Monday, December 31, 2007

The Rambling Beard Awards 2007

This being the time for reflection on the year past, I recoiled somewhat when I began to reflect on some of the crap we’ve had to deal with over the previous 12 months. Maybe one day, when I’m rich and famous and write my autobiography, you can find out all the things I haven’t blogged about this year. But not today.

Today, instead, I have decided to honour those bloggers who I feel have gone above and beyond the call of duty in brightening up these Ramblings, or causing me to reflect in ways that caught me by surprise.

So without further ado, in a moment of ego and self-indulgence (and what is a blog, if it isn’t a massive dose of ego and self-indulgence?) I am handing out the 2007 Rambling Beard Awards.

Recipients, please place this banner on your site with pride and feel free to link it back to this post. If you have any problems with it, don't hesitate to send me an email and I'll send you instructions

Rambling Beard Award 2007

Dr Maroon
Well I have to start with the Doc, or he’ll sulk, or write a story with me wearing some ridiculous costume or some such thing. But that’s why he’s so deserving of this award – he stops me from taking myself too seriously. When I blog about feeling tired, exhausted and low, he’s the only one who tells me no one cares, or just to shut up and drink my Ovaltine. But before he begins to get smug, I’ll just remind him he owes me a lunch.

Sam, Problem Child Bride
Sam is mad. She’s madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of this year's Mr Madman competition (to paraphrase Blackadder). Well she is on her own blog, with writings that draw you into a world that kicks the legs of expectation off the stool of conventionality. But over on this blog, nothing but her deep warmth and understanding flows through her comments. No matter where my unpredictable emotions take me, with Sam I always get the feeling, she’s been there, done that, and made a seagull trap out of the t-shirt.

Tom was one of the great finds for me in the 2nd half of this year. I was directed to his site by a fellow blogger who told me Tom had recently become a father to a baby with Down’s Syndrome and might appreciate a bit of support from dads who would understand. But quite apart from finding a guy whose son has an extra chromosome, what I discovered is someone a similar age as me with a background in philosophy, is self employed, has an understanding of what happens when depression hits and is very open in expressing how life impacts on him. In short, it’s great having someone I can share notes so closely with.

Jeff doesn’t write huge amounts but he has a presence like an older brother watching out for me: ready to give me a bear hug, ruffle my hair and scare off the bullies in the playground. And although he lives thousands of miles away, so can’t actually do any of these things, he still lends me that sense of reassurance.

Restaurant Gal
I’ve handed out awards to Restaurant Gal before now for the quality of her writing, but as this one is about contributions to me and this blog, RG was my first guest blogger on this site, back in May. She was also the first blogger to allow me to guest post on another site, so a nice bit of mutual backslapping there. In addition to her blogside warmth, I also want to thank RG for her supportive emails behind the scenes.

Mary only began her blog back in January, but it’s been wonderful to see her growing in confidence and readership. But over and above her damn fine writing, I’ve gotten to meet Mary and her family in person several times this year, and she has fuelled me up with coffee on more than one occasion as I’ve been heading home from the Central Belt of Scotland.

Another philosopher with a fondness for Nietzsche, Eryl is also the cofounder of The Storytellers Blog. We met at a Storytelling workshop just over a year ago and have been busy commenting and encouraging each other since.

When Carole first started commenting on my blog, she didn’t just leave one or two on the latest posts, rather she went back through the archives and started leaving comments all over the place - sometimes challenging; always interesting. I was delighted when Carole started her own blog and have been an avid reader ever since. The highlight has to be, however, when she mentioned she could stand on her head and I made a comment that she should prove it by posting a photo – and she did :)

When I came across Kanani, I had the distinct impression that I was in the presence of a real writer, who knew other real writers and for a brief moment I felt slightly intimidated by that. But then I got over it and she never made me feel in any way patronised or inferior. In fact she even awarded me a Quality Time Wasting Prolific Blogger Award, so it would be seriously remiss of me not to return the favour with an award of my own.

Pat would deserve an award for brightening up this place, if for no other reason than she is my most prolific commenter. But far more than that, there is a constant empathy, warmth and twinkle in her eye. And she flirts so subtly she always makes me grin broadly. When I re-shuffled my side bar, I had to create a new category especially for Pat. She is indeed like a luxury hot chocolate, to be savoured and enjoyed.

Hangar Queen
An Irish-American male to female transsexual who, as of yesterday is now an ex-cop. Every time I try and think about what she has had to go through to get as far as she has my brain climbs out my ears, plugs itself into the electric socket, bungee jumps into a vat of vodka then climbs back in through my nose. Hers is not a decision you take on a whim, and it makes any life changes that I’ve had to make pale into insignificance. My respect for Devin cannot be overstated.

Fat Lazy Guy
He’s young, artistic, a talented guitarist, a superb cook and an excellent communicator. He’s also a little over 480lbs, and one of the few cross-posters from my other blog, Losing a Hundredweight

Jupiter’s Girl
Janine doesn’t post on her site that often, but she keeps me in a steady supply of jokes. I was also delighted when, after I’d expressed a slight scepticism about her ability to perform cartwheels, she got her husband to film her doing one and uploaded it to her blog. Like Carole’s headstand, it had me grinning for hours.

Brave Astronaut
He spends much of his time posting about archivist things and sports, which are largely an unknown language to me, however Brave Astronaut blew me away when he conspired with a couple of friends to send me some Peanut Butter M&Ms from the States before Christmas, after I’d made a passing comment about how much I’d enjoyed them when I was in Canada, but couldn’t buy them in the UK.

Did I mention I love the new Aston Martin DBS... just in passing, you know, in case anyone is looking to spend a few dollars they have lying around not doing much?

And last, but by no means least, I also want to hand this award to Savannah. Every time she comments and calls me sugar, I’m washed over with a warmth and friendliness that makes me feel I’ve just been cooked pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast

With thanks to everyone who has visited, commented and even lurked across 2007. I wish you all the very best for 2008.

OK, ok, I should have included Charlie.
I've known Charlie for a couple of years and through at least a couple of blogging incarnations. Although I've never met him in person, my image of him is a wild haired, unshaven guy wearing an old dressing gown, sitting on a doorstep smoking a fag while winking at any women walking past. Periodically the resident of the house, a tall man in a black cloak carrying a scythe, stops to ask if he's ready to come in yet. Charlie thinks for a moment, glances through the door then says, "Maybe in a minute," before lighting another fag off the stub of the one he's just finishing.

While he only occasionally posts comments here, and in fact only occassionally posts entries on his own blog, in email exchanges behind the scenes he's been an incredible counsellor in times of extreme... er, extremeness I haven't blogged about.

However, he despises sentimentality, so I wasn't going to mention anything. But now the bastard has given me an award that I have to write a post about, so f*** him - he gets a Rambling Beard Award whether he wants it or not.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Week 139a - supplemental

Belt... getting... tight...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Festive wishes

For several years now, in fact ever since I first got a copy of Photoshop, I've been one of those people who likes to create their own Christmas image to send to friends. This often consists of the kids in santa hats, or an arty shot of a sprig of holly or some such thing.

I'd been wondering about what to create this year when I was picking Meg up from her last day of school. As we were walking home, the sun had just set and the sky was glorious. I glanced down the high street and was struck by the shape of the roofs and the clock tower against the sky and the Christmas lights hanging across the street.

Perfect, I thought.

Whatever your beliefs, customs, practices and circumstances, I wish you all the very best for the season.

Have a good one :)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rich and famous

"When you're rich and famous, you can buy us one of those," I said to Rogan as we watched an episode of Top Gear reviewing an Aston Martin DB9.

"Your mother will say she'd rather have a house, but we'd definitely have more fun with that."

"When I'm rich and famous," he replied, "I'm buying myself a Koenigsegg CCX"

Now's probably not a good time to ask then if he'll shove us in a home when we're old.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Where do we go from here?

So what are my options then? Where do we go from here?

