Friday 30 October 2009

Endless loop

I got an award. I'm absolutely shocked. I write English as a second language, despite not having a first. I wibble on about things of absolutely no importance. Finding a purpose behind something you've read in my blog is as likely as being able to buy a bale of hay in Central London.

But none the less it happened. Again. My blog is now "multi-award winning". I'd like to thank my parents, my sister and my therapist. I'd also like to thank my primary school music teacher for three whole lessons of listening to me play the Recorder. It was just bad noise.

The award looks like this:

Awards in the blogosphere seem to be like chain letters. The first blog is given an award, its writer passes that award onto people he or she thinks also write pretty cool blogs, and so on ad-infinitum.

On a slightly different tack, my hobbies are listed as:
  1. Causing Chaos
  2. Disrupting things
  3. Naming tortoises after doorknobs.
So, in my usual manner, applying hobbies 1 and 2, I started thinking what would happen if I bestowed this award upon the blogger who bestowed it on me. Would it create a loop? A failure of cause and effect in the blogosphere? A time paradox?

Lets find out:
  • I would like to pass this award onto my dear friend Indigo Roth, who bestowed it upon me. [Do we hear the blogosphere explode?]
  • I would also like to bestow the award onto Eolist Petite for the fine piece of writing that is Trading Cards.
  • Finally onto Mrs Long-suffering who has started her own blog, but hasn't yet put anything into it. Thought it has got to be worth passing a blogging award onto an as yet empty blog! Bumble

Monday 26 October 2009

The Origin of the Roundabouts

Roundabouts or rotaries (or traffic circles to give them their full latin name) are an amazing species. I live in England where they roam freely in great herds. Most especially, I live in Stevenage which is a designated zone of Special Scientific Interest and a Conservation area for the roundabout. Stevenage is to the roundabout what the Galápagos Islands are Galápagos Green Turtle or the Invisible Zebra.

Now if roundabouts were cute and fluffy, we'd be beating the naturalists and their film crews back with sticks. They're not. If they were exciting, aggressive or poisonous books would be written about them. Sillier naturalists would be poking them with sticks. They are slow moving, so slow most say they don't move at all. And neglected. We know so little of the life of a roundabout.

After many years of careful observation I believe the humble roundabout starts as the cute mini-roundabout like this one:

Development must be fast, because you never see a roundabout that is too small for a car to go around (even in Stevenage). A fully formed mini-roundabout must be born and grow in just a single night and move itself into the middle of the road to feed on the fumes and tyre-rubber of passing cars.

A theory that also plays on my mind, but I have all but discounted now, is the priciple of "budding" like yeasts. A single roundabout splits and forms a double roundabout. After a brief period of co-habiting the same road junction and once sufficient bits of car light, broken glass and detached paintwork have accumulated the "budded" one shifts off to it's own road junction.

Clearly there are some issues with competion with traffic lights, and this is an area of separate study. A roundabout is clearly a stronger and more virulent species and will often displace a family unit of traffic lights to take the precious land of the road junction. The traffic lights can briefly be found huddling by road works, before passing on to other lands.

There is a further theory, that roundabouts are not a form of life at all, but rather are the end points of wormholes in space, one clockwise and the other counter-clockwise, that allow the passage of white vans, tractors and invalid carrages to the road directly in front of you. This theory is clearly rubbish and should be discounted from the minds of any right thinking conservationist. It is simply paranoia.

Anyhow, listen out tonight for the squealing noises of wheels, for this is the cleverly disguised call of the roundabout. They speak to each other. They do. Honestly.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Is it just me, or is it getting warm?

I feel very mixed about climate change, global warming or whatever the media insist on calling it these days.

You see, whatever we do, planet Earth will survive. Yes, you heard me correctly, the Earth will survive. Drive your gas guzzling four wheel drive. Leave the TV on standby all night. Buy big lovely instant-on tungsten filament bulbs - 100w are best. Use them 24/7, even if it is blazing sunlight outside. Leave the air-con on maximum even when you're on holiday. Burn down the rain forests. Burn down all the bloody forests. The Earth will survive.

It's all happened before. There were big lumbering creatures with brains in their heads and bums with fantastic latin names - that's how old they were. They weren't too quick at making decisions, not that it really mattered, there were no decisions they could have made that would have made any difference. The climate changed, they died out and something small and fluffy took their place. The Earth survived.

I wonder whether our activity, however dire, compares with that of mother nature herself. Do we produce enough exhaust out of the back of our cars to equal one decent volcanic eruption? Add onto that the burning of fossil fuels - are we there yet? Plus herds of farting dairy cows - is that enough? Actually it doesn't matter - our car gasses, cow gasses, fossil fuel burning, tree chopping mania only has to push towards the tipping point. Our activity plus a good volcanic eruption and we're overbalanced. The Earth will survive.

Of course, we think much faster than the dinosaurs, but not en-mass. Humans can be really clever - look at the computers, medicine, astronomy, art, literature, music and particle physics. Each of these areas is advanced by people thinking by themselves or in very small groups contributing to the knowledge. It's when we try to think and make decisions together it all goes horribly wrong. Look at any government. Look at the United Nations. Sit on any committee. Participate in a decision making meeting. See what I mean - in groups humans are ponderous and stupid. So are we going to think our way out of this one? I doubt it very much. Never mind, the Earth will survive.

