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Picture this. Summer’s end at Broomhill…

With the days becoming noticeably shorter and meteorologists once again starting to reach for descriptions like “autumnal” to make “cold and wet” seem more acceptable, I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit Broomhill Sculpture Gardens again before the summer came to an end.

Plenty of the sculptures that I photographed in my previous post are still on display here and I know from several other visits to Broomhill that many of these are semi-permanent installations, giving them the feel of familiar old friends, aging gracefully amongst the trees and lush foliage of the beautiful woodland valley setting.
But there is always something new to see here and the gardens are currently playing host to the National Sculpture Prize, displaying work by the 2014 finalists in the woods and wildflower meadow down by the river.

Walking up the winding drive from the visitors parking area, the entrance flanked by sleek curving steel forms…

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…you encounter all manner of surprises, rearing above you from the steeply sloping banks or tucked away within the green alcove of a hedge.

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Reaching the top of the hill, your first view as you round the final curve in the drive is this impressive gryphon, towering over the terrace in front of the hotel…

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…where I sat for a few minutes, looking down over the valley, reading about the sculpture prize and enjoying a refreshing local cider in the late afternoon sun.

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Making my way down the zig-zagging path through the wooded garden, I first encountered sharply stylised African influenced stone figures…

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…juxtaposed with more abstract, modernist pieces, both on the ground and suspended in the branches overhead.

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The path eventually leads down to the lake, the area around it dotted with more sculptures, peering out from the surrounding trees and the still water itself.

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Following the meandering track back up through the woods, I couldn’t resist dropping in on the strange, post-apocalyptic world of the abandoned tennis court, an exhibit I am always drawn to when I come here and one that never fails to provide some striking images.

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Then I made my way to the main display area for the prize finalists, on the way passing what looked like a yoga lesson, frozen in time.

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Details of all the 2014 NSP finalists are included in the links at the top of this post, but here are a selection of some of my favourite pieces, starting with an oversized piece that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, I can’t think why…

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And I had to get one final shot of this piece, another of my personal favourites, the atmospheric Watchers, frozen in enigmatic contemplation amongst the dappled shade by the riverbank.

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If you can get down there, I recommend that you visit the National Sculpture Prize exhibit at Broomhill, the voting ends soon and the winner will be announced in October.

 

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Everyday miracles…

Everyday miracles…

There are few things I dislike more than having to go to the doctor.
It’s not that I’m squeamish, I just don’t like being dependant on someone else’s opinion for my recovery, I’d rather just munch on a handful of painkiller, decongestant, or anti-inflammatory tablets and get on with my life.

However, there are some things on which you just have to get an expert opinion. In my case that has meant being signed off work with what I was initially told was carpal tunnel syndrome, but which the various medical practitioners involved now no longer seem able to agree on and may in fact be tendinitis.
I have a consultant appointment next week to be referred for either surgery or nerve conduction tests, neither of which sound like a fun day out.

I know several people who have had the procedure to alleviate CTS and have heard mixed reports as to its efficacy, but this relatively simple operation pales into insignificance when compared to some of the extraordinary results that can be achieved by modern surgical methods.
Two examples in particular have brought home to me just how fortunate we are to live in a time when medical science can be used to change people’s lives in ways that couldn’t have been imagined only a generation ago;

A little over a year ago I heard from good friend of mine up in Sussex who had some shocking news.
Due to continuing health problems (contracting multiple chest infections in a short space of time had left him seriously ill and dangerously short of breath) he had been told that he needed a double lung transplant.
Now, given the nature of such an operation the immediate concern was obviously the availability of suitable donor organs, so the only option was for my old friend to sit tight and see if the (necessarily tragic) generosity and thoughtfulness of a complete stranger would come in time to save his life.

As fate would have it, it seemed as if he’d barely had time to get on the donor register list before he received a phone call and made his way to Harefield Hospital in London where he was tissue typed and tested, before being informed that he’d been accepted as a recipient and booked in for surgery.

