Life, photos but not the universe

Slightly distracted

trying to get windows and apple to talk to each other and searching for mislaid passwords and gobbled up emails.  Also babysitting in the almost wifiless* pit that is Oxford.

Back soon.

*That would be wirelessless then.

February 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’m catching up with the rest of the world again.

My regular journey along the A34 has been blissfully incident free since a narrow escape  from being squashed eighteen months ago.  In fact I’ve been getting quite relaxed about it so it was merely annoying on Thursday, on my way home a little early and enjoying the sunset, to see tail lights ahead as far as the eye could see.  Luckily I saw them as I approached the Abingdon exit and swerved briskly off the A34 and then dithered a few moments at the roundabout.  There really isn’t a sensible alternative route home from there.  So I spent the next hour or so zigzagging across country, occasionally sighting the A34 decorating the night like a garland of Christmas lights in the distance and encountering all kinds of knock-on traffic jams.  A lorry had spilled its load of diesel and the carriageway was closed.  It was a six mile tailback apparently so I probably made the right decision.

I arrived home after only a two hour journey; normally 40 minutes.  Could have been much worse.  I’ve decided to do some exploring of alternative routes on both sides; the A34 is a series of disasters not waiting at all to happen.  It masquerades as a major lorry route but is really just a dual carriageway and once south of Didcot, all it’s slipways are not designed for entering motorway-speed traffic.

Anyway that experience confirmed that I’ve made another satisfactory decision.

In the past, I have sometimes idly thought “If I had an iphone it would be quite useful now”.  (Or even just nice to have).  And then “but really it’s just another gadget though isn’t it.  A phone is a phone however many apps you clutter it up with right?”  That’s not quite true though is it.  A couple of recent close encounters of the i kind have led me, almost unresisting,  to a serious investigation of its possibilities and to the realisation that having an iphone might be like stepping into some of the more prescient science fiction of my youth.  And of course it could tell me the way to go home.  And I could play with it when sitting, stationary, in traffic jams. And what, after all is a backdated pension payment for?  So now I’m thinking,”when I’ve got my iphone ….”*

There are people, who shall remain nameless, who think this is just a whim and an impulse.  He couldn’t be more wrong.  I’ve wanted something like this since I was fifteen and nobody I knew then would have had the faintest idea of what I was thinking about.  Although I love my pc and all the stuff it can be made to do, comparatively speaking, the iphone with the talking thing is getting very close to magic.  I suppose, inevitably it will be followed by an ipad and a Mac but that won’t happen until my pc or netbook break down and will require planning and saving.

And here’s a nice wall or two in the car park in Headington.

Now I’m going to bed.  I did mention this bed a while ago when it was just a pleasant thought at the back of my mind and now we’ve got it.  It took both of us a whole day to assemble and is a wonderful thing.  No springs, so no bouncing and echoing thuds and snores when Barney has a restless night.  We climb up into it and then stay there – on top  of the mattress.  There’s no pit in the middle and no sagging bits at the side.  It gives just enough to accommodate our bony bits and no further.  Peace, perfect peace.

Sleep well.

*I know there are other phones which do similar things but I’ve been convinced that Apple are more user friendly which is a good thing when you’re using a small gadget, and as far as I know none of the others have anything like Siri.

February 27, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Pottering peacefully

Just finished reading the final Wallander novel.  Sad.  I know it’s the last because of the afterword.  On the other hand I can imagine Henning Mankell finding a way to get the old detective to solve a crime even from beyond the hazy barrier of alzheimers.

Enough of that.  I suddenly thought, this evening, that none of my family have shown that tendency so I don’t know why it bothers me so.  What was I talking about anyway?

Yesterday, I had a lovely quiet day, pottering and doing a bit of this and that.  Lots of things to sort out and put away (quite slowly as I was recovering from a very convivial dinner with friends on Saturday, followed by a fairly merry session at the pub on Sunday afternoon) and then I settled down to sort out some beads that have been lying around for months waiting to be made into earrings and bracelets.

Later there was shopping to be done and a leisurely journey home via Bagnor (which is the home of the  Watermill Theatre, a rather fabulous place) along the valley of the Winterbourne Stream.  There was a man doing some rather comprehensive clearing of the river meadows, burning willow and alder and revealing the river itself for the first time in many years.  Hoping to get a photo of his bonfires I stopped and chatted for a while.  He  hopes, eventually to return the meadow to reed and cress beds and maybe to have reed buntings and willow warblers nesting there again.  It sounds good to me.

