Thursday, July 29, 2010

Burning the Wickerman

Rogan suddenly found a signal on his mobile phone. Thumbs moving close to the speed of light he updated his Facebook status.

Right beside the Wickerman. Gonna go up in flames in a matter of minutes. Dad knows guy who makes Wickerman


I’m too old for festivals.

I’m too Chronically Fatigued for festivals.

I’m too squeamish to go near festival toilets.

I’m not used to the idea that not just my ribcage, but even my kneecaps could vibrate because of the sheer force of the sound coming out of the speakers.

I have to admit, if it wasn’t for the fact I’d got free passes for me and Rogan because I was accompanying Tony Bonning in the children’s tent with my bouzouki, then I probably would not have chosen to spend my weekend at the Wickerman Festival.

But it was Rogan I felt most sorry for. At 15 years old he needed to have a bunch of friends his own age to go off and explore with, not be saddled with a grumpy old man who would get worn out every time we had to walk more than 100 yards.

However, standing only a few metres from the 30-foot high willow sculpture as it was lit at midnight made up for everything, both for me and Rogan. The rest of the festival goers, including all the press photographers were much further back, with marshals ensuring no one could get too close.

Trevor, one of the builders of the Wickerman (see - Building the Wickerman) managed to get us in with him when he went up to light it. Apart from his partner, and the guy in charge of the accompanying firework display, the only other person allowed up there was a woman who had won a competition to be the one to set fire to the Wickerman.

Once the flames started to lick around the base of the legs, we headed down the field to get enough distance to be able to watch it go up in a blaze of glory with the fireworks exploding behind and above it.

It was all over in about 15 minutes, but they were a spectacular 15 minutes and my finger didn’t stop clicking the camera the entire time. For some reason it stirs something deeply primal watching a huge figure going up in flames.

Below are a small handful of images from the Festival, but there are plenty more at my recently created Flickr account and can be found here:

Rogan with the Wickerman in the background

The Sex Pistols Experience tribute band - pure theatre as they swore at each other and goaded the audience. Better musicians than the originals too.

Trevor prepares the base of the Wickerman with a last coating of straw

Heading up with the lighted torch ready to set fire to the Wickerman

Fireworks as the Wickerman blazes

Soon little more than the steel frame remains


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Clarity? Or further confusion?

Does explaining the metaphor ruin it?

Sometimes, like cryptic crossword clues, working them out is far more rewarding than just looking up the answer.

On the other hand, I’m a communicator: I don’t write to be obscure, I write to be understood or provoke deeper thought. Perhaps the last post, Metaphorical, was just a bit too opaque.

I’m a firm believer in the idea of Narrative (viewing the world through stories) – we cannot make sense of the world directly, but only through Narrative Structures that give us a framework in which to interpret events and experiences (for those who want more background on this idea, I suggest you click on the label “epiphany”, find the oldest posts and work forward – read the comments too where some aspects of the concept are further expanded).

As such, if we change the Narrative, we change the experience.

Just about every Narrative we view the world through, is either created by someone else or moulded by a series of life events and interpretations. Very few, if any, are consciously created by ourselves. The world we think is real, is nothing of the sort. We are not seeing anything as it really is, only through man-made filters.

Once/if we realise this, then we open ourselves up to the possibility of creating our own Narrative. We can re-write the story of how we see the world, and thus how we experience it. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is possible.

And this is kind of what Maggie and I have been working on.

I’m a photographer because I take photographs and tell people I am a photographer. And if I say it with enough conviction, everyone goes along with it – including me. Because I say I am, I practice, I learn, I develop, I improve, I become. I create a new story, a new way of experiencing the world.

Is it real? In terms of personal experience, yes it is. In terms of ultimate reality, it’s just a stage set with costumes, backdrops and a loose script.

But in terms of ultimate reality everyone’s lives are just a stage set with costumes, backdrops and a loose script. The difference is I’m aware of it and am no longer confusing the story as some kind of “really real”.

Those who say, “It’s all very well for you, but I live in the ‘real’ world, pal” have mistaken the illusion for something more. Their world is no more ‘real’ than mine. Theirs is a story too. I’m just choosing a different story.

However, other people’s Narratives intrude and overlap all the time. And recently certain events managed to trample all over the Narrative we are trying to construct. It did the equivalent of setting fire to the stage, backdrops and costumes, leaving us with a charred mess that will take time to rebuild.

The Narrative itself wasn’t destroyed, but many of the props that supported it were.

