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Archive for the ‘Observation’ Category

Cornwall and Surfing. I’ve never thought of one without the other.

My earliest associations go back to family holiday visits to the rocky inlet at Trebarwith Strand where each year I would look on as wetsuit clad figures would crash into the water for better or worse.

Nothing epitomises this life aquatic more than the three young Trebarwithian brothers, bronze skinned and blond curly haired, who would play out each carefree summer in red neoprene between rock and sea. I wonder where they are now.

Trebarwith spectacle

Spectacular Trebarwith

It remains a mystery as to why I never made it onto a surf board myself. Frisbee and frenetic games of badminton on the golden sands were my distraction at low tide and once the beach was reclaimed by the sea we would scramble high up onto the rocks to watch the waves smash in below in the hope that some thrill seeker would get a soaking on the edges. And then to the long departed and sorely missed House On The Strand for cake and familial ribbing. At least we still have that.

Roll on innumerable years. St Ives lies south of my teenage memories. This picture postcard harbour town is best known for its artisan credentials as underpinned by the prestigious Tate Gallery. The westerly beach at Porthmeor may only provide a subplot to the town’s story but it attracts a small but dedicated chapter of surfers who plough the waves from dawn to dusk.

Early sun over Porthmeor

Early sun over Porthmeor

A daily vigil from the expansive ocean facing window of my hilltop holiday loft apartment is educational. With binoculars on full magnification I am able to sit in on a beginners surf school at the sheltered far end of the beach. An instructor demonstrates the transition from prone through to standing in a single fluid movement, now a well rehearsed reflex. He is almost encircled by a crab-shell arrangement of students who lay restlessly on their land-stricken boards with half an impatient eye on the rolling froth that begs their entry.

First surfers of the day

First surfers of the day

This afternoon I don sandals and make a steep descent to the beach with some camera gear. There are perhaps 20 independent thrill seekers in the water at the closest extent of the cove. To my untrained eye the conditions look a little hairy.

Hanging on

Hanging on

More experienced surfers bide their time. If a wave is too premature they ride over it. Too fully formed and they dive under it. There seems to be a lot of discussion between groups friends. Some barely attempt to ride any waves – their immersion in the rolling brine of Porthmeor purely social.

Doing it right

Doing it right

On this October weekday I have to wonder how surfing fits into people’s personal schedules – work, study or family. I guess if you really want to do something you find a way.

Making it look easy

Making it look easy

For every sculpted ride there are several wipe-outs, some spectacular! I’m traversing the beach with a temperamental zoom lens and the closer I get to the action the more I can smell the adrenaline. There’s a palpable sense of energy in the waves and I completely identify with the urge to connect with it.

It’s not easy!

It’s not easy!

Drawn further towards the breaking surf on a rising tide it’s not long before my sandals become soaked. At least now I can stop trying to dodge the water, but it is colder than I realised. The autumnal sun is frizzling away and my body temperature has plummeted but I still can’t drag myself from this scene. I’m forever holding out for one last action shot.

How can you turn away from this?

How can you turn away from this?

The waters are almost empty now and I catch a few words with one of the departees as he drags his board up the beach. Despite suffering with a cold has he been unable to resist the lure of the surf. With a broad smile he tells me that conditions today are brutal. Those entering the water have done so in spite and not because of conditions. “It’s all good!”.

Until tomorrow...

Until tomorrow…

I’m told to keep an eye on one young guy who is “the one to watch”. He’s confident for sure – out some distance beyond the rest. I reposition myself behind a rock out of a gusty wind that is throwing up white caps of foam in the bay, and zoom in on the maestro at work. Twenty minutes later it is becoming decidedly dark and I am chilled to the bone yet star child has done nothing but tread water.

Lassie go home

Lassie go home

The final stragglers are packing it in for the day and I follow suit, retreating through the gloom towards the faint warming glow of the Porthmeor beach café lights. A waft of stale frying oil floats my way and I’m not holding out much hope for a high quality cappuccino. Warm and wind-free will suffice.