Unfortunately, it is likely the Earth will survive without us. I have a daughter. I don't want her generation to have a bad time. I don't want her children or her children's children to be the last of our kind. So I want to try my best to stop the Earth from reaching the tipping point and tipping us off. Let's do our best to push the ponderous and stupid, whom we seem to have put in charge, to fix things. And while we're doing that, lets do the best we can ourselves.

Monday 12 October 2009

London by Night

I recently posted a very poor quality shot taken from the observation gallery on the 32nd floor of Centrepoint Tower in the West End of London. Now for almost any other city in any other country 32 floors would not be considered high. For New York it is positively tiny and you'd expect to get 360 degree views of the walls of the surrounding buildings. London, for some years, had a policy of very low rise and hence Centrepoint Tower affords a quite fantastic view. One day I shall sneak up there with my camera, a tripod and a glass cutter so as I can take some wonderful pictures before I am arrested and incarcerated.

I enjoy taking photographs, and so do a few others I work with. A small, but select, band of us decided to take a walk one evening in January around some of the more picturesque parts of London. When there are a few of you, setting up tripods and taking photographs doesn't feel anything like as self-concious an exercise. There is, as has been said before, strength in numbers.

We decided on the Tower Bridge area of London. It is an iconic symbol of London. It's also really windy.

For my first photo I wanted to get a shot of the traffic streaming through the bridge (clicking on any of these photographs gives a bigger image):

This was close to thirty seconds of car lights. Notice the green traffic lights. This is one of those places in the world where running a red light can result in a very through car wash.

I varied this a tiny bit for a vertical shot:

Tower Bridge is lit up like a Christmas tree. Up to a point this is fantastic for photographers, but you'll notice the star lights and glare all over this image. Incidentally there were people walking up and down the pavement (sidewalk), but because of the long exposure none made even the slightest impact on the shot.

A short walk later and we were over on the South bank of the Thames, looking back across the river towards The City. The City is what we call the financial hub of London, and is to London what Wall Street is to New York. That is, a place of risk taking plonkers who needed some serious bailing out when they discovered that they'd all been selling each other assets that on closer inspection were probably liabilities.

Fortunately this photographic trip was before the credit crunch and they could still afford to keep the lights on at night. Now they are allowed a single tea light per floor, which is lit at dusk and blown out at dawn.

Even I, a jaundiced, cynical, countryside lover has to admit this is very pretty, with all the different coloured lights. Oooh, look at the pwity lights...

This wasn't the coldest of nights, but a gentle and persistent wind wore away at us all. It was beginning to make my nose go all the wrong colour. A blue nose clashes so badly with my green eyes. It's an aesthetic thing.

From this vantage point, I could look back and get a view of the whole of Tower Bridge and a magnificent sight it was too. I hope this image captures that beauty.

From there we strolled back and I went home to attempt to get my circulation working again. I did in everything except my head.

Friday 9 October 2009

World Mental Health Day

October 10th, 2009 is World Mental Health Day. The idea of a day was started by World Federation for Mental Health, and a damn fine idea it is too.

Mental health is a subject very close to my heart. I am a sufferer from depression. I've been on anti-depressent tables, I've had counselling on more than one occasion and in fact, I'm still on the tablets.

There are stigma attached to mental health problems. The one depression enjoys is the why don't you snap out of it line of illogic. This is also known as the you don't need counselling/anti-depressents, you just need to make up your mind to be ok conversation. Most often this is from kind, well meaning people, especially of the older generation who just got on with it.

I draw an analogy to mind. If I were unfortunate enough to suffer from heart disease, and it were controllable with tablets, most people would say, poor Keith, he has a bad heart and has to take these tablets for the rest of his life. Now, for various reasons, which I shan't go into in this blog (well not today at least, and probably never), I suffer from depression. It affects my sleep, my memory, makes me bloody hard to live with, lousy at my job, lousy at being a husband and lousy at being a father. Makes me quite an angry person. Oddly enough it never affects my appetite (I want to be buried with a hamburger, just in case I get peckish). Counselling has helped a bit, but without a shadow of a doubt the anti-depressents nail the problem, so why then have I had the snap out of it conversation. I wouldn't snap out of heart disease, why would I snap out of depression!

This attitude has meant many people with depression, or other mental illnesses, have remained shy and reluctant to speak out, despite it affecting many people. People who need help have been frightened to seek it due to the stigma. Still others have just got on with it, and lead miserable lives for themselves and made the lives of those around them miserable too.

Have a look at this website for some scary statistics. Mental health problems are not something that only happens to other people.

I'm very lucky. Good doctors, good counselling, effective medicine and it affects my life very little. Thanks for reading this post.

Thursday 8 October 2009

I'd like to thank my Invisible Zebra

I just got an award off my old mate Indigo Roth (the big purple one). It is for having a blog that is a tiny bit Over the Top or a little Away with the Fairies.

