Monday, March 2, 2015

Talking About Depression is Tricky.

I haven't posted anything here in a while. Part of the reason why will be evident later, but first a plea:

If you read the following and feel angered in some way; if you feel I'm attention-seeking, fishing for compliments; if you think I should just pull myself together (etc), then please, please, please stop reading, close the window and get on with whatever it was you were doing before you found yourself here: I don't want to hear your opinion and I don't want you to waste any more of your time forming one. If, however, you feel like commenting and/or getting in touch privately because you feel the same or have felt the same and can offer some words of support or wisdom to me or anyone else out there who feels the same then please, please, please feel welcome to do so. The post may be quite long. I'm not apologising for that: if you get bored, go and do something else. Seriously, I'd like a bare minimum of people to read this. I'd rather one person who really gives a damn about what it has to say read it than ten thousand who couldn't care less. I don't want cliché, I'm not asking to be patronised, and I won't be appreciative of small-mindedness.

It's about depression. If you can't handle talk on that topic then please leave now.

This has been quite some time in preparation. This is partly because I stop myself writing with the thought "why would anyone want to know?" I've countered that by reasoning that if you don't want to know you wouldn't have clicked, and if you clicked in error you should probably move on to something more fun about nowish, and it might be therapeutic to write something that might be read because private writings aren't doing a damned thing. It is also because I haven't been able to find a way of saying how I feel. It's been unutterable and when I've tried I just end up feeling silly (and being told as much). I think I've figured out a metaphor that works in most respects, and I'm posting it here because that makes listening to me baring my innermost an opt-in thing, rather than having to figure out who the hell wants to listen to me: plenty say they do, but isn't that just what you're supposed to say? Nobody actually means it, do they?

I live in a well. The well changes in all sorts of ways but two things are constant: the sides are vertical; everybody else lives up on the surface.

Sometimes I look up and all is dark. I can't see the mouth of the well because there is only darkness above. I don't know how deep it is so it may as well be endless, and this fills me with a strange and conflicting feeling that is at once claustro- and agora- phobic.

Sometimes I look up and it is dark, but I can see stars. This is when I feel most comfortable, though I can still feel the walls around me and the depth of the well. Sometimes the stars make the well deeper when I realise there's nobody to share them with.

Sometimes I look up and see daylight.

Everyone else lives up on the surface. Much of the time I can hear them and they sound like they're having fun but I don't know how to get up there.

Sometimes, on rare occasions when the well is at its shallowest I can climb out. It takes a lot of effort and I am worn out by the time I manage it, but I get there. On the surface I see that everyone is holding hands. They're standing in rings, some containing a few people, some containing many, but nobody is on their own. People may leave one ring and go and join another, or sometimes rings of people join together to make larger rings, or split to form smaller rings. I can go up to rings of people and interact briefly: some members may even break their hand-hold with the person next to them so that they can shake my hand for a while, but nobody ever holds it. The people are usually pleasant and seem pleased enough to see me, but I am always outside the rings. I can never become part of a ring and sooner or later I find myself back in my well, more often than not feeling deflated and frustrated, but at least the well is better than standing uncomfortably, unwanted, in amongst the oppressive, seething maelstrom of people who all fit somewhere; who all have a purpose in the indecipherably complicated movements of social interaction.

Sometimes I spend extended periods up on the surface, even thinking I'm about to be accepted/invited into a ring but it inevitably turns out that the ring opened up for someone else and it closes again after they have joined. Sometimes people leave their rings and hold my hand and I feel like we're forming a new ring, but then it turns out they were just shaking my hand for a bit, and then they say goodbye and rejoin their ring and I find myself back in my well.

Sometimes the noise of the jollity that I can hear from the surface becomes deafening and I end up digging my well deeper to get away from it: the sound makes me feel unwanted, unnoticed, but digging further makes me feel even more isolated. I can't win.

The well is getting deeper and the sides more slippery. Part of me wants to dig and dig until I can hear nothing: at least I'll get an occasional glimpse of those stars.

I've tried reading books about depression, social anxiety, how to win friends and influence people, how to talk to people, how to not hate yourself, how to ignore the fact that the rest of the world can't see you, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

I've tried talking to people and some have even listened. Most fling platitudes freely, wildly and indiscriminately: apparently I'm not ugly, plenty of people are fatter than I am and, according to some, I'm one hell of a hoopy frood: they love spending time with me (they just choose not to because mumble mumble mumble). I'm funny; entertaining; friendly; helpful; intelligent; witty; [and another generic positive trait], [and another one], [and another one too]. They can't understand for the life of them why I'm terminally single and don't have any friends. And then they go back to their place in the great dance of the rings and I go back to my well, and they keep a wide berth next time I manage to haul myself out.

