Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Pumpkins

The recent tradition of carving pumpkins in the Ayres household (as opposed to the previous tradition of carving turnips, which destroys the muscles and tendons in the hands and wrists) has now moved to a new level.

This year my 15 year old son, Rogan, decided he’d like to give it a go.

So this morning, the two of us coated the kitchen in seeds, skin and mulch as we attacked the huge orange vegetables (2 for £3 special offer at the local supermarket) with knives and spoons.

Rogan came up with his own design, and I gave him enough guidance for him to avoid severing his fingers.

I think it came close to being one of those father-son bonding moments.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I often hear it said that the problem with birthdays when we get older is they never have the magic we enjoyed as children. Turning 44, for example, isn’t as meaningful as turning 6 or reaching double figures. We’ve long since stopped measuring ourselves against the pencil mark on the door to see if we grew overnight.

And it’s true, we can’t recapture that feeling because we can’t go back to a state of innocence. Once we eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, we realise Eden isn’t Eden any more – it never was, only we hadn’t known it before.

So does this mean birthdays should no longer be acknowledged?

Of course not. It just means we need to change the way we look at them.

When we are young, birthdays are about presents, about gaining extra privileges such as a later bedtime or increased pocket money, or being allowed to have sex (if we can find a willing partner) or getting served in a pub (legally).

But as we reach adulthood, birthdays are really a celebration of life. Despite all the efforts of a hostile universe, somehow we have survived another year. We are still alive. And that has to be worth noting.

So what is most important in our lives? What makes surviving another year worthwhile?

If we are to believe the messages we are bombarded with a thousand times a day from TV, magazines, posters, shop windows and our governments who drive the economy based on “growth”, then it is the accumulation of stuff and money. We can judge a person’s success by the car they drive, the neighbourhood they live in, the clothes they wear and the whiteness and straightness of their teeth.

In truth, however, the new iPhone, the latest TV, the fancy shoes etc, give us momentary pleasure only. It doesn’t last and it’s only a matter of time before it’s out of date and we feel we have to buy the next latest, newest, shiniest bauble in order to try and recapture that fleeting feeling of pleasure.

But what truly makes a difference is not the things we own - it is the people whose lives we touch.

It is friendships and deep connections with others that give our lives meaning, not trinkets.

And this birthday I was reminded of this in the most wonderful way possible, when Debra (From Skilled Hands) organised a Kim Ayres International Day with several other bloggers.

Before the day was out, Debra, Mary, Savannah, Eryl, Mapstew, Pat, Attila the Mom, Angry Parsnip, Brave Astronaut and Charlie had all put posts up on their own blogs wishing me a happy birthday and directing others to come over and say hello. And some of them wrote some truly warm and heartfelt things about me.

While I struggled to associate this person they described with how I see myself, there is no doubt they seemed genuine in their sentiments. I felt completely overwhelmed – honoured and humbled that these wonderful people would take the time to do such a thing, just for me.

So this birthday really did feel a wee bit magical.

Monday, October 25, 2010

44 Today!

I’m 44 today.

Well what do you know? I’ve survived yet another year...

Apparently other 44 year olds who celebrate their birthday today are, Carl Miller – a professional British basketball player - and Lionel Charbonnier – the goalkeeper of the French National football team that won the world cup in 1998.

Considering I am one of the least sporty people on the planet, I think we can safely say that Astrology has a few holes in it.

But with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, also having turned 44 a couple of weeks ago; his deputy and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, turning 44 in 3 months time; the leader of the opposition, Ed Milliband, being 3 years younger than me; and even Barrack Obama being only 5 years older, it seems my generation is the one that has now assumed power.

The Baby Boomers have now been replaced by Generation X.

Had I lived in different places (and had rich parents to send me to the exclusive educational establishments), I could have been in school with these chaps. In fact I could have been in the same classroom as the UK coalition leaders.

Scary thought.

Imagine the school reunion conversations:

“Since we last met, I became leader of a political party/the government/the most powerful nation on earth. What about you?”

“Me? I just kept my morals...”



This morning, in among my birthday cards, my granddaughter, Poppy, had drawn a picture of me and her with my bouzouki on the inside of her card. I was so impressed I felt it worth sharing:


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Freundschaft (Friendship)

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

It’s also my birthday this Monday.

So it felt like a sort of serendipitous early birthday present when Conny Wenk’s new book, “Freundschaft” arrived on my doorstep yesterday.

