Friday, 29 August 2014

An unbelievable approach from Aisha Gaddafi - and a glimpse into Burkina Faso

I am sure that Readers will be pleased to hear that my efforts to block all offers to expand my non-existent genital appendage have proved successful. The Gmail filtering of all emails containing the word 'penis' worked beautifully. Hurrah, then! (Though I'm awfully sorry if you wrote to me and had to use the word 'penis', because your mind was pure and you knew of no other colloquial or slang equivalent. Your email would have been bounced, never reaching me)

But of course other types of spam still come through. They do end up in the Spam Box. (Thank you, O efficient Gmail!) But I don't really want to see them at all. I want them cast off into some cesspit.

Here's one I found in my Spam Box barely a day ago. It's the 'let me tempt you with mention of lots of money' type, but this time with a difference - the personal appeal made to me for money-transfer facilities (or whatever is really wanted from me) claims to come from Aisha Gaddafi, a daughter of the late Colonel Gaddafi, a western-trained legal expert, a one-time UN goodwill ambassador, and a highly vocal political figure now on the 'wanted' list of the new government of Libya!

This is a pretty blatant fraud, because I can't imagine that the real Aisha Gaddafi has written to anyone in these terms; nor would need to; nor would ever risk relying on an unknown recipient's co-operation in not passing the message straight on to someone in authority. It reads as follows:

Dearest One,

How are you today, I hope my mail meet you in good condition of health?

Dear I have decided to contact you after much thought considering the fact that we have not meet before, but because of some circumstance oblige me, I decided to contact you due to the urgency of my present situation here in the refugee camp for your rescue and also for a business venture/project which I need your assistant in this business establishment in your country as my foreign partner as well as my legal appointed trustee. I am Aisha Muammar Gaddafi, the only daughters of the embattled president of Libya, Hon. Muammar Gaddafi. I am currently residing in Burkina Faso unfortunately as a refugee. I am writing this mail with tears and sorrow from my heart asking for your urgent help. I have passed through pains and sorrowful moment since the death of my late father. At the meantime, my family is the target of Western nations led by Nato who wants to destroy my father at all costs. Our investments and bank accounts in several countries are their targets to freeze. My Father of blessed memory deposited the sum of $5.8M (Five Million, Eight Hundred Thousand Dollars) in (BRS) BANK Burkina Faso which he used my name as the next of kin. I have been commissioned by the (BRS) bank to present an interested foreign investor/partner who can stand as my trustee and receive the fund in his account for a possible investment in his country due to my refugee status here in Burkina Faso. I am in search of an honest and reliable person who will help me and stand as my trustee so that I will present him to the Bank for the transfer of the fund to his bank account overseas. I have chosen to contact you after my prayers and I believe that you will not betray my trust. But rather take me as your own sister or daughter. If this transaction interest you, you don't have to disclose it to anybody because of what is going with my entire family, if the united nation happens to know this account, they will freezing it as they froze others, so please keep this transaction only to yourself until we finalize it. Apologetic for my pictures I will enclose it in my next mail and more about me when I hear from you okay.

Please I want you to contact me here on my email; (aisha.gaddafi@gmx.net) for more conversation.

Thank and Best Regards,
Yours Sincerely.

Aisha Gaddafi
Email; aisha.gaddafi@gmx.net

Oddly, this email actually came from the account of one Cynthia K Kones, whose present email address is cynthia.kkones@aol.fr. I couldn't understand her involvement. A quick search on Google led me to a website called Socialvibes.net (run by Professor Joel Charles Snell, of Kirkwood College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) and a post on 22 August 2014 in which (as I have done, above) the Professor gave the text of a suspicious email under the heading Phoney Plea? (I am not urging anyone to follow the link, but here it is anyway: http://www.socialvibes.net/socialvi/2014/06/25/phony-plea/) Ms Kones was appealing direct, on her own behalf, calling herself 'Cynthia Kipkalya Kones', explaining her background, and employing language and a style amazingly similar to that used by 'Aisha Gaddafi'. Why, the text in both instances might have been composed by the same person. Remarkable.

It was very easy to find other email appeals, couched in the same sort of way, that people have received and republished as an Awful Warning.

I stumbled on a website run by Antifraud International (no, I've never heard of them before, either, but they seem to mean well) and they provide a forum - well, quite a number of specialised forums in fact - for members to post up scams and and other frauds that have arrived in the form of email messages. Thus I found several variants of the 'Aisha Gaddafi' message - see (if you feel confident enough) http://antifraudintl.org/showthread.php?86148-Aisha-Gaddafi-from-Libya.

If you do take a peek, you might as well go the AntiFraud International's Scam Mail Depot (http://antifraudintl.org/forumdisplay.php?19-Scam-Mail-Depot) and see all the various forums you can dip into. Dip at will. It's quite staggering, all that illegal activity, all designed to ensnare unwary and gullible people. There must be hundreds of fraudsters out there writing (and re-writing) these messages in the expectation that someone, somewhere, will be daft enough to respond. And I am quite sure that, once in a while, someone does.

The message I got must have been sent out merely on the information that my email address existed. They simply tried me, to see what resulted. There was nothing in my email address to indicate that I lived in the UK, and therefore might not approve of the late Colonel Gaddafi and his family. You know, the late Colonel's generally bad attitude to the West, and his long-obstructive stance in relation to the Lockerbie incident. There was also nothing in my email address to suggest that I might not only be Libyan, but pro-Gaddafi, and in particular unquestioningly loyal to the Gaddafi family.

How do I filter this type of message? Sigh.

It did at least prompt me to look into Burkina Faso, a poor landlocked sub-Saharan African country, for which brief particulars can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burkina_Faso. One of the references at the end of the Wikipedia article caught my eye: LGBT Rights in Burkina Faso. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Burkina_Faso. It seems that the country has no laws against being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, but the U.S. Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Report still found that:

The law does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in employment and occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. However, societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem. Religious and traditional beliefs do not accept homosexuality, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons were reportedly occasional victims of verbal and physical abuse. There were no reports that the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against such persons. LGBT organizations had no legal presence in the country but existed unofficially. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations.

It sounds as if the day-to-day challenges faced by LGBT people are simply ignored as if they don't exist. One might be able to live in harmony with one's neighbours, or one might be reviled. The police and other officials will look away and do nothing. That is better than living under the constant threat of dire and cruel official punishments, but not much better.

Yet another place not safe to visit, methinks. I'm rather glad I'm not a foreign correspondent by profession, or anyone who has to go to these places. But maintaining a judicious distance does shut off quite a lot of the world.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Willpower boost needed!

It's nearly the end of August, and summer is almost over. Really fine weather is forecast for next week, and it may last, but I think it will inevitably fizzle out by the time I set off, caravan in tow, for the West Country less than four weeks from now. England in the autumn is a lovely thing to experience: but morning mists, crisp clear days, mellow sunshine, red berries, and rust-coloured leaves are always rather the exception. I expect a damp, sun-starved time once I get to North Devon.

Which poses a problem: what to wear? The weather might be hot and dry, and I need to take along a few things to cope with that. But almost certainly it will be cool, wet and windy; and two-thirds of the clothing and footwear I should take along must be the kind that will keep me cosy and comfortable when out and about.

In the past three or four years I've combated dull cool weather with a combination of denim jeggings, top, boots, and showerproof jacket. That's fine, it works. But it gets a bit boring, because you can't vary it much. And it looks best if you have a slim build.

But ever since recovering from my surgery in March 2011, I've had a constant weight-gain problem that has made body-hugging clothing something to be avoided. The top part of my body, and my legs, are fine; but the middle section has stubbornly remained way too chubby, and I bulge badly if I wear tight things like jeggings. Not a good look at all.

Gradual (and sustainable) weight control will address this, but in the meantime I recognise that either I must put on an extra layer to disguise the bulges, or wear something different entirely, something that will flatter my billowy curves rather than make them look ludicrous. This is why I have been wearing skirts and dresses much, much more since late spring. They cover and conceal, but also change my overall shape in a good way. And they are very comfortable to wear. One or two people - neighbours - have gone out of their way to say nice things to me about my skirt experiments. That's been very encouraging. So I'm a convert.

