Friday, 28 May 2010

Surprise, surprise!

Helen turned up where I work yesterday with a belated birthday gift for Tuesday - a kit for the charity walk!  It consisted of a rather nifty rucksac, a bottle of tonic water, a torch, and a lilac coloured feather boa.  I had to put the feather boa on immediately and would probably have worn it all day if it weren't for the fact it was rather warm and I thought I might develop prickly heat it I wore it any longer.  Now I just have to keep it safely away from prying paws until next Saturday...

My cunning plan is foiled! Posky takes an unhealthy interest in the feather boa...

Et tu Pepper?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

How to have a good birthday...

Yesterday both my bosses were out of the office all day (thanks guys!) and we made sure there were cream cakes in the fridge for coffee break... :O)

Birthday bows...

and some colourful candles that my sister gave me

Monday, 24 May 2010

Tony and Cleo...

As I'm at work on Tuesday for my birthday, yesterday was my birthday treat.  Cath and I went into Stratford, started with a posh breakfast then went up to the theatre for a behind the scenes look at some of the techniques used at the RSC.  They concentrated on movement and had people up on stage to show how they developed the scene for the battle of Actium in Antony and Cleopatra using paper boats and polonaise dance moves!  It was fascinating... especially as we got to see the final version in the afternoon as we went to the matinee performance.  Despite the seats in the Courtyard Theatre being enough to give you a square backside for the rest of the day, we really enjoyed it!  Excellent performances from the whole cast, especially the two leads, (although Harriet Walter and Patrick Stewart are still way out in front of everyone else in the roles - they just brought the poetry to life). 

Friday, 21 May 2010

Infamy, infamy...

Brief moment of excitement this week.  Our local paper publishes readers' photos now an again and this week they printed a large image of a brass vase I'd taken a while ago, plus a smaller one of Posky.

The brass vase (one of a pair) is one that my Dad brought back from India when he was stationed there with the army.  These two little vases are some of the few things I have that belonged to him so it was nice to see one have a moment of fame!  Posky has now had his photo published locally and nationally (a cat magazine published a story and photo about him), and is thinking of wearing dark glasses when he goes out to avoid the paparazzi.  Otherwise the only other photos of note this week have been a monotone pic of an apple with some nifty shadows caused by the kitchen blind (it wasn't a set-up shot, I was getting my lunch ready to take to work and noticing the shadows, decided it was too good a shot to let pass by), and one of my earring.  I love the colour of these so put one on a piece of white paper at the window to catch the light and used the close-up filter so I could get the detail.

As for books, amazingly, this week I've finished reading John Connolly's The Whisperers which was an early birthday present and R J Ellory's The Anniversary Man.  I'm now in that unsettling state of having nothing else I REALLY want to read next, although have to say I did see an interesting looking book called The Quincunx in Waterstones last week.  That might be another early birthday present when I get to Stratford tomorrow...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Decided to walk home from work yesterday, thinking it would be easier than my normal walk in the opposite direction (it's uphill going, downhill coming back, apart from one viscious hill right at the end...), but so regretted it.  My calf muscles seized up as soon as I started out and I had to stop on a traffic island to try and stretch them out.  I made it home but it was such hard work.  Think I've been overdoing the training - and probably too many uphill walks so am giving it a rest until Sunday.  Helen is now talking about us doing a marathon or half marathon next year - good grief... 

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Pretty quiet on the photography front this week - just seemed to have worked and walked!  The walking is in preparation for a 10km Moonlit Walk in aid of the Shakespeare Hospice on 5th June that my friend Helen and I are taking part in.  It became scarily real on Friday when I picked up our official tee-shirts (very purple), and Helen has promised to organise contrasting feather boas.  I am hoping to take my camera on the night - although the weather may veto that.  For training I've been walking to work, which is about 3 miles, then yesterday did 4.5 miles.  Today I am doing nothing apart from go for breakfast with Cath in Stratford (yes there's another Grande Prix today so D obviously can't venture out of the house all weekend...) and hope the stiffness in my calf muscles wears off.

Views of Stratford we won't be seeing when we're walking around it at 10pm!

Monday, 10 May 2010

In the Woods

Taking advantage of the sunny weather yesterday, we nipped down to the woods in search of bluebells to photograph. There weren't nearly as many as I was hoping for so the search goes on. Catherine stepped in to fill the photographic void by sitting on a log.

