Moving house, getting out and about and being (almost) catfished

NOTE: I have been struggling with internet connection so am posting this a day after it was written.

It’s Sunday, and it’s Chinese New Year’s Eve. Which probably means I should be heading down to Chinatown. Except I’m not, because it’s going to be mental – everyone heads there apparently – and I’m quite enjoying the peace and quiet of new my apartment.

I moved in on Thursday; I’d had the keys for a few days and came up last weekend to start dropping off some clothes but as I didn’t bring any furniture from the UK and the apartment only included wardrobes, and as I didn’t fancy sleeping on either a tiled floor or in a wardrobe, I had to wait until my bed and settee were delivered before moving in, which was Thursday.

I actually had a mad panic last week when I realised Chinese New Year was coming up which means everywhere is busy, and I had no furniture, so I went to IKEA one evening to order said bed and settee – the essentials. Just as well, Thursday was the earliest they could deliver and assemble it; this was also the day I had to be out of the serviced apartment. They could have delivered it earlier, but I’d have had to assemble the furniture myself. Can you imagine? I can, and it’s not pretty. It took two blokes who knew exactly what they were doing about an hour and a half which suggests I’d have still been at it now. Turns out they also wanted an extra $60 when they got here to bring it up the stairs! To be fair, there are 42 stairs and no lift. Carrying a queen size bed, large TV stand, settee and bedside table is no mean feat. There was a lot of sweat and panting and cries of ‘too many stairs!’ involved.

I mentioned there are a lot of stairs and no lift. The apartment I’m in – at Royalville – is what’s known as a ‘walk-up’; it’s an older development (1988 I think – anything pre-2000 is considered old in Singapore) which means the apartment size is pretty big. Believe it or not I have more floor space than in my terraced house in Manchester, although rent is significantly more expensive. Apparently a lot of people won’t consider a walk-up as they prefer lifts. I definitely prefer space, I wanted a big front room to accommodate the birds when they finally arrive (more on that later), a balcony, and ideally two bedrooms. I’ve got all that, plus two bathrooms. Yay! In fact, I don’t even know what I’m going to do with all the floor space in my front room. I’m sure I’ll find some tat to fill it.

Here are some pics. Did I mention there’s a pool and a gym? I’ll get use out of the pool, but I have no intention of setting foot in the gym.

It’s so good to finally be in my own place rather than the serviced apartment. It was nice enough, and really convenient as it was walking distance from the office, but it felt like living in a hotel. Have you ever tried living in a hotel for a month? You can’t really settle. And the apartment just wasn’t me. It also wasn’t very big, as I mentioned in my last post. I now just need to get some more furniture – an outdoor chair and table for the balcony, a TV (!) and a dining table, plus a few other bits. Whether I’ll use it for dining is another question, but I will use it for sewing on when my sewing machine arrives. Which will be early in March, it’s coming by sea. I hope it’s got its armbands on. I’ve bought a few things like cutlery, a kettle, a sweeping brush, and a frying pan. It’s a deep one though, and as I’m not planning on cooking much it’ll probably be the only pan I’ll need. I reckon it’s deep enough for poaching eggs. I could do with a microwave though.

The only downside at the moment is I have no TV box (and actually no TV set), and no internet until 22nd Feb. I had some engineers round on Thursday to install a cable for the broadband and I have a hard drive of films to watch but no wifi for a couple of weeks! I’m having to make do by tethering my phone, but it’s not ideal, especially when you want to Skype or upload a blog and photos to WordPress, so I’m having a bit of an enforced digital semi-detox.

Unlike the constant noise when you live in the CBD, it’s nice and quiet here. I’m currently sitting with the balcony doors open (are you jelly?), the fan on in the front room and all the windows open, so there’s a nice breeze; I’ve only really used the aircon at night when I’m in bed. Although there’s a main road round the corner, and I’m a 3 minute walk from the MRT, there’s no road noise, it’s all nice and green and there’s plenty of wildlife about. I found a baby lizard running around my kitchen last night; I was so glad it wasn’t a cockroach, it was dark so I literally leapt into the air when I spotted it legging it across the floor. It ran under the washing machine and I couldn’t find it, and I quite like lizards so I left it. I made sure I shut my bedroom door though in case I woke up with it sitting on my face. There are also plenty of birds around. These range from sparrows (a few were sitting on my balcony looking expectantly at me earlier), Javan Myner birds which are very common in Singapore, and also a few parakeets. I keep seeing a couple of bright green ones flying past and going sitting in a nearby tree. They look and sound so much like green versions of Mel. Awww.

