Category: Life

For the stuff about my life

Smells

“In the greenhouse, my grandfather and me. Smells of summer.” – Martin Stephenson.

Is it the gentle aroma you get after a warm summer shower on dry soil? (Also known as Petrichor).

Is it the subtle waft of a perfume from a passerby that transports you to forgotten time and place?

Is it the smell of fried onions, or grilled bacon, that dances on your tongue?

My sense of smell isn’t the greatest, I don’t think, I mean I’ve never had it tested so it might well be as good or as bad as anyone else, but as I don’t tend to remember smells, and don’t tend to use them the way I use imagery and words as a way to remember things, it’s fair to say that my olfactory system is one of the lesser appreciated.

Or perhaps it’s because I take it for granted.

But then isn’t that the same for all of the wondrous things our bodies can do, things we barely notice from day to day, until they start to fail (I write this with a suspected hernia, so perhaps my awareness of failing bodies is a little heightened).

Yet it is my sense of smell that I pay the least attention to, my eyesight and hearing seem so much more important in the grand scheme of things. With those two, you have a sense of their slow erosion, the quiet failure of hearing, the blurred vision that older age brings. But those shortcomings are only made real by the knowledge of how you were before.

Is there a way to train your sense of smell? Do sommeliers and aromatherapists go on training courses for this? Are the senses even something you can train, or is an inherent part of their existence down to the fact that they are natural abilities, the effectiveness of which ranges from person to person?

And what would happen if you lost your sense of smell? I know it is linked to how we taste so that would be the most obvious sensation, one which is most frequently given life when you have a bad cold, but what else would we lose?

I think the associated memories would be the biggest loss, the knowledge that a certain flower, or the sea air in a particular part of the world, would no longer trigger emotions and bring those we miss back to us for a fleeting moment, I think that would be the biggest loss of all. Standing on the shore of the Mediterranean after my mother-in-law passed, walking the corridor of the nursing home when my Gran left us.

Of course it is fitting that our senses carry such power, and the more you pay attention to this the more you see it throughout every day. Tomorrow, try and notice how many times people comment on the way something smells, it’ll surprise you.

And the more I think on this, the more I realise how many memories are only heightened by our sense of smell, how the best moments in life are made all the more vivid in recollection; the warming comfort of the first time I held my niece as a baby, the sanctuary and care of the nape of the neck of the one I love. These things are made all the more important and vital the more senses we can attach to them, and it only takes the tiniest scent of them to bring them flooding back into view once more.

Such a powerful sense. I hope it never leaves me.

Childhood

A blue desk, with a flip up lid, painted red in a later life, sitting there looking out through warbled glass.

The smell of a warm wet dog from the back of the car.

Sitting at the top of the stairs whilst my parents and friends talked and laughed late into the night.

My blanket, my panda, my blue horse.

The taste of dog biscuits.

Action Man adventures in the back garden.

The chaos of the primary school playground.

Camping trips and caravans.

The box of old lego at my Gran and Grandpas house.

The click clack of knitting needles, and the rustle of a newspaper.

Walking the nearby woods, chasing the dog.

White bread, green apple slices, butter and sugar; a sandwich for when you weren’t well.

My sister arriving home, swaddled in white cotton.

Cycling home, up the driveway, round the side of the garage, one thump of a front wheel to knock the back gate open.

My old model railroad, roads and grass painted on plywood.

The cupboard under the stairs.

Setting up Hot Wheels running track down both flights of stairs from the top of the house to the bottom.

Visits from family and friends, best behaviours and a smell of polish.

Summer barbeques, juicy slices of melon and marshmallows toasted on sticks.

Winter nights, a crackling fire, roasted chestnuts.

These are the things I chose to remember about my childhood.

All of this and so much more.

All of this to a soundtrack of happiness and laughter.

All of this with a heart full of love.

