Archived entries for Things I like

Fun with 35mm film

I’ve had a lot of fun over the last week playing with some old-school 35mm film cameras, which remind me of the very first proper camera I used, my Dad’s old Nikon F-301. Using a film camera again reminds me of the patience you had to have when using film, the way you could set the camera up before each shot but have no idea until later on whether the settings had done the trick. No instant preview. No delete button. Not a histogram in sight.

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[Image: Wikipedia/Red Boes

The different characteristics of film: “sunny” Kodachrome 200, “serious” Ilford Delta Black & White 400. At university, I spent a while in my first term in the darkroom on campus, trying to develop some black and white negatives. I can still remember the thrill of seeing the image appear onto the paper as if by magic.

I experimented with slide film, doing a photo shoot in Exeter Cathedral on a bright winter’s day. The challenge of getting it all right, because slide film is brutally honest about where you’ve not exposed properly. Getting the slides back in the post and marvelling at how real the images looked.

You can find all sorts of old 35mm SLR cameras on eBay these days. The flagship Nikon F100 is being sold for a tenth of its original price. I love digital, the convenience of “developing”, editing and printing digital photos, and the ability to share and discuss your hobby with others around the world. With 35mm film, though, there’s a chance to step back a bit and appreciate the history of how we got here in the first place. Next time you’re second-hand shopping, why not grab a bargain film camera and enjoy a bit of old-school photo shoots yourself?

The energy generation

I’ve got an idea. First, though, I thought I’d set the scene.

According to a recent article in the Observer, there are lots of new graduates, fresh from university with good degrees and strong CVs, and yet due to the recent economic turmoil, this new generation of bright young things are all failing to find those high-flying jobs as advertised in the numerous career brochures which float around campuses across the country. In other news, we learn that Russia and Ukraine have been squaring up to each other in a standoff over gas supplies, a row which apparently has now been resolved according to the latest reports, but which only serves to highlight the increasing dependence of European countries on Russia for this sort of traditional energy. It’s about time we shifted the focus onto newer, more self-sufficient ways of generating power, which we’re going to have to think about anyway due to the recent agreement among EU countries to increase the amount of energy that the EU gets from renewable resources from a measly 7 per cent up to 20 per cent by the year 2020.

So what we have, then, are lots of graduates who are all dead keen to get stuck into something exciting and cutting edge, something which makes a genuine difference and could even have international implications. OK, so they might not have given that impression when they were still students. In fact a more accurate description might be that genuine excitement came in the form of a special offer on vodka jelly, cutting edge research involved keeping up with Eastenders and the international side of things didn’t feature too heavily beyond trying to get into bed with the lovely Italian exchange student down the road.

University was fun, now for the world of work. Given the context that I’ve outlined above, what better way to employ these young people than to get them involved in helping to develop the next generation of renewable energy? If you’re a graduate reading this, by the way, don’t run off screaming at the thought of having to put on bright yellow wellies and trudge through the countryside doing environmental impact assessments for wind farms. There’s something for everyone here, if you think about it. Renewable energy is no longer just something for hyper-environmentalists and bearded scientists. It can’t be, because we’re all going to have to get involved sooner or later. Already, we’ve read reports and seen pictures of people in places like Bulgaria, freezing in their homes this winter because of a lack of gas. Isn’t it time we learnt how to become more independent?

It’s something that everyone can get involved in, and in the case of these graduates who are now all looking for meaningful jobs, whatever subject you studied and skills you have, you can all bring something to the table. For the physicists, the chemists, the maths graduates, for example, I think it’s pretty clear that these are skills which can be put to immediate use. What use, I hear you ask, is a degree in history when it comes to this sort of thing? Plenty. Historians are generally very thorough people, good at checking facts and spotting arguments that work and those that don’t. Perfect, in my view, for fine-tuning the propaganda that will be needed if we’re going to win mass popular support for energy change.

Psychologists also have their part to play, looking at for example the difference between the anxieties that people have about what it might be like to live near a windfarm, or a hydroelectric dam, compared with the actual psychological effects of doing so. We might find that people soon forget they have solar panels on the roof once they’re actually there. (The solar panels on the roof, that is, not the people. I imagine if you were stuck on a roof, you wouldn’t worry too much about some solar panels).

English graduates can help explain the case for renewable energy in clear, easy-to-understand language, and marketing graduates can help sell the idea. Those with degrees in sports science can win support from people that do sports that use natural energy like windsurfing, kiteboarding and downhill mountain biking.

