Sunday, December 24, 2006
If you click on the image then it will take you to a page where you can print off a foldable version to stick on your mantelpiece
I hope you all have a great festive season, regular readers, lurkers and random stumblers alike!
All the best!
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Thank you for your application to GMAC Shorts Talent Pool. We received a high number of applications this year, the quality was exceptional and so the competition for places in the Talent Pool was tough.
Your Cineworks Narrative Fiction application has now been read and reviewed internally as well as externally by independent industry professionals. Your project ‘I Met Myself The Other Day’ ref. Number CINE W14 has not been selected for the GMAC Shorts Talent Pool…
Telling me that a huge number of extraordinarily talented people applied so I didn’t get in, isn’t really any kind of compensation, yet those who compose rejection letters regularly favour this approach. Are they implying that it’s really just a lottery, so the more entrants, the lower the odds in my favour, or are they saying that if there’d been less applicants of lower quality then maybe I’d have been considered? Either way it doesn’t exactly reduce the crushing sense of disappointment.
I’d felt really good about my application too. Still, for all I know, “independent industry professionals” could mean the people who clean camera lenses. Once again those who should know better are failing to recognise huge talent when it’s plonked right down in front of them. Either that or I’m still suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect*
Still, last night Rogan & I went along to the Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries to join about 120 other people putting themselves forward as potential extras for a few scenes in a forthcoming horror film to be shot only a few miles from my house (see last post – Extras).
We filled in the application forms, which were purely about physical characteristics (height, collar size etc) and contact details, then were photographed with an ID number scrawled in felt pen on the back of the form while we tried to look Eastern European.
Rogan, however, along with the rest of the children who turned up, was videoed for a minute or two and asked his name, his school, his favourite subjects and whether he’d ever acted. His responses about his performance at school assembly had me swelling with fatherly pride. That boy has star material written all over him (not that I’m biased in any way, you understand).
Standing next to a couple with blonde highlights and surfer dude t-shirts, I began to think we had as much chance as anyone else. However, I found out this afternoon that several genuine Serbians turned up after we left, so I’m not holding my breath. Apparently if we’ve not heard anything by the end of the month then we can safely assume we’ve not been picked.
Whether we’re successful in getting the role of Body Part #27 or not, Rogan enjoyed our wee foray into the world of casting, and happily regaled his pals in the playground with his adventures, probably convinced he is the next Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom. Meanwhile I can see that at this rate I’m going to have to start a sideline of inserting horses heads into producer’s beds** if I’m ever going to make headway into the movie business.
* See Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments
**See The Godfather
While Rogan and I were at the dump this afternoon, putting out a car-load of cans, bottles and cardboard for recycling, Maggie took the call to say they weren't going to use us as extras. Apparently they were rather taken with a 6 year old who looked cuter and more vulnerable for the part of the kid.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
I haven’t heard back yet, but the process did bring me into contact with the South West Scotland Screen Commission, based in Dumfries, the upshot of which is that I’m now on the mailing list of film related things going on in this corner of Scotland.
Anyway, it turns out that a film company are going to be shooting in this corner of Scotland in the New year and require extras for a number of roles in the film. They’re looking for:
Males aged between 19 – 60s, Eastern European looking
Females aged between 20s – 50s, Eastern European looking
Young boy aged 11-12, Eastern European looking
1 Man aged 30s – Able to speak Serbian
Fit men 20s – 40s, meant to be professional soldiers
There’s a casting session this Wednesday evening in Dumfries so I thought it might be fun to go along, and as Rogan’s 11 he wants to come too.
Could this be our first step towards superstardom?
I doubt it - neither of us speak Serbian or are particularly Eastern European looking, and I’m certainly not fit enough to look like a professional soldier, but maybe we could be bodies in the background.
It might be a bit of a laugh, and an excuse for a few blog entries, but chances are I’ll be writing on Thursday about how they were unable to recognise star potential when we were right in front of their eyes.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
As I reached the till, eggs in hand, a rather nice unbleached cotton bag was placed in front of me. “For you,” I was told.
I looked up quizzically. Was this part of a Christmas promotion? I didn’t really need a bag for only one box of eggs.
“My computer’s been offline for some time,” she continued. “I finally got it working again and did a Google search on the shop…”
It appears that my blog entry, Carrier Bag Etiquette, is on the second page.
It’s been quite a while since I last blushed.
I’ve suspected for some time that blogging under my own identity has the potential for embarrassing encounters.
Did I mention what wonderful people they are in Sunrise Wholefoods? Great selection of products, personal service and infinitely better value than Tesco.
Nice bags too.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
But things were not always so jolly in the Ayres household, oh no. For there was a time, only a few years back, when the season was almost lost to us altogether. Gather round the log fire, relax with a glass of Bailey’s, pass round the bowl of brazil nuts and let me tell you a tale of when logic and reason threatened us all…
When my stepdaughter, Holly, was in her mid-teens, she announced one October that she was not going to be celebrating Christmas that year, or ever again for that matter. We were not Christians and politically had socio-anarcho-greeno leanings, so the idea that we would worship consumerism in the name of a god we don’t believe in, was the height of hypocrisy.
This turned out to be extremely difficult to argue against.
Ok, we’re not Christian, but we could celebrate the midwinter solstice instead… We’re not pagans either – you’re just swapping one religion for another.
But really it’s just a time of year for the family to be together… Well we could choose a day that was significant for us rather than pay the inflated prices during the high season of a world geared up to take as much money from us as possible.
But what about the magic of Christmas for the little ones - Santa and all that…? So you want to teach Rogan and Meg that it’s ok for a complete stranger to come into their house, and that they should accept gifts from someone they don’t know, before eventually discovering that one of their finest childhood experiences was nothing but a lie fabricated by you, the very people who bang on about the importance of honesty in life.
But what about the presents…? So you want them to grow up believing consumerism is the only viable route to happiness, while overloading your house with stuff you don’t need, rarely use and simultaneously reduce the amount of money you have to put towards the really important things in life. Besides, anything you really want can be bought for half price 2 days after the event.
We lost the argument. She was right. Given our religious and political beliefs, to celebrate Christmas seemed hypocritical in the extreme.
And when it came down to it, in truth I’d been trying to avoid much of Christmas for years anyway. Bombarded with Christmas carols and Christmas paraphernalia in shops, not to mention all the Christmas adverts on TV starting from as early as September, I’d become a cynical and grumpy bastard when it came to the festive season. We rarely got round to putting up the tree and decorations before the 23rd of the month and I did my utmost to avoid thinking about it until the very last moment.
So she won. We agreed that we would abandon Christmas. We would have a quiet family day, but we wouldn’t bother with trees, presents, decorations or fat men dressed in red.
Initially we felt good about taking a hard line stance against a world gone mad with greed, marketing and acquisitions. There were inevitably going to be a few complications trying to explain to friends and relatives why we would not be exchanging cards and why they shouldn’t be sending the kids any presents, but we felt confident that we were doing the right thing.
Well, nearly confident.
As time wore on the doubts grew, and grew, and grew.
We could be as politically highbrow as we wanted, but it was Rogan and Meg who would be going without. Christmas really was a magical time when I was a child and now I was denying it to my own children. It wasn’t like we spent extravagant amounts of money on it anyway- we’d always kept quite a tight rein on the budget. I may have heard all the Christmas songs ten thousand times, but the wee ones hadn’t. And in the bleak mid-winter there was something rather comforting about bringing colour, sparkle and a little bit of magic into the house.
Instead of feeling noble, it began to feel that the whole exercise was one of negativity. We weren’t embracing some positive alternative, all we were doing was kicking against the system but running the real risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
So in the last 2 weeks we chickened out, back pedalling furiously against our high ideals, put up the decorations, bought some presents and stuck a school-made fairy on top of the Christmas tree. We heaved a sigh of relief, feeling that we’d almost lost something quite precious and actually gained a far better perspective on what it was important, for us, which is family being together and exchanging gifts. The gifts are not expensive – we probably spend less than 10% of the average consumer - but they are tokens of warmth and love and I don’t think anyone has ever felt hard done by.
It turns out that by keeping Christ and Consumerism out of Christmas it can actually be a very pleasant affair. I enjoy it now more than ever.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
As mentioned in the last post (It was a dark and stormy night) Loch Ken had burst its banks and there was a fair amount of flooding. Water levels have dropped by a metre or two since the weekend, but many fields are still completely submerged.
Loch Ken this morning - click for larger version
Thinking it would cheer me up, I was delighted to see I'd got an email from my friend Dave (see Dave and Beb are moving to Spain) this morning. It says:
Howz it going Kim?
