It was the early hours of the morning when my phone rang. I was asleep and it took me a moment to get myself together. The voice of my friend Anne in California dispensed with usual greetings and instead simply said “Simon, your princess is dead.”
The TV news was carrying pictures of a smashed car in a Paris tunnel. Details were sketchy and confused. But by the time the country awoke that Sunday morning Diana, Princess of Wales, was dead and everything normal seemed to stop, as if standing in shock like everyone else.
I won’t re-hash what newspapers around the world will doubtlessly be saying today. I’ll just take this moment to remember Diana, Princess of Wales, who died on this day 10 years ago.
So you’re in love and you want to pop the question. You’ll need a ring or course. And not just any old ring. It should be unique and communicate something of the depth of your relationship, right? Well perhaps then this ring (pictured right) is the one for you?
Oh you might laugh, or gasp in horror maybe, but somewhere in the world there is a person who will be thrilled to find and wear this ring.
I discovered it by chance today while searching Google images for something unrelated to rings, or shagging come to that. But once I saw the picture of the ring on a blog post by Toronto resident, Eliane Duvekot, I just knew I had to blognap it.
Yesterday Liverpool celebrated its 800th birthday with street parties, parades, shows, and an unforgettable firework display to round off the celebrations.
The firework display was quite simply the most amazing firework display I’ve ever seen, beating that 4th of July firework display in Boston (USA) back in 2000. Fireworks were fired from the top of the Liver (pronounced Ly’ver) building, the catholic cathedral and the church of England cathedral, as well as a barge on the river Mersey.
The ¬£250,000 ($501,950) 18 minute display was timed to perfection and set to music that was broadcast around the city and on a local radio station. I was proud to have a personal connection as one of my friends, James, was on the team responsible for the fireworks on the catholic cathedral.
I took up a position on the riverside at Birkenhead just before 10pm. I had my camera at the ready but only the discovered that I had forgotten to take a memory card with me, so none of these pictures were taken by me, but in truth I doubt that my shots would have been anywhere near as good.
What these photographs fail to give you a sense of was the enormity of the display that stretched across the entire city in perfect time. It truly was a beautiful awesome spectacle. I might have missed it had it not been for a text message that James sent me in the morning reminding me that the display was happening.
It’s hard to think of Liverpool in terms of being 800 years old but King John founded the port of Liverpool in 1207 after England had conquered Ireland and was in need of another port to send men and supplies across the Irish Sea.
The city is currently undergoing extensive redevelopment and regeneration hoping to further establish itself as one of Britain’s premier cities. If developers have their way the Liverpool riverside skyline will look more like Honk Kong and New York in the future. A series of ambitious plans have proposed a number of skyscrapers for the riverside that will dwarf the current ‘three graces’ that stand on the banks of the river Mersey.
I don’t feel as connected to Liverpool as I once used to when I used to get the ferry across the Mersey to work every day. I am after all a ‘southerner’ hailing from the South East of England not the North West where I now live. But nonetheless it’s been my closest city for years now, just 6 miles away, and as such a part of me feels connected to Liverpool and that part was proud to see the fireworks light up the sky on it’s 800th birthday.
The fact that Texas recently executed another prisoner in its custody isn’t really news. Nonetheless, the media picked up on the story because it’s the lone star states 400th killing, and on this occasion the European Union took the unusual step of requesting that Texas cease the practice of carrying out executions altogether.
The United States has put to death 1,089 people since the Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment in 1976. Since then the State of Texas has lead the way claiming 400 of those killings, 131 of those under George W. Bush in his tenure as governor. Lethal injection is the preferred method of execution, but the electric chair and gas chamber remain an option. Firing squads and hangings might sound barbaric, but those methods were used to kill 5 people in the United States as recently as 1996. In fact, it was only in 2001 that the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to put to death mentally retarded individuals. Following that, in 2005 the Supreme Court concluded that it was unconstitutional to execute anyone who was under the age of 18 when they committed an offense.
Johnny Ray Conner was executed in Texas on Wednesday for the 1998 fatal shooting of a grocery store clerk, Kathyanna Gon Thi Nguyen. Conner always denied the charge and in 2005, a judge overturned Conner’s death sentence and ordered a retrial, saying Conner’s lawyers had been ineffective. In January a federal appeals court reversed that decision.
Without a doubt it is a tragedy that Kathyanna Gon Thi Nguyen was shot and killed. But I’m unconvinced that a state sanctioned murder of her killer has redressed the balance or served any real justice.
So where is the moral directive for justice? Upon what did we base our judgement that killing is wrong? If it was wrong of Ray Conner to kill Kathyanna Gon Thi Nguyen, why then was it right for the state of Texas to kill Ray Conner?
