Saturday 17 November 2007

Travel - Barcelona

Well, the itchings of wanderlust mentioned above were momentarily sated recently after a far too brief trip to Barcelona and a nearby town, Sitges. Certain places in the world have an inherent sense of arrival from the moment you breath in what they have to offer. Obviously, these places differ for everyone, but for me Barcelona is one of those places. All its many varied characteristics and element seemed to appeal me in some way and I spent those few days enthralled by some both its grandiose and simple pleasures.

The first night was spent with a friend in the beautiful coastal town of Sitges along with some locals and ex-pats. Any apprehension about speaking Spanish with Catalunyans was dispelled with the conversation flowing until late into the night, as it always seems to do in Spain. The next day took us in by train, at times hugging the cliff face, into Barcelona itself.

Las Ramblas provided us with our main reference point, as it does for most tourists, on the trip but we never stayed for long on the strip itself. Staying in Plaza Real in the heart of the Barri Gotic we undertook the best possible way to see any city. Walking. Actually, make that walking and drinking and eating.Walking without any particular destination to get lost looking for and not find. We actually took joy in our rambling and we seemed to constantly 'discover' gems of sights that constantly bid to outdo each other.

By the end of the second day we had an almost local knowledge of Barri Gotic and found several great places to drink and eat, from the Tapas bar that had opend out on to a busy street that served little glasses of roja for €1.30 to a Paraguayan restaurant that served incredibly flavoured and tender meat dishes in huge portions, and several funky bars to boot. In most cities, this would take weeks.

I don't think I have ever been so genuinely impressed by architecture as I was in this city.
We have all been to places and gone to see places just for the sake of it and been duly appreciative but after a while it gets a bit tiresome. Gaudi's indelible impression on the city is very symbolic of a city so proud of its independent and cosmopolitan that looks within rather than outside for its inspiration.

Ever before I stepped on the plane home I vowed I would be back.

Monday 24 September 2007

Travel - Where in the World?

This kid is fairly amazing. Was fairly impressed when she went straight to Zimbabwe.

She even manages to correct her parents' pronunciation of Mexico.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Music - For Mondays

I mean 'Mondays' in the sense that it's one of those days that seem to drag interminably. They eventually splutter to an end with you just barely crawling over the end line and the knowledge that a long week still awaits, ever darkening your mood. Music can often be the only thing that wipes clear those clingy remnants of the day.

The entire 'Astral Weeks' album provides a deliciously meandering soundtrack that remains uplifting and inspiring. It always seems to offer the listener another sound or beat previously unnoticed. If an album is an image, this one depicts a loving parent leading a distressed child away from trouble into the warm evening sun. (Right, that's my 'Corny' allocation for this month all used up)

Madame George

Have been listening to Jack Johnson for a long time. This guy's voice is mellifluous ear candy that can lighten the darkest of days. Whatever his critics may say, his songs conjure up idle hours, lounging on a beach with someone by your side to share the views of the shimmering seas.

Better Together

High Tide or Low Tide (First song in which I heard his voice)

North and South of the River - Christy Moore
This song mightn't be too cheery but the power of the words and his voice swallow and drown out the ebbs we encounter in our daily lives. This song speaks of someone in an Ireland of the past who just wanted to "walk with you along an unapproved road not looking over my shoulder".

More songs for a Monday
Morcheeba - The Sea

Zero 7 - In The Waiting Line

Air - All I Need

Any other suggestions?

Saturday 15 September 2007

Sport - All- Ireland Football Final

Provincial rivals Cork and Kerry face off tomorrow in All-Ireland Gaelic Football final in Dublin's Croke Park. This is a novel pairing for an All-Ireland final as under the old system it would have been impossible for these teams to meet beyond the provincial final/Munster final.

Kerry are the aristocrats of gaelic football whose players typically have a natural grace and style on the ball with a DNA primed and steeled for All-Ireland glory. Cork, the greatest sporting county in Ireland, are the aristocrats of hurling but tomorrow the footballers have a chance at grabbing a lifetime of bragging rights over their neighbours. All the years of hurt and defeat in provincial games could be wiped clean with possession of the Sam Maguire cup.
Skills of Gaelic Football

All-Ireland day in hurling and football are biggest days in Irish sport. Croke park is the greatest field in a land of fields. And tomorrow the players of Cork and Kerry will step into that famed cauldron but only one team will emerge glorious and be forever remembered.
U2 - Croke Park

Friday 7 September 2007

Music - Sunshine Tunes

Well, the summer has finally arrived in Ireland. It's about 3 months late but is here nonetheless in all its balmy brilliance peaking today at 24c/72f. (Irish people begin to melt somewhere around 35/95). Its so easy to let your troubles melt away in it all. No wonder Jamaicans are so chilled or Californians are so gleefully happy. Let them try a few Monday morning with the rain belting down and see how they get on.
The weekend promises more of the same so I finally get to ponder on some of my favourite sunshine tunes. Sadly most of these songs are associated with times outside of Ireland but always ensure a warm feeling regardless of the weather we are dealt.

Superfunk - Lucky Star (Big hit in France a few years back)

Ian Pooley - Coracao Tambor (Anything in Portuguese is inherently sun kissed)

Bob Marley - Sun is Shining remix (A bit sacrilegious really but always recalls memories of Ibiza)

Toots and Maytals - 54-46 Was My Number (Cider sales have plummeted in Ireland this Summer but there's nothing to compare with pint glass of ice brimming with Bulmer's cider, some reggae in a beer garden with the sun shining overhead)

Zero 7 - In The Waiting Line (A bit of blissed out of chill to finish your day)

Right, time to get some rays on my milky torso. The farmer's tan is not a good look.

Monday 3 September 2007

Life - Managing My Day

I regard myself as a very relaxed person but as I've gotten older I demand much more from myself. Gone are the days when I would lounge happily in bed all morning, then scratch my way to the kitchen for lunch before rocking down to the pub for some mischief later on. While they were great days at the time that needed to be done, I can be very self-critical now if I don't get anything much done with my day.

Unfortunately, I have to keep setting myself little tasks and targets or else my life begins to stall. If I have one thing to do all day, there's a good chance it won't happen. If I have several things to do, they will all be sorted plus a few extra things 'while I'm at it'. This was always the case. I couldn't achieve any level of consistency or application as a student for most of the year until exam time loomed and then I went into overdrive to the point of being 'nerdy'. I usually write down what has to be done and hugely enjoy the process of crossing out each chore afterwards (as the my Canadian friend used to say "that's so anal", but she knew someone who would even write things like 'wash teeth' just so they could cross it off).

I actually distrust myself quite a bit. Like the wife of an alcoholic who is forever teetering between extremes of vibrant sobriety and rampant intoxication, I have come up with little schemes to keep me on the straight and narrow. I'll put my alarm in some corner of the room so the lazy me won't hit the snooze button all morning or I'll hide €20 somewhere on my person before I go out, in case of an emergency, but not somewhere so easy that the drunk me could find leaning over a nightclub bar counter.

I don't think any less of myself for all this. At the moment, I'm being overloaded at work but managing to be more productive in more facets of my life than I have been for quite a while. Just have to keep looking straight ahead because if I stop for a moment to look down, it will be a quick fall

Thursday 23 August 2007

Music - For Driving

Today's entry promises to be a little brighter after yesterday's heavy and slightly cryptic entry. Had a good 'airing' of views with certain people involved in the situation last night which generally cleared a few misunderstandings. It's good to talk.

