Waiting for the Blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: May 2012

May saw me out and about taking photos once again, but I also got out of the house in the evenings much more than I usually do. I went to a few gigs, saw a few movies, and even went shopping at the mall. Perhaps that's why in the middle of the month I had my first big anxiety attack of the year; who knows?

I also went over to visit my Father, who has moved into the 21st century and got himself a broadband connection (and at the moment it's approximately ten times faster than mine is...)


It's just after eight in the evening and as I'm typing this a welcome, if very faint cool breeze has started to waft through the open patio doors. The weather all weekend has been lovely and despite my cold I've been trying my best to get outside and enjoy it. Yesterday I spent several hours tidying up the back garden and filled the wheely bin as a result. I made sure I was wearing some sunblock, as there wasn't a cloud in the sky. There was more cloud today as the humidity built up, and the temperature nearly hit 30 this afternoon. After a morning doing boring stuff like ironing shirts (there are few chores I find less enjoyable) I was out in the fields again, bug hunting. There were lots of splendid demoiselles about...

Better late than never

but I didn't see anywhere near the variety of mayflies I saw last year. They're out four weeks later than last year, too - although given the miserable weather we've had recently that's hardly surprising. There were no rabbits in evidence today, either - but as I saw a buzzard lurking about, that's understandable.

The birdsong of spring is still audible: the chiffchaffs were calling as I walked by the river towards Huntingford, but the seasons are marching on and this afternoon I finally saw some house martins, so that's all three of the species that I associate with high summer now present and correct. In fact, as I type this I can hear their chirruping calls drifting along on the breeze. I hope the weather gets the message and stays like this for a while.


...to my nephew Che, who is sixteen today; I can't believe how fast the time goes by and he is now taller than I am! I had a nice chat with Che this afternoon via Skype on his sister's laptop (at least until the batteries ran out). My sister and her family were all enjoying the sunshine over in East Anglia and it looked like the weather there was even better than it is here.


Last night I was standing in the back garden when I noticed something...

Tightrope walker


It's another lovely day out there but I am coughing and sniffling and feeling distinctly below par. However, that has meant I was working from home today and at lunchtime I was able to see this...

Just a Friday lunchtime in the 21st century

That's SpaceX's Dragon capsule, being broadcast on live TV as it approached the International Space Station. It was a slow, and very methodical manoeuvre, making sure everything was working correctly. There was a brief halt as the LIDAR sensors on Dragon had to be reconfigured after they locked on to the wrong targets on the ISS, but even with the capsule holding 30 metres or so away from the station, the images transmitted down from orbit were stunning. Just before 3 o'clock this afternoon the ISS reported a successful capture with the words "We've got a Dragon by the tail!" It's a stunning achievement and, I hope, a big step on the way towards humanity's future in space.


Crikey, it's International Towel Day once again. It doesn't seem a year since the last one.


This morning my new router was synched at just 864 kbps (sighs heavily). I'm just hoping that the drop has been due to the damp weather we've had over the last few months and now the sun is shining the line might dry out a bit. Yeah, right...


I got a phone call this afternoon from Dad, who was very upset - he'd been demonstrating his Android tablet to a neighbour in the garage and dropped it, and it smashed to pieces on the concrete floor with the screen cracked from top to bottom. Amazingly, he says it still works, but I've ordered him another one - looking on the bright side, I'm taking it as a sign of how pleased he is with his new technology that he's not only using it, he's showing it to his friends.


In the last couple of months I've replaced the faceplate on my phone socket, replaced my phone, and replaced my router in an attempt to revive my flagging connection speeds. It's all been to no avail. Right now, I can get 1Mb/s with a following wind, if I'm lucky. Bear in mind that at Christmas I was getting over 2 Mb/s.

Still, my new phone is pretty spiffy - it may not have a colour display like the old Motorola one did, but at least when I update the phonebook on one handset it automatically copies the data to the other one. Well done, Philips!


