Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Scanning negatives

When our young friends were here last week, one of them asked what the odd noise was in my study. I explained that I was scanning some negatives. She looked at me, a little puzzled, and asked what I meant.

'I'm scanning some old negatives of photos,' I explained, 'and putting them on my computer.'

'Do you mean you're printing some photos?'

'No...'  I paused, and realise that this is one of the technological divides of recent history. A child of seven years old may never have seen photo negatives. Yet until ten or fifteen years ago, the majority of cameras used them.

I've always liked taking photos. Perhaps it's because I don't have much of a visual memory, I like to be able to capture people's faces and special moments on film. I had my first basic camera when I was about six or seven, with black-and-white film which we developed and printed at home. I progressed to a 35mm camera during my teens, and was very organised with my negatives, filing them in albums along with 'contact sheets' that showed positive images in thumbnail sizes, and an index at the front.

I continued doing that up until about 1978, when it became clear that developing and printing at home cost rather more than sending photos to be printed. And I wanted to start using colour film, which was a great deal more difficult (and expensive) to process at home. So I tried several different companies, both high street ones and mail order ones.  Here are a few of the envelopes I found recently:

Since the negatives came in little packets attached to the ones containing the prints, it didn't occur to me to store and catalogue them anywhere else. The prints went in albums, those I didn't want got thrown away (eventually), and the envelopes with the negatives were stored in random boxes and drawers.

I had vague thoughts of eventually getting bigger prints of some of the pictures, but it never happened... and the collection of negatives got larger and larger. I did label some of them with the date and sometimes even the subject matter, but mostly I forgot.

We bought our first digital camera in 2003, but the print quality wasn't great, so I continued using my 'ordinary' camera for prints, with the digital one for newsletters, and the family website, and - when I started it - this blog. That was a definite improvement on waiting for photos to be printed in the UK, and then using our elderly scanner to get them transferred to computer.

In 2005, after losing our first digital camera, we splashed out on a nicer one and found that the prints were now sharper better quality in general than those from my film camera. So the latter was, at last, retired, and the negative collection stopped increasing.

When we first moved to Cyprus, my old negatives were stored away in our UK house, but eventually came out here when we sold it. They were then stored in a high cupboard in our new house. Meanwhile we'd also managed to collect several slides that belonged to my grandparents, and a few quite old negative plates that my mother had been keeping. I knew there were places where one could get these things transferred to CD but they were expensive, and there were just so many of them...

In May 2007 my father was staying here, and wanted to buy me a nice present. I couldn't think of anything I wanted at first, then I wondered aloud whether it was possible to buy a scanner that would also do negatives and slides. He and the more technologically aware members of the family went to investigate, and returned with a 'CanoScan'.

Sophia, who was always a very curious cat, investigated it thoroughly when it was first set up:

(I tried to think of a clever comment about 'cat scans' but couldn't think of anything suitable)

In great excitement we followed the instructions and scanned a few of the slides, and were very pleased with the results. Then we tried a few negatives, and were even more pleased with the results. It was a bit of a complex process: only two strips of negatives can be scanned at a time, or just a couple of slides. But it worked very well indeed.

In 2010 we decided to make a special album for our thirtieth anniversary, so I hunted through photo albums and scanned either photos or negatives (if I could find them) to get pictures of us and the boys when we were younger.

A few years later, we wanted some photos for my father's 80th birthday celebrations, so I scanned some of my old (and well-organised) black-and-white negatives.

A year after that, a cousin wanted some old photos for her parents anniversary, so I did some more scanning. And I thought, several times, how nice it would be to get ALL my negatives scanned, and organised on the computer, and maybe made into new albums....

... but it was all quite daunting. I did spend a few Saturdays doing a lot of scanning, but during the week it returned to being a spot for Cleo to sleep on:

Then one day, last Autumn, I wanted to scan something and the scanner refused to speak to my computer. I tried everything, to no avail. My technically minded son tried different leads and different USB ports and everything he could think of... and it still didn't work.

We assumed that the scanner had stopped working.  Richard reminded me that he had an identical one which he rarely used, so suggested we switch them.  Several weeks later we tried... only to find that his one wouldn't speak to my computer either, while my one worked perfectly with his computer.

It turned out to be a problem with the operating system, but after much frustration and many experiments, we finally got a version of the CanoScan software that works for me. A little klunky: I have to switch the scanner off and on again after each scan, but I can deal with that.

So I decided to make the effort to work through ALL my negatives, one film per day.  If the last software update made it more difficult to scan, the next one might make it impossible; the scanner is, after all, nearly nine years old.

