Sunday, 27 September 2020

Taking a tumble at Morte Point

With only three days left of my four-week West Country holiday, and a long trip to Padstow next day, I wanted to go somewhere fairly local in North Devon (where I now am). 

Why not Mortehoe and Morte Point, I said to myself. Why not indeed? Especially Morte Point, which I visited with M--- in 1995, and again in 2006, but not since. It's a lovely place, with fabulous panoramas along the coast both ways, and out to sea where the island of Lundy is an elongated presence on the horizon. 

The weather was perfect: sunny, blue sky, and just a little breeze. To begin with, that breeze had an edge to it, so I had my green Seasalt raincoat on. Hopefully it would be dry underfoot (and it was). Nevertheless, I knew from my previous visits that the terrain on Morte Point could be steep and rocky if one wanted to climb up any of the craggy bits for a view. I could have got away with ordinary shoes - it was hardly two miles to the Point and back - but proper boots seemed called for. So having parked at Mortehoe, I put my Alt-Berg walking boots on. 

After inspecting Mortehoe church, which was open, I set off along the track that led past the cemetery, thinking yet again that this was a cemetery with one of the finest views in the country. 

Then I was out on the main green path that led to the Point. It was exhilarating. 

To my left was Woolacombe Bay. A timeless view. This was it in 2006.

And now.

My objective was the high outcrop of rocks near the tip of Morte Point, but looking down on the actual Point itself.  The rocky pinnacle in the centre of this picture.

Lucky sheep, wouldn't you say, to have this kind of view to enjoy. But I don't suppose a sheep's brain is wired up to notice it. 

The trick was to keep to the higher paths. All the main paths were very easy to walk on: you could have pushed a buggy along most of them. It got more difficult if you ventured off-piste, and you might have to step with care. On the upward final approach to my chosen outcrop I actually came upon a grass snake coiled up on the path, in a narrow section between gorse and heather. It gave me a sour look and slithered away into the heather, probably muttering 'Can't a snake bask in peace?' I knew it was a grass snake because it was green. I've seen adders, which are dark, and it wasn't one of those. Adders are poisonous, and though shy they can be a hazard if you're not wearing heavy footwear. 

My approach was going well. The path was grassy again. Suddenly I was only fifty yards away. Just a slight scramble up a rocky bit, and I'd be there. 

Then I was. Hurrah! I felt elated.

And what a feast for the eyes!

That last shot looks east at Bull Point Lighthouse. Beyond that is Lee Bay, and, eventually, llfracombe. 

It had been so very well worth coming here, after a long fourteen year gap! I was so enjoying myself. On similar occasions when revisiting a spot I'd come to with M---, I would have pondered the past, but not today. The present was vividly with me. 

I took my raincoat off. The wind had dropped, and it was warm enough to feel like summer, although the date was 27th September and this might be summer's last fling before colder and damper days. 

Take a last good look at my unblemished face. It looks different now.

It was time to go. I didn't want to carry my raincoat while climbing down, so I put it back on. Descending from my high vantage-point, I recognised a view I'd shot in 1995. Then:

And now:

Not quite the same shot, but close enough to believe that Woolacombe had not changed one bit in twenty-five years. I had notions of driving back that way, and could stop off if I could find a parking spot. But the next event thwarted that.

My attention was now on the path, which seemed rougher going downhill than it had been when coming up. Hmm, this will need care! I put my camera away, in order to have both hands free. I was very careful how I stepped. And then I stumbled, overbalanced, and took a header into a clump of gorse, thumping my face on the way down. 

I came to rest on my back. I wasn't dazed or winded, and nothing seemed broken. But my hands, shins, and face all hurt. I was surrounded by prickly gorse, and felt that I'd taken more punctures than Julius Caesar. My face was bleeding, and blood dripped onto my hand. Fortunately I had tissues in my bag, and I wiped the worst away. I must have at least one cut on my face. The quilted Seasalt raincoat had been my salvation. It had cushioned my fall, and was now protecting me from the worst of the gorse prickles I was lying on. I still felt lacerated, but it was all superficial. 

