Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Beyond a Joke

I'm fed up with snow. It's been nearly a month now since the first fall here, and we are still blanketed in the stuff. At night , we are seeing double digit minus numbers on the thermometer. My stack of firewood is diminishing rapidly, and cutting it up is tiring me out.

Bah! Humbug!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Merry Xmas


Shamelessly pinched from Munguin's Republic

A man was driving down the road with a car full of penguins. Penguins sticking out the windows, penguins coming out the sunroof, penguins everywhere.

A bobby pulled him over and told him if he didn't want a ticket he'd better take those penguins straight to the zoo. The man promised he would and drove off.

The next day, the same road, the same car, the same guy, the same polisman and the same penguins - only this time the penguins were all wearing sunglasses!

The bobby pulled the guy over and said, "I thought I told you to take these penguins to the zoo!"

"I did" said the guy, "today I'm taking them to the beach!"

Saturday, 27 November 2010


The world's probably going to hell in a handbasket and I don't know the way out of it all. But I do know if you listen to this Emmylou Harris concert, it will put the smile back on your face. This links to the first part of the show, but you can follow it on through five sections in total.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Two Weddings and a Funeral

I know of a young woman about to marry a serving member of the Royal Air force. Not Kate Middleton, but my daughter Nicola. Her fiance has just begun a four month long posting to the Falkland Islands, so he'll come back to a frenzy of preparations for a wedding in July.

News of a wedding is always good - there's always a story of happiness and commitment there. I'm delighted about Nicola's situation, and I can't find it in me to be grumpy about the forthcoming royal nuptials. Yes, there will be a relentless tide of publicity, the shops will be full of souvenir tat, and the BBC will fawn and scrape obsequiously. Yes, the monarchy is a fossilised relic of an unjust and outdated model of society that belongs on the scrapheap. None of this will be the fault of the young people involved, and I wish them well. Like Nicola and her fiance Chris, they met in St Andrews, just six or seven miles away from where I sit now. There's a nice syncronicity to all of this that I am enjoying.

It's just a month since my father's funeral, and it is good to be reminded that life is a regenerative process. I've been utterly flat and ill for the last month, having massively overdrawn my stamina and energy accounts during the time of my father's death, and I'll take my comfort from where I can find it.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Time for some Bob

This sums things up. Thank you, Dr Z.

Hasta la victoria siempre

I'm feeling pretty fed up with politics at the moment. Paul O'Grady says it all about the UK governing coalition in the video below. I've just seen TV coverage of a delusional "Scottish" Labour conference that will only be remembered for Harriet Harman (Labour's UK equality spokesperson - you couldn't make this up!) and her highly unpleasant racist comparison of the Chief Secretatary to the Treasury to a "ginger rodent". Ian Gray - the leader of "Scottish" Labour - made a leaden speech and concluded it with his opinion that no-one can be a Scottish patriot unless they support a Unionist party.

Whilst all this posturing and posing goes on, a total assault is being launched on the disadvantaged of Great Britain by the cabal of millionaires who govern this country in the coalition cabinet. In Parliament, the announcement of each succesive outrage was greeted with cheers and hilarity from the Government benches. Mreanwhile Harman can think of nothing better to do than to fling about childish remarks about hair colour. Gray seems to think everything is all the fault of the Scottish National Party, despite the shaky economic record of the last UK Labour Government...

Hare are a couple of blogs worth following:


And here's Mr O'Grady.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Hard Times in Old England

I came back up to Scotland yesterday after a week with my father, who had been admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Unfortunately, it got the better of him early this morning, when he slipped away peacefully , 24 hours short of his 83rd birthday. My thanks go to the staff of Jupiter and Teal wards at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, who did much to help him through his final illness.

My Dad finally went gently into the good night, but only after three decades of an encyclopedia of illnesses that he usually bore well, with only a few descents into grumpiness. He was a man of faith, and he would have breathed his last holding a little wooden cross given to him by the Vicar of Cricklade, the small Wiltshire town where he lived long and happily. We had all seen him recently, and his death will not be the cause of any self-reproach or "if onlies". He saw his grandchildren grow into happy adulthood, and was content. He avoided the living death of Alzheimer's and the dread and pain of a cancer. A life well lived as a soldier, a businessman, a volunteer, husband and father. A life well lived and well ended, we give thanks for it and share his hopes for what will come to be. I hope he was confident he could stand before his Maker without fear of rebuke.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Boats, Gin and Oatcakes

We are just back from our week on Jemima D. The boat feels so much nicer to use with her snug dry new top, and she performed flawlessly throughout the week, despite her elderly little engine being scheduled for a thorough overhaul and rebuild. Life on a narrowboat, watching the world go by at three miles per hour, with pauses to work through locks, is a great stress-buster.. We found a handy canal-side damson tree. We put Jemima's bow into the bank and filled a bucket with ripe fruits to take home for damson gin making.

As nearly all of our boating was on the glorious Caldon Canal, we were in North Staffordshire for the week - homeland of the scandously over-looked Staffordshire Oatcake. These divinely-inspired creations, rolled up with fillings such as bacon, cheese, eggs or balck pudding are the ideal boater's breakfast. Recipe here.

