Friday, August 31, 2007

This week disappeared fast.

I took my son to the dentist, and he needs to wear his brace a lot more. So I've spent a lot of time standing over him, nagging.

We also went to the optician, which was very fast, but he needed new glasses.

Apart from that I've just got on with assorted projects and housework.

Boring week, boring post. But the next one should be better -- it's my son's birthday party tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yesterday I hiked up the hill to see my friend Norma for lunch. She lives just above Santa Cruz, but you can only drive to the bottom of the steep hill -- then it's time for about fifteen minutes of nice healthy exercise.

I'm sure it did me good. And leaving the family behind for some me time did even more good. It was great. We talked about music, books, politics, writing, finances for artists, cabbages and kings.

She played me a couple of half-finished tracks from her work-in-progess, which is quite an honour. I know how much I have to trust someone before I show them anything other than the final draft. I loved them.

And somehow or other I started rearranging Norma's house to take photos. I'm not sure what it is about the place, but the lighting's gorgeous. I think it's partly that there's a lot of light coming in through the windows, because it's on top of the hill, and partly that walls and ceilings are quite dark, so that the light drops off dramtically.

I was taking liberties like opening and closing shutters, cleaning mirrors and making space on a worktop for my behind while I held the camera steady. And Norma was really cool with it all. Bless her!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Warp speed 9

I got all the photos from the wedding edited and written to CDs -- 9 CDs! -- and gave them to the bride on Wednesday. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and catching up with housework. On Thursday I took my son into town to buy a new bicycle helmet and video game. While we were there, I got a ton of fresh veg from the market, to cook for the freezer.

Then the bride emailed to say she couldn't read some of the CDs, in spite of trying on several different computers. Eek!

So that afternoon I bought a pen drive and copied most of the photos onto that. Of course I still had to cook all the darn veg because there was too much to fit into the fridge. So I finished the day pwned again.

But the next morning I got a lovely email from the bride: "These pictures, exactly,
are the pictures of our wedding we have always dreamt of. More than that."

And the CD writing problem turs out to be nothing more than my impatience. If I write CDs at a slower speed and don't run any other programs while I do it, they're fine.

So today I'm really relaxing.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


I've learned a new word.

My son is a video games nut, like most 10-year-olds, and this morning he informed me that he'd just been pwned online. Apparently it means to be soundly thrashed in a game. I looked it up on wikipedia, and found that pwn also means to take control of someone else's computer.

Meanwhile I'm editing the photos from last week's wedding. A lot of them need minor exposure tweaks -- after all, you've got a white dress next to a black suit (which tends to fool exposure meters) and I was using a flash gun I'd only had for three weeks (see The Wedding of the Year). A few need cropping, which takes a little longer. And I'm putting my name discretely in the corner of each one. I'm also new to Photoshop, but I'm using the same small set of commands every time, and my friend Helen showed me how to get one key press to do a whole bunch of commands. So I'm averaging about two photos a minute.

589 down, 672 to go. I'm pwned.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Spread thin

Today I went to see my friends in Franceses, and to translate for them at their town hall. It's always nice to see them, and the new progress on their house. They've done wonders with the room they were decorating.

It's a good thing I enjoyed the visit, because the town hall trip was a washout. Everyone we wanted to see is on holiday. But we did get an email, which ought to save at least one future trip.

On the way back from Santo Domingo, Theresa commented that I was like warm margerine - "Spread very thin."

My middle name is Marjorie, so I was called Margerine at school. When the bullies weren't calling me something worse. So I told Theresa that no, I wasn't spread thin like margerine; I was spread thin like caviar, thank you very much.

She's absolutely right about my being spread thin, though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Magical Perk.

Yesterday I was guide for another two telescope visits. Unusually, they were afternoon visits. First I showed a sick boy and his mother around, and then a group of British amateur astronomers. The best bit was that after the amateurs finished seeing the Herschel, they were going to visit the MAGIC telescope.

I hadn't seen that one yet, so I tagged along.

MAGIC stands for Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescope. Instead of one big mirror like the Herschel, it has over 1,000 mirrors 50cm square to form a compound mirror 17m (56 ft) across.

