The Destroyer

I hate waste.  This could be attributable to my parents’ having carefully raised their children to appreciate the few material possessions we had near the poverty line. In our house if you broke it or lost it, tough shit there wasn’t money for a replacement water pistol or another forty hours in my mother’s life to sew a new costume.  We counted ourselves lucky for the shining moment of having possessed the thing in the first place.  

Now I’m older and wealthier, it has more to do with wanting to respect possessions and do my part to help the natural environment not to drown under a sea of pointless human consumption.  Every time the bin-lid clangs another penguin chokes to death.  For a good long while Christmas made me melancholy because of the conspicuous waste. 

I’m constantly amazed by how much stuff others have.  I’m not big on stuff.  A good proportion of my waste is either carbon from long-haul travel, or unnecessary calories.  But I could certainly do better.  As we’re about to find out.

Just occasionally, I’ll fall in love with a tangible thing.  I fell in love with my Mac and five years later we’re still together with no sign of an argument. I adore my books, and my new camera is so coveted it has its own special bag. 

One of my favourite places is the local junk emporium.  So, there I was, perusing a darkened corner and trying not to get crushed to death by a pile of teetering treasure.  I spied this: 

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Now, it may not look like much to you.  And that’s after a spit and a polish.  But something about its shape spoke to me.  It is made of metal, so you would think it’s virtually impossible for me to break it.  Always a bonus. 

Things got even better when I lifted off the lid: Image

OH MY GOD inbuilt ceramic tea-strainer.  Hey. I know, right?  Sold, right then and there to the girl with the big grin, for the ten remaining pounds she has to her name after paying for her commute to work.  

I got the thing home and checked the internet for wisdom.  The internet said it’s very likely a 1930s item, making it very old and probably quite loved by someone.  If not then it could be grateful for rapidly rising in my affections.  I pictured our long and happy union; me with tea, the teapot gently keeping things warm. 

The base of the teapot is heavy. Properly heavy.  So heavy and flat-bottomed that it looked like it was intended to be placed on the stove, with the tea in the strainer while water boiled all about it.  After I polished it up, I decided to give it a whirl. 

I filled it with water and tealeaves, and placed it on the gas-burner.  I turned away to tidy something up and there was a huge bang. Metal had expanded. Violently.  

Still I was not shopping at the emporium named ‘CLUE’.  I let the situation continue, looking forward to my cuppa and virtuous feeling.  

When molten beads of metal started to leak from the inside of the base of the teapot and some odd fumes appeared, I clicked. It was just a normal teapot, and my attempt to imbue it with absent qualities of ancient wonder had cost its life.  

The teapot is, to the untrained eye, fine.  But look closer and the painful truth is that it now wobbles on its base, and is irreparably tarnished brown near the bottom.  Heating it (even from the inside with boiling water) results in fumes that are clearly not water vapour. 

After approximately 85 years on this earth, this thing had the misfortune to cross my path, and I have ruined it. 

The guilt. The guilt.  I feel like I killed a living thing.  I tell you, I have spent the last three weeks trying to console myself with the thought that it was unusable anyway because it’s probably made of toxic metal and that I (and all other future owners) narrowly escaped death by poisoning.

I’m still feeling bad about it, and the teapot has yet to hear the clang of a bin-lid from the inside. I can’t bring myself to throw it away.  

I should probably get a grip. After all, I’m sure this is how hoarders take their first few steps toward being buried under their own mental illness.  

The Bedside Table

There were many reasons I was dissatisfied with my bedside table.  First, its colour: orange.

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Not even a subtle orange.  Second, it has no drawer.  I must either leave my book on the top (which would be fine if I could constrain myself to two books) or I must reach down awkwardly while on the edge of sleep and open the door and throw the book onto the half-shelf within (or as you can see in the photo, simply throw them on the floor).  Third, with a square base and a monolithic stature it has a utilitarian oomph which is not to my liking.

Fortunately, my taste in furniture tends towards peasant rather than palace. When I last persuaded K-man to visit the local junk emporium, we came across this:

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This is the most poorly-made piece of furniture  I have ever encountered, and that includes Swedish flat-pack specials I incompetently put together myself. It seems to be made predominantly from waste wood by a person who hated their job. In places where surely – surely – a nail would have been better, glue has been used and did not stick properly.  Someone made a bad decision to try polishing this turd, and attached a piece of spare dowelling rod to the outside.

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This little cupboard was very cheap, and I have vision. And my vision couldn’t withstand more morning orange.

Yesterday the sun shone, and in our house that means embarking on a stupid project outside using power tools.  Hurrah!

