Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Don't travel with eggs

Silly me. Only a couple of days before embarking on my first caravan holiday of the year, I had bought a box of six eggs - nice 'very large' ones - which (as I don't eat a lot of eggs) hadn't yet been touched. It was a choice between binning them and bringing them along with me in the caravan. Well, I didn't want to waste them!

Experience told me that they probably wouldn't survive the journey intact. There are various ways I could have ensured their survival, such as carefully packing them in a closed container solid enough not to move around, the eggs inside swathed in bubble-wrap or similar, but I wanted to depart and hadn't the time. I put a wide elastic band around the egg box, so at least it wouldn't open, and wedged it in position in the space under my bed, where the eggs would stay cool. Hemmed in by kitchen rolls and toilet rolls, surely they'd be all right?

Wrong. I discovered the mess when unpacking at my Lyme Regis destination. The egg box hadn't opened, but the sundry movements of the caravan when being towed had jolted it sufficiently to break all the eggs. One end of the box was soggy and leaking egg. Yuk.

It took me a while to clear up the mess. I couldn't get down on my knees to make the job easier. Eventually all was washed to my satisfaction, and a couple of kitchen rolls discarded. Why didn't I give the bin a treat in the first place? Or just think ahead, and not buy eggs when travelling in a few days' time?

I hope I've now learned my lesson! 

Having an osteoarthritic knee is clearly going to teach me many other things, now that kneeling is not possible. I had already worked out that I wouldn't be able to wipe the shower pan after use in the time-honoured way, doing it on my knees with a sponge and cloth. So I'd brought along a mop, to do it standing up. And I had a special bad-back gadget with jaws to pick things up off the floor if I couldn't bend down, or get hold of items beyond my easy reach. Now I'd need to use it to fish for shoes under the other bed. 

The knee, by the way, seems to be improving. It stood up to 165 miles of driving (with two breaks), travelling from Sussex yesterday. That suggests that none of the caravanning journeys I have planned this year will be a problem. Loading up at home involved plenty of to-ing and fro-ing, but the knee didn't complain much. I will however need to be careful walking about towns and villages while on holiday. Beaches, slopes and bumpy churchyards will all need to be treated with caution or simply avoided. And it had best be lifts, not staircases. I will concentrate on walking naturally, and as briskly as possible as soon as possible, in order to get back to something like my previous state of fitness. If I'm sensible, I'll surely get there. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

I use Kérastase

It's been quite a while since I forsook getting my hair cut in The Lanes in Brighton. I started to go to Trevor Sorbie there in March 2009, and only left to give my business to another salon in November 2016. Still, that's six years ago. 

One reason for quitting Brighton as my hair-time destination was that my stylist (by then a senior stylist and designated a 'director') had migrated to a new posh out-of-town salon in Cuckfield, right out in the sticks. I loyally went with her.

Nowadays a local lady - a friend of a friend - comes around to my home and does my hair for a fraction of what I ended up paying at these salons. And she achieves the same result. Importantly, it's the result I want, and not what the stylist thinks I should have. My inclinations prevail without demur. So I'm happier, as well as having considerably more left in my purse. 

I'm also perfectly easy about wanting longer between cut-and-blow-dry appointments. Which wasn't how it used to be. I always used to feel under a certain pressure to fix up regular and rather frequent appointments, really twice the number my straightforward hairstyle needed. So I'd find myself booking an appointment in advance - after paying, and before I left the premises - every four or five weeks, rather than every eight or nine. This was fine while I relished the buzz of The Lanes. But later on I grew tired of it, and other things such as the traffic crawl into Brighton and the big expense of parking began to get to me. The much more relaxed atmosphere of Cuckfield was far more appealing, but even so finding a place to park still wasn't easy. And although the salon prices were a bit less, they were still high, and I began to feel I wasn't getting proper value for money. Pleasant staff, and wine or coffee to sip, no longer compensated. 

So even Cuckfield palled. I'd got older, my tastes had got simpler, and the need to 'treat' myself to expensive hair care - whether in The Lanes or at Cuckfield - had vanished. 

The Covid-19 lockdowns stopped the show without my having to invent an excuse. I won't go back to salons now.

But I haven't abandoned one aspect of hair care luxury: I still use an expensive shampoo and conditioner. Somewhere along the line - it must have been when I was going to the Cuckfield salon - I was switched onto Kérastase volumising shampoo and conditioner. And I'd buy it for home use from the salon, presumably at a mark-up. These high-class products (why do salons always say 'product' in the singular, even if several items are being talked about?) aren't necessary to keep my hair looking nice, but they look, smell and feel like quality goods, and although expensive they last a long time. Nowadays I have an online account with Kérastase and order one or other of them as required with their app. They arrive very quickly. One of my few regular uses of the Internet for shopping. 