Even so, I had better get up and without delay return to the car, and thence to the caravan, before any after-effects set in. Not so easy! My head was lower than my feet, so I couldn't just sit up and walk away. I'd have to grasp something - one of those prickly gorse stems - and haul myself into a position to stand up. Thankfully, I remembered that my leather gloves were in one of my raincoat pockets - put there with cold and rainy weather in mind. I put those on, and managed to twist myself around, and then up. Back on the path I surveyed the grim scene. I was still bleeding. 

I'd been lucky not to brain myself on those rocks. My face had brushed the ground left-centre, and I had fallen into the gorse top left.

And look - here's a shot I've now found when processing other shots taken here on the day. It was taken on the way up to that rocky outcrop with the great view. I'm pretty sure that the stones set in the ground in the picture just above - the stones right and top right - are the stones in the bottom left of this view. And that the thorny gorse bush, bottom centre and bottom right, is the very one I toppled into:

No wonder I was so scratched and punctured! 

Back to the moments after extricating myself from my painful accident scene. I was now on my feet. I checked my main bag. Nothing had fallen out: all present and correct. Nothing inside the bag had been damaged, nor my camera. All rather remarkable, as I thought I'd landed on top of them. 

As for myself, I looked dishevelled and a trifle woebegone. 

But I was unshaken and functioning normally. So I set forth at a brisk pace, wondering what the people I passed made of my abrasions! A few of them certainly noticed the blood. Back at Fiona, I cleaned myself up, ate a banana and apple, drank some water, combed my hair, and applied some lipstick. 

I still looked at if I'd had an experience, but I felt OK. Once back at the caravan, I had a welcome cup of tea, a chicken sandwich, and another apple. The cuts and scratches on my hands and shins seemed minor and I left them alone. My face would just have to look a sight for the next couple of days. It would soon mend.

What have I learned? 

That going downhill over rocks in clumpy walking boots, even if concentrating and taking care, is a risky business. A stick might have helped. It serves as a 'third leg' and a firm prop when stepping down. I won't neglect to take it along next time. 

I think this also confirms that my sense of balance really is far from good. Somebody with better balance wouldn't have pitched into the gorse. So, for the future, no more clambering about on rocks - not on seashores (I fell backwards on seashore rocks in 2016, bumping my head: see Two near disasters while on holiday, a post published on 2nd May 2016) nor on hills. I'm just not surefooted enough. 

And to people in general: please never, never, never suggest that I should abandon a stable four-wheeled car for a wobbly two-wheeled bicycle. I will just hurt myself.  

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The new NHS Covid-19 phone app

Today the brand-new NHS Covid-19 app gets launched. I've just installed it, and I have to say that it is a very different animal compared to the version trialled earlier this year, which was ultra-simplistic. This app is far more comprehensive. It's an app well worth delving into - truly a mine of helpful information and links, with statistics to view and and advice to consult. 

It remains only a supplement to the basic public strategies already advocated or required (such as maintaining social distancing, washing hands carefully, and observing local social contact rules), and nobody should rely on it to keep them safe from coronavirus infection. But it would be absurd not to install it on one's phone and use it when meeting people, either by arrangement or casually where people who don't know each other gather - such as on public transport, in shops and caf├ęs, in museums and galleries, or really any place where contact is certain. And to use it for as long as Covid-19 remains a significant threat. 

