Christmas

Here we are in mid-October. Christmas approaches. Christmas films have been on tv since about June. The shopping channels have been having Xmas in June since March. Restaurants have been taking booking since the summer, and are now saying they are sold out. Food delivery companies are warning that there are only a few delivery slots available. By Boxing Day it will all be over, the shops will be open, sales will be on.

I m not a religious person at all, and the connection between this December holiday and religion is not clear really. What annoys me that, within a few years, it will be Christmas, or preparation for Christmas, all through the year.

I appreciate it’s good marketing, improves the sales, but it is very annoying. When I was little, shops closed on Christmas Eve and re-opened after the New Year. For a family, you had to get food in for an awful long time. There were two tv channels to watch, people came round to our house and drank beer, days were gloomy and everyone hated their presents.

Ah, happy days.

Too complicated?

I have a friend who had a really expensive, (analogue) roll film (35mm) camera from a very good and well-known manufacturer, complete with accessories, lenses and all that stuff. He used it a lot, for family snaps, holidays and more, like a super point and shoot machine. One day he was grumbling to me: “it’s really complicated, has all these features that I don’t use…” and etc.

A year or so ago, maybe more, he bought a digital camera from the same manufacturer. This is not a dig at the manufacturer at all, or their products, they are a super company that make great kit.

So, he bought a very expensive and very complicated device. When I say complicated, I mean it has dials and switches and touch screens and menus and sub-menus… You get the idea.

He was talking to me again. “It’s got all these features, there are so many I can’t understand them all. I will never use half of them. What a waste of money.”

I used to teach people to use products like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop. I got a similar reaction: too many tools, things I would never use, really confusing etc

My answer was always the same: you use what you want to use and ignore the rest. The set of features you use will be different from what I use. The manufacturer has to provide them all, at a price point, so the camera meets the needs of as many people as possible. The only problem, surely, is if something is missing that you really need.

If, in the end, all you want is a point and shoot camera, which is really what my friend wanted, save a few thousands, get a very good smaller camera and put the rest to a holiday.

My camera is a Sony NEX-7, no longer made but there are similar things. It has some unusual features. There’s no wifi, no touch screen for start, dials with no labels on.

It has a proper viewfinder, OK, electronic, but good enough to show the shot nicely and exposure information. The lens is pretty good, it’s fast, 24MPx, I thought I wouldn’t like the handling, but I do.

Why this choice? Well, the viewfinder means I can hold the camera close to my body, it’s easier to see in bright daylight, it’s not away from your body so it’s more stable. Why no touch screen? Well, I have a big nose. What I like about the dials is that you can assign them to the things you actually use. It suits the way you work, however quirky that is. And it takes super pictures…

A few London myths

If you see advice about coming to London, you will find a lot of misinformation. Here are a few myths about travel exploded:

  • it is always better to get an Oyster card – no, it may well be, but you don’t have to. You will have to pay a deposit. You should be able to get that back, but who bothers. It depends where you are going, and how long you are staying for. A short eg two day holiday with lots of short journeys may be best done using a one day travel card, or a contactless credit card (prices are capped).
  • never ever drive in central London – well, you do have congestion charges, one way streets, terrible parking and traffic jams but there could be circumstances where you have to drive. Personally, we would avoid it. If you are in London, perhaps for business, and need to travel out of the capital, then we can see that a car may be just the thing. But central parking is expensive.
  • don’t use minicabs – there are some very nasty incidents and some minicabs smell like public toilets, but there are some very reputable companies that are very reliable, eg Addison Lee. The advantage is that there is a fixed charge, quoted upfront for a journey.
  • the underground is underground – most of it isn’t. Outside the centre it is usually above ground, and a great way to see the suburbs. Nor is the underground the best way to travel. Do your research – some stations are so close together (eg Leicester Square and Covent Garden) that it is quicker to walk. The map is not a map, but a diagram.
  • taxis are black, buses are red – not always, if they carry advertising, for example.
  • buses stop at every stop – no, look carefully at the bus stop. The routes it serves should be written right up there. If your bus is not mentioned, look elsewhere (there is often a map to help and there are plenty of apps available to help you travel).
  • buses always stop – there are compulsory stops and request stops on routes. Buses should always stop at compulsory stops on their journey, but they don’t. If you are at a stop, wave your had to attract the driver’s attention. On the bus, ring the bell once and make sure the information sign says BUS STOPPING. Then you may be lucky.
  • you don’t have to carry dogs up escalators. If you do have dog, carry it to prevent its paws being caught in the mechanism, but if you don’t have a do with you, ignore it. assume it applies to all pets.

