The Amazing Shrinking Squonky

It has been a while since I said anything here about my walking commute, so time for a quick update.

I still haven’t weighed myself. I know that at some point I’m probably going to have to, if only to look at things like Body Mass Index. But despite not having weighed myself I know that the weight is dropping off - well, the size certainly is, so the weight must be.

I had been watching my belt gradually going further on, notch by notch. By measuring the space between the notch I was on when I started the walking commute and the notch I’m on now I made a rough guess that I’d lost 4 inches from my waist.

Over all this time my clothes had all been getting steadily baggier and more sack like. Finally it had got to the point where I really had to go get a few new clothes. On Monday evening I headed out to pick up some new stuff for work and some new stuff to kick around at home in.

My rough guess of having lost 4 inches was spot on. I was chuffed, to say the least. Okay, I still have a lot more to lose, but it really is bloody well working! If ever I needed a motivating moment then Monday evening’s clothes shopping certainly gave me a boost. I know that if I can keep this up then by around June I’ll probably be about the same size as I was when I was around 18 years old. That kinda blows my mind. It was an odd feeling buying clothes and wondering how much smaller I was rather than wondering if I’d got yet bigger.

And how much more simple could it be? Just walking to and from work around 3 days a week is seeing me lose around an inch a month from my waist. I still have the goal of wanting to walk on 4 days of the week. The plan would be to walk Monday, Tuesday then give myself a rest on Wednesday and walk on Thursday and Friday. Sometimes work commitments are going to get in the way of that, and sometime I guess I just have to accept that I will not feel like walking. I think that so far I’ve only managed to walk 4 days of the week on one occasion. So yes, my target is to make that ‘the norm’.

And yes, it is simple - just as long as I can get myself out of bed in time to do it. It takes an hour to walk into work, and then I need a bit of time to get a shower and get changed at the other end so if I oversleep I just can’t do it. That has been the biggest problem of recent weeks. As long as I’m out of bed in time then I’m fine. No problems with energy, no problems with my legs or my feet. Maybe I just need to get some earlier nights!

The last few weeks have presented some problems. Yes, we had a tiny little fall of snow. I managed to walk in to work through the snow okay, but walking home was bad. The snow had got compacted into ice and it was as slippery as hell. I walked the first half mile or so of the route home and then decided it just wasn’t worth the risk of slipping over and breaking something, so I swallowed my pride and caught the bus the rest of the way.

And then I came down with the ‘flu - a pretty nasty dose and that kept me down to just two days walking that week. I’m pretty well over that now thank goodness.

A quick update on kit. I’m still using the same Merrell shoes and those fantastic Thousand Mile Socks. There are some signs of wear on the soles of the shoes, only to be expected from all that trudging over tarmac and concrete. However, I’m sure there’s months of wear left in them yet, so they will have been a very good investment. I could easily have got through a couple of pairs of trainers with the punishment I’m putting these through.

So, feeling pretty positive about the walking commute right now. It is having the desired effect, I feel ‘better’, stronger and fitter. I feel more alert on days that I walk. Oh and on Tuesday morning I had another reminder of just how bad the traffic can be. I drove in to work that day and it took me no less than 1 hour 5 minutes. The night before I’d walked home in just 58 minutes. Crazy!


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El Laberinto del Fauno

Last night I finally got to see ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. I’d been keen to see it ever since release, but no cinema around here showed it at the time. It did get an airing at Leicester’s Phoenix Arts, but I only found out about it at the very same time they were having their last screening, just before Christmas.

So, I was delighted to find out that the local Vue had it on, one night only, and I went down to see it with a colleague from work. I’m guessing that it didn’t get a wider release at the time due to it being a Spanish movie with subtitles - the major cinema chains just want to get bums on seats at the end of the day. With it picking up five Oscar nominations (3 of which it won) maybe somebody thought it might be worth showing.

I had been attracted to the movie in the first place by seeing some stills and the trailer (during one of those rare occasions I bother to go and see what trailers are awaiting me in Apple’s Front Row). The design and artistry had really pulled me in and I think the movie thoroughly deserved its Oscar for Best Art Direction.

But I’m jumping the gun a little. The movie, set in Spain 1944, tells the grim story of Ofelia, a young girl who’s head is filled with fairy stories and who gets uprooted from her familiar surroundings when her mother marries Captain Vidal, an officer in Franco’s army. It very quickly becomes clear that Vidal is a totally brutal and ruthless man who has no interest in being a stepfather to Ofelia and who’s only concern is for his own child, being carried by Ofelia’s mother at the start of the film.

Ofelia’s refuge from the brutality that surrounds her is her interest in fairy stories, and the old ruins which sit alongside the mill that Captain Vidal is using as his headquarters whilst hunting out Maquis guerrillas in the surrounding hills and forests.

