Friday, December 31, 2010

The Rambling Beard Awards 2010

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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
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.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

John Simpson

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"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
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reminder of brighter days

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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:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/30923607@N07/sets/72157625657937956/
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Full to bursting

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Stuffed

Bloated

F’lup

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.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Cards...

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"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:

http://kimayres.co.uk/xmas2010.htm

In the meantime, I wish each and every one of you a wonderful festive season and all the very best for the New Year.
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Santa... *cough*

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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.

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

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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.
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Geese

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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:
http://www.myspace.com/alanmcclure
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Charlie

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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

Kim
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Open Studio Day

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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.



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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cover Art

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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
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Thursday, December 02, 2010

December Song

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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:
http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/JimHamilton1
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/december-song-single/id407350576

You can view the YouTube video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWVsv3qcXT0

You can add the "Jim Hamilton for UK Christmas Number 1" Facebook page to your “likes” here:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jim-Hamilton-for-UK-Christmas-Number-1/144277205623721

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


Jim Hamilton


Richie Hamilton


Father and Son


The photographer having fun
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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Sex Pistols Experience

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I am an anti-christ
I am an anarchist
Don't know what I want but
I know how to get it
I wanna destroy passer by
Cos I...
Wanna be...
Anarchy!


Just over a week ago, Rogan and I were up in Bathgate, Central Scotland, backstage with The Sex Pistols Experience - a tribute band to perhaps the most well known of all punk rockers.


Rogan with "Paul Crook", "Steve Clones", "Johnny Rotter" and "Kid Vicious"

As Dave, the drummer and founder of the group was keen to point out, the difference with a “tribute” band over a “cover” band is the effort is made to perform in the style of the characters of the original group as well as the music.

I’d noticed this when we saw them back at the Wickerman Festival in July. We’d been impressed not just by the quality of the playing, but by the theatre of their performances – swearing at each other, goading the audience and the attention to detail in their clothes and sneers.

Dave had found my photos on the web and, as the band had recently acquired a new guitarist, and most of their photos featured the previous guy, he wondered if I’d be ok if they could use my images on their website and poster in exchange for being credited and a link to my website.

After a few email exchanges with images attached, I suggested next time they were in Scotland they should let me know and I could take some proper photos of them. And so it was, in the middle of November, Rogan and I found ourselves invited to join them in Bathgate.

The backstage area given over to them turned out to be a barber's shop just round the corner from the gig (owned and run by Skid, the lead singer in the support band, Cash from Chaos), as the only available space at the venue was too small to fit everyone in. It was warm, dry and had mirrors so was ideal.


Relaxing before the gig


Getting the expressions right


No holding back


Faithful renditions


I don’t know if I should say they’re a great bunch of guys, as that might appear to undermine their stage personas, but we had a wonderful time. And for a brief moment, at least, I think I managed a small amount of “cool dad” in the eyes of my son for taking him along.

I took quite a few more photos both backstage and at the gig, the best of which I've uploaded to my Flickr account, here.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Maggie's New Calendar

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Over a week since my last blog post and I haven't even been away on holiday.

I've been busy with a couple of photoshoots - more of which will be blogged about later - and putting together a calendar book for Maggie.

We'd thought about making a calendar for a while, but couldn't find a site online that would create them where the quality justified the price and offered the possibility to sell it to anyone interested anywhere in the world.

Then I thought of blurb.com

After being so impressed with the quality of my book accompanying the Staring Back exhibition, we had the idea of creating a calendar book that could be left on the desk, on a shelf or carried in a handbag, rather than the usual hanging on the wall.

So Maggie chose 12 images and set me to task to design page layouts and to construct the book using Blurb's Booksmart software.

Once uploaded, we ordered a copy to check the quality and are absolutely delighted with it.

You can click on the blurb widget below to preview the whole calendar book.


2011 Calendar by Maggie Ayres

And if you're interested in buying a copy (or several - blurb does a 10% discount for 10 or more) then follow this link:

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1730219.

Maggie's also blogging about it (click here)
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Romantic Celebration

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Given the blanket media coverage currently smothering every other news item, from wars and poverty to political shenanigans, you might assume from the title of this post that I’m adding my voice to the sycophantic hysteria surrounding the announcement of a royal engagement.

