Friday, April 29, 2011


Out in the garden earlier, I had an idea for a photo of Meg blowing a dandelion clock with the sunlight behind her.

167 photos later, I got the one I wanted...

As always, you can click on the image for a larger version.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Farino at The Mill Sessions

The 4th of the Mill Sessions this year took place on Wednesday, and this time featured accoustic guitar duo, "Farino".

As with previous sessions (see Sean Taylor, Beth Fouracre and Becc Sanderson & Graeme Stephen), I was given time to get some photos of them before the gig started.

Unlike previous sessions, however, the seasons have moved on, and it is now light in the early evenings. Additionally, with The Mill on the Fleet open again for the tourist season, the empty gallery space I used for the last 3 photo sessions is no longer available.

So I turned up early to try and find another possible area. After searching inside and out, I was directed to a closed off, derelict part of the complex, which had plenty of space and light.

Guitar duo, Farino

There was also a great old weathered area of wall that added a wonderful texture in the background for close-up portraits

Graeme Wrightson

John Shepherd


When we were heading back over to the main building, I realised we were in the "golden hour" where photography is concerned - when the sun is low in the sky, giving everything a golden hue.


Like last time with Becc Sanderson, I recorded one of their songs on my camera. It was a close run thing - the memory card would have run out if it had gone on for another 15 seconds.

For those reading this on Facebook, you might need to click on this link:

I should also mention, the support act, warming up and getting everyone in the mood was talented local singer-songwriter Marcus S Wright, and I also managed to squeeze a quick photo session in with him too.

Marcus S Wright

The room was packed, and the atmosphere and playing were superb. It was a great evening.

You can hear more of Farino's music on their MySpace page, here
And Marcus's music can be found on his MySpace page, here

As always, feel free to click on any of the images for larger versions

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Having lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS – or CFS/ME, as the medical profession now place Myalgic Encephalomyelitis under the same heading) for the past 5 years or so, and blogged about it on several occasions, it’s easy to forget there are people who either don’t know I have it, or don’t really know what it is.

So I thought I’d write a slightly more definitive post about CFS, with the hope that I can also refer others to it in the future when the subject is mentioned again.

The first thing to note about CFS is, it is a label to describe a miscellaneous condition, for which there is no proper diagnosis. Indeed, it is handed out precisely because all the usual tests haven’t shown anything wrong. If something had been revealed – e.g. sleep apnoea, iron deficiency, underactive thyroid or wheat intolerance – then that would be the diagnosed illness.

In brief, if the doctor says you have CFS, he or she really means “we accept the fact you are excessively tired, but don’t know why or what to do about it.”

So CFS is a description rather than a diagnosis

Let us break down this description then.

It doesn’t go away. It’s always there and the usual remedies don’t work.

The easiest analogy is Chronic Pain. We have all experienced aches and pains, but usually the body heals and eventually the pain goes away – or we have an operation, which removes or remedies the cause. But for people who have Chronic pain, it never goes away – it is always present.

So the Chronic aspect of this can have a serious, accumulated effect on your mental health.

Let’s face it, even something like a paper cut, would wear you down if the pain never, ever stopped, and was with you for years.

The Chronic part of this is the most underestimated aspect by those who don’t suffer from it.

Rather like chronic Depression – those who have never dealt with it assume it is cured in the same way as ordinary depression – going for a brisk walk, helping someone in a worse of position than yourself, or having a laugh with friends. But the problem with Depression, the illness, is these things don’t cure it. They might alleviate the symptoms for a few minutes, or hours, but then it comes back. It is relentless.

Likewise then, with Chronic Fatigue. A rest might help a bit, but it never actually goes away. At times it is worse, and at times it is less worse. But it is always present, and always impacting on your life to one degree or another.

We all know what tiredness feels like, but most only experience for a temporary period of time. Eventually you fall asleep. Either you wake up feeling refreshed, or you start off feeling groggy, but once you get going (with or without a caffeine boost), the tiredness drops away and you are able to cope with the day.

But when you are tired, everything becomes more difficult – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too.

