Monday 25 October 2010

Social Hi-Jacking

I like social networking. At least... I used to like social networking. Facebook has turned into a means of declaring how "wonderful" we all are. I don't mind people telling me about their achievements but what really gets me annoyed are the statements about how their son or daughter is the most special person on Earth. THEY ARE NOT!!!! In fact, I resent the fact that these people think that their precious little Johnny and Jenny are SO much more important than my off-springs.

I want to hear about my friends; I want to hear about their children. But I don't want them to tell me about how their special little boy or girl is just the best little person on the entire planet. It's delusional. It's upsetting. It makes me want to "de-friend" you. After all, when you say... "my little child is the best child in the whole world".... you are actually telling me that my little child is in some way INFERIOR. Aren't you? How DARE you?

Tonight... I read the drivel that my so-called friends felt I needed to be made aware of and was disgusted. I sat and wrote the following status update, then didn't bother to post it. I feel ashamed at failing to tell these people that they should have a re-think about how they behave online. But, I didn't want to offend; I want to keep my friend numbers up? Why? Because I figured if I did do it, it would upset these people too much. I car about them and don't want them to feel hurt. But I still need a means of offloading my feelings on this subject.

"Dear friends.... I already think highly enough of you to have you in some way associated with me. I don't need you to re-inforce this by telling my how fantastic you are and how your offspring have managed to acquire unimaginable talents. In fact, your self-congratulation (and the unworthy praise you heap upon your FABULOUS children) is having a negative impact on how I feel about you. Please give it a rest... Your kids are only special TO YOU!!!!"
Thankfully... there's no chance of the "easily offended" finding this blog. They are, after all, Facebook through and through!

Social networking can be a very important tool in the future... but please, let's not abuse it!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Goodbye Mr. Benitez

I've been following Liverpool Football Club since I first some them on TV in 1977. I was six years of age and idolised the players of that era. I made sure I had an up-to-date shirt in my possession for years after that and had great fun at the expense of my Manchester United supporting friends (of which there weren't many to be honest). League Championship after League Championship. European glory. Halcyon days.

But no longer...

I've been following a lot of the web commentary on the current situation at Liverpool and in particular the record of Rafa Benitez during his 6 year reign. Maybe it's a web culture thing but everyone believes they have access to the facts yet the commentators seem to contradict each other quite wildly.

Benitez spent millions v Benitez had no money to spend.

The squad is in excellent shape v the quality of the squad has gone backwards.

I'm sure these commentators know so much more than I do but I'm going to articulate my views nonetheless. You see, I don't particularly care about the millions - that seems to me to be a side-show! And as for the talent within the squad, I can only say that we have some great players and some not so great players. When I look at the Manchester United starting XI on any given week, I would think that Liverpool would be more than capable of beating them. Yet Manchester United have a habit of winning and last season, Liverpool looked like a team expecting to struggle.

So why does a team full of very well paid superstars fail to perform? Who can take the rap? Who is responsible for the mental well-being of the collective unit known as the team?

I watched most games last year and some players just didn't perform. Lucas seemed to be an easy target for many but I think that does the guy a great injustice. He played better than I expected. I cannot say the same for any other outfield players last season and that includes the untouchables within the team. Carragher didn't have a great start to the season and I'm sure he would recognise that himself. Gerrard looked completely disillusioned. Torres was rarely fit. Mascherano gave the ball away in dangerous areas of the pitch all too frequently.

(I am deliberately excluding Pepe Reina from this discussion because he was, by far, the best keeper in the league!)

Now, it is understandable that players will have dips in their form. But what happens when the entire team have a dip in form? Who can pick them up and tell them that they are special and that their efforts are appreciated? Martin O'Neill has long been highlighted as a great man-manager. Rafa Benitez has long been highlighted as a cold fish!

However, what was the big difference between 2008-09 and 2009-10 (apart from the 2nd place/7th place and huge points difference)? We could point at the loss of Alonso and no ready-made replacement. But that would disguise the facts too.

During 2008-09, I thought we were pretty lucky to be competing at the top end of the table the way we were. After all, it seemed to me that we won more than our fair share of games with a last minute goal! Those last minute goals didn't appear this season. Did our mighty points haul in 2008-09 disguise other frailties?