Last night I was in Bristol to catch the indie movie Iron Sky on its sole day of release in the UK. After a couple of missteps in the first ten minutes or so it turned out to be great fun, romping away with a welter of movie references and in-jokes that had the audience laughing out loud. And without giving anything away, the final few minutes of the film left me sitting there, stunned.

There's no question that Iron Sky is a film I want to buy on Blu-ray, as I'm certain it will come to be regarded as a classic. Visually it's stunning and the special effects were first rate - but I won't be buying the release that comes out on Monday which has been put together by UK distributor Revolver. Their treatment of the film has been nothing short of shameful and unlike the disc that the rest of Europe are getting, the release in this country has no extras whatsoever. The reviews of the Blu Ray at Amazon make for entertaining reading, with some of the negative reviewers making allegations of astroturfing by Revolver in attempts at damage control (and let's face it, only reviewing your own company's product is a bit of a giveaway, isn't it?)

I have to wonder what Revolver were thinking when they signed the deal to "promote" the film over here. Iron Sky generated quite a buzz at the Berlin Film Festival and with a bit of effort they could have built up the UK premiere into something really special. Instead, the only proper promotional event over here involving Laibach performing music from the film in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern appears to have had absolutely nothing to do with Revolver. Instead I get the impression they've been doing their damnedest to bury the film and forget about it. Now maybe I'm missing something, because I always thought Revolver were pretty cool people, but right now I'm going to be very wary of buying anything they put out in the future, that's for sure.


It's amazingly warm outside, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I have come down with a cold. Ack. Still, this means that the new answering machine message I've recorded features me speaking in a very authoritarian, gravelly voice, so it's not all bad news.


I was back at work today after a long weekend in Norfolk providing IT support for my father. He's now up and running with a broadband connection from TalkTalk and so far I'm impressed. When I arrived on Friday night I'd got the router set up in five minutes and Dad connected and exploring the web on his Android tablet in ten. The tablet seems to be a big hit - at 7 o'clock on Saturday morning Dad was sitting in bed reading Pepys's diary on Phil Gyford's website! He was very impressed by the music identification app Shazam, which I've put on the tablet for him, and I added a few other apps as well such as Skype, BBC iPlayer, a couple of eBook readers, travel information from the RAC and the Met Office's weather forecast app.

Ice cream sandwich has a few idiosyncrasies that take a bit of getting used to (Dad keeps on creating additional icons on the home screen because he holds down the app icon in file manager a teensy bit too long), and some of the apps seemed a bit buggy (one eBook reader claims it's not installed the first time you try running it after firing up the tablet) but on the whole it's a pretty spiffy piece of kit.

After breakfast on Saturday morning I ran a speed test on my laptop and was amazed to discover we were getting download speeds approaching 5Mb/s, which is five times what I get at home. Despite this, it took most of Saturday for his PC to download all the Windows updates that have been issued since he bought it - as he's been connecting on a dial-up connection up until now, the PC just didn't get updated. The updates included service packs 2 and 3 for Windows XP, so there was plenty to download. Dad was running the free antivirus program AVG, but when I had a look at the program files it hadn't been updated since 2009. I downloaded and installed the latest version, AVG 2012. Big mistake - the machine started complaining that its virtual memory was low, then ground to a halt entirely. AVG now comes with so many additional "value added" features bolted on to it that the computer was devoting all its system resources to running it - there was nothing left for me as the humble user. After uninstalling AVG I put Avast on his machine instead. That made a huge difference. Avast might not do as much as AVG, but it takes care of the essentials and at least Dad will still be able to use the PC while it's running. I installed the latest version of Firefox and Thunderbird and set Dad's email accounts up with them, and then updated Internet Explorer as well (he was still using IE6, which should give you a fair idea of how old his system is.) By five o'clock on Saturday afternoon I'd got pretty much everything set up satisfactorily, I could download Dad's email from Gmail and TalkTalk and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself that nothing seems to have broken. Keep your fingers crossed things stay that way.

