Monday, 17 December 2012

Of Doing Christmas Online

As an experiment I thought I'd try to do Christmas online this year to reduce stress levels and save time. So far it has proved to be an unqualified success.
Last week I ordered enough food at Asda's website for two people to survive from this coming Wednesday right through to the New Year. I also ordered enough groceries to cover four dinner parties three of which take place this week. This last bit was actually very easy. You get the four recipes, your order the ingredients and tick them off as they disappear into your online shopping basket. Since placing the order last week for delivery tomorrow I've added chutney, cheese biscuits, Christmas crackers and a freezer box to freeze the left overs.
Granted, Saturday I did have to pop on a train to St George's market for a few vegetables Asda or Tesco just don't do or if they do, then nothing like as well as a fresh market. Into the former category is red chicory, rosemary garlic and Stinking Bishop cheese. Into the latter category goes organic asparagus and celeriac.
Finally, the presents have all come courtesy of Ebay and Amazon.They arrived on time, usually the day after I ordered them and in perfect condition. The great thing about buying presents online is that you can shop around for ideas in the comfort of your chair, compare prices and know whether what you are about to buy is rated or slated by previous customers.
Altogether I reckon I've saved about 12 hours shopping time. I've got better quality presents and I'm actually looking forward to Christmas with a good deal of energy keft for it. So why don't more people do Christmas online I wonder? Perhaps it's something to do with inherited thinking. Why change what you've done for so many years when it works to a point, even when there's clearly a better way of doing it.Christmas is all about tradition afterall.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Of Wedding Bells

Ha! Finally we have a wedding date! 26th January 2013! We've had an amazing team working on the paperwork and they've done a first class job because we did this in a "Oner" first time round. A big thanks to all!
Now all I have to do is find a matching suit for her ladyship's dress. That, I fear, may be a little more difficult...!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Of Lights, Camera, Action!

We were shooting a video today with two highly professional crew who knew exactly what they were doing and what they wanted.
It took us about 2 hours to shoot what will probably turn out to be a 2 minute video clip. It's hard work getting the light right, the sound and the setting. The acting is almost the easy bit - although maybe it was the actors who made it look easy. It must be difficult having to repeat lines constantly, unusual faces, and eye movements  with lots of people looking on.
We got to 4p.m and in true movie style it was declared "A wrap". I'm looking forward to seeing the final product but I don't think I'll be putting in for any jobs as a film director...

Monday, 3 December 2012

Of A Great Two Days

I've just had a friend over from England to stay for the weekend. The forecast was for rain both days but we were treated to great spells of glorious sunshine.
People ask me if I get bored going to the Giant's Causeway all the time. Sunday was probably my 15th visit. But I just can't see how you can get bored going there. It's different every time depending on the season, the weather and the state of the sea.Yesterday there were some tremendous waves crashing over the Causeway rocks creating a beautiful white on black contrast.
On Saturday we walked some of Slieve Binion and finished up having a seaweed bath in Newcastle. Magic.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Of The Four Hour Chef

A good friend of mine thinks I becoming a Tim Ferris fanatic; a Ferris follower, disciple even and I think she's right.
Ferris started out as author of the international bestseller "The Four Hour Week" which turned thinking on its head by challenging what we thought we already knew in many areas relevant to our working lives. In his next title "The Four Hour Body" he challenged the reader to eat, swim and indeed have better sex by rejecting inherited thinking and following some key but quite simple steps.
His latest book out this week is "The Four Hour Chef". You'd think it's about food and how to prepare which it is in part. But it's also stuffed full of other great life tips from how to acquire a super memory and learn languages to lighting fires in a way that causes them to burn for longer and give out much more heat.
It's quite astonishing what this man knows and what he's prepared to try and experiment with. He must be one of the most curious individuals on the planet and seems to have become a vertiable guinea pig for anything new that helps us do what we are currently doing but so much better.
I'm ten pages into the 550 odd pages of this latest work but it's already been worth the £15 I paid for it. I can't remember the last time I said that about a book which says it all I guess.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Of Car Booting

As part of my commitment to do two days of charity work each year I went car booting on Saturday to raise a few bob for Legal-Island's charity in Malawi.
It was a really cold morning and one that refused to warm up. By 11a.m. it was still barely above freezing.
But by 7.15a.m. I had sold a six string banjo that had followed me around the UK since my first year at university. I had flogged 3 chairs and a strimmer in a brief rush a little later.
There's something quite appealing about trading at a car boot sale. Anyone who is prepared to get up in the early hours of a cold Winter's morning in search of a bargain is bound to have some spirit and be worth a conversation or two. One such punter, challenged me to a game of tennis as I tried to sell him a tennis racket. Why not? I thought. He whooped me 2 sets to love Sunday afternoon. He never did buy the racket either.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Of Closing in on Perfection!

Wow! We haven't lost our touch here at Legalisland. If anything we're close to perfecting it. Our latest Annual Review Conference is currently being scored by delegates and like the 3 others behind it it's scoring phenomenally well. With an overall satisfaction rate so far of 4.4 out of 5 it's telling me that the quality of what we do justs gets better every year.
We've just got one more to do at the Stillorgan and we can rest up a little. So here's hoping for the Annual Review of Employment Law Conference at the Stilorgan.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Of Anne Frank a Remarkable Lady

I've just finished the wonderful Anne Frank's diary. I first read her diary when I was about 14. I said then that it was my favourite book of all time and today many years on it's still in my top 3. This time I struggled to make it to the end for no other reason than because as you turn those last few pages you know the fate that awaited her.
I'm still struggling to know why it is that this was never required reading at school when totally inaccessible books including "She Stoops to Conquer" and "The Merchant and Venice" were.
Not only was Anne Frank blessed with a beautiful ability to articulate what she was both noticing and feeling but she was also full of boundless optimism and hope which, I suppose, makes her diary all the more tragic.
Here's what she records about how to deal with melancholy :
"I lie in bed at night, after ending my prayers with the words "Ich danke dir fur all das Gute und Liebe und Schone (thank you God for all that is good and dear and beautiful"), and I am filled with joy. I think of going into hiding, my health and my whole being as das Gute; Peter's love (which is still so new and fragile and which neither of us dares to say out loud), the future, happiness and love as das Liebe; the world, nature and the tremendous beauty of everything, all that splendour as Schone.
At such moments I don't think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is : "Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you're not part of it". My advice is "Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to capture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy".

Monday, 12 November 2012

Of A & B

Last week I nearly bought a defibrillator! So shocked were people when I began to share my news that I thought some might go into cardiac arrest!
You see on Saturday 4th November at 11p.m. I hiked up Slieve Donard and came down 4 hours later engaged! At 850 metres above sea level in a howling gale and the freezing cold Anna, said Yes to my suggestion of a life together!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Of Returning to Greatness

I'm currently re-reading two books and for very different reasons. The first is "Winning"! by Clive Woodward. This tells the story of how he took the English rugby team from mediocre to world beating. Naturally, it's a sports book but its a great business book too. For he applied many business principles to his strategy of finding and nurturing some of the greatest individuals in rugby and turning them into a world beating team. It's a great book.

The Diary of Anne Frank is up there for me as one of the greatest books of all time. It's a book full of love, laughter, anger, frustration and ultimately tragedy. Frank writes with a maturity that is well beyond her years. How she articulates the frustration she feels living in such close quarters with others is at times hilarious. When she confesses to her diary that she realises she's in love with David you can't help but feel deeply touched.
What I don't understand to this very day is why we were never required to read great books like this at school. Instead we had to suffer the likes of  "She Stoops to Conquer" or "The Merchant of Venice". These were books that could very nearly put off a 15 year old from reading altogether. Perhaps its all different now. But I doubt it.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Of The Great River Tidy-Up

I was out volunteering over the weekend picking up rubbish in and around our local river, the Six Mile Water. The Six Mile Water incidentally is 24 miles long (only in Ireland I hear you cry) but on Saturday we cleaned (or cleared) less than half a mile of it.
It's amazing what you can find in a river nowadays. We fished out three tyres, half a washing machine, a bike and countless plastic shopping bags.
One plastic sack eluded our best joint efforts however. It was stuck on a fallen tree right in the middle of the river. Despite the attempts of four of us it remains there today. But we've not given up. Soon we plan to return in a boat to remove it and its smug little smile.

