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Saturday, 28 December 2013

Speeding through the dark night

"You know what annoys me?" I say to my son, as I'm driving him home after the holidays.

"Bankers," he says. "Windmills. Me.

"All of the above," I say. "Also people who complain about my singing. I like music. I got a great sense of rhythm. But they tell me I sound like a spaniel with its paw stuck in a fence, when I sing." 

"What annoys me is people complaining," he says. "They do it all the time now, about everything. I get a lot of complaints about my spelling, grammar and pronounciation."

"It's pronounced pronunciation," I complain.

"See that's what I'm talking about," he says. "If you recognise it's wrong you've got the meaning. So picking me up on it is pedantic. Language changes all the time. I'm just ahead of the curve." 

"Well ahead," I say, as the steady beat of the windscreen wipers brings an old Motown number to mind, and I burst into song. 

"Red light, green light, speeding through the dark night, driving through the pounding rain. I gotta see Jane." 

Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, R. Dean Taylor, Don Gooch

"What on earth is that?" he says.

"Great track from the sixties by a guy called R. Dean Taylor," I tell him. "I always thought his name was Ardene."

"There you are then," he says. "Who gives a toss?"

"He does, I'm guessing," I say. "You wouldn't like it if people spelt your name wrong."

"I wouldn't care. I spell it wrong myself. Shakespeare never spelled his name the same way twice."

"He got away with it because he was Shakespeare," I say. "You're not. You don't want people thinking you're illiterate. They won't give you a job."

"I don't want them to give me a job," he says. "They can shove their job."

"What will you live on?" I say.

"Art," he says. "Fresh air and vegetables. The universe will provide."

"No it won't."

"It has so far," he says.

"That wisnae the universe," I say. "That was me." 

"Cheers, man," he says. "Appreciate it."

"Aye, no problem. Windscreen wipers, splishing splashing, calling out her name, I gotta see Jane."

"What I do with people that complain about my spelling or grammar is to thank them," he says. "Then I make the same mistake again as often as possible. It drives them nuts." 

"Why do you want to drive people nuts? I try very hard not to drive people nuts."

"And you still drive them nuts. Wasted effort, I'd say."

"Fair point. I used to make your mother criminally insane by being in the same room with her."

"Same house is how she tells it," he says. "Same town."

"Same country," I say.

"Speaking of which, I'm going to Newcastle for Hogmanay," he says. "Have you noticed how guys in Glasgow are into this Geordie thing now of wandering around with no shirt on, to show how hard they are?"

"I don't get out much," I say.

"You'd see it all the time, if you did," he says. "I'm like all that proves, pal, is you're going home to a nice meal in a warm house with the central heating turned up high. Put a shirt on, ya tosser."

"Although I tried I could not survive," I belt it out and he picks it up and sings along with me. "The frantic pace, the constant chase to win the race, it's not a part of me. I've gotta find what I left behind. Oh, I gotta see Jane.

"Oh I gotta see Jane."

"So you do know the song?" I say when our last notes have sped together through the dark night.

"I do," he says. "Just not the way you sang it. You are a terrible singer, man."

"Are you complaining?" I say. 

"No way," he says.

I Gotta See Jane by R. Dean Taylor. 
Science of singing by Nandhu Radhakrishnan at the University of Missouri.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Deep and crisp and even

Photo by Dug Blane
Three o' clock on a chilly Christmas morning. A woman laden with parcels strides along empty avenues, their wet pavements silver and gold in the streetlights. Occasionally she darts an apprehensive glance behind, before strolling swiftly on. 

Fifty yards back, two dark figures freeze in mid-step, like cartoon characters, every time she does so, before resuming their pursuit. "Slow down, man," the taller one says, wheezing loudly. "You'll give me a heart attack."

"You should lay off the cigarettes," the other replies. "At least you're warm in that big coat. I can't feel my legs. Whose daft notion was this anyway?"

Minutes before it had seemed a great idea, after Anne had set off into the night, refusing to let any of us big, strong men accompany her. She had a point. Chuck was lounging on the sofa at an angle of forty-five degrees, drinking beer and looking fuzzy. I was in an armchair opposite, trying to remember my middle name.

"I'll be fine," she said. "You'll only hold me back and we'll likely all get mugged. I'll be home before the two of you can stand up straight."