Of course, many women, especially younger or smaller women, do not wear skirts. They wear skinny jeans and leggings of some sort. And they look great in such attire. I envy them. I too could reasonably wear the same stuff not so long ago, and the day may come when I can do the same thing again, but meanwhile I feel that I am too much of a blob to get away with it.  

So 2014 has for me become the Year of the Long Skirt. And this autumn and winter I want to experiment a lot more with skirts, especially the country sort that look appropriate out of doors in foul weather, the kind that will repel cold winds. Plus a range of boots to match. It sounds very tweedy, doesn't it? Positively County. And yet, smart country clothing has a lot of appeal. I may even have another foray into jackets and scarves. I could aim for this look, riding crop and all (well, something like it!):


To kit myself out will need money. I can't raid the shops just now, to buy a lot of new things, because I haven't got the cash to spare. But the State Pension looms! Entitlement is only 72 days away, and the first pension payment, a distant 100 days ahead yesterday, has today come significantly closer - at least psychologically speaking - with just 99 days to go. One friend suggested recently that I could regard it as money in the bank already. I refused to. It's not there yet. But it will be, before Christmas, and then the long Financial Winter that began after the sale of the Cottage in 2011 will finally be over.

But I must at this point, now, 99 days before the money really is in the bank, take myself in hand, and make certain that my willpower is up to handling this new source of income. Otherwise I can see myself having an ongoing orgy of new boots and posh new clothing, and I will not stick to my carefully-worked-out plan to save two-thirds of this pension for other, more essential things.

So I'm hoping it will be a mild autumn, and that I can manage with what I have at the moment, which is mostly lightweight summer stuff.

It need not be a period of frustration. I like visiting charity shops, for instance, to see what they've got. It's often a great way to spend an afternoon. In Sussex, places like Chichester, Worthing and Eastbourne stand out as excellent places to see lots of charity shops full of nearly-new clothes. But some other places are also worth a look. About ten years ago, I remember Uckfield having no less than 22 charity shops, surely some kind of record for a small Sussex town. Some posh items in them, too.

Hmmm. Maybe Uckfield, then, this afternoon? Or Horsham...?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Handwriting - something to pay attention to, or something that doesn't matter?

I've touched on handwriting once before, in a post titled simply Handwriting, published on  16 November 2009, in which I said:

Now here's a funny thing. My handwriting, which used to be full of spikes, is getting more curvaceous! 

I'm not deliberately changing it. I dare say some people do try that, having perhaps read somewhere that their writing contains certain 'male' features that are instant give-aways. That seems a bit paranoid, however. Personally I don't see how you can eradicate the writing habits of a lifetime without the result looking unnatural. 

And how much handwriting does one do anyway? Mine is mostly confined to shopping lists and signatures on letters and cheques. That's one of my shopping lists in the photo.

And I showed a photo of a crumpled-up piece of paper, with casually-written jottings on it. Not dissimilar to this example from yesterday, rescued just now from my bin:


It's a fact of modern life - or at least my own modern life - that shopping lists represent nearly all of the handwriting that I ever do. The remainder mostly consists of even-more-casual scribbles on other bits of paper (concerning things that occur to me, or things that I've just heard of on radio or TV, that I want to learn more about).

I have never learned how to use my printer to print an address on an envelope, so I do always handwrite the address on anything I send through the post - but more often than not I use block capitals for clarity, because postal addresses are machine-read, and naturally one must give the machine a helping hand if one can! Official forms usually insist on block capitals, except for your signature.

Ah, I was forgetting: there are occasional things such as birthday cards, Christmas cards, and the odd cheque. But they are occasional. I don't ever send postcards. And I very rarely write a letter by hand.

If you ever get a handwritten letter from me, it's because I want it to seem very, very personal and special. I would certainly still write a traditional love letter in my very best handwriting, rather than type it out and add a handwritten signature to personalise it. I would want the recipient to have the full undisguised me, my true sincere feelings laid bare in the way the very words were written, and how they flowed. As if I were expressing my very soul through markings on paper. As it happens, the odds are stacked against my ever now penning such a letter, but even so, that's my attitude and approach.

Alas, the love letter has had its day, just as the 'language of flowers' has. It seems to be enough nowadays to dash off a quick text, or make a declaration on Facebook. Love has become electronic and casual. People can use the Internet to find opportunities for True Love as never before, but the messages have become standardised and impersonal and above all very public. Intimacy and privacy have been cast aside. Love is to be put out in the open and celebrated - and commented on, and 'liked', and tweeted about - but not kept special and secret. The treasured physical tokens of love have also been lost. Who now will ever have a bundle of handwritten love letters tucked away in a drawer, tied up with ribbon?

It's entirely possible to get through life nowadays by making electronic notes on one's phone, if you need to do that much. Very little requires putting pen to paper, and even then it will hardly be more than supplying one's signature - as I had to, over and over again, at the dentist last week. The signature has become the only essential bit of day-to-day handwriting ever needed. That's why, when choosing the name 'Lucy Melford' I considered very carefully how it would look when handwritten - was it easy to write in my handwriting style, and would the result seem distinctive but above all legible? Had it been awkward to write, or hard to decipher, I'm afraid I would have walked out into the New World under another name.

If you are curious (possibly a vain hope, but I will inform you anyway) I was not taught my vaguely Italic style at school, but discovered it for myself shortly after leaving school in the summer of 1970. It was originally a straight copy of good sixteenth-century models, very consciously an exercise in calligraphy. But it soon morphed into something more personal. Its appearance varied as time went on, but by 1980 it had settled down to something very similar to that shopping list above.

It quickly lost the typical Italic look because the demands of office life ruled out using a slow and messy Italic nibbed pen and ink. The more convenient (but old-fashioned) fountain pen steered you towards a different kind of writing, and since the late 1990s I have mainly used ballpoints of one kind or another. Utility and practicality have won.

I feel no great regret. But I do feel a little nostalgic for the fountain pen. I still remember my first fountain pen in 1963, a blue Platignum with a gold knib. The grammar school I was going to in Southampton did not allow ballpoint pens, and laid down that every pupil (we were called pupils then, not students) must have a fountain pen. I was dreading my forthcoming grammar school experience, but was able to distract myself with this marvellous new toy. It was the first of several other pens. I never owned a Conway Stewart, and the styling of Sheaffer pens put me off. I went instead for a Parker pen. Parker was in my estimation the one to have, the one with the best look, even if it wasn't the flashiest. My favourite was a diminutive dark green model with a hooded gold nib - which years later in 1989, after I'd bought a book on collecting old fountain pens (which were by then old hat), I discovered had been a ladies' model. Well, well! It had suited my right hand, being not too big.

After Dad retired in 1980, he gave me his well-used Parker 51 fountain pen, in black and silver. It had been a farewell gift from the staff at Southampton 3 tax office in 1970; he was going to become District Inspector of Portsmouth 4; he needed a pen fit for a DI. I used it with pride every day right through to the late 1990s. I even used it specially, on my very last day at work (26 May 2005) to sign off some Penalty Notices that were going to a company. By then the nib was getting a bit too worn. But it must in its working lifetime have written a line of ink thousands of miles long. Parker made very good pens.

A few days ago I walked down Railway Road in Newhaven, past where the Parker Pen factory had been. They had lately demolished it. The site was flattened rubble. It will be used to build some new housing and a community centre for the run-down east side of a sadly run-down coastal town. That's a good thing; but the closure of that factory represented the end of Parker pen manufacture in England. (It's now done in France, and it won't be the same) But why am bothered at all? This is the electronic age. Fountain pens are a charming anachronism, used by heads of state for signing international trade agreements, but little else.

Let's get back to that handwritten shopping list. And that remark in my November 2009 post: My handwriting, which used to be full of spikes, is getting more curvaceous! I'm not deliberately changing it. I dare say some people do try that, having perhaps read somewhere that their writing contains certain 'male' features that are instant give-aways. That seems a bit paranoid, however. Is it paranoid?

Apparently not, if the advice on Andrea James' Transsexual Roadmap is studied. See http://www.tsroadmap.com/index.html for the Index to her many useful articles, and http://www.tsroadmap.com/physical/handwriting/index.html for the article on handwriting. It might be fun to compare your own handwriting with the examples she gives at http://www.tsroadmap.com/physical/handwriting/feminine-handwriting.html. Oh dear - none of the female hands look much like my own. However, I feel it's more natural and honest to write as suits you best, and not to be artificial and emulate somebody else. That said, I did when young try to incorporate things I liked about other people's writing into my own. It never lasted. It just wasn't 'me'.

