Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Living the dream

The thing about living the dream is that it can be intense, and the 40 hours a week mentioned in the hypothetical contract most likely refers to cat hours. (You know, like cat years, they last much longer than human hours).

The other thing about living the dream is that, after three years of working towards it, I wouldn't even think about complaining.

But sadly it does mean that blogging may be very sparse and sporadic over the next couple of months or so. I'm afraid you'll have to improve your own lives.

But while you wait, now would be a very good time to air any views about what your ideal coffee bar would be like. And if you're lucky, I might just listen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dialectic Delights

I love accents. They bring me great amusement and joy. Not in a patronising way you understand - it's more about the variety and differentness.

In fact I'm sure you at least know someone who would profess to swoon over some fanciful young thing's dreamy Irish lilt. But I also enjoy the less celebrated regional intonations. To some, the South African accent is grating, but I love it, admittedly partly because it reminds me of my motherland. Others might find a thick Brummie accent offensive, but it brings a smile to my lips. And who doesn't enjoy the challenge of trying to understand what a Geordie is saying to them?

At the George Mason Univerity in Fairfax, Virginia, they are carrying out a research project around this. Check it out - have a play around and listen to some of them. Notice the Texan talking extremely fast so that he doesn't come across as dumb! (Without wanting to sound rude, there are certain accents that make it hard to take their owners seriously).

But this is an ongoing project - so can I plead with the northerners among us, don't just take a look at the site. For anthropological science, and for the good of my soul, please donate samples of your voice. The world wouldn't be the same without you!

Friday, April 14, 2006


To boldly speak out against the failings and abuses of powerful religious leaders.

To offer dignity to those who were considered an embarrassment to society.

To treat women with respect in an era that cast them as less than nothing.

To honour the humble and oppose the proud.

To show no fear before those who could order his execution on a whim.

To suggest that we should love our enemies!

To willingly submit to a humiliating death, deserted by the thousands who once adored him, and by his closest friends.

Now that is revolutionary.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Words are not enough

Three years ago, I began to dream.

Two years ago, I left my job to pursue this dream.

Yesterday, I was offered the opportunity to fulfil it.

Words are not enough.

Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me throughout this, and who hasn't told me to behave myself and get a proper career. Seriously, thank you.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You know you should have gone to bed earlier the night before when....

...you are completely thrown by your alarm going off.

"What's.....this....music?" you groan in your subconscious state, barely aware of your own existence. "It sounds so close."

A quick, bleary eyed glance at the clock, and you just about register the time. "But it's seven o'clock in the morning! Who on earth would put music on so early?!"

"Hang on, I know this song.......I think I quite like it......But it's the weekend for goodness sake!!"

"Isn't it......?"

"Oh, b*%%*€£s!!!"

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Thought for the day...

At the moment I am reading The Day I Died by Steve Sjogren. This stood out to me:

"I am learning that listening is less about solving problems and more about helping a person uncover what he or she actually wants to say."

Could the ability and willingness to approach conversation with an attitude of service be one of the most undervalued skills in today's world?

Friday, March 31, 2006

Celebrity - a hijacked concept

We're all well aware that we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture. But perhaps it is so much part of the wallpaper of our lives that we are blind to its profound influence in the shaping of our culture.

This has struck me twice in the last couple of days. Once, when the word celebrity was used entirely unnecessarily - tautologically, almost - in the description of a television programme, presumably in order to boost its appeal.

And again, when reading an article by Nicky Campbell about footballers, lamenting the way in which these highly paid, over-privileged young men can become self-absorbed and lose any sense of responsibility, other than that of carrying the hopes of the nation.

But before we start to criticise, let's think again.

What does celebrity mean? 'Celebrity' is what we 'celebrate'. And a quick inspection of the media tells us that the things we celebrate are good looks, wealth, talent, fame in and of itself(!), youth, success - not kindness, selflessness, humility, wisdom or integrity.

To borrow Campbell's closing words, perhaps we should ask ourselves this: do we want well-rounded men, or do we want to win the World Cup?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gushing Praise for Sigur Ros

Monday night saw me at my second Sigur Ros gig, and hopefully not my last. As friends will testify from the last time, I cannot overstate the depth of their talent.

