Friday, 30 July 2010

Today is a day for posting pictures.

Take that as a sign I'm recovering - which is great.

Yesterday Chris took me on a convalescent trip in the Cotswold sunshine. We ended up at Snowshill lavender farm, and naturally the camera came along too.

There were a lot of insects about too, and some seemed almost intoxicated by the lavender, sitting still for long enough to let me get in close.

The album is here.

If anyone would like an image to use as wallpaper, do let me know.

How do you change this?

From auntie beeb - child prostitution in Brasil.

The Votsala (Lesvos) gallery is ready for your enjoyment

If you've got the time - I've trimmed it to just over 100 images, from about 900. I've kept the size down to between 200-450K, so they shouldn't be too slow.

Some are good photographs, some are just a record of events and some lead to the next images. If anyone has a use for the full sized versions then let me know. I want to tell a story, but I also want to take aesthetically pleasing photographs, and that can sometimes be in conflict, at least to my sensibilities. There's a couple of Chris's in there too - going through her images this morning made me really want to upgrade her camera, as the automation really isn't doing a good enough job.

The album is here.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

It's sometimes good to remember things you've heard.

At a bibleweek camp we went to in 2002 I felt God saying the following things (mildly edited):

Thoughts from Days of Destiny 2002

Derek Brown - On Prophesy –

When God sends a word it is important to look to see how it may be fulfilled, rather than standing back and waiting for it to simply happen. Thus, if God says “you will be a teacher and leader” then you should consider how you can best learn to teach and lead, equipping yourself to fulfil God’s word.

Look for the ‘now’ word of God. You don’t have to discard older ‘unfulfilled’ prophesies, but it is important to NOT keep looking back. Always be looking for the thing that God is doing NOW. What is the ‘sound’ that you can hear from God (Elijah heard the ‘sound’ of rain when talking to Ahab).

For prayer to work you need to hear from God, anointing and faith, all working together.


Reminder of the call to Italy – Agnes Pillonel gave a prophesy about God wanting to touch the Bulgarians, Greeks and Italians (Romans specifically). Internal response again. Dave Richards also picked it up – a call to an anarchic, chaotic nation. Should we be looking to move to Italy at some time or hold off? Logic says wait ‘till the Kids have left home and the Grandparents are no more, but who knows? There was also a word (from Geoff IIRC) saying be ready for the unlooked for – look for the un-expected offers.


Need to talk with them more, draw them into family discussions, pray for and with them more. Try to guide and develop their spiritual adulthood. May need to talk to Steve and Lorraine Thomas again, also (especially) Paul & Adrienne Crockett.


Polish worship style was like coming home. Used a mixture of waiting on God, dynamics and driving rhythms, plus long periods without words. Arrangements more basic than others, but with more feeling and flavour to music. Other worship seemed a bit flat by comparison. Felt strong desire to work with Krystof (writing songs?) in some way.

Felt need to develop leadership more within music, rather than playing facilitating role. Need to raise a replacement? Should be looking to write songs, arrange another musicians day? Songwriting day? Should also try to draw in other Bicester churches. Must contact Simon and Gaynor.

Look to God to develop worship ministry further. Question mark – is guitar playing becoming too much ‘what I do’ – will I need to put it down so I can move on?

Interesting stuff for 8 years ago. Still waiting to see if anything comes of Italy, but then we still have family here that need us.

Monday, 26 July 2010

First real use of open SUSE 11.3

So, after the updates, a few reboots and some additional tweaking later and I have to say, I'm really liking this as an OS. It's fast in a way that is a pleasant surprise. You know how a new install of XP or 98 is lightning-quick for the first few boots - well, it's like that. Kubuntu was certainly faster than a clean 1 year old XP install but wasn't impressive. Sabayon was a little slower to respond than XP, probably similar to my Macbook, but wasn't *totally* solid as an OS. This feels snappy and responsive.

How quick?

Start up Open office after freshly booting XP and it eventually opens up. Do the same in OSX and you might wonder if you actually clicked properly before it finally gets up on screen - probably takes twice as long as word or excel in both those OSs. In oSUSE it takes about 6 seconds, and for me that is quite phenomenal. Firefox and opera are a touch quicker than windows. Other apps and various views are all snappy and crisp in their behaviour too, and it makes the interface a pleasure to use.

On appearance, where Kubuntu was scruffy, half finished looking, this just *feels* crisp and sophisticated, like Sabayon but without the dark moodiness that their artwork brought. Certainly some of that is down to KDE 4.4.4, some down to the team designing the colour schemes etc. The widgets, folder views and various tool bars all work well too. Screen fonts - the eternal bugbear of Linux installations - are quite acceptable, and easily as crisp as any of Cupertino's offerings. Digging around in the various control panels and utilities I keep being impressed by the way the controls all seem to work - is this really Linux?

Obviously time will tell whether it is stable, reliable and manages to stay as fast to use, but I certainly hope so.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Having just tried OpenSUSE 11.3

I now wish to install it properly. It's VERY fast in the KDE flavour.

But there's a hiccup.

The full install DVD ISO file is 4.7Gb, which is a lot to download over a 1/2 meg connection. They do offer a minimal install live CD, which I duly downloaded and have booted from now. However although that CD has drivers for the wireless dongle that work in 'live' mode, it seems they don't get installed, so it will only allow updating etc with a wretched wired connection.


So tomorrow I shall visit the office (need to anyway) and see if I can download it over their much fatter pipe. SUSE is the same basic flavour of Linux as Sabayon (Gentoo) and while it is less sophisticated in some ways, the sheer speed impressed me enough to want it to be successful. It also has a HUGE advantage over Sabayon 5.3, in that the installer works really well, and offers the choice between normal partitioning (easy to re-size etc) and Logical Volume Management (impossible to manipulate using 'normal' tools).

And that's a big win in my book.

Downloaded the 'full' 4.4Gb DVD during the day over the office connection - saw transfer rates up to about 450kbps, which is a lot better than the home rate of around 50kbps. Re-ran the install (slightly different options, same very easy operation) but with the same lack of automatic wireless connection as before. Dug around, opened up the YaST 2 control centre and installed the network dongle for it to finally work properly. RESULT!

