Not so much looking down as across..

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

nO2 - No to

nO2 – No to

More bills
More hassle
More technology

Are you of an age where you do not understand your mobile phone bill?
Are you someone who worries when you are offered ‘upgrades’ by your mobile phone provider?
Are you a phone junkie who spends more money on your various phone and media bills than you spend on food?
Are you one of those idiots who haven’t a clue what phone plan you have signed up to?
Then this Post may appeal to you!

Welcome to the fold!

I have decided to say ‘No’ to
- any further upgrades
- any new phones
- any offer of tickets to gigs, concerts, music, basically no to anything
- any offer of meals, drinks, pubs, cafes or restaurants

I am of a generation which simply does not believe in the concept of a free lunch.
I also am of a generation that simply wants a phone to be a phone
It doesn’t have to
- make coffee
- take photos
- make videos
- link me to Facebook or any other book

Together let’s start a new revolution
- Reclaim our lives -get our mobile phones and lock them away for two days every week and twelve hours a day on the other 5
- Take 30 minutes before you reply to a text, any text, every text. If your caller is dying, you will have saved the cost of a text. Develop discipline and will power. Be your own man (or woman).
- Enter rehab if necessary to deal with the withdrawal symptoms.
- Donate what money you can to victims of Twitter who have abandoned their own lives and forsaken their sanity for the sake of others
- Campaign for global write down of phone bill debts owed by idiots who accepted ’free upgrades’
- Donate the money you save by not going to those concerts you really didn’t want to attend to good causes in the Third World

- It’s good to talk, but there are times when its even better to stay silent
- The conversations we don’t have are often more important than the ones we do
- Let’s give more time to the people around us, family, friends or work colleagues, let’s not cop out in the virtual world
- Let’s bring down the gears of life and enjoy the lower gears a bit more.
Excuse me now my mobile is ringing

Goodbye Garret the Good

I only met Garret FitzGerald once. And sadly it was only briefly. It was over breakfast at a weekend seminar organised by his son Mark for Sherry FitzGerald staff and friends.
At early breakfast Garret was looking good and many years younger than his 82 at the time. Many, myself included, were the worse for wear due to ‘socializing’ into the early hours. As a result over breakfast we were looking many years older than our birth certs might suggest.

It was the classic ‘quiet’ business breakfast that follows the noisy night before. Our husbands, wives and partners who should have been a civilizing influence had clearly failed and so small talk was of the hushed variety as conference delegates struggled to remember their own name, never mind the names of colleagues who had come from the far flung corners of Ireland and beyond.

It was in this context that I mumbled a ‘Good Morning’ to Garret who by this time, no doubt, had read both the Irish Times and the Financial Times. I often regretted that I missed the opportunity to engage in something more meaningful.

I could have mentioned how I was a member of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland at the time of which he was Chairman for many years. But having never actually travelled on one of the steam engines that conversation might have disappeared down a cul de sac, or into a siding to use the technical term.

The truth is that I could have spoken to Garret on a wide range of subjects because he was uniquely Ireland’s Renaissance man with a passionate interest in a wide spectrum of interests, political, social, economic and financial. Garret was Ireland’s answer to Stephen Fry, and much much more. He was an elder Statesman in the mould of Paddy Ashdown or Neil Kinnock but without the slightly tribal chains that occasionally shackle them. You could be an ardent member of Fianna Fail and say you liked Garret and remain in the party. Because in truth Garret transcended party politics, indeed he transcended politics in its narrowest definition and was a Statesman in the true sense.

I had the good fortune to work as a consultant to his son’s company Sherry FitzGerald for two years. It was and is a remarkable company in terms of the humanity and egalitarian roots that shine through in many areas. It is hard to believe that it was a mere coincidence that the company co founded by Garret’s son Mark demonstrates so many of his own characteristics.

Our country has lost a great leader. Our people have lost an intellectual and moral touchstone. His family has lost a wonderful father and grandfather. I have lost the chance to enquire about the punctuality of steam trains in the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.

I fully believe that he is resting at God’s side – ar dheis De – and while he may not need our prayers he will certainly receive our fondest thoughts for many many years to come.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Time up for Brave Brian

Shadows on the clositer wall of Santa Maria, Los Arcos, Navarra, Spain, May 14th, 2011

Time up for brave Brian

I only once met Brian Lenihan and when I did, I bought him a pint.

