Sunday, 27 March 2011

Tales from Argentina – The Letter

Elizabeth Taylor’s death last week has reminded me of my cousin Janet – daughter to the Uncle John of recent stories.

When I was between the ages of 10 and 13 Mum and her brother John thought it an excellent idea to bring their two youngest offspring together.  Mum enjoyed visiting her brother during the summer holidays and the seven hour drive - in the days before motorways - was an adventure for me.  She would stay for a couple of days, then leave me behind and return to Buenos Aires. 

I always had very mixed feelings about these holidays.  I adored being anywhere near Uncle John; it was sheer heaven to be invited to accompany him in the pickup to look round the farm, and I would hop out at every field to open and close the gate.  Being told about the problems caused by lack of rain and the various pests which beset the cattle made me feel trusted and grownup, and I was glad that Janet never wanted to come – I preferred to have him to myself.

My aunt Ruth - his first wife – was kind to me, though I was nervous of her because she had a sharp tongue and they had terrible rows.  While John was devoted to the farm and the 24 hour a day responsibility it represented, she hated being confined to the country with little or no social life, and she yearned to go into town to the cinema and shops more than once a week.  This was rarely possible, and she had to content herself with sunbathing in the garden every day; she knew she was a handsome woman, and her baby blonde curly hair and blue eyes contrasted wonderfully with her permanent tan and dazzling smile.  She was also a sublimely witty person who could leave you weak and helpless with laughter, yet she could be waspish to an extraordinary degree about people.  You laughed at a hilarious yet cruel summing up of someone you both knew, yet wondered whether it would be your turn as soon as you left the room.

Janet was another story.  A year older than me, she was a freckly, button-nosed, pale-blue eyed, golden haired angel as a small child.  All who saw her fell in love with her and wanted to ‘eat her alive’, not least her mother, who doted on her and frequently broke into baby talk with her even when she was in her teens.  To say she was merely spoiled is incorrect;  the household revolved around her.  By the time I started to get to know her when I was 10 and she was 11, the spoiling had affected her disposition, and she was still prone to tantrums and slamming doors if she didn’t get her way.  Her permanent expression was a sulky one and her parents admitted from time to time that they should have indulged her less. 

We got along fine just as long as I knew my place – Janet was the hostess, I the guest, she the eldest and the Catholic with the mother-of-pearl rosary, I in the year below her scholastically (and in a different city) and an Anglican.  Her family were 'kind enough to have me to stay because we couldn’t afford holidays', we were 'the poor relations who were only too grateful to receive handouts of this sort'.  I was also envious of the fact that she spoke Portuguese because they had lived in Brazil for a few years, and I didn’t – it was something she shared with her father that I couldn’t.  It didn’t always make for a fun holiday, though I still loved going out and about with my uncle.

They had a son and another daughter ten and eight years older than Janet respectively, the former who worked in Buenos Aires and visited occasionally, and the latter, Delia, a beautiful girl with dark hair and brown eyes who taught English in the nearest city at a language institute rejoicing in the name of "Toil and Chat".  She lived in a rented flat during the week, coming home to the farm on weekends. 

Delia was the only one I felt relaxed with, and I looked forward to Friday evenings.  She and I had a corn-on-the-cob eating competition once – it was one of the crops on the farm and you only had to cross the road to pick them – and she won with 16 while I lagged behind at 14... and we both knew all about it the following day, I’m ashamed to say. 

She used to bring movie star gossip magazines for us to look at;  Janet and I started individual scrap books - we would read the gossip about our favourite stars and then cut out their pictures ready for pasting in the scrapbooks, although at this stage I hadn't seen a single film with these artists in them.

My number one actress was Hayley Mills (I was convinced I looked exactly like her...) and Janet’s was Elizabeth Taylor.  As queen of Hollywood there were plenty of snaps of her of course, and I learned from those magazines that people got married and divorced a lot in that part of the world.  There was ...

 ..Hayley Mills in In Search of the Castaways,
which later became my favourite film until it was
displaced by The Sound of Music... 

...The scandalous saga of this fascinating trio
- Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds... 

...The so-say fairytale romance of
Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee... 

...The saucy stories about the affair between
Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue...

...and the fibs we swallowed about
Rock Hudson and Doris Day...

...Jane Fonda as Barbarella...

...Alain Delon, the most beautiful man I'd ever seen...

...particularly when acting opposite
Romy Schneider in Sissi...

...the cool and smooth Cary Grant and Grace Kelly...

...Tony Curtis in the Ben Hur days...

...Brigitte Bardot and those lovely,
seemingly careless hairstyles...
(My father's oft repeated joke was that
her name should have been Brigitte Bar-two-dots...
I know, I know...)

...the gamine Natalie Wood and the
fabulously romantic film of the time -
Splendour in the Grass...

...not forgetting the Fab Four,
my favourite being Paul McCartney of course...

...and the gorgeous three Italians:

The pouty lips of Sofia Loren...

...The plunging necklines of Gina Lollobrigida... 

...and the impish looks of Claudia Cardinale.

There were times of course when Janet was good company; we would go horseback riding together and when not discussing these filmstars endlessly she would tell me about the Sacred Heart Catholic school she attended and how hard she had to study.  She also had an enormous collection of comics - in Spanish and Portuguese - and I was comic-starved.  Learning speech-bubble Portuguese seemed a small price to pay to double the number I could read, and Janet was only too happy to teach me what the words meant.  One year a neighbour of our age came over for tea with her guitar, providing me with a watershed moment - I fell instantly in love with the sound and longed to acquire the skill.  I did not rest until I had persuaded my parents to give me one for Christmas.  I took lessons and played it regularly and often for the next twenty years.

My cousin's overbearing traits eventually proved to be too much for me.  On a boiling hot Monday in January 1965 – I remember the date because everybody was talking about the fact that Winston Churchill had died the day before - Delia and her brother had headed back for the smoke, and I felt trapped with a cousin I seriously didn’t like and who made me feel inferior; that very morning she had been harping on yet again about how much gratitude I should be feeling towards her family. 

The rest of the summer stretched interminably before me, I wouldn’t be collected by my parents till after carnival at the end of February.  I didn’t dare tell Uncle John – he would never have indulged in tittle tattle or listened to criticism of his children.  And as for fighting back and standing up for myself - I had no idea how one went about this, no one had treated me like this before.

So I did what with hindsight was one of the most unwise things I’ve ever done.  I sat down and wrote a letter to my parents, in which I poured out my misery and begged them to come and take me home.  ‘Janet’s a spoilt brat,’ I scribbled, ‘she’s horrible to me and always gets her own way.  I hate her’. 

At which point Aunt Ruth reminded me that it was time to have our showers and put on better clothes for dinner, and would I like to go first.  So... the letter remained unfinished, inside a folder.

With my head and eyes covered in lather I suddenly heard Janet’s voice through the bathroom door.  “I saw what you wrote” she spat, “ you’re soooo rude.  I’m going to show my mother and my father, because you’re so ungrateful, after all we’ve done for you.  I don’t want to see you ever again, I hate you, I’ve always hated you.” 

My heart was pounding with terror, and I realised how indiscreet I had been.  I hardly dared come out of the bathroom, but of course I had to.  I felt foolish too, and distressed by the knowledge that Uncle John would get to hear about it.  We were all very quiet for the rest of the evening, and later when Janet and I went to bed we couldn’t help but hear the raised voices.  Uncle John said “Well, she’s right, Janet is a spoilt brat”, and Aunt Ruth “but it’s very rude of her to do that while she's staying in our house”.  I had a very bad night in the room I shared with Janet, as she continued to spit out her anger.

The letter was never sent, and slowly things got back to normal.  Neither of them spoke to me about it, and I never apologised – it was never mentioned again, and somehow I stayed on at the farm until carnival.  Recently among my mother's papers I found contemporary letters from her brother John to their mother, and when discussing his children he mentions that his youngest daughter had a sour disposition and he was aware she would have problems ahead of her due to her having been so spoilt as a child, although he conveniently blamed it all on her mother and not on himself.  He was the same with all three siblings - fond but detached.

Later that year he accepted a job as manager of a farm in the interior of Brazil, where he and his family had lived during the previous decade, so they would now be returning.  A summer or so later my parents and I travelled by car over several days to stay with them.  It was an adventure for me as I had never been to Brazil; I was mesmerised by the dazzling light, the bright colours, the brick red soil, the fragrance of the frangipani bushes, the walls of water falling from the sky every day and seeing avocados growing on trees... but Janet and I were uneasy with each other by then and we avoided one another as much as possible. 

