29 October 2009

Public Speaking Silence


A Brussels Toastmasters club invited me to come and address the group at one of their dinner meetings. They figured I could teach them some improv, and tell some anecdotes, and ... well, actually the request was pretty vague. A dinner workshop? A speech with activities? A combination of the two? I was a little stuck.

Until I had a great idea: silence. Public speaking (the raison d'etre of Toastmasters) has a lot to do with words. Often at the expense of the space between the words, which can also be...


So, after a very warm introduction I stood behind the lectern and delivered the longest silence I could manage. I tried not to fill the space with too much eyebrow wiggling and mouth movement. Just silence.

It lasted one minute nine seconds. Just like this.

It was fun and scary. It was also a little off-putting for me, as I'm sure it was for them. I quickly realized I had dug myself a sizable hole before even speaking a single word. Fortunately the discussion it provoked was interesting. There was a useful point buried in the confusion.

We followed it up with some stories and 'principles shared by improv and public speaking' before moving into the activities, exercises, games and performances. All done with good humour and high energy. We also had dinner, wine, dessert, and coffee, which though they broke up the flow of the workshoppy aspects, were delicious and gave lots of opportunity for chatting.

I had a great evening, and judging from the feedback, so did they. In fact, I was thanked the next day by the club president in an email for the "formidably edifying and entertaining evening."

Which is a big step up from the prolonged awkward silence that it began with.


22 October 2009

AS Roma at the Cottage = Pub Friendly?


Tonight Roma comes to London to meet Fulham F.C. at Craven Cottage.

Fulham is fresh off a 2-0 win against Hull on Monday.

Roma is fresh off a bitter loss against Milan at the San Siro. Here's a link to some reactions, and a video of that refereeing shitshow.

For an official context, the UEFA match preview is here. That preview doesn't mention the very interesting human interest angle: Roma's John Arne Riise will be playing against his little brother (and Norway National team roommate) Bjorn Helge.

And there's another crucial angle that all this preamble has been missing; the one which may prove to be the key match-up tonight:

David Symonds vs Ryan Millar.

David is a very close friend of mine from university. He moved to London 9 years ago, and is a card carrying Cottager.

When I moved to Rome and started this blog I fell in love with The Eternal City, and also la magica. I've moved since, but Roma is "l'unico grande amore de tanta e tanta gente" and I'll always be one of them.

Tonight is the first time our respective clubs from our adoptive cities have squared off. It promises to be intense. It will be friendly sure - there will be pints snacks and laughs - but it will not be 'a friendly'. The on-pitch action is at the Cottage, but the real tension is at Offside

The countdown is on. Forza Roma!

UPDATE: An incredibly exciting and intense match last night. Fulham almost walked away with all the points, until a young Roma defender stepped in the LAST FIVE SECONDS of the match and smashed a volley into the top of the Fulham net. It was an incredible finish. Dave and I aren't speaking to each other anymore, but hopefully we'll right our ship for the return leg on 5 November. For the wrap-up, as always it's best to go to Roma @ The Offside.

Forza Roma!


20 October 2009

Me and My Mom on Tour

My Mom came for a visit. We took the opportunity for some mother/son time by drinking deep of the history, sites, and beverages available to the intrepid in London. Rather than draw the siteseeing out over a succession of days we ripped it like a bandaid.

Promptly at 11am we took a walking tour from London's famous London Walks. We heard tales of monuments, alleys, statues, churches, and of course, Cleopatra's Needle. In the process, we worked up an appetite. Fortunately we were able to satisfy lunch cravings and literary history leanings with a light lunch in the Cheshire Cheese pub. It was frequented by Dickens, enjoyed by Twain, and located around the corner from Samuel Johnson's house. Lunch was light and the history imposing. Already a full day right?

Hardly. With our insatiable curiosity and sturdy shoes we had only just started.

Where's Helen? You'll find her. In the back-middle, listening carefully.

After lunch we took a walk up Fleet Street and noticed some open top tour buses trundling past. My mother, who is a spry freshly-minted senior, suggested we jump on the next one.