On Saturday night we went to The Pigs at Edgefield again (what did I say about this becoming a bit of a habit?) with my cousin Peter and his wife Shirley who were visiting Norfolk. I don't get to see them often enough, and it was great to just sit and chat over a glass of wine and some very good food. I had a corned beef hash iffit as a starter, the Jacob's Ladder ribs and this time I even managed to find space for some Wherry Ale cake with nutmeg ice cream. It was all delicious.

Sunday was pretty quiet; Dad's carer Jackie came round and was very taken with the Android tablet, which Dad got me to demonstrate. I'm beginning to think about getting one for myself! I left Dad's place just after half past seven on Sunday night, and I got home just before midnight after a very quiet drive. I'd mentioned to Dad that high fuel prices and the recession really seem to be hitting traffic levels, as the roads were remarkably quiet on Friday night; on Sunday night they were even quieter. I didn't pick up a single travel bulletin. Before it went dark, I'd seen five kestrels, a barn owl, and a buzzard which was a good tally for the drive across. It's still a long slog, though. I'd run through five CDs on the car's autochanger on the way home after deciding there wasn't anything interesting to listen to on the radio. When I sat down on the sofa to ring my father and tell him I was safely home I was yawning my head off. When I went to bed I remembered to turn the alarm clock off and had the best night's sleep I've had all month - I woke up at about half past ten. Monday was spent doing the laundry, tidying up the house and playing video games: a real chill-out day, although I started to develop a tickly cough which is still lurking around today. Sadly, this morning I was very much back to the old routine and wide awake at five o'clock, lying in bed waiting for the alarm to go off at six thirty. Is it Friday yet?


When I got home on Sunday night and switched my router back on, it synched at less than 1 Mb/s. That's the worst my broadband connection has ever been, and after a weekend surfing the web at Dad's place it felt dismally slow. I replaced the faceplate on my phone socket last month, and I've even replaced my phone, but that didn't help and the only other item of kit in the signal chain left to change is the router. The Zoom router I've got at the moment has been a pretty solid piece of kit, and I've been using it for more than three years. In my experience routers usually don't last for more than a couple of years before their performance starts to fall off, and I'm pretty sure the Zoom's three-year stint is a record for my setup. Bearing that in mind, today I caved in and ordered a replacement. I've gone back to Billion as a brand, because they made the fastest router I've ever used; and while it didn't last as long as the Zoom has, it was over two years before I started having problems with it. I'll let you know if it changes anything, and I'll be interested to see if it lasts longer than the last one did. For the money I've spent on it, it bloody well should do.


It's the 30th anniversary of Blade Runner this year, and to kick off the celebrations you can't really get better news than the announcement that Hampton Fancher, who wrote the screenplay of the original movie together with David Peoples, is "on board" to help with the development of a sequel.

I just wish Philip K Dick was still around to add the requisite weirdness.


I was delighted to hear this morning that Elon Musk's company SpaceX have successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral. It's the first privately developed spacecraft to head for the International Space Station and I wish SpaceX all the very best. We need activities in space that are not solely the purview of monolithic government agencies, no matter how cool those agencies happen to be.


When I hear blog favourite The Carrington Event being described as "puny by comparison" I sit up and take notice. NASA's Kepler satellite has been measuring the intensity of solar flares on other stars, and some of them are terrifyingly large, capable of disrupting the atmosphere of any planet unfortunate enough to get in the way.


Thanks to Andrew W for pointing me in the direction of the sculptor Kris Kuksi. If you've seen any of the "motivational" meme pictures featuring a church that's also a tank you'll have seen some of his work, but he does a lot more than that. Reminds me a bit of Jake and Dinos Chapman's work if it had been put together by H. R. Giger - it's not the sort of art you want to contemplate before trying to get a restful night's sleep.


