Friday, 23 February 2018

Goodbye



Back in '97 I started working for a biotech company in Kidlington, Oxford, and got to know a young woman called Gemma, among other colleagues.

I moved jobs, and eventually she came to work for me some time in 2006 or 2007. That business was closed at the end of 2008, but she got another job in a different company in the same building where I ran a business for a while.

About that time she discovered that her smartphone could take reasonable pictures, and that she also had a good eye for an image. I loaned her a camera briefly and introduced her to post-processing, then she bought a Nikon D3200, and after that her ability blossomed.

 I heard last week that she had died, and today went to her funeral. I won't pretend that we were especially friends, but there's a connection formed by working with someone and caring for them in that role that's different but just as strong as friendship. I miss that I won't be able to bump into her in the future and talk about photography and her other interests.

She leaves behind 2 sons and, at present, a large number of images online.

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/94927419@N05/with/36030558355/
 https://www.instagram.com/gemmolyneux/?hl=en

Friday, 2 February 2018

The day the searching died

or the internet is big enough to contain all human unintelligence.

There was a time I could find almost anything I needed with 2min in AltaVista and the subsequently google. Now it's a case of working through 20 or 30 pages or reviews, products for sale or other forms of detritus before eventually giving up and using an alternative method.

Monday, 22 January 2018

So we saw the new Star Wars movie last night

Oh Gawd.

Can I say that here?

I think that, perhaps, I would like to see the 'men only' version, in the hope that it feels a little less like a re-hash of The Empire Strikes Back, right down to the love-triangle between 3 key characters and battles on a white landscape to save a base inside a mountain. And in the hope that it wouldn't just display men as trigger-happy fools who need a good slapping around by the women, who are really the only ones fit to be in charge. And yes, I recognise this is a theme from the original too, but there it was done with style and humour.

It's curious, thinking back to the film, there was SO MUCH that wasn't like TESB that the feeling I had seen all this before should not have even remotely been able to rear it's head.

It's also nice to see actors with British accents who aren't the bad guys.

We took a tub of sweets in with us, and they remained un-touched for the entire film. There was a huge amount of action, and that was good, but sometimes I was left squirming in my seat by the stupid things I saw, and a couple of times found myself actually shouting "Really. REALLY?" at the screen. There were also some scenes where the cinematography wasn't good, though as a non-movie photographer it's hard to say exactly why.

And then there were all the questions about dumb stuff we wanted answers for after leaving the cinema, (although at least this time the continuity was vastly better than the previous offering) like:

Who carried Rose out of the base?

If Snoke was in Ben Solo's head and such a great master of the force, why didn't he feel the lightsabre being moved?

Why hasn't anyone developed the FTL drive into a ballistic weapon that penetrates shields and destroys huge ships?


There's a bunch of other stuff. Sometimes actors seemed really wooden. The story and protrayal sometimes seemed almost childish. Are they trying to be Star Wars the Next Generation? (answer is yes)


There were some excellent bits too.

The stolen ship from the gambling town looked fascinating. Scenes with Rhey and Ben in contact were very well captured indeed. They did a magnificent job building tension on Snoke's ship to the point where it is destroyed (what a pity the film didn't finish there). The scene with Luke projecting himself to face Ben was also excellent, and was a very gentle and happy way to remove him from the franchise.

We caught the last showing in this area, but it may be on elsewhere still: you've not seen it, so should you go?

If you're young, feel that women are under-represented at the highest levels and that men are trigger-happy jerks then yes, go see it, especially if you didn't much like the originals - this film was made for you. If you saw the originals first time round in the cinema and recognise a bit of a send-up in a fun movie then no, don't go.

Personally I think the much maligned episodes I, II and III display a lot more creativity and thought while remaining true-ish to the originals, even though we knew the ending beforehand. And I really wanted to like this film.

*edit*
I somewhat regret posting this, because it made me think about the film more, and this morning there's a much larger stack of stuff that annoyed me in retrospect. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

How can one say it 'like it is'?

Without coming across as harsh or judgemental?