For those who know little about Down’s Syndrome, the fear of the “other” can be pervading. Ideas of strange looking people dribbling into their chests, while sporting dodgy pudding-basin haircuts, help to contribute to the 92% termination rate of pregnancies carrying children with DS.

But where do these outdated images come from? Mostly they reflect people who were abandoned (or taken away) at birth and raised in institutions where care was never given at a level equivalent to a family upbringing.

30, 40, 50 years on from these times, the world is a very different place. Advances in medicine and ideas of what constitutes care have drastically changed the lives and expectations of children born with DS.

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I never hesitate to point out, 98% of bringing up a child with DS is just bringing up a child.

But words on a page are limited, and often it really is the case a picture can speak a thousand more.

Enter Conny Wenk – mother of a beautiful daughter with DS, and photographer extraordinaire.

Conny’s photos are spellbinding. In them we see children, young adults and families having fun and engaging in life. Warmth and love shine through every image.

Last year, I reviewed Conny’s book, Außergewöhnlich: Väterglück (click here for my review), which was full of the most amazing images of fathers with children who have DS, and I was blown away by the power of them to destroy the dark and fearful ideas of what DS might mean.

This year, Conny has done it again. Only this time, her book “Freundschaft” (Friendship) is all about young adults with DS and the bond between friends.

Like her previous book, this one too is written in German. And like her previous book, it matters not one jot if you can’t speak the language – the photographs tell the most amazing and heart-warming stories.

Real young adults having real fun with real friends.

As parents, when we discover our tiny, vulnerable newborn has DS, we fear for his or her future on many levels – one of which is, will they ever have normal friendships?

I and other parents can say, of course. But the photos in this book show beyond all doubt, you don’t just have to take our word for it.

In an ideal world every new parent of a child with DS, indeed every person faced with the decision of what to do next upon discovering the child being carried in the womb has DS, should be given copies of Conny’s books.

And very quickly those fears of the “other” would disappear like the darkness chased away by the early morning sunrise.

The book is available on Amazon for less than 20 Euros - (to check the Amazon entry in your own country, just enterConny Wenk Freundschaft in Amazon's search box), and I can't recommend it highly enough.

All images in this post are the copyright of Conny Wenk.
For other publications by Conny, visit

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spring Fling 2011

Spring Fling is an annual event in SW Scotland where, over the last weekend in May, artists across the region open their doors to the public.

Maggie has been in it for the past 3 years (see Spring Fling 2008, Spring Fling 2009 and Spring Fling 2010) but this coming year I will be too.

With Maggie now in her new studio in Kirkcudbright (see Studios), the front room of our house has been freed up for me to develop a wee photographic studio of my own, so I started thinking about whether it might be possible for me to get involved in Spring Fling myself.

Getting into Spring Fling is not a given - there is a selection process. But following the success of my exhibition earlier this year (see The Exhibition Launch and Book), I thought it had to be worth a go.

However, rather than just have another exhibition layout, I thought it would be fun to create a sort of art installation event.

The idea then, is across the Spring Fling weekend, anyone who comes in will be invited to have their photo taken, which will be printed out and pinned to the wall. Over the course of the three days the walls will steadily fill with a wide variety of faces and expressions, as the visitors become the exhibition.

I’ve worked out how to connect the camera to the laptop so the screen effectively becomes the viewfinder and the computer becomes the memory card. This should mean that if I connect a printer as well, it will be a relatively fast turnaround time to go from camera click to printed photo. If people want, I can always print 2 copies – one to stick on the wall and one for them to buy and take away with them.

At the end of the weekend, I will put the best images into a book, similar to the one I did for the Staring Back exhibition, which will be available for anyone involved or interested.

If the visitor numbers even vaguely approach the levels Maggie’s had over the past few years then I could have several hundred people through over the weekend, although I’m assuming only a percentage of them will actually want their photo taken.

My biggest fear is how to keep my energy levels up, but if I let that stop me then I may as well give up on life now.

I’ll probably just have to live on coffee for 3 days, then sleep for a month afterwards.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


I’m going to be offline for the next week or thereabouts.

I’m sure you all have plenty of things to be getting on with – other blogs to visit, music to download, Facebook statuses to update. Indeed, some of you might even have real lives away from the computer to deal with (no, don’t laugh – I’ve heard enough anecdotal evidence to suggest it might be true for some people).

But if anyone is desperately needing their fix of bearded ramblings, then allow me to point you to the archives (over on the sidebar on the right under the heading, “Find your favourite topics”) where there are in excess of 600 blog posts to explore, ensuring there should be something to amuse, inform or irritate pretty much everyone.

Otherwise I invite you to visit some of the excellent blogs I’ve linked to under the various beverage headings… which, now I think about it, made more sense when I still drank coffee and beer. *

Damn. I’m going to have to come up with a different set of categorisations.

*And if you’re reading this on my Facebook feed rather than my blog, it’s going to make even less sense

Monday, October 04, 2010

Political Compass

There is a fascinating site online called The Political Compass. The basic premise behind it is the traditional left-right view of politics is very limiting, and therefore quite inaccurate.

Rather than going along this single line, it fixes Left and Right in terms of economic policy (collectivism vs free market) and introduces a 2nd dimension in the form of Authoritarian and Anarchistic/Libertarian.

What this means is, while Stalin and Margaret Thatcher, for example, were at opposite ends in their approach to the economy, they were pretty close in their ideas that the masses were not to be trusted and needed to be controlled by the state.

For those interested in the UK political system, Political Compass plotted the parties based on their policies in the 2010 elections, on to their grid (they also have ones for the most recent US, Canadian, Australian, Irish and New Zealand elections)

As you can see, the traditional, left wing party of British politics, Labour, has moved so far to the right over the past couple of decades that it now sits in almost exactly the same place occupied by Thatcher back in the 1980s.

However, the real fun part of this site is you can take the test yourself to see where your outlook fits in the grand scheme of things.* It’s completely anonymous, unless you decide to blog about it afterwards.

I first did this test when a friend emailed it to me about 8 or 9 years ago. I then rediscovered it about 3 years back and did it again. And in the interests of this post, I have just gone through it a 3rd time. However, while my score has shifted by a degree here or there, it seems my politics are pretty well entrenched. Fundamentally I still occupy exactly the same region on the grid as I did a decade back - Economic Left/Right: -7.75 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -9.49.

It turns out I’m an extremist – it’s difficult to move further to the left, or more towards anarchism. I’ve discovered over the years that even people I was convinced had far more radical outlooks than I do are right-wing, authoritarians compared to me. Hell, Ghandi was more of a right-wing, authoritarian compared to me (it'll be interesting to see how many Followers I lose after this post).

Yet to me, my outlook is perfectly reasonable. I don’t feel like an extremist, and I certainly don’t act like an extremist.

But perhaps that last sentence gives a clue to the limitations of The Political Compass – it is lacking a 3rd axis – pacifist-activist.

Ideologically I am a collectivist-anarchist, but I am not an activist.

Over a cup of tea I will debate with you until I get tired or it becomes clear you’re never going to be convinced by my reasonableness, and I will write the occasional blog post expressing my views. But you won’t find me on demonstration marches, writing letters to newspapers or making bombs.

If there were a 3rd axis, I’d be at the extreme end of that one too.

*Feel free to leave your results in the comments if you wish, but I’m not an authoritarian so it’s not compulsory...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The times they are a changing...

“But Carlisle is in Scotland!”

“Don’t be an idiot, it’s in England!”

“I know for a fact it’s in Scotland!”

“Well I’m Scottish and I can tell you for a fact it most certainly is not!”

“Well I’m going to phone Lisa, and she’ll tell you…”

A small group of students were sitting behind us on the train, when Maggie and I took a day trip up to Edinburgh earlier this week. Clearly one of them had no sense of local geography and was going to be in for a surprise when she phoned her friend.

It’s been many years since I regularly used the train to get anywhere, but the biggest difference I’ve noticed is the use of mobile phones.

I was struck by the fact that 10 years ago if a phone went off and someone talked loudly into it (“Hello? I’m on the train! THE TRAIN! Hello?”), a distinct atmosphere of irritation would quickly develop among all the other passengers in the carriage. Unable to do anything but listen to an intrusive one-sided conversation, we would wonder how anyone could be so inconsiderate and shameless.

But these days it is so commonplace, it just forms part of the background noise, blending in with the engine noise and the muffled clickity-clack of the lines. No one notices: they are all too caught up in their own phone conversations.

This small group of students seemed unusual in the fact they were actually having a face-to-face conversation.

Well, two of them were. The others were playing games on their iphones while listening to their ipods.