Here it is:

To qualify for the award I need to answer some questions with one word answers. For me this is amazingly difficult as I am widely known for being long-winded and going on for a bit, even though most people would like me to shut-the-f*ck-up.

Here are my answers:
1. Where is your cell phone? Pocket
2. Your hair? Short
3. Your mother? Sarcastic
4. Your father? Inventive
5. Your favorite food? Curry
6. Your dream last night? Missing
7. Your favorite drink? Large
8. Your dream/goal? Escape
9. What room are you in? Ballroom
10. Your hobby? Disruption
11. Your fear? Alzheimer's
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Free
13. Where were you last night? Bed
14. Something you aren't? Religious
15. Muffins? Prozac
16. Wish list items? Many
17. Where did you grow up? London
18. Last thing you did? Tweeted
19. What are you wearing? Glasses
20. Your TV? House
21. Your pets? Cavies
22. Your friends? Unhinged
23. Your life? Chaos
24. Your mood? Grumpy
25. Missing someone? Myself
26. Vehicle? Unicycle
27. Something you're not wearing? Clingfilm
28. Your favorite store? Apple
29. Your favorite color? Black
30. When was the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Yesterday
32. Your best friend? Karen
33. One place I go over and over? Astrocamp
34. One person who emails me regularly? Indigo
35. Favorite place to eat? Raj

I don't read too many blogs, so like Indigo, I shall pass on to just a few highly deserving people, in the hope that they appreciate the recognition as much as I do:

eolistpetite 's thoughtful and throughly enjoyable blog.

Rebecca at Provocation of Mine (d) who oft makes me laugh.

The thought bubbles of Robbie Munn - the blog that came before and has revived.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

A Few Moments of Peace

I recently had the pleasure of a holiday with my family (Fluffy daughter, Mrs Long-Suffering and I), my sister, her husband and children and my parents. We went to the Spanish Balearic Island of Minorca. There was sunshine, a swimming pool, good food and company.

Whilst I love the relaxed atmosphere, a chance to spend whole days doing nothing, I'm not one for spending much time in the sun. Searing sunlight, wilting heat and factor 97 suncream are not my bag. One good ray of sun and I'm smoke.

Exploring and taking photographs is my thing. Our holiday location, the glorious and quite lovely Vista Picas is only a few miles away from the old capital city of Ciutadella. The city, like the island has a very rich history resplendent in megalithic stone monuments, Roman, Vandals, Byzantine, Turkish, British, French and then Spanish. The capital of the island has moved to Mahon which has a far deeper port suitable for much larger ships. And gin.

The best time for taking photographs, especially in sun drenched bits of the world are the golden hours after dawn and during dusk. I wanted the place to be empty, so I arranged for a taxi to take me to the capital at 5:30 in the morning. This is me on holiday - crazy huh?

Mr Taxi driver arrived. He spoke Spanish. I speak English. His English was as good as my Spanish. I grunted and pointed at a map. He held map and rotated it several times. I pointed again. We reached an understanding. At that moment a young lady from the hotel leapt into the back of the taxi and in a flurry of Spanglish indicates she would like to share the ride and pay half.

I arrived at 6:00 in the morning. The journey was very much like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter, but with fewer shrunken heads and wheeled metal beds crashing about. He missed three road islands, which I'm sure he must have clobbered on the return journey.

From my point of arrival I took a slow walk down the narrow streets. The lights were still on giving an orange glow. I sucked in a few moments of peace before nearly getting run over by a delivery van. They belt up and down these streets like maniacs. Ancient, pretty, narrow they may be, but these are peoples homes and work places. And don't forget it!

The streets had wires across them from an earlier lighting system with what looked like large domestic light bulbs - it would have been very interested to have seen them then. Across the middle of the frontage of each of the buildings was a mass of wires and pipes. This seemed something of a shame when the rest was so very picturesque.

I wandered around fairly aimlessly - I was looking for photographic opportunities rather than landmarks and time was short. There would only be an hour before the sun came up and everything was scorching hot and photographically somewhat flat.

Walking along I saw a man sitting in a doorway in a very Monday sort of way. He looked like he was steeling himself to face the day. I asked his permission and took a photo - this is not something I've ever had the guts to do - just walk up to a stranger and take their picture. But I did just that.

From his attire, dishevelled appearance and eyes staring into the middle-distance, clearly the chap was the local computer programmer.

Having relieved the man of his soul I travelled on my way towards the edge of town where I found this unusual building.

Now it is not every day you see the combination of a nightclub, bar and windmill. They were just tidying up from the night before where the locals had obviously had a couple of flowered buns too many or maybe hit the malt loaf too hard. Binge pastries, such a problem in this part of the world.

My final port of call was, forgive the pun, the port. Rather wonderfully it was in a what must have been a deep cut in the land, so as I could stand on high ground and see the whole area. This is probably my favourite image of the whole shoot, but each to his or her own.

I took a slow walk back into the city centre, found a likely looking bus and arrived back at the hotel before anyone else had even peeked their heads out of their duvets. I fell asleep during the show that evening.