Four Years

There are dates that stick in the memory. Birthdays. Deathdays*. Terrorist attacks. Anniversaries. February 16th is a date that sticks in my memory. In 2011, on that date, I got on a plane and flew back to the UK. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Have I made myself clear? I hope so.

Life in Mexico was fun. Every day was an adventure. Every single day. Without exception. In the UK, every day is either a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Preferably one of the latter two, which might turn out to have an adventure of sorts in store. Sometimes. True, there are benefits to living in the UK. There are no doubts about that. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to turn on a tap and not really be certain whether any water would come out. But certain that if it did, you shouldn’t really drink it. Although I did drink it on more than one occasion without any noticeable side effect. Tis all but part of the adventure.

Since returning to the UK, I’ve droned on about Mexico City to anyone who will listen. I’ve also droned on to anyone who won’t listen. That’s one of the benefits of droning on. It doesn’t really matter if anyone listens or not. It’s a pitiful form of self therapy, but it relieves the withdrawal pangs.

It doesn’t, I fear, give anyone a real idea about why Mexico is such a fabulous little patch of planet Earth. I’ve shared videos over the years on this blog, and I watch some of them sometimes. I sometimes think that opening YouTube and entering Mexico City in the search box is the equivalent of a smoker having a sneaky cigarette when he’s trying to quit. Naughty but nice.

Sadly, most videos show only one facet of the city. It either dwells on the poverty or crime, or on the history and developed parts of the city. If ever there has been one video that almost, almost, captures the Mexico City I lived in, it’s the one I’ve embedded below. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. But it’s so well done, it’s nice to see again, isn’t it. It’s a government sponsored creation. Who’d have thunk that a political/tourist motivated bit of work would best capture the Mexico City that I lived in? No, it misses out a lot of the warts. But truth be told, I did my best to miss out on the warts too, when I lived there.

  • Deathdays. Why does no one use this word? It’s such a logical choice. I claim copyright.

Next Level Photography

I’m pretty happy with the photo gear I’ve got. I have no complaints. The Fuji XM-1 is a great camera, I have fantastic lenses and two other good one. A decent camera bag, a Joby Gorillapod tripod and a decent sized bag to carry all of it, or most of it, around with me. But I am but human. A male human at that. I’m pretty sure that this is an inbuilt feature of the Y chromosome. No sooner have I got the latest shiny new thing than I see other shiny new things. And I start making lists. List making is an X chromosome thing. But it’s the Y chromosome that makes me put unaffordable technological items on it.

But there’s an awful lot of cool gear out there that supplements what I have, rather than being unnecessary replacements for perfectly good gear. I have an Amazon wishlist which regularly gets added to. Most of the stuff I add to a wish list is never bought. I guess that’s why they call it a wish-list rather than a gonna-get-it-soon list. The former is also easier to say. But anyway, I thought I’d share my wishlist. Why not. I have little else to share at the moment.

Cokin Filters

I would love to do some long exposure photography. I’ve created a small gallery of some samples, to demonstrate the point. I live in the perfect place for some decent long exposure snaps, with the Jurassic Coast quite literally a ten minute walk away. At least than £50, including an adaptor for my camera, it’s not entirely out of reach price wise.

Olloclip lens

The best camera is the one you have with you. Which means, for me, that is usually my iPhone 6. How to breath new life into my iPhone camera? Well, four new lenses can but help, surely? A fisheye, wideangle and pair of macro lenses all available from a single clip on unit for less than £60. Bargain. Someone remind Santa that I’ve been very, very, very good this year. So far…

Memory card

I’ve started shooting RAW+Jpg with my Fuji. It is an improvement on solely shooting in Jpg in every way but one. My 8gb memory card filled up quicker than my subjects could say ‘cheese’. For the first time in a decade, I found myself out in the field sifting through my days shots, deleting the poor ones to make room for new ones. Pft. That is a process best left when sat on my laptop. I’ve already gotten a new one. A Transcend 64gb with a decent read/write rating. Why Transcend? I wasn’t too fussy on brand. So long as it works. My last card was a Transcend and did just fine. My in-camera deleting days are over for at least another decade, I hope.

Magnification Tube

There is one small problem with my Fuji XF 60mm macro lens. That being, it isn’t really a macro lens. The magnification is but 0.5x, not the 1.0x (or better) you’d normally associate with a macro lens. What to do? Well, one option is Fuji’s own extension tube, which will ramp up the magnification to 0.75x. A significant improvement. The cost? Pence under £70.

Venus Lens

The other option is to sell the Fuji lens and buy one of the newfangled Chinese made lenses. It’s not far off half the price at £250-ish and offers 4x the magnification. Tempting, tempting….

