My new camera arrived

That’s right. Another one. There are many occasions when I need more flexibility than the little Lumix DMC-TZ10 with its 12x optical zoom gives me, but I don’t want to carry two DSLR bodies and a range of lenses with me.

The beast in question is a Panasonic Lumix FZ72, which boasts a 60x zoom lens. Although its range is 3.58mm-215mm I shall refer to it in 35mm equivalence. The lenses I have for the DSLRs cover a range from 27mm to 750mm (35mm equivalent). The range of this little beauty will show in the captions below the images I took on the test run.

First image; look at the red circle. That is a church almost exactly 2 miles away (Google Earth says 3.24km)

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20mm, f/5, 1/640s, ISO 200

Same church, maximum zoom. The camera was roughly steadied on a semi-rotten, not-too-solid fence post.

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2642mm (that’s right – 2x ‘intelligent digital’ zoom added), f/5.9, 1/200s, ISO 100

Yeah. I was impressed, too.

Next, I tried some macro. This is the seed-head of cow parsley.

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45mm, f/3.7, 1/200s, ISO 100

I was quite impressed, until I cropped it to 100%

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Same image, 100% crop

Then I was seriously impressed. I tried a grasshopper from about a metre and a half away, at maximum optical zoom.

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1321mm, f/5.9, 1/250s, ISO 100

Then added digital zoom

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2642mm, f/5.9, 1/125s, ISO 250

And one more

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1321mm, f/5.9, 1/160s, ISO 100

Tania came to see us, which is always nice. She brought all three of her dogs (and her new camera – she had bought herself a FujiFilm FinePix HX50 to avoid having to carry a load of kit on her travels), stayed for a couple of days, and left this little fellow behind.

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293mm, f/5.5, 1/60s, ISO 400

The other two dogs, Gypsy and Shitsu, will stay with Romain whilst Tania makes a couple of trips on her own, then they’ll come to us when she and Romain go off together for a holiday.

Whilst Tania was with us, we took a trip to Clermont-Ferrand – mostly to go into FNAC, so Tania could look for some stuff for her camera and for her Mac. I threw the little Lumix into my pocket, in case anything presented itself. Nothing did, but I ran off a bit of (kind of) street photography whilst we were there, anyway.

Some of the results are below, without comment. I don’t think street photography needs names or commentary; the images should speak for themselves. If they don’t, they haven’t done their job.

But that’s just my view.
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P1060527Only one new story added this week. The challenge was to build a story around one or more of the words darkness, emergency or freedom. I chose darkness. The result is here.

À la prochaine

Of stories, submissions and sadness

P1060457The sight of a solitary car in the middle of a field, whilst not rare, is far from an everyday occurrence; particularly when the car in question doesn’t look like it has been dumped. I often wonder whether there is a story behind it and, if not, whether I could or should invent one. I did this a while ago (A bridge too far?), and could probably be persuaded to use this picture as the basis for a sequel – unless someone else can think of a better story idea.

I added three stories to A storey of stories this week, two very different stories entitled Your tears aren’t good enough (a third is to follow soon) and one called I’m the king of the castle. Just follow the link to A storey of stories to read them. I have also added a few images to Keith’s photo blog, a twice-weekly selection from my photographic archive, which goes back as far as the early 1980s.

My tutor has returned my seventh assignment with her comments. Happily, they were almost entirely positive, although she has passed on some useful hints, pointers and advice to make my writing better – that is what the course is for, after all. Only one assignment left now. I should be able to send that off before the end of the coming week.

For my seventh assignment I submitted, for her critique, chapter two of The Orphans. I incorporated her suggestions, and the first two chapters are now available, as a preview of the book, at this link. Alternatively, you can click on The Orphans in the top menu. I am working on chapter nine, which is about half way through the story, but unless there is a clamour of demand, I’ll keep chapter three onwards under wraps until I have finished the book.

It was most upsetting to hear of the death of Robin Williams on Monday. I have enjoyed his work for a long time. I was also, as presumably were many others, unaware of his battle with depression.

Although it is far from universal, it does seem that many high-profile entertainers, and particularly comics, have more than their fair share of demons. It’s as though a large, loyal fan base, fame, fortune and the adoration of millions are not enough. I know nothing about the psychology of it, but it does seem to me that people who experience the highest highs often have to live with the lowest lows. The concept of the tears of a clown is far from a new one.

