How would you feel?

This is a bit of a moan about people using my photographs without asking permission. I’ve discovered twice this week that someone has used one of my photographs in what I would consider a commercial situation and on neither occasions has anyone contacted me and asked my permission. On neither occasion have I been credited as the photographer and of course on neither occasion have I been rewarded for the use of what is my property.

The first one was that I discovered that one of the bands that played SoL last year was planning on releasing a limited edition vinyl recording of their appearance. While I was also interested in where they had obtained the recording I spotted that one of the photographs on the cover was one I had posted to the Facebook group during the event. To add insult to injury they had used the photograph three times, once in it’s entirety and twice as a cropped version.

Then yesterday I discovered that the Brighton Dome were using one of my photographs to advertise a upcoming gig by reggae band Misty in Roots. Again I would consider this a commercial use and again I wasn’t contacted by either band or venue to ask permission and again there is no photographer credit.

I mean what do you do? I can kick up a fuss but I suspect all that would get me would be an apology and possibly the removal of the image (probably to be replaced by another image that they have found on the internet). Should I just take it on the chin and be pleased that they used my image? If I do that surely the profession of photographer is dead as no one would ever be able to earn a living from it!

R.I.P. Jubbly

Sadly last week we had to let one of our cats leave this world. It was very sad because he had become such a part of our everyday life that he had left such a big hole.

In 2013 Sarah forwarded an email she had received from a guy who had advertised that he needed to re-home his late wife’s three cats – she had just written the words

Oh my God!!! Jubbly!!!!

here is the description from his former owner!

So the guy came round to see us and after chatting to us on a red hot day for about half an hour he suddenly revealed that he had Jubbly in the car so he went and got him. Poor cat was stuffed into a cat carrier that was way to small for him and had obviously been in there for some time in a red hot car.  As he emerged blinking into our dining room we all fell instantly in love with him especially when we saw his thumbs!

So he stayed (and later was joined by another of the cats that the bloke was trying to re-home Raj who sadly disappeared after we had moved up north. In the early days Jubbly certainly lived up to his reputation as a village idiot as he would often climb up onto the fence and then jump down into the alley only to find he couldn’t make it back again. Once he disappeared for a couple of days and we ended up out frantically searching for him only to hear a plaintiff me-ow from a back garden – we had to break into the garden through a gate that hadn’t been opened for years to rescue him. After a while he became a house cat and he couldn’t be trusted with the outside world unsupervised!

He was quite a chunky cat when we first got him but shortly before we moved up north he started to suffer from diarrhoea and to  lose weight to the point where we started to fear for his life. The vets had no idea why he was losing weight and their best suggestion was that we try him with different types of food. Eventually after much searching online we tried him with some cereal free food and that did the trick and thankfully he started to agin weight again but not before he famously poo’d all over the estate agent who was trying to sell our house!

He was such  a tolerant cat, I don’t think he ever swiped at us in all the time we had him and he had to put up with a lot! Ben would just pick him up and carry him around, he would let you tickle his tummy and swoosh him around on the polished floor! He liked to travel upside down so if you were carrying him anywhere that’s they way he would go! The poor thing was always the first to have a silly Christmas hat or sunglasses placed on him – the only thing he didn’t like was jumpers and he would manage to escape from them pretty quick!

At the new house he remained an inside cat but on two occasions when other people were looking after him he managed to escape! The first time one of our neighbours saw us looking for him and he was found quite quickly. The second time we searched and searched until it was dark and couldn’t find him. The next morning we posted on social media and he was found quite quickly – apparently he had got round to the next estate and had sat in someone’s garden for 15 hours until they took him in for the night! He was literally about 300 yards away from home but didn’t seem to have the sense to find his way back. The girl who rescued him thought he was pregnant!

He had lots of strange foibles! He would come and sit next to Sarah on the sofa and then just roll himself into her. When he was being chased he would walk a few feet and then just flump himself down on the ground. He would poo next to the cat lit tray instead of in it! He could open the door between the utility room and the rest of the house by jumping up and pressing down on the handle – he was so good at this we had to have two doorstops to keep him in! He would also lick things, paper, bedside lamps that sort of thing and given half a chance he would dip his paw into Sarah’s teacup and drink it by licking if off his paw. And no one could get caught in a vertical blind like the Jubbster!