This said, it needs GPS and Bluetooth to be on at the same time - just like the earlier version - and with the same toll on one's phone battery. It's the GPS radio in particular that really kills battery life. My phone has a large battery, but it's now over three years old, and must last well into 2021. I'm not by any means nursing it along, but to prevent its premature death I'm mindful of not abusing the battery. I use my phone very heavily indeed, every single day, for all kinds of things, many of them needing a good reserve of battery-power. Having GPS and Bluetooth on all the time would be unmanageable. So I am going to use the app on a part-time basis. The app serves no purpose walking about in the middle of a moor, nor on a wide beach, nor when alone in my car, nor when alone in my house or caravan. At those times, I can turn it off. But I will foster the habit of turning it on when mixing with other human beings - not just scummy types who couldn't give a damn, but responsible people too - and certainly whenever I don my face mask. It goes without saying, surely, that if a mask is required the app must be too.  

It's not merely fulfilling a clear social duty. I'm acutely concerned about my own health, as I can't know how I would respond to an infection. I've no serious underlying or chronic health issues, but at age 68 I am borderline 'vulnerable', with reduced resistance to disease, and I might well have a rough time. Maybe a seriously bad time, with ongoing consequences. It makes abundant sense for me to take advantage of any measure that will warn me that I might have got infected. I also owe it to everyone else to put myself on the radar, if I've become a symptomless infection-carrier who might unwittingly pass the virus on. How would I know, unless I install this app? Because as it stands the possibility of taking a test is remote, unless I ever develop definite symptoms. I'd be mortified if, unknowingly, I picked up something and infected the people I most care about. With the app, there's a much better chance that this may not happen.

That said, I do regard myself as a low-risk person. All along, I've been a Very Good Girl, and have been very observant of social distancing, very circumspect about going near any group of people I don't know - especially if they seem to be careless about their behaviour. So I haven't yet got into high-risk situations where infection would be almost inevitable. This circumspection has become habitual. But such care can't shield me from an unplanned or unexpected encounter. There might, for all I know, be a gang of frolicking students - all riddled with virus - just around the corner, the next time I pop into town. Or I could bump into some daytime drunk who wants to kiss every woman he meets, even me. 

But I do have to touch some surfaces, like anyone else. And it crosses my mind, every time I use a supermarket loo, that I can't count on stupid or ignorant people washing their hands. I know some don't. I have sat there in my cubicle and heard them do their stuff, flush the loo, and depart without putting their hands near water and hot air. Touching the door handle that I must pull. Sigh. 

One thing the new app has, that will prove a time-saver, is the ability to scan QR codes when going into eateries and suchlike. That will be cool and slick and avoid staff having to ask for contact details, and needing to write them down. It will also be a pathway to warning other app users that - say - the pub they recently lunched at had a customer who proved infectious. 

Do I worry about my civil liberties being impinged? Not a bit. 'Wartime' measures are obviously justified. A war against a stealthy, invisible enemy who needs victims, and isn't concerned about accidentally killing a host. In the Second World War the public had to carry ID Cards and gas masks. In 2020 we have this phone app. What's the difference?

Monday, 14 September 2020

Miss Thrifty

Readers who had been worrying that I was, despite some reservations, secretly committed to spending £5.000-odd on a new camera - to wit, the desirable Leica Q2 plus a spare battery, a handgrip, a posh wrist strap, a posh carrying case, new processing software such as Photolab DxO 3, and extra external SSD storage - can breathe a sigh of relief. That camera has been popped in my mental Beyond My Means box.  

Oh, I'd love to pose around with the Q2, and see other photographers' eyes popping out, knowing that I have a gorgeous conversation-piece slung from my shoulder. And I'd really enjoy getting those appraising looks, as people work out what I must have spent on my dream image-machine, and what that may say about me. I'd expect to notice many wistful and envious glances, if I took the plunge and spent my money. Who wouldn't want that kind of social reward, in their heart of hearts? It's the photographic equivalent of roaring up in a brand-new swanky bright red Ferrari, and emerging gracefully from it like an exotic creature who clearly belongs to a richer, more opulent world. Walking casually around with the Q2 would say that I can afford the entrance fee to Club Leica: I must therefore be Someone of Consequence! Fall on your knees.

