Saturday, June 30, 2007


“Roll out the barrel…”

“My old man said follow the van and don’t dilly-dally on the way…”

“Dad, do you know the piano's on my foot?” - “You hum it son, I'll play it!”

That’s right folks; it’s time for us to throw out the television, discard the DVD, mutilate the MP3 player, crash the computer and make our own entertainment like our parents did when they were young, because we now have a piano.

My mother was a superb pianist – she had all 8 grades and as a child entered several prestigious competitions. She would tell us how there was one snotty nosed geek who, if he turned up, guaranteed no one else stood a chance of winning. She once came 2nd to him, although didn’t feel any particular achievement in it. My mother grew up to become an English and Music teacher, then a wife and mum, while the snotty nosed geek turned into world famous pianist, John Ogdon.

Mum tried teaching me the piano when I was a child, but though I studied it for a while, like most things your parents try and force you into, eventually I rebelled against it. I can’t remember the precise incident that prompted the outburst, but I do recall my mother once yelling at me, “If you don’t want to learn the piano then you don’t have to bother with the bloody thing!” Delighted I’d discovered an escape route, that was the last piano lesson I ever received.

Of course, as an adult I can look back with regret at a missed opportunity, but as a child, watching TV or playing with Lego® was infinitely more fun than practicing scales.

I found out recently that Maggie had lessons for a year back when she was 7, and that there’d been a piano in her house up until they moved a couple of years later. But while tuition had ceased by that time, pathways had been laid down in the brain in such a way that the idea of a piano in the house seemed slightly magical.

Not long ago Rogan mentioned he’d like to learn the piano, and while I nodded and grunted and returned to the Sudoku puzzle engaging most of my attention, Maggie made a mental note and started putting the word out (or more precisely, told our friend Liz who is one of life’s natural networkers). I wasn’t overly aware of this so I was quite surprised when suddenly and out of the blue we were told a few days ago of a couple who were moving to smaller accommodation and were prepared to give us their piano for free if we could collect it by the weekend.

Now when talk begins of moving pianos, immediately images of Laurel and Hardy, or the old PG Tips advert with the chimpanzees, spring to mind. This wasn’t something I was going to be able to do on my own.

The next 2 days were spent frantically calling removal firms who couldn’t do anything at such short notice, or charged so much it would be cheaper to go out and buy a brand new one. After we’d exhausted the phone book and the Internet I set about phoning friends, acquaintances and virtual strangers to try and find someone with a van and half a dozen bodies to help move the thing.

Just as I was beginning to think it was never going to happen, the piano owner phoned to say he’d found a piano tuner who had a horsebox, a wee trolley thing to manoeuvre it with and plenty of experience moving them. So last night we took delivery of an upright Obermeier Pianoforte-Fabrik. It needs a clean and is in desperate need of tuning, but it’s the real thing; it even smells like my mother’s old piano.

Now we just have to find someone who can teach all four of us to play in a weekly half-hour session.

All together now…


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Being and Nothingness

Can you see something that isn’t there more clearly than something that is?

If ever I’d had any doubts they’ve been utterly dispelled, as it’s become obvious that more people have noticed, and remarked on, the absence of my front tooth these past 2 months than its presence in the previous 40 years or so.

I’ve just booked a room in the community centre to run a Philosophy Evening Course this autumn, and was pondering Sartre’s idea that it is the nothing which defines the being. You could say the not-there is just as important as the is-there: the experience of the café is defined by the absence of the friend you were expecting to meet; life is defined by the nothingness before and after it; it is the hole that defines the polo mint.

Which leads me to the recent rediscovery of one of my favourite philosophy jokes, which never fails to have me guffawing loudly.

