Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Degrading Your Image

I am lucky enough to have an occupation with a very relaxed dress code, to the extent my "work" and "leisure" outfits are identical.  As I have said before, in my case an "outfit" is whatever combination of seasonally-appropriate clothing comes out of the wash together.  I am not known, I suspect, as a snappy dresser.

Consequently, I have never had what I imagine is a common experience.  That is, to come home from work, remove a suit and tie, slip into an old pair of jeans and a relaxed shirt and, um, kick back, just like those improbably firm-jawed dudes in the Boden catalogue.  I have to say, wearing a suit and tie all day seems far too high a price to pay for such a transient thrill, but I expect the salary and benefits of your typical lawyer or accountant may compensate in other ways.  I guess I'll never know.

Anyway.  This is just a roundabout way of saying that sometimes -- about once every three years -- I get a little tired of the dutiful, loyal perfection of modern cameras, and get the urge to kick back with chance and happy accidents.  To mess things up a bit.  To lose control.  Yes, I'm afraid I'm talking about hanging out with Holga and Diana (but not that idiotic little Russian Lomo), and any other interestingly imperfect characters that have caught my attention. I know, I know...  It never lasts, but I need this irresponsible little fling now and then.

Once, this would have meant a return to film.  I have butchered any number of old rollfilm cameras to make pinhole platforms, and I have had spells of using toy cameras, old folders, Brownies, and the like.  But Micro Four Thirds (a digital camera format, m'lud) seems to have become the format of choice for the unfaithful, the curious, and the downright promiscuous.  I'm not sure why this is, but converters to enable your Canon, Nikon, Olympus, or pretty much any brand of lens to get together with a Micro 4/3 camera are cheap and plentiful.

I have resisted until now.  What brought this on was finding in a cupboard one of those pieces of photo-junk that are mementos from previous excursions into imperfection:  in this case, an Itorex 50mm pan-focus lens.  This truly is a piece of junk, a combination of pinhole and meniscus lens with a nominal rating of f/40 that is meant to put everything from close up to far, far away in focus.  In practice, everything is simply equally fuzzy, like looking through a toy telescope.  To use it, I needed a T-mount converter.  Amazingly, one is available via Amazon for £9.95.  Cheaper than a pair of Boden casual socks!

On a micro 4/3 camera it becomes, in effect, an f/40 100mm lens, and this is what it does:

The green saucer is about 10cm in diameter

Interesting...  It's actually more like a pinhole image than any real pinhole I've ever managed  to make. I'll be playing with this for a few weeks, I expect.

Of course, now that my resistance is broken, I find myself looking at my remaining Olympus OM lenses lurking way at the back of the cupboard.  Beautiful, precision-engineered things, all metal, with proper aperture rings and nicely damped focussing.  With the aid of an OM-to-Micro 4/3 converter, a bog standard 50mm f/1.8 lens would become something more interesting -- a fast portrait lens.  Hmmm...

Monday, 27 February 2012

Such Larks

There is a certain "top of the world" feeling you can only get by being, well, on top of the world.

I know such a place just outside Winchester, up on Twyford Down.  Up there, on the shoulder of the chalk downland, is the stoniest field under cultivation that I have ever come across.  It is perfect country for skylarks and peewits, and yesterday afternoon we watched a sing-off between three or four skylarks contesting territory high over those flinty furrows.  Cue Vaughan Williams.

Round the edges of the top of the world you get great views of the motorway, and lots of that ragged edgeland that I find so photogenic.

And the chalk downland itself has a unique muted colour palette that I love. It always puts me in mind of the cave paintings at Lascaux.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Saturday Outing

Talking of fancy brickwork...  I had an outing to the Viaduct yesterday afternoon.

The curious thing about the Viaduct is that it's actually made of solid concrete with a brick facing.  Built in the 1880s, it is one of the very first poured concrete structures.  Unless its physical decline is halted soon (talk about yer wabi sabi), it will have to be demolished.  Every time I return a new chunk of parapet is lying in the grass.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Bricks, Slight Return

For those of you who read the comments to the previous post, here is the re-pointing in question.  Quality work, or what?  Now who says standards are in decline?

