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June 2009 Archives

June 2, 2009

Floating toward the Pentlands

Yesterday we had a very special treat: Keir and I went up in a hot air balloon from Bush House, south of Edinburgh, and floated south-west for about 8 miles, broadly parallel to the A702, at heights ranging from tree-tops to 3000 feet. Each of us had been given an Experience Ecosse voucher as a present for a past birthday by son Sandy. Since ballooning demands still, dry weathe, it naturally took several bookings to get on a flight that went ahead. Our pilot was Pete Foster of Alba Ballooning, ably assisted by pursuit driver Tam. (Tam also has the delicate task of negotiating access to retrieve the balloon with whichever farmer's field is used for landing.) Pete is highly professional, refreshingly concise and calm in his safety briefings, and, as you can see, utterly dwarfed by his balloon:


A feature of the experience is that everybody helps to manhandle, blow up and, later, douse the balloon. This gives you a much more hands-on sense of the scale and weight of this extraordinarily 19th-century form of transport by wicker basket. The pilot has no steering, only the ability to control altitude and hence perhaps to benefit from a different wind direction. Here is Keir, wearing thermal gloves and holding the mouth open while burners are blasting very hot air into it:


Our 7 fellow passengers included another person on a birthday treat - his eighth. He did seem to enjoy the flight, but I found myself wondering what his mother, who came along sporting her D&G handbag and fashion shoes, will find to give him for his ninth. Keir and I were celebrating birthdays totalling 121 years, and I don't mean to suggest that makes us any more deserving than an 8-year old, but at least we could see out over the basket.

We also enjoyed watching the balloon's effect on the astonishing range of people and animals whom we overflew. It's difficult not to feel elevated when looking down over barking dogs, cantering horses and waving children. We were also buzzed by some microlite enthusiasts. Fortunately, in the air as at sea, motorised transport gives way to sail. Here's one of them:


We all enjoyed the eerily silent smooth take-off and at dusk had an exciting, but well-controlled landing: just a few bounces and the basket landed on its side. The departure from the basket was orderly and surprisingly trouble-free given that some folk had to climb down from the upper deck. The flight was rounded off by a glass of bubbly, and we returned to Landrick both elated and soothed. Brilliant!

June 7, 2009

Two old ladies climb Dumyat

We had expected to have son, daughter and grand-daughter staying overnight, but for various reasons they had other plans and we ended up alone last night. So this morning I had the luxury of deciding to go up Dumyat - which I've neglected for too long. I'm hoping that Bramble will manage 12 miles when we take part in the Rotary Club of Stirling hike of the West Highland Way in July, so it seems timely to find out if this is over-ambitious. She was 13 years old last month, so in canine terms she's an even older lady than me. Nevertheless, we both made it and thanks to some kind hikers, we even have a "summit photograph":


Recently, Bramble has been having Cartrophen injections for her arthritis, and if today is a reliable guide I'd say she is walking as well as she did 3-5 years ago. We have also been consciously cutting back on her food, and the combination has created a lighter, livelier, younger-seeming dog who was scampering, not plodding, up steepish slopes. (I wish I could have kept up with her.) The problem was the well-meaning group who were feeding her on the summit. She had been under close control off the lead all the way up, but I hadn't reckoned on her mooching technique at the top. Heaven knows what else they had given her, but I certainly saw a whole Maryland cookie - the kind of treat she never normally get. I fear that her Dumyat climb ended as a net calorific gain.

And since today is our wedding anniversary, Keir and I are just heading for Cromlix House for dinner, so doubtless my day will also end in a net calorific gain. This wouldn't matter so much if I hadn't just booked up to return to Nepal in September, so some serious weight loss and fitness training is badly needed. But not today!

June 15, 2009

A welcome arrival

We had various arrivals at Landrick on Saturday: one was the HD box that will enable Keir to watch tennis in high definition. This was set up just in time for us to see Andy Murray beat James Blake in two convincing sets at Queen's yesterday. The hi-res picture makes it noticeably easier to follow the ball, even when Andy serves at 135+ mph! This should be a great asset for Wimbledon viewing.