I think we can all see that renewable energy is something that’s got to be done, and it’s something which I personally think is A Good Thing. This isn’t a moment of sudden eco madness on my part, by the way; it’s something that I actually feel quite strongly about, enough at least to do my bit to help win the recent support for the Gwynt Y Mor wind farm. There are plenty of celver, energetic people out there, looking for work, and at the same time we’ve got a so far pretty empty-looking government department which is dedicated to the task and waiting to get started. What could be simpler?

Breathe in the air

I’ve changed the theme on this blog and also, hopefully, begun the process of writing entries more regularly. A lot has happened since my last post, I’ve been to stranded in Strasbourg in the snow, I’ve watched the Belgians out in force to try and preserve the unity of their country, and I’ve found myself suddenly, marvelously in a relationship with a lovely girl, Zoe. Hence the reason for the slight diversion from documenting my goings-on here. Only to be expected, of course. One can easily imagine the outcome in the first couple of weeks if I’d have devoted more attention to online reportage than romance: “Could we leave that meal I was going to cook until maybe tomorrow? It’s just that I was planning on writing a blog entry tonight about a hilarious conversation I ha…hello? Are you still there?”

This last weekend was good. I went to meet Zoe for a short trip to Geneva, where she was attending a meeting of the Grain council in her capacity as an agriculture journalist for Agra Europe. The weather wasn’t too great on the Saturday, but it was great to be close to nature again, and it was dry and cold as we walked along Lac Leman and to the Jardin Botanique. Just to hear the sound of the lake and to actually see the horizon was a much-welcome break from the cluttered streets of Brussels. The real highlight though was Sunday morning, just before we caught the plane back, because it was fantastically clear and sunny, revealing the snow-topped Alps all around the city. Next time, we’re going to plan in advance to try and get out into those mountains. Obviously it’s always good to get away from work from time to time. As an EU journalist, perhaps there’s a deeper appreciation when it comes to escaping for some fresh air.

Speakers

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 Lovely day out to Bruges on the weekend. The pictures, as usual, can be seen here.

I’m helping to cover this month’s plenary session in Strasbourg, and it’s got me thinking about speakers, speeches and the incredible range of ability when it comes to speaking to a group. I was at a meeting last week and listened to a fantastic talk for journalists by Michael Shackleton on the complicated process that is the co-decision procedure. By leaving out much of the jargon, and by keeping up a really enthusiastic attitude throughout, Mr Shackleton was able to get across just why the procedure was so important for the division of power here amongst the European institutions. 

On the other hand, I remember being in another meeting about three weeks ago, and listening in astonishment to someone who managed to speak for about 10 minutes and at the same time managed to say absolutely nothing. I was supposed to be taking notes, and I kept asking myself, after every few sentences, “What has he actually said?”

Sometimes it reminds me of this “management-speak” that you get on a lot of recruitment posters for big companies. You know the sort of thing I mean:

“Kick-start YOUR career by helping us to find strategic solutions tailored towards a client-orientated global financial leader.” 

“This (grinning idiot, pictured jumping in a field, in his suit, with his work mates) could be you. You too can a key player in developing an innovative, people-centric management system for today’s commitment-driven, asset-focused businesses. Reach further, faster.”

The only thing I’ll be reaching for is the dictionary.

Young and, er, wild…

A quick trip to Cardiff for an interview for a place on the postgraduate diploma course in journalism – and, in response to the forthcoming question, I think it went OK and I’ll probably find out next week – and, at the Youth Hostel, I got my suit out of the suit bag…only to find it had crumpled inside. I had got up especially early that day in order to first wash then iron a shirt for this interview, so I was pissed off. “What’s the point of you being a suit bag” I fumed (at the suit bag) “if all you’re going to do is abandon your duties?! Well? No, don’t just shrug your shoulders like that. That’s not going to get the creases out of my shirt now, is it?”
I’m glad no-one entered the dormitory right then and caught me arguing with my suit bag.

So I had the interview in a shirt that had more creases than Keith Richards, but I hope they were paying more attention to articles rather than attire. I had a really nice evening following the interview, actually. At the YH when I got back there were a load of teenagers and my first thought was “Well that’s just great, isn’t it? A tiring and testing day and now a noisy rabble to contend with. Fantastic.”

Actually, though, they were all surprisingly well behaved, and as I was cooking my dinner and hadn’t yet been stabbed by one of the sharp meat knives, I struck up a conversation with a few of them and it turns out they were all Danish, on a school trip to find out about the UK. We ended up chatting for a good while, me telling them about my work in the Parliament and about the great times you have at university, and they told me all about Denmark and their school. It was a fascinating couple of hours. Eventually their teacher came in and reminded them that they were supposed to be in bed 15 minutes ago. They all lept to their feet, apologised to him profusely and scattered upstairs. It could have been such a different set of circumstances, with them coming back at 3 in the morning having been out all night finding out whether beer or wine bottles have the best impact when thrown against a shop window. They had, in fact, been sitting around a table, politely making conversation, and had forgot about the time. I was impressed.

