An hour of fun with Photoshop.
I don't know how these frogs ended up in a smallish stone water container in Tal Milorda Gardens but when I saw them yesterday I knew that taking a few photos could lend itself to some fooling around. Indeed!
An hour of fun with Photoshop.
In 2003 I got my first digital camera and with it came the luxury of taking as many photos as I wished without bothering about the expense of developing. No printing required and in general a better view of the pictures one takes on a pc monitor than on paper. Great – just great!
One of the features of my camera was macro which I suppose even then was standard. I was curious to use this and started experimenting on flowers. Easy subject – small, pretty and normally very obedient posers unless the wind is huffing and puffing big time. Trouble is it became something of a hobby which soon snowballed into another of my wayward passions.
First it was just about trying to get a decent picture. Then the curiosity started and I wanted to know what I was photographing – yes I needed to know each plant’s name in both English and Maltese and to boot the Latin scientific name as well.
So then came the nature books (just one or two initially) for identification. With the books came the realization that Malta has over a thousand flowering plants – a good 700 of which are indigenous (i.e. they occur here naturally and are not imported or introduced species). I was amazed that such a small island could host so many species and naturally I wanted to photograph them all! The books I bought invariably indicated flowering time – so every week or so I could go out and photograph the species which would flower according to nature’s precise and marvelous time clock. An absolutely fascinating journey of discovery.
Then I started looking for the rare stuff; some of the rare orchids, the Maltese Toadflax (Linaria pseudolaxiflora – a plant occurring only here and in the Pelagie Islands – hey I still can roll out some of those botanic names!) and so many others. I already knew the indefatigable Annalise Falzon and Alan Deidun from Nature Trust and Annalise put me in contact with Edwin Lanfranco – the foremost Maltese botanist – with whom I frequently exchanged mail relating to plant identification. I must have bothered this highly knowledgeable but humble man no end. Edwin Lanfranco has done tireless research in the field and to his credit he identified the Maltese Cliff Orache as a distinct species which today bears the scientific name of Cremnophyton lanfrancoi. A man ironically immortalized in the botanic world but sadly never officially honored by his mother nation.
I also got in touch with Stephen Mifsud who maintains a very good website on Maltese flora and I also met some lovely people when Stephen occasionally organized photo shoot outings or a “hunt” for a particular rare species.
I learned so much on this journey – not least the beauty of words and language. For example the common bear’s breeches sports the very melodic Maltese name of hannewija – I do not know what this word means but it must be one of the most beautiful in the Maltese language. Then there is a small plant which grows on rocky ground bearing the strange name of xkattapietra – which is a (very) rough derivative of its Italian name Spacca Pietra. The name itself indicates its use – it was (and I believe still is) traditionally used to break down gall stones… I still remember my mother using it some years ago. Our national plant the Maltese Rock Centaury is called Widnet il-Bahar in Maltese – a literal translation would be “the ear of the sea”. The plant itself does not bear any resemblance to that particular orifice, but its growing habit – perched on cliff edges on top of the water and growing practically out of the mostly soilless rock makes its Maltese name so appropriate – it is perennially “listening” to the sea below. Incidentally this plant is a relict species from the pre-ice age flora and has no surviving close relatives. Fascinating! The Maltese Rock Centaury is also endemic – which means that it grows only in Malta and does not occur naturally anywhere else in the world.
Then there was the funny stuff. Once a friend alerted me about a huge field of Goat’s Beard (Geropogon hybridus) growing at Dwejra. He gave me some you-can’t-miss-it directions. I went on my next free afternoon armed with camera but poof! nothing. I was so angry that my friend had sent me on a wild goose chase but then he coolly remembered that, much like the civil service in summer, these plants close shop (their flowers that is) by midday. Another time on the Hal Far cliffs I found a large swathe of the rare ice plant (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) that I had long been waiting to photograph. I knew this plant was not an early riser and its flowers would only open properly round midday - and it was still 9am or so. Nothing to it - I simply waited patiently for two hours or so in the hot June sun for the flowers to open and got an unwelcome builders’ tan for the effort.
After four years or so of flower hunting I started finding it incredibly difficult to discover new unphotographed species so the feeding frenzy started to wane. I must have photographed more than five hundred species during that time. I still carry a camera every time I go for walks however and snap happily if I find anything which looks unfamiliar.
