Sep 302009
6-month baby, first teeth

Image via Wikipedia

One from the archives for all those sleep deprived parents with teething babies prompted by this tweet by @eske.

Sometimes I look at the human race and I despair. Is this really the result of millions of years of evolution?

Charles Darwin must have got something fundamentally wrong when he came up with his “survival of the fittest” theory. Homo sapiens is perhaps the biggest pro-creationist argument anyone could ever make… because surely a process like natural selection couldn’t get something this wrong!

We wouldn’t even have made it out of the trees way back when if we’d been relying on natural selection. How can I possibly know this? I’ve got a new baby in the house, that’s how.Adorable as they are human babies are pretty feckless.

They can’t feed themselves, they can’t walk for a year or more, they are so fragile that without constant attention from their parents they wouldn’t last five minutes. Compare that with, say, an alligator… fully functional right out of the egg: swimming, hunting its own food and generally getting on with it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning: with childbirth. I recently witnessed a completely natural home-birth… no drugs, no gas and air, nothing but a pool of warm water, my wife, the midwife, and myself. Now while I can certainly vouch for the fact that birth in all its natural glory is a wondrous and humbling thing to experience, it’s neither a quick nor quiet process.

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Sep 242009

Me rescuing Guster the woodpigeon from a watery fate Guster the wood pigeon was dead. There were no two ways about it… this was an ex-pigeon, a pigeon that had ceased to be.

The girls were sad… especially the little one. In the twenty minutes or so since they’d met (and named) Guster they’d grown quite attached to him.

When we found him Guster was in pretty bad shape. He was flapping about in the shallows of an inlet just off the path at Rineen Woods near Unionhall. He’d been attacked by a predator, probably a fox, and had feathers missing from his back and shoulders to reveal bare skin and some nasty looking puncture wounds. Floundering helplessly in the water, struggling to keep his head above the surface, he was a forlorn sight.

I sized up the situation as the girls pleaded with me to save him.

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Sep 072009
Carpenter school bus
Image via Wikipedia

Column for 02/09/09

I woke up early. Outside the rain, which has been such a prominent part of this summer, pounded on the window and I decided that another five minutes under the duvet wouldn’t hurt.

When I finally surfaced the weather hadn’t improved; resigned to the fact I plodded down to the kitchen for my compulsory caffeine fix before putting the girls’ school lunches together. The mind-numbing routine of school mornings was upon us once again.

The rain kept falling as the girls had their breakfast and we checked and double checked that they had all the bags, books, pencil cases, lunches, water bottles and other paraphernalia that a new school year demands. So much for my recent prediction that the start of school would bring some long overdue sunshine. If anything it just started to rain harder.

After one last check to make sure they had everything we headed out of the house to find a flood forming outside our front gate. Just as the bus pulled up I grabbed my wellies and ferried the girls across the pooling rainwater so they could climb aboard with dry feet. I waved them a hasty goodbye and ran back indoors to dry out.

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Sep 022009
birds of the night

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

Column for 26/08

It’s getting darker noticeably earlier in the evenings again.

This is proper dark — not the "light obscured by banks of horrible black cloud" that has been the hallmark of a summer that simply never happened. We had one week of nice weather towards the end of June, and then the heavens opened. I know Ireland’s famous for being green, but this summer has been ridiculous.

No wonder the travel agents are seeing a surge in business. It’s enough to make anyone want to hop on a plane.

But back to the darkness…. it’s getting properly dark much earlier. Yet another reminder that we’re running out of summer with just the occasional glimpse of sunshine.

Perched out beyond the western edge of the time zone we tend to enjoy a little bit more light than our neighbours to the east (when the clouds don’t obscure it, that is). In midsummer I can be outside at 11pm and there’s still a glow in the sky to the west. It’s not light, but it’s not quite dark either — more of an elongated twilight. But despite a daylight extension courtesy of our peripheral geography, the nights are definitely starting to draw in.

Like everything else that life throws up this presents yet another dilemma for parents. With the school term literally around the corner, do you start to re-establish school-time routine and get the kids to bed earlier, or do you let them stay up later to wring every ounce of potential out of the rapidly evaporating holidays?

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Aug 122009

Image by J_O_I_D via Flickr

When I was a child I was bullied at school. Hard to believe if you know me today… but back then things were very different.

Tall, gangly and with a chronic lack of self-confidence, I guess I made an easy target. Picking on the "big meek kid" seemed to be the order of the day… and it hurt much more than just the physical pain.

The specifics of individual events elude me now, but I still remember vividly how the taunting and physical bullying made me feel: worthless, insignificant and utterly, irrevocably alone.

It didn’t help that I was getting mixed messages at home. Mum was advocating a "turn the other cheek" approach while Dad was a staunch advocate of a "give them a dose of their own medicine" solution. It left me in limbo.

In the end it turned out that Dad was right, but I was in fifth year at secondary school before I’d finally had enough, faced my demons and turned the tables on the bullies. That’s when it stopped!

Bullying in any form is abhorrent on so many levels, but at least in my day the bullying was a tangible thing. I could see the people who were taunting you: real, flesh and blood boys standing in front of me. But today there’s an altogether more sinister aspect to bullying… a new dimension to an age old menace that’s being facilitated by modern communication technology.

