Saturday, 30 April 2011

Eheu fugaces labuntur anni

I've been in an introspective mood recently, as I often get when I am going through a black phase. Don't worry, this isn't going to be another 'woe is me' type of article, it's just some musings I've had running around in my head today.

Near me is a pharmacy which, along with the normal pharmacy type stuff it does, also is a methadone centre. There is a separate door for the addicts to go to, they go in, one at a time, get their methadone, and then leave. It's on a junction, so when I'm in the car, going somewhere, I quite often see people going in or out, and I generally don't pay much notice, however, today, when I was on my way out to Dunfermline, as I was waiting at the junction, I saw a kid who couldn't have been more than 4 or 5, standing waiting, then just before I was able to exit the junction, the door opened and a guy came out, grabbed the kid and then started walking away.

This had some strange resonance with me, the thought of the kid, who I assume was the son of the guy who came out of the methadone centre, what his life must be like, and it made me kind of sad. I don't have kids, and it looks like I never will, and I think it was that thought being triggered in my head by the scene which played itself out in front of me, which caused me to not be able to stop thinking about it.

I vacillated for years on the subject of having kids. Sadly, now that I have finally decided that I would have liked to have been a father, the point is moot - I am single, have been for some time, and there are no signs of that changing any time soon. The fleeting years are, indeed, slipping by (which is what the Latin of the title means, it's a quote by Horace).  The cynic in me thinks that I've decided that I would have liked to have been a father now that there is no possibility of that happening, that if I really wanted to be a parent, then it would have happened during one of my meaningful relationships. The other side of me argues that it didn't happen in any of those relationships because, had I been more honest with myself at the time, I knew that they were doomed to failure. That, however, is a whole different topic, one which I have no doubt I will return to at some point!

I should probably say at this point, I am not looking for sympathy, I'm not looking for pity, I'm not looking for anything, really. The realist in me thinks that it's probably for the best that I avoided fatherhood, the chances are I'd be a terrible dad. Would I really want to inflict any of my less than positive traits on a poor innocent kid? On reflection, it's probably for the best, yet, I can't shake the feeling of sadness that I am missing out on something which may just have been the thing to make me finally happy.

The irrational part of me wants to rail against the world, wants to shout out how unfair life is, that junkies, alcoholics, the dregs of society, always seem to have tribes of children (and I just want to clarify - I'm not having a go at single parents, even young ones, in my experience they constitute some of the happiest, and closest families I've known), yet I, someone who works hard (well, works), doesn't do drugs, doesn't spend all his time drunk, tries to live as good and honest a life as I can, doesn't get to experience that joy, a joy which drug addicts and alcoholics generally won't appreciate. But then, the rational part of me wins out, as it always does, and reminds me that I don't have children because of my own actions, because of the bad decisions I have made in the past, both distant and recent, because I always seem to find a way to mess things up, thanks to the invisible self-destruct button which I have somewhere. A look at the last few weeks of my life are a testament to how much I can mess things up! So, ultimately, I won't get to experience the gamut of emotions which comes with being a parent through my own fault, no one else's.

When I'm visiting my friend Ian, and I see the interaction he has with his sons, I can't help but feel a pang of jealousy. Which is probably as good a place to end this little article. I guess the few readers I have would be a tad disappointed if I didn't leave with a Springer Moment. So, my words of wisdom tonight are this:

Actually, I don't know what my words of wisdom will be. I have half formed platitudes in my head, but when I go to write them down, they seem twee and contrite. So, I will keep it short and simple - enjoy your kids, your family, for you are lucky to have them, and them you.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Shakespeare I aint!

It's 1am, I'm not tired yet, I'm not long back in from Dunfermline, so I have nothing better to do until my sedative kicks in, than write something. This is something, so it will do!

Actually, as I was contemplating what I could write about, I had the idea to write about writing. This stems from a conversation I had with my friend Ian tonight, namely that every one has a book in them. We talked about scenarios which we thought would make good reading, or a good screenplay. Thinking more about it on the drive home, made me think about some of my abortive attempts at writing.

Ever since I was a kid, I've always had a strange fascination with the written word, in it's many forms.  I guess this all started not too long after I learned to read, I'd have been pretty young when my dad started doing something that I will eternally be grateful for.  Dad got paid every second Thursday, and every second Thursday he would stop on his way home from work and buy me a book.  Enid Blyton books formed a large part of my burgeoning library, I quickly became something of an expert on the minutiae of The Famous Five, and to a lesser extent, The Secret Seven (if I had to choose - no contest, the 5 triumphed every time!).  These were the books which got me hooked on reading, in my mind I wasn't a plain, ordinary kid in a plain, ordinary village, I could be transported to other places, places I knew weren't real, but that were given a sense of reality by my imagination. I became the incorporeal 6th member of The Famous Five, I accompanied them on their myriad adventures, I felt their peril, sensed their danger and enjoyed their triumph.

As I grew older and my reading material changed and developed, I started having ideas of my own, generally inspired by whatever genre of books I happened to have latched on to. I distinctly remember writing a singularly gruesome horror short story for an English assessment which I think disturbed the teacher! I loved that it did, it meant that what I wrote had some kind of power, and I liked that feeling. If you want to know the details, I can't remember all of them, but the assessment instructed me to write a short story themed around revenge, so I did. My story was about a rape victim who found and then tortured her attacker after he was acquitted on a technicality. I was reading a lot of Shaun Hutson at this point (possibly not the best idea for my 15 year old self!), so the story was pretty gruesome. I remember a key part of the story being the insertion of long pins into certain areas.

As I said, all I was looking for at that point was for my writing to have an effect, be that positive or negative, on the reader. Fortunately however, I outgrew that pretty quickly and then thought, well, if I can write gory crap and it has an effect, then maybe if I tried a bit harder and wrote something good, rather than just something horrific, maybe I can get more positive reactions. So, I started to write. Not all of it was prose, a large chunks of my creative output of the time was in the form of hidden poems. Why were they hidden? Well, they were cunningly disguised as song lyrics. Not being in a band or having any musical talent with which to accompany them was a minor drawback - I was the lyricist, the wordsmith, someone else could do the meaningless musical part! Needless to say, I have yet to have a song published with my lyrics as part!!  I wrote 'songs' about everything - the environment, war, love, random video games (my first ever attempt at a lyric was called 'Game Over' and fortunately, I don't recall anything of it other than the title!), politics, there was nothing I wouldn't have a go at.

