Thursday, January 31, 2008
A German priest's flock grew threefold after he offered them money to attend Mass. Father Burkhard Westphal handed out envelopes containing five euros (about $7.50) to people who came to Mass at his Collinghorst church. The usual attendance is about 60, but 189 turned up on Sunday when word spread. Westphal said most people had put the money back during the collection.
FOOTNOTE: Altar buoy.
Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON
Have you ever taken a photographic journey through a novel?I guess I'm lucky that I'm a photographer, because this means I can give you a glimpse at my next novel, "Muskoka Maharani", to be published by Penguin Books India. When I say "glimpse", I mean you can really see some of the real-life places where the novel goes.
This first shot (above) is taken at the U Dock of the Delta Sherwood Hotel in Port Carling, Muskoka, which is in the north of the Canadian province of Ontario. This is where an investigative Australian journalist must come in order to save his own career, his job and his way of life. It is here, in the pre-dawn light, that he attempts to interview a close-lipped woman in her eighties. Will she trust him enough to tell him her greatest secret, a revelation that could become the scoop of the year?
As you'll see in the post Booked For Life, my synopsis of the novel is simple and very brief....
The daughter of an embittered, hard-drinking Anglo-Indian engine driver from a little railway colony finally finds love in war-torn England. But it’s 60 years before she breaks her silence on how she helped unmask a German spy, and the aftershock takes an investigative Australian journalist all the way to the Vatican.
He thinks he is doomed and that his critical assignment has come to nothing as he spends a prolonged, uncomfortable silence with the old woman as she photographs and paints the stunning sunrise across the lake.
Eventually - completely unexpectedly - he wins her confidence. She spills out her life story, starting with her childhood in Marsdengunj, a remote Indian railway outpost, her time as a nurse in England during World War II and her eventual move to Canada.
She and the journalist spend hours in the picturesque dining hall of the Delta Sherwood. By the time she draws to the concluding portion of her life, the shadows of the setting sun are long and stark across the eastern lawn.
Among the high and low points of her life are:
- A ghostly eipsode from her teenage years
- Her mother's terrible post-natal depression that was not diagnosed
- The breakdown of her parents' marriage
- The mystery of what eventually happened to her mother
- The teenage love story that seemed so terribly thwarted
- How she found the man of her dreams amid the fear and loss of wartime
- The harrowing retreat of an army officer at Dunkirk
- How grave suspicions surface against a most unlikely person
But before she tells the journalist the last stages of her amazing story, she suggests that he should drive about 35 kilometres to neighbouring Gravenhurst. They come to this intersection .....
The description in the novel of Gravenhurst, a beautiful lakeside hamlet, is exactly as I saw it one afternoon in 2005, while I was photographing the area before taking a lake cruise.
But does the story end in Gravenhurst? No. What happens from this point on? You'll have to read the book to find out.
But now I throw thr forum open to every one of my readers. Now that I've shared this unusual journey with you, I'd be honoured if you could tell me what you think of it. Do leave me a comment with your frank opinion.
If you want to lob a few thought grenades across the office, be careful they don't detonate too close to you. Why? Because a session of "blamestorming" could follow. Does all that sound like gobbledegook? You see, I'm told these are the latest lines in workplace lingo. A "thought grenade" is an explosively good idea. This phrase became fashionable among office staff last year, as did the expression "Let's sunset that", which refers to unsuitable ideas that must never be mentioned again. Every worker knows the pain of recriminations after a project goes wrong. Now it has a name - "blamestorming", which means debating why a deadline was missed and who was responsible.
FOOTNOTE: Lingo star.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
A Croatian fisherman is selling his pet dog because it keeps catching more fish than him. Slobodan Paparella is fed up with being embarrassed in front of his fishing pals. He said that most days when he went fishing he would catch only the odd fish, but his Irish setter Lipi would jump into the water and catch dozens of fish. Paparella said the last straw was when he hooked a 6.8kg fish, but lost it at the last second - only to see Lipi jump in and catch it.