These can be rebuilt, and will be. The process is already underway. But it takes time.

Perhaps that makes more sense.

Perhaps I have just confused you even more, in which case I apologise and suggest we sit down for a cup of tea together sometime and I can explain it more clearly using scraps of paper, diagrams and bits of cutlery and condiment pots on the table (right, imagine this spoon represents the voice of authority... sorry, I didn't realise you were still using that..., ok... imagine this pepper pot...).

Monday, July 19, 2010


I’m standing in front of the charred remains of the theatre. All the sets, costumes and backdrops are nothing more than smouldering soot and ash.


Let me stand and stare a wee while longer.

I’ll get tired of looking at it soon enough, and then we can set about rebuilding.

It won’t take as long because at least we know what we need to construct this time.

The vision remains even if the props don’t.

When the inferno raged and destroyed all around, it wasn’t the end, only a setback.

We just start again, as we always do.

But I need to stare just a wee while longer.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Building the Wickerman

It might be the middle of July but with a damp wind blowing in from the sea at a strength to make the whole structure noticeably sway it feels more like November. I zip my coat up and pull my woolly hat down over my head as far as I can to offer some protection for my ears and neck.

I’m 30 feet off the ground chatting to Trevor Leat who, along with his construction partner, Alex Rigg, is in the final stages of several weeks of work building a giant figure in willow. The entire thing will be burned at midnight on Saturday 24th July as the culmination of The Wickerman Festival, held every year in this corner of South West Scotland.

Not on the scale of Glastonbury or Scotland’s T in the Park, The Wickerman doesn’t attract quite the same headline bands. While I have at least heard of The Charlatans, many of the acts I haven’t, and I don’t think it’s just because of my age. I can’t imagine U2, Coldplay or Eminem playing here. However, I'm told by some who regularly go this makes it more intimate and accessible than many of the bigger festivals.

By contrast, earlier in the week the tickets for next year’s T in the Park went on sale. As they have a habit of selling out within hours, I was under strict instructions from my stepdaughter to be sitting at my computer at 9am with my credit card ready to buy 2 tickets. One for her and one for my son, Rogan, who will be 16 by then. At £200 each, I’m hoping it’s not too long before they can pay me back. Mind you, if they don’t, then I’ll be able to sell them for more than twice the price nearer the date of the event.

Oddly enough I’ve never been to a Festival before. For some reason these cultural experiences seem to have passed me by even though everyone I’ve ever met has been to at least one. However, I will be attending this one.

Storyteller and children’s entertainer, Tony Bonning, has asked me to accompany him on my bouzouki & mandolin in the Children’s tent. In return Rogan and I get weekend “artists” passes to what will be the first Festival we’ve both been to.

I find I’m more excited at the photographic opportunities than I am about the music and other events.

And with the chance to photograph the Wickerman as it goes up in flames, I thought it would be good to get some “before” shots while it was still under construction.

Fortunately I’ve known Trevor for a few years as he plays the fiddle at some of the folk sessions I go along to, and last year I photographed him and Alex building and setting fire to the Willow Tam O’Shanter in Dumfries as part of the Burns Light Festival (see

There’s no doubt it’s seriously impressive up close, just as it is at a distance, and I feel privileged to see and touch this amazing creation right up at shoulder and head height.

Fortunately I remember not to ask him how he feels about several weeks’ worth of work going up in flames as he’d be likely to throw me off the top of the scaffolding. It’s one of Trevor's most hated questions because it’s the one everyone asks, and few seem to understand that the whole point of building these giant willow sculptures is their fleeting life and dramatic exit.

As usual, click on any of the images for larger versions


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It appears I'm still alive.

Although I had to check.


There is far too much deeply emotional stuff going on in our lives at the moment that I will never be able to blog about.

So I thought I'd put up some photos of peonies from our garden instead.

Mostly for Pat, as I know she like peonies.

Hope you like them

You can click on any of the images for larger versions

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Energy Levels

I’ve always had a distinct rhythm to the day where energy is concerned.

As a student I realised there were 2 peak times of the day for me: late morning and late evening. If I read in-depth philosophical treatises, or wrote my essays during these times, I could far achieve more than if I spent the whole of the rest of the day in the library. These were the periods of peak brain performance.

When I was running my web design business, I came to accept that afternoons were fine for meeting up with colleagues for conversations and networking, but pointless for planning or strategising. I could function socially, but not in any way that required deep thought.

