Saturday 30 April 2022

Easter Gallery

It's a beautiful day, get your boots on, we're going for a walk!

Do we have to?

Looking towards Penybont

Ominous cloud over Radnor Forest

Bright morning near Dolau
Meanwhile, back in Bristol...

Avon Gorge, Portishead Branch Line

Clifton Village jeweller

Wednesday 27 April 2022

The Nolans

When you've been visiting a sparsely-inhabited and poorly-resourced area regularly for many years –  the Welsh Borders at Easter for over forty years, in our case – you tend to settle into certain habitual patterns. After all, there isn't a great deal to do there, other than "the usual", and as we're generally only there for a week or so every day counts. Today we'll be doing this favourite walk, tomorrow will be a visit to that town or site of interest we have always found rewarding, and so on. Consequently, it's both a surprise and instantly noticeable when you come across something new.

Last week we were heading out to a reliably good restaurant (the Stagg Inn, over the border in England) when, for reasons I don't recall now, we decided to approach it from a different direction, via the old county town of Radnorshire, Presteigne, rather than our customary route through the Herefordshire town of Kington. The borders are like that: you pass in and out of Wales and England on the same road with very little fanfare; I always find it hard to remember, for example, which of Kington and Knighton is in which country. As we drove out of Presteigne and almost immediately into England, we noticed a sign beside a grand old farmhouse set back from the road which declared that the Sidney Nolan Trust was open to visitors. The Sidney Nolan Trust? Surely not that Sidney Nolan, the Australian artist famous for his paintings of Ned Kelly and, um, not much else, at least as far as I knew? I made a mental note to check it out.

One major new surprise this year was that a 4G phone signal is now intermittently available at our customary hillside barn conversion. Two bars max, and only at one end of the property, true, but enough to carry out a quick investigation of the Sidney Nolan Trust before it faded away again. Incredibly, it turned out that, yes, it was the Australian artist Sidney Nolan, and he had lived in that grand old farmhouse – actually a 17th century manor house, The Rodd – from 1983 until his death in 1992. Who knew? We might have queued behind him in the butcher's or the chemist's shops in Presteigne, although he was probably too busy hanging from the rafters of his studio barn clutching cans of spray paint ever to do any actual shopping. We decided to pay the place a visit, not least because there is currently an exhibition of Nolan's Polaroids.

Polaroid "instant" photographs occupy a unique position in the intersection of art and photography. Many artists were intrigued by them, back in the days before digital cameras and phone cameras became available. David Hockney's composite landscapes are only the best-known of many uses of Polaroid images by artists. Their appeal is obvious: there is the magical element of instant gratification (no need to wait or waste time in the darkroom); they have an interesting and distinctive colour palette; each one is a unique, standard-sized object; they can even be manipulated in various ways while the chemistry is still wet. Plus, of course, you could take the sort of naughty photos that would not otherwise pass the censorious scrutiny of your local processor [1]. In particular, the square images made by the compact, collapsible SX-70 camera enjoyed a vogue in the 1970s and 80s (I still have one myself). So I was curious to see what Sidney Nolan had been doing with them.

The Rodd is actually a cluster of 17th-century farm buildings set in some beautiful grounds. It never ceases to amuse me that artists who specialise in what I think of as "heavy breathing" – work that eschews conventional beauties and explores more visceral horrors and fascinations, a category which surely includes Sir Sidney – so often seem to live in some enviably gorgeous house. Cultural pessimism clearly has its up side, including accumulating enough money to buy and sustain a 250-acre estate. Jealousy aside, the Trust clearly has its work cut out to keep the place looking so magnificent. As well as the grounds, there are a preserved studio, workshops for resident artists, and various exhibition spaces. The Polaroids were in a large renovated room at the rear of the main manor house, a grandly austere monument to a colder, damper mode of living. The centuries-old chill strikes you as soon as you enter, and I imagine those impressively-carved fireplaces must have been kept burning throughout the Little Ice Age by an army of servants.

I was intrigued to see how these photographs would be displayed. Polaroids come in various shapes and sizes, but they're mainly quite small, with quite narrow white borders on three sides, and the picture is embedded in a sealed plastic package that sometimes includes the empty "pod" of chemical goo that is broken and spread by the camera's mechanism. They're not easy to frame satisfactorily by any conventional means, and I was impressed by the elegantly simple solution chosen here: each Polaroid is held within a small box frame by what I take to be four tiny magnets, giving the image full protection without damaging it, as well as space to "breathe" as an object. If I'm right, I assume there is a ferrous plate or paint at the back of the box. Neat.

