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It’s two years since I was in the Lakes. Today doesn’t count, because I’m not walking; I’m delivering family to their hotel, so it’s more a kind of taxi service. Timings require a drop-off at 2:00 PM, which is late in the day to be arriving for anything recreational, so I have left the walking gear at home to make way for luggage. It’s a wet day, anyway, so no regrets. I’ll just turn around and come straight back.

Traffic is heavy on the M6 in the usual places: the crazy merge with the M61, the pull up the hill before the Tickled Trout, and then the mad lane-switching frenzy of the junction with the M55. Beyond that it’s just rain and spray, and the usual last-minute Larrys playing Russian roulette, crossing all the lanes, at speed, for the off-slips.

I know my driving has slowed, as my reactions have dimmed with age. 55-60 MPH in the slow lane is fine by me, but especially in these conditions. Others are less cautious, having learned their driving at the school of floor-it and pray. I can only hope their eyesight is good. Observation, however, supports the theory the worst offenders are merely coked to the gunwales.

We pick up the Lake District tourist-grind on the downhill into Windermere town – the A591 – this being the main route for all central destinations, and generally busy, but especially so today, it being a Saturday and holiday change-over day. From here, it’s stop-start to Ambleside, and it rains like it can only rain in the Lakes. Everything is glistening with a dark sheen of wet, under heavy skies, and the mist is down on the Lake, ghost boats emerging from the shifting grey. And yes, it’s beautiful. All right, it’s a little dispiriting if you’re beginning a holiday, but the forecast for the coming week isn’t too bad. Mixed. That’s the Lakes at its dramatic best. That’s the stuff that inspires poetry.

I make the drop-off in Grasmere in good time. In spite of the torrential wet, visitors are still falling from the pavements here, their flimsy waterproofs saturated. There is no point trying to find a parking slot for coffee. Next to Bowness, this is the busiest place in the Lakes, apart from Ambleside, and Keswick. For the introvert, Hell is always going to be other people, so I point the car for home, and head back along the A591, making just the one brief call at the garden centre in Ambleside to answer an urgent call of nature.

It seems we are now split evenly between the masked, and the unmasked. The emporia are also split evenly between those who say it’s up to you, and those who ask you to continue wearing one out of common sense, politeness and respect for others. I still wear one, but without the legality of compulsion, and the mixed messaging, it’ll peter out. You’ll set out for the shops one day and find you’ve left your mask at home, and you’ll think: oh well, it doesn’t matter, does it?

I’m hoping they do not disappear altogether, though. As a fashion accessory for the ladies, I find them attractive now, drawing attention – as they do – to the eyes. Or is that just a personal peccadillo, not shared by many, and better I kept quiet about? I find I am still covid-twitchy, so avoid the temptation of the indoor café, though the scent of coffee is impossibly alluring. Instead, I purchase marmalade and mint-cake, this being out of guilt for the free parking and a quick pee.

I note in passing the garden centre is also selling tweed jackets for £250 – reduced. I do like a Harris Tweed, but not at that price. Mine cost me a fiver from the charity shop and, Harris Tweed being what it is, and in spite of indeterminate age, it’s not in bad nick. I fancy a tweed waistcoat to go with it – you know, that old writerly vibe – but they were £150 – reduced. If these are garden centre prices, I shudder to think what they’re charging on Saville Row these days. I know it’s the Lakes, which is renowned for joke pricing, but we must be seriously down on foreign visitors this year – these being the only ones with that kind of money. Except, of course, the seriously monied Brits are slumming it at home this year as well, so maybe those fine tweeds won’t be gathering dust for as long as I’m thinking. Go on, you fools, cheap at twice the price. You know it makes sense!

From here it’s an hour back to the M6, then home. Five hours in the car all told. It’s a long time since I did that. The little black car did well, this being a 2012 plate 1.4 litre Corsa with just over 40K on the clock, borrowed from my good lady. And, like my good lady, it’s looked after me very well – the Corsa for the last eighteen months, my good lady for the last thirty-two years, God bless her, and long, I pray, may both persevere with my eccentricities.

The touristy bits of the Lakes looked a little shot at, and terribly busy, of course. Home territory it might be, and forever well-loved in its intimacy, but Switzerland it ain’t. If I come back this year, it won’t be until the autumn, and then to somewhere well away from the main drag, somewhere you can park the car for free, if you’re bright and early, and you can get on the hill without having to queue.

I’ve not done a video for a while, but I gave it a shot from the dashcam – not a brilliant device on the little black car, but serviceable enough for emergencies. Things have moved on a pace since I last had a crack at movie-making. Windows movie-maker has bitten the dust, so I used a free app called Video Pad. Then I found YouTube wouldn’t let me get at my account, where I host my dashcam edits, unless I divulged my mobile number first. So, I thought, yea, right. I’ve moved to Vimeo, now, which seems to render videos in much greater detail anyway. They let you upload around 500Mb per week, so short vids only, which is fine. The backing music is either a catchy or an annoying little number, depending on your taste. I got it from Bensound; it’s called “beyond the line” – and all due courtesies and acknowledgements etc. to them for that.

Bye for now, and,…

Thanks for listening.

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Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com


Working from home had never suited Jed. Okay, he’d always hated the commute to the office, especially over winter. But now, since the great switch, he missed the companionship of others. He also hated the intrusion of his employer’s virtual presence into his flat. Then there was his employer’s theft of his electricity, his heating, his lighting and his Internet. And for what? Every day he beamed his face into team-space for the sake of listening to the same dreary wombats droning on in meetings he was unable to avoid. And while he listened with one ear cocked for his name, and an invitation to make some banal contribution, he’d try to keep up with the avalanche of emails, so he could still clock off at a decent time. It was an absurd way to live.


Mondays were the worst. It was as if people saved everything up until the end of the week, then waited for him to log off before launching stuff at him. He was sure some even stayed up to the small hours with trivial queries they’d send with a time stamp aimed only at impressing the line manager, whom they’d copied in for no other reason. And come Monday he would open up and be buried in this meaningless dross.


If Jed took a week off, or worse, a fortnight for the summer, it might be several days before he caught up. There were hundreds and hundreds of emails, every day, and most were about nothing. But all required an eyeball for the small number that actually need a response. For years now, he’d felt like he was drowning.
So, he was in no particular hurry to log on this morning, to see what the cat had dragged in over the weekend. He was anxious about it, actually, even retching a little in the bathroom as he’d cleaned his teeth. Still, he’d better get to it. There were debits to pay, and he’d lose money for every minute he was late logging on. Late three times in a row, and he’d lose an entire week’s pay.

This morning though, the machine wouldn’t let him in. It took his password, did the usual security scan, taking pictures of his morning-bleary face to confirm his ID, then booted him out. He’d always passed facials before, but this morning something had changed.

“You’re displaying signs of unhappiness,” said the machine.

“I’m what?”

“All employees must show evidence of positive energy, before entering the system.”

“When did this come in? What evidence?”

He regretted the question. The machine recorded all his conversations, all his mails, for analysis. It would go against him that he’d missed, or more likely deleted, that particular email.

“Lack of a happy smile indicates you are low in spirit,” explained the machine. “You will contaminate the stated company ethos of maintaining a powerful and spirited enthusiasm. You will quarantine while you adjust your attitude. Please cheer up, and try again tomorrow.”

There was nothing he could do. That was a day’s pay gone, and all because he couldn’t muster up a smile when he logged on. Anyway the machine was right. He wasn’t happy. His wife had left him and his dog had died, and he hated his foolish job, answering emails about emails all day. How could anyone be happy about that? How could anyone summon up the required powerful, spirited enthusiasm, unless they were insane? It wasn’t enough the whole world was now operating at this same level of lobotomized enslavement to shovelling bullshit, everyone had to be happy about it as well.

