Adverbs make no sense

Has your partner ever asked you to clarify what you mean when you say, “I’ll do that LATER”? If so, help has arrived in the form of a crack team of language experts. They’re lobbying the UK Parliament to eradicate words that cannot be accurately quantified. They argue that words like SOON, QUICKLY, VERY, MORE, and AWHILE, add little information that isn’t already known, and paint an inaccurate picture that is open to interpretation.

For example, if my wife asks me when I’m going to cut the grass and I say, “I’ll cut it later”, she only knows I will cut it, but not when. In my mind that could mean after meeting Bill and Terry for a beer this afternoon, or maybe even later in the week? If I’d said, “I’ll start immediately after the football ends on the TV”, at least we’d have a sound basis for the start of negotiations!

Apart from restoring marital harmony, having to accurately quantify information has other uses. For example:

  • Saying Montreal is REALLY cold in the winter is not only obvious to most of us, but inaccurate if you’re from Siberia.
  • If I say, “I’ve a LOT of vinyl records”, just how many do I have, and it is “a lot” to you?”
  • If a company announces it is CLOSE to releasing their new product”, you can tell their press release has been written by their Marketing team.
  • If you’re asked if you can complete a task quickly, and you respond “Yes”, what are the expectations of both parties of when the task will be completed?

It’s a minefield. I just wish they’d start eradicating words and phrases like “24/7” and “dude” first.

What can we learn from religious fasts?

Depending on where you are in the world, the Islamic month of Ramadan has either started or is about to start. It’s a serious fast for someone like me, with no food or drink to be taken between sunrise and sunset.

Fasting is only one side of Ramadan. Another is ensuring you get enough sleep. In the UK the sun rises at around 5am at this time of year, and sets around 9pm. Throw in the pre-dawn prayers, and it means having to finish eating at around 3:30am. Assuming you break the fast around 9:30pm, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for eating and sleeping.

As an Irishman, I was brought up in the Catholic faith. Growing up I had little or no exposure to non-Catholics. Even when the family moved to London, I went to a Catholic school and mixed in Catholic circles. In short, I was a perfect example of how not to integrate.

We Catholics love a bit of fasting. When I was very young, it was always no meat on Fridays. That changed to being allowed fish. If you went back a generation or two, it was a complete Friday abstinence. Even now the “fasting rule” on Friday differs depending on where you are in the world.

Then there’s the “no eating an hour before mass” rule, which changed to an hour before communion. I never quite understood this change, as you could eat directly before leaving for mass and in most cases still make that pre-communion deadline, as this was received shortly before you left the church.

Our major fast is Lent covering the 40 days before Easter, although it isn’t really a fast. It’s more an opportunity to give something up. Like most young impressionable scallies, I was encouraged to give something up for the duration when I was young. Predictably most of us gave up sweets, knowing full well we wouldn’t last a week.

As an adult with a much deeper appreciation of various religions, it is clear just how different they are when it comes to fasting. Most fast at some time or other, but for quite different reasons. The one exception I’ve found is Sikhism.

Quite a few have short period fasts, and have different rules. For example Judaism, Buddhism, and Hindu have fasts around feast days or periods of reflection. Buddhism allows milk during fasts, whilst Judaism doesn’t allow any liquids. Hinduism’s rules vary based on local customs.

In the Christian faith even Lent has different durations. The Syrian Orthodox Church has it at 50 days, and the Coptics 56 days. Even then, one look of the wikipedia page on religious fasts, demonstrates how Christians are hopelessly split between the eastern and western traditions. And within those different churches from various geographical regions, that have different rules.

I’m tempted to try a sunrise to sunset fast for a day. I won’t do it for any theological reason, just to see what it feels like. I’ve gone without meals before, but hardly ever out of choice. To do so for 40 days, and to deal with the lack of sleep and logistical nightmare of food preparation, is something I don’t aspire to.

If I do, I’ll report back on my findings. Not today though.

Why I despise Eurovision

I’ve a friend who loves Eurovision. She has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of previous acts, and has been known to throw themed parties on the evening of the contest. Personally I’ve not seen the attraction of a contest since it became more about the contestant, the song’s staging, and making the song as controversial as possible.

Not that I’ve got anything against controversy. it is just that when a song contest requires controversy or an ac being so different that the ability to write and sing a song comes a distant second, it is time to look elsewhere for my entertainment. Whether it is a woman making chicken noises, heavy rock groups dressed in latex, or octogenarian babushkas, it is time to call it for what it is.