Well I’m afraid we’re rather limited at the moment. There are a few things in development with CFS, but they’re not likely to materialise for a year or two.

But you can put me down for the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Yes, but you do understand it’s not a cure, just a help for managing your condition.

I understand that. But you have no idea how long the waiting list is yet?

Not yet, no, but I’ll keep you informed. However, we’ll keep you on 40mg of citalopram to combat the mood drops meanwhile.

And I’ll go and see the specialist again in February, although I don’t expect anything to come from it.

Admittedly he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, Mr Ayres.

The problem is I still don’t know whether this is something that will sort itself out in 6 months; will ease off after 5 or 10 years, though I may never fully recover; stay like this for the rest of my life; or whether it is in fact degenerative and I’ll only ever get worse.

It could be any of those four options, we just don’t know.

So what I have to really do now is just build my life around the fact that for the foreseeable future – the next few years or more - I have to live with this Fatigue, with no real end in sight.

Well I am hopeful of developments on the way...

But they might not be available for quite some time.

I’ll keep you up to date, Mr Ayres.




There wasn’t a bar of chocolate in the house big enough to plug the great gaping void in my chest last night.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What is in the box?

When I was a kid, the idea of getting a letter or package addressed to me was a rare and wonderous thing. Despite the fact that it happened only two or three times a year, whenever the post arrived I would always get a brief moment of potential excitement, followed by a brief moment of disappointment as everything was always marked for my parents.

These days, by contrast, I tend to feel a slight sense of relief if nothing arrives in the post. Almost all mail is bills, junk or brochures for someone who might have lived in this house 10 years ago.

However, yesterday morning my curiosity was roused when Maggie told me I had a package with a handwritten address on it. As anything handwritten at this time of year tends to be addressed to the whole family, and I didn't recognise the handwriting, I couldn't begin to guess who it was from, or what it might contain.

I gave it a wee shake, turned it this way and that, looked for a return address and expressed my lack of knowledge as to what it could possibly be. Eventually Maggie became a little impatient and told me just to open the damn thing.

To my surprise and delight it turned out to be 2 packets of peanut butter M&Ms - a sweet I fell in love with in Canada and cannot be bought in the UK.

It transpired that Brave Astronaut made note of my throw-away comment several posts back, that I would kill for peanut butter M&Ms. After discussions with his friend, Stitch Bitch, who was travelling to the UK to see relatives, he persuaded her to bring over a couple of bags and mail them to me in the UK.

Given that my wife and son had been online a night or two before to see if they could find any, and had sadly concluded that they'd left it too late to import from the US to be sure they could arrive before Xmas, this was wonderfully serendipitous.

So my thanks to Brave Astronaut and Stitch Bitch. All that remains is for me to receive instructions on who I now have to kill for them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Santa Released

For millions of children worldwide, Christmas might not turn out to be the biggest disappointment of the year after all.

It has been revealed that despite the fervent denials from Washington, Santa Claus was in fact detained by US authorities just before heading into Canada on the final leg of his global journey, during the early hours of 25th December 2006.

A resident of the North Pole, which is not a US owned territory, Mr Claus failed to secure the appropriate entrance visa in advance and so entered America illegally when distributing presents.

Because of the goodwill nature of his deliveries, supported by children’s charities around the world, most countries have turned something of a blind eye to the annual illegal border crossings, especially as he rarely stays more than 20 minutes.

Nevertheless, since 9/11, American hostility towards those not born and raised on US soil has grown to what some are calling “overly paranoid” proportions and, as such, the self-styled Father Christmas had come to be seen as a major threat to national security in certain quarters.

When it was discovered that Canada was the final stop on Santa’s return journey to the North Pole, and that only Canadian children had woken up on Christmas morning last year to find their stockings still empty, it was the Government of Canada who initially came under fire from suspicious citizens. However a report leaked on to the Internet from a disgruntled NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) employee, revealed clear evidence Santa’s disappearance had in fact happened below the 49th Parallel.

For over ten months the US Administration continued to deny all knowledge until secret video footage smuggled out of Guantanamo Bay revealed a drawn and haggard looking man with a long white beard, who had obviously lost a lot of weight.

We might never know the extent to which he was interrogated, or whether the techniques used on him count as torture under the Geneva convention, however, a relieved, if somewhat thinner, Santa has now been returned to the cooler climes of the frozen North.

What brought about his release remains as much a mystery as his ability to eat half a billion mince pies in a single night, but rumours have recently started to circulate that Dick Cheney is a major shareholder in one of Mr Claus’ subsidiary businesses, which plummeted on the New York Stock Exchange shortly after Santa’s disappearance.

But while some have welcomed the newer, svelte looking Santa, citing that the jolly fat man image was an inappropriate role model in this day and age of rising obesity, let us at least hope, for the sake of all our children, that Santa obtains the appropriate paperwork in future.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

’Tis the season…

I’ve yet to meet a single significantly overweight man I would ever use the word “jolly” to describe. And yet, because the man with the bright red suit and shiny nosed animal companion appears on all saleable goods at this time of year, the myth of the jolly fat man continues.

Certainly I would never have described myself as “jolly” when I was 120lbs overweight.

Come to think of it, I’ve yet to meet anyone for whom I would use the word “jolly” to describe.

Come to think of it further, I can’t remember the last time I even said the word “jolly” out loud, at least since my mother stopped buying tins of Green Giant sweetcorn in the 70s.

Still, jolliness aside, I’ve had to fight hard to bring myself back to a stage where I can relax and enjoy these annual festivities without overwhelming feelings of cynicism. Neither being Christian, nor being impressed with an excessively consumerist society, there have been times when we have almost abandoned Christmas altogether (see The Spirit of Christmas).

Some supermarkets have had their “seasonal” goods on the shelf since September, which I can’t help but feel was a little unseasonal – especially as many of the products had a sell by date that expired before the day they were intended to be opened and consumed.

Many other shops held off at least until Halloween had passed before the tinsel and snowmen began to adorn every price-saver label.

By mid-November, the lights were starting to go up across the streets in every town in the UK, and the adverts on TV containing celebrities covered in artificial snow had begun in earnest.

And a worrying development in recent years is the number of penguins wearing Santa hats that are appearing in shopping mall displays. I tried pointing out to my son the other day that tropical Birds of Paradise are in fact half a world closer to the North Pole than penguins, but he just rolled his eyes in that way early pubescent children seem to develop every time a parent opens his or her mouth.

But while it’s easy to despair at the gullibility of a manipulated buying public, the truth is I’m much more chilled out about it these days, and take the time to really enjoy Rogan and Meg’s excitement. With just over a fortnight to go it’s now our turn to finally start indulging and the kids have been decorating the tree today.

Meanwhile I try not to think about the house round the corner that’s had large flashing lights on the roof counting down the 99 days ‘til Christmas.

...Falalala la, lala la la.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Just 5 minutes...

It’s time to write something for the blog

But I’m tired

Doesn’t matter. It’s been 4 days since I last put anything up, and no one’s commented for a while. It’s time for a fresh post.

Can’t I just have a wee nap first?

Stop whinging, I’ve just had a coffee. I should be fine for an hour or so.

But the sleep was bloody awful last night, and the coffee has barely dragged me up to full consciousness.

It was an espresso. That ought to do the trick. Now shut up and let me think about something to write.

What do I usually write about?

Whatever’s obsessing me at the time.

Which is tiredness at the moment, right

I don’t want to keep writing about feeling tired

Why not?

I’m always writing about feeling tired. I don’t want this blog to be renamed Ramblings of the Tired One.

Well how about if I have a wee nap first, just close my eyes for 5 minutes – 10 minutes max – and I’ll feel refreshed enough to write clearly.

Pah! Don’t think I can be fooled that easily. Every time I’ve fallen for that argument I end up feeling even worse.

I can feel a yawn coming on.

Absolutely not! I am not going to yawn.

It’s coming...


It’s here...

YaaaaaaaAAAWWWWWWNNNNNnnnnnn. Bollocks.