The woodland around the river on Saturday was looking spectacular glistening in gold and yellow in the early morning sun.
We're lucky to live in such beautiful surroundings. It just a pity that we don't take more care of it and seem happy to tolerate a level of litter that people in many other countries would consider totally unacceptable.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Of The Four Hour Week, Body and Soul

I'm feeling fitter and healthier at the moment than at any point since I was in my late teens. I'm now swimming 50 lengths of a 25 metre pool every working day. I'm jogging 5k twice a week too as well as cycling whenever a bike makes as much sense as a car for a journey somewhere.
The I'm-feeling-healthier bit is undoubtedly down to a much better diet. My day starts with porridge with berries and a sprinkling of ground flax seed. Later meals consist of a healthy mix of vegetables and beans with the odd bit of a fruit in between times. Much of this progress is down to Tim Ferris and his book "The Four Hour Body". It's rare that you read a book that is life changing or at least improves your life so much that it is actually noticeable. What I should point out is that this is the second time Ferris has managed it. The first was when he wrote his first book "The Four Hour Work Week" - a book about how to manage your life better using the Internet. His next book "The Four Hour Chef" is due out next month. It's awaited with great anticipation by someone whose interest in eating more healthy food is already spilling over into cooking. Tim Ferris, well done. I applaud you.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Of Triathlons and the Status Quo

I was doing some training over the weekend for my first triathlon in December. On Saturday I cycled 14 miles and then abandoned the bike and immediately ran 5 miles on the road. This morning I swam 50 lengths of the pool or 1.25km. Now all I have to do is put them all together. What surprised me most was the transition from bike to road. For a full two minutes the legs just didn't know what was going on. For almost an hour I had asked them to push a wheel round in a circle. Then I was asking them to drive an unwilling pair of feet up the road. It was not a pretty result - for the first two minutes at least. As I tried to get out of my development onto the road the legs were wobbling all over the place and neighbours kids witnessing the spectacle no doubt wondered whether I'd been boozing at breakfast.
The run was made much easier thanks to my Ipod and a good blast of Status Quo as I'm going round the circuit. Their full on three chord rock and roll provided just enough energy to get me home and happily for all I was too tired for a change not to get out my air guitar when "Whatever you want" came blasting out the earphones. Top day!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Of Julia Gillard on the Offensive

Occasionally, just occasionally, something comes along that convinces you that the art of public speaking and debating is not lost and gone forever. Last week we witnessed an amazing speech from Julia Gillard, President of Australia. She produced a devastating repost to the leader of the Opposition who had proposed a motion about sexism in Australian society..
It was simply astonishing. For me it packed a huge punch for following reasons :

* She's fluent and fast. It's almost like the 15 minute speech is delivered in one breath. Impressive.
* She takes no interruption despite being heckled by a number of adversaries.
* She uses repetition very effectively "I'm offended by, I'm offended by etc...
* She throws in great ad libs as she goes through "Those heckling me now should talk to the leader of the Opposition" " I see him checking his watch now, is it time for him to leave?"

