Aladdin’s Cave

The constraints of Covid are really only now beginning to be felt in Hong Kong. Frustration with long quarantine requirements has given way to frustration with rank incompetence on every front. My time at home is getting longer each day it seems. How better to occupy some idle hours than to ransack Aladdin’s cave?

In this the case the cave is quite small. In fact it measures 11×8.5x2cm. And it has the letters WD written on it. It is a very old hard drive. Stuffed to the gunwales with digital photos going back to 2005. I am still working my way through it. So far I have found over 10 different camera models used by me over the time the HD covers. The earliest seems to be a Canon 10D and at the point I have reached I am using a 1Dx. So what have I discovered?

I took a lot of photos. A huge number. And a lot are very poor quality – mainly the flash photography is bad. There are also some surprisingly good ones.

I had no technical understanding of flash and white balance. They are awful. No really, shockingly poor.

Shooting in RAW means I can rescue even those where the WB is terribly wrong.

I have natural history records I need to preserve. Those are being downloaded on to a new 4TB HD and the best backed up elsewhere in the cloud.

I can remember the vast majority of them. I mean it. Almost every photo I look at I think – oh yes, I remember that, I know exactly where I was. I remember who I was with.

With good exposure the 10mp frames are still extremely usable and much better than I would have expected.

Had I not gone through this exercise I would have overlooked and possibly lost a considerable record of my life. From routine record shots of moths, to the family dogs to our lives over the 10 years, so many gaps would have remained unfilled. Yes, I have them in my head but now I also have digital files to fill in the blanks.

The good photos are startlingly good. I used a tripod in those days. Almost all the time. I used Live View for many natural history shots. I even used a rail for macro and did proper stacking. My word it shows. I could carry a lot of heavy kit, that is clear. Not so now.

I was probably much happier then as I seem to have spent day after day in the field without the worry of ageing and covid.

And the good news is I have another hard drive to explore after I have finished this one. And then another.

A couple of hours a day pass quickly and if I present one image I honestly don’t feel it matters which one I choose. I shall post two anyway and I hope you agree, the past is worth reliving.

Stejneger's Stonechat
Stejneger’s Stonechat
Lulu in her prime
Princess Lulu

Well hello, Tiger

Unfortunately I’m at an age where it’s more Tiger Balm than Tiger Beer but today ushers in another new year and tigers are everywhere. Mostly cuddly ones distributing money. Perhaps it is a time for reflection too. I can’t recall a time in my 60+ years when mental health has been the subject of greater focus. The extended pandemic has created stresses and strains we have rarely if ever encountered.  My coping mechanism has been more time on the hills away from crowds and places I need to register to enter. And photography – always carrying a camera. Finally, exercise – a medical problem led me to start working with a fitness trainer. I can’t claim to be Charles Atlas nor a Yogi. In fact I’m closer to Yogi Bear. But slowly the creaks and groans of a frame being moved into unfamiliar positions are improving my health.
What is quite alarming, even demoralizing, is watching videos online of yoga for beginners. What sort of beginners are they thinking of? The ‘ten minute warm up’ routine takes me about thirty minutes as I try to force my body into discomfort zones it just hates. Never was an exercise less aptly named than the Wall Angel. I can just about manage the Cat and Cow now and a bit of the Cobra. My balance has improved significantly but what I really need is to learn to meditate. 🧘 The idea of letting my mind go blank and finding inner peace really appeals to me. The worst aspect of living in a zero-Covid prison is that the mind works overtime, especially at night when I start pondering the lost opportunities of enforced isolation. And I have not even had to quarantine (yet). I keep working out what percentage of my life (past and unquantifiable future) is being subjugated to the plague. Most societies are now adopting some form of living with Covid. The trade off in many countries is you need to be vaccinated. I don’t want to get into the debate about the rights and wrongs of vaccination passports or even mandatory vaccination. It is difficult to reconcile the freedom of the individual and the moral obligation to society. My brain works frantically and craves the freedom to visit places of my choice without being compelled to spend 21 days in a quasi-prison camp. I often wonder how much longer the beaten down populace will stay docile and compliant. Silent resentment is giving way to more vociferous demands for pragmatism. In vain so far.
Blending photography with writing is a good outlet. Reading is another. I recently bought a trilogy of books by BB. His magnum opus, The Little Grey Men, is essentially a fairy story. Only the fairies are gnomes. The last gnomes in England. What is the attraction of such a book to a pensioner? Well I first read the book at primary school. This is probably my fourth read. What I find especially captivating is the power of observation that Denys Watkins-Pitchford (BB) brings to his descriptions of the creatures that fill the pages of the adventure story. He is clearly a naturalist first and dare I say a writer afterwards. The anthropomorphic characters may not appeal to all but I delight in his portrayal of the inhabitants of wood and stream. There is a sequel, Down the Bright Stream which is equally well written. Perhaps I regress but maybe not as I am following the BB books with Joyce’s The Dubliners.
My blog post on Henri Cartier-Bresson has been republished by Photography Daily: with a few more photos added. The podcast segment has been recorded and I spoke without deviation, hesitation or repetition for a full 8 minutes. Now it will be edited down to a more bite size chunk and will probably end up at a couple of minutes. Nowhere near the fifteen minutes of fame I am supposed to get. Or I may be cut altogether. Ouch. The star of the piece is a family heirloom – a biscuit tin no less. I leave you to wonder how that fits in.
One of the pleasures of the lunar new year is exchanging greetings with friends near and far. This year many people will miss out on lai see (the red packets containing lucky money) because people are being asked to work from home, keep a social distance, not to mix with friends and family and indeed to have a thoroughly miserable time. Instead we can (fanfare) – give friends an ‘e lai see’. An electronic red packet does not seem quite the same to me. Much less fun. One year the younger cost centre was mightily embarrassed when she gave out some red packets having forgotten to put anything in them. I suspect the recipients were laughing rather than angry or insulted – so easily done. For non-Chinese we agonise over how much to give, to whom we should give and how to make sure we give the correct intended amount to the right recipient. Typically we over-give so as not to appear mean. I don’t think the locals are nearly as hung up on this. It is after all just a tradition. Nevertheless many children will be poorer than they had hoped.
And now I must close as the moment approaches when the children and grandchildren will arrive and peace and tranquility will fly out of the window. We will all be dressed in red and everybody will eat radish cake. I have no idea why. It smells disgusting but tastes borderline acceptable. A bit like durian. And after that I can wind down with a wordle. I only discovered wordle yesterday and it seems I must be several months behind the rest of civilisation in that respect. I have some catching up to do. And with that I shall simply say _ _ _ _ _ See if you can solve that. Answers in the comments please.

Impressions of Hong Kong
Hong Kong by Lai See (Lucky Monet)