Previous to the meeting, I went for a drive with this song from Irish group director playing. Perfect driving music.

Another good one, Editors - Smoking outside the hospital doors

Don't really like this kind of rock but great playing behind the wheel. Jimmy Eat World - Pain

Driving would be a typically male activity if there is a problem to ponder. Withdrawal into yourself to figure out a way past something. The driving provides enough distraction from the problem but allows you to subconsciously search for an answer. Usually, when you come out of your 'cave' you have some sort of solution. The male species is definitely a strange yet simple beast.

Any other suggestions for music for driving?

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Daily Life - Should I Stay or Should I go?

Just been reading Lance Armstrong's first book. He describes his early years as a teen competing against experienced athletes in triathlons. His determination and desire were heavily steeped in a reckless need to go faster and be first. He mentions how he used to 'race' traffic lights when still in high school - beating 5 in a row one day, narrowly missing the reds each time until the sixth when he was broadsided. After sustaining injuries that needed stitches in his foot, knee and head his doctor advised him to rest up for a few weeks and stay away from any training. 5 days later he took out most of the stitches and competed in a triathlon. He won the event and after the ensuing media coverage he received a letter from his doctor simply stating "I don't believe it". Later, he would win bike races with little regard for etiquette, tactics, or pain thresholds. Bull ignorance and power were driving him through the boundaries of what should or shouldn't be done on the bike. When he learned of his widespread cancer he treated it in much the same way, something to be obliterated, to be beaten.

If we all went around approaching our daily dilemmas with a bull-headed ignorance, we would just create a lot of hassle for ourselves. No doubt we would sort out a lot of the world's problems that way but there are times when you just have to let things go. Someone annoys you on a bus - e.g. texting with a beep sound just to make sure everyone knows they are texting - you look away, you turn on headphones, you change seats. The Lance approach would probably be to smash the phone. The correct approach would probably be to mention it to the person but people on public transport always seem to carry the potential threat of going psychotic at any moment. Conceding certain situations that are generally out of your control are the best way recipe for a hassle free life. As Kenny Rogers would say "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away and know when to run".

Have had a few setbacks recently that have forced me to reconsider something I have invested myself in over the year. I have sacrificed a lot and pushed myself on a daily basis to attain a place on something I have aspired to for years. Now, as we near the summit, my efforts don't seem to be deemed worthy. Disregard of my efforts would probably be a more accurate description. It has been galling experience laced with anger and frustration. Do I get back on the saddle and drive on blindly ignoring the obvious hoping for a handout? Do I walk out with my head held high knowing I did everything I could? Even as I write this I get the feeling that some people will be experiencing the Lance approach today. All I can do is try to give everything I can where I can ... and maybe one more roll of the dice.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

Travel - Where To Next?

Sometimes get an overwhelming desire to drop everything and take off somewhere. Was searching for flights to 'somewhere' just this morning. All the banalities and dreary responsibilities of daily life never seem to matter once you're on that plane. We've had a rainy season instead of a summer this year in Ireland and it's been a while since I have been this static. I have also been behaving far too well of late - it's possibly the dawning of maturity but I suspect I just haven't been given the opportunities to be "a very naughty boy", as they would say on Monty Python.

One of my former holiday destinations, where any form of maturity would be frowned upon, was Ibiza. That was way back in the 90s so don't know what it's like now but some of the closing parties were amazing there at that time. Particularly, Manumission at Privilege. The water parties were fairly class in Es Paradis as well.

(That water goes waist deep!!)

I love going on holidays and be able to indulge in a vibrant night-life but one big night and the whole thing tends to spiral into hedonistic mayhem ending up in a cycle of clubbing / bed / pub / clubbing / and so forth. I found myself being able to have a good balance in most Asian countries (apart from Korea)of being a wholesome tourist by day and up to mischief by night. Think I just might skip the Irish summer next year and see what more Asia has to offer.

A man that knows a thing or two about hedonism, Mr. McGowan.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Food - Oh, What To Eat?

Kathy Foley recently highlighted in her blog something that has annoyed me for quite a while, diet research. She focuses more on diet-related cancer research but it still highlights the conflicting results of many groups.

"Welcome to the topsy-turvy, confusing world of diet-related cancer research. Like a carnival hall of mirrors, it’s a disorientating place where everything is distorted and the most insignificant detail can be grotesquely exaggerated.

In recent years, all of the following have been reported as possible preventions or cures for cancer: beans; broccoli; cabbage; cauliflower; cloudy apple juice (rather than the clear stuff); coffee; curry; garlic; kale; onions; pomegranate juice, shallots; soya milk; tea and tofu.

Unfortunately, many more foods have been the subject of contradictory or conflicting advice. Grapefruit has been promoted as having cancer-fighting properties, unless you’re a post-menopausal woman, in which case eating a quarter of a grapefruit every day could increase your chance of breast cancer by 30%. Coffee drinkers are supposed to be at greater risk of bladder cancer and less risk of liver cancer and colon cancer. Barbecued meat might be carcinogenic but not if you marinade it beforehand."

Ok, it's there are more contentious issues in the world today, but how many conflicting results can you get for the benefits, or the toxic effects, of coffee? "Coffee wards off colon cancer", "Coffee may delay effects of Alzhemiers in older women", "Expresso binge lands teenager in hospital", "Coffee's health risk may be gentic" are all headlines which have appeared recently with newspapers and radio shows lapping up these paper/air fillers. My mother seems to tailor her coffee consumption around these never ending developments with the chances of me getting a decent coffee when I call round varying accordingly.

Research into a cure for cancer is vital, yes, but we are living far too long these days not to enjoy something like a cup of coffee every day. Although, children try to pack as many Es (the additive kind) and sugar into their systems they haven't quite attained the knowledge and practice at poisoning their systems as adults. And they still get cancer. Jez, sort the kids out first. A cure for one adult would probably fail miserably in the system of another adult who has happily poisoned themselves over the years.

Luckily, my sisters have a good attitude to eating healthily so I don't have to hear too much about the latest diet fads but I'm still amazed how this industry always seems to come up with some pseudo science and a 'new' solution to being thin (which doesn't mean you're healthy).

Surely, there should be just a few maxims to follow for healthy eating/drinking. I'm no expert but I try to follow these;

· Eat till you feel satisfied, not till the plate/pot is empty.

· Buy fresh and learn to cook.

· If it comes in a box, don't eat it.

· Have last meal at least 4 hours before you go to bed.

· 6 decent meals a day is actually better than 3 big meals.

· Meals should be getting smaller as the day goes on. Reduce meat and white bread after 4 ‘O clockish.

· Eat fruit and vegetables everyday.

· Cooked veg should be crunchy.

· Eat fish at least once a week. Irish are very bad for the fish consumption. Probably something to do with “Catholic fasting = fish” in the past, or else because they smell. (Loving the mackerel at the moment, cheap out as well – marinade 15 mins in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and herbs / grill on foil, 5 mins each side / Bingo!)

· Drink enough water (*warning* unpleasant indicator -urine should be clear).

· 1 * pig-out / session / drug binge = 2 * workout. Like alleviating your carbon footprint, those 8 pints of stout and curry chips mean you have to backtrack on the double.

· When you do inevitably choose to partake in at least one of the above, enjoy your choice. Don’t feel guilty, but don’t do it just for the sake it either i.e. dvd night doesn’t mean you have to drink Miller and order a double cheese pepperoni pizza.