Inside my lack of expectation is met. It’s quiet here now, just a lonesome well-wrapped holiday-maker sipping a hot chocolate and a couple of sandy surfers, their mandatory long hair wet and tangled from the day’s encounters.

Just one more wave...

Just one more wave…

From my window I watch the hillside lights of Porthmeor dot on one by one. The seaward view has assumed a bluish hue of monochrome, broken by the distant lamps of small fishing vessels and crabbers.

One human spec bobs on the surface 40 yards from shore. He’s still out there! Waiting for that perfect wave. The dream that won’t die.

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Given the weighty number of famous attractions in London and the sheer volume of information telling us where to go and what to see you might be forgiven for thinking no major spectacle could fly under the collective what’s-on radar of the city. Not so.

There’s a constantly evolving show to be witnessed 52 weeks a year all over the city. I am of course referring to the 18+ million tourists who flock in from around the globe and bring the place alive.

As my 6 months working in London comes to an end I have given the tourist question some thought. Why do they come? What do they enjoy? Why aren’t Londoners having this much fun? Duh, forget that last question…

Different point of view

Different point of view

There is no better place to start off than Westminster where a seething mass of people swarm around the landmarks like MPs around an expense claim form. It’s so busy that I’m immediately suspicious of a solitary photographer – what has he seen that nobody else has?

When will I be famous?

When will I be famous?

Standing with my back turned on Westminster Abbey to face a wall of snappers I wonder if this is what it feels like to be famous. Perhaps I will be soon as holidaymakers share their vacation pictures and wonder why I had to intrude on their field of view. They may even mistake me for somebody famous – Martin Freeman, Hugh Laurie, Beaker off the muppets…

Needless to say almost everybody is carrying at least one camera whether it’s a DSLR, bridge camera, compact, phone or tablet and it is their set pieces that unfailingly amuse me…

Mandela - a giant of a man

Mandela – a giant of a man

A statue of Mandela is one of several notable historic figures lining Parliament Square. Nelson stands hands out embracing peace, or perhaps he’s just trying to strangle Big Ben. It’s only natural that a group line up below to do the same.

It's the law

It’s the law

I love witnessing scenes that, despite their clichéd predictability, are genuine and heart warming for those concerned.

Phone Box - looks better than it smells...

Phone Box – looks better than it smells…

To counter the predictable there is always something unexpected to see. A swanky photo shoot looks destined to make the pages of some Japanese wedding magazine. Will a Tokyo bride set her heart on a London ceremony?

Guessing he's a Pole

Guessing he’s a Pole

No sooner have they moved on then a selfie opportunity arises for somebody else. A camera pole makes perfect sense for the solo traveller. We don’t always realise how strong the UK brand is and few icons set the visiting heart aflutter more than a good old red phone box. Alternatively it’s not hard to spot people pretending to post a letter or board a double decker bus as a friend or relative lines them up in the viewfinder.

Stay calm and don't buy anything

Stay calm and don’t buy anything

Needless to say this is fertile ground for merchants of tourist tat. Who seriously buys the “I [heart] London” T-shirts for themselves? Who actually wears the plastic bobby’s helmets? Mind you at £2 I’m tempted myself.

Pizza delivery for number 10

Pizza delivery for number 10

It appears that the tourists are having too much fun elsewhere to get sucked into buying novelty nonsense. Downing Street is portrayed in a sober light on the TV news but right now it’s all smiles as PCs take it in turns to pose for photos.

Dad gets to play horse

Dad gets to play horse

Smiles are strictly forbidden at Horse Guard’s a short stroll further along Whitehall but that doesn’t stop families queuing up to take photos alongside an impassive cavalryman. I have always felt a pang of sympathy for the young men who have to stand for hours in full regalia in all weather while they are photographed. Are they laughing inside at some of the antics or are they a pin drop away from creating a diplomatic incident with their bayonet…

The Griswold family vacation

The Griswold family vacation

Trafalgar Square is a tourist mecca so if you are into street photography this is a turkey shoot. An American family takes a break. The boys are hyper, mom has stopped to take bearings (again) and dad has this resigned look that says “I’m keeping out of this”.