K-man had to shore up the flimsy construction, and wrench off the stupid dowelling. Then I got busy with the power-sander. A short time later, I looked up from my cup of tea and realised this might not turn out too badly after all.

DSC_1016When all the black shit – I know not what it was – came off, the little cupboard grew a personality.  There was an interlude when I got a bit too busy with the power-sander and the bottom piece of wood holding the door up broke off, but what’s a husband for if not to clean up after his wife’s manic sanding experiments?

Then it was time to paint.  As we know, paint is a shit piece of furniture’s best friend. It covers a multitude of sins and can turn something horrible into something you can stand to look at without crying.  I do believe, however, that the trend should be reserved for crap pieces otherwise beyond rescue.  All those people painting over beautiful woodgrain because of fashion are nuts.  Especially if they do stupid shit like two-tone blue and pink and then sand down one layer of paint to display the nonsense.  I have seen more overpriced ruined chests of drawers than I can bear because people think that shit adds value.  Hell no, you just ruined a decent piece of furniture.  What is it with these people?

Sorry – that rant has been inside me for a long time and it needed to come out.  Obviously, I would never paint something pink and blue two-tone. I would simply use whatever left-overs I had available in the garage. Which turned out to be Farrow and Ball New White.

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Of course, every insect for miles around stuck itself in the paint. But progress was made and soon it was time to wax the top.

DSC_1018I was very surprised and pleased with how well this turned out.  You would never guess the top was plywood, or that it cost only around £20 and a few hours of my time.  Check out the sanded and waxed top:

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Here it is in situ:

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A full year after K-man accidentally sold our bedside tables on ebay for a song, I finally have a book-drawer and no orange.

That’s our new carpet you can see in the photo.  What a revelation!  More about that another time.

 

 

 

Forever Behind the Curve

After months of absence, I logged in to two internet entities: google reader, and wordpress.

Apparently, google reader will cease to exist shortly, and I must expend valuable energy locating an alternative and transporting all my feeds (all, oh, twenty of them) over to the alternative. This will take ten minutes, which is a disaster.

WordPress has changed its welcome page and bits of its user interface, again.  Can’t they leave well enough alone? Perhaps it has been a gradual evolution, but I’ve been away for long enough that the changes have hit me all at once.

Oh, and it is still snowing in London. It’s April. I am in an incredibly bad mood as a result.  It is time for horticultural therapy,  but NO the ground is frozen, the wind blasts needles up noses, and our heating is broken. The weather has been like this since November. Thank lard I escaped to tropical climes last month, or I might have been driven half mad by dismay.

Hello, internet. How are you?

Hibernation

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It snowed last week, which is no longer a rare event in this country.  Every year for the last four there has been one decent dump of gentle-sounding white stuff, followed by squeals of indignation as transportation melts down, and an already hellacious one-hour commute becomes a gamble where the prize is three hours trapped in a dark train carriage.  I worked at home for two of the days, which, because I work with highly sensitive information necessitated two senior management approvals, one form-completion, one risk assessment, one secure laptop, a five-meter cable (no WiFi, because that would be a risk) and a bundle of system crashes.

The snow has melted now, and with it Snow Dog.  We created Snow Dog because K-man is desperate for a four-legged friend, but we’re out of the house 50 hours a week at work and it’s just not feasible or fair.  So, we briefly created our own. He doesn’t talk back, or fetch slippers, but he also doesn’t crap on the lawn.  I did consider getting a pile of mud and making an accompanying turd, but this is a Nice Neighbourhood so I restrained myself.

In New Zealand, we built my favourite ever snow-man:

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I have been hibernating from blogging, because life is busy and shit-storms a-brew constantly.  It’s disappointing because there is plenty of source material, but I just can’t find the words.  I would (apparently) rather waste countless hours playing Candy Crush and then accidentally deleting my progress.  What with everything that’s been going on around here lately, that was a disaster blown out of all proportion in my tiny mind.

Snow sculpture – or perhaps art in general – is remarkably therapeutic.  Without even really knowing how, I’m reaching some conclusions about myself, and none of them are very comfortable because all of them seem to necessitate radical amendments to my choices about how I spend my time in this merry-go-round.  I can’t get a particular quotation out of my head.

Instead of wondering where your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.

- Seth Godin

Extreme

I was at a party a few weeks ago, which for me means like-minded souls and I get together and become irate at the world’s apparently intractable problems, corporate behemoth uber-un-accountability, slavery, feminism v classism and is it a competitive or complementary relationship, intersectional discrimination, environmental hell, and other light-hearted subjects.  Obviously, we blame everybody but ourselves.