· Drink milk.

· Better moderate the coffee consumption as well, not like this lúdramáin.

Can't think of any more. Anyone else got any healthy eating tips?

Monday 13 August 2007

Music - Songs That Remind Me Of

A family holiday on the west coast of France when I was about 15. I was designated navigator and took full control of the radio for the journey. This group, Alliance Ethnik, were popular at the time and I think this was their first big hit, Respect.

France is the biggest market for rap after the States and I think the language is well suited to this genre, whereas rap often seems very forced in some other languages. The group's 5 members all come from different ethnic backgrounds, including Algeria,Italy and the Congo, with an American singer for the English lyrics. Their music is generally upbeat, back boned with funky beats and positive messages.
Simple et Funky

Honesty et Jalousie

Listening to these songs again remind me of upside-down maps, a few wrong turns, asking directions in broken French but with enough Atlantic sun to make it all seem all right.

Thursday 9 August 2007

Daily Life - American Overheard

Started re-reading some of the quotes on the site recently and while the site seems to be rather hit and miss the book has sold fairly well in Ireland. Had to wade through a lot of quotes regurgitated from old jokes to find any mildly funny ones on the site (these are best read in a broad Dublin accent):

If you want a job done right...
Last night, saw these kids on bikes messing around and narrowly avoiding the traffic. Then their Da shouts "Stop it...if I want ye in hospital, I'll kick your heads in meself!"

I was at an ATM one day in Abbey Street and there was a few people ahead of me. The woman at the machine was taking her time while we waited in the rain. Next thing a skanger in the queue says “Aw here luv, are ya on da bleedin’ internet or wat?”

I don't think the quotes above are very representative of the street wit you can get in Ireland, particularly in Dublin, but there are always a few gems to be heard if you listen closely enough. Any ones come to mind?

Eavesdropping on what seems like an interesting conversation between Irish people in a public area can be a difficult task with the male habit of talking shoulder to shoulder and female habit of speaking in hushed tones with their hands in the special "We're telling secrets" pose. Throw the Irish brogue into the equation and it's nigh on impossible.

Maybe one shouldn't be listening to other peoples' conversations but if ever you have spent time on a Irish public bus with an mp3 player that has no earphones, a dead phone, no newspaper and a hangover you would too. Bus Eireann also seem to have mastered the art of having the radio at just the right volume so you can hear that someone is talking/singing but not make out any of it. Well, it was on such a day a while back that I found myself eavesdropping on an Irish passenger listening to and answering the questions of an attractive American backpacker... from 7 seats away. What bliss was this!

No one beats the Americans for range, randomness and volume of their quotes. I could sit back and listen to the conversation without having to ask or answer questions or appear interested or decide whether to fill any silences or leave the conversation peter out. Eventually, I found my earphones and could easily tune in and out of the conversation like a cheap soap opera.

American conversations are like listening to surround sound after years of intermittent mono. Walking by Americans in the street is even better as the quotes come thick, loud and fast "It was really spiritual time in my life", "Oooh, Larry says he's feeling gassy after lunch", "Awww, man they were crazy times!". How could a writer be stuck for inspiration when any group of Americans seem to provide a kaleidoscopic view of lives past and present from the surreal to the banal, it's all there... in stereo.
Abre Los Oidos!

Wednesday 8 August 2007

Photography - Who do you look like?

With my renewed interest in photography, I decided to try the face recognition program on after seeing something about it on TV last night. As far as I know, the program calculates the various dimensions on your face such as space between eyes, forehead, cheeks etc and tries to match them with someone famous. I don't think I particularly look like anyone famous. When I was in Asia, natives had me down as a lookalike for Keanu Reeves or Nicholas Cage. I reckoned if people could get me so badly wrong then a free computer program would hardly do any better. It did.

First out with a 72% resemblance was Luis Figo, portuguese soccer player. Not bad, I suppose. Talented player, multi-lingual, loaded and has a gorgeous wife. It also recalled a vague memory of a party a few years during a Euro championship when some drunk chanted "Fiigoo00, Fiigoo00" every time I crossed the room.

Next up were Luke Wilson and Alexis Denisof which were a bit off the mark and then it was that gallic specimen of a man, Gerard Depardieu. Ouch. A very talented actor but carries a close resemblance to Shrek. Maybe this was some sort of karmic punishment for myself and a buddy drunkenly singing the chorus to "You're Beautiful" when we saw a James Blunt lookalike in a pub last week.

The last celebrity bearing any resemblance to my chevy chase was Mark Feehily, gay member of Irish boy band Westlife. A family member had declared this resemblance for years. Will be keeping this latest piece of evidence to myself methinks. As Irish crooner Joe Dolan would say "Oh me, oh my, you're such a ...".

Thursday 2 August 2007

Art - Sports Photography

I wrote last week about how I found it so easy to appreciate photography. A good photo, like any piece of good art, will make an impression that will resonate for long after its first viewing. I have never needed to know where it's from, what it's about, or who took it to appreciate its brilliance. Nonetheless, some sports photos can make an even greater initial impression. This genre of photography is definitely more subjective. Captures of a classic sporting moment will resonate far deeper with someone who is aware of its background. Sports photos can create an instant rapport, a yearning for that frozen moment in time which still reverberates in the now.

When I was younger, I would read all I could about Muhammad Ali. I had a poster of this photo below on my bedroom wall.

Visually, the photo is stunning. The colours and shadows are subtly balanced and the two boxers are positioned so perfectly you would think it was posed. The image encapsulates so much about Ali - his strength, braggadocio, beauty, power. He is so utterly dominant over Liston who is floored and submissive. The crowd seem relatively emotionless and the surrounding darkness refocus your attention on centre stage - on Ali.

Despite its naked brutality, boxing seems to be the most photogenic and cinematic of all sports.

And no better subject than Ali.

The Irish sport of hurling also lends to striking images.

Ballet- Irish Style by Johnew on

Saturday 28 July 2007

Blogging - What's it all about?

As I'm finally getting into the daily habit of blogging I'm also realising how random my thoughts and interests seem to be. I doubt anybody out there could possibly have matching interests in dance music, sports psychology, photography, panda sneezing, GAA and boxing. I'm writing this blog for myself but I would like to think at least some of what I write appeals to a wide variety of people. Any comments, suggestions or feedback on my maiden foray into the world of blogging would be appreciated.

Friday 27 July 2007

Music - New Music DiscoVery

Back in the old days, before sites and programs like and bittorrent, discovering and procuring good new music involved older siblings/savvy friends, reading music magazines, actually going to music shops and copying tapes. In hindsight, maybe there was more of a sense of involvement or reward when you had to work so hard to find music that wouldn't ever appear in "Now that's what I call music vol. 34". Public recognition for independent artists seemed to take much longer and when you 'discovered' a new act it often felt like you had a precious object in your possession while the ignorant masses passed you by oblivious to its value. You would be bursting to tell your friends, but almost felt deceived when the act finally did hit the big time. One such artist for me was Damien Rice. I know he has many critics but that's not my point. We all have had one musician in the past that felt like they were almost singing for you. The first song I heard from him was with Lisa Hannigan. It's called 'The Professor' (despite coming from Meath her French accent is class).

What/Who was the equivalent song/ singer for you?

