Tag Archives: planning

This sceptred isle | Editorial | Comment is free | The Observer

But if we eschew for a moment the national pastime of self-deprecation, it’s easy to take pride in our island’s astonishing variety and splendour. Castles on volcanic redoubts, petrified forests uncovered by the tides, wind-sculpted tors on haunted moorland, peregrines hunting from museum chimneys, bridges slung like webs across gorges, hillside orchards, wild deer glimpsed from railway carriages, otters in the becks, Roman walls and Bronze Age burial mounds, Tudor mullions and Victorian stained glass, barges on the Avon, wherries on the Fens, wattle and daub, half-timbers, flying buttresses, lakeland and heathland and lochs and dunes and dales and mountains.

The Observer has been reading my blog. I doubt it, but isn’t it uncanny how they’ve come over all sentimental about a forthcoming bank holiday?

Planning ahead

I’m getting to a certain age where I must begin to consider what I’m going to do with my time when I become “retired”. Leaving aside the rather worrying notion I may well never actually retire as the UK’s official retirement age creeps ever upwards as we all live longer, I still need to think about how I’m going to live out the autumn years of my life. There is an age disparity between myself and Best Beloved of some quarter century, and it’s pretty obvious to both of us I may well not have the pleasure of his company into my dotage. We don’t have dependants, so once he’s gone I will have to be self-sufficient for as long as I can manage it. 

Moving swiftly on from that rather depressing thought, I’m currently letting myself have a little daydream, which I amusingly call my Retirement Plan. There’ll be none of that checking into a retirement apartment, or sheltered accommodation, or even getting myself on Crusty Cruises around the Mediterranean. My plan is predicated on my inheriting Best Beloved’s estate. As we have no mortgage or major outstanding debt, I would hope to be able to liquidate the house and invest the proceeds. I would then purchase a mobile home (RV, self-propelled tin snail, whatever you fancy) and set off to explore the glories of the land of my birth.

The vehicle will need to be large enough for me to live in comfortably. It will need sufficient secure storage for my camera gear and a laptop, as well as clothes, food and the usual prerequisites of life. It will need to be self-sufficient for the times when I can’t plug into the grid. It will need internet access of some kind. To offset the size of the living van, I can hitch a small car to the back. Once I’m safely berthed in a campsite somewhere I can use the car to explore, reasoning a small car is easier to park than a bus, and drier than a moped or bicycle! 

The basic idea is now settled. I am assuming I really will be setting off on, and be able to fund in some way, a Grand Tour of the British Isles. What’s happening now is I am beginning to think about the places I want to visit, and the best way to cover the country to see the best bits. It’s not like I will have a time limit. My time will be my own, to spend as I please. If I land up somewhere, I might spend a week, a month or even longer. It would be really great to get to know an area on more intimate terms than the usual tourist traps. When I’m ready, weigh anchor and away I go.

It would be useful to have some kind of underlying tour plan, and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to book berths in advance when I can. To avoid traffic I am considering overnight driving between stopping places, allowing myself a day or so once settled to prepare for my visit. Although I plan to be on the road permanently, I should also allow for times when I may be unwell, or the weather just too inclement, where I ought to heave to in a hotel for a time.

I’d love to be doing the Grand Tour until I am incapable of doing it any more. I certainly don’t want to spend my dotage in a “care” home, or dying in my favourite armchair in front of the goggle box, and there won’t be anyone in my immediate family who can “look after” me. I want to be out and being active for as long as I can manage it. I need to be independent and self-sufficient until I can’t manage any more.

What’s brought on this late-onset wanderlust? I think I can lay the blame on the BBC for giving us excellent documentary television programmes like Coast and Town. Both these shows have opened my eyes to the wonders that abound in my homeland. I have lived my entire life in the bottom right-hand corner of England, with all too rare and painfully short forays to other parts on holidays and odd trips. I simply have not experienced much of my own country, and I plan to see as much as I can before I shuffle off this mortal coil.


As an added incentive, I’ve recently acquired a copy of The Lie of the Land by Ian Vince. Subtitled A spotter’s guide to the Britain beneath your feet, I thoroughly recommend it. Superbly written, easy to read, and sufficiently in-depth to seriously whet your appetite for more, it will act as my guide book on my journey. While considering the book, you might also take a look at the British Landscape Club web site, where you can currently buy signed paperback editions of the book, and become a member of the club. Membership is free, and you get a lovely badge you can wear with pride.

That’s enough for now. I shall go back to planning trips and day-dreaming about my retirement.


Photography, Preparation and Planning


It begins with a vague nagging feeling that I need to get out with my camera gear. I begin to fidget and fret. I know if I don’t get some personal time with my camera pretty quickly, I will probably explode. I’m suffering from ISF—Itchy Shutter Finger.