At various points during my life, I've been gripped by the idea of writing a book. Sadly, a couple of things have continually conspired against me - a) my absolute lack of focus - I will start, get so far and then get sidetracked, and b) my absolute lack of talent for creative writing. Even short stories seem to be beyond me. I have ideas for them, but then when I go to write them, I never seem to be able to get all my ideas to link together. Allow me to present an example:

I was on a flight from London to Ottawa, and due to missing a plane in Heathrow (due to snow in Edinburgh delaying the first part of the flight) we wound up re-routing to Montreal and then getting a shuttle from MTL to Ottawa. As I was on the Dash-8 going toward Ottawa (remember - plane geek!) we were at a much lower altitude (around 20,000 feet) which meant I could watch the landscape whiz past me, I saw houses, towns, villages, cars driving along the interstate, and I got thinking - what would it be like if, as I was flying over, I could 'zoom in', and get a glimpse of the life of one of these strangers, either in their house, in their car, doing whatever. What if I had the ability to jump inside their head and 'read' their life. How interesting would that be. It was an idea which wouldn't go away. Until I started to try and write it down. As soon as I did that, my mind drained.

I still try my hand at the occasional poem, which I now admit are actual poems, rather than song lyrics! They are never particularly good poems, but then I'm not a particularly good poet!  I always seem to find myself conforming to the A-B-A-B 4 line stanzas with rhyming couplets. Who knows, maybe one day I'll write something good!!

So, what's the moral of this blog. I guess I could sum it up like this - the written word is a powerful thing, yet so often we fail to recognise it as such. The written word can inspire us, can make us laugh, make us cry, make us wonder. Written words can cause wars, can end wars, can change lives.  Reading is one of the great pleasures in my life, so dad, wherever your soul now resides, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for introducing me to literature (if indeed Enid Blyton etc can be called 'literature'!) at such a young age. I will always be grateful that you did. Had I been a father, I would have done exactly the same.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

To Lighten the Mood...

So, my last couple of blogs have been fairly heavy stuff, so I think tonight I will move in a different direction, lest my readers (all two of you that I'm aware of!) think that I am always a doom and gloom merchant.   I mean, I am, but it's nice to pretend otherwise sometimes!

So, how can I bring some laughter to my readers.  You all think this is heading in a 'Pope Shug' direction, don't you. Sorry to disappoint, but I have made a stark decision. I'm not going to be blogging 'Pope Shug'. Not because it's themed around religion, but because when I went to add some more to the tale, I re-read what I had already written, I came to realise that... it was bad. Way bad. It just wasn't funny. The whole source of it's humour (yes, spelled with a u) was in having a foul mouthed ex shipyard worker as Pope. There was no subtly to it. I still like the idea, but I need to take a different tack. If anyone wants to read the original, such as it is, drop me a line and I will email it to you.

So, my friends, what shall I ramble incoherently about tonight. Would you like to find out a bit more about me? Probably not. But, I'll tell you anyway! You see, I'm a geek. I'm ok with that, my main area of geekery is aviation Now, I'm not a planespotter, you won't see me hanging around the end of runways wearing a pack-a-mac, with a notepad writing down tail numbers. My fascination with planes is a bit more subtle than that!

I've always been interested in flight, when I was a kid I remember getting a book about aeroplanes (or airplanes if you are of an American persuasion)  and being fascinated at how something so big and heavy could stay up in the air. If I'm being honest, I still am!  You can imagine, then, that working for British Aerospace on a helicopter gunship programme was pretty much a dream come true for me.   I only have two regrets from the time I spent at BAE. The first is that I left (although, know what, if I hadn't left then I wouldn't have met some of the great and interesting people that I have, so that very much tempers the regret there), the second is that I didn't take advantage of a deal they had with a local flying club just outside Stanmore (where I spent a fair chunk of my time) and learn to fly. If I ever win the lottery (or get a well paying job!!) I'd love to learn to fly, sadly, at the moment, I don't have a spare £7,000 lying around!  As I'm sure you can guess, I've looked into it!

Actually, thinking about it, I guess I actually am a bit of a planespotter, although I tended only to take notice of the planes I actually flew on. I am about to really turn into an ubergeek and see how many I can remember...

Ok, let's start with Boeing planes...

747-400
757-200
757-300
767-200

Airbus now...

A320 (I think it was a 200 variant, but can't remember)
A340-300
I've not been on a A380 yet, but really want to!

McDonnell-Douglas

DC-10
AH-64 Apache

Bombardier

Dash-8 (I've actually been on a Dash 8 which served a route which had a fatal crash - Colgan Air flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo, although my flight was in the summer, the one which crashed was in winter, and due to pilot error after a buildup of ice on the leading edge of the wings.  It is a very very strange feeling watching a documentary about a crash on a route you have taken. Colgan Air have around 30 Dash-8s so it's pretty unlikely that the plane which crashed was the one I was previously on though)

Embraer

RJ-145 (which took over from British Airways' Dash-8s on the Edinburgh - Bristol/Cardiff/Southampton routes)

BAe

Avro-RJ (BAE had a couple of these as corporate planes, I was able to grab a seat on one a couple of times when I was going to the Rochester, Kent office)

Fokker

Fokker 70 (used between Brussels and Naples)

I think that's about it. I have a nagging doubt that I've missed a couple, I'm fairly sure I flew on a Lockheed TriStar, but I can't say with enough certainty to want to put it down on the list!

So, there we have it. I really need to get out more, don't I!!

Today I Learned...

... that trying to write a blog entry whilst being very tired is probably not the best idea in the world! I re-read the entry I posted last night, and I have to say, it's terrible!! So, whilst I want to keep the message, I would rather it was more effectively worded, so I will re-write it, then delete the original entry.

So, are we ready for Memoirs of an Unsound Mind, V2.0!


Approximately 25% of the population of the UK (according to the stats on www.mentalhealth.co.uk) suffer from, or have suffered from, some form of depression. I am one of them. It's not something I'm ashamed of, it's not something I feel I need to hide, but I am very aware that I am in the minority when it comes to mental health issues.

