Mentions of Menton

There’s a nice round-up of New Zealand writers’ reflections on visiting Menton, France, in this recent Stuff article.

As the article explains, there is an annual fellowship for a mid-career NZ writer to visit and work at the Villa Isola Bella at Menton in France, where NZ short story writer Katherine Mansfield spent her final years.

The fellowship has been running for fifty years, and this article collects the memories of some of those lucky writers who have made the trip to the other side of the world and tried – or failed – to ingratiate themselves into the life of a town in the south of France.

I really enjoyed reading tales of squatters, getting locked out, buying a TV to watch the Tour de France, as well as just feeling KM’s ghost in various corners.

As one writer comments, reflecting on her own stay in Menton in 1995:

In the afternoons we took local buses up into the mountains and walked between villages. We met eccentric British ex-pats, and French locals who were unfailingly kind and courteous. We entered a Mediterranean bubble. No Internet. No television. No radio. No phone. We queued with everybody else at the payphone on the Avenue de Sospel.

Sounds lovely…

I’ve never visited Menton, but I’d really like to one day.

Although I do the webmastering for the Katherine Mansfield Society, I’ve only ever attended one of their events – at the penthouse suite atop New Zealand House on London’s Haymarket. This September’s conference in Menton has, of course, been postponed. But maybe I should try and go to the next one…

You’ve just finished The Luminaries

Hey thanks goodreads! But here’s what I’m going to do next: take a big old lie down and probably not read any fiction for a while. Phew! I finished The Luminaries! I can’t quite believe it. 835 pages…

I’ve been trying to read this big book since about 2016 and I made a big dent into it on a summer holiday back then (fortunately the Kindle version as even the paperback is a hefty tome). But I never continued. And it’s such a well-woven tale that it rewards compulsive reading. At times the pace is galloping-fast, and it requires the reader to juggle the back stories and motives of the 12-15 main characters in one’s head all the while. This may not be a huge ask for a fiction fan, but I just… don’t tend to read fiction books. I’ll hoover up a good memoir, and I love to rattle through a diary at whatever pace the writer sets. But fiction is just something I find hard to get inside somehow. Maybe it’s the suspension of disbelief, or simply the ever-present knowledge that this is all made up. So it’s the mark of a very good book indeed that holds my attention. Plus, The Luminaries is about three times as long as any novel I’ve read before. So kudos indeed to Eleanor Catton.

Despite making a start a few years ago, I just had to start over this time, but I’m glad I did. Reading it in about a month was the right thing to do. Plus, I was spurred on by the recent BBC broadcast of the TV adaptation of the book. I caught the first episode, and they seem to have got the setting and general feel just right. The bit that threw me was the chronology, and so I knew I wanted to experience the book for myself, and get wrapped up in its slightly surreal world, and then I could go back to the TV adaptation and (hopefully) enjoy it on its own merits.

I knew I’d enjoy the book: I love the setting (New Zealand’s early settlements of Dunedin and Hokitika) and the infrastructure that 1860s NZ provides (newspapers, shipping records, gold mining, scarce personal records). The facilities provided by the National Library of New Zealand for wallowing in that world are superb: Papers Past is an incredibly rich and useable archive of newspapers of that time and place. I’ve been a fan of it for years now. I know that Catton used Papers Past and a number of other resources while writing this book: her acknowledgments at the end are interesting and amusing. And being able to go and bring up full copies of the West Coast Times from the 1860s and read the news and see the adverts is such a weirdly exhilerating feeling and extension of the intrigue of having read this book.

It’s just so cool.

Anyway. I’m so glad I got to the end of this book. It’s given me a ton to think about. And I’m looking forward to binge-watching the TV adaptation. And then seeing what roads it leads me down in terms of further reading. But I think it’ll be non-fiction for a while yet.

PS: One of the things I was looking forward to, having finished the book, was reading Patrick’s thoughts on it. I respect his opinion on books and videogames, and love his review writing. I was not disappointed. Patrick notes:

I enjoyed the book almost without reservation, both as a piece of entertainment and a work of art; and as a work of dedication and craftsmanship, it has left me spellbound with admiration.