Here are some of the negatives waiting to be scanned:

I've done about ten films so far.  There are at least two hundred more to do, but that means I should have finished by the end of the year.

Back to my small friends, their mother and I managed to explain, roughly, what negatives are and how they worked. The girls' response was that they sounded SO COOL! They thought I should put them on my walls as decoration, because it would be AWESOME to see photos where all the colours were reversed...

I don't always like modern technology, but I am very happy with my digital camera. I wouldn't ever want to go back to the old methods.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Beanbags in Cyprus

While most people find chairs or sofas comfortable, I've always preferred sitting on the floor. When I sit on a sofa to read, or watch a DVD, I usually take off my shoes and curl my legs up under me. Even sitting at the computer or the dining table, I often have one of my legs curled up next to me.

The problem in Cyprus is that instead of carpets with wooden floors underneath, most floors are hard, covered with marble or large tiles. In the winter, they're cold as well as hard, and while I do sometimes sit on the floor, I can't do so for lengthy periods.

When we lived in the UK, my second favourite place to sit was on a large beanbag. We didn't bring it to Cyprus, as it was quite bulky, and I have no idea what happened to it. I assumed we could buy beanbags here - the boys liked them too - and was very disappointed when I discovered that none of the local furniture shops stocked them.

Indeed, it wasn't until the latter part of 2006 that we suddenly spotted beanbags in the Nicosia 'Super Home Centre' DIY shop. I would have liked a brown one for my study, but the choices were blue, green, or brightly coloured/patterned ones. Tim chose a green one:

Daniel had left home by then, but we'd vaguely assumed he would return at some point, so we bought him a blue one:

That photo from 2006 shows Sophia, who considered Daniel her human, and thus all his property was hers too.

After some thought, I also chose a blue one, thinking I might keep it in our bedroom but quickly realised that I wanted to read or relax in my study, so that's where it sat for most of the past nine plus years.

The cats liked the beanbags very much. Here are Sophia and Cleo in 2009 sharing my beanbag:

Tim's green beanbag wore very well; he has it in his flat now, and despite plenty of use by cats, it still looks pretty good:

The blue ones, however, seemed to fade and develop unsightly marks.:

They're machine washable, but it's rather a nuisance carefully emptying all the polystyrene beans into a large plastic sack in order to do so, and then getting them back in the container afterwards - there are always bits of polystyrene floating around for days afterwards.

I had wondered if it was possible to get a new cover for a beanbag, but couldn't find anywhere that sold beanbags or covers in Cyprus - even the SuperHome Centre seemed to have stopped stocking them - nor did lengthy searching online reveal anything.

Perhaps I could have made a cover, but I'm not good with sewing, I don't currently have a sewing machine, and there's not a great deal of choice of fabric around here. And I didn't get round to it.

Since losing Alex's sister Joan, he's tried to snuggle up to Cleo (very elderly now but still with us...) and she tolerates this, but really isn't keen:

And when they're both there, I have nowhere to sit. The other blue beanbag is fine for cats but quite squashed and not particularly comfortable.

However, I now have a nice sofa in my study, so I sit there if the beanbag isn't available... and I'd stopped even thinking about getting a new cover.

And then....!

We had to go to the Larnaka SuperHome Centre yesterday. We're having some work done on the house, and needed to get some wood to repair rotting window sills. And some sealant, and one or two other bits and pieces. What a very useful shop it is, even if the lights make me feel queasy after about twenty minutes.

As we went into the shop, I saw a furniture display and a couple of faux leather beanbags. I glanced at them, but faux leather and cats do NOT go well together.

Then I saw that a beanbag on the other side of the display was made of fabric.

Unfortunately, it was bright orange.

And THEN.....

At the far corner, was a beanbag covered in brown fabric. Pretty much the same brown as the doorframe in my study. Heart beating a little faster, I went and felt it... and sat in it. It was much higher than my old blue beanbag, and will need a bit of squashing, but otherwise it was perfect!

I find it remarkably difficult to spend money on myself (well, other than second-hand books of course), so I went to discuss it with Richard. He said afterwards that my whole face had lit up. I have Christmas money and even birthday money that I had not spent, so - unusually for me - I made an immediate decision to buy it.

We had a slight contretemps in that we'd apparently picked up the 'display' beanbag, which we weren't supposed to do; a shop assistant tried to find another one the same colour that was still in its packaging. But there wasn't one, so they agreed that we could take the display model.

