Palace of Kensing-meh

Once upon a long ago, as a youngster, I went on day trips to the most famous and fabulous palaces, castles, gardens and other tourist destinations that London offers. I went with family and on school trips. We never, mysteriously, went to Kensington Palace. Once upon a long ago, but not quite so long ago, I lived and worked in Kensington. I’d go up to Kensington Gardens to have a kick around, or perhaps just to sit in the shade of a tree to have a quiet read. One summer I got through Le Carre’s Russia House. One of his longer works. Not his best. I needed the quiet to get through that. I could see the palace from my spot under the tree. I never did have the urge to check it out. It all looked a little bit…well, meh.

Kensington Palace looks more stately home than traditional palace. It’s not even the most impressive stately home I’ve ever seen. But Mrs P and I have pretty much run out of palaces and castles in the London area. So we paid up and plodded in. Given the history of the palace, and it’s notable residents (Will and Kate today, Lady Di previously) we were convinced that we’d find the interior to be more…palatial. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

The interior. It has its moments. But it is, I’m sorry to say, largely ‘meh’. The most disappointing palace we’ve visited yet, on these shores or beyond. The Russia House seemed like hard work under the shade of that tree in the gardens. With hindsight, I can now appreciate it was the easier option. You really have to try to be impressed by Kensington Palace. There’s some photos below. The full set, as ever, are on Flickr.

London Then And Now

Photographers have been documenting the world we live in for nearly 200 years, since Nicéphore Niépce successfully managed to put an image on paper. Albeit temporarily. There’s been enough photography since those early days to create some ‘then and now’ comparisons, which is exactly what the Museum of London have recently done with a collection of old image of London. How many locations can you identify?

But it’s not just photographic comparisons that can be made. Video has also been going a while. Long enough for this side by side comparison of the UK’s capital city. It’s always interesting to see not just how places have changed, but also how large parts of them have stayed very much the same.

London in 1927 & 2013 from Simon Smith on Vimeo.

Print Is Not Dead

When I moved home recently, I seriously considered dumping all my printed photos. I have folder upon folder of printed shots, all A4 and A3 size, which takes up a lot of space and weighs a freaking ton. I have them all in a digital archive, anyway so I’d not be losing anything. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So they’ll just sit in a new cupboard in a new flat, never to see the light of day. Print is dead.

Except, it’s not. There’s so much you can do with your digital photos these days. Cups, cushions, mouse mats, bags, calenders, photobooks and, best of all, canvas prints. There are always offers on Groupon or Wowcher or similar site for a discounted print. I recently gave Dip Into a go on Wowcher. It cost me £5, with a further £7.95 for shipping for a 24″ x 16″ canvas.

The photos don’t do it justice. In fact the photo shows up one of the flaws of smart phone photography, which I have been ever so resolutely defending these last few days – chronic barrel distortion. The photo I chose? I took the photo a year or two back, probably with the E-PL1. In fact, that’s the toughest part of the canvas printing process. The cost is a no brainer. But I spent hours looking for a decent photo that I’d like on my wall. I’m looking out for more discounts. I have in mind a panorama split across three canvases.

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The Height of Madness

I recently posted about phobias on my personal blog. Heights is my big phobia. I added a video by a pair of loons (and I use that word affectionately) who climbed to the top of a tall crane. That was itself at the top of an unfinished skyscraper. Madness. It turns out that they aren’t just into climbing, but really into their photography as well, as I found out when reading a recent entry on the 500px blog. They give a little bit of background to that video – well worth the read. I liked the following exchange best:

What were you feeling during your first climb?

Unsurprisingly, I felt complete delight. You could see the whole city, and the people below me looked like ants.

Delight? Quite, quite mad. I reckon most photographers do like to try and get a vantage point to get a shot. A little extra altitude always helps. These guys take it to the extreme and their photos are absolutely awe inspiring. Although I definitely wouldn’t label them as one trick ponies. There’s quite a diverse range of photography on their sites. You can check out their 500px accounts by clicking here and here.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

I haven’t uploaded a new postcard for a while. But I found one tucked away in a drawer. It’s ever so British. Ever wondered where the Keep Calm And Carry On phrase sprang from a few years ago? It was created for posters in World War II to keep the collective chin up in the event of a German invasion. Happily, the posters weren’t needed. Unless you lived in the Channel Islands.

