Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I believe that children are the future

My daughter had her end of year "Speech Day" this week, to mark the end of her time in Repton Junior School.

Academic and sports awards were distributed to the students for their achievements throughout the year and a couple of teachers made speeches to the parents and students in attendance.

It's about these that I want to write and comment. Repton prides itself on traditional English values and as I heard these ideals being reiterated to the "graduating" class of 2012, I was filled with joy and hope for the future. We heard about the activities and successes the students have had in academics, sports, music, drama and a number of other extra curricular activities, and also, crucially, in the development of their manners, ethics and humanitarian sides of their personalities. Common decency and how to be a good human being are all too often under played in today's hyper competative world, and here was a refreshing change.

Here sat a group of children ... Still young and moving on to "big school", but the discipline and manners and hard working ethic that has already been installed in them is admirable.

In a world filled with so many problems. In a world filled with so much corruption, crime and declining moral values, it is heart warming to see the good in our future.

Another 150 children moving on to become fine upstanding and contributing citizens to the world.

Well done Repton for playing your invaluable part in this and continuing a legacy that has stretched over 100 years already.

We are proud of the children we have, and you have contributed significantly in making them who they are.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A fairy tale ending.

Our football team finished second in the league last week and that earned us the right to play in the knockout rounds of the cup.

Tonight was the first knockout stage and victory would see us enter the last 16 on Tuesday night.

With inconsistent appearances from a number of players during the season, it was good to see we had a full contingent turn up tonight and give us the option of substitutes and fresh legs throughout the evening.

Excited to start, we moved the ball around well. Some good movement on and off the ball and a number of chances came our way, but none found the back of the net ... and it was indeed our opponents who scored first. We were caught on the break and a clean finish saw us go one behind.

We kept out heads up however, and it wasn't long before we equalized and then found the net for a second time to put ourselves in front.

With more than half the match played, we just had to focus and hold on, but the inevitable happened and we conceded a second.

We continued to play well, but still looked for the vital winner as the clock ticked down. The referee signaled 3 minutes and as we had our eye on the final whistle, some shoddy marking by our team saw us fall behind for the second time in the game.

We knew there was very limited time to do anything to save our fate. We pushed forward and had a couple of openings, but our urgency got the better of us and the final pass just wasn't finding its man. We had come too far to see our dream slip away from us like this. But we had one last chance. A break down the right wing and a crowded defense left us with no choice but to swing in a cross and hope for the best. It was delivered well, good pace and outswinging to the far post, and we all saw a diving red shirt connect with the ball perfectly to see it headed into the back of the net.

We had saved ourselves and pulled level in, literally, the dying seconds. As soon as we restarted, the final whistle blew, and we had saved ourselves from an unjust exit from the tournament ... at least for the time being.

With a final score of 3-3, our destiny would be settled by a penalty shoot out. It's the first time I have ever experienced this as a player and it's every bit as nerve racking as is played out on TV.

One can sit back an criticise professional players when they miss a penalty, but when you find yourself in that position, the goal never looks smaller and the opposing goalkeeper never looks bigger!

We had 3 brave souls volunteer to take the kicks and we all had faith in our goalkeeper.

Our team stepped up first and it was a solid shot into the bottom corner. With a clean finish like that, it's clear to see the benefit of being first in a penalty shoot out. Our opponents equalized and both teams scored their second penalties as well. As our third man stepped up and neatly finished his shot, making it 3 out of 3 for us, we started to debate (and worry) about who will be the additional takers should we go to sudden death.

The debate, however, was moot. A penalty aimed straight down the middle was brilliantly deflected by our 'keeper who had the presence of mind not to dive speculatively to either side, and victory was ours.

And how sweet it was. To win in a fashion that couldn't be scripted better. A last second equaliser and a penalty shoot out victory, we look forward to enjoying the place we have earned in the last 16 "tournament" on Tuesday evening.

Every player has done well and contributed to this great team achievement. Thanks to all of you for the great season we have had .... till now!

