It's not all bad.

On the other hand, I do like mid-winter feasts and shiny decorations, travelling halfway across the country to see my family and going for a walk on Boxing Day. I just have to get through the rest of December first.


I hate this time of year.

I really dislike December, and this one is more annoying than most even befoe it's started. I dislike buying Christmas presents because they're a colossal waste. Anything that people actually want, they're quite capable of buying for themselves, so I get to spend ages trying to think of something marginally less than completely useless to give them, the result of which will be, at best, mild disappointment.

I dislike work Christmas dinners, because they involve spending time at work without actually getting any work done. Inevitably everyone has more important things to do, but instead we get to spend an hour sitting around while a restaurant demonstrates how difficult it is to serve twenty people at lunchtime.

I dislike the fact that all of this is happening when it's cold and wet, when both of my bikes are broken, and in a month that's a working week shorter than most so there's even less time to get everything done. The fact that the end of the year is a popular place to put deadlines doesn't help.

I dislike the fact that I can't get out of any of this because, even though the entire system is horribly inefficient and we'd all be better off if no-one bothered, it's very selfish for any one person not to bother because then they get all the (maegre) benefits with none of the costs.

Finally, I dislike the fact that I woke up at about six o'clock this morning, have been generally annoyed since then, and now have to get up and go to work.


Retrophotography and garlic

A couple of months ago, I acquired myself a second-hand medium-format twin-lens-reflex camera dating from about 1963, with the intention of working out whether medium-format film was a sensible medium for me. The test rolls of colour film that I've fed through it have had various problems which I'm still working out how to solve. Yesterday, though, I finally got a roll of Delta 400 back from Jessops and scanned it with Verity's scanner, and I was surprised to find some actually decent pictures. I don't think they qualify as "good", but they do at least suggest that I might manage something worthwhile with that camera.

On an etirely different front, I grew some garlic this year. Trying to grow it in the front garden, shaded by a cherry tree and the house, was probably a bad idea and the bulbs came out rather small. Happily, they respond well the Clare's technique of sticking unpeeled cloves into the garlic crusher and squishing them out of their skins, so it wasn't too much hassle for me to put five bulbs into last night's stroganoff. Next year's garlic will be grown in the back garden.

<> (the first twelve pictures)

The garlic isn't on the Web.


It must have been Birmingham, but it's over now.

As practice for a 200km ride next month, I've spent a few Saturdays recently cycling out to places from which I could get a train home to Cambridge. First came King's Lynn, which was only 80km, but into the teeth of a vicious headwind which made it feel much longer. Then there were Norwich, which was fine apart from a little too much A11, and Ipswich, which was by far the nicest of the rides so far.

Then, last weekend, I set off for Birmingham New Street. Since walk-up tickets for the journey home were so expensive, I got an advance ticket with a cycle reservation for the last direct train of the day, at about half-past eight in the evening. My minimal research suggested that I'd have to cover maybe 160km, which shouldn't take me more than nine hours. As it turned out, I covered 190km, and arrived at New Street with less that half an hour to spare. I suspect my routing may not have been as direct as various mapping Web sites assumed. Still, if I can manage 190km at an average of 19.6km/h, I think 200km at 15km/h should be easy.

Incidentally, for anyone needing to get to or from the centre of Birmingham by bike, I can recommend NCN5 (the Rea Valley Route). I suspect the time I lost detouring to pick it up was easily made up for in not having to pick my way across the city.


Holiday, photos, broken bikes. The usual.

As is now becoming traditional, Owen and I went off for a week of station-collecting in May, this time in and around Bristol. "Around" in this case encompassed a good deal of Somerset, Wiltshire, and Gloucester, and a little bit of Wales too. Owen took lots of photos of stations, and I handled the logistical problems of actually getting to all of them in the time available. I took some photos of my own, but they were on film (my DSLR being in Slough being cleaned) and so have only just appeared on the Web:


Before and after the holiday, I took some pictures around Cambridge, but they're more geography than art really:

<> <>

Having got back from Bristol, I was full of enthusiasm for working out next year's trip. We've mostly exhaused the Severn and Solent rover, and Owen didn't want us to go somewhere he could get to on a day trip, so my current thinking favours somewhere in the north-west of England, where there's a reasonably cheap weekly rover ticket and plenty of stations.

I tried to finish getting my blue bike roadworthy at the weekend, which should have been trivial, but while threading the chain around the rear derailleur I noticed a suspicious-looking mark on one of the dropouts which turned out to be a crack, or more accurately a break. I could get the dropout replaced, but there are at least two other repairs the frame could do with, and a couple of more fundamental problems, so I wonder if it might be time for a new frame.

Unlike getting the old frame repaired, buying a new one opens up huge new opportunities for faff and dither. I need to decide who should make it, what kind of geometry it should have, what it should be made of, what braze-ons it should have, and eventually what colour it should be. I think I've decided on most of them, though the colour is still uncertain.


Optical sillinesses

One of the many strange objects living under our stairs is a clear acrylic juggling ball. At the weekend, while others were playing Puerto Rico, I took some photos of it. Then I realised that something refractive and spherical could be used as a lens, so I removed the lens from my camera and tried taking photos through the juggling ball. It couldn't focus to infinity, and had a habit of fouling the mirror, but it did work to an extent.

The second optical silliness came as a result of a walk round Cambridge on Saturday, when I kept finding myself using the wide end of my normal zoom lens and wishing I had something wider. Now I do, in the form of a faintly insane Sigma 10-20mm zoom. It's really quite wide.


Small ticket

A curious thing I noticed last night: leaving aside investments, the most expensive single thing I've ever bought was my HP LogicDart, at a shade over five hundred pounds, back in 1999. I surprises me rather that I've managed to reach the age of 31, and a faintly ludicrous salary, without ever buying anything really expensive.

Maybe I should buy that Zeiss lens after all, just to push the record up a bit.


Lens lust

For some reason, the last couple of weeks have seen me lusting after a nice bit of curved glass. More accurately, after quite a lot of nice bits of curved glass. It's not that my current lenses are particularly inadequate; it's just that there are even nicer ones out there, and they could be mine for only a few hundred pounds.

As an interim measure, I'm trying to borrow from my father the lens I used until I got my own camera at the age of 18. Perhaps I'll find that being stuck with a single focal length for landscapes is just too restrictive, in which case I may as well stick with the current zoom lens, since more expensive zooms don't seem to be much better in ways that I care about.


Experimental Fruitcake No. 2

This is not, despite several suggestions, an album title. Instead, it was a cake to take to Clare's pancake party. I had intended to try Verity's mother's rather strange recipe, but making a cake for Clare that didn't contain black treacle just seemed wrong. So instead I made some small changes to No. 1, putting back some of the flour (Dove's Farm gluten free) and adding extra milk to try to make up for the flour's absorbancy. Also, there were whole glace cherries for roundness. The result was pretty good, but the texture was (as might be expected) a bit of an unsatisfactory compromise, probably not helped by my taking it out of the oven a bit early because I wanted pancakes. Still, it wasn't significantly burnt and the whole cherries were definitely a good move.