dscf0033aThis image shows a male Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) named Kerry, that I trained for the Hawk Conservancy Trust in the late 1990s. A texture painter at Rhythm and Hues Studio in Los Angeles asked me, in 2004, to produce some detail shots of a mature Harris Hawk, with special emphasis on the eyes and tail structures. This is one of the images I produced for him. The studio needed to craft a computer-generated Harris Hawk for use in the 2005 film Elektra, starring Jennifer Garner. If you watch the film, the hawk that appears from Tattoo’s shoulder is Kerry!

Throwback Thursday — In the 1970s it was known as the English disease.

This week's throwback Thursday again takes us back six years, this time with a post from 24 October 2010. 

Until the arrival of Tony Blair, New Labour and the “services” economy, the economy of  the United Kingdom was built on exports. Sadly, most of what is being exported now is jobs, largely in manufacturing. Many of the jobs that exist now – particularly the vast number of public sector jobs created under New Labour – don’t actually create anything. In other words, most employees are consumers of wealth, not creators.

Possibly one of the last great exports from the UK was our penchant for going on strike with the least provocation. Sure, the latest generation of union leaders are trying their hand at it now and again but, compared with the likes of Scanlan and Scargill, they are rank amateurs.

France, however, has taken on the mantle with gusto. So enthusiastic are they that they have even mobilised kids to protest at the retirement age being increased from sixty to sixty-two. For most of the students involved in the protests, the effects of the increase won’t hit them for another four decades, by which time there will probably have been further adjustments to the retirement age that will make them long for the heady days when retirement at a youthful sixty-two was still the norm!

Out here in the sticks, we have been relatively unscathed by all this kerfuffle. Those with kids were impacted by the schools being closed, and we did notice that the post lady didn’t turn up one day. Otherwise, life continues as normal.

Until, that is, I had to drive to Paris to collect Tania’s dogs in advance of her trip to India. I know that, if I fill the Twingo’s tank at Montluçon, I can go to Paris and not need to fill up again until I reach Montluçon on the way back. I left home with almost a full tank and put an empty 10 litre can in the car, planning to fill that as backup – what is known as the Justin case. I didn’t stop in Montluçon, fearing that there would be massive queues for fuel and not wanting to waste too much time.

The first point at which I could fill the can was the Aire de la Centre de la France, about 100 km up the road. There was practically no-one there, a normal day judging by the traffic and people stopping for petrol. I filled the can and topped up the tank. I had to pay 1,52 € per litre for ordinary unleaded with 10% ethanol (2c cheaper than without ethanol). At today’s exchange rate, that equates to £1.35 per litre. That was expensive. Perhaps that’s why there was no-one there. Generally, the best price we can achieve is around 1,40 €, which is still £1.25 a litre. No cheap petrol here!

Driving towards Paris, most of the services looked the same (although none of them as expensive as where I had chosen to top up). That all changed as I entered the Paris area. There are three relatively cheap stations on the road in that I follow. Each of them had major queues for fuel. That was the pattern for the rest of the way. Tania was speaking of people cruising from station to station trying to find fuel – diesel was more of a problem than petrol, but the queues weren’t discriminating. In fact, on the way back on Friday, the radio stations were giving lists of major outlets that had no diesel.

The apartment block where Tania mives

The apartment block where Tania lives

From the block

View from the block

When I arrived at Tania’s block, there was nice sunshine, clear sky and temperature edging close to double figures. We spent a pleasant afternoon, and Tania proudly showed me the stack of chocolate that her friend had brought her from England.

Tania surrounded by chocolate

The girl likes chocolate!

A friend recently sent me a couple of examples of photo-manipulation using the Out of Bounds technique. I was intrigued, and wondered if I could produce work of as high quality as she had.  Obviously I couldn’t, but I had a go. Here are a couple of examples of where I am so far. I promise they will get better, although goodness only knows how long it will take.

Ground squirrel

Ground squirrel leaving the frame

This was the first one I did. From it I learned that you really need something with smooth edges. Trying to keep the random fine hairs and so on, especially when the background is similarly coloured, is too hard for me just yet. I have never been very skilled in this kind of work, but it won’t put me off. This is one of those techniques which, like splash of colour, angled shots etc, needs to be used sparingly and appropriately. Finding appropriate shots is not easy. Here is my latest attempt, using a television rather than a paper frame, and with nothing actually crossing the boundary.

Cricket ball hit through TV screen

Cricket ball hit through TV screen

Comments are always welcome, but keep in mind that I have only just started doing this kind of thing.

Zanzibar, part 30

This is a continuation to Lori Carlson's Zanzibar, published on her blog 'Promptly Written' on 30 April.
Lori and I are developing this story as a round-robin, and this episode will also be published on Lori's blog.

Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, part 10, part 11, part 12, part 13, part 14, part 15, part 16, part 17, part 18, part 19, part 20, part 21, part 22, part 23, part 24, part 25, part 26, part 27, part 28, part 29

“Jacob! What the Hell are you doing?” Rodney asked accusingly. He had entered Ruth’s, now his, hut and found Jacob kneeling beside Ruth’s body, having surrounded it with small candles and painted on her forehead an insignia that Rodney had never seen before, but that he knew spoke to Jacob’s ancestral roots. Jacob was pouring oil onto the mark, while looking skyward with one hand raised, and chanting something in a language that was not common in the Village.