On the Mel and Kev situation (they’re not an 80s pop duo, they’re my parrots who I’m trying to bring out here), there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some of you might know that I’ve had some drama with this over the last few weeks as there’s currently an embargo on importing birds from the UK to Singapore due to bird flu in the UK in the last few months. I was dealing with a woman in the UK (who shall remain nameless) who was supposed to be helping me. I get the impression she hadn’t actually bothered to check anything she was telling me, and the last contact I had with her involved her telling me that the ban had been in place for several years (this was news to me, despite dealing with her for about three months), it didn’t look as though it was going to be lifted, and so it ‘might be prudent to consider rehoming the birds’. The birds are part of my family. I wonder how she’d have responded if I told her to consider rehoming her children. I didn’t have anything nice to say at that point, so I ignored the email she sent me and I still haven’t replied.

Instead I spoke to the lady from the relocation company in Singapore who’s been really helpful and she gave me a contact at a different company out here. After a few emails I got a phone call from a lady at the AVA (Agri-Food and Vetinary Authority) last week who informed me that the embargo of bringing birds from the UK might be lifted at the end of February or beginning of March, so I should check again then, and if it isn’t lifted I can make an appeal to bring them over anyway. In your face, unhelpful UK woman. Seriously though, I’m soooo pleased. I can’t wait to have them here. I’ve spoken to Kev on Skype and he’s wolf-whistled at me but I’m not sure he really knows what’s going on.

In other news, my first hairdo has gone well. This may seem trivial to you, but I can assure you, it IS NOT. I went on Internations which is a networking site I’ve joined and searched the forums for blonde hair until I found a post recommending a hairdresser near my new apartment. Turned out to be a good recommendation. Just as well, I’ve had to have new pics taken for PR we’re doing at work about the new office. There’s a PR piece here, and here’s a picture of me looking all business-y and Singapore-y. You wouldn’t believe how many shots were taken to find one I liked. Let’s just say there were a few.

Karen Schofield PR resized

Speaking of Internations, I’ve been to a few social events so far. The first was wine tasting on someone’s rooftop terrace. It’s a strange one when you’ve paid a complete stranger $58 in advance to turn up at their house for supposed ‘wine tasting’ not knowing them or whether they’re genuine or a total freak who you’ve just paid to kidnap you. As it happened, it was a great night with some fab wine. The guy who organised it is a wine importer and definitely knew his stuff. I knew the white wines, failed on the reds, and when it came to a blind tasting (with blindfolds – fortunately this was not the first round or I’d have been off quicker than you can say ‘expensive wine’), we had to guess what colour the wine was. You may think there are just three colours but it turns out, orange wine is a thing. It tastes a bit like sherry.

Last Saturday I went to another event at Berlin Bar which was billed as an Eagles tribute act, starring Singapore’s biggest rock star from 20 years ago. I think they did one Eagles song and then played stuff like Coldplay and Maroon 5 for the rest of the night. It was pretty good though and I met some nice people. I ended up at 1 Altitude – about 60 floors up and with panoramic views of Singapore – out with a woman I’d never met before called Kim until about 3am. Good times. I have no idea how much I spent on wine and I don’t intend to check although I know it was $55 (about £24) to get into One Altitude and we didn’t get there until at least 1.30, several hours – and wines – into the night. Yikes.

The night before I went to a Friday social (with some people I met at a work networking event) which was an even later night. In fact, it was so late the McDonald’s chips I’d been dreaming about eating on the way home didn’t happen. You know it’s late when they’re only serving breakfast. I had to make do with an egg McMuffin and a hash brown. As a result (of late nights and drinking, rather than the hash brown), Sunday was a complete write-off. I’m getting too old for two nights on the bounce. I don’t suppose it’ll be the last time though.

While I’ve met some really genuine people on Internations, I’ve had quite a few people trying to get in touch with me who are ‘financial consultants’ who think my job and company sounds ‘really interesting’ and would I tell them more about it? I wasn’t born yesterday, I’m 99% certain they’re just trying to flog me financial products I don’t want. At least they’re (probably) harmless. But here’s an interesting one…I think someone is trying to catfish me. Seriously.

I got an email through Internations a few days ago from someone purporting to be Canadian who had recently moved to Singapore. He said hello, his picture looked pretty normal, I emailed him back. I decided to look him up on LinkedIn to find out more about him. No results. Which was weird because he has a very unusual name. So I Googled a bit more (other search engines are available), and still nothing. Even weirder.

I went back to the email he’d sent me and re-read it. There was something about the language he’d used in his email which didn’t seem very Canadian – grammar etc., even thought it was a short email. Maybe I’m a suspicious person or maybe I’ve watched too much Catfish, but I took his profile picture and ran it through Google images. Guess what? Plenty of results, but not with his name. It looks like it’s some (genuine looking) dude from the US, with a totally different name. He’s on LinkedIn, and the pic crops up in a few other places too, so it looks genuine. I went back to catfish man’s profile on Internations and saw he had a couple of other pictures. Even weirder, next to these pictures it says ‘here are some pictures so you can see my face’. Who would write that??! And guess what? They’re also pics of the guy from the US. NOT the guy claiming to be emailing me. At this point though, I’ve already replied. Gutted. Won’t make that mistake again, next time I’ll do a bit of online stalking before replying.

He’s emailed again since, a longer email, more grammatical weirdness, basically saying he’s looking for a friend to explore Singapore with and asking if I’m single and fancy meeting for lunch (it was significantly longer than that, but that’s the gist). So what do I do? I want to call him out and ask him who he really is and why he’s using someone else’s pictures, and anyway I feel like I should tell the genuine guy in the US that some weirdo’s using his photos, and then report him to Internations. Should I email him back? If I do, what do I say? I spoke to one of my friends the other day who said just ignore it, but I’d want to know if someone was using my pics, wouldn’t you? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below, I don’t know how long a postcard will take to reach Singapore).

In other news, today I’ve been to Singapore’s Botanic Gardens. I was supposed to be meeting some people from Internations to do yoga there at 8.20am. It was raining so I nearly didn’t bother, but since I’d dragged myself out of bed and got ready, I did. It turns out everyone else had more sense than going out in pouring rain to do soggy yoga as I was the only one there. So instead I had a nice breakfast at one of the cafes and a good explore round the gardens, and took some photos. It’s been ages since I’ve been out with my camera properly so it was good to get back on it again. Here are some of my favourites. I’ve only got one lens with me at the moment (24-105mm) so it’ll be great to go back with my macro lens when it arrives (it’s in the shipment with my sewing machine) for better close-ups of the insects and plants. They aren’t too shabby though.

Incidentally you can walk around a jungle/rainforest section of the gardens; this is what Singapore was originally like before it was developed. So I had a wander around there. You can still get 3G. I bet there aren’t many rainforests where you can say that.

Obviously I came out here for work, so I should probably mention it as that’s what I’ve spent most of my time so far doing. It’s been really busy. I’ve met a few potential clients, written three proposals, been to a few networking events, and had a new starter to induct, as well as getting the office set up and a load of stuff related to that. Just need my first job win now – hopefully it won’t be too far away. I’ve even bought a bell to ring when we win it. That’s a UK tradition I intend to continue. I might have to video the grand ringing of the bell to send it back to the folks in Manchester when we win our first job 🙂

Aside from that, because it’s Chinese New Year, tomorrow and Tuesday are public holidays here so I now have another two days off. Nice! Not sure what I’m up to yet, but it’ll involve more exploring of Singapore. And possibly some beer. Which is cheaper than wine.

A newbie in Singapore

Now I’m officially here to stay in Singapore, which means my employment pass has finally been approved, I can actually start blogging about what I’ve been up to, something I wanted to do weeks ago but didn’t dare as I didn’t want to tempt fate. I don’t actually believe in fate mind you, but hey, someone official might have read this blog, decided I was a bit previous with being excited about a job I didn’t officially have approval to do and ordered me home. You never know…

I don’t know how many people will read this (hopefully regular) blog, but if nothing else, it’ll be a good reminder for myself a few years’ down the line about what it was all really like, rather than what I choose to remember. (That’s for the psychologist in me who knows a bit about how flawed our brains are when it comes to retrieving and recalling memories, as well as our tendency to remember the peaks and ends of experiences better than all the other trivial stuff that happens in the middle.)

As this is my first blog in Singapore, I should probably begin at the beginning. There are quite a few potential beginnings, including the beginning where I was offered the job to come out to Singapore and head up a new office for the company I work for, but this beginning starts the weekend before I left, 2nd and 3rd January 2016.