Photographs are supposed to have been a significant resource in Nolan's work, although you'd never guess: he's very far from the sort of representational painter who bases work on photographs, and to be honest he's not an artist whose work has ever appealed to me much. Apparently there is an archive of some 30,000 photographs of various sorts: let's hope nobody does a Vivian Mayer job on it, and invents a retrospective artist, "Sidney Nolan, photographer". He was also a user of the Quantel Paintbox, an early standalone incarnation of digital imaging, originally intended for TV graphics, but adopted by some forward-thinking artists in the 1980s, notably to produce album covers and music videos. But, like film in general and Polaroid in particular, the Paintbox was rendered obsolete by the advent of affordable desktop "personal computers", image editing software, and effective digital imaging devices. In so many ways the 1980s were a curious transitional phase between the hands-on, analogue world and the one inhabited by our "digital native" children.

I should mention that I had an embarrassing moment at The Rodd. In one of the exhibition spaces there is a small shop, in which various Nolan-related items are offered for sale. Amongst these were a few copies of an extraordinarily elaborate book, Paradise Garden, published in 1971, and combining Nolan's prints with various texts, and translucent overlays. I was assailed by my usual desire for a beautiful book, checked the price on the dustjacket and, seeing it was only £20, headed straight to the young woman (YW) sitting behind the ticket desk.

MC: Are these really for sale?
YW: Yes!
MC: Great! And only £20?!
YW: Um, no... Let me see... [checks list] Those are now £195 each, I'm afraid... [2]
MC: Ah... OK. I think I'll put this very carefully back where I found it then...

1. There's a nice catalogue of an exhibition of work by Polaroid artists, The Polaroid Years : instant photography and experimentation (Prestel, 2013).
2. Actually, not an unrealistic price. According to various online inflation calculators, £20 in 1971 is worth between £250 and £300 in 2022. I can remember paying £8.50 for a copy of OUP's facsimile of Blake's Marriage of Heaven & Hell as a student in 1973, and swallowing very hard as I wrote the cheque. Wrote the cheque! Talk about a hands-on, analogue world...

Saturday 23 April 2022

Shakespeare's 458th Birthday

Mine eye hath played the painter, and hath steeled
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein 'tis held,
And perspective it is best painter's art;
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured lies,
Which in my bosom's shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes:
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, wherethrough the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
  Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art:
  They draw but what they see, know not the heart.
Sonnet 24
Sonnet 24 is notoriously confusing, stretching a painting metaphor a bit beyond its elastic limit, although I suspect the printers are more to blame for this than our man Will. Delete "it" in line 4 for a start. And bear in mind that Sonnet 22 in the sequence has played with the conceit that the lover's and the poet's hearts have swapped places. All clear? Well, not quite... As Don Paterson says in his commentary: "Shakespeare is the least incompetent writer who ever lived, but if ever a poem died a fashion-victim to the Elizabethan conceit, this is it". Harsh, Don, harsh. It's actually one of my favourites, a photographer's sonnet avant la lettre if ever there was one.

Saturday 16 April 2022

A Serpent's Tooth


[I was sure I had published this post some while ago, but it seems to have remained in draft. So here it is. Apologies if my posts sometimes move too far into personal territory for some of you, but this was never intended to be an exclusively photographic blog, more as an outlet for my urge to write about *something* most days, which may explain its longevity. Other blogs are available, of course, although fewer by the day. BTW, are blogs "social media", do you think? I didn't think so, but I was twitted by a friend for declaring in a previous post that I rejected all social media ("says the man who writes a blog...")].

In a footnote to a previous post, I said that I regretted not having given my parents the pleasure of witnessing at least one of the four graduation ceremonies I have been entitled to attend; but as I've always had non-conformist leanings I didn't feel inclined to go to any of them, so neither could they. With hindsight, it does seem churlish to have denied them this little rite of passage; I was, after all, the first member of our family to go to university, and they were, not unreasonably, proud of this achievement, however vicarious. Their lives were not over-burdened with causes for celebration – quite the reverse, in fact – and I am sorry, now, when I think of the many such hurts I must have caused them, either deliberately or unthinkingly. It's a sad fact that the dark side of following the impulses of non-conformity is the trail of confusion, disappointment, and pain left in one's wake. An instinctive contrarian is never an easy person to love, or to believe yourself loved by.

