All posts by tony

Memories are weird

London Comic Con May 2013
London Comic Con May 2013

In 2013 I went to London Comic Con for the first time.  Other than a couple of small gaming conventions years earlier it was my first ‘fandom’ convention.  I took my trusty bridge camera with me and while my wife and her friend shopped, I walked around and took a lot of pictures.

A lot, of pictures.

I got home after an exhausting day and looked through the pictures and I was really pleased.  I had some great shots of some great costumes, and good reminders of the day.  I picked out 80 or so of the best and stuck them on Flickr.

At the back end of 2013 I bought a DSLR (a Canon 600D), and I started taking photographs as a pastime rather than just as a way of remembering events.  Although when I set out, I expected to be taking wildlife pictures, I ended up gravitating towards street portraits / candid street photography and other weird stuff.  Wildlife photography is a lot of work, and I just didn’t have the time to invest or the patience, to be frank.  Of course, all photography is a lot of work, but you can fit that work around doing other things with some types of photography and not others.

I had great memories of my photos from 2013’s Comic Con, so I went back to London in 2015 to take more pictures, with my new camera.  It did not go well.  Firstly, I had a crisis of confidence and just didn’t feel like I could approach people and ask them to take pictures.  Secondly, technically the shots I did get were just terrible.  I couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong, they were blurry or badly exposed.  I got back very unhappy and looking through the results didn’t make me feel any better.  Later that year, I went to Birmingham Comic Con, and tried again, but it was just as bad.  The camera ended up being a dead weight in my hand and despite taking a flash with me, the four of five pictures I did take were terrible.

A couple of days ago, I went back to Comic Con in Birmingham, resolute that I would just take pictures, using the flash and that I would learn from the experience instead of just being unhappy with the results.  I would use it as practice, so when I go to Comic Con in London, in May, I can use what I’ve learned to try and get some better photographs.  I was partly successful – I managed to stop people and ask for pictures, I tried to frame the subjects better (hard at a Con at the best of times), and I just took pictures and tried not to worry.  The results are okay, they’re typical indoor flash style pictures with a lot of people in the background.  They’re not as sharp as I’d like, and not as sharp as I know I can get, but they’re acceptable.  I was still sad though that they weren’t as good as the bridge camera photos from 2013 which I had enjoyed so much.

So I went back to look at those 2013 pictures – and they’re shit.  I mean terrible.  Sure, they capture people and memories, but they’re technically terrible.  Soft, blurry, grainy, badly framed, they’re everything you’d expect from a ‘point and shoot and move on’ style approach to indoor photography.  Great memories, but technically lacking photographs.  The photo’s I took with the DSLR from any of the other cons were technically much better.  Still flawed, but technically superior in just about every way.

Birmingham Comic Con March 2016
Birmingham Comic Con March 2016

So why was I beating myself up?  Why was I being so hard on myself, comparing my new photographs with superb old ones which didn’t even exist?  Because my memory of that day, and those pictures, was all one memory.  I’d gone without expectation or pressure, without any internal critique.  I’d pointed the camera at people I found interesting and took pictures and the pictures I’d taken reminded me of the enjoyment I had.  The pictures were rubbish but the memories were good.

With the other events, I had gone to take pictures and I hadn’t enjoyed the process.  The pictures reminded me of the days I had, and how those days were frustrating because I didn’t feel like I could do what I wanted to do.

Memories are weird, and shit and unhelpful sometimes.  In May, I swear, I’m going to London Comic Con without expectation or pressure.  I’m going, with my camera, as it happens, to look at interesting people in amazing costumes, and if I get some pictures, all the better, but I’m going first to have fun and to get pictures second.

Flu

I’ve been ill.  Although not anywhere near life threatening, it’s probably the most ill I’ve ever been in my adult life.  We suspect flu, and I now whole heartedly regret not getting the jab last year.  I’m on the ‘at risk’ list due to type 2 diabetes, so get the jab for free (and the NHS are not shy in reminding me), but I laughingly say ‘I’ll get it when I’m old’ each time, and decline.  I won’t decline next year.