I begin to ponder subjects and locations. I scan weather forecasts, pore over maps (thank you, whoever invented Google Maps, thank you!), and consider what sort of images I want to try and capture. Over the years since affordable digital cameras let me rediscover my love of photography, I’ve found some locations I like to revisit. I am not sure why I keep going back. Perhaps it’s because they’re within easy reach of home. Perhaps, being better acquainted with them means I am beginning to capture varying moods, or interesting things I may have missed before. Whatever the reason, I find I return to these places when ISF strikes.

I have several ongoing photographic projects. One of them, Margins, looks at those places between the tide marks. I live near the tidal Medway estuary, and not far from the North Kent coast, so I can get plenty of opportunities to see the muddy bits between high and low tides. I am particularly interested in how people try—and fail—to impose their will on the coastline, and how we often throw our unwanted stuff into the water. I think such untidy people assume it will be washed out on the next tide, only the tide goes out revealing the discarded item marooned in the mud for all to see. And there it remains until it either erodes away or is retrieved and disposed of properly. Observing the edges of the land like this reveals much about how insignificant our species really is in the great scheme of things.


Careful planning

Having chosen a prospective location for my expedition, I take some time to study the online aerial photos. Google Street View is also very handy, as it gives a fairly good idea of what the parking is like, whether my intended target is actually on private property, whether I can park really close or whether I need to prepare for some trekking, and gives a reasonable impression of what I might actually be able to see when I’m there. Being a cheapskate, I also research whether parking is free or not. Some car parks have free parking up to a certain time in the morning, which is handy because I often like to get out before the rest of the world wakes up. I call such trips “Dawn Raids”.

If the prospective location has a clear easterly horizon, I plan a Dawn Raid to catch the sunrise and the so-called “golden hour” shortly after, weather permitting. I have bookmarked web sites that provide sun and moon rising and setting times, as well as tide tables for the local area. You have to be pretty dedicated to your craft to look forward to a 3.30am alarm clock, and you might call me barmy, but until you’ve experienced a stunning sunrise over water, accompanied only by the local wildlife, you’re missing out.


All this planning might take place for a week. I will keep going over the location maps, the weather forecasts and tide tables, refining my plans right up until the night before the trip. The weather forecasts, particularly, only get really accurate about 24 hours ahead.

I do confess to being a fair weather photographer. There’s no real reason why I haven’t ventured out in inclement weather. I have the wet weather gear, my backpack is shower-proof, and has a wet weather hood for when it’s really persistent. My current camera is sealed—only my current lenses are not weather-tight. I suppose, like most people, I like to be fairly comfortable when pursuing a hobby, so aside from the occasional early start I tend to prefer dry conditions—besides, when was the last time you saw the sun rise when the sky was leaden?

Having selected a location, checked the relevant timings and kept an eye on the weather, what’s next?

Preparing the gear

Now, having gathered a reasonable idea of what the area I’m visiting will offer, I can decide on which lenses I should take. This usually means I just stuff it all in the backpack and take everything anyway! The pack is actually quite comfy to wear, although if it starts to get warm… ah, let’s not go there. I only own one “proper” zoom lens, a 28–300mm, which makes it pretty good for most outdoors photography in fair light, but it’s not my best lens by a long chalk. I hope to be able to replace it with something much better eventually, but for many reasons it’s the current default lens for most expeditions. I can generally get away with just that lens, the super-wide 10–20mm, and either the 35mm or 50mm primes. As that constitutes most of my lens collection anyway, there’s the reason for lugging everything out with me!

The day before the trip, I get all the batteries charged. I spend a bit of time checking the lenses, cleaning as required, and putting them on the camera to ensure they operate properly. My camera is still new enough not to need forensic checks for dust around the sensor, but it should also be included in the check and clean routine.

I format the memory card in the camera. I don’t need to do this, but at the very least I would delete all the images currently on it. It’s not unknown for me to return from a Dawn Raid with over 300 images! I will never let the computer format my CF cards—I always do it in the camera itself. This is because computer file systems may prove incompatible with the camera’s idea of what to expect. This is received wisdom from numerous professional photographers, so who am I to argue? Once everything is spick and span, I make sure it’s all packed in the bag so it’s easy to get to when I need it.

I also check over my tripod, and charge the mobile phone. Being of the female persuasion, I transfer important bits and pieces from my handbag to the backpack—stuff like ID, driving licence, purse, lip salve and so on. The backpack also has enough room for a 500ml bottle of water. As well as the DSLR and lenses, I also pack a compact camera, an air blower, cleaning cloth, filters and holders, an angle-finder that fits over the DSLR viewfinder, and cable release. I also pack a plastic bin liner, so I can throw it over the camera on the tripod if I get caught in a shower.

