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English: The Red-eyed Tree Frog (Litoria chlor...

English: The Red-eyed Tree Frog (Litoria chloris) found in eastern Australia. Français : Litoria chloris, une grenouille arboricole de l’est australien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the story goes, if you throw a frog into a pan of boiling water, the frog immediately realises the danger and jumps out. If, however, you put the frog in a pan of tepid water and apply heat to the pan until the water boils, the frog stays put and slowly cooks and dies. I’m not a chef or a reptologist and I certainly haven’t performed this experiment to check the results, but it’s a good analogy for resistance to change.

In some ways, the human psyche is hard-wired against change. The brain works on success strategies, and once it finds one that succeeds in a given situation, then that becomes the brain’s go to guy when those events arise. It’s a very successful method. We don’t need to touch a flame more than once to realise it’s going to hurt and we soon gain a healthy respect for heights after a few falls.

When it comes to our working lives, it works the same way. We work out how to speak to people to get results (although I think this particular skill peaks at the age of 4). We work out the best way to word an email, apply for a job and ask for a pay rise. It’s not usually particularly scientific. We rely on trial and error, but once we work out a winning formula, the brain locks in that strategy.

One of the worst things about the brain is that it is a creature of habit. Once it has picked up a way of behaving, it is highly reluctant to change. After all, if something’s worked loads of times before, why wouldn’t you trust it to work again?

This would all be great if nothing changed. Unfortunately, everything does.

People change. Not only do people join and leave organisations all the time, but even the people who don’t learn new skills or go through new experiences that change their outlook on life. Technology changes all the time. In a living breathing organisation, processes change. In society, expectations of what’s OK and what’s unacceptable change. Our perspective changes every time we learn more about everything around us. When you think about it, there is very little that doesn’t change, so the circumstances in which we learned our success strategies gradually are unlikely to be repeated.

It makes sense to ask yourself occasionally whether you feel like a boiling frog. Have you changed enough to cope with all that’s changed around you?

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The Holy Land

English: Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Gethseman...

English: Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Church of all nations Deutsch: Jerusalem, Ölberg, Kirche aller Nationen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Catholic Priest travelled to the Vatican one year. During his visit, he couldn’t fail to notice a large phone made of solid gold.

He asked a nearby Cardinal about the phone. The Cardinal explained that it was a hotline to God. The Priest asked if he could use it.

“Of course!” said the Cardinal, “But it will cost you $10,000 per minute.”

The Priest would dearly have liked a tête-à-tête with the Almighty, but he realised to his despair that it lay beyond his means.

The following year, the Priest went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During his visit, he saw an identical phone. He asked a nearby Rabbi about the phone. The Rabbi explained that it was a hotline to God and that calls cost $1 per minute.

“1$ per minute! said the Priest. “But it costs $10,000 per minute from the Vatican.”

“Ahh” – said the Rabbi. “Here it’s a local call.”

We were luck enough to visit the Holy Land whilst on holiday to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We don’t consider ourselves religious, but that does not diminish the allure of seeing where it all happened thousands of years ago. Although it was an exhausting trip, it was an enlightening couple of days. Just about everywhere you could think of that was mentioned in the bible was on the itinerary.

We saw where it all began with the Annunciation in Nazereth and where it will all end according to Revelations at Har Megiddo (or Armageddon) which looked like a surprisingly ordinary place for the end of the world. We saw where Jesus was born in Bethlehem and where he ultimately met his demise at Calgary. Unfortunately, because we were there the day before the pope, the Last Supper room was closed, as was the Church of Gethsemane, although we were allowed a brisk wander around the garden. We stood at the top of the Mount of Olives and bobbed about in the Dead Sea.

We went for a dip in the river Jordan. Just walking down the steps required faith because it was absolutely stacked with catfish. You had to just hope that the fish would get out of the way as you stepped in. Our guide assured us that it was OK because all the fish had been baptised. Although we pushed our slips of paper into the wailing wall, we declined to join in the wailing.

It was incredibly busy. It’s sometimes hard to think of a place as being holy when you’ve been hustled and bustled by a large crowd. One lady in particular tried to make me a eunuch using her large and heavy rucksack. There was nearly a punch up between our guide and an Armenien tour guide in the Church of the Nativity. We had all queued up, whereas his group had sneaked in through the exit and jumped the queue. All of the churches were built a long time after the real events, so often, the provenance of the sites could be doubtful.

