A happy and blessed new year!

As 2011 draws to a close and a shiny new year looms, like many this evening I will be looking back on the highs and lows of what has gone before and hoping that 2012 is kind to me and mine.

Looking back it was another good year. When things seemed to take a turn for the worse they in fact brought blessings and new opportunities. When one door was closed others were opened.

Over the years this pattern has repeated itself time and again. My mother has always said, “What’s for you won’t pass you by” and I have to say there is a great deal of comfort to be had in this piece of wisdom. It brings a confidence that no matter what lies in wait around the corner I will be able to cope with the challenges as indeed they were always meant to be.

So far they have been changers to a brighter tomorrow. All I can ask is that they continue to be just that.

Have a very happy and blessed new year!


Twitter. Revolutionary or revolutionary?

At 4:29 am on December 5th, 2008, Malcolm Gladwell of Blink and Tipping Point fame posted his first tweet. It read, “Nice to join this jungle.” One year later in October 2009 he tweeted his last. It was a failed experiment. It hadn’t been that nice after all. He hadn’t seen the wood for the trees. Gladwell, it would seem, wasn’t impressed! “What?” I hear you ask… after all, Twitter has brought down governments and brought MC Hammer closer to over 2 million of his followers!

Over a year later, and in an article in the New Yorker, Gladwell attacked Twitter’s revolutionary credentials. He suggested that there is a limited application of social networking tools to activism in the “real world”. The Twitter Revolution in Moldova hadn’t really happened. The social network that Ahmadinejad banned at the height of the 2009 troubles had in fact had no effect on the streets of Tehran. Facebook hadn’t lead to the downfall of Ben Ali in Tunisia or indeed Mubarak’s flight from Egypt.

I have to say… I agree and disagree.

Gladwell it has to be said has a propensity to simplify, but as my mother always says – and she really is wise – “Things are never black and white. They are always grey.” It is as ignorant to say that Twitter caused a revolution as it is to suggest that Twitter, or indeed Facebook, had no effect whatsoever. Such events are multi-layered and multi-faceted. Hell, I would even agree with Julian Assange when he took part credit for the events in Tunisia and Egypt because of his Wikileaks revelations.

There is no doubt that social media was used as a communications tool inside and outside of these events, allowing leaders to influence and spread news. There is no doubt that it influenced global mass media, and in doing so influenced politicians. However, the likes of Twitter and Facebook are just tools. They aren’t revolutionaries in their own rights. They are used by revolutionaries who may or may not be that skilled at influencing, organising and toppling as the next cyber-Chez. And they are used alongside muffled coffee shop conversations, discrete text messaging and incendiary leaflets disseminated around the corner from the local Mosque.

When we think of ‘leaders’ I think we have to remember that with the democritisation of the web through the social networks, ‘leaders’ has come to mean ‘you’ and ‘I’. We all communicate and influence. Social change may have traditionally been seen to be hierarchical, but that does not mean it is the case or that it will always continue to be so. Social networks give people this voice and magnify it. I find it odd that Gladwell seems to have missed this. Isn’t that what Tipping Point was all about?

Of course it will always be easier to get somebody to ‘like’, ‘poke’, ‘retweet’, ‘follow’ or ‘share’ but that has more to do with the energy behind their revolution than it does anything else. The social networks are a tool, amongst many, but powerful tools to be leveraged by those with an axe to grind.

Stars in their eyes

When I was a kid I think I wanted to be a fireman.

A man who fights fire.

I also seem to recall wanting to be a dog handler.

But only handling dogs with long ears.

I’m pretty sure I went through a phase when my dream was being a stunt man.

Stand to the side please, Evel Knievel!

I can however, say for certain, that I never considered being a ‘celebrity.’ I don’t think they existed when I was a child. Certainly not the breed that is famous for being famous. It sounds a bit vacuous, a tad irrelevant, and a lot dull. Don’t get me wrong, as a father I just want my children to be happy, no matter what they decide to be when they grow up. I just can’t see how putting stars in their eyes or announcing they have some kind of X factor will ensure they develop into fulfilled and happy individuals.

Mind you… I’d have killed for free tickets to the premiere of Tron. There’s a blast from a rose-tinted past.

Did you order bags?

I had a very interesting conversation with somebody I don’t know via SMS yesterday evening.  It went something like this…

He to me – Did u not order bags last week?

This came as a surprise.  No, not the sloppy use of “u” instead of “you” but the fact that I couldn’t remember having had the responsibility of ordering bags, and worst of all I couldn’t think if that responsibility extended to ordering bags of ‘something in particular’.  Did my lack of ordering mean I was in a bit of bother – and before Christmas too – not good!  What disappointment had I caused and what would be my punishment?  As my breathing became laboured and my palms sweaty I suddenly realised I didn’t recognise the number.  After checking through my contacts to see if they shared the last three numbers I had just memorised I decided it might be prudent to ask.

Me to he – Sorry who is this and to which bags do you refer?

It took a couple of minutes but the response came back.

