Friday, December 31, 2010

The Rambling Beard Awards 2010

What better way to end the old year and bring in the new than to hand out a bright shiny award?

The last time I did The Rambling Beard Awards was 3 years ago. After stumbling across them recently, I was surprised to find many of the previous recipients no longer blog regularly, if at all. Time then for an update.

This award is an entirely self-induglent affair. It's my award to give to whom I wish and no one else gets a say in the matter. It is purely in recognition of those who have gone beyond the call of duty in brightening up my blog across the past year, or causing me to reflect in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

So in no particular order, I shall present The Rambling Beard Awards for 2010 (drum roll please...)

Conny Wenk
Conny is an amazing photographer. You cannot help but smile warmly when looking at the portraits she takes. She also takes a lot of photos of children, young adults and families of people with Down’s Syndrome. But the fact they have DS becomes completely irrelevant. We just enjoy looking at photos of smiling, happy people, whose laughter is infectious. She has done more towards ridding the world of the sense of “other” about people with DS by her photography, than 10,000 worthy papers, articles and blog posts. Away from the blog, she has also been a great help and supporter of my own photography, never failing to make me feel better about my abilities or remind me not to undervalue myself.

Erika – The Flight of our Hummingbird
Quite simply, Erika astounds me. She lives in a world of snot, mucus and unbelievable stress due to the physical condition of her beautiful daughter, Izzy. And yet, her blog is so beautifully written. It is not one depressing post after another, rather is a testament to life, love and finding pleasures in the face of adversity. So impressed with her writing was I, that earlier this year I asked her to guest post on my blog.

Ron – Retired in Delaware
Retired and living with his lifelong partner (or “significant other”), Bill, Ron is a prolific writer. Whereas I usually struggle to post twice a week, Ron posts pretty much daily, and sometimes even twice a day. Everything from his daily routine to gay rights to whatever is crossing his mind that moment. Inevitably his writing is improving too. A year ago, sometimes it felt a bit like wading through a shopping list, but these days all his posts are well constructed and thought through. A regular commenter here, Ron never fails to massage my ego when it comes to my photography.

Debra – From Skilled Hands
Debra lives and works in the town of Peninsula, population 602. For such a small population, there is always some kind of carnival, festival or event going on. Debra is a potter and ceramicist and creates the most beautiful things. Earlier this year I was fortunate to win one of her mugs, which now takes pride of place in our kitchen. A blog award is the least I can do in return.

Adila – Tales and Typos
Adila is a superb, although erratic, writer. I really wish she would blog more often. She has great warmth and always looks beyond the surface layers. I look forward to discovering more of the way her mind works.

Hope – The Road Less Travelled
Hope is one of my most prolific commenters and, rather like the moniker she uses, her messages are invariably positive and always welcome.

V - Learning to be Selfish
Her blog is a place to write about her frustrations and life's difficulties, but behind the scenes she was a wonderful help back when I was trying to get press releases sorted out for my Staring Back Exhibition.

Allen – Allen’s Zoo
Allen is an extraordinary artist. I’ve never been absolutely clear on what it is he does, but I think he comes up with conceptual sketches of characters and creatures that are then developed by other people. Perhaps if he reads this post he’ll confirm or correct my understandings.

Jayne – In Jayne’s World
Bold, brash, unapologetic, energetic, challenging. Jayne takes no prisoners. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she was constantly called into the headmaster’s office when at school, for being caught smoking behind the bike sheds, or getting into fights with anyone wearing a Republican badge. Always a good read.

Mapstew is a pal, a mate, a bloke who will laugh at your stupidity while leaping to your defence the moment you are in trouble. A proud father and family man, he oozes natural charm, decency and friendship. The world feels slightly safer when he’s around.

Savannah – Savannah Marsh Mama
Sweet Southern Charm personified. Always a warm word of support and encouragement, she’s like the mad aunt the rest of the family faintly disapproved of but was forever your favourite.

