30.12.04

Pbase. Get your act together.

I've almost had it. For some months now, I have been using a photo gallery website, Pbase. Everything was going brilliantly, so, after using it for six months, I felt confident enough to start using it as a place to store images for me to use on other sites (e.g. here). No sooner do I start linking than the people behind Pbase decide they have better things to do. Since the beginning of December, the site has been either down, slow or unresponsive. I can understand that sometimes shit happens, and that servers get overloaded, overheat and break down. That's life. What I can't stand, however, is the complete absence of any communication from the people who run what they describe as 'the best photographic hosting site on the web'. For the past few days there has been a whole range of problems: images suddenly disappearing, being unable to upload, server grinding to a halt, and now the site is completely inaccessible. All this time (and all the last time this happened - back at the beginning of the month), there has been silence from the people who take our money to host our photographs. Sorry... did I say complete silence. No, scratch that. Apparently all the problems are being caused by a sudden rush of people wanting to see images of the south-east Asia tsunami. Strange how no other photo gallery sites seem to be affected this badly - and just how does that explain disappearing pictures. I'm losing my patience, and may very well just purchase my own space on a server - there is a very good deal on the go just now: webhosting, domain, PhP, Perl, GCI, Etrader account, HTTPS, unlimited bandwidth, and 1.6Gb space for US$7.59 per month. That is worth considering.

28.12.04

I hate golf, but I love St Andrews


St Andrews has always been one of my favourite places to spend time. I don't like the golf and yah aspects of it, but I love its history and its location. It has more than anyone has any right to expect of a town its size: a ruined castle, a ruined cathedral, a ruined chapel, one of Europe's oldest universities, several golf courses (including the Old Course championship course, which is, I am told by someone who cares about these things, a municipal course, and is therefore quite cheap and not at all exclusive), the British golf museum, two 5* hotels, a sea-life centre, and a pretty impressive range of small shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. I first visited St Andrews away back in the early-1980s, when I was going out with a girl whose parents were very wealthy and who owned a house there that they had bought for my girlfriend's big brother, who was studying at the university at the time. The rich girl moved on to another person who came from a similarly wealthy family, but this didn't stop me heading off there for weekends with my friends. No longer having access to the house, I had to make do with a tent at Kinkell Braes campsite. I have been a regular visitor ever since. When Linda got her job in Dundee, and we knew that we were going to have to leave Glasgow, we seriously thought about buying a house in St Andrews, but Linda didn't fancy having to drive so far every day, so we ended up where we are now. Now I don't think that we will ever be able to afford a house there. Still, we're only a 20 minute drive away.

27.12.04

careful, it's sharp!


So that's two of us now managed to cut our fingers with the new Swiss Army: I did it on Christmas morning, and Liam did it this evening. He has managed to make quite a large slice on the index finger of his left hand (while I sliced my right index finger). We have both learned the painful way that Swiss Army knives are very sharp. Liam now claims that he no longer wants the knife, although I am sure that once he realises that cutting a finger, painful and bloody as it may sometimes be, is highly unlikely to be a mortal injury, then he will in all probability want his knife back again. I am almost certain that he will not take any more risks with it, and will rather use a pair of scissors to cut the top off of his modelling cement.

26.12.04

Sore finger


You wouldn't think that there would be anyone in this world who would be so pathetic and moronic that the first thing they believe that they must do on Christmas morning is leave a sectarian, bigoted and foul mouthed message on a photographic gallery. To the sad little loser whose life is so empty that they feel that this is an acceptable way to behave, I have to correct you on several points: I have no desire to have sexual intercourse with you; I am not a Fenian; and my parents were married in the Church of Scotland. Anyway, enough of pathetic morons. Onwards and upwards (just like Celtic, really!). I didn't get the 20D for Christmas, but I did get £400 to put towards it! I got no camera related stuff at all - mainly because I told Linda not to get me anything, as I can get it cheaper on the internet. I got the usual 'man' stuff: the smallest pile, and the most amount of socks. Liam was spoiled as usual, getting a portable DVD player from his gran (he wants to be able to watch films while we are driving to Rothesay), as well as a huge assortment of PC and PS2 games and a Swiss Army knife. He wanted an air rifle, but we persuaded Santa that we don't want one of these things in our house, so he didn't get one - and nor did he get the slingshot that he wanted. The penknife was as far down that route as we were prepared to go, and to demonstrate just how dangerouse even the 2 inch blade is, I managed to cut my knuckle with it. It was a painful lesson (well, it was for me - the cut is very deep!), but one I hope he has learned from. The rest of Christmas Day passed in a turkey and red wine frenzy, which came to an abrupt end for me at about 9pm, when I fell asleep while writing my bowl of Stu. I was up early this morning, though, because I knew that the Morcambe and Wise 1976 Christmas Special (the one with Elton John and a high-kicking Angela Rippon) was on. So, while the rest of the house was asleep, I sat chuckling away to Eric and Ernie. Almost 30 years old, seen umpteen times, and still hilarious. I must be becoming incredibly domesticated, because during the Hearts v. Celtic game, I agreed to go with Linda to the furniture shop for four kitchen/dining chairs! What on earth can that mean? It was a very short shopping trip though, with me simply agreeing to purchase the first chairs Linda liked. We were back home sitting on them before the start of the second-half! Oh... and we won 2-0 (sorry, Richard). So I guess our pathetic friend the bigot will be crying over his orange sash. Now isn't that a shame.