And what should the response be to the likes of Real Madrid when they come waving £30M for Gerrard? I for one would think seriously about taking it. He has courted moves before and his body language last year certainly seemed to suggest that he was lacking the enthusiasm.

Ultimately, when things aren't going well on the pitch and there is disharmony within the club, something needs to be done to resolve it. Someone needs to take the rap. Something has to change. I am quite happy to accept the fact that Benitez had to go but I'm guessing he was let down by internal wrangling and a team that was lacking motivation.

The big question is who should be his replacement. Hodgson? O'Neill? Moyes? McLeish? Dalgish? Eriksson? Some of those notions are complete fantasy others have merit and one might smack of nostalgia. Would I be happy to see King Kenny in charge? Absolutely. But I don't want to see him do it and fail and tarnish his reputation.

Whatever happens... the manager will need our support. I don't care about the owners and the way they have run the club in recent years. For me, as a fan, I just want to see the team perform on the pitch and challenge the top teams for honours. The squad is capable. The manager needs to know how to get the best out of them.

Friday 23 April 2010

Northern Ireland Politics Unveiled

I haven't yet missed a vote since turning 18. Whether it has been a General Election, European Election, Local Assembly Election or Council Election I have turned up and put my X, 1, 2 or 3 in the appropriate box.

And what is the appropriate box?

I've spent time ensuring that my online persona is non-controversial. For me, that means no swearing, no religious talk and no political talk. People are entitled to their beliefs whether religious or political and my views don't really need to be voiced. But today, I'm making an exception. Why? Well, a general election is just a handful of weeks away and assessing the political landscape is rather current! Plus I don't intend to me too controversial.

In England, voters have a choice between left, centre and right when it comes to political views. But I live in Northern Ireland where the choice is limited to green, orange and other.

Northern Ireland politicians typically align themselves with either an orange Unionist stance (where the candidate advocates keeping Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom) and a green Nationalist stance (where the candidate advocates a single Irish state). These stances have also aligned themselves with religious beliefs - Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists (although that is not to say that there aren't Protestant Nationalists and Catholic Unionists as I know plenty of both).

For many in Northern Ireland, the issue of unionism versus nationalism means precious little. I, for one, don't particularly care too much and have a c'est la vie approach. I believe that "we are where we are" and that a democratic solution should prevail. Right now, the majority in Northern Ireland are happy with the status quo. I am, therefore, happy too. Should the majority want a united Ireland, then so be it.

For me, the important things needing addressing right now are:
  • Northern Ireland's economy
  • Academic Selection
  • Green Issues

The manifesto leaflets have started to appear through my letterbox. The party political broadcasts have been shown on television. The grotesque banners are attached to every lamp-post in the street. So now is the time to analyse the parties and judge them against the things that interest me.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)

A vote for the SDLP is a vote for reconciliation and partnership according to their manifesto leaflet, which is riddled with grammar errors. Should I vote for a party in the hope they can address education issues knowing that they don't know how to write their own manifesto? Unfortunately, the manifesto launches into orange and green rhetoric using terms such as "poisonous" and "bitter relationships" and doesn't actually touch on the real issues affecting real people. And, of course, the SDLP doesn't seem all inclusive to me as it still seeks a united Ireland. Were they to start to concentrate on the real issues affecting all communities within this country, then I may have a different view.

Ulster Conservatives & Unionists - New Force
Any political party who thinks it is a good idea to have the word Force in their name is not going to grab my attention in a positive way. However, I do like the idea that they are engaged (in a small way) with mainstream mainland politics. A normalisation of politics has got to be a good thing, right?

Democratic Unionist Party
I don't want to bash Peter Robinson as I think he's a reasonable statesman who speaks quite well. He's a man under a lot of pressure, admittedly, and his wife's antics won't have helped. But it seems to me that the D.U.P. concentrate too much on the orange issue and are riddled with Presbyterian ministers who should be spending time tending to their flock rather than meddling in issues they no nothing about. I want political leaders who are not homophobic, religious fundamentalists thank you very much! Please... live and let live.

Sinn Fein
Any political party who puts forward election candidates who would be in jail in any other country in the world should not deserve a vote. And any political party who wants to stand in an election but will refuse to actually take their seat? The mind boggles! Having said that, I have a lot of time for Sinn Fein. I love listening to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Their rhetoric is very powerful and it is easy to see why they get votes. But from a manifesto perspective, they don't tick my boxes. They have a very long way to go when it comes to convincing non-Republicans of their credentials.