On the Saturday night I had what my Mum ominously called ‘the last supper’, a curry in Hyde followed by drunken dancing featuring my Mum, her husband, my brothers and their partners and my lovely niece, Mille. (Note: Millie did not partake in drunken dancing, she’s waaaay to young for that yet.) I saw a lot of my Dad over the weekend too as he helped me sort out some of the last things I had to do around the house, and I spent Sunday evening with him, my last night in the UK.

That weekend was weird, because for months I’ve known I was coming out here and been preparing for it – packing up things I wanted to bring out here with me, throwing out clutter from the house (I filled a huge skip, plus more. It was probably only a matter of time before the TV show Hoarders: Buried Alive caught up with me), sorting out life’s admin like bank accounts, selling my cars, cancelling my TV licence and other exciting stuff like that, as well as handing things over at work and preparing for my new job out here. But none of it quite seemed real. It was like this nebulous ‘thing’ that was happening at some distant point in the future. Not now, not really. In a few months’ time. In a few weeks’ time. In a few days’ time. Not on Monday. Not tomorrow. Not now. Time has a sneaky habit of creeping up on you like that. Even when you’re expecting it.

That weekend, it got real. Saying goodbye to my Mum, my Dad and my brothers made it feel real. Saying goodbye to my two beloved parrots, Kev and Mel, when I left them with my Dad to look after (temporarily, I hope) made it seem real. Was I really leaving everyone?

On the Sunday night, alone in a house devoid of pretty much everything apart from a bed, a TV, a settee and a packed suitcase, and a significantly quieter house than usual – mainly because of the absence of Mel’s shrieking and Kev’s frequent shouts of ‘what you doing?’ – I started wondering what the hell I was actually doing, and what business I had moving 7,000 miles away from anyone I knew and everything I know and setting up a new office with no real idea of whether any of this was going to work. I’ve literally never spent more than three weeks out of my home town of Denton in my life (seriously), and while I’ve travelled all over the world on holiday and all around the country for work, I’ve never lived more than about half a mile from where I grew up. [I say I’ve travelled the world on holiday. I’d never actually been further East than Egypt until I got this job and came out here for the first time in October. So maybe a better description would be to say I’ve travelled Europe, Africa and some parts of the US and Caribbean. Doesn’t make me sound as worldly-wise though.]

And after lying awake for ages worrying about what on earth I’d let myself in for I thought, shut up Schoey, this is is going to be the biggest adventure of your life. This is an opportunity to find out what you’re really made of and do something amazing that most people never get the chance to do.

You know, if the last few months have taught me anything (and they’ve taught me a lot of things, I can tell you, but that’s for another blog), they’ve taught me that life’s too short to get hung up about ifs and buts and maybes. The best thing – for me at least – is to try to do as much as I possibly can with my life while I’ve got the chance. And if those things include a massively exciting, life-changing adventure halfway across the world, experiencing a completely new culture, country, job and life, then that’s all the better.

I decided I was going to smash it.

So many people have told me how brave I am, how they’d never have been able to do something like this, especially on their own, not knowing anyone. I’m sure there are some people who think I’m brave doing this as a solo young(ish) woman – although no-one’s specifically said that to me (I can think of a few who’ve probably thought it though). For me, my age and the fact I have boobs is irrelevant. Loads of people travel these days. And if a man can do it, so can I. I can even do weeing standing up now I have a shewee.

And I’m not brave. Not really. I’ve just made a conscious decision to make the most of every opportunity which comes along. Yes, after what I’ve been through, I’ve probably been stronger over the last few months than most people expected (including me), but life isn’t a cliched bed of roses, it’s cruddy and shitty and really bloody awful sometimes, but it’s also amazing when you open yourself up to the people, places and experiences it offers. We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to what happens, and my response is to think about my future and make the most of every minute. That’s not being brave, it’s being pragmatic.

I digress. Bleary-eyed at the check-in desk at Manchester Airport at 6am the next morning my main concern wasn’t what the hell I was doing going to Singapore, it was making sure I didn’t have my duty free wine taken off me en route. You’re allowed to take two bottles per trip into Singapore and I was sure as hell going to take two bottles with me. I knew the Singapore Airlines flight stopped in Munich on the way, and that you get off and then get back on the same plane, but I didn’t know whether you’d go through the scanners and get any liquids that were 100ml+ taken off you. This was extremely important. Wine is sooooo expensive in Singapore, it is now a rule that anyone who comes to visit me must bring two bottles of duty free white wine with them. Good news from the check-in desk: no scanners at Munich, you just sit at the gate. Phew. Duty free wine, here I come.