Restaurant Gal
RG and I have been blogging pals for many years. She was the first person to ask me to guest post on her blog, and the first to guest post on mine. Some technical hitch prevents her from figuring out how to comment on my blog at the moment, but she still reads and comments in private emails. She is a superb writer and well worth a visit.

Carole – Dry Bones
Carole and I are at different ends of the spectrum in terms of politics, sport and religion – any one of which would cause most relationships to irreparably break down. And yet we seem to connect at a level outside these things, and I greatly value her friendship.

Mary – Resident Alien
The only person in the whole of Scotland who loves the excessively wet weather we have here. Mary’s writing is wonderful. Every blog post is a self-contained world - she never assumes her readers know the back-story, so anyone can dip into her writings at any time and not be left wondering what’s going on. In the space of a few hundred words she draws us in, fills us up and leaves us satisfied, again and again and again.

Eryl – The Kitchen Bitch Ponders
I love the way Eryl’s mind works, the way she sees the world, the angles at which she extracts information. She is a philosopher – nothing is to be seen or dealt with in the way it appears on the surface. She is also a brilliant writer, a lot of fun, and one of my favourite people to photograph.

Pat – Past Imperfect
Every time I think of Pat, I feel warm inside and I smile. On the outside she is the image of propriety – a kindly, well turned out, octogenarian grandmother. But what so many people miss is you don’t get to be an octogenarian grandmother without experiencing an awful lot of life. There are great depths to Pat, and under it all you know she cares. She has commented on more of my posts than any other blogger and with Pat, I feel loved.

Charlie – Professor B. Worm
Well, I couldn’t miss out Charlie, now could I? I recently dedicated an entire blog post to the old codger…

If anyone needs instructions on how to stick their award on their blog, then just send me an email.

In the meantime, I wish every reader, commenter and lurker the very best for 2011.

May your gods be good to you.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

John Simpson

"So, what do you think of the Poll Tax?"

I’m not sure whether these were his first actual words to me, but they were certainly said within 5 minutes of meeting my future father-in-law.

20 years ago I had not yet studied philosophy at degree level, I had not yet had my spiritual, political and ideological beliefs challenged and turned upside down, I had not yet run my own business and dealt with awkward customers on a daily basis. And at that point I had no idea he would be my future father-in-law.

I was nervous.

20 years ago all I knew was the fact I didn’t have much opinion about it all, was probably the wrong answer.

John Simpson had been a gunner in a Lancaster Bomber during the war. Shot down over Germany, he spent the last year of WWII in a prisoner of war camp. All this had happened when he was younger than I was, standing before him, desperately not wanting to embarrass myself in front of my new girlfriend’s dad.

But for some reason, he and his wife took a liking to me and I was accepted as part of the family.

Today we attended his funeral. His ashes will soon join with Maggie’s mother, Elsie, who died last year.

John Simpson: 13th August 1921 to 21st December 2010

The world is emptier without him

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reminder of brighter days

It's been dull, wet, cold and grey for the past couple of days. The snow has almost entirely gone and I've forgotten what the sun looks like. So I thought I'd post a few photos I took last week.

Dumfries as the sun rose over the semi-frozen river Nith

Along the back road to Castle Douglas

A Galloway winter landscape

Click on any of them for larger versions

For any who have not already stumbled across them, you can find the full set on my Flickr page here:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Full to bursting




For 2 days I’ve not held back with the eating. If I’ve wanted it, and I’ve not been feeling sick with all the food I consumed earlier, I’ve eaten it. My belt has expanded a notch and after meals I’ve undone the top button on my trousers.

So what have I discovered, or rediscovered, by this gluttonous behaviour?

Firstly, is it feels absolutely wonderful when I’m doing it. Less so when I’m uncomfortably distended afterwards, but at the time it is absolute bliss. Maggie is a superb cook and the edible delights she creates puts Nigella to shame

Secondly, I’ve been surprised to find I’ve stopped feeling permanently chilled. Something I’ve always considered to be a side effect of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is that I’m never really warm, and if I get cold it takes forever to build up any sense of internal heat.