The non-biblical stuff was interesting too. We bobbed around in the Dead Sea, and we went through the enormous wall between Israel and Palestine into the Occupied territories (or the Disputed West Bank depending on your preference). It’s sad to see such a dividing line, but as our tour guide said, the terrorism has all but stopped since it’s construction. Even despite the wall, the transition between the two states is marked. Israel seemed very well-kept whereas in Palestine, the fields were littered with discarded plastic, old tyres and other detritus.

It surprised me how safe it all felt. There is not a soldier on every street corner as sometimes comes across in the press. Our guide seemed very balanced, but it would have been nice to get more of the Palestinian side of the story.

Did it make me more religious? Well no – but it gave me an appreciation of why things are so very complex in the Middle East.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,400 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ever been scared out of your wits? Yes and no…

English: Pizza slicer or cutter

English: Pizza slicer or cutter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever known sheer terror? That heart-stopping feeling where you know there is a high likelihood of shuffling off this mortal coil? I know of one time when I felt that fear and another when I should have, but didn’t. In general, I am a stranger to fear. Sure, I get nervous before I give a big presentation or just before I do something which is important to me, but that’s not true fear. That’s its close cousin, known in this country as the collywobble or the heebie-jeebies.

In hindsight, the time when I should have felt fear was on an aeroplane. Myself and a colleague were on the way back from a regular trip to India. We left it too late to book a direct flight, so the plane was on final approach into Dubai. Everything seemed normal. The seatbelt signs were on and we descended nicely towards the airport. The flight was only half full and everyone had plenty of room.

All of a sudden, the plane violently climbed and veered left.

From the galley, we could hear the sound of something crashing to the floor. An overhead locker burst open and a bag flew out. I looked at the aircrew strapped into the jump seat in front of us. One of them looked very nervous indeed. The other was in frantic conversation on the phone to someone (maybe the cockpit). She put the phone down, signalled to her colleague and they both made their way to the galley.

The plane shook violently now and descended again. A man released himself from his seat, clutched his chest and screamed for help in a language I didn’t understand. The stewardess told him to get back to his seat. He promptly collapsed in the aisle and they dragged him into the galley. I should have been scared out of my wits, but wasn’t. I felt cool as a cucumber and turned to my colleague and made a joke about whether this was it. Were we about to meet our respective makers.

It was almost as if I knew that this wasn’t the time.

The time I came face to face with fear and looked him right in the eye, was on another trip. Maybe I should stop flying. Myself and a colleague were in an airport waiting for the flight home. We ordered a pizza whilst we waited for the plane. At some point whilst eating this pizza, a tiny piece of crust broke off and lodged itself in my airway. I couldn’t breathe. At first I thought it was temporary, but after a minute or so of not being able to catch a breath, I started to think I might die.

My colleague stood up and looked around the place. He had purpose in his eyes, like he knew exactly what to do. Just at the moment he leapt into action, my airway cleared. I could breathe once more. We both relaxed as I slowly caught my breath. Once I felt almost normal, I asked my colleague in a croak what he planned to do in that instant before I stopped choking.

He told me he was looking around for a sharp knife with which to slit my throat open so I could breathe. It was then I felt true terror.

Beware telling tales of the beast of the sea, for he just might be listening to thee…

"Erda bids thee beware"

“Erda bids thee beware” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We came together, fishermen three.
Telling tales of the beast of the sea.
Gathered we sat round the roaring fire,
accompanied by my trusty lyre.

I know I’ve heard that terrible beast
enjoys an ungodly dreadful feast.
He likes to swallow severed nipple
washed down with blood, his choice of tipple.

I know I’ve heard he has seven toes
arranged in oddly crooked rows.
On the end of each is a savage claw.
Many a soul has been gored before.

I know I’ve heard he has massive fangs
from which his last meal generally hangs.
With a massive roar, he opens wide,
lunging to capture his prey inside.

I know I’ve heard he attacks at night,
which truly is a terrible sight.
The only clue to impending slaughter,
is the sound of slowly dripping water.

Eventually we lay to sleep,
looking for slumber dreamy and deep.
The fire burned low. We began to doze.
Before, we wakened and then we froze.

What roused us from our fitful kip?
The sound of an insistent drip.
We strained to listen with growing fear,
the sound of dripping began to near.

