Thursday, December 31, 2009

Still trying to get my head around the year 2000 being history rather than futuristic

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It was widely predicted that the world was going to end 10 years ago, both by religious zealots, and those in charge of computing systems (anyone remember the millennium bug?).

A decade later and we’re still here. In fact there are ¾ of a billion more of us than there were at the turn of the millennium.

While reflecting on this surprising survival story, I thought I’d look back at my diaries since the year 2000 and see what themes would leap out.

There have been tragedies and there have been triumphs.

I have had a collapsed business, a new built business, a sold business, a failed new direction and a new, new direction - the outcome of which has still to be determined.

There has been the birth of one nephew, 6 great-nephews and nieces, and three grandchildren

I have lived in 3 different houses, owned 3 different cars and had 6 different mobile phones in my pocket.

There have been deaths. Too many, of course.

I have had an on-off battle with Depression, 2½ years of group therapy, 2 different 18 month periods spent on anti-depressants, time spent with a life coach and a stint with a cognitive behavioural therapist

There have been times of money, times of no money and times of near homelessness.

I have been given the rather useless diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

There have been changes in weight, discovery of a vitamin B12 deficiency, discovery of a genetic mutation causing haemochromatosis, and the discovery I have abnormally small pupils.

I have created 5 different blogs with over 1,200 posts between them.

But through all this, two things have remained absolutely consistent across the whole decade.

One is the love Maggie and I have for each other has only ever grown stronger.

The other is I am horrifically bad at predicting the future. There has been no point in my life where I have been able to say with even vague accuracy how my life was going to go over the next year or two.

So who knows how the coming year or decade is going to turn out. I only hope it’s a good one for you.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Festivities

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The presents are almost finished being wrapped.

There is more than enough food in the house

Meg has quite bad ear infection but we managed to see the doctor today and get the required medicine. She's now focused on being excited about Santa coming tonight

Our friend Eryl's operation was a success, and although she will be in hospital across the festive season, fears of the worst were fortunately premature.

I just found out today that my father's heart caused him some serious problems yesterday. Again. The 2nd time in only a few weeks. They were going to perform an angioplasty on him in a couple of months anyway, but in light of this did it today instead. My sister says it went well and he's in fine spirits.

Life has a funny way of periodically reminding us just how fragile and fleeting it is.

Tonight I hold my family even closer.

And I wish everyone a wonderful festive season.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Free will? Don't make me laugh...

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Every now and again you’re out shopping and you come across something you’ve never seen before.

Something that, now you know it exists, you cannot imagine a universe without it.

Something so simple, yet such a profound idea, you find yourself irresistibly drawn towards it, convinced Christmas could not fail to be enhanced by its presence.

Something you never knew you were missing until you saw it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…

*Drum roll…*


Marks & Spencer’s Christmas Washing-up Liquid: tough on grease and grime. Orange and cinnamon fragrance.

When we spotted it on the shelf next to the tills, we were awash with an array of emotions.

Desire, of course; admiration for the person who came up with this idea; amazement that no one else seems to have done this before; nostalgia for those Christmas aromas of childhood, even though orange and cinnamon washing-up liquid didn’t exist back then; and guilt for so very nearly falling for it.

We didn’t buy it; we managed to catch ourselves just in the nick of time.

And while I would like to feel a certain air of self-congratulatory smugness for deflecting such a sophisticated psychological advertising technique, the M&S Ready Prepared Honey Mustard & Maple Parsnips now sitting in our fridge, are testament to how powerless we really are in the face of such marketing onslaughts.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Support for the Kitchen Bitch

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Latest update 9pm, Wed 23rd Dec - see end of post

Philosopher, poet, storyteller, writer, blogger extraordinaire (The Kitchen Bitch Ponders), and one of my favourite people to photograph, Eryl, has been taken to hospital and is not in a good way.

I received an email from her husband, Steve, this morning; we spoke on the phone; then I went into visit Eryl in Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary this afternoon.

Apparently she had not been well for several weeks. First thought was flu, followed by the sense it was probably an infection. She was given various antibiotics, which did seem to make a difference, until she collapsed last Friday.

They initially thought that it was a intestinal thing but on having a CT scan they have found a "complex" mass on one of her ovaries. Further tests are being done, but whatever the outcome, she will have major abdominal surgery before the end of the week.

If whatever it is is benign, they will probably deal with it in Dumfries. If it's malignant, she'll be taken up to Glasgow or Edinburgh for surgery.

For those of you on Facebook, a page has been set up - Hugs for Eryl, at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=215410812417 where you can leave messages of support. Steve will then print them off and take them in with him each time he goes in to visit.

If you're not on Facebook, or want to send a message more directly, she's currenly in ward 6, and Steve's email is srshields // at // yahoo // .com

As and when I hear anything else, I'll update this post.

And if you know others who know Eryl, please let them know - Steve wants to create a large a support network around her.

UPDATE
Test have come back and show the complex mass is NOT cancerous - it's what they call benign.

Eryl will be given drugs to try and reduce the size of it, then will still have surgery to remove it. She is still very poorly.

However, as Steve said when we were on talking on the phone, "As bad outcomes go, this was the least bad we could have hoped for."

Please continue to leave your comments on the Facebook page, or to email  Steve with your messages. Steve is quite clear Eryl is feeling comforted by all your messages of support

UPDATED UPDATE

Just got this in from Eryl's husband (9pm, Wed 23rd),
Just to let you know Eryl had surgery today and it has gone extremely well. She is in recovery at the moment and will be moved to ward 4 of the Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary later this evening. I spoke to the surgeon and she said that it was a large abscess that was inflaming her ovary and leaking into her abdomen causing lots of infection and swelling but this has now been dealt with without the need to remove any bits of Eryl. This is a fantastic result and much better than we had hoped for even this afternoon.
She will still be very sore and on getting home she will still need 6 weeks to recover from her operation, but she is now on the road to recovery

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Pre-Xmas Question

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Here's one for you to mull over...

Which would you rather have for Christmas (or birthday, if you don't celebrate this festivity)?

A surprise gift, or something you wanted?

You can't have both.

Now in broad, generalised terms, my feeling is most blokes would far rather get something they wanted, even if they knew in advance what it would be.

It's the female take on this that I feel far less confident in guessing.

Of course I would love to be able to buy Maggie a surprise gift of something she'd really like.

But our previous 19 shared Christmasses have clearly demonstrated I can successfully do one or the other, but very, very rarely both.

So it's a case of trying to figure out which is likely to be the least disappointing for her...
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Monday, December 14, 2009

From too much to too little

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TIBC Saturation (total iron binding capacity)
Average – 20-55%
My current levels – 23%
To be kept below – 50%

Ferritin levels (protein that stores and releases iron)
Average – 30-300 ng/mL (for a man)
My current levels – 11
To be kept below – 50

My level back in March after 6 months of blood taking - 4

It appears I'm still anaemic, 9 months after they realised they'd taken far too much blood from me when treating my haemochromatosis (see Iron Levels and Still Anaemic for the back story).

The good news is I don't have to have any more blood taken off me for a while. The bad news is I have no idea how much of my tiredness is CFS and how much is anaemia. Not that I suppose it makes that much difference - I was tired before they started bleeding me.

And I guess it puts a definite end to my Black Pudding Emporium business idea...

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tetchy, Grumpy Bastard

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Despite my very specific statement to, "not leave messages of sympathy, pity or advice" in my last post, a few people still insisted on giving me advice – precisely the kind "advice" that had me holding back from writing the post in the first place.

Advice given from a position of non-understanding.

I understand why the advice is given. I understand it is given with the best of intentions. But when I’ve heard the same, or similar misplaced advice given from a position of non-understanding a thousand times before, I just want to bash my head against a brick wall.

Sometimes a little empathy is a dangerous thing.