Despite today's nostalgia tinged blog, the music industry has never been more in the consumers' favour. The myriad of ways to access new music today is amazing. I'm too busy discovering new music to feel as possessive about one particular artist as I have in the past (just checked - 35 gigs of music on my computer!) . Nonetheless, the sense of ownership that I mentioned earlier can be recreated in a typically noughties way by actually buying a share of an undiscovered act through the site Quite like Daniel Ward-Murphy. Hands off!

Thursday 26 July 2007

Sport - Psychology

I recently found Martin C. Perry's outstanding website on sports psychology. One section of the site comments and analyses current sports events, from GAA to golf to tennis, from a psychological perspective.

He recently commented on Padraig Harrington's first Open Championship win.

It follows the revelation of Harrington's astute mental preparations. In the psychology of sport, it is wise to prepare precisely for the outcomes that you want.

Golf: Padraig Harrington - Future History

When assessing why a Open Championship play-off has been won by one player and not the other, you have to take into account age and experience. You have to factor in the quality of their game. Then and most importantly of all, you have to throw into the mix their mental application. How they would be thinking about themselves. Their last afternoon's work. Victory spurned. Their opponents. Any slivers of doubt and uncertainty would tilt the advantage away from them.

When we learn of Padraig Harrington's attitude to the play-off, it starts to become clear why he is now the Open Champion. When he went to the putting green, he looked at Bob Rotella and said, 'I'm good. When you see me out in the play-off, doing this with my hand (waving it in the air like a salute) you are going to think I'm waving, but I am raising the Claret Jug to the sky'.

This is the mental preparation of an Open Champion. He is preparing exactly for the outcome that he wants. He is establishing a mental blueprint. Creating future history. Like Muhammad Ali and his famous pre-fight predictions.

Harrington's raised arm to the crowd technique works on a number of levels. Firstly it puts him in the state or feeling of an Open Champion. A place beyond hope or maybe. Doubts removed. I am the Open Champion. This allows him to negotiate the play-off as the Open Champion in waiting. A place of strength.

Secondly the feeling becomes powered and enhanced by the ringing applause of the crowd. They are confirming him in his intention. Endorsing him. He is holding the Claret Jug aloft. They are applauding him. Should we be surprised that this outcome manifests itself twenty minutes later? As Marcus Aurelius said, 'You become what you think about'.

Sergio Garcia would have to be even better mentally prepared to win this battle. This play-off may not have come down to who was the best player. But who had done the smartest mental preparation. Padraig Harrington's thoroughness was worthy of a true champion.

I particularly like the line "You become what you think about". There is another great article on Meath's recent win over Galway in the football qualifiers. The principles apply for any team sport. It highlights the signs that show a team that doesn't really believe in itself.

GAA: Galway - In Search Of Trust

It's early in the first half of the third round All-Ireland football qualifier. Galway are enjoying plenty of possession against Meath. So far so good. It's not the possession thats the problem. It's what they do with it. Simple passes to colleagues are on. Play it - now! Keep the flow. Build momentum. Establish a rhythm. Give your colleague confidence. Show your faith in him. Build sequences. Create trust. Assess - Decide - Execute. That's the formula.

But no. Passes are delayed for no strategic advantage. Momentum is lost. Everything is safe. Too safe. Too cautious. For no gain. Poor decision making leading to poor outcomes. Shortly after, Meath score two decisive goals. They don't lack clarity of purpose.

These are classic signs of a team not in harmony with each other. Good teams play the simple ball. They find their rhythm. That tempo dictates the movement of the ball. It becomes contagious. Everyone wants to get involved. Trust builds trust. It feels electric. Watch Manchester United at their best. It's all rhythm and tempo. Football you can set to music.

When players are not given the simple pass, you have to ask why? Does the player with the ball not trust their colleague with possession? Is this not in the game plan? Have the team been over coached? Over coached so that they can't make a decision for themselves. This can happen. Or are players frightened of making a mistake. Scared of the risky ball. Playing in a culture where mistakes are not tolerated?

All of this can have an impact on decision making. A simple game is made difficult. The team know it. Uncertainty prevails. Everything becomes a struggle. Compounded by defeat. Only straight talk and honest appraisal can rid the team dynamic of these unwelcome ghosts.

Check this site out.

Art - Photography

Maybe yesterday's blog on appreciating art revealed a pretentious streak in me eager to validate my writing with something of substance. Even though I find I have to make an effort to appreciate fine art, I enjoy the process in general. Obviously a painting makes an instant visual impression but I need to labour through the other aspects I mentioned yesterday to gain a greater appreciation. I've never felt this way with photography.

A good photo will act as a catalyst of impressions, ideas, assumptions and theories for my racing brain. There is no need for a background story or any extra information. My eyes will drink in all they can from the image. I love faces - particularly old and young ones. The images below I have taken from (Photographers - Coroner, Alexsandra Radonic, Jeridaking)

The second photo isn't of the same standard visually as the other two, but I think it's great. Even though the man isn't Irish, it inspires me with all sorts of stories of past deals and shenanigans in general. Some people might think photography doesn't have the same capacity for interpretation but that second photo would appeal to a wide variety of people in many different ways. The first and third photos are breathtaking reflections of the beauty that we see everyday but often miss. Abre los ojos!

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Travel - Art of the Day

Whenever I spend a bit of time in any city I try to do the usual touristy things before getting up to the inevitable mischief after which appreciation for churches, statues and galleries is greatly diminished. I have been to some of the great galleries like the Tate Modern in London, the Prado and Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Van Gogh musuem in Amsterdam. I usually read the gallery captions and guides, buy the audio tour (best one ever was in Forbidden city in Beijing - voiced by the eyebrow himself ... Roger Moore), stand in front of as many paintings as I can and try to get an understanding of the artist's life and why, or for who, he painted them.

When it comes to paintings I feel I have to know this background information to truly appreciate them. This probably indicates my inability to simply appreciate a painting for what it is - a work of art. Nonetheless, despite my initial zeal , the tour is usually rushed through in the end, fast forwarding the audio commentary. Maybe this just isn't the way art should be seen. One great piece of art should be enough to contemplate and digest over a day. So ...

I have chosen one painting for the day. It's "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh.

Not very original I know but I liked the way it took a while to take in the full content of the painting. Initially, your eyes flicker over each of the exaggerated stars in the swirling night sky and then you realise there's a large, dark structure on the left that seems out of place with the quaint, cosy looking town below. Van Gogh painted this from memory in his room in an asylum. Maybe you could interpret this painting as revealing his sense of isolation on the fringes of society and despite all the beauty in the world, he still feels dark and lost - or else it's just a nice picture with some stars.

Below are the last 3 verses from the song "Starry Starry Night". Very melancholic, I know, but it's really a beautiful ode to a tragic man. These verses describe how even though he created beautiful works of art that would forever hang in "empty halls" they could never return his love so true ... cue throat clearing now.

Don McLean - Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
Like the strangers that you've met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will...

Monday 23 July 2007

Music - Sasha

Went to see Sasha last Friday night in the The Savoy in Cork. Great crowd - 3/4 full with a capacity of about 1000. Dance floor was comfortably full from about 11:30 on. Warm up DJ was class (name?) playing an upbeat brand of tech-house and interacting well with the growing crowd. There was some good house in the front bar as well which unfortunately doesn't really have space for dancing. The venue itself is fairly big with an upstairs viewing area which is ideal for people to ease into the main dancefloor later. Sasha came on at about 12 to a very receptive crowd. The atmosphere all round was excellent (see vid) which peaked during the middle of his 2 hour set.

