Wednesday, 28 July 2010

26. Three O'Clock

I admire people who can sit in an office all afternoon without eating. It's not like I haven't tried to ignore the three o'clock hunger pangs by sipping glasses of water and avoiding all thought of food, but those darned chocolate biscuits call out to me from the cupboard in the kitchen with relentless frequency. Once, I even tried to convince myself that there weren't any biscuits there; it worked until my boss (aka Dad) ruined my cunning plan by asking for one to go with his cup of tea (you can believe anything your eyes don't see).

I don't eat biscuits at home. Never buy them. I never even get three o'clock hunger's a work thing. It's got to be. Nevermind that, when I'm at home, I graze all day like a contented cow.

Three o'clock. It's that inbetween time: too early to start finishing up for the day and too late to have a late lunch. The end of work is in sight but not close enough. Before you know it, you can be drumming your fingers on the desk and staring at the clock, willing the time away...that's when the hunger pangs begin.

On my days off, three o'clock usually marks the middle of the day. Hours left to play with the cameras or to finish a long walk. At work, the hands of the clock stick to the numbers and refuse to budge, while I wait and wait and wait.

I'm not an avid office worker. You can probably tell. I'm better suited to more artistic, outdoor pursuits, where time is marked by the quality of light as the sun passes over the sky, not minutes or hours, or by how much work can be achieved in a day. I don't use targets, or SMART goals, and deadlines are just things that other people have to meet. It's no wonder I get so bored. When other people slave at their computer, my mind is in the clouds, flying over landscapes and having adventures.

When I can't ignore my hunger any longer, I usually sneak off into the kitchen and hastily eat my biscuit in silence...then walk back to the office with a glass of water and a look of innocence.

I've decided that I'd never make a good secret agent, they'd catch me way before the lie-detector was brought out: More than once I've found crumbs on my t-shirt that give the game away. 

I say that I admire the person who can sit in an office all afternoon without eating...but I'm not sure, now, if I do. I'd rather have my head in the clouds and my hands in the biscuit tin, while I wait for the clock to reach 5.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

25. On photography

There's a hospital in Cornwall that is in a league of its own. Even the smell is unique. I always knew when a certain ex had had to work there because she would come back with her clothes smelling of the place, despite visiting different hospitals throughout the county. It's not a bad smell...just one that you know belongs there and nowhere else. Yesterday, Kirsty and I both came back with the odour on our clothes.

I've been told that there is nothing that matches the pain of a dying nerve in a tooth.One friend said that it was worse than childbirth. In fact, it was so bad that Kirsty was considering having her tooth taken out without the help of a local anaesthetic. Having a hypersensitive nerve (one that does not react to a local anaesthetic), made it extra difficult to deal with, hence why we were in the hospital all morning: Kirsty had to have a general anaesthetic instead.

For over a week, the dying nerve had Kirsty in tears...though she still thought of photography and told me to get a shot for the "Kirsty Project", a series of photographs I've been taking of Kirsty and her general life.

This is where photography can better writing. A photograph can tell a whole story in one image. It can fill a page with emotion and pain. A private moment, captured forever.


I took Kirsty home while she was still technically under the influence of the G.A. We watched some movies and she dosed for most of the evening. If anything, it was a relief for her to finally be rid of her pain.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

24. The One that Got Away

Last night we sat in the Bahuaja lodge drinking Peruvian lager listening to tales of tourists who had been dragged into the water by anacondas, never to be seen again; and of lonely trekkers being stalked by jaguars.

Having little knowledge of this environment, I became alarmed at the idea of tarantulas hiding in the wooden shack that was our toilet. It seemed bad enough that the lodge’s adopted ‘pet’ Paca, cute guinea pig-like face or not, had taken to trampling on my clean shirt and used it for a litter tray.

Carlos, the local medicine man’s son, had interrupted with news of a jaguar in the area. With booze-encouraged excitement, we followed him down to the muddy bank of the river where he began to “call” the beast to our camp. The strange grunt-like noises made us giggle and even Carlos laughed in the end. It was fun, a game even, but now, as I sweated in the mid-morning heat alone, it was a different story.

The Singing-Tree Trail seemed to narrow and become a suffocating throw of shade and humidity. The hum of the cicadas became a shrill shriek: a soprano to the painful beat of my heart.

A grunt echoed around the tightly knitted trees but I couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. I clenched my jaws, my hands already tight balls by my side. I was beginning to regret the decision to come out on my own to photograph a termites’ nest I’d spotted on a previous hike.

