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Considering a camera

After many years sticking to an SLR after disappointment with a bridge camera, I have had to come to terms with a sobering truth. I’m not using it. I just don’t take it out. It requires a camera bag, attracts attention, and as a result, I have taken very few photos in the last three years. I want to take photos. Not for the blog, but to document the last chapter in my life, the new things I have seen in Norfolk, and the times I enjoy out with Ollie, or the visits from friends and family. Despite the availability of my new smartphone, I cannot ever get used to using this as a camera. I need a viewfinder, not a screen at arms length.

I would like more options when shooting, an element of control not offered by phone cameras, and something substantial in the hand. So I have done what I do best, research. Endless hours on the Internet, with a list of must-haves, and don’t-needs, exploring the camera market in 2015. I have a maximum price in mind, excluding many possible contenders. The issue of portability is key. If I carry it around, I might actually use it. I am less concerned about megapixels, more about usablility. How it feels in the hand, and how the control system works, and suits my requirements. Is it fairly incongruous, and does the lens meet my needs? What of the pedigree, and of owners’ reviews? I have had to eschew the fast prime lens, and I cannot afford the larger sensors. Some examples are so large, I might as well stick with the SLR. Others don’t have a viewfinder, and basic modes for use by a complete novice.

Over the years, i have owned some marvellous film cameras. The incomparable Canon T90, the reliable Canon A1, and the state-of-the art (at the time) Minolta Dynax 7, with the superb 24-105 lens. My forays into the world of digital have been reluctant. A Fuji 610 compact, leading eventually to a very well-specified Fuji S5 Pro, with a Nikon lens and add-on flash. On the way, I tried an Olympus super-zoom, with a slow telephoto lens, and lamentably slow write-speeds to the memory  card. I got Julie various digital compacts, including a very useful Samsung only a couple of years ago. But she prefers her phone, so be it.

I now feel the time has come to move on. A one-body solution, with modern write speeds, multiple functions, and fast zoom lenses. They are finally here, and well-thought of too. After much deliberation, I have narrowed my choice down to just two. The Fuji X30; retro-styled, attractive to look at, and well thought of. It is hampered by a small 2/3 sensor though, and softness in the lens. Then there is the more recent Olympus Stylus 1. This has a 28-300 zoom, with a constant 2.8 aperture available. It has a metal body, and a tilting screen, as well as a viewfinder found on the flagship Olympus cameras. It also benefits from the marginally larger 1.7 sensor, and the reputation of Olympus from the old days. It is about £50 more expensive than the Fuji, and less attractive to the eye. So my friends. Many of you are photographers. Some use compacts, others use 4/3 mirrorless systems or high-end SLR cameras. What do you think? I would value your advice. I really would. For those of you who find all this tiresome and uninteresting, my apologies.

http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Olympus_STYLUS_1/

http://www.techradar.com/reviews/cameras-and-camcorders/cameras/compact-cameras/fujifilm-x30-1262034/review

So tired…

I have no idea why, but I am so tired lately. Despite decent sleeps, and not getting up too early, I feel as weary as an old man can be. Everything requires an enormous effort, like moving in increased gravity. A good walk of two hours with Ollie leaves me wrecked, and I have little enthusiasm for domestic chores, though I still manage to do them.

I feel like someone else is inhabiting my body. Someone very tired. I don’t recognise this person at all, as it definitely doesn’t feel like me. Small tasks take an age, and undue effort to complete. Things done without thinking, only a few months ago, become as challenging as reaching Everest Base Camp. I wish I had some idea what is going on. On the surface, I feel the same, but I yearn for rest, become irritated with noise, and seek solitude and sleep.

I am only 63 years old, and recently felt on top of the world. I just don’t get it. Does anyone else experience this fatigue, and feeling of malaise? I hope that it’s just not me. That would be worrying.

For some reason, I have recently had an unusual number of people looking at my ‘About’ page. I have no idea why, but I thought I would update the information on it, and make it a little more interesting. Sometimes, people might only look at the ‘About’ page on a blog, before deciding to go on to read posts, or to see if the person has similar interests, or background. I have tried to include relevant information, without making it too wordy, or dull.

As regular readers will know, I rarely post photos. I did relent, and published a photo of myself and Ollie some time ago, but this was by way of a post. My gravatar photo of Ollie was recently updated, but that gives readers little idea about me, which was originally my intention of course. However, looking at so many other blogs, as I do, I notice that they often include a picture of the blogger, so I decided to follow suit.

I have used the same photo from the earlier post, and added it at the end of my ‘About’ information. Let’s hope that it doesn’t put off more potential readers that it attracts!