Selfie Stick

I remember the first time I saw someone holding a selfie stick. I near jumped over a wall I was so sure he was a terrorist. Ok, maybe I didn’t, be he did look odd, up to no good and quite frankly, a bit of a k*&b. I’ve been mocking selfie stick toting photographers ever since. Until I wondered what sort of photos might I be able to get with one of these. And now I find I want one. They are only £12, after all. What have I got to lose? Yes, I know…my dignity. But apart from that…

Photo Frames

I keep meaning to buy some. They aren’t expensive. £5 and upwards. Prints from a local shop are just a few pounds for a dozen 7×5″ snaps. They’d look nice hanging on walls around the house. One day I’ll get round to it.

Remote shutter release

Some would say this is an essential piece of kit for long exposure photography. I say, how can a cable and button cost £31?! What is the profit margin on this bit of plastic? Must be enormous. It’s almost as expensive as the Cokin filters. I’ll probably just be real careful and use the timer function on the camera instead.

Fuji XT1

What’s the point of having a wishlist if there isn’t at least one fanciful, completely financially inappropriate item on it? There’s no point, I tell you. None at all. I give to you the king of the Fuji X cameras, the XT-1. The graphite version, which is the more expensive choice. But hey, seeing as I am years away from one of these babies, I might as well dream the best dream…

The Mexile Academy Awards

It’s time for the Oscars again, and as I’ve watched most of the nominations I feel almost compelled to hand out my own highly prized set of gongs for the best, and worst, that the film industry has to offer. What right do I have, a Brit, in intruding on the United States of America’s glitziest, glammest night out on the tiles? Well, first of all, we talk properly. In fact, most US movies should probably be moved into the Best Foreign Film category. Secondly, we’re on our way over to win all of those Oscars. Again. So there.

The Award For The Most Important Haircuts…

Boyhood. A near three hour epic absolutely packed full of nothing. Seriously, no spoiler alert is required for this film. Have you got your eyes closed in case I give away a key moment and ruin it all? Relax. Nothing happens. At all. At times, it has the feel of Stand by Me, (awesome novella in a set of four, by the by) the tale of four young boys on a sunny day trip. Except in Boyhood, there’s no dead body to be found. There was a moment in an abandoned house where you thought there might be a nasty accident. I almost hoped for a fatality, just to liven things up. But alas, nowt came of it. About an hour and a half into the film, you realise that actually, really, nothing is going to happen. And what you are really paying attention to are the change in hairstyles which signify a shift in time. This flick was, after all, filmed over a 12 year period. Without the radically morphing bonnets, then quite frankly you’d be completely lost. Was it a bad movie? No, not really. It was fairly watchable. Enjoyable, even. It’s a nice film. But it won’t see a re-run in my home. Once was more than enough.

The Best Christmas Movie Award

On 25th December I had a limited choice of viewing. On what is traditionally the best day for TV in the UK, I found myself short changed. Listen to the Queen drivel on for ten minutes, or East Bloody Enders. Or, that new Sony movie of North Korean fame. On account that my downloading and watching this film would greatly irritate the Dear One Junior, I chose the latter option. It is toilet humour, and will be forgotten as quickly as anything else you’ve ever flushed. But it had its moments, some of them quite funny. And it saved my Christmas afternoon from regal festivity or slum land depression

The Vieux Boulogne Award…

Hollywood knows how to produce a bit of cheese. Heck, there’s a bit of curdled dairy in most films. Sometimes it even helps. But there is cheese and then there is Vieux Boulogne. Which movie this year managed to leave the audience with the most acrid, pungent aroma of stinky French fromage stuck to the inner walls of their nostrils? That would be Fury. In a similar fashion to the cheese that gives the award its name, Brad Pitt and co put their names and reputations to an epic World War II monstrosity that smells like the contents of the unwashed behind of a farmyard cow. The initial plot, plausible. Just. The battle, unlikely to the extreme. The outcome, simply ridiculous. Brad Pitt’s career? Surely on the skids. I can sense every other great WW2 movie turning in its cassette each time this is played. The greatest shame, for me personally, is that the two main tank stars, the Sherman and Tiger, were both borrowed from a tank museum not far from my home. Brad, you let that museum down. Or maybe not. Perhaps visitor numbers are up. I’ve a sudden urge to pay it a visit. Stay tuned.

The Goebells Award…

And the winner is? American Sniper. What. A. Missed. Opportunity. I grew up watching war films. Battle of Midway. The Battle of Britain. A Bridge Too Far. Bridge over the River Kwai. Later on, I enjoyed Apocolypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, as the Vietnam films gained popularity. Perhaps I shouldn’t like them, but I’m afraid I do. I guess we all like a hero, and war does provide the theatre for heroics. And it’s far better to watch a reproduction of the event than to be a participant. Perhaps, if we are going to be honest, most of us don’t want to be a hero so bad that we’d wander into a war zone. Better to be a living, breathing cow than a dead general, as the saying goes.

There haven’t been many decent Gulf War II films of note outside the Hurt Locker. There may be a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, the war is still something an embarrassment. Have they found those weapons of mass destruction yet? No? Really?? Secondly, there were so many journalists and film crews embedded in the front line, we watched it live. It almost became a sports event. How many people watch reruns of the Super Bowl? Exactly. But here was a story, Chris Kyle’s story, that could be made into a movie. It doesn’t matter if he was a hero or not. That’s up to the viewer to decide for themselves. But he did have a story.

