Here comes summer

As I left work tonight I noticed the tiniest sliver of light still visible above the horizon – the first time for months. This means that the nights are starting to get shorter and the days are lengthening. Soon it will be spring and then summer will be a coming in!

A touch of optimism for a cold Monday evening!!


Website problems

Apologies if you have been trying to access any of my websites. This is because Virgin media changed my IP address and I have had to change my DNS settings and this takes a while to be propagated around the web. The 3 sites, and will be back up and running very soon.


I was listening to the radio in the car and it was the top 4o countdown and I couldn’t help noticing a familiar line in the new Britney Spears song “Hold it against me”

The chorus goes
“So if I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?”

Which to my mind is very similar to the Bellamy Brothers song from 1979 which goes
“If I said you have a beautiful body, would you hold it against me”

Apparently this similarity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Bellamy Brothers either and their lawyers are on the case!

Banking Crisis

Mid morning yesterday I got a phonecall from a Birmingham number and when I answered it there was a computerised voise asking to speak to my wife. As she wasn’t here I hung up. Later the same day I got another call from a London number and once again the same computerised voice. This time I answered the first question to say I wasn’t my wife expecting to be able to tell a humanoid that they were ringing the wrong number. I was then asked if my wife was able to come to the phone, as I was at work I answered no. Then a third question at which point I gave up again and hung up.

I sent my wife a text telling her than the bank in question (I won’t name them in case I upset their Spanish owners!) were trying to reach her and giving her the number. She rang the number after work and was greeted by the same computerised voice which asked her to enter her details. After doing so it then demanded money so fearing it was a phishing scam she hung up and went into a branch. The branch confirmed that they were trying to get hold of her and that it was to do with the joint account (which we closed last September). They gave a number to call and she called me as it was for the joint account.

The upshot of it was that she had called to close the account last year and requested to know how much we owed them and then paid the requested amount over the phone. It would then appear that a fee was added to the account, which should have been closed, and then this has snowballed over the past 5 months to the point where they were trying to get us to pay them £128 for an account we hadn’t even been using and one that we thought we had closed. I discovered this after speaking to someone in their collections team who was in a distant call centre (or at least that’s what the telephone line quality would suggest). I explained the situation to her, she then asked me some security questions – one of which was can you tell me a recent transaction on the account er no the account is supposed to be closed!

Then I explained it again, and again until finally she said “oh I can see what has happened” and then spent the next ten minutes removing all of their charges so that the account balance could go back to zero and the account could be closed properly (or at least hopefully this time). It’s no wonder banks make so much profit if they can try and charge £128 in fees in 5 months on an account that hasn’t even been used!

There are several things that worry me about all of this – most of all their chosen way of collecting. In this age of electronic fraud do you really think that a computerised voice at the end of the phone is going to reassure people that a call is genuine? If it had been a phishing situation and we had been defrauded out of money the banks would have probably said “Well weren’t you suspicious that it was an automated system” After all they are the ones who are always telling us to be on our guard and not to give out our details out if we are suspicious.

Another thing that annoys me is what sort of service is this, are we so unworthy that the bank doesn’t consider it worth wasting the time of an employee to collect money off us? It’s bad enough having to negotiate the automated systems when you ring them but I think this is the most impersonal thing I have ever come across.  It shows that this particular bank has lost all respect for it’s customers and they are not alone – another bank we have dealings with use the same system to contact us. I guess that if they can get away with using computers like this they can make even more of their menial staff redundant and that will leave even more cream for those at the top to take as bonus payments.

The mouse that fell from the sky

We had planned to go into Chatham today but after several attempts to negotiate the roadworks we gave up and went to Maidstone instead. We parked up on the roof of the Mall (formerly Chequers Centre) and headed inside. As Ben was quite hungry we went down to the lower level and got something to eat from the Baker Oven.  As Ben sat munching on his cake Sarah went into the 99p shop so I stayed with him on the bench outside.

While we were sitting there I heard a woman squeal and saw something drop from the floor above. At first I thought it was a drop of water or something someone had dropped but as the woman moved off I saw what it was. Lying on the floor was a little mouse that must have fallen off the rail that runs around the opening. I went over to see but as I got there I could tell that it was dying. The poor thing was shaking and breathing really heavily and after a few seconds it stopped.

I decided I couldn’t leave the poor thing there so I picked it up and put it into a bag we had got from the Bakers Oven as Ben ran off to tell Sarah, in a very loud voice, that we’d found a rat! There aren’t any bins in the Chequers centre, sorry the Mall, so I looked around to see if I could find the man I had seen pushing a rubbish cart around earlier. We wandered down to the end of the floor but couldn’t find him, we found the management offices but sadly they were shut. Even worse they didn’t have a letterbox so I couldn’t post the mouse through it (joke).

Going up

So we went up the escalator to the next floor where there was an information desk. I asked the lady if she had a bin and when she said she did I asked if she would like to put the carrier bag in it. She said “no problem” and reached out to take the bag from me just as I added “because it’s got a dead mouse in it!” You’ve never seen anyone pull their hand away so quickly! She did take it from me and gingerly popped it behind the counter while she radio’d the man with the rubbish cart to come at get it.

Oh well he may have had an untimely death but at least he didn’t get squashed underfoot. the least I could do was to make sure he had a decent burial in the rubbish bin

One man’s loss is another’s gain!

Got a Nikon Coolpix L3 from Freecycle yesterday. The previous owner was giving it away because she said it was working but the pictures were coming out fuzzy!

So I got the camera and tried it out and sure enough the pictures did look fuzzy

So I had a look at the settings and noticed that the flash was set to the slow sync setting.
So I put it back on auto and hey presto

Amazing isn’t it how some people have more money than sense. Still musn’t grumble I’ve got a nice little camera out of it!!

Beauty beyond images

As a photographer I like to record images but sometimes I’m glad I didn’t take a picture that wouldn’t have done justice to the original vision. Two such occasions occurred within a few hours of each other while we were away in Weardale over the new year period. We had booked a cottage in a small village called Sunniside which is near Bishop Auckland in Country Durham. We knew the village because we had stayed at a smaller cottage just down the road earlier in the year. Both cottages are owned by the same man and as we had the full tribe with us this time we thought we better take the larger of the two. Most of the snow in the south had melted by the time we set off but further north there was a lot more snow around. In fact as we drove into the village there was still snow in the middle of the road and by the look of the piles on the roadside the road must have had to have been cleared by a snowplough at some point. When we reached the cottage the paths were icy and the doorstep was very slippery. After unloading the car we left the kids and headed off to the chip shop to get something to eat.

I find that there is nothing so frustrating than driving along and seeing something that would make a good photograph but not being able to stop and take one. This usually is more prevalent during the day but occasionally it happens at night too. Tonight was no exception – as we drove along the dark road the headlights of the car picked out a fence that bordered a field and hanging from the cross pieces of the fence were hundreds of icicles. The headlights of the car illuminated them and the light reflected off them, it was truly beautiful. I couldn’t stop to photograph them because we needed to get food and had no idea what time the chip shop was open till, also it wasn’t really safe to pull up as there was a great deal of snow on the roadside so I had to drive on making a mental note to maybe return the following evening to see if I could get a shot. Sadly that night the thaw started and the icicles were gone.

Icicles on hanging basket in back garden of cottage

The second opportunity presented itself the following morning and again there was no time to stop as we were already running an hour late to meet my brother at my dad’s house. The village of Sunniside is in a very rural setting and consists mostly of the main street and a few houses behind that. The village itself is surrounded by fields and as you travel out of the village the fields open up on either side of the road as you leave the village. These fields fall away from the road on both sides but on one side the slope is quite steep and there is a fine view down towards Bishop Auckland. The other side of the road has a number of wind turbines scattered across the fields which afford their own sort of beauty as they spin slowly in the breeze.