School's out

School’s out

You see lots of groups here. What memories will members of this school party take home with them? Whether it is the treasures of the National Gallery (as envisioned by parents and teachers) or an induction to the “unique” fish and chips experience I like to think their adventure will live long in the mind.

Don't make it angry

Don’t make it angry

With so much of the world now on the tourist map I suspect that Britain still offers something a little different to the seasoned traveller. Where else can you queue up to clamber onto a national monument without even a sideways look from the authorities?

Silver Ghost

Silver Ghost

Let’s not kid ourselves you could witness some of the street performances in any continent but it feels like there’s less wariness here. People seem uninhibited and are eager to be drawn into the action.

Much ado about bathing

Much ado about bathing

Leicester Square plants the biggest smile on my face. As I bask in the strong afternoon sun a South American couple settle on the adjacent bench and their young children go to play in the fountain that encircles William Shakespeare. The little girl is having the time of her life playing in the water, mum is laughing along and dad is capturing it all on camera for future enjoyment.

Copping an ice cream

Copping an ice cream

A street party on Regent Street means that it is closed for traffic on this hot summers day. I grasp the sense of adventure visitors must feel as they walk across what amounts to a virtual monopoly board. So many familiar names and places and now the real thing.

Keeping them in suspense

Keeping them in suspense

Covent Garden seems to be crammed full of visitors at any time of day. They are lapping up the entertainment and who can blame them? This wasn’t in the tourist guide.

Serenaded to the collection hat

Serenaded to the collection hat

Downstairs tourists are serenaded by an ensemble of professional musicians who perform with infectious spirit. An enthusiastic applause echoes around the chamber and it’s clear that people want to be involved with what they are seeing. It also appears that Americans are the best tippers.

Painted lady

Painted lady

Outside it goes on and on. The day is starting to catch up with me but there’s an endless wave of energy bouncing off people having a great time. Do they ever tire? Well I do and it’s time to catch the 87 bus and take in many of today’s sights from the top deck on my way home.

No caption required

No caption required

Of course, it’s never over. I have loved the melting pot of nationalities, languages and cultures on my walk – a cosmopolitan sea of humanity. I have loved watching people take such joy from performances, places and objects that would fail to stir a glance from so many residents. And I have loved individuals like this gentleman for providing me with such visual entertainment. Gawd bless you guvnor!

Does anybody have more fun in London than the tourists?

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They say that job hunting is a job in itself. After a few months away from it all I can vouch for this as I get serious about resuming my career. I treat weekdays as workdays and consider myself to be working from home.

In my previous jobs I worked from home from time to time and really appreciated it. The opportunity to have an extra hour in bed and yet start working at the same time. The chance to really focus on complicated problems without distraction. The knowledge that I can spend an extra half hour getting over the finish line without worrying about straying into the evening rush hour. My employers benefitted too from my extra productivity and, in many cases, extra hours.

The WFH commute

The WFH commute

Now, well, it’s different. When every working day is a WFH day I miss the invigorating 15 minute walk to the office in the fresh morning air. OK it was a noisy, polluted march in all weather along a litter strewn artery of Nottingham taking care to avoid smug-as-you-like cyclists hogging the pavement despite an on-road cycle lane two yards away. But now my journey involves 10 paces and I’m hardly alert or stimulated for the day ahead.

The sort of thing I used to encounter on my walk into work

The sort of thing I used to encounter on my walk into work

The lack of exercise has turned me into a pent-up coil of potential energy and any opportunity to get up from my chair is welcome. If I’m expecting a delivery the twang of the letterbox hurls me downstairs in a state of unwarranted enthusiasm, only to discover yet more straight-to-bin junkmail – a previous focus for my attention.