That felt good didn’t it?

For crying out loud, can’t I just get on with writing something?

I think I can feel another...

Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! I refuse to give in! I am absolutely determined to write something before the coffee wears... yaaaaaaaAAAWWWWWWNNNNNnnnnn... off!

I could close my eyes for just 5 minutes...

Look, all this yawning is just giving me writer’s block

Is it a big block?


A big, soft block, like a large squidgy pillow with a fresh cotton pillowcase, lying on a springy mattress under a warm and cosy quilt...

mmmmMMMMmmmmm... cosy quilt...

Just 5 minutes...

Just 5 minutes...



Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cake and Philosophy

Question 10. How can we know that the cake exists?

a) Because the teacher tells us so
b) Because there is a FORM of CAKE that exists in an eternal realm to which the appearance of this object partakes
c) Because we can use our senses to detect it
d) If everyone else acts as though it exists, who am I to disagree?
e) We can never be sure it exists independently in-itself
f) Whether it exists independently is irrelevant – it exists as an experience for me
g) You cannot prove it exists but must make a leap of faith
h) Forget reason, just enjoy it to the full
i) We have already eaten part of the cake before we become aware of what we are doing.
In among the 40,000 other things that have been happening in my life, keeping me away from blogging and sleeping, and generally driving me to a zombie-like stupor where I having trouble remembering my own name, let alone pronouncing it, the philosophy course I’ve been running about The Great Philosophers has come to an end (as will this sentence, eventually, honest it will, here you go then).

As well as handing out certificates instructing students that they are now allowed to adopt a superior and patronising manner with anyone who begins to discuss the nature of the world, belief and/ or existence, we indulged in the tradition of the end of term cake.

This time Maggie created a superb chocolaty Malteser cake with added Horlicks in the sponge. It was, without doubt, the highlight of the entire course and the only reason some of them stuck it out so long. I knew this would be the case, which is why I made it clear on the first night that there would be one of Maggie’s cakes at the end. The Oracle at Delphi may well have said “Know Thyself” but as a teacher, the maxim “Know Thy Student’s Taste in Cake” has stood me in far better stead.

I also split the group into 3 teams and produced a quiz to see how much they remembered. This included dilemmas such as separating out the Empiricists from the Rationalists, trying to come up with a working definition of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and a multiple choice on how to spell Nietzsche.

Of course the question at the beginning of this post doesn’t exactly have a right answer, but does give a sense of which of the philosophers each of the students was most drawn to. However, I did deduct points from the 2 who chose option a) for accepting authority over reason as a way to try and deduce truth.

I found it surprising that I was the only one who chose option i), but even scarier was the only person who chose option h) happened to be my son, Rogan. He’d come along to this last class of term to see what philosophy was like, observe his father’s teaching methods, and of course have a slice of his mother’s damn fine cake.

I have to admit, the idea that I have a 12 year old Nietzschean Übermensch* in the house is a bit of a daunting prospect.

*Übermensch – the super-man, or over-man who transcends the values and moralities of society and creates his own, embracing the Will to Power over the Herd Mentality etc – Pah! Go and do a philosophy course and find out...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Flow - An Exhibition of Textile and Mixed Media Art by Maggie Ayres

"Flow" is the 2nd solo exhibition of Maggie's, following on from "Beginnings" earlier this year in Castle Douglas.

This one is at the Tolbooth Art Centre in Kirkcudbright and will running from Wednesday 28th November until Saturday 8th December, from 11am to 4pm every day except Sunday. She's not exhibited here before so we have no idea whether anyone is likely to turn up or not.

To say that life has been a little hectic over the past few weeks would be something of an understatement. Unfortunately with my increased tiredness levels we haven't been able to promote this event to anything like the degree we intended, so if you know of anyone you think might be interested then do let them know.

More information can be found on Maggie's website on the Exhibition page.

And for those who would like a poster of the event, either as a keepsake or to stick in their window, then you can download a PDF version by right-clicking on the image below.

Poster for Maggie Ayres' Flow Exhibition of mixed media and textile art

And of course, if you know anyone who might be interested in signing up to her monthly newsletter, then please point them to:

I've decided that I'm going to sleep through January. Hibernation is the future.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A little bit of Ayres family history

“Did he ever mention the idea of suicide?” asked the coroner.

“All the time until I told him I was sick of hearing it,” replied Mrs Graham at the inquest of her uncle’s death.

It turns out my great, great uncle, Arthur Ayres, shot himself in the heart in 1934 shortly after his confectionary business failed.

For a year or two my dad’s been researching the family tree, and while he’d found lots of info on his mother’s side of the family, very little was known about the Ayres line. We knew his grandfather had been in a Scottish regiment at some point, so assumed we had a Scottish connection, but that was about it.

However, my father has recently reconnected with a long lost cousin and been finding out all sorts of things about the family history: photos, newspaper clippings and tales of fortunes won and lost. It makes for fascinating reading.

For example my great grandfather, the brother of the unfortunate Arthur mentioned in the snippet of newspaper report above, married Edith Adams, the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Surrey at the time, the Adams Sawdust Contractors. Apparently, however, Edith’s brothers managed to blow the family fortune when they took it over. Drink problems have been mentioned.

As Maggie wanted to visit the Twisted Thread Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate on Saturday, I took the opportunity to drive down to Chesterfield and take the kids to see their grandfather, while Maggie looked for interesting bits of silk fibres to turn into art.

Unfortunately dad’s computer is on the blink so I’ll have to wait a while before he’s able to scan and forward all the stuff I want copies of. However, I do now have a picture of my great grandfather, Charles Sidney James Ayres who was in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the Boer War.

Charles Sidney James Ayres and his Helmet

Do not be fooled by the tartan, however. It turns out that he enlisted with Edith’s brother and was no more Scottish than a cockney barrow boy. In the end, of all the Ayres family, by dint of marriage and location it seems I have the strongest Scottish connection of any of us

Thursday, November 22, 2007

When the wizard turns out to be just a bloke wearing ordinary shoes

One of the big problems with my whatever-it-is-that’s-wrong-with-me, is that I seem to be perfectly healthy in all other respects. My blood pressure is nothing to worry about, my iron levels are fine, I don’t have any strange rashes or high temperatures, I don’t seem to be getting ill any more often than usual, my ribs are obviously making the right noise when the doctor taps them with a cupped hand and when I say “Ahhh” my throat looks clear.

So the only thing that’s actually wrong with seems to be me complaining that I’m tired all the bloody time.

The Specialist was quite happy to diagnose that I’m suffering from Depression, but was less convinced by my idea that the Depression is caused by the whatever-it-is-that’s-wrong-with-me rather than the Depression IS the whatever-it-is-that’s-wrong-with-me.

More simply put:

Specialist: Depression Causes Tiredness
Me: Tiredness Causes Depression

As I’ve only been on these current anti-depressants for 6 weeks (now upped to 40mg per day as from Monday past) the Specialist wants to see how I am after I’ve been on them for another 3 months and they’ve had a chance to really kick in.

The idea is that if my problem is just Depression then within a couple of months all my symptoms should disappear, but if it’s something else then at least we’ll be able to take the Depression aspect out of the equation and see what’s left.

If it does turn out to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome then there’s not a great deal they can do for me. Apparently some people respond rather well to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to find ways of dealing with their condition, but it’s a bit of a lottery as to whether there’s a Therapist in your area and how long the waiting list is.

So I don’t feel much further forward than if I’d been told to take 2 aspirin and phone tomorrow.

Where’s the chocolate?


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We're off to see the Wizard...

This evening I drive up to Peebles to stay overnight with my brother-in-law, so that my trip to Edinburgh to see The Specialist will be less tiring in the morning.

The last few days I’ve been getting increasingly irritated and annoyed about the fact that I know nothing’s going to come of it, the whole trip will be a waste of time and I’ll come away no further forward nor with any idea how to move forward.

Of course it hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t actually know that it’s a waste of time.

