My Gritty Poland

I spent last week in Gdansk, Poland. There are some incredibly beautiful parts of Gdansk; it has a gorgeous old-town (rebuilt/restored post-war like so many European cities… not SO old) and a beautiful riverside.

What probably interested me most though, was its history, and gritty, industrial side. Both the WWII museum and Solidarity Centre are really excellent resources, I can’t recommend them enough if you’re in town.

The Solidarity Centre is (as you’d expect if you’re aware of the history) on the site of the former shipyards and there’s still a lot of industrial stuff going on down there, so it was a fascinating place to be.

With that in mind, even though I did get pictures of the ‘prettier’ stuff, I really wanted to focus on the stark, heavy, grittier elements of Gdansk. There are more (which may come in a follow-up later), but for now, here are some of my favourites.

In particular, I love the little flower shop, the lone chair and the abandoned kids’ park. Let me know what you think.

Bridge-and-chimneyFlower-ShopGdansk-ChairIndustrial-GdanskLOT-Polish-AirlinesOil-watermarkedOvergrown-Park

Black & White Delight

I’ve been on a real black and white kick lately when it comes to my photography. I’ve always been a fan of black and white, it brings out drama and atmosphere, but then it can be overused too, and lose its effect. Well, this week I thought, sod that, I’m going black and white crazy.

These are from a series I’m calling ‘Dark Woods’ and were all taken on the same, misty, autumnal day. Hope you enjoy them, do let me know your thoughts.

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New Book (Artwork)

If I’ve been quiet (see: rubbish at keeping up my blog) lately, then it’s probably down to the fact that I’ve been writing a book. I signed a contract with The History Press last year, around September time, and agreed to have the book finished by the end of March 2017.

The book, ‘Sunderland Industrial Giant: Recollections of Working Life,’ is a social history of my hometown, Sunderland, and its days as, well… an industrial giant, so says the title. I spent the first few months finding people to interview, conducting those interviews and then editing the audio, before finally transcribing and beginning to put together a narrative of sorts.

Cue images of a frustrated writer, furiously typing in a public place (let’s say Starbucks), with a large (overpriced) cup of coffee, making everyone painfully aware that THEY ARE A WRITER. Actually, though, it was mostly just me on a laptop, in my dining room (for a change of scene), annoying my other half by whining when things didn’t go how I wanted them and occasionally gazing out of the window to watch our rabbit (Biscuit) running around the garden.

I got there in the end, as I knew I always would (the contract said I had to, so, you know…) and the book is now with my editor. I’ll spend the next few weeks/months relentlessly chewing my nails down to the quick until publication in November.

Here’s the front cover:

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I’m rather excited 🙂

Brimham Rocks – A Photographic Article

Rocks, rocks, everywhere. We decided to have a trip to Brimham Rocks the other day, as I’d visited years ago remembered that they were pretty cool, but couldn’t remember much else.

After the heart-attack inducing car parking fee of £6 for 4 hours (off-peak, week-day in the winter, no less!) we wandered up the path to check out some rocks.

What are Brimham Rocks?

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I’m glad you asked. They are balancing rock formations on Brimham Moor in North Yorkshire.

Essentially, giant stacks of rocks that seem to defy gravity by stacking up in unsafe-looking piles.

I read on an information board there, that they’re actually pretty darn safe and have had very few shifts/falls over the years. The rocks are like this because they’ve been eroded by various forces of nature over the years.

Supposedly some of the rocks now look like particular things and have been named after those: Sphinx, Camel, Turtle… and so on. I couldn’t really see it if I’m honest, but it was fun trying to work it out.

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I had a quick look on Wikipedia and discovered that the site has been used for kids’ TV shows in the past, including one of my favourite shows of all time,  KnightmareI loved that programme, although it also scared the hell out of me.

 

 

Photographic Kit Review: SRB’s P Size Elite Filter Holder.

So the lovely folks at SRB Photographic sent me their brand new P Size Elite Filter Holder to test out.

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Ta da… the new Elite Filter Holder

What is it?

It’s a square filter holder, designed to take P Size square filters and the Elite filter range. You attach it to your lens using an adaptor ring which are sold separately, but for less than £6 each.

Why is it Different to Their Other Filter Holders?

That, is an excellent question. For starters, it feels much more secure. You see the little screw at the top on the picture above? You pull that out, place the holder over the adaptor ring and then let go, and screw into place.

I won’t lie, it’s a little fiddly the first couple of times, particularly when your fingers are cold. But, (and it’s an important but) once it’s on, it feels secure, I don’t feel like it’s going to pop off the lens the second I accidentally brush the camera against my arm.

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The filter holder on my D800

What Filters Can I Use?

This is the great news, you can still use all the square filters you did before. They pop into the top the same way as the regular filter holders did. You can however, also use their new Elite filters, like the polarising filter you can see slotted in in the image at the top.

The new filters have been designed to screw into the centre thread of the holder, and they fit flush – a must to avoid light-leak.

You can stack 2 filters, too as it has 2 slots. I found my square ND1000 tricky to get into the slot, but a) that’s probably a good thing, you need it to be tight to avoid any light getting through, and b) I’m guessing the Elite ND1000 will eliminate that issue anyway.

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A soft grad filter inside the holder. Yes, I have hobo gloves.

Rotation

The rotation of the old-style holders was useful but too loose, sometimes I’d find my holder had rotated accidentally and that my grad filter was sideways or upside down! The rotation on the new Elite Holder feels much more purposeful, it moves easily, but I have to deliberately turn it.

How Tough is the Holder?

I am known throughout the land for my clumsiness and my first outing with this kit didn’t buck the trend; I dropped it right off the bat. It didn’t scratch, it didn’t chip. It seems very hardy, which is good considering it’ll be in and out of the kit bag, on and off lenses and most likely placed on a number of surfaces. And I’ll probably drop it a lot.

The holder comes in a neat and nicely branded box, but that isn’t particularly useful for your kit bag, unlike the soft bag (and handy lens-cleaning material) of past holders. So unless you want it clunking off your other kit, you’ll need to find a bag to pop it inside of.

What About Your Lens-Cap Obsession?

You still can’t fix a lens cap to your lens while you have the holder attached. I understand the logic and impracticality of this: why would you want the lens cap on if you have a filter protecting it, right? Well yes, but sometimes I like to have no filter in, but the option of popping one in quickly – in the meantime it would be nice if my lens was protected.

I’m guessing it’s also not feasible to have something on the holder to clip a lens cap to whilst also maintaining the functionality of the holder. But in an ideal world…

That Castle Earlier Looks Pretty Cool, did you Actually Take Pictures or do you Just Talk About Taking Them?

Okay, okay.

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Taken with a soft grad (0.3) to keep the sky on the right side of exposed.
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Taken with the ND1000 – around an 8-second exposure.

The Verdict

Like everything that SRB have thrown at me and dared me to break, their new P Size Elite Filter Holder is great. They’ve upped their game on build quality and functionality and once you’ve mastered the initial fiddliness of the new set-up, I doubt you’ll look back.

It comes with a handy instruction guide with a stunning image on the front (okay, it’s my image, but it’s kinda pretty) and the whole thing is nicely packaged. I do suggest you get yourself a wee bag to put it in to protect it and the rest of your kit while in transit, or wrap it in the cleaning cloth that comes with the holder.

A New Thing Every Month – December: Bloody Mary!

I have a confession… our thing this month came pretty last minute with all the general Christmas fuss. So, we decided we’d put a bet on at the bookies on New Year’s Eve as neither of us have done that.

Only problem was, we got there and it was closed. Oops.

New plan then – whatever we can scrounge from the local Co-Op.

Bloody Marys!

What You Need:

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  • Vodka
  • Tomato juice
  • Tobasco sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Lemon juice
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Celery (optional)

You may notice we used passata as we couldn’t get juice at such short notice… bung in some water and it’s fine.

Method

Put some lemon juice onto a plate or dish and then paprika and salt onto another.

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This is to stick around the edge of your glass, so rub the top of the glass first around the lemon juice and then around the salt/paprika mix until your glass rim is covered:

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Next, add your vodka and tomato juice in a ratio of 1/4 or as strong as you like. Add a couple of drops of Tabasco to each glass and a drop of Worcestershire Sauce.

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That’s it, you’re all done! Unless you’re one of those terrible, terrible people who likes celery. If you do, then add it now and feel thoroughly ashamed.

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So, as is the point of this one new thing a month, neither of us have had a Bloody Mary before. Turns out they’re not that great. Well, nice to end the year on a high.

Thanks for humouring me.

December Reads

I’m keeping track of every book I read this year, month by month.

Just in case anyone does fancy reading something I’ve mentioned, I’m giving details of the books (no more of a spoiler than you’d read on the blurb) and a rating. My rating system is 1 – 5:

  • 1 Awful, the writer should be banished to a far away land
  • 2 Poor, I didn’t die of boredom but it was a struggle to reach the end
  • 3 Average, fine but I’ll have forgotten about it in a year
  • 4 Good, I enjoyed this
  • 5 Excellent, hot damn this is a great book and the writer should be knighted

NBI’m also reading some books as research for my own, non-fiction publication which is due out next year. I’m omitting anything read for that, here. 