So on August 12th last year he had a double lung transplant.

Ten days later his wife was posting pictures of him sitting in the sunshine on a bench in the hospital grounds, and not too many days after that it was photos of him toasting us with a pint of his favourite ale in the beer garden of my old local.

And all the available evidence suggests that, a year on, he’s a new man, enjoying a new lease of life and a new perspective.

Let’s just go through that again slowly shall we?
Doctors open up your torso.
They remove both your malfunctioning lungs.
They fit a couple of nice healthy replacements.
They,…what, staple you up or something?
And off you go, the human equivalent of a Formula One car zooming into its garage bay for a three second pit-stop, then pausing only to warm up its tyres, heading straight for the checkered flag and the champagne.

Even now I have trouble getting my head round the amazing speed at which the human body can recover from what must be a deeply traumatic experience, not to mention the astonishing skill and dedication of the men and women who provide such an invaluable life-changing service to those of us who have come dangerously close to not finishing our race at all.

A big part of these of medical miracles is undoubtedly the human element, and not just on the part of those who perform the operations either. The support of loved ones, the will to survive and the strength and resolve of the patients themselves is also vital.
I know that my friend took great comfort from the good wishes and messages of support he received from far and wide via a Facebook group, set up to keep us informed about his life-saving transplant by his doting wife, the one person who provided constant love and encouragement through the whole daunting process.

But it’s the courage, determination and extraordinary strength of character, not to mention the irrepressible sense of humour, that make the subject of my second example of surgical wizardry so inspiring.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I’d recently met my sister’s new partner, an incredibly personable, athletic, funny and all-round nice guy called Oly.
Well, nice guy that he most definitely is, Oly is, um,..how shall I put this?…not all there.

When I asked him if he would mind sharing his story (as I happen to think it’s a truly inspirational tale) I had no idea that he would provide such a thoughtful and poignant piece of writing. I was expecting a timeline of surgical procedures and personal achievements that I could work into a……well, into what he has written.

So I’ll let Oly himself explain;

“I was born in 1984 with congenital limb deformities. 
In layman’s terms this meant I was born without both fibulas (calf bones) and missing digits on both hands. 
I also have one leg a few inches longer than the other, because one thighbone is longer than the other. (in case you’re wondering, it’s my left that’s longer). 
I’m told that my granddad took one look at me and said to my mother; “He’s still beautiful though”. 
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I spent the next 20 months or so as any other ‘normal’ baby.
You know the sort of thing, crying, pooping, eating. All the fun stuff.
In addition to this I had cosmetic surgery on both hands for functional reasons. I still managed to walk with specially adapted shoes and calipers though, and achieved this by 18 months old.
The next event of major significance was in December 1985, when I moved with my family from Bristol in Somerset to Crowborough, in East Sussex.
Part of this move found me being referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where a top peadiatric orthopeadic surgeon recommended that the only real option was an amputation. 
The only alternative would have been me spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair. 

The decision was made to amputate.
This must have been one of the most difficult decisions for my parents to make. Both being only 23 years old at the time, I don’t know how they did it. 
My younger sister was only 3 months old when they had to make this life-changing choice on my behalf, but I have never held it against them and never will. 

I had a double below knee symes amputation at the age of 2 and a half. This means they amputated through my ankles and wrapped the padding of my feet around the end of the bone. This gives extra padding to the end of the bone. 
From talking to other amputees throughout my life I’m told this is a good thing to have.
After speaking to my mother recently she tells me I was up and walking around on my prostheses within 6 weeks of amputation.
I never have liked sitting still. 
I even have a video of me in the hospital kicking a ball, only five days after having the limbs fitted.
My sister, who was 9 months old by then, was learning to walk at the same time. She seemed confused that she didn’t have to put on a pair of legs to stand up and walk.”
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I don’t believe I have sufficient powers of imagination to even begin to contemplate what that must have been like for a young boy growing up, and yet the man I have now had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion is way more athletic and sporty than I’ve ever been or will ever be, incredibly self-assured and confident, and has the barely suppressed energy and mischievous grin of a teenager.
But then he’s got a lot to be grateful for:

“I suppose the next significant part of my life would be playgroup.  Here I met Tim and Martin who would turn out to be my best friends and still are to this day. 
From memory my favourite time at playgroup involved ‘Bikes’. 
If you’ve ever been to watch banger racing, imagine that but with 20 or so 2 year old boys on trikes in a church hall. 
There was never any question of my ability to scoot round on a trike, I just did it. In fact from an early age I don’t ever remember my legs causing me any problems, “disabling” me, or preventing me from doing anything that I’ve ever wanted to do.
The owner of my local gym recently said to me “You’re the most least disabled person I know” Now he’s not one for words but I kind of got the idea of what he was trying to say.”

There followed an obsession with basketball, which consumed his life to the point that he’d sometimes be found clutching his basketball as he slept, and joining the cub scouts, where his pack leader encouraged the other boys to treat him no differently than anyone else, further bolstering his confidence.

I asked Oly for anything that could be considered a particular achievement for someone with his start in life and the list he provided just made me feel old and unfit;

“Dale asked me to provide a list of my “achievements” as he put it. To me, they are just my life.
(These are only the ones I remember, there’s probably a lot more)

Learned to walk. Twice.
Run.
Play football.
Swimming. (Representing England internationally)
Basketball.
Ice/roller skating.
Tennis.
Skateboarding.
Waterskiing.
Jet bikes/skis.
Bowling.
Piloted a glider.
Go karting.
Skydiving.
Golf.
Driving.
Badminton.
Rock climbing.
Abseiling.
Skiing.
Canoeing.
Zip-lining.
Most theme park rides (Even the ones where you dangle your legs)”

He is apparently too modest to mention that he works with disabled children at a local special school’s holiday club and also raises money for the extremely deserving Taylor Made Dreams charity.
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It was only recently that I saw Oly last, when I went to meet up with him and my sister, on holiday with my niece and nephew in Dorset. He was proudly showing off his fancy new carbon-fibre prosthetics with the Superman artwork on them and clowning around in the swimming pool legless just like anyone else, and I’ll leave the last word to him;

“Whilst writing this I spoke to my mum a lot and she told me a story about something that happened at the local park when I was about 3 years old. 
Mum and my Nan took me to Wolfe Recreation Ground and like every other child I wanted to go on the slide. There were two slides, one small and one big. 
Guess which one I went for. 
Now my Nan was always worrying about me. She turned to my mum as soon as I started to climb the ladders to the big slide and said ‘You can’t let him climb them’.
My mums response was ‘I have to let him try’. 
My parents have always encouraged me to try anything and everything and not let my ‘disability’ stop me. Being raised this way has turned me into the person I am today, I never let anything stop me from doing things, yes there are certain things I have to do differently but I will always find a way to do the things I want to.  In my 30 years I’ve never come across anything that I haven’t been able to do. 

For those of you who say “I cant” when you come across something a little bit difficult, my response to you would be; If you want it badly enough you will find a way.

Go on give it a go, you wont know until you try.”

{If you would like to read the full text of Oly’s tale, as written by him,  – edited here to save space – please go the the Oly’s Story… tab at the top of the page. Also see the comments below for Simon’s full account of that transplant ordeal}

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 6, 2014 in Blogging, Guest spots., Personal anecdote, Science

 

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Picture this. A break in Somerset…

Having taken a break from work for a few days, I thought I’d get away and visit somewhere I’d not really been before, the area round Bristol in Somerset.

I stayed on a very peaceful holiday park in Clevedon, complete with fishing lake to stroll around and a total lack of screaming children for company.

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As is my habit when I’m away, I went on a couple of excursions to take photos, first visiting the seaside town of Clevedon itself, with the “only fully intact, grade one listed pier in England”, built in 1869 and still in immaculate condition.