Normally if I’m ill, I’ll pass the time watching movies or playing on the console or PC.  This time, I was pretty much spaced out the entire two or three weeks, and just stared at the TV for something to occupy my feeble mind.  Between the coughing and the temperature, I was pretty much wasted.  My eating during the illness has been somewhat sporadic, I don’t think I had anything for the first two days, and then it’s been a mixture of bread and other junk.  Can’t imagine my blood sugar results in March are going to be very good.

Frustratingly, during that time, we had some great sunny days and I would have loved to have gotten out with the camera, but I just didn’t have the energy (not withstanding that I was also off work and it would have been a little disingenuous to be well enough to take photographs but not well enough to work).  This morning was the first time in three weeks I’ve been out of the house (other than two trips to the GP), and I’m not sure Tesco counts as a fun destination.  Even doing that has left me knackered.

So I’ve spent a lot of time staring at day time TV, with adverts.  One of the things I noticed is that every second advert during the day on TV is about after 50 life cover, to cover the cost of funerals. And every other advert in between those, is about reclaiming mis-sold PPI, short term loans, or claiming compensation for an injury at work.  What a fucking depressing collection of adverts.

Terrible sentence structure

I read back the blog post I wrote yesterday, and the sentence structure is shockingly bad.  I’m prone to passive writing, and equally prone to run-on sentences.  That blog post is pretty much a master class in shockingly bad writing (structure, not necessarily content).  I thought about going back and correcting it, but it seems a little disingenuous given the post was off the cuff as it were, just a rambling dialogue with my own brain.

It does highlight something I’ve been getting worse at over the years – proof reading.  I’m getting lazier.  I used to write and read everything back a couple of times, these days I’m lucky if I read it while I’m writing it.  This increases the number of incorrect word endings I use (-ed instead of -ing, -ing instead of -s, etc.) along with just missed out words.

I must try harder.

Coming to terms with it

md01-095_m_1_grandeNot a happy go lucky blog entry – you may want to move along if you’re already in a down mood.

It’s funny how we forget what we were like, or what we enjoyed, or what we did.  Is that just me?  My memory of my life is quite bad, I don’t think about the past much (other than a few specific things), but memories are sometimes triggered by other people having conversations about stuff.  I moved away from home when I was 18 (went to Uni) and never really went back.  That meant my conversations from the age of 18 onwards were about new stuff.  I wonder if this is what people mean by the phrase discovering yourself?

Because I mostly listened to people and spoke about how I felt about stuff, rather than the events of my childhood, I never reinforced those memories I guess.  Over time, still not talking about them (not for any dire reason, just because I was always private) means they didn’t get refreshed or used, and unused memories fade.  Or mine did.  Now, because they’re hazy I just don’t talk about them because I don’t really have good recollections of them.  So, I was going to start this blog with, I was never one for big family gatherings, and then I realised I wasn’t actually sure if that was true.  Maybe I was when I was young but I grew out of them, or maybe I was always too old for my boots, too sarcastic and cynical for my shorts?  Who knows.  For the benefit of brevity, let’s assume I was never one for big family gatherings.  I didn’t dislike my wider family as much as just disliking the process of being in a large family group.

I used to go to my grandparent’s (on my mam’s side) house for dinner (which is the midday meal where I’m from), during school dinner break when I was in my teens.  It was right next to the school and my mam worked school dinners in the same school, so you know, it made sense.  Kitty and George, I knew things weren’t perfect but as families do, everyone pretended it was fine for the kids.  I loved my granddad’s yorkshire puddings, and his bacon sandwiches made with white bread a foot thick.  Kitty didn’t do much cooking, but she let us tear up the place so we didn’t mind.  They had a scary shed full of tools and stuff I didn’t understand, a garden which had a chain-link fence which overlooked the school sports field, rocks in the garden painted with white gloss paint, and one year the snow drifts were so high in their back garden, we hid in them.

