Saturday, April 29, 2006

Car Thief Caught

For those who have been reading this blog since as far back as last September, you’ll know that it’s not uncommon for me to find amusement in the stupidity of the local criminals – or at least the ones stupid enough to get caught (see Get Your Facts Right Before You Racially Abuse Someone... and More From the Court Files) and find their sorry tales written up in the local freebie paper, the Dumfries Courier.

One of this week’s tales of idiocy concerned a local man who screwed up when he filled his stolen car with petrol on the outskirts of Dumfries, without realising that it was in fact a diesel powered vehicle. Consequently he hadn’t got far before the car broke down and he abandoned it.

A quick look at the CCTV tapes from the local garages revealed the identity of the car thief and he was arrested soon after. As he had previously been banned from driving, he was already on police records.

However, what really made me smile was that it went on to say how the thief had been battling drugs misuse for the past 12 years and that:

Two days before the car theft, he went to hospital for help and was given medication. He took it all at once and as a result had no clear recollection of what had taken place…

You shouldn’t laugh really. No, really, you shouldn’t. Really…

Friday, April 28, 2006

Positive thoughts

As I write at this moment, life is good.

It’s about 6 months since I last wrote about life being good. Too often we only tend to realise after the event – “Life was really good back then: wish I’d realised it at the time…” so I try to make a mental note of actually noticing and appreciating the pleasant moments when they occur.

However, today the weather is just about perfect – a warm sunny spring day, not too hot and enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay.

And I wrote another 700 words of my novel this morning. “Is that all?” I hear you cry. But these were 700 really good words; words in an order that work well; words that make me think that maybe I have the potential to be a decent writer.

And this coffee tastes good too…

Monday, April 24, 2006

Losing Interest In My Favourite Sport

At the weekend I watched the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix. Well, I say ‘watched’, but ‘slept through most of’ would be a more accurate description.

Not that this is particularly unusual – sitting down to watch TV on a Sunday after lunch will almost inevitably lead to a few minutes of resting my eyelids – but this time it was something more. I have finally reached the point where I have to admit that F1 is one of the most boring motor sports in the world.

I’ve been an avid follower since the mid 1990s, back in the heady days of Damon Hill and his tussles with Michael Schumacher. There was the glamour, the competition, the speed and of course the crashes. While I never wanted anyone to be hurt, there are few things as exciting to watch as a car smashing into pieces at high speed (it’s a guy-thing). It also helped that there was a British driver who was capable of winning not just individual races, but the entire championship. I’m not usually given over to bouts of nationalism, but I did like Damon Hill.

Then around the turn of the millennium there were some great races between Mika Häkkinen and Michael Schumacher and despite my wife’s frustrated cries of “Why on earth would anyone want to watch a bunch of cars driving round in circles?” Sunday afternoon F1 was an absolute must for me.

After Häkkinen retired though, Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari was so dominant that the competition aspect of F1 virtually disappeared and it became increasingly difficult to shrug off Maggie’s even more frustrated cries of “Why on earth would anyone want to watch a bunch of cars driving round in circles following that red one?”

In addition, new car designs and regulations meant that overtaking has become nigh on impossible so most of it is done by strategicly timing the pit-stops rather than by one car passing another on the track.

I stuck with it last year because Ferrari finally fell behind in their dominance and with Fernando Alonso winning the championship, Michael Schumacher’s reign was finally over. And with the emergence of British driver, Jenson Button, there was at last hope for a new era in F1.

But it hasn’t really worked. Now it’s just a bunch of cars following a blue one instead of a red one, and Jenson Button is becoming the Tim Henman of the F1 world (for those who don’t follow tennis, Tim Henman is the nearly-man of the sport. Every year he starts off well, and every year the British public think ‘This could be it, this could be the year he finally wins!’ and every year he doesn’t. This leads to a great deal of disappointment and people muttering, quite unconvincingly, ‘Well, it’s not the winning it’s the taking part that counts…’).

So this year I’m finding it nigh on impossible to keep up any enthusiasm for the sport. I can fall asleep during the race confident in the knowledge that when I wake up the cars that were in the lead by the end of the second lap will be in the same places as they were as they enter lap 56, except for Jenson Button who will have dropped several places back because his car broke down, or something went wrong at the pit-stop.