Our sponsor for the season, POLICE, deserve an honourable mention,
especially for the prizes we were given this evening for our valour and achievement.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My MINI adventure

One day last month, with my wife and son busy doing their own things, I took my daughter out for lunch. We went to a favourite "light bites" restaurant called Limetree Cafe. They have recently opened one quite close to our house, so we went there and shared a lentil salad, some Arabic bread topped up like a pizza and  some lovely risotto cakes.

We finished our meal and went back to the counter for some take away dessert ... remembering that we had to bring some delicious goodies back home for Shaan and Reena. We picked up some banana cake, a chocolate brownie and a triple chocolate fudge cake (best served warm) which was to die for !

With our doggie bags in hand, we started to leave, but I suggested we take a quick detour into the attached Mini showroom (yes - that sounds and is peculiar). I took a look at some of the new coupe's. They did look good, and the convertibles particularly fun.

Ready to walk out, I was approached by a female sales person who kept me in the showroom for another 10 minutes ... convincing me to try sitting in the car, look at the boot space and the ease with which the roof opened and closed. She was very good at her job. Every time previously I have walked into a car showroom in Dubai (no matter what level of car manufacturer), I have found you have to almost beg to speak to a sales person to get any information. This, even though I wasn't looking to buy, was a breath of fresh air. She was polite and friendly and keeping my level of interest (and not ignoring my daughter).

I was impressed with the car and at the end of my 10 minute tour of the car in the showroom, I found myself sitting in a demo model that she had given me for the next 24 hours!

No hassles and no long wait  - she took a copy of my driving license, noted down my phone number and handed over the keys. An excellent way to hook a customer.

Unfortunately it was 2pm in late May in Dubai, and that is not a time to open the convertible, but nevertheless my daughter and I drove off on a joy ride for the afternoon.

The car is very well made and drives excellently. It is small, but feels solid in its handling. With a 1.6 twin turbo engine (188 BHP) it is nippy, and I can imagine it would be a perfect run around car in a European city ... but I am not sure about its suitability in Dubai with its big roads and big traffic!

In the early evening I took my son for a spin, and this time we could take the roof down. It was a lot of fun and there was no dramatic wind buffeting.

What I noticed in the showroom and got to enjoy when using the car was the on board computer. It connects easily to any Bluetooth phone (both my kids iPhones and my android) and not only connects them to a hands-free phone system, but also for streaming music (through some excellent Harmon Kardon speakers).

The attention to detail on the interior design is also excellent. There are some lovely switches that look AND feel great, and it doesn't feel like a car where common parts from other BMW models have been used for convenience ... everything is bespoke Mini, and the car is better for it.

From venturing out for a simple lunch with my daughter, I was so impressed with this car that I was almost convinced to buy it, but (perhaps thankfully), apart from the inconvenience of a being a 2 seater, my golf clubs didn't fit in the boot!

So the next day I picked up my son from school and we drove together to the showroom to return the car ... and I was sad to see it go. I do remain hugely tempted!

I'm aware I was driving a billboard, but it was fun anyway!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

10,000 Visitors


I started this blog as an experiment and purely as an outlet for my own writing enjoyment, but I am really pleased (and flattered) with all the positive comments I get from so many of you who regularly read this, and now my blog has crossed 10,000 visitors!

It's fantastic to see the diversity of readership also ... fans from all over the world :-) Below are some statistics of my readership ... some of you may find it of interest.

93 posts
10,000 visitors

My most read post ... I lost 11kg in 11 weeks.

Google and Facebook (predictably) brought me the most traffic which came from:

USA - 31%
UK - 23%
UAE - 19%
Russia and CIS - 12%
India - 6%
Hong Kong - 3%

From devices:

Windows PC's - 67%
Mac's - 15%
Blackberries - 4%
iPad's - 4%
iPhone's - 3%
Android devices - 1%

and to get really geeky ... the browsers used were:

IE - 41%
Firefox - 20%
Safari - 17%
Chrome - 13%

Thank you all so much for your interest and appreciation. It only goes to spur me on and keep going.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Inspired ... again!

After the school excellent performance of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I was once again inspired by an event held by Dubai College. Last night I went to see their Art and Design & Technology Exhibition.

A display of fine art pieces and creative product designs by the GCSE and A level students is a credit, not only to the school faculty, but also and especially to the young students who showed such flair and creativity in their displays.