Staffordshire is a lovely county, and I would urge UK "staycationers" to go and check out its waterways and scenery. There's lot more to the place than Alton Towers and The Potteries.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


We've spent many happy times on Jemima D. Jemima is an elderly narrowboat that would have been the pride of a holiday boat hire fleet forty years ago. Now, she is owned by a 12 member co-operative, and provides a great low-cost way to boat. I left the co-op with much regret when I became unemployed and needed to cut my outgoings. However, I remain friendly with the co-op, and we've been invited to join a member for a week's boating starting this weekend. We can look forward to a leisurely potter about through Cheshire and Staffordshire about the trusty rusty craft. The trip will take us through the 2926 yards of the Harecastle Tunnel. We'll hope, as we always do, that Kit Crewbucket is resting easy as we pass through. So far, the worst I've suffered in Harecastle is a few rusty stains on my boating hat caused by the drips that fall from the tunnel roof. It takes the best part of an hour to boat through the tunnel - it's a weird experience.

We're picking the boat up in or near Macclesfield, and we'll head south onto the Trent and Mersey Canal, through Harecastle, and onto the Caldon Canal. A nice varied stretch to boat on, and in reach of a good few of our boaty friends. It's been too long, I'm looking forward swinging a windlass at a canal lock again.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Another Viral Straw in the Wind

An interesting little story reported by the BBC today - link here

The story was given a quite positive spin on the BBC Radio 4 Today prog. today - it mentioned that disbelief was a common problem for ME sufferers, and that therefore a finding suggesting a viral cause for ME was a positive step for the morale of sufferers, let alone the prospect of a cure.

Monday, 23 August 2010

At the other extreme

Cerebral, intense and beautiful:

Great Pop Songs

Sometimes all you need is a catchy tune, a straightforward sentiment and everything kept simple. Here's a great example of the genre - more to follow.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Julie Fowlis - Bothan Àirigh am Bràigh Raithneach

Regular readers will know I'm a great fan of the BBC's "Transatlantic Sessions". Here's Julie Fowlis singing for us in the language of heaven

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Little Douce Coop

American and English are subtly different languages, and the differences can be rather startling. In the UK, a rubber is what we use to erase pencil marks,the item that it shares a name with in the US has an entirely different function. Americans talking about their "fanny" in the UK will be surprised to learn that in the UK a fanny is not a backside, but an adjacent female body part. The scope for embarrassment is boundless.

However, this post is about henhouses and the vagaries of US v UK pronunciation. We'd say, "Little dewse Coupay" in Britain, whereas we all know how it sounded when the Beach Boys sang. My hens have a nifty new coop, complete with wheels so it can be moved to fresh pastures. It's very smart, neat and tidy - "douce" in the Scots.

So, it's a "Little Douce Coop" - Enjoy your new home, ladies!

Friday, 6 August 2010

What does ME feel like?

I get asked that a lot. Here's as good an answer as I've found, although the experience extends to razors, cups of tea, cordless phones, remote controls. I even lost my car recently - took me 15 minutes to find it again.

Thanks to Leanne Hunter http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=172271661588 - who posted this to the Facebook UK Chronic Fatigue Syndrome group.

Toothbrush, Toothbrush, Where for art thou Toothbrush?

I search under the cupboard,
I look inside the kitchen sink,
I look inside the breadbin,
I look inside the fridge.

But my toothbrush is nowhere to be found.

I look inside my cabinets,
I look under the couch,
I look inside the fish tank,
Turn the living room inside out!

But my toothbrush is nowhere to be found.

I search around the garden,
I look inside the shed,
I check between the bed sheets,
And underneath the bed!

Where could my toothbrush be?

I search around the bathroom,
My toothbrush isn’t in the bath.
It isn’t on my storage shelf.
Or beneath the bathroom matt.

Where’s my blooming toothbrush?

I sit with hands tight on my head,
How will i brush my teeth?
I don’t want plaque on my gums,
When i go to sleep!

Now it’s getting late,
And i want to go to bed,
I give up and sigh and say goodnight,
And raise my weary head.

And then right there before me,
My toothbrush proudly stands,
In the place it’s always been,
In its own little stand!

I start to feel frustrated,
I should have looked there first,
Before the contents of my house,
We’re angrily dispersed.

What did i need my toothbrush for?
As i hold it in my hand.
All night it’s had a purpose,
One now, i can’t understand.

Why did i need my toothbrush?
What could its purpose be?
My brain flicks on, its purpose;
Was to stir my cup of tea?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Farewell, Farewell - Fairport Convention

Here's one of those wonderful Fairport tracks in which Sandy Denny's gorgeous voice and Richard Thompson's guitar skill weave in and around each other to create something magical. Poor Sandy has been a long time gone, but over 40 years later RT still tours to delight us. If you've never seen him, I urge you to do so before he calls it a day.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Ben Keith

Neil Young's long time musical collaborator Ben Keith died last week. Here's "Out on the Weekend" complete with Ben Keith's steel guitar.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Is this thing on?

So, two months just flew by. It's been fun establishing ourselves here at Gilston. The summer has been pretty good , at least by Fife standards, and we've got a lot done. The ME has been restrictive - I'm having to pace myself carefully, but I've got a lot done. I've worked on being able to graciously accept offers of help, even though internally I was snarling at the need and my injured pride. I've got rid of the inner snarl now, and life is easier all of a sudden.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Return from the Cybervoid

After 7 weeks of absurdity I'm finally back online! I coud use this post to give a blow by blow account of my dealings with unco-operative and obtuse Internet Service Providers, but it would probably bore you as much as it does me, so we won't go there.