Would you like this postcard? It’s free! As are all the postcards in the archive awaiting new owners. Just check out the Postcards page and then follow the instructions. Certain rules apply, which may be made up as I go along and are liable to change without notice. But otherwise, it couldn’t be easier.

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Panasonic Lumix TZ60

I have a great amount of affection for the Panasonic TZ cameras. I bought a TZ5 in 2008 and used it for several years as my primary camera. Sure, it’s no DSLR, but I found it incredible that I could own a camera with a 10x zoom lens that fit in my jeans pocket, and that often produced ridiculously good quality photos. Whilst I have had quite a few cameras come and go since then, I still own the TZ5, and indeed the Mrs has just taken it up to London for a weekend.

The latest and greatest TZ yet is about to hit the shelves, with a release date of early March. If you’re not familiar with the TZ designation, by the by, then perhaps you live in one of those countries that call this model the ZS. It’s the same thing of course. The newest incarnation boasts a far more impressive feature set that the TZ5 I purchased all those years ago. Built in GPS, wifi and NFC, it shoots RAW, has a manual control ring and has even been equipped with a half decent EVF.

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The lens? It’s still limited to an aperture of f3.3, but the range of that lens is now an astonishing 30x. That’s all the way from a respectably wide 24mm out to 720mm. Another difference between this model and my old TZ5? Despite all the added tech and lens range, it’s slimmer than ever before.I also love the retro look that Panasonic have applied to this model, although you can get it in plain black as well. Although, why would you?

The wave of compact system cameras and smart phones that have been released over the last couple of years have between them, in my opinion, rendered an awful lot of cameras redundant. Or at least have put them into smaller niches than they already occupied. But the travel zoom model, which Panasonic pioneered, remains as relevant as ever. Especially at the price point it occupies, or rather will occupy in a few months once retailers knock a few pounds/dollars off the asking price. It’s the ideal camera for someone who isn’t interested in either spending a fortune or taking photography classes, and just wants to have a flexible camera that fits in a pocket.

There are plenty of reviews out there by lucky photographers/bloggers who’ve managed to get their hands on a model prior to launch. The TZ60 has, as it usually does, gotten some pretty high praise. Photography Blog marks is with a 4.5 out of 5 in each category it scores, rating it Highly Recommended. It’s the same story at ePhotoZine whilst Trusted Reviews and Camera Labs reviews are still work in progress. There’s also a little snippit of video on Youtube to show what sort of quality you might expect when shooting your next movie.

I’ll finish this off by taking you on a little trip down memory lane to have a look at the TZ family tree. Since the first model, unsurprisingly named TZ1, hist the shelves in 2006 there have been new releases every year. The numbering system has jumped about a bit, and these days there are two models per annum – the fully featured camera such as the TZ60 and a less fully featured but more competitively priced model below it.

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Old Harry Rocks

I’ve had a whole week off work, with no where specific to go and nothing written in stone to do. Which is why I’ve had time to write so many posts this week. It’s nice to just have time off to do with what you will. I’ve explored my neighbourhood a little, as per yesterdays post. And I’ve had the chance to get on my bike and do some exploring a little further a field.

Well, quite a lot further a field. As the graphic below shows. A round trip of 30 kilometres along roads, along promendades, across a harbour and over rough tracks and fields. With a very specific destination in mind. Isn’t it marvellous what you can do with a mobile phone these days. Track your route with GPS (I use Runkeeper, although there are many fine alternatives), take photos and videos and even earn a new badge on Foursquare. I am now the proud owner of the Great Outdoors badge. Is there a badge for tying knots? It’s like being in the Scouts all over again.

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So, the destination. Old Harry Rocks. It marks the beginning of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage site stretching along a fair old portion of Dorset’s rather rugged coastline. The rocks are so named because, according to local lore, the Devil once slept on them. Alternatively, according to another story, a local pirate called Harry Paye used to store his booty nearby.

Maybe Harry was the devil and there is truth in both tales? Who knows for sure. The rocks make an impressive spectacle, folklore or no folklore. But anyway, come for a ride with me and enjoy the view.

