Friday, September 29, 2006

DS Protocol?

We were in the supermarket yesterday when we saw a mother with 2 kids – one was about 18 months old and sitting in the trolley, while the other was about 4 or 5 and was running about being helpful.

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

Dave and Beb are moving to Spain

Dave and Beb are moving to Spain.

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.

I wouldn’t.

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

Class Begins

I was feeling a little nervous; class was about to begin; I looked up from my notes - a new person had materialised at the end of the table and was staring hard at me. “I’ve not paid yet. Should I pay now?” she asked.

“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

Steel Wedding Anniversary

11 years ago today, Maggie and I got married.

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


I watched a fascinating programme last night by Stephen Fry about BiPolar Disorder, or Manic Depression as it used to be known.

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

Life Lessons #2375

The worst place to be when the smoke alarm goes off in the kitchen and for a brief moment, until your wife shouts that it's just the toaster, again, every muscle in your body tightens as it prepares to spring into action and get everyone out of the house, is on the toilet with your trousers round your ankles.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


And there it is again. The hurt.

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

Maggie Ayres - Mixed Media and Textile Artist

My wife, Maggie, hasn’t often been mentioned on this site much beyond her extraordinary cooking skills and infinite patience. This is primarily to do with respecting her emotional privacy – while I’m happy to go on at length about existential angst and the length of my beard, Maggie is an altogether more reserved and private person.

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

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

And I’m not looking forward to the journey home…

5.34pm: I speed-stride through Glasgow Central Station – I refuse to attempt to run as it is so long since I last tried, my body has forgotten how to coordinate my torso with my legs, so I settle for walking briskly; very briskly - and leap through the door of rear carriage with literally only a few seconds to spare. Cramped, standing room only. The engine revs, a sudden jolt and we’re away.

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

A drop in the ocean

Last night we sat and watched “March of the Penguins” on DVD. Apart from some over-anthropomorphising it was quite spectacular, but it did leave me feeling quite low and morbid.

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.