When we first got the dog we actually let them share the kitchen and they got on really well together! Whenever Teddi would try and annoy Jubbs he would just flop over on to his side and swat her away with one of his rear paws, it was such a sight  to see and the poor dog had no idea what to do about it! The dog has different reactions to all of the cats, he dislikes most of them especially the naughty ones like Tag and Louie who she would get very worked up about if they snuck into the living room to steal Jubbly’s food! Diesel she can take or leave but she never quite knew what to make of Jubbs! It didn’t help that when we went away and took the dog Jubby would be in the kitchen and of course that lead to territorial disputes when we came back!

One of his favourite places to sit was on the back on the sofa and he used to get the right hump if one of the other cats had stolen his place. At first he would stare at them and when that didn’t work he would climb into his space next to them and wouldn’t be happy until his had managed to push them out and reclaim that space as his own! He would also like to get comfy on Ben’s bed and we’d often go upstairs and find them fast asleep cuddled up together – it was hard to work out who was looking out for who!

Sadly a few months ago he started to lose weight again but he seemed to be eating ok. When it was obvious that he was losing a lot of weight we took him to the vets. They thought he might have thyroid issues but the blood tests showed he had kidney failure – quite common in older cats but he was only at stage 3 and they thought that with the right treatment he could last another couple of years. We bought him the renal food and some medicine and at first he was eating it without a problem. But as days went on he ate less and less and he seemed to be getting weaker and slower and looking all hunched. He didn’t seem to be able to get warm and was either sitting on the radiator or we had to cover him with a jumper or his particular favourite Sarah’s dressing gown!

We took him back to the vets who said he was till in stage 3 and they gave us some more medicine. However over the next few days he just went downhill until on the morning of 12th May he could barely stand. We phoned the vets and discussed it and the decision was taken to put him to sleep. We spent the rest of the day making sure he was comfortable and loved before we had to take him on his last journey! By the time we got him to the vets we knew we had made the right decision and when the time came he slipped away without even a whimper. he will be sadly missed and had left a huge whole in our house – I don’t think there will ever be another cat like this crazy dude!

Run free Jubbly – we loved you so much, we will miss you and we’ll always love you xx

 

Ploughing my own Furlough!

I, like millions of others, have been furloughed by my company due to the Coronavirus. This means under the Government’s terms that I receive 80% of my salary while I am unable to work due to the restrictions. At the end of the day it’s just about doable because the money I save on not having to commute to Newcastle every day is about the same as the drop in income so with a bit of scrimping and saving I’m doing ok for now.

The reason my company, which has been in business for the past 26 years, has had to furlough most of its staff is that we service the conference and events sector and as gatherings of people are banned all of our business has either been cancelled or postponed until September at the earliest (and even that is looking doubtful) so all of our income is currently on hold. The company managed to pay our wages for the first month but after that we had to sign a form to accept the new terms and conditions of furlough.

I think it’s important to stress that we are in this position not because of anything we did personally or that the company did wrong it is simply because the virus spreading around the world has made our business impossible in the short term. The last event we did was in Northern Ireland and as we were setting up during the day the client was getting phone call after phone call from guests to cancel. At one point it was touch and go wether the event would go ahead after us travelling out there and setting everything up!

I’ve worked in this industry since leaving University back in 1985 – so 35 years now with only one week where I wasn’t actually employed as I took a week out between leaving one job and starting the next. I worked for a company in London originally and then left to help set up a new company which I worked for for 25 years and now I work for a company in the North East and have done for the last 6 years during which time I have only been off sick for 1 day.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I have been absolutely shocked over the past couple of days by the rhetoric coming from the Government regarding the scheme they set up a few weeks earlier under the banner “whatever it takes” There has been talk of people becoming “addicted to furlough money” (I mean how? I’ve only had one payment) and having to “ween us off the payments”! There was talk (which thankfully didn’t happen this week) about reducing the payments to encourage us to go back to work! At the end of the day I would happily go back to work BUT the work isn’t there at the moment! So talk of people not wanting to work is nonsense!

I spent yesterday despairing at the vitriol of some people on Facebook and Twitter towards those of us who have been furloughed. There were some common themes and I could have spent all day rebutting them…

Paying people to sit on their arses all day

Well I can’t work at the moment so what is the alternative – I become unemployed and er sit on my arse all day?

Why should my tax money subsidise people’s wages

Well it’s my tax money too – I’ve paid tax and National Insurance for 35 years and never claimed a thing so why can’t I claim on my “insurance” now? Also the alternative is 6m more people on the dole which, guess what, would come out of your taxes! And given that without the furlough scheme a lot of business would go under there would be a lot less vacancies for the newly unemployed so you would end up paying their benefits even longer than the furlough scheme

I wonder how many people would feel that way if it was the sector that they work in that was effected?

