Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reasons for living in Galloway #27

Wander into a newsagent on any day of the week and a quick scan of the headlines will show a world that is at war on terror, that global environmental catastrophe is imminent, that the economy is about to take a nose dive, that people are being maimed and killed in foreign countries and on our own doorsteps, and that nobody except Charles seems to like Camilla as much as they did Diana.

This week’s Galloway News, however, has as one of its front-page stories the scandal of the “Parking Paradise” on King Street, Castle Douglas.

King Street is a fairly busy road, by SW Scotland standards, and the on-street parking has a restriction in place from 9.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Saturday, limiting motorists to a maximum stay of 1 hour. After you have driven your car away you are not allowed to park again on King Street for at least a further 60 minutes.

Unless, that is, you happen to have taken one of 3 spots outside the post office, between the pedestrian crossing and the corner of Academy Street which, by some bizarre oversight, is not covered by any parking order.

This blunder, seen by one local councillor as “Systematic of wider issues regarding car parking in the town” means that “…motorists can park there morning, noon and night – and not get a ticket.” (Click here for the complete article)

Sometimes you need stories like this to help put the world in perspective.

Oh look, a man from Dalbeattie is having his court case deferred until September 6th to await a psychiatric report. It says here he threw "…a lit cigarette at police officers while sitting on a third floor window ledge playing loud music…"

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Biggest Bramble You Ever Did See

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I picked and I plucked, was scratched and stung, but slowly and steadily filled my tub with the wildest, ripest, tastiest brambles that Scotland has to offer.

And there, I swear, no word of a lie, was the biggest bramble you ever did see – large enough to feed 3 full grown men – just slightly out of reach.

I swapped the tub to my left hand to angle myself better. Standing on tiptoes I was nearly there, almost, just about… yes! I had it! I tossed it into the tub where it bounced off the corner and into the briars, gone forever.

But I carried on.

I picked and I plucked, was scratched and stung, but slowly and steadily filled my tub with the wildest, ripest, tastiest brambles that Scotland has to offer.

And there, I swear, no word of a lie, was the biggest, blackest, bramble you ever did see – large enough to feed 3 full grown men and their wives – nestled between 2 of the tallest, pointiest, stingiest stinging nettles in the whole of Galloway.

I swapped the tub to my right hand to angle myself better. Delicately sliding my fingers through the narrow gap, I gently squeezed the bramble. It exploded between finger and thumb, spraying me and everything in a hundred feet with a fleshy, purple mulch.

But I carried on.

I picked and I plucked, was scratched and stung, but slowly and steadily filled my tub with the wildest, ripest, tastiest brambles that Scotland has to offer.

And there, I swear, no word of a lie, was the biggest, blackest, shiniest, bramble you ever did see – large enough to feed 3 full grown men, their wives and children – hidden behind a web containing the creepiest, crawliest, longest leggedy spider this side of Solway Firth.

I swapped the tub to my left hand to angle myself better. Deftly curling my arm under the web, I carefully removed the berry from the briar and was startled by the slimiest, squirmiest, wriggliest maggot staring out at me. I jerked back my hand in disgust, springing the spider high into the air, which sailed away on a gust of wind, never to be seen again.

But I carried on.

I picked and I plucked, was scratched and stung, but slowly and steadily filled my tub with the wildest, ripest, tastiest brambles that Scotland has to offer.

And there, I swear, no word of a lie, was the biggest, blackest, shiniest, juiciest bramble you ever did see – large enough to feed 3 full grown men, their wives children and dogs – tucked between the spikes of the sharpest, prickliest, jaggiest gorse bush in the South West of Scotland.

I swapped the tub to my right hand to angle myself better. I stood on my tiptoes, slid my fingers between nettles, curled my arm beneath a web and plucked this queen of fruits from its nest. It did not fall, it did not squelch and it contained no maggot.

But strangely enough, when I placed it gently in my tub it wasn’t much bigger than any of the others.

