Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Guess Where I Have Been

5 X Manneken Pis Yes, right answer, Brussels. We went there for the weekend, and it was quite an experience. We did manage to locate the real little boy statue on a corner as well.

Manneken Pis The symbol of Brussels (?), Manneken Pis, is a bit like the Mona Lisa painting in that it is much smaller in real life than many people think. These days they dress him up in different outfits, and we were lucky to see a change-over, or at least the first half of it.

Manneken Pis dressed

We walked a lot, since that is the easiest way of getting round the centre of this rather small capital city (approx. 1 million). But many locals used their cars, and HOW they used them! Many streets were very narrow and junctions were often complex. Getting this insight into Brussels traffic I understand much better why the motorways we use to get to France on a regular basis are so hazardous sometimes.

It was far easier to count the drivers who used their seat belts than those who did not. Many were using their mobile phones while driving with one hand, and this hand often let go of the steering wheel to pip the horn at the shortest of delays. Patience was at a premium. It was like the Wild West!

Sunday, on the other hand, was a car-free day and all the streets changed character dramatically; now you had to look out for cyclists who swarmed like locusts. Boys, inevitably, made the streets somewhat unsafe, but mostly it was families with small children who enjoyed the freedom. In crowded places they had to dismount and try to push their bikes through pedestrians.

Family w bikes

Apart from the famous boy letting water, we saw for instance the lavish and exuberant Grand Place where most of the buildings had some connection with the old guilds. It was completely over the top, as if they had tried to outdo each other.

Grand Place 1 Grand Place 2 Grand Place 3 Grand Place 4

Most of the time we just strolled down the streets and my camera was in action nearly all the time. It was very colourful.

Boy n mural Bike duo Red trio Red hair

Tintin, other cartoons and murals were everywhere …

Cartoon 1 House mural Old rockers

… but my favourite image of that day is the one of a little girl who was out strolling with her older sister, who was trying out her roller blades. There was only time to get one shot, and here it is.

Little girl

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sneaky Pics

Well, I am not sure sneaky pics is an accurate description of what I sometimes take, but I do like to take pictures of people who are unaware of my presence and therefore behave naturally. Like I have mentioned before I am fascinated by people and find them interesting, no not just beautiful women, but all people regardless of age, gender and character.

When I am in a crowd my camera often hangs from its strap on my stomach. I have a firm grip of it with my index finger ready, but I try to look as casual and cool as possible. Speed is often crucial in order to get an image of somebody or something passing by in a second or two, so I have my camera on auto setting and shoot from, not my hip, but my stomach.

I do sometimes ask if it is ok to take a photo, or I at least give them a friendly smile as a thank you, should they spot me in action. One thing which I would like to point out is that I always have the best intentions. I never publish a picture with ridicule in mind. I always treat my objects with respect.

Despite popular belief and custom, smiling at the camera is not the best idea for a good portrait. Experts always advise you to ask your “model” not to smile. That’s why I use stealth as my preferred method, because if people realise that they are being snapped, they sometimes wave and smile at you, unless they show that they object to the idea one way or other.

This summer I had the opportunity to take many photos of people. Like this old man in need of a rest on a bench in a busy market.

Old man resized

Or this shot on an off-chance in a very crowded street. Just look at all the eyes, in particular the eyes of the enamoured young couple on the left. Aren’t they sweet?

Young Love (40pxlpercm)

Then you have the opposite, a bored couple waiting for the rain to stop in Cologne last weekend.

Bored resized

In a French market place I took some pictures of two Police Municipale, and when he discovered that I was pointing my camera roughly in their direction, he asked me if I wanted to take a picture of him and his colleague. He was more than willing to pose for me, and a passing lady said something about him (or possibly them) being oh so handsome.

Police Municipal resized

Here is one I took earlier, and if I wanted to, I could come up with all sorts of suggestive captions! But I won’t.

Pol mun resized

All these images and many more will be added to my photo website in the coming days. Please come and visit me there.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Washing Machine on Fire?

Is that possible? Well, first I have to say it is nice to be back. It has been almost two months since I last blogged, and the reasons for that are many; guests, holiday (will blog about that later) and lots of other practicalities of the boring kind, which I will spare you. But last nights event needs a mention.

We were just preparing to go out for our regular start-of-the-week-treat-yourself meal at a small restaurant when the smoke alarms went off. They sound terrible! I was upstairs and rushed down only to find Mrs Swenglish also wondering what the reason was for the emergency. Normally it is the cooking that gets the alarm on the ground floor going if the door to the kitchen is not shut, but we were going out!

All of a sudden we realised that the smoke came up from the cellar, and we had forgotten that there was an alarm there as well. It smelled of paper burning, but how was that possible? We have a cellar under the whole house, so it took what seemed ages to find out where it came from.

In the laundry, which incidentally also is where the heating system is located, the smoke was quite thick. There were no flames anywhere, but since the only fuse that had tripped was the one for the washing machine, we homed in on this proud representative of white goods from Hoover.

It still looked all white and shiny but very hot. Mrs S had put in some washing at 90 degrees and something had gone desperately wrong. This was too hot!

A quick call to the fire station’s non-emergency number and a request for “someone to come and have a look at it” resulted in a fire engine and another vehicle with wailing sirens pulling up in front our house. Concerned neighbours came out and I felt almost embarrassed. Firefighters in full gear with portable extinguishers and oxygen tubes on the back were preparing themselves to enter the cellar where we just before had been running around trying to fan the smoke out with flattened Bran Flake boxes from the recycling pile!

They quickly established that the engine or the heating element had overheated and burnt some covering made of greasy paper, hence the smell of burnt paper. According to them it was “kaputt”, and they unceremoniously carried it upstairs and plonked it down in front of the house. The chief said “If there is smoke there is fire”, which will come in handy when we claim on the home insurance.

After having had a negative answer initially the insurance guy rang back later and apologised for his earlier assessment and said that since there actually was a fire, not just a mechanical or electrical fault, he would now class it as Fire. Just get some proof, report or so, and we will process it.

So, does it sound just a little bit weird perhaps if I say that I am in a way glad that the washing machine caught fire? I mean, rather than just dying on us?

Yes, washing machines can catch fire.