The sound of the front door closing behind her seemed to galvanise Chuck. "I'm going after her," he says, leaping to his feet like a young gazelle, then toppling slowly sideways, like a young gazelle that's had ten pints of Guinness, and saving himself by grabbing the standard lamp.

"I don't like women wombling around at night on their own," he says, screwing up his face and trying harder. "Wandering," he says. "It's not wight."

"I'm with you, Elmer," I say, hauling myself vertical and heading for the door.

"Oh my God," Susan says. "Batman and Robin. At least take your jacket," she says, handing it to me. "Don't frighten her and get back here before the New Year."

"Which one am I?" Chuck says, as we head into the deserted streets. 

"You're Robin," I say.

"Why do I have to be Robin?" he says.

"Because you're a follower," I say. "I'm a natural leader - fearless and decisive with a powerful personality."

"And a Batmobile," he says, nodding to my Vauxhall Corsa parked on the road.

"Sarcasm doesn't suit Robin," I say. "There's no sign of her. We're going to have to run." 

Around two corners we catch sight of Anne not far ahead and go into our freezing and wheezing routine, since she's going to be really annoyed if she sees us.

"This is daft," Chuck says, when we've let her put some distance between us. "I can't breathe. If someone jumped her, I could only shout 'Stop that or I'll come and get you in five minutes!'"

"It's more than I could do," I say. "We've lost her again."

"Oh bugger," he says and sets off, before I can stop him, in a long slow lope like that used by his ancient ancestors on the African savannah, to eat up the miles and hunt down their prey.

Unfortunately Chuck's prey has heard him coming and is waiting behind a privet hedge, with a parcel of mince pies in a Tesco plastic bag. 

"Is he dead?" I say, when I round the corner and find Anne leaning over his supine body, spreadeagled on the pavement.

"Don't be stupid," she says. "Mild concussion at worst. What did you idiots think you were playing at? You scared the life out of me."

"We were providing you with manly protection from nameless dangers of the night," I say.

"The only dangers around here tonight are you and him," she says.

"Just a small piece of chocolate cake, madam," Chuck says, sitting up and looking around. "Your lights are a little bright this evening."

"That's more sense than he usually makes," I say. "He'll be fine. We'll see you inside your house, then be on our way. Unless you'd like to repay us by inviting us in for a nightcap."

A gust of wind blows her reply away, catching her front door at the same time and slamming it firmly in our faces. We turn and head for Susan's house. 

"I think that went well," Chuck says. "We don't need to give them all the details. Anne home, job done about covers it."

"I think so," I say. "While the world sleeps we walk the streets, keeping the town safe for the civilised."

"Gratitude is a gift," Chuck says. "Thanks are a bonus. The work itself is its own reward." 

"Have you any idea where we are?" I say, coming to a halt and recognising nothing.

"I'm afraid not, Batman," he says. "I was following you."

Fearless and decisive, I pull my phone from my pocket and call us a cab.

Want more?
Elmer Fudd sings Bruce Springsteen.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Subtle humour sucks

"I've stopped reading Twitter in the morning," Rachel tells me, as we're trying to work in the physics library at the University, and I'm wondering if it can get any chillier in here. The heating system seems to think it's mid-summer and is blasting cold air through large vents in the wall. I'm icing up fast. 

"It's relentless," she says. "It makes me feel everything is far worse than I thought. Sexism, homophobia, Tory cuts, terrorism, climate change, ocean pollution, cold feet, badly-fitting bras, the hierarchy problem in particle physics.

"Twitter tells me stuff I can't do anything about. But once you start reading you can't stop. You're fascinated and appalled. You desperately want to do something to help, but you can't because the world's problems are enormous."
"Don't stand there gawping - help me out here."
"You sound like my son," I say, pulling the collar of my jacket up and sinking my head down, to get some heat into frozen ears. "He avoids the news because it makes him feel bad."

"That's going too far," she says. "You have to force yourself to face stuff or you're not living in the real world. I just don't want it coming at me too early and all at once. It ruins my day."

"Follow some funny guys then," I say. "It's what I do. Lightens my mood in the morning. Paul Bassett Davies makes me laugh. He does these offbeat one-liners on Twitter and writes a blog. 

"I like his advice to aspiring writers: 'Begin with a sex scene. Then do some writing.'" 

"I don't know him," Rachel says. "But what puts me off Internet humour is the brainless boy-jokes. Mostly visual and slapstick, and often cruel. It's like Mel Brooks says: 'Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.' I don't like that. I like subtlety."