For some, just because they have been drunk a few times, they think they understand the alcoholic.

For some, just because they once ate an entire box of chocolates, they think they understand eating disorders.

For some, just because they have been randy, they think they understand the sex addict.

For some, just because they smoked a few joints in their youth, they think they understand the drug addict.

For some, just because they have panicked once or twice, they think they understand people with severe anxiety disorders

For some, just because they have been back to check they locked the door a few times, they think they understand Obsessive Compulsive Disorders

For some, just because they have been tired a few times, they think they understand Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

And of course, for some, just because they have been depressed a few times, they think they understand Depression.

Compulsions, Addictions and Mental Health Disorders are NOT the same as momentary or temporary moods or conditions.

They are not a choice

They are not an indulgence

They are not easily dealt with

They are certainly not cured by will power alone, or by someone trying to GUILT them out of it.

In fact, overwhelming feelings of guilt are very often at the heart of many different disorders, and making someone feel guilt about their condition, in some misplaced notion of “tough love” only serves to make the condition WORSE, not better.

And if you think you know better – I ask, have you suffered directly from these disorders yourself over a period of years? If not, please keep your opinions and advice to yourself and do not feel you can inflict it on me from a position of superiority, however well intentioned. I do not accept that you know better how to treat my conditions.

I do not want your sympathy

I do not want your pity

I do not want your advice

And if I sound like a tetchy, grumpy bastard, that’s because I am at the moment.

Now, cures and coping mechanisms are possible for most disorders - but they require patience, understanding, planning, and developing and implementing strategies over a sustained period of time.


Thank you to all those who left comments of support in the last post. And thanks especially to Dan, Soulaima and Mary who made me guffaw and chuckle.

However, for this post, I’m turning off the comments.

Normal (ha ha) service will resume shortly…

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Friday, December 11, 2009

The blog post I’ve been avoiding

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I usually blog about whatever occurs to me at the time or what I’m currently obsessing about.

Sometimes there are things going on that affect the family or other people, which are not really for public consumption. At that point I’ll usually search around for something else to write about.

But this time I just didn’t want to discuss my own dominating thoughts. I hoped I could avoid it, but I can’t seem to find anything else to put in its place. Whatever else is happening in my life, there is only one thing filling my thoughts whenever I come to write.

Consequently I’m getting to the point where I’m beginning to avoid visiting my blog and others for fear of having to raise the subject or get into a conversation about it.

Bleargh…

So I feel I’d better mention it in the hope that I can get past it and on to more interesting thoughts and posts.

The fact is I can feel the Depression returning. That hollow life-depleting pain, deep in the chest.

I weaned myself off the anti-depressants earlier this year; I was fed up with the side effects.

I have no desire to return to them.

This is all old and familiar territory (see sidebar label for mental and physical health), although no less painful for that. But why I haven’t been wanting to blog about it is, to be honest, I don’t want the reactions from other bloggers.

I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m not looking for well meaning, but misplaced, advice.

Those who have suffered from Depression know what it’s like. Those who haven’t very often give suggestions like “go for a brisk walk,” or “read a good book” or “just think positive thoughts.”

And I don’t want to hear it.

Depression (capital D), the condition, is quite different from depression (little d), the temporary mood. The “pull yourself together” suggestion, or variant, is about as useful as giving a sticky plaster to someone who has just had a limb ripped off.

Depression is not a self-indulgent choice.

I don’t want to have to pretend to smile and be grateful for comments such as “but you have so much going for you” or “what I do when I feel down is…”

The pain is recurring with greater frequency, but I am now exploring an alternative approach of mindfulness based cognitive therapy. This will take a bit of time to develop, but ultimately it should be a far more powerful tool than anti-depressants will ever be.

So. I have written this post in the hope that I can move past this block on my blogging.

I hope you will understand if visits to other blogs, or responses to comments are sporadic.

But please do not leave messages of sympathy, pity or advice.

I don’t want them.
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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccination Offer

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10 days ago…

Ring ring

Hello?

Hello. This is the health centre. Meg is on the high priority group for getting a swine flu vaccination

We think Meg’s already had swine flu. In fact a swab was taken a couple of weeks ago when she was ill, although we still haven’t been told the results of that.

Well she’s entitled to have the jab as she’s on a high priority list

I think it would be better if we find out whether she had it first.


5 Days ago

Ring ring

Hello?

Hello. This is the health centre. We can confirm from the results of the swab test - Meg did indeed have swine flu. Would you like to bring her in for a vaccination?

But if she’s already had it, isn’t that a bit pointless?

Well there’s always a minor risk she might get it again…

But surely the antibodies created from already having the flu will be more effective than the jab anyway

Hold on one moment, Dr Scott’s walking past, I’ll ask him… muffled murmurs… Och, you’re probably right. Don’t worry about it then


Today

Ring ring

Hello?

Hello. This is the health centre. Meg is on our priority list for getting a swine flu vaccination. Would you like to arrange a time to bring her in?

But she’s already had swine flu

Ah, but unless people have had an actual swab and the test has proven it, we’re still advising them to come in for the jab.

But she did have a swab and it was proven.

Oh. I’ll maybe take her off this list then…


It has been widely publicised that health centres are getting paid an extra £5.25 for each swine flu vaccination they give, and that the goverment is keen to be seen as acting concerned.

Of course I would never be so cynical as to suggest there was any connection between that and the phone calls we’ve been getting.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

So you think you know?

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The world is not as it seems.

Some people never seem to realise this.

Some people suspect it, but fear to investigate too closely.

Some people understand it on one or more levels, and spend time and effort trying to relate this understanding to other people, in the hope something can be done about it.

Some people know it on so many levels it makes getting out of bed in the morning a daily quandary.
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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

And The Winner Is…

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Thank you to everyone who entered the free prize draw. There were 15 entries in total

Using an online random selector, the winner chosen was the blogger, Kiwi Chick

With the photo she sent, she wrote,
“Would love to see how you can enhance the attached photo - some wrinkle removal would be great. I'd also like to crop my mum out of the picture at some point - not because I don't love her - more so that I have got a photo of just me (without too many wrinkles) to save.”

Here is a video showing the selection and the transition.



If this has sparked any thoughts of potential gifts for loved ones, then do get in contact (email address on my profile).
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Free Prize Draw – FAQ

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UPDATE: Draw now closed. Winner will be selected within the next 24 hours

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I now have half a dozen entries into the free prize draw to have your photo enhanced.

What has become clear is there are all sorts of things I just took for granted, as I knew what I was offering and what I was capable of, but not everyone has the same level of knowledge of what’s going on in my head.

Maggie and I have a babysitter lined up and are going away for 2 night on our own (back Sunday). We can’t remember the last time we had 2 nights together without kids, but suspect it might be 12 years or more.

So for everyone outside my head (and I’m guessing that’s probably everyone) I thought I’d do a few FAQs to help, as I won’t be on hand to answer emails for a couple of days


1. What Prize Draw? What are you talking about Kim?
Please visit the original post – Prize Draw for the Gifty Season for an explanation

2. Is it going to cost me anything?
No, it’s free to enter. One entry per person.

3. Can I use any image I find?
It has to be yours, or one you can be reasonably sure you have permission to use. In other words, photos of you or your friends/family or taken by you friends/family. Please don’t send images you picked off the Internet somewhere as the copyright will inevitably belong to someone else

4. Where do I send my image to?
My email address is on my profile, but if you’re prepared to piece it together, it’s kimayres and I’m at gmail.com

5. How big should the image be?
If you will only ever use it on your blog, it can be as small as 600 pixels wide. But if you will want to print it – either on paper to make a card or to frame it, or to put on some merchandise thing like a mug, t-shirt or mouse mat, then it needs to be much larger.