This is the shampoo: 

And this is the conditioner. This fresh tube arrived via DPD today.

It came with that card showing a range of women with different body shapes and different hair styles, no doubt to make the point that anyone can benefit from using a Kérastase product, not just supermodels. 

Only two years ago, in 2020, I spotted this Kérastase poster in the window of a Worthing salon:  

Undeniably striking. High impact, and very in-your-face. Clearly in the last two years they have had a rethink and have toned down the advertising, making it subtler and more inclusive. So that older women with shorter hair can be drawn in.

One thing that intrigues me is that in that latest picture there is an older woman in sunglasses who reminds me of Yoko Ono. Is she a lookalike - or is it in fact Yoko Ono? Here's a close-up:

Hmmm. Could be. A Yoko Ono turned blonde in her old age? 

Incidentally, please don't think that I'm plugging these products. I'm just coming clean about what shampoo and conditioner I use, and making a blog post about it. I have no intention of becoming one of those so-called influencers who endorse and push pricey products for reward. 

Monday, 21 March 2022


If I ended my It's osteoarthritis post on an over-light note, it was perhaps in a spirit of defiance. 

But this is in fact no laughing matter. Already I have had to slow down quite a bit, and can do nothing even faintly aerobic. My FitBit is telling me that I'm sleeping a little more, and on the whole more soundly, but my resting heart rate is up a bit from the 52 beats per minute that used to be the norm - 55 bpm is more usual now - and my cardio fitness is starting to slip. I still put in a surprising amount of steps on some days - 10,000 two days ago - but generally it's more like 6,000, and careful steps at that, taken at half speed. 

There is some good news. Slightly less socialising (as I can't sit in one position for long, as I would have to in a pub or village hall quiz) means I can better control my food and drink intake, and my weight is edging downwards. This will help to take the load off my arthritic right knee when I stand up. 

Even so, it's a bit dispiriting to think that when waking up in the morning I must not only be careful with my back, but now also how I move my right leg - at least until both have had a chance to 'warm up' a bit. I'm constantly having to think about what I do next. Every movement becomes deliberate, with the risks of pain or unnerving body clicks soberly considered. 

I've stopped rubbing in Ibuprofen gel. I wanted to follow my doctor's advice, but it didn't have any effect on the pain. Ibuprofen never seems to work on me: I don't keep a supply of Ibuprofen tablets in the house, preferring paracetamol instead, which is effective as a painkiller. The Ibuprofen gel did appear to reduce the swelling, although that could have been a coincidence. It certainly didn't get rid of it, although the right knee now resembles the left more than it did. I was influenced also by friends' bad Ibuprofen experiences and warnings. 

So far as I can see, awkward movements and heavy loads are the chief things to avoid. And let's face it, the lumbering Melford body is scarcely in the ethereal nymph class. I'm taller than average for a woman, and pretty hefty. But thanks to Slimming World, I'm not fat. I was a keen session-attending member for a year and a half from 2016, then left; but I have assiduously kept up the full regime to this day. My weight is under control. But I could shed 5 kilograms - 11 pounds - and still not look under-nourished. To reduce the load bearing down on my knee, I think I should now make more effort to lose weight. Rationing my alcohol intake even more seems like a good way.

Clearly I must make changes in my behaviour, to keep that knee comfortable. Here are some first thoughts.

What I can still do
# Driving.
# Caravanning, with care.
# Many household activities and tasks, with care.
# Mow the lawns with my motor-mower, with care.
# Walk short distances, with my stick handy.
# Deal with steps or staircases, one step at a time.
# Stand up in one position for a short time.
# Sit in an armchair, or relax on a recliner, but not for too long.
# Adopt a normal sleeping position in bed.

What I should be able to do once the knee is better again
# Other household and gardening chores, so long as I can remain standing.
# Walk longer distances, probably with my stick handy.
# Ascend or descend steps or stairs normally.
# Cope with moderately steep slopes.
# Traverse rough ground.
# Walk on sand or shingle.
# Stand up for a long time.
# Sit down in a chair for a long time.

What I may never be able to do (but probably wouldn't anyway)
# Climb mountains or steep hills.
# Participate in any kind of sport or game.
# Run or jog.
# Dance.
# Sit on the floor, or on the ground. How would I get up?

What I may never be able to do (but really would like to)
# Walk very long distances.
# Pilates.

