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Food and drink heaven

Today, on the advice of musician, artist and bon viveur Sarah Hill of Kippen, I visited The Woodhouse, in search of goodies to suit this warm weather we’re having here at the moment.

Sarah had mentioned both Katy Rodgers’ ice cream, from Fintry, and Kippen’s own Fallen Brewing Co beer, but wasn’t sure that The Woodhouse stocked both: they do.

So this evening, with all the windows flung wide to catch what little breeze there was, I took Katy Rodgers’ mango frozen yogurt from the freezer and Fallen Brewery’s Just the Ticket hoppy extra pale from the fridge, noting that the latter incorporates lemon, lime and orange zest, alongside the more traditional ingredients. That was when it happened: a genuine memory of childhood and warm summer evenings, the ice cream van coming round, and mixing vanilla ice cream with Barr’s American Cream Soda (apparently no longer available) for a fizzy sort-of milk shake. I thought, if beer can have citrus flavours, why not go just a little further and mix it with mango frozen yogurt? So I did, and for a while experienced food-and-drink heaven. As they say, to die for…

July 24, 2014   Posted in: local stuff  No Comments

The social dimension

Haven’t had time to do any housework worth mentioning since the last entry, nor will over the next couple of days, due to pressure of paid work, but here’s something that I think is worth a mention anyway.

On the basis of the relevant history, the big question is not whether I can improve the state of the place, but whether I can keep it up mid- and long-term. The answer to that question has to be yes, for this reason: social isolation is no longer good enough for me. OK, I’m not totally isolated, I do go out now and again, but what a difference it would make to my social life if I felt I could invite people back here, too! I have a sister and a cousin that live within 20 miles, the sister’s been here once in the last twenty years—at least fifteen years ago, I think—and the cousin’s never been here, despite the fact that I visit her around once a month. I belong to a small informal meditation group that meets in members’ homes—except of course mine. And so on. Changing that, and keeping it changed, is an absolutely essential part of getting my life back on track. And visitors in the offing was always the one thing that would get me busy cleaning and tidying. Given that we’re talking not life-and-death but quality of life, I think it’s fair to say that my life depends on this: get the place good enough to invite people to, then keep inviting them.

July 18, 2014   Posted in: Housework diary  No Comments

Housework catchup

This is a follow-on from the previous post. That explained why I’m blogging about my housework (basically, using public commitment to boost short-term motivation) and described the state of the house at the low point, which was roughly a month ago. In this post I’ll describe what I’ve done since then. Future ones will cover what’s been done the same day, or in some cases, probably, to be realistic, over the previous two or three days. But I’ll really try not to let it go beyond that. (This one is a few days late I’m afraid.)

The kitchen was the top priority. I cleaned the window first, glass and frame, then cleared and cleaned the work surfaces. The rest of the woodwork followed: mainly the external door and the skirting (not yet the shelves), and then the main appliances: cooker, fridge, washing machine and tumble drier. (The interior of the fridge remains to be done, also the oven, but neither is at all bad. Being vegetarian and eating mostly ready meals, or at least things that only need reheating, help keep the oven relatively clean. To go off-topic for a moment, I know ready meals aren’t awfully healthy but I do eat quite a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables.) After that I gave a proper cleaning to the “inside” bins (the wheelies, which live a couple of hundred yards away down at the roadside, can look after themselves as far as I’m concerned). Stuff for recycling goes in its own bin now which has cleared the floor but I’ve yet to make a decision on covering it so though it’s much more visible now, that’s not entirely a good thing.

Having gotten the kitchen to what I felt was an acceptable state, if only just, I moved on to the bed-sitting room. The changes here at the time of writing are less obvious, but the next post will describe more. So far the fireplace around the stove including the mantelpiece and the visible areas of the floor have been cleaned, as have the window glass and frame, and a substantial proportion of the papers have gone to recycling. I’ve also cleaned the outside of the windows of the kitchen, bed-sitting room, work room and those at the back of the house. The next stage will be to remove the remainder, or at least another substantial proportion, of the papers and other stuff that doesn’t belong in the bedsitter, and clean the floor areas and furniture thus revealed.

That’s not an awful lot to have accomplished in that time frame and the pace will have to pick up. To be honest, due to the good weather we’ve been having I’ve spent a fair bit of time outside on low priority garden/logging work and just relaxing. I view that as justified because I’m not taking a holiday as such this year, but if that particular distraction comes into play again very often over the coming weeks, we’ll be lucky. (Of course the main other demand on my time is paid work, which varies quite a lot but over the past month has probably been quite close to the long term average.)