I know a lot of people feel uncomfortable with the thought of talking about, or indeed, reading about mental health issues. So, if you want to stop reading here, that's ok, I'm not going to be offended, mostly because it's not like I'm ever going to know! 

There is still a huge stigma attached to mental health. Too many people automatically equate mental health with insanity. They equate depression with craziness. I may seem a bit crazy sometimes, but I'm really not. In the grand scheme of things, I get off pretty lightly. Sure, my depression sometimes manifests itself in negative ways (of which more later), but compared to those whose whole lives are consumed by mental illness, those whose depression drives them to take the ultimate sanction, I can't complain.  I still do complain, but I guess I have no real right to.

So, how does my depression effect me?  There are a number of ways I find myself being effected, both in terms of how I deal with myself, and how I deal with others.  From an internal viewpoint, it's one of the main drivers behind my low self esteem (those who know me know I'm always making fun of myself, but hey, at least I can do it in a humerous way!), and it makes me assume the worst about some situations. To give an example, if I text someone, and I don't get a reply, I automatically assume that I've annoyed them or done something which makes them not want to reply. I then send another text, usually long and rambling, basically trying to say that if I've upset them etc, how sorry I am. Then, usually within 5 minutes of sending the damn thing, I read it back and realise that it's nonsensical, and if I am being honest, is more likely to make things worse, than better! So, I will take this opportunity to publicly apologise to anyone and everyone who has ever received such a text from me.


I could go on about the other ways my depression effects me, the lethargy, the lack of interest in pretty much anything, the mood swings, but, that's not why I decided to make this blog about something so personal.  I decided to go down this route in the hope that someone, anyone, who is struggling with the fireworks which are going off in their head may read this and think 'that sounds familiar' maybe I should talk to someone'.  I also want to make people think of their friends.  Worried your friend might be struggling with depression? Talk to them, before it's too late. I soldiered on with my mental health issues until someone essentially held a kind of intervention for me, and made me go to visit the doctor. I fought against it, I'm not going to lie, but eventually I relented and got help.



Like most depressives, my mood isn't always low, it's a cyclical thing. At the moment I'm a the bottom of a downswing, whch I think makes it an ideal time to talk about mental health, hopefully giving people some kind of understanding of what depression can do. Making people understand that it may make someone act a bit out of character, and hopefully my candour will make people stop and think about depression in a different way.  I'm not looking for sympathy, the point of this isn't to make people go "aww, poor thing", the point is to make people stop and think, so hopefully they can go "ahhh, so that's why he did that, it makes a bit more sense now". When depression has you in it's claws, it makes you do things that you probably wouldn't normally do.  Eventually though, the pendulum swings back upward, which means I have to spend time re-building any bridges which were, if not burned, certainly scorched during the downswing.

Part of this entry is to allow me to say to everyone who has been on the receiving end of my odd behaviour during my bad periods, I am sorry. I am sometimes a bad friend, I am sometimes a bit too 'full on', sometimes I'm a grade 'A' pain in the ass.  One positive of writing this is that it has made me think more fully about how my depression effects my behaviour, and how that behaviour effects others. I know I've upset or annoyed people recently, some more than others, one more than most. I always fear that the realisation that I am walking down the dark, destructive road comes too late, and I fracture a relationship with someone else beyond repair. My friends are forgiving of my moods, but like all, I am sure even their patience has it's limits.

I am quite open about my life as someone who has an ongoing and uneasy relationship with the depression. I am happy to answer any questions anyone may have, they will always get an honest answer. I hope that reading this has made people understand me a bit better, and has in some small way reduced the stigma of mental health issues.  I have depression, but I'm not going to be defined by it. It is one facet of my life, one which has had the prominent role in the past couple of weeks, certainly, but it is not the be all and end all of me.

So, I know some of this may have made for uncomfortable reading. I'm not going to lie, some of it was uncomfortable to write. Did I write it to help myself, or to help others.  Maybe a bit of both, more the former than the latter, if I am being honest.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, 25 April 2011

My 10 Commandments

Happy Easter, ladies and gentlemen. Hope the Easter Bunny was good to you. Yeah, it doesn't have the same ring to it as Santa.  It is, of course, Easter, and whilst I am not of a religious persuasion, I do try to live my life in such a way that I do the right thing, treat people well etc. I sometimes fall short of the standards I set for myself, but then who doesn't.

I watched a very interesting documentary on Nat Geo last night about life inside the Vatican. Having been to St Peter's Square for a General Audience (hey, when in Rome, as they say), it was fascinating to watch what goes on behind the scenes. But it got me thinking. The Church has at it's foundation, the 10 Commandments which, if you are a believer, were handed down by God to Moses on a couple of big stone tablets (which suggests that Moses worked out, I mean those bad boys wouldn't be light!).  These formed The Laws, and thus deserved their capitals. I mean God wrote them with his finger, in stone! If that doesn't deserve a couple of capital letters, what does!! I mean, sure, it put a lot of skilled artisans out of business when the graven image market dried up, but those are the dangers of a free market economy!

Anyway, the point of this is that I came to realise that I have my own 10 commandments, 10 rules by which I (try to) live my life. So, for the lack of anything more interesting to write about, I will espouse them:

1. Thou Shalt Not Cheat... I'm not talking about getting a couple of codes to make the X-Box game a bit easier (put it this way, I had cheat codes for GTA: Vice City and still was terrible at it), I'm talking about cheating on your significant other.  I may not have many virtues, but the one thing I can put my hand on my heart and say, is that I have never once cheated on a partner. Have I been tempted? Sure, but I never made that leap. I've been cheated on (twice, i.e., two different people have cheated on me, the first one was pretty much a serial cheater by the time we seperated, the second, once that I know of, but it was enough), and I know how much that hurt, I would never put anyone else through that. Never seen the point, nor have I ever seriously had the desire to. Anyway, from a practical viewpoint, I'm an ugly bugger and I can't even get one girlfriend, let alone a spare!  Actually, that pretty much is one of the original 10 'Thou shalt not commit adultery'. Well, there you go!