More Bramble Stories:
The Great Bramble Hunt
Bramble Crumble
Bramble Crumble Recipe

Friday, August 24, 2007

Light at the end of the tunnel or just spots before my eyes?

Could I cope if it was just the tiredness and low energy? I’d probably still be pissed off about it, but what’s really been crippling is the depression that’s followed.

The description I gave in my post “Bollocks” back in May still holds. Although I haven’t blogged too much about it since, I still get hit with at least that level of intensity several times a week. Needless to say, it has been taking its toll. I’m also in no doubt that it’s gotten worse over the past couple of months.

Finally, however, a step forward seems to have been made, in that my GP has secured me an appointment to see a specialist in Edinburgh (2½ hours drive away).

Unfortunately it’s not for another 3 months.

A couple of weeks ago Maggie and I made the decision that I just have to shift into survival mode. For the past 18 months I’ve been trying to operate as normal, only with reduced energy, but the reality is it hasn’t worked. I’m in a state that’s anything but normal, although the fact that we can normalise almost any state we’re in only helps to confuse matters.

Put simply, my task now each day is to try and reach the end of day, and accumulatively to reach the end of the week.

I saw my GP again today and he’s agreed to put me on a low dosage anti-depressant – amitriptyline - to help combat the chronic lows. Part of me feels relief, while another part feels quite wary.

However, dark humour is to be found in the unlikeliest of places. While looking through the long and horrifying list of potential side effects any anti-depressant drug has, I came across this entry:

“Increased appetite and weight gain may be a side effect of the medicine or may be due to the relief of depression.”
Looks like attempts to combat weight gain are doomed – I’m depressed, let’s eat – I’m happy, let’s eat…

Monday, August 20, 2007

Harry Potter and the Relief of Finishing the Final Book Before Anyone Gave Away the Ending.

Rogan was not yet 7 years old when I started reading him Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as I settled him down at night, but he absolutely loved it. By the time we’d finished the 3rd book in the series and the first film had come out, I was no longer reading him bedtime stories, but A Tradition had been started. As each new book came out I would read a chapter a day to him downstairs on the couch, sometimes 2 if the timing was right or I was too engrossed to put it down.

As the years have passed, not only has JK Rowling’s writing improved, but so has my reading performance. My array of accents and expression give Stephen Fry a run for his money. My Snape is pure Alan Rickman, Ron is a genuine Essex lad, Professor McGonagall is Miss Jean Brodie to perfection, and my Seamus Finnigan would put a leprechaun asking for his pot of gold to shame.

Earlier in the year I started reading him the Philip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy, which is truly one of the greatest sets of books ever written for people of any age. Despite the superiority of the Pullman books in style, content and vision, however, we had to put them on hold halfway through the final book when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released last month.

The simple fact was we dared not delay reading Harry Potter if we wanted to stand any chance of reaching the end before overhearing key plot points or the final outcome, either accidentally or maliciously by school friends or the media. Fortunately we’ve had the summer holidays to limit Rogan’s exposure to his peers who might have let slip, and we’ve managed to keep the TV to a minimum, just in case.

This weekend, we finally read the last chapters. And while we were able to sigh with relief that we’d managed to get to the end of the book without knowing in advance whether Harry lived or died, or how many of the main characters were killed off, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness at what is, in effect, the end of an era.

There’s been something quite wonderful, creating and enjoying this part of Rogan’s childhood experience. Now he’s 12 years old, I can’t imagine he’ll let me continue to read to him for much longer, but as it is, we’ve gone well beyond the time I thought he’d let me, so each extra page has been a real treat.

Despite the obvious temptation, Rogan never did secretly read ahead, which I have to say seriously impressed me. When I was his age I cannot imagine I would ever have found the patience to wait for someone to read me the next chapter, especially if the book was lying in reach. But then I didn’t have this tradition with my parents, so I can’t be sure. Maybe if such a pattern had been established I might have learned the advantages of delaying gratification a little earlier in life.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Disorganised Chaos

My father is an Artist. My mother was a former English and Music teacher. When I was a child, the bookcase was a battleground.

