Here’s a lovely illustrated post about a trip to Portugal, from my blogging friend, and published writer, Felicity Harley. I have never been to that country, so I must rectify that, one of these days.


Graffiti in Lisbon — Photo by Arthur Vallin Creative Director HarleyandCompany

Few Americans have yet to discover Portugal. We went recently to visit my British family in Vila Nova de Milfontes in the South. Our journey started in Lisbon where we stayed in an apartment in the central part of Lisbon. Our airfares were inexpensive and our accommodations through Airbnb even more so (we never paid more than $100.00 a night).

Lisbon is a beautiful old city with a large Moorish section that wanders up into the hills behind the pastel colored, red-tiled houses that line the cobbled streets.

Moorish Section of Lisbon – Photo Arthur Vallin Creative Director HarleyandCompany

It has numerous beautiful squares and monuments and is scenically situated at the mouth of the Tagus River. If you are a foodie like us, it also has many inexpensive world class restaurants and markets scattered throughout the city in which to…

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A black day, a black tide

Here is an event I have not seen reported on the news here. An environmental disaster that has hit the Greek coastline. Something the oil companies should be helping to clear up, and paying for too.

Letters from Athens

As if Greece was not plagued by enough problems, it is now the site of an unprecedented ecological disaster, following the sinking of an oil tanker near the port of Piraeus.

The Agia Zoni II sank on September 10 while anchored in calm seas and carrying 2,200 tons of fuel oil and 370 tons of marine gas oil. The ship’s cargo spilled into waters where dolphins, turtles, seals and a variety of fish and sea birds feed and live. Oil slicks have extended from the island of Salamina, near where the tanker went down, to the entire length of the Athens coast.

Image from naharnet.com

The Greek government is being accused (as usual) of a slow and inadequate response to the crisis, which it (obviously) is denying.

Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund has filed a lawsuit over extensive pollution to the coastline around Athens. The environmental group’s Greek branch filed the…

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What I do not understand about the DACA debate.

A heartfelt post from Ed Westen, about an incomprehensible situation in America. Please share it around, if you agree that it is worth doing so.


What I do not understand about the DACA debate.

T. Edward Westen, Ph.D. and Professor Emeritus, Central Michigan University.

September 5, 2017

As I listen to the talking heads on television, voices on the radio and stories in the print media I hear about the undocumented alien, children who only know the US and the rule of law, and a whole bunch of other “stuff” that the utter seems to think applied and makes sense. This is not to mention the assertion that if we can’t control our borders . . .

The people in the DACA program were brought here illegally as children by their parents. They were in fact kidnapped from their native countries, even it if was for a good reason. DACA participants are victims of a crime—they are kidnap victims. Unlike kidnap victims in domestic kidnapping cases, they have no family that we can return them…

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Getting away with hats

I know I have mentioned this before, but I have always wanted to look good in a hat. When I was a teenager, hats were still the ‘done thing’ for men. I tried some, but always looked stupid. I just about managed a ‘pork pie’ hat in the Ska days, but even that was a stretch.

I really wanted to look like Alan Delon. He rocked a hat like nobody else, and he was also too cool for words, in every way imaginable.

Before him, I always admired Fred Astaire, and the way he looked so good in any hat imaginable. Perhaps you just had to come from those times, and be comfortable in hats? I soothed my frustrations with this thought.

But then I saw ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, and wanted to look as great as Warren Beatty, so relaxed in his 1920s hat.

Later, ‘Chinatown’ came along, and I could have kicked myself, as the balding Jack Nicholson just oozed class, in a classic hat. I had to give up. I was never going to look the part in a hat. Those guys could not be equalled.


John has kindly suggested that I might suit a hat like one worn by an Oxford Professor. Here’s an example.

Oxford professr hat

I fear that wouldn’t work for me though.

Camera chat: Sensor size

This post is only of interest to anyone who likes photography. Anyone else should perhaps delete it, and move on.

Sensor size. Is bigger better? I conclude that it is, in most cases. Ever since the advent of digital cameras, manufacturers have striven to offer larger and better sensors, culminating in the release of many ‘full frame’ sensors, replicating the size of film negatives, in the conventional 35 mm film cameras of old. The first digital camera I ever bought was a Fuji 610 compact, with a tiny sensor. To make some sense of this issue, here is a chart, illustrating the difference.

As you can see, my original camera’s sensor, at 1/3.2″ was tiny. Much later, I moved up to the Fuji S5 Pro. This camera boasted what is known as an APS-C ‘crop sensor’, many times larger than that original Fuji, with a whopping 24 X 16 mm on offer. As a camera with a full-frame sensor was beyond my finances (and still is) that was the best I was ever going to be able to afford. The results were eye-opening, with much more detail retained, and the ability to enlarge the photos to a decent size as a result.

