In Pictures: The York Floods 2015, Sunday 27th December

I went around the town on Sunday 27th December (yeah it took me FOREVER to upload these to WP) and just took some photos of the damage and of the things I saw. We even saw some looters trying to get into some abandoned vehicles, but they ran away when they saw me taking photos of nearby things with a professional looking camera (pro-tip – don’t photograph the looters if they’ve noticed you; they’ll probably take your professional looking camera then resume looting).  Click all of these to enlarge if you want to see them up close.

York flood 2015 cars underwater
Your typical flood photo of some decent cars submerged in water.
York flood 2015 recycling bins underwater
Nobody will be recycling their glass bottles for a while – unless they can throw them really far.
York flood 2015 Melrosegate road underwater sewer bubbling up water.
This was around the corner from my house – the water here has flooded even worse than it would have done from the stream, because the sewers are overwhelmed and it’s bubbling up (front centre).
York 2015 floods lols stupid flood people salt bags ASDA.
This is hilarious – apparently nobody told the manager of this ASDA store (Wal-Mart) that salt will dissolve when it is mixed with an excess of water. He would have been better off using bags of gravel.
York floods 2015 james st gypsy site caravans trailers washed away by floodwaters
But it’s hard to see the funny side when your home has literally been washed away. This is the gypsy site (trailer park for gypsies) which is usually crammed end to end with mobile homes (trailers).
York Floods 2015 December police line
A somewhat redundant sign urging people not to venture beyond this arbitrary line. I did hear that North Yorkshire Police ran out of “Road Closed” signs.
York floods 2015 car stranded water level rising december
Another stranded vehicle outside a car showroom. They moved the rest of their cars over the road. Guess this one was from the bargain bucket and deemed not worth saving. The silent tragedy of being an older, reliable motorcar is that you will be sacrificed at the first sign of trouble.
York floods 2015 drama ambulance lost roads closed
An ambulance races to hospital with a patient on-board. Trouble is, it’s heading straight for flooded roads, delaying lifesaving treatment.
York floods 2015 ambulance lost stranded danger death
The same ambulance, several minutes later, has turned around and is racing to find another route to the hospital – this is the REALLY long way round. It puts the siren on, but that’s not going to part the unrelenting water.
Nobody is going out for ice-cream today, as the island of safety surrounding Frankie and Benny's diminishes.
Nobody is going out for ice-cream today, as the island of safety surrounding Frankie and Benny’s diminishes.
York floods december 2015 foss islands road
This is Foss Islands Road, one of the main roads in York, usually gridlocked at this time of day, I don’t even think pedestrians could safely get across.
York flood december 2015 boat river rescue water mooring bridge foss islands road
To the left of the bridge, the River Rescue boat is listing because it’s been moored too tightly and cannot rise with the water levels. The bridge itself being pretty superfluous given that it currently crosses from one river to another. Given the amount of people who have been evacuated, you’d think they’d retrieve all the boats they could get so they could rescue people instead of leaving them to get damaged like this.
York flood december 2015 stupid driving road
There are a lot of vans and campervans on the road, and many people driving round and round looking for a way out of the city. I think some people have used the flood as an excuse to bug out rather than because they really need to risk life and limb making journeys on flooded roads. They’ve missed the fact that the rest of the county is underwater too. There is a lot of reckless driving going on today – like this converted campervan who is doing a U turn but doesn’t slow down enough, ending up in a car park then having to back it up.
York flood december 2015 stupid driving road campervan
Suitably stuck, now they have to back that “campervan” up like a Tonka Truck.

So some laughs, some drama, but most of all, I’m just very glad that my house isn’t flooded at the moment, and I hope to goodness it stays that way.  I think this has justified the expenditure on my 40mm prime (non-zoom) lens for my camera – it’s performance in low light is absolutely stunning – these pictures are actually a little brighter than my eyes were able to see these scenes, because it was going dark as we left the house. If I go out photographing again tomorrow, I need to try and overcome my fear of photographing people because I saw some fantastic human-interest scenes today such as a family pushing their salvaged possessions in a shopping trolley, and some others standing outside a supermarket in their pyjamas waiting for friends to meet them and take them to somewhere dry, and the aforementioned looters although I wasn’t going to snap them in a million years, they were paying too much attention to my camera (although I couldn’t have photographed people very well as I didn’t have my zoom lens with me because I didn’t want it to get wet since it’s bloody expensive – I took my standard kit lens but it was just shockingly crap in the light levels so it captured NOTHING).  I always worry that I’m imposing on others’ private emotional dramas by photographing them; I guess that’s why I’m not a “proper” journalist/photojournalist yet.

