Strange days

It’s been an odd month; a strange mix of depressing news, achievement and good news.

All this month, there has been bad news in work. A friend has passed away, another two are off with serious illnesses and relatives of colleagues are seriously ill or have passed away. It’s at times like these that you fully understand the value of supportive colleagues and friends. I remember how important it was for me when my mum was ill, and I try to be as supportive if I can.

Rufus had to go to the vet for an operation to remove two small lumps from his eyelid and head. A routine, minor operation but given the stress in work, I found myself more worried than I should have been. I needn’t have, of course, as he bounced out of the vet’s with only a slight, post op stagger (although his eyes betrayed the effects of the anaesthetic as did the fact that when he tried to circle me – his usual greeting when we’ve been apart – he kept bumping into me as the circle became an ellipse). His head was shaved and he resembles a monk at the moment.

A while back, I was asked a strange question. “Do you want to take photos of a bunch of Vikings fighting on Pen y Fan?” It’s the kind of offer you can’t really refuse.

I know some of the Vikings in question because one of them works with me. Thus a week ago I found myself driving to the car park at Pont ar Daf with two giant Scandinavian warriors, four round shields, two sets of chainmail armour, a Dane Axe, a sword and two scrams. The conversation had I been stopped by the police would have been one to retell for many years. But fortunately, we weren’t pulled over. Nor were we ambushed by Angles, Saxons or Celts. Instead, we managed to get the last parking space in the car park and met up with 5 other Vikings to make the long trek to the top of the mountain.

All of this was for Cancer Research, (the Just Giving site is here), and we had a lot of interest and support from all the people we met on the way up, at the top, and on the way down again. Thank you to everyone who donated on the day.

Today, I took Rufus for his first long walk after the op. He was walking in a straight line again, which is always an advantage, and we went along a quiet stretch of the Pembrey cycle path. In the past we’ve encountered belligerent cows on this route so i was particularly wary but all the cows I could see were in the distance. But as we got to the end of the tarmac part, there on the left on the field were around 50 cows. Almost as one, they looked at us and Rufus and I looked at them. We stayed where we were, with the bravery that only a barbed wire fence can bring out in one.

As we watched each other, four of the braver bovines approached the wire. I am guilty of anthropomorphising animals but this time they really did look like four tough guys walking menacingly towards us as their stares never left us. We stayed long enough to appear not to be concerned and, egos satisfied, we set off back tot he car.

With one eye constantly looking behind for any signs of a herd of cows charging towards us.

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The devil makes work…

Tonight’s gig with the Insiderz has been postponed until next Saturday. Right now I would have been trying to remember what songs I need to practice for tonight, sorting out all the leads (they tie themselves in knots when I’m not looking) and making sure I eat early (so my belly isn’t bloated and doesn’t push the guitar out at an odd angle when I’m on stage). But instead I find myself with some unexpected free time. What to do?

I’ve done some trek preparation (8km with Rufus this morning, in the wind and occasional rain). I’ve spent some time with friends for lunch (I say lunch, I had a scone – that’s pronounced scown not scon. If you have scons they are entirely different beasts – with butter and cream). I’ve had a shower (the fox was complaining about the smell). I’ve checked the potatoes (some small holes in the leaves) and I’ve taken steps to prevent the bit of garden designated as the wild bit ( = bit I can’t be bothered to cut and weed) ¬†expanding out to the veg patch. And I’ve had a coffee.

Idles hands and all that. So I fired up Lightroom (my new imaging editing and management software) and had a look at some of the menu options I don’t normally use. Those of a nervous disposition when faced with trivia should step back and perhaps jump straight to the pictures below. Those of you mildly turned on by figures – this is the closest you’ll ever get to porn* on my blog.

*Note – not real porn.

I found a sort filter in Lightroom that allows me to see the statistics based on camera type, lens type – even sensitivity setting. It means I can select a parameter and see all the pictures that meet that criteria. It even summarises the number of images by parameter. There are 21 parameters to search on. Try and control your excitement.

Where was I? Oh yes. Even I’m not sad enough to need to know how many pictures I’ve taken with in a landscape format (71,837) or how many have been taken with ISO400 sensitivity (12,395). But I was interested to see how many I’ve taken with each of my cameras.

According to the list, 69 different cameras have been used to take the 79,272 pictures in my library. This number includes the cameras other people have used (as some of those pictures have been sent to me by some of you lot), and the identity of the scanners used to digitise my early film efforts. The camera I have used the most is my Nikon D300 (8,852) which is the camera I had converted to Infra red last year. Then its the D7000 (7,841) and the Panasonic GF1 (7,464). I was surprised that the little Sony I carry round everywhere with me has only taken 4,771 pictures. I was also surprised to find I only took 1,366 photos with my first decent digital camera, an Olympus CZ3030. I guess some of those are the missing files I lost when two full DVDs of photos got corrupted a few years ago. I was also still using a film camera when I had the CZ3030. I’ve taken 335 pictures with my iPhone, and before that, 425 with my Sony Ericsson phone.