Here are two pictures taken in the kitchen within the past few minutes:

View of one side of the kitchen

View of one side of the kitchen

View of other side of kitchen

View of other side of kitchen

July 16, 2014   Posted in: Housework diary  No Comments

Housework diary

How boring is that? Why on earth would anybody blog about their housework? They might have an ideological position on it, or ideas on the best way to go about it, but just listing what they’ve done? Surely not!

In a recent post I committed myself to stop using clinical depression as an excuse. I said I no longer considered myself a victim of it, and while I might be depressed at times in the future, I strongly believe that I’m well enough now that I can stop blaming it for my own failures. (It might be argued that I should have taken that attitude before now, maybe even long ago, but we are where we are, as they say.) I also believe that this change will actually be therapeutic. But anyway, the point of blogging about my housework is the public commitment. I hereby commit myself to posting on a very regular basis—it should probably be every day, in fact—saying what I’ve done and admitting it when I’ve done nothing, because I believe that commitment will help me get on with it. I might no longer be suffering from depression but I still have bad habits developed in the past, and lack good ones that most people take for granted. (This is for short-term motivation and good habit building, there is also mid- to long-term motivation but I think that works differently.)

The house is certainly in need of plenty of work. When people come here with computers to be fixed I have often said “I’m the world’s worst housekeeper and customers aren’t allowed in because they might get the wrong idea about how I’ll look after their computers!” When clients for printing started to come a couple of years ago I couldn’t keep them outside so I sorted out one room. I had great intentions of bringing the rest of the house up to that standard but that hasn’t happened, in fact the printing/work room has sunk back slightly towards the state of the others. There have been other developments, I got a lot of help from friends with painting and decorating the work room and others and in that respect most of the rooms are still not too bad but in terms of tidiness and also, I’m afraid, to some extent cleanliness, things are not at all great.

I say “are”, but the low point is now past, some significant improvements have already been made. The turnaround was about a month ago now. However, I’m going to describe how things were then in this post, use the next one to get up to date, then those that follow will be “in real time”, or least made on the same day as the work was done, mostly. (All posts on this topic will be filed in the category Housework diary.) I won’t mention such regular things as dish and clothes washing, or toilet bowl cleaning, which never got too far behind anyway. I’m not that bad!

Regarding the kitchen, I’m very conscious of potential rodent problems, the rubbish always went out regularly, and it never smelled of rotting food. But it did look bad, with accumulations of dry bread crumbs beside the chopping/bread board, the cooker top very spattered, cardboard and paper for recycling supposedly piled up but actually spilling across the floor, and all the large white appliances, as well as the white painted woodwork, looking distinctly grey. I lifted the old carpet tiles, which really were filthy, quite a while back, but never got around to replacing them, so the floor is currently unsealed and therefore quite badly stained hardboard.

OK, that’s enough detail, if not too much, I’ll try to cover other rooms more briefly. The work room is generally untidy but gets tidied, to some extent anyway, every time a client is expected, so it’s the best. Then there’s what is currently a bed-sitting room. It has a wood burner that emits a little smoke from time to time and tends to be quite dusty. There are piles of papers on the floor and the coffee table, two chairs piled high with clothes (there’s another that I use), an entertainment unit along with two free-standing speakers that all seem to attract dust, as do several shelving units and their contents. The mantelpiece is not now but was at the low point very dusty.

This is a three bedroom bungalow and what used to be the largest bedroom is now the work room, so there are two others, both of which are used as storerooms. For what? For junk, to be frank. Well, not all of it, in that case it would be relatively easy to get rid of. In fact some of the stuff in these rooms is definitely worth keeping so I will have to go through it all and make a decision about each thing. Also, due to their contents, these rooms were the only ones not redecorated two years ago, so that will have to be tackled too. I might as well admit here, I definitely do have hoarding tendencies.

The hall is not too bad. Its worst feature is the bare floorboards, apart from where I laid a few carpet tiles a year or so back before getting distracted. It contains the big printer, which is too big to go into the work room, but will fit into one of the junk rooms after de-junking. (As well as housing the printer that room will still be a storeroom, but a properly organised one. The other junk room will revert to being a bedroom. If you noticed the anomaly that the printer won’t go into the biggest but will go into another room, it’s not actually the room size but the width of the hall and the corners it would have to go around that are the problem. I made the mistake of filling it with ink in its current location, so now it can’t be tilted, or not without a great deal of trouble.)

