Unreliable and possibly off-topic


Monday, October 30, 2006

Black dog drowned in canal

Opened mail, did PostOffice chores involving the passport and took advice on specs frames. In this case, photos were taken for an objective reference. Vanity, thy name is woman. Unlike Kebz with his internet specs purchases, I could never commit to a frame without trying it on first. A few millimetres here and there make the difference between Kate Moss and Sue Pollard. When you're near blind, your perceptions of frames are de facto impaired, hence today's self-photography. It looks like the tortoiseshell Simone de Beauvoirs have won against the olive Zsa Zsa Gabors. Ha! Just call me Simone.


Sunday, October 29, 2006


Not the situationist internationale but the everyday kind. I've been offered the unbelievable bargain of £437 for varifocals in a fetching hand-made, olive-coloured actetate frame of cat's-eye shape, with top refractive-index glass lenses. Six months interest-free credit! Not only do I exhibit myopia, presbyopia as well as a paralysis in lateral gaze and corneal scarring, but also anti-cosmetic prismatic prescriptions to my lenses. No wonder the boss is saying hello and thank-you as I leave. Hopefully R. will help me decide between these frames and the de Beauvoir brown tortoiseshell number, set aside for me. Both acetate frames as advised, in contrast to the usual gold-metal rims, will help accommodate and disguise the prisms according to the helpful and professional dispensing optician, Holly.


Abolish birthdays

Birthday is over! I was blessed by cards from some family and friends, phonecalls from others, the tender attentions of the kiddos, a huge, rich, hand-made, hand-delivered chocolate cake from H., even polar's comment here. Thanks all, but it really is a relief to be past it, for the black dog was not just whining but howling at my heel. Probably the reactive black dog and not the endogenous one, but he's a bad, bad boy who whispers in your ear and turns your tracks. He's not an easy pet to keep. Still, daybreak today (clocks went back) was pink and rosy, attended dutifully at the windowsill by Her Catness, who demands and deserves to be kept.

This is She basking on her blanket

My Girl on a Motorcycle, H.

D.'s babby Aaron, wearing the rainbow jumper sent


Friday, October 27, 2006

Links update

A couple of new links to the Odds and Sods category, which I hope will not offend either. I mean it in the most complimentary way.

Fat Sparrow writes as a swearing, intelligent parent, and Outsider Insight features writings from a lateral-thinking, computing gentleman with whom I've had the pleasure to argue at Medialens in the past. Enjoy.



Wore my splendid new wellies today for the rain, and was menaced for it. I was minding my own business alone at the bus stop when two youths and their molls came past. They were far too high-spirited and loud for 11 am, but I couldn't smell booze off them. From their voices I knew they were off their faces either on glue or opiates, both of which affect vocal intonation and pronunciation, producing a gouched-out drawl. No smell of glue, so by elimination it was the green syrup (methadone) or some such. The decent junkies of my acquaintance have been too pleasant and medicated to bother people, but these were ASBO radges.

I kept myself to myself until they started on about my 'crocodile' boots, slagging them off loudly as 'ultra-cool', 'safe' and 'well casual', and not in either a nice or a simply foolish way. One of the blokes took a photo of me and the boots with his mobile which got me irritated, so I swapped from ignoring them to staring them out silently with a vague half-smile. There was no fear in me, although there probably should've been, because I felt a calm cold anger rising up, which I suspect showed in the smile I wore. It was designed to let them know I was at least as radge as them. They lost interest in me and started arguing amongst themselves about exactly how they were going to blag their way on the bus without the full fares, on their way to Wester Hailes to pick up a prescription...

There was something of the beast and the herd about them, though that may be unfair to animals. Brutalised, brutal and unable to think for themselves. I could've felt sorry for them in other circumstances, but to menace a sole female (however lame you think she is) requires a special badness and not just a lack of opportunity and brain cells. Incidentally, they looked crap in their shell suits, greasy hair and spots, and when they're my age (if still alive) they'll look like the living dead.


Thursday, October 26, 2006


It is my birthday soon, when I will be Perimenopausal years old. The magnificant gift received from H.- a pair of frog-green wellies printed with waterdrops- will do me proud for years of Reekie walks, and I'm delighted with them. H. bought a matching pair, so we shall be twins on our rambles. And we're not even dykes.

I love autumn, when the trees and the seasons turn, maybe because of childhood birthday associations. Today the wee wan and I were menaced by a newsagent's flyboard gusted along the pavement by the wind. Spooky! Wee wan and I visited the doctor to have her oval ankle skin inflammation seen. The GP prescribed Canestan (clotrimazole) cream for it, as a presumed fungal infection- but she wouldn't be drawn on the precise condition. It's the season and the genes for fungus, all right.