I’m not sure if I didn’t know my dad’s parents at all or if they just lived too far away to be part of our lives.  My dad died when I was 4, and my mam didn’t talk about it.  We moved back to Newcastle after he died, because we no longer had to follow his army postings, and we made new lives near to my mam’s parents, and her 3 sisters.  I never asked about my dad’s parents.  I never used the word dad much, I remember once a cousin of mine calling me a bastard, in the way kids do, and I was a bit upset by that for a few days before learning what it really meant, and that it didn’t apply at all.  I’m not sure I missed him, although I know my sister did, and it became apparent that despite never talking about him, my mam missed him more than pretty much anything in the world except her two kids.  I was really too young to remember much, or I blocked it out of my memory, one or the other.  If you can’t remember someone, it’s hard to miss them.

My granddad died before my grandmother.  I visited him when he was in hospital, really unwell with pneumonia, and we spoke briefly about cricket which he loved a great deal.  My enjoyment of cricket, my limited knowledge of the game comes from his love of it.  I felt bad that I’d only visited him once, and that he was really ill, and probably unaware of me.  What can you do.  I was in my late teens.  My grandmother leant on all the daughters then, as you would.  I can’t even remember if I went to the funeral.  How shit is that?  I’m not even entirely sure if I was at university or at home.  Is it because I’m callous, or because I block this stuff out?  Because I have a bad memory or because I choose not to remember?

Not long after moving to Nottingham with Greté we got news that my grandmother had died.  I travelled back to Newcastle for the funeral.  I remember that.  I remember trying to be strong for my mam, because she’d lost her mam.  I probably failed.  I wouldn’t say I was openly close to anyone in my family, immediate or extended.  Emotionally stunted?  Just too cynical?  I’m not sure.

My sister had kids, and although she complained about it, my mam loved looking after them, loved having young kids around again.  It gave her a new lease of life.  Then they got a little older and to that age where they did stuff that my mam found hard work, like making a mess, running around putting their knees at risk, jumping off stools.  She’d moved closer to my sister, and my sister basically looked out for her.  I spoke to them, and saw them once a year, maybe twice, but that was it.

Then my mam had a stroke, and a fall, and although she was well enough to go home, she never really recovered.  She lost her confidence, would get lost walking short distances.  She was miserable.  She hated life.  She’d lost the man she loved in 1975 and never replaced him, her kids had grown up and moved out, and her grand-kids were growing up, and now she was stuck in her flat, no one to talk to.  She had another catastrophic, fatal stroke in December 2012.  I was sad, but I knew that was no longer unhappy, no longer trapped.  My sister organised the funeral, I attended, tried to say some words.  Saw my best friend from my youth, made promises to stay in touch, never did.  Saw the whole family, cousins and aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.  Then went back to my life.  I saw my sister, her husband and her kids more often after that.  I made more of an effort.  Not a massive increase in effort, but I think we both knew we needed to keep in touch more.

Then, in September last year (2015), my sister died.  She’d had a long illness, undiagnosed, then a diagnosis, surgery and then in a very short time, a more negative diagnosis and what was ultimately a very short period of very intense illness before she passed away.  Highly aggressive, pretty much untreatable, cancer.  She knew what was happening, the night before she passed away she had her husband bring the kids into hospital so she could talk to them.  Even in that last moment her thoughts were with her kids, making sure they knew what was going on, what they had to do.

That was it.  All my immediate family (as I use the phrase) gone.  Plenty of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters-in-law, and of course, my amazing wife; but my family unit gone.

What does it mean?  I’m 45 this year, and I guess it’s not an unusual position to be in, but I’m still coming to terms with it.  Is there a message?  Life is short, buy the shoes?  I saw that today, and I think it’s true, although it’s never easy.  But is that the message?  Talk to your family more, live in the now, enjoy them now, but reminisce,  Talk about the past, laugh about it, because if you don’t exercise those memories they’ll just fade.  Don’t live in the past, you can’t change it, but bathe in it every now and again, remember how it felt.  Is that trite?  Probably.

Greté got me some socks and boxer shorts for Christmas (among many other wonderful gifts).  She was a bit apologetic about those, but I reminded her I’d run out of other people who were going to buy them for me, so it was her job now.

