Sunday, August 28, 2011

Unlimited Choice is a Good Thing, right?

Waking up in an anxious sweat this morning, my heart thumping around 100 beats per minute, I realised I was fretting about a lens for my camera I’m planning on buying.

It’s not a cheap lens, and I may well have to mortgage one of the children to acquire it, but it should fulfil a function more efficiently and to a higher standard than one I’m currently using.

So of course there is pressure – mostly self-inflicted – about whether I can justify the outlay. But even once I’ve decided buy it, further choices make themselves felt.

To begin with, there’s another lens in a similar price bracket, which has greater functionality in one area, but lacks in another – which would be the better one to go for? What if I choose the wrong one?

And then, where am I going to buy it from? This site sells it for less than that one, but I’ve never heard of them so cannot be sure they are reliable.

And so it goes on – one choice after another, each one inducing further anxiety about taking the wrong option for one reason or another.

In a rather timely manner, I was scrolling through Facebook and found everyone’s favourite Kitchen Bitch, Eryl, had posted a link to a fascinating 10-minute video about how unlimited choice paralyses us.

Far from making us the masters of our own destiny, it is in fact a superb way to control the masses and keep them from trying to enact social change, while making them believe they are in charge.

Another aspect Eryl drew my attention to, that had never crossed my mind before, is how Choice always involves Loss, and this too is a huge contributor to the anxiety it can create.

If you can spare 10 minutes of your life, I guarantee you will find this interesting, educational or enlightening.

If the above video is not visible, then follow this link:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Postcard From Skye

Hi Mark and Val,

We're having a lovely time on The Isle of Skye.

On the front of the card you'll see a photo of a "piper", which is a particular pest on Skye and other Highland & Island locations. I don't know if you had many problems with them during your stay on Lewis.

I think the locals have developed a sort of immunity as they do seem particularly attracted to holidaymakers and are found more frequently at tourist destinations.

We've tried lavender oil and smearing ourselves with lard, but it seems creams and sprays make no difference.

I heard the father of one bleary-eyed family complaining in the Tourist Information Centre about lack of sleep caused by them, but he didn't get much sympathy. It seems it's just accepted as a natural hazard of holidaying in Scotland during the Summer months, New Year and late January.

If you find any solutions on Google, please text me ASAP!

Wishing you all the best,

Kim, Maggie, Rogan & Meg x

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wigtown Book Festival - Artist in Residence

With over 150 events across 10 days, Wigtown Book Festival is one of the largest art events in Scotland, even though it is located in a remote town near the Southern tip of Scotland.

Over the past couple of years, they have teamed up with the organisers of the open studio event, Spring Fling, to install an Artist-in-Residence for the duration of the Festival.

And this year they have chosen me!

So from September 23rd to October 2nd, I will be taking photos of residents, visitors and attending authors – in fact anyone who will allow me to point my camera at them.

I’ve been given a space in "The Hut" behind ReadingLasses café and bookshop, where I will be printing out the photos and pinning them to the walls. As the festival progresses, so the room should fill up with faces.

Unlike my participation in Spring Fling back in May, I won’t be confining myself to a studio space to take the photos, but will also be out and about on the street and venues, photographing whoever I can, and hopefully engaging in conversation with people about what I’m up to, and what books they are reading. Indeed, my hope is to be able to scribble on the photo of most faces going up on the wall, "Currently reading…" or "Favourite genre..." My guess is there will be very few people who will conform to stereotype.

It’s going to take a fair amount of planning to ensure I can fit in taking photos, editing, printing and pinning them to the wall, as well as attending events, having The Hut open for a couple of hours each day, and finding time for an afternoon nap...

It’s also going to be something of a psychological trial, as I will have to overcome a natural reluctance to go up to complete strangers and ask if they mind having their photo taken.


Of course.


Without doubt.



For a copy of the Wigtown Book Festival brochure, which includes a list of all the events, the times and the venues, either click on the following link or right-click and select “Save link as…” to download it to your own computer:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Now We Are 6

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

- A.A. Milne

It's just about the 6th anniversary since I began blogging. Back then, I was still in my 30s, I didn't have CFS/ME, and my intention was to become a writer (photography was still just a hobby).

But it's not only my world which was so very different. Way back in the dim and distant past of August 2005...

YouTube had only started up 6 months earlier

Facebook was only accessible if you had a university email address.

6 megapixels was considered quite a large sensor for a digital camera.

High Definition TV wasn't about in a commercial format, and Blue Ray was only a prototype in Japan.

There had only been 2 "Saw" movies, 4 Harry Potter films, and James Bond fans were horrified that a blonde actor (Daniel Craig) had been given the role of 007.

Not only did the iPad not exist, but neither did the iPhone

There were approximately half a billion fewer people on the planet.

In the intervening time, I have written over 700 blog posts and received in excess of 150,000 visits to this site.

And I'm regularly visted by some of the nicest, warmest, most wonderful people on the Internet (yes, that means you - take a compliment when you're given one)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Cover Art - Prole Issue 5

Some of you may remember towards the end of last year, the poetry and prose magazine, Prole, used one of my images for their cover of Issue 3 (and if you don't then click here for the post - "Cover Art")

Well, they've done it again, and chosen another of my photos for Issue 5. This time they've gone for one of my more iconic images, that of my friend and poet, David Mark Williams.

If you fancy submitting your own writings for consideration in the magazine, then you'll find their submissions page here -

Friday, August 05, 2011

Loss of a friend

I’d been self-employed for only a few months, but it was becoming clear my business strategy was flawed and things were not going to plan. At the same time, we’d had to deal with my baby daughter having open-heart surgery and the emotional strain on the whole family had been huge.