Ultimately I have to conclude that this is my fear talking rather than any true sense of prophecy. If I did have any fortune telling abilities beyond random luck, I’d have capitalised on them years ago.

But that’s the problem with fears – they’re damned convincing.

I’ve begun to notice that my sleeping position at night is becoming increasingly foetal in nature. Gone are the days when I would sprawl out, taking up most of the bed.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I am so tired of feeling tired; so weary or feeling weary; so exhausted of feeling exhausted.

Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just add hot water

When you go for a coffee, right, and they give you a choice between your espresso, latte, americano etc, all they really do is make up an espresso and add bits to it. So your latte is basically just an espresso with hot milk in a tall glass, while your cappuccino is an espresso with frothy milk and a shuggle of chocolate powder on top.

OK, I can accept that. But what really pisses me right off is that your "Americano", or bog-standard coffee as it's known to you and me, is just an espresso with hot water added. Now I could just about cope with that, right, if they didn't want to charge me an extra 50p for it!

So what I've decided I'm going to do, right, is make up a small flask of hot water, which I can carry with me in the large inside pocket of my coat, right? And then I'm going to ask for an espresso... but in a large cup.

Then, once the waitress has turned her back I can top it up with my own hot water and I'll have saved myself 50p.

OK, I can hear you saying that 50p isn't much, but think about it - if I was to do this, say twice a week for a year, then I'd end up saving myself over 50 quid, right?

In fact, we could take this further! If I'm out with someone, I could ask for a double espresso... and 2 large cups.

Sometimes I astound myself with my geniusness.

When I mentioned this to Maggie, she gave me one of "those looks" and told me I ought to talk to my doctor about the meds I'm on. I've heard placebos are very effective so I've decided to ask him to prescribe me some of them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guilty of writing dodgy poetry

Were you ever a Punk Rocker when you were younger? Headbanger? New Romantic? Hippy? Skinhead? Did you ever dye your hair an odd colour, or cut or grow it in a non-conventional way? Did you ever have a piercing in some place other than your ear? Did you ever experiment with an illegal drug, or drink alcohol underage?

Did you ever feel alienated from the mainstream? Did you ever find that embracing a dress code or music style or language that your parents and the elder generation would have disapproved of, actually empowered you? Did you ever get a thrill out of shocking people by being/ dressing/ behaving/ saying something outrageous?

Did you ever get together with other people who dressed like you, or listened to your music, or shared your religious or political outlook, and slag off the rest of the world and sneer at the brainwashed masses who were too stupid to question their conventionality, because they just didn’t “get it”?

When I was a teenager, I felt like an outsider; I grew my hair long and wore a leather jacket; I listened to Motorhead, ACDC and anything with screaming guitars; I first drank alcohol in a nightclub 2 weeks before my 14th birthday; in my later teens and early 20s I experimented with substances of questionable legality; I also went on to read many books that questioned society and even the fabric of the universe.

Here in the UK, Samina Malik at the age of 23 has become the first woman in the UK to be convicted under the Terrorism Act, being found guilty of owning terrorist manuals.

The jury heard Malik had written extremist poems praising Osama Bin Laden, supporting martyrdom and discussing beheading... She had posted her poems on websites under the screen name the Lyrical Terrorist, prosecutors said.

Did she blow anything up? No.

Did the police find her with a stack of bombs ready to strap around herself? No.

Did they find her with any bomb making equipment? No.

She was convicted of having articles "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

Given that what we’re really talking about here is someone who is young, feels alienated by her culture, writes obnoxious poetry, has visited and downloaded stuff from a few dodgy websites, and thought that a name like The Lyrical Terrorist “sounded cool” what we’ve really got is a profile that would fit half the people who’ve ever been a teenager.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely and utterly disagree with her sentiments, but if she hasn’t actually committed a crime then she has been convicted for her thoughts and what she has read, and that sounds like an horrific abuse of the Justice system to me.

Was she a suicide bomber waiting to happen? Does your typical terrorist come across as a disaffected youth who likes to post poetry on the Web?

I usually steer clear of politics on this blog, but this case has deeply unsettled me.

Maybe it’s enhanced by the fact that I recently read George Orwell’s 1984, but this has all the classic marks of the Thought Police.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Loadsa Visitas

I was casually strolling down my blog and suddenly noticed that the Sitemeter stats had rather a lot of zeros in it. In fact, it said that I've just passed the 40,000th visitor to this blog.

Now I'll happily admit that a fair few thousand of them are probably me constantly coming to the site to post ramblings, reply to comments, tweak the design and layout, and visit various bloggers from the links on my sidebar.

I did wonder if I could figure out who exactly was my 40,000th visitor, so peering closely at the Sitemeter page, I noticed that the visitor was from Ireland and it seemed to coincide with Conan Drum's comment in the last post, so it's my guess that he's the one.

I would hand out a prize, but there's been recent financial cutbacks in that department. However, Conan - if you're ever in the area, let me know and I'll give you a bottle of beer that's been sitting in the fridge, unopened since I changed the tablets I'm on.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

So tired...

How is it possible to feel so tired and yet the body refuse to claim the amount of sleep it needs?

You would have thought that if you’ve reached a point in the evening where you are struggling to keep your eyes open; where you are having difficulty just standing upright; and your words are slurring as though you’ve had too much to drink; that your body would just sleep for as long as it needs to fully recover if there are no interruptions.

At least that’s what I would have thought.

And yet, for no reason I can fathom, at 4.30am I lie awake, unable to go back to sleep, but not able to fully wake up either. It’s not like my mind is racing and I’m completely alert - I still feel tired, desperately tired, almost sick with tiredness.

For the next 2 hours I float about, periodically drifting into dream states for a handful of minutes, only to resurface, aware of my breathing, Maggie’s breathing, a car driving past in the distance.

Eventually, just before Maggie’s alarm goes off I sit up, propping the pillows behind me and switch on the light. It takes several minutes before I can fully open my eyes.

All I want to do is go back to sleep

But that’s all I’ve been wanting to do for hours and it ain’t gonna happen.

A couple of months ago I filled out a questionnaire the doctor gave me about energy levels and sleeping, and one of the questions was how often I feel fully refreshed after a night’s sleep.

I started at the question for a long time, startled by the implication.

You mean to say that it’s possible to feel refreshed after a night’s sleep? Does that actually happen? I mean, is there a section of the population for whom getting up is a refreshing and pleasurable experience?

I have absolutely no idea what that must feel like.

Tonight I’ll go through it all again.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Storytelling and, though not connected, awards

The Storytellers Blog appears to be growing from strength to strength. There are now 11 stories up by 6 different narrators and 8 different authors, with several other bloggers busy working round the technical challenges of recording and posting their stories for the very first time.

As well as posting The Biggest Bramble You Ever Did See, to kick start the site, I also put up a short story I wrote last year called The Flower, which at the time I couldn't figure out what to do with, but it feels ideally suited for this new site.

Dr Maroon insists that if it wasn't for technical difficulties he would be recording his own serial tale, Gothic. Personally I suspect he just enjoys me making a fool of myself attempting a multitude of accents my vocal chords we never designed for. However, parts one and two are now up.

Do go over and have a nosey about if you've not yet been, and if you're interested in joining us then you are more than welcome - most of the bloggers posting on it have never done audio blogs before, so don't think this is for the technically elite; it most certainly is not.

Go on, step outside your comfort zone and read a story of your own, or a favourite you'd like to share. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments.

Meanwhile, Christina, over at Prince Vince Meets the World, has handed me a Community Blogger Award.

She says, "The Community Blogger Award celebrates people who reach out and make the blogger community a better one" which I thought was lovely.

So after a brief *smug* moment, I started thinking about who else I should pass this on to, and the blogger that immediately leapt to mind was Pat from Past Imperfect.

The warmth with which Pat relates her experiences and engages with all who visit and comment on her site just brings out the best in all of us. I've seen hardened foul-mouthed sweary bloggers suddenly watching their Ps & Qs when Pat wanders over. She has that favourite aunt quality - the who you just don't want to disappoint as she always has a good word for you, and you feel warm inside when she pays you attention.