Having redeeming qualities in one area does not mean that one is a success or even adequate in others. Is it enough to get the basics right, but fail at the key things one was charged with doing?

I'm also learning that if you don't want to face a 'difficult situation' down the road then you need to speak up at the start or face the consequences.

Snow this morning

And sleety rain this afternoon.

All I want to do in these circumstances is eat.

Just went outside to try to get some pictures of damp vegetation in the soft light, but it was raining too hard, and was just miserable.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Is it wrong?

I'd actually like to see this version: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/42719084/star-wars-the-last-jedi-cast-mock-men-only-fan-edit

I haven't seen to original either yet.

It is with a mixture of amusement and concern

that I see the Met office have a warning out for yellow snow, and even worse, amber snow, across the area between Newcastle and Glasgow. But somehow it doesn't surprise me.


Tuesday, 16 January 2018

It has been observed

In a letter to The Times before Christmas, the anthropologist Desmond Morris made the observation that as society was being increasing de-gendered, so the facial hair of young men has grown progressively longer and the pubic hair of young women has been trimmed shorter. He found it amusing to observe this symbolic exaggeration of key gender differences that quietly subverted the noisy campaigners for elimination of gender.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

For those interested in the old testament

You remember Hezekiah, king of Israel, who was sick & ready to die but was given an extra 15 years of life?

After him came Manasseh, the most evil king of Israel* who 'filled Jerusalem with blood from end to end', and assured the destruction of Israel.

He was 12 years old when he became king, therefore was born to Hezekiah after he recovered. If Hezekiah had died sooner then Manasseh would never have been born.

Welcome to the 'what if' game. :-p

*edit - I note that he was king of Judah - not Israel. Pillock. :p

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Note to self

Stop trying to write blogposts in word: the internet has gone all isolationist, and blogger now completely screws up fonts, formatting and carriage returns etc.

What happened to him?



Oh the pleasures of introversion.

I have been reading Jeremy Paxman’s ‘Empire’, loaned by my mother as an interesting book to give perspective on the creation and loss of the British Empire, and particularly how it affected the British outlook and attitude. It’s a fascinating overview, written by someone who bridges the gap between modernism and the post modern, generally able to step back and view with a little understanding instead of just applying a mindless liberal condemnation to the process.

It’s also helpful to step and back and ask what parts of me were developed from an imperial British attitude. 

And I find that, despite not being British, there’s quite a lot. 

And I’m not at all sure that’s a bad thing.

On the radio this morning, a new advertising campaign for the British Army was being discussed. As the ‘obvious’ demographic from which to recruit (white males aged 16-25) has shrunk relatively, so their advertising campaign has been broadened to encourage non-whites and other ethnic minorities & faiths (and gay people - they were mentioned too). The new advert made me think about a re-worked version of the old tee shirt slogan “join the army, meet exotic new people, and then cry on your mates shoulder afterwards”. Probably perfect for the current generation of 16-25 year olds then. 

We should also remember it is JUST an advert.

The army rejected 20,000 applicants last year, which is encouraging.

This is pertinent to the book, because the infamous British stiff upper lip wasn’t about being poncy in public, but instead about individuals and groups enduring often quite extreme hardship and suffering while maintaining determination and a good attitude. Explorers often returned with parasitic insects living in parts of their anatomy, malaria, dysentery, perhaps having had to remove some of their own teeth. In some parts of India an ex-pat was considered to have done well to survive through 2 monsoon seasons. If you were in the army then, there was a fair chance that your compatriots weren’t going to be terribly sympathetic if you wanted to have a good cry because mummy was a long way away.

Sometimes I wonder if we forget that to look ahead, sometimes we also need to look behind?

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Caught between ages.

My generation are in an odd place of transition.

Last night I watched The Intern with Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway: the premise is that he's a 70 YO widower with 40 years experience at senior business level and she is a 30 something who has just started a business. He's lonely, drifting without a purpose any more, so takes a job as an intern working for her online clothing company. You want to know more, it's on Amazon prime.

My generation are in an odd place of transition, like I said. We aren't like the previous generation that DeNiro represents in the film, close to our parents generation, and we aren't the hip young things that have never known a time without google and email, text and facebook. We have aspects of both, strengths and weaknesses, but don't really fit in eaither category.