25.12.04

Nollaig Chridheil


No time to speak. Hope you all had/have a very merry Christmas.

24.12.04

White Christmas


Speak of the Devil and he'll surely appear. No sooner had I expressed my happiness at the absence of snow in these parts than it begins to snow. I should have expected it, I suppose. Well, it's here now, in all its half-centimetre deepness. It is the horrible wet variety (yes, I know, all snow is wet - but some is more wet than others) that sticks to you, and which turns to slush as soon as it comes into contact with any hard surface. It is the best kind for cars to spray and dogs to urinate in. Still. Can't really complain too much, as I really have no intention of going anywhere until Sunday. There is some on the grass, bushes and trees in the back garden (although the patio is all slush), so I might take Liam out tomorrow afternoon and pelt him with slush balls. I can always look out of my front room window and enjoy the tremendous view I have of the snow covered Sidlaw Hills. Mizzie (my cat) was out and about for a while during the heavy snowfall, but, being a feline with a cat's natural aversion to water, she contented herself with sheltering under a garden table and watching the strange event unfold. I decided to dedicate the next five weeks of my photography to black and white images only. Now that's what snow does to you.

23.12.04

'S no' funny, man


Christmas is certainly drawing ever nearer, and there is still no sign of the snow that we have been promised. I know that up Aberdeen way there has been a bit of a sprinkling, and that over on the west coast the tops of the hills have had a dusting, but it has not yet made it's way to Dundee - not even the tallest Sidlaw, Craigowl, has so much as a snowflake. Don't get me wrong, I hate the stuff. Very pretty to look at, but horrible stuff to have to negotiate. I don't like snow because it is cold. It is also wet. And sticky. And it's slippery too. And did I mention that it is wet and cold? Pristine snow on a hill or covering a field is a beautiful bucolic winter image. However, in the city it is a different matter. Because it is horrible slippery stuff, the council (when they remember) grit the streets with rocksalt and sand. This, combined with the passing of cars, turns the lovely white stuff into an evil black slush that collects at the side of the road, just in the perfect place to be sprayed over any pedestrians in the vicinity every time a car passes. Another thing about city snow that I don't like is where it has been turned yellow by canine urine, or worse, where there is brown seepage from canine feaces. Combine the canine pollution with the rocksalt, sand, traffic and pedestrians, and you have a pretty disgusting, cold, wet, sticky, slippery mess that is about as far removed from the Christmas card image as it is possible to be. So. There is no snow here yet. Long may that continue to be the case.

22.12.04

Over the moon!


A funny thing happened to me this morning. As I was copy-editing an article about the Norwegian fascist leader, Quisling, I received a phone call from a colleague of mine in Portugal. I had recently completed copy-editing an article that this Portuguese colleague had written for publication in a forthcoming book. It just so happens that my colleague works in an area that is forever changing, meaning that it is exceptionally difficult for him to complete an article without it having been overtaken by events. This piece that he wanted me to check over is a case in point. He told me that he had promised the editors of the book that his contribution about the Portuguese political system would be in good time: unfortunately for him, however, President Sampaio decided to do what he really ought to have done back in July, and called fresh elections. Consequently, my colleague had to change his article to include these developments. My colleague's misfortune was my good fortune, however, as he asked me if I could complete the copy-editing within three days. I have done work for this person before, but I was more concerned with the goodwill I could accumulate by meeting this deadline: personal word of mouth recommendations from satisfied clients are a Godsend to the self-employed person. The deadline was met, and the customer was extremely satisfied. The strange thing that happened was, I believe, caused by a very happy customer: he called me and asked me to send the invoice by email today, so that he can get it paid before the end of the year! Normally, payment is a process that drags on until legal action is threatened... so this really was a novelty! Perhaps we are witnessing the beginnings of a trend. Then perhaps we aren't!

21.12.04

Ever increasing circles


With Christmas fast approaching, my in-tray being full to overflowing and my grant up for renewal in the next six weeks, what better time to start a new blog to go along with my photographic diary and to embark upon the resurrection of my moribund, yet internationally important, 1500 page website (oh, the modesty)? There is a twisted logic to this (convoluted, more like). Firstly, I enjoy photography (did you guess?). I am not all that good at it, but I do get some satisfaction from doing it, and, when all's said and done, I haven't been doing it for very long - for about seven months. The challenge of taking at least one photograph every day has opened my eyes to the world around me, and has provided me with some discipline. Now I find myself looking at the world through different eyes: I notice light and shadow and see potential, even beauty, in unexpected places. Now I can even identify different kinds of trees and flowers, and I know that hawthorn berries can be used to make a stress reducing infusion, and that rowan berries are not poisonous! Through my photography, I have forced myself to write a diary - something that I have been meaning to do for years, but never quite managed to get around to. From there to this: the photography diary has been a cathartic experience, but the community is small. Blogger is bigger, so I decided to try my hand here too. As for my website, well, I had been maintaining it for over five years, and it just got stale. Now, thanks to the blog, my interest in XHTML and CSS has been reignited. My photography has forced me to learn the true potential of Photoshop, which I have now almost completely mastered - a skill that is undoubtedly useful for webdesign. The diary has finally cleared the writer's block that I had been suffering for over a year, and I am now ready to tackle the site and my research. Working on the site will help focus my mind, and assist me in focusing on the reading I need to do in order to get on and finish my book. Well anyway, that's the plan!

