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Blue Peter Badge


Today, my daughter achieved something that I always wanted to but never managed – a Blue Peter Badge. For those not aware of Blue Peter, it is the UK’s longest running children’s programme; a magazine show for kids fronted by an ever-changing line-up of presenters. Blue Peter do not give out their badges to just anyone. You have to write in and show that you have earned the accolade. My daughter got hers for writing a poem about the seasons. She sent it in months ago and to be honest we had all forgotten that she had send it in at all. But this morning the badge arrived together with a nice letter explaining how much the Editor of the show – and the presenters Andy, Helen and Barney – enjoyed reading the poem. My daughter is of course glowing with pride whilst my son is glowering with jealousy. As a kid I always wanted a Blue Peter badge but was too lazy to actually do anything  to earn it. I too am insanely jealous. What’s more is that Blue Peter badge holders get free entry to museums, galleries and stately homes the length and breadth of the country. So that is one less entry fee to pay. I have told her to look after it and keep the letter as it will be something to look back on and cherish; not to mention the fact that the Blue Peter badge never goes out of fashion or loses its caché. I am currently in negotiations to get her to write another poem. Is that so wrong?


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Going to a Go-Go


What is a Go-Go? Well here are two of them. The latest craze to sweep through my children’s school, hot on the heels of Silly Bandz, Doctor Who Monster Invasion Cards, Match Atax, etc. Of course Go-Gos have been de rigeur before and faded from memory; but now there are furry Go-Gos (do you see what they did there) and the craze has started again. I think they must be Japanese (like Pokemon, another craze that baffles adults and obsesses children) and allegedly you can play a game with them although I have never seen my two actually do this. It seems to me that what they are actually for is to clutter up every work surface and provide moment’s of exquisite pain for adults, especially when trod on in the middle of the night. Not as painful as standing on a three-pin plug or a Lego brick but certainly up there. What was wrong with Panini sticker albums? Kids of today, etc, etc

Photography wise, another example of the wonderful bokeh produced by the 50mm prime lens, here attached to the macro ring to get very close up. They look sweet don’t they? Don’t be taken in.

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Dark side of the room


No pretences about art today but at least its a new photograph. In fact it’s so new that I took it about 2 minutes ago in my hall at home. Photography is all about light and here we have the full spectrum. Very occasionally, when the sun is shining and the curtains are open, the light floods our front room in a certain, it hits the glass crystals of the chandelier (not a real one you understand – its from British Home Stores), splits and shines through onto the inside of the front door. It happens very rarely and usually lasts for a minute or so and so tonight I thought I’d take a picture of it. The kids get very excited about having a bit of rainbow in the house. A short lesser blog post but i wasn’t going to let that pun get away from me…

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Today’s blog is a little different as it is not actually here but here. I don’t think its cheating as the photograph and words are both mine. If you are reading this after 26th May 2011 you may need to scroll down. My entry is number 22.

In the garden


We have spent this afternoon in the garden and whilst I have not been gardening I have been busy. Lawn has been mowed, camping equipment has been disinterred from the bowels of the shed, shed has been tidied. Thankfully, our garden is a good enough size to attract quite a lot of wildlife – such as the fox that killed our chickens – despite being quite near to the city centre. There is a pair of robins nesting in the ivy on the side of the shed and I took this picture of one of them this afternoon. In my head I think I though that Robins migrated to colder climes in the Spring as they are so associated with winter and Christmas and I don’t recall, until now, seeing one at other times of the year but I assume that they are indeed always around. Maybe we just notice them more when there is snow on the ground.

I have also spent some time testing out my new extension tube. As I have resigned myself to the fact that I am not going to be able to afford a dedicated macro lens anytime soon, an extension tube is the cheap option. It basically attaches to the front of the camera, thereby moving the lens further away and enabling you to take extreme close ups. I’ve been having a play this afternoon and given the low cost I’m pretty pleased with the results; only downside is that you have to focus manually rather than use the camera’s autofocus – and when you wear glasses like me this can be a problem. So, a lazy Sunday with a few photographs in the garden. Lovely.


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Kids. Who’d have them. No, don’t answer that as I have two. It is an old trope that ‘kids these days don’t know they’re born’ probably going back 1000s of years. I often wonder what it must be like growing up in a world where the internet is the most natural thing in the world. I, on the other hand still marvel that something like the internet could have even been invented, let alone come into fruition. But then I suppose the Victorians marvelled at Stephenson’s Rocket. Technology marches onwards. We keep up until it deserts us and leaves us scratching our heads at the side of the road and watching the cloud of dust head over the horizon. But yet some things endure and appear to be timeless; such as Lego.