So I work for a company run by a CSO who is just about 40, where most graduate employees are the same age or younger than my children.

Most of the time I dress like I'm in business: shirt, trousers or smarter jeans. Sometimes I dress like 'them' in tee shirts with motifs, though none of my jeans have holes.

At lunchtime almost everyone in the office is on a mobile phone, chatting, surfing etc. I get out a laptop if I want to go online for personal stuff, where DeNiro would read a newspaper.

There was a point in the film where DeNiro opens an attache case on his desk, and one of the young guys is wowed by it. The description given is that it's from 1973, and they aren't made any more. A couple of weeks before Christmas I had a guitar with me in the car for a lesson after work, and didn't want to leave it outside in freezing conditions so brought it in. One of the other guys also plays, had a go and asked me about it, so I told him that it was from '82, making it older than all but 6 people in the company.

I'm not *quite* so much older that I'm the uncle/father figure, yet, but I'm also clearly not part of that younger group either.

It's an odd place of transition.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

I am entertaining a Russian-sounding guest

Igor Chestikov.

Our relationship is not good, and he makes me feel weak and uncomfortable. The sooner he can be persauded to leave the better.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Copenhagen trip thoughts.



Don’t go to Copenhagen in winter outside of Christmas. In common with other northern European cities, it can be very grey and damp.

There is a lot of Danish blood in the English. While walking through Copenhagen we both kept seeing face types that looked familiar from home in people who appeared to be local.

Danish women and girls probably have the best hair of any on the planet, if you like hair long, thick, honey-coloured and glossy.

The Danes can have impeccably good taste in colours, furnishings and design, central Copenhagen making much of ‘nice’ London look either pretentious or tacky. However get outside the wealthy bits of the city and – language aside – one could be driving through Crystal Palace , Croydon or some other suburbs of London that are less salubrious.

Denmark has taken a fair number of refugees.

Food is expensive. Not Iceland-expensive, where pricing beggars belief, but generally around 2 to 3 times the cost in the UK. Pizza and pasta was around 180DKK each, which is approaching £25, take-away burgers 125DKK, a main course in a restaurant around Tivoli 325DKK+, filled rolls and sandwiches around 40-50DKK. Present rate when changing money being around 7.6 Danish Kroner to the pound sterling. Brexit certainly has a bit to do with it, but the last time I was in Scandinavia, working for a week in Stockholm in 2009, exchange rates weren’t so great and I don’t recall food being a lot more than at home.

They love their bicycles, which are even more ‘extreme’ in their roadsterishness than Dutch bikes. They also cycle like they own the place, and woe betide anyone who gets in the way, even when cycling through pedestrianised areas. Chris stepped in front of a bike and was hit in an area that banned cycling, but she was given the most evil look by the rider, and he flipped the bird at me after he was a safe distance away. 2 older women explained to us that he was wrong, so it wasn’t just us thinking he should not be there.

Copenhagen is a small city, but even small cities need a lot of walking.

The Danes don’t know how to flow around each other in crowds or in groups on pavements. An example: a group of 4 local people are walking down a pavement toward a foreign couple, and the locals are spread across the entire width of the pavement. The foreign couple move into single file to make space, but the group of 4 locals remain across the entire pavement and walk right up to the couple before bumping into them and awkwardly stepping aside. This scene was played out repeatedly, and we observed them getting in each others way too in heavy crowds. There appears to be no cultural instinct about making space for others – no social lubrication in the city.

The little mermaid is a small bronze statue that is inexplicably popular with large crowds of people. Symbol of the city, sure, but if you see it, you’ll wonder why. If I were there on a photographic trip then I’d try to visit around dawn in order to avoid the crowds and catch better light.

Talking of light, the sun never got very high in the sky, with sunrise around 8.40am and sunset around 3.30pm. When the skies clear then the light is beautiful. IF they clear.

