Friday, October 30, 2009

Exercises in frustration and futility

One: Raking up pine needles from the lawn on a windy day.
Two: Teaching the cats to wipe their muddy feet before walking all over me.
Three: Getting PJ to stop playing video games and go out with me to get a curry. Now. I'm hungry.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fur, feather, and fin -- what fun!

On our return, I discovered a huntin', shootin' and fishin' catalogue had been delivered to us by mistake. I cracked it open and was enthralled! Finally, an entree into the lower levels of the rural aristocracy, the class to which I should clearly belong. It's all pheasants and foxes all the time. On ties, on braces, on boxer shorts, on cufflinks, on teatowels, on luxury cravats, waste paper bins, toilet seats and loo roll holders. You can order leg of mutton gunslips -- "ideal for carrying a broken gun on your motorbike or in your sports/small car" (why would you want a broken gun?) -- or order a leather travel guncase! You can buy wellington boots that cost 200 pounds!! They have strapping young gels -- the sort that can wring a grouse's neck with a swift flick of the wrist while bagging a poacher -- modelling shooting vests, tweed waistcoats, and (unsurprisingly unracy) lightweight silk thermal vests!!! Everything, in short, that the well-heeled country gent could require.

I'm asking Santa for a deluxe cartridge belt (takes 49 x 12 bore cartridges) for me, the diamond top socks in sage with a contrasting cherry garter for PJ, and 2 small Dri-Dog Bags for when the cats come in soaking wet of an evening. Christmas is sorted.


We were supposed to be going up to London for a dinner with the great and good tonight, but the plague/man-flu/cold continues, so we gracefully withdrew -- distributing our germs to the great and good seemed unfair. Luckily, we had no such compunction about spreading them to the less fortunate (in so many ways) inhabitants of Southampton, so took a brief shopping trip there instead. I had a 20-pound Borders gift voucher clutched in my hot little hands, but was slightly flummoxed by the lack of books on offer. Lots of Halloween candy and Twilight tie-ins and packs of cards with your horoscope on, but not so much in the fiction section. Or, more specifically, no Persephones. And at the moment, that's what I want to buy: beautifully designed books by unknown women writers of the 1930s and 1940s. But they were not to be found in this "book" store. Of course, PJ spotted something he wanted and I grabbed a book en route to the checkout in order to not feel left out -- which is why I now own a 500-page hardback biography of Beau Brummell, the ultimate dandy. Right. Not random at all.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I went to London and came back with ...

1. Some pictures of my niece.
2. A line of bruises down my thigh from other people's laptop bags on the Tube.
3. A rotten head cold.

I hate going to London.

On the plus side, we were given a free mint Aero on emerging from the Tube at Goodge Street on Wednesday morning. It's amazing how much a free 50p bar of chocolate can brighten your day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Winchester railway station: fail

For the past few months, the railway station at Winchester has been worked on -- or rather, from the customer perspective, worked over. Ticket barriers have now been installed at the entrance to each platform, not for the benefit of the passengers -- who struggle to get suitcases through the tiny gates or to run for a train if late. No, these are revenue-generating gates, the front line in the war against fare dodgers, those evil people who don't want to pay the extortionate prices that South-West Trains charges for its services. After all, why hire conductors and ticket inspectors (who might also provide a measure of customer service and safety) when you can just add gates? Along with the gates, which also cause lengthy queues to get OUT of the station when disembarking from a busy commuter train, the powers that be have decided to remove the large and useful information screen from the entrance to the station on the Winchester side. So, you arrive at the station to meet some friends and can't see whether their train has arrived -- or what train is currently arriving or next to depart. To get this information, you have to stand to one side of the gates (of course you're not allowed through them if you don't have a ticket) and crane your neck to see the tiny TV screen hoisted high above the platform. Useless; absolutely bloody useless. The other platform through the underpass has an information screen, but not both. They do have, of course, a CCTV screen, showing the area that you're standing in ... presumably so that they can avoid having two members of staff on duty late at night. Higher prices, fewer staff ... privatisation was SUCH a good idea. Who do I blame? Hmm, let me think ...

Epic fail, Winchester, epic fail.

Wide-angle lenses, depth of field, and point of focus

Yes, it's weeks 2 and 3 of the digital photography course -- and we actually got to take some snaps! We also learned about depth of field: the wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field; the narrower the aperture, the deeper the depth of field. And one-third of the depth of field is in front of the point of focus and two-thirds behind. Confused? OK, let's take a look at it in practice with the help of an attractive model:

Photo 1: wide aperture, shallow depth of field. Shin is beautifully crisp and "large" (not fat) at the front of the picture; the background is pretty fuzzy.