One of the tunes of the night was - Electronic Battle Weapon 8 by The Chemical Brothers

Overall, a very good set but you really need 3 to 4 hours to get the best out of his sets. Some of the tunes were a little too chilled for a 2 hour set. Some people were complaining about the 30 yoyo asking price prior to the gig but I think anyone that went to the gig felt it was worth it. The sound system is fairly poor but any dance club that has an open comfortable setup, decent talent and doesn't have hassle/scumbags etc. is worth a few bob more that DJ Smashey in some normal club that you feel like you've been to a million times.

Ireland - Drink

Earlier this month, the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI) published a report outlining results of a survey on binge drinking. According to the survey, the average Irish person thinks a binge means 10 drinks or more. Meanwhile, health and addiction professionals use 'binge' to mean five units, which equals 2.5 pints of beer or three glasses of wine.

I understand these bodies probably have to be seen to take a hard line approach to our national alcohol consumption, but they have managed to categorise a huge percentage of the country as binge drinkers in one clumsy brush stroke. Maybe, 2 pints in one sitting is the ideal amount that we should strive for but the reality in Ireland is far removed from this. The front of the Sunday Times yesterday revealed a similar body from the US completed a study on alcoholism here because the Irish are "more culturally and genetically homogeneous than other nations, and because their drinking was among the highest of western countries". We certainly spend more than any other nation on alcohol and, unlike our soccer team, we are often top of the table in World and European consumption. Now, we are saying that people that have 3 pints of a Saturday evening in their local are binge drinkers as well. Whether this is true or not, it just casts a group of people that I imagine would pride themselves on their moderate imbibing in with the louts roaring in the street at 3am.

I think Tommy Tiernan gave a fairly good definition of binge drinking when he said "I've had four pints , anything after that and I only start acting the maggot". Obviously the amount varies for different people, but we all know that nice stage of drinking when we are nicely loosened out with 2/3 pints and the conversation is flowing and you're having the craic in general. It's a lovely place to be but next thing you know you're talking shite, throwing shapes at one of your younger sister's friends and doing something unbecoming on the dancefloor. Now, we've all had those nights and they can be great fun but after a while it becomes a set pattern and you don't choose to drink anymore. You just do.

It took me a while to break that cycle. At the start of this year, after an almighty 2 week bender my body just started physically refusing alcohol and I gave it up for almost 3 months. Since then , I have had 4/5 'big' nights but none have continued day after, like they would in the past. I have gone out a few nights and not drank at all but I do find it uncomfortable to stay in pub for a long time drinking minerals - not because I can't drink but because it's often too loud, packed and I hate fizzy drinks. While I was off the gargle , I read Alan Carr's book on drinking which was very logical and straightforward. He would reason that I was uncomfortable in the pub because I just didn't like it. Alcohol was only nulling my senses and I would imagine myself to be more comfortable. In some socials settings, I can be a tad shy when meeting new people and those first few drinks would help ease me into a conversation. Carr says people often take a while to settle and get comfortable in these situations anyway and I did find that I would relax after 20 minutes even without alcohol. He claims that alcohol is not only a poison but it stunts our development as people. We use it as a crutch to chat someone up, tell our boss what we really think of him or to talk to new people. Surely, we should be able to do this anyway. Although, I did start drinking again after reading the book I feel I now choose to drink on a night out. Some nights I might choose not to drink. Before, it was always a given that I would drink on a Saturday night without any thought as to whether I wanted to or not.

In the past, I think Irish people went out to chat, to sing, to dance, to play cards and have the craic in general. They still might have drank a big amount but that would have been secondary to whatever they were doing. Nowadays, Irish people stand around in packed bars where the music is too loud to talk or listen and we just check each other out while guzzling from bottles of American beer. By the end of the night, people have that hollow glazed look in their eyes and all control has been lost. The papers are depressingly full of reports of violence driven by alcohol.

I hope these alcohol awareness groups realise they are based in Ireland and infuse a sense of reality in what they strive to do. MEAS seem to be fairly switched in as I remember them organising quality non-alcoholic music and comedy gigs in college. Apparently, some softs drinks company is doing a promotion where designated drivers get free soft drinks for the night, which makes great sense as a Rock Shandy will cost more that a beer in pubs.

Maybe, heavy boozing is a stage some Paddys have to go through. I certainly did. It is the regaining a sense of control to pull back from the slippery slope that is often beyond many of us.

Sunday 22 July 2007

Funny - Panda

Sometimes, the stupidest, most innocent things brighten up your day.

Friday 20 July 2007

Travel - What the World Eats

Taken from some of the excellent photo galleries on the Time website.
I have included countries I have been to, but I can't say I ate like a local all the time. I normally eat a simple breakfast (muesli, bread, coffee) but in places like Japan breakfast was often just a smaller dinner with rice, seawood and some veg. I couldn't even stand the smell of such food in the morning but I'm sure they would react with equal disdain to an Irish breakfast.

Guatemala: The Mendozas of Todos Santos

Food expenditure for one week: 573 Quetzales or $75.70
Family Recipe: Turkey Stew and Susana Perez Matias's Sheep Soup

United States: The Fernandezes of Texas

Food expenditure for one week: $242.48
Favorite Foods: Shrimp with Alfredo sauce, chicken mole, barbecue ribs, pizza

France: The Le Moines of Montreuil

Food expenditure for one week: 315.17 euros or $419.95
Favorite Foods: Delphine Le Moine's Apricot Tarts, pasta carbonara, Thai food

Great Britain: The Bainton family of Cllingbourne Ducis
Food expenditure for one week:
155.54 British Pounds or $253.15
Favorite foods: avocado, mayonnaise sandwich, prawn cocktail, chocolate fudge cake with cream

Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City

Food expenditure for one week: 37,699 Yen or $317.25
Favorite foods: sashimi, fruit, cake, potato chips

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Favorite foods: pizza, crab, pasta, chicken

China: The Dong family of Beijing
Food expenditure for one week: 1,233.76 Yuan or $155.06
Favorite foods: fried shredded pork with sweet and sour sauce

Can't find relevant figures for Ireland, but I reckon for 2 kids, 2 adults it would be around €200, which at the moment is trading at $275.
Have never made it to the continent of Africa, but just thought I'd include Chad to show the other end of the spectrum.

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Favorite foods: soup with fresh sheep meat

Wednesday 18 July 2007

Oxegen '07 Part III

Unfortunately, I started to feel progressively worse as the day rolled on. Luckily, the Bacardi tent managed to nurse me back to health with some sweet house music. The excellent MC, who also provided some drum beats to the DJ, created a real feel-good atmosphere despite the sheets of rain teeming down outside. The very cool Irish funksters "Disconauts" played at some stage in there as well. Eventually, I got going again but my enthusiasm for dabbling in the various musical genres had greatly diminished and so I got down to business in the Dance Arena. Missed out on some acts I really wanted to see like Babyshambles, The Kooks, Bright Eyes, New Young Pony Club, Klaxons, and Razorlight but seeing all of these even in the best of conditions would take a serious amount of effort. Leber 2 Mud 3

Erol Alkan and Deep Dish kept me entertained for the evening but I thought they were nothing special at the same time. I felt there was very little diversity between some of the Dance Arena acts with most of them playing electronica sets with very little deviation. Felix the Housecat finished the arena on Saturday night and I've never been more disappointed by a DJ. In short, he was a disgrace. Dance music has long been criticised for extending a reverence and respect for DJs, who often do not even produce their own music. Huge sums of money and matching crowds have been the norm for big name DJs, particularly in the 90s. Many of my best nights have been in clubs with a good atmosphere, tunes and crowd with relatively unknown DJs. FTH has produced some great tunes, but can't mix. At one stage, he played Tainted Love by Marc Almond (totally out of place at the time) and then brought in the next tune with practically zero mixing. He later played "Ready 2 Wear", a tune I really like but had no place in an electronica set.