On the plus side, however, we are now established at the new address. The financial storm clouds have parted, and I have been granted early payment of my pension on the grounds of my ill-health. Combined with the Employment Support Allowance I was granted at my appeal tribunal back in March, I now have a guaranteed income. It's not as much as I used to earn, but it is a good two thirds of that amount, and I'm now spared a great deal of worry.

Moving house with ME is quite an experience. I found that there were days when the sheer need to get things done carried me through, followed by some heavy-duty "payback" days. Oddly, there were a few times my depression, which is normally under control, put in an appearance, despite the steady progress I felt we were making.

I'm sitting here in something of a trance today - yesterday was my regular colonoscopy examination, a souvenir of the bowel cancer I had nearly 20 years ago. To add to the fun, I was examined from both ends on this occasion! The sedative used always gives me a filthy hung over feeling, although I'm happy to report that the test revealed all is well.

It's good to be blogging again, watch this space!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Worry, Illness, Guilt

I follow the blog of a young (at least in comparison to me!) teacher who has recently been afflicted by something that sounds very like ME, although I hope for his sake it isn't. Nonetheless, he's laid low at the moment, and has just had to pull out of a long-planned long distance cycle ride.

He's blogged about his feelings about all this. As can be imagined, he's utterly fed up. He feels he is letting people down, and he's worrying about his longer term future.

These are feelings I know only too well, as does everyone else with a chronic condition. I think that People With M E (PWME hereafter) have a special extra burden to bear because of the "controversial" nature of our condition. PWME have a habit of looking quite well when we aren't crashed out on a sofa. We can walk and talk and stuff just like everyone else. It's just that we can't do it for as long, or as quickly. Sometimes, if we stand up too quickly, or bend over rapidly, the game is over. I usually have a couple of really good hours per day in me, and I've learnt how to run my life so I can, to a point, choose when to use them. See me in those two hours, and I look fine.

PWME also have to deal with history of cynicism toward their illness. It was once called "yuppie flu" in the press, and derided as a licence to malinger. There are still vigorous remnants of that attitude to be encountered amongst medical professionals, those who decide eligibility for assistance and a lot of other folk who ought to know better. Charlatans and quacks offer ineffective and inappropriate cures, and in the UK appear to have successfully convinced Government agencies in the case of Graded Exercise Therapy.

What M E needs is what the medics call a "sign" - a clear identifying symptom. The classsic example of this, as well as being a classic piece of medical black humour, is "Custer's sign". This relates to victims of severe traumas like a car crash. If a male victim is found to have an erection on admission, it is an indicator that he has broken his back and may well be paralysed from the break down - hence "Custer's last stand". He's got a real problem, but at least he has no need to convince anyone of it.

M E is much more nebulous thing. Convincing the authorities we are ill is a laborious process. This leads to worry, about being believed, about whether we will have an income, about the progress of the illness. We feel guilty because we are not pulling our weight, we are leaving tasks for others, and we wonder if we have turned into malingerers overnight. On top of all this we are actually quite ill with a condition that varies, but is often highly disabling. Our thought processes are slow, we are forgetful, we are not able to organise easily.

So here's a new acronym - WIG - Worry, Illness, Guilt - for the burdens a PWME carries about. The worry and the guilt tend to worsen the condition, but are built into the experience of ME. Resolving that paradox is a key part of coping with the illness, and I wish all the M E affected readers of this blog success in finding a way through.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Road and the Miles to Dundee

So, there I was, walking past the bus station in St Andrews on my way to the bank, when a young lady tourist asked me if I knew where the bus to Dundee went from. I did, and I showed her, and she thanked me with a dazzling smile. Improved my outlook on life no end.

Cold winter was howlin' o'er moorland and mountain
And wild was the surge of the dark rolling sea
When I met about daybreak a bonnie young lassie
Who asked me the road and the miles to Dundee.

Says I, "My young lassie, I canna weel tell ye,
The road and the distance I canna weel gie,
But if you'll permit me to gang a wee bittie,
I'll show you the road and the miles to Dundee."

The lassie consented and gie me her airm
Not a word did I speir wha the lassie micht be
She appeared like an angel in feature and form
As she walked by my side on the road to Dundee.

At length wi' the howe o' Strathmartine behind us
The spires o' the toon in full view we could see,
She said, "Gentle sir, I can never forget ye
For showin' me so far on the road to Dundee.

This ring and this purse please accept as a token
And surely there's somethin' that ye can gi'e me,
That in years to come I'll the laddie remember
Who showed me the road and the miles to Dundee?"

I took the gold pin frae the scarf on my bosom,
And said, "Tak' ye this, in remembrance o' me",
And bravely I kissed the sweet lips o' the lassie
And I pairted frae her on the road to Dundee.

So here's tae the lassie; I canna forget her,
And ilka young laddie wha's listenin' to me,
O never be sweir to convey a young lassie,
Though it's only to show her the road to Dundee.

Mony A Mickle Maks A Muckle

Ever since I posted about the joys of Spring, the weather's been a swine - cold, windy, rain, snow.

The phone company has had a mix up and disconnected the phone here a month before they should have done. I've spent a long frustrating time on the phone trying to get them to take ownership of their mistake and sort it. Meanwhile, I'm still unable to make or receive calls.

