Not yet at least. Many have collaborated with Bush on it which shows the esteem in which she is still held by her peers including Elton John. Maybe the album will grow on me. I guess I've just got to keep listening.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Of Some Damn Good TV Finally - The Frozen Planet

There are few things that make me feel proud to be British. I'm not sure if I even feel very British some of the time. But the BBC is something I feel very proud of and it is I suppose a very British institution.
I watched the best hour of T.V ever last night from 9p.m.-10p.m. The BBC's "Frozen Planet" is I think the best natural history programme they've ever done and they've made a good few.
It featured the birth of a polar bear that would have had even the most dispassionate of viewers blurting out "Ahhhs" as her mum, still sleepy as she hibernates, licks her over and finds energy enough to pass her in the direction of one of her nipples to start feeding.

Perhaps most remarkable of all was the astonishing shot of a wolf hunting down and fighting a bison an animal ten times its size.It was a long and bloody confrontation with the wolf being tossed around in the air by the bison and letting out the most awful screeches as it gets rammed and trodden on. The wolf must win to eat. If it doesn't it will die. The two pause eyeing each other as they await a final clash. You could almost see a kind of mutual respect one to the other. The wolf gives a final charge. The bison falls and for him it's all over. Astonishing.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Of Annual Reviews - the then and the now

It's our second and final Annual Review of Employment Law NI conference in Belfast today. We're expecting over 200 people to attend.
Our first ever Annual Review conference was held in the Holiday Inn Express in 1998 and was a much different affair and experience to the one on today. Today's will feature one very experienced Chairperson, upwards of 15 speakers, 10 hosters and as many exhibitors not to much a huge number of hotel staff running about the place to keep the event in motion.
In 1998, it featured just 3 speakers one of whom (me) also did registration, helped served the teas and coffee at the breaks and also chaired the event.
What I did too was to act as a beautiful assistant to one of the speakers who couldn't present and work the acetates on the OHP at the same time.  I duly parked myself next to it and put on the next acetate each time she nodded. The problem was that the OHP had seen better days and after just 15 minutes of activity it was beginning to over heat. As she spoke I fanned the damn thing furiously to cool it down. When she nodded I stopped and got back to what I should have been doing. Convinced the OHP was going to catch fire I nervously urged her session to finish as quickly as possible so we could switch the awful contraption off during the break and give it (and indeed me) time to cool down.

Oh yes, things have changed a lot since our first Annual Review

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Of The Business of Car Booting

I went to a car boot sale this morning. Hundreds of entrepreneurs in one place - my kind of place. I arrived at 7.30a.m.and it was already busy. Dark but busy. The car booters were setting up with miner's lamps on their head. Early bird customers were shining torches through the car windscreens belonging to newly arrived traders to get first sight of any bargains.

I soon bumped into my early bird swimming friends Bruce and Walter who pick their way through the stalls every Saturday morning looking for stuff that as far as I can see goes straight into one of their sheds at home. Walter had bought his grandson a water pistol for £1. He told me his grandson expects a gun of some description every time his grandad goes car booting. Bruce had bought his third barbecue set for £5. He said he'd have to smuggle it into his shed once his wife was out, fearing she'd go ballistic if she realised he'd bought another one. After 2 hours of intensive shopping and negotiating they stopped for a break eating tea and scones out the back of their space cruiser before returning for one last run in search of those stalls keen to get rid of their gear at any price.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Of Keen on Fergal

Last night I attended the Belfast Speakers' Circle and was asked to read out my favourite piece of writing. It was not Tolstoy or Dickens or Hugo but an Irishman called Fergal Keane who came top of my shortlist. In 1996 he wrote what for me was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing you could ever wish to read. It's a letter to his son written just a few days after his birth whilst Keane was on assignment in Hong Kong. By kind permission of the Internet cut and paste it is reproduced below. Enjoy..!