We all hear about it, when it happens to a well-known and much-loved performer. There are many people, though; everyday anonymous people doing everyday anonymous jobs and living everyday anonymous lives; whose public face – brave, confident and lots of self-belief – differs greatly from their private face. When on their own, they drop the mask, and the fears, doubts, lack of confidence and low self-esteem come to the fore.

I can’t offer any remedies or advice; I don’t even know how we can recognise those people whose public and private faces are so different. I can only suggest that we be aware that the situation exists, and maybe think about some of our assumptions.

 

Back to work

P1060418What you saw here last week was, of course, only a few of the photographs taken during our Spanish holiday. There are many others that didn’t make the cut, for one reason or another. I would, however, like to share this image with you.

And here’s a challenge. Tell me about this picture. What’s the story behind it? What does it tell you about the person, or people, connected to it. All I shall tell you – although you can ignore it if your invention is more interesting, fun or exciting than the reality – is that the picture shows some of the contents of an open awning attached to a caravan in a camp site in Spain at the end of July.

Speaking of last week’s pictures, Clare posted on Facebook the image of her in the sun lounger with two dogs on top of her. So far, it has received 65 likes. Based on the normal reach of my stuff, that’s practically viral!

Back to the plot. Having decided that I wouldn’t spend a lot of the holiday working, as I usually do, I came back to a lot of stuff that needed doing – and I’m not talking about the grass which still needs cutting, if we ever have three dry days in a row – and, with the usual and not unwelcome interruptions, it took until Wednesday to catch up completely.

In all, though, quite a positive week for me.

My writing tutor runs a weekly challenge on her blog at http://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com/. This week’s challenge was to take a fairytale and rewrite it with a modern twist. I chose The Ugly Duckling, and wrote a story called “Lacking colour”, which you can see here. I’m very pleased to say that my tutor enjoyed what I wrote.

I also received back from my tutor, her critique of my last assignment. This was a longer story titled “I think it’s called progress…” I’m delighted to say that her comments were almost entirely positive. As a result of that, I have now entered it, and another story, “The phone call” into the InkTears International Short Story Competition for new writers. Entry is open until the end of November, and the winners will be notified by email at the end of February.

The WRiTE CLUB competition attracted a very large number of entries. My entry didn’t make it into the top 32, which now slug it out through a series of knockout rounds until a winner is chosen. I shall try again next year.

Meanwhile, I received feedback from my entry into another competition. I entered my first story, “The Party Girl“, into the Writers’ Village short fiction award contest. It didn’t win, but the feedback I received was most encouraging.

Many thanks for entering the Writers’ Village short story competition. Your story fell just short of being among the top 50 finalists so this is not a personal critique, as would be given to a finalist.

Nonetheless, as a courtesy, I thought you might be interested to see how your story was graded.

Please bear in mind that every judge is inevitably subjective and each judge may rate a given story in a quite different manner. What fails to win a prize in one contest might do very well in another, and vice versa.

If a particular story you enter – at Writer’s Village or anywhere else – fails by a whisker to win a cash award, it should not deter you from submitting another… and another!

Here are the gradings given by the judges on your story or stories:

Party Girl
Overall power to engage the reader incl. conflict (points out of 10): 9
Originality of story concept (points out of 10): 9
Appeal of first paragraph(s) (points out of 8): 7
Unity of story structure incl. closure (points out of 8): 5
Aptness of language to story-line (points out of 6): 6
Professionalism of presentation (points out of 3): 3
Total marks out of 45: 39

I can take that. The story was designed to be somewhat disjointed, and it’s not surprising that it was marked down on that criterion. I am considering entering “I think it’s called progress…” into the next round, although I would need to trim almost 700 words to get it into the 3000 word limit.

You can read various examples of my stuff at A storey of stories.

À la prochaine

Summer holiday

You may recall that, a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a hedgehog that was causing Trevor some heartache by refusing to be picked up and played with. It happened again. This time, we were able to hold Trevor back, and station a camera to record its movements.

That was the highlight of a couple of weeks ago. The weather became less pleasant, as this picture shows.

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We had decided that we would go away for a while once Tania’s dogs were back and things had settled again. We wanted to have a bit of a break before the mad rush south that signals the beginning of August in France. With only three days’ notice, we contacted a camp site on the Costa Brava to see if we could book a place. “No need to book,” they said, “just turn up.” A check of the aires de camping-car showed there to be one at Sérignan that would break the journey nicely. We didn’t want to leave home too early, and we didn’t want to reach our destination late in the day, so an overnight stop half way gave us a good compromise.

