Wednesday, 30 October 2013

So how does the new camera perform?

I had a wander round yesterday, re-photographing some of the objects and places that I've pictured previously in order to get a feel for the difference in performance.

Biggest differences over the Fuji when actually capturing an image are that the zooming capability is incredibly limited (the enormous zoom range of that camera was a powerful tool for creativity) and that depth of field is significant in a way that it almost never is with a compact except when shooting macro. But everything is falling to hand, and having spent a couple of hours fiddling, thinking & re-fiddling I *believe* I know most of the capabilities of this camera in terms of manual and semi-automated operating.

The EVF isn't as good as an OVF in bright sunlight, and it has already made me long for that to be available, but as soon as ambient light levels drop it is a huge boon. The rear screen also seems pretty bright, and that may alleviate some of the hassles composing through a dim viewfinder. Autofocus also seems reasonably reliable, and I've set both that and metering to 'spot' in order to manually control exposure and focus position through viewfinder assessment.

The .jpeg images produced seem generally richly coloured, if a little low in contrast, and the 20Mpx sensor provides a lot of detail. I've been shooting using just the standard 50mm f1.7 Minolta lens (=roughly 80mm on this camera) for a modest telephoto effect and decent degree of sharpness. At some stage I need to try the kit lens too - reputed to be a step above the previous and most other typical kit lenses - though it's probably not really going to be so great compared to the prime, and doesn't have that ability to reduce depth of field to a fingers breadth.

I need to investigate RAW processing a bit more, as the images come out really dull, grainy and with heavily skewed colours through DigiKam. I did have a play in RawTherapee, but without producing sufficient improvements, and have since downloaded RPP as a possible alternative to run on the Macbook.

So for now I'm working in .jpeg format.

This has some possible advantages, in that there is programming for the camera to create HDR images internally, taking 3 bracketed images and combining them, but this is available if you save in .jpeg ONLY. And for now there's no need to use RAW because the low iso .jpeg files are really very clean indeed, and have that lovely smooth tonal gradation and fine detail that doesn't come from 1/2.3" sensors and cheap short focal length optics.

Some examples.

And for the purposes of comparison, here's one I prepared 'earlier' using the Samsung:

Mrs. Vandersluys, I think you would be happy looking over my shoulder.

I have a quiet patch here right now (well, there's LOADS of things I could do, but nothing that will put grit in the gears of the world if it isn't done) so I'm planning out our Canadian trip for next year, step by step, town by hotel, road to mountainside. A certain pair of venerable gentlemen kindly made some suggestions a couple of months back, and the route looks great, but is nearly 2000km long and runs to 4 pages of google maps instructions.

Day 1 from Vancouver we may stop at Kamloops, but I'm inclined to press on to Revelstoke and the wooden hotel Marc referred to us. If we do go to Revelstoke then we'll stop there a couple of days, although Kamloops appeals to the mountain biker in me. Next stop will be Banff, probably for a night, then Jasper for another night. Finally we'll drop out of the mountains and do the last few hundred flat Km in search of the last homely house(s) if you'll forgive my Tolkienism.

Putative route here.

Simples, as meerkats apparently say.

Looking forward to it? Yes I am!

Note - route destinations updated. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Camera hunting, but closing in.

Fern - you're particularly invited to comment.

I'm in what is probably a common position hunting for a first DSLR in that I've had quite a bit of photography experience in the past, and through my use of digital compacts etc have a good idea of what I want without having actually tried it. This makes it more complicated in some ways, because I won't be happy to do the noob thing of just buying whatever random outfit the salesman thinks is good/has the best margins/most likely to require quick upgrading and then finding out how it all works and what compromises I can't live with.

The issues about which DSLRs currently live or die for me (apart from cost) pretty much in order:

Low sensor noise at high ISO
Good colour control and presentation
A great viewfinder
Live view
Fast and controllable focusing
Articulating rear screen
Great handling
Reasonable weight
Easy manipulation of both shutter speed and aperture manually
Weather sealing

I'm not fussed about sensor resolution as long as the sensor is about 12MP or more, but noise is a really big deal for me and has already reduced the desirability of some otherwise highly competent cameras. I've been searching back through looking at older high-end models, and many of them, particularly in the 2006-2010 period, were showing up with densely packed sensors that were noisy at ISO800 and poor at ISO1600 and above. There have been a few cameras at the budget end, including the Sony a58 and Pentax K500 that don't have the highest resolution, but do have extremely impressive noise control, and would be quite usable at ISO3200 to ISO6400. Many Nikons within my reach do not seem to have noise well controlled at higher speeds.

