Friday 24 February 2017

Very English!

It seems a long time ago that I was in Colombia! While I was away, the zoom lens in my camera broke inside - something mechanical came detached I guess - and so I used the camera in my mobile for the rest of my time there. It produced super pictures as you can see! I can imagine how the breakdown happened. Every time I use my camera, I have to press a button to release the lens to its full length and this obviously causes a small shock inside it. 

There was no possibility of getting the (detachable) lens repaired while I was away so, when I returned, I sent it to the official agent in Barcelona for a quotation. I won't mention their name out of politeness. About 3 weeks later, I received the quotation by email, €95 which is quite a lot of money. There was no mention of shipping charges and I was asked to confirm my agreement with the price, which I did. I was offered the choice of paying cash on receipt or bank transfer and I chose the latter.

Two weeks later a packet arrived unannounced with a request to pay €113 cash, representing the repair charge plus shipping of €18 which I refused because I had agreed to pay by bank transfer. And, the cheek of it! Three euros out of the 18 was a supplement for receiving the money. I suppose part of what I pay for a coffee is to cover paying it into the bank but imagine the riot if it was listed separately on the bill. "Ah," the driver said, "the shipping is €15". Nooo, it's 18.

I wrote to the repair company, said I wanted to send the repair money by bank transfer and I would use my own shipping agent, thank you very much!

The reason why I am writing this is not for you to feel sorry for me, or to get it off my chest. Nothing like that. it is because I have been very "English" and I think it makes a good story. The Brits recognise a rip-off when they see one and, even if it takes much time writing emails, there is a principle at stake! Generally the Spanish would pay up and not complain. And the company knows that. Another popular English phrase is "stitch-up"!

Finally after a week waiting for confirmation that they had received the repair money in their bank and that the original shipping company had returned the package, today I was able to instruct SEUR, which I know well, to pick up the package in Barcelona. They deliver most of my Amazon orders. In total, I sent around 15 emails to the repair company.

The cost is €10.81 - haha, no supplement for paying cash!

But being British (still), I have been terribly polite about it and suggested that my complaints were really positive feedback. I wasn't so polite with my bank when they put me on hold for a long time, transferred me and then couldn't tell me if the money had been delivered to the other account despite its being the same bank. Even good old Posty can tell me when a certified letter has been delivered. But I did say "sorry" for my impatience.

I started off by trying to transfer the money from my usual bank, La Caixa, but it gave an error message and reported a mis-match between the account number and the account name. BBVA does not do this check which amazes me. It should be the same as giving a credit card number and an address. The system should check the number against the name. La Caixa tried looking for the account name automatically as it usually does but could not find a match.

Admittedly, with bank account numbers in Spain, there is a check which guards against a single digit being wrong. If I change a digit, then the check will recognise the error. Here is a typical Spanish account number - the checksum, as it is called, is 13. The first group is the bank, the second is the branch.


What is a checksum? In its simplest form, the computer system adds all the digits apart from the checksum and then places the result in the checksum. So if the user makes a single mistake, it is picked up immediately. So, in my example, the checksum would be 13. I learnt all about checksums when I was designing electronic products in the 80s, it is a nice simple way of error-checking data, especially if it is sent over a long distance. Obviously, these days, it is a very complicated science because of course, encryption is often involved.


It is now Monday 27th and I am paying dearly for my obstinacy over shipping my lens. The SEUR website this morning indicated "Recogido", in other words, that the packet had been picked up. But nothing about delivery. I went out for a couple of hours and when I came back, the website said "Anulado". Nothing more. That was a bit of a shock.

I rang SEUR and they could not locate my referrence number. Of course they could not, it was cancelled. They recommended I get on my bike and go to the SEUR centre in the industrial estate in Celrà. They could tell me nothing, just a Hispanic shrug of the shoulders. I'm ashamed to say that I lost my temper. The website this morning said that it had been picked up. So it was in the hands of SEUR? No, they said. I should phone the repair company. But SEUR had my packet, no? Oh, at least my shouting brought about results. I asked to speak to the supervisor. He shrugged his shoulders also. But it was getting embarrassing, this guy shouting Spanish with an English accent. And finally, the supervisor said that, no it hadn't been picked up. That was an error in their system. It hadn't been ready for collection. So I came back home and wrote an email to the repair company. 