Most of my friends know I will always chose a seat closest to the fire or radiator, wear several layers even in summer and have my fingerless gloves all but welded to my hands.

But perhaps it is more to do with the fact I have been watching what I eat for nearly 6 years, because back in the days when I didn’t my weight went up to 19stone 9lbs (275lbs).

However, worse than the weight gain, another side effect of stuffing my face with rich sugary foods is the effect it has on my emotional state. The ecstasy experienced while I am eating is counteracted by severe drops in mood and intense feelings of deep emotional pain following the inevitable sugar-drop. This results, of course, in an overwhelming urge to cram sweet fatty foods into my mouth again to stop that hollow abyss, which has opened in my chest.

My relationship with food is a complex one.

My choice, then, is to experience an emotional roller-coaster and weight gain, but feel warm, or stay chilled, be less overweight and slightly more emotionally stable.

Mind you, after messing up my system like this these past few days, it will still take several weeks of fighting off the cravings while experiencing the emotional ups and downs until I start to stabilise anyway.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Cards...

"I found some Christmas cards from last year!" yelled Maggie from another part of the house.

"Put them in the recycle bin!" I called back.

"No. I mean I’ve found ones we forgot to send last year. They’re sealed and addressed, ready to go..."

Christmas cards are not our strong point, to honest.

If it was in fact the case that it’s the thought that counts, then we’d be fine: we really do think about sending them. But success is a hit or miss affair with far more misses than hits.

It’s one of the reasons I’ve embraced the Internet with such fervour. Email is a wonderful thing, especially when you can attach images or create a link to an online card.

I know, I know, it is not the same as a physical card that can be put on the mantelpiece, or hung on a length of string along with the ones sent by those who are organised and had everything sent long before the last posting dates.

However, it does at least mean I get the message out, and the carbon footprint is much lighter.

Below is one of the photos I took of Meg at the weekend just past, while standing out on the frozen loch at the bottom of the town, where the sun was coming through the trees behind. It seemed ideal for this year's "card"

If you would like a high resolution copy to print off and pin to your mantelpiece then click through on this link and follow the instructions:

In the meantime, I wish each and every one of you a wonderful festive season and all the very best for the New Year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Santa... *cough*

NOTE: This post is unsuitable for children under the age of 13.
If you are under 13 and have inadvertantly strayed on to this page, please do not read any further, but click on this sentence instead.







OK, if you're still reading, then you only have yourself to blame.


Given the fact Meg will be 13 next birthday, and is now in high school, Maggie took the opportunity recently to reveal one or two key facts about Father Christmas.

She spoke about Santa being part of a magical story for children, which helped to make Christmas feel special, but as we get older we need to know that it is just a children's story, and isn't real, but it's ok and she would still get a Christmas stocking because that's really a part of the family tradition.

Meg seemed a bit surprised, but there weren't any tears.

"So if Santa isn't real, who do you think has been filling your Christmas stockings each year?" Maggie asked.

Meg replied, "The elves?"

Sometimes being a parent can be heart wrenching.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Geese

The Geese are a local 3-piece “Indy-folk” band, with Alan on lead vocals and guitar (usually), Michelle on fiddle (mostly), and Harry on banjo (pretty much always).

Alan is one of these people I kept sort of half meeting on and off over a few years. Enough times to think, “he looks familiar” when our paths crossed, but not quite enough to remember his name.

A little over a year ago, I started seeing his band playing here and there, and discovered he was working on placement as a teacher at my daughter’s school, so thought I should make more effort to properly establish a connection. I consciously started making a point of saying hello when we were in the same places and loitering nearby in the hope of someone mentioning his name out loud.

Eventually it paid off and I felt quite pleased the first time I was able to say, “Hi Alan,” as my opening words to him.

