Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The People gave the lion its roar


Now the Olympics are at an end, it is perhaps apt to reflect on what made the Olympics so special. And believe me, they were special. LH had the privilege to go to several events, and I was astounded by the unbelievable atmosphere in the stadiums.

The Olympic stadium is a remarkable stadium with very special acoustic effects and lighting. LH attended the first session of Athletics in the stadium and already there was an amazing atmosphere brewing. People were happy and delighted to be present and to indulge in the ‘Greatest show on Earth’. British athletes got an amazing roar, but the crowd cheered enthusiastically for everyone, British or not. It was no wonder that some foreign athletes thought they were competing on home soil.

LH also was delighted to go to the Beach volleyball at Horse Guards parade. I thought we were going to some seating hurriedly erected on the site which would have seated a few thousand people. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted by a complete, full surround stadium seating probably 10,000 people. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, and it was almost as if the crowd were competing as well. I was exhausted by the endless Mexican waves and the jovial Brazilian party atmosphere. When there were gaps in the proceeding at the end of the set, or a time out, the pitch was invaded by scantily clad dancers to spice up the show. Wow, I never knew sport could be so much fun!!

So where did this amazing spirit come from? This was not a spirit brewed from alcohol or drugs, although the effects did leave the participants feeling hoarse and punch drunk. This spirit was a gas which pervaded through the whole Olympic Park, and resulted in a spontaneous eruption of joy and celebration. Other areas of London, like Hyde Park, were also affected where almost every day more than 50,000 people gathered in giant celebration.

It seems almost incredible that the British who are probably best known abroad for their reserved behaviour should have staged what will probably go down in history as the greatest party ever staged on earth. And how weird is it that London should be passing the flag to Rio de Janeiro, which annually hosts the world’s biggest party, having shown the Brazilians how a huge party can be staged in real style?

Much credit for the amazing atmosphere must go to the 70,000 volunteers who came from all over the country, who gave up holidays and jobs and their time to participate in the games. They set the tone for the proceedings with their joyous smiles, their dancing and singing, and their willingness to help.

Politicians would love to obtain credit for the atmosphere at the games, but the credit is not theirs. David Cameron did get around and try and obtain reflected glory. Boris Johnson did a lot to encourage the atmosphere and was very positive from the very first for his city. Lord Coe should get some credit for his meticulous planning and attempts to get the people to participate, but the credit should not go to him either.

In her brilliant biography of Sir Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Longford posed an intriguing question. She asked whether the amazing spirit and determination of the British people to win the Second World War against all odds was due to its leader, Winston Churchill, or the people themselves.  She concluded that it was Winston Churchill whose indomitable spirit gave the roar to the lion. On this occasion and at these Olympics, however, there was no Winston Churchill, and there can be no doubt that it was the people who made the lion roar.   

Monday, 28 May 2012

                                                               Image from www.oxtogrind.org

L’Homme et la Mer*

  Man and the Sea

 Charles Baudelaire was an innovative French poet, his poems striking new ground in poetry because of his portrayal of amazing imagery, and tackling of complicated and hereto taboo subjects. Charles Baudelaire was described by his fellow poet, Arthur Rimbaud as the ‘King of Poets’, an immense tribute to Baudelaire who struggled to be recognised in his own lifetime, and also struggled against drugs, alcohol and poverty.

Baudelaire rose above these problems, however, to write some of the most innovative and beautiful poems in the French language, which left a lasting legacy to the world, and a lasting impression on his fellow poets. One of his greatest poems is this poem about man and the sea, an extremely difficult poem to translate because of the sophistication of the words that Baudelaire uses. Not even many French dictionaries could explain some of the meanings of some of the words he uses in this exceptional poem. Magnifique!

                                 L'Homme et la Mer

Homme libre, toujours tu chérchiras la mer!
La mer est ton miroir; tu contemples ton âme
Dans le déroulement infini de sa lame,
Et ton esprit n’est pas un gouffre moins amer.

Tu te plais à plonger au sein de ton image;
Tu l’embrasses des yeux et des bras, et ton coeur
Se distrait quelquefois de sa propre rumeur
Au bruit de cette plainte indomptable et sauvage.

