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On Thursday each week my column appears in the Euro Weekly News. My opinion is just that, an opinion. Feel free to put your oar in but in a constructive way if you please. Thanks so much. - Michael

30 July 2013

















Armed with international credentials a local company is positioning itself to make Torrevieja the preferred option for Russia’s sailing enthusiasts.


Serenity Sailing School’s owners, Richard and Anna Plaster, will visit St. Petersburg early in October. There they will introduce Torrevieja International Marina as an opportunity to take up sailing as a recreational sport.


Their eleven Royal Yachting Association (RYA) accredited courses begin at novice level to Yachtmaster. They also cover related subjects such as Powerboat, VHF Radio, Day Skipper and Yacht Master theory courses.


Anna says, “We are well equipped for Russian speaking students including teenagers. It is important that their certification is internationally recognised.”


Serenity Sailing, based at Torrevieja International Marina, believes that there is no reason why recreational sailing on the Costa Blanca should not be as popular as is golf in the region.


She adds, “We are actively engaging with Russian sailing schools and lifestyle media. Torrevieja is perfectly placed to become a recognised base for the Russian Federation’s sailing enthusiasts. We now have a dedicated Russian desk with Russian-speaking liaison staff.”







For Further Information or Photographs


Richard Plaster. Serenity Sailing


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26 July 2013


A Forum Troll is a person who posts offensive and challenging messages to bait people to answer.  Trolls delight in sowing discord on forums and are invariably anonymous posters, taking care to hide their true identity or location.  A troll is someone who purposely provokes and attempts to pull other posters into a flaming discussion.  Flaming discussions usually end with name calling and a flame war.


A classic example is trying to make posters believe that he is a genuine sceptic with no hidden agenda.  He or she is divisive and argumentative with a need-to-be-right attitude, allegedly ‘searching for the truth’, flaming discussion, and sometimes insulting people or provoking posters to insult him. 


A troll's tactic is to use the same words of their intended victim and to turn them against them. They are notoriously dog at a bone persistent and when their victim finally gets fed up with responding to a thread a troll will claim their victim has lost the argument; is unable to reply.


A troll is a person extremely sceptical of the main forum subject and focused on making other forum members appear stupid. A troll will sometimes use insults to provoke other people to insult him. Then, he will complain to moderators of being insulted and will request that his opponents get banned from further discussion.


Sometimes trolls try to spin conflicting information, is questioning in an insincere manner, flaming discussion, insulting people, turning people against each other, harassing forum members, ignoring warnings from forum moderators.

Trolling is a form of harassment that can take over a discussion. Well meaning defenders can create chaos by responding to trolls. The best response is to ignore it, or to report a message to a forum moderator. Moderators usually delete troll messages or block trolls.  Negative emotions stirred up by trolls leak over into other discussions.


Normally affable people can become bitter after reading an angry interchange between a troll and his victims. This can poison previously friendly interactions between long-time users. Because of trolls many forums boast thousands of registered members but because of trolls few actually use forums; perhaps only one in a hundred registered users.


When trolls are ignored they step up their attacks, desperately seeking the attention they crave. Their messages become more and more foul, and they post ever more of them. Alternatively, they may protest that their right to free speech is being curtailed or their victim has lost the argument by not responding. 


Perhaps the most difficult challenge for a webmaster is deciding whether to take steps against a troll that a few people find entertaining. Some trolls do have a creative spark and have chosen to squander it on being disruptive. Ultimately the webmaster has to decide if the troll actually cares about contributing positively to a forum, or is simply playing to an audience of one, himself.


Next time you are on a message board and you see a post by somebody whom you think is a troll, and you feel you must reply, simply write a follow-up message of two words: Troll Alert!


The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction and not to respond to trolling messages.  It is well known that most people don't read messages that nobody responds to. 99% of forum visitors first read the longest and the largest threads with the most answers.

Like 1        Published at 08:25   Comments (7)

Going Bananas: Why not?
20 July 2013


Going Bananas: Why not?


Have you ever wondered where monkeys get their boundless energy? One marvels as they catapult from tree to tree, ricochet from branch to branch, and sprint through the undergrowth. Maybe they have gone bananas.


The banana fruit contains three natural sugars, which are very important to us all. These are sucrose, fructose and glucose combined with essential fibre. Together they give the body a considerable and sustained boost in energy levels. 


Two bananas provides enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout so it is hardly surprising that athletes favour it. Consider also the excellent effects it has on other maladies, some of which are down to modern lifestyles.


