the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

A short story

un soir, un train

in General , Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bear with me.  There’s a point to this.

A couple of weeks ago, I stupidly left my phone on the train.  A quite new phone to me, an iPhone 5s, I could not at the moment afford to replace it.  The train was headed towards Milan. Bad news, as it would be out of range of solid, honest Swiss citizens.

Anyway, we tried calling it, and somebody answered. A guy, speaking slightly broken Italian, told he us he was near Cantú, which is over an hour away by car, and an intimidating rats nest of confusing roads south of Como. Initially I decided to try to go there at the weekend, but a bit later, decided to call to see if I could go that night (Tuesday).

Oh no, he said, now I’m in Milan. I’m taking the train to Brescia. Cue sinking feeling - Brescia is half way to Verona, and a good 2 hour drive on a good day. We resolved to go on the coming Sunday. If, indeed, we could get hold of this chap, who told me his name was Michele. Again, the conversation was difficult.

So, on Sunday I tried to call, but could not get through. We set off anyway, feeling quite pessimistic. After all, this phone represents something close to a third of the monthly income for a large number of Italians. Quite some temptation. But around half way there, he called back, and apologised for sleeping late. He promised he’s be available all day to meet up, and we arranged to wait for him near the hospital.

Pretty much on time, he turned up, smartly dressed, with my phone.  He didn’t want to take any reward, but I insisted. The reason for his accent turned out to be that he was from Senegal. And the reason he was sleeping late turned out to be that he’d been travelling all week in his job, or more accurately, vocation, to arrange the financing and export of Italian light agricultural machinery to rural Senegal. After some encouragement he told us about his work, how he had persuaded companies, ambassadors, finance ministers and religious leaders to back his project.  He had targeted the kind of machinery that could be affordable and practical in Senegal, and became nominated as the agent for Casorzo s.r.l in Africa

He was a really fascinating, kind, enthusiastic and open-spirited guy, and a real tonic to talk to. An instant friend.

Oh yeah, he let slip he was a Muslim. He hardly needed to say so: it was obvious, and for all the right reasons.

Posted in General on Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 08:18 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Lifting the kimono

a little more about me

in General , Saturday, August 15, 2015

Some thirteen months ago, I questioned if I should carry on with this web site. Eventually, I decided to do so, following some public and private encouragement from a number of visitors.  This year, I’ve been too busy too even think about self-doubt, so I’ve just payed for another year’s hosting fees, on the ever-reliable Meirhosting servers.

At the same time, I’ve done a little technical housekeeping, updating various bits and pieces. It took me quite a while to remember how to do a lot of this. My day to day work no longer involves any technical know-how, but to maintain this site I need to use PHP, CSS, HTML and remember how the slightly eccentric Expression Engine works. But it seems to have survived.

I’ve also done a substantial refresh of the “About” section, which is now split into several pages, and provides a little more information in amongst the low wit and heavy sarcasm. Hence, the title of this post.

See you in a year’s time…

Posted in General | Site Admin on Saturday, August 15, 2015 at 02:27 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

This season, I’ll be mainly wearing….

Aether. And next season too.

in General , Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nobody comes to this blog for fashion tips. Let’s face it, nobody comes much at all. But now, for my small but highly select audience, here’s a new direction for snowhenge dot net!

Well, probably more of a one-off really, but I really can’t not give recognition where it’s due to the wonderful Aether Apparel of Los Angeles, USA.  Around 18 months ago, I’d never heard of Aether, but Luchiana, my significant other, was trying to find a winter jacket for me that (a) I would actually like, and (b) I could realistically wear to work. She discovered Aether, and by all accounts the person she spoke to was very helpful, understood what she wanted, and recommended a “Barrier” waxed cotton jacket. I duly received this on my birthday, and it was an instant hit.  It’s light, warm, without being hot, puts up with all winter weather it’s been subjected to, and looks and feels great.

Aether website

We soon followed up with more orders for Aether fleeces, sweatshirts, summer shirts, even swimming shorts.  Several friends have caught the bug too. The designs are classy but understated, and just feel great to wear. And, crucially for me, they are not emblazoned with huge logos. In fact you have to look very hard to see any branding at all. This is fashionable but durable outdoor clothing which I imagine builds its reputation more by word of mouth than flashy marketing. Their stuff is not cheap, but it isn’t particular expensive either, and it is excellent value for money.

Having said that, the marketing is also very nice. It’s photography-heavy, with a lot of moody outdoor shots and some very nice work, albeit quite stylised. Indeed, the first catalogue I received together with my jacket featured one spread with bits of Hasselblad V series and Fuji cameras prominently displayed.  They had me hooked!

Aether catalog

hook, line & sinker!

Aether’s marketing includes the Journal, which seems to mainly promote stuff from other companies that they’ve discovered and like, as indeed does their Twitter feed.

On top of this, they have a level of customer service which I have to say I’ve rarely encountered, and if then, only in the USA. I wrote an email a few weeks back asking about wear on the sleeves of my Barrier jacket.  I soon received a long and helpful reply, explaining what I already should have known, i.e. how to care for a waxed jacket.  Oh, and as a last point, Tamme just mentioned they’d like to send me a new jacket.  This is a company that actually means what they say when they promise a lifetime guarantee.

Drm 2014 07 16 P7160052

My new Barrier jacket. Counting the days to winter!