Finally got out

It’s been a couple or three months since I managed to get out and do any photography (outside of choir events), so I was pleased today when we got some bright sunshine.  Was still cold mind you, but it gave me a chance to get a couple of hours in Nottingham taking pictures.  Not very good pictures, but pictures none-the-less, and I won’t get better by sitting at home doing nothing.  So, parked in the Broadmarsh car park, walked around for a couple of hours, took some pictures, headed back to the car park.

Paid my £3 fee, took my ticket back to the car, and put it into a little pocket area on the drivers side door, like I usually do.  Drove down to the exit, opened the car window and as I reached the last ramp, went to pick up the ticket.  Which wasn’t there.  Fuck.  Pulled over into the area designed for people who’ve forgotten to pay, and checked the inside of the car.  No joy.  Got out, searched under the seats, in the door, in the back, all over.  Still no sign.  Fuck.  Locked the car, jogged back up to the 3rd level and searched around where the car had been parked, in case it blew out while I was closing the door.  Still no sign.  Still fuck.  Jogged back down to the car, and had another look.  Nope.  Gone.

So I walked over to the customer service booth, and there was a guy outside having a cigarette.  To be frank, I was expecting a tough conversation.  I asked him who was best to speak to with regards to lost tickets.  He mulled that over and said, “normally they make you pay the full day rate”.  I said, “Yep, it’s annoying, I paid my £3 but I’ve lost the ticket somewhere between putting it in the car and getting down to the exit.”  He took a draw on his fag, and said, “well, I don’t want to make you pay again, give me 5 minutes to finish this and then I’ll let you out.”  He took my name, told me to wait until I saw him to into the booth and then drive out.

Which I did.

What a nice man.  Thanks nice man, whoever you are.

You’ll be pleased to know that I drove about 80 metres and remembered that I’d put the ticket into the ticket slot on the sun visor, because I was worried about it blowing away, and then because the sun was so low in the sky, I’d popped the visor down.  Hiding the ticket.  I checked at the next set of lights, and yep, there it was.  So, thanks again nice man, I didn’t actually lose the ticket, just my mind, but you helped.  I’d have been annoyed beyond reason if I’d paid the day rate and then found the ticket.

Fallout 4

F4_Wiki_BannerI really enjoyed Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. I played both of them to death, despite the bugs. It was therefore, no surprise to me that I was super excited about Fallout 4 when I heard it was being released.  The only issue really, was Bethesda, they’re not well known for releasing bug free stuff, and on top of that, I’d found Skyrim to be lacking any soul.  I feared that perhaps Fallout would be gutted, ripped of its sense of being and left cold and emotionless on the floor.

I needn’t have worried.  I’ve read reviews and comments from people who find Fallout 4 lacking; they say it’s just a big tower defence game, or there’s little purpose beyond travel to point A, shoot the enemy to death, and then return to point B.  I’d argue that’s no different to Fallout 3 certainly, although Fallout: New Vegas was a little richer than that.  However, the key with all three games is that the main quest line, and in fact, most of the side quests, aren’t where Fallout games get their humanity, their soul, or their poignant introspective.  They get those from the little letters, terminal messages, holotapes, non-main-quest NPC dialogue and other sources of background information.  Seeking those out, reading everything is what gives me the sense of enjoyment from the world, and Fallout 4 delivers on that level as well as the others.

Power Armour Army
Power Armour Army – about half the suits I eventually collected. There they’re displayed on top of the three story house I built for myself.

There are tales spread throughout the whole of the Boston, Massachusetts (the location for Fallout 4) of people living, dying and being reborn in the aftermath of the nuclear war.  Yes, there’s a main quest (mirroring that of Fallout 3 in many ways), and yes there are factions (bringing something from New Vegas more formally into Fallout 4).  Yes, the Brotherhood of Steel turn up (of course), and there are raiders and supermutants and ghouls.  There are vaults and mercenary groups, and bars and shops and blasted wasteland.  All of these things are there.  They’re all to be explored, and shot up.  But the soul, the jam in the centre of this delicious doughnut is the treasure trove of hidden history that you only get by digging through the bodies of those you have vanquished.

