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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Barrow Hill

It's a distinctive small hill near Ashleworth in Gloucestershire. Click photos to enlarge.

From Tirley during the recent flooding
The North Face
Looking North-West

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Ot Moor and Sunset Photography

I first found out about Ot Moor from an Ordnance Survey map of Oxford around 40 years ago. It was unusual in that it had no contour lines.and was crossed by a number of bridle paths so I could legally ride my bike. Somehow, I never seemed to get there.

The Romans had chosen Ot Moor for part of their Dorchester-on-Thames to Bicester road project and in 1980, the government decided it would be a good precedent and planned for the M40 to cross it. The "Friends of the Earth" disagreed, bought a vital piece of land and sold it off in small parcels to 3500 supporters making the process of compulsory purchase by the government an administrative nightmare. The government retreated and changed the law to prevent future stunts of this type.

On Saturday, I got there!  I was on the way to a dance, the sun was out and I diverted to Oddington and walked to the centre of Ot Moor where a bridleway cross roads is celebrated

Like many flat places, it's wet with lots of slow moving watercourses  that wander around rather than do the conventional spring-stream-river-sea thing.
Bridleway crossing the water

Some parts are just flooded
It was the sky that offered most to the photographer

 I've always tried my luck photographing sunsets and my Panasonic Lumix TZ20 even has a "Scene mode" for sunsets (but not sunrises). Sure enough, this yielded a spectacular "sky on fire" picture but as I compared the image on the LCD with what I could see in front of me, I was dissatisfied - the contrasting blue streaks in the sky were washed out. So I used the exposure override to stop down and got a more true to life result than the program wanted

What the camera wanted ISO100 F5.1 1/30

ISO100 F5.1 1/60 is more realistic

Reflection of the sky in a flooded field

The moor itself is uninhabited but its surrounded by villages such as Charlton on Otmoor

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A trick for that special dance

You know how it is when a dance goes so right? Maybe the music was just magic, your partner inspired or your body gave more than you remembered it could.

It's so easy in your enthusiasm to jump up for the next dance, but it can never match the magic one. It's an anticlimax.

So, instead, sit and savour that fresh memory. Or walk out into the night air for a time. You know how wine experts talk about "aftertaste", it's like that. A good dance lasts longer than the music.

Another fine dancing experience

Had some really fine dances with a friend recently. She's always been an inventive and fun dancer with loads of power and stamina but over the last year or two she's sharpened up on what you might call "precision". She is exactly where she wants to be - and it matches what I'm trying to do so well.

Superb! :-)

Dancing and power steering

Extraordinary experience at a ceilidh last weekend, I danced the final polka with a male partner. It's not the first time I've done that but it could hardly be called a habit. My partner/follower was a young man I know as a wild and athletic dancer and I expected a bumpy ride.

To my surprise, he didn't "lead" at all and neither did he "follow" in the conventional way. It was as if I'd bolted on a power steering unit. He was adding power in exactly direction I wanted to go.

This is quite different to most female partners. They tend accept the lead fairly passively - or steal it!

So how was he doing it?

I think he might have been sensing my steering and responding fluently with extra power in the same direction - just like power assisted steering on a car.

I also wondered if as he's a man used to dancing the man's part, he was making steering decisions very similar to mine. However, it seems unlikely that there wouldn't have been some dissonance.

I don't think he's a telepath but you never know :-)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Insurance, Gender and Marketing

The story that young women are going to have to pay more for car and life insurance due to a European "equality" ruling is moderately interesting. As is the related issue of annuities used to provide pensions - men will get less than they used to.

"Womens-rights" people may be suffering some cognitive dissonance - equality has given women a worse deal! Myself, I tend towards a "fairness" approach - I don't want a particular group or person  to be discriminated against unless there is some real justification. So as a man who is likely to die before my hypothetical twin sister, I'd like a better annuity deal thank you!