And we did. We toured the streets of London - the High Streets - in a Big Bus, before disembarking by Cleopatra's Needle to take a jaunt up the Thames by riverboat. Besides being a pleasant boat ride, we enjoyed seeing all of the main (and stylistically unrelated) London bridges (including London Bridge) from underneath. Of course, we also got to see and hear about Cleopatra's Needle.

Within the hour we had made our way to Trafalgar Square to start on another walking tour. This one, fortunately, included a number of pub stops, and only the briefest glimpse of Cleopatra's Needle.

Walking tour number two.

Our last stop of the evening before home was a delicious pub dinner at The White Lion by Covent Garden with some of our new friends from the tour. We finally arrived back at the flat around 11pm. This concluded our 12 hour whirlwind of London landmarks, buses, pubs, tales and - let's not forget - Cleopatra's Needle

The next day involved zero siteseeing. Which is fine, because we had bagged more than our quota the day before.

But London, I'm not done, I'm just resting.

And thanks again for the great day, mom.


14 October 2009

Roads to Rome, Brussels, London...


Roads to Rome? Not any more.

Since I started this blog with its topical name four years ago, I've moved to Brussels, where it became Rues des Bruxelles. I've recently moved to London. Now what?

These are no longer Roads to Rome or Rues des Bruxelles. It's now... "London Somethings" or "Somethings of London." Or something.


Affiliate program Polls

*Roman Road is the name of the major road off which our own street leads.

But unless you can come up with something better, or convince me otherwise, I'm already leading towards London Mews. Mews seem like a particularly English term to describe a particularly English thing. It's also a pretty hilarious and apt homonym (Mews/Muse).

If you don't like it, or any of the other options I've helpfully put into a poll for you above, you can choose your own term from this list:

alley, approach, arcade, avenue, bank, boulevard, brow, buildings, causeway, circus, close, cottages, court, crescent, croft, drive, embankment, esplanade, gardens, gate, grove, hill, lane, lawn, link, mead, mews, mount, parade, passage, pavement, place, promenade, quay, road, row, side, square, street, terrace, vale, view, villas, walk, wall, way, and yard. this list was taken from here.

Just combine the type of roadway/passageway with the word "London" and you're there. Or get creative if you're a creative type. Leave any ideas not listed in the poll in the comments.

Thanks for your help.

UPDATE: So we'll go with 'London Mews' the far-and-away vote leader with 4 - including my own. The rest had zero. Although some pretty good ideas were also suggested in the comments. Thanks guys.


11 October 2009

Italy and Ireland tie; everybody loses


Last night I scampered over to the local sports bar – the decidedly working class boozer Angel & Crown - to catch the second half of the World Cup qualifier between Ireland and Italy. I made sure to order a beer and not finish it until the final three tweets of the whistle.*

I slipped out to get some pub time in, to see some international football, to see the battle of the Italian managers: Trapattoni vs. Lippi. And to cheer for both teams. When I was living in Rome, during the last World Cup, I followed Italy's every match and move - from my first realization that they were the team I was behind to their eventual triumph.

But I've got Irish blood, and Irish friends, and a soft spot for Ireland and all her people, plus I think the team deserves a chance to be in South Africa. As well, I think Marcello Lippi's squad selection leaves a little to be desired in terms of creativity and attacking flair. A loss at Croke Park would've wound the pressure up on him another notch and perhaps we could've seen Antonio Cassano later in the week, or some other useful tactical adjustment - I dare not get excited about the Totti possibility yet. I've never been a big Antonio Cassano fan, but the last time he got a run out with the Azzurri he was one of the few bright spots. He's good at football. They don't call him il talentino for nothing.

The game was relatively even with Italy holding a slight edge, though chances were few for either side until we were nearing the end. There was increasing desperation in the play of the Irish - they needed this victory much more than Italy. When they scored a stunner of a diving header off a free kick in the 87th minute the joy was run through with incredulity: could it be? There was euphoria. I also cheered. Partially because I like sportgoals, partially because the excitement in the storied and packed Croke Park (and the Angel & Crown) was infectious, and also because we were on the verge of footballing history. Certainly in Ireland, conversations for years to come could easily be opened with "Where were you when the boys beat the reigning World Champs?