At last we heard an unearthly roar,
and different dripping hit the floor.
Face to face with the beast of the sea,
We fishermen three chose to flee.

The tooth fairy

English: Tooth

English: Tooth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I can assure you, Mrs Bailey – he won’t feel a thing.”

The conversation happened above me. I lay reclined dwarfed by the dentist’s chair. The procedure the dentist was talking about was the removal of my last remaining milk teeth.

All but my eye teeth had come loose and had been carefully wrapped in tissue and placed beneath my pillow. The exchange rate at the time was 10p per tooth. The remaining nashers were worth 40p to me and I was all for their apparent painless removal.

“Is there anything else going on I should be aware of?” the dentist asked looking down at me.

I told him that one of the big teeth at the back of my mouth occasionally tickled when I ate.

“No problem at all. We’ll do that one too.”

A flash of concern crossed my mother’s face.

“You mean you’ll fill it?”

The dentist gave my mother a patronising smile as if speaking to an imbecile.

“Well, we could fill it, but in my experience, you fill them and fill them and fill them and eventually they have to come out, so let’s just short cut the whole palaver.”

Nervously, my mother nodded her assent and that was the end of the appointment. We booked the follow-up to remove the first two eye teeth and left the building. When we returned, the dentist was right. The roots on the milk teeth were so shallow that it took the slightest encouragement to remove them. There was no pain. We booked the follow-up to remove the second two. Again, we turned up and, yet again, there was no pain. A tiny bit of wiggling and the teeth came free. We booked the final appointment to remove the large tooth that tickled occasionally when I ate.

When we turned up, although nothing was said, something was different. Despite the lovely weather, the dentist closed the windows. He reached for a tool that looked much more industrial than any he needed to remove the 4 milk teeth. I started to feel afraid. He put the tool into my mouth and clamped down on my rear tooth. Hard.

Instead of the delicate wriggling of the previous appointments, he started to violently wrench the tool to and fro. There was pain and a horrible crunching noise deep within my skull. He brought his knee up onto my chest for leverage. I was terrified and cried out. I don’t know how long it went on for, but it felt like forever. Eventually, the tooth came free.

He held it aloft like a trophy. It dwarfed the milk teeth.

“You see – I said you wouldn’t feel a thing.”

I staggered out into the waiting room and as soon as my mother saw me, she knew something was terribly wrong.

To this day, I remain terrified of any dental procedure. Although they struck the dentist from the register, it’s no consolation to me or to anyone else he savaged through unnecessary and brutal work. I cannot wait for the day when everyone has invisible nanites toiling endlessly to maintain their teeth. Until then – I’ll just ask them to hit me over the head with mallet number 4 every time I need some work done.

My WordPress annual report…

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 16 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The bare naked truth

shower out

shower out (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The chances are that unless you are in a certain industry, the list of people you would be happy to be naked with has shrunk over time. I can think of precisely one – my partner. Under certain circumstances, I might allow others to see me naked, such as my physician. If you have been a naughty boy (or girl) you might be required to strip by law enforcement officers. But by and large, the situation is under your control.

If my personal situation were different, I might add people to the list. Kylie maybe, or the girl from Sky News perhaps but the point is it is entirely up to me.

If the recent furore about Princess Kate’s topless photos appearing in the press and the outrage over Prince Harry‘s drunken naked romp in Las Vegas is anything to go by, it is a big deal to the Royal Family too. Although somehow I suspect that William and Kate were more angry than Harry. Privacy is important to people and breeches of privacy can be very upsetting.

Some cultures are much more private than others. Muslim women who choose to wear hijabs and burkas do so for a reason, they wish to conceal their bodies from those that they do not wish to see it. Quite what they make of Western TV with flesh just about everywhere is beyond me. In other cultures, women quite happily walk round topless. If the rumours are true about the Swedes – they spend their lives getting naked together in saunas and hot tubs. But in this country, we don’t.

So why when you go to the swimming pool or the gym are there usually communal changing rooms and communal showers? Assuming I wish to avail myself of the facilities – I have to get naked with complete strangers, something I just wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. I know that the people in the shower are probably not remotely interested in my fine specimen of a body, but that’s not the point.

If I designed the facilities, I would have private cubicles, with underfloor heating. You would hand your clothes through a hatch to a waiting valet who would take them away and warm them ready for your return. The showers would be hot and would have nice adjustable shower heads.

And best of all – your privacy would be maintained at all times (unless of course you drag Kylie into your cubicle).