As you can see, I'm recognising that I may have to regard myself as partially incapacitated. I will find out whether this could entitle me to a Disabled Badge, which would be some consolation for the loss in mobility. Meanwhile, I am determined to manage my condition as well as I can. 

There's an obvious temptation to to use osteoarthritis as an excuse for not doing things. But it's best not to be lazy. That said, I am not going to risk a new flare-up or injury. 

At this point it's impossible to say whether I'm being realistic or not about my future abilities. I may be able to revert to something like my life as it used to be. Or I may have to make permanent changes. At any rate I refuse to see myself as an invalid - just somebody who has to slow down a bit, and take greater care how they move around.

Friday, 18 March 2022

It's osteoarthritis

I spoke with my doctor, recounting my symptoms fully, and next day had an X-ray at the local hospital. The outcome: I have mild osteoarthritis in my right knee. My current treatment - Ibuprofen gel rubbed in three times a day, combined with alternate rest and gentle exercise - can continue. The expectation is that my knee will gradually feel better, and I can be more active. However, osteoarthritis tends to be progressive, and my knee may start hurting again at intervals, certainly if I subject it to any unusual or sudden loads. So parkour, backpacking and long staircases must all be avoided. 

Actually, any part of my skeleton, particularly load-bearing joints, can develop osteoarthritis, and it could flare up in my fingers, elbows, neck, spine, and wherever the body bends and flexes. Let's hope it does not! Mum didn't suffer, but from his late sixties Dad had an aggressive form of arthritis. I hope that's not my fate. There's time yet to change my diet and lifestyle so that I slow down any deterioration of my joints and keep reasonably comfortable. So I'm now reading up about osteoarthritis and how best to live with it, and what changes I need to make.

At least I now know. That in itself is a relief, as having a firm diagnosis often is. My doctor wasn't in the least surprised. I'm simply joining the legion of older people who have sufficient wear and tear in their joints to feel at least occasional pain.

I suppose my stick - the one featured in my last post - will have to be kept handy, even if the present knee pain recedes. I'll need something I can use to take the weight off my right knee - or the left come to that, as both were casualties of too much badminton thirty years ago. (Moral: never abuse or over-stretch your body. It's the only one you have) 

What can I do to get away from the unfashionable 'little old lady with a stick' look? 

Well, perhaps I could tap into the RAF thing. You know, the standard Elstree Studios image of keen young RAF pilots limping around with walking sticks, making light of their discomfort, and speaking a strange jargon that refers to 'pranging the old bus', and exclaiming 'wizard show!' if some chap brings down a Hun or two. Indeed, I rather fancy - or have I simply watched too many dodgy war films? - that everyone in the RAF, the girls in the WRAF included, went around with a walking stick. And, on the other side, all the Germans were doing exactly the same. Ach so.

Well, if I could rig up a flying helmet, a pair of goggles, and a silk scarf extended by a slipstream, then, along with my trusty walking stick, passers by would identify me as a Spitfire hero and not as a sad old biddy with a knee problem. 

Just like Biggles! In fact here he is, on the front of a boys' adventure book, spotted by me in Lyme Regis in 2009:

Ripping stuff. Biggles is of course leaning his left hand on his walking stick. I accept that the Luger pistol couldn't nowadays be part of my get-up, nor the flying boat, and in any case I'd be taking a softer female cut on the Action Man presentation, but I can easily do the determined eyes and grim smile. And it sure beats being a tottering old dear.  

Then there's the Snoopy thing, and his obsession with shooting down the Red Baron. Naturally both of these legendary fliers sported walking sticks. Their ongoing confrontation is celebrated in two songs, the first from 1966 by The Royal Guardsmen and viewable here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWV5FrFITcg

The second is from 1973, the Hotshots' reggae version, also on YouTube, which you can hear at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0qvCnoxFmI

I prefer the reggae interpretation, but in truth both songs can be highly recommended. Remember to pull up on your walking stick, and fire your machine guns when you have the Red Baron in your sights. 

I was never into Snoopy, who was all-pervasive in the 1960s and 1970s, but almost unknown now, unless he has gone underground or has developed a secret cult following (the Snoopies?). I was much more a Womble girl. Hmm - material for some posts there. In fact both are due for a revival. Who will film Snoopy Versus The Wombles? What a blockbuster that could be.

