Neil's in... Calçotada in Terres de l’Ebre

by Neil on 26/02/2017

CalçotadaI was invited to a Calçotada (an onion eating event) out here in Catalonia by some Catalan friends, I have to say that the hospitality was wonderful as was the weather and the food.

Neil and food allergies

Until I was 30 I would happily eat anything you presented me on a plate, napkin, cloth or just handed to me, just as long as it smelled good. However, since Africa,  where I got very ill in Ethiopia, I have developed an intolerance/allergy to onions and vegetables that contain high sulphur, high acidity and other such things like lactose.  It’s a relatively new thing since going to Africa, I cannot process such vegetables and literally ruins me within minutes.   Last time I had a bout of said allergy I was sick (in November) for 2 days with fever and diarrhea for tasting some caramelized onions on some tapas.  Suffice to say, I don’t wish to meddle with “trying” it.

Along with the onions, artichokes are also prepared, which again is high sulphur. I had to turn this down as well. 🙁

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The Calçotada

So my room mate Esteban, our upstairs neighbour Alfredo and my other room (who originates from down there) went to Terres de L’Ebre to enjoy the annual Calçotada!  I guess, many things in hindsight you’d do again differently, the drive was over 2 hours long, and despite high fuel costs, the toll roads were quite expensive and for a cheap day out it soon turned out quite pricey.

Anyways, we had a blast down there in a little rural country house in an olive grove.  The onions (calçots) are cooked/burnt in straight open fire which is not on embers and the wood we used was old olive branches. It was quite an interesting process and the smell was quite tempting, however, I just couldn’t risk myself getting sick.

Calçots are onions that look almost like small leaks or big spring onions, apparently during the growth of the onion they keep building up the soil around the onion so that it develops a long body.  The then burn onion is pinched at the base and then you simply pull the top and the edible part of the onion pulls out of the burnt shell like a husk.

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So why did I go?

Did I mention it was a barbecue? Well there was heaps of meat available cooked on a log fire, from local sausages Butifarra, lamb to pork and all variety of cuts, the taste was delicious with a very good smoked taste from the olive tree timber. The company with almost total strangers soon became a very warming experience and although I don’t speak Catalan, nor do I speak Terres de L’Ebre Catalan (which apparently is a different Catalan all together), I managed to have a great day out!

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Neil's in... Sony RX100m4 (and jumping ship)

by Neil on 13/02/2017

Why write about the Sony RX100m4?

I’m writing this article despite the Sony RX100m4 is neither a new model or new when I bought it, or even new to me now.   🙂   However, I’ve now owned the unit for some weeks now and I’ve used it a fair bit in a variety of situations making use of the various modes.

Saying Goodbye to Panasonic

Picture of my Panasonic FZ1000 overlooking YosemiteSince a while into my America trip, I realised my Panasonic FZ1000 wasn’t all I ever wanted. However, don’t let me mislead you, the Panasonic FZ1000 is a fantastic camera for function and value, and it trumps most other cameras twice its price!  However, and this is a big however, my dealings with Panasonic (which go back 4 cameras) have always had a huge underwhelming characteristic of being poor in low light, and particularly grainy in shadows. This also goes along with the Panasonic TS-6 I loved for all that it offered and took on-board this weakness when I purchased before leaving Alaska heading south.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well recently, (in October) I sold all my camera hardware minus one GoPro.  I had figured that I needed to liquidate some collateral, and given I wasn’t using the cameras all that much, I realised they were just getting old and losing value.  Besides, buying a new camera is always hard to justify when you already own a few.

Since way back when: I had followed various YouTube film makers, the common trend for most has left their camera brand in the direction of Sony. In the past I have worked with both Canon and Panasonic. I figured my next camera would be a full frame camera. I also would love to have a Sony.  However, just after a couple of months without a camera I started to miss having something to snap with and I say this as my mobile phone I will forever be discounted as a camera.

I wont lie, I have spent months looking at different models of camera, and I’ve wanted the bells and the whistles, in fact I still do!  However, allowable budget tells a different story.  While the Sony a7Sm2 would be my number one choice, let’s face it kids: £2,300 (GBP) is by no means cheap. Secondly, you’d have to then spend a handsome amount of money on a lens (or 5) before you can use it. Not so appealing now is it?

