A nice surprise

Gosh! It’s been a while since I last wrote anything. I’ve been rather consumed by my PhD writing since the summer and have been neglecting other aspects of my life. Not to say nothing exciting has happened!

Back in May I found out that one of my photographs had been selected to be the front cover image of the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 ‘Explorer’ map for  Edinburgh. It has since been published and I now have a copy of the map courtesy of OS. It looks great (of course!) and I’m so proud to see my photo there.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to find that OS also chose the photo to be in their 2016 calendar! How cool is that? It was a surprise since OS didn’t tell me that they were selecting it; I found out on Twitter. I was going to ask for a cheeky free copy, but then a few days later one landed n my doormat. Result! Mine is even the November picture (although the photo was taken in February), meaning it ties in nicely with my November blog entry :)


Money raised from the calendar sales will go to the OS’s chosen charity, Holding Little Hands. You can read more about the calendar on the OS blog.

Hiroshima: 70 years ago today

It’s now 70 years since America dropped the first atomic bomb in warfare. The target: Hiroshima. There’s plenty of information, images and debate about the bombing (and the subsequent one of Nagasaki) so I won’t cover that here.

I have, though, written already about my experience meeting a survivor. The suffering – mental and physical – that survivors carry around must be incredible. And in the name of freedom and democracy too.

Only a month after visiting Hiroshima with my friends Neil and Rami, I got to see the vehicle of Hiroshima’s destruction: the Enola Gay . It’s currently on display in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. It is a really beautiful aircraft. Deceptively so. I suppose most warplanes are, to be honest. They are engineering marvels and triumphs of human imagination, ingenuity, endeavour, and purpose. But most are also anonymous. Most of us do not know, even roughly, how many people have died through the power of the aircraft in front of us at a museum, or an airshow. It could be thousands, dozens or none. In that way it’s easy to lose sight of their true purpose: killing.

Not so with the Enola Gay. We don’t know for certain how many people died when it dropped ‘Little Boy’, but estimates range from 90,000 to 160,000 (Source: Wikipedia). Think that over…one aircraft alone accounted for at least 90 thousand deaths.

I beautiful piece of engineering, no doubt. But standing next to it gave me the chills. It made me angry, sad, frightened. An odd sensation to have looking at an inanimate object. But it’s not to blame. We are. Humans. For all that we’re brilliant, we’re also terrible.

R.I.P. the victims of pointless wars.

Some recent Netflix viewing

Ugh, been ill again. FML and all that. Thankfully there’s been some decent sport on The Council Telly (that’s non-satellite/cable TV for non-UK readers) – The Open, The Davis Cup and The Tour de France are, or continue to be, entertaining. But man cannot live on sport alone (I know, right!?). Netflix to the rescue for a few days, then, and here’s what I was watching:


  • Zombieland – excellent and hilarious action comedy with Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Abigail Breslin (and zombies, natch). Rule #2 Double Tap.
  • Whip It – Drew Barrymore directed coming-of-age-rom-com (I suppose?) with Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig and some great cameos. Fun, funny, a bit predictable and nothing we haven’t seen before (overbearing mother, rebellious teen falls out with best friend, it’s the journey not the destination, etc.) but definitely recommended.
  • Obvious Child – described as “hilarious” by one critic I read before watching this, and classified as a romantic comedy. Well, a rom-com perhaps, but not hilarious. It is, however, very sweet and touching. Think Knocked Up but with some real heart. Recommended (but not for the jokes).
  • Hot Girls Wanted – Incongruous in this list, a documentary on young women going into the porn industry in the USA. Hardly an eye-opener, but it is pretty depressing nonetheless.
  • Clean Spirit – In the Heart of the Tour – A fascinating documentary following the pro cycling team Argos-Shimano during the 2013 Tour de France (topical!), focusing on their top sprinter Andre Kittel. No narration, great camerawork, subtitled and recommended even for non cyclists.
  • Happy Gilmore – Classic(?) Adam Sandler comedy about a crap ice hockey player-turned-Pro-Am golfer (also topical!). Fun and ridiculous with a great villain in Christopher McDonald, the seasoned pro who’ll stop at nothing to win The Championsip.
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil – I totally missed this when it came out, but absolutely 5 star recommendation. Comedy horror, brilliantly done, with Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as the eponymous heroes. I literally lol’d all the way through. Great film.


