Well played, meat boy

I’m looking for ground beef,” I announced on arrival.

How much would you like?”, asked the jaunty young butcher.

Well played, meat boy.

Two burgers worth, please” I squeaked out, certain he could smell the vegetarian all over me.

– “Two burgers worth, please…” – ruk.ca

I love Peter Rukavina’s blog. He manages to post really frequently, and has a kind of secret sauce mix of short and long posts; some are short enough that they coud be tweets*, while others are just the right length to tell a story or make a point.

* As far as I know, Peter isn’t on Twitter; if this means all his writing/posting energies are devoted to his blog, it’s clearly a good call!

The above quote from a recent post about Peter, a vegetarian of many years, needing to buy burgers for his son, made me have a good old chuckle to myself.

I’ve never met Peter, but over the past year or so his blog has become an absolute favourite of mine. He writes about island life – which has become even more ‘isolated’ in recent months, but no less wanderlust-inducing; he writes about sustainable travel, including riding bicycles and driving electric vehicles. It was his posts about riding bicycles around town to get supplies last year some time that got me hooked. And he touches on family stuff – beautiful moments with his son, and – alas through necessity – he has revealed multiple times that he writes incredibly eloquently on the subject of loss.

Peter’s blog is in the ‘must read’ folder in my Inoreader. If I fail to catch up on my RSS feeds for a few days or more and the numbers get overwhelming, I simply nuke the other folders and just go through my must reads – it’s blogs like Peter’s that I absolutely cannot go without.


New Photography page on my website

I’ve updated this website a little bit, and added (reinstated, actually) a ‘portfolio’ element to display some photographs.

I’ve stuck to albums/sets as these are the most sensible way of displaying them, and I’ve added a simple but neat little lightbox plugin to make it a bit nicer to look at. (This looks pretty good on desktop, but on a mobile device the lightbox isn’t so well-suited. I will need to see if I can get it to play nicer on mobile, or simply put up with it because mobile devices aren’t the best for browsing photographic galleries outside of purpose built apps like Instagram, anyway.)

This is what it looks like at the moment: a selection of recent-ish galleries, including the very recent latest set of photographs taken just last week on my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, which I love using, and on Ilford XP2, which I also love using. (It’s a black and white film, but it is developed using the colour C41 process, which makes things a bit easier and more economical for developing. It’s got great contrast, seems pretty versatile and, paired with the Minolta’s sharp 45mm f1.8 lens, produces really great-looking black and white images.)

I’ve added a few others – mostly trips away – partly because I gravitate towards these at the moment, in times of lockdown. In fact, four of the currently featured albums have also been made into photobooks, so they immediately seem like obvious choices for presenting here.

This is also, hopefully, an alternative (whether in place of, or alongside) to Flickr. I use Flickr still, and I browse Flickr daily. I follow loads of folks on there, and still vastly prefer it to Instagram in terms of delving into someone’s archive, or finding photographs of particular things, place, or taken on particular equipment.

I’ve been posting to Flickr in fits and starts – mostly because I have let my subscription lapse, and I am now limited to 1,000 uploads. I took the difficult decision to remove the vast majority of photographs I’ve had on Flickr, starting in 2005, as I am now more interested in posting new, fewer shots, than having vast archives online which are less relevant or representative of me now.

It was a difficult decision to do that, and I tried to preserve images or albums which have become sort of ‘classics’ of Flickr, by virtue of being discovered by enough people, or featured somewhere. But mostly I stripped away what was largely a sort of should-be-private photographic archive which felt anachronistic in 2020. What’s left is a collection of fewer images, but still quite a representative selection going back a decade or so. And I am keen to continue adding to it, including the new Minolta film, which is already online here via my new photography page.

I have some wider thoughts on Flickr, but I wanted to get this update up, and it made sense to talk a little bit about Flickr here now.

I hope the new galleries look okay at your end – feel free to offer me some advice if they could be improved. And I’ll continue to add to them in the near future.

Minolta Hi-Matic 7s – Ilford XP2 Super 400

The first day of July

It’s the first of July, and apparently one hundred days since lockdown began. Truly a Lost Year.

Except, my mornings lately start like this: I stir to some indie classic (or soon-to-be classic) on BBC 6Music, and feel comforted by the familiar warmth of Chris Hawkins’s voice.

A short while later I am stirred by just enough motivation to swing my legs out of bed and head upstairs, where another radio is playing the same station. Crucially they are both DAB and so there is no syncopation as I move up the stairs.