Without a doubt, Pat makes the blogger community a better place, so I have no hesitation in passing on the award to her.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Food, Glorious Food

As a rule I try not to look back on aspects of my life with regret. There’s nothing I can do about things past; besides, whatever happened contributed to the superb, fantastic, yet modest, person I am today.

However, there have been times of late when I’ve been almost overwhelmed with a sense of lost opportunity and it’s to do with food.

As has been mentioned in other posts, Maggie is truly a superb cook. What she is capable of creating through mixtures of buttery, creamy, sugary stuff is mouth-wateringly beyond description.

As has also been mentioned in other posts, I used to weigh 19½ stone (275lbs or 125kg), but over the past 2½ years have lost over 7 stone (100lbs or 45kg) through eating healthily and ongoing battles with food cravings.

Part of the reason I got up to 19½ stone in the first place was indeed easy access to my wife’s tremendous cooking ability, but that was only a part of it. The truth is an awful lot of that weight was gathered from years of eating crappy food that was ok but not of my wife’s making, and nothing special.

If I was going to get that big, why on earth didn’t I do it by eating really tasty, drool-inducing, mouth-slobbering, belly-filling, scrumptious, frumptious food - food worth risking your health for?

It feels like such a wasted opportunity.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On How to Manipulate Reality Using Photoshop

Take your average blogger. This one below is a typical example of the species and will serve nicely as a subject for this experiment
Blogger Vulgaris: a common, or garden variety of blogger

Now get him to look serious and brooding into the camera for a moment. You might want to tell him that Farscape was never as good as Star Trek, or that Facebook is only MySpace for snobs, or some such thing.

Then crop the image close, only only allowing half the face to show, as this will remove any sense of an asymmertrical skull structure and the viewer will automatically assume the rest of the face to be well balanced.

tell him there's a naked woman in the camera lens to get him to look in the right place

Desaturate the image as Black & White photography gives a sense of artistic and cultural superiority. Now boost the contrast on the iris to make it stand out more.

Before After

Finally, darken the background and fine tune the brightness and contrast on the rest of the face, making the lights lighter and the darks darker.

Handsome, thoughtful and profound. What more is there to say?

Et Voilà, you now have the photo for the dust cover of the Blogger's next best selling hardback.

Of course it would help if he ever got round to writing it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Old?

41 today! Apparently life began last year…

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I know a few people who passed their 40th birthday in the past year or so, along with one or two for whom the change of decade is looming, and the unanimous sentiment is one of doom and gloom.

And yet for me, turning 40 twelve months ago was in no way the apocalyptic event everyone else perceives it to be. For a while I just figured it was because I was already in the swing of a full on midlife crisis, so reaching this age wasn’t going to make any real difference.

But following on from a few conversations I’ve had of late, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s actually because I haven’t reached my natural age yet.

I remember my mother used to say that inside she only ever felt 18, so constantly got a surprise when she looked in the mirror and found this old woman staring back at her. My father has always struck me as a young man in his twenties at heart, despite the fact that he’s now into his seventies. And my brother, who is 4 years older than me, is a teenager through and through; the idea of him as a grown up is too difficult to get my head around, no matter how thin his hair gets.

On the other side of it we all know people who act like grumpy old men and women despite being youthful in appearance. And when I go to pick up Meg from school in the afternoons I nearly always notice a child from her class who I just know will look exactly the same when he’s 85 years old: he’s a pensioner waiting to happen.

Even putting aside the days when I feel I’m not a day less than at least 16 billion years, and still in desperate need of a good night’s sleep, the fact is I was never a young man.

As a child I really didn’t enjoy the company of other children. They were small-minded, petty, superficial and, well, childish. The reality was I couldn’t wait to grow up and I’m infinitely happier as an adult than I ever was as a kid. I once saw a young lass who was dreadfully upset that she was about to turn 20 – her life was all but over. I’m not usually driven to wanting to slap people, but the urge was there on this occasion. My twenties were considerably better than my teens, and I felt far more comfortable in my thirties than I ever did in my twenties.

Now I’m in my forties and I still feel the best is yet to come. Perhaps I’ll be truly at home in my late forties or even early fifties. It’s an odd thought that most people are mourning for a lost youth while I’m still looking forward with expectancy.

So what age do you feel? Are you younger or older than your refection indicates?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cogito Ergo Procrastinatum

This Thursday, aside from being my 41st birthday (I expect presents and will be taking note of those who fail to wish me felicitous returns), class 3 of my 8-part philosophy evening course will be dealing with the Great Rationalists – Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.

With the half-term autumn break, I’ve had 3 weeks to prepare my notes.

So why, oh why, have I left everything to the last minute, again?

I had every intention of not only doing the research for this class, but to get ahead and have most of the rest in hand by the time we came back. But no – in exactly the same way as when I was in school, I kept putting it off believing I had plenty of time.

I keep trying to drum into my son that if he just did his homework on the day he got it from school, rather than the night before it was due, then his life would be so much easier. He could go out and play, conscience clear and worry free, knowing it was all in hand.

“But Dad, you leave everything…”

“Enough, son! Don’t you see I don’t want you to grow up to be like me? I want you to grow up better than me. I want you to have all my perfections and none of my failings. I want you to have my analytical capacity, your mother’s cooking ability, your uncle’s natural charm and your grandpa’s principles. Get any one of those mixed up and you’ll be as screwed up as the rest of us…”

Did you know one of the contributing reasons to Descartes’ demise was his patron, the Queen of Sweden, insisted on having her philosophy classes at 5 o’clock in the morning and, along with the harsh Swedish winters, this lead to him getting ill and dying of pneumonia?

Sitting up all night in a cold and draughty castle trying to get his notes ready for an early start the following morning was obviously a bad move. Perhaps if he'd been a little more organised he'd have lasted longer.

So what the bloody hell am I doing writing a blog entry when I’ve got a class to prepare?


Excuse me for one moment…

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wild Haggis

When you’re 7 years old you know that if you could just stay awake for long enough, while pretending to be asleep, then on the night before Christmas you might just catch a glimpse of Santa delivering gifts.

You’re also at an age when, if you lose a tooth at the swimming pool you will dive to the bottom in an attempt to retrieve it, twenty times if necessary because there’s a fairy ready to give you hard cash for the thing if you can place it under your pillow that evening.

So it was with anticipation and excitement that Kate’s twin boys set of with Rogan to look for wild haggis in the decaying bracken, while Kate and I caught up on old times, sitting on the hillside overlooking Castle Campbell, Dollar Glen and out across the Forth Valley in Central Scotland.

Kate’s originally from Scotland but I first met her at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada when I was on a student exchange some 15 years back. I last saw her 10 years ago when she returned to the UK for a short while, before realising her heart lay back across the other side of the Atlantic.

The fact that she was visiting family this week, thereby being only 120 miles away rather than the usual 4,000, was too good an opportunity to miss, so I drove up to see her, meet her sons for the first time and reminisce about how we used to look younger and see the world differently.

While Kate has no immediate desire to move back to Scotland, she misses the open mountains and hillsides. “Trees Kim,” she said, “I’m sick of trees.” Apparently there are an awful lot more of them in Canada than Scotland. I guess there’s a reason why the national flag has a leaf on it.

Throughout the day Rogan was superb. He talked non-stop all the way up and all the way back, helping me to stay awake on the journey, while giving me space to chat to Kate, and keeping her lads occupied while we swapped stories about life events and mutual friends. Although he’s only 12 years old, I couldn’t have asked for a better travelling companion than my son.

