Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A striking amount of documentation

Anyone reading the last post must have wondered how I could possibly remember where I had driven on holiday over the last eleven months. Well, I do have a very good memory for this kind of thing. I pay attention to routes taken, and places visited.

But I can also turn to one or more of the records I maintain as I go along. There was, for instance, the diary app on my phone, which records planned journeys of any length, and the destinations of day trips while on holiday. Thus my diary for the middle of June 2017, which covered my last days in Northumberland, and my first days in Scotland:

But if there were any doubt about where I was on a particular day, there are other records, also on my phone, in a series of 'diaries'. Photo Diary lists the places where I took pictures. These were the mid-June entries:

And of course, there were the photographs themselves, all captioned by me, but in any case containing embedded EXIF information that would vouch for the date and time taken, and much else. 

Money Diary is a very large annual spreadsheet that records all my bank and credit card transactions, and many of my cash transactions too. And (among many other details) says where the money was spent: 

Then there's Caravan Diary, which mentions what I did and where I went, while pitched at a particular site:

And if anything happens with my car, there will always be an entry in Car Diary:

During 2017 there has been yet another diary kept, this one to record in great detail what I've been eating, in connection with my long-term Slimming World aim to lose three stones in weight. Food Diary shows meals out highlighted in pink: 

There may also be various other contemporary notes on the phone, recording this and that, which would show where I went on any day. And of course I meet people everywhere, and sometimes include the encounter in a blog post. I dare say some of these people would remember me!

All these notes and pictures integrate perfectly with each other, and it would surely be possible to reconstruct every day of every holiday in astonishing detail. And to do it for years past. 

I sometimes wonder why I maintain all these records. Obviously it all comes naturally and easily: I have an undoubted passion for chronicling my days, even at home. But to what end, really? 

Perhaps I need to leave a well-defined footprint, so that my personal history doesn't have to depend on a fallible or selective memory. And so that, if anyone wants to know what I did, and where I went, and if I really met who I say I did, they don't have to accept my own unsupported word: I can show pictures and supporting facts and background detail.

Who is actually going to ask? I've no illusions: nobody is very likely to. But you never know. 

There are nightmare situations in the back of my mind, in which my ex-spouse or later ex-partner might seek to rake over the past again, with a view to extracting some additional advantage which they think they must be entitled to. Keeping records, including original paper documents, as well as electronic notes and spreadsheets and copies of past emails, is a defence against that. My personal capital was taken. I want to fend off attacks on what's left - my home and pension income.  

And (unlikely, but still possible) there might be enquiries from the police. I'm thinking of enquiries arising from mistaken identity, or a mistaken sighting of my car. In that case, I might have to show the police that it wasn't me - or couldn't have been my car - at or near the crime scene in Hackney, or Lewisham, or Notting Hill, or wherever. Because here's a picture of me at the relevant time, taking a selfie on the Scottish Border. And here's the credit card statement showing that soon after I paid for seven nights at the Balbirnie Caravan and Motorhome Club Site at Markinch. And here's all kinds of contemporary notes - please take copies of the whole lot if you wish, and check it all out - which together demonstrate that I was many hundreds of miles away from the crime scene. 

So my careful records might establish an unassailable alibi, and save me the stress and grief of enquiries.  

Am I paranoid? Well, there is a fundamental vulnerability in my life. My immediate family have vanished. There is nobody to step in and rescue me. No safety nets of any kind. So I must look to my own defences, and maintaining a comprehensive set of records is one way to make sure that I can account for my movements and show what really happened. 

The blog is also part of this. It's a place to put things on record, possibly forever. Many people fear the Internet, and see it as a curse, an enormous threat to their personal security and privacy. But I take a different view. I want the Internet to preserve what I place on it, and make all of it easily discoverable. And to disseminate it widely, so that deleting part won't matter, because multiple copies exist - too many for a malevolently-inclined person or agency to erase. I want the future to know that I existed, and that my life was like this.