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A walk along the pier offers beautiful views of the Bristol channel, the entry toll house is imposing in its grandeur and the very structure of the elegant pier itself provides a wonderful counterpoint to the dusky sky when the lamps are lit in the evening…

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…and I saw this lovely tiled Victorian water fountain on the wall opposite the entrance.

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Another place I took a look at was the Lake Grounds in Portishead which, all in all, has a very pleasant, very English summer holiday feel to the area. Ducks and swans on the boating lake, blustery wind in my face and striking red rock formations, reminding me of the ploughed red earth of the Devon countryside.

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Further up the coast I discovered the Windmill Inn, a pub with not only a good selection of ciders, but gorgeous views from the terraced gardens of the Welsh coast and the rapidly scudding clouds and choppy waters of the Bristol channel.

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After a relaxing drink and a leisurely drive back towards my temporary home from home, I couldn’t resist stopping off at the particularly photogenic Church of All Saints in the Parish of East Clevedon, nestling in the lee of a wooded valley and looking like something trapped forever in the permanent dappled glow of an English summer afternoon.

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I carefully picked my way among the headstones…

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…until I came upon a resident who didn’t look like they appreciated my trespassing on their sunbathing spot..

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So I took this as my cue to leave for home, taking one last look as I walked back to the car…

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…and arriving in time to snap yet another glorious sunset over my holiday retreat.

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Thanks for joining me on my tour of this tiny corner of Somerset, I hope you enjoyed it.
I’ll leave you with a rather appropriate musical sign-off

Until next time…

 

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Looping, doodling and digital noodling…

After the nasty Crunch! sensation coming from my wrist at work on Tuesday announced the arrival of an attack of carpal tunnel syndrome, (effectively rendering me one-handed and no bloody use to anyone) I have been at home for the last few days and, lacking inspiration for something to write about, decided to try my (one) hand at another spot of animation.

Having created a modest forty second stop-motion clip, I searched for a suitably oddball soundtrack, eventually settling on a snatch of the eccentric and extraordinary Grandmaster Gareth, taken from an old cassette recording of a Peel Session.
But I like to put my own peculiar noises on these little experiments where I can, so it was fortunate that after a while I came across an app on my tablet that I’d downloaded a couple of weeks ago and not got round to fully investigating yet.

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The app is called Oscilab and for under a fiver it gives you the most amazing sound and loop making abilities.
Even for a complete musical know-nothing like myself, a few hours playing around with all the parameters and settings on the various sequencers and oscillators can produce almost instantly (I think) impressive results.

My first attempt was more an exercise in trying to synchronise the images with the sound, so the “music” itself is pretty basic and you may want to lower the volume at the start, as the first note is a little piercing.
I called the animation Line and Plane.

So impressed was I with my new toy that I thought I’d have a go at composing something a little more, well, musical.

My first custom-made tune is a slightly leftfield piece of electronica which does however have a recognisable structure and rhythm.
I was rather pleased with it for a first try and I called it..

                             BLIP.
                  (Click link to play)

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I’m going to jump to my third attempt next, which is a more polished affair altogether, a rather more relaxed piece called…

                             Phayze.
                    (Click link to play)

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But it was the second of these chunks of electronic knob-twiddling and sonic experimentation that I was most pleased with, so I decided it needed a video of its very own.

The clip that goes with the tune I’m so proud of, and that you are about to watch (Yes, I’m talking to you. Just click on the screen and relax, it’ll only be a few minutes out of your day and you may even enjoy it) is called Junk Funk and the video was made using no digital manipulation or fancy apps whatsoever, it is all done optically.

I hope you got some enjoyment (or at the very least, entertainment) out of one or more of my audio-visual offerings, because you can rest assured that I shall continue to inflict upon you present you with any further efforts as and when the muse takes me.

 
 

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Very Inspiring Blogger Award – The tenuous ten…

Once again Diary of an Internet Nobody has been honoured with an award.
I’m pleased to report that I’ve been chosen to receive the Very Inspiring Blogger Award, for “Keeping the blogosphere a beautiful place”, by Globe Runner over at Journey Around The Globe and as usual the accolade comes with a set of rules.