I now know more or less the distribution and habitats of most local species but I am still mystified how some plants turn up in the strangest of places – for example the very rare Euphorbia characias only occurs on one particular garigue in Malta and very sporadically in Gozo and yet some months back I spotted a lone species growing next to a dilapidated part of the Wignacourt Aqueduct in Attard. How the hell did it get there and settle happily on highly disturbed waste ground when it is such a fussy rocky plant?
My enduring fascination with nature, photography and landscape eventually led me to be involved in the Ramblers Association of Malta – but that would be the subject of another post I suppose.
If you enjoyed reading this you might find the following links of interest.
http://www.maltawildplants.com/ - Stephen Mifsud’s website with a huge bank of Maltese flora photographs.
http://schoolnet.gov.mt/tanti/Birds.html - brilliant bird photography by Aron Tanti. Also contains other nature photography – plants, animals etc.
After sadly giving up on my previous drawing last week I am happily but very very cautiously working on a new large drawing which is as yet untitled. It will be two peeping toms (the Maltese term nemmiesa sounds so much better and naughtier) ogling on a pubescent girl. There will be carob trees for a background and the chapel of Bir Miftuh, or an imaginary variation of it, will feature behind the trees. This, up to now, is the general idea at least. The image above is a detail of the central part of the drawing. I'm hoping this time I can complete the work without having to give up half way because of some real or perceived flaw.
It is a strange week with three of the people I spend most time with (that includes my dear wife) all away from the Island at the same time and all three in different places. I only have the cats for company at home and I really can't complain about them as they are nicer and smarter than a lot of people I know. They have been missing the sun sorely though and I bet they are longing for their sun worship rolling. In the pic below - Mojo - male 7 years old in front and Molly - female 4 years old at the back.
Whereas supporting a political party requires a logical assessment of its policies and principles there is no logic as to why people support a football team. It’s true that a lot of Maltese tend to oversee this subtle (subtle?) distinction but there you go…
Most people tend to follow only the top clubs, but you will still find sporadic but nonetheless reverential support of a lot of the lesser teams. I personally know people who have supported clubs like Burnley, Ipswich, Sheffield Utd and Preston through thick and thin – and for most of these clubs it’s been mostly thin.
I have always had a love affair of sorts with Wolves – or Wolverhampton Wanderers to give the club its proper name. I have no idea why exactly I support them but I have a pretty good idea when this malady germinated. It must have been in late 1969 or early 1970 when my family got its first black and white television set. Back in those days color TV was unknown in Malta - it remained so until the mid eighties. I seem to remember that the local national station started transmissions around 6pm and I used to switch on the TV a bit earlier waiting for the static test card (do TV stations have a test card these days, and if they do is that what they call it?) to turn into the animated thingy with bits and pieces of the eight-pointed Maltese Cross turning around to form the Malta Television logo. If you’re fifty or over you might actually remember this.
In those days when live transmissions were a rarity, the premier football program was Star Soccer. Aged nine I was actually a children’s’ TV junkie (today I cannot stand TV – especially the home grown variety) and I invariably watched this. Wolves were at that time in the old First Division so I guess they got their fair share of coverage. Slowly and for no apparent reason I started identifying with the team – at least I guess I must have done so. Why? I have no idea except that in those days they were probably a decent top-half-of-the-table team so supposedly worth backing. Add to that the catchy Wolves moniker together with the club’s badge give the club quite a unique identity so I was probably an early sucker for this form of branding.
I know for sure that when I played the ghastly game of Subbuteo in my pre-teens I consciously bought a Wolves team clad in the old gold and was very proud of the fact. I seem to remember that I was pretty good at this game though for the life of me I cannot see its attraction today. Having players with a plastic hemisphere attached to their feet by means of which one can flick them around with the purpose of hitting a ball -which in turn is as large as the player himself - is simply ridiculous and can in no way “recreate” anything like the real game. Still I understand that Subbuteo (or table football – an equally silly sounding name) still has its aficionados and there is even a Subbuteo World Cup. Ugh.
