Friday, June 30, 2006

I'll be back... but in the meantime...

OK, that's me away for a fortnight, so there'll be no new posts until the middle of July.

The back catalogue of writings is over there on the sidebar, but if you haven't visited them already, there are a few blogs I'd like to mention that are well worth the time to explore.

Excellently observed blogs about the daily absurdity of family life are to be found with Cheaper Than Therapy and Rhonda's Ruminations, while if you wonder what your life might have been like if you hadn't had the kids, then Fatmammycat will keep you returning for more.

If you like reading long entries and serials, then SafeTinspector's Closure series is a must (21 episodes so far and no sign of concluding yet) and The Wonderful World of Dr Joseph McCrumble - Celebrity Parasitologist has hours of enjoyable material to get lost in.

Had I been doing this recommendation a few months ago, then Vaporise Barney and El Barbudo would have been absolute musts. Although they have both all but stopped posting now, their back-catalogues are worth the visit, if you don't mind the language. The natural inheritor to these giants in terms of experimental blogging - you can never be sure what you're going to get next - is the Fishwhacker Swindle. And of course, for foul-mouthed cartoonery there's always Blunt Cogs.

I'm can't make up my mind as to whether to point to you to Cape to Rio or not. Dr Maroon is truly one of the greatest bloggers on the net when he is posting. Unfortunately he has been distracted of late and entries have been sporadic at best. However, once you get sucked into his world you find that you live in a state of constant anxiety, waiting for his next post. As an example of what I mean, you only have to read his tale, "Gothic". Using characters based on the bloggers who frequent his site to drive his tale, his writing is sheer genius, especially if you know the bloggers involved. You find that every day you visit the site, desperate for the next installment, only for it to not appear. Cape to Rio is an addiction - the highs are so high, and the lows are so low that I can only say you cultivate this man at your own risk.

For straightforward comedy, then Joke Mail does a daily, while The Japing Ape and El Guapo are two of the cleverest blogs on the net.

But for all round entertainment - from the hysterically funny to the heart wrenchingly moving - I can't recommend higher than Used Kitty Litter

My apologies to anyone who feels that I really should have given them a mention - I'm in a bit of a last minute rush to get going, so please feel free to give yourself a sales pitch in the comments section and I'll remove any spam when I get back.

Bonnes vacances!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Trip to the Doctor

Audio version of A Trip to the Doctor (opens in new window)

So I always feel like a nap after lunch – doesn’t everyone? Ok, I get worn out after about 20 minutes exertion, but that’s because I don’t exercise enough and my body isn’t used to it. I’m not tired all the time. Nothing a few good night’s sleep wouldn’t cure. Is it really necessary to go and see the doctor for a check up?

But now I’ve seen him, why does it feel like I’m more tired, more of the time? Is it the Vitamin B12 deficiency that’s been identified by a blood test, or is it that I’ve become hyper sensitive to feeling the slightest bit weary?

The doctor didn’t seem to know much about it, and spent a while looking in his medical book. I think I found out more on the Internet; however, I’m to be given a series of 10 injections to boost my levels. Problem is I’m going away on holiday. Never mind – 2 before I go and the remainder when I get back.

He didn’t seem that worried. The accompanying test indicated that it probably wasn’t pernicious anaemia, which is where the body attacks it’s own ‘intrinsic factor’ - the substance necessary for the body to be able to absorb the B12 from the diet. So why should I feel so fragile all of a sudden? If the worst comes to the worst, all it really means is that 3 or 4 times a year I might need a top-up injection.

Truth be told, it feels a bit like my body has betrayed me. There I was, going along, minding my own business and then suddenly it decides that it’s not absorbing, or storing, enough of a vitamin I’d never heard of. Why? From what I can make out, no one really knows what causes it.

I guess it’s just another of those little things that can happen, which remind you that you are mortal after all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Last Minute Holiday

Audio version of "Last Minute Holiday" (link opens in new window)

“Are we going to have a holiday this year?” Maggie asked. We’d talked of the possibility a few months back and then promptly forgot all about it. No conclusions had been reached.

