Friday, 31 October 2014

Travelling like a writer

Rebecca Birch,  whose work I like, wrote in her blog earlier this year of how a writer  may approach travel with a different attitude to normal human beings.  We have a habit of storing up experiences that may come in useful in our work.

Personally I find that my camera helps. The great boon of digital photography is practically to eliminate the marginal cost of your pictures. No more worrying whether you can justify the use of film.

So when I am wandering around I take a picture of anything that looks interesting, even if I don't know what it is, together with numerous landscape shots that will help me remember the setting. Then when I get home I do my research and find out what I have photographed. Usually between reference books and the internet I can find out. I find this also helps me to remember the next time I see something like it.

Even on a guided tour it will often prove difficult to take in everything that you are told, but
photographs will help you recall it. The best tour guides throw in all sorts of local colour: history, myth, prejudice, manner of speaking. All of these have their potential uses.

Not everything can be photographed. It may be a sound that characterises a place, sometimes a smell, sometimes a taste or a texture. But at least if you have documented one sensory impression it may help you to recall others.

My two example photographs above are both from Taormina, Sicily.  The first is a detail of the second.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Prophets of Baal - Paperback edition

For those who prefer real books that you can hold in your hand rather than electronic versions, I can now announce that the paperback version of Prophets of Baal has gone on sale.

The US CreateSpace shop page is here

The UK Amazon page is here

I understand that it will take a few days before it is available elsewhere. I'll try to keep this post updated.

It was quite strange to pick up a copy and discover how heavy it was!  I do hope that people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Perhaps you will let me know?

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Slamannan and its Neighbourhood

For a long time I was completely unaware that the nearby village had established a presence on the web.  I was recently pointed in the direction of this facebook page which contains a lot of pictures and stories about the village of Slamannan. It seemed to me that this deserves to be more widely known, along with an overall history of this interesting area. So here is a little introduction.  I shall try to add details of the village's history in due course.

Slamannan (above) is a village, or more accurately a group of villages in south east Stirlingshire, Scotland. Its population, including the outlying hamlets of Limerigg and Binniehill, (below) is in the region of 1,400.

Nestling in a natural hollow of Sliabh Mannan at the confluence of the River Avon and the Culloch Burn, it is around 150 metres above sea level and on a clear day commands views right across the Forth estuary to the Campsie Fells and Ochil Hills. The whole of the surrounding area is designated as being of Great Landscape Value and is home to a number of protected species including bats, bean geese and badgers.

At the centre of the village stands an impressive clock memorial to the dead of the Boer War, and south of this in the middle of the twentieth century a substantial council housing scheme was built. Further from the centre in all directions stretch more modern private housing developments.

There are three nineteenth century mansions nearby, one of which is now a respite home.

The village has its own primary school, community centre, medical centre and library. There are two take-aways, a chemists, grocers, post-office, cafe and garage.

It also has a lot of very nice people who are happy to talk about the place where they live, though when it snows in winter and the road to Falkirk is blocked for an hour or two the location can become a little less popular!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Photographing The Moon

I love to see a well taken photograph of our nearest planetary neighbour.  It is a lot easier said than done and I'm still finding my way in the art, not least because it involves being out of doors late and in the cold!  Additionally the cloud cover is often too bad and even when the sky is clear there can be atmospheric haze that reduces the quality of photographs taken from Earth.  These days of course we have seen so many photographs from space that we are spoiled.

I discovered at an early stage that you cannot get away with a hand held camera.  Even the steady hand of a surgeon might struggle to hold his lens sufficiently immobile for a night time exposure at a quarter of a million miles away from his subject.  So having acquired a tripod, I tried again, using my Minolta 75-300 mm. lens on its maximum extension.  Now this is decent lens for a zoom and I ended up with respectable pictures, but only very small ones after cropping so far into the frame.

Last night I decided to stack lenses in a reckless fashion to see what I could do with a big image.  I used my elderly Sigma 400mm f5.6  M42 lens and two doublers, a Helios and a Tamron.  Effectively I was trying to focus and set aperture and exposure manually for the equivalent of a 1600mm lens.  This is not easy; at least it's not easy for me.  I made numerous mistakes.  However I finally got a couple of presentable pictures, of which the one below is the better, in my opinion.

I do not claim that this picture has huge technical merit.  I hope to do better.  Nevertheless I am not dissatisfied with it for a first effort with this type of set up.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Where are the giants?

Sometimes when I contemplate the awful problems that beset our world, I wonder why it is that the leading figures in society and politics today seem so puny compared with the colossal shadows cast by their predecessors. Where is the modern Churchill, Gladstone or Disraeli? Would the new Duke of Wellington please stand up?

For some reason the present generation seems to reach its pinnacle in people for whom the achievement of simple competence is regarded as a triumph. Has something gone wrong with our education system? Do we no longer breed statesmen and heroes or do we somehow conspire to keep leadership out of their hands? Has society itself become so open and tolerant that we are no longer capable either of making or accepting the strong and often upsetting decisions that are needed?

But when we look back to ancient society we find exactly the same sentiments of the degeneration of the human race. Greek heroes described in Homer could perform wonderful feats of strength 'greater than any two men born today'. The borderline between heroes and gods was tenuous and frequently crossed.

It seems probable that human beings have always looked upon their problems as huge and their own resources as feeble by comparison. Since we need to believe that the situation is not hopeless, we weave myths around the men of the past until in retrospect they achieve the stature of giants. "All we require," we say, "is another such hero to come along and his superior powers will get us out of this mess."

Unfortunately the prominent figures of today will always suffer by comparison with an idealised past that lives only in memory and from whom time has stripped away all shortcomings. Maybe we ought to cut the current generation a bit of slack. Who knows, some of them, when the next century looks back on this one, may turn out to be legendary giants.