The Q2 wouldn't of course be the last word in fantasy posing. Not by any means. There are more expensive Leicas still, just as even the flashiest Ferrari isn't the most expensive supercar. But the Q2 would have more than enough magic to get me into any imaginary Exclusive Beach Club and rub shoulders with the celebrities and secret agents who dwell therein, sipping their iced drinks, and making love. 'Can I introduce myself? It's Bond, James Bond'. 'Oh, hello, Mr Bond! My name's Lucy Melford! But you can call me Lucy! I say, James, can I take a snap of you in that rather superb tailored dinner jacket?'

Let's return to planet Earth. Readers who know me personally fully understand that I'm definitely not one for the glittering life, and that I need no fancy toys to help me live well. Let the Q2 be a distant aspiration, for when I truly have a big surplus of funds. Until then, I'll be thrifty. 

And now, two examples of my being thrifty! 

In default of buying the Q2 - or indeed any newer camera - I've been using my venerable Leica D-Lux 4 as if it were my latest acquisition, instead of eleven years old. Rediscovering it. You know: playing with settings, seeing what else it can do, and getting out accessories that I've never bothered using much before. One such accessory is the 24mm optical viewfinder I bought with the camera back in 2009, for use in very bright conditions when the rear screen goes dark and indistinct. It cost me £215 back then, which was an awful lot for a small accessory, however well-made. Well, I now thought. Why not pop it into the hotshoe, and start composing pictures through this viewfinder, whenever having a clear view is important? So I did just that. Here are some shots of the thing itself, and in position on the camera. 

It greatly altered the appearance of the camera. Modern cameras didn't use slide-in optical viewfinders. This would rather catch the eye. But then, wasn't I just a little bit willing to attract attention? And it certainly had the Leica logo on it - anyone peering closely would see that. Would I mind? Probably not. 

So much for enhancing my trusty camera's appearance! Would it offer any advantage? To my surprise, it did. I'd been dissatisfied with camera viewfinders in the past, finding them difficult to use with glasses on, and not nearly as good as a decent-sized electronic screen. But this one was really bright and clear, and the rubber surrounding the rear lens was easy on my glasses. Hmm! I quickly got into the habit of using it for medium- and long-distance shots, where the parallax error wouldn't matter. It was no good for precise framing in close-up shots, as the camera lens and the viewfinder lens saw things differently and that dissimilar viewpoint might spoil the picture. But then I could revert to the rear screen on the camera for such shots. 

There was no doubt about it. Using a viewfinder, with the camera braced against the face, seemed a better way of taking many kinds of picture. It was a quite different technique, compared to composing with the screen, where one generally held the camera away from the body in a 'praying to the sun' position. As you would with a phone. Phones have their virtues for photography - I happily and successfully used mine for three years running - but the standard picture-taking method you have to employ isn't great for getting level horizons, or a shake-free shot in low light, and it seems amateurish and casual, even if serious work is intended. But I could now put my little Leica up to my face for a really steady shot. And amazingly no part of the greasy Melford visage touched the screen and smudged it. It got better and better. 

Of course, I had to use the rear screen if I zoomed in, or if I changed the framing format from 4:3 to something else. (I could do 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 as alternatives) This couldn't be dodged. But when shooting something at least six feet away, with the focal length at 24mm, in a 4:3 format, then using the viewfinder was now my go-to composing method - and fast becoming my preferred and favourite technique. 

I soon found that using the viewfinder was particularly good for quick shots of people, shooting them before they knew I had done it. I could get a good shot in a second, just by raising the viewfinder to my eye and pressing the shutter button. I found it was also true that for street photography one could 'hide' behind the camera when it was raised to the face. This was a definite aid to boldness. 

So, I now had a new and fresh boost to my picture-taking capability, by simply digging out an accessory I already had, and making use of it. At absolutely no extra cost!

The second thrify thing I did was to buy a better camera bag. This involved spending money! But only £8.95. And if you know anything about the cost of camera bags, you'll see at once that I got a bargain. 