It wasn't just me, of course. I don't suppose anyone's relationship with their parents has ever been straightforward, but the so-called "generation gap" was a real and very acute phenomenon in those thirty post-war years; mainly because life before and after WW2 in Britain was so utterly different for "ordinary" people. It must have been a decidedly mixed blessing for one generation of lower- and middle-income parents – the last generation to have been denied the opportunity to extend their free schooling beyond the age of 14, and also the last (we trust) to be forced to give up prime youthful years for the tedium and danger of wartime service [1]  – to witness the cornucopia of cost-free opportunities and cheap consumerist delights showered on the very next generation, their offspring. Within the same four family walls there had to co-exist the inheritors of a pre-1945 worldview – lives that were marked by penny-pinching, frustrated ambitions, and a reluctant deference within tightly-constrained horizons – and the beneficiaries of the post-1945 welfare state settlement, which was especially generous for the academically-able. Hundreds of thousands of us, born in those "baby boomer" years, grew up taking for granted heady new opportunities to go anywhere and do anything, provided you had some foggy idea of what "anything" or where "anywhere" might be, which could be as vague as living on state benefits and starting a skiffle group, or as precise as becoming a doctor.

It was a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict. To a younger generation encouraged to dare to dream of the sort of exciting and colourful lives previously the preserve of the wealthy and bohemian, the financial caution and deference to authority of their elders seemed like personality failings, rather than the result of the systematic deprivation by social class they actually were. Many parents of these entitled brats – mine included, I have to admit, once I had embarked on adolescence – had to endure mockery and ingratitude. Their attempts to guide their children safely through a minefield of dangerous new choices were perceived as a deliberate cramping of style, or a failure to understand and embrace the new liberties. As King Lear lamented, "how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!"

Another factor in the gulf of mutual understanding between generations was the degree of compartmentalisation in many young lives. There were so many things your parents couldn't or wouldn't approve of or understand; or at least this was what you assumed. I always envied, but could never emulate, those friends who took a "take me as I am or chuck me out" attitude to their family: at an earlier age than most they grew their hair, "experimented" with recreational drugs, had sex, left school, and abandoned any safe career plans for a precarious life as, say, a musician (or, more likely, someone who sat around stoned all day listening to music). Don't like it? Tough: this is who I am! Like most, though, I was too timid for such aggressive self-assertion and, besides, most of us liked our parents enough not to want to hurt them that much. So we maintained and juggled multiple lives and identities that had to be kept strictly separate, at times like an explosive chemical mix, at others like a stage farce. If I'm honest, at least one component in my desire not to go to a degree ceremony accompanied by my parents was to avoid any breach in my carefully compartmentalised life that might result.

You might think that a more brutal version of the truth would be that, seen from my newly-acquired perspective in one of the highest ivory-tower pinnacles of British higher education, I had simply become ashamed of my parents. That was not the case, though: my parents had been embarrassing me ever since I was aged about ten. I'm not sure why. It was not that I was an inherently snobbish little boy; I think it was more that they had begun to seem inauthentic to me (not a word I or anyone in my family would have used then, of course), never quite comfortable in their new skins as aspiring lower-middle-class office-workers.

I didn't know then that, on both sides, my grandparents had been raised in extreme poverty, but I think I sensed from them a deep apprehension that the new prosperity of the 1960s might be fake and temporary, a cheap plastic version of the real thing, a gloss-painted sheet of hardboard tacked over a filthy, draughty fireplace. That people like us no longer knew our place, and weren't prepared to shovel shit any more, literally or metaphorically, must have seemed dangerously hubristic. But, lacking words like "inauthentic" or "hubris" to safely package up such uncomfortable, ill-defined feelings meant that they became free-floating familial sense-data instead, like a sort of pervasive hum or smell, easily picked up on by a smart, sensitive kid. Most of the time I actually wished we were more like our solidly working-class neighbours, not less, and could abandon any pretensions to somehow deserving better than our actual circumstances.