Knee deep in ghoul remains, trying to find a vacuum tube, you discover a hastily scrawled note.  A husband, telling his wife where he has gone, and that he will be back.  You know he never made it.  Half dead from a deathclaw attack, you open a cabin door and find the remains of a young woman, running away from home to be with her lost love.  She never found him.  Resplendent in your new power armour, you find an abandoned room in a sewer, and huddled in the corner is a skeleton, grasping the last Salisbury steak box a 10mm pistol and 5 rounds of ammo on the ground.  You know they made a last stand, defending the boxed meat product from all-comers.

This is Fallout 4, this is why it still has a soul, and this is why I played it for over a hundred hours.

Power Armour - Back View
Here are the suits from the back

The main quest is clearly signposted as always, but you’ll struggle to simply follow that and do nothing else.  As with Fallout 3 the second location you need to reach is a fair hike across the map and unless you have excellent luck and incredible tunnel vision, by the time you get there you’ll be knee deep in side quests.  F4 has companions and factions which affect which quests you get offered, which ones you can complete and how the game ends.  Having to repair weapons and armour has gone, and the crafting system from New Vegas has been boosted with weapons and armour being highly customisable.  The two key new features are settlement building and the way power armour is handled.  I won’t talk about how those features work (the web is covered in that) except to say, I really enjoyed the settlements, and while the new power armour has advantages and disadvantages, I enjoyed it, and found it less game breaking in some ways than the power armour in F3.

The all new voiced dialogue was interesting, and although I don’t think the game needed it I think it benefited from it.  Dialogue wasn’t quite as witty as Fallout: New Vegas, but it was still engaging and at least on my first play-through of a quest (i.e. assuming I didn’t die and have to do it again) I didn’t skip any dialogue (which I’m notorious for, even when it’s unheard).

The locations are interesting, with some new approaches and some old classics.  I did find some of the z-axis layouts very hard to understand and deal with – both inside buildings (their own discrete areas) and in the open world setting.  There are some very high places you can reach through some very convoluted routes, which frustrated me several times.  I’m sure other people love them, and I learned to deal with them, but as with F3 and F:NV, it’s not always obvious how to navigate around key locations.

NPC companions are varied and interesting, and their dialogue is all spectacularly different, which was enjoyable.

Power Armour - Side View
Dramatic shot of power armour!

Some of the faction quests were very repetitive (especially the Minutemen), and they didn’t always feel joined up.  I often completed a Minutemen quest for a settlement which had already joined the cause, only to be told it was great to get another settlement on-board.  I didn’t personally suffer any significant bugs, certainly nothing quest related.  I did get stuck in the scenery once and had to reload a save (Greté played on the PC, and the one time she got stuck she used a console command to get out, I was very jealous).  There were times when my character just stood still after dialogue, both he and the NPC kind of playing chicken to see who would walk away first.  It always resolved itself eventually but I’ve read some people getting stuck like that and having to reload.

Faction-breaking quests (where you cause one faction to hate you) are clearly telegraphed, and for the most part I knew if my actions were going to upset someone.  However, as with F3 and F:NV it is possible to do the quests in such an order that you confuse the NPC’s who won’t let you hand a quest in because they’re eager to talk about something else.  Also, as with all Bethesda games, I found NPC’s would assume I had knowledge of an event long before I actually triggered it.

Even with those flaws though, Fallout 4 was absorbing, engaging and fun.  A worthy successor to Fallout 3 and although some might argue it doesn’t make enough of a step change, I always prefer evolution rather than revolution in my game sequels.

Play Fallout 4, it has a heart, and it wants to be your friend.  If you’ve played Fallout 3, take time to look for all the connections that Fallout 4 has to that game.  NPC’s, locations, events, and even the main storyline.

Note: The screenshots are from my Xbox One play through.  It’s ridiculously complicated to get screenshots out of a game on the Xbox.  In the end I had to sign up to One Drive, save them to that, and then get them on the PC via the One Drive web interface.

How come it’s only Wednesday?

