Glassy skies and crystal waters

by on Dec.23, 2010, under Photography

avatarI find winter endlessly fascinating. Already people are complaining about the snow — SNOBEPOCALYPSE — and looking forward to the thaw. Not I. I love winter. Autumn is my favourite season, because it’s full of smells and textures and sensations and promises. Winter, though… Oh a proper winter steals my heart away and puts it in a crystal box and whispers “You can have it back if you’re a very, very good girl.”

And this year it has been a Proper Winter. We’ve had snow for weeks now, the roads icy beneath their demerara-sugar-and-beaten-butter slush; the fields white as a laundry powder commercial; the light so clear and brittle it feels like an entirely different world from the usual dreich greyscale of eastern Scotland.

I took this picture while out in the field. I was at Aberlady Bay, a nature reserve in East Lothian, not far from Gullane. There was thick ice covering the bed of the estuary, grey and organic-looking, as if an alien lifeform had oozed along there and left a trail; and these amazing circular structures of pancake ice on the surface. I didn’t think I’d ever get to see pancake ice in the wild. I must have been a very good girl indeed.

Aberlady Bay

Autumn is my favourite season but a proper winter feels like coming home.

Sunset at Aberlady Bay

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It’s melting!

by on Dec.11, 2010, under Photography, rambling

avatarThe thaw has come to Edinburgh, and what was a glorious, sparkly, clean landscape has turned muddy and rutted and ugly. It’s like the aftermath of trench warfare out there. I’ve been trying to retain my festive spirit by wrapping some presents today, and the weather forecast suggests that there might be another freeze coming next week. I hope so. I know it has caused a lot of bother to people, and it wasn’t always pleasant — especially when our heating broke down and it was -20°C out there — but I’ve enjoyed the cold weather. I’m not much of a summer person, I don’t like the heat. Summer is great if I have easy access to a nice beach and can spend all day spoffling crabs and sploshing around chasing sandeels. Otherwise it’s a case of hiding from the sun and trying not to burn to a crisp or dehydrate into old boot leather.

The other thing about the recent cold snap that I noticed was the quality of the light. With all that highly-reflective snow around everything looked crisper. It reminded me of the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray. Edges were neater, Fife was closer, seagulls were more graceful, the crows were bigger, the magpies shinier and the sunsets were glorious.

I took this picture coming back from the shop, one of a number of attempts to capture the fleeting softness of refracted light at sunset. It was a gamble, with the framing, and I think it paid off. The setting sun reflects gold in the windows of the neighbouring apartment building and the darkening eastern horizon is a beautiful rosy hue. The steel grey line to the left of centre is where the sky meets the North Sea.

Sunset behind bars

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Mutant brain, synaesthesia, overactive imagination

by on Dec.08, 2010, under Life with Frood, Photography, rambling

avatarHaving synaesthesia means that I see things differently from others all of the time. The very word “see” is generally inappropriate. Light hits the retina, electrical impulses travel back along the optic nerve, and about there the similarities stop. In me that signal is processed by the brain through a weird amalgam of all my other senses. My synaesthesia even includes one of the senses not considered in the usual five: proprioception. Is it because I lost an eye at a critical age, rather than being born blind in one, or losing it much later? I don’t know. Sometimes I think that could explain many things about me, from the way I smell colours and inhabit the shapes of sounds to the way I have to do some things right handed and some things left.

On the whole, though, I think that what I am probably doing there is looking for a reason. And, a lot of the time, things just are. They’re not purposeful, they’re not meaningful, they’re not deliberate, they’re not fair or unfair… They just are.

I get a special thrill from experiencing a similar sense of wonder and joy at a particular thing to that of someone else. While I know it’s terribly unlikely that the other person is excited by the shape formed by that particular aroma, or the soundscape that whispers and hums in the background to a piece of scenery, the sharing of that childlike marvel that the world can be so astonishing and wonderful is more than enough.