This propensity to inverted snobbery seems to have been common among my contemporaries of all social strata, and may help to explain our attraction to the grungier aspects of youth counterculture. My parents could never understand my taste for the ragged and the scruffy. I think they would have understood perfectly if I had become some preening, clothes-mad Mod, spending an office-worker's wage on tailored suits and fancy shoes. Dad had been a bit of a dandy in his day, a semi-pro drummer and jazz enthusiast, taking style notes from Italy and the USA. But, as it was, he and I nearly came to blows over a greatcoat I once brought home from an army surplus store. It was the height of anti-fashion at the time (this would have been 1969, I think), but it never occurred to me that he might resent the presence of an item he'd been obliged to lug around for much of his six years of military service.

So that "Greatest Generation" tag that emerged a few years ago is probably pure baby-boomer guilt, I think. It's hardly a label anyone of that age would have chosen for themselves: boastful self-aggrandisement was never their style. Sure, we may have mocked your post-war suburban quietism, sneered at your timid tastes and aspirations, upset you with our rejection of institutions and rites of passage like marriage and graduation ceremonies, angered you with our political posturing, and baffled you with our dressing-up box fashions and taste for dressing down. But, listen: World War Two? Well done, you! You guys only went and saved the world... Great job, Greatest Generation!  But now you're dead, and we are old, and mocked in our turn. "OK boomer...", "Who ate all the pies?", "Where's my job for life with a pension?", and all that. Kids, eh?

How sharper than a serpent's tooth, you might think. But, oddly, a good many of our own children seem still to like us, despite everything. Some, so I hear, are even happy to remain at home well into their thirties; how strange is that? I endured years of self-sufficient squalor to avoid precisely that fate. True, a cynic might question whether this means that we boomers have succeeded or failed as a generation of parents, but the measures and metrics of parenting are pretty vague and variable at the best of times. Although in our own case, obviously, I can say without qualification that success has been the indisputable outcome, ever since that bright April day when we stood contemplating this first curious and unignorable new arrival into our house, and realised with mounting trepidation that he came without an instruction manual, just as they always have, and probably always will.

And I hope when you grow up, one day you'll see
Your parents are people, and that's all we can be
Loudon Wainwright III, "Your Mother and I"

2012 & 2016

1. The full six-stretch in my father's case, a despatch rider: from Dunkirk to Burma via North Africa, finally arriving home in London on VE Day. My mother also served in the ATS as an anti-aircraft battery sergeant 1942-5.

NOTE: I am away all this coming week in a part of Wales where both WiFi and a phone signal are mere rumours. I'll moderate any comments when I return to Southampton.

Monday 11 April 2022

Intimations of Spring

As I have probably written around this time every year since starting this blog in 2008, spring is not my favourite season. I love autumn, and rather enjoy a good winter, but the dismal prospect of long, hot, sweaty days to come is not enhanced by the onset of hay fever and these crazy mood swings in the weather. However, I realise this is a minority opinion and I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment; so, have at it, you sun-starved, fun-starved millions. Although for the sake of common decency, people, please keep your clouts on until May be out [1]. And why not enjoy spring here in the British Isles, this year, rather than flying off to some other, warmer spot on the planet? Let the airlines go out of business, and then perhaps the Mediterranean will stop creeping ever closer, and the sea levels ever higher.

Of course, personal preferences aside, it's impossible not to be awed by this annual resurrection, these ancient repeating patterns of life-forms reasserting themselves after the temporary cease-fire of winter, the endless fresh self-copying of immortally selfish genes. If ever "nature" is ruthlessly, unsentimentally red in tooth and claw, it is now. Inevitably, I suppose, people like to cast a sentimental, sanitising veil over this rawest season with flowers, bunnies, chocolate, and all that. But it's a jungle out there.

I don't think Tennyson's book-length poem In Memoriam (1849) is much read these days, but that is where the expression "red in tooth and claw" comes from (as well as many others, "better to have loved and lost", "never morning wore to evening, but some heart did break", etc.). The premature death of his close friend Arthur Hallam led the young poet to question his conventional Christian faith in a beneficent God, set against Nature's indifference to the extinction not only of the individual but also the species, as revealed by the new understanding of Earth's geological history. A Victorian poet's crisis of religious faith in the face of scientific advance is typical of the intellectual ferment of that fertile century, and Darwin's revolutionary ideas did not appear out of nowhere, any more than did those seedlings now erupting from your lawn.