Well we just got back from the beach, the beach in December ! Sunny, hot, tapas
by the ocean... hows Scotland
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Forced to detour many miles down back lanes I was aware the petrol warning light had been on for quite some time and the gauge was pointing at Empty.
The roads were strewn with broken twigs and fallen branches. Through the lashing rain, the glare of the headlights combined with the constant throbbing of the windscreen wipers was producing a headache of tectonic proportions.
I tried to call home but there was no signal on my mobile phone.
Several miles had passed since I last saw a house showing the slightest sign of occupation.
The scene was set for a terrible tale of calamity, misfortune and possibly death…
But as it happens every thing turned out fine. I arrived home safe and sound just in time for Maggie to dish up a warm and welcoming dinner.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Yesterday’s soup? I thought we finished that.
No, leftovers soup: soup made from the week’s leftovers.
The red bean pie from Monday?
The sausage stew from Tuesday?
Rice from last night?
What’s that other taste… cumin…
The falafel from Wednesday.
Wow. Nice soup.
Don’t expect it every week.
Who needs Nigella when I’m already married to a domestic goddess?
Monday, November 27, 2006
It has not always been easy and at times it has had me crawling up the walls in frustration through to being curled up in a ball, whimpering from withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes the pounds have fallen away, sometimes they have been more or less static for months and sometimes that have begun to find their way back again.
At times the cravings have had me seriously considering chewing my own arm off.
The result of all this is that between us we have lost 191lbs (or 13stone 9lbs in old money), so far.
But it seems that all this sacrifice, all this time, effort and energy was a complete waste of time. Technology has come up with an infinitely easier solution than finding the willpower and motivation to overcome the cravings for chocolate, crisps and deep-fried pizza.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, the new range of Hewlett Packard cameras with the Slimming Feature (do check out the demo). Never worry about whether you should have that extra doughnut again.
To use the slimming feature, first take a photo. Then, while in playback mode, use the arrows to select an image and press OK.
Highlight the Design Gallery menu tab using the arrows.
Use arrows to highlight Apply Artistic Effects and press OK. Then highlight Slimming and press OK.
Adjust the slimming level using the arrows. Then press OK, and you're finished.
I feel as stupid as Frodo Baggins must have when he was rescued from the side of Mount Doom by the Giant Eagles and realised that if they could have flown in to pick him up, then surely they could have flown him there in the first place and saved a great deal of time, effort and thousands of lives (not to mention one of his fingers), if only he'd thought of it earlier.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
While I was there he gave me a copy of his new book, Donald Ayres’ Exmoor Revisited, which is a follow up to his original Donald Ayres’ Exmoor.
I was about to write a humorous and witty sales pitch for the book, recommending it as an ideal Xmas present etc, when I caught site of the dedication, which I missed first time round. It’s no surprise that it's to the memory of my mother, but what caught me off guard was:
1937 – 2003
Strangely enough I’ve not seen the dates of her life written down. The 1937 bit is familiar enough to me, but it’s the 2003 after it that was the punch in the stomach. Despite it being nearly 4 years since she died, and me now being 40 years old, suddenly I just feel like a wee boy who’s lost his mummy and I can’t think of anything witty or humorous to write.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
If you're extremely lucky, it's finished before you lie in it.
Monday, November 20, 2006
10.30pm - Been feeling steadily worse as the evening has progressed. We kept Meg off school yesterday because she had quite a nasty cold. Think I must have caught it
11.30pm – lying in bed reading and my left nostril is completely blocked and yet is dripping at the same time. Have to put a couple of sheets of tissue on the pillow beneath my head.
2.30am – difficulty breathing and swallowing. Left side of my throat has swollen up and my mouth feels like I’ve been swilling battery acid. Left nostril is now clear, but right one is completely blocked and dripping. Feel crap.
3.30am – cannot get back to sleep - keep having to blow my nose and whimper each time I swallow. Maggie is sound asleep. Consider waking her up for a bit of sympathy. Think the better of it. Left nostril is blocked again but the right one has cleared. Feel crap.
4am – give up trying to get back to sleep. Go downstairs and watch an episode of Torchwood I recorded earlier in the week. Faeries are evil, psychotic killers, apparently. Feel crap.
4.30am – bloody freezing. Put heating timer on override. Take ibuprofen. Feel crap.
5.am – Meg gets up early. Send her back to bed. Am a little dizzy when I stand up. Feel crap.
5.30am – watching Countdown. Carol Vorderman really shouldn’t dress like she’s 30 years younger. Feel crap.
6am – So tired. Ibuprofen beginning to kick in. Start to drift off on the sofa, but keep waking up with a gushing nose. Feel crap.
6.30am – make myself some breakfast now that I can swallow without too much pain. Meg gets up permanently. Feel crap.
7am - Feel crap.
7.30am – Go back to bed but every time I try to snuggle into Maggie I have to leap away again to avoid my dripping nose coating her hair. Feel crap.
8am – Can’t sleep. Maggie gets up. Feel crap.
8.30am – pillowcase is getting sodden. Feel crap.
9am – Cough. The vilest tasting phlegm in the universe comes up and my throat and chest feel like I’ve been gargling with broken glass. Feel crap.
9.30am – trying not to cough. Feel crap.
10am - Feel crap.
10.30am - Feel crap.
11am - Feel crap.
11.30am – Try doing a Sudoku puzzle. Makes my eyes hurt. Feel crap.
12pm – Take more Ibuprofen. Feel crap.
12.30pm – Bowl of Maggie’s thick, homemade, vegetable soup. Feels wonderful while I’m eating it. Once I reach the bottom of the bowl I feel crap.
1pm - Feel crap.
1.30pm – Maggie’s off to see Rogan playing the trumpet in the school concert. Feel really low that I’m going to miss it. Feel crap.
2pm – Put “Alice in Wonderland” on the DVD for Meg. Feel crap.
2.30pm - Feel crap.
3pm - Feel crap.
3.30pm – Feel better! Just kidding. Feel crap.
4pm – Maggie and Rogan get home. Maggie is drenched. It is chucking it down with rain outside. It was dry when she left so she put on a warm jacket rather than a waterproof one. Maggie feels crap.
4.30pm – starting to drift off on the sofa again. At one point I manage ten whole minutes asleep before waking up with a painful cough. Feel crap.
5pm - Feel crap.
5.30pm – warm soup with a homemade scone. Bliss. Cough. Ouch. Feel crap.
6pm – finding it increasingly difficult to move about. Get bursts of dizziness every time I stand up or try and walk. Feel crap.
6.30pm - Feel crap.
7pm – Maggie’s watching the Antiques Roadshow. I wanted to watch a programme about a woman swimming with sharks but as Antiques Roadshow is just about the only programme she insists on watching while I have complete control over the remote for the rest of the week, I don’t make any headway, despite using the puppy eyes. Feel crap
7.30pm – Feeling really crap. It feels like every nerve ending is hypersensitive, and when I move my legs it's like ice suddenly shoots through my veins
8.pm – desperately want more ibuprofen but can only have 2 more today so had better save them for when I go to bed. Feel crappily crap.
8.30pm – The heating has been on all day, I’m wearing several layers, I’m under a blanket on the sofa and I’m feeling cold. Crap, crap, crap.
9.pm – As well as the cold and pain, when I try moving I get bursts of uncontrollable shivering. Take the ibuprofen. Crap, crap, crap, crap.
9.30pm – Crap, crap, crap, crap, crappity crap, crappity crap, crap, crap, crap, crap.
10pm – I want to die.
10.30pm – Don’t think the ibuprofen is having any effect. I am so tired, I hurt, I’m cold, I’m dizzy, I’m shaking, my head is pounding. It takes me a while, but eventually I make it up to bed.
12.30am – Wake up in a pool of sweat, blasting out enough heat to melt the One Ring to Rule Them All. Take off remaining layers.
2.30am – wake up again and feel ok. It doesn’t hurt when I move. Smile. Fall asleep.
8am – feel a bit fragile, but I can breathe, I can swallow, I’m not sore and my nose isn’t dripping.
Friday, November 17, 2006
For several years the number of dentists offering NHS treatment has dwindled, but even if you have the bucks to pay for private treatment, there is a chronic shortage of them in SW Scotland. Last year, when the last NHS practice in Dumfries decided to go private, and thus dump 4,000 entitled-to-exemption-from-payments people off his books, people started queuing from 4am – over 1,000 of them that day - desperate to get onto his list and pay the £22 registration fee (not to mention annual fees for being allowed to remain on it). Rumours of an increased crime wave as people sought funding for their dentistry needs was never confirmed.