Birthdays always involve some kind of summary of feathers in cap and black marks. This last year has not been conventionally successful, but it was needed. The well-paid academic sausage machine job is gone and the pennies have to be counted, but there's been time and space to spend with the kiddos and to get used to being oneself. There's even somewhat of a Plan now. To stay here and enjoy the kiddos until they're fledged, then sell up and move somewhere hot with a veg garden and goats.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Home chemistry

H. and I have been battling with my blocked kitchen sink drain today. Washing machine couldn't spin because of this and I couldn't do dishes.

Yesterday I spent two hours with a plunger and £9 on mechanical and chemical unblockers. £8 on a useless 'Harpic Power Jet' (which tries to physically blast through the blockage) and 99p on washing soda (an alkaline compound) from the chemist. Both completely ineffectual. H. dropped by early this morning with Mr Muscle, who turned out to be Mr Flab.

Instead, after an energising walk on Portobello sands, we picked up a sulphuric acid preparation from the plumbers' merchant- 'Dambuster', which eats fats, carbohydrates, proteins and any general muck you care to throw at it. £15 but worth it. When we poured it down the sink, a toxic yellow smoke started pouring out of the plughole and overflow, like a mad professors' party. We had to retreat to the sitting room, evacuate Her Catness and open the stair door to flush the fumes. But the heavy duty stuff worked all right.

Two hours later, the kiddos came home from school. The wee wan quickly mentioned smelling chlorine, and her brother rotten eggs.


Monday, October 23, 2006


This is the week for fungi. Although I missed out on the cepe hunt yesterday, today my dad brought me round some top quality dried porcini (same species) from their recent Italian trip. It's a shame that the kiddos won't eat mushrooms, but I plan to rustle up a nice porcini risotto for R. and me soon.

The other news is that (I think) I have a fungal condition, and am really happy!! This is because, if I'm right in my self-diagnosis, it's very treatable.

I've had a back rash for years which drives me crazy with itching and inflammation; worse in a hot climate, with synthetic clothing and my perimenopausal night sweats. This has been treated as acne for the last 6 months, but the tetracycline antibiotics from the GP are making no difference. Its been getting worse and more embarrassing so that I can't wear sleeveless or backless tops, and the last person to see me naked asked me what was wrong with my back.

After the fever-sweat night, when I was itching like crazy, I googled 'common dermatological conditions' and followed up a link to Pityrosporum Folliculitis- hey presto! The photos, symptoms, exacerbations, body distribution ('cape' distribution on upper back, chest and arms), along with resistance to antibiotics all mimic my problem. If I'm right and this is the diagnosis, I'm cured.

It's caused by an overgrowth in the hair follicles of an endemic skin yeast, Malassezia furfur, which feeds off skin sebum. It is not transmissable- 90% of humans already have the fungus, but only PF sufferers show symptoms to this natural skin fauna. It's easily treatable by using an anti-fungal shampoo on the skin, perhaps also with systemic ketoconazole if needed. My mum has the same condition, so if I'm cured so will she be. Interestingly, 'cradle cap' (the flaking of the scalp affecting 80% of neonates in the first month of birth) is thought to represent the initial neonatal infection with Malassezia furfur.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Personal is political?

An apology to passers-by looking for a Scottish political blog. Probably a misrepresentation: the focus here is personal trivia, such as the cold caught from wee wan and the night of fever dreams just suffered.

I can't even write about the full dream content, because the details could alarm the kiddos. The second one was scurrilously sexual, but not in a pleasant way. At one point I was trying to take a shower that had to be hooked up for a 12-lead ECG to function, and at another my unwillingness to be perverted had me protesting, "I just want to see the animals!". It was in Borneo or somewhere, and macaques, mandrills and komodo dragons were parading through the hotel room, along with a pair of prostitutes and a female pagan acquaintance. It was a relief to wake. I self-medicated with kimchi and pickled herring yesterday- maybe this contributed to bad dreams. Now awake, it's nonsense that you'd get all the non-humans in the one place, except a zoo.

R. and I had planned a mushroom hunting trip to Perthshire today, but it's too much for either of us. R. has mycological identification skills (mittel-European, and all that), her specialty being cepes (a.k.a. porcini; Boletus edulis). They have a reticulated stem (looking like a caul) and a spongy structure to their gills.