'So careful of the type?' but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, 'A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.
'Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.'
In Memoriam LVI 

We will be heading off soon for our annual Easter visit to the Welsh Borders, where the lambing sheds will be busy, loud, and brightly lit all night, the birds will be frantically scavenging for food for their nestlings, while the raptors and ravens circle the pastures, woods, and hedgerows, scanning for an opportunistic meal for themselves and to stuff down the gaping maws of their own chicks. Darwin's famous "tangled banks" may be picturesque, but are jungles in miniature. Have you ever heard a songbird's melodious piping slowed down to the pitch of a dinosaur's territorial roar? Terrifying...
The Enkindled Spring

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that's gone astray, and is lost.

D.H. Lawrence

1. As the Old Folk did say, "Button to chin, till May be in; cast not a clout, till May be out". Solid advice, although it's true some of the kids had been sewn into their underwear all winter.

Thursday 7 April 2022

"Look here upon this picture, and on this..."

I thought it might be interesting to look at how an iPhone JPEG file differs from a "raw" file produced by the Halide app. This is a fairly dramatic example, but serves to illustrate the issues.

iPhone JPEG

Halide raw

So, above, we have the JPEG as most smart phone users would see it. It's a nice enough picture: contrasty, saturated colours, blue sky, crisp details. A bit dark, maybe, but what's not to like? You could brighten it up a bit or not bother, then share it with your community of friends and lap up the "likes". Nice capture! Below it, we have a fairly extreme example of a "raw" DNG image, produced at the same time by Halide. Huh? WTF? Delete!! But wait...

The JPEG is eminently suitable for viewing on a screen, but is something of a travesty of the original scene, in two important respects. First, the inbuilt AI processing has dramatised the scene somewhat, by emphasising the blue of the sky and the overall contrast of the scene. It was actually a mild, slightly misty March afternoon, with that sort of diffused light that you get in early spring in Britain. Second, and to my mind more important, it has also obliterated much fine detail by smoothing out the "noise", in some areas creating smudgy, impressionistic smears that resemble a pastel drawing.  Here is my rendering of the Halide raw file:

True, to get that I had to upload the file into my computer, and run it through my usual routines. First, I had to convert it from DNG to a TIFF file in my raw processor of choice, Photo Ninja, in the process adjusting the levels of brightness, colour balance, noise, and sharpness. Then I fine tuned the TIFF file in Photoshop Elements, resulting in the version you see here. Which is a lot more work than a typical smart phone user is prepared to do, but is simply what I do routinely for every photograph I take with a "proper" camera. Why wouldn't I do that for photos taken with my iPhone?

Could I have achieved the same result by editing the JPEG file? Here are two detailed extracts from the JPEG and the final TIFF files:

Detail of rendered raw

Detail of iPhone JPEG

You might prefer the overall rendering of the iPhone JPEG – but that could easily be copied – but there's no question which is the more detailed, the more "photographic", and, crucially for me, the best option to print at anything up to its full native size of 34cm x 25.5cm at 300ppi. There's none of that JPEG impressionism about the "raw" picture, and of course the JPEG has no processing latitude: pretty much all the decisions made by the Apple processing AI are final.

The kicker for me is that as a hand-held 12 MP image that would be hard to beat by any other camera I own. Here, for example, is a detail of a very similar shot of the Hockley Viaduct taken in April last year, with the much-praised Ricoh GR. Same fixed focal length (equivalent of a 28mm wide lens) at f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 100, but using a 16 MP APS-C sensor. It has its advantages but, interestingly, I had to do more work to remove optical faults like colour fringing from the Ricoh file than I did from the iPhone/Halide file. The miraculous thing is that the phone can run a top-rated pocket camera so close. And no matter how good the signal is out near Winchester, the Ricoh is completely inadequate as a phone.

[Apologies to early viewers: I posted the wrong Ricoh comparison detail]

Saturday 2 April 2022

Ten Ton Up

Now that I have taken the 1000th photograph with my iPhone 12 mini the novelty factor has finally worn off, and I'm more aware of the balance of advantages and shortcomings inherent in using a smartphone camera. Or, at least, in this one. So, to my surprise, I have to declare that I'm still pretty much as enthusiastic as I was initially, and that we are now going steady, as people used to say. I can't imagine not using my phone as a daily walk-around camera now. Frankly, you'd either have to be something of an exhibitionist or a very serious photographer to want to do anything else. Perhaps both: they're not incompatible.

