Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mouse Hunt...lessons for all.

We've a nice black pet rabbit at home with the very imaginative name "Bunny". Technically Bunny belongs to our 17 year old Shona but we are all involved in his upkeep. In my own case - living with a wife and three daughters - Bunny is the nearest I get to household male bonding...blessed art thou amongst women! Our rabbit's only oddity is that he won't eat carrots - but maybe we're too conditioned to a Bugs Bunny view of the species.

Pre-Christmas an uninvited little mouse set up residence in Bunny's hutch in the back garden. The mouse was quick enough and small enough to temporarily escape through the hutch wire mesh any time we got too close.

Ostensibly it seemed like a harmony of nature scenario...the mouse didn't want to eat the rabbit and the rabbit didn't seem to want to eat the mouse, hence they were irrelevant to each other! However it created a fair bit of debate chez nous. Was Bunny stressed by the mouse? It was hard to tell. The local pet shop owner shrugged and thought "it didn't seem right". But you can never get a good rabbit psychiatrist in Dublin. I began to wonder if it was just us who was being stressed - humans trying to assign our feelings to animals....Yann Mattel's novel Life of Pi comes to mind. Much easier to get a psychiatrist for humans.

Anyhow, pressurised by majority household opinion and no doubt subliminally influenced by too much American TV, I explored the military option. We will make the rabbit's hutch a safe place for rabbits, terrorist mice have no place in this sovereign hutch. We know what is best for Bunny. No expense will be spared, the mouse will be hunted, brought to justice and yes...executed.

The most appropriate weaponry was purchased...a mouse trap.

Years of watching Tom and Gerry cartoons educates you. Mice love cheese. So I put nice cheddar cheese in the trap and placed it into the sleeping quarters of the hutch during the day - when Bunny spends his time in the separate "exercise run" - a 36 Sq ft. garden play pen I constructed for him. I was confident of success. I had made an eloquent pithy speech the previous evening to the daughters..."This is the last sunset the mouse will enjoy on Earth". Smug, cocky.

Mousey did enjoy the following sunset. Indeed he continued to enjoy sunset after sunset. The cheese was ignored. Each morning I tried different bait - variations of cheese types, chocolate, even bits bits of Bunny's cereal. I tried the trap in different parts of the sleeping area. All failed. The food was ignored.

I persevered. It took a full two weeks to catch the little fecker. In the end the food seemed unimportant. When caught, the mouse looked like he had accidentally walked sideways across the trap - the bar had crushed his torso from shoulder to hip. Poor bugger, could have been a slow death.

So we and Bunny had a peaceful mouse-free Christmas. Then one January morning, like a Hollywood nightmare, we had....Mouse 2 !

Army council recalled. Mouse trap set again. A few days later not only had I still not caught the villain but - adding insult to injury - we had yet another mouse! Now we were dealing with two mice making a home.

This was serious. It needed a rethink. Our garden backs on to a golf course and the expanse of Killiney Hill - a lot of nature out there to potentially supply even more field mice. I was also getting frustrated by my military strategy. If it takes two weeks to catch one mouse.....etc, etc. Furthermore, my women wondered if these two were mammy and daddy mice. What if they have babies? It could create all sorts of issues by killing a parent. Ya don't want that on your conscience.

Like great US Presidents of the past....I thought about a withdrawal option. We debated it at home. We decided to move Bunny's sleeping hutch into the house - we have an ideal small porch type room adjacent to the back garden. Problem solved. Bunny now plays in the big outdoor playpen by day and sleeps peacefully indoors - with the additional bonus of avoiding the cruel January night weather. No more stress, struggles, weapons (traps now decommisioned) or deaths.

Maybe I should e-mail the story to George Bush.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Londonderry air!

Fair dues, the Londonderry name is staying for now.

Sure we couldn't have the entire community calling it Derry or indeed everyone calling it Londonderry. If that madness happened how the heck could you figure out what type of human you were talking to?

What city are you from?

Answer 1: "I'm from Londonderry". Mmmh, clearly a Protestant/Unionist.
Answer 2: "I'm from Derry". Mmmh, clearly a Catholic/Nationalist.