It is no longer a talent contest, but a contest to demonstrate just how avant garde you can be without upsetting people’s sensitivity too much.

Those last two words underline the issue, but when the status quo is upset by something other than the song, surely that shouldn’t be part of a song contest.

Do you agree? I’ll let you decide after watching the 2018 winning PERFORMANCE!



2018: A year of monthly challenges

As the last few chords of Auld Lang Syne disappear into the long and distant past, our minds turn to new year resolutions. Now I’ve never been one for making them, mainly because I don’t see the point. After all, if it was worth doing, why leave it until 1st January each year. Secondly, they’re mostly either unrealistic or not quantifiable.

This year I decided to do something a little different. Instead of doing something (or not doing something) forever, why not do it (or not do it) for a month. Then at the end of each month do something (or not do something) else. Oh and just to add a bit of spice to proceedings, every time I fail, I donate £5 to charity.

Things started predictably with “Dry January”, a relatively recent phenomenon where you detox by giving up alcohol. It’s a natural fit after the excesses of Christmas. I’m not a big drinker, so I started with an easy challenge. Only on one occasion did I slip up, and then because I forgot about the challenge. Unfortunately I’d already invited a work colleague for a drink before realizing, so I couldn’t exactly pull out. And I only had one beer.

February saw me give up using lifts. This was a major step up (sorry about the pun!) as I work on the 6th floor of our office building. Walking up and down those stairs at least three times a day was more of a physical challenge, but it helped my fitness levels. I only slipped up once.

March saw my hardest challenge yet. I gave up all sweets. That’s right. No cake, chocolate, or biscuits. I’ve had to pass on the cakes and sweet goodies folk have brought in to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Plus seeing folk go to the office candy machine near my desk was a constant reminder of the challenge. Not only that, but those occasional mid afternoon trips to buy an apple turnover or pastry were no more. As we draw near to the end of March, it is fair to say it’s been difficult, but not impossible.

In not sure what April’s challenge will be. I’d quite like it NOT to be health related, but the ones I have in mind are. Maybe it will be to take 15,000 steps a day. I have my Fitbit to help me, and I’m a keen runner so it shouldn’t be a big issue. What else should I try in the coming months. It needs to be challenging, without being impossible. As I’ve stated, I’ve occasionally transgressed. I don’t mind doing so, so long as I’m not bankrupted in the process!

My St.Patrick’s Day through the ages

About ten years ago I went to a comedy event at the Royal Albert Hall. One of the acts, Dubliner Andrew Waxwell, came on stage and asked, “Are they’re any Muslims here?” A few lone voices yelled back. Maxwell’s response perfectly summed up my experience of being Irish in the 70s and 80# in London. “Fair play to you. We love Muslims. We Irish LOVE Muslims. Why. Because you’ve taken the heat off us.”

When I was a child, we’d were able to buy shamrock from the local greengrocer in the week before St.Patrick’s Day. Shamrock was notorious for dying quickly, so we’d buy it and keep it moist until the day itself. On the day we’d all pin it to out coats and jumpers and wear it with pride. As time went on it became more difficult to buy shamrock. We’d source it through the Church or even from relatives back home, but eventually we couldn’t get it at all.

Being an Irish adult living in London in the 1970s and 1980s, wasn’t entirely easy. Racism still existed. The “No Blacks. No Dogs. No Irish” signs may not have been as common as before, but that didn’t mean discrimination didn’t exist. Just because we have laws, doesn’t mean folk aren’t going to ignore it. I remember one conversation at work with a colleague after an IRA bomb had killed a passer by in Belfast. “I see your lot were at it again” was the flippant ill-judged remark. Pushing back diplomatically did little but entrench his position, so I did what most folk would do in this position. I walked away.

Many years later I’m married to an Iraqi Christian. We joke that because of our backgrounds, we’re both terrorists but that I’m an amateur and still on probation! Joking aside, what infuriates me about such ill thought out bigotry, is the association that because I’m Irish, I’m a terrorist willing to kill and maim. In the same way that not every Frenchman wears a striped t-shirt and cycles a bike with onions over the handlebars, I don’t condone activities that harm innocent individuals.