It's busy updating now, installing Opera, Thunderbird, Audacity and a few other bits n pieces. Instead of using the proprietary Nvidia driver it's using the recently developed open source graphics drivers, and so far I've liked what I've seen of the display. As part of the update I'm *hoping* it will also have installed the various codecs for handling DVD and MP3 files. That would be nice.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Interesting morning so far.

I awoke around 4ish as seems to be normal right now, when things had become too uncomfy. However in contrast with most days this week, somehow I found a position where things didn't hurt too badly, and I went back to sleep for nearly an hour.

Not good.

That extra hour was enough for all the analgesia to wear off. I stumbled downstairs half awake and practically wriggling with the discomfort of it all. Trying to find the right tablets in the medicine box but unable to focus clearly while my body was shouting at me was a bit of a challenge, as there's a temptation to just fling the stuff that you don't want across the room because it keeps getting in the way. Because of all the tablets my tummy seems to be getting in on the general state of misery too, and that 'don't help none'.

So here I sit, almost an hour after taking Tesco 'finest' extra strength pain relief caplets, still wriggling with it, but being more in control and less uncomfortable. Did manage to pray a bit (a little more coherently that *just* 'OH GOD' though probably not too much) afterward. It's taken almost 20 min to type this.

Meh, as my Canadian friends would say. Time for a shower in 5 min.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Talking of photos....

Our friends, Matthew and Cheryl had their marriage given a church blessing on Saturday last week. I was pleased with this - it's completely spontaneous and un-posed - hand held 1/60th f3.4 at the equivalent of about 120-140mm telephoto from the other end of quite a long hall. I've not even cropped it much.

In the beginning....

In the beginning there was a bass.

It was a Fender, probably a Precision, but it could have been a Jazz - nobody knows. Anyway, it was very old... definitely pre-C.B.S.

And God looked down upon it and saw that it was good. He saw that it was very good in fact, and couldn't be improved on at all (though men would later try.) And so He let it be and He created a man to play the bass.

And lo the man looked upon the bass, which was a beautiful 'sunburst' red, and he loved it. He played upon the open E string and the note rang through the earth and reverberated throughout the firmaments (thus reverb came to be.) And it was good. And God heard that it was good and He smiled at his handiwork.

Then in the course of time, the man came to slap upon the bass. And lo it was funky.
And God heard this funkiness and He said, "Go man, go." And it was good.
And more time passed, and, having little else to do, the man came to practice upon the bass. And lo, the man came to have upon him a great set of chops. And he did play faster and faster until the notes rippled like a breeze through the heavens.

And God heard this sound which sounded something like the wind, which He had created earlier. It also sounded something like the movement of furniture, which He hadn't even created yet, and He was not so pleased. And He spoke to the man, saying "Don't do that!"
Now the man heard the voice of God, but he was so excited about his new ability that he slapped upon the bass a blizzard of funky notes. And the heavens shook with the sound, and the Angels ran about in confusion. (Some of the Angels started to dance, but that's another story.)

And God heard this - how could He miss it - and lo He became Bugged. And He spoke to the man, and He said, "Listen man, if I wanted Jimi Hendrix I would have created the guitar. Stick to the bass parts."

And the man heard the voice of God, and he knew not to mess with it. But now he had upon him a passion for playing fast and high. The man took the frets off of the bass which God had created. And the man did slide his fingers upon the fretless fingerboard and play melodies high upon the neck. And, in his excitement, the man did forget the commandment of the Lord, and he played a frenzy of high melodies and blindingly fast licks. And the heavens rocked with the assault and the earth shook, rattled, and rolled.

Now God's wrath was great. And His voice was thunder as He spoke to the man.
And He said, "O.K. for you, pal. You have not heeded My word. Lo, I shall create a soprano saxophone and it shall play higher than you can even think of. And from out of the chaos I shall bring forth the drums. And they shall play so many notes thine head shall ache, and I shall make you to always stand next to the drummer. You think you're loud? I shall create a stack of Marshall guitar amps to make thine ears bleed. And I shall send down upon the earth other instruments, and lo, they shall all be able to play higher and faster than the bass."

"And for all the days of man, your curse shall be this; that all the other musicians shall look to you, the bass player, for the low notes. And if you play too high or fast all the other musicians shall say "Wow" but really they shall hate it. And they shall tell you you're ready for your solo career, and find other bass players for their bands. And for all your days if you want to play your fancy licks you shall have to sneak them in like a thief in the night. And if you finally do get to play a solo, everyone shall leave the bandstand and go to the bar for a drink."

Yea, and it was so.

I'd just been thinking about photography

and how it used to be in the 'bad old, good old days' before reading Sandra's comment for the post below.

I'd shoot quite a lot of film, trying experimental stuff, tweaking exposure, looking for unusual angles and subjects in ordinary places. Most of it was done in 35mm and processed by whoever did cheap, tolerable printing.

There'd be anticipation, excitement even, when collecting the packets of prints, and it was hard not to almost rip open the flimsy envelopes in our eagerness to see the results. This was almost always followed by disappointment at the framing or print exposure, because they'd always print for 18% grey, neutral colour balance and clip off the edges of the image. It was virtually impossible to get a regular machine print that was any better than passable if the subject or colour was even slightly out of the ordinary, and even big enlargements were often poor in this respect if not handled by a proper printer.

The weather here is supposed to be raining heavily, and being housebound had me thinking about photography and the kind of shots I might take. There was a picture I'd take in Thornton Heath of the rise going up to the station from the clock tower side, just as the sun was setting. Orange light was glinting off wet surfaces, vehicles, windows, tarmac etc and much was in silhouette. The original print was washed out, pale sky, white highlights, detail in the shadows where there should have been none. At the time I was lucky enough to have access to a darkroom, and reprinted it deep deep deep to 10X8 on an Agfa satin paper to minimise details and pull all those glorious colours out. It wouldn't have won competitions because it was just an urban sunset, but there was no comparison.