At a single blow the issue of colour presentation removed Canon cameras from the equation. Canon have an almost trademark color filtration, and while I've seen some utterly superb images created using Canons, the failure of many of the more affordable models to handle shades of red and subtle tones well made it easier just to stop looking. There's also the issue that I don't find Canon bodies intuitive to use, and they all require the motors and image stabilisation built into the lens too, which pushes the price of glass up.....

The viewfinder design has had me slightly running round in circles, even though it may be a red herring. The camera I favour - Sony's a58 - has an electronic view finder (EVF) rather than a standard optical viewfinder, and this is a real double edged sword. The downside is that it can be a little small and dark, doesn't always track moving objects smoothly and may not provide the best focusing information. The upside is that you get true live view, and can see the effect of exposure compensation effects (and sometimes depth of field with aperture adjustment) while you're looking through the camera. This is where the connection with my use of digital compacts it strong, because I would pretty much always adjust exposure on the screen before capturing an image, giving me effectively manual exposure control, even in program mode. The idea of going back to shooting images 'in the dark' and the reviewing them afterward for exposure seems completely daft - you might as well get a light meter out and stand in front of your subject (I still have your old Sekonic, Phil, if you read this!).

OTOH the Pentax K500 has what is reputedly a large and bright OVF giving almost 100% coverage, and that is VERY tempting.

Fast and controllable focusing is a given with a modern camera, isn't it? Well I normally use spot focussing, and on the Samsung this works well. The Fuji however was another story, and it would make it's own choices about what to focus on if you were trying for macro or shooting through glass. It should be less of an issue with an SLR since one can switch to manual. However one thing that really impressed me with the old Sony a700 body I tried earlier in the week was the eye level activated focus mode that would automatically focus on the target when you raised it to your eye - no more missed shots while trying to carefully half-press the shutter button, check it was in focus before fully pressing. That feature would have probably doubled or better the number of successful bird shots I've captured.

A fly in the focusing ointment is that the a58 I favour has been reported as suffering back focusing (focusing behind the target) sometimes, and Sony will not fix this because the cameras are within manufacturing tolerance. This is not unique to these cameras, and the Fuji I sold certainly did this, as does (did?) the Canon SX40 my brother owned.

Many cameras do not have a screen that comes out from the body, and I'm torn as to whether this should be a show-stopper. It always seemed silly to me - it's for people to take selfies, right? Until I got down on hands and knees to take a macro shot and then discovered I wouldn't need yoga to look through the viewfinder or compose on the rear screen. It's also useful if you photograph groups of people, because it allows you to work like a professional, mounting the camera on a tripod, making proper eye contact as you move them around and check composition by glancing down like I did with my roll film cameras. Many Sony cameras have articulating rear screens, and most others do not.

And then there's the rest, which are somewhat related.

In my 20s I'd happily carry 8-10kg of photo gear around all day, but now my shoulder aches after 30min with a bag foll of 35mm gear. So I loved the size and handling of the a700 I tried Monday, but was worried about wearing the 900g (+ lens) mass round my neck. Modern entry-mid range cameras are nice & light, being mostly polycarbonate, and come in around 500-700g, plus modern lenses are also placky and likewise relatively featherweight. A friend recently bought a Nikon D3200 as her first DSLR and has been taking great pictures, but the body is tiny in my hands, and would feel cramped, I think, so something a little larger is required. It would also be great to have separate input dials for aperture and shutter control when in manual mode, but most entry/mid level bodies use just one, the exception being the Pentax K500.

So here's the rub: I have a bunch of old and heavy minolta lenses that would give me 'instant outfit' with a Sony a58, and that camera ticks most of the boxes, yet it isn't flawless by any means, and there are serious questions about viewfinder quality and focusing. These are very cheap right now in relative terms.

The Pentax K500 also ticks many boxes - on paper, hope to try one soon - in different ways from the Sony, and comes with a quite different set of trade offs. It also has image stabilisation inside the body like the Sony, and can take old Pentax lenses with varying degrees of functionality as long as they have a K mount, which opens up a huge range of glass. It also has built-in HDR functionality and a bunch of other desirable program features. And IF I want to change makers, now is the time to do it. But some things are clunky or poorly designed, like the live view and video functions, and it would require buying further lenses.

It's nice to have a new camera with clean sensor and warranty.

Or I could sacrifice a couple of those 'wants' for an older pro/upper mid-level model, with greater robustness, more function control and lower image quality and risk buying something that was too heavy to want to carry all day and left me frustrated about noise or blur.
Choices aren't an unmixed blessing, what ever the Tory party might think.