To see her in action click here

Monday, 15 October 2012

Of Jimmy Saville and the Main Point

In the early 80s I could never understand how it was that Jimmy Savile was on the radio. He was a dreadful DJ. He used to go on and on about points the listener could win if they guessed the exact title of a record which usually involved some words in the title in parenthesis. The in-between-the-records chat often involved him telling you a story that seemed little more than his chance to tell you how many rock stars he knew and had shared a memorable time with. These often went on and on too. At least with Tony Blackburn you got a few offensive jokes but a whole lot of good music in between.
I began to think that the only reason he was still on the radio and T.V was because no-one had the courage to get rid of him due to all the great charity work he was doing. He was constantly in the press or featured in the news running the London Marathon and raising yet another million for Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Who would dare stick their neck out and sack one so revered?
For me the Jimmy Savile issue is just a reminder that the appalling British obsession with celebrity was with us as early as the 70s and doing damage in ways that we're beginning to understand only now.
We need proper role models to look up to. We all know who Stacey is, Chantelle, Jordan but how many can remember the name of the British paraolympic swimmer who has won several gold medals the most recent of which just a few months ago in London?

Of The Four Hour Body

I've been reading Ferris's "Four Hour Body" recently and have taken from it and related reading the following tips all designed to improve your life :

1. Start the day with a cold shower! At first this involves quite a lot of screaming. Start with the front and hold it for 2 minutes then go for the back (which is, strangely, must more painful). Then flip to the front again and go under for a full 5 minutes. You come out feeling beautifully refreshed and like nature has attached a pair of jump leads to you for a 20,000 volt shock. Hard but wonderful!

2. Total Immersion Swimming - yes this makes a lot of sense but is hard to learn. So far the following has improved my swimming a good deal :
- snout to the grout - the head should be directly facing the bottom of the pool. You breathe out under water and in on every second stroke (same side)
- tumble turn - wait until you're almost by the wall, maintain speed and tuck your head in - as you go over exhale through your nose otherwise you'll come out of the turn totally disorientated.

3. Food - follow menus that are downwardly complementary. In other words start the week with a menu that includes ingredients that can be used in a second dish and also a third. For example, a vegetarian casserole, then a veggie stir fry then cream of vegetable soup. This keeps you healthy and avoids food waste. On the subject of food waste did you know that we waste up to 30% of the food grown in this world? A shocking statistic when the people of so many countries are malnurished.

4. The Cat Vomit Exercise - this is designed to tighten your stomach and it works. To do it go onto all fours breathe out then pull in your tummy as tight as it will go without breathing in. Hold it for 8 seconds then breath in. Hold for another 8 seconds then breathe fully out dropping your tummy at the same time.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Of The Digital Switch Over

Yikes! I've lost BBC2 thanks to the digital switch over! That means no Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight! What's to go next? Channel Four and no Come Dine with Me? ITV and no Take Me Out? It just doesn't bear thinking about.
I clearly need to get this sorted by either a digi box or Freeview. The Freeview box is now at home and just needs plugged in. How this operation goes is very much connected to whether I ask Sky to provide my broadband (and with it TV not affected by this digital nonsense) or BT. I hope it's the former because I've still not forgiven BT for doing such a bad job providing us with broadband at our offices. If I remember rightly we were without broadband for two weeks and I vowed in lieu of suing them I'd never use their services willingly or otherwise ever again. What's more is that they just didn't seem to care as we did the IT equivalent of run water from the well and light candles to go to bed.
I'll still have the radio to rely on however if I don't get round to installing the Freeview box this weekend. This is no bad thing I guess. At least you can't see Jimmy Savilles grubby little face when inevitably you're updated on his antics during the news. We talked about him when he was alive and we're doing it even more now he's done. I'm sure he's deligthed!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Of A Tale of Two Birds

About 10 years ago I spent a few days over the Christmas period at the glorious Ashford Castle in Mayo, Ireland. It's a fabulous place with beautiful grounds, steeped in history and some really quaint touches. When you arrive you get handed a goblet of warm mead and there's a fantastic owl on his perch in the corner of the reception area who takes a careful note of each visitor.
Not so quaint however were some of the guests and there was one in particular I shall always remember. He was an irritating man with a puppet on the end of his arm. When I first saw him he walked around the hotel approaching children saying "big bird, big bird" as he went. To my horror he then started on the adults and my evening meal was soon interrupted by this annoying little man and his annoying little chants. Upon inquiry it turned out he was the owner or founder or whatever of Sesame Street and "Big Bird" was its star creation. I spent most of Christmas Day trying to avoid the pair of them and wishing that the bird of prey on guard in reception would see fit to finish one of them off at least.
Alas it seems that presidential hopeful Romney is promising to do the job for me by ending the funding for PBS which might also mean the end of Sesame Street.
Now there's a man who would get my vote.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Of a Sharp Start to the Weekend