I lost my broadband connection for a day as well, although that has now mysteriously re-appeared.

I've got some stupid stomach bug that's making me grumpy.

My head aches.

Thank goodness the news is all still good on the new house front - I've had enough.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Both Sides the Tweed

Here's Mary Black with her gorgeous version of Dick Gaughan's setting of "Both Sides the Tweed". It's a lovely song with a superb sentiment. Beneath, I've put the words and Dick Gaughan's notes about the song, because a bit of context helps.

What's the spring-breathing jasmine and rose ?
What's the summer with all its gay train
Or the splendour of autumn to those
Who've bartered their freedom for gain?

Let the love of our land's sacred rights
To the love of our people succeed
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

No sweetness the senses can cheer
Which corruption and bribery bind
No brightness that gloom can e'er clear
For honour's the sum of the mind

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Think them poorest who can be a slave
Them richest who dare to be free

Song Notes - by Dick Gaughan

This was put into this form in 1979 shortly after the Scots returned a majority in favour of a separate Scottish Parliament but the vote was vetoed in the UK Parliament due to the inclusion of the notorious "40% of all eligible votes" clause which had the effect of counting votes not cast as being votes against. There is now good evidence to suggest that the architect of this piece of electoral sleight-of-hand may have been Robin Cook.

The verses call for the recognition of Scotland's right to sovereignty and the choruses argue against prejudice between our peoples. The Tweed is the river which forms part of the Scots-English border and is used here as a symbol of both the need for independence and the need for friendship and co-existance.

The original text was an attack upon the Treaty of Union of 1707 which abolished the independent Scots and English Parliaments and set up the United Kingdom. I made some minor amendments to give it contemporary relevance.

The tune has been the subject of some speculation and argument. So far as I am aware, I actually composed it and am highly flattered by the presumption that it is traditional, with people claiming to have known it for several decades, if not centuries.

There are also people who claim that they heard their grandparents sing Ewan MacColl's, "Shoals of Herring" in the 30s. My mother had never heard of MacColl but used to sing his "Manchester Rambler" which she'd learned from a Lancashire woman in the army during WW2 and always assumed it was an old song from that area. Hamish Henderson once collected a variant of his own "Gillie Mor" from the Borders singer Willie Scott who was quite surprised to learn it was not an old song. And there are those who swear that Eric Bogle's "No Man's Land" is a traditional Irish song called "The Green Fields of France".

For one writing songs in a "traditional" genre, this is the highest compliment imaginable. Like all tunes composed within any aesthetic, it is inevitable that it has similarities to and contains phrases and quotes from earlier tunes. However, if someone can provide a printed or recorded source to prove the existence of this tune prior to 1979 then I'd be delighted to acknowledge that I unconsciously used a traditional tune.

More Transatlantic Sessions - Roseanne Cash

The honourary Fifer playing in Scotland:

In a spin

My head's going like a cement mixer today. I'm just back from the new house, and I'm planning this that and the next thing. Where are the hens going, how do I best use my veg plot, can I get a polytunnel, and what size. I need to build a beehive. I need to get a chainsaw and a trestle for firewood cutting. All great fun - there will be much drawing of plans, scrounging of wooden pallets to recycle into beehives and raised vegetable bed edging, cadging of bulk bags and chipped wood for path making, studying of seed catalogues, setting up of incubator for chick hatching, and all sorts of other fun stuff, all that can be done at a leisurely pace. Low cost, low impact, low input are the guiding principles, though I'll need to make a few investments early on when I get my pension lump sum.

One of these to tow one of those is on the list, for wood-collecting and daily transport for me. I've one of these in mind as well. I'm going to need this and that as well

My veg patch has 13 metres of South facing wall - I could probably grow figs, peaches and apricots against that, even this far North!

I'm enjoying this!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Spring in the North

We are past the Spring Equinox, and last night the clocks went forward an hour. This is a big deal this far North. I'm at 56 deg 17 mins North here, so to US readers, whose country borders Canada at 48 deg North, it's clear I'm a lot further North than any of you.

So, suddenly it's still daylight at 8 PM, and the days are lengthening noticeably now. In June, it will still be light until nearly 11 PM. We pay back for this in the winter, when it is dark late into the mornings and early in the afternoon. The cabin fever can hit hard, and it's not a good time to have ME. But now everything is great and getting better. I love this time of year, as the sun climbs higher in the sky every day. The effect is even better tonight, with a big bright full moon lighting up proceedings.

The hens like it too, suddenly I'm being deluged with eggs!

New abode

Lot of pics here.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

I just had this sent to me! Love it!

Did I mention it's my birthday tomorrow? Honestly, I don't want any fuss.

On dealing with problems.

"If your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the threat to it, let it concern only the house. If there's a flood, don't let it flood your mind. If there's a fire, don't let it burn your heart. Let it be merely the house, that which is outside of you, that is flooded or burned. Now is the time to allow the mind to let go of attachments." Venerable Ajahn Chah.

Friday, 26 March 2010

There must be some kinda way outta here...

I have always loved Jimi Hendrix's music. I was 15 when he first exploded into the world of blues and rock. I've been listening to him for 40 years, and everything he ever recorded is still a delight to listen to. His sheer artistry still takes my breath away.

This song sums up exactly how I felt as we waited to sell our house and move, and the exultant guitar licks sum exactly how I feel now the end is in sight. Dylan wrote it - Hendrix gave it super powers. Thanks, Jimi.

Synonym bypass

I don't have great pretensions as a writer. At work, I wrote "Social Enquiry Reports" on offenders and their situations to the Courts. It was usually serious stuff, and attention to detail was important. It was good to write with a certain style, simply to put a point across well and memorably. Judges are deluged with paperwork, so it's important to write with some flair, just to make sure your points are noted.

Nowadays, I find it's all gone to hell in a handbasket. I find myself repeating words and phrases as I write, and I'm always going back to edit out too many uses of the same word or phrase. I really admire those of you who have produced saleable written work whilst afflicted by this bloody illness. I'm sure you all have as many dry-ups and mental blocks as I do, along with moments of profound stupidity when nothing on the screen actually makes sense for a while. Go ME writers, I salute you. Now, where was I?

The Transatlantic Sessions

The BBC in Scotland made an amazing series of programmes in the 1990s, in which musicians from both sides of the Atlantic collaborated to make some memorable music. From the US came such iconic names as Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffiths and Kathy Mattea. The McGarrigal clan from Canada features, and great Scottish singers such as Karen Matheson of Capercaillie. The series produced some wonderful music, and I'm going to put up bits of it as I find it.

Leonard Cohen

Over at Chris's blog, he's been asking for song titles that are appropriate for PWMEs. This "song" sprang to mind, although of course it's originally a poem by Byron. So here it is in a category of its own:

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Election Time

For the benefit of non-UK readers, I'll start by explaining that the UK Parliament does not have fixed election dates. The date is chosen by the Prime Minister of the day, who will of course always choose a date that favours his or her party. You might think that this is profoundly undemocratic, but I couldn't possibly comment on that.

There can be up to a five year interval between elections, and one is due before 3 June 2010. There appears to be a consensus that 6 May 2010 is the favourite date. I am aware that this makes no sense, but it's one of those British things that happens because "its tradition"

Anyway, we are soon to be granted the opportunity to choose a new Government.Whilst that feels a little like being offered the choice between being robbed or burgled, we do get a say for once.

Any road up, as we say in Yorkshire, I found a couple of web-sites for Parliamentary ME groups, and I pass them along for what they are worth.

The Holyrood lot are here

The Westminster version for those beyond the Tweed is here

Some handy info, and a steer on who to write furious letters to! I hope someone finds it useful.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Happiness Award

Chris Mooney, that fine Scottish gentleman, has nominated me for a Happiness award, and I thank him for it! There are duties attached to the award, as follows:

The rules:
- When you have received this award you must thank the person that awarded you this in the new post.

- Name 10 things that make you happy.

- Pass this award onto other bloggers
and inform the winners.

So, thanks again Chris.

My ten happy things:

1. Family. I'm lucky to be part of a family that all get on, all live with 20 miles of each other, and who keep in touch. I gain a lot of strength and happiness from them all.

2. Friends. Again, I've a good circle of close friends. My regular Wednesday night chat in the pub with friends and neighbours is a highlight of my week.

3. Country life. I'm out in the boondocks and wouldn't have it any other way. I live in a lovely part of the world, and I appreciate that every day.

4. I'm at that funny age when all my children are grown but I'm not a grand-dad yet. I tend to find myself practicing grand-dad stuff on other people's young children. So, I will nominate Robyn, my next-door neighbour who is five, and who keeps me right in looking after my chickens.

5. Being from Yorkshire, living in Scotland. Best of both worlds really.

6. The peace I've found since studying Buddhism.

7. Music - all of it. Couldn't live without it.

8. The happy recent feeling of getting my life back after a pretty horrendous couple of years. I'm starting to feel like a proper retired person at last, and I'm going to enjoy it.

9. Looking after my birds. When I get it right they look good and reward me with eggs. I like the symbiosis between keeper and kept. The responsibilities and obligations are good for me.

10. This ME cyber-community. I'm very glad I found it, and I take a lot of strength from it.

My nominee for a Happiness Award is (drum roll - cymbal crash):

Nasim Marie Jafry of the velo-gubbed legs. Nasim's wonderful book was one of the first things I read after my diagnosis, and I found it a great help in realising that all sorts of people living all sorts of lives were going through the same thing as I was. I was charmed and entertained by the book. Thank you, Nasim!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Employment and Support Allowance

I found this article online today. It's good to see that the Citizen's Advice Bureau has identified the problems that I, and I imagine several others here, have encountered with the process of Work Capability Assessments.

The Government need to acknowledge that they got this one wrong. A lot of public money was wasted in my case, when I was initially denied ESA by the Benefits Agency, and then had the decision reversed by a tribunal. I had nine months of unnecessary anxiety, and the public paid for the tribunal that finally corrected the injustice.

Incidentally, whilst the UK government continues to display its characteristic ineptitude over ESA, I can report a more positive attitude from the Scottish Government. I recently replied a lengthy, thoughtful and encouraging reply to a series of questions I posed to the Scottish Health Secretary - Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and I will put up a transcript when time, energy and inclination permit.

On our way!

Daughter's boyfriend has just dropped off a heap of large cardboard boxes the Royal Air Force no longer require, so we can start to pack the countless millions of small items in our house. Where did all this stuff come from? A de-clutter is called for.