FOOTNOTE: Dog gone.
A 109-year-old Macedonian woman is getting her first passport after it took decades for authorities to check how old she was. Maria Kostova, from the town of Shtip, was born on February 7, 1898, but no birth certificate was issued to her at the time. Local authorities lost their records of her birth and when she asked for a passport more than 20 years ago they said they would have to look for documentation. ``Now I just have to think of what holiday I can have so I can use it,'' she said.
FOOTNOTE: Elder statement.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
German holidaymakers will be able to indulge their love of naturism by taking to the skies on special naked flights. The flights are aimed at former East Germans who feel nostalgic for the naturism that was authorised and extremely popular under communist rule. The first nude flight will be a July 5 day trip between Erfurt in southeast Germany and the white sandy beaches on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom.
FOOTNOTE: Teddy bare.
A grandmother in the UK has got back the engagement ring she threw into a field during a tiff 67 years ago after her grandson dug it up. Violet Booth and fiance Samuel hunted in vain for the diamond ring and had to buy another when they married months later in 1941. But metal detector fan Leighton Boyes, 33, found it in just two hours after he pinpointed the spot. Violet, now 88, wept with joy as she put on the ring. Violet, whose husband died 15 years ago, added: "This ring means the world to me and brings back so many happy memories. I can't stop looking at it."
FOOTNOTE: Boyes will be boys.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Those of you who have followed this blog for a while would know that I love photographing just about anything, especially if I can find an unusual angle for a shot. These shots of a Curtis P40 Kittyhawk were taken at an air show, and I was just thrilled to have the chance to photograph an aircraft of World War II vintage.
If you've been to an air show, you'll appreciate how difficult it is to work the angles or get close-ups. You see, aircraft are always cordoned off to prevent people getting too close to them. And because there are always crowds at each exhibit, it can be quite a challenge to get just the plane in the frame and not the bobbing heads and waving arms of hundreds of excited planespotters as well.
Yup, aviation photography on an airfield or a tarmac is very different from the challenge of aviation photography at an air show. I have always been a keen student of aerodynamics, the history of air combat and just about anything that flies. The first frame (above) is a deliberate attempt to show just how slender the fuselage of a fighter was, is and always has been.
It's great fun photographing a sleek jet fighter, but I really appreciate the chance to train my lens on a red spinner, propeller blades and a beautiful set of fishtail exhausts. That sort of thing doesn't happen every day.
By the way, if you have an interest in stories about fighter pilots of World War II, then you might appreciate just how privileged I was to tell the stories of two RAF pilots of that era. It was my very great privilege to painstakingly piece together the heroism of a Typhoon pilot and a Hurricane pilot; stories that would have been impossible to tell without the power and reach of the internet. The first feature is Life And Death Of A Hurricane Pilot and the second is displayed in full on Terry Fletcher's wonderful Anglo-Indian Portal at The Story of 'Tiger' Rajan.
By the way, I am currently working on my third novel, called The Jadu Master. A couple of significant chapters deal with the fighter pilots of the RAF and the Luftwaffe, as well as the aircraft they flew. In this instance, I am doing extensive research on the performance (and all other relevant data) of the Spitfire and the Messerschmitt Bf-109. Yes, I'm enjoying myself. Yes, I have lots of data. And yes, I'm acutely aware there is always more information just around the corner ....
The quest for knowledge and understanding never ends.
This ain’t a case of Tudor manor born. An English couple hid their mock-Tudor mansion behind a 12 metre (about 36 feet) stack of straw for four years in an extraordinary attempt to bypass planning laws. Linda Fidler and husband Robert didn't seek planning permission for their "dream home", complete with ramparts, and the first anyone knew was when the bales were removed. Council planners have now ruled that the construction is illegal and should be knocked down.
FOOTNOTE: Bale money.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The question is: How efficiently (or inefficiently) would your household function without batteries?
I watched the cherubs very carefully for the next half an hour or so. Then I saw a group of adult tourists approaching. I watched as they began to admire the cherubs. And then the answer became patently clear to me as I watched what they did next.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
With this week's Photo Hunt theme being "old-fashioned" it is my very great privilege to take you on a tour of the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta (now Kolkata). This shot (above) was taken in late October 2006, shortly after 7.30 in the morning, before the sun had burnt off the mist that shrouds the city like a veil of antique lace. There is an ethereal beauty to this extraordinary landmark of the city where I was born and I have to admit I had a lump in my throat when I pressed the shutter to capture this scene.
The Victoria Memorial is a white marble building that was built between 1906 and 1921. Mate, there are palaces around the world that aren't as majestic as this place. The huge angel atop the central dome is called the Angel of Victory. It's made of bronze and has ball bearings beneath its pedestal because it serves as a graceful weather vane. Yes, it still turns, despite its massive weight.
This is part of the ornate gateway (above) leading into the parkland that surrounds the Victoria Memorial. It was built to honour Queen Victoria, who was the Empress of India until her death in 1901. Calcuttans refer to it as the "VM" and the bus conductors - in that wonderful quirky telegraphic language of theirs - call it "Toria Moria".
This shot (above) was taken inside the grounds, as I walked across the vast moats that surround the expanse of parkland. When I was very little, my Dad (who knew everything about everything) told me that the moats were not just decorative and that they were designed in keeping with the foundations of the building.
This was the last shot (above) I took in the sequence that morning. I had walked back to a friend's car. I mopped my brow in the humidity and sank into the back seat of his Mercedes, my camera bag at my feet. "Finished?" he asked me. I nodded. I was done - and I was exhausted. He started the car but before he could move, I yelled out to him not to put it into drive. He looked at me as if I was mad. I reached for my camera, took the lens cap off and shot this final frame of the Victoria Memorial reflected in his wing mirror.
Friday, January 25, 2008
A $600 million Royal Navy aircraft carrier had to turn back two days into a mission - after its fridge broke down. HMS Illustrious, complete with hi-tech weaponry, was heading for the Indian Ocean with nearly 1,000 crew on board when it returned to port yesterday. A fault was located in the giant fridge so the captain set course for Portsmouth, where refrigeration experts were waiting to start the $20,000 repair.
FOOTNOTE: Like a fridge over troubled waters.
As the sun rose through the heavy cloud and the thick smoke that choked the city, it seemed devoid of any recognisable shape. I shot half a dozen frames very quickly, moving from the St Kilda Road end of the bridge to the other side, near Flinders Street Station.
The timing was perfect because I was able to compose several shots of the dramatic sunrise against the tall trees that fringe the Alexandra Gardens. Then, when I was halfway across the bridge, I realised I could shoot a vertical frame to include the historic boatsheds and the glow of the sky reflected in the surface of the Yarra River.
A London dentist is giving patients check-ups over the internet. Jerry Watson examines their teeth via webcam and decides if he needs to see them in person. Patients still have to go to a clinic to be filmed and have a $100 clean-up by a hygienist at the same time. Watson, who is expanding his clinic to 20 more sites in the UK, says it means he can monitor patients at four clinics at once. He believes the technology could ultimately let people have a check-up at home.
FOOTNOTE: Is the safety catch off your gum?
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Border guards in Belarus said they had foiled an attempt to smuggle 277 parrots into the ex-Soviet state - aboard a bicycle. Spokesman Alexander Tishchenko said the smuggler abandoned his bicycle and cargo - contained in six cages - and fled back over the border into Ukraine. "The cages were fixed to an ordinary bicycle. The parrots were stuffed inside like sardines, 40 to 50 to a cage," he said. The birds were handed over to veterinary inspectors.
FOOTNOTE: Parrot fashion.