Bunny Pictures: Fifer the Half-Wild Bunny

Fifer is half wild. That means, against all odds, he is also apparently half domesticated. That’s the bit I can’t believe sometimes.  Physically, it’s most obvious that he’s part-wild in his fur: of our five rabbits, he’s the softest, silkiest, snuggliest little bunny (which makes him slide out of your hands when it’s vet time and he doesn’t want to be caught), he can run the fastest and is literally invisible when he’s in the garden because of his colourings, and he plays by nobody’s rules but his own.  I love Fifer so much, he’s my little tinypon where Katie is my giant bundle of squishy.

He looks so regal.
He looks so regal.
And he loves Katie a WHOLE lot.
And he loves Katie a WHOLE lot.

Astrophotography in the Scottish Highlands

I thought I’d share some of my exciting lunar photography from last night’s nothing-special-moon (it’s the one that comes shortly after the full moon – it’s that not-quite-full moon that everybody doesn’t care about and which is never the subject of flowery poems or beautiful artwork).  If you’re after my quote for today, it’s at the end of this post.

If this moon shape needs a nickname (which it does) it’s the Underdog Moon.  It’s technically a waning gibbous moon (in the same vein that the crescent moon is really the waning or waxing crescent moon depending which side of the New Moon it is).  I’m very excited because I managed to get some pictures of stars too.  Better than the last ones, although I could have got better pictures if there hadn’t been a streetlight outside my window where I was taking the pictures.  Grr.

The Underdog Moon, taken by me last night out of the bathroom window.
The Underdog Moon, taken by me last night out of the bathroom window.

I am particularly impressed with my handiwork in capturing the above picture, it took about 20 attempts to get the camera settings right: The first photo of the moon that I took last night came out like this:

The moon when I first photographed it.  I played around reducing the ISO and increasing the shutter speed for ages until I got the picture I showed you first.
The moon when I first photographed it. I played around reducing the ISO and increasing and decreasing the shutter speed for ages until I got the picture I showed you first.

Even MORE exciting than that phenomenal moon photo, was this picture of stars.  STARS!  I’ve never had a camera that could photograph stars before and it was such a clear night last night that I know that if we didn’t live in a city I would have been able to get some stunning star photos with this new camera lens because it has the zoom for it!  This is the second time I’ve photographed stars, the first time I’ve tried with the new (second hand but new to me) lens I bought at the start of September, and this stars pic came out a LOT better than the last one:

Stars!!!!  Click to enlarge, I'm not sure whether its remotely exciting to anyone else but I'm so excited by how this pic came out!
Stars!!!! Click to enlarge to see them all (there’s about 10), I’m not sure whether its remotely exciting to anyone else but I’m so excited by how this pic came out!

And for the end of my 3 days 3 quotes (interrupted) challenge, I give you The Galaxy Song from Monty Python:

Here’s the lyrics:

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs.Brown
And things seem hard or tough
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft
And you feel that you’ve had quite enough

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned
A sun that is the source of all our power

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour
Of the galaxy we call the ‘milky way’

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide

We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point
We go ’round every two hundred million years
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, the speed of light, you know
Twelve million miles a minute and that’s the fastest speed there is

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth

In Pictures: Urban Industrial Decay by the Sea in Aberdeen

How long has it been since I last did a travel/pure delight article??  It feels like forever!

While I was in Aberdeen I saw some awesome decaying industrial objects which reminded me of Natalia Goncharova and Futurism here’s some inspiration pictures:

Giacomo Balla's Velocity of Cars and Light, 1913.
Giacomo Balla’s Velocity of Cars and Light, 1913.
Natalia Goncharova: A Factory (1912).
Natalia Goncharova: A Factory (1912).

I’m sure people much more accomplished at Art have commented on these pictures to death.  To me, they remind me of the opening minute of the song “Breathe” by Pink Floyd on The Dark Side of The Moon album.  It all links together.  In that vein, of industrialization and movement and life borne of machines and future provided for by machines, there’s little room for the question of the inevitable death of those machines.

When I came across this bounty of stimuli just abandoned on various plots of land in Aberdeen, I was reminded of the inevitable omega – the end of all things.  So I took lots of pictures of these industrial objects because their death masks were so beautiful, and I included the surroundings in some of them because their burial sites were often in direct contrast with their tortured metallic endings.  Such an unnatural and contrived resting place for what was once some chemical elements separated from base rock by a blast furnace.  Abandoned because their ferrous surfaces have combined with too much oxygen.  One question which I cannot answer is: “How sustainable are these burial sites where we lay out our expired machinery?”  There was a LOT of stuff like this in Aberdeen.

