Friday, May 29, 2009


We don’t recall everything we see. Our brain spends much of its time filtering out what it considers irrelevant, and locking on to things it is programmed it to think are important.

Some of these filters are hardwired from millions of years of evolution, while others are implanted by our upbringing, advertising, propaganda and social habits.

This is most noticeable when someone is giving you directions to somewhere locally.

“Turn right at the Kings Arms, past the Golden Lion, then right again at the Slaughtered Lamb. If you reach the Dog and Duck you’ve gone too far.” For some reason, most people I know use pubs as their main landmarks.

A few will refer to art galleries and bookshops, and I was recently directed via an antique shop. I have to admit I had to ask for further clarification on that occasion, although when I mentioned it to Maggie she knew exactly where it was.

Post offices, libraries and pharmacies for some; betting shops, off licences and churches for others.

And with her constant searching for interesting materials for her artworks, Maggie reckons she can find her way anywhere so long as she is given directions in relation to charity shops.

For me, however, if anyone guides me with reference to cafés then I’ll have no problem finding the place. Sadly no one ever does.

One thing I have noticed though - everyone knows where the chocolate deli is…

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Wonderful Aroma of Bluebells

It was going to be wet and windy, at least to begin with, on Food Town Day, so Rogan needed some kind of shelter to set his home baking stall under. Fortunately we’d bought a gazebo last year (see He's At It Again).

Unfortunately, the main street in Castle Douglas isn’t made of grass and mud, so it could not be pegged to the ground.

And once we’d put up a sheet on the west side to stop the horizontal rain coming in, the entire thing acted like a sail in the wind and was desperate to fly away.

The stones we’d carried from the garden to tie the guy ropes to proved woefully inadequate, especially as we couldn’t put them out at an angle for fear of tripping up pedestrians.

With visions of having to stand there all day holding the gazebo in place while Rogan sold his cakes, cookies and scones, I was relieved to suddenly notice a couple of brackets on the wall of the shop we were pitched outside and I was able to lash the gazebo to them.

Half an hour later, the rain stopped and the wind died back and Rogan did a roaring trade. In just over 2 hours he sold his entire stock.

In about 3 weeks Rogan turns 14 and already has a better understanding of business than I did when I was 35.

Meanwhile, Maggie was coping with visitors to the studio for the 3 days of Spring Fling – the Artist & Maker’s Open Studio Event (see last post). This year Maggie had over 550 visitors - considerably up from the 320ish last year.

Not only did this result in more sales and more sign-ups to the Newsletter, but Maggie received a great deal of wonderful feedback. There were plenty of people who had come back from last year and others who had specifically sought her out – large stars scribbled in red biro next to her entry in the Spring Fling Brochure. Some had come from quite far afield just to see her and her artwork.

But far more than sales, newsletter sign-ups and visitor numbers, the most wonderful thing is Maggie is beginning to suspect that perhaps, maybe, it could be conceivable that some people might actually like her work. Possibly.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Spring Fling 2009

Spring Fling is upon us again (see Spring Fling 2008) - SW Scotland's Open Studio Event - which this year runs from Saturday 23rd to Monday 25th May.

Across the region around 80 or so artists, potters, photographers, sculptors and the like, fling open their studio doors for the public to come in, nose about, ask questions and, with luck, buy something. This year Maggie is also creating a collaborative piece, so visitors can add things to an artwork across the weekend.

Since being booted out of my study to give Rogan his own bedroom (see Homeless...), I've taken up residence in a small corner of Maggie's studio. However, Maggie has had to throw as much stuff out of her room as possible to make space for any visitors who turn up this weekend. This includes me.

I would have just plonked myself in the kitchen, but Rogan is baking cakes, scones, cookies and an assortment of tray-bakes as Saturday also happens to be Castle Douglas Food Town Day, where the street is closed and various food stalls are set up. Last year he sold out by 1.30pm (see Spring Fling is Over), so he's determined to have enough stock to feed a small continent this time.

Between the two of them then, there's a chaotic rage of energy, fear, excitement and panic in a churning, swirling vortex that threatens to engulf the world.

I'd feel happier if there was a table I could crawl under until the weekend is over.

Tune in next week to see if we survive.

Meanwhile, here's Maggie's promo video for Spring Fling. Do come along if you can.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Qawali Sham Sufi Group

The Qawali Sham Sufi Group, from Afghanistan are currently in the UK. They have played in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and are even performing at a local arts venue, The Catstrand on Friday (completely sold out).

Apparently they wanted the chance to meet and play with some local musicians. And for one of the first times in my life, I happen to be known by the right people.

So last night, along with several other local musicians, I got to play along with them, in a converted barn out beyond the tiny village of Corsock (which is already in the middle of nowhere – one pub, which is also the post office)

It was so much fun.

Incredible music, wonderful faces, exotic language, lots of people, lots of cups of tea, lots of bits of cake, a superb mix of talented local folk musicians, and me, sitting with my bouzouki, finding it an ideal instrument to fit in with the G pitched drone running under the music.

I’m in a much better mood today.

Here's a YouTube video I found of them performing last year in Edinburgh


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just say no...

“Did you do any drugs back when you were younger?”

“I used to smoke cannabis quite a lot, Doc, but I’ve not touched it for 20 years now.”

