Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Popularity by visits

Two years ago I listed the three most popular blog-posts during that year. I have decided to do the same again for the last twelve months but instead of three this year just the single most popular. This is because the most popular piece by far was the downing of MH17 which took more hits than any other blog-post I have written and almost four times as many as the next most popular piece.

Russian Satellite Evidence

It is strange that the United States, which clearly has satellite images has not released its information even now. Perhaps, as with the weapons of mass destruction evidence for justifying the Iraq war, they are still manufacturing it.

My most popular article for News Junkie Post also concerned Ukraine. I suspect the popularity of Ukrainian news items has more to do with the fact that our media has just not been reporting the true state of affairs.

Ukraine and Crimea's Vanishing Gold

Finally, I have started a new blog about bird stories called 'Tales of Wings and Feathers', which contains my Christmas story of Malinovka.

Tales of Wings and Feathers

Here is wishing everybody peace for 2015.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Duchess's tale (with her kind permission)

I've worked with Duchess many times. One of my best models. She has graced the cover of "Magret de Canard de la Table Ronde" and posed a provocative centre spread for "Duck Times". I have high hopes of this latest photo of mine hitting it big somewhere, perhaps even  - I should be so lucky - "Crème de la crème of Water Fowl". When you get a good model you treat her well. Models are your bread and butter. Just look at how she presents and those beautiful brown eyes with eyelashes some chicks would die for. No wonder all the drakes are after her.

You treat a model well and she in turn will confide in you, tell you all her problems and secrets. If professional photographers did not have to adhere to a strict code of conduct some of the stories entering mainstream would really raise eyebrows, even hackles in some cases. "The last couple of days have been Hell, John," Duchess told me, "absolute Hell. I know you males stick together. But I hope you would never associate with the likes of some of those dirty-dancing drakes. Him in particular." She nodded towards a well-groomed specimen on the mill race who I thought looked quite a respectable sort. She called him Shylock. He was following her some short distance away.
From the photo, which I've entitled "study in green", you can see for yourself he's quite a dapper sort of chap; presentable, smooth and even sporting what we used to call a DA hairstyle. From behind he has very much the rearview image of John Travolta in "Grease". Anyway it was clear he fancied the Duchess. But then who doesn't? "He looks pretty decent to me," I said. "you should call him Travolta."

