31.1.05

Painful


Today was a day of extreme discomfort for me. For over a year now I have been experiencing shooting pains starting from the small of my back and going all the way down the back of my left leg to my calf, and then round the shin to my foot. I have no idea what it is, but I think I can rule out back strain - I have suffered from that in the past, and this is a completely different pain. For one thing, this is constant, and no matter what I do - short of load myself up with painkillers and muscle relaxants - I just can't get rid of the pain.Sitting is an effort, walking for any distance is virtually impossible, and just forget about standing - it is just too painful. As I said, this pain has been coming and going for the past year, and hardly a day has gone by when I haven't experienced it, but today has been by far the worst so far. I think I am going to have to go to the doctor to get it seen to, because I just can't go on like this. So, today I have a picture that reflects the way I feel. In fact, it serves a double purpose. You see, some of the pictures I uploaded recently ended up being pixelated by the Pbase machinery (unintentionally, I hasten to add). By putting this picture up, I am saving the machines the bother of pixelating. Right, I'm away to take some Diclofenac and gain brief respite.

30.1.05

I'm super content: I just like moaning!


Nothing much to report. I have spent most of the day processing and uploading the photos that I took whilst in Portugal last week. I took a lot, and it is taking some time. So today, I have been in Portugal in my mind, if not in body. I've begun to notice that I am developing a love-hate relationship with that particular country. When I'm there, it doesn't take long before I wish I was back in Scotland. On the other hand, while I'm in Scotland, I often think to myself how lucky I am to be able to head off to Portugal so often. I see my friends working in Dundee day in, day out, looking forward to their fortnight holiday, then I am glad that that is not me. Then again, while I'm over there, I often find myself wishing that I had a nice office job in Dundee! Fickle, or what. When it all boils down to it, I am blissfully happy... I just like complaining! I have a wonderful family, a nice house, I am my own boss, I am not badly paid doing what I want to do, I get to spend a lot of time in one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Yup. No matter how much I might gripe about things, deep down I know that I wouldn't change it for anything.

29.1.05

Voando sobre São Martinho


On Friday night, I was supposed to go up to Chapitó with Sílvia, Alexandre, Claudia, Miguel and many others to celebrate Sílvia's new job (at Chapitó) at an 80s theme night. The arrangement was to meet up at 11pm, then take it from there. My mind was willing, but my body gave out on me. I was tired after a whole day of pointless meetings, then when I got back to the flat decided that I wanted to get some pictures of the Águas Livres acqueduct before it got too dark. My next port of call was to Alcântara's very own unofficial Benfica supporters club restaurant, where the staff, who are all Benfiquistas, are aware that my support of Celtic means that I have a perhaps irrational preference for Sporting (só por causa das suas camisas, pois). So some gently ribbing took place as they reminded me of the result of Wednesday's Lisbon derby (3-3 after extra time, Benfica winning 10-9 on penalties in what was, surprisingly for Portuguese club competition, an excellent game of football). Following my meal I went back to the flat and thought that I could lie down for an hour or so before heading over to Chapitó. I was vaguely aware of my mobile ringing at around 11.30... at 1.30am I got up and switched it off. I had a 9am flight, and I'm no longer able to stay up all night and go straight to the airport from the pub. I'm too old for that nowadays! So, Sílvia, Alexandre, Claudia and Miguel... I'm sorry I missed you all, but you know I'll be back in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Sílvia, parabéns no teu novo trabalho, e desejo-te toda a sorte no mundo. The photograph is for Pedro Libório. I didn't have time to get up to São Martinho to visit him this time, but I did manage to pass overhead!

28.1.05

Vou me embora


Friday, and thoughts are now turning to the journey home tomorrow. Today was a bit of a wasted day, as the long awaited meeting resolved nothing, since the only two people with the authority to make decisions decided not to bother coming. Perhaps I shouldn't have bothered either. Anyway, I suppose this is the way things work in Portugal... they just kind of rumble along until they hit a problem, then they stop until someone notices and decides to ask someone else to do something about it. The afternoon meeting was little better, as the person who has been causing us all sorts of heartache decided that, rather than just respond to the questions asked, they would much prefer to make a drama out of nothing at all. It was all I could do not to ask this person why they feel that my time and money is worth wasting just so that they can complain about having to make sure that the references to their article are complete and accurate, and why, when asked if they had actually read the publication guidelines before insisting on having this pointless meeting, they admitted that they hadn't. If it were up to me, I know where I would tell this person to stick their article. Unfortunately, however, it is not up to me. I can't wait to get back home.

27.1.05

Viva a carnaval!


I haven't really been giving myself much time these past few days. This is because I have been going to the library first thing in the morning, and staying there until it closes at 7.30pm. I don't really mind, because I am actually enjoying the research I am doing and the books I am reading. In order to get as much research as possible done while I am here, I have been limiting myself to a 45 minute lunchbreak. This gives me just enough time to have a light lunch then a walk in the vicinity of the library before going back to hit the books again. Another consequence of my dedication to my work is a lack of time during which to look through the other galleries and leave my usual pithy remarks. It also means that I haven't really had enough time to upload all of the photos I have taken while I have been in Lisboa: fear not though fellow Padders and Paddettes, once I am back in Dundee, I will catch up on both fronts. In the meantime, leave me to think about Sidónio Pais; to consider whether these dresses are made of either paper or tobacco; and to wonder whatever happened to the sub-zero temperatures that we were promised by all the Portuguese newspapers earlier this week.