That morning had been very misty and the sun was struggling to break through, a watery outline could be seen through the haze as it struggled to make itself known as it climbed to it’s height as the time approached midday. It was just after 12 when we set off to go to Sunderland to meet up with my family. As we drove east out of the village we passed the houses and the little farm building at the end of the street where we take Ben to see the sheep on out nocturnal walks. As we passed the last building and the fields took over we saw the most beautiful sight. the sun had broken the cloud cover and although it was itself still hidden behind the clouds the rays were protruding above and below. The bight rays of light we then bouncing off the snow covered fields and producing the most spectacular celestial display – almost biblical in it’s grandeur! Almost everyone in the car stopped and just went wow!

Red Sky in the Morning

The sun just before we set off that morning

Once again I couldn’t really stop and I don’t think I had my camera with me anyway. I think that maybe that was a good thing as any photograph, no matter how good, could have reproduced the sight we were witnessing. It would have probably produced a really great picture but I doubt that it could ever have been as good as the real thing. So I consoled myself with this though as I drove on – I still think I was right on both occasions and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t have reproduced the images that are still in my head as I write. I guess sometime you just have to put the camera down and record those images into your brain instead.

There was another set of visual images that I witnessed while we were in the north that made me have very conflicting feelings about the same phenomenon! As we were returning to the cottage one night we drove over a hill road and as we went over the brow of the hill there was a wonderful view of the town below with all the lights from streets and houses spread out before us and I thought to myself isn’t that beautiful. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I remembered that it conflicted with another thought I had had in the early hours of New Years Day as we returned from the Tar Barrel ceremony in Allendale. The traditional new years eve event takes place in a small town on top of the moors about 8 miles outside Hexham. To get there we followed the SatNav as although we had been before we had always travelled from my dad’s house so I set the SatNav to find the best route. I should have known when we got to the end of the road through the village and the road sign pointed right to Corbridge and the SatNav told me to turn left that perhaps we could be in trouble!

The route it took us on ran down through Weardale to Stanhope and just after we left the town it told me to turn right. Initially I missed the turn off and had to do a u-turn to get back onto the route. The road it directed us on was quite narrow and started to rise quite sharply! It turned out to be a single track road that took us up onto the top of the moors through darkness and snow covered fields. The route twisted and turned in the darkness, went over cattle grids and had ominously tall poles on either side of it to show snow ploughs where the road was! We climbed and climbed until we finally levelled out and as the road did we hit this patch of ice which, in the darkness looked just like a bit of damaged road surface but it must have been about 4 inches deep in the middle of the road and the car bounced over it rattling and shaking. We slowed right down as we began our descent and we did come across two or three more patches but we were ready for them this time.

The Allendale Tar Barrel Ceremony

The road that we had travelled on had taken us to a height of around 1000ft above sea level to a place called Rookhope which is an old lead mining town where, apparently, the Poet WH Auden first realised he was a poet! I’m sure if it hadn’t been so dark and scary it would have been a beautiful trip. We slowly decended down to the village of Allenheads and got back onto a main road which took us without incident down to Allendale itself where we arrived in time for the tar barrels. Sarah had already told me that we weren’t going back that way so I figured we would head back towards Hexham afterwards and then pick up the A68 which would take us back to Sunniside.

As we left the tar barrels behind we travelled out of Allendale and along the road which runs the 8 miles down to Hexham. Although being much bigger than the road we had arrived on it still runs across the moors and as we drove through the darkness I was aware of a huge amount of light pollution in the sky. There seems to be two sources, one closer that the other and I guess the distant source was coming from Newcastle some 30 miles distant. It was this light that I thought spoiled the dark of the night and ruined any chance of seeing stars and other astronomical effects that I would later consider to be beautiful when seen in a different context a few days later. Strange how things can be ugly and beautiful at the same time!