Monday, February 28, 2011


Our new 32-inch HD TV is a compromise – far too small for me, and far too large for Maggie.

We had a 32-inch TV about 6 years ago, although it was one of the old bulky kinds that were nearly as deep as they were wide, and weighed the same as a small car. Unfortunately it decided to die on us about 3 weeks after the manufacturer’s warranty expired.

When we went to replace it, the shops only seemed to sell the new, fancy, LCD, flat screen TVs that were hideously more expensive. Consequently, we ended up with a TV with a 17-inch screen - not much larger than that of the laptop computer.

About 3 weeks after the manufacturer’s warranty expired, a thin line appeared about 2/3rds of the way up the screen and never went away. Eventually we more or less got used to it.

18 months ago, analogue TV was switched off in this area. Rather than get a digi-box, we decided to see if we could actually live without the television.

We lasted almost 3 months.

After buying a Freeview digi-box, we discovered we had access to about 15 channels. Many other areas had well over 30, but this part of rural Scotland has too many hills and not enough relay stations.

About 3 weeks after the manufacturer’s warranty expired the digi-box died on us.

We dug out an old one a friend had given us. Unfortunately this one had been designed for use before the days of widescreen TV, so for the last few months we have missed out on the edges of every programme or film shown on television. Though we have got quite good at guessing the missing first and last words on anything with subtitles.

About a week ago, this digi-box started playing up and it was clear it was just a matter of time before it too would give up the ghost.

I started casually suggesting that rather than buy another digi-box, perhaps we should just get a new TV with Freeview built in. Perhaps a larger TV - one that would allow us that full cinematic experience. My father, for example, has this obscenely huge plasma TV… but wait!

Maggie was talking about getting something even smaller than the one we already had! “Vulgar” is how she described these large TVs.

However, now the kids had started to smell blood and they joined in with comments of how wonderful it would be to be able to see the images on the TV from further than 2 feet away.

Finally, 2 days ago, the digi-box died on us.

Today we went out to get a new TV (tactfully in time so Maggie wouldn't miss the 2nd episode of the BBC drama, "South Riding". And while I looked longingly at 100+ inch plasma screens, which would have required a lottery win - not only to afford it, but to buy a house big enough to fit it in - Maggie was looking for something small enough she could ideally throw a cloth over and disguise it easily when not being used.

So our compromise was a 32-inch HD TV.

And tonight, as my son, Rogan, and I sat down to watch “Top Gear” in High Definition to marvel at Ferraris and Porches in great detail, we also discovered the downside – experiencing presenter Jeremy Clarkson in High Definition. Indeed, seeing the crack of his arse escaping the top of his jeans as he climbed out of a new Jaguar XJ in High Definition was quite an emotionally scarring experience.

I’m beginning to think HD TV should carry some kind of mental health warning…

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bouzouki Comparison

Following my last post about my new bouzouki, I had a few requests for some kind of demonstration.

So bowing to popular demand, here is a video of me attempting to explain the difference between a mandolin, my Greek-style bouzouki and my new Irish-style bouzouki

And for those reading this in RSS and quite possibly Facebook, then you might need to click on this link instead:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


One of the problems with having a guitar is it sometimes seems that everyone and his dog plays one. There is very little room for individuality.

There is also a great deal of rivalry between guitar players (especially, though not exclusively, men), who are constantly trying to out-play any other guitarists within earshot.

When I moved from playing the guitar to the mandolin as my primary instrument, it removed me from this testosterone driven chest thumping and allowed me to play in folk-sessions at pubs without having to fight for dominance. I could simply enjoy joining in and playing the music.

Unfortunately, mandolins are a bit more popular in this region of Scotland and not long after moving here I found myself back in the heat of competition. At one point I was in a pub where there were no less than 5 other mandolin players.

However, shortly after this incident, I got talking to a guy who fixed guitars in his spare time and he agreed to look at a bouzouki Maggie had bought me many years before. I had never really used it because of problems with the bridge, which meant it went out of tune as I went further up the neck. He created a new bridge for it and lo and behold, it became playable.

Soon I was taking the bouzouki along to folk sessions and was once again allowed to just get on with playing without having to worry about needing to turn it up to 11.

But it’s not been without its difficulties – the biggest by far being the fact my bouzouki was a Greek-style one, which meant it had a round back.

A round back does create a rich sound, but unless you have a concave stomach with velcro attachments, it has habit of sliding round and ending up flat on your lap – which is a much harder position to play from. Over the years I have devised near-yoga positions with my legs to find ways of clamping it to my body in order to avoid this problem.

Additionally, I never did sort out a way to fix the new bridge firmly, so it only stayed in place because of the pressure of the strings running over it. This meant if I strummed a bit too hard for a bit too long, it had a habit of suddenly swivelling round, which would instantly change the tuning and make it impossible to play.

Last year, on a brief and rare weekend away Maggie and I managed to get, we called in en-route to Omega Music in Brampton, where I had a go on an Irish-style, flat back bouzouki. Flat backs I’ve tried before have tended to sound a bit, well, flat; lacking the deeper resonance the round back usually gives. However, I was rather impressed with this one, although at the time a new bouzouki was so far down the priority list I didn’t hesitate to hang it back on the wall and leave the shop.

But since then it’s been calling me.

Each time the bridge has unexpectedly swivelled round, or the bouzouki slid off my belly to end up on my lap, staring up at me with a resigned sigh, I found myself thinking about the rich-sounding flat back bouzouki I’d seen last year.