Let me tell you, looking at camera adverts and reading reviews becomes TEDIOUS after a bit. I know more about the development of various camera lines than I ever wanted to, who uses whose sensors and which lenses to buy. Frankly it's making stuff fall off the back of my mental desk. Think I'm going to just take a best guess & do it to stop the fuss - as someone said, there's no bad cameras at this level being made now.

Lets see if I can negotiate a discount with LCE in Leamington tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Is it dangerous to sit & think?

I have a gap between customer jobs right now and the pressure is off in one sense, but I’m sat here thinking about things, peering out of the window from this office.

There’s a large tree about 150 feet away, and the leaves are like a yellow and green froth, while in the middle is a dark, strong and branching trunk that looks a little like a person with arms upraised, supporting all the foliage. Sometimes the stuff around me is just a passing blur, and sometimes I can stop, look, see and then become filled with the love of how things look as a desire to photograph it for others to see too. Yesterday I had to return a shower cubicle to a place near Manchester, and drove back over the Derbyshire dales through a rain storm – quite lovely, and with lighting to live for.

I’m thinking about a replacement camera. The Fuji that was bought for the trip to Africa was good for snaps and the long lens was a powerful tool for creativity, but the actual image quality was a disappointment and a step back from the Samsung S850 compact I’ve had for so long. Subtle colours were great – brilliant even – but noise was always intrusive, even at the lowest ISO setting, and focussing often hit and miss.

The Fuji was sold last week – for 7 months use and more than 5000 frames, the hit we took wasn’t too bad, at less than 2p an image. So this time it will be a DSLR type (as it should have been back then). I have a bunch of lenses left over from my 35mm days that will fit a Sony Alpha series body, so I can do the ‘instant outfit’ thing without huge outlay. The question is now down to whether to buy an older pro-level body or an enthusiast level new design. An older body would have a lower performance sensor, lack of live control of exposure and composition and high weight, but in the case of the A700 I tried, a fantastic viewfinder, better control possibilities, metal chassis and weather sealing. A new hobbyist design would have lower noise sensor (a usable ISO 6400 is promised) live view with articulating rear screen and light weight. And it would be new and come with a couple of years warranty, which isn’t trivial.

So far the idea of going new is winning, but I’m remembering the superb viewfinder on the A700 I handled yesterday.

And I’m wondering about the church, where we go next, what the pressure points will be, what I should be talking about, how we can draw people together and build them up. Some aspects have been fantastic, with a real sense of God at work in us, but other areas have robbed me of my joy, life and hope. It seems no matter how good things are, there’s always a source that will attempt to bring discord and dissention.

I’m really aware that the thing we lack most right now are those who really have a heart to share the gospel, a real heart for the lost. We have a lot of shepherdy people who care about others to varying degrees, but not enough with a burning desire to really tell the world the good news of Jesus. It worries me that it makes us unbalanced and slightly disabled, to use the church-as-body metaphor.

And the other things I feel need teaching about are worship and accountability: how to worship together as a church and how to be accountable to each other (there may need to be some ‘why be accountable’ too). The Church of England is actually pretty good on accountability compared to many evangelicals, having a very clear structure of authority, though it looks *to me* like a terribly complicated system. It doesn’t always trickle down to the grass roots however, so we’ll see on that.

I see accountability as something the person giving an account does voluntarily, rather than being enforced and directed from on high. It usually only becomes necessary to start questioning from a position of authority when people don’t make themselves personally accountable and insist on doing stuff their own way. If they aren’t willing to be accountable in their own local church and to that leadership then they need to move to one where they will be accountable –maverick behaviour is always destructive sooner or later.

And to answer the original question, yes, probably.

I worry sometimes that my inherent quirkiness, awkwardness, inclination to want to hide and to keep silent get in the way. There’s almost always a battle between what I’m called to do and when my nature would have me do – actually that’s true in so many areas – and at times the difficult or unhelpful bits of ‘me’ take over. Guess I should be grateful that I could never be a superstar in the church, with a dozen cars, personal jet, couple of homes and a small retinue that ‘look after’ me at all times. :D

Saturday, 19 October 2013

There's a word that I've been hearing for a long time.

I know in some circles that word has been tarnished by those who have abused it and given a bad name by those who fail to understand it or have an independent spirit, but it's a good word for the church.

That word is accountability.

A significant issue we had as a church in the past was that people would just do stuff. It wasn't that the stuff they did was usually bad, but the attitude behind it sometimes was really based on pride and an independent spirit that refused to recognise authority in others and in church leadership. It has been a mould that, I think God has been working to break in us, and is one of the chief sources of the pain and difficulty we have experienced as a church. And it has been a difficult mould to break.

