Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Half an hour alone with a camera on a sunny (but very cold!) spring-like day in a picturesque corner of London does wonders for the soul. I happened to be passing through Paddington station, in no particular hurry for once, camera in my bag, and on impulse decided to take a half hour break - after all, it was lunch time - to see what I could find worth photographing.

At first, perhaps not surprisingly, it was the large scale things that caught my eye - this tiny triangle of green, backed by the church, surrounded by tall trees.

But wandering around the edge of this little oasis, on the far side was an unmistakable splash of spring colour. Full blossoms, not just buds, and it's still only January. I've no idea what they are, but they have a beautiful perfume.

I'll admit to being moderately pleased with these. Although I wasn't in a rush as such, I'd set myself a half hour time limit in order to tie in with the train times. The raw shots were all fairly mediocre, but careful cropping can often pick something useful out of a shot that would otherwise never get pulled off the hard drive.

Delightful as the scene may be, this is still the heart of one of the busiest cities on the planet. My little green triangle is entirely surrounded by roads and on a main route to Paddington Station. It wasn't until I got home and took a closer look at the shot below that I saw the specks on the flower - I assume that's pollution, probably particulate emissions from diesel engines.

Poor flowers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

It’s shopping, Jim, but not as we know it… 

At how many shops do you have to ring the doorbell to gain entry? But then, how many shops have a display case containing - I’m guessing wildly here - perhaps £100,000 or more worth of merchandise just inside the door? No, this wasn’t a jeweller’s, although the items on display shared elements of their provenance with jewellery, with precious metals and meticulous craftsmanship at the heart of their design.

My daughter’s flute studies have reached the point where she needs a new instrument – something approaching professional standard – in order to develop her technique further. We’re fortunate that, living close to London, we have two specialist flute shops almost on our doorstep. Buying a flute turned out to be quite a pleasurable experience. I took the day off work so as to be able to avoid the busy weekend rush; we spent about two and a half hours in a large and comfortable practice room, comparing a number of instruments, and took two away on trial, with a third to follow by post – the final choice needs to be made after several hours practice, and in consultation with her teacher.

In researching the choices available, I became fascinated by the details of flute construction - how a flute is assembled from 257 parts; how shims half of one-thousandth of an inch thick are used to fine-tune the seal of each pad individually; how tiny details in the way in which the embouchure hole is finished affects tone quality; how different ways of fabricating the holes in the flute’s body produce a different sound and different playing characteristics.

Japan is clearly the world centre of flute manufacture, with the USA coming second. As far as I know, there are no large scale manufacturers outside of those two countries, but instead there are a number of master craftsmen around the globe producing hand-crafted instruments to special order.

What a wonderful way to make a living! Delicate precision work, where the quality of craftsmanship comes above all other considerations. There’s a kind of paradox in taking cold hard metal – albeit precious metal – and turning it into an artefact from which such warmth, softness and beauty flows. The flute maker is like an alchemist, but his or her creation is even more astonishing than merely turning base lead into gold; that would simply be a transformation of one inert lump of metal into another. The flute maker starts where the alchemist leaves off and gives that metal the potential to bring something alive, a potential finally realised in the hands of the player.

How awareness of that potential must dwell in the mind of craftsman, helping him lift his skills to the very highest level of which he is capable, knowing that the precise way in which he forms the metal – in an environment that must bear more than a passing resemblance to that of the alchemist - will eventually bear glorious fruit, not only in the beauty of sounds in concert halls across the world, but in the hearts and souls of the audiences which those halls hold.

Composers and performers are both celebrated, yet individual instrument makers (as distinct to manufacturing companies) are rarely known outside of the circles of the cognoscenti. Stradivarius is possibly the only exception to that, but even that level of awareness probably comes about more from public interest in money than in music. Yet in a way, the instrument maker is on a par with both composer and performer; each starts on a separate path, a separate act of creation, which only comes becomes one in the performance; each would be impotent without the other, unable to bring into existence the full potential of their creation.

I wonder if there are any flute makers who’d like a mature apprentice?

Friday, January 20, 2006


Continuing the pictorial theme...

Thursday Challenge's theme this week is high. This one, too, has been here before, but is probably my all-time favourite amongst my mountain photos, so I make no apology for its reappearance. Well, only a small apology.

In a way, it also represents the power of the web to rekindle connections. Garry, the guy in the photo, is a freelance climbing instructor. At some point in the past I must have linked to his site - he then found this blog in his referrer logs, followed the link back here and happened upon my "7 things" post earlier this month which had a distinct mountain theme in my list of things to do before I die, and so dropped me an email. Kinda like an intrinsic "friends reunited" feature of the web.