“Well the kids break up from school on Friday, so we’ll have to do something about it quick.” One of the advantages of the Scottish Education System is that the summer term finishes two to three weeks earlier than the English, often allowing you to get a better deal before all the prices shoot through the roof. “We’re also getting low on the savings,” I continued “so if we’re going to spend any money we’d better do it before it’s all gone.”

Now I know you can probably see the fault in the logic, but it does make sense in one way. This year we know we can probably afford it, if we’re careful. Next year, who knows? Of course I might be offered a fantastic book deal, and Maggie may be exhibiting her artwork in front of people with large sums of money to part with, but there’s no guarantee.

Initially I looked at the package holiday trips to the Mediterranean, but then remembered that Meg doesn’t cope well with the heat. I don’t know whether it’s another odd side effect of the DS, but we’ve noticed that she doesn’t really sweat, which means she can overheat very easily. So 30+ degrees isn’t a good option.

Eventually we managed to get a good deal on a holiday cottage for a fortnight in Brittany (North-West France) within a stone’s throw of the beach, which sounds idyllic. But with it all being a bit last minute we’re suddenly rushing about, aware of all the things we ought to have put in place several weeks ago if we were planning on going away. The “Get a Beach Body in 8 Weeks” headline on the Men’s Health magazine, next to computer enhanced photo of a young man sporting a 6-pack, reminding me that I’d left it too late for this year to make the girls swoon with lust as I swagger along the sand.

I went out and bought a French phrase book yesterday, with an accompanying CD that we can all listen to on the journey, but to be honest I’m relying on Maggie who has a better ear for languages than me. Not only did she get a better grade in school, she retained her understanding of it.

Rogan is really excited. This year he’s been doing a bit of French at school and I think he secretly feels that he’ll end up as the official family translator. When I was 12 I went through a very similar thought process when I’d done a year of classes studying the language and we were going on holiday to France that summer. To my dismay, however, rather than talking like a native I discovered that phrases such as “Le crayon est rouge” didn’t get you very far. And it was all very well to be able to say “Où est la toilette?” but it was pointless if you couldn’t understand the reply.

Driving on the wrong (sorry, that should be ‘other’) side of the road is something I’m not overly looking forward to either, although I’m sure I’ll adapt. Maggie and I spent a fortnight travelling around Europe on a camping holiday 14 years ago and I only nearly caused a fatal accident, by forgetting which side I should be on, twice.

Despite the fact that there is a ferry crossing from England to St Malo, which is less than 100 miles from the cottage, I’ve elected to go via the Dover-Calais route. It might add nearly 300 miles to the journey, but it works out several hundred quid cheaper. I may well live to regret this decision as we’ll already have had a long day’s drive down to the South coast from Scotland the day before.

Mind you, I noticed that it would’ve actually been even cheaper to buy 2 separate day-return tickets to cross the channel, than an ordinary one, although they won’t let you get away with it. These days every ticket you buy is tracked through the computer system in a mix of fear of illegal immigrants, anti-terrorism legislation and market forces. I can be tracked by my credit cards, my passport, my mobile phone and my store cards, so if I tried to pull a fast one on P&O Ferries I’d probably end up in Guantanamo. Nah, it’s not worth it for a saving of only £30.

I love diversity, different cultures, viewpoints, and ways of life. If I had the income to support the lifestyle, I would spend vast amounts of time exploring the world and visiting different countries. The xenophobic, ultra-patriotic, flag-waving nationalistic attitude of many of my countrymen drives me nuts.

Ok, I know that France isn’t exactly the furthest country from the UK, but it still counts. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in many different parts of Britain that it only truly feels like I’m on holiday if the locals are speaking a different language. Apart from a long weekend in Portugal nearly 5 years ago to see an old friend, I’ve not been abroad over a dozen years. So despite the fears of not being understood, of using a different currency and of driving on the other side of the road, I’m really looking forward to it.

“Vive la difference” is what I say. Or at least I would if I could speak the language.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Messiah Complex

Following my post Wasn't I Supposed to be Somewhere Else?, I decided to write a bit about the Messiah Complex - the feeling that somehow you are supposed to be saving mankind.