The mental health charity MIND carried out a survey of people suffering from depression. It revealed that many felt their melancholia lift shortly after eating bananas. Bananas contain tryptophan, a protein that the body converts into serotonin. This is known to help you relax and improve your mood. 7


Like acne, pre-menstrual syndrome is a rite of passage. Why not cheat by putting bananas on your shopping list? Your glucose levels are regulated by vitamin B6 and a regular intake stabilises your moods. Return balance to the body’s essential absorption of this vital mineral.


Another bane is high blood pressure. This wonderful tropical low salt fruit has a high content of potassium so will help to keep your blood pressure at a safe level without adversely affecting your quality of life.


According to research in The New England Journal of Medicine, eating bananas as part of a regular diet can cut the risk of death by strokes by as much as 40 percent. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed. Two hundred students at a Twickenham school were given an intelligence boost when their daily diet became banana-based.


When hung-over try this remedy. Whisk yourself a banana milkshake and include liberal spoonfuls of honey. The anti-acid fruit will settle your tummy, the honey restores your body‘s sugar levels, whilst the milk reduces the effects of de-hydration.


The irritation of a mosquito bite can be relieved by rubbing the inside of a banana skin on the affected area. Warts can be stressful and many swear by the healing properties experienced when the inside section of banana skin is placed over the wart, fastened by surgical tape or a plaster.


The humble banana has four times an apple’s protein, twice its carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron and twice the other vitamins and minerals.

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The Strange Story of Stephen Collins Foster
13 July 2013

The more mature generation will be familiar with such whimsical ballads as I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, Oh Susanna and The Old Folks at Home. They were American favourites long before Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue came to symbolise the essence of the United States. Indeed the originator of these songs had by then earned an international reputation. His repertoire of ballads were bringing lumps to the throat and tears to eyes from Alaska to Durban, New Zealand to Buenos Aires, and of course throughout the United States. They still do.

One hundred years and forty years since they were penned Beautiful Dreamer, My Old Kentucky Home, Camptown Races and Old Black Joe, still evoke nostalgia; sales still hold up yet few have an inkling of the tragedy that marked the life of the man who created these much loved melodies.
Born into a comfortable and loving family existence the short life of Stephen Collins Foster (1826 - 1864) was a riches to rags story. This increases the poignancy of his death at the age of just 37 for when Foster died, during a bitterly cold New York winter; he was sick, homeless and penniless; probably an alcoholic; a figure of fun. In his pocket when he died were just 38 cents and the words ‘dear friends and gentle hearts’ scribbled on a scrap of paper. Yet by this time he had composed over 175 songs.
The Two of Hearts
Perhaps the best account of the composer’s final days can be found in ‘Personal Recollections of the Last Days of Foster’. It was written by 21-year old Mrs Parkhurst Duer who worked for a large publishing house on Broadway. She was intrigued by the songs that had warmed the hearts of America and it was her dearest wish to one day meet the songwriter.
She later recounted: “I heard he was living in New York but had never known anything about his life; yet his songs had created in me a feeling of reverence for the man and I longed to see him. One day I was speaking with the clerks when the door opened, and a poorly dressed, very dejected man came in and leaned against the counter near the door. I noticed he looked ill and weak. No one spoke to him. A clerk laughed and said: “Steve looks down and out.”
Who is that Man?
Everyone laughed and the poor man saw them all laughing at him. It seemed to me my heart stood still, intuition perhaps and I asked, “Who is that man?”
“Stephen Foster.” the clerk replied. “He is only a vagabond. Don’t go near him.”
“Yes, I will go near him, that man needs a friend,” was my reply.
I was terribly shocked. Forcing back the tears, I waited for that lump in the throat which prevents speech, to clear away. I walked over to him, put out my hand, and asked, “Is this Mr Foster?”
He took my hand and replied: “Yes, the wreck of Stephen Collins Foster.”
Oh no.” I answered, “Not a wreck, but whatever you call yourself I feel it an honour to take by the hand the author of The Old Folks at Home. I am glad to know you.”
As I spoke, the tears came to his eyes and he said, “Pardon my tears, young lady, you have spoken the first kind words I have heard in a long time. God bless you.”
What had brought such a talented and prolific song-writer to such poverty, even as his compositions were being sung and wildly applauded in vaudeville and saloons, family get-togethers; published by the theatre world and making a fortune for others? Like many other talented craftsmen Stephen was hopeless at managing his affairs and rarely laid claim to his compositions, which were shamelessly plagiarised. If he was paid at all such gestures were given as though in charity; a few paltry dollars thrown like scraps to a stray. The avaricious world of show business leeched Stephen’s intellectual copyright.
A Hobo of Culture and Refinement
The young lady publisher told of how she got to know him better and found him to be a man of culture and refinement. He told her that he wrote his music on wrapping paper picked up in a grocery store, and he had written many of his songs while sitting on a box or a barrel.
Mrs Parkhurst Duer knew he did not have a home and asked if he had a room.
Not as such. He slept in a cellar owned by an elderly couple who had offered him the living quarters without taking payment. He said he was comfortable so I supposed he had a bed she surmised.
The publisher’s assistant arranged for the destitute songwriter to receive one good meal a day, and medicine, and took care of other comforts, one of which was a room in a Bowery hostel. Sadly by then it was all too late and Stephen Foster Collins died in the most miserable of circumstances.
His brother Henry described the accident that led to his death shortly afterwards in a New York theater-district hospital. Confined to bed for days by a persistent fever, Stephen had tried to call for assistance. In doing so he collapsed and falling against the wash basin next to his bed, he shattered and gouged his head. It took three hours to get him to the hospital. It was an era before transfusions and antibiotics; the internationally adored but penniless songwriter succumbed after just three days. In his worn leather wallet there was a scrap of paper that simply said "dear friends and gentle hearts". Estranged from his family he remained devoted to his wife whose name was Jane and for her he had written:
I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair

I long for Jeanie with the day-dawn smile,
Radiant in gladness, warm with winning guile;
I hear her melodies, like joys gone be,
Sighing round my heart o’er the fond hopes that die:
Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain,
Waiting for the lost ones that come not again:
Oh! I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
Floating, like a vapour, on the soft summer air. ©

Like 1        Published at 16:09   Comments (0)

A Newspaper’s Greatest Asset
09 July 2013


Throughout the world people show tremendous loyalty to newspaper columnists and find they identify with them rather than the newspaper itself. Readers turn the pages to see their take on things. Naturally, they will be drawn to those who echo their own opinions. The Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn can really get Middle England applauding.

This empathy with readers transfers intense loyalty to the newspaper they write for. The title columnist is apt. Its origin is based on Saint Simeon Stylites of Syria. In the 5th Century, he harangued the populace from his column. Newspaper columnists also wield enormous power.

Just as Norman Rockwell once epitomised the United States with his paintbrush, columnists carried out the same task with their typewriters. Their names live on. In the U.S. Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Walter Winchell, H. L Mencken: In the UK Cassandra, Lynda Lee-Potter, Richard Littlejohn and Andrew Alexander of the Daily Mail. The list is endless. They shape opinions, they become household names.

The Washington columnist Marquis Childs guessed that James Reston of the New York Times had roughly the power of three U.S. Senators. Their influence is such that presidents and prime ministers tirelessly court them. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was a Walter Lippmann sycophant. He knew that such an influential columnist could make or break him while the electorate were still in bed.

Lippmann’s Today and Tomorrow column appeared three times a week in more than 200 newspapers. He had drafted President Wilson’s famous 14 Points and was later wined, dined and courted by Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Lippmann played a leading part in ending the Vietnam War. It was a war that his rival, columnist Joseph Alsop, helped to start. As he ordered 50,000 more troops to Vietnam Lyndon Johnson was heard to murmur: “There; that should keep Joe Alsop quiet for a while.”

No fewer than 800 American newspapers carried Walter Winchell’s daily column. Little did his adoring readership know that Herman Klurfield, for twenty-nine years, served as Winchell’s ghostwriter. Many columns are written by a group effort and appear under a pseudonym. It is in effect a brand name.

In the United States alone feature syndicates and major newspapers carry the opinionated daily debates of over 200 columnists. To these can be added local commentators covering everything from gardening to sportswriters, political pundits and social gossip columnists. Across the U.S., it is estimated that 15,000 mostly freelance writers provide for 26,000 periodicals. This number can at least be doubled if the UK and European Union are included.

Such is the influence offered by a barrel-thumping columnist that the calling has attracted the most illustrious figures in history. Both U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt were newspaper columnists. So was President Ronald Reagan and one time presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater.

A columnist’s value to an editor cannot be understated. His challenging wordsmith gets away with expressing opinions, some controversial, the editor dare not utter. It is the columnist, not the newspaper that attracts the flak. He creates the illusion of free speech. Most important of all there is neither news nor sport feature that can draw and keep as many readers as can the columnist.

Cynics may write journalists as people who scribble on the backs of advertisements. However, there are few advertisements that carry as much influence as do the publish and be damned columnists. They wish. ©

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