Sunday, 22 December 2013

A time for memories

December is a time for memories for many people, me included. A time to remember those no longer with us, a time to reflect on the past in good ways and bad. This time of year takes me many directions. Today I spent some time looking back at my youth and the magic of Christmas.

In particular, I remember how hard my mum worked to make Christmas special for me. We didn't have much money, but my present pile always seemed huge. I've no idea what sacrifices she made to give me so much, but I now know it must have been considerable. I remember my mum working 2, maybe 3 jobs to make ends meet, while my father drank his wages away.

I remember waking up one Christmas to see a Ringo Starr drum set sitting in the corner of the room. I remember setting up scalextric on the dinner table and sending the cars spinning off the corners into the distance! I remember the magnetic football game which was a favourite for a long time (Subbuteo was too expensive). So many toys - Maraccas (I'm guessing that must've been my big brother's idea :) ), Meccano, A toy projector, A cowboy outfit, Spirograph, cars and spaceships. Captain Scarlet vehicles, board games, toy soldiers, cap guns, airfix kits, clackers, drawing books,

I remember the racing bike which wasn't really a surprise as my mum had asked me if I wanted a racer or a chopper. Even then I could see a fad for what it was... I remember wondering why it never arrived and my mum saying it might have got mislaid. I remember Mrs McIvor, the neighbour who I visited often suddenly deciding not to let me in the house one day - boy was I miffed... I sussed out later where the bike was being hidden :-)

I remember as time went on searching the cupboards for presents, opening the with the stealth of a secret agent and taping them back up again with similar stealth... and STILL being surprised with what appeared on Christmas morning.

I remember spending my time looking through the toy section of the John Moores catalogue shortly after it landed on the  doorstep, so many toys I DIDN'T get , but I was never disappointed, and never said 'I want'. I knew to be grateful for what I received, and even now I'm still grateful, for a mother who tried her best to give me the best childhood she could. Just wish I had the opportunity to tell her she succeeded.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

My tattoo experience

Well, London was amazing... incredible... unbelievable... Think of every similar word and that may go some way to describing it... So I just HAD to mark it somehow. Something permanent. Something that would be a living reminder...

I could plant a tree, build a monument, sponsor a tiger... None of those really floated my boat.

A good friend of mine once suggested that I get a tattoo so that when I was in an old folks home dribbling into my lap, the young nurse giving me a bed bath would know I'd done something with my life... Something special.

A tattoo it was then. I did some research into the subject and asked around for recommendations. I investigated the process and drew up a short list of potential providers (yes I'm a planner,not one to be overly spontaneous!)

I considered designs carefully. This would be a permanent feature after all. I wanted the ParalympicsGB lion, because I was so proud to be part of it. I wanted the Paralympic Agitos as I felt the Olympic Rings were only for Olympians. And I wanted 'London 2012' for those who needed help with the association.

I did 9 designs before I came up with the version which said 'tattoo me'.

I discussed the options with my wife and together, we visited tattoo parlour #1. Studio IX in Grangemouth was a small shop, but clean and friendly. I talked about the options and pricing with the receptionist. I thought for all of 10 seconds before saying 'book me in'.

About 5 days later I entered the shop. I was nervous as I didn't know what to expect... Most certainly discomfort but how bad?

I watched as my tattoo artist (Murray) finished some work on a forearm dragon... He was skilful. Patient. Craftsman like. What I could see was beautiful and I remained pleased with my choice.

When he was done, Murray and I had a brief chat then he had a rest break while the station was reset... cleaned, cleared and made ready. The nerves were still jangling but I had a chocolate bar and a fizzy drink to keep the blood sugars up, so all was good.

Murray brought me from the waiting room into the parlour and explained the process. We discussed the design and tried out his outline... First attempt looked great. He'd done his prep well. I sat in the chair and got a lesson in tattooing... The machinery, the needles, the inks, how it all worked, how it would feel. He put me at rest.

My wife sat in the chair opposite to watch my reaction.. She was contemplating a tattoo for herself so this might make or break her commitment to doing it!

Murray began his work and after a couple of minutes said 'how's that?' He hadn't mentioned cricket so I presumed he was looking for feedback... Not bad I replied truthfully. 'Good' he said... 'It doesn't get worse than that!'