Perhaps the family of Conner’s victim feels better now that her killer is himself dead. But is it the job of the judiciary system to exact revenge in such a way? In effect, are we to believe that in this case two wrongs have made a right?
Conner was in jail for the crime of murder. He no longer posed a significant threat to people of Texas. One day he might have been released, and I will agree that such a prospect seems utterly unthinkable when one considers that his victim is dead. But in killing Conner isn’t the State of Texas simply demonstrating the fact that it simply doesn’t believe in it’s own rehabilitation system?
Perhaps execution is justice. Maybe killing a killer serves as a warning to other would be murderers that the same fate awaits them should they be caught. However, as the President of the European Union pointed out, there seems to be absolutely no evidence from any quarter that the death penalty serves as an effective deterrent. Most murders are not the result of a calculated well thought out process of reason.
If justice is equal handed then one thing troubles me about the death penalty; how come there have been so few executions compared to the number of crimes that are potentially punishable by death? I understand that the process of law takes time, but in the state of Texas alone there were 55,902 murders between 1976 and 2005 and yet only 355 executions. How is there such a vast difference between the numbers of crime and so-called justice?
In Furman v. Georgia, the 1972 US Supreme Court case that resulted in a temporary end to executions, it was concluded that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual punishment” proscribed by the Eighth Amendment as incompatible with the evolving standards of decency in modern society. Back then Justice Potter Stewart wrote “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact been imposed.”
Stewart went on to write “I simply conclude that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.” However, just four years later the Supreme Court allowed states to rewrite their death penalty statutes. Florida reinstated the death penalty within five months, followed shortly by 34 other states.
By the end of this month, barring last minute appeals, the State of Texas will have killed three more people, Daroyce Mosley, John Amador, and Kenneth Foster. I’ve not looked at their specific cases, and make no mistake I’m not suggesting that Texas is especially savage, I’m merely asking whether killing these men and the others that will follow, will really serve justice, and if not then shouldn’t the United States be examining the motives for the death penalty in the first place? What do you think?
What inspires you? That’s a big question and one that you might want to ponder for a while. Inspiration comes in many forms and today I’d like to share with you a video of one guy whom I find truly inspiring. His name is Ben Saunders, and he’s an Arctic explorer.
Anyone who enjoys listening to someone tell a good story will enjoy listening to Ben Saunders. The 30 year old British adventurer is the youngest person ever to ski solo to the North Pole, a challenge described by revered mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, as “ten times as dangerous as Everest”.
In this extraordinary 18 minute video recorded back in 2005, Ben modestly describes himself as being someone who “specialises in dragging heavy things around cold places.” However his achievement of skiing solo to the North Pole is quickly put into context when you learn that over 2000 people have climbed Everest, 12 people have stood on the moon, and yet only 4 people have skied solo to the North Pole.
“Unsupported polar expeditions are right at the edge of what’s humanly possible, both physically and psychologically.” Say Saunders when asked why he would choose to undertake a challenge like skiing to the north pole. He hopes that the journey inspires people to think about what they want to do with “the tiny amount of time we each have on this planet.”
Like all great explorers though, success in his last challenge has driven him to seek an even bigger one. In less than two months Saunders will set out on his next expedition, SOUTH, the first return journey to the South Pole on foot. This 1,800-mile expedition will be the longest unsupported polar journey in history. The current record stands at 1,350 miles, and most experts agree that going another 500 without assistance is practically impossible.
I’d never been a best man before, and to be quite honest I was somewhat apprehensive about the role. I knew I had to organize the stag party (mission accomplished), get the groom to the wedding, look after the rings, and deliver a speech that would make people laugh at the oddly named ‘wedding breakfast.’ Aside of that I had no real idea what on earth a best man was supposed to do, and this being my first time in that role I was acutely aware of the fact that whatever I had to do I needed to get it right! Of course, you’ll have to ask Phil, the groom, but I don’t mind saying that I think I did a good job on the day, and if I didn’t then everyone was having so much fun they didn’t notice.
Now I’m aware that there will be guys who will find there way to this blog post while they’re researching their own role as best man at a forthcoming wedding. To them I’ll say this, you might want to skip a lot of this post, but scroll down and look for the sub-title ‘best man speech.’ I’ll do my best to give you some advice, but at the time of writing this I’ve only done it once, so I’m no expert, but maybe I’ll be able to help.
I was really pleased that Phil asked me to be his best man. We’ve known one another for something like 13 years or so. I knew Philly back in the days when he still had a full head of hair! Being Phil’s best man was, I suspect, not as challenging as it might have been because Philly is without contest the most laid-back person I know. I’d never once seen him even slightly ruffled about anything, and if one required evidence of this they need only sit behind him in a car to see that he has the drivers seat cranked so far back he is almost laying down!