Alas, Clint Eastwood seems to have lost the plot. There’s not really that much of a fine line between artistic license and complete bullshit. If you’ll pardon my French. The former is a matter of padding out the story. Selective focus. The latter is just screwing the real story up and inserting complete fiction. Clint has jumped the substantial gap between artistic license into bullshit territory with aplomb. I hoped the Eastwood of Gran Torino, Letters from Iwo Jima and Million Dollar Baby would turn up. Instead the right wing, politicised Clint Eastward of Talking to an Empty Chair fame took centre stage. And ruined the chance of American Sniper being the film it could have, should have, been. From a technical point of view, there was so much right about this movie. But in the end, it wasn’t actually the story of Chris Kyle at all. The movie deserves whole theatres full of empty chairs. Shame on you, Clint.

Thumping Church Organ Soundtrack Award

There can be only one candidate. Interstellar. When did church organs become acceptable for use in film scores again? I thought they must have been banned for overuse in vampire movies some time ago. It took me half the film to decide whether I liked it or not. In the end, I just turned the volume right on up and let those godly beats outta them pipes and into my my living room. Hallelujah! They do work. They provide atmosphere. The film itself. It’s ok. I like a good sci-fi film. Ok, the science is stretched, just a tad. I’m pretty sure a guy in a space suit probably can’t take a stroll on the surface of a black hole. But you have to let these things go once in a while. It’s good to be dumb sometimes, and to just enjoy.

Award For The Most Surreal, Even A Little Bizarre, Movie…

Hmmmm. Birdman or Grand Budapest Hotel? Birdman or Budapest? Eeeny, meeny, miny moe. No, there can only be one, and that has to be the Grand Budapest Hotel. Birdman was ok, but it was also a little pointless. Without Edward Norton, it would have been a total flop. The Grand Budapest Hotel though. What is not to like? The colours. The cast. Their performances. Ralph Fiennes at his fiennest. The setting. The surreal storyline. It’s so far fetched, it’s wonderful. It’s a couple of hours in a fantasy world that has just a sufficient amount of tangible reality to it to make it somehow believable. Almost. I liked this film. A lot. It’s not an all time great. But it is a worthy candidate for film of the year.

The Mexile Best Motion Picture of 2015, Even Though We Are But Five Weeks Into The Year Award…

I suspect myself and Mr Oscar will disagree, and they’ll give their gong to someone else. But hooey to him. The best film this year was The Imitation Game. It’s a true story, told well. But that doesn’t make it a winner. Foxcatcher was also a true story told well. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly were both excellent. I barely noticed Keira’s underbite at all. Well done her. But the cast of Foxcatcher was also excellent. This story had set-work one step above the competition. If you’re going to tell a WW2 story, make it feel like WW2.

The difference is the scale of this story. How important it was to be told. The difference that this story made to tens of millions of lives around the world. The tragedy of this story was a tragedy for countless others of a non heterosexual persuasion in that era and afterwards. Never in the history of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to that one chap over yonder in that there wooden shed. As Churchill might have said in one of his radio broadcasts about Alan Turing. Had Turing himself not been shrouded in total secrecy. There will always be those who pick at details in the film. But the Imitation Game stays on the right side of the artistic license/bullshit divide.

Crazy Walking Guy Award…

A couple more awards, just for the hell of it. Wildcards, if you like. And not for movies. This one goes to Walking The Nile. Levison Wood redefines travelling. Simply put, if you don’t have at least one companion die from heatstroke, get chased by a crocodie, stroll through a Muslim Botherhood village, visit a terrorist infested mosque, spend the night in a warzone, trek through a mine field and keep going for more than 4,000 miles…..well, you’re just not really travelling man. You’re just on holiday. Pft. Ya feeble tourist.

Crazy Guy Award…

O.M.G. There are some people who should not be allowed to play with the internet. This guy has popped up a few times on Facebook and elsewhere. I’ve watched a couple of them. And my first question is…how does this guy have an audience? How brain dead must a person be to swallow this sort of nonsense? The one I’ve posted below is a fine example. His rebuttal of the US as having a gun problem. They are, after all, not even in the top one hundred of murders per capita in the world, despite having by far the highest gun ownership rates. Well, that’s settled then.

Except, a couple of questions. Firstly, if you’re going to list gun ownership rates, why not then list firearm death rates instead of overall homicide rates? That places the US somewhere between number 17 and number 28.  Secondly, did one not think of other issues that might account for higher murder rates in some countries. I mean, is it not fair to say that social and economic development might not play a part? Is it not fair to say, perhaps, that Mexico might not be so high up the list if the US didn’t give it so many guns and then demand a ton of drugs sneaked back across the border in return? Just perhaps?