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December’s Books

Title(s): Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Category: Fiction: Horror, Supernatural

About: Jude purchases someone’s stepfather’s ghost online, to add to his creepy collection of the macabre. As you might have guessed, Jude gets more than he bargained for.

My Rating: 3.5, not bad but could’ve been so much better

I loved the premise of this, and the start of the book genuinely gave me the creeps. Unfortunately, the ever-present ghost means that there’s very little actual jeopardy, because you know nothing book-endingly-major is going to happen while there’s still 3/4 of the book left to read.

Mr Hill also suffers from the same major peeve I have with his father, his endings suck. Still, it’s well-written and the characters are okay for the most part. I rattled through it.

Read this if you like: Horns by Joe Hill, anything by Stephen King

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Title(s):  The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

Category: Fiction: Mystery (I guess?!)

About: Four year old Noah wants to go home. Only problem is, he already is home.

My Rating: 4, good

I quite liked the idea that someone might be retaining the memories of a previous incarnation and although I didn’t really ‘like’ the character of Noah, the plot was decent and fast-paced enough to keep my interest. The ending resolved nicely for me too, which is unusual, I admit!

Read this if you like: Anything by Jodi Picoult or Sophie Hannah

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Title(s): Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Category: Fiction: young adult, (mild) horror, fantasy etc

About: A family tragedy sends Jacob to a remote island off the coast of Wales, to the abandoned home where his Grandfather lived and spoke of tales of children with strange talents.

My Rating: 4.5, rather good.

I bought these books solely based on their cover… so that ruins that old cliché. Genuinely, these are beautiful looking books and exquisitely printed. The story is pretty good too, if a little slow. I’ve not seen the film yet, but I can imagine they’ve had to tart it up a little to keep up interest.

I’m actually half-way through the second book now and I’m thoroughly enjoying them. The author has a very nice style and the story flows beautifully. I’m looking forward to finding out how it all ends, while simultaneously not wanting it to end!

I can imagine these becoming a future children’s classic like the Narnia books.

Read this if you like: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

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That’s All, Folks

Well, my year of keeping tabs on my books has come to an end. Thank you if you’ve taken the time to read my ramblings and like the posts. I won’t be doing the monthly round-ups this year, but I will be singling out particular books for a more in-depth review, as and when I find a little gem.

I’m writing my own book at the moment, which is due for completion in March (and publication in November), so I’ll keep you updated on that, too.

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You can catch up on November’s Reads here.

A New Thing Every Month – November: Wreath Making

For November, we decided to make a Christmas Wreath in preparation for December. Neither of us really had a clue about this, so we had a quick Google and essentially it told us to get a ring for the wreath and stuff to put in it… simple really.

Sorry in advance that the pictures are a bit fuzzy – they’re from my phone.

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We went out for a forest walk with some pruners and a bag, and cut some pine branches from some recently fallen foliage.

Then we decided we’d need some holly, ivy and something to add colour, like berries. It’s nigh on impossible to get berries in a forest, so on the drive home we kept our eyes peeled and pulled over when we spotted some on a bush at the side of the road.

Hurrah! Now all we needed was holly and ivy… but it was dark. Cue a quick jaunt to our local church where we ‘re-located’ a couple of discreet snips of each. Ahem.

Making The Wreath

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We started by poking the pine branches into the ring, until we had them all the way around. After that, we filled in the top and then threaded through some holly, ivy and berries.

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You need to be quite careful about how often you stick stuff in as once the oasis has lots of holes in it, the foliage won’t stay in easily.

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At this point, there were pine needles everywhere (EVERYWHERE) and although the room smelled lovely, we’d had enough.

It was a bit rough and ready but it was kinda fun, and I’m not entirely ruling out doing it again…

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This is it on our wall. You’re supposed to keep it damp so that it stays alive, but if you haven’t guessed by now, we’re pretty lazy, so we didn’t. Still, it survived until Christmas in a warm room, so it lasted pretty well.

November Reads

I’m keeping track of every book I read this year, month by month.

Just in case anyone does fancy reading something I’ve mentioned, I’m giving details of the books (no more of a spoiler than you’d read on the blurb) and a rating. My rating system is 1 – 5:

  • 1 Awful, the writer should be banished to a far away land
  • 2 Poor, I didn’t die of boredom but it was a struggle to reach the end
  • 3 Average, fine but I’ll have forgotten about it in a year
  • 4 Good, I enjoyed this
  • 5 Excellent, hot damn this is a great book and the writer should be knighted

NBI’m also reading some books as research for my own, non-fiction publication which is due out next year. I’m omitting anything read for that, here. 

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November’s Books

Title(s): Girl in the Attic by Valerie Mendes

Category: Fiction: Young Adult, Coming of Age

About: Thirteen-year-old Nathan is taken to Cornwall for Christmas by his Mum after she splits with his Dad. She tells him they’re going to move there and he’s less than pleased… until he discovers a cottage with a girl in the attic.

My Rating: (maybe just under) 4, not bad

The book is very thin, so as you can imagine, the plot has to move along quickly. This story doesn’t win any prizes for originality, but it’s a pleasant enough little story and it jogs along to a reasonable conclusion. A bit of a cliché, but then we all enjoy those once in a while.

Read this if you like: The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan, anything by Susan Hill

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Title(s):  The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

Category: Fiction: Political (dare-I-say… chick lit?)

About: Five women from very different backgrounds come together in a coffee shop in the heart of Afghanistan.

My Rating: 4, good

I’m loathe to band any book like this into ‘chick-lit’, and it’s not my usual kind of thing, but I didn’t think this was too bad and chick-lit isn’t always an insult…

I enjoyed the story, although was disappointed by the ending. No spoilers, I promise. The characters are mostly stereotypes, but that is kinda the point in that particular setting and much of the story is about them breaking down those boundaries (gentle violin music starts to swell to a crescendo) and *gulp* COMPLETINGANEMOTIONALJOURNEY.

That’s quite enough of that. It’s not bad, honestly.

Read this if you like: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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Title(s): Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlin

Category: Fiction: Crime, Family, Relationships

About: Sufferer of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Andy Lockwood is accused of arson, despite rescuing children from the flames.

My Rating: 4, mostly good.

Did he burn a church to the ground or didn’t he? That’s basically the premise of the book, and as you’d expect from this sort of story, we’re pushed from ‘nahhh, no way’, to ‘oooh actually maybe he did’. I won’t tell you which way it lands (obviously), but the story ticks over quickly enough and the characters aren’t overly soppy or annoying, hurrah.

Read this if you like: everything by Jodi Picoult, everything by Sophie Hannah (you get the idea now)

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Title(s): Victim Without a Face by Stefan Ahnhem

Category: Fiction: Crime, Thriller

About: The first in a series about a detective named Fabian Risk, he has just moved to Stockholm with his family to start over. After only a few hours, he’s pulled into a murder case involving one of his old classmates. As more of them are picked off, it becomes a race against time to solve the case

My Rating: 4, good

I enjoy crime books but they’re always disappointingly predictable. I think a lot of crime authors just try to be too clever and outfox us with twists and turns, which unfortunately doesn’t work and can leave you confused as to what’s going on.

This book wasn’t too much like that, but it certainly had a bit of it and combine that with the Swedish names and I found it a wee bit hard to follow who was who at some points. I enjoyed some of the creative deaths and some parts of the book actually made me cringe, which is quite the feat – the ending was disappointing, though.

Read this if you like: A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan, A Tapping at my Door by David Jackson

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Thanks for reading, y’all, see you soon.
You can catch up on October’s Reads here.

A New Thing Every Month – October: Scream Factory

This was a fun one. Me, the other half, and one of our friends, went to Redcar for Scream Factory 2016, on Halloween night.

I had no idea what to expect, having never done this before, but the reviews were good and it looked like it would be a laugh if nothing else.

You choose a timeslot when you book your tickets and around 8-10 of you go through the ‘factory’ together. The small numbers are good because it means you don’t get lost in the crowd and you aren’t left behind when the ‘scares’ are happening.

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Image courtesy of Scream Factory

There were several outbuildings which had been converted to look like various horror movie-type locations. So there was an old barn, a funhouse, a hospital and so on. The actors dressed appropriately for each location. They’re not allowed to touch you, but they can yell, come close and even follow you for a while. I was followed by one zombie-girl for some time, saying ‘mother…?’ fun and creepy!

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Image courtesy of Scream Factory

Sometimes the corridors are pitch black and you have to feel your way through to the next section, but you can’t get lost and you can’t get hurt – there’s always someone to help if you do get stuck.

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Image courtesy of Scream Factory

This was SO much fun and I laughed until my stomach hurt. Some of the younger girls who were on the tour screamed a LOT and if you don’t like sudden shocks (people jumping out, lights going on/off, loud noises) then it may not be for you. Maybe you like to be scared though, and if so, it’s lots of fun but likewise, if you don’t scare easily, it’s such a laugh and you can appreciate the hard work that’s gone into making this a success year after year.