Despite near perfect conditions, the boys failed to bag themselves a wild haggis. Rogan had warned the young Canadians that with their left legs longer than their right, Haggis was notoriously quick running round the sides of mountains so very difficult to catch. However, to counter their disappointment, Kate assured her boys she would buy one ready caught and prepared from the butcher’s on the way back to her brother’s house that evening.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Storytellers Blog

Over the past couple of months, the majority of my posts have been about my mental and emotional struggles with food, depression and tiredness. Well, for the most part I’ve always tended to write about what’s playing most on my mind at the time, and without doubt these are the subjects that have been almost exclusively occupying my thoughts of late.

If I’m honest, I have a slight fear that this is going to turn into the Ramblings of the Depressed One, and I really don’t want that to happen. Unfortunately my mind keeps drawing a blank when I decide I want to write about something else.

However, last week I came up with a stonker of an idea, and spare time over the past few days has been spent developing the groundwork for a new blog.

It’s OK, you don’t have to get jealous – I’m not leaving you for another. This is an extra, an enhancement, not a replacement. In fact I hope you’ll want to join us.

The idea of The Storytellers Blog sprang to mind when I was visiting Eryl’s blog (The Kitchen Bitch Ponders) and enjoying listening to her audio recording of an old Inuit tale. I was struck by how wonderful it was to just sit back and listen; how completely different the experience is to reading.

Of course this is hardy a new concept. Audio cassettes and CDs abound, Radio 4 is made up almost entirely of voice-based content, and podcasting is rife.

But in the blogging world we read. Occasionally we post YouTube videos or photos, but mostly it’s the written word that’s King. I’ve made a handful of audio blogs here, but they were experimental and I wasn’t really sure what to do with them.

So the idea of The Storytellers Blog is to have a place which is exclusively audio based stories. Stories can be written by the narrator, or be an unusual or favourite tale, like Eryl’s one about Tuglik and her Granddaughter.

I immediately emailed Eryl to see if she was up for the idea and she seemed as excited as me about it. I set up a basic blog, we both posted stories we already had formatted and I’ve spent the weekend jigging the design and putting together tutorials and FAQs.

While Eryl and I have kick started this thing, we hope it will become a real community blog, with lots of people joining us and recording and uploading their own stories.

So go and take a look, start recording your stories and add the site to your favourites. And if you’re the kind of blogger who likes banners on your sidebar, I’ve even created one of those for you.

The Storytellers Blog

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Whose brain is it anyway?

Bloody hell, this brain of mine just doesn’t shut up.

I’d forgotten that, but now I have to find a way of getting used to it again.

Over the past 6 weeks my tiredness moved up a level, to the point where large parts of each day were like wading through treacle, both physically and mentally. I was sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night more, though still feeling unrefreshed; if anything it was taking me even longer to completely wake up in the mornings.

The amitriptyline the doc put me on worked, insofar as it stopped the sudden and crushing mood drops, but it was like coating me in a large roll of cotton wool to the point where it was steadily getting harder to move or to think.

So when, on Monday, we met to review whether I should stay at the 25mg level or up to the more common 50mg, I told him of the side effects and said that it felt like I’d exchanged one form of non-functionality (the mood drops) for another (cotton wool – or treacle, depending which analogy you prefer). So I asked if there were any other options.

So now I’m on 10mg of citalopram instead.

Now while it will still be too early for the citalopram to have started kicking in yet, coming off the amitriptyline seemed to have a profound effect virtually overnight.

Suddenly my mind is bouncing all over the place - I am making connections and seeing patterns between bizarre and unlikely things; if someone suggests an idea, I can run it through empire building scenarios, which if followed would result in global domination within 3 years; and even the Sudoku puzzles are looking simpler.

In other words, it’s back to normal (excluding mood drops, general tiredness and any normal definition of normal).

But because it hasn’t been like this for several weeks, I was slowly adapting to a brain which needed to take its time, and overheated if it thought for more than 10 minutes without a 2 hour break.

Consequently for the past couple of days it’s felt like I’ve got a wildcat by the tail that I can’t let go of and isn’t going to give me any peace.

I daresay I’ll adapt to it, in the same way I eventually got used to having a new tooth I’d got used to not having (see But if feels so big), but for the moment I wish it would sit down and shut up for at least a few minutes a day.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Self-Medication - The Results

One of the things I love about people is the sheer variety and diversity of opinions, outlook and coping mechanisms, and yet at the same time I am guilty of falling into an age old trap of assuming underneath it all everyone else is just like me. It was Dr Maroon who first pointed out to me this particular character trait of mine, although to be fair we were deep in conversation about his own solipsism at the time.

So, when I created the poll for the last post, What’s Your Medication? I knew full well that there would be a variety of responses. However, what I was also reminded of was not everyone has mental health or personality problems that lead them to self-medicate.

Of course everyone has off days, everyone has problems they wish they didn’t have to deal with and everyone gets down every now and then. But not everyone gets constant bouts of such extreme emotional pain that they regularly have to look for ways to try and dull that pain in order to just be able to reach the end of the day no matter how damaging it is in the long term.

I have to confess I’ve always slightly suspected that everyone is completely screwed up, but the world is split into a) those have psychological problems and b) those who are in denial.

However, judging by the number of people who said that reading a good book, going for a brisk walk, or just having a sharp word with themselves actually works, I think this could just be me projecting my own neuroses onto the rest of the population. For me, those solutions are rather like offering a sticky plaster (band aid) to someone who has just had a limb severed.

Clearly then, not everyone who frequents this blog is as screwed up as I am, even if I do think that one or two of you just haven’t accepted that your dedication to fitness is as pathological as my wife’s dedication to home baking.

So, on to the results – taken at 2.30pm on Tuesday 9th October

With 75 votes and 35 separate commenters, it looks like there are more lurkers than I realised, unless everyone has voted at least twice. A poll of this size isn’t big enough to draw global conclusions on the state of the human condition, but it does give us all a bit of an insight to the strange assortment of people who actually find these Ramblings interesting enough to periodically come back and see what else has been written here.

The most used form of self-medication by far, accounting for nearly a third of all votes was Food. Whether this is because of my own food problems I attract visitors who are like-minded, or whether it’s just that food is such a complex issue when it comes to how we deal with our emotions, I can’t say. However, it does show that I’m not completely alone.

Alcohol comes in 2nd place, but with only 12% of the vote I suspect there are one or two people here who refuse to accept they actually have a problem.

Other was 3rd although this was a hodgepodge of things I forgot to put on the list and included reading, listening to music and having a nice hot bath, rather than, say, self-mutilation with a piece of broken glass.

In 4th place, tied at 7% of the vote each, were A Brisk Walk, Talking to Friends, and Stop Being So Weak and Pathetic and Pull Yourself Together, which along with those in the Other category fall into my personal sticky plaster to an amputee analogy. The fact that I still find it easier to believe you’re all in denial rather than actually believe any of these really work (other than, perhaps, Talking with Friends), I guess only goes to show that I’m farther gone than I thought I was.

Video Games and Puzzles came next, keeping the mind occupied so other thoughts can’t get in, at least for the duration.

Interesting that more people are prepared to use Illegal drugs than ones prescribed by the doctor, though maybe not surprising.

Sexual Activity, Shopping, Exercise and Meditation only garnered 2 votes each, which is quite surprising considering that sex and shopping are widely recognised as the two biggest things the Internet is used for.

Another eyebrow raiser for me, was that only 1 person confessed to Blogging as their number one self-medicating distraction of choice. Food will always be my main struggle, but when I do keep away from gorging to fill the void within, blogging is probably my next biggest indulgence.

Finally, no one owned up to Gambling, Prayer or Violence as their preferred option for keeping the demons at bay, although Birdwatcher’s obsession with Rugby could easily have fallen into the Violence category in my book.

Unfortunately the sample was too small and too basic to be able to break down the results by age, nationality, religious affiliation or weight, but at least you can now compare yourself to the other visitors to these Ramblings in terms of neuroses.

I thank you all for your participation and hope you found it as interesting as I did.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

What's Your Medication?


Sometimes it sucks.

Don't get me wrong, it's not all doom and gloom - there are some wonderful things about it, but sometimes it overwhelms the best of us.

Sometimes the pain gets too great to handle.

