Thursday, October 30, 2008

A flash of inspiration 

Nothing stunning photographically, but something just dawned on me.

I have a fairly decent Canon-compatible flashgun - the one that went with the camera my son now has in Zambia - but no Canon camera. I have an Olympus camera, with the usual basic built-in flash but no 'proper' Olympus-compatible flashgun.

Light-bulb moment (how appropriate!): I can use the Canon flashgun as a slave, triggered by the on-camera flash. And by adjusting slave power and/or blocking the direct light from the on-camera flash to the subject, I can balance the light between the two sources.

Result: creative possibilities. More experimentation needed, but the results are sufficiently promising to warrant a more thorough investigation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

White Christmas Halloween? 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Also Twittering 


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The fire has gone out. Blowing on the embers raises only a cloud of dry ash. With no kindling to ignite, sparks flicker momentarily and then die.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


"He is lucky who, in the full tide of life, has experienced a measure of the active environment that he most desires. In these days of upheaval and violent change, when the basic values of today are the vain and shattered dreams of tomorrow, there is much to be said for a philosophy which aims at living a full life while the opportunity offers.

"There are few treasures of more lasting worth than the experience of a way of life that in itself is wholly satisfying. Such, after all, are the only possessions of which no fate, no cosmic catastrophe can deprive us; nothing can alter the fact if for one moment in eternity we have really lived."

~ Eric Shipton, quoted by Simon Yates in the lecture from which I've just returned.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Contrast, and an explanation 

No wildness today. Quite a contrast to yesterday – blue skies speckled by polka-dot cloudlets, a warm sun on my back (which this lunch time rests on a bench one position removed from yesterday’s) and a gentle breeze to rustle the leaves without yet stripping them from the trees, looser though their attachment grows with each passing day.

Yesterday I was reminded of how when weather wildness comes to town, it brings with it a taste of wilderness – in a similar way, when the elegant sophistication of today’s weather ventures into the hills, it takes with it an association with civilisation – so much so that many are tempted out with no more equipment against the elements than that which they would take to accompany them on a walk in the park.

The hills do indeed feel a little too park-like on days like this. It was nearly 18 months ago when I was last in their company, and remarked at the time how I almost felt cheated by the benign atmospheric conditions. One comes to expect wind, rain, clouds, mist and rarely a clear view of the way ahead. It’s all part of the fun; without such features, the experience is incomplete.

Nearly 18 months ago. Too long. Oh, except for one solitary day a few months later. One day out of the last 500; it’s not enough. No wonder I’ve been feeling out of sorts.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wind, wilderness and memory 

Wind. I lean into it walking down the street, am buffeted by it as it funnels through a gap between buildings; I sit here on this bench hunched before it writing these words whilst autumn leaves dance about my head – it’s an infrequent visitor here in the big metropolis, except when approaching these times of equinox. At other times it’s easy to forget that cities and towns live under the same skies, the same clouds, the same rains as those which also pass over the fields and hills. Having no horizon other than encircling monoliths of glass and concrete, the skies might just as well be as far away as the stars, and as unobserved by city-dwellers. Winds though are harder to ignore; wild-ness comes rampaging out of the wilderness into the heart of civilisation.

Oh, what happened? Once I would have delighted in trying to capture in words the essence of this moment. Now, the struggle is almost too great. Too much bother. Almost, but not quite; not quite yet. So I cling on by my fingernails rather than let go altogether and sink into the wordless oblivion of the writer who has forsaken his craft.

But I wonder… I’ve been assuming that if I let go I’d fall, endlessly; a fall that being free-fall seems to have no movement at all – an equilibrium state of fallingness you might say. But suppose instead the wind of fate took me up and bore me where it will?

No, it’s a myth; it never happens like that. Fate never intervenes with any purpose of its own, even at our bidding. It may offer a helping hand along the way, or point out some signposts we’d otherwise miss, but the pathway must be chosen and trodden by us and us alone.

