Monday, July 31, 2006

You speak English?

The regional variations of accents and pronouncing of words can be both interesting and entertaining.

Here in Ireland notice how the Belfast accent is very flat and bassy. Further west in Derry it's higher pitched and when you get to West Donegal it's often like a high pitched scream. It's as if people's voices are increasingly competing with the screech of winds as you approach the Altantic seaboard!

My mother had a strong Derry accent and in Dublin when I was small our neighbouring family's parents had strong Cork accents. They had plenty of challenges in the early years trying to communicate with each other!

Regional accents come out stronger the more excitable or passionate the conversation becomes. Once in Tralee, Kerry I had occasion to be sitting beside two local businessmen. They were having a very intense talk about some serious matter. I'm convinced that they were talking in English, but their passion, speed of delivery and Kerry accents were so strong that I did not have a clue what they were saying. I could make out the odd "yerra" and "jaysus" but it was truly the only sustained time I can recall where I couldn't understand people in my own country! I think a degree of local understanding and body language was also kicking in as I've normally no problem understanding the Kerry accent.

The Dublin accent has it's own variations. In extreme cases the unique pronunciations of words get very ingrained. Recently I was reading a work related e-mail from a woman I had spoken to earlier that day. One sentence included something like "....air services to air customer". It puzzled me for a minute. Then I tried to imagine her speaking the sentence out loud and it suddenly made sense. Her strong Dublin accent pronouncing of "our" as "air" was so ingrained that she was even spelling it that way!

You expect TV news people to be accurate and neutral at pronouncing things, but there are many exceptions - including a Dublin TV reporter who says keeps saying "Are T E" for RTE. Then there are the other variations within Dublin - e.g. the newsreader accent would pronounce Lorry as Laurie and the stronger accent would say Lurry.

There are great English pronunciation and accent variations throughout Ireland, around the UK and all over USA and eleswhere. Once a gym coach was helping me and ran some tests and discussed ranges of exercises and diet etc. He kept mentioning how certain things would help me with my tinis. I was getting increasingly nervous as tinis sounded like some medical condition he thought I had. I then swallowed and bravely consulted him on what tinis was. Turned out it was just tennis with his Australian accent!

Americans often love their Irish roots but its fun watching them trying to cope with Irish words and names. I visited a supplier in Minneapolis some years ago. I brought a present of a traditional Irish doll for the small daughter of my regular contact. The packaging box named the doll as Róisín. I was back with the supplier 5 years later and the guy raved about how much his daughter still loved the Irish doll. For the past 5 years she had been calling the doll Rose-in (e.g. there is a rose in the garden). There was shock and horror on his face when I laughed and told him the correct pronunciation was "Rosheen". Too late for the child, it was Rose-in forever.

Speaking of Americans, I can't resist one last quick story, not too related to accents. Not long ago my sister-in-law brought some American friends to the 14th century Bunratty Castle, which is beside the motorway linking Limerick and Shannon. One of the American ladies said on exiting - "Gee, it's a lovely castle, but why did they build it so close to the freeway?" I suppose to some Americans Billy the Kid is their idea of ancient history!

Glad to hear any tales or views others have on accents and pronunciations.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Mediterranean Dublin

Following on my last blog, this one really seems trivial. But weather is always a topic we Irish banter about.

It has been hot and rain free for so long now. Our lawn is yellow, but at least I don't have to cut it so often.

We've had painters just finished tackling the entire outside of our house including balconies, railings, downpipes, roofboards, porches, chimneys, perimeter walls, the lot. It was tough for them in the sun heat and the glare from the white masonry. The four of them suffered for two weeks working flat out as it's a very large house, and this included them baking in the 30C peaks of last week. We were keeping the plastic recycling bins full with the number of drinks they went through each day.

It's hard to work when it's hot. In the office I feel our productivities are down as even with fans running the rooms are at 30C. I'm using any excuse to get out in the airconned car to visit a customer! Yesterday I lingered for longer than normal in a customer site with welcoming airconned offices. The workers looked comfortable and fresher than folk in our place.

I'm not good in high heat. Worst was when we were on holiday in Turkey in 2001. Temperatures hit a dangerous 46C. Given that this is 9C warmer than our blood it was often medically essential to use outdoor cold showers fully clothed - we were bone dry again in 5 minutes! The apartments were not airconned. We hardly slept at night, the building was a furnace. The unfortunate hot and bothered cleaning lady who came in each day seemed to have only three words of English which formed a mantra she repeated to us daily - "Give me water!". When we came back to Dublin I nearly did a papal kissing of the ground and we didn't go on a sun holiday for another 3 years!

I like the temperate climate of Ireland. You can be safely busy outdoors any time. But 20C is more than enough. This 30C type heat from last week was weird. I'm not built for it. Spousey has a more Latin dark haired makeup and normally likes the heat and sun, but she is even complaining lately - especially on how warm the house gets indoors in evening. The masonry seems to soak the sun's heat and give it out at night into the house.