The magazine section of the BBC news website reports that sales of fountain pens are looking very healthy these days; Amazon says sales to date this year are double what they were for the same period last year. However, would it be churlish to point out that a couple of years ago the same magazine was bemoaning the slow death of handwriting? Or that in 2008 the BBC was claiming that technology was threatening the art of using a pen? Damn right it would. Still going to do it, though.


It may sound like the height of decadence, but there's a reason why I'm sitting in bed with the laptop to write today's entry: I really don't feel up to doing anything more taxing. I had a very disturbed night's sleep last night and I woke up this morning feeling awful - I felt how I imagine I would feel if I'd been poisoned, and I wasn't just trembling, I was shaking. I've mentioned before that I've had a persistent tremor in my left arm for a few years now, but today the rest of me has decided to join in. I don't know what's causing it, although I suspect it's a combination of stress and coffee and not getting enough rest or exercise. I'm going to put it down as an anxiety attack and hope it wears off as the day goes on and I unwind a little bit, but I think I'll be laying off the coffee for a few days as well. For the time being I'm going to put the headphones on and listen to some relaxing music and try to have a nap. What a rock and roll lifestyle I lead these days.


Talking of rock and roll, on Sunday night I was in Bristol at the Colston Hall for the last night of the Candyrat Records tour. It was an evening of acoustic guitar music played by four quite exemplary artists: Jimmy Wahlsteen, Adam Palma, Ewan Dobson and Antoine Dufour. I'd heard Ewan's music before - I have his first two CDs and he has quite a few videos on YouTube - but I'd no idea what to expect from the other guys. They all turned out to be brilliant. Jimmy Wahlsteen used a thumb ring to beat out percussion on the back of the guitar neck as he was playing complex riffs and lead lines and he managed to sound like three or four musicians all playing at the same time; he made clever use of looping pedals, too - I want one! When Adam Palma broke into his first burst of fast picking, I heard the woman sitting next to me, who was obviously a guitar player, mutter under her breath "Jesus Christ!" Adam was obviously used to this reaction, as when he'd finished his first number he explained "As you can tell, I'm the rock guitarist of the evening..." He also managed to segue his arrangement of the Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces" into AC/DC's "Back In Black" and played a composition of his own called "For Randy" which was a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist Randy Rhoads. He also commented on the giant photo of Lemmy looking down on the stage from the side of the hall - he was a real metal head!

After the interval Ewan Dobson came on and played some awesome tracks, including Time 2 from his second album, which was the first thing of his I ever heard. That had the guitarist lady next to me muttering under her breath again, I can tell you. At first I thought my eyesight was giving up the ghost but I realised he was playing a fan-fret guitar in which the frets aren't parallel. I've seen the system used on basses before, but never on an acoustic guitar. I guess it helps a lot with the intonation when you're using extended range tunings, and it also made quite a difference to the tone, giving an immense, much warmer sound. Ewan introduced all his tracks talking through a pitch shifter; "Does he always sound like that?" the guitarist lady asked. As the last act of the tour, Antoine Dufour had a different approach to playing from the other three guys, using the body of the guitar for percussive effects and using a two-handed tapping technique. He was also the only guitarist to play sitting down. Several tracks sounded as if he was playing them on Chapman Stick - he had a great sound. I have never seen a guitarist use so many different tunings during a set; I think he retuned after every number, and he also used the most bizarre capo I have ever seen, which allowed him to leave specific strings in open tuning (and when he started playing strings on either side of the capo my jaw was on the floor.) Finally all four guitarists treated us to a jam with Jimmy Wahlsteen and Adam Palma taking solos - a great finale to a fantastic evening of music. But it didn't end there: after the gig I got to chat with them all (and get some CDs signed as well!) It was a fine way to spend a Sunday evening.


Via the Fortean Times Twitter feed I discover IO9 have been bringing yet more 20th century weirdness to light. I take claims that Germany were launching manned rockets in the early 1930s with an extremely large bucketful of salt, because the article reads and looks like an indie low-budget science fiction film. But the kicker is the suggested reason why the Nazis were supposed to be launching rockets into the upper atmosphere: they were heading for Australia. "The purpose of the rocket flight, they'd discovered, was to prove that we are not living on the outside surface of the earth, but rather on the inside surface of a hollow sphere..."