Today, with grandbaby minding looming for the next two days, I did a lot of cooking : Bread, kedgeree, quiche and soup and finally, with the left over pastry from the quiche (I use ready made – my pastry leaves a lot to be desired) a kind of cheese flat thing.  It was supposed to be straws but I forgot to cut it up before baking it.  (Well I was a bit knackered by the time I got to using up leftovers and also grated two or three bits of finger into it which was distracting).  It’s quite nice though I expect by tomorrow it’ll be a bit limp in the middle.

Oh yes and this morning I experimented with porridge.  See I like my porridge (very much indeed) made with milk and covered in sugar and cream. But that’s taking the piss a bit since I am supposed to be curtailing my fat consumption.  So I wondered about savoury porridge.

Not the first to do so; there are lots of recipes for savouring porridge.  I would have been happy with the bacony one but that would rather have defeated the object.  Eventually I did something with olives, preserved lemon, dried marjoram and tomato puree.  Not bad but neither delicious.  Sort of edible but lacking in something vital (cream and bacon probably).  Oh well.  At the back of my mind there is a faint memory of something delicious involving oats and fish and lemon and …some other nice things but it certainly wasn’t that.

As usual, this post is a day or three behind.  Somehow it always takes me a day to start a post, another day to finish it, a third day to add photos and by then I’ll have updated all the todays and yesterdays several times.  I wonder if I will be late to my own funeral?

I’m off to sleep the sleep of the exhausted grandparent perchance to dream of small, soft, toddling cuddly things.


February 25, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

China and paper and chalk.

Barney went to a stamp auction last week and came home with a few goodies.  He tells me that the local auctions these days are regularly attended by at least two chinese bidders, apparently buying up the entire stock of chinese stamps.  It must be to do with the current chinese desire to retrieve their ancient cultural heritage from all over the world.*

This reminds me that when my Grandmother died, her grandchildren all went to Holland to collect her possessions, many of which came from China.  Her husband was a trader, of sorts and they lived there for many years.  Their home was full of rather lovely chinese things – most of which were not considered to be particularly valuable – though now that might be different.

Anyway, there was a large blue and white glazed ginger jar (something like this) which all three of the older cousins (including me) rather liked and when I said “I’d quite like the blue and white jar”, both the other girls said Oh but so would we.  There could have been a bit of  a problem, however one of us said, why don’t we share it?   Our older relatives looked shocked and so did my husband but we had been good friends as children and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to share.  Not completely simple since the eldest of us lived in Belgium but we agreed on it anyway.  We had it valued and it seems that it was one of our grandfather’s better investments and was worth quite a lot of money.

Several years later the eldest cousin died of cancer. The ginger jar was in Belgium at the time as it was her turn to have it.  She and her mother had some kind of feud about her four children, two of whom lived with their grandmother and two with her.  The youngest was the daughter of a second marriage – I think this marriage had been the spark which started the feud.  Such a sad situation.

Anyway, the English families supported the Julles’ (the second husband) claim to keep his child and we all seemed to be very good friends.  Then suddenly it became impossible to contact them.  They (and the vase) had disappeared.

We all rather suspected that, reduced to a tiny income and huge debts by our cousin’s illness and quite possibly being harassed by the grandmother in pursuit of the last child, Julles had sold the vase and done a flit.  The sad thing is, if he had asked us other two cousins, we would certainly have told him to go ahead and sell it and use the cash as he needed but just to stay in touch with us.

I wonder sometimes how Julles and his little daughter fared and where they are.  It seems such a shame that they haven’t got the support of their English family – we’re a weird lot but we would have helped them if we could.

Anyway, going back to China, it seems that there’s a bit of a premium on British Penny Blacks at the moment because the Chinese are buying them to give to their English business customers as welcome gifts.  So if you’re interested in stamps, the thing is to do business with a Chinese company.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in Wiltshire quite early in the day and went exploring.  I had an idea that there was a white horse around here somewhere (Wiltshire is littered with them) and stopped at a car park, peering around in the fog.  I could tell it must be very close since you couldn’t miss the bend.

It was a bit of a ‘behind you!’ moment.  From here, you can just about see its legs.  And some snow.

*As I understand it, so much of their lovely art was destroyed during the Mao Tse Tung years when anything ancient and non-communist was suspect, that they, quite reasonably I think, feel deprived and want it back.  Being quite pragmatic people, they don’t start international incidents over it but just go forth and buy it back.

February 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Pox and Pemberley

Last wednesday, the gorgeous grandbaby officially had  a viral rash, however the next morning, the vastly increased quantity of pink spots made it almost certainly chickenpox.  She didn’t seem to mind though.  The spots didn’t seem to itch a lot (yet) and certainly in no way affected her high spirits and general enthusiasm for food, toddling at high speed, conversation and books.