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

In search of a walking stick

Later today I have a discussion with my doctor on my right knee, which continues to be stiff, swollen and achy after very nearly five weeks. I can't walk naturally at the moment. Perhaps in recent days my knee has been showing some signs of improvement, but the fact remains that if I stand or walk on it for more than a few moments my knee begins to ache. The pain is most at the sides of the joint, and in my shin. It's a steady dull sort of pain, not intense, not sharp, and can't explain it from anything I've read about online. I'm no anatomist. I still suspect it's indicative of protesting muscles or ligaments, which I know are slow to heal if in any way damaged. And not, for instance, of a dodgy cartilage. But of course I do not really know, hence the consultation. 

I want to be told that yes, the aching with go on for a while yet, but no, it isn't serious, and careful daily exercise will assist eventual recovery - light walking, for instance. And to that end, I've been making a point of going for a short afternoon walk, with a walking stick. A half-speed way of getting around, to be sure, but an older person with a walking stick is no strange sight, and so in no way do I feel odd or embarrassed. The stick certainly keeps me steady, especially on undulating ground, and takes weight off that knee at the right moments. 

Here is my prop:

And here I am, in shots taken last week, about to venture forth with it:

That incidentally is the technique for taking a one-handed 'portrait' shot of oneself in a mirror with a Leica D-Lux 4, or indeed any small camera. My thumb is on the shutter button. You don't get physical shutter buttons on phones.

Hmph, I can hear. It's an old-fashioned ash-wood stick with a crooked handle! Why yes. The best kind: lightweight, strong, easy and comfortable to hold, and that crook enables one to hook the stick onto an elbow, and use both hands for a moment. It does scream 'old person', I agree, but that's only the truth, and I don't want passers-by to think that I'm merely aiming for a vintage effect. I want them to think 'hey, this person has walking difficulties, and needs a wide berth'.

It may look rather like NHS standard-issue, but I don't mind. It has proved to be a good friend while I limp around, and I've grown rather fond of it.

I don't think it's one of my own sticks. Or at least not one from my first run of stick-purchases. Back in the early 1990s, I began to buy traditional walking sticks with crooked handles as stylish accessories for rambling. They could bash brambles, and fend off maddened slavering sheep, and hungry cows with fearsome dentition, but their prime purpose was to exude 1930s-style charm as I was coming round the mountain. The days when they might truly be needed as a walking aid were far off back then. Not so now. In 2022 I wouldn't step out onto a forest track or any kind of footpath without a stick. I want a 'third leg' just in case. And more often than not, a stick proves to be vital. Snakes, giant eagles, mutant carnivorous plants, and lurking men are all possibilities, and a stick can be a good weapon, besides being handy for vaulting streams and skirting muddy patches. Although at the moment I am not capable of vaulting anywhere.

Getting back to the origins of this particular stick, I looked through my pictures of the sticks in the pot in the porch. I still have quite a collection, including a shepherd's crook I bought in Northumberland last year, just in case a herd wanders onto the front lawn of Melford Hall and needs to be rounded up and chivvied elsewhere. The earliest shot I had that showed my current stick was dated 16th March 2014. There it is, the one on the right hand side:

So I had it in early 2014. But I've no memory of its purchase, nor of ever using it. Well, if it isn't a stick I bought for myself, was it one I inherited from Dad in 2009? 

More delving in my Photo Archive produced no shots of Dad using this stick. In fact he'd long been using another stick entirely, the one with the dog's head and metal collar, next to 'my' stick in the picture above. The pictures I found always showed him using this dog-headed stick and no other. Here's a selection. First up, Dad on holiday with Mum in Austria in September 1988, with that stick propped up against the seat, bottom right. (His camera, not mine: I wasn't there)

Dad at Leonardslee Gardens in Sussex in August 1989:

Dad at Rhodes in 1993. It must have been late in the year, because earlier in 1993 he had a double knee-replacement operation to fix the severe arthritis that had been troubling him (he was then aged 73):

Dad at Rhossili in South Wales in November 1993 (I took this shot). It's still the same stick:

And, jumping forward a bit, here's Mum and Dad having a joke at Ouse Cottage in Piddinghoe in September 2007, with Dad leaning on that favourite stick of his. This was the Cottage that caused me so much financial grief. M--- and I had just bought it, little knowing how ownership would strain our friendship. It was a very nice property, but a disastrous investment, although its value has since recovered. Poignant also to think that within a year and a half both my parents would be dead. They seemed indestructible then. 

Could my stick have been Mum's? But then I never saw her using a stick. The cancer that got her acted swiftly. One month she was mobile; the next in a hospice.

No, I must have bought it myself in 2014 or sometime before, and had just forgotten. Well, it was now at last coming into play.