Straight to bin – a mad world

Straight to bin – a mad world

It’s not just the letterbox. There are more home interruptions during the day than I had realised. Today alone I’ve had the Jehovas witnesses, a marketing cold call and a wrong number from somebody less well versed with the English language, which is a shame because I can go all day without talking to anybody and then when somebody does ring we are incommunicado.

Sometimes I’m in the zone and all is well but on other occasions distractions seem to be everywhere,for good and for bad. On the good side the birds have been holding some sort of happy convention in my garden this week and I’ve left the window ajar to listen into their joyous cacophony. The two squirrels in my garden may be infuriatingly naughty, what with their pillaging of my bulbs, upending of pots and suspected drug dealing, but they beat TV for entertainment. My highlight this week was a stand-off on my fence between one of them and a regular feline visitor.

Hey Gringo, this fence is too small for the both of us

Hey Gringo, this fence is too small for the both of us

The bad: The siren call of social media. The contents of my fridge. An irrational (as-yet resisted) desire to watch The Professionals mid afternoon, despite the fact I’m not that interested and could record it if I so wished. Note: If you click one on link today make it The Professionals

I’m also surprised by the amount of comings and going that take place in my street, occurrences I would be oblivious to under normal circumstances:

  • Severn Trent curiously sending 2 workmen to dig a hole in the pavement and throw fag ends into it before filling it in and shooting off. Is this what their waste management policy has come to?
     
  • Drama in next doors back garden as a crack team of labourers removed all the patio slabs, laid down some sand and then departed to leave me wondering about the end product. The mystery was hardly solved upon their return as they proceeded to replace the slabs, some very obviously the wrong way up, aside from those they managed to smash. To top off this service they left the lawn looking like some recreation of the Somme, deep in mud and without a blade of grass. Unless they were disposing of a body I’m at a loss to explain any of this.

My exposure to all of these unworkly temptations has left me feeling a tad guilty. I’m left with a nagging feeling that full-time working from home lark somehow isn’t right – based purely on my outdated 9-5 office lifestyle of the last 20 years rather than any logic.

No personal clutter allowed on a hot desk!

No personal clutter allowed on a hot desk! This was extreme…

Modern working life is becoming increasingly complicated. Aside from WFH many employees work all sorts of hours, perhaps to satisfy global corporations operating across different time zones. There seems to be an upturn in hot-desking too whereby office workers don’t have their own allocated desk.

In Derby for instance there’s a progressive initiative to increase hot-desking availability to cater for an increasing number of small start-up companies needing a formal environment on an ad-hoc basis, plus I suspect larger organisations reducing their office sizes faster than their work forces.

No doubt I’ll find myself pining for a commute free day once I’m back in the flow of commuter meltdown but for now the grass seems greener on the other side – if not the other side of my fence.

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My garden never ceases to amaze me. However much abuse and neglect I heap upon it there is some life force (let’s call it Mother Nature) that fights back and keeps the thing ticking over.

The daffs are back

The daffs are back

The clocks went forward this weekend and with an upturn in the weather and nothing in my diary there was no longer any excuse for me to avoid attending to all of the outdoor jobs that had piled up over winter. What I know about gardening you could write on the back of a seed packet but the annual post-winter clear up is safe territory for me because it is both brainless and rewarding.

This way bees

This way bees

I kicked off by clearing the beds of things that had long since died (mostly plants) and working in the contents of one of my compost bins. Next came the joyous task of clearing the half rotten leaves from the gravel beds followed by the self pity that my back isn’t getting any better at withstanding all the bending over. Finally – the really good bit – burning the winters tree debris in my chimnea.

Winter debris

Winter debris

You wouldn’t believe the size of some of the branches that I find smashed on my lawn each year. I half expect to find some dead wildlife beneath the wreckage. For the really sizeable tree limbs I use a small hand axe to cut them down to chimnea size. Sure it’s overkill but all good man-in-the-garden stuff.

Chimnea ablaze

Chimnea ablaze

Finally as the branches burned I took a while to take a few photos around the garden, breaking only to quell the fire in my tinder pile around the back of the chimnea. I should probably have relocated it before I started the blaze. Ho hum. Nobody tell Welephant.

Pear Tree Buds

Pear Tree Buds

Anyway, I thought I would share a few photos with you to prove I have actually ventured into my back garden this year. Bonus marks to anybody that can identify the fungus I found happily doing whatever fungi does on an orphaned branch.

Moss on the patio

Moss on the patio

Some kind of fungi

Some kind of fungi

Offers to do my real gardening will be gratefully received – just don’t attempt to engage me in conversation about it. There will be complimentary refreshments for the gullible lucky applicant.

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In case you haven’t already heard the news, the people have voted. What they have voted for is to name part of Derby’s new ring road extension “Lara Croft Way”. For those from out of town Lara Croft was illiterally conceived in Derby in 1993 as the star of local company Core Design’s new Tomb Raider computer game. The character spawned a series of sequel games generating a massive global fan base and a few years later the impossibly dimensioned character jumped from console screen to big screen in the guise of improbably proportioned Angelina Jolie.

Lara Croft

Lara Croft

The poll was conducted online and a massive 89% of the vote was in favour of this choice. I’m greatly in support of this decision, not because I ever played the game, rated the films or worship Angelina (the calendar of her at work is purely coincidental). It is wholly appropriate recognition of the sort of endeavour that has come to characterise local creative industries and in the process is redefining the city on the world stage.

Derby has a long tradition of involvement in the genesis and adoption of new technology so it bemuses me to hear a section of the local community objecting to the naming decision on grounds that it is facile or tacky. They fail to understand that the computer gaming industry is a huge commercial business attracting young and old, male and female and that Lara Croft is a brand known and affectionately thought of around the world. There is a natural progression here from preceding local luminaries including the first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed, painter Joseph Wright, Erasmus Darwin (father of…), nurse Florence Nightingale and of course Tim Brooke-Taylor.

Presumably the moaning protestors would have been happy if the road had been named after 18th century civil servant Sir Dudley Dull who once passed through the city and was later credited with the invention of dust.

Angelina visiting McTurks kebab house in Derby yesterday

Angelina visiting McTurks kebab house in Derby yesterday

Whatever your viewpoint we can all look forward to a continuous supply of puns on the local travel reports once the road is opened and subject to breakdowns, congestion and other arterial ailments. There is even wild optimistic talk that Ms Jolie may be persuaded to fly over and open the road, although that seems more improbable than the film plot. I wouldn’t buy the game or purchase a ticket to see the film, but you know I think I would pay to listen to her agent trying to sell that idea to her.

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Christmas. That much used and abused date in everyones calendar that means what you want it to mean. A gluttony of commercialised excess for the consumer age spawned by coca cola? The picture postcard snapshot of Victoriana forged of Dickensian imagination? A celebration of the birth of a religious VIP according to a book selectively composed of bits of scripture dug up in a desert and reinterpreted centuries later by canonised warmongerers in funny hats? A pagan festival to celebrate the winter solstice? Or maybe an excuse to take a few days off work, see friends & family while reminding oneself just how bad Dick van Dyke’s cockney accent was.

Shiny things

Shiny things

Take your pick (I’m firmly in the latter camp) but unless you are mentally unstable there is something every year waiting to test your nerves. This year it’s Simon Cowell – a man frantically burying choice fragments of his autobiography in the hope he may be “rediscovered” as the messiah in 2000 years – again trying to steal the Christmas number one slot with his latest formula dirge. At least Joe Public is fighting back by getting RATM to the top slot. I struggle to think of a more potent statement of public opinion in recent years, a combined hatred for SC and everything he stands for that would drive millions of people to pay to download a track they weren’t even going to listed to. It is utterly futile of course. These people are just lining Sony’s corporate coffers and rewarding SC’s faceless business buddies, but that’s not the point.