This Sunday I didn’t even bother to watch the after-race commentary and I doubt whether I’ll take the time to tune in again this season.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I will not blog in the morning

Pop…





…pop

...

...time for a new post (see comments from the last post if you don’t get the reference).

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I will not blog in the morning.

This is my new mantra.

What it has taken me far too long to discover is that when I check my e-mails and do a minor round of blog surfing before I settle down to get some work done, I don’t get round to settling down to get some work done.

By the time I’ve replied to comments on my blog, looked at the latest Blunt Cogs entry and maybe left a comment or two, done a quick round of the blogs I can remember leaving comments on the previous evening to see if anyone’s posted a follow up reply, then about an hour to an hour and a half seems to have passed and my head is completely in blog mode, which is incompatible with any other creative endeavour.

Close to 20 years ago, my Dad got Satellite TV installed. Back in those days there were a mere 30 to 40 channels to chose from, but compared to the 4 on standard terrestrial TV it seemed infinite. What I eventually discovered, after many months of doing bugger all with my life, was that on days when I got up, had my breakfast, and decided to do a bit of channel hopping while I drank my coffee, was that 2 hours later, as I finally decided to tear myself away from the shopping channel or topless darts, I was good for nothing for the rest of the day. I wasn’t creative, I had no energy and I really couldn’t face doing anything more challenging than, well, sitting in front of the TV all day, channel hopping.

Now although in our house we don’t have Satellite nor digital TV, my wife reported something similar with daytime television when I used to go to work and she was in charge of the house and kids. She said she’d plan on just watching 20 minutes of “Trisha” or “Richard & Judy” while she had a cup of coffee, before getting up to sort out the day, but before she new it, it was lunchtime and she couldn’t face the idea of doing anything else.

Now ok, blogging is a more active thing than watching TV, but the main thing is that it occupies the mind; it fills it up until you can’t really think of anything else. So the chances of getting anything else done, like write this bloody book for example, disappears completely.

So now I’m putting a self-imposed restriction on myself that I must not look at blogs or e-mails before lunch. If I get a good morning’s work done, then I can allow myself a peek at my e-mails afterwards. I’m going to see if this new regime works for a few weeks, or whether I have to tweak it some more, perhaps not letting myself near the thing before evening.

And in the meantime I will try not to feel the pressure to try and keep up with the fact that I’ve now had 2 successive posts that have had over 30 comments (and there’s a subject for another post – blogging pressure…)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Blogging Addiction & the Quest for Fame

One of the great appeals of blogging is the fact that it allows you to enjoy a certain level of fame. That fame may only be among a handful of other bloggers, but it exists nonetheless.

According to my statistics (courtesy of Sitemeter – see the bottom right of my sidebar) I get on average about 50 visits to this site a day. Some of these are me, checking to see if anyone has commented, and some are random follow-throughs from that “Next Blog” button up on the top right corner of the page. I don’t know how many readers I have that never comment – the majority, I suspect – but I do have something around 15 to 20 (ish) visitors who aren’t afraid to leave a comment every now and then. With replies and occasional debates, it’s not unusual for me to get in to double-figure comments to any particular posting; sometimes less, sometimes more, but pretty respectable. I’ve twice broken the 30 barrier – the last post about the 6 thing meme and weird things about me, and the only other being back in October when I did a piece called “What is an Agnostic?”

When seeking blogging fame, the numbers can become all important. I remember back when I was getting on average only one or two comments (mostly spam, before I switched on the word-verification option), that I would marvel at people who got 20, 30, 50, or even 100 comments per post.

The first one I really noticed with big numbers was Chase Me Ladies where it’s not uncommon for Harry to reach in excess of 40 comments per post. Then I noticed Natasha at I Moved Your Cheese, Moron who could get 60 or 70 posts and on a few occasions broke into 3 figures. Ok, exactly half of them were her replies as she'd post a comment back to each one individually, but still - pretty awesome.