Which leads us on to the question, once a hot topic, but hardly mainstream now, of whether there's anything in handwriting-analysis. You know, Graphology. That is, can you tell anything about a person's character from examining how they write? Andrea James is unconvinced, and refers you to this article, at http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/grapho.html, in which the case for Graphology as a science is examined.

Personally I think that how you writes depends chiefly on your schooling (or lack of it), your personality (do you place any importance at all on writing in any particular way?), and your state of health (the old and feeble commonly don't write so well as fit young things).

I'd expect certain types of people to pay close attention to how their writing looks. Such as people who design things - architects say - or those who are consciously artistic. I'd expect showbiz people to have flamboyant, show-off handwriting. I'd also expect anyone who is mentally disturbed, or obsessive, to show signs of it in their handwriting. And in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, one might be able to deduce things from the pen and paper used, and whether the pen was used lightly or dug into the paper. But I don't think you can go much further.

Overarching all of this is the general fact that in the year 2014 most of us do not write much by hand, and because of that may not develop a personal style, nor care about it if we do. That's why I'm not terribly worried if my own handwriting contains characteristics that 'give me away'. Who is going to notice or care?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Goodbye, VHS

Yesterday, in a fit of tidying-up, I disconnected my VHS video tape player/recorder, and it's now ready for junking.

It was a 2004 model, by Sony, originally bought by Mum and Dad to work with a previous Sony TV. When they upgraded to a Samsung TV in late 2008, it was wired up to that instead, although by then it couldn't have been getting much use. Dad wasn't watching any taped recordings - he liked to set up things to see later using the facilities provided by Sky. So it had suffered from idleness, if not frank redundancy. It had moving internal parts - motors, tape heads, and so on - which might seize up if never set in motion. When I inherited their house in mid-2009, I did use it very occasionally to view my own ancient collection of VHS tapes. But I didn't do much of this, and its decrepitude must have become even more advanced.

One day, about two years ago, I discovered that it wouldn't play tapes back at all, even though the whirring noises sounded right, and its display showed that the tape was moving. The tapes themselves seemed in decent condition. The obvious wire and cable connections seemed fine. I put a fresh battery in the remote control, just in case. I conjectured that it might have been suffering from some kind of mechanical or electrical failure - the thing was already eight years old - or it might have simply needed reprogramming. I pored over the instruction booklet, but was none the wiser. I did this until I got tired of trying.

I felt that the VHS player/recorder must have been fixable. But I have no gift with machines, no magic touch, no talent for seeing what's wrong and how to put it right.

Not having a video player/recorder didn't matter. I had a DVD player if ever I wanted to watch a film. By 2011 I had in fact replaced the VHS version of my favourite films with a DVD version. As for missed TV programmes, the BBC iPlayer was a perfect solution.

A while back, to create shelf space, I threw out all my old VHS tapes, once a vast collection of over 130 tape cassettes, that required a card index to use. So now there was nothing left to play. But I never actually got round to discarding the machine itself.

Now I had.

It felt like the end of a long, long era. I was slow to use VHS, not buying my first player/recorder until 1984 or 1985. It was a mature and pretty reliable technology by then. It seemed at first miraculous, to be able to watch bought or rented films in one's own home, and to record stuff yourself off the TV.

The magic lasted a long time. The quality seemed quite good enough, until the first DVDs showed what could really be achieved. But by then VHS had become a cheap and cheerful home entertainment solution, and remained so for years and years after DVD players became the norm. The downside of VHS was bulk - a VHS tape cassette was as big as a large paperback, and storing a collection of them soon became a nightmare. No wonder people finally switched to DVDs, and then later to subscription services that avoided all physical storage.

Two things strike me.

First, the amount of money that was, up to the year 2000 anyway, squandered on very expensive bought films, very expensive blank cassettes, and very expensive special furniture to keep the big VHS tapes organised and handy - and yet useless for any other purpose.

And second, the amount of time and effort spent recording and cataloguing at home. To save tape space, one set the recording in motion, and stopped it at the end, personally. This was especially true of non-BBC recordings, to eliminate the TV ads. Recording at home was labour-intensive indeed! And it wasn't as if anything in one's VHS collection was ever particularly rare or important. A lot of it is now available, at the best possible quality, on DVD, or in TV or Internet archives. I recorded lots of Inspector Morse when it came out in the later 1980s. And the entire 1988 re-run of that 1975 TV Cornish classic Poldark. I need not have bothered. The DVDs are readily available in HMV, or from Amazon.

But those 1980s and 1990s VHS recordings did contain nuggets of gold. I mean some of the TV ads. While I could, I played a good many old recordings in order to see whether I'd captured some really classic advertising campaigns. For example, the John Smiths 'penguin' beer ads starring the young Jack Dee. (See for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpYXZRgf4hw) Or the Guinness ad showing a surfing man waiting for the right moment, before he has the ride of his life on a wave that turns into a lot of huge white horses. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcdDg30VBgo). But no such luck.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Hey, I don't have one!

Now here's an irritation I could do without - a certain kind of spam. Emails offering me treatments to enlarge my penis. Both length and thickness.

My first (and abiding) question is: why do they think someone who calls herself Lucy Melford would have a penis? 

Actually, looking closely at the latest batch of these emails, I see that I am addressed as 'Lucymelford' - as in my email address - and not as 'Lucy Melford'. Therein may lie a clue as to why I have been chosen as a recipient for these annoying messages. In other words, had my email address not been lucymelford@gmail.com but 96851102BL774Z@gmail.com, I would be left alone. I'm thinking that any email address that contains a proper name is assumed either to belong to someone with a penis, or to person in close contact with someone who has. So one's apparent gender does not matter.

Thus, even if the email shot is misplaced, and cannot be of interest to the email account holder, the thinking might be that he or she will very likely have a friend or lover cursed with a stunted willy, and obsessed by the fact. You can imagine the hoped-for conversation:

Lucy (to an obsessed male friend): What's up? You seem a bit deflated tonight.
Male friend (glumly): And no wonder! Cursed with a tiny tadger!
Lucy: Be of good cheer. I have just heard from Othilie Q. Trippany, who has emailed me, offering viagra so cheap he's practically giving it away. He claims it will turn your little chappie into an Incredible Hulk.
Male friend: How do you know this is a serious offer?
Lucy: Because I've recently had dozens of identical emails from sundry public-spirited persons such as Gipsy Shebby, Ilysa Arnspiger, Fayette J. Siske, Pamela A. Agnew, Mrs Carmon Breakfield, Dr Maxman, Lillie Rosencrans, Thalia Polfer, and Marianna L. Liffick, all recommending the same Viagra 25 100mg pills, and all saying the same thing about their amazing efficacy. So many people! All saying exactly the same thing! It must indicate that this is  a Good Thing, not to be missed.
Male friend: But some of those names sound made up!
Lucy: Well, you know, you could say the same for Lucy Melford...
Male friend: True, true.

And by degrees it is hoped that my presumed male friend will make contact and place an order.

But in fact they face impossible odds. I don't have a penis. There is nobody in my life who possesses an example of the relevant member, and wants to use it as a man would, and is so desperately worried about its size and performance that they would even consider responding to such a message. I do have a strange mental disease that forces me to scorn such messages, and delete them at once.

But the machines haven't yet realised that I never place an order, that I never respond. And in their ignorance they just keep trying.

At least Gmail has (so far) correctly identified all such emails as spam, and has popped them in the Spam Box, for mass destruction as soon as I give the word. But I resent having to see them in the first place. Why can't I just block them, like I can set up my mobile phone to block all callers with (say) an 08- or 09- number? If I could, I'd block all emails containing the word 'penis', or variants thereof, for starters.

Some blocking tools, please, Gmail.

Two final thoughts.

One, it's a terribly sad thing that so many men have a neurosis about their penis size. Or that this is generally believed to be the case (otherwise nobody would be pushing these buy-viagra messages, and expecting a worthwhile response).

Two, that a good many of the emails seem to come from Canada, or at any rate suggest that they do. I can't decide whether this is because there is something about the drugs regime in Canada that makes it a good place to sell from, or whether 'Canada' is a premium selling point, in the sense that 'This product is of course of the very best quality, because it comes from Canada'.