Jean Paul Sartre is sitting in a café, revising his latest draft of Being and Nothingness, when a waitress asks for his order. He says he’d like a coffee with no cream, to which she replies, “I am sorry, monsieur, we are all out of cream. Can I bring you a coffee with no milk?”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


“When they called me ‘Big’ I tried to take it with good grace. At first I wasn’t sure quite what they meant as I’m certainly no taller than your average wolf; it took me a little while to realise they weren’t referring to my height, but my waistline. But I was more than happy with the description ‘Bad’. In fact I felt quite smug. I thought it meant I was kinda cool, like in Michael Jackson’s ‘Because I’m bad, I’m bad – come on’, you know? But before I knew it I’d got woodsmen, grandmothers and the porcine Cosa Nostra all baying for my blood.”

“Tell me about it,” said the Wicked Witch.

Friday, June 22, 2007

And nothing but the hole tooth...

“I am sorry, but it is always a problem for men with facial hair.”

“I actually trimmed it last night, knowing I was coming here today.”

“I’m glad you did. I don’t know how we’d have coped if it was any longer.”

My dentist is trying to pick bits of dental putty from a few of the hairs that got coated when I bit down into the mould for the impression to be made of the remaining bit of tooth that’s been prepared for the crown. I begin to wonder whether it’s the same stuff women use to wax their bikini lines and if I’m going to end up with some bald patches on my upper lip.

With the hole now ready for the pin to attach the crown to, when I return next month I’m hoping I should finally stop looking like I could have been cast as an extra in “Deliverance”.

I’d assumed I would get some kind of temporary plastic tooth or something until the crown was ready, as this has happened in the past. But then it was a long time ago in the past, back when NHS dentists were the norm rather than the extremely rare exception, and they had the same budgets to spend on you as their private patients.

Having already experienced 2 months with the gap I daresay I’ll cope for a few more weeks, but I was surprised that the hole wasn’t even plugged for the duration. It looks about the perfect size for a piece of rice or sesame seed.

However, stranger revelations have occurred since I got home.

Whenever a dentist is drilling deep into an upper tooth, it feels like a few millimetres further and she’ll be entering your brain, but of course that’s just a ridiculous fear.

And yet… and yet…

I thought I’d try taking a photo to see if there was anything there. Could this be an opportunity to see what’s going on inside my own head?

You might not see much in the first photo, but do click on the 2nd for a larger image of when I zoomed right in. I’m not sure, but I think I can almost make out something. If I can just figure out what it might be, perhaps it will give me a clue as to what my subconscious is really up to.

A window into my subconscious? Click for a larger image
A window into my subconscious? Click for a larger image

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Greener Barbecues

I think Guatemalans are cool

Have you been reading El Guapo again? I’ve still not forgiven him for saying he thought Scotland was a country invented by Mel Gibson

Well perhaps he’d never heard of Sean Connery…

Just you make sure you don’t go getting any ideas about shaving your beard and just leaving a moustache. You’ll frighten the children when you pick them up from school.

I’m not planning on shaving anything, but this is nothing to do with El Guapo. I’m talking about barbecues.

What’s that got to do with Guatemalans? I thought Australians were the kings of the barbecue.

No, listen. I was reading in the Good Food magazine about greener barbecues

You’re going to start flame grilling the salad?

No, no - how to make them less environmentally damaging. Reducing your carbon footprint is all the rage this summer. Did you know that a patio heater used for four hours contributes more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than the average car does in one day?

But we don’t have a patio heater.

I know that, but if we did, we could turn it off more.

You want us to buy a patio heater so we can turn it off?

Er, probably not. That was just an example. But according to this article we should be looking for locally sourced charcoal, stamped with the Forest Stewardship Council logo.

So what has any of this got to do with Guatemalans?

Well the latest, must have, way of lighting barbecues is with Fair Trade fire sticks from the Mayan people of Guatemala!

Fair Trade fire sticks?

Si, mi esposa hermosa. It says here that these ecological green products are handmade from the stump of Ocote tree. Apparently they are 80% resin but dry to the touch, so make ideal natural firelighters.

Don’t start quoting Spanish at me; you don’t even speak the language. Anyway, what’s wrong with using last week’s local freebie newspaper?

Well, if we place a stick under charcoal or logs, it says we will instantly be transported to the highlands of Guatemala by the wonderful aroma.