Today I have been mostly…learning about the co-decision procedure and sampling Greek food and wine at a reception.

From Sitting in Seminars to Sipping Champagne

European Parliament

 

Quite a busy first few days of properly getting stuck into my traineeship! The general atmosphere at the moment is hectic, with a police presence everywhere because it is the first meeting this year of the European Council (the Heads of State/Government of the Member States) on the 8th-9th March.

 

I drafted, as my first task, an article from a 27-page report on corporate social responsibility, and I’ve also produced my first genuine piece of work, a summary about the (slightly lighter, 17-page) report about the role of local authorities in the development process. I’ve been to a couple of introductory meetings, and also to an equal opportunities award ceremony, then on Wednesday afternoon I went to a three-hour seminar for journalists on Women Politicians and the Media. Wednesday evening, there was a nice social gathering for all the new stagiaires (work experience people) at a bar near the Parliament, and it was a great to chat with people of the same age, from all over Europe (I was only there for a couple of hours but had a good talk – sometimes in French, sometime in English – with a couple of Italians, a German, a Spaniard and a man from Finland).

The multilingualism is something which is particularly noticeable in the canteen at lunchtime. If you stop for a while, and just listen to the general buzz of conversation going on around the room, it’s almost impossible to make out what any individual is saying; anyone who might want to try and get a snatch of Parliament gossip would have a pretty tough job.

Today was International Women’s Day, so after registering at the Parliament’s library this morning I joined a small gathering in our building, where we had champagne and bread with olives and tomatoes as our own little celebration of the event. My champagne glass kept getting re-filled as I was talking to people, so in the end I’d had about three or four glasses of champagne and was feeling much more light-headed than when I entered the room!

My supervisor clearly has my best interests at heart, and, perhaps having anticipated my eager acceptance of champagne before midday, had already thought of a cunning plan to bring me back down to earth.

“If you could proof-read this before this afternoon” he said, handing me the Briefing document for next week’s Plenary Session. It was 40 pages long.

 

(By the way….you can find my article here.)

Gifts of a different kind

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It’s been a good day today, a day of simple pleasures.

A short bike ride to the beach with my Dad, cruising along the track that runs parallel to the sand. The wind is cold but the sun is out, and the hills are a vivid green in the distance.
Enjoying a quick BLT sandwich in the cafe and catching up with some friends in the village.
I’m doing well, thanks. So where have you moved to now? Working in the power station, is he?
Then an afternoon in the pub with an old schoolfriend I haven’t seen for a whole twelve
months, lots to report from both sides. Leaping from April to October then back to July as
tales are told, characters are quoted and conclusions are drawn. In lowered voices we
exchange the most daring jokes we’ve heard since the last meeting, the ones which make you gasp but leave you grinning.

I’ll be writing to say thanks for the book vouchers, of course, but it’s moments like these
that I’m really grateful for.

Playlists of the Past

Don’t you just love, sometimes, to listen to those pieces of music which will throw you back in time and enable you to relive memories, to feel the same as you once did, provoked by listening to music that made up your playlist at the time? The handy thing about having a digital music player is that in an instant you can call up a song which perhaps you haven’t listened to for months, even years, without having to root around in the attic for that long-lost CD or record. Digital music also avoids that once-familiar problem of remembering that you lent the CD to someone who is now taking a year out, in Siberia.

There’s something about music which for me encourages memories that are much more vivid than if I were to look at an old scrapbook of photographs. This is because, I suspect, I am one of those people who always has music on the go, in addition to being someone who listens to a particular favourite playlist, consisting of the same three or four artists, for weeks at a time. So the events that unfold are mostly accompanied by music, and I think it’s this entanglement of my thoughts and the things I listen to that enables me, later on, to bring back those thoughts and feelings through music.

The resurfacing of old thoughts and feelings can be quite useful, I’ve found, because, provided you can take a step back it’s an interesting self-experiment. Especially examining, through memory, the characteristics of that situation you’ve remembered. To look at what it was about those particular circumstances that produced those emotions. Observing how one reacts emotionally to different circumstances is, of course, difficult in the chaotic arena of Real Life, in which we are forced Deal with Things As They Happen. Looking (or rather, listening) back, though, I’ve sometimes found that it’s possible to stumble across another perspective on things that, although useless in changing the past, enables me to learn that little bit more about myself, the way I react to things, and might hopefully lead to a more cautious attitude in the future.