Meanwhile, I've started to pot up bit of things from the garden that are coming with us.

Suddenly, the move is upon us - I wonder how I'll pace my way through this lot?

Monday, 22 March 2010

Ain't it funny how time slips away?

So, it's 20 past midnight, and I've been trying to get to sleep for the last three hours, 'cos I'm knackered. But, sleep won't come. So, it seems I'll have to be busy for a while to see if that does the trick. I already know tomorrow will be horrible as a result of a mucked up sleep pattern - I'll probably never really wake up all day. Ain't life grand?


Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Black Watch

Fife's local regiment of the British Army is The Black Watch. It's a famous name, and the regiment has a list of battle honours second to none. It was the last unit to leave Hong Kong when it became part of China, and has served extensively since. They have recently returned from Afghanistan, and several of its members have been honoured, as reported here.

Fife could have no better ambassadors than these brave men and women, and we grieve for their losses.

Susanneke and I have an old friend currently serving as a QARANC nurse in the Territorial Unit currently staffing the busy military hospital at Camp Bastion. Her letters describe a situation almost unimaginable to those of us secure in Scotland. God speed, Sue, come home safe.

Britain's National Health Service

I've been reading quite a lot of US - based blogs recently, and the debate about the US plans for what seems to be a very watered down version of NHS is a very lively topic at present.

As a Briton, I am of course utterly dumbfounded by this. Some US commentators seem to think that the NHS is some sort of awful warning to Americans.

(Re-reading this, I realise that I might be coming across as trying to prescribe to Americans what they should be doing. That's not my wish - I just wanted to make the point that the NHS actually made proper health care available to Britons of low to average incomes for the first time, and has become a central part of the UK cultural landscape. I just rather objected to the system being misrepresented as a bad thing in someone else's argument - as here and here. My life expectancy as a UK citizen is rather greater than that of a US citizen. Much of this is due to the UK's much lower infant mortality rate - 4.8 per 1000 births, compared to the US 6.3 per 1000 births)

The NHS is the sole reason I am here to post today. 16 years ago, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and within 24 hours had been admitted to hospital, given 9 pints of blood to replace all that I had lost through the perforation in my gut caused by the cancer, to get me fit to operate on, and then had my hemi-colectomy performed. I developed a pulmonary embolism as i recovered, and that was also quickly and efficiently dealt with. So, the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy saved my life twice in a week and I remain eternally grateful to them.

Now, as a diabetic, I receive all my prescription drugs free of charge, along with regular checks both of my diabetes, and for any re-occurrence of the cancer. As I am unfit for work, the government pays my National Insurance contributions so I remain eligible for this help.

We are about to have an election in the UK, but it is a given that all political parties will declare total support for the NHS, which is probably the most popular government institution in Britain.

It's a shame that nowadays we don't have politicians of the zeal and character of the people who created the NHS out of the post-war wreckage of the late 1940s. Something to hope for when we all make our choice, presumably in May.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A New Chapter

Well, unbelievably, it seems that the wait is over - we've sold our house! It's for a lot less than its pre-credit crunch value, but it's great to have the liability of a mortgage I don't have the income to service gone. It feels like a tonne weight off my back.

Happily, we are all signed up for our new home , a rented cottage on a small sporting estate only 6 miles away. There is plenty of space for vegetable growing, chicken keeping and lots of other little plans that have been on hold for a while - everything from making mosaics through keeping bees to soap making.

I'm looking forward to a summer of pottering about and making a start at:

building a top bar bee hive

starting a "no dig" vegetable and fruit garden

putting up a polytunnel

trying to build in as many Permaculture practices as possible into my life

Breeding my favourite Croad Langshan poultry

Maybe even keep a few Abacot Ranger ducks

being able to do all this in a settled and meditative way, no pressure, no deadlines, but just pride in doing it all as well as possible.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Fisherman's Blues

OK, one of my favourites to bring this musical interlude to an end:

May You Never

The other favourite from the funeral. John Martyn himself was a recent tragic loss. A song full of wonderful sentiments from a larger than life Scottish musician.

May you never lay your head down without a hand to hold.
May you never make your bed out in the cold.
May you never lose your temper if you get hit in a barroom fight.
May you never lose your woman overnight.

Well, you're just like a great, strong sister to me,
And I know that your love is true,
And you hold no blade for to stab me in my back;
I know that there's some that do.

So please, won't you please, won't you bear it in mind:
Love is a lesson to learn in our time.
Please, won't you please, bear it in mind for me.

Well, you're just like a great, strong brother to me,
And I know that your love is true,
And you never talk dirty behind my back;
I know that there's some that do.

May you never lose your woman overnight.
May you never lose your woman overnight.

Boulder to Birmingham

A favourite of my late colleague, played at her funeral

I don't want to hear a love song
I got on this airplane just to fly
And I know there's life below
But all that it can show me
Is the prairie and the sky

And I don't want to hear a sad story
Full of heartbreak and desire
The last time I felt like this
It was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire
And I stood on the mountain in the night and I watched it burn
I watched it burn, I watched it burn.

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

Well you really got me this time
And the hardest part is knowing I'll survive.
I have come to listen for the sound
Of the trucks as they move down
Out on ninety five
And pretend that it's the ocean
coming down to wash me clean, to wash me clean
Baby do you know what I mean

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

Musings after a Funeral

I went to the funeral of my friend and colleague on Wednesday. She was a well-thought-of person with a huge circle of friends, colleagues and neighbours, and the hall where the humanist service was held was packed.