Last night the temperature was -15°C and the skies were clear. Outside the snow froze surface-crisp. And how it sparkled! We have a rough patch of waste ground out back, and there’s a car park surrounded by a chain-link fence. It’s not beautiful. It’s no Midnight. Yet, even so, it was astonishing, because a myriad diamond glitters danced across the snow. For a moment I could imagine that stars have a spawning cycle that includes a terrestrial phase, the way coral has a planktonic larval stage, and these were the babies fallen to Earth. Frood also thought it was brilliant and we stood in a darkened room with our noses pressed against the glass, staring.

I decided to photograph it. Sadly the battery on my camera died and I was forced to use my phone, which doesn’t have the optics to do it justice. Although, of course, for me the synaesthetic response is different when looking at photographs. I see the photograph, not the thing in the photograph. So no photograph can ever capture the moment, despite what the camera adverts say.

Doesn’t stop me trying.

Lunar diamonds

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by on Dec.06, 2010, under kit, Photography, rambling, transport

avatarThere can’t be many people in the UK, possibly the world, who are not aware that we are having our earliest severe snowfall for around 20 years. It started on my birthday and hasn’t let up since, although we’ve had one day when there was no new snow. That was yesterday.

This morning at 6am the sky was still clear, as far as I could tell in the darkness. By 8:30am, when I was leaving for work, the snow was falling in earnest.

I took the car, because I’m still recovering from flu. It took me about an hour and a half to get 5 miles. Sitting at the junction of Quality Street (no chocolate) and Queensferry Road and seeing the traffic at a standstill in my direction of travel, which meant it was probably backed up from the Maybury junction, I turned left instead of right and spent another hour getting home again. Just getting the car into the street and out after finding no parking spaces, then into the car park out the back, took about 20 minutes. The snow is lying on sheet ice.

This is the view from our window:



It has actually become even worse in the time it has taken me to download from the camera and write this much.

For the past week or so we’ve been experiencing problems with the communal boiler, which means there have been a few days when we’ve had no hot water or heating for more than long enough for it to get very cold indeed. I think they’re coming to fit a new part today. As I’m now snowed in — at least until I get the mountain bike kitted out in appropriate tyres and discovered whether my chest can take the exercise — I’m really hoping they don’t have to turn it off today. It’s already chilly in here.

Talking of cold, I ventured out to the shop in my Vibram KSOs late yesterday afternoon. Previously I’d been out in the Bikilas, which are made of a thicker material and have more robust soles (and really are that pink), and that was fine. While I am so enamoured of the VFFs that I never want to wear “proper” shoes ever again in my life, I can honestly report that I thought I’d managed to get frostbite wearing the KSOs on a mixture of packed ice and snow. I think it might be time to get some of the Ininjis or Lizard socks to keep my little tootsies warm if it’s going to be like this all winter.

Here’s the view from the window now. The trees are disappearing. The gas works vanished hours ago.

The gasworks have vanished.

Look! No gasworks!

I hope Frood gets home okay. He’s got cross tyres on Spartacus. He should be fine.

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Yes, brrrr, it is a bit chilly!

by on Dec.01, 2010, under kit, Photography, rambling

avatarWinter has come to Scotland and it has decided to make a proper go of it. We’ve had snow every day since Friday, and it has settled. Anyone who has seen any news relating to the UK recently will have seen that this is the earliest we’ve had weather this severe in a long time.

I was out in the snow with Andy Gates at the weekend, jumping up and down in the snow in our Vibram Five Fingers:

Snow Bikila

Andy said something that made me smile: a good way to decide whether you’ll like the barefoot Vibram experience or is if you’re a puddle jumper. If you’re a puddle jumper you’ll probably like them.

Unfortunately since then our communal boiler has broken down, meaning that heating and hot water have gone out. It’s bloody cold here. I can’t get to work, so I’m stuck at home and I’m wearing four layers as well as a hat and gloves. The engineer is struggling to get through the snow to fix it.

For that reason, here is a picture I took during warmer weather, of a sad old bike parked outside the supermarket. Whenever one of my machines accuses me of neglect (naming no names, Shackleton) I show him this picture. Makes me feel better, anyway.

