Tuesday, 23 November 2021

...and (nearly) out with the old

So, one new jacket that had to be squeezed into my wardrobe space! Hmm, it was getting tight. What could I discard?

An obvious candidate was my aqua-coloured jacket. This seemed thin and inadequate compared with my new red ski jacket. It was also rather worn, with toggles and other bits missing, and (if you looked closely) undeniably on the shabby side. It was after all, ten years old, and had had a good run, but its smartest years were well in the past. I got it out for careful consideration.

It was still perfectly wearable, but I wouldn't choose it for any kind of social occasion nowadays. It was OK for country walking, provided I wasn't out in too keen a breeze, and provided there was no prospect of rain - or at least, nothing more than the lightest of showers. It had never been especially water-resistant, but a couple of washings over the years had diminished its power to repel raindrops. So it was a fair-weather jacket best worn in spring and autumn, and on mild days at that. As you can see, it had a detachable hood, although it didn't offer much meaningful protection. 

I did like its blue-green colour very much. That was its best remaining feature.

And there was something else that had so far prevented me junking it. It had sentimental value. Back in August 2011 it had been a reward to myself. Something to mark a momentous occasion. I was in the Ocean View Café in Wroes department store in Bude, and had just had a phone call. The Cottage had at last been sold. 

Although buying the Cottage for £509,000 in 2007 had been a joint project with M---, I had been the formal owner and she the private mortgagor. This placed title in my hands, but made me liable to repay a very large amount of money. But we had a written Agreement which anticipated a profit from a later sale. The investment looked viable and likely to be a good one. I sunk £202,000 into our project, she £307,000. We thought the Cottage (a large and attractive property in a pretty riverside village) would sell two years later for at least £600,000, giving us roughly a £100,000 profit, which would be split 40:60 in proportion to the money we'd each put in. In practice, we expected further investment cycles until we both had nice homes.  

It didn't work out. A combination of factors made the property market falter, then go into a steady decline. We quickly put the Cottage back up for sale again, hoping to recoup most of our investment, but it took four long years to get shot of it. A sorry tale, I can tell you. And in the end, it went for only £335,000. By then, there was another Agreement which guaranteed M--- the full return of her investment, plus a fixed amount of interest. £325,000 altogether. Well, I instructed my solicitor to pay her what had been agreed. After fees and costs I walked away with only £2,000 of my £202,000 investment. £202,000 of real money, that before buying the Cottage had been in real savings accounts - where perhaps it should have stayed. All now gone. Irretrievably. Forever. 

It was a life-changing loss. A huge financial blow. Did I feel suicidal? People have topped themselves for less, you know. 

No, of course I didn't do anything so silly. In fact, after that phone call at Wroes I was jubilant, over the moon. I had been trying to run two houses on one pension, and failing. Bankruptcy was inevitable if I didn't get the Cottage off my hands. 

But that was a worry that might be staved off for a year or so. More pressing was the sheer mental distress at being liable for £325,000, which was a frightening sum to owe anybody back in 2011. The equivalent in 2021 values would be at least £405,000. I tossed and turned at night over having such debt. It was wearing me down. I was a prisoner, with a dwindling hope of release. And if the property market sunk any lower, I might have to sell my home - the house left to me by Mum and Dad - as well as the Cottage, to find the money needed for repayment. 

It couldn't go on. Fortunately it didn't. Buyers were at last found, and the massive debt would finally be repaid. My personal loss of £200,000 seemed as nothing compared to that big fact. Even then, I knew I would miss not having this money later in life - no fancy cruises; indeed no fancy holidays of any kind; apparently no way of affording another nice car like Fiona; and (most importantly) no reassuring medical fund. Such was the future impact. But for now there was every reason to feel utter relief. A dreadful burden had been taken away. The stay of execution, the Royal Pardon, had come in time. The chains were cast off. I was free to live my life. I was light-headed with joy, and almost cried at that café table in Wroes. I'm sure my eyes were moist. 