As ever at funerals, mood and emotions leap about. Sorrow at the occasion is replaced for a moment with pleasure as someone you haven't seen in ages appears. Reminiscences mingle with talk of future plans. Overall, there is a sense of disbelief that someone so vital, and younger than yourself has passed away. A life well lived, but too soon ended.

We were exhorted by the celebrant to use the example and use the life left to us all to the best effect we could. That was a good message to take away from a bright afternoon by the sea, where the sun was warm on our backs, and where the new Spring was gathering pace all around us as we stood around the grave.

The last funerals I attended were in the Netherlands. There, it is the way to offer hopes of "strength" to to the bereaved. I think that is a wonderfully practical hope to offer, it acknowledges the hurt of loss, and offers hope of recovery in a neat package. That was the sentiment I expressed to the family. Then I stepped back into the bustle of life continuing in the little port of Anstruther, walking back to my car under a blue sky full of wheeling gulls.

Friday, 12 March 2010

You Never Know...

I had a phone call from an ex-colleague, now retired. He had some sad news - a colleague, younger than us both, has suddenly died.

Whilst I was plodding along as a Social Worker, she was ascending the promotion and responsibility ladder, and reached some dizzy heights. She was, however, an out and out workaholic, with a very tight focus. Goes to show, with ME and all, maybe I'm the lucky one. There are points to ponder, wherever you look. She had her vision, I have mine. Mr Yeats states my position better than I could:


By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Life in Fife

The biggest part of ME self-help, in my humble opinion, is mood maintenance. You have to look after your head. Depression, apathy, cynicism and a load of other nasties are out there to trap the unwary. A good environment is part of the process. When I'm counting my blessings, the fact that I live in rural Fife is well up the list. I'm surrounded by beauty, peace and quiet. The idea of enduring ME in an urban setting appals me. The bustle, the vehicle fumes, the noise, the absence of sky and the grey, closed-in look of a city would destroy any inner balance I might have found.

I live in an area with that special ight you find in proximity to the sea. I have green nearby hills, and distant snow covered mountains in view. At night, I can see The Milky Way, and sometimes the Northern Lights in the absence of light pollution. Each season brings its own special features. Just now, it's snowdrops wild in the woods, chevrons of geese overhead, soaring buzzards. My hens are coming back into lay after a cold snap, and I've been able to go out without my jacket zipped up for the last two days on the trot now.

Fife's good. This was a view famously held by one of my heroes, Johnny Cash. Many years ago, he found himself on a long flight sitting next to the hereditary Keeper of Falkland Palace in Fife. He learnt that "Cash" was a Fife name, still evident in the names of farms and roads in and around Falkland. He further learnt that the Cash family was descended from King Malcolm of Scotland. As a result, members of the Cash family are regular visitors to Falkland. I think that's a nice story, it always reminds me of this song, a great reflection on family life and loss.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

ME - A Sabbatarian Approach?

I read this article today, and it made me think. Although not aimed at people with ME, it describes an approach to life that would help us all. Read it and see what you think.

Coping Strategies

I've been reading a blog by someone with a brand-new diagnosis of ME. His struggle to understand what is happening to him, and the strategies he is adopting to cope with it all got me thinking about my attitude to my illness.

I don't have the energy to waste on unproductive emotion, so rage and anger are not options.I have a history of depression, though, so it is important that I keep myself motivated and optimistic. I am only patchily successful in this, maintaining a good attitude remains a work in progress. My study of Buddhist thought is a great help in this goal.

Like alcoholism, ME is a big problem best dealt with a day at a time, and Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer, as adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, is a highly apposite one for people with ME:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I don't dream of mountains climbed or mile cycled any more, much as I mourn my cycling. My hope now lies in the little patch of land behind the cottage we are moving to next month. Vegetables will be grown, a polytunnel erected. Poultry will be bred. I'll try bee-keeping. I hope to make myself generally self sufficient, living in peace and quiet in the country. I'll adopt as many Permaculture principals as I can and look at low input methods to make my personal energy go as far as possible.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Some useful links

I used the following resources in preparing my appeal:-

Benefits and Work

Action for ME

ME Association

There's a lot of helpful material available from these sources. I'm sure there are others - pointers would be welcome.

Shock late result 18 - 0

I was one of the first to be ensnared in the thickets of the new Employment Support Allowance, the benefit that is replacing Incapacity Benefit. This is paid at a reduced rate until a medical opinion has been obtained by the DSS. I attended this medical in Dundee in May of last year.

There is a list of criteria the doctor has to consider, and he submits a report. This, along with a personal submission is considered by the DSS, who award a point score based on the information before them. The magic number is 15 points - match or beat this, and the benefit is payable. I, in the finest Eurovision tradition was awarded "null points,no points, keine Punkte". This felt very much like an insult being added to my injury, and I appealed the decision, albeit with zero faith in the process.

Time passed.

I received notification of the tribunal to consider my appeal, to be held in Dunfermline, a mere 60 mile round trip from home.

I half-heartedly prepared a few arguments, wrote some notes, and set off to D'line with Mrs Lucas driving.