Let me get this right. You think that flying a handful of sticks halfway round the world just to light your barbecue is an environmentally friendly way of doing things?


Say, did you know Guatemalans have these little worry dolls…

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Rogan's 12th Birthday

When I told Maggie I’d changed my blog avatar again, replacing the pirate with an image of me “just resting my eyelids…”, she perceptively pointed out that you just have to give me a digital camera and a copy of Photoshop and I’m in my element.

Nowhere is this more obvious than when it comes to the kids’ birthdays. Every year they get custom made, personalised cards where I spend half a day finding images and manipulating photographs in order to paste their faces into some film or TV show they enjoy.

If you scroll to the bottom of the post of Meg is 9, for example, you will see her expertly inserted into the Ice Age 2 poster. And last year, my blending of Rogan into Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine character from the X-Men (see They Grow Up So Fast) had a couple of people wondering how an 11 year old could grow such a healthy set of sideburns.

This year I’ve been able to capitalise on Rogan’s refusal to get a hair cut for the past 9 months by splicing his head almost seamlessly on to Orlando Bloom’s body from a Pirates of the Caribbean scene.

It was a bit of a shock to see Rogan looking so grown up, and I can imagine him breaking a few hearts when he gets old enough to be interested in such matters.

Mind you, I wouldn’t be too surprised at some point to hear, “Why can’t you just buy us birthday cards like normal parents?

Rogan of the Caribbean
Rogan of the Caribbean

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Did you ever have one of those days, usually towards the end of the week, where you really felt like you could have done with a few extra hours sleep and it was all just catching up on you a bit?

It was a struggle to get out of bed and you felt slow all morning. For an hour or so after a coffee you felt kind of normal, but when it wore off you just felt a bit crap. Shortly after lunch and you could barely keep your eyes open, and if doing something repetitive or watching a screen you were guaranteed to doze off. Mid afternoon you’d have a strong coffee to try and kick-start yourself again but your heart wasn’t in anything you were trying to do. Desperate to get home and flake out in front of the TV, you didn’t really achieved anything of use all the day so just had to write it off. But you knew that if you could just get a couple of good nights’ sleep, next week would be far more productive.

Sound familiar? Of course it does; we all have days like this.

Now imagine everyday felt like that Friday afternoon – never quite able to get on top of anything; always feeling that if you just weren’t quite as tired you could take on the world again, but right now all you really want is a quick nap.

That’s pretty much how I feel all the time.

On days when I’m in a mood to beat myself up about things, it all just seems a bit pathetic. I’m not housebound, I can get out of my bed in the morning (however reluctantly) and I’m not in pain. So how can I be ill? Perhaps all I need is a good night’s sleep and everything will be fine tomorrow.

But it’s because I’m not in pain or unable to get out of bed, that I went for such a long time without realising anything was wrong. I can’t even tell you how long because I’d normalised it. Eventually, however, it started to seep in that every time tomorrow came, I’d feel the same way.

Finally it took my wife to say that she thought something was seriously awry to make me go to the doctor about it 12 months ago. I wasn’t yet 40, I’d sold my business and had a far less stressful life, I’d lost weight through much healthier eating habits, the future was brighter than it had ever been, so I shouldn’t still be complaining of always feeling tired. It was then the B12 deficiency was discovered.

When I saw the doctor again last week he agreed to up the B12 injections to every month rather than the 3-month cycle it’s been for the past year, although neither of us believes it is solely a B12 problem. It makes a slight difference for a few weeks after the jab, but not a greatly significant one.

For the first time since I started seeing a doctor about the tiredness, the words ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have raised their heads. However, one of the key features of ME is severe muscle or joint aches and pains, which I don’t suffer from. As for CFS the problem is it appears to be a catch all term for “we’ve done the tests for everything else and it wasn’t that, so this is all that’s left”. Consequently the literature on potential cures or management of the condition is vague at best.