The only alternative has been to go for emergency treatment at the local hospital, but they lock the doors after admitting the first 40 or so people in – typically within 10 minutes after opening them.
This year the region managed to recruit 5 Polish dentists into the area and we were finally placed on the waiting list. Today was a family occasion as we took the kids out of school, dressed up in our finery and all went along for our very first check-up in years. The fact that we had to wait nearly half an hour past our appointment time to be seen, only added to the sense of theatre.
Overheard conversations with the receptionist were not encouraging.
“Your next check up is in January, Mr Wallace. Is that OK?”
“Well, I’m not sure. We might be away in January…”
“The next time I can fit you in would be July if you can’t make that one, Mr Wallace.”
Suitably humbled, Mr Wallace hastily agreed to rearrange his holiday plans.
And that’s the truth of it: in Dumfries & Galloway, you will organise your vacation, your vocation and your children’s schooling around the demands and expectations of the dental practice if you have been fortunate enough to get on their books.
Ms Czaja seemed a pleasant enough person and was quite gentle with the children, although Rogan has a cavity and will need a filling. She seemed a bit cold with me, took a cursory glance around my mouth and told me I was fine and wouldn’t need to be seen again for another year. Maggie needs a scale and polish.
Back out at reception to make the appointments, the earliest Maggie and Rogan can be seen is June 7th next year. Given the extreme advanced notice being given I asked if I should book next year’s check up now. I was told quite firmly that I would be sent my appointment nearer the time, which could easily be beyond 12 months due to the number of people they still have to see between now and then. It was made perfectly clear that as we were NHS and not private then we should have to expect to wait.
She’s right. In the current dentistry climate we cannot complain, we cannot choose to go anywhere else and we cannot expect to be treated as anything other than 2nd class citizens. We just have to be thankful that we now have access to a dentist at all.
Monday, November 13, 2006
I spent a large part of my childhood in Wales where everyone is expected to be feverishly devoted to this national sport. Rugby is a real man’s game: a full-on contact sport for the strong, virile and powerful. Rugby heroes are gods. Soccer, by comparison, is for poofs.
For me it is the embodiment of everything I loathed about school sports – standing in a waterlogged field in the cold, wind and rain in a thin shirt and shorts, where my worth as a human being was decided on how well I could kick, catch or throw a ball while 15 of the most battle-hardened, brutal and merciless bullies in my year were put together in the opposing team, hell bent on breaking every bone in my body and drowning me face down in 6 inches of mud.
And when it was over, it was back to the changing rooms where, as an adolescent, self-conscious, pubescent lad, I was expected to take showers with other boys whose sole purpose was to try and humiliate and intimidate those who didn’t fit in when they were naked and at their most vulnerable.
When I watch films about army boot camps with sadistic sergeant majors, where the recruits are expected to follow the most inane orders and carry out despicable acts on weaker members in the name of discipline and even patriotism, it reminds me of sports at school. The first time I saw Full Metal Jacket, for example, I realised that had we been learning to use guns instead of a rugby ball for combat training at school, then Private Pyle would have been my role model.
So why this little nostalgic trip down memory lane?
My son’s friend goes to Rugby practice on Sundays and invited Rogan to go with him at the weekend. I kept the rush of fear, loathing, disgust and panic that instantly surged through my veins under control and calmly let Rogan know that it was perfectly acceptable for him to turn his friend down. But no, he insisted on going to see what it was like.
He thoroughly enjoyed himself and can’t wait to go back next week.
Just when you begin to think you have an idea of how the world works, it slips from your grasp and demonstrates you haven’t a clue really.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
This incident - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wear/6132140.stm - surely has to be a contender for the Darwin Awards.
In fact, I'll just go and submit it...
...there, all done.
Just discovered another version of the story here, which goes into a bit more detail:
In fact, I think I've just discovered the action caught on a mobile phone camera and posted on YouTube. You can't see much, but judging by the laughter over the guy's screams, his friends aren't that sympathetic:
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
powered by ODEO
With wee bits of advice and name calling (Jessie, Dr Maroon?) going on in the comments of my last post (When do the Endorphins Kick In?) I felt the need to try and clarify the psychological barrier I’m up against.
Feeling the pangs of mortality – midlife crisis and all that - I’m aware that it’s not just about how long I might have left to live, but the quality of that life. I’d rather spend my 60s and 70s in relatively good health than struggling to get up the stairs and worrying about every heart palpitation.
I’ve been on a healthy eating drive now for 90 weeks, 22 hours and 17 minutes (see Losing a Hundredweight), which has resulted in the loss of over 6½ stone. And while losing 93 pounds of excess fat will certainly have helped, weight is not everything – it’s also about how efficiently the organs are working which will contribute to the length and quality of the remaining years. Exercise too, it would seem, is something of a necessity.
But this is something I’ve always struggled with: while I enjoy a bit of Tai Chi here and there, I’ve never been into exercise. It always seemed like way too much effort for so little reward to me.
I want to be fitter; I’d love to be fitter; I just don’t want to have to go through the process of getting fitter. Quite frankly it terrifies me.
The reality is that I have NEVER been fit. I have no idea what it feels like to be fit. I cannot imagine it. I cannot visualise it. All I have to go on is fit people telling me that I’ll love it, despite all my personal experience to the contrary. If I go for a brisk walk I feel knackered afterwards. My 20-minute bike ride on Sunday took most of the day to recover from.
The arena of fitness has always been a mystery to me. From my perspective, looking into the world of exercise is like standing at the side of a frozen lake, wrapped up in several layers of thick clothing and wishing you were sitting next to a nice log fire with a glass of whiskey instead, while in front of you there are people making holes in the ice and diving in naked saying “Stop being a wimp – it’s good for you!” I’ve remained unconvinced while the participants couldn’t comprehend why.
My formative experiences of the fit were sadistic PE teachers at school who had no time for uncoordinated children who found no joy in running up and down a muddy field on cold, wet and miserable days, dressed only in shorts and a t-shirt.
Just like those who can eat 2 Maltesers out of the packet and put the rest away for later will never understand the severe and monstrous cravings of the food addict, and dog owners will never understand that when this beast the size of a shire horse with fangs like a sabre-tooth tiger comes bounding up to my terrified daughter that their words of “it’s ok, he’s just being friendly” act as no comfort to her whatsoever, so fit people never seem to understand the massive resistance there is from the never-fit to engaging in physical activity.
So when fit people offer well meaning advice, telling me I should start with 20 minutes of warm-up, 2 hours of actual exercise, followed by another 15 minutes of cooling off activity (I have no idea what that even means), and build up my regime from there, it hardly fills me with motivation and enthusiasm. The 20 minutes of warm-up alone seem beyond my ability.
My only hope is to do something that I can reasonably enjoy, start off at a low level and gradually work my way up. If I have to engage in activities I loathe (jogging, for example), in a miserable environment (out in the wind and rain), for periods of time that are going to leave me feeling physically sick (currently more than 10 minutes), then I just won’t get round to doing it.
I want to be fit and healthy. But never having been so means I have to rely on the advice of people whose expectations of what I’m capable of are far removed from my own perceptions on the matter.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
My last bike had 3 gears, which was considered quite advanced technology in my youth. This one has 3 on the left handle and 6 on the right and I think it’s as basic as they come these days. At least half the energy I expended this morning went on trying to figure out how to use them without changing gear every 2 seconds.
Still, at least this time out I was sensible enough to plan my route so that the majority of the outward journey was up the flat road and the return was mostly downhill.
Despite being breathless as I wheeled the bike through the gate, I began to think perhaps it wasn’t too bad after all. As I locked the shed and returned to the house however, I was suddenly overcome with tiredness; I stepped in through the door and was hit with a wave of exhaustion; I struggled to get my shoes and bike helmet off, flopped onto the sofa and the room began to spin.
It took half an hour and a strong cup of coffee to recover a vague semblance of normality, and finally be able to answer Maggie’s question of how far I’d travelled on my quest to push my body to the limit and test the boundaries of human endurance. I was able to boast that in the 20 minutes I was away I’d covered a little over TWO miles.
Every doctor, health advisor, fitness magazine, video or TV programme insists that exercise is good for you. Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to equate the experience with the faith.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Really depressing reading.
So depressing that we’re going to have to discuss it over lunch in a nice café down the road to try and cheer ourselves up...
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
I got all excited.