As anyone who reads this rambling stream of semi-consciousness regularly will know, I’m not a great one for rules, so I will be following my usual meandering path through the blogs that I’m nominating.
However, should any of my nominees wish to stick to a more conventional route, here are those rules in full:
1) Credit and link back to the blog that nominated you.
2) Post the award picture and list the rules.
3) Share seven random facts about yourself.
4) Nominate 15 other blogs to receive the award.
5) Permanently display the award on your blog and follow the person who nominated you. (optional)

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Well that’s 1) and 2) taken care of.
I shall be nominating ten blogs for the award, my randomness will be supplied by a musical accompaniment (in the style of The Tenuous Lynx) and I shall proudly display the virtual plaque on my awards page.

So without further ado, let’s move onto my first nomination;
(please check out the blogs and their musical partners via the links provided)

Why Evolution Is True is a fascinating blog that covers, amongst other things, scientific theories and discussion on both evolution and creationism. Well worth a visit, whichever side of the theological divide you fall on.
I chose to accompany this first nominee with a classic, gonzo video offering from the era of grunge:

Jam is a condiment similar to marmalade.
A marmalade tom is a cat with orange fur.
Otherwise known as ginger.
Connecting us to the next nomination, an eclectic and sometimes surprising photo-blog, including links to the inventive “52 rolls” project, Gingerlea Photography and I’m linking Fresh Ginger’s blog to a song from one of my favourite albums:

If you had a spirit wife, you may feel the need for some spiritual guidance.
For which you might turn to a monk.
And who’d have thought it but nominee three is Culture Monk, Kenneth Justice’s musings on life, coffee and the occasional foolishness of humanity.
His hand-picked tune is this non-PC slice of ’70s post-ironic pub rock:

The same phrase could be used to describe many of the photos taken by my next nominated blogger, because of the sometimes bizarre appearance and abundance of legs displayed by some of the subjects featured on Ron Scuberdiver’s Wild Life.
A vibrant, colourful and fascinating travel, photography and wildlife blog, check out Ron’s world if you enjoy being transported to exotic places.
I’d like to pair Rob with a true original, formerly plain old David Jones but now known across the universe by many names, including The Thin White Duke and Ziggy Stardust:

Unless I’m misinformed, the wild teenage life of someone in “sixth grade” is still yet to come, and yet my next nominee is only twelve years old.
Kiran Hiremath writes The Ink Stain, a mixture of personal journal, thoughts on life and beautifully written fiction with a maturity that belies the author’s age.
In an interesting juxtaposition, I’m accompanying his nomination with a new-age, psychedelic dance/trance/soul/a cappella number with a suitably trippy video.
You’re welcome.

Aya was the Akkadian goddess of love and my sixth choice of blogger to receive the award is Tim Love and his View Of The World.
If you want passionate writing that will touch your heart, from a writer with heart and a touch of passion, do yourself a favour and visit Tim’s blog.
The link to his tune is I think, self explanatory:

Samba is a musical style, and music requires notes.
Which connects us rather nicely to Notes Dropped In The Well, the new blog from my friend Lisa.
But before you start mumbling about favouritism and the like, let me say that her beautifully descriptive prose has been inspiring me on her Facebook feed for long enough to easily qualify her for a mention. I’m not going to quibble about where I read her work, I’m just glad more people will be able to enjoy it.
And her musical notes are dropped into a more magical portal:

To wish someone well at the end of a letter, you may write “Yours Sincerely“, which by crazy coincidence is the title of the blog from Monique Le Roux which is getting my next nomination.
I first encountered Monique when she asked for blogging tips and I rather embarrassingly told her that I thought she was a spammer with an outrageously over the top, fake French name.
Fortunately her sense of humour matches the tone of her quirky, optimistic and thoughtful blog and she saw the funny side in the end.
I’m hoping that humour will extend to forgiving me for thinking up her music link before I checked the relevant spelling:

Bulletproof is the name of a movie, which I’m sure my penultimate nominee has an opinion on, given that she is an accomplished film reviewer, as well as a journalist, travel writer and photographer.
Charlie Derry is a prolific blogger and one of the most consistently accurate movie reviewers I’ve read.
I have also greatly enjoyed her travel writing, especially her recent odyssey around Scandinavia, a journey that was accompanied by some stunning photos.
And from Charlie Derry we go to Derry, Northern Ireland, for her tenuous tune, a classic slice of ’70s punk-pop and John Peel’s all-time favourite record:

Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey is very vocal and opinionated on the matter of musicians’ rights, campaigning for better royalties and tighter copyright controls for artists’ work.
Another Opinionated Man is my final choice for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.
His is an inspiring story in itself and you should check out some HarsH ReaLiTy for yourselves for blogging advice, plenty of opinions, poetry and more.
Bringing us to the final musical morsel in this tangled trail of tangents, a glacial slab of icy, swirling synths:

Thanks again to Globe Runner for nominating me, I hope you found something new and interesting to entertain you amongst the nominees here, and I hope you got at least one “Ooh, I haven’t heard this for ages” moment from the tenuously linked tunes too.

Ok, time to pick up the goodie bag and face the paparazzi…

[Thank you to Jeremy, "happiness engineer" on the WordPress support forum, for helping to sort out my problem with embedding video]

 

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A roomful of elephants…

Blogging is a funny business.
The whole idea of having a platform that is unpoliced by the arbitrary moderators of taste and.decency who randomly patrol the virtual corridors of Facebook and other social networks is extremely attractive, especially if you’re the type who isn’t too concerned about what others think of your opinion.
The only problem is, after a very short space of time your blog becomes an incredibly personal thing, something to be inordinately proud of, irrespective of technical know-how or literary prowess.
It presents you with a private window on the world, inviting you to lean out and shout words of encouragement or scream abuse at passers by, depending on the view.

And nobody can bang on the wall and tell you to keep the noise down.

However, you do still want people to read it, that’s the thing.

Some writers, (like fellow blogger and ranter extraordinaire, Scorpion Sting) seem to revel in their licence to aggravate, making it perfectly clear from the start that they suffer fools not at all, let alone gladly and will happily join in slanging matches with spammers and offended whiners alike, ensuring a regular audience of like-minded followers who will tune in just to see who the latest target of their invective is.
I’ve always attempted to keep the tone of Diary of an Internet Nobody reasonably light, or at least not too intentionally confrontational, even if my natural instinct to take the piss does occasionally make me unpopular with the odd reader.
And when I do cover a serious or emotive subject I try to be respectful and mindful of the fact that I have readers all over the world (one of the things I still have trouble getting my head round) knowing that flippant remarks made about something I’ve seen from my little cyber peephole may well seem deeply offensive to others with a different perspective on the world.

Having said that, it would be dishonest of me only to write what I thought you, my readers wanted me to say, in case any of you felt included in the general group of people I may have pilloried or berated in a post.
So it’s sometimes a bit like trying not to talk about the bloody great elephant sat on the hearth rug, whilst simultaneously having the uncontrollable urge to poke it with a stick and pick its scabs.

Pachydermatitis if you like.

For example, I was thinking of writing a post inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of a friend on Facebook, which would have begun something like;

“There’s a lot of talk of religious extremism in the world these days and it impacts on our lives in various ways, some of them fairly minor but still unwelcome nonetheless.
I’m thinking of one group in particular who, not content to peacefully worship their chosen deity, must attempt to impose their outmoded and barbaric morals on others.
The complete insistence on unwavering adherence to rules that have no relevance to modern life and beliefs blatantly denying the evidence of scientific discovery is not the way to integrate yourself into society.
It won’t be long before they start to influence the laws of the world, forcing us to conform to their skewed view of the universe, citing theological dogma as justification for inflicting their values on everyone.

