Snowfolk

It snowed a lot here last weekend. I don’t recall ever seeing so much snow down at the level of Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman, to use its official name), with the possible exception of one year around 2006 or so when Geneva itself froze up for a week. In our village of Vich, just above the lakeside towns of Nyon and Gland, we had 20 to 30cm of snow fall throughout last weekend, with more falling on Monday.

Snowfolk

Robert (now 3 and a half) and I rushed out to the back garden for some snowman action on the Saturday morning, but the snow just wouldn’t clump together. It was probably too cold. We made do with some sledging beside the village school. The following day, however, with slightly higher temperatures and a fresh dump of powdery snow, delivered perfect conditions for the building of snowfolk, hence our little snow family above.

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I took another photo before heading to work on Monday morning. “Nadine” had toppled over and my own likeness was looking a bit wobbly too. All facial features had either fallen off or were covered by the previous night’s fresh fall.

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Today, one week later, the aforementioned wobbly me remains standing at a gravity-defying angle, and Declan’s minimalist facial features have revealed themselves again as some of snow dropped away. (The carrots were cooked eaten last weekend!)

Temperatures barely rose above zero all week and a bitterly cold bise has been making it rather unpleasant to venture outside for the last couple of days. Let’s see how much longer our little snow family struggles on.

Crilly goes to Rio

My good friend Alan McCafferty, who I first met 20 years ago (eek!) at Dublin City University where we were both studying Communication Studies, has always been something of a wordsmith. He got in touch earlier this week to ask whether I’d be able to quickly record some lyrics he’d written, inspired by Christy Moore’s famous Joxer goes to Stuttgart (my favourite line of which is “When the cock crew in the morning, it crew both loud and shrill, Joxer woke up in his sleeping bag many miles from Arbour Hill”).

It was to serve as a wrap-up to an epic World Cup prediction competition he ran where he works – there’s a bit more background on their blog here. The lyrics are a bit specific to some of his colleagues in places, but anyone familiar with the original and the Bishop Brennan episode of Father Ted should enjoy the Craggy Island twist.

The lyrics are clever and funny, to the extent that I don’t think it does any injustice to Christy’s original. Think of it as an hommage if you will.  It only took twenty years for Alan and I to collaborate on a musical project…hopefully it won’t take so long the next time.

(Link to Soundcloud in case the embed doesn’t work in your browser.)

A living statue actually worth seeing

Having lived in Amsterdam for a couple of years and witnessed the influx of really bad “living statues” on Dam Square, I’ve grown to dislike this form of street theatre greatly. (It annoys me even thinking about those con artists in Amsterdam. I know people are desperate sometimes, but they made life very difficult for legitimate artists.) So when I headed downtown in Geneva at lunchtime on Thursday and saw a gold-suited, gold-painted guy limbering up on his plinth on Place du Molard I tutted to myself and quickly moved on.

It was only when I passed by again a little later that I realised this guy was a bit different.

Living statue, Place du Molard, Geneva 24 July 2014

I’m still not sure whether he was somehow fixed to the plinth or just had incredibly strong calf muscles. Either way, he deservedly gathered a little crowd. I’m always happy to throw a few coins in the hat for good street artists, but it’s a very long time since I did so for one of these living statue merchants.

Writing about this subject reminds me of a video that amused me greatly a few years ago. This prank took advantage of the big scene in Barcelona for this kind of street theatre. Enjoy.

The Vich Herald

As Robert’s birth was announced two and a half years ago in The Geneva Bugle, we couldn’t let the birth of his little brother Declan pass without a sequel. Having moved from Meyrin to Vich in the meantime a new masthead was required.

The Vich Herald

He’s almost five weeks old as I type this and is doing really well. Sleeping for decent stretches at night, feeding well (with Nadine doing a super job) and generally a content little lad. Robert has taken on the mantle of big brother without too many problems. He pushes the boundaries with us a bit more than before, but with Declan he’s been very gentle and loving. He’s also alive to the fact that he now has a captive audience for his performances:

Two happy and healthy boys who have the best mother in the world (who also happens to be the best wife in the world). I’m a lucky man.