“Where everything flows…”

It was reading the review of the album in the Guardian on Friday that clinched it. That and being the sort of fan that owns a copy of Ian McDonald’s Revolution In The Head . If you know that book then, chances are, you too have rushed out to buy the same album. If you haven’t, well, you’re missing out. In this book you can discover everything from how much marijuana the group smuggled into Rishikesh, India, on their retreat, to who played the Cor Anglais on Penny Lane . Beauty, details, etc.

If you’re still with me, and haven’t rushed out of your room, computer lab or detention centre at the first sight of Beatles Details (…Beatails?…), you’ll have guessed that, yep, I’ve gone and bought the new Beatles album, Love , remixed and remastered by George Martin (who else?) and his son, Giles.

The songs – there are 26 of them – have been remastered in 5.1 Surround Sound. I was unsure whether the album would “work” for me, because I’ve got permenant moderate sensorineural hearing loss (try saying that with a mouthful of peas).
You’ll be pleased to know it worked brilliantly.
Even I could tell on the first listen how clear and distinct the vocals, drums and other instruments were, from the haunting echoes of Lennon’s voice on Tomorrow Never Knows to the gentle acoustic intro of Here Comes The Sun and the powerful distortion on Revolution. There’s a fresh energy in songs like Lady Madonna or I Wanna Hold Your Hand now that the stomping piano chords and lively backing vocals are that much clearer.

What of the editing? Well, it’s a goldmine for Beatles’ fans, and generally a very uplifting album for those of you who don’t know what happens at 2:58 on Hey Jude (it’s been edited out for this album, by the way). Mixing different parts of loads of Beatles songs must have been a challenge and a half, it’s quite rightly been described as the “best job in the world” by Giles Martin and, of course, one that you’re only likely to get if you’re some sort of music producer genius…or the son of one.
It’s fantastically done, though, and you’re in for a feast of surprises; You’ll hear Ringo’s string-backed “Hovis Advert” vocals at the beginning of Octopus’s Garden, parts of an early rendition of A Day In The Life, George Harrison almost reciting the words of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and, if you close your eyes listening to Yesterday it’s as if you too were backstage watching a young McCartney sing it live for the first time. One of my particular favourites is a three-in-one mix of Drive My Car, What You Doing and The Word. It captures the Summer of Love vibe really effectively with it’s beautiful harmonies and upbeat tempo.

In fact, the mood of the whole album is joyous, because you’re essentially listening to old favourites, in much better quality, with pleasing little changes that keep you listening in anticipation. It’s a bit like having an old auntie round for tea, realising that she’s looking healthier than you’ve ever seen her, and discovering it’s because her knew hobby is off-piste snowboarding. You’ll be smiling for a long time afterwards.

Let’s just take you off that drip for a minute, dear, it’s time to start dancing!

I had my very first session as a radio broadcaster last night! I’ve been doing some work experience with Radio Ysbyty Gwynedd, a hospital radio station which broadcasts to the patients of Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Llandudno hospital. Last night saw me co-present the show with Alan, and yes, I was nervous. Not so much about the broadcasting itself, you understand, because when there’s just the two of you in the studio with the mixing desk and computer, it’s really just as if you’re talking amongst yourselves, albeit with headphones and microphones attached.

No, what was going through my mind the whole time has to do with my tendency towards Stupid, Glaringly Inappropriate Talk, or, in short, the Stupid GIT effect. Those of you who are, like myself, rather absent-minded when it comes to Considering the Consequences, will know exactly what I mean. One becomes accustomed to the awkward silences, the attempts at avoiding eye-contact by feigning an oh-so-sudden interest in one’s own shoelaces, before finally reaching in the thick fog of embarrassment for that ever-handy escape route, the Random Excuse to Leave (or RELeave if you’re taking shorthand).
Most of us, with the exception of, perhaps, Mother Teresa, have been there at some point. You’re in the company of the local vicar, spill the tea as you pass her a cup and, thoughts elsewhere, you mutter “Christ, that’s hot!” as the scalding beverage trickles down your hand.
You’re at the bus stop, talking to the man in the wheelchair, and in the middle of the discussion on the state of public transport you rhetorically inquire, “Don’t you just hate it when you have to leg it for the bus?”

So, when I was doing my co-presenting last night, although I was only really reading out requests, I kept thinking of topics or jokes that I just should mentally label as UNSAFE. There’s an example, right there: I did not, for example, have a “mental” Friday night out; I had, for the sake of the listeners, a delightful time at the…jigsaw club dinner.

Hospitals have got enough issues with people complaining about the lack of hygiene. Let’s hope Hospital Radio doesn’t make it to their list of things which need to be kept clean…



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