In fact after that summer I didn’t see her again until over 10 years later in late 1977 when my English husband and I were returning from our honeymoon in Argentina and Bolivia, and we stopped off in São Paulo, Brazil for the night, to get a connecting flight the following morning.  Janet was working as an airhostess at the time, and her brother had told me at the wedding that she would very likely be on duty at the airport, as she was ground staff.  I went to the information desk for her airline and asked for her, and she emerged from an office with a look of surprise on her face. 

We talked for a quarter of an hour, during which I noticed that the contours of her face – her mouth particularly - all seemed to point downwards, as though her once sulky expression had settled into a permanent sourness.  Her smile didn’t reach her eyes, and I thought she looked disatisfied or unhappy, but that may have been my interpretation of our past together, and I could have been wrong. 

We asked her advice on which taxi to get for our hotel, and she directed us to a particular taxi rank outside the airport.  It turned out to be a special luxury taxi, the usual ones being round the other side, and we paid an astronomical fee for a very short ride.  Was it my naivety or her spite?  Probably the former, my slant was perhaps unfair.   I understand she still lives in São Paulo and cares for many cats, and I would identify with that.

Jealousy and envy made fools of us both – I wonder if we will ever be in the same place at the same time to talk about it one day.


Photo Finish
from Lonicera's digital archives

(Although the filmstar pictures are too hard an act to follow...)

A few pictures I like and one I don't...

I love the clouds in this one

Here's a failure - I was trying too hard to be clever.  There was an enormous contrast between the dark foliage on the left, the path and the young man, compared to the bright sunshine on the right and in the distance.  In forcing them both to come closer together I've made it obvious that it's been Photoshopped.  Oh sort of looks like a drawing now, doesn't it?

Another of my favourite window views from Chepstow Castle

If you're a horse in Patagonia, gorgeous sunsets
are neither here nor there...

The corrals, Estancia Huanuluán, Patagonia

Gate over 130 years old, shearing shed, Estancia Huanuluán

A little birdie on the sand in Fuerteventura...


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tales from Elsewhere - The Coffin

I’ve already introduced you to my Uncle John, one of Mum’s brothers - I’ve described him in “The Skunk”.  Since I wrote that post, my sister has reminded me of three more anecdotes about this uncle, which I have added retrospectively to this post.  Please do click on the link and read them, I guarantee you won't be disappointed!


During the time he was employed by the US corporation King Ranch in the 1960s, he worked as a farmer in the hinterland of Brazil and used to have to cross vast distances in his pick-up truck. Usually it was because he needed to check on the condition of the cattle at a remote corner of the property, or to oversee the repair of a well, but sometimes he did the long two-hour journey to the nearest town for supplies and errands.

(Google image)
The land had been jungle since several generations before; the roads were muddy and of an intense brick red and it was miserable to drive along them when you encountered a heavy rainstorm. The raindrops merged in such a way as to make you feel someone was emptying a bucket of water over you, and you bumped and splashed along in a low gear, being rocked violently from side to side. You had to keep the windows nearly closed or you would be drenched over and over again, but you were almost as wet with perspiration from the heat in the not-very-dry cabin. Hopefully you had remembered to cover the open back with a tarpaulin, to protect from the elements whatever tools you were carrying.

Suddenly the deluge would stop, and you wondered if you had dreamed it all. There was blue sky and scorching sunshine, and your clothes steamed gently. In no time the spine of the dirt track was nearly dry, and you might encounter a large snake curled up asleep. The road was bordered by dazzling greenery and pierced by the shrieks and screams of monkeys and parrots.
Google image

On one such day Uncle John set out for the town on several errands, one of which was to collect a coffin for the grandfather of one of the employees on the farm, who had died the day before and under the law had to be buried within 24 hours. He had an uneventful drive into town, though as he bounced to and fro, as usual he cursed out loud every few minutes on the state of the road and wondered when the government would pave it.

When he had finished his errands he collected the coffin – a large one, for the old man had lived long and well – and put it in the back of the pick-up truck. Taking his hat off to wipe the sweat from his brow he cursed again when he realised that he had forgotten the tarpaulin, and hoped that the good weather would hold. It didn’t.

As he bumped along on the outskirts of the town he approached a man standing by the side of the road who had his hand up in the universal sign that requested a lift. It was an unwritten code in those lonely parts that you never refused the request for a lift. From the triangular hat he recognised that the man was (or his parents were) Japanese, of which nationality there were many in the region. They were highly prized as farmworkers because they were renowned for working very hard, and of having easygoing temperaments. My uncle duly stopped and told him to hop aboard, and the man said he preferred to sit in the back, in the fresh air.