I was grilled for 40 minutes in an austere church hall building, and then sent to await my fate in the company of a tremulous individual awaiting his audience with these modern Guardians of the Poor Law. My mood was abyssal at this point.

I was summoned back into the presence, and a certain lightness of the tone raised some hope. I was given the decision - I had been awarded 18 points, and was clean through the qualification barrier!

Despite my utter cynicism, the system had worked, admittedly only after months of stress, but hey! I will receive at least £25 per week additional benefit, and I think it will be back-dated. Additionally, I think I can now try my luck with Disability Living Allowance, which is the gateway to eligibility for many other payments.

If anyone reading this has one of ghastly events in their future, I'm happy to discuss my experience. I think the trick is to be clear, concise, 100% truthful and assertive. I'm used to Court type settings - I used to work in the Court system, and have often had to address a Court. If this isn't one of your skills - get a representive to speak for you. The doctor on my panel was a feisty old party, and I did have to (politely) take her on a couple of times.

It's nice to know the good guys win sometimes though, and I'm delighted.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Don't mention the Election

I do try to avoid politics, but I can't resist passing along this:

Monday, 15 February 2010

ME/CFS Awareness 2010

There will be a month of Blogging for ME/CFS in May - you can read about it here

I have found a lot of strength and encouragement through forging links with a network of fellow people with ME through the net, and I'm keen to support any venture that helps the community grow in numbers, influence and effectiveness. We need a voice.

So you'll be seeing this badge on my blog for the next while

Amy Henhouse

A couple of photos, one of my bantam, one of a singer. Can you tell the difference?

Don't Mess with Yorkshireman

Sent to me by a good friend (Thanks Alec). Tells you all you need to know about us Tykes.

A London lawyer and a Yorkshireman are sitting next to each other on a long flight to Leeds .
The lawyer is thinking that Yorkshire men are all 'cloth cap and clogs' and that he can fool them easily...

So the lawyer asks if the Yorkshireman would like to play a fun game. 
The Yorkshireman is tired and just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and tries to catch a few winks. 
The lawyer persists and says that the game is a lot of fun. 
'I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me only £5; you ask me one, and if I don't know the answer, I will pay you £500.' 

As may be expected, this catches the Yorkshireman's attention and to keep the lawyer quiet, he agrees to play the game. 
The lawyer asks the first question. 'What's the distance from The Earth to the moon?' 
The Yorkshireman doesn't say a word, reaches in his pocket, pulls out a five-pound note, and hands it to the lawyer. 

Now, it's the Yorkshireman's turn. He asks the lawyer,
'What goes up a hill with three legs, and comes down with four?' 
The lawyer uses his laptop, searches all the references he knows. 
He uses the air-phone; he searches the Net and even the British Library. 
He sends e-mails to all the smart friends he knows, all to no avail. 
After over an hour of searching, he finally gives up. 
He wakes up the Yorkshireman and hands him £500. 
The Yorkshireman pockets the £500 and goes straight back to sleep. 
The lawyer is going crazy not knowing the answer. He wakes the Yorkshireman up and asks, 
'Well! What goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four?' 
The Yorkshireman reaches in his pocket, hands the lawyer £5 and goes back to sleep. 

Don't mess with Yorkshiremen; we only talk different. 

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Blue Egg

I have a little black Auracana bantam that I raised from an egg hatched by a broody hen last year.

My little Auracana is called Amy, named for another famous Amy with a black beehive hairdo. She has a photocall tomorrow, meanwhile - here is her first egg, with others laid by her companions for contrast.

Ancient Monument

Back in 1968, as we listened to "Pictures of Matchstick Men", who could have guessed we were listening to future Officers of the British Empire? Status Quo are now officially National Treasures, and surely soon they should be declared to be an Ancient Monument.

Well done Messrs Parfitt and Rossi. They have quietly done much over the years for charity, and given lots of ham-fisted guitarists hope - learn three chords and achieve world domination! For "Rockin All over the World" the three chords are C, F and G, by the way. If you want to be really poncy, you can chuck in a F#dim as well.

The whole rock star/titles/Buck House thing is so Spinal Tap as to be almost beyond parody. Surely it's time for ST 2 in which Nigel, Derek and David are called to the Palace for enoblement? When we we see Sir Ozzy, Lord Rotten, or the Earl of Bragg?

The Quo have their detractors, but how could anyone listen to this without a smile and a tapping foot?

Friday, 12 February 2010

RIP Mr Frisbee

Walter Morrison, the inventor of the frisbee, has passed away. I've had a lot of fun with his invention over the years.

I'd recommend a round of the frisbee golf course in St Andrews to visitors to the town - it's part of the University's sports facilities.

There's a great sport called "Ultimate" that uses frisbees, details here. My eldest son was captain of the University of Dundee's Ultimate team.

Thank you, Mr Morrison.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Better late than never

Shamelessly pinched from nmj, to whom great thanks must be given:

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Burns Night

Here's Michael Marra making a wonderful job of a wonderful Burns song.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Malawi, tea and some family history

My wife's father spent his working life as a planter in the tropics. Much of his time was spent in Africa, latterly growing tea. His last position was as the Manager of the Satemwa Tea Estate in Malawi.

We were suprised to hear a reference to Satemwa in a radio broadcast this morning, and the following of some links through the miracle of t'internet led us to this clip

It was wonderful to see a place that we never saw in my wife's parent's lifetime, although it was such an important place for them.