Musing on Cruising #2 – Welcome to Cunard World

imageWhen we decided to take our first cruise we discovered the hierarchy of cruise lines. This seems to be based as much on facilities and ship size as it is on the dreaded dress code.

Cruise lines, like the Disney Corporation, are marketing organisations whose principal role is to lure you to their artificial worlds and then extract as much cash as possible while you are their captive. They exist to sell you their stuff not to watch you consume yours and they do this by subtly altering reality so that you are swept along in a brand identity and lose touch with the reality of money/time and almost everything else.

They do this by establishing both a brand identity and a rigid class system. Cunard do this by romanticising the bygone era of transatlantic crossings from the 1920s and 1930s. Interestingly the only reference to the Titanic’s owner, the White Star Line, still exists in what Cunard call White Star Service “Legendary, Elegant, Memorable”. I suppose the Titanic  certainly delivered “Memorable”white-star

I love the fact that the Cunard typeface is Sang Bleu or Blue Blood. I suppose the other choices of typeface like Rich Bastard Bold and Entitlement Grotesque were not available. The style guidelines also allude to what they call a ‘Touch of Britishness’ as follows

By which we don’t mean bullish patriotism, but rather the positive post-2012 Olympics sense of self-possession and inclusiveness, coupled with hints of old traditions and quirks recognised the world over.

I love the idea of post-2012 Olympic British self-possession and quirks. So if I turn up as an unemployed asylum seeker in a suit of armour I should be fine.

However, it is dress code that really delivers the Cunard brand identity. While some cruise lines are increasingly relaxed about dress code, Cunard isn’t. After 6pm the ship enforces a strict dress code which basically says that if you want to wear jeans you can either stay in your cabin or slum it with the proles in some food court below the waterline. For the rest of us life becomes more complex.

On formal nights (every other night) it is black tie or a dark suit for men and ball gown or cocktail dresses for women. They used to allow white tie with medals or national dress for formal nights and I was disappointed they had dropped this. My plan was to pitch up in a neon jockstrap (gentleman’s athletic support) with a lamp shade on my head. When challenged I was planning to remonstrate that this was my national dress and how dare they besmirch the honorable tradition of my nation.

On informal nights (every other night), it is jacket for men, no jeans, shorts or anything else deemed as too casual. Ties are optional but try and find an official publicity shot showing men without ties except at breakfast. For women it is cocktail dresses or smart separates.

If that wasn’t enough on many of the formal nights there are balls to attend like the Royal Ascot Ball, Masquerade Ball, Black  White Ball, 175 Ball, Christmas Ball, New Year Ball and the list goes on.  For these you can hire accessories or bring them. So if I was really going to get into the swing of this I would be pacing my Morning Suit with top hat, Venetian masks (of which I naturally have many to choose from),  White tie. As it is I am already taking bow ties in three colours.

For Elly, she has been shopping like a woman possessed. Ball gowns, cocktail dresses, shoes, costume jewelry, hats and even I have been buying jackets and shirts. As a result we will need a small tug towed behind the Queen Mary 2 just to accommodate our wardrobe.

Clearly dressing-up is a major part of why some passengers (sorry guests) take a cruise (sorry voyage) on a Cunard ship (sorry liner). They want to pretend that they are in Downtown Abbey at Sea and that an army of butlers and under footmen will be on hand to deliver their fantasy. The fact that Mr Carson is a young Filipino on minimum wage is just an annoying detail.

So I am ready to embrace the up market dressing-up box that is Cunard and accept that is all balls……when it’s not informal nights naturally.


Musing on Cruising #1

imageA little bit of background before I begin. After we had planned a long world trip for 2016 Elly came down with pneumonia and we had to rethink our plans. Fortunately she is fine now but we had paid a large deposit to P&O for a trip from Chile to Hong Kong by sea and rather than waste the money we decided to transfer the deposit to Cunard and get away from the doom and gloom of England for a trip to the Caribbean via New York on Queen Mary 2 over Christmas and New Year 2015.

My view on cruising has always been pretty negative, namely very old people trapped in a small steel hotel for days on end with nothing to do except gorge themselves 24 hours a day. Add to this norovirus, seasickness, snobbery and dinner jackets and unsurprisingly going on a cruise hadn’t made it onto even my long-range bucket list.

However, we took the plunge and are due to sail to New York on 15th December, then down to the Caribbean and back to UK via another stop in New York. A total of 26 nights.

We decided that if we were going to cruise we would do it in style so booked a Queens Grill suite and so entered the bewildering world of cruising.

Let me explain. For most of our travelling lives the decision-making process has been Where, When and How. But it seems many cruisers make their decisions based on Ship, Whenever and Wherever. It seems most pressing concerns,according to the forums on,  are what is the dress code, can I get a cabin upgrade and can I bring my own drinks on board. Almost nothing else seems to matter.