And I must say I have to agree. I recommend his review if you want to understand more about the structure of the book than I could ever attempt to explain.

2020 weeknotes 29 and 30…and 31

I was feeling all smug recently thinking to myself that I could rebrand my weeknotes, as sporadic as they seem, as fortnotes. Geddit? Fortnightly weeknotes? And yet here I am nearly another fortnight behind, and ‘monthnotes’ just reaks of “HEY GUYS WOO SORRY FOR NOT UPDATING IN A WHILE BEEN SO BUSY THERE” so I’ll just keep my spoonerisms to myself and crack on with the updates.

Been getting out and about as much as possible in the last few weeks:

  • went camping for one night in Buckinghamshire, which was a nice little test of our bikepacking / cycle touring setup and the equipment we plan to use in Cornwall soon – as well as involving taking the train. Really glad we did this as we’d seen in the forecast that storms were due and we nearly bailed, but by the time we’d had dinner and the rain showers had passed, the sky was clearing and completely clear by sunset which meant for some great stargazing and a really calm, quiet night – heard owls
  • did a section (two, actually) of the London LOOP for the first time in more than a year – being out of the city was just gorgeous – spring has sprung in the countryside without us and although that is sad, it is just wonderful to be able to step right out into a summer that looks so lush and healthy – walked from Cockfosters to Epping Forest at Chingford/ This also involved using the Tube and the Overground, which was the first time since all of this so it was a good way to break the seal
  • tried to keep up the running – my brief foray into running twice a day for a week or so was good for the endorphins but I have to listen to my body and run 3 or 4 times a week, tops. I did get very good at laundry, though
  • took a multi-modal trip to Kent yesterday (bikes to St Pancras then High Speed train to Ebbsfleet, then nice shared-use paths most of the way) to see M’s grandparents and spent a lovely lazy few hours in their garden – wonderful
  • Friday night took swingball to a local park for a picnic with two friends – we batted and drank and ate while the most ridiculous sunset unfurled itself around us, with red fluffy clouds over Wembley and, in the opposite part of the sky, a sunset rainbow, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before

Work trickles on. We’re all doing fine mostly working from home still, but our usual summer schedule – which tends to be our busiest time – has slipped and a lot of what we expect to do in August now looks like it will be done in September. Which is absolutely fine in the grand scheme of things.

After an anxious few months where we thought the flat that we rent was to be sold, we found out incredibly slowly that we were in fact fine to renew for another year. Weeks of not quite knowing what was happening really tore my nerves (and fingernails) to shreds but it’s nice to have a bit of certainty about something.

I treated myself to a Kindle Paperwhite when they were on offer recently. My 2012ish model with flappy buttons just won’t seem to die – which is brilliant, obviously – but as well as reading on it, I also send articles, read PDFs and try and use Kindle-friendly RSS readers (thanks Reabble!) which are all things that newer Kindles just do a lot more smoothly. The faster refresh rate and higher resolution makes zipping around PDFs much nicer. I also read in bed a lot and liked the idea of having a backlit screen.

Apart from random articles and blog posts I send to myself, I was egged on by the recent BBC adaptation of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton to finally finish reading the darn book which I hadn’t managed to before. I had to start over as it had been four years or so since my last attempt. I’m about a quarter of the way through and, of course, I love the vivid, descriptive prose, and all the mention of NZ’s goldrush and life in early NZ settlements and references to those early settler newspapers is just bliss. But damn the early chapters are long. I’ll get there though. I will.

I scanned a bunch of old photographs recently and it was just as much fun seeing old pictures of friends and family from 20-30 years ago as it was the settings – particularly pictures which featured a large portion of the image showing, say, what my lounge looked like when I was about ten years old. The books on the shelves, the weird… chintz?… that my parents seemed to hoard. The reminder that fashions and furnisihings are often a decade or two late – my lounge looks like it’s from the 1970s but it’s like 1992. And the tech! The giant telly. VHS tapes everywhere. And the best bit: a decent shot of the main computer I remember growing up with. A little Packard Bell 486.

