Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Padlocked Bridges of Paris

Paris is for lovers and indeed for anyone else who has a romantic streak or simply loves old cities and their culture.  This picture shows a bridge spanning the river Seine which is groaning under the weight of padlocks left here by lovers over the years.  Paris officials are in the process of putting up plastic panels on the Pont des Arts bridge near the Louvre in an effort to stop this practice.  In June a section of the footbridge collapsed and in fact serious damage is being done to all the old bridges of Paris (and no doubt in other cities, too).  According to City Hall over 700,000 padlocks were attached to bridges in Paris this summer alone.  The City fathers are appealing to lovers to simply take a selfie on the bridge but many tourists reject this idea.
Maybe I'm insensitive but I cannot see the charm or indeed the significance of putting a padlock on a bridge in Paris or indeed any other city.  What happens if you split up?  Do you just shrug your shoulders and obliterate from memory the day you and your lover were so sure of an enduring passion that you just had to lock it up - symbolically - on a bridge in Paris?  Do you even remember that you did it say five years down the road?  And if the break up was particularly acrimonious do you grab a hacksaw and cut through the ties that bind the lock to the bridge? I am sure the City Fathers would approve of that idea!
I love Paris, I must admit.  If I ever win a few billions in the lottery I would buy an apartment in one of those lovely old buildings not too far from the river. I'd spend part of every year there, sipping coffee at a street cafe or wandering along the river bank or around the back streets and soaking up that special Parisian atmosphere.
 I am indebted to Messynesschic's blog to keep my love of Paris alive and kicking.  Take a look at this MessynessChic's hideaway hangout in Paris, for example, and you'll understand my fascination.

I hope tourists and lovers of all nationalities will realize that a padlock on a bridge in Paris is not going to guarantee enduring love.  It might guarantee the closing of ancient bridges which are crumbling away under the load.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Selfish Herd Theory

We take so many things for granted, don't we?  Mother knows best, swallows fly south before winter sets in, the cuckoo comes to our shores in early spring, the fox is a sly animal, red sky at night shepherds delight.  That kind of stuff, based on decades of observation which is passed down to us, we believe it or most of it and feel a certain sense of security.

I was a little taken aback by a new study which says there are two simple rules to explain sheepdog behaviour. Now, I have always understood that a sheepdog rounds up the sheep for his master because that's his job, and the sheep are duly grateful to him because if the wolf knocks at the door of the fold, the dog will protect them.  But maybe I got that idea from one of the many fairy tales I was told as a child, a sort of mixture of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. 
Be that as it may, research published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface and remarked upon by several learned publications see link to Science Daily for example, tells us that they have found the key to the sheepdogs' behaviour.  I, for one, am totally disillusioned and not for the first time in my life.  It seems to me that you just can't believe anything any more or if you do, some one (usually a scientist) will come along and explain the whys and wherefores of it and ruin the magic.  But I digress. 
Here is the substance of the study:
GPS devices were strapped to sheep in order to track their movements and a GPS device was also strapped to the dog (I bet that was a hard morning's work but no reports of anyone falling asleep as they counted how many sheep they'd GPS'd).  Researchers claim that this procedure helps to explain why one shepherd and a single dog can herd an unruly flock of more than 100 sheep.  It doesn't say they put a GPS device on the shepherd but maybe they simply forgot or he got lucky, who knows? 
To continue: The first rule (remember there are two rules according to the scientists) is the sheepdog learns how to make sheep come together in a flock.  The second rule:  whenever the sheep are in a tightly knit group the dog pushes them forwards.
Does that all make sense to you?  I mean, supposing the sheep are near a cliff and the dog "keeps pushing them forward"? 

The scientists remarked that one thing sheep are good at is responding to a threat by working with their neighbours.  (NATO please take note).  This behaviour is known as the selfish herd theory:  put something between the threat and you.
I, for one, will never be able to watch the English sheepdog trials with the same amount of pleasure I have in the past.  And all because a couple of scientists couldn't leave it alone and let me believe that sheepdogs are highly intelligent and it is their nature to look after sheep - you don't see a poodle rounding up a herd of sheep, now do you?  (No, I have nothing against poodles, I love all animals.)
So there it is.  Another illusion gone belly up. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Paper Clip Chains and Other Tales from the Office.