Here it is in my study, looking so much nicer than the blue one ever did:

I thought that the cats would like having two blue beanbags in a corner of the living room, but no... they like the new beanbag as much as I do. And it does go rather nicely with Alex's colouring:

(For those following the Alex saga, he seems to be a lot better, and is able to sit and crouch down properly again without pain, but still isn't using his tail. Another vet appointment tomorrow...)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Update on Alexander the Great

Meanwhile, for those who follow the antics of our cats, poor Alex hasn't been doing doing well. His sister Joan of Arc never did come back after disappearing before Christmas; we can only assume, now, that she was run over.

We thought he was grieving at first, when he went very quiet and didn't purr, but then realised that his tail was painful and that he was walking very slowly.

We took him to the vet, who thought he might have an infection and prescribed antibiotics and pain relief; he did much better for a while, then got worse again so we took him for a second visit. She thinks he probably has an injury to his pelvis which will be slow to heal, so he's on more pain relief currently.

He's definitely better than he was, but his tail droops (the vet doesn't think it's broken) and he's still not racing around. He spends most of his time sleeping on a beanbag:

He has another vet's appointment tomorrow. He's really very good about getting into the basket, although he hates car journeys. The vet says he's one of the most co-operative cats she has ever met.

Larnaka Salt Lake and the flamingoes

This morning I went on another walk with Sheila, and there seemed to be even more flamingoes on the Salt Lake. The first picture was taken while the sun wasn't quite up (although it was quite light) and you'll have to click the photo to see a somewhat larger version if you want to see actual flamingoes. But that pink blob is probably five thousand or more:

Work is evidently going on beyond the aqueduct:

We assume it's more sewerage pipes being laid, but these pipes seem to have been sitting there for quite some time:

There wasn't much cloud so the sunrise wasn't all that spectacular, but I can never resist a picture...

Here's another shot of the flamingoes, taken when the sun was a bit higher on the way back:

And for those who want to know how flamingoes sound, here's some rather shaky video I took:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Last few days of the family visit

The last few weeks have flown past. The year started with a very chilly spell, leading to overnight frosts and ice on plants when I went for early morning walks:

Flamingoes started flocking to the Salt Lake, more than ever before. Perhaps, since it never totally dried out, there is more food for them than normal, although we've no idea how they know before they arrive...

The Christmas/New Year break goes on for quite a long time in Cyprus, since Epiphany, on January 6th, is another public holiday. But schools returned on the 7th, and life began to return to normal.

We walked down to the sea front on what looked like a lovely sunny day, only to have grey clouds start to gather when we were nearly there, and a gorgeous rainbow greeted us as we arrived at Finikoudes:

Becky had taken David to paddle in the sea a couple of times, but it was a little chillier so they hadn't planned to let him go in the sea. But he loves it, so I volunteered...

With only a week of their holiday left, I was treasuring every moment of Grandma/David time. The water was a bit chilly, but didn't feel too bad once I was in; and we didn't go more than ankle deep.

After we'd washed off the sea water and sand, and put socks and shoes on again, Daniel and Becky took us for ice creams at a little shop in a side street which they had discovered before. They were very good indeed!

That's chocolate, with strawberry cheesecake ice cream underneath. A little taste of heaven.

A few days later we walked along the other part of the sea front, the newly renovated section beyond the fort. Like so many small children, David wanted to walk on the wall:

That was our last sea front visit. On Tuesday we met our friends in the Municipal Park, where David led the way in deciding where to play, and 'drove' his rather older friends on the roundabout:

Tuesday afternoon, we took them to the airport for their return to the UK. Our house is now mostly back to normal; we no longer have to keep doors shut; the high chair is put away; toys and books are back where they belong.

We were sad to see them go... but are so pleased that modern technology enables us to keep in touch with David (and, of course his parents) via Skype or Facetime. 

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year (from a chilly but mostly sunny Cyprus)

After the busy-ness of the pre-Christmas season, and the socialising and eating of the day itself, we decided to take a couple of days out as a family. As there are six of us, we rented a large car for a couple of days (courtesy of our friendly local car rental guy who had taken his seven-seater off the road for the winter, but was still prepared to give us a good price to use it).

The weather was due to be mostly sunny but a bit chilly on New Year's Eve, so we thought we'd head to Kurium, the archaeological site a little beyond Limassol. Becky had only been there once before - when she and Daniel were newly engaged, and we went to see a Shakespeare production - but there was no opportunity, then, to see anything other than the amphitheatre.

