“Incomplete and a little strange”

“A Ming vase can be well-designed and well-made and is beautiful for that reason alone.  I don’t think this can be true for photography.  Unless there is something a little incomplete and a little strange, it will simply look like a copy of something pretty.  We won’t take an interest in it.”

 John Loengard

Bumble bees buzzing around pink echinacea flowers

(photo taken at 1/800, f/1.8, ISO 100)

“Incomplete and a little strange” is something I have to learn to love in my photography. I’m trying. Often when I search through my photos I discover little treasures that I set aside because they weren’t just right. This photo is one I classed as “incomplete”. The focus wasn’t exactly where I wanted it, which bothered me so much that I couldn’t look at it and moved on. I didn’t rediscover it until a few months afterwards. I came across the photo and did a quick edit, just to see what would happen. It was only when I gave it this second chance that I realised it’s one of my favourites.

I’m trying to be more forgiving in my photography; allowing more space for life and less for attempted perfection.

This takes a lot of gentle (and not so gentle) reminders; I get frustrated when things don’t look like they “should”. I’m taking it gradually, one photo at a time…

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…as a butterfly

A pair of Glasswing butterflies in Butterfly World, near St Albans

(Photo taken at: 1/400, f/1.8, ISO 400)

My mind today is as flittering as a butterfly. I want to write, but I can’t stick with one train of thoughts for longer than a few minutes. One thought looks pretty and I go to explore it, but just before it turns into a tangible post, I see another splash of colour and off my brain flits to settle on this new pretty idea…

A Thanks-Filled Thursday

Today was one of those highly strung days where every tiny little thing explodes into a massive, towering catastrophe in the time it takes for me to blink.

I broke my mac charger this morning with a horrifying “kkkkkrrrrrrrrkkkkk” sound (fixed, thank goodness, superglue, and my mum’s stash of fuses). And when it was time to leave for work I decided that the worst possible thing that could have happened to me was having to cycle in this morning’s dose of beautiful winter sunshine (I’ve been cycling in the freezing cold rain without a complaint (usually)). Plus a commute that, when both journeys are added together, ends up being almost as long as my shift at work (genuinely stressful when I have a website to design and blog posts to write). And theeen, oh it’s so awful I can hardly say it, my mum *gasp* didn’t buy the pasta stir-through that I didn’t tell her I wanted.

As you can see from this list of disasters, I lead a very difficult life…

On days like this I’ve learned that the only methods of survival are gentleness, treats and appreciating the little things.

icecream milkshake from the Shaken Coz in in St Albans

I got to work early and treated myself to an icecream milkshake (possible insanity in the temperatures we had today) and I sat in the sunshine, listening to the likes Billie Holiday, Tracey Chapman and Ella Fitzgerald lulling into one ear, and with the other ear I listened to birds singing around me. I closed my eyes in the sunshine and pretended it was summer. Of course my pretend summer only lasted as long as I could bear the cold of the icecream, the wind at the top of the hill, and the cold, cold air. Then I ran for cover and warmth, but it was very lovely while it did last.

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Biggest, Slowest, Fastest, Mostest… as declared in 1963

One thing I cannot resist are old books. I can’t afford the money and shelf space for old books just for the sake of them being old, as much as I would love an entire library full, but books that paint a picture of the world at their time of origin are something I seem to be unable to pass up.

The Guinness Book of World Records has become a common sight every Christmas; filling every bookstore, supermarket gift display and any shop where they can think of an excuse to stock it. It’s never something that’s interested me terribly. But while browsing a beautiful little antique shop the other day I came across a 1963 edition, printed while it was still a relatively new phenomenon, and I just had to buy it.

Instead of the holographic cover, flashy pictures and yelling titles, it’s quite British and restrained, while obviously finding great joy and pride in compiling weird facts. Is it strange that I find it much more exciting to read about what or who was the tallest, loudest and heaviest in 1963 than today?

Some of my favourite tidbits:

(This one for sheer weirdness. I wonder who holds the title now!)