They were amazing. Geniuses. (Or genii if you prefer). They're proper musicians - in between songs, or sometimes during songs, they wander round and start playing a different instrument. The singer/guitarrist would go and play keys, the drummer would play glockenspiel (I don't know exactly what one is but I'm sure they had one), the keyboarder would pick up a piccolo...... The first encore ended with a piano solo from the drummer. Half the time Jonsi, the lead man, was playing his guitar with a violin bow, and for one song the bassist played his bass with a drumstick. Like I say, proper musicians.

On top of this, their ability to capture emotion in words and music is one that would be the envy of many of their peers, and that wouldn't even occur to today's manufactured bands. Filled with melancholy, majestic, crafted crescendos, and everything in between, theirs is a sound that can transport you to another place.

Their abundant talent and creativity is also evident in their videos - from the hauntingly beautiful come-follow-me of Glosoli, to the wonderfully mischievous pensioners of Hoppipolla, to the deeply poignant Viorar vel til loftarasa, which is said to depict the struggle of being gay in the church.

I'm torn between wanting to tell everyone I meet how great they are, and enjoying being part of a well kept secret. So please promise not to tell anyone.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Animals - whose side are they on?

For a long time we've lived in fear of a day when the machines will take over the world. But whilst we've been trying to make the machines submissive to us, it turns out that our efforts might have been better spent seeking allegiances in the animal kingdom.

For it has become evident that animals will be the surprise key players in the success or failure of any attempted coup.

It has emerged over the last few days that a new 'smart barcode' can contain a computer virus, and already cats are being enlisted by both sides for their potential to spread malicious code in new hi-tech ID tags.

Meanwhile, the US army have plans to recruit insects. They want to implant microscopic sensory devices into 'flying, hopping or crawling insects' which will then transmit vital information to their controllers. However as this is something that needs to be done at the larval stage, they are working hard to find donor parents who are willing to sign over some of their offspring, either because of ideological beliefs, or for financial reward.

Pet owners are advised to form loyal bonds wherever possible, and to report any suspicious behaviour.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Offensive politeness

I'm a well brought up lad, and I was always taught to hold the door open for people. But I'm beginning to think that it's nicer not to.

All too often, holding the door for the person behind you forces them to break into a little trot in order to accept your kind gesture. And I'm sure that given the choice between an enforced and ungainly semi-jog and opening a door, they would really rather have opened the door for themselves.

I'm working hard to perfect my it's-because-I-care-that-I'm-not-holding-this-door-open-for-you look. For those of you trying this at home, the eyebrows are the key.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

They well and truly got me

And the worst part was that I didn't even know it.

The new England away kit went on sale last week. Like many football fans, I decided that it would be a good buy with the World Cup fast approaching - as we all know, wearing last year's kit just doesn't cut it.

Despite being pretty similar to the one it's replacing, the latest kit is not a bad design. New this season is the option to have someone's squad number on the front as well as the back. To accommodate this, the manufacturer's logo has been moved up onto the shoulder.

I wasn't planning on getting one with a name and number, but looking at it I thought "the logo up there on the shoulder would look stupid without a number underneath, maybe I'll get a number 4 shirt" (I love Steven Gerrard!).

And without even realising, I had played straight into their hands - they had got the add-on sale out of me, and I didn't even realise until my friend Andy pointed it out to me on the weekend.

The sad thing is, I'll probably still do it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Crash and the human heart


Congratulations to Crash for winning Best Film at the Oscars last night. I'm no film buff but I know that I enjoyed it a lot.

One of the things I liked about it was that it caught me out.

All the way through the film I found myself strongly identifying with Hanson (the good young cop played by Ryan Phillippe) whilst intensely disliking Ryan (Matt Dillon). And if you've seen it you'll know there was much to dislike about him. Yet towards the end we see that the very same person is also capable of a noble and courageous act.

My smug satisfaction at feeling superior to him was blown away in a moment, and I could not deny that I too am capable of both. I have in me things that are beautiful and honourable and right, and things that are to my shame.

Thanks to the makers for reminding me that the human heart is not black and white.

Friday, March 03, 2006

One Billion Views - Megalomaniac Websites

After the success of Alex Tew's million dollar home page, plenty of people have had similar ideas.

Alex, a 21 year old from Wiltshire (he’s English – hurrah!), sold space on his website one pixel at a time. With a 1000 by 1000 pixel canvas, you could say it’s worked out alright for him.

