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.