Weston Master III

weston master III exposure meterThis is the exposure meter that my dad used with the Akarette 35 mm camera that I drew yesterday. The Weston Master III Universal Exposure Meter was made in England by Sangamo Weston Ltd, Enfield, Middlesex and distributed by Ilford Ltd. This was model no. S141·3, serial no. T5385.

In low-light situations you flip out a filter at the back which is simply a plastic disc perforated with small holes. As you do this, the light scale flips over too. Taking a reading here on my desk I would have set the Akarette to 1/5oth of a second at f5 if I was using 64 ASA film, which is what I’d set the dial to when I last used this meter in the 1970s. ASA is referred to as ‘Weston Rating’ on the dial.

It was built to last, no batteries required and the photo-electric cell is still working fine, but I’m glad all of of all the exposure options that are built in to my current digital camera. The meter is bulkier and heavier than the Olympus Tough that I keep in my art bag.


Akarette 35 mm cameraThis German Akarette with an Isco-Gottingen Westar 1:3.5/50 mm lens was my dad’s first, in fact only, 35 mm camera. It’s not an SLR so focussing involved setting the shutter speed and aperture then rotating the outer ring of the lens to select the estimated distance in feet. It focussed from 3.5 feet to infinity but for close-ups you had to allow for the parallax between viewfinder and lens.

You could switch to a second viewfinder if you fitted a 75 mm lens, which we never had. I believe my father bought the camera secondhand from Wallace Heaton, London. A big advance on our box camera.

It’s powered by clockwork, wound up every time you wind on the film, so the sound of the shutter is a retro delight. It also has a satisfyingly retro shutter delay of up to ten seconds. My dad once set it up to photograph my mum in a formal garden then had to leap over little box hedges and flowerbeds to get himself into the picture. I can’t remember now whether he quite made it into position but if he did it was by a hair’s breadth.

I more or less took over this camera when my dad started taking cine film. The most frustrating thing for me was its inability to take macro photographs. It travelled with me to Iceland on a college field trip (just me and my tent, I didn’t go with a group) but by then its days were numbered because I’d discovered the delights of using the Pentax Spotmatic – with macro lens – on the college photography course.

A Smile in the Sky

cloudy skyWe’re disappointed that, with a near total eclipse due at about 9.30 this morning, cloud is covering the eastern sky but we’ve located our eclipse glasses from 1999, so, with ten minutes or so to go, eclipseI try looking towards the bright patch in the bank of cloud.

I’m astonished and delighted to see, in sharp focus, the disc of the Sun neatly perforated by the eclipsing Moon.

eclipse 2015As it progresses towards near-totality, the crescent shrinks to a slither which reminds me of the end of a finger-nail but which has been better described as a smile in the sky.

eclipse near maximum

It gets surprisingly dim considering that there’s still a blazingly bright crescent behind the thin cloud. The birds go quiet as if tricked into thinking that night is fast approaching.

A Second Sunrise

As the Sun’s disc begins to reappear there’s strange kind of second sunrise. It’s like sunrise but more brilliant, because the Sun is already quite high in the sky. The brightness over the fields reminds me of sunrise on the east coast where light reflected off the sea intensifies the growing brilliance.

Total eclipse, 1999.
Total eclipse, 1999.

I’m reminded not just of the total eclipse in France sixteen years ago but more recently of an annular eclipse that we viewed from Sandsend; a ring of fire rising above a hazy North Sea.

Back in 1961 I was lucky to be able to observe a partial eclipse by looking through smoked glass in the school playground at St Peter’s Junior’s, Horbury. We were told then that the next total eclipse visible in England would be visible from Cornwall in 1999. It seemed an impossibly long time in the future but I remember thinking how amazing it would be to see it. When the time came, the easiest option was for us to go and stay with my penfriend from schooldays, Philippe, in Lille. We made the right choice because on the day thick cloud obscured the eclipse in Cornwall.

Lichens on Poplar

poplar bark

Bracket fungus on willow
Bracket fungus on willow

These lichens, yellow Xanthoria parietina and pale  Parmelia saxatalis, were growing on a poplar at Alverthorpe Meadows which we walked around with friends Roger and Sue recently.

In a nearby tree was a mystery bird. It was the size of a song thrush but had the streaky spots of a mistle thrush. On a dull day looking up at it silhouetted amongst the bare branches I couldn’t get much further with an ID but luckily normal redwingRoger had brought his bridge camera with a powerful telephoto and when we viewed the bird on screen when we got back we could see clearly that it was a redwing. It’s unusual to see just the one redwing on its own, so I think that threw us.

white blossommagpie's nest

The pied plumage of the magpie in blends well with the bare branches.
The pied plumage of the magpie in blends well with the bare branches.

But the trees won’t be bare for much longer. It’s good to see the blossom (not sure what species this is) appearing. But whatever time of year there’s always something to see, even if it’s just the bracket fungus on a willow or the magpies busy repairing their nests.

Bracket fungus
Blushing bracket fungus Daedaleopsis confragosa on willow

We met one of the Wakefield countryside rangers who told us she was planning the annual toad-count. She realises toadthat it’s important to choose the right night for it – mild and damp – or you won’t get a good impression of the numbers.

Old Leaf

sycamore leafThis sycamore leaf has a blob of tar spot fungus across its midrib.

dry stems

I picked it up at the weekend at Barbara’s brother’s garden in Ossett and on rough ground by the lane found these dry stems. Although the flower head has a flattish top like an umbel the individual stems emerge from different points on the stem, so botanically it’s a corymb.

I think that it might be tansy.

Auntie Bar

Barbara and Jack at my christening
Barbara and Jack at my christening

ebony warriorAs an 9 or 10 year old I pinned a map of Africa on my bedroom wall, surrounded by a collection of the 3D models of African animal heads that they printed on the back of Corn Flake packets. I hoped that some day I’d be able to fly out to Tanganyika to visit my godparents, Barbara and Jack Wilkinson, though sadly that never happened. I’ve still got the five inch tall ebony warrior that they sent me. He still sports his feathery plume, hide shield and Masai regalia but he lost his spear long ago.

Jack taught biology at the agricultural college at Arusha, close to the Kenyan border. It’s a beautiful setting with Mount Meru and Kilimanjaro looming in the background. Returning to Britain when Tanzania won its independence, they settled in Leek, Staffordshire, where Jack continued to teach biology. He died of cancer about thirty years ago.
Barbara was doing fine when we visited her last summer before my mum’s fall but she too had a fall at new year. She died on the morning of my mum’s funeral. Like my mum she was in her 97th year.
We made our way, via the Peak District, to her funeral today. I’ll miss our occasional visits to Leek to meet up with her and go out for a lunch, which for me was always Staffordshire oatcakes (a kind of pancake), at the White Hart Tearooms.

Blackbird Improvisations

blackbirdThe blackbird in our front garden has made an early start practising his dawn chorus; ‘How d’ya feel?’, a phrase that rises at the end leaving you waiting for the response, which is ‘It’s six-thirty.’

Not the most promising of material but this bird’s going for it anyway;

‘How d’ya feel?
It’s six-thirty.
How d’ya feel?
It’s six-thirty.
How d’ya feel?
How d’ya feel?’

Although it isn’t six-thirty, it’s still only quarter to five! Just to make it more interesting he tries adding a couple of quieter warbling notes in between; ‘Nearly finished’. But he hasn’t.

blackbirdHe tries rephrasing his material, something along the lines of; ‘How feel d’ya?’ or ‘It’s three-sixty.’ Philip Glass has nothing to worry about.

Luckily for us, after five or ten minutes blackbirdhe then flits off to another song post and we’re able to drift back to sleep.


frogfestI looked out the other day and there were at least twelve frogs in the pond. Today I counted nine clumps of frogspawn. Usually the spawn is laid at the shallow, sunnier end of the pond. This year it’s all at the overgrown, deeper end, partially shaded by the shed.

Since I wrote this, my neighbour frogspawnJack across the road has offered me a bucket of spawn which he always clears from his tiny pond. I don’t really need any more but I’d rather take it because otherwise he’d put it in the stream, which is fast flowing so it would just get flushed away into the river. I’m trying to work out if I can fit in a mini-pond or two into the odd corner of my garden as I know ponds have been filled in in adjacent gardens and the frog population will soon start struggling.

cafitiereHedgehog Dropping

hedgehog droppingOn a mossy patch of back lawn near the pond there’s a single hedgehog dropping and, a foot or so from that, a clayey fox scat with the typical pointed end.


lumenRT testI’m fascinated by 3D programs. My favourite is Vue because of the way it handles natural landscapes but whenever there’s an update, I’ll have another experiment with SketchUp, which is more of a 3D design tool for buildings, furniture and so on. So this morning when I received an e-mail from E-on telling me that there’s now a program, LumenRT, that allows you to export your SketchUp designs into a photo-realistic 3D environment, I had to give it a go.

My design in SketchUpMake

But how easy would it be? In a minute or so I extruded a rectangular block in SketchUp and punched a few holes in it to make it look like some kind of building then I pressed the ‘export to LumenRT’ button. At first there was a glitch as my mouse had become disabled but on restarting my iMac the export worked perfectly. Like Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz, my model had dropped into another world, although this one does look rather like Kansas (during the Dust Bowl). I was able to approach move around the model in real time (no lengthy waiting for it to redraw) using the mouse.

The man (I think he’s one of the guys who dreamed up SketchUp) is a 2D figure who appears when you open a new  SketchUp project, to give you an idea of the scale.

Links; Both programs currently offer free downloads for non-commercial use, although Lumen RT and recent free versions of Vue insist on adding a small logo to any image that you export.

SketchUp ‘the easiest way to draw in 3D’ 

LumenRT ‘Quickly create images, videos and real-time presentations of 
Architecture, Landscape, Urban and Infrastructure Designs’. Warning, there does seem to be some kind of bug which disables the mouse on an iMac, so be careful that you don’t have any vital unsaved work open in other programs as you might have to restart.

School Chair

school chair This school chair is less than three feet high. I like the way the back legs taper together towards the floor, giving a wider back at the top, while the front legs splay outwards to give stability. The change from the square section at the back to round at the front gives it an organic charm, as if it had grown rather than being popped out of a mould in a factory, like a modular 21st century stacking school chair.school chair