Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Lucky Parrot

Ginny at the Luck Parrot in 2005.

Ginny Moore, the owner of the Lucky Parrot on Bellevue Road, bordering Wandsworth Common, has died after a long illness. Ginny made her shop a treasure trove for children and their parents for 30 years.

A memorial service was held for her at St Mary Magdalene Church, Trinity Road on 9th April 2010. Click the heading for some photos of The Lucky Parrot and the crowd at her memorial service and here for video of a choir singing 'Once In Royal David's City' outside in the winter of 2006.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Thoughts on Facebook and Skype

Click the heading for some discussion about Facebook and the internet generally. Contrary to what many people still think, it’s not a ‘zero-sum’ game, but instead adds exponentially to the ease with which we can interact with each other.

I was at lunch with a much older friend the other day and he asked me about Facebook. Needless to say, he didn't like the idea at all; few people of even of my age are comfortable with it but I tried to explain it to him as being like a series of postcards that you exchange with your friends – and only your friends – the additional factor being that most of your friends can see the postcards and comment on them if they wish. He still didn't like it. Oh well; despite that fact that I do still send a lot of real-lfe postcards, I wonder if he'll be proved right and I'll be seen as a shallow fellow, over-ready to adopt modern systems of self-gratification. One of my friends  Skypes me a lot and I find that takes too much of my time. I would prefer short messages on FB and longer conversations on the telephone. Unlike the phone, one is a little self-conscious on Skype (particularly as others can hear both sides of the conversation) and one can also be distracted by the keyboard and screen and liable to start footling around on the internet rather than concentrating on the conversation. On the other hand, self-consciousness diminishes on FB and one finds one's voice - mocking, ironic, literary or whatever - so that others become comfortable with your particular output and you theirs. 

I still think that FB adds a considerable amount to the sum of human happiness and detracts but a little.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Fine Cell at the V&A

The Fine Cell Event at the V&A. Click the heading for more photos and a video.

On 25th March Fine Cell held a sale and auction at the V&A which was enormously well attended. A quilt made by prisoners at HMP Wandsworth, bearing the embroidored signatures of various well-known people, was sold for £5500. The event was supported by Sir Mark Jones, the Director of the V&A and Lord Ramsbotham.

Other Fine Cell Events
Drapers Hall 2008
Leathersellers Hall 2009

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Gherkin

The view from the top floor of the Gherkin towards the Tower, Tower Bridge and the Armadillo (the Mayor's building). The huge building on this side of the river is the insurance broker Marsh.
The Gherkin - otherwise known as the Swiss Re building or 30 St Mary Axe, stands where my office used to be before the IRA blew up the Baltic Exchange with a bomb in 1992 (in the mistaken belief that it was the Stock Exchange). The bomb caused £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland up to that point. Thomas Miller had already moved some years before, but it was still a salutary experience as we hadn't moved very far, and when we were finally allowed back in I found broken glass on the chair in my office in Holland House.

Baltic Exchange Chambers - 14-20 St Mary Axe - in 1980

Sunday, 21 March 2010

United Guilds' Service 2010

The City Livery Companies - the Guilds - hold their annual service at St Paul's.

The history of the service is recorded on the service sheet thus:

'At a meeting of the Masters and Prime Wardens of the Twelve Great Companies, held at Goldsmiths' hall on February 1st 1943, it was decided to hold a service in St Paul's Cathedral for the Livery Companies and Guilds of the City of London. The idea behind the service was to help lift the spirits of the City following the Blitz during the Second World War.

Having regard to the religious origins of the Companies, Thursday 25th March, 1943, Lady Day, was selected as the date for the service, being the first day of the year according to the Julian Calendar. The Right Honourable the Lodr Mayor of London, Sir Samuel Joseph, attended along with the Sherrifs and Court Aldermen and the Right Reverend The Lord Bishop of London, Dr GF Fisher, preached the sermon.

As far as records show, this was the first occasion on which all the livery Companies and Guilds of the City combined to hold a religious service. Since then, it has become an annual event and remains one of the few occasions in the calendar at which the Livery Companies and Guilds of the City can gather together as a whole.'

On this occasion, the Dean, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles gave the Bidding, and the sermon was preached by the Right Reverend Graham James, Bishop of Norwich. The Bishop of London gave the Blessing.

I was lucky enough to attend with some fellow liverymen of the Drapers Livery Company.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Handy Man's Workshop Tool Definitions

I am not usually given to posting witty definitions, but these are too good to miss.

DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal pieces out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, splattering it against that freshly painted project part you are working on.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprint whorls and hard-earned guitar calluses in about the time it takes you to say, "Ouch...."

ELECTRIC HAND DRILL: Normally used for spinning pop rivets in their holes until you die of old age.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads.

HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle. It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

VISE-GRIPS: Used to round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

OXYACETYLENE TORCH: Used almost entirely for setting various flammable objects in your shop on fire. Also handy for igniting the grease inside the wheel hub you want the bearing race out of.