We reached the aire late Saturday afternoon and got settled. The literature said that the nightly fee of 12€ included electricity, water and Wi-Fi. The electricity and water were in a small drive-through service outlet across the road in the main campsite, and the password we were given didn’t work for the Wi-Fi. It was okay as a level parking, but probably worth no more than half the money we paid. We won’t go back there again.

We left at around 10am on Sunday, and arrived at our destination, the Camping Vall d’Or in Platja d’Aro around 4pm. The man we met in reception was happy to speak to us in near-fluent English. He took our booking with commendable efficiency, and had us shown to a quiet part of the site. The site boasts around 700 pitches, and the staff are sufficiently astute to recognise which clients are likely to appreciate a lively area, and which a more quiet pitch. The pitch they found for us was ideal; families with children were in evidence, and couples without children. A part of the site was used by what seemed to be mostly German youths as a youth camp. There were probably between fifty and one hundred youngsters in that area, which was about a hundred metres from our pitch. Apart from some football-type chanting around midnight, we weren’t really aware of their presence.

The site offered superb, strong Wi-Fi, and we managed to keep up with as much as we wanted. With the exception of emergency situations and anything truly time-critical, I decided that no work would be done whilst we were away. I did keep up with such writing and blogging as I had planned, including a new story at A storey of stories.

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Having the hellhounds with us, we weren’t as free to roam and explore the area as we could have been without them. I’m not complaining, just recognising the situation. In the camper vs car & caravan battle, points were scored for the opposite camp by our unwillingness to pack and stow everything just to go out for a day. We could have hired a car, but didn’t want the extra cost, and we weren’t sure hirers would want dogs in their cars either.

We didn’t stray far. We walked to the beach every day – dogs are not allowed on the beach so we stayed on the promenade.

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The dogs didn’t seem to mind. They are happy that Mummy and Daddy are there to cater to their every whim.

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Just off the beach, Platja d’Aro boasts an extensive marina, much of which we included in the daily walk. I don’t have sea-legs, but I do like looking at the boats in harbour. Okay, I enjoy coveting them. Some of them are gorgeous.

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One evening, as we were walking around the nearest part of the marina, I saw movement that looked like swallows on and around the water. Given the state of the light, though, it was unlikely that it was swallows. On closer inspection I saw that it was bats, and in large numbers. We often see bats around our house, but never in these numbers (generally only two), and I have never seen them around water as these were.

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The video that follows shows a good number of them, but not as distinctly as I would like. They were moving quickly, as is their wont, and they don’t exactly stand out in the failing light.

Too soon, it was time to come home again. We could have stayed longer, but having ben through a heavy thunderstorm at the beginning of our week there, we weren’t relishing the one promised for later in the weekend. We packed up and left on Saturday morning, having enjoyed a very pleasant week in a resort to which we may return later.

We drove home in one hit. We left the site at about 10am on Saturday and, allowing for three or four stops and a very minor disaster, arrived home at about 8:30pm. One thing is certain, though. North was the sensible way to be travelling on 2nd August!P1060455a

The near disaster? We needed fuel on the autoroute, a little south of Clermont-Ferrand. The low fuel warning light was on, and I estimated we had another 20 kilometres or so in the tank. When we arrived at La Fayette service area, we found queues of cars, but no one filling up. On asking inside, I was told that there was something wrong with the system that controls the pumps and, it being Saturday, it was unlikely to be fixed until Tuesday! The next service area was some forty kilometres to the north – further than I believed I had enough fuel to reach. We checked with the satnav. It suggested a Carrefour Market some seven kilometres distant. That’s better! The journey to the supermarket was marginally cross-country, but we made it. According to the book, the camper’s fuel tank has a capacity of 60 litres. According to the pump, I put in 61.35 litres. Not too much left, then. We left the Carrefour Market, and took a direct road back to the autoroute. I do think, however, that had we taken that route to get to the supermarket, we may not have made it with the fuel available. On a positive note, the diesel we bought in Carrefour Market was 14 centimes per litre less than it would have cost in the services. That’s a saving of around eight and a half euros on the tankful.

You might have noticed that, whilst relaxing in the camp site, Clare played host to two dogs. In case you think she had an easy ride on the way home – take a look at this.