Another gem from the folks at Photoshop Disasters: Iran's Mehr news agency have been caught using a heavily edited photo of missile launches on their website. It's not the ludicrous number of missiles going off in the photo in an alarming number of different directions that gives the game away, oh no - it's the face of Jar Jar Binks smiling out from the smoke and flames that tipped off the experts that something fishy was going on.


Since I got home this evening there have been three intense downpours of rain, with a bit of hail thrown in for good measure. Last night the weather forecast was warning of an unseasonably late frost. I hope those swifts I saw at the weekend brought their thermals with them...


It's another lovely day out there - when I walked to Steve's Shop this morning to buy some milk I could hear skylarks singing. After breakfast I spent a pleasant couple of hours doing the gardening and enjoying some decent sunshine. The back garden still needs a fair bit of work doing but it's not looking as bad as it did a couple of months ago and I've only got one flowerbed left that really needs a good sorting out. Now that I've finished there are dunnocks, robins and blackbirds clearing up the worms and bugs I disturbed, and there are three house sparrows having a drink from the freshly filled bird bath.

Yesterday I went out for my afternoon walk and while the fields were very soggy, there were lots of signs that summer's nearly here. The cows haven't been grazing on Elbury Hill for quite a while by the looks of things, and it was covered in a yellow sea of buttercups.

Down to the stile

As I walked along New Street back into the village I saw some swifts overhead, the first I've seen this year. There were rabbits in the fields, too. But no mayflies; the river levels are very high and the water was flowing quickly, and the only things I could see on the water were pond skaters. I won't get a chance to check things out next weekend but I'll be back to have another look before the end of the month.


Saturday's blog might start off with a reference to a track from Canadian rock band Triumph's 1980 album Progressions of Power, but the sentiment is both genuine and heartfelt. At the moment the weekends are when I get a chance to recover from the week, catch up on sleep, and grab the opportunity to do something creative. A two-day break never feels like enough time to recover, and even when we get a bank holiday tacked on the end, like we did last weekend, I still feel like I'm just starting to revive when it's time to get up and go back to work. Last night I was so tired I'd gone to bed by 10. In the last week I've been out for a meal with colleagues and been to the cinema to see the new Avengers movie, and while those were both pleasant experiences, the last few days have gone by in a bit of a blur. I feel like I haven't had enough time to myself. The older I get, the more my introverted nature asserts itself and the more I find myself embracing solitude, but more than anything else I just wish things would slow down a little bit.


Microsoft's research division appear to have developed a way of providing your computer with a Kinect-like gestural interface without you needing to buy a Kinect - instead, it relies on using your PC's speakers to broadcast ultrasound, then using the PC's microphone to listen for doppler shifts in the sound to figure out how you're moving. They're claiming it's 90 to 100% accurate, even in noisy environments. Most impressive, even if Batman did it first back in 2008.


I think I may head out for a walk later. The weather forecast shows an area of high pressure over the UK for the first time in weeks, and to my great delight there's been some sunshine shining through the windows this morning. It seemed like every time I went outside this week it was raining, which has been somewhat depressing, although it has meant that the drought is officially over here in the South West. Last month was the wettest April since records began way back in 1910 and there's been a fair bit of flooding. The lawn squelches when I walk across it, and it hasn't done that for a while. It doesn't feel particularly warm, though. I'm sitting here shivering, so I think it's time to go and find a sweater...


I don't really do opera. I only have two operatic recordings in my entire music collection. One is of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, which I got interested in after hearing Mad Lizzie's Aria sung in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, and the other is Robert Wilson and Philip Glass's extraordinary opus, Einstein On The Beach. Despite the fact that it was written back in 1975 and was first performed at Avignon in 1976, this month will be the first time it's been staged in London, and Philip Glass talked to the BBC about it.