When I was a child the most you could hope for on the 363 days that weren’t your birthday or Christmas was the occasional free gifts/bribes that came attached to the front of comics. There were also collection cards – football, Star Wars – and Panini sticker albums that you had no chance of ever filling on 5p a week pocket money. These things are still very much in evidence today but there are a whole raft of other crazes fighting for the attention of our children. I blame Pokemon. I don’t understand it but I still blame it. Pokemon passed us by and I breathed a sigh of relief but then there were Go-Gos… and then Bakugans… and then Silly Bandz. But the current craze du jour in our house is currently Lego mini figures of which there have now been three ‘waves’. Each figure comes sealed in a packet and there are 12 to collect in each wave. There are a mixture of sexes and genres from Traffic Cop to Pamela Anderson Baywatch babe to Mexican to Vampire to Zombie and my children are obsessed. Of course, you never know what you are going to get until you open the packet and this is the problem. Some appear harder to come by than others, usually the ones that they really, really want.

So to say my son was less than impressed to unwrap a Lego Geisha would be an understatement. He immediately tried to swap it with his sister (she had an ice hockey player) but she was having none of it. Even if she wanted a Geisha, which secretly is probably very likely, she was never going to swap because he wanted what what she had. It’s how sibling rivalry works. I know from experience. If you have something your brother or sister (brother in my case) wants to hold onto it. It makes it more precious even if you don’t really want it. Personally, I quite like her. She has class. Unlike the Lego werewolf.

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Russian dolls

Russian dolls

It’s been a while since I have posted a more intimate, still life sort of picture so here is an attempt from earlier this evening. This is a picture that tells you all need to know about why every photographer should have a 50 mm prime lens in their armoury. Not only are they very cheap, they are also very fast which results in this marvellous depth of field from front to back when you have the camera’s aperture wide open. Obviously, if I had planned in advance I would have perhaps ensure that the two halves of the front doll were actually aligned but maybe the fact that they are not adds a bit of camera. I am sure that I have mentioned this before but there is a word for this wonderful blurred effect when opening the camera’s aperture as wide  as it will go. It a Japanese word (of course it is) and the word is bokeh. Translated literally it stems from the word boke, which means "blur" or "haze". The Japanese term boke is also used in the sense of a mental haze or senility which is kind of apt given my ramblings.

As for the Russian dolls, they were a present from the in-laws who are recently back from a round-the-world cruise; the sort of thing you can do when you are retired. They are from St Petersburg apparently and are quite beautiful. At the moment I am finding it rather difficult to compartmentalise the different parts of my life – work, family, running, photography, etc; certainly they no longer fit snugly one inside the other. At the moment, the photography aspect is probably the tiny blurred doll at the end but I hope to change that soon. In a few weeks time I am heading out into the wilds of North Wales again with the hope of catching some more wonderful landscapes. But at the moment it is the more mundane that is dominating and by that I mean work. After a two 4-day weeks and one 3-day week in April, it is going to be difficult to readjust to normality. I’m not wishing my life away (OK I am) but I am envious of the retired and the moneyed; whoever came up with this system – The Greeks? It usually is, certainly if you listen to Melvin Bragg on Radio4 – of the 5-day week could at least have given it a little more thought.

Is it still only Monday?

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Wet playtime


Although it has brightened up as i write this (typical!) today has been for the most part pretty wet and miserable. The painting of the famous fence was postponed and so we have spent most of the day indoors playing board games; namely Monopoly and Cluedo. Is there anything quite so British as playing board games on a rainy weekend? To be honest, I’m just glad that this has meant the television and games consoles and computer being switched off, if only for a few hours. There’s nothing quite like a board game for destroying familial bonds though; my wife’s ruthless streak was laid bare as she demanded £1200 from an 8-year-old for landing on a hotel and made her cry. Yet the tables turned when she made a wrong prediction in Cluedo. The Dumbbells? Everyone knew it was Mrs White with the axe in the kitchen. Schoolgirl error. Nevertheless we have had lots of fun, lots of tea and several biscuits.


As you can probably tell these pictures we taken with a 50-mm prime (i.e. not zoom) lens with a really large aperture of f1.8 to get that depth of field. The 50-mm prime lens is a lens that every photographer should have in his/her armoury. Being a prime lens you have to physically move to get closer to the subject rather than zooming but it allows you to shoot at really fast speeds, which is great for indoors on a rainy day.

Tomorrow I am going to have my portrait taken for the project that I have mentioned previously that aims to bring together people in the North West who are using social networking/blogging to build awareness. Can’t say much about it at the moment as I don’t know what to expect. All I can say is that costumes and props are involved so I have the potential to make a complete idiot of myself. Once the portraits are done I may post one on the blog but only if they manage to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Still looking for that body double…

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Caution: artist at work


This week has been a very stressful week work-wise for reasons that are too complicated to go into here. But it’s Friday so time to forget about it until Monday inexorably comes around again. I had a really nice email today from an old friend who used to be a professional photographer many moons ago (in the days of film) but, in his own words:

I fell back into design because people started being able to do what I was doing on the computer and I wanted to catch up. So I ended up putting my camera down and shamefully never picking it back up again.