No, to me, the really interesting thing is what insurance company marketing people will do about it. If women are going to have higher premiums despite being lower risk, a profitable business strategy is to attract lots of them. You can't actually turn men away but it would be silly to advertise at football matches.

We might find car insurance websites coloured pink and borrowing a lot of content from women's magazines. How many blokes of the male gender will go for an "offer" on car insurance that includes a free packet of tights?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Lucky Shot

Some photographs are about great planning while others are luck.

I'm planning a great picture of a local canal around 11 March 2013. The Sun is due to set on a bearing of 259 degrees on that day and that's the direction of the canal. I know these things because of careful measurement of the canal on the relevant OS map and the Heavens Above site  to find out what the Sun is up to.

The picture below had more luck in it. During the afternoon, I'd noticed the clearing sky and thought it would be a great opportunity for sunset and related pictures so I went up Cleeve Hill. The powers that be have dotted the place with quite nice iron benches and I spotted one on the skyline - and a couple of people nearby, zoomed in and click!

The Panasonic TZ20 camera I used doesn't have a viewfinder, just a screen on the back so I had no idea exactly what I'd got until I got home and put it up on the PC.

A lesson I'm taking away from this is to make more use of the "burst" mode on the camera when pointing it at people. This picture was a single "snap" but going for a burst ups your chances of getting a good one.

Picture details
F5.9, 1/100, ISO-100, 504mm(35mm eq) cropped from 4320x3240 down to 4320x2170

Sunday, 4 November 2012


The village of Sharpness might, by some definitions be the least visited village in Gloucestershire. It's not really on the way to anywhere. It's where the B4066 ends. A railway line terminates here without the bother of a station. It used to go on to the Severn Railway Bridge and reached Lydney in the Forest of Dean but in 1960, a barge, err, barged into it.

Water connections are more important and give the place a character best described as mixed. It's got a port on the Severn and there's the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Now, some ports and canals are "historic", get the full heritage treatment, are made pretty and become full of "desirable residences". Sharpness hasn't reached that stage yet. For a start, it's still a serious, working port with non-prestigious cargo..

There's a lot of decay

Old crane parts

Old cranes
Actually, not decay: This is lichen covered swing-bridge indicates clean air
My attempt to get a "pretty" photo of the docks
This disused navigation light has some charm

You need to turn to the nearby River Severn for more pretty sights....

This picture is a bit of a cheat - I used the Picasa 3 "I'm feeling lucky" button to get these vivid water and mud colours

Sunset over one of the piers at the harbour entrance

There is some wildlife
The canal basin (foreground) River Severn (middle distance) Forest of Dean (background)

Local shop
The large "Sharpness Dockers Club"
One of several derelict houses
Riverside footpath leading to the defunct nuclear power station

Harbour mouth

View over the river to the various Severn bridges

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

99p restaurant chain expands

Back in May, I wrote about the 99p restaurant that opened in Cheltenham and it has not only survived, they've opened another branch up in the Strand area of the High Street. Every few weeks, I'm in town and get a serious attack of the munchies so I've taken to popping into this place and having a reasonable and generous pizza slice for 99p

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Incense Cedar

Joni Mitchell once sang about 'putting all the trees in a tree museum and charging everyone a dollar and a half just to see them' but at Westonbirt Arboretum they charge 9 quid and I pop back there every now and again to marvel at the autumn colours and to relive some of my gardening roots. For it was here I first saw a blue spruce, a larch and an Acer Palmatum - and I was inspired to plant specimens in the garden of the house where I was brought up. The Acer is still going strong 36 years later - I drive by it occasionally.

The other notable tree, Calocedrus decurrens, I've not planted yet and don't know why it isn't seen more in parks and gardens. In its native California it grows big and wide but in the UK climate it goes for tall and very thin which means you get a lot of impact without taking up space and blocking the sun.

More information

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Prisoner Votes

This is either funny, crazy, hypocritical or just good politics depending on your point of view.