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You can have a look at all the photos I took on Flickr by clicking here. The snaps were all taken with my HTC One, which performs pretty admirably for a camera mounted on a phone. It takes videos too. I stuck a few clips together, overlaid a relaxing tune and posted it here to help you get a bit more of a feel for our coastline here. I thought about allowing the natural sound to play instead of music. But it was windy. Very windy.

 

Meet My Hood

Just a few short months ago I introduced y’all to the ‘hood I call home, Ringwood. I’d set off around the town hunting for ancient relics to try and find something older than the 400 or so years than Kim G produced in Boston. I succeeded, but then Ringwood is a particularly ancient corner of an ancient forest in an ancient land. But I have moved. So Ringwood is no longer my hometown. My new residence of Westbourne is nowhere near so ancient. Indeed, the local area celebrated its bicentenary in 2010. Who’d a thunk it? There I was half way round the world celebrating the bicentenary of Mexico’s independence, when all along the big party was going on right here.

Westbourne is described as ‘affluent’ by Wikipedia. It’s certainly the affluent part of the Bournemouth conurbation, although not quite as wealthy as Sandbanks, which is just down the road and home to a selection of the famous, not so famous but always filthy rich. Walking around Westbourne town centre, you’ll notice a certain London like feel to the place architecturally. The shops suggest a diverse range of residents – a hearing aid retailer sits opposite a baby fashion boutique. There’s a Marks and Sparks supermarket. And a Bang and Olufsen electrical store. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll be straight in that store to buy one of their fanciest televisions for my new pad in Sandbanks.

There’s even an old fashioned type of store that has pretty much gone the way of the blacksmith, ironmonger and hardware store. It’s locally referred to as a ‘bookshop’, and it has ornate lettering from a bygone age on the shop front which tells its age. I’m lead to believe that if one steps inside the shop, you’ll find bound leaves of paper with printed words on them. There are no Kindle shops to speak of in Westbourne. There is a top quality butcher though.

Naturally, in between each retailer sits a coffee shop. Costa Coffee and Starbucks are both represented. But true to it’s economic reputation there’s a plethora of fancy independent coffee shops and Mediterranean style eateries. There is also a Tesco convenience store. True to the town’s form and the capitalist push into the 21st century, our little Tesco supermarket occupies a church. The gallery above, and the other galleries on this page, contains a mix of both my own photos and historical snaps that abound on the interweb.

Westbourne might not have the historical background of Ringwood, but it trumps my old town comfortably from a cultural standpoint. There’s a piece of Westbourne that we all have shared in. I assume so. You all have read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Kidnapped haven’t you? They were written during Robert Louis Stevenson’s time in Westbourne, at his home in Skerryvore. The house was destroyed by German bombs in WW2, but you can still visit the site and see the foundations. Also in the grounds is a stone model of a lighthouse. It’s a replica of what was (maybe still is?) the tallest lighthouse in Scotland, built by a member of his family. The lighthouse, like his home in Westbourne, was called Skerryvore. Stevenson wasn’t the only famous author linked to the area. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is buried in a church graveyard just a few minutes walk away. Along with her husband’s heart.

There are good walks to be had in any direction from our home. On one side we have Bournemouth Gardens, a thin strip of park that extends from Bournemouth Pier all the way to Coy Pond, with a fancy war memorial in between. A garden isn’t a garden in England unless you have at least one memorial and a minimum of a half dozen benches with memorial plaques to someone who once loved sitting there.

If one should choose to walk the opposite direction, you’re at the beach in about five to ten minutes. Depending upon your pace. In summer the golden sands of Bournemouth are covered in a mass of burning human flesh that is popularly known as ‘sunbathers’, who leave used disposable barbecues and other associated litter to the huge annoyance of the locals. In winter the beaches remain a popular destination for walkers. Many of whom bring their dogs to splash in the waves, chase sticks and leave their own little presents for the summer invaders to find.

And that’s my new home town. Hope you enjoyed this short stroll around it. Next stop….Mexico City? One day, one day….

The Phobia

We all have our little phobias. I’m pleased to say I’ve overcome most of mine. When I say overcome, that’s not to say I’m now entirely comfortable with each little phobia. Only that none of them have me all in a sweat or cowering behind a sofa any more. I can handle them. Aerophobia, haemophobia, thanatophobia, belonephobia and ergophobia have all afflicted me at some stage in my life. But I can now board a flight without my stomach tying itself in knots, I can see blood without fainting, I have accepted that all good things must come to an end and I now appreciate that in order to get anywhere in life, a days work is unavoidable.

There are two phobias which remain. Electrophobia is perhaps the biggest because it is something I have to deal with on a daily basis. I can now change a light bulb, although I used to refuse to even consider such a thing. I’d have rather sat in complete darkness. But still, I loathe static and will automatically touch many metal surfaces with a sleeve, just in case. But electrophobia doesn’t bring me out in a sweat. So from that perspective, the biggie is acrophobia.

I don’t like heights. Although how do I define a height? The highest I’ve been, bar air travel, was atop a 5000+ metre mountain. That’s not a problem. I guess it’s a sheer drop I don’t like. Did you know that humans aren’t born with a fear of heights? Babies can crawl to the edge of an abyss and not bat an eyelid. Apparently, or so I have read, a fear of heights kicks in upon learning to walk. I can pin point the moment I discovered my fear. At the top of the Lookout Tower at Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. I was a wee lad and had raced to the top with my brother. Then I looked down and panicked. I descended, ever so slowly, on my backside one step at a time. Ironic. Right now, the Lookout Tower is probably the least scary place in Somerset.

Heights really do bring me to the verge of panic. Yet I am drawn to high points. It makes no sense. My most recent encounter with acrophobia was atop the Angel of Independence, and this isn’t the first post I’ve ever written confessing my weakness. I can’t even watch a video of a daredevil doing something risky at a great height. Well, I say I can’t watch it. I force myself too, even though I become more and more uncomfortable with every passing second. There’s a lot of videos on YouTube of people doing nutty climbs up man made or natural objects. But I believe I’ve found the pinnacle of nuttiness. Still under construction, but already the second highest building in the world, I give you the latest skyscraper in Shanghai and the most twisted high five in history.

Scottish Expulsion

Scotland, that rugged mountainous land just to the north of England. The home of the haggis. An English speaking country, supposedly, whaur nae a single body kin actually speak sassenach. A land of homphobic gaelics with no sense of irony. They gave us the likes of Rod Effing Stewart and refuse to take him back. The mystery isn’t why the Scots are voting for independence, but why the English aren’t voting to expel them. And whilst they can’t keep the pound, they definitely can keep Rod Stewart.

But voting for independence, or against it, they are and the day of reckoning is coming up fast. The bookmakers have the No camp as very strong favourites. I personally have the Meh camp way out if front. Either way, it doesn’t look good for the Yes camp at the moment. But things can change, and sometimes they can change quickly.

I am pretty firmly in the Meh camp. It’s a decision for the Scots to make. But at the same time, I can’t help feel that as the inhabitants of the same smallish island, with roughly the same language and such an intertwined history, present and (whether any one likes it or not) future, the status quo is the way to go. The Scots have a good degree of autonomy with their own parliament. A union is usually stronger and more resilient that fragmentation. And there’s an awful lot more in the list of similarities than there is in the list of differences when discussing the English and the Scots. And Scotland does have it plus sides, if you can overlook boiled offal and deep fried Mars bars.

I do have a couple of strong-ish opinions though. Firstly, that for a vote of independence to be successful, a simple majority is not enough. The 40% rule was controversial in the 1979 vote. But I feel it didn’t go far enough. I feel that a minimum of 50% of the electorate should be the qualifying limit. Independence through apathy isn’t acceptable. If not enough people actually care, then the justification for a break up of the UK isn’t there.

Secondly, of course they can’t keep the bloody pound! The question they will be voting on is ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?‘. Not, ‘Should Scotland be sort of independent, but keep the bits of union it likes?‘ If they want monetary union, and are so confident that automatic membership of the EU is a given, then let them join the Euro. I pass you over to one of the highlights of the British political world, the excellent Question Time.

The MAFTAs 2014

Last night the British Academy of Film and Television Arts handed out lots of gongs to the good and great of the world of film.  Who knew Gravity was a British film? Well, Anglo-American, which is good enough for us to shout a claim on it. I wrote a review of Gravity a few months back and mentioned at the time that the movie was a welcome relief from the dross that Hollywood and Ealing Elstree Pinewood  and wherever British films are made these days, had been inflicting on their audiences for a goodly while.