It is so easy to create a good digital image these days: all you have to do is take a technically reasonable image and use the simple, free tools available. All the images I display were adjusted using Irfanview (windows only - sorry Mac users). If you're saddled with a Mac but without a bottomless budget then The GIMP is free, very powerful (much more so than Irfanview) and quite difficult to use for a novice. iPhoto, as bundled with OSX is excellent in some areas, utterly woeful in others, and a very poorly thought through package for it's lack of resizing tools.

Just realising I've been writing (more) rubbish.

Camera phones images are the new Polaroid pictures. Polaroid images were always garbage, although some people hung their artistic pretensions on them, but they were only ever really an 'instant record' for the amateur (I'll ignore their professional use for now) desirable for the sake of novelty.

I'm probably a snob, too.

But don't just leave those 'ordinary' digital images in their disappointingly vanilla state - do something to make them interesting.

First tip - crop the image in whatever way is necessary from the highest resolution to make it 'perfect'. It's often not possible to perfectly frame an image in camera, and may even be undesirable if your hands are a bit shaky, since you can lose something off the edge of the frame as you press the shutter release. Cut away undesirable borders to home in on the subject or to remove items that were so commonplace that you didn't see them when taking the image. Use the rule of thirds as a guide IF it helps, and try to aim for a set of dimensions that do the image justice in the role it's to have.

Always make further adjustments with the image at the resolution you're going to use it at. If you're going to display it on the web then re-size it to something sensible: 1024Xwhatever for landscape, 900Xwhatever for portrait. The reason is that sharpening etc works differently according to the actual resolution of the image. However beware of over-sharpening, since sometimes a smoother, softer image is much more desirable.

Play around with contrast, gamma and brightness - they each affect similar aspects of the image in different ways. Be aware too that increasing contrast may also increase colour saturation to the point of it looking unpleasant, and likewise dropping contrast may flatten an image, requiring increased saturation to bring some life back.

If your chosen image manipulation package permits it, adjust selected areas that need radical alteration - such as skies - without adjusting the whole image.

Have fun. If it doesn't work out then all you've lost is time and electrons: there's no chemicals, paper or darkroom hire to worry about. If it does work then you've gained some great images, and regardless, it will make you think about how you take pictures and what can be done to make better ones.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Camera issues sorted

And at a sensible price, by the grace of God.

The more I looked, the more I found that the camera I already had did most of what I wanted with fewer of the flaws that I'd find in all the affordable replacements. Image noise is a big problem with modern compacts, and even causes problems in higher end stuff.

The Samsung I owned uses a 1/1.8" 8.3Mpixel senor, and produces acceptable results used at ISO400, though I prefer to shoot at 50. Most of the cameras I was looking at, even when priced >£200 were cramming 12Mpixel onto a 1/2.3" sensor and had serious noise issues, even at minimum sensitivity. The optics and focussing of the Samsung aren't fantastic, but they are quite usable, and certainly no worse than many. On Saturday I took pictures at a friends wedding - 449 shots without flash and the batteries are showing no signs of flagging. Most of the pictures were taken at either 200ASA or 400ASA due to low light, and many would be printable to 10X8 at least. I did consider a Canon G10, but the more I looked into it, the less impressed I was, and although the image stabilisation system is great and the handling excellent, many of the demonstration images were not good enough to justify D-SLR levels of expenditure.

In the end I found a used S850 on the bay, just like I already owned, that had recorded 220 shots and was as new, though without a fancy box, but with a 32Mb (hah hah) SD card. At £35 + shipping it was too good not to buy. It arrived today: see below for test shots. It's probably time to upgrade Chris's instead since it's 4 years old, and the automation is letting her down too often. A Panasonic Lumix ZX1 (£110 refurbished from the 'bay seems perfect).


Sunday, 18 July 2010

(not) Lucky me

I may have shingles. :P

Since returning from holiday I've had slightly dizzy spells, that I'd put down to being on a boat, and felt very much like that. Friday evening I developed back ache on one side around the position of the kidneys, enough to keep me awake until I took paracetamol and asprin, and it has intensified over the last couple of days. A rash in the area of the pain began developing on Friday and has spread over a wider area as of this morning. It's not severe, so much as uncomfortable, and life will continue hopefully more or less unaffected.

A long time ago I had a week of similar dizziness, which the doctor diagnosed a resulting from shingles at the time. Looks like a visit to the surgery is due Monday. At least it's not infectious like primary chickenpox.

It's 3am.

The novelty has worn off, along with the analgesics.

Someone is taking delight in poking my right side under the surface into the muscle. It's not 'agony' but it's also darn uncomfy - enough to make me gasp occasionally - and there's no way I can sleep like this although I hope the codeine will kick in soon and it'll settle down. Even typing is difficult, because as I move even small amounts I get a fresh poke/pain. Unfortunately staying still isn't an option either, since it's still necessary to breathe.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Just had one of those scary computer moments.

Opened a blog (Hamo's Backyard Missionary, over on the blogroll) and the page opened briefly before forwarding to one of those 'your computer may be infected - check now' pop ups. I carefully closed it without clicking yes and it opened a page that looked *just* like the security settings page of control panel and began performing a process.

Closing that page shut firefox too: I just hope I was in time to kill the download before it started, because sure as anything, that was malicious. Maybe I'll wander over there with the Linux box later and see what gives.

If only Sunday night didn't signal the end of the weekend

For the first time in almost a year I'm getting to play in worship.

There's an open worship time organised by some good friends, and I've been asked to play for it. I've been almost scared to hope that it would actually happen, been expecting calls to tell me it was off, or that they'd decided that God didn't want me to play after all. It's been such a long time in this desert, trying to be a fish that's barred from using it's tail.

Now let's see if I can managed to play without excess nerves/eagerness/stupidity/inability through lack of practice.

It's interesting the guilt that arises too. Years back I had an issue with 2 guys, both friends, that were drummers. One also played a bunch of other stuff while the other only drums, but it was so much a part of him that the first player never got a look in, only playing keyboards instead. Eventually he went away from God, leaving the church and then his wife. I often wonder if depriving him of doing the thing that was most part of him in worship contributed to his fall and all the subsequent hurt resulting from that. Yes, it was his responsibility, but being part of a body, we are ALL responsible for the influence and effect our actions have on those around us, especially if we lead.