It wasn't actually a 'proper' camera bag. Having decided to mount the viewfinder permanently, I now needed a bag that wouldn't force me to take the viewfinder off the camera every time I wanted to put it away. That meant a slightly larger bag. The one I had been using till then fitted the little Leica very snugly, and I had to carefully push the camera in, removing the viewfinder first - an inconvenience which had been the prime reason for hardly using the said viewfinder at all during the previous eleven years, despite spending that outrageous £215 on it. 

So, another bag. Still a proper camera bag? Or should I think about another kind of bag, that wasn't actually intended for cameras? Aha! What might a fashion bag shop offer me? I found one in the streets of Falmouth - Bow Fashion Accessories. Inside, all kinds of leather and fabric goods, much of it very nice indeed. If I were in the market for a really nice new handbag (excepting only the ultra-posh brands), then this would certainly be a place to go to. I wasn't too concerned about the price: whatever I bought, even if it cost £50, would be cheaper than a 'proper camera bag' from a photography shop. Leather or fabic? Fabric would have less style, but be lighter to wear. It just had to swallow the camera with the viewfinder attached, and have a cross-body strap. Plus at least one handy pocket for the spare battery.

Well, I made a very careful and methodical examination of the likely contenders. And eventually, rejecting with reluctance a lovely soft leather bag that could have done the trick, I decided on this quite ordinary but very suitable black fabric bag with an adjustable soft woven cross-body strap, and two extra pocketa either side of the main compartment, all with smooth-running zips (always a good sign). I'd spent half an hour in that shop, ending up chatting to the owner and congratulating him on his stock. He must have had high hopes of me! I hope he wasn't disappointed that in the end I bought something for only £8.95. (On the other hand, any sale must be welcome)   

Here are some shots of the new camera bag, back at the caravan. 

As you can see, it looks just like any small bag a woman might carry, and surely an onlooker will think this is just a second bag I tote around for cosmetics or medications or something like that. Good! It's an advantage for discreet street or event photography if one can conceal the camera inside a bag like this, instantly if need be, and not be recognised as a working photographer. My new bag is large enough to literally drop the camera in after a shot, with nothing snagging; and it's just as easy to whip it out for a quick picture. The bag isn't padded, as a regular camera bag would be, but then if I want to I can easily put some cut-to-size foam inside, to cushion the precious contents against accidental knocks. It's lightweight and very easy to wear. Whether it'll prove durable remains to be seen, but so far, so good. 

So there you are. Two important kit enhancements, at minimum extra expense. And together they are adding something good to my photography. At the moment, and for two weeks more, I'm talking about my holiday photography - some posts on that are going to come, though it's hard to find time just now for writing! Meanwhile, here's a picture to ponder, taken yesterday at St Merryn near Padstow. 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Face to face with Sir Robin Day

Yes, another well-known TV personality ticked off my list! 

I never thought we would actually meet, but the encounter happened by accident only yesterday in the village of Whitchurch Canonicorum, east of Charmouth in west Dorset. I'm guessing that Sir Robin had some longstanding love for the place, and it was indeed lovely; and at the end of his days this is where The Grand Inquisitor wanted to be. There was the church. I was doing my usual careful walk around the exterior, camera in hand. The encounter occurred near the south door of the church.

Sir Robin, originally a journalist, was the first of the great TV interviewers. He took a forthright and no-nonsense line with all pompous politicians. In his glory days on the screen, he was feared - just as some later exponents of his art have been. No great person ever wanted to bandy words with him, but political expedience would demand that they submit to his incisive questioning, however they might privately squirm or shudder at the prospect. Few escaped without laceration. 

He was not afraid of anybody, and certainly not deferential. If he felt that some important questions needed to be put, he put them. He could look avuncular, with his glasses and bow tie; but he was a hunting hound with a sharp nose and sharper teeth; quick to attack, and relentless. He often drew blood, leaving many with careers hanging in the balance. 