No excuses

The two things below gave me food for thought this evening. Both came from via BrainPickings.org, a site I may visit more often in future.

The first speaks for itself…

The Holstee Manifesto

 

And this one, from ZenPencils.com illustrating a Charles Bukowski poem, is why I need to stop making excuses about time and space and start just making.

Source: http://zenpencils.com/comic/97-charles-bukowski-air-and-light-and-time-and-space/

Two-player paradise

I’ve always enjoyed a game of Scrabble. Flicking through holiday snaps from the last ten years it’s often a case of “A win for Nadine in Lisbon”, “Victory for Eoghan in Tromso”, etc. (Actually, sadly it’s more often the former than the latter in terms of the winning player.) In the last few years the menu of games has expanded a bit in our household, with Settlers of Catan being a popular one for when friends are around. But there’s a certain category of game that I’ve really been getting into: two-player strategy games that can be quickly learned and don’t last too long. There are three that I particularly enjoy playing and that I can recommend to anyone who enjoys a good board game, but doesn’t have the time or energy for the one or two hour sessions they sometimes entail. (And they’re great for travelling.)

Quoridor

Before we set off for a trip around New Zealand I visited a games shop in the Nine Streets in Amsterdam and asked them to recommend a good two-player game we could take with us. This is how I was introduced to Quoridor, a game that we’ve now introduced to lots of friends. It involves moving your piece across a simple board of 9×9 squares, trying to get to the opposite side before your opponent. Each player has ten walls they can place at any time instead of making a move. This is what keeps the game interesting, as you try to find ways of blocking your opponent without making your own journey any longer. It’s almost as much fun to watch as to play, and there’s a four player variant that gets quite manic at times (for a board game).

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Quoridor: The dark player looks to be about to win here, but not by much.

Quarto

A mini-catalogue of other games from the same manufacturer brought us to Quarto. It has a similarly short learning curve to Quoridor, but is quite a different game. In this case you’re trying to create a row of four pieces that share the same characteristics. There are 16 pieces in total, each one unique, having a combo of four possible characteristics: square vs. circular; hollow vs. solid: dark vs. light; tall vs. short. An interesting twist  is that you choose the piece your opponent has to place each time. It requires quite a bit of mental agility to keep all of the combinations in mind and to try to second guess your opponent’s next few moves. Both of these games take three minutes to learn and shouldn’t last more than ten to play a full game.

Hive

The same games shop in Amsterdam that recommended Quoridor also introduced us to Hive, another fun quick-to-learn, quick-to-play, two-player strategy game. There are five different pieces that can be played, things like ants, spiders or beetles. As in chess, each has a different movement pattern which makes them useful for particular moves or strategies but not for others. Unlike chess, there’s no board here, with the aim being to avoid having your queen bee encircled.

And with pen and paper…

Finally, I also wanted to mention briefly a fun variant on Noughts & Crosses or Tic-Tac-Toe that I came across recently via kottke.org (a great compendium of interesting stuff from around the web). Called “Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe”, it takes the standard, childish game to a whole new level and actually makes it fun again. You draw one big grid and then place a smaller grid in each of its nine spaces. Once the game is under way each player’s move dictates the grid where the next player must move. Each grid you win becomes an X or an O for you, as you attempt to win on the big grid. This blog post explains well how it works and provides a few notes on tactics. But I recommend just learning the basic rules and then exploring the possiblities with a fellow gaming geek. It’s more fun that way.

A tale of two toilets

Visiting our friends Ruth and Damian about a year ago we noticed that they had twinned their toilet. The money raised by this clever idea is spent on providing safe, clean toilets for people in developing countries. It’s something we take for granted in our part of the world, but actually 2.5 billion people don’t have suitable sanitary facilities.

They ask for a donation of GBP £60, which goes towards providing toilets for countries in various parts of the world. Apparently it can cost between £10 and £100 to build such facilities, depending on the circumstances. In return your toilet is twinned with a recently built toilet in a country of your choosing – and you get a nice framed certificate to display. As with many charity schemes this serves the dual purpose of making you feel good about yourself (not so important) and spreading the word (very important). I think it’s a very clever way to spread the word – when you visit friends that’s one room you usually end up spending time in, right?