As the ‘real world’ atrocities unfold, Ofelia enters the ruins and encounters a faun who gives her a series of tasks she must complete before the next full moon. These tasks plunge Ofelia into the Underworld, encountering strange and dangerous creatures and the viewer is kept wondering about the true motives of the faun right up to the very closing scenes of the film.

I don’t want to reveal anything more about the plot as to do so would be to spoil your enjoyment of the movie. I can say that it richly deserves its ‘15′ rating, there are scenes of torture and murder which make the film quite disturbing at times. As ever with scenes of this kind, it’s what you don’t see that really chills you to the pit of your stomach. Well, that and the knowledge that there were, are and alas always will be those in the world who will treat people in this way.

If you get the chance to see this movie then DO, but don’t go along expecting a cheery fairy tale, it is anything but. I found it a very refreshing change from the usual, run of the mill rubbish that the major studios seem to churn out ad infinitum.


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Back to Kew

palm house curves
Yesterday I was delighted to attend the 5th Tips From The Top Floor London GTG (’Get ToGether’). I’d been to the first two GTGs in 2006 and it was great to meet up with friends old and new once again. We returned to Kew Gardens for the event, a place brimming with interest for the photographer.

There is the obvious attraction of all the exotic and colourful flora of course, but on top of this there is some wonderful architecture and that tends to inspire my photography more.

The photo at the top of this entry is an abstract shot of The Palm House at Kew. Walking inside there on a cold, wet February day was something of a shock to the system - and the camera’s lens. We were all waiting around for ages for our glass to de-mist.

Once again, I really enjoyed the day and I came home with some photos that I’m pretty pleased with.

palm house guardian

pagoda


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Kirby Hall

lit stairwell
Another lovely January day here so I headed out with my camera this afternoon to try and make the most of it. Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire was the target. It’s a place I’ve visited many times over the years, but I always enjoy myself there with my camera. I tend to feel particularly inspired around old buildings. As a member of English Heritage I get in for free, and it’s not a long journey, about 25 miles from home.

Although I wasn’t conscious of it during the visit, it seems that I was concentrating on light shining through things just about the whole time I was there. I guess the sun was ideal for that today, low in the sky and bright. The shot at the top of this entry was taken on the ‘Grand Staircase’, where I spent several minutes playing with different compositions. I think this shot was my favourite of the day. I loved the way that each pane of glass in the windows had a slightly different effect on the light shining through them, and in this case I loved the way that the patches of light wrapped around a corner.

Some of my other shots from today will show what I mean about concentrating on light shining through things.

grand hall

missing roof missing windows

through the doorway


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Mr Blue Sky

Sunday morning started out well. I got out of bed and pulling my jeans on, noticed that the belt wanted to move on another notch! Woohoo, that’s now three notches further in than I was before I started doing the walking commute.

The next thing I noticed was that it was (gasp!) a sunny day! I can’t remember the last time we had one of those on a weekend. I had to get out somewhere with my camera - quickly! Getting my gear together I headed to Leicester’s Welford Road Cemetery - well, where else to go on a nice sunny day like this?

The decision was partially influenced by having recently bumped into an old friend, electronically at least - not seen them for several years and before last week I hadn’t heard from them in as long. I stumbled into them on Flickr and found that they had taken an almost identical shot to one of mine at Welford Road Cemetery. The world can be such a small place! I had also told myself to ‘come back soon’ during my last visit.
I was hoping that with a few more leaves off the trees a bit more light might fall where I wanted it.

I had great fun tramping around this magnificent Victorian sepulchral landscape for about a couple of hours. The sun stayed around and I found myself concentrating on carvings of angels. There were a couple that particularly captivated me during my last visit so I returned to give them both a slightly different treatment to last time.

With the first I decided to pull out my lovely Sigma 10-20mm lens. Holding the camera as close as I could to the ground and at arms length I managed to shoot the following image (and several other similar ones).

 

angel from the floor

I do love this lens. Great value for money and it can get you some incredible results. It’s the only ‘digital only’ lens I’ve bought. The focal range of 10-20mm becomes 16-32mm when used with my Canon 20D (1.6x effective focal length magnification) and the shot above was taken at the 16mm effective focal length end of the range. Makes me want to get a fish eye!

Although this lens is digital only, it does actually use the Canon EF mounting rather than the EFS, so you can fit it to a full frame camera - just expect some pretty heavy vignetting!

The second statue that had really caught my eye last time was another female figure, looking all romantically mournful as she clung tight to a cross. This time around, with some better light, I was able to get right in on her face and really pick out some details. I love the weathered texture on this statue.

 

weathered and mournful

Shot using a Sigma lens again, but this time the 70-300mm APO, another good investment that I made not long after I got the camera.

