Friday 23 March 2012

Eat the elephant

This weekend we are shooting hares*

Last night I went off to a talk by Dr Edwin Moses...probably better known as the hurdler Ed Moses.  An interesting man who doesn't seem quite reconciled to his legendary status....he didn't enter the room until we were all sitting quietly, where as the other speakers had, and acknowledged the applause as he walked to the podium.  As he said, it's better to be a living legend rather than just a legend.  He spoke for almost an hour with no notes and almost no repetition...but then he was speaking about his sporting career, which he should know pretty well.  Evidently he wasn't much of an athlete when he was younger, and he puts his success down to passion, planning, determination and overcoming fear.  At least I know where I went wrong.  I could have been a contender.

Despite being egged on by the people with me, I did resist the temptation to go up to him and say "It's good to meet a fellow-Olympian".  It didn't strike me that humour was his strong point.

Another part of the evening included one of the Olympic Games major sponsors.  One of their senior managers was quoted on video as saying " You need to eat the elephant one spoonful at a time".  Given her size, one suspects it was a large spoon and several elephants.  Don't you just hate corporate-speak bollocks?

Another business quote, retold by the Lord Bishop of London, I heard this week was "I hire for skills, and fire for character"  Probably true if I look back over the last twenty five years....something to keep in the back of the mind.

*we're off to Suffolk tonight to go on an RSPB (shouldn't that be RSPH?) boat trip to an island which is full of hares.  As the Cat's Mother is obsessed with is a hare enthusiast with a fine collection of hare pictures, sculptures and 'objet', this trip was bought as a present for her by her sister.  Ten of us will be laying siege to Aldeburgh.  This is the time of year when hares box...we hope to get to see that.  In my case, I'll hopefully be taking some pictures.   I read this week that the generally accepted view that it is male hares that box for territory and mating rites is wrong.  Evidently it's the females fending off unwanted suitors.  I hope The Cat's Mother doesn't get any ideas.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Park yourself right here

I was surprised, really surprised to see on the BBC that the NHS is the world's third largest employer.  Evidently, by reputation it is the world's largest employer.  I really appreciate what the NHS gives us, but can't quite understand the figures...there are other countries that offer a nationalised health system, but they didn't appear at all on the list.  Is it the way we count?  Is it that the health service is over-staffed?  Is it that we have more sick people than other countries?  Is it because offering 'choice' has created duplication?  Is it because there are too many bureaucrats? Do we include services under the NHS that other countries exclude?  I just don't know and I would like a reasoned and impartial explanation rather than one driven by social or political dogma.  It would help me understand the latest round of NHS reforms- why is it that health, like education is kicked around like a political football by one government after another.  It certainly seems strange that a relatively small country like ours has any organisation in the list of largest employers.

After the church service for the 275th which I mentioned earlier this week, we repaired to the hall of the livery company that supports the school.  It is a very splendid place indeed, full of the pomp and ceremony that shouts 'tradition' from the rooftops.  You may well have seen this place - it was the king's coronation room in The Kings Speech, and previously featured as the the KGB headquarters in one of the James Bond films....for that one the pictures of our monarchs were covered with flags bearing the hammer and sickle.  I wonder how they felt about that.  As we all chatted politely, food was brought out.  Few of us got to try it as the 'scholars' rushed to surround the waiters and waitresses and strip their serving platters of every last crumb, like lions devouring a zebra.  It was quite extraordinary really, and caused more than a few comments.  In my day we would have been respectful enough to have salivated, but held back whilst our elders got first pickings, sure in the knowledge that they would take just a few things before waving the waiting staff on.  It is not as if the kids are not exposed to the right environment...mostly middle-class, they all get fed well at school and should pick up some of the basic rudiments of manners. The subject came up at home, and The Cat rushed to their defence "They were hungry". Yes but manners maketh the man (and woman).  We spent some while talking about it, but perhaps it was a generational thing as neither could see the other's point of view.

How clever am I?  Pretty damned if you ask me.  When I got one of those new-fangled Android smart phones last year I was pretty pleased with it, especially as it had more storage than my iPod so I'd be able to put all my favourite tunes on it. And generally it's all worked pretty well, but for some music it decided that it wouldn't recognise the name of the artist.  So in amongst all my favourites, I've ended up with a whole load of 'unknowns'.  Several hundred of them in fact.  I've searched high and low, but there doesn't seem to be an answer.  Until I worked it out myself.  I simply create a playlist in the name of the artist and add the songs to that.  Perfect.  I'm really very pleased with myself indeed.  How geeky is this paragraph?