We were celebrating our monthly Class of '69 reunion as usual in Reilly’s Bar at the junction of Merrion Row and Merrion Street. It was about 10.00pm on a dark winter night when Brian and an advisor wandered in off the street and ordered a quiet pint. He looked spent after another long day in the office. One long day seemed to follow another in the gloomy winter of 2009 when Ireland’s economic bark began to ship water and even ladies travelling in first class with berths with balconies found the foamy sea swirling round their elegant high heels. Two of us approached the barman and asked if a round of drinks might be quietly and unobtrusively sent to Brian’s table.

Brian must have got many pints over the years from the party faithful. But we were not the party faithful. Just two ordinary citizens moved by the weary look of another human being who was punching in inhuman hours. I cannot remember if the news of his illness had become public knowledge at that time, but the bad news was well known in Dublin circles long ahead of the public announcement. Before he left, Brian enquired of the barman who had sent over the pints and the barmen pointed to the ex pupils of De La Salle Churchtown. Brian may have even spent a moment wondering if there was a Fianna Fail cumann in De La Salle Churchtown but he gave us a polite and discreet wave as he left after his second pint.

We then ploughed into our fourth pints as a vigorous debate took place as to whether the offer of drink was a political inducement or indeed even ethically acceptable. Some months later we were to meet Enda Kenny, then Leader of the Opposition in the very same pub. Enda proceeded to tell us a long and not very funny joke but to a man we were impressed by his 'down to earthness', if such a word exists and his politeness. Unfortunately I was walking the Camino de Santiago two weeks ago and out of the country so I missed the opportunity to buy HRH Queen Elizabeth a glass of sherry or even a pint of the black stuff Barack O’Bama.

During his many long months of political torture I identified with Brian more than most because he was dealing with a problem that was mainly of a Banking nature. Having worked in the industry for over twenty years I know what it is like to try and catch falling knives. That is exactly what Brian had to do on our behalf.

I am not sure if anyone could have done a better deal with the IMF and the EU but I am sure of one thing, no one could have done it with more dignity in adversity than he. Bankers quite rightly do not deserve much sympathy these days – unless they work in the local branches – in which case they are heroes – but in common with diplomats there are often times when discretion is called for and confidentiality lies at the heart of both arts.

People wrongly criticize Brian for not telling us in advance that the IMF was coming to town. The simple answer is that he could not have done so; indeed if he did he would have done great damage. I am delighted with the progress the new government has made and wish them well. It is instructive to note that they have adopted about 99% of what the previous government had suggested and realised about 1% of their election promises – but they are right on both counts and politics is a terrible game because we citizens are, by and large, feckless and we mostly deserve what we get in democracies.

Brian was a patriot in the true sense. He was a martyr and his name should be mentioned in the company of Pearse and Collins, Wolfe Tone and James Larkin. The work he did for Ireland almost certainly shortened his life and robbed his wife and family of a dear husband and a fine father. At a time when the currency of politicians is low, Brian has showed us that it is indeed possible to live and to die for your country.

May his gentle soul lie in peace. He owes me a pint in the next life.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rest in peace!

I have always been fascinated by the 'life after' and by cemeteries. Some of my earliest memories are of playing with my country cousins in an abandoned (or so it seemed) cemetery just outside Donegal town. We passed the cemetery every day on the path down to the harbour and so it seemed the most natural thing in the world to spend hours wandering around the plots, trying to find the oldest headstone, the youngest or oldest person buried, the biggest gap in date of death between a husband and wife. Children can cope with death better than adults. For children death is the most natural thing in the world.

The cemetery had no defined walls that I can remember but it did have a ruined tower at one end. Aged approx six I decided I would climb to the very top of the crumbling ruin. My younger cousin ran home across the road and announced to all and sundry that I was now atop the tower. The fire brigade was called and a small crowd assembled at the base, joined by myself who in the meantime had climbed down to see what the fuss was all about.

I think I would like to be buried in a 'nice' cemetery - one that overlooks the mountains or the sea. It's a bit late to convert to the Church of Ireland, I suppose; they seem to have the nicest and best kept cemeteries. How do they manage it?, I wonder.

On the basis that we might be dead a long time it seems to make sense to be careful of where you are going to be buried. People spend a fortune to spend a mere twenty years in a castle and begrudge the thousand euro to buy the plot where they will spend the next twenty thousand years.

I find cemeteries peaceful. I get the feeling that most of the people who lie there are at rest. They are mostly old people in their eighties for whom death is a welcome companion. Every now and then I see the headstone to a child of two or three and I cannot help wonder what kind of life would that young child have enjoyed? I envy the people who have their graves well tended even after thirty years. I feel sorry for the graves that have not been visited since the coffins were lowered. It seems the relatives disappeared off to the pub and the next day rushed off to probate, said 'thank you very much' and never looked back...

