Where have the political posts gone?

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you came to look at one of my political blog posts and got redirected to this one instead. Hi!

I’ve taken the political posts down. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and in the end it seemed the best option. The truth is, it wasn’t doing me any good to be spending as much time as I was thinking about things that make me angry and that I can’t realistically have any influence over, so I’m going to try and stop.

I know a lot of people won’t agree with this. They’ll see it as pathetic, even childish to bury my head in the sand instead of facing reality. They would probably argue that if I strongly believe in what I was saying, I should try to do something about it, try to change people’s minds, campaign for things to be better, etc. It’s true, people can sometimes make a positive difference that way… but I haven’t been making a difference. I’ve just been getting myself worked up into a state of anger and stress over the news almost daily and occasionally venting on here in a way that was unlikely to convert anyone to my point of view.

Even if I was to direct my anger towards something a little more constructive, I have to be realistic and balance the very small positive difference I might be able to make against the considerable personal cost. I’m not particularly good at campaigning or persuading people and I find that sort of thing mentally draining, not to mention that it would take a lot of time I just don’t have these days. On the other hand my family need me to be good at being a husband and father, my employer needs me to be good at writing software, and I need myself to be in good enough mental shape to cope and actually enjoy life sometimes. Spending half my energy getting wound up by the political situation jeopardises all of that. And if the worst should happen and things in this country are potentially going to get really bad in a way that affects me personally, I need to be on top form to deal with it as best I can.

And some people would no doubt say it’s pathetic that I can’t control my thoughts and emotions sufficiently to stop that stuff from bothering me so much. I disagree. What I’m doing now is taking control over those effects, the only way I know how. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my mental health isn’t the best and I make no apology for that.

My views on the issues I wrote about haven’t actually changed. I’ll still be voting against the stuff that pisses me off any time I get the chance. I just don’t want half my life to be consumed by unproductive thoughts about it anymore.

But why not leave the old political posts up for people to read and just don’t write any more of them? Several reasons, really. Firstly in cases like this I find it easier to draw a line in the sand and try to make a clean break with the past. If I left the posts up I might decide not to write any more now, but then change my mind next week and go straight back to my old ways again. Secondly, whenever new comments come in on the old posts and I get notified about them, it drags all of these issues back into my awareness again and I’d rather avoid that as much as possible.

Thirdly, contrary to how it may have sounded at times, I actually don’t want to alienate all the people who disagree with me and cause further division. Some of them are people I need to be able to get on with, even people I care about. Their views don’t make them bad people and it does no good at all to introduce unneeded tensions into my relations with them.

And finally, those posts were just not really in the spirit of what this blog was supposed to be about. When I started it back in 2011 I just wanted somewhere to post about things that I found fun or interesting, and to talk a bit about my ongoing recovery from anxiety and depression related problems. It was never meant to be dominated by angry, divisive political rants and I’m hoping to take it back to its roots in the coming months.

Thanks for reading and, whether you’re of the same political persuasion as me or not, peace be with you 🙂 .

My Bucket List

I’ve been going through a rough patch again lately and I feel like I could easily end up losing sight of what’s important, as well as forgetting the progress I’ve already made. So, inspired by seeing a friend’s bucket list on Facebook, I decided to make one of my own.

I’ve included a lot of stuff that I have already achieved, but that’s deliberate, to remind me of how good the last few years have actually been and what I can do if I put my mind to it. Conversely the stuff that’s not yet ticked off is a little sparse right now, but I’m sure more stuff will come to mind to flesh it out with now that I’ve got this list.

So, without further ado, on with the things! They’re not in any particular order, I couldn’t be bothered sorting them by importance or anything, and in any case my idea of their relative importance probably changes with my mood. I also haven’t set myself an end date of a particular significant birthday like some people do; my next “significant” birthday is uncomfortably close already and so wouldn’t give me much time to make progress.

First the ones I’ve already achieved:

Get marrieddone 05/2016

Buy housedone 05/2014
Take part in Beltane – done 04/2014, and every year since

All painted and costumed up and ready to go for my first time as a Torchbearer

Release a smartphone app – done 2014
Learn 3D modelling – done 2016
Learn to code in JavaScript – done 2015
See my favourite bands live – done 06/2016
Do a paid freelance project – done 2017
Create a blog – done 09/2011
Get promoted at work – done 07/2017
Go on all the big rides at Alton Towers – done 09/2015

I know it’s blurred, but that gives you a better impression of what it actually looks like.