26.1.05

A mulher ideal dos tempos fascistas


This is one of the statues that adorns the front of the National Library in Lisbon. This, apparently, was the Salazar regime's idea of what the perfect Portuguese woman should look like. Knowing a little about the Salazar regime's attitude towards women in general, I was initially confused about the signal this image was giving. Salazar, who was, apparently, a bit of a lady's man, never married, and from the minute he took control of Portugal's destiny in 1928 to the day he died in 1970, he shared a house with his housemaid - the indomitable Maria - he even went so far as to adopt her orphaned nephew and niece, raising them as his own. Inevitably there were rumours that Maria was more than just his maid. Following his stroke in 1968, the bedridden Salazar was protected by Maria, who decided who was allowed to visit and for how long. It is unclear if she too was kept in the dark about Salazar's status as ex-leader (the political elite were too afraid to tell him that he had been replaced, and apparently he died in 1970 believing he was still in charge). Another of Salazar's apparent conquests was the French journalist, Christine Garnier, who stayed with him at his official residence whilst writing a book about him (called Férias com Salazar - Holidays with Salazar). It is clear that Salazar did enjoy female company, although not enough to trust them with the vote. You see, under Salazarism, Portuguese women were supposed to marry young, stay at home, have babies, look after the children and their husbands and keep the house clean. Now, take another look at the statue, and see the exaggerated child-bearing hips. Now compare the fascist-era statue with the more recent one! I know which I prefer!

25.1.05

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face


Burns' Night has arrived at last: a full calender month after Christmas and a few days before the beginning of February. The pain involved in carrying two large turnips, a very large haggis and a litre bottle of Macallan's 12 year-old malt with me was finally worth it. The turnips had to be brought because the ones we are used to in Scotland bear absolutely no relation to the ones that pass for turnips over here. For one thing, ours are large, orange and sweet; theirs are small, pink and bitter. The assembled company included me, the token Scot and Master of Ceremonies, five Portuguese, a Spaniard and one Dane. Only three of us had ever tasted haggis before and five said that they didn't like the sound of it. All eight enjoyed it, and said they will certainly give it a go again. The big hit, however, apart from the Macallan, was Green Grow the Rashes, O, to which everyone joined in the chorus. All in all, a very enjoyable evening was had.

24.1.05

Vai ficar um bocadinho fresco...


Yet another late one, and if you care enough to examine the EXIF, you will see that I actually took it tomorrow, and not today. There is a very simple reason for this: no time and no ready access to internet. In other words: I spent the whole day, from 10am to 7.30pm in the National Library reading about Sidonio Pais. By the time I got out it was dark and I was tired. And by the time I got back to the flat, it was all I could do to catch up on Sunday's image. So, still a day behind and cheating to catch up... what will you do with me? To the tale, however. Apparently it is going to get cold here (by normal Portuguese standards, that is: it will remain positively balmy to those, like me, who are accustomed to more brass monkey weather). I must say that I have noticed the chill in the morning air, and am keen to add that I find it a pleasant change from the normal Lisbon January weather: which is either warm and humid or warm and positively wet. I remember my first Lisbon winter, way back in 1995. During the last week of November, the council workmen were putting up the Christmas decorations wearing little more than shorts and sweat; a couple of days later it started to rain, and didn't stop until March, when it got hot again. Winter 1996 was much the same. I came over for three weeks in January 2003, and arrived during a very cold snap - it was actually warmer in Dundee than in Lisbon. The first week I was over was bitterly cold (remember the houses are designed for summer - no central heating, no carpets, no double glazing), and all of the shops had run out of heaters, warm clothes and blankets. It got so bad that the electricity company couldn't keep up with demand, and, consequently, there were power outages all over Lisbon. The second week could not have been more different: this time the cold was replaced by wet as the heavens opened and deposited all the water in creation on Lisbon. The city came to a standstill as the Terreiro do Paco flooded. At least one building in the Alfama collapsed as its foundations gave way to the liquified soil it stood on. The entire facade of the building collapsed on top of a parked car, while the building's occupants watched television in their remodelled living-room. The weather madness continued in week three, when the rain gave way to the sun. By Burns' Night (25 Jan), the mercury had topped 27ºC. By the end of the month, the record books had been rewritten, with it being the coldest, wettest and hottest January in Lisbon since records began. And I was there to experience it.

23.1.05

Sempre a subir!


First of all, let me apologise for this late posting. I have had a lot of trouble getting access to an internet linked computer. Normally I am able to use Charles's, and then there is always the one in my office; however, Charles has lots of work on, and is hogging his machine, while, for some reason, the internet wasn't working at my office. Anyway... that's today's story, which will have to wait because this image is for yesterday (Sunday). I can proudly announce that I was up and out the door before 10am. I was on the Sintra train by 11am, and I was in Sintra by lunchtime. Straight off the train, I walked round to the Palácio Nacional before heading straight up to the Castelo dos Mouros. It was one helluva climb, let me tell you: although it is not much higher than the summit of Auchterhouse, it is very much steeper. Still, it was worth it, for not only did I burn a few calories, I was rewarded with a stupendous view. This is not the first time I have been to the Castelo dos Mouros. I was there in 1994, when I was very much fitter than I am now - back in those days, Portugal was still 'quaint', and there was no visitor centre, and no entrance fee (there was also no cold drink machine). I can't really recall, but I'm sure there was no tourist bus either - but I may be wrong: I walked up. I spent a wonderful three hours in the castle, and took lots and lots of photographs (which I will post when I get back to Dundee). The descent was much harder than the climb - just ask my poor knees. I made it all the way down in one piece, and stopped in a small restaurant for a late-lunch/early-supper of bacalhau com natas. Duly fed and watered, I headed off for a stroll through two of Sintra's many public gardens, before getting on the train back to Lisbon. It was a pleasant day, which would have been perfect had Linda and Liam been here to share it with me. Ah well, maybe the next time!

22.1.05

Bem vindos a Portugal!