If the most I can hope for in terms of a diagnosis is a made up name for an unknown condition, then I figure I can claim my own title for the way I feel. So next time anyone asks what’s wrong I’ll tell them it’s CFAS - Chronic Friday Afternoon Syndrome – which is probably about the most accurate description I can find.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

New Visitors

There’s something about the idea of guest posts that I love. When Restaurant Gal asked me to create a post for her site a couple of months ago, the whole idea was completely new to me. I’ve been blogging away for nearly 2 years now and none of the sites I’ve visited have ever had guest posts - they might quote a section from a blog they read, but never get someone else to actually write a complete post for their site.

At first the idea was quite intimidating. Here on my own blog it’s my space and I can do whatever I want with it, but for someone else’s… well, it’s like it’s ok to slouch around the house in your tatty jogging trousers and curry stained t-shirt, but if you’ve invited round to dinner at a friend’s house – especially if it’s the first time and you’d like to make a good impression – then you want to make a bit more effort, smarten yourself up, maybe even take a shower, clean your remaining teeth and comb your beard.

And then it’s also been wonderful to invite others to guest blog here. It’s rather like bringing a new friend home to visit; one you’ve been telling the family about, only now they finally get to meet him or her in person.

Now oddly enough, one of the things I found when both Restaurant Gal and El Guapo posted here was the number of comments dropped quite significantly. Typically my posts usually gather comments that number in the 20s and occasionally even in the 30s, yet with both guest posts there was barely a scraping of double figures.

If I was to try and draw conclusions by noting comment numbers alone, then I might have thought few people other than me were interested in the whole guest blogger concept. However, I also have Sitemeter, which paints a very different picture. Here are the Visitor Statistics for the past month:

El Guapo is clearly a popular hombre

As you can see, my average daily visits vary between 50 and 100 (the fact that its at its lowest at the weekends make me guess that most of my visitors are sneaking a glance at my blog during work time). However, notice that spike on the 25th of May when my daily average more than doubled - that was Restaurant Gal’s post – and the one where it quadrupled on Tuesday was El Guapo’s after he mentioned on his site that he was blogging here.

It appears the number of lurkers has been immense.

So what conclusions can I draw from this? Well I guess it means either all these extra visitors were not impressed enough with either me or my guest blogger to leave a comment, or they were shy.

And because I’m feeling in a more positive mood today, I’m going to take the 2nd option as the most likely explanation. Let’s face it, most of us tend to be quieter around strangers, and in new circumstances we’re more likely to sit back, observe and assess the situation before leaping in and blurting out something inappropriate and potentially embarrassing.

The real outcome will be revealed over the coming weeks when I’ll be able to see if my daily average increases (some of the new visitors have decided to stick around for a while), stays the same (none of the new visitors liked my style and so haven’t come back), or decreases (even my regulars are pissed off with this idea and have given up on me).

In the meantime, to any lurkers who are wondering whether it’s safe to comment, I’d like to say come in, make yourself comfortable and help yourself to one of my wife’s home baked cookies. Don’t be afraid to say hello :)

To grab a wonderful quote I discovered on Jennifer’s Pinwheels site today:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass,
It’s about learning to dance in the rain

Monday, June 04, 2007

Guest Post from El Guapo

I love El Guapo. How can you not love El Guapo, with his beautiful mustache and laid back Guatemalan cool?

Today I hope to have some of that cool rub off on me by association, as the ladies' man himself has written a guest post for this site.

I first stumbled across his blog about a year ago from a link I followed in Andraste's link list, and was instantly hooked. Almost everything he writes can be read on at least 2 levels - on the surface is the wide eyed naiveté of the innocent abroad, but underneath is often a cutting observation of the human condition.

But the best way to read El Guapo is just to put on your best Latino accent and let the pictures flow.

Read, enjoy and add him to your favourites if you've not already done so


"Who do you know who's Scottish?"

This friend of mine. Kim.

"Nice! Is she hot?"

Bueno, Kim, Kim Ayres, is a guy. A Scottish guy.