And, hey presto, while I was away the SEUR website has changed to show not "Collected" but "Registered" which just means they have received my instruction. And not "Anulado" but "Anulado Recogido", meaning that the pick-up had been cancelled.

Sunday 19 February 2017

About Painting Portraits

Something new! A post about art.

Currently I am painting two pictures, both are of real people so I can't take liberties with dimensions. If I paint a building or a landscape, who cares if the dimensions are slightly wrong? When I started painting about 15 years ago I used to be very rigid about what I was drawing; making sure that I had the correct number of windows, their sizes etc. And then gradually it dawned on me that it didn't really matter..... unless I was illustrating a brochure to sell the place (which is what my cousin Richard used to do). 

And then I started painting all kinds of things, sometimes from my imagination. And so I was free in what I could represent on the paper or canvas.

But painting people - portraits - is very different and that is the subject of this post. Because the question I am asking is how much can one depend on optical aids to get the dimensions correct? If the eyes are slightly too far apart, then the picture will look nothing like the real person. People will make kind comments but the artist will know in their heart that they have not hit the target.
I am asking a question but I am also providing an answer... or my opinion at least. The answer is that one should use every possible aid that is available. In the most basic situation, the artist will hold a pencil up against the subject to measure the distances between nose and mouth and eyes, for example. But much art is completed in the studio. And the artist will depend on some kind of photographic record.

David Hockney wrote a superb book on the subject of optical aids, Secret Knowledge, and proposed that even from the 15th Century artists were using such devices as the camera obscura and various forms of optical projection. In the 19th Century, the camera lucida was used to create a virtual image on the paper with a very small prism.

Of course the artist needs aids to measure the dimensions! Even if it is just a ruler. Is there some kind of pure idea that one should make the process as difficult as possible? As though the artist gains extra points for doing a double inverted somersault with pike. Nooo! The result is what the people want to know about. Does it look like the subject?

Now I will really shock the purists! This is my studio and that is a video projector on the tripod. But that is no different from what the Old Masters were doing centuries ago. Admittedly they didn't have Windows 7. But it is basically the same idea.

The picture you can see (a half-finished picture with photo projected onto it) is one I took of my ladyboy friend Nomel in the Philippines when I was there in November 2015. And the girl in the red dress is another painting for a friend. She wanted a girl in the rain, getting wet!

But, even using projection, I still have to paint the picture! And when Nomel receives his painting in a few weeks time, I want him to say, "Wow!". Not to say...." er well, it could be me I suppose... good effort." And I need to capture the person, that is so important!

Friday 3 February 2017

Monday and Tuesday

These were rather quiet days for me because Marina was now back at work so I had the days to myself and she came to see me after work at about 6pm. I usually buy paints when I go to Kharkiv because they are very cheap (everything is cheap!) but the quality is the very best - they come from Russia. This time I bought oils. I chose my regular mix of colours, two reds, two blues, two yellows and a green. Also the four "earth" colours, umber and sienna. These caused slight alarm in airport scanners so by the time I was going through security at Kiev, I kept the bag outside my case. Rather in the same way as computers are always placed outside bags in a separate container.

On Monday evening we went to a Lviv Chocolate shop. Lviv chocolate is famous and there are branches of the shops around Ukraine. Marina ordered some tea and made a selelction of chocolates.

Marina went straight home and I walked back to the hotel. I guess by then the temperature had dropped to between -15 and -20c. On average, the daytime temperature was around -10c. I don't know how they stick it for weeks on end. It didn't snow while I was there, too cold I guess. The perma-snow which was everywhere, Marina explained that it fell back in October! And then it is so cold that it remains for the whole of the winter.

On Tuesday evening, we went to a social group rather like my Meetup group in Girona, the idea being to improve English. I was interested to see how Marina got on with a table-full of young guys because it was her first time there also. When we arrived, the room was quite noisy and I had difficulty hearing what some of them were saying. But they treated me like a celebrity, asking me lots of questions about myself. There was one guy, rather burly who trained in boxing. He had travelled quite a lots and Marina was very keen to hear about Rome, which he had visited twice.

And after the meeting, I bade farewell to Marina - she took a taxi home - and I headed back to the hotel. We didn't plan to see each other on the following day as she was working and, by the time she finished work, I would have been at the airport.