Arriving in Lisbon has become a bit of a routine for me. I get off the plane, make my way out of the passport control, baggage hall and customs into the arrivals foyer. From there I walk down to the bus stop and wait for the number 45 that will take me to Cais do Sodre, from where I catch a tram to Alcantara. On a good day, the entire journey - from leaving the plane to throwing myself on my bed - takes around an hour and is almost always without incident. I say almost always, because last night's journey was with incident. Everything was going as normal: I got to the bus stop and killed the few minutes waiting for the #45 by taking a few shots of the airport building. The bus came and I got on. So far, so good. With only four passengers, including myself, the bus was fairly quiet for 9pm on a Saturday night. No matter, I thought, fewer passengers means quicker journey, so I settled down and watched Lisbon pass by. We got to Entrecampos, when a boy of about 19 arrived breathless at the bus stop, and yelled at the driver to go. In his mirror, the driver could obviously see someone else running to catch the bus, and must have assumed that it was the teenager's friend, so he waited. The teenager pleaded with him to close the doors and drive: the driver insisted on waiting. The second teenager jumped on and the first teenager made for the back of the bus, running backwards with his hands in front of him like a shield, calling on the driver to open the doors and let him off. All of a sudden, the second teenager launches a large stone, the intended target of which was, presumably, the first teenager. Unfortunately, his aim was poor, and the stone headed straight towards my knee. Unable to move because of the bags I was carrying, I was spared injury by the glass screen in front of the seat. The safety glass shattered into thousands of pieces as I sat looking at the destruction at my feet. Slowly, incredulity at what had just happened turned into bemusement. I stood up, brushed the broken glass off of me and my bags, and moved to a different seat. The stone thrower had gone, chased by his intended victim: the driver got out of his cabin and surveyed the damage, while the middle aged couple behind me asked if I was okay. This seemed to spark the driver into action, and he asked me if I was hurt. When I told everyone I was uninjured, the couple told me that this was the first time they had used the buses, and they had only done so because their son had assured them that it was perfectly safe. In the meantime, the driver removed what was left of the glass screen, and returned to his chair to radio the police. By this time, the first teenager had returned, breathless (having chased his would be attacker), and asked me if I was okay. I just said that I was fine, and that this was some welcome to Portugal. The bus drove off without further incident, although newly boarding passengers did wonder why there was broken glass everywhere. I got back to the flat at 10pm, safe and sound.


(PS. I must add that I have been a regular user of Lisbon's public transport system for the past ten years, and that I have been on buses, trains, trams and the Metro at all hours of the day and night. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me, and I have never heard any of my friends or colleagues say anything bad. The Lisbon public transport system is generally excellent: it is cheap, clean and (usually) safe. Unfortunately, there are nutters everywhere, and things like this are bound to happen now and again in city of Lisbon's size.)

21.1.05

Have haggis, will travel


Oh... I very nearly went and done it. I was this >< close to getting it. I had it in my hands and was able to caress its buttons. But I was strong. I have willpower. I held out. Instead, I bought a new memory card. The D70 will just have to wait for another day... but its time is coming... and I have decided that I will be getting the Nikon instead of the 20D. Bit of a roller coaster of a day today. I was asked to give a quote for translating and editing a book. Not wanting to have to do it, since I have a lot on, I hoped to dissuade them by quoting a price that was three times my usual rate. They accepted it! My prices have just gone up! After all, the D70 won't work without lenses! My first port of call when I get my new camera will be the States! - it is decided (although I haven't yet figured out how to tell Linda). So, I'm off on my travels tomorrow with my trusty laptop, S7000 and M603. Steeled, I am, for yet another week in Portugal's national library: between meetings at the uni, that is. Tomorrow is a travel day, and if all goes smoothly I should be at Alcântara by 9.30pm. I will possibly have time to post an image tomorrow, but if not, it will be up on Sunday. Talking of Sunday... since this trip is a short one (no free weekend), I only have one free day, and that will be Sunday. I'm not quite sure where I'm going to go, but don't be surprised if I end up in Sintra. I have not forgotten to pack my haggis, turnips, shortbread and outcakes: the whisky I will get at the airport. So. I'm all set. Tomorrow is a new day, a different country, and sees the return of colour. Tchau e até breve meus amigos!

20.1.05

Falling to bits


A couple of months ago, my bank took my old Switch card off of me, and replaced it with a Visa Electron. Apparently this is all part of the banks' attempt to eradicate card crime: the old card was swipe and sign, while the new one is 'chip and pin'. There is one slight problem, however: the last two times that I have tried to use it to pay for something, I was told by the retailer that they didn't accept the card. It happened today in the garage, while the time before was just surreal. You see, that time it was the bank who said they couldn't accept the card. Let me explain. I used to pay my credit card bill via my on-line bank account. Recently, however, my bank has been taken over by the Halifax building society. When the Halifax's on-line banking system was superimposed over the Bank of Scotland's, the BofS system simply stopped working, and several calls to the helpline have proven to be futile. Not to worry, I thought, I still have telephone banking... except that too was getting the Halifax treatment. Now the situation is much worse. My credit card is issued by the BofS, and in the past when I wanted to pay something towards it, I simply called the bank and transferred funds from my current account via my Switch card. This worked until the bank replaced my Switch card with their new Visa Electron chip and pin. When I asked to transfer money from my current account to my Visa using the card the bank had issued, I was told that they can't accept their own card, and that I would have to go to a branch to make the transfer. They say the new cards are designed to prevent fraud! What better way to prevent fraud than to issue cards that no-one - not even the bank itself - accepts. Pure genius!

19.1.05

Return of the flu


I really should have known better. I checked up on Cathie, who seems much better, then went down to file my income tax. Apart from the usual cold symptoms, I felt fine. Got back into the house and fell asleep - something I never do during the day - and woke up about four hours later aching and sweating. The flu has made its return. Rather than bore you with how bad I'm feeling (I guess I'm not the first, and that I won't be the last to get flu), I'm just going to sign off and head up to bed in the hope that I'm better tomorrow.

18.1.05

Bricks, bridges and rivets


Never mind the thermometer, it's time to get the Sinex out. I felt okay this morning. I even went over to check up on Cathie and take her her newspapers before wandering down to Magdalen Green and then along the Riverside to the bookshop. I left the house knowing exactly what I wanted to photograph. I was to be disappointed, however, as there was nowhere near as much snow down at the river as there was where I live. Best laid plans, and all that. Anyway, I took a few photos of the Magdalen Green bandstand and the rail bridge before nipping into the supermarket cafe for an all day breakfast and a read at Digital Photography. Duly fed and caffeined-up to brave the bitter wind coming in off the Tay, I set off for the bookshop to finally spend the gift vouchers that have been burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas. I treated myself to Henri Cartier-Bresson's book 'Europeans'. There are some awesome photographs in this book, which hopefully I will be able to learn from. You never know... stranger things have happened!!! Back to the tale. I felt great while I was walking about this morning. As soon as I got back into the house, I started to feel awful: my nose is blocked and running, my eyes are sore and I have a headache. I don't think this is the flu, though, because I don't have a temperature. Just a cold, but I wish it would go away.