The journey resumed and presently the skies darkened and rain slashed down as they struggled back along the track. Visibility was down to about 10 metres, and Uncle John’s right arm was constantly in use trying to keep the windscreen demisted. He suddenly remembered his passenger, but as he glanced in the rear view mirror he noticed with amusement and relief that the man had used his initiative and had opened the coffin, jumping inside it and at that moment was just closing the lid over his head. He wondered if it was going to be too hot for him with the lid down, but his attention was forced back to the road ahead, and he thought no more about it.

Some time later – it seemed like a long time, but it could only have been a few more kilometres further on – he saw a family huddled under a tree, and one of them was flagging him down. There were five of them, a couple with two children under ten and one other adult, and they tumbled into the back before he could wind the window down. At first being a very superstitious people they were clearly unnerved by the sight of the coffin and crossed themselves several times, but they soon cheered up, and despite the rain and the confined space he heard them laughing and singing. Perhaps they were anticipating the sun coming out again, which it did, as always the sudden transition from wet and humid to dry and hot, from dark and threatening to dazzling in an instant.

Meanwhile the Japanese man had been congratulating himself on finding such a neat solution to his predicament when it started to rain heavily, and had worked out a system where by holding the lid open a little at a slight angle he could stay dry and get some air. There seemed to be enough space to enable him to turn on his side, and the coffin had enough cushioning to protect him from the worst of the bumps. Although he heard the family getting on board, quite sensibly he didn’t want to get soaked merely to exchange greetings, so he kept quiet. However when the sun came out the box got suddenly very hot, and with a loud cry of discomfort was forced to flip the lid open and quickly jump out.

An extraordinary sight met Uncle John’s gaze as he looked through the rear view mirror. The five members of the family were shrieking “Nossa Sinhora!” (Our Lady) and crossing themselves frantically as they all tumbled out of the pickup without waiting for it to stop. They scattered into the trees by the side of the road, the children running after them whimpering with fear. The Japanese man was stretching, scratching his head perplexed and blinking in the bright sunshine.

My uncle stopped to try and find the family to reassure them and explain how this had all happened, but it was too late, they had all disappeared.
I have occasionally seen some version or other of this story enacted in comic films and wondered if it could possibly have originated from Uncle John, as this was one of his favourite anecdotes and he often told it. As the years went by the family’s superstitious horror and the Japanese man’s bewilderment ‘grew’ with the telling... and we loved it every time, and made him tell it over and over again. He spoke Portuguese and peppered his anecdotes with it; I’m quite sure this is when I started to become attuned to the sound of the language and when the time came to choose which two languages to study at university Portuguese inevitably became my other choice to Spanish.


Photo Finish
from Lonicera's digital photo archives

A recent visit to Portland and Portland Bill, Dorset.
Home of Portland Stone


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Tales from Elsewhere – The Wedding Dress

Daniel used to belong to the camera club in Bristol of which I have been a member for some 15 years. In those days he was a cameraman with the BBC, though his real love was still photography. He then made a brave decision, and the best of his life. He gave up the steady job and decided with his wife Jen – another keen photographer – to go freelance. After some advertising work they got their first real break; they were asked by a wealthy local family to take pictures at their son’s wedding.

Daniel excelled at composed groups and outdoor romantic set-ups, Jen had a flair for indoor shots – the bride getting ready, the church, and those quirky shots that the family love to see afterwards and laugh at together. In short, theirs was a marriage made in heaven in every sense.

It soon became apparent that their business was thriving, and they got organised. This coincided with the advent of digital photography, which made everything simpler and quicker. The photographer could instantly check the results, couples could come and view their wedding pictures almost straight away if they wanted to and mistakes could be corrected on the computer. A far cry from the days of rolls of film bulging out of your pockets and the hernia-causing camera bag hanging from your shoulder crammed with special effect filters and reflectors, and no more dodging and burning if there was too much contrast between the white wedding dress of the bride and the dark suit of the groom.

This story demonstrates how one bride had every reason to be grateful to computer technology, and it was one of the anecdotes told to us at camera club by Daniel when he was our speaker for the evening some years ago.