Evolution or corruption

There's a line of thinking, brought to the fore by a letter in yesterday's Times, has been running round my head for some time.

The letter was from an Anglican priest, in reply to someone commenting that ordination of women bishops was unbiblical. He pointed out that the offices of both priests and bishops were unbiblical, and that they had been evolved to meet a need caused by change in the church (I think that's a fair summary). On that basis, incorporating other changes was entirely legitimate, including women into leadership.

It's an interesting and in some ways attractive line of thought, and one that I've brought up occasionally here before regarding writings by Ray S. Anderson and the adjustment of scripture to fit new theological understanding (in his case, for the emerging church). There's a side of me that also thinks this is just the kind of issue that Paul was continually dealing with through his letters that now comprise a significant part of the new testament. I'm particularly reminded of his comments to the Ephesians in Acts, about savage wolves coming into the church there, and even some of the guys he was meeting with going astray too.

Fortunately God keeps calling people up and forwards in the traditional evolved churches so that instead of them being purely monuments to human administrative ingenuity, instead we can sometimes find life through the Spirit. Or so it seems to me.

It's natural to focus on the side of pointing out what is wrong, rather than approving what is right. It is much easier for me to be negative and corrective instead of positive and delighting in the good things. This doesn't come at all naturally, and is requiring constant work, particularly when brought face to face with things that do not have the scent of life to them. If only we could control and change our thinking, as easily as flicking a light switch.

I just wish learning was enjoyable.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Oh, the irony.


You can't help some people.

There's a samsung camera on ebay that's just like mine, that might have made a good interim device until the market for larger sensor compact cameras matures and prices come down a bit. I sent a question to the seller about how many pictures it had taken, and how to find out, only to be told that they didn't need the masterclass (my description was nothing like that!).

Guess I don't need their (2/3 worn out) camera either.

The southern Californian city of Laguna Niguel

Has been hosting the "mooning Amtrak" event, where people bear their bottoms at passing trains, for more than 30 years.

This year the city has decided to discourage the event:"Avoid the area this year," the city warned on its website home page. It added in a breezy Twitter feed that the city was "saying 'NO' to crack".

From auntie beeb.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Nuts to camera replacement.

Just spent a couple of hours going through the options, and unfortunately (as usual) I have champagne ideas and beer money. Wish there was an easy fix for my poor old samsung, but I suspect the truth is that it's worn out - 7600+ images in less than 3 years with what is just a budget snap shooters camera is probably my lot.

I'd like something a little more pro-quality, and with a larger sensor: the Leica M9 would be ideal*. Most likely I'll just get another hundred quid compact with a few more pixels and some new compromises. I don't want a dozen or more modes, face recognition (I can see them fine myself) and all the rest. What I'd like would be a slightly chunky camera with reasonable quality 5X zoom, general and spot metering, short response times between pressing the shutter and image capture, variable sensitivity between 100ASA and 1600ASA plus the obvious photographic stuff like exposure compensation, auto white balance and fill flash. How many people buying real cameras want to post to facebook directly (those people can already do that from their iPhones)?

The new Olympus Pen models with their micro 4/3 sensor appear to be seriously flawed with poor focus performance (and darn expensive) while the Panasonic version is unaffordable.

*Yes, that WAS a joke. And yes, it would be ideal.

I think I've found the tool for the job. Not that it completely fulfills everything, but last year's model, the Canon G10 has full manual control, 5X zoom, good lenses, a pro-sumer build. Best of all, it hasn't been cursed with the dreadful slow handling that afflicts both the G11 and S90 derivative. I've seen them at various prices (even brand new) on ebay, and I'm going to see what's available.

***edit 2***
Despite what some users claim about image quality being outstanding, I've researched a bit more and come to the conclusion that the G10 isn't actually all that great. On one set of test images the dreaded purple fringe was astonishingly strong and detail levels no better than my 'average' budget Samsung. Not impressive considering this is a 15 megapixel camera.

So the search goes on. It's all down to which set of compromises are most bearable - I just wish the manufacturers would stop playing silly beggars, cramming as many daft features into a camera and instead just concentrating on turning out solid performance. They each seem to do some things well, but cannot get their overall act together. Or maybe I'm just nit-picking, and any of them would be potentially excellent.

I also wonder, bearing in mind the incredibly tiny size of a typical compact camer sensor, if the dark patches could be dust grains, and it just needs a 'good' clean?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Taster pics

Unfortunately it seems my camera has developed a fault: a second dark blob, much stronger than the first that caused problems last year. Almost every image with a substantial amount of sky has been spoiled, and the blob is even visible against some dark backgrounds. It may be necessary to accelerate the replacement program.

There’s a place you really must visit.

But I won’t tell you it’s name or where it is until later. And this will be the last of my semi-live travelogues, because (as of this point in time) in less than 24 hours we shall be well on the way toward blighty and home.

For the last 2 days here we’ve hired a car and driven over 300 kilometers across this island. There is a LOT that we’ve not seen, and when we do come back (probably late in the season) we shall want a car for the duration again. The trips from the hotel are great, and you certainly see things that you couldn’t find alone. Conversely, because they must be adapted to suit a wide clientele and the limitations of staff/transport availability then they also miss a very great deal.

Yesterday morning we left under lowering skies and rising wind, bound for the ‘petrified forest’ on the opposite side of the island. It’s a long drive, right across the middle, and it’s probably some of the worst, scruffiest, grubbiest bits of the island you may have misfortune to clap eyes on: I suggest just keeping your eyes on the road and anticipate good things to come. Shortly after Kalloni, less than half way across and just as we began to climb into the mountains, the clouds came down and the skies opened. Now I’m a confident driver, but the mountain roads on this island are as tight and difficult as any I’ve seen in any country, with long steep drops and hair-pin bends with dramatically rising inside corners and crumbling edges without armco. That’s fine, but now stir in heavy rain after a dry spell so the road is slippery and visibility down to about 20 feet in places and life gets ‘interesting’. There were quite a few places we were down to 30kph/20mph on the straight sections, simply to ensure that I wouldn’t just drive off the edge. I had eyes like boiled onions when we arrived.