There are shortcomings, of  course. For a start, there is the restricted focal length range. I miss the flexibility of a medium-range "kit" zoom, but I don't mind having a fixed focal length wide lens, even one equivalent to a 28mm wide lens in ye olde 35mm film terms (now generally referred to as "full frame", which is ridiculous). After all, my hitherto favourite pocket cameras, a Fuji X70 and a Ricoh GR, have exactly the same lens limitation, although admittedly both front a 16 megapixel APS-C sensor. Which, of course, is another potential iPhone shortcoming – that comparatively tiny sensor, yielding 12 MP files – although I have to admit this hasn't been a problem for me yet, at least when photographing in good light and with a steady hand. And you won't hear any complaints from me about the massive depth of field, even at a fixed aperture of f/1.6. Blurry backgrounds? No thanks. Another annoying little problem  is the susceptibility of settings like exposure compensation to be changed or the lens to be smudged by handling, and then there is the lack of a lens hood or any means of attaching one; flare and "ghosts" inevitably ensue.

It's important to note I'm not talking about the native iPhone camera here. I'm using the superb Halide app, which delivers proper unprocessed "raw" files, which are for my purposes far superior to the native Apple JPEGs. Not in terms of instant eye-candy appeal, it's true. I realise that most phone users have no greater ambition for their snaps other than for them to be agreeably colourful and sharp and suitable for sharing, and which will never be viewed on anything other than a screen. Apple cater to this desire superbly: every sky is made into a blue sky whether it was originally blue or not, every colour is rendered bright and saturated, no matter the quality of the light at the time, and all the edges and textures are satisfyingly crisp, especially when seen on a screen. But, look closely at an Apple JPEG, and you'll see quite how over-processed they are, sometimes like a mosaic of pieces of vividly-coloured glass, or in extreme cases like dabbed brushstrokes on a watercolour painting. It's very well done, but designed in sunny California to a consistent eye-pleasing AI formula. Plus, being JPEGs, they're not terribly hospitable to any remedial post-processing. Whereas a Halide raw file is indistinguishable, to my eye, from one produced in a "proper" camera (that is, you might say: soft, drab, lacking in contrast, and badly in need of exercise and some sunshine) and will respond to your favourite post-processing moves in exactly the same way.

Going back to the lens and lens hood problems, I did consider the possibility of investing in one of those add-on systems, like the ones from Sandmarc and Moment, which are based on a dedicated phone case with a built-in screw-mount that allows the use of various supplementary lenses and filter options. But they are very expensive, and I can't believe a supplementary lens wouldn't degrade the basic image quality. Besides, to end up carrying around a bagful of extra lenses and filters would take away much of the point of using a phone in the first place, not least its spontaneity. But I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has gone down that route. It's almost worth buying one of those cases just to be able to add a hood when needed.

Meanwhile, on to the second thousand iPhone photographs!

As to the title of this post, a "ton" in British usage refers to "a lot" of something – "a ton of trouble" – or, in more precise expressions, 100 somethings, usually pounds or miles per hour, despite being a measure of weight. Bikers used to be known as the "ton-up boys", referring to their habit of trying to reach or exceed 100 m.p.h. on certain stretches of road. Why "ton = 100"? Nobody seems to know. In the late-unlamented imperial measures, a ton was 20 hundredweight, one hundredweight was 8 stone, and one stone was 14 pounds. Thus a ton was 20 × 8 × 14 = 2,240 pounds. Obvious, innit? When I was in primary school this stuff was regarded as elementary knowledge, along with pounds, shillings, and pence, not to mention gills, pints, quarts, and gallons, or even feet, yards, furlongs, and miles. I can still recite "one mile is 1,760 yards" without even thinking about it.

Curiously, a full half century after decimalisation (that's 50 years here, like everywhere else, thankfully), I'm pretty sure most of us still think of our bodily weight in stones, and our height in feet and inches. I doubt many Brits could be told that a man is about 178 cm tall and 76 kg in weight and have any immediate sense of his physical presence. Whereas 5' 10" and 12 stone? Got it! It seems some measures are precise, universal, and easy to calculate, but others are more appropriate for certain purposes. The size of Wales, for example, or the thickness of a cigarette paper (one standard red Rizla is equal to three hair's breadths, IIRC) are standard imperial measures still much in use today.