"Decent," she snapped back sharply, "decent. Look at these." She spread out some photographs on the bank. "It was Shylock who started this fight yesterday at the bridge. He went straight for the jugular of that young swimmer and just because the poor thing looked at me. All the young drakes look at me, and that's all he was doing, looking."
©  Duchess Studio
I could see she was right but to tell the truth I was rather more concerned about the quality of her photo. When your models start taking photos almost as good as your own it makes you think seriously about your future. When I get these negative thoughts I tend to console myself in the comforting knowledge that it is impossible to take professional-grade photos of yourself. My distraction was soon interrupted when the Duchess continued with her tale. "The fight moved round from the bridge onto the edge of Trittiford millpond." Her photo showed that Shylock was now attacking the young pretender from the other side.
 ©  Duchess Studio
"And then his mate joined in." Shylock was going for that pound of flesh nearest the heart. Her photos confirmed her account. He was attacking the young drakeling without mercy. You can see he's only a kid. The poor thing has not yet even developed his full magret plumage. Duchess felt sorry for the juvenile. "To begin with," she said, "I thought Shylock's mate, Antonio, was just as bad as he was until I could get a better angle with my built-in camera. Then I was able to see that he was actually trying to pull Shylock off."
 ©  Duchess Studio
Duchess told me she thought the fight was getting a bit out of hand. "Pack it in boys" she shouted at them "and grow up." As long as I've known her she has never stood for any nonsense and instructed the three of them to take take a dip and cool off. As we went along the mill-race, which is always a good place for a photo-shoot, she in the water, me on the bank, Duchess slipped me another photo. This one was stunning, so stunning. I thought it better even than my 'study in green', the first, and probably last one I will ever take of him. It crossed my mind that Duchess ought to open a studio. Perhaps I might invest in it.
 ©  Duchess Studio
Shylock has a certain something. Not money perhaps. But the cut of his cloth speaks volumes. I had to speak the truth. "What a photo, Duchess. You've captured everything. He's a very impressive drake indeed." I awaited her acknowledgment of my compliment. Instead she lifted those big brown eyes of hers. "John, John, what is it with you males?" Mentally I was not prepared for this. "Just a great photo, that's all. I used to work with male models and I never captured anything quite this good." I thought that would settle her down. "You're missing something." My mind worked overtime to try and deduce what I was missing. I looked at her imploringly. "Can't you see the feathers," she said, "those feathers Antonio nearly plucked out of his wings." Although a bit embarrassed that I had missed this important detail, it was still a good photo in my book. I took a few snaps of Duchess then we turned round and started home.
My problem was I had been looking at it from a photographer's point of view. She was looking at it from a model's point of view. Everything has to be in place for a model, every feather, every eyelash, every toe-nail. I thought of Helen doing her nails in the middle of a shoot. As we trundled along I had failed to notice just how close Shylock had got to her. Duchess had though. "Watch him, he's just behind and he's got a bit of a reputation." I dropped back. Would you believe it?
He picked his spot. He probably thought because of the grass I could not get a half-decent shot of his indecent exposure. And I have to admit this is not the best of photos. Naturally my snapshot of him proves nothing. Photography is such a demanding profession. Yes, I know, being a model is demanding too Duchess. After this encounter I am thinking seriously of not working with male models again. Shylock, if he is not in the duck pen, is unlikely to get work after this. Anyway I need not have worried about evidence against him. Duchess gave plenty of proof of the incident. And from the actual angle it happened. She's so cool.
 ©  Duchess Studio
She was probably as taken aback as me and I think her photo is ever so slightly out of focus. Having said that nobody can discount it is clearly Shylock exhibiting himself. It would stand up in any court of law. So, I thought to myself, you have exposed yourself for what you are. You were after a pound of flesh nearest to the heart earlier, then Antonio, the merchant of Venice, plucked at some of your quills. Now you will be appearing before the beak. And the evidence goes strongly against you.

Unfortunately, just when I started to think a case was cut and dried . . . "Why Duchess? You had all the evidence."

"I don't care" she said.
She went straight for his bits. I think I even heard the crunch. It made me grimace myself. So now there are two cases coming before the beak. Shylock's indecent exposure, and the rather more serious matter of assault and wounding with intent.
Justice Archibald Drake, QC
Knowing Drake they will probably both get tagged. I've seen quite a few birds with these electronic gadgets round their ankles. Not to worry. All's well that ends well and I met Duchess yesterday. We have agreed to go into business together. We're opening a photographic studio: Duchess Studio. Guess what though. Even better for her. She's only gone and got herself engaged to Antonio.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


The war on Islam has reached new depths or heights, depending on viewpoint. On the back of the recent "Go Home" failure of the Home Office the Association of Chief Police Officers has approved and is distributing leaflets in a new campaign to frighten the living daylights out of the poor populace of our capital and anyone in the country or from abroad that visits London. The leaflets look like this:

They are apparently, if you can believe it, being handed out at tube and railway stations in London. Even more unbelievable is they have not got the stamp of a private company but are the work of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Can you belive this?

My first thought was for the unarmed Jean Charles de Menenez who was gunned down mercilessly by Special Branch officers on a London tube station. Nobody has been charged with his murder.

If there was any gunfire or weapons' attack on a station in London that I was on I would be looking for flak-jacketed armed police officers with the latest most-sophisticated government-issue weapons. This is a country where gun-law has never been a major problem. The leaflet is nonsense. It is akin to the "walls have ears" and the "enemy within" mentality of the Second World War, both about threats that did not exist. The only terror threat on British soil today is likely to come from our own security services. This is the world we live in.

That is not to say an event which nobody could predict will not happen. Such scaremongering on the back of the announcement of more funding for the secret services is what worries me more than anything. It's like saying make sure you know what to do in the event of an earthquake, drone attack or tornado.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Her first naked outdoor photo-shoot - and it was cold and wet

Good models do not come cheap. You have to work fast with the camera but then you have to get beguiling images too. Chicks new to modelling work out a bit cheaper but then you have to spend more time posing them. Today's model, to begin with, was particularly shy.