I honestly believe cruise lines could sell a trip to a baby seal cull if they threw in a complimentary room upgrade and a free bottle of Prosecco.

So what will I be doing for the next 36 Days 11 Hours and 17 Minutes (according to the hateful timers on Cruise Critic). Well Elly and I have decided to embrace the unknown, unlock our inner cruiser and are taking ballroom dancing lessons.

So it’s goodbye Chiang Mai hello Cha Cha.

The strange world of profile pictures


After a few years away from Facebook I reluctantly returned. One of the things that struck me is the change to the humble profile picture. Gone are the days of a passport style, head and shoulders portrait and hello to an often disturbing look into the personalities of people you think you know or more often than not you don’t.

I believed, mistakenly, that a profile picture was intended to help others identify you but how wrong I was. For many people it is about projecting an image of what they’d like to be rather than who they actually are. It has become two dimensional cosplay and a chance to let your inner exhibitionist out for a walk.

So if you are a shop assistant living with your parents this is your chance to look like a Goth hooker or a sponge. But more of this below.

In an attempt to delve into the phenomena I thought I would catagorise the main types of profile pictures.

The ‘I’m Available’ Shot

This is best defined as trying to put your best side out there. The most common example is an overhead shot looking down at cleavage and the shot is then rotated by forty five degrees to give it that fashion look. In fact it just looks like eleven million other shots. Best taken in the bathroom before you get too drunk, have a fight with your boyfriend and your mascara runs.

The ‘I’m in a relationship’ shot

Where me became we. The relationship shot shows the subject with their latest partner looking smug as if to say “look at us we’re happy….no really we are”. The implication is “I’ve finally found someone who doesn’t look like a convict” be happy for me. The main audience for this is shot the ex who is hopefully green with jealousy. Best taken at a glamorous event, foreign beach holiday or night club for maximum wounding effect. Remember to take it down in a month when the object of your affection has left you for your sister/brother/mother or best friend.

The ‘Which one is me’ shot


This one I find particularly strange. Often a shot of two women and the reader is supposed to know which one is Kylee or Simone rather than the girlfriend. So as you don’t know either person, you set about trying to decide which one is the subject and which is the stand-in friend. Is it the ugly one who has roped in her better looking friend to bolster her self-esteem or is it the prettier one who is trying to say “At least I don’t look like that”.


This is an almost exclusively female phenomena. Heterosexual men are too sexually insecure to pose with another man in case they are seen as gay. If they do pose with another man they need a prop to explain the shot. This is often the dead fish they caught, a replica of the Eiffel tower in beer cans or a waitress from Hooters.

The ‘I’m ready for my close up, Mr De Mille’ shot


If the subject is either very shy or staggeringly ugly they go for a close up of a body part. Often eyes or lips. Imagine if you went to a dating site and just saw an eyeball. You’d run a mile certain that the person in question was either a 300 pound biker, a serial killer or has suppurating facial warts.

The ‘Love me, love my shoe’ Shot


When the person is either too strange looking for even the eyeball close-up, the only recourse is some random object like a shoe. This is supposed to say ‘I’m a Christian Louboutin kind of a girl’ but probably means they are more like an old Nike found in a dumpster.

The ‘this is really me… honestly’ shot

I came across this one recently which I loved. The profile was for a woman named something like Amina Sutia Prakesh and she worked in a shoe shop in Jaipur. I’m guessing this isn’t her.

The ‘I’m so funny’ shot


An alternative is to use some wacky image you nicked from the web or took one drunken night, to show what a cool and crazy guy/girl you are. Fine when you’re seventeen but do remember to change it before you apply for a job. Nothing says ‘We’ll get back to you’ at a job interview more than your profile picture being a S&M dominatrix, a Gremlin or pretending to eat a kitten.


The ‘I used to be cute’ Shot


Having decided that the you of today isn’t really you, people decide to show pictures of themselves as babies in the mistaken belief they will then look adorable. As we know babies are not adorable or unique and so all the shot says is that I used to cry a lot and wet myself which come to think of it may be their status quo on a Saturday night. This technique also works if you are a bank robber on the run who only wants your mother to recognise you.

So there we have a it. A short boat ride down the river of weirdness that is profile pictures. What about my own profile picture you ask?You can see it in the About Me section above but naturally I cropped out the pink tutu and roller blades as this is a serious blog post.


I recently decided to photograph wood. And why not you ask. I think this was driven by some images I’d seen in mono which were beautifully rich and full of contrast. So I headed down to my local timber merchant and spent a hour crawling around their yard much to the bemusement of the manager.

I’d assumed I’d process these in mono but the autumn light was lovely so I stayed with colour.


Why electronic boarding passes only work for octopuses


On a recent trip to Geneva I discovered I needed an extra arm or ideally two.  As an all round digital fan and general technology proponent I seized the opportunity to not only book our latest trip online but check-in, reserve our seats and issue boarding passes through the BA app.