He decided to use his day off to good effect, and to relax, then he’d be in better spirits for logging on tomorrow. So he took a walk in the fresh air. Then he made himself a proper dinner, and practised smiling in the mirror before he went to bed. He practised some more when he got up in the morning, before he logged on. But still, the machine would not let him in.

“Your smile is not genuine,” it said. “It suggests deception. Be warned this is not a positive attitude to adopt, and will count against your employee rating. You will remain in quarantine. Please try again tomorrow.”

There was no way around it. That was one pernickety machine.

Jed wasn’t sure what to do now. It seemed his unhappiness was finally getting the better of him. What puzzled him though was how everyone else had managed to pass the happiness test. Were they right now beaming their positive energies into their emails? But he’d rather got the impression everyone else was as unhappy as him. Could it be they were that bit better at hiding it? And if so, what was their secret?

It struck him, of course, as the days passed, the emails would be piling up, and he couldn’t get at them. Even when he managed to log in, it would be terrible. He would be drowning in them for days and days. Feeling very depressed now, Jed went to the pub. There he met Chris, a former colleague, occasional drinking buddy and barfly sage.

“Hey Jed, why so glum?”

“Don’t you start,” said Jed. “They’ve got this new fangled facial scanner at work. It can tell when you’re unhappy, and it won’t let you log in.”

“Can’t you fake it, like everyone else?”

“Tried that. It didn’t work. At this rate I’m going to be broke.”

“Don’t worry,” said Chris. “I’ve heard of this face reading stuff before. It’s creepy, mate, but it’s not infallible. You need a bit of coaching, that’s all.”

“Coaching?”

“How to pretend you’re happy, when you’re not.”

“But why should I have to go around pretending? I do my job as well as anybody else. Now they’re demanding I smile while I’m at it? I mean it’s just not dignified, is it?”

“It’s a fad,” said Chris. “You know what these big corporate management types are like. They’ll try any shiny whizz-bang thing to impress the shareholders. It also helps if it’ll subjugate the minions. Why do you think I quit?


Because you inherited a fortune from your dad, thought Jed. And we can’t all be so lucky as that.

Chris went on: “Everybody in work these days lies.” he said. “No one says what they really think, or they’d not last a day. The high-fliers in a system like that are the ones who are best at pretending they believe in this positive vibe stuff. Right? Including to themselves. So, tell me,… when was the last time you were happy?”

“Dunno.”

“Oh, come on. Think back. How about when you were a kid?”

An image came to Jed of walking along a beach as a little boy. He could feel the softness of the sand underfoot, and the sparkling cool of the sea as it washed over his toes. It was the first day of his summer holiday, and it had felt like it would go on for ever. There was no sinking feeling at the thought of an email in-box waiting on his return. There was no thought for all the emails wanting to know when he would be responding to his emails, about his emails,… about his emails. Yes, he’d been happy then.

“There you go,” said Chris. “Now you’re smiling. So think of that same thing when you’re logging on tomorrow, and you’ll be just fine, mate.”

Jed was impressed. Chris had always struck him as a bit of an intemperate jerk, but on this occasion he’d nailed it. So the following morning he closed his eyes and summoned up that same image from boyhood. He focused on it until he swore he could feel the pleasure of it tingling throughout his whole being. Then he logged in. But the machine wasn’t fooled.

“Please try again tomorrow,” it said.

Three days now without pay. That meant he’d nothing clear after rent, and he’d need to cut back on some essentials, skip a meal or two. He rang the doctor, thinking to get some happy pills, but he couldn’t get an appointment for weeks. Then a text came through on his phone. It was someone from HR reminding him he’d missed three logins. If he missed another two, he’d be fired as per the terms and conditions of employment he could remember neither reading nor signing.

He looked around him and felt the walls closing in. His flat was rented. His car was rented. Everything he owned, including his phone and even the apps on his phone were all in some way owned by someone else. He merely leased them, rented them, paid subs on them. And if he should ever stop, then everything, his whole material life disappeared. Exactly what did he own, other than the clothes on his back? Wait a minute. Even they were rented now! Was he to go naked into the world and starve?

There had to be a way to turn this around. He had to try harder, focus more on that scene from the beach. He had to focus all day and all night if need be – focus until he was as good as there. But as he focused, he realized, lurking in the background, there had been an imperfection. He’d been ten years old, and innocent, but there’d still been something hanging over him. He would be moving up to big school in September, and the thought had terrified him. He’d been hiding from this fear under cover of that long summer holiday. But it had still been there and, in the weeks to come, it would begin to gnaw away at the seeming perfection of his happiness. He needed to find another memory, one without such a fatal flaw. There had to be something.

What about love? He ran through all his past girlfriends, but discovered love did not cut it at all. With the joy of love there was always the attendant potential of the loss of the other’s affection. Love had always been a striving emotion, never the true, settled perfection of its promise.

What about when United won the Championship then? He’d floated on that for a while. But again there was the accompanying thought about how well they would kick off next season. Always then there was this potential for loss, for the sun to set on one’s joy. As he flicked his way through all the moments of his life, he realized it was never possible to actually be happy for anything other than fleeting moments. Indeed, it was foolish to make happiness the aim of your life. Happiness was both the balloon, and the knowledge the balloon was inflating itself against the sharpness of life, a sharpness that might rupture one’s joy at any moment. More, it was necessary to realize it, he thought, to accept it, and be strong in the face of it. Otherwise, you would always be a slave.

This thought, coming to him in the small hours, after a long meditation, felt like the revelation he needed. He’d been trying too hard. He had to be more neutral in his approach to life and to work. He had to be, if not exactly indifferent to life’s potential for happiness, then at least sanguine over the potential of its loss. As for maintaining a happy, powerfully spirited attitude for even a single working day,.. well that was impossible.


Feeing philosophical and relaxed now, he slept a little, woke early and logged in. The machine scanned his face, analysed it for longer than usual, searching among the millions of facial templates to find the one that matched Jed’s, and which might describe it. The machine failed, then booted him out with the default claim he was not showing enough positive energy. He risked contaminating the organizational ethos with his “unknown” demeanour. So, he was to remain in quarantine until his attitude improved, until he could show the right spirit.

“Please try again tomorrow.”

By now though, Jed was less preoccupied by his lack of success at logging into the damned machine as by the changes he could feel going on within himself. The walls of his flat moved out again. Their colours grew pale, then transparent as they dissolved, and he felt an overwhelming sense of release. The next morning, he logged in without a thought and the machine scanned his face. It thought about it for a long time, then came back with an opaque error message, but let him in anyway. He opened up his inbox, but it was empty, and no faces appeared in the usual team-call. Across entire continents, servers were humming to destruction, eating their own code.

Jed had broken the machine.

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Unusual one this. What do you get when you mix a stormy Sunday, a digital camera, Microsoft’s unbelievably flaky “Movie Maker”, and a newly minted You-tube channel:

Hours of fun and, for want of a better word, a kind of visual poem,… or something.

Welcome to the Rivendale Review, 2014:

 

 

Set gently down to rest

Wet Sunday,
Hours leaking,
To the sterile void.

Reading, writing,
Doggedly seeking direction,
From calamity,
For freedom’s sake.

Puzzle of Pilgrims old,
Long coded;
How diligently I fail,
With these false starts.

How rare the vital flow,
Where water falls,
And feels the surer shape,
Of All that’s true.

How neat then turns,
That beguiling beauty,
Twisting in my fingers,
Its vital heart!
Beating true.

Or is it only time, ticking?
Black wings of flight?
If I could arrest its motion,
Now!
This code,
I’d grasp it true.

Meanwhile the hours rotate.
Imprison,
Clang-shut in time.
This fool,
Still frantic with the puzzle,
Making haste,
And Blind,

He forgets,
How the mind opens best,
With eyes closed,
And the pen,
Set gently down,
To rest.

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