A few weeks ago I entered their BBC7 New Talent Search (see Funniest Post), which required submitting an outline for a radio show and up to 5 minutes of me being hilarious in mp3 format. I only discovered this a few days before the deadline and didn’t have time to create something new but figured I had nothing to lose by stringing together a few blog entries.
The talent search was titled “Witty and Twisted” so I figured that they were probably looking for something a bit more bizarre and surreal than my style, but if you don’t try then you certainly can’t succeed. I wasn't going to get my hopes up though.
It said on the site that those in whom they were interested would be invited to various workshops around the country, from which they would then choose the best to turn into short radio shows. If I hadn’t heard anything by the end of the month then I should assume I hadn’t made it through to the next round.
So when I received the letter this morning, I couldn’t help but get my hopes up. Visions of being lauded as the next Ricky Gervais instantly sprang to mind and I was immediately composing my BAFTA acceptance speech as I tore the envelope open.
The letter read:
Dear Kim, (you can’t help but feel that it’s a good start when they get your name right)I can’t make out the rest of the letter as the ink ran after my floods of tears, before it was scrunched up, torn into several pieces and set fire to, but I think it went on to say that it wished me all the best with my future comedy endeavours.
Thank you for taking the time and effort to enter Witty & Twisted – the recent new comedy talent search (yeah, yeah, where and when do you want me to turn up for the next stage).
We received over 600 entries and the standard has been very high. (Hey, I’ve really seen off some competition then!)
We are sorry to say that on this occasion your submission has been unsuccessful.
However, I did promise that I would post my submission once I knew whether I’d been invited to the next stage or not, so here it is.
Feel free to tell me how fantastic it is and that the people who didn’t shortlist me must have been out of their minds, and that young comedy executives these days wouldn’t know something funny if it turned into a pilchard and stuck its tongue up their nose.
Monday, October 30, 2006
a) you remember to put all the clocks in the house back just before you go to bed and don’t lie awake reading for an hour longer because every time you glance up it seems a bit too early to put the light out
b) your own body clock remembering that you are permitted this extra hour’s doze
c) your children’s body clocks understanding that they are supposed to stay in bed for a further hour and not wake you up early anyway
Yet despite all evidence to the contrary that there is, in fact, any truth in the myth of a further 3,600 seconds of precious sleep during the only 25-hour day of the year, we still tell our children that this valuable commodity will be bestowed upon them.
Unfortunately it is said out of desperation rather than real belief on our part.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
“It’s your own fault,” I hear you cry, “you shouldn’t have drunk so much on your birthday!”
But that’s where you’re wrong – all I had to drink yesterday was one glass of red wine. So there.
This is in fact a food hangover. More specifically, a sugar hangover.
Needless to say there was plenty of food for dinner, and the highlight was my birthday cake.
When I use the word cake, you probably have in your mind something like a sponge cake with filling and topping. This would be misleading.
Imagine a seriously chocolaty chocolate cake that was all filling and no cake
This huge cake was 2½ to 3 inches thick. Its base was chocolate meringue (a homemade meringue mix with good quality cocoa powder), which was topped with a thick layer of mascarpone mixed with icing sugar and vanilla extract. This was topped with a thin layer of rich, dark chocolate ganache (chocolate and cream, basically), another layer of chocolate meringue and finally topped with an extremely thick layer rich, dark chocolate ganache.
This is the kind of cake that you put on 2lbs just by looking at it.
I had a big slice.
I had a second big slice.
Later in the evening, while bloated and sprawled on the sofa, it was suggested that any remaining cake ought to be finished tonight so that we could return to our healthy eating regime tomorrow, without any temptations left sitting in the kitchen. It made perfect sense to me, so I had another large slice.
This morning is clearly payback time.
I find myself yearning for fresh fruit and vegetables.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
40 always looms as one of these big ones. I guess it’s most associated with the time that people begin their mid-life crisis, but as I’ve been in the middle of mine for the best part of 25 years already, I don’t know how much impact it’s likely to have.
I preferred being a teenager to being an infant; I preferred my 20s to my teens; I preferred my 30s to my 20s; so did I peak at 39, or am I likely to prefer my 40s to my 30s?
Certainly I feel better about who I am than I did a decade ago. And if I can get the tiredness and depressive bouts under control, then there’s a lot to be positive about for the forthcoming decade. I’m more in control of my life, have a far greater level of self-confidence and am several pounds lighter.
My father always said that birthdays were a celebration of life: they confirm that you have survived another year despite the shit the gods have thrown at you. He changed his tune when he hit 60 and has been a grumpy old sod every birthday since, however I liked his original sentiment and have always tried to adopt it.
So today I turn 40. I’m still alive and the decade ahead looks promising.
Happy birthday to me :)
It turns out that the 25th of October was also Picasso’s birthday. He would have been celebrating his 85th on the day I was born.
So in honour of this momentous coincidence, I have scanned the web and discovered a place you can create your own Picasso self-portrait. Here’s mine:
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Philosophy Evening Class - Class Begins
She didn’t return.
New Bike - Am I in the midst of a midlife crisis?
I went for my first tentative ride around the block. It seems that the old cliché is true – you don’t forget how to ride a bike. However, I did feel extremely vulnerable.
I was intensely aware of traffic going past me and the fact that I didn’t have the large frame of a car with safety bags protecting me on all sides.
Despite the fact that it is black and not yellow, I felt a bit of a prat wearing the helmet. I was waiting for people to point and stare, but fortunately they didn’t.
I cycled for a grand total of about 8 or 9 minutes and was absolutely done in at the end of it. I spent most of the afternoon feeling exhausted and pathetic.
And yet, and yet…
Despite the feelings of physical and emotional instability and vulnerability, there was something in there that felt a little bit good, a little bit free, a little bit exciting.
I might just try it again next month
Vitamin B12 Deficiency - A Trip to the Doctor and Tired
After the temporary doctor left, I was assigned to one of the long-term partners of the medical practice. Unfortunately it takes several weeks to see him every time I make an appointment and we’ve spoken more by phone than we have face to face.
Despite having the series of B12 jabs 3 months ago, I still get tired easily and have been increasingly suffering from bouts of depression. My concern is that there’s something else going on and I’d like to get to the bottom of it.
The doctor agreed that it was unusual for a man of my age to suffer from B12 deficiency – apparently it’s most common in men over 60, not under 40 – so he was quite happy to investigate further. He wanted to do a series of blood tests, but it turned out that the ones he had in mind were less common than they used to be, so it took several more weeks to get the appropriate things sent through. Then I had the blood taken and it took another couple of weeks for the results to process.
Last night I received a call from the doctor saying the results were back and that everything appears to be “frighteningly normal”. So the next stage is to get me an appointment with the gastroenterologist to see if we can find out why my body isn’t absorbing the B12 in the hope that it will throw up other avenues to explore, but I have been warned that the waiting list is quite long.
Monday, October 23, 2006
In my last post, Is Down's Syndrome an Issue?, most of the comments I received were supportive of my position. I have found this is not unusual in blogging as we fear causing offence to those we like and are more likely to avoid commenting if we disagree with someone, especially on an emotive subject.
My blogging pal, SafeTinspector, did challenge what I said, however. When I wrote my reply I realised that not only was it much longer than the usual comment reply, but it contained what I felt were fundamental aspects about how I view the world and the issue of Down's Syndrome and pregnancy terminations. Therefore I have repeated his comment and put my reply into this new post instead of the comments.
"According to statistics I keep finding, upwards of 80% to 90% of pregnancies carrying children with Down's Syndrome are terminated."
Kim, I think this probably goes to wether or not you think abortion is murder to begin with, and ends with wether or not someone would voluntarily put themselves in a position to have a permanent dependant.
There may even be flavors of what reasons people have for making babies to begin with. Continuation of the species, contributing useful societal members to the next generation, carrying on the family name, whatever. Most of the traditional reasons for becoming a parent are not necessarily served by having a child with significant learning disabilities.
I can't blame a parent for not wanting to have to go through what you and other downs syndrome parents must go through.
And though you may judbge me for this statement, I must be honest with you: If I knew for a fact that Heather were to bear a child suffering from a major learning disability we would probably choose to terminate as well.
"The human race has an appalling track record of seeking to destroy that which it fears, and what it mostly fears is difference."
I can take this statement two ways. The first is that you are talking about people wanting to kill or hide people suffering from downs syndrome. I can't agree more that this is a societal wrong. Maltreatment of the learning disabled is abhorrent, should be abhorrent to everyone, and should never be tolerated. Neither should coddling, or putting the disabled up on pedastals as if the fact of disability automatically renders one a hero. (Taking care of someone with a disability, Kim, is an automatic hero card)
But the other way to take this statement is that if there were an in vetro cure for downs syndrome you would have chosen not to use it, and would encourage others not to use it. I don't think that's what you really meant though, so I suppose I'm just a bit of a mixer.