Earlier this year when I realised I needed faces to photograph for my Staring Back exhibition, I asked him if I could do some shots of him and the band and in return, if any of them worked out, they could use them for publicity.

I took quite a few, although eventually the stand-out shot for me was one of Michelle, Alan’s wife and fiddle player of the trio. This found its way into the exhibition and, more recently, on to the cover of Prole magazine.

However, the other shots didn’t go to waste, and this month The Geese have brought out a 5 track EP on CD called, Cursory Rhymes One of my photos adorns the sleeve, with another on the back and the CD label.

My favourite track is the first one, Ariel, which opens with the wonderful line, "It was a dark and stormy night. I’m sorry, but it was." Alan is also a Storyteller and poet, so his attention to lyrics construction always makes for fun listening.

I did ask if it’s possible to buy the CD online, but at the point of writing the only options are to either turn up to one of their gigs with £5 at the ready, or to contact him through his MySpace page and in return for a cheque he’ll post one out to you.

Here’s a version of their track, Undiscovered Scotland, which will give you a bit of a flavour of their music, although Michelle is running a piece of pipe over a ridged metal thing rather than playing the fiddle.

I'm not sure if this will work in all browsers - I've just cut and pasted the code from MySpace.

However, more about The Geese and their music can be found here:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Charlie

My good friend Charlie and I found each other through blogging back around March 2006 – nearly 5 years ago – which in blogging terms makes us old, old friends. In fact we now share quite an overlap of blogging buddies, but it is lost in the mists of time as to who introduced who to whom (or is that whom to who?).

A few weeks after we started commenting on each other’s blogs, I put up a post about my experience of giving up smoking. In the comments he wrote, “Ah, Kim. I started smoking as a youth, although my Mom beat the hell out of me when she found out, but I never learned the lesson. And here I sit this morning, dying of emphysema.

I had to look up emphysema and was rather horrified at what I found.

Not sure how to respond, I wrote, “I was caught by surprise by your comment and have sat here for quite some time, staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to respond: light hearted quip? sympathy and understanding? burst into floods of tears? And I can't think of how to effectively get away with any of them without coming across as really glib or trite.

“So I want to ask you, Charlie, what kind of response do find it easiest to hear? I don't want to cause offence, and I don't want to ignore it either, but my experience in the world hasn't equipped me for an appropriate response.”

Charlie’s reply was, well, pure Charlie - “Kim: I did put you in an awkward position--I have only mentioned my illness once on my blog, and I was reticent to do it then. Mainly because I neither like nor solicit sympathy.

“My lung disease is, like my past alcoholism, the result of my own bad decision-making: no one forced me to drink or to smoke. I accept the consequences of my behavior, and so should you.

“Perhaps a simple "I'm sorry to hear it", then, will suffice.

Charlie doesn’t like outpourings of sentimentality and sympathy, he accepts the consequences of his past actions, and he’s happy to offer words of advice. If you can learn anything by not making the same mistakes he has, then the world will be a slightly better place.

Charlie is also a damn fine writer, and over time he began to influence the styling of some of my posts. I started experimenting with conversation pieces and opening posts with somebody saying or yelling something odd or unexpected. Little devices to make you want to read further. I started learning from a master.

However, Charlie was never a consistent blogger. He would write for several months and then disappear for long periods of time – usually just after I’d told someone what a great blog Charlie had and they should start reading him. Twice, at least, he completely deleted his blog and all its contents.

Aware now of his debilitating and degenerative illness, I was never sure whether these gaps were a sign that the worst had happened.

I once sent him an email enquiring if he was still in the land of the living, or words to that effect. Forever more this was referred to as the “Are you dead yet?” email, which seemed to amuse him no end. Irreverence rather than sentimentality has always been the basis of our relationship.