Swallowing

The worst case of compulsive swallowing was reported by the American Medical Journal in December 1960. The patient, who complained of only swollen ankles, was found to have in his stomach, a 3-lb. piece of metal, 26 keys, 3 sets of rosary beads, 16 religious medals, a bracelet, a necklace, 3 pairs of tweezers, 4 nailclippers, 39 nail files, 3 metal chains and 88 assorted coins.

(This one because hiccup attacks make me panic, just in case I end up like poor Mr O’Leary. And I love the usage of the word “hicked”.)

Hiccoughing

The longest recorded attack of hiccups was that afflicting Jack O’Leary, of Los Angeles, California. It was estimated that he had “hicked” more than 160,000,000 in an attack, which had lasted from 13th June, 1948, to 1st June, 1956. His weight declined from 9 stone 12 lb. to 5 stone 4 lb. People sent 60,000 suggestions for cures of which only one apparently worked — a prayer to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

(And this one because it makes me laugh in horror. Does that make sense? Just me? Oh..)

Fastest Psychiatrist

The world’s fastest psychiatrist was Dr Albert L. Weiner of Erlton, New Jersey, who dealt with up to 50 patients a day in four treatment rooms. He relied heavily on narcoanalysis, muscle relaxants and electro shock treatments. In December 1961 he was found guilty on 12 counts of manslaughter from using unsterilised needles.

And then there’s the inside jacket cover lined with delightful newspaper quotes, such as:

“One of the most superlatively dotty and entertaining compilations to be published for years.”Observer

“Will be devoured by recipients of all ages. Will be in high demand for Christmas Presents.”Smith’s Trade News (I wonder if the person who said this got to see how prophetic it turned out to be)

“This book is a dilly”New York Times (The word “dilly” is enough to make me love this one)

I’m looking forward to pages and pages of browsing, and for the first time I’m tempted to buy a current Guinness Book of World Records this Christmas so I can see how things have changed between 1963 and 2011.

Do you have anything from the olden, or even not so olden days that offers a glimpse into life at the time? I’d love to hear about it!

Hibernation Time

A strain of unseasonably hot weather this year delayed our autumn from starting in earnest until only this past week or so. All at once the leaves began disappearing, quickly making up for lost time.

I’m always torn when I ponder my favourite season, whichever season I’m in feels pretty good to me at the time. I’m fairly sure my favourite season is spring, with all its joy, life and freshness, however autumn has to be a close runner-up. Every year I welcome it with open arms.

I love the colours, even here in England where half the leaves drop off without changing at all. I like the slight chill in the air; a new chill that is the promise of warm coats, beautiful scarves and new gloves to knit, rather than tiresome. The days are short and the nights are long, but not yet as impossibly dark as winter.

I like gathering warm blankets, dusting off my knitting needles, and bringing home pies (or baking them if I get the chance!) to eat with hot custard. I view autumn as the time to make your home as cozy a place as you can before winter sets in, and a time to hibernate and recuperate after a busy year.

Wherever you are, I wish you plenty of autumnal cheer!

Us Britishers.

(Photo taken at: 1/500, f/4.5, ISO 200)

My Nana is staying with us for a couple of weeks, visiting from Rhode Island. It’s the first time she has been in this country since I was about 8 months old. I like having her here, I’ve missed being around family outside of my brother, my mum and myself.

One thing that has struck me is seeing our life through the eyes of someone who is unused to our way of living. To me, we live in a dingy council estate in a dull and lifeless town. Our house is little and ridiculously built in a country full of rain and grumpy people.

But through her eyes all the houses are different from what she’s used to (“Look at the roofs, I’ve never seen anything like that!”). The town is exciting, and our house is beautiful, comfortable, and cozy enough for her to comment regularly on how lucky to live somewhere like this, and in such a quiet and nice neighbourhood as well. The weather is perfectly decent (incredibly  we’ve had next to no rain since she got here), and she can’t get over how friendly everyone is. It’s making me think about the way I see my life.