Daniel and Jen’s reputation grew quickly without their needing to advertise their services, and they started to travel abroad on special commissions. One such occasion concerned an immensely wealthy Dutch-American family from New York whose tall, statuesque and beautiful daughter Marika was marrying a darkly handsome young man – neither of them would have looked out of place in Vogue. They had decided that the wedding should be in the Tuscan hills of Italy, and they rented an entire Palazzo for a week for the event. They hired an aeroplane and coaches to transport all their friends and relations from the United States to Italy, which included Vera Wang, who had designed “The Dress” and had been paid to attend.

(Google image)
This is what the top half of the dress looked like,
if I remember the pictures shown to us at the time correctly
- a ruched bodice and satin skirt, quite close fitting.
The bride also had dark hair worn swept up.

Daniel and Jen had an all-expenses paid week in the Tuscan village before the wedding, since they had to take pictures of the spectacular surroundings to include as part of the wedding album. They enjoyed it, but they worked flat out all week. As Daniel told us “thank goodness we were in the digital era, or we would have needed trolleys to cart our rolls of film around...” . The quality of light in Tuscany sends photographers into transports of delight – it is something to do with the effect of the sunshine on the warm stone and red tiled roofs of the buildings combined with the cloudless azure skies and the rows of Lombardy poplars along the gently rolling hills.

On the morning of the wedding Daniel and Jen had split the duties: he would walk around the grounds snapping the groom and his friends, and Jen would be inside with Marika, photographing her as she prepared for her big day. The hairdresser and manicurist were hard at work, the bride’s friends fussing around her, and Vera Wang doing her last minute checks on the dress – plenty of interesting subjects for her to capture.

Daniel told us that as they returned to the Palazzo they heard screaming coming from somewhere upstairs, and presently Jen descended the stairs in a hurry, as worried looking staff made their way upstairs carrying things.

“There’s been an emergency” she said breathlessly “you can’t imagine, and I can’t explain it to you now, but the wedding is going to be very late. Please could you take the groom away from here, and his friends, it’s best they shouldn’t be around – can you go for another walk?” She caught up with him half an hour later, and explained to him what had happened.

(Google image)
All had been relatively happy and peaceful, though Marika was a highly strung person and the women knew she was clearly feeling very nervous as she applied her makeup. Nobody noticed until after she had been carefully walked into her creamy satin dress and the million buttons had been done up, that she had forgotten to put a little blusher on her cheeks. Someone ran to get it, and the girl unscrewed the lid of the small jar and with one finger dabbed at the thin creamy solution underneath. But the tension got the better of her... and she dropped it. Down her front.

No doubt her forthcoming marriage would give her many happy days ahead – but this wasn’t destined to be one of them. The pot of rouge had emptied down her bodice and streaked down the skirt to the floor – deep carmine gashes down Vera Wang’s creation. That’s when the shrieking started, and the girl was out of control for several minutes.

The staff at the Palazzo moved swiftly into action. Sponges, delicate washing substances and hairdryers appeared and several people set to work while her friends tried to calm her down – it was essential that her face should not swell and go blotchy from the upset, or her devastation would be complete. The dress was carefully washed with the sponge, over and over again, as the layers of carmine started to fade. The hairdryers coaxed the fabric back to life, but two factors became apparent. The staff had done sterling work, but they had not been able to eradicate the offending colour altogether – there were pale pink streaks all down the dress, there was no getting away from it. In addition, while the fabric had responded so well because of its very high quality, it had nevertheless shrunk following the ministrations of the hairdryers, and the hem was now an inch shorter than the underskirt. The girl was too distracted at first by the pink streaks to even notice the hem however, and it was wisely not mentioned by anybody else.

The wedding proceeded smoothly, as all the guests politely ignored the fact that Marika was struggling to look and feel composed, the freshly applied makeup barely concealing her anguish. She was used to being the belle of the ball merely because she was there, and not because of the kindness and goodwill of those around her. The guests had unanimously agreed not to use their cameras to photograph her, in return for which they would all get free albums from Daniel and Jen, paid for by her father.

Daniel showed us some of the wedding pictures, and we all leaned forward eagerly; admittedly we were a little disappointed. The girl looked stunning, the dress reached to the floor, and only when he pointed it out in one of the pictures could we see the faintest trace of pink, which could have been a trick of the light. The computer had erased the reality. The carmine had gone, the skirt had been lengthened, the slightly swollen eyelids had disappeared. But what was lacking was the happy and relaxed radiance on the face of the bride – the smile was slightly wooden.