That, by the way, is the very high quality brickwork of the building in which I happen to work, laid 100 years ago by true craftsmen -- men whose spirits must be falling about laughing at the spectacle of what has been done to their mighty labours by their great grandchildren.  I have spent many idle minutes gazing at it out of my office window, trying to work out the cunning patterning of longs and shorts that gives that vast cliff of red brick its springy rhythm.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


I generally try to avoid photographing brickwork.  Apart from the fact that bricks are a pretty dull subject, they inevitably bring to mind those test shots people do to assess lenses for pincushion and barrel distortions.  With the best will in the world, you can't stop yourself from checking whether the rows are straight.

Of course, modern building standards being what they are, the courses of bricks quite often haven't been laid straight, even in high profile, high prestige buildings like these.  That pointing is pretty dreadful, too.

There are other reasons for brickwork round here to be less than exemplary.  Southampton is pretty much a town built on a heap of sand and gravel.  The ground beneath our feet is riddled with shifting underground waterways that eat away at the stability of any building.  Add to that the pasting the town took from the Luftwaffe in WW2 -- three bombs fell in our street, a good mile away from the dockside action -- and any pre-1940s building is going to have cracks and crazy angles in it somewhere.

But sometimes the patterning of the brickwork can add something, as I think it does here.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

More "trees and facades".  I'm not sure how long this theme can survive, once the leaves start growing back.

I'm not sure what it is, exactly, but something about these images stirs a deep satisfaction for me, and I suspect I could go on doing them for a long time yet.  I'm certainly not giving them up for Lent.  Just talk amongst yourselves if it gets boring...

Monday, 20 February 2012


We seem finally to have gone over the divide that separates "short, dark winter days" from "lengthening spring days".  There is a new quality of intensity to the light, that somehow makes one aware that sunlight is a form of radiation.  The colours of early spring can be a little other-wordly, newly exposed to the radiant energy beaming in onto a renewing planet.

Alarmingly for February, we are already being given a drought warning.  It's been a very dry winter in the southern half of Britain.  Looks like the car won't get washed this year, either!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Word Verification

I've had a couple of comments now, saying that the entry of two "wobbly words", rather than the previous one, is being required for a comment to be verified.  Is this the case for everyone?  I suspect this may be linked to the fact that I went over to the "new" post-creation interface this week (which is better), because of problems with losing the link to the larger view of an image when shunting it around within the post, but I just can't find where the "word verification" settings for comments are now controlled from.

Those of you who don't run a blog yourself may not realise how this works.  I myself -- being le patron -- do not need to verify my own comments, so never see the wobbly words (unless I'm commenting on someone else's blog).  I also don't choose the ones you see -- it's an entirely random process run by the Google Blogger software, joining front ends and back ends of words like a pantomime horse or a game of Consequences.  The fact that sometimes the word verifications are uncannily appropriate for the subject of the post is, well, completely accidental, unless you are hospitable to the idea that the Universe is trying to tell us something, and using Blogger word verifications as its mouthpiece.  Which, after all, is no more strange than many perfectly respectable religious beliefs.

Anyway, let me know what you are seeing, and do tell me if you have encountered and fixed the same problem in Blogger.

Added 23/2/2012:  It is now clear that this is a general change in Blogger's word verification procedure, and it was simply a coincidence that I had changed to the new editor.  Which proves something, though I'm not sure what.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Album Covers

It is a contemporary "received idea" that album art flourished during the heyday of the 12" vinyl, 33 rpm "long-playing record" (roughly, mid-1960s to mid-1980s), and went into a decline when the CD took over the mass music market.  Until my bold expedition with a torch under the dining room table this week, I thought this was so, too.