Go hostelling around Europedone 2012-2017
Go skinny dipping – done 08/2014
Run 5kmdone 09/2015
Run 10km – done 09/2016
Explore Scotland Street Tunnel – done 07/2014
Old toilet blocks in Scotland Street Tunnel

Explore Botanic Gardens Station – done 11/2014
Explore East Fortune Hospital – done 08/2013
DSC_3600

Explore Barnton Quarry bunker – done 02/2005 and 06/2014
Visit a disused tube station – done 12/2016
Learn to play the complete Moonlight Sonata – done 1997
Learn to play Chopin’s “Black Keys” Etude – done 2013
Learn to play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu – done 2013
Learn to play Bach’s Fugue no. 20 – done 2013
Learn to play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue – done 2015
Visit Croatia – done 05/2013
Visit Tropical Islands Resort – done 07/2017
Handle a large house spider – done 11/2016

Now the ones still to come:

Have a child – due 09/2018!
Climb the main hills of the Pentlands
Visit Italy
Go to a ghost hunting night
Play a pipe organ
Learn to speak German
Finish writing my 3D software
Make some 3D environments with my software
Get weight down to 80kg (and keep it there)
Learn Chilly Gonzales “Solo Piano II”
Write a book

Should keep me busy for a while 🙂 .

“Attention seeking” is good. Stop shaming people for it

This blog post by my brother is worth a read (in fact his whole blog is, but I’m going to focus on that particular post just now). In the second half he brings up things that I’ve thought about before, related to social media and mental health. He points out that making negative posts online when you’re struggling is sometimes frowned upon, and that people who do so are often labelled as attention seekers, something that I’ve observed as well.

I’ve always thought that the “attention seeking” accusation in particular is an odd one. Surely seeking attention is exactly what we’re trying to encourage depressed people to do when it gets too much to deal with on their own? There are any number of mental health awareness campaigns out there these days, and the core message of pretty much all of them is something along the lines of: don’t suffer in silence, don’t bottle up your feelings, reach out and talk to someone when you feel down. If we’re serious about that message (which we really should be), we’re going to have to accept that it will mean seeing things we might not be comfortable with on social media from time to time.

Some people seem to have a curiously black and white view of mental illness sufferers, as if we can be neatly divided into two groups: on one side the “moaners” who just complain incessantly about their problems and are never going to get any better, and on the other the more positive people who are bravely and quietly putting in the work required to get better. In my experience it doesn’t work like that at all. God knows I’ve done a lot of moaning in my time (mostly on specialist forums but occasionally on regular social media), but I’ve also put a lot of work into trying to get better, even at times when it felt completely hopeless.

Other people I know are the same; there is no great divide. The people who are moaning helplessly one day might be pouring their effort into recovery a few hours or days later when they feel a little better, and even the most dedicated positive thinker needs to vent from time to time. In fact, if anything I’d say the people I’ve known who never expressed their negative feelings are probably less likely to get better, because they seem to be less in touch with what’s going on in their heads and more likely to be in denial about their problems.

Maybe some people are fine with the idea of talking about mental health, but think that social media is the wrong forum, and that those sort of discussions should be kept for family and close friends and professional therapists. That’s all very well, but not everyone has those options. Some people’s families and friends aren’t sympathetic to these issues. Some people have no family or close friends. As for professional therapists, NHS waiting times for them are ridiculous and not everyone can afford to go private. Finally, some people (myself included) might simply find it easier to be open online than they do face-to-face.

The downsides to being too negative in public are often pointed out: you’ll drive people away, you’ll just wallow in your problems and become overwhelmed by negativity, you’ll regret revealing such personal stuff later on. What’s rarely brought up is that there are also significant downsides to not talking about it. The main one, in my experience, is that if you’re going through massive turmoil inside your head, it’s basically impossible to forge any kind of meaningful connection to another person if they don’t know about it.

When I was first suffering from social anxiety and depression, I followed the standard advice of trying to meet people at social events and meetup-type groups. I would dutifully go along to as many of those as I could, then try to pretend as best I could that I was a normal person and didn’t feel like I had a huge aching void inside me. To put it bluntly, it was a total waste of time. I hated every minute, I felt horrifically out of place, and I never succeeded in making a friend that way.

Things changed dramatically when I stopped trying to hide what I was going through and started actually opening up to people instead, regardless of how negative I must have been sounding. Within weeks I had made several good friends, some of whom I was still in touch with a decade later, and within months I had been… ahem… more than friends with a few people as well.

Sure, it’s a lot nicer if mental illness isn’t a huge part of your life, but sometimes it is. And when it is, the only successful way I’ve found of building a meaningful friendship or relationship is to share that part of you along with the rest. Of course given the choice it might have been nicer to base those relationships on something more positive, but at the time there was simply no other choice. All the more positive stuff seemed to pale into insignificance compared with what was going on in my head, and trying to interact with people based on it felt shallow and dishonest. It was a choice between revealing the negative stuff or not having any meaningful interactions with people at all.

(The other option, I guess, is to recover from the mental illness first and only then seek out friendships and relationships. Maybe that would work, though I’m not sure it ever would have for me. It’s a lot more difficult to overcome these sorts of problems when you feel completely alone, and it’s difficult to start feeling like you’re a valid, fully fledged member of the human race when you have no friends and no love life).

This has gone off at a bit of a tangent, but I think it still has relevance to the original point about social media. Basically, sharing how we’re feeling, whether in person or online, is a way of building connections with people, probably the only way of building genuine connections. When we make certain people feel like they can’t share their feelings, we’re excluding them from building those connections, quite likely at a time when they need that more than ever. Worse still, we are invalidating them and likely making them feel as if they shouldn’t even have those feelings, which can be surprisingly destructive. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I tried to write some thoughts on 2017 and 2018 in a Facebook status, but it was getting far too long for that so I decided to put it up here instead.

I’m looking forward to 2018 more than I’ve looked forward to most new years, but I think that’s more to do with my state of mind than with anything specific I’ve got planned, or any external circumstances. Over the past few weeks I’ve sorted out a long standing sleep problem (I hope… at the very least it’s a lot better now than it was) and it also feels as if I’ve made a lot of progress with my general mental state as well.

It’s weird… for years (well, decades to be honest) I felt like I was constantly struggling and struggling with it and getting almost nowhere, but recently I seem to have reached the point where it’s improving almost on its own without me having to do much at all. It’s strange but I like it. Of course a part of me is still worried that my mood’s going to crash again and I’ll be back to where it was, but I don’t know if that’s likely. Some of the realisations I’ve come to are things that I don’t think I could ever easily un-realise, so while there will no doubt be more ups and downs in the future, maybe I won’t ever be as down as I was before.

It’s been a good year in other ways, too. After feeling stuck in a bit of a rut with work for a while, 2017 brought me both my first ever promotion and my first paid freelance project, which have been great learning experiences and things I definitely want to build on. Doing the canal app has got me into the habit of working on projects in my spare time in a properly focused way and I’m trying to keep that up. In the past I’ve had lots of ideas but I’ve only worked on them sporadically, or I’ve tried to do too many things at once and failed to really get anywhere with any of them. So now I have picked one project that I want to focus on in 2018 and I’m trying to keep up the momentum on it. I don’t know where it will lead me, but that’s part of the fun.

As well as that, and some domestic things that I won’t bore you with the details of, there’s a few other things I want from 2018:

  • Do some fun stuff! If 2017 had a failing, it’s probably that I wasn’t as sociable as I could have been and didn’t spend a lot of time having fun. So this year I want to do Beltane again, go travelling again, and whatever else takes my fancy.
  • Stop stressing about politics so much. OK, I may not like what’s happening in the world right now, but there’s effectively nothing I can do about it, so there’s no point making myself feel worse by obsessing over it. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring, or forgiven the people who caused this mess, just that I’ve realised I’m a happier and healthier person for not thinking about it so much. And if things do go badly wrong, I’ll have a much better chance of surviving it and helping the people I care about if I’m happy and healthy.
  • Get out of the city more often. Towards the end of 2017 I started to go walking in the Pentlands quite a lot, something I hadn’t done for a while. I definitely want to keep that up as much as possible, and maybe even get back to walking in the Highlands.
  • Lose some weight… but only if I can find a way to do it without feeling constantly hungry and miserable (like I did last time I tried).

Happy New Year to anyone who read to the end 🙂 . I hope 2018 will be good to you.

 

Beltane Fire Society: my experience so far

Over the five years (oh god, has it really been five years already?) since I set up this blog, I’ve posted about most areas of my life at one time or another. I’ve written entries about my travels, my paid work, my geeky personal projects, my wedding, my slightly mad group of film making friends, my political views, my band, Scottish Country Dancing, mental health, and various other random topics. And I’ve written so much about urban exploration that I created a whole other blog just about that!

But I realised there was one notable omission: I’ve never written about Beltane Fire Society until now. That wasn’t a deliberate decision; it was really just that when I joined the society in 2014, this blog was going through something of an unintended hiatus (looking back, I only made three posts that whole year, and even one of those wasn’t really a proper post!), so I wasn’t in the habit of writing about stuff. I decided that now, having just done my fifth festival with them, would be a good time to put that right.

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Photo by Martin Robertson. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence

Beltane Fire Society, for those that don’t know, is something of an institution in Edinburgh. It’s the group that puts on the spectacular Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill at the end of April every year, as well as the Samhuinn parade down the Royal Mile (usually) on Hallowe’en. These events have been running for decades now, but my first encounter with them was when I went to see Beltane a few years ago, because one of my dancing friends was taking part in it. I loved the atmosphere and the spectacle of it right from the start and went back the two following years as well.

(Beltane and Samhuinn are two of the quarter year festivals of the Pagan calendar. Although there are Pagans in the society, there are plenty of people of other religions or no religion as well).

I decided I wanted to take part in Beltane, and in 2014 I finally got around to it. BFS isn’t a monolithic organisation. The tasks of running each festival are delegated to various groups within the society, which are quite fluid and change frequently. In addition to the very visible performance groups (the Reds and Whites and so on), there are also several less visible (but no less important) production groups dedicated to making sure everything runs smoothly and safely. Like a lot of newbies to the society, I started off in one of those groups: the Stewards.

The Beltane 2014 stewards, up on the hill waiting for the excitement to start

The Beltane 2014 stewards, up on the hill waiting for the excitement to start

Stewarding didn’t really come naturally to me, but that was actually one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I thought that learning how to talk to the audience members and deal with whatever situations might arise would be good for my confidence, and I think it was. Although I was still quite nervous when the night came, it all went smoothly and I had a great time. The public were overwhelmingly good natured and the worst that I had to deal with was one man who refused to move out of a performance space until I’d taken one of the After Eight mints he was offering me! I also got a far better view of the whole festival than I’d ever had as an audience member.

I stewarded for two more festivals following the first one. Both were more challenging for various reasons (the first because it was on a Saturday night so the crowds were huge, the second because I had to extinguish a stray torch ball, something which thankfully doesn’t happen very often), but I still enjoyed myself.

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Photo by Martin Robertson. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence

Being a steward was described to me by an experienced BFS member as a Beltane “gateway drug”, and I can see what he meant… the more I watched the other groups with their colourful costumes and mesmerising flames up close, the more tempted I was to join them. For Beltane this year, I finally made the leap and joined the Torchbearers.

The Torchbearers (Torchies to their friends) are the cloaked figures that walk solemnly alongside the procession at both Beltane and Samhuinn holding burning torches. They seemed a natural group for me to gravitate towards, since looking serious and ignoring everyone is pretty much my default behaviour in public places anyway. But also, I was looking forward to having some involvement with fire other than putting it out when it spread to places it shouldn’t. (Plus, the fact that the torches are fuelled by parafin-soaked balls of cotton gives the potential for all sorts of ball jokes).

The run up to the festival didn’t go quite as I’d planned, since I caught the worst flu I’ve ever had in my life and was stuck in bed for two weeks and could hardly speak for another two. But by Beltane night, all that was forgotten and I think it was probably my favourite BFS event so far – the view of the huge crowd and the other performers down below as I came up onto the Acropolis with my torch was so breathtaking that it was all I could do to stop myself grinning with delight and gazing around in wonder, which wouldn’t have been very in-character.

All painted and costumed up and ready to go for my first time as a Torchbearer

All painted and costumed up and ready to go for my first time as a Torchbearer

I returned to the Torchbearers for the Samhuinn that’s just passed. This time the costumes were more elaborate and, after a few false starts, I learned how to use a sewing machine and made myself a very nice red and green cloak. (Though unfortunately, given the weather on the night, it wasn’t a very waterproof cloak!).

But what really defines the Beltane Fire Society is the amazing, very welcoming community behind it, and that, more than the fire and face paint and cloaks, is what’s made me keep going back. As well as the public festivals there are always numerous social events going on behind the scenes that I wish I had more time and energy for. If you’re thinking about giving it a go yourself, I’d strongly encourage you to just go for it. I’m very glad I did.

I Now Pronounce You Mr And Mrs Gcat

Laura and I got married on the 28th of May. Since I’ve previously decided that going for a walk by a river, fitting new spark plugs to my car and finding an Android music player app that can do gapless playback were important enough life events to merit writing blog entries about them, I decided that this probably was too.

ceremony

For a long time, I didn’t used to think I’d ever get married. To be brutally honest, if it wasn’t for the rise of internet dating I probably wouldn’t have; I may be a bit less neurotic in some ways than I used to be, but I’d still rather ingest live slugs than attempt to chat someone up in “real life”. So it’s a good job I’ll never have to, now!

We’re just back from honeymoon (well, mini-moon… we might still do a bigger holiday later in the year) and it’s all still a bit of a blur. So far the most noticeable difference between being engaged and being married is that once you’re married you no longer have a wedding to organise, which believe me is a very welcome difference right now. But I guess since we’d already been living together for four years, bought a house together, adopted cats together, and so on, actually tying the metaphorical knot was never going to suddenly change everything the way it would have back in more conservative times.

guestbook

But enough waffling: what was the big day like? Well, the main thing I noticed was that it was over so, so quickly. After all the months and months of planning things, booking things, preparing things, I was left reeling at the end of the day thinking “Was that it?”. That’s partly because our ceremony was so short (not being religious, we went for a humanist-ish one, and didn’t have any long readings or anything like that), but even the other parts of the day seemed to be over in a flash.

That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, though. The venues excelled themselves and everything was perfect, just the way we wanted it. The ceremony itself, for all its shortness, was quite moving and about halfway through I found myself wishing I’d had the foresight to put some tissues in my sporran. (Judging from the loud sniffing noises emanating from the rows of people behind me, I wasn’t the only one). I didn’t even mind being the centre of attention as much as I thought I would. I think the adrenaline and the sheer joyousness of the occasion was carrying me through, so that I was still able to give smiles and hugs to the guests long past the point where I would normally have slipped into sour-faced, monosyllabic mode and wanted to go lie in a darkened room.

cake

One of the highlights was the fantastic best man’s speech that Alex wrote. Here’s an excerpt:

“I think who [gcat] is, really, is a very caring and non-judgemental person… and a bit of a nerd. And for me, that word has no negative connotations whatsoever. He’s not one of those trendy new nerds who are basically normal people who like superhero movies. He’s a proper, old-school nerd who gets absolutely obsessed with the most obscure subjects, regardless of whether anyone else is into them or not”.

I’m pretty happy with that summing up of myself, though he did then go on to make me sound completely insane by following it with a list of several of my obscure obsessions from over the decades, including some that I’d almost forgotten about myself. (I gave a short speech myself just beforehand, but that mostly consisted of puns referencing the fact that we got married on a canal boat).

Another thing that struck me was that the whole process of getting married wasn’t all as romantic as you might think. A lot of the time is taken up with practical and logistical stuff: making sure the cats’ litter trays have been cleaned out before you leave the house for the night, spending what seems like an eternity in a kilt hire shop watching your fiance’s uncle winding up the staff, and so on.

The Mini Moon

Due to June being very busy for both of us, and the wedding itself being quite expensive, we weren’t sure if we’d have the time or money to go on honeymoon straight afterwards. So we decided to compromise and go on a little trip up north the week after the wedding, possibly going for a more traditional holiday somewhere hot a few months later, once our savings had had time to replenish a bit.

Strangely, whenever I’m packing for a trip where I’m going to be “doing nothing” (and I certainly intended this to be one of those) I end up taking far more stuff with me than I do for trips where I know I’ll be working, or doing a lot of sightseeing, or whatever. I think I just worry that I’m going to get bored, and feel the need to take a large selection of books, DS games, etc.

cottage

As it turned out, we couldn’t have asked for a better holiday home, or better weather. We stayed in a cottage in the midddle of nowhere (well, technically it was next to one of the main roads through the Highlands, but main roads through the Highlands can still be quieter than our residential backwater in Edinburgh, so we weren’t disturbed much by the traffic). Although it had a few interesting features – cold taps that sometimes ran hot, a staircase so steep that a sign on the wall warned that it was best to use it as if it was a ladder – that was all far outweighed by the lovely location and great facilities.

And the hot tub.

hottub

We spent a lot of time in the hot tub, and a lot of time lying in the garden in the sun afterwards. I made a valiant attempt at clearing the huge backlog of transport-related books that I’d been meaning to read, but it was no use – due to buying yet more of them in Kingussie and Aviemore, the backlog ominously grew even bigger.

Although we’d generously been given a huge selection of presents from our not-very-traditional wedding list on Amazon (which included plenty of board games and other fun stuff in among the more normal household items), we’d also been given quite a bit of money and gift vouchers, and we took advantage of the cottage’s surprisingly good wifi to spend some of that.