That aqua-coloured jacket was the present I got for myself within the hour, while still in the store. (Which is why I feel sentimental to this day about Wroes, and happy things that have taken place there over the years - not only that call, and buying that jacket) 

The jacket gave me good service in the months and years that followed. Here I am, back in 2011, proudly wearing the 'freedom from debt' jacket:  

I last wore it in April this year, on a local walk, sans hood:

In truth, this was by then a rare outing for it. I hadn't really worn it much since getting the green hooded Seasalt raincoat in October 2019. The Seasalt raincoat - better in every respect - immediately supplanted the aqua jacket. It was longer, rain-resistant, windproof, quilted and warm, and the hood worked. And it looked good. 

A selection of pictures to show what I mean:

The next two pictures show the Seasalt raincoat after a soaking in heavy rain, and how inside it remained bone dry, keeping me nicely snug:

The Seasalt raincoat was as suitable for wet walks in the New Forest....

...as it was for meetups with friends and family. Here, with my step-daughter Adrienne (left) and our friend Emma (right):

Here's another shot that shows the useful length of the Seasalt raincoat. I might get wet knees, but everything above them would stay dry and warm:

The green raincoat coped wonderfully with breezy seashores, too:

The aqua jacket couldn't compete with this. So I stopped wearing it. 

What now? Was it time for us to part company? 

I nearly bagged it up for disposal. Then I hesitated. I couldn't do it. Getting that call back in 2011 was one of the key moments of my life. If you have ever experienced crushing debt, and then had freedom from it, you will know what I mean. My spirits had soared. No, I couldn't discard the main tangible souvenir of that blissful afternoon in Bude!  

I've now put it through the washing machine, and it's all clean and fresh. I don't know when I'll actually wear it again - probably not until next spring. Never mind. It'll have to be added to my collection of possessions that will never be thrown out.

In with the new...

I've recently acquired a rather nice ski jacket from my cousin Rosemary. I was visiting her in Kent last week, and one of the first things she did after my arrival was to offer me this jacket. I thought I didn't need a new jacket, and definitely not something for the piste, but of course I said yes, tried it on, and was delighted with it. Here I am, wearing it for the first time. Rosemary took the picture with Lili, my Leica X-U, in her conservatory:

I'm not sure what colour red you would say it is. 'Light cherry red' maybe. It seems to vary with the ambient light. In any event, I particularly like the white streaks running down from each shoulder to my waist. They emphasise the hips, of course. The jacket is red and grey inside - fleeced - and it's warm and cosy, perfect for the cooler months of the year. It has a hood that (thankfully) doesn't get too much in the way when I'm slinging my bag or camera over my head. It has a smooth-running zip, and the front flap is secured by a series of velcro patches, rather than poppers, so it's quick to do up and undo. The two pockets at the waist are deep - great for thick gloves, and extras like a torch.

Rosemary had slimmed down since buying this jacket, and it was now too big for her. But just right for me. It has become an instant favourite for my countryside and seashore outings. 

Here are some more pictures of the new jacket, and of myself enjoying this stylish new possession. I haven't worn red coats and jackets much before. Well, I think that's going to change!

You can see what I mean about the red looking different in various lights, although the last shot was admittedly taken in late-afternoon shade. 

I now feel very well endowed with winter-grade coats and jackets. This is definitely the most colourful. I will make a point of wearing it as often as possible, but won't flinch to put on something more formal for a special occasion. 

I have to say, I really feel like the 'proper photographer' with this jacket on, and Lili slung round my shoulder or neck. 

And what about the ski slope, you may ask. I don't think so. I've never skied in my life, and it's too late to try now. Besides, my knee ligaments - ruined in the 1990s from too much badminton - wouldn't be able to take it.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

The Scream

Mention the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and people who know pictures immediately think of that curious work of his from 1893, The Scream. That has always been its popular title. But I don't think he named it that himself. Here it is. Or at least the most-seen of its several versions.

It depicts a waterside scene with an unnaturally blood-red sky, two mysterious figures on a bridge - or a pier - and an odd figure in the foreground, which could be a man or a woman, apparently wailing or screaming in despair. The figure is certainly very unhappy. 

Is it a commentary on desperate loneliness - the single person versus the couple? Or the futility of human existence? Or the state of mind of someone on the point of suicide?

I used to think the picture showed a man seized with fright and fear, knowing that he is about to be arrested by two secret policemen coming towards him. And yet the two figures further along the bridge or pier could be an ordinary man and an ordinary woman, and they could in fact be walking away. 