I've tried being referred by my doctor for 'talking therapies' and filling in the tables and diaries that come with it, and have learnt all the correct responses and passed the test with flying colours and been declared functional.

I've tried taking a prescription for pills which helped me gurn a smile onto my face for a short while but didn't make the well any easier to climb from, and they certainly haven't done anything to help me move out of the well more permanently. I've just spent longer standing in amongst the spinning, fully-formed, dancing rings that don't have any space for me, grinning like a loon and cracking the odd joke to the occasional soul that stops briefly as it moves from one ring to another.

And now I'm back in the well with my shovel in my hand.

I won't post about it any more, I promise.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Photoblog: The Raptor Foundation

Finally I have managed to scrape together enough internets to get some photos uploaded and now I can write a post about my visit to Cambridgeshire's Raptor Foundation a couple of weeks ago.

Please don't expect me to remember ornithological details and names beyond "owl". Feel free to comment with interesting info about the birds you see if you know more than I do, though.
Raptors are birds of prey* including owls, eagles, hawks, harriers, buzzards, kites and vultures, and the Raptor Foundation provides medical care and rehabilitation or sanctuary for injured raptors as well as conducting research into conservation and related environmental matters.

Who you lookin' at?
The Foundation is open to the public (it costs £5 per adult to get in), and the birds can be seen at fairly close-quarters, tethered to stakes or secured in their enclosures. There are 2 to 3 flying displays throughout the day hosted by a team demonstrators who have a clearly identifiable passion for the creatures they work with.
Neil doing what Neil does.

They also have other events throughout the year, some of which happen at set times such as the twilight displays (I'd love to go to one of those) and others that can be booked in advance.

Being much more of a proactive photographer than I am, my good buddy Neil booked him, me and a bunch of folks he talks to on a photography website onto a photographic day. This costs more than a standard visit to the Foundation** and includes not only time to wander around the bird enclosures and watch the displays, but also some up-close-and-personal time with a selection of raptors in some nice, photogenic settings***. During the standard displays we were encouraged to position ourselves in non-standard positions, such as under the flightpaths of the birds, in order to get the most out of the experience as photographers.

At one point I completely failed to get an awesome shot as I was vaguely concerned that the enormous owl coming straight at me was about to carry me off into the trees where it could eat bits of me at leisure.

I think this goes some way towards showing just how up-close-and-personal we could get with these majestic creatures.
Whilst the birds themselves were fascinating, as usual I tried to push myself in a direction inspired by another friend's photography**** and include some candid shots of people doing people things.

Here are some of the shots I'm most proud of from the day. As usual, the only post-processing is cropping and a little bit of colour and brightness correction (largely done automatically by Picasa):

This kind of looks like a studio background, but it isn't, honest!


Watching, waiting.

Watching me like a... well, like an owl.

This guy was a poser and a half.


I love this shot, but can't quite articulate why.

It proved tricky getting good in-flight shots - I had similar problems to the ones at Waddington (though not quite so comical)

Some of the up-close shots of the raptors getting their rewards were... disgusting.

Lift off!

We all had a chance to act as perch for these beautiful owls.

This is not a raptor.

Neither are these, though they remind me of someone...

Framed by foliage

As usual there are more shots over on my Flickr account. Please have a look and let me know which shots are your favourites, and why! It'll help me to become a better photographer.

* Not, as I'd hoped, particularly cunning and vicious pack-hunting dinosaurs.
** I can't remember how much as Neil very kindly paid for me as a birthday present!
*** Trees.
**** Carlos, of Oblique Exposure.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Waddington Air Show 2013

It's that time of year again - that time when my old uni buddy Neil and I high-tail it to RAF Waddington for their annual air show to geek-out with 'planes and 'tography.

Surely these guys need no introduction?
For a number of reasons I haven't really played with my D60 since October. Consequently, Sunday's visit to RAF Waddington was the first opportunity I've had to put my new lens through its paces. The lack of practise is one thing I'm blaming the quality* of these photos on. Another is the general shoddiness of the air quality: the hottest day of the year produced significant heat haze on top of an already hazy sky.