I have a CD copy of the second recording of the opera that came out on the Elektra Nonesuch label in 1993, and it comes in at 3 hours, 20 minutes and 40 seconds. Performed live, the work takes something around Glass and Wilson's original concept of 4 to 5 hours, but aside from the length, this is not your typical opera. The music uses "modern" technology such as synthesisers and right from the start of the first movement's Knee 1 it's quite obvious the lyrical content is going to be unlike anything else you've ever heard. Much of it is based upon the cryptic writings of Christopher Knowles, with whom Wilson worked as an instructor of disturbed children in New York public schools. On the CDs, the choreographer Lucinda Childs reads this poetry in a voice that is profoundly calming and soothing. I find the whole result incredibly beautiful and relaxing and I often use it as chillout music - so it came as no surprise to read that Robert Wilson had told someone recently "Well, you know, if you fall asleep, when you wake up it'll still be going on."

It's depressing, though, to see that the web page cruft around the actual interview (including links to other coverage at the BBC of the same interview) misattributes the above quote to Glass himself and, worse, presents it in entirely the wrong context. I expect better from Aunty Beeb.


After more than three and a half years of development, GIMP 2.8 finally hit the streets this week, and it looks like the wait's been worth it. There are loads of useful tweaks and updates to code but best of all, you finally get to run everything in a single window. There'll be a stable Windows build along shortly, but if you want to compile your own version right now, the source is available for download. I've used GIMP for years and if you want a free alternative to Photoshop that punches at a similar weight, there's nothing else quite like it.


It's been a while since I blogged about anyone covering The Carrington Event but Ars Technica have stepped up to the plate with an article that includes a few snippets I'd not come across before. The reported conversation between telegraph operators in Boston and Portland, in which the Boston telegrapher shares his discovery that he can transmit without battery power, relying solely on the current induced in the wires by the flood of particles sleeting down from the sun, is fascinating.


I seem to be going through a phase of movie watching at the moment. This week I've watched both Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger in preparation for going to see Avengers Assemble (which is doing *very* nicely at the box office without me, thank you very much).

I like the way the Marvel films have a common structure: a flashy intro, followed by a flashback sequence, a return to the present and (after the credits) Nick Fury turning up to build the plot for The Avengers. Captain America is an impressively blockbusting epic, with lots of huge sets and great performances from Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving who actually come close to stopping Tommy Lee Jones from stealing every scene he's in. I was flabbergasted by how well they achieved the dramatic change in Steve Rogers's physique. Like all the best special effects shots, when it happens you just accept it as real, and it's only afterwards that the "waiiiit a minute, how did they do that?" kicks in and you have to go back and have another look.

I've liked director Joe Johnston's work for a long time and stylistically I can see lots of nods to the art deco approach he took with Rocketeer (a very underappreciated movie, in my opinion: it's one of my favourites), and in a normal week I'd rate it as the best thing I've seen in quite a while. But I was delighted with Kenneth Branagh's movie about the Norse god of thunder. Thor is funny, knowing, self-assured and well-plotted. Not surprising, considering one of the writers responsible for the story was J. Michael Straczynski, who is one of a very small number of writers living today who really get how to build mythology in a coherent and satisfying way (and I smiled when I spotted his cameo as one of the townsfolk). You've only got to look at JMS's work on Babylon 5 to realise that JMS really understands the fundamentals of putting together a gripping, mythic story.