But it’s an ill wind etc.

The first good thing, and it was a very good thing indeed, was the smell. We stopped above a monastery to take a picture shortly after the rain had made up it’s mind, and when we opened the car door the smell that hit us was astonishing. Sandalwood, cedar, pine, oregano, thyme and a whole bunch of things I couldn’t name, all bundled into an incredible sweet-smelling savoury aroma. My first thought was to ask what the monastery was using for incense before I realized it had nothing to do with them and was coming from everywhere around me as dried herbs and plants received the moisture they so needed and gave up their scent. Greece has always been a place that usually smelled GOOD to us, but this was truly amazing. We continued getting lower-level whiffs of this scent throughout the day, and very welcome it was too.

The second good thing was that the temperature dropped. The previous 2 days it had been running at 36’C + from about 12ish until early evening. In the mountains in the rain it went down to 14’C, and by the time we reached the national park with the fossilised wood it was back up to 19’C, with sunshine breaking though the clouds. Now this area is know for being brutally hot and dry, with little shade or vegetation, and we’d been wondering how we’d cope with wandering round, however the lower temperatures made it a pleasant experience, bearing in mind that there was a lot of walking and clambering around. We were very grateful.

In quick summary, if you’re a visitor to Lesvos and want to see it then by all means do – it’s interesting, but it’s little more than the odd (large) lump of fossilised tree trunk dotted around at semi-random across a wide and arid landscape. There’s a rugged beauty to the area, but don’t believe a word about fossilised forests or woodland turned to stone, because it’s not in the least like that. And the fossilised wood itself – in places it’s like flint and in places it looks and feels a little like wood – but you’ve probably found bits of fossilised wood on the beach or digging in your garden, judging by what it looks and feels like. The park is almost treeless, everything being covered with a low thorny shrub in either yellow or sun-bleached grey that close up looks like those molecular models with hexagonal ring structures and odd reactive groups sticking out.

From there we went back into the mountains on roads that were now dry and clear, off to find Petra, Daphne’s house (tucked away in a back street on the edge) and some lunch.

Petra itself evokes mixed feelings. The town itself is attractive, with the key point being a church built on a large rock in the middle, towering above everything else. There are narrow covered lanes behind the front, with tavernas, souvenir shops and all the other facilities you’d normally find in one of the nicer Greek tourist resorts. There are beaches on either side of the town, although the sea was up when we were there, and breaking over the main road. 2 years ago there was a short beach in front of the tavernas, but with completion of the new harbour it appears this may have been washed away. My initial judgement of the place was harsh, and in retrospect it looks quite nice, though from memory the water there is a bit cold compared to Thermi’s sea. The Tavernas also cater for slightly more up-market tastes than those of Thermi, offering more meat dishes with friendlier waiters, commensurately higher prices and the best toilets we’ve ever seen in Greece. It’s not my kind of resort, but would certainly suit some people fine.

After dinner in Petra we headed just a few miles down the coast to Molyvos, which feels rather different. The coast road winds through the hills between, with great views over Molyvos bay and the city.

The old town was built up around the castle, and clings to a steep hillside. Our first stop was right at the top: last time we came the castle was closed, so we made a point of having a look round. It’s certainly not Warwick, but is still interesting for an hour or so. The health and safety people might have kittens there, due to the lack of barriers, but that also means that the views are without obstruction and it feels much more natural.

There is a long agora that runs from the bottom to near the top with restaurants and cafes etc. We were thirsty after our viewing, so drove to the bottom, planning just a short walk up to the nearest café. Thanks to me failing to remember clearly we started on the wrong passage up, and walked literally all the way back up again in sweltering heat. We did find the right path eventually (starting by the sea, rather than by the pre-Roman ruins) and cooled in the same café we’d used 2 years before, enjoying the spectacular views over the bay. The town has many fascinating and sadly crumbling buildings, and should not be missed on a Lesvian holiday.

One night in the hotel there was a film about the fishermen of Molyvos, shot in the 1960s, and at the end it finished with the suggestion that 9 days out of 10 the fisherman’s plate was empty. With the new cafes for tourists everywhere the poor fishermen could no longer afford to while away afternoons when they could not fish, so the municipal organization has established a café to ensure traditional life may continue, presumably in a subsidized fashion.

Beaches in Molyvos seem to consist of fine shingle, and as a resort it seems busier than Petra, justifiably so. There are also quite a lot of pre/Roman ruins about, often in tucked away places.

Between Molyvos and Sykamena there is a small road that runs down the coast, and at Elepheria it becomes a dirt road, though relatively smooth and quick. We drove this way, but from Sykamena, where the start of the road is 1 car wide, and it’s almost unbelievable that this could actually be intended for use. However the previous day we had met a Swiss couple, from Geneve, who told us about it (and with whom we discussed all sorts of things, including the fate of Switzerland and the united nations – conversations in Greece can be like that, and you never know which way they might turn). This road is only for confident drivers, but the views it affords….. It’s certainly a wild ride, but around each bend is a new cove or a fresh view over the sea. Well worth the time and effort to discover and then drive.

And talking of drive, the road up from Thermi heading north is also spectacular. On day 2 we went this way, having only time to glimpse it while returning on day 1. About 10km out from Thermi there is a long flat section with cliffs on one side and a wild rock strewn area of scrubland between the road and the sea on the other.

We pulled off the road here and went for a brief exploration among the thorns and wind-sculpted plants. Although it was pleasantly breezy there when we stopped, the wind must be very fierce at times, because in many places the plants were growing in streamlined cones in the lee of each rock. In other places the hardiest plants had taken root without cover, and almost invariably the leading edge was showing silver-grey stems that had been killed by the salt wind and bleached by the sun. Even the rocks, which are very dense and sharp-edged are worn and sculpted by the wind and water, and have curious patterns of pitting. While walking back to the car we also found what appeared to be a cache of sea shells, bleached white on the outside and with glistening mother of pearl interiors. Presumably that particular rock was the favourite dining place of some find of seabird, because the spot was miles from anywhere, and there appeared no pattern of human logic in the distribution of the shells.