In addition to buying some sensible items, we also blew some of the money on hoes 😉 .

hoes

Our main outing on the mini-moon was a day out on the Strathspey Railway, which runs regular steam trains from Aviemore up to Broomhill, stopping at Boat of Garten on the way. In addition to the lovely views of the Cairngorms there was some interesting old railway equipment in various states of repair to look at as we puffed our way along the valley. We had lunch in the restaurant car on the way. Doing things like that always feels classy to me, as if I’m in Murder on the Orient Express… or better still, on the Excess Express from Paper Mario: the Thousand Year Door.

steamtrain

 

New car

I decided it was about time to upgrade my ageing Skoda Fabia to something better. The Fabia’s been a good car mostly, certainly better than the Fiat Punto I had before, but it was getting to the age where it was accumulating niggling problems at an ever increasing rate: one of the back doors had got jammed shut (again) which, aside from being annoying in itself, would have needed fixed before the MoT; the body was no longer watertight and I would frequently find the carpets saturated with water or the inside of the windscreen soaking wet after a rainy night; the screen wash tank had started to leak and there was possibly a slow coolant leak as well as I’d had to top it up a few times in the past year or two; the engine was sounding more and more reluctant to start and I was worried that some day it would no longer start at all; the handbrake seemed to fail every year and need expensive repairs no matter how gentle I tried to be with it. Worst of all, the stereo I installed had broken and I was stuck with an old one with no aux input to connect my phone to!

The engine itself still seemed to work OK (it had been pretty reliable, only needing a few replacement ignition coils over the years) but had racked up over 110,000 miles which is a fair amount for a small petrol. So, with the wedding budget finally under control, it was time to look at new cars.

I didn’t expect to buy one so quickly. But on our very first afternoon of browsing car supermarkets, this grabbed my attention:

car

I’d been wanting to upgrade to something much more fuel efficient, and this eco model Seat Ibiza seemed to fit the bill nicely. Its carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre are so low that it’s exempt from road tax (even better than Laura’s £30 road tax Leon), and whilst I wasn’t naive enough to expect it to actually manage the quoted 80 miles per gallon on realistic journeys, it would certainly be a lot more economical to run than anything I’d owned previously. It also met my other requirements – 5 door, no smaller than the Skoda… and of course an aux socket on the stereo! Plus it’s a much nicer colour than my old beige car, which probably swayed me a bit.

I arranged to buy it the same day, after a quick test drive to make sure the 3 cylinder 1.2 litre engine (very small for a diesel) wouldn’t feel too underpowered. It was fine – while it’s not going to win any awards for acceleration, it actually feels quite a lot more powerful than either of my previous cars, so I was happy with that. I also checked the crash safety ratings after reading that one of the reasons this model is so efficient is that it’s unusually light – but thankfully, it has very good Euro NCAP ratings, so there’s obviously more to crash safety than just the weight.

(I won’t bore you with the details of the long saga of waiting for the small dent in the bonnet to be repaired that ensued after that. Ordinarily I would have been pretty annoyed and frustrated to have to wait two weeks longer than planned to pick up my new car, but since I ended up being stuck in bed for most of those two weeks with a horrible dose of flu followed by a chest infection, I had other things on my mind. I also lost my voice for a while, which gave me a good excuse not to have to bother with all the interminable phone calls to the dealer and get Laura to deal with them instead 😉 . And at least they were nice enough to throw in a full tank of diesel and a packet of Mini Eggs as compensation for the delay).

Of course, the most interesting question for me was: what would the fuel consumption actually be like? I didn’t expect to get 80mpg (except possibly when driving downhill at a constant speed of 45mph in top gear with a strong wind behind me for miles and miles) but I was hoping it would at least be impressive compared to my own car. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve had the car a few weeks now and have been keeping a close eye on the miles per gallon indicator on the trip computer*. On journeys in town, with a lot of stopping and starting and waiting at traffic lights, the mpg still usually gets into the high 40s (the Skoda would have been at about 30mpg on those trips). On medium length journeys with a mix of city streets and motorway/dual carriageway type roads, it manages well over 60mpg – in fact, nearly 70 on my journey to work this morning. Pretty good for a standard non-hybrid, reasonably sized car.

The trip computer shows a miles-per-gallon value that the Skoda's one could only dream of. If trip computers can dream, that is. They're probably not that advanced yet.

The trip computer shows a miles-per-gallon value that the Skoda’s one could only dream of. If trip computers can dream, that is. They’re probably not that advanced yet.

One of the fuel saving features, though, is slightly disconcerting. If at any point you put it in neutral with the handbrake on and take your foot off the clutch, the engine turns off to save fuel. The first time this happened I thought it had stalled and was about to hastily try to restart it before the lights turned green, but as soon as I put my foot back on the clutch the engine came back on very quickly. At first I shied away from letting it do this, scared that the engine wouldn’t come back on and I’d be stranded in the middle of the road, but after experimenting with it a bit I got less cautious. I use it all the time now when I’m going to be stationary for more than half a minute or so, and the engine always restarts quicker than I can even put it back in gear. Sometimes it restarts itself before I put the clutch in – I assume this is to make sure the battery doesn’t get drained too much.