Wind. It awakens memories of the hills. Wind has its dwelling in the hills, wanders amongst them daily, unleashes its greatest energies in the highest places. Just occasionally though it allows the hills a moment’s respite and takes a day out to visit these lowland city places. Feeling the chill on my back as its fingers reach through the fibres of my jacket, feeling the hair blown across my face, listening to the rustle of leaves chased along the pavement, awakens a longing for wilder places, a longing I’ve had to suppress because to feel it too keenly all the while it remains unfulfilled only serves to heighten the ever-present dissatisfaction.

Yet when it is felt rather than imagined, the memory is a fond one.

Monday, October 06, 2008


"Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus: one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and gray. Woe to the thinker who is not the gardener but only the soil of the plants that grow in him!"

- Friedrich Nietzsche, courtesy of whiskey river

"Better the devil you don't want to know than the one you daren't."


Friday, October 03, 2008

That was nice... 

“Chilly, isn’t it?”

So began a brief exchange with a fellow motorcyclist whilst stopped side-by-side at the lights this morning.

Usually that’s about as far these conversations go – nothing very deep, but then you’d hardly expect to get to discussing the meaning of life in the course of a 30 second exchange with an unknown biker.

“You ride well.”

Eh? Now that was unexpected – unsolicited compliments? I’d been aware of him behind me for a few hundred yards and a couple of junctions. Now side-by-side I could see he was of a similar age to myself, riding what appeared to be a BMW R1100, albeit sporting a VW badge on the side of the tank.

“Been riding long?”

Given that his following remarks were more about behaviour on the road – his observation of my own observation and awareness – rather than the actual mechanics of riding the bike, my guess is that he held one of the advanced riding qualifications – either RoSPA or IAM.

Interesting on three counts:

One, purely for the feedback. Welcome and much appreciated feedback.

Two, that he managed to get so much across in such a short space of time. Direct observations, direct feedback, with just enough preamble to create an opening.

Three, he didn’t have to bother; there was no need or expectation. But he did, I learned something, it made me feel good, and I expect it probably made him feel good too. I’m very poor at giving compliments or feedback. Something I could do with improving.

I may even sign up for an advanced motorcyclists course.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Show 'n' tell 

I realised I'd missed a trick here. For nearly a month now, large chunks of the weekends, plus a couple of days taken as leave from work, have been occupied with enlarging our garden pond. It would have been an ideal subject to follow on a day-by-day basis, but I never got around to it. So here instead is the whole (hole? sorry...) story in one go, told in pictures.

The bright, sunny appearance of the finished hole completely disguises the fact that the two days spent digging it were mostly very damp, and for the two days prior to that it was veritably chucking it down. So every trip with the wheelbarrow through the garage and up the precarious ramp into the skip was preceded by the Ceremony of the Scraping of the Boots - removing the layer of heavy, sticky clay which made me temporarily two inches taller and a couple of pounds heavier (or so it felt).

After the back-breaking work of digging, shovelling and barrowing (not to mention scraping every off every sticky spadeful into the barrow) this bit was fun:

The bare earth is lined with a layer of soft sand. Initial attempts at using a plastering float to apply it were soon abandoned in favour of daubing and spreading the sand with bare hands. Just like building sandcastles. I could almost imagine myself at the seaside...

Horizontal surfaces, which would have plant baskets standing on them, had an additional protective layer of old carpet, before the liner underlay was added:

The liner itself was a humungous affair:

It would have lined a pond nearly twice the size.

It was late when the pond had finished filling, and too dark for photos. Next time I remembered, I'd already trimmed the liner back and added York stone paving along one edge.

The final stage of construction was to add rockery stone around the edge

Now all that remains is the planting, both in and around.

The whole exercise, hard work though it might have been, has been thoroughly therapeutic. Hard physical labour with a tangible - and if I say so myself, rather attractive - result to show for it, does wonders for one's self esteem.

Visualise, plan, create, appreciate - a very satisfying cycle. One that I hadn't realised how much I'd been missing.