Instant sequel
Switching to my Gmail account after writing this post, I saw that I could set up a filter to delete (at once) any email received that contained the word 'penis' or 'p.e.n.i.s.' (which is the usual variant used by people touting viagra). It won't even reach the Spam Box. So that's now done.

Anyone emailing me had better take note that if they need to refer to male members, there are now two words they must avoid!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Teeth

If you could time-travel into the past, to any era really, one of the things you would first notice would be how bad most people's dental health was.

In ancient Egypt, for instance, the everyday method of grinding grain into flour introduced dust fragments that gradually wore down one's teeth until trouble resulted. In all periods, the sweet delicacies enjoyed by the well-off might corrode their teeth. Seafarers and others on a restricted diet poor in vital vitamins would have gum disease and teeth that loosened or dropped out. And everyday violence might lead to the chipping, loosening and knocking-out of teeth. Add in the lack of modern dental cleaning aids, or even a daily dental cleaning habit, and rotten teeth with gaps in them were quite normal, and anything else exceptional, something to wonder at.

So much so that you, the time traveller, would be remarked upon as soon as you smiled, because your teeth would seem extraordinarily white and regular, if not positively pristine. That might be dangerous in the wrong time or place. What would be merely unusual and remarkable in 1800 would smack of something disturbingly out of the natural order in 1500 - something associated with witchcraft, and preservation by the Devil. With most unwelcome results. So, if contemplating any time travel, it might pay to think carefully before offering a friendly grin to the unsuspecting locals.

Setting aside such fantasies, and biting hard on 2014 instead, I am amazed at the quality of modern dentistry and its importance in everyday life. My dentist has been my ally since 1996 in preserving my teeth from terminal decay and extraction. The village practice I attend every six months may be housed in a Victorian terrace, but the equipment, skills, treatments and attitude are all very twenty-first century, even down to clear statements in the waiting area that this is a practice that welcomes gender diversity. The lady I always see, Nina, knew the Old Me me for years and years. Six more recent years as Lucy Melford have at no point thrown her. Of course not: she is not the sort to take a prejudicial view on life; and besides, the inside of my mouth, and the teeth in there, have not changed.

She has consistently urged me to eat wisely and and clean my teeth thoroughly, and I have listened. The happy result is that the yellowy, rather fragile pegs of fifteen years ago are now the gleaming gnashers you see when I gurn at you in my selfies. Such as:


I was once not terribly keen to give such a big toothy smile. Although my rows of teeth are not absolutely even (in the film-star fashion), I have - luckily - never had crooked teeth, nor teeth that 'wander' and crowd each other or create gaps. Even so, I was self-conscious about them. No longer. They may not be perfection, but they are presentable. And so I flash them to the world without a care. Indeed I regard them, like my hair, as assets. They say: I look after myself. They also say: I have teeth that are better than average for my generation.

My generation was the first post-war generation to enjoy unrestricted access to confectionery and all the teeth-destroying things a child's pennies could buy. Tooth decay started in babyhood. Babies liked dummies filled with rose hip syrup. Apparently I did. It didn't matter too much about the milk teeth coming adrift - not at a reward-rate of sixpence per tooth, if Mum and Dad could afford it! But kids in my day didn't understand that the next set of teeth would have to last the rest of their life.

The consumption of vast quantities of sweet goods continued for years. The effect on teeth was disastrous. Tooth ache and visits to the dentist were a constant thing with every child I knew. Our dentist in Barry in the 1950s had old-fashioned, rather frightening equipment. Drills that were very noisy, for instance, with visible moving parts that didn't inspire confidence. It was an ordeal, whatever the anaesthetic used, gas or injection. The torture chamber. So much so that afterwards he rewarded every child with some 'dolly mixtures' - little bits of liquorice and candy, to make us feel better. Funny he should do that, eh? But the dolly mixtures were the one thing that we liked about going to the dentist. They were the bribe.

And later, at grammar school in Southampton, the most popular place was the Tuck Shop, almost the last old-school institution to die.

I must have begun to move away from endless sweet stuff during my teens, at first concentrating on milk or plain chocolate, and then abandoning even that as my tastes changed and savoury flavours became my preference. Nowadays I eat no sweets of any kind, except the odd non-gooey thing out of a box of chocolates, if offered at someone else's house. So different from childhood!

Somehow I have kept all of my original teeth. Many are much-repaired, in recent years by cosmetic fillings that perfectly match the rest of the tooth, giving my dentition a spuriously young look. There are several crowns, also colour-matched. There is of course no nicotine-staining.

The molars, which took the worst of the childhood sugar onslaught, are if not crowned still heavily filled with the older silver fillings. In the time ahead, I dare say these silver fillings will give more and more trouble, but for now they remain stable, are not crumbling or chipping, and do their job. A warning bell has lately sounded, though. Discomfort in my right-hand upper wisdom tooth took me back to my dentist. She found a fracture, but managed to drill it away and to refill this difficult-to-access tooth. But it had to be a deep filling, and I'm thinking there can't be an awful lot of the original tooth still there! One imagines a hollowed-out structure that holds together (and resists pressure from biting and chewing) only by virtue of the filling material, which acts as a 'glue'!

She has warned me that if this particular wisdom tooth gives further trouble, extraction will have to be considered. I am therefore going to be gentle with it. I gave up eating hard things like certain nuts, and pork crackling, long ago. Now I will chew most carefully, and not stress this latest repair job. I really don't like the idea of losing any tooth. Appearance-wise, this wisdom tooth is so far back in my mouth that the most frenzied grinning won't betray the loss. But that's not the point. I want to die with all my dentition in place, however much hacked about to keep it going.

Besides, nobody is going to give me sixpence if the thing has to come out!

As I said, my modern dental presentation passes muster with sensible daily care alone, and I'm glad that I haven't had to endure the metal braces some transitioning friends have had to wear for a year or more, to straighten their teeth, and make them as regular as a line of tombstones. Although no doubt they can now show a more perfect and attractive smile than I can.

For a woman, the quality of her smile is important. It helps so much to have regular, healthy-looking teeth and gums. It's worth the time and effort to get them looking good.

There is also the positive social effect that smiling has.

I see some women about who don't constantly give the world a smiling face. This gives the downbeat impression that they have suffered. That they have a horrible home life, for instance. Or that they never had a chance. Rightly or wrongly it's offputting. It makes them seem belligerent and cross and antagonistic. It might just be a cultural thing - their family do not smile, people in their neighbourhood do not smile. But I can't help thinking that if they broke the inherited mould, and made it a habit to smile, their lives would seem better. And they might change the habits of those close to them. It's only my opinion. But I for one would think them admirable, smiling in the face of clear disadvantage and discouragement.

Thankfully I also notice plenty of ordinary smiling female faces, especially when women get together to chat. Smiling is typically what women do when communicating. Smiling enables inclusion, bonding, trusting, and the dispelling of any anger or resentment. And when women want to placate a man, persuade a man, seem alluring to him, or in any sense 'deal with him' or 'manage him', they smile - or should do. Stern-faced nagging and scolding never works: it only breeds resentment and an odd kind of deafness. A softer, more subtle approach usually brings better results. Besides, most reasonable men do respond to a woman's smile. And they cannot resist a smile plus eyes to match. I have most certainly found that to be true. You know: when I'm caravanning and want assistance. When I want to ask about something at the garage.

I know, I know, these are outmoded and submissive social techniques that shouldn't be necessary in an ideal world. I've noticed however that it isn't an ideal world, and smiling really makes a crucial difference.

Nice teeth, and the confidence to display them, help a lot in this endeavour. I'd say then that if the beauty-budget is limited, spend the pounds available on dental treatment first and foremost. That's where my own beauty-budget has gone. And that's why I can show a winning smile, but still have a face like the back of a bus. Or a muppet. Take your pick; I don't mind. I'm smiling!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Red meat

This week on BBC2, the documentary series Horizon has been looking at meat eating and meat production. It was hosted by the likeable Michael Mosley, who is the usual hands-on presenter for health-related programmes of this sort.