You know the ones I’m talking about.

That’s right, Christians.

No, wait! Come back!
I hadn’t finished, let me clarify.

I’m on about the sort of pious, fervent, utterly devout believer who, assuming they don’t try to force their views on me, I have only the greatest respect for.
If they are that devoted to a spiritual path, then it shows a dedication that few of us are capable of, or at least willing to demonstrate.
If however, they decide that I am for some reason “demonic” and need to be “saved” or “delivered” from the ways of Satan before I’m forever doomed to the fiery pits of hell, then we have a problem.

Who are they to decide that I’m risking eternal damnation for…”

And it would have gone on in that vein, ranting about how someone who claims “God created everything, even evolution”, and then used that statement as evidence that some Christians are capable of showing “common sense” is never going to admit they’re in the wrong about anything, or even try to see your point of view, so why bother arguing with them, it’s no fun.

I would have spent ages coming up with smartass, snarky lines that might have made me laugh but wouldn’t really address the subject in a sensible, grown-up way, thereby almost certainly pissing people off.

So it’s lucky I didn’t write that.

There’s no end of topics out there, just waiting to be written about, but I know my, um… “style”, for want of a better word, doesn’t suit every situation. No matter how interested I am in the material, I have realised that sometimes it is best to use social media for making political points and having theological debates.
At least that way, you’ve got a reasonable idea who can see what you write, it’s not automatically, instantly everywhere at once like an open blog, free to gallop around the internet looking for people to be friends with, like some sort of demented puppy with verbal diarrhea.

Take the situation in Israel and Palestine for instance, I’ve had a few good tempered discussions on the current conflict there in recent days, mainly on Facebook and mainly with people who side with the…

Oh no.
I’m not even going to try to tackle that one.
I mean, where would I start?
Two thousand years ago?

So for a lot of reasons I carefully tiptoe around some of the dangling trunks, every so often risking a gentle prod from an irritated tusk, but trying to avoid getting trampled underfoot altogether.
Because if using my own little corner of the blogosphere to poke the elephant every now and then helps to point out the differences between us, it’s only a way of understanding what makes the world tick the way it does.

Sometimes pushing people’s buttons until they react is the only way to learn a new point of view.

And (extremely tenuous link ahoy) speaking of pushing buttons, in an update to a recent post I am very happy to announce that my friend Lisa has finally bowed to the weight of public opinion and started a blog of her very own.
So you should push the relevant buttons on your electronic device of choice and head on over to read her inaugural post on Notes Dropped In A Well.

Coming up…
Another award and a spot of animation.
Stay tuned.

 

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The absence of Martin…

Should I feel bad?
Should I make a note in my diary to remind me?
Should I mark the anniversary in some way?

Death is a funny thing.
Not in a hahaha way, obviously.
But it’s one of those things that requires special treatment by the little people in our heads that are responsible for filtering our memories through the gauze of time, to enable us to experience the best bits of a person’s life without having to continually relive the gut-wrenching moment of loss when that life comes to an end.

In many ways, the unreal feeling of absence that comes with losing someone who has been integral to your life for so long becomes more unreal with the passage of time.
Initially, the shock, pain and sorrow that is part and parcel of loss seems like a comfort, almost as if the process of grieving is a defence in and of itself, a way of opening you up to any and all feelings you had for someone who is now gone.
This huge overload of emotion insulates you from the true horror of the situation, only letting you take in the full impact at a later date, when you’re better able to cope, more hardened to the terrible shape reality has taken.

The further you get from that awful point in time however, the less real it seems and, although you’ve known for years that they’ve gone and aren’t coming back, just occasionally something will generate a spark and that emotional tinderbox will suddenly burst into life, prompting a flood of nostalgia which can shock you all over again with the knowledge that you ran out of time years ago.

I got a message from my sister Kerry yesterday, saying it was 15 years since our father, Martin, died.
My first reaction was; “That can’t be right, it’s not as long as that”, but then I realised how long I’ve been living in Devon and that he became ill after I’d already been here nearly a year.
How time flies.