This spawned plenty of copycat sites which, satisfyingly, haven’t done so well. But the next big one is the race to have a website with one billion visitors. The original appears to be onebillionviews.com, who registered the page on the 30th October just gone, and opened for business in November. An imaginatively titled rival started up on the 17th January, shamelessly claiming the idea as his own.

Things are currently pretty tight, with both sites working towards their first half million, but I know whose side I’m on!

Meanwhile, my ambitions are more modest – double figures in the comments count would make me a happy man!

P.S. A special hello to anyone who has come here from onebillionviews.com - Welcome!!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Official - Working in a coffee bar is social work

Being a qualified social worker whose dream is to run a coffee bar, I am frequently asked whether I plan to go back into social work at some point in the future.

My stock answer for the last couple of years has been a protest that actually, the coffee bar in my head will be more like traditional social work than my last job where my title was 'Social Worker'.

I often get slightly puzzled or sceptical looks by way of reply.

So I was quite pleased when I came across this article in the paper a few weeks ago. According to two American sociologists, the well documented fragmentation of society over the past few decades has led to a culture where we place far more value on individualism and non-dependence on others than we do on connecting with those around us.

This has left many of us dependent on 'hits of intimacy' with strangers as a substitute for the more meaningful sense of belonging that comes from being part of a wider family or community.

And one of the prime examples offered is that of a smile or kind word from the person who serves you coffee every day.

So it's official - working in a coffee bar is social work. Now I just have to convince the General Social Care Council so I can re-register next year.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Send an Atheist to his local church!

This was the somewhat intriguing title of a recent ebay auction. Hemant Mehta, a 22 year old student from Chicago, proposed to visit his local church (or any other, of any flavour or religion) with an open mind for $10 a time.

The auction closed at $504.

Much to my relief, it was won by a guy called Jim Henderson – not the creator of The Muppets, but the executive director of an organisation who often describe their mission statement as “trying to help Christians learn how to not be jerks”.

I sometimes think we have a lot to learn.

To his great credit Jim is genuinely attempting to learn from Hemant, and not trying to ‘convert’ him. And to Hemant’s credit, he is being very fair and open minded, and extremely gracious in light of a few arrogant and unhelpful commenters.

You can follow the action from both parties’ perspectives – on Hemant's blog and the Off The Map website. Let’s hope the Christians are listening.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Brussel Sprouts - what they don't want you to know

Some sociologists argue that Brussel sprouts have long played a central role in the British psyche. No one likes them, yet almost without fail we honour them by embracing them into the culinary bosom of our Christmas dinner.

Some people even eat them.

Yesterday, thanks to an industry whistleblower, I got hold of documentary evidence sensationally revealing what was once a closely guarded secret.

What they don’t want you to know is that brussel sprouts are grown on long green sticks. These sticks, complete with blemished camouflage markings, are used by scientists to pump water and other nutrients to each sprout ‘node’. Once fully formed, they are removed and replaced by a new sprout seedlet.

No one from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs was available for comment.

Meanwhile in related news, many holiday makers appeared visibly shaken on their return from a half-term winter sun getaway, having learnt that bananas grow upside-down.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Get it off your chest

Have you ever had a secret buried somewhere deep inside?

Part of you wanted to tell someone, so that it wouldn’t hold you captive anymore. And part of you could think of nothing more terrifying than anyone finding it out.

I’m sure we all carry these things around with us at some point or other. A few people have decided that telling a trusted friend is not for them. They’ve decided instead to tell everyone. Take a look at PostSecret.

New posts are put up every Sunday. Some are heart warming and will make you smile. Others will stop you in your tracks as you choke up.

And now would it surprise you if I told you that it was the third most popular blog in the world?

And we're off!!

It gives me great pleasure to announce the arrival of one of the most eagerly anticipated websites of 2006. And coincidentally, today also sees the launch of my blog, which has been eagerly anticipated by at least three of my friends, if not more.

I’m proud to say that, by allowing the geek in me to come to the fore, I coded a lot of it myself – aren’t I clever? Many thanks to my friend Andy for his help in getting it up and running. He has his very own rather interesting blog – check it out by following the link on the right.

Anyway, we must press on. Check back regularly to find a whole host of interesting bits and pieces, and some rubbish.

Pretty soon you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

p.s. Anyone wanting to link to individual posts – the permalink is in the timestamp