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?

cheers
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.

Will London’s black cabs become a thing of the past?

As I reported it on my Instagram feed, Last Thursday London black cab drivers held a protest on London Bridge. It was the latest in a series of protests by black cabs across the capital in recent weeks. Their gripe is with Transport for London and the way firms like Uber are muscling in on their territory.

London’s iconic black taxis have long had it their own way. They’re well trained and regulated, and until recently the only competition has come from mini-cab firms. Even then some cabbies had zero competition, like those at Heathrow Airport. My advice if you need to get home from there, book a mini-cab to pick you up before you leave.

Just like our red buses, black cabs on London streets are a staple of what tourists expect to see when visiting the capital. However unlike buses, they haven’t kept up with the times. The very fact that Uber has fairly successfully plugged a gap in the market, is testimony to the fact that no business model can remain the same for long.

Whilst I do feel sorry for the livelihood of the individual drivers, after all a lot of them are self employed, my pragmatic side says it is their fault for not keeping up with the times. Instead of protesting against their competition, perhaps they’d be better placed to aim their fire at those who look after their interests. Maybe if they’d been more strategic and forward thinking, rather than making hay whilst the sun shone, things would be different.

It’s a fight similar to what we’ve seen with the supermarkets. We’ve seen firms like Lidl and Aldi take market share from the big supermarkets. This demonstrates that customer loyalty is fickle at best. When getting from A to B, we no longer need drivers with an encyclopedic knowledge of London’s streets. Anyone armed with a SatNav app on their phone will do. Most of us don’t need an extra large entry door or wheelchair access. We’re quite happy getting a ride in someone’s everyday car.

So will we see black cabs on our streets in (say) 50 years time? Yes probably, but they’ll likely be relegated to a kind of niche service no one else wants to provide. Black cabs are useful for those with disabilities for example. They’re useful if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, as they’re everywhere and have access to bus lanes. However as their numbers and influence decline, maybe even those advantages will disappear.

The romantic idea of a black cab is old fashioned. For a start, quite a few are no longer black, and those that are come plastered with adverts. There’s even more than one style of taxi.

Will it be a shame if they gradually disappears from our streets? Yes. Will my life be affected detrimentally? No. Therein lies the dilemma for London taxi drivers. I wish them well, but maybe they need to whack up and smell the coffee.

14th January 1968: The day our lives changed forever

14th January 1968

dad

The US president was Lyndon B. Johnson. Hello Goodbye by The Beatles was in the top five. But on this day 50 years ago today, our quiet family life would be turned upside down.

Five years previously we’d left Dublin, and moved to London. Like a lot of Irish people before, it was about starting a new life. Hopefully one full of joy and happiness.

To start with, it was just that. We may have initially struggled financially, but it was a lovely, protective environment for a young boy to grow up in. My Dad worked hard ensuring his family were provided for, whilst my Mum did what all mothers do best.

All of this was to change over the weekend of 13-14 January 1968. I remember it well. The 13th was a normal family Saturday full of expectation of what the weekend would bring. If only we’d have known what was to come.

I remember waking up on Sunday morning and realising something wasn’t quite right. My Mum seemed upset, but was trying to hide it from me and my sister. The neighbour popped around and looked after us, whilst my Mum dealt with various visitors including an ambulance, priest, and the police.

It transpired that my Dad had woken in the early hours of the morning feeling unwell, and suffering chest pain. He’d got up, taken some painkillers, and gone back to bed. Later that night my Mum woke up to find him dead next to her. He’d had a heart attack and died.

As an eight year old, this was all a bit too much to take in. Looking back I don’t think I really understood the severity of our predicament, when I was finally told what had happened.

Times like this is when you find out who your friends are. Our neighbours were superb. They needed to be, as all our family were still in Dublin. My Mum’s sister arrived a day or two later to look after us, whilst Mum went through the formalities of arranging the funeral.

I remember wanting to go to the funeral, but was told it would be better if I didn’t. It is a decision I deeply regret. I understand their reasoning behind it, but even today I wish they’d let me go. I still find funerals very emotional, particularly those involving men, and put this down to my inability to say  “goodbye” to a warmhearted and loving father.

14 January 2018

Roll the clock forward 50 years, and a lot has changed. My sister and I have carved out successful careers, and met our “special one”. We’ve very contented lives. We’re very lucky.

Our Mum is still going. I was going to add “strong” on the end of that, but as she’s well into her 90s, her health isn’t quite what it once was. That said, I firmly believe that one of the major reasons why she’s kept going this long, is that she takes great pride and joy in seeing what my sister and I have become.

They say pride comes before a fall, but in this instance it is entirely justified. She is the one who brought up two children single handed. She is the one who overnight had to find a job that provided for her family. She is the one who had to hold down this job, whilst doing everything a mother needed to do. It is largely down to her that we’ve both turned out the way we are.

Thank you Mum. I know it wasn’t easy, but we’ve all turned out OK.