Book

A couple of years ago I sat down at my desk. It was the first day of a dark November and my intention was to write 50,000 words of a new novel, my first. Having written posts for this blog for several years, and increasingly looked to improve the quality of the writing it was an interesting project. Write a book, they said.

I’ve been reading books for as long as I can remember. My father is an avid reader, and weekly trips to the local library are a formative part of my youth. The children’s section was downstairs and it was there I’d head whilst my father went off to roam the aisles. It was liberating to be fully in charge of those choices and whilst I was first drawn to Asterisk and Lucky Hand Luke comic books, I soon started to find longer stories more palatable.

Trillions by Nicholas Fisk was a formative book in my young years, a sci-fi novel for young adults is probably the classification and whilst I can remember little about the story and how it unfolded, it was the first time I read a book and felt that spark of imagination. It stuck with me to this day, the feeling of wonder that something as simple as a few words on a page can transport you to an entirely other place.

My love for sci-fi continued, no doubt feed by my father, with Arthur C. Clarke and as I got a little older I discovered friends at school who also read books. I was such an avid reader (the acorn doesn’t fall far and all that) that I’d rush through school work and ask to go and read, and what school teacher of any repute would say no to that. The Isle of Sula beckoned next, a trilogy I think, set in the north of Scotland, as did the Three Investigators (aka Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Detectives, my first exposure to the great director), Robert Louis Stevenson, and others.

Moving to high school brought new friends and new reading habits and a certain man called Stephen King started to feature more and more heavily. To this day I’ve probably read more books by him than anyone else, although thinking on it it may be a tie between him and Ian Rankin. King has a habit of writing books that a very easy to immerse yourself in and it wasn’t unheard of for me to sit down on a rainy Sunday afternoon and read one of his novels from start to finish before bedtime, even if bedtime in question was beyond midnight.

It’s a trait I’ve retained, when I’m reading a really good book I tend to focus on that over other things like sleeping and eating…

I have no idea how many books I’ve read, I only started tracking some of them a few years ago when I joined a, now sadly defunct, book club. I’d gotten away from the habit of reading, and the book club brought that back alongwith several wonderful books that dragged me away from my everyday life and into their vivid poetry, slapping my imagination back into gear and consuming me as every good book should. It also taught me an important lesson on the art of reading books; you do not need to finish a bad book.

Book reading should never be a chore, yet the act of writing a book certainly seems like one. Those 50,000 words I wrote a few years ago remain in draft, reworked a few times since admittedly, but are no closer to forming a book than they were back then. I even read a couple of books on how to write a novel, the best of which remains On Writing by the aforementioned Stephen King.

One piece of advice he offers is this: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”

This latter part, ‘then it goes out’ seems to be where I’m stumbling, knowing that the words I’ve cobbled together onto the pages would be out in the wider world and read by at least 4 or 5 people (who are all family and friends of course). It’s not so much a cause of writers block as writers fear, but that is a topic for another day.

Instead I’ll end and offer some book recommendations. The type of book and writing style may vary but each of these brought me no small measure of joy over the years.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
  • Number9Dream, David Mitchell
  • Vox, Christina Dalcher
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North
  • If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead, Andrew Nicoll
  • And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
  • Smilla’s Sense Of Snow, Peter, Hoeg
  • Ghostwritten, David Mitchell
  • Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

And for more, check my Good Reads account.

Television

I grew up in a house that always had the TV on. My Mum knitted, professionally, and the TV was the back drop to that. As she was working, she preferred things that she maybe didn’t have to pay close attention to, so Saturday afternoon movies became a staple, as did cricket and Formula One, anything that didn’t need to be watched 100% of the time.

Of course I wasn’t knitting so I did sit (I don’t have the patience for such things) and watch these things, the movies, the sport, and have fond memories of sitting on the old round brown rug, resplendent with white Claddagh, as the screen flickered through lazy Saturday after lazy Saturday.

As I grew up, so TV took a lesser part of my life as I found more interesting ways to spend my time.