But the box which really made my Saturday was the arrival from York Camera Mart of the long-awaited wide-angle zoom lens for my Lumix G1. Unless you are into cameras, you may find it hard to share my excitement, but if you glance at the images below, you may get the gist. This lens picks up from where most "wide-angles" run out of steam. In the old film-based camera world, "wide-angle" might mean a focal length of 35 or 28mm – if you are very lucky, perhaps 24 or even 20mm. But this new lens has focal lengths ranging from the equivalent of 14 to 28mm. I can't wait to try it out on landscapes, where it should raise the standard of photography in our guidebooks.

Since there was no time to get up a hill today, instead I took it with me to a lunchtime meeting with Rucksack Readers' wonderful web designer Dan Champion in the dignified context of Inglewood House, Alloa. Here is its splendid exterior:


Now compare these two snaps of its entrance hall, taken from both extremes of the wide-angle zoom range:



June 20, 2009

A week is a long time in publishing

This has been an interesting week with many journeys, both short and long. After Monday's trips to Aberfoyle and to Alloa (the latter to discuss how to bring our existing website fully into the 21st century), I visited Edinburgh on Tuesday. Mainly this was to meet the team at Seol, the repping cousin of Edinburgh publisher Birlinn. Since February, Seol has been repping our list in Scotland and it was great to meet them at last, and get some feedback from the retailing viewpoint. I managed a quick visit to the National Galleries before it was time to walk down to son Sandy's new flat in East London Street. This is a lovely modern development, with light, spacious rooms and it's great to see him settled there. Even better, he cooked a lovely seared tuna salad for us which we ate at an elegant glass table – in his previous flat, it was more a question of balancing a plate on your knees on the sofa-bed.

Wednesday's visit to Aberfeldy was to meet Richard Struthers of Safe Journeys, who has been leading trips to Nepal for 16 years and with whom I have booked an Everest Base Camp trek in September. I'm hoping to get a fair crack at Kala Pattar this time, and also to return via the Cho La pass (5450m/18,000ft) to Gokyo Lakes, and climb Gokyo Ri. Richard thinks that heavy snowfall is the main hazard that might prevent this, but at present, I suspect that it's my own lack of preparation that would create the challenge.

Thursday was my trip to London, on two publishing visits connected with my IPG membership. The first was a session with Susie Dunlop of Allison & Busby, who is kindly acting as my mentor, and she is proving incredibly helpful. Being a somewhat maverick publisher, based out on a limb in Dunblane, it's all too easy for me to sail on blithely unaware of things we should be doing, or doing differently. Supportive advice from an experienced publisher is a fantastic resource, and I intend to make the most of it.

Then it was time to hasten to the IPG's Meet the Buyers event at which publishers meet buyers from key wholesalers and retailers, both online and bricks-and-mortar, and discover how to try to make them aware of our offer. The answer turns out to be different in almost every case, so it's lots of work but definitely worth knowing how to go about it better. It was held in the recently refurbished Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, a superb blend of modern and traditional. The briefing was held in the Library:


After arriving late at my sister's house in Dulwich, I had a lovely lazy start next day in the wonderful garden that brother-in-law Nick and sister Lindsay are just completing. Here are some photos of its swimming pond with beach hut: no chemicals, with water kept clean by ecological means. It's a beautiful feature, and this time was an island of tranquillity before an intense session of follow-up by wi-fi on the busy train home to Dunblane:



June 21, 2009

The Panasonic Lumix G1: what I love and hate

In January, I bought a new camera, the Panasonic Lumix G1. It's the first digicam to have interchangeable lenses that is NOT a 'single-lens reflex'. Instead, an excellent electronic viewfinder replaces the traditional SLR mirror/prism 'reflex' light path. This makes it smaller and lighter than previous dSLRs, albeit larger than the just-announced Olympus E-P1. (The Oly, like the Panny, is "Micro four-thirds" format and is just about pocketable. Indeed if it had a viewfinder, I'd be gnashing my teeth about having bought the Panny instead of waiting.)