He finished his set fairly early, around 12:45, and then mentioned something about shooting off because of traffic!! He must know at this stage what people put up with at these festivals and he starts on about the M50. Do not waste your time ever going to see this DJ. He is everything that is wrong with dance music - taking exorbitant fees to play a sloppy set with little regard for his audience. Rant over.

Luckily, my faith in dance music was restored with interest on Sunday. My first viewing of Daft Punk far exceeded my humble expectations. I'd heard all the criticisms of the gallic duo (same live set, lack of new, quality material, huge fees etc.) and hadn't really listened to them much over the last few years. Nonetheless, they put on the greatest live show I've ever seen. The whole thing seemed tailored to perfection - every beat, bass and musical nuance was in unison with the unbelievable light show. Their songs were intermingled and intertwined to a point where you didn't know where some songs started or finished. At one stage, I thought the set was beginning to wind down when this was played ...

Still getting goosepimples watching that. Criticise all you want but as Maximus would say "Are you not entertained?". The best show I've ever seen was spent ankle deep in mud and I loved it. At that stage, I think I was at one with the mud. If you want to enjoy a festival like this, I reckon you have got to love and embrace the mud. Leber 3 Mud 3

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Oxegen '07 Part II

Despite not getting any sleep, I woke up they next morning more determined to get a more varied taste of the music on offer. With a breakfast fit for a champion, Nutri-grain bars and Devil's Bit cider, I donned my Air Max with a double helping of fresh, dry socks and ventured out of my tent. The site looked like it was recovering from a night of devastating air raids with shell shocked civilians murmuring quietly in groups sipping from tepid beverages. I also noticed that I was losing the sole of my right shoe. Leber 1 Mud 2.

With no bar open until 2:00pm, I was kicking myself (with the one sole) for not smuggling in me "Devil's Bit". Despite my earlier promises not to mention too many of the negative aspects of Oxegen, I realise I have mentioned the "mud" on quite a few occasions. It just seemed omnipresent at times curtailing your full enjoyment of some of the acts, but in this one moment as I looked around this great field with Mayo and Galway flags proudly rippling in the breeze, muck savages in Wrangler jeans wrestling each other like baby hippos in the mud and a soft rain drizzling overhead, I realised there could be no better setting than this for ... The Saw Doctors. "Bale 'em, bale 'em, hayhay!" The doctors always deliver when on call and this time was no different. Unfortunately, I don't think they played my favourite Doctor tune, "To win just once". Ye'll have to watch the Dubs getting beat as well on this clip - how bad!

One of my favourite Saw Doctors tune is the background music on this strange Russian engagement montage vid (Possibly genuine Borat soundalike at the start "It's very nice")

Next up were electro-soul-dance group, Unklejam. There were on at about 1:oopm in the New Bands tent. I wasn't expecting a whole lot, as I don't really like their admittedly catchy, main hit.

But, they were outstanding. They have 3 glammed up lead singers prancing around the stage belting out the tunes and generally getting the crowd going. All 3 displayed fantastic singing voices in unison and solo at different stages. They did a great cover of "7 nation army" and one soul song that started slow and finished in fantastic crescendo (possible cover. Anyone?).
7 Nation Army

Their attitude was fantastic on the day and my impression of them was reinforced when I read what they said about the gig on their site, "Most people at festivals are just trying to survive, so their very last priority is to make sure they look half way decent. When you arrive at the festivals it's way too easy to get sucked into this 'who gives a shit' mentality, and I for one very nearly went on stage wearing whatever the hell I'd fallen out of bed in. BUT NO, not the Jam, we braved the cold, the mud, the rain and glammed up in true UnkleJam fashion and went on that stage like we were playing the Albert Hall. Big up the Irish, you were stunning, loving, and fkin loud! and we'll be back". I certainly hope so. A cracking live band.

Sunday 14:00 - I had just procured my first beer of the day and I decided to forgo the option of drinking alfresco as it was lashing. Headed for the Dance Arena on the condition that I would leave before the hour was up. I was treated to, what I thought was, the best DJ set of the weekend. No sleep the night before, soggy runners and insufficient helpings of the cure hadn't put me in the best of moods but Cagedbaby perked me right up. Not a big fan of electronica but he played a brilliant set that was heard by an arena only 1/3 full, but had my sorry ass dancing for the full hour.

True to my word, I headed to the Pet Sounds tent with my first helping of proper(ish) food in 2 days (thai chicken noodles) and a bevy to see Miss Kate Nash. Only "discovered" her a few weeks ago but she seems to have a huge following and the tent was full. Her set was quite short but was top class. She switched a few times from piano, which she plays really well, to guitar and was just a cozy beacon of loveliness amid the swirling elements of hangovers, mud and evil that awaited us outside. "Foundations" got the biggest cheer from a crowd that seemed to be very familiar with her material (mostly young and female...cashback!). I love this tune but I think she lets herself down with the lines "You said I must eat so many lemons 'cause I am so bitter
I'd rather be with your friends mate 'cause they are much fitter" - far too Lilly Allen for my liking.
Here is the video but the live version floored me in how it managed to be bittersweet, melancholic and yet really uplifting. Leber certainly felt much the better man afterwards. Leber 2 Mud 2.

More to follow ...

Saturday 14 July 2007

Oxegen '07

Well, it's taken the bulk of the week to recover from the weekend that was Oxegen '07. Either my powers of recovery have greatly diminished or my capacity to imbibe has greatly increased. I won't repeat the gripes (mud, lots of) and shortcomings ("Lord of the Flies" themed campsite) of the festival, which have been highlighted in the Irish media over the last week. I will try and provide some impression of how my weekend went or, at some stages, didn't.

It all started out bright, optimistic with an unquenchable thirst for the beginning of a musical odyssey. Well, that thirst was well sated on the Friday night in Dublin with a two hour Korean banquet complete with evil Korean rice wine, Soju. My hopelessly optimistic festival timetable had to be drastically amended when I arrived at 2:00pm on the Saturday and struggled badly with the ol' tent construction. Having to eventually resort to reading the instructions I had previously put aside, with the disdain all men possess for such things, I concluded hangovers and anything with labels A, A1, B and B1 do not mix.

Can of cider in hand, I laboured through the heavy muck which seemed determined to wrench the old Air Max runners (official Skanger footwear, I know) from my feet and propel me face forward and shoeless to the floor . I possibly didn't give the aforementioned can due attention but made it to the entrance proudly vertical. The realisation that a weekend-long battle of wits with the stodgy matter lay ahead was beginning to dawn. Leber 1 Mud 0.