Printed photos are usually done at 300 dpi (dots per inch). So an image 600 pixels wide would only be 2 inches when printed. So if you want it 10 inches wide, it needs to be at least 3,000 pixels across.

6. If I win, will my photo be displayed on your blog?
Yes. So if you really don’t want an image to be displayed here, for whatever reason, please don’t enter it

7. What kinds of things can you do?
Glamour, Fantasy, Restoration etc - please visit the original post – Prize Draw for the Gifty Season  for suggestions, although I am open to ideas you might want to explore

8. How will you pick the winner
Using an online random selector

9. When is the deadline for entries?
9am UK time Tuesday 1st December

10. What if I have more than one image, or have images I would like enhanced even if I don’t win?
I have a photo enhancing service – for more details visit http://kimayres.co.uk/enhancements.htm or email me

Have a good weekend :)

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Did I mention the Prize Draw is Free?

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After 36 hours I've been rather surprised that no one has entered an image for me to enhance.

Not a single one

Nothing

Nada

Zilch

My inbox is in danger of a tumbleweed blowing across it.

To say this is a bit of a surprise is an understatement, so I've been trying to work out why there has been no response to something plenty of people seem to have expressed an interest in before.

So either no one is bothered at all, or something is causing people to feel reluctant. After wracking my brains I can only think of 2 possibilities for hesitation.

1. everyone is still busy looking for an image to send and it's just a matter of time before I'm inundated; or

2. people might be unsure if they have to pay anything if they enter and don't win.

So, just in case it's the latter, please let me clarify:

It is a FREE prize draw. No payment required and no obligation to use my services.

Just email me your image with an outline of what you'd like done to it. And I will randomly choose a winner.

But in order to win, you have to enter. And at the moment, if you are the only person to enter, you win - which has to be pretty good odds...

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Prize Draw in time for the Gifty Season

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Following on from the recent blog post, The camera never lies..., I was emailed by a couple of different friends saying here was an opportunity to use my Photoshop skills to spruce up other people’s photos.

So if someone has an image of themselves or a loved one they would like enhanced – perhaps as a gift for the coming gifty season - if it is emailed to me, for a very reasonable fee I can make any adjustments and email it back.


Ideas include:
Glamourising images – removing or reducing spots, wrinkles grey and stray hairs; changing hair and/or eye colour; softening skin; and straightening and whitening teeth

Fantasy images – turning people into elves, trolls, space aliens, cartoons, vampires, Japanese manga, etc

Photo Restoration – cleaning up old photos – removing creases or stains, giving faded tones more depth, and the like.

The final image can then be printed out and framed, uploaded to your favourite social networking sites, printed onto a mug or a t-shirt, or even turned into a jigsaw puzzle

I’ve put up a page on my Photography Website going into a bit more detail.

However, as a promotional act, I thought I could do a prize draw here on the blog.

So, if you have an image you’d like adjusted, enhanced or restored, then email it to me at kimayres – squiggly AT symbol – gmail.com with an outline of what you’d like done to it, and “Prize Draw” in the subject bar.

The draw will be closed at 9am on Tuesday 30th November (or sooner if I get hit by too many requests to keep up with), after which I will randomly select a name using an online generator such as this one.

Once I have completed the adjustments I will email the image to the winner, and put before & after copies on the blog.

With this in mind, please make sure:
a) for copyright purposes, the image is yours or you have permission to use it
b) for decency purposes, you don’t send any images that are illegal, pornographic, or distasteful (“risqué” is a matter of interpretation, but do you want your image displayed on my blog? – think carefully before you send it)
c) for effective use afterwards, the image is high resolution (but please not more than 10Mb big)
d) only one entry per person - however, you can use the service at my Photography Website for as many images as you like.

So, dig out an image of yourself, your loved one, or an old pic you’d like restored, and email it to me with instructions on what adjustments you'd like done to it.


A few examples


Japanese Manga Style


The Joker


Cartoon


The square-jawed hero


Adding 20 years


We come in peace...


I have no idea whether I will be swamped with entries, or left twiddling my thumbs. Guess I'll find out soon enough...
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Floods

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The latter part of this past week saw some pretty torrential rain in this corner of the country. In fact, just across the Solway Firth in Cumbria, towns have been flooded, bridges have been washed away and lives have been lost.

Locally, Loch Ken - the loch just a couple of miles north of here - burst its banks to a level not seen in many years. The roads running up either side of it were blocked on Friday, as I discovered when I decided to go up and take some photos.

Oddly enough, it was extremely difficult to take some decent flood photos. The water levels were so high, there were no fence posts breaking the surface, they were all under it. Consequently, the loch just looked big, rather than the fields looking flooded.

You can click on any of the following images for larger versions

These 2 photos show the top of a wall (dry stane dyke - not so dry here...) usually separating 2 fields, which themeselves are usually a fair distance from the edge of the loch






This gate by the side of the road gives an indication of the depth of water too.



At the point I could go no further along the road, I saw this lorry stuck across this flooded area. But on the other side of the rise he was parked on the water was even deeper, so he was well and truly stuck until the levels subsided






On Saturday morning, the levels of Loch Ken had dropped by at least 3 feet, meaning the road was passable again, so I went out with the camera in the morning. With hedgerows and fences now more clearly visible protruding from the water, the potential was there for much better photos.

Unfortunately the heavy, horizontal rain started up again, so I still wasn't able to get out and about much as I'm not entirely sure how waterproof the camera is, but I did manage a couple.



This one in particular looks good when enlarged:




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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hood-winked

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With severe weather warnings across the region, and the rain hurtling horizontally past the window this morning, I drove the kids to their schools.

This is only the 2nd time I’ve done this in the 4½ years we’ve lived here, as both the primary and the high school are less than half a mile away (although in opposite directions). But with Rogan and Meg still recovering from the last effects of possible swine flu, it didn’t seem like a good idea to allow them to get drenched on the walk to school, then have to sit around in wet clothes all day.

On the drive back, watching the steady stream of kids walking singly, in pairs and in groups along the pavement, it suddenly occurred to me how the hood on a school kid’s coat is a never-used, pointless accessory.

It is designed purely to appease the sensibilities of responsible parents who haven’t realised that even in the most extreme weathers it will be removed the moment the child is out of sight.

As my thoughts prepared themselves for a rant about “kids today,” and it “not being like that in my day,” etc, I remembered it was actually no different in my day.

And at least some of these kids had their jackets fastened.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

19 Years

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19 years ago today, Maggie and I started going out with each other, became an item, began our relationship, or whatever other phrase you care to mention. Somehow I can't bring myself to say we started "dating" as it's an expression we just don't use on this side of the Atlantic, no matter how many US films and TV shows are imported.

Whenever I ponder how my life might have gone if I hadn't met Maggie, I can so easily imagine being swamped by depression and a lack of direction in life. And with each passing year if feels more impossible I would have survived without her.

Maggie is my love, my heart, my soul.
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Friday, November 13, 2009

The camera never lies...

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It is said the camera never lies. This is, of course, complete bollocks.

A far more accurate statement would be, the camera never tells the truth.

From the moment we choose to select this angle rather than that angle, use this lighting over that lighting, to include these elements instead of those elements, we have set about manipulating the final interpretation of the image.

And this is before we begin any post-production editing.

A photograph would be far more accurately described as a story than a representation of reality.

So with this in mind, I decided to explore three different narrative options in Photoshop this morning, with the following result (have the volume on if you wish to hear my dulcet tones):



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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who said trouble always comes in threes?

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The right side of my jaw, cheek and lips are itchy and tingly. Unfortunately the skin is still numb, so I can’t scratch them with any effect. Hopefully in another hour or so the injection from my visit to the dentist this morning, and subsequent filling, will have worn off.