2. Take care of your friends... I know a lot of people, I even like some of them. However, the ones I would call true friends, the ones I would go out of my way for, ones I would move hell and earth for to help if needed, well, they are a rare breed. I'd say no more than half a dozen make that elite group. So, from Cairneyhill to California, from Lochgelly to Lockport, NY, from Kirkcaldy (twice) to Kyrgyzstan and Kampuchea (I was going to put Kansas and Kentucky, but I don't know anyone from those states. Ok, so I don't know anyone from Kyrgyzstan either, and Kampuchea is now called Cambodia, and I don't know anyone from there either, but hey, they are a bit more exotic!) and the other places I can't be bothered finding alliterations for, I would like to say to those friends who mean the most to me, thank you. I won't embarrass them by naming them here, but I hope they know who they are.

3. Do Unto Others... As you would have done to you. I don't believe in karma. I don't believe in fate. I do, however, believe that the world would be a better place if people took that little bit of time to help others, or just even be civil. I mean is it really a hardship to hold a door open for someone? Is it that hard to say thank you if someone holds a door open for you? Please and thank you seems to be vanishing from more and more people's vocabularies, and I think that's sad.

4. Don't Stop Learning... Let me start by saying, I'm not any kind of genius. I am constantly surprised, and not in a good way, at my lack of learning, my lack of knowledge. It's one of the reasons I watch so many documentaries, one of the reasons I'm reading a book I only fractionally understand (it's called 'Why Does E=MC2', and it's prattling on about spacetime and Minkowski space, it makes my brain hurt), one of the reasons why Wikipedia is probably my most used website. Your mind is a wonderful thing, it needs to be nourished like the rest of your body.

5. Enjoy music... Anyone who has read my previous blog about music will know how big a role music plays in my life. I won't repeat myself here!

6. Be Honest... I guess you could pretty much tie this in with #1 to a degree, but I think there is enough of a difference with this one to merit it's own slot. If I'm asked for a honest opinion, I will give it. If it's a low opinion then I will try to word it as politely as I can, but I'm not going to lie. Similarly, if I say something nice to/about someone, then it's because I mean it, simple as that. Likewise, if I ask someone a question, I would rather have the truth, even if it hurt me, than have a lie which would make the hurt even worse when that lie was exposed, which it would be.

7. Don't Worry About What You Can't Control... Yeah, I'm a bit of a hypocrite for putting this one in, because it's something I need to make sure I do way more of. I put it in because it provides a good example of what happens when I don't follow my own commandments. I'm not going into details, but I had a bit of a bad weekend, there were reasons, but they don't merit discussion here, but ultimately, I wound up getting trapped in my own head, I'm sure people will know what I mean by that, and I let things multiply in my head, and the cause of my malaise was something I don't really have any control over. So, folks, take heed of this one, and don't wind up like me!!

8. Admit Your Mistakes... If I mess something up, which I do with distressing regularity, I own up to it, and I use that experience to (hopefully) prevent a recurrence of said mistake. In my experience, most decent people are prepared to forgive an honest mistake, but much less inclined to forgive any deliberate obfuscation to try and cover mistakes.

9. Be Tolerant of Others... I'm not religious, but I don't think less of people who are (unless they are trying to 'save' me, or convert me, in which case all bets are off).  I don't care if someone is gay, straight, bi, black, white, green, fat, thin, hairy, bald, all I care about is one thing - are they decent people. If the answer is yes, then everything else is irrelevant.  If the answer is no, everything else is still irrelevant, because I don't hang around with assholes.

10. Remember Where you Come From... No matter where I go, no matter what I do, where in wind up living, I will always be a wee boy from Dunfermline, the son of two hard working parents, who did their best. I'm proud of that. There are a multitude of things I would change about myself, both physically (blimey, if I ever won the lottery no one would see me for 6 months so I could get a plastic surgeon to rebuild me pretty much from the ground up!!) and psychologically (better make that 6 months a year, so I could get a psychologist to do the same!!), but every time I am asked where I'm from, the answer will always be the same... I'm from a small village just outside Dunfermline. Townhill may not be fancy, it's never going to be a major seat of learning, it's never going to be an artistic centre, but for me, it will always be home.

And that, dear readers, is that. There will be no 'Springer Moment' to end with tonight, hell, pretty much the entire thing is one big 'Springer Moment' after another!  If you have made it this far, thank's for reading.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Zoltan Open the Sky!

Yeah, a random title. It's a line from a song. You will have noticed, no Pope Shug again tonight, he will be back on Tuesday. I would feel a bit disrespectful were I to post a parody of church workings at easter - I may not be religious, but that doesn't mean I don't respect those who do, so I feel the right thing to do, is save my (hopefully) funny story until after Easter.

So, dear reader, what will tonight's monologue be about. Know what, I've no idea. I think I want to keep it light and airy after the pseudo-psychoanalytical mumblings of last  night, so tonight, I will wax lyrical on the subject of... Yeah, I still don't know. Music? To hell with it, that will do.

I'm a huge music fan. Rock and Metal mostly, but I'll listen to almost anything, other than Country (when I was 18/19 and lived with my parents, every Sunday I would wake up, usually hungover, to the strains of Patsy f**king Cline's "Crazy". I think my mother did it deliberately to punish me for getting drunk the night before), 99% of R'n'B, and Jazz. I don't know why, but I've always disliked jazz. Oh, reggae too. I don't mind pop, but I do have a real weakness for bootlegs and mashups. There just seems to be something about them which means that the whole (the remix) is more than the sum of it's parts (the songs being mashed up).  If you are so inclined, take a look at www.bootiemashup.com where you can download free bootlegs and mashups. No, I'm not on commission.

My first musical love was Blondie. I don't remember when, but I clearly remember hearing 'Call Me' for the first time, it was the first song which made me stop and go "that is fantastic, who is it, where can I find it". Bear in mind, this was a pre-MP3 time where most of my music was obtained via taping from the radio. It was the radio too, which turned me into a rock fan. It was a Tuesday evening, I was lying in my room, twisting the tuner about, trying to find something decent to listen to, I'd have been about 14/15 and I came across a show called Edinburgh Rock, which was a weekly rock/metal show on a local radio station. Anyway, I happened to tune in just as a song called 2 Minutes to Midnight by Iron Maiden started playing. I was hooked, instantly.  As it happened, I'd saved up a bit of pocket money, so that weekend I was straight down town into the local Our Price, walking out 5 minutes later with a copy of Poweslave in my grubby little mitts. That was it. After that, it was all metal, all the time. Maiden, Priest, Metallica, Van Halen, I was insatiable for new music, something which is still true today.