20.12.04

Slow news, bright vase


I'm torn between working-mode and holiday-mode today. The cynics amongst you might very well be sitting there trying to figure out what's new about that! I have been sitting in front of this computer for the past four hours, and not a hand has been turned in all that time. I did read the newspaper (important research), and was slightly less than amazed at the headline, which loudly proclaimed: 'Talentless Holyrood damned by Labour veteran. Devastating attack on Jack McConnell as Lord Sewel warns executive needs an injection of expertise', as if the poor calibre of the devolved Scottish government was in any way news! My suspicion that today was a slow one for the newspapers was confirmed with a glance at the other front page headlines. Under a quarter page photograph of Leonardo diCaprio, Kate Beckinsdale and Cate Blanchett, we are advised that 'Flying high', are 'The Aviator and his Ladies': yup, a supposedly serious newspaper (The Scotsman) advertising the latest Hollywood 'must miss' film on its front page... makes you wonder. Not quite as much as the small stories underneath: Delia Smith (Britain's version of an honest Martha Stewart) is to hang up her apron after 30 years as Britain's kitchen angel; the editors of St Andrews university's student newspaper have been ordered to 'undergo cultural and diversity training' after one of their articles poked fun at the Welsh; and a bit about some foreign president being named Time Person of the Year (although I've never read Time, I always believed that it was a serious publication). We are also informed that Liz McColgan (the track legend, apparently) is happy to be 40 and pregnant with her fifth child, and that she would never do a Paula Radcliffe. You know. I am happy that she's happy... but it hardly qualifies as front page news. The Scotsman, although a little right-wing for my particular prejudices, used to be a reasonably good quality newspaper. Now, however, it seems to be trying to compete with The Daily Mail (the 'quality' [sic] tabloid so beloved of Lt. Col. (ret.) Ramsay Huffington-Buffington MacGregor types). I think I will stick to The Herald, The Guardian and (don't tell anyone) The Daily Rangers... sorry, Daily Record (only for the footie, you understand). As for the high-key vase! I just thought it looked nice (unlike today's Scotsman)

19.12.04

M is for moonlight, memories and uncertainty


I've managed to do my back in again and because of this I've been shuffling about the house like a 90 year-old. It is more uncomfortable than painful, and I just can't get comfortable at all. It all began many, many years ago when I was a planner for British Telecom. Back in the mid-1980s, Britain was just discovering the possibilities of fibre optic cables to link our towns and cities. As planners, our job was to draw up schemes to get the cables in the ground, and get the old, expensive and unreliable copper co-ax out. Back in those days, however, BT wasn't sure how to proceed, and decided on caution. We were told that fibre cables were not allowed to share duct space with copper cables: not even a 20 pair local cable. This meant that for every new fibre route, we, the planners, had to open just about every manhole en route, pump all the water out of them, get down inside and check to see if there was an empty ductline, and, failing that, if there was a duct with enough space to take a subduct for the fibre. Let me put this into context. There was one main cable planning group for southwest Scotland. There were five of us in total, and our area extended from the English border at Gretna to Langholm and Newcastleton, right across Dumfriesshire and Wigtonshire to Stranraer and Portpatrick, then up to Ayrshire coast to Irvine, then inland to Motherwell and south again to Biggar and Beattock. We also had Bute and Cowal, right up to Loch Lomond. Every town with a main telephone exchange was to get a new fibre cable, and every fibre cable was to have a partner that travelled on an alternative route. Let's put it this way: that's a hell of a lot of manholes to be opened and pumped out - and the vast majority of the manholes had not been opened for several years, meaning that they were difficult to open. It was back breaking work. But I was young then, and I didn't notice the damage I was doing to my back at the time. That said, however, I had a wonderful time back then: I was out in the beautiful Scottish countryside (Dumfries and Galloway is gorgeous in the extreme) and getting plenty of exercise, plus I was being paid triple wages and mileage for almost four years for the privilege. Perhaps a back twinge now and again isn't that high a price to pay after all. How does this relate to the photograph? To be honest, it doesn't really. I have just been laid up for most of the day, and this is the first picture I took.

