Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Alternative Energy Source

In these days of environmental awareness, global warming and the introduction of the term “carbon footprint” into the English language, the search for renewable, less damaging energy sources is underway. Money, time and thought has been invested into solar power, wind power, tidal power, electric cars and even bio-fuel as a way to help reduce carbon emissions. However, each alternative is beset with its own problems and limitations.

Nuclear power may emit zero carbon, but as the waste products will still be a health hazard 250,000 years from now, not everyone is convinced by government enthusiasm about building more stations.

Wind, tidal and solar powers are all dependent on the weather, which is unpredictable at the best of times.

Electric cars require plugging into the mains electricity system, which is still mostly generated by environmentally unfriendly coal, oil, gas or nuclear power.

Even bio-fuel, hailed as the renewable alternative to oil, is not without its problems, when the growing of appropriate plants has impacted on issues such as deforestation, human rights, the food vs fuel debate and water resources, to name a few. And, of course, bio-fuels have other emissions beyond carbon, which also damage the atmosphere.

However, here in the Ayres household, we have discovered a new potential, renewable, environmentally friendly, zero carbon emission, portable energy supply, where each unit is active for several years.

It is The Hot Flush.

Yes indeed, you heard it here first, Ladies and Gentlemen. Menopausal women are the energy source of the future.

Cars, buses, trains, planes, schools, hospitals and government buildings across the land always contain a number of women of a certain age, just waiting to feel appreciated.

Thinking of building that extension to make a granny-flat for the mother-in-law once the mortgage is paid off? Build it now and tap into this vital resource, before it’s too late.

Women of the world, forget HRT and attempting to compete with surgically enhanced celebrities trying to look forever youthful, and embrace the third age of womanhood with pride and a sense of empowerment. Never has humanity, nay, the future of the entire planet, needed you so much.

Now all we need is an rocket scientist* to help design the power converters and we will save the world!

*Where’s Dr Maroon when you need him?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Time and a half

There’s an old joke, which goes something like: if you quit smoking, drinking, fatty foods, chocolate, gambling and sex, you don’t live longer – it just feels like it.

Regardless of the truth, it does raise the concept of the difference between objective and subjective time. The world may spin through space, rotating every 24 hours, while orbiting the sun every 365¼ days, but our experience of the passing of time often bears little relation to the constant rate shown on sundials, digital watches and wall planners.

We talk of long days, short summers and continually wonder how it can possibly be Monday, again, so soon. And we all know that 15 minutes in the dentist’s chair lasts 37.4 times longer than 15 minutes on the Internet.

And so it is the CFS is playing havoc with my own internal clock.

For a start, it feels like I experience two days for everybody else’s one. From the long night and struggle to move from not-quite-asleep, to more-or-less-awake, through the highs of the morning espresso, the caffeine comedown and the slump after lunch, by the time I crawl into bed around 2pm, I feel as exhausted as if I’d done a long hard day’s work. Day 2 lasts from sometime around 3.30pm, which needs to be kick-started with a strong coffee, and lasts until the approach of midnight, when most people are finishing their only day of the day.

And yet, the amount I manage to achieve in any one of these half-double days is minute and trying to work on any longer term projects is exceptionally difficult. In my former days of energy, it would generally take half an hour to properly get into something, but then several hours of work could be committed to it there and then. These days, however, I have barely started before I’ve run out of gas and my mind starts floating about, unable to sustain the focus required. Needless to say that constant starting but never getting anywhere is a frustrating process.

So despite the fact each week lasts a fortnight for me, I achieve in that time less than I used to in a single day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Brief Encounter

Do you remember The Storytellers Blog? It was quite the phenomenon last Autumn. But then Christmas distracted everyone and through the long winter people's thoughts have been elsewhere (I'm being generous here, I know, as I don't want to admit everyone might have thought it was a crap idea).

Kanani posted the first story of 2008 earlier this month, so I thought it would be a good idea to try and kick start it again.

A couple of weeks ago, Pat from Past Imperfect asked about people's brief encounters with complete strangers where a moment was shared. It set me off thinking about a particular occurrence me nearly 10 years ago when travelling home, late at night.

So I thought I'd record my own Brief Encounter and post it on The Storytellers Blog.

With a bit of luck it might inspire you - yes you, stop looking at everyone else when I'm talking to you - don't think you can hide anonymously behind your computer screen - to record your own story and post it. If you're not already a member of The Storytellers Blog, send me an email and I'll give you the permissions needed so you can upload your tale.

OK, now you can pop over there and listen to my Brief Encounter.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tidying up...

I am attempting to tidy my study.

Considering it’s only about 6 foot wide and 9 foot long and I’m not even thinking about sorting out the bookcases, you might imagine it should be a fairly straightforward task. But it isn’t.

Unlike Mary who instinctively understands the idea of a place for everything and everything in its place, my filing system is chronological: piles of paper and books everywhere, with the last thing I looked at probably on top of one of the nearer heaps.