WHITWORTH SOCKETS: Once used for working on older cars and motorcycles, they are now used mainly for impersonating that 9/16 or 1/2 socket you've been searching for the last 15 minutes.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed your new disk brake pads, trapping the jack handle firmly under the bumper.

EIGHT-FOOT LONG 2X4: Used for levering an automobile upward off a hydraulic jack handle.

TWEEZERS: A tool for removing wood splinters.

PHONE: Tool for calling your neighbors to see if he has an other hydraulic floor jack.

SNAP-ON GASKET SCRAPER: Theoretically useful as a sandwich tool for spreading mayonnaise; used mainly for getting dog poo off your boot.

E-Z OUT BOLT AND STUD EXTRACTOR: A tool ten times harder than any known drill bit that snaps off in bolt holes you couldn't use anyway.

TWO-TON ENGINE HOIST: A tool for testing the tensile strength on everything you forgot to disconnect.

CRAFTSMAN 1/2 x 16-INCH SCREWDRIVER: A large prybar that inexplicably has an accurately machined screwdriver tip on the end opposite the handle.


TROUBLE LIGHT: The home mechanic's own tanning booth. Sometimes called a drop light, it is a good source of vitamin D, "the sunshine vitamin," which is not otherwise found under cars at night. Health benefits aside, it's main purpose is to consume 40-watt light bulbs at about the same rate that 105-mm howitzer shells might be used during, say, the first few hours of the Battle of the Bulge. More often dark than light, its name is somewhat misleading.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the lids of old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splash oil on your shirt; but can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads.

AIR COMPRESSOR: A machine that takes energy produced in a coal-burning power plant 200 miles away and transforms it into compressed air that travels by hose to a pneumatic impact wrench that grips rusty bolts last over tightened 58 years ago by someone at Vickers, and neatly rounds off their heads.

PRY BAR: A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a part.

HOSE CUTTER: A tool used to cut hoses too short for their intended purpose.

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts not far from the object we are trying to hit.

MECHANIC'S KNIFE: Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents such as new racing seat pads, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund cheques, and rubber or plastic parts.

DAMMIT TOOL: Any handy tool that you grab and throw across the garage while yelling "DAMMIT" at the top of your lungs.

It is also the next tool that you will need.

Taken from Sam Ignarski's Newsletter Bow Wave

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Agony of Shipping Casualties

Selendang Ayu. Click for large
A photo of the Selendang Ayu, a bulk carrier which suffered an engine failure and grounded off the Aleutian Islands in December 2004. Photo by the USCG who rescued all but seven of the crew.

Despite being involved with shipping all my working life, I am surprised to realise that apart from a couple of early entries, there is almost nothing on this Journal about shipping or the shipping casualties which took up a good proportion of my days. I spoke a bit about it in my retirement speeches in London and Japan but may now add some more examples.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

More Wise Advice

More wise advice from Sally Brampton who writes in the Sunday Times. I put an earlier piece of her advice on this Journal here There is also a sample of Eric Berne's marvellous book 'Games People Play' - which Sally recommends as well.

All you need is love, right?
Wrong! It takes a whole lot more to make a relationship work

If there is one area in our lives where most of us struggle, it’s relationships. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they can be improved. It takes hard work, but anybody who says, “If you have to work at it, it’s not worth it”, is probably in denial or an unreconstructed romantic in search of Miss or Mr Right — who, guess what, they never succeed in finding.

With two failed marriages behind me (I’m now, happily, on my third), I take an intense personal interest. We learn how to have relationships from our parents, and some of us are taught rather better than others. My early lessons were not good and, eventually, I was in such despair that I took myself off to therapy to learn how to undo some of my more destructive habits and responses. I am still learning and I still get things wrong (old habits die hard), but one thing I do know is that negative behaviours aren’t written in stone.

Recently, I was having dinner with a girlfriend who has the best marriage I’ve ever seen. She and her husband like each other and laugh a lot, but it can’t simply be put down to good luck, right man, right woman. Perhaps that’s why I study them with more than forensic interest. At dinner, she was telling a story about her mother: “I was so angry when I put down the phone, I had to call a friend and unload before he came home so I didn’t dump it all over him.”

Unloading high emotion or anger before my husband walks through the door had simply never occurred to me (as I say, a rubbish early education), so it struck like an epiphany that it’s not so much what those friends do, as what they don’t, that makes their marriage work. Call it reverse psychology. It’s all very well to be told to be gentler, kinder or more tolerant, but such well-intentioned instructions are so wildly abstract that they are close to meaningless. Understanding what we shouldn’t do, rather than what we should, might provide a better and more useful insight. In that spirit, I made my own list of 10 relationship no-no’s.

1 Don’t blame somebody else for the way that we feel

We have to take responsibility for our own emotions, rather than handing them over to our intimate other. And we should not confuse their emotions with our own. Say our other half comes home and yells at us about something inconsequential because they’re stressed at work. Our first response is to take it personally and feel aggrieved. Better to take a step back and look at what’s really bothering them. A little empathy, a simple question — “Are you okay?” — can defuse a potential row in a way that hostility met by hostility never can.