Then, in January, I decided to look at the Google Ads account I have attached to my blogs. Those ads attached to my posts (not seen if you are reading this via your RSS feed, or imported into Facebook) earn me a penny, sometimes 2, when they are clicked on. Although put in place well over 5 years ago, I rarely ever check the account as it’s always been a bit depressing when I do. If I was really lucky, I might have earned $2 in a month, but it was usually less.

What I had forgotten was about 18 months ago, my sudden appearance in Blogs of Note sent a phenomenal amount of traffic to this blog for a few weeks, and a percentage of them clicked on the ads.

Anyway, the upshot of this is, when I did decide to check my Google Ads account I found over £250 sitting in there. I spent the next 2 days trying to figure out how to transfer this money to my bank account.

Although it didn’t cover the complete amount, Maggie was quite certain it should be put towards a new bouzouki for me. So this weekend, when we managed to get another rare and brief weekend away on our own, we called in at Omega Music and bought it.

I’m over the moon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Meg is a teenager

Had my daughter, Meg, been born some years earlier, she would not have had her heart operation at 5 months old. Instead, it would have been left until she was 3 or 4 years old in the hope she would have more strength to survive the operation.

Unfortunately, by then much of the damage to the rest of her systems would have been done by years of a heart not working properly, and her life expectancy would have been greatly reduced.

Had Meg been born some years before that, the heart operation would not have been given to a child with Down’s Syndrome, so she would not have lived beyond the age of 7 or 8 anyway.

Had Meg been born some years before that, she may well have been taken away and put in an institution, and it would have been recommended we, the parents, tell the world she died at birth, so as to avoid questions and embarrassment.

Had Meg been born some years before that, she would not have survived her first weeks. Within a day or so of coming into this world, she wasn’t feeding, and was starting to shut down.

However, Meg was born 13 years ago today, when advances in medicine and social understandings allowed us to raise her in a world where she was taken seriously and given equal opportunity to survive and thrive.

And for those past 13 years, Meg has brought lightness and joy not just to our lives, but to all those who have taken the time to get to know her.

My little baby, who would not have lived had she been born in any other era, becomes a teenager today.



Happy birthday Meg x

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Beth Fouracre at the Mill Sessions

The 2nd of this year’s Mill Sessions was on Thursday past, this time featuring singer-songwriter, Beth Fouracre. As before, a bit of time was set aside for me to take her portrait to build up images for The Mill, and my own portfolio.

Although she was a bit uncertain to begin with, it didn’t take long for her to relax and quite quickly she connected with the camera.

Unlike Sean Taylor’s request for Dark and Moody (see Sean Taylor and The Mill Sessions), Beth wanted a slightly lighter mood.

In fact, I have a whole folder full of blurred images where she found it impossible to keep a straight face and collapsed into laughter.

I’d decided the “house style” for the Mill Sessions would be black and white. However, I have to say on only the 2nd photo shoot I found myself quite torn. What doesn’t come out in black and white is the fact Beth had vivid red hair, which really was quite wonderful.

Eventually I decided I would stick to my original idea, but here’s one to show you what I mean.

Until the evenings get lighter, I'm limited with the space and lighting I can use for these photo sessions. I have to bring along one of my lights and a reflector and I can use a room in the Mill that's currently empty, but only until it opens up again for the tourist season.

Light with umbrella diffuser - Beth - reflector, side on

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

For those interested in her music, and Beth really does have a lovely voice, then you can hear some of here songs on MySpace, here:

Sunday, February 06, 2011





Looking good

These things are a complete mystery to me.

Ok, so I get by with ignoring it most of the time, but every now and then, like when I really need something new to wear, I am confronted by my own ignorance in these matters.

High street shops, charity or thrift stores, it makes no difference: I am clueless in this area.

Apart from getting smaller waisted jeans, nearly all my clothes are remnants from when I was over 100lbs heavier. My shirts are all old, worn and extremely baggy. Worse still, somewhere along the line the fashion shifted so tucking in your shirt became a big no-no. Unfortunately, when wearing shirts that are 4 sizes too big it means I’m walking around in billowing tents most of the time, or they are flapping out of the bottom of my jackets/ sweaters/ coats like an old dress.

The reason I dress like this is every time I go into a shop to look for something new, I feel completely out of my depth. It seems my choices are either to buy stuff aimed at 17 year olds, or to look like my dad (or even granddad).

What is a guy in his mid-40s supposed to wear these days? I have absolutely no idea. I feel completely out of my depth, so I end up panicking and leaving without having anything new.

Nearly 3 years ago I wrote about still wearing the same style of clothes I did 25 years ago (See - Am I mad, in a coma, or back in 1981?). Unfortunately I'm now at a point where it's not just about style - I am actually wearing exactly the same clothes from 10 years ago, and they're getting a bit threadbare.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Sean Taylor and the Mill Sessions

As well as hosting my Staring Back exhibition, last year the Mill on the Fleet (in the nearby town of Gatehouse of Fleet) trialled the idea of becoming a venue for small, acoustic performances by local and up and coming artists, using the space in one of its galleries. It went well and plans to have monthly sessions are now underway, collectively known as The Mill Sessions.

In a similar vein to my arrangement with The Bakehouse (see last post), I will now be taking photos of guest artists prior to their performances to build up a “hall of fame” collection.

On Saturday, fresh from his concert at Celtic Connections and interview on the Bob Harris Radio 2 show, was Sean Taylor, an amazing bluesy singer and guitarist. His live performance at the Mill was superb.

A day or 2 before he came down I spoke to him on the phone to see if there was a particular style he fancied when we did the photo session. “Dark and moody” was his instant reply. This suited me fine – I like dark and moody.

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

You can hear songs from his album, Walk With Me, on his website. My personal favourite is “Hold On”