First Snow

Posted in Arizona Images, Photography Tricks on November 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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There was a time in my life, before my annus horribilis, when I would brag, to those inclined to listen to such claptrap, that I had lived for a decade or so without suffering through a winter and I intended to keep it that way. I thoroughly dislike cold weather and bronchitis seems only a sneeze away when the sky is grey all day and the snow turns brown in the streets. Ugh!

So, it was with a bit of cautious curiosity that I approached the coming of winter in Arizona. Last Saturday morning we awoke to take a little drive to town and noticed the first snows of the season on the mountains surrounding Sedona. Grace’s amused smile tells the story:

Her amusement centered around my Michelin Man appearance. Two shirts, a sweater and a coat were barely keeping me defrosted. Though there was no snow in Sedona itself, we could see mountainsides only a thousand feet or so higher which were heavily dusted. In Sedona we pulled off the highway to climb the hill to The Church of the Red Rocks to savor the spectacular view. The entire front of the chapel there is glassed. While getting your Sunday morning sermon you can let you mind contemplate this view:

We left Sedona on the Oak Creek Canyon road and began to climb toward Flagstaff. Here the dynamic range of light values was so extreme that I had to abandon normal photography techniques to delve into the mysteries of High Dynamic Range composites. I derived this HDR shot from a “stack” of five exposures moving from very underexposed to very overexposed. The software takes the best exposed areas of each image and adds it to the composite. It takes a bit of fiddling, but it allows one to get reasonable images from impossible situations:

A single exposure would show a bright sky with a nearly black mountain in the foreground, since the mountainside was in the shadow of another higher mountain behind me.

This shot, showing the nearly six inches of snow that fell near 7,000 feet would also have been impossible without the HDR technique. A single exposure would show black trees against the white, nearly featureless snow:

As evening neared, the temperature dropped again and the sky appeared in turmoil with fiery accents from the lowering sun:

The new Canon 5D Mk II performs wonderfully at high ISO values. This was shot at 1600 ISO and had only the slightest bit of noise in the darker areas. A light massage by NoiseNinja Pro cleaned it up nicely.

As we approached Sedona on I17 from the North we paused for this wintery show across the intervening valley looking toward the Mogollon Rim:

The image above is a five frame panorama slapped together by Photoshop. As a photograph it was a flop, so I turned it into art. Sometimes imagination beats reality. I’m recalling to words of the classic Kodachrome from Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon of 1973.

Kodachrome . . .
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away

Indeed, Kodachrome defined serious color photography for a generation of photographers. For decades major publications would accept photographs on no other media. Recently photographer Steve McCurry trekked through India with the “last roll of Kodachrome” in his camera. The results are far more impressive than any roll of K64 that I ever ran through any of my cameras. I’m glad I didn’t shoot the last roll.

It’s the end of an era, but I’m not looking back. Film is essentially dead, except in the hands of a few quaint eccentrics. The fundamentals of photography have not changed at all, but the media could not be more different. I still think of a digital image file as a “negative”.

How “old school” is that?

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Honolulu Again – The Paper Boat

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 17th, 2011 by MadDog
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My emotions are very confused now in my second day in Honolulu. I last visited in 2008 and wrote several posts while here. It feels very strange to return alone to a place which Eunie and I visited many times. It is a convenient stopping point in the mid-Pacific about half-way through the long trips back and forth between the mainland USA and Papua New Guinea. There are people here who have been friends for thirty years. It’s a very sad feeling to be here without her.

I have to learn to deal with these emotions; they will diminish, but never depart. Certain places, events, sounds and sights will always provoke melancholic nostalgia, such as this beginning of a Waikiki sunset:

The day began with a visit to my supporting church to get the car they had offered. Though the offer was generous, it did generate a considerable amount of anxiety. Driving in Madang is not much of a challenge if you have mastered the martial art of pothole dodging. Driving in Honolulu is another matter entirely. Though drivers here seem to me unusually placid and slow to anger, the sheer mass of traffic is daunting to a fellow from the bush. I did not want to have to burden someone with the task of picking me up and returning me to my friend’s apartment every time I needed to go to a meeting, but I certainly was not eager to take on city driving. I’ll have to do it when I get to Indiana. I’m satisfied to forestall it until then. So, I said thanks, but no thanks to the vehicle and departed in a friend’s car.

My first order of business was to purchase a bag of fruit. I have gained ten pounds since I left Madang, partly due to Val feeding me rather too well. I’m not as vain as I used to be; at sixty-seven it seems a little pointless. No matter how vain I am, I will never look as good as I did before. Life wears us down, eh? Anyway, I’ve decided to cut back on several food and beverage items of which I have indulged myself a little too freely on the grounds that “I’m on vacation.” While this is usually an excellent excuse, I am indulging myself right out of my wardrobe. My jeans all have a 79cm (31 inch) waist. At my normal weight, I fit easily into them and need a belt to remain secure – just a belt, no suspenders – I’ve always lived dangerously. Now I can barely get the buttons fastened and a belt is superfluous. I am far too frugal to buy new clothes; my jeans have a few good years left in them. So, I must stop putting it on around the middle. All those words were just to introduce this shot of a little farmer’s market that sets up shop three times a week just down the street from Fran’s apartment:

As usual, I was flabbergasted by the prices. I don’t see how people live in Hawaii. Three apples, a medium bag of grapes, six bananas and a little container of pineapple chunks cost me over twenty dollars. A small, one room apartment in Waikiki (very modest and no view except the noisy traffic in front) rents for $1,000 or more a month. For “more” read “much more”. I would soon starve if I had to live in Honolulu. Some of the other food items were pretty reasonable. I got a decent Mexican lunch for $7.00. The lobster tails (see the orange sign) were the only bargain at ten for $20.00. Go figure.

Which brings me to a subject which has long disturbed me about the city. I’ll begin by saying that I am completely ignorant of the social problems here and may be out of line. If so, I apologise. There seem to be an inordinate number of down-and-out souls in the streets. Possibly there are no more than would be found in any large city, but here they strike a sharp contrast with the glitz and gluttonous consumption of a city where one can rent a Ferrari for nine-hundred bucks a day. And this brings us, the long way around, to the paper boat.

As we passed near the fabulous grounds of Ft. DeRussy, the American military recreational centre, we noticed a fellow displaying a very strange little model boat. He claimed to have made it himself and asked twenty dollars for it. Though it was very interesting, I had no way to carry it on my travels. Fran decided to buy it. The man said it was made of magazine pages:

I had no reason to doubt this, but it seemed unlikely.

As you can clearly see, it is absolutely true. I can’t see how anyone can regularly create something so labour intensive and sell it for twenty dollars. There is something altogether different going on here.

Here is another shot showing that the logs are made of rolled-up paper:

Having had plenty of experience in Madang with street peddlers I wondered, as the money changed hands, what the fellow was going to do with it.  I was going to tell the end of the story here, but I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to be disrespectful to the man or demean those who are in such dire straits. Let’s just say that it is sad. And count our blessings.

Not far down the street is the impressive statue of the last royal ruler of Hawaii, King David Kalakauma:

Called the Merrie Monarch, presumably because he was such a fun-loving guy, he wanted to consolidate many South Pacific Islands into a Polynesian Empire. This proved to be ill-fated. The history of his reign is interesting reading. The politics and power plays at work in Hawaii at that time were somewhat bizarre.

The evening scenery proved even more colourful. This strange object is a poi pounder:

I searched for a while for an interesting link to pass on to you. Strangely, there seem to be none. Use your imagination. I don’t think King Kong could manage to pound his poi with this one. The usable utensils are obviously much smaller. If you’ve got a few minutes, you might be amused by this video clip demonstrating that the traditionally male job of pounding poi is very hard work.

I’ll interject a photographic note about the shot above. The light was obviously very dim. I had to boost the ISO to 400 to give me a shutter speed of one second. I then braced the camera against a handrail and took three exposures to make sure I had one with no blur from camera movement. Though there is a lot of noise in the image, it is usable. The long shutter speed produced an interesting “silky water” effect in the fountain.