The 90s saw a sudden thawing in relations. Suddenly it was cool to be Irish. Nearly every High street had an Irish pub. The “Celtic Tiger” saw a resurgence in the Irish economy as tech company’s were attracted by an educated workforce. Riverdance cemented the Irish identity to the world in its own unique way. Seeing that performance at the Eurovision Song Contest still brings a lump to my throat. It perfectly captured the optimism of the day in a way that celebrated one of our customs in a modern, inclusive manner.

These days being Irish is just for the Irish. Every St.Patrick’s Day you’ll find folk in just about every bar wearing silly Guinness hats or wearing ginger leprechaun wigs. Yes anyone willing to look utterly foolish can be Irish for an evening, just so long as they get bladdered in the process.

17th March 2018 was a good St.Patrick’s Day. At 8:30am I joined around 400 folk for a run around our local park. Organised by the Park Run organisation, its a very friendly and inclusive event. A shoot out to any Irish in the event briefing, and I cheered back. One of the course marshall’s was dressed in a ridiculous leprechaun outfit, and cheered us on with an equally awful Irish accent.

Roll on a couple of hours and it was time for the big Six Nations game against England at Twickenham. Ireland had already won the Six Nations Championship, but had the chance of beating England and winning the illusive Grand Slam. Something they’d only done twice before. Talking to a friend of mine before the game, we both feared a fairly stale strategic game with lots of kicking. Whoever committed the least penalties would will. How wrong could we be. With Ireland 14-0 up inside 25 minutes and repulsing everything the England offensive line could throw at it, it was looking like an easy victory. And so it was, well relatively.

It’s been a good day to be Irish, but not every year has been the same. I remember the days when you had to keep your nationality under wraps. That’s a soul destroying experience. It’s a bit like being an gold medal Olympic athlete, but told you can’t tell anyone you won. I’m Irish and proud of it. I may not shout it from the rooftops, but I’ll never deny it.

So to Irish everywhere, or those that wish they were Irish, may I wish you a safe and very Lá Naomh Phádraig Shona.

Men. Just listen to us!

"You'll often hear people say: 'You are helping people find their
voices'. I fundamentally disagree with that, because women don't
need to find a voice. They have a voice. They need to feel empowered
to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen."

Actress Megan Markle perfectly summarised the issues women face with this quote at a press conference earlier today.  Whilst the event wasn’t solely about women’s empowerment, it did give her an opportunity to speak out on a topic she obviously feels strongly about.

I’m glad she did. As a man, I consider it important that women should be able to speak out on matters that affect them in the same way as men. It hasn’t always been possible in the past, and isn’t entirely possible yet.

So how can men help women feel comfortable in society? For a start, we need to educate men (and women) on what is acceptable behaviour in the 21st century, but also be open to listening to their concerns. Rachel Parris on the BBC’s Mash Report gives us all a very useful lesson on how to do this.

“Welcome to womenhood!” What a killer throwaway one liner! Go Rachel!

Richmond Park 10km Run: Well that was fun!

Official TImeThose who know me  best know that I like to run. It’s a great way to keep fit and relax. Not relax physically, but mentally. All the stresses and strains of life are forgotten as you completely focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Even on a training run I set myself a goal. For example, to do all or part of a particular route at a specific pace. It doesn’t really matter if I achieve this or not, it just adds some motivation, and if I achieve it, some additional peace of mind.

So it was with some trepidation that I lined up last Saturday in Richmond Park, London for a 10 kilometer race. It was only my second 10 km race in 15+ years. Whilst I’ve always run, life had the habit of getting in the way. In my early 40’s a knee injury required surgery. On getting back to something approaching fitness, the other knee required surgery. Then came marriage and a whole new chapter in my life.

In my 20’s and 30’s I was a regular race participant. Whilst I have run marathons, my best distances were 10 km and half marathons. My personal bests were just over 40 minutes and 1 hour 36 minutes respectfully. It’s always irked me that I never quite managed a sub-40 minutes 10 km.

These days of course I have to accept I never will reach those times, but just what can I expect? Three years ago I ran a 10 km race in London. I hadn’t run the full distance in training, but was confident that wouldn’t be a problem. I set myself a target of sub one hour, but hoped for something nearer 55 minutes. In the event I achieved 56 minutes 02 seconds. I was tired, but happy with that performance.