And finally. That list of countries above the US on the list. Who on earth are you comparing the US to?? The argument he is making is akin to Jeffrey Dahmer standing up in court and pleading not guilty on the basis that there have been at least a hundred worse serial killers than him. Do none of his viewers analyse his data and logic a little more carefully? Or even pause for thought? Jebus, me thinks not. Some people have too much goo glooping about in their skulls. There’s a sensible debate on gun control to be had. You won’t have it with Bill.

General Election 2015

Once upon a time, the British general election was a matter of global importance. The results would potentially have an effect on hundreds of millions of people across the planet. From the landing of British ships on Newfoundland in 1497 to the handover of Hong Kong exactly five hundred years later in 1997, an empire was administered from London. Covering an area greater than one fifth of the land surface area of the planet, it peaked with a population of nearly 460 million people. No empire has ‘bettered’ those figures. Although as a percentage of the world’s population, the British Empire doesn’t even make it into the top dozen. Did ya know that? The First Persian Empire tops the list, consuming nearly 45% of the people of the planet alive at that time.

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But anyway, it’s been a few decades since a UK general election really, really mattered to the world at large. Sure, the country is still a major player in international affairs, but no longer a governor. So you are forgiven if you really have no interest in the upcoming election or who wins. Truth be told, new governments do not often attempt to change much. Elections anywhere really only have a great impact outside domestic borders when radicals take the reigns of key nations, particularly in times of economic turmoil. Germany in 1933 for example. Or Greece, potentially, in 2015. Sorry chaps, but Obama is not a radical in any way, shape of form.

This year, though, the UK election could have a wider impact. Certainly on the European stage. The rumble of feet heading towards the EU exit is growing louder. It might be a foolhardy direction to tread, but it has momentum. One fringe party in particular have lead the way, but it is the the current incumbents who are offering to open the door. The Conservative party have promised an ‘In / Out’ referendum in the next parliament. And frankly, a scarily large proportion of the country are stupid enough to vote based on wot they been readin’ in their tabloid poison of choice. It would be a close run affair, and even the bookies are not offering much difference between the two options.

I don’t read tabloids. I will browse through the online offerings of the Guardian and occasionally buy a copy of the Times. But even then, I take what I read with a pinch of salt. Or at least balance off one version of the ‘truth’ with the other. This election I will probably take more time than I’ve done before to read into the manifestos and promises of each of the main political players. I think you know which way I will likely cast my vote. But nothing is set in stone. That’s an important principal for me. Picking your colour and sticking to it through thick and thin is what you do when choosing a football team to support. The country changes, as does its priorities, its needs, its place in the world. Parties change, both in personnel and philosophy. And my vote changes accordingly. What matters to me are the policies and promises offered for the next four years, and by whom. Can they be trusted? Inevitably, no, they can’t. But which of the evils on the shelf is the least bitter to swallow?

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The first party to have stuffed literature through my letterbox are UKIP. The early bird catches the worm. Except, in this instance, UKIP is the worm. Having earlier stated that I have an open mind with my vote, that only stretches so far. Sure, I’ll read their document once I’ve fished it out of the scanner. But I wouldn’t even use this insidious document as toilet paper. Though it may well share the same eventual fate, flushed into oblivion. In a single A5 sheet, UKIP demonstrates what is wrong with many politicians, but something they particularly specialise in. Half truths that paint only half the picture. Insert ‘rich, old white’ between policies and people and the message is clearer.

And I strongly suspect that those raised hands belong to people who have the wrong skin colour or nationality, being herded on to transport trains headed for the other side of the channel tunnel, at the end of a shotgun toted by one of the aforementioned rich, old white people. Or maybe I’m letting my imagination run away with itself. Whatever, they’re a nasty lot. One would have to be Sherlock to see through all the half truths, false promises and rosy pictures that the political combatants are soon to bombard us with. Join me over the next few months as I try to do my best. The game is afoot.

Churchill’s Preposterous Prepositions

Fifty years ago a chap called Winston Churchill passed away. Many people left this mortal coil that year, as they do every year. But Winston’s send off was a bit more notable than most. He is one of but eleven non-royals to be afforded a full state funeral, joining the likes of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington to have such an honour bestowed upon him. I suspect that the old chap expected absolutely nothing less.

His funeral remains the most recent state function to have occurred. Mountbatten, the Queen Mother,Margaret Thatcher and his relative through the Spencer line, Lady Di, had to make do with simple ceremonial funerals. There hasn’t been a proper state funeral in my lifetime. Dear Elizabeth isn’t getting any younger though, so I may not have to wait many years. On the other hand, if she goes on as long as her mum, then perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath. For the time being, I’ll have to just watch old footage of Winston’s do.