There are a lot of things in what you say, but firstly I’d like to say I appreciate your honesty. I know with blogging, when you disagree with someone, especially on an emotive subject, it’s easier not to comment for fear of offending.
On the issues of abortion as murder, this is a big question that could be debated at length. On balance, I do tend to think of it as the killing of life and feel that it is too easy to pretend the unborn child does not count. There are many reasons why a woman may choose to terminate a pregnancy, some of which are more justified than others, but I do not feel that I have the right to impose my will and say no, never. Therefore I remain pro-choice, even if I disagree with many of those choices.
But the bigger issue being dealt with here, is the notion of the right to life of those who are different or perceived to be disabled. The biggest problems are a) where do you draw the line and b) who’s making the decisions and why
Most people’s fears of DS are because they don’t experience it first hand, but are filled with the prejudices and half-truths that come from a society in ignorance. You have mentioned that you suffer from ADHD and will essentially be on the meds for life. So when you talk about people having to cope with those who have special needs, if there had been a womb-diagnosis of the condition at the time, how would it have been if your parents had decided to terminate.
To move it on a further generation, if your daughter is diagnosed with the same condition, would you think to yourself that you wish she’d never been born? I would think that highly unlikely. The fact is you know your daughter for who she is and all the wonderful things about her other than the ADHD (actual or potential).
Likewise, to parents of children with DS, the DS is such a small part of who they are. Would you love a child less because they were born with 4 fingers instead of 5 on one hand? Would you love them less because they were born hard of hearing, short-sighted, gay, had ginger hair or a tendency to vote Republican?
Compared to who the child is as a whole, the perceived disability is a minor thing. This is the case with Down’s Syndrome.
There is no hero card – that in itself is a patronising concept. Are any of us heroes because we want what’s best for our children?
Our society paints a picture of stupid mongs dribbling into their shirts - but it is a false image, an image painted out of fear and ignorance. To my mind it is a prejudice that is as ignorant and insidious as that of those who believe that non-Caucasians are sub-human.
To terminate a pregnancy because the child has DS is to terminate a pregnancy out of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of responsibility, fear of difference, fear of society – all of which, in my eyes, are unjustified.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
The fact that my daughter has special needs is really about the fact that she's my daughter. Every child has special needs. Every child is a unique individual with specialities and disabilites. Some are naturally physically coordinated, some have a good spacial awareness, some are endowed with empathy, and some are not. As a parent you deal with the needs of the child, whatever those needs are.
Where Down's Syndrome does become an issue, is in the reactions of other people.
The human race has an appalling track record of seeking to destroy that which it fears, and what it mostly fears is difference.
According to statistics I keep finding, upwards of 80% to 90% of pregnancies carrying children with Down's Syndrome are terminated. This is nothing short of Eugenics. The medical establishment encourages mothers to have the tests and then sets up an expectation to terminate. The default situation is NOT to carry through the pregnancy.
Then if you do keep your child, people are amazed, in awe, or condemning. All they can see is the Down's Syndrome: they cannot see the child.
Over on Down Syndrome Life, BStrong writes of the way people would offer condolences after his daughter was born. Where were the CONGRATULATIONS that he had a beautiful baby girl?
For those who would like an insight into what it's like being the parent of a child with Down's Syndrome, then I strongly suggest you read his Open Letter. It has nothing to do with what the child is like, and everything to do with what being a parent is like and having to cope with other people's reactions.
Down's Syndrome should not be an issue, but ignorance makes it one.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Am I in the midst of a mid-life crisis? Perhaps to everyone else it’s been obvious for years: I’ve changed my career, moved house and area, lost vast amounts of weight and become far more aware of my own mortality – all this while still in my 30s. But while I have played up the notion of mid-life crisis man for attempted comic writing effect, part of me has wondered whether it was really true or not.
However, undeniable proof is now staring me in the face. No longer can I pretend that the hair growing out of my ears and nose is a temporary anomaly; or that trimming my beard shorter was for practical reasons rather than any desire to knock a few years off my appearance; nor that my yearning for a bright red two-seater sports car just came from watching too much Top Gear on TV. Irrefutable evidence of the male menopause in action has finally presented itself.
My wife and I have just bought my 40th birthday present for next week. Despite not having been near one for more than two decades I am now the proud owner of a brand new bicycle.
For some time I’ve been toying with the prospect of getting a bike to improve my general health and fitness. The pleasant summer we’ve had this year has probably helped conjure up a sense of freedom, cycling in beautiful countryside, filling my lungs with fresh Scottish air while toning an athletic body. Nostalgia for the long cycle rides of childhood, down country lanes with my pals, puncture repair kit at the ready, has made the whole idea quite exciting.
But times have changed since the days of 2nd hand bikes that cost £2 and had a rusty shopping basket on the front: cycling now appears to be a serious pastime that costs serious money.
I’m never intending to be a professional, entering triathlons or the Tour de France; all I need is something basic that will support an overweight man, with a saddle that won’t have me singing soprano for the rest of the week. I figured £100 was a reasonable budget.
So I’m immediately taken with the special offer bikes Halfords has at the entrance to their store, which should have been £199 but are half price. All I need to do is find someone to help me decide what size I require: being short in the leg, most adult bikes are far too big for me, even with the saddle in the lowest position.
A passing lad wearing a Halfords shirt, who is 6 ½ feet tall but looked like he hasn’t started shaving yet, duly pulls the bike off the rack, adjusts the saddle height and, after I rather self-consciously straddle the bike in the middle of the shop, I agree to take it. But what’s this – I also get a £20 accessory voucher thrown into the bargain too? It’s my lucky day.
Well, what kind of accessories do I need? Of course these days everyone wears a helmet don’t they? No one wore them when I was a kid - we had to put up with cracked skulls and be thankful about it – but in these more safety conscious days I guess they’re a necessity. Unfortunately the helmets for £7.99 are basically a lump of polystyrene with a dayglo yellow sticker that looks cheap and nasty. £30 seems to be the least I can pay for something that doesn’t announce to the world that I’m a cheap bastard.
Then there are lights. I’m not planning on doing any nighttime riding, but it’s all about being seen in low visibility, so a set of flashing LED front and rear lights are obviously a minimum requirement. At least they’re reduced by £5 in the sale.
What’s that? A lock? Oh, I suppose so. I wasn’t planning on riding it to work and tying it to the railings, but I guess some kind of safety lock is always needed. Do I want one that will stop the casual thief or the determined one? How on Earth am I supposed to know the demographics of the criminal population of South West Scotland? This is turning out to be more expensive than I thought. I’ll go for a mid-range one – a bit thicker than string, but not one that includes its own concrete block to tie your bike to.
Hang on a sec, where are the mudguards? What do you mean they’re extra? I would have thought they were as fundamental as the bell. You don’t get a bell either? Or a tyre pump? Well clearly there’s no point in getting a pump if I’m not going to buy a puncture repair kit to go along with it. Do you sell spoons to lever the tyre off too? Oh, you have a fancy tool for that, do you? And an all-in-one spanner kit for removing the wheels. And a spare inner tube too?
Enough. Hold it right there. At this rate I’ll need a large rucksack to carry everything I need just in case of an emergency! Yes, I can see that you sell them as well. No. Stop. Forget the pump and stuff. I’ll only cycle within walking distance from home to begin with.
Along with the 3-year maintenance plan I’ve now spent more on the accessories than the actual bike.
So, let me see. We’ve spent over twice the amount we budgeted for on a piece of outdoor sporting equipment for one of the least sporting people in the universe, at the onset of winter, in Scotland. I haven’t even considered proper clothing other than the fact that there is no way you will ever, ever, ever get me donning a pair of lycra cycle shorts.
All this to try and recapture some sense of lost youth and demonstrate a need to be seen as a virile and potent member of the tribe.
Is it working? Can I remember how to stay upright on a bicycle? Have I come to realise that I’ve been missing out on a joyous activity all these years? I don’t know yet. With shopping and kids already in the car I couldn’t fit the bike in the back, so I’ll not be picking it up until later in the week.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Good grief, you wouldn’t believe the politics behind the label of your used carrier bag.
OK, we all know that the billions of plastic carrier bags we accumulate from the supermarkets are not helping the environment, so if we can’t avoid collecting them then we should at least be reusing them at every opportunity.