Of course, when it does, I’ll then discover just how much damage I’ve done to my lower lip when I accidentally bit it, and the inside of my cheek, which I realised I’d been chewing for a while, assuming it was a piece of bread I was eating with the soup I had for lunch.

It’s been a bit of a hectic morning as we’ve had the senior nurse practitioner from the health centre out to see Meg, who is feeling very unwell and has probably gone down with whatever Rogan has had. Fortunately Rogan now seems to be in slightly better spirits and we’re pretty certain the worst has passed of his illness, swine flu or not.

We’ve also had the landlord visiting with his toolbox as last night the toilet flush stopped working, and a tap which has been dripping for quite some time decided just to gush and not allow anyone to be able to turn it off at all.

I’ve got a slightly tickly cough a mild over-all achiness in my body and am hoping it doesn’t develop into anything worse. Likewise Maggie’s general cold-like symptoms.

They say trouble always comes in 3s. I’ve never understood that: in my experience it always comes in 17s
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Friday, November 06, 2009

Rogan has Swine Flu. Probably

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Thursday lunchtime we got a phone call from the high school saying my 14 year old son, Rogan, wasn't feeling well and to go and collect him. He certainly seemed a bit under the weather and an irritiating cough he's had for weeks took a definite turn for the worse.

Last night he slept really badly and spent most of today on the couch feeling miserable. By late this afternoon he was complaining of quite a bad headache and seemed to have a bit of a temperature.

Given the terrifying ordeal Attila the Mom has been going through as her son has been hospitalised over the past 2 weeks with swine flu, and the fact that 9 miles down the road, Kirkcudbright High School has had 1/3 of pupils off school because of it, we thought it time to call the doctor.

I was told to take Rogan up to the Health Centre, but not take him in until I had alerted the receptionist who would make sure an isolation room was set up for him to be seen in.

I wondered if I should start panicking, but thought I should at least wait until the doctor had seen him, just in case Rogan was over reacting and making a lot of fuss about nothing (something, I should say, he denies ever having done).

It seemed odd seeing the doctor wearing a plastic apron, rubber gloves and a face mask, but he didn't seem to be panicking.

Rogan's temperature was taken, chest was listened to and throat was peered down.

"It looks like he's probably got Swine Flu," said the doctor, "with secondary infections in the throat and chest." He said it all straight faced (as far as I could tell behind the mask) but he still didn't seem to be panicking.

I wasn't sure if I should start panicking now. I felt it would only be right if someone started panicking, but Rogan seemed quite calm about the whole thing too. In fact I thought I detected a slight air of "I told you so" smugness about him.

As the doctor typed into the computer then printed off a couple of prescriptions, I thought I should at least find out whether we should be locking ourselves in our house for a month and painting a red cross on the door.

"How long should we expect him to be off school?" I asked.

"Probably until the middle or end of next week, although if he gets any worse, give us a call."

This seemed a bit odd to me. I thought we would be given strict instructions to isolate ourselves, but apparently it's too late for that. According to the doctor it's so widespread that it would be a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

Apparently 50% of people who have swine flu exhibit no symptoms whatsoever; about 5% will get hit hard by it and the rest are on a sliding scale in between. Despite the high publicity, deaths are still very rare.

The doctor did admit Rogan might not even have it, but he was showing enough of the symptoms to be given the drugs to combat it. The only real way of knowing for definite would be to have tests done, but by the time the results came back the damage would be done, so the official procedure is to play it safe.

So, we're home; Rogan has his various pills to take and an inhaler for when his breathing becomes difficult; and he's to keep drinking plenty of water.

And I'm still not sure if I should start panicking yet.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Last of the Autumn Leaves

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"Excuse me, do you mind if I ask what you're up to?"

"Oh, er, yes, er, I'm just, er, filming leaves."

"Leaves?"

"Yes. I was waiting for my wife who's in visiting her father and I was sitting in the car just watching the leaves blowing on the trees and about the car park and was thinking about how hypnotic it all looked and perhaps it would make a nice wee film and... why, does it look a bit odd?"

The manager of the nursing home and her assistant laughed in a tension releasing sort of way.

"That's OK - we just saw you with a camera and wondered what you were up to."

They left me to get on with it, clearly relieved they didn't have to call the police to remove some nutter with a camera, or their lawyers in case I was a journalist trying to do some kind of exposée on their establishment.

Back home I remembered a piece of music I did with a friend back when I was in my early 20s, which I thought might go quite well with the images and would mean I wouldn't have to worry about copyright using someone elses soundtrack.



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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin for Halloween

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Inspired by some of the images that come up when you google Pumpkin Designs, I thought I’d have a go at stepping up a level from the 2 triangle eyes and a zig-zaggy mouth I’ve done before.

It took me a wee while, but I was pleased with the result. It has to be said though, it took nothing like as long as it used to in earlier years when I would hollow out turnips to make a jack-o-lantern, before I gave up on this Scottish tradition and adopted the imported US one of using pumpkins instead.








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Friday, October 30, 2009

Updates

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The last few days have been spent making updates to my photography website.

I decided to follow the advice I used to give to business about their websites - focus on promoting the main thing you want to sell, rather than trying to promote everything you can.

When we can do more than one thing, our natural reaction is to try and spread our net as wide as possible, so as not to miss out on potential business. Unfortunately, this can have the effect of diluting the message.

Not only can we appear to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, we also end up competing with the widest range of people, most of whom are more specialised in their areas.

Let’s face it, if you’d like your car fixed would you rather go to a mechanic who is passionate about engines, or one who would rather be playing golf?

Although I can, and do, do event and product photography, and if I’m being paid, I’ll take the commission and do a good job, given the choice I’d rather be pointing my camera at people’s faces, which I find endlessly fascinating.

So I’ve decided to move from promoting myself as just as Kim Ayres Photography, who does portraits, events and products, to Kim Ayres Portrait Photography, and the events and products are more of a sideline than being on equal footing.

To this end, not only have I changed the heading on my website, I’ve put together a range of portrait package options for customers to choose from. And I’ve even thrown in a couple of seasonal offers.

If you have any thoughts or feedback, I’m all ears. While I find it easy enough to see where other people are going wrong, or getting it right, it’s easy to have blind spots when it comes to your own business.

And, of course, if you know of anyone who would like their photo taken...
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reasons to abort

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In the news today is a report about how there has been a 70% increase in pregnancies carrying babies with Down's Syndrome (or Down Syndrome - without the 's' - as it's called elsewhere in the world), due to more women having children later in life. But because of the increase in screening, and subsequent abortions, the number of children born with DS has in fact fallen.
This is because improved antenatal screening means more Down's pregnancies are being spotted and more abortions are taking place. Without the improved screening, the number of babies born with Down's would have risen by 48%, according to the study. (BBC News, Tuesday, 27 October 2009)
It goes on to say that the number of couples chosing to abort pregnancies these has remained consistant at 92%

I might not be alone in finding this statistic horrifying, grotesque and heartbreaking, but clearly as part of a couple who fall into the remaining 8%, I am in a serious minority.

Now I am, in fact, Pro-Choice. This does not mean I feel abortion should be a causal, unthoughtout affair, only that I believe it to be wrong that a woman should be compelled by church or state for her body to go through a such a body and life changing process regardless of her own feelings on the matter.

However, a real choice requires access to up to date, unbiased and complete information on both sides, and this is seriously lacking in the medical world. There is an image of people with Down's Syndrome as "other" as "less than" as "not fully human" - someone who looks a bit funny, is mentally and physically useless, dribbles into their chest and probably has a dodgy pudding-basin haircut.

This image was created largely by the government and medical authorities whipping away babies with DS from their mothers and putting them into institutions where they were never given the proper love or stimulation to grow and develop as full individuals. And were given haircuts of convenience.

This image is hopelessly outdated, and yet remains entrenched for many people. And as more pregnancies carrying children with DS are terminated, fewer will be seen and the sense of "other" will only increase.