My dear son,

.... it is six o'clock in the morning on the island of Hong Kong. You are asleep cradled in my left arm and I am learning the art of one-handed typing. Your mother, more tired yet more happy than I've ever known her, is sound asleep in the room next door and there is soft quiet in our apartment.
Since you've arrived, days have melted into night and back again and we are learning a new grammar, a long sentence whose punctuation marks are feeding and winding and nappy changing and these occasional moments of quiet.
When you're older we'll tell you that you were born in Britain's last Asian colony in the lunar year of the pig and that when we brought you home, the staff of our apartment block gathered to wish you well. "It's a boy, so lucky, so lucky. We Chinese love boys," they told us. One man said you were the first baby to be born in the block in the year of the pig. This, he told us, was good Feng Shui, in other words a positive sign for the building and everyone who lived there.
Naturally your mother and I were only too happy to believe that. We had wanted you and waited for you, imagined you and dreamed about you and now that you are here no dream can do justice to you. Outside the window, below us on the harbour, the ferries are ploughing back and forth to Kowloon. Millions are already up and moving about and the sun is slanting through the tower blocks and out onto the flat silver waters of the South China Sea. I can see the contrail of a jet over Lamma Island and, somewhere out there, the last stars flickering towards the other side of the world.
We have called you Daniel Patrick but I've been told by my Chinese friends that you should have a Chinese name as well and this glorious dawn sky makes me think we'll call you Son of the Eastern Star. So that later, when you and I are far from Asia, perhaps standing on a beach some evening, I can point at the sky and tell you of the Orient and the times and the people we knew there in the last years of the twentieth century.
Your coming has turned me upside down and inside out, so much that seemed essential to me has, in the past few days, taken on a different colour. Like many foreign correspondents I know, I have lived a life that, on occasion, has veered close to the edge: war zones, natural disasters, darkness in all its shapes and forms. In a world of insecurity and ambition and ego, it's easy to be drawn in, to take chances with our lives, to believe that what we do and what people say about us is reason enough to gamble with death. Now, looking at your sleeping face, inches away from me, listening to your occasional sigh and gurgle, I wonder how I could have ever thought glory and prizes and praise were sweeter than life.
And it's also true that I am pained, perhaps haunted is a better word, by the memory, suddenly so vivid now, of each suffering child I have come across on my journeys. To tell you the truth, it's nearly too much to bear at this moment to even think of children being hurt and abused and killed. And yet looking at you, the images come flooding back.
Ten-year-old Andi Mikail dying from napalm burns on a hillside in Eritrea, how his voice cried out, growing ever more faint when the wind blew dust onto his wounds. The two brothers, Domingo and Just in Menongue, southern Angola. Just two years old and blind, dying from malnutrition, being carried on seven-year-old Domingo's back. And Domingo's words to me, "He was nice before, but now he has the hunger."
Last October, in Afghanistan, when you were growing inside your mother, I met Sharja, aged twelve. Motherless, fatherless, guiding me through the grey ruins of her home, everything was gone, she told me. And I knew that, for all her tender years, she had learned more about loss than I would likely understand in a lifetime. There is one last memory. Of Rwanda, and the churchyard of the parish of Nyarabuye where, in a ransacked classroom, I found a mother and her three young children huddled together where they'd been beaten to death. The children had died holding onto their mother, that instinct we all learn from birth and in one way or another cling to until we die.
Daniel, these memories explain some of the fierce protectiveness I feel for you, the tenderness and the occasional moments of blind terror when I imagine anything happening to you. But there is something more, a story from long ago that I will tell you face to face, father to son, when you are older. It's a very personal story but it's part of the picture. It has to do with the long lines of blood and family, about our lives and how we can get lost in them and, if we're lucky, find our way out again into the sunlight.
It begins thirty five years ago in a big city on a January morning with snow on the ground and a woman walking to hospital to have her first baby. She is in her early twenties and the city is still strange to her, bigger and noisier than the easy streets and gentle hills of her distant home. She's walking because there is no money and everything of value has been pawned to pay for the alcohol to which her husband has become addicted. On the way, a taxi driver notices her sitting, exhausted and cold, in the doorway of a shop and he takes her to hospital for free. Later that day, she gives birth to a baby boy and, just as you are to me, he is the best thing she has ever seen. Her husband comes that night and weeps with joy when he sees his son. He is truly happy. Hungover, broke, but in his own way happy, for they were both young and in love with each other and their son.
But, Daniel, time had some bad surprises in store for them. The cancer of alcoholism ate away at the man and he lost his family. This was not something he meant to do or wanted to do, it just was. When you are older, my son, you will learn about how complicated life becomes, how we can lose our way and how people get hurt inside and out. By the time his son had grown up, the man lived away from his family, on his own in a one-roomed flat, living and dying for the bottle. He died on the fifth of January, one day before the anniversary of his son's birth, all those years before in that snowbound city.
But his son was too far away to hear his last words, his final breath, and all the things they might have wished to say to one another were left unspoken. Yet now Daniel, I must tell you that when you let out your first powerful cry in the delivery room of the Adventist Hospital and I became a father, I thought of your grandfather and, foolish though it may seem, hoped that in some way he could hear, across the infinity between the living and the dead, your proud statement of arrival. For if he could hear, he would recognise the distinct voice of family, the sound of hope and new beginnings that you and all your innocence and freshness have brought to the world. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Of a Big Mac Experience