"Is that Barry Phillips?"." It is" I sleepily replied. "The alarms at Legal-Island have went off at 5.30a.m". the voice on the end of the phone declared. I checked the time. It was 5.31a.m. I scrambled out of bed remembering that there had been 2 burglaries on the road next to Island thinking that this time it could  be for real. I threw on a shirt and fleece, jeans and footwear. The Crocs were replaced halfway down the stairs by a firmer pair of shoes just in case I had to deliver a kick to the family jewels of any unsuspecting burglar.
I jumped into the car and arrived at Island at 5.36a.m., precisely. For any police that may be reading this blog this time statement includes a typo.
I checked outside the building for any sign of broken entry. There was none. Starring inside through a window I could see no sign of a random torch light, no intruders, nothing that looked at all untoward.
As I entered the building a voice from the alarm system was shouting firmly "Intruder, intruder, intruder, leave immediately". I walked around. Again, no sign of a break-in.
Next dilemma. Go back to bed or make the most of the long day? I'm trying the latter whilst reserving the right to change my mind and change a long day back into a shorter one.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Of Coaching Habits

Today, I completed day one of a 3 day coaching course. The skills taught are quite similar to those you learn on the way to qualifying as a mediator. There's listening skills, summarising, empathizing and a raft of other techniques you'd find in a book on EI, NLP or Communication Skills.
It's one thing learning coaching techniques but it's quite another to remember to use them. For this I guess I need a book that has just landed on my desk direct from Amazon entitled "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. According to its cover this is a book that explains why habits exist and how they can be changed transforming businesses communities and our lives.
So I've got work to do. 2 more days of this course and a book to read by which time I should be in the habit of coaching colleagues. Lets hope I learn how to switch off the coaching button too lest friends and family get blasts of it as well.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Of A Revolution Going On

We're full out this week preparing for a big event tomorrow : "The Resolution Revolution". This conference has snowballed from a wee idea we had in March/April of this year to an event which has now sold out with over 110 people attending. We have a great line up of speakers a really important message to give and a good number of important organisations represented tomorrow.
The pressure is on here at the Island. But we like pressure. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Of The King of the Quiz Show!

I was out for dinner last night with an old friend of mine and Legal-Island, Paul. Paul is always great company and a true gentlemen but I discovered something about him last night I never knew. On the way back from the restaurant we decided we should patronise the local hostelry for to check the quality of its pints of the black stuff.
We happened upon a "Quiz Night" that was in full swing and took to the corner of the pub so as not to interrupt those who were taking it very seriously - and there were a good few of them.
The rest of the evening went something like this :
Quiz Master : "Who invented the mini skirt"
Paul "Oh that will be Mary Quant"
Quiz Master "Which Beetle married last"!
Paul "On that'll be Paul McCartney"
Quiz Master "Who was the lead singer of the Specials"
Paul "Ah sure that'll be Terry Hall"
Quiz Master "Where's the La Scalla Opera House"
Paul "Oh that'll be Milan"

And so the night continued. Eventually we left with us both feeling much the wiser but for very different reasons..