I felt a little bad about cheering a goal into Buffon's (non-Juventus) net, and certainly my Italian wife wasn't happy when she heard, but Italy would almost surely qualify anyway, even with the loss. And Ireland could toast this victory for years. The knock on benefit of the hopeful inclusion of more creativity in the Italy side as a result... it seemed as if the Irish victory could serve to benefit Italy as well as Ireland.

No sooner had the announcer started explaining how important it was that Ireland settle in, brace themselves for the counterattack, and hold on for 5 minutes until a historic victory, when Italy scored.

That's how it ended. A draw that pleased Italy and depressed the shit out of the entire Emerald Isle. And me. Ireland can still qualify with a second place finish, but they will have to go into seeded play-offs against teams like Russia, France and Portugal for their chance at South Africa.

When the final whistle blew, I polished off my beer, grabbed my hat and went home, feeling curiously disappointed. I saw a game in which I felt non-partial, and it ended a draw. Add to it not one but two late goals and I should have felt I got my pints-worth of action and excitement. And yet... a draw is always the result when nobody wins.

*The only other time I'd been to the pub, on a Sunday afternoon to watch Roma play (and lose) to Juventus. I also only watched the second half and that time as well had just one pint. At around the 82nd minute, after my pint had been finished and cleared, a rather 'hard' looking patron stood pointedly within earshot and loudly remarked to some bystanders that he didn't think it was 'on' that people would come to watch football and not drink. This after demanding I pick up the coaster I had thrown on the ground in frustration after Juve's third goal. I told him I would pick it up after the game, but, as I may need to throw more, it would make more sense to pick them all up at once. He wasn't entirely satisfied with my explanation, but didn't punch my face.

In the end we sorted it out, but our truce was an uneasy one... since then I vowed to make my beers last the duration of the match. One pint per half to me seems reasonable, no matter how many the regulars toss down.


09 October 2009

The Weather: London's Big Lie


London lied to me. For a whole month. The September sunshine clothed the whole city in warm smiles. The sunbeams whispered in my ear that this was what I could expect from life in London. I was thrilled. Naturally I bought a bicycle almost immediately – weather this good deserves as much facetime as possible. For a reasonable sixty-five quid Harry the Bike Man in London Fields provided me with a garish, but more-than-serviceable multispeed steed; on my second Sunday I rode on my new wheels - a carefree man.

The bicycle is a unique and glorious way to get around the city – you can go anywhere you want at anytime, limited only by how fast you pump your legs. There’s no waiting at bus stops, or long descents into oppressive tube dungeons. Traffic? What traffic? You just scoot between the locked grids or slip down a side street. You don’t even need to wait at traffic lights if you’re of a more daredevilish constitution. It’s pure freedom in the sunshine. Everything was perfect, how could it ever go wrong?

Of course, I made a fatal flaw – I had allowed myself to be sucked in by the autumnal warmth to such an extent that – despite negative forecasts and foreboding skies I rode my yellow and purple pedal-machine to university yesterday. So far, everything is still great.

Until I went home.

The ride home was fucking awful. Sometime between the start of class and the end, the weather went from cold and gray and humid, to cold, gray humid and very very very wet. The kind of rain I would call ’drenchly’. As the Inuit have many words for snow, I have many words for rain, but not enough expletives.

By the time I arrived home I was dripping icy rain from my waterlogged hat to my squelchy shoes. And I was cold. More importantly, I was depressed.

"There’s no fucking way I’m going to do that tomorrow," I muttered, wringing my jeans out into the kitchen sink. "In fact, I may never do it again."

The thing that hurt the most - apart from my frozen knuckles - was the betrayal. To follow on from a September-long parade of dry warmth with weather this relentlessly foul seemed unnecessarily nasty. A couple light sprinkles or a windy afternoon to prepare me mentally for an inclement winter does not seem like an unreasonable request - especially not among friends. Or had I misjudged the city and our relationship?