18.12.04

B is for berries, bevvy and honey


Two down, one to go! Yipee! I have bought two presents, and I only have one more to get before I am finished. Organised or what! I know that you must be thinking that I'm either a jammy bugga, a lazy sod or a stingy git... or indeed all three. You would, of course, be right on all three counts (although I like to think that it has to do with my presbyterian upbringing). You see, my family are all dyed-in-the-wool Church of Scotland, and many of them verged on the 'wee free' fringes, without actually taking the plunge, and whilst we always exchanged gifts at Christmas when I was a child, it was never a huge thing: in fact, it was never even a big thing. To my Dad, it was a day off work (unless he was on call) and to me and my siblings it was a couple of new toys that we maybe wanted, and some new clothes that we most certainly didn't. A leg of lamb for dinner and then Morcambe and Wise and 007, and that was it. Hogmanay was always the bigger celebration in our house. We always had a party to which half of the island was invited and to which it often seemed the whole island and half of Glasgow attended. The men smoked Regals and drank beer and whisky, the women smoked Silk Cut and drank vodka and lemonade. The children drank diluted lime cordial and thought it was alcoholic. Everyone danced, told jokes and ate lamb sandwiches. In the best Scottish working-class tradition, everyone had to sing a song - their 'party piece'. The women were always the instigators. I would be instructed to turn the record player off, then some tipsy aunt would stand up and tell everyone to shush because Aunt Jean was going to give us a song. Up would step Aunt Jean, and burst into Ten Guitars in a semi-drunken Glasgow accent. Everyone was expected to join in the chorus: 'dance, dance, dance tae ma ten gee-ta-a-a-a-urz, 'n' verry soon ye'll know just wear ye a-a-a-arr, through the ayuz uf luv yill see wan thousand sta-a-a-a-ruz, when ye dance, dance, dance tae ma ten gee-taruz'. Other favourites were 'Nobody's Child', 'Walking After Midnight', 'Two Little Boys', 'Stand By Your Man', 'The Northern Lights of Aberdeen' and of course, 'I Belong to Glasgow'. I always remember my Aunt Mary's party piece. Aunt Mary was a nursery school teacher in Glasgow before she emigrated to Australia in 1979, and her song was Puff the Magic Dragon. Poor Mary - she was tone deaf, and was the only person who didn't know it. When she got to the chorus everyone would do their best to put her off and, with tears of laughter running down their cheeks, try get her to stop scaring the animals. My Aunt Annie (the matriarch) would pipe up: 'Wan singer, wan song. Yoos shutup and let her sing', then, addressing herself to Mary, 'You carry on, hen, and never mind them'. No-one, especially not the men, dared cross Annie. The children also had to have a party piece. The older ones had to sing a song (mine was 'Charlie is my Darling'), while the younger ones could get away with a nursery rhyme with the adults aawing and aahing over them. Nowadays, these simple pleasures seem to be a thing of the past as Christmas has taken over, and everyone feels pressured to outspend everyone else. Let's swim against the stream! Anyone fancy a sing-song? I'll start: 'Charlie is my darling, my darling, my darling. Charlie is my darling, the young chevalier...'

17.12.04

O is for old shed, obfuscation and dear


Linda had an essay to finish for 10am this morning. To get it done, she was up until after 3 o'clock in the morning. To get it done, I was up until 4 o'clock in the morning! Liam had school this morning: he had to be in by 8.50am, so, to get him in, we all had to be up at 7.30am. So, the long and the short of it all is that we are all shattered - except Liam, that is - and there is very little that is worse than being tired when Liam isn't (except not being tired when Liam is, but insists that he isn't). Anyway, the essay got done, and the required two copies, proofread and formatted by a professional proofreader and formatter (moi), were printed out and stapled together ready to be handed in for assessment. They finally left the house, leaving me with some peace and quiet. It has been a lovely day, and as I looked out of the kitchen window, I found myself thinking about our outhouses (we have two, both in fairly parlous condition) and remembering the plans I had for the old potting shed. When we viewed the house, I decided that it would make an excellent office for me. Ten years down the line and it is full of old TVs and broken furniture. I still think it would be a great little office, but, as Linda is only too quick to tell people, I am not very good at DIY, and the potting shed would need quite a lot of work to make it suitable for an office. Still, maybe if I buy a lottery ticket, I might just win enough money to pay someone else to come and turn it into my office... With that thought, I was woken up by the sound of the kettle boiling.

16.12.04

N is for numpty, nincompoop and eggs


Kind of says it all, really. Last night I met up with fellow Scottish padder, Dominic, and we headed out to Broughty Ferry where we sat in a pub full of Rangers supporters and watched their team getting knocked out of European competition. I can't say that I was disappointed with the way things turned out, because they have been having a good laugh at Celtic getting knocked out last week (honestly, let's compare being knocked out by Barcelona and AC Milan to being knocked out by Aalkmar (who they?) and Auxerre! Hardly the same league of competition, is it!). Anyway, there were lots of tears and gnashing of teeth on the television as they came to terms with Rangers' ejection. Now all of Scotland's hopes rest with Hearts who, hopefully, will get the result they need to take them through tonight. If you're looking at this Richard, my fingers are crossed that you do it. Right, back to Dominic. A very pleasant chap indeed, who had lots of interesting tales to tell, and who pretended he wasn't bored rigid when I started talking about Portuguese politics (honest, Dom, it's a test to see how much of me you can take). We kind of briefly discussed organising a Scottish PaD Posse get together sometime in the new year, where we can all take lots of photos and drink a few beers. As for me being a bit of a numpty... well, last night, while I was out with Dominic, I took my cameras (yes, both of them) and my little table top tripod with which I had intended to take a photograph of the pair of us enjoying the footie. I don't know, but a combination of the excitement of watching Rangers fall flat on their face and the good company I was in and I forgot. As Dominic will tell you, as I was driving, I was drinking fresh orange and lemonade, so I can't even blame my forgetfulness on the drink. Nope. I have to accept it, I am just a numpty. Sorry about the photo Dominic, but it was nice meeting you, and I hope that it won't be too long before we do it again - and perhaps this time Gavin will be able to get some time off work. Harumph! What a numpty am I....