It's certainly the height of the season for other species- honey fungus in the Braidburn, field mushrooms in local gardens. Maybe a short outing for coffee, Natural History day on UKHistory channel and some novels is a healthier option.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Things of beauty

This is the Romanescu cauliflower I was compelled to buy from the local Chinese grocers. Its beautiful heart of whorls of whorls demonstrate the Fibonacci series, a mathematical series in which the last two numbers in the series are added to make the next: (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13...). It's a number set frequently expressed in growth and form in nature. Think of the spiral arrangements of seeds in a sunflower head, the onfolding of leaves on a stem or petals on a flowerbud, pinecones. Something complex and fractal like my Romanescu is expressing simple and pure rules.

The outward breeding habits of Brassicas have been noted here before. Romanescu is B. oleracea, a single species (implying interbreeding capability) along with cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi and kale. Just discovered a fascinating account of Brassica genetics and speciation here, again exhibiting (as in the Rubus genus) polyploidy and introgression.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Scoreline 10-4

Feathers in cap
Opened 2 weeks of mail
Paid mortgage, phone and credit card bills
Sent off overdue passport application
Pulled off 13 hr nightshift
Mended moth/hotrock holes in good skirt
Booked and attended for eyetest
Musselburgh beach walk with Reekie and H., plus pickled herring purchase
Watched Millenium clock striking spectacle again
Bought classy silk blouse in charity shop for the upcoming gay marriage ceremony
Found 2nd hand book 'How to Draw Manga' for wee wan

Black marks
'Coming on' menstrually during night shift
Surrender to rage re IBC vs Lancet estimates for Iraq mortality at PoV
Failure to notice cat litter overload
Consigned to varifocals by optician

But the swingometer shows definite bias to the feathers.


Brain the size of a grape

Partial answers to Her Catness question- does She miaow at others after I've been out on a nightshift, or just me? According to kiddos, who beat me home this morning, She regaled them with Her catcalls all the way up the stair. Now I know what a faithless tart She is.

However, She did save a special present for me. Everything appeared well when I came home at 10am (even though stupid with sleep deprivation), but 5 minutes later a perfect cat turd had been lovingly laid on my bed. As some may remember we've had problems with cat dags and hairballs in the past (not Her fault), but have never known Her to defecate anywhere but Her litter tray from the first day She came home, after the cat Nazis had performed their home inspection.

The turd, thankfully dry, was still disturbingly warm when I picked it off the bed (with Marigolds plus a paper towel between me and it), so I knew it was fresh and... deliberate. Sure enough, when I checked Her litter tray it was full and the plastic liner containing the litter all ripped up and folded over the contents. She was pissed off all right, and had given me a clear warning that Her care had been sub-standard. I have spared the photo this time.


Sunday, October 15, 2006


School holidays started on Friday, and wee wan's second best friend has asked her swimming on Tuesday. Luckily it's not my call, for kiddos will be in their dad's care that day. The little friend is sweet if simple, and hooked on Disney, but her mum is a worse drinker than I and has made some bad decisions in the past. One was to take wee wan over to Fife without telling me and arrive back very late, and the worst was to put the girls into a bath together 'because they were wet' and take photos. In this day and age, that's either a dumb or paedophilic act, and most parents would be sensitive to the overtones except she.

We were planning to go to the Botanics today, but skies were leaden. Big wan, after being tasked with washing some dishes, declined to come out with fuddy duddies like me and his sis. Instead, wee wan and I went to the Royal Museum to see the 'Connect' science exhibition (interactive), the Millenium clock striking and play with the exotic fishies in their ponds. I even splashed out on taking us into the Islamic art exhibition (a loan from the Hermitage museum), but at this point the wee wan's incipient cold took hold and she needed to get home to be nursed. £5 down the drain for me, but our 10 min visit was tantalising. Some quite beautiful artefacts showing the cultural overlays in different Islamic traditions. The comment book, in which wee wan insisted on making an appreciative entry, included some intriguingly written in Arabic.

When we got home, big wan had not done the dishes because 'he'd been out' and was intending to exit to meet another set of friends. Uncharacteristically, I grounded him until he contributed to some household duties, since I was still to shop and cook for the evening. He then strung out 15 mins of work to 2 hours by having frequent breaks. So be it. However, he embarrassed me the day before by offering to buy for me a book I want (Orhan Pamuk's 'Snow') but cannot afford. Kind, generous and terminally lazy. I wonder where he gets it from.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Feather/Black marks

Feathers in cap
Conkers found at both Modern Art Gallery and Braidburn this week, despite tree disease scourging horse chestnuts.

Passport photos retaken. Still ugly, but so what. Need passport for when I rob bank and retire to Cook Islands.

New neighbourhood kitty spotted. Long-haired, smoky grey and shy.

Black marks
Just as readable books at the local library are exhausted, the Central Library shuts for a month for refurbishment.

