Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Mid-January blues, anyone? Obama and other stuff...

Actually, I don't really have the blues, but I couldn't think what to call this post!!

We're now over halfway through January - today is the day after President Obama's extraordinary inauguration and we seem to have their weather this morning. Cold but with clear blue skies and crystal clear sunshine.

I was glued to the telly yesterday from about 3pm onwards, watching all the worthies arrive and marvelling at how old some of them have got - George H W Bush (Dubya's daddy) looked positively doddery. The sight of all those people stretching to the horizon down the Mall was truly awesome (in the proper meaning of the word, please take note Americans). For years we've all had the mantra that, "In America you can be anything you want to be, even the President" told to us time and again, but usually with the unspoken proviso, "...unless you're any colour other than white or any sex other than male". I don't need to tell you that the outcome of the most recent race for the presidency would have blown that proviso to smithereens (does anyone actually know where 'smithereens' is?)

The presence of all those people prove Americans' really rather heartwarming belief in their own rhetoric, and that it, occasionally, happens to come true.

I thought Obama's inaugural address was strong and brave, and not afraid to stick the knife into Dubya's past 8 years in charge. And it looks like he's going to make good on his election promises too - this morning he's calling for a halt to all the trials at Guantanamo Bay, on his first day in office. Good for him. But I really, really wouldn't want his in-tray.

I was wondering yesterday while watching all the pomp and ceremony, how much does the President get paid in annual salary? I've just popped over to Wikipedia which tells me: "Traditionally, the President is the highest-paid public employee. President Obama currently earns $400,000 per year, along with a $50,000 expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account and $19,000 for entertainment" so that's an annual figure of $569,000 or about £403,000. Not really that much for being (theoretically) the most powerful person with the most difficult job on the planet. Anyway, I wish him well.

While I'm here, and as I'm in a relatively upbeat mood, I need to introduce you the funniest blog I have read. I came across Belgian Waffle about a week ago. She's a lawyer who works for the EU in Brussels. Sounds dull? Not at all. This particular post had me laughing so much I was sobbing uncontrollably, with tears literally dripping off my chin - P had to come and find me to see if I was alright. I have probably not laughed that much since I saw Eddie Izzard in concert several years ago. So go, hurry along, read all her posts and then come back and thank me.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Winter Woodland

I think winter is absolutely the best time for taking atmospheric photographs of countryside and landscapes. This was why we shot off down the A303 the other day to take pictures at Avebury (see below). Much more interesting than blue skies and sunshine.

Anyway, one of the things I do is go horse riding at a local stables that specialises in Arabian horses. The yard is located in 6000 acres of Forestry Commission land and is about 1.5 miles down a single lane trackway. I love its location - there's something about living in the middle of woodland which I find deeply appealing. It's not actually remote - the yard is part of a hamlet of about 15 or so properties but because it's so far away from any main roads, the sounds are those of nature rather than cars. When you go riding, you can be out for hours at a time and literally see or hear no-one else at all. This is both deeply pleasant and a bit concerning - what happens if you fall off the horse? Answer is to take a mobile phone, not actually go out riding alone but have someone with you and, frankly, trust to luck.

I went to the yard yesterday, not to ride because my favourite horse is a bit lame at the moment, but just to check in with everyone, have a cup of tea and take photos. It was foggy, you see, but thin enough for the sun to get through - irresistable! See if you agree (you can click on each picture to make it bigger):

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Tiltshift Photography

Tiltshifting is a way of taking a photograph so that it looks like a miniature. It's to do with tilting the lens and adjusting your depth of field. Or, like I do, you just go to, upload your photographs and have the software do it for you! Yay! This is what happened to my pictures of Maesteg in South Wales and various locations in Cornwall (you can click on all the pictures to make the bigger):

Friday, 9 January 2009

Avebury Rocks!!

I had a FABULOUS morning! P and I decided last night that we would go down to Avebury in Wiltshire so I can take photographs with my new camera. Added to this was the excitement that it would be cold, frosty and foggy so enigmatic images might just be there for the taking.

