Sunday, 29 November 2009

Andy iz Magiik

Congratulations to Andy iz Magiik. He was the first person to actually go all the way and beat the entire 100 mob on the xbox360 live show 1 vs 100. The game is almost exactly like the BBC quiz show but until now nobody has had the guts and the skill to grab the big prize and we are on season 2 already. For the full story and a chat with Andy see the Midlifegamer article. I was in the 30,000 strong virtual crowd, failing miserably to get selected for The One or even the Mob. I've only made it into the Mob a handful of times and I'm always a bag of nerves, so I can imagine how nerve wracking playing as The One would be. I was cheering him on at the end. Well done to Andy and I hope he likes his new camera.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Cunning moss

There may be no Brontes buried in Pleasington cemetery but it does have its fare share of cunning moss and not all of it on the graves.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The metal tree

I don't always know what to make of Blackburn's sculptures. They are something of a mixed bag. Some are very beautiful, some aren't, some are badly situated and some are visually impressive until the local newspaper tells you how many notes the sculpture cost. Blackburn is a working town; you cant get away from that. My family can trace its way back at least two centuries and find hardly any ancestors that weren't cotton weavers at some stage in their lives. The mills are gone but the town still prides itself on its industrial heritage. Many of the sculptures here have some social or industrial connection. There seems to be very little celebration of nature. Even the Bee Hive (one of my favourites) could be interpreted as celebrating the industrial nature of the bees and how they work together for the common good.
This metal tree even seems hard pressed to escape connections to the steel producers that our town is also famed for, with its plane polished surfaces, its riveted on leaves and pipe trunk and branches. This one also seems to have been hidden away among the bushes at an out of the way spot between the retail and industrial parks of Whitebirk. Perhaps it once had a more visible spot and was moved to make way for a larger more showier sculpture - I don't know. It does seem to me to be somewhat outclassed by the beauty of the bushes and trees that surround it. I think nature generally will win these comparisons regardless of the quality of the sculptures. And maybe planting a real new tree could well be just as creative as sculpting one.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Monkey puzzler

A baby Monkey Puzzle Tree looking a bit exposed after all it's neighbours have shed their leaves.
Apparently this conifer got it's name in England in the mid 19th century when someone remarked of a the then rare specimen 'It would puzzle a monkey to climb that'.

Friday, 20 November 2009

View from a bridge

This is another shot of the Raithwaite lake. Railings, parapets, balustrades etc are often something of a hindrance to photography from wheelchair level. In this instance I tried holding the camera up above the barrier and shooting blind. I clicked away for a minute, hoping for the best. Only one was worth keeping - see below. I took the above picture by shooting lower than my usual viewpoint, well at least I could see the viewfinder to frame and focus. I think it turned out ok. The stone pillars actually seem to add something to the shot and the reflection was an unintended bonus.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Ahhh...ducks! My good, good friends.
*sniff* Ducks. So fickle.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Woodpecker Hilton

The Greater Spotted Woodpecker remains elusive this year. They've been seen only fleetingly around the garden and once on the lamp post at the front. You can hear them in the woods though, drilling away with their pneumatic-like beaks. They've been here for a while too as this tree testifies. These woodpeckers will sometimes come back to breed in the same tree that they used the previous year, though they usually locate the new residence below the one already used. That's only if they aren't ousted by the local starlings, who sometimes move in after the hard work has been done. Woodpeckers often get a bad name for feeding on other birds chicks but their own eggs are not safe from smaller birds themselves. Sparrows and starlings will sometimes steal woodpecker eggs.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Barry Letts

This squad of Sea Devils was spotted by my sister at Sandsend. It looks like they are making their way back to the sea after a quick sortie ashore. Perhaps they've been to the Magpie for some fish n' chips. I apologise for these Sea Devils being naked. These young monsters have no shame anymore. I remember when any self respecting Sea Devil wouldn't be caught dead without his string tunic with little belt ensemble.
I would like to pay tribute to Barry Letts who died last month at the age of 84. Barry was producer of Doctor Who during the Jon Pertwee years and was responsible for casting Tom Baker in the role of the 4th Doctor. Without Barry Letts' shaping of the show that I've adored since my first memories my life would have been a lot emptier. He was a practicing Buddhist and was one of the first tv producer's to introduce ecology as a major theme in a tv story in The Green Death in 1973. He was a real gentleman. I can still hear his voice in my head from all the stories and anecdotes that he contributed to the classic DVD commentaries.
Other tributes:

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Wolf Hall

"Cromwell, what does he really believe?"
It's a question that Anne Boleyn ponders in the book and I suppose it is the question the reader is also posed with. The book is very well researched by the author Hilary Mantel. There is a huge cast of characters involved here, threading their strands into the tangled weave of politics, intrigue and ambition that surrounds the court of King Henry VIII during his courtship and marriage to Anne Boleyn. At the end of it all I didn't feel I knew Thomas Cromwell any better than I did before. There is no doubt that he was a most remarkable and deeply complex man. History is a very slippery thing to write about but compared to trying to get to the heart of an individual, to get inside his mind with any accuracy, it is almost impossible. It's not that easy to achieve face to face, never mind separated by half a millennium through the dusty filter of historian opinions.
The present tense, third person delivery, from the point of view of Cromwell was sometimes a bit of a clunky style for the author to use so rigidly. I lost his stand point on numerous occasions, mostly confusing him for Wolsey. Some conversations were quite hard to follow. Others stand out, crackling with personality and atmosphere e.g. Cromwell's meeting with the King's daughter Mary. The King is pretty much as I would have expected as is Anne Boleyn. I didn't feel we got to grips with Thomas More fully but perhaps this is because we are seeing him from Cromwell's perspective.
All in all, a well written, thoroughly researched book, sometimes let down by its style and the scope of its ambition.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Frog encore

Watery Wednesday
I snapped this picture of one of the frogs that got washed onto my patio last month. This is a wider shot than the pictures I posted at the time, showing some of the floodwater still pooled about. Half the hillside seemed to come down with the deluge. The frogs were happy enough though.

Winter's rime

Frost rimed oak leaves
brushed by winter's breath.
The thaw reclaims it all,
the birds won't find their death.
Weeds wear white ephemera,
pale signatures of ice.
Sleep on you dreaming creatures,
til the year has had its price.
Michael Finn

Monday, 9 November 2009

A tale of two snappers

Just before I got my new camera I began encouraging Mark and Debbie to make more use of their cameras. This resulted in two wildly different results. Debbie now walks around everywhere with her camera snapping everything she can think of. She has really got the photography bug, so much so she had to start a blog of her own to show off some of her very excellent results. Mark really likes cameras. He loves all the jargon about megapixels and buying little accessories and things. The thing he's not actually keen on is taking the camera out with him and pressing the shutter and taking photos. In the last three months I believe I've only had 5 pictures from Mark. Displayed here are the best two. Autumn on Pleasington lane.

Friday, 6 November 2009

God is in the Rain

A rainy night on the Fifth of November. I think this date gets a baptism from above nearly every year. Such a quiet Bonfire Night as far as fireworks go. But sirens - plenty of those. I can hear them now, sitting here writing this entry at 1:43am. Maybe it was the rain (never stopped it much before) , perhaps it's the credit crunch or maybe they are all just going to turn up at the big Witton Country Park do at the weekend. Mark and I were going to go but it looks like it might be too wet.

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot."

I stayed in and watched one of my all time favourite films. Actually, I watch this one every 5th of November. Any excuse. The film is V for Vendetta based on the ten issue comic series from the 1980s by that genius imagineer Alan Moore.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Last Man

It seems like I've been reading Mary Shelley's The Last Man all year. I'm not the fastest of readers but whenever I read poetry I read even slower. The Last Man isn't poetry but it is written using poetic prose, which keeps tricking me into thinking I'm reading an epic poem. The primary characters are based on Shelley's recently deceased husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and herself (although personified by the eponymous male character). The woman can write some. The novel really shines when the story finally concludes on its note of tragic isolation. Unfortunately to get to this brilliant finale of loss you have to first present fully what is being lost. Shelley spends over half of the book setting this up and it is, admittedly quite a slog. And then the plague hits. This part of the book is unrelentingly morbid in what it depicts although Shelley's writing and exploration of theme's and ideas during this section are delivered with great acuity. If I'd been aware how dark much of the book was going to be after such a long set up I would probably have given the book a miss. I'm glad I read it though because the writing is so good on certain levels but it is often rather daunting in its density.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The greatest artist

The wind worked all night to paint this picture.
Every hue of autumn was its palette.
Nature is its own artist.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Night of the Demon

"It's in the trees... It's coming!"
Having just recently reread M.R.James' classic supernatural story Casting the Runes, I thought I'd also re-watch the film version this Halloween. Made in 1957, Night of the Demon takes the main plot elements from James' creepy tale, adds a few Hollywood staples (a smooth talking American scientist, complete with a chance of romance female sidekick) to deliver a sharply scripted British classic of the genre. Yes it does suffer slightly from a limited budget and perhaps it was a mistake to actually show the demon. Famously, director Jacques Tourneur wanted to show much less of the creature but was overruled by the producer. The original story had let the reader imagine the demon's aspect and looking at the last scene it is pretty clear that they should have done the same thing with the movie. The only other suspect scene has lead actor Dana Andrews wrestling in the dark with what looked like a stuffed leopard and for a moment there I was half expecting to find when the lights revealed all that he really had been rolling about with a stuffed leopard. Fortunately it was revealed to be a guardian demon in the rather smug form of a domestic black cat called Grimalkin. All this aside the film really does hit its mark. Genuine tension builds slowly as the viewer watches the cursed hero gradually become aware of his peril. Never has a scrap of paper with some runic symbols on it caused so much anxiety in horror film history.
You don't have to be hexed by a practitioner of the black arts to have a Final Destination moment though. My sister was out in the woods today looking for a dramatic flood or weather photograph when half a tree came down very close to her. Luckily she was stood under the other half.