He to me – Chris – we’ve ran out of bags

The only Chris I know is my brother and he is in the USA on holiday.  I guessed he wouldn’t be footing the bill for trans-Atlantic communications to bag-bother me.  We certainly hadn’t had a conversation about bags recently and my palms started to dry.  Was this a mistake on the part of this unknown Chris?  Had he got the number wrong?  Was he harranguing the office junior with hard earned bag ordering responsibility?  I needed to make sure…

Me to he – Bags for what Chris?

He answered.

He to me – Jd bags

This pretty much confirmed that Chris had made a mistake. However, what did “Jd” refer to?  Did he mean JD Sports?  Was the company in trouble?  My palms became sweaty again.

Me to he – No! What do we do?

I was starting to panic.

He to me – Did you order sales bags Monday

He to me – Got no bags at all.

Oh boy! This wasn’t good!  Whoever I was meant to be I hadn’t ordered sales bags! If I had ordered them Monday they should have arrived by now! Now I faced the fact that we were 4 days form the Big One and we had no sodding sales bags for the 26th!  It was desperate but I made a suggestion…

Me to he – Can’t we borrow them from elsewhere?

Surely to God I was the only idiot! Surely every other JD Sports bag ordering dimwit of a junior in the region had properly prepared themselves for the January Sales!  It happens at the same time every year for crying out loud. If not, well we were completely screwed. Screwed I tell you!

He to me – No everywhere is in same boat we are completely screwed

This confirmed it.  Okay we had to think outside the box.  The whole organisation (certainly on a regional level) seemed to have missed the opportunity of thinking inside one.

Me to he – Well I wouldn’t put it like that! Can’t we improvise? Tesco bags, black bags, JJB bags… If everybody else is in the same position we can sink together. What ideas u got?

I thought at the very least this might make him feel better about this awful mess.  I even tried to bond with him by using “u” instead of “you”.  There was no response.  I was desperate.  I couldn’t let this guy suffer.  There was only one thing I could say…

Me to he – Anyway snow will keep everyone away – they say its going to snow tonight.  Sorted!

He must have checked whether the last three numbers of the number he dialed matched any of his contacts.  The answer must have been “no” because he didn’t text back.  Shame really as I’ll never know if my suggestions helped!  Merry Christmas Chris whoever you are.


Following on from my post “Mayor of Foursquare” a number of weeks ago, in which I described a visit to the pub with my 3 year old son, the experience was completed this morning when he woke a tad too early, and making too much noise I had to take him downstairs before he did the same to his brother and sister. I kept softly telling him to “shh!”. He thought it would be fun to tell me to “shh!”.

Needless to say this quickly descended into the two of us giggling as we tiptoed down the stairs in the dark, pressing fingers to our mouths and telling each other to “shh!”

Blissful ignorance

I had a very interesting conversation with my 5 year old daughter in the kitchen this morning as teacakes toasted under the grill.

“We’re going to play Disneyland Paris!” she announced. By this she meant she was going to parade around the dining room gleefully ‘meeping’ with her twin brother as they waved jazz hands above their heads. However I was soon to learn that things would be different this time.
“They don’t talk in Disneyland Paris, Daddy” she explained. By ‘they’ she meant the characters. She had remembered what I’d said during an advert we had watched together when I had recounted my experience of Mickey the Mute and Daffy the Dumb during a holiday to Florida many years before.
After a short pause she asked, “Why don’t they talk in Disneyland Paris, Daddy?”
I wanted to say “Because they’re just people wearing costumes, darling. They’re just pretending to be chipmunks, mice, ducks and dogs. They’d give themselves away and ruin the experience for park visitors, including children, if they talked!”
So I said “Because they’d have to carry televisions with speakers around with them everywhere they went so that you could hear them. That would just be silly, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes that would be silly, Daddy!” she grinned as she turned around and walked through to the dining room to happily join her brother in silent procession around the table as he ‘meeped’ in blissful ignorance.

Mayor of foursquare

I performed my first mayoral duties today at the King John’s Tavern in Hartlepool. I took my youngest for lunch. It’s always best nurturing the father-son relationship in the surroundings of a pub, and as I’ve recently become the foursquare Mayor of the town’s Wetherspoon I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to show my boy what a great man his father is, and of course take advantage of the 20% discount offered to VIPs such as me. He’s only 3 but I could tell he was swelling with pride, no matter how often he declared he had done “wee wee”.

When I arrived I was excited to see a welcome sign to the Mayor on the front door. The red carpet inside added to my excitement and I envisaged hand-shaking dignitaries and school children waving flags. I was here to take possession of my territory!

With that I made my order and then with a flourish revealed my identity to the young woman behind the bar. There was a stunned silence as she took in the information, pushed it around her head and tried to digest the enormity of what had been revealed to her ears.
“You what?” she said. It obviously had been too much.
“I’m your foursquare mayor” I smiled, pronouncing each of the words in staccato.
Anybody would have thought I’d called her a “four-eyed mare” as her eyes widened and she rather vacantly muttered “I’m going to get the manager”.
To my utter relief she returned with a rather friendly chap who welcomed me saying “So you’re our mayor? Give the gentleman 20% off”

I looked at my son smiling, he looked at me swelling, I looked at the proud manager, he looked at the vacant barmaid. She looked through the complicated discount section of her touchscreen till. “You what?” she whispered.