Actually, writing this has inspired me to pull out some of the vinyl I still have lying around (despite not having a record player any more - I really should buy one of those USB ones which convert the vinyl to MP3). A sampling will demonstrate how much of a metalhead I was:

Metallica - The $5.98 EP Garage Days Revisited
Metallica - Ride The Lightning
Metallica - Master of Puppets
Metallica - Kill 'Em All picture disc
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Doctor Who: The Music
Annihilator - Alice in Hell
Metallica - The Black Album
Bruce Dickinson - Tattooed Millionaire
Ozzy Osbourne - No More Tears
Journey - Escape (that must be my exes)
Adam and the Ants - Prince Charming
Smashed Gladys - Social Intercourse
Rush - Grace under Pressure (Import!!)
Wrathchild America - Climbin' the Walls
Joe Satriani - Flying in a Blue Dream
WASP - WASP
Roadrunner Presents - Stars on Thrash (a thrash metal compilation with the likes of Flotsam & Jetsam, DRI, Stormtroopers of Death, Hades, Sacred Reich etc etc)
Testament - Practice What You Preach
Warlock - Triumph and Agony
Iron Maiden - Somewhere in Time
Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast
Iron Maiden - No Prayer for the Dying
Ozzy Osbourne - No Rest for the Wicked
Extreme - III Sides to Every Story
Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Blondie - Blondie
Big Country - Steeltown
Doro - Doro (a confession here, I only bought it for the poster which came free with it)

Everything above here was part of my original post, this is now stuff I'm having to retype! I can remember the basic theme which is this... Music is universal. All over the planet, we speak different languages, but we can all recognise music, regardless of the country, culture or creed it comes from. It's no accident that music was added to the Voyager probes which are currently hurtling through the solar system on their way to the vastness of interstellar space. Music can make us smile, it can make us cry, it can remind us of people we love, it can evoke memories of those we miss, it can even be used as a weapon, such is the power of music.

I had written a ton more, but I'm not going to repeat it all, so I will leave you with tonight's Springer moment. Think of your favourite piece of music, and what it means to you, whether it's 'your song' with your partner, whether it is a favourite from your past, whatever it is, dig it out, listen to it, and most importantly, share it.

Rock on, my friends.

F**king Blogspot!

In it's infinite wisdom, Blogspot decided to log me out and not tell me, thus when I went to save tonight's blog (which was about music and was pretty immense stuff, even if I say so myself), I had to log back in, and you guessed it - NO BLOG!

Shame on you, Blogspot. Shame.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Scenes of Internal Oblivion

Those of you who were hoping for part II of Pope Shug will I fear be disappointed this evening, whilst those of you who thought part 1 was crap, will no doubt be overjoyed!  Shug will return though, never fear.

As those of you who have seen my FB status today will have seen, I've been in a 'odd' mood today, not my usual self. Mostly tiredness, mixed with some insecurity, and a bit of 'je nais sais quoi'.  There is a lot of stuff happening in my head at the moment, and no, I'm not going to go all Emo and turn this into a therapy-by-blog session for a few reasons: 1. Who cares? I mean really. 2. I cringe when I see others do it, and 3. It's just not me. I internalise what ever is going on and try and work through it that way. The best way of doing it? Probably not. But anyway, as I said, this isn't therapy, this is just me, writing some words.

I did however, think to myself "why did I start a blog, knowing full well that there will be precious few readers?" What do I have to say that other people will find interesting? It's a good question and not one I can easily answer. As I said, I keep things to myself, so I'm not going to be laying bare any deep dark secrets, mostly because I don't really have any! I conversation with someone last Sunday made me think about my past, and if there was anything in there which worries me, and I have to say, my closet is pretty much skeleton free! Are there things I would change given the chance? Hell yes. Is there anything I'm ashamed of, no, not at all. Is there anything there which would worry me were it public knowledge? Nope.  Is that a sign of a life not lived, or a sign of a life lived carefully. Chances are it's probably somewhere between the two. It's also made me think about the part of my life yet to come. Do I need to take more 'risks' - to a certain degree almost certainly. It took me a long time to figure it out, but there is a lot to be said for the concept of "better to have tried and failed, than to always wonder 'what if'".

So, it turns out, despite earlier promising this wouldn't turn into an Emo 'no one understands me, I'm off to look at trees' type of post, I guess that's kind of what it's turned into. So, now that I've voiced my thoughts in a vaguely incoherent way, I guess I may as well go the whole hog and give voice to some of the aspects of being me that I probably need to change. Those of you who know me can either nod or shake your head as we go along!

1. Be less negative, particularly about myself.  I think pretty much everyone who knows me will have commented at some point about my habit of self-deprecation, poking fun at myself and my physical and mental shortcomings. Yet, I keep on doing it. I'm fairly certain I have a positive side, and maybe one day I'll find it (see, even when I'm admitting I put myself down too much and should really try to not do that, I wind up doing it! Deary me..) This is probably not a good thing.  When I say probably, I mean certainly. It would actually be quite interesting to hear other people's opinions on my weaknesses/shortcomings, to see how they stack up with my own.

2.  Don't let the past influence the future. "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc". I'm sure everyone knows what that means, but just in case there is someone whose Latin has briefly escaped them, it means 'After it, therefore because of it', or in other words, because something happened in the past, it's going to cause something else to happen in the future (actually, it doesn't quite mean that, but I like the phrase (thank you The West Wing) and thought it was close enough). This is pretty closely tied in with #1 above, negativity and past failures have led to the assumption that trying things in the future is futile - they are destined to fail. But that on;y becomes the case if I let it, and all you normal people will be surprised at just how damn long it took me to figure that out!