Sunrise Wholefoods – our local health food shop – happily takes donations of old plastic bags to reuse for its customers, in case they forgot to bring one along themselves. However, while waiting to be served one afternoon I overheard a conversation with the customer in front as to whether they accepted Tesco carrier bags. The temperature dropped by several degrees as the offer was politely, but frostily refused.
Before we moved to this corner of Scotland, I ran a web design business in Alloa, a small town in Central Scotland that was considered to be a European Black Spot in terms of unemployment and poverty. The town had been built on coal mining, the textile industry and breweries. One by one they had closed down or moved out, leaving an area with twice the national unemployment rate. In a town that was dominated by pubs, betting shops and 99p stores (every item under £1), when Tesco announced they were to build a superstore it was greeted as a turning point in the town’s fortunes and they were welcomed with open arms for being one of the first waves of investment into the community.
The attempt to establish a Tesco store in Castle Douglas, on the other hand, was met by a great deal of hostility, primarily from the local shops who feared that Tesco’s renowned bully-boy tactics could create widespread closure of many businesses. 8 months after they opened, and there’s been no noticeable change in the high street.
Whether the fears were over-hyped or the effects are more likely to be felt in the long term are unknown at this point, but for many household items and groceries, the simple fact is that the quality is pretty good and the price is even better, so we have been known to shop there. In a divided community, however, it doesn’t always pay to advertise the Tesco brand on your used carrier bags.
A quick rummage through the pile, avoiding anything with white, blue and red on it, I happily grabbed a green plastic bag and headed for Sunrise Wholefoods.
Was that a funny look she gave me as I put the muesli into my not-Tesco-used-carrier? Perhaps it was a slight whiff of disapproval that I hadn’t insisted the brown rice be organic, or maybe she’d noticed my shoes were made with leather uppers. But no - it wasn’t until I got home that I realised my bag was advertising rival health food store chain, Holland & Barratt.
UPDATE - Sunrise Wholefoods
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Meanwhile, I've become aware of an opportunity to submit a proposal for a 15 minute radio comedy show - any style - and I would need to include up to a 5 minute mp3 file of me being funny. Closing date Sunday.
As I have nothing to lose, I thought I could record one or two of the best blog entries, but I wouldn't mind a bit of feedback as to which one(s) might be best to go for, so for anyone who's familiar with my back catalogue of entries, your suggestions would be welcome in the comments.
I could either send one of the longer ones or a series of shorter ones, so long as I don't go over 5 minutes.
My personal short-list is:
First Pig Suicide Bomber
Rights of Manhood
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of the Odeon Cinema Automated Telephone Enquiry Line
Sports Day - the Rerun
The Messiah Complex
Not a Mary Shelly Experience
And I'm Not Looking Forward to the Journey Home
Life Lesson #2375
Stopped by the Police
But I would welcome any constructive feedback or suggestions.
Friday, October 06, 2006
So for a bit of brain twisting fun I thought I'd pose the same question to anyone reading this that I gave them:
Our thoughts, attitudes and desires are constantly influenced by the media, our peer groups, the law, advertising, politics, hormonal cycles, chemical levels in the brain, instincts and our genetic inheritance.
So how free are the decisions we really make?
If the determinists are right, then whether you decide to comment - or not - is already predetermined and any choice you think you have in the matter is purely illusional.
Monday, October 02, 2006
“Have you ever noticed that you’re never pleasantly surprised at a Little Chef?”
Maggie’s laughing at that slightly more than it deserves. Actually, it’s not a bad line.
“Actually, that’s not a bad phrase is it? ‘You’re Never Pleasantly Surprised at a Little Chef!’ Hardly one the advertisers are ever likely to use though. Don’t let me forget that one. Perhaps I could use it on my blog or something.”
I wonder why I’m suddenly slowing down.
Because that policeman’s looking at me and my foot has come off the accelerator automatically.
“That policeman was looking straight at me.”
“What policeman?” says Maggie.
Shit. The police car is pulling out.
“He’s pulled out behind us.”
Am I speeding? No. Was I speeding as I came over the brow of the hill? I don’t think so. Maybe he’s after a different car.
“He’s not overtaking us.”
“Have you done anything wrong?” asks Maggie.
Maybe he’s noticed Meg’s not in a booster seat.
“Meg’s not in a booster seat, and with the new child safety law that’s just come in…”
“But we’re on the waiting list to get one,” protests Maggie.
It’s true. There’s been such a rush on child booster seats that Halfords reckons they can’t supply us for another 2 weeks.
Crap. He’s flashing his blue lights. He must have been waiting until we got to this lay-by on the left. I’d better pull in.
“How fascist is that? Surely they’ve got better things to do with their time than hassle parents who can’t obey the law because market forces in this capitalist society of ours can’t keep up with supply and demand?”
I’ve heard somewhere that it’s better to get out of your car and walk back to meet the policeman if you’re pulled over, as it shows willing.
Unless you’re in America, where it’s seen as a threat and you’re more likely to be shot by trigger-happy cops.
“How can I help you officer?”
Christ. They look younger and younger these days. This one looks like he’s only just out grown his own booster seat.
“Just a routine stop, sir. Have you been in any recent traffic incidents – overtaking, cutting someone up, for example, sir?”
Now I’m not averse to overtaking idiots who insist on doing 35mph on roads where you can do 60mph. And I’ve been involved in more than a few incidents where the said idiot decided to speed up as soon as he realised he was being overtaken, leading me to have to dangerously accelerate and swerve back in to avoid oncoming traffic.
“Probably in the last half an hour, sir”
Why isn’t he out there catching real criminals instead of bothering motorists?
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Would you mind stepping round to the back of the car and letting me take a few details, sir?”
I haven’t done anything wrong. Maybe I should tell this tool of the fascist state that the oppression of the innocent will only lead to an inevitable uprising and the likes of him will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes!
He’s closed the door! Not only is the child lock on, but the lever you wind the window down with has been removed. I’m trapped!
Calm down, Kim. He’s just asking for your address and making a note of the number plate.
“Someone has reported that you’ve been driving dangerously, possibly swigging a bottle of beer, sir”
What? This is getting ridiculous.
“I am going to request that you breathe into this breathalyser, sir. Do you, have any objections, sir?”
When did I last drink anything? A glass of wine with my dinner 2 days ago. Just as well I’ve never been tempted to put whisky on my muesli.
“No, none at all.”
“You’ll see that this tube was sealed and hasn’t been tampered with, sir”
But what if these things are sterilised in surgical spirit?
“Now sir, if you would just like to blow into this end as though you were inflating a balloon until I say stop.”
What if this B12 deficiency thing I’ve got produces alcoholic enzymes in my breath? What if I…
“Stop there now, sir”
The digital readout says ‘processing’…
Zero! Yes! Who’s the daddy? Maybe I shouldn’t punch the air.
“Well I’m sorry to have bothered you, sir”
“Not at all.”
“I couldn’t smell anything on your breath, sir, but it was reported so I have to follow these things up.”
“I quite understand.”
“Not everyone does, sir. We’re often told we shouldn’t be bothering motorists but be using our time to ‘catch real criminals.’
“Well if there was a dangerous, drunken driver out there, I’d rather you stopped him than have him run me off the road.”
“Exactly sir. I’ll need to undo that door for you from the outside sir.”
What a nice young man. He’s not asked for my driving licence; he’s not gone round my car, inspecting the tax disc and tyre wear; and he’s not demanded I take my vehicle registration documents to the local police station within 7 days.
“Drive safely now, sir”
He’s realised the report was just a malicious call and has been making the whole thing as painless as possible.
“Thank you. You… too…”
Isn’t it good that we live in a country where we can rely on our Boys in Blue to keep us all safe on the roads from drunken maniacs?
“I hate booster seats!”
Meg’s wailing in the back of the car; Maggie has spent the last 10 minutes trying to reassure her that she’s not responsible for her Daddy being taken away by the police; and Rogan appears faintly disappointed I wasn’t arrested, which would have boosted his street cred in the playground enormously.
Friday, September 29, 2006
The wee tot in the trolley was achingly beautiful. She also had Down’s Syndrome.
It’s something I don’t see very often; indeed with reportedly 80% to 90% of pregnancies carrying children with DS being terminated these days, I guess it’s something I’ll see even less of in the future.
It’s an odd thing, but after more than 8½ years, I still have no idea what the protocol is, if there is one at all.
What I wanted to do was go over, pick the wee lass up and give her a big hug. Of course this would clearly be unacceptable and I would most likely be beaten to a pulp by an irate mother before being arrested for attempted kidnapping.