We have recently re-started having a worship team, and for months I had been asking the leadership team for permission to set something up before agreement was given. Sure something could have been organised independently, the PCC presented fait accompli and arms twisted to make life difficult for them so that they'd have to accept it or face more hassle in how the church ran. But that would have been giving myself to wickedness and drawing others deliberately into the same sins whose consequences we suffered before. Instead, there is peace, blessing, harmony and unity. I don't have to feel pride, because it's not 'my' worship team, but rather the churches worship team whom I have been priviledged to hep organise and work with.

Despite the witticism, it is so much better to seek permission than forgiveness and an independent spirit is not acceptable in those who wish to serve and lead God's people. Yes, there's forgiveness for when we get it wrong, but it's so much better to get it right and not cause ourselves and others hurt and pain when we do it our way.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Insight for worship from a wild and angry drummer?

Rolling Stone magazine interviewed Ginger Baker in a somewhat thoughtless fashion and got given a fairly hard time. Toward the end of the article he is asked a question about practicing and replied:

"I practiced for a couple of years, in 1958 and '59, and since I haven't practiced at all. The only time I bang my drums is when we're on a gig."

 I have a recollection of Noel Redding (bass player for Jimi Hendrix) saying something similar about never practicing and only running through the songs before a gig sufficiently to make sure everyone knew what they were playing.

For me, the whole practice thing has been a double-edged sword. At times I have very specifically practiced to learn pieces that are not part of me or the way I want to play, so that I can use them in specific and limited scenarios. I have also deliberately made myself practice to try to regain stamina and strength after not playing for prolonged periods, most notably recently, where I was returning to playing in church after live worship stopped at the chapel. To begin with I couldn't play for more than about 5min without pain, and I still haven't really regained sufficient speed and precision for lead work, though that's coming back.

There's long been a train of thought that says one must continually strive to be better and better, as though music were an olympic sport instead of an art form. Paul Satriani made a comment probably more than 20 years ago about wanting to play a continuous fast stream of arpeggios - practicing until he could achieve it, and that thinking has had a vice-like grip on the guitar community. But Baker also made an interesting comment about this approach when asked if he still tried to get better & do new things:

"No. You can play what you want to play. What's the point of trying to play things that are difficult just for the fact of doing it? 


 And to a large degree, apart from when I've felt pressured to play what other people play, and occasionally inspired by what I've heard so that I want to learn how to do it too, that's pretty much how I've felt.

Music is a curious thing to learn.

With most creative skills we will normally go away and just do the thing we want to do, often gradually becoming better at it as we do it more. Music isn't taught like that, and from an early stage we are trained to break it down, repeat a phrase, passage or sequence over and over again until we develop muscle memory and the ability to reproduce the piece without thought. Often that is needed because we are playing (guitar, at least) too fast for thought, but the result of this practice is that we reproduce patterns or riffs without thought, and it might be argued, often without creating music ourselves. If we were painters, in order to practice we might simply grab a canvas, sit down and paint, but as a guitarist you're expected to draw that flower again and again and again until it's perfect and identical, each time, every time.

A friend pointed out that one big-name worship bands' live albums were tighter than most ordinary bands could manage in the studio.

My experience of playing in worship has gradually moved me in a different direction from that. There was certainly a time I'd sit & practice pieces to reproduce in front of others, but in the end I realised that although there was a sense of achievement in nailing CD intros, it wasn't adding to the worship because it was just a noise instead of being part of the creative stream. It was a bit like giving a painter a canvas and then telling them they needed to fill it using pre-cut stencils in a specific pattern. And while someone with a decent eye for design could probably create something very pleasing, it wouldn't really be much of an expression of their own creativity. There are times it can be useful to experiment and evaluate certain techniques or sounds, but they need to become our own, rather than remaining like a sticker that we carefully apply to our picture.

Now I'm not saying that we need to all desperately try to work out how we can be us in creating things, but within the worship community so much sounds formulaic that one has a sense there are few who are doing more than just rearranging a collection of words and using a contrived backing track to stop it sounding the same as the previous song. As my good friend Edward would like to point out, we all like our liturgies and patterns. But just as one can become religious about the way things are done in church, so it can be over music and song construction too.

And I'm not really advocating a sloppy anarchy, but for me, one of the important things about playing in worship is that we create and flow, rather than link a series of stencils together.

Monday, 14 October 2013

I clearly have a masochistic streak

Trying to look up flight detail, especially costs, with a view to going with up to 8 people to Bosnia-Herzegovina next year. Our internet connection has apparently gelled in anticipation.