When I arrived in Singapore around 15 hours later, even more bleary-eyed than I was in Manchester, and with my single suitcase and two bottles of duty free wine in tow, I was reminded of just how hot and humid it is. Having been out here twice before for only a total of around 10 days, once in October with colleagues and my Mum, and then again for a few days on my own in December, you forget (or at least, I did) just how different the climate is. Yes, obviously I know it’s hot, but it does hit you like a wall when you walk out of the air-conditioned airport (everywhere is air-conditioned in Singapore) and realise the jeans and long sleeved silk shirt you’ve been wearing on the plane and which were just fine in Manchester aren’t really helping the sweat situation. In fact, so I’ve learned recently, despite being a natural fibre silk is not good for avoiding sweating at all. It retains water. At least it doesn’t smell when it gets sweaty.

I was met at the airport – with a card with my name on and everything – by Wilson, who took me to the apartment I’m currently living in and showed me around. That didn’t take too long, it’s not a huge apartment, but then most of them aren’t here. Space is at a premium, and newer apartments like this one tend to be built smaller so they can fit more into the developments. It’s nice, it just feels like a hotel. Which it kind of is really, so it’ll be nice to get into my own place in a couple of weeks’ time. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The apartment I’m in, on the 10th floor of The Altez, is ideally located for settling me into Singapore as it’s only a 15 minute walk to work. That would be a 10 minute walk in Manchester, but you can’t walk too fast here without ending up a sweaty mess, and that’s not really the look I’m going for, so 15 minutes it it. It’s got a couple of pools, plenty of food places nearby and its location means I haven’t had to worry about navigating across Singapore for the commute to work in the first few weeks. I’ve had to buy Apple TV though as the TV package in the apartment mainly seems to have local (read: non-English-speaking) channels or news. My Mandarin isn’t up to much yet and there’s only so much rotating news you can watch, but there’s a lot of Netflix to get through. (Note to self: there’s a big city out there, watching entire series’ of Broadchurch and Making a Murderer on Netflix isn’t the key to exploring it…)

You might be wondering what Singapore’s really like. When you ask people who’ve been here on holiday, one of the first things they say is it’s ‘safe’. Not in a Manc way (as in ‘yeah, he’s safe’) but that it’s a really safe place. I thought that was such a weird thing for people to describe somewhere as, but when you get here it makes lots of sense. Apparently Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world. And as a seasoned veteran of three whole weeks it really feels like it. No problem to be wandering around with a map on your own at 11pm; if anyone approaches you they’re likely to be offering you directions rather than wanting to mug you! That’s not to say you shouldn’t have common sense, but genuinely the vast majority of people seem really friendly, polite, helpful and welcoming.

As an example, I was on the MRT yesterday (MRT = Mass Rapid Transit – basically underground trains, like the tube in London except spotless and air-conditioned and you don’t get black snot in your nose after being on them) with half a dozen shopping bags after spending the afternoon, and a small fortune, in one of the shopping malls. I got on the MRT and a lady offered me her seat. What?! That definitely wouldn’t happen in Manchester. And it’d be even less likely on the tube in London where you avoid eye-contact at all costs. Clearly I’ve only scratched the surface so far, so it’ll be interesting to see whether my views change once I’ve been here a bit longer, but safe (literally) to say it’s definitely safer walking around the streets here at 3am than it is in Piccadilly Gardens…

Despite being here three weeks, the longest time I’ve ever been on holiday for previously (and as I said, the longest time I’ve ever spent out of Denton), and despite the fact I’ve been crazy busy at work since I arrived, I still feel a lot like I’m on holiday. I suppose that’s natural, especially until I’m in my own place with my own furniture etc. and with every experience still feeling so new, but I also think one of the reasons for this is psychological…to me, hot weather is a heuristic (mental shortcut) for being on holiday, as the weather in the UK is pretty much never hot, and I’ve always loved to holiday in places with better weather, which is pretty much anywhere really. Plus being somewhere where you need suntan lotion everyday and where your apartment has a pool is definitely holiday territory. I’m not sure how long it will take me to break this, or whether I ever will. In a way I don’t want to, I totes love holidays!