Sainsbury's sad bike

What gets me is that the chain isn’t as slack as I’d expect on a bike that badly maintained. Maybe the rear axle has rusted into the drops. I love the way the front light is held in place with duck tape, too.

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A day older

by on Nov.26, 2010, under Miscellany, Photography

avatarIt’s my birthday today and I am officially much older than really I feel is right. It’s one of those “How the hell did that happen?” moments. Mind you, I occasionally still get asked for proof of age, so I can’t be doing that badly.

I’ll be pretty busy, so while I would normally find time on a weekday off from work to post some rambly nonsense about telly adverts or bicycles or computer games, you will have to wait for my considered opinion on Rabbids Travel In Time because I have a cake to make, another batch of ice cream to start and a whole pile of vodka jellies to do.

Yes, it’s my birthday, and I shall do my own catering if I want to.

In the meantime I leave you with this image I captured using my (practically obsolete) mobile phone while out for a lunchtime walk last week. I love these colours. I love the scents and textures of these colours. My synaesthesia gives these colours a tang and a fizz. Imagine a curtain made of fine, bronze threads hanging in an open doorway on a hot Mediterranean summer’s day with the azure sea just visible far below when the breeze separates the threads a little. Now walk up to it until the threads rest on your face.

Stick out your tongue.

Someone coated the threads in sherbet.

A flash of Autumn

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Writing about writing

by on Nov.12, 2010, under Photography, Writing

avatar As anyone who has been unfortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time in my presence will know, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Mostly they involve mugs; or, at least, the mugs are the most obvious indication of mild OCD.

There are a whole bunch of traits that are loosely grouped under the label of obsessive-compulsive (henceforth shortened to OC, because I’m lazy). I count things, like steps, and occasionally find myself avoiding cracks in the pavement. My main one, however, is hypergraphia — handy, you’d think, for a writer. It’s not that simple, sadly.

You see, the problem with hypergraphia is that what comes out is what has to come out. It’s not necessarily marketable, or even good. Often it’s not something I have any particular desire to show anyone. More often than not the hypergraphia gets in the way of writing rather than contributing to it. Hence my failure to complete NaNoWriMo for the past three years. It’s all well and good having a declared project, but when you sit down to write your 1700 – 2000 words for the day and what comes out is 2 – 3000 words of material that has nothing to do with the project, and you haven’t figured out how to change tracks, you’re not going to get very far.

Another way I get OC about writing is in the materials. Everything I do starts as ink on paper. I can’t begin anything on the computer. The paper has to be narrow ruled. I can just about cope without the margin, although I get really grumpy if it’s not feint. Pens, too, are important. I have a desk tidy that is full of nothing but unused Bic Cristal Grip biros. Once the cap comes off and ballpoint touches paper, then the pen has to live in the other desk tidy.

I keep my writing separated into categories. The mandatory words, the ones that I have to put onto paper or else my head will explode, live in black moleskine journals. Hard-backed, large. Moleskine journals are narrow ruled, have great quality paper and are robust enough to stand up to travelling around everywhere with me. I get through about three a year. I also have a red one, which I keep for story ideas and writing down scenes or sequences when I’m away from my desk or am sneaking in something constructive when the hypergraphia isn’t looking.

Platinum CarbonRecently I became entirely enamoured of the idea of returning to fountain pens. I always used to write with a fountain pen, but as my writing grew smaller and more compact I needed a narrower, more reliable line. Also, fountain pen ink has a tendency to run, which is an important consideration for inclement weather, even though I do wrap my books in plastic bags for transport.

I asked the good folks at CycleChat, which turns out to be a veritable sanctuary for the pen-obsessed, and ended up at CultPens. I will need to visit a shop where I can try the pens before investing in something expensive, but at CultPens I found the Platinum Carbon.

The line is beautifully narrow — narrow enough that my parker mocha ink doesn’t show up very well on the off-white moleskine paper — as well as smooth and reliable. The pen is light and nicely balanced, and while I’ve used pens with smoother nibs, I’ve not used one that produces such a crisp line.

If you have a compulsion, you might as well make it as pleasant as possible.

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