3. Focus. This wasn't going to be the original #3, but being cursed with the attention span of a goldfish (which is actually something of a myth, studies have shown that goldfish can retain basic information, they can be trained, but I mean really? What the hell are you going to train a goldfish to do?) the original #3 managed to run out of my head as I got distracted by a music video (Bring Your Daughter... ...To the Slaughter by Iron Maiden if you must know). , which is a recurring theme with me. A quick look through my school report cards will quickly establish a theme... "Stuart must pay more attention..." "...Stuart would excel if he would stop daydreaming" "...Stuart's attention span is frustrating, he is capable, but lazy". I can't argue. I did ok at school, but I know I was capable of much more.

4. I'll come back to this.  If there is more than just this sentence when I hit 'publish' then you'll know I remembered what I was going to say. Don't hold your breath though.

5. Life is short. This wasn't going to be 3 (which turned into 4), so I will keep it as 5. Everyone will have heard, or said, at some point, 'life is short'. The irony of course, is that life is the longest thing any of us will ever do, but from a philosophical viewpoint, it's true. The universe is an estimated 13.4 billion years old, the earth around 4.5 billion years old. By those standards, a human lifetime is barely a blink. Don't we then owe it to ourselves to try and life that short, precious life in such a way as makes us happy, with those who make us happy. Which actually, brings me back to...

5a. Be more positive, make the effort. Sounds easy, doesn't it. Six little words. I know you are thinking "wasn't that covered in 1 or 2 above?" Kind of, but not quite. This is more in tune with 5 above, with a health degree of "don't sweat the small stuff - and it's all small stuff'". I always say to people "don't worry about that which you can't control". But saying that makes me a bit of a hypocrite, because I do worry about things I can't control. And I shouldn't. Yes, I started a sentence with a conjunction and yes, I can be a bit of a grammar nazi, so yes, that makes me a hypocrite too. Back on subject - I need to take my own advice more, and let go that which I don't control. I can only do, what I can do. It's something I need to be more cognisant of. The make the effort part goes back to "it's better to have tried, etc etc etc", so yes, that part was covered before, but I felt it merited a point of it's own.

So, where does that leave things. I don't know. I've thought long and hard about publishing this, if you are reading it, then I opted to hit the button. I'm being honest (one of my few redeeming features. Damn, there I go again!) when I say, I'm already pretty much sure I'm going to go for it, but, until I've hit the final full stop, I'm not 100% sure. Part of me feels like the Emo-blog-therapy that this has turned out to be has been a positive, part of me is yelling at the other part, something along the lines of "man up!".  We will find out shortly which side won I guess! I'm actually slightly glad that this blog has a very small circulation, I've given an insight into the almost real me, that I'm not sure it's a good idea. People at work think of me as this big, bombastic ball of chubby confidence, little realising that a lot of it is an act, the real me is, I hope anyway, deeper than people realise. I'm shy, I can be insecure, I can be easily hurt, I can be... well, lets leave it at that.

If you have made it this far, well done, and thank you.

I think I'm just writing for the sake of it now, so I will stop, as soon as I've added my customary 'Jerry Springer' moment.

Everyone has the right to be happy. As cliche as it sounds, life is, in the grand scheme of things, short. So live it. You don't get a second chance, make this one count.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Pope Shug - Part 1

As vaguely promised, the first part of my work in progress, Pope Shug.  I will warn people now - there is crudity, very bad language and terrible writing to be found in this - if you are easily offended by profanity, blasphemy or lack of writing ability, I suggest you skip this...


PART 1

The Holy Father, Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI has just shed his mortal coil.  Following the funeral, the eligible cardinals are locked in conclave, following the ancient protocols to elect the late Pope's successor.

The conclave is now in it's second day, the first several ballots failing to elect a new pope.  The cardinals have taken time to pray, and to covertly discuss with their colleagues, the deadlock currently being experienced.  The two front runners, Chilean Cardinal Jorge Estevez and Italian Cardinal Renato Martino were neck and neck, and given the enmity between the two camps, tensions in the conclave were rising – neither side wanted the other to win! 

The cardinals who were in neither the Estivez nor Martino camp were also getting frustrated. One of their number suggested “why not register a protest vote, someone who we cannot possibly think would realistically be pope, but whose appearance on the ballot will hopefully shock the rest into working something out?”  One of the other cardinals countered “but, all the cardinals in this conclave, ultimately are good and pious men”

And so, the stalemate continued.  After the 33rd vote had failed to present a pope, the neutrals again spoke, and it was repeated that what was needed was to make a protest vote to try and spur things along.

Then Cardinal O'Brien, the Scottish Cardinal spoke. “There is nothing in the rules of conclave which say that the nominee must be a cardinal, merely that they are ordained as one before taking the papal throne. I know of a priest in my archbishopric, a man called to God from the shipyards, a good man, but so rough with his tongue, I sometimes find it hard to believe that he is truly a man of God... He is crude, uncouth, but he is, as they say, a man of his people. When his name appears on the ballot, then the others must decide that action is to be taken”

And so it came to pass that the name of Father Hugh 'Shug' McGinty was entered onto the voting slips of those cardinals not in either camp.  However, there was one crucial fact which had not entered the mind of Cardinal O'Brien. Pope John Paul II had changed the rules of conclave, so that after the 33rd vote, all that was needed to appoint the pope was a simple majority, rather than the 67% of the vote needed under normal circumstances.  Crucially, both Estivez and Martino both had 28 staunch supporters, who, despite intense lobbying, were unable to persuade the cardinals not in their camp.  Word was spread of the plan to have a protest vote, which all the un-decided cardinals agreed to. As there were the maximum of 120 cardinals in conclave, this meant that once Estivez and Martino, and their followers, had cast their vote, there were 62 votes available. One cardinal voted for Martino, giving him a total of 30 votes.  The remaining cardinals all followed the lead of Cardinal O'Brien, and voted for Father Shug.

The scrutineers and electors carried out the task alloted to them, and then, after much deliberation which caused some consternation amongst the assembled conclave, raised to read their results.

“Cardinals, this is the 34th ballot. In line with the reforms to conclave law passed by the Venerable John Paul II, a 2/3rds majority is no longer required, any person with an overall majority of votes will be crowned.  I will read out the results of the ballot.

Cardinal Estivez – 29 votes

Cardinal Martino – 30 votes

Father McGinty – 61 votes.

Under the rules of the conclave, delivered by God's messanger on earth, the Venerable Holy Father, I declare that Father McGinty is pronounced Supreme Pontiff, and Pope, subject to his elevation to the position of Cardinal”

The conclave was in uproar, but no matter how they tried to get the result rescinded, they found that the rules were explicit – Father Shug was now pope! The matter of his elevation to Cardinal was, but precedent, a foregone conclusion, no Cardinal would dare interfere with the will of God in such a manner!

And so, the next day, Father Shug was summoned to the Vatican. In his home, reading something a bit less holy than the Bible (it was in fact, a copy of the Sporting Times), the Father's phone went.

“Shug here” he said, before listening to the caller who identified himself as Cardinal Camerlengo, in charge of the Vatican until the investiture of the new pope.  Then the Camerlengo finished Shug was silent for a while.  Then, the new Pope said “Pish, you are pullin' mah tadger. Is that you Tam, ah've telt you afore, just cause ahm a priest, disnae mean ah cannae boot the pish right oot of ye!”

The Camerlengo, who had been told to expect such a response, stated that Cardinal O'Brien was, at this very time, waiting outside with a car, ready to transport the new pope back to the Vatican for his elevation to first Cardinal, and then, Pope.

Still disbelieving, Shug walked outside, to be confronted by the sight of Cardinal O'Brien, just as the Camerlengo said.  “Fuck me” said Shug, which was somewhat un-popely!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Religion - Pope Shug Style!

I'm sure the title alone is enough to spark a blue touch-paper somewhere or another!!

As I said yesterday, I've been writing a short story, which had a distinctly religious theme - what would happen if a rough-as-sandpaper, former shipyard worker turned priest was accidentally elected Pope. It is written as a piece of humour, but it also got me thinking.

If I post it, how likely is it that I would (inadvertently) offend any Catholic friends I may have.  I think that all the Catholic people I know have fairly robust senses of humour (or should that be sense of humours... it's a lexicographic conundrum!) and would not be offended by what is clearly a satire based on a scenario which, whilst technically possible, would never ever occur. Yet, it is the thought of offending any of them which has made me think "is posting it really such a good idea?"

I also got thinking about religion in a wider sense. I should say at this juncture, that I have no religious leanings whatsoever, I'm a confirmed agnostic, yet I have an ongoing fascination with religion. Not the theological side of it, but the history and development, the differences and indeed, similarities between them. Take the Virgin birth - everyone knows that's Christian, right? Right. But also wrong. Take Buddhism for example.

"When, as Bodhisat, he ceased to belong to the hosts of the heaven of Delight, he descended into his mother’s womb mindful and self-possessed."
Seems a bit virgin-birthy, does it not. What about ancient Egyptian, Horus, Osaris, Isis... There was a whole bunch of people not having sex, but still having kids. Hinduism too:
“The divine Vishnu himself descended into the womb of Devaki" and was born as her son"

That sure seems familiar... Now, please don't think I'm trying to mock any of these religions, or their beliefs - I have no right to so do, and no intention of so doing. I use these as examples of why religion is so fascinating.  Flood stories are the same, religions all over the world have flood tales, not just the Abrahamic religions, various South American religions have the very same, and bear in mind, these religions developed at a time when it is thought there was no travel between continents, no cross-pollenisation of ideas, besides, even if people from Israel, for example, did somehow get lost and wind up in Peru, the chances of them speaking anything like the same language is pretty slim!

I started thinking about this when I was in the sauna at the gym (feel free to savour that thought, ladies!), which also got me thinking, if I had to be religious, which religion would I take... Islam? Sadly, no, whilst fascinating, I am, after all, Scottish, so would miss the occasional glass of wine here and there. Christianity? Again, probably not, that would seem to just be going with the flow. Judaism? I'd actually be tempted there, and I'm sure that you are wondering why.  Then, I shall tell!

Two of the most inspiring and amazing people it has ever been my fortune to get to meet were both Jewish. Neither knew the other, yet like so many Jewish people of a certain age, they had a common bond. I'm sure you don't need me to spell it out.

When I was young, about 13/14 a good friend of mine from school was Jewish. Fraser his name was (and if you are sitting there thinking "that's not a very Jewish name", his mother was called Rachel, his father's name escapes me, but his Rabbi grandfather was Abraham) and there were many times where I'd be at his house (on a Sunday, never a Saturday) and I would be invited to stay for dinner, which was always so much fun. His grandfather was a stereotypical Hassidic Jew, the forelocks, the kippah (he didn't like it being called a yarmulke for some reason), and the wide brimmed hat. He was obviously held in great esteem by all who visited the house, myself included, but not because he was a Rabbi, but because he was a genuinely nice old man who never made me anything other than welcome and tolerated the endless questions I asked him about Judaism, never once answering anything other than factually and in a way that made it interesting.

Then one Sunday, I was a Fraser's house, we had been out playing football or something, I don't clearly remember what, but I will always remember the conversation I had with Rabbi Abraham.  He asked me how I was doing at school, so I told him of a film I saw.  During 1st and 2nd year at the high school I attended, RE (Religious Education) was compulsory (for most - there were exceptions, ironically only for people of certain religions - I seem to recall that Jehovas Witnesses were allowed to opt out, possibly others, it doesn't matter anyway), and one week during class, we were invited to a screening of a Biopic after school. To this day, I have no idea what prompted me to go, but I did. The movie was about a young girl, growing up in Poland during the 30s. You already know where this is going, don't you. Sadly, to my eternal disappointment, I can't remember the woman's name, but the movie told the story of how she and her family were all rounded up and sent to Treblinka Concentration Camp. By some miracle, this girl (as she was then) was released. It transpired that it was a mistake in administration, and she almost didn't go, she was determined that she would stay with her family, but her mother arranged it so that she would be taken when she was asleep and removed from the camp, knowing it was the only way she would leave. Needless to say, everyone perished, apart from the little girl who not only managed to get out, but then, once the German administrators of the camp realised their error and set out to look for her, evaded them long enough to escape first to a neutral country (I think it was Sweden), and then on to the UK.

