Monday, December 31, 2007

The Rambling Beard Awards 2007

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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
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
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
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.

Eryl
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.

Carole
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 :)

Kanani
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
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?

Savannah
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.

UPDATE
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.
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Friday, December 28, 2007

Week 139a - supplemental

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Belt... getting... tight...
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Monday, December 24, 2007

Festive wishes

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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 :)
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Friday, December 21, 2007

Rich and famous

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"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.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Where do we go from here?

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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.
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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

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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.
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Sunday, December 09, 2007

’Tis the season…

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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...

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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
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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...

NO!

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?

What?

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...

...

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cake and Philosophy

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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...
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