As readers of the previous post will recall, I was looking for an LP which I hoped might be in my stash of long-unlistened-to vinyl, kept in the domestic equivalent of deep storage i.e. the bottom shelf of a bookcase behind a table, down among the dust-bunnies, cobwebs and cables.  I didn't find what I was looking for, but re-emerged with a slightly random selection of albums, primarily with the intention of showing my daughter how brilliant everything was when I was her age.

But, like so many pretty pebbles twinkling on the seashore of memory, they seemed to fade when hauled into the daylight.  Not literally: actually, I was amazed at how well these 40-year-old artefacts had withstood the ravages of time.  But they seemed somehow much diminished, and that fabled cover art...  It was, in the main, rubbish.

I was looking at bad paintings, crude montages, timid typography, tacky colour combinations, poorly- reproduced photographs, and dreadful layouts -- just bad graphical design in general.  Most astonishing of all was how little use was actually made of those generous 144 square inches of real estate.  Large areas of plain, blank colour predominated, and text was either kept to a minimum -- generally no more than a list of tracks, and a few acknowlegements -- or the lyrics were spread over the entire thing, in a tiny, unreadable font.  There were pointless gatefolds, opening onto nothing much, and a surprising amount of corporate "noise" plastered over everything -- company logos, copyright notices, serial numbers, etc. -- that had once, somehow, been transparent.

Typically awful mid-70s cover
(comedy duo, The Tryptolites)

There were exceptions, of course.  There are alway exceptions.  From my sample, I found that Jethro Tull's Stand Up, David Bowie's Hunky Dory, Steely Dan's Katy Lied, and Weather Report's Mysterious Traveller still retained their original charm.  But a good eighty percent were either totally bland or downright offensive to contemporary eyes.


I then looked at my CDs.  Now, I am a fanboy of the ECM label and its products so I ignored those, as well as the ones which simply reproduced an old LP cover.  What did I see?  Mainly gorgeous design, careful typography, sympathetic layouts, quite often with a natty cardboard outer case, and an informative booklet insert containing lyrics, photographs and little essays, often in parallel languages.

Interesting.  Surprising.  Disconcerting.

On reflection, it is obvious why this is the case:  computer-aided design, digital imaging and digital typography.  Virtually anyone could do a better job nowadays.

I remember, back in my student days, spending entire nights "laying up" a little radical magazine we used to produce.  It was all done with typewriters, scissors, sticky tape, Tipp-Ex, Letraset and, at a pinch, yer actual handwriting.  The final layout sheets would be taken as "camera-ready copy" to our printer, and it all took a lot of hard work and it looked dreadful, although that authentic "fanzine" look does still have its admirers.

Nowadays, with the use of a suitable desktop publishing package and copy submitted over the internet, the whole thing could be turned round in a couple of hours, with a completely seamless, professional finish.  The time we spent typing, Tipp-Exing and taping can be used instead to give the end product a distinctive, desirable identity (or even, um, to write stuff people want to read).  I expect students still stay up all night to do it, but that's just because they can.

OTT in the last great days of vinyl...
That difficult second album

Harder to explain, is why everybody thinks the reverse is true:  that a high percentage of those LP sleeves were some kind of apotheosis of graphic design.  I can think of all sorts of reasons, but here are a few:

  • Standards then were both more rigid and lower.  Just look at a typical magazine from the period, particularly the adverts, and compare with the contemporary equivalent.
  • Hard to recall, but "full colour printing" was still a novelty in the 1960s, and cheap full colour printing required various technical compromises that overruled design considerations.
  • The taste for surrealism has not aged well.  Particularly when in the form of poorly-painted, sub-Dali-esque fantasy, or auto-pilot psychedelia.  Little Feat's Sailin' Shoes is a personal favourite, musically, but that cover (no. 18 in Rolling Stone's top 100 covers, I see) is simply tacky.
  • Nothing ages quite as badly as a fancy haircut.  'Nuff said.
  • Manipulating photographs used to be much more difficult.  For every After The Gold Rush there are ten Young Americans, and 100 efforts with blunt scissors we won't even mention.
  • Hipgnosis made a (largely) deserved name for themselves, and that reputation has somehow floated everyone else's boat.  How many other music packaging design teams can you name?  And how many times do you really need or want to look at the covers of Houses of the Holy or even Dark Side of the Moon?
  •  Let's not talk about Roger Dean, please.  I didn't like that stuff at the time, it's just not my cup of tea.  To be honest, speaking as a big fan of illustration, I find it hard to think of any original illustrators working within the music field whose work stood out for me.  Which is odd, actually  -- compare that with children's books of the period.  I suspect it may not have paid well.
  • Things tend to get better, but we prefer to think they get worse.  Otherwise, we'd just be very, very jealous of our own children's good fortune.  As if!
  • I have exceptionally refined taste, which has just got better over the years.
In the end, album covers are just commercial packaging and there's no more reason to consider them an art form than cereal packets or ready-meal boxes.  Some of the best albums have the worst covers (jazz and classical records of the "golden age" are uniformly atrocious, from Brilliant Corners to Bitches Brew)  and are none the worse for that.

And that is why I have decided not to demonstrate to my daughter how things were so much better in my day.  Life is hard enough for the young folk, these days, without the added burden of realising they should have been born in 1954. Instead, I will teach her that most valuable lesson, never to judge a book by its cover.  That's if I can ever catch her for five minutes without those bloody sawn-off earphones plugged in.

1980s last gasp...
(Tryptolites farewell tour)

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Some Of Our Records Are Missing

One thing leads to another.

Seeing that mysterious ghost ship trapped in the ice on the Staff Club pond the other day immediately called to mind the ballad "Lord Franklin", as rendered by Pentangle on the album Cruel Sister.  Forty-odd years ago, in that icy winter of 1970/71, that album was probably my favourite, and that track in particular -- with its wistful, understated yearning for an explorer of the heroic age, missing presumed lost among the ice-floes of the Northwest Passage -- embedded itself deep in my psyche.  I learned the chords and the words, and at Easter 1971 -- I had forgotten this -- a friend and I performed it before an audience of 100 or so.

How easy it is to forget our past selves.  Once upon a time, I was possessed by the folk music of the British Isles in the way some are possessed by football or fashion.  The revival of that music by groups like Pentangle was old news by the time my teenage interest was aroused, but its transformation by way of electrification by the likes of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span happened before my very eyes.  For me, the excitement of those first folk-rock albums such as Liege and Lief, and Hark! The Village Wait exceeded even that of acts like Led Zeppelin, exciting as they were.  This was truly my music.

But, we change.  Within a few years, other musics had exercised their charms on me, and those folk albums went to the back of the box, and went unplayed literally for decades.  Even when the mood for nostalgia hit me, it would be Countdown to Ecstasy or Black Market I would reach for.  But that frozen ship in the pond awoke an urge to listen to Pentangle, so I resolved to dig out those albums.

Easier said than done.  For many years, my small collection of vinyl has lived on a shelf at the bottom of a bookcase which is wedged against a wall behind a large oak table.  The only way to access them is to crawl under the table with a torch.  It's dirty and dusty down there, and it is booby-trapped with tangled computer cables, power-plug extensions and stacked boxes of God-knows-what.  But, like Howard Carter penetrating the tomb of Tutankhamun, I crawled through, hoping to discover "wonderful things, wonderful things".

But, it turns out, the tomb had been robbed.  Plenty of LPs remained -- my torch revealed The Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Steely Dan, even a double album BBC Russian course -- but the folkie gold I was seeking had gone.  Not a single Pentangle album remained.  Both early Steeleye Span albums had gone.  Full House (first pressing with blacked out track listing) was missing.

I have no idea where they are now, but they will have gone missing thirty or more years ago.  I have my suspicions.  I suppose I may have loaned them to someone.  Or I may even have given them away or sold them in the 1980s.  It hardly matters now and, in a way, I rather enjoy not being able to scratch that particular itch: some nostalgic longings are far sweeter unfulfilled.
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
  Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
  Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
  Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
    Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal — yet, do not grieve;
    She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
  For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

And that is exactly the appeal of the story of "Lord Franklin", of course:  "The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell".  It's a tale about all tales without closure, adrift somewhere on the spectrum of mystery between the Marie Celeste and a few missing LPs.  It's an oddly unanchored song, too, neither wholly Lady Franklin's lament nor simply a sailor's dream.

One day (and it may be quite soon) the remains of the real Sir John Franklin, his ship and his crew will turn up, and the yarn will finally be fully told.  Of course, the historic expedition (as opposed to the imagined one) is already exemplary.  That is, exemplary of the magnificent folly of British self-belief.  Britain might have ruled the waves in 1845, but had more of a problem with pack-ice.

Whether the discovery of some cold, gnawed bones, a few buttons and a heap of shivered ship's timbers will capsize the song's appeal remains to be seen, but I doubt it.  It certainly won't make any difference to Lady Jane Franklin, who offered large rewards and sponsored seven expeditions to find news of her husband, refusing to the end to believe the tales of catastrophe and cannibalism that were whispered back from the Arctic wastes. Too late, too late: she died in 1875.

Ten thousand pounds I would freely give
To know on earth, that my Franklin do live.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Police Quiz Blogger

Further to my mooted "Stamp Out Melisma in 1012" campaign...

I've just heard the word "melisma" used -- for the first time ever -- on the Sunday evening news on BBC Radio 4, in relation to Whitney Houston's so-far unexplained demise.  I had no idea it was fatal.

I have a watertight alibi for the last 48 hours, so don't be looking at me like that.  Hey, I liked "I Will Always Love You".

But be afraid, melisma-abusers, be very afraid.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Lord Franklin

In Baffin Bay where the whale fishes blow
The fate of Franklin no man may know
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Lord Franklin alone with his sailors do dwell.

Lord Franklin (trad.)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Buying In

As well as buying more photo-books than most people would probably consider sane, last year I also bought some limited-run bookworks and other pieces from photographer Raymond Meeks. This was mainly, obviously, because I like his work. I confess it is also because I have a shrewd idea his reputation is destined to rise much higher in the long term, and his unique, hand-made books are -- for now -- relatively affordable. More magnanimously, you could say I'm doing my small bit to support him and encourage him to keep on going. As his stock rises, I may switch my photo-tithe to someone else more in need of it, who knows?

But this unnecessary expenditure is not so much an investment as the price of entry into a game in which I want to be a player. In crude terms, I don't see why I should expect anyone to buy my work, if I never buy anything myself. It's a curious thing, but buying other people's work, whether as original prints or in book form, does not seem to come naturally to many self-styled "artists", not least photographers. Sometimes this seems to be due to a cult of amateurism reminiscent of the old "gentlemen and players" distinction in sport, and sometimes to an emphasis on process ("My art is what I do, not what I produce").

I have no problem with either attitude, but an unwillingness to buy in often goes along with a narrowness of perspective. I'm always coming across photographers offering pictures for sale whose work is not just derivative, but derivative of the same few, frequently-imitated models. It seems that their exposure to contemporary photography (and their ambition) is limited to the glossy images shown in Amateur Photographer, British Journal of Photography, and the like.

I saw a craft-market stall just this week where a hopeful guy was peddling his wares. They were merely the "same old same old" you see in every little gallery and in the racks of holiday-town art shops: romantic landscapes in flattering light and photogenic weather conditions, rendered slightly hyper-real with graduated filters and some tepid post-processing, printed on watercolour paper and signed with a flourish. The sort of thing that ends up on the greetings cards that are sent to me on my birthday because I'm "into" photography. "It's what people want", he claimed, but I didn't see any evidence of a queue, and I certainly wasn't buying any.

Probably the most important thing I had to offer to the Arena Group last Sunday was this, my Declaration of Independence, important because it is true whether you like my work or not:
Most of my work is done in my lunch-hour, or at weekends, repeatedly visiting the same few local sites. I'm not a professional photographer or artist i.e. I don't earn a living that way. Most people work like this: even professionals have to squeeze time for "personal" work which won't pay any bills.

On balance, I think of this as a Good Thing. It's like writing poetry: if you're after fame and fortune, you're in the wrong game. You do it for its own sake, and the appreciation of a small, dedicated, statistically insignificant audience, most of whom will be practitioners themselves.

Even fame within such a small circle is effective invisibility -- Martin Parr is about as well known to the wider world as Paul Muldoon. But invisibility does have benefits: you're free from the expectations of paying audiences -- so there's no excuse for your work not to be As Serious As Your Life (or Daft As A Brush, if that's what you prefer).
I have already gone on about this, two years ago in the post Free As A Brush. It would be easy to misinterpret my words as not so much as a Declaration of Independence, as an airy dismissal of any grubby urge to buy and sell one's work. That would be dead wrong. My point is that -- with extremely rare exceptions -- no-one can make a living from art. So you might as well make a virtue of this and do what you really want, rather than try to second-guess the taste of a mythical buying public. We are our own audience, and we owe it to each other to buy in, whenever possible.

To return to Raymond Meeks, though. Ray is a great example of a category of artist that blogging professional photographer Kirk Tuck identified in a recent post, talking about the way professionals are facing a time of massive change, when the same old same old simply won't earn them a living any more:
The pathways to profit have changed and now we need to act like pioneers instead of map readers. It will take re-invention and exploration to find new ways to keep doing what you love. Ask any working professional in the arts if he or she is still doing it the way they did it ten or even five years ago and I'm sure you'll quickly find that the successful ones have learned to tack into the headwind and keep moving forward. They might be adding stuff they never thought they'd do before but that's part of the deal.

And the ones who are still doing their art exactly the way they did it ten or twenty years ago fall into two camps: 1. People who support themselves outside the construct of the working artist. Or, 2. Those whose work is so individual and so beautiful that it falls outside the run of the mill and is coveted by clients. Regardless of how anachronistic the delivery or approach. What a great spot to be in!

Kirk Tuck, The Visual Science Lab blog, 30/12/2011
That's Raymond Meeks, right there in category 2. What a great spot to be in, indeed.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Probable Cause

I received an email last week from my daughter's college. Hampshire schools, for whatever reason, do not have "sixth forms"; instead, students wishing to study A Levels and the like must attend one of a number of post-16 colleges with anything from 1,500-3,500 students each.

It can be a bit impersonal, as there are multiple large classes in the popular subjects, and it's all very different from my own long-ago sixth-form years in the last century. This impersonality puts a large premium on the quality of communication between the college, students and parents.

The subject of the mail I received is irrelevant, though I was irritated by the fact that it betrayed an oh-don't-bother-me attitude to an important matter. No, it was the spelling that got my attention. Here is the first significant sentence, with X and Y substituted for the actual items:
"The [X] and [Y] would of been sent to you seperately."
OK. "Seperately" I can accept -- I doubt my partner knows how to spell "separately", as it happens*. But "would of" always gets my goat.

Then came the next two sentences:
"The form your completed has been crossed through proberly by me and marked completed. So two things could of happened."
Proberly?? Did she mean "probably"? Do you know, in all the poorly-written job applications, memos, emails, and semi-literate scribblings that have passed before my eyes, I have never before seen that one. It's not a mistake, either, or a typo for "properly", as she repeats it later on. However, I see there are 1,400,000 hits on Google for "proberly", so I've clearly led a sheltered life, orthographically-speaking.

Now, as I think I've made clear in previous posts, I'm not by nature one of those reactionary pedants who recoil and reach for the green ink on hearing some ugly new coinage. I enjoy and employ fashionable usages and occupational argot, and have no problem at all with the fact that language changes. I'm liking it, even. But I am a bit of a spelling fascist.