Jackie next door has a couple of modern adjustable aluminium walking poles, and swears by them. I agree that they avoid that 'shuffling old person' image. Poles are designed for serious and strenuous walking at speed, bringing the power of one's arms into the business of getting from A to B super-efficiently. However (a) they have no crook, so I can't 'hang' them onto my elbow while I take a photograph; and (b) they are too functional and too sporty for my taste. I want something that does the job but is still dripping with nostalgic, old-fashioned charm and style. Like my fountain pen, you could say.

Monday, 14 March 2022

Good news for a change. The offer for Lili stands, and the cash is on its way.

I've just heard this afternoon that mpb.com have now examined Lili, my Leica X-U, and have agreed that she is in excellent condition. They have stood by their preliminary offer of £895, and the money is now being sent to my bank account

I could ask for no better or easier outcome. There has been none of the faff, waiting around, and uncertainty that comes with an eBay auction sale. And none of eBay's delaying tactics as regards payment after a sale. Before the end of the week I expect to pop that £895 into a depleted savings account where it will stay. 

After shelling out big sum after big sum on the car and the caravan, and seeing my capital dwindle - and with it my sense of security - this successful disposal of a used camera for significant money is a most welcome change. I sense that a corner has been turned in my recent misfortunes. Lili has gone; but now I have more money again. I still have to pay for a new gas boiler this summer, and I'd like a new electric cooker before the end of the year, but those things are already budgeted for. I can do what I like with this £895. 

I have already been pointed in the direction of another camera to buy. But I will not. The little Leica D-Lux 4 is back in harness. A Leica made in Japan, and actually a posh version of the very well-regarded Panasonic LX3. A Panasonic with a Leica lens and Leica firmware, but essentially a Japanese product. And perhaps all the better for it. Certainly, the little Leica has been superbly durable and trouble-free, and can still produce very good results. And let it be said, this was the camera that chronicled an entirely new, fresh and independent period of my life. An important time. I feel it deserves the chance to report my future life too. That will also be an important time.

And I have learned a lesson about buying prestigious-name cameras. A big part of Lili's appeal was the fact that she was actually made in Germany by Leica. I wanted her fine lens and bulletproof build, but they were secondary, almost taken for granted. I desired above all a Wetzlar-made camera. But the magic of owning one did not last. I now wonder why I expected it to. 

I've woken up, emerged from the Leica Dream. When the time comes to replace the little Leica, I will look to Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, Panasonic, OM Systems, and possibly Sony to fill the gap. Well-known names, certainly; and I can hardly go wrong; but none of them have the Leica mystique. And none of them will cost me nearly so much. I will make a rational choice based on personal needs alone, and not try to chase an aspirational chimera.

I wish I'd taken that three year fixed deal last October!

Surely this post will resonate with all my readers. I bet all of us wish we'd acted when we had the opportunity. 

On 15th October 2021 - only five months ago - I was coming close to the end of my two-year fixed deal with SSE for gas and electricity. I'd been paying £117 each month. Or £1,404 a year

What new fixed deals could SSE now offer me? Energy prices were already rising sharply, and I expected to pay more, but not anything exorbitant. 

Well, SSE had two fixed deals. One was for two years, at £223 per month. That was £2,676 a year. I took a screenshot on my phone:

Crikey! Almost double what I was paying at the time under the deal that was coming to an end. No, £223 every month seemed way too much.

There was also a three year fixed deal, at £162 a month, or £1,944 a year:

That was certainly a better price - but quite a hike from the £117 per month I was presently paying. Did I really want to pay £45 a month more, for three years, just on the off-chance that the standard variable rate for gas and electricity would go even higher, and stay higher, for that long? My savings would suffer. I'd save £1,620 less than planned over those three years. That much less to spend on the all-electric car I wanted to buy in 2026 or 2027. 

I decided to pass these deals up, and just move onto SSE's standard variable rate, and absorb the payment changes as they occurred. It wouldn't be so bad: the variable rate was capped.

If only I'd had a crystal ball! Had I been able to see what was coming so soon, I'd have leapt at that three year fixed deal.

Currently I'm paying SSE £213 a month - £1,632 a year, which reflects the April 2022 capped increase. Who knows what it will be when the variable rate is changed next October.

For a while after October, SSE offered no fixed deals at all. Was this still so? I fired up their app today, to see whether a fixed deal was now being offered again. To my surprise, one was:

£338 a month - £4,056 a year! That's positively stratospheric. And it's only a one-year fix. I don't think I'll be taking that one up.