I stayed the night (because we had our approximately monthly book group meeting in the evening) and was awoken at five am (along with the neighbours I should think) by night-time unhappiness.  I think this was soon sorted out but it did mean that when nap time came along in the afternoon, I was more than merely ready for it.  She seemed perfectly content to chortle and sing and practice shouting babble words in her pram, though not at all inclined to sleep, so I left her to it for three quarters of an hour.  What a good natured little person she is.

Anyone remember “The Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys?  I never realised that it was the early story of Rochester’s wife from Jane Eyre but I enjoyed  it a lot.  Our book choice this month was “Death Comes to Pemberley” by PD James, which is a murder mystery in the setting of Pride and Prejudice, some years after the conclusion of Jane Austen’s novel.  I’ve never been an Austen devotee and haven’t read P&P since I was a teenager.  I didn’t like it much then but I thought I should re-read it and was pleasantly surprised.  Then I read Ms James’ book and was not.  And that was the verdict of us all four  (we’re a very select group).

Miss Austen offers wit, sparkle and irony together with penetrating social observation.  Ms James has atmosphere and foreboding and um, well, a somewhat gothic and complicated murder mystery.  Not a happy marriage.

I was surprised at the number of fanfiction novels there are, based on Austen novels, and mildly tempted by a Joan Aiken attempt – she, after all, has wit and sparkle – but the reviews put me off.  It seems that Miss Austen is inimitable.

We’ve had a couple of nice evenings and I went birdwatching across the road.  There was a blackbird in the hazel stand and a hunting kite and then a whole family of kites roosting.  Nice.

February 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

For Christopher

The æther.  As you can see, it cannot be contained within the bounds of an internet browser.

An anagram of ætheric is cheatier.  Something to which not even Delia would stoop?

And “Aether” is a track from the 1998 album Lead and Aether by Finnish funeral doom metal band, Skepticism, among other things.  Sounds like lots of fun.

Oh well then.  Being slightly curious about “Finnish funeral doom metal” I found a You Tube recording of  Aether.  I didn’t listen to very much of it as it wasn’t fun though there was certainly lots.  And the first comment says it all but much quicker.  I didn’t look further but perhaps the other track was called “Lead”.

However, if you like doom-laden Finnish photography, there was some on the video for another of their tracks.  Nice with the sound off.

You can probably tell that I ought to be doing something else this evening.  F’ristance worrying about whether the bank really rang Barney when I was away baby minding or if we have now been cloned, tidying up after two days’ absence, deciding what to eat tomorrow and remembering what tasks I had decided to leave until I came back.

Ah!  And I didn’t realise that parts of the sidebar exist in the æther until I clicked on publish.  Oh well : )

(And then I had to shrink it a bit since I couldn’t see any of you any more)

February 16, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Smile please

When Eldest, (bless him for his thoughtfulness and imagination) insisted that I ought to have a digital camera of my very own, I didn’t realise  that it would take over my life in quite the way it has.  Not having been born the day before I got one, I didn’t actually believe that it would be completely simple or that it would require no technical learning at all but I suppose I didn’t really think it would lead (as the sparks fly upwards) to the acquisition of up to six more cameras* within the following ten years.

Well I’ve learnt some rules over these camera owning years.

1.  Any camera can take a stunning photo if the person behind it can take a stunning photo.

2. More expensive cameras don’t take better photos unless  the person behind them is better too.

3. Better cameras only take better photos if the person behind them is etc etc.

4. You can take just as good photos with digital as you can with film if you know how.

6. You can take just as good photos with film as you can with digital if you know how**.

7.  Heavy processing with Photoshop doesn’t affect the quality of the photo, though it can be used to hide some of the things you don’t want people to know you did wrong.  And dust spots.  And blurred crows.  And empty cans and crisp packets.  Not to mention orange bins, big white notices, bits of car, even whole cars if they’re a long way off, dead bodies …..***

8.  Whichever camera/lens/film you’re interested in, you can find some stunning photos on Flickr taken with exactly that camera/lens/film.

9. A photo of a stunningly beautiful subject can be just as crappy as a photo of  a really ugly pile of crap.

10. If you look up ‘piles of crap’ on Flickr you can probably find some stunning photos.****

Isn’t it amazing how many ways there are to delude yourself into thinking  you need some more equipment.