In the kitchen I boil the kettle. I’ve filled it the night before, so that my very first action in the kitchen is flicking the switch and not trying to carefully decant a litre of water from one vessel into another. As the sound of boiling water rises, I get out the things I need to make breakfast and – if I didn’t make it the night before – a packed lunch for M.

Today it’s granola, yogurt, coffee, rocket leaves, tomatoes, mozzarella, and some Tupperware boxes.

I assemble all of this and then take breakfast and coffee downstairs, where I spend the next 30-40 minutes sipping coffee, chewing mouthfuls of yogurty granola, scrolling Twitter, occasionally noting down the name of a song on the radio, and chatting on and off to M as she gets ready.

She leaves at 7.30 or so and I spend another half an hour scrolling or reading or sipping coffee until I decide I have the motivation, like this morning, to go out for a run.

When I went to sleep last night my legs had a warm ache from running in VivoBarefoot shoes that morning. Not pain, just a dull acknowledgement of having used muscles I don’t use every day. I am trying to acclimatise to these new shoes and my muscles and tendons are slowly adjusting.

When I woke this morning, the dull tiredness remained, and I just caught myself before saying out loud to M that I didn’t think I had a run in me this morning. “Wait until you’ve had your coffee. Woken up a bit,” I told myself.

Sure enough, not long after 8am, I am out the door and putting the pavements of West Hampstead and Hampstead under my shoes. My ASICS this morning – my muscles and feet thankful for the added support, such to the degree that they propel me faster and more smoothly along the roads than I could have hoped for this early in the day, even as we ascend Arkwright Road towards Hampstead high street.

The weather is good for a morning run. The sun peeks out from fluffy, fast-moving clouds. There is a light breeze, and an attendant freshness to the air.

Someone on the podcast I am listening to, an American, uses the word clique in a sentence, but he pronounces it ‘click’ as Americans do. I spend the next twenty seconds thinking that the words cheque and clique must have a kinship, and then I find myself unable to remember if Americans spell clique as click. Surely not, I think, but then, cheque/check?

I stop occasionally, to cross roads, to allow pedestrians a wide berth, or to catch my breath. But my legs need less time to recover, and this morning I discover that, pushing off, I don’t so much limp and lurch forward as slightly bounce back into my jogging, and then running, pace.

This small, unexpected burst carries me forward a few steps further and I settle into a decent rhythm. I am later told by my running apps that my pace was decent. Very much so for a morning run, when my muscles aren’t fully warmed up, or my joints sufficiently oiled.

I sit in the park by my house to massage my calf muscles. A couple and another woman pass each other and catch up. They are familiar with one another. They ask each other how things are going. The unspoken implication is “…during all of this,” as so many questions are at the moment.

They talk of webcams and Zoom meetings. One of the ladies is newly pregnant. Congratulations are given and received. They stand in the middle of the path and other park users edge around them, or pause just long enough for one of this triangle of conversing humans to notice and they all move, as one, to the side.

My calf muscles are feeling better for being massaged for a few minutes. I rise, relieved that my legs feel warm and used, but not sore or tight. I walk the short distance home.

I lock the door behind me, remove my running belt, earpiece and phone to the counter, and wash my hands. I pour myself the last of the coffee and I come to sit on the patio to drink it. Dappled sunlight falls on the patio, the sunflowers, and on me.

And then I write this.

2020 weeknotes 24-26

Another couple of weeks have floated by, as if on the wind.

The weather has changed over that time, too, from bright sunshine and temperatures over 30 degrees, to heavy rain, high winds and even some thunder. Nothing too unusual for summertime, but more noticeable than usual, perhaps.

Have managed to be outside a lot these past few weeks. A couple of socially-distanced picnics were attended – one in east London, where we decided to cycle over instead of taking the train, which was pretty pleasant. And that picnic was a lovely one as it was an annual affair and felt almost normal.

No team sports this time round, but nice catch-ups and some lovely smiles.

And then another smaller after-work picnic with friends who brought a solar oven which… almost worked! But late sun is less powerful, and trees kept obscuring the sunbeams.

I also took my recent daily routine of walking an hour before and after work to running before and after work most days. Initially I wanted to see how my body would react. Some days I run and feel like I could go again later, while other days I run and for days after, running is the last thing on my mind.