As the day got sleepy (jet lag setting in) we walked out to the west end of the beach for a good view of the setting sun:

I happened to catch a jet airliner heading for final approach at the airport.

On the walk back I got this shot of one of the best lit trees in town:

Aloha.

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Ramblers Skydiving – The Rides

Posted in On Tthe Road on March 30th, 2011 by MadDog
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You may note that I have once again been absent from Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  for a week. This is not my fault. It is the fault of the Great Australian Outback, where a web connection is a rare thing. I was, of course, nowhere near the real outback, which is way out west from Toogoolawah, where the Skydiving Ramblers Drop Zone is located. I was the well-treated guest of Dave McEvoy and Ali Raynor, two friends I met in Madang when they visited there. Dave carried the Ramblers torch and founded Ramblers Parachute Centre in 1974.

I really had expected to hang loose at the drop zone for a few days as an observer and general all-round pest. I ended up doing a tandem jump and getting two rides in the drop plane in the bargain. This was an unexpected pleasure.

Here is a shot which I took of the drop zone from the wonderful Caravan:Which I will get to in a moment.

First, I want to show you one of the wonderful sunsets which one can expect here when the weather is fair:Colourful, eh?

This is the amazing Cessna Caravan. It is not only beautiful, but it is an absolute pleasure to ride in:I have never been up front in a plane with a “glass cockpit”. There were only a handful of conventional instruments visible. There were two large management displays such as this one (one for the pilot, one for the co-pilot) with a huge GPS navigation display between them. Flying this plane is pretty much a push-button operation:I was flabbergasted to hear how much this plane cost.

One of the more interesting aspects of my two flights (this one with pilot Carl, in the image) was that I had to strap on a parachute:Some of you will know that I’m an old pilot, mostly helicopters. Everybody knows that helicopter pilots don’t wear parachutes. How would you use it, exactly? However, I’ve done a fair amount of fixed-wing flying, also. It amused me that this is the first time I have ever worn a parachute. It amused me further that the Caravan is possibly the safest aircraft I have ever had the pleasure to fly in, discounting commercial airliners, of course (how safe are   they?).

Here is Roger, my first pilot. I include his image only so that I can mention that I was suddenly caught up by the idea that I’d never flown with anyone names Roger and I could not get my mind off of the novelty of saying, “Roger, Roger.” every time he spoke to me. I think it got a bit annoying after a while, so I stopped doing it:

Roger’s a forgiving bloke.

There were many other amusements at the drop zone. The bird life and kangaroos were great fun. These lorikeets were always about, making more noise than one would think possible:I found myself strangely incapable of getting a single kangaroo picture. I simply could not get close enough for a shot. However, I did get some great koala shots, which I will show as soon as I can get them off my Olympus camera. I forgot my cable and the card adapter, so I have no way to transfer the images to my computer.

Here is a self-shot image of me sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of the Caravan:I’ beginning to look like Gabby Hayes. It’s time to trim the beard.

I’ll finish with another Toogoolawah sunset:This one shows a crepuscular ray just to the left of centre. Well, we’ve all seen them before, even if we didn’t know what to call them. Only the hopelessly geeky know those kinds of things (did I say that?). Anyway we see these rays all the time. This one struck me as a little out of the ordinary because it is shining like a big orange searchlight on the bottom of a cloud above the horizon. If you click it to enlarge the image you’ll see it better. You’ll also see five birds which happened along just as I was taking the shot.

I’ll be back tomorrow with shots of my tandem jump. Geronimo!

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Alison Raynor’s Magic Garden

Posted in Guest Shots, Photography Tricks on November 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today we’re going to do some more of Alison Raynor’s shots from Amazing Australia. How could a place called Toogoolawah not  be magical? I’m getting very bored talking about myself, so I’m giving my ego a holiday. It needs a rest. I will have a few comments to make concerning photography and the the care and feeding of images.