Sometimes we need a little help to get through.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any amount of time will know that my default self-medication of choice tends to be FOOD. What I would like to know is what everyone else's is. What do you use to plug the pain?

So I've set up a poll. You vote anonymously, although if you'd like to discuss your thoughts further, you're more than welcome to in the comments.

Judging by the visitor numbers I get from my Sitemeter statistics, there are several readers who visit, but don't comment. That's fine, you don't have to comment, but do please take the time to vote as this is something I think is genuinely interesting.

I would imagine that for some people, more than one of the boxes could be ticked, in which case I would ask that you just select the Primary one - the one you are most drawn to most often.

I'd be surprised if I've covered every eventuality, so if yours isn't here, I'd love to know what it is - please leave a comment

What is Your PRIMARY Medication of Choice
Sexual Activity
Illegal Drugs
Only What The Doctor Prescribes
Video Games
A Brisk Walk
Talking with Friends
Stop being so weak and pathetic and pull yourself together
Free polls from

NOTE: This poll is now officially finished. See Self-Medication - The Results for the outcome

(Sometimes Pollhost is a little temperamental, so if it doesn't work this time, please try again later)

After you have voted, if you want to see how the poll develops, click on the "view" button above rather than voting a 2nd time.

Thanks for your input. I hope you have a good weekend where you don't have to resort to your self-medication.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Wrong Emotions

Ah, Mr Ayres. Yes, do come in. Take a seat. Can I get you anything? A cup of tea perhaps? No? Ok, I’ll come straight to the point.

I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a cock-up. You see, you’ve been given the wrong emotions. Don’t worry, we’ve got our people working on it, but it might still be a day or two before we’ve got it completely sorted out.

Have you noticed anything slightly amiss? Been feeling a little tetchy and irritable but not sure why?

Really Mr Ayres, there’s no need to take that tone with me. I most certainly was not being patronising. I think I can probably tick the box for paranoia too. This sheet? No it’s just so I can make a note of the emotions you’ve been feeling. No, Mr Ayres, it will not be available to any ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’ that asks.

How about fear and nervousness? You can come out from behind the chair, Mr Ayres, no one’s going to hurt you. That was just the pipes knocking. Happens all the time in these old buildings. You’re perfectly safe, I can assure you.

To answer your question, you were mistakenly assigned the emotions of Nora Huggins. Her postcode has a difference of one letter and it was a simple clerical error. She’s been going through a bit of a rough patch lately, which is why you’re finding all your emotions heightened and somewhat exaggerated.

We’re doing all we can to correct the mistake but in the meantime would ask for a little bit of patience and understanding from you, even if we did assign those to Mrs Huggins by mistake...


Did you ever have a day when it felt like your emotions weren’t your own, so were completely beyond your ability to do anything about them?

I’m assuming it’s a side effect of the anti-depressants as they bed themselves in and it will pass in a day or two. If not I’m going to have to find Mrs Huggins and see what mood I would have been in…

Friday, September 28, 2007

Who's the Philosopher?

"So how did your philosophy class go last night? "

Brilliant! I was on a roll. They laughed, they learned, and they all intend to turn up next week too.

"And your energy held out? You didn’t slump halfway through?"

I didn’t! The first half was run on adrenalin and the second on a really strong cup of coffee.

"This was about the ancient Greek philosophers wasn’t it?"

Aye, Thades, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Dirtinees…

"There wasn’t one called Dirty knees."

Sorry, got carried away there.

"But they enjoyed it?"

Oh yes, especially my drawings on the whiteboard illustrating Xeno’s Paradox.

"What’s that?"

You don’t know the tale of Achilles and the Tortoise?

"Can’t say it sounds familiar."

Ah, right then, imagine this mug is Achilles and this spoon is…

"Not that spoon, I’m using it."

Oh, OK, then let’s say this mobile phone is the tortoise and my bowl of muesli is the finishing post.

"Finishing post?"

Sorry, didn’t I say? Achilles and the tortoise are having a race.

"A man and a tortoise?"

Yes, and Achilles is twice as fast as the tortoise.

"That’s not very fast is it?"

That doesn’t matter. For the purposes of this tale it just makes it easier if we say Achilles is twice as fast as the tortoise.

"If you say so."

Good. Now Achilles, being a generous chap, decides to give the tortoise a head start of nearly half the track…

"Very generous."

…because he figure’s he’ll still beat him.

"Just don’t tell me Achilles is going to have a nap just before he gets to the finishing post because he’s over confident."

No, that’s The Tortoise and the Hare. Different story.

"Oh, OK."

Where was I?

"Achilles is twice as fast as the tortoise and has given him nearly half the track head start."

That’s right. So you would expect Achilles to overtake the tortoise just before the finishing line wouldn’t you?

"As long as he isn’t caught napping, I guess so."

But the fact is he never overtakes the tortoise.

"Why not?"

I’m so glad you asked that. This is what the paradox is all about. You see when Achilles reaches the point where the tortoise was, the tortoise will have moved half as far again. Look – if this mug of coffee has moved a foot across the table, then the phone will have moved 6 inches right?


Now, what happens when Achilles reaches the phone… er, the tortoise… now?

"The tortoise has moved half as far again."

That’s right, and when Achilles reaches where the tortoise was, it’s moved again. And so on, and so on. So logically, Achilles never actually reaches the tortoise, because every time he reaches the point it was, it’s moved on. Brilliant, eh?

"There’s an easier solution than that."

What do you mean?

"If the tortoise doesn’t want to be overtaken by Achilles he just needs to kick him hard in the heel at the point he’s about to pass."

His heel?

"Yes, that’s Achilles' weak point isn’t it?"

Hrmph. Just as well you’re not a philosophy tutor then isn’t it…

Thursday, September 27, 2007

And suddenly the nerves hit.

It’s half an hour or so until I leave to teach the first class of a new Philosophy Adult Education Evening Course at the local Community Centre.

Last year I ran an Introduction to Philosophy course; then in the New Year I ran an Introduction to Moral Philosophy course. Both these courses are ones I’d created and run several years ago, before we moved to SW Scotland. However, most of the people who’ve been through these courses wanted another, so I agreed to run one this autumn called “The Great Philosophers

I panicked a bit last week as I realised I only had 10 days before the class started and I hadn’t written any notes.

At the beginning of this week I got into my stride and felt damn pleased with myself for producing some excellent notes on the Pre-Socratics for the first class.

All week long, Maggie’s been asking me if I’m nervous about Thursday evening and the truth is I haven’t been.

Even earlier today she told me she was getting nervous for me, but I’ve just been tootling along, calm and serene, putting the last bits in place.

Then, tonight, while eating dinner I suddenly realised I was wolfing my food down while feeling jumpy and agitated, my mind racing with whether I had all the bits and pieces I need, and all the things that could go wrong.

Not least of which is my concern about whether I’ll have the energy to keep everyone interested and focused for 2 hours.

I can see myself requiring an extra strong cup of coffee at the mid-session break.

20 minutes to go. Better make sure I’ve packed the coffee

And then the sun came out

Perhaps I should have been clearer in my last post that when I refered to “normal”, what I really meant was “normal for me”. Perish the thought that I, or anyone for that matter, should ever be called “normal” as a term of praise.

I’ve always loved the fact that both the following phrases have such a ring of truth to them:

Everyone seems normal, until you get to know them
Everyone seems weird, until you get to know them

Anyway, maybe the meds have finally kicked in, or maybe it’s just a brief moment of respite, but I’ve noticed a distinct change in the past 24 hours, like I’m no longer wading through treacle.

Do you ever go out to a wood or parkland and take a deep breath, filling your lungs, and think “I’d forgotten just how wonderful this smells.”?

It’s a bit like that - remembering what it feels like not to be weighed down and worrying when the next depressive bout will suddenly pounce, and realising you’d forgotten you could feel that way.

Maybe it will be gone again tomorrow, or maybe it will stick around for a while. But for the moment I’m going to enjoy breathing it in.

