Thursday, 19 November 2015

Thursday Picture Quiz

When we were away the other week I really quite took to Eggheads.

It's a programme I'd only glanced at before as it just looked like two bunches of social misfits sitting uncomfortably close to each other but now I realise it's great TV.

Anyway, it's inspired me to devise (in my morning coffee break) a modest picture quiz to detain you for about 25 seconds of your busy day.

What do the following images have in common?

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Norfolk Flatlands

Yesterday me and my brother cycled from my house to the North Norfolk Coast at Brancaster.

It was pelting down cats and dogs for the first half and my back brake stopped working altogether but hey, Norfolk is completely flat right?

Anyway it was all worth it for the final section when the sky brightened and we cycled triumphantly down a 3 mile Roman Road into Holkham Estate through beautiful beech woodland. It really is amazing just how many miles of virtually car free country lanes there are left in our beautiful County.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Ziggi You Legend!

If anyone happens to find this dusty forgotten little corner of cyberspace than I must urge you to:

1. Read THIS.

2. Count your blessings

3. Send your very nicest vibes to Ziggi a.k.a. Linda, her two gorgeous daughters and the N.H.S.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

New Blog

I've just started working on a new blog which won't completely replace the rants and musings found here but is much more focussed on a single activity - cycling slowly out of my village.

Yes I know it's niche but it will keep me interested and I'll pop back here to let off steam from time to time.

The new site is "under construction" here.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Car Technology - this would be useful ...

The use of smart digital technology in cars is big news at the moment - I think the danger of stuff becoming more intelligent than its owner is imminent. It happened 12 years ago for me with the Amstrad Emailer.

However, some technology has great potential for good. 

Consider the video image capture devices (or "cameras" as I believe they used to be known) prevalent in cars nowadays. Over the last 10 years "facial imaging" software has grown from a specialist professional thing to become commonplace in even the most basic camera phone. Number plate recognition, which once seemed almost magic, is now old hat and used in many car parks. Cutting edge research is now taking things one step further into software capable of recognising human facial expressions and gestures.

So here's my idea.

All cars should have a camera on board which operates all the time the engine is running. When you are in a queue of traffic and you decide (out of human decency) to let another car in from a side street, the camera is able to detect the expression and gestures of the other driver.

If they make eye contact, smile, wave and do a Paul McCartney double thumbs up, then all is well.

If they calmly drive out in front of you staring firmly ahead with a sense of entitlement (or even if they merely lift one finger off their steering wheel), then your camera will detect this and read their number plate. This data will be forwarded over 3G/4G to the area traffic police who will track down this driver, summarily confiscate their vehicle and leave them to walk home.

In a spirit of schadenfreude a video of the police action will be forwarded to your email account to be enjoyed at leisure.

No, don't thank me....

Thursday, 24 September 2015

"Still" crazy after all these years ...

In the olden days, only obsessive diarists could look back and pinpoint a particular event 46 odd years in the past. However, thanks to Mr Google and one of his retentive contributors, on Saturday March 15th 1969, I'm able to confirm my exact whereabouts. It was Oxford Polytechnic Student's Union and I'd travelled up by coach from Victoria coach station to see my chum Jeff Long and Fairport Convention.

I can remember entering the hall during the start of the set, which was "A Sailor's Life" from the yet-to-be-released classic Unhalfbricking album. Instantly gripping was the pure and magical voice of Sandy Denny but there was something even more striking - a lone gaunt scruffy figure on the left of the stage holding a Fender copy and producing some of the sweetest and most original guitar melodies I'd ever heard. It was Richard Thompson. I immediately wanted to be Richard Thompson.

Sandy Denny sang "Meet on the Ledge" which is a simple ballad of such haunting brilliance I was later astounded to find it had been written by the 20 year old genius Thompson. It was particularly poignant that just 8 weeks after that Oxford gig the group's van would crash on the M1 killing Richard's then girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn and drummer Martin Lamble. In that same eventful year the group produced their 3 finest albums (What we did on our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief).