Well we've a holiday in Sorrento Italy coming up end of next week, so I guess more heat. But I'm looking forward to the break, it seems an interesting area to visit and the hotel will be airconned. And of course we are getting aclimatised in Mediterranean Dublin.

Postscript: Saturday 29 July: Aaagh... I jinxed the weather - it's pouring rain here today.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Please be an organ donor

We've been shattered for the past week as a very close friend of my wife and I died suddenly from a stroke.

Our special friend for the last 33 years was wonderful, generous and kind to everyone in life and was the same even as she faced her own death. She was an organ donor and as she was conscious for awhile after the stroke in hospital she made sure her husband and family would carry out her wishes. When she became brain dead her body was kept alive on a ventilator for a further day so the best outcome for her organ usage would ensue. This also had the indirect benefit of allowing time for family and close friends to sit with her and say a final goodbye. We can now tell you from experience that although a very sad event, it is nice to sit and hold the warm hand of a loved one, whose heart still beats, whose chest still rises and falls as her lungs breathe air, whose normal face just looks like someone taking a nap.

Our friend also has a wonderful family. They allowed the transplant medics to ensure a good outcome and it's quite a quick process - a day or less. But there are now two people who have use of our friend's kidneys and another who carries her liver. So three people have been given life from our friends organs which were no use to her in death. This in turn releases vital hospital machines to help further people. It seems there are only a total of about 300 organ transplants per year in Ireland and our friend is responsible for three of these. She could even have given her lungs and heart also except there were no suitable recipients of the right size (she was a small lady). So you can see how one person simply carrying an organ donor card can make a big difference.

There is a lot of grief going around us all as our special friend was far too young to die (51, and indeed biologically and visibly was much younger). My thoughts are constantly with her husband who is my best pal and their four terrific children. But her generosity to others in death is truly of help in dealing with the pain and is a lasting legacy. To give multiple people life from your own death just by agreeing to be an organ donor has to make sense to everyone. But remember, it's equally important to have your family's co-operation, it's useless being an organ donor if your next of kin will not also give their consent when the vital time comes.

Please be an organ donor and encourage others to do it also. I've seen the benefits, it's truly remarkable. And lastly, make sure you enjoy life and all your loved ones, the unexpected can happen all to easily.

Written with kind permission of my best pal

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The legend of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car

My uncle Tom (Dad's eldest brother) passed away last year. He was a colourful interesting character and I've fond memories of him when I was a kid. He was the only businessman of the family at the time and ran pubs in the UK and later a supermarket in Ireland. In 1963 he and his wife came back from England for the summer with an impressive big Ford Consul car. My tongue was hanging out looking at this fine big car. Very few around us had cars at all and certainly nothing this size. Here's a link showing the model of Consul which Uncle Tom had.

One sunny day Uncle Tom and his wife took my Mum, Dad and I out for a long drive in the lovely big white Consul. It felt like we were royalty. We went to Dublin Airport and stopped in the countryside at the end of the runway. We had a picnic and waited for planes to take off and land.
After all the excitement of witnessing two aircraft take-offs in an hour (how different today), we got back into the presidential car. However our feelings of grandeur soon evaporated. The car would not start! Much under-the-bonnet inspection ensued by my Dad and Tom but nothing could be done.

Uncle Tom was sensibly a member of the Automobile Association. So he could phone them for assistance of course. Eh, that's if he could get to a phone. The only mobile phones in 1963 were in science fiction movies. So Tom attempted to thumb a lift to get to a phonebox. Cars passed by for awhile but then we noticed a bubble car approaching. Ah, the wonderful and enigmatic little bubble car, explanation diversion needed....

The Bubble Car was a tiny 3 wheeled and 3 seater car made by Heinkel - and actually assembled in Dundalk. Here's a site with photos of bubble cars. You entered the car through a single door - the entire front of the car was a door! There were two cramped side-by side seats in the front and a very tight single seat in the back - due to the teardrop shape of the car it was very narrow at the rear. The contraption was powered by a tiny engine of less than 200cc at the very back which drove the single rear wheel. It was like a lawn mower on steroids. The Bubble Car was popular for about 10 years from 1955-1965 and then was stopped for a combination of being dangerous in an accident and also losing market share to sensible and much bigger compact cars like the still famous Austin Mini.

Uncle Tom scanned the bubble car approaching with trepidation. I could hear faint murmurs from him like " Sweet Jaysus, don't let it stop, please don't let it stop!"

The bubble car stopped.

The front of the tiny car unfolded and somewhat appropriately there emerged a small skinny weed of a man. Uncle Tom's large hulking frame was a huge contrast. The little man listened to Uncle Tom and offered him a lift.

Very gingerly big Tom attempted entry to the bubble car. We all sniggered. I recall wondering if Uncle Tom weighed more than the car. The skinny man then sat beside him and was squashed against the side of the car by Uncle Tom's shoulders. This was getting funnier by the second. The last straw was watching the car drive away leaning precariously over to the side where Tom sat. We were in tears laughing by now. My mother got a bad cramp in her stomach from laughter and had to be helped to sit down. Eventually when Tom returned my Dad had to physically pull him from the bubble car. More uncontrolled laughter.