For hiking and taking landscape shots for our guidebooks, size/weight is a major issue. But the smallest digicams tend not to have a viewfinder. In bright daylight, I find an LCD screen almost useless. Back in 2007 while on Xtreme Everest with such a camera, I was reduced to setting it to auto-bracket, pointing, shooting and hoping - only to delete 2 out of 3 shots each evening, in the dark of my tent at Everest Base Camp.

What I love about the G1:

  • full creative control of settings and lenses

  • sensor switches image from screen to viewfinder when you bring the camera up to your eye

  • manual focus does a clever enlarging trick just when you need it

  • articulated LCD screen lets you shoot over people’s heads or from low angles

  • helpful community of G1 users on the Lumix forum

  • 7-14mm wide-angle zoom (WAZ) lens opens up huge new scope, see images below.

So what's not to like? The price of the recent WAZ lens apart, a spare battery from Panny costs a ridiculous £70- whereas third-party replacements are about £20 in rip-off Britain, or USD25 for 2 in the US. And for use on trek and at altitude, a spare is not a luxury, it's a necessity.

Panny has just made matters worse by announcing that its new firmware "upgrade" will detect unofficial batteries and disable the camera! I realise that they'd prefer us to buy batteries from them, and if they'd slash its price I'd be happy to. I can believe their claim that some unofficial batteries lack internal protection and may overheat, but even Panny says only "some", not all. I've used third-party batteries with two previous Lumix digicams without any problems. If expecting customers to disable their camera for use with competitive batteries isn't illegal, it ought to be. This dubious "upgrade" is a scandalous restrictive practice, and the Lumix forum is buzzing with protest.

But still, I love this camera. Let me share a pair of photographs I took on Thursday at the newly refitted Faraday Theatre of the Royal Institution. There was NO natural light source, and hardly any artificial, so these are at 2000ASA, hand-held (after several glasses of wine:) at 1/5th second. The first image is what a "normal" 28mm wide-angle lens would capture, the second (equivalent to 14mm) captures the whole 310-seat raked theatre with front desk.



June 23, 2009

In praise of small but vital gadgets

Buying a new camera is, of course, only the beginning of the spending. You soon find that certain small extras are indispensable. The Lumix G1 uses the faster, newer SDHC memory cards – better than the old SD cards, but almost inevitably they turn out to be incompatible with any card reader that you may have already. Connecting your camera direct to the USB port by cable is far from ideal, with a fiddly access flap and a tiny prong that looks easy to mis-connect. Enter the neat solution: slip the SDHC card into a USB card reader, mine for the princely sum of £3.69 (delivered) from the wonderful 7dayshop:


(And yes, I have seen this item even cheaper elsewhere, but having found 7dayshop reliable and helpful, I'd rather stick with them than risk disappointment.)

The next challenge was to sort out my tripod, which various time-wasting searches had failed to locate. When a close friend returned it recently after a two-year loan that I had forgotten all about, I was torn between delight that I hadn't, after all, lost it, and frustration that it came back missing the vital quick-release post, the piece that screws into the camera and connects it to the tripod:


Since the friend who had lost it reported failure with his local Jessops only at 5.25pm on Saturday, and I am off early tomorrow on a trip where I might get a front cover photo opportunity, replacing it seemed very urgent indeed. Most photo specialists seem to close at 5pm on a Saturday, so a very fast Google search was needed. It revealed recent exchanges on the website of the East of England Binocular Centre. Even better, the very helpful Chris was still answering his phone, they were in stock and charged just £10 including delivery. Considering that my tripod is 30 years old, and useless without this gizmo, I was only too delighted to pay up. Strangely for a binocular specialist, this seems to be one of their top sellers. Later, I found it also on Amazon, but at £18.95. So I am delighted to have found a small indie specialist doing a great job, and thanks to Google, I found it in time for them to dispatch on Monday and (thanks to the much-maligned Royal Mail) it arrived this morning.

About June 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in June 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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