Photo 2: slightly narrower aperture, deeper depth of field, the leaves are starting to become crisper.

Photo 3: much narrower aperture, much greater depth of field, the background is much clearer. Shin appears smaller and further away.

And last week, we headed out into the car park at Eastleigh FE college to take pictures using manual exposure and tripod. Underexposing a shot means it's too dark; you get a negative number popping up in advance on your settings screen, and you play around with the aperture and shutter speed until the camera recognizes that there will be enough light to take the picture. Overexposing means the picture will be too bright, but this time you get positive numbers on the screen. Obviously, at night, you need much slower shutter speeds -- sometimes up to 15 or 20 seconds, as we're not using flash. You can't hold a camera steady for that long, so you need to use a tripod. Although the car park wasn't the most exciting space, it was interesting to see just how well long exposures worked in terms of making use of all the available light. For example:

Best of all, though, is that having a better understanding of what you need to do makes it more enjoyable to go out and experiment. I was up at crack o' eight this morning to feed the cats, and noticed the beautiful light from the rising sun. I grabbed my camera and headed out in my pyjamas (don't worry, there was nobody around) to see what I could get. And while the telephone cables are annoying, this light is superb. I feel ... less incompetent!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Apparently, I was tempting fate

Of course I was. Four mice today. FOUR! One wriggling, two dead, and one disemboweled. Lovely.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Where were we?

Business at work means that when I finish for the day, I rarely feel like pottering about the Web or constructing blog posts. Books, TV, playing with the cats, or removing the mushrooms lurking about under the surface of my once pristine lawn -- fine. Using the PC? Not so much. To get back into the swing of things, a quick roundup of life chez Dumpling.

TV: We've finally finished Season 5 of The Wire. Recorded during August and September, we hit a scheduling problem due to PJ's frequent trips overseas, but we watched the season and series finale last night. Satisfying, I think. So nice to see a show finish properly -- no dragged endings, character replacements, spinoffs. Just, the end. The BBC did a great job of showing all five seasons in such a short period of time, clearly the best way to watch it. Now I want to go back (in a bit) and watch it all over again, picking up on the many things I missed on first viewing. A series that really lived up to its reputation. Next up, season two of Spiral and sexy French detectives and lawyers doing sexy French detective and lawyerly things.

Books: The Reading Detectives project was extended for another month, just after I'd reached my limit on Hampshire-based books. Instead, I've been engrossed in WW2 -- both fiction and historical diaries -- rather appropriately given that September was the 60th anniversary of its outbreak. First up was "Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downs". The first few stories are extremely acidic and very funny, but progressively become more thoughtful, more sad as the war progresses. After, I read "We Are At War", Simon Garfield's collection of Mass Observation diaries for 1939-1940. These diaries are fascinating, and a strong counterpoint to the myth of wartime Britain, the Blitz spirit, everyone thinking that Churchill is wonderful. For the crime fiction book club, I've read "Mistress of the Art of Death" by Ariana Franklin, a story of child murder, anti-Semitism, and autopsy set in 12th century Cambridge. Fun! And, I've just discovered, there are two more available ... time to go shopping.

Cats: The death toll has dropped as the cold weather has put the brakes on rapid mouse reproduction. However, that didn't stop Shin from bringing one in last night and letting it go in my office -- and complaining vociferously when we removed it (still alive) from her. Reports of battles with the big tabby next door have reached us, and I'm pretty sure that he broke in to our utility room, ate their food, and then peed in their food bowl yesterday -- despite the supposedly secure lock on the catflap. Vigilance is necessary.

Football: Another victory for Norwich and we've entered the promotion zone! Yes, it's only October; yes, a lot can happen between now and May; but still -- this is where we should be.

And, finally, it's autumn! Properly autumn! This week has seen the first bowl of porridge, the first log fire, and the arrival of the heavy duvet on the bed. And, of course, rain, pine needles, and yet more mushrooms. However, the over-wintering onions and garlic have been planted; the spring cabbages, radishes, and spring onions are coming along nicely, and the trees are changing colour. It's all good.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

False hope?

Nine goals in 2 games -- and Norwich are suddenly 7th in Division One (or Three, to those of us who remember a time before the Premiership and Championship nonsense). We're still a long way off the leaders, 11 points behind Leeds, but our goal difference looks healthy for the first time since our opening-game drubbing. Perhaps we can make it back up? Perhaps we won't face the horros of Division Two? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps . . . ?