31.10.04

Obsession



Hallowe'en already! One thing about doing this project is that you certainly notice the days passing. I remember when there used to be 24 hours in a day! Today has 25 hours in it, and it is still fairly whizzing by! I met this chap while I was out in the garden earlier on. He seemed a bit miserable, so I thought I would have a chat with him to see if I could cheer him up a little (I know, imagine me cheering anyone up!). He was amiable enough, and seemed happy to let me take his picture in return for having someone to talk too for once. Apparently, and he was a loss to explain why, people run away from him without trying to get to know him. He believes that it is a sad reflection on Western society that people can't look past the surface and see the real person underneath. He told me that we are obsessed with an idealised and highly unrealistic vision of what we ought to look like and how we ought to dress, and if we don't live up to these visions, which are dreamt up and promoted by Madison Avenue types, then we are failures and are to be shunned. As he left, he made a very good point. He said that we are being bombarded with the idea that we should all strive towards this ideal of 'perfection', and that so many people are so overtaken by this goal that they forget to live. In the end, he said, we will all look more like him. Good point. Scary thought. Well, it is Hallowe'en, isn't it.

30.10.04

Paris by desklamp



Of all the European capitals I have visited (which, truthfully speaking, isn't all that many), I can honestly say that I can't decide whether I like Madrid or Paris more. Both cities have much going for them, and neither have many drawbacks that I can think of. Both are very clearly cities that have been built on an imperial scale, and while Paris has its river and landmarks, Madrid has its parks and people. Paris is expensive - that is a drawback - while Madrid is impossibly cheap. A place to stay in the very centre of Madrid will cost about 35 euros - about the price of a couple of beers and a hot-dog in the centre of Paris. The madrileños are friendlier than the Parisians, although that probably has more to do with my being able to speak Spanish and my inability to speak French. Certainly Madrid enjoys much warmer weather (well, it does in the summer). There is so little to choose between the two that perhaps it is unfair of me to attempt to name a preference. I like them both for different reasons. I wouldn't want to attempt to appear more cosmopolitan than I actually am (I am a died in the wool provincial - a veritable hick from the sticks), so I won't pretend that I am a regular visitor to either of these cities. I was in Madrid once this year, not at all in 2003, and three times in 2002, then 1997 I was in Madrid twice, and for the first time in 1994, when I attended a conference there. I have been to Paris only once, in 2002, when I was there for a conference that I organised (Paris was my choice of venue, because I really wanted to visit the place). Compare these to my Lisbon visits - three times this year (the fewest trips for a long time), eight times in 2003. I think, though, if I was told I had to go to one, and one only... well, I think I would choose Madrid. Or maybe Paris. Oh, I don't know, so I guess I'll just go to Lisbon again.

29.10.04

Ex-libris



I was going to write about my on-going computer woes, but I won't bore you wth any more of that. Suffice to say that the system is overheating, and be assured that a resolution (involving an electric drill and an electric table fan) has been found. Before this latest resurgence of computer rebellion, I was in the middle of writing my Daily Dose when the computer, of its own volition, suddenly switched itself off mid-sentence. What a treat I had for you as well. The lost missive was the best I have ever written: witty, observant, precocious and highly astute. It was a true masterpiece of prose, one that our descendents would be talking about for generations to come. Well, okay, maybe it wasn't that good - but then again, maybe it was. You'll never know, because I couldn't remember what it was I was rambling on about. The broad gist was in the direction of books. Let me lay my cards on the table now. I love books. I surround myself with them (history and travel books mainly - not a great fan of fiction). I cannot leave a bookshop empty-handed, and I find it difficult not to go into any bookshop I pass. Also, because of my work, I get sent an awful lot of books by publishers and authors. Consequently, I have a lot of books in my study - over 3000 at the last count (not including the ones on bookcases elsewhere in the house, and those in the attic). My love of books, however, is causing a problem. They are taking over the house. I have no more shelf space for them, yet I can't stop collecting more. Soon there will be no room for people in this house!

28.10.04

You know there ain't no street like home



I took some time out of my busy schedule to reminisce today. John Peel's death got me to thinking about the music I grew up with, and, as I hadn't listened to most of the stuff for 20 years, I decided to go up to Liam's room, where all my old vinyl and the only remaining record player in the house is. Liam was astonished. He had seen all these big black round things, and he knew that they contained music, but he was perplexed at the rigmarole that had to be gone through to get it to work. What got him most was changing tracks - he wanted to know what button to press. When I told him it had to be done manually, he just looked at me as if I was daft. I sat on the floor surrounded by my old LPs and singles, singing away to the songs like I used to all those years ago. I felt like a teenager again! My favourite bands way back then were The Clash, The Cure, The Undertones, The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, Sham 69 [tell us the truth...], and, most of all, Stiff Little Fingers - the gravel voiced screamers from Belfast who sang about how the Troubles prevented anyone from having a normal life. Their songs were full of passion, their lyrics full of rage: 'Stuff their f*****g armies / Killing isn't my idea of fun', and 'They take away our freedom / In the name of liberty'. Their lead singer was a lad called Jake Burns, and he was my absolute idol at the time. I just couldn't get enough of them. Their anthem, though, was called Alternative Ulster, which was announced by a lone guitar riff - slow and simple, like a scream - then the drums kicked in, then Burns's gravel voice, screaming "Nuthin' for us in Belfast / The Pound's so old it's a pity" before imploring his peers to "Get an alternative Ulster / Be an anti-security force / Alter your native Ulster / Alter your native land". That was me, I was on an SLF trip. As I went to pick Liam up from his guitar lesson, I took this photo. In my head I was singing along with Jake Burns: "They want to have me here / Have me and hold me near / Hold me down, fasten and tie / But the cars are all flashing me / Bright lights are passing me / I feel life's passing me by".

27.10.04

Teenage dreams, so hard to beat



I don't really suppose that I was any different from hundreds of thousands of teenagers the length and breadth of the country. I'm sure there were countless thousands who used to sit in their bedrooms holding their tape recorder microphone to the radio between 10pm and midnight every weekday (except Friday). It was a ritual for me. I lived on a small island, and it was virtually impossible to get a hold of the music John Peel played - our only record shop was Woolworths, where you were more likely to get handed the keys to a new Ferrari than you ever were of finding any records by Stiff Little Fingers, UK Subs, Teardrop Explodes, Joy Division or Spizz (in any of their manifestations). So, as 'punk teenagers' back in the late-1970s, we lived for the John Peel show on the radio. We suspected that he collaborated in our illegal home taping too because, of all the DJs on the radio, he was the only one who waited a respectable time after the song had finished before speaking, and never spoke once the music had started - even when he played the wrong song (as he quite often did). John Peel was more than just a DJ: it was he, through his Radio 1 show, who introduced me to the music that has had a profound affect on my life, then and now. While other DJs were playing disco and glam, Peelie was bringing us New York punk and hip-hop; he championed exciting new British bands, from the punk-pop Undertones to the sub-Goth Cure and Joy Division, and even the anarcho-punk Crass. It is said that his favourite song was The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" - a song that, for me, holds so many memories of pubescent fumblings in the shelters of Rothesay. Teenage Kicks is also one of my favourites, and was the song playing on the tape we made for the delivery room when Liam entered this world. Recently marginalised by the BBC, Peelie nevertheless continued to champion new music to the end, and died of a heart attack on a working holiday in Peru at the age of 65. So long, Uncle John, and thank you for the music.

26.10.04

Which door hides my melancholy?



'Good grief', I thought as I reviewed my most recent bletherings. You must all think that I'm a miserable SOB, always complaining about this, and moaning about that, and posting sombre dark images. Enough is enough! I said as I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and thought happy, positive thoughts. My recent melancholy, I concluded, has been caused by my imprisonment in the house, handcuffed to this infernal machine. The solution was simple: when Linda leaves for university, and Liam leaves for school, I must leave too. And that is exactly what I did this morning: I walked into town and wandered about taking photographs and browsing in bookshops. Johnnyboy's advice hit the mark, and I filled my lungs with good autumn air, appreciated the colours of the trees and watched people as they scurried about their business. I walked down to the riverside, then I spent over an hour browsing in the bookshop, before finally buying a replacement for my lost copy of 'Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee' (I will save my comments on how that book makes me feel for another day). I wandered along to the local coffee shop, where I had a bacon sandwich and a frothy coffee while I read my new book. Time was passing, and I was relaxing! I went to the computer store and bought more gizmos for my PC, then fitted and installed them all. Gavin phoned me to arrange a photo opportunity this coming Thursday, and to tell me about his new camera (Nikon D70). I told him that I almost bought a Canon 300D today - there is a really good offer on them in one of the shops that I visited in town, where I spent 20 minutes playing with it and severely testing my willpower. The credit card remained in my wallet, though, and I told the crestfallen assistant that it is on my wish list as I fled before I broke. I'll maybe wait another few months, and pick one up in the January sales (but don't say a word to Linda)!

25.10.04

Working in my workroom



Yet another fine autumn day in this little part of the world. Not that I got much chance to experience it though, stuck as I am in front of this computer earning a crust. Oh how I wish I were independently wealthy! I suppose I had better start playing the lottery. It was one of these days: highly productive, yet ultimately unsatisfying. Now, with the nights drawing in (it is already dark at 6.15pm), there is little that can be done in the evenings, other than sit in front of this machine or read a book - neither of which stretch the legs or fill the lungs with good, fresh Angus air. To top it all, I have to go over to Portugal again, a trip that will probably mean me missing Guy Fawkes' Night. I know, I ought not to complain about it, but the travelling does get tiresome, and I do get grief about my trips from Linda - especially since she has an essay due on 15 November, and me not being here means that she has to look after Liam on her own (unless her mother stays, which means she has even more work to do). Still, it can't be helped. Like most people, I have to work to earn the money to pay the bills. It just so happens that most of my work is based in Lisbon. Anyway, enough about that: let's talk about the view from my study - or, as it is called, the Workroom - (Larry Ahern did something similar a couple of days ago). I know that this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an awe-inspiring vista: there are no mountains in sight, the sea is four miles away, no river passes nearby, no fields of wheat tapering away into an ancient wood. No, that would be far too distracting! What I have is the gable of the house next door, the neighbour's drying green, my old garden shed with the corrugated iron roof and a view of a beautiful old beech tree. Lovely.

24.10.04

Wha's lik' us?



I'm having real trouble getting caught up in the hysteria that seems to have affected the Edinburgh chattering classes this past week. Somehow, and I'm not quite sure how, our collective national identity has been seriously undermined by the sub-standard works of a lazy Oxbridge history don. Apparently, this so-called serious academic, whose name is David Starkey, has insulted all Scots by claiming that Scotland was a small and unimportant country prior to the Treaty of Union with England and Wales in 1707. Controversial opinion or what! Nope, I'm really sorry, but I am unable to contradict Starkey's logic here. In fact, I might even go so far as to agree with him on this point. Scotland was (and still is) a small country, and, in early-modern European terms, it was a largely unimportant country. There is no argument there. Where I do object to Starkey, however, is in his implication that England was the making of Scotland. That I wholly reject. I much prefer to say that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Scotland, England and Wales were the making of Britain. That was when the country industrialised and the Empire expanded to become one on which "the sun never set". Nevertheless, I am not going to get upset at the outdated witterings of an unimportant pseudo-academic, and his views are certainly not a threat to my national identity. I think it is time that the Edinburgh chattering-classes did some growing up, and began to appreciate that our Scottishness is not defined by England or Englishness, just as it is not defined by France or Frenchness, Spain or Spanishness or Ireland or Irishness. Your dad might be bigger, richer and stronger than my dad, but my dad is My Dad. That ought to be enough.

23.10.04

Rebuilding the beast



I am heartily sick of my computer's indefatigable and nauseabundo efforts to cause me grief, and am seriously considering sending it to the cuchillero to be taught a lesson. Today was a largely wasted day - which was a shame, because we had good weather. My only foray out of doors was to the computer store (again) and the supermarket (again). I know you are curious to know what went wrong this time. Well, let me tell you. Yesterday, not long after I had uploaded my photos, my computer suddenly rebooted - or rather, it tried to reboot, but couldn't get past the memory check screen without telling me that my hard-disk was about to fail. On pressing F1, the computer just rebooted. This went on for some time - I was desperate not to lose my data. I eventually got it runnning just long enough to save my important files to CD. So, today was spent installing a new hard-drive, then re-installing the OS (which involved a call to the Microsoft customer service centre in Bombay to reactivate my XP). The worst was reinstalling all of my software. It annoys me that 99.9 percent of the time you need to stay glued to the monitor just to click the continue button every 10 minutes. So, that has been my day. Stuck inside the house tickling the insides of my old PC, and trying to cajole it into behaving better in future. I have everything crossed that can be crossed... so here's hoping that this is it finally repaired.

22.10.04

A sort of self-portrait



I was thinking about words today. You see (you may have to suspend belief here) as an editor, publisher, translator and historian, I work with words on a daily and professional basis. I try not to throw them about, oblivious to their true meaning. Instead, I attempt (not always successfully, it must be said) to choose my words with care, selecting the most appropriate one for each context, without being pretentious. It is a sad fact, and one that I am almost ashamed to admit, that one of my favourite private moment pastimes is reading dictionaries, etymologies and thesauruses in furtherance of my desire to improve my vocabulary. Anyway, to avoid any further 'blog-bloat' (have you noticed my stories are getting ever-longer?), I have to tell you that I have three favourite words. They are from three different languages, and I don't tend to have much opportunity to throw them into conversation, and nor do I ever have much need to incorporate them into my writings without a great deal of contortion. So, here is the result of just such an effort - an opportunity to throw my current favourite words into the public arena. They are, in no particular order, nauseabundo, cuchillero and indefatigable. There's a challenge to devise a coherent and comprehensible sentence using these three words! Impossible? Perhaps. The prize? The satisfaction of having taken part.

21.10.04

Service non-provider...



A couple of days ago, I arranged to meet Gavin at the bank where I paid some bills, including my phone bill. Yesterday, I picked up my phone only to be connected to BT, and told I was not being charged for the call, but that I ought to have my account number ready. I was told that there was £20 outstanding on our account from 20 September. I told the woman that I had paid the £49 requested the day before. She informed me that I would be reconnected within 2 to 24 hours. I had to make a phone call at 3pm, and was redirected to BT, told I wasn't being charged for the call, and advised to have my account number ready. The woman I spoke to did not listen to a word I was saying, and told me that there were plenty of other telephone companies that I could use if I was unhappy.The phone, she said, would be reconnected by 5pm. This morning, I picked up the phone and was told I was not being charged for the call, and that I should have my account number ready. I told the woman that it had been over 24 hours. She told me that the engineers were reconnecting it as we spoke. I tried again at 11.30, and was advised I was not being charged for the call, and that I should have my account number ready. All the advisors were busy, but I could request a free ringback if I wanted. I wanted. I decided to complain. I phoned the complaints number and was put on hold, where I waited for 10 minutes before trying again. This time I was told that there was £20 outstanding from my August bill - although the person did concede that my account was now clear. She then told me that the engineers are working on the exchange, and that there was a 'data freeze' until 26 October. They disconnected me immediately prior to putting a 'data freeze' on, and 24 hours after the bill had been paid, and then lied to me about being reconnected within 2-24 hours. I made my complaint. I will, apparently, get a letter. My ringback came, and I spoke to yet another person. This person told me that there was £20 outstanding from July!, that I hadn't paid a phone bill since June! When I told him that this was simply untrue, he admitted that it was outstanding from September, and that I now owed no money. Still, the 'data freeze' remains in force until 26 October. I'm not impressed, and will be moving all my business to the company that provides my office phone and broadband.

20.10.04

Hail hail the Celts are here...



I can always rationalise what has happened. I can think up any number of excuses to explain why what happened happened. There is a definite lack of resources; there is no strength in depth; half of us are too young and still to blossom, while the other half are too old and past their best. The best of us are put in positions that are not their best, and are expected to perform despite not being fully prepared. We are not tested week in, week out, so we come to these occasions largely unprepared for the physical and mental challenge involved. Quite simply, we can't compete. We are out of our depth. In the past we have punched above our weight, but those we have come to rely on are not getting any younger, and we have been unable to find people who are better than - or even as good as - those who have moved on. Then there is always luck, or in our case the lack of it. Everything seems to go wrong, and we never seem to get the rub of the green on these occasions. That can't be our excuse, though, because in all aspects of life you make your own luck. At the end of the day, we simply are not good enough to compete at this level. That is not to say that we will never be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants, but it will be difficult, and it will need a dramatic reappraisal of how things are structured domestically and internationally, and a re-evaluation of how the allocation of resources can be improved to enable us to bring through the young talent that we will need in the not too distant future. The age old adage that you have to speculate to accumulate rings true; and while it may be a cliche, nothing succeeds quite like success is no less true for that. If we want to be a leading player in Europe, then those who are in charge have to start demonstrating their desire and start putting their money where their mouths are. Just now, domestically, we are a big fish in a very small pond. The only problem with being the big fish, though, is that it becomes easy prey for the rich fishermen. We really must do better, because our recent performances have just not been good enough.

19.10.04

Rainy days and caipirinhas


I'm glad to say that normality has been restored after yesterday's rant. That does not mean that I am taking anything back. No. I meant every word I said (and I was holding myself back). Today Liam and I met up with fellow Dundee Pbaser, Gavin, and we went for a walk in the direction of the Sidlaws. The weather started off reasonable, and we were having a nice conversation about families, photography and football. We made our way to our destination, and stopped off to take a few pictures when the heavens opened. It was raining so heavily that we could almost have swam back to Dundee. We phoned a taxi instead, but were having little luck on account of not knowing the name of the road... and the taxi company was apparently not willing to dispatch a vehicle to "the place where there are some containers in a field just up the road a bit from a field full of rubble on the road just past Trottick on the way to Auchterhouse". The dispatcher told me to hold on, which I did, then she hung up. We decided that we might as well get wet walking back to Dundee as get wet standing where we were. As luck would have it, a passing taxi driver going off duty took pity on us three drowned rats and took us home, where Gavin and I partook of these caipirinhas as consolation for an unsuccessful photo day. Cheers Gavin, and thanks for the loan of the teleconvertor.

18.10.04

The man's a balloon


I have not been so angry in a long time. I was, and still am, absolutely livid. I was so furious that I almost threw the dishes I was drying at his smug, self-righteous face. I so wanted to smack that mouth out of which were spewing a plethora of patronising platitudes. Before you wonder, the object of this rage is not Liam. No, I am talking about our Minister of Defence, Geoffrey Hoon (the man's a balloon), who was busy telling John Snow on Channel 4 News that Britain really needs to respond to Bush's request to have British troops take over areas of Iraq that are presently under American misrule, all in order to enable GWB to send more American soldiers to their death in an electoral attack on Fallujah. Hoon (the man's a balloon) has said that any such deployment of British troops would be an operational matter, and therefore up to the generals. I, and apparently most of the British people and parliamentarians, am of the opinion that any such redeployment would be a political matter, and therefore up to Parliament. I, and most of the British public, object to sending a battalion of Scottish soldiers, from the soon to be disbanded Black Watch regiment, to replace American troops who will be redeployed to Fallujah. It is bad enough that US soldiers and Iraqi civilians are dying to get GWB re-elected - at the end of the day that is a matter for the American electorate; it is, however, an absolute disgrace that Scottish soldiers are being sent to die to get him re-elected. As Hoon (the man's a balloon) was speaking, I was yelling that as much as I hated Margaret Thatcher and the Tory governments she led, at least you knew where you stood with her. At least she was honest and had the courage of her convictions. Blair has already admitted that "he made a mistake" and misled the British people (i.e. he lied), now Hoon (the man's a balloon) is lying to us again. All I can say is shame on them. I waited 18 years to see a Labour government elected: dammit, I was a card carrying member of the Labour Party for most of the 1980s and 90s. I expected them to govern for the people. Words can't express my disappointment and my anger at the whole shower of patronising liars who are only too willing to send Scottish soldiers into harm's way to protect a lie and get the most dangerous man on Earth re-elected into the most powerful office on Earth. Shame on you Blair. Shame on you Hoon (the man's a balloon). A plague on your houses.

17.10.04

O Lord, please give me strength


Despite the weather being reasonably mild and dry for the time of year, and despite not having been to Scalpsie Bay to see the seals this time, Liam and I decided that we ought to head back to Dundee sooner rather than later. We said our farewells to my sister, her children and my brother, then we nipped over to Zak's house to let him know we were off. Then we caught the ferry back to the neighbouring island of Great Britain. Once on dry land again, we raced off towards Port Glasgow, trying desperately to overtake the four pensioners in a Nissan Micra for no other reason than not wanting to be stuck behind them. My goal was simple... I haven't managed to capture many castles recently, and I knew that there was one at Port Glasgow that would give my castle hunting one last boost before winter. Liam decided to take the shortcut from the carpark - so he ran across the muddy grass. His shoes remained firmly stuck after about three steps, and he continued in his stocking soles for another two before realising what had happened. Luckily for us we had dry socks and clean footwear in the car. We headed on up through Glasgow towards Stirling, Dunblane, Perth and, finally, Dundee. It was not that straightforward, however. We had stopped off for something to eat at the Little Chef 4 miles out of Dunblane. I noticed that Liam's mobile phone's battery was almost flat, so I asked him to switch it off and save what little charge remained for the road. Replenished, we continued our journey and were making excellent time. At Errol, about 15 miles out of Dundee, Liam decided to tell me that he had left his mobile in the Little Chef. We couldn't phone the mobile because it was switched off, and only we know the security code. We eventually got home safely over 2 hours later than anticipated, after having made an 80 mile round trip to get the phone back, and not before Linda had phoned the police to find out if there had been an accident involving a Renault Clio somewhere on the road between Dunblane and Dundee. Just think, we came back via Greenock and Glasgow because it is faster!!!

16.10.04

There are two teas in Ettrick...


We had a good day today. Up early and watched The Village (don't ask) while having our breakfast at my sister's house. My little brother is moving home (he's moving two houses down the street from his existing house), so he is in the middle of decorating. We were asked if we would like to help hang some wallpaper, but, reluctantly, we had to decline, on account of the fact that we had to meet up with Zak and Northstar for a stroll up to St. Blane's Chapel. I know, it's a tough life, but someone has to do it. You may well know that St. Blane's is my favourite place, and it was nice to be there with some fellow photographers. The solitude of the moment was somewhat spoiled, however, with the sound of Motorhead's 'The Game' coming through Liam's earphones. After St. Blane's we went to the Ettrick Bay Tearoom, where Northstar singlehandedly ate all the cake (only kidding! or am I!). I managed to get a photo of the Co-Worker, which I will post soon. Northy and his lovely family had to leave Bute and head north, and Zak headed off home, leaving Liam and I to spend the rest of the afternoon walking along the shore of the Sounds of Bute to Kirkmichael Bay. Still had to do the rounds of the relatives, then back to my sister's house to do this and sleep. My sister doesn't have any graphics programs on her PC, so this is straight out of the camera. I hope you don't mind.

15.10.04

The day we went to Rothesay-o


Off on our travels again, this time to the beautiful Isle of Bute where I was dragged up to become the responsible member of society that I so very nearly am today. Liam was remarkably reluctant to get out of bed this morning, so he had to be threatened with water from the freezer. He got the message and got into the shower pronto. Liam's tardiness had us running late, so we changed our plans and decided to catch the Weymss Bay ferry instead of the 'Wee Ferry' at Rhubodach. The weather has been glorious over on the west coast - we left Dundee under a cloud. When we arrived, we teamed up with this crowd of fellow Pbasers: Zak, Conor and Andy (aka Northstar). I'm sitting in Zak's house just now typing this message and he's kindly letting me update my PaD from his house. So that's me met Northstar, Pedro Liborio, Zak and Conor - next week I am teaming up with Gavin, a fellow Pbaser from Dundee. I'm just waiting for the invitation to arrive from our American and Australian colleagues!

14.10.04

Flashin the grass


Liam had his first guitar lesson in a few weeks this evening. He hasn't been because, firstly, his tutor went to Brazil for a couple of weeks (we're obviously paying her too much), then I was in Portugal for three of the Thursdays, then last week we forgot. The last time I took him, he came out at 9pm and the sun was still in the sky; this time it was dark before his lesson began. Proof positive, if any was needed, that the nights are fair drawing in and Halloween, Guy Fawkes and Christmas will soon be upon us. I usually take advantage of the hour Liam is learning about his chosen piece of equipment to spend some time learning about mine. Today was more difficult, because not only was it dark, but it was also raining a cold Scottish autumnal rain. I headed off to the shore at a place called Kingoodie. I was there a few weeks ago with Liam and we took some photos of the small bay. I took some long exposure photos of the same bay - trying to catch the reflection of the streetlights in the water. Then I did something I have never done before... I switched on the camera's flash. While I don't really like flash photography, I think this turned out rather well. here and here are alternatives for those who, like me, don't like using the flash.

13.10.04

Do, do, do the Stanley Gibbons


Continuing with the translation of the article on 19th century Portuguese finance, I am still in the 'value token' mode of yesterday. Hence the stamps, which are really money in all but name and appearance. By remarkable coincidence, as I was going through my old negatives, out fell these little fellows: British postage stamps from the 1940s and 1950s. Like most young boys of a certain generation, between the ages of 8 and 12 I was an avid stamp and first day cover collector (until I learned that girls were much more interesting than old bits of gummed paper!). My passion was always for British stamps. I only collected British stamps - exclusively. My young mind was always impressed by the quality and uniformity of this nation's postage stamps, and by the fact that they make no mention of the country. I think what I liked most about our stamps is their minimalism. While other countries did their best to make their stamps colourful and showy, or large, or oddly shaped, the good old British postage stamp remained plain, bordering on the austere. A stamp, according to the Postmaster General displaying a typically British attitude, is a functional object which does not need to be fancy. It is not a decoration, it is a token. The apparently unassuming ostentatiousness of not putting the name of the country on our stamps appealled to me. By not having United Kingdom on our stamps we are effectively showing off by saying that we don't need to show off! About every other month, the Post Office issued a special issue postage stamp to commemorate some more or less important occasion in the life of the country, such as Red Cross Day, or Green Cross Code Day, or even Conference of European Postal and Telecommunications Administrations Day. All of these stamps were uniform and extraordinarily well designed and produced for such a small and essentially ephemeral item. Hooray for us!

12.10.04

Money, money, money


I have spent the whole day translating an article about 19th century Portuguese government finances into English for a colleague of mine. I know it doesn't sound as if it possibly can be interesting, but it actually is. It got me to thinking about money, and what exactly it is. The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous a concept it seemed: you do some work, and someone puts some numbers in your bank account that you can change into bits of paper and metal, and then swap these tokens for other things that you find useful. But what the heck, the process seem to work by and large - so if it ain't broke, don't mend it. After musing on the concept of money in the abstract, I thought about it in actual use. I wondered why people in Britain are so attached to the pound when our major trading partners have all gone over to the Euro. I am even more perplexed as to why some Scots, Welsh and Irish are so attached to the pound, and why they don't change the name of the central bank in this country to something along the lines of United Kingdom Bank or Bank of Britain, instead of the Bank of England - which I find quite offensive, if the truth be told. When it boils down to it, instead of making cosmetic changes to the pound, I would much prefer it if we were to start using the Euro. But then I would think that, since 99.9 percent of the money I earn in any given year is in Euros, and I am sick of paying commission charges to get at my money while I am in my own country, when I can use any cash machine in any Eurozone country, and I am not charged a red cent. Oh Well... "In 1846, the government of...."

11.10.04

That was then, this is now


Stored away in an old trolley bag, which is kept under my desk, is a large envelope stuffed full of £100 notes... That's a lie. Inside the envelope are hundreds of strips of negatives of photographs I have taken since I got my first camera for my 21st birthday. This evening after work, I began to look through these negatives, and came across many, many images that I thought I had lost forever following my divorce from my first wife 13 years ago. I got lost in the photographs of the first time we drove around Europe, way back in 1988, when there were still two Germanies, and Austria was not in the EU. In fact, the EU was still the EC then. I put the negatives into my new scanner, and let the memories flood back: the French campsite owner driving us, with scant regard for speed limits or any other rule of the road, from Bray-Dunes into Dunkirk; cringing at the behaviour of a group of English youths who were chanting "in the faaantayne" as they threw someone into one of the fountains in Bruges; the old man who came up to me to tell me that cars with foreign registration plates didn't have to pay to park in Ghent; arriving in Aachen when everything was shut and being stopped from crossing a deserted street by a concerned resident who pointed to the police car 200 yards away, and warned us against jaywalking; dancing the tango in a beer tent at the Bad Durkheim Wurstmarkt to a Bavarian 'oompah' band with a very overweight elderly German man who had been a POW in Edinburgh during WWII, then losing my wallet and all my German money on the way back to the campsite; waking up the next morning with the hangover from Hell, then having to retrace my steps to find my passport, and finding it and a 50DM note under the wheels of a parked lorry; falling asleep on the village green at Oberwesel, and waking up four hours later to find myself in the middle of the Rein in Flammen fireworks display. We had to cut our stay in Germany short, because we were spending money at an alarming rate, and we had to get to a cheaper country fast - so we returned to Belgium. If I didn't know that I did these things I would have sworn that it was someone else. Oh! and we got stopped by the German customs as we entered Luxembourg. Those were the days!

10.10.04

Pink balloon


As you would expect from someone who is a political historian, one of the things that interests me is past election results - I enjoy tracking changing political attitudes. I am also interested in social change, which I believe is intimately linked to political change - they are symbiotic. Well, today I had a real treat. While I was waiting for the rest of the family to get out of bed this morning, I was flicking through the TV channels, and came upon BBC Parliament, which, to recognise the anniversary of the October 1974 general election, was broadcasting the entire "live" election results coverage as it was broadcast on the night of the election. I was enthralled! It was interesting on so many levels. Firstly, it made me feel powerful as I watched the commentators trying to extrapolate the result when I already knew it. Secondly, the clothes! Big lapels, wide ties, horn-rimmed glasses and sweepover haircuts seemed to be the order of the day - and you should see how the men dressed! Thirdly, the accents! Everyone seemed to speak like either Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter, or like characters from a 1960s northern kitchen-sink drama. People just don't speak like that any more! And I was amazed at how uncomfortable the politicians were speaking to the TV! What's more - many of them were smoking cigarettes in the studio! Definitely the days before image consultants and sound bites took over politics. Fourthly, the technology! People manually changing the boards, and the famous Swingometer! You could see the people putting up the results - while trying to stay out of shot! Fifthly, seeing many of our elder statespeople when they were young turks - people like Margaret Beckett, Norman Lamont... And finally, listening to the then Tory leader, Ted Heath, claiming that there would be a woman prime minister one day, but that it would not be Margaret Thatcher! I tore myself away to go for a walk in the woods with Liam. It was raining and misty as we made our way through the mud... but the smell of the rotting leaves! Delicious.

9.10.04

A historic day


Hallelujah! I managed to get out into the countryside today for the first time in about a month (or so it seems to me). Although my foray into the wilds of Strathmartine was brief - I only managed to escape for about 45 minutes - it was more than welcome. I think I was going stir crazy in the house. It was a glorious autumn day today, with beautiful sunshine. There was a bit of a wind, but it wasn't cold - no need for a coat. It was the perfect day for a walk, however brief, along the country lanes. Of course, I told Linda that I was going to the supermarket for the shopping, that was my cover. I eventually did go to the supermarket, but the 30 minute errand took almost 3 hours. When I eventually did get back, Linda saw that I had my camera and gave me "that" look. Today was a historic day for Scotland, too. Our new parliament was officially opened by the Queen. Let's hope that the numpties that sit in it manage to raise their game and start acting like legislators, and stop behaving like jumped up town councillors. Another historic fact, today Norway's football squad beat Scotland's for the first time in 41 years; also, Scotland's 20-year record of being unbeaten at home in World Cup qualifier games came to an end. I think Bertie Vogts has made it his mission to save the Tartan Army money, by making sure they have nowhere to go :-(

8.10.04

They should listen to themselves


I heard something today that made me laugh and angry at the same time. You see, there was a programme on TV this morning about the making of the film, Cold Mountain. At one stage, they were interviewing Nicole Kidman about the "hardships" of filming in Romania in winter. She said that it was very hard, what with the cold and the wind. Apparently, she could only say a couple of lines before her lips froze, then she would have to stop and put on her quilted jacket and have someone come along aiming a warm air blower at her face. Fair enough, I thought. Sounds pretty uncomfortable. However, she wasn't finished there. She went on to talk about the hardship, and how it was worthwhile putting up with such discomfort and pain because, at the end, "something beautiful will result". All this time I was thinking about the people who have to work outdoors in all weathers - even Romanian winters - and who will probably earn less money in their lifetime than Ms Kidman got for two weeks on the Romanian set. Sometimes I wonder if these people inhabit the real world. Nevermind, as long as she felt the pain was worth enduring for the millions she was paid for putting up with it, then that's all right then, daahling.

7.10.04

The world's full of tossers


I decided that it was finally time to upgrade my computer's operating system from Windows 98 (first edition). I was seriously toying with Linux, but it looked too complicated to me, and I'm not certain about the compatibility of my software with it, so I put a few more pennies into Bill Gates' pockets instead. So, off to the computer store we went - Liam happily because he had been suitably bribed with the promise of Sims 2. I resisted the temptation to splash out on a new PC, remembering that I had bought a laptop less than a month ago, and to buy yet another computer would be a bit OTT (and how would I justify it to the taxman?). So, I limited my purchase to Windows XP upgrade, Sims 2 and a set of rechargable AA batteries. On the way home, Liam and I were crossing a road in the retail park. We were on a marked crossing, but I saw this car going round the roundabout too fast as it headed straight for us. I just knew he wasn't about to stop, despite us being on the zebra crossing. He didn't, and as he passed in front of us I yelled at him. He screeched to a halt about 20 metres away, stalling his engine in the process. Then he slammed into reverse and headed back towards us yelling obscenities as he did so. I don't know, but I think that he expected me to be scared and run away, but I wasn't and I didn't. I calmly explained to him that too much love with his right hand could be the reason that he didn't see the zebra crossing and the people on it. I advised him that he ought to stop doing it, or risk going completely blind. I also suggested, helpfully I thought, that he might consider getting the large appendage sticking out of his forehead surgically removed. He tried to drive off at speed, but only managed to stall again. Liam and I walked away and left him to it. W*nker.

6.10.04

Whaur's ma dosh?


I checked the balance of my Portuguese bank account today and got a rather pleasant surprise. I checked my Scottish bank account today and got a rather nasty shock. It is at times like these that we really discover whether we are 'half full', like Dominic, or 'half empty', like Partick Thistle supporters. I can't really decide which I am, and rather suppose that I fall between the two stools, depending on... Well, I don't really know what it depends on, if the truth be told. The situation is quite simple, I can afford a new camera, but that would be my third this year, and Linda might just take exception to such largesse. Actually, even I would take exception to being so good to myself - at least until I have been paid. On the negative side, I have to go to Portugal again this month. This time to have the meeting that we never had last month. I know what you are thinking. You're thinking that I'm a lucky bugga, and of course I am. Portugal is a lovely country, and I enjoy spending time there, and it will be warm and sunny. Yet, I'm just back, and I am having some difficulty convincing myself to shell out £250 on air fares and spend another two weeks away from home just to attend a meeting that I know will resolve nothing. So there you have it. Loaded in sunny and warm Portugal where I have to go in a couple of weeks, and on my uppers in cold and wet Scotland where I don't want to leave... half full, half empty? I really can't decide.

5.10.04

Stunt riders


Liam's friend Joe is over for the night. I watched him as he arrived at 2pm, and all I could see was a guitar amp. 'Well,' I thought, 'there goes any chance to get some work done!' So I sat back and contemplated to the sound of guitars warming up to the feedback loop. Then there was silence, interrupted only by the occasional guitar noise, then, without warning, the air shook to the sound of "Jungle Boogie" followed by the beginnings of Greenday's "American Idiot". Then I thought to myself that the hundreds of pounds that we have spent on guitar lessons were probably not wasted afterall. Still, it did not help me in my quest to get some work done. As I was considering giving up, Liam burst into the room and announced that he and Joe were going out into the garden, asking if I would like to help "his favourite son" bring something downstairs. I asked him how he knew that he was my favourite, and, as quick as a flash, he replied: "Because you don't like Jimmy." Aghast at the speed of mind on display, I fell into line and did as I was bidden. They have used some of the left-over wood from the new fence, and other bits and pieces of junk that is lying about the garden to build a ramp off of which they are attempting to jump on Liam's bike. It may be dry and sunny outside, but it is bitterly cold - the wind seems to be coming straight from Iceland - so they will need to keep active. Maybe I'll get them to clear up all the dead leaves... I wonder what kind of response that suggestion would get! No, actually, I know exactly what response I would get!