So, on Wednesday at 3pm, I checked out of the hotel. I took a flight to Kiev at 5.30 which only takes an hour and checked into Ligena Hotel which is in Boryspil close to the airport. I then took their shuttle bus at 7.30 next morning back to the airport to catch the 9.50 flight to Barcelona.

There is a direct connection from Kharkiv to Barcelona but it requires catching a flight to Kiev at 7am and that means getting up very early. I know the Ligena Hotel very well now and it makes a very pleasant stop-off on the way home.

Both flights were very smooth apart from a young teenage girl who was kicking the back of my seat from time to time so I got the Ukrainian guy next to me to ask her to stop. That improved things.

The plane flew over Marseilles and very soon I could see all the regular landmarks from the coast where I live: Cap Creus, The Bay of Roses, Pals, Palamos. We flew down the coast but as we approached Barcelona we headed out into the Mediterranean. We seemed to circle for ages, every time I've flown into Barcelona, it seems like we just go straight in - it's not Heathrow! Maybe there was an emergency of some kind.

I could see below us a plane heading off towards the airport so I could calculate that we had to do two more turns before getting to the bottom of the stack. I'm glad there was enough fuel on board to cover for this diversion. Maybe it's best not to ask how many minutes of waiting in a stack is allowed for. I guess Air Traffic Control in Barcelona asked the captain, "Got enough in the tank for a few more circuits, mate?" Not a problem, I can swim and I always watch conscientiously how to blow the whistle on the life-jacket.

Oh yes, as we passed Barcelona before heading out to sea, I could see the dirty blue haze of pollution in Barcelona, like a bowl of soup overflowing. Particularly bad on that day. Horrible!

I always take the train from the airport to Barcelona Sants, it runs every 30 minutes and I know the times. And then I was very soon on an AVE to Girona and I got home at around 5pm. Not really tired. The flight was only 3.5 hours, I had slept well at the hotel, and being too lazy to think about cooking, I went and had some food in my local bar.

Pole Dance Fashion Shoot

As you have maybe gathered, Marina loves posing for photos! She wants to be a model and I want to be the photographer who discovers her. We each have a profile on One thing we had planned ahead was to book a pole-dance studio - Marina is very keen on pole-dancing which wrongly has a reputation for seedy night-clubs. It is nothing at all like that, it requires fitness and poise.

We started by taking what she called "snap-shots" which to a photographer is an insult because it suggests badly taken seaside "snaps". But that is the name they use. The idea is that she posed in a black bikini which to me appeared similar to underwear but I felt better when she said it was a bikini.

The pictures were rather like mug-shots but of the whole body - from different angles. Full length and also portraits.

After taking about 150 pictures, we switched to pole-dance and I took loads of photos of her doing various exercises which she was looking up on her phone. In total, I think she was doing this for about 2 hours with a break in between and I was hugely impressed by the energy she was putting into it. She was determined to get one of two of the difficult moves right, expending a lot of effort.

Later it started to get dark and the camera flash started to fire which gave an interesting selection of photos, some in natural light and some with Marina outlined. I prefer natural light to flash every time.

Then we went back to the hotel and I ordered some tea for the room. Marina changed back into a black outfit, moved a book-case and we started taking photos again. I though these were terrific, she looks wonderful and the lighting, from a huge chandelier is a photographer's dream. We had a meal in Abajor, the hotel restaurant, and Marina went home by taxi. As far as I remember, I went back for another glass of wine after seeing her off!

Below is one of the photos we took later in the hotel. By the way, the camera I was using was a Nikon D7100 digital SLR at 13 MPx. ISO set to 800 ASA. Later I upped it to 6400 ASA when the light faded and also in the hotel. Most of the photos were about 1/100 sec at 5.6. The camera can shoot up to a resolution of over 20MPx but the file size is very large and the resolution probably exceeds that of the lens! And certainly it exceeds the 600 dpi of a printer if we are talking about A3 or smaller. 13 MPx is roughly equivalent to printing an A4 page at 600 dpi. But obviously the requirements for display on a computer screen are far less so, for the web, I tend to save the photos at 72 dpi with a typical horizontal resolution of about 800-1000 pixels depending on whether the photo is portrait or landscape format. More than that is a waste of internet bandwidth! I use the "Save for Web" function in Photoshop.