17.1.05

An entrance or a hindrance?


Although I wouldn't say that I am fully recovered, I am certainly the least affected of all of us. Yesterday every bone and muscle in my body was aching, my temperature was hovering around the 102 degree mark, my nose was blocked and I had a thumping headache. Now, I have a semi blocked nose and a sore back. Linda, however, has been pole-axed, and unable to do a thing; Liam has come out in sympathy with her. Linda's mum is laid low as well, and refuses to take the medicine the doctor prescribed. So, not long out of my sickbed myself, and I am nursing three patients! Not that I mind, because I am well looked after on the rare occasions I get ill, and they are the people I love after all! Quid pro quo. Strange thing happened at the library. Linda had several books overdue, so I said I would return them and pay the fines after I had looked in on Cathie. So off I went, and handed the books over to the librarian and asked her how much was due (I knew how much was owing, because we had checked over the internet from home, I just wanted to make sure that it hadn't gone up). The librarian refused to tell me, because the books were out on my wife's ticket. I told her that I knew that we owed £2.40, and that I would like to pay it while I was there. She said that she could not confirm that the fine was £2.40. I insisted she took the money, which she did, saying that she couldn't tell me if that was the total fine cleared. I just thought 'whatever' as I waited for my receipt. I reached out for my receipt, and the librarian tore it up and put it in the bin, saying that I couldn't have it! I asked her why. She said that it was because of data protection legislation. I asked her to explain just how data protection legislation is applicable for till receipts that solely state that a certain amount of money was paid into a certain till at a certain time on a certain date. She said that it was because I was paying a fine that I shouldn't know about, and that she couldn't give me proof that I had paid it, or anything towards it. I asked if the receipt made any mention of the books, my wife's name, her library card number, or anything at all that could identify either my wife or why the money was paid. She rang it up again and gave me the receipt. When I got back home I checked on the internet to make sure that she had marked the fines as being paid. She had. Later on in the evening I went for a walk up round Baldovan - the first time I have managed to get out since last Wednesday. While I was out, I came across a small wood covered with snowdrops. I got to thinking: the snowdrops are blooming and it's getting lighter at night... that can only mean one thing: it's mid-January! Got back home just ahead of the snow. Apparently we are in for a few days of blizzards. Just as long as it all calms down on Saturday.

16.1.05

Flu


Sorry to be brief, but I've finally caught what Liam had and am presently laid up with the flu. Normal service will be resumed ASAP

15.1.05

Wish you were here


We were off on the road again: back to Edinburgh to collect Linda and her mum from the airport after their curtailed short break to Amsterdam. Apparently they had a very good time, until last night, when they both took ill. The drive home was a race against the clock, as the passengers were all suffering: Liam with his cough and sore throat; Linda and Cathy with their food poisoning. We almost made it without incident. On the way south, Liam and I stopped off at a very windy and cold North Queensferry, where I wanted to take a few shots of one of Scotland's iconic structures, the Forth Rail Bridge. From the road bridge, North Queensferry and the rail bridge look lovely: from North Queensferry, the rail bridge is one impressive building, and the road bridge looks very similar to Lisbon's Ponte 25 de Abril. From North Queensferry, North Queensferry was depressing. But, hey, it might just have been the weather.

14.1.05

Off on my travels again


Thanks everyone for your well wishes, I am glad to report that I have successfully nursed Liam back to health. Although his throat is sore, and he still has a chesty cough, his temperature and appetite are back to normal. He is currently bouncing about the living room, moving between the DVD that he is sort of half watching and the strategy game on his PC. On another note, I must say that I am getting a bit tired of travelling back and forwards to Lisbon. It costs me quite a lot of money (as Mr Inland Revenue will attest): money that could be spent going to more exotic locations. As a bit of a diversion this lunch hour, I went on to the Expedia site and had a look at the cost of flights to some of the destinations in the world that I would like to visit in the not too distant future. I am going to Lisbon next Saturday for a week, and the air tickets cost me just under £200. A return ticket from Edinburgh to JFK, on the same dates, would cost me £235, while a return to Boston was £245, Seattle would set me back £320 and LAX £290. Makes you think. Just out of interest, I checked for flights later in the year, working to the conventional wisdom that the further in advance you book and pay, the less you pay. This general rule does not seem to hold true for US destinations, as the cheapest return I could get to anywhere in the States in July would cost me almost £700. If I can get flights to the States for under £300 before Easter, though, then I think I would like to go over for a few days at the end of February or the beginning of March. Now, are there any Americans out there prepared to give me a roof over my head for a few days!? What? D'ya think I'm joking?

13.1.05

Salted peanut pile


Well, this morning was much nicer, and I managed to drop Linda and her Mum off safe and sound at Edinburgh Airport. The journey went without incident, at least until we caught the early rush-hour traffic about 2 miles north of the Forth Bridge. I looked at the clock... plenty of time to get to the airport, so I just relaxed. I think I was the only unconcerned driver, judging by the amount of lane changing that was going on in front of me, and the number of people who were speeding up the hard shoulder without a care for anyone who may have to use it for the purpose for which it is provided. I know that there are cameras everywhere on the approaches to the bridge, and I know that the technology exists to capture the registration numbers of the dangerous drivers. They should send them out hefty fixed penalty fines. So, no real drama. Unless, of course, you want to class Liam getting the 'flu a drama. So the wee soul started getting hot last night, prompting Linda to declare that she and her Mum were not going to go to Amsterdam. I told her not to be so daft, and assured her that I am perfectly capable of caring for my son. He slept on the journey south, and was chatting away on the road back home. He started to get a bit hot when we got in, so now he is lying dozing on the couch, pumped full of paracetamol to bring his temperature down, and surrounded with bottles of water and apple juice and bowls of ice-cream. He was burning up this afternoon, but he seems to have cooled down a bit now - the paracetamol is kicking in. Hopefully he's over the worst of it, because he can't have any more medicine until 4am. I think I might be needing to run a luke warm bath for him! Anyway, given that the Boy is ill, I haven't had a chance to take any photos today. Nevertheless, I just happened to chance upon this little mound of salted peanuts. Enjoy, for as much as I would like to hang about here, I must go and tend to my son. (Give me my halo now, please).

