Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Photoblog: Vulcan at the Shuttleworth Collection

A few weeks ago I visited the Shuttleworth Collection's WWI Commemoration Air show in Bedford. I went, as usual, with my good friend Neil. We were lucky enough to be treated to one of the last surviving Vulcan Bomber's final flypasts*, so I thought I'd dedicate this post to some of my shots of that, with the rest of the show being represented in a future post. Neil has put together a bunch of his Vulcan shots over the last few years in a tribute post here, and I recommend having a butcher's.

Act innocent.
Tell me that upon seeing that heading towards you, you wouldn't get the urge to stop whatever you were doing just in case it was the Wrong Thing and lie face-down on the ground with your hands behind your head, and I'll call you a liar.

Up close and personal.

I think that's probably Neil's hand.

It's a little-known fact that the Vulcan has the ability to command local avians to do its bidding**.

One of the Vulcan's party tricks is going fast...


... at you.

This is not a view of Vulcan that you'd be especially pleased to see in a combat situation.
The Vulcan bomber looks like a big slab of metal that shouldn't be able to fly. It overcomes this issue by staring God in the face and screaming "physics?! What physics?!"

No, they're not eyes...


... but it is looking at you.


Another superpower that the Vulcan has is its remarkable photogenicity***....

... and it's a lot better at hide-and-seek than most people imagine.

I was standing on the ground. Really!
This is my favourite shot of the day, I think.

So long, XH558

And with that, she heads off into the sunset.

If you haven't had enough you can see my full album of Vulcan shots from the day here.

* Find out more about Vulcan XH558 and its future here.
** Though sometimes pigeons go bad.
*** As it turns out, that is a word.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Photoblog: Long Exposure at Peterborough Fair

O.k, so the words "exposure" and "Peterborough Fair" appearing in the same sentence sounds like a recipe for a failed DBS check, but rest assured the only exposure I'm talking about here involves a lengthy shutter speed. Another trip with my photobuddy* Neil, this time we headed off to a dark, secluded hillside together with our cameras and took pictures of people enjoying themselves very slowly. A couple of his, as usual, far more accomplished pics are here.

I think it's important to note that, yet again, I forgot to take an SD card with any space on it, so I was frantically deleting old images before I was able to take any more. Luckily enough, though, it didn't continue for too long because I had also forgotten to charge my camera.

More shiny!
It was quite difficult to catch these two rides spinning all the way round at the same time. When they did, they looked like massive lollipops. Here, one looks like a massive lollipop and the other looks like some sort of amulet. If you squint.

Here we see Peterborough Cathedral queueing patiently for its go on the inflatable slidey thing. I quite like the effect of the street light, but at the same time I was tempted to shoot it out so I could get a better shot of the Cathedral. That's acceptable, right?

Look carefully...
Last but not least, an extended bout of shutter-opening is never complete without taking a turn for the spooky. After uploading this shot to my computer and fiddling with light levels I noticed this long-dead pair waiting for a bus that was never to arrive**.

The rest, such as they are, can be viewed on my Flickr profile.

* Not just a photobuddy; we're other buddies too: he's also a daughterdestroysmymegabloxdragonbuddy, but photobuddy is more relevant here.
** Or I wandered into my camera's field of view and posed for a bit to see what happened.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Photoblog: Duxford 2014

I found this small batch of photos from a trip with my friend Neil* and his family to Duxford in May last year - oops - and thought it was high time I shared some of them.

I didn't take many photos because I forgot to bring an empty SD card along. This is not at all rare. But here are a handful of images I'm not utterly ashamed of:

Concorde's Engineering Heritage award!
 A fabulous machine, sadly departed. Is there a modern commercial aeroplane with anything like the appeal of concorde?

Inside a plane. Possibly Concorde. It's been a while since I took it...
What can I say? I have a thing for tubes.

An engine-y bit.
This looks very much like it could be a part of the Millennium Falcon. Or is that just me? And last but not least...

The belly of the beast...
Could this be anything other than the bomb bay of a Vulcan? I got some cracking shots of the last remaining flying (and sadly not-to-be-flying-much-longer) Vulcan bomber doing its thing at an air show a few weeks ago. Keep 'em peeled for that post...

I'm not too impressed with these shots. I'm going to blame it on a combination of poor planning and forethought combined with a distinct rustiness, but there are some shots from more recent outings that I'm much happier with, so stay tuned! If you want to see the rest of this batch (there aren't many) you can check out the album on Flickr.

* You can see some of Neil's shots from the day here. He's a far more accomplished photographer than I am.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rock and a Hard Place - Gigging Horrors

It's been a while since I've been in a band*, but this post pushed my way by @Chris_J_Turner got me wandering down memory lane. I thought I'd share a few of my own experiences.

Adventures in Space...

The band would often turn up to a venue to find we were expected to fit five guys and all assorted rocking paraphernalia including a drum kit in an area more suited to, say, an agoraphobic field mouse. Here are my Top Five Comically Small Stage experiences:

5. Booked to play in a student union bar, we were assured that we'd be playing on a stage. Upon arrival, we quickly realised that the 'stage' was actually a drum riser.

4. An alcove in a pub which the band filled. It had a view of the main area of the pub that was obscured (and I'm being charitable there) by a massive supporting pillar and a ninety-degree bend.

3. The area usually occupied by a pool table. Much of this area was taken up by... the pool table, which had been wheeled to the side "out of the way".

2. In a room roughly five times the area of the drummer's mat we had to fit in the entire band, instruments, amplifiers, P.A. system and... 30+ drunken, dancing birthday party attendees.

1. A bay window. Seriously.

We've also been placed directly in front of the exit to the pub's smoking area, meaning that there was a constant stream of people pushing past us, tripping over and stepping on our equipment while we were playing our set.

... and time.

Timekeeping in the band was always a bit of an issue: most of us would turn up in plenty of time, but one guy would always keep us guessing as to when he'd arrive. Sometimes he wouldn't turn up until five minutes before we were due to start playing (or, on occasion, five minutes after). The trouble was that he was the one bringing the P.A.

From the point of view of the venue, we'd regularly turn up ready to set up only to find that the area we were supposed to be setting up in was taken up by pool tables, arcade machines and dining tables (sometimes with diners still dining at them) that they "hadn't got around to moving yet."

Having a Bad Day

We went to an open mic night once, and just took guitars along as reputation had it that the venue supplied its own amplification gear. Reputation was right, but we hadn't thought to enquire as to the quality of the equipment. Similarly, we'd been on hiatus and this was to be treated as a bit of a practise. We were awful and the equipment was worse, with the lead guitarist's amp switching settings of its own accord and the footswitches seemingly acting as random settings generators. The amp I was using kept overheating and cutting out, and the stock drum kit was of the kind that you might get an enthusiastic but not particularly gifted drummer for their eighth birthday. We didn't actually die on stage, and this acts as pretty convincing evidence against the efficacy of prayer.

Stage Invasion

Playing in a Working Men's Club for a fortieth birthday party, what appeared to be the birthday boy's aunts took a shine to our lead guitarist and joined us on stage for at least two songs, repeatedly groping his backside and hogging the mic for much of the time. They weren't accomplished vocalists.


Glossing over the time I turned up to a gig without my guitar, and the other time that I got home from a gig without my guitar, we had a few last minute panics when we realised we didn't have some key gear. Once, having driven an hour for a Sunday afternoon gig at a pub's summer festival our drummer realised as we got ready to sound-check that he'd forgotten to bring any sticks. That is, however, nothing compared to the time we were getting ready to sound-check and then decided it might be a good idea to call our drummer (a different one, this time) and ask where he was. He hadn't realised there was a gig. We played "unplugged".


We played at a past-and-present-staff social for a well-known supermarket chain. Part way through the first set one of the older partygoers approached the band to make a request. That request was "can you turn it down a bit please? We'd like to talk."

Power Struggles

A disturbing number of gigs have caused abdominal gripes when we've asked "O.K., where do we plug in?" Trailing daisy-chained multi-adaptors through the middle of an audience was a more common occurrence than I'm comfortable admitting. Once, although we were on a decent stage with outwardly sensible electrics, we suffered a mid-song power failure as the circuit-breakers were tripped ("that happens all the time," we were told afterwards). The audience carried on singing in the dark and when the power returned we just joined right back in.

The most memorable power-issue, though, was actually at the same venue in item 2 of the Top Five in the first section, above: we had to run the P.A., three guitar amps, three effects boards, two wireless guitar receivers and various flashy lighting devices through one 13-amp wall socket by way of an impressive network of multi-way mains adaptors. The socket concerned was on the other side of the room from the band, behind the revellers.

How about you?

Got any interesting, funny, uncomfortable or downright horrifying gig stories? Leave a comment!

* If you're in or near Milton Keynes or Northampton and you need a fairly competent rock-happy rhythm guitarist with the lead-y type leaning (or just fancy a jam) then get in touch.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Talking About Depression is Tricky.

I haven't posted anything here in a while. Part of the reason why will be evident later, but first a plea:

If you read the following and feel angered in some way; if you feel I'm attention-seeking, fishing for compliments; if you think I should just pull myself together (etc), then please, please, please stop reading, close the window and get on with whatever it was you were doing before you found yourself here: I don't want to hear your opinion and I don't want you to waste any more of your time forming one. If, however, you feel like commenting and/or getting in touch privately because you feel the same or have felt the same and can offer some words of support or wisdom to me or anyone else out there who feels the same then please, please, please feel welcome to do so. The post may be quite long. I'm not apologising for that: if you get bored, go and do something else. Seriously, I'd like a bare minimum of people to read this. I'd rather one person who really gives a damn about what it has to say read it than ten thousand who couldn't care less. I don't want clichĂ©, I'm not asking to be patronised, and I won't be appreciative of small-mindedness.

It's about depression. If you can't handle talk on that topic then please leave now.

This has been quite some time in preparation. This is partly because I stop myself writing with the thought "why would anyone want to know?" I've countered that by reasoning that if you don't want to know you wouldn't have clicked, and if you clicked in error you should probably move on to something more fun about nowish, and it might be therapeutic to write something that might be read because private writings aren't doing a damned thing. It is also because I haven't been able to find a way of saying how I feel. It's been unutterable and when I've tried I just end up feeling silly (and being told as much). I think I've figured out a metaphor that works in most respects, and I'm posting it here because that makes listening to me baring my innermost an opt-in thing, rather than having to figure out who the hell wants to listen to me: plenty say they do, but isn't that just what you're supposed to say? Nobody actually means it, do they?

I live in a well. The well changes in all sorts of ways but two things are constant: the sides are vertical; everybody else lives up on the surface.

Sometimes I look up and all is dark. I can't see the mouth of the well because there is only darkness above. I don't know how deep it is so it may as well be endless, and this fills me with a strange and conflicting feeling that is at once claustro- and agora- phobic.

Sometimes I look up and it is dark, but I can see stars. This is when I feel most comfortable, though I can still feel the walls around me and the depth of the well. Sometimes the stars make the well deeper when I realise there's nobody to share them with.

Sometimes I look up and see daylight.

Everyone else lives up on the surface. Much of the time I can hear them and they sound like they're having fun but I don't know how to get up there.

Sometimes, on rare occasions when the well is at its shallowest I can climb out. It takes a lot of effort and I am worn out by the time I manage it, but I get there. On the surface I see that everyone is holding hands. They're standing in rings, some containing a few people, some containing many, but nobody is on their own. People may leave one ring and go and join another, or sometimes rings of people join together to make larger rings, or split to form smaller rings. I can go up to rings of people and interact briefly: some members may even break their hand-hold with the person next to them so that they can shake my hand for a while, but nobody ever holds it. The people are usually pleasant and seem pleased enough to see me, but I am always outside the rings. I can never become part of a ring and sooner or later I find myself back in my well, more often than not feeling deflated and frustrated, but at least the well is better than standing uncomfortably, unwanted, in amongst the oppressive, seething maelstrom of people who all fit somewhere; who all have a purpose in the indecipherably complicated movements of social interaction.

Sometimes I spend extended periods up on the surface, even thinking I'm about to be accepted/invited into a ring but it inevitably turns out that the ring opened up for someone else and it closes again after they have joined. Sometimes people leave their rings and hold my hand and I feel like we're forming a new ring, but then it turns out they were just shaking my hand for a bit, and then they say goodbye and rejoin their ring and I find myself back in my well.

Sometimes the noise of the jollity that I can hear from the surface becomes deafening and I end up digging my well deeper to get away from it: the sound makes me feel unwanted, unnoticed, but digging further makes me feel even more isolated. I can't win.

The well is getting deeper and the sides more slippery. Part of me wants to dig and dig until I can hear nothing: at least I'll get an occasional glimpse of those stars.