It’s an interesting video, don’t you think? I love watching British Pathe films – there’s tens of thousands of them on YouTube. The footage itself offers a glimpse into the past. But it’s the commentary that really adds life to the videos, putting what you see into the context of the era. Did you stifle a giggle at the thought of Churchill being a mere commoner? Technically, he may have been. But the chap was born in Blenheim Palace. Hardly a pauper’s start to life.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was played at Churchill’s request. It would seem a strange choice only if you didn’t know of his American roots on the maternal side of his family. A British hero of partial American descent? Scandalous. Still, the Yanks helped give us Winston. We contributed to the gift of Obama. We’ll call it even?  Another lesser reported fact is that he was also born two months prematurely. Alternatively, he was conceived two months before his parents tied the not. The former was a more acceptable account of events for the society of the day.

What Churchill was really famous for was his rhetoric. His speeches have lasted the ages, and various British media organisations have been asking readers to provide their favourite quote. That’s a risky business. Churchill was, as they say, a man of his time, and spake as such. Even then, some of his comments were extreme. Others were taken out of context. The internet, mostly Islamophobes, have of late taken to quoting his warning of the dangers of Islam. Yet the truth is always more complex that a convenient soundbite.

My favourite quote? It’s controversial only in that it cannot with absolute certainty be truly attributed to Churchill. But it appeals greatly to my interest in language. It’s witty. And, whether the quote belongs to him or not, it is certainly very Churchillian. He was, the story goes, upset when an editor decided to rearrange one of is sentences. It was a breach of linguistic decorum to end a sentence with a preposition.

This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.

The Mexile 2014

Every year, the magic pixies that power WordPress, crunch up the numbers and produce some facts and figures for their bloggers. Just to let them know how they are doing. Alas, my blog is clearly in decline. But I’ve know this for a long time. It all went a little downhill the moment I left Mexico. But I still enjoy it, so I’ll plod on for another year. Let’s look at the numbers anyway. It’s just a bit of fun rather than the whole story.

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My previous posts from 2012 and 2013 show that I can’t quite fill the Sydney Opera House as many time over as I used to be able to. With 37,000 visits in 2013, I would have filled the place for 14 consecutive nights. The year before, I had enough visits to warrant being measured against the Cannes Film Festival. Fifty thousand visits were enough for a dozen festivals, apparently. I post less these days too. Last years tally of 146 was down from 196 the year before. Now we are down to just 122 posts. I’ve become lazy. Or busy elsewhere. Take your pick. I’m clearly not controversial enough either. I obviously need to jump on an extremist bandwagon of some sort and stir a few people up!

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Normally, there’s a couple of posts from the current year that make it into the top five. Not so this year. My most popular content is all old stuff. I do wonder where all those people interested in the Mexican Psoriasis Cure come from though. I have noticed over the last twelve months that it’s one of the most read posts on most days. Weird. I know where most people come from though. Google and Steve Cotton. To be struck off Steve’s blog roll would be akin to being struck off the internet.

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Who is it that visits anyway? For the most part, a big bunch of lost souls who were looking for something else and quickly went elsewhere in search of it. Then there are the lurkers. Those people who like to have a little read now and then but prefer not to be noticed. Sometimes the lurkers say hello at an appropriate moment, sometimes not. I’m not criticising. I am a lurker myself on other blogs.

Then there’s the regulars. The ones who prop themselves up on my virtual bar and put the world to rights. Kim, once again, leads the list. For the third year running….a hattrick. There’s two new names there too. Norm has been around for what seems like forever. William (or should it be Bill, really?) is a relative newbie. Steve has less to say these days, but then there have been fewer posts. He still moves up one place into three.

This is all becoming a bit too ‘Top of the Pops’. Let’s finish this off. Many thanks to all of those who visited, whether you fled soon after or not. Hello to all you lurkers. You are noticed. Maybe only once a year with this review, but still. You count. And of course, the biggest thanks to all you who leave a comment. Whether it’s just one or a few dozen. It’s nice not having to talk to myself.

London Fireworks

On the 31st December 2004 I took the then Miss P to see the New Year firework display in London. Traditionally, the London authority responsible would put on a very feeble display in Trafalgar Square. Quite frankly, it was more entertaining watching people jumping into the fountain pools in sub zero temperatures. There were always a few hardy souls who were stupid enough to take the plunge. But in 2003, the display was held by the London Eye, with crowds assembled across the other side of Old Father Thames, and it’s stayed there ever since. Fortunately, no one, to my knowledge, has been quite stupid enough to jump into the Thames for a splash around.

The fireworks were an improvement on what used to be passed of as a display. But they were still all a bit ‘meh’. We’d wish for the sort of show they put on in New York or Sydney. In 2012, however, things changed. Big Ben chimed in London’s Olympic year, and they did something a bit special with the fireworks. They’ve been doing it ever since. Perhaps New York and Sydney natives wish their cities did the sort of show we have in London.

In 2004, Miss P had been in the UK for little more than 24 hours. It seemed appropriate to go for a repeat visit on the 10th anniversary of her trip, along with a couple of friends. This year the show was ticketed, with a fairly reasonable price tag of £10 per person. It’s normally free, but I can understand the logic behind the decision to charge. It’s a pretty expensive show. But there is a bigger issue. It could get a bit dodgy when half a million people stroll up and try and cram themselves onto a small stretch of embankment. If anything were to go wrong….