I sat at my laptop and wrote the first line:
Am I supposed to be the saviour of mankind, or am I deluded?
I had every intention of doing a deep, thoughtful and meaningful piece, but before I knew what had happened, the second line flowed out of my fingertips:

According to my Messiah’s Handbook, to doubt one’s divinity is a necessary crisis for any would-be Saviour to work His way through
Well, what could I do, but carry on writing and see where it went?

By the end I had written a short monologue that lasts about four and a half minutes, so I recorded it.

The audio blogs I recorded before have been stored in 2 different ways. The first two I used which opens in a new window and plays in a page full of advertising. The last one I did was stored at and links directly to the mp3 file (it's about 4MB big).

If one doesn't work for you then try the other

Let me know what you think of the story, and which format, if either, you prefer so that I know which to use in future.

Following Merle's request in the comments, you can find a transcript of The Messiah Complex here

Sunday, June 18, 2006

They grow up so fast...

It was Rogan’s birthday on Friday. He was 11. My wee baby boy is growing up fast.

For the past several years, ever since I first got a copy of Photoshop to be precise, I’ve ended up creating birthday cards for the various family members on the computer. Last year, for example, I had Rogan captured by Dr Who’s Daleks.

This year I thought it was time for mean and moody. And although we haven’t yet had a chance to see the third film, Rogan is a big X-Men fan so was delighted when he came down in the morning to find this waiting for him on a card on the kitchen table.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sports Day: The Re-run

Audio version of Sports Day: The re-run (mp3)

It’s that time of year again when competitive parents are putting their offspring through gruelling training regimes, while the rest of us are preparing to tell our kids that it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts.

Which, of course, is complete bollocks.

If you want to compete, then compete to win; but if you don’t have an ice-cube’s chance in hell of coming anywhere further up the track than last, then you’ll be far better off not taking part. How many adults suffer from lifelong lack of self-esteem brought on by ruthless PE teachers and sports day? The majority I shouldn’t wonder.

As mentioned in last year’s blog entry on this subject, Sports Day, our children were never likely to break our family tradition of coming in so far behind everyone else that you actually get a round of applause for reaching the finishing line. While Meg’s friends were covered in little stickers announcing they had come first, second or third in multiple events, my daughter was proudly displaying her stickers which said “good effort”, “good sport” and “nice try”.

I never have had a problem getting a good clear shot of my kids when they are running: photos are so much easier when they’re not obscured by other racers.

“Don’t pick up the egg, you fool,” yelled one competitive father standing beside me during the egg and spoon race, “kick it further up the track first – it’s faster!” I swear I saw another slip his son a piece of chewing gum just minutes before.

For every winner there are a dozen other children who have to put up with the disapproval of overbearing parents, or the humiliation of being left at the back of the field

Maggie told me she saw her old PE teacher in Dumfries the other day. “Did you kick her?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “She may have been in her sixties but she still looked a lot fitter than me.”

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Audio Blogging?

For anyone interested in discovering that my voice sounds nothing like they thought it did, I'm experimenting with creating audio versions of blog entries, using free software and hosting.

I've added one to the last post - Mouse Slayer - to see if it works.

I don't know if anyone with visual impairments has ever stumbled onto this blog with a text reader, but I'd be interested in knowing how to make this site friendlier for people who are blind or severely dyslexic.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mouse Slayer

Audio version of "Mouse Slayer" (link opens in new window)

How can I have nearly reached the age 40 and never had to deal with a mouse before?

And yet there I was a couple of nights ago trying to coax Maggie down from the chair she was standing on in the kitchen, wondering if she had an over active imagination or whether she really had caught sight of a mouse shooting across the floor out of the corner of her eye. The blood-curdling scream that had had me charging into the kitchen expecting to find a severed hand crawling across the worktop, left me in no doubt that Maggie was quite certain about what she had seen.

Maggie has an extreme phobia about small rodents. She has never understood why anyone would keep hamsters, gerbils or especially mice as pets. Bats are probably her worst fear, as they are “mice with wings”, but we don’t have too many of them about in this corner of Southern Scotland. Dealing with an hysterical Maggie is something I’ve not often had to cope with; dealing with a mouse, though, was a complete unknown

The following morning I phoned the local council Environmental Health Pest Control Department. They have a man who works Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and it would cost a £25 callout fee if we wanted to see him; £17 for any repeat visits. I checked the web: mousetraps started at 99p.

