Feb 032010
 
Procrastination Meter

Image by Emilie Ogez via Flickr

As words go procrastination has to be one of the best. I like the way it rolls around on your tongue, taking, as you might expect, a little longer than necessary to get itself out. It’s a word that lingers, without really knowing why.

Putting things off is something most normal people do as a matter of course. Unless a task absolutely needs to be done now we’ll typically set it aside and do it later, focussing instead on what we feel is more immediately compelling. Psychologists, as is their wont, weave a complex tapestry of theoretical meaning around people’s very natural tendency to defer things until tomorrow. They call it procrastination, and describe it as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety of making a decision or starting any task.

But who in their right mind pays much attention to psychologists? They’re masters at taking perfectly natural human behaviour, sticking it in a box, adding a fancy label and attributing it to potentially serious underlying mental health issues. They’re so good at it because they spend an awful lot of time doing it… time they could easily allocate to more productive work, but choose not to. Sounds very like procrastination in action to me.

According to the psychologists then, procrastination stems from issues of anxiety, a low sense of self-worth, and a self-defeating mentality; too much of it, they maintain, can be a symptom of underlying mental health conditions like depression or ADHD. What a load of old cobblers!

Continue reading »

Feb 022010
 
centre

Image via Wikipedia

For the last seven years… give or take a month or two… I’ve been writing a weekly column for the cork based Evening Echo, one of Ireland’s leading regional newspapers.

Last week I got a call from John Dolan, the Echo’s features editor, to inform me that after a New Year review of their operations they’d decided to stop a number of long running columns from external contributors… mine included.

Given the plight of regional newspapers as they battle dwindling ad revenue and struggle to compete with ever more attractive and increasingly measurable online marketing options, this was hardly a surprise… but it was a bit sad.

If I’m honest it was something of a bitter-sweet moment for me. The column has been a part of my life for so long now that not having to write it every week will be strange… and of course there’s the fact that it leaves a hole in the monthly finances that I’ll have to plug, but I’d been feeling for some time that the column had run it’s course.

It was getting harder to sustain the momentum. When you’ve been writing on the same subject (a father’s perspective on parenting) for nearly seven years it can be difficult to break new ground… and while a good writer will always manage to keep things fresh for the reader, the process of writing becomes a bit stale. You stop enjoying it as much, it requires more effort and becomes less rewarding.

So, onwards and upwards to bigger and brighter things, I guess.

Now… anyone out there fancy paying me to write a weekly online marketing / social media column, or perhaps something on Ireland’s Wildlife.

Go on… make me an offer :-).

My very last column will run in the WOW! supplement of tomorrow’s Evening Echo (Wed 03/02/2010)… and will be posted here shortly thereafter.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Jan 292010
 
Photo by Dave Bunnell of a caver traversing a ...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve never really understood the attraction of intentionally putting yourself into a damp, cold, dark place to defy death in pursuit of fun and discovery.

Call me boring, but I can get all the damp, cold and dark that I’m likely to need in a lifetime on a typical winter’s day down in West Cork. The prospect of gearing up from head-to-toe in an array of protective clobber, donning a headlamp and descending into the bowels of the earth for the privilege doesn’t exactly fill me with glee. But it does some people, evidently… like the members of the Speleological Union of Ireland (SUI), or cavers to you and me. These are people who routinely give up their weekends to go pottering about underground… voluntarily… for enjoyment.

On their very impressive website (www.caving.ie) they court potential recruits with this enticing opening gambit:

Caving is the exploration of natural underground spaces. It is an adventure sport with inherent risks; many caves are cold or wet or muddy, or all three.

Sorry, you haven’t managed to grab me there… try again.

Technically potholes are caves that include vertical drops and therefore require the use of ropes and or ladders…

Nope… sorry, still not really getting it.

Continue reading »

Jan 192010
 
A cheesy iphone Ad made by Me.

Image by twenty5pics via Flickr

I don’t own an iPhone… partly because I don’t use my phone enough to warrant paying inflated monthly contracts, but mostly because I don’t like Apple’s restrictive business practice of tying customers to a particular network provider and locking them in to proprietary software and services. But the January sales are starting to change my mind.

Wherever you go in town during the sales you’ll find a particular breed of sorrowful creature: laden with carrier bags, wandering aimlessly outside fitting rooms, trying desperately not to look like a pervert in the lingerie department, and generally milling about on a never-ending quest for non-existent seating.

I’m talking, of course, about the long-suffering shopping-husband… a cross between an over-laden pack mule and a rabbit caught in headlights.