Even so, a part of me still wanted to say hello and mention that we too had a child with DS and that she had a beautiful daughter, but that seemed wrong too. One of the things I always felt uncomfortable with after Meg was born, was the idea that I had somehow joined a “club” (see Lada Owner’s Club for more details), so if I’d been prepared to tear up my membership card then, it would be more than a little hypocritical to try and use it now.
So rather than say anything and risk embarrassing the mother, or ourselves, we just surreptitiously watched the child as she laughed when her bigger sister came up to the trolley, and pretended to be interested in the items on the shelf every time the mother glanced in our direction.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
On Monday I helped my Dave move a car load of stuff from his flat in Glasgow to his Mum’s shed not far from Dumfries.
They don’t have a job to go to.
They haven’t learnt the language yet.
They don’t even have anywhere to live.
They just decided that after 4 years they were fed up with Glasgow and fancied being somewhere else.
Dave carves small stones with Celtic designs on them and sells them as pendants on the street; Beb is an artist and French.
They’re heading for Andalucia.
They’ll probably stay in a hostel or something until they can find a place in a mountain village somewhere.
They made enough money over the summer, mostly street trading at the Edinburgh Festival, to cover their expenses through the winter.
There’s just the two of them.
They’re flying out on Tuesday.
They have only the roughest of plans, which mainly consists of “we’ll figure it out when we get there.”
I’ve never been to Spain, so have no idea whether it’s somewhere I’d like to live.
After the struggle trying to learn a few words and phrases in French for our holiday back in the summer, I don’t have a strong desire to learn a completely new language.
I’ve still yet to figure out how to make an income in the UK, let alone in a foreign country.
While Rogan is likely to be very adaptable, Meg prefers her routines and I’m not sure how enlightened some other countries are when it comes to supporting people with Down’s Syndrome.
Language, income, the children’s education – all these things mean that I wouldn’t consider doing something like that for a single moment.
Not at all.
Really. It’s not my kind of thing.
So where does that yearning ache of envy come from?
Why do I feel like I’m bit dull and boring?
I’ll be looking for an excuse to go and visit once they’re settled though.
Friday, September 22, 2006
“Did you not sign up at the registration process 2 weeks ago?” asked Anne, who’s in charge of evening classes in the area, with a slight air of exasperation.
The woman looked a little confused. “Er… no. Can I join now?”
Anne looked back at me. “I’m ok with that,” I said. There were 12 of us in the small room, but we could accommodate one more without too much of a problem.
“Well, if the tutor’s alright about it, I guess…” began Anne.
Suddenly the woman stood up, stooped slightly, placed the back of her hand to her forehead and said, “Ooh, I don’t feel very well. I think I’ll need to leave.”
Fearing we might end up with our first fatality before the class had even begun, Anne leapt up. “Are you going to be ok getting home?” she asked with concern.
“I’ll be fine,” she replied. “Is it all right if I start next week instead?”
And suddenly she was off and out of the room with a surprising amount of gusto for a woman on the verge of collapse.
After that, examining notions of time, space and the existence of the universe was a doddle.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
I was going to write about where we met, why we weren't going to get married but changed our minds, and why "love" seems like such a small word to describe the feelings we have for each other, but then I remembered I wrote all about it last year on our Tin Wedding Anniversary.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Somehow I feel like I’ve been conned.
How crap is it to experience the lows of depression, but without getting the highs of mania?
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Thursday, September 14, 2006
It is a pressure in the chest, a gaping void in the stomach, a lump about to form at the back of the throat and the dizziness of standing at the top of a high cliff wondering what it would be like to just step off.
I don’t know what’s causing it. I just want it to stop.
I don’t know whether it’s a symptom of something physical, like the B12 deficiency, or whether it’s psychological and to do with unresolved issues.
I cannot see what purpose it is serving. It is destructive. If it is my subconscious trying to tell me something then it’s being bloody obscure about it.
I just want the pain to stop. I want to function properly. I want to feel enthusiasm, joy and motivation again.
Probably be ok again tomorrow. It doesn’t usually last much beyond one day, although it seems to be happening more often these days.
I don’t know a cure, so I want to revert to distraction methods. But I no longer use drugs, could never cope with the hangovers to really get into alcohol and I can’t afford the money for retail therapy or gambling. Food has been the major distraction of choice over the past decade or more, but I’ve spent over 18 months battling the demon that took me to 19st 9lbs (275lbs).
So what’s left? What can I use to blot out the pain until it’s passed?
TV? Is that it?
And that’s only if there’s nothing too emotional on. I can’t cope with emotional dramas when I’m like this.
Monday, September 11, 2006
She is also incredibly artistic and creative.
When we decided to change our lives and move to this corner of Scotland, it wasn’t just about me seeing if it was possible to become a writer; Maggie also wanted to pursue her artistic drives.
In the 16 years I’ve known her, she has created jewellery, stained glass, some stunning photography and glass painting. Now she is working with a variety of textiles and media to capture thoughts, feelings and moods through the use of light, colour and texture.
Personally I think what she creates is exquisite. Of course, I would say that wouldn’t I? It doesn’t change the fact that I believe it to be true though.
Well, here’s your chance to find out, and even to see what she looks like, as I’ve finally gotten around to building her a website, which you can find at www.maggieayres.co.uk.
Please have a look round and if you like her artwork, I have a small favour to ask – would you link to her?
As a new website, it’s not always easy to get a decent listing on the search engines, but most of them rank sites according to “link popularity”. In essence, the number of sites linking, and the actual words used in that link, affect how high up the rankings a site moves. So if any of you could find a small space on your sidebar that links to Maggie’s site, using the phrase “Maggie Ayres - Textile and Mixed Media Art” then it would be greatly appreciated.
And if anyone wanted to do a wee blog entry/review on the website, using the same phrase as a link in the title of their blog entry (note – I have done it with this entry – the title links through to her website), then that would be truly wonderful and I’d be more than happy to pass on any of the expertise I gathered over the years from running a web design company should you ever need it.
If you feel I have broken some kind of blogging protocol, then I apologise and everything will be back to normal by the next post.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Part of me had known that this train never leaves the station at 5.30pm, no matter what Scot Rail’s timetable might say, but this was closer than I’d expected. In fact the train had actually arrived in Glasgow on time this morning, which threw Dave out completely. He always has to wait at least 15 minutes when meeting me off the train, so was somewhat surprised to wander into the station only 10minutes late and find me already there, halfway through a Sudoku puzzle I’d started an hour and a half earlier, just out of Dumfries.
5.36pm: “Hello? Hello? I’m on the train. The TRAIN. Hello?” I’ve only elbowed one person in the ribs while getting out my mobile phone to let Maggie know I’ve caught the earlier train after all.
5.42pm: I try to fill in another number in the Sudoku grid, but the combination of heat, movement and claustrophobia mean I quickly start to feel travel sick. A flicker of disappointment crosses the face of the guy opposite me who I think had been mentally filling in the gaps before I put the puzzle book away.
5.49pm: First stop and enough people depart the train for me to flop down on to the only available space, next to a smartly dressed woman who proceeds to squeeze her body up against the window, trying to put as much distance between us as is humanly possible in a double seat only 3 feet wide. I’m self consciously aware that my earlier exertion and the crowded conditions means that I’m dripping in sweat. I feel like the odorous tramp everyone worries will sit next to them.
“And then he… he… he opened a triple pack of curried chicken sandwiches!” she will wail later. Her body shaking uncontrollably as she sobs at the memory.
“There, there,” her mother will reply soothingly, “it’s all over now…”
6.02pm: Another station and there’s now enough room for me to find a double seat of my own, but the smartly dressed woman gets off the train anyway. I wonder whether it was her stop.
6.13pm: We reach Kilmarnock; only the front two carriages are carrying on from here. It transpires that I didn’t need to shove the granny out the way nor tip up the pushchair in my haste to avoid being left in the wrong section, as the train is allowing plenty of time for the transition.
6.25pm: They really are allowing a lot of time. The rear carriages have left for Ayr.
6.35pm: The driver periodically revs the engine, teasing us, but we’re still not moving anywhere.
6.38pm: The driver announces that we will be underway as soon as a technical fault is fixed.
6.56pm: I’m getting a bit worried about the number of people using the toilet. I distinctly remember seeing a sign saying it should not be used while the train is in the station. If this goes on much longer, the rear carriage will become grounded.
7.12pm: We’re told to disembark. Out on the platform the driver is talking into his phone while making a rough headcount of the passengers. Coaches are being arranged to take us the rest of the way. The lady in the wheelchair rolls her eyes, while the woman with three children under the age of four is clearly at her wit’s end.