Anyway, since obviously, there’s no point in getting any more equipment till the next time I suddenly yearn for some new lens or other prop, I’ve decided to change my blog template.  This may take some time and who knows?  The blog may well vanish into the æther altogether and then I’ll have to get to grips with starting a new one. Or maybe I won’t have to but I probably will anyway and even any more way, most likely it won’t vanish at all but will reappear all new and shiny and minus all sorts of things I won’t be able to find again.

Oh, the dinner’s ready – I’d better go.

(There’s an error in here somewhere, I saw it just now but I can’t find it.  Later maybe)

*I did manage to pass on two of them  to other people.

** I will have to take this on trust as I haven’t yet quite got the film part to work.

***No, I haven’t.  Actually, on a long ago canal holiday, one sunny afternoon as we cruised along, sunbathing and playing guitars on the roof and eating cake, a dark-looking boat came the other way with a big black bag on the roof.  Yes, it was a dead body but I didn’t take any photos.

****No I haven’t looked.  It would be too depressing if I was right.  On many levels.


February 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Tweet twoo

I suddenly thought, on those news programmes where they tell you what the headlines are, they ought to do a quick  blog, facebook and tweet (and etc etc of course) search to see what the internet community are talking about.  Perhaps they do?

Anyway, I’m getting cross with Blogger.  It’s been weeks now that I haven’t been able to comment from WordPress and I know I’m not the only one.  Word Press assure me it’s a problem on the blogger platform – there are loads of comments about it on the help forum.  On the Blogger help forum however, there’s not a word, apart from a few unrelated comment issues.  I suppose bloggers don’t find it as inconvenient and irritating as word press users do, which is fair enough.

It’s a complete waste of time of course.  Blogger has never yet replied to any of my queries.  It’s why I left them.

And I’ve been wondering why there isn’t a convention on the internet to have a dedicated spot like the top right hand corner for signing out.  It would make life a lot simpler than having to search each website for the (often tiny) sign-out box.  Indeed, why don’t all the browsers have a sign-out button linked to whichever tab you’re looking at?

Anyway, enough of that.  I have a little watch with a totally worn out strap.  So I thought it would be a nice change to have a different colour strap.  I get them from charity shops everyso often and have quite a lot of different coloured straps but no pink ones.  So I asked in various places in town and alas, it’s such a little strap that no one does it in pink, oh, except for one supplier who has a dayglo plastic one costing £30 odd pounds with up to a month delivery time.  And actually they’re out of stock. Ok.  No pink watchstrap.

But then I wondered about the internet and had a bit of a wander round the watchstrap sites of which there are many.  It really does seem that pink and little is an unpopular combination.  However I did glance at a rather upmarket looking site and then made a strangled noise and looked harder.  No really??? Are there really people who will pay £63,000.00 for a watch?  I mean you can get a perfectly good Chanel watch for a mere £3,000 odd.  (no pink ones though)

Oh.  I just had another look, because I couldn’t quite believe it.  That was a rather hideous ladies watch.  Men are expected to be a bit more demanding, obviously, since the the men’s watches came at around £200,000.

It’s the middle of the night and there’s an owl or three hooting to each other outside.  Also there’s a strangled cat.  Well I’m not sure about the cat’s health but it’s making the most awful noise.  And it’s very cold, -8° when we came back from a gig an hour ago.  The remnants of snow were glittering in the car’s headlights.  And there was an orange, waning gibbous moon glowering over the tree tops.  It’s all a bit spooky really and I love it.

The Trent and Mersey Canal is remarkably well maintained.  It has nice wrought iron signs and art work under the bridges.  This artwork is enhanced by the reflection of Barney winding paddle gear.

And this artwork enhances the excitement of it being nearly time to stop and go to a warm pub.

But first, a surprise sunset at Fradley Junction.  As you can see, we were not the only people heading for a warm pub.  Now I have to go to a warm bed, it’s too cold sitting here and my nose is going numb.

Hope you are all keeping warmly wrapped up.  I hear it’s going to get even colder before morning.

February 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

‘Tis the season

To break ice.   I shouldn’t have jested about it.

My word it was cold and fresh out there on the water, though very cosy inside the boat what with the coal burning stove and the central heating.  However, as there were only the two of us this time and locks were neatly spaced out so that there wasn’t quite enough time to do anything between them, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the warmth.  Further, since my tennis elbow was probably caused by too much winding of paddle gear last year, I had to steer into all the locks.  I’ve said before (probably at some length) , how much I don’t love steering in general but I may not have gone into detail about my particular dislike of steering into locks.

Consider:  It is a long boat (58′) and I am a short person (5′ 3″).  Imagine a big needle with a large rectangular structure on top of it and someone about the size of a thunderbug, standing at the back.  Ask the thunderbug if it can see where the front of the needle is going.  The answer will be ‘?….front?’