Turns out, my body (and mind) took to it rather well. I clocked up nearly 50 miles / 75 km in a week where I ran up to 5km before and after work, and then a half marathon on the weekend. One of those shorter runs was in M’s VivoBarefoot shoes, and I have to say I really enjoyed the new sensation. They make me feel very in contact with the ground – much more mindful of the surface I’m running over, and looking for edges and small sharp stones. Even running over the nobbly pedestrian crossing paving stones for visually impaired folks is a touch uncomfortable.

The motion is quite different because, unlike padded trainers, you’re on your own. Every impact and movement is just… your feet and ankles and knees. So instead of foam and air bubbles and padding, it’s your tendons, muscles and bones that need to absorb every step and push off for the next. It makes one hyper-aware of your gait and pace and position and the way your feet land.

I ran again in the Barefoots today, and spent a long day of walking in them last week. I’m on the verge of needing new running shoes and am at a crossroads: do I go with a new pair of VivoBarefoots to call my own? Or play it safe and replace my tried-and-tested Asics for a third time? Decisions, decisions…

In other news, I made some more progress in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For a while now I’d been coasting, and using the progress map to explore places I’d somehow ignored so far. Inevitably there were a few places around where you first start the game which I’d overlooked in my ever-exploratory journeys.

But last week I tackled my third Divine Beast of four – Medoh, the bird one. I have a suspicion that I could have tackled this one earlier, as it felt easier than the others I’ve done. I always wondered if they were all equally difficult as you can tackle them in whatever order you like.

The ‘reward’/super-power it gives you is also not quite as profound as the other two I have so far, and would have been more useful earlier in the game as it helps climbing when your stamina isn’t high enough to tackle big climbs.

But anyway, a nice milestone and I will continue to level up my hearts – my stamina wheel is now full – and get into a better routine of re-stocking on weapons, meals and clothing before tackling new areas. Then it’s one more Divine Beast and then… well, the endgame I guess.

I have definitely been procrastinating because, although it’s a cliche, I never want this game to end.

Robin activity in the garden has diminished somewhat. The next set of fledglings have all but gone, moved on to pastures new. One adult returned one day looking extremely sorry for itself, and having ‘lost’ its tail. Very peculiar.

We’d had some pretty unsettled weather, so maybe it had an accident – or a run-in with a cat. Either way, we see this one now and then, but after seeing blue tits, great tits and even coal tits recently, we now see very few birds at all. I suppose that’s just the way of it.

Hopefully we’ll see some more if the robins get another brood in before summer ends.

I did have one lovely moment with one of the robin babies who visited the garden all on its own and perched for what was at least three or four minutes, almost motionless, just occasionally moving its head around, looking up, down, all around, just taking it all in. Quite a remarkable sight. I couldn’t look away.

2020 weeknote 23 – biking and birdsong

The longer I leave not writing these weeknotes, the less likely it is that they’ll ever happen.

I tried to write something well-formed about the recent black lives matter stuff and failed miserably. I think, like Phil said, it can come across somewhat insincere and really, I don’t have much I can add to the discourse.

It’s been extremely gratifying seeing the universal torrent of support in my ‘circle’ though. I didn’t think my friends or family harboured any racists, but it’s also nice to have that confirmed so vociferously.

Meanwhile, I had a week of work stuff which culminated in me actually getting something unusual done and to a quality or standard that I hadn’t anticipated being able to achieve. This came after two weeks of anxiety about said task, so that was extremely gratifying.

Tasks like these (particularly the unexpected ones) are made much harder by this working from home lark. In an office, it can be a lot easier to just bumble around supporting each other and nudging each other along in things. It’s much harder to be given a seemingly quite large task and feeling as though you’re on your own – even if you’re not, really.

It’s just another little stepping stone along working from home journey, I guess. I don’t see us changing our working practices any time soon – touching all the wood I can, our WFH arrangements have worked out pretty well for the most part. We might need, mostly on an individual basis, to pop into the office now and then to get something done, but most of what we do can be done remotely.

My normal commute to work is just under an hour’s walk, and recently I decided to start incorporating such a walk into my day. A week in, I can say it has been very good for my body and mind to set out for an hour before and after my usual working day to stretch my legs.

I also decided to walk a different way each time and I used this nifty little web app to show me, roughly, how far I can walk in 30 minutes.

