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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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.

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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 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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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
 
bad-cyberbully

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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Jul 302009
 
ZOMG!!! SWINE FLU!!!!

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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