There's a side of me that love to juggle such variables, and it's great fun to explore available details, but there are also times when I want to 'get there already' and then it just creates nightmares. Seeing the adverts for Christmas markets in exciting places (Salzburg, Copenhagen and Helsinki) also appealed considerably, and made me want to make further travel plans.

So yesterday was our first Sunday of freedom.

Freedom from MP3 audio files and the tyranny that goes with recorded worship.

I am so grateful for what God has done with us, as a small group of musicians, and also so grateful for the church's response to us. We're not perfect (and I was nervous too!) but it's a first step forward.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

An illustration of....

.... lack of forward thinking.

This was shot as is (i.e. not cropped) in one of the marquees at the Looe music festival. I'm sure they are all very nice people, really. ;-)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

I never have a problem with forgiveness

But I do right now.

Seeing people I care about hurt because of misunderstandings, not of their making, and I'm really angry. No idea where this is going to go, and I hope sleep brings a change of heart.

Today (Saturday) is better. However forgiveness of sin does not mean we don't live with the consequences of our actions.

Apparently people want to read about tech stuff.

Post my thoughts on the church, theology, guitars & effects, scifi, phiotography or almost anything else and the post will get between 20 and 50 hits. Post about LinuxliteOS and computer-related matters like Windows, OSX etc. and the post will generate 100+ hits. My post about the problems with flash adverts and OSX has 473 views.

I won't change anything - this IS a personal blog after all - but curious what draws people.

Book choice and strange ideas

This may have been mentioned before, but when ever I start the Kobo software on a computer, one of the suggested book choices is Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov. The information given when you hover over the cover suggests that the reader may be too nice, and that men want a strong woman who will stand up for herself.

Nuts, really.

I’d say that men want quite a variety of things in a woman, but neither mindless fawning nor a headstrong ‘bitch’ are going to actually work out well for more than a very small minority with skewed tastes (read mental/social health issues). I’ve known one woman who told me that men liked being given a hard time, but I’m pretty sure that was all about justifying some of her own behavioural issues than observing a positive response in those she dealt with - it may be easy to mistake tolerance and love from a partner for positive acceptance for those with this type of personality flaw.

From this perspective of more than 30 years marriage, having deliberately tried to break stereotypes in the beginning, I’d suggest that most healthy individuals want partnership with an equal, but one who puts the relationship before their own specific wants. I’ve seen a few marriages fail too, and generally that’s been where one or both halves have put their wants (not usually needs) above the level of the relationship.

I’m also reminded of Janet Street-Porter, that model of demureness and timidity (tongue in cheek) who loves marriage, having been married so many times. I’ve no idea whether her on-screen persona is a reflection of who she is off-camera (seems pretty likely though) but it strikes me that while the ‘bitch’ persona may be able to rapidly start relationships, she will kill them pretty darn quickly too.

Anyway, that’s enough coffee-break psychology for one morning.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

How, Why, Where?

Life is full of challenges.

I quite like Douglas Adams quote:

“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?”

The thing is, today's weather has not been exactly clement, and yesterdays wasn't either, despite occasional moments when we did actually get to see a little sunshine. We'd quite like to go out for dinner, but don't really want to chance getting drenched on the way out or home again, having already experienced the joys of feeling water running from my jacket down my trousers. There's also food in the fridge and a couple of DVDs (courtesy of a trip to Tesco after yesterday washed out) that we could watch.

Looks like tonight is probably sorted then.

Maybe that's the answer? We shall have dinner right here*.

I can hear the raindrops hitting the door and window again – and today was apparently going to be the 'nice' day.

Tomorrow is our thirty-twothed wedding anniversary, and we're likely to spend it at the Eden project, which is likely neither Eden, nor a project any more.

*Note to self: NEVER buy pre-prepared pizza and expect something nice to eat. Pizza doesn't survive pre-preparation and re-heating, at least, not when bought in supermarkets.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Do you wish it was different?

Just re-read the Mooch post. It was intended to be both descriptive and funny, but comes across as sarcastic and slightly bitter. That may well show both a side of my character that I'd prefer not to have and a form of humour I enjoy.

I'd like to be kind, generous, witty, gentle, insightful, loving and humorous, and some of the time I manage one or occasionally more of those things. But also quite a bit of the time I don't, sadly.

Doing church as just church

Blogging from last week

I've brought a couple of books with me: books that 'should be useful' or 'good to read' kind of books, as well as all the wacky scifi (I like Cordwainer Smith) I have on the Kobo.