Given my recent lack of enthusiasm for blogging, I thought that I would turn to my love of films and TV drama for inspiration. These will be occasional posts about things I have just watched. They may or may not constitute a proper review, depending on your opinion.

Under The Skin

-Includes possible spoilers-

This 2013 film from Jonathan Glazer starring Scarlett Johansson, received a great deal of critical acclaim on release. It was compared by some to ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, and by others to the work of David Lynch, and even Orson Welles. With all that praise, and the presence of Ms Johansson, I just had to get the DVD. But I waited until it was cheap, so I have only just watched it.

Despite the presence of the Hollywood star, it is very much a British film. Special effects are few, and are suitably believable. The locations in and around Glasgow and the Scottish countryside are wet, gloomy, and bleak. In fact, so much of the film is shot in such dim lighting, there were times that it was hard to make out what was happening, at least on a flat-screen TV. Scarlett is wearing her hair short and jet black this time, and it suits her. But then what doesn’t suit this incredibly attractive young woman? The whole film hinges on her unnamed character, and the rest of the cast are complete unknowns, enjoying brief appearances on screen.

It is established very quickly that her character is not of this world. Seen naked in silhouette, a male ‘accomplice’ delivers the body of a young woman to her. She strips the girl, and puts on her clothes. The man then gives her a van, possibly the only long-wheelbase transit in Scotland with an automatic gearbox. She drives to a local shopping centre, where she watches people buying clothes, and trying on make-up, before buying a new outfit, and some cosmetics. This is just one of a series of scenes and devices establishing her strange other-worldly persona to the viewer. Why didn’t the man just bring her some clothes? She is never seen with a handbag or money, yet she has make-up to hand, and doesn’t appear to steal from the shops. We never see her eat, (save for an attempt at a slice of cake) drink, sleep, or use a toilet. So we can conclude that her appearance might be human, but she has none of our needs for survival. We never see her wash, and she doesn’t change her clothes for the duration of the film. She is also unaffected by cold and wet weather, at least most of the time.

The soundtrack adds to the reveal. She hears things at different volumes, picks up conversational snippets, sometimes unintelligible. For the viewer this is as frustrating as it is interesting, with the volume changing from shouts to whispers at will. She drives through crowds of football supporters, stares at old people waiting at bus stops, gazes at passing traffic. She is detached from all around her, an outsider, looking in. OK, I get it. I expected her to suddenly put on a T-shirt bearing the logo ‘I am an alien’, and I began to get a little miffed at the extent of the plot signalling too. But I didn’t turn the film off, take it out of the player, and fling it out of the window in Beetley, and for one very good reason. Johannson is captivating to look at. Even when she is sitting motionless behind the wheel of a van, I could watch her all day. She doesn’t have much to say, but when she speaks, it is in a surprisingly good, well-spoken English accent. This jars against the harsh language of the Scottish characters, once again setting her apart. (OK, I get it!) She does ‘vacant’ extremely well, and the emotionless nature of her character suits her perfectly.

The main action of the bulk of the film centres around her driving aimlessly, in search of young men. She chats to them on the pretext of asking directions, establishing whether or not they live alone, or if someone will miss them if they decide to accept a lift with her. Who wouldn’t get into a van with Scarlett Johansson with the implication of sex in the very near future? I know I would be in that seat like a shot. Once back at her house, they might change their minds when they see the boarded-up slum that she invites them into. But one look at her again, and in they go. Inside the house, reality is distorted, as the size inside bears no relation to the external appearance. Mesmerised by her seductive striptease, the men take off their clothes, following her into what seems to be an oily lake. She walks on the surface, they sink slowly to their demise. After we see this happen a few times, we are later shown what goes on beneath the surface, as everything seems to be sucked out of the hapless men, leaving only their complete skins floating in the mire. Everything seems to be harvested through some kind of illuminated portal, going who knows where.

As if to really hammer home the point of her complete lack of emotion, there is a scene at a stormy beach. She approaches a potential victim, and as she chats to him, a young child gets into difficulties in the sea. The father dives in to save her, and her young prey goes to help. The child drowns, and the father, at first rescued, goes back in and also drowns. She becomes tired of watching this scene, so just hits the younger man with a rock, and drags him off to her van. A second child, only a baby, is left screaming on the beach. For the umpteenth time, we are shown how cold this character is.