I felt sad that such amazing and titanic objects had been abandoned.  There were far more pics than this but I decided to just share this set of 11 in this article, paying particular attention to texture (especially rust) and unusual focus length.  I’ve written my own criticism by them in places so you can see what I thought of how my pictures came out.  I’m a crap photographer but I’m trying to learn, so any feedback would be appreciated, positive or negative.  This was before I bought my amazing new lenses for my DSLR, and I’d had the camera maybe 4 days by this point, so all pics here taken with my 18-55 kit lens on 100% manual camera settings with no autofocus (c’mon, autofocus is for wimps).  Click any image to enlarge.

A laburnum growing up a fence on a backdrop of rust.  The astigmatism and slight vignetting bugs me.
A laburnum growing up a fence on a backdrop of rust. The astigmatism and slight vignetting bugs me.
I really liked the texture.
I really liked the texture.
Some containers looking very tall and thin.
Some containers looking very tall and thin.
A metal thingy.  The sea is behind this wall.
A metal thingy. The sea is behind this wall.  I like the contrasting texture of the lichen, the wall and the metal thingy.
Is this a bunch of Johnny 5 lookalikes at an audition???
Is this a bunch of Johnny 5 lookalikes at an audition???  Apparently they’re lifeboat launches?  ISO too high.
More delightful texture.
More delightful texture.  Not level (argh).
Rusty giant chain.  Each individual link of this chain was bigger than my torso!  I wonder what it was used for...
Rusty giant chain. Each individual link of this chain was bigger than my torso! I wonder what it was used for…
The rusty textured giant 30 foot maw of an enormous digger, with laburnum growing near it.
The rusty textured giant 30 foot maw of an enormous digger, with laburnum growing near it.
barbed wire
Barbed wire and concrete textures contrasting with roof tiles.  Horizontals not straight.
Crane and sky.  I know my angles are awful I was playing around with my settings to try and get the clouds visible and the crane non-silhouetted.
Crane and sky. I know my angles are awful I was playing around with my settings to try and get the texture of the clouds visible and the crane non-silhouetted both at the same time and forgot to level it out.
Texture tyres.  I know the commonly accepted way of doing this image would have been to blur the tyres and focus on the background, but I wanted to show the texture of the tyres as I thought it was a really nice texture (I love the kitemark, bottom right).  I did one the other way around but thought this was the more interesting shot as it forces the viewer to notice the gargantuan tyres (tractor tyres??  What has tyres this big??)
Texture tyres. I know the commonly accepted way of doing this image would have been to blur the tyres and focus on the background, but I wanted to show the delicious texture of the tyres as I thought it was a really beautiful surface (I love the kitemark, near bottom right). I did one the other way around but thought this was the more interesting shot as it forces the viewer to notice the gargantuan tyres (tractor tyres?? What has tyres this big??)

I don’t know what to say to sum this post up, so I’m going to let you do it instead.  Feedback please!

21 tips for writing a bestselling travel article

This article will give you 21 tips and tricks to help you to write a bestselling travel article: In the style of a well known travel website which also sells guidebooks.

I look to magazines to show me the best examples of how to write. Sometimes I have to wonder why these people get paid in money rather than in bananas. That’s right, I’m implying a relationship between monkeys and typewriters. Bearing that in mind, here are some tips on how to write the perfect bestselling travel article, including photo editing tips:

1. Pick a place that’s easy to get to, but far enough away that normal people can’t actually afford to go there.

2. Take one or two photos that are probably unrepresentative of the place as a whole, particularly if it involves the sea, rugged landscapes, or any view you can only get from a helicopter.

This is exactly what you will see if you go to Egypt.
This is exactly what you will see if you go to Egypt.

3. Touch up the picture with Photoshop to enhance the colours, to make it even more unrepresentative of the place, and edit out the unsightly evidence of real life taking place, such as litter, insects or children.  Your aim is for travellers to be disappointed when they get there, so they go somewhere else (and buy a new guidebook) next year.

Those peaches have been colour enhanced to make you disappointed if you really see them.
Those peaches have been colour enhanced to make you disappointed if you really see them. Source: Wikipedia.

