Saturday, November 25, 2006


Sunday, November 19, 2006


You wouldn’t think so from the results, but I had it in mind to go in search of suburban silhouettes.

Other than a couple of shots out of the window, I've not been out with the camera since our holiday in August – nearly 3 months without the comforting feel of camera in hand; way too long. Day follows day and, before you know it, another season has rolled by, largely unremarked and unphotographed. My excuse has been that the immediate surroundings are too ordinary and I’ve been too busy to venture further afield, but I figured it was high time I quit griping about that, and went out to see how creative I could be with eye and camera at finding some interest amongst all this familiarity.

I had a vague notion that silhouettes would be effective at hiding the more mundane elements of the local scene - bold shapes given a fresh perspective by the lack of familiar detail; low level monochrome shots of street furniture, that kind of thing. So without thinking about where I might specifically be headed, I set out towards the sun to see what photo opportunities might lie in wait.

There was however a flaw in my plan – the late afternoon sun was, not surprisingly, out to the west, and that direction took me towards the edge of town, away from the biggest concentration of potential subjects. But its not altogether surprising that, left to themselves, my feet will naturally head for the nearest evidence of nature; in this case, a dead-end track which borders the fields at the edge of town.

It used to be a gravel track, which at least lent it something of a rural feel, but it was given a tarmac surface a few years ago, so now it feels more like a finger of town extending out into the countryside. Standing on the road, looking across the fields, it feels as though I’m looking through a window; the town has an invisible wall, and I’m still on the inside of it, looking out. But step just a few paces off the road, through the hedge which separates it from he field, and now I’m outside.

And as a result have a rather different kind of suburban silhouette.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Words or pictures? 

Having a visually-oriented memory has its bonuses, but can have some weird side-effects. My motorcycle journey to and from work mostly flows well – no real hold-ups except for one patch, where I take a detour through side streets to avoid a horrendous bottleneck. But it’s a long detour and the side streets have speed bumps to discourage people from doing what I do. So I tried an alternative coming home tonight which bypassed that section altogether. Google maps with the overlaid satellite images makes a wonderful tool for planning this - for this part of London the images are extraordinarily detailed; for example, even though the view was obviously from directly above, I could see the shadow cast by traffic lights which confirmed that at a particular right turn I wouldn’t have to fight a way across a stream of crossing traffic.

But I digress. Having printed out a map and highlighted the route in fluorescent pink highlighter to form a strong visual image, it was easy to commit that image to memory and then follow it. Not that it did me a lot of use – the new route was no better than the old. Worse in fact; there was much more traffic.

But the reason for mentioning all this wasn’t to talk solely about my commute. Part way home, at a point in the journey where part of my mind was left free to wander (but only part, I assure you – at a rough guess I’d say 30% of it is dealing in a fairly automatic way with riding the bike, 60% is monitoring what the traffic is up to, and there’s just 10% capacity left to for other random mental activity), I had one of those thoughts that comes suddenly from nowhere; an idea fully formed that must have been gestating somewhere in the recesses of my mind without my knowing it. For a moment, I could see this thought as a blog post – but then a part of my mind I’d forgotten about in the listing above intervened – the part that monitors what all the other parts are doing and allocates processing capacity accordingly. And this part said Whoa, that 10% is suddenly growing to 25%, 30%… hold it right there boy, before you go riding slap into something.

The bizarre thing is, I have a crystal clear mental image of the road and the traffic at that precise moment – yet I haven’t the foggiest idea what the subject for the blog post was. That came in words, not pictures, and my memory for words is crap. If I’d had time, I might have translated them into a picture, but they went as suddenly as they came, leaving just this puff of smoke in their wake.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Straw poll 

It occurred to me that, other than knowing the name of the organisation I work for, the general geographic location of the office, and that the subject matter is vaguely technical, my wife knows almost nothing at all about my job. I simply don’t mention anything about it at home, and she doesn't ask.

I was just wondering how typical – or atypical – that is?


Last night we had the first band rehearsal – for what might turn out to be the UK amateur premiere of We Will Rock You. Even though the show is still on in the West End, it’s been released for schools and amateur companies to perform, and our show (scroll to the bottom of the page), at the end of January – could well be the first of its type to make it to the stage.

By all accounts it has a fairly meaningless story line, but that’s not the point - it also has 24 classic Queen songs. It’s daunting and exciting and going to be huge fun - not to mention VERY LOUD - and with 177 pages of music, it’s going to consume an awful lot of my free time for the next two and a half months. Unfortunately, the deal is that for the performance licence we don’t get the full score, only a PVG part – piano, vocal and guitar chords. So I’m working through it track by track listening to the CD and writing out the bass guitar line. Five down, nineteen to go…

As you can guess, the inevitable consequence is likely be EVEN LESS blogging than the sorry dribble of posts that has been appearing here in recent months. And with my attention toggling between two essentially practical matters – the show and an increasing daytime workload - what does make it here is likely to have little substance. Such is life. I’m probably going to sound (am already sounding...) rather detached as a consequence of perpetual tiredness too. But I’m not complaining – this is a great opportunity – I just need to adjust the balance a little.