"I don't," I say. "I like Mel Brooks. You can't beat a good fart joke. Then there's that scene where the black sheriff shouts 'Hey, where the white women at?' to the Ku Klux Klan.' That was funny."

"Hilarious," she says. 
Scottish humour

"Subtle humour is just a way to flaunt your superiority," I say. "Then you laugh again at the people who don't get the joke. It's not funny. It's peacock posturing."

"And crude stand-up isn't?" she says. 

"I don't like that either," I say. "So is there a science of humour?"

"Not so much a science," she says. "More a bunch of theories that go back to Aristotle."

"Did he do stand-up? Aristotle at the Apollo?"

"No but he had theories about everything, most of them wrong. He reckoned all humour had its origins in that feeling of superiority you mentioned. So did Thomas Hobbes, much later

"It was Francis Hutcheson, the father of the Scottish Enlightenment, who first pointed out that humour is multi-faceted and often arises from the convergence of two mismatched ideas."

"Interesting," I say. "So do you want to hear a subtle, multi-faceted joke?"

"Yes, please," she says.

"Two philosophers meet in a bar. 'How did you get so wet?' Descartes says. 

"'Turns out I was wrong," Heraclitus replies. 'Can I get you a drink?' 

"'I think not,' says Descartes and disappears."

"Ha ha," Rachel says.

"I rest my case," I say. 

Science of humour
The good sense of humour (GSOH) everyone's looking for might be different for men and women, according to research. "To a woman, 'sense of humour' means someone who makes her laugh; to a man, a sense of humour means someone who appreciates his jokes."

Prof Sophie Scott regularly tweets and laughter is one of her research interests.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Which foot does he kick with?

Religion is a touchy topic in the West of Scotland and some people take great pleasure in using it to wind me up. One of these days I'll have the sense to realise what's happening and not rise to the bait.

"I think she's kicking more with her right foot," I say innocently, as we watch little Sally gurgling and laughing on the sofa at a small gathering in Susan's living room.

"She is not," says an unfamiliar woman in a woolly hat"Is he a ... ?" she adds, nodding to the right to fill in the blank and looking with displeasure in my direction.

"I'm afraid so," Susan says. 

"Bad luck," the woman says and wanders through to the kitchen.

"What was that about?" I say.

"She was asking if you were a Protestant," Susan says. "I told her you were."

"I'm not," I say.

"Are you a Catholic?" she says.


"Then you're a Protestant."

"That's ridiculous," I say. "There are more than two types of people in the world."

"He's right," Chuck says. "There's three. Are you a Muslim?"

"No," I say.

"Then you're a Protestant," he says.

"I don't believe you people," I say and a hush falls on the company.

"Pardon me?" Susan says in that tone that makes male hormones run for the hills. "You people?"

"I meant all you people in this room that are talking bollocks about religion," I say. "I'm a scientist. Doesn't mean I can't be religious. Some scientists are. I'm not. If anything I'm a Buddhist. Which is not a religion. It's a way of life. I'm not a Catholic. I am not a Protestant."

"Don't get out your pram,Chuck says. "Buddhist is just a kind of Muslim, isn't it?"

I shake my head, try not to react to the nonsense, and fail. "Buddha lived a thousand years before Muhammad," I say. "How can a Buddhist be a kind of Muslim? That's like saying an early Christian was a kind of Catholic."

"Well they were," Susan says. "What you're failing to grasp, because you have a Protestant brain, is that we're not talking facts here. We're talking faith."

"Look, I've had Catholic friends all my life," I say. "When I was young I loved going to watch Celtic. There's a spirituality in people like Mary that really appeals to me. I like Catholic culture. 

"But I am not a Catholic. I am not a Protestant. And I'm sick of this divisive nonsense. I don't want to hear another word about Catholics and Protestants. All right?"

"Calm down, dear," Susan pats my arm, just as the woman, who seems to be an old friend of the family, wanders in again and says, "What's he shouting about now?"

"He's getting excited about religion," Susan says. "He's telling us he's a Buddhist."

"Really?" the woman says. "What kind of Buddhist?"

"At last a sensible question," I say. "Well let's see. There are three broad groups. There is Theravada, the oldest and most conservative, Mahayana, the most popular nowadays, and Tibetan Buddhism, which might be familiar to you through the Dalai Lama. If you wanted to pigeon-hole my thinking I'd be inclined to call myself ..."