Would I agree to this deal if it were for three years? Basically to have certainty for that long? Well, I might consider it. But I can't see myself paying anywhere near £338 a month on the standard variable rate during the next twelve months. So it makes no sense to have this deal if it lasts only one year.

But I might be wrong. Just as I was mistaken last October about that three-year fix costing £162 a month. It's all a gamble. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Goodbye Lili, and thank you

Well, that's done. I've sold Lili - my Leica X-U - online to mpb.com. I've been offered £895. That's their preliminary offer, based on my saying her condition is 'excellent' according to their Terms and Conditions, and I expect to find that knocked down a bit after they actually inspect the goods, which are being collected by DPD tomorrow. Hopefully not by too much. Lili, her accessories, her documentation, and her original packaging, were all looking as pristine as they were when I bought her from Park Cameras last August. But I'm wise to how these things are done now. Almost certainly they will find some small flaw and offer a lower amount. But so long as it isn't a ridiculous reduction, I'm not minded to quibble. 

To be honest, I want her gone. Our honeymoon is now over. It was a blast while it lasted, but I can see that I was wowed too much by the notion of owning a Wetzlar-made Leica (which had seemed forever unlikely, as such cameras are so expensive), and the promise of distinctly better pictures than my little Leica D-Lux 4 could produce - or my phone, for that matter. I enjoyed Lili's prestige looks, build and handling, and did indeed get some lovely pictures from her. I'm grateful for those. But it's time to let go and pass her on.

The sale proceeds will be a useful top-up for one of my depleted savings accounts. This is not a 'forced sale' in the same way as selling my Nikon D700 and lenses back in 2011 was necessary to keep myself solvent. But all the same the cash will be handy. 

If she realises £895, then I'd have used her for 199 days at a net cost of £929. That works out at £4.67 a day - far less than the current daily rental cost for a mirrorless camera. I feel I've paid fairly for the privilege of using a nice camera from a top maker. And I've taken 14,797 shots with her in those 199 days. So 6p a shot. Yes, I'll be £929 out of pocket; but I don't feel I wasted my money. And I do know now what it's like to handle and use a 'real' Wetzlar-made Leica for a few months. 

I also have the many pictures! They were so good that I kept most of them. Lili was a wonderful producer of nice shots. I have to thank her for those.

So what happened? Why did the honeymoon come to an end? And why have I gone back - yet again - to the little Leica D-Lux 4 that I've been using since June 2009?   

In the end, I had to admit that Lili's usability was limited. She had no zoom, just the one focal length, the equivalent of 35mm in full-frame terms. A nice compromise focal length, suitable for most subjects, and particularly for town or city picture-taking. Not so good for big skies and sweeping views. Nor for confined spaces indoors. But the ancient little Leica did have a zoom, and could manage all focal lengths from 24mm to 60mm, and to that extent was inherently more versatile. 

Lili was fast to use, because her controls were so simple and direct. But it was niggling not to have some customisable buttons to give me quick access to extra functions, or different picture-taking setups. The nimble little Leica had those shortcut buttons, dials and sliders, and scored better for sheer convenience. 

I will miss Lili's fixed prime lens - a fast f/1.7 Summilux.  It was extraordinarily good, and made her super-capable in poor lighting conditions. I will also miss Lili's modern 16 megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor. It was a revelation. The little Leica's small 10 megapixel CCD sensor seemed primitive by comparison, even though it was considered pretty good in its day. 

But cameras have to be practical tools; and the little Leica was, all told, a better compromise between size, weight and picture-taking ability than Lili was. In the end, this is what mattered. Gradually I saw that, as an equipment upgrade, Lili wasn't the right answer for me. And recently I have switched back to the little Leica for most of my shots, with Lili relegated to special duties, which effectively means no duties at all. So I felt she should go to another home.

For all her refinement and technical excellence, Lili did nothing that the much less illustrious but more versatile little Leica D-Lux 4 couldn't also do. To be sure, it was always possible to see noticeably sharper detail in Lili's shots, and better tones, and far less noise in deep shadows. Lili was a night-time queen. And yet in good light, and especially in bright sunshine, there was nothing much to choose between them. The little Leica did very well. 

Crucially, the little Leica could take very wide-angle shots, full of depth and dynamism, with everything in focus. That's the kind of shot I most like to take! Lili just couldn't deliver those. That inability gradually eroded my liking for her. Lili's unalterable 35mm view was - to my personal taste - too confining. I always wanted to get more into the picture. And to have a steeper perspective. Something I'd already concluded early last year, when I put together a long and fully-illustrated post called A long-awaited walkabout in the streets and alleyways of Brighton, published on 5th April 2021. It dealt comprehensively with the use of the 35mm focal length - and why it would be daft for me to abandon the versatile little Leica. Yet four months later I went against my own conclusions! 