Now this person is now a very talented graphic designer and layout artist with his own business but he has decided to pick up the camera again and invest in some new kit because he wants to do this professionally again. The icing on the cake for me is that has been partly inspired to do this after reading my blog, which is actually pretty cool. At the risk at this sound like a bit of a love in he said in his email that:

I’ve loved your blog though because its about looking and learning, … you are starting to notice the world through a different eye, seeing things that others don’t, noticing that even the most mundane scene or object has ‘something’- the domino picture the other day for instance I thought was sublime- its not technically your best picture, but nonetheless not any weaker because of it

When I started writing this blog that was all I wanted to achieve. To have someone who is a successful artist in their own right say something like that about my photography is really encouraging. Of course, its not all good news. The Fractalius plug-in did not go down well, and he’s also very ambivalent about the use of spot colour, although appreciate that  it has its uses when done subtly.

In my defence, the fractal effects were just me messing about with a new toy really. I certainly wouldn’t consider either the Odeon image or the Orang-utan stunningly good in their original form… Indeed, with regards to the image on the blog last night, the background to where the ape was sitting is a horrible puke greeny mustard colour so I just wanted to concentrate on the ape and get away from the distracting surrounding wall. I have a friend, another pro photographer, who thinks spot colour is an abomination. Personally, I think it’s acceptable when used more considerately and sometimes it does work. Such use of effects and Photoshop filters does polarise opinion though… As you know I dabbled in HDR photography for a while but soon dropped it for something a bit more natural. Art is always in the eye of the beholder. I like the oppressiveness of Rothko but cannot see the point of Jackson Pollock for example. In photography, some effects work and some don’t. I have had positive and negative comments about all the pictures I’ve done where I have deliberately manipulated the image.

Its very easy to get hung up on other people’s opinions; whilst one friend didn’t like the last couple of pictures, I am doing a print of the Orang-utan picture for someone else whose opinion and feedback I value and have also agreed to let another friend use the Odeon picture on a campaign leaflet (she is running for local councillor. We all like different things, otherwise life would be very boring.

Of course the true artist here is my daughter (pictured). That’s proper art using paint and brushes and stuff and she’s actually pretty good (at least that’s what we were told at parents evening last night). It’s the weekend, so that’s it for now. Hoping to get out at the weekend and add to my alternative Chester pictures but until then, have a great weekend

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Games without frontiers


Something odd happened today. My son, aged 10, did not spend all day on the X-box or the Wii or his Nintendo DS. He did not ask to watch telly or to go on the computer. Instead he emerged from his bedroom with a box of dominos and some plastic soldiers that he then proceeded to play with for most of the day. As you can see, he had it in his head to recreate the D-day landings and this kept him amused for hours. This has left me heartened; after all this is something I used to do in those ancient days before computers. He has also started to spend his pocket money on Airfix kits…

We are told constantly that today’s kids are too reliant on technology and that they have forgotten how to play or at least how to think up play scenarios for themselves. I am not convinced that this is true. Sure, the technology is there but in my experience, with my kids at least, they tire of it pretty quickly. The things that hold their attention are toys and games that have been around for years – Monopoly, Chess, Lego – which I suppose explains why they have been around for years. Of course Lego is now more sophisticated than it was when I was a child – Lego Ninjas are the current must have incarnation – but its still Lego. Our house is full of it and if you have ever stood on a Lego brick with bare feet you can understand what a minefield it represents (not as painful as stepping on a 3-pin plug mind but close).

So this post is really a big hurrah for the power of the human mind and the ability to play inside our own heads. Soldiers + dominoes = the beaches of Normandy. Not a connection that I would have made but maybe 30-odd years ago I would have done the same.

As for the picture, its for images like this that the 50-mm prime (i.e. fixed focal length, no zoom) comes into its own. The 50-mm lens is pretty close approximation to the human eye so to get this picture I had to get right down on the floor. Opening the aperture up to f1.8 means that the depth of field is glorious – the focus was on the 2 soldiers at the front of the ‘landing craft’ and having the aperture wide open leads to  that wonderful fore- and background blur.

As for the blog title… You may have noticed the badge on the blog signalling my intention to post every day in 2011. By signing up for this I get a motivational e-mail or topic suggestion each day from WordPress. One of the suggestions was to give each post a title that would draw traffic to the blog. So here’s a big hello to all the Peter Gabriel fans…

Took some other photographs today and therefore have a few ideas as to where the blog may go next week (February!). Living in a tourist city that has been photographed to death I have tried to take some seamier, grittier, less obvious photographs so watch this space.

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