12.1.05

Blowing in the wind


Wow! What a day that was. It started very, very early, and very, very badly. We were all up by 5.30am, and on the road one hour later. We didn't get very far, as the police had closed the Friarton Bridge over the Tay at Perth. It had been a windy night last night, but I hadn't realised just how windy. Hurricane force winds had wreaked havoc across the country, with the Western Isles bearing the brunt of the storm. While the force of the gales had dissipated somewhat by the time they reached the east coast, we were still facing gusts of over 100 miles per hour - more than enough to overturn high sided vehicles, bring down trees and street signs and spread dangerous debris across roads. Once at Perth we decided that it would be foolhardy to continue, so we turned back. Once back in the house I rebooked the flights for tomorrow and told the hotel that we would be a day late. The airline company charged me £130 over the internet for changing my booking, and the hotel booking agent told me that the hotel had refused a refund for the night we wouldn't be there. Bearing in mind the circumstances, I was livid at having to pay more for less, so I phoned the airline. It was a mistake, they said: since the flight had been cancelled, I shouldn't have been charged. They apologised profusely and promised to refund the money immediately: so well done EasyJet. Next the hotel. I phoned the hotel directly, and they assured me that they would not charge for tonight, and that they were surprised to hear that the booking agent had said otherwise. I phoned the booking agent again, and hopefully that will be sorted out too. By the time all of this was sorted out it was mid morning, the sun was shining and you would never believe that we had just experienced the worst storms in over a decade: a storm that had brought the country's public transport systems to a complete standstill for most of the day, and which has cost at least five people their lives. I wanted to make the most of the nice weather, so I wandered up round Baldovan to Pitempton to have a look at the Dronley Burn, which is running swiftly and contentedly within its own banks. So.. no floods and no fallen trees: just the occasional piece of debris on the road and the odd overturned wheelie bin! Surreal. Managed to speak to Silvia and told her that I would be over in Lisbon next Saturday, and that we need to get the Burns' Supper organised. This time it is at her flat... I'll be sure to share the event with you. As for now: well, tomorrow we head out for Edinburgh once more. This time we should be okay.

11.1.05

On reflection...


Today, spontaneously, I did something that I haven't done in almost a year. I went to the Library and did some research. Now, before you all collapse in disbelief, let me quickly add that it is not the first time I have been to any library in the past year. Goodness knows I have been in plenty over the past few months... well, when I say plenty, what I really mean is that I've been to the National Library in Lisbon quite a lot - plenty of times, in fact. No, what I am saying is that it is almost a year since I've been to Dundee University Library. So, today I went again. There are an awful lot more computers than I remember, but apart from that, it is largely unchanged. Well, after showing Linda how to register with the Athens journal database, I plonked myself downstairs and surrounded myself and my laptop with The Times indices for 1918 and 1919. The whole day - and I really mean the whole day - was then spent creating a database of all articles published in The Times about Portugal. This database is something that I have been working on for a couple of years now, and is not restricted to material from The Times. It is basically a searchable archive of just about every piece of primary published material from a variety of sources (Portuguese and foreign newspapers, magazine articles, speeches, etc.). The database links to copies of the actual document in PDF form. I have found it incredibly useful, as everything is hyperlinked and sortable and stored on a CD, it has been an invaluable aid to my research. It would be nice to get funding to make it more professional and more widely available... as if that's ever likely to happen. At lunchtime, I headed over to the Students' Union, and gasped in awe at its new extension. I had my usual egg mayonnaise roll with some milk, followed by an apple, all the time reading about the latest woes on the Scottish football scene, what with Celtic's Brazilian playmaker getting fed-up warming the bench and looking for a move back to more tropical climes. I looked out the window at the gathering storm, and wondered who could blame him for wanting away. Tomorrow, gale force winds permitting, Linda and her Mum are off to Amsterdam. I wish I was going. But then, on reflection as I listen to the slates rattling on the roof (which is where I sincerely hope they will stay), perhaps I would prefer not to be stepping on an aeroplane tomorrow.

10.1.05

Weather spiralling out of control


My intention this morning was to head up to Pitempton to see how the Dronley Burn was doing after all the wind and rain of the past few days. When I was last there, the level of the burn had risen about eight inches, and it had already burst its banks in a few places between Bridgefoot and Pitempton. It was threatening to overwhelm the bridge at Bridgefoot, and had already burst over the old road bridge at Pitempton, and some of the houses in the area in between these two places had new swimming pools in their back gardens. The weather has been absolutely appalling, and the city of Carlisle was flooded when the River Eden burst its banks. Carlisle is a place I know well from my BT days when I spent a lot of time there planning the route of the fibre cables from Carlisle to Dumfries. Although the area south of Gretna is technically England, our territory extended to Longtown, which is about 2 miles south of the border, and about 6 miles from Carlisle - so we took responsibility for taking the cables all the way to the English city's telephone exchange, then our colleagues in Penrith took over. Way back then, I had a girlfriend from Harker, just outside Longtown, who was studying at Strathclyde University. Anyway, I digress. With the terrible weather, and the news telling us that there were flood alerts on the River Tay at Perth and Dunkeld (and quite possibly Dundee as well), I was thinking that the Dronley Burn must be on the verge of bursting out of its banks at Pitempton, and I thought that, given there are only fields at that part, it might make an interesting photo. However, the fates conspired against me, and I ended up not having the time to get over. You see, I have too much work to be getting one with -- taking notes, fiddling... filling out my tax return (nothing like leaving it until the very last minute!), arguing with Portuguese people who insist they know the name of my country better than I do, etc. -- to be galavanting off photographing flooded burns, and by the time my working day is over, it is far too dark to be galavanting off trying to photograph flooded burns - even if I could see them. Never mind: tomorrow is another day.