15.12.04

Musclebound


I resisted the temptation to do yet another money macro. It was a close run thing, let me tell you. Instead, my Daily Bowl will reflect just what I've been up to this miserable Scottish December day. I was up with the famous Aberdeen blue-breasted robin, and made everyone's breakfast. I had to drop Liam off at school before going to the supermarket for some essential groceries. I got the shopping, loaded it into the trolley and went to the check-out when I realised that, in my rush to get Liam to school, I had left my wallet at home. The woman on the till said she would watch my messages while I went home to get some money. This I did, then went back to pay for the goods. The rest of the day, until 3pm, was spent working on some articles. I went back to the school to pick Liam up and take him to the bank where he was opening a new account. Then I had to go back to the supermarket to pick up some of the things that I had forgotten to pick up in the morning. This all relates to what I was saying yesterday about men not being able to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. With the lacunae filled, I came back home, where I had to continue working on the articles. Which all brings me quite conveniently to this image. The work I am doing involves me flicking between different articles and pages within the same article. Back in the days when I only had one PC, it was a bit of a bind having to continually press Alt-Tab. Now I have one article up on my desktop, and the other on my laptop - and all I need do is turn my head (which gives me one less thing to think about). I sit happily tapping away on the laptop's keys, then, when I need to, I look to the material displayed on my desktop's huge monitor. So, that's my day. As happy as a pig in shit locked away in my study glancing to the left and to the right, keeping it going all night, hey hey hey. The only downside is that the deadline is tomorrow, and I am only half way through the corrections. Still, nevermind, no-one said that it would be easy. If it was, I wouldn't be able to charge as much!

14.12.04

D is for dosh, dinheiro and deadlines


Robin asked a very good question yesterday: what am I going to do for photographs when I run out of coins. To tell you the truth, I haven't even begun to think about it, and I will not be thinking about it today either. Why am I being so blasé about my bowls of Stu? Well, since you asked so nicely, let me tell you. I can explain in two words: immanent deadlines. Yes, I am afraid that I have to finish off some work today. Unlike the fairer sex, who can apparently concentrate on hundreds of things at the same time (and who have elephantine memories), I am a mere man, whose brain can only manage to cope with one task at a time. So, not being someone who wants to fight nature, I must accede to the demands of those who are willing to pay me to do their bidding, and try to placate the bank manager. So, unfortunately, work wins. Now I must beg more forgiveness from you all, for I have a confession to make: I took this photograph last night, before midnight in the UK (although it was already today in half of the world). I know that this breaks the rules, and that it might even lead to irate messages being left on the forums, with people demanding that I be severely chastised for failing to obey the 'laws' to the letter; however, in my defence, I have too much work to do today to be taking and processing photographs (let alone think about what photographs to take), and, when it all boils down to it, I will put up whatever photograph I like here, regardless of when it was taken. I may plead with people to look at my Daily Bowl, but I don't coerce them. So, with that, I would like to present you with what will, in all probability, be my last coin/money photo for now (although I wouldn't hold me to that, because I have been known to be fickle); a photograph that, as you can see, is dedicated to the letter D.

13.12.04

S is for skint, stoney-broke and sitting on


Since I have a load of work to do, and not very much time in which to do it, I have decided to take the easy way out and continue with my series of coin photographs. This time I found these old Portuguese escudo coins - throwbacks from the pre-Euro age. The small silver coin was worth 2.5 escudos, and was called the 'dois quinhentos', which may give you some idea as to the coin's age (not this particular coin, I hasten to add). Dois quinhentos means 'two fivehundred' or two escudos and 500 reís. The old Portuguese currency is a minefield for translators, since it was by no means straightforward (although it was nowhere near as complicated as the good old British pounds, shillings and pence). Simply put, there were 1000 reís in one conto, and one conto was equal to one escudo. So, back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, 20 contos was 20 escudos, etc. (at that time the reís was the main unit of currency). With the precipitous devaluation of the Portuguese currency during the late-1910s and early-1920s, the reís became absolutely valueless, the escudo became the main unit of currency and the reís disappeared to be replaced with the centávo, which was worth 10 of them. Now, with the escudo taking the place of the reís as the main unit of currency, use of the term conto to mean 1000 continued. Only now the situation was more complicated. As any Briton over the age of 40 will tell you, up until recently it was quite common to hear people call 50p 'ten bob' and 10p 'two bob'. Well it was much the same in Portugal with some people preferring to continue talking in reís, whilst others talked in escudos. Hence the difficulty for translators: when they say 50 contos, do they mean 50 escudos or 50,000 escudos!!! The memory of another reís coin, the tostão (which I think was 5 reís), continues in modern colloquial Portuguese. When someone says 'não tenho nem um tostão', they are saying that they don't have any money... but that's another story. Back to our little silver 2$500 coin. Although worth (when it was legal tender) two escudos and fifty centávos, everyone just called it a 'dois quinhentos'. As for the two 10 'paús' coins in the picture...

12.12.04

L is for loadsamoney, lazy buggas and sinners


Laziness is what has led to this image. Nothing more or less than laziness. I had thought about heading out to Arbroath this morning to take some photographs of the North Sea from the cliffs. I went to the supermarket instead. By the time I got back from Tesco and had my lunch, it was time to sit and listen to the big game on the radio: Dunfermline versus Celtic. Obviously I couldn't go anywhere while the match was on. It is my duty as a Celtic supporter to listen to all 90 minutes of it. Two first half goals restored Celtic to their rightful place at the top of the table. Now that the game is over, all the commentators are talking about the 'crisis' at Celtic Park, and about the immanent departure of our manager (he has been leaving ever since he arrived here in the summer of 2000... well, that is if you believe the rumours). Anyway, it is too dark and too cold to go out and search for a photograph that is not a macro of some object or other that is lying about on my desk. Still, accusations of laziness aside, there is some intrinsic beauty in these stacks of coins (I am working on the assumption that people tend to believe what they read without much question). Also, I have been toying with the idea of joining in on the 26 letters thing that lots of people are doing. To this end, I have killed four letters with one stone (to coin a phrase - oh... when I'm hot, I'm hot!). So, apart from L is for "LOADSAMONEY", we have (a) P is for "PILE OF PENNIES" (so far so good) (b) C is for "COLUMN OF COPPER COINS" or "COPPER CANYON" (not bad, eh!), and finally (c) A is for "ALLITERATION". Am I good or what!