I have written a little just-for-me memoir of the computers I have used in my lifetime and that’s the one I perhaps remember most fondly, but conversely know so little about. So it’s very useful to see a photo of it in situ on the desk surrounded by floppy disks and the remote control for the CD player and other stuff. All these contextual clues.

Have been getting my bike ready for our trip to Cornwall next week. Taking the bikes on the train down to Penzance and will be bikepacking/cycletouring/camping around. Moving on every few days. Carrying all our equipment.

I’ve replaced the kickstand on my bike, which has given it a great new lease of life because, stupidly, I’d let it become one of those components that slowly got worse over time, the bike listing at a worrying angle and being unable to stand with any sort of luggage. Now, a ten quid part and some easy twists of the multi-tool later, she’s as a good as new.

I’ve also ordered a front pannier rack and some new bags – my first Ortliebs! – which I now need to try and install. If that works, my bike will have a bunch more storage space and hopefully feel more stable than when she’s got all the luggage (and me) weighing down the rear end.

Am looking forward to snapping some more film with my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s on that trip, and will be taking my Canon dSLR as well, particularly as I’ve now installed the Magic Lantern firmware that breathes a bit of life into the old 1100D’s bones – primarily for me this is focus peaking, which displays via live view where exactly in your image is in focus. This will be great for any manual lenses I use with the Canon, like the lush Ensinor 24mm f2.8 I picked up a few months back and am really enjoying.

I’m not sold on this current website theme/design. The general overview is nice but some of the fonts feel a bit thin and light, and the differentiation between URLs is not as bold as I’d prefer.

Apollo 11

I finally watched Apollo 11 (the 2019 film) last night and was so glad I had it piped into my noise cancelling over-ear headphones cranked up – it’s the first time I’ve felt them vibrating while wearing them!

Obviously the pictures looked incredible. I kept pausing and it was like a perfectly crisp still photograph every time. The crowds on launch day – wow.

The sound design was fantastic – the inevitable roar of the Saturn V rocket was as wonderful as I’d expected but other subtle moments caught me out where (I guess?) foley effects were added to wide shots, and other nice stereo pans were added for effect.

The score was also a pleasant surprise – huge, WARBLING, WOBBLING bass and pulsing/ticking metronomic tension for the time-sensitive, heart-in-your-mouth segments.

I loved that at the end of the credits was a note that Matt Morton’s score was produced using equipment that was available at the time of the Apollo 11 mission. Cool. Very cool. Not seen that sort of liner note since Elephant by the White Stripes.

Back shooting with the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s


It’s been about eighteen months since I last used my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s.

The last roll of film I shot with it was mostly in Cyprus. I had learned about Ilford’s XP2 film, which is black and white, but is developed using the colour ‘C41’ process, meaning it is cheaper and easier to get developed than ‘full’ black and white film.

The images I got back from Cyprus – mostly in bright, December sunshine – came out so satisfyingly that I knew I would use XP2 again. 

Fast forward to the middle of 2020, the world is somehow different, and yet my photographic bug hasn’t gone away – in some ways it has stepped up with more time to devote to photography across a smaller range of locations and subjects, and the time spent looking at other people’s photographs and editing techniques has led to me having as strong an urge as ever.

I picked up a new roll of Ilford XP2 from Snappy Snaps and popped it into the Minolta one Friday a few weeks ago, and started shooting with it. It’s a rangefinder camera, and as such is a little heftier than some other film cameras. It has a fixed lens, and you look through a viewfinder which is separate to the lens itself – unlike with an SLR camera which uses a prism to allow you to see through the lens you are shooting with.