There were in fact two programmes. The first was called Should I eat meat? - The Big Health Dilemma. It focussed on eating red meat - primarily beef, lamb and pork. The second was called Should I eat meat? - How to Feed the Planet. That looked at different ways of rearing animals, and such issues as the amount of land in the world used for grazing animals, the share of the grain harvest allocated to feeding them if they are intensively farmed, and the colossal amount of methane gas produced as cows digest grass. Methane is a Global Warming Gas of course.

Up to a point, both programmes were enthralling. If one is responsible, and willing to take a long view on how meat production can be sustained in future decades, let alone increased to match demand, the second programme was clearly the more important. But, quite understandably, I took a more personal interest in the first. I imagine most people would. The headline assertion was that red meat is bad for you; and as someone who likes a good steak, I was always going to give this my main attention.

Actually the programme's conclusions were that a limited amount of red meat is a Good Thing. It is the very best source of protein, vitamins and trace elements available. But the saturated fat and other things in red meat will take their toll, increasing the risk of heart disease and cancer of the digestive tract, and thereby shortening your life if you over-indulge. The thing to do, if not a convinced vegetarian, is to have red meat only as a treat, now and then during the month, not every day; and rely much more on poultry.

Strangely little was said about fish, but then in the UK fish is not consumed in the vast quantities that meat is.

The important point was made that processed meat is the real killer. This means keeping clear of bacon and a whole range of meat products that take raw meat and do something to it to enhance its flavour, or present it in a different way, such as in a pie. This will be an anathema to legions of folk who regard no meal as a proper meal unless it contains meat in some delicious form.

At this point, I feel I should tell you what I have had to eat over the past month. I have the information. I usually take photographs of all meals I cook at home, and sometimes of whatever I eat in pubs, restaurants or at friends' houses. If I haven't done that, then I can recall what I ate from other types of record, such as the spreadsheet that records my expenditure and keeps track of my 'real' bank balance. (Note carefully that only nerdy women can do this, not ordinary mortals)

This then is the record.

All items were photographed, except the things eaten for main meals on 26 July, and 5, 12, and 19 August, at a restaurant in each case. All the meals at home would have included a lot of fresh vegetables, or occasionally salad. But we're concentrating on the meat content, and I won't confuse the issue by mentioning the accompaniment.

L means Lunch. M means Main Meal, usually in the evening.

Ordinary typeface denotes 'red meat' (risky). Italic typeface denotes 'processed meat' (even worse). Bold typeface denotes 'white meat' or fish (low or no risk).

22 July  M Tinned stewed steak.
23 July  L Tongue. M Lamb chops.
24 July  M Sea bass.
25 July  L Tinned salmon. M Bacon.
26 July  M Pizza (in a restaurant).
27 July  L Ham. M Pork sausages.
28 July  M Sirloin steak.
29 July  L Tongue. M Shredded beef (at a friend's house).
30 July  M Gammon steak (in a restaurant).
1 August  M Chicken.
2 August  M Pork sausages.
3 August  L Bacon. M Pizza.
4 August  M Bacon.
5 August  M Veal (in a pub).
6 August  M Haddock.
7 August  M Bacon.
8 August  L French sausage. M Chicken.
9 August  L Pork, chicken and ham pie. M Salmon.
10 August  M Chicken curry.
11 August  M Sirloin steak.
12 August  M Italian minced beef (in a restaurant).
13 August  L Tongue. M Lamb chops.
14 August  M Bacon (chopped, in an omlette).
15 August  M Sea bass.
16 August  M Chorizo sausage (in a casserole).
17 August  M Chicken.

I watched the first Horizon programme at this point, about the risks of red meat and, particularly, processed meat.

18 August  M Haddock.
19 August  M Italian sausage (in a restaurant). 
20 August  L Pickled herring. M Chicken.
21 August  L Pickled herring. M Salmon.

The predominance of bold-type items (i.e. low-risk foodstuffs) since watching the first part of the Horizon documentary is clear! But the remainder of the record isn't good at all. Overall, it all boils down to this:

Low-risk meals
13 out of 40 recorded = 33%

Risky meals
6 out of 40 recorded = 15%

High-risk meals
21 out of 40 recorded = 52%

Oh dear. It's a wake-up call, this analysis. And I thought I was eating a pretty healthy diet! It was certainly nutritious, but not necessarily good for me.

Of course, there are other things to bring into the picture. I favour lean meat, and I trim off excess fat. I don't use ready-prepared sauces to cook in. At home I nearly always bake my meat or fish in the oven, only lightly smeared with olive oil or butter, and never swimming in fat. Sirloin steaks and bacon are always grilled, never fried.

And I do eat a lot of fresh vegetables. Typically, two-thirds of the plate will be fresh vegetables, and I keep to the golden rule of having vegetables of every colour, if I can. I eat apples for dessert. And water is the usual drink, with a cup of tea to follow.

These good things must offset the effects of being a meat-lover. But clearly I have a penchant for processed meat which I must now curb. It's probably undermining my ongoing efforts to get my weight down.

Am I guilty of a knee-jerk reaction? A rapid response, certainly.

I do bear in mind that a risk is not a certainty. I might just be one of those people who can blithely chomp into any kind of food they like, red meat included, for the rest of my life, and thrive on it. But I don't think I am one of those people.

Dad died of a cardiac arrest. Knowing him, I suspect that after Mum died he was less bothered about eating healthily. I believe he threw caution to the winds and cooked up as much fried food as he fancied. He had lost his beloved life-long partner; he was old; he was racked with arthritic pain; his remaining 'son' had become odd and unfamiliar. The future was full of discomfort. Why take great care to stay alive?

Well, I have everything to live for, and plenty I want to do. So this is the moment to stop eating bacon rashers and pork pies and similar delicacies quite so often.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Brighton Street Art


Above is an example of what I intend to discuss and illustrate. But let's first digress into ordinary graffiti.

As you approach any large town by rail, especially in south-east England, you will see a certain type of graffiti on any available flat surface, sometimes on the sides of carriages themselves, but more usually on walls and bridges. Some of these locations are so dangerous that you wonder how the artists managed to clamber up there in the dark. It would require daring. Or did they do it in daylight? But if so, how? Surely it would be impossible without the connivance of railway staff? Is it in fact done by railway staff?

One imagines teams of hooded artists trespassing onto railway property at the dead of night, well-organised, with lookouts in case of interruption by security guards, conscious of their illegality, and ready to cut and run if seen. I fancy that they are called 'crews', but I may be wrong. They work fast and secretly with spray cans, writing these deliberately incomprehensible messages.

This type of graffiti is not pictorial. Not in the manner of Banksy's stuff - a picture, something witty. Nor does it employ simple slogans like 'Free Palestine!', or 'Free London from Boris!'.

It's word-based. At any rate, a stark collection of what seem to be words. They rarely spell out a definite message. The artists have used heavily stylised lettering that so warps and deforms the words, if words they are, that they are hardly readable. It all has the untidy, wayward, ugly feel of vandalism, but it's clearly not mindless nor random. It has an animal vitality, and arresting visual impact. It is very distinctive, and done in a very particular way, with lots of repetition. Gang territory markings, perhaps? Or a design, a logo, someone's trademark, saying 'I was here, and this is my mark'? Some of these words do look like someone's name. Or perhaps there really is an obscure message for the travelling public to see, almost a riddle, something that if they have the wit they can read, and having done so take in an urban truth.

One thing that does strike me quite unmistakably is that these are all subversive messages, two fingers jabbed at the powers that be, a big 'up yours' to all authority. By whom? By those who feel disadvantaged and despised? By those who have no jobs, no privileges, and want to jolt the comfortable middle-class commuting public into recognising that they, the subversives, and their subculture, do exist and can't be ignored. And not only that, they can threaten and fight back.

But why are the messages so incomprehensible? That must be intentional. I have theorised that the message is left obscure so that if a perpetrator is caught only minor charges of trespass and defacement can be brought against him. If the message itself cannot be read or interpreted, it can't exacerbate the sentence passed.

Alternatively, the message might be obscure because behind it all is a system of subcultural references, and we are shown just the major symbols of it. I am being obscure myself. I mean that instead of (say) writing 'let's have complete global nuclear disarmament' on a wall, the street artist gives us instead instead the old CND 'ban the bomb' symbol:


This is a perfectly comprehensible symbol if you were ever a member of CND or in sympathy with their protests. If all that passed you by, the symbol remains powerful but its meaning is hard to guess.