Toilet Certificate

We chose to twin with a toilet in Ethiopia, not least as my neice and nephew are both half-Ethiopian. They provide you with the GPS coordinates of “your” toilet’s location. Ours is located in a village south of Addis Ababa.


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Toilet Detail

(Actually, this is the second time we’ve done this, as our friend Paul pointed out that, having moved house recently, we were cheating by moving the twinning certificate too. It was in fact the toilet in our old place in Meyrin that was twinned with a toilet in Burkina Faso. Hence this new twinning. It was nice to see that in just over a year the Latrine No. has risen from 977 to more than 80,000. Clearly this idea is going viral.)

toilettwinning.org

Podcasts for Adrian

I discovered recently that my UK Mission FC teammate Adrian is also a fan of podcasts, so we agreed to exchange tips on some of our favourites. The list I emailed to him seemed like it would sit well here too. One we already had in common is Fighting Talk, a humourous weekly sports panel show from BBC Radio 5. Colin Murray presents. Highly recommended.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of the podcasts I listen to:

Playback (RTE Radio 1)
This and Fighting Talk are the two definites each week for me. This weekly show is a great way of keeping in touch with political, cultural, sporting, social life in Ireland. It’s a kind of compendium of the best bits of shows from across all of the RTE radio stations during the previous seven days.

This American Life
This is from public radio in the USA. Usually good, sometimes really excellent. I pick and choose depending on whether it looks like something that’ll interest me. Each one is only available free of charge for one week. This week’s one looks like it could be pretty good (Doppelgangers).

RadioLab
Radio documentaries about popular science. Always a good listen. The short show this week about doctors and death is good…and I enjoyed the one a few weeks back about kids and genetic inheritance. Not as heavy as it sounds.

The Nerdist
I used to listen to this a lot more, but the host has really started to annoy me. His two co-hosts are okay and it can be quite funny at times, but Chris Hardwick himself tries a bit too hard. Nonetheless, when the guest is someone that interests me, I’ll download and listen. Some of the guests are people I’ve never heard of or have no interest in, but recent interviews (actually they’re more like casual chats than interviews) have included Tom Hanks, Mel Brooks, Kevin Bacon and Larry King.

Coverville
Cover versions. Lots of them. The presenter is clearly passionate about covers but isn’t great on the microphone himself… I check the feed every couple of months to see whether any bands or themes that particularly interest me have passed by. Right now I’m about to download the 2012 Top 40, which should make for a few hours of good listening. (The covers in the Top 40 aren’t all from 2012, but are voted on by his subscribers. To keep it fresh he inducts those that appear repeatedly into a kind of Hall of Fame that removes them from the Top 40.)

The Guardian Tech Weekly
I’m not that big of a tech geek, despite what some may think, but the topics do interest me a bit, and it’s handy for my job to keep in touch with new developments. I dip in and out of this one.

Le Rendezvous Tech
Covers similar ground in the tech domain, but this time serving the twin purpose of helping me to improve my French.

Design Observer
Just recently came across this one…I’m not sure yet whether it’ll turn out to be my cup of tea, but a recent interview with Jason Kottke (whose blog is just brilliant) was quite interesting.

Philosphy Bites
I haven’t listened to this at all yet, but it comes highly recommended and I may give it a try over the coming months.

And that’s it! I may add one or two of Adrian’s recommendations to the mix in due course – but there’s only so much listening time available. Actually it was the fact that becoming a father ate into the amount of time I have for reading that started me on podcasts. Now I find I’m trying to strike a good balance between listening to music and listening to podcasts. Life’s tough, eh?!

He’s walkin’

Having put a little video together to capture the period when Robert was dragging himself around the apartment during the summer, I couldn’t resist doing the same now that he’s just started walking. It was shot and edited in the couple of hours either side of his bedtime this evening. The soundtrack is old school again, with a Fats Domino song being the first one that popped into my head for this video. Enjoy!

And while I’m playing the proud father role, here’s 20 seconds of him having a post-bathtime giggle one evening last week. He really does like his books!