Click on images for larger versions

And so it was until the Chronic Fatigue took over. My body slowed down. My brain slowed down. Tiredness became a feature of most hours.

But then I rediscovered coffee*. Vile, disgusting, foul-tasting coffee that was almost bearable with a spoonful of sugar. Coffee made me feel alive again. Coffee made me feel “normal.” I would cope with loathsome taste and the mood drops afterwards just so I could experience something other than the Netherworld.

However, I soon realised I would have to restrict myself to no more than 2 cups a day. Coffee was poison. Coffee was a dangerous drug. Coffee had to be controlled.

Eventually I became used to a new energy cycle of peaks and troughs; times of the day I knew should be used when something needed doing, and times it was vital to avoid making appointments with anyone for anything

Note the coffee peaks, although they still don't go that high

Now though, coffee is out of the equation, and I haven’t worked out a way to cope with the day. Only a very small part of it allows me reasonable brain power, while the majority is spent in sort-of-functional or where’s-something-I-can-lie-down-on states of being.

How do I find a way to maximise my minimal usefulness?

How do I find a way to feel alive each day?

*I know this is the 3rd lack-of-coffee related post in a row, but it is a topic I’m still rather obsessed with at the moment. In case you hadn’t guessed…

Friday, July 02, 2010

Why have I given up coffee?

I keep asking myself that, pretty much every hour I’m awake.

It all comes down to the CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) I’ve been suffering from for over 4 years.

If you don’t know what CFS feels like, then read “Fatigued. Chronically”.

Back in March of this year the medical establishment gave up on me (read “Win some; lose some: you’re a lost cause”) so I thought I’d try another route and went off to see a nutritionist.

I was never entirely convinced by the machine that supposedly tested me for allergies and intolerances, but when I was told it was highly likely that I had an excessive build up of yeast in my gut, and that “Candida” can cause all the CFS symptoms I suffer from, then I felt I had to at least give it a go to try and tackle it.

This has required giving up:
Yeast – therefore bread, and a multitude of different things containing yeast based flavourings
Fungi – not just mushrooms, but Quorn products
Anything Fermented – obviously alcohol, but also anything containing vinegar or even soy sauce
Fruit – including dried fruit, because of all the natural sugars in them
And probably coffee/caffeine.

And you have to be absolute with this. If you decide, “Oh what the heck, it’s my son’s birthday – surely one small slice of cake must be permissible?” then the burst of sugar could feed the Candida and you’d be straight back to square 1 – weeks of sacrifice undone in a weak moment.

So for over 3 months I’ve been sticking rigorously to this regime. Apart from the coffee. And for the first week I still had sugar in my coffee, because it is vile stuff without sugar. I did abandon the sugar, but even after 3 months, my palate has still not adjusted to coffee without sugar.

But I hadn’t quit the coffee. Why? Because it’s only after a coffee, for an hour or so, that I actually feel alive. And to give up that feeling has been a step too far.

And if that sounds odd, you didn’t read that post I pointed you to – so go and read “Fatigued. Chronically”. Then tell me if you could stop feeling like that for an hour or so, twice a day, you wouldn’t take the drug – even if the side effects are a drop in mood and energy afterwards and a periodic headache. Go on – tell me. And I won’t believe you.

But after 3 months, there has been no discernable improvement in my condition. I’m not convinced of the diagnosis.

Ah, but Kim – you still have the coffee! That’s probably still feeding the Candida! What if you could have cured yourself of the CFS, if you’d only given up the coffee?

And that’s the dilemma. In order to see if it will work, I have to give up the one thing that keeps me sane.

So now I have to go back to experiencing perpetual tiredness with no break, just in case.

Of course with the recent change of circumstances (see “Twice the number of people, but the house is the same size”), the timing couldn’t be worse. But then there is never a good time for giving up an addiction – it always sucks.

Apparently it only takes a maximum of 9 days for caffeine to completely work its way out of your system. Depending on your physiology most people will only suffer withdrawal symptoms for a few days, and some won’t be bothered at all. Lucky bastards.

My plan now is to endure until I’ve been at least 3 full weeks without any caffeine. And if there is still no improvement in my condition, I will start reintroducing foodstuffs one at a time to see if I have any reaction. Probably starting with fruit, which I still have a hard time believing can be bad for me.

But I cannot reintroduce anything until I know I’ve given it my all on this wretched regime.

So to return to the original question, “Why have I given up coffee?” The answer is so I can prove the whole bloody thing is wrong and I can start eating properly again.

And if I sound grumpy and irritable, it's because I am.