I’ve never been one for following the crowd and TV is a great example of this. I genuinely don’t now how some people can have watched every TV show they have, hour after hour after episode after episode. I’m as fond of a Netflix binge as anyone but they are few and far between, and so when people at work start talking about TV shows, invariably I haven’t seen it.

The quality of most regular TV is what puts me off, not the fact it’s popular (I’m not THAT contrary) and that’s before you get to all the political and ‘news’ shows that only add further weight to a vague conspiracy theory about how TV is really just the opiate of the masses or, as The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy put it, the drug of the nation.

T.V. is
The stomping ground for political candidates
Where bears in the woods
Are chased by Grecian Formula’d
Bald eagles
T.V. is mechanized politic’s
Remote control over the masses
Co-sponsored by environmentally safe gases
Watch for the PBS special
It’s the perpetuation of the two party system
Where image takes precedence over wisdom
Where sound bite politics are served to
The fastfood culture
Where straight teeth in your mouth
Are more important than the words
That come out of it
Race baiting is the way to get selected
Willie Horton or
Will he not get elected on…
Television, the drug of the Nation

It’s not that I don’t watch television – I’ve just finished watching the entire How I Met Your Mother from start to finish for the first time – more that these days, I struggle to pick something from the myriad of choices we have available to us now.

And it’s only getting worse. Netflix set the standards but pretty soon after that Amazon pitched in (I’m currently watching The Boys there), and HBO, Disney, and BritBox all want a piece of the pie too.

It’s a vast change since my childhood days of three channels, and a big tube box with buttons and you had to get up out of your seat if you wanted to change the channel.

And what’s all that choice doing to my television experience? Diminishing it.

For a few years I hardly watched any regular TV. So much so that I considered giving up the TV License we pay in the UK as I was only watching streamed movies. I was fed up channel surfing and watching one or two episodes of a show that just didn’t have the production values I like and more often than not I ended up re-watching one particular TV show which, for me, is up there as the best that has ever been made (the first 4 seasons at least).

I can’t remember when I first stumbled across The West Wing, it certainly wasn’t my parents influence but I think my friend Susan was the first to clue me in. She had a bad illness for several months which kept her housebound so, to have something to talk about, we’d watch TV shows separately and discuss them. She foisted a boxset on me once and, since then, I’ve watched it start to finish about six times.

For me it’s the writing, the words and the way they flow from character to character that dragged me in, not to mention the stellar cast and high production values. I’ve not long finished listening to the podcast that, belatedly, accompanied the series – The West Wing Weekly – which featured one of the actors who joined the show in the latter years. He, Joshua Malina, had worked on other TV shows before, but hearing him talk about the way the show was made and how it was more like a theatre/movie production than the usual weekly TV show approach (quality over quantity) really solidified, for me, the reason I adore this show so much.

If you haven’t watched it, consider this a recommendation. Take the first few episodes at one go, it settles in by about episode three and just gets better and better from there. You will laugh, you will cry (the death of one character especially, every single time!) and alas, in our current political climate, you too will wish for a President Bartlett to appear. It’s a soothing balm of a show, that places good over bad, right over wrong, with all the human frailties that go along with that.

As the autumn nights head for winter, the comfort of a sofa and a blanket and familiar TV show is beckoning again. Maybe it’s time for viewing number seven…

Technology

10 PRINT "Hello World!"

I can’t remember if it was a birthday present or a present from Santa, or if it was from an Aunt or Uncle, but I can still remember the first time I used it and the mild awe I experienced when I got it working.

The present was an electronics starter kit; a little circuit board with LEDs, switches, a speaker and other bits and bobs on it, and lots of little wires and spring connectors so you could wire up circuits and I can still remember the fun it was to create something like that, something magic. Push a switch here, and an LED lights up over there. It came with a set of instructions for basic circuits, and from that you could configure your own. I’m pretty sure I tried to wire up my own burglar alarm for my bedroom door one time only to realise that to set it up I had to be inside the room… bit of a limitation that.