  If you wish to donate to the cause please do leave a comment below. 😉 

Dealing with Reality

The frequency I take pictures is hard to measure; and size always matters! The easier it is to carry the more likely I will carry it; then factor in my mindset. I sometimes get a flurry of inspiration and creativity and take my camera with me everywhere I go for weeks on end taking pictures of the abstract and the banal. Then, other times, the camera gets left in the drawer with all the other gear I have for months. So before buying a camera, I had to give myself a stern talking to: how after almost 2 years of unemployment I could not go and spend £3,000 on a new camera.  A £3,000 camera that is too big to carry in my pocket.

Short Term / Long Term Goals

I decided that if I really wanted to get the Sony a7Sm2 (or its successor) I’d have to project forward a long way, plan for the saving and such, “this wont be happening any time soon!“.  I have had a few mentions of job offers doing session work and the like  in the past few months and without a camera I felt a bit of a fraud entertaining the idea.   I did however, find myself a rental place nearby that would hire me a Sony camera for the odd gig here and there, which rests that doubt. However, I still have this daily desire to take the odd photo of me climbing, the beautiful landscape we have here in Barcelona, or just the wonderful weather… random things my phone wont do.

Cue: the Sony RX100m4Picture of Sony RX100m4 at the Labyrinth of Hota

I’ve known for years the Sony RX100 was great! Some of my friends have the predecessors (mark 1 and mark 2) and the mark 4 certainly is amazing!! However, each new model belittles the predecessor and if good fortune is what we’re calling it the mark 5 came out last year (drool).  It was by a stroke of luck that I found a used Sony RX100m4 on Amazon, mint condition, fast delivery, at a good price…. and the rest is history!

Barcelona

I bought the camera on Amazon.co.uk and had my mother bring it with her on her visit to me.  It both gave me a reason to use the camera and a subject to photograph.   Mum who has taken a photography course online lately, had asked me what camera to buy. After some research I decided that the Sony HX90v  (almost identical in form factor) was going to be a good choice, partly if I later decide to give her my RX100 she would know how to work it.

We explored our way around the city together she got the chance to learn how to use her camera with me.

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Berlin

One of my best friends (Jess), has moved to Germany since I last saw her, and we’d not seen each other in about 2 years. We decided to catch up over Christmas / New Years Eve.   I checked flights to Berlin and she checked flights to Barcelona, we settled that it would be cheaper for me to go to see her for New Years Eve.

Again, I took great joy in using the Sony RX100m4 in varied conditions mostly mid to low light conditions, and it came up trumps!

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Conclusion

I think it’s obvious that i’m happy with the camera, and I love the view finder, I really like the bokeh (depth of field) and the large sensor on the camera, colour fidelity and so many more things about  the camera, although, that said I haven’t tried filming with it, and I certainly wouldn’t say this is the best all-rounder you’ll find.  However, it’s a great camera for what it is, and that is a pro-compact, although at its price-point, I’d suggest if you’re not that serious about photography I’d urge you to buy yourself a Sony HX90v  although personally I’m in love with my Sony RX100m4.  🙂

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Neil's in... Quitting an Addiction (to Facebook?)

by Neil on 4/02/2017

Quitting an Addiction… one you didn’t know was an Addiction

Before you hastily judge, I’d like to share a quick anecdote:

What was the Worst part of America?

Whenever I tell people that I spent 16 months travelling north and central America on a 250 dirt bike, OR …that in 2010 I rode the entire length of the African continent on a Suzuki. The first question people always ask is: “Where was your favourite place?“.  As I stumble to answer that, not to sound like a new-age-hippie and talk about experiences aren’t locations…  they will then try and get something out of me, and often the follow up question would be on the lines of “What was your worst experience?“. Riding accidents, unprovoked violence, bear attacks, dodgy Mexicans etc.

I struggle to say this with a straight face and in some mild-musings I’ve had with friends, I tried to share an honest account of what genuinely was my worst experience.  In short: social media.  I can tell you in 2010, with limited internet service/availability or maybe lack of somewhat fame, I was far merrier just plodding along in Africa, sharing my accounts to my near and dear. In 2015, with a smartphone, a GPS transponder, wireless internet wherever I was, I’d find whenever I turned my phone out of Airplane mode I’d be bombarded with Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, %you_name_it% notifications taking over my head-space..  In fairness, most was highly praised comments/private messages/likes/re-tweets, and yet occasionally some deeply hurtful thoughtless messages.

Regardless of what it was, to me it was an unnecessary mental tax. I had not accounted on having to contend with any of this nonsense when I thought to go travelling alone.  It got to a point where I actually dreaded it, I would be trying to find somewhere to eat, looking for somewhere to sleep or searching online about something particular of where I was, and suddenly I’d have people messaging me (seeing that I was available/online), It was a hard thing to do in just ignoring people. You feel guilty, rude or just ravaged for your knowledge or experience.