Baubles

Baubles

The point is that despite all of the despair people presently feel about our world – unsanctioned wars and the victims on all sides, the corruption of our elected (and unelected) politicians, the threat of global warming and our clueless approach to tackling it, the loss of jobs as employers go to the wall while morally/financially bankrupt bankers are allowed to take tax payers money in one hand and bonuses in the other – the RATM episode proves that there is hope. It proves that while the voice of a man in the street cannot be heard (or is not listened to) when lots of men in lots of streets shout together then they have the unstoppable power to swing the balance. Today’s “victory” is a trivial one. Perhaps next time the common voice will speak decisively about politics, the environment or conflict. Maybe we are learning that the silent majority do hold the power after all if they just know how to collectively mobilise themselves.

Under the tree

Under the tree

Sorry for allowing my blog to slip knee deep into the murky depths of serious social commentary but it feels appropriate to look to signs of hope at this time of year and this might be as good as it gets.

I’ve just finished decorating the artificial tree and proven to myself that you can always eak out one more year from a threadbare wire frame with enough bling and sufficiently dim lighting. Most of the presents are accounted for and wrapped so next on my tick-list is the business of enjoying myself for the next couple of weeks. For me this will mean seeing family/friends, getting busy in the kitchen and attempting to smile more than I frown. Nothing I shouldn’t be doing every week of the year really.

The tree

The tree

Here are a few seasonal related things that have made me smile this week

Mr Christmas isn’t

Sir Cliff’s sleazy Christmas

You think WE find Christmas confusing?

Finally – I’m donating to charity this year rather than sending out many of the cards I would normally write so the photos in this blog are my alternative offering to you.
Merry whatever!

Mr Moocow - just for Archie

Mr Moocow - just for Archie

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I don’t know about you but I have a hole in my front door to enable strangers to put things through. I didn’t make it but it was there when I bought the house. It’s an interesting concept that a few years ago you would take for granted but how relevant will it be in 10 years I wonder?

The ongoing postal dispute may be an inconvenience for many people but the general scale of disruption is nothing like that brought about by strikes of years gone by because it is no longer central to many transactions in our lives. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee and co a huge volume of mail has become internet traffic.

What does the postal service in 2009 mean to me? A trawl through my weekly mail reveals unsolicited Kleenese and Avon catalogs, delivered unfailingly for years despite me never placing an order or even returning the catalogs. I used to leave them outside the front door for retrieval as requested but they weren’t normally collected and I tired of having my doorstep littered so now they go in the bin. On one occasion I informed the Avon lady of this and she got very angry saying that it cost her money. She seemed unconcerned that I didn’t want this junk through my letterbox in the first place and that technically I own the floor either side of my front door.

Of course, there are plenty of mailers who are not the least interested in what I do with their junk after it lands in my hallway. The sheer volume of pizza menus I get is truly something to behold and most of them hail from establishments much further away than the excellent local outlet meaning they haven’t a prayer of patronage from anybody around here. Almost as numerous are the Indian takeaway menus, yet despite such intense competition for trade they manage to precisely duplicate each other meaning they have no competitive edge. But the flyers I can least comprehend are those for double glazing. My house is one of 80 on an estate build 7 years ago. Every one of these has double glazing covered by a 10 year guarantee so chances of a sale must be somewhere in the region of nil. At best.

What then we are left with after all the straight-to-recycle fodder are birthday and Christmas cards. Bank statements I can get online so I’m not sure why they send them to me. When occasionally I order something for delivery the postie usually comes while I am at work resulting in a trip to the collection office. In other words I only need a hole in my door in the days leading up to 26th May and 25th December.

So the postal service no longer has anything to offer. Not so! I’m saving a fortune by collecting and reusing the red rubber bands the postman dumps on my doorstep each week.

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