That leaves the toilet/bathroom. There’s no shower. The toilet bowl has already been mentioned. The washhand basin has in the past been quite grubby, with blue-green stains, but it’s been not too bad for a while now (since about the time I started letting clients into the house). The bath still has similar stains but they seem to be very gradually getting better as I work on them a little at a time—more on that in a future post. The floor is bare boards, like the hall. There’s a water filtration/treatment unit with associated pipework that badly needs boxed-in and an Ikea cupboard intended to play the main part in that, when I get around to it.

I think that’s about it for now. The update post will follow in a day or two then I’ll get into the routine of real-time entries. I’m still considering whether to include photographs!

July 11, 2014   Posted in: announcements, Housework diary  One Comment

Calm down dear…

…it’s only a commercial. Michael Winner, whose catchphrase that was in a series of television adverts, used to make me really quite angry. It wasn’t just the adverts, he struck me as a genuinely obnoxious character in himself, one of those people you love to hate.
If you don’t know the name, he was a British film director, restaurant critic and C list celeb who died in 2013. I’ve since learned that he could be very generous—in fact I knew very little about him back then—I’m thinking of a few years ago—but his manner rubbed me up the wrong way.
I wouldn’t let that happen these days. Why not? Because I’ve calmed down.
People with clinical depression don’t give the impression of being in turmoil, but deep down they are. I certainly was. Somebody once asked me what I got out of the many courses I used to attend at Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre and was obviously deeply unimpressed when I said I’d learned to relax, but that’s really quite profound. In the late eighties I spent three years in weekly sessions of psychodynamic psychotherapy (I also studied it) and I’ve always felt that did me quite a lot of good, but now I believe that mindfulness is probably the best remedy for most neurotics, and certainly for me. What that mainly means in practice is regular meditation.
But what prompted me to write this was two or three things coming together in my mind this morning. One was a renewed realisation of just how central “mere” relaxation is to the healing process, in such cases as chronic anxiety and depression. Another was the idea that it might be good to publicly acknowledge that I no longer see myself as a victim of clinical depression. I’m not saying I’ll never be depressed again, but I now feel well enough that I can and should stop using depression as an excuse, for the state of my house, for instance! And I believe that’s quite an important development. Not for anyone other than myself of course, but the point is my commitment never again to make such excuses, whether to myself or to others.
I was speaking recently with a friend who has experience of depression, telling her how good I felt after doing some housework, and she said she viewed cleaning and such activities as great anti-depressants. I almost felt like maybe if I’d just always done the housework properly I’d never have had any problem! But I’m sure she didn’t mean it that way. Prescribing housework is never going to be appropriate for any but the mildest cases, ones that probably wouldn’t count as clinical depression anyway. But everybody should learn to meditate! :)

July 7, 2014   Posted in: Buddhism, psychology  One Comment

You’re a red herring

Much of my writing has been concerned with my self, what am I like? :)

Today I decided that, basically, the true nature of my self is identical with your’s, which is a red herring. :) :)

June 17, 2014   Posted in: Buddhism  Comments Closed

Philosopher’s swan song, artist’s statement

This is about a real turning point: at the age of 60, I’ve finally decided what I want to do with my life. Better late than never, you might say.

At school I had no idea what I should or might like to do after leaving. But here’s a thing: I clearly remember deciding, at some point in my early-to-mid teens, that I wasn’t going to get sucked in to classifying myself as either an arty-crafty or a sciency-techy person. I was a real bookworm and spent many happy hours in the town’s library, particularly at the low end of the Dewey classification system, among the books on religion, philosophy and psychology, and I guess it was some of that reading that inclined me in that direction. Or that lack of direction. But I also took out quite a lot of books on electronics and related subjects, belonged to the school “radio club”, and modified and built a number of electronic devices, mainly radios and audio amplifiers.

On the basis of what were considered not great higher results (B in English and C in physics) my parents decided a sixth year, with a view to getting into university, would be a waste of time. My father had heard that Post Office Telephones gave a good grounding in electronics so that’s where I went, but my interest was waning. While still at school I’d been suspended for a few weeks, along with friends, for possession of cannabis, and now some of my colleagues turned out to turn on, so I got back into that, and then into the hippy-ish drug culture of the time (early seventies). None of my friends then had any scientific or technical interests whatsoever (or none they shared), but here’s an interesting thing: though at school one of my worse subjects had been mathematics, on a one-day-a-week telecoms course at college, on a Monday following a tripped-out weekend (LSD), I suddenly found the maths quite easy. My problem must have been some sort of mental block, that the acid ate away.