The elusive bluebells

The less elusive Catherine

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Well, such election drama!  I was hoping there'd have been a military coup by the W.I. by now, and David C and Gordon B would have been sent to bed without their supper, and victoria-sandwich cake eating would have been compulsory.  We can dream...  Unfortunately here we are still stuck with the Conservative idiot who has had his seat for so long he only shows his face when it will get in the papers.  He was also involved in the expenses scandal (something to do with buying astrology software!!!) and does absolutely nothing for his constituency.  Bring on proportional representation!

To get away from all thoughts of politics and the chaos we seem to be in...  

Apropos nothing... this is an image I took in Stratford - I just find the composition pleasing, and I like the texture and colour of the bricks contrasting with the ivy.

 And this is a ladybird on a dead rudbeckia in our garden - my cunning plan to not tidy up the garden obviously worked!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

To Orton or not to Orton...

And once again I start with a picture of a cat, this time it's Pod who is happy to illustrate the Orton effect (she's usually happy to do anything as long as it involves food or sitting on someone).  I've been pretty obsessed with it since someone asked me if they detected it in one of my photos on Flickr.  I had no idea what they were talking about so whatever effect I'd achieved with my photo was purely accidental.  They pointed me in the direction of a website that explained that it was named for a photographer called Michael Orton who sandwiched one in-focus image (over exposed by 2 stops) to one out of focus image (over exposed by 1 stop) to achieve glowing, impressionistic images.

Pod before Orton...

...and after

I mainly use Paintshop Pro to process my images, and to achieve a simple version of the effect I duplicate the background layer and use a hard light blending mode on it, then I duplicate this layer and put a gaussian blur filter on it.  What you can also do is erase some of the blurring to emphasise any details.   There are quite a few tutorials on the web for different image processing software and it's worth playing around with different techniques on the image as the results can be amazing.  There's a flickr group just for Orton type images, and it also has a good tutorial.

Again this is before and after processing, this is at Coombe Country Park.  I've also straightened the verticals and lightened some of the underexposed areas before giving it the Orton effect.

I particularly like the effect on this one as it feels almost like a still from a film-noir.  Very retro!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Something wicked this way comes...

Well these two aren't particularly wicked - they're the two friendly gargoyles (sorry, that should be 'grotesques' as they don't have water spouts coming out of their mouths - info from Saint Stephen Fry on QI) that live in our garden. But taking their photo set my mine to mulling on all things Gothic.


and Grimmer...

I wrote my Master's dissertation on aspects of the Gothic in selected works of Thomas Hardy, and am a fan of Gothic literature in general. But why? I like the escapist element (one good reason the classic Gothic novel was removed in time and space from when and where it was written), I like the sheer grandeur of much of the poetry, and I like the emotions this literature tends to arouse in readers. We all like to be pleasantly scared by a book or film. As David Punter describes it in The Literature of Terror: The Gothic Tradition, there is, 'an emphasis on portraying the terrifying, a common insistence on archaic settings, a prominent use of the supernatural, the presence of highly stereotyped characters and the attempt to deploy and perfect techniques of literary suspense...'. So what's not to like?

This literary appeal to the emotions goes back to the cult of the sublime in the eighteenth century, and Edmund Burke's Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756), where Burke attempted to show a connection between the sublime and terror. He writes 'Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the idea of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible subjects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is a productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling'. So it takes more than stroppy teenagers with dental problems to create a classic Gothic novel (yes Twilight, I'm talking to you...).

More info...
Some Gothic links...
The Literary Gothic, The Gothic Society

Books on the Literary Gothic
The Literature of Terror David Punter
The Gothic Fred Botting
Gothic Readings Edited by Rictor Norton