The kit itself probably wasn’t the catalyst for my interest in technology but it certainly poured fuel on the fire and from a young age, encouraged by a father who had an entire garage full of things to experiment with and who remains to this day a huge gadget fan, my curious mind was quickly drawn to a world of electronics and switches, the wonder of electricity and the burgeoning world of home electronics and computers.

All of this ultimately led me through high school and a Higher Physics qualification, then on to a (short lived) college course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering where, in a nice little twist, I even made an actual PCB (printed circuit board) although this one didn’t have little spring connectors. I also managed, as part of my coursework, to blow a chip entirely in half, with the top layer flying off in a puff of smoke. Ahhh those heady days.

It wasn’t for me though.

Alongside that early interest in electronics was a growing interest in computers, fuelled entirely by my Dad who used to bring home these wonderous machines from the school he taught in. An Acorn BBC Series Microcomputer was my first exposure to such a thing, before the BBC Master, and a few years later an early Apple Mac II which still holds fond memories. It was the beginning of the personal computer age and soon all my friends had Sinclair ZX Spectrums, Commodore C64s, and the Amstrad CPC with its built in tape deck.

Things were pretty BASIC back then (pun clearly intended) yet it was still quite a revelation when, after spending a couple of hours manually typing lines of code, you ran your own program and could see it on the screen.

I missed out on Computer Software courses at school by a year, or my life would no doubt have been very different, but that early love of technology has been a constant throughout my life.

If you had told a 10 year old me that one day I’d stand in my living room, and say a few words out loud to have some lights come on, and some music starting to play, I’d have presumed you’d stolen the idea from a Dan Dare comic.

Of course all that technology comes with a price, one we weren’t really thinking about in the early days. Both the cost of hardware, with the incessant push to upgrade devices regularly for the latest greatest features, and as the internet zips forward and gives us ever greater sight of the murkier parts of life are brought into view and that too comes at a cost.

With millions of inter-connected devices, the idea that shining a light on all the bad things in the hope they’ll go away hasn’t played out. Instead it’s simply helped those with similar world views come together in increasingly monstrous ways. But, of course, that isn’t the fault of technology. There have always been people with dark views of the world, there has always been hatred, it’s just that much easier for it to coalesce online than ever before.

The flip side, obviously, is that those people who believe in love, equality, and want to make the world a better place for everyone, can also come together online, thanks to the wonderful technology we have available to us. It’s no surprise that there is a rise on demonstrations around the world, with technology driving the organisation and planning.

It’s a long way since my first experiences with technology, learning how to write lines of basic code, and computers aside, the leaps and bounds that all forms of technology have taken in the past three decades is astounding, and looking forward one wonders just how far we will be able to take things.

Until then…

GOTO 10

work life balance

Work

Amongst the many internet trends – the commercialisation of happiness, the quasi-religion of productivity approaches – there is one phrase that makes my toes curl and my blood start to simmer.

“Do what you love.”

It’s a distillation of a thought first offered by Confucius “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” and the sentiment is a noble one yet for many it is largely unobtainable.

I used to love my job, I loved the busy nature of it, I loved the different areas of helping build a product, and for many years as I progressed through the company, getting more senior roles, I truly thought of it as doing what I love.

I am a geek, I enjoy many aspects of building a software product, most of them on the user/business side of the equation admittedly as I’m not a developer. I enjoyed learning about accessibility, usability, user research and analysis, storyboards, roadmaps and more. I invested a lot of my own time and effort into it, working long hours across multiple timezones, chatting to teams in Indonesia in my mornings and San Francisco in my evenings (my Boss was, for a time, based in Boston, MA).

And then as I was about to transition to a newer role, one I was excited for which would’ve taken me into the world of product strategy with a sales and marketing view, the rug was pulled out from under my feet with one simple word. Redundancy.