But just like the good old British weather, a positive drought of decent movies has turned into a biblical flood that keeps on giving. Just eighteen months ago we were preparing for a hosepipe ban and wondering if there would actually be enough decent movies and television shows to fill an awards ceremony. Now here we are with half of England underwater and so many worthy movies it would probably take Bollywood a whole week to recreate them. And turn them into 10 series long television dramas. So I present to you, the inaugural Mexile Academy of Film and Television Awards. Otherwise known as a quick review of  what I’ve recently watched, where every film gets an award of some sort out of editorial necessity.

Best Actor

Leonardo Di Caprio, in the Wolf of Wall Street. I start this poky little awards ceremony with a disgusting little story that should be told. The story of a despicable little man who conned hard earned savings from thousands, maybe tens of thousands of normal working class folk. And squandered it as recklessly as he ‘earned’ it. It’s a long film that will work better on DVD, to allow for a break half way through. It’s a strange film in many ways, not least because it actually happened.

It’s strange because it does, and I know not whether it is deliberate or accidental, glorify the greed and immorality of the extreme end of the western financial system. It’s strange because, despite the fact that I find those qualities to be abhorent, you can’t help but get drawn in and look forward to the next excessive twist in the story line. It’s a movie version of a roller coaster, with fear replaced by loathing instead. Why do you scream for the ride to go faster, when you know full well it’s just going to make things more scary? We are a strange breed, us humans. You don’t see wild animals behaving quite like us. At least I’ve never seen a gazelle creep up on a lion, slap its backside and shout ‘tag, you’re it’, just for kicks.

It’s strange because by the end you almost pity the pond scum human specimen of life that is Jordan Belfort. Perhaps you just pity him because he is Jordan Belfort. Leo has a certain smugness which is naturally dislikeable at the best of times. Or maybe that’s just my take. But I was definitely one of those that heaved a sigh of relief when he finally went under in Titanic. He fits the role to a tee, and does it every justice. The final twist in the story? Did anyone else notice that in the final scene, the on stage presenter introducing Jordan Belfort is the real Jordan Belfort. Jeez, some people just don’t know when to keep a low profile. I couldn’t find the clip on YouTube, but here’s an interview he did with Piers Morgan instead. Wolf of Wall Street scores a solid 6.5 out of ten on the Mexile-ometer.

Best Actress

Emma Thompson, from Saving Mr Banks. Who doesn’t like Mary Poppins? It was a favourite of mine as a kid. Heck, I even liked Dick van Dyke. This awards ceremony is littered with films based around  true stories, and in each of them there is someone at the heart of the plot who you can’t help but pity. With some of them you pity their circumstance or how fate has dealt them an unkind hand. Others you pity for their dysfunctional or dislikeable personalities. With Mrs Travers, you end up pitying her for an unfortunate cocktail of both chance and persona. There is, however,  a certain charm about her as her story is revealed and the true nature of her Disneyfied characters are explained. Tom Hanks is a better Walt Disney than he is a Captain Phillips, but then how would I include the tale of Somalian pirates if I gave him an award here? Saving Mr Banks scores a decent 6.5 out of ten.

Second Best Actor

Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips. An unusual award, but where else would I fit Tom in? He is what Tom Hanks always is. Every bit as likeable and as Jordan Belfort is unlike-able. He always puts in a sterling performance and once again delivers a seamless portrayal in this flick. Captain Phillips is exactly the sort of film I expected it to be. There were no surprises. Pirates board ship. Tom is a bit of a hero, without going OTT. Pirates are…..am I going to spoil it if I say a lot of them come to a sticky end?

The problem with this film is the same problem I have with Tom Hanks. He’s been around too long, starred in too many career defining roles. He is Tom Hanks. No surprises has become his middle name. Nonetheless, with that said, the film is still a thrill, the cinematography is excellent, and the storyline kept up with enough twists, turns and uncertain moments of high tension to keep me glued to the screen. Even though I knew what the final result was going to be. How many points out of ten does Captain Phillips merit? An honourable 6 on the Mexile Scale.