Next stop was the town of Mantamados, which has a chapel in the centre (the church of saint Vasilios – one of many) with the most ornate screen that I think I’ve seen anywhere, Greek orthodox or Roman Catholic.

From there the road becomes increasingly spectacular, and at times reminded us of the drive around the Sorrento headland toward Positano. In places it skirted villages, sometimes with cobbled streets leading up and away into the centre. We tried one briefly, but didn’t want to take so much time from our schedule so left them to give us somewhere fresh to explore next time. Views are – to use that overworked superlative – spectacular, and make up for the ordinariness of the southern end of the island. In places there are terraces, build up to prevent the soil being washed off the steep slopes, permitting olive trees to be grown where nature never intended. In other places the slopes are too steep or too rocky, and nothing can be farmed except a few goats, living off the scrub and yellowed grass.

Occasionally there was a turning, plunging downward from the main road to tiny coastal villages, and we took one of those to Sykamina.

One of the other hotel guests had been staying there the week before at a creative writing course, and when we had mentioned boredom with the tameness of the scenery in the south, expressed surprise that we should find the island ordinary, asking what we considered better.

The road down was steep and sufficiently twisty in places that it felt at times almost like a fairground ride. We got occasional glimpses of a small bay, houses with typical terracotta tiles on their roofs and whitewashed walls clustered together, contrasting against the deep green of the olive trees and the sparkling blue of the sea. After a last twist he road seemed to suddenly place us in the middle of the village, with the harbour and tavernas to our right, sandy beach to our left and another white-painted church built on a rock right in front of us. Of all places that we’ve seen, this one was THE picture-postcard image of desirable Greece. In the harbour, along with fishing boats (and some much more expensive marine hardware) was a ferry of some description, and around the quay side were fishermen preparing their gear (long lines with bated hooks, rather than nets). Outside the tavernas and even by the church were lines with octopus tentacles hung up to dry.

Yes it was a visual cliché, but that didn’t detract one minute from the simple beauty of the place. I don’t know if we’ll ever actually dare to return in case it’s less perfect, but if you ever visit Lesvos then it’s the one place that you should not miss.

I’ve finished this off in Mytilini airport and on the plane. Leaving last time was a sweaty hell, with the airport jammed solid, all UK flights operating on the same day. This time departure has been almost completely painless, to an astonishing degree. We were given a (free) lift to the airport by friends of the hotel owners, and although there was a queue it moved at a reasonable rate. Because we were a little early there was time to have a drink and some lunch, and also (presumably) because we were early we got better seats near the front of the plane with great leg room (on the way out we were like sardines). The flight left dead on time and even the guy next to me was friendly, offering a sweet as the pressure changed on take off and his unwanted milk and sugar.

Now we’re home safely. Flying from Manchester meant that we could afford to park within easy walking distance of the terminal, so although we had 2hr 20min drive, it took no longer than Gatwick because we didn’t need to shuttle off to somewhere miles from the airport.

Taster pics up if I can find the energy.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Of Greek, Greeks and English

This is a collection of ephemera – odds and ends of thoughts that have not been built into a fuller blog post worthy of it’s own separate entry or new stuff that has arisen since the original topics were written.

Being all good higgerant English tourists, some of us have been trying to murder the local tongue as only English tourists can. We’ve efharisto’d (thank-you’ed) shop keepers and parakalo’d occasionally (it means ‘please’, but flexibly, so it can mean anything from ‘what’ to ‘come on’). Elsewhere we were taught that the normal greeting is yassou (hi) but here they say yassas or just grunt yeah in passing.

There’s a bit of a joke among a few of us here to do with greetings. Kallemera (pronounced cally mairer) and kallespera are good morning and good evening. However sometimes people get a little mixed up and instead say kalamari. The joke runs ‘good morning, good evening, squid’. In addition there’s also a small hamlet just across the road called Pirgoi (pronounced peer-gee, means ‘tower’) that has been referred to several times as ‘pigri’ in our hearing.

There is no B sound in the Greek alphabet, and the nearest they get is to used mp together. So Zormpa was a Greek (I have seen a taverna that used the name spelt this way) and there is Cramp Salad on the menu in one local taverna. The symbol we see as a B is veta, and has a hard V sound. This is land is Lesvos, and they are pretty certain about that.

Talking of which, we had a guided tour of the new archaeological museum in Mytilini, which of course included a discussion of Sappho. The guide was pretty sure that Sappho had little to do with homosexuality, and having looked up some of her poetry, one would be really hard pressed to find any erotic content in it unless there’s a subtle euphemism tucked away somewhere. There IS praise for women in the way men would be praised and honoured put of respect, and that is really what makes it unusual. Our guide offered the alternative explanation that a Roman General’s wife, called Lesbiana, might have had the practice named after her instead, since she used to arrange same-sex orgies. Maybe I’ll greet the lesbians I know with Greek and see how we get on….?


Another interesting thing we saw at the museum were from marbles carved to honour the dead. In the image, the dead person depicted on horseback was seen approaching a tree with a serpent coiled through it’s branches to represent wisdom. The echoes of the fall of man in Genesis were striking. No doubt there are interesting explanations as to why such a cross-over might exist.

On Wednesday we had a steaming hot day, deciding to stay on site (yesterday the thermometer in the car we used read 36’C at around 5.30pm, and this was at least as hot) and go swimming morning and evening while sleeping and reading our way through the afternoon. When Chris and I snorkel we normally go separately because communication is difficult and we enjoy different paces. Today things were different, and this morning we found another shoal of those muscular, plump yellow and blue fish and generally had a good swim. This afternoon I went out alone at first and came across an additional section of the roman harbour that we’d not seen before, plus additional stuff at the original site. Someone has been doing underwater archaeology/restoration and the huge stone blocks that might have constituted the original harbour arm have been uncovered, and in some cases cleaned up. beyond the blocks there was also a section that looked as if it might have been cobbled, with regular rounded stones set in the sea bed. I’d guess there’s quite a bit more waiting to be uncovered for the hard-working and enterprising soul who loves to study under water.

The last couple of days have been much cooler, and I snorkelled again this afternoon. It was like swimming through a London fog from the 1960s, with navigation only possible by sticking one’s face above water and choosing a point to aim for.