When we are tired, when we feel worn out, when all we want to do is curl up on the sofa and nap, then -

- the idea of going for a brisk walk feels insane;
- the thought of doing the accounts or dealing with the finances, makes us want to run away;
- the ability to stay calm and patient when kids are being noisy, or our partner is being grumpy, becomes nigh on impossible.

And we feel we have no reserves to cope if something goes wrong.

Now tie this in with the Chronic aspect – and understand that you will feel like this for days, for weeks, for months, for years. And there is no cure, because no one knows what is causing it.

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms, which vary from person to person in expression and intensity, at different times. So there isn’t a great deal of consistency.

Some people sleep far more hours than normal, while others sleep far less.
Some suffer from aching muscles, others from aching joints, while others are not bothered by physical pains.
Some first get CFS when they are in their 50s, others when teenagers.
Some get severe sugar and caffeine cravings in a desperate attempt to give the body some kind of energy boost, while others lose their appetite completely.

For some it might ease up after a few years, for others it never will, and for others it is degenerative and will only get worse.

In essence, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is range of tiredness related symptoms that vary from person to person and don’t go away after rest, and the cause (and solution) is unknown.

Living with CFS
This is what I have to do – live with CFS.

To begin with I put my life on hold while I thought it was just a matter of time before we got to the bottom of it and sorted it all out. Then I was going to return to my life.

After a couple of years I went into survival mode, where I gave up thinking about the future and just concentrated on getting to the end of each day.

Eventually I realised I it wasn’t going to go away, and I didn’t want to just abandon life.

So now I manage the condition as best I can.

I try to pace myself.
I try not to overdo things.
I try to avoid overwhelming feelings of loss.
I try not to allow myself to feel the crushing sense of guilt at the inevitable extra strain and burden it places on those I love the most.
I try to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t.
I try to involve myself in activities and projects that give my life a sense of purpose and meaning.

I am not looking for sympathy or platitudes. This post was written to hopefully expand understanding on why sometimes it takes longer to respond to emails, phone calls or blog comments than I would ideally like it to.

If this wasn’t enough and you are desperate for more writings about the experiences of CFS, then you might be interested in these posts:

That Sinking Feeling
(gives a brief history of my illness)
Energy Levels (an example of changing energy)
Fatigued. Chronically (the experience of always wanting to rest)
Time and a half (how time plays tricks)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Possibly the most wonderful thing I've come across on the Internet this year.

[Here comes the game]

Click a square, then click 2, then... well, I'll leave you to play and work it out* (oh, and if you hit the "space" bar on your keyboard, it clears everything)

I know, I know, some of you will already know about this, indeed will probably have it as an iPhone app or something. So far as I can make out, it was created a couple of years ago. But I only found it today. I wanted to put it on my blog so I would be able to find it again any time I wanted to for the rest of my life.

For reference (and for those reading this on Facebook or their RSS feed), the original can be found here:
While I took this embeddable Flash version from here:

*just wait until you decide to write your name in sound...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rory is 30

Today my stepson, Rory, turns 30.

I’ve known him since he was about 9½.

He’s staying with us for a few days at the moment. Our relationship is a good one, and last night the two of us were chatting in the kitchen long after everyone else had gone to bed.

30 seems like such a big milestone. In an odd way, it now feels like he’s now in the same age bracket as me, even though I’m 14½ years older.

I think the thing about turning 30, is you are now, definitely, can’t-pretend-any-longer, a grown-up. If your life isn’t going the way you want it to, you have to sort it out yourself. You can no longer blame your schooling, your boss or your parents, and you cannot wait around in the hope that someone else is going to come along and change your life for you.

If that was going to happen, it would have happened already.

Physically, we go through our most rapid changes in our teens. But it is through our 20s that we change the most mentally – when we really become the adult. In many ways, at 20 years old, we have more in common with our 12-year old self, than we do with out 30-year old self.

Certainly now, I see Rory as more comfortable in his own skin than at any time in the past.

I can no longer call him a good lad. Now I have to say he’s a good man, and I’m proud to be his stepfather.

Happy Birthday Rory.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Blog writing as a distraction

As I begin to write, it’s half an hour past the appointment, and the anxiety is reaching new levels.