After the movie showed, we were told that there was a guest of honour and it was, of course, the woman whose story we had just watched. She was an old lady by then of course, but she was happy to spend as long as we kids wanted, answering questions, telling us about her life after the camp, and how she prayed for the soul of her mother who saved her life every single day.  Anyway, as the hall at school started to empty, most of the people just filed straight out, but a few kids, myself included, went over to her to thank her for coming - it seemed like the least we could do - and she looked genuinely pleased that we had taken that little bit of time to some over to say that. What struck me was that even though she was smiling, it was almost like her eyes refused to smile along with the rest of her, that her eyes, having seen what they had seen, had nothing but sadness in them.

So, as I relayed this story to Rabbi Abraham, this old man, this mountain of an old man (he was well over 6 feet tall and, shall we say, portly, as his generation tended to be!) cried. I was shocked, and immediately started to apologise, thinking that I had somehow offended him somehow. He silenced me and told me the story of his family - his mother and father were able to escape persecution in Germany as they had relatives in Scotland, hence he and his family living in Dunfermline now, but many of his family did not, and were never seen again. Then this old guy thanked me. He actually thanked me tor taking time out of my life to watch the movie about the woman, to listen to her story.

I'm sure I had a point at the start of this ramble, but I don't recall it now. Today is the first time I thought about these stories in I have no idea how long - certainly years anyway.

It looks like I will be ending every blog with a "Jerry Springer" style bon-mot, so today it will be this:  Enjoy your religion. Celebrate it, take comfort from it. But don't force it on anyone else. Most non-religious people don't have a problem with people of religion, and those who do will be, in my experience anyway, assholes in general, but accept that there are differences in people, and celebrate that too.

Tomorrow, maybe, the first couple of chapters of Pope Shug!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

It had to happen sometime...

Hi.

Every journey, we are told, starts with a single step. Every book with a single letter, every song with a single note, and every clich├ęd blog with something as hackneyed as “every journey starts with a single step’.

I have decided to blog. I’m not going to lie, I will do so continually at first, and then sporadically, and then intermittently, eventually going down to hardly ever. This won’t be a reflection on you, dear readers (all none of you), instead is a reflection on the way I am. I start out with great ideas, focus on them for a while, and then something else takes their place. A prime example of this is ‘Pope Shug’, a short story I was writing.  Well, still am writing. Sometimes. I’ve only shared it with a couple of friends thus far, all three of whom thought it was funny (which is the point!) although I think my American friend would have read it with a lot of puzzlement on her face (there is a lot of Scottish colloquialism (a word which makes me thankful for spellcheck! Oooh, nested parentheses, neat!) and West Coast themed profanity. As another aside, you will eventually get used to the fact that I am, actually incapable of writing anything without resorting to parentheses all over the place. Sorry about that.). But, it’s a case in point of how my mind works. I went at it hammer and tongs for a few days, then pretty much neglected it.  I will go back to it at some point. I will probably put what I’ve written on my blog page at some point soon, just for the hell of it!

Anyway, why have I decided to blog? Well, I have lots of thoughts going through my head at any given time, some of them may even be vaguely interesting. Rather than losing them altogether, I thought I would commit some to the ethereal wonder that is the World Wide Web. Not all of them, some of the thoughts I have are so mundane even I don’t care about them, some are to personal for me to share, some are too sensitive to share (in terms of they relate to someone else, and I wouldn’t betray a trust placed upon me, not only because it would break my own moral code, but because I wouldn’t want anyone else being able to figure anything else out about anyone else based on what I said. Does that even make sense?), some of it will hopefully be thought provoking, hopefully some of it will inspire laughter, some may inspire reflection. Most, I fear, will inspire absolutely nothing.

So, what will I write about first. Shall I go into detail about installing a burglar alarm in my flat today? No, that would very much fall into the ‘too mundane to inspire anything other than “wow, this is mundane, let’s see if I can find an interesting blog instead” (apart from the fact my stepladder and my head were introduced to each other in a distinctly percussive manner – don’t drape the cable for the drill you are using over a step in the stepladder (which wasn’t being used as it traditionally is, it was kept closed and just propped against the wall so I could drill the holes for the brackets for the siren), then dismount from said stepladder, catching the cable with your foot, and pulling the ladder and causing the aforementioned cranial impact. Oh, and another thing you will notice about me, I like arcane language. I’m not trying to be a language snob, or elitist, anything like that, I genuinely enjoy using that kind of language, I think English is a fascinating tongue, but I’m sure that will be covered more fully at a later time. I’m sure by this point you have also figured out that I go off on tangents quite a lot. When I say ‘quite a lot’ I do of course mean, all the time).  Crikey, even by my standards, that was one hell of a sidestep!

Back on track then. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to talk about the Moon. Why? Because I’m sitting at my computer desk, listening to music on my headphones (Coheed and Cambria for those who like details) with the TV on in the background (Air Crash Investigation – one I’ve seen before), which incidentally used to drive my mother mad when I lived at home, especially because most of the time I was also lying on my bed reading) and I can see the full moon through the blind. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with the Moon. Back then, I’d sometimes disappear into the forest which backed on to my parents house (it was a more innocent time then!) because in the middle was a hill in a clearing, there was no light pollution, so I could set up my little telescope and watch the Moon and the stars. As I got older that fascination never left me. Even today, on nights like this, I look at the Moon and have the same sensation of awe and wonder that I did when I was a kid. Looking at the Moon always helps me put things in perspective. No matter what is going on in my life, be they positive or negative, the Moon still gives me pause to think, actually, to reflect, more than just think, upon whatever is going on and make me decide if it really is such a big deal. Sometimes it is a big deal, sometimes it is not.  The Moon also makes me think about people, be they people in my life at the moment, people I miss (such as my late father), or people I wish I was watching the moon with. The last thought is generally the one which makes me the most reflective. I think there is something hopelessly romantic about the Moon, that the splendour of that distant glowing orb in the sky is only really fully appreciated when it’s being shared with someone.

So, with that thought ladies and gentlemen I will conclude my debut blog, with a request. If you have someone special in your life, someone you love, someone you miss, someone you want to make up with, look at the Moon. Together. It makes a difference.

Oh, and I promise – my blog will get better with time!