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Aug 062009
MEXICO CITY - APRIL 29:  People sit in the wai...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Some things in life are too dreary for words… but I’m going to give it my best shot, so prepare to be completely overwhelmed by mindless tedium.

First my own particular pet hate on the "boring things to do" front: painting. Not the artistic rendition of a scene in watercolour or oil, more the "slap it on the walls" kind of painting. Painting in the interior-decorating sense of the word is one of those agonising jobs that demands just the right level of concentration to prevent you thinking about other things, but not quite enough to keep you actively engaged in what your doing. I find the combination is agonizing.

Another one that’s bound to be high on anyone’s list of tedious pastimes has to be sitting in traffic. Yes, you have the radio to keep you company, but that can be as much a curse as it is a blessing… particularly when a cheery "eye-in-the-sky" presenter informs you, rather helpfully, to avoid the tailback you’re already sitting in. Of course, depending on the particular backlog of traffic you’re stuck in, you may have time to turn your mind to other, more productive things. But when I’m behind the wheel I can never really disengage; driving demands concentration… even if you’re crawling along at six-inches per hour. You never know when you might need to react to the unexpected.

Never, is the rather obvious answer… but the point is you have to be ready. I’ll drive for hours on the open road… but fifteen minutes in stop-start traffic has me tearing what little hair I have left out.

What, you may be asking, has inspired me to share this mind-numbing tirade with you? Possibly the biggest waste of our limited time and resources that exists on this or any other planet, that’s what.

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Jul 302009

Image by Amanda-Ruth via Flickr

It seems like eons ago that the WHO declared an imminent pandemic of the A(H1N1) derivative of influenza. The world’s media hit the big red PANIC button. We were all convinced that global human overpopulation was about to be solved by the killer flu strain as it rampaged across the planet. Swine flu coverage was everywhere: on the telly, on the radio, in the papers… and saturating that undisputed barometer of contemporary human interest: Twitter!

That was back in April. Then, as quickly as it had flared up, the radio and television coverage waned, stories about the "Swine Flu" pandemic were relegated to the inner pages, and Twitterers started to tweet about more pressing concerns like the colour of Stephen Fry‘s socks or Britney‘s dog’s favourite ice-cream. Swine flue didn’t just fall off the media radar, it plummeted out of the public consciousness.

The trouble is nobody bothered to mentioned that fact to the virus, which continued its microbial business of infecting anyone and everyone it came into contact with.

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Jul 222009
Brian Lenihan (Irish minister of finance)

Image by nerosunero via Flickr

Sometimes, even in this hyper-connected age of instant communication and networked everything, the world outside my little bubble passes me by. It happened again over the last few weeks.

Busy rising to the daily challenges of the working parent, I somehow managed to miss the speculation, commentary and excitement on the “An Bord Snip Nua” report and the recommended public spending cuts it contained.

It might have something to do with the ludicrous name. No matter the gravity of the Special Advisory Group’s proposals, calling an advisory body on spending cuts “Bord Snip” makes it very hard to take it seriously.

But there’s no doubt the cuts the group advocate are deadly serious. One of the recommendations that’s causing particular consternation among parents is the proposal to universally cut child benefit. The An Bord Snip report says: “Further savings of €513m should be achieved by effecting a 20% reduction in the Child Benefit payments.”

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Jul 162009
working from home

Image by gin soak via Flickr

Because this week’s column about working from home with children, was career related, I’ve posted it over on the new Career Moves blog, where you’ll find lots of other great career, jobs and recruitment related content from the Evening Echo Career Moves section and also stuff written exclusively for the blog.

Check it out, share it with your friends, and don’t forget to let me know what you think via the comments :-)….

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Jul 032009
Fathers Day

Image by loswl via Flickr

Fathers’ day is one of those days that I’m not really sure about.

Is it really a "special" day or is it just another one of those "Hallmark" days, invented to put the commercial squeeze on hard-pressed families… applying pressure to buy over-priced cards, eat out in over-priced restaurants and generally spend money that could be better employed elsewhere?

Actually the truth is somewhere in between. Fathers’ Day began, by all accounts, back in the early 20th century in America, as a holiday to celebrate fatherhood and male parenting; something to counterbalance the already popular Mothers’ Day celebrations. The earliest advocate of a male-orientated holiday was a woman — Sonora Smart Dodd — who was apparently attending a Mothers’ Day celebration in 1909, when she decided to hold a similar day in honour of her father the following year. So on the 19th of June 1910 Ms Dodd presided over what’s believed to be the first ever observance of a fathers’ day holiday.

It took some time for the holiday to become official. While the concept of Mothers’ Day was met with universal enthusiasm, Fathers’ Day, despite being supported by influential bodies like the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Church, was generally greeted with scepticism and amusement by the general population.

Slowly the idea gained traction… and in the 1930s, spotting an opportunity to boost commerce, the "Associated Menswear Retailers" formed a special committee with the sole purpose of legitimising and commercialising Fathers’ Day among the masses. By the 1980’s the chairman proclaimed the committee’s mission a resounding success. In the US at least, Fathers’ Day had become a three-week commercial extravaganza… a "second Christmas".

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