Friday, 14 September 2012

Of The Four Hour Body Part II

I've been practising my total immersion style swimming this week as advised by Ferris in "The Four Hour Body". It's going slowly but well. This week I've been concentrating on my breathing. He advises that you breathe out in the water before taking a slug full of air as you rotate your head around. This I'm doing and breathing out through my nose which for some reason I find much easier. It is also a practise that creates far fewer bubbles than exhaling through your mouth allowing you to see where you're going which is no bad thing either.
At the end of my 40 lengths I stopped and asked the guy in the lane next to me (a fine swimmer and triathlete) whether he had ever heard of "total immersion swimming".He said he had and that his friend swears by it. As we talked I noticed an odd shape behind his right ear under his swimming cap. Upon inquiry he promptly produced what he said was a "wetometer" which can be set to click at a rate you want your arms to enter the water. He said you can also get a gadget to count the laps for you as you do them which works by adding one lap each time it detects you've changed direction.
It's a complicated process swimming nowadays. It's changed a bit since the day I first got in a pool with goggles that flooded with water the moment you put them underwater.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Of Another Four Hours

I'm currently reading The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferris. I have to admit to being quite a follower of Ferris for I got huge amounts from his book The Four Hour Work Week when I read it last year.
The bye-line to the book on the front cover explains that it is "An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss incredible sex and becoming superhuman" so fairly bold in its ambitions.
Aside from the naughty bits in the book (and there are a good few of those) there are also chapters on getting the perfect night's sleep, reversing injuries and swimming effortlessly in just 10 days. This last chapter interests me greatly. He claims to have progressed from being a hopeless swimmer who struggled to do two lengths at a time to someone who was swimming 40 lengths of a pool and then 2 miles in open water within just two months. He does his best to describe the method of swimming he recommends but four still photos of a guy in the water accompanied by some narrative doesn't help very much. Here's hoping Googling his sources will lead me to a video clip online which will make me a super fast swimmer and the envy of the early morning pool boys. Why do I doubt it all somehow?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Of A Revolution Going On...

It's September - the beginning of the "Silly Season" at work. This is when we all put our heads down for 3 months and go for it and do one big event after another. The first big event up is "The Resolution Revolution" on 26th September which is already close to selling out with almost 100 people booked to attend. This event is one of our most important ever. It's about trying to persuade both parties at work to think about mediation first in conflict scenarios rather than grievance procedures. It's an important message and if we get it right we can do huge amounts to improve work place relations in Northern Ireland (and who knows other jurisdictions after that).

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Of Predicting the Future

There's a piece of software for just about anything you do nowadays. That's how it seems to me right now anyway. I know this because Legal-Island is having a software makeover at the moment. We've introduced bookings software, event creation software and presently we're test driving performance management software.We've tried and discarded stress management software and we will be investigating 360 appraisal software next.
About 10 years ago I remember reading an article by a Futurist expert who was predicting that all this new software along with other technical developments would make us so efficient that most workers would be home by lunchtime every day having run out of things to do. Emmm here's hoping but not expecting I suppose.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Of Season 2 "The Silly Season"

We're all furiously busy at the moment preparing for Season 2 which begins in earnest next week. Season 2 is known in the company as "Silly Season" for it is the three months of the year in which we do the majority of our work. We have 7 Annual Review Conferences to do throughout the UK and Ireland and an awful lot in between. The "awful lot in between" bit includes The Resolution Revolution which has also gone huge attracting to date upwards of 100 people. I'm billed in the marketing literature for this event as saying "It's the most important event we've ever done" and I genuinely believe it is. It's our attempt to persuade a large no of employers that the way they handle workplace conflict at work at the moment is wrong. Not only wrong but inefficient, costly and counter productive. It's a brave message but hey what are you about if you have nothing to say?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Of Years Gone By

A strange thing happened to me today and it went like this. Early this morning I went to the local car boot sale to look for a couple of friends more than to buy anything in particular. But there about three rows in was a rather nice coffee table which, I thought, suited my lounge. A little later and it's on its way to my car. The seller, a guy about my age looked very vaguely familiar. As he helped me to the car with it he kept on looking at me as I did him. Finally, I took the plunge and stated that I thought I'd seen him somewhere before. It turned out I had, 30 years ago at school in Northampton!
We talked about that strange old school and how we both managed to survive it neither of us having particularly good memories of it or indeed the school bully, who happened to be in our class. He got 15 years for manslaughter when he left school I was informed. Funny world innit?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Of The E-Myth Revisited