It was the third time I’d been made redundant and, as with the others, completely blind-sided me. We’d had a couple of rounds of redundancies in the past but I’d always felt secure as my role and knowledge was fairly niche and unique at the time.

It was a blow.

Looking back it was likely a very good thing for me, personally, though. I managed to take a couple of months off, and when I started working again I did so as a contractor in a role I’d never done before, although I’d worked closely with them in the past.

It’s a different world when you are paid a day rate. I work 8am to 4pm, I don’t get sick pay or paid holidays, I pay my own tax. This means it’s not in my interest to invest any more of my own time, and that’s purely on a financial basis, my current project and contract has a finite end so I know I will be moving on at that point, which is yet another reason not to invest my time too heavily. I hold myself to my own professional standards and work ethics but at 4pm I am done.

Do I love what I do? No, it is a job that pays my bills. This is not a vocation, a calling, or anything like that for me and, despite the internet clamouring for validation and the strange need to attach higher value to things than they necessarily require, I’m quite happy with that.

The issue I have is that if I was to love what I do, my job would be a mish-mash of sitting on the sofa playing computer games, walking about in the fresh air, reading books, and a few other things commonly known as hobbies.

Which nicely brings me to another point, once again peer pressured into existence by the internet, of having to always be the best you can be at something. Why? A hobby should be relaxing, a way to unwind and switch off from the daily pressures of adult life, not a way to add to the stresses and strains you no doubt already have by demanding constant improvements of yourself! So you can knit a wonky scarf, but can you knit a pair of stripey socks.

I digress.

Since I started contracting my work/life balance, something I actually place value on, has never been better.

Granted I’m very lucky to be at least working in a job that is palatable, suffer-able, and on some days is actually fun (albeit in a ‘everything is a challenge’ kinda way). I don’t think I will ever place much value on loving what I do for work, but for me that just means I have all the more time and energy to put elsewhere, in things that offer me much more value; family and friends.

And oddly, spending my time with my loved ones whilst living life as best I can boils down to doing exactly what that phrase, the one I so loathe, suggests.

Do what you love.

Wedding party dancing

Family

A couple of months ago, in the midst of my sisters wedding, I looked around the room and took in all the faces there. I saw many familiar faces, some of whom had been at my own wedding, many years ago, and I saw too the gaps of those no longer with us.

It’s been years since she passed, but the face I missed the most that day was my Gran. Ohh how she’d have loved it.

I spent a lot of time with my Gran when I was a child. My Mother’s mother, she looked after me a lot in the pre-sister years, weekends spent in in the big house in Rutherglen, my Uncle’s old warped snooker table in the basement, the living room with a sideboard so large it came in through the window (one floor up), and the front room best know for the tub of sweets that were always the first port of call when we visited.

I didn’t really know my Grandpa, successive strokes robbed him of speech and movement, but he was there with a smile and a laugh. I wish I’d known him better but my visits there were mostly about me and Gran, walking to the local shopping centre, getting a cone from the ice cream parlour, and always getting a toy from the toy shop. She’d stop and chat to people she knew, always a friendly smile.

My Gran loved clothes and was such a frequent visitor to the make-up counters, at one of the more upper-market shops in the Glasgow’s city centre, Frasers, that in her later years when she couldn’t manage to visit in person, they started sending out free samples to her. A wedding would’ve meant a whole new outfit!

I can imagine her at my sisters wedding though, watching and smiling, and sitting with her son and daughter. What a wonderful picture that would have been.

Of course, life isn’t like that and all families go through the same cycles of loss. As it was, many of the faces at my sisters weddings the Aunts and Uncles, the family friends, all brought warmth and happiness to the day. And these are the family moments to remember fondly. The gatherings that happen now and then, that mark the passage of time, the weddings, the christenings, and even the funerals.

