… and then there was one.

P1000104This week we said goodbye to Lizzie. That explains why I changed this blog’s background image. It showed two campers; a situation that is no longer true. I said last week, that our son-in-law Romain had put Lizzie up on Leboncoin, and was very kindly fielding initial enquiries, passing through to us only those he thought were serious and might result in a sale.

One such enquirer came to us and, when he had inspected her, said he thought the asking price was excessive. When he saw the paperwork, he realised why. It seems Romain misread the effects of my pet spider ambling across the paper and advertised Lizzie as a 1993 model, whereas she is of 1983 vintage, a full decade older (and currently in her thirties). I tried to explain that this made her a classic, thus more sought-after and valuable, but he wasn’t having it.

He did make an offer, one on which I was unable to budge him, and went away with my promise to contact him with our response within 48 hours. The offer he made was between the lower two of my three key figures: would love to get, hope to get, and will not accept less than. That, coupled with our desire to reclaim 12.3 m² of grass and the view out of the séjour window, and the fact that we believed he was likely to bring her up to condition and actually use and enjoy her, led us to accept his offer. He arrived the following evening with another driver, so he could drive her back to his home. She has now gone. P1000106That was our last view of her. There was a touch of sadness about it. That she was more comfortable, as a caravan, than the Roller Team is beyond question. I think that when new, she was well specified; possibly close to top of the range; whereas the Roller Team was probably entry-level. However, a very comfortable caravan that struggled on a 300 km round trip is of less value to us than is a less comfortable one that was quite happy to do a round trip, to Spain, of almost 1300 km, the return journey being broken only by a couple of fifteen-minute breaks to exorcise exercise the dogs.

Earlier this week, people were raving about the so-called Super moon. We were told that, at low elevation, it would look massive. This is due to it being closer to Earth than at any other time of the year.  According to NASA, a full moon at perigee is up to 14% larger (in area, or almost 7% larger diameter) and 30% brighter than one at its farthest point, or apogee [wikipedia]. I knew we wouldn’t see it at its best, as the hills around us mean that we see nothing in the southern half of the sky below an elevation of about 25°; the north is even worse. However, once it appeared, I had to, didn’t I?

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 2642mm (35mm equiv.), 1/40s at f/5.9 and ISO 400

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 2642mm (35mm equiv.), 1/40s at f/5.9 and ISO 400

For my money, this image isn’t as striking as the ones I posted last week, but it does show (as I pointed out in my photo blog) that the moon is not made of cheese, neither is the moon, as David Niven would have it, a balloon. Not at all. It is very clear that the moon is, in fact, a cantaloupe melon. This image even clearly shows where the stalk was attached.

There is a web site that allows you to submit to its analysis tool any piece of text: blog post, journal entry, comment, short story etc. The tool will, it says, analyse writing style and choice of language, then compare them with those of scores of famous writers. Importantly, according to the site, it does not store your text after analysis. I submitted all of my short stories and each individual chapter of The Orphans (currently on chapter 13); 42 pieces in all. This is whose writing it says mine resembles (number of pieces in brackets, if more than one):

  • Dan Brown (10)
  • Mario Puzo (5)
  • Cory Doctorow,  Neil Gaiman (3)
  • Chuck Palahniak, Isaac Asimov, J K Rowling, Mark Twain, Stephen King (2)
  • Agatha Christie, Arthur C Clarke, David Foster Wallace, Ian Fleming, J R R Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Attwood, P G Wodehouse, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vladimir Nabokov and finally, William Shakespeare

Because I don’t restrict myself to one genre, and because I have not immersed myself in one writer, I think (hope) I am developing my own style. It is, therefore, to be expected that different pieces will approximate to the language and styles of different established authors. However, if the system has any validity, and if it is true that my output predominately approaches a mix of Dan Brown and Mario Puzo, then I’m not too unhappy. Incidentally, this post came in as Neil Gaiman.

Finally, Clare spotted this sky and said, “Talk about keeping all your ducks in a row!” I thought it worth capturing, if only to show that, even in the cloud, order is good.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 85mm (35mm equiv.), 1/800s at f/8 and ISO 200

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 85mm (35mm equiv.), 1/800s at f/8 and ISO 200

Late addition, because we both forgot our wedding anniversary today and it took Tania to remind us:


À la prochaine

Shooting the moon 2

What do you mean, where’s shooting the moon 1? What short memories you have! It is here.

Okay, you’re forgiven. It was a while ago.

On with the plot.