Let's leave graffiti as such and move on to something similar but rather more developed. It's still a defacement, and no doubt deplored by local residents and officialdom, but there is considerably more 'art' involved. Brighton has many good examples of what I mean.

You have to distinguish it sharply from the murals painted on shops, specially commissioned and intended to call attention to the shop. Here is an example of a straightforward shopfront painting in Brighton's North Laine:


Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. And that's the name of the shop. The shot dates from 2007. It's since been repainted, and to my mind, the repaint is not as good as the original. The original had impact, didn't it? Well, these other wall paintings - not far away, and shot by me within the last few days - also have impact. But what they refer to, and what they say, is beyond guessing unless you can interpret them:


I find them slightly menacing but impressive. Certainly worth a series of shots. Certainly worth discussion here. Outlandish and grotesque distortions of faces and bodies are a feature of this genre. Skulls are popular. So are machine-beings, reminiscent of Darth Vader or Transformers. I noticed that a couple of the machine-beings had the number '23' painted next to them, or on them - what might that signify? Strange writing in the usual station-approach style intrudes: it’s hard to decide whether it's an integral part of the painting - a signature of some kind, say - or the vandalism of the painting by a rival.

The bottommost painting, with the skull that is almost a ravaged face, and the burning city in the background, suggests the aftermath of some man-made disaster. But the easily-read words say YOU GIVE THEM POWER WHEN YOU COWER. That's clear and succinct. It's a warning surely that you must stand up against the madmen at the top of the pile who will bring holocaust on us all. Don't cower. Don't be afraid. Face them. Fight them. Defeat them. Well, maybe. It may be referring to something quite different. I certainly think it's great street art. But why is it anonymous? You can understand why it might not be signed by an individual, but who is the group making this back-lane statement? Who are these freedom fighters? I don't understand why they stay incognito.

The other paintings shown above are of variable quality but more obscure, and the messages - if they are messages - are mostly rendered unreadable from way too much stylisation. But even so, skilfully painted, eye-catching, and defiant.

I'm really quite a fan of street art. It has punch. It's never bland.

Let me contrast it with these 2007 examples of obviously-commissioned wall art that I saw in New Zealand. They're admirably done, but not painted by an underdog making a protest. A mining scene at Westport in South Island; a newspsaper-office mural at Greymouth, also in South Island; and a painting on the side of a building at Opunake in the west of North Island, where dairying is predominant:


Worthy. But I prefer the subversive back-lane stuff in Brighton!

Mind you, if I'm ever in Northern Ireland I will make a point of doing a taxi-tour to see the murals painted in connection with the Troubles. Though whether it will be safe to get out and grab a shot is another matter. In Brighton, you can have a jolly good look at street paintings without anyone asking you why.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

One for my Baby

Last Sunday, as I was feeling despondent, a Brighton friend invited me over to lunch, so that we could talk it all away over a good meal and lots of wine.

I needn't go too much into why I was feeling low - what in the 1950s and 1960s would be called 'feeling blue'. What an odd phrase that seems now...feeling blue. Nobody has said that in the last forty years at least. Some other stuff from past decades has popped up again, such as the use of the word 'cool', which was once so very 1950s. And then it resurged, so that it's now a perfectly usual expression, simply meaning 'great', but with the implication that the speaker knows what's latest, and is (dare I say it?) 'hip'.

But 'blue'...you associate it with the likes of Brenda Lee and Helen Shapiro and Dusty Springfield. Gene Pitney might have sang a mournful song about feeling blue, snapping his fingers to the slow sad beat. It was an old-fashioned word even by the 1970s, and I was surprised that ABBA used the word in so many of their early songs, as if Bjorn and Benny, cobbling together some lyrics in Sweden, were still using an English dictionary that recommended 'blue' as a current younger-generation word for 'sad'. Besides, 'blue' was an obvious rhyme with 'you'.

And what did I say up there, at the beginning of this post? 'So that we could talk it all away'. Now that phase comes from a well-known Frank Sinatra song, One For My Baby (And One More For The Road). It was first sung in the 1940s, and you have to imagine the singer, Frank Sinatra in this case, walking home after a terminal bust-up with a girl. He hadn't known her long. But she went deep, stirred him up, and now he has to talk about it with someone or he will hit a wall with his fist. He's tough, and he can be the man, but he's also a human being and he's sad, rejected, and confused. He's badly hurt, and he may have said plenty of wrong things, but he doesn't feel it was all his fault. Well, it's the big city - New York or Chicago: so there are late-night bars. He finds one. It's really late, and it's empty - just him and the barman.

Here are the lyrics:

It's quarter to three, 
There's no one in the place 
Except you and me.
So, set 'em up, Joe, 
I got a little story 
You oughta know.
We're drinkin', my friend, 
To the end 
Of a brief episode.
Make it one for my baby, 
And one more for the road.

I got the routine, 
So drop another nickel 
In the machine.
I'm feelin' so bad, 
Wish you'd make the music 
Easy and sad.
I could tell you a lot, 
But you've got 
To be true to your code.
So make it one for my baby, 
And one more for the road.

You'd never know it 
But buddy, I'm a kind of poet,
And I got a lot of things to say.
And when I'm gloomy, 
You simply gotta listen to me
Till it's all talked away.

Well that's how it goes,
And Joe, I know your gettin' 
Pretty anxious to close.
So, thanks for the cheer, 
I hope you didn't mind 
My bendin' your ear.
But this torch that I found 
Must be drowned 
Or it soon might explode.
So make it one for my baby, 
And one more for the road.

That long, long road...

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_for_My_Baby_(and_One_More_for_the_Road). And this YouTube video of Frank singing the song is worth a look too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m121tmJzcAc&list=RDm121tmJzcAc#t=45.

Well, I don't think you have to be the tough guy to feel like that, nor want to 'talk it all away'.

And what was my trouble? Well, someone important and well-loved who used to be in my life had had an important birthday. And the day had passed without a sign made to me - the briefest of brief texts perhaps - that, even though I couldn't be invited, even though it was all long over, and years had gone by, I hadn't been completely forgotten.

I shouldn't have cared, but I did, because the silence proved that our goodbye was so very final. Had it been quarter to three in the morning, in the big city, I'd have wanted to tell someone about it, just like Frank Sinatra did.

And did my Brighton friend banish the blues? Yes, she did, bless her. I wasn't driving that day, so there was no time limit on parking, and we spent hours getting through a mountain of lovely food and, between us, at least two bottles of wine (or was it three?). Two o'clock to eight thirty, in fact. Then I put on my raincoat and hat, and went home.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Please don't fail yet! And down with Nikon!

You might think that with significant extra income on the horizon I'd be planning an across-the-board replacement of all my ageing gadgets. These include my Asus laptop (bought 2006; it runs Windows XP Professional Edition), my Dell PC (bought 2007; it runs Windows Vista Home Edition), my Epson scanner and printer (both also 2007), my Samsung TV (originally bought by Mum and Dad in 2008), my Leica camera (bought 2009), and my Sony tablet (bought 2012).

The oldest of these are getting pretty long in the tooth. The PC gets some use on most days when I'm home. The laptop gets fired up every three days or so at home; but on holiday, when I'm taking lots of photos, it is working hard every single evening, and has coped with that kind of pressure for years.

But for how much longer? The key items needed for my photography, my Leica D-Lux 4 camera and my Asus W3V laptop, are bound to fail sooner or later. If I bought replacements today for both, of similar quality and capability - including such things as a spare battery for the camera - the likely cost would be at least £1,500 all in. I don't have that kind of money just now, and I really don't want to spend anything like it until the end of 2015 at the earliest. It's much more important to build up a decent-sized cash cushion for emergencies - basically meaning things that might go wrong in the house, that insurance won't cover.

Fortunately, the laptop shows no signs of imminent death, despite processing about 100,000 photos since purchase in January 2006.


But the camera has for some time given indications that that it is mortal, and won't go on forever. Little signs such as such as levers that have become stiff, then have eased, then have stiffened up again. Or the occasional malfunction, such as a refusal to write to the memory card after taking the odd picture, or at least taking an unusually long time about it. That might be down to the memory card, of course, but equally it suggests that old age and relentless hard work are taking their toll. The little Leica has taken 51,600 pictures since I bought it in June 2009. And it isn't ever going to get a well-deserved rest.