It’s at these times that I look at my own extended family; my partner, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my niece, and my closest friends who are, and have been, like brothers to me these past 30 years, my ex-wife, and all the connections that they bring.

They say that friends are the family they choose, and maybe I just got lucky because my family was already pretty damn good to begin with. As I danced with cousins and Aunties, and chatted to Uncles and family friends, I saw the same for my sister as her friends once again whisked her onto the dance floor.

I guess I’d reword that old phrase then, friends aren’t the family you chose, it’s the people you love that are the family you have.

Mugdock

Nature

The air is cool as it moves around us. Under foot, crimson leaves lie fallen, their work done, and far above our heads the empty branches whisper in the wind. Decades of stories are whispered back and forth, as we stand below them, looking up as they sway and talk, telling their tales in a beautiful language.

On we walk, enjoying the crisp air on our cheeks, our hands warm in gloves, feet swathed in socks and boots. The path changes to gravel, then grass, and back again as we meander our way through the forest. Mushrooms peak from fallen logs, fir trees stand vibrant in the morning glow, in the distance a burbling stream tumbles its way to meet the river some miles from here.

We chat about nothing of importance for that is not why we are here. For us this is a hallowed place, a church bigger than any other, a nurturing land with gentle qualities, one that can be as harsh as it is tender, as beautiful as it is stark. There is no place for religion here, only nature in all its glory. Even at this time of the year it is powerful and beautiful in more ways than I have words to describe.

Stand under a large tree, let your eye travel up that gnarled and weary trunk, decades old, strong and solid. Look at the branches as they spread out to capture the sky, the twigs that twist ever higher, and even in these autumn months a few leaves who haven’t quite finished their work cling on to the last. Not yet, they say, not yet.

Look up through those branches to the sky, the cold blue ceiling above us, pocked white with clouds.

Marvel at all of this, at the vast scale on display and realise how small we are, how insignificant in the face of such wonder and beauty.

Walking on we turn a corner and a single flat sheet stretches out before us, reflecting the clouds above as they scroll across the surface to the other side, disappearing into the reed beds. Some ducks emerge from the opposite shore and send ripples across the water, rendering the sky surreal.

We stand and breathe the clean air, sharp and cold on our lungs, ruddying our cheeks, and together we smile, happy and content as Mother Nature looks over us all.

food pyramid

Food

It took ten minutes of chopping – carrot, celery, onion – plus a bag of yellow split peas and some vegetarian stock, add salt and pepper, some more water and, after slow cooking for several hours the kitchen was filled with the wonderful aroma of split pea soup. Thick, creamy, utterly deliciously.

I’ve written about food here before, although I’ve stopped reviewing every restaurant I visit, and used to write even more when I was an active member of the local Yelp community (that got closed down, a fact that still annoys!). It’s such fun to write about food, trying to find more and more ways to describe a flavour, or a texture, or that wonderful combination of both in a dish that simply dances on the taste-buds.

I like food, a fact not lost on my regular reader (hey you!) given how often I talk about my weight for yes, alas the two are inextricably linked given that I tend to eat more calories than I burn.

I’m very privileged of course, living where I live and in a comfortable lifestyle where my main problem is deciding what food to eat, rather than if I will eat at all. If anything we have an abundance of choice, far more than I even remember as a child, especially given the availability of goods that used to only be available in the correct season; that said the seasons still apply, a strawberry in December is not the same as a strawberry in June.

But let’s not get too heavy (pun intended) for food is something that should be enjoyed if at all possible although I am guilty of falling into the “food is fuel” thinking, eating because I should rather than I want to. Thankfully that’s exception rather than the rule, and so most days I eat tasty food that is good for me.

Oh yes, I may be overweight but that’s not because I constantly eat bad food, my breakfasts are typically porridge and fruit (with a skimmed milk, sugar-free vanilla latte), my lunches either freshly made salads or sandwiches (not bought from a supermarket) and my dinners are typically cooked in the oven, be they chicken and veg, or just a bit plate of roasted veg (admittedly with some butter but hey, we gotta live!).