11.12.04

Four quid


Struggling to come up with an idea for a photograph as I listen to R*****s win at the footie today (and sneak back up to top spot in the league - at least until tomorrow, when Celtic take on the mighty Dunfermline), in desperation I thrust my hand into my pocket and fished out all of my loose change. The princely sum of four pounds sterling emerged in the form of three one pound coins and two fifty-pence pieces. All of the pound coins were Welsh, and inscribed with the message "Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad". I have absolutely no idea what that means, let alone have a clue as to how it is pronounced. The Scottish pound coins have "Nemo me impune lacessit" on them, which I believe means "no-one attacks me with impunity", which is, apparently, the motto of the Order of the Thistle, and was used on Scots coinage since the reign of James VI. The English pound coin is inscribed with the title of an Oasis album: "Standing on the shoulders of giants" - its meaning being a complete mystery to me. Like so many things. Well, whilst all of this trivia was running through my head, I decided that photographing coins is always a good standby: they make interesting subjects, and people from other countries have a fascination with coins that they may never actually see in real life, or, if they are planning a trip here, it lets them gain some familiarity with the coins they will be using.

NEWSFLASH: Police have shot dead a sheep that was causing havoc in traffic. This was a headline on the Radio Scotland news just now!!! Obviously not in the Highlands!!! The Sportsound team have just come back on, and Richard Gordon (the presenter) has just offered his condolences to the sheep's family. Must be a slow news day!! What more can I say? I'm away to laugh uncontrollably. Honestly, you couldn't make it up!!

Scottish Cup 3rd Round Draw is live on radio as I type: Celtic are at home to Rangers on 8 January!

10.12.04

'Tis the season to be jolly


I don't know if this is a bit late or a bit early. A bit late, because recently I have been trying to get my photo up in the morning; a bit early, because tonight is the night that the Christmas tree gets decorated, and, as you can see, it is not yet decorated. There is a very simple reason for this. Well, actually, there are two very good reasons for putting this picture up. Firstly, if I wait until the tree is finished, I would not be able to take the picture, let alone post it, because I will be slightly rat-arsed, steamin', roarin' fu' tipsy (as we say in Glasgow). The port bottles are not in the picture by mistake: indeed, they have a very important role to play this evening, for our family tradition dictates that I have the onerous task of drinking them while Linda decorates the tree. The other part of our tradition is the music: the tree is always decorated to the sound of The Chieftains (and guests, such as Elvis Costello) and their album 'The Bells of Dublin'. Liam hates it, and always moans during it, while I try to hold up my part of the tradition, and Linda places baubles on the tree. Anyway, they have started without me, and I really must make a start on those bottles of port. It's a tough tradition, but then, it is a tradition. Wish me luck!

9.12.04

Ivy in the raw


Okay. Why did no-one tell me that RAW was so damned good? Why did no-one tell me that CS has its own built in RAW converter? I have been put off shooting in RAW before because, firstly, I only had a couple of 128xD cards, and I didn't know that I had the software to work on the RAW image (the S7000 ships with the LE version of Fuji's RAW converter - and all that does is convert the image to an 8bit TIFF). Now, equipped with a bigger memory card (did you know that you can get a Kingston CFII 1Gb card for £55?), and the knowledge that RAW images can be manipulated in CS, I have been playing about. And, boy, am I impressed with what it can do. Apparently, I can print pin-sharp images up to at least A3 - not that I have an A3 printer to print them on - but it means that I can make fairly tight crops without too much image degradation (the image below is an example). I am absolutely gobsmacked by just how good it is. I am now completely converted to RAW. Goodbye JPEG. Now, if only someone could help me out with my confusion over print resolutions!

8.12.04

Bouncebackability!


A bit of a bummer last night, but at least I can get some consolation out of the fact that my favourite English team (Arsenal) got through, and I still have tonight to look forward to when Liverpool take on the 'mighty' Olympiakos of Greece in search of a two-goal victory to secure their place in Europe's elite. As for Celtic... Well, I have said it before, we are not up there, and the people in charge insist in the fantasy that we can join Europe's top clubs on determination alone. We have a great manager who has done wonders with the meagre resources available to him, and who is showing signs of frustration at the lack of resources. The money men don't seem to have a clue what it's all about, as is quite clearly obvious by the way they mishandle contract negotiations with our best players. Last year we lost a superb young player who had just forced his way into the team. We waited until the last year of his contract, which fell during his breakthrough season, to offer him a new one. Manchester United snapped him up, and are paying him double our best offer. The year before, this player had asked for a new contract, and was told there was no urgency. Now there is a similar fiasco brewing with our leading goalscorer, whose contract is up at the end of the season. For months he has been saying he wanted to have it sorted out so he can concentrate on the football, and for months the money men have been hedging their bets. In January he will be able to sign a pre-contract agreement with any other club, and we will lose him, and not get a penny for it. But still the negotiations are dragging on. And remember, this is just to keep what we already have - we are not even talking about strengthening the squad. Despite three successful European campaigns, we have a weaker squad now than we had four years ago. Our main rivals, Rangers, have bought well this season, and have several talented players to call upon. What did we get? A Brazilian World Cup winner at the end of his career, and who is not up to the physical challenge of the Scottish game, and a Senegalese striker on loan from a team that was relegated from the English Premiership last season, and who would miss an empty net from six inches. It says a lot that our two summer signings spend more time warming the bench than they do on the park. Still, as the photo says, it is a fan's lot to grin and bear it, and there were some positive things from last night: we didn't get beaten by Milan, and we have discovered a bright new star in 18 year-old Aiden McGeady who was running rings around Alessandro Nesta, Milan's international defender - so much so that the Italians ended up putting two men on him. What a compliment.