Let’s start with this sunset shot at Mt. Beppo. This probably won’t be hanging on any gallery walls, but it has some interesting features. The first thing which I noticed was the colour of the sky in the upper part of the image. It is most unusual. I tried not to mess with it, so it is pretty faithful to the original, I think. The horizon is slightly tilted. In this shot, it works fine for me. It’s not quite an angled line, which is a good compositional tool, but it isn’t straight either. It teases the eyes just a little, like a picture hanging crooked on the wall. I like the fence post standing right in the middle. The eyes keep coming back to it. There are two trees, but they are very different. This provides some contrasting elements:

All in all, it’s a pleasant, simple shot which speaks with a small, comforting voice. Ali emailed it to me at 1280 x 960 pixels and the file size was about 140K. That is about the minimum size in pixels and the tightest compression which works well for a photography oriented site such as MPBM. You can click on it to enlarge and have a nice viewing experience.

This is another very pretty image. It reminds me of the succulent plants which we called “Hens and Chickens” as children. Ali can tell us what it is, I’m certain:

I got this one in an email also. It came in at 516 x 639 pixels and the file size was 65K. Now we are getting into the range of too few pixels for pleasant “click me” viewing. If you do click to enlarge you will be able to begin to see some jaggie edges and the level of detail has dropped off. It’s fine to view on the page, but when you blow it up, it suffers. According to your browser and your display resolution, it may also not fill your screen.

I hasten to add that I haven’t talked to Ali about any of this yet, so I hope she can forgive me for jumping the gun. Ali shoots lovely images. I want them to keep coming – just a little bigger.

When I first saw this one I thought that someone had woven a spider web out of string. It is a near perfect coating of morning dew. The web is being dragged down by the weight of the water:

This one came in at 480 x 640 pixels and about 70K. It is too small for blown-up viewing. Also, if you do enlarge it you can begin to see chunky little out-of-place bits, especially around the edges of the web, which are produced when the image is compressed down to a too-small file size. You might have to zoom in a little to see this. In Firefox you can hold the CTRL key down and press the “+” or “-” key to zoom in or out. These chunky bits are called compression artefacts. Once they are there, you can’t get rid of them. All you can do is go back to your original file and save it again with less compression, and possibly more pixels. There is no free lunch. This is why I always save a copy of an image which I have edited at the full resolution that it was shot. I use a different file name for the “save as”, but keep the image number in it, so that I have both the camera image and the edited image. I might want to start all over on the editing for a different effect. I don’t want to waste all of my editing work by downsizing the image and compressing it too much. I can then make smaller versions for special purposes as I need them.

Again I’ll note that Ali did not know that I was going to put these up on MPBM, though she should suspect that I’m likely to, because nearly everything that she sends, I like. I’ll also say that I’m a little jealous of that spider web. I don’t have any which are nearly so good.

This is another very interesting spider web shot, because of its depth of field (pretty much in focus from near to far). I really like the washed out colours and the way the building and tree seem to float behind the web. The jumbled twigs in the sky are a nice touch:

This one was about the same size and compression as the previous one. If you click to enlarge, you will see that it also suffers when blown up. It is the same problem, not enough pixels and too much compression. The fewer pixels you start with, the more the image will suffer from too much compression.

This is a very sweet, loud image. It tickles my fancy. It breaks a few compositional rules, but it still pops!

It came in at 1280 x 960 pixels and 213K. Though a little short on my usual standard of 1600 pixels on the longest dimension, it still looks very nice enlarged. Also the larger file size means that the compression was not too great, so there are no nasty compression artefacts. Very pretty indeed, but you don’t want to stare at it for too long. If you do, you will no longer be in Kansas!

I like this Snake in the Garden shot. It is so hard to get close enough to snakes to get great shots such as this one. For one thing, I’m never quite certain what might like to bite me and what the consequences of that might be. This one doesn’t look dangerous, but neither does Britney Spears. Still, I would keep my distance from her:

This one came in at 640 x 480 and 48K. That’s too small and too compressed. If you click to enlarge, you will see another type of compression artefact. Look in the lighter areas especially and you will notice some little squares of colour which don’t blend in with each other. This is because the compression program is breaking the image into little blocks to try to make the image smaller. As you enlarge the image, you can see the blocks.