Back in the Sixties my big ambition was to be a high-powered PA or at least an executive secretary to some important company director.  The first step in my not-so-logical plan was to learn how to type so I hired a rickety manual typewriter and a friend gave me a book on the art of typing letters.  I learned to touch-type (more or less) and then another friend said I should learn shorthand so I did a Teachers' Diploma in Pitmans.  It was a struggle I will admit, a struggle I never really won despite achieving the Diploma.

Armed with this dubious qualification and a professed, though somewhat false belief that I could type, I set off from Ireland for the fleshpots of London. In those Swinging Sixties days you could earn double the normal hourly rate for office staff if you went temping.  The downside was you weren't paid if you didn't work.  The upside was the hiring company didn't test my typing or shorthand skills.  I went temping.

My first assignment was in a big advertising agency in London's West End.  I arrived neat and clean in the invoicing department and was asked if I preferred a manual or an electric typewriter?  I was gobsmacked because I did not know there was such a thing as an electric typewriter.  In answer to my undignified splutter they told me they only had electric typewriters and suggested I sit down and play around with one until I felt confident enough to do some real work.  It took me a week to get one puny invoice correctly typed up.  The supervisor was a lovely lady and I think she knew from the start that I hadn't a clue but she let me soldier on and by the time I moved on to a permanent job in the autumn (temping jobs were mainly in the summer months) I could type reasonably well. 

In my next job I had to use my shorthand skills and here I think my first spark of novel writing was ignited because most of the time I couldn't read back what the boss had dictated so I had to be creative.  I made some huge howlers but most of my bosses were both patient and amused and only occasionally irritated.

I was reminded of all this a few weeks ago while reading in The Sunday Times about the "score-settling memoir" The PA by Victoria Knowles which has received mixed reviews.  To be honest I haven't read it so can't comment on the actual memoir.  It seems that Ms Knowles has been very unfortunate in the bosses she encountered.
All I can say is that any boss I worked for as a secretary deserves a round of applause for overlooking my lack of secretarial skills.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

You talkin' to me?

How often have you talked to yourself? Pretty often?  Hardly ever?  Ashamed to admit how often?  According to recent research talking to yourself in the second person is highly motivational.  If you tell yourself "I can do it" it is not half so compelling as saying "you can do it" to yourself out loud or in a whisper or deep in your mind  That might be why President Obama's "yes we can" slogan has faded a little -'cause no one was specifically delegated, now if he'd said - but I don't want to go there.

I read an article on the findings of some research for this on the Forbes magazine website. Apparently some research results were also posted in the European Journal of Social Psychiatry.  I'll be honest, I skimmed through the article in Forbes and I didn't read the other one. The study was not considered complete because it was not known how this approach actually affected the carrying out of tasks. So your guess is as good as mine as to whether this really works. 
My guess for what it's worth is that it will work sometimes and other times not simply because in our deepest depths we know what we can and can't do.  I do not have a head for heights so it's no good me psyching myself up to climb a mountain by repeating "you can do it".  Sure I could do it - if there were 10 hungry grizzly bears on my tail and even then I have my doubts I'd get beyond the first ledge. But I wouldn't need to talk to myself about it, I'd just run and start climbing and that would be adrenalin and the determination to survive which is inbuilt in all of us.

I talk to myself about all sorts of things.  "Now where did I put that?" is a very frequent question.  It's normal and it does help.  I don't think we needed a clinical study to find that out.  Either it works for you or it doesn't.  With so much written on human behaviour, how to understand it and get the best for yourself out of it, you'd think we should be beyond all these new ideas and concepts.  The first work of this kind which I ever read was the Dale CArnegie classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.  I find it fascinating to this day.  Nothing has really changed in human nature since he wrote that book all those years ago.  The basic principles still hold good today.  It's both a sobering and a comforting thought.

So keep talkin' if that's what works for you.  

Friday, 18 July 2014

Writing is fun

I feel a bit like a secret agent.  I've just uploaded my third novel to Amazon under yet another pen name, Death in a Lonely Place by P.B. Barry.
The reason I am doing this is because it is a crime novel and my last book Love at a Later Date is a romance, so I don't want to get people confused.