“I must try everything I can to bring her back,” Jacob replied tearfully, “the Village can’t survive without her. I can’t survive without her.”

Rodney felt well up within him, a sense of power and authority that frightened and threatened to overwhelm him.

“Jacob, known as Madoowbe,” he snapped, “Have you listened to nothing I have said? Did you comprehend none of the information I imparted? Cease and desist NOW, and prepare your sister Ruth according to the customs of the Village.”

“H-how do you know my tribal nickname?” Jacob asked.

“I know stuff,” Rodney replied, “now go and do as I have commanded you.”

Jacob rose to his feet, bowed briefly toward Rodney and backed out of the hut, wringing his hands as he did so. Once he had cleared to entrance door, he turned and ran off into the Village.

Trembling at his new-found capability, Rodney extinguished all the candles and cleaned the marks and oil from Ruth’s forehead, using a cloth he found near her body. Having finished that task, he covered the body with a bed-sheet, looked up, and muttered, “I know.”

A sound at the door caused Rodney to arouse from his near-trance state. Standing in the entrance was an old woman of Nordic appearance. Although Rodney had never seen this woman before, he knew who she was, and why she was at the door.

“When, Ingvildr?” he asked.

“Two noons,” she replied, then turned and left.

Rodney followed her out of the door, but the old woman was not to be seen. He strode toward the Village centre, where he found Jacob addressing the gathered population. He was relating faithfully what he had been told to tell them; the villagers were listening in stunned silence. When Jacob reached a suitable point in his address, Rodney approached him, cupped his hand around Jacob’s ear, and whispered, “Whatever needs to be done, has to be done tomorrow.”

“Why?” Jacob mouthed in reply.

“The twin moons will be full in two days.”

Jacob raised his eyebrows.

“Ingvildr has announced it.”

Jacob continued his address as though nothing had interrupted it. “And finally, my brothers and sisters,” he said, “the ceremony will take place tomorrow. In keeping with the custom, the pyre will be created tomorrow morning and our sister’s body placed on it. When the sun reaches its zenith, Ruth’s appointed replacement will apply the flame.” This gave Rodney pause; he had not expected his first official task to be setting the fire that would consume his predecessor’s body. “People of the Village,” Jacob continued, “the Curator, in his wisdom, has chosen as Ruth’s replacement, our fried Rodney – one of the group of young people recently arrived here.”

A middle-aged man in the back of the group shouted out, “Why is it always blacks? Why can’t a white man have the job?” The number of people who were nodding in agreement reduced significantly and abruptly when the heckler disappeared.

“I think the Curator has answered that question, don’t you?” Jacob asked. The entire population muttered in agreement. The crowd began to break up as Rodney and Jacob left the podium and started back to what was now Rodney’s hut.

“You have seen Ingvildr?” Jacob asked.

“I have. She came to my door.”

“And you knew who she was?”

“Don’t ask me how, Jacob, but yes, I knew. The same as I knew your old nickname – very appropriate, by the way.” They both chuckled.

“She spoke to you?”

“She answered my question. I asked ‘When?’, she answered, ‘two noons’ and promptly vanished.”

“Wow. You are the Chosen One.”

“I wish it weren’t so, but yes; I believe I am. But now, we need to decide what to do in two nights’ time.”

“I addressed the people earlier, before… before Ruth…” Jacob paused and took a few deep breaths. Rodney placed an arm around his shoulders. “…before Ruth left us.”

“Take your time, Jacob.”

“No, I’m fine. Anyway; I think we can muster about two hundred folk to watch the perimeter for the four hours the moons are full together.”

“Four hours?”

“Yes. The smaller moon cycles more quickly than the larger and starts to wane after about three and a half hours. Four hours will more than cover it.”

“Is two hundred enough to cover the perimeter?”

“Alex says they’d need to be spaced about 40 metres apart.”


“Alexander of Samos. He studied under Pythagoras – before he was dragged here, of course.”

“He studied under Pythagoras?”

“Yeah. Brilliant mathematician, Alex is. He’s expanded on a lot of his master’s ideas. You two should get together.”

“What, me with my C- in the mock GCSE maths? I can barely do adding up, taking away, timesing and sharing!”

“That was before you became the Chosen One. You know stuff now, remember?” Rodney smiled.

Back in the hut, they were pleased to see that Ruth’s body had been removed and a note left in its place, bearing the signature of the Purifier. Rodney dismissed Jacob and started rearranging his new home to suit his taste and needs. After an hour of this, he was satisfied with what he had achieved, and lay on his bed to rest. He immediately found himself again in the presence of the Arikatoteshika.

Even in the presence of the Curator, Rodney stood to his full height. “Why have you summoned me, Arikatoteshika?”

“It is time for you to know why I have chosen you to lead my people, and what that role entails.”

“And what of my desire, and that of my friends, to return to the place we came from?” he asked.

The Arikatoteshika laughed; a deep, resonant, booming laugh; a laugh that had Rodney picturing a helpless girl chained to a railway line as a locomotive approached at full steam.

“Those matters, we can discuss later,” he boomed. “For now, you need to know about the things that are to come. Important things, dreadful things. Things that will curdle your soul as acid curdles milk. Events that will visit themselves upon you soon. Very soon. Sooner than you can begin to imagine.”

That laugh again.