So, what’s the message? Well, if you would like to send to me some of your tasty images for a guest shot (and I can’t imagine why you would not), just follow this simple formula. Resize your final, perfect image down (remembering to keep a copy at full size) to 1600 pixels on the longest edge. Then, when you are saving, set your compression to make a file no smaller than about 200K. The resulting file will look beautiful on a full screen view.

I can but hope that Ali will forgive me for using her very pretty shots as examples. If I had received them at larger sizes I would have not had the chance for this little excursion into the bone-crushingly boring details of image sizing and compression. So, thank you Ali.

By the way, I cannot resist, at the slightest opportunity, to poke fun at rabid Britney Spears fans. My post  Britney Spears Will Make Me Famous attracted more comments than any other on MPBM. There were many more acid remarks left which I did not allow into the comments. I received no death threats, but there were some which made me glad that I was half a world away from the sender.

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A Little Bit of Everything

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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I do not intend for Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  to indefinitely remain a place where I forever keep going back to the events of the last few months. I need to move on at some point. However, this is  a (more or less) daily journal.  I think of it as an open diary. I cannot escape the present. If I am to continue to be open and honest, I must put down here my thoughts, fears, challenges and successes. This allows me to take these things out of my head and examine them as I write. It allows me to record them as waypoints on my journey. It helps me to gauge my progress and someday, it will allow me to remember the events with the fresh perspective of one who is healed and able to look back with less pain.

So, having said that, I’ll tell you that the plans for the Memorial Service for Eunie at the Chapel at Divine Word University are progressing smoothly. Yesterday, I burned a CD full of Neil Diamond songs to play before and after the service. Later today, I will organise photographs on a flash drive to be displayed on the big LCD screen in the Chapel. These are small tasks which were assigned to me by the little “committee” of friends who are carrying the main load of organising the event. I was glad to have something to do which I probably could not mess up.

Tomorrow will mark one month since Eunie’s death. I think that that is the first time that I’ve used the word – death. Possibly this marks the end of my daily walk with denial.

This is the first sunrise which I have captured since before leaving for Australia:

The mornings have been mostly cloudy. Starting at about 05:30, when the sky begins to lighten, I can tell, by looking out the bedroom window, whether there will be a decent sunrise or not. Though I’m looking west, I can see the general colour of the sky and judge the brightness. If it looks promising, I’ll get out of bed and look out the front of the house. Yesterday, it was worth getting up.

Here is a particularly good image of a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

Its wholesome goodness comes from its very accurate colours. The conditions were perfect for a good shot. It was taken in about seven metres of fairly clear water with a bright, thin neutral white cloud cover which provided flat and untinted light. I’m quite happy with this one.

While our little troop of was back in Gympie at the home of Val Jerram preparing to scatter back to our own places we found this very amusing lizard under Val’s veranda:

That’s Carol Dover’s hand in the shot to give some scale. It’s not huge by Australian lizard standards, but it does look as if it might inflict some damage if it bit. Dr. Robert Sprackland sent a copy of his new book, Guide to Lizards,  because it has one of my images in it. I could not find this lizard in it. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it’s rare? Seems unlikely.

UPDATE: Reader Madcap Maven left a comment identifying the lizard as a Tiliqua scincoides scincoides,  the Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard. Her ID checks out. I consulted the Ultimate Resource, Wikipedia. You can read her message in the Comments at the end of this post.

Since I’m just rambling here I’ll throw in this interesting image by Lindsay Smith:

It’s a strange, moody piece.

Last, but not least, here is a beautiful shot by Alison Raynor titled Toogoolawah Sunset:

Someday I hope to visit Toogoolawah. It seems a peaceful place.

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Sunset – Sunrise

Posted in Mixed Nuts, On Tthe Road on September 9th, 2010 by MadDog
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Man, this is hard. I don’t know how to write this. I just have to put one word in front of another. Eunie was one of those people who you feel like will be around forever. We know it’s not true, but we don’t want to think about not having her.

Yesterday morning, after only a couple of hours of discomfort, she asked for some stronger pain relief. Shortly afterwards she fell asleep and her breathing calmed and she was peaceful. Not long after that, her spirit departed her body.