Another grunt: definitely to the left. A huge buttress root, at least fourteen foot across, was in my direct line of sight.

I swallowed back a whimper. Despite the heat pulling beads of sweat from my forehead, a cold shiver swept down my spine. That grunt was just like Carlos’s imitation last night: a jaguar.

I forced myself to remember the instructions we had discussed: what to do when face-to-face with a jaguar. One thought came to mind: If I run, it’ll think I’m prey.

But there was no need to stop myself from running; my feet had become cemented on the earth, unwilling and too weak, it seemed, to move for anything.

I remembered someone had said: if you see a jaguar and are in danger, scream at it so that it doesn’t think you’re prey.

Right, I nodded to myself, business-like to cover my fear, if it looks like it’s going to eat me: scream, wave my arms around and look like a complete idiot. Reason told me that screaming at a dangerous creature was not a good idea, and I tried to remember whether it was someone experienced who had recommended it. Besides, I couldn’t help but think that if I did see a jaguar leaping out of the forest with my jugular in its sights, the screaming part would come naturally anyway.

The seconds trickled past and the emptiness of panic was drifting away, I could think more clearly. If it’s grunting, it can’t be hunting, right? I felt the tenseness ease from my shoulders. My hand tightened around my camera as I realised that this could be one of those rare opportunities to take a photograph to be proud of, but the stories from last night made me hesitate.

I took a step backwards. My foot caught. A root? I closed my eyes tight as I felt the brush of fur against my trousers. There was a shrill shriek. Was that me, I wondered, as I waited for the inevitable agony of teeth sinking into my thigh. Wait, I didn’t scream. A low gasp escaped my lungs, catching in my throat.

I looked around. The paca’s dark brown eyes stared innocently back.

‘Sassy!’ I said between rapid breaths. The sudden release of tension made my head feel helium-light. ‘You little…’ It hadn’t been the first time she had followed me into the forest.

I reached down and ruffled her fur; I felt a fool.

‘Come on you,’ I said, as I picked her up, ‘I think we’ve had enough adventure for today, don’t you?’ I giggled to myself as I walked back down the path.

An hour later I wasn’t so amused. An afternoon trail-hike with the rest of the group had led us down the same trail and there, not far from where I had been standing, was a paw print in the mud. It could only have belonged to one animal, and that wasn’t the paca.

Afterwards, I was annoyed at believing tall-tales and for not trying to get the shot of a lifetime; the photograph I kept of the paw print was just not the same.

I made sure I found out what I should do when face-to-face with a jaguar, but never went into the forest alone again.


(NB: This was an article I wrote for a nature-writing competition a couple of years ago).

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

23. Photography Tuesday

Summer Grass

I didn't want to tell the tree or weed what it was.  I wanted it to tell me something and through me express its meaning in nature.  ~Wynn Bullock

When I go out with my camera, I rarely know what it is I want to photograph. I just take the camera whilst I go for a walk. That way, I keep an open heart and an open mind, and enjoy everything I see.

Monday, 19 July 2010

22. Less is More

I turned down a Blackberry today (no, not the fruit, the phone). I've coveted after a Blackberry for at least two years; today I finally had the chance to get one and, to my own surprise, I said no. What was I thinking?!

I was left slightly flabbergasted by my own snap decision. But, the truth is, I don't actually want to be contactable 24/7 by email, text or phone call. Sometimes, I might want to be "unreachable". If I got the latest all-singing and all-dancing mobile phone, I would be contactable almost wherever I am. I'd never get any peace, even when going for a quiet walk with my girl.

Besides, any object that seems to be "that good" never really is. (As an aside, I remember when I bought my first Playstation when I was 18 years old: it cost a bloody fortune but I was determined to get it because it was the must-have gadget of the year...only not long after that the price started to drop and I realised I could have waited until it was cheaper, the games were more expensive than I could afford at the time so I was stuck playing the demo for months, I didn't play on it for 10 years and, finally, it only sold for a fiver in a carboot sale. Was it really worth it?!).

To be fair, it's not just my like for gadgets that has gotten me into trouble with the bank, it's also the clever advertising that seducts you in every way possible. "You need this item", it tells you. You see, when you have money, there is always the need to spend it on something. Anything.  That "anything" is, we are told, the thing that will make us happy...until it breaks, of course, or we decide that something else will make us happy instead.

Being a bit of a gadget-geek, I've come up with a clever plan to keep my spending in check: to test whether or not I really really want something I make myself wait for at least 6 months, if I still want it after that then it's worth getting (and it will be cheaper by then too) but, most of the time, I discover that it was merely a desire for something that I had no real need for.