This story remains only in the memory of the guests – there is no evidence. They all have the lovely pictures to look at, and one day they may even ask themselves if it really happened. Digital photography will have truly finished the job.
(Google image)


Photo Finish
from Lonicera's non-digital photo archives

More flora than fauna - but it's spring after all...


Friday, 11 March 2011

Tales from Argentina – The Accident

In the late 1950s my sister and I were at boarding school, Dad worked as a ceramics engineer and Mum earned her living by teaching in a school and also by travelling around Buenos Aires in a very old car, giving private English lessons to children whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to a bilingual dual-curriculum school.  This took her all over the capital, which at the time would have had a population of some 8 million people (it is now 13 million), from smart downtown, to humble areas, to residential middle class and back again.

One afternoon she was driving through a modest suburb and out of the corner of her eye saw a child of about 7 playing with a ball on a 6ft mound of builder’s sand which had been left by the kerb.  As she approached him, he suddenly ran out into the street to retrieve his ball and to her horror went smack into her car.  She heard the bump of his little body against the wheel arch as the ball bounced across the road out of reach.  She hadn’t been going very fast – the old car, a 1946 Vauxhall, could only limp and clatter along at the best of times. 

Vauxhall 1946
(our car was just like this, only in worse condition...)

Very distressed she leapt out of the car and the child was lying still, with blood coming out of his mouth and an arm at an odd angle.  She rang the doorbell of the house, and when the child’s mother appeared, she quickly explained what had happened and asked her where the nearest hospital was.  Surprisingly the mother wasn’t angry with Mum, though she was clearly upset about her son.  “I keep telling Ricardito not to play there”, she said. 

In those days the ambulance service would only have arrived in reasonable time if they had been in a downtown location – in this remote suburb they wouldn't have stood a chance.  The situation was too urgent for this, and between them they picked him up carefully and put him in the back of the car.  He came round and was able to talk to his mother as they drove to the local Clínica, where the little boy was assessed.  The bleeding had been caused by a broken tooth and split lip, and his arm was broken.  Both were dealt with efficiently by the Clínica and Mum stayed with Ricardito and his mother, later driving them home. 

She was of course very relieved that the child had suffered no serious harm, and at that time there was no such thing as suing for injury, but the guilt stayed with her for a long time and affected her confidence on the road.  At first she visited him every couple of weeks to see how he was getting on, taking him toys and sweets, and as he improved it became a monthly routine – his mother seemed to appreciate her visits and the cake she would bring.  Mum – ever the teacher -  talked to the woman about education.  Was the child at school?  Was he a good pupil?  The mother was evasive and talked about her financial problems, and eventually on one of her visits asked her for money.  Mum never carried much cash on her, but gave her what she had, and thereafter it became an unspoken thing between them – she would visit and leave some money when she left for her to spend on the child.

She realised she had got herself into an uncomfortable situation, and by the time Ricardito had eventually recovered altogether, she had turned full circle and was relieved to be able to make the decision to stop visiting, though her route to her English pupil  took her past their door every fortnight.  The woman made no attempt to contact her after that.

Some weeks later, 6 months after the accident, Mum drove past one day, and there was Ricardito, playing with his ball on the mound of builder’s sand, which was still there.


Photo Finish:
from Lonicera's photo archive

This and that, here and there

(The top 2 are digital, the rest are not)
I've shown this one before, but I was pleased when I lightened
the foreground trees in Photoshop and discovered their lovely
autumnal colours - so here it is again. 
(Río Colorado, Province of Río Negro, Argentina)

Reducing the glare in the sky was not very successful -
it made the pampas grass look a bit dull. (Argentina)

This picture had been left in the box because the strip of beach was dark - I was pleasantly surprised when lightening it turned it into such a nice image.

Cropping the foreground got rid of the unsharp areas of
shallow water and improved the picture no end.
(Fuerteventura living up to its windy name)

Cropping made this picture


Monday, 7 March 2011

Lonicera the Bandit reporting…

Much though I love losing myself in this magical screen and regaling you with stories, I must be true to myself and to the many bloggers who put up with my fantasy ramblings and being fobbed off with pictures, and actually update you, the lapband bloggers, on what is effectively my bandit sabbatical.  I do this with a heavy heart, because I was quite convinced a couple of years ago that I was heading for victory and cheers from an admiring crowd as I passed the finish line, trailing the ribbon behind me.  I have once again come up against my worst enemy – me, of course. 