So what can I tell you about Singapore? Well, the food is amazing, and extremely cheap if you visit the local hawker centres; anywhere between £2-4 gets you a huge plate of fantastic food. These are street food stalls which are all government-regulated and have food hygiene certificates so no dicky tummy, even with my IBS, which is a lifetime first for me. I thought being vegetarian I might struggle to find things to eat as there’s so much meat and fish in everything, but there are loads of places if you look for them. In some cases, I’ve had no idea what I’ve been eating, but I’ve been assured it’s vegetarian so I’ve tried it, and I’ve yet to find something I don’t like, even thought I thought I was fussy. Here are some examples. Obviously I recognise what a curry looks like.

Wine is expensive. It’s all imported which adds to the cost but it’s also taxed heavily and I learnt last night at a wine tasting event (more on that later) that the government adds a standard levy of around $10 on every bottle imported, so you’re better off buying a more expensive bottle of wine as the tax comprises a lower proportion of the price (top wino tip!).

You can drink the water from the taps. Singaporeans drive on the left side of the road, like in the UK, but cars are ridiculously expensive to run, as they’re taxed even more than wine. Like, two times the value of the car just to put it on the road, never mind road tax. Hence the people who have cars are people who can afford them (apparently 16% of households are millionaires here), and you see and hear more than a reasonable share of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Rolls Royces and other beautiful driving beasts than you’d probably see anywhere else in the world other than somewhere like Monaco. (While I mention Monaco, Singapore, Monaco and Vatican City are the only three city-states in the world i.e. where the country is the city. Factoid for you there.) But the public transport is so good, you don’t need a car. Despite having two cars back in the UK (and shedding a little tear when my lovely Lotus Elise drove away after I parted with it before moving – yes, really), I haven’t missed driving much. There’s still time though. And I do have achey feet as they’re not used to doing so much walking. That’s actually one of the reasons I went shopping yesterday, to buy some comfortable shoes!

The plug sockets and voltage are the same as the UK so you can bring your gadgets from home and they work. Wine is expensive. Taxis are cheap – much cheaper than in the UK, as is the public transport actually, which is probably why taxis have to be cheap to compete. It’s hot and humid, all the time – the temperature doesn’t vary much, even at night. As well as being hot and humid, it’s monsoon season at the moment, and I’ve never seen rain like it. Think it rains in Manchester? Next time it rains, check if it feels like someone’s chucking buckets of water at you from all directions, or whether the whole floor (not just parts of it) is like a 2” deep puddle. No? Didn’t think so. That happens most days at the moment. And you won’t find a taxi when it rains either as everyone’s after one. But at least it’s hot rather than being freezing cold rain.

It’s also busy everywhere. While the whole main island of Singapore is about the size of Greater Manchester, it has twice the population; I read about how crowded it gets before coming but the number of people walking around the central business district (or CBD as it’s known) in the morning and at lunchtime is crazy. As a slight claustrophobic, I can’t wait to experience the MRT at rush hour once I’ve moved into my apartment (!)…but at least the noise is minimal from there as it’s a bit away from the main road. The one I’m in now might be on floor 10 but as soon as you open the window you can hear the traffic noise below. There’s also loads of construction all around Singapore, from new condo buildings to new MRT stations. So many things are newly built, that an apartment built before the year 2000 is considered old!

Did I mention wine is expensive?

I’ve got loads more to write but I can feel a curry coming on; it’s teatime (that’s dinner for anyone reading who’s not from the north of England) so I’ll sign off for now. So I’ll catch you next time when I’ll tell you about finding an apartment, starting work in a new city, attempting to make friends and finding a hairdresser who can cope with platinum blonde. (I say ‘finding’, I’ve found a hairdresser and made an appointment; whether they can ‘do’ the blonde and style I’m after is to be confirmed next Saturday.)