Alliance Party
Finally... a political party standing in my constituency which doesn't have either an orange or a green agenda. And a manifesto leaflet with translations for Chinese and Polish communities. A manifesto which makes it clear that the border is not on the agenda and that the real issues that needing addressing are the issues that affect the normal "man on the street". But tribal politics will mean that they haven't a mission of getting elected. Westminster has only ever seen one Alliance Party MP (and I don't believe he was elected, but rather defected from the Unionists).

We have an independent standing in our constituency. I have no idea what his policies are. I can't possibly make a comment about this person but I do hope I get a leaflet or some idea of his policies soon so I can make an informed judgement on who should get my vote.

The best party political broadcast I've seen so far as been by The Green Party. Unfortunately, no Green candidate has been put forward to contest the North Belfast seat. Why?

The North Belfast constituency will undoubtedly return a unionist MP - Nigel Dodds (DUP) or Fred Cobain (UCU - NF). The constituency has existed for 125 years and has always returned either a Conservative or Unionist MP (although Stratton Mills defected to the Alliance Party for the last year of his tenure as an MP in 1973). It's hard to see that a vote for anyone other than Nigel Dodds or Fred Cobain will make any difference. But conforming would be no fun and will only perpetuate the tribalism we have come to almost accept.

In England, there is a choice of left, centre or right. I envy them such a choice.

That said, there's still time for the parties to sway me.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Northern Ireland's Dependancy On Air Travel

The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano has revealed just our fascinating the earth can be. But it has also highlighted how very precarious our position in Northern Ireland actually is.

We're well into Day 3 of the effects of the eruption and the ash in the skies has forced the National Air Traffic Service to effectively prohibit all flights within UK air space. Air travel has been an absolute necessity for many people in recent years. Whether it is for business or pleasure, the world is a smaller place in part due to the availability of cheap flights.

But Northern Ireland is in a very precarious position in UK terms. For business people in Northern Ireland, a reliable air service to mainland UK is absolutely crucial! easyJet, FlyBE and Ryanair are critical to the success of Northern Ireland businesses and the unavailability of flights in the last 3 days has hit the economy hard.

More importantly, the last time Eyjafjallajoekull erupted, it pumped ash into the atmosphere for over a year. Could the Northern Ireland economy sustain a flight-free period lasting so long? And personally, could I put up with that situation bearing in mind that I do travel quite a bit to the mainland?

High-speed broadband makes it easier to video conference, communicate or shunt data in large volumes. But it is often imperative to "press the flesh" and being unable to do so would put the talent in Northern Ireland at a serious disadvantage.

So what are the answers? Faster ferries? An Irish Sea Tunnel? A 27-mile bridge? A change in attitude towards a way of working that does not require "flesh-pressing"?

I don't have the answers but I do look towards Eyjafjallajoekull and hope that it stops spewing out the ash. My livelihood is at risk!

Monday 5 April 2010

The Gremlin

I got told this story just a couple of days ago and it's difficult to know how much of it is true or how much has been caused by elaboration through re-telling.

Here goes anyway....

The main character of our story is a young man with the mental age of a six-year old. A young man, but a quite a big man. Strong. Tall. Well built, you might say.

One day, this young man came home covered in mud.

"Why are you covered in mud?" asked his mother.

"It was the gremlin, mum" he replied.

"There's no such thing as a gremlin. What really happened?"

"No. It was the gremlin. Really."

The mother was naturally dissatisfied with the answer, but far too busy to care. Five hours later, however, her husband arrived home.

"Why are you covered in mud?" he asked his son.

"The gremlin, daddy" came the reply.

"Now. There's no such thing as gremlins. What happened?"

"No. It was a gremlin. He's out in the garaged!"

The father, mother and son trotted off to the garage and found, to the horror of two of them at least, a dwarf, tied up in the corner!

Many hours earlier, the dwarf had been walking a dog when the son grabbed him and tied him up with the dog's lead. His reason? He seriously thought the dwarf was a gremlin.