Rule number one of any conflict - dehumanise the enemy as it makes it easier to inflict harm or kill them.

And so long as people with DS are considered as “other” it will be easier to terminate or prevent their existence in the world.

Of course as a father of a beautiful daughter who happens to have DS, I am continually amazed at what all the fuss is about. Yes, sometimes there are some difficulties. But then show me any child where there are no problems and everything is perfect all the time.

I’ve always maintained that 98% of bringing up a child with DS is the same as bringing up any child. Any difficulties and differences can be worked with and overcome. They are certainly not reasons sufficient in my mind to destroy the life potential before birth.

And if you want to see conclusive proof of how children with DS are anything but other, then do visit the photography blog of Conny Wenk, who takes the most beautiful photos of families, including many children who have DS.

Over on my sidebar, under the "Dash of something extra" category, you will find links to several sites where parents are blogging about their children who have DS. Mostly what you find is it's just parents blogging about their children and the DS is quite a minor issue.

And if you would like to involve yourself and see first hand that raising or helping a child with DS is remarkably similar to raising one without, do visit Tara Marie's blog about her daughter, Emma Sage, who is looking to get postcards from every US State and is happy to accept ones from countries around the world too. My one from Scotland is already in the post.

Finally, about 2 ½ years ago I wrote a very short story, which I intended to publish on this blog, but my wife thought it was a bit too in-your-face. However, in light of the feelings stirred up by the news today, I’ve decided to dig it out and put it up – see below
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Termination

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Her first pregnancy came to an abrupt end when she was informed the foetus had Down’s Syndrome. Along with 92% of all women faced with her situation, she terminated.

During her second pregnancy she took up the offer to be part of a new experimental test, which to her surprise and dismay determined her foetus had an extremely high chance of turning out to be autistic. Once all the medical data had been logged, she was relieved all the assistance was in place to allow the abortion within 48 hours.

In her third pregnancy, the controversial “gay gene” was discovered. She knew in her heart that she wished to grow old not just with her children, but with her grandchildren in her life, so despite protests from high profile pop stars in the national press, she took her case through the courts and brought her physical condition to an early conclusion.

Her fourth pregnancy ceased as soon as she realised the dates matched up to a brief indiscretion she’d had with a man of a different racial make up. There was no way she could risk the shame of discovery.

Tests during her fifth pregnancy showed that the foetus would have a propensity to obesity. Because of her own struggles with dieting and body image it was inconceivable she would put any child of hers at such disadvantage from the outset. A swift termination followed.

Over the years her partner was extraordinarily patient and supportive, but with all these failed pregnancies she felt she was letting him down. She knew more than anything he wanted a son to play ball with, take on hunting expeditions and inherit the family business. When she discovered her sixth foetus was female, she aborted without informing her husband, so as not to burden him.

Finally, her seventh pregnancy produced a healthy blue-eyed boy. He had his father’s brow and his mother’s smile and was perfect in every way.

Years later, as her son languished in prison, she wished there’d been a test for a tendency towards predatory paedophilia back when she was pregnant.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

43 Today!

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And yet, despite this momentous occasion, Google don’t seem to have created a special logo for me!

Ah well, it appears despite the shit the gods like to throw at us, I have survived another year.

43 feels like a fairly non-descript age – it doesn’t have a 0 at the end, it’s barely early-forties, not quite mid-forties. It’s a prime number, but that ceases to have any meaning beyond maths lessons when you’re 12.

However, it does mean I’ve passed the average life expectancy for a man living in Liberia (41.84), Sierra Leone (41.24), Mozambique (41.18), Lesotho (40.38), Zambia (38.63), Angola (38.20), and Swaziland (31.88). And if I live as long as the average British male, I have 36 and half years left.

Elvis was 42 when he died, so I’ve lasted longer than him too.

Among my birthday cards this morning was one from my grandchildren, which included this badge:



And this drawing from my granddaughter, Poppy, which illustrates when I was up taking photos of them last time I was there:



Left to right:
Door, Poppy's mum, her younger brother, me, the camera on a tripod, Poppy herself, her baby brother, and then I'm guessing SpongeBob SquarePants on the TV.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Home again, home again...

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Pub signs in England seem to have moved away from the dramatic in the direction of the comic.

As we drove past “The Fox and Hound” I noticed it had a picture of a fox and a hound enjoying a friendly pint together. “The George and Dragon” likewise had a image of a bloke in a suit of armour enjoying a friendly pint with a dragon. I wasn’t able to find a sign for “The King’s Head” showing Charles I enjoying a friendly pint with the axeman, but I think if we’d explored a few more villages it would just have been a matter of time.

It’s all a far cry from The Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London.



We’re just back from a week away in Yorkshire on a well needed break. After all the trauma of recent times, a last minute deal on a cottage in Leyburn gave us the chance to not worry about anything much beyond whether to light the open fire before or after dinner.

Driving through beautiful countryside enhanced by the stunning autumn colours; taking the kids deep into the heart of a mountain on a trip to White Scar Cave; a visit to the cinema in Richmond, which is a converted railway station, to watch Disney-Pixar’s “Up”; being soundly beaten at Mancala and Backgammon by my 14 year old son; and a great deal of staring into the glowing coals in the grate.

Next week we’ll begin shaping the direction of our lives again.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

Until next week

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What with one thing and another, I’m going to be offline for the next week, although I should be back in time for my birthday.

If anyone is wanting to read more of my writings and hasn’t explored the archives, take a look at the sidebar on the right under the “Find Your Favourite Topics” section. In there you’ll find everything from Fatherhood to Photoshop, Religion to Epiphanies, Audio blogs to Mental & Physical Health gripes.

However, if you’d rather read something more current, allow me to point you to a few other blogs worth visiting. I recommended Sang Lee and Mary Witzl to you the other week, so here are a few more of my favourites.

For lightish fun and entertainment, you could do far worse that Daphne Wayne-Bough (rhymes with muff) - “international style icon, epicure and older woman par excellence” - over at Chocs Away Old Gal.

Fat Mammy Cat is the place to go if you want straight-up, no bollocks opinion. Feel free to engage in polite discourse, but should you choose to state your position from a position of superiority, expect to get skewered by 5 inch heels.

Jimmy Bastard is full of tales of the harder, darker side of growing up in Glasgow. From street urchin to hired thug to a man reflecting back on a violent past, its pure dead brilliant

Charlie flips between book reviewer and writer, and he excels at both. I always hesitate to recommend him because on at least 2 occasions in the past, when I have he’s suddenly stopped blogging for several months. But maybe we’ll be lucky this time.

Fat Lazy Guy is nothing like as Fat or Lazy as he used to be (though he is still a guy). Over the past couple of years he has lost over 200lbs in weight and really started engaging with life. He’s also a budding singer-songwriter and many of his blog entries are now Vlogs. Do ask him about his peanut butter cheesecake.

I desperately want to point you to Eryl and Sam who are 2 of my favourite bloggers, but life seems to have been keeping both of them away from their blogs for long periods of time. They are still worth going and saying hello to and having a rummage around in their archives.

More recent discoveries on my part are former TV writer, Jayne, a self-confessed, bleeding heart liberal; Ron, who at 67 has just got back from marching for gay rights in Washington and is about to head off to his 50 year school reunion; and Erika whose daughter has Angelmans Syndrome – she will make you smile and laugh, and at the same time break your heart with tales of Izzy.

When I've been caught up in several days of life being weird, chaotic or panic inducing, it's always wonderful to go over to Conny Wenk’s portrait photography blog and catch up on warm, smiling faces that are just so full of life. She has a superb talent for creating an atmosphere of relaxed fun for her subjects and then capturing them beautifully

American Hell is one of the great unsung cartoon blogs on the net. Eolai’s scribblings look like quick doodles, and yet there is often profound mood and depth reflected in them. But the accompanying words are always funny, painful or both.