We got up at 6am and were out of the house by 8am, caught the rush-hour on the A303, went the long way round via Stonehenge and Devizes and pulled into the carpark at about 10.30am. There were 2 other cars there - result! One thing I can't stand in my photographs is people. I will wait as long as it takes to get pesky tourists out of my viewfinder but the lack of cars boded well. Plus the temperature was a Siberian -6 degrees which was likely to put people off. But, my, the weather had turned the landscape on the way down into a Narnian Snow Queen's paradise - we drove into and out of banks of strangely pale pink fog with occasional bursts of sunshine and startlingly blue skies. The trees and bushes, grasses and undergrowth were purest lacey white, as if dusted with icing sugar - absolutely magical!

We wrapped up as warm as we could and headed out. It was a photographer's dream - you couldn't take a bad shot. All you had to do was point and click - fantastic contrasts between the stones, the frost and the sky and NO PEOPLE!! I shot frame after frame for about an hour, then we had to warm up with coffee and hot chocolate in the local pub before heading out again. By this time the sun had come out and the sky was amazingly blue.

It suddenly dawned on me while I was making my way around the bank surrounding the stones that this was actually a defining moment in my life - I was actually fulfilling a life's ambition. You see, I'm a trained archaeologist and have been visiting ancient sites in Britain for decades now. I have plenty of photos of these places in the summertime, but I've always longed to visit them in winter. The stones seem somehow more shrouded in mystery when covered in ice and snow - bleak but gorgeous. But the weather has, ironically, always put me off - I've never fancied driving the distances in the snow and ice to reach them, but P was happy to do this!

I love this place and would seriously consider having my ashes scattered here if it wasn't a World Heritage Site and the presence of my modern burnt bones likely to bugger up future archaeological results....

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Things that made me smile today...

Surprisingly, I'm actually enjoying the cold weather, bizarre as that may seem. I like a cold, sharp winter with frost and clear blue skies, and, frankly, we haven't had enough of them in recent years. Winters have been too warm lately, grey, overcast, depressing. Of course, I may change my mind when I reach 70 (if I reach 70, that is) and am feeling the cold and wishing for warm, grey and depressing...

I feed the birds in my garden, have done for many years now, and have found that the robins really appreciate a good dried mealworm (yummy). I now buy them by the bucketload (and fresh wriggly ones in the summer - double yummy) but I needed to replenish supplies so P and I went off to our nearest big garden centre to get some. While I was wandering around looking at the houseplants and suchlike, P had spotted a couple of robins flying around inside the 'showrooms'. He opened one of the doors and ushered them outside. This has pleased me immensely - kindness to animals warms my heart.

The second thing that happened today was a post C, my sister-in-law, sent me. I asked for a purple sequinned beret from Topshop for Christmas which she kindly gave me. She said there was something she remembered reading about wearing a purple hat and I thought she meant that famous poem that starts, "When I am old I shall wear purple. With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me". She finally remembered today what it was and sent it to me - I've posted it below. I'm 45 years old and have grabbed my purple hat - don't you think you should have yours by now?


Age 3: She looks at herself and sees a Queen.

Age 8: She looks at herself and sees Cinderella.

Age 15: She looks at herself and sees an Ugly Sister (Mom, I can't go to school looking like this!)

Age 20: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly"- but decides she's going out anyway.

Age 30: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly"-but decides she doesn't have time to fix it so she's going out anyway.

Age 40: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly"-but says, "At least I am "clean" and goes out anyway.

Age 50: She looks at herself and sees "I am" and goes wherever She wants to go.

Age 60: She looks at herself and reminds herself of all the people who can't even see themselves in the mirror anymore. Goes out and conquers the world.

Age 70: She looks at herself & sees wisdom, laughter and ability, goes out and enjoys life.

Age 80: Doesn't bother to look. Just puts on a purple hat and Goes out to have fun with the world.

Maybe we should all grab that purple hat earlier.