To a great extent we cannot pick our neighbours in the cemetery. My father's grave in Deans Grange lies beside a young couple who died in a plane crash around the same time as him, in early 1980, leaving a young family. I often wonder how the children may have coped.

I used to pray at gravesides - without much conviction if truth be told. Now I don't pray any more. I believe they are beyond prayer and in a sense they don't need it. They have passed back into the mystery of life and death. I feel very strongly they are not entirely gone, neither do I see us round a big banqueting table at the end of time. Every good thing we did is captured in eternity like the fossilised resin we discover millions of years later - the spirit has changed but is still there.

I think it is nice to have somewhere to visit a lost loved one. I think cremation is fine as long as the ashes are placed somewhere accessible and durable - in the graveyard or elsewhere. I am not sure if I want to sprinkled out to sea, it just seems a little vague. The children will say 'dad is all over the place', so nothing much has changed. Neither do I want to be left on the top of the mantlepiece. One hears of unfortunate stories invovling overseas cleaning staff, fractious grandchildren and playful puppies and one feels a certain frisson. One would hope that the sense of dignity that has evaded me for most of my adult life would at least claim me in the next.

My hope is that my ashes will lie in a casket, (cemented to the wall, just in case), in a picturesque cemetery that sits perched above the Atlantic in Northern Tenerife in a little village called el Tanque. I think it is important that we have a good view of things, even after we pass on. Standing at my father's grave today I was cheered to look across at the hills of Dalkey and Killiney. The hills were looking out over South County Dublin and Deans Grange cemetery and it looked back across china blue sky of a bright and blustry Spring afternoon. I think Kevin A Murray would have approved.

Meanwhile round the corner my father in law Desmond Harte has a view of Howth Head that sits above the cemetery like a mountain in the distance.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis!
May his sweet soul repose at the side of God!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Looking backwards and forwards

I reproduce below a note I wrote for a client in November '08, hours after Barack Obama had been elected and weeks after the first bailout of the Irish Banks. Some of the comments look dated already, but some of the issues will not go away and are as relevant as when they were first asked. I reprint the article here with some minor changes to protect client confidentiality. My conclusion on reading it again is that the existential question is larger than ever - exactly what kind of world we want to create? It's up to us, I believe....
A November perspective - 2008

Drinkers in Dublin pubs like most citizens of the developed world have been glued to their TV screens over the past month watching the recent financial roller coaster. We feel as if we have been on the fairground equivalent of the Financial Wall of Death without a helmet or a safety harness. October’s ‘Banks’ Bourne Identity’ has been replaced by November’s Modicum of (socialist) Solace. Whew, the Banks survived! – just about! We were just looking up the ancient rules of bartering when the World’s Central Banks gave the Banks a blood transfusion. The patient will survive, but in what state? And the Banks, having been given the gift of life by Nurses Paulson and King, will they pass on the gift of life to their customers?.(Aka money).

It is natural for us look at the short term and to wonder which Bank shares, if any, we might buy, which industrial shares to invest in, in which geography. It is possible we may be all missing the point. Time will tell if the world will evolve in a very different way not for the next year but for the next hundred years. This is based on the assumption that we are standing on a commercial fault line not seen since the industrial revolution (that beats even Brian Lenihan!).

Much of classic commerce and capitalism as we know it goes back to a pragmatic philosophy that people should have food on the table, a dwelling to protect them and occasional holidays to break the humdrum of the working life. This era was characterised by products that lasted – houses that lasted for decades, even centuries and were valuable for what they offered and not just for their site value. Warren Buffet in a sense is an old fashioned capitalist whose childhood saw the difficult but certain world of the thirties and forties.

The change came subtly at first in the sixties with the emergence of planned obsolescence. Phones that lasted thirty years were replaced with mobiles that barely lasted thirty months. The annual family break - often to relatives - was replaced by multiple weekend breaks. Clothes barely lasted a season and what we consumed or half consumed became a huge industry - the waste industry. What was ‘necessary’ was determined increasingly by advertisers rather than by the consumers.

The God of consumption and consumerism required ever more intensive farming, ever more exotic holidays, ever heavier cars, ever bigger burgers.. Cars like my own – Volvos with a life span of 20 years in their native Sweden never lasted beyond four years on the Murray driveway – until now! Families of ten that shared a house saw the nuclear family split, emerge and inhabit 6 homes.

It is possible that we will see a total reappraisal of what we need, who we are and where we are going. The following are a few possibilities:

Housing – adult children will spend longer living at home. Families where one or both breadwinner lose their job and cannot find re-employment may move back with the in-laws. Necessity is the mother of cohabitation. Grandparents will not be moved so quickly into €1,000 a week nursing homes but will be tended by children and grandchildren. Smaller homes – one and two bed apartments in some locations will be literally worthless. Bigger houses will become popular again. The extended family will make a comeback and families will support each rather than rely on the services of strangers paid by taxpayers.