And my favourite – bloody lazy lefties just want to get paid for sitting on their arses

Well firstly as I said above I would love to be able to go back to work and will happily do so when the business picks up. Secondly I suspect a lot of people currently benefitting from the furlough scheme aren’t lefties at all and probably a significant number would have voted Conservative at the last election! Incidentally I have seen the same accusations thrown at school staff by the same vile people saying that teachers don’t want to go back because they just want even more paid holidays. This annoys me because firstly it was the schools that were closed before businesses for a reason. Secondly the staff have been going in to look after key workers kids and thirdly as a Teaching Assistant my wife doesn’t actually get paid for the holidays! They just want to know that they are going to be safe before they return – is that a crime?

Now don’t get me wrong I am very grateful to the Conservative Government (blimey did I just type that) for the furlough scheme and for everything they announced at the start of the crisis BUT why having put things in place to do “Whatever it takes” do they start, just a few weeks later, to try and claw it back making people like me feel guilty and stressed out in the process?

RIP Arnold aka Bacon Ears

Arnold – the cat who came in from the cold sadly had to be put to sleep last week.

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When we used to live down south we had six cats and we would feed them outside on the decking. One evening, much to the consternation of the others, a feral ginger cat with tatty ears turned up. He’d obviously got wind of the food and was hoping to get some for himself. At first he would just sit and watch the others eat, he’d plonk himself down and curl his tail around himself and then put his two front paws on the end of it. I don’t know why but I christened him Arnold. (Ben nicknamed him Bacon Ears)

When he kept turning up I tried to make friends with him but it was a slow process. At first any attempt to approach him resulted in him legging it but as time went on he became less wary of me. He still wouldn’t let me touch him though and even after we got to know him better he was still wary of men and would flinch if you put your hand above his head. He clearly had had a rough life and I was honoured that he eventually came to me!

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One night we had just gone to bed when we heard a commotion somewhere in the house. It turned out that Arnold had wandered in when the back door was open and made himself comfy somewhere and was now freaking out because the exit route was no longer there. I tried to catch him but that just made him worse until he finally found that the bathroom window was open and climbed out of it! With him sitting on a first floor windowsill we had no idea what to do next but he did! He leapt from the bathroom to the windowsill outside Ben’s room. Then from there he leapt down onto the fence below, it was quite a drop and Sarah and I were almost to scared to look down – but when we did he was ok!

He continued to get braver and would often come into the kitchen, the other cats now tolerated him rather than accepting him. One day I actually managed to pick him up and he let me hold him for a while and this was when I realised that he was actually an Arnold and not an Arnoldina!

arnold hold

At this point we had a problem – we were moving and we weren’t sure what to do with a cat that wasn’t quite ours. Luckily Becky came to his rescue and he went to live, not without putting up a serious fight when they tried to get him into the basket though, in Brighton. Becky and her girlfriend had him for about a year before they split up and then when Becky moved into a place where she couldn’t have pets Arnold went to live with Sarah’s mum. Despite all of her protesting I think she really enjoyed having the little ginger man there!

Earlier this year Becky was finally able to have him back and he went back to Brighton to live with Becky and her new girlfriend. Unfortunately a few weeks ago Becky noticed that he had blood on his nose and after lots of investigations at the vets he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma which had spread to his nose and eye sockets. Last Thursday he was really ill and she had to take him to the vets and the decision was made to end his suffering. She waited till the following morning so that her girlfriend could be with her so they could say goodbye to him together.

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So poor Arnold crossed the rainbow bridge but at the end of the day he had six years of living the highlife that he probably wouldn’t have had if we all hadn’t taken such a shine to him. Run free little man!

Mother’s day

Today is mother’s day and as usual I feel sad that my mum isn’t around to spoil today. She died, younger than I am now, in 1990 without getting to see any of her grandchildren. Had she still been alive she would have celebrated her 80th birthday two days ago. Next year I will have lived half my life without her.

So this is for my mum just to let her know that she’s still loved very much and missed every single day.

Light Pollution

I originally posted this blog entry on another, now defunct, blog so I thought I’d repost it here

Where we live is in a strange place when it comes to dark skies – the north and east of the village suffer from a lot of light pollution from places like Crook, Consett, Durham and even Newcastle but the south and the west are relatively dark – and so they should be given that they look inland towards the more sparsely inhabited areas in the North Pennines. The upshot of this is if you venture away from the street lights in the village you get some wonderful views of the stars in the night sky.

In fact if I’m honest you don’t have to go that far, the Dark Sky Discovery site classifies two types of site to view the night sky – firstly there’s a Milky Way site where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye and then there is a Orion Site where the seven main stars in the winter constellation Orion are visible to the naked eye which puts my back garden into the latter category. Then there is the Thornley Road (before that idiot put those super bright spot lights outside his unit), at the bottom of Ironworks Road and behind the cemetery where the Milky Way can be seen on a really dark night and both of those are within walking distance. We’ve also got Derwent Reservoir and Parkhead Station within a twenty minute drive that are both recognised by the North Pennines AONB as being dark sky discovery sites.

Of course over 100 years ago, when the skies would have been much darker, there was an observatory in the village. A local clergyman built one in the garden of the rectory. The Rev Espin, who also dabbled with medical use of x-rays, was a well renowned astronomer and even has a crater on the dark side of the moon named after him!

So the other night when I discovered that the sky was really clear I set out to discover for myself if the skies were dark enough for astrophotography. I would have driven to a dark sky discovery spot but by the time I discovered the sky was so clear I’d had a couple of glasses of wine so it wasn’t a good idea! I has also seen on Facebook that the moon was due to set at around ten to one so I figured I’d go out just before that and see what it was like.

I decided that I would head up to behind the cemetery so I got my camera out and refreshed my memory by looking at the cheat sheet I’d got from Kielder observatory earlier in the year and set my camera up ready to save me fiddling around in the dark. I took my tripod and headed off through the quiet streets to the edge of the village and then turned down a lane that runs down to the old railway track. As I did the moon was hanging low in the sky and I decided to see if I could get a picture of it. I started to set up but that was then I discovered that in future I need to remember that as well as setting my camera up before leaving I should also familiarise myself with the tripod, at least until I get used to it as this is only the third time I’ve actually used it and remembering the ins and outs in the dark wasn’t a great idea.

After a while and not getting any satisfactory shots of the moon (need to work that out obviously!) I moved on and continued to the end of the track where it meets with the old railway track which runs pretty much north -south being the line that used to run towards Consett. I moved into a position that meant I had the lights of the street behind me and where I was facing where I assume the Milky Way to be. I set my camera up and started to take a few shots. After 3 or 4 I realised that I had zoomed in to take the shots of the moon and once I’d gone back to the widest setting I could see a lot more of the sky!

I started to take various shots using various settings but decided that the light from the moon was too bright so it might be best to wait until the moon had set before trying again. At that point I turned around and I saw that the Plough was sitting directly above one of my favourite trees in the area so I swung my camera around and tried to capture the shout.

I did a 20 second exposure and when the image popped up on the screen I could see that I had an issue with light pollution – firstly in the bottom left where the street light on the A68 was causing a huge orange glow but also from the general north and east spill of light from our village and the surround area which was showing bottom right. Still the Plough had come out well and I wondered if I could move to get a better angle. I tried to take another shot and as I did nothing happened – I realised that the battery was dead and put my hand in my pocket for the spare only to realise that it was still sitting on the windowsill as I’d forgotten to pick it up!

I had no choice but to head back cursing myself for forgetting it and then cursing the nettles I walked into in the dark! Still it had been an experience and I had learned a few things for next time. It was quite eerie round the back of the cemetery especially when I could hear an angry horse in the field in front of me as I was leaving!

Still when I got home and processed the images I was quite pleased with this one – despite the light from a very bright moon!

Reaching for the stars

I originally posted this blog entry on another, now defunct, blog so I thought I’d repost it here

On the 26th March 2017 I headed off to Kielder because I was booked onto an Astro Photo event at the Observatory. Sarah had bought me a voucher for my last but one birthday and it had expired so I had to cajole the Observatory into letting me use it to book this event. She also bought me my tripod for Christmas and this would be it’s first outing. Given all this I couldn’t understand why she was moaning about me going…unless of course it was because it was Mothers day!

The drive up to Kielder is quite a wild one, I think we live somewhere quite remote but really it’s nothing compared with some of the places you pass on the way to England’s remotest village! We’ve been to the campsite before and we know that there’s no mobile signal or anything up there – in fact on the way back it was about 40 minutes of driving before I got any signal! The last bit of the drive is up a single track road which winds it’s way up the side of the hill before flattening out at the top where there is a car park next to the observatory building. It seems like you are really high up but in reality you’re no higher than you would be at Tow Law, which of course used to have it’s own observatory once upon a time.

I parked in the car park, I could see there were people waiting outside so I guessed it wasn’t open yet. I wasn’t sure which coat to wear as I’d brought my jacket and my big coat. As it wasn’t too cold I plumped for the jacket but figured that I could always go back and get the bigger one if I needed it. I got talking to the chap who was parked next to me as I was putting my coat on and getting my camera out. It dawned on me that I hadn’t brought a hat but I did have a hood so figured that would have to do! I wandered down to the door by which time people were going in. I had printed off my ticket but didn’t need it as they had a laptop with everyone’s name on it.

We were invited to take a seat in the room we’d just gone into. The room was quite small and made of wood. There was a screen onto which were being projected images of space and wood burning stove in the corner. The room was lit with red lights powered, presumably, by the wind turbine we passed on the way in. While we sat and waited for the event to start one of the organisers came dashing in saying “I need my camera there is a beautiful sunset out there” and then he left again. A few seconds later he returned and said “I’m not joking, it’s beautiful and there’s all you lot here with cameras…” I followed him out and took a picture using my mobile phone, others followed and soon there were quite a few of us out there.

The event started with a lecture about photography (obviously) and they ran through a ten point plan to get us started discussing exposure, focussing, file formats, location etc. I found a lot of the stuff I either knew or could have worked out myself but it was useful to hear the tips and techniques. The talk went on for about an hour and at that point we were invited to get our cameras out and go and give it a try. They apparently have a contingency plan in case the sky isn’t clear but thankfully we don’t need it tonight as the skies are clear. I spend a little time sorting out my camera before heading out. I have a shutter release cable but although I’ve tested it before I discover that it doesn’t work if I use the mirror up setting! I also spend time getting the focus correct only to discover later that my lens actually had infinity focus marked on it!

When I eventually get outside I’m struck by how many stars there are out there especially given it doesn’t seem that dark! I was expecting, as we’re in a dark sky park, it to be pitch black but it wasn’t – in fact I think I know places where it seems darker at home but I’m guess that the main factor is lack of light pollution which means the stars can be seen. I spend the next couple of hours taking photos with varying degrees of success! I notice at one point that my camera has gone from RAW to TIF and I wasn’t sure how that happened but I later realised that the button for changing it is next to the button for changing the ISO so I must have changed it by mistake. I also discover that the dial for changing the aperture is right underneath the on/off button and I lost count of how many times I accidentally switched the camera off!

I try different settings and different framings to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. I realise that although the sky looks uniformly dark there is more light nearer the ground than if you point the camera into the sky. I also discover that a foreground object like the observatory works better than just pointing at the stars. I bracket my exposures to see what works and what makes a difference.

At one point we’re called in so they can take coffee orders – apparently we can have tea, coffee or hot chocolate but we can have them in a normal mug which means they have to wash up 30 mugs or we could purchase a nice souvenir Observatory mug from them for £3.50, drink our coffee out of it and then take it home. Apparently they’ve been spotted as far away as Whitley Bay! Needless to say most people went with the second option!

We went back outside while they made our drinks and while I was taking photos it dawned on me that not only did I not feel the cold as much as most people – I was wearing my jacket and hoody but both were open and had no gloves or hat whereas others looked like they were off to explore the artic – but I seem to have much better night vision than most too as people seemed to flounder in the dark and lots had brought red torches to find their way about. My theory is that I’m used to walking in the dark as I have spent most of my life in darkened conference halls but as well as that I walk the dog regularly in the dark roads around Tow Law. I also think your eyes will adjust if you’re in the darkness but if you insist on using a torch they’ll take longer!

The event finished at 11 and then I had an hour and a half journey home again. One road in particular was worrying me as it had been a winding narrow road that was quite scary in the light (I remember it from our trip in the campervan last year) but at night it would be worse. It turned out not to be as bad as I thought but as I got near the end another car came up behind me. This car then followed me all the way down the A68 till wereached the A69 where he finally overtook me – why he couldn’t overtake me sooner or drop back I don’t know…unless it was because it was a Volvo!

I had a great evening and I am looking forward to finding somewhere near me to go out and take photographs but in the meantime here’s a couple I took tonight!