Why, you might ask, would someone be tolerant in some areas of language use and yet be so intolerant in others, especially one as arbitrary (and divisive) as spelling? Good question. For me, it's like this:

Of all the causes of evil in this world, of which there are many, the two that I find bother me most often -- perhaps because I encounter them so frequently -- are ignorance and carelessness. These "minor" vices bother me because they are unnecessary and easily fixed but, unchecked, quickly turn into the major vices of stupidity and malice.

It bothers me that someone, for example, who is employed to communicate with parents from within an educational institution can pay so little attention to the written word and to her own standards of literacy that she has not noticed that she cannot spell a word that must pass in front of her careless eyes -- properly spelled and in clear, printed letters -- at least a dozen times every week. Probably more.

Obviously, standards have changed in recent times, and no one likes to be the sort of prig who bounces such errors straight back to sender. I expect Miss Proberly sails through her annual appraisal; a lovely person with just the right customer-facing attitude. But would you accept this core-level carelessness from the mechanic who services your car? OK, he left in the old spark-plugs, and didn't replace the oil -- oh, and look, he's put oily marks all over your upholstery -- but why get hung up on prissy details, when he's such a nice bloke! The car still goes, doesn't it?

I accept that some people have poor literacy skills, and probably get by without them very well (though that's questionable). After all, my bricklaying isn't up to much, or my object-oriented programming, come to that. But for a literate person in a clerical job to misspell "probably" as "proberly" shows a wilful lack of self-awareness, shading into arrogance, that is every bit as witless as the person who emerges from a shop, unwraps a sandwich, and tosses the packaging onto the pavement, right next to the bin.

Trivial, yes, and no laws other than those of grammar have been broken. But it's symptomatic of a social malaise, something that could yet slowly poison everything for everyone. "Carelessness" is dangerous because the thing is, we can't really pick and choose what to care about. A caring state of mind is indivisible. Careless spelling is on the same continuum as failing to check properly the points on a railway junction. It's one of those areas where the personal really is the political.

But did I send an email back, correcting her spelling and explaining the folly of "would of / could of"? Of course I didn't. I suppose you might say I just didn't care enough.

* Isn't it odd how people seem to think that studying English at degree level bestows full Complete Plain Words style authority (or, in these diminished times, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves style authority") on the English graduate? Do they think there are compulsory papers on "spelling really difficult words" and "speaking proper"?

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Warm Wet Westerlies

Well, that was disappointing.

It was particularly cold on Friday night, and it froze our external "condensate" pipe, which meant the hot water and central heating boiler wouldn't start. Given that the forecast was for about three inches of snow to fall overnight on Saturday, I spent most of yesterday afternoon up a ladder unfreezing the pipe (top tip: use one of those microwaveable "wheat bags" intended for wrapping round painful sports injuries), then lagging it with foam.

Woke up this morning -- not even a heavy frost. Elsewhere there has been heavy snow, with the usual disruption, but here, nothing. I suppose we should be relieved and grateful (and if I hadn't managed to get the hot water back up and running it would have been a different story) but I must admit I always look forward to the first real snow of the winter.

But the classic struggle between the Warm Wet Westerly airstream from the Atlantic and the Cold Cold Cold air over continental Europe will continue, so we may still see some snow before February has gone. Living on that front line is what British weather is all about.

And, no, these pictures have nothing to do with frozen pipes, central heating or snow. Just two more "trees and facades" images taken this week.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Cold and Clear

There's a very cold NE airstream going over us at the moment, and everything is wonderfully crisp and clear first thing. The sun is rising that little bit earlier, now, and getting in amongst the plate glass and reflective surfaces, and bouncing all over the place. Both of these were taken this morning.

Looking at my files of images (which I order chronologically) it's obvious that February through March is one of my peak times of year for photographic good fortune; I'm hoping this year will be no exception.