So tonight I sat down for a few minutes with Floyd McClung's 'You see bones – I see an army' that it seemed right to buy earlier in the year. I'd begun to read, but got no further than the first of the introductions that so frequently seem to get in the way (too many books have intros that make me put them down and forget them).

Anyway, he was talking about the things the church is intended to be, and I had a realisation that I've stopped treating Heyford Park Chapel like an Anglican church and have just been trying to treat it like a church that I'm there to serve & help to grow. There are still the rules, the heresies, the stuff that gets in the way of building a healthy community, but to a large degree they don't really matter that much. I'm confident that God will either deal with them as the time comes or we'll end up just doing the stuff God has called us to and the other stuff will fade away.

One of the fascinating things about starting the APEST teaching series is that the church our material originated from uses 'Go-Communities' – essentially smaller churches committed to changing the community they have been planted in, even though they are part of a larger (in their case, MUCH larger) church group. And HPC is just like that: we've been planted to change our community, even though we are part of a much larger church structure. The likenesses can be broken down after a bit, true, but it's an encouraging realisation.

And it feels like a small beginning, but somehow, with all these giftings being released and enabled in the church we are going to see it growing too. And that I am really looking forward to.

Just an idle thought: is there a uniform for troubled souls?

So I followed up the link to Rose Redd in the post below (if you follow it, be aware of the rude auto-playing video - that is to say it's rude to make audio/video autoplay when you land on a website, rather than the content being rude). Quick check in the bio - talks about being troubled at 12.

When I saw the lass on stage there was a look that was familiar from so many of the troubled teens I'd known. There's no one thing I can point to, but it seems to be a combination of hair dye, gothy clothes, piercings and a certain attitude that may spring from experiencing the world too young. Whatever, it's almost as though there is a uniform, even though everyone is different.

Makes me want to ask WWJD?

Makes me also grateful for parents that stand by their children, what ever they go through.

How much can one mooch?

Another blogpost from last week.

So yesterday (Sunday) we had a day of mooching round Looe again, the music festival being in its final day.

Chris has concluded she only likes music she already knows, which is an eensie bit inaccurate, but I understand where she's coming from. There are many things that are improved, knowing where they will go, and music benefits from a certain degree of fulfilling expectations: it makes following the tune/pattern easy and aids singing along no-end. This music festival has been informative for me, because it's helped me realise how much making good music relies on having a tune people can follow and hooks that are memorable. Repetition of dull or uninspiring phrases or riffs is not a substitute.

While wandering through the town we came across the little stage we'd seen the day before, only this time there was a girl with dyed crimson hair and matching lipstick standing there with another girl and a chap stood toward the back. The girl called herself Rose Redd – guess it's a gimmick that made her stand out, if a little corny – and was only 19 (looked late 20s to me – what do I know?) and her younger brother was playing bass. They did a bunch of cover songs, all acoustic, and she had a good voice. Of all the acts we'd seen, she was probably the only one we found worth stopping to listen for a while. I'll probably look her up – is apparently her home page – when we get back. As usual, mixing wasn't great, though much better than the day before, and the guitars badly needed compression & limiting, becoming thunderous when swapping from picking to strumming.

In the evening we went back to the town for a fish'n'chip dinner. The festival was finishing that evening and the place was packed with fat older women dressed in hippie gear or with dyed hair, groups of teenagers, guys looking like refugees from a merchandising convention in various festival tee shirts and people in their early 20s looking a bit lost. Couples were seen having serious conversations to each other in various places. An odd atmosphere.

We were trying to find somewhere that would provide dinner at a reasonable price. Our legs were tired and we really wanted to sit down, so hoping to find something 'traditional' in the way of a chippy. There were 'real' restaurants that were happy to charge £14 for Cod & Chips, and LOADS of take-aways (we don't seem to do take aways any more – in discussion over dinner Chris reminded me she NEVER did takeaways, which was something my family often did to save money, and she's gradually trained me out of the idea) but hardly anything right.

Eventually we wound up at a place called 'Daves'.

Daves had a queue about 15 people deep coming out of the entrance for takeaway, but they also had an area for sitting down at the rear, with a separate till, so in we went. A traditional chippy, greasy, not too clean, busily serving hundreds of 'skinless Cod & chips' covers to the great unwashed festival crowd. We chose from the menu & I went to the counter to order. An orange sign on the wall said something like “No, we won't do it your way. This isn't burger king, and you'll damn well have it our way or you won't have it at all”.

I ordered cod & chips twice plus drinks, then sat down again.