Well I’m not.

So is this post to be a diatribe against monarchical hierarchies and the utter bewilderment that in the 21st Century the British still put store by the idea of birthright enabling a tiny minority to have all the status and trappings of vast wealth, power and superiority over the rest of us plebs?

No, I’ll leave that for another day.

Is it about my bafflement that the new princess-in-waiting is being declared an ordinary girl next door despite meeting her husband-to-be at an elite university and having millionaires for parents?

Not really.

Perhaps then, my real beef is with the obsequious, smarmy, kowtowing, brown-nosing reporting of this event by the cringe-worthy fawning of TV and radio presenters who clearly have an eye on their CBEs, OBEs and knighthoods when Prince Willy is crowned King and are busy trying to ingratiate themselves in the most sickeningly toadying ways possible?

Tempting. But no.

Actually, all I want to say is today Maggie and I celebrate 20 years together! And as my stepdaughter, Holly, is happy to baby-sit, we’re heading out to an Italian restaurant for a meal tonight on our own.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Woodlanders

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Woods and forests are magical locations - places of mystery and faerie tales; wildlife and free food; pleasant walks and sustainable resources.

“Woodlanders” is a new book all about life in Britain’s forests, with writings and photos about the use of wood in ancient and new eco-buildings, the people who live and work with wood, and the community projects replanting native species and introducing new generations to the wonders of the woodlands.



With sections on everything from craft workers to compost toilets and even a recipe on birch sap wine, it’s the kind of book that makes you want to surround yourself with trees and breathe in moss, leaves sweet sap.

Featured in this book (pages 150-154) is an article about willow sculptor, Trevor Leat, whose amazing creations I’ve photographed several times (see Burns Light Festival and Wickerman posts, for example). And to accompany the article I was asked if some of my photos could be used.

Although you have to search through the small print of the Acknowledgements at the back to find my name, it is there, meaning I’ve not only had my images in magazines, I’ve now got some in a book that wasn’t even produced by me. Which is rather nice.





For anyone interested, it can be found on Amazon here.

Or for a peek at some of the pages and an interview with the editor, visit the publisher's pages here.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

The Self Aware Universe

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The atoms that make up every single part of our brains and bodies were created in the centres of stars billions of years ago. Each person may well be a unique configuration of those atoms, but these building blocks are older than the Earth itself.

As has been said, we are stardust.

But we are conscious stardust. Unlike the chair we are sitting on, we are aware of our surroundings and are capable of thinking about, reflecting upon and learning about the universe in which we exist.

We are the consciousness of the universe. We are the universe discovering itself.

We are not separate from it. We are it.

And if we look with powerful telescopes and understanding, we find in every direction the universe is expanding away from us. This means we are the centre of the universe.

But so is everyone and everything.

We are a unique collection of mindbogglingly ancient particles that have become self aware.

But most of the time we just get annoyed with people on the telly...
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Smells like new carpet

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This is it! After 2 years of being cramped in a small corner of Maggie’s studio, I now have my very own space again.

With Maggie recently settled in her new studio in Kirkcudbright (see Studios), we’ve been revamping the room she vacated.

The yucky green carpet that was here when we moved in has been rolled up and put in the attic; the walls have all been given a fresh coat of white paint; the creamy-yellow ceiling, door, skirting board, window frame and radiator have also been painted white; and finally, on Monday, a new carpet was put in.





Click on images for larger versions

I’ve also installed a set of white venetian blinds in the window (which I discovered too late are about 2cm too narrow for complete comfort, although the next size up would have been 28cm too wide).

The reason I wanted venetian blinds is it means when the sun is coming through the window, I can play with the wonderful effect of the shadows created by them – all very film noir.




Now all I need is some people to photograph...
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Friday, November 05, 2010

That sinking feeling...

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When I first went to the doctor complaining of feeling excessively tired, 4½ years ago, initial tests revealed a B12 deficiency. All it would take would be a series of injections to get me back to normal then 3-monthly jabs for the rest of my life to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

I wasn’t happy at the idea I would have to have these injections forever, but I was looking forward to having my energy back.

A year later nothing had changed. I was still easily exhausted after comparatively little exertion. After a series of tests failed to discover any reason for this I was given the label CFS – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

But this brought no comfort – all it really meant was I’d been given a label meaning “We accept you get fatigued easily but don’t know why.”

I was told some people get better, and some don’t. But there are things you can do, like graded exercise and cognitive behaviour therapy, which, while they won’t cure you, should help you to cope better.

I found this difficult to accept and insisted on seeing some kind of specialist. After several more months I saw one who thought it was probably just Depression. When being on anti-depressants made no difference to my fatigue he just shrugged his shoulders and said there was nothing more he could think of.

Still, I refused to accept the idea that no one knew what was wrong with me or could come up with any kind of solution. When something was spotted in a blood test that lead to the discovery I have haemochromatosis, I thought this could be it, but it turned out to just be a coincidental condition.

I pushed to have some kind of sleep study done, but after several months to get the appointment, 8 months more to get the results and 10 additional months to try out a CPAP machine for sleep apnoea, it was concluded that probably wasn’t the problem either.

Earlier this year I saw a different doctor and went through the standard blood tests again in case anything was missed first time round but the results were the same – apparently I’m perfectly healthy and they have no idea why I get so tired.

I even went through extreme diet changes for several months to rule out food intolerances, which made no difference whatsoever.

The CFS has not gone away on its own or with the help of the medical establishment. Finally, nearly 5 years later, I’m coming to the sinking conclusion that it’s not going to. All along, I've been clinging to the hope that this condition will pass sooner or later. But now I have to face the fact I’m highly unlikely to ever return to having the energy levels that would allow me to live in the way most other people do.

Maybe I need to let go and grieve for the loss of the life I thought I was going to have, and only once I’ve been through that process will I be able to properly move on with the life I actually have.
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Pumpkins

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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.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meaning

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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.
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Monday, October 25, 2010

44 Today!

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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...”

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Meanwhile...

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:


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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Freundschaft (Friendship)

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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 - http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/3862560066/ (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 http://www.alittleextra.de/
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Monday, October 18, 2010

Spring Fling 2011

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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.
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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Offline

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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
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Monday, October 04, 2010

Political Compass

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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...
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Saturday, October 02, 2010

The times they are a changing...

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“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.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mugged

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Imagine how you would feel if, out of the blue one fine early autumn morning, you received a bill in the post for unpaid council tax for a sum of over £700, dating from 12 years ago. And when you phone up to enquire what on earth this is all about, you are told the onus is on you to prove that you paid it, and if you can’t legal proceedings will be put in place (so that bailiffs can come into your house and take your belongings to sell off towards your debt).

Does it matter that your own memory is fairly certain it was all sorted out at least 8 to 10 years ago?

No.

Does it matter that even the Inland Revenue only require you to keep records for 7 years?

No.

Does it matter that you don’t have cheque book stubs and bank account statements from that long ago, so there’s no way you can check?

No.

Does it matter that you moved away from the area over 5 years ago?

No.

Does it matter that you don’t even use the same bank, and haven’t for several years, so the chances of getting hold of statements are nil to minuscule (especially within the demanded 7 days)?

No.

Everything about it screams to me that this is a scam.

But with public spending being cut and less money available, Clackmannanshire Council are looking for ways to claw in money.

And unless we can find a way to prove we paid something they tell us we owe them from a dozen years ago, they have a whole pile of draconian laws on their side to destroy our lives, should we hesitate too long to stump up the cash.

We’ve been mugged by local government.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Naiveté

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There are times when I think naiveté is very likely to be the death of me.

“Naiveté about what?” I hear you ask.

Naiveté about people, I reply.

“Surely not!” you protest, “if anyone has a grip on the human condition, it’s you, oh great and wise bearded one!”

*cough* Ok, perhaps I’m getting a little carried away here…

Anyway, the point is, I have this habit of assuming most people are basically kind and decent if given the chance, and will listen to, and be persuaded by, a thoughtful, well intentioned and properly constructed argument.

And yet, this flies in the face of blog posts, noticeboard threads, Facebook status updates and news items I witness on a daily basis.

I forget not everyone spent 4 years studying philosophy so can spot a badly constructed argument at a thousand paces.

I forget that there are people who will ignore all the evidence to the contrary because their mate down the pub/ some tabloid newspaper headline/ a dodgy book they once read/ Fox News told them differently.

I forget that there are many, many people who never question their lives or the lies they are sold on a daily basis.

I forget that some people can turn quite nasty if you question their unquestioned beliefs.

I forget that nearly everyone insists on having the last word in any argument.

So I keep this cartoon from the wonderful XKCD permanently to hand to stop me getting too sucked into these things.


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Studios

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We picked up the key for Maggie’s new studio last week.

Although Maggie has been using the front room in our house as a studio since we moved here 5 years ago, it’s not always been easy for her.

The big problem, of course, is that it’s in the building we also live in, and this means there are a 1,001 distractions and demands on her time that are difficult to avoid. Additionally, it’s been too easy to use the room to temporarily store things, which then end up permanently taking up space.

Then, 2 years ago, I had to give up my study so my son could get his own bedroom – see Homeless – which culminated in me taking over a corner of Maggie’s studio with my desk and laptop. Not only did this result in less room for Maggie, but it meant that neither of us had a real space we could call our own.

So when WASPS (Workshop and Artists' Studio Provision Scotland) - put out feelers a couple of years ago about obtaining a pair of buildings in Kirkcudbright (the next town along from where we live, about 9 miles down the road) to do up as artists’ studios, Maggie registered her interest.

A few weeks ago the building work was completed and we went down to look round the 15 studios of various sizes to see if any were suitable, and Maggie fell in love with one room in particular.

It’s a little bit larger than the studio at home, and it has 2 large south-facing Georgian windows letting in plenty of light.

Additionally, it means Maggie will now be in a building with several other artists. One of the things many self-employed creative people bemoan is the overwhelming sense of isolation that can occur. But here, there’s a real chance for contact with like-minded people and friendships to develop.

So Maggie and I have already started moving in boxes and tables, and assembling shelving units. And at the weekend we took the kids down to see it.






Although the extra rental costs mean we’re going to have to tighten our belts more than ever, another benefit of all this is I now get the front room at home entirely for myself, which means I can set it up as a photographic studio.

Watch this space...


If you'd like to read Maggie's feelings on her new studio, pop over to her blog and read A Studio of my Own
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crystal Wedding Anniversary

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Depending on where you look, it’s estimated that the average wedding cost these days is anywhere between £15,000 and £25,000

15 years ago today, Maggie and I were married on a budget of less than 1% of that

I was unemployed and we had no money, so every penny had to be accounted for.

We married in a registry office (neither of us are religious, so a church ceremony would never have happened anyway); we only had immediate family in attendance; we sorted all the food ourselves (I was still chopping carrot sticks when people started turning up); and even our wedding rings were silver Celtic-knot style bands that cost less than £10 each (which we still wear).

We’ve still never been able to afford a honeymoon.

But was it “less than”? Absolutely not. Our wedding day was wonderful and still ranks as one of the happiest days of our lives.

For those who love a tale of romance and want to know why we got married, take a look at my blog post from 5 years ago – Tin Wedding Anniversary. And for those who are interested in what our lives were like in 1995, or wish to see what we looked like, then visit my blog post on our 14th wedding anniversary, which I wrote last year.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Because I can't think of a blog post and sunsets are pretty

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Click on image for larger version

Taken on the 3rd of September at 7.43pm about 4 miles up the road from where I live.
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Listening to the inner voice

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I think we all have an inner voice, deep inside, which will guide us if we can just shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives. If we listen to our inner voice, it will always tell us the right thing to do,” said a friend recently.

So I stuck on a DVD for the kids downstairs and retired to the bedroom to sit in quiet contemplation.

What truth would my inner voice reveal?

It didn't take long for my inner voice to make itself heard. In fact I was somewhat surprised by just how loud and intense it was.

According to my inner voice, what I’m missing in my life is a big bar of chocolate...
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thinking too much

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“I’ve realised why you don’t find ‘Chuck’ as funny as I do,” said my 15-year-old son recently.

“Why’s that then?”

“Because you spend all your time analysing it! Within 2 minutes of every episode you’re already predicting what’s going to happen before the end!”

“I don’t spend all my time analysing it. Besides, I’m usually right. Go on, admit it.”

“That’s not the point!”

“What is the point then? It’s fairly predictable…”

“The point is you don’t just let go and enjoy the episodes. You’re too busy working out what’s going to happen next.”

“I’m not working it out. It leaps out at me as clear as one of the ‘Flashes’ Chuck experiences when The Intersect in his head throws up information into his conscious mind.”

“But you’re still thinking about it.”

“In other words,” I say, “you’re accusing me of thinking too much.”

“Yes. Absolutely!”

I sigh inwardly. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told this - by friends, colleagues, other bloggers and, when she was still alive, even my mother.

It always seemed like an odd thing to say. I mean, of course I had thoughts. Lots of them. All the time. How could I not? Didn’t everybody? What was thinking too much anyway? The idea didn’t make any sense.

The irony of Rogan’s accusation is, these days my brain is only working at a fraction of its previous capacity and I’m so very aware that I don’t think anything like the amount I used to.

When my brain used to fire on all cylinders, bouncing all over the place, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I was always making connections and seeing patterns between bizarre and unlikely things. If someone suggested an idea, I could run it through empire building scenarios, which if followed would result in global domination within 3 years. This was all perfectly normal.

But over the past couple of years, the CFS has taken its toll on my cognitive abilities. I can’t do heavy duty thinking for any length of time now without wearing myself out.

I miss thinking too much.

I miss having the energy that allowed me to.
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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Guest Post from Erika

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I recently started thinking about getting the Guest Blogging idea up and running again, and I knew instantly that Erika would be on my list of bloggers to approach.

Erika’s blog (Flight of our Hummingbird) was one of the great discoveries of last year. She is an extraordinarily gifted writer who can lure us into her world from the first sentence.

Even more extraordinary is her ability to keep drawing us back when her world is largely filled with vomit, mucus, hospital visits and the Kafkaesque dealings with insurance companies.

Erika’s daughter, Izzy, has Angelman Syndrome, and it is dealing with the consequences of this that dominates her blog.

But while there are times of heart-wrenching sadness, Erika and Izzy’s indomitable spirits keep bouncing back. No matter how mucus filled the long dark nights are, the next day, the sun always rises.

I could easily rabbit on for pages on why I love Erika’s writings, but I need to shut up and let you read for yourself.

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When we moved to Southern California two years ago, my daughter’s lease was expiring soon in my belly so we spent a couple weeks hunting for a place that would accommodate life with a newborn. We found an apartment complex in a small coastal town where palm trees, beach blond surfers and small fluffy dogs dominated the landscape. After some high-pitched oooh’s and aaawh’s evoked by my tummy and its tenant, Traci from the leasing office showed us one of the available apartments and pointed out its great features with convincing confidence. Upon leaving the place, she causally suggested that we check out the beach, which was practically in the backyard of the apartment complex. We were city-dwellers from a landlocked country who would never decline an opportunity to see an expanse of salt water, so off we went to see the ocean.

The path to the Pacific led through a perfectly groomed park and we were careful not to step on the bright green grass that grew at a right angle. We shortly arrived at another park on top of a knoll that looked over the cerulean waters that seamlessly blended into the cloudless sky. As I sucked in a longer-than-average breath in quiet awe, Phil and I looked at each other and we both knew that it was the perfect place for our baby. In my mind’s eye I saw my daughter sitting in her stroller happily babbling away while I pushed her around the park. A soft lyrical tune started playing in my head as I imagined her sitting and crawling in the lush grass surrounded by fellow babies and friendly spotty dogs. I imagined her first awkward steps taken in the safety of soft sand, and as the music got louder and faster-paced, I saw her running after the white waves and chasing those sly thievish seagulls on the beach while Phil and I smiled at each other in parental bliss.

My lyrically underscored dream was reminiscent of advertisements that try to sell us a certain feeling and exploit our deep, inherent desire to belong to a tribe. You want to be a member of a tribe where you ‘just do it’, or ‘think outside the box’ or where you are a ‘rebel by choice’- or just simply a parent of a happy healthy baby who incidentally wears Pampers. When you get pregnant you become a candidate to join the mommy tribe and you have nine months to learn its language, customs and laws. You have nine months to learn to navigate the world of Diaper Genies, sippy cups and Boppy pillows before you acquire the tribal mark on the day of your initiation.

But what if your day of initiation does not end with the postpartum idyll depicted in life insurance and diapers commercials? It’s hard to feel like a full member of the mommy tribe when your baby is locked up in a hospital and you stroll around in your lonesome for weeks or months. It’s hard to believe that you have full membership when you are not only unable to breastfeed but you can’t even commit the ultimate mommy crime of bottle-feeding because your baby gets her nutrition through a tube. You wear all the tribal marks, you display the typical tribal behaviors, you carry around a perfectly gorgeous baby, all of which trigger happy recognition in your fellow tribe members, but you know deep down that you are a whale among the fish, a tomato on the vegetable stand.

I used to feel the need to come clean and tell these starry-eyed strangers about my daughter’s disability but now I just go along with the secret winks and handshakes pretending that there is no chasm lying between us. Not because I’m in denial, I just don’t feel like watching how comradery evaporates from their eyes and get replaced by distance or pity. I’m a member of a different tribe, a tribe that nobody wants to be a part of voluntarily, a tribe that you don’t join by choice. But once you are in, you find that it’s a group of tenacious fighters, valiant warriors and indomitable spirits. The tribal marks that draw my eyes include wheelchairs, walkers, feeding tubes, trachs and various other medical equipment.

The crispy green park and the soft sandy beach is still the perfect place for my daughter, even if the film frames of my dream are moving in slow motion. I’m still in the first part where I keep pushing the stroller around the park, almost in a Bill-Murray-in-Groundhog-Day fashion. The part in which my daughter sits and crawls in the lush green grass is many frames away, and the step-taking part is even farther. I have high hopes that the wave-chasing seagull-harassing bit is also on the reel, because I have every intention to watch her awkwardly run around while I smile at Phil in parental bliss to the sound of music.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Bramble Hunting

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The Great Bramble Hunt is an annual tradition in our family.

Each year, Rogan, Meg and I trek out to our favourite spot to try and fill some tubs with this most wonderful berry, staining our fingers purple, while trying to avoid spiders and maggots and getting scratched and stung by gorse bushes and stinging nettles.


Meg usually eats more than she saves

Usually I manage to fill my tub, Rogan half fills his and Meg covers the bottom of hers while managing to plaster herself in more purple mulch than you would have believed possible.


Meg's tub filling up

This year, however, I filled mine in record time; Rogan filled his; and Meg managed to ¾ fill hers by the time we had to head home for lunch. Some will go into bramble crumble, while others will be frozen to be used for Maggie's bramble ice-cream at Christmas.

Our favourite patch is on the coast, and while I was waiting for the other two, I wandered down to the water’s edge where I saw a seal poking its head out of the sea, watching me. It didn’t take long to get bored and disappear, but I just managed to catch a blurry shot of it on the camera.




Are you looking at me?

I then just sat on the stones, watching the waves crash on the shore. Not huge waves by global standards – probably little more than about 3 feet high – but larger than usual. The geography of the Solway Firth and this bit of SW Scotland means it’s quite sheltered from the roughest seas.



But it reminded me why, if I ever win the lottery, I will buy a house overlooking the sea. Although if I did, it’s quite possible I would never leave.
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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Meg is growing up

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When I recently asked for blogging suggestions, several people badgered me for more about my daughter Meg.


At 12½, Meg is not such a wee lass anymore

Last week she started high school. A big step for any child, but for one with Down’s Syndrome in mainstream schooling…

So far she’s coping with it in considerably better spirits than me and her mother. While our guts are churning with all our fears and nightmares clamouring to make themselves felt, she’s heading off to school with a smile each morning.

At the weekend, Meg and I went out for a walk in Laurieston Forest, and took the cameras.

I gave Meg my first Fujifilm digital camera to use. It’s a good camera to learn on – you can set it to auto and it works well as a point-and-shoot, but it has several manual over-ride options so you can ease yourself into learning things like shutter speed and aperture. It even has a macro lens built into it, which allows you to focus really close up on things - something my much more expensive Canon DSLR doesn’t.


Meg looking at the light coming through the trees


Enjoying the ability to get close up.

Here are a some of the photos Meg took:


Large toadstool


Growing out of a rotted log


Dad is instructed to turn his head towards the camera and smile.

Sometimes it’s difficult living in Meg’s shadow.
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