Oh well, you live and learn. And the experience that teaches one the most is often the most expensive! I'm better informed now about what would really suit my needs, when the little Leica does finally croak its last. It can't go on forever. 

Some farewell shots of Lili. Courtesy of the little Leica. It had no qualms recording Lili's boxing-up. The Leica X-U had been a serious rival, nearly enforcing the little Leica's permanent retirement. This is the sweet revenge of an older generation. 

Rather appropriate that an empty box for German wine (procured from Waitrose) has become the posting box that DPD will collect tomorrow. 

I should learn mpb's opinion after the weekend. 

Next day sequel
Lili has been taken away by DPD, and I don't expect to see her again. I still think mpb will look to offer me less, but I'm easy about that. The advantage of mpb - as opposed to eBay - is that I get my money much quicker, without a whole lot of fuss, and (it seems) without deductions for various charges. I'm only a very occasional seller on eBay - like twice in five years - and if you are not a regular user they make you wait for the net proceeds, which is unjustified and annoying. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

The Ukrainian conflict - soaring car fuel prices, and other things

The fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine is now really starting to affect car fuel prices. 

I went out for some fresh air this afternoon, and passed a filling station that wanted 187p per litre for diesel - I use diesel in Fiona. Understandably, when I saw diesel at 168p per litre not far down the same road, I pulled in and thought myself fortunate that I'd spotted that. But in fact this filling station was being naughty, as although the lit-up sign said 168p, the actual pump price was 180p. I realised that only after the stuff was running into Fiona's tank. I paid up and said nothing, but felt they'd lured me in with a trick. 

Even so, not long ago a 7p saving at the pump (I paid 180p, but might have paid 187p) would have been considered very significant. But it's not so much now. And while the price of Brent Crude - almost a currency - continues to skyrocket in these uncertain times, so will the pump prices carry on climbing. 

Where will they end up? I expect that at some point demand will slacken. People will decide that they must simply drive less, and use less fuel, and may (as some did during the lockdowns) discover that cars are not absolutely necessary in a city well-served by buses, trams and trains. That will force fuel suppliers and retailers to moderate prices, and stability will return - albeit at a high price level never seen before. But we can get used to that, just as you can get used to anything. 

Of course, countryside-dwellers like me will have to absorb the extra fuel cost. I'll just have to be more careful about my car use. Long-distance days out from home may have to be confined to those occasions when I see friends. Long-distance holidays are something else, and even if I spend hundreds of pounds more on fuel, I can't see myself sacrificing longed-for journeys to the West Country or the Cotswolds, nor indeed Scotland. 

All this must make owners of all-electric cars smile smugly, even if their electricity is costing a lot more than it did a year ago. It's another spur to going electric, and discarding old-fashioned and polluting liquid fuel. 

It's impossible to say how the present conflict in the Ukraine will turn out, and with what effect. I think that Russia cares nothing for Ukrainians who want to be independent of Russia: they are its enemies, and can be bombed to hell. Russia wants territory, with pro-Russian locals (who feel Russian and want to speak Russian) to look after it. There are such friendly locals in Crimea and widely along the western Azov and Black Sea coasts, and I am pretty sure its ambition is to take over most of eastern Ukraine, including that coast, as far south-west as Moldova. That would effectively cut western Ukraine off from all its ports, render it land-locked, and give Russia a pretty free hand in the Black Sea. 

Of course, its naval ships would still be bottled up by the narrow seaways of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, both presently in the hands of Turkey. So I conjecture that Russia will woo Turkey as never before. Which poses a dilemma for the EU, who haven't liked recent developments in Turkey, but may now have to overlook those in order to keep Turkey pro-EU, rather than allow it to become a Russian client state. Still, Russia's record on attacking Islamic countries ought to give Turkey pause, if it thinks the Bear will be a good and faithful friend.

What of the Baltic countries? If the often-said premise that Russia wants to re-establish the old buffer zone between it and Western Europe is correct, then the little countries in the eastern Baltic should be very nervous. I think the first blow would fall on Lithuania, which separates the detached Russian enclave of Kaliningrad from Russia proper. So southern Lithuania may be taken into the Russian fold. 

Does it stop there? It's all horribly reminiscent of Hitler demanding that 'all Germans' be absorbed into a Greater Reich before the Second World War - his excuse, for instance, to merge Austria with Germany, and to 'liberate' the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. 