It’s a satisfyingly manual camera to use, and yet it can be used fully automatically (apart from focussing). That is – it can be, if it has a fresh battery installed. The battery powers a simple light meter which is visible inside the viewfinder, and gives a reading which can be used to set specific apertures or shutter speeds as you wish – or it just reveals if a fully-automatic shot is likely to be under- or over-exposed.

The lightmeter inside the Minolta’s viewfinder

It’s on the right hand side – see how the black needle on the yellow bar moves from about 10 to about 14? These are ‘EV’ readings and correspond to settings on the lens which are shown when adjusting aperture and shutter speed manually. 

I’ve seen differing opinions on this: some say that this camera can only ‘do’ shutter priority; others say only aperture priority. One source states that it only works when setting both – i.e. fully manual.

The camera’s manual implies that all three are possible: page 18 says you can set any combination of shutter speed and aperture; page 19 talks about setting the shutter speed first, then using the light meter to set aperture; it goes on to say that alternatively you can set the aperture first, using the light meter to set a corresponding shutter speed.

The system is simple: compose your shot, check the meter for lighting, then rotate the barrel for either shutter or aperture so that the EV number shown on the lens is the same, and your picture should be properly exposed. Or just set both barrels to ‘A’ for automatic, and check the light meter and focus. If the above needle is in the red zones at the top or bottom of the range, the picture is likely to be under- or over-exposed. This is particularly important when shooting fully automatically.

I digress. This all relies on the light meter functioning correctly, and for that the camera needs a working battery. To my surprise, I found that the one in mine was dead. The needle on the lightmeter had just stopped responding to light.

This was odd, as I was sure it had been functioning eighteen months ago – it must have been for me to obtain usable images, right? But of course little, old batteries don’t live long when you go years between uses.

I noticed that the dial where you set the film’s speed in ASA/ISO also has an ‘off’ setting. Presumably if I’d set this, the battery would be disengaged? The manual doesn’t confirm,  but does suggest that if the camera is not being used for more than a month that the battery should be removed. This is probably more to do with avoiding battery leaks than anything else. Either way, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the battery was dead.

Being from 1966, the Minolta takes slightly strange batteries… Batteries that have since been banned from production. But fortunately there is a close equivalent which is fairly readily available. When my replacement battery arrived, I popped out the old one.


And indeed it was an old one… In fact, knowing these batteries were banned from production in the EU in 2000 already made it a certain age, but, on closer inspection – Made in W. Germany – mine had to be, what, pre-1991…? Something like that, anyway. Weird. 

So maybe it was in the camera that whole time, mostly switched to the ‘off’ position and not draining charge, and it worked for the last film I shot? Or I just got very lucky and the light meter wasn’t working at all, and the shots just somehow worked. No idea. Thank goodness it hadn’t leaked.

Anyway – once the battery was swapped out, the light meter was responsive again. I wanted to get back into the swing of things nice and quickly, and I shot the roll of 36 exposures over the course of a week or so.

For this film, I wanted to check if the camera was functioning as expected – the first few frames were shot without the new battery, and either guestimating the settings, or using my dSLR as a sample or simply as a light meter. 

I noted down the settings I used for each frame (and the location/subject, to help me identify each one later on). 


It turns out I seem to have accidentally invented the Photomemo notebook!

As I’ve written previously, the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s is a bit bulky to carry around, but it also fits nicely in my hands. It feels nice to use – perhaps familiar? And the focussing system is nice and intuitive – and ensures tack-sharp images.

To focus an image, point the yellow diamond at the centre of the viewfinder at the edge of what you’re trying to focus on, and then turn the lens until the two translucent images align:

The Minolta’s rangefinder focussing system

When the ‘two’ images are aligned, that confirms your image is in focus.

And with that, one can head out with the Minolta and snap away. I loaded the XP2 while sat on a bench in Regent’s Park, and within a few days I had filled the film. And it produced some really lovely results!

The whole film can be viewed here, but below are a few highlights.

I’ve already picked up a new roll of XP2 – as well as a roll of Fomapan 200 having seen a few others using this stuff. That wil be my first pure B&W film, so I’m excited to try it out.