For a wee while I contemplated getting involved with HNT – Half Nekkid Thursday as members comment figures would shoot up into 60 to 80 posts on a Thursday as everyone did the rounds on each other’s sites. Obasso himself will get in excess of 200 comments on a Thursday these days, although on any other post he will get anything from 2 to about 30. Which got me thinking about quality vs quantity. Yes, I could bump up my weekly stats, but to be honest I noticed that most people posting on HNT did little other than leave a “Happy HNT” comment and disappear – no thought, no reply to someone’s ideas. I light-heartedly accused Atilla the Mom of a shameless attempt to bump up her viewing figures the other day, by getting involved in Thursday Thirteen, but there’s a little part of me that’s concerned that while it might introduce new people to her blog, chances are most won’t bother reading it but will just leave their comment in the hope that they can attract new visitors to theirs. Atilla produces good quality stuff and she deserves more than that.

I do feel a certain level of smugness that the quality of my visitors and the comments left tends to be very high, but in order to maintain this it can be incredibly time consuming. The fame you get round here is reciprocal. You can only expect other people to visit your blog and get qualitatively involved if you’re prepared to visit theirs and develop the relationship.

I can waste entire days moving from one blog to the next, before starting the cycle again to see if anyone has replied to my comments. There are the blogs I visit daily, ones I visit at least weekly and others that I visit when they comment here and I realise I’ve not been there for a while (where I then feel the need to read several back-posts to catch up).

There are various blog groups that I visit – there are the Down’s Syndrome related blogs, the Blunt Cogs crew, ones I discovered via Used Kitty Litter, Knights of the Round Bottoms (see my Losing a Hundredweight blog for more about them) and an assortment of individual sites that are unrelated. An hour can be easily lost just reading the latest entries – and if I comment then of course it’s even longer – and that’s all before I compose my own blog posts or reply to comments here.

It’s turning into a full time job to run these Ramblings, Blunt Cogs and Losing a Hundredweight, but it doesn’t bring in an income or the prospect of future wealth.

Most of us yearn for a certain level of respect from others, and few of us receive as much as we’d like. So getting people who regularly return to the blog, leave comments and even encouragement is quite a thrill, and contributes to the instant-high quality familiar to so many of our addictions.

But with this mix of the time constraints and the addictive buzz of getting positive attention, it does worry me about the degree to which blogging could be interfering with me trying to pursue my longer-term goal of becoming a professional author. Why write 100,000 words and spend months, if not years trying to get a book published in order to get the glory, when I can write 1,000 words once or twice a week and have people I’ve grown to like tell me how wonderful I am?

Without this being a sly attempt to bump up my comments figures (honest), I really would be interested to know how other bloggers are dealing with these issues, whether they are even issues at all, or if it’s just me struggling with an addictive personality disorder.

Friday, April 14, 2006

6 Weird Things Meme

I was tagged by Rebecca from Always Chaos at Our House the other day, by way of revenge for the 7 Things meme I landed her with back in January.

As is the way with these things I have to reveal stuff about myself, then tag others to do the same. On this occasion I have to write an entry with 6 weird facts/things/habits about myself, but I find I’m struggling a bit. The main reason for this is that weird habits tend to be something that other people think you have, rather than yourself. Everything I do is perfectly normal and is perfectly rational and justified in my own head – it’s only other people who think I might be odd.

It reminds me of when I spent a year in Canada and a guy came up to me and said, in a broad Canadian drawl, “Gee, it must be funny you coming over here where we don’t have any accents!” to which the only thing I could reply was, “My dear chap, I appear to be the only one without an accent in this country!” My voice sounds perfectly normal, but to anyone from North America I sound like someone from a Monty Python sketch.

I see nothing wrong with being called Kim, but most of the world is shocked to find I’m not female.

Having a blog might seem quite normal for most of the people reading this, but there are many non-bloggers who stare at me strangely when I mention it. And even within the blogging community, the fact that most people have assumed identities must mean that I am viewed as a bit peculiar for revealing my full name and face.

I have a loving wife and children, yet to many the fact that my wife is 9 years older than me, one of my children has Downs Syndrome, and I have 3 step children, one of whom made me a grandfather when I was only 37 years old, all seems a trifle unusual.