So far the usual two arms had served me very well.  However,  the boys and girls who designed the app either have never been to an airport or travel with no hand baggage.

The problem was as follows.  Between arriving at the airport and getting to our seats I was asked for my boarding pass six times, including at two shops.

This involved, bags on the floor, unlock phone, open app, open boarding pass, hand phone to attendant, reopen boarding pass when they mistakenly touch the screen, turn off phone, phone in pocket, pull out passport, open to correct page.

On the return trip I tried a far simpler solution.  Ask nice BA man for an actual paper boarding pass.  Slip that into my passport and give the two to whomever asked for it.  This I could do one handed and still keep my free hand gripping the duty free.

So I fear until they can pop a NFC chip in my arm or I sprout an extra arm, I’ll be going back to paper boarding passes.

The problem with Google Photos or why my friends are a Spaceman and a Ladyboy

Google Photos is a brilliant product. Free, powerful, cross platform and with unlimited storage. The problem is that it is rather too helpful. It’s like having a hyperactive boy scout always at hand trying to be earn a merit badge when actually you’d prefer to be left alone.

Many of the features that automatically happen in the background like montages, animations and Remember the Day are fantastic. The problem I have is with the Faces detection function. For most people this is not an issue; for a Street Photographer it becomes a nightmare. What Google does is to scan the photographs you upload looking for repeated faces and it naturally assumes these people are important and it groups these together. It doesn’t matter if they are the subject of the photograph or just in the background.

googlephotosIf you’re into Street photography or have uploaded thousands of images this is a problem as random folks become grouped as somehow part of your intimate circle of friends. In the shot above here are the faces Google thought were important to me. Top row left to right

Local lad in a water fight in Luang Prabang, Kid in the same waterfight, Waitress in Vientiane, Office worker in Bangkok, Ladyboy in Pantip Plaza Bangkok, Random bloke in Oxford Street, Policeman in Bangkok, Gay cowboy at Pride 2006, Bald man in London, Old biker in Chang Mai, Spaceman on a poster, Commuter at Waterloo, Burmese girl, Man in crowd, Doorman at Lingerie Shop, Peruvian street seller, Cover of a Japanese fashion magazine being read on a train, Random, ticket inspector Machu Pichu, Woman in Saigon Post Office, Bloke in hoodie (not Darth Maul)

So there you have it; a collection of my nearest and dearest. A small tip for Google – maybe next time ask me if I’d like to include these folks and I guess the answer will be no.

Moving to Micro Four Thirds

camerasI’ll start for saying that this post is for photography nerds only so I won’t be offended if you switch off now. Today I sold my old and much loved Canon gear and finally embraced the world of micro four-thirds completely. I sold my old body and lenses on eBay and decided to fully commit to a new camera system. But why?

I had been using a Canon 7D for the past five years and had bought some lenses along the way including an excellent Sigma 18-55, 10-20 and the stupendous but extremely heavy Canon 100-400 L. The quality was fantastic but as I bought more gear I realised that simply going out to take pictures was becoming more of a logistical and physical commitment than a spontaneous one. I graduated from a small camera bag to a larger one and then onto a backpack so I could always have everything and I mean everything with me. The downside was that my backpack weighed 19kg (41 lbs). I remember walking around Venice earlier in the year convinced that my kidneys would be pounded to puree by the constant weight of the bag and that I was in danger that if I fell over, rather like a turtle, I would never be able to right myself.

So something had to be done or I’d start taking less photographs. So I borrowed an Olympus em5 from a friend and went out early one morning to see how it the camera felt.  Thirty seconds later I knew there was no tuning back.

So I saved up some money and bought the Olympus em1 and the 12-40 pro lens. I have to say I’m very happy with the move. The quality is all there and the weight of my camera has dropped by at least 30%. Canon plus lens 1.44kg, Olympus 0.97kg. That doesn’t sound a lot but believe me it is, especially after a day holding the camera. The other lenses are also smaller, the 75-300 Olympus lens weighs about the same as the lens cap on the Canon 100-400. Not the same quality as the Canon I’ll admit but a useful lens none the less. And I’m waiting for delivery of a Olympus 7-14 lens for those oh so important landscape shots.

A rather chocolate box image of the New Forest
A rather chocolate box image of the New Forest on the Olympus

The result is spontaneous shooting and a freedom to take a camera places I would have thought twice about before. My camera bag is now the size of a small handbag and when I pull out the camera I’m not assumed to be a member of the paparazzi but just some bloke with a camera.

I’m sure I will come across the compromises in image size and low light handling but for now at least I glad I made the switch.

Look back in four year’s time when Canon have made a full frame camera that weights the same as  plump sparrow and I’ll no doubt have switched again.




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