And to round off, Pat is where you go when you want to sit with your favourite aunt in a café, supping hot chocolate with cream, marshmallows and a flake. Sometimes she’ll regale you with stories of when she was a famous model and sometimes you’ll discuss the best place to go for a pub lunch on Exmoor. And you feel you could tell her anything because she’s been there, done that, and modelled the t-shirt.

Do be polite and well mannered while you are visiting. Make sure you wash your hands after going to the loo or playing with the pets; say please and thank you when appropriat; and make sure you have clean underwear on in case anything happens to you on the way there or back.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Layout

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Bloody hell, this took me so much longer than I expected it to.

Blogger gives us a range of basic templates. And then, if you know a bit about html code, you can go in and customise them too.

But more and more I've noticed some really fancy looking blogs out there. And I think it was probably Sang Lee (Yellow Son)'s blog that finally got me thinking it was time to pull the stops out and create something, er... creative - or at least something more reflecting the kind of person I am.

So over the past few weeks I've been looking at various free blog templates and been frustrated that I haven't been able to find EXACTLY the one I wanted.

This is, of course, because no one has designed one specifically wth me in mind.

The obvious solution was to take an existing one that was kind of close to what I wanted, then modify it (this was the one I started with).

These things are never as straightforward as you think they are going to be. The background doesn't line up with the foreground; the title disappears behind the post-it note; the date of the post appears in the wrong box.

And then when I've finally got everything working, I don't like that photo here, so want to move it there instead (not to mention the fact I've lost the little pencil icon that allows me to quick-edit blog posts).

The best part of 20 man-hours of work later and I've finally got something I think works.

Of course if my visitor stats take a nose dive in the next few days I'll have to conclude my taste in blog design is not necessarily that of anyone elses...

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Fleeting Fickleness of Fame

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What a fleeting thing fame is.

By some random quirk of fate, 4 weeks ago my blog was picked up by “Blogs Of Note” (See also Concerning the Historie and Nature of Blogs of Note. Overnight I went from 50 visits a day to 5,000. For the following 10 days I averaged around 1,000, and then suddenly it dropped to around 150 a day where it has remained for the past 2 weeks.



For a while I suspected the line I used in the blog post prior to the loss of visitors, “As self-medications go, it’s not as harmful as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, organised religion or voting Republican…” was responsible. Clearly I had upset an awful lot of drug abusing, alcoholic, religious republicans. But upon reflection, I think it was more to do with the fact I’d moved off the front page of Blogs of Note, where they only display their 10 most recently featured blogs.

When the maelstrom began I kept thinking, if only this had happened 2 or 3 years ago when I was still intending to become a writer, rather than a photographer. This sudden rush of attention and interested followers would have been exactly what I needed.

But now the storm has passed, I realise I’m quite pleased it didn’t.

It’s not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the attention, rather I’d have probably been more devastated by the massive drop off in attention in the following weeks.

I mean, look over there on the sidebar on the right, at the Google Followers widget – it used to say 40, and I got around 50 visits a day. Now it says 875 but I get 150 visits a day. Clearly the vast majority of my new Followers are no longer following. It’s not a sign of how popular I am, only a footprint of how popular I was.

We think if we manage to get thrust into the spotlight then we’ll have arrived, when in fact all we are is a minor curiosity for a fleeting moment.

We all know, we’ve all read a thousand times, how fame is full of false promises, is shallow, hollow, smoke and mirrors, and completely pointless. And yet we still want it. We believe it will be a stepping stone to something more.

But what more do I actually want?

Certainly it would be nice to have more money, to own the house I live in, and to be free of the tiredness of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (although fame and money wouldn’t cure me of that).

But it’s like the idea of what would happen if we won the lottery (assuming we bothered to buy a ticket, that is) – what would we do? Ok, we’d buy a house, and a couple of cars, and have some nice holidays. But then what? Well, then I’d pursue my photography and Maggie would continue with her art. Our lives, fundamentally, wouldn’t be much different.

When we decided 6 or 7 years ago to create the kind of life we wanted to live, the biggest decision was made then. Rather than wait for fate to intervene and give us a lottery win so we could do whatever we wanted, we worked out what we wanted and decided to set about creating that life.

Fortune might help us speed it up a bit (and if someone’s got a spare million they want to throw our way, I won’t object), but Fame would only take me away from what I truly want and enjoy.

However, as the visitor statistics show, my brief blogging fame was only an illusion anyway.

I think the vast majority of attention I gained was from new bloggers who were casting around to see how it was done, and then gave up.

In those first 2 weeks I received dozens and dozens of emails from people who had just started up their blog and had found me through Blogs of Note. They saw I had these hundreds of followers and believed I must have access to arcane knowledge of how to create a successful blog, not grasping the fact that for 4 years I had accumulated no more than 40 followers (lovely, beautiful, wonderful followers of course), and it was only a random chance event that gave me a 2000% increase in numbers.

However, for those who still insist I must have some kind of supernatural assistance, I have created this for you (click on it for a larger version if the text is too small):



* you can create your own South Park style cartoon characters at http://www.sp-studio.de/. Putting them together into cartoon strips requires an image editing programme like Photoshop or Gimp, an obsessive temperament and too much time to waste.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Carlingwark Loch One Foggy Autumn Morning

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This morning Rogan needed to be at the high school for 7.20am as he was off on a school trip to Stratford for a couple of days; the highlight of which is heading to the Globe Theatre in London to see Shakespeare's, "As You Like It" performed live.

Now this is all very noble, cultural and educational, but for me it meant getting up early to take him there.

So it was Mr Grumpy who climbed out of bed at silly-o-clock in the morning and trod on his belt buckle.

It was Mr Grumpy who almost missed the last step as he came down the stairs.

It was Mr Grumpy who discovered there was only enough orange juice in the carton for an eighth of a glass.

It was Mr Grumpy who couldn’t remember where he’d put his car keys.

It was Mr Grumpy mumbling obscenities into his beard, as he had to scrape the first ice of the season off his windscreen.

It was Mr Grumpy who had to get back out of the car to scrape the ice off the wing mirrors when he discovered he couldn’t see anything in them.

It was Mr Grumpy trying not to be Mr Grumpy as he struggled to get a hug from his son who didn’t want to be seen hugging his father at the school gates where his friends might see.

It was Mr Forgot To Be Grumpy who thought he saw fog rolling in at the bottom of the town, where Carlingwark Loch is, and realised the sun would soon be rising.

It was Mr Excited who ran into the house and grabbed his camera.

It was Mr Peaceful who breathed in the cool, autumn air and watched the swans gliding in and out of the mist, while the sun rose behind the trees casting streaks of golden light through the fog and across the loch.

And it was Mr Photographer who took 104 photos over the next 40 minutes.

These were the best ones. Click on any of them for larger versions.


A swan's arse while it's head down looking for food


Sunrise through the mist


Another sunrise through the mist. I mean the same sunrise, but from a different angle. I know you knew that, but some pedantic bastard was bound to say something.


As this swan came out of the mist, I couldn't see where the loch finished and the mist began


Making it well worth all the trouble of getting up early

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Monday, October 05, 2009

When being strong isn't a strength

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"Does he have any chance?"

"He is strong"

"So?"

"It will take him longer to die"
Conversation with doctor about a man dying from the plague
From the film, "Flesh and Blood" 1985


Sometimes these lines haunt me


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Friday, October 02, 2009

Photos Published

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“Have you seen the photos yet?” asked Jools when we bumped into her on the street on the way back from collecting Meg’s new glasses from the optician.

“What photos?” Then I remembered. “Have they been published?”

“October’s edition of DG Life. They look good. Better go and get yourself a copy.”