These people are usually so far outside their comfort zone that you’d expect them to be in a constant state of panic. They’re not, because the edge of that panic is dulled by the mind-numbing monotony of trotting from shop-to-shop behind a credit-card wielding spouse. That, and the preoccupation of juggling an ever-growing mountain of shopping bags, combined with the mental anguish of totting up next month’s credit card bill.

Continue reading »

Jan 192010
 
Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

Image via Wikipedia

… and the column for 06/01/2010. 

All right, own up… who stole 2009.

If you’re the culprit, then you’re welcome to it. I for one won’t be mourning the passing of 2009, and I suspect that I’m not alone in the sentiment.

My problem with 2009 is that it promised a great deal, and under-delivered in spectacular fashion. I ended the year in pretty much the same position as I was in when it started. Despite a lot of hard work it feels like I’ve been standing still for a year, both personally and professionally. As years go 2009 was a non-event: it may as well not have happened. We’re all a year older, and that pretty much sums it up.

I guess I should look on the bright side… stagnating for a year isn’t all that bad in a year when a lot of people experienced much worse; I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who’d love to find themselves in the same position they were in at the end of 2008. But it’s disappointing none the less. This time last year 2009 was looking tantalizingly promising, and I found myself eager with anticipation. Today, after the year that’s just passed, I find myself gazing into 2010 with unfettered indifference.

What is it about the start of a new year that engenders so much hope in so many people? We look at it as a new start, but really it’s just the passing of another day: a seamless transition to more of the same. Look around. What’s changed? The date… and that’s pretty much all.

There’s nothing inherently special about New Year. We can all choose to make changes in our lives at any time of the year. I guess what makes the transition from one year to another a little more significant in that regard is its symbolism. It is the start of something new, and for a lot of people that can serve as a catalyst for re-evaluation and positive action. For many more it’s a good excuse to get drunk and make a series of vague promises, easily made and just as easily broken?

How many of us will make significant positive change this year? How many New Year’s Resolutions will you make… how many will you keep? How many have you ever kept?

By and large the whole New Year’s Resolution thing is a bad idea. We make them because we’re stickers for tradition and slaves to convention, and because for a fleeting time at the start of the year doing so makes us feel good about ourselves and our noble intentions, but it doesn’t last. We soon fall back into old habits, and the fact that we haven’t had the strength of character to persevere with our New Year convictions leaves us feeling worse about ourselves than we did before.

So my suggestion for a New Year’s Resolution this year is to resolve not to make any New Year’s Resolutions at all. Trust me, you’ll be much better off. If you eschew my advice and decide to make a few regardless, for goodness sakes keep them to yourself. That way at least you can pretend you chose not to make any resolutions, and you alone will know how spectacularly you’ve failed.

I love Christmas and all the festive frivolity that surrounds it, but New Year is a pretty rubbish holiday, and while 2010 is likely to be a better year for many of us than the one we’ve just departed, somehow I can’t bring myself to embrace the excitement.

As I ponder all of this New Year whimsy I glance at the children and see three individuals refreshingly unencumbered by all this nonsense. Shielded from the worst of what the year throws their way by the insulating buffer of good parents, for them every year is a happy one, and the prospects for the new year are always bright. They live in the comfortable bubble of consistency that we provide, blissfully oblivious to the ups and downs of our topsy turvy world. You’ve got to envy them that.

Happy New Year!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Jan 182010
 
Gordon Ramsay

Image via Wikipedia

Another late one – this from the 30/12/2009.

Sometimes it seems as if celebrity chefs have managed to hijack more of our television airwaves than any other genre in TV history, and Christmas week it’s worse than ever. Cooking programmes are great… but wall-to-wall recipes and a surfeit of inflated egos is enough to turn anybody’s stomach. With some, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I appreciate the food and the ethos and philosophy behind it, but could probably do without the lame one-liners.

Others like Jamie Oliver come up with great recipes that really are easy to cook at home, if you can endure the cheeky-chappy facade. Actually, as I type this I have a Jamie Oliver Christmas jerk ham joint in the oven. Yum!

Even with Gordon Ramsey, who is perhaps the most egotistical of the bunch, you have to appreciate his consummate skill in the kitchen, and his unequivocal passion for great food, despite his caustic language and bullying, autocratic style.

TV chefs span the gamut, from the sublime to the truly ridiculous. The week before Christmas, for example, I was unfortunate enough to land on "The Hairy Bikers" while channel flicking… they were cooking up the twelve-days-of-Christmas, which sounds like a pretty solid concept for a festive cooking show, until you realise that this is "The Hairy Bikers", and that they’re insisting on spicing things up by punctuating the actual cooking with assorted seasonal pranks. This included cavorting across the stage in leotards with the cast of Lord of the Dance. It was enough to make anyone lose their appetite.