"Never mind all that," the woman says. "Are you a Protestant Buddhist or a Catholic Buddhist?"

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The secret of success with women

Big guy everybody loves at Christmas. And Santa.
Brian is a bit of a babe magnet. He denies it modestly, but the evidence is there for all to see. Beautiful blonde wife he's devoted to. Women gazing adoringly, when he goes out. 

If I've heard "Brian is lovely" once, I've heard it a dozen times.

So this evening I've decided to get the secret out of him, as the two of us are having a whisky together in his lounge, while the females of the family are off somewhere, buying Christmas presents.

"Is this a Glenlivet?" I say, sipping the mellow malt.

"Singleton," he tells me.

"Close," I say. "The distilleries are only ten miles apart. Same water and air. Same smooth, sweet, fruity Speyside."

He noses his glass. "True," he says. "But I think you'll find the fruit notes in The Singleton are blackcurrant with a hint of espresso coffee, while The Glenlivet is powerfully pineapple."

I take a sip and survey the guy over the rim of my glass. He is probably right. He always is. It's what makes you want to slap him round the head. I don't because I'm too civilised for violence. 

And because he's six feet three.

A man of studied calm, eclectic interests and impressive erudition, Brian read philosophy at Cambridge and has about 5000 books around his house. He is an admirer of the empiricist philosopher and urbane 18th century gent, David Hume.

"He is happy whom circumstances suit his temper," Hume wrote. "But he is more excellent who suits his temper to any circumstance."

Which pretty much sums up young Brian. Nothing seems to faze him. I don't believe he has ever lost his temper. I've never seen him show irritation even, which is some feat in a modern world that starts irritating me as soon as I notice it's still there in the morning.

"So listen laddie, what is the secret of your appeal to females?" I say. "And none of your false modesty."

He considers the question, his head tilted to one side, studying the light shimmering through his whisky. "Maybe it's because I don't try to impress," he says quietly. "I just chat to them."

"What about?" I say.

"Anything." He shrugs. "Everything. Books, films, music, history, philosophy, sport. It's not rocket science."

"I know that," I say. "I can do rocket science."

"You have to remember that women are people," he says, and I place my whisky down on the coffee table and study him closely, trying to figure out if he's pulling my leg. 

"You mean they are like people?" I say.

"No," he says. "They are people." 

"Surely men are from Mars and women from Venus," I say. "Everybody knows that."

"We are all from Earth," he says, sounding like one of those long-haired, airy-fairy, love and peace, get a job in banking as soon as I graduate hippies that were around when I was a lad.

"Let's say you're right," I say. "Does that mean I should just be myself around women? Then they'll like me too?"

“'Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,'” Brian says. 

"I've always liked that quote," I say. "Ralph Waldo Emerson wasn't it?"

"Oscar Wilde," he says. "What Emerson said was: 'To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.'”

"Really?" I say. "Thank you for correcting me. Anyway the point is it's all about being yourself. That's what you're saying, isn't it?"

He scratches his chin. "It's not that simple, I'm afraid," he says. "'Be yourself' works for me. But that's because it's me. It's not going to work as well for you, because you'll end up with you. Same idea, different outcome. 

"You see what I mean, don't you?"

"Yes I do," I say, gritting my teeth, reminding myself that Brian only looks average size because he's seated, taking a swig of his Singleton and detecting for the first time those bloody notes of blackcurrant he was on about.

Party time

Some people are so quiet and unassuming you'd hardly know they're around. Others are negative and downbeat, so it feels like someone's just left the room when they come in.

Then there's Susan.

"Have we been formally introduced?" she says, when I enquire, at lunchtime by the fire in the Ubiquitous Chip, if she plans to celebrate the gigantic funding award she has just secured for the charity she manages. 

"Don't you remember my 50th birthday celebrations?" she adds.

"Just about," I say. "There are gaps. It's like the 1960s. If you can remember them clearly you weren't there. I do recall they lasted a year, there were several fatalities and there's a couple of acres of Scotland where crops will never grow again."

"You're exaggerating," she says. "As always. Nobody died. A few cuts and bruises was the worst anybody got. Couple of sprained ankles. Nothing serious."

"I heard two of your relatives needed liver transplants," I say.

"They're fine now," she says.

"What about the guy whose knee went septic from the crocodile bite?" I say.

"He recovered and they saved his leg," she says.