It's not an optical telescope. Instead of observing visible light, it's looking for gamma rays. The snag is that gamma rays don't get through the earth's atmosphere, so it's actually looking for the cascade of particle in the upper atmosphere caused by the gamma rays.

MAGIC looks like a basket on its side, doesn't it? But the whole basket weighs about 60 tons and can slew to point at any part of the sky within 20 seconds. This is important, because the bursts only last for a few minutes.

I got to go up the green platform on the left of the picture above, and then I could see myself in the huge mirror.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sleeping with my Best Friend's Wife

Sunday night was the peak of the Persaid meteor shower, so the local astronomical amateurs were going to meet at a viewpoint ont he ridge of the island. I was keen to see the shooting stars and keen to get to know some more amateur astronomers, so I decided to go, even though it was an hour's drive away.

Then I remembered that I'd promised to take my son camping some time this summer, and there was a camp and BBQ site nearby. Great! It would get him away form the video games and perhaps get him interested in astronomy.

I suggested to my friends from Franceses that they might like to come too, since they're keen amateur astronomers. Besides, they have a good tent and we have a grotty one. They accepted, and my husband cried off, since he had to work on Monday morning. And then Helen felt unwell and had to cancel.

So in the end I set off with Julio and Theresa, rather later than we'd planned as usually happens. We had hoped to drive above the clouds as we went up the mountain. Instead we found the camp site was just below the cloud base.

We got the tent up well before dark, and headed over to the BBQ area to cook. They have lots of these on the island. This one has maybe 20 BBQ pits built out of local stone with roofs and chimneys, and there are taps and climbing frames for the kids and a toilet block. It's a really nice place.

Someonne had left a BBQ burning, so we added more fuel. The trouble was that the cooking grid was well above the embers, so our chicken cooked very slowly. As the light faded, we switched to the camping gas cooker and wound up eating tandoori chicken and salad by torchlight.

Then it was time to go to the viewpoint an attempt to see shooting stars.

It was very cold. There were perhaps ten cars there, most with headlights on ruining any chance of night vision. There was a TV camera, also with a spotlight. And there were people taking flash photos, with the flash pointed towards the crowd.

It takes at least 20 minutes to get full night vision back after something like a camera flash.

Not that it made much difference, since we were in the cloud. In fact the headlights sweeping through the mist were spooky, especially when there were people standing in front, casting long shadows.

Most people gave up and left, so we at least had some night vision again.

We had a couple of good conversations. My son was interviewed for the local TV. The cloud swept back a couple of times and we had a brief, glorious view of stars. During one of these clear intervals, we did see a shooting star.

We gave it up and went back to the tent. By now I was sorry we had a tent waiting for us, as I'd have much preferred the drive down the mountain. So in we got, with Theresa and I sharing an air matress, and Julio on a duvet.

"Um, Sheila," said Theresa. "If I accidently put my arm around you when I'm asleep, just poke me in the back or something, will you?"

That's when I realised I was about to sleep with my best friend's wife. In separate sleeping bags, of course.

Talking of sleeping bags, I looked at our old, thin sleeping bag beside the two super-dooper ones Thesea had brought, and my misgivings grew. I insisted that Julio have one of the good ones.

Thank goodness I did, because he slept like a log and I woke at 2 a.m. frozen.

I coped by imagining I was sitting in an arm chair front of a huge log fire, drinking cup after cup of imaginary hot chocolate. Since the calories were imaginary too, I had whipped cream and marshmallows with it.

Even so, the time dragged. By 4:30 I wanted to pee, but I couldn't see any way to get out of the tent without waking Theresa.

At 5:30 Theresa muttered, "I wonder what time it is?"

It turned out that she'd been awake and wanting to pee for ages, but didn't want to wake me up. So we went outside and found a bush. At least the sleeping bag felt comparatively warm when I got back in.

I think I managed to doze a little, but it was a huge relief when we got up and made some tea. As we drank it, I discussed with Theresa how much we'd need someone to pay us to use the shower - given that it was obviously draughty and presumably colde water. I said I wouldn't do it for 100€, but I might consider it for the price of a wide-aperture lens for my camera. Theresa said she doubted if she'd get in there for 1000€.

