Blurb photobooks

I’ve been so pleased with the quality of Blurb‘s book printing service over the years.

The first edition of my book on Charles Wade was done by Blurb, and I’ve made a few photo books with them now. It helps that I use Lightroom and there’s a fantastic built-in book assembly tool, but Blurb’s free Bookwright software is also excellent for laying out an entire book. There’s also templates for InDesign, if you dabble in that.

The latest book I’ve made is of photos taken this past summer cycling across northern France with Megan. We had a blast and would easily do the same kind of trip again.

Making such a hefty book (172 pages and hardcover imagewrap in this instance) was especially satisfying as it makes for such a large object. And the plain cover means the book can stand up on its own, acting as a kind of display item in its own right. It’s great.

I should mention here that the France photobook arrived and had a couple of minor printing flaws. Nothing bad at all, really, but they were there if you looked for them. I sent Blurb a quick note and some example pictures to show what had happened, and within hours they had begun processing a brand new book to be sent as soon as possible. Naturally, when the replacement arrived, it was flawless. And we were allowed to keep the original, which means we’re able to keep one basically perfect version for pawing through and showing off, and give the neat copy as a gift.

The reprint process was quick and painless and really showed that their customer service is responsive and helpful. I’ve seen this level of service from Blurb before when I’ve had queries about publishing books through Blurb, and various other things I’ve needed to ask in the past. It’s reassuring to know the after-sale service is just as good.

I’m looking forward to making a magazine or two shortly, thanks to Dan Milnor’s encouragement. Possibly Rothenburg or Toulouse, or maybe that collection of live music photos I’ve been meaning to make for years now…

Here’s a taste of the most recent photobook project:

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A week of notes

I’ve restarted my subscription to Flickr. I don’t know what came over me, but ever since all the stuff with limiting free accounts, I’ve found that I still regularly follow people on Flickr and even go looking for new people to follow all the time. So it’ll be nice to post things again.

img_20191114_181107Last week I was very happy to see my dear friend Jessica launch her new book Two Trees Make a Forest at Daunt in Hampstead. I managed to buy the book a few days before release date (which is something I used to love doing particularly when it came to new music), and despite being an ebook guy, I love the physical edition: there are maps and Chinese characters and the first chapter looks like this (and it doesn’t look like that on my Kindle, I can tell you)

On my cycle commute home I came to a traffic light on which the red light wasn’t working. Luckily the other two lights were working, but the red one is quite important. I recently learned that in London, Transport for London controls all traffic lights, and I also learned that TfL are very responsive on Twitter DMs for this sort of thing. The light was repaired within 24 hours.

I found a bunch of cool new websites and blogs to follow via Kicks Condor’s excellent hrefhunt – I’m clearly getting older and nostalgic for ‘the old web’ (see also my increased use of Flickr) – and Kicks is great at showcasing the kind of unique homepages (homepages!) that scratch that itch.

Related: inspired by this chap‘s wide-ranging blog (homepage!), and particularly his posts tagged as cycling, I contacted a local shopping centre to ask if they’d mind installing a bike pump and a water fountain. They’re installing the latter in the new year, apparently. (Our local bike shop recently became a running shop – I think under the same company – and inexplicably removed the bike pump from outside the shop.

The Beths won awards at the NZ Music Awards. Yay! This inspired me to look up some previous NZMA performances on YouTube, which led to me finding a Mint Chicks one from 2009 which is a really long time ago. I miss the Mint Chicks.

I started playing Downwell on my phone and I’m so glad I did. The gameplay is fast and addictive, and the graphics and sound design are so well executed (it’s very 8-bit, or whatever). This has led me to check out Cave Story, as well. Along with Steamworld Dig 2, which I am loving, it’s fair to say I’ve found my niche genre of pixely mining/exploring games.