I spent the evening slurping soup, drinking mugs of milky tea and frantically making contingency plans. If this was how London was going to be, then - pfffffft! - we were done. I would spend, insofar as it would be possible, all of my time here under a roof. I worried that my bike would remain chained at home, rusting away for the foreseeable future, an innocent casualty in a love affair gone suddenly sour. But it had to be done. As a final sign of my resolve I placed my Oyster card into the pocket of my jacket.

When I awoke this morning I immediately looked outside - prepared to shake my fist in defiance. There was no need: the sky was pure clear blue lightly streaked with cirrus clouds, and just the occasional puddle to remind me of yesterday’s cruelty. In a moment, all was forgiven.

Perhaps the first month wasn't a lie; perhaps the wretchedness of yesterday was just a test. If it was a test, then I passed. Rather than staying off my bike, I got right back on. If it wasn’t a test, and was a fair but brutal warning, then I have heeded it – the Oyster card remains in my pocket.


08 October 2009

Introduction to Arts Criticism - A Review


Can arts criticism as a writing discipline be taught in a university setting? One should hope so. Particularly if it is being taught to a room of Professional Writing MA students.

Or, to be more specific, I should hope so. As I am one of those students, and I am in that room.

Though I was obliged to take this module by scheduling concerns rather than burning passion, it was an enjoyable first foray into Professional Writing in an academic setting. And, when I consider that I am known to offer my own critiques about restaurants, bars, music, film fests, film, and theatre on this very blog, it doesn't seem very far at all from my natural writing practice.

The diverse group of students was tentative at the outset, as you'd expect from 'first-weekers', but the combination of co-tutor Gianandrea Poesio's relaxed and warm energy and a clip from Ratatouille warmed us up to a discussion on the Role of the Critic.

(We watched until 0:58)

Unfortunately, the discussion was not terribly animated, as the group struggled to shake off the opening day nerves. Also on the downside: the elements to be covered in class - as indicated by the syllabus - were not exhausted. The idea of critic as 'Artist, Celebrity, Champion' is a rich one, but we glanced from topic to topic, without drilling down into those provocative ideas.

The course tutors, Gianandrea Poesio and Anne Karpf, are both working journalists and critics. They were thus able to liberally pepper the session with real-life examples of their own experiences. The easy rapport between the two, and their obvious enjoyment of the subject, allowed for a pleasant and swift three hours. Their occasional disagreements illuminated the importance of the critic with an opinion, and added a welcome creative spark.

The final movement of the class was watching a short art piece - without any context provided - and then reading out our hastily scribbled reviews. This brought the engagement, the writing experience, and of course the pressure, to a high point.

These early and undrafted reviews were counted by the tutors as unanimously successful. The pressure and subsequent relief of the exercise and the convivial atmosphere of the room provided a feeling of togetherness which will no doubt strengthen as we progress, and hopefully this will lead to more dynamism in the discussions. But as far as a 'testing-of-the-waters' and a foray into arts criticism, the early steps were strides. Tentative strides.

I suspect the work to get more challenging, and the feedback to become more, um, critical. As Anton Ego says "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy." However, the work of the arts criticism student is much less so.


05 October 2009

Multiple votes against multipletasking


“To do two things at once is to do neither.” - Publilius Syrus, Roman slave, 1C B.C.

I was just listening to some music and planning our dinner menu, while watching TV, writing a blogpost, shaving, and playing the flash game Multitask between glances at my googlereader feed when I realized that despite my attempted super-productivity, I was actually being super-unproductive.

No surprise there, apparently, because science says those who multitask most, suck most at multitasking. That's me they're talking about.

It makes sense. Multitasking (if you're doing it right) is really just compounded distraction. This obviously makes you less efficient and less focused, it also adversely affects learning. Meaning you also struggle to learn how to multitask effectively.

This is all well and good when you're trying to protect your brainspace from the drudgery of your boring job, but when you're forking over your life-savings to go back to university) you better pay attention. So I'm planning on killing the multitask and resurrecting the monotask.

Single. Minded. Focus.

Of course, if shit gets crazy on the scholastic front I reserve the right to throw down the occasional doubletask, and come term-end time I may need to quickly tripletask on a couple of issues, just to keep my head above water; but I will not go back to the multitask.

No way.

From now on there is absolutely, probably, no way I would start something else befor