A ghostly Battle of Britain memorial flight.
Another issue that seriously affected the quality of my shots was luck. Or, rather, my habitual lack of it. As may be seen in these four snaps...
Hide & Seek & Destroy!
Look out for the- !
This isn't just sky: look carefully...

Although amongst the accidentals, I was quite pleased when I noticed my traitorous shutter-button finger had managed to catch the one below:

Now try to get this one on purpose.
I almost forgot another complaint: the runway and airspace within which the aerial displays happen at Waddington lies unfortunately between the public areas and the sun which, on a day as painfully bright as Sunday, makes for a stack of photos that are little more than silhouettes. Unfortunately there weren't many that I could pass off as being artsy.

This one would have been great had the sun occupied a more thoughtful location.
Thankfully Lanc-y and the boys looped round for another pass, and managed to get the sun on their good side.
Here are a handful of miscellaneous shots that I'm fairly happy with:

Bend over, let me see ya shake a tail feather.
It's a chinook, but you can pretend it's part of some steampunk-y spaceship if you wish. I am.
I'm always struck by how pleased this plane looks to see me.
Penultimately, here are a couple of nutters:

Rather then than me.
And to finish with, a photo that's just dying for a caption competition:

Seriously, when I finally get around to writing Tom's Illustrated Compendium of Things You Probably Shouldn't Do, this is going on the cover.
You can see the other photos I deemed worthy of uploading on my Flickr photostream.

* Or lack thereof.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Resisting the urge to talk
about nibbling Amy.
It was my birthday a mere eight months ago, but I haven't seen Emma since before then, so I got my present(s) when we met up yesterday to go and see Iron Man 3*****.

One of my presents was a box of cupcakes with a Whoish theme, but it's not those that I want to talk about here (even though they look awesome and taste delicious).

Another one of my presents was a set of limited edition 3D cinema glasses in the style of Anakin Skywalker's podracing goggles, presented in a TARDIS pencil case. Whilst simultaneously cool, surreal, and multu-fandom, I haven't posted in order to talk about those, either.

Here's what I have posted for:

Hello, sweetie.
I've seen various versions of River Song's time-diary****, first encountered (by us) in Tennant-Era Who two-parter Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, available for purchase. Some are mass-produced clean-paged notebooks on the inside (I bought one as a Christmas present for someone who really didn't deserve it); some are one-off fan-made affairs available through sites such as Etsy.

This particular one is a bespoke offering made by Emma in conjunction with somebody really quite famous indeed. I carefully slid the "Warning; Spoilers" label off (it's sealed with a wax stamp on the reverse*) and opened the book, expecting to see blank notebook pages, but instead saw this:

That's space stuff, that is.

Yes. Information about space. Not the scrawlings of a time traveller, but properly published space info. Or spacefo, if you prefer. Freeing the book of its custom dust jacket, I saw this and, if I was capable of doing such a thing, I would have squeed:

This, as anybody who has precisely the same set of interests as me** will know is a beautifully pocket-sized book published in 1962 for the discerning and budding astronomer by one Patrick Moore***. I knew this just by looking at the cover because - and this is weird for a book that was released twenty years before I was born - I already have one. Or, rather, my dad has one and it lives on one of the bookshelves in my house because I... liberated it. It's one of those books that you expect to find notes written in. My dad's copy has the cryptic "Library No. 1" and a circled "2" in the front, with a "1" and "May 21st 1966" written at the back. My new River Song-ed copy has "Care of K. Lewis" handwritten on the contents page.

Even without the very cool custom dust jacket, it is a very good little book, and scores over older, more pedestrian works in two important respects: First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words "THE OBSERVER'S BOOK OF ASTRONOMY" inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.

* The stamp itself is from the Harry Potter franchise - Emma has no qualms about mixing universes. If we all end in a big, swirly paradox, you know who to blame.
** At present, the total count is five, with two currently incarcerated for the protection of themselves and others, one recently escaped, and a toy badger.
*** If you don't know who Patrick Moore is, then... how did you get here? I mean, how did you arrive at this page? I'm not casting aspersions on your ability to accurately click links, but... I bet you watch Eastenders, don't you?
**** Whilst checking this post for glaring errors it occurs to me that all diaries are time-diaries, really.
***** And this bit sounds a bit like a primary school child's "what I did on my holidays" work on the first day back in the classroom.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Coffee? A Social Experiment

Eagle- eyed readers will probably have failed to notice a new link in the bar under the header of this page: Coffee?

