Sickness and Diseases

Okay, so here I am doing more to make myself fit and healthy than I have for erm, quite a long time. And as I sit here I have :-

  • a cold
  • sweat rash
  • knackered foot

All this ‘get fit’ stuff is bad for you!

The cold is one of what has seemed like a constant stream of them passed on from my daughter, Shelly this winter. Hard to remember a few days when I didn’t have a cold.

The sweat rash is from all the walking. Try and make a difference to your fitness and get landed with some other horrible disease. For a long time I thought it was just my eczema back again, so I treated it as such. Finally the penny dropped and the various sprays, ointments and general gunk I’m using right now seems to be making a difference.

The knackered foot - I can’t believe this. I was sat using the computer last night, stood up and felt something happen to my right foot. It felt like I’d pulled something, it was pretty minor so I thought nothing more of it and went to bed. This morning I awake to quite a lot of pain in my foot and find that I can just about hobble around. I feel like I should be using a walking stick right now. There’s no way I’ll be able to do my walking commute for a few days, just as last week I only managed one day due to the cold and how it affected my breathing.

So here I am, bursting to get back into my walking, lose some more pounds, stones and inches - and there’s no way I can. I’m frustrated to say the least.

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Walking Commute

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Another Sign of Shrinkage!

squonk jacket 1

Any of my mates who has known me a while will instantly recognise the jacket pictured above. I bought it when I was about 20 and a friend added the art work a little while later. All taken from Genesis’ ‘A Trick of the Tail’ album sleeve.

This jacket was a part of my identity through my 20’s. People would spot it and come over for a chat at gigs and festivals. It saw a lot of wear and tear and travelled over to the USA when I first went to meet my future parents-in-law. Humm, heaven knows what they made of me…!

And the reason I’ve dragged it out? Well, one of my targets in the whole ‘walk to work’ campaign was to be able to pop on this old leather jacket and zip it up again. Keep in mind that I bought it when I was 20 years old and to be honest, from my mid twenties onwards I wasn’t really able to wear it zipped up.

I tried it on over Christmas. It went on okay, but zip? Erm - no way, couldn’t even make the two halves of the zipper meet up in the middle.

Tried it on today and…. woah… we had zipperage!

Okay, it’s erm, still a little (!) on the tight side, but it bloody well zipped up! I’m staggered.

Only thing is, will I actually wear it? Well, only just to ’show’ a few friends who scoffed at me when I told them my plan regarding this jacket, ‘yeah, yeah, as if that’s going to happen…’. Ah… erm, if you’re reading this - you know who you are and you will soon see that when I set my mind to something I can be bloody stubborn!

All I need to do now is to find some way to get some suppleness back into parts of it (the arms seem particularly stiff) and maybe get some blacking on bits too if possible. I just want to be sure that anything I use on it to restore it doesn’t damage the art work - painted with acrylics I believe. Any recommendation? Be prepared to get shot if your recommendation strips off all the paint though!

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Spring Has Sprung

frog 3

Went for my first visit of the year to Leicester Botanic Gardens today. I started to nab a few photos of the usual suspects, flowers, buds, that kind of thing. And then I got to a pond that was just heaving with frogs. I spent quite a while there with my long lens on, bracing myself against a tree in lieu of a tripod. I managed to get some reasonable results, but I need to head back with the tripod soon - while the frogs are still there.

I can’t remember the last time I saw so many frogs, or so much frog spawn in one place. Also great to see some newts swimming around in there.

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Tanky Smith

tanky smith 3

On Sunday I decided to go for a short walk through Leicester with my camera. There were a couple of things I’d been wanting to shoot, but I so rarely feel like heading in to town.

One building I walk by twice a day on my route in and out of work is ‘Top Hat Terrace’, near the corner of London Road and University Road. The building is remarkable for the 16 carved heads that look down upon passers by.

This short terrace of houses was built by Francis ‘Tanky’ Smith, Leicester’s first private detective, although I suspect not quite on the level of Sherlock Holmes!

The story goes that he received a reward of £1000 for solving the mystery of the missing High Sheriff of Leicester, James Winstanley in 1862. Tanky Smith travelled to the continent and located the drowned corpse of the unfortunate Mr Winstanley in Germany. Upon returning and claiming his reward he decided to spend it on building the houses on London Road. His son was an architect, which I’m sure helped a bit!

There are two theories regarding the 16 carved heads on the building. One is that they represent 16 of the most notorious criminals that Tanky apprehended. The other theory, and taking into account the similarity of all the faces behind the beards and mustaches, I think the most likely : the 16 heads represent Tanky himself in a variety of disguises.

I’d like to know a bit more about this colourful character from Leicester’s history. I keep envisaging a series of short stories, with Tanky based in his London Road apartments (numbers 113 to 117 alas, not 22b). However I would imagine that any such series would have draw more deeply on fantasy than history to make them a compelling read.

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Lunar Eclipse

lunar eclipse 4
Well, they didn’t turn out great, but I took a few photos of the lunar eclipse last night. I was using the longest lens I have, the Sigma 70-300mm APO, so with my 20D that’s an effective focal length of 480mm. Not long enough! The moon is still quite a small object in the viewfinder. I do have a smallish telescope, but alas no way to hook the telescope up to the camera.

The shot above was my favourite, still about a third of the moon in view. This has been seriously cropped down, like I said above, the moon is really quite small at this focal length. The shots I took during totality do show up the red colour nicely, but they had to be quite long exposures, 10 seconds or so, and the moon moved during the exposure of course and made it blurry.

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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


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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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