"Remember that blonde with the big feet I dated? Her name was Kim. Why does he have a woman's name?"

I don't know. Maybe they have different names in Scotland.

"So, can Jessica be a man's name there?"

I don't know. Maybe. I've never been. I don't know very much about Scotland.

"So why are you going to see this concert tonight?"

I've been trying to relate to Scotland, so that I can write something for Kim, but when I try to speak to a Scottish person, I can't understand what they're saying. So, I'm going to see Damien Rice tonight.

"Is he Scottish?"

No. He's Irish. I figured it was the next best thing. The Irish fought with the Scottish in Braveheart, so I figured it would be similar.

So, I dragged Miguel to see Damien Rice last Friday evening. I had heard a couple of his songs before, but I would never call myself a fan. It's the type of music that you play when you're first dating a woman and want to show her your sensitive side because women LOVE LOVE LOVE Damien Rice. This point proved true because there were gaggles of women in groups and men being dragged along by their wives or Friday night girlfriends.

"Jesus Christo, all the women are going to think I'm gay because I'm here with you!"

I ignored mi amigo and looked at my surroundings. It was a large concert hall with several thousand people sitting down. I never understood how people can go listen to music sitting down. This guy was going to be playing with drums, guitars and a piano, but people were going to be sitting down.

The music was good. I was surprised, but more than halfway through the concert, people were still sitting down. It was obvious that everyone was enjoying themselves, but they just expressed it by nodding their heads. Gringos…

Then, in a song with some Jamaican beats, it happened. A woman, a blonde little thing, got up and started to dance. She was in the moment. She was loving life. She was loving the music. She was the only person in a hall of over 4,000 people who was dancing and it was beautiful.

She didn't have a care in the world and it was my favorite part of the entire concert. I stopped listening to the music and watching the concert and just watched her. I can't tell you what she looked like (other than the blonde hair) because I wasn't that close to her, but her dancing was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

People are so worried about what others think that they rarely let themselves go. This woman didn't care what the other 3,999 people thought of her dancing. She danced.

Sometimes, I wish I could do this more often. Dance like no one's watching.

Perhaps it is as I've heard, that the secret to life is: To dance like no one's watching; love like you've never been hurt; work like you don't need the money.

And it took a blonde being happy at an Irishman's concert for me to realize this.

Mucho Amor,

El Guapo

Friday, June 01, 2007

Where's the button?

“I’ve got a button stuck up my nose.”

“You’ve got a button stuck up your nose?”

She nods and thrusts a finger up her right nostril. “I can’t get it out.”

I sigh. This is the second time Meg’s climbed out of bed since we thought we’d settled her down for the night over an hour ago. The first time was to complain that a button had come off her pyjamas. “Come here and let me take a look.”

Personally, I’m sceptical: Meg’s nose is quite small and the remaining buttons on her jammies look too big to fit up there. She’s also got a heavy cold at the moment and a fair amount of mucus emanating from her nasal passages.

“What’s going on?” asks Maggie as she sees me kneeling in the hallway, tilting Meg’s head back and turning it to the left and right in an attempt to shed more light on the matter.

“She says she’s got a button stuck up her nose, but I can’t see anything.” I’m about to squeeze the outside of Meg’s nose to see if I can feel it, then realise if a button is up there, this action would be extremely painful.

Maggie rolls her eyes then disappears for a moment and returns with a handful of paper towels. “She’s probably just dreamt it. Come here Meg; let’s blow your nose.”

As Meg snorts into the hankies, I begin to head back to the computer. I’m stopped in my tracks, however, when Maggie suddenly says, “Oh my God, she was right!” I swivel round and sure enough there’s a wee pink button protruding from the snot-filled sheet of paper in Maggie’s hand.

“Does that feel better sweetie?” asks Maggie and gives Meg a hug. Meg nods and is happily led back to bed.

It’s at times like this when I realise that if anyone was to try and write a definitive parenting manual to cover every eventuality, it would require a building the size of a small city to house all the volumes.