I keep on saying picture, for this isn't a proper painting. It's oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard. I don't know why Munch chose such an impermanent base for something so obviously important. It might easily not have survived the last 130 years or so. But it has. And throughout that time it has been celebrated as a masterly work, even though the meaning of this picture has remained a matter for debate. 

So there I was, one week ago, at five o'clock on a Thursday afternoon on the pier at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, the sun having set, and just the afterglow left. I was watching the ferry to Lymington leave. I was booked on the next boat, at seven o'clock, and was killing time. In a short while I'd be looking for an early-evening meal, but for now I was taking photos in the semi-darkness with Lili. The lights on the water, the lit-up ferry boat, the brooding sky, and the tail end of the sunset, all made for a good picture.  

I'd discovered that Lili - my Leica X-U - was a very good camera for dim interiors and after-dark walkabouts. In fact, the best I've ever owned. Later on she took some very good shots of sparsely-lit Yarmouth streets and alleyways, such as these:

But for now I was on the pier. It stretched away from me into the night. There were some lamps, but not enough to make it well-lit. I didn't fancy walking down to the end, where there was a shelter. 

It wasn't eerie, or scary, but the scene nevertheless put me in mind of Munch's The Scream. Hmm...could I do a re-creation? My own version? 

Well, that had definite potential. But I had to do more than just gape, and show off a few fillings and a couple of crowns. What if I put my free hand to my face? (It could only be one hand, as the other was of course holding Lili)

Ah, now much more like it! I still wouldn't claim that my scream and the original are indistinguishable - the bobble-hat is missing from Munch's picture (he missed a trick there) - but I think it passes muster, don't you? 

A pity I couldn't have some menacing figures in my photo, but hey. 

Actually, had I waited, I would have. An elderly lady in a wheelchair, assisted by what I took to be her grown-up son and daughter, had been watching the departure of the ferry from that shelter at the end of the pier, and emerged once the show was over, making their way slowly towards me. While still at a distance, they would have made a nice little posse of out-of-focus secret policemen in the background of my photo. Then again, would I really have had the nerve to turn them into props for my little charade? They might well have guessed what I was trying to do, and become annoyed, and chase me around Yarmouth.  

I might however try another re-staging of a famous painting when opportunity occurs. Which, now? 

Darker evenings, and a new torch

My first personal electric possession, back in the late 1950s, must have been a torch. 

In those days, torches were made of metal, and had screw-in bulbs and big blue cylindrical replaceable batteries that were prone to leaking a sticky substance after a few months. The sliding switch (or button) and the internal connections that made the bulb light up were easily corroded and this made the torch rather unreliable. Furthermore the batteries only had a short life. They would at first make the bulb glow brightly, but this would soon fade into amber, and then nothing at all. 

Even so, I found torches (at age seven or eight) to be fascinating gadgets, absolutely magical in the way they lit up my bedroom, and a badly-needed talisman against the things I could imagine in the darkness. I was often prey to bad dreams if I saw something frightening on TV, or read something disturbing. So for me a torch was part toy, part shield. I was a nervous child, not brave at all.

No doubt the contemporary children's TV puppet series Torchy - about a resourceful boy who did things with a torch - was an encouragement. There's a surprising amount of information about Torchy on Wikipedia - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torchy_the_Battery_Boy - although I can't remember any of those details. 

In the early 1970s torches became more sophisticated and much more reliable. I had a big long red plastic one, made by Ever Ready, that took three or four big replaceable batteries and kept its charge for a long time. Although in my early teens, I was still hooked on torches, and although no longer frightened of the dark, still played with them. I imagined using my quite-powerful torch for adventure. In later years - especially when living in London in the 1980s - I moved on to pocket torches that I could easily carry for those late-night walks home after getting off the bus or the tube. Later still, when I started to take personal safety rather more seriously, I considered buying a military-grade torch that could emit a temporary-blinding and disorientating strobe beam. But it was very expensive, and faintly illegal, and I didn't get one. 

Nevertheless, I reckoned a bright torch that could be flashed into someone's face was a good thing to have handy. And I was surely right.