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Dad and Ann, my mother.

As I have said before, my relationship with Dad was not the smoothest of rides, which explains why I moved away from home at 16 and subsequently, maybe why he didn’t really get to know who I was (i.e. not a smaller version of him) until it was nearly too late.

I think my spell of living in a coach was probably the thing that shocked him the most, possibly making him finally grasp the fact that I’d never have the ambitious, career-driven executive attitude I’m guessing he wanted me to aspire to.
I remember very clearly, after I made a rare visit home, he gave me a lift back to the apple farm on which our camp was pitched and dropping me at the gate, looked at the collection of ramshackle tents, benders and dilapidated vehicles and then looked at me with an expression that said; “Oh for God’s sake, what are you doing living here?”
How could I possibly explain to him, a respectable businessman, that what I was doing was having the absolute best time of my life, a period that taught me so much independence, hard work, self-sufficiency, about being who you are, and not taking too much notice of what others have in mind for you.

Of course, looking back, I can appreciate exactly what it must have seemed like to him, especially given the reputation that “travellers” had back then. He probably thought I was on a fast train to Junkie City, stopping only briefly at Unemployment Junction before continuing through Pariah Town to the end of the inevitable line.
Although I can’t help feeling slightly pleased that he must have by then fervently wished he’d been more enthusiastic about my desire to follow a career in the theatre.
If ever there was a lesser of two evils, grease paint beats fingerprint ink every time.

Where I was fortunate though, was that I had my very own reality filter working in my favour, my loyal sister, Kerry.
All through these years she had been slowly chipping away at Dad’s image of me, trying to persuade him I wasn’t the hopeless case he feared I’d become and in the end it finally paid off.
We did become more tolerant of each other’s personalities (which were, when all was said and done, the same) and reached an understanding of sorts.

I still recall the slightly surreal evening when Dad and I went out for a drink together at my local, The Wheatsheaf in Crowborough, not long before I moved away.
It was the first, and only, time that he and I went for a friendly pint (that being the intent on his part I believe, “a friendly pint”) and the suggestion touched and amused me in equal parts, bearing in mind the locals were rather more – how shall I put this? – colourful than they are nowadays.

There just so happened to be a wake going on that night, for one of the more conspicuous consumers in the pub’s recent history, featuring the intake of Herculean quantities of (insert your chosen poison here) and culminating in a cataclysmically loud impromptu firework display just outside.
To be fair, Dad took it in his stride, presumably thinking this was an average night at The ‘Sheaf and restricting himself to the odd comment, on the lines of; “You have some very,…um, interesting friends” for which I silently gave him credit and liked him that little bit more, because he had finally given up on moulding me and appeared to be content that I’d been finding my own way all along.

The saddest thing?
Probably that for the last few days in that hospital room in London, (where he’d gone after the treacherous cells in his body had finally won their battle to lay low this energetic, ambitious, driven and tireless man, a man who had lost his wife to the same merciless killer and not only brought up Kerry and I, but taken on a second family too) we were closer than at any time I can remember since I was very young, and I think we both recognised it too.

Too late to make anything meaningful from the realisation by then of course (and who’s to say whether or not it’s just those little people in my head, straining my memories through their gauzy soft filters?) and I’m sure everyone has those feelings that they shouldn’t have left things to the last minute, but I’m glad that we could look each other in the eye and know we had made that final connection, it’s what gives me the ability to look back and think; “Blimey, has it really been that long?” with a melancholy that is not sadness but the affection of absence.

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With second wife, Sue, the year before he died.

So I don’t feel too guilty about not remembering the anniversary of his passing, just that we didn’t have enough time to further understand each other.
For good or for bad we were very alike, something for which I’m sometimes grateful, sometimes not so much, but if it wasn’t for Dad, I wouldn’t be me.

Thanks Martin.
We owe you, big time.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Blogging, Personal anecdote

 

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