Down at the hardware store there were a baffling array of rodent disposal units, ranging from contraptions looking like they were made from little more than a clothes peg and a paper clip, through to boxes the size of a small garden shed that allowed you to humanely trap the beast, then release it unharmed into your garden so it could re-enter your house at its leisure.

Eventually I settled on a pair of plastic, ergonomically designed, easy-to-set, safe-to-use, no-blood-or-odours mousetraps that promised me 30% extra force over conventional spring-loaded traps. A basic but pleasant diagram on the box showed how you could pick up the trap without handling the mouse and dispose of the creature by gently squeezing the release mechanism. So I wasn’t prepared to be woken up the following morning by another blood-curdling scream from Maggie.

Hurtling down the stairs I skidded to a halt by the kitchen door where I could see the mouse (less it’s head and one front paw which were caught inside the trap) pathetically dragging itself in erratic circles across the floor. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The blurb on the box had quite specifically used the phrase “…killing it very quickly”.

I felt sick. I am the product of a society that buys its meat cellophane wrapped. I live in a family that gently places a tumbler over spiders, sliding a piece of card underneath so it can be released unharmed into our garden, able to re-enter our house at its leisure. The harsh realities of nature are something we watch on television with a David Attenborough voice over. Wasps and midges are the only thing I consciously make a point of killing; small mammals are outside my comfort zone. We had even used high cocoa content, fair trade chocolate as bait.

Clearly I had to put this creature out of its misery as quickly as possible, but I couldn’t just stamp on it, or squeeze the trap tighter until I felt a crunch. I stood there for 20 seconds. There was no way Maggie was going to be able to deal with it. It briefly crossed my mind to call my ten-year-old son down – he might think it was cool – but no, I could feel Maggie’s disapproval of that idea without having to mention it. It was down to me and the longer I took to decide what to do, the longer the mouse was suffering.

I’m not sure where the idea came from but drowning it was the only option that leapt to mind. So I scooped up the mouse and trap with a plastic sandwich box and dropped it into a basin of water.

The mouse started swimming.

Using the edge of the box to hold the trap and its contents underwater, all the time praying I didn’t accidentally squeeze the release mechanism, the mouse let out a last bubble of air a short while later.

The next question is whether this was a lone mouse, one of a family nesting somewhere in the house, or the scout of a hoard waiting to invade.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

10,000 Visits

On Monday the 5th of June at 1.20pm, this blog received it's 10,000th visit. I was hoping it might be one of my regulars, so I was planning on making a big fuss of whoever it was.

As it turns out, it was a flying visit by someone who had typed "poems for losing mums" into Google. It appears that on this day, Google ranked my Blog at number 27 for this phrase. So they turned up on the page Mum's Ashes, where I wrote about it being the 3rd anniversary of my mother's death. Whoever it was didn't stick around or explore any other pages on the site.

I hope they eventually found what they were looking for.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Wasn't I supposed to be somewhere else?

Audio Link for Wasn't I supposed to be somewhere else?(will open in new window)

Did you ever have the feeling you were supposed to be somewhere else, doing something important, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t remember what it was?

There are times when my entire life feels like that.

We’re all familiar with the feeling of suddenly remembering that we should be somewhere else, where someone is being let down by our absence. That awful tightening in your gut as you become aware that while you have been carrying on in blissful ignorance, your name is being cursed to the nth degree. You leap up, scramble for the phone, or the car keys, in absolute shock that you could have forgotten, while trying to come up with a plausible excuse and failing miserably.

But to get that lurching sensation, yet not know what it is you’re supposed to be doing, means that you don’t even get the blissful ignorance bit.

This emotion I periodically get is far bigger than the time I forgot to pick up my grandmother from the hairdresser; this is a feeling that somehow I chose the wrong life, or am utterly failing to do the one thing I was put on this planet to accomplish.

I can picture with intense clarity, lying on my deathbed and suddenly realising what it was I was supposed to do with my life, but only having enough time left to mutter, “Oh crap.”

It’s like I’m on a mission from God… but the stupid bugger forgot to tell me what it was.