"Didn't your sister need surgery to get a radioactive lobster out of her nose?"

"Yeah, but you know what Marion's like. I told her not to swim in the sea beside the nuclear power station."

"So what are you planning to do with all that money," I say.

"It'll be fantastic," she says. "We're going to buy a van and hire a driver. We'll open another charity shop in the next town and employ a web expert to beef up our social media presence. 

"We'll give out household goods to vulnerable families and more clothes to babies and toddlers. It means we can help loads more mums, dads and kids. That's what we're all about."

"It sounds great," I say. "I'm really pleased for you. Honest. Just a bit scared is all. But I've bought a flak jacket on eBay and a small bomb-shelter kit from Ikea. I'm trying to figure out the instructions now."

"So you'll be fine?" she says. 

"I'll be fine," I say. "When do the celebrations start?"

"Any day now," she says. "The funders have put an embargo on us, because they want to announce it themselves."

"Will we get a four-minute warning?" I say.

"Listen pal, you got me all wrong," she says. "There's absolutely no need for anybody to be scared about this. I am the shy, retiring type."

"I know," I say. "And I'm a duck-billed platypus."

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sally go round the sun

Welcome to the December 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: The More Things Change . . .
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about life changes.

Photo by Douglas Blane
Sally had brought plenty of anxiety into our lives already, by being delivered five weeks prematurely to save her Mum, who had pre-eclampsia.

She was such a delicate wee soul, but she seemed healthy and she ate well. For a few weeks we had no worries and she appeared to be developing normally. She wouldn't breastfeed, no matter how often her mum tried, but she did take the bottle and she did put on weight.

After about four weeks however, little Sally's behaviour began to cause us concern. Several times a day she would go stiff and turn her head to one side. She didn't seem to be in pain but she wasn't happy either.

New mums don't know what to expect. Grandmas and grandpas have forgotten the details of babies' behaviour, and have experienced only a handful anyway. Development guidelines are useful but are all about averages. 

The health visitor was reassuring. She could see nothing amiss, she said. "But you don't have a contented baby," her mum told Marie when Sally was about four weeks old. 

"I know," Marie said. "There's something troubling her. But I don't know what it is. They tell me she's fine but I don't think so. I'm going to take her to the doctor."

At first all that happened was that the health visitor came more often. But Sally's little movements continued and within a week mum and baby had been given a room and a bed in the local hospital, for tests and observation. 

It was a tough time for all of us - mum, dad, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles. Toughest for the parents of course, but not easy for the rest of the family, who had to wait at home for news, and could only visit for a few hours each day. 

Little Sally seemed unconcerned. She didn't like the needles, but they didn't make her cry for long. She slept a great deal and she kept on eating. 

We tried to reassure each other, but the uncertainty was hard to take and the too sympathetic expressions on the faces of the doctors had begun to worry Marie. "I've a feeling it's something serious, but they're not sure so they aren't telling us," she said when we visited on the third morning.
Photo by Shona Howat

That afternoon our anxieties increased when we got a phone call to say that mum and baby were being taken by ambulance to the city hospital for sick children, where specialists could do more detailed testing. 

Three long days later her parents got the results and her mum talked to us soon afterwards. She looked pale and her eyes were red.

"Sally has tuberous sclerosis," she said. "It's a rare genetic condition that causes growths in the body. She has one in her brain that's causing the seizures. She has three in her heart but they're small. They are not concerned about them. Her kidneys and lungs seem fine.

"Sally might have learning difficulties. She might be autistic. They don't know. She might be all right. They have to get the epilepsy under control, they say. So we need to give her drugs every day."

Her mum took her hand and squeezed.  "We'll get through this," she said. 

"I know," Marie said. "But only 1 in 6000 babies are born with this condition. Why me, Mum?"

"I don't know, sweetheart," she said and hugged her hard.

That was three months ago. Sally is now on four different drugs daily and the seizures don't last as long as they did. But she still has lots of them. Her arms and shoulders go stiff, her face turns red and her eyes lose focus. It passes quickly and she seems unconcerned afterwards, but she can have dozens a day. 

It is hard to watch her. It's even harder to watch her mum's face while she's having the seizures.

Photo Douglas Blane
Sally is still growing and has begun to make eye contact. She chuckles and follows the sound of her mum's voice with her eyes. Physically she is a little behind and has not yet got control of her head, which is a worry. 