I went to check out an IPAD on Saturday in Belfast. The Mac shop was packed full of customers not to mention sales assistants. In fact I don't think I've ever seen so many sales assistants in one shop - all of them busy too. After playing around on a machine for a while I pressed a button which said "I'd like assistance". When I entered my name I was told an assistant called Daniel would be along to attend to me shortly. Five minutes later Daniel showed up and passed me on to Richard. I'd never let Richard work for me. He was slightly unshaven and had a piercing through his bottom lip that looked as awkward as it must have been painful. But he was exactly as I expected a Mac sales assistant to look like I guess : geeky, a tad bohemian but bright with it.
This guy was good. He asked me right away what my needs were and demonstrated how the IPAD could easily meet them. He then showed me some of the additional features of this amazing tablet including how you could beam photos from it onto your TV screen at home. The really clever bit was to come however when he stated that he felt that I had developed a real feeling for the IPAD over the over gadgets he had shown me and he was right.
I had kind of understood why Steve Jobs and the Macs have such a following before I walked into the shop but now I get it totally.
Great work Steve, Daniel, Richard et al

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Of Christmas Time

Yey! I've just booked a holiday with my parents in the Canaries over Christmas. Boy it was hard work trying to find a week that suited all schedules, a hotel that the three of us liked and then do two online bookings with some in the party who were a little IT challenged!

I'm looking forward to a week of sun (or even just plenty of light) with loads of books and podcasts oh and my folks of course too...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

OF Annual Review of Employment Law

We're about half way through the mad season with 2 Annual Reviews under our belt with another 3 to go.
The last at the Le Mon was great. And I've no doubt that the next at the Ramada will be just as good too.
The endorsements are coming in thick and fast too. He's one of the most recent : "A really valuable day out of the office; both in terms of learning and also in networking with old and new associates."Nicola Shaw.
I'm chairing the last one in Dublin at the Stillorgan which will be attended by none other than my parents so we had better go out on a strong finish.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Of "I Have a Dream"

Yesterday I had to do a little research on what was probably the greatest speech ever delivered. I thought I'd share my findings.
The "I have a dream" speech  is 17 minutes long and was delivered by Martin Luther King on 28 August 1963 in which he called for racial equality and an end to discrimination.
But did you know? :
•     The “I have a dream” speech was originally called “Normalcy never again”
•     Delivered to over 200,000 civil right supporters the speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th Century
•     The civil rights march was such a logistical challenge that King and his colleagues had little time to prepare for the speech and some 12 hours before it was delivered none of them including King knew what the speech would contain.
•     While Dr. King began the speech reading from prepared text, he abandoned that mid-way through. The “I have a dream…” portion of the speech was improvised.
•     The speech refers to countless respected sources including : the Declaration of Independence the Emancipation Proclamation, Shakesbeare’s Richard III’s the United States Constitution, the Gettysburg address of Abraham Lincoln and of course the Bible.
•     The speech is famous for Anaphora – repetition of a phrase at the beginning of sentences. He repeats “Now is the time” four times and “ I have a dream”eight times.
•     President Kennedy was concerned that if the march failed to attract large numbers it might undermine his civil rights efforts. In fact it did the reverse and put more pressure on the Kennedy administration
•     In 1964 Martin Luther King became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

And ladies and gentleman lest we forget:

Every movement, every triumph, every success – big or small – starts with a dream. Every one of us can envisage a better world.  And every one of us can picture ourselves as a part of the solution, making the world a better place. What’s your dream? If you’re not sure, you don’t have time NOT to dream. This is your one and only life.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Of Something Rather Astonishing

Something rather wonderful is due to happen to me this week - probably around Friday or Saturday at a guess. On 3 January this year I started War and Peace and this is the week that I'll finally finish it. When I do I will have read every word on every one of  the 964 pages and learnt about all 500 of the characters mentioned in the book not to mention countless battles, places, estates and great family names.
Granted, I have been unfaithful to this great novel along the way having read a good number of other books since the beginning of the year but none that can touch it in terms of how a book has touched me. War and Peace may not be my favourite book of all time but it is undoubtedly the most astonishing I've ever read. It is at the same time a historical document, a treatise on how we analyse evidence and facts, how we understand leadership and above all a great story. Tolstoy's observations on people and how they interact and behave are as true today as they were when he first documented them almost 200 years ago.удивительный
as they say in Russian....truly astonishing.  