No, where I fall off the good eating wagon is the snacks and the chocolate and the desserts. Too often I reach for something sugary, a sweet tooth inherited from my father, and too often rather than one or two little things, it’s four, or seven, or an entire pack.

This I know, and this is the daily battle of emotional willpower versus intellectual knowledge, and even though most days my intellect wins (a rarity in itself!) the days were my willpower collapses completely tend to undo an entire week or two in one fell swoop. I do not fall lightly (because I’m overweight! Ha ha, look at me, laughing at myself).

And then there is eating out, which can be done healthily but more often than not is an indulgence. I do love a well prepared, well presented meal, and some live long in my memory. There is something about having your senses overwhelmed with juicy sauces and piquant fragrances that really seems to make reminiscing on such meals all the more vivid.

Food is a staple, we all need it, and it always fascinates me to see how different people view it. You see articles about people who’ve eaten the same meal every day for years and year, and then read about people who are moving to an insect-only diet. It is a constant in all our lives, yet every single one of us will have a different favourite food, or favourite cuisine, just as we all have differing dislikes (not to mention allergies).

I guess this all boils down to one thing, are you a sane person, or do you actually think Marmite tastes nice?

Recollection

It’s probably set in the kitchen in my parents old house. Habitat (?) wallpaper, and a wall mounted set of scales with a dark blue bowl. I think that’s where it’s from, or it’s entirely possible that old photos have further blurred my increasingly bad memory.

I can remember one Christmas morning, before my sister arrived, leaping on to my parents bed and opening my He-Man presents. Again, there is a photo somewhere of that moment which might be why it sticks in my mind so vividly, and this matches most of my memories that can be traced to a photo. Mind you, for some reason it is Christmases that loom largest in my memory, so perhaps there is a level of emotional attachment at play.

My fondest memories of our family Christmases were just that, a time for just the five of us (my parents, myself, my sister, and the dog), all in good spirits, all happy and together. These are always the best memories and those early mornings, chomping on chocolate coins and reading my Oor Wullie annual loom large whenever I cast my mind back to my childhood.

I’ve tried to push my mind further back a few times, tried to get back to the house I spent the first three years of my life in, but I don’t even get a hazy hint at those days. In this example the photos don’t help as I clearly don’t have any memories to grasp on to in the first place. That said, given my parents old house was the family home for 40 years of my life, it’s no wonder that all of my oldest recollections stem from that place, those rooms, our garden, and all the wonderful times spent there.

These days I take a lot of photos, partly because I enjoy photography but more and more I realise it’s a way to capture the memories as they happen as I fear I will forget them, a fear that grows the older I get. Of course the ubiquity of having a phone in my pocket everywhere I go makes this much easier, and I wonder how this wonderful little gadget will impact future generations, how will their memories be impacted? What will their favourite recollections be compromised of?

My recollections are more than the images they represent, of course they are, and photos are just an easy way to trigger those, and for the most part I’m pretty good at putting the camera away and living in the moment itself, for without the emotional connection, without something else to grasp on to, photos are simply a flat, dimensionless trick, a rendering of a time and place that holds no value.

A while ago I realised that I should be more focused on creating more of those connections, and more recently I’ve been mindful of how often I dive behind the camera and make more of an effort to find the balance, putting the camera aside and enjoying each moment as it happens and I find that my more recent memories, ones spent experiencing the moment first hand rather than via the glow of a screen, live larger and brighter in my memory.

Every day Facebook reminds me of memories from last year, and as I pause to look at those photos I find I can recall more than I see, and perhaps my memory isn’t all that bad after all. The details I can recall are all the better for having been present at that time and I find my mind able to recall more and more details of those past events.

I realise now that those will always be the recollections I strive for as they give me a richer pathway to past memories that I hold dear. And those are always the best things to remember.