Feels like it should be at least half way through Thursday by now, if not next Tuesday.  We finally got Greté’s ESA submission completed and sent off.  It arrived on the 8th December, just in time for Christmas.  So thoughtful of them.  As usual, the mere existence of the form made a big dent in Greté’s confidence and overall management of her depression.  Being asked to describe how bad your illness is so that someone else can judge whether it’s bad enough to deserve welfare isn’t exactly the most confidence building of actions.  Doing so when you’ve had to appeal and subsequently win twice previously just makes it all the harder.

I’m still not convinced the financial cost of processing the ESA submissions and subsequent appeals outweighs the financial cost of just paying anyone who applies for it in the first place (never mind the health cost to those affected).  There’s a flat percentage of people who’ll take the piss, and they don’t mind lying on the forms.  Most honest people who aren’t trying to deceive anyone are honest on the forms anyway, and still get rejected until the appeal stage.  I don’t see how anyone wins at this process.

Anyway, we’ve filled in the forms, honestly, and we’ve included the letter we sent in for the 2013 appeal, and we’ll see what that results in.  We’ll keep trying to manage the impact on Greté’s health and hopefully get her back to a more stable position.

Slowing Down Time

So it’s 2016, which is as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone.  Where does the time go?  A few years ago now, David Gemmell told me about a friend of his, an elderly gentleman, who suggested that we feel time passing more quickly as we age, because we experience less new stuff each day.  As children, everything around us is new, or we’re doing new things, exploring and discovering new knowledge.  As we age, in general, our days are filled with very similar things, and there’s little new or surprising in each of them.  So our experience of time is based on the density of our memories for any given period.  More memories of different things and the passage of time feels slow, fewer memories and the passage of time feels quick.  The aim then, is to keep doing new things, discovering new things, experiencing new things, and thus, slow down the passage of time.

I don’t know how true it is, but I don’t see the harm in trying.

I pay lip service to new years resolutions usually, if I go that far, and although I’d like to think this year is different it probably won’t be.  However, even in the face of obvious failure it’s usually still worth having a shot, so here are my new years resolutions for 2016.

  • Drink more.
  • Eat more.
  • Photograph more.
  • Watch more films.
  • Be happier.

I know that being happy is not really something you can choose (others might disagree), but you can take steps to increase the chance of it working that way – if you have the energy (there’s the kicker).  I don’t drink much alcohol any more, partly because we’re not in the situation where alcohol is often consumed very often, and partly because of the diabetes.  There’s a lot of sugar in beer, and alcohol screws with your blood sugar on top.  However, I do like a bit of whiskey and people keep buying it for me.  So I really should drink it.  I resolve, within reason and within sensible measures, to drink the whiskey I have in the cupboard and to bloody enjoy it.

I already eat too much so the second one might seem odd, but I tend to eat too much low quality food.  What I want to do, is eat too much high quality food (or, a more sensible amount of high quality food, as an alternative).  I want to eat more exciting things and less boring things.

I’ve struggled with getting out to take photographs in the last few months.  Part of this is because my sister died in the latter part of 2015, after a short and devastating battle with cancer.  I was on the road a lot visiting her, and while my battle wasn’t anywhere near as hard as hers (clearly), I pretty much expended all of my energy and had nothing left over.  Most of that travelling took place at weekends, which was the only time I really had for photography, so it took a back seat.  Then Christmas was upon us faster than we could imagine, we had a lot of work to do helping Greté’s mum and step-dad move house, and now it’s the new year.  So, in 2016, I will take more photographs (and I will try and be less negative about the output).

I love films, I should watch more of them.  I will watch more of them.  You can’t stop me!

Part of being happier means expressing myself again, writing, and that means blog posts.  I like writing them, because they help me understand how I feel, even when they’re about nothing more than how my day has gone.  So, I intend to overhaul the blog, replace the template with something a) cleaner, b) less black, and c) easier to maintain.  And I intend to blog, to alleviate stress, to ramble, to solidify my thoughts and to share (maybe) my photographs.

Here’s a funny picture of some cats.

Given up blogging?

Maybe not. Last few weeks I’ve had an itch forming to start writing blog posts again. Maybe I’m starting to finally recover from the crushing despair I felt in the job I left in June this year? Who knows.

Whatever the reasons, I’m definitely starting to feel more creative again and that inevitably leads to blog posts.