The charge and quality of the display weren’t the only things to have changed of course. Miss P is now Mrs P. We are both ten years older. Hopefully we are similarly wiser. The show was fantastic, and well worth the money. The weather was kind too. It was a crisp and chilly night, but above zero and dry. We had the perfect spot, directly across from the London Eye. The coloured explosions completely filled my field of vision. And that of the other 99,999 ticket holders. Well, those that weren’t watching it through their phones, anyway.

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Watching it on television is great, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the scale and intensity of the display. Not least because the finale seems to burn out the television camera lenses and the last few cataclysmic seconds of it all disappears into a white blur. The finale is dramatic and almost overwhelming when viewed from the embankment.

Getting away after the final rocket had detonated was easier said than done. The five minute stroll back to Westminster station took fifteen minutes. Not that you could catch a train. The station was closed. As was St James Park. On to Victoria we went. Two hours had passed by the time by finally stepped on the tube. Another two hours driving down the motorway and were were in bed by 5am. Photos? Of course. Click here.

Happy New Year

As both the big and little hands hit twelve at the end of the year, the tradition in Mexico is to gulp down a dozen grapes. One at a time, keeping in rhythm with the tolling of the bells. This is the sort of thing that’s always won by the fatties. I know, it’s not technically a competition. But they do sure have a smug look on their faces when they’ve greedily disposed of grape number twelve. Without even bothering to chew, I’ll wager.

How did I get on with the obligatory grape munching during my time in Mexico? I didn’t have a choice, you know. They were forcibly placed in my hands, expectation heaved on my shoulders and a dozen pairs of eyes checking my progress. You may have seen photos of me from time to time. I’m not a fatty. Thus, I wasn’t even remotely competitive. Heck, I don’t even particularly like grapes. Bingeing on them isn’t my thing. I don’t believe I ever even ate a half dozen of them at best.

I’ve often wondered, how many people choke to death on grapes on the 31st December in Mexico each year? I know you’re not meant to give young kids grapes, such is the choking potential of this innocuous looking fruit. Kids can be silly, inattentive and rush things. I imagine a heavily inebriated adult deliberately stuffing himself isn’t in much less danger. Someone has to have the statistic for this somewhere. A little collection of over zealous fatties who make it into January by a bout a minute, but fail to reach the ‘smug grin’ stage.

Aside from these less than merry thoughts, I do hope you all had a fabulous 2014 and an even better 2015. Onwards and upwards. Just be careful with the grapes tonight.

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Photography 2014

Another year passes, another 1,266 photos added to my Flickr account, bringing my the sum total of my photographic life on Flickr to a grand 13,667. Although I’ll probably take a few more photos between now and the end of 2014. I’ve shot with a range of cameras this year. I started in January toting a Fuji X-S1 and an HTC One mobile phone.

They’ve both gone by the way. I was fond of the Fuji and sad to see it go. My back up camera was my trusty old Olympus Pen EPL1 which I had to rely upon again until I purchased my new Fuji X-M1. I’ve added two prime lenses to that, a telephoto lens, a smart camera bag and an iPhone 6. I’ve never been better equipped.

Some of my photos have been better than others. According to Flickr, my most popular by views was this one of the Tower of London, viewed by 437 people. A long way short of my most popular photo, Saxy Lady. She has collected more than 17,000 views over the years. Almost all, I’m quite sure, drawn by the title. Almost all, I’m equally sure, disappointed with the result.

These numbers are all good and well, but I don’t take photos for the numbers. Most of my shots are ‘memory shots’. The sort you’d put in an album to look back at in the years to come. Some of them represent my efforts to be creative. Some are both of the above. I have my favourites. I have selected 15 photos I’ve taken this year for the gallery below. There are memories and a little bit of creative processing in all of them.

Do I have a favourite amongst them. Yes, indeed I do. The last shot, of a family on the pier silhouetted by the impending sunset.

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Merry Christmas

We celebrate Christmas for the twelfth time on this little blog of mine, and the time has come to offer the traditional seasons greetings. Over the last decade and a bit I have had people leave a comment from every continent bar Antartica. And visits, fleeting or otherwise from most countries on planet earth. My statistics page tells me that at least one person from 164 countries has passed this way since February 2012 alone. Most have been from the US, the UK and Mexico, in that order. But there have also been solitary sojourns from the likes of Sudan, Djibouti, Swaziland and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Even one chap or chapette from Iran. The Ayatollah got sloppy with his censorship!

This is very much a multicultural blog. Not only has it been the story of a Brit and a Mexican forging a life either here in the UK or over there in Mexico, but we’ve visited plenty of places inbetween and further afield. Then there are those varied international visitors offering their opinions on all that has been written. Yes, that’s you! May that continue for many years to come. Some people may choose to fear diversity, but over here we embrace it and enjoy the myriad of cultures, languages, foods and other stimulating treats on offer from every corner of the world whether we meet a thousand miles from here or just around the corner from Chez Denness. And it is in this spirit that Mrs P and I wish you all a truly…..