I left the Post Office after about four years, then for another three worked at various jobs and spent some time unemployed, eventually getting into university as a mature student (which meant a lower qualification threshold). I chose to study subjects that interested me, regardless of job prospects, being very far from career-minded. During the first term I went to a talk on Transcendental Meditation (TM) and took it up, becoming a regular meditator. But I remained a cruiser, generally doing the least work I could get away with. The resulting qualification was quite good considering, an honours degree in philosophy and psychology, but it wasn’t good enough to get into any postgraduate programme. Not that I was specially keen on doing that, but I would have if I could, being fairly fascinated by one or two particular philosophical problems, and having absolutely no idea what else I might like to do. Anyway, for another spell of several years after graduating I worked at a variety of jobs, none of them using my degree, and spent some time unemployed. But this was when I got into both computers and photography.

We’re now in the early-to-mid eighties. While working as a taxi driver I bought quite a good SLR camera (Pentax ME Super (Wikipedia)) and took it with me to work. I remember the owner of the place where I got my processing done being quite complementary about some of the earliest efforts, black and white street scenes at night. I graduated to doing my own black and white processing and printing—my flat though quite small had a large walk-in cupboard that became a darkroom. I did a lot of experimenting, enjoying technical challenges such as low light, and learned a great deal. I must have had plenty of spare time, because I also acquired one of the early “home computers” (Oric Atmos (Wikipedia)) and taught myself to program it.

I was not awfully happy in my work, though, and my father was even less happy with what I was doing, or not doing. On his very strong suggestion I applied for and got onto a “conversion course”, MSc in information technology for people with first degrees in other disciplines. As a way of capitalising on my technical interests and experience to greatly improve my job prospects, it was very definitely the right move to make. But it meant moving away, losing my flat and therefore my darkroom. And here’s where we come to a somewhat strange part of the story: I wasn’t really conscious of that as a great loss at the time, but my enthusiasm for photography waned greatly, and I was generally quite far from happy. What seems most strange to me now is that only very recently have I come to realise that the drop-off in photographic enthusiasm must have been a direct consequence of the loss of the darkroom. And due to that blindness, even when I did get another place of my own, I never tried to set up another darkroom, it never occurred to me to do so, until just a few weeks ago. But over all that time, I’ve been struggling with depression.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the depression was caused by the lack of a darkroom! But they’re not unconnected either. I blame my depressive tendencies for the failure to understand why I’d lost the photographic drive—I just assumed it was part and parcel of my rotten life.

Now we jump back to the present, or almost. Maybe a couple of months ago I began, often while meditating,* to experience creative visions and impulses. I’ve had these before, but to nothing like the same extent, they were both many and varied. Since taking up fine art printing I’ve been watching a lot of arts documentaries, and sometimes these ideas would be linked with them, but other times they could be sparked by almost anything. I considered taking up painting and drawing, wood turning and carving, cold casting and acrylic moulding, and probably other things I don’t remember now. But how to choose? Eventually, due to the range of impulses and possibilities, it occurred to me that maybe it didn’t matter too much exactly what I did, as long as it was something creative. Then I remembered that many of my creative visions over the years have been monochrome, concerning form, texture and tonality rather than colour. Strangely, again, it is only now that I link that back to my darkroom experience of the early eighties—I’m sure that must have been another mental block. I’ve even thought about painting using only black and white paint! But anyway, the point is that now, with the idea of focussing largely or entirely on monochrome, I find some of my old photographic enthusiasm returning. And since I discovered what’s now possible with hybrid photography (digital taking with old-style printing), it’s becoming really quite strong.

*Nowadays I do Buddhist meditation rather than TM, which is recognised not to be particularly good for depressives.

A while back, maybe a year or two after getting the MSc in philosophy, and despite finding that many of my own ideas survived that trial, I decided to give up on academic philosophy. But now, I think, I’m perhaps giving up on philosophy altogether. Or maybe not in absolute terms—I might think a little, maybe even write a little, about it from time to time, but the thing is, I no longer consider myself primarily a philosopher. What I am now—and have been all along, in fact—is an artist, even if a dismally unsuccessful one. Success in a way is beside the point, because this is what I want to do. I’m not sure how I’ll find the time but I’m hoping enthusiasm will generate energy. It might have been good if I hadn’t gotten side-tracked in the mid-eighties and lost almost thirty years of artistic experience, but all is grist to the mill, and suffering is good for the soul!

Artist versus philosopher in fact is a false dichotomy, just like arty-crafty versus sciency-techy. Photography has always combined these, and hybrid photography in particular seems like the best of both worlds. It will take a while to get fully operational, but I can hardly wait! :)

(In case you’re wondering, I don’t now smoke, haven’t done any illegal drugs in years, and have just successfully completed Dry January. But I do have a bit of a caffeine habit.)