It has been only a few weeks that we have known that Eunie was seriously ill. Eunie feared few things in life. She was one the most fiercely brave people I have ever known. She did not, however, want to have anything at all to do with pain. The fact that she left us so peacefully and without pain was a blessing to us all.

So, Eunie’s sunset in now complete. The lightning in the image above represents her amazing spirit.

After every sunset, there is another sunrise. This is the way the world turns. So it is with the spirit, as I believe. If I did not believe so, I would not be able to carry on. I carry on now because of this promise and because to falter and waste away would be a dishonour to Eunie.

Eunie’s sunrise must be truly glorious.

I have no more words for now. I don’t know what the next few days will bring. Hans is going back to his family in Canada tomorrow morning. I have my remaining support team here with me – Marg and Mick Horwood tonight at their house and Val Jerram, Rich Jones and Carol Dover who will be travelling to Gympie with me to Val’s home.

Sometime next week I will return to Madang. I both long for and dread it. I’ve never felt such conflicting emotions. To those in Madang:  you are getting back a shell of a man, but I have no fear that all will be well after a while. Life for me will never be “normal” – as it seemed before. I have to hang onto the hope that there will be a new sunrise for me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was stunned to see that there were 28 comments waiting for me this morning. I can’t possibly answer each one, but I do read every one.

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Funky Art

Posted in Humor on July 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday, Trevor Hattersley came around to my office with a flash drive containing some pictures which he and Karen got at The Henley Festival at Henley on Thames in jolly old England. Trev wanted to see if I could fix some exposure problems and generally doll the images up. As usual, I said no worries, as long as I could use them for fish relief on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

But first, let me show you last evening’s sunset:

The glow of the ship’s lights on the right is a nice balance to the fiery cloud tops on the left in the Southern sky.

Apparently one can’t get into The Henley Festival without a coat and tie. I still do own one tie, though I haven’t worn it for at least a decade. It’s one of those skinny ones from the mid ’60s. The colour is a dark, reddish maroon. I could probably still tie a Windsor knot, with a little practice, but where am I going to wear it? I’m saving it for when I die. I want to lie in state in my Lt. Dangle short jeans, a black Harley Davidson t-shirt and my skinny tie around my neck tied with a bit, fat Windsor knot. Anyway, here are Karen and Trevor looking like a fashion model who has brought her sheep dog along to the party:

Trevor will give me some lip over that remark, because my hair is possibly even longer than his. I never thought that Trev really looked like the person that he is until he let his hair grow out and let it go a little wild.

Also at the party was Claire Hodgkinson, who was bridesmaid at Karen and Trevor’s wedding. Trevor told me that the pebble encrusted pony in this shot was going for £200,000 (or maybe it was £20,000, I’m not sure). That’s a lot of bread for something that’s going to end up in the attic gathering dust after a couple of decades:

The festival include an incredible variety of entertainments. There are bands and famous solo artists of all sorts, artworks scattered about, fashion contests and fireworks, to mention just a few distractions.

Since whimsy is my thing, I am particularly attracted to this Wire Woman. However, I don’t care much for the chair:

The problem is that she takes up too much space. Unless you had a house the size of Bill Gates’, where would you put her? It’s not like you can hang her on the wall. I suppose that you could create a conversation nook where friends could sit around with you and make witty, unkind remarks about her as if she weren’t there. One thing that you would definitely want to do is to keep her well clear of electrical outlets.

The entire event came within a hair’s breadth of a tragic end when poor Trev, wine glass in hand, was viciously attacked by this Stainless Steel Horse:

Fortunately, Trev had had the presence of mind to shake his head violently and roar. The horse mistook him for a lion in disguise and fled the scene. I’d love to go to The Henley Festival some day to soak up some culture. But I’d have to borrow some clothes.

To knock this one off and get to work, I’ll finish up with this ultra-funky image conglomerated by our Guest Shot artist Lindsay Smith:

It’s a bizarre amalgamation of a bit of my own Dubious Art (a headlamp of our Nissan Navara) with a sketch of me in my Cherokee braids, Space Cowboys sunglasses and black fedora hat.

I don’t know what to make of it. It’s a little scary.

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