7.12.04

We just need to believe it is possible


Okay, I'm officially excited. Tonight my beloved Celtic play hosts to one of Europe's greatest football clubs, the mighty AC Milan. Am I worried? Well, yes, I am a little bit. We really need to win tonight to ensure our place in the UEFA cup. We can't rely on Barcelona doing us a favour in Donetsk. What will happen? Too close to call. If we win, we're through regardless of what happens in the Ukraine. If we draw, we have to hope that Barcelona get at least a draw. If we lose, we have to hope that Barcelona win. Will we do it? It will be very, very difficult to win against Milan - they have some of the best players in the world on their books, and they need to win tonight to ensure themselves of top place in the group - but, then, so do Barcelona (and they must be hoping that we can take some points off Milan). Our draw a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona has given us a fighting chance of staying in European competition. In an act of desperate clutching at straws, we can always point out that the last Italian team to come to Celtic Park on Champions League business was Juventus (another giant of European football) three years ago, and we beat them by the odd goal in a seven-goal thriller of a match. Even more desperate is the news, carried by the Sunday Rangers... sorry, Sunday Mail, that our former hero, Henrik Larsson, who now makes his living as a Barcelona player, has worn his heart on his sleeve, and offered to take all of his Barcelona team-mates out for a slap-up meal if they can do Celtic a favour and thrash Shaktar Donetsk. I know that this is probably a made-up story, but it would be nice to think that it contains a germ of truth. Our greatest fear is that Barcelona, who have already qualified, may decide that it is too cold in the Ukraine, and may be unwilling to risk getting their star players injured in what is, to them, a relatively meaningless match. Still, the same is true of Milan - they've already qualified too. One thing is for certain, though, Shaktar are a very good side, and they are well capable of getting a result at home. So. I'm excited and worried. I need to work all day just to keep my mind off it. But come 7.45pm, I will be sitting in front of my TV, with a horseshoe above my head, a rabbit's foot in my pocket, my 'lucky' t-shirt on my back and every single finger crossed. C'mon the Bhoys. Hail, hail!

6.12.04

Rainy days and Mondays


I am absolutely snowed under with work just now. I know that I ought not to complain, because every additional piece of work completed is another few quid in the bank. Yet, I cannot get myself excited about what I have to do, and I am even less delighted that everything seems to have a 31 December (or earlier) deadline. The weather here has got decidedly milder of late, and is presently well above what is normal for this time of year. I actually think that it is warmer here than in Lisbon just now. The only down side to the unseasonable warmth is the rain. It has been dull and overcast all day, and only recently has started to rain, and I have enough work for two people and SAD. As those of you who are regular consumers of my Daily Bowl ought to be aware, I do not like grey and wet winter days. I much prefer clear days, even if it means that the temperature hovers around freezing. The cold is easily overcome with plenty of layers of natural fibres. Heaven knows that there are few enough hours of sunshine at this time of year! I much prefer that we actually get some benefit from the little daylight there is - and when it's dull and grey, well, there hardly seems any point in getting out of bed. In saying this, however, there can be little doubt that cloudy and rainy days provide us with lots of interesting light. As I was sitting at my computer pondering my workload and thinking about my PaD, I heard the soft patter of rain hitting the window. I looked out and saw the most amazing pink sunset - but in my haste I never managed to capture it. I did, however, manage to capture the rain on the window and the last remnants of the day's light beyond. So, instead of a pink sunset, you get a raindrop abstract. I like it, even if you don't!

5.12.04

Cathie's birthday


To celebrate Cathie's birthday (Cathie is Linda's mum, and her birthday was yesterday. She's as old as her eyes, and older than her teeth!) we all went over to Tony and Eileen's house for a small family celebration (Tony and Eileen are Ross and Erin's parents, and Tony is Linda's nephew). While there, we got to talking about what we would like for Christmas that we know we won't get. When asked, I said that I would like the 20D and a couple of lenses, but I know that I won't get it because it costs over £1000. It was then that Linda demonstrated how her mind works - much to the amusement of myself and Tony (with us being the only adult males present). "I will get it for you," she proclaimed whilst drinking her seventh glass of wine, "we can absorb it." I asked her what she meant when she said "absorb it". "Well," she began in all earnestness, "I can get it with your credit card." Okay, I thought. "But I pay the credit card bill" I said. "Yes, I know," she continued, "We can absorb it with your January bonus payment." Well, yes! What more can I say to that? Absorbing logic.

4.12.04

Who wants to be a millionaire?


I think I probably average about one lottery ticket a year. I have never really been caught up in the lottery fever that struck this country, and there is absolutely no way that I would stand in a queue at the supermarket just to buy a ticket. I'm sure we've all seen it: people waiting in line and then buying 20 tickets at the one go. Or what about the people who win the £10 prize for matching three numbers, who take their prize money in scratch cards! I have no real problem with people playing for fun - because the odds, at 14,000,000:1 are stacked against you. I think you have more chance of being killed by the Dalai Lama than you have of winning anything. Still, I suppose the few hours between purchasing the ticket and throwing it in the bin are moments in which it is possible to imagine buying that Highland castle, the moradia in Sintra, a small chateau in the south of France, a couple of nice Italian sports cars, the world cruise and the Canon 20D with all the fancy lenses that Robin Reid has. You may mock, but I already have my eye on a nice castle nearby and the Ferrari showroom in Edinburgh is only a phone call away. I'll always have time for my poor Pbase friends, though.