We had a slight contretemps on the way there, when David reached for the door handle of the car, while we were driving along the motorway, and managed to open the door.. but Becky held it closed until Richard pulled over onto the hard shoulder, and after some study of the car manual Daniel discovered how to set the childproof lock on the door.

By the time we arrived, David was more than ready for some walking. He's very independent and doesn't like holding a hand, unless he needs it for extra balance, so he wears a little backpack (which he loves) that has an attached leash to keep him safe:

We were impressed with the way he climbed the amphitheatre steps at great speed, full of energy, despite the fact that each stair was about waist-high for him:

Since the last time we visited, more paths have been set out, making it easier to visit the entire site, which is pretty big. Although we've been several times before, we'd never previously noticed what Becky pointed out: a floor with hexagonal tiles to play an ancient game of Settlers of Catan....

Despite being decidedly chilly in places, walking kept us warm, and the sunshine on the nearby sea was very attractive:

Here's a place showing how the under-floor heating for the Kurium baths would have worked a couple of thousand years ago:

And here's one of the mosaics that still remains, despite being battered by the elements over the centuries:

Richard took his big camera and a tripod so we could take some family photos using the timer, and David insisted on carrying the tripod some of the time:

Eventually we'd had enough of walking and decided to find a nearby taverna to have some lunch. Here we are finding our way back to the car:

In the evening we were invited for a meal at our local friends' house, followed by some games:

We didn't stay till midnight. David and his parents left about 8.30, although Becky returned half an hour later once he was settled, but by about 11.15 at least two of us were yawning, and could see no point in staying up just for the sake of saying we'd done so. By the time I'd done a bit of necessary pottering in the kitchen, after returning home, it was midnight anyway so I heard the short burst of local fireworks, but shortly afterwards was fast asleep. And to my astonishment, I slept until 8.00am... two hours later than usual.

Today we decided to go in the opposite direction and explore some of the region beyond Agia Napa, where there are sea caves and (we've been told) some interesting walks. Since it's New Year's Day we didn't want to risk potentially spending a long time trying to find an open restaurant, so we took the makings of a picnic; I made some hummus and cut up some vegetables and removed some pittas from the freezer...

It was even colder when we arrived at Cape Greko, but good to be able to see the caves, even though we had no desire to get wet trying to explore them. This is the area where hardy and brave people like to jump into the sea, but it doesn't appeal to any of us... and there was nobody attempting it today.

Another scenic shot of sunlight glinting on the sea with some rock formations in the foreground:

We soon realised there wasn't very far that we could walk easily, so we drove a bit further to Konos Bay, considered a particularly attractive spot. Daniel decided to carry David in the Ergo carrier, after he (David, that is) had done a bit of running around:

We set off on a reasonable looking path to find some other caves, or perhaps the beach:

However the path got more complex, requiring significant scrambling, and we didn't feel like continuing to the end.

We looked at the beach - which colleagues took us to visit eighteen years ago, but which we hadn't been to since - but it looked cold, and the place selling drinks was closed, and we were beginning to feel a bit peckish.

We hadn't planned to have our picnic on the beach, but were surprised to find that eating, along with various other activities, is prohibited:

Since everything was closed - even the loos - we decided to use the outside restaurant tables and chairs to eat our lunch, which was slightly delayed due to the pittas being still partly frozen... however we waved them around in the sunshine, and laid them out separately on our plastic plates, and gradually they thawed sufficiently to eat.

However we felt extremely cold by the time we'd finished, so packed up and drove into Agia Napa, hoping to find somewhere to buy hot drinks.

It was like a ghost town: most places were closed, many boarded up or empty. But at last we saw an open Coffee Island, and it even had a parking space outside:

It was playing standard UK secular Christmas music of the kind I haven't heard in a long time. I commented to Daniel that it was the first time this year I'd heard the song 'I wish it could be Christmas every day...' and he said, 'Ha ha.' I'd forgotten that it was the first day of a new year...

After hot drinks all round (and a large cookie for David!) we decided to return home, where two people took naps, three played another game, and I decided to upload my photos and write my first blog post of the year.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

It seems to have become another tradition that I write a blog post on Christmas Eve, including - as the first image - a picture of this year's cake. Not that it differs much from last year's or the year before's... I make it from the classic Delia recipe, cover (usually) with shop-bought marzipan a day or two before I want to ice it, then make royal icing for the top layer.

This year I decided to use aquafaba rather than egg white for my icing, and it ended up slightly runnier than usual, but perhaps I didn't beat it enough; or perhaps I didn't add sufficient icing sugar. In any case, with my standard decorations and some glacé cherries, it seems to have turned out all right:

Tim has made some peppermint creams using aquafaba too. It has the advantage that one can use just one tablespoonful to make a smaller quantity than an egg white would. Besides, even with the availability of free-range eggs, we were never entirely happy about raw egg white, and we never knew what to do with the leftover yolks at this time of year.

But I should back-track a little.

For the first few days of Daniel, Becky and David's stay, we (or they) went out for walks each morning, so David could get a chance to run around. Then we had three days of almost continual rain. And when it rains here, it really rains. We were going a little stir-crazy, so last Thursday I texted the organiser of the Community Church Tots group and asked if we could join their last event of the year. We were warmly welcomed, and David enjoyed running around... and also eating a large amount of the snacks, long past the time when the other children had returned to playing:

On Thursday evening, during the course of playing a game with friends, Richard and I both started feeling as if we had very bad colds: sore throats, blocked noses, headaches and exhaustion. There's a nasty flu-like cold going around, which comes on very quickly and lasts several days. A week later and we're still not fully over it, although we've kept going, and are certainly better than we were a few days ago. Mine had quite a setback when I got caught in pouring rain early Saturday afternoon, after popping to the local fruit shop in what I thought was a break in the rain...

It felt as if Christmas started properly later on Saturday, when we went to see a performance of 'The Snowman' by the Little Muse Theatre company. Everyone was supposed to dress in white: David was wearing an entire snowman suit for the occasion:

He's a lively little boy, into everything, and doesn't sit still very often. So we expected to have to run around after him during a 45-minute production:

But he sat on Daniel and, for the majority, was absolutely mesmerised:

On Sunday, the rain gave way to sunshine, so after the morning church service, we wandered down to the sea-front, where David paddled in the sea for a while:

Becky went barefoot in the water with him; she said it was a bit cold at first but soon felt quite pleasant. David didn't seem to notice the chilliness at all.

After that the six of us had lunch at Alexander's:

We never set out to create traditions, but eating at Alexander's on the Sunday before Christmas has become a regular event for us, and I very much like not having to think about food for one day in this busy time of year.

Monday was a good day, too. In the evening, I took photos of the younger cats, thinking this one of Alex would make a nice Christmas photo for next year:

Joan looked cute under a pile of cushions too:

It's only as I look at this photo with hindsight that I realise she doesn't look all that well.

On Tuesday, she didn't appear all day. Our thoughts were mainly with a relative in the UK who was having quite serious surgery that day, but when Joan still hadn't appeared by lunch-time I began to be concerned. I've been worried about her several times and gone looking for her, and she always appeared in the end, so I tried not to worry... however, by the evening, we began to fear that she was gone for good.

We've lost three cats unexpectedly over the past ten years or so. We have no idea what happened to any of them. We made several guesses: that our cat-disliking neighbour had captured her, that someone had 'stolen' her to sell, that she'd been run over. I felt quite tearful; I had determined not to get too attached to Alex and Joan, but she had certainly got under my skin.

We also became quite worried about Alex by Tuesday evening, when he was very lethargic and off his food. Checking online, we thought that perhaps he was stressed or even grieving for Joan, if he had seen whatever happened to her. We brought him to sleep on our bed (something we don't usually allow) and he seemed happy, then slept all night.

On Wednesday, he ate more but seemed to be uncomfortable, walking awkwardly, sleeping most of the time, not wanting us near. We took him to our room again last night, and today he's seemed rather better, much more alert and purring when we stroke him. We would have consulted a vet if we could have done but they were closed already for the Christmas break.

So we now think that perhaps they both caught some kind of feline bug - apparently there is one going around - and that Joan, who has never been as strong as Alex, succumbed. I miss her, and he's going to miss her too, but we're relieved that he's more like himself today:

If you've come on this post by chance and are interested in knowing more about our family, here's the link to this year's Christmas newsletter - written a couple of weeks ago, before Joan disappeared.

And as if all that weren't enough, yesterday Becky managed to break a shoe and fall down our outside stairs when carrying David down, although automatic parent instinct took over and he was fine; Becky has a nasty graze.

On a more cheerful note, David seems to enjoy most new experiences, including riding in a special toddler shopping trolley when we did our big grocery shop at Metro yesterday:

He's been teething, and keeping his parents awake at night, so with everything that's been going on we're all quite tired. But we hope everything is mostly organised for tomorrow... and I may even go to this year's carol service this evening.

Merry Christmas to anyone who reads this.