But that camera used relatively expensive interchangeable lenses, so I had to be content with the 28-80 (equivalent) lens I could afford. Much later, I wanted a smaller camera, and one that offered a decent zoom range, with all the modern bells and whistles that had been in development since the S5 was launched. Electronic viewfinder, special features, and a few gimmicks that the SLR lacked. After much research, I settled on the Fuji X-30, with light weight, rangefinder retro-styling, and a useful 28-112 (equivalent) built in lens. I was very happy for a while. I had all the extra features, and the camera was very portable, and easy to carry at all times. But there was one issue that bothered me.

The X-30 has a rather ancient 1/2.3″ sensor. Despite the limitations, Fuji did wonders with the small chip, and it rendered amazingly good j-pegs. I clicked away ignoring this fact, but it never left my mind. Eventually, I decided that I had to try a camera with a larger sensor. All the reviews told me that the 1″ sensor of the Sony RX10 was more than capable of much better results. As you can tell from the chart, this sensor is much bigger that that of the X-30, and compared to the original Fuji 610, it is simply enormous. After using it for a while, I can see some difference. Colours are rendered more naturally, and detail is retained in many areas too. However, the difference is not enough, and this led me to look back at the photos from the S5 Pro.

They are undeniably better. Richer in appearance, with more latitude for error too. Despite producing the same pixel output as the tiny X-30, the photos from the S5 feel more like ‘real photos’, thanks to that much larger sensor. Before buying the Sony, I considered investing in a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera, used by many blogging photographers, and considered to be ‘more than enough’ by enthusiasts all over the world. I was put off by the high cost of detachable lenses, but as you can see from the chart, the MFT sensor is much larger than the 1″ on the Sony. Despite seeing some amazing results from respected photographers using this MFT sensor, I still feel that the APS-C crop sensor is the best option for enthusiasts who want to realise better detail, and produce larger images. Unless I come into money, and can buy a full-frame digital camera, I will be choosing one with an APS-C sensor in future.

So, if you own something like a Fuji XT-1, or XT-2, a Fuji X100T, Pentax KS-2, Nikon D 5500, or a Canon EOS 750D, well done. My next camera will be something along those lines, and I will just have to budget for the lenses.

A Literary A-Z: L

Please continue to play along. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with ‘L’.

In 1961, Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ won the Pulitzer Prize. It went on to become well known as an example of modern American literature. Taught in schools all over the US and the UK, there was a time when almost everyone I knew had read this classic tale of racism, crime, and courtroom procedures. Depicting the deep South of the USA during a period when the country was in the midst of change, and populated with rich characters, who spring to life from the pages. The book feels as relevant today as it ever did, and still attracts a huge readership. It was made into a very popular film in 1962, starring Gregory Peck.

On to a book that divides the literary audience. ‘Lolita’ is a 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, dealing with the uncomfortable subject of a man’s attraction to an underage girl. Humbert Humbert becomes involved with the mother of Dolores, in order to gain access to her precocious 12 year-old daughter, who he later begins a sexual relationship with, giving her the name ‘Lolita’. After the death of her mother, Humbert takes the girl on a trip across the country, controlling her life in every way that he can. The subject matter of this book is understandably disturbing to many, for obvious reasons. However, it remains as a compelling novel about obsession, and has been filmed twice, most notably by Stanley Kubrick, in 1962.

As a boy, I was fascinated by the historical novel, ‘The Last of The Mohicans’, by James Fenimore Cooper. Published in 1826, it is set during the turbulent times of the wars between France and Britain on the American continent, and the involvement of Native American tribes, on both sides. I even had a toy flintlock rifle, like the kind used by ‘Hawkeye’, the mixed race hero. This book has so much history on its pages, and the exciting events surrounding the battles are rich in detail and characterisation. I discovered more about the Seven Years War and the various Native American tribes from this book, than I would ever have bothered to learn from a dry non-fiction account. I haven’t read it again since, but I did watch the long-running TV series based on the book, as well as the superb film adaptation from 1992, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Being acclaimed as one of the longest novels ever written, the huge work from Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables’ is a far from easy read, believe me. I struggled with this famous book in my late teens, although I did manage to finish it. These days, many know the story based on numerous film and stage adaptations, as well as the notable long-running musical production. But this very long book has huge scope, exploring a long period in French history, social inequality, crime and redemption, and the uprising in 1832. It is fascinating in parts, though overwhelmed by excessive description at times too. Only for those with a real interest in the period, and the stamina for almost 1,500 pages.