I set the alarm clock as required, then turn in as early as I dare. As I try to drop off to sleep, I run through what sort of images I would like get on my trip. Our American cousins call this “pre-envisioning”, which is an ugly word for a nice way to nod off.

Being prepared

I mentioned earlier I have the wet weather gear. By this I mean I have a pair of waterproof over-trousers, a nice roomy fleece-lined waterproof jacket, sturdy walking boots, and gloves and hats. I will generally place these in the car anyway, even if I’m expecting fair weather.

Finally, as I currently make these expeditions alone, I let the other half know roughly where I plan to be. I will have my mobile with me in case of emergency, but it’s also a good idea that someone knows where I’m supposed to be in case I’m late getting back, or I don’t call in. Many of my trips involve shorelines and uneven ground, and while pretty careful you never know what might happen. Better safe than sorry.

That does seem to be a lot of palaver to get some photos, doesn’t it? I would argue if you’re serious about your photography, such preparation is par for the course. There would be nothing worse than getting to a new location, only to find you can’t park, get the shots you expected, your battery conks out without a spare, and it’s hoofing down with rain. Besides, I enjoy making such plans. It’s all part of the fun as far as I am concerned. Then again, no amount of preparation and planning can make up for pure serendipity. This last image was from a speculative expedition which didn’t look at all promising when I set off from home. By the time I arrived at the river, the sky was clearing in a nicely dramatic fashion. Pure luck.


To see more of my Dawn Raids, please visit my Flickr Photostream The Real World collection.

This post was originally published at x404.co.uk.


Here we go. Again.

Here it is. Another new year, all shiny and undamaged, just out of the wrapping paper. I wonder how far we’ll get before it’s cracked and tarnished, getting shabbier by the day. It’s not a good start, to be fair. VAT goes up to 20% in a day or two, and forecourt fuel prices have already risen due to an increase in fuel duty. Happy new year, suckers. 

Speaking personally, I am more than glad to see the back of 2010. It was an utter arse of a year, one which started out with some promise but deflated quicker than a birthday party balloon that has escaped to the clockwise carriageway of the M25 in the rush hour.

And what plans have I made for 2011? Well, none whatsoever. That sounds wrong, but there hasn’t been any real point in making any definite plans for a while now. Life is on hold, I’m stuck in a rut, and there seems little chance of clambering out and moving ahead. Somewhere back down the rutted track of my life, strewn with muddy puddles, bits of broken concrete and shattered dreams, I managed to take a wrong turn. I missed the right path, and now I can’t seem to remember how far back the turning was. 

I’m stuck. I can’t go back, and there’s not much point right now of ploughing on ever deeper. Okay, so enough of the metaphors about how I got here. What would I actually like to be doing if I wasn’t stuck, axle-deep, in the mire?

That’s a very good question, and one that has been vexing me for nearly two years now. It was about two years ago I began to realise I’d made the wrong turn, and had ended up in a career I didn’t really enjoy any more, and which really had no future.

On the positive side, I really enjoy photography. I enjoy making models. I enjoy a fair amount of creative activity. On the negative side, I’m only a gifted amateur at all of them. There doesn’t seem to be any way of making any income from what are really just hobbies. An abortive attempt earlier in the year proved that I don’t even have the gumption to follow up on contacts. I procrastinate, and then miss the opportunities. Epic fail.

Realistically, I need a job. I need income to recover to a point where I’m no longer stuck without the means to make a change if it needs capital to do it. I’ve been a freelance designer or artworker now since 2001. It’s my tenth anniversary this year, not taking into account the occasional full time job I had to take to make ends meet. I think it’s fair to say that if I haven’t been able to make a living out of designing stuff by now, I’m in the wrong line of work entirely. Oh, yes, I can blame it on the crappy, needy, obtuse and downright ignorant clients I had, but I should have tried harder to get better ones. It’s my fault for not working harder at getting better work. Epic fail, again.

I’ve given thought to jobs I’d like to try. In an attempt to break the creative block, I took a warehouse job last spring. I lasted a month before I was tempted back to “proper” work, though that soon collapsed again. The only thing going for the warehouse job was the income. For the first time in a long time, my bank account was gaining money, rather than losing it. Unfortunately, while I could go back to that line of work, I really, really do not want to. It was utterly soul-destroying.

I’ve got a fancy I’d like to try my hand at proper craft jobs, like blacksmithing or stonemasonry. Pipe dreams? Possibly, but there must be such craftspeople in my area who would take on an apprentice. Is it worth my time trying to find out? I guess so. Perhaps that’s my first plan of the year: seek out and try new career paths.

To sum up, I need to take hold of my life by the neck and give it a damned good shake. I need to make some positive decisions pretty quickly in order to avoid ending on December 31 2011 in exactly the same place I am now. I need to try and make the best of what I have, and to try to make everything better than the last year.

I need to stop looking down, and start looking up.

The tragic battle for Hastings | Feature | Art and design | The Observer

Hastings is a town that doesn’t know how beautiful it is. Slung between cliffs, crowned by a Norman castle, it has an old town of steep streets which, if there were nothing else, would make it as famously picturesque as pretty, posher, Rye along the coast. It has history: it’s hard to get more historic than to give your name to a battle that changed a nation, a culture and a language.

There is however much else. Parts of it are average and decrepit terraces, or misguided stabs at regeneration over the last 50 years that help explain why the town is not more celebrated. But it also specialises in urban one-offs, marvels that are not quite like anything anywhere else.

A nice piece by Rowan Moore in The Observer today. I plan on a trip to Hastings to get some photos – chiefly of the beach-launched fishing boats – and I think I’ll look to researching and spending a bit more time in the area now.


I’ve not taken any serious photos for weeks now. I’m beginning to get an itchy shutter finger. But I’m struggling for ideas.

One problem has been the weather. It’s been pretty dire this past couple of months, and many of the trips I had planned came to nothing. I don’t own camera gear that’s weather-tight, so I tend to be a fair-weather photographer. That’s a feeble excuse, really, since I know there are ways to overcome that issue. The summer’s coming to an end, and the days are getting shorter. It doesn’t look encouraging, to be honest.

Another problem has been money. I’ve been out of work for the summer, with no independent income of my own. It means I’ve had to be careful about unnecessary car journeys, and that tends to cramp my style a bit.

The last issue may change shortly, but the creative lethargy will be a more difficult nut to crack. I think I will need to go back over my collection of images, and see if I can come up with something new to liven me up for the autumn.

Incidentally, model photography has been scant – as you’ve no doubt noticed. There is the Wolverton152 project to document, and there are some other projects I’ve been fiddling about with that need to be photographed properly. That will also involve some construction of a suitable set, which might be worth documenting.

Some planning for the autumn is required, then.

Schemes and things

I love planning. I love all the research and investigation required to make something. Best Beloved and I are currently engaged in a project to build a scale model of Wolverton railway station c.1960. We’ve been doing this on and off for the past couple of decades, but what’s given us a fresh impetus is a complete change of scale.


We’ve jumped from 7mm:1ft (O Gauge) to 2mm:1ft (N Gauge).

Why? Now, there’s a good question. Most people seem to migrate up from smaller scales. We’re doing the exact opposite!

One reason is we have the space to do the model justice at the smaller scale. Over the past two or three years, we’ve been trying to shoehorn a Wolverton-a-like at 7mm scale into a shed, but it would only ever be a pale shadow of the real thing – an impression at best. Sadly, health issues have meant Best Beloved hasn’t been able to continue with the model, which had already had a good deal of track laid, so we’ve been working out what sensible alternatives we might be able to do.

We could have considered a 4mm (00) scale model, but we’ve both been quite taken by the level of detail and quality of running of the latest crop of N gauge British outline locos and rolling stock. While new stock is still quite expensive, it’s still a darned sight cheaper than 7mm! The 2mm Scale Association is a lively and helpful organisation, with plenty of parts and kits to help us complete our plans – and Best Beloved joined them a while ago.

So, we’ve spent the past week or so having an inordinate amount of fun thumbing through our library, enlarging and scribbling on OS maps, and trying not to be too literal with our Modellers’ Licences. We’ve had some fantastic discussions about what we want to achieve, and what we can realistically leave out and still leave a recognisable model.

We’ve come down to this scheme: to recreate a 2mm working layout of Wolverton Station, with the four main lines of the West Coast Main Line route running through, plus the platform and associated trackwork for the Newport Pagnell branch. The Grand Union Canal snakes its way through the scene. The carriage and wagon works paint shops, Old Lifting Shop, and Sewing and Trimming Shops, along with a selectively compressed version of the Wolverton Park sports ground, will form the backdrop. A little selective compression at each end of the layout will bring the Old Wolverton Road bridge (known as “The Oh! Tunnel”) and the Newport Pagnell branch junction into the ends of the scene, which hopefully will span about four metres in length. We’ve settled on our usual preferred period of 1959 to 1961, so we get a range of steam- and diesel-hauled trains, and it’s before the added complication of the 25kV overhead line equipment that was installed during the 1960s.

We’re both getting very enthused. It’s helped pull Best Beloved out of depression about his health, which is a good thing. It’s given us an excuse to offload many of the kits and stuff we’ve acquired over the past few years in both 4 and 7mm – which works both as a clutter clearance and fund-raising exercise. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the construction phase, too.

I’m going to document progress, once we start in earnest, with a new blog. I’ll let you know when I set it up.