You could argue that continuing to deny all prisoners voting rights is a great bit of justice and will bring home to criminals the perils of breaking the law. Unfortunately, the policy has been ruled unlawful by Europe and continuing to apply it is itself illegal. Which sends a rather curious message to offenders.

On the other hand, the policy is said to be enormously popular with voters - and "standing up to Europe" even more so.

There's also a crazy idea that society should attempt to rehabilitate offenders. Allowing all of them a (postal) vote would be a cheap and easy way of sending a message that we're serious about it.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Honeybourne Line Art

The council turned an old railway line into a path and it's attracted some "art" both official and unofficial. Click pictures to see larger versions.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Don't buy a Kindle!

When I wrote suggesting that bookshops use DRM to  license books rather than selling them I little realised the implications for the book lover. Amazon has been doing this via their Kindle device for some time and recently decided that one of their customers in Norway was perpetrating some sort of fraud. So they broke into her house and cleared her bookshelves - well not literally - they threw a switch somewhere and rendered all her Kindle purchases unusable. In fact they've (electronically) banned her from using a Kindle for life. (Full story)

Related:  Mr Depot Censor, Minister of Repression and Censorship in the Republic of Unsavouria today announced an ambitious project to give away millions of Kindles to citizens. "We will also recycle all book and bookshelves in the country to produce electricity," he continued, "under the guidance of the Party, we have improved access to information and reduced CO2 at a stroke"

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Coombe Hill footwear

After my recent visit to Coombe Hill I decided to pop back because I'd spotted ideal weather for photography and to check the footwear issue. This time, I took standard wellies and got all the away along the boardwalk through the osiers to reach the Grundon Hide (see below).  Mind you, if there was another 4" of water, it would have been difficult to keep my socks dry.

Now, the hide might have seemed like a good idea when they built it, but yer modern wildfowl has Internet access, uses Google Maps and likes its privacy. As a result the birds know about the hide and were keeping a good few hundred yards away from it

As sunset approached, I went over to the South side of the canal and got some pictures - click for bigger versions.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Coombe Hill (Le Canal en Octobre)

The hamlet of Coombe Hill between Tewkesbury and Gloucestershire must once have had a somewhat over-zealous marketing person. The "hill" is about 30m above sea level and only 21m above the canal leading to the River Severn. Still, it attracted the attentions of the geologists and they determined that it was made of Rhaetic Limestone. I'd long been aware of the canal - seen it on maps and noticed it where it met the road but there was a huge middle part I'd never explored so I thought I'd give it a go.

The builders started in 1796 and it was open for business for 80 years conveying coal to Cheltenham until the lock connecting it to the River Severn was damaged and it wasn't worth repairing. In the 1950s it got a "Site of Special Scientific Interest" badge and was bought by the local wildlife trust in 1999. This was because the canal was still wet and the area around it flooded most years which is good for birds and other wildlife. Actually, it didn't flood as well as it used to because the land had been "improved" for agriculture so part of the plan has been to ruin the drainage. I wonder if in 100 years time, they'll reinstate the drainage to recreate a "traditional improved agricultural landscape" or perhaps there will be a desperate need to grow food?

Anyway, the result is it's wet. This picture show the start of an official circular walk around the Northern Meadows. There was an alternative walk to a hide along a boardwalk but...

So, some learning points:

  • Good walking boots are needed for the towpath
  • Almost any excursions will need wellington boots unless there's been a prolonged drought
  • When I've tried again with wellies, I might report that waders are needed, or even SCUBA gear!
Still, some of the wildlife can be seen from or in the canal itself

Can't actually see the wildlife here but there are nice clouds

Did I mention it was wet? You need waders or binoculars to read this information board
Found this sign near where the canal enters the Severn. Elvers are a juvenile form of the common eel and considered a delicacy by some

So why the subtitle on this post?. I was halfway along when I recalled the name of a popular French traditional dance tune "Le Canal en Octobre" and there I was on a canal in October. The title of the tune was misheard as "le Cannard..." by somebody and in some circles, it's called "The Duck"

Some interesting links: