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Thursday 25 August 2022


Last months post about photographic lenses and extension tubes set me thinking about the cameras I’ve used over the years. Some were also in the loft.


The first would have been our nineteen-fifties family camera, an Ensign Ful-Vue II. No, that wasn’t in the loft, but my dad had kept the instruction booklet:

It is surprising how vividly it brings things back: the large silver winding knob; loading the size 120 roll film (frames of 2¼ inches or 57mm square) with its thick black backing paper; the “ruby window” for viewing the frame numbers printed on the back – twelve per roll. Lovely colour, Ruby! 


The Ensign took most of our family photographs until 1962 when I received a Kodak Brownie Starmite camera for Christmas and became the family photographer. This used smaller 127-sized frames (40mm square), also 12 per roll. Pictures from both the Ensign and the Starmite have appeared many times on this blog, especially indoor flash. 


After starting work I wanted a 35mm single-lens reflex colour slide camera. One of the most economical to buy was the Russian Zenith E. It cost £33 from York Camera Centre in January, 1973. 

Comparing the quality of the Zenith images with the Ensign and Starmite negatives, you can see why it was cheap. I would have been better with something slightly more expensive, perhaps Pentax or Praktica, but the Zenith was fairly robust and I used it into the nineteen-nineties. It survived hours in rucksacks including two weeks backpacking in Iceland, and once rolled several hundred feet down a mountainside in Switzerland. Unfortunately, the fabric shutter is now torn beyond repair. As the lenses have gone to the charity shop, the camera body might as well go for metal recycling. 

One nice touch was that the Zenith came with a free book, “Discover Rewarding Photography: the Manual of Russian Equipment”, which, despite its name, contained helpful hints and useful information.


The Zenith and its lenses were heavy and bulky to carry around, especially out walking, so around 1994 someone took pity and bought me a 35mm Pentax Espio 738G compact camera. It was a nice, easy-to-use, lightweight camera, but I never really liked it. It had the irritating feature (at least with the films I used) that, on loading, it automatically wound the film  all the way to the far end, and then back again frame-by-frame as each shot was taken. This meant that numbers printed on colour slides were in reverse sequence: e.g. slide 36 was really slide 1.

It still works: Daughter used it for an art project a few years ago. It might be fun to get a black and white film to develop myself just one more time: extracting the film from its cartridge under blankets in the dark, sliding it into the developing tank, salivating at smell of sodium thiosulphate fixer. I’ll keep the camera and tank for now. No need to print the negatives these days; better just to scan them in.


And so to digital: a 2.1 megapixels Olympus D-490. It cost £399.99 in January 2001. The lens glided satisfyingly forward when you slid front the cover open. It had pop-up electronic flash on top. It had 3x zoom (35-105mm) and a macro function, but you could buy longer lenses and extension tubes. Its 72 dots-per-inch, 1600 x 1200 pixels jpg images used around 400MB of storage, so you could get around twenty on an 8MB memory card. It also took 20-second silent videos. 

The software for transferring images from the memory cards was awkward. You couldn’t just stick it into a computer slot like now because the ‘Camedia’ cards were enormous – seen here beside a standard SD card for comparison. I bought additional 16MB cards to take more photographs. A hundred was luxury after 35mm film. The camera was also a little heavy because it used four AA batteries. It still works but is worth at most £20 on ebay. Should it go to the electrical equipment recycling skip?

With two young children the Olympus was used a lot, but after a few years I noticed that the images had a small number of blank pixels. It seemed time to upgrade.


Technology was advancing rapidly and getting cheaper too. My 7.1 megapixels Canon Digital Ixus 70 cost £169.99 in April 2006, and I still use it today. It has a similar spec. to the Olympus: a 3x optical zoom (35-105mm), a macro function and built in flash, but also an extensive range of image settings and unlimited movie time with sound. Mine is set to 3072 x 2304 pixels at 180 dots per inch which creates jpg images of 3.5MB. Even a ‘small’ 4GB SD card stores loads. 

You can get much higher spec. cameras now, even on phones, but this is fine for most purposes. However, one might say that it isn’t as much fun, and doesn’t have the same mystique as the Zenith.