She told me it was her first outdoor photo-shoot in the raw. "That's all right, Chick. Don't worry, you'll be fine." It was cold and wet which didn't help. "And don't think I'm doing any full frontals." She really was a novice. "All right, come out from behind those ferns or the session will be over before we start." Remember I was paying for this. "What's more I'll be using my fans" she said.
Agreeing to a rear view to begin with she timidly emerged. To break the ice I asked her her name. She had a bit of a speech impediment and I didn't quite catch it but I think she said "Helen" or something like that. Anyway, that's what I called her all through the session. "Don't be shy, Helen, you have striking good looks, and the shoot will go fine."
"You think so?"

Those fans of hers were something to behold. But she was all crunched up and I think the cold was getting to her. "Now, my dear, would you mind stretching out that lovely long neck of yours." Tentatively she straightened out her neck and stopped waving her fans about. I thought it was an improvement.
But the coyness, unless it was an act, gave her all the appearance of a novice. "All right Helen, now can we have a shot from the other side? Thanks. Think of the cinema stars." That always gets a new model if you ask me. They all have this ambition of being Hollywood actresses.

Turning round she complained of the cold. It was cold. But she wasn't the one who had to keep the camera steady. "We can take a break in a minute," I said, "just straighten up a shade and give me a smile. There's a girl."

Smiling seemed to be beyond Helen, but I guess she was trying, and most beginners are not particularly blessed with an over-abundant supply of patience.  However Helen, for someone so lean, long-necked and long-legged had an over-abundant supply of curves.

"Hold that pose for a minute, Helen, please." She was getting there. We knocked off for a break. I changed my camera card, while Helen popped something into her mouth. I hoped she wasn't on drugs. When I got back you won't believe what she was doing. Only manicuring her toe-nails.
"All right, Helen, since you've taken the trouble, let's get a shot of you kicking out your lovely long legs like in the Can-Can." "Wait a minute," she said, "my nails are not dry yet." These models don't care that it's costing you all the time they're pampering themselves. In fairness though she was starting to look more like a professional.
When she did eventually kick out a leg for me it gave the appearance of a young Nazi stormtrooper, but I didn't say anything. Getting the best out of a model is demanding work. "Can we try a few close-ups now Helen please. I'm looking for facial expression as well as poise.
It was her idea to use a cane to go with her top-hat. I thought it worked quite well. And she was no longer looking the gawky teenager I first encountered. "Great, Helen, great. Let's do another intimate shot."
Almost instinctively she gave me this classic pose. I suddenly realised the session was going well. "Super, chick, super." She had some rare talent for seductive posing, just opening her fans slightly for a glimpse of what was to come. "Any chance of doing something more flamboyant with those fans you brought with you, Helen?"
She gave me a look well beyond her years. Getting her fans out she presented the camera with an exotic, almost erotic, display of wonderful modelling talent. "Oh, yes, Helen, more of that please."
Although she had said at the beginning of the shoot there would be no full-frontal photos she did at least give me this. I was drooling.

"Absolutely gorgeous, Helen, absolutely gorgeous. Now can you just turn your head slightly to the left." Photographers are always looking for that prize-winning shot that brings home the dosh. "Sorry, John, your time's up." I looked at my watch. She was right. Just as things were starting to hot up. Life's like that. She turned around. "Just one more please" I begged.

"Sorry, John, I have another shoot this afternoon. And this one's not so exposed as this Garden of Eden as you called it to tempt me out into this freezing wasteland." I pleaded. "Wait, Helen, wait." She threw both her fans right up above her head totally exposing herself. "Helen, wait please."

"Sorry, John." I started getting my wallet out but before I could stop her she was on her way. "Helen," I shouted at the top of my voice. She looked back and called out: "It's not Helen, it's Heron, you twonk!" Perhaps this was not her first naked outdoor shoot, I thought.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The shag that was not a shag

Two days ago I was so pleased that I had discovered a shag and cormorant together. Today I have to revise that opinion. They were both cormorants - the one I thought was a shag was simply a young cormorant. As Alexander Pope put it "to err is human, to forgive divine." Forgive me, it was not a deliberate attempt to mislead. The photograph below clinches it. I sought further evidence afterwards and found it.