Otherwise I could be in for a nasty case of CPSD.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Insularity strikes again - I realise I have no idea whether DIY – Do-It-Yourself – is a generally understood term wherever English is spoken, or whether it is peculiar to these shores. Whatever; DIY has been occupying most of my spare time for the last 3 weeks or so, redecorating our bedroom, fitting new furniture, and now going through all the little finishing off jobs, like planing the bottom off the doors because the new carpet is thicker than the old one was.

This afternoon’s task was creating a structure to support some triangular glass corner shelves in niches either side of the bed, using only the minimum of material necessary to provide support. Ideally, something as simple, delicate and unobtrusive as glass itself; although that ideal couldn’t be realised in practice, it was the concept which drove the design.

I get totally focused on the task when I have something practical like this to do. Driven, to the point of single-mindedness where all else is incidental. Unfortunately, all else in this case has included blogging…

A few hundred years ago, my ancestors might have made with their own hands many of the artefacts of daily living, even their own dwelling; those items which they couldn’t make they might well have obtained by barter. I find something immensely satisfying in doing the same, continuing a tradition of self-sufficiency, seeing around me the works of my hands, especially when the design is also my own. It’s a way of satisfying the deep desire to create.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Arachnid interlude 

A tiny movement catches my eye. Black on black, a minute spider summits the lower half of my trouser leg and continues purposefully across my knee. Not wanting her to disappear into the folds of my fleece jacket, but unwilling to be so discourteous as to brush her away, I invite her onto the end of my pencil, and she accepts the offer.

Its lunch time; I’m sitting outside on a bench in an unlikely patch of green amidst urban greyness, enjoying the warmth of a hazy sun on an otherwise chilly November day. Notebook and pencil in hand, I’ve been jotting down whatever thoughts the scene in front of me brings to mind; right now though, this tiny creature has all of my attention, and writing is forgotten.

She continues her upwards journey to the eraser at the end on my pencil, and now that she can go no further she seems undecided what to do next. I imagine she’ll just continue over the top and down the other side, but no; something about that eraser causes her to stay there – perhaps it’s the different feel underfoot? But she’s not just idly sitting. So tiny, it’s hard to see, especially with my less than perfect eyesight; slightly puzzled, I watch her, head down, abdomen raised, legs apparently working at something.

Then the sun catches a flash of silver and in that instant I understand. She’s spinning a silken thread, and as she spins, the gentlest of breezes carries her home-made bridge away from terra firma and out into nothingness. I’m entranced by the realisation - she’d been making her way steadily upwards, and now that she has gone as far as she can go by simple perambulation, she’s planning to continue her upward journey; to vanish, as it were, literally into thin air.

It’s a wonderful metaphor – strive upwards, and when you think you can go no further, launch out – not altogether blind, but trusting in your own skill to carry you and in chance to guide you to somewhere new.

She must sense that the other end of the sticky thread has found purchase, for now she sets out on her invisible bridge, which sags and sways even under her negligible weight. Unfortunately for her though, the end has caught only on the sleeve of my fleece. She makes landfall, but it’s time for me to go. I pick her up again on the end of my pencil and with a puff of wind from my lungs send on her way, who knows where? Gradually, my attention returns once again to the business of the day, but I’m grateful – just like Robert the Bruce - for the lesson and the delight to be found in this tiny creature.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Surprise visitor 

Breathing space 

Almost finished. Walls papered, woodwork painted, carpet laid, cupboards fitted – and one comfortable chair in the corner. Just one vital thing missing – the bed.

Every last scrap of my spare time this last couple of weeks has been spent redecorating our bedroom - that’s the main reason I’ve been so quiet here. We took the opportunity whilst one of our sons is away to move down into his room, giving me a clear run without the inconvenience of having to make the room semi-habitable every night.

I said we moved down – our bedroom is in the loft (okay, attic for you speakers of American English). Surrounded on three side by bungalows, we have clear views over the town from our eyrie; the main window faces the dawn, the shower room window faces the sunset – views from both have featured many times both here and on Flickr. Bright, airy, and feeling a little apart from the rest of the house, it’d make an ideal studio.

I moved the chair up there early on – a cream leather covered swivel chair, courtesy of Ikea's "casualty" stock and perfect for relaxed reading – so as to be sure I’d got the layout right. Sinking back in it for a moment’s rest, I appreciated the spacious, uncluttered feel the room has at the moment – freshly decorated, minimal furniture, no junk, an open expanse of carpet where the bed will go; unimpeded access to the window bringing outside and inside closer together, the room’s colours echoing the freshness of a spring day.

But all too soon it’ll be filled with all the paraphernalia of daily life; the clothes yet to be put away, piles of half-read books, abandoned shoes, every horizontal surface bearing its share of the detritus of a too-busy life.

I could appreciate a minimalist approach to living. Not only in terms of the living space but applied to the very acts of living themselves. Life gets as cluttered as I know that bedroom will. It’d be good to clear it all out once in a while; to have a clean sweep and only allow back in those things which really matter.

Manageable with a bedroom; trickier though with life.