I shall not be sorry to see the end of this week

It all started normally, but had no intention of staying that way.

Tania’s 11 year-old chihuahua Tinkerbell was staying with us for a short while. We knew that he had a relatively mild heart condition that was well managed by medication. I took this photograph last Saturday, the day he arrived.


And this one, when Tinkerbell was relaxing in the sun with Trevor, on Monday afternoon.
P1060531On Monday evening he appeared weak; and he was no better on Tuesday morning. We took him to see the vet on Tuesday afternoon. The vet spoke with Tania on the phone, examined Tinkerbell and, after consulting with a colleague and explaining to us what was going on, prescribed medication to aid what he called the dog’s cardiopulmonary insufficiency. Whilst the vet was writing the prescription and talking about a return visit in three days to make sure the medication was working, Tinkerbell went into a crisis from which the best efforts of the vet couldn’t revive him. Sad, sad day. Tinkerbell is with us no more. He will be cremated during the coming week, and I shall keep his ashes here until our next visit to Paris, or Tania’s next visit here, whichever comes first.

Telling Tania was difficult, especially as, less than an hour before I passed the sad news to her, the vet had expressed to her his confidence that the treatment would work.

Things settled down after that and, on Thursday, Clare set off on a ten-day visit to UK, to visit her family. She travelled up with Heather, who was driving up anyway, and appreciated the company. Clare will return by air next week, possibly together with her mother. To be confirmed.

Trevor and Ulysse have been behaving well, except that Trevor has been a tiny bit annoying. Every time I have picked and eaten a blackberry from the hedgerow, during our walks, he has barked at me, as if to say, “Where’s mine?” I responded by teaching him to get his own:

WP_20140829_002 He now even gets up on his back legs to reach those fruits slightly higher than his eye level. He still barks at me when I eat one, though.

When I arose on Saturday morning I found that my blogs and another of my sites were down. A quick investigation showed that, as a couple of months ago, they had been hacked with some kind of code injection. The only sensible way to deal with this is a complete restore from the previous day’s backup, so that’s what I had Webhosting UK do. The only downside is that a the logo files uploaded by a couple of organisations to the IVAD site were lost. I contacted the people concerned, and their logos are now replaced on the site.

I had thought to move this blog to its own subdirectory, to make restoring it simpler. Although something many people shy away from, I had researched it and felt confident that it could go reasonably smoothly. It did. An hour or so later, I noticed the link to the site on my Gravatar profile page was broken. This is an automatically generated link that I couldn’t change. I changed a pointer on the blog, went back and checked the link, and found it to be okay. The next problem was that, although the link was okay, the blog wasn’t. I couldn’t get into it in reader or admin modes. It took five hours to have it working again, after copying stuff up and down between the server and my machine. It was almost 10pm yesterday evening before I could walk away.

Regular Sunday jobs are updating my Picture of the Week on the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s site, then this blog. I selected the images I wanted to use on the Trust site, resized and labelled them, and fired up Dreamweaver.

Dreamweaver wouldn’t load.

I checked on resource usage. Malwarebytes Antimalware was doing a full sweep, which is heavy on processor and disk. I closed everything else down and went away, allowing Antimalware to complete its job. It finished, having found no malware. Excellent. Back to work.

Dreamweaver wouldn’t load.

Being a long-time Windows user; I have used windows since version 2, released in December 1987; and having supported a number of other Windows users, I knew what I needed to do. I rebooted the computer and tried again.

Dreamweaver wouldn’t load.

I checked other Adobe applications. PhotoShop loaded normally, Acrobat Professional loaded normally, Lightroom loaded normally. Dreamweaver wouldn’t load.

I tried reinstalling Dreamweaver. It became stuck at about 30% done. I cursed a little. I also downloaded Microsoft Web Expression and openElement, as possible replacements for Dreamweaver. I have found in the past that truculent software can be made to work by downloading a replacement; much as many devices decide to work when they get wind that you are researching a replacement. Having downloaded those two pieces of software, I switched the machine off and went for some lunch.

On my return from lunch, I switched back on and, before loading anything else, ran the DVD to reinstall Dreamweaver. It installed cleanly. With every appendage crossed, I clicked the icon.

Dreamweaver loaded. Yay!

I prepared to start work on my Picture of the Week. The first job is to reference last week’s images, so I can update them to the Images of Birds of Prey blog. I browsed to hawkconservancy.org. Up came a blank page with, across the top, the words, “HaCked by Toxic Dz“. Great.

Looking on Filezilla, it was clear that the index file, index.asp, had been replaced. Also added were: index.cfm, index.htm, index.html and index.php, together with  default.asp, default.cfm, default.htm, default.html and default.php. Simple job; delete ten files and upload one. I continued.

Once I had built the Picture of the Week page, I uploaded it, together with the relevant image files, and proceeded to check it. Browse to hawkconservancy.org, fine, select the competitions page - “HaCked by Toxic Dz“. Double great! Back to Filezilla, where it appeared that every directory on the site had received a donation of ten files, overwriting the actual index file. I recognise that I have more data on my hard disk than is on the server, probably by about 50% (I’m not aiming to count), but according to Windows, the web site comprises 28,121 files in 2,877 directories. Take 50% of that, multiply by ten files per directory, and this afternoon’s last (I hope) job is to delete almost 15,000 files and re-upload 673 – not every directory has an index file.

I neither know nor care who Toxic Dz is or what his/her motivations are. I can say that the html coding of the files posted to the site is rubbish, and the hack is simplistic and unimaginative – it looks like the work of a petulant child, and not a very bright one at that!

Is it at all surprising that I am keen to see the end of this week?

Let me finish on a positive note. My tutor was happy with my response to her challenge this week – Isolation – and I have submitted my last assignment on the Writers Bureau course.

À la prochaine

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