Against this backdrop I saw an advert for an “Intro to Science” evening class, which sounded interesting and I thought would give me something entirely different to occupy my thoughts for at least a couple of hours each week.

It had been organised by Des Gallagher, the local council’s Adult Education officer, who was also attending the course himself. A highly intelligent, strongly principled man, Des was from a Scottish working-class background, which fed into a passionate drive for education for all - especially those who’d been let down by the system.

Inspired by the course, I began toying with the idea of running an “Introduction to Philosophy” evening class, and with Des’s support and encouragement I was able to develop and run it. It went down so well I was asked to create an “Introduction to Moral Philosophy” evening class to follow it up with.

Emboldened by the success of the courses and increasingly influenced by Des’s passion for community education, in the following months I conceived of an idea for creating a voluntary organisation whose aim would be to help community groups to build and develop their own websites.

I approached Des for guidance. With his network of contacts within the community of Clackmannanshire, along with his support and ideas, his role was critical in helping to establish the creation of ClacksNet. Over several years, it helped many local community groups bridge the digital divide and use the Internet for the benefit of hundreds, if not thousands, of local people.

What was clear throughout this time was the personal integrity and commitment of Des to his belief in helping the disadvantaged in our community. He saw how education and technology could help adults to advance themselves and the people around them. My respect for his vision and for him as a man steadily grew.

As our professional relationship developed, so did our personal one. Our family circumstances were not dissimilar in that he was the father of five children and I was the father of two, plus the stepfather of three more from my wife’s previous marriage, who were living with us at the time.

In any household that contains a range of children from infants to teenagers, there are times when parenting is not easy. We do our best, and make decisions that we believe to be right for the development and protection of all our children. To be able to talk to someone who understood the difficulties and particular nuances of parenting a larger family was a useful thing for both of us.

For many years Des was one of my closest friends.

We didn’t see so much of each other once I moved away, but when he finally discovered Facebook we hooked up again, and recently I was delighted to see the photos posted of him in the role of immensely proud father at his daughter’s wedding.

So when his brother, Tom, phoned yesterday to tell me Des had unexpectedly passed away, all I could feel was an intense sense of loss and a terrible sadness for his loved ones.

He was a good man, and the world is emptier without him.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Waiting for the results...

“When can we get him up?”

“He said not before 10am.”

The large Scottish Qualifications Association envelope sits on the kitchen table, unopened. I glance at the clock for the 3rd time in 5 minutes. It’s only quarter past nine.

“We could steam it open…”

45 minutes later I bang on his bedroom door. “Rogan, there’s a large SQA envelope waiting on the table for you!”


“Rogan, are you getting up?”

“nnnNNNgggghhhh… soooonnnnnn…”

10 minutes later he comes down the stairs and disappears into the bathroom. Maggie is washing the dishes so hard the patterns are coming off.

Eventually he enters the kitchen and lifts up the envelope.

After fiddling with it for a while, he pulls at one corner of the sealed flap. It starts to tear open, then about 2 inches along the length it breaks off.

Maggie turns back to the dishes, scrubbing so hard they are becoming transparent.

Rogan hooks his thumbnail under the edge of the remaining flap and starts to tear. Another inch and it breaks off again.

“For goodness sake. Do you want a knife to open it with?”

“No, I’m fine.”

He tears a bit more. It takes 6 attempts before he’s opened the envelope.

Oh god, he’s now reading the covering letter.

I glance at Maggie. I’m sure I can actually see her heart pounding.

Finally Rogan slides the top sheet away and looks at his results.

“Aw no, I got a B for English.”

B? B is fine. B is good. What about the others?

Everything else, top marks (As or 1s depending on the exam type).

Proud parents.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Building and Burning The Wickerman 2011

The Wickerman Festival is not on the same scale as the T in the Park music festival Rogan and Holly attended back in June; nor does it attract the same high-level bands. Whereas this year's T in the Park had headliners like U2 and Coldplay, The Wickerman had James and Feeder.

Basically, if you’re playing at the Wickerman, you’re either moving up from small, local band status, or you might have had a few chart hits several years (or decades) ago, but your fan base primarily comes from people who remember you from their youth.

However, it does have 2 distinct advantages over other, larger music festivals. The first is it’s less than 15 miles away, and the second is it has a giant willow sculpture that goes up in flames at midnight on the Saturday.

And it is damned impressive both before and after it does.

Because I know Trevor Leat, one of the sculptors of The Wickerman (built by, last year I popped out one day during the building of it to take photos (see - Building The Wickerman), then went along to the festival and took photos of it burning down (see - Burning The Wickerman).

This year we planned it a bit more and I went out on site half a dozen times so I could create a sequence of photos showing it being built at several different stages.

The steel frame was still in place from last year’s sculpture, but they repositioned the arms, removed the bow and this year added antlers to create a stag-headed man design.

Below are a few taster photos of the complete sequence, which can be found by following the links at the end of this post to my Facebook or Flickr albums.

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

Starting at the bottom of last year's frame and working upwards

The arms are repositioned

The scaffolding gets higher

The brave photographer scales the scaffolding to see the head being built.

Admiring festival goers give the completed sculpture a sense of scale

One food stall taking full advantage of bonus publicity...

Going up in flames

Because of the direction of the wind, one arm and one antler remain long after the rest has burned away


The full set of images on Facebook
The full set of images on Flickr

Trevor Leat's website
Alex Rigg's website
Leat-Rigg website