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Of a Master Performance

I'm listening to an amazing recording right now and its story is even more amazing. It's of Keith Jarrett's Jazz piano concert given in Colgne in 1975 and the story according to Wikipaedia is fascinating and goes something like this.

Preliminaries to the concert were not auspicious. The concert was organized by 18 year-old Vera Brandes, Germany’s youngest concert promoter. At Jarrett's request, Brandes had selected a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for the performance. However, there was some confusion by the opera house staff and instead they found another Bösendorfer piano backstage - a much smaller baby grand - and assuming it was the one requested placed it on the stage. Unfortunately, the error was discovered too late for the correct Bösendorfer to be delivered to the venue in time for the evening's concert. The piano they had was intended for rehearsals only and was in poor condition and required several hours of tuning and adjusting to make it playable.The instrument was tinny and thin in the upper registers and weak in the bass register, and the pedals did not work properly. Consequently, Jarrett often usedostinatos and rolling left-hand rhythmic figures during his Köln performance to give the effect of stronger bass notes, and concentrated his playing in the middle portion of the keyboard. Jarrett arrived at the opera house late in the afternoon and tired after an exhausting long drive from Zurich, Switzerland, where he had performed a few days earlier. He had not slept well in several nights and was in pain from back problems and had to wear a brace. After trying out the substandard piano and learning a replacement instrument was not available, Jarrett nearly refused to play and Brandes had to convince him to perform as the concert was scheduled to begin in just a few hours.
The concert took place at the unusually late hour of 11:30 PM following an earlier opera performance. This late-night time slot was the only one the administration would make available to Brandes for a jazz concert - the first one ever at the Köln Opera House. The show was completely sold out and the venue was filled to capacity with over 1400 people at a ticket price of 4 Deutsche Marks.
The playing was improvised. In other words it all came straight out of his head. The concert was a critical success and the recording remains the best selling album of any jazz soloist of all time.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Of Days Gone By

My first ever case as a lawyer in Dublin was against The Grand Hotel in Malahide. I had never been there t and often wondered what it was like. Last night I found out as I drove up to the Hotel, parked my car and stay overnight before a conference today.
The stay did not start well. The receptionist looked at me only after she had finished doing what she was doing and said to me "You ok?". "I am" I replied "You?" (thinking now can we start again and you do this properly).
The hotel has a lovely grand old lady feel about it without it feeling dated.The room was lovely with a gorgeous view over the bay. The hotel pool was good too.
Every hotel without exception offers guests free access to its pool but charges you extortionate amounts for a pair of trunks (hoping you've forgotten them) and a premium too for a swimming cap which no-one ever thinks to bring. Except that is for me! For this morning I had all the gear. I had forgotten to take it out the car from yesterday. All the gear that is apart from soap which wasn't provided at their posh leisure centre so I had to do little runs from the disabled toilet (which did have a few skirts of soap left in a dispenser) to the shower and back "sans costume".
Altogether a memorable visit....

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Of A Dish to Die For

I attended the Belfast Cookery School last night for my weekly veggie cooking classes and boy was I on fire! I did tofu in a medley of onions soaked in soy sauce topped with a load of vegatable leaves I'd never heard of before. Wow was it good!
Watch out world I'm back on the dinner party trail! Come Dine with Me invites are in the post...

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Of Fighting to Get a Good Start

Today began with a fight. And then another. The first was to get out of bed at 6.15a.m.. For some reason this morning it was hard. Very hard. The second fight was to do my obligatory 30 lengths of the Antrim pool. At 5 lengths I wanted to stop and get out. At 10 I nearly did. I changed stroke 3 times and shouted at other early birds as we passed - anything to relieve the monotony.
But now I feel good. I feel fresh and exercised and ready for the day. Bring it on!