Also in videogames, I stayed up far too late over the weekend working on my second divine beast in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It took me two sittings, because I broke all my bows on the first go, but was pleased to be able to warp away, hunt around for new bows, then warp back and defeat Waterblight Ganon with relative ease. I had also recently sold a shedload of gemstones and bought a load of bomb and fire arrows, which pack a punch. On something of a roll, I shortly thereafter went and killed my first Lynel.

This weekend, M and I ran to another museum – the Wellcome Collection. We went to look at the Play exhibition, which was pretty good. A decent mix of objects, and all the novelty of seeing stuff like LEGO and an Atari 2600 in a museum case. This was the third London museum we’ve run to in as many weeks. The key, we’ve found, is to have a staggered start time. We then both get the run we want, can listen to whatever we each want, and we end up somewhere interesting at the end of it, feeling pleased with ourselves. We went to the pub afterwards, too, making it a pretty excellent use of a Saturday afternoon.

I also enjoyed this booklet which reeked of Scarfolk:

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“Not a travel guide but an elegy” – Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock.

I recently finished reading Edward Abbey‘s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. First published in 1968, it’s a memoir of his time spent working as a ranger in Arches National Park, Utah, in the 1950s and ’60s.

By all accounts, Abbey had a bone to pick with the development of public land in the United States, and the annual onslaught of the American public on its own National Parks.

In Desert Solitaire, he describes, in a series of enjoyably lengthy vignettes, the kinds of work he undertook as a park ranger, what life was like in that vast wilderness, and describes with masterful prose several excursions he underwent while living in this remarkable place.

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Landscape Arch and LaSal Mountain (NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank)

We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it’s there.

His writing includes many rants, for example about America’s beautiful scenery being wrecked by those who wish to ‘experience’ it while never leaving their gas-guzzling cars.

But he will just as quickly turn his pen to describing the subtle majesty of the world around him with a beautiful elegance I’ve rarely found in other writing. Whole paragraphs float past you like Country Diary entries from the Guardian, bordering on romantic poetry.

But while Abbey’s words could be read as romantic, he is very much a realist; his words merely do justice to the unique environment they portray.

I’ve loved reading Desert Solitaire. I’ve spent the past six months or so dipping in and out of it: I caught up with old crotchety Edward as he cleared up after another wave of irresponsible tourists; headed into the big, alien city with him to stock up on food; or trotted off with him on a multi-day hike through unnamed canyons with only pinyon nuts and raisins in our pockets.

The tourists have gone home. Most of them. A few still rumble in and ramble around in their sand-pitted dust-choked iron dinosaurs but the great majority, answering a mystical summons, have returned to the smoky jungles and swamps of what we call, in wistful hope, American civilization. I can see them now in all their millions jamming the freeways, glutting the streets, horns bellowing like wounded steers, hunting for a place to park. They have left me alone here in the wilderness, at the center of things, where all that is most significant takes place. (Sunset and moonrise, moaning winds and stillness, cloud transformations, the metamorphosis of sunlight, yellowing leaf and the indolent, soaring vulture.…)

Desert Solitaire is rather like Thoreau‘s Walden in many ways. But one of the more palpable themes of the book is a sense of change. The scenery Abbey describes is an America coming to terms with easier access to its beautiful National Parks and the perceived need to exploit the same natural features that make them so unique. He writes about exploring Glen Canyon before the dam, and everywhere his writing is littered with a subtle sense of foreboding, of great change, just around the corner.

But at the same time, his descriptions are of an America set in stone, where change takes millennia to be affected by the elements, and eventually understood and valued by its inhabitants. And that’s what makes the ever-present threat of change so heartbreaking. But Abbey can only explore, observe, reflect, and report.

Everything is packed, all my camping gear stored away, even my whiskers shaved off. Bald-faced as a bank clerk, I stood in front of a mirror this morning and tried on my only white shirt, recently starched. Like putting on chain mail. I even knotted a tie around my neck and tightened it in the proper style—adjusting the garrote for fit. A grim business, returning to civilization. But duty calls.