Her voice faded into the distance as I grabbed Meg’s hand and charged off in the direction of the nearest newsagent.

DG Life… DG Life… DG life… “Found it!” said Meg.

And there they were, on page 66 of the October edition: my first ever published photos in a glossy magazine



Dumfries and Galloway Life did an article on The Orchard and Wild Harvest Project run by South West Community Woodlands Trust. The project itself is about planting wild fruit and nut trees wherever possible – along cycle and walking routes, school grounds and anywhere else that seems like a possibility (click on the image above for a full sized photo where you can actually read the article if you want).

South West Community Woodlands Trust is based in SW Scotland. Earlier in the year I helped design and build their website, and trained one of the members in how to maintain and update it – see swcwt.org

Jools Cox, who runs SWCWT asked if I would take some photos of children planting trees for the article she knew was being written, promising I would get full credit for any images used. I’d taken scores of images, then whittled them down to the best dozen or so, which I then edited and tidied up before putting them on a disc her. In the end they used 3 of them.

With all that’s been ongoing of late, I’d pretty much forgotten all about it. So it was wonderful to see the all-important, “Photography by Kim Ayres” sitting right there on the page.



They'd even spelled my name right

Smug moment :)

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A blogger recommends...

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The wonderful Erika of The Flight of our Hummingbird, a far more worthy a recipient of any award than I am, has just bestowed a Lemonade Award upon me. On her blog she sings my praises, but also confesses she is still new to blogging and didn’t have enough people on her blog list yet to pass it on to the required 10…

Over the years I’ve periodically been invited to join in the passing on of awards or different memes to fellow bloggers, but truth be told I always felt a bit uncomfortable with them. Either they would always end up going to the same people, or I would worry I’d missed someone out and they would feel a bit hurt. Or both.

Additionally these awards always demand to be handed out and perpetuated, which triggers the anti-authoritarian in me – what right do they have to dictate my behaviour!!!?

So while I am flattered Erika has given me this award, and I’m not averse to grabbing any smidgen of praise I can for my cavernous ego, I won’t be participating in awarding it to other bloggers. However, if you are one for these kinds of things I'm sure she won't mind if you pop over there, take a look at the rules and adopt it to hand out to other blogs you follow

But with the recent change in the landscape of my blogging world, I’m aware there are many more readers of these Ramblings now than there used to be, so over the next few months I plan on periodically putting up posts pointing anyone who’s interested in the direction of other blogs I consider particularly noteworthy.

No awards, just heartfelt recommendations.

Today I’m going to feature two blogs from people with very different backgrounds and current circumstances, yet share one or two distinct attributes that press the right buttons for me.

Both give the inside perspective on an outsider’s experience. And as someone who has always felt on the outside - where the yearning to belong is in constant conflict with a derision of the “acceptable norms” that reject us – good writing on the subject is always a delight to me

The first is Mary Witzl of Resident Alien
Mary originates from the desert climes of California, and is therefore one of the few people I’ve ever met who genuinely enjoys the wet Scottish weather. However, in a wry twist of fate she’s spent the past year teaching English in a very hot, very dry Turkish outpost.

Mary has spent the majority of her adulthood living in different countries, and only some where they spoke English. She met her husband in Japan, and both daughters were brought up there in their early years. She has also lived and worked in Holland, Wales and, of course, Scotland, where I met her a couple of years ago. The title of her blog, Resident Alien, reflects living as a foreigner and often being treated sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly, as “not one of us.”

Mary is a storyteller par excellence. Each of her blog posts is a self-contained, well-crafted wonder, capturing a moment in time, an experience or observation. Strung together and they reveal a world of humour, bemusement and warmth. She never really has a bad word for anyone else; her empathic nature means she always sees their point of view, even if it is laced with occasional frustration at the lack of reciprocal thinking on the part of those she’s dealing with.

For when you want to sit down with a mug of rich, fair-trade coffee and just enjoy a damn fine read, I can’t recommend much higher.

The 2nd blog I want to mention is Sang Lee’s Yellow Son.
On the surface, Sang Lee is about as far removed from Mary as you can get. He is unmarried male and spent most of his life in the one country. However, as the son of immigrant Korean parents, chunks of his life have been spent battling treatment as a foreigner in the place of his upbringing since the age of 6. His writing brings the conflict between a family demanding he be Korean first, and a culture demanding he be American, to life.

Sang is another first class storyteller. From the opening sentences of his posts I’m hooked, wanting to know what happens next. And by the end I feel I’ve been on a journey where I’ve learned something, either about the world or about myself.

Unlike Mary, who I’ve known since the beginning of her blog – in fact I even gave her a few helpful tips on how to get it set up – Sang is a recent discovery. But already I’m hooked and busy working my way back through his past posts, building up an ever larger picture. Fortunately, as his blog is quite new, at the time of writing he only has about 34 posts to go through, so my life will become my own again fairly soon.

I do hope he continues to blog for many years to come as I’m looking forward to getting to know him better.

So do take the time to visit Mary and Sang, leave a friendly comment and, if they appeal, then add them to your regular reading lists.
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

I am a blogger...

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Blogging: (blŏg-ging)

. An enjoyable pastime;
. A way of expressing emotions, ideas and opinions in a public realm;
. A way of meeting like-minded people bypassing geographical or cultural barriers
. A form of self-medication


My name is Kim… and… I am… *cough* … a blogger.

At first it was a wild ride of new people, new ideas, new ways to express myself. It was exciting, you know? All these people, all these colours, all these flavours – it was intoxicating.

And they noticed me. The came and posted on my blog. The told me they liked what I wrote. Then made me feel special, like someone important, you know? They did.

After a while, I guess the freshness of it all wore off, but by then I’d established relationships with other bloggers. The whole blogging experience matured. I was able to meet and talk to other bloggers on equal terms, rather than feeling like an indulged, excited puppy. And I was treated with respect.

Do you know what that feels like? To have people respect you? I mean real respect, not fear? Respect without having to kill anyone first?

“Smug” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Oh sure, there were some who didn’t always get it. There are always those who think you’re serious when you’re joking. And some who don’t take offence, even when they should. Not everyone understood everything I blogged about, but that didn’t matter. They still came back. Or at least enough of them did.

I don’t know at what point it happened; when the cross over began. But then, who does? Probably much longer ago than even I can guess at. Let’s face it, it’s not something I’m particularly proud of, so it’s not unlikely I hid it from myself for a quite a while.

But at some point, blogging moved from being an activity of exploring new worlds to escaping existing ones. No longer was it primarily about personal growth, it was about distraction.

As self-medications go, it’s not as harmful as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, organised religion or voting Republican, but it is not without its darker side.

That’s not to say there wasn’t anything to be gained from blogging, only that my motivations weren’t necessarily what I thought they were.

Over the past month or two, at a point of huge emotional vulnerability, I’ve been spending more and more hours on the computer. And the sudden and massive influx of visitors, followers and commenters from the Blogs of Note link has given me an excuse to throw myself into something to help me ignore the pain.

But as anyone who has ever self-medicated with anything will attest, it doesn’t really work. Short-term benefits very often only make the long term damage worse.

Still, at least I’m finally off the front page of Blogs of Note, so I expect the number of new visitors to drop off dramatically.

The stupid thing is, it should make no difference at all how many people read my blog – I am accountable to none of them, only those with whom I have built up a strong relationship.

Politeness tells me I should reply to every comment and visit every commenter and follower.

Experience tells me I’m using it as an excuse to run away from my life.

So I’m going to cut back on my comment replies, and limit the number of blogs I visit, and I’m going to attempt not to feel guilty about it.

My name is Kim, and I’m a blogger.

One day I hope to return to being just a man who blogs.
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Rebuilding

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When someone we love dies, we are broken beyond healing.