Cars – Starting in 2009 people other than car buffs and higher civil servants will find the car they currently drive is perfectly good. Car maintenance classes will become more popular than ever. People will buy cars for less than the cost of sun roof and stereo system in a top of the range luxury car. Car dealers selling models below €20,000 will earn a modest living – the rest can retire. The number of petrol filling stations will decrease as people think twice about taking a weekend break in Killarney.

Holidays – our weather will ensure that people on alternative years escape our summer, but weekend hops to Barcelona and Prague will become a thing of the past. When you travel somewhere far – you will make sure it is worth the journey and you will stay there for a good period. We can cancel the new terminal in Dublin airport – we simply won’t need it. The working assumption that air passenger numbers will continue rising will be tested – I believe they will struggle to recover the boom numbers for at least twenty years. Airport Hotels will have to rely on customers other than air passengers. The good news is that even Ryanair will treat its customers well. There will be so few of us travelling they will know us by our first names.

Shopping will be different. Spanking new Centres like Dundrum will be the exception not the rule. Retailers will fall like October leaves over the next few months. The retailer of 2009 will agree only to turnover based rents. These rents will be much lower - perhaps 60% to 70% less. The owners of centres will find it a very different world. We will discover that we have far too much retail space. We can make do with what we have.

Financial Services. This industry will shrink by 60% to 70% at least. People who take deposits and make loans, who give insurance cover and provide simple pension products, will live long and happy lives. People who spent their lives at trading desks betting with others sitting at other trading desks will be retrained to grow lettuces. The trading desks around the world will be built into a pyre and burnt in a bonfire of vanities. Executives who worried that they might be poached if they were not paid many millions will be relieved of that worry. People of greater integrity and lesser financial ambition will be able to do their jobs an awful lot better.

Golf Courses – those traditional clubs with real members driving Ford Mondeo’s will thrive; the posh golf courses will be ploughed up and set aside for growing lettuce for which their will be an army of lettuce pickers.

Hotels – We will see the return of the family owner establishment where guests are welcomed by their first names. They will cater for christenings, weddings and funerals. Hotels that cater for product launches, management courses and corporate hospitality will disappear over the next three years to reappear only in text books of Irish social history 1999 – 2008.

Vegetables – we will rip up our decking in the back garden to plant potatoes and carrots – no need to worry about the lettuce, already catered for.

Healthcare – we will return to thinking small – realising that in most cases people want comfort and sympathy when ill – not consultants reports and MRSA. We will see local health centres. Sadly we will discover we just don’t have the money for all the centres of excellence and we will have to ensure that 90% of the money goes on 90% of the patients.

Stockbrokers – sadly they did not survive the great hunger of 2010

Conclusion – the next 20 years will be dictated not by what we want but what we need and what we can afford and what our battered world can sustain. There will be no need in Ireland, at least, to build anything new for 20 years – we have enough offices, houses, shops, hotels and golf courses to get by. Work and work places have the opportunity to become places of creativity rather than competitive stress. Bad news if you are a shareholder (who is going to tell my wife?) – the focus going forward will be equally on all stakeholders – workers, pensioners, customers, creditors. Entrepreneurs who create real products and real jobs will be cherished. Taxing employment will become illegal – employers’ prsi will be cancelled and employers will get refunds in the post with a letter of apology from the Minster for Finance. The world might just last a little bit longer and our grandchildren might just get to see snow in the arctic in the summer.(weekend breaks apart!).


4th November ’08 American re-Independence Day.

PS Thanks to those of you who follow from afar - I don't tend to look at statistics often but I was amazed and thrilled to welcome readers last month in the following (surprising?) order - Ireland, Germany, USA, Canada, Slovenia, Vietnam, Russia, Brazil and UK. The all time readership distribution is more predictable but still very encouraging (for me at least) - Ireland, followed by USA, UK, Vietnam - yes Good Morning! - Mexico, Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Slovenia and Russia. Thank you all and Cead Mile Failte!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thank Haven for Haiti

For anyone interested in the Camino, in walking it, or joining us, or just dreaming about it, I attach a copy of the story that I posted to my less active Blog - Enjoy

Camino de Santiago May 2011

Alea iacta est – the dice has been thrown – we have crossed the Rubicon

After six months wrestling with the idea of walking the Camino in 2011 – of walking the Northern Route, of walking the entire Camino Frances, of cycling, of being escorted, of being guided – I have made my decision. I have booked my plane tickets. Unlike Lot’s wife, there will be no looking back! I will start in France in St. Jean Pied de Port, travel through Pamplona, where I began a walk five years ago, and finish in Logrono our penultimate stop in 2006. All in all it’s a good walk of 160k – closer to 200k when adjusted for height and drink taken the night before.