During one of these wine-fuelled if I ran the world people would all just love each other and be happy sessions, in a moment of fairly ironic hypocrisy someone pulled out their iPhone and tuned me in to a quiz with some particularly insightful results.  I pulled out my iPhone – for I am nothing if not a  champagne socialist – to give the quiz a whirl.

The quiz lives at Political Compass and here is a quote from the website:

The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’ […] are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?
On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It’s not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can’t explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as ‘right-wingers’, yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook.

The test plots your politics not on one linear ‘left/right’ line, but in a quadrant that accounts for the distinctions between social and economic political liberalism or authoritarianism.  Or something.  So:

If we recognise that [the left-right line] is essentially an economic line it’s fine, as far as it goes. We can show, for example, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot, with their commitment to a totally controlled economy, on the hard left. Socialists like Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Mugabe would occupy a less extreme leftist position. Margaret Thatcher would be well over to the right, but further right still would be someone like that ultimate free marketeer, General Pinochet.

That deals with economics, but the social dimension is also important in politics. That’s the one that the mere left-right scale doesn’t adequately address. So we’ve added one, ranging in positions from extreme authoritarian to extreme libertarian.

That line goes vertically from top to bottom, resulting in a diagram divided into four quadrants:

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The thought occurs that you readers probably came across this test years ago, but it’s new to me and I’m soldiering on.

There is far more information on the website, but as we know, when attention spans wane it is time to introduce FAMOUS PEOPLE.  That’s right. Here’s where they plot on the graph:

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At this point I’m thinking that it’s no wonder I firmly believe the world is royally screwed up – it seems that many of our leaders reside in the upper right hand part of the upper right hand quadrant. In common with lots of world leaders, I have studied both law and political science (specifically, human rights) and I continue to be amazed that folks who must have read the same weighty tomes of convincing left-wing libertarian thoughts of a bundle of eminent thinkers can consistently spew such right-wing ill-thought-through downright-mean old clap-trap.

Ed Milliband is the son of a full-blown Marxist and known as Red Ed in the UK for his astonishingly left-wing position on many policy areas. Yet there he is, in the upper right quadrant.  I’m not even going to comment on the inclusion of Mitt Romney, because it hurts me to think about him for the length of time required to formulate the violent expletives warranted.

So I took the quiz and wondered where I would come out.  And the answer is:

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That was a surprise even to me.  It’s no wonder I spend such a hefty dollop of time getting righteously pissed off at The State of Things.

Am I such an outlier? Not based on the self-selecting sample of folk at the party – I found one person whose dot was so far over to the left the graph wasn’t big enough to accommodate his views, and someone else who was just slightly more to the right and up.  Even K-man (and I say this with fondness) sits in the lower left quadrant.

If you are inclined to spend the five minutes to take the test and tell me the results, I would be interested to find out where your dot lands on this chart.  No judgment, no authoritarianism, nothing but curiosity.  I think left is best, but that’s because that’s what I am.

How Not to Be A Photographer

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K-man got me a new toy for Christmas.  This is a Nikon J1. It is, apparently, an old model. The only thing I care about is that it was half price, down from eye-wateringly expensive to heart-racingly expensive, which means I could legitimately put it on my gift list. And make no mistake, it is a hell of a gift. I’ll be on best behaviour for a while.

Obviously a camera like this instantly transforms you into a professional-quality photographer who can take well-composed photographs with just the right exposure. I’m half-way through the manual, but hey! Who needs instructions, right?

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This is what happened when I took the camera off the Do Everything For Me setting.  Really.

I availed myself of the instruction manual, the power of the internet, and several hours.  After a time, I was able to achieve a focused background and a blurred foreground.  And then, something clicked.  No, they’re not perfect, but there is progress:

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It’s still slightly blurred in the foreground.  The rest of that blurring was intentional.  Seriously! Confusingly, the camera kit I got came with two lenses. I’m still learning their relative limitations. Also, I’d had wine, thought ‘art is great!‘  and it was late.  I imagined I was the Shakespeare of the photography world and for a brief moment, when I viewed this image on the camera’s LCD screen, my dream became reality. Once uploaded and viewed closer to full size on the Mac’s display, truth kicked beauty’s butt.

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You can’t tell this from my advanced ability in selecting portrait backgrounds, but I am playing with the aperture size.  This background is blurred, I tell you.  Alfie looks furious; the power of his anger has evidently created an odd halo of light around him.  It couldn’t be anything I did.

The weather has been especially shitty lately, and today was no exception. But it was dry. I toddled out to the garden to see if I could use the many fast-moving creatures who live there to test my shutter-speed selection strategy.

The answer, folks, was not really.  In England, of course, daylight doesn’t always mean daylight.  Sometimes it means the sky looks like wet newspaper.  Since photography is all about light, woman, that means a fast shutter-speed doesn’t let enough light in. Aperture adjustments just weren’t cutting it. Or at least that’s what I think the problem was. I took about one hundred photographs, and what you see below is the best of the best, after they’ve been through image manipulation software.

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This is an artichoke leaf at the back of the garden, in the shitty patch. See how the background is all blurred?  That, for me, is a major achievement.  I was taking this close-up with the telephoto lens, because I was too lazy to go back inside the house and get the smaller lens with other numbers written on it.

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One of the evil sunflower-head-eating forces at work in our garden.  Here he is, in his domain high in the tree-tops. Normally he is leaping between the trees or stealing food from someone.  Just when I actually wanted him to be moving about so I could test the shutter-speed settings, he was stock still.

 Bastard.

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This is my favourite.  Quite obliging when it came to sitting for telephoto portraits, but still wouldn’t move so I could test my shutter-speed ideas.

I can see it is going to take some time for me to get the hang of this.  I must squash my lazy attitude, pony up the hours of manual-reading required, and spend serious time experimenting.

You know what really blows my mind about this?

This is the best I could manage after hours with a really good camera, plus computer aided image manipulation. The camera does 95% of the work for me. I set either shutter-speed or aperture size (I am scared of the fully manual setting at the moment), and it does the rest. I don’t have to worry about putting the wrong type of film in the camera, and I can fix small screw-ups using my computer.  I have to remember about four things. Next time, I will think about light metering and exposure compensation and other parts of the manual I haven’t read yet.

But actual real photographers (people like my friend Lane, who has inspired my new hobby to no small extent), they create images far far far better on their worst days than I could ever dream of on my best day.  And they do it with film cameras.  I find that simply mind-boggling for the sheer quantity of talent and dedication and outright skill it requires.

Twenty What Now?

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Happy new year to you!

This blog has been a flabby and floundering fillet for too long.  My excuses range from the fact that there is a permanent dull ache in my buttocks from the kicking my full time job regularly administers, right through to the outlandish amount of time I spend procrastinating through the medium of the internet.  There’s also the fact that every time I have logged in to WordPress in the last few months I have been confronted with changes that I would need to learn about before I could compose a new post.  It’s like clawing through fog.

The last year has been my best year in a while, mostly.  The one elephant in the room holds a sign in his trunk which reads ‘Oh Holy Fuck’, but the sign does not belong to me.  Once I figure out my own place in the giant familial shit-storm I will write about it from that angle.

Tradition dictates that I must arrive at some New Year Recommendations.  The important thing about recommendations rather than resolutions is that they are just that: recommendations.  I would like to change my life in the following ways, but I give myself no guarantees as to the quality of the outcomes I can achieve, though I will give it my best shot.  This low-fi approach to life means less beating myself up.  So:

  1. No more bloody smoking. I am serious this time. Too many are the occasions where I have been whammed upside the head by self-hatred the morning after a night out, because my mouth feels like it’s been coated in the contents of the hoover bag.  Too many health-giving running sessions end in my wheezing.  I’ll have to re-read that Allen Carr book (the big thick one with too many pages and too small a font) and this time I am not giving it away thinking I’ve cured myself. I will try not to remember that Allen Carr died of lung cancer.  It is not too late for me. 
  2. [Insert Art Here].  For the last year, it has struck me how little art there is in my life.  I’m quite musical. I love to read.  I like writing.  The internet vortex sucketh hard, and now I barely manage to do anything but surf the web or watch TV in my spare time (far be it from me to suggest that TV cannot be art, but recall that I am partial to the KarKrashians and the only creativity involved in those women is plastic surgery). I believe my life would be more fulfilling if I got up off my backside occasionally and challenged myself.  I will read more, and log my thoughts on what I’ve read on this blog. I will write more, which will also appear on this blog. I will try to tighten up my writing and prevent egregious bouts of fingertip-diarhhea. I will learn how to take decent photographs (aided by my brand new Christmas present of a Nikon J1; long have I hankered after a Nikon camera, for which I blame Simon and Garfunkel).
  3. More running.  My  mileage these days is woeful. I have new socks, new full-length running tights, a borrowed buff for cold weather ear-protection, and an expanding arse. Each month I will increase my total mileage, and I will enter one local distance race and train for it.  If I am feeling under-motivated, I will watch Mo Farah win gold in the 10,000m in London. And if I’m still feeling too old and tired, I’ll watch him take the 5,000m too.

I think that’s quite enough for one year. I hope 2013 brings you your heart’s desires.


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