 

a 365 day project – day 1, new year fireworks in Brussels

I may come to regret this but in writing this down I’m committing to attempting a 365 day project, where I take a picture every day for a year. I did a 52 week project in 2012 (one photo a week, the clue’s in the name) which to be honest was hard enough, but because I’ve taken photos so far every day this year, I thought I’d give it a go. I know I’m late posting them up, but I have been taking pictures every day so far – as if that’s some achievement. It’s only day six. Let’s see about the next 359 days…

Seriously though, I’m hoping making myself take a photo every day will (this sounds like a list of objectives, maybe it is):

  • Let me see patterns in the photos I take, given the volume of them over a relatively short period of time, so I can challenge myself to work outside my usual ‘range’
  • Make me focus on what makes a good photo – not just on what the right settings are (not that I’ve really sussed either out yet)
  • Encourage me to use my camera phone more – because as much as I like my DSLR, I know I can’t take it everywhere as it’s not always practical – I think this will help me be more spontaneous
  • Mean I’m using my camera (DSLR or phone – just photographing stuff) more often
  • Get me experimenting with different techniques more often (I’ve already tried doing some time lapse stuff for the first time which I’ll post up shortly)
  • Challenge me to quickly spot photo opportunities because of the urgency of having to take a photo every day (this was a challenge enough once a week, especially on a Sunday night when I ended up in the kitchen or garden in desperation again. I’m not sure what every day is going to be like)
  • Improve my photo composition
  • Document things I’d have forgotten if it wasn’t for doing this project
  • Generally improve my photography skills.

That’s not a bad list really, is it? If I manage to get anywhere with this maybe I’ll revisit this post again and see whether doing the project did actually help. With the best intentions, and with three alarms a day set to remind me to take a photo, what are the chances I’ll remember to do it every day anyway? And there’s no point cheating and taking two the next day is there? I guess we’ll see…

Anyway, here’s day 1 which was taken during the new year celebrations in Brussels. The rest to follow, along with a separate page for the project so they’re all in one place…

001 new year fireworks in Brussels resized

 

a lorra, lorra parrots in Loro Parque

A few weeks ago (I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while!) we went on a last minute holiday to Tenerife for a bit of sun and relaxation. As much as I enjoy a week of sunbathing, reading, drinking cocktails and occasionally jumping in the pool to cool down, it doesn’t make for much of a blog post, but in the middle of the week, we actually left the resort to visit Loro Parque in the north of the island, home to over 4,000 different parrot species. Having a bit of a thing about parrots – and by extension, birds generally these days – this was the highlight of the holiday for me, and the one thing I wanted to do all week. Just as well, it pretty much was the only thing we did…

I wasn’t sure which camera lens I’d be best with on the day, so I took a couple with me but only used my 70-300mm all day – not much call really for a wide angle lens in an animal park when you want to fill the frame with a bird! I’m still using my kit zoom lens (Tamron) though, so an upgrade is definitely needed. I recently upgraded my standard 18-55mm to a Canon 17-50mm and it’s definitely made a difference; one for the Christmas list perhaps…

It’s worth saying a couple of the pictures were taken through glass, and you can see some flare in the photos. But it was great to get up close to some of the birds, like the Eclectus, the beautiful green one above, especially in the treetops aviary, a covered (with a net) outdoor area where the birds fly around and sit on the walkways as you walk around and past them. It’s great to see and hear them so close up.

As well as birds the park is also home to other animals like chimpanzees, meercats, tigers, dolphins and tortoises (which I also have a thing about – they had giant torts too; amazing animals, they’re like dinosaurs when you see them up close, but weirdly just like super gigantic versions of my Horsefield tortoises).

Of course, homing 4,000 different parrots, they had African Grays like Kev. Which generated a lot of ‘hello’s from the pair of us when we finally found them (chatting to them as though it was actually Kev and his girlfriend – to be fair, I’d recognise Kev in a line up of Grays, but only because he has funny feet, otherwise I think he’d have to start talking to be sure it was him). We probably looked like a right couple of tools trying to talk to all the birds. But sod it, we were on our holidays, you never see these people again do you…

Some of the birds definitely had a sense of humour – as well as some we saw deliberately winding each other up, one in particular kept dancing at us as we walked past – and went a bit crazy with some strange body-popping head moves when we stopped at his cage; he seemed to be loving the attention (he got a few ‘hellos’ from us as well as the Greys).

A bird-stravaganza on Inner Farne

It’s peak breeding season for many birds on the Farne Islands in July, so if you take a boat trip from Seahouses out to Inner Farne as I did this weekend, expect to be dive-bombed by territorial Terns as soon as you step foot ashore – their nests surround the pathways. Take a hat or hood to avoid a direct peck to your head, or failing that keep wigging your hands near your head – not enough to scare the birds, just enough to stop your head looking like an easy target!