The doctors are talking now about steroids and even surgery. So the future for Sally is uncertain. We look after her. We buy her presents. We watch and wait. 

She is still developing and making progress. But we don't know if it's fast enough and we don't know where or when it will end.

"We do know one thing," her grandma told her mum yesterday afternoon in her flat, as we watched Sally lying on the sofa and giving us big smiles. 

"She is the best-loved wee girl in the world and she always will be."

Since I wrote this a week ago, Sally has learned how to lift her head and turn it to the sound of her mother's voice. She can't hold it steady for long, but it is a good sign.

For more information

Tuberous sclerosis is a genetic condition that causes non-malignant tumours in various organs of the body, mainly the brain, eyes, heart, kidney, skin and lungs. Aspects affecting quality of life are mostly associated with the brain, and can include seizures, developmental delay, autism and learning difficulties. Many people with TSC live independent, healthy lives, however, and have challenging professions, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and researchers. The incidence and severity of the various aspects of TSC can vary widely between individuals - even between identical twins.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Mature StudentAmber Strocel is embarking on a new adventure in 2014, by returning to a space in her life she thought she'd left behind - that of being a university student.
  • And then there were four — Jillian at Mommyhood learned how quickly love can grow when welcoming a second child to the family.
  • Handling Change As A Mother (And Why That Takes Things To A Different Level) — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how she helps her young daughter navigate change and why it is so important, as a mother, to gauge her own reactions to change.
  • Without Dad-One Year Later — Erica at ChildOrganics shares how her life has changed one year after losing her husband suddenly.
  • Family Ties — Lori at TEACH through Love realized that her most significant, most painful wound paved the way for her to share her greatest gift.
  • Rootless — After Dionna @ Code Name: Mama's parents packed up their home and moved to Florida this fall, she is feeling rootless and restless.
  • A Letter to My Mama Self in the Swirl of Change — Sheila Pai of A Living Family shares a letter she wrote to herself to capture and remember the incredible changes from the year, and invites you to do the same and share!
  • Junctionssustainablemum explains how her family has dealt with a complete change of direction this year.
  • Planning, Parenting, and Perfection — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how most of the plans she made for her adult life have worked out differently than she planned, but she's ended up getting a lot of what she really wanted.
  • Why First Grade Means Growing Up... for Both Me and My Daughter — Donna at Eco-Mothering discovers that her daughter's transition into first grade is harder as a parent.
  • First Year of Mothering — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot reflects on the quiet change that took her by surprise this year.
  • Building the Community YOu Desire — A recent move has Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children working toward setting up a new support network.
  • Slowing down in 2013 — A car fire and a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome made 2013 a very different year than the one Crunchy Con Mommy and family were expecting!
  • The Seven Year Cycle — After 7 intense years of baking, birthing and breastfeeding 6 kids, Zoie at TouchstoneZ wonders, "Will I be enough for what comes next?"
  • Rebirth — Kellie of Our Mindful Life has found that each of her births leaves her a different person.
  • When a Hobby Becomes a Business — This year, new doors opened for That Mama Gretchen's hobby of writing and blogging - it has turned into a side business. She's sharing a bit about her journey and some helpful tips in case you're interested in following the same path.
  • 5 Tips for Embracing a Big Change in Your Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about a big change in her family and shares tips that have always helped her family embrace changes.
  • Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes — Ana at Panda & Ananaso ruminates on how having a child changed her priorities.
  • Homeostasis — Lauren at Hobo Mama is finding that even as elements shift in her life — in cosleeping, homeschooling, breastfeeding, & more — they mostly remain very familiar.
  • Sally go round the sun — A new baby brings joy and unexpected sadness for Douglas at Friendly Encounters, as she is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition.
  • Embrace it — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen muses about the changes in her family this year and how she can embrace them . . . as best she can anyway.
  • Big Change; Seamless but Big — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares how one of the biggest changes of her life was also a seamless transition.
  • Celebrating Change — Change feeds Jaye Anne at Wide Awake, Half Asleep's soul. And all the work that seemed like monotonous nothingness finally pays off in a clear way.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Get out, pervert!

Carol apologises more often than anyone else in the world. My sister probably comes second, closely followed by several other females I know. It's a girl thing, I think.

This morning Carol got started early, when I opened the bathroom door to find her naked in the shower, and exited with a swift apology. But not swift enough. She beat me to it by half a second.