The time has come to say goodnight…

Danger Mouse (TV series)

Danger Mouse (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Entertainment on an aeroplane has come a long way since the first time I flew, but even so, it’s amazing how many times I find myself flicking through umpteen channels struggling to find something to watch. I try the documentaries first, but they are usually ones I’ve seen before. I then try the movies, but often find nothing I fancy. My secret is that I then turn to the children’s programs.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an episode of “In the Night Garden” on one particular flight. The guy sat next door to me looked at my strangely, so I leaned over and told him “This is the one where Iggle Piggle gets in Upsy Daisy’s bed”. Strangely enough, he didn’t speak to me for the rest of the flight.

When we were growing up, there was a fraction of the children’s TV programs that there are today. There were only a few channels and the schedulers of the day squeezed the entertainment for the young between the chat shows of the afternoon and the news at six. It was formulaic at best, typically starting with something for younger children, followed by a cartoon, then maybe some drama and rounded off by John Craven’s Newsround – a kind of round-up of the news for youngsters.

If you want to make yourself feel really old, change the office wi-fi password to the name of your favourite children’s program from your youth and then despair at how many people are too young to remember it. I couldn’t believe hoe many people in our office hadn’t heard of Grange Hill, a kind of school based soap opera – required viewing for any school child in my younger years.

Despite the limited viewing, there were some classics. Dangermouse was my favourite cartoon – and I loved his faithful sidekick Penfold who was forever coming out with “Crikey!”, “Crumbs!” or something similar. Jackanory was an unlikely formula. A star-studded cast read out children’s stories. If you haven’t heard a scary story narrated by Tom Baker – you haven’t lived.

These days, there are umpteen channels dedicated to children’s TV day and night. Nickelodeon, Nick Junior, Cbeebies, the Disney Channel are just a few of the stations on offer. In case you missed something, most of them have a +1 channel too. Not only that, but children can catch up on iPlayer. And if that weren’t enough, most programs are also available on YouTube. It’s a wonder that kids get any homework done these days.

If I get the opportunity, I like to watch the bedtime hour on Cbeebies with Maisie. It’s worth watching if only for the song that finishes it off;

The time has come to say goodnight,
To say sleep tight, ’til the morning light.
The time has come to say goodnight
at the end of  a lovely day.

We’ve had so much fun today.
Tomorrow’s just a dream away.
The time has come to say goodnight
at the end of a lovely day.

The romance of travel

"A fanciful view of future airship trave&...

“A fanciful view of future airship trave” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever I watch an old Indiana Jones film where they sneak their way onto an airship, I always feel a pang of jealousy that they are using a mode of transport that I probably never will. Modern aircraft feel so claustrophobic with their closely packed seats and tiny windows. The only way to stretch your legs is by dodging the trolley dollies and the toilet-goers in the extremely narrow aisles.

Airship gondolas are always depicted in films as luxurious, spacious affairs with uniformed attendants serving dinner at large tables. Because the gondola hangs below the airship, the passengers have an unimpeded view through the large picture windows. Progress is sedate and dependent on the wind direction, but I can’t imagine a more pleasant way to travel.

I really wouldn’t mind if it took me days to get somewhere. Fit wireless internet and you could even work up there, although if the films are anything to go by, you might get interrupted by the odd murder or gun-toting Nazis looking to take over the world.

I’m not sure I’d feel quite so nostalgic for travelling by ship. If I was travelling on business, according to company policy I’d be in steerage. According to Wikipedia, steerage means limited toilet use, no privacy and poor food. Sounds a bit like economy class on most airlines. The only trouble is that ships are slow. Living in cramped conditions with poor sanitation and loads of other people for extended periods of time leads to disease.

Steam trains hold a special place in my heart too. If I could get aftershave that was eau de steam train, I would buy bottles of the stuff. I simply can’t imagine a nicer smell. There is nothing like the drama of a big steam train pulling into a train station amid clouds of sweet-smelling steam and then pulling out again to a gradually increasing clamour of puffing.

I remember when trains had compartments and really comfortable seats. You also had a reasonable chance of sitting on them too. Trains seemed to be much less busy back then.

With the exception of personal transportation, like the motor car and motorbike, it seems that although transport has become much more efficient, it has also become much more cramped and uncomfortable. When are we going to see a new transport development that takes us back to travelling comfortably without breaking the bank?