When I used to belong to a Dark Ages Re-enactment Society, where I would dress up as a 9th Century Celt and hit people, who were dressed up as Saxons and Vikings, with swords and spears, I thought it was all a bit of a laugh. Some of my friends thought I was a complete lunatic.

And for me, to sell my business, move house and try and create a new career as a writer, was a rational and sensible thing to do once I realised that I was unhappy with my life the way it was. And yet most people seem to look at me with utter bewilderment that I could have even contemplated such a thing, let alone go through with it.

So nothing weird or strange about me then. In fact there are times when I believe that I am the only sane person in the entire world, so it must be you lot who are all screwed up.

I won’t tag anyone specifically with this one, as I’m sure every one else thinks that they are perfectly normal and would struggle with this, but if anyone wants to give it a shot, do come back here and let me know that you did it as I’d like to see what anyone else considers to be weird (or normal for that matter)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Blog Photo

I’ve decided to change my blog photo, which should be no big deal as people are doing it all the time, but the image we chose to present to the world says quite a bit about how we see ourselves. Many bloggers have no image at all, prefering to remain completely anonymous, while others chose symbols, cartoons, animals or even landscapes.

Unlike the majority of bloggers, I've never shied away from revealing my true identity. People can accept me for who I am, or not. At least this way I don't have to worry about people only liking the front I project, while living in fear that they might not like me if they knew who I really was. I should clarify that and say that this is for my benefit, and not a judgement on anyone else.

The photo I’ve been using since I began these ramblings was supposed to be a sort of ironically thoughtful pose – poking a little bit of fun at those who take themselves too seriously on their book covers. Of course irony doesn’t always translate and one blog I once visited laid into me for being overblown and laden with self-important pomposity. I was so taken aback that I just deleted my comment and left.

However, the other day I was looking for an image to use on my Skype profile and came across one that my son took of me last summer. What you can’t see is that I’d actually taken up a ‘Karate Kid’ style pose, standing one legged in the ‘crane spreads its wings’ position. Anyway, he caught the laughter in my face rather well and I thought that this was a warmer face to present to the world.

If you'd care to comment, I'd be interested to hear from anyone about why you chose the image (or not) used on your own blogger profile.

Friday, April 07, 2006

That's Very Nearly An Armful!

I gave blood on Wednesday.

Amazingly, it’s 16 years since I last did, and I don’t have a good reason for it. It’s not like I’m too squeamish, have some kind of phobia or religious objection. My daughter had to have open heart surgery when she was 5 months old and if hadn’t been for blood donors around the country then it would never have been possible.

I’ve always intended to but for one reason or another never remembered when there was a team in the area I lived in, even if I’d seen the poster up or heard the announcement on local radio.

However, on Tuesday I saw a leaflet stuck in the window of the health food shop, so thought that I really should make the effort this time, as they were setting up in the town hall, only 5 minutes walk down the road.

Because it’s more than 2 years since I last donated, I had to fill out a questionnaire about my health and lifestyle habits, so the process took longer than usual. Having said that, I wasn’t sure what usual actually was. I can remember that I gave blood a couple of times in the past, but I can’t recall anything about it. The wee jab they gave my thumb to get a sample to check that my iron levels were ok was sharper than expected and caught me off-guard, and I couldn’t help but think of Tony Hancock’s classic “The Blood Donor” sketch (when the doctor takes his blood sample Hancock thinks that is all that’s required of him and gets ready to leave. As the doctor tells him it was only a smear Hancock replies, "It may be only a smear to you but it's life and death to some poor wretch." And when told he actually needs to donate a pint, he exclaims “A pint? Why that’s very nearly an armful!”).

I also can’t recall how much discomfort it caused last time. I’m not about to start moaning and say I was in pain, but I had quite a bruise afterwards and it was very tender to the touch for a day or two. Judging by the marks on my arm either I’ve had a slight reaction the sticky plaster (band aid), or it’s had an effect on the blood just under the skin. Looks a bit odd to me, but I have no idea if this is normal or not. I’ll just have to see next time I go, which will be in about 3 months or so.