9.1.05

Old Firm victory for the Bhoys!


There's nothing like a good game of football (of the European style, that is) to compensate for the miserable Scottish winter weather. Today's game was nothing like a good game of football, but that didn't really matter, because there is nothing like watching your team beat their most bitter rivals to make up for spending the afternoon watching a poor game of football. Even better, is watching your opponents being knocked out of the cup. Old Firm derbies are rarely attractive games to watch: there is no flowery passing and intricate footwork on display. It is not the stage for twinkletoed players, such as Barcelona's Ronaldinho or Deco, or Real's Zidane or Figo. The tackles are hard and often mistimed, the hackles are up, and even foreign players who have no prior experience or knowledge of the history, culture and traditions of the two teams and their supporters, tend to get caught up in the atmosphere. Sometimes the passion explodes in unwanted directions, and on at least one occasion back in the mid-1980s - when Rangers were full of England internationalists, such as Terry Butcher, Graeme Roberts and Ray Wilkins - the police had to get involved when fighting broke out between the players. For a few years, until quite recently, the game was played in the proper sporting spirit (at least between most of the players), and apart from a couple of hotheads on both teams (both foreigners, strangely enough), the games were noted for all the right reasons. Lately, however, there has been a return to the nonsense, and during the last Old Firm games, two Celtic players got sent off, while one player from each team was investigated by the authorities for 'ungentlemanly conduct' (they were kicking lumps out of each other). Today's game didn't explode, which was as much down to the refereeing as to anything the players were doing, because the boots were going in raised, and no-one was shirking from making physical contact. It is said that the Old Firm derby is one of the most passionate games in world football. I don't know about that, but even although the teams play each other at least four times each season, it is always much talked about both during the run up, and in the wake of it. As I have said, it is rarely a pretty game to watch, but it is no worse a spectacle for that. Now if only we could do something about the religious bigotry that is associated with it...

8.1.05

Seen better days


To make up for the fact that I didn't manage to get out for a walk yesterday, I decided that today's perambulation would be a long one. The initial plan was to head up past Bridgefoot and on up the hill towards Auchterhouse, cutting off at the Dronley Road towards Rosemill then on down through Dronley to Birkhill and up past Clatto, and from their back home. All in all, this is probably about 6 miles. A quick glance out of the window was enough to scupper this idea. No way was I going to walk all that way in the sleet. I still went for a walk, though: only I didn't go quite so far. Bridgefoot and back, with a 40 minute coffee pause in the end-rigg of a field, was as much as I was prepared to do. While I was wandering, I came across this old Merc that was definitely past its best (a bit like me, really). As well as noticing this old Merc, I saw that the Dronley Burn has burst its banks in several places, and that some of the bridges over it were struggling to allow the water flow under them. The angry brown water had replaced the calm and clear flow that was a haven for the ducks only last week. The longer I was out, the worse the weather got, until it reached the stage where my Goretex jacket was letting in water. I made my way home quite briskly, and arrived at the front door resembling a snowman. Still, it is mid-winter, so I should really expect this. A little later in the day, I dropped in on Gavin on my way to the supermarket. Now I am back in the house, beginning to get excited about the big game tomorrow: Celtic v. Rangers in the Scottish Cup. Come on the Bhoys! Keep your fingers crossed for the Celts.

7.1.05

Hanging in the air


This day has just flown past in a blur of Quark Express, Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word files flashing across the screens of my computers. Now it's past 5pm, and I don't feel as if a child has been washed. At least the phone didn't ring... that's a good thing, right!? I got annoyed at Linda for going into the office that she no longer works at to do work that she's not supposed to be doing: she's on study leave for 18 months, and she's had to accept a fairly hefty pay cut while she's completing the course, so I really don't think that she should be worrying about her old job when she has an essay due. I mean, she's not being paid, and she could be down the library getting prepared for the new term. She's either too conscientious, avoiding writing the essay, or just wants to be out of the house and away from me (I suspect that it's a combination of the three). Back in my mundane world, I sat working at my computers, and before I knew it it was cold, windy and dark: far too cold, windy and dark for photography (although I have still to take my walk, so you never know). I spent some time last night processing some of the photographs I took while out with Gavin on Wednesday, and which I have yet to upload. I came across a stock photography agency, and followed their instructions on how to prepare images for submission to them. This involved downloading a trial version of the Genuine Fractals plugin, and bumping up the images to 48Mb tiffs. I compared the normal Photoshop interpolation with the GF, and have to admit that it is like comparing night and day. I have since registered with an agency, but I'm afraid that my Fuji doesn't produce images that come up to scratch, so I won't be submitting until I get the DSLR. Still, I will be able to practice until then. Since I haven't been able to get out today, I thought that I would share with you the image that I was working on last night, and which I now have as a 48Mb tiff (in both colour and b&w). I hope you don't mind too much.