(oh, and if you’re too young to get the reference in the title, this should explain it)


Posted in General on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 08:55 PM • PermalinkComments (0)


prisoners of our own device

in General , Thursday, April 24, 2014

Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve blown hot and cold on Facebook. Or rather tepid and cold. I’ve never much liked it, I find it fundamentally invasive and cynical. Basically it’s another advertising agency, like Google, and it’s users are it’s product, which it sells, with no holds barred, to advertisers. But a few years ago I had to engage on a professional level, when building applications (an awful experience), and so I kept up my public profile.

Most of my posting has been generated from this website, so most of it is essentially photography-orientated. But the majority of my Facebook Friends are probably not very interested in this. At the same time, I’m finding a lot of content pushed at me is various kinds of soft and not so soft selling. Certainly, there are people I want to remain in contact with who I only really “see” on Facebook, and I’ll be sorry to diminish that, but really, we all have each other’s email addresses, and, Heavens forbid, phone numbers, and I’m really starting to feel that Facebook has a corrosive influence on me. I’m spending too much time checking in, and getting far too distracted.

Of course, it’s about as easy to check out of Facebook as it is from Hotel California. You can deactivate any time you want, but you can never leave. And that’s another very disturbing trait.
So I’ve decided, I’m opting out. Back to the relative basics of email, and maintaining my “brand”, if that’s what I want, on my own website, with my own rules, and no advertising. I’m sorry if anyone feels slighted by this, but I’m not hiding. Even if you don’t know my email address, Google certainly does. And of course thanks to Facebook’s evil data retention policy, I could always change my mind.

But for now, I’m trying to find the passage back, to the place I was before.

Posted in General on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 07:46 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Seymour Laxon

A memorial

in General , Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I thought I might write a few blog posts during our travels in Argentina and Antarctica. But what follows is the last thing I expected to write.

On the evening of January 2nd, in a bar in Buenos Aires of all places, I heard the shocking news of Seymour Laxon’s fatal accident on New Year’s Day. It was difficult to know how to react, but a few hours later I sat down to write some thoughts. Unfortunately they were swallowed by the internet. I’ve been struggling to find a internet connection for the last few days, and I just hope I can remember my initial instinctive thoughts.

Apart from the thin veneer of Facebook, I have not really been in touch which Seymour since around 2001, so my perspective is on “Seymour before he got famous”, sort of. But I doubt that he changed much over the last decade, as he moved from being a drifting, gifted postdoc researcher to a highly respected senior scientist, partner to Fiona and father to Imogen.

I first met Seymour in, I think, October 1988, when I joined Chris Rapley’s team at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, after 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey. Chris had assembled a great team of wonderful people at MSSL, but Seymour immediately stood out as a unique individual. He was welcoming, gregarious, enthusiastic, and although I don’t remember the exact details of our first meeting, I expect they involved a local pub and a beer, or two. Or three. Followed, I should add, by serious, dedicated science.

Seymour very quickly become a good and close friend, and it wasn’t too long before I first heard about, and then met, the object of his desire, Fiona. Over the following years, Fiona also became a good friend, and in turn on occasion a shoulder for me to cry on as well. The evolution of Seymour and Fiona’s relationship was epic and convoluted, major chick-flick grade stuff, but although there were ups and downs, sometimes quite serious downs, Seymour never gave up, and eventually we got the happy ending that perhaps nobody really expected. But they were made for each other, and as two exceptional people they also deserved the happy relationship they settled into.

On the professional front, we didn’t have much direct interaction, as Seymour’s area was sea ice, and mine was mainly shelf and land ice. However on the nascent remote sensing technology front there was plenty to share, and Seymour was always ready to provide help, advice, and solid criticism of the interpretation of satellite radar altimeter data. He was also very open to ideas and approaches which differed from his own, not a particularly common quality in scientific circles. He was a dedicated a gifted empirical scientist, with plenty of respect for the value of field work, but at the same time a solid grounding in physics, mathematics and computation.

But as I slowly drifted away from pure science, then applied science, and the science altogether, Seymour remained a firm and dependable friend. But memories of him will really always be fixed around the time when he wore a series of beloved sweaters up to the point of disintegration, when he pretty much lived out of the back of his battered Ford Sierra, the infamous “Desert Ship”, and when he was always on hand to point out that the pubs were still open. Or indeed to remind me I had a bottle of whisky at home.

I guess this memory I have of Seymour is out of date and fixed in the 90s, but as I wrote before, I cannot imagine he changed that much.

I always meant that we should get together again. I was just too selfish with my time, to preoccupied with my own life, too much self-imposed exiled in Switzerland, and just too antisocial. Actually I was beginning to emerge from this decade-long disappearance, even starting to engage with old friends on Facebook. So it’s ironic that it was through Facebook that I first heard the news.

Obviously there is nothing that can compare to the awful loss for Fiona and Imogen, but the news has hit me harder than I might have imagined as well. Probably the number of close friends I’ve had the good fortune to have through my life so far numbers less than 10, Seymour and Fiona are two of those.

I’ve got very little access to the internet over these weeks, so I haven’t been able to catch up much. But I have seen a few tributes which highlight Seymour’s professional achievements. As much as I respect those, for me the overriding memory is just that of truly wonderful, warm and unique person, a great friend who I sadly neglected (my loss, not his), and who can never be forgotten.

Many people have written their moving and eloquent recollections and tributes to Seymour on this site. Clearly he was a very special person.

Posted in General on Tuesday, January 08, 2013 at 11:52 PM • PermalinkComments (1)