Copenhagen is flat enough to make a Dutchman long for a hill, and Oxford seems positively mountainous in comparison. ;-)

There are a LOT of quite old buildings in the city, that seem in remarkably good condition. I wonder if, because it’s so close to the sea, that the temperatures seldom drop to really brutal levels, thus damp stone and brick doesn’t freeze and crumble like it does in other cities that suffer a more continental climate.

There used to be a lot more old buildings, many of which burnt to the ground. Primary cause seems to have been poorly cleaned chimney pipes resulting in chimney fires, plus buildings designed with voids that conduct the flames to other parts while preventing extinction. See also the section on Danish design and execution.

Danish money is odd, with smaller denominations of 1, 2 and 5 Kronor having a hole in the centre and being shiny silver. 10 and 20 Kronor coins are small and brassy.

We were short-changed in the Vesuvio Italian restaurant on our first night, and didn’t notice until after the waiter had gone, after which point arguing becomes difficult. The point about coins as mentioned above is significant, because it would have been obvious to him that he was giving us 4 large silvery 5 Kronor coins instead of 4 smaller brassy 10 Kronor coins. Rather than argue, being tired from travelling we left without any further tip, considering the 20 Kronor we were cheated of to be tip enough. That and we promised ourselves not to eat there again.

We didn’t eat anything that tasted bad anywhere, although we were naturally selective about what we did eat. The pressed rye breads were wonderful, making good sandwiches. Chris wasn’t too keen on the soups, but food was more of a challenge because of cost than taste. That’s not to say there weren’t some odd things available, but they weren’t the ONLY things available. Final meal in the airport was ‘Sicilian meatballs and pasta’ which was aeroplane food bought landside, but not actually horrible.

Dinner 2 evenings running was fish & chips from a place in Tivoli at 62 Kronor each. It was convenient, cost-effective, tasted OK and didn’t take lots of traipsing round to find a place that we could agree on to eat in.

The Danes like their phones. Like many other races.

Clever, tasteful design doesn’t always make for comfort. Like seats in airport lounges that look good, but turn out to be rather firm, possibly in order to discourage camping out while waiting. Like – allegedly – room 606 in the Radisson Blu hotel, famous for its design and additional cost, but not so much comfort or convenience.

Good design can be let down by poor execution. We visited the design museum near Amalienborg, where many of the marble floor tiles were loose and some cracked. They also had the very worst public loos – stinking and partially functioning, with a narrow, angled and awkward doorway – we found anywhere.

Our hotel – the Ascot on Studienstaede – had the same pine cone style light shades in the dining room that I’d seen in the design museum. Here the clean greys and whites, careful lighting and gentle music made breakfast feel positively relaxing and almost therapeutic. Whilst the room we had was quite tiny, it was adequate, and we were reasonably comfy there.

The Copenhagen card is a useful accessory, giving access transport and museums, Tivoli etc for a single payment. It is not cheap at 89 euros per person for 72 hours, but more than covered it’s up-front cost (entry to Tivoli was 99 Kronor, and it was nice to be able to walk in any time we wanted).

Public transport seemed plentiful, but a little tricky at first for a novice. Their metro-building program is a good idea too, but has really made a mess of a lot of otherwise picturesque parts of the city. We used the train to travel from the airport to city centre, and that was mildly stressful because such a journey is a leap into the unknown.

Our last morning we used busses for the first and only time to travel to a market area (the plan was to walk, but it was raining/sleeting, and we did not wish to travel in wet clothes) and then to the airport.  It was a source of stress because bus stops weren’t always where the maps suggested or where we expected them to be, busses of the same number could have different destinations and with the pressure of needing to be at the airport in time I was well outside my comfort zone. As Chris said, I don’t like to not be in control.

Does it pass the ‘would I live there?’ test. Yes, it probably does, although one would need a decent income to be comfortable, winters would be long and dismal/summers cool and the language could be a challenge to learn (it made more sense to me than it did Chris – she thought she would go mad with frustration at it). It feels like a country half-way between Sweden and Germany, but where almost everyone speaks excellent English (though often with an American accent).

Would I go back? Possibly, but the world is a large place, and I'd rather go to Stockholm next time we visit Scandinavia.

We had a good trip. :-)