And he was more or less right. Some scratchy nippy, tender bits towards the end as he completed his shading work, but by then I'd been in the chair for an hour and a half. No blood, no screaming, just some rock music and.a bit of scratching...

I was delighted with the outcome... The colours worked well and the positioning was good. Murray wrapped it tenderly in cling film and went through the care procedure... Bepanthen or double base cream... Keep it moist, avoid bathing, keep it clean, don't scratch etc etc... Pretty much on a par with my prior research. Photo 1 is the work just after completion in the shop...

And photo 2 is a couple of hours later after a bit of cleaning...


That night I put on a bandage to protect the bed sheets and next morning it looked like photo 3!

I thought I'd sucked all the colour out of it! But thankfully on closer inspection the tat looked as awesome as it had been when I went to bed.

4 days on the flaking started... A small amount of scabbing / loose skin.

7 days on the loose skin had more or less gone.

8 days on and I'm still waiting for the itching I'd been warned about, but other than a bit of minor itching which I'd avoided scratching, nothing!

I'm told it'll be healed in 16 or 17 days but it almost feels healed already.., but I'll continue with the washing and doublebase cream 3 times a day for another week at least.

I love my tattoo. It's a permanent memory of an amazing time... I'm glad I will always have it there to remind me of some very happy times with some amazing friends!


Friday, 25 May 2012

Which way to Woolwich Barracks?

Well, well, well... it's been a funny old year and I haven't blogged much but as many you of you will by now know, I have been selected to represent my country at one of the greatest sporting shows on earth, and a home games to boot. Since the day Sandy Gregory said to me 'you might classify for the disabled squad' it's been a rollercoaster of epic proportions.

I vividly remember the first camp I went to to be classified... Thanks to Helen George I was given the opportunity to be seen by Tim Hazel during one of her Talent ID weekend (it's all HER fault! :) ). I remember Tim's supportive comments, but what was most interesting was my reaction to being classified disabled by Pauline Betteridge... I'd never considered myself disabled... you see, few disabled people do! We get on with life, keep taking the painkillers, and make the best of what we have to work with and try to be as 'normal' as possible. Once classified I had to accept my issues... it was a bitter sweet moment... yay! I'm disabled!... oh...

I vividly remember the first time I wore the GB top. Proud as punch and twice as happy. I shot like a twat that shoot. I lost solidly in the first head to head match. Game over... I was so upset. I felt like I'd let everyone down, my team, my coaches - how naieve I was... nobody cared that much but me. It simply meant too much to me. I got a good talking to from my good mate and fellow archer Mick Beard (he's on here somewhere :) ) I've never forgotten the time out he took to put his arm around me and kick me verbally in the ass.... it meant a lot, and still does.

I remember too the time I went to the FITA coaching conference in Korea. We visit Seoul and went round the Olympic Museum in the Olympic Park there... the hairs on my neck stood on end and I decided there and then I wanted to do this, be part of the greates sporting show on earth.

Mick went on to Beijing and I didn't because AGB (or certain senior people in AGB) didn't want to take the risk on me not getting an international classification... (despite the fact that others had done it before me) I got it in June that year, but by that time AGB and their preparations for Beijing had moved on without me, but I didn't lose faith in the dream.

From that point on I gathered good people around me. Positive people, people who could help me. I found that help was out there, but was rarely brought to me - I had to dig, ask questions, be a bit cheeky and get what help I could by hook or by crook.

Anyway - long story short. This year I was invited to the selection shoot for London. The scary part began. My first selection shoot was a disaster. I shot poorly as I was ill. My wife had been ill all week and I was fated to get it. I finished day 1, 60 points behind 3rd place. they cancelled the second day due to extreme weather, and I was never so glad. I could barely stand let alone shoot straight. Someone somewhere was looking out for me!

Selection shoot two was 'interesting'. I shot average on day 1, but the guy I needed to catch, David Gardner, a good friend and good archer, shot a blinder! So I dropped to nearly 100 points behind!!! I felt like it was game over. I took myself away that evening and played Half Life 2 for 4 hours... I killed things and blew sh*t up. I felt sorry for myself, but I wasn't ready to give up.

I was frustrated as I'd beaten all the guys just weeks before. I KNEW I could do this. I knew I was capable of being the best in the team. I'd done it the year before in the selection shoot for the Worlds, I wiped the board on that occasion, and I wasn't done yet.