Just a couple of serious points. As I write this, the future of Uber in London is uncertain. You will find, especially in the outer London, minicab services run from huts or small offices. Some are good, others not so. We have had enough experiences in urine smelling cars to last us a lifetime, but if someone gives you a recommendation, minicabs can be good value, especially for longer journeys.

Also, despite what you may have heard, there is at least one bus route that runs the old Routemaster bus. These have the entrance/exit on the back and there is no door. Do not even think about getting on such a bus while it is moving, even slowly, or at traffic lights or whatever. It really is dangerous!

Yawn

One of the great things about the UK summer, and it’s not the weather, is that the politicians are away on holiday, which means the politics programmes on TV have little to talk about. So, no Daily Politics or Question Time.

But now they are back, and it’s just like they haven’t been away. The one topic we got some relief from is now back as a major topic, Brexit, the UK leaving the EU.

There is so much, sorry, crap being said by the UK side. The European negotiators say “you’ll regret leaving” etc, the UK people say no, it’ll be all sweetness and light. Some are saying, well, OK, we had a referendum, the majority who voted wanted to leave, we leave regardless of cost or consequences. There are still people saying it can be stopped, or reversed. There are stupid arguments: people have changed their minds, mostly old people voted to leave and they are dying off all time, whereas mostly young people voted to stay and more young people are becoming eligible to vote each day, so the balance changes.

Let’s just be clear. We had a referendum last year. People 18 and over who registered were allowed to vote. The vote was to leave, not overwhelmingly, but the point of a referendum is to take a snapshot of what the country wants. OK, both sides, but especially the leavers, said things that were patently not true (like, more money for the NHS and an end to immigration). The remainers said the stock market and British jobs would be hit. The truth was, nobody had a clue.

They still don’t. Have a clue. The leavers now point to certain days and say the stocks have gone up, see, Brexit has had no effect. Truth is, we haven’t left yet. Things go up and down naturally. It’s very Trumpian to point to random good things and say look at me, I’m wonderful.

Now we have idiot Boris Johnson stirring it up. Idiot is not fair. He gives that impression, but I am sure he is a calculating, scheming and basically untrustworthy person. Yes, I have met him.

The slimy (my opinion) David Davis, who leads the leaving team, says they have suddenly realised it’s all rather complicated and they will need more time, at least two extra years. Mr Trump of course said he was going to sort USA healthcare almost immediately, then came up with who knew it was going to be so complicated too. The answer is well, you, the politicians, you knew, or should.

It shows pretty much all our politicians in a poor light. They are incompetent, from Mrs May downwards. Six months of discussions seem to have got nowhere. The tv politics programmes spend hours discussing it, getting nowhere.

Here is my opinion, for what it’s worth, basically nothing. We had a referendum. Maybe it was badly worded, but tough. If we had another and remainers won, would we have another, and another. Many of the leavers voted to leave because they were deliberately given misleading information (because leavers never expected to win, so it doesn’t matter if you lie). So, we leave, there are 18 months to go, it has to be sorted. If we have to pay tens of billions to the EU, then those who voted to leave, including a number of very rich people, should be made to cover the cost. If leaving the EU turns out to be a bad thing, then those who voted to leave should be held responsible.

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