Vous êtes tous les deux ténébreux et discrets:
Homme, nul n’a sondé le fond de tes abîmes,
O mer, nul ne connaît tes richesses intimes,
Tant vous êtes jaloux de garder vos secrets!

Et cependant voilà des siècles innombrables
Que vous vous combattez sans pitié ni remords,
Tellement vous aimez le carnage et la mort,
O lutteurs éternels, o frères implacables!

(Les Fleurs du Mal, Spleen et Idéal)

Man and the Sea 

Free man, you will always search for the sea!
The sea is your mirror, you contemplate your soul
In the infinite progression of its groundswell,
And your spirit is an abyss which is no less bitter.

You enjoy plunging within the breast of your own image;
You embrace your eyes and your arms, and your heart
Sometimes is distracted from its own journey
By the noise of this invincible and savage conflict.

You are both mysterious and discreet;
Man, no one has probed the depths of your abyss,
O Sea, no one knows your intimate riches,
You are so jealous in keeping your secrets!

Nevertheless during innumerable centuries
You have fought with neither pity nor remorse
You love so much carnage and death,
O eternal fighters, O implacable brothers!

*Please note that all translations may neither convey the exact meaning nor the beauty of the words in the original language, and there may be some unintentional errors in translation.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

There is still not enough help for small businesses in the UK

There are about 4.8 million small and medium size companies in the United Kingdom, companies whose turnover do not exceed £50 million and whose profits do not exceed £300,000. To give you an idea of the importance of this type of company to the overall economy, they provide 80% of the jobs in the country and their total turnover exceeds all the companies in the Footsie 100, the stock market index of the top 100 companies on the London Stock Exchange.

 Given the importance of small and medium companies to the country, it is surprising that the Chancellor did not do more to help these existing companies, and those who are on the point of setting up new businesses. These are the companies which will pull the country out of recession. The Chancellor did bring Corporation tax down to 22% in 2014, with an objective of 20% in the longer term. However, there was no corresponding reduction in the small business corporation tax, which is presently at 20%. Surely an objective should be established of reducing this to 15%?

Small businesses complain that they do not have access to lending, at competitive rates in a non bureaucratic manner. Although the Chancellor did set up a National Loan Guarantee Scheme for £20 billion, this is not enough. He should supplement this with a series of Regional funds, which are allocated central Government monies, and set up through Regional Credit Committees through the local Chambers of Commerce. These should be set up with the help of successful local businessmen who are willing to commit their time and energy to helping other businesses. All the major cities should be allocated their own funds which could also lend money to start ups under the right conditions. Angel networks could also be brought in to enable rich private individuals to invest their money in interesting start-ups.

We should also be training our businessmen to become the best trained businessmen in the world, regardless of whether they went to university, business school or college. After all, it is no use business people setting up a business, and not knowing how to manage it properly. We should set up regional training centres which can provide free courses for those setting up or even those already running existing companies. This would then ensure that they have the best skills for the serious job of setting up their companies and making them a success. We can then set about pulling the country out of recession and creating a dynamic and thriving business community.

                                                     Image from www.eudesignstudio.com

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Time stops for no man and no company; why companies lose their way

 Time stops for no man and no company. With the news that Eastman Kodak recently filed for bankruptcy protection, it shows that time moves on no matter what.

Eastman Kodak was founded in 1880, and became one of the biggest companies in the world, at its peak employing more than 145,ooo employees worldwide. As of  2012 the company only employed 17,000 employees.

The strangest thing of all is that the company actually invented the digital camera in 1975, but did nothing with their invention. One has to ask what the company’s CEO’s have been doing for the last 30 years?

The number of companies that have succumbed to the changes that time brings is long. There are some famous names in the list, including in the UK, names such as Woolworths. Why Woolworths never became a supermarket chain I will never know. Did its managers really believe that it could go on selling sweets for the next hundred years?

There is also a list of companies who are presently struggling to find a strategy that represents an attempt to adapt to modern times. HMV is one example. It’s core sales base of DVD’s and CD’s has been eclipsed by the likes of Amazon and the supermarkets who sell the same products more cheaply. But HMV does not seem to have fought back, its website exists but does not convince, and it has made half hearted attempts to show films through one or two cinemas and enter the field of live music. One has to ask how long it will last.