(I think memories of my mum’s long drawn out attempts to start her ageing Fiat Uno on damp days probably contributed to my anxiety that the engine wouldn’t restart! Actually I had similar worries when I first got a gas boiler without a pilot light, that it wouldn’t be able to light the burner reliably. One of these days I’ll convince my brain that this is the 21st century and being able to start a diesel engine or light a gas burner automatically is really a solved problem now).

The most important improvement over the Skoda! Seen here with tasteful purple cable attached.

The most important improvement over the Skoda! Seen here with tasteful purple cable attached. (Sidenote: it turns out that Windows really doesn’t like it if you try to call a file ‘aux.jpg’!)

One thing though: no Haynes manual for this model! I guess that’s no big deal as I never ended up doing as much work myself on my previous cars as I’d planned to do (just replacing the spark plugs and coils, changing the oil, and fixing the heater blower) but I’ve always had a Haynes manual… I feel lost and disorientated looking under the bonnet without one. Much as I like some of the other books that Haynes have branched out into, it seems they’ve dropped the ball a bit on their core business of keeping up with new car models, sadly (I noticed they don’t do one for Laura’s car either).

* yes, I know trip computers tend to overestimate the miles per gallon, so it’s probably not really quite as good as it looks from those numbers, but it’s still by far the easiest way of seeing roughly how much fuel you’re using on each individual journey.

 

2015

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted much. About 2 years, in fact. I kind of want to change that… I was randomly reading back the old posts, and it struck me that (a) some of them aren’t half as bad as I remembered, and (b) I used to really enjoy writing this thing.

I’ve also got some other topics I want to start covering, some of which will be a challenge to write about, but hopefully worthwhile. And, even though it seems to be kind of considered bad blog etiquette, I want to get back to writing about any random topic that takes my fancy again.

But first things first… what have I been up to? I’ve been pretty busy… not busy enough to justify hardly posting here maybe, but still busy.

I bought a house. And spent quite a bit of my free time working on it. Nothing major, because it didn’t need anything very major done, thankfully… mainly just decoration and so on.

I got engaged to Laura, on 30th August 2014, the 3rd anniversary of our first date :). Wedding scheduled for May 2016, so still a bit of time left to save up, organise, panic, all that kind of thing.

I got kittens… Lily and Luna, who are now fully grown (though still quite tiny) cats. Like buying the house, as soon as I got them it seemed weird that I hadn’t done it much earlier. We always had cats when I was growing up but I never had any during the years I lived alone, and it’s only now that I’m starting to realise how much I missed having autonomous little balls of fur around the house that come and find me for cuddles whenever they feel like it.

I explored lots of amazing places. I used to post about urban exploration on here quite a bit, until I split off all those posts into a separate urbex blog instead (which is partly why this blog went so quiet). Anyway, after a bit of a dry spell early last year, I got back into it in a big way for the last few months of 2014, mainly exploring the abandoned railway tunnels under Edinburgh and Glasgow that I’d been wanting to do for years but didn’t think I’d ever be able to get into, but also covering a few more buildings as well as my first abandoned mine.

I travelled more. After my Berlin trip, I was certain I would have to do more city hostelling across Europe, having discovered how much I enjoyed it. I’ve managed 3 hostelling trips a year since then, mostly piggybacking off work trips as I did for the first one. In 2012 was Berlin, Madrid, then Seville (plus Madrid again). 2013 saw me visit Dubrovnik, Leipzig (and return to Berlin just after), and Munich (great beer cellars!). 2014’s destinations were Stockholm, Barcelona, and… Stockholm again (hey, that’s the downside of letting work pay for it, it means they get to decide where I go too, and sometimes it’s the same place I was just at! At least it was a nice one). It’s something I still want to do a lot more of and have plans for this year, though right now I’m torn between returning to places I really liked (Berlin especially, and the Spanish cities) and trying somewhere new.

I joined the Beltane Fire Society, as a Steward. BFS is something of an Edinburgh institution, putting on the famous Beltane Fire Festival that takes place on Calton Hill at the end of April every year, as well as the Samhuinn parade on Hallowe’en. This was one of those things I’d been meaning to get involved with for ages, and I’m glad I finally took the plunge in 2014. I met some really awesome people and had a lot of fun, as well as contributing to the running of the festivals.