The island is home, at least at this time of the year, to literally thousands of nesting birds of several different species, including various Terns and Gulls, Guillemots, Shags, and Kittiwakes, amongst others. Seals bob around in the water around the islands but weren’t easy to photograph; maybe they were camera shy. And of course there were the puffins.

IMG_7559

The puffins were the best bit of the trip for me. Bright legs and parrot-like beaks (they are known as Sea Parrots – and have the interesting nickname ‘Tommy Noddy’ locally), portly stature and waddling gait, they are a magnificent sight. More so because of their numbers; there are around 40,000 pairs currently nesting on the island. Visitors can see them sitting contentedly on the island’s rocks and walls, as well as in burrows on the ground, and then flying around across the sea. They can fly so low they sometimes look as though they’re only just managing to stay above the waves, before bringing fish back to their burrows (borrowed from the local rabbits who must be evicted at this time of year) and disappearing down them to escape a mugging from the gulls while they eat.

I haven’t finished editing yet but here are a few initial photos from the 550+ (!) I took in what was basically a day and a half in Northumberland, visiting Dunstanburgh Castle and Inner Farne…glad I took so many though, because birds can be challenging to photograph so there was a bit of experimentation with shutter speeds and framing, which means there are quite a lot which didn’t turn out. But enough that did, which is the main thing. Being a bit trigger happy has its benefits sometimes, it would seem.

getting in close

I took a few pictures in the local woods this weekend. For once I have a few pictures I’m quite happy with, which is unusual as I usually find that despite my best efforts, photos are either slightly out of focus, not quite framed the way I expected, or have something distracting in the background which I didn’t notice when I took them.

I think the common theme for the pictures I’ve taken this weekend is getting close to the subject. Often, I end up taking pictures of paths and woods without really focusing in on something specific, leaving me with images which look pretty boring when I get home. I’m finding that getting in really close to your subject – which might (rather un-intuitively) involve standing further away with a zoom lens – can sometimes yield the best photos. At least that seems to be the case for me anyway.

I also tried looking up and down more in these shots, to get a different perspective in my pictures. Reflections in puddles can be turned into nice photos, while crouching down a bit and looking up can give you a new angle for photographing flowers.

I think I should experiment more with lenses too. I don’t tend to use my zoom lens (70-300mm) very often, but several of these shots were taken using it proving it can be worth carrying it around as an alternative to my usual 18-55.

Brighton sights

I went to Brighton last week for a conference with work where I ran a workshop on how to be creative; the workshop was quite playful compared to the rest of the (rather more serious and business-y) agenda, and covered key questions like ‘how do you put a giraffe in a fridge?’ It was good fun to run and big thanks to all the people who came along. People seemed to really get into it, and I gave everyone a contract to sign at the end to say which practical tip they were going to take away with them. Might seem like a bit of a gimmick, but not one contract was left on the table afterwards, so everyone took them away. I take this as a good sign and hope we (I was ably assisted by a colleague, Mark) managed to spread a little bit of creativity around some workplaces.

While I was there I had a couple of hours to walk round Brighton. I’ve never been to Brighton before, so not one to miss the opportunity – despite already having several bags to drag across the country with me – I took my camera and thought I’d have a nosey round (I also took my lomo but haven’t had the film developed yet). It was fairly overcast, but at least that meant the sky didn’t blow out – I tend to find this a problem even with a permanently attached UV filter. I must be going wrong somewhere.

I tried to be a bit more selective in setting up my shots than usual, as I’m conscious that I often end up with too many pictures where the subject isn’t clear. I tried framing a point of interest in the foreground with a wide aperture, to blur the background, which worked okay.

I thought I’d try a couple in black & white while I was editing them, or in the case of the lamp post, just tweaking the contrast, as it looks b&w anyway. I should experiment more with b&w shots. I’ve only recently learnt that if you shoot in b&w in raw, you can always convert to colour in post-processing, so there’s no excuse not to really, you can always change your mind later.

I’ve learnt to take more pictures of odd things which I might not necessarily think would make a great picture on first glance. I quite liked this sign, and decided to snap it. I like the resulting juxtaposition of the poster (and its message) with the couple walking past in the background as I took the shot. If I’m honest, this was accidental, but I’ll take it! The composition could be better – the couple could be in focus, and the post in the background is distracting – but if you ignore that, there’s something about it. Just shows an ‘interesting’ picture could appear at any moment.

I think the ones below are probably my favourites.