After a mishap with a badly-deformed man, (she didn’t see the deformity- OK I get it) she heads off alone into the countryside. The film gets much better after this. The bleak scenery is incredibly photogenic. So much so, that I could almost forgive her sudden appearance in a hotel, and her attempt to eat the gateau, all presumably whilst having no money. She is taken in by a kindly local and given shelter. She eventually decides to make love to him, presumably curious as to how this body she inhabits actually functions. It doesn’t go well though, and she runs off into the woods, wearing a coat taken from the house, as she now seems to feel the cold, and to be bothered by the rain. The last fifteen minutes of the film will have to be left up to you. All I will say it that they are a very good fifteen minutes. The ‘accomplices’ are searching for her on their motorcycles, and she meets a forestry worker in the conifers. Then it all gets very good indeed.

Can a film this long be ‘saved’ by the last section? I have to say it can. And it was.

This is the official trailer.

It has been five days since I posted anything. I have four posts in drafts, and need to work on them.
I have managed to keep up with all the blogs that I follow, but I am lacking the verve to write anything fresh, or relevant. There are at least ten Significant Songs waiting to be written up as well, but they won’t spoil for the waiting.

The weather has been good, and we had a visitor this weekend, so got out and about for a change. Life is fine, with no issues, but I am finding it hard to work on blog posts, for some reason. I have ideas for another Literary Inspiration post, and lots of films jumbled in my head. I don’t really know why it’s not happening, but it’s no big deal.

Just letting you know. That’s all really.

PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a subject much in the news these days. It can affect anyone, in a variety of situations; from a soldier returning from a combat zone, to someone who witnessed a bad traffic accident. I found this recent definition of the condition on the NHS website.

The type of events that can cause PTSD include:
serious road accidents
violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
prolonged sexual abuse, violence or severe neglect
witnessing violent deaths
military combat
being held hostage
terrorist attacks
natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes or tsunamis
PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event or it can occur weeks, months or even years later.
PTSD is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it’s not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don’t.’

You notice that there is nothing in that list specifically about working for the Emergency Services. I suppose that if you choose to embark on a career in the Ambulance Service, or the Fire Service, and The Police, you should anticipate the likelihood of having to deal with a lot of unpleasant things, and that you will be witnessing things that others never see. The same applies to those who choose a career in the Armed Forces, but they are on the list, given the extreme nature of their role I presume. It would appear that being the victim of something, rather than just witnessing it, or dealing with the outcome as part of your job, is the defining factor here. So how does this manifest itself, what are the tell-tale signs? This is again from the NHS website.

Signs and symptoms
‘Someone with PTSD will often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.
These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.’

For more than twenty years, I witnessed all sorts of unspeakable things working on an Ambulance in Central London. Countless dead bodies, attempted resuscitation of people of all ages, including babies. Finding corpses that had been neglected and were decaying, traumatic limb amputations, decapitations, murders, sexual assaults, and violent crimes. Sufferers of terminal illnesses, people who had jumped from a great height to their deaths, or under trains, or sometimes into water. Suicide by drug overdose, death from drug addiction, victims of shootings and stabbings, others seriously injured in road accidents. I saw them all, and dealt with them accordingly. There was a lighter side. Delivering babies, chatting to interesting elderly people, the banter with colleagues and hospital staff. But generally, it was mostly unpleasant, and often downright nasty.

We were threatened and attacked too. I was physically assaulted a few times, and verbally abused daily. I have been threatened with violence, had knives waved at me, and on two occasions, even a gun was brandished. We were fair game, and enjoyed little respect. Writing the stories about my experiences on this blog has brought back many recollections of my time there; and as memories, they are mostly good ones, surprisingly. When you are dealing with the victims of terrorist bombings for example, you don’t really have time to think about stress, or trauma to the mind. You just do the job you signed up for, and move on to the next one. The day after that, you turn up for work, and deal with whatever is thrown at you, starting all over again, from scratch.

I did my last shift in an Ambulance in November 2001, before moving on to pastures new, as a Communications Officer with the Metropolitan Police. I can honestly say that I didn’t miss the job at all, just some of the people. I joined at the right time for me, and left when it no longer felt right. Since retiring in 2012, I often have vivid dreams. About 70% of those dreams happen to be related to working in an ambulance. Two nights ago, I woke from one such dream at around 3AM. I had been driving an ambulance, and I had got lost, unable to find the location of the job I was required to go to. Rather than being in London, I was on the coast somewhere, driving near the edge of a cliff. The person beside me was unfamiliar, not one of my old crew-mates at all. This is a recurring dream, though often the person with me is someone I know well, or a person that I could never have known at the time, but have met since. They are not unpleasant dreams, but they usually concern lots of driving, and getting nowhere fast. Perhaps someone skilled in interpretation of dreams can explain them, I know that I cannot.

I suppose I always suspected that PTSD might be the legacy of a third of my life spent attending 999 calls. But it wasn’t. I didn’t get it, though some others surely did. I was one of the lucky ones.