The most popular focal length is 14mm (5,054). My most productive year to date is 2011 (14,272). My favourite aperture is, apparently, f/8 (15,177 pictures). This is the setting I normally use if I’m not sure what ‘s coming up, so that isn’t so surprising.

I could go on but there is a crowd of people gathered on the front lawn demanding I stop or they will burn the house down.

I was interested in the camera stats as I have recently part exchanged several cameras to purchase a lovely new Nikon D600. In fact it’s so new that I’ve only taken 33 photos with it, the majority at f/16, in landscape format with a 90mm focal length and ISO 800… where’s that smoke coming from… no, I’ll stop. Put it out.

Sorry. I thought long and hard about this as I’d only really started using a full frame digital camera last year. But the benefits, especially image quality, low light performance and a properly controllable depth of field, were immediately evident. I had a rule of thumb when I got my first DSLR that I would only upgrade when the sensor resolution doubled. I know the megapixel count isn’t a full measure of a camera, but it is a good measure of the advancement of camera technology in general. I refer to trusted reviews and a lot of research as well. ¬†I did slip a little with the D7000. But the D600 doubled the D700’s count and that, coupled with a good price, made it hard to resist. So I didn’t.

I haven’t had much opportunity to test the camera out yet because of the weather, but you’ll see from the Damsel Fly picture below, it’s got potential. In fact, the only thing holding it back is the thing that is holding it. Me.

Some photos from last week.

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Elvis has left the building

Many years ago, I started working with a guy who had the same mischievous sense of humour as me. That’s all I really ask for in a work colleague. We made work fun (which was necessary in those days), we made our colleagues laugh and we became friends. Andy was introduced to me as Elvis, as he had recently won a competition by impersonating Elvis and singing some of his hits. I saw him perform shortly afterwards at another work night out. He was very good. Being in a band, I found we had a common interest. Andy decided to make the most of his talents and started gigging. I was at his first evening and he was brilliant. From there on there was no looking back and he worked with other talented musicians in acts that encompassed Elvis, The Beatles and Roy Orbison (to name but a few). In a few years, they were one of the most popular (and certainly the busiest) acts in the area.

Andy was always up for a charity gig and I was fortunate to share the stage with him on several occasions. I remember lending him my smoke machine and to the thundering strains of ‘Phantom of the Opera’, the stage curtains opened and Andy stepped out in a thick fog of smoke. It worked though, and that was another good gig. I was part of his act twice, again both charity nights. As ‘The Bootles’, four of us played Beatles covers at the Pontlliw Village Hall. My lasting memory of that night was Andy suddenly appearing with a full wig and beard and very good Liverpool accent to be John Lennon for the finale, which was ‘All You Need Is Love’ as I recall.

On another night, and once again demonstrating his generous nature (it was a weekend and he could have been earning good money) Andy and I performed as a duo for a fund raising night for a colleague. As we worked through the set, Andy kept handing me hats and wigs and other props and it was all I could do to keep up. He was totally professional, of course, and knew exactly what he was doing. He guested at one of my band’s gigs, where he sang a few Elvis numbers in a packed pub in Ammanford.

Off stage, we often ended up at the same works nights out even though by now we were no longer working together. I remember towards the end of one such evening, when both of us had consumed a shandy or two, performing that ‘Madness’ dance, (you know the one) to ‘Baggy Trousers’. I sang a duet with him at his 30th birthday. In the silly days when I smoked, he would sometimes bum a cigarette off me. And I from him on occasion.

Our paths crossed again in work and he started to tell me about his guitar collection. It took days as he had so many (and I thought I had a few!) It took so long that he was adding news ones before he’d finished telling me about the existing ones.

I was devastated when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and then relieved when it was operated on. When Andy returned to work it was great to see him fighting back and not letting a trivial thing like brain surgery get in the way. He was even planning on getting back on stage and I believe he had already sung with some of his duo colleagues. I last spoke to him a couple of weeks ago, just before I went on leave. He wanted to know when my band was playing so he could come along and watch.

So to hear today that he passed away yesterday was a complete shock. I’m still not really taking it all in. Sometimes, as friends and colleagues struggle to find something to say, the words can sound false or twee. I’m struggling to find words so I’ve let the memories tell the story, as they will for all his friends and family. Andy was a person that no one had a bad word to say about.

Andy, I can’t believe you’ve gone before you finished telling me the history of your guitar collection.

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