When we finally got home I treated myself to a bath to warm myself up as well as get clean. I fell asleep in it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Wedding of the Year

Lourdes (my friend and student) and Luca (my husband's friend and work colleage) got married last night.

I was chief photographer. I'd been rather nervous about it, beause I hadn't done a wedding for about ten years, and this would be the first one with my new digital camera. Worse, the flash gun I'd ordered in May specially for this wedding hadn't arrived until mid July. After using it for only three weeks, I still wasn't 100% confident with it. Now that sort of thing doesn't greatly matter when you can go back and take the photos again, but weddings are special, and I was really keen to do a good job.

It didn't help that I'd used it at the hen party (see Saturday, August 04, 2007) and found the batteries ran down pretty fast. This meant that the flash recharge time went from about 2 seconds to about 20 seconds.

Twenty seconds is a heck of a long time when people are exchanging rings.

My husband, bless him, came up with an external power pack which plugged into the battery compartment without damaging the flash and thus invalidating the guarentee. It meant I had to have a bag over my shoulder the whole time, but the flash recharged faster than the camera could re-focus all night long. I was impressed and very grateful.

I had some minor glitches using the new flash, but it's nothing I can't fix with Photoshop, thank goodness.

Once I relaxed a bit, we had a great time. It was a really nice wedding.

Friday, August 10, 2007


On Friday I showed another group of tourists around the William Herschel Telescope. Afterwards they were going on to GranTeCan, which is the huge telescope the Spanish are building at the Roque (see Thursday, July 26, 2007). I managed to tag along and finally see inside.

I've seen a lot of telescopes, and I knew it was huge, but I still wasn't prepared for the sheer size of the thing.

This is the dome floor, which is 32 metres (93 ft). You could fit a full sized tennis court in there, and only the corners would be outside the rotating area. The huge red thing is the bottom of the telescope, with the main mirror (10.4 m) just out of the picture to the top.

The telescope isn't finished (one reason why they allow so few visits) and they were working on the azimuth drive - the one that moves the telescope about a vertical axis. It's silent, partly because it's one, huge, linear motor.

I'd have loved to climb up inside the dome, but I was delighted to see this much.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Although our garden is tiny, our balconies are large, and this year I decided to see if I could grow a little bit of organic veg in containers. For one thing, there'd be no food miles involved.

My friends from Franceses gave me three pea plants. When we went on holiday, they were about a foot high. When we came back they were about four feet high, and caterpillars had chewed all the leaves into lace. I picked off the caterpillars, but it was already too late.

Last night we ate the entire crop - 15 peas each. Theyw ere very nice, but I don't think I'll be getting the Nobel Peas Prize this year.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hen Party

Last night I went to a hen party - my first in 16 years of living in Spain. It wa great fun of course. Here's the bride-to-be with two of the entertainers. And I'll leave the decoration on the cake to your imagination!

All in all, I'm really not sorry that my tour-guiding job today was cancelled. It meant that I didn't have to go easy on the drink and leave at midnight.

I had a great time, and I got some much-needed parctice with the flash and difuser, but I couldn't do that every week.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bad news

We've had a heatwave, and I've been busy.

On Monday afternoon as I passed through town with my son, the thermometer outside the port read 40C (104 F). In that sort of heat, you don't feel like doing much, although I did continue my battle against the fleas.

On Tuesday my friends Helen and Theresa finally collected their Spanish number plates, so later that morning I went with Helen to sort out their car insurance. The office had aircon, which was lovely. The girls stayed for lunch, and the day just disappeared, with nobody feeling like making much effort. Meanwhile massive forest fires raged on Tenerife and Gran Canaria. There's a rather spectacular satellite photo here.

On Wednesday it was a little cooler, thank goodness. My friend had to go and deal with a family crisis, so I acquired a temporary daughter. I took her and my son to Franceses to see Helen and Theresa. For once I didn't take any photos because it's all so dried up at present. Their vines look sick, which is probably the heat, but they've been doing wonders in the house.

Today the fires are both out, but the beautiful village of Masca on Tenerife has been burnt, and a missing teenager has been found dead on Tenerife. It seems all the news is bad today.

I'll just have to hope tomorrow is better.