 IBM is the example of a company who has successfully adapted to the ravages of time. IBM was one of the biggest computer manufacturers in the world, but now is mainly an advisor and consultant to major companies, although it is still a manufacturer of computer servers.

 Apple is another company who has successfully adapted to the modern age, by combining manufacturing of modern age products, as well as those of the digital age by creating the itunes store. It was once a niche computer manufacturer. It is now the largest company in the world by market capitalization and sits on a cash pile estimated to be in excess of $80 billion.

There is no doubt that many of the Chief Executives of the largest companies in the world are very well paid these days. But very few of them seem to have a vision of where their companies are going. More worryingly, many of them do not seem to even have a strategy to face the next ten or twenty years. They are sitting on their hands while fighting fires, and without a proper strategy they will be burnt with their companies.

                                    Image from www.blogs.dallasobserver.com

Friday, 6 January 2012

Murder, bullying and theft in the Serengeti

Murder, bullying and thieving occur on a daily basis in the Serengeti. It is here that large quantities of animals gather on these vast plains and play out the tribulations of life and death. It is a delicate balance, in which each plays out his part in the story.

The Serengeti plains and rich grasses support vast quantities of herbivores. It is estimated that there are more than 2 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, large quantities of buffalo, 500,000 Thomson’s Gazelles and more than 100,000 other animals including large quantities of the small deer including dik dik and impala. The herbivores strength is in their numbers, but because they are so numerous, they also attract the natural predators.

The predators are the lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas. Some of them will hunt alone; sometimes they will hunt in packs depending on their family situation. Lions sometimes hunt together, sometimes alone. One of the great sights in the Serengeti is the sight of a co-ordinated attack by lionesses that form part of a pride. They will each quietly take their positions, one to chase the prey from behind, one lining up on the side, with another to cut off the escape route. Although they are acting on instinct, it almost seems they have their own walkie-talkie; such is their co-ordinated pursuit of their prey.

 Once one of the lionesses has their prey in her jaws, the others will join her to try and kill off the victim. Lions do not have giant jaws, and they are not strong enough to kill their victims instantly, hence they sometimes have to keep squeezing until the victim finally gives up their agonizing fight. Sometimes the pack will arrive, including Big Daddy, and they will just start eating the victim alive! Murder is not clean and simple in the Serengeti.

Lions will attack practically all the animals, depending on the situation, even buffaloes, elephants and giraffes at times. These attacks make fascinating viewing, and are not always successful for the lions.

Leopards are smaller and faster than lions and will tend to concentrate on smaller prey. Their attacks are not as co-ordinated as lion attacks and will often involve a sole leopard. Leopards have a distinct advantage against the bullies of the Serengeti; they will often take their prey and store in up in their tree larder, beyond the reach of other predators who fancy a quick dinner. Even so, lions that smell the prey may come along and jump onto the tree, almost shaking it in their frustration at not being able to get their hands on it. It is a bit like the bullying boss at work who comes round to your office to remind you that he is the boss, and that if there is anything that he fancies in your office, you should, of course, give it to him.

Hyenas work in gangs. These guys look like cowards, and their ungainly gait and sorrowful expression seems to indicate that they regret what they do for a living, which is probably as close to being full time bullies as you can be. Though hyenas look like losers, they do not give up, and when more and more of their kind show up, they can be ever braver, even shoving lions off their dinners at times. More often, however, they will move in when lions, and other predators have already had a good meal.

When the hyenas move in, the vultures will be waiting for their turn. The vultures are the undertakers of the savannah, who just happen to eat their clients. They are appropriately dressed in black, and are not discreet and quiet like you would expect undertakers might be. But, they leave their clients beautifully prepared to return to the earth from whence they came, just the pure white bones, and ready for the termites to take their turn in the recycling process.  

There is no time for regret and remorse in the Serengeti. Once a wildebeest has been caught by a predator, other members of the herd will often return and take a last, sorrowful look at their colleague, before they move on. Buffalo are more aggressive, and the herd will often return to try and rescue any of their family or friends who have been caught by lions. Sometimes they will be successful, trying to circle their colleague and help him move away from danger.

Most of the predators will look for cheap take-away meals, which they do not have to pay for. Thievery is rife in the Serengeti. Making a kill is hard work, because not only catching the prey is difficult and requires a lot of training, speed and skill, but also the actual killing of the prey is an exhausting process. Often a predator will have to wait hours before actually achieving the kill, if they are working by themselves. So if there is a cheaper way to get a good dinner, most of the predators will take it. Lions will think nothing of stealing another predator’s kill. Neither will hyenas if they have the support of their gang.