And some of my favourite Gothic works...
Paradise Lost Milton
Elegy in a Country Churchyard Thomas Gray
The Mysteries of Udolpho Ann Radcliffe
The Monk Matthew Lewis
Caleb Williams William Godwin
The Ancient Mariner Coleridge
The Eve of St Agnes Keats
La Belle Dame sans Merci Keats
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
The Woman in White Wilkie Collins (strictly speaking it was a 'sensation novel' as it brought the Gothic out of the past and into 19th century society, but let's not be pedantic...)
Desperate Remedies Thomas Hardy (how could I not mention him...)
Jude the Obscure TH (Gothic architecture, the dangers of Catholicism, heroines leaping from windows... I rest my case)
The Return of the Native TH (the sublime, supernatural, death etc etc etc)
The Poetry of Thomas Hardy
Dracula Bram Stoker
The Turn of the Screw Henry James (the Oxford World's Classics edition has got the scariest looking child on the front... seriously creepy)
Rebecca Daphne de Maurier
Any of Victoria Holt's novels
Interview with the Vampire Anne Rice
John Connolly's Charlie Parker novels

Monday, 3 May 2010

I am too much i' the sun...

Well the title is slightly misleading. Amazingly for a Bank Holiday Monday there was some sunshine yesterday, and as I was left to fall back on my own devices yet again, I went to Stratford upon Avon. Had a lovely time - first breakfast, then walking around taking photos and finishing with a pot of tea at the Courtyard Theatre cafe. I also bought a signed copy of Keith Osborn's Something Written in the State of Denmark. A year in the life of an actor with the RSC - and what a year it was... The 2008-9 season saw Greg Doran's Dream, then his Hamlet with Patrick Stewart and David Tennant, and then Love's Labour's. Amazingly I saw all three and the book brought back many happy memories. That was a crazy year at Stratford - the frenzy that gripped the town as fans tried to get a glimpse of either David T or Patrick S had to be seen to be believed. Because so many actors can be seen in and around the town they can usually walk about without anyone bothering them, but not them. We actually saw David T in disguise once. My friend Cath and I were just coming out from the matinee of Dream when she frantically grabbed my arm and pointed to someone next to me; and there was DT wearing a baseball cap walking though the crowds in the foyer of the theatre to avoid the fans at the stage door. And no one else recognised him! Cath only saw him as she is rather short and was able to see under his cap. And we didn't give him away either... :O)

Lime Trees in Bancroft Gardens (note sunshine - but it was b****y cold!)
A swan of Avon
Blossom along the path in the RSC Gardens

More blossom - this time in the churchyard (Holy Trinity Church)

A dandelion! The close-up filter had to come out at some point...
Rain on its way... Luckily I was just heading back to the car at this point

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The rain it raineth every day...

So it's a Bank Holiday weekend, so it had to rain at some point. We were meant to be going to take photos of some hot-rod cars today and despite the fact that I was looking forward to it, it was decided for me that we weren't going to go. Anyway, being at a loose end I had another go with the close-up filter, one of the results is the acer leaf picture behind my blog title. What I'm still getting to grips with is the very shallow depth of field - you have to focus EXACTLY. Still, great fun trying.
Charlie the cat has appeared on my page as this week's 'cat of the week'. This is an award given to one of our cats for a) doing something outstanding, or b) not doing anything to wake me up before 6 a.m. This week we still had no outright winner by Thursday so each cat had their picture put on my flickr page, and it was decided that the one that got most comments would be COTW. Charlie managed over 30 comments, and even though suspected of vote-rigging was awarded the title.

These are the also-rans.



Mrs Pod

And then despite my strong views on animal experimentation, I tested the close-up filter on them too.

I am now going to spend the afternoon curled up on the sofa with a book, some chocolate, and possibly a glass of red wine and a cat.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Parks and flowers...

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses and with eglantine...

Since this post seems to have been overtaken by the great outdoors and images thereof, it seemed apt to start with that beautiful poetry from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Having the whole day to myself I grabbed the camera and headed for Ryton Pools Country Park in Warkwickshire. A lovely place - there are peaceful walks, plenty of wildlife (there was a particularly noisey cuckoo about this morning), and a cafe which also hires out bikes. There were beautiful spring flowers out and I tried using one of my new close-up filters. I think some more practice is needed to with it to get it spot-on.

Trying the close-up filter for the first time
The walk from the visitor's centre to the pool
Sheep, doing what sheep do...
View over the pool
And then it was home to be faced with a host of golden dandelions where the lawn should be. A massacre with a lawn mower then took place before I got distracted by some further opportunites for using the close-up filter.

Am very happy with the results, and I still have some more new filters to try out too. Plus, I seem to have recovered from my reader's block thanks to James Lee Burke!


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