I'm rarely accused of being politically of my bugbears is 'disabled parking'. It's not that I'm against it.  Not at all. In fact it seems perfectly reasonable and sensible to me.  But, and this is a big but, we seem to have gone overboard.  Down in Brighton we can spend literally hours searching for a parking spot at home, whilst dozens of disabled bays remain stubbornly empty.  And last weekend we went to Westfield where I took this picture.  As you can see, the standard parking bays are all full, whilst the dozens and dozens of disabled bays remain empty.  It seems in this matter we lack a sense of proportion.  I wonder if I'll feel differently when I'm really old and creaky?

Wednesday 21 March 2012

In the pink

I've loved this picture since the moment I took it five or so years ago.   I have it down in the side-bar of my blog, but here's the full version.   It made me realise that you don't need a great camera to take a great picture (I say modestly).  In fact it was taken with a camera phone when these things were still in their infancy...just 2 mega-pixels (these days, they're eight or more). Of course, there's some trickery here as I shot the boat in black and white, and the camera setting added the colour.  This was Brighton beach, and this is one of the boats that gets dragged up on the shore every day after it's collected a small load of fish which you can buy either on the beach or at the fishmongers in Shoreham harbour.

Would it work just as well in black and white?  No, in this picture, as in life, colour makes things better.

This post is for Tara's weekly photo gallery on the theme of colour

Tuesday 20 March 2012

275 and going strong

I think The Boy is now qualified to be an air steward with British least in Germany.  I read in the weekly school bulletin (no, don't be ridiculous, of course he didn't tell me) that he has passed his BA Flag Award.  Or may be it's just that he can tell the difference between all those flags painted on the tailfins of their know the ones that so enraged Margaret Thatcher.

I was at a party once, and I think it will for ever stick in my head as a particularly surreal event in my life.  It was a very loud party indeed.  It was work-related, and I was attending just a few days after The Boy's mother had died.  I was hardly in the party mood.   But the client was there, so I had to be too.  During the middle of it, my phone rang, and I answered it.  Through the noise, I could just make out it was the father of one of the children The Boy was at school with.  He was offering sympathy, although it was hard to tell, and I dread to imagine what he thought about me partying the night away at such a time.  Grace Jones was singing on the stage, Miquita Oliver (of TV, now bankruptcy fame) was chatting to her friends and I stood chatting to some girl who at some stage thrust her phone number at me.  It was only as I walked away I realised that I'd been chatting to Skin from Skunk Anansie.  Over in the corner were the VIPs, including a very glum looking David Frost.  It didn't look much fun for them either.

As part of my job I've been known to give media training...telling the innocent and the stupid how to deal with journalists.  I think in future I should save my breath, and just point everyone in the direction of Frost on Interviews, which aired last week.  It was fascinating...really interesting stuff...whether you're interested in politics, celebrities, or the media.  I was quite captivated.  It wasn't without fault though.  In fact there seems to be a trend at the moment of big-name presenters not being reigned in by their Director/Producer/Editor.  I ranted recently about the awfulness of Jeremy Paxman's Empire series and here the problem was similar.  The programme was really poorly structured and organised, with some sections just not fitting.  Tragic as it was to see successive interviews with Mohammed Ali as he went from being mentally nimble as a bee to barely being able to string a sentence together, the impact was lost largely because it was out of place.  It's as if no one is prepared to take the decisions to make a great piece of television.  But I did like the point he made that as people like me have given interviewees the expertise to deal with probing questions, the interviewers have got more aggressive.  This creates an atmosphere of stalemate where the interviewee won't open up and give illuminating answers for fear of being tripped up and made to look a fool whilst the interviewer gets ever more aggressive.  A vicious circle.  Anyway, I'm sorry for ruining your TV pleasure.