2 Don’t to try to change the other person

In trying to change someone, we’re playing the “if only” game, as in, “if only you were tidier/more sociable/less complaining/more generous, our relationship would be fabulous”. We cannot change other people. All we can change is our own responses and behaviour. That doesn’t make us total wimps, nor does it mean we can’t ask for what we want or need. We can, but as adults, not as children. Adults explain, children complain, which takes us straight to rule No 3.

3 Don’t use the word ‘you’, replace it with the word ‘I’

Take charge of your own feelings, as in, “I feel this when you do that”, rather than, “You did this and made me feel that way”. Say your husband (or wife; bad behaviour is gender-free) never helps out around the house. We can explain that we’d like it if they helped more, or we can complain that they never help, which takes us to rule No 4.

4 Ban the words ‘never’ and ‘always’

They are almost always accusatory, as in, “you never empty the dishwasher” or “you always forget my birthday”. Add a jabbing finger and you have almost definitely moved into blame territory. Along with blame comes criticism and its bitchy close relation, contempt — both are poisonous to a relationship. If there are sticking points that can’t seem to get resolved, appeal to somebody’s good nature — “I wish you’d remember my birthday, it really upsets me when you don’t” is far more likely to result in ribbons and roses than snide comments about selective memory, just as contemptuous remarks about how remarkable it is that dishwashers load themselves are far more likely to mean you end up with a sink full of dirty plates.

5 Don’t be defensive

It’s simply another form of blame, as in “it’s not my fault” (it’s yours). Trying to see another person’s point of view is not stepping down, it’s stepping forward. It is not a sign of weakness but of strength. It takes generosity to put ourselves in another’s shoes, and if relationships thrive on any single gesture, it is to take our personal feelings out of the situation and show generosity.

6 Don’t sulk or stonewall

Men are particularly good at this; usually on the pretext they are “just keeping their head down”. Silence can be a form of punishment (as hostile in its own way as noisy anger) and refusing to engage makes conciliation impossible.

7 Don’t keep a battle going

Learn to accept an apology as well as to apologise, not necessarily for the action (sometimes we are right to be angry), but for the situation: “I’m sorry we had such a silly quarrel”.

8 Don’t make assumptions about other people’s behaviour

How can we learn not to do this? By stopping and asking ourselves a few simple questions: “How do I know if that’s really true? Am I overdramatising this?” We might, for example, assume somebody is late because they don’t care, whereas the truth is that they can be late for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with us. Other forms of mind-reading include expecting other people to fulfil our wants and needs without stating them clearly (“he/she should know”) and are based on yet another assumption: “If he/she loved me, he/she would know.” Nobody, however intimate, is clairvoyant.

9 Don’t be controlling

Your other half might be rubbish at cooking, but constant interference is not going to make them any better. People are imperfect, even the ones we love, and control is a form of game-playing. If you set somebody up, they will almost always fail. One game couples like to play is withholding affection or sex, but the real casualty, often fatally wounded, is the relationship, as both people draw further apart. Another form of game-playing is victim. “I was only trying to help” is a subtle, manipulative form of control.

10 Have good manners

Not in the sense of frigid politeness (which can be as riddled with contempt as outright insults), but as in treating your other half as you would your closest friends: with respect, affection and tolerance. If there’s one thing that has always struck me about those friends with a good marriage, it is that they are unfailingly considerate of each other. If you can do all that, you’re a better creature than I am, but what I can truly say is that I try. Where there’s a will or, to paraphrase, a willingness, there’s almost always a way.

Sally Brampton in the Sunday Times

Helpful reading: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver (Orion £8.99). Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric Berne (Penguin £8.99)

Favourite Places - St Ronan's

Usually, when one returns to a place one knew as a child, it seems smaller. Not so the huge old house and great cedar in the drive at my prep school, St Ronan's. Click the heading for some more photos from the visit, including some of the soon to be completed sports hall for which the school raised nearly £100,000 more than its target, showing how well-regarded it still is.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Joy of YouTube

Pablo Casals playing The Song of the Birds at the UN

YouTube is a phenomenon that has no equal. On its vast databases are all the music of one's youth, performances or interviews with people who were heroes to one's parents, glorious songs from different countries, business interviews, virtuoso performances of every classic piece that one might long to hear, instructional videos of every description and of course film clips (and sometime complete films).

This wonderful facility is completely free to the user (thanks to Google) and is even available hand-held on the iPhone. This is truly one of the wonders of the modern age.

Lord Mayor's Dinner at the Guildhall

The Lord Mayor, Nick Anstee, gave a dinner for the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma at the Guildhall on 4th March 2010. It was the usual ceremonial affair, beautifully done. The Gloucesters added some royal flavour and Mandleson was the principal government representative. Little of substance was said in the speeches, though Zuma did lay unusual stress on the point that nationalisation of the mines was not the government's policy.....Click the heading for some photos