I didn't want to win anyway!

3.12.04

Exploding with Yuletide joy


Aaaarghhh! It has just dawned on me that the crazy season is well and truly upon us. What finally brought it home to me was not the decorations everywhere you look, or the sound of Frosty the Snowman or Silent Night coming from every shop you pass. No. None of that. What did it was Linda going to Marks and Spencer's with her Mum. Linda and her Mum go to 'Markees' (as they affectionately call it) together in December, and only in December. The purpose? To begin the grand Christmas food stocking up. Now the kitchen is full of Marks and Spencer's carrier bags full of delicious little delicacies that I am strictly prohibited from even looking at until Christmas Eve. Centre stage is a huge box of Christmas crackers which, judging by the weight of the box, contains gold bars as surprises. The tree will be going up next Friday. We have a little family tradition that centres around the decorating of the tree. Basically, I get all the decorations out of storage and put the tree up. We put on our Chieftains CD (The Bells of Dublin), and then the fun begins. My contribution to the evening is to drink, single-handedly, a bottle of vintage ruby port, and to let Linda know if she has missed any bits. Liam's part in this is to moan about the music, and annoy his Mum. With the tree finished, and with me getting ever merrier, we put on music and have a wee dancing party while Mizzie tries to pull the decorations off the tree. This is my favourite night of the whole Christmas period - it is the night that I normally get into the Christmas spirit. Christmas and port really do go together very well indeed. But, as we still have a week to go before we put our tree up, all I have to say to you is BAH HUMBUG!

2.12.04

Bright and frosty morning


One of my favourite photographers paid me an enormous compliment yesterday by dedicating a picture to me, and saying wonderful things about my PaD. Even if what he said is only half-true, it is still high praise indeed. So Bruce, thank you, I am very, very flattered -- and how on earth did you know that the old-style VW Beetle was one of my favourite cars? Thanks again (and I haven't forgotten about the photos - I have decided to have them professionally printed, and I don't want to risk posting them over Christmas). Anyway, I have been extremely fed-up being stuck in the house, a slave to this machine, during the short few hours of daylight we have at this time of year. Linda asked me to scrape the ice off the car's windscreen... when she came out of the bathroom and saw me looking like an Arctic explorer with a camera, she shrugged. 'Going up Ben Nevis?' She can be quite sarcastic when she tries. It has been a beautiful winter morning here, with a clear sky and gorgeous sunlight. I wanted to take advantage of the optimal conditions to take a series of photos of the Sidlaw Hills, from which I wanted to make a panorama. One of the panoramas was to be my PaD, but then I thought that it wouldn't be fair on those who still have to make do with a dial-up connection (well, we don't all have broadband) - the panos are a fairly hefty 500Kb. I saw the perfect spot for this project - inside the waterworks' compound. The gate, which was wide open, had a sign instructing all visitors to report to reception. Off I went to the only building to tell them what I was up to. I rang the bell and a man who was coming out let me in. I stood in the hall, looking in vain for any signs of life. One door was marked 'Chemical Analysis', another 'Pump Valve 4'... but no sign of any reception... or life even. I decided just to go out and take the photos anyway. Several people ignored me as I stood there for about 15 minutes clicking away. It was only then that I thought... 'Wait a minute... this place supplies drinking water to about 100,000 people, and I have been wandering about unchallenged.' If it was the USA, I imagine that there would be armed marines with instructions to shoot on sight! Still, it is a little bit unnerving to think that someone could obtain such easy access to a pumping station.

1.12.04

Sidónio Bernardino Cardoso da Silva Pais


Not too exciting, I know, but I haven't had much of a chance to get any decent outdoors photos. You see, it may seem like I have the life of the leisured jet-set class, jetting off to Lisbon and Madrid at the drop of a hat, or just jumping into my car and going down to Bute or up to the Highlands castle hunting. To a large extent, you are right: I have a great life, and I'm the first one to admit it. However, I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I have no rich relatives about to bequeath me their mansion in Surrey, and I don't play the lottery. Like most people, therefore, I have to work for my keep. Today I had to work (and successfully ignore a request from some Dutch radio station for an 'expert' interview on Portuguese politics - see here to understand why I ignored it). So, I hear you ask, just what is it that I do to put food on the table, RAM in my PC and ink in my printer (no question mark... it's a rhetorical question). I read, then I write. Just now I am reading about Sidónio Pais, who was Portugal's president from 5 December 1917 to 14 December 1918. He came to power by way of a military coup, and was deposed by the lead in an assassin's pistol at Rossio Station. I am writing a book about him and his short-lived regime, the populist and proto-fascist New Republic. At least now you know what he looked like, and I'll bet that you're delighted at that! Apparently Portuguese womanhood went weak at the knees for President Sidónio in his smart major's uniform whilst astride his white horse (yes, he had a white horse). Mind you, apparently Portuguese (and at least one French) women turned to mush in the presence of Salazar (I'll need to put a picture of Salazar up now, won't I?!). Go figure. Anyway, I have work to do, and you're distracting me. See you tomorrow.