7.35pm: A taxi arrives for the woman in the wheelchair. She offers an old woman sitting nearby a lift. I overhear someone saying the bus will be here in half an hour.
7.41pm: An irate passenger is verbally abusing the woman at the ticket office. She hands him a Scot Rail Compensation form.
7.44pm: The woman at the ticket office looks like she’s calmed down, so I go up and give her a friendly smile; it’s not her fault the train broke down. She gives me a Scot Rail Compensation form before I can open my mouth.
It says that if my journey is delayed by half an hour then I can claim half the fare back of that leg of the journey. More than one hour and I can claim the entire amount. Whoopee. Two and a half hours stuck on a cold Kilmarnock Railway Station Platform and I might just be able to claim back £5.95.
7.50pm: Word has spread and there is now a long queue of weary passengers with nothing else to do except pick up a form and borrow a pen.
7.56pm: a young woman plonks herself next to me on a bench and lights up a cigarette. It’s over 16 years since I gave up smoking and I resent people forcing me to breathe their stinking, cancerous fumes.
7.57pm: F***, I could do with a cigarette.
7.59pm: According to the woman with three kids, the flush in the station loo isn’t working properly. I don’t think there’ll be much loo roll left either judging by the long trail of it attached to a 3-year-old running about.
8.02pm: The bus has arrived. It will have an overall longer journey time, and be less comfortable, but the next train to Dumfries isn’t for another 40 minutes and it’s getting cold. The heat and sweat from the beginning of the journey is a distant memory, unable to be recalled with any clarity. I follow the crowd out of the station.
It’s one of those Luxury Coaches with curtains at the window, a downstairs loo (not to be used while parked) and a little button you can press, next to the air vents, that apparently calls for a hostess. I can’t see anyone who looks like a hostess.
8.05pm: “Hello? Hello? I’m on the bus. The BUS. Hello?”
8.06pm: Maggie reminds me I get travel sick on buses.
8.10pm: The driver periodically revs the engine, teasing us, but we’re still not moving anywhere.
8.18pm: Apparently the driver can’t engage first gear. Everyone is getting off the bus.
8.45pm: A cheer goes up. The next train to Dumfries pulls into the station. This is the train I would have caught if I’d accepted Dave’s offer to stay to dinner instead of deciding to catch the earlier one to ensure I’d be home in time to put my children to bed.
8.50pm: The train starts moving. Another cheer goes up. A deep golden, full moon is just rising over the horizon. Only an hour to Dumfries now and a further 30 minute drive to Castle Douglas. I phone Maggie.
“Hello? Hello? I’m on the train. The TRAIN. Hello?”
Sunday, September 03, 2006
The film follows the annual cycle of emperor penguins as they breed, incubate the egg, care for their young and damn near starve and freeze to death in just about the harshest environment on Earth – Antarctica. The penguins are imbued with deep emotions by the narrator (Morgan Freeman) and the accompanying soundtrack. Although these penguin feelings are speculative, and initially I found the sentimentality quite irritating, it did set me thinking that actually they probably must experience intense emotion, or something similar. The drive to try and keep their eggs, then young, alive in temperatures of minus 60 degrees while waiting for their partner to return from feeding, before setting off on a 70 mile journey to the coast so that they can finally eat, and eventually return to their spouse and offspring, is clearly an extremely powerful one. And if it is emotionally based, then the vast majority of these penguins must lead thoroughly miserable and devastating lives as chicks and partners are lost to predators and the environment.
Nature doesn’t require the penguins to have a good life, only that enough of them survive so that the species continues. And if their actions are driven by emotions then the fact that tens of thousands of generations have been repeating this endless cycle for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years is incredibly depressing.
Are we humans any different? We might have distractions such as DVDs, work, alcohol, religion and daytime soaps, but the essence is the same. The quality of our lives is unimportant, so long as enough of us survive to pass on our genetic code. “Survival of the Fittest” sounds like such a noble, strong and powerful thing, and yet in reality it’s just “survival of those who manage to scrape through by the skin of their teeth.”
How long do we keep repeating the cycles of life with no ultimate meaning beyond the continued existence of strands of DNA?
I mean, if we were to say 100 years – more than most people can expect to live – was the equivalent in length of one millimetre, then 10,000 years (as far back as human civilisations can be traced) would be represented by 1 metre. Just over 6 kilometres would take us back to the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs – think for a moment about how far 6km, or 4 miles is, compared with 1mm. Multiply that by a factor of 10 and you get as far back as the first complex organisms, with the formation of the Earth being something in the region of 42km back.
And the best any of us can hope for is less than a single millimetre on a stretch of road over 120 miles long since the Big Bang.
Ever felt that your life was completely and utterly insignificant?
This afternoon I was out bramble hunting with the children and, like last year, Meg ended up with more smeared over her hands, face and clothes than in the tub. We came home triumphant, with about 3lbs of usable berries to be converted at some point into Bramble Crumble and Bramble Ice-Cream and after getting washed we sat down to a Sunday roast, lovingly prepared by Maggie. And then we were treated to a surprise.
Maggie had made up thick fruit smoothies – bananas, strawberries, blueberries and a dash of pineapple juice - and put them through the ice-cream machine. Pure fruit and nothing else; as delicious as ice-cream yet a fraction of the calories and actually good for you.
And for a brief moment in an infinite universe I get to enjoy good food, wonderful children and a loving wife.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
For about 10 months or so I’ve been going along to folk sessions in the area, but there are 2 distinct types who don’t really mix. On the one side (alternate Wednesday or Thursday evenings) we have the musicians who are mostly fiddle, flute and pipe players, with the occasional guitar, mandolin, squeezebox and hurdy-gurdy. Many in this group play more than one instrument and the standard of musicianship is exceptionally high. They all know hundreds of tunes that they can all play at breakneck speed, but the one thing they are united in is that they don’t sing and can’t be doing with people who think that folk music is just paying 3 chords and singing with a nasal inflection.
On the other side (Fridays, fortnightly) we have the singers, which mostly comprise of guitarists, many of whom also play the mandolin, plus the occasional bodhrán player, a ukulele player who covers everything from George Formby to Britney Spears, and a single fiddler, who doesn’t sing but is well respected by all nonetheless. While there are bursts of music-only playing, as the evening goes on and the pubs fill up, the singing gets louder, slightly slurred and is often accompanied by a drunken crowd wanting yet another rendition of “Danny Boy”. This group cannot be doing with the “diddley-dee” players who are perceived as possessing a superiority complex and want to steal the limelight away from a moving, soulful voice or a good old sing-along.
I’m one of the very few players who go to both groups
I don’t sing. I know a handful of tunes that I can play well that, unfortunately, nobody else knows. However, once I’ve worked out what key everyone’s in I can usually play some kind of accompaniment either plucking a more basic or complimentary tune or, if I can see the guitarist clearly, strum along the chords. I’ve got by with this for nearly a year, and although I’m steadily improving I always feel like I’m completely outclassed. The fact is that they all know the tunes and I don’t.
Last night, at a sparsely attended diddley-dee session – one fiddle, one tin whistle, one flute and, unusually, no guitarist – there was a guy from Turkey with a Baglama. With its long neck and round back it had a beautiful, deep resonant sound, and when Gürhan played his Turkish folk songs and tunes, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled as I was swept away in an exotic soundscape of Middle-Eastern emotion.
The whole tuning of the instrument, along with a different scale and chord structure made it nigh on impossible for anyone to join in with him, or for him to join in with the traditional Scottish and Irish folk music. So after one or two abortive attempts, the main group played most of the tunes, occasionally giving Gürhan a slot to play something of his own, while admitting that their ears were just not accustomed to such radically different music structures. But I was captivated. I listened intently and eventually thought I could see a way in. At the end of the evening, after the rest of the musicians packed up and left, I re-tuned my mandolin slightly and was able to jam with Gürhan for 20 minutes until we were finally booted out of the pub.
I may not be an expert musician, but I'm not bad at improvising and getting the general gist of what’s going on. In this case it seems to have given me an advantage over those who are so proficient, that their very skill in understanding the patterns of Celtic folk music have also restricted them to that form.
To be fair, with instruments like whistles, flutes and fiddles you have to commit to each note completely as you play it, because a half-hearted attempt will sound awful, but with a mandolin you can dampen the strings as you play until you feel more confident. This made it more difficult for them to improvise with the baglama player.
However, even if no one else was there to witness it, in my own eyes I felt I’d redeemed myself somewhat.
A baglama saz