Before it turned dark on Wednesday evening, I saw the half-moon clearly against an unbroken blue sky and thought, why not see how good this lens is on my new camera? Here is the result.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 215mm, 1/125s at f/5.9 and ISO 400.  Full 60x optical zoom plus 2x digital zoom. 35mm equivalent is 2642mm.  Cropped to simulate a further 2x digital zoom, making effective focal length 5284mm.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 215mm, 1/125s at f/5.9 and ISO 400.
Full 60x optical zoom plus 2x digital zoom. 35mm equivalent is 2642mm.
Cropped to simulate a further 2x digital zoom, making effective focal length 5284mm.

Almost but not quite hand-held, the camera was supported on a 5cm² post and the lens angle maintained by sticking two fingers under it, and adjusting them visually. I have been considering a telephoto adaptor to extend the zoom range, and the photo above is a simulation of what that could do. This is what the original photo looked like, resized but otherwise exactly as it came out of the camera.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 215mm, 1/125s at f/5.9 and ISO 400.  Full 60x optical zoom plus 2x digital zoom. 35mm equivalent is 2642mm.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 at 215mm, 1/125s at f/5.9 and ISO 400.
Full 60x optical zoom plus 2x digital zoom. 35mm equivalent is 2642mm.

Having considered it, I don’t think I want to spend £150 for that extra magnification. Less expensive ‘after-market’ alternatives are available, but they are not well reviewed.

So that’s about my photography for this week, and there’s not much else to talk about, either. Romain has put Lizzie up on, I think, Leboncoin, a small ads site in France. Someone came to look at her during the week. I did a quick run around beforehand to take out the things we had put in her for storage, and noticed a wasp’s nest in the shower cabinet. It was above the mesh in the vent, but still not nice. I had run out of the powerful spray for dealing with nests, having cleared nests from the cavity behind the external mirror on the  passenger side of the Roller Team, and similar on Lizzie, as well as in the recess where Lizzie’s mains electricity connection lives. I had to rely on normal fly spay – a lot of it – to deal with this new nest. They were all dead by the time the guy arrived, even though one of them had broken out and tweaked the end of my nose during the fray. I now have a good supply of sprays to deal death to wasps and hornets.

I have received back the appraisal of my last assignment on the Writers Bureau course, which was very positive. I guess that means I am now, once again, an ex-student of the Writers Bureau. I am grateful to my tutor (ex-tutor?), Esther Newton, for her tremendous support and assistance. I aim to continue to respond to her weekly writing challenges, which will, of course, be featured on A storey of stories.

This morning, I took a trip to Clermont-Ferrand to collect Clare and her mother from the flight from Southampton. Although none of the on-line tracking sites picked up on it, Clare had told me that her flight would be delayed by one hour. She later informed me that the airline had arranged a replacement aircraft, resulting in take-off being only 35 minutes later than scheduled. The pilot, it seemed, activated his DRS or something, and the flight actually landed only ten minutes later that its expected time.

Speaking of activating DRS, didn’t Lewis do well in today’s Italian Grand Prix? It was nice to see that there was no open hostility between Nico Rosberg and himself, and even nicer to see Nico run out of road and let Lewis through.

What’s that?



Heaven forfend!

Something has been bugging me all week, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was now.

Oh well. It may have been this.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 at 4.1mm, 1/30s at f/3.3 and ISO 125.  35mm equivalent is 25mm.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 at 4.1mm, 1/30s at f/3.3 and ISO 125.
35mm equivalent is 25mm.

I’ve remembered!

I was contacted by Brokerfish, a company specialising in health insurance (I’ve had no dealings with them, so can’t comment on them, their service or their products). Here’s what they said:

I’m contacting you in regard to an emergency phone number resource that we recently launched, and want to ask if you could list the information on your blog or share it with your visitors. The emergency cards are designed to keep expats and travellers safe while abroad by providing easy access to local contact details for emergency, travel, transport and utility services. They come in three handy formats: wallet, fridge and online.

I’ve listed the general emergency card info below and included the link where the cards can be downloaded. 

BrokerFish Emergency Phone Number Cards

100% FREE, keep safe while overseas with BrokerFish’s emergency phone number cards. They include local contact details in 43 countries for police, ambulance, fire brigade, poison, taxi, airport, rail, directory enquiries, immigration, tourism board, lost & found, electrical, water and gas services!


Passed on, as requested.

À la prochaine

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)


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.


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.


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

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


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.


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

Then added digital zoom


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

And one more


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.


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.
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.