In many ways it seems bizarre I have never met him in person. It is a sign of the different and unique age in which we live that we can build up deep and powerful friendships with people who live thousands of miles away, and we have never heard their voice or even have much idea what they look like. And yet, with the power of email, instant messaging and blogging, Charlie has become a very close friend indeed.

2 years ago in an email exchange he revealed he’d been given a year to live, if he survived the winter.

6 months ago, we (his regular blog followers) were sitting with our hearts in our mouths waiting on reports from another of his friends, Wandering Coyote, who kept us up to date with Charlie’s progress as he’d been whipped off to hospital. Many of us feared this was the end.

I had a condolence card all ready to send to his wife, Martha, when word got back that he’d survived. I had to score out my message and put “Get well soon!” on it instead.

Well now Charlie has called it a day on his blog. Energy levels and eyesight have diminished to a point where keeping us all entertained is no longer possible.

So I would like to just raise my glass to Charlie and say a deep and heartfelt thank you for nearly 5 years of humour, pathos, entertainment, education and emotional support.

To Charlie

Much love


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Open Studio Day

As mentioned in my post, Studios, a couple of months ago, Maggie has a new space in the next town along, Kirkcudbright.

Bought over and done up by WASPS (Workshop and Artists' Studio Provision Scotland), 2 adjoining buildings now provide studios for over a dozen artists. And this Saturday (December 11th) there is an Open Studio Event to mark the official launch of the place.

From 10am to 4pm visitors can work their way around the building and, if so desired, buy artworks for gifts or themselves directly from the artists.

Mince pies and mulled wine are being provided, although no one has any real idea of how many people will turn up, so only as long as stocks last.

Maggie's been really enjoying her new space and has over half a dozen new works on display, as well as 10 calendars which can be personally signed.

Do head over if you can, and let anyone else know about it.

Directions can be found on Maggie's website here.

In the video below you can get a glimpse of some of the new artworks.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cover Art

Prole is a magazine publishing prose and poetry, where the aim is that all submissions are high quality and accessible.

I have to confess I rather enjoy the statement on their website, “Anything that sniffs of literary elitism is highly unlikely to make it through the editorial process […] Obscure references and highly stylised structures and forms that exist only to aggrandise the writer and appeal to the coffee lounges of our older universities are not welcome.

And what I particularly like about Prole is they have used one of my images for the cover of Issue 3.

It seems they found me via our favourite Resident Alien, Mary, and after a few email exchanges we decided to go for a closely cropped, black and white version of my photo “Michelle”, which originally appeared in my Staring Back exhibition last May.

You can buy printed copies or PDF downloads of Prole.

And if you take out a subscription they like you very much.

Prole Home Page
Prole Submissions Page

Thursday, December 02, 2010

December Song

Jim Hamilton has released a single, “December Song”, in time to try and grab that Christmas Number 1 slot. His name might not be that familiar to most of you, but back in the 70s he was signed to EMI, toured extensively round Europe, and even had a Number 1 hit in Denmark with “Rock n’ Roll Marionette”.

So why am I blogging about this?

Well, Jim Hamilton is also the father of Richie, the lead guitarist in a fledgling band I’m in (we meet once a week on a Tuesday evening and are still working on what songs we want to play. We’re also looking for a drummer/percussionist who lives locally and ideally has a space we can practice in if you’re interested/know anyone).

Last week Jim and Richie came round for a photo session, giving me the chance to try out the new studio space. Jim’s a warm and friendly guy – the kind who shows interest, and makes you feel good about yourself. A fun time was had by all, especially when the sun came out and they discovered the venetian-blind effect.

One or two of my photos from that session are getting used in the publicity for the single, so if it goes truly viral and takes over the world, it will look good on my CV/résumé.

You can download “December Song” at cdbaby, iTunes and other such sites:

You can view the YouTube video here:

You can add the "Jim Hamilton for UK Christmas Number 1" Facebook page to your “likes” here:

And here are a handful of photos I took that morning.

Jim Hamilton

Richie Hamilton

Father and Son

The photographer having fun