Last December I read a book called the "E-Myth". The title is a little misleading. Many might think it is to do with Email or the electronic world and why it is not up to what it is generally thought to be. But it is actually to do with entrepreneurship and how most of business people continue to get it wrong big time.
The author argues that every entrepreneur should start and develop a business like he or she plans to franchise it. Only then will they create the distance from the day to day activity that will allow them to grow it and expand.
He gives some great examples in his book and looks closely at how McDonalds works its franchise system and how so much of it is done exactly the same throughout the world.
Today, we have a consultant coming into Legal-Island to help us draft workflow processes and begin to put into practice much of the advice dished out in the E-Myth.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Of The Dolce Vita

 I've just spent a cracker of a holiday in Lake Como and I mean a cracker. Beautiful weather, lovely location and scenery and great company.
Now back to porridge. In Antrim. I mean, how difficult can it be?


Monday, 20 August 2012

Of Super Mario

I've just had a glorious 12 days in Lake Como, Italy. One of the highlights of this magical place is a little gem of a restaurant called "II Cavatappi" hidden away in the back streets of Varenna about an hour from Milan. It's run by a little gem of a man called Mario. His restaurant contains just five tables and we were lucky enough to get one of them one evening.
The night we were there Mario was doing everything. He would do the "meet n greet" then take the order, then nip into the kitchen prepare your food and serve it with the sort of tender loving care that money just can't buy.
This was Italian cooking at it's very best. Simple food done really well in oils that caused an explosion of taste to linger in your mouth long after the food had gone down.
It's great food like this that makes Varenna and indeed Italy oh and, of course, the distinct lack of restaurants and cafes with signs that say "Full English Breakfast Served here".

Monday, 6 August 2012

Of The Big Girls in the Big Time

I attended the Women's Weightlifting final at the London Olympics yesterday and what a fantastic contest it proved to be. It was the battle of the giants. Zhou Lulu against the Russian Tatiana Kashirina.
The latter opened boldly by starting at a weight that would be a new Olympic record if lifted. And it was. Kashirina then lifted a full 6 kilos more than she's ever put above her head in her life for a new snatch world record at 153 kilos. You'd think this would be enough secure her gold but it wasn't. Lulu came back in the clean and jerk with a new world record of her own making her queen of the weights big style.
These women were lifting almost twice their body weight and they aren't light. Astonishing stuff.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Of The London Olympics

I attended the London Olympics yesterday. It was the ladies' volleyball at Earls Court. I saw two matches in the morning : Algeria v. Japan and China v. Serbia.
It was a long way to travel for just two matches so I decided to try to get tickets for the afternoon games as well. I queued up at the ticket kiosk only to be told that tickets were only available online. So I tapped out carefully on my Iphone all the details required to set up an account only to find that there no tickets for sale. Strangely, the web site said there were no tickets available for the morning session too despite the fact that the hall was only half full. What's really happening with these ticket sales is a complete mystery to me.
The matches were good. I've never really taken an interest in volleyball before so it was interesting to see something new and largely unknown to me.
Each team seemed to consist of very thin ladies on stilts so long and thin were their legs all except one who is rather small. She seems to spend most of her time on the floor retrieving smashes with just about any part of her anatomy that would keep the ball off the ground.
What I found mildly irritating was the habit of every player to high five or at least touch another 2 players after each point whether the point had been won or lost.
Watching the beach volley ball today on T.V it seems the habit is even worse. After each point they high five, they hug, then tap each other! I wonder if they do that sort of thing in mixed volleyball too? I can't imagine us British partaking in all that physical contact - a frightfully unBritish thing to do I would have thought....