I mean think about it. You've got your hair nicely lathered and are enjoying the luxury, in the chilly winter months, of hot water blasting your skin, soothing your insides and setting you up for the day ahead, when an ageing member of the opposite sex ruins the relaxing moment by blundering in and sending your fight or flight hormones soaring.

I know what I'd have done. I'd have screamed "Oy!". Closely followed by "Get out pervert!" 

But not Carol. "Sorry!" she said at the time, then "I'm really sorry" later, when she's dressed and I'm trying to apologise to her. "I should have locked the door," she says. 

"Well maybe," I say, "But you're far too quick to apologise. All the time. For everything. Like when that little dog took a liking to your leg and started humping it. You said 'I'm sorry about this' when everyone looked at you.

"You were sorry for what? For making your legs so irresistible that other species want to have sex with them?"

"For stopping the conversation," she says. "For attracting attention."

"It wasn't your fault," I say. "Then there was that time someone smashed a bottle of red wine at a party and the hostess went 'Aw Carol!' and you immediately apologised, even though you hadn't done it. That wasn't your fault.

"Then there was the time your uncle told you he had obsessive compulsive disorder aggravated by being somewhere on the autistic spectrum."

"And I said 'I thought you were just a wanker,'" she says. "And everyone laughed but him."

"So fair enough that was your fault," I say. "And you were right to apologise for hurting his feelings. But not for intending to."  

"I didn't mean to upset him," she says. "It was just a one-liner." 

"I know it was," I say. "And it was funny. Not because he is a wanker, but because - if you want to get technical - of the bathos of the pithy pejorative juxtaposed with the orotund psychological pseudo-diagnosis."

"Exactly what I tried to tell him," she says.

"The thing is," I say, warming to my theme. "The crux of it is that what you're doing all this time is apologising for being you. And that's the last thing you should do. You're smart and funny and kind. Your first thought when someone's in trouble is what can you do to help. I think you're great. You just have to stop apologising."

"You're absolutely right,"she says, and I know what's coming next and that there's no force in the universe strong enough to stop it. 

"I'm sorry," she says.

Science of sorry
Men think they've done fewer things wrong, which is why women apologise more often.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Ball game II

Al  has had more than his fair share of ailments in the past 30 years, so it's easier to list those that haven't afflicted him than those that have. He's avoided measles, mastitis, nappy rash and period pains. That's about it.

Pretty much everything else you can think of he's had. Frozen shoulder, runner's knee, collapsed lung, tennis elbow, coxsackie virus, myalgic encephalomyelitis, colds, flu, pneumonia and hospital superbugs that damn near killed him. Oh yeah and depression.

But his latest malady, which I notice when we're changing at the gym for our Wednesday workout, is bigger than any of those.

It's bad form, of course, to show an interest in people's tackle in a male changing-room. A fleeting glance is acceptable, even expected, but repeated peeks or a prolonged stare with raised eyebrows will get you complained about. Or propositioned.

So normally I wouldn't dream of doing a double-take and a sharp intake of breath. But I can't help it. Al's equipment is a magnet for my eyes. I get away with it because there's no one else in the room, we've seen each other naked loads of times, neither of us is gay and there's a good reason for my current fascination with his testicles.

"You've noticed," he says.

"Hard to miss," I say.

"I'm up here," he says.

"Sorry," I say. "Can't take my eyes off it. What happened? You catch it in a door?"

"Nope. It gradually went that way over a couple of weeks. I didn't notice at first. Then it became obvious. One testicle much bigger than the other."

"You going to the doc's or will you buy a wheelbarrow for it?"

"I've been. He gave me antibiotics and said it would shrink back down again."

"You should have asked for something to make its mates grow big as well."

"I did. Stony-faced pill-pusher never cracked a smile."

"Probably hear stuff like that all the time when you're a balls doctor."

"I guess," he says, pulling his shorts on. "He also sent me for an ultrasound scan, just to be safe. I got a letter the following week warning me, in bold letters, that it might be done by a female. That got me worried."

"I can see why. How long is it since a woman saw you naked? Twenty years?"

"More like fifty," he says. "So I kept my fingers crossed that nothing would come up during the examination."

"Did it?" I say, as we head out the door towards the gym.

"Not a twitch," he says. "Which was a relief and a disappointment. There were two females doing the examination. One rubbing jelly on my genitals and moving them around to get a better view. The other studying it all on the screen above my head." 