If it should fail while I'm away on holiday, I have backups. One is a proper camera, my older Ricoh GX100 from 2007; and there is also the camera on my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. Both work fine in good light, but are rubbish after sunset.

So it's fingers crossed that my essential photo equipment - laptop and camera - can soldier on for at least another twelve months!

But it isn't just the physical equipment that causes concern. Digital photography is equally dependent on processing software. It greatly matters what programs one uses, because if processing a lot of pictures the software must be both fast and capable.

I suppose everyone in the entire known universe has heard of Adobe Photoshop. When one talks about the gorgeous models in a series of glamour photographs having their flaws 'Photoshopped', most people would know nowadays that meant the shots had been cleaned up or otherwise manipulated using the Photoshop program.

Although it has rivals, the full version of Photoshop has for donkeys years been the standard professional program, and Adobe always charged an arm and a leg for it. It used to be a bank-account-busting outright purchase. You got a fancy box with a CD inside. But lately Adobe have been selling a cloud version on a subscription basis, which stops pirating and in the long run brings in more revenue. If I were to sign up for the current cloud-based version of Photoshop, it would cost me £7.49 a month - almost £90 a year - with the prospect of paying Adobe £900 or so every ten years. Whereas it might have been possible in the past to buy the CD-based version as a one-off item for maybe £500, and then use it forever (with free upgrades too).

Even £500 was an outrageous amount, and in the past Adobe offered cut-down versions which were more affordable, or (if bundled with an expensive new camera) might even be free. Thus when I bought my very first digital camera, a horrendously costly Nikon Coolpix 990 in May 2000, I found myself with Adobe Photoshop 5, Limited Edition. It wasn't (for the time) all that limited. It did all I might want to do with it, and more. Adobe must have realised that its existence hurt the sales of the full version of Photoshop, and soon axed the Limited Edition, substituting a series of programs aimed strictly at the amateur, such as Photoshop Elements, that were easy to use, and useful, but lacked key professional functions. I was happy with the Limited Edition, and used it from May 2000 until August 2008. It had what I wanted, and once I got used to it I didn't feel like changing, even though by 2008 the interface was looking very dated. It was like driving an old car. You had worn into each other, and although there were still niggles that had never gone away, when all was said and done it got you reliably from A to B. It did the job.

Then, with the purchase of my Nikon D700 digital SLR in August 2008, I acquired Nikon Capture NX2, a proper photo editor, which functioned as a 'inexpensive', simpler clone of Photoshop, with some distinctive features of its own. But it still cost £125 - not peanuts!

Thenceforth I used only Capture NX2. I wiped my aged Photoshop 5 Limited Edition from laptop and PC, and put the CD in the attic. (I nearly threw it away. Thank goodness I didn't)

All went well until this year, when Microsoft finally withdrew support for Windows XP in mid-April.

As mentioned above, all my photo-processing is (for convenience) done on the laptop, which runs Windows XP Professional Edition. The laptop has only rarely been connected to the Internet - in fact it's been necessary only twice before in the eight years since 2006, on occasions when for some reason I had no functioning PC. I could keep XP up-to-date only by downloading the latest Service Pack at very long intervals. At some point, SP2 got installed. But it wasn't surprising that I missed installing SP3 before Microsoft ended support entirely last April. However, it didn't seem to matter.

Oh, but it did matter. Because Nikon then promptly withdrew its own support for any version of Capture NX2 running on XP. It switched it off - unless SP3 had already been installed. And, blithely unconcerned in my ignorance, I didn't have SP3 on my laptop.

Well, you can see what might be coming. A glitch with my PC made me connect the laptop to the Internet at the end of April, only days after the switch-off, and poof! I immediately lost Capture NX2 and with it an important part of my photographic processing capability.

The Internet connection had allowed a signal from Nikon to pass into my laptop, and this had disabled the program at some very deep level, clearly below any level I had access to. Highly disconcerted, because I had a stack of photo-editing waiting to do, I disconnected the laptop from the Internet, carried out an uninstall of Capture NX2, deleted all the Nikon folders I could see, and then attempted a very careful reinstall of NX2 from the original shop-bought CD.

It should have worked, but it didn't. I tried to do it three times. Still no success. The switch-off was absolute.

In the end, I dusted off the hoary old Photoshop 5 Limited Edition CD, and popped it into the laptop. Ah, it worked! This fourteen-year-old-program fired up, and stayed fired up. I've been using it ever since, supplemented by a couple of other photo-processing programs that have come into my hands for nothing. Hardly a modern set-up! But at least it functions. And I can adapt to a fresh workflow.

So three cheers to Adobe, for not planting switch-off code on my laptop, and disabling an old program.

And booooo to Nikon, for doing just that.

I'm actually rather miffed. That's £125 down the drain. Oh, I've still got Capture NX2 on my PC, but that's no good at all if I'm away in the caravan, or at home but want to watch TV in another room, while I work through a batch of photos.

Yes, booooo. I don't feel like giving Nikon my future custom.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Kissing hedgehogs

Two nights of interrupted sleep in the last few days!

Last night, I woke up at 4.30am feeling rather too cold under my summer-weight duvet. The weather has changed: nights are beginning to get cooler, even if the daytime is still nice and warm. And the other night I was woken at 4.00am by an unusual noise that I couldn't immediately identify.

It drew me up from a deep slumber, and as I became more and more awake I wondered whether it was raining heavily, and I was hearing the liquid drip-drip-drip you might get from a roof gutter that is overflowing. But no, it wasn't raining. And yet something was making a racket outside my bedroom window.

I should explain that I live in a bungalow, and of course all rooms are at ground level. So you are close to whatever might be shuffling and snuffling around your front garden. I have seen foxes scampering across it before now, although nowadays that's not terribly unusual, as foxes have become well-accustomed to cities and would think nothing of strolling across a village garden as if they owned it. But whatever was making the noise, it wasn't a fox.

Lying there in my bed, now thoroughly awake, I tried to analyse what I was hearing. It was loud. It was like a rapid kissing noise. Indeed, as if a kissing competition were going on. Not really wanting to get up, but intrigued, I donned my dressing gown, grabbed my torch, and went outside.

Would you believe it. Two hedgehogs head to head.

They sounded as if they were kissing each other, but surely couldn't be. I went back indoors for my camera. By the time I came out again, they had separated. This was Hedgehog No 1.


Lucy: Right, what's going on here? Come on, speak up! Out with it!

Hedgehog No 1: Wasn't me made them noises what woke you up. It was 'im over there. I'm just mindin' my own business.

Clearly I wasn't going to get any sense out of him. So I stepped over to the other miscreant, Hedgehog No 2. Here he is.


Lucy: Well, what have you got to say for yourself?

Hedgehog No 2: I ain't done nuffink.  

Lucy: Oh really? Well, what's that you've got in your mouth?

Hedgehog No 2: Nuffink.

I gave up. You can't get anywhere with animals like this. If you look carefully, you can see that there's a round shiny thing in his mouth that could be a snail. Perhaps he thought I was going to take it away from him and eat it myself. Who knows what hedgehogs think.

I'm guessing, but I reckon Hedgehog No 1 found the snail (if that's what it was) but before he could snap it up with relish, Hedgehog No 2 cut in, and pinched it from under his very snout. Then they argued loudly over who should have this prize, and that was the 'kissing' noise that woke me up. Perhaps they were really squeaking, but to me it sounded like a kissing contest.

It ruined my night's rest. I did eventually get back to bed, and then to sleep sometime after 5.30am, and I slept on till 9.00am. Half the morning gone. What a waste.

The hazards of country living. It's not all church fêtes and cricket, you know...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Back from the Grave 9

The final republished post. I am seriously embarrassed by this one. I was self-aggrandising, over-confident, and unnecessarily provocative. I think I was looking for a fight - and very nearly got one. I hope the lessons to be learned are obvious. It's the classic post not to write, surely. And the comments I added were themselves crass, and merely the fanned the flames.

The very title was a provocation. It was GenderTrender gives me some attention! Cult status beckons! It came out on 3 January 2013. I shouldn't have written it. I squirm to read it now. Never, never again.