The idea for Death in a Lonely Place came to me nearly ten years ago while touring the Ring of Kerry.  The landscape is so wildly beautiful down there that I wanted to capture some of the feel of it.  I then combinded this idea with a legend about the river Blackwater which is reputed to claim three lives a year (although few people have heard of this).  I simply transferred this myth to a total fictional mountain in Co. Kerry and the idea for Death in a Lonely Place was up and running.  Not quite.  It took a lot of writing, editing and tweaking before I was at all satisfied with it.  It is not a police procedural although I had debated making it into one but I know far too little about the workings of any police force to even try.  I do envy authors who thank all those high ranking individuals with fascinating titles for their assistance. I'm afraid I don't know anyone to ask (said she wistfully) not even a traffic cop.

Someone asked me the other day with raised eyebrows why I write.  She really meant why I waste my time writing but it's a reasonable question since I am neither rich nor famous and never likely to be. The answer is that I have no idea.  These people trample about in my brain and become as real as a wet Monday or whatever, but real anyway as soon as I put down their story on paper.  Sometimes I have to alter their destinies, their characters and adventures but that's the fun of the game.  I love it all.  Of course there are days when my brain refuses to work, when everything I write seems dull and stupid.  But there are those wonderful days when the words flow.  Agatha Christie once wrote in the preface for one of her novels (I think it was Endless Night) that she'd had a lot of fun writing it and wondered if readers could tell this - and she said that a lot of what she wrote was hard work.  What a comfort to know that such a prolific author had her struggles, too.

Be all that as it may, I hope some of my readers will take the time to check out my latest baby, here is the link if you are interested. Death in a Lonely Place

Have a good week everyone.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Happy Chocolate Day on Monday

Monday July 7th is designated Chocolate Day so that all lovers of this sweet stuff can celebrate.  Chocolate is the perfect accompaniment to so many things.  If I've had a really busy week I like to kick my shoes off, slouch on the sofa and have a bar of chocolate with a cup of tea.  Or if I need a bit of time to chill out I'll grab a book, cup of tea and bar of chocolate. 

Or that's what I have been doing in the past.  But since I am determined to lose weight and live a more healthy life, I have restricted my chocolate intake to very special occasions.  I don't even find this difficult, which never ceases to amaze me as I used to be such a guzzler.  We all have depths of strength and self control we never dreamed of, I guess.  Anyway, nowadays when I do buy a bar of that delicious stuff I find that I enjoy it far more than when I ate it more often.  It's a real special treat, a ritual almost.  First of all I enjoy selecting what flavour bar I'm going to buy.  Currently I like mint flavour, so that's what I'll go for.  The week before last I was into nuts and raisins.  Yummy.  Then I give myself plenty of time to anticipate eating it before I finally sit down to enjoy it.  You know what?  No matter how I savour the process, I find it all goes much too quickly.

What makes us want treats in our diet?  The other day when I walking out to the beach I watched some crows circling the refuse bins.  One enterprising fellow pulled out a tinfoil container, plonked it on the pavement, held it down with one claw and pecked the food scraps with obvious relish.  Other crows were fighting over bits of bread or hamburgers or indeed anything of the human food variety that had been discarded.  There is more than enough suitable and dare I say healthy food available to these birds and yet they flock to the bins every evening to see what tasty morsels they can find.
 Point to ponder: what chance do we humans have when the birds like junk food more than what they should be eating?

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Who Reads Romantic Novels?

This post is going to be a shameless plug for my new novel Love at a Later Date. I finally published it on Amazon as a Kindle e-book.   Here's the cover:

 You can buy the book on any Amazon site including
  USA   UK
I've written it under a pen name, Peggy O'Mahony, because I write other kinds of books as well which are not strictly in the Romance genre. 
I wrote Love at a Later Date while house and dog sitting for my brother last Spring. The house was in the country and I enjoyed beavering away at the story and listening to the birds twittering around the garden building their nests.  There is something so joyous and beautiful about the Spring months I always think.  It was great fun and the words just poured onto the page.  Of course I have edited it to within an inch of its life since then and revised it several times. 
The story is about two friends and the challenges they have to face.  If you have grown up kids or teenagers you'll be able to relate to Ginny and Deirdre. 

I'm working on my second Romance novel so any feedback on Love at a Later Date will be invaluable!