Allow me to explain.

I want to meet new people. The way that most people do this, so I'm told, is by going to places where people are and saying hello to them. I struggle with this immensely, in the same way that a toddler may struggle with proving Poincaré's conjecture. I can turn up to places where there are people and stay there for any length of time without talking to anyone. This, I have been told, makes me look unsociable (in some cases), aloof (in others) and "oh, were you there too?" (in most).

Playing my part in a funny-face slam. With a 4 year old friend.
The truth is that I try to talk to people. I try very hard. Unfortunately, when I try to talk to people in social situations most of my mind appears to occupy itself with imagining gerbils tumbling over one another. The harder I try to talk to people, the more gerbils there are. The rest of my mind goes all... well, if you're a Red Dwarf fan, you'll know what I'm talking about if I reference Lister's Paranoia. Why would they want to talk to you?

Just to clarify: this isn't about girls, or dating, it's just about people. There has to be someone out there I can talk to*, and that's what this is about.

If you find yourself here, at this blog, liking something that you read, and thinking "hey, this is a frood I could really have coffee with**," then click the link, fill in the form and let me know. Of course, 'coffee' is an umbrella term that I have chosen to stand in for any kind of activity which involves two or more people getting together and finding out more about each other than they previously knew. So actually drinking coffee would be a good example, but I'm also open to a nice beer, pizza, walking around nice places, visiting museums, using trigonometry to discover the heights of national monuments, learning to ride a unicycle, visiting bookshops, or... anything at all, really. In fact, if it gives me something to write about on this blog, all the better. If you just want to chat online, then you're welcome to get in touch any way you see fit. A good place to start would be here.

After a face-painting activity.
With aforementioned 4 year old friend.
I don't care where you are: if you're nearby (by which I mean anywhere around Milton Keynes or Kettering)  then great, that's easy. But if you're further afield (by which I mean Portsmouth, Edinborough***, the Himalayas or the ISS) then don't let that put you off because I might find myself there at some point (my job has me travelling around the country a bit, or you might just convince me to come and visit for a day) and there's no reason why we can't talk online anyway.

I don't care who you are. As I've said, this is not a dating profile, so you can be male or female, tall or short, black, white, purple or green, and into all sorts of stuff. If you're into the same things as me, then great. If you're interested in different stuff, then awesome: I like new stuff.

Lastly, I'm all for paradoxes, so if you're reading this thinking "there's no way he'd want to talk to me," then you're most likely someone I'd want to talk to. I don't expect a flood of responses from this, but if I meet just one more person I click with then it's all been worth it, hasn't it?

* I need to clarify, in the spirit of not offending anyone who doesn't deserve it, that I do know a handful of people I can talk to, and are great fun and fantastically interesting in incredibly diverse ways. I've been thinking of running a series of posts about each one and why you should browse their stuff. But there's always room for one more, right?
** If you want to know more about me and what I'm into, check out the labels in the sidebar of this blog, have a click around this page, or find me on twitter or G+.
*** Chrome's spell checker is desperate for me to change 'Edinborough' to 'Gainsborough', rather than 'Edinburgh' as, of course, it should be. I have nothing against Gainsborough, but a better handle on where Edinburgh is.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chipper Skiffer Chiffer Sculpture (Or: Alan Turing's Likeness)

In Bletchley Park's museum stands (or sits, rather pensively hunched over an Enigma machine) this slate sculpture of mathematician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist, Alan Turing. Lots is written about Alan Turing, his life, achievements and his apalling treatment at the hands of the British judiciary system, and I'm not here to repeat all of that.
Taken by me.
I'm here to relate a startling but ultimately meaningless coincidence that I picked up during a conversation with one of BP's resident bombe team. It goes like this:

The Swedish word for "slate" is "skiffer". Go here and click the relevant button to hear how that's pronounced.

There's another Swedish word that's pretty similar when written down, but, when spoken, almost indistinguishable to my unpracticed ears*: "chiffer".

And what does that mean, boys and girls?
"Cipher". Go here and press the appropriate button to hear them both spoken in quick succession, then come back and agree with me.
* I think the difference is mainly in the intonation and/or emphasis than the actual sounds used, although I'm fairly sure I'm feeling a slightly harsher sound at the beinning of "skiffer" compared with the beginning of "chiffer".