So long as human civilisation persists, there will be the Internet or its successors, and being part of it ensures that I can't vanish into oblivion without a trace. Here's a thought. What if some archaelogist in the year 9595, investigating a waste dump on the Old Planet, unearths an ancient electronic device, and, reading its indelible contents, sees all the stuff illustrated in this post? 

'At last! A personal record of ordinary life. We haven't seen anything quite like this before. Most people of the time didn't bother. She seems to have been an older woman given to travel. You can even see what she ate, although I'm not sure what a banana was.'     

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A striking holiday map

I made a base map on an Excel spreadsheet to plot things on. Each spreadsheet cell was enlarged and reshaped to be a square covering 10 kilometres by 10 kilometres. If you know where Lundy island is, you can see what 'one cell' looks like on this map, when filled in grey. The big squares that cover the map are 100 kilometres by 100 kilometres in size, and represent the National Grid used in Ordnance Survey maps.

I have plotted the coastline of Great Britain onto this, on the basis that if any 10km x 10km cell contains a section of tidal coast, anywhere in it, then that cell will be filled in grey. This has resulted in a map with only a vaguely-defined coastline, but that is good enough for what I might use this base map for. It's for plotting things whose location doesn't need to be very precisely shown, just somewhere inside a 10km x 10km square. Such imprecision can be useful. I could for example use this map to indicate where my various friends live around the country, but without giving their exact locations away.

The Ordnance Survey calls this a raster map, as opposed to a vector one. A vector map is made up of points that can have colour and shape, but also have the ability to contain a wealth of data. They are pretty well data files with a spatial location. Raster maps are made up of straightforward pixels. You can colour them and resize them, but not much else. But that simplicity is all that is required for many applications.

So what does my map show?

I have plotted where my home is in Sussex - that is, in which 100 square kilometre square it lies. It's a yellow-filled square labelled 'Home'. I have plotted other yellow-filled squares too. Those are all my caravan holiday destinations in 2017. And the red-filled squares show all my holiday travellings, not just the journeys to each site, but where I went once there. (I haven't distinguished single visits from repeat visits)

The map therefore reveals where I went while on holiday during 2017.

2017 was not an unusual year. In other years, at least since 2008, the pattern has been similar. I have always concentrated on the West Country, South Wales, and parts of the North of England and Scotland. Except for the Lake District, I've tended not to visit the North West. Nor have I been much to East Anglia. But if all my journeys in all years were plotted, including all the travelling when not on holiday, most of the map squares would be red (indicating at least one visit) and not very many would be left blank. I do get around!

I was away for 83 nights in 2017. I covered 7,041 holiday miles in Fiona. 2,580 of them towing the caravan. None of this is untypical.

Clearly I give travel priority over most other things. My attitude is: I'm completely free to do it, with nobody to look after, no important time restraints, and only myself to please; I have sufficient money to go far and wide; and I have the inclination. Going to new photographic locations is another strong incentive to hit the road, though not the only one.

I can see issues on the horizon, however. How long will Fiona and my caravan really last? Will the cost of diesel fuel become prohibitive? Will health problems arise, to make a long journey difficult to manage? Will I gradually lose the appetite for going far from home? I certainly find travelling more tiring than I did ten years ago. In 2007 M--- and I drove 5,899 miles around New Zealand in the space of 50 days. I handled most of that. It was a magnificent adventure, but the travelling was relentless. I wouldn't relish doing the same now.

But there are trips in this country - well, broadly-speaking the British Isles - that I'd still love to do. I haven't forgotten my plan to take the caravan to Shetland. And to the Outer Hebrides. And there's all of Ireland to see. I keep on mentioning the North European Tour to Sweden to my friends. I will commit myself to one or two of these as soon as my bank loans get fully repaid in mid-2019.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Cat and mouse

It was one of those situations that you can sometimes catch on camera. I was still in Swansea, but I'd left the art gallery and was walking back to Fiona through the main shopping area in the centre of the city.