  • Game of Thrones – Season 5 [blinkbox] – Well, I sat and watched this in two sittings, so I must’ve enjoyed it, but to be honest it ended with a feeling of dissatisfaction. I worked out what it was when I read the Atlantic’s series covering the episodes…Ramsay Bolton appearing all the bloody time! Anyway, nice ending, can’t wait for the final season.
  • Mad Men – Season 7 (Part 2) [blinkbox] – Speaking of final seasons, Mad Men finished after, what, 8 years? What a wonderful show. and the only TV drama I’ve really got into in a big way. A teary final couple of episodes, but what else would I expect. Watch it and love it.
  • Bojack Horseman – Season 2 – Absolutely quality (in the Scottish sense) cartoon on Netflix. Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris and Aaron Paul head this superbly well written surreal black satire on Hollywood, fame and media. Again, much lol’ing, but with a tragic main character and puns. Genius, and hope it continues. Here’s a trailer:

Scottish Brewery Locations

In a fit of uber-procrastination, and inspired by a forum topic I was reading today, I decided to put together a map of the locations of Scottish breweries!

I’m not a beer drinker, so this was really nothing more than a way to avoid writing my PhD thesis, but I’ve also added in the 3 cider breweries in Scotland since that is what I do drink.

The list of beer breweries came from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_breweries_in_Scotland), and are based on postcodes alone, unless there’s already a Google Map location or the website for the brewery had a more accurate position. All locations are clickable and will bring up a link to the brewery website. Information is correct as of 4th June, 2015.

The map is also public, so if you have a Google account you can make changes to it, and update it with more information if you wish. Please share around and, of course, enjoy responsibly!

I’m a winner!

And not just according to my mum, either!

I didn’t spot the email at first. Gmail kindly sorts some emails automatically into “Social” and “Promotions” groups, for which you don’t get a new email notification. I generally treat these groups as spam, and ignore them.

But Lo! Today I found an email from Ordnance Survey. I had to read it a couple of times:

Dear Kit
Thank you for entering OS Photofit. I am delighted to tell you that your photo has been selected to feature on the first phase of our newly branded OS Explorer maps. Your photo will feature on Explorer 350 Edinburgh.

The new covers are already going into production and we hope to see the new designs rolled out across our retailers and available on our website from early summer.

As soon as they are available, we will send you a complimentary copy of the map featuring your photo and name credit.

Well…that was unexpected! The OS Photofit competition is basically a clever way of the Ordnance Survey (OS) getting free photos (i.e. they don’t have to cough up a licence) to put on the covers of their maps. Photos are uploaded by area of the UK, and voted on, by the public with a final decision made by OS. This was the photo I submitted for Edinburgh:


The final map cover will have the edges heavily cropped, since the map images are in portrait, not landscape, but that should show Salisbury Crags (the rocky bit, if you’re not familiar with Edinburgh) with the Tron (black spire) and Edinburgh Castle in the background.

The viewpoint for the photo is a great spot to be. If you fancy popping up there yourself, it’s easy to find. Just take the steps up the city facing side of Arthur’s Seat and when it levels off a little, you can turn off the path. Here’s a map:

I’ve had a lot of luck this year with photography. There are many, many, many wonderful photos of Edinburgh, so I’m pretty chuffed that one of mine will be on the cover of the 1:25,000 OS map! And, of course, a hearty congratulations to all the other winners!

You can read more about the winners on the OS blog: http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/blog/2015/05/latest-osphotofit-winners-announced/

And the full selection of winning photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/osmapping/sets/72157649182501294/

8 weeks on…

It’s been close to 8 weeks since I had a life-changing operation to fix a problem that’s been with me for 4 years. Reading back my last post, right before going into hospital, I can see how anxious I was!