6.1.05

A means to an end


The phone just didn't stop ringing this afternoon. I hardly got a moment's piece to get on with the work I have to do, what for people phoning me up and asking me how I'm getting on with the work I have to do! It all started just after lunch. I was working on an article all morning, then I nipped down to the Post Office to post a few letters. I got a newspaper and then went back to the house to have some lunch and a coffee. Then all hell broke loose. First I had to phone Portugal to ask someone to check on the office computer for some articles that I needed emailed to me. The person I spoke to couldn't find the articles, so he said he would go and speak to someone and get back to me. Okay, I thought. I put the phone down and it started ringing almost immediately. Another Portuguese person wanted to go over an article of his that I had proofed: he insisted that I was wrong in changing Great Britain to the United Kingdom (yeah! as if I don't know the name of my own country!). With that sorted out, I put the phone down again and got ready to work on the article on my laptop again. No sooner had I begun than the phone rang again. The first person I spoke to couldn't find anyone that could help him find the material on the computer, but while he was asking around, someone else asked him to ask me to phone someone else about something else completely. This I did. While I was speaking to this other person on my office phone, the home phone started ringing. My academic supervisor wanted to know if I had finished the two articles, that only two days earlier were not urgent, because now they were needed urgently. I told him I was speaking to someone else on my other line, and if he could call back in ten minutes. Just then the doorbell rang: Linda had forgotten her keys. Things calmed down for about 20 minutes, then my supervisor rang back. I told him I had lots of work on my hands just now, and that I had to prioritise. He had told me his work wasn't too urgent, so I was doing something else that was more urgent. He said that I needed to turn some work away, since I can't do everything. It is, of course, easy for him to say that with his tenured position and income from newspaper columns and radio broadcasts and his four houses in two countries! I simply can't afford to turn people away - because I know full well that if I do, they won't come back. I also know that the work comes in peaks and troughs. I can go weeks with very little, then, bang, all of a sudden I have seven or eight jobs at the same time. I suppose I can't really complain: the work is not particularly demanding, and it is very well paid. With all of this going on, I didn't get a chance to go for a walk until after 6pm, when Linda and I walked round to Pitempton and back. I also haven't had much of a chance to take any photographs, so I have to burden you with a desktop macro of what all the day's hassle has been about: dosh, dinheiro, massa, moolah, folding stuff... money.

5.1.05

Blown away


Some days are good, some are excellent, while every now and again one that is sublime comes along. Today was one of those days. I met up with Gavin and we set off for Arbroath for our wander along the clifftops with the occasional foray down a precipitous path to the beaches below for some respite from the gale that was howling around us. While the wind blew with all its might, and many a gust threatened to carry us off into the North Sea, the rain stayed away, and the temperature remained reasonable. The biggest problem we had (or I had) was keeping the camera glass clear of salt spray from the sea. We set out at about 10.30am, and walked almost all of the way to Auchmithie, which is, Gavin informed me, the village in which the famous Arbroath Smokies were first produced. There is not much left at Auchmithie now but a few houses perched on top of a cliff overlooking a small bay and the remains of what must once have been a thriving fishing harbour. It is still possible to imagine what it must have been like when it was full of fishing boats, fishwives and smoke houses. Unfortunately, however, all there is now is a sign telling people that they are not allowed to park caravans, a few old rowing boats and a couple of sheds. As we walked back to the car, we happened across an old car battery that had been dumped. We wondered what kind of person would want to carry an old and heavy car battery for three miles along a cliff top just to leave it littering the countryside, rather than take it to their local garage where it could be disposed of safely and at no cost. I guess some people just like making a mess. On another note, Gavin knows that I'm in the market for a DSLR, and that while I am leaning towards the 20D, I am not unwilling to consider other alternatives (such as the Fuji S2 Pro, the 10D or even a D70). To help me with my decision (and to push me in the Nikon direction) he offered to loan me his brand new D70 for a couple of days. I was flabbergasted at his amazing offer. Of course I thanked him profusely as I declined: I wouldn't want to deprive him of his new camera. In any event, I would be far too scared to use it in case I damaged it. Just goes to show you what a nice guy he is, though. Thanks again for the offer, Gavin: it blew me away!

4.1.05

Country house


City dweller, successful feller, thought to himself: 'Oops! I've got a lot of money'... I know that it's not everyone's cup of tea, and I am aware that Pbase has been slower than frozen treacle of late, but I have been putting a lot of effort into my black and white galleries, Colourless I and Colourless II, and I would appreciate some visitors (and, more importantly, comments). Now, no-one knows better than me that it is a nightmare posting comments just now, and none of us know when, or even if, this problem is going to be resolved. Personally, I love black and white photography, and a couple of weeks ago I decided that I was going to spend the time until February concentrating on improving my B&W abilities. Should I finally take the plunge and attempt to sell my photographs, it is the black and white ones that I would like to sell (although I'm not fussy - I'll sell colour ones too!). So, friends and amigos, please, please, please have a look at my colourless galleries and tell me what you think - can't you see that I'm desperate! Talking about things desperate, Pbase just now is becoming a bit of a bind. I am not going to get involved in the forum debate about what kind of service we should expect for US$23 (which is about £14 - not very much at all), but I will say this: Pbase's main strength - its biggest advantage over similar photography sites (whether more expensive or not) - is the Pbase community. Put quite simply, it is the members who have made Pbase what it is. Now Pbase is in danger of losing that, as it is now incredibly difficult to post comments on images. When the community is prevented from communicating, the community collapses - and we are seeing signs of that already, if many of the messages on the forum are anything to go by. Pbase has become an important part of my daily routine, and I would be loath to leave here, but this situation simply can't go on - and it is not good enough for the apologists to say that 'we get what we pay for', because recently we haven't. Now, go and look at my colourless galleries and comment on the pictures if you can ;-)