I was told by the nurse taking my blood that there’s a real shortage of blood stocks at the moment and some operations are having to be cancelled. For the sake of 30 to 45 minutes, you could help save a life. I recommend you check out how you can donate now.


The National Blood Service (England & Wales ) - http://www.blood.co.uk/
The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service - http://www.scotblood.co.uk/
American Red Cross - http://www.givelife.org/

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

PE Teachers Are Demons From Hell

No other activity inspired as much loathing and resentment for both subject and tutors as Physical Education at school.

What didn’t help was that I was a particularly clumsy child, and at that time of your life when your entire status and worth as an individual in school is based on how well you can kick, throw or catch a ball, PE teachers seemed to revel in humiliating us differently-coordinated at every possible opportunity.

It wasn’t enough that he would pick the two top players out to the front to select their teams, which always created arguments when they got to the final kid left leaning against the wall, I would swear he actually encouraged them:

“You can have him”

“Nah, it’s ok, that’ll leave you 2 players short – you have him.”

“No, look, I said, you have him.”

“Well I don’t want him. He’s crap”

“Exactly, I don’t want him either. Sir, sir, you tell him to take Kim on his side!”

“Stop this arguing right now! This isn’t the kind of sporting behaviour I expect from you two. We’ll toss a coin and the loser gets him…”

When you’re a kid, there’s no such thing as a coordinated approach, so in your average soccer team forget about positions such as “wing” and “defence”, it’s 10 strikers and a goalie. I was always shoved in goal. Big mistake – when someone kicked a ball at the net I was more likely to dive out of the way to avoid being hit. Those things could fair sting if they hit you.

When I went up to the high school, I was living in Wales where the national sport obsession is rugby (for US readers – think of American Football but with only a thin nylon shirt and shorts for protection). Our PE teacher must have been in his 60s and close to retirement; in fact, he looked like he should have attended his own funeral several years before. He would dress in a tracksuit and stand by the side of the pitch, resting his large belly on the heavy roller used for flattening the cricket green, where he would yell at us between hacking coughs with a fag hanging out of his mouth: hardly an inspiring role model.

When I was nearly 15 we moved back to England and the PE master in my new school couldn’t have been more different. He was in his 30s, tall, lean, athletic, square jawed and a more narcissistic person you would struggle to find in a room full of young conservatives. He was the kind of person who would get up 2 hours early every morning just so that he could have more time to admire himself in the mirror. More disturbing than that, though, was his insistence that every boy have a shower after PE, and he would stand there and watch.

My god how I hated the showers. As a teenager, your self consciousness about your body is bad enough at the best of times, but when you’re forced to cavort around naked in front of all your male classmates, some of whom have been shaving since they were six and have penis that would make a horse weep with envy, then my personal symbol of masculinity would shrivel up so far in embarrassment that it almost inverted. Still, at least I never got an accidental erection: one lad was beaten to a pulp for his and teased relentlessly until the day we left school.

Needless to say, I have grown up to have a pathological hatred for football, rugby, cricket, communal showers and PE teachers. So later this year, when there will be all sorts of patriotic celebrating of the 40th anniversary since England last won the World Cup, I’m sure you’ll understand why I won’t be joining in.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Spring is Here!

I wrote a great long entry yesterday about all the problems I'd had with the mouse I'd bought for my laptop, which followed a tirade about feeling like a techno-wimp because I just couldn't get to grips with using the touchpad.

Then today I was about to write a great long spiel about tearing my hair out while trying to turn my digital camera into a webcam.

But neither of them were really going anywhere- there didn't seem to be a point other than me ranting in a not particularly amusing way, and I don't want to be one of those bloggers who just moans about the world without a) doing anything about it or b) drawing some interesting or amusing observations about it.

Now despite the fact that it's still wet, and fairly cold, the garden has decided that Spring has finally arrived, so I thought I'd nip out and take a photo of the daffodils that have just decided to start blooming.

It clicks through to a larger version, so if Sandy - folk-session mandolin player - is reading this, he can replace his desktop wallpaper from the snow scene he told me he'd lifted from my site a few weeks back.

Somehow it seemed a better use of my time.