Day 2 I shot well. I got my head down and just worked the arrows. I won the majority of my matches. I went from 100 points behind to 30 points behind. I got more points than all of the guys I was shooting against - this was the determined, never give up, me. I was knackered, sore, tired, losing the will to live, but I fought for every point, every match.

I left the range that day happy that I'd done my best. I'd given 100%. I'd given the head coach a headache. I was still behind, but I'd shown my mettle in the head to heads - and that's where medals are won and lost, but I was set in my heart that it wasn't enough and that I wouldn't be in London.

I was just pleased that through this journey, my wife Hazel (coach with the squad) WOULD be there and I was glad that I'd taken her on a journey that would give her that life experience and opportunity. I was ready to go back to the day job.

On Monday I received a phone call from the Performance Director Sarah Symington. I nearly hit the deck when she told me I'd made the team. My first thought was 'WOW!', my second thought was for my good friend Dave Gardner who'd been dropped... bitter sweet.

Since Monday it's been a blast... keeping it quiet, knowing yet being unable to say. Waiting for the day when I could share the news with my friends and family, and yesterday was a day of outpouring of good wishes and good vibes.

Thanks to everyone around me, I'll be going to London! It still doesn't seem real...

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Who got me to where I am?

I've been lucky enough to travel to various places with the British Paralympic Archery squad, and I was thinking the other day how much I owe to others who have helped me get where I have... and I decided to start listing them...

Number 1 on the list has to be my adoring wife, Hazel. She's been my rock, my life, my heart and soul for many years and she continues to support me in more ways than I can list in words.

Number 2 has to be my family... my Brother and Sister and their families for believing in me and encouraging me, my mother and father in law and my wife's siblings, they're all an amazing bunch of people and I'm blessed to have them in my life. Some say you can't choose your family, well in my case I definitely would!

Number 3 has to be my good friends - again I am blessed with so many honest, kind, caring people. Real friends. True friends. The kind of friends who would go out of their way for me, without a second thought.

4 - Archery GB of course, and all of the staff and volunteers who make a real difference to the people I share a team with. Coaches, physios, psychologists, doctors, luggers, carriers, pullers, stalwarts every one who have never wavered in their belief in me. And of course my team mates past and present for thousands of hours of good fun and hard work.

Related to that is the National Lottery without who's support, we'd have much poorer facilities and much fewer opportunities to train together, and the British Paralympic Association who help us prepare for the big events.

5 - Scottish Agricultural College and it's staff who made it possible for me to work part time and train part time. My colleagues are always supportive and interested in what I'm doing and where I'm going to next! I'm also a regular in the SAC staff news letter!

6 - Scottish Institute of Sport (and in particular the East of Scotland Institute of Sport) for their support and guidance with Physio, Psych and Strength and Conditioning amongst many other things. A huge thanks to John Marchant my sports psych who turned my world around.

7 - Jim Lawless (author of taming tigers) who's motivational talk started it all for me and made me believe that such dreams were not only possible, but achievable!

8 - Beecraigs country park - for providing me with the best practice range in the country over the last 4 years free of charge and making it possible for me to have out of hours access too! Whatever I've asked of them, they've never said no!

9 - Scottish Archery Association - for providing funds for me to cover travel to test and selection events this year

10 - The Worshipful Company of Fletchers - for providing me with grant funding to buy new limbs last year. They do amazing work for disabled archers up and down the country.

11  - Alistair Whittingham and Edinburgh University Center for Sport and Exercise for providing me with excellent winter training facilities.

12 - Werner Beiter archery products for providing me with kit at discounted prices.

13 - Graham Harris at Clickers archery for providing me with kit at discounted prices.

14 - Arrowhead UK - for letting me try their excellent chestguard way back when, and since then providing amazing customer service.

15 - Pino Reverzani of KFA trading for introducing me to Eli Vanes and providing me with test product.

16 - Balbardie Archers for keeping my feet on the ground, for being a friendly and accomodating club, and for all of the distraction training!

Hmm... that's quite a list and I suspect there's some I have forgotten! Isn't it wonderful to have so many good people around? Thank you one and all!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

I like to start off a year by looking at the positives... What's this? The grunpy old archer perhaps not so grumpy? (Thosw who really know me, know that I am generally positive in outlook anyway :o) )

Positive number 1
I'm still here! Always a good start to the year when you're still breathing I think. I imagine starting off a year in a state of rigor mortis probably sucks.