I've tried reading books about depression, social anxiety, how to win friends and influence people, how to talk to people, how to not hate yourself, how to ignore the fact that the rest of the world can't see you, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

I've tried talking to people and some have even listened. Most fling platitudes freely, wildly and indiscriminately: apparently I'm not ugly, plenty of people are fatter than I am and, according to some, I'm one hell of a hoopy frood: they love spending time with me (they just choose not to because mumble mumble mumble). I'm funny; entertaining; friendly; helpful; intelligent; witty; [and another generic positive trait], [and another one], [and another one too]. They can't understand for the life of them why I'm terminally single and don't have any friends. And then they go back to their place in the great dance of the rings and I go back to my well, and they keep a wide berth next time I manage to haul myself out.

I've tried being referred by my doctor for 'talking therapies' and filling in the tables and diaries that come with it, and have learnt all the correct responses and passed the test with flying colours and been declared functional.

I've tried taking a prescription for pills which helped me gurn a smile onto my face for a short while but didn't make the well any easier to climb from, and they certainly haven't done anything to help me move out of the well more permanently. I've just spent longer standing in amongst the spinning, fully-formed, dancing rings that don't have any space for me, grinning like a loon and cracking the odd joke to the occasional soul that stops briefly as it moves from one ring to another.

And now I'm back in the well with my shovel in my hand.

I won't post about it any more, I promise.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Photoblog: The Raptor Foundation

Finally I have managed to scrape together enough internets to get some photos uploaded and now I can write a post about my visit to Cambridgeshire's Raptor Foundation a couple of weeks ago.

Please don't expect me to remember ornithological details and names beyond "owl". Feel free to comment with interesting info about the birds you see if you know more than I do, though.
Raptors are birds of prey* including owls, eagles, hawks, harriers, buzzards, kites and vultures, and the Raptor Foundation provides medical care and rehabilitation or sanctuary for injured raptors as well as conducting research into conservation and related environmental matters.

Who you lookin' at?
The Foundation is open to the public (it costs £5 per adult to get in), and the birds can be seen at fairly close-quarters, tethered to stakes or secured in their enclosures. There are 2 to 3 flying displays throughout the day hosted by a team demonstrators who have a clearly identifiable passion for the creatures they work with.
Neil doing what Neil does.

They also have other events throughout the year, some of which happen at set times such as the twilight displays (I'd love to go to one of those) and others that can be booked in advance.

Being much more of a proactive photographer than I am, my good buddy Neil booked him, me and a bunch of folks he talks to on a photography website onto a photographic day. This costs more than a standard visit to the Foundation** and includes not only time to wander around the bird enclosures and watch the displays, but also some up-close-and-personal time with a selection of raptors in some nice, photogenic settings***. During the standard displays we were encouraged to position ourselves in non-standard positions, such as under the flightpaths of the birds, in order to get the most out of the experience as photographers.

At one point I completely failed to get an awesome shot as I was vaguely concerned that the enormous owl coming straight at me was about to carry me off into the trees where it could eat bits of me at leisure.

I think this goes some way towards showing just how up-close-and-personal we could get with these majestic creatures.
Whilst the birds themselves were fascinating, as usual I tried to push myself in a direction inspired by another friend's photography**** and include some candid shots of people doing people things.

Here are some of the shots I'm most proud of from the day. As usual, the only post-processing is cropping and a little bit of colour and brightness correction (largely done automatically by Picasa):

This kind of looks like a studio background, but it isn't, honest!


Watching, waiting.

Watching me like a... well, like an owl.

This guy was a poser and a half.


I love this shot, but can't quite articulate why.

It proved tricky getting good in-flight shots - I had similar problems to the ones at Waddington (though not quite so comical)

Some of the up-close shots of the raptors getting their rewards were... disgusting.

Lift off!

We all had a chance to act as perch for these beautiful owls.

This is not a raptor.

Neither are these, though they remind me of someone...

Framed by foliage

As usual there are more shots over on my Flickr account. Please have a look and let me know which shots are your favourites, and why! It'll help me to become a better photographer.

* Not, as I'd hoped, particularly cunning and vicious pack-hunting dinosaurs.
** I can't remember how much as Neil very kindly paid for me as a birthday present!
*** Trees.
**** Carlos, of Oblique Exposure.