"Must have felt exposed," I say.

"And then some," he says. "'I can't see a thing to worry about,' the female at the screen says. 'Me neither,' says her friend down below, and I catch a wee smile on her stupid face."

"Embarrassing," I say, giving him a comforting slap on the shoulder.

"Humiliating," Al says. "It's the last time I let a woman look at my tackle, I can tell you."

I glance down. "That's what you think, son," I say. "You're going to need a bigger pair of shorts."

"Bugger," he says and turns on his heel and heads back to the changing-room.

Some science of swollen testicles 
1.  Orchitis is the term for inflammation and swelling of one or both testicles, caused by infection.
2. Men with smaller testicles are more likely to feed and bath the baby. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

There's nothing wrong with surly

Stu Kidd at the Rio. (Photo by Dug Blane)
"I'm not going in there again," I tell my son as we're driving along Radnor Street looking for a good place to grab a bite on his birthday. 

"Guy behind the counter's a surly git and he sticks five percent on the bill if you pay by card."

"Nothing wrong with surly," he tells me and goes off on one. 

"It's a Scottish tradition. It's how you know you're not in New York. You don't get everybody telling you to have a nice day. I don't want total strangers telling me to have a nice day. I'm not their friend. I don't know them. They don't know me. I've got my shopping. I've paid for it. I just want to get out of there. Have a nice day yourself, you artificially cheery little twat."

He stops to draw breath. "You all right now?" I ask. 

"I'm fine," he says. "How about the Rio? They've live bands at the weekend, so we go there often. It's friendly. Stu Kidd plays there a lot."

So I turn right and head up Argyle Street, past the Kelvingrove and find a parking space outside St Peter's Primary. The Rio is jumping when we get inside, but the waitress, who looks about twelve, finds us a table not too close to the door, since it's a chilly morning, and right next to a heater, which is cosy, and we settle down to study the menu. 

My sister's looking good and seems perkier than usual, without the strain lines round her eyes that she's had for a while. "I had the carpet taken up and vinyl put down," she says. "I'm allergic to house mites, I've discovered."

"Seriously?" my son says. "What do they do?"

"Make me tense," she says. "I'd started swearing at other drivers and tailgating them."

"Because you were pissed off with the house mites?" my son says.

"Some chemical they produce was making me stressed," she says. "But I'm fine now. Dead relaxed even in the car."

"Your yin and yang look well balanced to me," he says. "Speaking of which my pal Jawad is into this whole middle class lifestyle thing - wife, sales job, beamer, house in the country. Now he's bought himself a giant dog called Paul. 

"No hang on. It's John I think. George. Adam. Rex. Rover." He chunters to a halt, looking puzzled.

"Bruce!" he shouts and the woman at the next table jumps a foot and chokes on her coffee. "I'm sorry," he says to the waitress walking past, who gives him a raised eyebrow and a tentative smile.

"I have trouble with names," he tells us. "They tested me at College recently and said I was smart but my short-term memory's useless."

"Why were they testing you?" I say.

"I don't remember," he says.

I take a sip of coffee and look about. Busy café with lots of women and little toddlers wandering around. Clatter of plates and heels. Hiss of the coffee machine. Nice feel to the place. 

"You got any mushrooms?" my son says, shoving his food around on the plate. 

"They're under your egg," I tell him. "Maybe chemistry's your problem, same as Helen. Could be food additives. They cause headaches, hair loss, acne, impotence and brain damage."

"Is there evidence for any of that? he says. "Or are you just Daily Mailing it?"

"Less of that," my sis says. "I get the Daily Mail."

"I don't get any news," he says. "Don't have a TV. Don't read the papers. No idea what's going on in the world. Which means I'm much happier than you guys. Death and disaster don't get beamed into my brain every day."

He spears a pensive mushroom. "Only trouble is I'll be the last to hear about the end of the world. Like an asteroid's headed for Earth or robots have replaced the humans and I'll be wandering the deserted streets alone. Hapless, gormless, clueless and doomed."

"It's happened already," I say. "All those people telling you to have a nice day are the first wave of the robots."

"You reckon?" he says.  

"Sure. In fact how do you know I'm not a robot? Or your aunty here. You could be the only human in this whole café."

I jerk my head and go "Bzzzt. Have a nice day," in a robot voice. "Exterminate! Exterminate!"

"Pillock," he says and stabs a surly sausage with his fork.