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Now to catch up on a week’s work.

À la prochaine

These boots were made for walking

A few weeks ago, I decided that the walking boots I bought last year were due for replacement – okay, overdue. Made for walking they certainly were. I don’t have detailed figures for the twelve months since I bought them, but my fitbit account tells me that, since mid-September 2012, I have walked a little over 5000 km and climbed hills and stairs equal to 22,223 floors (a total climb of 66,669m or 222,230 feet). These boots have probably done two-thirds of that.

Made for walking? Certainly. Due for replacement? Absolutely.

We went to Decathlon in Clermont-Ferrand, tried on numerous boots, all of which had the characteristics I was looking for. I selected a pair that seemed comfortable and supportive, rugged and weatherproof.Damned things nearly crippled me. Where the seam is, half way up the back, felt smooth in the shop. Not so after a couple of kilometres’ walk on rugged, hilly ground. The right foot was fine, but the left was missing some essential covering around its rear extremity, thanks to the rubbing action of the rough seam. We covered the area and went back to the old boots for a couple of days before trying again. Three times we’ve tried so far, with the same result.

I went back to privatesportsshop.com, where I had bought the original pair, but they don’t do that boot any more. I searched for the make and type, without success. I did, however, find one very similar, available from a number of sources, the cheapest of which, by about 10%, was amazon.fr. A few years ago, I was having some really unpleasant experiences with Amazon France. During 2007 and 2008 I ordered a few items that were described as ‘in stock’. Each time, the order acknowledgement said the item would be dispatched between ten and fifteen working days later. Each time I cancelled the order, ordered from UK, accepting the extra delivery charge, and having the article in my hands five to seven working days later. How things have changed. I placed my order on Tuesday morning, with free delivery. I received an acknowledgement almost immediately; it showed an estimated delivery date of the following Monday.  Mid-afternoon Tuesday, Amazon told me that the boots had been dispatched, with delivery now expected on Friday. The boots arrived with the post on Thursday morning; a mere 48 hours after I had placed the order.

Comfortable? Very. If they last as long as the others, I shall not be displeased.

Looking at the wear pattern on the old ones, and on all other footwear I have owned, they could last even longer, were I to learn how to walk properly!

I now know that I am rubbish at buying things in proper shops, but red-hot at purchasing on-line.

The only other event of any consequence this week has, not unusually, involved the hellhounds. This week’s excitement involves neighbour Pierre’s Breton Spaniel bitch, Deanna. Deanna is en chaleur. Although it means exactly the same thing, it does sound so much nicer than ‘on heat’, don’t you think? When Deanna is in that condition, she is desperate for any sort of coupling. Not any type, you understand, it does need to be canine in nature. She neither knows nor, it seems, cares that both Trevor and Ulysse are deficient two in the puppy-making organ division. She constantly appears in our garden, ripping away whatever defences we put up, with all the determination of a Colditz escapee. When we improved the security so she couldn’t make a hole large enough for her to get in, she made a smaller one for Trevor to get out. After more than a week of calling Trevor in, to avoid the risk of his being run over in the road whilst making a futile and ineffective attempt at copulation, we decided to abandon the security, and allow Deanna to enter our land. She brings with her, on occasion, a terrier that belongs to Pierre’s brother.

Our dogs’ relationship with this terrier has gone through three stages. When we first knew him and for a couple of years, he was very aggressive toward our dogs. The natural result of that, was that they went wild every time they saw him, too. On one walk, they chased him down and had a game of tug-of-war with him. Read the full story here. For some months after that, each time he saw our dogs, he ran for cover. Stage three? See for yourself:

He now acknowledges Trevor and Ulysse as his seniors in the little pack, that exists whilst Deanna is en chaleur. The three of them try to follow the urges of their gender, whilst lacking the size, the necessary equipment and the savoire faire needed to execute the deed.

Meanwhile, in the next house down, Jean-Marc’s dog Hairy (yeah, I know) spends most of his time out-of-doors, on a long lead, in a garden that has no fence for much of its boundary. He is about the same size as Deanna, younger than any of the three stooges terriers, and complete. She has never shown any interest in him. She seems to have eyes only for Trevor, and tolerates the other two. Trevor was castrated as a very young puppy, and has no idea what he is supposed to do, or with what, or how, or where.

It just drives us nuts for a few weeks every six months.

À la prochaine