One way of coping with stressful situations, which has worked in the past, is understanding that the worse it is, the better the blog post I might be able to get out of it afterwards (for examples, see – Do You Still Love Me Despite My…? and And I’m Not Looking Forward to the Journey Home).

I know I’m not completely alone in this. I remember acclaimed author, Alan Bennett, once talking about the fact no matter how bad a situation gets, a writer is always mentally taking notes with a mind to how he might expolit it later.

But as I sit here in the dentist’s waiting room, scribbling into the margins of my Sudoku book, I’m finding little comfort or distraction from the anticipation of the imminent treatment.

Scribbles in the Sudoku book

Part of the problem is I no longer define myself as a writer: for the past couple of years I have classified myself as a photographer instead. And this has had a profound effect on the way I see, and interact with, the world around me.

A few years ago, I reached a point where I saw just about everything in terms of blog posts – overheard conversations snippets or behavioural observations of strangers, friends or even myself – any kind of thought process or emotional experience could potentially be reconstructed into 50 to 500 words for Ramblings of The Bearded One.

Now, however, I see everything in the context of how I would frame, light and shoot it with my camera. I am constantly seeing faces, for example, I would love to photograph, and sometimes, rather embarrassingly, get caught staring.

So despite my desperate attempt to distract myself by writing this all down in my Sudoku book, my new reality is I would cope a great deal better right now if I could photograph the process of sitting in the dentist’s chair receiving root canal work in preparation for having a new crown fitted.

Despite the dentist’s light stopping working half way through, and ending up being in the chair for nearly an hour and a half, I have to say I wasn’t in any pain after all. The last time I had root canal work, it was excruciating. Of course after the numbness wore off I was a bit tender, but that was to be expected, and today it’s hardly noticeable.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Scottish Tattoo Convention – Part 2

“Excuse me!” Do you mind if I take your photo?”

“Sure, no problem. What do you want me to do?”

And this was pretty much the reaction of everyone I asked. Not a single person said no.

It still took a while before I stopped getting a knot in my stomach before asking, but by the end of the day I was far more confident.

If I’m honest, one of the biggest problems for me was realising how difficult it was going to be to get a good photo of anyone. The simple fact is, when I take a photo of someone, I want to make him or her look cool or interesting.

Usually when I photograph someone, I spend time with them to establish a rapport and trust. I arrange the background so it’s uncluttered, and the lighting to help generate the mood I’m after. I take many shots, showing them as I go, so we can work together towards achieving an image we are both going to be really happy with.

At the Tattoo Convention, however, I could do none of these things. The backgrounds were busy from any direction; the lighting was very low and mostly coming from straight above, so cast dark shadows over the eyes; and I only had 30 seconds to a minute with them to try and get something worthwhile.

Because I handed a business card to nearly everyone I photographed, and told them if they contacted me I would send them a copy of the photo, it meant the challenge was immense.

I have spent most of the past week working on the best of the photos, making adjustments to compensate for the poor lighting and background conditions.

Finally I have a collection I’m ok about displaying. Below are a small handful. The rest can be found on my Flickr Account, or on my Facebook Photography page

As always, you can click on the images for larger versions

David - the very first person I asked to photograph

This guy was getting an eagle head tattooed on his neck

Laura had problems keeping a straight face

Originally from Borneo, this guy does traditional tattooing by hand - not an electrical appliance in sight. A much slower process and certainly not for faint hearted

Sakura's "horns" are silican implants. Despite appearances, she was a very warm and friendly person to chat to

Nonchalant expression. To look at her you might be forgiven for thinking she was being drawn on in felt pen rather than having a needle jabbed thousands of times into her thigh.

Rogan was amazed that no one seemed to be in any pain. Fortunately, Skid (the singer from Cash From Chaos who got us in) pointed out that no one wanted to let on they were in pain when they were being watched.

He said when he’s at a tattooist he’s usually uttering a constrant stream of loud swearing, unless someone else comes into the shop. Then he has to appear all nonchalant like he’s hardly noticing it’s going on – casually glancing over to the tattooist and saying, “Have you started yet?”

Do check out the Flickr Account, or Facebook Photography page to see the rest