Geséende Kersfees, Gèzur Krishlindyet, Melkame Yeledet Beale, Gozhqq Késhmish, Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah, Felices Pasquas, Shenorhavor Dzenount, Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun, Poket Kristmet, Shuvo Boro Din, Zorionak eta Urte Berri On, Vrolijke Kerstmis, Vesele Vanoce, Feliz Natal, Nedeleg laouen, Tchestita Koleda, Gun Tso Sun Tan’ Gung Haw Sun, Kong He Xin Xi, Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth, Mitho Makosi Kesikansi, Srecan Bozic, Veselé Vánoce, Glædelig Jul, Vrolijk Kerstfeest, Merry Christmas, Gajan Kristnaskon, Rehus-Beal-Ledeats, Häid jõule, Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad, Maligayang Pasko, Hyvää joulua, Joyeux Noèl, Goede Krystdagen, Nollaig Chridheil, Gilotsavt Krist’es Shobas, Froehliche Weihnachten, Juullimi pilluartsi, Kala ChristouyennavV’ya pave mita tupara-pe, Barka da KirsìmatìvMele Kalikimaka, Shub Naya Baras, Kellemes Karácsonyi ünnepeket, Gledileg Jól, Selamat Hari Natal, Nollaig Shona DhuitvBuon Natale, Kurisumasu Omedeto, Sung Tan Chuk Hav, Wanikiya tonpi wowiyuskinv, Felice Festa Navititas, Prieci’gus Ziemsve’tkus, Linksmu Kalédu, Schéi Chrèschtdeeg, Nollick ghennal, Il-Milied It-Tajjeb, Meri Kirihimete, Shub Naya Varsh, Utzul mank’inal, Yá’át’ééh Keshmish, God Jul, Bagga Ayana Dhalehu Gofetatini Esenee gae, Wesolych Swiat, Boas Festas, Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi, Sumaj kausay kachun Navidad ch’sisipi, Sarbatori Bellas Hristos Razdajetsja, Buorre Juovllaid, Ia manuia le Kerisimasi, Hristos se rodi, Subha nath thalak Vewa, Veselé Vianoce, Vesele Bozicne, Feliz Navidad, God Jul, Ia ora i te Noera, Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal, Sawadee Pee Mai, Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun, Srozhdestvom Kristovym, Naya Saal Mubarak Ho, Chung Mung Giang Sinh, Nadolig Llawen, E ku odun, e ku iye’dun!

Did I miss anyone…?

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The Family Tree

Old photos keep popping up. Here’s a triple feature, with what is surely the oldest photo I will ever post. That will be the black and white one. Of course. It’s a photo of three or four generations. It was all explained to me, but I’ve forgotten. The babe is arms? That’s my grandad. I introduced him to the blogging world just a few weeks ago. His presence helps date this photo to the mid 1920’s. There was a date on the back of the photo, providing a birthday sometime in 1893 for the gentleman in the shot, my great grandfather. I suspect the oldest lady was plodding around London whilst Abraham Lincoln was sat on his throne in Washington.

Twelve months short of 70 years later, I appeared on the scene. Do you like those collars? They date this photo. Very much the 1970s. The decade of cursed fashion. But fashion can be replaced. Hereditary curses are harder to fix. See that feeble and clearly unsuccessful effort to form a side parting? It doesn’t work. I have a widow’s peak and need to look no further than my grandfather when seeking  the culprit.

I also have two crowns. I don’t know who to point the finger at for those. If my hair is a certain length, I’ll wake in the morning with two devilish looking hair horns. So I try and keep my hair short. The net downside to all this is that I don’t/can’t have a hairstyle, per se. The side parting was soon abandoned for the ‘look’ as featured in the bottom photo. I’m sure you can pick me out by now.

But every cloud has a silver lining. A non-hairstyle is awfully easy to manage. Wash, towel dry, pat down, hit the streets. I don’t remember when I last used a comb. I’m guessing some time in the 1970s, shortly before that photo was taken…

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Fuji XF Lenses

For my birthday a couple of months bag, I got a new camera bag. A very nice bag it is too. It’s lightweight and compact enough to carry around without getting an aching should. It’s big enough to pack my camera, two or three extra lenses, my wallet, my Kindle Fire and other small odds and ends. It’s also a sling design, which is important. It’s good to be able to swing, unzip and retrieve the camera quickly when an unexpected potential photo turns up.

But what I really needed was an extra lens or two. Fuji are trying very hard to push their X range of CSC cameras. I originally bought my X-M1 and 16-50mm kit lens on a special offer – they threw in a zoom lens (XC 50-230mm) for free. And their promotions keep on coming. Some of the deals seem crazy. But Fuji’s X range is one of the newer CSC options, and I guess they want people to buy into the system. Sell a camera, you’ve got a customer for the life of the camera. Sell them the lenses, you’ve got them for life.