 Having got a closer view of the young cormorant I am now convinced that the two birds are the same type and this youngster is starting to get the white bib of an adult. Publishing before doing further research is almost as bad a mistake as my trusting Poroshenko to bring peace to Ukraine. Let me hope there are not too many more of these human peccadillos to come. But I have reached that age where I can blame every one of my human frailties on having reached that age.

It is a wonder there are any fish left in the lake. Just beyond the young cormorant was an old heron. It's reflection can be seen in this photo.

In mitigation for my identification mistake I have to say that the two small bird books I have are not very helpful. "The shag differs from the cormorant in its smaller size and the lack of a white chin and thighs" and "lacks white patches of Cormorant but has yellow gape." It was only when I came across this in-depth article that my suspicion from today's photos was confirmed.

As well as the heron and cormorant there was also this fellow, the great crested grebe, taking his fill.

The scavenging gulls will take some smaller fish as will the kingfishers. In the end though there's not much left for this fellow when the birds have raided the larder.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Shag in a tree

(This article contains multiple errors. This one contradicts them.)

Our seas are overfished. There was a time when the trawlers threw something back if it was not the main quarry. With modern fishing, which is much more scientific, they take the lot, and everything is separated on factory ships. Nothing goes to waste. It may not be the only reason but sea-birds like herring-gulls, black-backed gulls, black-headed gulls and even common terns have become residents of, or frequent visitors to, Birmingham lakes. Occasionally, when it is rough at sea, cormorants come too.

Cormorant on lake (Birmingham, John Goss 24/10/2014)

It is doubtful many people can tell the diference between a cormorant and a shag. These seabirds and able fishermen are almost look-alike members of the pelican family. In the bird kingdom both are monarchs with their regal dark-coloured cloaks. They are fliers and swimmers of similar shape and size. What is unusual about the next photograph is that it shows both a cormorant (on top) and a shag (underneath) in the same tree in Birmingham. Cormorants and shags are most usually found on craggy coastal rocks and normally do their fishing in the sea.

Cormorant (top) and shag (below) in same tree (Birmingham, John Goss 22/10/2014)

In spring it is much easier to tell the difference. The shag sports a crest and the cormorant has a patch of white on its thigh, which is lost following the mating season. After that the most evident distinguishing feature is a white area on the cormorant's face below the beak as can be seen in the first photograph. A shag does not have that patch of white. Here is a photograph of the Birmingham shag on the wing.

Shag in flight (Birmingham, John Goss 22/10/2014)

Another distinguishing feature can be found with the shag only having twelve tail feathers whereas the cormorant has fourteen. After fishing both birds dry their wings in the wind in a display which is eye-catching and heraldic, as one bird-book describes it. Here is the cormorant doing just that. You can clearly count the fourteen tail feathers.

Cormorant drying itself in the breeze (Birmingham, John Goss 23/10/2014)

In observing the cormorant it was noticeable that it sat low in the water and dived from that position with an arch of the back. It stayed under for about half a minute and made some fifteen dives (if I saw them all) before catching anything and flying back to its perch. The shag on the other hand was not as long away from its perch and flew beyond the range of my camera. It may be that the shag is a better fisherman. Here it is in the drying off display.

Shag drying itself in the breeze (Birmingham, John Goss 22/10/2014)

Cormorants are heavy birds which, as mentioned, sit low in the water. Getting airborne is quite an effort. For this cormorant it took three bounces on the water before lift-off and it looked like the bomb designed by Barnes Wallis in the Dambusters film.

 Cormorant 'bouncing back to happiness' (Birmingham, John Goss 23/10/2014) 

Learning about these two incredible and impressive dark angels of the sea has been an experience for this ancient mariner. The luck of having both birds to hand at the same time on a lake rather than the crags by a choppy sea has been a pleasure and I hope this short blog-piece has added something, however small, to the canon of knowledge. A bird in the hand is worth two in the tree, or something.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gossip: Birdwatching - grey wagtail or origami owl?

Gossip: Birdwatching - grey wagtail or origami owl?: My eyes are not as good as they used to be and this morning in wind that was not as strong as in some parts of the country, I spotted what a...