Very useful indeed. We don't have many good tools like this in the Republic. It can take years to figure the religion or political slant of new acquaintances. :-)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

David Ervine - A life Less Ordinary

I couldn't fail to be moved listening to David Ervine on tonight's RTE programme. He made a plethora of amazing statements, things your could only admire. He spoke wisely on the power of education, the existing evidence of progress, his lack of fear of change. On a little level of detail I loved his unmistakable happiness at being recently invited as the only politician to a West Belfast Catholic school - an ex UVF man presenting prizes to students in this school once attended by Gerry Adams. It was also moving to hear him talk on how he looked forward to live to see - in maybe 20 years - Northern Ireland people looking back at their past and saying "What was all the fuss about?"

There is enough empowering material in this program to be quoted for decades. I don't care how misdirected David Ervine was in the past - education changed him and he was big enough to embrace it and use it. So can others. I was impressed and I hope his legacies are used by the people of Northern Ireland to move forward. And finally - isn't it sad how often we only pay serious attention to the wisdom of a person when they are dead.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I was live on the telly tonight!

Well, not my ugly face...just my voice.

It seems the author Paul McKenna liked my review on his book I can make you THIN. I was asked to talk to him by phone about the book on a live TV show on QVC satellite channel - it airs on the Sky Digital package. Of course the show was a blatant one hour promotion of his book and CDs. Anyway it all happened tonight at about 7.30pm. It was interesting to be chatting to Paul McKenna for about 10 minutes on the phone and looking at him on TV at the same time. A bit like Pat Kenny phoning you from the Late Late Show - but with Pat Kenny winning the prize! So maybe I helped Mr. McKenna get richer. But credit where due, his book genuinely helped me to lose 28 pounds in weight.

It demonstrates the power of free referrals in sales - never ignore a happy customer!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

George Harrison and Bangladesh Concert 1971

I liked the late George Harrison. From the start in the Beatles he was the younger quieter lad and in the shadow of the exceptional combined talents of Lennon/McCartney. George wrote some very good music and was a good performer. He also came across as a kind, friendly, humble, publicity shy individual. In a World where those who shout loudest get the most attention I often feel George Harrison didn't always get enough credit for his personal contribution to music and the World.

Recently I had reason to recall one of George Harrison's great legacies. A satellite TV channel aired a documentary on the 1971 Bangladesh concert in Maddison Square Gardens NY. I recall the concert well as a teenager. It was the first music concert of it's kind to raise significant financial aid for a humanitarian disaster. It was difficult to get artists committed for such an unknown type concept and had a good degree of risk. George Harrison was doing lots of work on the phone on an exceptionally tight timescale to organise musicians and he even wrote the Bangladesh song for the two day concert. Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and many other good artists came along to perform and given that the Beatles had broken up a year earlier it was nice to have Ringo Starr also performing on the same stage as George. The concert raised millions for the region and created a powerful awareness of what musicians could do for the World. We think of the high profile of Bob Geldof and Bono etc. in using Music to help the Third World. But these men acknowledge that this concept all started with the serene George Harrison and his friend Ravi Shankar.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Domestic waste and recycling - how to improve?

Our home is in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) region of Dublin. The council charge for waste collections by weight plus a flat charge for each pickup - you chose how often you leave the bin out and the bin lorry comes around every week. We are partly motivated by the price saving of reducing weight/pickups but I'm also motivated by the incredibly high proportion of what we throw out that can be recycled to help the country and the planet. At home we've got it down now to just about one bin pick-up every 4 weeks (sometimes 3 weeks) for normal waste. Not bad I guess for a family of effectively 5 adults (plus a rabbit!) and plenty of consuming friends visiting almost daily.