It is not a wound that will eventually knit back together; instead we are smashed and shattered beyond repair.

The only way to move forward is to take the pieces and build something new with them. It might superficially resemble the original, but if you look closer you will see parts are missing, and other things have been created to fill the space.

We do not recover and come to terms with their loss; we build ourselves into someone who might be able to survive their absence.

Nobody ever tells you this.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blogging Advice?

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PRE-AMBLE

While some of the craziness of getting picked up by Blogs of Note is beginning to die down a bit – I’m currently only getting about 700 visits a day rather than 5,000 – I’m still trying to work out the best way to deal with the change in circumstances.


Sitemeter visitor stats for the past 4 weeks


It took me 4 years to build up to having 40 followers, and in less than 2 weeks I now have in excess of 750.

How many of these new followers will stick around has yet to be seen. In fact, there are some bloggers I know who I’m pretty sure at this point would make a game of how quickly they could lose them all again by being as offensive as possible (yes you know who you are).

And while I have to admit a certain temptation…

One of the things I seem to have been overwhelmed with is the vast number of new bloggers asking me for advice on how to create a successful blog and/or to visit their sites and comment. But there are 2 problem areas here.

The first is the obvious logistics of it all, if I still want a life.

As I’ve built up my blogging connections over the years, it’s been done in a slow and steady fashion: one or two at a time; several visits, several comments back and forth and eventually deciding whether I would add them to my sidebar to make it easy for me to find those who were beginning to make an impact on my thoughts and outlook.

But I simply do not have enough hours in the day to spare to take this approach with hundreds of newly connected bloggers.

I have made several random clicks and left a few comments here and there, and already I’ve found some fascinating people, but it’s going to be quite some time before I manage to properly build up any relationships to the point of regular visits and sidebar listings.

The other problem area is the sense that many new bloggers seem to think this massive influx of visitors implies I know what I’m doing. But in a way it reminds me of an old joke a Ukrainian friend once told me:
A millionaire from America returns to his native village in the Ukraine for a visit. He is welcomed warmly and invited to tell his tale of fortune and success.

With the village all gathered round, he beings…

“When I left here, I was not a rich man. I met my wife on the boat to America, and when we landed at New York, I had but 5 cents to my name.”

“How did you survive?” asks one of the villagers

“Well, with that 5 cents, I bought a dull and dusty apple. I cleaned it and polished it and managed to sell it for 10 cents.”

All the villagers lean in a bit more, and one asks, “and then what happened?”

“Well,” he continues, “with that 10 cents, I bought 2 more dull and dusty apples. I cleaned and polished them both and was able to see them for 20 cents”

The villagers are now on the edges of their seats, as one of them asks, “and then?”

“Then, my friends, in the true spirit of the American Dream, my wife’s uncle died and left us 4 million dollars!”

AMBLE

However, there are 2 pieces of advice I consider the most important (others may feel differently), which I will pass on to any new blogger wanting to create a blog worth visiting more than once:

The first is practical:

try and make sure your blog is easily readable
  • - Small paragraphs are much easier to cope with than large swathes of unbroken text
  • - avoid having vivid backgrounds like red, or complicated images behind the text
  • - avoid moving images on the page – they just pull the eye away from the text and are irritating

The 2nd is to ask yourself,

What is anyone who reads this going to gain from it?

Assuming you are wanting strangers to find your writings interesting, leave comments and come back again (if not, then none of this applies anyway), then you need to give them a reason.

Is your post educational, entertaining, informative, amusing, goading, containing insights, looking at things in an unusual or unexpected way?

Why should anyone care what you’ve written?
“Me and Tracy, right, we went to the shops today and bought some magazines. I saw Gary and ignored him.”

So what? What’s the story? Where’s the insight, humour or pathos? Why have you shared this with me? What response are you hoping to get? Can you write it in a different way to help you get the response you want?

(UPDATE: Broken Down Barman has taken that line and turned it into a post of insight, humour and pathos - well, humour anyway - well, if you share that kind of sense of humour... Click here )

POST-AMBLE
Experiment, play, explore, spew forth. Your blog is a place for you to write whatever you wish.

But if we want people other than our close friends and family to read our blogs, we do need to make it easier for them.


Other thoughts on what I've learned about blogging over the past 4 years can be found here: 500 Posts
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Monday, September 21, 2009

14 Years

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14 years ago I was 28 years old. I had recently graduated from Dundee University as a mature student with a 2:1 degree in Philosophy.

14 years ago the future looked good. With my new degree I knew the world was going to beat its way to my door to offer me a well paid career utilising my creativity and intelligence.

14 years ago the trial of OJ Simpson was moving towards its dramatic climax. We all knew he’d done it, and we all knew he was going to walk free because corrupt and racist cops had framed him.

14 years ago, it was 5 years since I’d first met Maggie and her children, who were then aged only 9, 7 and 4 and were now 14, 12 and 9. These days they are now 28, 26 and 23.

14 years ago our son, Rogan, was 3 months old. I had not bothered looking for a job since I’d graduated, preferring instead to enjoy fatherhood across the long warm summer months, and knowing the world was going to beat its way to my door to offer me a well paid career utilising my creativity and intelligence as soon as I was ready.

14 years ago my hair was shortish on the top and longish at the back, as suited the fashion 10 years previously.

14 years ago Mel Gibson adopted a dodgy Scottish accent, painted his face blue and yelled FREEDOM! a lot in Braveheart. In the film he also sported a hairstyle that was shortish on the top and longish at the back, as suited the fashion 10 years previously.

14 years ago Maggie and I got married. It was a small affair. I think the whole thing cost less than £87. We had very little money as I was unemployed, but that didn’t matter because I was just starting to apply for jobs and it was only a matter of time before the world was going to beat its way to my door to offer me a well paid career utilising my creativity and intelligence.

14 years ago, if I had been given a thousand chances to predict the future and the path our lives would follow, I would have been wrong on every account.

Except one.

14 years ago I knew, as our hearts and souls entwined, we would be in love with each other forever

Happy anniversary my love x



For anyone who loves back stories, visit Tin Wedding Anniversary written 4 years ago
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ties

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Put the wider side on the right and pull it down so it’s much longer.

Fold it over the shorter side and back round… do I do that once, or twice?

Start again…

When was the last time I wore a tie?

Loop it up through the top and push it down between…

Nuts. That doesn’t look right. Start again.

This is stupid. I wore a tie every day to school for 5 years. I even wore a tie at least twice a week when I was a web consultant.

Stop thinking about it. Empty the mind of conscious thought. Allow muscle memory to take over…

Ah, success.

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2 hours later my stepson asks if I can help him with his tie. Standing in front of him I realise I have no chance. I ask him to face the other way so I can put my arms around him and try and tie it from a more familiar position.

Then I ask him to find a stool to sit on because he’s 6 foot tall and I’m not.

Arms over his shoulders.

Put the wider side on the right and pull it down so it’s much longer…

Nuts! I put my own tie on this morning; why can’t I figure out how to do his?

Forget conscious thought…

Ah, success.

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When we meet up with everyone else, there isn’t a man there who doesn’t have a black tie on. I briefly wonder how many struggled with theirs.

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The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful spring day.

No. It’s still autumn.

7 months of winter have not passed, only 4 extremely long, emotionally crippling weeks. The toll on the family has been enormous, especially for Maggie.

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Elsie Simpson: 13th May 1920 to 10th September 2009

The world is emptier without her wonderful smile


UPDATE
This time, on this post, forgive me for not answering all the comments individually.

It has been an extraordinarily tough time with all sorts of aspects I cannot go in to.

However, I greatly appreciate all the words of warmth and support.

And welcome to all the new visitors to this blog who have taken the time to say hello.

Now I have a new post up, I'll close the comments on this one.

Thank you all once again for your kind words.
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