Continue reading »

Jan 182010
 
Collage of various Christmas images, made from...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been away in Scotland, and with that trip coming hot on the heels of the Holidays I have neglected to post for a while. Back now, and normal service will resume shortly.

Meanwhile, here’s the belated posting of my pre Christmas column for 23/12/2009….

It beats me how something that’s been actively promoted since early October has still managed to suddenly sneak up on me, but yet again Christmas has managed it. All of a sudden the shopping days have dwindled to single figures, and the urge to panic buy sets in, despite the fact that this year we did most of our shopping online both for convenience and to save money.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the "shop local for Christmas" philosophy, money is tighter for everyone this year. It’s hard to justify buying local when you can get stocking fillers like books, CDs and the like delivered to your door, sometimes for less than half the price of buying them in your local shop and without any of the hassle. Where local shops can compete in terms of value, or even come close, then I’ll certainly choose to support them, but when there are massive savings to be made online, I’m sorry, but charity very definitely begins at home.

One thing we’ll certainly be shopping for locally this Christmas is food. You simply can’t beat seasonal, locally produced, locally sold produce. While it may be a bit more expensive, in terms of freshness, quality and value it’s generally much better bet than mass-produced supermarket fare, and at the end of the day it tastes much better. While CDs and books, gadgets and gizmos are the same wherever you buy them from, food is always better when bought as close as possible to the source. Buying local simply makes sense.

But I’m digressing… back to that bad habit Christmas has of creeping up on you.

Continue reading »

Dec 172009
 
Mathematics homework

Image via Wikipedia

The twins had finished their homework, and had gone off to play. Next to me the little one struggled on valiantly, ploughing through maths, reading and several worksheets before moving on to rehearsing her lines for the upcoming school Christmas concert. She could hear her sisters playing in the next room, but was keen to keep Miss happy by getting all her homework. It was too much.

Since school restarted in September, when the little one, who’s six-years-old, got a new teacher, we’ve seen the volume of homework she brings back each afternoon increase. Now it’s reached a level that’s bordering on the ridiculous. A six year old is already tired after being at school all day. The last thing she needs when she arrives home is big chunk of homework. To her credit she does it diligently every day, except Friday, which is thankfully homework free.

As I help her with her maths, reading and writing, I can’t help thinking that enough is enough… that outside school hours the priority for young children should be to play and have fun — to learn through non-academic pursuits that expand knowledge, promote problem solving, stimulate imagination, develop spatial awareness and all those vital things that you can’t teach in a classroom. Instead they have homework, which after a long day at school leaves them mentally exhausted, tired, cranky, and almost incapable of constructive play.

Continue reading »

Dec 092009
 

Uncle Frank "enjoying" Cork on Ice It’s official… I still have all of my extremities. I know this because I’ve counted them. Two arms, two legs, eight fingers, two thumbs, and ten toes.

Three weeks ago it had seemed like such a good idea. My wife was browsing the Cork on Ice website and asked if I’d be up for going ice skating with the gang. Sitting at home in a warm living room saying yes had been easy. Now the day had arrived though I was feeling a bit less assertive.

Me, blades and a large expanse of cold, wet slippery stuff… not a good combination.

I’ve been ice skating maybe three times in my life. The first was as a child, when we were taken to a huge Ice rink in North Wales on a school trip. As with most unpleasant experiences, my mind has obscured most of the details. All I remember is clinging, white-knuckled, to the edge of the rink, making my way inch by painful inch around the perimeter. In my mind’s eye all I could see was images of bloody skate-blades and severed fingers. From the moment I stepped onto the ice I remember praying for the experience to end.

The next time was a friend’s birthday party. When I found out we were going ice-skating it was all that my parents could do to convince me to go. This time I was a little braver, and actually let go of the side. Big mistake… I spent more time spread-eagled on the ice than I did actually skating. Cold, wet and miserable I vowed never to set foot on an ice rink again.

Continue reading »

Dec 032009
 

The Late Late Toy Show is an Irish institution.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing… just that it’s an inescapable one. As inevitable as death, taxes, corruption, tribunals and election posters, the Late Late Toy Show is one in a long list of things that parents all over the country have to suffer, but would generally prefer to avoid.

Having skilfully managed to sidestep the live airing on Friday night (the girls had friends staying over, and were so engrossed in play that they forgot about it), I thought that we might get away with it this year, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology there was no chance of that. The next day we had a family viewing of the show over the Internet. With the computer hooked up to the flat-screen telly and RTE Player streaming full-screen it was almost as "good" as viewing the live show. Lucky me!

Continue reading »