I am flying out of Dublin courtesy of Mr. Michael O Leary (Ryanair) to Biarritz at midday of Monday 16th May and returning courtesy of Aer Lingus on Thursday 26th May DV (Deo volente...).

I have decided to raise money for an Irish Charity working in Haiti, called the Haven Partnership, chaired by Leslie Buckley who is a director of Digicel, one of the few companies making a difference in Haiti. The distance is approx 160km and I will ask people to sponsor me at 10c per km, or 16 euro. I intend following the progress of Haven on their excellent Blog . I may cover the journey on my Santiago Blog en route, technology permitting.

Haven builds excellent low cost housing for the people of Haiti. Haven believes that by giving people a roof over their heads, they can give people pride again. Haven is also training the local people to be able construct the houses themselves and pass on the technology to others.

Armed with the excellent guide to the Camino written by Johnny Brierley I have been planning my route. Johnny was a director of an auctioneering firm in Dublin in the seventies and early eighties before turning his back on Mammon and heading for the commune of Findhorn in Northern Scotland. Findhorn sounds like a fantastic community where people work for a living in sustainable jobs (no navel gazing, it would appear).

Here is the proposed itinerary:

Day 1 Fly to Biarritz. Take the bus to Jean Pied to Port. Remember not to eat or drink too much!
Day 2 Set out on the hardest stage - over the Pyrenees following the route of Napoleon – 24km but 30km adjusted for climb of 3,500 feet – I hope it’s not snowing!!
Day 3 Downhill from Roncesvalles to Larrasoana 27km – adjusted for climb 29km – not all downhill – obviously
Day 4 Gentle walk to Pamplona 16km
Day 5 Recover in Pamplona. I enjoyed my last visit to Pamplona in 2006 – a bit too much! At least this time we don’t have to try and wake the Cathedral sacristan to get a –‘passport’ or Compostela (hence the name). Pamplona is a good partying town, so early to bed.
Day 6 Another tough walking day to one of my favorite little towns – Puente La Reina – with a climb of 2,600 ft – 25km – adjusted for height – 29km. Puente la Reina is town with a Roman bridge where numerous Spanish trails meet and join on their way to faraway Santiago in the gentle green hills of la Galicia.
Day 7 We leave the Province of Asturias for Navarra and make our way to the little town of Estella. Did we see a corrida (bull stampede) the last time? Barry may help me out on this one. A modest 22km – 23.5km adjusted for height.
Day 8 We journey to another pretty town – Los Arcos - a distance of 21 kms (23km adjusted), passing through Villamayor de Monjardin.
Day 9 – Final walk – finishing with a big one – 29.4km to the city of Logrono – passing the marvelous and historic town of Viana
Day 10 – spent in either Logrono, quite nice, or Bilboa – more interesting.
Day 11 – Return to Ireland on the afternoon flight.

I hope as many people can join me for some or all of the way as possible. Some will want to support their own charities, some will support Haven and some may support none. Just because I am mad doesn’t mean that others have to follow.

A great website to join and find out more about the Camino is . I get an e-mail every morning at 6.00am. It is worth waking up to.

I propose to make the pilgrimage as civilized as possible. I found out Day 1 in 2006 that there is an excellent taxi service where for 10 euro a day they will bring your bag ahead to your evening destination. As before I intend to stay in one and two star hotels or guesthouses. I know true pilgrims stay in hostels and snore and wash socks together. I simply don’t want humanity to suffer too much at my expense.

I am looking forward to meeting other mad people (pilgrims) en route and where possible some of the locals. It is a very demanding and daunting itinerary but I would like to smell the roses too. Like Paulo Coelho I hope to find my literary and spiritual voice. Unlike Paulo who has no interest in retracing his camino steps - I am looking forward to seeing familiar places again. I just hope the reality lives up to my fond memories.

In conclusion

Air travel - planned and paid for
Itinerary - agreed, just about
Compostela - try and find edition 2006 or write to Society of St James
Companions - to be pressed ganged
Fund raising - to begin
Hotel booking - over the next few weeks
Physical training - starting Weds in Tenerife 4 hours a day
Spiritual exercises - Mainly Quaker spirituality – starting tomorrow!
Ambition - to fund the building of at least one house to be named Santiago
Dedication Kevin A Murray 30th Nov 1920 – 9th January 1980

All suggestions will be welcome!