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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