My hopelessly optimistic festival schedule (surely an oxymoron in itself) had to be amended already as I was 4 hours late. The Cribs, The View, The Rumble Strips, Director, and The Twang would sadly have to missed this time (Worth youtubing these bands). I might have ambled over to Avril Lavigne as well, if I happened to be passing... the main stage at 15:30, apparently). I just can't dislike the Canadian minx despite her gawdawful adolescent, punk- wannabe yelpings.

Caught the last tune of French duo, Justice, who apparently rocked the Dance Arena.

Their sing along sign-off was the catchy old number by Rage Against the Machine "Killing in the Name of" which would be quite different from their hit tune " D.A.N.C.E"

Not too sure whether I love or hate this tune. Possibly hate... unless drunk.

Was none too impressed that I had missed the Justice hour and stayed on for Booka Shade, who a few of my friends rave about. The duo play keyboards, drums, sing vocal lines and mix live on stage. I wanted to like it. I didn't. Maybe it was just me, but I found them boring. I don't think their sound was suited to the hangar type feel of the "Arena". They rock in this clip in a smaller venue.

After about an hour in the Dance Arena, I was getting anxious to see a few bands but then the heavens opened and my Air Max lodged a sit-down protest. I was going nowhere. Ended up staying there for most of the night which I regret now but at the time it suited me perfectly. Caught glimpses of The Gossip performance which involved Beth Ditto shaking her considerable booty around the stage in suitably green underwear.

I did manage to make a few sporadic missions between showers to the Bacardi tent, which played some excellent house, funk and jazz beats throughout the weekend. I was delighted to catch one of the greatest covers of a classic song ever, earlier in the day. Enjoy!

Disappointed that I didn't make it out for Kings of Leon, Badly Drawn Boy and Air, but I suspected that I knew my early entrance to the Dance Arena was always going to put any wanderings around the vast site with mud underfoot and rain overhead in jeopardy. Leber 1 Mud 1.

More to follow tomorrow... God it's great to have a functioning(semi-functioning) brain, again.

Friday 29 June 2007

Music - Ben Watt

Went to see house DJ Ben Watt (he of "Everything But The Girl" fame) last week in Fast Eddies, Cork. "Feddies" is a bastion of deep house in the deep south with resident DJs, Fish Go Deep (they of "Cure and the Cause"). Deep house wouldn't be my favourite form of dance music but had heard a lot of good things about Ben Watt.

I had braced myself for a lower tempo than I used to and some deep, rich vocals meandering over dissonant beats, but was very pleasantly surprised. The lolling breakdowns I associate with deep house didn't materialise, with Watt bringing the crowd with him from downbeat bliss to big bass lines to cheesy vocals to an unrelenting final encore.

1st tune on entering club
"Just a blip - Ben Watt"
Check it out

Mixed this next track later in brilliantly, let it play for a while and then brought in ...

a remix of a track I never liked but with an excellent remix that rocked the joint (can't find remix)

I always admire a DJ who is strong enough to play a bit of cheese without playing it for the sake of it. I think he rocked the place with a remix of
"You keep me hanging on"

A DJ mixing lower tempo music really has a lot more to do, with any flaws very evident. They have far more control over a crowd as opposed to a trance DJ where it almost exclusively has to be driven by high bpm's, crescendos, lasers and fast paced melodies. Vocals often veer to a very sickly of cheese e.g AVB "Black is the colour"??.

Some of the feedback from deep house aficionados wasn't very positive on Watt's set, but I found it a varied and skilled performance. Other forms of dance music definitely have a more euphoric and instantly gratifying effect - the culinary equivalent of a Big Mad - whereas Watt's set had a sense of journey and satisfaction at its finale.

Friday 22 June 2007

Sport - Bigger than this

Ever so often someone comes along and redefines the principles of a sport by being awesomely superior to everyone else. At their peak, they seem to become bigger than the very discipline they practice and are often deemed as a possible threat to the sport itself. Athletes such as Wilt Chamberlain, Sonny Liston, and Tiger Woods have all done this in the past. One of the athletes to do that in recent times was Mike Tyson.

His life story almost reads like a parody of a gutter-to-glory boxing story. Absent father, arrested 38 times by the age of 13 ,kept in juvenile detention centres until his boxing talent was noticed. He was then passed on to legendary boxing trainer Cus D'amato, who later became his legal guardian. D'amato became a father figure for him and helped develop (along with Kevin Rooney later)hand speed, accuracy, coordination, power, and timing along with his awesome natural strength.

Cus D'Amato

They also developed excellent defensive techniques with a Peek-a-Boo style where he slipped and weaved out of the way of the opponent's punches while closing the distance to deliver his own punches (you can really see this at 0:39 in the second clip).
Tyson's Training Routine

Tyson won 19 of his first 22 fights by knockout, 14 of which came in the first round. At the age of 20 years and 4 months became the youngest heavyweight champion in history.At that time he was around 222 lb (101 kg) with approximately 5.5% body fat, and 5 ft 11 in(180 cm).


D'Amato died in November, 1985, relatively early into Tyson's professional career. I think it would be far too simplistic to say this was the genesis for the troubles Tyson was to experience later as his life and career progressed. He later became heavily influenced by Don King and as a result got rid of his white trainer, Rooney. Known to be a gentleman one day, but capable of committing reprehensible acts the next, it's hard to figure out if Tyson was just a lost ghetto kid that never replaced the father figure of D'Amato or had the raw savagery of his boxing overtaken his persona. Undoubtedly, he was led astray by the people he surrounded himself with , like King ("I found out that someone I believed was my surrogate father, my brother, my blood figure turns out to be the true Uncle Tom, the true nigger, the true sellout. He did more bad to black fighters than any white promoter ever in the history of boxing"). Whatever your opinion, it's hard not to resist looking at the eye of the human storm, a glimpse of the god-given destructive powers of man.

Final Countdown (Cheesy song - excellent vid)

Thursday 21 June 2007

Irish Artists - Luke Kelly

Feeling a bit maudlin' today. Must be the sheets of dreary, june rain peppering the kitchen window. Had my music set to random and Luke Kelly's voice echoed around the house, and what a voice it is. Brims with power and emotion. The Irish seem to love people who can make them laugh and cry within a short few breaths. Polished performers who have perfected their trade over years never seem quite as real as someone like Kelly who believed in what he sang. He recorded songs dealing with social issues, the arms race, workers' rights and nationalism while never appearing aloof from his audience, his people.

I don't know whether he resonates as powerfully with people from outside Ireland, but some of his songs never fail to draw me in and cause even a little throat clearing.

His version of "Raglan Road" came about when the poem's author, Patrick Kavanah heard him singing in a pub in Dublin city then called the Bailey. After some initial reluctance he came up with this.

And then there's this. One of the few songs that made my heart feel like bursting at the first listen.
Songwriter: Phil Colclough

Walking all the day, near tall towers
where falcons build their nests
Siver winged they fly,
they know the call of freedom in their breasts
Saw Black Head against the sky
with twisted rocks that run down to the sea
Living on your western shore,
saw summer sunsets, asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
and sang a song for Ireland

Talking all the day with true friends
who try to make you stay
Telling jokes and news,
singing songs to pass the night away
Watched the Galway salmon run
like silver dancing darting in the sun
Living on your western shore
saw summer sunsets, asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
and sang a song for Ireland

Drinking all the day in old pubs
where fiddlers love to play
Someone touched the bow,
he played a reel
it seemed so fine and gay
Stood on Dingle beach
and cast in wild foam we found Atlantic bass
Living on your western shore,
saw summer sunsets asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
and sang a song for Ireland

Dreaming in the night I saw a land
where no man had to fight
Waking in your dawn
I saw you crying in the morning light
Lying where the falcons fly,
they twist and turn all in you e'er blue sky
Living on your western shore,
saw summer sunsets asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
and sang a song for Ireland

But he was also some man for the craic, which just added to his persona and ability to connect with people.