Positive number 2
I have an amazing, loving, kind, caring, generous, gorgeous (etc. etc. etc.) wife. Some people take their partners for granted, especially after a few years of marriage, but I give thanks every day for the gods of fate who brought us together and somehow blinded her and removed her better sense to allow her to marry me :o) I tell her I love her every single day. And I do. With all my heart and soul.

Positive number 3
I have a loving, caring family (and family in-law) with whom I enjoy a wonderful relationship. They're all good fun and generally positive people. I feel sorry for those who have been unlucky enough not to be blessed with a lovely family.

Positive number 4
I'm in reasonable health... nothing has fallen off in the intervening 12 months. It's all looking slightly more work and saggy in places, but 'not too bad for my advancing years'. Last year was a tough one - hitting the big five-oh! did affect me somewhat emotionally, and I'm finding myself ever more aware of my own mortality and of those around me, but fingers crossed there's plenty of mileage in the old tyres yet!

Positive number 5
My friends and family have stayed relatively health in the last 12 months. The well-being of those I love is intensely important to me, and it's good to know they're doing well.

Positive number 6
I have no debts. WEEEEE! Not many people can say that these days. I've been debt free for some years now, but it never gets old. Long may it continue. I know it's a privilege, not a right, and I'm thankful for the lifestyle choices and general good luck that have led me here.

Positive number 7
I have fun. Every day. I wake up and thank god I'm alive. I don't excel at much, but I enjoy what I do.

Positive number 8
I have a good job which pays the bills, and which I enjoy (mostly!). I've had times when I woke up feeling sick at the thought of going to work, stressed out. panicky. Those years are long gone and having gone through them I'm able to appreciate the work I do now.

Positive number 9
I have massive opportunities in front of me to fulfill my dreams and desires. All I need to do is go out there and make them happen. 2012 is an exciting year. I will travel. I will see new things and meet new friends. I will be challenged and do scary things, and I will meet those challenges and fears head on.

Life doesn't get much better.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Mac virgins...

Thought it might be useful to you Mac virgins if I gave you a list of some of the apps I use regularly...

Evernote - it works on Mac, iphone, ipad, android, etc - great for synching notes between devices

Dropbox - Share files across devices... again, great for synching information. 2GB storage free...

TextWrangler - handy text editor

Audacity - Audio recording and editing

VLC - Multimedia player that plays just about anything

Miro - another media player -

Perian - improves quicktime to support multiple other formats -

CoconutBattery - utility for keeping an eye on the health of your battery

Doubletwist - if you have an android device, this is good for syncing stuff to your android platform (music, phtos, etc)

Filezilla - ftp/sftp client

Google quick search - never look for an app in the applications folder again! - this is probably one of my favourite apps.

Handbrake - DVD ripper and video transcoder -

Mactheripper - Another DVD ripper -

Gimp (needs X11) - quirk but powerful graphics editor -

Inkscape - vector graphics editor -

Keepass - Password security / storage -

Truecrypt - If you need to encrypt disks -

Neooffice - like openoffice, but a mac osx build -

Stuffitexpander - for handling zip, rar, tar, gzip, bzip archives etc -

- disk imaging -

Carbon Copy Cloner - another disk imager -

- instant messaging client -

- bittorrent client -

ClamXav - antivirus -

- for those old apps that still need X11. X11 is built into OS X, but not always the most up to date version -

That's it really.... more MAC hints and tips to follow!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The secrets of success

I had a discussion with a good friend of mine a couple of years ago about forgiveness. In particular, self forgiveness...

We strive to attain our goals and sometimes fall short. For this outrageous and unacceptable failure to perform, we beat ourselves violently. We talk about our failures, we go over our failures, we upset ourselves about our failures, regardless of whether or not the failure was actually our fault or not.... well... some of us do!

It's considered "human" or perhaps just "british" to be self defacing and self punishing, talk talk down our successes and talk up our failures.

Well, not for me!! I like to talk about my successes, because it feels good to succeed. I make no apology for it. Of course, no one wants to be seen as a braggard and arrogant, but please understand that it's OK to say 'I did that well, and I'm happy with it' It's ok to smile and pat yourself on the back for reaching your goals.