Not wanting to disappoint the technical amongst us, here are links to the Ensign Ful-Vue, Zenith E and Pentax Espio instruction booklets and manual.

Friday 19 August 2022


Last year we grew leeks from seed for the first time, quite successfully.

One leek, however, was too small and weedy to pick, so we left it in the garden where it survived the winter.

This year it grew too quickly to pick, and sent up a four-foot high shoot with a globe topped by a long spike. It remained like that for weeks. The other morning we were surprised to see the globe and spike had split and were left dangling beneath a rather spectacular flower.

The insects seem to like it too.

Sunday 14 August 2022


I usually photograph places where I’ve lived. Here is one corner of my room in Leeds in the summer of 1976. The washbasin was handy for peeing in as the toilet was on the floor below. Well, you can be like a slob when you live on your own.

What do I see? Towels strewn around. Swan electric kettle, toaster and fan heater on the floor. An anglepoise lamp I still have. The wooden book rack I made at school which I still use, containing books I still have. A naff set of biros designed to look like quill pens. A tiny nineteen-fifties transistor radio in front of the mirror on the edge of the dressing table … and in the corner on the floor some bottles of water.

Yes, we had a drought in 1976. It was one of the warmest years of the last century, not surpassed until this century. The highest temperature recorded was 35.9°C (96.6°F), not quite reaching 36.7°C (98.1°F) of 1911. The drought was caused by low rainfall the previous summer which lasted through the autumn and winter. By the autumn of 1976 water was rationed in some places by means of standpipes in the streets. My parents’ house had an infestation of seven-spotted ladybirds.

Could we be heading there again? I am no climate change denier, but despite the clear upward trend I hope that once we are through it we will have experienced an outlier, at least for long enough to see me out. As for my children, both still in their twenties, they could be well-advised to move to somewhere like Fort William, Portree, Stornoway or Kirkwall, preferably on high ground not too near from the sea.

Wednesday 10 August 2022

My Very First Mother Goose

In the small collection of items I put aside to blog about at some future time, is an obituary of Iona Opie, children’s folklorist, who died in 2017 aged 94. If this post interests you, you will enjoy her life story.

Her delightful book ‘My Very First Mother Goose’, an illustrated collection of nursery rhymes, gave us hours of fun when the children were little. Bedtime after bedtime, we would turn through the pages, pointing at the pictures, singing the rhymes we knew the tunes to, and reciting those we didn’t. Now in a box of books in the loft, it is definitely not one to be disposed of. 

Amongst my favourites to sing were:

         Polly put the kettle on
         Half a pound of tuppenny rice
         I had a little nut tree
         Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been
         Elsie Marley’s grown so fine, she won’t get up to feed the swine
         Dickory, dickery, dock
         Sing a song of sixpence
         Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle
         Ride a cock ‘oss to Banbury Cross
                 (we are certainly not going to sing ‘cross’ to rhyme with ‘horse’ in Yorkshire)
         Horsie, horsie, don’t you stop
         Boys and girls come out to play
         Jack and Jill
         Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake
         Down at the station early in the morning
         Wee Willie Winkie

We probably enjoyed it more than the children.

“I don’t like that Wink Willie Wee-Wee,” son J said one day.

Iona Opie, with her husband Peter, began collecting nursery rhymes during the war when, one day out walking in the countryside, the rhyme “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home / Your house is on fire, your children all gone,” came into her head. She wondered what it meant and where it had come from. Nursery rhymes had never been codified before. From scratch, they unearthed a rich vein of children’s rhymes, traditions and folklore that had been passed down through generations, which they sought to record before it was erased by the commodification of childhood.

As in “Ladybird, ladybird”, many hint at untold horrors. The Opies suggested this was uniquely British, “All part of being frightfully tough and not minding the weather; we’re nourished with this nonsense and it does us a lot of good.” 

With us, the rhymes took on a life of their own, with changed words and new verses. “Down at the station” acquired a second verse in a minor key:

         Grandson and -daughter1 wave goodbye to Grandma,
         She’s on the train, she’s on her way home,
         Ten minutes later a face at the window,
         “Hello, it’s me, I’m baaack2 again.

                 1 their actual names were used here
                 2 exaggerated southern accent

The odd thing about this is that it is not entirely true. Our extra verse refers to an incident that occurred before either of the children was born.

