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!

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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.

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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!

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Dec 172009
 
Mathematics homework

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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.

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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.

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Nov 272009
 

Flood waters submerge a West Cork road during November's floods

Best wishes and condolences to everyone in West Cork, Cork City and further afield whose homes and businesses were affected by the recent flooding….

In Ireland we don’t do climatic extremes very well.

Maybe it’s the inevitable consequence of a climate that consistently under delivers. We don’t get long, baking hot droughts, we don’t get bone-chillingly cold winters with lots of snow and ice, we don’t get anything extreme on the weather front, really… just a perpetually dreary middle ground.

As a result we’re rubbish when it comes to dealing with weather-related problems. In the summer we moan about the rain, but on the (very) rare occasions when the sun does shine for more than a few days the council starts running out of water. If it has the temerity to snow the entire country grinds to a shuddering halt until things thaw out again, and anything more than a stiff breeze has us running indoors to take refuge from falling trees.

But if there was one type of weather you’d expect the Irish to cope well with it would be rain. If Ireland had an official national weather, then rain would be it! And yet here, too, we fail miserably at the faintest whiff of extremity.

Last week it rained hard for a few days, and highlighted just how flimsy our drainage systems, flood defences and coping mechanisms really are. Huge swathes of West Cork and a substantial chunk of Cork City sank beneath the rising flood waters, thousands of homes were damaged, hundreds of vehicles stranded and countless commuters failed to make it home to their families.

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Nov 232009
 
Fresh vegetables are common in a healthy diet.

Image via Wikipedia

The girls came off the school bus beaming from ear-to-ear, waving little booklets at us and talking nineteen-to-the-dozen.

Their conversation… if you can call a one-directional avalanche of competing phrases tumbling from three over-excited youngsters a conversation… revolved around fruit and veg. School was introducing a new programme called Food Dudes and they explained that for the next sixteen days they would be trying different fresh fruit and veg in school, and getting “prizes” for eating it. Sure enough, the next day they came home having tried some cucumber (no challenge there then… the girls love cucumber, and regularly devour vast quantities of the stuff), and eager to show us their food dude trinket.

To date they’ve collected a wrist-band watch, a plastic drink bottle, fridge magnets, a pencil case, a pedometer, a rubber (eraser), twirly straws and other bits of paraphernalia for trying an assortment of fresh foods. They’re also keeping a food diary detailing all of the fruit and veg varieties they eat at home and at school every day for the sixteen days — which they’ve stuck on the fridge using their Food Dudes fridge magnets and fill in diligently every evening before bed.

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Nov 102009
 
Carbon dioxide

Image via Wikipedia

Global warming… or climate change as I prefer to call it (given that there’s been scant evidence of any actual "warming" going on in Ireland over the last few summers), is a serious issue for sure. But am I the only one worried by a recent spate of publicity that’s painting carbon dioxide (CO2) as a noxious chemical we need to eradicate?

One TV ad that targets children and parents is particularly disturbing, not because it deals with the sobering subject of climate change… but because it’s built around misinformation and blatant scaremongering. The ad I’m talking about shows a father reading a bedtime story to a little girl… a dreadful story about how the nasty CO2 monster, growing ever larger, is wreaking havoc with the climate and killing the planet. If you haven’t seen it you’ll find it below.

 

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Nov 022009
 

Innocent smoothies latest campaign... innovative, but not all innocent!The girls love making up stories and writing them down. They’re forever scribbling in notebooks, on bits of paper, on the backs of envelopes… anywhere they can really. There are poems, short stories… even full-length children’s picture-books complete with accompanying illustrations, scattered all over the house. One of the twins has even set a career goal to become a writer and illustrator of children’s books when she grows up.

While it might be a bit early for that, I have to admit that some of the stories they come up with are surprisingly good, as long as you’re prepared to gloss over the spelling and grammar errors endemic to an eight-year-old’s writing. They’re entertaining, have a good balance of dialogue and narrative, compelling characters and even a workable plot. It’s fantastic to see the girls ready to engage with and explore written language at this age, but I guess making up stories is an intrinsic part of childhood, and writing those stories down is simply a natural progression of that.

For the last week or so they’ve been putting their love of stories to good use on the web, in an online competition being run by smoothie-maker, Innocent. The company has taken the classic paper and pencil game “consequences”, and adapted it for kids to play online. Traditionally the game involves writing a sentence on a piece of paper and passing it on to the next person. They then read it, and fold the paper over, hiding the original sentence before writing their own… and so on until the conclusion of the story. The web version Innocent has come up with is much simpler… and all the more ingenious for that.

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