(you may notice another small problem here.  As I said, it was nice and warm inside the boat.  We took out the smoke alarms after the first hour)

So there you are clutching tiller and throttle and trying to point the needle at a space which is about six inches wider than your beam and as the lock gates are generally about knee to waist height, you can’t see them either, just the slanted sticking out balance beams on the ends.   So the trick is to get the boat roughly in the middle of the canal and head towards where you hope the lock entrance will be.   Then you do the fine tuning by jumping up and down (useless but irresistible) and leaning out on either side in an attempt to glimpse the lock entrance before the bows hit it.  When you glimpse a bit of lock you swing the tiller over and after a very long time you realise that was too far and swing it frantically back.  Repeat several times and wrestle the throttle into reverse to slow down and lose steerage way and heave the throttle back into forward.  Avoid getting your jacket caught on the bow-thruster button as this will push the bow the wrong way – or the right way but you won’t know which untill it’s almost too late.  Meanwhile, the boat glides majestically and inexorably towards the invisible target.

I’m sure you can imagine that the short-arse at the back can get a little hot and bothered from time to time.  Well every time actually.

The other short-arse steerer I know has a magnificent disdain for the niceties of avoiding crashing into lock entrances and indeed , banks, bridges, aqueduct sides or any other obstacles.  And now I understand why.   What I don’t understand is that he seems to like it.

Oh and please also bear in mind that as you hurtle towards the lock at a steady two or three miles an hour, sunsets, splendid clouds and reflections and other unrepeatable photographic moments glide past, irretrievably.  Buzzards, herons and other wildlife perform arial feats in the corner of your eye and splendid monuments and gorgeously lit cottages flash slowly past and all you can do is jump up and down, waggling the tiller and trying to keep both eyes on the swiftly approaching crash.

Once you’re in the lock it’s a piece of cake.  After all the boat can’t go anywhere except two feet forwards or backwards and, as long as it’s a narrow lock*, six inches from side to side.  Yes well there’s a whole ‘nother kettle of stuff.  In theory, you just keep a steady reverse throttle going and then, as water thunders into the lock chamber and rushes to the back and then carries the boat irresistibly forwards, you don’t rush forwards with it and crash repeatedly into the front gate.  Or, if you are travelling downhill, you keep the throttle neatly balanced so that as the boat descends, it doesn’t hook its back end up on the cill and sink bows first into the swirling, mirky depths.  Yes I know canals are averagely only about two feet deep.  The deeper end of the average comes under bridges and in locks and the shallower end is all along the banks.  There are miles of banks and only a few tens of feet of locks and bridges so it follows that there’s a lot of deep between those lock walls.  Plenty of room to drown a boat or two**.

And then there was ice breaking!  This is an almost apocalyptically noisy process comprising tinklings and crashings and crunchings with occasional grindings and scrapings.  It sounds like an ongoing catastrophe.  People dog-walking along the bank stop and stare and point and laugh.  The dogs bark.  People whose boats are moored at the bottoms of their gardens run out and shake their heads at you. Young men take photos and videos and then pick big pieces of ice out of the water and play with them.  It’s like being a circus.

Sometimes it’s hard to get the boat round corners if the ice is extra thick and a crack opens up in the wrong direction.  This is particularly alarming if there is a small fibreglass boat moored on a bend.

I’m sure I was going to say something else but I can’t think what so I’ll go to bed.

Ah – bed!  I’ll tell you about the new bed next time.  Or some time.

Sleep well.

*If it’s a wide lock you have about twelve feet of crashing and bumping width to play with though actually getting into the lock should be a lot easier.

**Narrow boats are sunk in this way every year.  Come to think of it, one of our boat’s neighbours in the marina was sunk in a lock last year but I don’t think anyone was drowned on that occasion though it does happen.  Mind it’s probably as safe as flying – statistically speaking.

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

I’m back!

And, Yay!  So is Christopher.  Very good timing that, as after a longish period of sitting in my amazon basket, labelled ‘out of print’, suddenly his novel became ‘available from the following sellers’.

I finished it last night (in one sitting)  and I thought it was pretty well fair to brilliant.  Well that’s what you’d expect really.

That’s the good news.  I’ll have a good whinge tomorrow but here’s a sample of the delights of winter canal boating.

The first photo is taken (roughly) from the place where we moored on our first night on our (1/12 th of a ) boat.  Still icy a year later. And still nicely lit.

Got t go to the pub now.

See you later.

It’s nice to be back : )

February 5, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 10 Comments