Grandma used to travel up from the South on the main line to Sheffield and then take a local train through Barnsley. She was appalled by the thought that any future grandchildren might grow up with Barnsley accents.

On this particular day, we saw her off home on the local train, but she returned an hour or so later and knocked on the window. What had happened is that, just outside our station where the line becomes single-track, the driver of the train coming in the opposite direction stopped to inform Grandma’s driver about a broken joint in the track which had allowed him to pass but would have derailed Grandma’s train. Grandma’s driver then had to wait for permission to reverse back to our station. 

How many of our traditional rhymes are similarly muddled?


Iona and Peter Opie (rhymes with ‘soapy’) published several other books, including ‘The Oxford Dictionary Of Nursery Rhymes’. We also bought ‘Here Comes Mother Goose’ which is in the same Walker Books series as ‘My Very First Mother Goose’, but most of the rhymes are unfamiliar to us.

Monday 1 August 2022

A Practical Wife

New month old post - last month’s old post was part of a longer piece. This is how it continued (first posted 18th August 2014).

In ‘Dad’s Thursday Helper’, I wrote about the dubiously wonderful things Dad could do with fire, lead, tar, meths, petrol and so many other substances while Mum was out. Yet, Mum never thought him particularly skilled in practical things. There was another reason for this too, which was that Mum was by far the more practically gifted of the two. She did all the gardening and repairs around the house.

She inherited a naturally practical, creative imagination that had run in her family for generations. Her great grandfather had maintained steam engines on barges in the 1870s. One of her brothers was a plumber, another was a self-taught mechanic. I watched the plumber dig down at Grandma’s house to connect a water-toilet to the new drains that had reached the village. And later, the mechanic effortlessly dismantled the broken mini-van lock and made it work with the ignition key. Even Mum once rescued me from a car maintenance disaster with pointed kitchen scissors after I had stupidly twisted the top off a grease nipple. She could use tools in entirely different ways from their intended purpose.

“Aren’t I lucky to have married such a practical wife,” Dad used to say.

I remember them decorating together, a paintbrush each. Mum got on quickly and efficiently with long smooth brush strokes, whilst Dad stabbed away awkwardly, making slow progress. I later realised she had given him an old brush, the stock clogged up with dried paint, stiff and ineffective, but he did his best without realising anything was wrong.

This kind of thing is pretty insidious. Dad, who made himself a cat’s whisker crystal radio as a boy, taught both me and my brother to assemble Airfix models and make things with Meccano, preserved fences with creosote, repaired punctured bicycle tyres, helped maintain his firm’s cars and vans in the 1940s and 1950s, and had the confidence to melt lead and tar on the kitchen cooker and get away with it, gradually came to believe himself functionally incompetent in all matters practical. We all came to think it.

After Dad retired he made some real howlers. He decided to help around the house by cleaning the finger marks off the furniture with a mixture of vinegar and water like his mother used to do. Within minutes he had knocked the vinegar water on to the carpet. “For goodness sake, get a bloody job,” Mum yelled.

Mum spent her final months explaining how to do the household things she had always done for us all. Dad carefully wrote it all down in a notebook, but it did not always help. Mum became so exasperated at his ineptitude as she tried to instruct him how to build cane pyramids for runner bean, she exclaimed “I’ve got more sense in my little finger than you have in your whole body.” Dad knew she you would never harvest them, and she didn’t.

Later, most memorably, he melted the plastic lid of the kettle by putting it on the gas ring without water. The next day, having bought a new lid, he did exactly the same again. “They always used to have metal lids,” he complained.

It was a vicious circle, lack of practice leading to lowered confidence. Were those tar splashes on the yellow shed and the flaming pool of meths creeping across the table, mentioned in the last post, early indications?  

I like to think I inherited Mum’s practical abilities. I can garden, hang wallpaper, service a car, replace light switches, maintain computer software, put new taps on washbasins, mend toilet cisterns and make guinea pigs hutches, to mention but a few. Dad visited us one day to find me hammering a hole in the bedroom wall to fit a new electrical spur socket. The floorboards were up displaying my neat new wiring all ready to connect up. I proudly showed him what I was doing.

“Aren’t you lucky to have married such a practical wife,” he told me.