I actually had occasion to use a torch that way in 2002, when up late at night in a friend's house. It was well after midnight. It was very foggy. The doorbell rang. I wouldn't do this now, but I was bolder then. I switched on the hall light, grabbed my torch and opened the door. There stood a young man who looked as if he'd stayed too long at the pub. I shone my torch right into his face, making him back off and blink. He asked me if he could come in, and use the phone to call for a taxi. I said no. I told him to go away. I used the beam from my torch as a weapon, dazzling him and forcing him to retreat. I made sure that he shambled off into the fog and didn't change his mind. He may have said something choice as he went, but I didn't care. 

I haven't found myself in any further situations where a bright torch could make a difference, but as I've got older I've become jumpier, and reluctant to venture out into darkness without a strong and reliable light source in my bag or coat pocket.  

When LEDs replaced bulbs a while back, I got myself a little pocket torch, which had regular use for finding things in the dimmer corners of my attic or garage, and when on holiday. But the other day it wouldn't switch on - its first fail. I unscrewed the thing, to check the state of the replaceable battery, and found that something had jammed inside. A bit more fiddling got the thing working again, but the writing was on the wall. I'd better get a new torch.

And this was it. A nifty little affair made by Lighthouse, with a rechargeable battery. Unscrewing the end cap reveals a USB that I simply pop into a free socket on my laptop. 

While plugged into the laptop, a light on the side of the torch glows red. It turns green when charging is complete.

My new torch is the same small handy size as the old one. It does however seem much better made. And of course, I now have no dependence on batteries. 

The old torch had a rubber pad at one end, which you pressed in to switch it on. The new torch has a collar that you turn. 

As you can see, the new torch has a concentrated beam, and out in a street it illuminates the way ahead very well. It would certainly dazzle a troublesome drunk! I tried doing a light-intensity comparison test between the old and new torches, taking photos with Lili. But they came out looking much the same, even though the new torch was obviously brighter. Then I realised that I had left my camera on auto-ISO, and this was why I was not seeing a dimmer result with the old torch. A bit like my efforts to capture the eclipse of the sun in Sussex in 1999. The camera merely adjusted itself to take a bright enough picture, and did not record a series of shots, each darker than the last. 

This said, the EXIF information for my comparison shots was revealing. All the pictures were taken at full aperture (f/1.7). The old-torch pictures required a shutter speed of 1/30th second and ISO 3,200. But the new-torch pictures needed only 1/40th second and ISO 400. So that implies that the light emitted from my new torch was nearly eleven times more intense than the light from the old. Check my arithmetic: (3,200/400) x (40/30) = nearly 11. Definitely not a torch to shine into anyone's eyes then - unless in self-defence.

The likelihood of being waylaid by a mad axeman or rapist in my corner of Sussex is not high, but even so, this is reassuring. I shall not fail to pack my new torch if going out in the evening this winter.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Verity returns from the grave

I spoke too soon. Verity, my laptop, will not be feasting in Valhalla. The treasure-laden longship, piled high with firewood, dragon sail unfurled and billowing, will not be needed now. The torches I had ready to cast into that ship can be put out. No spectacular Viking Funeral for her yet.    

Whatever glitch stopped her charging up the smaller of her two batteries has apparently unglitched itself. That battery, which had run down to 0% charge, has returned to 100%:

And it's now once more possible to detach the screen, walk away from the keyboard base, and use the screen as an independent tablet. Well, for as long as its small battery lasts!

It's quite a magical transformation, and in theory it's handy to have the ability to disconnect the screen and wander away with it into another room, leaving the keyboard part attached to sundry cables and plug-ins. But in fact I've never used my Surface Book in Tablet Mode, not for any practical purpose. 

Anyway, Verity is triumphantly back, and firing on all cylinders. But I have no idea whether this astonishing revival is going to be permanent. For now, though, it's most welcome and a great relief. I hadn't looked forward to coping with the uncertainties of a limping laptop, let alone splashing out on a new one at great cost. 

I think some will say: this is a warning. Don't buy another Surface Book. Well, this is the first hardware problem I've had after five years of intensive use. So I'm not going to complain at the service I've had from Verity, which has been loyal and faithful, and includes (since mid-April 2016) the processing of roughly 80,000 photographs and scans, and the writing of some 800 blog posts. 

The real issue is, how much will I want to spend further down the line, when the natural time to buy a replacement comes around? I've got a feeling that it won't be luxury-machine money. Not if I need the cash for something connected with buying that all-electric car I've been talking about...