The AA were soon on the scene, fixed the Ford Consul and Uncle Tom was then back at the helm of a car that fitted him well.

There are other stories I could tell about Uncle Tom which were fun. When my own kids were small they used to enjoy me telling some of the tales at bedtime. But the favourite request was always..."Dad, tell us the story again of Uncle Tom and the Bubble Car!"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Supreme Court shows that the Law may not be an ass!

I wrote passionately on the Mr. A release in May - see The Law is an ass .

I'm delighted with the very good sense of genuine justice and logical interpretations of law provided by the Supreme Court judges yesterday on ordering the re-arrest of Mr. A following the appeal.

It just goes to show that the law does not need to be an ass when good people take control.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Chess - this game helped me as a kid.

When I was growing up my parents had a few of my older cousins from Donegal and Derry lodging in our house when they started working in Dublin. At one stage the two lads took an interest in the game of chess. I watched them playing chess with each other with curiosity.

Then to my surprise I discovered that my Dad was a good chess player - he had learned to play chess in the Irish army during his time in the Curragh camp in the WWII years. So now I watched the three adults playing chess and they discussed the game regularly. I kept nagging at them all to teach me and they each put varying but small amounts of time into helping me learn. I guess I was maybe eleven years old at the time. My Dad was patient and put the most time into teaching me. This also felt like good bonding to me because Dad was a quiet man and not strong at communicating with his child. Lots of Dads were like that in the 1960s, he was far from unique.

So I found myself playing my cousins and my Dad at chess and getting beaten all the time. But every time I made a mistake or lost I learned something new which I didn't forget. Unlike the flighty cousins my Dad would play any time I asked him if he happened to be in the house. Dad was fond of going to the pub to drink with his friends and my eager youth made me hungry for greater access to his time for playing chess. He gave me tips on chess and it shaped a lot of ideas in clever moves and lateral thinking. It's a great strategy game. The length of the games improved as I learned more and I started to provide a challenge to the adults.

Next another thing happened. Completely unrelated, our primary school teacher decided it was a good idea for the class to learn to play chess. He asked the class if anyone could already play chess. Myself and another boy - Sean - put our hands up. The teacher taught the class how to play and he used myself and Sean to help out in the chess training. I was a very average pupil academically at the time, there were loads better than me in class - mainly because I was too bashful to fight for teacher time in the large class sizes of the 1960s. But chess was something where I had a head start over most of the others, for the first time I felt special and the teacher giving me an important job was brilliant.

The other boys in the class improved a lot at chess over the following months. The teacher then decided to have a class chess competition. It was a straight knockout tournament. The teacher had myself and Sean seeded on opposite parts of the draw so that we could potentially meet in the final.

Sean and myself played through all our rounds beating the other boys. They were not very easy matches as the class had improved a lot, but we won them nevertheless. So Sean and I met in the chess final for the best of 3 games. I won the first game and then Sean won the second. So it was down to the wire on the final game. I managed to win it. It was quite a thrill, first competition of any kind I'd ever won. And the prize was a beautiful orange 10 shilling note. In 1966 it would be the equivalent of a kid being handed a 50 Euro note today I suppose, and it meant more to me because we were a fairly poor family. I couldn't wait to get home to hold the note up to my parents and especially my Dad. Their excitement was equal to mine.

The win was a small thing in reality but it's funny how it inspired me. I tried to learn more about chess, even got out library books. The teacher then offered me a challenge at chess. When I managed to beat the teacher it was an amazing feeling. I often had a low opinion of myself in primary school and these little successes gave me such a badly needed boost.

I continued to play chess regularly with my Dad. He was a very pensive player, took a long time between moves, tough to beat. We were eventually fairly evenly matched, each winning as much as losing, which always kept it interesting.

So chess was a helpful little game for me as a kid - it drew me closer to my Dad and it did wonders for my confidence building in school. In hindsight I think it helped to make me believe in myself and build other goals.

Today as I watch my own kids enjoy little successes at school and other events I think on how important it is to offer kids a challenge, how it stimulates the natural enthusiasm of youth and maybe prepares them for greater goals later in life.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Wimbledon...Space Shuttle...World Cup

Okay. Some good reflections from yesterday...America's 4th July....

1. I took the afternoon off for various reasons - but partly to watch some Wimbledon live tennis. I enjoyed Maria Shapapova (my hero) beating Elena Dementieva in the ladies quarter finals.

2. I watched the US Space Shuttle launch live in the evening. It's always exciting to watch. I know it is mad expensive and risky putting people into space but the technological achievement blows me away. The raw power of that monster going vertically up into the air and reaching 4,000mph within a minute and 18,000 mph orbital speed within about 10 minutes - it's truly awesome. It brings me back to the glory days of Apollo launches and putting men on the Moon.

3. I watched most of the Italy - Germany World Cup semi-final. HOWEVER - I went to the bathroom for 2 minutes and missed BOTH GOALS at the end. That sucks!