Since I seem to be suffering from a shortage of words these days, how about a picture...?

This one's for Photo Friday's theme of pink.

Hmmm... I think this one's been here before. I must be suffering a shortage of pictures as well. Oh well, just waving a flag to show I haven't abandoned blogging completely...

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Every so often, the Astonomy Picture Of the Day comes up with something jaw-droppingly good; an image that manages to bridge the light-years and communicate something of the scale and wonder of this amazing universe. Today is one of those days...

Click the image and view full-screen for maximum effect

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

7 things... 

It was before Christmas when Tamar tagged me with this 7x7 meme. The fact that it’s taken me so long to respond is mostly a reflection on the sluggish state of my grey matter these days…

7 things to do before I die
- Bring at least one piano piece up to performance standard
- Experience some real mountains (something Alpine scale) up close and personal, and see the sunrise from a mountain top
- Live in a house with a stream or a wood (or even better, both) at the bottom of the garden.
- Climb another long multi-pitch mountain route. Something on Lliwedd maybe?
- Go wild camping somewhere remote for a least a fortnight
- Learn to ski
- Figure out who the hell I really am

7 things I cannot do
- Swim more than more than one length without stopping
- Lie convincingly
- Be a salesman (any connection with #2?)
- Be the life and soul of the party
- Sunbathe (too damn hot and too damn boring)
- Dance
- Given the lack of output lately, maybe I should make #7: “Write blog posts”…

7 things that attract me to…
…the hills
- Solitude
- Self reliance
- Simplicity
- Companionship
- Being close to nature
- The view
- Discovering myself there

7 things I say most often
I say so little, and listen to even less of it, that this one is really hard…
- Maybe/perhaps...
- I dunno…
- I need to/ought to… (do x, y, z)
- I guess...
- oh fuck... (thought reflectively, under my breath as it were)
- errr…

7 books (or series) that I love
- Lord of the Rings
- The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and all sequels
- Catch 22
- The Bible
- Band of Brothers (as the TV series)
- Dr Who (I’ve seen every incarnation since the original, and yes, as a seven-year-old I really did hide behind the sofa when the Daleks came on!)
- If anyone has published the complete works of T S Eliot as a single volume, I’ll count it as#7

7 movies I watch over and over (or would if I had the time)
- Lord of the Rings (can I get away with counting all three as one?)
- 2001
- Lawrence of Arabia
- Ghandi
- The Third Man (Orson Welles’ version)
- Any Marx Brothers
- The Lion in Winter (the original O'Toole and Hepburn version)

I’m sure that set is unbalanced; there must some whimsical, feel-good movies I’d include, if I could but remember… Maybe I’d include Heaven Can Wait, or, along similar lines, A Matter of Life and Death.

7 people I want to join in too
Nah, I’ll give that one a miss; I’ve left this far too long already. If anyone feels a burning desire to keep this one alive, feel free to consider yourself tagged.

I'm sure Andrea gave up hope long ago that I'd respond to her 20 things meme; I haven't quite forgotten, Andrea! Maybe (!) I'll get around to that one next :-)

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Winston put me on to this one...

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

I'm flattered; apparently I'm Gandalf. Well, of course, all the possible outcomes were probably equally flattering. I doubt that Saruman featured on the list of possibilities. (Later: I stand corrected; it seems he's not only on the list, but has a loyal band of followers too).

It's probably just coincidence; nevertheless, in all of fiction, I can't think of a character I'd rather be. He embodies all those characteristics I most admire in others: wisdom, compassion, leadership, humility, courage, an affinity with all living things... I can't think of any aspect of his character that I don't aspire to.

There's another curious coincidence too. I've said nothing here about my counselling experiences since I quit rather abruptly, several months ago now, but a Gandalf-like character appeared in a visualisation experience in one of those sessions. M., my counsellor, seemed convinced that he represented something in me. An aspiration, maybe. I could never accept that it was anything more.

Have a go here if you want to find out which fantasy/SciFi character you are.

Distant Storm 

All that playing around with photoshopped pigeons and the like has payed some dividends; I wanted to do some work on this photo a while back, but hadn't figured out how. The sea and the sky needed different treatments - working on the photo as a whole, if you bring up the highlights on the sea, those in the sky got totally burned out. But using layers makes differing treatments possible, especially when there's such a convenient demarcation between land and sky.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Memories of summer 

Some that didn't quite make it here at the time, but serve now as a reminder of long, hot summer days...