Later: as a Buddhist, I believe that self-identifications such as artist and philosopher (and even Buddhist) are relatively superficial. And I’m quite aware that to many people the idea of thinking of themselves as a philosopher or an artist is ridiculous, and people like me are pretentious self-obsessed arseholes—and there’s probably something in that! Ideally, I wouldn’t think of myself at all—but I haven’t quite licked that habit yet. The important (to me) point that remains from the foregoing is that now I know what I mainly want to do. I say “mainly” because there are many things I like to do, none of which I’m particularly planning to give up. But I expect some of them will fall by the wayside, when there’s something even better to take their place.

February 1, 2014   Posted in: announcements, art, photography, psychology  Comments Closed

Better poem

I need to move more slowly, the previous version had no time to mature. (This paragraph is not part of the poem.)

Light dawns     
   birdsong echoes   
     through an empty building

 
 

June 6, 2013   Posted in: announcements  Comments Closed

Poem

Not formally a haiku but I like to think it has something of that spirit.

Birdsong    
  echoes  
    through an empty temple

 
 

June 6, 2013   Posted in: Uncategorized  Comments Closed

There is no alternative…

…or mainstream belief system or lifestyle choice, for me, these days.

This post continues a recent theme, starting with Political and personal independence. There I explain why I’m not taking a position on the issue of Scottish independence. In More on my minimalist commitments, which generalised that to cover not just political positions but beliefs generally, and Reasons to be cheerful, I wrote more about negativity in expressions of personal commitment, which is what sparked all this thinking off for me.

For quite a while now I’ve been feeling really quite uneasy when people said things that seemed to imply that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, and despite all the cogitation that went into these previous posts this remained the case, at least until yesterday, when I believe I finally got to the root of the problem. Which is this: the subtext of these statements, I think, is “I’m an alternativist, I want you to know it, I hope you share my views but if you don’t that’s tough because this is me, so there.” There’s an implicit challenge to take sides, to come out either as a fellow alternativist (leftist, environmentalist, caring person, etc) or as an unthinking, uncaring mainstreamer or rightwinger, but to come out anyway, nail my colours to the mast, say where I stand, which has to be on one side or the other because there is no other alternative.

It reminds me of childhood, when I was more than once cornered by two or three other boys who’d then aggressively ask me whether I supported Rangers or Celtic. (These being Glasgow football teams associated with the Protestant and Catholic communities.) The implication being that, if I said the wrong thing, I’d get beaten up. I somehow always managed to avoid the beatings, maybe in part because I genuinely, if unusually, had no interest in football. Also, at the time, I didn’t realise that I was really being asked whether I was Protestant or Catholic. I was an innocent abroad.

I was actually Protestant, not that I’d given it any thought or had strong feelings about it. My parents were occasional church-goers at best and never talked about such things. When I was a bit older, I imbibed left wing/alternative ideas from the people around me. Which is not to imply that I reject all such views now. Far from it. But what I did then and don’t do now is to identify myself as a leftwinger/alternativist. Now I’m also open to any positive contributions that might come from rightwingers and others too. The identification and the prejudice that went with it—to say I’m this is also to say I’m not that—have dropped away. That’s the difference, between my former and present selves, and more to the present point, between myself and those people whose position statements have been bothering me recently.

So for me now, in Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase, there is no alternative. But that’s not because there is only one option. Quite the opposite: there are many, many options, and to herd them all into two big corrals is not only not useful, it is positively divisive. Like the issue of Scottish independence. Whichever side wins, the personal and political rifts engendered by the debate will take a long time to heal. Is it worth it? Maybe in this case it is. But in general, if I side with anyone, it is the peacemakers. Love your enemy, for he is you.

Further reading: How To Listen When Someone is Venting

Later: I really should know better than to make such statements about what (I think) others are “really” doing. Having given this quite a bit more thought I now see the link at the end as even more apposite than I supposed when I put it there. As I now see it, what this is “really” all about is my difficulties in dealing with expressions of negative emotion. That’s what makes me so uneasy. But this realism, like most, is relative. What I mean is that my issues with negative emotion are currently personally more important. But subtract that, and qualify my interpretations of others’ motivations appropriately, and what remains of this post is entirely valid, I think. The vast majority, if not all, of the issues on which we take sides, are less important than the need to keep to the forefront of our minds what we all have in common.

May 20, 2013   Posted in: politics  Comments Closed


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