So here we have it, murder, bullying and thieving are daily occurrences on the plains of the Serengeti. The clues are everywhere, but they disappear very quickly as life goes on at a very intense pace. There is no police force to enforce the law, but as everyone knows the rules already, they just go about their daily lives.

                                                     Image from www.msnbc.msn.com

Monday, 12 December 2011

First Love

If you have ever fallen in love, it is likely that you have had a myriad of experiences from a fantastic high to a very low, low. However, if you have had the good fortune to fall in love one or more times, it is quite likely that you will never forget the first time you ever fell in love.
First impressions, first look, first time, the chances are it was the single most important moment of love in your live. For some, it will be the defining moment; the moment when you met the person you would spend the rest of your life with. For others, you may not still be with the person you first fell in love with, but you will never forget the moment, or the time when it happened, even if, ultimately it did not finish that well.
Most people fall in love for the first time when they are young, innocent, raw and have an open heart. They do not know what to expect and so are pushed and pulled with their emotions from one place to another. If and when it ends, the pain on both sides may be considerable. It may feel like the end of the world. So defences may go up, guards raised, and certain emotions are blanked out, so that the person is not so easily hurt the next time. It all goes to make the first love even more special.
There are, of course, many love poems around the world, but there seems to be surprisingly few about the first love. John Clare, an English poet who lived from 1793-1864 wrote a most beautiful poem about his first love.
First Love
 John Clare
I ne'er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet.
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower

And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale, a deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked what could I ail
My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away.
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start.
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter's choice
Is love's bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice
Not love appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.
John Clare, was the ‘forgotten romantic poet’ of English literature.  While Tennyson, Wordsworth and Keats achieved fame and made a living from their writing, Clare never rose from his humble origins. Clare was an impoverished agricultural labourer, who never rose above this situation, despite writing some of the most beautiful poems in the English language. 

 ‘First Love’ was written about Clare’s first love, Mary Joyce, the daughter of a wealthy
farmer, who forbade her from seeing him. Clare never really recovered from this rejection, and in his later life, he entered a mental asylum. This was a sad end to a truly spectacular love.

                                                                   Image from www.howtogetoverarelationship.com

Friday, 11 November 2011

Dancing in Paradise

If you were to go to paradise surely the most enthusiastic thing you would want to do is to dance. Dancing is a way of expressing supreme happiness, and if you are in paradise you would certainly be happy.

 The Tahitian dance  is called the otea, characterized by the fast hip shaking. This dance is carried out by both male and female dancers and is played to music, generally fast drums, but has no singing. The dancers are often dressed in grass skirts with no shoes.

The dancers make gestures, re-enacting the preoccupations of daily life. The women’s gestures can be related to the combing of hair or the flight of a butterfly. Men’s gestures are often related to war or sailing.

The dance itself is a mesmerizing combination of body contortions to the pace of fast drums. Some dances make you want to join in and dance. This dance is for watching, as you quickly realize that you could not possibly do what they are doing, and you might as well watch for what it is, a unique and scintillating performance of dance.

However if you are in Tahiti, you should certainly try the otea. It will make you smile, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry. That’s when you know you are having fun!

 Watching this mesmerising dance inspired me to write a poem, The Tahitian Dancer.

 The Tahitian Dancer

With eyes of white and body brown,
Upon her head a flower crown,
With tension high and music low,
Her teeth shone row on row.
Brief, but bright was her dress
And in her smile, a sweet caress.
Her hair was black and fell in cascade,
As before us, her dance was laid,
The crowd, like puppets, she did pull
For she was so bright and beautiful!

She stood serene in classic pose,
But as the rhythm of the music rose,
All were silent, all were numb,
As she danced to the beating of the drum,
And with her body all in proportion,
She went through her contortion,
Then she fiercely swung her waist,
As through her timeless steps she paced;
With flashing eyes, she thrust her hips,
Waived her arms and pursed her lips,
For all just sat transfixed, entranced,
When that sweet Tahitian lady danced!!

                                                               Image from www.examiner.com