And I was pretty scared. I remember lying on the bed waiting to be knocked out and not being able to control my shaking. 8 weeks later and I still have an uncertain future.

The first couple of weeks were, literally, agony. My life revolved around lying in bed watching Netflix, taking medication (3 different painkillers, an antibiotic, an incontinence pill, and mild laxatives, not to mention anti blood clotting and anti nausea jags in hospital), eating and emptying the catheter bag. Having the catheter was probably the single most regularly painful and inconvenient thing to deal with over 2 weeks. The relief when it came out was amazing!

But that was only one thing dealt with. I had another 3 or 4 weeks of poor sleep, regular pain and generally sitting around looking at the best weather of the year (so far) from inside the house.

I don’t think anything prepares you for how slow recovery from major surgery can be. I was told 6-8 weeks for pretty much full recovery, but while things are certainly much much better now than, say, 7 weeks ago, I still feel a long way off being recovered. I think this has been the hardest part: dealing with expectations of what I should vs. what I am feeling like.

Dealing with pain on a regular basis (I still am, but manage without painkillers now), poor sleep, boredom, physical inactivity, and (despite my wonderful friends visiting regularly) a lack of human interaction day-to-day all takes somewhat of a mental toll. It’s hard to pick oneself back up, shake off the beating and get back to something resembling a ‘normal’ life.

Added to this, I am not certain the operation has – or will – fully resolved the problem. I’m certainly very concerned about one aspect, and while I try and ignore it, it’s almost impossible to do so. I will see the surgeon in a couple of months to review this, so there’s still time yet for improvement.

In the meantime, this is my last week booked off work, and I’ve been up and about trying to get back into the swing of leading a normal active life. Being back at work will help; it will certainly keep me extremely busy, and I’m looking forward to not being on my own for large parts of the day.

So, onward, and hopefully upward. The adage of ‘one step at a time’ feels appropriate here. As does ‘keep on trucking’.

A new chapter starts today

When I wrote this post originally, it was full of self-pity. I haven’t written a particularly personal blog post in a while. Partly because I’m generally pretty happy, and party because, frankly, who wants to hear about my problems?

But I’ve got a lot to pity myself about today, hence the post. Today I’m going for life-changing surgery. An operation which will, I hope, let me have sex again for the first time in 4 years. But it’s not without its risks, and it’s a long road to recovery, with no guarantee of success. It’s been a lonely journey to this point, as I’m sure you can imagine, and when I first wrote this down I complained that I’d wasted 4 years of my life. Alone and incapable of intimacy.

But then I had a conversation with a very good friend of mine. She said to me: “You’re the strongest person I know“. This was followed up by telling me what a dick I’d been to her, but that’s another story…

I’ve never thought of myself as strong though. I’m really scared about this operation. Not the terror that comes with standing on the edge of a cliff, but the relentless certainty that my body, and my life, will never been the same again. But really, I suppose this is what people with chronic illnesses like me face on a regular basis. I honestly don’t think you have much choice but to be strong in order to cope with the fact that your life will never be the same as it was. You either make the decision to do what you can with your life and have the strength to cope with the day-to-day shit you have to put up with, or you give up and live it in misery and despair. Or worse. Perhaps for some this isn’t a choice they can actually make, since the mind often plays dirty tricks. But that is, again, another story.

My friend also reminded me that I’ve done an amazing amount in the past 4 years. I’ve made many new friends, nearly finished gaining my doctorate, visited wonderful places, done cool new things, and embraced a new hobby. I’ve done all this on my own, with the strength I have, and actually for most of that I’ve not felt that I needed support, although sometimes it would’ve been really nice to share some of these experiences with someone special.

But today marks the start of a new chapter in my life (what a cliché!). After the operation, assuming it all goes well and I recover nicely over the next couple of months, I’ll be (sort of) back to normal. That is to say: I’ll still be a slightly socially awkward ginger kid, with a weird Scottish/West Country accent and low self esteem. But at least everything will work again. Hopefully it’s like riding a bike; once you’ve learned, you don’t forget how! Not that I’ve ridden a bike much in the past few years either, but that’s another story ;) Wish me luck.