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.