Yesterday, The Boy's/The Cat's/my school celebrated it's 275th anniversary with a service at St Helens Church in Bishopsgate London.  The venue was chosen because the school's founder was buried there.  In fact, although his tombstone is inside the church, he had managed to buy the freehold.  Yes that part of the church no longer belonged to the church.   It would be fair to say that the school's founder was not a popular man.  In fact as his coffin was carried through the City streets it was pelted with manure.  He was a successful 'city fixer'.  It would be good if this tradition could be revived whenever any of our current batch of city fixers passes over.   When he died, he left the very princely sum of £28,000 which remarkably was enough to found a school and almshouses in Mile End.  It doesn't sound a lot, but it must have been.  This was a school for one hundred children, twenty of whom would be children who would not normally be able to pay for an education.  So he may have been a bastard, but his heart was in the right place when he went to meet his maker.  I wonder how many of our present day bankers will feel suitably charitable at the end of their days?  Not many at all I suspect.  Greed is good, especially if you're ungodly.  The service was attended by governors, parents, teachers and scholar pupils.  I'm not quite sure how they choose, but in one case (and I suspect many), the parent is a partner in one of the UK's largest accountancy firms.  I suspect that it wasn't because they're short of money.  Greed is good.

I'm glad the school has set up a new foundation to help the less well-off to attend and gain an excellent education.  I was able to attend with the help of a grant from the county council, so it is something that I am all in favour of.

The service was conducted by the Lord Bishop of London.  I'm not a great fan of organised fact I regard it as a root cause of many of the world's evils.  But here was a man who was worth listening too.  He boomed out as you would hope a senior member of the church would, and everything he said was riveting. The school was founded in times of tectonic change, when three of the five world powers were Muslim, and it celebrates its 275th birthday at a time of similar tectonic change.  I was not alone in being fact the entire audience (congregation?) left muttering about his wit and wisdom and how he had conveyed his views on the founder, the city and the world order very clearly without offending a single person.  If he was standing for Archbishop of Canterbury I would vote for him...albeit in the knowledge that it is something of a poisoned chalice.  Not that I have a vote anyway.

Monday 19 March 2012

Champagne Charlie

My celebrity spot today was seeing Gok Wan sitting eating outside one of the cafes in Bermondsey Street.  It made me realise that I knew the face, I knew the name but I've never seen anything he's ever done.  Such is the extent of fame these days.

Saturday night was spent at a fundraiser for the NSPCC.  The Cat's Mother is the local treasurer, so we all get dragged along whenever there's an event.  This was a Royal event, an early celebtation of the Queen's jubilee.  The place was dressed up with bunting and photos of our favourite Royal.  The format is always similar...after all why change a winning formula?  The host on each table brings along the food - the menu is decided upon by the committee.  I'd spent my afternoon arranging slices of soda bread with mackerel into a union jack and a crown.  I'm not sure anyone noticed, but I was pleased.  There was a glass of champagne for everyone as they arrived.  The champagne had been donated, but the first bottle smelled and tasted of sherry.  So it became my responsibility to taste all the other bottles.  They were all fine.  The rest of the evening was all a blur for me.  The sacrifices we all make.  It was probably also a blur for The Boy.  He was one of the waiters...that didn't stop him having a glass of beer in his hand every time he made an appearance.

Sunday was one of The Muffin's birthday...she's 9, so we all trooped round to play Wii Games whilst also eating mini toad in the hole.  Although the age range was from 80 down to five everyone seemed to have a great time.  Although some people were wondering how on earth I will manage to co-ordinate with everyone else during the dancing at the opening of the Olympics.  I wonder myself to be honest.

Sunday was, of course, Mothering Sunday.  A date that The Boy and I have ignored for some years for obvious reasons, but times change so this year was different.  The Cat's Mother was brought  breakfast in bed...the day before I'd gone out and bought champagne, smoked salmon and eggs and issued 'guidelines' to the Teens that 9.00 would be a good time to serve it as this would ensure we were still in bed.  That was probably my mistake as true to form The Boy regarded this as an order to be carried out with military precision, whilst The Cat thought this meant that sometime between 9.30 and 10.00 would be spot on.  Words were evidently exchanged in the kitchen.  Anyway, it was delivered.  One plate of scrambled egg and smoked salmon and one glass with the bottle of pink champagne.  Fortunately The Cat's Mother is a sharing sort.  Flowers also delivered, and The Cat presented her with a couple of beautiful gifts and a bunch of daffodils.  Lovely.

On the other hand, in getting home organised, I'd forgotten my own responsibilities I hadn't sent a card to Grandma in Cyprus.  She has a lot to put up with.  Thank heavens her other son is a better son and had sent a card.  I Skyped, but it's not quite the same is it?