Moths have eaten holes in my good woollen winter skirt, exhumed for autumn. Or maybe they're hotrock burns.

Thins Blackwells bookshop will not allow wee wan to spend up her birthday book tokens on stationary, leaving £2 unspent.

Peter Ballocks phones me pissed and garrulous and still I must be nice because he's collecting hash for the family.


Friday, October 13, 2006


The Lancet publishes a study indicating 655,000 excess deaths (95% CI 393,000-943,000) since the start of the Iraq war. The criticisms of the study, which uses standard cluster sampling, have been pathetic. 'I don't believe it', then the next resort 'the dead are combatants'. With some statistical expertise, be assured that the methodology and calculations are not suspect. Just try to imagine two thirds of a million corpses and not feel physically sick.

Last night, the head of the UK army, General Richard Dannett, came out for troop withdrawal from Iraq as soon as possible. He therefore doesn't seem impressed by Blair's propaganda at the conference that the Army will have whatever funding they need to conduct their operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This morning, he's performing damage limitation on R4's Today programme, but still saying that indefinite occupation is not in the best interests of Iraq people or the soldier boys and girls.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Last Tuesday, H. and I had disagreed over ivy. I'd noticed the green dandelion clocks of their bud spheres on our Braidburn walk and pointed these out, but she insisted these weren't ivy, pointing out that the leaf shapes were wrong.

But I was right and she wrong. Ivy produces a different leaf morphology while blooming. Apparently the yellow-green flowers will turn to black berries in the winter for the birds to eat.

H. has been having a terrible time with ivy. As a master cakemaker, she's been working on the cake for Alex and David's wedding in a few weeks. The roses, arum lilies and jasmine are all been completed to her punctilious standards, but the ivy leaves keep breaking. Her botanical cake decorations, all made from royal icing, are things of beauty- incredibly naturalistic. She keeps frozen flower stems in her freezer to model from.

However, H. was correct about 'salt pig'. I thought this term another of her delightful malapropisms, like 'eggnut' for 'nutmeg'. But no- what I thought a 'salt pick' is a salt pig, which suits it.


Monday, October 09, 2006


R. and I did make it to the Mapplethorpe exhibition, probably to the irritation of other viewers. We like to talk about art while we view it and bounce ideas around, though we do make the effort to whisper. As always, I get more out of exhibitions by sharing them, especially with R.

R. had seen it before and described it as 'confrontational', but it's in no way 'pornographic', being so monochrome, stylised, posed and geometric. There's a great deal of poise, control and rigour in the images. There are penises, three (I think) erect, but in such poses of stillness like an indrawn, held breath. The sitters engage the lens with direct, soulful and sometimes amused gazes. Body parts are carefully framed, disembodied but personalised, as in a torso which contains a hidden face with nipples for eyes and the navel as a pursed mouth. Androgyny is a strong feature in the portraits- Patti Smith as a man with breasts, Iggy Pop with his incredible fringe of feminine eyelashes, 'Smutty' a vulnerable boygirl with tattoos, a female bodybuilder with tiny hips and big breasts. None of the S&M images were frightening, at least to me, but contained much tenderness. A similar relationship as the self/other opposition inherent in the photographic act. The man in a gimp mask, deaf and blind but with the mouthzip open- waiting, breathing, able to hear only his own heartbeat.

Both R. and I found by far the most disturbing images to be the child portraits, where innocence seems corrupted and knowing in an extreme. Juxtapose the human sitters with the exquisite flower prints, where the veins of the petals and leaves mimic the veins on foreheads, hands or penises. His self-portraits are intensely sad, seeing him age 40 years between 1980 and 1989, as HIV took its toll and mortality became an inside joke for him.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cognitive assonance

R. and I had our outing yesterday, but only by mutual cognitive dissonance. Our arrangement was for a walk up the Water of Leith to see the Mapplethorpe exhibition at the Modern Art Gallery. I was waiting on Stockbridge for her, then realised we'd verbally arranged to meet at the Dean Bridge. I'd fucked up again, and was fumbling on my mobile to explain was a dumbwit I was, when R. sailed up, having made the same mistake.

It was threatening to rain, but that made for less human traffic on the walk. The walkway is deep in a ravine with bridges occasionally rising above to connect the two banks. All the ivy round here is in flower, with green balls like christmas tree decorations. The dogwalkers in the Dean are not friendly like the Braidburn walkers and do not exchange hellos. It's always restorative to see R., and no matter how long the absence we quickly switch back into our easy familiarity and favourite subjects, covering plants, geology, films, love, work.