3.1.05

Hearts a-bubble in the rubble


Oh well. That's the holidays just about over: tomorrow it is back to the grind. All the build up to Christmas and Hogmanay, then it's all over in a flash. On Wednesday the decorations come down, and on Thursday Liam goes back to school. Linda and her Mum are off to Amsterdam on the 12th, and I will be off to Lisbon probably on the 19th. It is looking like I will be celebrating Burns' Night in Lisbon again, at the Cervejaria Erasmus da Graça (relocated to Alcântara). I have passed the last three Burns' Nights in Lisbon: three years ago at Carmen's flat near Graça, two years ago in Sílvia's flat in Intendente, and last year in my flat in Alcântara. I actually quite enjoy having Burns' Night in Portugal: it gives me an opportunity to share a little of my culture and my national traditions with my Portuguese and Spanish friends. It certainly makes a change from simply sharing theirs. Obviously, the ingredients for a Burns' Supper are impossible to obtain in Portugal. While the cock-a-leekie soup is easily made with Portuguese produce, the haggis and turnips are a different matter altogether. My January baggage, therefore, always contains at least two Macsween's (non-vegetarian) haggises, two decent sized Scottish turnips, a box of Orkney oatcakes, a tin of butter shortbread and a bottle of Macallan's 12 year-old finest Speyside malt whisky (both for flavouring the haggis and toasting the lassies, laddies, floor, curtains, plates, etc., etc.). Since we don't have a piper, we have to make do with a selection of Scottish music - both traditional and modern - on CD, following which we dim the lights, light the candles and read from assorted Burns' poems - beginning with my tortuous renditions of Address to a Haggis and Tam O'Shanter, followed by my Portuguese friends' favourite, Twa Dugs (don't ask me why - all of Burns' poems are written in 18th century Scots' vernacular, which many Scots find difficult to understand, so I suspect that my Portuguese friends don't understand a word). Isn't it amazing the things you think of when you are out walking? Take this for a for-instance: as I was walking through Pitempton, I was thinking about Robert Burns and Burns' Night when I happened across this fence post and gate wrapped in barbed wire. I thought about the new law that has come into force, opening up all of the Scottish countryside to walkers (there is no trespass law in Scotland - in fact, there is a right to roam the land - even private land - as long as it is done responsibly and with respect for the landowner's privacy). Well, I saw this barbed wire and thought about Burns, when all of a sudden I started singing (in my head) the Stiff Little Fingers' song, Barbed Wire Love. By coincidence, Stiff Little Fingers' lead singer's name was Burns... Jake Burns. Spooky or what :D

2.1.05

Doing the Strathmartine Stroll


Woke up this morning and looked out the window to see a winter wonderland all the way up the Sidlaws. During the night it had snowed, and there was a light sprinkling of about a quarter inch on the ground. Not being a great fan of the stuff in the city, I nevertheless do like it in the country, and as my morning walk was taking me into the country, its presence put me in a very good spirit indeed. I leapt out of bed, ran downstairs, made coffees, teas and toasts for assorted family members (myself included), fed Mizzy, put my hiking boots on, wrapped myself up nice and warm and set out with no clear idea of where my walk would take me. As it happened, I wandered off in the direction of Bridgefoot, although, not wanting to simply repeat yesterday's walk (albeit in the opposite direction), I cut off along a farm track just before I left the county of Dundee for that of Angus. The weather was wonderful, if a little cold, and the only people I met along the way were people out walking their dogs. I enjoy the cameraderie that is inherent to walking, for once you are in the country - even if you are only a stone's throw from the city's suburbs, people tend to become more friendly, and complete strangers greet you as you pass by. I like the civility of it, and the way there seems to be an unspoken, but widely understood, rule as to when this behaviour kicks in. For example, the newsagent's shop is barely 500m from the end of the city: a row of houses then we are in fields. No-one would dream of saying 'hello' to a complete stranger outside the shop, or anywhere along the row of houses; however, walk on a few hundred yards, then cut down the farm track, and all of a sudden everyone you meet is greeting everyone else. Very strange, but, as I said, very nice. My walk took me up along snow covered paths, then along snow covered lanes beside fields that were blanketed. I cut through a small wood, then climbed the embankment at Clatto Reservoir and walked along the path to the small jetty. I stood there for about 30 minutes just watching the swans, ducks and assorted sea-birds. I was totally enthralled and completely forgot that there were people waiting at home for the rolls, milk and newspapers I had promised to pick up. So, day 2 of my walking regime went well. Weather permitting, day 5 will be spent wandering along the Arbroath cliffs with Gavin (and any other Scottish Pbaser who wants to join us). As for days 3 and 4... well, we'll just play them by ear.

1.1.05

As I walked along the road


A new year and a new determination. Last year I decided to stop smoking, this year I decided to start walking. Giving up smoking was nowhere near as difficult as I expected it to be: now I feel physically ill when I smell cigarette smoke - so much so that I can't go into places where I know there will be smoking going on. I only hope that my 2005 resolution is as successfully maintained, you see, since I stopped smoking, I have started putting on weight - quite a lot of weight, it has to be said. My sedentary lifestyle has not really helped the cause of keeping the pounds off, and since Liam started secondary school last August, I have not needed to cycle the four miles to pick him up, then walk the four miles back. I am also afraid that I am at that age when unhealthy and unfit Scottish men succumb to illness. So, I intend to walk at least two miles every day - and hopefully, as I get fitter and faster, to increase this to eight miles. Once the weather begins to improve, I will be out on the bike again. Until then, it is walking that I have to do. So, armed with this new determination, I was up at a reasonably early 10am (well, it is New Year's Day!). I looked out the window, and noted that the weather was fine, so off I went up past Pitempton to Kirkton of Strathmartine, then on to Bridgefoot and back home via the newsagent's. It was great. As you might imagine, there was hardly a soul about, so I had the roads all to myself and plenty of time for thinking about things that annoy me: intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, fanaticism and stupidity - the kind who write pathetic comments about how the Asian tsunami was the Christian God wreaking his vengeance on evil Muslims and Hindus, and how they all deserved it (see some of the comments that the lunatic fringe have left in Hellmut Issel's gallery to see what I mean). I was going to write about these people, but then I thought what advantage is there in bringing the wrath of the intolerant, bigoted, stupid and ignorant fanatics upon myself: nothing I can say will change their pathetic minds, so why should I bother. Better just to ignore them and hope they go away. This I decided whilst walking on the road (to paraphrase one of Scotland's best folk songwriters, Dick Gaughan). Perhaps on tomorrow's walk I will decide that the fanatical ignoramuses ought to be challenged at every possible opportunity. Who knows. We'll see. In the meantime, I hope you all had a good time last night, and that you're not suffering from too much of a good time (unless, of course you are an intolerant, bigoted, ignorant, stupid fanatic, in which case I hope you have the hangover from Hell).