While an obvious solution would be to remove all social media from my life to help with quitting an addiction that I was not fond of. It seems desperately drastic for me to delete my Facebook account and discarding hundreds of friends I’ve made world wide.  Some of these friends which I only have on Facebook. It creates a paradox.

While travelling I genuinely tried to ween off it with removing certain apps from my phone, I didn’t want to be messaged, and I didn’t want to be told how many people had liked my pictures whenever I had turned on my data roaming to check 2 things. This however, only caused returning to social media on my laptop just as crazy if not more intense: unread “urgent” messages, overlooked comments and things shared to me that made me seem like I was ignoring friends.

In all fairness, I enjoy following my friends around the world, I love seeing what they are getting up to, being aware of social, political or cultural concerns I’d not ordinarily find out about.   However, when you have +20 unread messages and +80 notifications about who commented on what and how many people liked or reacted to your pictures, it certainly gives you a strange sensation. Your relax time becomes administration time, and after being out in the wilderness alone for days on end, coming back to civility and having to manage a social media identity became an unpleasant chore.

Social Media is a Drug

It has been proven through scientific studies that seeing notifications or that little red icon on Facebook (friend request, private message, notification) , or any social media platform of your choice causes a neurological effect akin to a dopamine hit.   And knowing this makes me feel dirty, and if not just a bit mildly anxious. I recently watched this discussion by Simon Sinek which was quite moving and relevant.

Lately, with the political turmoil of Brexit, Trump and the Spanish political non-sense, my daily social digest has been turned into an aggressive platform for everyone to hurl volatile statements at each other.  I found it quite ugly. However, I also got wrapped up in some of these aforementioned histerias. Again, another dirty feeling of emotions that day-to-day I have tried to stay clear of.

So why was I now hammering away at the keyboard passionate about something, I’d ordinarily not wish to show face on?   Why was I being provoked?  Why did I spend countless hours of my day wasted on feeding my brain bad things to digest?   This wasn’t a matter of days or weeks, this was months of accumulating bad feelings, laced between many good feelings, which made it hard to identify.

Digression

The other day, I was invited to my friends’ house: pizza and a movie!  Sounded great, a real social thing, and we sat down and watched Trainspotting. A film, I’d not watched in over 15 years. A film, that my younger self was impressed with far different things than I am today.  I reflected upon my own addictions and how the dirty cycles we go through in trying to quit addictions and habits.  I’ve seen so many friends put a self-validating Facebook status declaring they are leaving Facebook only to return days later in full swing. Ashamed to the fact they relapsed.

I left my friends’ house that night cycling home aggressively home filled with fire, wanted to cleanse myself of those things that aren’t improving my lifestyle. I as I pedalled home at 1 am filled with energy I decided to give something a go:   I decided to reduce/limit and purge my daily Facebook use, I got home, and logged out, closed the tab and went to bed. Relief! I was finally quitting an addiction I wasn’t happy about.  I didn’t want to make a big thing of it, I don’t want it to be final and I don’t want to draw attention to my efforts.

Conclusion

Quitting an AddictionFor the past week, I’ve stayed away for Facebook, and frankly, it’s been a blessing! I’ve had a lot of time, not missed it much and I’ve been quite productive and focused on my work.  However, much like a dirty drug-dealer: Facebook has been pestering me with emails to see what I’m missing out on. Ordinarily I never received these emails, and not only was it irksome but hitting the unsubscribe button takes to you the Facebook page which prompts you to login in a balloon (a popup thing) which ironically is hiding the unsubscribe button.   I felt a further loathing to it social media just in that act.

However, things aren’t without a bittersweet twist, I was browsing my Instagram the other and to my greatest surprise a long-term friend I’ve known for years happened to be in Barcelona, I commented on a picture and she told me she’d been trying to get hold of me on Facebook.  Typical! I bit bullet and checked my Facebook, 7 unread messages, 5 of which were work related (can you believe this?) and +40 notifications (all of which were rubbish).  I read, responded to my messages and logged out.   It felt great!   Last night I met up with my friend  Galit who I hadn’t seen in 13 years, we had tapas and it was a nice evening.

I feel the true compromise here has to be somewhere down the middle, I have hundreds of friends I dearly care for, I wish to not lose that. Although, I also do not wish to waste my life away. The addiction is in the mind not the platform; although, studies do show that the platforms intend to be as addictive as possible.    I see my goal for the future is to limit my Facebook engagement to be limited at most to 15 minutes a day if not LESS.

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