Cutlery arrived in a tin bucket. The beech wood print formica tabletop had crumbs of food left behind and the place mats splodges on, defying the wiping marks from when it was last cleaned. The walls were also wood-printed boarding and the lights were in round orange shades. From the ceiling hung a net with plastic crabs, lobsters and various nautical nicnacs. Down one side were booths, and in the booth beside us were a couple in their 20s, she pretty with a soft face despite a good figure, dark-hair and wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket with gold scarf around her throat, he shaven-headed in a distressed green tee shirt and jeans. They were fed first, and the girl got a HUGE plate of chips with cheese on top plus onion rings, while he got cod & chips. Behind them were 2 women and a man, probably in their 50s. They'd had some banter with the waitress about getting bread and butter and paying for it.

After a while our cod and chips turned up.

Traditional fish'n'chips. So we piled on the salt, then on with the vineagar – without adding these essential ingredients fish'n'chips are incredibly bland. The fish was fine, but the chips had that texture that suggested they'd been prepared in a way that didn't involve whole potatoes, and they left a slightly bitter taste afterward that seems a mark of modern long-life cooking oils.

We finished, wandered off to listen to the main stage from the far end of the east beach now they had one of the more serious acts on, building up the the finale. They sounded OK but not terribly exciting, though the guitarist was capable of some good stuff. There was one point where they were getting all 'atmospheric' that Chris was reminded of the Stonhenge scene in Spinal Tap, and she had a point about the musical cliches. We went home for her to watch Downton Abbey and for me to read.

Monday was a new day.

If we were to return home now (Monday night) I'd believe the colour of Cornwall is grey, because that's the colour everything has been (apart from Dave's greasy diner). Can't complain though – at least it wasn't raining this morning, mostly.

So we fancied going for a walk, taking the bus over to Polperro (next town along the coast, £5.80 on the bus) and walking the 3 or 5 miles (yeah, right) back.

Polperro is the first bit of Cornwall I've seen that made me think it might be special. Looe is like Hastings in the 70s, only smaller, but Polperro had tiny streets, houses built together in impossible ways, a small river running right through the middle and a harbour that sits comfortably with the word quaint. There are also various shops selling arty bits & pieces, some of it nice, but none of it stuff that sensible people buy except to give to other people in revenge for souvenirs they've been previously given. There was an art shop/studio selling various people's paintings, and while some were excellent, some were so weak that Chris said she would have been embarassed to show anyone if it had been hers, let alone sell it for £125. Different strokes & all that, but she had a point.

So we walked.

It took a good 2 ½ hours to get back to Looe, and our legs had more than had it by that point. What can I say about it, other than it was a walk above the cliffs, with the sea to our right and green to our left. The path was sometimes muddy, sometimes rocky, and with many short but very steep climbs. There came a point where we had gone over the top of a hill & looked down toward a cove about a mile away thinking that we could see the entrance to Looe. Fat chance. By the time we got back it felt as though we'd walked more like 8 miles than 5 or 5 ½.

Chris took the key and went on ahead to slowly climb the steps up to our house while I bought chicken for dinner and a bottle of merlot for later. It seems ridiculous to have got so tired on such a relatively short walk, but there we are. The hills were quite steep, so I guess that must be the reason. Combined with the viciously steep hill that we must walk up every time we go out, we'd more or less decided that was it for the day, so stayed in and read/wrote up this blogpost. Dinner was Tikka Masala & rice, which was fine by me.

Hope we'll sleep well tonight.

Pictures will be along - eventually - probably.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Beginning the week in Cornwall.

I am slightly tempted to ask myself “why Cornwall?” as a place to take a break*, other than relative convenience (4 hour 220 mile drive) lower cost than travelling abroad (by a small margin) and the easy availability of accommodation. So it took a bit less time to arrive, and without the hassle of flights, airports, passports etc. Yet at the same time it's just 1 step away from packing for a weeks camping – with travelling abroad you KNOW the stuff you can take is limited and work accordingly, but here, knowing we were self-catering made me pack more stuff that we would otherwise acquire at t'other end. Last night was our first home-cooked meal here: locally bought steaks with olives and peppers that I'd brought.

The journey down was entirely reasonable, and we found the town and house without struggle or even major effort – almost too easy! The house itself is at the top of a very steep hill, and climbing that several times a day IS a major effort. The house itself is a cottage, small even by our standards, on 3 levels, with a steep and narrow staircase with a low ceiling part-way up. As of the first morning Chris has already slipped down one section, skinning an elbow and bruising a buttock, while I bashed my head on the low ceiling. Hopefully the pain will quickly teach us to move and duck carefully, and that will be the last of it.