Through the window I have just watched a shield bug walk across the table. We had quite a few visitors of the chitin-covered variety, including cicadas, a large cricket, several grasshoppers, one of which sat in the sun with me this morning, swaying curiously from side to side as if it had just disembarked from a boat. We’ve also had our share of insect bites, which formed large red wheals, often with a small hole in the middle that would ooze for a while. I must be changing, because Chris always suffered and I never did, so either I now react to them or they didn’t used to bite me. Could it be I’ve become sweeter?

Generally we’ve not been aware of mozzies in the room, except for a couple of days ago when I found and killed 3. The new liquid form of insect killer that everyone now sells instead of the old tablet-based kind makes my react allergically, and I stream first thing in the morning until an hour after I take a Cetrizine tablet. Yesterday the wind picked up and that keeps flying insects down. We left the device switched off and I have not required a tablet today. QED?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Holidays can be difficult times

to find God and spend time with Him.

It’s primarily down to the complete change in lifestyle and circumstances that first breaks the routine in which you made space for God, and secondly calls you away to other stuff that is either fun or necessary (or both) when you might find time.

The last time we were here I was in the middle of a time when I would get up about 5.30am for an hour with Him, sometimes praying aloud, sometimes in tongues, sometimes even just being quiet. Although the length of time was a little truncated (5.30am translates to 3.30am with the time difference!) and I was here for a recharge, I did still carry on. This time I’ve been reading the new testament we brought with us, going back through Timothy and Titus in a loop, meditating on the things God was speaking from those passages. There have been a few early mornings too, where I wandered out in the relative cool, walking round with a camera, open eyes and (hopefully) open heart.

The key things have really been a reminder to keep hold of the things we were originally taught, and to teach others those things too.

And it’s been really encouraging. There’s a temptation to give in to the fuzzy, permissive theology that characterizes the CofE (please understand me right – I’m not putting it down, so much as making a comparison) in order to fit in. I’ve even wondered if there’s some kind of calling there, but if there is then somehow it needs to fit with the firm foundation that I have received, rather than undermining that foundation or even setting it aside so that something can be built which allows the 2 things to co-exist.

A very good friend who I know to be a man of God, has a rare depth of understanding of the grace of God as applied to the lives of others. He once told me that the closer he got to God, the less tolerant he found himself able to be of sin and the blurring of theological lines. I think God hates the fudge, the deliberate ambiguity, the tolerance of certain things because they match contemporary thinking. In so many areas we write off what God did in the old testament because that was before Jesus, and He has brought freedom from law, so now all things are permissible, even if they aren’t beneficial. There is a failure to recognise that it is the same God both before and after Jesus. Yes, the manner in which we are able to come before Him is radically different, but the God that described certain things as detestable in the old testament does not suddenly find them now fully acceptable because of human social development.

I’ve slept on this post, so to speak, and the phrase that came to mind this morning is “sharper than any 2 edged cloud”. The gospel Jesus brought was not fuzzy, and the manner in which Paul spread it was not ambiguous. As a teenager I had a friend who went to bible college, aware of a call on his life. He came back after a couple of terms, head full of confusion about how the gospels weren’t written by who they were supposed to have been and that all the various letters meant quite different things to what they said at face value. We mocked him, and it confirmed to me what I already ‘knew’ from interacting with the Spurgeon’s college faculty, that there was a lot of bad theology being taught by the bibliologists. After more than 30 years I’m a little more sympathetic as to why they might be confused, but I’m convinced of this: that their understanding of both God and the bible were/are faulty because they build on poor foundations that were patently not the truth.

This post isn’t intended to be about that line of thinking, but it IS about a rejection of fudge and compromise. I don’t know where this goes from here (Peter and Carol – we may need to talk again – our conversation got me thinking) but fudging principles to fit is clearly not acceptable. hold apparently opposing things in tension, yes, but fudge, no.

I also wonder if my posting this is an aspect of people – myself included – that I’m coming to dislike strongly: the desire to grumble all the time.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Just why did we want to come back here?

In the second post of this holiday series you might have detected a degree of not complete contentment about this year’s destination. That isn’t really accurate, but certainly has some truth to it. Greece has it’s downside as well as it’s upsides, and we’ve certainly been to more attractive parts: in fact every bit other than Zante has had better scenery, beaches, tavernas and archeology.

The reason we’ve come here is the people.

Daphne and Iannis who own the hotel obviously set the tone, but as we’ve come to know some of the others here, we find that we’ve been drawn to them too. It’s tempting to describe them, but we don’t know them that well, and there’s always the danger of kindly humour in one language feeling like a dreadful insult in another.

And there have been others too.

One couple I may have mentioned already, grew up in Woodside and New Addington, quite close to Croydon and South Norwood where we were children.

Another couple, German by birth but South African by relocation in the 70s have also become friends. Sadly she has terminal cancer, and we’ve spent a sad yet happy evening in their company. I hope we’ll stay in touch after they fly back tomorrow. I’ve wanted to talk about Jesus, and maybe there’ll be opportunity this evening, but this also requires sensitivity and reality, rather than a bald gospel presentation or worse, an apparently opportunistic insurance policy sale. I pray we have grace to speak, sense to stay quiet and wisdom to know the time for both.

Wonder who else we’ll meet?

Hope Ben is OK, house/cat sitting.

The thing with writing these travel posts

is that they take too long to write, and are too frequently full of typos, grammatical errors and things that, in retrospect, could have been phrased so much better. 2 hours construction time is not unusual, and it seems that no matter how frequently I re-read them before posting, they appear perfectly good right up until the the publish post button is pressed.

Since this is not a book, nor am I charging for access to the content, I hope you'll forgive/ignore the mess and just enjoy the stuff for the fun of it. And can you tell I've been reading too much Kipling?

The sensation nagging from my left heel

had become so strong that it couldn’t be ignored. I was standing in the sea up to my knees just a few yards from the shore, and a small but highly opportunistic fish had found the hole in my skin from a mosquito bite too good a source of nutrition to resist.


Round here the fish will swim right up to your ankles – and eat you alive if they think it’s worth it!