I was banded in December 2008, and had a brilliant first year, losing about 20 kg.  In the second year I lost 5 kg in total – total of 25 kg or 55 lbs.  If that was a downward trend and I continued to lose 5 kg/11 lbs a year, being in my late 50s I would be more or less satisfied on the better-than-nothing principle.  But it’s no longer 25 kg, I suspect it’s way under 20 again (I haven’t weighed myself since Christmas). 

My contract with the hospital at Taunton finished when the two years were up in December, and now I must think hard if I want a fill or an unfill, as it will cost money.  I did try to get them to agree to a deal whereby I paid in advance for another 6 sessions (about a year’s worth), but all they could offer was a pay-as-you-go deal.  Psychologically, that means I’ll always hold back to save the money, or make unwise decisions to have too much fill, then subsequently need an unfill.  I’m sure you’re familiar with this pattern.  The people I liked and respected at Taunton have, by miserable coincidence, retired, emigrated or moved to other jobs, so with the exception of the surgeon (lovely, clever, but no time for too much chat) I would have to start again with them.  I haven’t been back yet, and obviously don’t really want to at the moment. 

My fill was at 10.5cc, and I had got to the point where the restriction was stopping me from eating fruit and vegetables, with its attendant problems, and thereby starting my dependence on sliders.  So on my last visit I had a quarter of a cc removed, and it seemed to work for a bit.  I do feel restriction, and I think it’s probably the right restriction, but I’m not really full after a teacup full of food, plus I’m making “bad choices”, as bandits are fond of saying.

I must keep on writing about the not-so-good times with the band.  I will NOT hide behind the sofa any more – in that sense I feel different now.  Firstly, the enormous decision (and effort) to undergo the expense and risk of an operation (first time ever in hospital at the age of 55), and secondly the fact that the band continues to work even when I’m cheating – these two factors are keeping me honest, on my blog at least, if not to my body.

Having been a chirpy sort of person most of my life, mood swings have been my sworn enemy for about 3 years now, and in the end I discussed it with my GP, who suggested I should try a low dosage anti-depressant for a few months.  After about three weeks I noticed a tremendous difference – it didn’t stop the sadness I felt, but it certainly made me feel well able to cope with it, and to be able to push it to the back of my mind when necessary.  Things ceased to become such an effort. 

I continued to read the blogs of course, and I’m grateful for the honesty many of them show when describing their highs and lows – it made me feel less alone, and I even learned a new term – ‘losing one’s mojo’. ..

I thought naively that it would also help with a growing trend since December towards eating too many sliders (chocolate, take a bow) but horrors, I feel more out of control now than I did then.  The restriction is still there, and though I eat far more than the famous teacup full, it’s way, way less than I used to in the bad old days.  I know I should stop eating after 20 minutes, but I don’t.  I know I should stop buying chocolate, but I don’t.  Why?  The same reason that got me into this mess in the first place:  pleasure.  Not comfort eating, certainly not real hunger, but because it’s a source of pleasure.  And exercise isn’t – though I might take up swimming again when the weather gets warmer.

Virtually every paragraph of this post has started with first person singular – and that’s why I bury myself in my stories.  I don’t really want to write about myself. 

But I can finish on a positive note – it’s what I often say on the comments to other blogger friends.  It you fall by the wayside for a while, that’s the wonderful thing about the band:  it’s the loyal hound sitting quietly by, waiting for you to pick yourself up and get going again so he can trot beside you.

Maybe I should have called it Rover.


Photo Finish
From Lonicera's digital archives

Adventures in Photoshopping

I've lightened the foreground and darked the sky. 
Strangely enough, what makes it look a bit fake is the colour of the sky - which was a bleached out version of that orange colour.   haven't learned yet how to put in a colour that isn't there.

Selective cropping - with digital pictures they're often sharp enough to be able to do this - it's so satisfying.

Non digital - just lightened a little

This one was unusable because the contrasts were so great. 
I lightened the foreground and darkened the hills and sky.

Lightened a little - which left it with a slightly blue cast.

Darkened a little.  The light is a bit harsh anyway though.

I often seem to photograph hibiscus, which can be quite a challenge because the centre bit (calix?) sticks out so far, making it difficult to get it all in focus.  This was was selectively cropped.

White bougainvillea, selectively cropped to just a corner of the picture

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