Pondering Chair, from IkeaStuff that really has to be dealt with gets put on my Pondering Chair – a comfy, swivel chair away from the computer where I can sit, muse, strum my mandolin, occasionally fall asleep and, of course, ponder. Eventually the chair becomes too covered for anyone to even perch on the edge, so the pile gets moved to any available bit of floor space, with the full intention of dealing with it as soon as I have a moment. But then a new pile slowly builds up in the now vacant space until, at some point, it too will be moved to the floor or, in extreme situations, balanced precariously on top of another pile.

Having reached absolute saturation point, about 6 months ago, I have decided to attempt to work my way through the room and discard anything unneeded or irrelevant.

So far I have found Christmas letters from friends, not even the most recent Christmas I have to confess; CDs of music people have thought I might find interesting; magazines open at an article I read once with the aim of investigating further; a few stray old photos I’d meant to scan and clean up; a £10 book voucher in a card marked “Happy 40th Birthday”; and hundreds and hundreds of scraps of paper, backs of envelopes and bits of notebooks covered in ideas.

Some of these ideas are no more that a couple of words hinting at a bigger thought I didn’t want to forget and planned on expanding. Some are lines of conversation I thought could be slotted into something larger. Some are even quite developed ideas consisting of both sides of the envelope with squiggly arrows running to tiny print squeezed into gaps between the main text. A great many are completely illegible as my handwriting is appalling.

Let me pluck a few random ones to give you a taster…

The 200th Wedding Anniversary

“Have you got Moby Dick?”
“No, it’s just the way I walk.”

A Special Branch operative, a tabloid journalist, a BBC investigator and the Features Editor of a woman’s weekly magazine make up a terrorist cell. Each believes they have successfully infiltrated a fanatical organisation and are busy making notes on all the others, but have no idea there isn’t a genuine terrorist between them.

Would the Anti-Christ have as many doubts as the Christ? Could you have a reluctant messiah and a reluctant anti-messiah?

Showing Times for “Sin City” at the Odeon in Glasgow on Tuesday: 12.15pm, 15.15pm, 17.30pm… oh, hold on, I think I can scrap this one.

So what do I do with all these scribbles? The obvious thing is to file them, or at least put them in a folder, which is what will probably end up happening. But I know once they are tucked away out of sight, they will be forgotten about and never looked at again.

How do I know this? Because I’ve just found another folder containing hundreds of scraps of paper, backs of envelopes and bits of notebooks covered in ideas.

Some people complain about lack of ideas and writer’s block. For me the problem has always been option overload and getting round to actually doing anything with them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Guest Blogging at Fractured Thoughts

Are all atheists immoral, godless sinners who would feed their own children to the wolves if it brought them some hedonistic pleasure? Are all Christians narrow-minded, superstitious fools with a superiority complex who wouldn’t know a fact if it slapped them in the face?

Well I daresay if we looked hard enough we could find such examples from both camps.

However, I’ve never been tempted to throw my kids to the wolves and I’ve never seen Carole write a condescending remark to anyone, either on her own blog or any other.

We may be poles apart when it comes to religion, politics and cultural upbringing, but we both see difference as part of the rich fabric of life, rather than a threat to our humanity.

However, given that Carole is married to a pastor in the heart of the American Bible Belt, when she asked if I would guest post on her blog I did begin to wonder what she was letting her regular readers into.

But divides only exist if we insist on them – they are man made constructs, nothing more - so I decided to write about how there are 2 kinds of people in this world.

Pop over, say hi, leave a comment and have a poke around Carole’s site. She is wonderfully warm, caring and interested in people, and her writing style draws you in and makes you feel like a part of her family.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

P rt of my Br in is M ssi g

Did you ever wake up, climb out of bed, progress with the day and find that you left part of your mind behind?

I’m here; I’m awake; I can even use a semicolon when writing.

And yet…

From the outside you would never know – I can still touch my nose with my tongue – but part of me is missing. Aspects of my reasoning powers have not accompanied me into the waking world today.

I can see the dots; I can even see the numbers next to the dots; but I’m not joining them all together.

How do I know this?


When Maggie wrote the shopping list this morning she said she was going to write a subliminal message on the bottom of the paper. There was something she wanted me to buy her, but not realise I was buying it in case I disapproved. Sure enough, at the bottom of the list was the word CHOCOLATE taking up possibly half the strip of paper.

We laughed, and she said she was joking; I was not to buy any chocolate.

But something wasn’t quite right. Something was nagging me at the back of my mind, but the connection was fuzzy. Wary that I might be missing something, I asked if she was really joking. She confirmed that she was positive: I was not to buy her any chocolate.

Just before I dropped her off in town and went to the supermarket, I asked her one last time. I told her I really needed a definitive answer, because I suspected my second-guessing skills weren’t working properly. Did she really want me to not buy chocolate? Absolutely certain.

OK, I had my answer.

And I acted on it.

I didn’t buy any chocolate.


I bet there’s not a single person reading this who doesn’t know I made the wrong decision.

Pah. Brains. They’re only any use when they work properly.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A day in the life…

Despite the fact each day feels like it lasts at least a week, these days I barely seem to achieve in a week what I used to in a single day.

As mood and energy are so often linked I thought I would try and track the high and low points of a typical day.