My top pick for today is a novel I studied at school, and has stayed in my mind ever since. ‘Lord of The Flies’ by William Golding was published in 1954, some nine years before I was introduced to it in my English class. The plot is rather fantastic, dealing with a group of stranded schoolboys after their aircraft crashes on a remote Pacific island, during WW2. But what follows is a fascinating look at the mentality of a group, and their efforts to survive without adult supervision. The reader is soon swept up in the characters that stand out from the group of boys. They display all the best and worst characteristics of human nature, from cruelty to communal effort, and from the exclusion of some, to the laziness of others. Golding uses this situation as a convincing allegory of just about every social situation imaginable, and we can all see something of ourselves in one or another of the boys. This book has also been filmed, with the best version from 1963, starring James Aubrey as Ralph.

Historical Trivia

I was sent this as an email, by my American friend, and fellow blogger, Ed Westen.
I though it was well-worth posting here, as both education, and entertainment. Even though you might have already known some of these, I doubt you would have known them all.


Did you know the saying “God willing and the Creek
don’t rise” was in reference to the Creek Indians and not a body of
water? It was written by Benjamin Hawkins in the late 18th century.
He was a politician and Indian diplomat. While in the south,
Hawkins was requested by the President of the U.S. to return to
Washington . In his response, he was said to write, “God willing and
the Creek don’t rise.” Because he capitalized the word “Creek” it
is deduced that he was referring to the Creek Indian tribe and not a
body of water.

****************** ********** ** ***

In George Washington’s days, there were no cameras. One’s
image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George
Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his
back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by
painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by
how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are ‘limbs,’
therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the
expression, ‘Okay, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.’ (Artists
know hands and arms are more difficult to paint)

*********************** *******

As incredible as it sounds, men and women took
baths only twice a year (May and October) Women kept their hair
covered, while men shaved their heads (because of lice and bugs) and
wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. They
couldn’t wash the wigs, so to clean them they would carve out a loaf
of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes.
The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term ‘big
wig… ‘ Today we often use the term ‘here comes the Big Wig’
because someone appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.

******** ********************** ***

In the late 1700’s, many houses consisted of a large
room with only one chair. Commonly, a long wide board folded down
from the wall, and was used for dining. The ‘head of the household’
always sat in the chair while everyone else ate sitting on the
floor. Occasionally a guest, who was usually a man, would be
invited to sit in this chair during a meal.. To sit in the chair
meant you were important and in charge. They called the one sitting
in the chair the ‘chair man.’ Today in business, we use the
expression or title ‘Chairman’ or ‘Chairman of the Board.’

*********************** ******* ***

Personal hygiene left much room for improvement.. As
a result, many women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood.
The women would spread bee’s wax over their facial skin to smooth out
their complexions. When they were speaking to each other, if a
woman began to stare at another woman’s face she was told, ‘mind your
own bee’s wax.’ Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence
the term ‘crack a smile’. In addition, when they sat too close to
the fire, the wax would melt . .. . Therefore, the expression
‘losing face.’

*********************** ******* ***

Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the
front. A proper and dignified woman, as in ‘straight laced’ wore a
tightly tied lace..

*********************** ******* ***

Common entertainment included playing cards.
However, there was a tax levied when purchasing playing cards but
only applicable to the ‘Ace of Spades…’ To avoid paying the tax,
people would purchase 51 cards instead. Yet, since most games
require 52 cards, these people were thought to be stupid or dumb
because they weren’t ‘playing with a full deck..’

*********************** ******* **

Early politicians required feedback from the
public to determine what the people considered important. Since
there were no telephones, TV’s or radios, the politicians sent their
assistants to local taverns, pubs, and bars. They were told to ‘go
sip some Ale and listen to people’s conversations and political
concerns. Many assistants were dispatched at different times. ‘You
go sip here’ and ‘You go sip there.’ The two words ‘go sip’ were
eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and, thus we
have the term ‘gossip.’

*********************** ******* ****

At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank
from pint and quart-sized containers. A bar maid’s job was to keep
an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay
close attention and remember who was drinking in ‘pints’ and who was
drinking in ‘quarts,’ hence the phrase ‘minding your ‘P’s and Q’s’.

************** ********** ****** ****

One more: bet you didn’t know this!

In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and
many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron
cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the
cannon. However, how to prevent them from rolling about the deck?
The best storage method devised was a square-based pyramid with one
ball on top, resting on four resting on nine, which rested on
sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a
small area right next to the cannon. There was only one
problem….how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling
from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a
‘Monkey’ with 16 round indentations. However, if this plate were
made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution
to the rusting problem was to make ‘Brass Monkeys.’ Few landlubbers
realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when
chilled.. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the
brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs
would come right off the monkey; Thus, it was quite literally, ‘Cold
enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.’ (All this time, you
thought that was an improper expression, didn’t you.)