Will it happen all over again, but this time with Russia as the aggressor? The lesson of history is that you can push things only so far. Then there is a devastating and ultimately overwhelming response which leave the main battle areas in ruins for a decade or two. The existence of nuclear arsenals is probably irrelevant, as nobody sane can use them. Opinions on the Internet are irrelevant if the web is switched off. As ever - given competent leadership - soldiers and tanks and jets are the things that really matter. 

Ah, 'competent leadership'. Who has got that? Who can make the wisest move? Who will lose their nerve first? Who is most exposed to betrayal?  

Monday, 7 March 2022

The Dinky Doo Diner at last (and my experience of a nearly-new Volvo XC40)

Having left Fiona, my Volvo XC60, at the Volvo dealer in Goring-by-Sea a week ago for her annual service and MOT, I had a loan car to drive around in for the day. And it was a very nice one, a Volvo XC40 B4 AWD, a petrol-engined model, only a few months old. Here are some shots of it at the dealers, and then not long afterwards at sunny Littlehampton:

Black wouldn't be my choice of colour: I'd want blue. But hey, this was all pretty good for a loan car. Methinks they wanted me to try an XC40 out, and get tempted to buy one.

It felt spacious inside. Maybe Fiona, being a physically larger car, had more space; but I hardly noticed the difference.

Very modern console design and instrumentation. All those displays were completely digital, and went blank when the ignition was off. The graphics were crisp and very easy to read. Fiona's limited digital displays - she is mostly analogue - are rather pixellated, and contribute greatly to her 'old school' persona. 

The reversing camera was more fish-eyed than Fiona's, but the view was much clearer:

Under the bonnet was an engine still spanking-clean (unlike Fiona's dusty mill):

The driver's seat was very comfortable, and I had no issues whatever with the foot-space, steering wheel, or view out:

So, if an all-electric XC60 were financially out of reach in 2027, I think I'd be perfectly content with the smaller XC40. The build quality seemed very good, although the metal panels were clearly slightly thinner than those on Fiona: the doors didn't close with quite the same heavy clunk that I enjoyed with my beloved car. But then this XC40 wasn't so high up in the modern XC range.

Anyway, here I was in Littlehampton, and not much after 9.00am. I fancied a cooked breakfast. And my thoughts immediately flew to the Dinky Doo Diner. This is a small café in Pier Road. I first saw it in 1993, and had never before tried it out. I devoted a blog post to my various visits to it, always when it was closed after lunch, in The Dinky Doo Diner on 11th June 2016. Well, it was now the right time for a meal. It would be open, and I could satisfy the curiosity of twenty-nine years' standing.

Back in 1993, it had looked like this:

By 2016, it looked like this:

And now, in 2022, this was its appearance:

It had become more ordinary over the years. Still, I was determined to see what kind of breakfast I could have, and I was hungry enough! So in I went. The present owner sat at a small counter to the left, and there were two rows of tables. Through a doorway were steps down to more seating. Somewhere behind the scenes, men were talking, and there would be a kitchen. 

In the window a young couple were finishing off the same breakfast. Their portions certainly looked more than adequate. There was of course a choice in what went on the plate, ranging from substantial to humungous. 

I imagined that local tradesmen wanting to stoke themselves up for a hard day ahead would make an early beeline for this café, and might return at lunchtime for a cuppa, but otherwise the passing trade, at least in winter, would be thin except on weekends. Nevertheless, I found out by asking that the man at the counter had bought the business from the original owners two years previously. He had known them. So he'd know that it would provide a steady income. 

Well, I placed my order, deciding on a 'Normal' breakfast (the names for each variant weren't exotic), plus a mug of tea. Soon a woman, whom I guessed might be the owner's wife, brought this plateful:

It was as at least as good as any cooked breakfast I'd ever eaten. Perhaps not the very best - the Jailhouse Café at The Verne Prison on the Isle of Portland currently held that honour, with the Fat Frog at Liskeard coming a close second - but it was tasty and filling, and the fried bread was done to perfection (a very rare treat for me). I also liked the brown sauce. I was reminded of this greetings card I'd seen:

The brown sauce was Daddies sauce, and I thought afterwards that I'd like to buy a bottle for home. It was fruitier than HP sauce. (Hmm: I feel a post coming on, about breakfast sauces) The tea was good too. Altogether a satisfying meal. 

Well, I'd finally had a meal at the Dinky Doo Diner! It had lived up to expectations. Mission accomplished at last. I wished I'd made more of an effort to go there in past years, but never mind, the deed had now been done.