My mum chats to everyone. I like to talk to people and tend to get on well with strangers and new acquaintances, but nothing like her. If I leave her for a second in a shopping mall or anywhere really, I’ll come back and discover she’s made new friends and usually in the brief time I was away has somehow managed to tell them my entire life story. On a street where everyone minds their own business, she knows most of the neighbours around us, and leaves notes for the milkman with information she’s found on his mother’s medical condition.

Now I know where she gets it from. Nana is the same. She’ll start talking to anyone we run into in a shop, café, street, anywhere… and the wonderful thing is that in this supposedly dreary, straight-faced country and town, everyone she talks to is more than happy to stop and chat awhile. She keeps telling us how friendly everyone is here, and I can’t help wondering how much of our interpretations of the world are the result of preconceived ideas. I’ve lived and/or worked in London for the past five years and my experience tells me that most of the population are in a rush, with little good to say about anything. But now I’m wondering how much of that experience is accurate, and how much is because that’s what I expect from our bustling capital city.

The other thing Nana is astonished by is the sheer age of everything around us. In the States they’ve had no time for anything to get truly old, nevermind ancient, whereas England is steeped in history. I work next to the remains of the largest Roman town outside of Londinium. Last night, after having a perfectly English cream tea in a small building built in the 1500s, we happened to drive past the Long Man, who has been on the Sussex hills since Stone Age times. We have endless documentaries on TV about ancient British history, medieval stained glass or even the surprisingly interesting history of British ceramics. Just as a few examples.

Her amazement at these things has made me realise how much I take for granted around us. I’ve always loved old, pretty things, but have never really considered how these things are our heritage. Museums and National Trust sites are not just a source of entertainment and curiosities, they’re a precious way for us to see how our culture has changed, developed, merged with other cultures and developed more over thousands of years.

Showing Nana around our country and our immediate surroundings has given me more pride in the British part of my identity. Of course there’s the inescapable futility of politics, the grey, grey days, the smog that is returning to  London with a vengeance; but there are the things to be proud of as well. To balance out the grey of winter, we have a glorious array of colours in the spring. The rolling countryside even a few minutes outside town is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere, and living in our countryside and cities we have a wonderfully eclectic population.

Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to be American or British, and to be British often seems to mean taking on the self-depreciating demeanor so recognised and accepted as part of our culture. But seeing our country and people through fresh eyes has made me feel quite proud of our strange little nation, pretty darned patriotic in fact.

Stubbornness, of the good variety

(St Pauls Church - Covent Garden)

So, it would appear that there was a flaw in my NaBloPoMo plans. I forgot that I was going to be away from internet for the first few days of the month. Instant fail. Except… I’ve taken up drawing again over the past couple months. (bear with me… it’s related…)

I’m still very much learning; I’m happy with a fair number of my drawings, but I feel like a beginner. Over the years my perfectionism has caused me to quickly give up on drawing each time I’ve begun. After all, if I can’t do it perfectly why bother? But it’s the perfect way to really absorb the details in the little things all around me, it makes me calm and happy, and this time I’m determined to make it a part of my life.

I’m training myself in the good kind of stubbornness and have been forcing myself to finish the drawings I start, even if they seem to have gone wrong on the very first line. To my delight I’ve discovered that even when a drawing feels hopelessly doomed, when I see it through to the end there’s always something in it that I’m proud of.

Learning to finish what I start, even when it’s not going according to plan is a very big deal for me. (Aaand here’s the link back to the start.) I’ve missed four days worth of posts this month, but where previously I would have said, “Oh well, I’ll try again next year, or next month…” the new stubborn side of me says, “Whoops, well that didn’t go to plan, better try and rescue it then huh?” I’m away from internet again in a couple days, but instead of giving up I shall just have to do my own little making up and post double some days to make up for the missed ones. Sorted.

And now because I’m bored of making excuses for myself I shall do a double posting today to make up for a missed day. Time to end this one and start fresh with something else.