Best Special Effects

Gravity, which I’ve already reviewed here. Best special effects is an easy one to fling in the direction of this flick. It’s in space, there are explosions. What more does an old Sci Fi fan like me want? Other than Klingons or to see how the Kessel Run can be done in just 12 parsecs. Or for those who are into the sci but not so much the fi, 3.7028131 × 1017 metres. A jolly decent 7 out of 10 points for Gravity

Best Television Show

This World, by the BBC. This is Auntie Beeb at her finest, with an eclectic mix of hour long shows, documentaries and talks. I could point to the episode on Mexico’s Drug War, which would fit the Mexican-ish theme of my blog. But that was broadcast in 2010. So it’s a bit old for a 2014 award show. So perhaps the Truth About Population fits better. I always enjoy anything Simon Reeve does, and his two recent episodes following the tea and coffee trade were both top notch.

But to return to a land a bit nearer home, Mexico, I give you Reeve’s 2013 episode that was titled, Cuba. He provided a more balanced and up to date account of this last stand of Communism than you normally get. That is to say, an account which does more that simply declare Communism = Evil, or Castro = Saviour of the People. Both accounts usually fail to cover any middle ground, and it is the middle ground that the masses usually occupy. This World is always 10 out of 10 stuff.

Best Story

Philomena, again by Auntie Beeb. Judi Dench, ahem, Dame Judi Dench, excels. You’d expect nothing less of her. Steve Coogan is not, perhaps, so brilliant as Martin Sixsmith. Too much bumbling, not enough hard nose. I don’t know Martin Sixsmith too well, but I’d associate him with a lot more of the latter and much less of the former. But still, Coogan is likeable and doesn’t detract from the film. Indeed, at times, his style of British humour lends itself well to the film.

The plot is not depressing enough to warrant competition for the winner of that award (see below), but it certainly has a melancholic feel to it. It’s another true story. Which is just as well, because were it fiction, you’d write it off as unbelievable. Well, certainly as far as the sting in the tale is concerned. It sums up all that is wrong with religious extremism, but for once it is extremism of the cuddly sort, wrapped in an innocent cloth of a nun’s habit rather than the TNT laden vest of a misguided and soon to be departed Islamic suicide bomber. It is also, sadly, pretty much what we’ve com to expect from the Catholic Church. A hardy 7 out of 10 for Philomena.

Most Depressing Film

12 Years A Slave. Watched just last night. It really is not a jolly film. Not a pick-me-up to switch on to lighten your mood after a hard day at the office. It’s gritty. It’s full of vile characters. It’s man at, or at least close to, his worst. It’s depressing and necessarily so. There are countless performances of utter excellence in the film, as the sorry story of a free man cum slave is depicted in glorious technicolour in front of your eyes. Although black and red are the dominant colours, as dark skins are whipped raw. This is a story that absolutely must be told. There are far too many people commenting on life in the 21st century who seem to have either skipped history lessons or have simply forgotten how we’ve gotten where we are. A commendable seven and a half  out of ten for 12 Years a Slave.

Best Film

Dallas Buyers Club. I tip my hat to the superb Matthew McConnaughy who went the full stretch to pull off one of the most convincing portrayals in recent cinematic history. I’m sure he’s got those stretch marks in his flesh still to prove it. Any situation that pits a raging Texan homophobic cowboy and a gay transvestite first against each other, then dependant on each other, must contain a story worth telling.

The film doesn’t have a weak point. The plot is harrowing. The cast are as talented as they are diverse. There are comedic interludes. And there is hope. Light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s all true. Well, in a Hollywood sort of way. It merits the highest score I’ve awarded a film today, a lofty 8 out of 10 points.

The Mex Test

Fellow blogger Señor Calypso took the test and posted his result a few weeks ago. I bookmarked it, but then forgot about it. Till this morning. I wasn’t going to post my result, until I saw my result. It was worth boasting about after all. Although I won’t lie – a few of my answers were either educated guesses, or down to my being able to rule out one or two of the options to give myself a 50/50 chance.

You can do the test by clicking here. Has anyone beaten/ will anyone beat my score? I got just one wrong. And kicked myself for it. It’s not that I knew the correct answer. It’s just that my instinct told me I should have clicked on….well, I won’t post a spoiler here. My wrong ‘un is in the comments.

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