I also like to forgive myself my failures. Being somewhat disabled, there are days when I'm in pain, when my body doesn't want to do the things I'm encouraging it to do, when antagonistic muscles want to have their say, when things are going on in my life which distracts me from my objectives and leaves me in a poor place to perform. Under these circumstances it's OK to perform below par!

As yourself some questions - did you do your best? Could you have done any better? Did you work as hard as you could? If the answer is YES, then I'm sorry to break it to you, but that's the best you could be on that particularly day. It's disappointing, of course, and you may feel bad for a period of time, but for goodness sake make it minutes or hours rather than days!! For your own sanity, for your own peace of mind, take yourself back to a place and time when you did well and remember that time. SEE yourself performing well and replace those bad, destructive thoughts with thoughts of slick, easy performance and forgive yourself.

I remember when  I won my first proper medals for my country at an international event - I won two, and they were both Gold. My friend asked me if self-forgiveness was my only secret... I said no, and for those few one or two who read my blog, I hereby share my 'secrets to success'.

1. Forgive yourself. As above. Enough said. Be kind to yourself, talk nicely to yourself... you'll be amazed at how it can change your outlook on life.

2. Set realistic goals.... You should have a different set of goals depending on how you feel, how the weather is, whatever factors affect you. I usually have 3 sets of goals - my personal best, for when I'm on top of my game, an average, for most days, and a 'bearable' for those days when I'm not at my best or the weather is poor, but above which I will accept that this is the best I can expect.

3. Work harder than your opponents. This is no surprise to any elite athlete. Everything you do that your opponent doesn't do, has to give you an advantage. Whether it's better equipment setup or more practice time, it's all going to give you the edge. Act boldly, and act today.

4. Believe you're better than you currently are, and strive to be better than you are. I'm endlessly surprised at the ability of the human being. How many new world records are set every year? HUNDREDS! Why? Well some of it is because technology is helping, but most of it is because the best people do not limit themselves to the barriers set by those who came before.

Small anecdote here: My wife used to shoot well, but never quite getting to 'Grand Master' status. She was hovering around 1200 scores. On our way to a tournament one day I told her I believed her to be capable of 1260. I spent most of the journey explaining why I believed her to be capable. Now 1200-1260 is a BIG jump, but by the end of the journey I think I had persuaded her. She went out that day and shot a 1268. Coincidence? I think not.

5. Trust your ability. The last thing any elite athlete needs to do when performing is to think about it... We think in training, we work on technique, we consciously work through the process, we then put that into practice and practice then becomes pre-competition preparation. It takes the brain SECONDS to process conscious thought - it's way too slow to perform at elite levels, which is why we need to keep it out of the equation. The subconscious / learned responses can operate much faster independantly. As soon as you doubt your ability, your conscious WILL get involved and try to 'fix' things, then the game is over. Learning to trust yourself is the only way to achieve awesome results.

6. Have fun. Motivation is a strange thing - some people are motivated by money, others by fame, others by sex, others by self-preservation. Finding real satisfaction in whatever it is that you do is, in my opinion, the only way to ensure that you will continue to increase your performance. For me, and many of my friends, much of that comes from enjoying what you do. And it's a funny thing that the better you get at doing what you do, the more fun it becomes... Never lose the satisfaction.

7. Know yourself. Spend time looking inwards and understand what makes you tick. It may not be what you first think. Taking time to understand why you are who you are will help you with all aspects of your performance. I've worked with 4 sports psychologists and a business coach, and the journey has been enlightening and occasionally scary, but it has helped me understand what I really want and need, and why I feel the way I feel. The benefit of this is that things I felt were scary before, are no longer as scary as they used to be. Fear, in particular, holds us back more than we can possibly realise.

8. Take control of your controllables. What can you do about the issues you're facing? Get on and do it. Shrinking violets rarely shine.

9. Ignore the uncontrollables. Is something bugging you that you can't control? Injury, someone else's actions, your environment? Suck it up and move on.

10. Never, ever, ever, give up.

Simple as that.

The true meaning of life is to be found in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system.... Human experience is essentially self-transcendence rather than self-actualization. Self-actualization is not a possible aim at all, for the simple reason that the more a man would strive for it, the more he would miss it.... In other words, self-actualization cannot be attained if it is made an end in itself, but only as a side effect of self-transcendence - Victor Frankl