We’ve been snorkelling quite a bit over the last few days, and although the novelty is wearing a bit thin now, it’s certainly still interesting – you never know quite what the sea will show you. There’s also no guarantee you’ll ever see the same thing again, since nothing apart from rocks is fixed and there is quite a bit of water movement going on. That coupled with the slight haziness in the water most of the time and the huge area that the seabed covers makes even locating the same spot twice quite tricky without using landmarks on the shore as a guide.

The first time we ever snorkelled was in Greece: 1987 from Hanioti beach in the Kassandra peninsula of Halkidiki. The only stuff we have left from that time are the flippers I bought, all old-fashioned black rubber that has slightly perished and begun to crack a little around the foot holes. They are a little loose on my feet and lack rigidity in the paddle section, but are adequate for my level of ability and the small amount of use they get. Nostalgia prevents upgrading at this point in time, and there’s a certain déjà vu remembering the flippers and masks my own parents had that my brother and I tried out (and probably ruined – rubber was much less durable 40 years ago) in the bath as small children. Our masks and snorkels are much more recent, and ironically (because we bought cheap first time round) of lower quality than the originals we had.

Beginning to snorkel is a real challenge even if – or maybe especially if – you’re a competent and regular swimmer. There’s something about giving your lungs permission to operate that defies all that is natural when your face is under water, and even after a couple of times, can still require an act of faith to believe you’ll draw fresh air and not acrid sea water into your lungs on the first suck through the mouthpiece. We eventually found the best way to start was by getting everything in place before swimming and steadily breathing through the snorkel while lowering oneself gradually, allowing the water to creep over chin, mouth and then slowly up the front of the mask. Water can sometimes leak in around the edges of the mask, which is very off-putting, and pressurising the mask by exhaling through the nose seems to be the complete solution for this.

Of course some people just put it on for the first time and enjoy their new found freedom. These days it’s all quite instinctive, though for the first time after a long break I’ll enter the water carefully, rather than just plunging straight in.

The water off Thermi beach is of excellent clarity on calm days, of which we’ve had a few including that day described in my earlier post, but mostly it’s a little murky. Not like the sea off Britain, which seems to resemble a kind of green fug if you’ve ever swum wearing goggles there, but like looking through a gentle fog that blurs and masks objects more than about 30 to 40 feet away. Weed banks make their presence known by casting a dark shadow in the far distance, while fish appear ‘silently’ into one’s field of view, fading from sight as distance increases and their natural camouflage does it’s job.

The beach itself starts off with small-medium stones with the odd patch of course sand that turns into finer sand on the way out. In places there are rocks and weed beds, which can hide sea urchins and sharp objects: I cut the heel of my left hand on something a few days ago when I was fooled by the altered distance perception that occurs under water and pushed against something sharp. The weed itself is almost uniform, and takes the form of brown flat strips, about 1cm wide and anything from a couple of inches to a couple feet long. There are also large open areas with tube-like structures protruding, clams about 3 or 4 inches across which would close at my approach and curious pits with small black holes at the bottom. Here and there are tracks like ordinance survey footpath markings written on the map of the sand, all with a tall, pointed shell at the end indicating a hermit crab has been on the move. The curious brown objects called sea cucumbers can be seen sometimes, although I am cautious about these, remembering how Ben once picked up something like one, which turned out to be a fire ragworm, and received stings that hurt for several days. Depth is highly variable and bears little relationship to distance from shore, with the water being knee-deep 150 yards out in places, yet in the designated ‘swimming channel’ being more than 7 feet deep.

Swimming with a snorkel is unlike almost any other for of locomotion. Natural buoyancy keeps the body comfortably weightless by the surface, and the snorkel takes away all demands to keep one’s face above water. Instead one makes gentle motions with hands or feet to guide you above the vista that opens up as you progress above almost everything.

With care it’s quite reasonable to snorkel in water no more than about 12 inches deep, and being so close to the bottom throws everything into amazing clarity. Shells sparkle, ordinary stones look like gems and tiny fish become objects of wonder. Further out vision does become a little less sharp, but the possibilities of experience expand enormously. On one occasion I noticed what appeared to be a sparkling dust cloud in front of me, with pairs of glittering particles close together, and each pair moving in coordination with the others. As I got closer I could see that it was in fact a shoal of tiny fish, each less than a centimetre long and almost perfectly transparent except for the digestive system and the eyes, which were the pairs of particles I had seen.

Sometimes I recognise fish from commercial aquariums, bright purple and yellow, flat sliver discs, sometimes plain, sometimes with black bands front and rear, sometimes with multiple vertical stripes. On the bottom are long, slender fish with brown mottles to blend with the weed or green/yellow bands that match the sand patches, each about 4 inches long. On one occasion I was making my way over a bed of weed close to the surface when I found myself surrounded by a shoal of yellow and blue striped mullet, feeding on the weed bed. There must have been at least 50 of these plump, muscular fish between 6 and 12 inches, and they seemed quite happy to graze on the weed while I watched them, holding position as quietly as I could, breathing shallow breaths in order to not disturb them. Or maybe they had the last laugh, swimming past me while defecating green weedy looking fishy faeces until I swam off.

Yesterday I scraped the covering off a long rock, looking for evidence of tool marks or any other signs of human involvement (saw none). Within moments the area was full of fish seeking to cash in on the newly available food source I had uncovered for them. Everything from small silver fish the size and shape of a large coin through catfish to stripy wrasse types, and all quite fearless. The seas here are very fertile.

Further south from the hotel, but still within swimming distance lay the (few) remains of a Roman port, close by to the prehistoric settlement mount. I suspect a lot of the ‘interesting’ bits have disappeared, either into collections, or more likely, just been used as building materials for homes and walls. There is one pillar to be seen still, a square column of rock about 12 inches on a side and 6 feet long, with a base about 2 feet square and 6 inches thick attached to one end. Some of the other slabs and chunks of rock also look like they may have been manipulated at some stage, but any easily spotted evidence has long since either been worn off or is covered by the ever present weed and molluscs that adorn every surface.

After between 30min and 45min the mask starts to become uncomfortable, the taste of salt in the mouth unpleasant and I’ll head for the shore.