Adorable Fleur, 5 weeks

A few photos of Fleur who came round with Shirley, Mike and Grandmum for a quick session a month or so ago.

It was lovely to meet Fleur, and we must organise a follow up 🙂

Take care,

Xav

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Las Vegas and Lake Mead

Everybody’s heard of Las Vegas, many of us have been there. And no matter how extreme the place appears or how crazy people describe it, any report or discussion about the place doesn’t come even close to what it’s like experiencing for real.

I had never been to LV. Everyone in the broadcast industry knows about it because Las Vegas holds every year the NAB trade show. In my many years at Sony, I had never been. But now I’m running my own business as a broadcast consultant, it was an important opportunity to see what it’s like and in many ways a very necessary business trip to make new contacts, see the emerging technologies and trends and push the networking side really hard.

For quite a while, I had decided that I wanted to go, but hadn’t really finalised where I’d stay, what I’d do – the place is so large and, to newbies, rather overwhelming, that I wanted to have a “plan”.

Fortunately, a few of my good independent work colleagues and friends were also going so we decided to organise the trip together and rent a house out so we had our own space with the ability to entertain customers and, if nothing else, have a haven of peace away for the craziness of the strip where all the hotels are located.

BÊa came along too (I think the thought of me going to Vegas with mates wasn’t too much her cup of tea – probably emphasised by the fact we had just seen “The Hangover”!). So we planned our flights (direct from LGW to LAS on Virgin) and hire car. Fred (one of our friends joining us) had booked the house and fortunately, our flights arrived within a couple of hours so we could meet up at the airport, pick up the hire car, and make our way to our rental house.

Even before we arrived, the landscape from the aircraft was quite a spectacle. We flew over Lake Mead and I even maged to get a snap of the Hoover Dam. The photo isn’t particularly clear as we’re still high up and is heavily cropped as I had decided only to bring my D800 and 24-70/2.8 freshly serviced by NPS.

Once we had retrieved our luggage and made our way past US Immigration (my second experience with them, and they’ve always been charming), we discovered that the hire car area is actually way off the airport and a shuttle bus is required. So we all wait for quite some time outside, and eventually the bus turns up. When we arrived at the car rental place, I went through the paperwork with the lady and was ready to pick up my Toyota Corrola. But, she said “we have a special offer on…”.

“I don’t think I’ll be interested anyway, but go ahead” I replied.

“Well, for only an additional $10, you can upgrade to a Ford Mustang convertible”

Despite being on a strict “business trip”, the thought of the American Dream flashed through my mind, and I simply couldn’t refuse! By the time we’d finished with the paperwork, Fred had joined us as we walked out to meet our travelling steed 🙂

Once arrived at home, I took a snap. Not your average european hire car 🙂

After settling down, we went for a quick shopping trip. I knew Fred liked his food, but wasn’t quite prepared for his generosity in cooking for us pretty much every day. BTW, he does the world’s best home-made guacamole. I found my new favourite dip right there – and I don’t even like avocados! However, being in the U S of A, we (sorry, I mean Fred) also knocked up some burgers. They were not only delicious, but also in line with the average American portion size – probably about 8″ in diameter!

After settling down, we decided to have a quick drive up to the strip and have a walk around. One good thing with all the hotel casinos is that parking is free, presumably because a) space isn’t an issue and b) they reckon you’re going to spend more than your parking fee’s worth of money in the casino.

 

It’s not just row upon row upon row of one-arm bandit machines that surprised me (I kind of expected it), it was more this:

It surprised me in two ways. First, it looks rather like a huge Master Control Room in a TV facility where you see all the monitors of all your incoming lines, and secondly, it’s just huge! For those wondering, they show the various live sports so people can be ready to place their bets.

Back home, we had some new friends arriving to stay with us. So Fred was at it again. I posted on Facebook the amount and size of food, but to see it in context, here are a couple of T-bone steaks with Chef Fred’s arm.

Once cooked, back in the kitchen, ready to be carved up:

They were so big that they lasted us a couple of days and we finished them off with some home-made fajitas and tacos.

Fred suggested that we take a boat out on Lake Mead on Saturday. Our friends went there the day before and unfortunately, the weather was a little overcast, yet they said it was awesome. So we thought “why not?”

Fortunately for us, the weather on Saturday was bright and sunny. We left off in our ‘Tang for Lake Mead and arrived shortly before 12. I couldn’t believe the ease with which we were able to get a boat. Similar to my last experience in the US a few years before where I ended up in a firing range letting of a couple of rounds in Magnum – we just showed some ID, put down some deposite, and had rented out a V8-powered speedboat 😀

Fred had already been on one the previous year and loved it so we followed his recommendation and all boarded out boat after a one-minute brief by the hire company. Seriously, this is stuff you just cannot do in Europe, so I was like a five year old with beady eyes, bubbling with excitement. And off we went.

Here’s BÊa chillin’ a bit.

And once out of the harbour into the open waters. Bearing in mind this is a lake, it’s just ENORMOUS. The photos just don’t provide the sense of scale of the place. Another rather misleading fact: the air is so dry and clear, there is hardly any haze so you can see for hundreds of miles. Those mountains you see in the distance, you think they’re maybe a few miles away. They’re probably more like 20. You start going towards them and 20 minutes later, you don’t appear to be any closer than before! The same applies for walking along the strip: that hotel in the distance you think is only a 10-minute walk when it’s more like an hour. Things are just so large that our European experience and points of reference are most misleading.

We then turned right towards Hoover Dam. To think the last time I saw this was a few days before at 30-odd thousand feet, I never knew then I’d be this close to it on the water only a couple of days later.

On the right, you can see two different shades of rock: the lighter-coloured shows how much the water level has dropped over the 80 odd years since the Dam was built. It’s quite a scary thought…

A little later, we met the “Desert Princess”.

That deep blue sky and reflective, almost shiny water are due to a circular polariser filter mounted on the end. I knew about the open spaces before coming out so bought a good quality filter in the hope I’d get to use it. Boy, it was worth it!

At this point, we were pretty much on our own. The place is so huge that you can spend quite a bit of time without meeting anyone else. It’s in these situations that I realise how insignificant we are compared to the immensity of space out there.

It also gave me a slightly creepy thought from my earlier computer-gaming years: playing Half-Life on the PC. Those desert mountain / water areas reminded me so much of the outdoors around Black Mesa that I could just imagine Gordon Freeman racing across in his boat with the Combine chasing him…

From here onwards, it became just magical.

At the other end of the lake, Colorado river, between the mountains, the contrast is quite striking. The water line demarcation is clearer than ever, those inky blue skies and dark rocks in the shadows contrast with the sun-bathed mountain cliff opposite. This is the narrows, here.

A little further down, we come to the end of the narrows and the lake opens up. At this point, we had to turn around.

As the afternoon rolled on, the lighting changed. It became warmer, emphasising the red sand and rocks.

What a day!

The following morning, we wanted to do some clothes shopping at one of the “premium outlets”. As we drove past the iconic sign, we had to stop to take some snaps. Bizarrely, it’s only quite recently that you can do this legally as there was no parking area in the central reservation area: you had to park on the other side of the street and run across the road, and jaywalking is illegal…

BÊa and I 🙂

The following week I didn’t take any photos as I was working – this is a business trip, remember? 🙂

So BÊa went out and took a few snaps of the hotels and their exuberant designs. Some call it classy, some call it tacky. No matter how cheesy or not, it’s quite an impressive feat of engineering.

At the Venetian, I understand that some of the artificial canals are not on the ground level and are built up off the ground.

Group photo 🙂

We spent a couple of evenings at Freemont Street, the “old” part of Vegas. It was quite different in scale, more traditional, but even crazier. Just like the normal craziness of the super-spaced out strip condensed and concentrated in a far smaller area.

I don’t know if our European governments and health services in Europe would allow this:

The “0” you see is in fact the weight readout. There are some cattle-sized scales at the entrance (no joke!) to weigh you up… It’s extreme, viral marketing at its extravagent American best.

Freemont Street is also a great place to meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. The majority of street performers are a great laugh and pretty good.

This was taken towards the end of the evening after the live concerts (where the bands are rather good!) had stopped. The girl on the left isn’t drunk and about to fall over, she’s playing ball. The guy leaning against the girder on the left holding up a sign is a street beggar. Sign says “My ex-wife had a better lawyer than me”. As for the stormtropper on the right, he’s just having a break… All of that is perfectly normal and commonplace in Vegas!

I have a few panoramic stitches of the night cityscapes I need to figure out how to best post so will try to add those in a while.

Overall, there’s a lot more to Vegas than just mega-hotels and casinos. The nightlife is great fun and the deserts and landscapes out of town are worth the drive. We didn’t get the chance to trek out west to Death Valley nor east to the Grand Canyon. Maybe next year. I’m sure I’ll be able to justify another business trip out there!

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Simona & friends portrait session

Simona’s session actually took place back in March. I’d been so busy since getting ready for flying to Las Vegas early April that I hadn’t got round to posting Simona’s photoshoot.

Simona contacted me through one of my Sony work colleagues as she wanted to organise a photo shoot with some friends to give her some smart / casual / fun photos she could then use. We had arranged to do the shoot at Jo’s, her friend’s place.

We weren’t too sure up front whether to do a high-key photoshoot or a more natural light / natural surroundings one. In the end, I went with my backdrop and studio lights and the majority of photos were taken inside under studio lighting. Normally, putting up a make-shift studio in a lounge isn’t something I’m super keen on as the average living room is just a little too small to get things right, but Jo’s lounge here was great once we’d moved the sofas around a bit.

So after a quick 20-minute setup session, we were off.

Gerti, Jo’s dog was a lovely little animal, so expressive, although she tended to give rather serious expressions!

Jo with Gerti

Quick change of clothes and Jo on her own.

Here’s Simona

Meanwhile, in the make-up room (kitchen), things were getting serious 🙂

Jo had prepared some lovely snacks so we ended up in the garden sipping sone rather nice wine. Gerti wanted to have the last say of the day.

Thank you ladies for a real great laugh – I really enjoyed it and it was great to meet you all. Take care 🙂

Coming up next: Las Vegas and Lake Mead

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Guide Dogs NBC

Following on from covering Guide Dogs‘ summer Fun Day in Reading, I was privileged to have a view behind the scenes at the Guide Dogs National Breeding Centre just south of Leamington.

It’s the first time I had the opportunity to see what happens, and I left the day feeling rather emotional and immensely inspired by the work, dedication and love people have.

Before describing briefly their fantastic facilities, I first have to warn you that a lot of cuteness follows 🙂

We started the morning at the Puppy Reception area. This is where volunteers take on puppies and bring them back for their training. Each puppy has their own pack containing all their information as well as their food.

Here’s a shot from the back of their dedicated vans which carry them around.

Next up, weaning!

Never before have I adored so much mess! I think they’re still struggling to see so it invariably ends up being rather messy.

 

Here are the little pups – I think they’re two days old. Still no opened eyes, still grabbing for mum’s milk. What an exhausting start to life.

Now we’ve moved on a bit. They’re now learning socialising skills, being around people, playing, etc.

 

It’s still a tiring life being a pup!

 

The classic game between pups (and adults alike!) I wonder if it’s a particular Labrador thing as I’ve seen it most (and photographed it most) amongst black Labs.

Here’s Abby, Lucy and Molly from a couple of years ago

 

Back at the NBC, all those mouths to feed mean a lot of bowls to maintain and clean.

 

Now we’re in the indoor socialising room. It’s filled with dog toys and children’s toys such as play washing machines and vacuum cleaners. This is so they can get accustomed to your typical household noises early on in life. Of course, the majority of it is spent playing.

 

And this leads on to the breeding. Below is Alfie (please forgive me if I’ve misspelt his name). He’s the dad of quite a few hundred pups and is a bit of a celebrity stud in the dog world!

 

A collection of the various harnesses worn when working.

 

Here’s John’s dog, Eddie, a Labrador – German Shephard cross. John guided me around the NBC and it was lovely to see his connection with Eddie both whilst working and when having a rest. Here’s Eddie waiting to have a play. With all the work, the dogs do need time to unwind and let off steam, and it was fascinating to see how disciplined Eddie is when working with his harness on and how he appreciates the down time playing with John when “on leave”. Apologies for not using a technical term if there is one.

Overall, I left the NBC with two very strong thoughts: how well the NBC is (it’s the biggest dog breeding and training centre in the world) and how professional and caring the team, whether staff of volunteers really are. But above all, their dedication and love is really something special and I couldn’t help but feel inspired by what I saw. It’s not just the affection and bond that builds between the dogs and their owners but also realising what a life changer they are to visually impaired people. The Guide Dogs puppy vans humourously say “Life changer on board”. Although one might think it’s a little tongue-in-cheek, it’s certainly how I felt at the end of the day. The benefit, relief and joy they bring is plain to see (pun respectfully intended) to both volunteers and the visually impaired.

Next week, I’ll be covering their Training Centre – I can’t wait!

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Berkshire Search & Rescue Dogs

Just thought I’d post a couple of snaps from last Saturday’s fun day organised by Guide Dogs.

It was a great day (I’ll post some other photos soon), but the S&R team were particularly entertaining to see in action. It’s really lovely to see dogs having so much fun whilst potentially saving people’s lives… Somehow I think they don’t often get the credit they deserve.

Anyway, I did see the team mention “coiled springs” on their Facebook page. I couldn’t agree more!

 

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