Octopus jig - Encore!

Take her up to Monto

Love the last verse -
The Queen she came to call on us,
She wanted to see all of us
I'm glad she didn't fall on us, she's eighteen stone.
"Mister Me Lord Mayor," says she,
"Is this all you've got to show me?"
"Why, no ma'am there's some more to see, Pog mo thoin!"

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Sport - Choking and Chokers

Some of us are blessed with more natural ability than others. That doesn't mean you have to be naturally good at something to excel. Ability can be drilled and trained. You may need to augment that ability with other factors such as heart and hunger, but it can be done. The problems start when you doubt that ability, natural or otherwise. When you have to think about something that you should be doing naturally is when the problems start. Here's a great article on choking.

The Art of Failure
By Malcolm Gladwell.

There was a moment, in the third and deciding set of the 1993 Wimbledon final, when Jana Novotna seemed invincible. She was leading 4-1 and serving at 40-30, meaning that she was one point from winning the game, and just five points from the most coveted championship in tennis. She had just hit a backhand to her opponent, Steffi Graf, that skimmed the net and landed so abruptly on the far side of the court that Graf could only watch, in flat- footed frustration. The stands at Center Court were packed. The Duke and Duchess of Kent were in their customary place in the royal box. Novotna was in white, poised and confident, her blond hair held back with a headband--and then something happened. She served the ball straight into the net. She stopped and steadied herself for the second serve--the toss, the arch of the back--but this time it was worse. Her swing seemed halfhearted, all arm and no legs and torso. Double fault. On the next point, she was slow to react to a high shot by Graf, and badly missed on a forehand volley. At game point, she hit an overhead straight into the net. Instead of 5-1, it was now 4-2. Graf to serve: an easy victory, 4-3. Novotna to serve. She wasn't tossing the ball high enough. Her head was down. Her movements had slowed markedly. She double-faulted once, twice, three times. Pulled wide by a Graf forehand, Novotna inexplicably hit a low, flat shot directly at Graf, instead of a high crosscourt forehand that would have given her time to get back into position: 4-4. Did she suddenly realize how terrifyingly close she was to victory? Did she remember that she had never won a major tournament before? Did she look across the net and see Steffi Graf--Steffi Graf!--the greatest player of her generation?

On the baseline, awaiting Graf's serve, Novotna was now visibly agitated, rocking back and forth, jumping up and down. She talked to herself under her breath. Her eyes darted around the court. Graf took the game at love; Novotna, moving as if in slow motion, did not win a single point: 5-4, Graf. On the sidelines, Novotna wiped her racquet and her face with a towel, and then each finger individually. It was her turn to serve. She missed a routine volley wide, shook her head, talked to herself. She missed her first serve, made the second, then, in the resulting rally, mis-hit a backhand so badly that it sailed off her racquet as if launched into flight. Novotna was unrecognizable, not an élite tennis player but a beginner again. She was crumbling under pressure, but exactly why was as baffling to her as it was to all those looking on. Isn't pressure supposed to bring out the best in us? We try harder. We concentrate harder. We get a boost of adrenaline. We care more about how well we perform. So what was happening to her?

At championship point, Novotna hit a low, cautious, and shallow lob to Graf. Graf answered with an unreturnable overhead smash, and, mercifully, it was over. Stunned, Novotna moved to the net. Graf kissed her twice. At the awards ceremony, the Duchess of Kent handed Novotna the runner-up's trophy, a small silver plate, and whispered something in her ear, and what Novotna had done finally caught up with her. There she was, sweaty and exhausted, looming over the delicate white-haired Duchess in her pearl necklace. The Duchess reached up and pulled her head down onto her shoulder, and Novotna started to sob.

Human beings sometimes falter under pressure. Pilots crash and divers drown. Under the glare of competition, basketball players cannot find the basket and golfers cannot find the pin. When that happens, we say variously that people have "panicked" or, to use the sports colloquialism, "choked." But what do those words mean? Both are pejoratives. To choke or panic is considered to be as bad as to quit. But are all forms of failure equal? And what do the forms in which we fail say about who we are and how we think?We live in an age obsessed with success, with documenting the myriad ways by which talented people overcome challenges and obstacles. There is as much to be learned, though, from documenting the myriad ways in which talented people sometimes fail.

"Choking" sounds like a vague and all-encompassing term, yet it describes a very specific kind of failure. For example, psychologists often use a primitive video game to test motor skills. They'll sit you in front of a computer with a screen that shows four boxes in a row, and a keyboard that has four corresponding buttons in a row. One at a time, x's start to appear in the boxes on the screen, and you are told that every time this happens you are to push the key corresponding to the box. According to Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, if you're told ahead of time about the pattern in which those x's will appear, your reaction time in hitting the right key will improve dramatically. You'll play the game very carefully for a few rounds, until you've learned the sequence, and then you'll get faster and faster. Willingham calls this "explicit learning." But suppose you're not told that the x's appear in a regular sequence, and even after playing the game for a while you're not aware that there is a pattern. You'll still get faster: you'll learn the sequence unconsciously. Willingham calls that "implicit learning"--learning that takes place outside of awareness. These two learning systems are quite separate, based in different parts of the brain. Willingham says that when you are first taught something--say, how to hit a backhand or an overhead forehand--you think it through in a very deliberate, mechanical manner. But as you get better the implicit system takes over: you start to hit a backhand fluidly, without thinking. The basal ganglia, where implicit learning partially resides, are concerned with force and timing, and when that system kicks in you begin to develop touch and accuracy, the ability to hit a drop shot or place a serve at a hundred miles per hour. "This is something that is going to happen gradually," Willingham says. "You hit several thousand forehands, after a while you may still be attending to it. But not very much. In the end, you don't really notice what your hand is doing at all."

Under conditions of stress, however, the explicit system sometimes takes over. That's what it means to choke. When Jana Novotna faltered at Wimbledon, it was because she began thinking about her shots again. She lost her fluidity, her touch. She double-faulted on her serves and mis-hit her overheads, the shots that demand the greatest sensitivity in force and timing. She seemed like a different person--playing with the slow, cautious deliberation of a beginner--because, in a sense, she was a beginner again: she was relying on a learning system that she hadn't used to hit serves and overhead forehands and volleys since she was first taught tennis, as a child. The same thing has happened to Chuck Knoblauch, the New York Yankees' second baseman, who inexplicably has had trouble throwing the ball to first base. Under the stress of playing in front of forty thousand fans at Yankee Stadium, Knoblauch finds himself reverting to explicit mode, throwing like a Little Leaguer again.

Which brings us to Mayo, a team that seem to ooze confidence at times but four times in ten years, 1996 to 2006, failed miserably when it mattered most, all-ireland day.

They lost after a reply in 1996 and seemed primed to win against Kerry a year later. They played poorly and came up against the most naturally talented footballer of recent times, Maurice Fitzgerald. Even gifted footballers couldn't train themselves to imitate this man.

Although, they're not that clear in this clip. I love the screams of disbelief around 3:05