Mythology is an essential part of the superhero story, and while I know JMS is American, together with Branagh he achieves a distinctly European sensibility in delivering the goods. I like Thor for much of the same reasons I liked Luc Besson's The Fifth Element: it doesn't always follow the expected tropes and it's not afraid to do something downright peculiar from time to time. Thor gets run over, tasered, and then run over again. Chris Hemsworth has the chops to sell the myth on screen, too - it would be very easy to play the thunder god as a brash, arrogant knucklehead, but he's charming and just as much fun to watch as Natalie Portman. I never thought I'd say this, but Anthony Hopkins has probably the weakest role in the film and he's not really given much to work with as the King of the Gods, Odin. The biggest difference between the two films lies in the third reel, when Captain America comes a bit unravelled but Thor understands sacrifice and finds redemption. Thor has a fitting (if understandably open) conclusion; Captain America just - stops. The last five minutes before the credits, particularly a *very* long fade to black which had me wondering if my TV had died, felt misjudged and clumsy. And - guys? That last line? That was the best you could come up with? Seriously?

Still, both Thor and Captain America are fun movies to watch and right now I'm pretty much set for the Avengers movie. Bring it on!


Scouting NY's Nick Carr has a great story (and pictures) featuring a security guard he encountered while visiting an office building this week...


I saw another couple of unusual birds on the way home tonight: there were a couple of what appeared to be emus sitting in a field just the other side of Cromhall!


Wired have taken a look at social influence assessors Klout and behind the gee-whizz look-what-it-can-get-you marketing fluff, I got the distinct impression that Seth Stevenson didn't really like what he saw: like me, in the end he found he was ignoring the people he describes as "loudmouth promoters" and paying more attention to folk whose tweets were "rawer, more authentic, and blissfully oblivious to the herd". Those are my kind of people.

Mind you, Stevenson's article is enthusiastic compared with Charlie Stross's take on the company. I used to have a Klout account with a score that oscillated between 50 and 60, but after reading Charlie's article last November I cut all permissions and deleted my account, and I've seen no reason to change things since then.

The fact that the only person on the planet with a perfect Klout score is Justin Bieber tells me all I need to know about the sort of person who makes Klout a success; I'm just too cynical, too old and too and grumpy to care, I guess.


"My mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men."

"This isn't a car."


Last night I managed to get to sleep fairly quickly - I usually do on a Monday night, because the change in my sleeping patterns - getting up something like five hours earlier than I did the previous day - leaves me feeling knackered. But on Monday night my sleep didn't last. At 1:30 in the morning I gradually woke from my slumber to realise I was hearing a loud, regular scraping noise coming from the landing. The local streetlights were off but there was enough light that through my open bedroom door, I could make out a vague, large shape moving backwards and forwards. When I was younger, this would undoubtedly have scared the crap out of me, but these days I'm just too old and grumpy to care. Whatever it was, it was going to regret disturbing me, and regret it strongly. I got out of bed to investigate, and turned on the light...

A framed map of the Bay Area, which has been hanging on the staircase wall for at least a decade, had slipped off one of the two hooks it was resting on. It was swinging rhythmically on the remaining hook and had come close to knocking another picture off the wall below it. The noise was the corner of the frame scraping against the wall as it swung back and forth. I lifted the picture off its remaining hook and propped it against a bookcase. I wasn't going to faff about putting it back there and then. I went back to bed and waited for the adrenalin that had flooded my system to wear off. Understandably, it took quite a while, and this evening I'm tired once again. I hope my sleep will be uninterrupted tonight - I need the rest. But I'm mystified why the picture chose such a ridiculous time to fall off the wall like that. Very odd, don't you think?


I called in at the local pet superstore on the way home and so help me, I spent over £50 on bird food. It was worth it; yesterday I saw a bullfinch on the bird table and as I look out right now there are a couple of robins, three greenfinches, nine or ten starlings, a dozen sparrows and some dunnocks all tucking in to a mixture of dried mealworms and bird seed. It's lovely to see. Despite the abundance of water, I've realised just how important it is to keep the bird bath topped up, There's almost always something either drinking from it or splashing about in the water. There's a starling in it right now.

And the sun is shining, which makes a nice change from the terrible weather we've had over the last month. When I drove home yesterday there was water halfway across the road in Rangeworthy. I really hope the weather improves soon - I want to go out in the fields photographing mayflies again!