DLRCC arrange a green bin pickup only every 4 weeks. That is a challenge, it's often stuffed by 3 weeks - even by standing into the bin and crushing the contents down. Other good items to recycle are plastic bottles. They are not heavy but would also take up space in the regular bin leading to more regular collections. DLRCC don't let us put out plastic in the green bin - just paper based items and metal. I understand some councils in other parts of the country do take plastic on green bin collections. Anyway, at home we put a special tray in a hall cloakroom for plastic - as well as a glass bottle tray. I've a dislike for making special trips to recycle centres so my routine with the glass is to dump it in a bottle bank at my tennis club on Sunday mornings when I'm down playing. Plastics are not so easy, less places take plastic. My method at present is to put the few bits daily into my gym bag and dispose it at the gym small plastic bottle bin - as I tend to be going there regularly anyway.

So the vast bulk of our non-recycled waste is effectively food waste. There are no brown bin plans as far as I can tell in DLRCC. I suppose we should consider a compost bin but it seems like more work and we are kept busy recycling as it is. Back 40 or more years ago food waste recycling was actually quite neat. I recall as a child what was called the "Piggy Bin" for things like potato peel and the like in our kitchen. A guy came around collecting this free for use in pig feed. In Derry in the distant past my Mum said there was a similar "Brock man" who collected food waste. In fact in Derry there were others who collected the old cinders and dust from fires.

The Irish seem to be getting better at recycling in recent years but I know that if good minds are put to play it could improve a lot more. I'm glad to hear how others deal with waste and recycling, brown bins, compost bins, or ideas generally. Maybe we could get councilors or experts to listen or have a say also.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Good book: "I can make you THIN" - Paul McKenna

It's that time of year - I notice the gyms are getting full again with well intentioned post-Christmas fight-the-flab people. Diets have also started.

In case it's helpful to anyone I would highly recommend the titled book above. It helped me lose 2 stone over a few months before Christmas and it's philosophy does help you to keep weight off - even with Christmas temptations I only managed to creep on 2 pounds, which I'm now losing again.

The book is beautifully simple. Paul McKenna is not a dietitian. He believes that diets do not work - or if they do seem to work he reckons people will put all the weight back on again before too long. He explains that diets create an artificial tension around food. Paul studied people who are so-called naturally thin over long periods and figured it was very much an attitude of mind. There is nothing in the book on calories and what type of food to eat. Paul reckons that if you are in tune with your body's needs then you will tend to eat the right food over time. He doesn't even recommend that you weigh yourself. You will know when you look right. Naturally thin people don't bother studying diet books on what they eat nor do they obsessively weigh themselves - very often they don't know what they weigh (also see * below).

Many will say weight problems runs in families and is to do with genetics etc. However, I did listen to an interesting view by an expert - Padraig Murphy -on the RTE program "The Health Squad" on this subject. He reckons that the idea of particular families being overweight is more to do with their common mental attitude, lifestyle and behavior than genetics.

Anyway the book's idea is that you should eat when you are actually hungry. Eat slowly and enjoy every mouthful. Stop when you feel satisfied. It's very simple. Paul puts huge emphasis on the difference between emotional hunger and true hunger, which is really the key. We often eat when we are bored or for a variety of other emotional reasons. Many of us also have a thing about finishing everything on our plate. If you eat slowly and enjoy and chew your food properly you will get full and stop without overeating. It works. And you don't need to suffer - in the same way that apparently naturally thin people don't suffer.

At the end of the day of course it is a calorie equation - calories burned being greater than calories consumed - you lose weight. So Paul does encourage some exercise to speed up the process - it's good for you and should be something you enjoy.

Anyhow, I feel a lot better being lighter and it has done wonders for my fitness on the tennis court.

* There is some truth in this. A pal of one of my daughters, D, is very model sized thin and eats normally. She is 6'1" and the funny thing is she doesn't know what she weighs. At a school domestic science event she and other girls were asked their height and weight. Class mates were putting down things like 5'2" 10 stone; 5'5" 11 stone, and so forth. D was listening to this and was embarrassed that she only knew her height but not her weight. So when it came to her turn to speak she ended up thinking that because she was much taller than everyone she must also be much heavier. So she announced with sincerity and to everyone's laughter - 6'1" 18 stone! Probably nearly twice her true weight!