One of the funniest examples of family-related geography took place when I was fourteen years old, in my second-last year of boarding school at St Joseph's College, Darjeeling – the school famously known by its compass orientation, North Point.
I should point out that there is a substantial age gap between my three older siblings and me – Keith, Michael and Brian got a head start of fifteen, twelve and ten years respectively. Because my brothers were in boarding school, I only saw them for three months each year. By the time I was six years old, each of them had left the family home, Keith and Brian to join the merchant navy and Michael to become a fighter pilot.
Keith then lived in England for a while before moving to Australia, where he eventually took on Australian citizenship. Shortly after I started Year Ten, Keith returned to India on holiday, travelling on an Australian passport.
As Brian just happened to be in Calcutta at the time, it was decided that he and our mother would travel to Darjeeling with Keith. But because Keith was now a ``foreigner’’, he had to get special permission to visit Darjeeling, and the necessary paperwork was completed without a hitch. Once they arrived in the beautiful Himalayan town where my school was situated, it was decided that they would spend a day or two extra – which in turn meant that Keith had to apply for an extension.
While I was in class one morning, Mum and Brian accompanied Keith to the official who would review his case. They explained they just wanted a couple of extra days because they were spending as much time as possible with me while I was at boarding school. Very efficiently, Keith was given permission and the necessary paperwork was completed.
As Mum, Brian and Keith got up to go, the official very politely stopped Mum. He wanted to know if he could possibly ask her a ``very personal’’ question. Mum, who was never flummoxed by unexpected roadblocks, told him to go right ahead.
Clearing his throat, the official cut to the chase. ``Madam,’’ he said, ``how is it you have one Australian son but your other sons are Indians?’’
Two Star Wars-loving brothers are planning to set up a Jedi church in Wales. Barney and Daniel Jones want fellow devotees to be able to join them on Anglesey. Barney, 26 - or Master Jonba Hehol - and Daniel, 21 - Master Morda Hehol - head the UK Church of the Jedi. They say their services will include sermons on The Force, light sabre training, and meditation techniques. Although the current members are all men, women are not excluded, as Barney points out: "Princess Leia helped them out a lot."
FOOTNOTE: Peeking up with the Joneses.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Japanese scientists plan to launch a paper plane from - of all places - the International Space Station. The 20-centimetre craft, made from heat-resistant paper, will hit speeds of up to Mach 20 (24,500 kilometres an hour) as it flutters 384 kilometres to earth. The brainchild of the Japan Origami Plane Association and University of Tokyo engineers, a message will be written onto the plane in several languages, asking the finder to return it the origami group.
FOOTNOTE: Fold, to the highest bidder.
A hi-tech, theft-proof police car worth 75,000 quid was stolen in Berlin - after officers left it unlocked with the key in the ignition. The special BMW was the pride of the Berlin police force. But it was stolen when two officers jumped out to chase a joy-rider on foot after he had abandoned a stolen car. The criminal got away and when the officers went back they found the expensive BMW gone. Police chiefs say they have no leads on who may have stolen the car and are still looking for it.
FOOTNOTE: The Berlin wail.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Hungarian scientists are working on a computer programme to enable people to understand dog barks. The software is said to work out the nuances of a dog's barks, howls, yaps and growls. After analysing 6,000 barks, it aims to determine when a dog has seen a ball, when it is fighting, playing, meeting a stranger or when it wants a walk. But the computer correctly recognised the emotional state of 43 per cent of dogs, just ahead of humans with 40 per cent.
FOOTNOTE: 101 Damnations.
UK television personality Jeremy Paxman has given Marks & Spencer a dressing down over the lack of "support" in their underpants. The Newsnight star personally contacted store chief executive, Sir Stuart Rose, to complain. Paxman sent an email to Sir Stuart, saying: "Like very large numbers of men in this country I have always bought my socks and pants at Marks & Sparks. There's no other way to put this. Their pants no longer have adequate support. When I've discussed this with friends it has revealed widespread gusset anxiety." He said his email was meant to be a private matter but had been leaked.