A Beetley Easter

It was very quiet here over the Easter weekend. The weather didn’t help of course. Other than a few sunny periods yesterday afternoon, it was cold and grey. As we are not remotely religious, we didn’t have to attend any church services, and there was no local Easter Fair, or similar community activity that appealed. This left us with a fairly normal weekend, especially as Julie had to work on Saturday anyway, breaking up the days off that might have made a trip somewhere worthwhile. We did have an Easter Sunday meal of roast duck, something we don’t have that often. There was also the consumption of some hot cross buns; but like most things in the UK, that tradition is spoiled by them being available more or less all-year round these days.

Walking Ollie as usual, I noticed the absence of our regular companions. Some had travelled abroad for an Easter break, others were visiting family, or entertaining guests themselves. There were new people to discover, and more importantly for Ollie, some new dogs to meet. They were visitors, coming to the area to see family or friends, and directed to the Meadows, or Hoe Rough, as a good place to take their dogs. Some were caught out by the stubborn mud, not dressed for the occasion, stepping awkwardly around the deep ruts, and avoiding the standing water. Their dogs rushed up excitedly to Ollie, then scampered off again, too overwhelmed by their new surroundings to bother to play. I exchanged pleasantries, and carried on trudging. Yesterday, I was hit in the eye by a flying insect, one of the first of the season. In all of the countless square miles of Norfolk available to it, the thing managed to impact my eye at speed, and felt like a tiny bullet. It has been watering constantly ever since, and feels bruised to the touch. If only I could have such ‘luck’ with lottery tickets.

Returning home like a wounded Nelson, I resolved to do something useful with the rest of the day, and foolishly decided to clean the oven. Or should I say ovens, as it is an electric double-oven affair. It works very well, with a fan assisting the cooking, ensuring an even spread of heat. Unfortunately, this also means that it bakes on any unwanted splashes or deposits, and the job of cleaning the thing has to be tackled like a military operation. The removable racks are first soaked in biological washing powder. I bought a special plastic tray for this purpose, itself the size of a small paddling pool. As the trays and racks are soaking for up to four hours in near-boiling water, a spray oven cleaning foam is applied inside. This stuff is so caustic, gloves are essential, and woe betide that you inhale during spraying, unless you are wearing a suitable gas-mask. After covering the kitchen tiles with newspaper to catch any spills or leaks, you retire and wait. Sounds easy? Believe me, the hard bit is yet to come.

When enough time had elapsed, I walked with heavy step into the kitchen, to face my oven demons. I arranged a selection of abrasive and non-abrasive pads on the worktop, alongside a fresh roll of kitchen towel, and some extra paper. Working from the top down, I cleaned the extractor fan unit with a spray cleaner, and the glass shield with something suitable too. Despite the fact the the whole thing looked quite clean and tidy, and there are normally only two of us to cook for, it never ceases to amaze me how much sticky grime can be removed. The flat hob is the easiest of course. A dedicated cleaning paste is applied, then buffed off. Job done. If only the rest was as simple. Before tackling the inside of the ovens, I removed to the sink, and began to get the racks and grill-pan out of soak. Even with the action of the washing powder softening the weeks of carbon deposits, they still need a hearty scrub. I used a wire ball, the sort usually used on metal pans, and after almost an hour, they were all rinsed and gleaming on the side. I was putting off the inevitable though.

Are you still there? Still awake?

Kneeling on stone tiles is not something I like to do at my age, to be honest. The drop-down oven doors add eighteen inches to the reach required to get right inside these ovens, so you are at a stretch before you even begin. The first task is to scoop out the now greasy and stained foam cleaner residue. This means a lot of paper, and being very careful of spills and splashes. Then the cleaning pads have to come into play, applied with enough force to get the stuff off, but not so much that you will scratch the inside. Additional bursts of spray cleaner have to be applied to the most stubborn spots as you go, and constant rinsing of the pads is essential. The small top oven completed, I take a break before facing the lower one, as it is twice the size. This is also the fan-assisted oven, and it seems to mock me with the intensity of its burned-on grime. I change to a new pad, and attack it like someone who hates it. (As in a way, I do) Just this one space takes almost an hour, and two more pads, before it is eventually acceptable.

The glass doors have to be tacked with more dexterity, and a careful rotation system, so as not to lean too heavily on the hinges, or displace the glass in the frame. By now, I am sitting on the cold floor, changing arms to combat fatigue, and sincerely wishing that I had never started. Some people get the joy of satisfaction from a job well-done. Personally, I get my satisfaction from others doing that job instead of me. By 7PM it was finally over. The racks were replaced, the ovens gleaming, and I could take a well-earned rest.

A belated Happy Easter from Beetley.

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