I am always inspired by great creativity, and I love to see how young free unincumbered minds work. Here, the students were allowed to put together their own works without too much constraint and the results are a tribute to a bright new generation of talent. There were sculptures, watercolours, photography and many more expressions of art using a variety of media, and the design and technology exhibits were a clear sign of the students thinking out of the box on how to make better products.

I am passionate about design and creativity and originality, and what is so wonderful about seeing exhibitions like this is that there is no shortage of new ideas. No matter how much time has passed in history, the human mind is unique and will continue to find new and interesting ways to express itself.

Well done boys and girls. Whoever said "everything that can be invented has been invented" clearly didn't see the ability of our youth ... yesterday, today and tomorrow

Monday, June 4, 2012

Madonna was ... "okay"

It was a big event for the Emirates ... a real "mega star" coming to Abu Dhabi to perform, and sure enough, Madonna's first night sold out immediately which prompted the announcement of a second night (which is struggling to fill up!).

As soon as the date was announced, we joined the rush to get tickets for the opening night and succeeded. Several weeks of eager anticipation followed until yesterday arrived!

The tickets said that doors open at 7pm, but knowing this region, there was no point to get there before 9pm. The event was hosted at the hugely impressive Yas Marina. It is a well laid out location and there is good road access, good signage and there are good parking facilities.

We arrived at the entrance for the "Golden Circle" just after 9pm, and it was a typical humid evening. We passed the security and made our way towards the stage. Benny Bennassi was on, warming up the crowd. We kept edging our way closer to the front. Partly by our own efforts and partly by the swell of the crowd pushing us forward.

It was hot and crowded and getting very uncomfortable, but when Benny Bennassi finished at 9.30 we all got ready for the imminent arrival of Madonna.

9.30 became 10pm and that became 10.30pm. The crowd (and I) were becoming restless and impatient. We had arrived close to the from of the stage on the left hand side. It was uncomfortable waiting so long in the heat and there was no chance to be able to get away and get a drink (and then get back to the position we had worked so hard to gain).

There were more and more angry mutterings from the crowd and then several choruses of "boo's". Several people close to us did in fact give up and walk away!

But finally, at 10.40pm, She arrived! The stage and show were suitably dramatic for a star of her stature. Her opening gambits were quite violent staged scenes and clearly her newer songs that she wanted to promote.

The acoustics and lighting were impressive, but we spent most of the time watching the show on the huge projection, as we had a massively obstructed view for most of the evening due to the design of the stage, but we had our moments when she ventured over to the wings and we could get a real good view.

For a lady of 50+, Madonna looks fantastic. She has an unbelievably well toned body, but it struck me that her energy is not what it used to be. The show was good. An excellent dance troupe as you would expect put on some memorable acts, but I thought this came at the expense of some good old singing!

The concert ended at 12.30, so I give Madonna credit for not short changing us because of the late start (as Robbie Williams did a few years ago), but I was feeling exhausted and dehydrated by this time already ...  which is when she made her finale of "Like A Prayer" (the highlight of the evening for me).

So despite the grandiose stage and setting, this was a mediocre evening for me at best ... or maybe I'm just getting old!

The weather !

I just completing a flying trip through Europe and, mundane as it may sound, I have to comment on the weather.

I love living in Dubai. It is a safe and clean modern city with sunshine 365 days a year. I'm quite happy to accept the scorching peak summer months (mainly because we escape for most of that period), but also because the other 8-9 months of the year easily out weigh those "difficult"months.

But being in Europe (London and Moscow) last week shows me and reminds me of what a real treat it is to be in Europe in the summer months and enjoy their hottest season.

Even in Dubai's most pleasant months (which are quite spectacular climate wise), it somehow doesn't match the "freshness" that you find in Europe.

You can walk in the vibrant streets and enjoy the long days. There is always a cosmopolitan buzz around and people exude happiness and a love for life.

Maybe it's the arid desert versus the more lush continental environment that makes the difference, but it is at these brief moments in time that I miss living there.

I only have to console myself by remembering that these days and inconsistent and represent only a brief moment in time out of the whole year.

On balance, I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Dubai and get regular and frequent doses of other places on my travels ... truly the best of both worlds!