4.10.04

Self-preservation society


A fews days ago Liam and I rented The Italian Job from Sky's pay-per-view. I should have known better. I have yet to see a Hollywood remake of any European or Japanese (or even Hollywood) film that in any way approaches the original. This is especially true when there is also a 30-year gap between the original and the remake. Watching the remake, in which the criminals got away with their ill-gotten goods, and undoubtedly lived happily ever after, I was reminded of the 1969 original, starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward. The original was made at a certain time and in a certain place, within a certain culture: none of which translated to early 21st century LA. The crooks in the original were lovable rogues cocking a snook at the system, they were also very, very British - or, rather, English - at a time when London was THE place to be, while Italy had lost some of its sheen. The cultural references abound - particularly with the background of the England v. Italy football international providing the gang with their cover - England were world champions at the time, and the Mini Coopers were not red, white and blue by accident. Similarly, the film was made at a time when very few people travelled abroad, and Italy was tantalisingly close, yet all too far away. Now, I may not be English, but I can appreciate a good film, and the original Italian Job is a classic. So I went out and bought the DVD and sat and watched it... Now, I've got an idea...

3.10.04

The Bhoys are back in town


It is a long time since I have been to a football match in person. In fact, the last game I was at, Eyal Berkovitch scored for Celtic, and Billy Dodds scored twice for Dundee Utd in a game we lost 2-1 (before he went to Rangers and came back). It was so long ago that I can't remember what year it was, but I do think that John Barnes was the manager: it was definitely pre-Martin O'Neill. Well, I knew that Celtic were in town today, and I had decided that I was going to go down and take some photos of the crowd, then I thought: Hell, if I'm going to go down to the stadium, then I might as well go to the game. I knew that there would be plenty of tickets going a-begging, since Dundee Utd is not exactly a glamour match (with apologies to Dundee U fans out there, but you know it's true). Liam didn't really want to go, but I made him - his choice was simple: either the footie with me or the garden centre with his Mum and Gran. Once he got there he enjoyed it, although not so much for the ball skills and athleticism of the players on the park as for the often hilarious comments from a group of fans who were sitting in front of us. There is something about the Glasgow accent that makes abuse sound so funny. Liam particularly liked it when they shouted at a steward with a pudding-bowl haircut who stood in front of them, blocking their view of the game. I can't really repeat what was said here, but it did involve sex, fathers, mothers, chip pans and brocolli. The picture is of Chris Sutton scoring Celtic's third goal from the penalty spot in Celtic's 3-0 victory. I know, there are not a lot of fans there, but that was the Dundee Utd end - the Celtic end, where we were, was packed.

2.10.04

What am I?


Wowee!!! Back on my own computer at last. I might have the oldest computer in the house, and it might only have Windows 98 on it, and it might even crash every now and again, but it's like an old shoe: it fits me perfectly, and after 5 years by my side, I know exactly how it is set up, and I know where everything is, and even although the monitor is awful, the whole set up is comfortable. I like my PC... it's the boss PC. The broadband comes into it, and from there is routed to Liam's PC in the living-room and Linda's laptop upstairs in the bedroom. I only mention this because while I was in Portugal I was using Linda's laptop, Charles's PC and the computers at my office, all of which have their flaws. Today I spent most of the day on Linda's computer, installing a new printer (so she doesn't end up using all my photographic ink to print out course assignments), running a new broadband cable, and then installing all the updates that her XP automatically downloaded (XP Service Pack 2 - it took about 40 minutes to install!). After that I copied September's TIFFs to CD, or rather, to 23 CDs! Now that is a lot of photos!

1.10.04

Dance, dance, dance to my two guitaaaaaaaarz


Wow! October already! Spent a very lazy day at home with Liam watching films on TV and playing on the computer. We were supposed to go out to the bank and shops, but we realised that Linda had taken the keys for the house, so we couldn't go anywhere without leaving the doors open - which we were not about to do - we're not that stupid. So, there was really nothing else for it but a pay-per-view movie. We spent most of the afternoon flicking through all the music channels making fun of what was on (apart from Graham Coxon, Blur, The Hives and, generally, most of the music on MTV2 and The Amp) - everything else was either R&B, Hip Hop, Heavy Metal or Teenie Pop, so it was fair game. Noticed that FilmFour is having a free weekend, so we watched The Gift (one of my favourites), and tomorrow we are going to watch the British gangster film, Sexy Beast. So, lots of excitement in store! Liam wanted to show off his new guitar that he bought with his savings. I've to tell you that it's a Fender Jag-Stang, and that it was designed by Kurt Cobain, and that it is powder blue with a triple pick-up. I am sure that that must mean something to someone - but alas, apart from the colour and the Kurt Cobain bit, it means absolutely nothing to me, although I am assuming that it must be good.