So, I've decided to try to practise a little contentment with the things that I already own. I actually want to make do. I don't want to waste what little resources I have and I don't want to be told that my two-year old laptop is "obsolete" and too slow (note, this is usually by manufacturers who would conveniently make a bob or two from selling me the latest "dream machine"). I'm actually quite happy with my laptop, slow or not.

Venerable Cheng Yen said: "Happiness does not come from having much, but from being attached to little." And I ask myself on a daily basis: how many things that I am attached to will fall apart or sell for a fiver in a few years time? If I wasn't so attached to these things, would it matter to me if I owned them at all? There are more important things in life than the latest gadget.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

21. The Carboot Sale

There's something about carboot sales. It's the early morning bustle as the sellers park up in the chosen location, and the unpacking of boxes worth of goods onto foldable tables; the mad rush of what I would call the "professional" carbooter - the ones who have a keen eye and know what to look for and what price to ask; the bartering; the cheap cups of tea in polystyrene cups and the smell of cooking bacon (a carboot tradition).

It's not the first time I've tried to sell things at a carboot sale but, since then, I've learnt some tricks:
  • The first one thing to remember how much you bought something for and then realise that you're probably only going to get 10% back for it. It really can be as low as that. 
  • If you have anything above £5.00 at a won't sell. Or, at least, that's my experience. 
  • When it comes to the day, you have to be ruthless. Ask yourself: do you really want to take something back home again? Or are you willing to sell it cheaper for the sake of getting rid of it.
  • When it comes to bartering you've got two types of people: 1. The type who actually like to barter and play by the rules. They say "will you take a pound for the two of these" (knowing that they've been labelled as £1.50 each), you say "two pounds", they say "£1.50". That's the way it's supposed to work. 2. The second type of barterer will say "will you take a pound for the two of these" (knowing that they been labelled as £1.50 each); you say "two pounds", they say "a pound", you say "one fifty" (hoping), they say "a pound".
  • Having a 50 pence "bargain" box is like a lucky-dip for adults. Make sure that it's filled with little trinkets and junk and they'll spend ages rifling through it in the hopes of finding that real bargain. 
  • Keep your eyes peeled. Nobody likes to think that there are thieves around but items are quite apt to just "walk off" into someone's handbag. 
I'm not a materialistic person, but watching people look for a bargain as they rifled through my belongings was not easy. It made me feel...grubby.

This was the stuff that I'd bought, saved for, and been given over the past fifteen years or so. By mid-morning, half of my things were sold for a fraction of what I'd bought them for and it slowly dawned on me: I'm thirty years old and selling my life. Or a life...a "past" life.

I've been through this all before, of course, when I had to de-clutter when I moved last. Hundreds of books were thrown in the bookbank, carloads of crap was taken to the dump, and the whole process actually hurt me emotionally. Why? They're only inanimate objects, after all.

Over the last year, I've really wanted to sort out my belongings but storing tons of boxes in the attic felt better than having to dig through it all and get rid of what I didn't need, because I knew that digging through it would bring back unwanted memories. And that's the point. I realised that it's not the objects themselves that I wanted to keep but, perhaps, the emotions and memories I've attached to them I wanted to keep buried. It was avoidance. But it was also a weight around my neck and now that I've sold nearly everything, the weight has gotten lighter.

Friday, 16 July 2010

20. Bumblebees


The bumblebee lay on its back amongst the gravel of the dirt-track. Her little legs moved weakly as she tried to right herself. It was a sad sight. My friend gently picked her up and, with a tenderness I've rarely seen, brushed some of the dust off and gently tried to get her to feed from some heather. But, despite his best efforts, it looked like the bee was a goner. We left it on a flower, knowing that we did the best we could.

The bumblebee population, for reasons not entirely known, is on the decline, and not just in the UK but worldwide. There are many possible factors, including a loss of habitat, disease, the use of insecticides, and climate change, that have seen the populations plummet and could theoretically lead to a total loss by the year 2035.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

19. Goodbye Old Friend.

The television set was taken. There was no time for farewells or even, I dare to say, time to wipe off that thin layer of dust off the stand. The woman bustled into the house and, within moments, it was gone.

Monday, 5 July 2010

18. Studying


I've been spending a lot of energy on my studies this week, especially the weekend. I can now successfully remember what CPUs fit into Slots 1&2; Sockets 370, 1, 2, 3, 4 &5, Slot A and Socket A. Sounds easy...but, I can assure you, it most certainly isn't.