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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Feb 022010
 
centre

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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.

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Jan 292010
 
Photo by Dave Bunnell of a caver traversing a ...

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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.

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

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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.

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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 102009
 
“If you put a silk dress on a goat .... well, ...

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Halloween is supposed to be scary. Goblins, ghouls and horrible little monsters looking for trick-or-treat goodies come with the territory. Goats… not so much.

But let’s rewind a little.

We’d been out to tackle the "spooky" Halloween Trail at Lisselan Estate just outside Clonakilty. The girls had a great time tearing around the gardens solving solving the riddles on their age-tailored clue-sheets. It was a fiver each for the children to take part in the Halloween Trail, which included a lucky-dip prize and a trick-or-treat goody bag each on completion. For once things were as they should be… refreshingly, Lisselan had opted not to charge anything for the accompanying adults.

Why is it that so many places insist on charging top whack for parents to get in to what are patently child orientated attractions? The attractions usually have zero appeal for adults, and if all you’re there for is to keep an eye on the kids, who have paid for their tickets, then I don’t really see why you should have to pay for the privilege.

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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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Oct 212009
 
A herd of savanna elephants in Western Africa

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Sometimes we humans use expressions that, while they seem plausible enough on the surface, actually have no bearing on life in the real world.

We do this all the time, without ever questioning the validity of what we’re saying, and we perpetuate these misconceptions by using the same expressions with our children. They in turn will pass on these falsehoods to their children and so it will go on unless someone makes a stand and sets things straight.

Anyone who’s ever had mice in the house will know that the old adage "as quiet as a mouse" is a complete fallacy. Mice can, in truth, make an unbelievable racket for their size as they scurry around under floors and behind skirting boards; chittering, squeeking and scraping as they forage for stray crumbs. The pitter-patter of their tiny feet is surprisingly audible in the dead of night, and the conclusive snap of a mouse-trap is enough to wake anyone from their slumber. I’ve taken to using a different version… one that’s far more accurate than the rodent equivalent. I tell the girls they should try to be "as quiet as a pineapple". When was the last time you heard fruit make a sound?

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Sep 182009
 
Truancy hotline road sign.

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about the hand-wringing and guilt parents go through when considering whether they should take children out of school to accommodate a family trip or holiday.

An article in the Times last month claimed that in the UK some 1.5 million school-days were taken for family holidays last year, 325,821 of them without the appropriate authorisation from schools.

Those are pretty big numbers… but I don’t necessarily buy the assertion that this is such a big problem.

Who, these days, can afford to take their family holiday during the school breaks… when prices for flights, ferries, accommodation, attractions and practically everything else are inflated to the max? Not to mention the fact that, if you travel in peak season (i.e. the school holidays) wherever you’re heading is bound to be crammed with throngs of tourists. Thanks but no thanks!

I can see how children bunking school without the school or their parents’ consent is a crucial issue that needs to be tackled head on, and how missing a stint during the latter years of secondary school, with exams looming, might not be the best idea in the world. But seriously, if a child is out for a week here or there during primary or early secondary school, what are they really going to miss?

Not a lot, I’d venture… and think about how much they have to gain.

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Sep 092009
 
Who Said Romance Is Dead

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A weekend away in Paris, a beautiful meal for two, or just curling up together on the sofa in front of an old classic film… these are all things that we’ve done, in the past, to mark the passing of our wedding anniversary.

Anniversary’s are a handy way to remind you how special and and significant your relationship is. While romance is characterised by spontaneity, and probably shouldn’t hover around a specific date on the calendar, when you have children tying things to a designated date definitely has its advantages. It’s hard to introduce spontaneous romance into proceedings when you’re busy surviving the rigours of everyday parenting. At least an anniversary gives you something to aim for, helps focus your mind and prompts you to make that extra bit of effort.

Except of course it doesn’t always work out that way.

Our latest anniversary was last Sunday. The plan was to head out for a semi-romantic family picnic at one of West Cork‘s many beauty spots, but, predictably, that notion was scuppered by the West Cork weather. With no sign of the Indian Summer so many people had been predicting, we decided it would be wiser to stay in!

Just like every other aspect of our lives, our anniversary has become as much about the girls as it is about us and our relationship. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a healthy thing, but its the way it is. To the children our anniversary is akin to a birthday… something for us all to celebrate together as a family. In a way I guess they’re dead right: our relationship is the hub of the family unit, the bond that holds everything else together. It is every bit as important to them as it is to us.

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