I became a folk-rock Fairport fan from that moment in March, but most of all I became a Richard Thompson fan. I was very disappointed when he decided to leave the group after less than 4 years but remember rushing out in April 1972 to snap up a copy of "Henry The Human Fly", his first solo album. More disappointment - his singing just didn't match the guitar virtuosity and I gave up on it (not just me - it was reportedly the worst selling album ever in Warner Brothers Records history).

The subsequent decades saw me and Richard Thompson follow different ups-and-downs, and I suppose I came back to his work mainly during the "downs". He had toured with his wife Linda and become a Sufi Muslim, even giving up music altogether for a period in the seventies. He eventually split up with Linda on an acrimonious tour of the USA in 1981 and a relationship which began with the optimism of "I want to see the bright lights tonight" was concluded with the dark brilliance of "Shoot out the Lights". 

Thompson's career continued as a solo but quirky one and he steadfastly refused to compromise or popularize his music - he just ploughed on into new grounds and let me and the general public gradually catch up with him. His singing voice matured into a wonderful rich one whilst his guitar playing just got better and better. Producer Joe Boyd said of him "He can imitate almost any style, and often does, but is instantly identifiable. In his playing you can hear the evocation of the Scottish piper's drone and the melody of the chanter as well as echoes of Barney Kessell's and James Burton's guitars and Jerry Lee Lewis's piano. But no blues clichés."

I will always remember without Mr Google's help where I was on Saturday 19th September, 2015.

I was in Row W, seat 22 of the Cambridge Corn Exchange once again lost in admiration for Richard Thompson at his "Electric Trio Tour". With absolute brilliant support from Michael Jerome on drums and Davey Faragher on electric bass the trio rocked the roof off and gave a masterclass in versatility and making live music sound 100 times better than recorded. They covered several tracks from "Still", the latest (and best solo) Richard Thompson album yet - give it a listen if you get the chance.

But it didn't end there. At the end of the best music concert I'd ever attended in my life (nb I don't get out that much...) and thanks to the good offices of my brother's ex EMI friend Malcolm who appeared with VIP stickers we were ushered out the side of the hall and up through a labyryth of corridors and stairwells like Spinal Tap looking for the stage. Eventually we entered a door marked "Richard Thompson" and there was my hero, smiling gently and inviting us to partake in his (very downmarket looking) after-show feast of Fanta and cheese rolls. He chatted, shook hands and came over as one of the nicest, most generous chaps you could care to come across. When asked where he would be the next day he casually replied "The Royal Festival Hall, I think".  

I still want to be Richard Thompson but sadly all I have so far are the hats, the beard and the "blues clichés". 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

In which I almost become Animated

Ever since I was a callow youth of fifteen, one of my obsessions was to one day own an 8mm cine film camera. Not just any old cine camera, you understand, but one with the magic words "single frame facility". I didn't want to make ordinary movies, I wanted to make stop-frame animation.  It wasn't my only obsession - others included a Fender Stratocaster, an Adana Printing Press and a Garden Workshop - but it was probably the one which has stuck in my memory the longest. I owned ordinary cine cameras and wasted considerable time sticking sections of film together with clear editing tape and inserting links and titles but that was well short of the continuous animation I had seen described in a Junior Encyclopaedia.

For several decades I could never pass a second-hand camera shop without doing a swift 90 degree into their premises to pore over their stock for the prized single frame button - I was always disappointed. I eventually gave up my quest and began to imagine that such single-frame cine cameras only existed in the Professional World of Hollywood and were not actually available to everyday members of the public like myself. My own version of Morph or Gromit was just a dream that would never come to fruition - Walt's Did but mine Disney.

This memory was brought back to life last week when I came home from the Camera Auction with a mixed box of assorted cameras, opened a black case and there inside was this:

A clockwork Argus 8mm Cine Camera made in Chicago Illinois and offering four different speeds, light-powered meter, clockwork zoom action and YES! Single frame control!

For a moment my excitement got the better of me and I started reliving my plans to make an impact in the cartoon world. I became quite animated.

Then I suddenly remembered that in my pocket sat an iPhone 6. A comparatively tiny little pocket device capable of shooting HD movies, stop-frame, fast-action live motion pictures that could be edited and even published immediately to a Worldwide audience via YouTube. Why hadn't I done that?

I suppose it's all just a bit too easy.