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Of Borscht - the First and the Last of It

I made some borscht last night for tea. Borscht is commonly thought to be a Russian soup but it is in fact Ukrainian though the Russians like a lot of it too. It consists of spring onions, vegetable stock, creme fresh, seasoning and an awful lot of beetroot.Oh and you can float a halved boiled egg in it too if you fancy it which I did courtesy of "the girls" of course.
The first time I ever tried borscht was in a hotel in what was then called Leningrad in the early 80s. I had asked the waiter for pepper but for some reason he served me a vodka. Shortly, afterwards I thought he asked me if I enjoyed the soup so I reply "Da, Da" but clearly he had asked me if I wanted another vodka because one then another duly arrived. I don't seem to remember much about what happened after that. It's strange what effect a bowl of soup can have on you isn't it?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Of Rain Lots of Rain

I peeped through the blinds this morning thinking surely it can't be raining still but I was wrong. It was. I checked my weather app which assured me that it would be raining for most of today and indeed the week ahead too. As if to rub it in, my app informed me that London, Dartmouth, Seaton, Helsinki and Moscow are all expecting sunshine today.
Apparently, the Irish RTE weather man has just resigned on grounds of stress. He says it was just too hard being blamed all the time for the bad weather. He claimed that some of the remarks he got from viewers were just damn right abusive.
So how do we take comfort in all of this and find something positive to take away with us? Perhaps the answer is in the old Irish saying "we have better quality rain than anywhere else in the world"!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Of Latvia Lovely Latvia

I was in Latvia over the weekend. I had forgotten what a truly beautiful place this is. The Old Town in Riga is magical with beautiful buildings that somehow survived both the Nazis and the Communists that followed.
Now sadly they must survive only the worst of British tourists on stag weekends.
On Saturday I hired a bike and cycled to the north coast. In Jurmula you can pick up on one of the longest sandy beaches I've ever seen. It seems to go on for miles and miles. It has everything : volleyball matches bouncy castles, cafes, beech bars, restaurants and people out celebrating it seems, just about everything.
 Having had a fabulous lunch on the beach watching the sun split the clouds I went in search of the waiter who had looked after me so well. I couldn't find her and saved the 5 Lat note which was the only change I had. Two minutes later it was gone in a tin held by a lovely bride-to-be who accosted me with her hens dancing their way down the beach and creating huge fun everywhere they went.
What a day!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Of First Thoughts on a First Triathlon

I'm contemplating doing a triathlon at the moment. That's a swim and a bike ride followed by a run. It's the swim bit that bothers me most for I've never been a quick swimmer and I'm easily bored too!
The first (and indeed last) time I ran a marathon was when I was 17. I managed it in under four hours which was quite respectable I thought. I was caught taking the lift to the first floor at college the following morning however, so I must have been in a pretty bad state.
On Monday of this week I swam 40 lengths of the local pool. Later that evening I cycled 15 miles. The run leg I have still to do! What bothers me is that on the day of the race transition takes just a few seconds and not days which I'm allowing myself to at the moment. I wonder if the organisers would allow me at least a sit down and have a cup of tea before the next bit! I could always ask!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Of Team Legal-Island

It was the great Legal-Island Fun Day yesterday attended by hundreds of people who made the most of the three bouncy castles and countless stalls selling everything from home made fudge and cup cakes to lovely photos of the surrounding landscape.
Best of all it didn't rain. Yes that's right. That wasn't a typo. It didn't rain. It rained everywhere else in the UK it seems but not over Antrim.
Legal-Island raised over £1,000 for charity (Tiny Life) so well done Team Legal-Island your CEO Mr BP is immensely proud of you!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Of Books Glorious Books

I seem to be stuck reading five books at the moment. They're all good and very different but I can't let any of them go. They are :

* Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
* Life's a Pitch - Stephen Bayley
* Benjamin Franklin - Autobiography
* The Short Stories of Anton Chekov
* The Jelly Effect - Andy Bounds

What's worse is that there are other books coming "online". Friends have already given me a few that I would like to read and amazon keeps sending me emails with really good suggestions based on what I've ordered already this year.
I think I must book a book holiday and steal away to somewhere quiet and lonely with a bag full of novels, self improvement titles laced with a few classics and return all knowledgeable and wise.