Walking along, I saw a photographic scene developing before me. Yes, there was something about the man in the seat. He was looking at the girls passing by. He was intent. I had Tigerlily in my hand, all ready to take pictures. I held her up, framed the shot, took this, and walked on. All in one practiced movement. Nobody noticed.

This is in fact a cropped version of the original photo: I've eliminated the unwanted bits on the left and right edges. Let's examine it.

As I always do in cities, I like to capture aspects of the local urban scene. The electrical gadget exchange shop was part of that scene. The man, idling time away on the seat, seemed part of it. The girls - doubtless students - were part of it too. The picture came together for me as I approached, and I had time to recognise it and get ready for a nonchalant passing shot. It was made complete by one of the girls turning to face the lens with the whites of her eyes showing, just as I fired the shutter.

Back at the caravan, hours later, I was running through the day's pictures to assess their potential for retention. This shot seemed worthy of especial examination. Something was going on here.

Look first at the man's attitude. He's relaxed, but not just staring into space. He's definitely looking at the group of three girls on the left, led by the blonde girl with blue jeans. The tilt of his head, and the way he's put his fingertips to his lips, both suggest a focused interest in those girls, and possibly one of them in particular.

Let's zoom in.

Now call me fanciful, and looking for things that aren't really there, but I think that the girl facing the camera lens isn't merely chatting to the girls walking with her, even though the blonde girl is turned towards her, as if hearing some urgent news. The eye we can see is looking out of their tight group, at the man on the seat. And the facial expression suggests surprise, even concern. She could be gaping with dismay, and telling the blonde girl that she has seen somebody she didn't want to encounter.

Can you see it too?

I'm thinking it's a man and a girl who have split up, but he won't let go. He thinks he has the right to remind her that he's still around, watching where she goes, and who with. So he's there on the seat. And she feels intimidated. That's what it looks like to me. 

My apologies, of course, to the people concerned if it's nothing at all like that. He could for instance be someone she has fancied for ages, but hasn't yet been able to talk to, and she is nervous about how to arrange that. But he looks like a man who has ample self-confidence, someone who would make it easy for her to speak to him, if he sensed any attraction. And her expression seems more fearful than wistful.

I dare say you could take shots at random, anywhere you like, and, in every shot, come up with examples of eyes meeting - and imagine a story every time. The word 'stalker' has been in the back of my mind ever since I first examined this picture closely. You know, a man hanging around where somebody he's fixated on might go, and not minding if she sees him. In fact, that must be the point of it for him: to see her anxiety, to provoke and control her fear, and enjoy being the cause. A game of cat and mouse. 

Spot the cat in my picture.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Being naughty in an art gallery

I have always liked art. I did A-Level Art at school. I was good at calligraphy, not so good at painting; but in adult life discovered that I could take photographs quite well. I might, if Mum and Dad hadn't shunted me into the Civil Service, have made a career from photography. For some years I've been free to visit art galleries all over the country. I've even bought original art - paintings and figures mainly - and will do so again once my finances improve sufficiently to afford the many hundreds of pounds necessary to buy something reasonably good by a contemporary local artist.

The British way of life has a place for art, even if it has always been seen as an extra, a bit of culture, something not really central to everyday life. It has never been easy to make a good living from making works of art, but art colleges remain a popular choice for creative students. I think they deserve encouragement. We can't all be practical engineers and scientists. We need dreamers and visionaries too: people who can see things that are not there, or are invisible, or have a different form and significance from what the everyday eye takes in. People who speak to us all on another level, and hopefully make an impact.

I'm not attempting a definition of what art is, nor what it should try to do; but it does seem to me that key aspects of an art work are that it holds our attention and challenges our current attitudes. It asks us to change, be different, and do what it wants us to do. Political art is very good at that. For instance, this outraged lady, condemning the excesses of German fascism during World War II. A call to arms.