4. Write a story, embellish the details and make up interactions with semi-stereotypical characters who are always unusually aware of their global context for a farmer/mechanic/factory worker, to really show people an unrepresentative slice of life in the place where they’ll never go (because if they did, they’d find out you made it all up).

5. The opening paragraph – use at least four adjectives per sentence, the whole paragraph must be exactly three sentences long. The first sentence should have no more than 8 words in it. The second sentence can be a little longer.

6. The body of the article: Basically the first paragraph serves to describe the place in its entirety, from here on you will be talking about the history, climate, etc, and never, ever tell people anything useful such as what they could find there, how to get there, what petrol is called, what side of the road to drive on. Instead, you should find the most obscure language in the area and throw around one or two words that don’t mean anything, because it makes people feel like they now know enough lingo to go there. You never know, they might just find that one person who speaks that actual language and talk to them for long enough to use the two words they can now understand. More likely, it’s an insular community who are sick to death of white people, since their only contact with white people is when they turn up, gawk, take pictures of them as if they’re objects, then talk loudly at them and leave.

7. It is probably a place of conflict. Briefly mention the conflict, and don’t hasten to embellish on exactly how this conflict has changed all the people who live here, even if it only happened a few years ago or only happened for two days, or only affected one village that was eight hundred miles away from where you stayed. The only exception to this is if the conflict is ongoing. If the conflict is ongoing, you must mention it in less than one sentence, or even better, don’t mention it at all. They can find out for themselves when they get shot.

8. Don’t mention cultures or customs (with the exception of high days such as Carnevale or Divali, people need to know what they could have done, had they picked better travel days), after all, wouldn’t it be really funny if all the unescorted white women got arrested for immodesty, driving or being out unaccompanied. Better still, don’t tell them about the kidnap/rape problem, because that’s no biggie if it happens. The absolute best practice, though, is to tell your audience all about the cool exciting awesome things you can do in this country, which women aren’t actually allowed to do, and adding a tiny sentence at the end saying “women are not allowed in/on/at the …”

9. Do mention pickpockets or begging children, people will then think your article is honest and reflective of the “real” place.

10. Do mention that drugs are illegal. After all, the fact that they’re illegal EVERYWHERE is such a good deterrent that telling people what happens when they get caught abroad will REALLY stop them doing it. Seriously, this is like secret code for “everyone does drugs in this country.” Those are the only countries they ever point out the legality for.

11. Don’t mention any of the potential diseases you can get in the country you’re writing about. Or any of the necessary vaccinations. Who cares if some tourists die of malaria, AIDS, dengue fever or cholera as long as they bought your guidebook before they departed on their trip?

12. Don’t mention the state of the hospitals or other emergency services. People won’t take out travel insurance if they find out it’s utterly useless due to the fact that there aren’t any hospitals within 800 miles. And then you won’t get money from advertisers.

13. Don’t mention whether the destination has decent food for coeliacs, vegans, Muslims or Jews. They don’t need to eat. As a travel writer, you don’t know any of “those people” personally, so clearly they don’t exist.

14. Do talk in great detail about the “traditional dish” or “national dish” (which nobody really eats who lives there) which is usually meat stuffed with meat in meat sauce with meat and/or possibly cheese.

15. Leave out information about electricity. No-one charges their phone when they’re on holiday.

16. Keep pushing those sponsored hire car articles, but don’t tell readers ANYTHING about the various highway laws. Getting tickets abroad and putting the wrong fuel in your car is fun! Hey they could even get their car impounded!

17. Keep talking about budget options, but don’t actually make an effort to include anything that’s truly cheap. Whatever the hell you get paid to write those shoddy articles is too much if you think £80 a night is a budget hotel/hostel.

18. Never mention anything to do with accessibility. People who are disabled, people who have a guide dog to accompany them (or other support animal) and people with kids in pushchairs don’t travel. Only rich able bodied people do that. That’s why there are ramps and lifts and things all round the world.

19. Don’t discuss travel money options. At all. That’s not worth a single word of an article.

20. Don’t mention which religious groups reside in the area or where the local churches are, or what denominations can worship here. People stop believing in religion when they’re on holiday.

21. DO mention architecturally famous places of worship. Particularly if nobody can worship in them any more. Because travellers want to see the stunning results of religious buildings but don’t want to actually thank the people that made it all possible.

If you follow this guide, you too can produce financially lucrative, but boring and uninformative travel articles with exaggerated details, that editors will pay to publish. That’s a highly popular way that you can make a living off travel writing – because selling out and selling lies to the Man is everyone’s dream come true right?