R. led me on past our usual turn-off to the galleries to the back entrance, where there's an HIV/AIDS memorial. My mum (who volunteers at the AIDS hospice) had phoned me from the spot a few weeks before, when she'd seen a blue heron there. R. and I stopped to for a wee weep and a hug. The empty bench was poignant, and the simple plaque surprisingly moving.
Something on Mapplethorpe later.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Rambling Rose

The house still smells of chutney, days later. Since the jars are under low pressure after the lids popping, and the washing-up done, this remains mysterious.

Was watching the sleepers last night, allowing me to pour wine at 10 am with a clear conscience. After pulling off a 13 hr shift, I give myself permission. Chatted to a few of my Limax slug friends last night on the porch, but was loathe to spend much time out there because the outside light is broken, and am frightened I will unknowingly step on one of my little pals. I accidentally squashed a snail last shift and spent the night in remorse. But somebody benefitted, because its poor mangled corpse was gone in the morning- some bird's breakfast I suspect, although I would like to imagine that a snail ambulance had taken him/her away to snail A&E.

Someone is glad to see me home. Her Catness was miaowing piteously as I trudged up the stair, answered with my own miaows. It probably annoys the neighbours, but that's just part of tenement living. I wonder if She miaows at anyone's footsteps when She's lonely, or just mine? Apparently Ezra Pound and his wife always greeted each other with miaows.

Just finished re-reading Nabokov's 'Speak, Memory', an autobiography. God, he can write, and English was just one of his languages. Sometimes he goes too far, as when he describes his brother as being born 'caesareanally', but oh the sentence structure and the vocabulary... His description of his synaesthesia (phonetic sounds had colours and shapes for both him and his mother) is gripping and oddly comprehensible to a non-synaesthete. At 3 am, Nabokov is too much for me, but I got through the whole of Peter Andre's execrable autobiography in a couple of hours last night. It was left behind by a sleeper, BTW- I try not to purchase muck (except for the odd copy of Chat or Heat when poorly).

Parents' night at the wee wan's school last night, at which they had only good things to say of her (as usual). Of course, I'm concerned that she's not in the top maths group, but that's a Lake Woebegone fallacy, where 'all the children are above average' in all subjects. I've been trying to show her some simple algebra (not using those terms), and she really doesn't want to know. Just don't want her to be scared of it, as I was for years. Big wan is barely seen these days, and according to wee wan is playing 'tongue tennis' with one of his (female) friends which I regard as not my business. On the way to the parent consultation, his dad (after instructing me not to smoke in his car, which I wasn't) delivered some Majoresque homily about promiscuity to big wan, to which I had to ask whether he wished that big wan be affianced before kissing, or that he join up with the Silver Ring Thing. Jesus wept. His dad and I met at the age that big wan is now- has he forgotten, or now cognitively explained it away as a 20+ year disaster? There be monsters.

Recently got in email touch with a boyfriend from the psychedelic Berkeley summer when I was 16. He's in Kansas now, and reassuringly similar to what I remember- still a musician, social activist and artist. And he (and his wife) look barely older than I remember, so they've been doing something right. Unfortunately I learn that his best friend and collaborator from that time took his own life in 1998. I realise that this comes out of illness (tautologically), but am selfishly quite angry with him for that act. Having kiddos is a wonderful deterrant- maybe they should prescribe it on the NHS.

It's a beautiful day outside, and my bed is calling. Zzzzz, snore.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Thank goodness for H.'s giant pickling pot- an enormous double-handled canteen job. We bastardised a couple of recipes and added our own proclivities. Lots of garlic for H,. some chillis for me; onions, red cabbage, peaches, bramley apples, capsicums, bruised ginger, allspice, cayenne pepper (which H insists, delightfully, on calling canine pepper). H. showed me how to sterilise the jars and lids with boiling water. The smell is fantastic while you boil this in briney malt vinegar for an hour, leaving a faintly ruby mixture (not captured in the photo) like an old port. Ladle it into jars to get the later music of the lids being sucked in. Pop, pop, pop.


Tuesday again

Breakfast should be a time of slow contemplation, many mugs of tea and the Today program. It should not involve lifting the milk carton to read scary advice from HM Customs to phone immediately if my partner has moved in, so they can cut my child tax credits. There was a stab of guilt until I remembered I'm not guilty, at least of that one. That's John Reid for you- meet your next PM, the face of caring socialism.

H. will be over soon to kick my sorry ass. She's so scary that the kids always arrange to be out of the house, and woe betide me if I've failed on chores or opening mail. Today we will be making chutney, so watch out.

Put on the freshly laundered T-shirt worn when I had the apple-injury 10 days ago. It has a big rip in the back, explaining how the lower dorsal graze was acquired. The knee of the trousers are shredded too. Schade!