When we first entered the building there was a smell characteristic of wooden seaside houses that I remember from family holidays in Hastings, where we stayed in a house at the very top of Allsaints street in the old town. That house was seriously old and largely timber constructed, with floors and staircases that tilted drunkenly at peculiar angles and walls that were rough-plastered and sloped away. It smelt of creosote, but more than that, there was a slightly smoky scent underneath that this place shares. It was also not very modernised (though that was the early-mid 70s so modern was all relative) and there was a very distinct lack of heating except for a couple of vast open fireplaces. This house by contrast has central heating, with a background temperature of around 19 degrees (from the livingroom thermostat) and feels very cosy and comfy.

The house itself seems nicely furnished, and is likely someone's home at certain times of the year. There are lots of 'local' nicnacs around the place – bits of driftwood, basket lampstands, wooden seabird models, seaside paintings, knotted ropes etc - and a few photos of the same people here and there. Too much stuff for a holiday home that you would just rent to people, and would likely take far too much effort to keep clean and dust-free. Things are also not as we would naturally arrange them, especially the lighting and stuff in the kitchen, but we're all different. We tried to share the bath, and that gets a thumbs-down, especially as the plug leaks like a seive and the tub itself is incredibly shallow. But the bathroom itself is ncely done, and someone has sized the radiator well to keep it warm enough.

I already mentioned the house is at the top of a hill. The bedroom on the 3rd floor has a balcony and doors that open out, and the view of the town is rather good, even if it has been just misty and damp so far. If the weather brightens** then it will be a lovely place to sit and read, occasioanlly looking out across the town.

Looe (cue toilet jokes) itself is quite 'olde-worlde' in places, typical seaside holiday town in others. It turns out that there's a music festival being held right in the town this weekend, with venues all over and street artists performing too. We were tired after arriving, and didn't investigate much on the first day, but they seem to have covered a broad range of musical styles with the artists booked, though with quite a few acoustic-sounding acts. This has reminded me of how music is such a subjective thing, both in terms of the quality/content of the acts and also the mixing and production of those acts in a live context. Hearing some of the acts made me wish I could be playing in a band. Generally the music wasn't impressive, sadly: lots of whiney voices singing songs that each sounded similar, often lacking tunes and hooks, badly mixed with unbalanced sound. There was an old chap playing acoustic guitar and singing in a small marquee by the estury, and from the side his guitar sounded great and the voice OK. In front however (where people were gathering) it was just a terrible racket, painfully sharp-edged, and with way too much voice against weak guitar. The best sound I heard was from a group busking in the street, who had brought small amps and just did it all themselves – balanced, clear, and very live sounding.

I don't know if it's me getting old or whether something has changed in the way music is produced, but the sound at The Big Church Day Out was distinctly un-impressive too, and it's hard to explain why live music isn't more fun to listen to. I'm genuinely wondering if the use of more modern amplifier technology (lots of high output/light weight amps are running in class D now) affects the quality of sound reproduction in a way that is inferior to class AB or class B amps, even though they were all solid state. A bit like the change from LP to CD, where the highs were higher and lows lower using CDs, but it sounded lousy compared to the warmth and smoothness of a good LP on a decent (or even cheap) deck. Who knows?

So we're waiting to go out, Sunday morning.

About 9am the wind picked up & it started raining. Things have backed off in terms of airborne moisture, but it's still cool and damp outside. Breakfast was locally bought croissants and pain au chocolat, and they were some of the nicest I'd tasted outside France. Now 11am, and time to go out.

* 2 days in when this was written and I'm still asking myself a little. I reckon Poland is rainbow coloured compared to this place of grey and cloud.

 ** Only Friday was dry and sunny, and we spent the late afternoon up there.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Home from a mostly grey and damp Cornwall.

At least our last day there was sunny, and was the best day of the break. Blogposts coming up later, along with photos.

Now I need to go cut the grass, because it's been warm and sunny up here and our lawn has gone pretty wild.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Today is

Our thirty-twothiversary. Yay us. We even saw a little sun right at the end of the afternoon, for the first time all week.

Cornwall is probably lovely, but I really don't mind if we never come back.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

How and why do we do church?

I've been reading Floyd McClung's book 'you see bones' today, and it's been feeding back into all those things tucked away in me about church being simple, relational, self-feeding etc. He clearly has a personal anti-establishment stance, and while I largely agree with him, it doesn't seem headed anyplace helpful for someone looking to see how God is going to bring renewal to a heavily institutionalised church.

But the challenge is there to find ways to enable life to come, to produce authentic new testament style church that can affect the community, rather than just occupy the building we use as fully as possible. I know that's happened sometimes, and it makes me feel dirty.

Challenges, challenges.