Further memoirs and autobiographical writing of Abbey’s seem hard to come by, so I’m branching out into his more prolific fiction work. The Monkey Wrench Gang opens with a rather wonderful depiction of the sabotage of a new bridge being ceremonially opened over Glen Canyon…

Below is a list of my out-of-context, largely useless Kindle highlights from Desert Solitaire. They’re mostly passages that left me tingling, filled with wanderlust, laughing, daydreaming or mournful. If nothing else, they ought to give you a flavour of some of Abbey’s best turns of phrase.


Continue reading ““Not a travel guide but an elegy” – Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness”

Jerry Brotton on ‘A History of the World in Twelve Maps’ at Stony Stratford Library

On Monday evening, Lisa and I had the pleasure of attending a local talk, from the author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps (Amazon UK)

Jerry Brotton was a very interesting speaker, and it was a fascinating hour spent listening to his thoughts and theories on how maps – predominantly maps of the world – throughout history tend to reflect the beliefs and interests of their creators.

The maps featured ranged from Babylonian stone carvings through Ptolemaic renderings of the known world, right up to the present day, with some postulations on where the like of Google and Apple might be taking us with their seeming monopoly on digital maps.

The talk was held at Stony Stratford library and was well-attended – sold out, I think. There was a glass of wine waiting for everyone when they arrived and, although Lisa and I were the youngest audience members by at least half, we weren’t made to feel unwelcome at all.

Brotton’s thoughts on maps are fascinating, although they do tend towards the philosophical and ideological. My brain is a bit more boring and practical so I was left a little hungry for some talk of how maps are made, and used. To his credit, Brotton did explain that be never meant to discuss the latter.

The Q&A session that followed raised, as they usually do, an intriguing range of responses to what we’d all just heard. Questions from the audience members were often prefaced by their own long winded theories…

All in all it was an interesting talk. Brotton is great to listen to, and an entertaining speaker – which makes sense, when you learn that he is a university lecturer – and it was great to have such an event just a few minutes’ walk from home.

We’re very much enjoying living in Stony Stratford, and the local library, along with events like this one, is a big part of what we’re loving about it.

The Tube

I love The Tube.

blast! Films has put together a really fun, interesting series looking at the life both in front of and behind the scenes of London’s Underground railway. I’m coming at it as someone who’s rather fond of the Tube, and I can see that it might not appeal to everyone. But for the most part, like any good documentary, it’s just a story about people.

Episodes have focussed on ticket inspectors, drivers, station staff, track engineers and head office  and many more. It’s slickly edited to give a broad view of the system over the course of a day, night or weekend, with lots of interwoven ‘stories.’

You can catch The Tube on BBC iPlayer. All episodes to date are still online. Episode one is here.

As a series of vignettes, I can’t help but find that it reminds me of HV Morton‘s series of essays, brought together in little volumes with titles like Nights of London, The Spell of London, or The Heart of London.

Although Morton’s London was studied and written about in the 1920s, the London Underground features regularly in his writing – as it will in most London stories from the 20th century onwards.

Morton’s writing is detailed and vivid – but not without humour. His observations are often as amusing as they are serious. One of my favourite things is that he writes about scenarios and people that you can still find in London today – just as much as he writes about ways of life that have all but vanished.

I love Morton’s books on London – it’s a joy to flip through slices of life from all over the city, all walks of life, from almost a hundred years ago. He also wrote books about travels in England and beyond.

You can read his 1936 book The Call of England online, and the chapter on Manchester is great. It opens with: “I came into Manchester over a road as hard as the heart of a rich relation,” and goes on to say: “I have been told that it always rains in Manchester. This is a lie; it had just stopped.”

Read the chapter (and the whole book) online, thanks to archive.org. (Tip: if you click the ‘i’ button, top right of the ebook reader, you can download the entire book in other formats.)