I’ve used it before – oddly enough, to show me how far I can walk on my lunch break – and it’s pretty accurate. I have a feeling, due to the fuzzy edges, that it is doing something clever by seeing what roads are straighter and how far you can actually get in a particular direction – a simple circle plot would be helpful enough, but there’s something reassuringly accurate about the fuzzy edges.

To show (hopefully) what I mean, here’s how far the Queen can walk in 30 minutes from Buckingham Palace:

The fuzzy edges on the other side of bridges imply that there is some actual routefinding going on – although I’m not sure what it means when the lines extend out into the river itself. Either way, it’s a useful app.

The weekend before, M and I headed up to Hampstead Heath at dawn on a Saturday to have a picnic and listen to the birds while the sun came up. The conditions for this were perfect and, as we’re now in a period of cooler, wetter weather, I am especially glad we made the effort.

As well as snapping some pictures, I also set my Tascam sound recorder up in a small glade and left it for an hour. This is by far the longest and most remote recording I’ve made (in terms of leaving the recorder to return to later). It picked up some really nice birdsong – not quite a full, rapturous dawn chorus as it’s a bit late in Spring for that – as well as the odd inquisitive bird and some distant sounds.

Having spent a bit of time recently tinkering with both audio and video editing software – Reaper and Lightworks, respectively – I managed to make a little video of the sound file. Just a still image, and the audio playing in the background.

To go one step further though, I really wanted a way to visualise the audio and provide just a hint of movement on the still image as the audio plays – so three cheers for Headliner which has enabled me to achieve exactly what I wanted, with really smart, intuitive tools, for free, through a nice web interface. Amazing!

Headliner is predominantly for podcasters to promote their shows via more video-based platforms, and more usually for shorter clips to be turned into short video clips on Twitter or Instagram. But for whatever reason, the platform also allows you to upload what they describe as a ‘full show’ and still embed a waveform. I guess it’s so that podcasters can stick a whole episode on a video platform with the same effects. Either way, it’s a great service and (for now?) has a very generous free tier.

And here’s the result of my Hampstead Heath field recording:

Finally, this weekend I was in the mood for a bike ride, so I headed south and west, past Holland Park and down just beyond Hammersmith Bridge. The bridge is actually currently closed to road traffic, which I hadn’t realised. It made the road on the other side (delightfully named Castelnau) very quiet and a joy to ride down for a bit, until it was time for me to head back.

It was a fairly unorganised little meander, but nice to still get out on the bike while the roads are still kinda quiet. They’re getting back to normal very quickly though, so those days are numbered.

Likewise, some of the roads through Kensington and Hammersmith have had crash barriers added to the bus lane to make them much more cycle friendly. It remains to be seen if these will give way to more permanent solutions, but it’s a nice gesture for now, and makes for very pleasant riding.

I really hope those who have gotten out onto busy city streets by bike more, or possibly even for the first time, find themselves able to after *waves hands* all this is over. But we’ll see.

And finally, as well as moving my website from one host to another recently, this has also meant I’ve moved from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

This means I’m now back using webspace that I can control, and means I can now do more things with it.

I think I flipflop between wanting the level of control (and responsibility) that comes with running webspace and self-hosted WordPress every few years. Sometimes when renewal is approaching I decide I just cannot be arsed and want nothing more than an easy life and a simple blog. Other times, like now, I decide actually I do want a bit more breathing room and control, and don’t mind the extra complexity involved.

This time around, what really sealed the deal was that I could get hosting and my domain name renewed for less than it was going to cost to renew my domain and the domain referral WordPress.com offered.

I also want the opportunity to muck around with HTML and CSS just like I used to, and a place to either experiment with little single-purpose websites, or investigate static site generators or whatnot.

I also want a space where I can put a tiny handful of web projects from my past, along with little standalone essays, photographic portfolios, or similar.

The long and short of all this is that I’ve chucked together a little subdomain where I can start flinging folders and files and just basically play around with web design without worrying about it impacting/breaking my actual blog (which is never not a pain in the arse to fix).

This has been in part brought about by all the stuff I’ve been recently reading about the resurgent interest in personal websites and non-mainstream platforms for personal web content. It’s nice to finally have a place to play with this stuff again.

Going into an HTML file, making an edit, and then refreshing the page in the browser is just such a delightfully enjoyable process – and believe me when I say I feel this more than ever as my blog is now running WordPress’ bizarre, modern Gutenberg post editor and it is taking me a while to get used to. I want to learn to use it, but god it feels unintuitive so far.