Over a long period of years my loose association with the club I supported dwindled down to simply seeing their results and position in the table in the Sunday papers. Then came the eighties with the club’s freefall all the way to Division Four and what is arguably seen as the lowest point in the club’s history - an inglorious FA Cup first round defeat to non-league Chorley where the once mighty Wanderers (three times First Division Champions in the late fifties and one of the original founders of the Football League) succumbed to a 3-0 ignominy. That was 1986 and by that time Wolves results most probably didn’t even feature in the local papers…
Fast forward to the mid-nineties and I discovered a work colleague who was still an avid Wolves supporter in spite of all the downs and downs – damn, he even subscribed to the Express and Star newspaper just to get the latest Wolves news. So finally there was someone, anyone, to talk Wolves with… however little I knew of them by then. By that time Wolves were a permanent feature of the Championship (the old second division that is) and seemed determined to stay there – a potentially big fish apparently content to keep swimming in a smaller, more familiar pond. My colleague was always into satellite TV and he used to lend me recordings of some memorable win against Birmingham or West Brom…usually with a foreign language commentary- Serbo-Croat or Arabic for example.
In 2001 I bought my first PC and now I could follow live commentary of Wolves games via the club’s (then) free web player service. I became addicted and I even recall the heartbreak (I think I cried actually) when Wolves failed in their promotion play-offs in season 2001-2. By then I was really longing for the club to find its rightful place in the top flight of English football. The kid in me had returned.
Wolves’ promotion to the hallowed land of the Premier League finally happened the year after in season 2002-3. Wolves made it to the play-off final and were due for the showdown against Sheffield United at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. (The Championship play-off final is quite a big game actually and is normally played at Wembley - I try to watch it every year. In 2003 and for some years it was shifted to Cardiff since Wembley was being rebuilt)
I watched the Wolves – Sheffield match in a pub in Paceville where a good crowd of local and expat Wolves fans had gathered. Wolves won with a convincing 3-0 score line and finally I could watch Wolves in the Premier League. Not that it was that much fun with the team going straight back to the Championship after one season and with just an unlikely home win over Manchester United for a memory. I watched this game as well as a few others that season as the local supporters club (yes there is one headed by one Alfred Camilleri who as a young man watched Wolves winning the FA Cup at Wembley in 1960) frequently organized live screenings at a pub at Luxol grounds. By that time I was totally hooked.
Wolves languished in the Championship for a few more years until promotion came again in season 2008-9. I watched a few games on pc in that year and more was to come with Premiership football. In fact these last three seasons I have watched the majority of games via streaming.
It’s been a mixed bag of emotions really with the team taking some memorable scalps - Man Utd , Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool last season – only to have to wait till the 87th minute of the last game to secure survival in the top tier. And then there are the games where I question why I bother to support the team – this year most notably a 0-3 whimper at home to QPR. Worse was to follow with a home game against Swansea which saw the team booed at 0-2 down and manager Mick McCarthy’s substitutions greeted with loud calls for his head. Luckily Mick got those subs right as Wolves salvaged a draw with seven minutes to go.
I simply love Mick McCarthy and his unique humour. In the post match interview after the Swansea game he said with a straight face that he was thinking of substituting Stephen Ward (No 11) but that if he put up a board with that number the whole team would probably go off the pitch. The interviewing journalists were in stitches.
Wolves currently sit 13th in the league but I guess that this season will be as nail bitingly difficult as the previous one. I will live in hope.
Just for the record – I am not a great footie fan and I watch little else apart from Wolves games. I have never been to Wolverhampton and I am still in some doubt whether I really want to watch them at Molineux. I “know” Wolverhampton well through Google Earth and I could probably get from the train or bus station to the Mol without asking directions. I occasionally buy official club merchandise hoping to contribute to a star signing!
I have been working on this drawing since mid-October. The original concept was to draw a number of columns with busts of very common faces. The idea was a very vague one and the work in my head was tentatively entitled The Museum of Very Common Man. Later on I reduced the number of heads to just two and the idea developed into one of an impossible love or a dead or dying one. I frequently turn to the concept of lovers in its widest sense and so I started...
Three weeks later I see this is not really getting anywhere. I made a couple of mistakes on the male head and had to darken it. The whole picture, though unfinished, lacks coherence and a sense of purpose.
I think it is only fair to admit defeat and stop flogging a horse that now looks beyond resurrection. There is some disappointment of course but on the other hand I am starting on a new, more promising drawing.
Sometimes you have to eat humble and accept failure with some grace.