My father would arrange the books aesthetically with all the big books together; medium sized together; small ones together; and, if possible, grouped in complimentary colour shades along the spines so the overall effect was very pleasing on the eye.

My mother would complain that if she wanted to find a book by Delia Smith then she wanted to be able to look under “S” and find the damn thing without having to hunt through different shelves trying to remember what size it was. Her reordering of the bookshelf often offended my father’s aesthetic sensibilities.

My own bookshelf is arranged more or less by category: philosophy books, religious texts, graphic novels, maps and travel books, art, design and photography books, business manuals, and so on, all occupy their own areas on the shelves.

Last night I glanced across at the recently stocked bookshelf near Maggie’s side of the bed to see how she’d arranged her own tomes. However to my surprise, and consternation, so far as I could tell her books were not ordered by size, genre, author, publisher, chronology, colour, font, or even alphabetically by title, surname or forename. In fact they weren’t all upright either; some were piled on their sides, but even that appeared to be random.

After several minutes of attempting to squeeze my mind into ever more bizarre classification permutations, I admitted defeat and asked Maggie her method for putting the books on the shelf. She looked at me with a certain amount of curiosity, then pity, then slowly and clearly explained that she’d lifted them out of the boxes and placed them wherever there was space.

It turns out her random, chaotic way of placing books is quite deliberate; it means that when she glances along the shelves Maggie can never be sure what she’s going to find. Consequently she gets all sorts of surprises and treats when she looks for a book to read.

It reminds me of the strategic board games I used to play with my older brother when we were teenagers. I would use logic, reason, and calculated and considered tactics, while he would charge around the board chaotically leaping from one place to another with little reason beyond “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Needless to say, nine times out of ten I would beat him soundly.

But I always suspected he had more fun.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The latest visit to the doctor

“The test results are back and they’re quite conclusive.”


“Your problem is caused by a severe fat and sugar deficiency. It seems the past 2½ years of healthy eating has had unforeseen side effects.”

“So what does that mean?”

“It means, Mr Ayres,” my GP paused for dramatic effect, “I’m going to have to put you on a strict diet of biscuits, cake and ice cream beep-beep.”

I pulled my mobile phone out of my pocket, but no one had texted me. “How long for beep-beep?”

“At least the next beep-beep two years, and then we’ll need to beep-beep review the situation.” The doctor and his consulting room began to fade as the beeping grew louder.

“NOOOOOooooooooooooooo….” I grabbed the alarm clock and hurled it across the bedroom. It wedged itself into the bookcase and continued to mock me with its beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep….

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Happy 2nd Blogday

Today is the 2nd anniversary of the creation of Ramblings of the Bearded One. So in honour of this auspicious day I thought I’d answer a few questions about this blog that no one has ever asked me, but somehow seem pertinent on a day like today

Why is your blog called “Ramblings of The Bearded One”?
When I was at university “The Bearded One” was as an in-joke, hinting at the idea of wise men, religious mystics and hermits contemplating the universe. I had a beard and was studying philosophy so that was a good enough reason for some of my friends to label me with it. The “Ramblings” is due to the fact that I knew any blog I wrote would struggle for a central theme and ramble all over the place, much in the way my thoughts do.

What was your first post?
My first post was simply called First Blog and was written to see how posting worked. And although it’s dated in April 2005, it was in fact written on August 11th 2005

Why do you have posts dating back before you started the blog?
*cough* ... er… I tend to feel wary about looking like a complete newbie, even when I am, so thought I’d establish a bit of fake presence with a few things I’d written before I started blogging.

Why did you start blogging?
After selling my web design business I decided I would try my hand at being a writer. I figured that if I had a blog then it would force me to write at least a couple of times a week and so drag me out of the natural tendency to procrastinate. I also thought I could do with the practice

How did you find out about blogging?
El-Branden Brazil is an old family friend. His parents and mine were close friends so as kids we would play together when they came to visit. We kept in touch over the years, then one day Branden started referring to his Blog, Mystic Traveller, in his emails. It took a year for me to start thinking it was something that I could do myself

What site did you first comment on?
Once I’d set up my own blog I went in search of others to enjoy. Unfortunately I discovered there's a vast amount of crap out there on the web. In among the angst-ridden, self-obsessed teenagers writing in text speak, non-English speaking sites and blogs trying to sell me holiday insurance, porn and viagra, there are only a tiny percentage of blogs worth reading.

The first one I found that I thought was worth the effort was Boobs, Injuries and Dr Peppers. There were aspects in her writings that I found really funny and engaging, but others that were irritating too.

As a complete neophyte I was also intimidated. She seemed so confident and her commenters all seemed so part of the in-crowd - I didn’t want to feel like the one who walks into a room, laughs too loudly at the host's joke and everyone stops, goes quiet and stares at the unwelcome intruder. So my very first comment was anonymous.

Not getting lynched or humiliated, I got braver and started commenting under my own name. However, eventually the irritations outweighed the enjoyment - I found other blogs I preferred spending my time reading, and I stopped visiting.

Which was the first post to get a comment?
The first post anyone commented on was Down’s Syndrome is not an Issue. Interestingly (for me anyway) it continued to get comments for about a year afterwards

Who’s your longest standing blogging buddy?
While Branden introduced me to the concept of blogging, without doubt my longest standing blogging buddy is BStrong from Down Syndrome Life, who was actually the 2nd person to ever comment on my blog. From the outset we realised we had much more in common than both having daughters with DS. Unfortunately his blogging is much more sporadic these days but there are few posts over the past 2 years that either of us has written that the other hasn’t commented on.

How many blog entries have you posted?
275 including this one.

How many visitors have you had?
At the point of posting this - 34,105

Which post has the most comments?
That’s a tie between If God has a message for us then He is an incompetent communicator and Do you still love me despite my...? which both received 41, although Do you still love me despite my...? actually just takes the lead as less of the comments are my replies.

What’s your favourite post?
Being an egotistical maniac, I have a certain fondness for all my posts. In the end, however, I think my favourite is one that is quite unlike any of the others I’ve written – And I’m not looking forward to the journey home, which chronicles my experience of a delayed train journey.

As well as being one that still puts a smile on my face, what it did was make me realise was how lifesaving blogging could be. Normally being stuck in Kilmarnock Station for 2½ hours would have had me screaming from the rafters, but being able to document little details of things going on all around me, while thinking of the potential blog entry I was going to get out of it, helped me keep my sanity.

Anything Else?
Here’s your chance to ask me anything you want about this blog. If you have any questions related to Ramblings of the Bearded One that I’ve not addressed here, then post it in the comments and, if appropriate, I’ll add them in updates to this post.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lost Bloggers

I seem to have lost a few bloggers lately. Dr Maroon hasn’t posted for over a month, and was sporadic at best for the previous few; Binty McShae has more or less moved on; Foot Eater has been trying to get out of blogging with that persona for some time and it looks like he’s finally doing it - I just wish I'd figured out who else it is he blogs as; and now El Guapo has said goodbye to the Guatemalan with the beautiful mustache.

All of them have been “must reads” for me at some point, but now have to be transferred to my Sporadic & AWOL and Bloggers list.

This weekend will be the 2nd anniversary since I began blogging (post currently in the process of being written about it) and I’ve seen some mighty fine bloggers vanish into the ether since I started.

Nevertheless there are some superb ones still out there and new ones to discover all the time.

Change is a constant.

Monday, August 06, 2007

New weapon for an old adversary

My relationship with food is a complex one, but then it is for a lot of people, not just the anorexics, the bulimics and the grossly obese.

After 2½ years of fights and battles, and the overall loss of over a 100lbs, you might have thought that this relationship would be simpler and easier to understand. And in some ways it is. At least these days I know what I’m up against.

Having said that, knowing that you have to go out and fight a dragon the size of a building that has teeth as long as your arms and breathes fire, while you have little more than a toothpick and a jar of barbeque sauce to help you, doesn’t always make it easier to find the will to go out and face it every day.

But even as I develop new tricks, techniques and strategies to deal with it, the adversary also evolves in unexpected ways.

Something I’ve become aware of over the past few months has been the onset of a new emotional trick up the sleeve of the beast.

There are times when having a tasty treat in front of me, one that I can allow myself to have, fills me with an overwhelming sense of sadness.

At first glance, this might seem a little strange. There, under my nose is a warm, fresh from the oven, home-baked scone, made by my son who has his mother’s touch for creating mouth-watering, indulgent food.

I’ve been good for the rest of the week so eating it is hardly going to tip the scales the wrong way, and it’s going to make Rogan feel good to know he’s created something his father will enjoy. So yes, it’s OK to eat this warm buttery scone, and even have a spoon of Maggie’s homemade raspberry jam on it.

All I have to do is enjoy it.

Instead, I want to cry.


Because I know it will only be a few moments and then it will be gone. And I won’t be able to have a 2nd, a 3rd, a sneaky 4th and then talk Maggie into making us a batch of rock-buns for later.

Before I’ve even placed a piece in my mouth, I’m mourning the passing of the scone.

I’m mourning the fact that I cannot just have the scone, enjoy it, and then stop, feeling satisfied.

I am mourning the fact that for the rest of my life, every time I have a tasty sweet, buttery or salty treat to eat, I will have to fight to stop continuing to eat and eat and eat until I am stuffed, feeling physically sick and disgusted with myself for having given into the binge.

Part of me so desperately wants to be able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and damn the consequences.

I want to scream that it’s not fair! Other people get to eat what they want! Other people get to stop halfway through a bag of Maltesers and feel that they’ve had enough! Other people don’t have to worry that if they have one, they won’t stop until they have physically damaged themselves!

It’s like going to a massive funfair with big dippers, giant Ferris wheels and walls of death, and being told you’re only allowed to go on the kiddie’s ladybird ride because the others will be damaging to your health. The kiddie’s ride isn’t going to satisfy you; all it’s going to do is remind you of what you’re missing.

And that is the terrible weapon the beast has developed: I rarely feel much sense of achievement for the weight I have lost. Instead I am continually overwhelmed with a sense of sadness about what I dare not allow myself to have, no matter how tasty, wonderful and enjoyable.

Because the more I enjoy it, the more dangerous it is for me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

But it feels so big...

“My God, it’s huge!”

“Don’t be silly; it’s exactly the same size as the one next to it.”

“But it feels as though it’s about 4 times bigger than all the others.”

“That’s partly because your tongue works like a magnifying glass, making everything seem larger and more detailed, and partly because you’ve had a gap there for 3½ months so it will take a few days before it feels normal again.”

Finally I have my new tooth in place.

And I’m terrified it’s either going to loosen, crack, get knocked out or get into a scrap with one of the others and knock one of them out instead.

My dentist told me I’m not to use it for 24 hours to allow the cement to properly harden, but because of the disproportionate amount of space it’s taking up in my thoughts, if not my mouth, it feels a bit like being handed a new coat in the middle of the monsoon and being told not to get it wet for the first day.

The root is also feeling a little bruised from all the pushing, prodding and squeezing while the crown was pressed repeatedly into place, then withdrawn, modified by drilling minute amounts off, then thrust back in to be re-examined. Consequently, the slightest pressure on it makes me jump slightly.

Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely delighted with my new tooth. I’m just feeling a little fragile too.

What the new tooth LOOKS like

What the new tooth FEELS like