Oh, and today I have mostly been listening to Arctic Monkeys, following a recommendation from a friend on Friday night. We had this conversation during which I realised that I have remarkably little music from this century in my collection. Something that needs rectifying, especially now I’m staring down the barrel at the big 4 - 0 later in the year!

Possibly not the right music to listen to whilst trying to process photos taken at a cemetery, a bit too upbeat for that, but it fitted with my mood. A good day!

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Oh, it’s 2007?

weathered sandstone 2

The Christmas and New Year period passed without me posting here. Well, it was full of all the things that you normally do at that time of year. I did have a week or so off from work, but the weather was dismal and the only places I could think of to visit were closed.

So, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reading (H.G. Wells) listening to music (Genesis, Nick Drake) and processing photos I took a while ago.

I’m into my second week back at work now though - just don’t know where the time has gone to. And speaking of work, my resolve seems to have crumbled a bit on the walking commute front. I’m blaming the Christmas break myself. After a week of comfort and staying in bed as late as I liked (within reason) it has just seemed like such hard work to get out of bed and go walk. I only did 2 days out of 4 working days last week and this morning I woke up and just couldn’t shift myself. So, got to get back into a routine starting tomorrow. One good thing, on the days I did walk last week I felt like it was easier than ever. It’s not putting the effort in which is a problem for me with this - it’s dragging myself out of bed early enough to be able to walk 4.5 miles in time for work.

We did get out to Kenilworth Castle yesterday. It was dismal weather again, and it’s somewhere I’ve visited a lot, but it’s always good to be around old stone! I did take a few photos, and whilst nothing was spectacular (very dull and flat light) then I enjoyed taking them. The photo at the top of this posting was taken during the visit. The castle has some of the most wonderfully eroded sandstone I’ve seen.


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Bryter Layter - Later…

steve parker 3 bw

I’ve processed a few more photos from the Bryter Layter gig on Wednesday night and uploaded them to my Flickr account. I was quite pleased with the way the one above of Steve turned out - grainy and moody (apart from that tinsel).


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Bryter Layter

steve parker 2

Last night (Wednesday 20th December 2006) saw me back at my favourite local music venue, The Musician on Clyde Street, to see Bryter Layter. My old friend Kate Easton plays viola and sings in the band and for some odd reason I’d never seen them play, despite them having performed their ‘farewell concert’ a couple of years ago.

Bryter Layter perform a selection of Nick Drake (and more info here and here - just for starters) covers and their own compositions. The band consists of Steve Parker (voice/guitar), Kate Easton (voice/viola), Skatz (voice/guitar), Neil Segrott (wicked bass guitar), Nikki Cartwright (violin) and Andy Fitzsimons (percussion).

It was a great night, particularly as I’ve come to love the music of Nick Drake and Bryter Layter do such a good job of their renditions. Parker’s vocals seem perfect for the job, the guitar work is mind boggling to somebody like me who if given a guitar wouldn’t be able to do much more with it than chop it up for firewood. The ’string section’ supplements the guitars without being overbearing, which I think is all important with music as intimate as this. The same goes for the bass and percussion.

I took my camera along and fired off a few shots. I’ve yet to spend any proper time in processing them, just a quick crop and sharpen so far. I do find the lighting conditions at The Musician to be tricky for photography. I’d joked to Kate before the gig, asking if they could turn the lights up a bit. I stress I was joking - obviously it’s more important for the lighting to convey the correct atmosphere to the audience than to make life easier for an amateur snapper like me. Very low light, I was into ISO 3200 for pretty much all of the gig, even at f1.8 with my lovely little Canon 50mm. I did put a longer lens on with a smaller maximum aperture and I think it was worth it. I had the shutter speed way too low for the focal length I was using, but managed to get some acceptable close-ups all the same.

steve parker 1

kate easton 2

I just hate ‘noise’ (well, actually ‘noise’ in the way of grain can enhance a photo, but I like to decide when to add it for myself) - and shooting at ISO 3200 (got away with 1600 for a few shots) generates a lot of sensor noise. I might try a few black and white conversions, this can help to disguise quite a lot of the noise in shots like this. I’ve also played around with ‘Neat Image‘, but I always find it hard to decide between the noise or the smoothing effect that noise reduction software introduces.

I really enjoyed the music, even if I felt my photography didn’t come up to the mark (hey, I just need a faster long lens). It was a shame I had to leave before their second set, but there was work in the morning and I have to get up a bit earlier now that I’m walking to and from the office. I can only hope that at some point Bryter Layter will get together for another ‘farewell concert’ and that I’ll be able sit and enjoy the whole show.


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More Thoughts of a Walking Commuter

Finally I get a chance to update my blog! It has been a busy week or two on all fronts and right now I’m just really looking forward to getting a bit of a break over Christmas. It feels like ages since I’ve done anything with my camera and as I have two more days of annual leave to take before the end of the year I’m hoping to put that right soon.