The latest offer was too good to turn down. To be honest, whilst the Fuji kit lenses are pretty good for kit lenses, they are still kit lenses. You’ll never get the most of out a good camera with kit lenses. So I now have a pair of prime lenses, the f1.4 35mm and the f2.4 60mm macro. I chose the latter largely because the pancake lens I really wanted was not in the offer. I’m pleased to say that I think I was ‘forced’ into buying the right lens. How good are they? I feel my photography has been transformed. I have awakened. I finally have some proper photographic gear!

A confession. I have shot most of my photography up to now in auto mode. Sometimes I switch to aperture priority. But mostly in auto mode. Creativity was always in the post-processing of the image. Since mounting these lenses on my camera I have shot exclusively in manual mode. Having decent aperture rings on the lenses and dials on the camera makes it easy to shoot in manual. And the results are all the better for it. I’m not forcing myself to shoot in manual mode, and then having to think about what I’m doing. It instantly became a natural and instinctive way of shooting.

Fuji XF 60mm f2.4 Macro.

The macro lens was the first to arrive. The name is really a bit of a misnomer. It’s not what most people would call a macro lens, capable of only a 0.50x magnification. Fuji have just released an extension tube for about £70/$100 which increases that to a more respectable 0.76x.  It’s a bit of a jack of all trades. Decent for close-ups, portraits and as a compact telephoto lens. Bright enough for use in all lighting conditions.

The focal length is a bit long for general use though. Photos are sharp. Bokeh is easy to create. Depth of field is easily controlled with pleasant, soft background blur. Colour and tone are spot on. While that longer focal length does sometimes mean I have to back up, back up and back up a bit more to get everything into my shot, for the most part it’s pretty easy to leave it on most of the day. The shot below is one of my favourites so far. But there’s a whole bunch of sample images in a set on Flickr – click here.

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Fuji XF 35mm f1.4

I noted that the 60mm is a bit awkward to use for general use. That is what this lens if for. A much shorter focal length means it’s a great street camera to tote. But it really comes into its own after dark and indoors. It’s a very bright lens. Like the 60mm, it’s a high quality metal lens that feels like a top of the range piece of gear. The rings are smooth and precise. This is the lens that will spend most of the time mounted to my camera. Sharp, great colours. The full package. With its own set on Flickr – click here, and a sample below starring Mrs P.

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A London Christmas

I love Christmas. I love London. Most of all, I love a London Christmas. The streets are busier than ever, but full of laughter, jingles and twinkling lights. The infamously cold and dour Londoners manage to turn frowns into smiles, and it is entirely possible that you will witness that rarest of events – a conversation spontaneously break out on the Underground. This is often known as ‘Festive Cheer’ and whilst it is highly contagious, fear not, it will pass. The cure to this seasonal disorder is commonly referred to as January. So make the most of a happy London while it lasts!

I jest, of course. London is a great place to visit at any time of the year, and the locals are much friendlier and more helpful that their international reputation would suggest. Except on the Underground. It really is bad form to attempt to chat to the person next to you! But I digress. Christmas is an excellent time to visit London.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s an expensive city at the best of times. At Christmas, it must be completely unaffordable. There’s no getting away from it. London is a very expensive city to live in. But to visit? It is almost certainly a lot more affordable than you think. Traditionally, one of the most expensive aspects of London is accommodation. But times have changed and a combination of an increasing number of hotel rooms, greater competitiveness and some very intelligent online booking sites means that prices have never been more affordable. Venere is an excellent example of a hotel search website that provides market leading rates across a wide range of hotels for every budget.

Once you’ve arranged a place to lay your head, what else is there to do in London? So, so much. If you fancy putting on some skates and hitting the ice, you’re spoiled for choice. Do you choose the glamour of Somerset House? Or how about skating in the shadow of the gothic wonder that is the Natural History Museum? There are also rinks at the Tower of London an Canary Wharf. But the finest place to skate in my opinion is at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. Which is far more than just an ice rink.

You should also go for a walk along the South Bank, starting from the London Eye Ferris wheel. There’s a whole Christmas Market going on there, with roasted chestnuts and mulled wine being served at multiple huts along the way. There are other markets well worth visiting of course.

There’s all the shopping too of course. Oxford Street is reputedly the world’s busiest shopping street. I can believe it. Pop into Selfridges for some serious glamour. Or, if you are just window shopping, stay outside and marvel at their legendary window displays. Fortnum and Mason isn’t too far away just off Piccadilly Circus. Then there’s the uber famous Harrods, which is a veritable institution in shopping. Last, but not least, pop along to Covent Garden which has been rejuvenated in recent years and houses saome fabulousb boutique shops, and undercover market and a huge selection of places to sit down to eat, drink and get merry.

Finally, just like any other day of the year, except for Christmas Day itself, there are some of the finest museums, castles, palaces, cathedrals and galleries in the world for you to explore. The British Museum, the Natural History Museum, Hampton Court Palace, St Paul’s, the Tower of London, the National Gallery, the various Tates, the Victoria and Albert…the list goes on and on. So what are you waiting for?

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