These were not of course innocent victims. They were people, mostly men, mostly clever and well-educated, certainly men of the world, who carried responsibility for the crass actions of their government department, or for some policy that was controversial. No doubt they found Sir Robin's blunt ways with words trying, if not downright rude. Defence Minister John Nott famously unclipped his microphone and walked off the set after being asked a particularly awkward question in a 1982 edition of Newsnight. Sir Robin had asked why he, a 'here today, gone tomorrow politician' - which frankly was his position - had wilfully brushed aside the weighty views of a senior defence officer of many years standing and experience. It was a just question. But you can see how it might easily provoke anyone. Actually, it had been an impossible question for John Nott to answer, at least while wearing his ministerial hat. He was skewered, whatever he did. But walking off the set was a public admission that Sir Robin had definitely scored.

Here are some screenshots off my phone. I searched on Google for pictures of Sir Robin Day. Inevitably there were some of John Nott too.

Recalling Sir Robin's personality, I felt I would stand no chance whatever with this man if the conversation took an unexpected turn, or became personal. Sir Robin used to have a reputation for embarrassing women whom he thought were straying into territory they shouldn't be in. Would he still be the same? 

Thankfully I was not put to any test. Nothing was said. Nothing could have been said. For the poor man had died twenty years previously, and I was looking at a half-faded inscribed stone set in the grass near the church door. His ashes were underneath. This, I felt, was probably the best way to meet the man. But all the same, I was still very glad that I had nothing shady to explain. These are my own shots:

I think you'll agree that I had a narrow escape.

A shame, though, that it's such a small memorial to Sir Robin. 'In loving memory.' Who loved him? Why not a grander gravestone? Were restrictive churchyard rules the reason?

In two of the pictures above, you can see a figure in a niche up on the church side wall. It catches the eye. Let's go closer.

It's a female figure. She seems to be standing on a hoary lichen-covered base, and I can't see a join, so I'm supposing that she's old and original and has merely had a good cleanup from the ankles upward. She seems to be smiling, and appears to be holding a big ice-cream cone, although I reckon it's really a torch with stylised flames (which are hard to get right in stone). 

Although the carving looks modern, I do think it could be very old. After all, there are many examples of modern-looking carving on church exteriors, and inside too, that are in fact the work of artists in centuries long past. Elsewhere in Dorset, I can think of the sexy ladies that adorn the top of a monument in West Chelborough church - see my post on 22nd October 2016, Topless beach babes in a remote Dorset church - which look modern, but are not. Here they are, reclining symmetrically on their striped towels, getting an all-over tan:

And when in Beverley in east Yorkshire in 2018, I noticed that on the exterior wall of the ancient Minster, in a corner sheltered from weather, there were many clean-looking carvings of male and female saints, although admittedly one of them looks like Pocahontas, the Red Indian princess:   

Anyway, who is she, the lady on the church wall at Whitchurch Canonicorum? Well, the church is dedicated to St Candida, aka St Wite (pronounced 'white-a' in Old English, hence 'Wite-church' in the name of the village). Very little is known about her life, but inside the church - which was locked, because of the Diocese of Salisbury's policy on coronavirus pandemic access - is a shrine to her. This shrine, with three holes through which visitors can pass limbs needing a cure, is one of only two in England that still survive. The rest have been destroyed. Concealed within a hollow part of this structure were found female bones that said she died when forty-odd, and was a small woman. There have been speculations that in past centuries Whitchurch Canonicorum was the centre of a St Wite cult, but there is no physical evidence beyond the survival of the shrine, a nearby holy well, and the figure on the outside wall. I'll have to come back another time to see the shrine, when the church is open again. The well too.

Here's a thought. Perhaps the church has now become a spiritual focus for those venerating Sir Robin Day? (But I met no pilgrims, so perhaps that's another supposition going nowhere)