Back in Richmond last Saturday I’d regularly run up to 18 km prior to the race, so distance was no problem. I also knew I was a lot fitter and stronger than three years ago. My training times seemed to suggest a sub-55 minute time was within my grasp. Yes I’d be disappointed if I didn’t knock off a minute from my previous official time.

The race was over a two lap 5 km course. It was a cold and windy day. I don’t mind the cold. I don’t particularly mind wind, unless it is gusting. I do mind hail though! That’s no fun running in. We headed out over the park for the first two kilometers, then we swung around for a two kilometer stretch into the wind. I felt good though as I plodded on occasionally checking my pace on my watch.

10km run split timesAt the half way stage I was bang on target for a sub-55 minute 10 km finish. I’d always planned to push on in the second half of the race. I just wasn’t entirely sure when that would start, thinking I’d see how I felt. It They say sporting results are more about the mind than the body. So it proved this day. On starting the second lap, I pushed on in confidence of the terrain that was to follow. my kilometer split times show that I got faster and faster as I went. Even the last two kilometers where the head wind got really strong and gusty didn’t seem to affect me. In fact it made me grit my teeth and go for it. Sub five minute kilometers. What was I thinking about?

In the end my official finish time was 52 minutes 32 seconds. I really should be happy with that. After all I finished in 113th position out of 500 runners, and second in my age category. But part of me wonders what I could have achieved if I’d have pushed myself harder. What if I’d started my push for home at the 4 km marker rather than the 5? What if I’d run those last two kilometers a little faster? Could I have knocked off another two and a half minutes and got near a sub 50 minutes 10k km?

Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but it gives me another target to aspire to. I’ll let you know how I get on.

A dry(ish) January

In the UK we have “Dry January”. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon with the idea of putting right the excesses of the Christmas and New Year period. By abstaining from alcohol for a month, your body and mind will supposedly recover from the wholesale abuse you’ve put it through throughout December.

The pubs, clubs, and restaurants hate it. Naturally they want you to spend your money at their venue. Plus January is a fairly quiet month for dining or drinking out for a variety of reasons. Be it a lack of money, the realisation that you can no longer burn the candle at both ends without regretting it, or just general malaise, we just don’t seem to carry the Christmas party spirit into the New Year.

This year I thought I’d see if I could join in. I’m not a huge drinker, so it should be a walk in the park right?

The wise words of Norm and Cliff 🙂

I doubt abstinence has made me wiser, but has it made my healthier and more efficient? I haven’t noticed any difference to be honest, but as my weekly consumption averages around 8 units (God’s honest truth) it’s hardly a lot.

Confession: I didn’t abstain totally. In the first week, after a particularly stressful day I hit the whiskey bottle. It was Black Bush on the rocks. No water, and heaven forbid none of that blended scotch muck! Oh and I only had about three units worth, so it barely counts right 🙂

Now if you excuse me, I’ve had a beer chilling in the fridge for a month!

Do you need to flush every time?

toilet etiquette12 April 2018.

That’s the expected day that there’ll be no more water left to service the population of Cape Town, South Africa. As a result folk are being asked to reduce their water usage to 50 litres a day. That may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. It’s little more than three flushes of a standard toilet cistern. The BBC have reported on their attempts to stave off “Day Zero“.

It isn’t just South Africa suffering from water shortages. The volume levels of the Great Lakes may not be critical, but the levels have dramatically reduced. A combination of evaporation and siphoning off water for industry and domestic use has seen volume drop.

Elsewhere we know that places like Israel use sea water to help provide water for their population. Pumping water from the Sea of Galilee may seem like an expensive pastime, but when your country has little rain for most of the year, what are your options? Admittedly there are ways of doing it without adversely affecting the Palestinians, but let’s leave that there for now.

Back in the UK we don’t think too hard about wasting water. It is relatively rare to have any restrictions. We have the occasion hose pipe ban in the summer, but we haven’t had a really hard time since the mid 1970s, and that was exceptional.

So what can we all do to reduce our water usage? There’s the usual advice. You know stuff like:

  • Shower rather than bath.
  • Don’t leave the tap running unnecessarily (e.g. whilst you wash your teeth).
  • Fix the washers on dripping taps.
  • Use a water butt in the garden to capture rainfall.

But the Capetonians have taken one step further. It’s not something anyone squeamish about toilet etiquette will like, but it does make good sense. They’ve adopted the popular slogan:

“If it’s yellow let it mellow. If it’s brown flush it down.”

Maybe we should follow suit before it’s too late.