The same Tate Modern exhibition (this was 2013) also had this poster showing these wonderfully-drawn heads - clearly a selection of very ordinary people, but all made supremely noble and virtuous by the artist. (I wish I could read the Hebrew message)

I wasn't alone in feeling the hot baleful intensity of Rothko's works: their meaning was impenetrable, but they still held the eyes and would be overwhelming in a small room. Great art. 

But I didn't go much for the 'pile of poo' in one corner of the gallery, despite its clear artistic intent.

Here are examples, in no particular order except the date of taking the photo, quickly taken from the selection on Verity, my laptop - which is only a fraction of the art photos filed away on my desktop PC. I like all of these. Collectively, I'd say they must faithfully reflect my personal taste.

I'd assert that these photos of pictures, pots, posters, ritual masks, sculpture and street murals constitute a sufficient exposure to art to allow me an opinion. If you agree that is so, then let's see what happened when I visited the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea on 25th October.

This was situated directly across the road from Swansea's Art College - how convenient for the students! - and was an old building with a modern interior, apart from the elegant central hall, which had naturally been left alone. This is it.

There were rooms off on each level, for lectures and exhibitions. There was a permanent collection on display, containing this kind of thing.


That's a Barbara Hepworth sculpture just above. The emphasis however was not on these examples of art from the past, but on contemporary art from new or newish names. There were two current exhibitions, one by Helen Sear...

...and one by Bob Gelsthorpe, his first exhibition.

Well, the visiting public were clearly intended to take these very seriously indeed. I wandered into the Helen Sear exhibition first. There was a warning about flashing images. That didn't sound too good. But her first offering was something I rather liked. A projection of a tree canopy onto the floor (as if it were a rippling pool of water). It changed colour very beautifully.  

After watching it for a while, I decided to play with it, by extending my arm and hand, superimposing my outstretched fingers onto the projection.

Funny how the fingers are not evenly spaced on the hand - the two middle ones seem to have an affinity for each other! I then walked through to the main room, in which a video called the company of trees was playing. It consisted of various flickering shots of trees in a wood, with a girl in a red dress (Helen Sear herself?) fleetingly appearing for a split second, so that you never quite saw her properly. It was as if she was weaving herself in and out of the tree trunks. It was rather hard on the eyes, and I had to turn away to give them a rest. 

The next room I saw had these austere works in it. They might have been part of Helen Sear's exhibition, but I wasn't certain.

Then on to Bob Gelsthorpe's exhibition. (He'll have to change his name. People must be calling him 'Bob Geldorf' by mistake all the time) The main draw here was a video film showing miscellaneous images. It was made to look as if produced using an old-fashioned clockwork film camera, so colour and sharpness weren't perfect. It was difficult to see any 'message' in the scenes shown, nor any special relevance to anything at all. I was not moved. There was a simplistic sequence showing an owl, which puffed itself up and then deflated again. It looked amateurishly-done, although that might well have been intentional. What was this about? A flashback to something recalled from Mr Gelsthorpe's childhood? I found it irritating. And how could anyone present it as 'meaningful art'? If the owl had inflated itself so much that it burst, and then - say - the pieces reformed into something else, that might have worked. I decided I must intervene. I'd make myself part of this artwork. Naughty? Well, see what you think.

Obviously, I couldn't directly meddle with the exhibit. But I could - as I already had with the hand - put myself between the projector and the screen. Let's experiment with position, and see what effects are produced...

So much better than just a pulsating owl! The scene changed to the underside of a South Wales pier - Mumbles Pier, perhaps - with a sunset coming on. I think I definitely made the thing more striking. 

Now it was the cutting-room of a film studio, a period melodrama. Let's add a period woman.

I heard a noise. Was that the room steward, returning from his afternoon cuppa downstairs?  I quickly stepped out of the projection light and bagged Tigerlily, before he could see her and figure out what I might have been up to. I smiled at him and made my escape.

I wasn't quite finished. All the lighting in the gallery was contrived in one way or another. Why not make use of it? I found myself in a room full of dazzling white light. It made for a particularly stark selfie. 

Definitely better than a fat owl. But is it art?