I made some progress with my creative projects, not necessarily in the ways I had planned to, but I think I’m gradually narrowing my focus from the ridiculous number of projects I had on the go (and mostly not going anywhere) 2 or 3 years ago, onto a few that I genuinely want to pursue further. More on those later…

 

It was twenty years ago today…

(… actually it wasn’t, because I didn’t get this post written in time for that. It was still twenty years ago this month though).

I’ve kept a diary ever since the start of 1994. I can’t remember exactly why I started… I think I’d been given a little blue diary for Christmas and rather than use it for keeping track of appointments and all that boring stuff, I decided I was going to write down what happened every day in it. (I didn’t have many appointments to keep track of back then anyway. I was 14. All of my weeks were basically the same as each other).

It wasn’t actually the first time I’d decided to do this. I also tried to do it in 1991 and 1993, but both times I only got a few weeks into the year before abandoning it through laziness. 1994 was the first year I actually managed to keep it up for a whole 365 days, to my slight amazement. But by the time 1994 rolled to a close, it was firmly established as a part of my life. Even only a few months from the beginning, I was finding it interesting to be able to look back and see what I’d been doing every day. For 1995 I bought a much bigger diary (A5 two days to a page) and started writing in much more detail – I had been starting to get frustrated by the lack of space in my 1994 one.

1994-1999: this is how it all started

1994-1999: this is how it all started

I’ve essentially kept doing the same thing ever since. I’m not even 100% sure what I’m doing it for, but after this length of time it would feel really weird to stop. For most years I wrote the full 365 or 366 entries; the only one that’s missing more than a few is 1998. My clinical depression was at its very worst then and even living through the days once seemed bad enough, never mind reliving them for the questionable purpose of writing them down.

2000-2005

2000-2005

I think it was around the year 2000 when I decided how great it would be if I had my entire diary on computer, so I’d be able to search through it easily, and in case the original paper copies ever got lost or damaged. And so began what my incredulous mother dubbed “The Great Diary Digitisation Project”, as I worked my way through the years, typing in every single entry. (OK, OK… I freely admit I had no life back then and was probably borderline Aspergers!). It was a pretty massive task and I couldn’t always be bothered with it for long, so it took me about 3 years before I “caught up” with myself and had an electronic copy of everything. Over the next several years I managed to fall behind with the typing several more times, and at the start of 2012 I decided to stop writing a paper copy and just type it straight into the computer, which is what I’ve done ever since.

2006-2011: the final paper diaries before the great digital switchover of '12

2006-2011: the final paper diaries before the great digital switchover of ’12

So… yeah. 20 years worth of day descriptions feels like quite a lot of work, and in a way it seems sad that they’ll probably never be of use to anyone other than me. I considered starting a new blog at the beginning of 2014 and posting my diary entry from 20 years previous each day, but I didn’t have to read very far into 1994 to realise that could be a very bad idea! Then I thought “What if I anonymised it first?”, but it would be a hell of a lot of work to do that effectively. In any case, I doubt anyone would be interested in reading it. Most of my life hasn’t been particularly exciting, and at the same time it wouldn’t even have the “This is how a typical Scottish teenager lived in 1994” type of appeal, because I wasn’t a very typical teenager.

I don’t think it would even make much sense to someone without a lot of background information. Here, for example, is the very first entry of 1994 (my writing has come on a bit since then!):

New year’s day. Went to beach twice. Had meat but no beans. Fixed mixer. I won Countdown.

which doesn’t mean a lot, but makes sense to me because I know that we always used to go to my granny’s house in Dundee for New Year, where we would walk her dog on the nearby beach, play her Countdown board game in the evening, and more often than not there would be several broken appliances waiting there for me to fix. (Though I did decide to clarify that it was New Year’s Day, just in case anyone reading didn’t know that the year starts on 1st January).

Oh well. I still enjoy reading back over it from time to time. If nothing else, it reminds me how much better my life is now compared to most times in the past! 🙂

 

New Urban Exploration Site

Over the last few months, an increasing proportion of the posts I’ve written on here (not that there have been very many, which I’m hoping will change this year) have been urban exploration related. I’ve decided to give them a home of their own, as I doubt most of the people who are interested in them will be interested in reading the rest of this blog (and vice versa). So, I give you:

Gcat’s Urbex Site

All of the urbex posts from this blog have been moved across, but there are redirects in place so any links or bookmarks that used to point to them should automatically go to the right place on the new site. There are also many newly written posts describing my exploring adventures over (mostly) the past couple of years, so if that sort of thing interests you, do check it out 🙂