FOOTNOTE: That's a load of bollocks!
Monday, January 21, 2008
A Hampshire woman has been ordered to remove a pirate flag from her garden. Carol Clark, from Whitchurch, was told the skull and crossbones breaches advertising rules. "It's daft. I thought someone was playing a joke at first," she said. A keen sailor, she hoisted the black and white Jolly Roger after a friend gave it to her as a joke. But her local council says only national or regional flags may be flown without planning permission - because everything else is deemed to be advertising.
FOOTNOTE: Jolly unfortunate, Roger.
What really struck me about this scene (above) was the fact that the owner must surely have been a Sensitive New Age Guy.
And I'm awarding him several brownie points for the fact that whoever crafted the metal storage unit even went so far as to incorporate a delicate clasp and lock. It's a pretty big lock - and it's a perfect colour match for the metal. Thumbs-up for that.
But I was rather disconcerted to notice that the chrome exhaust stack had taken a bit of punishment. The owner loses points for the oil streaks, as well as fact that the exhaust pipe had copped more battering than a plate of fish and chips.
Policewomen in the UK are rebelling against their regulation trousers - because they make their bums look big. Dozens of female officers complained to the trade magazine "Police Review" that they wore men's trousers because they looked better. Ananova reports they were particularly aggrieved by the "Simon Cowell-style high waistbands" which cover up curves and the bulky, ill-fitting material which makes it difficult to run after offenders. One West Midlands policewoman complained: "The force needs to listen to us."
FOOTNOTE: The force ain't with them.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Of the many sports-crazy bloggers around the world, Brian in Oxford has been following the tennis action closely and we've been exchanging emails about some key matches. If you've been watching the action on our new blue Plexicushion courts, do leave me a comment to let me know what you think of the action.
Our Open is a mix of everything - morning sessions, night sessions, open courts, retractable-roof stadiums, scorching hot weather, cool breezes and (thankfully) some rain as well. One thing's for sure in this sports-mad city. When it comes to tennis, you can't fault our service.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Sometimes the simplest shots can be just as satisfying as identifying a great picture waiting to be captured. The striking colours of this early-morning scene really caught my attention while I was in India three weeks ago. Blue and silver and black are not colours you often encounter - and my rule is simple: if I look twice at something, I photograph it.This stylised eagle is the emblem of the Indian Air Force, with its proud history in combat and in peacetime duties. The Hindi words in the round emblem spell out "Bharatiya Vayu Sena" which translates of course to Indian Air Force.
The words displayed in the silver banner below the crest are "Nabha sparsh deeptam", meaning "Touch the sky with glory".
With today's Photo Hunt theme being "Important", a defence force sums it up perfectly. And where would we be without the efforts of the pioneering Wright brothers? In essence, this is a salute to pilots and ex-pilots, both military and civilian, in every corner of the world.
Friday, January 18, 2008
An entire police squad had to be rescued from a freezing lake in Hungary after an officer tried to chase a robber across ice. Policewoman Ani Kosut fell through ice in Szigliget in the west of the country. Passers-by called other police but as they tried to fish her out, they fell in as well and more officers had to be called. Thirty policemen ended up in the freezing waters before a team of fire fighters finally dragged them all to safety. The robber escaped.
FOOTNOTE: Time to break the ice.
Officials in Transylvania spent $400,000 on a luxury coach for Dracula sightseeing tours - only to find it was too big to get through the city gates. Entry to the old centre of Brasov is through 10-feet gates and councillors were embarrassed to find the double-decker coach was too high. They had invested the money in an attempt to attract more tourists to the city to boost the local economy. Brasov is close to Bran Castle which attracts thousands of tourists each year as it's believed to have been the home of Vlad the Impaler - the inspiration for Count Dracula.
FOOTNOTE: "Count" them out.