Yes, I’m keeping up with the walking commute. Heaven knows if I really am losing any weight because I still can’t face the idea of stepping onto the scales. There’s also the thought that it seems pointless now, something I should have done before I started all this.

I was wondering whether I would have the fortitude to keep it going on cold, wet, dark days - but they don’t seem to be deterring me. Sure, I’ve had a couple of mornings when I’ve just not wanted to get out of bed - but they used to happen when I was driving to work too.

Blisters are no longer a problem, and haven’t been since I invested in the new shoes and the wonderful Thousand Mile Socks which I would heartily recommend to anyone. I’m getting faster (record time now 1 hour 2 minutes) sweating a bit less and not taking as long to recover - all signs of getting fitter I guess. And yes, I have recently had to move my belt to a previously unexplored notch!

A few reflections on the state of transport, with a particular emphasis on my walking experiences follow. I doubt that this will ever come to the attention of anyone at Leicester City Council - and if it does then I’m sure nothing will come of it other than maybe a sarcastic comment. I have such faith in government!

  • Pedestrian Crossings. These are pretty well useless. They have a button that I think is only there for the pedestrian to take out his / her frustration upon. I generally find that I press the button and then the light doesn’t change until after all the traffic has gone by anyway. Also they just seem to wait for a whole cycle of the traffic lights before they do anything. The amount of time they give you to cross the road is fine for me, but I would imagine that it’s nowhere near enough time for those who are little slower, have small children with them etc. Useful thing seen during my trip to Colorado earlier this year - pedestrian crossings that count down how much time you have left to cross the road in seconds. Good idea - why can’t we have those? Oh and make the lights give a bit more favour to the pedestrians please. Give us a chance to cross the road more often. Worst junction to cross : University Road and Regent Road. I have to wait for ages every time I cross this. Streams of cars and busses pass in all directions, great herds of pedestrians build up and wait for minute, after minute, after minute until a mad scramble to cross the road in the incredibly short time given to us. Leicester City Council, hint : this is University Road. There are a lot of students and students walk a lot.
  • Fumes. Humm, Leicester was declared Britain’s ‘First Environment City’ more years ago than I can remember (I’ve only just discovered this web site - I will be off to read it shortly). If this is the case then how come we have such an abysmal public transport system? How come that all the buses are puthering out such choking clouds of diesel? Why is it that I feel a need for a face mask to keep the pollution out of my lungs? (not wearing one yet - but it seems a sensible idea). It’s disgusting. We need more public transport and we need cleaner public transport. Where are the electric buses? Where are the trams? The Leicester Mercury has featured proposal after proposal for ‘new transport systems’ over the years (yes, I remember the diagrams showing just how the monorail would look when it was installed - that must be 20 years ago now). How come not one of them has ever actually happened?
  • Buses. When I first started this whole walking to work initiative I discovered that I could walk all the way into work in the same time it took to get the bus from door to door. That is frankly a terrible service. And for this service the bus company charges £1.50 each way. £3 a day when I can walk it in the same time? It’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned.
  • Motorists. And yes, I am still one of these, though not as often as previously. Motorists please remember to use your indicators - they’re those little orange flashing lights that tell people you’re intending to make a turn. I know it’s a lot of effort, I mean you have to move your fingers all of an inch or two to activate them - but your sacrifice really will be appreciated not only by other vehicles, but by people trying to cross side roads. Pedestrian crossings - these are those areas where people (children, your grandma and yes, even fat middle aged IT professionals) are trying to move to the other side of the road. They tend to be designated by traffic lights, stripes on the road - that kind of thing. People are both soft on the outside and crunchy on the inside and yes, they are real people with lives of their own and families and people who love them even though they are walking. Please do not move your car onto a pedestrian crossing if there is no space to move fully over it. Believe me, doing this does not make you look smart, it does not make you look clever - it makes you look a total tosser who doesn’t know how to drive. If you can’t see the pedestrian crossing then you really shouldn’t get into a car again until you’ve had your eyes checked. Same goes for if you can’t see to the other side of the pedestrian crossing for detection of enough free space for your car. Ok? I recently saw a news article on the BBC web site about some bollards that had been installed in Manchester that sink into the road to let busses pass and then rise up again after they’ve gone by (really, really well worth watching the video, so much so I’m going to repeat the link here though I had to change the link to YouTube as I couldn’t get the Beeb webby to play for some reason). We could do with those installing at pedestrian crossings. Maybe that would get the message over to drivers? We have those little square metal stud things in the road either side of the crossings (what do they actually do by the way?) - how about swapping those for some of these bollards? Please?


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You know it’s going to be a bad day when…

…You’ve walked to work, worked up a good sweat, go have a shower… and then the fire alarm goes off *rolls eyes*. I’m going to catch my death…

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