The interesting thing about the story is that it has provoked one of two reactions. Either people find the scenario absolutely hilarious or they find it deeply disturbing and quite frightening.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Artistic Activity A Symptom Of Economic Downturn

The economy has only just started to show signs of a recovery and the last 12-24 months has been a painful process for a lot of people and I think I've found a symptom of the economic downturn.

I have a server which I use to host a number of websites for friends and family (and friends of friends and family!) and the number of these websites has increased during the economic downturn.

However, it is interesting to note the reasons for these new sites:
Notice anything about those sites? Correct - they are all sites dedicated to showcasing artistic talent. So in an economic slowdown, do people turn their attention to handicrafts? It would seem so!

I can't complain though - my reward for hosting these sites has been two original paintings and two prints.

Saturday 2 January 2010

The Twelve Days Of Christmas

Apparently, the twelve days of Christmas evolved from a Pagan tradition of reflecting upon the year just past. The Pagans would reflect on January on day one, February on day two and so on and so forth. I had every intention of making my family endure such reflection during the twelve days of Christmas this year but got caught up in the unwrapping of presents, the Doctor Who episodes and the over-indulgence of chocolates and wine.

I have some making up to do!

January was as Januarys always are -the calm after the December storm. There wasn't much travelling and not much planning to travel. I did, however, get a contract renewal which was possibly the highlight of the month.

I visited Poland for the first time ever in February. I was greted by what looked like storm-troopers but it turned out that Hillary Clinton was in town for a NATO summit. Krakow was excellent, however. Auschwitz was sombre. Warka Strong was consumed in vast quantities. I'm looking forward to my return.

Saw Jimmy Car this month - very funny. Won £50 on the Premium Bonds. Woo-hoo.

March is the only month that has failed to present me with any event that I can recall. Did I sleep through March?

I turned 38 in April and took the kids to London for the weekend. The Natural History Museum, The British Museum, Gordon Ramsay's Maze Grill (for some Wagyu steak) and The London Eye were the highlights for me. The kids, however, preferred the fact I could stick my hand out and jump in a cab as their "best bit".

Saw Rob Brydon this month - very funny.

May saw me start working on a project in Oxford. I'd never visited Oxford before and was unpleasantly surprised to find that the heart of England is nowhere near an airport! I had to spend the rest of the year flying in and out of Birmingham and being hassled on the Cross Country train service from Birmingham to Oxford (and back). Still, I got to work on a Local Education Authority project and finally got out of Financial Services (after a 19 year wait). That was an eye-opener!

I also got to be best man at a wedding held at La Manoir - Raymond Blanc's little eatery in Oxfordshire. I can't imagine I'll ever be at a wedding which has the bride walking down the aisle to the tune of the Imperial March from Star Wars again!

We had hoped to go to New York in June - but couldn't. Kids at school and all that.

I went to a music festival for the first time ever - Cornbury in Oxfordshire. Pimms and Lemonade was on offer and I loved the fact it was being served from a double-decker bus. The Damned, The Pretenders and The Sugababes headlines and the sun shone - mostly. Sleeping in a tent, however, was more of a chore. I'm used to something a little more Five-Star it would seem!

My father got married while we were holidaying.

The highlight of August was possibly taking the kids to the Grand Opera House to see The Big Friendly Giant. I was intrigued as to how they could possibly make a stage version of this Roald Dahl classic and pleasantly surprised at the result. Kids loved it too.

I got to go to Malaga for a wedding in September. Sharing a villa with good friends and Champagne is hard to beat. Alhambra was great too!

Deep sea fishing off the coast of Donegal was meant to be an opportunity to fill the freezer with self-caught haddock and cod. Unfortunately, I caught one small mackerel (and even that was a mis-hook) and nine gurnards (which, by all accounts, are stinking). The fishing was fun though. And the stars visible from Donegal were spectacular. Also got to see some Shakespeare for the first time ever - Macbeth. It was an odd interpretation of Will's masterpiece though. German Soldiers riding around on WWII motorcycles? Had to be seen to be believed!

November was a quiet month until Motorhead came to town! A few nights were spent watching the International Space Station fly by.

I got to present the books that I had written to their intended recipients. At least, I got to present them to half of the intended recipients. The other half couldn't make it from Gloucester to Belfast due to the flurries of snow that settled across the UK.