“You realise that’s possibly the root cause of your recurring depression and lousy sleep patterns.”

“Er, no… I mean, I know cannabis isn’t as harmless as I was told by my mates when I started smoking it. I know it’s up to 5 times more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco, and can trigger psychosis and schizophrenia in some vulnerable people.”

“It also screws up receptors in your brain, which affect your mood and your sleep patterns.”

“But that was half my life ago, Doc.”

“Unfortunately, Mr Ayres, that’s when the damage was done. It’s a bit like having a key put in a lock, then salt water poured in and it’s left to rust. After a while it’s jammed and doesn’t function. We don’t know whether it works as a trigger in certain people with vulnerable brain types, so to speak, or whether it affects everyone to one degree or another. But as doctors, we see and have to deal with the long term results of cannabis use all the time.”

No one ever told me this when I was 17.

Oh, I knew of medical arguments against other drugs. Heroin was a big baddy, so we didn’t touch that. Speed would fry your brain if you took too much, so it should only be an occasional hit – acid should be no more than twice a year if you didn’t want to start suffering flashbacks.

All these things I was carefully told by my fellow 17 year olds, who were in the know.

But cannabis? It was no more harmful than a cigarette or a pint of beer. The only arguments against it were moral ones, not medical. The authorities just didn’t like the idea of us enjoying ourselves, man.

So I was told by my fellow 17 years olds, who seemed to know about all these things.

No one said to me, there’s a risk it might plug up brain receptors so you could end up suffering bouts of depression for the rest of your life.

No one said to me you could end up with a brain wired so feelings of utter despair would be so easy to access that you could drop into them at any time, with no effort and no warning.

No one said to me you could end up with a brain wired so joyful moments would be rare, hard fought for and fleeting.

My caring, compassionate, new 17 year old friends didn’t know.


Monday, May 18, 2009

18th May

It’s the 4th anniversary of our move from Central to South West Scotland.

It’s the 11th anniversary of me signing off the dole for the last time and becoming self-employed.

And although I cannot remember the exact date, it was around the middle of May, 21 years ago, when I left Devon and moved up to Scotland in the first place.

Each of these events marks a significant change in my life; a point where I rebranded who I was and what I planned on doing with my future.

None of them turned out as I’d thought they would.

But all of them did give me a chance to break with a past that was crushing the life out of me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Außergewöhnlich: Väterglück

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?


Me neither, but don’t let that put you off begging, borrowing, stealing or better still, buying, a copy of Conny Wenk’s book, Außergewöhnlich: Väterglück.

The book is packed full of the most beautiful photographs of fathers having fun with their children. The expressions, laughter and playfulness will have you grinning from ear to ear. You cannot help but smile broadly at the love and fun that leaps from image after image, page after page.

It’s the kind of book that makes you feel proud to be a father, and the kind of book you want to send to every father-to-be who is worrying what it will be like to become a parent.

But what makes Außergewöhnlich: Väterglück even more special is every child in it has Down’s Syndrome.

Which in terms of DS advocacy, makes it incredibly powerful.

For people not in the know, the inexperienced and the unfamiliar, if you mention Down’s Syndrome, the likelihood is an image of an institutionalised, vacant staring person with a pudding-bowl haircut, will leap to mind.

And it is images like that, which put the fear of [insert deity of choice] into people faced with the idea of having a child of their own with Down’s Syndrome.

The same image creates debates about whether babies with Down’s Syndrome ought to be aborted before birth.

And why parents who decide to keep and raise a child with Down’s Syndrome are seen either as demons, for allowing perceived genetically abnormal people to survive, or as saints doing charitable work.

But stick any person in an institution from birth, and give them a pudding bowl haircut and you’ll end up with a similar image, DS or no DS.

So what makes Conny’s book so powerful, is it updates the idea of what having a child with Down’s Syndrome is like.

First and foremost, it’s like having a child. Any child.

Children with DS, like all others, laugh, cry, throw tantrums, fling their arms around you and tell you they love you, feel fear, frustration, happiness and refuse to go to bed on time.

I urge you to beg, borrow, steal or better still, buy, a copy of Conny Wenk’s book, Außergewöhnlich: Väterglück, and thrust it under the nose of anyone with preconceived ideas about what Down’s Syndrome is.

And it makes no difference if you can speak German or not.

It appears the best place to buy the book is from

All images are copyright of Conny Wenk

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Half the fun

Half the fun I have with photography is taking the photos.

The other half is tweaking, editing and manipulating them.

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Being occupied between blog posts

Web assistance for friend in Wales – check

Maggie’s exhibition - finished – check

Web assistance for friend in Canada – check

Remove exhibition promo from Maggie’s website – oh… hang on…
OK – check

Conversation overheard between 2 people standing right outside a newsagent, near the top of the main street of Castle Douglas:

“Excuse me, but is there a newsagents up here?” he asked.

“I think there’s one just down the road, the other side of the post office,” she replied.

- check

Playing about with Photoshop

- check

Attempt at angst-ridden poetry:

Something dark
Something light
Something to think
Something to write
Brain is fuzzy
Mind’s gone blank
May as well
Just have a w… why thank you very much! A coffee would be lovely.