P.S. Is anyone else having problems with Blogger giving them posting instructions in German (other than German readers, that is)?

Monday, September 24, 2007

To feel normal again...

What is normal?

I’m not sure I really know anymore.

Since the doctor upped the amitriptyline to 25mg instead of 10 a fortnight ago, I’ve not had one of those out-of-the-blue, crushing mood drops I’ve written about before (see Bollocks and Light at the end of the tunnel or just spots before my eyes?), but that’s not to say I feel like skipping down the street, smiling at strangers and handing out flowers to anyone who smiles back either. There’s still a feeling of fragility and a concern that a mood drop could be lurking just around the corner.

But, and here’s the rub, even if the mood drops were a chemical imbalance which are now being counteracted by the anti-depressants, it still doesn’t change the tiredness and low energy and all the other problems life likes to throw at you.

Even if I was “normal” I could still be depressed. It’s perfectly normal to worry about the state of your life and all the things going wrong. The difference is that if I were truly “normal” again, I would then set about changing my life to deal with the crap. Only because of the fatigue I don’t have the energy to do that.

So, if I’m feeling low, is it because the anti-depressants aren’t working, or is it that they are working, but I’m feeling helpless and yucky anyway?

2 months 'til I see the specialist

...and counting.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I'm off for a couple of days but wasn't sure what to post, so here's a wee selection of things I meant to write more about but haven't.

First up, Friday 21st September is our Silk wedding anniversary. Maggie & I have been married for 12 years now, and together for nearly 17. I could have written about how we met and why our relationship was doomed to failure from the start but somehow we overcame all the obstacles, but I found I'd covered it all already, 2 years ago on our Tin wedding anniversary.

Next up, Kanani, over at Easy-Writer has bestowed upon me a Quality Time Wasting Prolific Blogger Award for keeping her from doing all the stuff she really ought to be doing with her time instead. It's a compliment, I think.

I'm supposed to then nominate other bloggers who keep me away from doing what I should. This, in fact, covers just about everyone I link to on my side bar. Unfortunately, you lot being the petulant, insecure bunch you are, if I name some but not others there will only be sulks and tears before bedtime, so let's just say you all deserve it.

I've divided the above picture into a 9x9 grid - take a section to stick on your own site.

Finally, or I'll never get away, a couple of weeks ago the local primary school had a "Dads & Kids Day" which I took Meg along to. We learned about stone-age man's activities in this corner of Scotland, had a go a prehistoric-style painting using our fingers and poster-paints and were even introduced to spear-throwing (mock spears, not real ones - we are talking primary school here).

In addition to all this, Meg & I got our photo taken. And if there's one thing I've learned after 2 and bit years of blogging, it's that a father & daughter photo posted on the blog carries a considerable aaaahhhh factor.

So just for you, and you have to realise I wouldn't just do this for anybody, here's the photo of me & Meg.

Have a good weekend and I'll hopefully catch up with you on the other side of it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What a guy!

I don’t always have much desire to praise my former self. In fact, if I’m honest I tend to find myself increasingly annoyed and pissed off at earlier versions of me.

I mean, if he could just have bothered to take the time to learn another language, just think how useful that would have been for me now. And what if he’d decided to take a bit more care of his body and eating habits a little bit sooner? Well, I wouldn’t have had to fight so hard to lose all that weight now would I? Frankly, I have to say the guy is mostly something of a disappointment.

But today I could have pinched his cheek, and given him a friendly slap on the shoulder followed by a manly hug, while saying things like “come here, you…” and grinning warmly.

You see, Kim of a year ago realised, when he was struggling with sorting out his accounts on a spreadsheet, that Kim of the future would probably have forgotten the system he used. So, after compiling the spreadsheet of income & expenditure for 2005/6, he created a template for 2006/7 and filled in the first month.

So when I came to start going through the receipts and invoices and panicked at the idea of having to create a spreadsheet system I could work with, I was delighted to discover one was already waiting for me. And because it had the first month filled in I was able to work out how to do the rest.

It was one of those few times when I would happily have bought my past self a drink. Unfortunately he was nowhere to be seen so I had to have his one.

Mind you, even though I now have the figures I need, the selfish bastard has always used an accountant in previous years to fill in his self-assessment tax form*. The lazy sod had more money than me so felt he could fritter it away on the services of such professionals. This has left me in the unenviable position of trying to figure out how to do it myself for the first time.

I hope my future self is suitably grateful next year.

*Due for the end of September

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Past, Present or Future - Where Do You Live?

Very few of us truly tend to live in the present; for the most part we live in the past or the future. At it’s extreme this can lead to either an “Eden” or a “Utopian” narrative.

The Eden viewpoint is based on the idea that the best was in the past - nostalgia, rose-tinted memories, school days were the best days of our lives, yearning for the lost innocence of childhood, the good old days, and so on – while the future is doom and gloom – imminent catastrophe from global warming, terrorists, spread of capitalism, growth of communism, over population etc.

By contrast, the Utopian vision of the world is the idea that we are moving towards a better future – the past was a place of greater division, less education & understanding, more disease, shorter lifespan, and the like – whereas the future will be a far greater place – cures for diseases, longer healthier lives, more advanced technology, the global village, an alternative to Windows Vista operating system and so forth.

Which of these camps you fall into will fundamentally affect the way you view, and interact, with the world.

But this same past-dominant/ future-dominant idea can play out on a day-to-day level too. Are you the kind of person who spends the majority of their time mulling over what’s just happened, or are you the type who is always wondering what’s around the next corner? Of course we all tend to be a mix, but inevitably one tends to dominate.

By nature I’ve always been the kind of person with one foot in the future. I don’t tend to dwell in the past much; perhaps I do slightly more now as I get older, but the majority of my attention is still focused on what could happen, or what’s about to happen. Sometimes this is to the detriment of the now; I can easily miss out on what’s happening right under my nose because my sights are set in the distance.

The Eastern Philosophy of Taoism (pronounced Dow (rhymes with cow) - ism) is all about living in the now – the past is gone, the future doesn’t exist, so if we are to extract all we can from life then we should take notice of our surroundings and our actions, and “be” (a superb introduction to the principles of Taoism is Benjamin Hoff’sThe Tao of Pooh” which explains the concepts through looking at the behaviour of Pooh Bear from the A.A. Milne stories, and is well worth sticking on your birthday or xmas list).

Of all religions and philosophies I’ve looked at, Taoism is the one that has always had the most appeal, although it’s one I find almost impossible to implement.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Bumper Crop

The brambling was good this weekend.

Rogan, Meg & I went on one of our most successful bramble hunts ever. The briars were laden with thick, juicy, ripe, tasty brambles within easy reach. Between us we managed to pick over 5lbs of them in less than an hour and a half and were rewarded by one of Maggie's divine Bramble Crumbles and the promise of bramble ice-cream this Xmas as we froze the rest.

And this year we were even able to use the ones Meg picked, although she has yet to learn you shouldn’t rub your face when your hands are covered in purple juice…

Meg managed to get nearly as many in the tub as she did in her belly and over her face and clothing...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Selective memory

It never ceases to surprise me: my ability to filter out and selectively forget my condition.

It’s nearly a year and a half since Maggie first told me my levels of tiredness were unnatural and I should really go and see a doctor about it. Almost every day I have to have a lie down in the afternoon for 45 minutes or more, and if I don’t I really notice the difference. On a daily basis I’m reminded I don’t have the energy I ought to have, and several times a week I experience chronic bouts of extreme emotional pain.

And yet, give me a few hours of feeling relatively normal – not too tired and not unhappy – and I begin to believe that things aren’t anything like as bad as I’ve been moaning about. I seem to instantly forget how crippling the emotional lows can be and that at any moment I could suddenly feel drained like I’ve been unplugged.

You would think I would understand that when I’m not feeling exhausted I ought to be conserving my energy, not assuming that I’m probably over the worst of it now so need to get on and do things.

You would think so…

You would…