When Phil and Kerry-anne told me they were getting married I was delighted for them, and delighted isn’t a word you’ll often see me use but in this case it is exactly the right word. Kerry-anne is a sweet girl who oozes love and affection, if Phil was a Coke then Kerry-anne is the ice and lemon, it’s as simple as that.
THE BIG DAY
August 10th, 2007. A Friday wedding. After a ‘cut throat razor’ shave and a huge English breakfast, Phil and I arrived at the church with plenty of time in hand and dressed to the nines. I checked my waistcoat pockets for the rings about once every three minutes. Kerry-anne’s wedding ring was so dainty that several times I had to double check fearing I had somehow lost it.
The guests started to arrive and as they did the church bells tolled just once, a quick practice by the bell ringers I assumed. As soon as that happened Phil began to look worried. He disappeared to the bathroom and then outside for air. I followed him into the church yard and for the first time ever I saw Phil in a state of what looked like sheer panic. It wasn’t second thoughts, I think it was just the reality of the big day hitting him. I did what I could to help, but what do you say to a groom who you’ve never seen this emotional before? To be honest, I don’t know what I said, I doubt Phil does either.
With Kerry-anne’s arrival imminent we headed back into the church with Phil still in an emotional state. The two of us stood at the alter and Phil, taking huge slow deep breaths, told me he wasn’t going to look back as the Bridal march music started. Instead he kept asking me “Is she there yet?” Eventually I said she was. “What does she look like?” He asked. “Mate, she looks amazing.” I said, and believe me she did. With that Phil turned around to catch a glance before quickly turning back looking heavenward and going into near hyperventilation! (I can’t wait to see the video!)
I know Phil didn’t doubt for a second that Kerry-anne would arrive, but her arrival calmed him immensely and he was able to say all his lines, even though his voice was breaking with emotion at times. It was actually quite moving to hear the usually calm Phil in a state of emotion. In contrast, Kerry-anne was completely composed and simply beaming with a smile that didn’t leave her face at any point for the rest of the day.
I’m not one to indulge in sappy romantic notions, but if love has a look then it would be the way Kerry-anne was looking at Phil as they stood together outside the church after they were married. I think seeing that that was my favorite moment of the day.
Another cool aspect of the wedding was meeting up with old friends Henry and Andy, who was being comically identified as ‘German’ Andy on account of the fact he now lives in Germany with his wife and kids. Henry works in television and had been shooting a TV documentary style wedding video that we’re all excited to see. Throughout the day we had worn radio mics to capture our conversations, speeches, and comments to one another.
BEST MAN SPEECH
Probably the biggest pressure for the best man is to write a deliver a crowd pleasing speech. Any would-be best man would do well to follow the advice my brother gave me. He told me to first relax about the whole thing. “It’s the easiest audience you’ll ever have mate,” He said. “Everyone wants you to be funny so they’ll be ready to laugh at all your jokes, almost regardless of how bad they might be.”
“You can’t really stuff it up,” He continued. “And to be honest, if you do nobody will remember or even care. Your primary responsibility as the best man is to get the groom and the rings to the church.”
I thought about that and how true it was. At all the weddings I’ve been to, like everyone else at the reception, I’ve sat there in high spirits and listened to the best man ready to laugh at the merest hint of a joke. In fact the only time I can ever remember being disappointed by a best man speech was when I couldn’t hear it because the guy simply wasn’t speaking loud enough.
Some guys write their speech months before the wedding, but that’s not my style. I tend to have a little more of a relaxed approach to life, so I wrote mine just two nights before the wedding. (I put that in the speech and people laughed thinking I was joking!) One useful tip I would offer any best man would be to print your speech onto cue cards, that way you’ll eliminate the risk of losing your place amid a mass of words on a sheet of paper your shaking hand is gripping.
If you don’t know what to say then there are loads of best man speech websites. But the main advice I would offer is this: Enjoy it! Remember to have fun, you’re not delivering the State of the Union or accepting an Oscar, so relax and enjoy the attention. You’re the best man! Smile and have a great day remembering that while all eyes might be on your for a little while, everyone turned up to see the bride and groom.
The evening was great with loads of fresh faces turning up to join the party. I tried my best to get around and speak to as many people as I could. The celebrations went on until the small hours and when it was over I wished it wasn’t.
I’m not one who usually enjoys weddings, they always seem a little over-done to me, like too much sugar in a cup of tea. But this one was different. I suspect that’s because I felt such a part of it, playing a role more significant than the usual walk on part. In short I had a fantastic time being the best man. – Thanks Phil!