Well! I'm amazed. The GenderTrender blog has featured my recent post on drinking in its own New Year's Eve post titled In case you will be drinking tonight (the blog is at http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/). Do have a look at it, and the kind of posts they publish, and indeed click on some and study the kind of comments made in support of these posts. It's another point of view, after all. I was inspired to add a comment of my own, thus:

Dear ladies and gentlemen, I'm glad to see that you appreciated my post on drinking! I am a bit puzzled, though, because the post was aimed at trans women who might need a little lighthearted guidance...and I don't think that any of you are trans women. That's so odd.  

Never mind. It's good to be noticed, and in a strange way it's very, very complimentary. Anyway, I'm bringing this post and your comments to my readers' attention on my own blog. This will do you a favour, because I think GenderTrender isn't much known about in the UK, and obviously you'd appreciate some publicity. Quite possibly a lot of curious new readers will be coming your way - although I can't guarantee that they'll enjoy your sense of humour. Be warned. Regard these readers as 'the judge over your shoulder'.

By the way, the yellow-scarf photo is from 2007 and is one of a series that shows my personal development over the last six years. I'd draw your attention to the one taken two days ago, in which I'm having a great time (did you?) and I recommend that you read the post in full ('Six years of personal development - the gallery', dated 2 January 2013). In fact I hope I can tempt you to delve into my past posts, and find out what I'm really like as a human being. That would be nice, if you're up to it, but if not, then I promise not to worry.

Remember, each click on my blog increases my pageview total. See if you can raise it beyond 20,000 a month. I want to get it up to 50,000 a month by the end of the year, and you GenderTrenders could all do your bit.

Happy New Year.

Lucy

Not only did the post on drinking get examined, one of the lady commentators looked at yesterday's personal development gallery and used it to illustrate a point she wished to make. I'm immensely flattered. As they say (well, someone does) 'there is no such thing as bad publicity'. It's so true. The big thing is to have one's name bandied about, so that you get terribly well known. If you can actually become a cult figure, whatever the reputation, that's even better. So whether it's fame or notoriety, I might as well go for broke! Why, there could be a New Year's Honour in it for me, for Services to Internet Blogging. In the 2014 List as Dame Lucy Melford. Aaaaah, yes!

However, at the time of writing this, my GenderTrender comment is 'awaiting moderation'. And, you know, I fear that it will be misinterpreted as scurrulous and irrelevant. That pageview remark at the end does introduce a dirty commercial flavour (some would say 'taint') that GenderTrender may consider inappropriate. Their standards are pretty high! So alas, my comment may not actually get published. Not to worry, you have it above.

Sequel
My concern that GenderTrender would fail to publish my comment was groundless. It did get published - for now. Whether it stays up is quite another thing. But quite possibly I'm misjudging the fairmindedness of the blog owner. It will be interesting to see, because actually I'd like to build some bridges, and get some minds meeting.

Posted by Lucy Melford at 21:07


There were eight comments (well seven really):

1. Caroline 3 January 2013 22:29

Only 14 dames per year compared to 70 Knights! They should stop creating knighthoods while the dames catch up!!

2. Innis Anity 4 January 2013 03:14

I am amazed at just how narcissistic some men can be. Can you not grasp the concept that you are epitomizing precisely what it is about "trans-women", that normal women find so offensive. You are so wrapped up in your own infamy that you seem impervious to the damage done to others of your kind. Shame on you,you self centered slug!

3. hypatia's child 4 January 2013 05:29
This comment has been removed by the author.

4. hypatia's child 4 January 2013 06:19

Lucy, you seem to be well-meaning but have you read much of what is posted on that site? They are not a radical feminism discussion board, they are a hate site, full stop. I am afraid that trying to build bridges there is doomed to failure. More importantly, why would you want to build bridges with the likes of them? There are indeed many supporters of separate spaces for non-trans women with whom it is possible to have a civil conversation. Google "Camp Harmony" for a shining example. Gender Trender is different, the blog exists only to defame and denigrate trans people and especially trans women. The frequent posters there are the hardest of the hard core.

They have also been known to boast about exposing and harrassing trans women in their 3D lives. This may well be empty puffery. However I would tread VERY carefully there, if at all.

5. Lucy Melford 4 January 2013 11:07

Oh yes, I'm quite aware of the stance that GenderTrender takes, and how little chance there may be to affect their views. But it's in my nature to know what other people are thinking, keep an eye on them, and try to see what can be done to force contact. In that regard, I wouldn't consider my comment to them, quoted in my post, to be positive dialogue, but they deserved a gentle reprimand. I think I made my point.

In any case, the chief function of my blog (and my Flickr site) is to keep myself exposed, and to show the public (including, but not especially, hate sites) that transsexual people - or at least one of them - are not sad deluded mutants but lively people with family and friends, normal interests, and down-to-earth ambitions. I think they need to wake up to that.

One of GenderTrender's UK supporters seems to be a Sussex man, and if I get the opportunity I will suggest a meetup with him in Brighton, so that he can encounter a genuine transsexual person face to face. Some good might come of that, you never know.

I rather think that few (or perhaps none) of these people personally know any transsexual men or women. It would assist their credibility to keep it that way, so that the dehumanising effect of distance isn't melted by any kind of real-life contact. It's obviously much easier to hurl insults and sneers, and pleas to shut up, at someone you don't personally know. I really can't see any of these people being rude to me over a friendly cup of coffee in the very public Lanes of Brighton. But if this man (or whoever has the balls to to meet me) insists on being brutal, I will be fine.

I'm very well-placed to face hostility. In my 35-year career as a Tax Inspector conducting and managing investigations I became inured to sitations in which people were cross, nasty and devious. There was tax law that could be used against them, and I used it, but mostly it was down to personal qualities, persistence, investigation skills, and knowing when to stop and settle. In many ways the kind of folk who post on hate sites resemble my former adversaries in language, tone and invisibility.

So I think it's worth reaching out, but if they can't or won't respond, then of course I'll just let them be.

Lucy

6. Lucy Melford 4 January 2013 18:04

Mind you, when you get commentators like Innis Anity above, you do wonder if it's worth trying. I've no idea who this is. If you click on the name, the profile is bare - no photo, no posts, no personal information of any kind. It's impossible to evaluate comments like this for sincerity and proper background knowledge of the issues that surround transness. I sense the ill-will, but the message, such as it is, has been sabotaged by the intemporate language used.

I nearly deleted it, then thought it better to leave it up as an example of what gets said from the shadows, as opposed to what this person would actually say if she (?) were speaking directly to me, and others were listening.

Lucy

7. Innis Anity 4 January 2013 23:19

Very well Lucy, I will try to be less intemperate. My point is simple. You are an over the top transvestite, a man who enjoys masquerading as a woman. Another term would be autogynephiliac, a man in love or engrossed with his image of himself as a woman.

You are not transsexual by any body's definition but your own. The very fact that your motivation is to be known as a trans-woman or, "that man who became a "woman", or more accurately thinks he did", is evidence enough that you are very much other than a woman.

The fact that I am not like you, seeking notoriety all over the Internet and my own community should be just one more indication that women find nothing in common with odd men like you and that we hold you in lowest most contemptuous esteem possible.

And yes. I would say that to your face in public. Does that make me a hater? Perhaps in your eyes it does, but the truth is that it is not hate that I feel for you, but shame, embarrassment and disgust.

8. Lucy Melford 5 January 2013 01:46

I'm sorry you feel so strongly against me. And I can't reach out to you, because I don't know who you are. I know for certain that you don't speak for all natal women, because the natal women I speak to in my day to day life don't recoil with shame, embarrassment or disgust.

Let's call a truce, and leave it there. If it matters to you, I am sincere about seeking common understanding, and I don't hate you for hating me.

Lucy


Post-mortem in 2014
This post marked the end of any attempt on my part to taunt sites like GenderTrender. I saw that it was not the way. My first impulse to explore what the radfems were all about was not wrong, but I went about it clumsily and naïvely, and merely antogonised. I don't think I helped anyone with what I said. The comments of Innis Anity were annoying, but she was surely right about my 'seeking notoriety', or if not that, then something akin to it. No credit to me.

Well, a period of treading carefully followed, no bad thing. Once I had slipped from GenderTrender's immediate concerns, I could tackle trans issues again, but never again like this.  

That's the end of the resurrection. All of my posts, every one, are now available on the blog. I might take a break from blogging tomorrow - but in any case the next topic will be very different.