LOW: trying to get up in the morning. I’ll have been in a not-quite-awake, not-quite-asleep state for a few hours. It is so difficult to focus or concentrate. I desperately want to go back to sleep but know it would only continue to be very restless so I may as well get up. If only I can remember what it was I was going to do… oh yes, get up…

HIGH: sitting down with my smoothie. Through the bleariness I have somehow managed to peel a banana and drop it in the blender with a handful of grapes, maybe some frozen cherries, brambles or strawberries if they’re in season, along with a good couple of splashes of fresh orange or pineapple juice. The sweet fruitiness works its way around my mouth and down my throat and is the nectar of the gods. The only interruption I will tolerate is Meg asking me for a sip of it.

HIGH: my bowl of home assembled muesli. The local health food shop sells a muesli oat base and separate bags of mixers. Every 10 days or so I stir together the base with a tropical mix and a dried fruit mix, and add some pumpkin and sunflower seeds, dried cranberries and a few chopped dates. My tub of assembled muesli is richer and more fulsome than the finest bought packet breakfast cereal, and costs half the price. It’s a wonderful variety of taste and texture and sets me up for the day.

LOW: by mid morning I’m beginning to slump. My bed is calling me and I’m finding it increasingly hard to concentrate. By the time I sit down to my coffee I’m yawning away and it feels like every blood vessel in my body is aching for a stretch and a nap.

HIGH: espresso; how many ways do I love thee? The first sip tastes like horseshit marinated in tar. The second causes the right half of my face to squeeze tight as a pirate-sounding “Aaaarrrrrrr…” exits my vocal chords. The third is the sweetest taste known to mankind as the caffeine starts to work its way into my system. Slowly I awaken; drawn forth from a long winter’s hibernation. My mind stirs and for the first time in what seems like a lifetime, I begin to feel alive. Truly alive. And I could weep.

LOW: After an hour to an hour and a half, the devils brew starts to lose its potency and my ideas and strategies of global domination begin to feel like something I should put off until tomorrow.

HIGH: a bowl of Maggie’s homemade thick vegetable soup. Maggie insists that soup is one of the easiest things to make and cannot understand why more people don’t do it. Yet I’ve rarely met anyone who can create something so tasty and so wholesome with a handful of vegetables and some hot water. What for her is second nature, cannot be matched by any of the companies selling their deluxe like-granny-used-to-make soup-in-a-carton, for a small fortune.

LOW: for a while after lunch I’m OK, so long as I don’t try and do too much, but as the afternoon wears on I sink lower and lower. By 2pm my concentration has vanished, by 2.15pm I’m moving at a much slower pace. By 2.30pm I’m slurring my words and having problems keeping my eyes open.

HIGH: I crawl into bed. The mattress, the sheets, the pillow – these are my closest friends and they welcome me with soft murmurings and gentle whispers

LOW: an hour to an hour and half later I have to get up. I’m not going to go back to sleep no matter how much I cry, beg or swear. I stagger back downstairs.

HIGH: a cafetière of rich dark roast coffee. Much smoother than the espresso, it caresses me back into life. I feel positively civilised. I can hold conversations on any topic you choose and sound knowledgeable and informed. I can solve problems, give sound advice and make babies chuckle. Not only will you like me, but your mother would too.

LOW: as the afternoon draws to a close I begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Tingling sensations stream throughout my body, my hands feel like they are shaking even if they are not, and my judgement is impaired. Now is not the time to ask which of the Fortune 500 companies you should be investing in.

HIGH: dinner! Oh dinner, my saviour. Food to be smelled, tasted and worshipped. I gaze adoringly at my wife and children and breathe in my sense of wonder at how beautiful they all are.

LOW: I have to stop eating. I don’t want to. I want more. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve had, it’s calling out to me. My teeth are gnashing, my mouth is watering, my taste buds are screaming out, DON’T STOP! GIVE ME MORE FOOD! GIMMEE GIMMEE GIMMEE. I have scraped my plate so clean it barely needs washing up. My children are selfishly eating all theirs and not letting me have their leftovers. Little bastards. I wonder what the kids would taste like… I have to tear myself away from the kitchen table and withdraw to another room with a cup of fruit tea until I’ve calmed down and the cravings have subsided.

It never gets any easier.

HIGH: my bed welcomes me, this time with a warm wife to snuggle. As we fall asleep, nestled in each other’s arms, could life be any better?

LOW: 4 hours later and I stir into consciousness, of a sort. I’m so tired I feel physically sick. But I cannot get up. All I have to look forward to is a few hours of restlessness where I’m not-quite-awake, but not-quite-asleep.

And so the day begins again.

Friday, April 04, 2008


Maggie took Meg to the supermarket with her this morning.

"Go and get me a copy of The Puzzler," she said to Meg, who dutifully went off to the magazine aisle.

Meg took a while, but eventually returned with the right puzzle book and another magazine rolled up under her arm. "I thought we could get this one for daddy," she said.

I'm going to ban her from watching boy bands on TV

Binty sent me a personalised version - do take a look at some of the headlines :)


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Fool...


Last night before heading for bed, I craftily flipped the calendar over to May instead of April, thereby managing to catch myself out with a sneaky April Fool's trick this morning.